Thursday, September 5, 2013

NFL Preview: AFC West

With just about an hour to go before the opening kick of the 2013 season, we come to the end of my preview of the 2013 season. In honor of the first game, I end this preview with the Denver Broncos and the AFC West. After the addition of Peyton Manning, the Broncos dominated the division last season, and look to be poised to do so again, and make a run towards the Super Bowl. There doesn't seem to be anyone who can pose a real threat to the Broncos supremacy in this division, though the Kansas City Chiefs have made significant strides. Let's take a look:

Denver Broncos: The addition of Peyton Manning to this team last season immediately vaulted the Denver Broncos into the category of "contender". This year they bring in one of the most consistent wide receivers in the league in Wes Welker. Adding him to the good young receivers they already have in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and you have what should probably be the top offense in the entire NFL. They don't have much of a running game, though the addition of Monte Ball through the draft should help, but they don't need it to win. The loss of Von Miller to suspension for the first six games is a significant blow to their defense, but Manning and the Broncos should be able to put up enough points to offset any trouble the defense puts them in. Broncos should run away with this division yet again.

Kansas City: If any team can make a "worst to first" turnaround, it's the Kansas City Chiefs. A team loaded with talent who consistently underachieves, the Chiefs yet again have a team who looks like they could make some noise in the division. The addition of Alex Smith brings a proven, decent quarterback to the team, something they have been missing for the last several years. Adding him to a lineup chock full of talent with guys like Dwayne Bowe, Jamal Charles, Tony Moeaki, and first round draft pick Eric Fisher, should drastically improve the Chiefs from where they were last season. I don't think they have enough to push for a playoff spot, but they will be the most improved team in the NFL this year.

San Diego Chargers: A team that should be better than it is year after year, the San Diego Chargers are, once again, poised to miss the playoffs. Philip Rivers is one of the more talented quarterbacks in the league still, but he just can't seem to get it together and cut down on the turnovers. If Rivers can finally figure it out, this team should be better than expected, but not by much. There simply isn't much surrounding Rivers anymore. They drafted Ryan Mathews to be the next stud running back after LaDanian Tomlinson, but that hasn't panned out as they had anticipated. Mathews has been a solid back, but he hasn't excelled and, like Rivers, has had a big problem with turnovers during his career. These turnover issues lead me to believe that the Chargers struggle yet again this season and fail to make any noise. It's too bad too, because I still think Rivers has in him the potential to be an elite quarterback in this league, but the front office seems to be unable to get him any solid help.

Oakland Raiders: Not a lot to say here. The Raiders will be a contender for the first overall pick in next years draft. They, along with the New York Jets, have easily the worst rosters in the entire NFL. They're opening the season with Terrell Pryor as the starting quarterback even after bringing in Matt Flynn from Seattle, which should speak volumes about Flynn after being supplanted by Russell Wilson last year too. Darren McFadden can be one of the best running backs in the league when healthy, but as their only decent option, he just doesn't have what it takes to put a team on his back and carry them to a winning record. It will be a surprise to me if the Raiders win more than four games this season. The battle to win the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes officially begins for the Raiders on Sunday.

Well, there you have it folks, the end of my preview. Let's get this season started!

NFL Preview: AFC South

In the first of two posts today, I near the conclusion of my NFL preview, and not a bit too soon, with the season officially kicking off tonight. The second to last division in my preview is the AFC South. Last season, the Houston Texans won the division yet again, and the Indianapolis Colts, led by an amazing rookie year from quarterback Andrew Luck, surprised everyone to finish second and secure a playoff appearance as a wild card. This year, I see this division playing out in much the same way, though I do think that the Tennessee Titans have made strides to become competitive. Let's take a look:

Houston Texans: Though the Texans have a history of being a disappointment, I still think that they have what it takes to take home the division crown again this season. Arian Foster is still one of the elite running backs in the NFL, and the same can be said for Andre Johnson at the wide receiver position. In the draft, the Texans brought in former Clemson stand-out receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Though he's had some concussion concerns this preseason, I anticipate him to be healthy to start the season and finally give Johnson someone opposite him to take the pressure off and give defenses another weapon to fear. Add to that the leadership that the addition of Ed Reed will provide, and I think that this might be the year that Houston steps up and lives up to expectations.

Indianapolis Colts: After a 2-14 season the year before and the jettisoning of nearly everyone on the team, including future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, no one expected anything from the Colts last season. They far exceeded expectations, however, led in large part by the emotional boost that was provided by coach Chuck Pagano's struggle with and eventually overcoming of leukemia. With the maturation of Andrew Luck, and having his roster remain largely unchanged, I see a fairly similar season for the Colts this year. Luck is going to be one of the greats in this game, and it's just a matter of time before he takes this team to the promised land. It won't be this year, but it's not to far off, believe me.

Tennessee Titans: Led by star running back Chris Johnson (though he has been inexplicably much maligned over the last few seasons) and with the additions of two stellar guards in the NFL draft, the Titans should boast one of the top rushing attacks in the league this season. If last year's Minnesota Vikings are any indication, a great running attack can be enough to vault you into the playoffs. I don't think that will be the case with this team though, as the division they play in is just too tough. I don't yet trust Jake Locker enough to be able to get this team over the hump and pass the Colts for a wild card spot. If Locker can develop into more of an NFL-caliber quarterback this team can contend, but that's going to be a year or two off yet. Right now, this team is squarely in the third slot in this division.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Which leaves the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. They have one of the better running backs with Maurice Jones-Drew, but after that the cupboard is pretty bare down in Jacksonville. At this point I don't have any faith in Blaine Gabbert to figure things out and become a competent quarterback. I think we have seen the best we are going to get from him, and that just isn't very good. It's not all his fault though, as he has had a pretty porous offensive line in front of him, and wide receivers that just aren't very good. Justin Blackmon has failed to live up to the expectations placed upon him coming out of Oklahoma State, and Cecil Shorts has been a competent, but not much more, second receiver. At this point, I'm convinced that things aren't going to get better for the Jaguars until they decide to cut ties with Gabbert and usher in a new era. Until then, they will continue to be bottom feeders in this division.

Stay tuned later today as I finish off my preview of this season with one of the two teams playing in this evenings game, the Denver Broncos and the AFC West!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

NFL Preview: AFC North

Today we return to the AFC and take a look at the division that produced last season's Super Bowl Champion. The AFC North has seen every team not named Cleveland win the division in recent memory. Last season it was the Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh, despite looking like they'll have a down year, is never a team to count out. Cincinnati has one of the best wide receivers in the game in A.J. Green. And Cleveland...well, they're still Cleveland, despite having a promising running back in Trent Richardson. Who will take the division crown this season? Let's find out:

Baltimore Ravens: It's not very often that you see a defending Super Bowl champions' roster undergo as much change as this year's Ravens. It's even more rare to see a roster undergo so much change and be able to say that they're actually better than they were the previous season. Yet you could absolutely make the argument that that's exactly what has happened in Baltimore. The Ravens have lost two sure-fire Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed (now in Houston), but have replaced them with guys who are just as talented and, most importantly, younger. Elvis Dumervil has been a superb pass-rusher during his time in the NFL and the Broncos did not want to see him go. Matt Elam, the rookie safety from the University of Florida, has all the talent to become the next great safety in this league. It remains to be seen if the new additions can replace the leadership that Lewis and Reed provided, but from a pure talent standpoint, the defending champs have upgraded.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Cincinnati Bengals have also improved their standing in this division during the off-season. In April's draft, the Bengals brought in two weapons that should greatly improve their offense. Tight end Tyler Eifert should be a threat right away down the seam and in the red zone. More importantly, though, he will give opposing defenses another person to concentrate on, which should open up opportunities for the aforementioned A.J. Green. The Bengals also drafted Giovani Bernard, a big running back from the University of North Carolina. Paired with "the lawfirm" (BenJarvus Green-Ellis), Cincinnati's run-game should be improved from last year, which will also free things up for both Eifert and Green. While the Bengals have certainly improved, I don't think it's enough to overtake the Ravens for divisional supremacy.

Pittsburgh Steelers: While the Steelers seem to be at or near the top of this division every single year, it's hard for me to picture them doing it again this year. They lost a lot of production in free agency with the departure of their top receiver, Mike Wallace, and one of their defensive leaders in James Harrison. The drafting of Le'Veon Bell should work to sure up their running game, but a recent injury may jeopardize that potential for the first half of the season, if not the entirety of it. They did nothing of note in the draft or free agency to replace what they've lost in Wallace. Instead they are relying on guys like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to step up and fill the void. I don't think I see that happening and am looking for a considerably down season this year in Pittsburgh.

Cleveland Browns: Then there's Cleveland. Another candidate for the NFL's worst roster. Other than Trent Richardson, the cupboard is pretty bare for the Browns. Second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden has shown some significant improvement during this preseason, but he's still not at a level comparable to the other QB's in his draft class (Luck, RG3, Wilson, and Tannehill), and, despite only being in his second season, will turn 30 the day after their week six match-up with Detroit. Why Cleveland drafted him to be the face of the franchise is beyond me, but I'll save that tirade for a different article. Weeden doesn't have much to throw to in Cleveland, leaving the bulk of the offensive responsibilities to Richardson. While Richardson is more than capable of carrying the load in Cleveland, you have to have more than a running back to be successful in this league (unless you're the Minnesota Vikings). When the front office decides to get an actual franchise quarterback and some weapons for him to throw to, they might be able to field a competitive team. Until then, the Browns will continue to be cellar-dwellers in both this division and the AFC as a whole.

Only two more divisions to go. Stay tuned for my previews of the AFC South and the AFC West!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC South

Often overlooked, the NFC South has been one of the strongest conferences in the NFL for the last decade and a half. Every team in the division has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl at least once since 1999. Atlanta very nearly continued that trend last season, falling just short of making their second appearance in that span. New Orleans, always a strong contender, should field a much more complete team this year and make a run at continuing the NFC South dominance as well. Even teams like Carolina and Tampa Bay should be better off this year than last. Let's take a look:

Atlanta Falcons: The Atlanta Falcons look to be unquestionably the cream of the crop in this division. With two of the top 10 WR's in the game in Julio Jones and Roddy White, and a Hall of Fame-worthy TE in Tony Gonzalez, quarterback Matt Ryan has more than his fair share of toys in this offense. Add to it the acquisition of Steven Jackson in the off-season (a substantial upgrade from Michael Turner), and it's hard for me to see anyone overtaking Atlanta in this division for many years to come, much less this one.

New Orleans Saints: The biggest move for the Saints this off-season is getting their head coach Sean Payton back for the full season. His departure last year was certainly cause for more than a couple of the Saints losses. Having him back in the fold with Drew Brees undoubtedly makes them a better team. Will they be able to get back to where they were when they themselves were in the Super Bowl? That remains to be seen, but with as much talent as Drew Brees has, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

Carolina Panthers: Although they have been at or near the bottom of the division for years (though to be fair, they technically finished second in the division las year, as every team other than Atlanta finished 7-9), I can't see the Panthers not improving this year. Cam Newton is supremely talented, and with the pass-catching abilities of wide-out Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen, it's really had for me to see them finishing last again. I don't think they've made enough improvements to overtake Atlanta or New Orleans yet, but if they manage to find a way to fix their running back issues, this is a team that in a couple of years could be one of those teams that we talk about as a perennial playoff team.

Tampa Bay Bucs: Quarterback is far and away the most important position in the NFL, if not the entirety of sports. With very few exceptions (like the Trent Dilfer-era Ravens), if you want to make it to and win the Super Bowl, you have to have a very good, if not elite, guy at that position. A great quarterback can make deficiencies in other offensive positions disappear (look at the WR position on the Patriots, for example. With the exception of Wes Welker, now in Denver, they're consistently terrible, but Tom Brady masks that fact quite successfully). I'm just not convinced that Josh Freeman is the type of quarterback that can lead the Bucs to the playoffs. Fran Tarkenton recently commented that Freeman plays "god awful", and I'm inclined to agree with the Hall of Fame QB's assessment. The Bucs have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball (Darrelle Revis, Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, just to name a few), but until they get a solid QB, they aren't going anywhere.

That does it for the NFC. Stay tuned later this week as I go back to the AFC. Until next time!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC East

With just about two weeks to go until the start of the 2013 season, we come to the halfway point in my preview of every division. Today, we move on to the NFC East. The Washington Redskins came out of nowhere last season to take the division crown, and with a healthy RG3 (Robert Griffin III) returning to the team, they are poised to repeat. But both the Cowboys and Giants seem to have better all-around teams and the Philadelphia Eagles have made large strides towards competing with the rest of the division. This division, much like the rest of the divisions in the NFC should be up for grabs and come down to the final weeks of the season. Let's take a look:

Dallas Cowboys: Against my better judgment, and contrary to things that I've said in the last couple weeks, I'm actually picking the Dallas Cowboys to win the division this year and end their playoff drought. Tony Romo, for all the bashing that he takes in the media, actually is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and with all the talent around him (Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray, etc), there's no reason why this team can't be a double-digit win team. The moves that they made in the off-season with regards to their coaching staff should make a huge difference with this team. They brought in one of the best defensive coordinators in the history of the game with Monte Kiffin, probably the best defensive line coach today in Rod Marinelli, and, in possibly the most impactful move, have taken the play-calling responsibilities away from head coach Jason Garrett and given them to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. These moves should be a huge upgrade on the defensive side, and take some of the pressure off the offense to outscore opponents.

New York Giants: I want to pick the Giants to win this division. I'm honestly not really sure why I'm not, other than the fact that I've been talked into thinking that the coaching staff moves are going to drastically improve the Cowboys. The Giants missed the playoffs last year, but if history is any indication, that probably means that the Giants are poised to make another run at the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning gets all the publicity, but Eli makes a strong case for being the better Manning brother. He has all the statistical markers of an elite quarterback, and he has one more ring than his older brother. The biggest move for the Giants this off-season isn't a move at all, it's getting a healthy Hakeem Nicks back to the team. The tandem of Nicks and Cruz has the potential to be the best 1-2 punch in the entire NFL, and paired with possibly the best QB in the NFL, it's hard to picture the Giants missing the playoffs for a second straight year.

Washington Redskins: In spite of winning the division last year and having a healthy RG3 returning to the team, it's hard for me to envision the Redskins repeating the success of last year. From purely a talent standpoint, Griffin may have the least around him of any of the quarterbacks in this division. Pierre Garcon is their only wide receiver of note, and on most other teams he would be a second or third option. At running back they have one of the biggest surprises from last season in Alfred Morris, but it's hard for me to imagine him having another year like he had last year. This combined with the talent the other team possess make it impossible for me to see the Redskins finishing any better than third in the NFC East this year.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Philadelphia Eagles are my pick to finish last in this division, but make no mistake about it, they are going to be a much-improved team this season. The hiring of Chip Kelly means that the Eagles are going to have a much more frenetic pace on offense, and the players seem to have bought into his scheme completely. Michael Vick, named as the starter today after a heated camp battle with Nick Foles, seems to have a renewed passion for the game and Kelly's system seems to be ideally suited for a guy of Vick's athletic ability. The loss of Jeremy Maclin is big, but with LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson still in the fold, I don't think that it's going to impact them as much as you might think. Philly should finish the year around the .500 mark, but are still not in a position to challenge for the playoffs. Yet.

Come back tomorrow as I round out the NFC with my look at the NFC South.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Clint Eastwood

Football season has officially begun. Preseason games are underway and if you're anything like me, you've already run through about a thousand mock drafts in anticipation of the regular season, when the games actually matter. As a fan, it's easy to watch these preseason games and over-react to the limited amount of time we see our starters on the field. But after seeing both of Miami's games so far, I feel like I've been watching a Clint Eastwood movie. There's been some good. There's been some bad. But mostly, there's been a lot of ugly.

The most important thing for every team coming out of preseason is to remain relatively healthy. Injuries are a part of the game, and we've already seen a number of players going down with season-ending injuries. So far this preseason, Miami has been able to dodge the injury bug fairly well, with only a few players going down due to injury (most notably a shoulder injury to offensive lineman Nate Garner and a season-ending ACL tear to wide receiver Armon Binns). If the Dolphins can maintain their health through their final three games, this will, in my opinion, be the biggest take away from the preseason. Other than the ability to stay healthy, I haven't seen a whole lot of bright spots from the Dolphins so far, but the biggest one to me would have to be the play of Matt Moore. Moore was the starter before we brought in Tannehill, and this preseason he has shown that he is a more-than-capable backup should something happen to Tannehill this season. Every year teams hopes are derailed by an injury to the QB, so it's comforting to know that Moore can step up if need be.

Unfortunately, that seems to be where the positives end for this team so far. We've only played two games thus far, and it is only the preseason, but there have been a number of alarming things I've seen. Tannehill seems to have all the talent in the world, and should be able to make all the throws on the field. But he hasn't looked very well yet. He doesn't seem to have much confidence, and he's missing a lot of throws that a second year quarterback should be making. I'm willing to make some concessions due to the fact that he's throwing the ball to guys like Marvin McNutt, Chad Bumphis, and Brian Tyms, but there have been several times already that Tannehill has made throws that even the Larry Fitzgerald's or Calvin Johnson's of the league wouldn't be able to catch. Hopefully he settles down when Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace are back on the field full-time. Almost as troubling to me as Tannehill's struggles are the ones that I have seen from the defense and special teams. The tackling by the defense in the Hall of Fame game against the Dallas Cowboys was absolutely atrocious. To the coaching staff's credit, the tackling was considerably better in the second game versus Jacksonville, but the special teams squad seemed to take a step backwards. There were several missed tackles by the coverage team, and a muffed punt by Chad Bumphis (who otherwise has had a stellar camp) that need to be addressed before the start of the season if Miami wants to be successful.

By far the most unsettling thing for Miami fans this preseason is the play of the offensive line. The defense will be okay, and Tannehill won't continue to miss receivers like he's been doing so far. The line issues; however, seem like they are going to persist throughout the year if the front office doesn't do something about it soon. It hasn't only been Johnathan Martin either, which to me is the ugliest, most disappointing aspect of Miami's performances so far. For all the trouble that Martin has had adjusting to protecting the blindside in the NFL, the right side of our line seems to be having significantly more trouble. In the game against Jacksonville, the trio of Josh Samuda, Richie Incognito, and Tyson Clabo seemed to fail in pass protection on almost every dropback. This against statistically one of the worst pass rushes in the league last season. This lackluster performance from the line doesn't just mean that Tannehill is under pressure every time he throws, it also seems to have negatively impacted his confidence. Tannehill hasn't looked comfortable in the pocket, partially because he's been under a lot of pressure, but also because he doesn't appear to feel comfortable in the belief that the guys in front of him will be able to hold their blocks and give him the time to throw. This has led to a lot of unnecessary scrambling and some throws that have been terribly off target. I can only hope that this lack of confidence does not carry into the regular season. There is a lot of promise with this team, but it all hinges on Tannehill being able to grow and develop as a quarterback.

Our next game is the ever-important third preseason game. The game where the starters traditionally play at least into the third quarter. Hopefully the added time and having Hartline and Wallace on the field with him will improve Tannehill's play and confidence. If not, it won't matter if the other issues are fixed, the season will be a disappointment to all of us fans and we'll be left with a bad taste in our mouths for yet another year.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC West

Arguably the best division at the top, the NFC West has come a long way from where it was just a few short years ago when the "winner" of the division finished with a 7-9 record. Today, the NFC West boasts two legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the 49ers and the Seahawks. Both teams will make the playoffs this year, but don't be surprised to see the other two teams make a push either. Let's take a look:

San Francisco: The 49ers represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last season, and are an early favorite to get back there this year. With a training camp and preseason under his belt as the starter, Colin Kaepernick should only improve upon his breakout season last year, and with the addition of Anquan Boldin to his wide receiver corps, it should only improve his down-field numbers. The loss of his favorite target, Michael Crabtree, for the season is a big loss, but the 49ers should have the weapons to overcome.

Seattle: The Seahawks were arguably just a play or two away from being right there with the 49ers last season, and made several moves in the off-season with the hopes of getting over the hump and taking the division crown. The addition of Cliff Avril should give an already elite defense even more pop. The Seahawks boast the best secondary corps in the league and the addition of Avril will only work to make them better. Avril is a pass-rush specialist who should finish the year with double-digit sack numbers. A scary thought on a great defense already.

Arizona: The Arizona Cardinals have been a bottom feeder in this division for quite a while (really since their Super Bowl appearance in 2008), but the addition of Carson Palmer should give a huge boost to this offense. Though he is on the downward slope of his career, Larry Fitzgerald is still an elite receiver in this league, but has been toiling way with mediocre (at best) quarterback play in Arizona. Bringing in Palmer should go a long way towards boosting Fitz's numbers and giving him a rejuvenation. I expect the Cardinals to surprise some people this year, and am looking for a huge season from Fitzgerald.

St. Louis: The St. Louis Rams actually finished with the best record inside the NFC West last season, going 5-0-1 (yes people, THERE ARE ties in the NFL), with the lone blemish coming in their first match-up against San Francisco. They brought in former Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long to bolster their offensive line in hopes of keeping the oft-injured Sam Bradford on the field. When on the field, Bradford has shown that he can be a very good quarterback in this league and gives the Rams a chance to win every week. It's going to be a tough season in St. Louis, though, as I think they are clearly a level below the other three teams.

Prediction: The Cardinal did a lot for their chances in the division by bringing in a competent quarterback for Larry Fitzgerald, but it's not going to be enough to overtake either San Francisco or Seattle. The Rams are looking at a fourth-place finish in the division as they just haven't done enough in the off-season to be able to compete week after week. I'm torn as to who I think is going to win this division, but I think I have to give a slight edge to the 49ers, if only because they are the defending champs and they have earned that respect. Seattle should easily make the playoffs as a Wild Card though, and as we've seen time and again recently, once you get into the playoffs...anything can happen.

Friday, August 2, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC North

It's been a long time since I've had the ability to make a post. Before I get to the meat of this article, I would like to take a moment to thank all of the readers who have continued to visit this page in my absence. It means the world to me that I have the support that I do, and I promise that regular posts will resume immediately. Now that I have gotten that out of the way, on to the subject of this post, the continuation of my NFL season previews. In an effort to save time and get everything wrapped up before the season starts, the rest of these previews are going to take a slightly different approach, being more succinct and encompassing entire divisions, rather than team-by-team. In today's post, we jump to the NFC North division.

Green Bay: The Green Bay Packers have been the class of this division for several years now, being led by arguably the best quarterback in the game today, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers will have a harder time of things this year though, with the departure of one of his favorite targets, Greg Jennings. While the departure of Jennings is a significant loss for the team, the additions of running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in this year's draft should give the Packer offense an added dimension it has been lacking for several years now, a solid running game. This should soften up defenses and make Jennings' departure less noticeable.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings offense has been sputtering for years, despite Adrian Peterson's best efforts to take the team upon his shoulders. Peterson, and the whole Vikings organization, hope that the maturation of quarterback Christian Ponder and the addition in the draft of wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings in free agency will work to make the offense more balanced, taking the pressure off of Peterson to reproduce his phenomenal 2012 performance. The departure of an electric playmaker in Percy Harvin, however, may be a significant set-back in the Vikings efforts to make a repeat appearance in the playoffs.

Detroit Lions: In what turned out to be one of the sadder stories of the NFL off-season, the Detroit Lions cut starting receiver Titus Young, who would go on to be arrested three times in the span of a month and who's career looks to be all but over. While the young man is clearly in need of some serious help, the Lions were right to cut ties with the receiver, and although it gives star quarterback Matthew Stafford one less target to throw to on Sundays, the man's mental health is of far more importance. With all that said, the Lions offense shouldn't struggle in Young's absence, especially with the off-season addition of Reggie Bush. Bush, an electric running back who comes over from the Dolphins, should open up the offense in much the same way that Lacy and Franklin will for the Packers. Add this to the historic season that Calvin Johnson put up last year and the Lions could be one of the surprise teams this season.

Chicago Bears: The Chicago Bears have undoubtedly been the most consistently disappointing team in this division. It seems like every year they come out swinging, looking like a real contender, only to fade into obscurity as the season reaches an end. With all the talent that this team has, they rival the Dallas Cowboys as the most disappointing team in the NFL. A big part of that disappointment has been the beating that Jay Cutler has taken due to his porous offensive line. The addition of Jermon Bushrod should go a long way to sure up that line and keep Cutler upright to lead the team. Adding Martellus Bennett to the fray in Chicago should do wonders for that offense as well, giving opposing defenses someone to worry about other than Brandon Marshall or Matt Forte. Having a target down the seam in the middle, as well as a big target in the red zone, should go a long way towards Chicago finally living up to their potential.

Prediction: The NFC North (that still sounds weird to me. After all these years, I still want to say NFC Central) should be the most competitive division in the NFL this year. I think that all four teams have the potential to go to the playoffs and make a significant run. With that being said, I think that Green Bay is still clearly the class of the division, despite not winning the division crown last season. I think they return to form and represent the NFC North this season. After that, it's pretty much a crap-shoot for positions 2-4. Even though they won the division last year, I think it's a real possibility that Minnesota ends up finishing last in this division, with the Chicago Bears finishing right behind Green Bay and Detroit finishing a game or two ahead of Minnesota for third.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

NFL Preview: New York Jets

The final team in my look at the 2013 NFL season in the AFC East is the New York Jets. Possessing what is in my opinion the worst roster talent-wise in the entire NFL, it's hard for me to imagine the Jets being anything but a cellar-dweller this year in the division. It will be a pretty big surprise to me if they don't end up with a top 5 pick in next year's draft. Their only competition for "league's worst roster" is the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, and at least both of those teams have at least one stand-out player (for Oakland it's Darren McFadden, and in Jacksonville it's Maurice Jones-Drew), which is more than I can say for the Jets now that they've traded away their clear-cut best player, Darelle Revis, to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Let's take a look at the breakdown for the 2013 New York Jets:

Key Additions: You know your team is either in a really bad situation or a really good one when your only key additions come via the draft. In the case of the Jets, it's the former. While they did address two key issues in the draft with their additions of Dee Milliner and Geno Smith, there were certainly more pressing issues that they could have addressed with these picks, and in my opinion, better players that they could have drafted if those were the positions they wanted to address. When I watched the combine, all I saw from Dee Milliner was some stiffness in his hips and an inability to catch the ball. Add to that the fact that he'd had a shoulder surgery prior to the draft that should keep him out of training camp, led me to believe (and I still do) that their were better options for the Jets at the cornerback position. Milliner will have to come in and be a contributor right away, and a spectacular one at that, if he's going to get Jets fans off his case about being the replacement to Revis. It's no small task for a rookie, and I have my doubts about whether Milliner is up to the challenge. When it comes to Geno Smith, he may have been the best of the quarterbacks in the draft, but I was never very high on him to begin with. Being a Big 12 fan, I watched a lot of Smith at West Virginia, and I never liked what I saw from him. I thought the only reason he was a first round pick was because of a relatively weak class of QB's this season, and as it turns out, he wasn't even a first rounder, falling to the top part of the second. I do not think that the Bills made a wise choice in taking E.J. Manuel over Smith, but if I had been a team looking for a quarterback, I would not have filled that position in the draft.

Key Losses: The biggest loss that the Jets had this off-season was one that ultimately needed to happen. Darelle Revis was never happy with the Jets organization, and while being the best cover corner in the league, it never seemed like the organization was happy with him either. They never tried to negotiate a long-term deal with Revis, and while Revis' constant hold-outs may have alienated himself from the team and the front office, his play on the field certainly warranted being treated better than the organization did. It was time for Revis to move on from the Jets, and now that he's in Tampa with a nice new deal, I expect him to be much happier than he was in New York. The loss of Revis means that the Jets are left with a pretty bare cupboard both in the secondary and on the overall roster. Revis was clearly their best player, and with his departure, I don't even know who would hold that title now. Unless some of these rookies pan out far better than expected, the Jets are going to be a laughing-stock for years to come with this roster.

What it means: As I alluded to in the introduction, I don't see any scenario in which the Jets are not the last place team in this division. Obviously I'm not going to pick my Dolphins to finish behind them. With all their recent struggles, I still think that the Bills have a much more talented roster overall than the Jets, and even with the recent arrest of Aaron Hernandez further depleting the Patriots pass-catchers, there's no way that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick let this team fall that far. I see the Jets finishing no better than 5-11 this season, securing themselves at least a top 10 pick, if not top 5, in next year's draft.

Well, that's it for my look at the AFC East for next season. Come back for my next installment, as I switch both division and conference and take a look at the NFC North division, team by team.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Slow Down, Sport

After a certain age, every one of us remembers the days of our youth. We look back on those days now and realize just how good we had it- well, most of I assume. We all remember being young and uttering the phrase "I can't wait until I grow up", and now that we look back we wonder why we were in such a hurry. Well, that rush to grow up isn't solely a desire of children. Soon-to-be-professional athlete Johnny Football is no longer a child but he is all too eager to grow up. The young QB Johnny Manziel, from Texas A&M, has tweeted in the past weeks his desire to leave college life behind and join the ranks of the pros. This is largely in part because of the media (and campus) circus that follows him around now that he's hit the big-time. Perhaps he has forgotten that the reason for all this fuss is largely his own doing because he makes a spectacle of himself. In my opinion, Manziel should rethink his stance on the NFL because, at the moment, his pro prospects just aren't that good, for several key reasons.

The first reason being that there are significant questions about his arm strength. The offense that Manziel anchors for the Aggies isn't one predicated on driving the ball deep down the field. Kevin Sumlin's offense relies much more on quick drops and firing the ball out to a back or receiver running a short to intermediate route. While arm strength and accuracy down field are certainly things that can be worked on at the pro level  with coaching and a proper training and exercise regimen (see: Aaron Rodgers), it's a skill that the NFL scouts are going to want to see from Manziel before anyone thinks about spending a high draft choice on the kid.

The next reason is, oddly enough, a by-product of one of Manziel's biggest strengths, his athleticism. The combination of Manziel being such a talented athlete and Sumlin's offense has lead to Manziel not being great at going through his read progressions. He has a tendency to look to his primary target, and if he isn't open, instead of finding the second or third option, making something happen with his legs. This is a fine and effective strategy for a college quarterback, but it's going to get him hurt at the next level. The linebackers are much bigger and much faster than those he faces, even in the vaunted SEC. If Manziel wants to survive in the NFL, much less become a star in it, he's going to need to learn how to effectively run an offense from the pocket, only running when he has run out of options. Not as the second option.

The third reason is he doesn't seem to have any sort of pocket awareness. Far too often he is seen breaking the pocket and making something happen with his legs, even when there was a clear pocket from which to throw and minimal pressure around him. Part of this is the style of offense that Manziel plays in, but I think that it's more his personal mentality at this point. He knows that he's a better athlete than most of the guys on the field, and he relies heavily upon that instead of trusting his ability to beat the defense with his arm. To me, that shows that he doesn't trust in his abilities as a pocket passer. While non-traditional quarterbacks are seeing a rise in popularity due to the Michael Vick's and RG3's of the world, the fact remains that only "pocket-passers" have had ultimate success in the NFL. Running around making plays with your legs is nice, but it's the quarterbacks who can stand in the pocket and make the big throws who win Super Bowls.

The final, and most unfortunate, reason that Manziel's prospects for the pro's don't look that good to me is his size. While being listed at A&M as being 6'1" 210 lbs, anyone who looks at the game tape and pays attention to Johnny Football can see that he is not what he's listed at. I think he's more like 5'10" 185 lbs. That kind of size would make him a success at the slot-receiver position, but the fact remains that no quarterback under 6' has ever had a large amount of success. It's entirely possible that guys like Russell Wilson (and maybe even Manziel himself) will go on to buck that trend and pave the way for the smaller quarterbacks to be given a serious look by NFL scouts, but we just aren't there yet. Wilson is only going into his second year, and his team didn't reach the Super Bowl, let alone win it. Until a short quarterback goes on to win a Super Bowl or two, they're never going to be looked at as a serious option for long-term success.

If Manziel can work on all of these (except for the height, there's nothing that can be done about that), then he may yet have a chance at being a high draft choice, but as of right now he still has a long way to go. He's only a sophomore, he has a lot left to learn, and the time to do it if he allows himself that opportunity. If there's one piece of advice that I could give to him, it would be this: "Slow down, sport. Enjoy the time you have here. You only get this opportunity once in your life, and it's only going to get harder from here. Stop making a spectacle of yourself, sit back, and enjoy what you have. You'll look back in a few years and wish you had."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Update: What a Week It's Been

This isn't going to be one of my traditional posts, but I felt like an update to the Aaron Hernandez situation was warranted and thought it might get lost if I posted it in the comments section. Word has come down today that Hernandez has been arrested and charged with First-degree Murder. He was also charged with five other counts on weapons charges stemming from the incident. Hernandez was arrested and taken into custody this morning around 9:30 a.m. and was arraigned at around 2 p.m. Eastern time. Hernandez has since been released by the New England Patriots, just a year after signing a five year $40 million extension with the team.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What a Week It's Been

It has been a full week since we first heard the shocking (or not-so-shocking, depending upon just how cynical you have become) news out of Boston. The implication that one of the New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez, was somehow involved in the murder of semi-professional footballer Odin Lloyd. While no murder charges have been filed at this point, authorities and the media have made it pretty clear that Hernandez is a critical individual in the investigation. Here is what we know about the case, in chronological order.

Monday: The body of Lloyd was found by a jogger in an industrial park one mile from Hernandez' home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. The body was found not far from a rental car in Hernandez' name that was found at the scene, with one of the side mirrors missing. The side mirror has yet to be discovered, though it is unclear what, if any, bearing that has on the rest of the investigation.

Tuesday: Authorities executed the first of what would be many search warrants on Hernandez' home. This is also the first day that Hernandez alleged involvement in the case was reported in the media (at least on or, the two sites that I use primarily for my non-local news)

Wednesday: Authorities returned to Hernandez' home to execute another search warrant on at least two vehicles rented in Hernandez' name. There were also reports in the media that claimed Hernandez had destroyed his security system and cellphone prior to the execution of the search warrant on the prior day.

Thursday: Hernandez' home is searched yet again, this time due to the aforementioned destruction of the surveillance system and cellphone. Reports also surfaced of a separate lawsuit. filed on the 13th by a man in Florida claiming that Hernandez shot him in the arm and face following an argument outside of a club in Miami.

Friday: Several media sources claim that authorities have filed a warrant for Hernandez' arrest on Obstruction of Justice charges, stemming from the destruction of his security systems and phone. These reports have since been denied by Hernandez' agent, and as of today, no arrest has been made in the case.

Saturday: Police return yet again to Hernandez' home for another search. It is unclear what the basis for this search was, though reports are that authorities left with approximately a dozen bags of evidence and at one point called in a locksmith who was on site for about an hour and a half before leaving. No reports that I have seen have said why the locksmith was called or what he may have unlocked for the police to discover.

We also know that Odin was dating the sister of Hernandez' girlfriend, who is also the mother of his child. While it may have no bearing on the case, if there had been a fight between Odin and his girlfriend, the authorities could use that to try and pin a motive onto his murder, though that is just speculation on my part. A video tape from the night of the murder shows Odin leaving a club with Hernandez and two other men. This establishes Hernandez as one of the last people to see Odin alive. We have also heard reports stating that several of Hernandez' neighbors have told authorities that they heard what they believed to be multiple rounds of gunfire coming from Hernandez' home on the night of the murder.

While all of this "evidence" is circumstantial at best, it is my opinion that there is more than enough of it to establish a connection between Odin and Hernandez, and to establish that Hernandez, even if he wasn't the one to pull the trigger, was somehow involved in the death of Odin. His actions following the night of Odin's murder do not, in my opinion, reflect that of an innocent man. I do, however, firmly believe in innocent until proven guilty, so I will have to wait to pass further judgment until the legal system has fully run it's course. If things work out well for Hernandez and he is not charged with anything more than obstruction (which I think it inevitable after he tampered with evidence), expect commissioner Roger Goodell to hand down at least a four game suspension to Hernandez for conduct detrimental to the league. If Hernandez does go on trial for murder, I expect we may have seen the last of Hernandez in the NFL, whether he's found guilty or not.

Friday, June 21, 2013

NFL Preview: Buffalo Bills

It has been three weeks since I made a post in my series of NFL season previews. I had a vacation to Vegas, an illness, and some other pressing sports news stories that I just had to write. But the series is back today, this time with my most hated team in the division, the Buffalo Bills. It would be easy for me to hate the Patriots, as they have had the most success recently, and most Dolphins fans that I know hate the Jets most of all, but I have always had a soft-spot for hating the Bills. I guess it probably stems from growing up in the early 90's and having my earliest football experiences be watching them go to four straight Super Bowls. Well, that's my quick little story, here's a look at the 2013 Buffalo Bills.

Key Losses: The most important player departing the Bills this year is their former starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills have been looking for a quarterback of good quality ever since Jim Kelly retired and they thought they had found it in Fitzpatrick. He had a big year in 2010 and was subsequently resigned to a lucrative deal. But after two years of poor decision making (accounting for 49 turnovers in those two seasons), the realization that he doesn't have a strong arm, and the financial burden of the aforementioned contract, the organization decided to part ways with their starting quarterback. Now the Bills are left with a hole at the most important position on the field, and are hoping that they have found the answer in one of their two biggest off-season acquisitions.

Key Additions: After the release of Fitzpatrick, the Bills were left with a giant hole at the position. They made two key decisions in an attempt to fill this hole. The first was the trade that they made with the Arizona Cardinals to acquire Kevin Kolb. Kolb was a strong-armed quarterback coming out of Houston University drafted by Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles. He had all the promise in the world and looked like he was going to become a star in this league. But, for whatever reason, Kolb has never been able to put it together. He has all the physical tools necessary to play the position, but he never seems sure of himself when he takes the field. He looks like a lost puppy out there, and that is why his is now on his third team in his seven year career. If Kolb can't figure it out, and quickly, look for him to be supplanted as the starter by the Bills first round draft choice this season, E.J. Manuel. Possibly the surprise of the draft this season, no one had Manuel rated as a first round quarterback, but the Bills must have seen something in his career at Florida State that they felt confident in. Manuel is a great athlete and has a cannon for an arm, but has also shown some poor decision making in his collegiate career. His completion percentage never topped 70 percent while playing for the Seminoles, which is a pretty standard mark for a good quarterback in college. He also only topped the 3,000 yard mark once in his career. If he becomes the starter and performs well, the Bills front office will look like they knew what they were doing, but I don't seem him doing any better than his FSU predecessor Christian Ponder, who was also taken much higher than anyone expected and hasn't lived up to the position.

What it means: The Bills do have a pretty good amount of talent surrounding whomever is going to be the starting quarterback. Stevie Johnson has blossomed into a very nice number one receiver. They also have two of the more talented running backs in the league in Fred Jackson (who, as someone who is a Dolphins fan and attended Cornell College, may be my most hated player in the league) and C.J. Spiller. With Fred Jackson handling most of the carries, and Spiller spelling him and lining up all over the field, utilizing his blazing speed and good catching ability, the Bills do have a good number of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. With that being said, however, it's hard for me to see Buffalo ending the season any better than in the 6-10 to 7-9 range. This will be good enough for third in the AFC East, but not where the Bills would like to be. I think they'll be a playoff team in the not-too-distant future, but that future has not come yet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Eight Minutes

If you went to work for eight minutes and then clocked out, your boss wouldn't pay you for a full days' work. If you went to class for eight minutes and then left, your teachers wouldn't say you completed a full semester. If you spent eight minutes on the golf course, you wouldn't say you completed a full round. So why does the NCAA get to say that eight minutes counts as a full season?

This is the question that Old Dominion's Donte Hill has surely been asking himself for days. Hill's request for a fifth year was denied by the NCAA rules committee, due to the eight minutes that Hill played in a closed scrimmage back in 2010 while still a member of the Clemson Tigers. Shortly after the scrimmage, Hill made the decision to transfer from Clemson to Old Dominion, and sat out the remainder of the 2010 season, in accordance with the NCAA's rules for transferring athletes (which I also think is a sham rule, but that's not what this article is about). Hill, along with the ODU coaching staff assumed that everything was fine and that he was following the rules. No one imagined that his participation in the aforementioned scrimmage would be an issue. It wasn't participation in a game, after all, it was just a closed scrimmage. What possible effect could that have?

Well, according to the rules committee, any participation during a season counts as a full season. Hill's participation in that scrimmage meant that he played in the 2010 season, giving him one less season of eligibility than he thought he had. Was it the responsibility of the coaching staff to look into the NCAA's complex and outdated rule book to make sure that everything was kosher? Yeah, probably. It was probably Hill's responsibility to double check on things too. That being said, in no other walk of life does eight minutes constitute full participation, why on Earth is collegiate athletics any different? What gives the NCAA the right to end a player's season (and in this case, career) over eight minutes in something that had quite literally zero effect on the regular or post-season?

In my eyes, this is but one in a long line of instances of the NCAA overstepping it's bounds and making terrible decisions that have long-term detrimental effects on the lives of young adults. This past college football season, the NCAA rules committee handed down what were the stiffest penalties I have ever seen (I was not yet alive for the decision to hand down the "death penalty" to the SMU program) to the Penn State University football program in the wake of the heinous acts committed by Jerry Sandusky and in some respects allowed to by Joe Paterno. While any sane individual can acknowledge that the university itself needed to be punished for the acts of it's employees, I feel that the case was entirely a legal matter. It had no bearing on anything athletic and was not an issues that the NCAA needed to get involved with. Their decision to cut scholarships, ban from post-season play, and heavily fine the football program has had serious negative consequences on countless lives that had absolutely zero to do with the situation. Now, the NCAA has made another decision that has altered the life, if only temporarily, of yet another young adult. All over a measly eight minutes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tweet Responsibly

"I hope you and your mother get AIDS and die"

I am a self-proclaimed football fanatic. I have never denied the fact that the NFL is one of my biggest passions. I have been to NFL games, I have had subscriptions to NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL Game Rewind, and this season will be my 15th year playing fantasy football. I live for the NFL, and I will be the first to admit that, at times, my passion has gotten the best of me. Many times I have let the successes or failures of "my" teams get the better of me. Whether it be the Miami Dolphins or one of my many fantasy football teams over the years, when things go wrong I'm a wreck. I have shouted many an obscenity at the television, and even thrown things in my utter disgust. I am by no means alone either. But when does showing your displeasure at a team or individual's performance cross the line? When does it go from being a passionate fan to something reprehensible?

I don't know about you, but I think that first sentence more than qualifies as "reprehensible". That quote is but one of the many vulgar tweets that San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has received since coming into the league as the heir apparent to the legendary LaDanian Tomlinson. On a somewhat regular basis, Mathews has to weed through abhorrent, vile, derogatory comments just to use a social media website, something that most of us have never had to, and hopefully will never have to face. What exactly, you may ask, is Mathews crime? Has he been accused of murder? Has he repeatedly been in violation of the league's drug policy? Just what has Mathews done to deserve being on the receiving end of such venom from his so-called "fans"?

He hasn't been quite as good as the guy before him. He hasn't led the Chargers to the playoffs. He hasn't been an MVP or even a Pro-Bowler. Mathews has been a serviceable running back for the Chargers, averaging 4.4 yards per carry over his career with one 1,000 yard season and 14 career touchdowns in his three seasons as a Charger. As the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft, it's fair to expect more production from Mathews. One season over the 1,000 yard mark isn't befitting of a top-15 draft pick. Mathews has had many injuries in his three years, never playing a full 16-game season. He has also had numerous turnover issues, totaling 11 fumbles, six of them lost, in his career. But does his lack of production warrant such hateful commentary?

The answer should be fairly obvious. It's a resounding NO. It's not often that I'm ashamed to call myself an NFL fan, but it's stories like these that make me say just that. Let's forget for a minute that the NFL is a team sport and no one player can be solely blamed for a team's poor performance. Let's also forget that over the same amount of time the Chargers starting quarterback, Philip Rivers, has accounted for 72 turnovers, a number that is 12 times the amount that Mathews has been accountable for. In the grand scheme of things, these numbers are irrelevant. At the end of the day, these men are playing a GAME. They are putting their bodies and future well-being on the line for our entertainment. What gives us the right to wish a deadly disease upon one of them? A disease that has so devastated many communities and ruined countless lives over the decades since it's discovery.

If you are a fan of the NFL, or even just a decent human being, I beg of you...please have a bit of forethought when using social media to talk about your teams and their players. Just because a player has millions of followers does not give you the right to say any disgusting thing you can think of to or about them. Whether you think it or not, they do see it. They are human beings just like us with the same emotions and vulnerabilities. Treat them like it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Third Team is the Charm?

Tim Tebow is getting yet another chance to continue his career in the NFL. After rampant speculation about where Tebow would end up, whether it would be then Arena league, the Canadian Football League (CFL), or if another NFL team would take a chance on the much maligned QB. Well, we finally have our answer. Tebow was picked up earlier this week by the New England Patriots. While I was, and still am, of the opinion that Tebow will never amount to anything in this league as a quarterback and is not deserving of another chance in the NFL, if there was a perfect spot for him to end up, it's New England. The Patriots are the ideal fit (if there is such a thing for Tebow) because they have one of the best coaching staffs in the entire league, there will be no pressure from fans or inside the organization to start Tebow, and because Tom Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league to learn behind.

As a Dolphins fan, it hurts me deeply to say it, but I think it is obvious to anyone who pays attention that New England has one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL. Take one look at the successes their offense has had over the last decade with the paltry support staff that Brady has had around him. Aside from Wes Welker and one exceptional season from Randy Moss, the Patriots have have had absolutely no one of note in their wide receiver corps, yet every season Tom Brady is among the league leaders in both passing yardage and touchdowns. This can be directly contributed, in my opinion, to the skill of the New England coaching staff. They seem to have an incredible ability to get the absolute most out of every player on their team, regardless of how much talent they have. This is perfect for Tebow because he has a long way to come if he wants to be a quarterback in this league. His mechanics are flawed and he has a tendency to make terrible decisions. These are things that the coaching staff will be keenly aware of and if anyone can fix these issues, it's them.

Tebow and the Patriots organization should face no pressure to start him. Brady, at the ripe old age (by NFL standards) of 35, is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Even if Brady has a bad game, there will be no clamoring for Tebow to come in and take his place, something that has plagued Tebow in both Denver and New York. This doesn't even take into account that Tebow won't be the back up. Behind Brady is Ryan Mallet and Mike Kafka, both of which should be ahead of Tebow on the quarterback depth chart. I will be surprised if Tebow is even listed as a quarterback going into the season. He's most likely going to be asked to move to tight end, a position that seems like it would fit better with his particular skill set. He will most likely still be a quarterback in practice and in the film rooms, but he should not be one on the field.

Being one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Brady is also one the best quarterbacks to sit and learn behind. Few quarterbacks in this league have the knowledge base that Brady does. He knows exactly where everyone is going to be at all times, both his guys and everyone on the defensive side of the ball. He understands every single coverage that you can throw at him, every single blitz package imaginable. He has seen it all and knows exactly what he needs to do to beat it. Sitting behind that kind of talent should have immeasurable effect on Tebow. Look at Aaron Rodgers, who sat behind Brett Favre and learned the position for four years. Favre is undoubtedly one of the top five QB's in the history of the NFL, and even though he had no desire to be an active participant in Rodger's grooming, the effect that learning behind him had on Rodgers is obvious. If Tebow is willing to let Brady have a similar effect on him, his dreams of being a quarterback in this league may yet come true.

Monday, June 3, 2013

NFL Preview: New England Patriots

In my previous edition of my NFL previews segment, I kicked it off with a preview of my favorite team, the Miami Dolphins. With that in mind, I figured I should stay inside the division and preview all of the teams that I hate. Today's edition will start that process. First up, the New England Patriots. The Patriots have been the standard bearer in the AFC East for the better part of the last two decades, going to and winning multiple Super Bowls since 2000. Their stranglehold on the division may be weakening this season though, and here's why:

Key Losses: The biggest loss that New England suffered in free agency was the departure of their stand out wide receiver, and Tom Brady's favorite target, Wes Welker. Welker is now a part of the Denver Broncos organization and he leaves a huge hole in the New England offense in his absence. Welker had more than 110 receptions every year in New England except for the 2010 season (where he caught a still-respectable 86 balls). That production puts him at the very top of the wide receiver class in that span of time (since 2007). He has also had more than 1,100 yards every year (again except for 2010) in the same amount of time. He has been the best receiver in football and there's no way that you can replace a guy that has meant that much to your franchise. The Patriot way is to not pay their players (except for the "Golden Boy" Tom Brady) and let them either deal with it or move on when their contract is up. In the past it has worked out for them, but this time I think they've made a poor decision. It gets even more suspect when you consider who they got to replace him.

Key Additions: Danny Amendola. If that's not a name you're familiar with, don't feel bad. He's not a name that the causal fan would know. He's toiled away in relative obscurity so far in his career, coming over from the hapless St. Louis Rams. Amendola is a good young wide receiver, don't get me wrong, but he is not comparable to Welker in terms of production. Amendola's best year came in, coincidentally, Welker's worst year, 2010. That year, Amendola had 85 receptions for 689. In his best season, Amendola's production does not equal that of Welker's worst. To add insult to injury (literally), in his four seasons in the NFL, Amendola has played 16 games only once, in the aforementioned 2010 season. He missed five games last season with a broken collar bone. He missed two games in his rookie year, and missed the entire season save for one game in the 2011 season. To say that Amendola is injury prone would be an understatement. To rely on a guy that has issues staying on the field to replace the most productive wide receiver in football is a gamble that I think is going to backfire on the New England Patriots in a big way.

What it means: The loss of Welker and the subsequent replacing with an inferior player should mean a significant decrease in offensive production for the Patriots. I don't think I'm willing to go so far as to say that they will miss the playoffs this season, but I do think that they are in serious jeopardy of losing the AFC East crown to the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have made a significant improvement in their talent whereas the Patriots have only lost talent and replaced it with less than they lost. I foresee a Wild Card this season for the Patriots. But, if the last few seasons have taught us anything, a Wild Card may mean that the Patriots are even more dangerous than had they won the division outright.

Friday, May 31, 2013

They Are People Too

We, as sports fans, are often guilty of shameless idolatry when it comes to those that play the games that we love so very much. We look at them, not as people, but as either some fantastical entity that can do no wrong, or as mindless robots whose sole existence is to play the game that they are paid so much to. We often forget that they are human beings and possess a life outside of sports. We also often forget that they, as human beings and not robots, suffer from a lot of the same day-to-day issues that most of us suffer from as well. Then there are cases that make us step back and remember "wow, they have problems just like the rest of us". Today, that case is the former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young.

Titus Young was a very talented wide receiver coming out of Boise State University. Not a lot of people were paying attention to Boise State when Young got there in 2008, but by the time he left Boise, they had become a relative powerhouse in college football and are a key factor, I believe, in the NCAA committee's decision to finally give the fans what they've been clamoring about for years, a playoff. Even during those early years at Boise though, it was evident that Young had some behavioral issues and might need someone to step in and seek counsel for him. He was suspended for most of his sophomore season after fighting with a teammate, but he was supremely talented at this game that we all love so much, so his issues were overlooked and probably attributed to "boys being boys" or something equally ridiculous.

Fast forward to 2011, when Young is drafted in the second round (despite having first round talent, he slipped in the draft due to the off-field issues) by the Detroit Lions. Of all the places for a troubled youth to end up, Detroit (both the city and the organization itself) is probably the worst place in all of the NFL. Detroit seems to be a haven, and not in the benevolent sense either, for behaviorally-suspect players. You need not look any further than the on-field antics of Ndamukong Suh to illustrate that point (though to be fair to Suh, he has never had any issues off the field). Young had no problems his rookie year of 2011, being used primarily as the teams number two wide receiver and having some pretty respectable contributions for a rookie, including a two-touchdown game against division rivals Green Bay.

Then the troubles started again for Young. During practices in May, the troubled wide receiver was sent home after sucker-punching a teammate. Fights happen all the time in practice, so I'm sure that not much was made of it, but given his prior history, this should have been a red-flag to the organization that maybe this kid has some issues with anger and should be prompted to seek counselling. Later on that season, he was sent home yet again, this time for the ever-ambiguous "conduct detrimental to the team". It was later reported that this "conduct" was him intentionally lining up in the wrong position multiple times after a verbal spat with his position coach over the teams usage of Young. As of right now, that would be the last time that Young plays in the NFL. In the weeks following the incident Young was declared inactive for a game, told to stay away from the team's practice facilities, put on injured reserve despite not being injured (a move that would end his season, and career in Detroit), and ultimately released following several tweets by Young expressing his desire to leave the team if he wasn't going to get playing time and production.

Now, it's easy to look at all of this and see a man who is a stuck up, snot nosed kid who just needs to grow up and handle the responsibilities that have been placed upon him. When I look at it though, I see a man who is desperately in need of someone to step in and say "You may not want this, but it's time that you got help for whatever issues are plaguing you. You don't have a choice, this is an intervention, you're getting the help". The need for this help became even more evident in the past month where, after being picked up on waivers by the St. Louis Rams (the only team to put in a claim on him), Young was arrested not once, not twice, but three times in the span of five days, two of which were on the same day. On May 5th, Young was arrested on suspicion of DUI. He was given a ticket, his car was impounded and he was free on bail. Approximately 14 hours later, Young was arrested again, this time for attempting to steal his car out of the impound lot. On May 10th, Young was arrested yet again this time for suspicion of burglary (again), resisting arrest, and assaulting a police officer.

At what point does someone need to step in and tell this man that enough is enough? When will someone save him from himself? For the sake of Young, I hope it's sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

NFL Preview: Miami Dolphins

With my preview of next year's draft out of the way, and with not much else going on in the world of sports that I care about, I figured I'd dedicate a large portion of my blog's future to preview each team in the NFL for the upcoming season. Being that I'm a Dolphins fan, what better team to start off my preview with than the team that I follow most closely? Here's my preview of the 2013 Miami Dolphins.

Key Losses: The Dolphins lost a couple of big name players in free agency this off-season, most notably former starting running back Reggie Bush and former starting left tackle Jake Long. Bush has departed to become the starter in Detroit and Long is off to St. Louis to protect Sam Bradford's blindside. The loss of Reggie Bush shouldn't be much of an issue for the Dolphin offense, as we're making the transition to a more pass-happy offense. Lamar Miller is being slated as Bush's replacement and by all accounts so far, he seems more than capable of filling the shoes. The loss of Long, however, is going to be much more of a problem for us. As it looks right now, Miami is going to slide last year's second round pick Johnathon Martin from right tackle over to the left side (the side he played on at Stanford protecting Andrew Luck). This is worrisome for most fans, as Martin didn't look very solid last season and needed to do some serious work in the off season to improve his strength and conditioning. All reports indicate that Martin has put in this work, so we'll see if it translates to his performance on the field.

Key Additions: Miami had a very active off season, adding a lot of fire power on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. On offense, Miami went out and signed Mike Wallace at the start of the free agency period. The addition of Wallace will give Miami something that they have not had in a long time, possibly since I started following the team back in the early 90's, a bona fide number 1 receiver. Wallace's speed alone should significantly open things up offensively, and he has put in work the last two seasons to become a more complete receiver instead of just a one-trick speedster. Miami also went out and signed Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller to bolster our passing game. Putting Gibson in the slot along with Wallace and Hartline on the outside will give Miami as starting trio of wide receivers that I feel can rival almost anyone in the NFL. Keller's addition at tight end will give Tannehill an athletic, large target to throw to in the redzone as well as down the seam. These guys should spell a marked improvement in both Ryan Tannehill's development as a young quarterback and to Miami's offense as a whole. On the defensive side of the ball, Miami's biggest addition was the signing of corner back Brent Grimes. Coming off of an Achilles tendon injury and being on the wrong side of 30 when the season starts, Grimes is a bit of a risk. But he has been a top-5 corner (when healthy) in the past and addresses what has been Miami's biggest need on the defensive side of the ball for several years now. With the addition of Grimes, along with Phillip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, and the drafting of Dion Jordan, Miami should easily have a top-10 defense this season, if not better.

What it means: With all of the additions made to the offensive side of the ball, the front office has sent a clear message that the time is now to turn this franchise around. Miami has been mired in mediocrity for the better part of the last 15 years and it's time for that to stop. If Ryan Tannehill can progress in his quarterbacking the way that everyone expects him to with these new weapons, it's hard to imagine Miami being anything less than a 9-7 team this season. I'm hoping to see more along the lines of 11-5 and an AFC East championship, loosening the New England Patriots recent stranglehold on the division. 11-5 and a playoff birth is certainly within the realm of possibility for this team right now. I'm not willing to hop on the bandwagon and say this team is one of the best in the AFC, but we certainly have that potential.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

2014 Draft Class Preview: Defensive Backs

In today's installment of my blog, we come to the end of my preview of the 2014 NFL draft class. In my last preview, I'm going to talk about the top defensive backs who should be available. This class is, along with every level of the defense, a very strong class. It is comprised of four cornerbacks and one safety. Let's take a look.

1.) Bradley Roby, Ohio State University*. Roby is the very definition of a prototypical corner. At 5'11" and 190 lbs, Roby has the size necessary to come up to the line of scrimmage and play phyiscal, man coverage. With a 40 yard dash time of under 4.5, he also possesses the speed necessary to recover when beat or to make a play on the ball when in a zone scheme. In his two years as a starter for the Buckeyes, Roby has tallied 110 tackles, 17 passes broken up, five interceptions, six tackles for a loss and one sack. These numbers illustrate that Roby is an all-around corner, possessing the skills to not only be a great cover corner, but also an ability to come up and make a tackle in the run game or to blitz the quarterback if necessary. This versatility is why Roby is the top rated corner in this draft and should be a top 10 pick.

2.) Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon University*. Being only an inch shorter, the same weight, and running a significantly faster 40 time (4.39), it's hard for me not to put Ekpre-Olomu ahead of Roby for the top spot in this draft. His numbers would justify the switch too, with him notching 63 tackles, 16 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and four interceptions in his one season as a starter for the Ducks. The reason I have him here instead of ahead of Roby is that I feel like Roby is a better all-around corner. Ekpre-Olomu needs to work on his zone coverage skills along with working to be stronger and more physical, especially in run support. If he makes significant improvement to these aspects of his game, he could very well take the number 1 spot from Roby.

3.) Jason Verrett, Texas Christian University. I have Verrett rated higher than some other prognosticators (, for instance, has him rated their #9 corner), but I like what I have seen from the TCU product. He's got solid height at 5'10" and solid speed, running a sub 5-second 40 yard dash. He also has the production on the field to back up being ranked higher than 9, with 121 tackles, 20 passes broken up, seven interceptions, and a blocked kick. The issue with Verrett for me is his weight, he only weighs 175lbs. If he can get himself into the weight room and become a more physical presence to go along with his speed and instincts, he'll justify me having him in this slot. He is my sleeper at the position.

4.) Loucheiz Purifoy, University of Florida* Purifoy is undoubtedly the most physically gifted cornerback in this class. At 6'1" and 189lbs, Purifoy has nearly unprecedented size for the position, and with a 40 yard dash time of 4.42, he is also one of the fastest guys at the position. That combination gives me pause about having Purifoy so low on this list, but he doesn't have the production necessary for me to justify having him any higher. In his one year as a starter for the Gators, Purifoy amassed 51 tackles, five passes broken up and three forced fumbles. For a corner as physically gifted as Purifoy to not notch even one interception gives me reason to question whether or not he has the hands and ball skills necessary to justify being a top-flight corner.

5.) Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, University of Alabama*. The first, and only, safety to crack my top 5, Clinton-Dix has had an impressive run for the Crimson Tide. In his one year as a starter, Clinton-Dix totaled 37 tackles, five interceptions, four passes broken up, and a forced fumble. That kind of production from a safety is a huge bonus for any defense. Clinton-Dix has wonderful ball skills at the safety position and plays very well in space as a roving defender. Now that Clinton-Dix is the main man in the Crimson Tide secondary, I expect him to show that his production isn't just a product of playing with other great defensive backs. I'm looking for a huge year from Clinton-Dix.

So folks, there you have it. My look into the 2014 NFL draft is officially complete. We'll have to wait until next May (the NFL draft is being moved back several weeks due to a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall during the normal weekend, though there is a lot of talk that this may be a more permanent move in an effort to space out the NFL calendar more and make the league relevant in the month of May) to see if these predictions are anywhere close to coming to fruition. Until then, I had a lot of fun putting these articles together and I hope you had just as much fun reading them. I'm going to be off tomorrow for the Memorial Day holiday, regular posting will resume on Tuesday!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

2014 Draft Class Preview: Linebackers

Today's post (which should have been yesterday's, but life got in the way) will focus on the prospects who should be available at the linebacker position. This list will include both inside and outside linebackers, but not defensive ends who occasionally line up at outside linebacker. I wanted this list to be comprised of guys at their primary positions. So, with that said, let's take a look.

1.) Anthony Barr, University of California (Los Angeles). Barr had a standout season in 2012, his first at the linebacker position after playing his first two years at fullback. With 83 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, five passes batted and four forced fumbles, Barr had an absolutely monster season and was only out-performed in the sack department at his position by Jarvis Jones, who was a first round pick in this year's draft. If Barr is able to replicate his performance from last year, I fully expect to see him come off the board very early in the draft. With that kind of production consistently, he may find himself in the top 10.

2.) C.J. Mosely, University of Alabama. Every Dolphins fan cringes (at the very least) at the very mention of the name Nick Saban. And for good reason, the man left in a shady way that left a very sour taste in all of us fans' mouths. That being said, you have to recognize that the man has developed some serious talent in his time with the Crimson Tide. Mosely will be the latest in the long line of talented Tide players to make an impact at the next level. Mosely tallied 107 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble last season. Mosely's real value is his skill in pass coverage, he has the speed and agility necessary to cover a back out in the flat or to cover a tight end down the seam, which will surely make him rise up teams draft board into the top twenty picks of the first round.

3.) Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young University. Overshadowed by the meteoric rise of teammate Ziggy Ansah, Van Noy quietly developed into one of the best linebackers in the nation. His season finale against the San Diego State Aztecs was simply one of the best performances any player had in a game last season. He recorded eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two touchdowns. One came on a 17 yard interception return, and the other on a fumble recovery. All told last season, Noy ended up with 53 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles, five passes batted, and two interceptions. He was also among the nations leaders in sacks with 13. The BYU product should find himself in the latter half of the first round, possibly higher if he exceeds last seasons production now that Ansah has moved on to the NFL and he's the main focus of the defense.

4.) Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky. A small-school product, Jackson has had an outstanding career for the Hilltoppers. He has totaled 231 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks in his two years as a starter. Jackson hasn't just beat up on the small schools either, he has totaled 27 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his three games against SEC opponents (Kentucky and LSU his sophomore season and Alabama last year). A big, bruising linebacker, Jackson plays very well in run support and his personality lends him to being a leader on and off the field. Jackson should find himself in the late part of the first round or the early part of the second.

5.) A.J. Johnson, University of Tennessee*. A very versatile player, Johnson not only lined up at inside linebacker for the Volunteers, but he was also their short-yardage running back, running for 21 yards and six touchdowns on twelve carries. That kind of versatility exhibits an athleticism that every coach in the NFL covets. It also shows an ability to learn and adapt to wildly different responsibilities and reads, and gives him an insight into the mind of an offensive player that makes him a better linebacker. One of the only good things to happen to a bad Volunteer team last season, Johnson totaled 138 tackles, which was good for a tie for fifth in the nation. He also tallied 8.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one pass broken up. If Johnson can duplicate the production he had last year, he should find himself in the top of the second round, possibly sneaking into the first. If he decides not to make himself eligible for the draft and returns to Tennessee for a senior season, I anticipate talking about him next year as a top 20 possibility.

Five down, one position left. Next post: Defensive Backs. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

2014 Draft Class Preview: Defensive Line

In today's look at the top players who should be available in the 2014 NFL draft class, we shift our focus to the defensive side of the ball. This year's draft was a defense heavy class, with most of the best players coming from this side of the ball. I see that trend continuing this year, starting with the presumed number one overall pick, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Let's take a look at who I think makes up the top 5 prospects on the defensive line.

1.) Jadeveon Clowney, University of South Carolina*. As I previously mention, all conventional wisdom points to Clowney being the first player selected in the 2014 draft, pretty much regardless of who ends up with the pick. Clowney would most likely have been the first overall pick in this year's draft had he been eligible. I would venture to say that the same thing goes for the year prior to that too. Clowney has been a top-tier NFL talent since coming out of high school, and I would venture to say that he has the potential to become the best defensive end since Bruce Smith. If you need convincing, just go to YouTube and search for the hit he put on Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl back in January. Enough said.

2.) Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame*. Another defensive end, Tuitt was instrumental in leading the Fighting Irish to the National Championship game last season. Without the performances turned in by Tuitt and his partner at defensive tackle Louis Nix, Manti Te'o would not have gone on to become the phenomenon that he did. Without those two guys eating up blockers and rushing the passer, Te'o is just another guy. Tuitt will get a chance to prove this year that he deserves just as much (if not more) recognition for the Notre Dame resurgence as Te'o got last season. If Tuitt meets or exceeds his numbers from last year, I expect him to be taken in the top half of the first round.

3.) Louis Nix, Notre Dame. As previously mentioned, Nix (along with Tuitt) was a lynch-pin in the success and recent resurgence of the Notre Dame football program. Nix is a beast in the middle, measuring 6'3" and 340lbs. Nix eats blockers with the best of them, freeing up guys like Tuitt and (last year) Te'o to make big plays. Every defense needs a guy like Nix. But Nix's value isn't only in his ability to be a big body in the middle. He is also quite agile for a man of his size and is very capable in both the pass and run game. With 95 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and six passes batted down, Nix has an all-around game that should see him selected with Clowney and his Notre Dame counterpart in the top half of the first round.

4.) Anthony Johnson, Louisiana State University*. Johnson is the next in a long line of great defensive players to come from the SEC powerhouse that is LSU. Following in the footsteps of guys like Michael Brockers, Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, and others, Johnson has a mighty big legacy to uphold, and he has all the talent to do just that. At 6'3 and 304 lbs, Johnson has the size to play either inside or outside. And he has the speed and athleticism to do both very well. With his combination of size, speed, and God given ability, it's hard for me not to put Johnson higher on this list. The only reason I have him at number 4 on this list instead of number 2 or 3 is that he's only been a starter one year. I want to see him produce for one more season before I put him ahead of the likes of Nix and Tuitt. If he has the kind of year that he is capable of having this year, I may have to revise this list and bump him up.

5.) Timmy Jernigan, Florida State University*. Jernigan has all the physical tools to be a force to be reckoned with, standing 6'2" and weighing in at just a shade under 300lbs, while also running a 40 yard dash in under 5 seconds. After a disappointing 2012 that saw Jernigan be overshadowed by the likes of Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine, and Everette Dawkins, Jernigan looks to redeem himself and equal or surpass the numbers he posted in his breakout freshman season. That season (2011), Jernigan led the D-line with 30 tackles, six tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.  If Jernigan can expand those numbers now that he is the "big man on campus" so to speak, he should find his way into the latter half of the first round.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next to last segment in my look at the 2014 NFL draft, when I break down the top 5 linebacker prospects.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2014 Draft Class Preview: Wide Receivers

Today we reach the halfway point of our look into the top players who should be available in the 2014 NFL Draft. This post will finish off the offensive side of the ball, looking at the top 5 wide receivers. In my opinion, this class is one of the weakest classes I have ever seen at this position and I had a hard time filling out every spot. I'm in no way confident with my predictions here beyond the first two. With that said, let's take a look:

1.) Marqise Lee, University of Southern California*. Lee is head and shoulders above everyone else at his position in this class. Had a few other wide receivers stayed in school for their senior seasons that may be a different story, but with the crop expected to be in this class, he dominates. Lee has had the privilege of working with one of the great college quarterbacks in Matt Barkley. With his departure to the NFL, it's time for Lee to step up and show us that his previous successes are a product of him and not simply a reflection of how great Barkley was.

2.) Sammy Watkins, University of Clemson*. Were it not for a disappointing season last year, Watkins wouldn't be on this list at all, as he would have declared for the draft and would be fighting for a starting position in the NFL. But, after an arrest that led to a two game suspension, and subsequently seeing his roster spot be taken by De'Andre Hopkins, Watkins is back to re-establish himself as a top-flight receiving prospect. Watkins has all the physical tools you want in a wide receiver, being listed at 6'1" and 200 lbs, while also running a 4.4 flat in the 40 yard dash. That combination of size and speed is something that every coach looks for, so if Watkins can get over his off-the-field issues, he should, along with Lee, see himself chosen in the top half of the first round of next year's draft.

3.) Austin Seferian-Jenkins, University of Washington*. Now here is where you're probably thinking (if you follow college football, that is) "But Chris, Seferian-Jenkins is a tight end, you said this was about wide receivers". And you would be right, Seferian-Jenkins is, in fact, listed as a tight end. But with the way that tight ends are used in today's offenses, they may as well be another wide receiver. The elite tight ends in today's NFL put up just as much production as the top wide receivers, and for this reason, I have no qualms about putting the top college tight end at number three. Seferian-Jenkins is a freakish athlete, being listed at 6'6", 266 lbs and still running a sub 4.6 40 yard dash. As with Watkins, that rare combination of size and speed will all but ensure that Seferian-Jenkins joins the two previously listed wide receivers as first round selections.

4.) Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt University. This is where the class starts to fall apart. After the first three guys, I'm not sure that I see anyone else being selected in the first round. If there is another one though, I think it's most likely to be Matthews. Matthews is relatively unknown, playing for one of the bottom feeder universities, but he has managed some pretty impressive production in his time there. In the 2012 season, Matthews hauled in 94 catches for over 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. In his sophomore season (2011) he managed to bring in 41 receptions for 778 yards and five touchdowns. Matthews has some excellent hands and appears to be a very accomplished route runner. Oh, and his cousin is Jerry Rice, so he has some impressive genetics on his side as well

5.) Brandon Coleman, Rutgers University*. Coleman is unlikely to be a first round pick, but I have to have someone to round out the top five and in my opinion, he's the next in line. Built more like a tight end at 6'6 and 220 lbs, Coleman is a large target and should be quite valuable as a red-zone target. The biggest question mark about Coleman, and the reason he's not expected to be a first round pick, is his speed. Unlike his similar-sized tight end counterpart Seferian-Jenkins, Coleman runs in the 4.6+ range in the 40 yard dash, which as a wide receiver will make teams shy away from taking him. He has put up good production in his time at Rutgers, but unless he can do something to improve his speed, he will fall to the second day of the draft.

And that does it for the offensive side of the ball. Tomorrow we'll start our look into the defensive side, including the consensus number one overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney. Until tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2014 Draft Class Preview: Running Backs

Two weeks ago I started my preview into the 2014 draft class. After that post I went through some life issues that forced me to suspend my blog. Now that my life issues have been sorted out, I'm ready to continue where I left off, with the running back class for the 2014 draft. But before I get to that, I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people who have helped me out in the last two weeks. To James Bozeman, Robert Parker, Brendan Toungate, and Elinor Levin thank you guys for all the support you have given me! Now, without further adieu, I present to you the top 5 running backs in next year's draft.

1.) De'Anthony Thomas, University of Oregon*. This year's draft class was a historically weak class for the running back position, with none being taken in the first round for the first time in over 40 years. In my opinion, next year's class isn't much stronger than this one. Running back is quickly becoming one of the most overlooked and under-developed positions in the NFL. If three of these guys are selected in the first round, I will be shocked. That being said, I think that Thomas is by far the top of the class. He's had a pretty good first two years splitting time with Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James. Now it's Thomas' turn to show what he can do as a featured back. If he can expand on what he was able to do the last two seasons, he should be the first running back off the board next April.

2.) Ka'Deem Carey, University of Arizona*. Carey isn't far behind Thomas for the top spot in this class. He took the college football landscape by storm last year, coming from relative obscurity to lead the nation with nearly 2,000 yards while maintaining a 6.4 yards per carry average. Though Carey does not possess ideal size, if he is able to add 10lbs or so to his frame and maintain his quickness, he may make a strong case for leapfroging Thomas into the number one position.

3.) Lache Seastrunk, University of Baylor*. Seastrunk possesses a bit more size than Carey does, so if Carey doesn't add the bulk that he needs to, Seastrunk could easily surpass him. The top three running backs in this class. With the departures RGIII, Nick Florence, Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, Seastrunk should be the number one option for the Baylor Bears. With 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns (including 843 in the final six games) last season as a second or third option, his numbers should increase significantly this season. If he improves upon his numbers from last season and reaches his own personal goal of winning the Heisman Trophy, he could easily become the number one guy on most people's boards. I have Seastrunk as the number 3 guy because he has a bit of a tendency to dance in the hole and not to just trust his instincts and run downhill.

4.) Damien Williams, University of Oklahoma. Much like Seastrunk at Baylor, Williams has been a second or third option in the past, but should finally get the chance to be the focal point of the Sooner's offense. At 5'11" and 215lbs, Williams has the best size of any running back in this class, and while he does have nice elusiveness and quickness for his size, he isn't quite as complete of a running back as the previously mentioned prospects.

5.) Silas Redd, University of Southern California*. In light of the scandal at Penn State revolving around former coach Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State running back decided to jump ship and transfer to USC. In his first season with the Trojans, Redd amassed 905 yards and nine touchdowns. In his previous season at Penn State, Redd ran for 1,200+ yards and seven touchdown, so Redd does have the potential to be a successful running back. The knock on Redd comes when you look at his receiving ability. He doesn't catch the ball often out of the backfield, and at the next level he's going to be asked to do that. Until he can display this ability, he can't be rated any higher. If he does though, he may leapfrog over Williams.

There you have it folks, the top 5 running back prospects in next year's draft. Four out of the five are underclassmen, which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to running backs. It's a position that gets beat up a lot, so they have to get their money when they can. Tomorrow I'll look at the top 5 wide receivers. Come back tomorrow to see who is ranked and where!