Articles By All
If you are an NFL Draft geek like me, you've read every mock draft out there. You know who is going where and in what round. It's all written in stone, right?
You know that's not the case.
The exercise of trying to predict how the NFL Draft will unfold is — for all intents and purposes — useless. Nobody knows how it's going to go. The only group of people who can, without a doubt, project any one pick during the 2016 NFL Draft will be sitting in the Los Angeles Rams war room. After that, it's a crapshoot.
That leaves the door open for the outrageous to occur. Here is my best attempt at predicting some of it during the first round on Thursday night.
Outrageous Predictions for the 2016 NFL Draft
Cleveland trades back up for Joey Bosa
San Diego has no idea what to do at No. 3. The Chargers need so much in so many places. Look for the Browns to offer to swap picks and sweeten the pot with a later pick in order to move up and draft the new face of their franchise. They can get a quarterback on Day 2.
Dallas grabs Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4
Jerry Jones wants what he wants, and he's seen Zeke Elliott do work at AT&T Stadium in the past. The Cowboys grabbed Alfred Morris to bolster the run game, but Elliott would give them the electric game-changer that they haven't had at the position since Emmitt Smith left.
Chip Kelly reaches for a quarterback at No. 7
Paxton Lynch is mobile, with quick feet and a quick trigger. He can see the whole field at all times and can make quick decisions. That, combined with his swagger make him the perfect fit for Kelly's offense in San Francisco.
The Raiders draft Derrick Henry
Oakland hit the jackpot with a skill player from Alabama a season ago. Now, with no glaring needs to fill, the Raiders can afford to go after luxuries. Being able to take a lead into the fourth quarter and pound out a win by handing the ball to two big backs like Henry and Latavius Murray would make them even more difficult to beat than many already think they will be.
New England trades into the first round to draft Christian Hackenberg
There are rumors that the Bills have their eyes on the Penn State signal caller and former Bill O'Brien pupil. There are also rumors that New England could trade back into the first round. The Patriots can kill two birds with one stone by leapfrogging Buffalo for Hackenberg. For starters, it's always nice to get one over on Rex Ryan. Additionally, they'll have a raw talent who is already somewhat familiar with New England's style thanks to his time with O'Brien. Tom Brady's reinstated four-game suspension will serve as a showcase for Jimmy Garrapolo, leading Belichick to get a quarterback-starved franchise to overpay for him. That would leave Hackenberg as Brady's understudy.
Denver does nothing and still has its next franchise quarterback fall into its lap
John Elway is over Colin Kaepernick. Look for Denver to sit tight at No. 31 and let Connor Cook — a player whose skill set fits perfectly with Denver's offense — fall to its spot. There is enough talent around Cook at the skill positions for him to step in, be comfortable and be a viable starter immediately.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the owner of KnowItAllFootball.com and host of "Raising the Bar" on RadiOmaha.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
Skip Bayless is leaving ESPN, so let's take a moment to reminisce about some of his greatest moments on Twitter.
First off, Bayless doesn't follow anyone on Twitter so it just shows that he just loves to share his thoughts with others but not hear what they have to say. He sometimes comes off as a know-it-all that doesn't really know it all.
Here are just a few of the best moments of Bayless being incorrect on Twitter. Scroll through and remember the times you've been wrong. We've all been there.
We'll never forget you, Skip.
Skip Bayless is the latest ESPN bird to fly the coop.
The "First Take" host is leaving the worldwide leader according to statement by ESPN. He will make his exit once his contract ends in August.
"Skip Bayless has decided to leave ESPN when his contract expires at the end of August. His final appearance on First Take will be the day after the NBA Finals conclude. We want to thank Skip for his many contributions to ESPN. His hard work and talent have benefited ESPN for 12 years."
After the exit announcement of Mike Tirico, many are wondering what is going on in Bristol? Whatever it is, you can be sure Fox Sports is trying to scoop up its leftovers.
Unlucky in love... or at least on Tinder? Rob Gronkowski is here to help.
The Patriots tight end is here to give his best dating app advice. Pull out the pen and paper because when it comes to Tinder, the popular dating app, Gronk has a wide array of knowledge.
"I was matching like crazy!" Gronk told ESPN. "You're not killing it? You're not doing it right. Swipe right on everything. Get the ball rolling. Make them laugh. Just Google 'Tinder pickup lines.'"
That's not exactly the worst advice. If you're on Tinder, you'd know it's home of the worst opening lines ever. Plus once you finally land a date, it'll be up to you to impress with killer dance moves like these.
NBA players can't afford to miss free throws these days because even the teams' twitter accounts are vicious.
Clippers star DeAndre Jordan found that out the hard way when he airballed two free throws against the Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the NBA playoffs.
Our staff is currently looking into the wind issue inside the arena. Should have a report soon. pic.twitter.com/o49RHmY7ZT— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 26, 2016
Being a woman in sports isn't easy. The website Just Not Sports is here to show just how difficult it is.
There are a lot of horrible things said to women in sports on social media, but rarely is it ever said in front of them. This video puts ESPN's Sarah Spain and SI's Julie DiCaro in front of men who are forced to read a small number of horrible things tweeted to them on a regular basis.
Utah has developed a reputation for churning out NFL talent — especially on defense — under head coach Kyle Whittingham. A total of 25 former Utes are currently on NFL team rosters. Several Utah standouts from last season will join that group when the 2016 NFL Draft gets underway on April 28.
Which former Utah players will hear their names called as draft selections in 2016? Here's a breakdown of the Utes most likely to go in one of the seven rounds:
Devontae Booker, RB
Few players can rival what Booker did in his two-year stint at Utah. He was one of only three players in school history to compile a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons during his career. Booker set a school record with a career rushing average of 120.6 yards per game. He was an All-Pac-12 first-team honoree in 2014 and an All-Pac-12 second-team selection in ‘15.
Booker packs a punch (5-11, 219) as a runner. He stays low and uses his strength to plow through tackles and create extra yards after contact. Booker's top strength as a runner is his vision. He has enough patience to let holes develop and can burst through the line of scrimmage once a seam opens. With his ability to run smart and get tough yards, Booker should quickly become a fixture in an NFL team's backfield.
NFL Draft projection: 2nd round
Jason Fanaika, DE
Fanaika emerged as a strong-side playmaker for Utah over the past two seasons. He totaled 20 tackles for a loss and nine sacks over his junior and senior years with the Utes. Fanaika also forced a pair of fumbles as a senior — finishing as a team co-leader in that category.
Fanaika (6-2, 271) is the complete package as a pass rusher. His closing speed in the open field is top notch. He is also smart in how he defends plays, with enough awareness to get in the right position to make a consistent impact. Fanaika's athleticism and foot speed is average compared to some prospects, but he makes up for it with great anticipation and strength.
NFL Draft projection: Late 3rd or early 4th round
Tom Hackett, P
It's rare to see a punter get selected in the NFL Draft, but Hackett will likely be an exception to that rule. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner made his mark as a powerful punter — especially during his final two seasons with the Utes. Hackett averaged 46.7 yards per punt as a junior and 47.95 as a senior. He tallied 65 punts of 50-plus yards and four punts of 70-plus yards during his time in Salt Lake City.
Hackett's accuracy sets him apart from the typical college punter. He never had a punt blocked while at Utah and showed an ability to execute punts consistently both in traditional formations and rugby style. He seems like a safe bet to be picked up in one of the middle rounds.
NFL Draft projection: Late 4th or early 5th round
Jared Norris, LB
There's no question that Norris left a major mark on Utah's defense over his final two seasons. Norris enjoyed a breakout junior season, totaling 116 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and four sacks. He followed up with 87 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack as a senior. During his Utah career, Norris had 11 games with 10 or more tackles.
Norris put his stamp on Utah's defense with his superior instincts. He has a knack for identifying plays quickly and putting himself in the right spots. Norris takes aggressive angles to the ball and has plenty of lateral quickness to disrupt plays. He is an efficient and reliable tackler who hits hard and can bring down a ball carrier without yielding significant yards after contact. There are some concerns about his, size (6-1, 241), playing strength and agility, but not enough to keep him off an NFL roster.
NFL Draft projection: Late 5th or early 6th round
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
Nebraska is a school rich with tradition and putting players into the NFL is most definitely a part of it. In fact, over the past 53 years, more than one Cornhusker has heard his named called in every NFL Draft. Four have a chance to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps, but who can truly be counted on to extend this streak?
Andy Janovich, FB
While Kansas State’s Glenn Gronkowski and Northwestern’s "Superback" Dan Vitale may get the spotlight as fullbacks, Janovich (6-1, 238) shouldn’t be shunned. Having tied Vitale’s 30 repetitions on the bench press, Janovich was only properly used by no-longer-rookie Nebraska head coach Mike Riley.
That said, it’s impossible not to notice how much of an effect Janovich can have on special teams alone and his dedication to improve is noteworthy. If selected, he likely goes in the sixth round at best, seventh if a team’s looking for a steal. However, even if he’s not drafted, his phone will blow up and he most definitely will make an NFL roster.
Alex Lewis, OT
Lewis’ tenure as a Cornhusker was a mixed bag at best. He was the best thing Nebraska had going for it at left tackle and as such, the Big Red was forced to put up with multiple false start and personal foul penalties. This didn’t go unnoticed by scouts.
One that spoke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said, “The character concerns are legitimate. Another countered with, "That guy is the sleeper left tackle of the draft. He could move inside to guard. He's being overlooked, I think."
Lewis is a player that should get drafted on measurables (6-6, 312) alone despite the red flags. Don’t expect him to go high, but do expect him to be plucked off the board by the sixth round.
Maliek Collins, DT
In a regular draft class, Collins (6-2, 311) has an excellent shot of going in the second round. Unfortunately, this class is as thick as molasses with quality defensive tackles.
While that may cost Collins some money up front, an organization will surely invest in a second-round NFL talent and keep him happy in the interim. That might improve his checking account later down the road if he holds up and proves his worth.
One NFL scout said of Collins, “He didn’t have as good a year as he could have had. He has yet to live up to his measurables and consistently harass the quarterback. Not an underachiever. He just seemed a little bit lost.”
Look for the former Blackshirt to be off the board by the time the third round concludes.
Vincent Valentine, DT
Valentine (6-4, 329) faces the same problem that Collins does in terms of a deep defensive line class, but he made things worse by not declaring earlier and getting right to work with professionals as his fellow Blackshirt did. As a result, even his official NFL Draft bio states, “Valentine needs to carry more ‘good weight’ and commit to the work that has to be done leading up to the game.”
Additionally, NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt noted that Valentine "did get a little tired toward [the workout's] conclusion” during Nebraska’s March 4 Pro Day. It certainly doesn’t help that he could only put the bar up 17 times when benching.
With this class, Valentine should thank his lucky stars if he gets drafted, which isn’t a sure thing.
Mark Cuban isn't exactly everyone's favorite NBA owner.
The outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks said Russell Westbrook was an "all-star but not a superstar" before Game 5 against the Thunder. Cuban went on to say Kevin Durant was the only superstar on the team.
After Mavericks were eliminated, Durant had some choice words for Cuban.
Thunder's Kevin Durant responds to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban saying Russell Westbrook isn't a "superstar" pic.twitter.com/6jPw9WktV0— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 26, 2016
Although Westbrook didn't say anything about Cuban, Charlie Villanueva was a different story. The Mavs player has a reputation for trying to ruin Westbrook's fun and he couldn't help but to take a shot at him.
Russ & KD ethered Charlie Villanueva pic.twitter.com/xVsQqKS7pe— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) April 26, 2016
The 2016 NFL Draft hasn’t even started and everyone is already determining which team won or lost in the trades involving the top two picks. From a historical standpoint, Tennessee and Cleveland appear to be in the driver’s seat in that respect, but hope is not lost for Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
In fact, it’s not out of the question that all four teams end up benefitting from these bold moves. Here are three blockbuster trades involving NFL Draft picks in which both teams ended up happy with the moves they made.
3. The Oilers Trade up to Become the “Earlers” (1978)
Former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer once said the only player he felt could have gone straight from high school to the NFL was Earl Campbell. He was too good a player to pass up in the draft, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had only had two wins in their first two seasons in the league. They did not need one player. They needed a team. So they traded the top pick in the 1978 draft to the Houston Oilers for their first- and second-round picks, their third- and fifth-round selections in ’79 and tight end Jimmie Giles.
Oilers Players Drafted
- Earl Campbell, RB, Texas (1st Round, 1978)
Buccaneers Players Acquired Via Trade or Draft
- Jimmie Giles, TE
- Doug Williams, QB, Grambling State (1st Round, 1978)
- Brett Moritz, G, Nebraska (2nd Round, 1978)
- Reggie P. Lewis, DE, North Texas (3rd Round, 1979)
- Chuck Fusina, QB, Penn State (5th Round, 1979)
Outcome: Both teams made their respective conference championship games in 1979, which was an amazing turnaround for Tampa Bay. Campbell immediately became the centerpiece of Houston’s offense, earning the team the nickname the “Earlers.” His play during his seven seasons with Houston put him in the Hall of Fame. Tampa Bay did not draft a player of Campbell’s caliber, but the trade helped them build their franchise.
Williams led the Bucs to the playoffs in the three of the four years he was the full-time starter before leaving to play in the USFL after the 1982 season. Fusina was Williams’ backup before he too left for the USFL after the 1981 season. Giles made the Pro Bowl four times in nine seasons with Tampa Bay and is in the Buccaneers Ring of Honor. Lewis played just two seasons with Tampa Bay, Moritz one.
2. The Falcons Move up to Draft Michael Vick (2001)
Coming out of Virginia Tech, quarterback Michael Vick was a one-of-a-kind athlete and the Falcons wanted him. To get him, they traded their first- and third-round picks in the 2001 draft, their second-rounder in ’02 and kick returner Tim Dwight to the Chargers to move up to the top spot.
Falcons Players Drafted
- Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (1st Round, 2001)
Chargers Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Tim Dwight, KR
- LaDanian Tomlinson, RB, TCU (1st Round, 2001)
- Tay Cody, CB, Florida State (3rd Round, 2001)
- Reche Caldwell, WR, Florida (2nd Round, 2002)
Outcome: In Atlanta, Vick made the Pro Bowl three times and led the Falcons to two playoff appearances. While his career there was cut short due to imprisonment for running a dog-fighting ring, the Falcons made a great move in drafting him. This trade makes the list simply because the Chargers drafted a future Hall of Famer in Tomlinson, as they got limited production from the other pieces in the trade. Dwight handled return duties for San Diego for four seasons before signing with New England as a free agent in 2005. Cody had a solid rookie season but then played sparingly before being cut by the Chargers during the 2003 season. Caldwell caught 76 passes in four seasons with the Chargers before being released in 2005.
1. Eli Manning is Traded for Philip Rivers (2004)
In 2004, San Diego had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and were looking to take Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning. The only problem was that Eli’s father, Archie Manning, did not want his son playing for a franchise that he felt was poorly managed and had a run-oriented offense. The Chargers drafted him anyway. Three picks later, the New York Giants drafted Philip Rivers and the two teams cut a deal. Manning went to New York and Rivers went to San Diego, along with the Giants’ third-round pick in the 2004 draft and first- and fifth-round picks in ‘05.
Giants Players Acquired Via Trade
- Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss
Chargers Players Acquired Via Trade or Draft
- Philip Rivers, QB, NC State
- Roman Oben, OT
- Nate Kaeding, K, Iowa (3rd Round, 2004)
- Shawne Merriman, LB, Maryland (1st Round, 2005)
Outcome: Manning has become the franchise quarterback Giants fans were hoping he would be, having already led the team to two Super Bowl victories. The Chargers also got their franchise quarterback in Rivers and solid contributions from the other pieces.
Rivers became the starting quarterback in 2006 and has not relinquished the job. He has been named to the Pro Bowl six times and has led the Chargers to the playoffs five times in 10 seasons as the starter. Kaeding played nine seasons for the Chargers before finishing his career with the Miami Dolphins in 2012. He is the currently the sixth-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. The only real blemish on his career was that he missed almost half his field goal attempts in the playoffs. Oben, who was acquired from the Buccaneers in 2004 for the 2005 fifth-round pick the Chargers got from the Giants, started all 16 games his first season in San Diego. Injuries limited him over the final three years of career before he retired at the end of the 2007 season. Merriman was an All-Pro his first three seasons in the league, a span in which he racked up 39.5 sacks. Injuries and substance abuse issues diminished the remainder of his career and the Chargers released him during the 2010 season.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Eli Manning/Philip Rivers, Michael Vick photos courtesy of Getty Images)
Your move, Tom Brady.
The legal battle over the New England Patriots quarterback’s four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate controversy took another turn Monday when the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled by 2-to-1 in favor of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s initial penalty.
Brady won an appeal before the 2015 season when Judge Richard Berman threw out the suspension in federal trial court, but the league appealed that decision.
The panel of judges stated that the Goodell “properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness.”
Fair or not, Brady now has to decide whether or not it’s prudent to take this case any further, where he could seek a full panel review of the court or even to the U.S. Supreme Court.
To this point in the process, he’s shown the willingness to fight this battle to the brink.
In the larger sense, the ruling handed down is a huge defeat to the NFL Players’ Association moving forward. In essence, the decision only strengthens Goodell’s power in the current collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2020.
"The Commissioner was authorized to impose discipline for, among other things, ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence, in the game of professional football,’” wrote Judge Barrington D. Parker. “In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitrations challenging his discipline. Although this tripartite regime may appear somewhat unorthodox, it is the regime bargained for and agreed upon by the parties, which we can only presume they determined was mutually satisfactory.
"Our review of the record yields the firm conclusion that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the League and a player."
In other words, when it comes to disciplinary actions in the NFL, Goodell’s overriding power was agreed to in the current CBA, so his “broad discretion,” as Parker put it, is what the players will have to deal with from now on.
Without question, the NFLPA will therefore want Brady to pursue an appeal, but whether or not the legendary signal-caller actually wants to extend this any further is up for debate. This saga is now into its 16th month, and maybe Brady feels like the best thing now is to cut his losses and move on.
If he does, the four games backup Jimmy Garoppolo will likely start are a road trip to the Arizona Cardinals and home games with the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills. It’s a manageable slate, and perhaps Brady can live with sitting it out.
Perhaps, but if we’ve learned anything from how this has played out to this point, the safer bet is this is long from over.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.
We now know exactly what was said by Russell Westbrook in Game 4 against the Mavericks.
The Thunder point guard was caught on video talking to a fan, telling him to sit there and "shut the f— up." The NBA fined him $25,000 soon after.
Warning: This video contains NSFW language.
Here is the video (uncensored) of Russell Westbrook telling Mavs fan and his wife to "f*** off" pic.twitter.com/HsY9JPsin3— Brian Dameris (@bdameris) April 25, 2016
One of the most recognizable voices of ESPN is heading out the door.
According to Sports Business Daily's John Ourand, Mike Tirico is leaving the worldwide leader for NBC. He has been with the company since 1991, but all good things must come to an end.
SBD: Mike Tirico is leaving ESPN for NBC. https://t.co/lJ6rKI3P3g— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) April 25, 2016
Tirico is most-well known as half of ESPN's Monday Night Football tandem with Jon Gruden. He also does play-by-play for the NBA Playoffs and will continue to do so until they finish up this season. Tirico is expected to call some of NBC's Thursday Night Football games going forward.
It will be interesting to see who ESPN attempts to fill Tirico's spot with, but so far they remain mum on the situation.
ESPN has declined comment on the @sbjsbd story on Mike Tirico leaving for NBC Sports.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) April 25, 2016
The Steelers will be happy when Le'Veon Bell gets back on the field.
Until that time, the running back is working on his dunking skills. Bell tweeted a video of him getting up for a dunk after a few months away from the game of football due to a knee injury.
LeBron James Jr. has some big shoes to fill.
The 11-year-old is already well on his way to doing so. The son of NBA star LeBron James is tearing things up on the court, reminiscent of his father. Future NBA players better watch out.
It's still unknown if Tom Brady will vote for Trump, but the presidential candidate is making a push for it.
During his rally in Rhode Island, Trump started things off by making a proclamation to leave the Patriots quarterback alone. Of course this comes on the same day Brady's four-game suspension by the NFL was reinstated. Timing is everything.
Remember deflategate? Of course you do.
The case of the never-ending football story is back... and with a vengeance. The Patriots star's suspension has been reinstated by the U.S. Appeals court. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insisted Brady's punishment was deserved.
BREAKING: US Appeals court reinstates New England Patriots' Tom Brady's suspension over 'deflategate' - Reuters— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) April 25, 2016
Is this the end of the story as we know it?
Things deviated a little bit from the usual script for Utah in the 2016 edition of its annual Red-White Game. Once again, the defense stole the spotlight with trademark toughness and aggressiveness. Still, the offense showed enough flashes to offer hope that the Utes can take steps forward on that side of the ball this season.
What does Utah's spring game — a 14-7 victory for the White team over the Red team — mean ahead of fall camp? Here are five thoughts on what could be in store for the Utes going forward:
1. Nothing is settled in the QB battle
Junior college transfer Troy Williams missed most of spring camp with an injury, but he is widely seen as the front-runner to win the starting quarterback job in the fall. Such an outcome may not be as clear cut as it once was with how Tyler Huntley has progressed.
Huntley put together an impressive performance while quarterbacking the White team. The true freshman threw for 233 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-26 passing. He showed great arm strength with multiple passes going for 25 yards or longer. Huntley likely gained a slight edge on sophomore Brandon Cox, who threw for 146 yards on 17-of-31 passing.
“He looked poised and confident from start to finish,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, evaluating Huntley's performance.
For his part, Huntley is confident he has a shot to push Williams and maybe even earn a chance to start if he keeps progressing.
“I still make plays every day on a consistent basis, so I just got to keep doing my thing,” Huntley said. “This game just shows me that I can make a lot of plays in there and I can just build from there.”
2. Caleb Repp could be headed for a breakout season
After seeing limited action at tight end last season, Repp could carve out a much bigger role at receiver in 2016. Repp shined on Saturday, hauling in five catches for 96 yards. He had two receptions of 30 yards or longer, including a 36-yard strike from Huntley for the game's only touchdown pass.
At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Repp certainly has the size to create matchup problems for defense. He faces significant competition with Cory Butler-Byrd, Tyrone Smith, Raelon Singleton and Tim Patrick also in the mix at wide receiver. But Repp feels like his size will help him flourish in getting open and making plays.
“I'm bigger than most the guys out there, so it really helps me out there,” Repp said.
3. Dropped passes still a concern with receivers
Utah looked out-of-sync on offense throughout the first half of its spring game. Some of it could be credited to strong play from the defense. Some of the blame lay with sloppy play from the receivers. Several receivers dropped passes early and it took a while before things finally started clicking.
A total of 16 different receivers ended up catching passes between the two squads. Chad Hekking, a freshman tight end, led the way with 63 yards on seven catches. But the number of dropped passes to start is a concern given how much drops have plagued the Utah offense in recent seasons.
Whittingham feels like he has seen progress through the spring from the position group.
“We've got a lot accomplished,” Whittingham said. “We made a lot more plays on the outside with the wide receivers than we have in a long time and that's got to continue.”
4. Defensive line is stacked again
If anything is more certain in life than death and taxes, it might be Utah fielding a strong defensive line season after season. None of the starters played up front, but the Utes did not skip a beat. A total of 82 rushing yards on 29 carries were generated by the Red and White squads. Both quarterbacks felt tons of pressure even in a basic 4-3 defensive set.
Kendall Huey and Chris Hart had the top individual performances among the defensive linemen. Huey tallied five tackles, three tackles for a loss and three sacks for the White team. Hart had three tackles, one tackle for a loss and one sack for the Red team.
5. Linebackers making progress
Replacing playmakers like Gionni Paul and Jared Norris is critical for Utah's success this season. A pool of untested players are in the linebacker ranks for the Utes this season. Things are not settled going into fall camp and that is a position battle Whittingham wants to see settled long before the season opener against Southern Utah approaches.
Christian Drews and Jake Jackson both made a case for earning playing time at linebacker on Saturday. Drews totaled 10 tackles to lead the White team. Jackson had seven tackles to lead the Red team. Alex Whittingham and Justin Tatola also had strong games with Whittingham totaling six tackles and Tatola getting four tackles.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
Who doesn't love cute kids?
From Derrick Rose's son to Steph Curry's daughter, the NBA is crawling with adorable youngsters. Boston guard Isaiah Thomas felt it was his sons' time to shine and after beating the Hawks, the two little ones got a chance to join their dad for the post-game press conference.
With the 2016 NFL Draft quickly approaching, many analysts have done mock drafts, predicting which players will end up on which teams. Plenty of speculation has occurred, and the Rams and the Eagles have made moves to seemingly lock in the first two picks of the draft.
While it is clear that anything can happen and teams can certainly make a move to get to the spot they want to get the guy they want, it's not that easy. What is easy is coming up with a mix of fantasy and reality: creating a situation where the rookie may have the best chance at success. Here is a look at where the top offensive rookies may end up, and in some cases, where they ideally (in a fantasy owner's world) would land:
Jared Goff, QB
Goff is being touted as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft, and all signs point to the Los Angeles Rams taking him with the first pick. The Rams very clearly wanted the first pick, as they paid a big price to Titans to get it. Hopefully it pays off for Los Angeles. The main knock against Goff is accuracy. The problem with the Rams is while quarterback is certainly a need, Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt and Brian Quick are the team's top three wide receivers. No matter how good Goff is, he needs good receivers to help him out, and the Rams are lacking in that department. An ideal place for him would be somewhere like Denver. It's not going to happen, but it would be nice.
Carson Wentz, QB
If the Rams do, in fact, take Goff, that leaves the Eagles with Wentz at No. 2. Philadelphia does still have Sam Bradford, but Wentz may not be NFL-ready just yet. The Eagles are likely looking at taking Wentz to be their quarterback of the future and spend a year under Bradford, learning the system. It's not a bad plan as Wentz could certainly benefit from a year of experience in the NFL without the pressure of being the starter. If Philadelphia doesn't take him, another contender may be Cleveland, which also is in the hunt for a quarterback. The best fit for Wentz may actually be Philadelphia.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB
Elliott is the top running back in a draft that is lacking a lot of solid talent at the position, at least for the immediate future. He has the potential to be a three-down back, and he has proven he can handle a significant workload, at least at the college level. Rumors are that Elliott will end up in Miami (No. 13 overall pick), which seems like a decent fit. Lamar Miller is gone, and by the way the Dolphins have gone after other running backs, they are not trusting Jay Ajayi with a full workload. The worry here is how poorly they used Miller last year. But a new coaching staff has come in, and perhaps they will utilize a running back better. Ideally, Elliot will end up with a team that will use him as its feature back. It's possible Miami is that team, but somewhere like Dallas would be even better.
Derrick Henry, RB
The scouting reports on Henry all see him as a bigger back who can carry the load, but is more effective pushing his way through. He doesn't have good hands and would work best in an offense that also has a pass-catching option to come in and share the workload. While many teams appear to be all set with running back, a decent fit for him would be somewhere like San Francisco. He and injury-prone Carlos Hyde could both lead the backfield, as each has different strengths. Henry has the potential to make a fantasy impact in 2016, but it depends on where he lands.
Laquon Treadwell, WR
Everyone seems to be knocking Treadwell's 40-yard dash time. While a 4.63 isn't exactly quick, it's how he plays in a game that really matters. He also is just over a year removed from a devastating lower leg injury that ended his 2014 season. Comparisons have been made to DeAndre Hopkins or Anquan Boldin, both of whom aren't the fastest guys on the field, but are excellent NFL receivers. Treadwell has the potential to be a solid WR, but he needs to find a team that will work with him and give him that opportunity. Ideally, he'll be on a team with a veteran quarterback, such as the New Orleans Saints. While Brandon Coleman didn't amount to much in his rookie year, Treadwell could easily overtake Willie Snead on the depth chart.
Will Fuller, WR
Fuller has the makings of becoming an asset to an NFL team, but does have his flaws as well. The scouting report doesn't see him as a volume receiver, which would knock him down a notch in PPR leagues, regardless of what team he ends up on. Fuller has potential to be an outside receiver, playing a role similar to the one DeVante Parker played for Miami toward the end of the 2015 season. Kansas City is lacking in the receiver department and that might be a good fit for him. The Chiefs already have Jeremy Maclin, so Fuller would complement him. While Maclin can be an outside receiver as well, he is best utilized as a volume receiver with Alex Smith at quarterback.
Corey Coleman, WR
Coleman is a wide receiver with speed and some concern over drops. Scouts also point out his height (5-11) as a flaw, however, John Brown and Jarvis Landry are also shorter than six foot tall and seem to be doing just fine. His size is very comparable to Landry, so that shouldn't be a huge sticking point. He would be a great complementary receiver to a team that already has a solid No. 1 guy. A nice landing spot for Coleman would be Cincinnati. Playing opposite A.J. Green, with Andy Dalton getting him the ball would give Coleman WR4 fantasy value heading into the season. Also note that Coleman had value on special teams returning punts, for those that get fantasy points for return yards. He'll likely take on that role in the NFL as well.
Josh Doctson, WR
While Doctson isn't as flashy or polished as some of the other receivers in the draft, does have decent size (6-2), which does help. He is only 202 pounds, which scouts think is too slight for a receiver with his skill set and size. He projects to have a learning rookie season, but could be a solid WR2 for fantasy by his sophomore year. This is dependent on which team takes him, however. If he can get on a team where comes in as the third or fourth receiver to get experience in the NFL, he can work his way up to the No. 2 spot on the team. Imagine him on a team like Carolina. Let Ted Ginn Jr. have this season with Doctson filling in, but then let Doctson fill that role, teaming with Kelvin Benjamin to give the Panthers a potentially potent one-two punch.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Auburn was arguably the most disappointing team in college football in 2015. The Tigers were predicted to win the SEC championship during SEC Media Days and considered by many to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Instead, Auburn finished last in the SEC West with a 7-6 (2-6 SEC) overall record. The Tigers ranked next to last (13th) among SEC teams in total defense in Will Muschamp's only season as defensive coordinator. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson also failed to live up to expectations as a preseason Heisman hopeful.
But Auburn could see a turnaround this season with an improved roster, despite facing a tough SEC West schedule. Here's a look at the Tigers' entire 2016 schedule.
2016 Auburn Tigers Schedule
Bye: Week 7
|1.||Sept. 3||Auburn, AL|
Battle of the Tigers Auburn's season kicks off with a matchup against ACC Champion Clemson, which fell five points short of a national championship in January. Obviously, this will be a tough test for Auburn coming off a last-place finish in the SEC West and Clemson will be a heavy favorite.
|2.||Sept. 10||Auburn, AL|
Gus Malzahn coached at Arkansas State before taking over at Auburn in 2013. Beyond that, this should be an easy matchup for the Tigers. However, last season's game against Jacksonville State proved that no opponent should be taken lightly, especially a winning program like the Red Wolves, which are coming off a 9-4 (8-0 Sun Belt) finish in 2015. Still, the Tigers should be a heavy favorite leading up to kickoff.
|3.||Sept. 17||Auburn, AL|
Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin both enter 2016 on the hot seat, which would seem strange when they were two of the SEC's fastest rising coaches early in their tenures. This matchup will be crucial for both their job security and the SEC West standings.
|4.||Sept. 24||Auburn, AL|
Auburn was decimated by Leonard Fournette during a historic 228-yard, three-touchdown performance in Death Valley last year. Fournette should be even better as a junior and Auburn's defense will have a tough time stopping him once again in 2016.
|5.||Oct. 1||Auburn, AL|
ULM finished with a 2-11 overall record and was 1-7 against Sun Belt teams. This should be an easy win for Auburn.
|6.||Oct. 8||Starkville, MS|
Mississippi State has the misfortune of having to replace Dak Prescott, the best player in program history. In total, the Bulldogs will lose seven players to the NFL Draft. Although this matchup could be competitive, Auburn should have the upper hand.
|8.||Oct. 22||Auburn, AL|
Arkansas is a tough team to predict. Many expected the Razorbacks to be a contender in the SEC West last preseason. They answered by dropping three consecutive games in September before winning seven of their last nine, including a 54-46 overtime win over Auburn on Oct. 24. This should remain a competitive matchup with both teams vying for contention in a tough SEC West.
|9.||Oct. 29||Oxford, MS|
Ole Miss has improved during each of Hugh Freeze's first four seasons. Many expect the Rebels to continue their success despite losing Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell, three of the top prospects from their program-changing 2013 recruiting class. But Ole Miss still has Chad Kelly, the SEC's 2015 passing leader, and return plenty of talent on defense. The Rebels may not be as good as they were in 2015, but should remain a tough matchup.
|10.||Nov. 5||Auburn, AL|
Vanderbilt's defense made drastic improvements in Derek Mason's second season as head coach. However, its offense -- aside from standout running back Ralph Webb -- has failed to follow suit. If the Commodores can find stability in their passing attack they may be a surprise team. Either way, Vandy's defense should provide a surprisingly tough matchup.
|11.||Nov. 12||Athens, GA|
Georgia fired Mark Richt, the second-winningest coach in school history, last season despite an eventual 10-win season. That's how high expectations are based on the current roster's level of talent. If Kirby Smart lives up to the lofty expectations set by being one of the nation's top assistants, the Bulldogs should be a legitimate contender in the SEC.
|12.||Nov. 19||Auburn, AL|
Auburn should win this game fairly easily and by a rather large margin.
|13.||Nov. 26||Tuscaloosa, AL|
Iron Bowl Regardless of the records, this remains Alabama and Auburn's biggest game of the year. Even if the Crimson Tide weren’t coming off a national championship this game would still be one of the biggest in college football. That additional factor makes it even more prestigious. Auburn managed to challenge the Tide for most of last year's matchup, despite falling 29-13 late. If the Tigers show improvement in 2016, this year's Iron Bowl should be even more entertaining.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
Draymond Green is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He needs to be when he sits in front of the media game after game.
The Warriors star was asked about the Houston flood and implied if it had anything to do with the Warriors beating the Rockets, and the fact that they were raining threes. Although the reporter didn't directly say it, he made it seem as if there was a correlation between the natural disaster and the Warriors winning. This wasn't the first time this same reporter asked the question, and Green made sure to put him in his place.
"You're trying to get a controversial statement out of me about the three's we're hitting," Green said. "I know what you're getting at. You're not getting that out of me."
The 2016 NFL Draft won’t get started until Thursday, but there’s been no lack of action leading up to it as the top two picks have been traded. Los Angeles, now the owner of the No. 1 overall pick, and Philadelphia (No. 2) each paid a handsome price to move up to presumably take the top two quarterbacks. Will their bold moves pay off? Only time will tell, but here are five blockbuster trades involving draft picks since 1990 that certainly didn’t work out for the team that paid the higher cost.
5. The Colts Trade with the Falcons to Draft Jeff George at No. 1 (1990)
After finishing 8-8 in 1989, the Indianapolis Colts seemed to be one superstar away from greatness. They thought that missing piece was Illinois quarterback Jeff George, whose potential entering the draft seemed limitless. To get him, Indianapolis traded its fifth-round pick in the 1990 draft, its first-rounder in the 1991 draft, All-Pro guard Chris Hinton and a young Andre Rison to Atlanta for the No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft, along with the Falcons’ fourth-round selection.
Colts Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Jeff George, QB, Illinois (1st Round, 1990)
- Stacey Simmons, WR, Florida (4th Round, 1990)
Falcons Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Andre Rison, WR
- Chris Hinton, G
- Reggie Redding, T, Cal State-Fullerton (5th Round, 1990)
- Mike Pritchard, WR (1st Round, 1991)
Outcome: When you appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated before playing a down, anything short of a Super Bowl ring or the Hall of Fame is considered disappointing. George did not come close to meeting those expectations. Over his career, he proved to be solid and performed well with a good supporting cast, something he did not have in Indianapolis. (I know you’re saying, “What about Eric Dickerson?” Well, he was suspended for insubordination in both the 1990 and ‘91 seasons and was already plagued with injuries that would shorten his career.)
After four subpar seasons in Indianapolis, George was traded to — of all places — Atlanta. He ultimately played for 13 seasons on seven different teams.
Simmons played just one season with the Colts and finished his career in the Canadian Football and Arena Football Leagues.
One could argue that this trade should not be on the list because of how things worked out for the Falcons. Redding never cracked the Falcons’ starting lineup and was traded to the New England Patriots after the 1991 season. Pritchard caught more than 200 passes in three seasons in Atlanta before being traded to the Broncos. Hinton made the Pro Bowl in 1991 and earned All-Pro honors in ‘93 before signing with the Vikings as a free agent in ‘94. Rison emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the league, scoring 56 touchdowns in five seasons in Atlanta.
All that being said, the Falcons only had one winning season with the players they acquired.
4. The Chargers Pay Through the Nose for the Biggest Draft Bust in History (1998)
It’s hard to even believe that the overarching question going into the 1998 draft was, “Who is the better quarterback: Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf?” Manning eventually moved ahead showing the maturity and work ethic that encompassed his career. Leaf, on the other hand, missed interviews with teams and showed up 20 pounds overweight for the Scouting Combine. Yet when the Colts made it clear that they would draft Manning, Chargers GM Bobby Beathard did what he had to do to get Leaf. San Diego already had the third pick in the draft, but to move up one spot, he traded it and the San Diego’s second-round pick as well as its first-rounder in 1999 to Arizona. The Chargers also had to throw in Pro Bowl return specialist Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp too.
Chargers Players Acquired Via Draft
- Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State (1st Round, 1998)
Cardinals Players Acquired Via Draft or Trade
- Eric Metcalf, WR/RS
- Patrick Sapp, LB
- Andre Wadsworth, DE, Florida State (1st Round, 1998)
- Corey Chavous, S, Vanderbilt (2nd Round, 1998)
- David Boston, WR, Ohio State (1st Round, 1999)
Outcome: Speaking ill of Leaf has become all too common, if not tired, in the 15 years since he last played, but he absolutely earned his designation as the worst draft bust of all time. He did it with poor play, a lousy work ethic and really bad behavior. Leaf started only 21 games for San Diego during a three-year period in which the Chargers went 14-34 (the team went 8-8 in 1999 when Leaf was sidelined the entire season because of a shoulder injury.). Leaf was cut after the 2000 season.
The Cardinals could have acquired five Hall of Famers and this trade may still make the list. But to be fair, Arizona’s return from the trade wasn’t all that impressive when all was said and done. Sapp spent just two seasons with the team as a reserve linebacker. Mitchell signed with Baltimore as a free agent in 1999. Wadsworth was plagued by knee injuries before being released after the 2000 season. Chavous was productive (181 tackles, 5 INTs) in his four seasons with the Cardinals before signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2002. Boston led the league in receiving yards and made the Pro Bowl in 2001, but missed much of ‘02 because of a knee injury. He signed with San Diego as a free agent in 2003.
3. Mike Ditka Trades the Saints’ Entire Draft to the Redskins for Ricky Williams (1999)
Did Mike Ditka learn nothing from the Herschel Walker trade? It’s never a good idea to trade your entire draft for one player. But that’s just what Iron Mike did when he was the Saints’ head coach, sending all six picks in the 1999 draft to move up from No. 12 to No. 5 to pick Texas running back and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. If that wasn’t enough, New Orleans had to throw in its first- and third-round picks in the 2000 draft to seal the deal with Washington.
Saints Players Drafted
- Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (1st Round, 1999)
Redskins Players Drafted
- Champ Bailey, CB, Georgia (1st Round, 1999)
- Derek Smith, G, Virginia Tech (5th Round, 1999)
- Lavar Arrington, LB, Penn State (1st Round, 2000)
- Lloyd Harrison, DB, NC State (3rd Round, 2000)
Outcome: For Ditka, the fallout was terrible. The Saints went 3-13 in 1999 and he was fired at the end of the season. The next year though, Williams rushed for 1,000 yards in 10 games and the Saints went 10-6 and won their first playoff game. The Saints traded Williams to the Dolphins in 2002 and he finished his career with more than 10,000 yards rushing even though he was away from the game for nearly two seasons.
The Redskins used their abundance of picks in the 1999 draft to move back up to No. 7 and select Bailey. They paid a pretty steep price — the Saints’ first-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks in 1990 plus their third-round pick in 2000 — to the Bears to do so. The Redskins also traded sixth- and seventh-round selections to move up and draft Smith in the fifth round.
In the end, although Redskins fans may disagree, the team made out okay. Bailey was a mainstay in the secondary for five seasons before moving on to Denver. He should receive serious consideration for Hall of Fame induction. Smith didn’t play a single down in his two seasons with Washington. Arrington made the Pro Bowl three years in a row before injuries plagued the final part of his seven-year career while Harrison was cut after just one season and was out of the NFL by 2003.
If anything, this is an example of how the Redskins probably should have done much more with the picks they had stockpiled. Many GMs have built championship teams with these types of trades. Right Jerry Jones?
2. The Falcons Pony up for Julio Jones (2011)
Despite going 13-3 in 2010, the Falcons needed an explosive wide receiver and were hell bent on drafting Alabama’s Julio Jones. Knowing he would not be available by the 27th pick, which the Falcons owned, GM Thomas Dimitroff gave the Cleveland Browns the Falcons’ first-, second- and fourth-round picks in the 2011 draft and their first- and fourth-round selections in 2012. This enabled Atlanta to move up to No. 6 overall and snag Jones.
Falcons Players Drafted
- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (1st Round, 2011)
Browns Players Drafted
- Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor (1st Round, 2011)
- Greg Little, WR, North Carolina (2nd Round, 2011)
- Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford (4th Round, 2011)
- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (1st Round, 2012)
- Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (1st Round, 2012)
Outcome: Jones has lived up to expectations. In the past two seasons alone, he has snagged 240 receptions for 3,464 yards. When a team ponies up this much for a player, they expect these types of results and Jones has delivered.
The Browns would have been better off just drafting Jones. Here are five reasons why.
- Cleveland made a deal with Kansas City to move back up in the first round to take Taylor with 21st overall pick. Taylor played well his rookie season, which ended up being his best one. He was released by the Browns prior to the start of the 2015 season.
- Little also had a strong rookie season but his numbers dropped over the next two years and he was cut by the Browns after the 2013 season.
- Marecic served primarily as a blocking back and was cut after the 2012 season.
- The Browns packaged the Falcons’ 2012 fourth-rounder to Minnesota to move up and draft Richardson third overall. He was traded to the Colts in Week 3 of the 2013 season. Indianapolis cut him in March 2015 and didn’t make it out of training camp with Oakland last season. In April, Richardson signed with Baltimore.
- Weeden had a solid rookie season but injuries and spotty play cost him his starting job in 2013. He was released at the end of that season and Cleveland continues its search for a franchise quarterback.
1. The RG3 Trade Doubles in Size (2012)
With Andrew Luck guaranteed to go to the Colts with the first pick in the draft, Washington decided to go after Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. The only catch was that the Redskins needed to move up to the second pick of the draft, which was held by the Rams. The Redskins got their guy by dealing their first-round picks in 2012, ‘13 and ‘14 and their second-rounder in ‘12. The Rams then parlayed these picks into even more. Try to follow the bouncing ball.
Redskins Players Drafted
- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (1st Round, 2012)
Rams Players Drafted
- Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (1st Round, 2012) The Rams traded the sixth pick to Dallas for its 1st and 2nd round picks.
- Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama (2nd Round, 2012)
- Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati (2nd Round, 2012) The Rams traded this 2nd round pick in the draft to Chicago for its 2nd and 5th round picks.
- Rokevious Watkins, G, South Carolina (5th Round, 2012)
- Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia (1st Round, 2013) The Rams traded this 1st round pick to Atlanta for its 1st, 3rd and 6th round picks.
- Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (3rd Round, 2013)
- Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt (5th Round, 2013) The Rams packaged the 6th round pick in a trade with Houston for its 5th round pick.
- Greg Robinson, T, Auburn (1st Round, 2014)
Outcome: I must say RG3’s rookie season with the Redskins was the most exciting sports year in my time in Washington, D.C. They went 10-6 and won the NFC East and RG3 was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. He also suffered a devastating knee injury and has not been the same since. After being inactive for the entire 2015 regular season, RG3 was released by the Redskins and has since signed with Cleveland.
The Rams capitalized on their draft inventory to move around in both the 2012 and ’13 drafts to grab the players they wanted. The result to this point has been a mixed bag. Brockers and Jenkins assumed starting roles as rookies and have remained defensive mainstays. Ogletree took the same route, but he broke his leg in Week 4 last season. Robinson struggled early, but has since cemented his position as the starting left tackle.
On other hand, Pead never had much of an impact during his time with the Rams, which also was impacted by injuries, and was cut in 2015. Watkins battled weight and substance abuse issues and was cut after his rookie season. Bailey also has dealt with off-field issues, including serving a pair of league-mandated four-game suspensions. More seriously, Bailey was shot twice in the head last November in a drive-by incident in Miami Gardens, Fla. He is attempting a comeback against the advice of his doctors. Stacy was extremely productive as a rookie (973 yards rushing), but saw his numbers and playing time decrease and was traded to the Jets prior to the 2015 season.
The Rams still have not have been to the playoffs since 2004 so more time is needed to tell how beneficial this trade truly was.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Ryan Leaf photo courtesy of Getty Images)
If you can play, the NFL will find you, or so the adage goes. Rarely are players from Alabama and Grand Valley State on equal footing, but when the draft process comes along, front offices will dissect each player for signs that he can help win football games on the professional level.
Every season brings dozens of players who are unknown to even the most ardent football fans.
Here’s a look at four of the most interesting prospects from the FBS small conferences and FCS ranks. Each is listed among Athlon Sports' top 100 prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Brock Jensen won three FCS national championships as the starter at North Dakota State from 2011-13 — but he might not have been the best quarterback on the roster according to one member of the Bison’s staff.
Chris Klieman, NDSU’s secondary coach in 2011, couldn’t help but be impressed with a young true freshman named Carson Wentz.
“He carved us up with a bunch of young scout team receivers,” says Klieman, who was promoted to the program’s head coach two years ago. “He was the best quarterback we faced all year.”
Jensen remained NDSU’s starting quarterback for two more national championships while Wentz remained the backup.
“We saw great promise in Carson,” says Craig Bohl, who won three national titles at NDSU before leaving for Wyoming in 2014. “When you’re in a winning phase, it’s not like you’re going to change horses in the middle of the race. Carson was always watching and observing and playing the game vicariously.”
And when it was time to play the game for real, Wentz guided the Bison to a 20–3 record and two FCS national championships in his two seasons as the starter. Wentz, however, was still a relative unknown in the college football world until he showed up at the Senior Bowl in early January.
He had the size (6-5, 232), and his record as a winner was impeccable. There were questions, though: How would he fare against FBS defenders (and with FBS receivers)? And how would he handle this first big moment in the draft process? After all, this was a kid who graduated from Bismarck (N.D.) Century High, whose father played linebacker at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., and whose brother was a four-year starting pitcher at NDSU.
“I think there’s, obviously, a lot of doubts coming from the FCS level,” Wentz said at a Senior Bowl press conference. “I want to address that right away. Prove I can play at a high level, play at a fast level, compete with these guys and just really excel. I feel I have the mental and physical abilities to play at this level, and I’m ready and really excited to prove that.”
Wentz more than answered questions in Mobile. He became the story of the week, improving his status from one of the top five QB prospects to a potential top-10 pick.
The Senior Bowl wasn’t the first time in the month of January he had to ease doubts.
In 2015, Wentz led North Dakota State to a 4–2 start, the first loss by three in the opener to Montana. In the second, he suffered a wrist injury early in the game. After the 24–21 loss to South Dakota, Wentz learned that he had suffered a broken wrist that would keep him out 6-8 weeks.
Backup Easton Stick led North Dakota State on an eight-game winning streak through the FCS semifinal against Richmond. The layoff between the Dec. 18 semifinal and the Jan. 9 championship game against Jacksonville State opened a window for Wentz. After the Christmas break, Wentz returned to practice, and by the Monday before the title game he was medically cleared.
Wentz completed 16-of-29 passes for 197 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while rushing for 79 yards and two scores to help North Dakota State win its fifth consecutive national title.
“People asked if I was worried about him being rusty or throwing off the team chemistry so to speak. Not one bit,” Klieman says. “It’s Carson Wentz, and he’s the best player on the field every time he’s on the field.”
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
Even though Dean Hood had known Ohio State coach Urban Meyer since their days growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio, he had never known Meyer to call in many favors.
That is, Meyer never called on behalf of a player until Noah Spence, a former top-10 recruit, had seen a promising career at Ohio State end due to off-the-field issues.
“He’s never texted me or called me about a player ever, anywhere he’s been,” says Hood, then the coach at Eastern Kentucky. “He texted me on Noah, so I knew it was a special case right away.”
Other than Carson Wentz, Spence may be the most intriguing FCS prospect, and that’s mainly because of where he started.
Spence was the top signee in Meyer’s first recruiting class at Ohio State, signing the same year as quarterback Cardale Jones, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and offensive linemen Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein. Spence was a star player as a sophomore with 7.5 sacks in 2013 (tied for the team lead with Joey Bosa) and 14 tackles for a loss (second on the team to eventual Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier).
But his abuse of the drug Ecstasy meant that his days as a Buckeye were numbered.
He tested positive for Ecstasy after the 2013 Big Ten title game. He told coaches and family that he suspected someone slipped it into his drink. By the time he tested positive a second time in September 2014, he couldn’t hide anymore. Per league policy, he was permanently banned from the Big Ten.
“I didn’t know where I was going,” Spence says. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Meyer connected Spence with Hood, and together they started to lay out a recovery plan. Spence would meet with an off-campus counselor. He would be put in the pool any time EKU drug tested. The staff would also monitor his class attendance, something usually reserved for underclassmen.
Spence bought a calendar and wrote different goals — numbers of sacks, tackles for a loss, All-America nods and an invitation to the Senior Bowl among them.
He had one slip-up at Eastern Kentucky, a charge of alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct. The record was later expunged.
On the field in 2015, Spence picked up where he had left off. He was fifth in the FCS in sacks (11.5 in 11 games) and fourth in tackles for a loss (22.5). He was an FCS All-American, earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl and graduated.
Spence hasn’t lost the explosiveness that made him a top recruit, but there’s a question of where he fits in a pro system. At 6-foot-2 and 254 pounds, he could be a designated pass rusher or play weak-side linebacker for some teams.
Spence also knows he will continue to face non-stop questions about his troubled past and the circumstances that led him to Eastern Kentucky. He must convince NFL teams that he’ll be able to continue his progress while making the move from Richmond, Ky., to an NFL city with more distractions.
Spence says his support system — family, friends and coaches — is firmly in place, and the fast life has no allure for him anymore.
“I’m in a better place mentally right now,” Spence says. “I don’t need to go out to have a good time. Certain things don’t excite me like they would before. I’d rather go to the movies than go to a party. I’d rather go out
Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah
If Killebrew didn’t look the part of an NFL prospect when he graduated from Henderson (Nev.) Foothill, it was by design.
Killebrew’s father, David, kept his son away from weights even though Miles was an all-state running back and safety. David Killebrew was an elite athlete in his own right, making it to the Olympic trials for velodrome cycling. At his peak, he squatted 750 pounds, but he steered his son to more cardio work and warned him against pushing himself to the max in the weight room.
Like any teenager in that situation, Miles doubted this philosophy. But as Killebrew went through his college career at Southern Utah, he never had any ligament or joint issues, and for that, he credits his father’s hardline stance.
“He knew what he was doing, man,” Killebrew says. “He just wanted my body to develop. He knows I’m a late bloomer just like he was. He didn’t want to stress out my joints and ligaments.”
Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb, now an assistant at BYU, didn’t know if Killebrew could play running back at the collegiate level, but thought he had the length, athleticism and speed to contribute somewhere once he filled out.
The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Killebrew finished his senior season as an All-Big Sky safety and has been compared as a prospect to Arizona Cardinals 2014 first-round pick Deone Bucannon out of Washington State. With his big-hitting ability, Killebrew could fit as a big nickel back or as a safety playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
Deiondre’ Hall, CB, Northern Iowa
When Hall was in his final two seasons at Blue Springs High School in Kansas City, he didn’t play enough football to get looks from major conference schools.
Up to that point, he focused more on basketball and track than football and didn’t have the grades for Power 5 programs.
By the end of his time at Northern Iowa, he had all the football he could handle.
When Hall was a sophomore, Northern Iowa played him at cornerback and as a small outside linebacker. When he was a senior, the Panthers needed him to play corner, return punts and line up at receiver.
“Sometimes I didn’t come off the field,” Hall says. “The transition from defense to special teams to offense to special teams to defense — you’re taking twice as many snaps as other guys on the team. It came down to taking more snaps than everyone else. I was OK with that. That’s what you want. I look at it as a blessing to do all that.”
In the NFL, he’ll likely stay at corner, where he could excel as a playmaker and disruptor. He had six interceptions as a senior despite playing most of the year with a broken hand. Thanks to his long arms (34 3/4 inches) and wingspan (82 1/4) — the latter a figure closer to that of a defensive end — he’ll be one of the more intriguing physical prospects in the 2015 draft.
This is just one of the features found in Athlon Sports' 2016 NFL Draft Preview Magazine. The most complete preview of this year’s draft, Athlon has once again enlisted the expertise of Dan Shonka from Ourlads Scouting Services, to provide our scouting reports and rankings. With his guidance, our perview magazine dives deep into the 2016 draft class with in-depth scouting reports on 218 of the top prospects and position-by-position rankings of 554 draft-eligible players. We also take a detailed look at every NFL team with depth charts and needs for the upcoming season. Our draft magazine also includes a profile of sure first-rounder Joey Bosa, a mock draft, a draft board, a peek ahead at the 2017 draft and much more. Click here to order your copy today!
(Noah Spence photo courtesy of Eastern Kentucky Sports Communications, Carson Wentz photo courtesy of North Dakota State Sports Communications; Miles Killebrew photo courtesy of Southern Utah Sports Communications)
We often hold celebrities to such high standards, we often forget they're just like us.
Tennis mega-star Serena Williams was literally all of us when she got to meet Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Both stars in their own right but still a fan of each other's game. Williams did her best to play it cool.