Maurice Jones-Drew truly is a little big man. When Jacksonville picked running back Maurice Jones-Drew out of UCLA in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, there were plenty of pundits who thought he was too small at 5-foot-7 to thrive in the pro ranks. So how ironic is it that Jones-Drew was called upon more than any other back in the NFL last year on third-down plays to move the chains for his team? Jacksonville gave the ball to the powerful runner 35 times on third down and he converted 15 of his chances while averaging over six yards per rush in those situations. During his first two years in the NFL, Jones-Drew has averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored 22 rushing touchdowns. He's also caught 86 passes for an average gain of 9.8 yards and two more scores. And during that span his kickoff return average of 27.0 yards is sixth best in the NFL.
For the 2007 season, the average margin of defeat for an NFL team was 12.5 points. But what's really interesting to note is the contrast between the three losses by the Dallas Cowboys and the three by the Indianapolis Colts. When Dallas lost, they lost by an average of 15.3 points. In their three losses, the Colts only fell by a league-best 4.0 points per game. That said, don't forget that their record is the best among teams who actually lost a game, so New England was excluded from the list. Philadelphia, Arizona and Pittsburgh were next in line behind the Colts, averaging roughly seven points per loss. In addition to Dallas, the teams that took it on the chin the hardest when they lost were the Panthers, Bills and Broncos -- who all lost by an average of 16 to 19 points -- and the Lions, who lost by a league-worst average of 20.4 points per game.
The renegotiated contract of Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is actually a five-year deal. Although widely reported as a four-year contract through 2011, a league source has provided Scout.com with documents that indicate that Fitzgerald actually agreed to a four-year extension through 2012 that can be voided after the 2011 season. The move allowed Arizona to lower his annual cap hit by roughly a million dollars per year by extending it out to 2012. In addition to a no-trade clause throughout the term of the deal, the team is also prohibited from using the franchise or transition tag on Fitzgerald at the end of this contract if they don't pay him a $5 million option bonus by the end of the 2009 contract year.
I didn't find it surprising to see rave reviews coming out of Miami about undrafted wide receiver Davone Bess. While many teams undoubtedly focused on the former Hawaii receiver's mediocre forty-times at the NFL Scouting Combine that ranged from 4.64 to 4.79 seconds, they apparently were chatting or snoozing while he was actually displaying his skills as a receiver.
Miami rookie receiver Davone Bess during his college career at Hawaii.
AP Photo/Isaac Brekken
I was among a group of selected reporters and analysts from the Pro Football Writers of America who got the opportunity to go into the RCA Dome and watch a group of receivers and quarterbacks being put through their paces as NFL coaches and scouts were observing them as well. As I watched quarterbacks such as Brian Brohm, Chad Henne and Joe Flacco throwing passes during the drills, Bess caught my eye repeatedly. In my follow-up article about my experience inside the Dome, Bess was one of the receivers I pointed out as a top performer that day, noting his outstanding work during the gauntlet drill, quick reaction time, good acceleration, strong concentration skills, cutting ability while running his routes and his skill at locating the ball -- especially while making over-the-shoulder catches in stride.
Bess has the ability to be a very good slot receiver in this league. Congratulations to the Dolphins for spotting his talent. I believe many teams may be kicking themselves for not using at least a seventh-round pick in the draft to add him to their roster.
The Texans' best offseason move could end up being to be the addition of Alex Gibbs as assistant head coach/offense rather than any of the individual players they added to the roster. Back when Texans head coach Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, Gibbs was in charge of the offensive line. During the nine years that the pair worked together, Denver's offense accumulated a league best 20,157 rushing yards and the second-best overall offense in the league. With Kubiak looking to bring more balance to the Texans' offensive attack and the offensive line badly in need of some additional mentoring, Gibbs' addition could help make Houston a legitimate playoff contender in 2008.
CB Duane Starks should be happy that he's out of Oakland after learning of his release this week. A mere shadow of his former self, Starks needs to find a job with a winning team even if it's only for the veteran minimum. The 10th pick overall in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Ravens, Starks was a crafty and scrappy defensive back who stole 20 passes away from his opponents over the course of his four seasons in Baltimore. He even picked off a pass in the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown.
But for the past two years, he's been a struggling veteran player attempting to resurrect his career with a struggling team. That rarely works. If he wants to be successful in this league again, he needs to find a defensive backs coach with a winning program who has the talent to spot what's gone awry with Stark's approach to the game both mentally and physically. And he has to surround himself with players who have a winning attitude and who won't accept anything from him but his best effort every day. I hope he finds that opportunity, because when his game was on he was great fun to watch.
Colts President Bill Polian showed once again that he has a good handle on when to let players leave through free agency. When Indianapolis won the Super Bowl a little more than a year ago, running back Dominic Rhodes played a key role in their success as the team's tough, inside runner, complementing the nifty moves and speed of then-rookie Joseph Addai. At the end of the year, the veteran explored the free agent market and received a two-year offer from Oakland that would have paid him more than $7 million. After pocketing $2.5 million last year while rushing for 302 yards and starting in just two contests, Rhodes was cut loose by the Raiders, saving them $5 million against this year's cap. A league source told Scout.com that Rhodes' recent contract that brings him back to Indianapolis is for the veteran minimum of $605,000 plus a $40,000 signing bonus -- far less than what he made during his Super Bowl season with the Colts.
It's smart contract decisions like that by the Colts' front office that has helped the team reach the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, claim the AFC South division title for the past five years and win a Super Bowl.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.
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