Tag:Ryan Wilson
Posted on: March 10, 2012 11:41 am
 

Eye on Football Blog has a new home!

 
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-- EoF staff
Posted on: March 10, 2012 11:37 am
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Posted on: March 8, 2012 10:03 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2012 12:25 am
 

Are the Browns interested in Matt Flynn?

Flynn would allow Cleveland to keep the two first-rounders they'd have to give up to acquire RG3 in the draft. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

In our AFC North free agency preview Wednesday, we mentioned that should Matt Flynn not end up in Miami, the Browns would certainly be interested. This is based on the assumption that Cleveland isn't yet fully committed to Colt McCoy and that Flynn is considered one of the best available free-agent quarterbacks.

On Thursday, Browns general manager Tom Heckert said that Peyton Manning wasn't in the team's future ("probably not the direction we're gonna go") but Flynn, at least according to the Canton Repository's Steve Doerschuk, is definitely an option. Doerschuk writes that "the gates are wide open to signing Matt Flynn next week." And when Heckert was asked if Flynn would be in Ohio for a visit after free agency begins Tuesday afternoon, he offered this:

“Ummmmmmm.”

That's a lot to glean from one long syllable, but Flynn makes a ton of sense.

He's not a physical specimen, nor does he possess a particularly strong arm. But in the right system, his smarts and accuracy are assets. NFL Films' Greg Cosell, who watches more game film than anyone whose not an NFL coach, wrote recently about Flynn's strengths.

"His attributes, based on film breakdown of his two NFL starts, derive from his talent as a timing and rhythm passer who’s decisive with his reads and throws, and has shown good accuracy in the short to intermediate areas. …One thing I liked was his pocket movement. He showed the ability to slide and maintain his downfield focus. That’s a far more important trait than running out of the pocket."

CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco was impressed with Flynn's Week 17 performance against the Lions, but he's also wary of trying to draw conclusions based on two meaningful games in four NFL seasons.

"Watching this game would leave me wanting more. And that's the problem, there isn't much more. He has just one other start, in 2010 against the Patriots. He put up good numbers that day, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns, but as this Lions game taught us numbers can be deceiving. Signing him to a huge deal is essentially rolling the dice he can be a Super Bowl-quality starter."

Is the risk worth it? It's hard to say, but this much is certain: Flynn will be cheaper than what it will cost the Browns to trade up from No. 4 to No. 2 to take Robert Griffin III. When asked generally about the Browns' plans to draft a quarterback, Heckert was noncommittal:

“We might do it. We’re not saying that’s the case," he said. Heckert also admitted to talking to the Rams, who hold the second-overall selection, but wouldn't classify the discussions as "serious." He called media reports surrounding the team's draft plans "crazy" and suggested the Browns could stay put.

"We feel very comfortable staying at [No.] 4 and getting a good player there, and that could happen," he said. "And we feel comfortable in moving down and getting more picks, we really do. It's way early to start talking about this stuff."

The News-Herald's Jeff Schudal wrote Tuesday that bidding for Flynn is expected to involve Cleveland, Miami and Seattle (though the Seahawks and Dolphins could be caught up in Manning Mania in the coming days). Schudal also notes that Flynn would be cost-effective option to RG3:
"Flynn could cost $40 million or more on a multiyear contract, but the Browns would retain all their draft choices if that is what they choose. Flynn, a seventh-round draft choice from LSU in 2008, would be able to step right in and play in the Browns' West Coast offense because what the Browns run and what the Packers run have roots in Green Bay from the time current Browns president Mike Holmgren was the Packers' head coach from 1992-98."
But on Thursday, attending the same Heckert press conference as Doerschuk, Schudal had a completely different take on the probability Flynn ends up in Cleveland.

"[Heckert] … implied the Browns will not go after Matt Flynn when the Packers quarterback becomes a free agent Tuesday."

"We're not down on Colt McCoy," Heckert added. "I want to make that clear. We talked (in January) about the protection stuff and receivers dropping balls. All that does factor in. If we catch more balls and protect him better can Colt be a lot better? Yes. That's our goal. We still think Colt can play in this league and it's our job to help him out."

Returning to what we wrote in the AFC North free agency preview: after a promising rookie season, McCoy regressed in Year 2, but again, that wasn't entirely his fault. There were allegations that the offense was too predictable, but this is what happens when a second-year quarterback is without his Pro Bowl running back, doesn't have a go-to receiver, and the offense line struggles to keep him upright. McCoy should get an opportunity to compete for the starting job but he likely won't head into training camp with his name atop the depth chart.

Either way, we'll know more come Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

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Posted on: March 8, 2012 7:59 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 9:18 pm
 

Namath thinks Jets issues too much for Peyton

Joe Namath thinks Gang Green already has their franchise quarterback: Mark Sanchez. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

The Jets are reportedly one of the dozen or so clubs interested in Peyton Manning. One team official told CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman that the impression is that Manning has narrowed his list to Miami, Washington and Denver, although, ultimately, the front runner will be the team that offers the most guaranteed money.

As for the Jets, they seem like an odd fit for a couple reasons: there's the belief in the media that Peyton wouldn't want to play in the same town as brother Eli (we're not convinced but we'll include it here anyway). Then there are the locker room issues that came to a head in Week 17 and torpedoed the team's playoff chances. Or as CBSSports.com Pete Prisco tweeted Thursday:

PriscoCBS
If Peyton Manning went to Jets, he'd be one instilling discipline since there is none.
3/8/12 12:45 AM

Prisco, it turns out, isn't alone in this opinion. Former Jets great Joe Namath feels similarly.

“The Jets have to get things together on their own turf before someone with his background would be interested in coming,” Namath told Bloomberg News in a telephone interview.

The team's official response?

“We appreciate Joe and he is entitled to share his opinions,” spokesman Bruce Speight told Bloomberg News in an e- mail.

It's worth noting that former Jets running back Curtis Martin and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski both think Manning makes a lot of since for the Jets. 

“That’s a great opportunity,” Martin said in late January in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com. “I’m not saying anything against Mark Sanchez, but Peyton Manning … I have a lot of respect for the guy. I played against him for a number of years. I wouldn’t care who was on my team -- if Peyton Manning was available, I would go after him.” 

A month later, during a radio appearance, Jaws echoed Martin's sentiments: "I love Mark Sanchez and there are 25 other quarterbacks in this league that I would take Peyton Manning over. There’s a turf war in New York. The Giants just won the Super Bowl. The Jets are fighting for every inch of space they can get in the newspaper. How do you get that inch? How do you get the headlines? You sign Peyton Manning.” 

Meanwhile, Namath, the only quarterback to lead the Jets to a Super Bowl win, thinks the franchise quarterback is already on the roster.

“These guys — the Jets — thought Sanchez was a championship quarterback. Has that suddenly changed now?” Namath told Metro New York. “I haven’t heard that. Let them come out and say it. I haven’t heard that and I don’t think they should.”

A day after the season ended ingloriously in Miami, head coach Rex Ryan announced that Sanchez was his starter in 2012 -- partly because a team can't talk about acquiring other team's players, but also because we think that some part of Ryan actually wants to believe it.

“Mark’s going to be around awhile," Namath continued. "His demeanor was angry last year with all the things going on behind the scenes. His feelings were clearly hurt. I hope they work through all that because I’m rooting for him. But I don’t see Peyton coming to the Jets."

We're not yet sold on Sanchez as anything more than a system quarterback, although we suppose he could grow into the franchise player the Jets envisioned when they traded up to get I'm in 2009. For now, however, here's our question: if, as Namath points out, the Jets are too crazy for Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, what chance does Sanchez have to succeed?

via PFT

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Posted on: March 8, 2012 6:13 pm
 

Hargrove says there was no bounty on Favre

Hargrove admits that he said 'Favre is done!' but that there wasn't a bounty on the former Vikes QB. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

The Saints' "pay for performance" bounty scheme that has led to apologies from former defensive coordinator Gregg Wiliams, head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis -- and will undoubtedly lead to stiff sanctions from the league -- has briefly taken a backseat in the never-ending news cycle thanks to Peyton Manning Mania.

But after Manning finds a new home, the Saints will still be on the hook for one of the biggest scandals in recent history: Williams rewarded players with cash payments for injuring opponents. Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported several examples, including one from the team's 2009 Super Bowl season. CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz wrote about it Tuesday:

"During the 2009 NFC title game vs. the Vikings -- played in January 2010 -- in which New Orleans defensive linemen Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodel high-lowed Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre and badly spraining his ankle, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, after Favre temporarily left the game, excitedly proclaimed 'Favre is out of the game! Favre is done! Favre is done!' As King also writes, 'An on-field microphone directed toward the sideline caught an unidentified defender saying, ‘Pay me my money!’”

Not good.

On Thursday, Hargrove, who left the Saints after the 2010 season and played with the Seahawks in 2011, refuted King's report.

"In regards to the hit I made on Brett Favre that has been talked about: it was one of about five times I got to him and the only one that was late," Hargrove said in a statement. "I agree it was a late hit, but in the heat of the moment I was simply trying to make a play. I can assure you that when I got up, I was thinking two things, one, that I cost my team, and two, that I might have just cost myself some money if the NFL fined me.

"To put things in perspective, I received a game ball for my play that day and yet got fined while receiving nothing and expecting to receive nothing for the play some keep referencing. Kudos to Brett, he even asked me if that was all I had! Gotta love him."

Hargrove makes clear that he is speaking only for himself and admits that his "Favre is done!" comments were clearly in bad taste.

"But did I personally want Favre INJURED?" he asked. "Absolutely and categorically NO!"

Hargrove ends with this: "I have made many mistakes in my life and have paid dearly for some of them, and the late hit and the comments were both mistakes, in my opinion. But players all over the league do the same thing every Sunday, make late hits and say stupid things. But I can say with absolute certainty that neither the late hit nor the comment have anything whatsoever to do with the issue being so hotly discussed in the media."

Favre, for his part, said he wasn't upset by the hits he took in that NFC Championship game but we suspect commissioner Roger Goodell will feel differently, particularly in light of the evidence their investigation uncovered.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:34 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:34 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency Previews: AFC North

Can Baltimore do enough this offseason to stay ahead of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati? (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Baltimore Ravens

In 2011, for the fourth time in John Harbaugh's four years as head coach, the Ravens made the playoffs, this time sweeping the Steelers and winning the AFC North in the process. But this team isn't without issues -- questions about Joe Flacco and the passing game linger, the defensive leaders are old, and fans still aren't sold on Harbaugh, especially in big games. Despite the concerns, Baltimore is annually one of the NFL's best teams, thanks largely to general manager Ozzie Newsome's keen ability to put together a roster. 

Free agents of note
The team wisely franchised its best offensive weapon, running back Ray Rice, and now maybe Harbaugh can convince coordinator Cam Cameron to actually use him … Center Matt Birk apparently won't retire this offseason and he'll meet with the team soon to talk about a new deal … That holds for guard Ben Grubbs, too, considered Baltimore's best offensive lineman. The two sides have spoken about a long-term contract but progress has been slow … Linebacker Jarret Johnson might be the Ravens' most underrated defender. If he doesn't return, Jets head coach Rex Ryan is reportedly interested in bringing him to New York … Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams are restricted free agents but the former could draw some interest even if he receives a first-round tender.

Needs
Flacco was sacked 31 times last season, a career low, but the offensive line is still an issue. They signed Bryant McKinnie off the street to play left tackle and if Grubbs hits free agency, the left side will be a liability.

In the last two offseasons, Baltimore brought in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans and neither impressed. Derrick Mason was Flacco's security blanket for his first three seasons, and now that distinction has fallen to Anquan Boldin (and you could even argue Ray Rice). While Torrey Smith made progress his rookie season, Baltimore needs a quality third receiver to go with their young, emerging tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

Targets
Newsome doesn't look to be a big player in free agency because of salary-cap limitations, but Mike Wallace makes a ton of sense if the asking price is a low first-rounder. And while they won't be able to afford guard Carl Nicks, Pro Football Focus suggests that Evan Mathis could be an affordable alternative should Grubbs get away and Mathis doesn't return to Philly.

Cincinnati Bengals

The 2011 Bengals took everyone by surprise, and that includes head coach Marvin Lewis, who probably had no idea what to expect when he re-upped in January, jettisoned Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and watched as Carson Palmer sat out the season before eventually being traded. Cincy drafted a big-play wideout, a smart, accurate quarterback, started both and ended up in the playoffs. Go figure. If the Bengals are to improve in Year 2, they'll need to upgrade the players around Andy Dalton.

Free agents of note
Running back Cedric Benson made the most of a second chance in Cincy but he won't be back … Wide receiver Jerome Simpson pleaded guilty to drug charges recently and his NFL future is uncertain … Guard Bobbie Williams will likely be replaced and Pacman Jones probably won't be re-signed either … The Bengals would like to keep defensive ends Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker … They franchised kicker Mike Nugent.

Needs
A.J. Green was a godsend but Simpson's legal trouble and Andre Caldwell's inconsistency means that Dalton could use another outside threat. Same holds for the running backs. Bernard Scott will get more carries as a result Benson's departure, but he's not an every-down back (is anybody in today's NFL?). Either way, there isn't much depth behind him unless you think Brian Leonard is a viable second option. With Williams' departure, there's a need at right guard, too.

Targets
The Bengals have some $60 million in cap space and they could address a whole heap of needs … except they rarely go big in free agency. So look for them to focus on less expensive, second-tier players. PFF mentioned Jerricho Cotchery, and Eddie Royal would make sense, too. Effective running backs can be had for cheap, and if none are available before the draft, the Bengals could find one in the later rounds.

Cleveland Browns

Pat Shurmur's first season was a forgettable one (and it's a good bet that, thanks to James Harrison, Colt McCoy has already forgotten it). There were allegations that the offense was too predictable, but this is what happens when a second-year quarterback is without his Pro Bowl running back, doesn't have a go-to receiver, and the offense line struggles to keep him upright. Depending on what happens in free agency and the draft, McCoy's window might already be closed.

Free agents of note
Madden curse victim Peyton Hillis wasn't franchised and has since been reduced to publicly stating that he'd take a hometown discount to stay in Cleveland (and he has no plans to join the CIA) … However, the Browns did franchise 37-year-old kicker Phil Dawson.

Needs
After a promising rookie season, McCoy regressed in Year 2, but again, that wasn't entirely his fault. That said, this is the NFL and second and third chances are rarely granted because of ill-timed misfortune. McCoy should get an opportunity to compete for the starting job but he won't head into training camp with his name atop the depth chart.

Hillis was a flake in 2011 and the Browns can't trust him to show up from one week to the next. Even if he returns on the cheap, they'll need depth behind him.

Greg Little was the team's second-round pick in 2011 but he's raw. He struggled with dropped passes as a rookie but the bigger issue is that Cleveland didn't have a legitimate deep threat.

Targets
There's the possibility that Cleveland makes a move for Robert Griffin III, and even if that doesn't happen, if the Cardinals release Kevin Kolb, the Browns would certainly be interested. Matt Flynn is also a possibility should Peyton Manning end up in Miami.

Whether through the draft or free agency, the Browns haveto find a wideout. Look what A.J. Green did for the Bengals if you need proof for why they're important. Where they find said wideout is a different story. We can't imagine Vincent Jackson would want to come to Cleveland with the QB situation unsettled, but the Browns have two first-rounders. If they don't have to mortgage them both to get RG3, they could address other needs -- including WR -- in Round 1.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Free agents of note
Gone are many of the players responsible for the Steelers' three Super Bowl appearances since 2005: Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Bryant McFadden and Chris Kemoeatu were all released. Backup defensive tackle Chris Hoke retired, and left tackle Max Starks, who came off his couch to bolster the o-line midway through the '11 season, won't be re-signed. With Mike Wallace a restricted free agent, the Steelers have two wideouts currently under contract (Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders) … Jerricho Cotchery would like to return -- and the team wants him back -- but they'll need to so some salary-cap gymnastics to make it happen … Third-down back Mewelde Moore could return but he's not a priority … Cornerback William Gay was a solid starter but he excels as a nickel back. Again: the cap could determine if he's back … Starting guards Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster are both restricted free agents.

Needs
If Willie Colon can stay healthy, the Steelers should be set at tackle (second-year player Marcus Gilbert will move to the left side in 2012). And with Maurkice Pouncey at center and either Foster or Legursky at right guard, the only gaping hole will be at left guard (which was pretty much the case when Kemoeatu was still with the team).

With Ward and Cotchery now free agents and Wallace a possible target for WR-needy teams, the Steelers need to find depth behind third-year players Brown and Sanders.

Farrior's age (37) and salary necessitated his departure but now Pittsburgh needs to find their next young menacing linebacker to replace him. Larry Foote can serve as the bridge to whomever will end up playing alongside Lawrence Timmons.

There was speculation that nose tackle Casey Hampton could become a cap casualty but he's currently with the team. Still, with Hoke and Smith's departure, Pittsburgh could stand to add some warm bodies along the defensive line.

Targets
Typically, the Steelers don't make many splashy free-agent signings and that'll again be the case this offseason. They'd love to have Cotchery back, as well as find ways to re-sign Moore and possibly Gay (not to mention keep Wallace). Expect them to target an offensive lineman, linebacker or defensive lineman in the early rounds of the draft.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 8:41 pm
 

Report: Broncos to gauge chances with Manning

Tebowmania isn't enough to keep Denver from inquiring about Manning. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

The Cardinals, Dolphins and Redskins are the early favorites for Peyton Manning's services, but there are other teams in the running, too. The Jets and Seahawks have expressed interest, and the Broncos, fresh off a season's worth of Tebowmania, could do so as well.

Manning era ends in Indy
Details via the Denver Post's Mike Klis:

"The Broncos are expected to place a phone call to Manning's agent, Tom Condon, to gauge their chances, according to an NFL source close to the situation. If Manning's contract can be structured so that the team would be protected in case Manning's troublesome neck becomes an issue, the Broncos could well be players."

Put differently: we were right to be skeptical when John Elway and John Fox proclaimed after the 2011 season that Tim Tebow would head into training camp as Denver's starter. That could still hold, of course -- landing Manning is a longshot, particularly given Fox's run-run-run-punt offensive philosophy.

And the other free-agent QB options aren't particularly appealing: names like Matt Flynn, Chad Henne, and Jason Campbell are either unproven or not an upgrade over Tebow. Not only that, what quarterback looking to start would step in front of the buzz saw that is Tebow's rabid fan base? They ran Orton out of the lineup after a 1-4 start, and eventually out of town. Plus, it would mean revamping the offense again, something that would only make sense if the Broncos landed someone like, say, Manning.

Klis points to two other reasons why Manning-to-Mile High doesn't seem likely:
His age, he turns 36 later this month, coupled with the fact he didn't play last year because of multiple neck surgeries makes him an enormous risk.

And the risk will be financially huge by the time Mike Shanahan's Washington Redskins, as well as the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and possibly the Kansas City Chiefs engage in a bidding war.

Another reason the Broncos might not get in a serious bidding war would be the presence of Tebow. By wobble or by will, Tebow took the worst team in football — and that's exactly what their 7-24 record dating back to Nov. 1, 2009 made the Broncos, the NFL's worst team during that span — and helped lead them to the playoffs and a first-round upset of Pittsburgh this past season.
Whatever your thoughts on Tebow, prototypical NFL quarterback, there's no denying what he helped the Broncos accomplish last season. That, and tepid interest from Manning as other teams clamor for his services, means that Tebow's job is safe … for now.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 7:37 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:19 pm
 

Luck, Colts could be better than we think in '12

Can the Colts draw inspriation from what other team's have done with young QBs? (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Colts and Peyton Manning are done. Which means that the Andrew Luck era began unofficially Wednesday afternoon (assuming, of course, Robert Griffin III doesn't surge to the top of Indy's draft board in the coming weeks). The knee-jerk reaction is to think that a post-Manning Indianapolis will look like something out of "The Book of Eli" -- an apocalyptic NFL wasteland with no hope of salvation anytime soon. Except that there are recent examples from around the league that should give the Colts and their fans hope. (We talked about it in the most recent Pick-6 Podcast, embedded below for your convenience.)


At its most basic, success with a young quarterback comes down to some combination of: a) a good defense, b) a strong special teams, c) a reliable running game, and, oh, it doesn't hurt if said young quarterback is d) mature -- both mentally and physically -- beyond his years.

As it stands, the Colts, should they draft Luck, will have d). It's up to owner Jim Irsay, new GM Ryan Grigson, and new head coach Chuck Pagano to take care of a)-c).  It's a tall order, for sure, but not impossible. Here are five examples that should give the Colts and Luck hope in 2012:

1. Baltimore Ravens

Pagano comes to Indy after serving as the Ravens' defensive coordinator last season. So he knows first-hand just how important a good defense can be for a young quarterback -- particularly one whose offensive coordinator doesn't seem to understand the downfalls of airing it out 50 times a game when the team's best player sits on the bench.

Luckily, Pagano hired Bruce Arians as his coordinator. Arians was Peyton Manning's first quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis, and he spent the last five seasons as Ben Roethlisberger's OC in Pittsburgh. He knows something about bringing along a young, talented quarterback.

Manning era ends in Indy
"[Arians] understands how to develop quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks," Pagano told CBSSports.com in Indianapolis during Super Bowl week. "Bruce and I go back a long time. His philosophy matches our philosophy, and the pieces we're going to put around him [match] his passion and energy. He's a brilliant guy, he thinks outside the box so I feel really fortunate that Bruce is with us." 

The first order of business, however, is getting the defense in order. The Colts re-signed Robert Mathis, but appear set to cut Dwight Freeney loose for salary-cap reasons. Pagano will install a 3-4 defense which will replace the soft Cover-2 the team had been running for years. Even a mediocre defense to go along with something resembling a running game would go a long way in making Luck's rookie season manageable.

The last time the Colts started a rookie quarterback was in 1998 after they drafted Manning first overall. The year before, Indy ranked 23rd in total efficiency, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. The offense was 24th, the defense 25th and special teams 25th. In 2011, without Manning, the Colts were similarly awful: 31st overall, 27th in offense, 27th in defense, and 31st in special teams.

Of course, Manning was 3-13 as a rookie but his defense didn't do him any favors: they ranked 28th in '98. If Pagano can cobble together a defense and couple that with a decent running game, Luck's transition to NFL quarterback could go much smoother than conventional wisdom currently suggests.

2. Atlanta Falcons

In 2007, Michael Vick was in a heap of trouble and out of football, first-year Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino quit after 13 games to take the Arkansas job, and the starting quarterbacks that season included Joey Harrington, Chris Redman and Byron Leftwich. It's a miracle they managed four wins.

In 2008, owner Arthur Blank hired Mike Smith and the team drafted Matt Ryan. They won 11 games, and Ryan threw for 3,440 yards (61 percent completion rate), 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

In the Falcons' case, the one-year turnaround wasn't because the defense drastically improved. The unit was 28th in '07 and 25th in '08 -- instead it was the … passing game, which was fourth behind the Chargers, Colts and Saints. Part of that was because then-Falcons OC Mike Mularkey put Ryan in positions to succeed. But it was also a function of Ryan exceeding everyone's expectations.

We talked to him in January 2009, shortly after his rookie season ended, and asked if the Falcons had eased him into the playbook.

"To my knowledge, we had the full offense in," he said. "… From the start, we had a bunch of different things in, and I had a good amount of responsibility at the line of scrimmage to do some different things. I think as the season went on, we found what we were as an offense. Because there were a bunch of new people working together and trying to find the rhythm of our offense."

While a stout defense and a reliable running game are a young QB's friends, ultimately, it comes down to assimilating a ton of information and making plays you're asked to make.

3. San Francisco 49ers

If there's a blueprint from which Pagano should work, it might be the 49ers. By the 2010 offseason, Alex Smith was roundly considered a bust. The 2005 first-overall pick had, at various points in his career, shared snaps with Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill and Troy Smith, and San Francisco had never won more than eight games in Smith's six seasons heading into 2011. Then Jim Harbaugh replaced Mike Singletary as head coach and everything changed.

But it wasn't that Smith suddenly morphed into a franchise quarterback (it was the best season of his career but he was more game manager than late-game winner). The offense improved to 18th in 2011 from 24th the season before, but it was the defense and special teams that were the difference. The latter improved from 13th to third, and the latter went from 22nd to 2nd.

4. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals dumped chatty veterans (Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco) and were forced to find a new quarterback when Carson Palmer chose retirement over returning to Cincy. So the team took the draft's best wide receiver in Round 1 (A.J. Green), and landed their next franchise quarterback a round later (Andy Dalton).

Dalton was considered a heady player in college and that distinction followed him in the weeks and months leading up to the draft. Turns out, it was true. Like Ryan in Atlanta, Dalton not only knew where to go with the ball, he was accurate and timely with his throws. It's one thing to understand what the defense is trying to do; it's something else entirely for a rookie to actually do it with a blitzing linebacker in his face.

5. Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton wasn't the beneficiary of a good (or even slightly below average) defense and the Panthers, 2-14 the year before he arrived, still won six games. (They lost five games by seven points or less.) His success surprised everybody, even folks whose job it was to breakdown film for a living. Here's NFL Films' Greg Cosell in December 2011:

"What was remarkable about Newton was he demonstrated many of these traits of an NFL passer right away.  Beginning in Week 1 against Arizona, he read coverage, he knew where to go with the football, he was decisive and accurate. The next week he played the Super Bowl champion Packers and was truly impressive, showing NFL attributes beginning with poise and composure in the pocket. More importantly, he did not leave the pocket to run when the bodies started closing it down. He stood tall and delivered the ball in the face of pressure. He showed the willingness to make stick throws into tight windows, a necessary trait in critical long yardage situations against sophisticated NFL coverages."

And Newton came from a run-option offense at Auburn. Luck was in a pro-style offense at Stanford, and although he's plenty athletic, he was a pocket passer.

***

None of this means that the Colts are destined for the playoffs next year. But given how other teams have managed their young quarterbacks, it's reasonable to think that Luck could have early success in Indy. After all, if the only difference in Indy between annual double-digit wins and the playoffs, and last season's 2-14 record is Manning, then why can't the Colts win seven, eight or nine games with Luck in 2012?

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