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Signs of progress abounded in Gary Andersen’s second season at Oregon State. The Beavers closed 2016 with a pair of victories over Arizona and Oregon and doubled their win total from Andersen’s first year at the helm. Oregon State loses a few key playmakers on both sides of the ball, but the Beavers are positioned to build on the progress made last season.
If Oregon State can stay healthy, the Beavers should challenge for the team’s first bowl bid since 2013. Reaching that bowl goal hinges on Oregon State figuring out who will run the offense and on the Beavers getting improved production from the defense in several critical areas.
5 Storylines to Watch in Oregon State’s Spring Practice
1. Who will be Oregon State’s quarterback heading into fall?
The starting quarterback job is up for grabs heading into spring practices for a third consecutive season. Five different players are in the mix to be the starter – including highly touted junior college transfer Jake Luton.
Senior Darrell Garretson started the first six games last season before a broken leg against Utah cut his season short. Garretson struggled to move the chains while healthy. He threw for only 617 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Marcus McMaryion started the final six games in Garretson’s absence with some success. McMaryion threw for 1,286 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions last season.
Luton could come in and seize the reins before spring football is done. The 6-foot-7 quarterback put up some impressive numbers at Ventura (Calif.) College last season, throwing for a school-record 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns. If his passing abilities translate to the FBS level, Oregon State’s offense could be much more dangerous this season.
2. Will new receivers emerge?
Oregon State will be a bit thin at receiver during the spring. Seth Collins will sit out after being hospitalized with a serious illness last November. Kolby Taylor also is out with a leg injury and Jordan Villamin will see limited reps because of a knee injury.
It opens the door for some younger receivers to step forward and get a chance to move up the depth chart going into fall camp. Isaiah Hodgins is one such player who could step in and contribute right away. Hodgins has good hands and is explosive off the line. His 6-foot-4 frame also gives him good enough size to be a mismatch with many defensive backs.
Returning receivers Hunter Jarmon, Timmy Hernandez and Trevor Bradford should all have larger roles in the offense. Hernandez totaled 241 yards and a touchdown on 19 catches a season ago.
3. Which players will step up in the secondary?
Replacing cornerback Treston Decoud and safety Devin Chappell will be no simple task for the Beavers. The duo formed the heart and soul of the secondary last season and they proved to be valuable playmakers. Decoud tallied 58 tackles, 10 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. Chappell finished with 77 tackles, seven pass breakups and six forced fumbles.
Xavier Crawford gives Oregon State a reliable anchor at one cornerback spot. Crawford enjoyed an impressive freshman debut, totaling 70 tackles, 10 pass breakups and an interception. Dwayne Williams and Jay Irvine could be in the mix at the other spot if they can overcome the injury issues that plagued them in 2016. Brandon Arnold and Jalen Moore are the leaders to step up and play bigger roles at the safety positions.
4. Can the defensive line improve?
Oregon State could not stop opponents from running the ball down its throat last season. The Beavers ranked 10th among Pac-12 teams in rushing yards allowed per game (218.0). Oregon State gave up 5.32 yards per rushing play and allowed 25 rushing touchdowns. The Beavers also struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They totaled just 18 sacks for 90 yards – the worst of any Pac-12 team a season ago.
Chad Kauha’aha’a will take over as defensive line coach again this season after Andersen oversaw the position in 2016. Kauha’aha’a has plenty of experience with this position group, having coached the defensive line for a decade during coaching stops at Weber State, Utah State, Utah and Wisconsin, as well as his first season at Oregon State. Kauha’aha’a wants to bolster pass rushing by establishing a more pronounced hard-nosed, aggressive mentality with his three-man front.
5. How will injuries impact key position groups?
The two-deep roster come the fall could end up being wildly different than what Oregon State fans anticipated before spring camp. Many expected contributors are expected to miss all 15 spring practices or see limited reps because of injuries.
Seth Collins (illness), Bright Ugwoegbu (foot), Joah Robinett (shoulder), Jay Irvine (shoulder) and Landry Payne (knee) are all sidelined during the spring. Jordan Villamin (knee) is among a group of several players who will see limited reps. It gives a chance for younger players to step up at receiver, linebacker and defensive back and earn a serious look going into fall camp.
Oregon State’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12
In some ways, Oregon State is following the same trajectory that Utah State followed when Gary Andersen rebuilt that program from 2009-12. The Aggies had two sub-.500 campaigns before finally breaking through and reaching a bowl game in Andersen’s third year. Oregon State showed potential to turn the corner a season ago. The Beavers won three Pac-12 games after going winless in league the previous season and had two other league games decided by five points or less. The guess is Oregon State can take another step forward in 2017.
— 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.
Each of Rich Rodriguez's first three seasons as University of Arizona head football coach produced at least one signature win.
In 2012, defeats of Oklahoma State and USC established Arizona Stadium as a perilous venue for visitors. The 2013 campaign brought a blowout of Oregon, after which Rodriguez promised even greater things in the future. His team delivered in 2014, beating the Ducks in Autzen Stadium and sealing a Pac-12 South divisional title with a dramatic win over rival Arizona State.
But struggle marked the past two seasons. Injuries piled up, and so did losses. Arizona scrapped to a disappointing 7-6 finish in 2015, and endured an eight-game skid en route to a 3-9 mark last season. Forget the worst mark of the Rodriguez era; 3-9 was the worst final record of any Arizona team since Mark Stoops' 2004 debut.
However, the Wildcats closed an otherwise dismal season with a silver lining – literally. Arizona ran circles around Arizona State to claim the silver-plated Territorial Cup for the second time in Rodriguez's tenure, denying the Sun Devils a bowl bid and giving some cause for optimism heading into the offseason.
Arizona opened its spring practices on Feb. 16, aiming to build off the promise of a season-saving win.
5 Storylines to Watch in Arizona Spring Practice
1. Building the Faith
Arizona's 2016 didn't derail immediately. The Wildcats were just a late-game field goal against BYU and an overtime loss to Washington in their Pac-12 opener from opening 4-0.
Add a lead at Utah in Week 6, and Arizona showed promised in a 2-4 start. That eroded with a blowout loss Week 7 against USC. The ensuing weeks brought lopsided beatdowns against Stanford, Colorado Oregon State and a 69-7 rout at Washington State that signified rock bottom for the Rodriguez era.
Despite the brutal final month Arizona endured, Rodriguez and his staff need to use the finale against Arizona State as a building block for a new season. Spring sets the tone.
2. Brandon Dawkins in the Driver's Seat
Injuries derailed the once-promising Arizona career of quarterback Anu Solomon. A series of starts-and-stops in the lineup gave way to Dawkins, who showed flashes of brilliance behind center.
Solomon opted to transfer to Baylor in the offseason, leaving the offense firmly in Dawkins' hands heading into 2017.
The dual-threat Dawkins will face competition from Khalil Tate, a highly touted prospect out of Southern California who saw significant playing time midway through the 2016 campaign before sustaining his own injury. The two provide similar skills sets, though Dawkins' passing touch proved more refined a season ago.
3. A Replenished Running Back Corps
To call Arizona's running back situation a season ago dire would be a vast understatement. Talented but snake-bitten Nick Wilson missed all of seven games and significant portions of more contests. J.J. Taylor wowed early, averaging nearly seven yards per carry, but went down in the first month.
Both return in time for the spring at 100 percent, providing Arizona with a thunder-and-lightning combination not unlike successful running back platoons of Rodriguez's past. If both are healthy, they could be comparable to the Steve Slaton-Noel Devine one-two punch from West Virginia.
Look for early enrolled, 4-star prospect Nathan Tilford to also establish himself in the rotation during spring practices.
4. Year 2 of Marcel Yates
Former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack struggled mightily in 2015 without All-American linebacker Scooby Wright there to mask from deficiencies. The Wildcats ranked No. 101 nationally in rushing defense in 2015, and No. 106 in scoring defense.
Rodriguez made the switch to Yates, a former Boise State assistant with a more aggressive scheme. Arizona actually dipped to No. 117 in scoring defense last season, but Yates' system showed promise. Playing personnel better suited for the blitz-heavy 3-4 base will be crucial in the scheme's development.
Youngsters and newcomers will see ample opportunity to work into the lineup over spring practices. That includes 3-star freshman Jose Ramirez, one of five early enrollees. Veterans like Jack Banda and Luca Bruno have the spring to establish the tone.
5. Rodriguez Approaching a Pivotal Season
Rodriguez saw measurable improvement through his first three seasons at Arizona, peaking in 2014 with the program's first 10-win campaign since ‘98. However, college football coaching can be a thankless profession, and the pressure is on Rodriguez to lead Arizona to marked improvement over last season's dismal showing.
The ante upped further just last month, when athletic director Greg Byrne left for the same job at Alabama. A new regime will evaluate the state of the athletics programs, including the most profitable of them all (even in basketball-mad Tucson), football.
Arizona’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12
Arizona enters a season of uncertainty. How much improvement can Marcel Yates' defense show with more experience? Will a clearer quarterback situation stabilize a volatile offense? And, after the last two seasons, the big question: Can Arizona stay healthy throughout the fall?
While the Wildcats address lingering questions, Rich Rodriguez and Co. can take some solace in the general upheaval ongoing around the Pac-12 South.
USC has a legitimate national title contender, but otherwise, none of the other five teams show significant separation ahead of 2017. Utah should remain its dependable self, but defending divisional champion Colorado faces turnover. Arizona State and UCLA face similarly murky futures as Arizona. The opportunity for considerable improvement exists.
When a team with an aging roster and a bloated, luxury-taxed payroll in excess of $200 million fails to make the playoffs, as the Tigers did in 2016, a change in philosophy is warranted. Thus, when GM Al Avila vowed at the start of the offseason to do something different — then quickly traded away outfielder Cameron Maybin, and his $9 million contract option — it surprised exactly no one. Judging from all the trade speculation surrounding the Tigers — with everyone from superstars Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander to valued run-producers Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez said to be available — many expected the tear-down to continue. But as the offseason wore on, and as some division rivals went all-in on shedding payroll and hoarding prospects, the Tigers stayed relatively quiet, hanging on to their vets and giving the impression of a team looking to take one last shot with its core. The Tigers in 2017 could occupy that middle ground of hoping somehow to get into contention but prepared to sell off pieces at the trade deadline if it doesn’t happen.
Despite all the talk of trading veterans, the team quietly exercised closer Francisco Rodriguez’s $6 million option for 2017, intending to keep the veteran righthander on board for another year. In 2016, Rodriguez finally plugged the massive black hole at the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen. While this bullpen ranked just 24th in the majors in ERA, the back end was fairly dependable, with Rodriguez anchoring a late-inning relay of righthanders Shane Greene and Bruce Rondon and lefty Justin Wilson. Wilson, though, was a subject of rampant trade rumors throughout December, and the Tigers took a lefty, Daniel Stumpf of the Royals, in the Rule 5 Draft as an apparent hedge. Like many teams, the Tigers have work to do in the middle innings.
Kinsler and Jose Iglesias were thought to be two of the Tigers’ most appealing trade pieces this winter — a 34-year-old second baseman coming off his best offensive season in five years, and his first Gold Glove to boot, and a 27-year-old shortstop who was an All-Star as recently as 2015. But as of late December, and despite rampant trade speculation, they were both still in Detroit. Kinsler’s advancing age and Iglesias’ offensive regression in 2016 (his first season playing in more than 130 games) would be concerns for any team, but both are relatively affordable and — at least in Kinsler’s case — plenty productive. It would be understandable if the Tigers felt they needed to be blown away to trade either.
The 2016 season brought the breakout season the Tigers have long envisioned for third baseman Nick Castellanos. At age 24, he produced a .285/.331/.496 slash line and established himself as a middle-of-the-order hitter in the Tigers’ stacked lineup — at least until getting hit on the left hand by a pitch in August and missing an entire month. Though he is never going to win a Gold Glove, he is among the least of the Tigers’ worries for 2017. As for Cabrera, the Tigers may have trumpeted his availability via trade, but they also knew that his age (34 in April) and massive contract (seven years and $220 million remaining) made him essentially untradeable. Barring that, the Tigers would gladly sign up for another year of 38 homers, 108 RBIs, a .956 OPS and especially 158 games played.
This is where Tigers fans envisioned massive change, with Martinez (heading into his walk year) presumed to be one of the team’s most appealing trade targets, and center field in perpetual flux. But by late December, Martinez was still around, and center field, following the trade of Maybin, appeared to be a battle between Anthony Gose and prospect JaCoby Jones. And then there’s Justin Upton. The Tigers’ left fielder, who signed a six-year $132.75 million deal prior to 2016, was a disaster for most of the season before exploding for 18 homers in his final 37 games. It is not much of a stretch to say the Tigers’ 2017 fortunes could be tied to which Upton shows up this year.
James McCann is a capable No. 1, with an excellent throwing arm behind the plate (a 45 percent caught-stealing percentage in 2016), but he regressed offensively last season, posting a paltry .629 OPS. In addition, the Tigers appeared ready to cut ties with veteran backup Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the pool of potential replacements was thin. One of the candidates, in fact, was Alex Avila, the former Tigers starter and the son of GM Al Avila.
The Tigers made a nice, sentimental move in December, adding veteran infielder Omar Infante on a minor-league contract, 15 years after Infante made his big-league debut with the Tigers. If he makes the team, it would be his third stint in Detroit. The question is, can he still play? If so, he could unseat Dixon Machado as the presumed utility infielder. Otherwise, the bench appears fairly well set, with Austin Romine back as a jack-of-all-trades reserve and Steven Moya, Tyler Collins and Mike Mahtook (acquired from Tampa Bay in January) around as extra outfielders. As for DH, the Tigers have been writing in Victor Martinez’s name there for five years now, and he remains a middle-of-the-order fixture.
Avila appears to embrace the notion of a major, youth-focused overhaul, if not an outright rebuild, but acting on those impulses has proven harder to do. Then, too, plenty of observers expected him to fire Brad Ausmus as manager following the disappointment of 2016. But here is Ausmus, back for a fourth season after the Tigers picked up his option. He has no job security, however, and a bad start could portend trouble.
The Tigers lost to the Indians by eight games in the AL Central in 2016, and it’s difficult to envision where they expect to make up those eight games, given their lack of impact additions. Perhaps the Tigers saw the White Sox and Royals shift into rebuild mode and decided to go for it one last time with this core. But it still seems more likely that the Tigers, as currently constructed, will take a big step backward than a big one forward. By July, an out-of-contention Tigers team could look vastly different than the one of April.
2017 AL CENTRAL PREDICTION: 2nd
Forgive Joey Logano if he has a secret love-hate relationship with the elimination-style Chase format. In the three years in which this system has determined the title, the Team Penske driver has won 14 races and scored 76 top-10 finishes. He’s had three straight years of championship-caliber racing — but no championship.
In 2016, Logano came tantalizingly close. With just a handful of laps remaining in the final race, Logano was battling Carl Edwards for position and a possible title. A late crash set up what looked like a perfect scenario for Logano, closing him up to within spitting distance of Edwards for the restart.
The green flag dropped, Logano charged — and Edwards blocked him until there was no more room and the pair spun. Logano escaped major damage but lost too much track position. He was relegated to a runner-up finish in the championship hunt.
Still, after winning three races and leading more than 700 laps last year, Logano keeps himself firmly near the top of the list of favorites for 2017. If he continues to put up the numbers he’s amassed in the last three years, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t win a title — or three — before he’s done. After eight full seasons in NASCAR’s top series, it’s easy to forget that Logano will be just 26 years old when the 2017 season kicks off. Think about that for a second: He’s easily got another 15 years of racing and probably more, meaning he could well post Hall of Fame numbers before he hangs up his helmet.
Adding Logano to the lineup gave the team something it had been lacking compared to other title contenders: teamwork. Information sharing and working together on the track have elevated the organization as a whole as well as helped jump-start Logano’s career. In four lackluster seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, he won only two races and never finished higher than 16th in points.
Another person with whom Logano clicked at the start of his stint with Team Penske was crew chief Todd Gordon, who returns for his fifth year as head wrench for the No. 22 team. Gordon has blossomed into one of the top crew chiefs in the Premier Series in the four years that he’s been with the team. He’ll call the shots knowing he’s got strong equipment to work with. Penske’s Fords are the strongest on track right now, the Roush Yates power under the hood is both competitive and durable, and the team will continue to work with Wood Brothers Racing to gain even more information.
When Logano came on board with the No. 22 team, sponsor Shell-Pennzoil was looking for a driver who could give them long-term stability as well as one who could contend for wins. After a stormy year with Kurt Busch and a follow-up season that saw driver AJ Allmendinger let go midway through the season after a failed drug test, the sponsor needed a driver who could win races without ruffling too many feathers. While Logano has had some run-ins on the track, he’s brought the stability that his team and sponsor were looking for, and he’s delivered the wins as well. The company returns for another go-round in 2017, along with AAA and AutoTrader.com, who will sponsor the car in select races.
It would certainly appear that all systems are go for Logano and the No. 22 team kicking off 2017. He’s been close the last three years, and he won’t merely be close forever. If Logano can keep the focus on the season and not on his past disappointments, he’s in excellent position to seal the deal on a championship.
Florida State’s dominance over the rest of the ACC continued earlier this month as the Seminoles brought home the top class in the conference for an eighth straight year, which is every season under head coach Jimbo Fisher. Despite key losses including the program’s all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook and fellow consensus All-American defensive end DeMarcus Walker, FSU is optimistic heading into 2017.
The Seminoles carried the momentum from a five-game winning streak and Orange Bowl victory to close 2016 over to the recruiting trail. FSU brought in another top-10 class headlined by the National Signing Day addition of defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.
With the departure of Walker and three other players declaring early for the NFL Draft, the Seminoles will have some voids to fill and in some cases, they will rely on newcomers. In this case, “newcomer” refers to incoming freshmen, players who were redshirted as freshmen last season and junior college transfers. Here’s a look at the five newcomers who will make the biggest impact in Tallahassee this season:
Cam Akers, RB, True Freshman
The Mississippi native is one of two five-star running backs and one of three total tailbacks that come to FSU this fall. Akers has incredible burst, great agility and exceptional vision. While Jacques Patrick, a junior, will be the early favorite to replace Cook as the starter, Akers is too good to keep off the field. An early enrollee, expect Akers’ role to grow as the season goes on.
Joshua Kaindoh, DE, True Freshman
Kaindoh is one of four five-star players to be part of Florida State’s 2017 class. Kaindoh (6-6, 250) has a chance to alleviate some of the void left behind by Walker. At his current weight, Kaindoh is probably best suited to play FSU’s “BUCK” position, but as he fills out, he could move to a more traditional defensive end. Like Akers, Kaindoh is an early enrollee and should make an immediate impact.
Baveon Johnson, OL, Redshirt Freshman
After receiving a redshirt last year, coaches really like the way Johnson has worked himself into shape. A former four-star center recruit out of Lakeland, Fla., Johnson could find himself competing with incumbent Alec Eberle at center or Cole Minshew and Derrick Kelly at guard.
Marvin Wilson, DT, True Freshman
The third five-star prospect to make the list, Wilson is another true freshman that should contribute right away. It’s unlikely that Wilson will start, but he should provide meaningful depth up front behind Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas. Despite his size (6-4, 330), Wilson moves very well and should help the Seminoles both as a run-stuffer and pass rusher.
DJ Matthews, WR, True Freshman
With only five scholarship receivers returning, Matthews could eventually work himself into the lineup for FSU. The Seminoles are losing Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield and Matthews may be the perfect candidate to replace Whitfield in the slot. Another area where Matthews could see time is in the return game. While the Seminoles do return five scholarship players, only Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate have any real experience at the position.
The NFL Scouting Combine will without question lead to some alterations, but until then, there are still a few things that have changed since our first mock draft.
Related: 2017 NFL Mock Draft 1.0
For one, now we know the draft order after the playoffs ended in spectacular – or, if you're a Falcons fan, utterly disastrous – fashion. Second, the Senior Bowl has come and gone, helping the stock of a few prospects that may have been on the bubble previously. Heck, the Chargers moved to Los Angeles. Life, indeed, comes at you fast.
So let's take another few shots at the dartboard before the next shakeup. We've got another two months of this, so we should pace ourselves. But that wouldn't be any fun, would it? Agreed, so on to the mock.
1. Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
This is a pick that will likely stick unless something crazy happens, so no need to dwell too much on it. Garrett is a beast edge rusher who will be on everyone's preseason rookie of the year lists regardless of where he lands.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Another thing we did not know in our first mock was who the 49ers’ head coach would be post-Chip Kelly. Well, it's Kyle Shanahan, and the safe bet is the ex-Falcons offensive coordinator will want to find his Matt Ryan. Trubisky might not be that, but there is no such thing as a sure thing at quarterback in this draft.
3. Chicago Bears
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Opinions vary wildly on this two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and maestro of back-to-back eviscerations of Alabama defenses in the College Football Playoff, the second of which brought the Tigers their first national championship in more than 30 years. His accuracy is not always there, but his intangibles are off the charts, which should count for something.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama
It's tough to draw an adequate comparison to any current or past NFL player for Allen, who had an utterly dominant 2016 for the Crimson Tide. For now, let's just call him really, really good and maybe the best interior defensive line prospect Nick Saban has produced at Alabama. Yes, that includes Marcell Dareus.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Rams)
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
A wide receiver here makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, because it's a glaring need for an otherwise promising offense. Two, because it's not an especially deep draft for the position. The Titans could go defense here and be fine, but Williams or someone like Western Michigan's Corey Davis might work best.
6. New York Jets
Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
This may be a little high for a position that one could get good value on later on, but the Jets need to address their shortcomings on defense here. As stated, this is an excellent cornerback class, but Tabor has the highest ceiling and the Jets would be smart to grab a replacement for the declining Darrelle Revis, who is now facing some serious off-the-field troubles.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
Grabbing an offensive lineman here would not be the worst idea given the Chargers' sorry state on that unit, but that may be a reach this high in a class that is underwhelming at tackle. For someone who doesn't even have a whole lot of experience in the sport compared to his counterparts, Hooker's football IQ is exceptional.
8. Carolina Panthers
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette did not play in LSU's bowl game, to which the Panthers are likely to say, "Who cares?" if he falls this far. So long as Fournette's ankle injury doesn't become too much of a concern, this would be a slam dunk for the Panthers, whose offense might return to 2015 levels with him in the backfield.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
In our first mock, Thomas was all the way back at 32 to the Patriots. Ever since then, Thomas' stock has done nothing but shoot skyward, and for good reason. His performance in bowl season against North Carolina was as good as it gets for a defensive lineman, and his scheme versatility also is a big plus.
10. Buffalo Bills
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
This is the point in the mock where players show up who likely will be gone already. The more scouts watch Adams, the more they like him. And once they see how much of an absolute film rat he is, they'll like him even more. If he does somehow fall this far, the Bills will gladly scoop him up.
11. New Orleans Saints
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
It's no secret that the Saints will be drafting defense here, as they should, because that side of the ball has been a hot mess in New Orleans for years. There will be plenty of promising prospects to choose from here, and you can't go wrong with an edge rusher in Charlton whose stock has steadily risen throughout the process.
12. Cleveland Browns (From Eagles)
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
If you believe every worst-kept secret/rumor about Jimmy Garoppolo, then the Browns might trade this pick to get the Patriots' backup quarterback and New England will be picking here. Short of that, though, Hue Jackson could grab the best available signal-caller, who could be just about anyone at this point given the utter lack of consensus on which quarterback is the best in this class.
13. Arizona Cardinals
Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Don't rule out a quarterback here like Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, whose stock continues to rise, but for now, the Cardinals may wait until next season to choose Carson Palmer's successor. In the meantime, Foster is a terrific way to get more athletic at the linebacker position.
14. Indianapolis Colts
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
You think there is a lack of consensus about quarterbacks in this class? That's nothing compared to when you ask scouts about Peppers. He is either a terrific athlete with no set position at the NFL level or a terrific athlete who can play virtually every position at the NFL level. Let's split the difference and say the Colts lean more toward the latter.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Vikings)
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The good news for the Eagles is they have what looks to be a solid answer at quarterback in Carson Wentz. The bad news is the weapons around him leave a lot to be desired. A receiver here could be smart, but if Cook is still around, which he may not be, then it would be even smarter to grab this speedster who also is a weapon as a pass catcher.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
A lot of different picks here could fit well here, and don't be surprised to see the Ravens grab one of the many quality edge rushers still available. But some believe Lattimore is the best corner in this class, and in a draft that is absolutely brimming with good ones, that's saying quite a bit.
17. Washington Redskins
Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
McDowell has some red flags, and his film may be a little too hit or miss for some. But when he's on, he has enough talent to be an immediate impact player. Perhaps his biggest strength is to be effective along any spot up front, which should overshadow some of his inconsistencies.
18. Tennessee Titans
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
The thinking here is that the Titans already grabbed their top wideout early and will go after someone who can shut down their opponents' with their next pick. Tabor may have the highest ceiling, but Wilson was probably more consistent for the uber-loaded Gators secondary last year.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
One of the host of still-on-the-board defensive players could be the right move here. However, there are plenty of scouts who like Davis as the top receiver in the class, so if he falls this far, grabbing another weapon to put on the other side of the field from Mike Evans would make Jameis Winston very happy.
20. Denver Broncos
Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
No, the current Mile High quarterback duo of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch didn't set the world on fire last season, but it's doubtful that the Broncos will address that here. The offensive line needs work, and Ramczyk could step in and upgrade that unit immediately.
21. Detroit Lions
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
The Lions did well in their first year post-Megatron, so this will probably be a defensive pick. There are plenty of places where the Lions could improve on that side of the ball, and Barnett was a productive pass rusher in his time with the Volunteers.
22. Miami Dolphins
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
A good linebacker like Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham would certainly fill a need, but the Dolphins have consistently had trouble finding a true red zone threat for Ryan Tannehill. Miami's David Njoku should be an absolute star at the Scouting Combine, so if the Dolphins want a tight end here, either Howard or Njoku would work.
23. New York Giants
Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
Like the Dolphins, a playmaking linebacker would fill a need. However, the hole on the offensive line might be more pressing, as it has been underperforming for years now. Bolles may slide into the second round, but could help the Giants start piecing that unit back together sooner rather than later.
24. Oakland Raiders
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
There are so many good, young building blocks in place already, but the defense could still use another one in the middle. A defensive tackle would not be a bad direction to go, but Davis is a physical tone-setter who would be a nice centerpiece for a defense that could use one.
25. Houston Texans
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Maybe the Texans feel comfortable with another year of Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage, but the thought here is that Bill O'Brien and Co. roll the dice on Mahomes. The failures of Texas Tech quarterbacks in the NFL are well-chronicled, but Mahomes is a tremendously gifted escape artist and has a cannon for an arm.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Although Russell Wilson bails it out a lot with his feet, the Seahawks' offensive line could use a fresh face or two to help keep him from having to constantly run for his life. Robinson's stock has dropped precipitously over the past year, but he's still someone who could improve the unit.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA
This is another team that might dip its toes in the quarterback pool, and if Mahomes isn't off the board by this point, then things could get a little interesting. But McKinley is a player who blew up this past season, and his pass-rushing skills would be valuable on a Chiefs team that was 28th in the league in sacks last season.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
The Randy Gregory pick (not surprisingly) backfired on the Cowboys, so grabbing a good, young edge rusher should be the priority here, especially in a class full of them. Harris is highly thought of after a strong career at Missouri, which has churned out plenty of quality defensive linemen over the last several years.
29. Green Bay Packers
Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Injuries late in the season aside, the Packers were not all that great at cornerback when they were healthy. Depending on how the dominoes fall, Jones could be long gone by this point, but assuming he's still around, he'd be an easy choice.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
The number one winner of the Senior Bowl was Reddick, who showed off his versatility as someone who could flourish at any linebacker spot. From rushing the passer to dropping in coverage, he would not have to come off the field, and that type of skill set would pair nicely with Ryan Shazier.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Caleb Brantley, DL, Florida
The Falcons have drafted well on defense in recent years, and there's no reason why they shouldn't keep hitting that button this time around. Brantley has tremendous strength and is one of the more difficult interior linemen in the class to double-team.
32. New England Patriots
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
If the Patriots feel like either Dont'a Hightower or Martellus Bennett won't be in New England next year, then maybe they don't draft an edge rusher here. But Lawson, who has battled some injuries in the past, stayed healthy last season and at his best can be a dominant force both rushing the passer and providing help against the run.
— 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.
The ACC isn’t hurting for talent in the coaching ranks. Some of the nation’s top coaches in college basketball or on the gridiron with college football reside in this conference. With Mike Krzyzewski and David Cutcliffe leading the way, Duke once again ranks as the top coaching tandem by Athlon Sports from the ACC. Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia Tech round out the top four, with Florida State, Clemson and Miami bringing up the next batch of teams.
Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.
Ranking the ACC's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos 2017
Football: David Cutcliffe
Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
The Blue Devils took a step back on the football field in 2016, but Cutcliffe’s résumé still shows a combined 27 wins in a three-year period from 2013-15. Krzyzewski is one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball.
Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2017
Football: Bobby Petrino
Basketball: Rick Pitino
Petrino has won at every stop (in the college game) and has an impressive 17–7 record in ACC play in his three years since returning to Louisville. Don’t forget: He went a combined 12–4 in the SEC in his final two seasons at Arkansas. Pitino has won over 750 games in stops at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville.
3. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora
Basketball: Roy Williams
The Williams critics point out that he’s been a head coach at Kansas and North Carolina — two schools where it’s hard NOT to win — but the fact remains that he’s averaged a staggering 28.0 wins in 28 seasons. Fedora’s career has been highlighted by two very good seasons (12–2 at Southern Miss in 2011 and 11–3 at UNC in 2015). He’s averaged a rather ordinary 7.2 wins in his other seven seasons.
4. Virginia Tech
Football: Justin Fuente
Basketball: Buzz Williams
Fuente did a great job in his first season at Tech, guiding the Hokies to the ACC Coastal Division title. Williams, who led Marquette to the NCAA Tournament five times in six seasons at the school, is on the verge of taking the Hokies to the NCAAs in Year 3.
5. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher
Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
Fisher is on the short list of active college football head coaches with a national championship. He has a 78–17 record in seven seasons. Hamilton, in his 15th season at Florida State, will have the Seminoles in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Prior to this recent slump, FSU went to the NCAAs every year from 2009-12.
Football: Dabo Swinney
Basketball: Brad Brownell
Swinney silenced his critics by winning the 2016 national championship — one year after losing in the national championship game. Brownell is a highly respected coach who has struggled to break through at Clemson. The Tigers could be headed to the NCAAs in 2017.
Football: Mark Richt
Basketball: Jim Larranaga
Richt did a nice job in his first season at his alma mater. That followed a 15-year run at Georgia in which he went 83–37 in SEC games — but failed to win a league title in his final 10 years. Larranaga, who is 20 games over .500 in the ACC in his five-plus seasons at Miami, is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches.
Football: Dino Babers
Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Babers thrived at his first two stops as a head coach (Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green) but went 4–8 in Year 1 at Syracuse. He will be given time to turn things around. Boeheim has won one national championship and been to five Final Fours in his storied career at his alma mater.
Football: Bronco Mendenhall
Basketball: Tony Bennett
Mendenhall went 2–10 in his first season at Virginia, the first time in his career he’s had a losing record. He will have to prove he’s the right fit at Virginia after winning 99 games in 11 seasons at BYU. Bennett and Arizona’s Sean Miller are battling for the title as the top coach in college basketball who has never been to a Final Four.
10. Georgia Tech
Football: Paul Johnson
Basketball: Josh Pastner
Johnson bounced back from his first losing season at Georgia Tech to win nine games in 2016. He’s 70–48 overall in nine years with the Yellow Jackets and has won or shared the Coastal Division title four times. Pastner has done a tremendous job in his first season at Tech after an underwhelming seven-year run at Memphis.
Football: Pat Narduzzi
Basketball: Kevin Stallings
Narduzzi, who has a combined 11–5 record in ACC games in two seasons, appears to be a really good fit at Pittsburgh. Stallings’ tenure is off to a rough start. Barring a late-season miracle, the Panthers will miss the NCAA Tournament for only the third time since 2001.
12. Wake Forest
Football: Dave Clawson
Basketball: Danny Manning
Clawson has successfully rebuilt four programs in his career as a head coach that includes stops at Fordham, Richmond, Bowling Green and Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons went 7–6 in 2016. Manning has upgraded the talent at Wake in his two-plus seasons as the head coach and is starting to show progress on the court.
13. NC State
Football: Dave Doeren
Basketball: Mike Gottfried (gone after the season)
Despite leading the Pack to a bowl game in each of the past three seasons, Doeren’s seat will be slightly warm in 2017. The reason? A 9–23 record in ACC games, with three consecutive 3–5 seasons. Gottfried guided NC State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons, but the Pack slumped to 5–13 in 2015-16 and was 3–11 through 14 ACC games this season when the school announced he would not return next season.
14. Boston College
Football: Steve Addazio
Basketball: Jim Christian
Addazio greatly improved his job security by leading the Eagles to a 7–6 record in 2016. Still, he’s 2–14 in ACC games in the last two years. Christian was a curious hire — and it’s no surprise that he is struggling at Boston College.
Mitch Light and Braden Gall to breakdown the latest in college football. Don't forget to subscribe here and rate us if you like (or don't like) what you hear!
- Why are we obsessed with Jim Harbaugh? And does Harbaugh just need to get used to it?
- This leads us into a bigger discussion about the glorification of college coaches and the impact it has on our communities. Why does the media (and fans) deify college coaches unlike the pro version? Is there any solution to the problem?
- Before spring practice begins, it's important to know where each roster stands in terms of talent. The guys rank the top rosters in the nation based on the last five recruiting classes and how it may shape 2017.
- Lastly, did we like the NCAA Tournament selection committee stealing its ranking idea from college football?
Success on defense in the NFL can be fleeting if you lose a key player or an offensive coordinator finds a vulnerability in your scheme. For these reasons, it is best to go by seasons in determining the best defenses of all time. In compiling this ranking, one most factor in both statistics and postseason play. With those areas in mind, here are the 10 best defenses in NFL history.
10. 2015 Denver Broncos
Time and time again this defense delivered when it needed to do so, as the Broncos won 11 games by seven points or fewer on their way to become Super Bowl champions. The top-ranked defense in the league during the regular season, this unit saved its best for last. In three playoff games, the Broncos allowed just four offensive touchdowns while forcing seven turnovers and picking up 14 sacks. League MVP Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina Panthers’ offense found out just how good Von Miller and company were in Super Bowl 50.
9. 1991 Philadelphia Eagles
Having lost quarterback Randall Cunningham to a knee injury for the season in Week 1, the 1991 Eagles’ defense banded together and led the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed. A loss to the Dallas Cowboys late in the season prevented this team from making the playoffs. Tragically, defensive tackle Jerome Brown died in a car accident in the offseason and the defense was never the same.
8. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers
Dick LeBeau’s finest defense led the league in yards and points at just 13.9 per game. A 99-yard interception returned for a touchdown by James Harrison (right before halftime) in Super Bowl XLIII proved to be the difference in the Steelers’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
7. 1972 Miami Dolphins
The No-Name Defense led the league in points and yards allowed. This unit was the foundation of the only perfect season of the Super Bowl era.
6. 1962 Green Bay Packers
Vince Lombardi’s greatest defense featured five eventual Hall of Famers and held opposing quarterbacks to a 43.5 passer rating. The 267-point differential (19.1 per game) between the Packers and their opponents is the best of any team of the 1960s.
5. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In addition to dominating opponents, the 2002 Buccaneers were always a threat to take interceptions to the house. They did so three times in their Super Bowl win over the Oakland Raiders.
4. 2013 Seattle Seahawks
The Legion of Boom and the rest of the 2013 Seahawks defense led the league in points, yards and turnovers. And, of course, this defense completely shut down Peyton Manning — who was having the best season of his career — and Denver’s record-setting offense in Super Bowl XLVIII.
3. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
2. 2000 Baltimore Ravens
The 2000 Ravens may be the worst team offensively to ever win a Super Bowl. Why did they win? Because they allowed an average of 9.4 points in 16 regular season games and four playoff games.
1. 1985 Chicago Bears
The success of this team is almost mythical. The ’85 Bears led the league in yards, points, first downs and turnovers en route to a 15-1 regular season. In the playoffs they shut out both the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams and did not allow a touchdown for 11 quarters. They finished things off with a 46-10 dismantling (123 total yards allowed, 7 sacks, 6 takeaways) of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
— 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.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Two years ago, Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 MLB Draft by Arizona. Although he was traded to Atlanta that December, Swanson made quite the first impression for the Braves after he was called up this past August, which is why he’s considered the front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year honors this season.
The 2017 MLB Draft is set for June 12-14 and while there are a number of intriguing high school prospects, it’s just as likely that Minnesota will take a college player, like Swanson two years ago, with the No. 1 overall pick. If history is to repeat itself in that way, chances are it will be a pitcher the Twins select, considering that eight of the first 10 college prospects listed below have RHP or LHP after their name.
Top 40 College Prospects for 2017 MLB Draft
1. Alex Faedo, RHP, Florida
A.J. Puk was a first-round pick of the A’s last year, but Faedo outpitched him in the Gators’ rotation. Faedo is a righthander with a nearly ideal frame (6-5, 220) and an excellent fastball/slider one-two combo. If he can improve his changeup, he could be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
2. Jeren Kendall, OF, Vanderbilt
Kendall didn’t get to play center field at Vanderbilt in his first two college seasons because of 2016 second-round pick Bryan Reynolds, but he’s the best college center field prospect in the upcoming draft class. He has great speed with plenty of offensive potential as well, although he’s going to have to show better contact ability.
3. Kyle Wright, RHP, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt has had five pitchers taken in the first or supplemental first round since 2011. Wright will almost assuredly be the sixth thanks to his 90-94-mph fastball. He’s already shown the ability to manipulate his fastball, cutting it and sinking it, and his curveball shows plenty of promise.
4. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, North Carolina
The success of Sonny Gray, Johnny Cueto and Marcus Stroman has helped paved the way for Bukauskas, another short righthander. The 6-footer has three quality pitches, but it’s his devastating slider that helped him pile up nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings as a sophomore.
5. Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Louisville
It’s hard to imagine a team passing on his pitching potential — he’s a lefty who can spot his fastball and finish off hitters with an above-average curveball — but McKay is also one of Louisville’s best hitters.
6. Tanner Houck, RHP, Missouri
Houck has successfully dominated with power in his first two years at Missouri. Now he’s working on becoming a more refined pitcher. Houck is a ground-ball machine at his best, but he needs to improve his changeup this spring.
7. Tristan Beck, RHP, Stanford
Beck and Colton Hock will team up to give Stanford one of the best weekend rotations in college baseball this year. Beck is a draft-eligible sophomore, so he will have some additional financial leverage come draft time because he has two remaining years of college eligibility.
8. Alex Lange, RHP, LSU
In his first two seasons at LSU, Lange has twice ranked among the top 10 in Division I in strikeouts. There’s some debate whether Lange will fit better long term as a pro as a hard-throwing closer or as an innings-eating starter.
9. Pavin Smith, 1B/OF, Virginia
Smith has one of the smoothest left-handed swings in college baseball, and he’s been a consistent performer at Virginia and in the Cape Cod League. He’s shown flashes of what could be above-average power.
10. Colton Hock, RHP, Stanford
Hock has started only two games in two years at Stanford as the Cardinal staff worked to stretch him out. He will have an opportunity this spring to prove that his power stuff can work deep into games.
11. Seth Romero, LHP, Houston
Romero dominated the American Athletic Conference as a sophomore. Hitters couldn’t handle his low-90s fastball and hard slider. He’s one of the best lefties in the draft class.
12. Jake Burger, 3B, Missouri State
Burger, who has tremendous power, could play his way into the first round or out of the top three rounds in his junior season. Scouts want to see more athleticism from him at third base, and they want to see better bat control at the plate.
13. Brendon Little, LHP, State College of Florida
Little barely pitched at North Carolina in 2016, so he’s transferred to State College of Florida, which is thrilled to get a lefty with a 93-mph fastball and a dominating breaking ball.
14. Clarke Schmidt, RHP, South Carolina
Schmidt took a big step forward as a sophomore at South Carolina. His velocity jumped by 2-3 mph, which helped him earn a spot in the weekend rotation and finish sixth in Division I with 129 strikeouts.
15. Wil Crowe, RHP, South Carolina
If not for an elbow injury, Crowe would likely be pitching in pro ball. He missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery and decided to return to school to prove his front-of-rotation stuff has returned.
16. J.J. Schwarz, C, Florida
Schwarz was a revelation as a freshman when hit 18 home runs. After a disappointing sophomore season, he needs to show he can still drive the ball while also showing improvement defensively behind the plate.
17. Keston Hiura, 2B/OF, UC Irvine
Hiura was the best power hitter on the California high school circuit in 2014. He’s hit seven home runs in each of his first two college seasons and has topped .500 in slugging twice. He’s one of the best hitters in this year’s draft class, but he needs to prove he can handle second base defensively.
18. Dalton Guthrie, SS, Florida
The son of former big-league pitcher Mark Guthrie is one of the best defensive players in college. He has a strong arm, good hands and excellent anticipation. But he needs to prove he can hit to go in the first round.
19. Peter Solomon, RHP, Notre Dame
Solomon’s control needs refinement, but as one of the most impressive pitchers on the Cape last summer, he showed a promising low-90s fastball and a potentially above-average slider.
20. Griffin Canning, RHP, UCLA
Canning was dominant as a freshman in 2015 and handled a bump to a larger role as a sophomore. He is now UCLA’s undisputed ace thanks to his 92-95-mph fastball and hard cutter.
21. Evan Skoug, C, TCU
It’s hard to find a scout convinced that Skoug is ever going to be an average catcher defensively, but he’s a good enough hitter that he has a plausible path to the big leagues.
22. Michael Gigliotti, OF, Lipscomb
Gigliotti is a speedy, top-of-the-order hitter who knows how to get on base, bunt for hits and swipe a bag once he reaches. His speed also plays well in the outfield, where he is a rangy defender.
23. Corbin Martin, RHP, Texas A&M
Martin has an exceptional mid-90s fastball that will touch 97-98, but he needs to show this spring that he has some idea where it’s going. He could be a dominating closer for the Aggies if his control improves.
24. Taylor Walls, SS, Florida State
Walls is a top-of-the-order hitter who knows how to spray the ball around the field, take a walk and cause some havoc with his above-average speed once he reaches base.
25. David Peterson, LHP, Oregon
Peterson has yet to put together the kind of dominating season that’s possible from a massive (6-6) lefty who gets good sink on his 88-92-mph two-seam fastball and runs his four-seamer up to 94-95.
26. Joe Dunand, 3B, NC State
The nephew of Alex Rodriguez, Dunand is also a former shortstop who has slid to third. Dunand is better defensively at his new home, and he has some of the best power potential in the draft class.
27. Kevin Smith, SS, Maryland
The Cape Cod League’s playoff MVP last summer, Smith is a line-drive hitter who needs better plate discipline. Defensively, he has the arm and reliability for shortstop, but he needs to improve his range.
28. Mitch Hart, RHP, USC
Hart didn’t wow scouts in the Cape Cod League last summer, but with solid stuff and a spot in USC weekend rotation, the draft-eligible sophomore could quickly rise up draft boards with a strong season.
29. Dylan Busby, 1B/3B, Florida State
Busby was a fixture in the middle of the Seminoles’ lineup as a sophomore and was equally good last summer in the Cape. Scouts love the power, but they want He to prove he can stay at third base defensively.
30. K.J. Harrison, C, Oregon State
If Harrison were catching regularly, his significant power would stand out even more. But he has largely been limited to first base, where there’s a lot more pressure on his bat.
31. Ricky Tyler Thomas, LHP, Fresno State
Thomas doesn’t blow anyone away, but the slight (6-1, 175) lefty has shown he can baffle hitters by spotting his below-average (87-91-mph) fastball to set up an excellent changeup.
32. Zach Rutherford, SS, Old Dominion
Scouts will focus on whether Rutherford projects as a shortstop or a second baseman in pro ball, but at either spot his athleticism and right-handed power should play well.
33. Hunter Williams, LHP, North Carolina
Williams hasn’t pitched that much in two years as a Tar Heel because of control problems. But he finished second in the Cape Cod League in ERA, leading to hopes that he could have a breakout junior season.
34. Mike Rivera, C, Florida
If Rivera and J.J. Schwarz could combine their strengths, you’d have the No. 1 pick in the draft. Schwarz is Florida’s hitting catcher; Rivera is the top defender at the position, but he will have to prove he can survive at the plate in pro ball.
35. Tyler Johnson, RHP, South Carolina
Johnson was the closer for USA Baseball’s College National Team last summer. He has the fastball/slider combo to miss bats, but he also has some traits that could make him an effective starter.
36. Evan White, 1B, Kentucky
White is more athletic than the average college first baseman, and there are scouts who believe he has the skills to play in the outfield. He hit .376 for the Wildcats as a sophomore, but he still needs to improve his strike-zone awareness.
37. Zach Warren, LHP, Tennessee
Warren is a lefty who has plenty of potential, but he has yet to show consistency in his first two years as a Volunteer.
38. Garrett Cave, RHP, Tampa
Cave will be one of the top relievers in this year’s draft class and is the top arm in Division II. His control isn’t always as sharp as it needs to be, but his 95-mph fastball and power curve give him two potential out pitches.
39. Deon Stafford, C, Saint Joseph’s
The 2016 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year has a chance to be a star, as he’s a catcher with big-time power and a strong arm. However, he’s far from polished defensively.
40. Will Gaddis, RHP, Furman
Gaddis was the Paladins’ dominant ace in 2016, and he was equally impressive last summer in the Cape Cod League. He’s a four-pitch starter with solid if unspectacular stuff.
In the past five years or so, when drafting a tight end in fantasy football, Rob Gronkowski has been the consensus No. 1 pick. And not only has Gronk struggled to live up to his lofty billing, but also trying to identify which of his peers will provide solid TE1 production each week has been tough.
For 2016 drafts, after Gronkowski, Jordan Reed was taken in the fourth round, Greg Olsen in the fifth, and Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker were drafted in the sixth round. However, when looking at total fantasy points (PPR format), Kelce finished first followed by Kyle Rudolph (who went undrafted) and Olsen. Part of the reason for this is relatively simple – target share:
Kyle Rudolph, MIN
Greg Olsen, CAR
Dennis Pitta, BAL
Travis Kelce, KC
Zach Ertz, PHI
Delanie Walker, TEN
Jimmy Graham, SEA
Jason Witten, DAL
Antonio Gates, SD
Jordan Reed, WAS
C.J. Fiedorowicz, HOU
Olsen and Kelce were the only two tight ends with more than 1,000 receiving yards this past season. While the tight end position can be touchdown-dependent, when drafting one, it's best to try to find a TE that will get the ball, and not just provide the occasional touchdown.
Cameron Brate and Hunter Henry led the tight ends with eight touchdown cathces each. Brate finished seventh in terms of total fantasy points; Henry finished 19th.
The key when drafting a tight end is to find a team that will utilize the position as either another wide receiver (such as Olsen with Carolina) or as someone to dump the ball off to (Rudolph with Minnesota). Teams with multiple tight ends (Los Angeles Chargers) or teams that don't really use the tight end (Arizona, New York Jets) should be avoided.
Predicting tight end success is a challenge: how many experts thought that Coby Fleener would have a solid season in New Orleans? This was a team that liked passing the ball, was looking for a solid red-zone threat, and utilized the tight end position in the past. They had a gap to fill and Fleener seemed like a no-brainer TE1. The end result: Fleener had 82 targets (15th among tight ends), 50 receptions (18th), 631 yards (13th) and only three touchdowns. He finished 15th in fantasy scoring, which is not TE1 territory. He didn’t live up to his early seventh-round ADP.
On average, Delanie Walker was drafted about four spots ahead of Fleener. In 2015, Walker led his position in both targets and receptions. He also had the third-most receiving yards as well. Fantasy owners didn't buy in, but in 2016, Walker was sixth in both targets and yards among his peers. He finished as a top-five fantasy tight end for the second straight season. He'll be 33 at the start of the 2017 season, but in each of the past four years (all with Tennessee), Walker has had at least 60 receptions. In the last three years, he's had at least 800 yards. He should have a solid 2017 as well.
At the end of the day, the tight end position is tough for fantasy owners. However, trying to find players that can get you more than two points if they don't get in the end zone is the key. Ignore touchdowns when looking at tight ends. Instead, look at targets when drafting your tight end(s) in 2017.
— 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.
Star quarterback Baker Mayfield returns, joined by his entire offensive line, almost every starting defensive back and experience on the defensive line, just to name a few. It probably doesn’t leave much room for an influx of talented youngsters to see the field this year. That’s not stopping them from trying, though, as a whopping 12 early enrollees hit campus this semester, hoping to impress head coach Bob Stoops and his staff during spring practice.
A handful of newcomers from the past two recruiting classes likely will get a shot to contribute come September. Here are five to keep a close eye on, listed in order of importance.
Marquise Brown, WR, Junior College Transfer
A year ago, everyone in Sooner Nation wanted to know who could possibly replace an all-time great like Sterling Shepard at receiver. Dede Westbrook gave a definitive answer in the fall.
Now the Sooners are looking to fill Westbrook's shoes. They should fit the speedy junior college transfer Brown well.
Receivers coach Dennis Simmons didn’t recruit Brown for depth. He’s a solid bet to become Mayfield’s top target this year.
Jon-Michael Terry, LB, Redshirt Freshman
Oklahoma has struggled to build depth at inside linebacker, a recruiting shortcoming that could come back to bite Stoops this season. Jordan Evans' graduation leaves a huge hole, and Terry appears to be first in line to replace OU's leading tackler from 2016.
At 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, the redshirt freshman looks the part physically. Can he handle the mental aspects of the position? That’s a more important question at this point.
In a perfect world, Terry would sit for another season behind a veteran. Unfortunately, the Sooners don't have that luxury.
CeeDee Lamb, WR, True Freshman
Lamb joins Marquise Brown and Charleston Rambo to form one of the most formidable groups of receiver recruits in the nation this year. Like Brown, Lamb should get a chance to make a name for himself from the jump.
Given Lamb’s height and ball skills, the upperclassmen manning the outside receiver spots need to consider themselves on notice.
Levi Draper, LB, True Freshman
The aforementioned dearth of bodies at inside linebacker will likely force Draper into action in his first year on campus. The highly touted in-state product possesses the skill set to thrive against the wide-open offenses of the Big 12, but that's a tall order for a true freshman.
As an early enrollee, Draper may benefit from spring practice reps more than any other player on the roster. He also needs the extra time in the weight room under strength coach Jerry Schmidt.
Marcelias Sutton, RB, Junior College Transfer
With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon off to the NFL, OU is looking for the right combination of runners to fit the demands of Lincoln Riley's respect-the-run variant of the Air Raid. Riley bragged on Sutton's explosiveness during OU's National Signing Day event, suggesting there might be a role for the Lackawanna (Penn.) College product catching passes out of the backfield or motioning out wide. We’ll get a better idea after spring ball.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
Coming off a strong second half to the 2016 season that saw Penn State roar its way to a Big Ten championship and play in one of the most exciting Rose Bowls we have seen, the expectations for the Nittany Lions in 2017 is as high as it’s been in some time. With a roster returning the likes of Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, big things are expected from the Penn State offense, but the overall roster returning should be one of the deepest the program has had in years. There may even be some newcomers to the team that could leave a grand impression as well.
Penn State just landed one of its best recruiting classes in years, but head coach James Franklin also pulled in a very respectable 2016 crop. Both classes may have some key players given a chance to compete for key starting jobs, or at least play a significant role as Penn State looks to build on all that was accomplished last season.
A review of the Penn State roster shows some talented players that took a redshirt in 2016 that should only help add quality depth to Penn State.
Shane Simmons, DE, Redshirt Freshman
Defensive line has been a strong part of Penn State’s defense in recent years, and with Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan each moving on, now may be the time for Simmons to step right in and show what he can do. The four-star recruit in the Class of 2016 redshirted last season as the position was pretty stacked, but the DeMatha Catholic product from Maryland should be capable of making a strong push to win a starting job for the 2017 season.
Lamont Wade, CB, True Freshman
The crown jewel of Penn State’s Class of 2017, Wade wasted no time in getting himself in the Penn State program as an early enrollee in January. That should help the defensive staff figure out exactly how and where to use him in the secondary, even if he is not expected to be a starter right away. There is simply too much talent and potential with Wade to keep him off the sideline.
Jonathan Sutherland, S, True Freshman
A later addition to the Class of 2017, Sutherland will not join the team until the summer. That may put him behind the curve compared to other players vying for playing time at the safety position, one that already is actually fairly deep, but there is a starting job on the line and the four-star recruit may have a chance to dazzle in the summer. Keep an eye on the position throughout the spring, because if there is a competition for a starting job heading into the fall, Sutherland may get a chance to jump in the conversation.
Michael Menet, OG, Redshirt Freshman
With a hole to plug on the offensive line with the departure of Brian Gaia, there should be some heavy competition for the job. Menet, one of the top in-state recruits and the nation’s top-rated offensive guard in the Class of 2016 redshirted last season but will make his case for a starting job. If Menet doesn’t work himself into the starting line at the start of the year, he may be the first man off of the bench or next man up should that opportunity come.
KJ Hamler, WR, True Freshman
Like Lamont Wade, Hamel is a four-star recruit that is already getting to work at Penn State as an early enrollee. With Penn State looking pretty set at the wide receiver position with options already previously in the fold even after losing Chris Godwin to the NFL, Hamler may be able to demonstrate early on he can be useful when called upon. If Hamler doesn’t get much of an opportunity to catch some footballs this fall, he could be a valuable option as a return man on special teams. Freshman running back Miles Sanders was the primary kickoff returner last season, but Penn State could benefit from someone more explosive and more of a playmaker in that capacity. If Hamler possesses that skill set, he may get a shot.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
Sure, this may seem early, but some college football teams are already starting spring practice. Before you know it, we'll have our football Saturdays back and another journey to the College Football Playoff will have begun. For that reason, you need a primer for those early, non-conference games.
Here are the 10 most intriguing non-conference games the Big Ten will be involved in during the 2017 college football season.
10. Maryland at Texas, Sept. 2
DJ Durkin is trying to lay the foundation of a winning program in College Park. Tom Herman is tasked with raising a blue blood from the ashes and back to national relevance. The outcome of this contest has the potential to be both beneficial and detrimental to the future of the two programs.
9. Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 9
James Franklin's squad is already starting to look like the preseason darling heading into 2017. Nothing would halt that Penn State hype-train faster than a home loss to a gritty, in-state rival led by a head coach that hasn't been on the losing end of too many matchups with the Nittany Lions.
8. Air Force at Michigan, Sept. 16
After opening against Florida, the Wolverines have what appears to be a schedule that would be easy to sleepwalk through during the first half of the season. Sitting in the middle of that stretch, like a snake in the grass, is a matchup with an experienced and disciplined Air Force team full of players that won 10 games a season ago. With some of the star-power and leadership Michigan lost from 2016, the timing of this game could make things interesting.
7. Wyoming at Iowa, Sept. 2
The Hawkeyes lost at home to North Dakota State early last season. In 2017, they'll play host to the architect of that program — Craig Bohl — and his upward-trending Wyoming Cowboys. Bohl's team is led by quarterback Josh Allen — likely a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2018. With Iowa replacing such pillars as quarterback C.J. Beathard and cornerback Desmond King, the anxiety level will be pretty high in Iowa City up until this season-opener kicks off.
6. Western Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 9
How strong is the culture that P.J. Fleck built in Kalamazoo? What will the new Broncos look like? How much has Michigan's resurgence impacted Michigan State's recruiting and subsequent depth? We'll learn a lot about the state of these two programs — each of which has played in a New Year's Six game during the last two seasons — well before October arrives.
5. Wisconsin at BYU, Sept. 16
The Wisconsin Badgers just win. Every year, we doubt them. And every year they show up and prove us all wrong. They lost a considerable amount of star-power to graduation and the draft. Will they be good enough to pull out a rare road victory out in Provo, Utah? The winner of this game will put the nation on notice.
4. Nebraska at Oregon, Sept. 9
When these two teams met in Lincoln early in the 2016 season, the end result was one of the more competitive, exciting and underrated contests of the year. Mike Riley leads the Huskers into Eugene with a new quarterback and a more complete version of the offense he's been trying to install since taking the Nebraska job. Willie Taggart's presence on Oregon's sideline means the Ducks will have some new wrinkles of their own. Like last year, this game sets the tone for both teams.
3. Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 23
Brian Kelly's back is up against the wall in South Bend. You can't have back-to-back losing seasons at Notre Dame and expect to keep your job. He'll be staring across the field at a head coach who similarly cannot afford a second straight losing season. The Spartans won three games in 2016. One against Furman, one against Rutgers and one against Notre Dame in South Bend. This feels like a must-win — not only for both teams, but also for both head coaches.
2. Florida vs. Michigan (at AT&T Stadium), Sept. 2
The SEC-B1G interconference rivalry is alive and well. Having a high-profile team from each conference square off to open the season only fuels the fire. A win by Michigan keeps them at the College Football Playoff contender table. A win by Florida excuses the Wolverines and allows the Gators to take a seat early on.
1. Oklahoma at Ohio State, Sept. 9
These two teams return arguably the two most electrifying quarterbacks in the nation. Both have championship talent led by championship head coaches. Both have high expectations for 2017. It's not unrealistic to assume that this will be the first of two potential matchups between the two programs during the upcoming season.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
Trivia Night is fun for many reasons. The questions, the drinking, the cameraderie...the drinking. But the best part of trivia is when you get to hear the team names. While you may not win every time, having the best team name can make or break your night. We've compiled 30 of the funniest, raunchiest and greatest names for you to call your next trivia team. Here they are in no particular order of awesomeness:
- I Thought This Was Speed Dating
- My Drinking Team Has a Trivia Problem
- My Trivia Partner Doesn’t Know This Is a Date
- Quiz in My Pants
- Let’s Get Trivial
- Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Because We Brought One
- I Read About the Evils of Drinking, So I Gave Up Reading
- Menace to Sobriety
- The Kids R. Kelly Peed On
- Romo Wasn’t Built in a Day but It Fell Apart in the Second Half
- With Great Mustache Comes Great Responsibility
- Morning After Pilsner
- We’re Single Text Us After
- We’d Be Better Trivia Players, but We’re Too Busy Having Sex
- Kony 2012
- The Trent Richardson Fan Club
- Our Balls Aren’t Deflated
- The Smartest Guys in the Room
- The Greatest Show On Stools
- Champions of Life
- Can We Use A Lifeline?
- Trivia Newton John
- I Came On Eileen
- Donald Trump’s Barber Shop
- Waiting For the Bartender’s Tits to Fall Out
- Like Usain Bolt, My Ex-Boyfriend Finishes in 9.81 Seconds
- It’s a Game of Inches, Just Ask Your Wife
- And in First Place With 250 Points
- The Group of Girls Across the Bar Are Cheating A-Holes
The 2017 NASCAR season is about to crank up with the 59th running of the Daytona 500 and a new title sponsor, Monster Energy. That also means it is about time to start registering for your favorite 2017 fantasy NASCAR league. We have come up with 75 funny, crazy, weird and/or outright silly names to help you get started on your quest to fantasy NASCAR greatness. Even if you don’t win your league, you can still dominate the competition in the “name game”. Here’s our list of the best, in no particular order of awesomeness.
- Make NASCAR Great Again
- 2 Girls, 1 Monster Cup
- The Carl Edward’s Conspiracy
- Erik Jones’ Diary
- Where’s Carl?
- The Concussed 88’s
- Rowdy Busch Always Takes the Pole
- Losing Makes My Dick Trickle
- Perfectly Round Almirolas
- Wise Johnsons Fear Rowdy Busch
- Dillon Kahne
- A Happy Harvick Ending
- 2 Lbs. in the Rear Got Her Loose
- Trevor Bayned Your Lady
- Michael Waltrip’s Masculine Side
- Petty… Petty… Petty… Good
- Jimmies, Johnsons and Poles
- Tight In, Loose Off
- Blazing Sadlers
- Tears for Mears
- Shaking the Busch, Boss
- Cousin Carl’s Guide to Early Retirement
- The Rick Hendrick Experience
- Go Left Young Man
- Put a Little Wedge in It
- No Sponsor Necessary
- WHOSE HOUSE? STENHOUSE
- The Big Keselowski
- Beat’n ‘n Bangin’
- Green Eggs and Hamlin
- 2 Buschs 1 Johnson
- This Suarez Easy
- Checkers or Wreckers
- Oval Eaters
- Allison Wonderland
- Haul ‘n’ Arse
- The Holy Dale
- What’s the Frequency Kenseth?
- Almirola by Morning
- A Little on the High Side
- Humpy’s Wheelers
- Blaney’s Got a Gun
- Your Busch Burned My Johnson
- The TrueX-Files
- High, Wide and Handsome
- Gibbs Me My Trophy!
- Close Encounters with the Third Turn
- Gettin’ Loose with Danica
- Shake 'n Bake
- Almirola Doobie
- Dillon A$$ Whoopin’s
- El Diablo and the Magic Man
- CHEVY CHASErs
- Sofa King Racing
- Racers of the Left Arc
- Blew Ba-You
- A Country Boy/Gal Kahne Survive
- You Kahne Do It!
- Haas My Driving?
- Pissin’ Excellence
- Gentlemen, Start Your Devices!
- Earnhardt and Soul
- Allmendinger Berries
- Busch Whackers
- Petty Larson
- Beating off the Biff
- Where's the Biff?
- Rubbin’s Racin’
- A Bowyer’s Life
- Blue Logano
- GREG'S My BFFL
- Victory Circle Jerks
- Gaughan With the Wind
- Racecar Backwards is Racecar
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
Klay Thompson is taking it back with the Anta KT2 Bahama.
The Warriors guard credits the Bahamas and his superstar father, Mychal, for shaping him into the player he is today.
NBA All-Star weekend will see Thompson lighting things up in the Anta KT2 Bahamas, with a colorway reminiscent of the island waves and sky in turquoise and white. It's easy to get lost in the tranquility of this shoe. The inside of the tongue features another shout out to his father with Chines characters that translate to "Wise schooling has produced excellence beyond the teacher. The follower has surpassed the master."
This sneaker shows the influence of Mychal can be found in Klay's game, but there's definitely a new-age superstar Thompson taking over these days.
Brad Keselowski was running at the end of every race in 2016 — until the Chase. Keselowski won four times in 2016 — but not in the Chase. Keselowski did everything right in the first 26 races. He won. He avoided trouble. He looked like a contender for his second title in NASCAR’s top series. And then the Chase happened.
Keselowski entered NASCAR’s playoff as the points leader on the strength of his four wins and sailed through the round of 16 with three top 5s in three races. His name was penciled in on a shortening list of favorites to still be standing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. He kicked off the round of 12 with a top 10 at Charlotte. And then it all fell apart. A crash at Kansas left Keselowski with his back against the wall at Talladega. The Michigan native came through, leading 90 laps and looking like he’d coast to the win. Instead, for the first and only time in 2016, the engine in his No. 2 Ford gave up the ghost, sealing his fate as an also-ran.
There’s so much about Keselowski’s 2016 season to celebrate, but his 12th-place finish in the standings is what goes into the record book. He’s spent a couple of seasons now in the shadow of his younger teammate, Joey Logano, who won more races than anyone in 2015 and came up just shy of the title at Homestead in 2016. But Keselowski already has one title in the Premier Series, and he’s got everything Logano has in terms of equipment from Team Penske. And that makes him a very legitimate threat to win another one.
Keselowski and Paul Wolfe have also become one of the most formidable driver-crew chief combinations in the sport. The two were paired in Keselowski’s second year with Penske in 2011 and immediately made a statement, winning three races and finishing fifth in points. A former racer himself, Wolfe is able to translate what his driver is feeling into speed on the track and handles Keselowski’s outspoken personality perfectly. Each has elevated the other — the hallmark of a great match.
Keselowski’s outspoken nature would ruffle the feathers of a lot of the corporate sponsors in the sport, but he’s a perfect fit with Miller Lite — a company that has backed similarly outspoken drivers Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch in the past and one that seems more than happy to let the driver be himself. Fans may either love him or loathe him, but his sponsor lets him make his own bed, a rarity in today’s NASCAR, but a key to their successful relationship. Other sponsors who will be back with Keselowski this season include Würth, Alliance Truck Parts, AutoTrader.com and SKF.
Keselowski faces a stacked field and stiff competition this season, not the least of which comes from his own teammate. But he’s run in the same company and come out on top, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him win a bunch of races again. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if Keselowski found himself in some sort of controversy for something he said or did. There’s a good possibility we will see some of both.
The 2017 MLB Draft is set for June 12-14 and while the nation’s top high school prospects are merely teenagers and seemingly years away from the big leagues, a look at some of last season’s best players will show that this can be the path to future stardom.
Four of the six major award winners for the 2016 season were drafted out of high school, a group that’s headlined by now two-time American League MVP Mike Trout (2009 draft) and also includes National League Rookie of the Year Corey Seager (2012), his AL counterpart Michael Fulmer (2011), as well as AL Cy Young recipient Rick Porcello, who has emerged as one of the better picks of the 2007 draft.
As you can see with these four examples, it still takes some time to know if a hot-shot high school prospect will develop into an everyday starter in the majors, let alone a superstar. So which prep standouts are MLB teams eyeing for this year’s draft in hopes of finding their next franchise cornerstone?
Top 40 High School Prospects for 2017 MLB Draft
1. Hunter Greene, SS/RHP, Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Greene is an athletic right-handed pitcher with some of the easiest 95-mph velocity scouts have seen. But he’s also a legitimate first-round pick as a shortstop. His range and foot speed aren’t ideal for the position, but he has great hands and an outstanding arm.
2. Royce Lewis, OF, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
As impressive as Greene is, there are scouts who believe Lewis is the top high school player in the class. He’s shown impressive hitting ability to go with excellent athleticism. He’s also played some shortstop.
3. D.L. Hall, LHP, Valdosta, Ga.
Hall is an impressive athlete who also has been a productive basketball player. His athleticism is apparent on the mound as well. With a potentially plus curveball to go with a 94-mph fastball, Hall is a possible top-5 pick.
4. Hans Crouse, RHP, Dana Point, Calif.
Crouse has some of the best pure arm strength in the prep ranks with a fastball that touches 97 mph on his best days. He has also shown the ability to spin a hard-breaking curveball.
5. Jo Adell, OF/RHP, Louisville, Ky.
Few prominent members of the draft class improved more over the summer showcase circuit than Adell. At the start of the summer, Adell looked lost at the plate at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars. By the end, he was putting together much better at-bats and was starting to let his athleticism play more.
6. Calvin Mitchell, OF, San Diego, Calif.
Mitchell is one of the safest high school bats in the 2017 draft class. There are very few doubts about his ability to put the bat on the ball, although he has less upside than some of the other top prep prospects.
7. Blayne Enlow, RHP, St. Amant, La.
Enlow is yet another of a very strong group of hard-throwing righthanders with plenty of velocity and the ability to break off a quality breaking ball. His curveball is one of the best in the draft class.
8. Cole Brannen, OF, Perry, Ga.
Brannen turned in some of the fastest running times of the prep class, but he’s also shown some left-handed pop as well, giving him a chance to be a valuable power/speed outfielder who can play center or right field.
9. Jacob Heatherly, LHP, Cullman, Ala.
Heatherly already pitches with a low-90s fastball, but with his broad shoulders and smooth delivery, there may be a little more in there. His curveball isn’t all that consistent, but at its best, it’s quite good.
10. Quentin Holmes, OF, East Elmhurst, N.Y.
Any team needing a great glove in center field should take a look at Holmes. He’s a speedster who can track down balls in the gaps in center field. His infectious exuberance on the field also impresses scouts.
11. Trevor Rogers, LHP, Carlsbad, N.M.
A cousin of former big-league outfielder Cody Ross, Rogers is a massive (6'6") lefthander with the 95-mph fastball to match his size.
12. Nick Allen, SS, San Diego, Calif.
Allen is one of the best defensive shortstops in the 2017 draft class. He’s a line-drive hitter without much power, but his glove gives him a chance to stay at shortstop as a pro.
13. Mark Vientos, SS/3B, Plantation, Fla.
Vientos, who is committed to play at Miami (Fla.), is one of the most physical hitters in the upcoming draft class. He has plenty of bat speed and power potential and the
frame to get even bigger.
14. Brady McConnell, SS, Merritt Island, Fla.
Over the summer, McConnell proved to be one of the most consistent hitters around, hitting line drive after line drive against quality pitching. The Florida commit also showed a consistent glove at shortstop.
15. Nick Storz, RHP, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Storz looks like he made a mistake and walked onto the diamond when he was supposed to be headed to the football field. The massive righthander has a 94-mph fastball but needs to learn to control it better.
16. Adam Hall, SS/2B, London, Ont.
Hall likely will have to move from shortstop in pro ball, although he’s good enough with the glove to play shortstop for the Aggies if he makes it to Texas A&M. He’s shown the bat to be a top-of-the-order hitter as well.
17. Kyle Hurt, RHP, San Diego, Calif.
The best is likely yet to come for Hurt, but the righthander already has some of his man strength, and he has three promising pitches.
18. Jeremiah Estrada, RHP, Palm Desert, Calif.
There’s so much velocity in the game that it’s easy to get jaded, but Estrada’s 91-95 mph fastball deserves notice, especially as the UCLA commit has shown signs of commanding it better and better.
19. Garrett Mitchell, OF, Orange, Calif.
Mitchell has the building blocks to be an impact outfielder as his pull-heavy approach gives him excellent power (at the expense of plate coverage), and he’s a speedster in the outfield with a right fielder’s arm.
20. M.J. Melendez, C, Palmetto Bay, Fla.
Melendez is the son of Florida International head coach Mervyl Melendez. As you would expect for a coach’s son, he has an excellent understanding of the game. He also has shown a very strong arm behind the plate and an improved swing.
21. Heliot Ramos, OF, Guaynabo, P.R.
Ramos was the star of the Under Armour game at Wrigley Field last summer. He’s a right fielder with the arm and the power potential for the position, but his ability to make consistent contact will be tested in pro ball.
22. Alex Scherff, RHP, Colleyville, Texas
Scherff hasn’t always been consistent, but at his best he looks like a potential ace with a 95-plus mph fastball and the feel for spinning a breaking ball and locating a changeup.
23. Jake Eder, LHP, Delray Beach, Fla.
Eder may be a tough player to sign out of high school as he’s committed to Vanderbilt, but the lefty has a pro body at 6'4", 215 pounds and pro stuff with an 88-91 mph fastball and quality curveball.
24. Shane Baz, RHP/3B, Tomball, Texas
Baz has been a two-way player in high school and on the showcase circuit, but he has more potential on the mound as a pro. His slider is advanced for his age, and his low-90s fastball has present velocity.
25. Mitchell Stone, LHP, Edmond, Okla.
Stone is one of the tallest high school pitchers scouts have ever seen. At 6'10", 250 pounds, he has massive length to go with an 88-92 mph fastball. He shows better control than can be expected from such a long-levered pitcher.
26. Hagen Danner, RHP/C, Huntington Beach, Calif.
As a long-time contributor for one of the best high school programs in the country (Huntington Beach HS), Danner has been a name on the scouting circuit for several years, both as a catcher and as a pitcher.
27. Nick Pratto, LHP/1B, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Pratto and teammate Danner will likely ensure that Huntington Beach will rank among the nation’s best high school teams again this year. Pratto is a first baseman with the power expected from the position.
28. Chris McMahon, RHP, West Chester, Pa.
As a colder-weather fresh arm who already lights up radar guns with a low-90s fastball, McMahon is a must-follow for teams this spring.
29. Cole Turney, OF, Richmond, Texas
Turney’s power is something to behold. The left-handed hitter showed his ability to drive the ball 400-plus feet, although he may have to clean up his swing a little to be a better hitter.
30. Conner Uselton, OF, Moore, Okla.
Uselton’s swing isn’t always pretty, but it does the job, and he has a very lengthy track record, as he was one of the most prominent underclassmen on the showcase circuit in 2014 and ’15.
31. Drew Waters, OF, Woodstock, Ga.
A switch-hitter whose left-handed swing is built to make contact, Waters looks to drive the ball from the right side. His arm makes him a likely future right fielder.
32. Sam Carlson, RHP/OF, Burnsville, Minn.
One of the contributors to USA Baseball’s 18U team that won the Pan American AAA Championship, Carlson is a legitimate option both on the mound and at the plate. He’s a quality defender with an above-average arm in the outfield.
33. Tim Elko, 1B, Tampa, Fla.
Elko is going to have to hit as a prep first baseman, but that’s exactly what he does. He consistently connected against 90-plus-mph fastballs last summer and should be expected to do the same this spring.
34. Steven Williams, C/OF, Albany, Ga.
Williams has some of the best left-handed power in a class loaded with lefty power hitters. The Auburn signee consistently drove the ball all summer.
35. Wilberto Rivera, RHP, Florida, P.R.
Rivera has outstanding arm speed and has touched 97 mph with his fastball, but he does need to smooth out his delivery.
36. Brandon McCabe, RHP, West Palm Beach, Fla.
When McCabe lets loose his fastball, it often comes with a very audible grunt. But he is bringing the heat when he brings the noise — he’ll sit 91-94 mph at his best.
37. Jordan Anderson, OF, Madison, Ala.
Anderson is very much a work in progress. His speed is exceptional, and his bat speed (which is already good) should improve as he fills out. His swing is still raw, as he’s got plenty of polish to add.
38. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Whiteville, N.C.
Gore, who signed to play at East Carolina, has an excellent advanced arsenal of pitches to go with enough (87-91 mph) velocity to be a potential early-round pick.
39. Jacob Pearson, OF, West Monroe, La.
Pearson is one of the best pure hitters scouts saw last summer. In addition, he is an above-average runner.
40. Tanner Burns, RHP, Decatur, Ala.
Burns is an athletic righthander with an excellent breaking ball and a low-90s fastball. His delivery does make it hard for him to locate consistently. That will need to be cleaned up.
To play strong safety in the NFL, you need to be both intelligent and aggressive. On the field, Nebraska's Nate Gerry is like a quarterback on his team's defense. As far as aggressiveness, there are few that can match what Gerry brings to the table.
Despite those traits, the jury is still out in terms of where the former Cornhusker will be drafted.
A major reason for the uncertainty is Gerry's decision-making. Sure, he is a smart player, making sure he and his teammates are constantly in position to make plays. The problem comes when it’s time to make that play. It's at that point where his aggressiveness often shifts from being an asset to a liability. Gerry has become notorious for being penalized for targeting over the past couple of seasons. He is intent on making the big hit – the way the position was played in the past. But in 2017, it's a different game, one where Gerry's style does not always gel with the modern-day focus on player safety.
In addition to his questionable style of play, he missed multiple games as a result of violating team rules.
Another concern is Gerry's speed. In college football, being a step or two slow is often offset by being in the right position. The speed of the NFL game is much less forgiving. For this reason, Gerry projects as a strong safety as opposed to the more traditional free safety role he played at Nebraska. His aggressiveness and physicality could be viewed as an asset at that position – especially against the run.
Gerry has been spotted in most mock drafts anywhere between the fourth and seventh rounds. In some cases, analysts have him going undrafted. He could go a long way in avoiding that by posting solid 40 and shuttle times at the Scouting Combine, as well as showing maturity and the ability to be coached and take criticism during the interview process.
The best case for Gerry to succeed at the next level is to be selected by a team with solid veteran leadership – especially in the secondary – and have a mentor assigned to him. Though talented, his question marks would make it tough for him to succeed in an environment with a lot of young leaders who have not tasted success.
I see his ceiling in the NFL mirroring New England safety Patrick Chung's career. He can be a solid contributor in the right situation, but it all starts at the Combine in Indianapolis.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
The University of Iowa lost 14 players to graduation following the 2016 football season. And nowhere was the loss more evident than on an offense which has continued to struggle over the last several campaigns, ranking in the bottom of the Big Ten regularly since 2013.
When tallying the firepower lost it doesn't take long to find the holes that head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff will need to fill. Gone are QB C.J. Beathard, WR Riley McCarron, RB LeShun Daniels Jr., and TE George Kittle – a quartet that served as Iowa's “go to” players during the 2015 and ‘16 campaigns. And while RB Akrum Wadley will return for what many hope to be an encore of his own 1,000-yard performance last season, the biggest questions will surround his supporting cast. So with a recruiting class ranked 39th in the nation on average, the possibility for immediate contributions will most like come on offense.
With that in mind, the following five true freshmen could very well be thrust into immediate duty this fall.
Ihmir Smith, WR
Part of a 12-0 New Jersey state championship team his senior year, Smith is used to winning. With the departure of Desmond King, the Hawkeyes could look to Smith to perform on several fronts, pulling duty on punt and kickoff returns, as well as filling one of the many gaps to be found at wide receiver. As a former two-sport standout on both the gridiron and on the track (hurdles), Smith is fast and agile and could develop into a playmaker for Iowa sooner rather than later.
Kyshaun Bryan, RB
Once again this guy knows how to win, taking part on state championship teams in three of four years while playing for two different high schools in the talent-rich south Florida area. He's built in the Akrum Wadley mold, short and stocky, and during his senior season Bryan averaged nearly seven yards per carry for prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, which finished ranked fifth in the nation.
Mark Kallenberger, OL
His prep team reached the Iowa state playoffs all three of his years he played, posting a 31-5 mark over that span. Following his senior season he was an U.S. Army All-American Bowl nominee. While he already possesses good size (6-6,260), look for the coaching staff to ask him to add a few more pounds to get to the more preferred 300 range.
A.J. Epenesa , DL
The lone defensive player on this list, Epenesa is Hawkeye legacy recruit, following in his father’s footsteps to Iowa City. During his prep career the younger Epenesa led his Edwardsville team to the Illinois state playoffs each year, while recording astonishing numbers, including 31 solo tackles and 26 assists as a senior with 13 tackles for a loss, five sacks, 14 QB pressures, and nine blocked kicks. Also an U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, he could become an instant asset on defense in tandem with linebacker Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s leading tackler last season.
Brandon Smith, WR
He's tall (6-3) and built like a receiver. But he's also fast, having been a four-year track letterman during his prep career in Mississippi. He could well be the best answer to the Hawkeyes’ immediate needs at receiver if he continues in the same manner as his prep career, where he averaged 18.8 yards per reception while collecting 1,509 total yards and 19 TDs as a senior.
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, an independent writer and member of the Athlon Contributor Network since July 2015. Boleyn is a native Iowan, currently based in Southern California, and attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.
As exciting and thrilling as Super Bowl LI was, the cold reality of the final game of the NFL season is this – only two teams play in it. So while New England and Atlanta shared arguably the biggest stage in sports, the other 30 teams know that they will need to improve if they want the same opportunity next February. And for more than half of the league the first step comes in simply making the playoffs.
Related: Very Early 2017 NFL Predictions
Half of this past season’s 12 playoff participants (Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, New York Giants and Oakland) didn’t qualify in 2015. So with parity prevalent and turnover expected, here are five teams that could make surprise postseason runs in 2017.
(9-7, second in AFC South)
After finishing 3-13 in 2015, Tennessee recorded its first winning season since 2011. The Titans have a great foundation with quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back DeMarco Murray and tight end Delanie Walker, but could use another offensive weapon or two.
Tennessee has two first-round picks (No. 5 and No. 18 overall) in the upcoming draft, so the Titans will have opportunities to fill some of their biggest needs. And if Kansas City can’t agree to a long-term deal with All-Pro safety Eric Berry, Tennessee could be a possible landing spot.
Last season, the Titans improved their win total by six games. With no dominant team in the AFC South, including defending champion Houston, Tennessee could be tabbed as the preseason favorite in the division.
(9-7, third in AFC West)
After winning Super Bowl 50 a year ago, the Broncos missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season. Denver will now look to start another postseason streak with a new head coach (Vance Joseph) and the possibility of a new quarterback leading the offense.
Paxton Lynch, the 26th overall pick in last year’s draft, pretty much redshirted his rookie season, making just two starts and playing in only three games. But he will get every opportunity to wrest the starting job from Trevor Siemian, although it’s likely the Broncos will bring in either a veteran or draft another quarterback to increase the competition. Whoever is at quarterback, Denver also needs to address its offensive line in free agency and/or through the draft, especially if Lynch ends up being the starter.
But the real reason the Broncos could not only get back to the playoffs next season but be a contender once again is their defense. Denver finished fourth in total defense in 2016, despite having issues in stopping the run, and returns plenty of talent on that side of the ball. Even though the AFC West has gotten tougher don’t be surprised if the Broncos return to the postseason after a one-year absence.
(6-10, fourth in NFC South)
After losing to Denver in Super Bowl 50, Carolina tumbled from first to worst in the NFC South. As disappointing as this past season was, the Panthers still have 2015 MVP Cam Newton to lead their offense and plenty of other reasons to be confident about a bounce-back in ’17.
Newton had arguably one of his worst seasons as a pro in 2016, throwing for just 19 touchdowns passes compared to 14 interceptions and finishing with a career-low 52.9 completion percentage. As poorly as Newton played, the blame can’t fall solely on him, as Carolina could use some reinforcement along the offensive line and a more consistent running game.
The absence of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman impacted the Panthers’ defense more than anyone expected as well. Carolina, forced to rely on an inexperienced secondary, finished 29th in passing defense last season, an issue that was exacerbated by All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly missing the final six games because of a concussion. If the Panthers can improve in the secondary and tighten up the defense in a few other spots, they should at least be more of a threat in their own division, if not the NFC as a whole.
Los Angeles Chargers
(5-11, fourth AFC West)
The Chargers were decimated by injuries this past season, leading the league in players on injured reserve. This makes the fact that they lost nine games by eight points or fewer all the more painful.
Now relocated to Los Angeles and with a new head coach in Anthony Lynn, the key to the Chargers’ outlook in 2017 starts with Philip Rivers. The 35-year-old quarterback remains one of the most productive at the position, but he needs to find a way to cut back on his NFL-high 21 interceptions. Melvin Gordon was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before missing the final three games because of an injury. And even with injuries impacting their wide receiver corps and offensive line, the Chargers finished ninth in the league in scoring at 25.6 points per game.
The defense also felt the sting of the injury bug, notably in the secondary, but first-round pick (No. 3 overall) Joey Bosa emerged as one of the best rookies in the NFL, finishing with 10.5 sacks in 12 games. With better health and some reinforcements in a few key areas, the Chargers could experience a turnaround in their new home under their new head coach.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(9-7, second in NFC South)
After finishing 6-10 in quarterback Jameis Winston’s rookie season, the Buccaneers were on the cusp of the playoffs in 2016. Winston showed some improvement in his second season, throwing for 4,090 yards and 28 touchdowns, but he needs to cut back on his interceptions (33 in two seasons).
Tampa Bay’s defense was a huge reason for the three-win increase in 2016, as the Bucs finished third in the league in takeaways with 29. Rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves played much better during the second half of the season, which helped stabilize the secondary.
If Tampa Bay can find a reliable running game to take some of the load off of Winston, the Buccaneers could make the NFC South even more interesting in 2017.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
The meme has become a staple in modern day pop culture as one of the funnier ways to make a point and/or express an opinion. This is especially true in the world of sports, where everyone seems to have an opinion and loves to hate on their fiercest rivals. Now that the NFL season is upon us, we thought it might be fun to wrangle up some of the more comical memes as they relate to specific NFL teams. And there is no better place to start than with “America’s Team”. Even if you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys (with a sense of humor), you should find some of these to be pretty funny. And to the haters, all that needs to be said is, enjoy!
Rodgers took the kids to school.. pic.twitter.com/gq7OFoTZgA— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) January 16, 2017
Spring training sites in Florida and Arizona are once again abuzz with activity, signaling the countdown to another season of baseball, which also means that fantasy baseball just around the corner too. And while it’s never too early to start your draft preparations let’s face it, the most pressing need at this point is figuring out your fantasy team’s name.
To help you get started, we've put together a collection of 150 favorites, a mix of the old with plenty of new ones sprinkled in for good measure. We begin with some oldies but goodies, and break it down from there.
- A Rod for Your Pujols (This one should be retired, but it’s still great)
- Soler Flare
- 99 problems, a Pitch Aint One
- Lawn Mauers
- Hamels’ Toes
- My Uzi Weighs a Hamilton
- Buehrle Legal
- Candy Crush Davis
- Bartolo Colon-oscopy
- Maybe This Year
- There’s Always Next Year
Not Family League-Friendly
NSFF (Not safe for family)
- Melky Discharge
- Reverse Cowgill
- Eaton Pujols
- Eaton Her Posey
- Dickey in a Box
- Pitches LOVE the Dickey
- Call For My Dickey
- Heyward You Blow Me?
- Got a B.J. from Upton
- Anal Pollocks
- Dirty Anibal Sanchez
- McCutch Oven
- RBI’d for Her Pleasure
- Colon Blow
- The Morneau After Pill
If you luck out and snag two players they could become your namesake.
- Two Wong’s Don’t Make a Wright
- The Price is Wong
- Smoak A Swisher
- Fister? I Harvey Cano Her!
- Wanted a Hanley and Got a B.J.
- My Wong Leakes
- Choo Much Haren My Pujols (This could go in the Not Family League category too.)
- Stuck in the Middle With Yu
- Yu R.A. Dickey
- Can Aybarow Some Cashner?
- A Vogelsong of Bryce and Fiers
- Can’t Cutch This
- A to the Rizzo
- Big League Choo
- Sippin’ On Gin Andrus
- Come Sale Away
- Cano Mode
- Stanton Island
- Grand Theft Votto
- Teheran You Apart
- Upton Girl
- Miggy Mouse Club
- Springer of Pain
- Now you Seager, Now You Don’t
- The Three Moustakas
- Annie Are Uou Aoki?
- My CarGo 160 Swiftly
- Everyday I’m Russellin’
- Schwarber? I Hardly Know Her!
- Sit Your Buxton Down!
- The Pen is Mightier Than the Schwarber
- Kimbrel’s N’ Bits
- The Ellsbury Dough Boy
- New Joc City
- Joc Itch
- Degrom nom nom
- Eggs Odorizzi
- The Mookie Way
- All Betts Are Off
- Goldschmidt Happens
- Sano Means Sano
- There Goes Masahiro
- Tampa Bay Carly Raes
- Rusty Trumbos
- Better Call Paul
- Lamb Gyrkoballs
- Stanton Room Only
- The Altuve Fairy
- Machado Man
- Buxton Loose
- Look at the Buxton Her
- Dansby Swansongs
- Shove it up Yoenis
- Desmonds Are Forever
- Tepesch Mode
- That’s What Cishek
TV, Film and Pop Culture References
- The Balking Dead
- Angels in the Troutfield
- 50 Shades of Sonny Gray
- Cool Hand Lucroy
- To Kill a Marlon Byrd
- Machado About Nothing
- Kinsler’s List
- Fielder of Dreams
- A Puig Of Their Own
- Better Call Sal
- D’Arnaud Crying In Baseball!
- The Duda Abides
- Kershawshank Redemption
- MadBum Men
- Jobu Needs a Refill
- Wille Mays Hays
- The Starks of Winterfell
- Nuke LaLoosh
- Blurred Foul Lines
- I Piss Excellence
- Joe Buck Yourself
- Kenny Powers’ Posse
- Springfield Isotopes
- Madison Budwesier
- Miggy Azalea
- J-Hey Kids
- Men of Steal
- Long Wong Silver
- Syndergaarden Cop
- Kinsler’s List
“Star Wars” Themed
The Force is strong with these, no?
- Taijuan Skywalker
- ChooWei Yin Chen
- The Miggychlorians
- Han Sulowitzki
- Obi-Wan Jacoby
- Darth Votto
- Choo’s REY’es Parents?
- These are not the Roids you are looking for
- The Dark Sizemore
- The Phantom Yoenis
- Xander’s X-Wings
- Kylo Renterria
- Kylo Chen
- Light Sabermetrics
- Stroman Troopers
- The Kempire Strikes Back
"Harry Potter" Themed
- Bertie Bots Every Flavor Team
- The Fizzing Whizbees
- Durmstang Doxies
- Salem Snidgets
- The Sirius Blackmons
- Houston Hippogriffs
- 420 feet to Gryffindor
- Team DumbleOdor
- Emma Wats on Third
- AJ Griffindor
- The Bludgers
- Snapes on a Plane
- Slitherclaw RavenPuffs
- Giblets of Ire
- The Team Who Must Not Be Named
- Granger Zone
- Fifteenth Century Fiends
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.