Saturday, December 29, 2012

Time For Some NFL Draft!

A late christmas gift is in order, time for some NFL Draft talk! We've tagged five-players to watch out for in the coming months and five players who we hope fall to our favorite teams!

Let's Get After It . . .

Da'Rick Rogers, WR Tennessee Tech Why not start off with a gamble? That's what Da'Rick Rogers is. He's got a ton of talent and before getting dismissed from Knoxville, he'd already recorded at least one season of 1,000+ yards and over 60 receptions. Why was he not a member of the Tennessee Volunteer football team in 2012? Off-the-field issues, specifically a failed drug test.

So, Rogers has maturity issues, who doesn't? After transferring to Tennessee Tech, Rogers completed another quality season, just 110 yards shy of 1,000 and 10-touchdowns. Rogers is a super physical receiver who can go up and make plays at the balls highest point, but not only that, he puts straight fear into defensive backs with his ability to get seperation and make big plays. Rogers is the type of player who gets passed on in the early rounds based on scouts perception of him as a person, despite how terrific he can be. If teams such as Seattle, Miami, and Houston are looking for a wide receiver to instantly improve their passing game and stretch the field, Rogers might just be the guy they can get for cheap. We're all in with Da'Rick Rogers while the rest of the NFL might have their eyes focused on other wide receivers who didn't get booted off the Volunteer football team.

Teams Targeting; Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans

Barrett Jones, OL Alabama The Alabama offensive lineman is about as versatile as a 'big-ugly' can get. A four-year starter in Tuscaloosa, Jones has started in all three-positions on the offensive line. His first two as a guard, his third-season as an award-winning tackle (Outland Trophy - Nation's Top Tackle), and this past season as an award-winning center (Rimington Trophy - Nation's Top Center), what's next, quarterback? His
blocking ability and amazing head of hair isn't all we have to be impressed by, in 2012 Barrett Jones took home The Campbell Trophy as well, given to the college football player who bests displays excellence in not only football, but academics and community service, the first Crimson Tide player to ever receive this honor. Over his career, Jones has blocked for a Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram, a Doak Walker winner in Trent Richardson, and been a major part in two National Championship teams. He has become a 'three-page' resume guy, and at the next level will most likely play center, a position in the NFL that requires intelligence first amongst other key attributes. Unlike some other top offensive lineman selected in recent years, Jones isn't brute strength and unfinished talent, he's a technician on the offensive line who has fantastic footwork and hands.

Teams Targeting; Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals

Johnthan Banks, DB Mississippi State Following in the footsteps of other dominating SEC defensive backs of recent years, Eric Berry, Patrick Peterson, and Morris Claiborne, Johnthan Banks became the fourth consecutive defensive back from the SEC to win the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nations best defensive back, and rightfully so. Throughout four seasons in Starkville, Banks has become the best cover corner in college football. He may not come with as much hype as Claiborne & Peterson but then again, that hype is reserved for the 'Bayou Bengals.

Don't let the Associated Press fool you, Alabama's DeMarcus Milliner and Oregon State's Jordan Poyer have no business being on the AP's 1st Team All-American list, not when Johnthan Banks is left on the second team, that's for sure. Banks is an outstanding defensive player in both the pass and run game. He can cover receivers of all sizes at 6'2", and has an extraordinary nose for finding the football all over the field. His staggering numbers as a junior in 2011 took a hit this past season, but like most senior defensive backs in the SEC, the Bulldogs opponents knew to stay away from the dangerous Banks. Playing through injury the second half of the season held Johnthan Banks back, and possibly could be the reason why he was held off the AP All American 1st-team, but for our money, Banks is 'the guy' that should garner draft day anticipation like Claiborne did this past year from Dallas. We go back to Banks' freshman season when he and the Bulldogs gave the #1 Florida Gators, headed by All-World college football mega-star Tim Tebow, a mighty scare. Banks recorded two pick-6's and the Gators were lucky to leave Davis-Wade with a win.

Teams Targeting; Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Alec Olgetree, LB Georgia Despite spending a significant time in 2011 laid up with a broken foot, Ogletree was still a monster on the Georgia defense over the last three seasons. The 6'3" Ogltree is a converted defensive back with a ton of that SEC speed to go sideline-to-sideline. After watching film on Ogltree, it became extremely clear why he was able to make plays like he did during the
SEC Championship game against a tough Alabama team, he's incredibly patient and skilled. Olgetree had an exceptional campagin in 2012 while being in the shadow of the AP SEC Defensive Player of the Year, teammate Jarvis Jones. Converted into a linebacker, he still uses his defensive back instinct allow him to read a quarterback and sit on pass routes over the middle, even dropping back in coverage. Ogletree has played outstanding on several big stages, whether it was the previously mentioned SEC Championship or his performance in last seasons Outback Bowl against Michigan State. Ogletree could help really improve several teams at inside linebacker at the next level.

Teams Targeting; New York Giants, Cleveland Browns

Joseph Randle, RB Oklahoma State Have you watched The Pokes play at all over the last two seasons? We have. Believe me, after watching two games in Stillwater, you will have asked the guy next to you at least three or four times who
#1 was. The answer you'll get every time, "You must be talking about Joe Randle." Not only does Randle have explosive 'Big 12' speed, speed good enough to turn a 15-yard gain into pay dirt, but Joe Randle is also our favorite blocking running back; see his performance vs. Texas back in September. Randle is also terrific out of the backfield in the passing game, giving him that second elite skill to be successful in the NFL. In eight of his twelve games during his junior season at Oklahoma State, Randle ripped off more than 100+ yards en route to his second straight 1,000-yard season. We'd love to see Randle involved in a time-share situation in a place like Cincinnati with some quality young talent around him like A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.

Teams Targeting; Detriot Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rice Out; Tron In

Step aside Jerry. In a time where only definitive statements are allowed into the conversation, we are going to just come out and say it: Detroit Lions super-human receiver Calvin Johnson is the greatest pass catcher of all time. His assault on the receiving milestones ahead of him will be endless, and by the time the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket hangs up the spikes, your children won't even remember the name Jerry Rice. At 6'5", 236 lbs. Calvin Johnson is the most physically imposing target we've ever seen catch passes in the NFL.
The G.O.A.T
Before halftime of last night's game vs. the Atlanta Falcons, Calvin Johnson had already recorded 100+ yards receiving, his eighth straight game with 100-yards or more, a new NFL record. The eleventh time this season that Calvin Johnson has recorded a 100-yard game, tying an NFL record. Oh, and did I forget that for the fourth consecutive game Johnson hauled in 10+ passes? Another NFL record. Is that enough?

With safety help over the top on the games greatest receiver, doesn't matter. Defenses game-planning to stop only Calvin Johnson due to injured Lions pass catchers Ryan Broyles, Nate Burleson, and Brandon Pettigrew, doesn't matter. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford having a rough year (16 INT's), doesn't matter. Nothing mattered when Calvin Johnson, with one game remaining, set the single-season receiving record last night, and as the Falcons learned what many other teams have also learned, there is no stopping Calvin Johnson. That 225-yard performance which blew a hole into the record books left us with one remaining thought, this is just the beginning.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is Dez The Answer?

Dez Bryant is in your face.
He's exciting. He's controversial. He's as Cowboy as they get, or at least how I remember Cowboys to be. Since Michael Irvin's injury-plagued 1999 season, we've longed for the days of Cowboys like Michael, Deion, and Charles Haley. Cowboys as bad as they want to be, Cowboys that don't hold anything back, Cowboys who are better than the player playing opposite them, and know it. Everything we've seen from the Dallas Cowboys' twenty-fourth pick in the 2010 NFL Draft has evolved into just that, a brash, confident, 24-year old game-changing wide receiver, who is about to take center stage . . . if he hasn't already.

On the brink of amazing.
As other Cowboys standouts Miles Austin and Jason Witten are forced to take a back seat to the talents of Bryant, now-veteran quarterback Tony Romo is finding life much easier with #88 on the receiving end of comeback-victories. Eight touchdowns over his last six games, it is no wonder the Cowboys are back in control of their own destiny after winning five of those last six. Bryant is on pace for career highs in touchdowns, receptions, and of course receiving yards, despite his own personal plans to play the remainder of the Cowboys postseason push with a broken finger. However, it isn't the touchdowns or the constant 'in-your-face' moments with defensive backs such as the likes of De'Angelo Hall, it's the 'come get some' catches that the put the New York Giants on the edge of their seats. It's the willingness to play for teammates, putting himself behind those playing alongside him, call it stupidity, but we call it being a Cowboy. Coming up on a must-win situation vs. New Orleans this weekend, a sub-par pass defense, Dez Bryant is poised to have yet another big day.

As mega-owner Jerry Jones anointed Dez Bryant before ever playing an NFL game, handing him the same number as Cowboys greats Drew Pearson and the previously mentioned Michael Irvin, Dez Bryant is being forced to live up to potential that even he may not have ever seen in himself. Despite maturity issues which have tarnished his image early on in his career, Dez Bryant is in the midst of his greatest season as a professional and having his breakout year just in time. As we continue to watch Bryant's play soar to new heights, it is no wonder that it coincides with that of uptick in Cowboy play. When was the last time you saw this team make the plays necessary to win close games, or the last time you saw this team on the positive end of upset victories. If Dez Bryant is the next Michael Irvin, or at the very least able to hold a candle to the likes of Cowboys past, it's possible he's the start of America's Team on their way back, out of a decade all Cowboys fans would like to soon forget.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No More Laying In The Cut

He showed very little emotion while dissecting the Houston Texans throughout the first three quarters on Monday Night Football. That was however till just before the fourth quarter with the Patriots up 28-7 on a third down in which future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady pulled down the ball and scampered for a six-yard 1st down run. Brady, all fired up, motioned a first-down and got the nearly 70,000 fans packed into New England's Gillette Stadium rocking.

Whether Brady wanted to down play it after the fact, whether he would deny it or not, that 1st down was for the entire NFL. That first down, put the entire NFL on notice. The four touchdown night against the previously 11-1 Houston Texan defense, that was what the rest of the NFL was afraid of. A Tom Brady that was turning it on at the right moment and clicking on all cylinders, just weeks before the playoffs began. To take it one step further, the rest of the conference is headed in the wrong direction. (Excluding Peyton Manning & the Broncos that is.)

The Baltimore Ravens lost each of their last two games and just fired their offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Since their blowout victory against Oakland exactly one month ago, the Ravens offense hasn't looked good. They've squeaked out (2) three-point wins, then ultimately lost two games vs. two-backup quarterbacks. With upcoming games against the Broncos, Bengals, and Giants, the Ravens will have their fans full trying to prove they're worth a playoff spot.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, like their AFC North counterparts, have been terrible as of late. The Steelers managed to drop a clunker to the Browns and just got manhandled by the Chargers in two of the last three weeks. With Roethlisberger back, the Steelers are going to have to find some consistency in their offense and keep their defense healthy. To make matters worse, after battling injuries all season-long, the Steelers have now suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall for one-game due to team violations.

As for those Houston Texans, they got abused on national television in front of the entire country. They couldn't slow Tom Brady and the Patriot offense down, they couldn't get a hand in his face, they couldn't stop the run either, hence the 42-14 throttling. Sometimes you can say to yourselves, "it's one game," this is not one of those times. The Texans have yet to win a big game when challenged and for the second time, the first being their early season loss to the Packers, they've been embarrassed.

With the Denver Broncos winning eight straight since starting the season 2-3, and quarterback Peyton Manning looking like, well Peyton Manning, then the New England Patriots coming out as hot as they looked in Foxboro, MA last night, it seems as though we might get another Manning vs. Brady treat, sure the uniform might not be the same, but the matchup sure as will be.

All things being equal, after last night, they'll be no more laying in the cut for Brady and the Patriots. For more, follow us on Twitter!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Brief Intermission

In a season meant to 'shake-it-up,' Major League Baseball's final-four will oddly enough feature three of the last four World Series Champions.


Step aside, NATITUDE. The best record in the 'bigs' throughout the regular season, exit stage right against a St. Louis Cardinals team that knows what it takes to win in the postseason. Would been nice to have that 24-year old right-handed phenom in a decisive Game 5, no!?!?

The Orioles were a cute story. Dog fight with the New York Yankees for the American League East crown, coming up just shy but still reaching the postseason. An inspiring Wild-Card win in Arlington, TX against the 93-win Texas Rangers. Unfortunately, running into C.C. Sabathia in a 'Game 5' in The Bronx is bad for one's World Series dreams.  However, as in Buck Showalter's last two stops, it's possible that a loss here could only lead to better fortune in the Orioles near future.

I wanted it bad for Billy Beane and his Oakland Athletics, I really did. Coming back like that in 'Game 4,' after claiming the A.L. West against a high-payroll Angels roster and the Texas Rangers, who didn't want them?!? Like Sabathia in New York however, but worse, you don't beat an ace like Justin Verlander when it counts. Two starts, sixteen innings, twenty-two strikeouts, 1-earned run, Oakland had no chance when that went five.

As for the Reds, you only had to win one . . . at home! Ninety-seven wins during the regular season, fifty of them at The Great American Ball Park! Yet after the Giants got one, in extra-innings none the less, then they turned it over to their one-two punch of Lincecum / Cain. Series over, till next season Cincy.


Now, after all that, 'The Majors' are left to look toward October excitement with the Yankees (2009 World Series Champions), the Giants (2010 World Series Champions), the Cardinals (2011 World Series Champions), and the Detroit Tigers, a team loaded with talent from the previously mentioned right-handed ace Justin Verlander, to the first Triple-Crown winner since 1967, third baseman Miguel Cabrera.

American League Championship Series - Detroit vs. New York

Who wouldn't like the Tigers in this one? No really, I know the Yankees are always a favorite till they aren't, but Detroit is legit. Manager Jim Leyland's team has the best pitcher remaining in the postseason, Verlander, they run out at least three very quality starters, and between Prince Fielder, triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and a combination of Delmon Young and Austin Jackson, the Tigers can rake. Back to those starters however, Doug Fister looked outstanding against Oakland in the ALDS and Max Scherzer hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in an outing since August 5th. In a series where they'll have to wait to start Verlander on normal rest, Fister and Scherzer are going to be key to getting the Tigers off to a good clip. The Yankees on the other hand are a different story. Manager Joe Girardi is going to have to look to Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to carry the Yankees offense giving the struggles of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, that short porch really helps Granderson who smashed 43 homers this season. The reason we like the Tigers so much isn't necessarily the struggles of the Yankees sluggers, it's more or less their reliance on C.C. Sabathia to get them big wins and hope they can out-hit their opponents when other starters are on the mound. Any Yankee success will really depend on what they get out of 37-year old right hander Hiroki Kuroda to follow Sabathia in the rotation. I like Andy Pettitte too, but he's 40-years old. Our Call: Tigers in 6.

National League Championship Series - St. Louis vs. San Francisco

There is no more excuses to overlooking the St. Louis Cardinals. The reigning World Series Champs had their Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retire, lost All-World slugger Albert Pujols to the Angels, made the postseason due to new Wild Card rules implemented just this season, and saw themselves down 6-0 on the road in the NLDS, and they're still in this position today. The team has no idea when their season should be over and that's the way they play. Chris Carpenter is an animal in the postseason, Carlos Beltran has the entire team behind his offensive play leaning on him, and they get a shot at San Francisco without ace Matt Cain till game three! I don't care how good San Francisco plays in the postseason or where Tim Lincecum is in the rotation, or even out of the pen, I'm on board with St. Louis and won't be off till they're golfing. Our Call: Cardinals in 7, always interesting.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fast & Furious

First thought, South Carolina has put the SEC on notice after their dismantling of Georgia on Saturday night. However, Georgia has been terrible in games against Top 10 opponents while under head coach Mark Richt, that's a fact. Be that as it may, the Gamecocks looked pretty efficient. Running back Marcus Lattimore was workman like with the Gamecocks going up 21-0 in the first quarter, and quarterback Connor Shaw only threw the ball when he needed to while avoiding any possibility of momentum shifting turnovers. The real story is how dominating the Gamecocks defense looks. South Carolina managed to stuff Georgia on third down 9 out of 16 times while holding quarterback Aaron Murry to just 109-yards passing. Use caution when waiving the Gamecocks banner this week, traveling to Baton Rouge with the angry Tigers coming off their first regular season loss in eighteen games won't be easy for Steve Spurrier.

About that LSU loss, it was a tough pill to swallow for fans of the 'Bayou Bengals. LSU turned the ball over against Florida three times and had their porous offense exposed in 'The Swamp.' The fact of the matter is, we saw this coming for LSU. Between weeks four and five, a week in which LSU struggled to pull out a 12-10 victory against the now 1-4 Auburn Tigers, the Associated Press slid them down to #3. Between weeks five and six, when LSU had to overcome a sluggish start against Towson of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Associated Press once again dropped them to #4. So, when Les Miles & Co. rolled into Gainesville and got knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten, were we really shocked?!?! When Miles was interviewed on Tuesday and he said his team is going through a bit of a transition, we hope that transition involves finding an offense that can move the ball.

The Gators still run the State of Florida, and head coach Will Muschamp is running the show. It took Muschamp a year, but he's now got his signature win for the Gators. We loved how Florida played back on September 8th in College Station, before a raucous 82,000 plus in Texas A&M's SEC debut. The Gators slugged out a 20-17 victory on the back of senior running back Mike Gillislee. This past weekend, the Gators and Muschamp turned to Gillislee and their tough defense yet again. Gillislee turned out a 146-yard performance and hit pay dirt twice while their defense shut down the LSU offense. While the Gators were playing their way into the the top five teams in the country, their in-state counterparts were having major growing pains. Miami and head coach Al Golden got tuned up in Chicago by Notre Dame 41-3, while a previously #3 Florida State team overlooked ACC rival N.C. State and saw their National Title hopes go up in smoke. The Gators are sitting pretty and could find themselves with a shot at the BCS National Championship, or least they control their own destiny for now.

Those pesky Ducks aren't going anywhere. Oregon is very, very, good. In their first (3) three PAC-12 outings, the Ducks have shown the explosiveness we've come to expect from a Chip Kelly Oregon team. Super-backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas have set it off with a combined 19 touchdowns between them. For an offense that is averaging 50+ points in each of their first three in-conference games, that's impressive. Oregon has the speed to keep with teams in the SEC, the next question is to find out if they can make it out of the West with their unbeaten record still intact. In Southern Calfornia to meet the Trojans on November 3rd and what is shaping up to an in-state rivalry game like no other as the Ducks travel to Corvallis to meet a now #10 ranked Oregon State Beavers team. Can the video-game like play of the Ducks keep going? We think so.

AP #7 Notre Dame Disclaimer: The helmets were awful. The game was not on a neutral site, despite what the 'Golden Domers' would tell you, and we weren't impressed by the 41-3 blowout win against the Hurricanes. That being said, they have difficult road contests in Norman and Southern California which if all goes well, will write the story itself.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Is it locked up, already?!?

Heisman Chatter

One month in the books, and The Heisman Trophy may have already been decided. Here's how we see it . . .

1. West Virginia QB, Geno Smith. Let's face it, Geno Smith had his Heisman Trophy, statement-making game this weekend, and what a statement it made. The Mountaineer signal caller snapped off 45 completions on
51 attempts while hanging (8) eight touchdown passes on a previously top twenty-fifth rankedBaylor team. It gets no easier for Geno Smith with ranked Texas and ranked Kansas State in two of the next three weeks, which we believe will just cement everything we saw this weekend.

2. Ohio State QB, Braxton Miller. Knowing they can't vie for a Big Ten Championship, or a National Title for that matter, (due to Tressel-era sanctions), one would have to think Braxton Miller has Buckeye fans as excited as they can be. Miller broke out in week (3) three leading Ohio State to a big win against visiting Cal. The sophomore Huber Heights native went off for 249 yards passing while rushing for another 75 and posting five touchdowns. This past week in East Lansing, Miller turned in a workman-like performance earning new head coach Urban Meyer, his first Big Ten victory while improving to 5-0. Only expect the hype to grow as Braxton Miller and Ohio State don't get challenged till mid-November against the Badgers in Camp Randall.

3. Alabama QB, AJ McCarron. Doesn't McCarron have the most pressure-packed job in collegiate football? The legions of Alabama fans, arguably the greatest coach in college football looming over him, not to mention his teammates on the other side of the ball playing better than any defense in the country, is that enough pressure for the junior quarterback? The 5-0, #1 ranked Crimson Tide, have a reliable quarterback under center who not only puts the ball in the endzone (12 touchdowns), but doesn't turn the ball over (zero interceptions). We're fans of McCarron, and to win National Championships, it's more than required that McCarron put his offense in good positions to score points and keep the ball away from the opposing SEC defenses.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Saban Nation

That was fun.

What a GREAT Week 1 in college football that was?!?! Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State hung an 84-0 whipping on Savannah State, for which the Tigers of Savannah received a check for $385,000 for showing up in Stillwater. Boise State began their post-Kellen Moore life on Friday night in East Lansing, and quietly exited any BCS conversation before the night was over. The Fighting Irish and Midshipmen got after it across the pond from Dublin, Ireland. From Chestnut Hill, MA to Eugene, OR college football kicked off in a big way, here's what we learned . . .

The Trojans got the double-edged sword this weekend. As they watched their Heisman candidate, quarterback Matt Barkley, post a 372-yard, 4 touchdown afternoon on Hawaii en route to a 49-10 victory, the rest of the country could care less. Then the story broke that former Trojan running back Joe McKnight, may have accepted inappropriate gifts from a USC booster. These are the problems playing in Southern California. You'll rightfully get all the pre-season hype, however,
once the season gets under way the rest of the country only checks up on you to ensure you are winning and staying eligible. As the Trojans were beating up on Hawaii, the defending National Champion Tide were burying a Top-25 opponent on a neutral field. When the first in-season polls came out yesterday, was it really a surprise to anyone in Los Angeles that the Trojans had slid to #2?

About those Tide . . .

What more do you need answered? The Crimson Tide defense held now former Heisman candidate, Michigan's quarterback Denard Robinson to 27-yards rushing on ten carries while turning over the Wolverine offense three times. Alabama jumped out to a 31-0 lead and never looked back. Their rushing attack churned out 5.5 yards per carry amassing over 230-yards on the ground. Junior signal-caller A.J. McCarron displayed a workman like performance completing 11 of 21 passes with 199 yards through the air and two touchdowns. Make no mistake about it, Michigan is not overrated, the Tide are just that good. Alabama had to go into this season replacing six defensive starters, and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart along with head coach Nick Saban were prepared to use Michigan and The Cowboys Classic as a jumping off point to prove to the entire country that they're the class of the SEC and don't forget it.

We've got to think that Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell raised a ton of eyebrows in the Spartans Friday night victory over Boise State. In the first game of the post-Kirk Cousins era for Michigan State, the Spartans saw their offense turn the ball over four times, including three interceptions from junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Head coach Mark Dantonio and Michigan State's offensive coordinators then turned to Bell to carry the load, of which he proved beyond any doubt that he's more than capable of doing so. The junior running back pumped out nearly 5-yards per carry (4.8 per) on a mind numbing 44 carries posting a 210-yard night to pair with his two touchdowns. While most of the country has been looking at his cross-conference counterpart, Wisconsin's Montee Ball (who also turned in a workman 120 yards on 32 carries), as the BIG 10's flag bearer in Heisman-related discussion, it was Le'Veon Bell who stepped out in week one and even earned himself Big Ten Offensive Co-Player of the Week. If this was a sign of things to come, Bell sure shook every BIG 10 foe from Ann Arbor to Iowa City.

Then there was West Virginia quarterback and now supposed Heisman front runner, of which there is no disputing, Geno Smith. The senior play maker was all over the Marshall Thundering Herd from start to finish in a dismantling 69-34 victory. Completing all but four of his 36-attempts, Smith passed for over three-hundred yards and four touchdowns. Over the next two weeks Smith's Mountaineers will have the opportunity to tune up on both James Madison and Maryland before they enter the rigors of their inaugural season in the BIG XII conference. Last week when we said that another BIG XII Heisman candidate could jump to the front, just like Robert Griffin III did a season ago, we forgot to include Geno Smith as that guy. From October 6th to November 17th, the Mountaineers and Geno Smith travel to Austin, Lubbock, and Stillwater. Sprinkled into their travel plans are meetings in Morgantown, WV with currently ranked Kansas State, TCU, and a matchup between potential Heisman candidates Smith and Landry Jones of Oklahoma. What does that Heisman resume look like on November 18th for Geno Smith is the very next question. Furthermore, as the hype builds in West Virginia, they've got to look at the road ahead and realize, all due respect, there are no trips to South Florida and Piscataway on a BIG XII schedule!

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Sooner Than Later

For each year of the Obama Administration, twenty-three year old Landry Jones has been under center calling plays for the Oklahoma Sooners. Amassing over 12,000 yards passing, 93-touchdowns, and 29-wins, Landry Jones is on the precipice of becoming the winningest quarterback in Sooner history. However, can Landry Jones be a serious contender for this years Heisman Trophy, and lead the pre-season fourth ranked Sooners, to a run at the National Championship?

In short, yes.

Jones is flying under the radar with all of the pre-season hype surrounding So. Cal quarterback Matt Barkley and Mountaineer signal caller Geno Smith. Despite Jones averaging fewer interceptions per attempt than Barkley, (39.70 vs. 35.60), Heisman hype has still swayed to the more popular Trojan. Two-years older and two-inches taller than Barkley, Jones has the opportunity to become the third Sooner to bring the Heisman back to Oklahoma since 2003, following 2008 trophy winner, Sam Bradford and '03 winner Jason White. Playing behind an offensive line of veterans with over 100-starts as a unit and a defense which will put Jones in great positions to lead the Sooners on many-a-scoring drive, it's arguable that he's got the better opportunity to both stay undefeated in the revamped Big XII, and put up monster numbers along the way.

We can circle a key date in Jones' assault of the Heisman Trophy as the sooners travel to Morgantown, West Virginia on Saturday, November 17th. Very similiar to last season as Baylor's Robert Griffin III traveled to Lawrence, Kansas and came out with an overtime victory after needing a three-touchdown 4th quarter to reach OT. Griffin followed up that performance by returning home to torch Jones' Sooners 45-38 and make himself the outright Heisman frontrunner. For the 23-year old Jones, a victory in Morgantown over fellow Heisman contender Geno Smith and a follow up of Big XII in-state rival Oklahoma State the following week could sew up another Heisman for the Sooners and the Big XII.

While a healthy offensive line and the emergence of either the suspended Jaz Reynolds or returning Kenny Stills are major factors of the success of Jones, 2012 does look promising for the future NFL quarterback and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Boomer . . Sooner

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oregon Trails

Quack, Quack, Quack.

Since head coach Chip Kelly took over in Eugene, the Ducks have taken it to the their PAC-12 foes, year in and year out. An eye popping 34-6 under Kelly, Oregon has brought a new speed to the Pacific Northwest, speed which is usually reserved for those of the Southeast Conference. Whether it was former Ducks quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas, or even current Ducks signal callers Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota, the Ducks offense is sure to be high-flying under Kelly.

Despite the departure of the previously mentioned Thomas, and super-back LaMichael James, the 2012 Ducks come into this season with some punishable speed, again. Senior runing back Kenjon Barner returns to Oregon coming off a season in which he averaged 6.2 yards per carry finishing just 61 yards shy of a 1,000-yard rushing season, while splitting time with a slew of Oregon backs. Also returning is, Heisman hopeful, sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas. Why the buzz around Thomas? In 2011, as a freshman, Thomas punished the PAC-12 scoring 18 all-purpose touchdowns. In 55 rushing attempts, Thomas found the endzone 7-times while putting up close to six-hundred yards. Even more impressive is Thomas' play in open space, 46-catches, nine-touchdowns. Despite the quarterback competition still under way between Bennett and Mariota, ask yourselves this question; With Thomas and Barner in the backfield, does it matter?!?!

The road ahead . . . A pre-season No. 5 ranking, the Ducks are sure to be heavy favorites in their first five games of 2012, including PAC-12 games vs. Arizona and a road trip to Pullman against the Cougars of Washington State. The real fact of the matter is, Oregon doesn't play a ranked opponent till November 3rd and their titanic trip to Southern California to play the 'Men of Troy,' who have created more preseason buzz than ever heard of. If Oregon and Chip Kelly wanted to make a statement that they not only are the class of the PAC-12, but that they aren't just a flash-in-the-pan, they're going to have to do it through USC.

Our Call: PAC-12 North Champions (10-2)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Better Than Ever

June 28th's #1 overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, Anthony Davis, pulled down the rebound and held the ball out as the final buzzer sounded. With that, the United State's men's basketball team once again won Olympic gold and for the second consecutive summer Olympic Games, proved they are the most dominant and elite basketball squad in the world. Headed by the 6' 8", 250 lb., reigning NBA MVP, LeBron James, U.S.A. Basketball can be confident when they look toward the FIBA World Championships in 2014 and of course toward the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

Worth Noting . . .

We'll have to take him on his word, and considering he would be 37-years old by the summer of 2016, the already 16-year veteran of the NBA, Kobe Bryant, has played in his last Olympics. Whether contrived as most would criticize or not, Bryant does and says all the right things and has proved himself to be a leader among men in these most recent Olympic games. He didn't have to be the 'team on my back' guy as he was in Beijing, his role however was to be the constant threat and used when needed. Bryant was the elder statesmen in London and has most likely left an indelible mark on his younger teammates, the previously mentioned Anthony Davis, Oklahoma City star James Harden, and Minnesota star forward Kevin Love.

As Spain turned to the "box and one" defense to slow the scoring of reigning and 3x NBA scoring champion, Kevin Durant, in the second-half of Sunday's gold medal game, it became increasingly obvious on a world stage just how scary his talent is. Durant's offensive explosiveness was seen throughout the 2012 NBA postseason and will continue to be as he launches his assault on the NBA record books, but in the Olympics, he's only begun to scratch the surface. Durant's 30-points he dropped on Spain made up 33% of the U.S. offense and allowed LeBron to play defense against Spain's big front line. In his first Olympics, Kevin Durant introduced himself to the world in a big way.

It wasn't the 37-points and 10 of 12 from behind the arc in pool play against Nigeria, it wasn't the 18-points against Argentina, and it wasn't the 17-points against Australia. In his third Olympic medal winning performance, the 28-year old Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony solidified himself once more as a remarkable international player. 'Melo had a tough NBA season in 2012 and has been criticized heavily in New York, however the Olympic stage seemed to be exactly what he needed to get back on track. Maybe it was sitting on the same bench as his former college coach with whom he won a National Championship with, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, or maybe it was just being away from the Big Apple, either way Carmelo Anthony seems to be back.

Countless times in their eight London Olympic games, U.S. Hoops not only looked to but counted on Clipper point-guard Chris Paul to control their offense and play relentless defense. The Winston-Salem point guard can be penciled in to lead the U.S. for not only the next four years and in Rio, but possibly beyond. Paul's offensive game allows him to seemlessly fit in and run an offense full of superstar scorer's but also turn his defensive efforts on some of the best guards the world has to offer. If Spain's Ricky Rubio is healthy enough to return to run the point for his national team in 2016, expect fireworks as Chris Paul and Rubio square off.

The Chosen One . . .

Then there is the last six months of one LeBron James. An MVP, an NBA Championship, and now a gold medal, now that's a haul. While he has been putting in work in London, everyone in Boston and Brooklyn and all the way out to L.A. has been preparing their plan to stop LeBron, something the world had no idea how to do this summer. LeBron played all five positions this summer and did everything the U.S. men's basketball team needed him to do. When LeBron needed to, he took over in a way it seems as only he can do now. As his teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh got healthy after their deep NBA postseason run, LeBron ramped up his game and came to play in London. The type of unselfish play that James put in this summer has made some of us turn the corner on the man who bolted Cleveland for Miami and gave us all a sick taste in our mouths. If there is a player whom we talk about in such high regard as we've began to talk about Kobe Bryant after the Rio Olympics, it'll be LeBron.

Down The Road . . .

Despite everything you've just read, the Olympics in London proved again that the world is getting even better at basketball than they were four years ago in Beijing. A seven-point victory over Spain for the gold medal really shows that even more so. With this Olympics most likely being the last time we see stars such as Tyson Chandler (29), and Kobe Bryant (33), and who knows what type of Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, and Blake Griffin type injuries could show up four years from now, it's even that much more important that the NBA stars continue to water the seeds they've planted over the last several years. All things considered, tip your cap to these NBA superstars for showing up and doing exactly what they needed to do over the last several weeks. . .

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

He's Pretty Remarkable

Now that it's over, we can reflect.

From Sydney, Australia at age 15 to London, England at age 27. From becoming the youngest American to make the Olympic swimming contingent in nearly seventy years back in 2000 to becoming the most decorated Olympian in the history of the Olympics by 2012, Michael Phelps has become both legendary and iconic. Now he hangs it up.

With another fantastic two week Olympic effort, Michael Phelps came to London and accomplished everything he possibly could ever dream of. With his performances in 4x100 meter medley relay, the 4x200 meter freestyle relay, the 200 meter individual medley, and the 100 meter butterfly, Michael Phelps added to his record smashing gold medal total, 18 in all. Leaving no doubt, Phelps wrapped up his final individual and relay golds by turning in remarkable performances, performances saved for athletes of a different kind, athletes just like Phelps. However, it was his humility which we appreciated even more so. There wasn't the exuberance he showed in Beijing when he was not only shocking the world one night after another, but also himself, rather the picture of someone 'getting it,' getting the moment. Someone understanding that everything he was accomplishing, piling medal on top of medal, piling performance on top of performance, Michael Phelps was in the moment of rewriting record books and in itself, history.

For the next fifty-plus years, Michael Phelps will be the answer to each of the following questions:

Who owns the record for most Olympic medals won?

Who owns the record for most Olympic gold medals won?

Who won (3) consecutive gold medals in the 100 meter butterfly?

Who won (3) consecutive gold medals in the 200 meter individual medley?

Answer: Phelps, Michael.

Time for a rhetorical question. Who is the greatest Olympian of all time? It's not the conversation we have in other sports such as basketball with Michael Jordan vs. Magic Johnson or in baseball with Babe Ruth vs. Hank Aaron, the best Olympian of all time is now a no doubter, it's Michael Phelps and spending time defending him over any other would be a disservice to the remarkable efforts Phelps put forth to win 22 Olympic medals between 2004 and 2012.

Ther was a split-second after Phelps failed to medal in his first Olympic event in London, the 400 meter individual medley, but just a split second when we worried that he looked too human, and saw the reality of the goal he was chasing. Then it was over. Phelps turned in a masterful leg of the 4x100 meter freestyle relay and helped the United States win a silver medal, his first of the games, and the medal which got him off and running. Over the next and final five events of Michael's seven-event program, he'd pick up four gold medals and a silver, a mind-blowing haul for most Olympians, but for a guy who picked up eight in Beijing, his London performance seemed pedestrian.

London made him real to you and I. His inability to pound the water in exuberance after winning during these Olympic Games was a sign, a sign that he not only knew it was coming to an end, but he physically couldn't enjoy the sport any longer. His actions spoke volumes in London, they echoed everything Phelps had said pre-Olympics. His talk about how he had lost interest after Beijing. The acknowledged stories that he was skipping training sessions on a consistent basis over the past four years. His open declaration that these would be his last Olympic Games, no matter the outcome. Despite his PhelpsPhans pleas to hit Rio in 2016, and the pleas of his own mother, Michael Phelps is d-o-n-e.

For all of us who have had the pleasure to watch Michael Phelps in the pool, it's been a treat. We've enjoyed seeing one man dominate more than any other, we've seen his abilities tested, we've seen him doubted, but most of all, we've seen him win. With his twenty-two medals over a period of twelve-years, it might just be over, passing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina in these Olympics to become the greatest medal winner of all time was clearly his mission, mission accomplished.

He's pretty remarkable.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hitting The Bases

The deadline has passed, teams are sorting themselves out, and this is when baseball gets fun. Give yourself a few minutes off from Olympic badminton and checkout how we're Hitting The Bases . . .

He's hitting .350, already pounded 18 homers as of Monday night, ripped 31 bags in 79 games, and he can't even legally drink for another eight days! He is Angels phenom center-fielder, 20-year old Mike Trout. The amazing season of Mike Trout could give the Angels both the American League Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP, in the same player. Even more impressive is the company that a feat like that would place Trout in, just Boston's Fred Lynn in 1975 and former Mariner and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 have accomplished it. Just as impressive is what would happen if Mike Trout were able to hold on and win the American League batting title. Hitting nearly .025 better than any other American League player, Trout is staring at becoming the third youngest player in the history of the game to win the batting title. Ahead of him? Al Kaline and Ty Cobb. However, could it be that the same man who is so lethal with the lumber and in the field has another part of his game even more valuable? On the base paths Trout is flat out dominating, being the Major League leader in both stolen bases (31) and runs scored (80)!

They've got the best team earned run average in 'The League.' Not one but two front-line starters with sub 2.80 ERA's, and one hell of a developing following / bandwagon. Currently boasting a major league best sixty-one wins, they're the surprise Washington Nationals. When it comes to the 'Nats, it's all about the pitching. 26-Year old Jordan Zimmerman has been dominant in July. Over six starts, Zimmerman has posted a 4-0 mark allowing just four earned runs over 37 innings, pretty standard for the National League's third lowest ERA (2.28) amongst starters. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez is in the midst of a career year with 13 wins over 21 starts to go along with his 137 strikeouts, 5th most in the NL. Then we get to the one everyone wants to talk about, Stephen Strasburg. In his first full season as a starter, Strasburg has not only remained healthy (knock on wood), but delivered (154 K's). Till this point. Both the Phillies and Braves have gotten to Strasburg as of late and at 130 innings, it's time the Nationals start to seriously make some decisions. When current staff ace Jordan Zimmerman was coming off the same Tommy John surgery which Strasburg is returning from, the Nationals let him get to closer to 160 innings before shutting it down. However, the Nationals weren't in the midst of both the pennant picture or a dream season!

9-1 Over their last ten games. Led by a dominant 26-year old righty, they are only club in baseball who has used just five starters past the mid-way point. Since mid-July their lineup has been without the National League's toughest out, yet they're still sitting atop and surging ahead of the NL Central. They are 'The Class of the Midwest,' the Cincinnati Reds. Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, and staff ace Johnny Cueto have each made all of their starts, and they've looked strong. With the majors best team ERA, the Reds have let up just 344 earned runs. Back to Johnny Cueto, the twenty-six year old Dominican has allowed fewer than forty earned runs in 21 starts thus far! Even more impressive for the Reds is that in 15 games without All-Star first baseman Joey Votto, Cincinnati is 12-3! Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips along with third baseman Todd Frazier are leading the Reds offense in his absence. Just like the Nationals, but better, the Reds staff has very little holes and that's what are going to carry this team into the postseason.

It is, today, a game changing idea coming to fruition. Clubs that would have been in a fire-sale as we approached the July 31st trade deadline, are holding out. Why? It's the additional Wild Card Playoff Ticket in each league. Only the Phillies, Marlins, and Cubs seemed to want to wave the white flag heading into this weekend. Six or seven teams in the American League including, four in the hotly contested East, are just seperated by five games for the second Wild Card seed. Then there is a team like the Dodgers in the National League who in previous years would have been looking at probably three or four teams battling them out for one spot and thought twice about giving up young prospects to add rentals. However, in this season they move forward and add outfielder Shane Victorino from Philadelphia and infielder Hanley Ramirez. Even a team such as St. Louis who in a normal year with division opponents Pittsburgh and Cincinnati having the terrific seasons as they are, is still in this thing, hence the reason they added bullpen help through Miami on deadline Tuesday. Say what you want about Selig, but he did an outstanding job adding a twist that only improves the league.

Another trade deadline has come and gone, and while last week his team parted ways with a veteran, once in a generation outfielder, he remains in the greater northwest with his team thirteen and a half games out of first place. The Major League leader in strikeouts and a 2.79 ERA, all while being just two outs away from pitching more innings than anyone in baseball, he's perennial All-Star, Mariner ace Felix Hernandez. The Mariners have finished in last place for two straight years and with the Rangers and Angels prepared to duke it out for the division, it looks like the M's will finish last yet again. King Felix is one the most dominant right-handed pitchers in baseball, and has been since 2005, but does the rest of the country know that? With the Mariners unable to return to successes they reached in the early 2000's, it's time to ask what they're planning on doing exactly? With Hernandez being able to prove he can be consistently dominant over his entire career, and he's only 26, imagine the type of package the Mariners could ask for! The Mariners control Hernandez for another two seasons which will cost them over $40-million dollars. While he has a limited no-trade clause, you don't think there is more than one AL power broker who wouldn't extend him for another record-breaking contract extension that the Mariners simply cannot commit to? Furthermore, there are a ton of miles on Hernandez, and he's only another year away from teams being extremely concerned about that small note, concerned enough to balk at a mega-deal the Mariners would probably be looking for. Move The King.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Penn State Leveled

What happens next?

NCAA president Mark Emmert and the NCAA executive board would have you and I believe that the landmark decision delivered to the now infamous football program at Pennsylvania State University has a much deeper and lasting impact on the nature of collegiate football, and on a deeper level, collegiate athletics.

Applaud Emmert, for he made no mistake addressing what he and the executive board believed to be the root cause behind a university displaying such a lack of institutional control that they knowingly, and willingly, failed to protect innocent young people of whom were victims to no fault of their own. Emmert's remarks made it clear that the culture of 'hero-worship,' and a 'winning-at-all-costs' attitude, coupled by a university losing sight of what is most important within their grounds, all resulted in the most unprecedented and egregious failures of human decency and 'cover-up' of those failures of human decency, in the history of the NCAA.

That was the essence from what we heard on July 23rd, 2012 addressed to Penn State University. It wasn't the $60 million dollar penalty, equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program. It wasn't the four-year ban on postseason play, designed to assist the program in finding the meaning of collegiate athletics. It wasn't the loss of scholarships, preventing the school from building up a winning program sooner than later. And it certainly wasn't the vacating of some 100+ victories of the once 'Demi-God' of Happy Valley, Joe Paterno. It was to make the simple yet effective statement that at some point over the past 15-years, Penn State's ability to judge right from wrong was lost on their blind loyalty to a 'Hero' in their eyes and the arena in which that 'Hero' was ever on display. It was to acknowledge that at Penn State, and possibly, no definitely, at other institutions of higher learning, we've lost our way on what is most important and if we don't acknowledge it now, what other unprecedented things could follow?

Yes, there is a hint irony involved here. Who stands to benefit most from the revenue brought in by major college football super-conferences, post-season play, and a twenty-four hour news cycle on what happened lately in college football? The NCAA. Who chose now as the time, with the worlds eyes on them, to deliver a punishment so severe the program may never be able to recover, unlike their 'less than quick' movements made on Ohio State and USC in recent years? The NCAA. Who benefits most from erasing victories which would leave Joe Paterno virtually erased from the conversation of records? The NCAA. However, ask yourselves, are you so cynical to believe that there is no way the NCAA has learned something from this situation in Happy Valley? Could they possibly have had discussions as to what can be done at other institutions where a schools administrators and coaches could show similar lack of control? Are there administrators across the country that woke up this morning and understood the words of the NCAA executive board echoed by president Mark Emmert, and will dedicate their coming months to changing the atmosphere? Or, is there no way to stop the process which has created super-powerful football coaches based on the amount of money they bring into the university?

The NCAA might not always get it right, and you may want to wait and see what changes are actually made within college athletics, or more so college football, but their decision to level Penn State so hard was based on their understanding of what caused them to be so morally inept. This is a rare punishment, for a rare act that we hope would never, ever, happen again.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Final Draft Grades: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys You've got to give Jerry Jones credit, the Cowboys circled a guy on their big board at a position of need, cornerback, then went out and got him. Jumping from #14 all the way up to #6, the Cowboys selected top available defensive back, LSU corner, Morris Claiborne. There is no denying the talent of Claiborne, he's phenomenal. He's mentally and physically tough enough to play at the next level, and should anchor the Cowboy secondary for years to come, or at least that's what owner Jerry Jones will hope for. With the departure of corner backs Alan Ball and longtime Cowboy Terence Newman, Dallas has managed to revamp their entire defensive backfield and Claiborne will be the key. The Cowboys other big splash came in the form of 3rd rounder, Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford. Dallas has lived off adding depth to the front seven of their defense over recent years, Crawfords big frame and quality motor will do just that. Now addition by subtraction, the Cowboys cut ties with the oft-frustrating tight end Martellus Bennett this offseason, and most likely replaced him through the draft selecting Oklahoma tight end James Hanna in the 6th round, hoping once again and he'll give quarterback Tony Romo that second tight end option who can block. Final Grade: B+

New York Giants Being a fan of the team I just spoke about, it pains me to say this but . . . the Giants are just good at what they do, all things football. The defending Super Bowl Champs seem to just 'get it,' when it comes to the draft. Replacing Mario Manningham didn't seem to take long as the Giants nabbed LSU receiver Rueben Randle at the end of round one. Randle is a good unpolished receiver who has pretty good hands but difficulty making space, luckily he'll be playing with a quarterback who can put the ball in any space made. The Giants also replaced malcontent running back Brandon Jacobs with Virginia Tech rusher David Wilson. The Giants are one of those teams who when it comes to the draft really use their picks to not just fill their roster but enhance it. There is a reason this team has won two Super Bowls in recent years against one of the best franchises in professional sports, because they too are becoming one. Final Grade: A

Washington Redskins So that there is no misconception at a later date, the entire future of the Washington Redskins hinges on the immediate play and continued development of their top selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, quarterback Robert Griffin III. First, the Redskins gave up a ton of picks to acquire Griffin III. They gave up two future first round picks and a second round pick this year, that's the future of their franchise, in case you were wondering. They also blew one of their few selections of the draft on Michigan State signal caller Kirk Cousins, in what an insane person would also call a head scratcher, but ignore that, or try to. If Griffin looks anything like reigning Rookie of the Year, Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton, looked like last season then the immediate feedback would be that the Redskins should have given up more! However, if Griffin struggles and looks less than a franchise quarterback should, then just wait for the naysayers. This is the Cam Newton effect, doesn't matter how long you were on center stage, it only matters what you did when you were on it. Final Grade: TBD (I understand that's weak.)

Philadelphia Eagles The Eagles are always an interesting team when it comes to the draft. This year however, they were pretty consistent. Andy Reid picked up his typical defensive lineman in defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox in the first round. Cox is your prototypical pass rusher from the Southeastern Conference, he's angry, he's fast, and can get after the quarterback. When watching tape on Fletcher Cox you get a really good idea at what the Eagles were looking into. Cox has a great ability to get off the ball and work to the quarterback relentlessly. No other outing was more impressive than his performance in the Music City Bowl this past season. Cox terrorized Wake Forest all afternoon long, tirelessly getting after the quarterback and even blocking a kick to the point where he smashes right through the offensive lineman. I also liked that Philadelphia went with Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, whereas I really don't think Foles is ready for the NFL, I think that Philadelphia might finally understand they are on borrowed time with the oft-injured Michael Vick who is only getting older at this point. Final Grade: B+

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Final Draft Grades: NFC South

New Orleans Saints For a team that didn't draft till the third round, what were they supposed to do? Giving up their 2012 1st round pick a season ago to the Patriots in order to get back into the 2011 1st round and take Alabama running back Mark Ingram, and then they lost their 2012 2nd round selection as a result of BountyGate. Enter Akiem Hicks, the underrated defensive tackle who was heavily recruited by LSU coming out of high school, and now the Saints first pick but not till the third round. Hicks is a mammoth with both speed and athleticism, and should give the Saints an added boost on their defensive line. Then the Saints grabbed well-known Wisconsin receiver, Nick Toon. Toon might give the Saints back, what they lost this offseason with the departure of Robert Meachem. However, all moves are put on hold till the Saints find a way to meet in the middle with All-World quarterback holdout, Drew Brees. For a team that had limited picks, and a messy offseason, their draft only added to the mess. Final Grade: D

Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Bucs first two picks Alabama safety Mark Barron (7th Overall), and Boise State running back Doug Martin (31st Overall), were essentially reaches at both points where they were picked. Tampa desperately needed safety help on their very thin secondary and once everyone and their mother got word that this was an equally thin draft on safeties, Mark Barron's stock soared. While Barron is hyped up to be an incredibly intelligent safety and plays extremely well sideline to sideline, he's going to have to be the next Ed Reed to justify the Bucs picking him as high as seventh. As for running back Doug Martin, consensus is that Martin was the second best available running back behind Alabama's Trent Richardson, at a position Tampa Bay really wanted to fill through the NFL Draft. Martin is absolutely a good running back to give the Bucs a different look in the backfield than just the lumbering LeGarette Blount, but 1st round? The Buccaneers are making a great effort adding some pieces on their offense, but the real contest will be seeing how they are able to work things out with a new coach on the sidelines. FInal Grade: B

Atlanta Falcons The Dirty Birds had two goals heading into the draft, protect Matt Ryan, and upgrade their rushing game behind Michael Turner. 2011 Draft selection Jacquizz Rodgers can't carry the the load as the second option to Turner, while he's a solid change of speed runner, the Falcons needed to get more help. Well, they hit on one of two of their major needs. Selecting 1st round talent, Wisconsin offensive lineman Peter Konz, in the second round and following that up with 3rd round selection, offensive tackle Lamar Holmes, the Falcons got deeper up front. Defensive free-agent additions of linebacker Lofa Tatupu, defensive back Asante Samuel, should help replace some of what the Falcons lost this off season. The bottom line when it comes to Atlanta is their plan to move to a mainly passing offense and use Michael Turner when needed, a plan which they started a season ago by selling away their 2011 draft in favor of getting game changing Alabama receiver Julio Jones. Final Grade: B-

Carolina Panthers I have a dog in this fight. Former Boston College linebacker turned NFL prospect Luke Kuechly was picked up in the early going of April's NFL Draft by Carolina. He's a motor linebacker who can play every down and has a particularly good nose for the football and where to be on the field. In a division with so much offense, Kuechly is going to be as important to the Panthers defensive side of the ball as the pick of Cameron Newton was last year to the offensive side of the ball. It's possible, (with bias of course) that in back-to-back years Carolina will have selected the top offensive player and then the top defensive player in each of the last two drafts. With veteran linebacker Jon Beason and the rookie Kuechly, the Panthers have massively upgraded their line backing corps. Then you got to give Carolina smart points for picking mammoth offensive guard Amini Silatolu, any time you can add protection for the face of the franchise Cam Newton, you have to go out and do it. Kudos to Carolina, loved their draft. Final Grade: A

. . . Next up; NFC East

Friday, May 4, 2012

Final Draft Grades: NFC North

Green Bay Packers There are players that you just like. Guys that you ignore what their 40-times are, don't care what they look like during their "shuttle drill," just players you think can make plays. For us, that player is former Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. We don't know how well he's going to get along with future Hall of Fame defensive back and former Michigan Wolverine, Charles Woodson, given he's got an arm tattoo of a Spartan crushing a Wolverine, but we'll see. Worthy is a 6'2", 310 lb. monster and despite his admittance that he 'takes plays off,' we still like him. Grabbing Worthy in the second round after getting stud USC defensive end / outside linebacker Nick Perry in the first round, we really like what the Packers did early. If Perry and Worthy can step in and instantly help a porous Packer defensive line from a season ago, general manager Thompson will have landed a very quality pair of pass rushers. While moving up to get an underrated Casey Hayward at pick number sixty-two, a cornerback from Vanderbilt, wasn't exactly what we expected, it still gives the Packers depth in the secondary. Final Grade: A-

Detroit Lions The Lions are super interesting to me. They're right there ready to make the jump to scary good slash Super Bowl contender, no I'm not speaking out of turn. 10-6 A season ago, with a quarterback who just posted a 5,000-yard passing season, a class in 2011 which includes the likes of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. With that being said, you better believe the Lions greatest area of opportunity was to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford for the long haul. By drafting Iowa standout tackle Riley Reiff with the twenty-third pick in the first round, the Lions did just that. Reiff will bolster the backside of the Lions offensive line and seriously give Stafford plenty of time to pick apart NFC secondaries, including defending NFC North Champion Green Bay. Reiff automatically made me like the Lions draft, no matter what happened there after. The Lions took a stab and picked up injured Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, a player that if it works, could give the Lions a very lethal 1-2 option for Stafford to throw the ball to. From then on out, the Lions went defense in a very 'Jim Schwartz' way, adding three cornerbacks and three outside linebackers. Final Grade: A

Minnesota Vikings I think the Vikings need to be taken seriously, this years draft was somewhat brilliant. Give 'Vikes general manager Rick Spielman some credit where it is due. Not only did they draft the player which was presumably the top play on their draft board, USC's mammoth offensive tackle Matt Kalil, but they were able to pick up more picks and still to do just that. Kalil will be the blind side protector of 2011 1st round selection, quarterback Christian Ponder, a major long term investment here. Why do I like the Vikings draft so much though? Not only did they pick the player they wanted too, but after that they filled a bunch of holes, what smart teams do in the draft! The Vikes reached for Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, but he was their guy. They stacked up their secondary with Smith in the late 1st round, Josh Robinson from Central Florida who fell right in the Vikes lap in the 3rd round, and then added another Notre Dame defensive back in Robert Blanton later in the draft. Headed into the weekend the two biggest areas of need for Minnesota were the secondary and protecting Christian Ponder, they nailed both of those right on the money. Final Grade: A+

Chicago Bears The first thing I'll point out about the Bears draft is that I don't hate it, I just like how each of the other the three teams in their division drafted much more. At #19 you could argue the Bears had one of the biggest reaches of the first round, Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State. McClellin is a phenomenal (took me two spell checks to spell that word correctly) player, but it should alarm the Bears that he wasn't a secret and the interest for his talents that high really wasn't there. Then there was the clear move the Bears were making in the second round buying the sliding stock of the overweight South Carolina pass catcher, Alshon Jeffery. Look, Alshon Jeffery is a very good player, but he's slow and extremely overweight for his position, there is a reason everyone calls him a gamble. Adding the problematic Brandon Marshall in the off season, a former teammate of quarterback Jay Cutler's in Denver, and bringing in Jeffery, the Bears are attempting to move the dynamic Devin Hester out of the offense, it's a smart move. Back to their draft, with three of their final four picks, the Bears went secondary and playing in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, I don't blame them. Final Grade: B-

. . . Next up; NFC South