NFL Football returns tonight, which means we all have the privilege of sitting with our loved/tolerated ones in front of the television and watching young men in the prime of life pulverize ourselves for our enjoyment. You know when I put it like that, the whole enterprise seems rather crass. But never mind the ethics, here’s the Legion of Boom. Of course not every spectator is happy about it; some expected to be a participant in proceedings rather than sitting at home eating bean dip. We take some time now to think of them.
- Priority was given for this list to players on the IR list (already ruled out for the year) or the PUP list (unable to return until week 9), though a few people that are merely listed as “out” have slipped in.
- Injury statuses are current as of Monday, and are courtesy of CBSsports.com.
- Somewhat surprisingly, the only offensive lineman listed on any IR/PUP list is San Diego guard Jeromey Clary, so with a heavy and hypocritical heart, we will skip over the offensive line to talk about those with better press.
- Defensive players were picked without regard to scheme fit or position. Four down linemen, three linebackers, four defensive backs.
QB- Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams. The dominating storyline for Sam Bradford was that this year would be a “make or break” year for him. An ACL tear, you’ll note, is distinct from a break, while also precluding this being a “make” year. Some people are just uncomfortable with dichotomies, I guess. Bradford’s failure to become the top-line quarterback his draft status belies is vexing and not easily explainable, but his career is not nessecarily over. Alex Smith had a similar career arc until he came alive under Jim Harbaugh in 2011. Even if the Rams cut bait next year, and I don’t see any other option for them, he’s still worth a flyer somewhere next year. He’s still only 26, which is, for the record, four years younger than Brandon Weeden.
RB1- Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts. I remember being mildly impressed with Vick Ballard in his rookie year. I’m not bourne out by the numbers, which show a decent change of pace back and little more, but the Colts would do well with a change of pace, considering Trent Richardson’s only pace is “turgid”. Ballard bowed out of the opener last year with a torn ACL, and is gone for this season with a torn Achilles tendon. With one game played in two years, Ballard might have to put something else on his tax returns besides football player next year.
RB2- David Wilson, New York Giants. Wilson was a change of pace back, and didn’t really show much to get excited about in his two years. He looked like he would spend his career being one of the many replacement level players that Tom Coughlin developed an affection for and kept cutting and bringing back over and over for five years. This was cut short by a severe neck injury in training camp. Wilson’s career is over, but he he got a nice bit of press for being remarkably well-adjusted. Best wishes to him in his next career, as long as it’s not writing a de facto sports column on Tumblr. This is my turf, jack.
WR1- Mario Manningham, New York Giants. Catching a Super Bowl winning pass from Eli Manning seems to be have the curse of the Hope Diamond attatched to it. David Tyree never caught another pass after his fabled helmet catch. Plaxico Burress, who caught the touchdown from Super Bowl XLII that you haven’t seen every day since, figuratively shot his career in the foot by literally shooting himself in the leg the next season. Victor Cruz has been effectively neutered by hamstring problems. You would think Manningham would have escaped, since his signature Super Bowl catch was merely a long third down conversion, not a clinching score. He also got the hell out of Dodge, going to San Francisco that year in free agency. But we are dealing with powerful mystic forces here, and those forces limited Manningham to six games and nine catches last year. Maybe returning home and admitting his hubris would sate these furies, but no, Manningham is already on season-ending injury reserve. There is a classic Twilight Zone episode called And When The Sky Was Opened, where three pilots who inexplicably survived a mission thought to have gone wrong are erased entirely from existence by some unexplained cosmic overcorrection. Call me crazy, but I think that’s what’s happening to…to…hm. That thought got away from me. Anyway, on to the first reciever on our team:
WR2- Trindon Holliday, New York Giants. Holiday is a return specialist and is only nominally a wide reciever, but he is a great returner, except when he is a terrible returner. In his year and a half with the Denver Broncos, he scored four return touchdowns. He also fumbled eleven times. Those are the sorts of things you over look when you’re dealing with someone as fast as Holliday is, but a five foot five reciever was never going to be long for this world. He’ll miss this year, and it’s far too soon to speculate about whether he gets another shot at this level.
TE- Zach Miller, Chicago Bears. This is not the Zach Miller of Seattle, former Pro Bowler. This is the Zach Miller who was cut by the Jaguars in 2012 and was projected to be a blocking tight end behind Martellus Bennett for Chicago this year. It may be that the only impact Zach Miller will make on the league is the necessitating of a disambiguation page on wikipedia for Zach Miller (tight end).
DL BJ Raji, Green Bay Packers. On the strength of an amusing touchdown during Green Bay’s super bowl run, BJ Raji cast himself as “The Freezer,” a play on William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Perry was a media star after his rookie year for the 85 Bears, but injuries derailed him, and his post-retirement life has been quite sad, marked by alcoholism, bankruptcy, and a battle with Gullian-Barre syndrome. Raji has the ring, the nickname, and now the injury problems. Hopefully he can break the cycle and either recover his all-pro form or have a sensible, quiet post-football life.
DL Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals. Dockett is probably the only person in history to get excited about the idea of retiring as a lifelong Arizona Cardinal. Even Arizona’s mascot is pimping the hell out of his LinkedIn, hoping he can catch on with Louisville University. And after the 31 year old tore his ACL in preseason, maybe that should happen sooner rather than later. The biggest problem with this Arizona team is their collective age. Maybe it’s time for the 33 year old Dockett to go home and be a family man.
DL Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys. Spencer had several productive years, filling an important role as the end that wasn’t DeMarcus Ware. He got the franchise tag in 2012, and performed well in anticipation of a cash-in once he finished his one-year under that tag. Instead he was franchise tagged again, because Jerry Jones manages the cap the same way some people balance twelve credit cards. It’s actually quite impressive if you actually think about it in pure logistic terms, (how is he still able to get 53 players under the cap? How has a repo man not been by to just pick up Tyron Smith and put him in a truck?) but it can’t be anything but destructive in the long-term. Spencer’s second franchise tag year was significantly less successful than the first. He played only one game before bowing out for the season with a knee problem, the same knee that has kept him inactive all of this preseason. Spencer is on another one year contract, but it is not a franchise tag. The hope of a long-term payday have vacated the grounds.
DL Bruce Irvin, Seattle Seahawks. Irvin is a defensive lineman for my purposes, but in Seattle’s Predator scheme he inherits instead a hybrid role between end and outside linebacker. Sometimes he lines up as linebacker, and sometimes at defensive end, though even at defensive end he takes a very wide position. Increasingly the old way of thinking of defensive positions and responsibilities is going the way of the flanker and the split end. But since he starts this season on the PUP list, this strategic nerdage will be irrelevant until at least week 9.
LB Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills. Kiko Alonso was the chief source of the unnatural optimism coming from the Bills this offseason. He was the defensive rookie of the year and kept the Bills in games where they really shouldn’t have had a sniff. Any mildly positive forecast of the Bills season was based around Kiko Alonso, and because hope has not been to Buffalo since it got lost on the way to encouraging the British to hold on to Fort Ticonderoga, Alonso went down on the first day of Bills minicamp.
LB Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys. Lee’s breakout campaign in 2011 as an undersized do-everything linebacker seems a million years ago. It’s been seperated from the current day by layers of shale and limestone and knee surgeries. Despite playing in only six games last year, Lee still managed to lead the league in interception return yardage. These are lean times in Dallas, and fans will settle for the impressive-sounding in lieu of the actually impressive. Those fans hoped that this year would be another year of teasingly intermittent great performances between stays in the trainer’s room. And that will clearly not be the case, as Lee blew out his knee on the very first play of minicamp. It’s the sort of fate you’d expect after dealing with an overly literal genie.
LB Navorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers. With most of these injuries, they happened in the relatively unwatched arenas of practice and minicamps, sparing those of us prone to empathetic pain a great deal of wincing. Bowman’s injurie, however, is a carryover from the Tim Krumrie Special he recieved in the NFC Championship game. While it did not merit much more than a 0.5 on the Eduardo Da Silva scale, it still did not make for pleasant viewing, and it is no surprise that Bowman will not be ready for the beginning of the season.
DB Aaron Ross, Baltimore Ravens. Ross, like Manningham before him, is part of the title-winning Giant squads of 2007 and 2011. After a remarkably sad one-year stint with the Jaguars in 2012, Ross returned to New York last year, only to be on IR by week 4. Ross signed with Baltimore, very suddenly needy in the secondary, but this time didn’t even make it out of July before health became an issue again. The universe is trying to tell you something, Aaron; please sit down and listen.
DB Chris Conte, Chicago Bears. Chicago is in a time of transition; not simply from one generation of personnel to another but to an entirely different philosophy towards the game. CFL guru Marc Trestman has brought a forceful passing attack with him from up north, and it worked marvelously. At the same time, injuries and age neutered the always fearsome Chicago defense, leaving the Bears at 8-8. The defense needs to improve, but not by much; the pressure is off. Jay Cutler is, very simply, the best Chicago Bear quarterback in the post-war era and there isn’t even a worthy debate for second place (Rex Grossman? Johnny Lujack? Bobby Douglass?). The defense need only rise to replacement level, and when safety Chris Conte gets healthy, he’ll be part of that. He is, in scoutspeak, a JAG, but Just A Guy is all Chicago really needs on defense for once.
DB Chris Harris, Denver Broncos. Harris was undrafted in 2011 and not expected to make the team, but instead became a reliable contributor in the slot corner role, another new defensive role created by the reliance on the nickel. A third corner used to basically be a backup or situational player, but now with spread concepts and four wide offensive sets becoming the standard, defenses have had to adapt. Nickel defenses were used on over half of all plays last year; perhaps starting lineup graphics should update accordingly. Harris should return before the season is out from the torn ACL he suffered in the playoffs, but it remains to be seen whether he will be promoted to the second corner role opposite Aqib Talib or whether he will be kept in the slot.
DB Jamarca Sanford, Minnesota Vikings. Among all the nonsensical garbage Mike Zimmer shouted at his team in minicamp was “It’s the easiest thing in the world to find a cover two corner. Easiest thing in the world.” I suppose his players were supposed to be motivated by how utterly replaceable they were. This is the sort of snide, unhelpful comment that takes the joy out of accomplishment. Even if you are exemplary in drills, the coach has just told you that you are the defensive equivalent of a fast food worker. Zimmer better hope he is correct, as he has lost a three year starting safety, and chose to put him on short-term injury reserve, which means Sanford will be released once he is healthy. If Zimmer is right, then this does nothing but create a spot for rookie Antone Exum, who played both safety and corner for Vriginia Tech. If he’s wrong, then another problem on a roster full of them has appeared.