Shutdown Corner

  • It's never easy to bring Jesse Williams down. (USAT Sports Images)

    With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.

    #35: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

    We continue this year's series with Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams, the JUCO transfer from Australia who made a real name for himself in Nick Saban's defense in 2012. Williams grew up playing basketball and rugby in Brisbane, and coaches from the University of Hawaii discovered him there when he was 16. Since his academics were incomplete, Williams enrolled at Western Arizona Community College, amassing 76 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks in 18 games over two seasons. Saban came calling before the 2011 season, and Williams chose the Crimson Tide over a host of other high-profile schools. He started 13 games that first season as a five-tech end in Alabama's multiple fronts, moving inside on passing downs.

    In 2012, Saban moved the 6-foot-4, 323-pound Williams inside to nose tackle, but he also played a lot of three-tech. It was inside on a regular basis where Williams was able to truly display his impressive combination of speed, agility, leverage, and freakish strength. He had 17 solo tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks in two seasons with Alabama, but those stats don't tell the whole story with Williams -- you really have to look at the tape and project another level of future development to get the picture.

    Williams skipped the speed and agility drills at the scouting combine due to a knee issue, but ran a 4.92 40 at Alabama's pro day. He proved to be agile in the short shuttle and three-cone drill, rounding out all the signs of his athletic potential. We've seen many underdeveloped athletic freaks come into the NFL in recent years, especially on the defensive line, and between Williams, Ezekiel Ansah, and Margus Hunt, this is a banner year for them. But Williams may be the easiest of this year's crop to project to the next level because his raw skills are easily superimposed onto potential football greatness.

    Pros: Benches 600 pounds in the weight room and that upper-body strength transfers to the field. Incredible leverage player who frequently takes on double teams as a nose shade defensive tackle, or straight over center, and rarely gets stood up or rocked back. Will push back blockers who outweigh him by 20 and 30 pounds, and will occasionally throw a blocker out of the way. Comes off the snap low and angry and loves to mix it up. Disengages from blocks quickly and gets on the move to tackle ballcarriers. Gums up gaps of one and two blockers, allowing others to flow through and make plays. Equally effective as a three-tech tackle shading outside the guard, especially on run plays.

    Read More »from The Shutdown 50: Alabama DT Jesse Williams
  • Report: Packers, Clay Matthews nearing long-term extension

    Clay Matthews is nearing a long-term extension (USA Today Sports Images)

    The Green Bay Packers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews are nearing agreement on a long-term extension that will average over $13 million per year in "new money", ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

    Matthews, who turns 27 this offseason, is scheduled to earn $3.77 million in cash compensation ($3.73 million base salary, $40,000 workout bonus) in 2013, the final season of his rookie contract.

    In addition to working on an extension for Matthews, the Packers are nearing a long-term extension with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with the two sides reportedly being $2 million per season apart. According to Schefter, the agent for Matthews and Rodgers — David Dunn — would like new contracts in place by the start of the Packers' offseason workout program, which begins on April 15.

    According to a source with knowledge of where each teams stands against the cap, the Packers have just under $17.8 million in cap space in 2013, which should be more than enough to get team-friendly, long-term deals done with both Rodgers and Matthews.

    Matthews was selected with the 26th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and has posted 42.5 sacks with seven forced fumbles, four interceptions and 22 passes defensed in 58 career games. The four-time Pro Bowler also has 7.5 sacks in eight career post-season games and is arguably coming off his most productive season in the NFL. Despite missing four games due to an injury, Matthews posted 13 sacks in 12 games and has clearly established himself as one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL.

    Read More »from Report: Packers, Clay Matthews nearing long-term extension
  • Johnthan Banks (13) makes a play against South Carolina's Damiere Byrd (Getty Images)

    With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.

    #36: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

    We continue this year's series with Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks, who came to his school as a lightly-recruited player out of Maben, Miss., and made a big splash as a true freshman. In his third collegiate game ever, playing at free safety, he picked off two passes from the arm of one Tim Tebow -- then Florida's quarterback -- and returned both interceptions for touchdowns. Now, while it may be true that stealing a couple of wounded ducks from Tebow isn't exactly all-time stuff, Banks kept his performance level high through a collegiate career that included 45 starts, 139 solo tackles, 15 interceptions, 41 passes defensed, and five forced fumbles. He also returned 30 punts for 289 yards and a touchdown, and won the 2012 Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in the nation.

    However, Banks missed the Senior Bowl due to a knee injury, and disappointed at the scouting combine with a 4.62 40-yard dash -- hardly an optimal time for a 6-foot-2, 185-pound defensive back who's not going to bowl anyone over with his pure physicality. He ran slightly better times at his pro day, but those inconclusive results certainly had NFL teams heading back to the tape, wondering if Banks could grow (literally and figuratively) into a top-level pass defender worthy of a first-round pick. Right now, I'd say it depends on what you need out of a cornerback, and the system you intend to use.

    “I think I can play against anybody," Banks said at the scouting combine. "I can own anybody. I think I can cover Megatron.”

    Well, we'll see about that. We're sure that Calvin Johnson will be very interested in meeting Mr. Banks for the first time.

    Pros: Legitimate press corner who redistributes receivers very well inside and outside. Establishes position from the snap from the line. Gets sticky in short spaces with more physical receivers without initiating too much contact. Has ideal quickness to slip inside to the slot. Consistently good backpedal, hip turn, and lateral movement. Mirrors receivers impressively on slants and drags. Has the recovery speed to counter curls and quick in routes when playing off coverage. Can bait quarterbacks and jump routes in a hurry. Reads the backfield astutely and exhibits excellent timing when breaking from deeper coverage to play shorter and intermediate routes. Uses height to his advantage -- can high-point with the tallest receivers and make plays in the air.

    Read More »from The Shutdown 50: Mississippi State DB Johnthan Banks
  • Mike Tannenbaum (l.) is changing professions (USA Today Sports Images)

    Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has been named the president of the "Coaches, Front Office & Broadcasters" division at Priority Sports & Entertainment, reports Bruce Feldman of

    Tannenbaum, a graduate of Tulane Law School, served as the Jets' general manager from 2006 through the 2012 season. Prior to ascending to the GM seat, Tannenbaum served as the Jets' contract negotiator from 1997-2005, so he has extensive experience when it comes to negotiating contracts. After missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season, owner Woody Johnson fired Tannenbaum on Dec. 31.

    According to, Tannenbaum "will oversee all contract negotiation and representation of basketball and football coaches for both professional and college sports" from his New York office. Priority Sports has offices in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

    “I am thrilled to join a fantastic team at Priority Sports & Entertainment. It’s a tremendous company with no shortage of talented people and I only hope to add to the firm’s sterling reputation throughout the industry," said Tannenbaum.

    Read More »from Former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum to represent coaches, front office executives for Priority Sports
  • Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was recently walking down the street when one of TMZ's camera fleas thought it was a good time to solicit his opinion on gay players in the NFL. What happened next was an excellent little bit of schadenfreude ...


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    Read More »from Adrian Peterson asked stupid question by TMZ, camera jockey pays the price with fall (Video)
  • Geno Smith now officially has more attention than he wanted. (Getty Images)

    West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was busy preparing for the 2013 NFL draft, and for a number of visits to NFL facilities he has planned. So he didn't see the scouting report put out by Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki until Jake Spavital, his former quarterbacks coach, called to tell him about it. Spavital, who now serves as Texas A&M's quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator, felt he had to let Smith know that one of the more prominent media outposts had described his abilities in ways that were far from complimentary -- and had also taken some fairly serious personal shots at the man most assume will be the first quarterback selected in this year's draft.

    "Not a student of the game. Nonchalant field presence — does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Mild practice demeanor — no urgency. Not committed or focused — marginal work ethic. Interviewed poorly at the Combine and did not show an understanding of concepts on the white board. Opted not to compete at the Senior Bowl and has approached offseason training as if he has already arrived and it shows in his body with minimal muscle definition or strength ... Needed to be coddled in college — cannot handle hard coaching.

    "A cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks, Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room. Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities."

    "It's untrue in all things,'' Smith told Jim Corbett of USA TODAY Sports. "I heard about it [Monday] night when my quarterbacks coach called me to tell me about it.''

    The report caused quite a furor, given Nawrocki's history of adding highly personal (some would say psychological) evaluations of some draft prospects without specific sources cited, or any specific training in such matters if the opinions are his alone. He wrote a similar report on Cam Newton before the 2011 draft, which led some to assume that there were racist tendencies in Nawrocki's reports. I don't believe that to be true -- I've read similar reports he's written about white quarterbacks -- but many are still left wondering where this comes from, and how valid it can possibly be. Because in Smith's case, there's a long line of people ready to testify about his work ethic.

    Read More »from Geno Smith laughs off highly personal scouting report; most others do the same
  • Brian Banks signs with the Atlanta Falcons

    Brian Banks has been signed by the Falcons (Doug Farrar)

    The Brian Banks story is moving closer towards a Hollywood-style ending as Jay Glazer of reports the exonerated linebacker has signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

    “We are pleased to have Brian join our team,” Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. “We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then. He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL, and we look forward to seeing him on the field.”

    Banks, 27, spent five years in prison and five years on parole after being wrongly accused and convicted of raping a female classmate at Poly Tech High School in Long Beach, California.

    [Also: Geno Smith laughs off uncomplimentary scouting report]

    At the time of his arrest and subsequent incarceration, Banks was a blue-chip linebacker recruit who had a verbal commitment to USC. Following his exoneration of those charges, Banks' story reached Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who was USC's head coach when Banks was being recruited. Carroll offered Banks an opportunity to try out for the Seahawks.

    "I didn't even know if I was going to have a number, a jersey…I didn't know what to expect when I first got here," Banks said after his workout with the Seahawks. "I got to my locker and saw there was a jersey in it — number 43. And I just wanted to take a picture of it just for myself. It's just amazing to see my name on the back of it. It's an honor to be taken serious and to be given this opportunity."

    Banks did not receive a contract offer from the Seahawks, but was put through the paces by linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr.

    "Well, you know, he's a little behind -- he might be a little rusty," Norton, Jr. said after the practice. "But there's the foundation. Does he look like a ballplayer? Yes. Does he move well? Yes. Is there a chance? Absolutely. The idea is, can he line up, and can he chase the ball? It's about making a first impression, and I liked the first impression he left."

    Banks continued to work with trainer Travelle Gaines and had workouts with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. The San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins also expressed interest in Banks, but no NFL offers were made last season. Banks ultimately joined the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, but that league folded after a few weeks of their regular season and the linebacker still has not received a paycheck.

    [Also: San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator a victim of his own success]

    "The most interesting thing about the whole situation was that he believed in himself so much," Gaines told Y! Sports' Doug Farrar of Banks, who has worked out at Gaines' West Hollywood gym since his story went public. "He was so convinced that he had the skills to make it. You're talking about a guy who was driving from San Diego to work out, then from Long Beach to work out. Then, he was living in a crappy one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood just to work out and stay in shape, and work out in that environment with other top athletes."

    Read More »from Brian Banks signs with the Atlanta Falcons
  • 49ers agree to terms with Nnamdi Asomugha

    Nnamdi Asomugha is returning to the Bay Area (USA Today Sports Images)

    Free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is returning to the Bay Area, agreeing to terms with the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year contract, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

    Schefter adds that the one-year deal is worth $1.35 million and contains no guaranteed money. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports that an additional $1.65 million is available in incentives.

    Asomugha, 31, played his college ball at Cal and entered the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, who selected the 6-foot-2, 210-pound cornerback with the 31st overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft. Asomugha developed into one of the league's elite cornerbacks, earning Pro Bowl nods from 2008 through 2010, despite posting just one interception in each of those three seasons.

    Asomugha signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2011 lockout, but appeared to have lost a step in the speed department. The Eagles also stuck with a zone scheme, ignoring that Asomugha's main strength is his unique length that he uses to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. In 31 games with the Eagles, Asomugha had four interceptions and 17 passes defensed.

    Philadelphia released Asomugha on March 12 despite owing the veteran $4 million in fully guaranteed base salary in 2013.

    Read More »from 49ers agree to terms with Nnamdi Asomugha
  • Cardinals acquire Carson Palmer from the Raiders

    The game of "Quarterback Musical Chairs" continues as the Oakland Raiders have finalized a trade that will send quarterback Carson Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Tuesday.

    According to, the Cardinals have traded the latter of their two sixth-round picks in 2013 and a conditional seventh-round pick in 2014 in exchange for Palmer and a 2013 seventh-round pick for Palmer, who had two seasons and $28 million remaining on his current contract. The 33-year-old reportedly had dinner with Cardinals executives on Monday night and, according to Albert Breer of, has agreed to a new deal that is worth $16 million over the next two seasons and includes $10 million in guaranteed money and up to $4 million in incentives.

    [Also: Trades for vet QBs could hurt Geno Smith]

    The Raiders' trade of Palmer to the Cardinals does not come as a surprise.

    As Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports reported on Monday, the two sides were moving closer to a deal after the Raiders shipped a 2014 fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for quarterback Matt Flynn, who now assumes the top spot on the Raiders' quarterback depth chart.

    Read More »from Cardinals acquire Carson Palmer from the Raiders
  • Kevin Ware suffered an injury that few will forget. (Getty Images)

    The broken tibia suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware during Sunday's NCAA basketball tournament play was tough to watch even for those who are used to sports injuries. Ware came down hard on the court during the Cardinals' Elite Eight win over Duke and the resulting compound fracture was not for the squeamish. In the days following the injury, Ware received an overwhelming level of support. One of the people who reached out to him was former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who suffered a compound fracture of the tibia -- an injury similar to Ware's -- in a 1985 game against the New York Giants. Theismann was unable to generate sufficient bone growth after the injury, and his career was over at the age of 36. His injury created two of the most indelible moments in NFL history -- the bone sticking out of the leg, while Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor frantically waved for medical assistance for Theismann from the field.

    When Theismann saw Ware's injury, he got in touch with Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who set up what has become a texting relationship between the young basketball player and the former NFL star.

    “You just have to know the right kind of people to get to somebody," Theismann said Tuesday on The Mighty 1090 in San Diego. "A lot of guys have numbers and you just try to figure out a way to get to someone and … Coach Pitino was kind enough to help me out in getting in touch with Kevin. I felt so bad for him and I want to try to offer, as much as I can, support to him from an emotional standpoint. … He certainly doesn’t need me for anything at this point, but maybe down the road a little bit, some things may come up in his rehab or some questions may come up. … Unless you’ve actually been through something, you don’t know the physical and psychological impact that the recovery has.”

    Read More »from NFL players, past and present, reach out to Kevin Ware after horrible leg injury