For our latest roundtable, I was joined by Anthony Cosenza, Brennen Warner and Ryan Harper as we discussed PFF's most improves player and biggest decline for a player, the Pro Bowl and how the NFL can fix it and the Super Bowl.
Jason G. Pro Football Focus said that the most improved player from 2010 to 2011 was Andre Smith and the player that declined the most was Jerome Simpson. What are your thoughts on those two players and would you pick somebody else?
Anthony C. I think that Andre played pretty well this season. His dedication to his offseason conditioning really paid off and that's a big deal given the fact that the team wasn't able to organize any workouts because of the lockout. I'd still wish that they'd kick him inside to guard and let Anthony Collins play right tackle. That type of move saved the careers of Leonard Davis and Robert Gallery and would solve a lot of problems on the Bengals line. As for Simpson, I think it's time to move on to somebody more stable. This season was a microcosm of his entire 4-year career: off-the-charts athleticism but wildly inconsistent and can't be counted on. I'm done with him after this marijuana arrest--jail time or not.
Brennen W. I'm really rooting for Andre Smith to do well and I think he had a good season this year, so I like him as the most improved player. He still gets a lot of flack from fans but he could easily become one of the best players on our team next year. Runner-ups for most improved are Jermaine Gresham and Chris Pressley.
Ryan H. I think that Andre Smith did a solid job this season, since the Bengals finally got a full season out of him since they drafted him. It was kind of a coin toss as to what you were going to get from him production wise. This past offseason he really seemed to get his head on straight and started to take his role with the team seriously. He showed up to training camp in shape and ready to prove himself to the critics. And I think he did just that with his performance. I think if he continues to have the hunger to improve his overall game then he can be a solid player on the front line for a little while. As for Jerome Simpson, I was never a fan of him from the beginning. It was a gamble taking him in the second round and unfortunately he hasn't proven himself in the league. His performance is too sporadic. One game he's lights out then the next week he can't catch the ball even if his life depended on it. I also think that with his legal problems from this season that it's time to cut the chord on Simpson and let him leave.
Brennen W. For most declined, I'll throw in the name Michael Johnson as well. Jerome Simpson certainly didn't provide us with the same explosion that he showed at the end of 2011, and still seemed raw after 4 years of coaching. Jerome's flaws were exposed this year, but he also showed us why he has so much potential. On Michael Johnson, he's one of those guys that you forget if he's not doing anything, and I certainly forgot about him this year. Fortunately, a healthy Frostee Rucker was there to step up and start in his place.
Jason G. I'm going to throw a couple more names out there for most improved player. Geno Atkins and Reggie Nelson. Both made a case to be named most improved player (especially Atkins... Nelson may not have played enough in 2010 to get a great feel for him). What are your thoughts?
Anthony C. I'd definitely say Atkins as most improved. From fourth-round pick to third down rotational guy to starter and then Pro Bowler, the guy has come a long way in two seasons. I really like his motor and character. Great find by the Bengals. Going back to what Brennen said about Johnson's decline, I'd have to say that I agree his production slipped, but I think opposing offensive lines knew to double team him while Dunlap was out for about a month and a half. A healthy Dunlap makes for MJ to have more production like he had in the beginning of 2011.
Jason G. That's definitely true. I think Johnson needs Dunlap to be a really successful pass rusher. Hopefully Dunlap can stay healthy in 2012.
Brennen W. Geno is almost so obviously improved that he gets forgotten. Gotta love him, and you gotta love the value that the Bengals got out of him as a fourth round pick. Love Reggie too, I'm surprised that I forgot both of them, though they each had a different track of improvement. Reggie moved from below average to above average. Geno moved from above average to Pro Bowl.
Ryan H. I definitely agree about Atkins. As long as he keeps it up he'll be a mainstay for the Bengals defense for the long-run. He was a huge factor for the defense's success this season. Without him on the defensive line who knows what would've happened, especially when Dunlap was out.
Brennen W. Definitely. Atkins absolutely stepped up when Carlos was injured.
Anthony C. True, but man did the defense decline without big boy Pat Sims in there. The defense, including Atkins, got gashed by the Ravens and Texans without Sims. He really played well this season until he got hurt.
Jason G. Speaking of Atkins, he, Jermaine Gresham, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton made their way to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl this season. It was the first time since 2005 that the Bengals have had four players in the NFL's version of an all-star game. However, the game was terrible. The Pro Bowl is always terrible. What are some good ideas on how the league could make the Pro Bowl more exciting or watchable for NFL fans?
Brennen W. Hope I don't steal what anyone else was going to say... but I read an article where someone suggested they have an All-Star Combine where all the Pro Bowlers participate in different running, throwing, catching, lifting competitions. Fans would love to see who the fastest player in the NFL is, or who can throw the farthest, or who can benchpress the most, etc.
Anthony C. There's really not much they can do, in my opinion. Even though American Football is the most popular sport in the U.S., they have the worst All-Star game. It's not really their fault though because of the violent and physical nature of the sport. Honestly, money and a free trip to Hawaii is the only thing that gets guys to want to go and play. The only other thing they could do is have the outcome determine some form of home field advantage for either the AFC or NFC team, but I'm not sure how they'd do that. Plus, if guys get devastating injuries in a game like this, teams would complain. I think it's stuck like it is.
Ryan H. Scrap it altogether. I've never been able to watch the Pro Bowl. I've always felt like it's a joke. But if the league wants to make it more exciting or watchable then they should implement some sort of competition, kind of like how baseball has the home run derby, fans love those type of competitions.
Brennen W. Or, turn it into a flag football game. The players would play 100%, and it would be extremely competitive and fun.
Jason G. One problem I see is that the trip to Hawaii is like a vacation to the players... and they deserve that vacation. However, it may get more fans involved if they rotated the location of the Pro Bowl to different cities and made it very fan accessible. I can't go to Hawaii to watch the game but I can drive to Indianapolis to meet some players and see some cool NFL-related exhibits or activities. The players have an entire offseason to go to Hawaii. The Pro Bowl should be about the fans. What do you guys think?
Anthony C. True Jason, but Indy in January has crappy weather. Fans and players want to go somewhere nice and warm. You know, like Southern California!
Ryan H. Yeah, that would definitely help generate more interest from the fan base if they moved it to different cities each year, kind of like how baseball does it. Each year choose a different venue for the Pro Bowl, but don't take Hawaii out the picture permanently.
Jason G. That's true too.
Ryan H. Psh....cold and crappy weather all the way!
Brennen W. Hawaii is rather inconvenient for most fans. I wouldn't be opposed to a Pro Bowl rotating around California, Florida, or Texas. Fans could at least go to it in greater numbers, and it would still be sunny!
Jason G. No matter what they do, the NFL needs to change something about the Pro Bowl. I can't think that they make a lot of money on it. And that takes us to the Super Bowl. Do any of you buy the fact that the Giants are the best team in the NFL?
Anthony C. No, just the hottest. I think that the majority of the teams that were in the playoffs this year could have beaten the Giants on any given Sunday. They just got hot at the end of the year and kept the momentum. I'm a big believer of earning your way into the playoffs--it builds a certain mentality. The last three times that the Bengals made the playoffs, they "backed in" and they lost every time. The Packers rested guys in Week 17 and lost. You've got to have that momentum.
Ryan H. Nope, but they heated up at the right moment. During the regular season they didn't look that great, but once the postseason arrived they caught fire and never looked back. The Giants had the momentum that carried them all the way through the playoffs. Plus they got some lucky breaks along the way. The Patriots spoiled too many opportunities and didn't come through when they needed to during the Super Bowl.
Brennen W. I agree with Anthony. Just like the Packers last year, and even the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB this year, the hottest team usually wins in the playoffs. This year it was the Giants. The worst running game in the regular season? Glaring holes in the secondary? Their worst players really stepped up in their final 4 games.