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Tag:Manny Lawson
Posted on: February 29, 2012 12:33 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 2:28 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Fletcher, at 37, might not have many options other than returning to Washington. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the linebackers.

While there are a ton of free agent linebackers about to come on the market -- I’ve counted approximately 80 -- there doesn’t seem to be many surefire game-changers in the bunch. London Fletcher, vastly underrated in Washington, is one such player, but other than him, you’ve mostly got solid guys who can be contributors to whichever team signs them.

Some of the better free agent linebackers have been taken off the board already, as D’Qwell Jackson has re-signed with Cleveland while Ahmad Brooks agreed to return to San Francisco. Here are the rest of those who probably will try out their fortunes on the market.

1a. Mario Williams


Breakdown: Though we have Williams as the No. 1 defensive end available, we have to give him some love on the linebacker list, as well. Simply because in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, Williams was an outside linebacker. He only played five games for the Texans last year before tearing his pectoral muscle, but with five sacks, he also proved he can be successful in a 3-4 defense, meaning every team in the league should be thinking about Williams' worth. We thought he might struggle to find his balance in the first year of Phillips' scheme, but, as a linebacker, Williams is pretty damn good also.

Possible Landing Spots: Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans

1b. London Fletcher


Breakdown: Fletcher is one of those players who, unless you’re paying close attention, somehow seems to rack up the tackle numbers -- and you’re not really sure how. And before you know it, he’s leading the league with 166 takedowns, like last year.  In fact, Fletcher has recorded at least 116 tackles every year since 2001, and he’s started 224-straight games. The problem with Fletcher is that he’s 37, and you have to wonder how long his durability will hold up -- as well as his penchant for making scores of tackles every season. That shouldn’t matter, however, because it sounds like he wants to return to Washington and that the Redskins feel the same way. “We want our captain back,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said earlier this month. The feeling apparently is mutual.

Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

Tulloch might be a good fit in Philadelphia because he knows how to play in the wide nine. (US Presswire)

2. Stephen Tulloch


Breakdown: After a solid 2008-10 with the Titans (the dude had 160 tackles in 2010), Tennessee let the Lions take away Stephen Tulloch for 2011. After recording 111 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended last year, Detroit would like to keep him. It’ll likely cost the Lions much more than the one-year, $3.25 million deal they paid Tulloch last year. More importantly for the Lions, though, is locking up defensive end Cliff Avril, and you have to wonder if the Lions will want to shell out that much money to two defensive players. One good option for Tulloch might be the Eagles. Considering Tulloch played for years with Jim Washburn, who installed the wide nine scheme in Philadelphia last year, Tulloch would be comfortable in that system. Besides, the Eagles linebackers last year were pretty horrible, and Tulloch would be a big upgrade. Wherever he lands, one can only hope that Tulloch gets another chance to Tebow in front of Tebow.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions, Buccaneers, Eagles

3. Anthony Spencer


Breakdown: He’s pretty much the definition of one of those solid linebackers I wrote about before, and the Cowboys don’t fancy losing him to free agency. There has been speculation that the team could place the franchise tag on him, but if not, at least one Dallas reporter has speculated that Spencer could land a Chris Canty-like deal (a six-year, $42 million contract signed in 2009). The Cowboys might be averse to giving him such a long deal, because he hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations. Spencer’s representatives and the Cowboys were scheduled to meet at the scouting combine, and if they can’t come to a long-term agreement, Dallas might just have to grit its teeth and tag him.

Possible Landing Spots:Cowboys, Dolphins

4. Curtis Lofton


Breakdown: For the past three years, Lofton has been a tackling machine, accumulating at least 118 (including 147 in 2011), and it’s clear the Falcons want to re-sign him. But when Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff says that negotiations between the team and Lofton are “amicable,” it strikes kind of a weird tone (or is that just me?). And maybe the Falcons won’t be terrified if Lofton leaves. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote last week, “There’s growing sentiment that he’s a liability against the pass. The question thus becomes: Would you pay $8 million a year for a two-down linebacker?” Lofton might want more than that. Reportedly, Lofton is asking or a four-year deal worth $36 million.

Possible Landing Spots: Falcons, Eagles, Browns

5. David Hawthorne

Breakdown: With Hawthorne, you pretty much know what you’re getting. He’s good for about 110 tackles a season, five passes defended or so, and an interception or three. But it sounds like the Seahawks have a higher priority to sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant than inking Hawthorne to a new deal. Hawthorne is only 26 years old, and he’s solid across the board. But maybe more than most of the other linebackers on the list, there’s not a great chance for him to return to his old team. The one caveat to that: now that Leroy Hill is facing another drug charge, that might open up Seattle’s interest in Hawthorne again.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks

6. Jarret Johnson


Breakdown: The Ravens, at some point soon, might have to make a choice between whether they want Johnson or Jameel McClain (see below) to return to Baltimore for 2012. General manager Ozzie Newsome had said he wants to keep both, but that will be tough for the club to accomplish. So, if you’re Newsome, who is the priority between Johnson and McClain? Well, McClain had more tackles (84-56) last season  but less sacks (Johnson had 2.5 to McClain’s 1), and the Baltimore Sun predicts the Ravens have a better chance of retaining Johnson. He is, though, four years older, which might mean Baltimore will actually go harder after McClain. “I’d like to fit in again here,” Johnson said last month, via the team’s official website. “But unfortunately this is a business and sometimes business decisions [have] got to be made. I hope to be back. I’d love to retire a Raven, but we’ll see.”

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts

7. Jameel McClain


Breakdown: At 26, McClain is a young talent who likely will command a large salary (moreso than Jarret Johnson (see above)). It doesn’t sound like there’s a great chance for the Ravens to keep him.

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts, Eagles

8. Honorable Mentions

Unrestricted: Barrett Ruud, Chase Blackburn, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Andra Davis, Manny Lawson, Geno Hayes, Wesley Woodyard, Dan Connor

Restricted: Dannell Ellerbe, Aaron Maybin

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:17 pm
 

Film Room: Bengals vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



So let’s get this straight: the Steelers, at a respectable 6-3, are in third place of the AFC North? And it’s not the soft-scheduled Browns they’re chasing, but rather, the dysfunctional Bengals?

We’re going to find out over the next two months whether the Bengals are a Cinderella story or a farce. First, let’s establish some expectations by examining what the film has revealed over the past two months.



1. The ginger rookie & Jon Gruden’s brother
There’s a growing movement to anoint Andy Dalton the Offensive Rookie of the Year instead of Cam Newton. That’s a fair. Dalton’s team is 6-2, Newton’s is 2-6. But let’s keep our perspective and remember that Dalton is NOT the physical specimen that Newton is. He doesn’t have Newton’s arm, wheels or athletic improv skills. And he’s not being asked to do the same things as Newton.

That said, Dalton has been much closer to Newton’s athletic level than anyone would have ever guessed. He has shown the arm strength to make just about every throw that first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has asked of him. He’s been poised when operating from a muddied pocket, and he’s very good at releasing the ball on the move.

Gruden has done a phenomenal job playing to Dalton’s strengths. The Bengals have a balanced attack that hinges on play-action and rollouts, two concepts that slice the field for a quarterback and help define his reads (see graphic). Gruden also incorporates a lot of three-and five-step drops – another simplification tactic. As a result, the Bengals offense has not only been nearly mistake-free but also calm and consistent.

A play-action rollout simplifies things for a quarterback by essentially slicing the field in half. In this sample (against a basic two-man coverage), a fake handoff compels the defense to flow left. The only defenders who go right are the ones responsible for the two receivers running their patterns to the right.

Quarterbacking 101 teaches you to never throw across your body or back across the field. Thus, after the quarterback rolls out, he only has to read the right side of the field, which consists of nothing but his two receivers and their defensive matchups. Often, the read is simplified even more by throwing to wherever the free safety is not giving help-coverage. If a play is there, it’s easy for the quarterback to see.

If nothing’s there, the quarterback has plenty of room to throw the ball away or scramble.

2. The “sure thing” receiver & other weapons
Wideout A.J. Green has been exactly what you’d expect a No. 4 overall pick to be in Year One. He’s averaging roughly five catches, 75 yards and a little more than half a touchdown per game. He’s clearly Dalton’s go-to guy, being targeted almost automatically when facing one-on-one coverage. Green has a wide catching radius thanks to uncommon body control and a great vertical leap. He’ll climb to the top echelon of receivers once he polishes his route running (he has a bad tendency to yield ground and inside positioning on downfield patterns).

The receiving weapons around Green have been solid. Jermaine Gresham can cause matchup problems in the flats. Veteran Donald Lee has filled in well in the wake of Gresham’s hamstring injury the past two weeks. Jerome Simpson has shown why the team did not discipline him harshly after police found Costco amounts of marijuana in his home this past September. To be blunt, Simpson’s quickness is too valuable to take off the field. He’s much more reliable than Andre Caldwell.

Surprisingly, the black-and-blue ground game that figured to define Cincy’s offense has been extremely average thus far (the statistics support this, as Cincy ranks 28th with 3.7 yards per carry). Cedric Benson is a methodical, patient runner who needs steady blocking in order to thrive. He has gotten that, but not at the level he did two years ago when he averaged nearly 100 yards per game.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, despite a poor outing last week, has played at a Pro Bowl level, and right tackle Andre Smith has flashed astonishing power a few times. But the interior line and ancillary blockers (such as a sixth offensive lineman/fullback/tight end) have been up-and-down.

3. Defensive Overview
The Bengals have a deep, active defensive line that’s extremely potent against the run but just so-so against the pass. Tackles Geno Atkins and Pat Sims both regularly win phone booth matchups in impressive fashion, and Domata Peko almost always punishes teams who try to block him one-on-one. If he’s not penetrating, he’s stalemating in a way that allows teammates to make plays.
 
None of these inside players are dominant pass-rushers, though. And there isn’t much firepower outside. End Michael Johnson uses his athleticism in myriad ways but is not a regular presence in the backfield. Intriguing second-year pro Carlos Dunlap replaces Robert Geathers on passing downs. Dunlap, with his unusual upright style and sinewy explosiveness, is certainly capable of reaching the quarterback, but he’s also capable of disappearing for long stretches.

An impotent pass-rush can put considerable pressure on a secondary. Leon Hall is an elite cover corner who does not command a lot of safety help over the top. Using him in isolated solo coverage is a double-edge sword that has stabbed opponents slightly more than it’s stabbed the Bengals this season. Safeties Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker are hit-or-miss in coverage but capable of playing in space or the box. They give Mike Zimmer options.

Veteran Nate Clements has done a commendable job replacing Johnathan Joseph. Clements has been especially aggressive in short, underneath coverage. Helping in this facet is the fact that linebackers Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson both move well in the flats. It’s a little surprising that Lawson, who is replaced by Brandon Johnson in nickel (Johnson is the more comfortable of the two between the tackles), hasn’t been asked to put his hand in the dirt on passing downs.

4. Something to consider
This is a sharp, fundamentally sound defense that plays well as a unit in Mike Zimmer’s fairly aggressive scheme. But it’s also a defense that has yet to be tested. Look at the Bengals’ schedule thus far. They opened against Cleveland and Denver, two teams with major problems at wide receiver.

They faced San Francisco in Week 3, a good team but a very, very basic offense. They beat Buffalo in Week 4. Buffalo has a much-improved offense, but they’re not exactly Green Bay. Or even Dallas (never mind what the stats might say). After that it was Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Seattle, three teams with a total of zero proven quarterbacks. Last week the Bengals handled a Tennessee offense that’s respectable but nothing close to dynamic (especially through the air).

You couldn’t ask to face a more banal collection of offenses. This defense is fantastic against the run, but it remains to be seen how it will respond against a rhythmic, up-tempo passing attack.  

5. Matchup with the Steelers
Pittsburgh does have an elite, formidable offense. Cincinnati’s ho-hum pass-rush is not ideal for defending Ben Roethlisberger’s late-in-the-down magic.

The Bengals at least catch a break with wideout Emmanuel Sanders being out (arthroscopic knee surgery). Sanders would have given the Steelers aerial attack third source of speed, which Zimmer’s nickel unit may not be equipped to combat. Instead, it will be either Hines Ward or Jericho Cotchery threatening to catch six-yard slants out of the slot.

On the other side, the only defense comparable to Pittsburgh’s that this Cincy offense has faced is San Francisco’s in Week 3. The Niners were physical in taking away the receivers’ quick routes. The result was eight points and a 1/10 third down success rate for the Bengals. However, Dalton’s game has expanded since then. If need be, it’s possible, though not probable, that he’ll be able to put the team on his back and open things up for the first time this season.

Unless there continues to be slews of the fortuitous field position breaks that this Bengals offense has frequently enjoyed this season, he’ll need to.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: July 24, 2011 8:23 pm
Edited on: July 24, 2011 8:52 pm
 

Hot Routes 7.24.11: Cutler calls off engagement



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

  • A day after Ben Roethlisberger got married, Bears QB Jay Cutler will not be doing the same. According to People, Cutler called off his engagement with reality TV star Kristin Cavallari. "She got dumped," says a magazine source. "She's absolutely devastated. She can't believe this is happening."

  • What will the Jets’ plans for free agency say about QB Mark Sanchez? Do they feel he needs big-time players around him in order for him to succeed?
  • NFL.com’s Gil Brandt isn’t completely impressed by this class of undrafted free agents’ ability to make an immediate impact.
  • It sounds like 49ers LB Manny Lawson is preparing himself to move on from San Francisco. One reason why? San Francisco’s first-round pick, Aldon Smith, is described by at least one person as very similar to Lawson. Except, you know, Smith is younger.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: May 8, 2011 9:58 pm
 

Aldon Smith could take Manny Lawson's job

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Last year, Andy and I engaged in a war of words when discussing 49ers LB Manny Lawson. I called him one of the top-five 3-4 LBs in the league, and Andy tried to lambast me (though I parried most of his attempts and struck back effectively).

Anyway, with the 49ers drafting Aldon Smith in the first round of last week’s draft, you have to wonder what happens with Lawson (pictured at right) in 20Lawson 11. Especially since he’s not under contract at this point (though, if the 2010 rules are put into place for 2011, Lawson would, once again, be a restricted free agent).

According to Comcast Sports Net, Lawson still could play a big role with San Francisco if he returns to the club.

But it seems like, eventually, Smith will take over the starting role (which is a perfectly appropriate goal for a man taken with the No. 7 pick overall), because he’s about 25 pounds heavier than Lawson and stronger (though I doubt his pass coverage skills are as good as Lawson’s).

But as Will pointed out in his 49ers Offseason Checkup, San Francisco’s LB corps, with Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes is still pretty darn impressive. Even if Lawson isn’t retained.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .

Posted on: April 15, 2011 12:33 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: San Francisco 49ers

Posted by Will Brinson



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups



The 49ers were doomed almost from the very start of last season. After all, check out their schedule for the first five games – the Seahawks, the Saints, the Chiefs, the Falcons and the Eagles (all made the playoffs and combined for a 51-29 record while knocking off the 49ers) – but two weeks after running through that gauntlet, San Francisco fell to the Panthers also. So, that’s not too good.

Neither, for that matter, was coach Mike Singletary, who was fired after Week 16, and neither was much of anybody else. The offense ranked 24th in the league – almost a miracle considering Alex Smith and Troy Smith traded off starting QB spots and RB Frank Gore missed the last five games because of a fractured hip – and though the defense was actually slightly better than average, San Francisco just couldn’t put it together under Singletary’s leadership.




Quarterback Issues

When Singletary named Troy Smith as his starting QB midway through the season, you knew neither of them were long for their respective jobs. When Singletary replaced andinjured Alex Smith with Troy Smith in Week 10 and then switched back to Alex the next week (and then continued to switch the two throughout the rest of the year), there was almost no chance San Francisco would win consistently.

Actually, the trouble began earlier in the season during that infamous Sundayy Night Football game when the San Francisco fans booed Alex Smith and demanding to see the backup QB, and Singletary thought hard about replacing him with David Carr. Smith then led a near comeback attempt vs. the Eagles. Still, not a great sequence for San Francisco.


1. Patient History
We gave the patient history of this position in the section above, so now, let’s figure out what the 49ers will do about it. They actually could keep Alex Smith – they’ve already offered him a one-year contract – but it’s unclear whether Smith will sign it. But yeah, it might make sense for San Francisco to look for quarterbacks in the draft. And remember, Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb are still out there as well.

2. Jim Harbaugh
He’s got zero NFL head coaching experience, but 49ers fans have to be excited about the possibilities (considering his success at Stanford and because his brother, John, has done such a bang-up job with the Ravens), and considering he’s getting paid $25 million over five years, he’d BETTER have more success than Singletary. And don’t forget: San Francisco also hired Trent Baalke as GM in the offseason. So, the 49ers are kind of starting over.

3. Cornerback
Nate Clements is fine at one CB spot, but Shawntae Spencer didn’t have a great year last season. Which is why it makes sense for San Francisco to grab either LSU’s Patrick Peterson or Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara with the No. 7 pick in the draft.




The defense is good enough to compete. The 49ers LB corps with Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes (and maybe Manny Lawson) is pretty darn good, and the defensive line, led by Justin Smith, does a nice job as well. The problem here is offense, and not just at QB either.

Gore is coming off a bad injury, and WR Michael Crabtree still hasn’t broken out in a big way. Assuming Harbaugh can get the respect of his team right away – something Singletary struggled with last season – San Francisco could get back to 8-8. Which means the 49ers could contend for the NFC West crown.

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Posted on: November 5, 2010 3:41 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2010 4:07 pm
 

An abundance of fines in NFL Friday

Posted by Andy Benoit

There were no major injuries from illegal hits last week, but that doesn’t make said hits any less illegal. Thus, James Harrison was not the only player who drew a fine after Week 8. Sorting through the various tweets that have been rolling out this Friday afternoon, here are other players who received a letter from the NFL, requesting (demanding) a charitable donation:

Jason Babin, DE, Titans $20,000 (hit on Philip Rivers; repeat offender)

Manny Lawson, LB, 49ers $12,500 (hit on Kyle Orton; repeat offender)

Ahmad Brooks, LB, 49ers $10,000 (hit on Kyle Orton; repeat offender)

Chris Clemons, DE, Seahawks $7,500 (unnecessary late hit on Jason Campbell; repeat offender)

Gary Guyton, LB, Patriots $7,500 (hit on Favre)

Myron Pryor, DL, Patriots $7,500 (hit on Favre – the chin shot)

Some of these hits were flagged, some weren’t. Obviously, the NFL didn’t feel any were as egregious as the one Ernie Sims ($50,000 fine) laid on Lavelle Hawkins in Week 7. But the point is becoming clearer and clearer: the NFL is serious about cleaning up the illegal hits.

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Posted on: July 5, 2010 9:43 am
Edited on: July 5, 2010 10:29 am
 

Positional rankings: punters

Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit resume their debate, this time taking a look at the top five punters in the NFL.

Andy Benoit's top five
S. Lechler (Getty)
5. Mike Scifres, Chargers

4. Donnie Jones, Rams

3. Brian Moorman, Bills

2. Andy Lee, 49ers

1. Shane Lechler, Raiders


Josh, you may not have agreed with all of my top five safeties, cornerbacks and outside linebackers, but just know, I’ll be damned if I’m going to have anyone refute my top five punters list.

I’ll never forget Mike Scifres’ performance against the Colts in the 2008 wild card game: six punts attempted, six punts left inside the 20. And with a 52.7 average, no less. Just because of that game, Scifres will make my top five punters list for all eternity.

I wouldn’t recognize Donnie Jones if he walked up and kicked me in the shins, but I seem to notice his name near the top of the punting charts every time I check the stats (that’s right, I check punting stats …).

Brian Moorman is known for fake punts, which overshadows his actual punts. Those actually punts are among the best in the league – especially when considering Moorman’s kicking in the gales of Ralph Wilson Stadium. Andy Lee is a poor man’s Shane Lechler, which is a compliment, because Lechler is hands down the best punter of his generation.

Josh Katzowitz's top five

5. Dave Zastudil, Browns

4. Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs

3. Donnie Jones, Rams

2. Andy Lee, 49ers

1. Shane Lechler, Raiders


I was actually hoping there was some sort of clause where I could insert Ray Guy – a man who should be in the HOF – into my top five list. Which leads me to my favorite punting factoid ever. Former Falcons punter Chris Mohr, a 15-year veteran, is not even the best punter to ever emerge from tiny Thomson, Ga. (population 6,800). That, of course, would be Guy.

Anyway, if there’s anything the Raiders have done right, it’s to shore up their kicking game. Lechler and K Sebastian Janikowski are the top tandem in the league. There’s really not much use in arguing for or against Lechler. He’d probably be the unanimous pick of everyone who follows the league.

It’s hard to disagree with Lee as your No. 2. He’s been one of the most consistent punters in the last three years. He dropped 30 inside the 20-yard line last year, and it’s no fluke. In 2007, he recorded 42. I agree with Jones, and I was going to send him to your house to kick your shins. Except I don’t know what he looks like either. Colquitt also has been consistent during his five-year career, and last year, he recorded 41 punts inside the 20 with only six touchbacks. That’s outstanding. But you know what I love the most about this list? The more terrible the team, the better the punter. The combined 2009 record of my top five? A staggering 23-57. That’s only slightly worse than Andy’s 3-4 OLB list.

Andy’s rebuttal

How good of a punter do you think your boy Manny Lawson would be?

Josh’s final word

At this point, I think it would be a robbery if Lawson wasn’t named the league’s MVP. Unanimously. Before the season began.

(Other positions: Safety | Cornerback | 3-4 Scheme Outside Linebacker )

--Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter.






Posted on: July 2, 2010 12:00 pm
Edited on: July 2, 2010 12:53 pm
 

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit resume their debate, this time taking a look at the top five outside linebackers (who play in a 3-4 scheme) in the NFL.

Andy Benoit's top five

  J. Harrison (92) and L. Woodley (56) celebrate (Getty) 5. Elvis Dumervil, Broncos

4. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

3. Terrell Suggs, Ravens

2. James Harrison, Steelers

1. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys


Sacks have put a bright spotlight on the 3-4 outside linebacker position. Everyone on this list can rush the passer. What differentiates stars and superstars is versatility.

Dumervil, the NFL sack leader in ’09, is too small to be a force against the run, but his frenetic energy often makes up the difference. By the end of this season, Woodley might claim the No. 1 ranking. The fourth-year pro is beastly in traffic – he has some of the thickest thighs and biceps you’ll EVER see – and fluid enough to defend the flats in coverage.

Suggs is on the list not because he’s a handful as a pass-rusher, but because he’s the best playside run-defender in the NFL. James Harrison scares people – even those who are watching at home. He’s very smart, too. Ware had a somewhat quiet season in ’09, but that was due to a fluky slow start as much as anything. He’s still the best all-around 3-4 front seven playmaker in the game.

Josh Katzowitz's top five

5. Manny Lawson, 49ers

4. Elvis Dumervil, Broncos

3. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

2. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

1. James Harrison, Steelers


  Oh, to be a quarterback facing the Steelers when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are healthy and gunning for your throat. Oh, to be a running back who must rush into the teeth of the Steelers defense. Oh, to have to fear for your career. Consider the two have combined 51 sacks during the past two seasons, and it’s easy to see why Pittsburgh was ranked No. 1 in the AFC vs. the run last year while finishing with an AFC-high 47 sacks. How do you rank them? I say Harrison is No. 1 because he’s been doing it longer, and because so much of an opponent’s attention is focused on stopping him, Woodley can get away with blitzing. But I agree – Woodley might eventually be the best of the entire bunch.

Ware had an amazing 2008, recording 20 sacks, 84 tackles and six forced fumbles. Fighting through an injury, he wasn’t nearly as good last season, but he rebounded a bit in the second half. Although he had a huge year last season, you wonder if Dumervil can replicate his success. Lawson doesn’t record many sacks, but he’s good in coverage and he tackles consistently.

The one issue I have with Andy’s list is Terrell Suggs. I wonder if he lives off his reputation more than anything else. He came into last season nearly 20 pounds overweight, and it blunted his explosiveness. He lost playing time, and he completed his worst season since his 2003 rookie season. Not good since he signed a contract before the beginning of the season that made him the highest-paid linebacker in history. Unfortunately for Baltimore, he didn’t play like it.

Andy’s Rebuttal

A lot of Suggs’ brilliance doesn’t show up in the stat book. I have some reservations about Dumervil, but not enough to overshadow all the memories I have of him attacking offensive tackles with perfect leverage last season.

But whatever, let’s get to the shocking part of your list: MANNY LAWSON?! If this were Bottom 5, maybe. Lawson is very fluid in coverage. I’ll give you that. But he’s not physical in traffic, and he’s a modest pass-rushing threat at best. If Ahmad Brooks had even a slightly-below-average football IQ, he’d be starting ahead of Lawson in San Francisco.

Josh’s final word

Ha, I thought you might like my addition of Lawson. But bottom five? Man, that’s harsh. That’s like me sarcastically writing about how Suggs is so brilliant. Oh wait, you were serious about that? Fact is, Lawson’s the best OLB at dropping into coverage of anybody on our list, he plays the run very well, and he does, in fact, get to the opposing quarterback. Even without great technique, he was credited with hitting the quarterback 11 times last year; he just doesn’t record many sacks. And considering last year was his first season in the 3-4, he’s only going to get better (it should be noted he had four sacks in the final seven games of the year). Yeah, Lawson isn’t the sexiest OLB out there, but he’s more than solid.

Andy, not knowing when to quit

Josh, Lawson is indeed fantastic at dropping into coverage. I’m surprised he didn’t make your top five cornerbacks list.

Josh’s final, final word

In lieu of making any more arguments about this position, let me point you in the direction of what a wise man said last March. "I wasn't happy about the way I played last season, it was a disappointing year. My focus in the offseason is to make sure that never happens again. … No one was more disappointed about my season than me.” Who said that? Oh right, those were the brilliant words of Suggs. In effect, Suggs thinks your list is pretty weak.

(Other positions: Safety | Cornerback )

--Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter.





 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com