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!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

2014 Draft Class Preview: Quarterbacks

It's been a little over a week since the 2013 NFL Draft ended, and it's never too early to start looking ahead. Today, in the first of my six part series looking at the top 2014 NFL Draft prospects, I'm going to start at the most important position on the field, the quarterback. The class of quarterbacks in this years draft was disappointing to say the least, with only one going in the first round, and by all accounts he shouldn't have been drafted that high. The 2014 class, however, should be considerably better, especially if underclassmen decide to declare. Without further adieu, let's begin:

1.) Teddy Bridgewater, University of Louisville*. Bridgewater is only a junior this season, but he headlines a class of quarterbacks who, although stronger than this years class, is in my eyes pretty weak. By all accounts, he is NFL ready and will almost certainly declare for the draft. Despite being an athletic quarterback, Bridgewater is also an accomplished pocket passer and should be a good fit for any system, whether it be the read option that is sweeping the NFL lately or a more conventional, pocket passing system.

2.) Tajh Boyd, Clemson University. It was thought that Boyd would declare himself eligible for this years draft, as he also seems ready for the NFL game. After a disappointing junior campaign, Boyd decided to go against the conventional thought and decided to come back for his senior season. This is a great choice for Boyd, as he probably would have been the fourth or fifth selection at his position in this draft after such a disappointing season. By choosing to come back, Boyd will give himself the chance to redeem himself and answer some of the questions that remain about him. I anticipate him answering these questions in a resounding manner and pushing Bridgewater for the top of this class.

3.) David Fales, San Jose State University. Not much is known about this small school kid. He started last season for San Jose State after transferring from the junior college level. Fales is a conventional quarteback with ideal size and a cannon for an arm. After watching some tape on this kid, I fully expect him to be in the discussion with Boyd and Bridgewater, assuming that he can reproduce and improve upon the successes of his first season with the Spartans. 3,800 yards, 31 touchdowns and a 73% completion percentage is a pretty good start to his quest to prove that you don't have to come from a powerhouse school to succeed as a quarterback at the next level. 

4.) Aaron Murray, Georgia University. When focused and playing up to his potential, Murray is the best quarterback in this class. He has all the physical tools necessary to be a Heisman trophy winner (which is a possibility for Murray this season) and a top 10 pick in the draft. Murray's problem is that he struggles with consistency. Murray reminds me a lot of Tyler Bray in this respect, a kid who is immensely talented, but doesn't always look like he's into the game. Murray has a strong arm and is more athletic in the pocket than people give him credit for, and if he can work on his poise and concentration in big games and situations, he should end up higher on this list.

5.) A.J. McCarron, Alabama University. McCarron is a guy that I don't see making much of an impact at the next level. He's a natural born leader and has had a lot of success at the college level, but I'm not sure that his game translates well to the next level. I think he's more in the mold of Tim Tebow in that respect, though he has a much more NFL caliber game than Tebow does. The reason I have decided to put McCarron on this list ahead of some other notable quarterbacks (Logan Thomas being the most obvious one) is simple. Two championships in three years with a chance to make it three in four years has to earn you some respect. I don't care how much your game doesn't translate to the next level, if you have a winning pedigree like that, you're going to be looked at by some NFL clubs. I guarantee you will see McCarron at the next level, but most likely as a backup who the crowd chimes for every time the starter makes a mistake.

Tomorrow I'll be taking a look at who I think are the top 5 Running Backs for the 2014 draft. Come back tomorrow and every day this week!

Monday, May 6, 2013

A League of His Own

LeBron James joined elite company today, winning his fourth MVP award. James joins a list comprised of arguably the four greatest players in NBA history. Only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan have equaled the feat that James accomplished today. Only Russell and James have won four in five years. While Chamberlain, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, and Jordan are arguably the four greatest players of all time (I would listen to the argument for Oscar Robertson, but that's about it), it begs the question: Does James deserve to be talked about in the same class?

The NBA is a game that is all about championships. One player can so dominate a game that you have to win multiple championships to be considered among the all-time greats. Assuming that James seals the deal this year and wins his second championship, I think he absolutely belongs in the same class as the previously mentioned four, and here's why. James is one of the greatest all-around players that the NBA has ever seen. Let's look at scoring: James averages 27 points per game, which is more than Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, and Russell. This number is also only 3 points per game behind Chamberlain. Not only that, but it's nearly double the points per game that Russell put up in his career.

Now, let's take a look at what makes James not only a scorer, but an all-around player. James averages more assists per game (6.9) than any other player on this list. Michael Jordan is generally considered the best player in NBA history, but consider this: James averages more than one assist per game more than Jordan did over the course of his career. His assists per game average is also better than Russell and Chamberlain by two assists per game and better than Abdul-Jabbar by three per game. When it comes to rebounding, which didn't become an official stat until the 1973-74 season, James is better than Jordan again by more than one rebound per game and trails Abdul-Jabbar by only 0.6 per game (though it should be noted that Russell and Chamberlain played before rebounds were official, otherwise they would be far and away better than James, but I have to go with what I'm given).

"But Chris," you say, "what about championships?!" James will, assuming his team gets it done this year, have two championships under his belt, which is four behind Jordan and seven behind Russell. Let's forget Russell for now. No one is ever going to equal eleven championships and it's unfair for us to base our argument solely upon that number. But it is a fair question. I would argue that James' other stats makes up for his lack of championships. Everyone considers Chamberlain in this discussion, but he only won two championships in his career as well. I am of the opinion that James having the edge on Jordan in rebounds and assists per game has to have the same weight in this discussion as at least two of Jordan's championships. Jordan was also surrounded by better talent in his career than James has been. While much is made of the "Big 3" that James plays with, they are nothing when compared to the big 3 that Jordan played with. Scottie Pippen is one of the 50 greatest players of all time and possibly the best "wing man" to ever play. Dennis Rodman was a better rebounder than anyone in the game today and miles ahead of Chris Bosh. I feel like this discrepancy in talent needs to nullify at one more of Jordan's rings.

By every statistical measure, LeBron James belongs in the discussion as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. If you're looking at the statistics without a bias, you can even come to the conclusion that, despite not having the amount of titles as some on the list, he belongs at the top. Do I think he's there yet? No, but the case can be made.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tyson Clabo

The Miami Dolphins have signed veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo today, in a move that all but ensures that they are going to line up on opening day with Johnathan Martin penciled in as the starter on the left side. Clabo is a very serviceable option at the right tackle position, ranking fifth among all right tackles last season according to the rankings site Pro Football Focus. Clabo was ranked as the seventh right tackle in pass blocking and tenth in run blocking. Tyson has been fairly consistent in his performance too, ranking fifth in pass blocking and thirteenth in run blocking the year before in 2011.

The addition of Clabo to the right side of the line should not only bring in some much needed stability and depth, but also some quality, veteran leadership. Coming from the Atlanta Falcons, Clabo has a history of winning. With management seeming to be "all-in" this season, adding a veteran presence such as Clabo should be invaluable when it comes to teaching these guys what it means to be a winner. Miami hasn't had a playoff win since the days of Dan Marino, so Clabo's (along with Mike Wallace who came over from the Steelers) past successes should go a long way in teaching the rest of the guys how to handle success. I still think that Miami needs to do something to address the left side of the line (though with the addition of Clabo, it allows draft pick Dallas Thomas to compete with Martin for the job), but if we went into the season with this starting line up, I would be confident that things are looking up in South Beach.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Don Jones

With Miami having traded away their pick in the sixth round, they made their final selection of 2013 in the seventh round. The final Dolphin to be added to the roster was the athletic corner/safety from Arkansas State, Don Jones. Despite possessing rare athleticism, Jones will most likely struggle to make the roster, needing to really shine on special teams if he wants to stick around. Let's take a look at the last man in our recap of the draft.

What he does well: When you watch any tape on Jones (and, being from Arkansas State, there isn't much), two things stand out to me right away. His athleticism and his aggressiveness. At his pro day, Jones exhibited his athletic ability, running the 40 yard dash in 4.41 seconds, putting up a mark of 10' 7" in the broad jump and leaping 42" in the vertical jump. This athleticism, along with his size (5'11" 190lbs) showcases the fact that Jones, despite being from a relatively unknown school, has the physical tools to play his position at the next level. When watching his tape, you see that Jones makes decisions quickly and doesn't over-think situations. He sees what he sees and attacks. He's very aggressive in both the pass game and the run game, and is not afraid to stick his nose in there and hit someone.

What he needs to improve: Along with the aggressiveness comes the possibility of being out of position. From the little film that I've watched on the guy, he seems to be out of position quite often. He's aggressive almost to a fault, running past the ball carrier or right into where the blocker wants him to go, completely taking himself out of position to make a play.

Where he fits: If Jones is going to make the team this season, it's most likely going to be as a special teams player, most likely in the gunner position on punts. Miami has drafted several DB's as well as already having several on the roster and it is very unlikely that a seventh round pick from the Sun Belt conference is going to be able to unseat one of those veterans in his rookie season. If Jones is able to showcase his abilities in the special teams game, he should be able to stick around, possibly long enough to further learn the safety position and potentially make the team in the future not only as a special teamer, but as a full blown safety.

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Well, that's it folks, my look into the Miami Dolphins draft class has come to an end. All in all, it was a very successful draft for us, despite almost completely ignoring our biggest problem area. The need for a left tackle to protect Tannehill's blindside is still something that needs to be addressed, and the fact that they didn't do so in the draft is the reason that I can't give Miami any higher grade than a B on this draft class. Though you never really know about a draft class until three to four years after, so this may turn out to be a much better draft than we initially thought.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Gillislee and Sturgis

With two picks in the fifth round (I'm sensing a theme here), the Miami Dolphins chose to plug two more holes, this time at Running Back and Kicker. Yes guys, kickers are people too. With the addition of these two, Miami has added depth at a critical position, giving Lamar Miller competition for the back-up/third down back role behind Daniel Thomas. The acquisition of Sturgis should allow Miami to part ways with current kicker Dan Carpenter, a move that will save the Dolphins nearly $3 million in salary cap space. Let's take a look at both former Gators.

What they do well: Gillislee is big enough (5'8" and 206lbs) to handle being a featured back in the NFL, with a size adequate enough to take a beating and power the ball through the line of scrimmage. However, he is also agile enough to come in off the bench as a quick, change-of-pace back. This dual threat potential is something that has been absent in Miami since Ricky Williams discovered marijuana. Gillislee is also a capable blocker in the backfield, which is essential to any running back wanting to see significant playing time. As for Sturgis, there's not much breakdown to be done on a kicker, either you can kick the ball or you can't. This kid definitely can. During his three healthy years at Florida, Sturgis connected on 81% of his field goals, including 8 of 13 from 50+ yards and a career long of 56 yards.

Where they need to improve: Sturgis is the easiest to address here, he needs to work on his touchback percentages. He improved last year, raising his touchback percentage from 17 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2012. While this is a significant improvement, he still has a long way to go to be where he needs to be at the next level. As for Gillislee, he has a tendency to be unsure what to do with the ball once he gets it. He's not a decisive runner, opting to dance and wait for a hole to open up instead of just trusting his instincts and hitting the hole right away with confidence in his line to do what they are supposed to. In the blocking game, Gillislee will occasionally go in for a cut-block too early, allowing the defender an opportunity to adjust and avoid the block. He will also occasionally carry the ball in the wrong arm, which just invites a defender to come in and cause a fumble.

Where they fit: I fully expect Sturgis to be our kicker come week 1, beating out Dan Carpenter in training camp and allowing us to cut Carpenter. That move would save us $3 million in salary cap space, which will afford us more room to address some of our expiring contracts next year. There are several key players whose contracts will need to be addressed in the next off-season and Miami will need as much cap space as they can get. I also fully expect Gillislee to beat out Daniel Thomas for the back-up running back position, possibly leading to his release as well. Thomas has been nothing but a disappointment since he arrived in Miami and I think we're looking to move on from him.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dion Sims

With today's post, we're going to look at the latter of Miami's two fourth round selections. Having some questions along the offensive line and with no offensive tackles left on the board worth picking, Miami chose to select a predominantly blocking tight end in Michigan State's Dion Sims. Coming from the Big 10 conference, Sims is well versed in what it means to block in a rush-first style of offense. That's what they do in the Big 10, and that experience should be a help to whomever Miami decides is the answer to their gaping hole at left tackle. Let's take a look at Sims.

What he does well: First and foremost, Sims is a blocking tight end. Le'Veon Bell was a huge part of the Spartan offense, and he would not have been able to perform were it not for the blocking skills of Sims. At 6'5" and 260lbs, Sims is a mountain of a man who, once he's on a block, will stick to his man like glue and is very difficult to shake. Sims also, surprisingly, possesses some pretty quick feet given his massive frame. This allows him to get into position for the blocks and stay there without fumbling over his feet, wondering where they might be. His size is not only an asset in blocking, but also in the passing game. Sims is a huge target in the red-zone and knows how to use his body to shield defenders from the ball. Sims also has huge, soft hands which allows him to catch the ball with ease and get his hands around the ball to keep defenders from being able to knock it free.

Where he needs to improve: Being such a large man, Sims isn't the most agile individual. This leads to him having difficulties adjusting to bring in difficult catches. Sims doesn't flip his hips very smoothly and can get caught in bad positions if the throw is off the mark slightly. Despite his extensive experience, he will occasionally fail to get his hands in the correct position when asked to block, ending up with his hands outside the frame of the lineman instead of inside. This can lead to being called for holding during a pivotal moment in a game and is something that his coaches will drill into him, I have no doubt.  

Where he fits: Sims will be listed as the second-string tight end, but make no mistake about it, this kid will be used extensively. Today's NFL utilizes two tight end sets far more often than it did even five years ago, so you may as well say he's a starter. It's rare that you find a guy in the fourth round who is going to be a week 1 starter, but with Sims' blocking abilities, I expect just that from him. Obviously he's not going to leapfrog Keller on the depth chart, but I expect to see both on the field most of the time, with Sims lined up on the left side to assist in protecting Ryan Tannehill's blindside.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jelani Jenkins

We are halfway through our in-depth look at the 2013 Miami Dolphins draft class. The next man up is the first of Miami's two fourth round selections, former Florida Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins. Jenkins possesses some qualities that are quite rare for a man at his position, but he does have quite a few concerns too. Let's take a look at his breakdown.

What he does well: Jenkins possesses rare speed for a linebacker. When healthy at the University of Florida, Jenkins was asked on many occasions to split out and cover a tight end or wide receiver. This is something he excelled at, as he has the speed and agility to maintain coverage on even the smaller, speedy slot receivers. He is also very fluid in his movements for a linebacker, possessing a rare (for his position) ability to flip his hips smoothly and run with whomever he is asked to cover. This ability will make him valuable at the next level, as it is rare these days to find a linebacker with the ability to stick with his man consistently in coverage. When healthy, Jenkins is also very adequate in his blitzing and tackling abilities. He tallied 151 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss (a tackle on a ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage), and 4 sacks in his two fully healthy seasons as a Gator.

What he needs to improve: For all his athleticism, Jenkins does not possess ideal size for a linebacker. At only 6' and 32" arm length, Jenkins has a tendency to get held up on blocks. He doesn't always use his hands well to fight of interior linemen and once they get inside position, Jenkins struggles to get off the block and get to the ball carrier. There are also significant medical concerns with Jenkins, as he was forced to redshirt his freshman season after playing in just two games. He also missed significant time this past season with injuries. In total, Jenkins has had a lingering hamstring issue as well as a surgery on his left foot and one on his left hand.

Where he fits: If Jenkins is healthy, there is no doubt in my mind that he is a very talented linebacker. Had he not had the medical issues at Florida, I would have projected him as a second round prospect. Assuming that Jenkins is healthy and his medical issues are in the past, his versatility as an athlete should guarantee that he makes the roster. I'm not sure that he'll amount to anything more than a special teams player in his rookie season, but if he comes into camp healthy and impresses the coaching staff, I wouldn't be surprised to see him push Koa Misi for the starting strongside linebacker position, though his natural position is over on the weakside.

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