February 20, 2014

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5 NFL Teams Who Need to Make a Splash in Round 1

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2014 NFL Combine happening February 22-25 in Indianapolis the NFL hits full throttle once again. The Combine signifies that the 2014 NFL Draft is right around the corner. This is the time that all 32 NFL GMs begin to sweat. Critical decisions are to be made.

While many may see the combine as players in shorts and t-shirts simply running around, it’s anything but. NFL dreams are on the line. GMs are watching. Make a lasting impact now and your name will be called in May.

To no one’s surprise the quarterback position will be under the microscope in Indy during the Combine. Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and others will fill the board come draft day. Although there may not be an elite quarterback in this draft this year’s class is certainly better than 2011’s class. As far as elite goes, that remains to be seen as only time will tell.

Eric Fisher

The Chiefs made Eric Fisher the #1 pick in 2013. Who will go #1 in the 2014 NFL Draft?

Some teams will get the QB fever and reach for what they hope is a winner. Keep in mind that many teams are hungry for their franchise signal caller but quarterback is not the only position. Which team will be bold and pass on a quarterback for something else?

The following teams, whether searching for their quarterback of the foreseeable future or a  playmaker at another position have to make a splash in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft. Making the wrong moves may forever doom their respective franchises.

No. 5: Houston Texans

This is a no brainer, but it must be mentioned. The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft comes with pressure. The Houston Texans could do one of three things—draft Jadeveon Clowney, draft the quarterback which they deem the best, or trade the pick.

Once Clowney dismantles the competition at the Combine and topples the likes of Twitter by the end of February 25 the pick will be an easy one. Everyone will be talking about this kid from South Carolina. His combination of size, speed and strength is something unfathomable. At 6’6”, 275 lbs. he says he’ll run a 4.4 40-yard-dash at the Combine. If he does that there will be talks of “best ever” even before he sports an NFL jersey.

By this time next week the Texans will have made up their mind.

No. 4: San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers own the 30th selection in the first round but the heat is on. After all, the Niners have to contend with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

The Seahawks appear to be going nowhere anytime soon and the 49ers have to keep up. It can be argued that these are the two most dangerous teams in the NFL but speculation and proof are two separate things.

The Niners are motivated to reach the summit—their Super Bowl window is now. Expect San Francisco to select a sturdy wide receiver in Round 1.

No. 3 Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans sit in a curious position in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft. With pick No. 11 the team could go in any direction.

New head coach Ken Whisenhunt is a quarterback kinda guy and he’s going to give Jake Locker a chance. With that being said, it may be in their best interest to draft a quarterback with their first pick. Locker hasn’t proven himself yet and the Titans could catch an acute case of the QB fever.

A guy like Derek Carr of Fresno State or Zach Mettenberger from LSU may intrigue them just enough to pull the trigger. Even if Locker doesn’t convince the Titans brass he’s their number one his younger predecessor would have time to learn. On the other hand, the demand is high on these kids and they would be valuable trade bait should Locker pan out. This would bring interest from other teams around this time next season. A healthy quarterback with a year of NFL experience is a coveted commodity. It seems like a win-win for the Titans.

Pay attention to the Titans—their decision could shake up the rest of the draft.

No. 2: St. Louis Rams

Conveniently enough the St. Louis Rams have the No. 2 overall pick, but that’s not why this draft is so important for them. They also have the No. 13 pick in the first round.

Thanks to the trade with the Washington Redskins for Robert Griffin III in 2012, the Rams own the No. 2 pick. They will draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins out of Clemson and all will be right in the world. Combined with Tavon Austin the Rams will have two explosive receivers.

The team still believes in quarterback Sam Bradford and will spend their No. 13 pick on protecting him. Expect the Rams to select the best offensive lineman available and with possibly five quarterbacks being selected before that pick, the lineman pool should be rich.

The Rams are a team on the brink of greatness, but must protect Bradford. Let’s hope their No. 13 pick is a Week 1 starter.

No. 1: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are currently upside down. The front office is in disarray but better days are ahead.

The 2014 NFL draft is where it all starts. With two picks, No. 4 and No. 26 in the first round the team has to knock it out of the park.

They can’t repeat what they did in 2012. That year they also had two picks in Round 1. They took running back Trent Richardson at No. 3 and quarterback Brandon Weeden at No. 22. They acquired the No. 22 pick by trading their 2011 No. 6 pick to the Atlanta Falcons for who turned out to be Julio Jones.

Fittingly enough their second pick this year will be at No. 26—they acquired that by trading Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts early in the 2013.

The Browns need a quarterback and everything points to them selling the farm for Manziel. If a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have the No. 3 overall pick threaten to take Manziel the Browns may cough up the No. 26 pick. Manziel would light a fire in Cleveland the city hasn’t seen since some guy named LeBron roamed the court. He would sell tickets and more importantly reinstall the faith.

If Manziel doesn’t fall into Cleveland’s lap the Browns have to make hay with the best available. The future of the franchise is at stake. Regardless of what happens the Browns will be the most talked-about team in the league leading up to the draft.

December 19, 2013

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Predicting 2013 NFL Award Winners

By: Matt Bowen

With the playoffs three short weeks away let’s have some fun and predict the 2013 NFL award winners. While the season is still in the balance for plenty of teams, let’s be bold and take an educated guess. The final two weeks may sway some votes, but we have a good idea of how things will pan out. One thing is for certain, the NFL definitely didn’t disappoint this season—the final two weeks along with the playoffs will be as exciting as ever.

Keep these players in mind when the awards are doled out at the end of the season.

Coach of the Year

This is a tight race, but there’s clearly one winner.

There were eight head coaching changes heading into this season, and it can be easily argued that every new coach met or exceeded their expectations. Last year the following eight teams won a combined 41 games—headed into Week 16 this year these teams have a combined 56 wins.

The Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers all got new head coaches in 2013.

Hats off to all the men in charge, but the award goes to Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Chiefs were a dark horse Super Bowl team in 2012 before the won only two games and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. This year Reid has tapped into their talent and the Chiefs currently have 11 wins. They may not win their division but a playoff appearance in a given. The Chiefs are explosive and a blast to watch.

Defensive Player of the Year

Defensive studs are often put on the back burner because they don’t score touchdowns. Not here, the men in the trenches get the acknowledgement they deserve.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint who is precisely the best defensive player, it’s not hard to find an answer. Many men are worthy of the award, but the Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis takes the prize. His 16.5 sacks currently lead the league, and the Colts are once again going to make the playoffs.

What’s most remarkable about Mathis is his age—at 32 Mathis is an “old man” amongst the league’s new hybrid athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Still, Mathis is the best at his craft and a great leader on a rather young Colts defense. Cheers to you, Mr. Mathis.

Breakout Player of the Year

This award goes to the guy who doesn’t have a chance at 2013 NFL MVP, but his breakout season may earn him the grand award in the near future.

The argument can be made for both of these players but in the end only one can win. Both of these guys are receivers who have made tremendous strides toward stardom this season. The deciding factor ultimately comes down to team wins.

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns currently leads the league is receiving yards with 1,467 and also has nine touchdowns. He has quickly become one of the most dangerous men in the game. If the Browns ever find a quarterback and running game Gordon may make a run a 2,000 yards in a single season. Right now, his team only has four wins. He’s 22 years old and has all the talent in the world. He’s had a troubled past, but should he leave his problems behind him the sky is the limit.

In the end, the 2013 Breakout Player of the Year goes to Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears. The Bears currently lead the NFC North and control their own fate in terms of a playoff berth.

Jeffery is currently seventh in the league in receiving yards with 1,265. He has seven touchdowns and 80 catches. He’s the perfect complement to teammate Brandon Marshall and has hands like magnets.  Jeffery is only 23 years old and appears to be a Windy City staple for the next decade. Because of Jeffery the Bears are multi-dimensional and have a chance at a deep Super Bowl run. All he does is make highlight reels.

Rookie of the Year

Let’s be honest—today’s NFL is not made for rookies. There’s a steep learning curve that takes many highly touted prospects and puts them in their place—the bench. Last year may have been an exception due to the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson but reality has struck once again in 2013.

To be a standout rookie in the NFL you have to be something special. Right now, only three guys come to mind the rookie debate pops up. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon deserves mention—the Bucs were terrible before he earned the starting job. Being a rookie quarterback isn’t easy, especially when you don’t start the season as the No. 1. The Bucs started 0-8 but have since won 4-of-6. For that they have hope for the future. Give the NC State alum a full offseason as the main man, and positive results will come.

Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams has been a bright spot in an up-and-down season for the franchise. The team was searching for a running back to win the job for weeks and found one in Stacy. The rookie from Vanderbilt has 854 yards on 202 carries and six touchdowns. He’s a real bruiser and looks like he’s made a name for himself in the NFL. Considering he only had one carry before October, Stacy has been a welcomed surprise. Because of him, the Rams will be a sleeper in 2014. He’s a real workhorse.

Look no further than Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers for NFL Rookie of the Year. The rookie out of Alabama looks like this generation’s Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Lacy has 248 carries for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. Right now the Green Bay Packers control their own destiny and when quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns from injury they’ll become the most feared offense in the NFC. Lacy makes them dangerous, the kid is a juggernaut.

MVP

So, who’s the NFL’s most valuable player this season? Let’s keep this short and sweet for there will be much debate to come.

Nick Foles deserves a mention for his work turning around the once underachieving Philadelphia Eagles.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are always in the conversation as they should be. Manning will end up breaking the all-time touchdown record in a season of 50 set by Mr. Brady, he currently has 47 but is he the hands down MVP? No.

Outside the quarterback position, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the most dangerous player in the game. He’s can’t be guarded—his physical stature is not really fair to his opponents—but even he missed the top spot.

Heck, even Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker deserves a vote—all that guy does is split the uprights.

This year’s NFL MVP is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Correct, Wilson only has 3,077 passing yards, which ranks him No. 17 in the league. But it’s not his arm that is most valuable, it’s his mentality. He’s thrown 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, completed 64.7 percent of his throws and has run for 508 yards on 89 rushes.

He doesn’t make many mistakes and only runs when it’s the right choice. His team is currently 12-2 and lethal at home. Right now the Seahawks seem a lock for the Super Bowl.

He’s special.

So special that the Texas Rangers drafted him in the recent Rule 5 MLB draft—he hasn’t played baseball in some time yet everybody wants a piece of Russell Wilson. He can seemingly do no wrong.

He’s got a million dollar smile and is priceless on the field. Wilson for MVP—no doubt.

May 28, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tony Kanaan wins Indy 500: After years of frustration, veteran racer Tony Kanaan finally won the prize of his life with a win in this weekend’s Indianapolis 500. For Kanaan it was his first victory at the historic race. With only three laps to go after a green flag, Kanaan quickly took the lead. It was a good thing, too, because defending champion Dario Franchitti crashed further back from the front and the race finished under caution with Kanaan in the lead. Rookie Carlos Munoz finished in second place.

Brian Urlacher retired from the NFL after 13 years with the Chicago Bears.

Brian Urlacher retires: After not re-signing with the Chicago Bears and becoming a free agent, Brian Urlacher figured he’d be playing again in 2014. But Urlacher surprised a few folks last week when he announced his retirement. Having played 13 seasons, it’s not as if his career is being cut short but he likely still has something left in the tank. Urlacher is believed to have reached out to every team in the league, but in the end, decided he’d had enough. There’s little doubt that he’ll be on his way to the Hall of Fame at some point.

San Francisco and Houston awarded 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls: NFL owners approved the cities of San Francisco and Houston as hosts of the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls respectively. Both edged out Miami, which was also vying for the games. San Francisco will host the historic 50th Super Bowl, which will be played in Levi’s Stadium, expected to be complete in 2014. For Miami, the biggest negative was the franchise not securing funding for improvements to their stadium. That likely cost them a bid and they may not see another one until either the team or the city forks over some money for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium.

Lebron James and Kobe Bryant headline All NBA First Team: The All NBA teams were named last week and among first-teamers were Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Others included Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and Chris Paul. Left off was the scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony. Duncan had a great season, but I’m not sure I would have given him the nod over Anthony.

Cleveland wins NBA Draft lottery: Cleveland had a miserable season, but wound up with a pretty good consolation prize when they won the top spot in the NBA’s Draft lottery selection on Tuesday. It’s the second time in three seasons they’ll have had the No. 1 selection and, should they keep it, could pair a big man such as Nerlens Noel along with Kyrie Irving. In a year where there isn’t considered a dominant player at the top, trading the pick could be an option. But when you consider that they have four selections in the top 33 picks, they may need to get a proven player or two in return instead of more picks. And for what it’s worth, Cleveland’s general manager Chris Grant has said he’s willing to consider dealing the selection.

NFL Draft moving to May: Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed in the NFL’s spring meetings last week that the league’s draft will move to May in 2014. The main reason for the switch? Radio City Music Hall will be booked during the regularly scheduled time in April.

Mike Trout becomes youngest AL player to hit for cycle: Anaheim Angels phenom Mike Trout already has an amazing track record in his short time in the big leagues. But he added another honor on Tuesday when he became the youngest AL player to hit for the cycle. Trout picked up five RBI in a 12-0 win over Seattle to accomplish the feat.

Michael Crabtree tears Achilles: The 49ers received some great news when it was announced San Francisco would host the 2016 Super Bowl. But things evened out a bit with the news that star wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, tore his Achilles and is expected to miss six months. Crabtree, who had gotten off to a modest start with the 49ers, had a breakout season last year with 85 catches, more than 1,100 yards, and nine touchdowns. The good news for San Francisco is that the team has some depth in the passing game with newly-signed Anquan Boldin, draft pick Quinton Patton, tight end Vernon Davis, and Mario Manningham.

Mike Krzyzewski will remain coach of Team USA: It was widely believed that Coach K would step down from his role as head of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, but he’s apparently had a change of heart and will return. In a nutshell, that’s nothing but great news for the program. Since taking over in 2005, Team USA has had nothing but success, winning gold medals in 2008 and 2012. The players have responded well to him and there’s also something to be said for consistency in the program.

St. Louis Rams sign 400-pounder: The St. Louis Rams made a big splash, literally and figuratively, last week. The team signed Ole Miss’ Terrell Brown as a free agent. If you’re not familiar with Brown, that probably doesn’t sound like a big deal … at least until you get to the part that he’s 403 pounds. And oh yeah, he’s 6’10”, too. Brown didn’t play much during his time at Ole Miss and is considered at best to be a project. He was mostly on the defensive line in college, but will shift to the offensive line in the NFL. It may sound like an interesting story, but if coaches couldn’t find a way to use him against smaller, slower players in college, the chances that he’ll be able to compete against the best players in the world are slim.

May 1, 2013

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2010 NFL Draft Winners

By: Joe Williams

It’s been nearly a week since Mr. Irrelevant was selected in the NFL Draft. That’s plenty of time to figure out which teams improved and which ones blew it. But that seems like a lot of work and judging by last week’s mock draft, I could be wrong about these picks. I’ll take the easy road again this year and see who the winners were in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Eric Berry lead a great Draft class for the Chiefs in 2010.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle hit five of its first six picks and all five of those players are now starters on one of the best and youngest teams in the league. The Seahawks added Russell Okung at left tackle, Earl Thomas at free safety, Golden Tate at wide receiver, Walter Thurmond at cornerback and Kam Chancellor at strong safety. They also picked up Anthony McCoy who is still on the roster as a backup tight end.

San Francisco 49ers

It should be no surprise that one of last year’s Super Bowl participants makes this list. In the 2010 draft the 49ers picked up Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati who are starters on the offensive line. Navorro Bowman starts at linebacker on one of the best D’s in the league and Anthony Dixon is still on the team playing fullback.

New England Patriots

In this draft the Patriots picked up six players currently on the roster and transformed Tom Brady’s offense from very good to very scary with the addition of two pass catching tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Punter Zoltan Mesko and defenders Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes and Brandon Deaderick were also part of this draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

The 2-14 Chiefs are on this list too? Yep. Eric Berry (strong safety), Dexter McCluster (receiver), Javier Arenas (cornerback), Jon Asamoah (guard) and Tony Moeaki (tight end) is a pretty strong draft class. The Chiefs have talent, but have been plagued with injuries and poor quarterback play.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are consistently one of the best drafting teams in the league and 2010 was no exception.

Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer and Antonio Brown are all contributors on offense and Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester provide depth on defense.

Denver Broncos

This draft marked the beginning and the end in Denver. It was the beginning of putting together one of the best teams in the league today, but it also was one of the biggest nails in the coaching coffin of Josh McDaniels. He drafted Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker who are now part of the best receiving trio (with Wes Welker) in the league. Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton and Eric Olsen have all contributed on the offensive line. But of course the story of this draft is the trade up to pick Tim Tebow. It was a controversial pick and ultimately was a big part of McDaniels getting fired. Once McDaniels was gone, the Broncos had one magical season with Tebow before dumping him on the Jets and signing Peyton Manning.

St Louis Rams

The jury is still out on this one. They took Sam Bradford with the first pick in the draft and he has been a decent NFL quarterback. But it has been a couple years now and we will see if Bradford can take the next step and solidify himself as the Rams starter for the next 10 years of if the Rams start looking for the next guy to take his spot.

April 25, 2013

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New York Jets Face a Make-or-Break Draft

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NFL Draft is set for April 25 in New York City and the New York Jets face the most pressure. There are certain teams in sports who are constantly surrounded with drama. Right now, the Jets are the “It” team in this category.

Yes, it’s easy to argue against that point because they play on the world’s largest stage, but the Jets are really good at being a three-ring circus right now. Things undoubtedly started to escalate last offseason when the team signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a hefty contract extension. That was it–Sanchez was the “Sanchize” quarterback. His contract is worth $58.25 million over five years and a guaranteed $20 million in 2012-13. He was now the guy.

The New York Jets and Mark Sanchez face a make-or-break season in 2013.

Wait.

Then the team traded for Tim Tebow just a few short weeks later.

Hundreds of hours of media speculation later and Tebow attempted a whopping eight throws last season.

The Jets finished a dismal 6-10 in 2012 and were outscored by 94 points.

What now? How does the franchise reinstall faith in their faithful? How do they repair stability from top to bottom? How do they turn their situation into something positive?

Well, the team made a bold move last and traded cornerstone cornerback Darrelle Revis last week to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although sidelined in 2012 with an ACL injury, the Bucs rolled the dice and gave the Jets the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Yes, Revis is as good as they get, but it’s a bit less drama for the Jets. It’s a start.

Now holding the No. 9 and No. 13 pick in the first round, it’s time for the Jets to start gaining some traction. It’s time for some positive attention.

Face it, they’re vested to both head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Sanchez for 2013, they’ve made their bed and they will sleep in it.

Now, they must make the right moves in the draft to deflect all the negativity.

So, who do they take?

New GM John Idzik needs to make a good first impression to the fans, who want nothing more than a return to relevance. Believe it or not, Revis was a good move.

Depending on which style of players are left on the board when their time come the Jets may be best off trading down.

Think of the St. Louis Rams in 2012 when they traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins for who turned out to be Robert Griffin III. While the Redskins got the best of the deal in year one, the Rams got four picks, including three first-round choices in return.

True, the Jets don’t have a No. 2 overall pick, rather Nos. 9 and 13. Also, there is not a RG3 caliber player in this year’s draft. But, if the team were to trade down for both picks they could get potentially four to six picks for the future.

If nothing is sticking out like a sore thumb, be conservative and trade down. If someone can’t be passed on, consider him a steal.

It’s time to think big picture for the Jets. There is no quick fix. Whichever path they choose to travel, little-by-little they can rebuild.

Radio City Music Hall will be filled with crazed Jets fans screaming J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces the team’s decisions. Only after his announcement s will the hometown fans announce their verdict.

The future of the franchise lies in the balance of the first round. Jets fans, keep your fingers crossed.