McNabb thrived even without Owens
QB Donovan McNabb's improvement as a pocket passer contributed to a career year and Super Bowl berth.
Originally Published: January 26, 2005By John Clayton | ESPN.com
Each year, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has become more of a downfield passer, but the play-action options to halfback Corey Dillon have opened up more big plays. Deion Branch's first-quarter 60-yard catch against the Steelers was an example. The Dillon presence improved Brady's yards-per-attempt by a full yard to 7.8 yards a throw. His 52 regular-season completions of 20 yards or more were a career best.
The problem facing top halfback prospects Cedric Benson of Texas and Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams of Auburn is the same facing possible available veterans Shaun Alexander, Rudi Johnson, Anthony Thomas, Travis Henry and Reuben Droughns. There are not enough open starting jobs. Their problems intensified last week when Frank Gore of Miami and Marion Barber of Minnesota were among eight backs who declared early for the NFL draft. Oakland, Miami and Tampa Bay will be the most active in the backfield market and they should have plenty of options considering 18 teams had 1,000-yard rushers in 2004.
Conference runner-ups Atlanta and Pittsburgh face tough decisions at wide receiver. The Falcons have to decide whether to keep Peerless Price at $5.2 million a year or replace him as a starter with Michael Jenkins or a taller receiver to help the downfield vision of six-foot Michael Vick. Even though Plaxico Burress complained about not getting the ball enough after the loss to New England, he may be wrong in doubting that the Steelers will put the franchise tag on him. As much as the Steelers dislike that, Burress' ability as a downfield threat and a thin free-agent and draft crop could make him too valuable.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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