This Scouting Notebook wraps up 2011 – a great year with lots of passionate debate that I've very much enjoyed. We'll be back next summer with more football coverage. Until then, feel free to contact me with gridiron grumblings via Twitter @MichaelSalfino. And happy holidays and best wishes in 2012.
Horrible news in Washington where Adrian Peterson is lost with a torn ACL and there are now questions about him for 2012, of course, but beyond, too. We hope he returns as the same player with the same explosiveness, but we should all assume until there is proof otherwise that he will not. It could be worse, I guess, but reports are that Peterson has a torn MCL, too. So even as far as ACLs go, this is bad.
John Skelton knows how to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. The more uncertain the quarterback, the better the volume for the freak wide receiver. Better QBs will just take advantage of heavy coverages by throwing to whoever is open because they have the skill and confidence to scan the defense or even find the open man pre-snap.
Victor Cruz was the monster who killed the Jets today (though technically the Jets still have a fairly reasonable path to the postseason). He did it mostly against Kyle Wilson, a good player. Cruz has elite athleticism. I don't know how fast he times. But scouts say, it's not how fast you run at wide receiver, it's how fast you stop. I advised on SNYWhyGuys that the Jets should have put Darrelle Revis on Cruz, who's been the Giants most productive wideout for most of the year.
Mark Sanchez is posting two touchdowns per game. But he hasn't progressed as much as Jets fans hoped. However, he's saddled with an offensive coordinator who called for primary receivers to be thrown to within five yards of the line of scrimmage, leading to a bevy of tipped passes. These were not check-down options but first reads. In the NFL, there is a very strong correlation between plus-30-yard plays and winning – nearly as strong as turnover differential.
Matt Moore showed the power of playoff matchups. But what about Tom Brady with two rushing touchdowns? That's a cruel twist for any owner who lost to a Brady-backed team. Brady entered the game with eight career rushing scores.
Brandon Marshall is doing just enough with Matt Moore to disappoint his owners again in 2012. With the touchdown today, he has nine scores in 163 Dolphins catches.
I predict Stevan Ridley is the first Patriots running back drafted next year, but the winner at the draft will be someone who tabs another back later because Bill Belichick is turning into Sean Payton with his running game.
Ray Rice's 48 receiving yards (most on the touchdown) are about his season average and put him right with Darren Sproles for the NFL lead at the position. Rice is about as safe a player as you can draft in 2012 and there's a good chance we haven't seen his best season yet.
I've been wondering all year why the Titans don't feature Jared Cook more, given his clear hybrid ability as a modern slot receiver masquerading as a tight end. He's definitely someone to target next year when this breakout week will be largely forgotten.
Teams should want to get rid of a player a year too early. The same thing for us when it comes to drafting a running back. So avoid Maurice Jones-Drew next year. Once backs get to about 1,500 carries, I start to look for reasons to pick someone else – especially at the top of the draft. Jones-Drew entered the week 77th all time in rushes, 69th in touches.
Frank Gore has even more touches than Jones-Drew so no way do I spend a first-round pick on him, either. The circus leaves town eventually for everyone, kiddies.
And that brings us to our final 2011 word on the Broncos "quarterback." I've heard: "Oh, the winning!" And: "Look at that QB rating – not bad!" And: "You have to give him credit for avoiding turnovers." All of those arguments are out the window now. The four picks today were a fluke just like the lack of them previously were a fluke. You can't project any young QB for under three percent INTs – especially a poor thrower with a sun-dial release. Finally, as I've long said but to make it official: RIP Read Option.
Cam Newton is a second-round pick next year because the rushing TDs for him are projectable to a point – call it 8-to-10 (so nine).
We can't project C.J. Spiller 2012 until a lot of stuff shakes out in Buffalo.
The final indignity for Rashard Mendenhall owners is how the Steelers got all egalitarian in dishing out easy rushing touchdowns. But bottom line for him, he's coming off back-to-back sub-4.0 rushing years so you are a fool to draft him in the first two rounds (which means you won't be drafting him).
Okay, Marshawn Lynch proved he is a Beast. But I couldn't say to play a guy versus the defense that's toughest to score on, allows the least rushing yards and had yet to yield a rushing score. We are dealing with probabilities, not prophecies. These are merely educated guesses.
Matthew Stafford is evolving quickly, but as I intimated before, this is going to end up being a net loss for Calvin Johnson (who will still be great, I stipulate). But it's a bigger gain for Stafford owners (and the Lions).
Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.