Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top 10 Big Ten Senior Prospects

1. DE Brandon Graham, Michigan - Graham is the best returning pass rusher in the Big Ten, he has had 18.5 sacks over the last two seasons. The issue with Graham is he is short, standing in at around 6’0 and some NFL teams want defensive ends that are 6’3 or taller. But Graham has proven over the years that he is able to get off the line of scrimmage and not only make plays rushing the passers, but also against the run behind the line of scrimmage. He tied for the Big 10 lead in tackles for loss with 20 last season.

Graham could play in the 3-4 defense as an outside pass rusher, but is probably better suited for the 4-3 as a defensive end, where he could play both the right and left defensive end position.

2. DE Corey Wootton, Northwestern – The question mark with Wooten heading into his senior season is how well he responds from a torn ACL sustained in the Alamo Bowl against Missouri. As a junior he had 42 total tackles, 10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, one interception and a blocked a kick.

Wooton is an all around good defensive end and plays with outstanding leverage. He does a good job creating problems with passing lanes because of his size and possesses the ability to use his power and bull-rush, as well as some counter pass rushing moves. The biggest question is Wootton’s health, if he was healthy going into the season he would be the number one overall senior prospect in the Big Ten.

3. DE Greg Middleton, Indiana - Middleton has good size for a defensive end at around 6’3, 285 pounds, along with good but not great speed and an excellent first step off the line of scrimmage. He can use his strength to bull-rush you, but does have an array of pass rushing moves to beat opposing blockers and is extremely strong. He is best-suited on obvious passing downs when he can explode off the line and bull rush over helpless tackles.

Middleton was much better as a sophomore then he was a junior. As a sophomore he led the nation in sacks with 16, adding 50 total tackles and 17 tackles for loss. Last season had 18 total tackles, five tackles for loss and four sacks, he was dinged up with some injuries so the hope is that was the reason for the lack of production. This is a huge season for him, if he get back to his sophomore season he could be a first round pick, if he plays more like last season he drops down huge in the draft.

4. TE Garrett Graham, Wisconsin - Last season because of some injuries, Graham became the focal point of the Wisconsin passing attack. He led the Badgers with 40 receptions, 540 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. Graham has good size at 6’4, 248 pounds and should be Wisconsin’s most reliable target again this season.
Graham has the ability to be similar to Seattle’s John Carlson at the next level, a reliable blocker and a sure handed receiver. He isn’t going to wow you with either, but is going to get the job done and when the season is over he is going to have around 50 catches.

5. WR Eric Decker, Minnesota - Decker had a good sophomore season catching 67 passes for 909 yards and nine touchdowns, and followed that up last season with 84 catches for 1,074 yards and seven touchdowns. Decker has good size at 6’2, 215 pounds and a good overall athlete. While he isn’t a super fast, he does a good job coming in and out of his breaks and has good hands. Decker is a player that most likely won’t be a number one receiver in the NFL, but will be a great number two receiver, in the mold of Vincent Jackson of San Diego or Anthony Gonzalez of Indianapolis. Not a guy who will wow you with the big plays, but will make all the catches and will be there to make that catch on third down to keep the drive alive.

6. ILB Sean Lee, Penn State - Missed all of last season following surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that occurred last April. Lee was a heck of football player before his knee injury and the question will be can he get back to his form in 2007 where he had 138 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles and one interception. The plan was for Lee to go from the outside linebacker spot to the middle linebacker. Before the injury Lee was a very good overall linebacker who make plays all over the field and many thought that he would have been a later first round pick with his ability and football IQ. Now, there are a lot of question marks that come up with Lee, but expect him to answer them and start to rise up draft boards come April.

7. S Kurt Coleman, Ohio State - Coleman thought about entering the NFL draft before returning to Ohio State, which was a good move for him. Last season he had 78 total tackles, and has 11 total tackles in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas, and finished the season with four interceptions. Coleman has decent size at 5-11 190 pounds and good overall speed. In addition, he has good range in pass coverage and seems to be able to read and react well, in both the run and the passing game. Coleman needs to come on a have a big senior season and show scouts that he can be a big time play maker at the next level.

8. S Anderson Russell, Ohio State - Russell is the other safety prospect at Ohio State, and last season had a productive season with 67 total tackles and two interceptions. He is bigger then his teammate Coleman at 6’0, 205 but wasn’t as productive last season. Russell needs to get better in coverage as a senior to be able to show NFL scouts that he can play free safety at the next level because that is what most teams are projecting Russell to be. He needs to be more consistent in his man-to-man coverage and also needs to be able to read where the quarterback is going with the ball in the passing game.

9. DT Jared Odrick, Penn State - Last season Odrick emerged into one of the nation's top defensive linemen with 41 total tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. His 2007 season was cut short by ankle and hand injuries, so he had a lot to prove last season. Odrick has great size a 6’5 306, and almost always commands double teams, which allows other players to make plays. He plays the run well, but also has the ability to rush the passer, and can both inside on the edge. He is a hard worker and doesn’t take plays off.

10. LB Pat Angerer, Iowa - Angerer came out of nowhere to lead the team in tackles last season with 107 total tackles, after recording just six tackles in his first two seasons. Angerer tied for the Big Ten lead with five interceptions to go along with three pass breakups, to help him earned All-Big Ten second-team honors.
Angerer has good size at 6’1, 235 pounds, and not only is a good run defender but also proved to be effective in pass coverage (both man-to-man and zone). He should be productive for Iowa this season, but the really answers will come when he reaches the combine and post season workouts.

Photo Credit: Northwestern, Iowa Sports Information, University of Minnesota Athletic Communications

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Danny Clark Foundation A Big Hit

On Saturday night, April 17th, Danny Clark, a nine-year NFL veteran linebacker now with the New York Giants, hosted a fundraiser on behalf of his Foundation at the River East Art Center in downtown Chicago. To kick off the event, Mr. Clark described the roots of his charity in a heartfelt recount of his son, Nicky, who is struggling after a premature birth:

“March 11, 2002, my second youngest son, Danny Clark V, we called him Nicky -- he was born three months early. He was 25 weeks gestation, one pound and thirteen ounces in weight. He lived in a little incubator I called, ‘his apartment’.

“My son went through a whole bunch in a small amount of time. In the first three months of his life, he struggled. Doctors gave him a 30 percent chance to live. Needless to say, there is a God. I’m very thankful.

“So my son now is seven years old, three-sport athlete, 100 percent healthy…Nicky was the inspiration for the Danny Clark Foundation. I met with my board members a couple of years ago and said I wanted to help out, to reach out to premature families. Not just the children, but I want to reach out to the parents -- you don’t know how to understand your child when he is a pound and thirteen ounces. So the whole concept is that we want to reach out to the families; and the board said let’s reach out to all kids, not just premature families. And that’s our mission, objective and motive -- to get a lot of people to do a little.” With that, we officially kick-started the night’s events.

The evening was creatively designed, hoping to entice those with some extra pocket change to open their wallets for a good cause. Dozens of donations were available for silent auction, including the use of a private jet that started its minimum bid at $8,000. As the emcee for the night, Leon Rogers had proclaimed later, “There is no recession happening with this room full of people!” By far the most entertaining fundraising event of the evening was the live auction of some of the New York Giants in attendance. Cornerback Aaron Ross, safeties Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson, as well as Danny Ware and Geris Wilkerson raked in the Benjamins, not so surprisingly from the female contingency in the bidding audience. The bidding concluded climactically with Rogers auctioning off two beautiful Porsches, which were all but in my possession until I realized I write for a living. All in all, I unofficially calculated that Mr. Clark raised somewhere in the order of $150,000 by the end of the auction.

As far as the other entertainment, the night’s activity was highlighted by Cirque du Lumiere or “Circus of Light”, best described as acrobatic yet artistic performances in the vein of Cirque du Soleil. The female performers garnered much attention, almost as much as the models “wearing” only painted football jerseys, courtesy of Body Paint Chicago. Hats off to the athletes for making themselves openly available to the guests as well -- they accepted photo ops all night. Of particular interest was the sudden deflation of manhood as I reviewed snapshots of me (or was it mini-me?) posing next to Marcus Stroud of the Buffalo Bills and the Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka. My wife finds these pictures particularly amusing. But again, their gentlemanly spirit added that much more to the overall generosity of the evening and I recovered from my momentary lapse of manhood.

Despite the light-natured atmosphere of the hosts, I became deeply intrigued by the motive Mr. Clark expressed for starting his foundation. Upon further investigation and a quick conversation with the founder, the mission of the Danny Clark Foundation is clearly an attack on the socio-economic conditions plaguing children born in to circumstances with little positive influence. More specifically, Clark is asking for “more positive role models” in the backdrop of single-parent households, increased crime, juvenile drug abuse, incarceration and teenage pregnancy. New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Mississippi are the four states the foundation is focusing on; one need look no further than my current residence of Chicago, Illinois, to appreciate first-hand the depth of the problem Clark is attempting to tackle.

For instance, Illinois and Texas hold two of the nation’s highest teenage pregnancy rates and in 2000, Mississippi had one the highest teenage birthrates according to a Guttmacher Institute 2006 publication. With respect to single-parent households, Families and Living Arrangements: 2006 found 12.9 million one-parent families in 2006, over 10 million of which were single-mother families. In Illinois, over 12 percent of all family households are comprised of a female-householder with no husband present. What’s particularly alarming is that 78.7 percent of black women in Illinois give birth when they are unmarried (compared to 24.0 percent whites and 48.6 percent Hispanics). All signs point toward situations where children, more often black children, are born in to households lacking paternal influence. Mr. Clark is right -- education, opportunity and a guiding light are desperately needed in order to break the downward, spiraling circuitry of single-parent households giving birth to children who themselves eventually become pregnant as teenagers.

Statistics are the most scientific and logical method to present a position or argument. As such, I have provided an oversimplified, yet number-rich description (I write about sports -- a table of numbers is my color palette) of a socio-economic epidemic stretching both coasts of our rich country. My personal taste of this reality comes every weekend, when I meander to my local park to play basketball adjacent to Chicago’s infamous projects, Cabrini Green. Seward Park is packed with kids of all ages once the cold weather finally breaks as it houses ten basketball hoops and plenty of space for running around. Last week I was shooting hoops by myself when a little boy no older than five asked if he could play with me. The ball, twice the size of his head, took all his arms and legs could muster to even approach rim level, let alone find its way in to the basket. But after about 15 minutes of persistence, jumping jacks, pushups, sit-ups and a few laughs, my new friend was on his way to following the footsteps of Derrick Rose. He was a pleasant, energetic young boy, just like any other you would find on a sunny warm day at the park. So kind was he that he offered me half of his twizzler -- only I watched him pick it up right off the ground before he spoke in such generosity. After pleading with him not to eat the tainted candy while frowning inside at the notion of a child eating candy off the ground without hesitation, he conceded regretfully and chucked the red dirt bit in to the grass and eventually walked away. Minutes later, as I packed it in for the day, I saw the little boy leaving the basketball courts, say around 6:30PM, walking away with no parent in site. In downtown Chicago.

Mr. Clark pleads that he would like to “…get a lot of people to do a little” in an effort to spread positivity to the people who need it most. And although the fundraising event was attended by the New York Giants’ defense, it has become very obvious to me, and hopefully to you, that even one of the best defenses in the NFL needs a little help on the offense -- go and be a positive role model for someone today.

Go to for more information on Danny Clark’s Foundation, future fundraising events and to make donations.