NFL makes headlines with suspensions

There has not been much occurring in the world of football since the draft ended back in early May. The NFL changed that today with the announcements that four different players had been suspended for violating the substance abuse policy. The Jets’ Sheldon Richardson, the Chargers’ Antonio Gates, the Cowboys’ Rolando McClain and the Packers’ Datone Jones all received suspensions to open this 2015 NFL season. The first three players are set to miss the first four games while Jones will only miss the season opener.

Four players being suspended in one day is pretty rare. All for the same thing makes sense as the league probably received the drug test results recently. These suspensions could have some pretty serious ramifications on the upcoming season as well as the players missing time all find themselves in starting roles.

Sheldon_RichardsonFor the Jets, this means that Leonard Williams’ time is here. With Richardson out of the lineup, it is safe to assume that the rookie defensive lineman will be lining up next to Mohammed Wilkerson and Damon Harrison for the season’s first four games. Richardson has been a force on New York’s defense each of the last two seasons. If anything though, this could be a blessing in disguise for the Jets. It gives their first round pick some very meaningful playing time right off the bat. If he struggles, then Richardson returns after four weeks and reclaims his spot easily. If Williams excels, then the Jets have great depth going forward and a fresh Richardson for the final 12 games.

Antonio GatesThe Chargers will likely be in a bit of a bind with Gates missing the first four contests. The 35-year old accounted for 821 receiving yards on 69 catches to go along with 12 touchdowns last year. Replacing that production will not be easy and San Diego’s potential replacements are very unproven. Ladarius Green and John Phillips are the only other tight ends on the roster at the moment. Green and Phillips combined fall short Gates production last season over the course of their careers. Each has caught only three touchdowns and they have roughly 850 yards between them. Needless to say, the Chargers will be hurting at the tight end position until Gates returns.

Rolando McClainMcClain only played 13 games last season anyway so the Cowboys know how cope without him. That doesn’t mean that they would like to lose him for another four this year. McClain was part of a defensive resurgence in Dallas last season as the unit went from being the worst-ranked to middle of the pack. The Cowboys’ defense was nothing special but it got the job done. Losing McClain’s production in the middle definitely hurts Dallas’ run stopping efforts and he is a sure tackler. This loss might not sting for the Cowboys as much as Richardson or Gates does for their teams, but with games against the Giants, Eagles, Falcons and Saints to start the year, Dallas will need all the defensive help it can get.

Datone_JonesGreen Bay gets off a little bit easier only losing Jones for one game. However, that one game is against their hated rival Chicago. Jones did not have a huge impact on the Packers’ defense a year ago, only registering 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks but he was a crucial part of Dom Caper’s rotation up front. Not having him available certainly throws a wrench in preparation and rotation. Josh Boyd is sure to see a whole lot more playing time as he should slide into Jones’ starting role. If Boyd really impresses in the first game, we could potentially see him hang onto the job for some time after Jones returns.

NFL Cornerstones: Defensive Tackles

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you guys agree.

The selection- Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
Honorable mentions- Gerald McCoy, Sheldon Richardson, Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Marcell Dareus

This might seem like a no-brainer because of how much media attention Ndamukong Suh receives and how many analysts regard him as the best in the league. However, the selection got a little bit hazy when I started comparing the numbers. Suh is an incredible force for the Lions’ defense but Marcell Dareus is no slouch. He is actually averaging more tackles and the same number of sacks per season as Suh. The other guys mentioned are all fantastic options as well but given Gerald McCoy is recovering from a serious knee injury, Geno Atkins is still trying to find his 2013 form when he suffered his own knee injury and Sheldon Richardson and Aaron Donald have very small sample sizes, Suh wins almost by default. His biggest competition is Dareus but more on why Suh has the edge over him later.

Suh is a bit older than the other guys on this list at 28 but he has only played 5 years in the league. He should still have a couple of good years left in the tank. I already mentioned what Suh can do as a pass rusher. He has recorded at least eight sacks in three of his five seasons, which is incredible for an interior lineman. He displays a certain amount of quickness and a great punch at the point of attack. Couple that with his massive 6’4”, 305-pound frame and you have very large man wreaking havoc along the line of scrimmage.

The five honorable mentions have had fairly productive seasons as pass rushers but none of them have then also dominated the ground game like Suh has. Dareus has 11 run stuffs in his 4-year career and McCoy has 13 over his 5-year stint. The Lions defensive anchor has racked up 36. That completely blows away just about any other run defender in the league. The Detroit mainstay slides well along the line and is too strong for offensive lineman to keep blocked for very long. Suh’s combination as a top pass rusher and an elite run stopper make him the perfect multifaceted player to build a defense around.
The four-time Pro Bowler is not without flaws though. Suh has a bit of a mean streak, which has led him into trouble with referees and league officials alike. His antics can often cause a distraction or cost his team on the field in the form of penalties. It has even led to Suh being suspended by the league, which is not what you want to see from your star defensive lineman. On top of that, even though Suh seems to be around the ball a lot, he does not generate too many turnovers. He only has 3 turnovers forced in his entire career. It is probably a little meticulous to point it out, but he has not thrived at creating those big plays.

Despite that, Suh still has some traits that are simply invaluable. He has never missed a game due to injury in his career, something that held back McCoy and Atkins from being selected. He also plays with consistency. Year in and year out, the three-time All Pro has put up stellar numbers that ranks among the best in the league at his position. He also provides a little bit of fire to a defense with his aggressive play. Sometimes, it comes back to hurt him, but it can certainly be motivating for his teammates to see how hard and passionately he is working.

Suh’s window of productivity is slowly closing and while he may not be getting any better at this point in his career, he still has the physical tools to be the best defensive tackle in the league. In about two years, I would venture to guess that it will be Donald taking this spot as the cornerstone. I think he has that something special that could propel him to being one of the best defensive players in the league. For now though, Suh will reign supreme. He is playing some of the best football of his career. Even if Suh does leave the Lions this season, he will still be the best player at his position, making whatever team he joins instantly better.

For more Cornerstone selections, click here.