Skill Players to Monitor in August: Reads Listens Views 7/27/2012

The Template for Modern Quarterbacking

Four Skill Players to Monitor In August

Arizona WR Juron Criner is a “Trust Me” player. See below (trust me).

One of the things we discuss regularly on the Thursday night Audible podcast is the importance of following the reports that the media files on players. These stories provide a brick-by-brick foundation about these players. Although these reports aren’t infallible, learning to filter truth from perception can have value. Below are players I’m monitoring this off season.

WR Steve Smith and Greg Salas, St. Louis Rams: Forget rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens for a moment. When healthy,  Steve Smith is one of the better “plus-possession” receivers (receivers with some field-stretching skill) in the NFL. Sam Bradford and Smith are a great match if the former Giants receiver has sufficiently recovered from his microfracture surgery at the end of the 2010 season.

There have already been two guarded, but positive reports about Smith. The first was his initial offseason workout with the team. Jeff Fisher said it was an “extraordinary” workout. The second report came in mid-June when beat writer Jim Thomas said that Smith came on strong in spring practice.

If Smith proves he’s back. There is no way he doesn’t start. He’s one of the best route runners in the NFL, he catches the ball in the face of contact, and when paired with a quarterback capable of throwing the deep ball with great anticipation off play action, he can burn a 70 percent of the league’s defenders on vertical routes. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Smith beat defenders by a couple of steps in New York, but Eli Manning overthrew him. They never had that deep rapport because as good as Manning is, he throws a better deep route when his receiver is running a straight vertical and doesn’t set up a defender with a double move or a break.

Salas was written off too early and I think his hands and comfort with physical play will begin to shine through as he developed greater confidence down the stretch of his rookie year. He was also impressive in spring drills and despite the fact he wasn’t one of Jeff Fisher’s picks, he also has the potential to perform as a “plus-possession” receiver along the lines of Eric Decker in Denver. I like Decker’s ability more, but Salas is good enough to become a solid starter when paired with a young quarterback like Bradford.

Tight End Taylor Thompson, Titans: He lacks experience as a college tight end, but he had experience at the position in high school. Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates had as little or less experience and Thompson at least played four years of college football. When I look at Jared Cook, he reminds me a little of Bobby Betheard’s failed experiment with Mikhael Ricks.

Thompson is reportedly a natural at catching the football and his size and athleticism are not far from Rob Gronkowski’s combo of gifts. Blocking and the mental side of offensive football might slow his progress as a rookie, but I bet you’ll be hearing a lot about him. If he’s a natural at picking up the mental side of the game, watch out.

Wide Receiver Juron Criner, Raiders: I’ve written about him before the draft, Russ Lande says he has the best hands of any receiver he’s scouted in many years, and he has wowed the Raiders with his mitts, too. I thought he was a smart, savvy, intuitive football player that knows how to use the speed he has. Compared to Stephen Hill – a true burner – Criner is a relative turtle but like Vikings legend Cris Carter he can manipulate more athletic opponents with his combo of height, vertical leaping, strength, and body control. I’ll take that over a one-dimensional speed guy any day.


Sigmund Bloom’s “From the Gut”  – Fast-break thoughts from perhaps the most “plugged-in” fantasy football analyst around.

“A Violent Collision Seeker,” by Evan Silva – Analysis of LSU DB Tyrann Mathieu. Good stuff.

Matt Bowen’s “Top Ten Rookies to Watch in Training Camp,” I like that Bowen mentioned Stephen Hill, Brian Quick, and Brandon Weeden.

Are We Addicted to Gadgets or Indentured to Work? I believe they both contribute to an age where I feel a great ambivalence being part. I have been without a cellphone for almost a year and I love it. At the same time, I also love the opportunities that Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress provide me to share my work. Still, there are many days I want to cut ties with most of social media.

Harry Crews: “We Are All Of us Passing Through” If you’re looking for great fiction, the recently deceased Harry Crews is a great place to start. This is an except of his work that was featured in the Spring Issue of the Georgia Review – in my opinion, the best thing that Athens, Georgia produces. It’s not even close. The only book I’ve read of Crews’ is Body. Not sure why I haven’t more, because it was a fantastic novel. I’m correcting this soon. Hopefully what you’ll read above and see below will correct your want of great fiction.

Listens (Harry Crews…Not Safe for Work)

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