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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, begins the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To commemorate the Washington Huskies being named No. 25, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to celebrating the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Steve Sarkisian’s Washington Huskies start the countdown at No. 25 with one preseason All-American and nine players selected as All-Pac-12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Washington will finish third in the Pac-12’s North Division.  In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Washington is clearly headed in the right direction under Steve Sarkisian,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The offense, led by dynamic quarterback Keith Price, should score a ton of points. If the defense, which was obviously an issue last season, shows marked improvement, the Huskies will be a factor in the tough Pac-12 North.”

One Washington standout was named a preseason All-American, with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins being named to the second team.

Nine Huskies earned preseason All-Pac-12 honors, with Seferian-Jenkins on the first team. Quarterback Keith Price, offensive lineman Drew Schaefer, defensive lineman Hau'oli Jamora and defensive backs Desmond Trufant and Sean Parker were named to the second team, while wide receiver Kasen Williams, defensive lineman Josh Shirley and kick returner Kevin Smith garnered third-team honors.

Washington Team Preview

Washington's Top 10 Players of 2012

Washington’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, begins the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-2012-team-predictions-0
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The Washington Huskies check in at No. 25 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Keith Price, QB
Price was terrific in his first season as Washington’s starting quarterback and should be even better in 2012. He finished with 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns, while adding three rushing scores on the ground. Price has more mobility than the stats showed last season, but was limited due to knee injuries. The junior recorded eight games of at least three or more touchdown tosses and threw only 11 picks in 362 attempts. Price needs to play better against the top competition, as he threw for just 247 yards against Stanford, 143 against Oregon and 125 against USC. Despite losing a couple of his top targets from last season, Price should have an opportunity to improve upon his 2011 numbers.

Defensive MVP: Sean Parker, S
Despite having a talented secondary, Washington finished 116th nationally against the pass last season. With a much-needed change at defensive coordinator, the Huskies have an opportunity to be one of the most-improved defenses in the Pac-12 this year. In his first season as a starter last season, Parker collected 91 tackles and picked off four passes. With another offseason under his belt, Parker should elevate his game to All-American status and will be Washington’s top defensive player in 2012.

Trap Game: at Arizona (Oct. 20)
No matter what Washington’s record is after the two-game stretch at Oregon (Oct. 6) and home against USC (Oct. 13), the date at Arizona won’t be an easy one. The Wildcats have won three out of the last five matchups against the Huskies, including the two in a row in Tucson. After playing tough back-to-back games against Oregon and USC, the Huskies could fall victim to Arizona in the desert on Oct. 20.

Upset Alert: at Washington State (Nov. 23)
Coach Steve Sarkisian has yet to lose to Washington State in his short tenure with the Huskies (3-0), but the stakes have been raised for this season’s game. Washington State made a splash with its hiring of Mike Leach as head coach, and should own one of the top offenses in college football this year. The Cougars nearly beat Washington in 2010 in Pullman, but lost 35-28. Washington State’s last victory in this series came in 2008 and there’s a lot of positive momentum going for the Cougars heading into this year. Washington is the better overall team, but the Cougars are hungry to break a three-game losing streak in this series.

Coordinator on the Hot Seat: Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator
No, Wilcox isn’t in any danger of losing his job, but Washington’s chances at finishing in the top 25 will rest on a much-improved defense. During his two seasons as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, the Volunteers showed progress, moving from 69th nationally in total defense in 2010 to finishing 28th last year. The Huskies have some talent to work with, but struggled to find consistency or improve in coach Steve Sarkisian’s first three years in Seattle. Wilcox is being counted upon to make a huge difference and all signs point to some much-needed improvement on defense in 2012. 

Breakout Player: Kasen Williams, WR
Washington has a couple of players who could fill this spot, including true freshman safety Shaq Thompson, but Williams enters his sophomore year with a chance to emerge as one of the top receivers in the Pac-12. As a true freshman last season, he caught 36 passes for 427 yards and six scores. Williams did not have a 100-yard performance, but caught six passes for 79 yards and one touchdown against Oregon. With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar departing, Williams is clearly Washington’s No. 1 wide receiver for 2012.

Unsung Hero: Drew Schaefer, C
Despite having three starters back, Washington’s offensive line is going to be a question mark early in the season. Right tackle Erik Kohler and guard Colin Tanigawa were both dealing with injuries, leaving Schaefer as the group’s lone returning starter at 100 percent. The senior has started 30 games in a row, including all 13 at center last year. Considering the concerns on the rest of the unit, Schaefer needs to stay healthy for Washington’s offense to exceed last season’s production.

Biggest Game: Stanford (Sept. 27)
If the Huskies want to have any shot at finishing second in the Pac-12 North, they have to beat Stanford on Sept. 27. The Cardinal has won four in a row over Washington, including a 65-21 rout last season. With Andrew Luck and two All-Pac-12 offensive linemen departing Stanford, second place is there for Washington to take. The Huskies have tough games against Oregon and USC in the next two weeks following the matchup against Stanford. However, considering the matchup against the Cardinal is the Pac-12 opener, it’s a chance for Washington to stake its place in the North pecking order.

Revenge Game: Oregon State (Oct. 27)
Considering Washington had six losses last year, you could pick a few different games to fit this category. However, one game stands out on last season’s results as a puzzling loss. Washington lost back-to-back games against Oregon and USC in early November and followed that up with a 38-21 defeat at Oregon State. The Beavers won only three contests last year, but has beat the Huskies in the last three matchups in Corvallis. If Washington wants to improve upon its seven wins from 2011, beating Oregon State is a must in 2012.

Freshman to Watch: Shaq Thompson, S
The Huskies won a high-profile recruiting battle with UCLA, Oregon and California for Thompson and he certainly won’t be on the sidelines in 2012. Thompson ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, and at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds already has the physical ability to play from day one. His impact may extend to more than just defense, as Washington’s coaching staff may look to get him involved in a handful of plays on offense. Even if Thompson doesn’t secure a starting spot in the fall, he will be a significant contributor to the Huskies defense in 2012.

Comeback player: Hau’oli Jamora, DE
After a strong performance in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, Jamora was poised to become one of the top defensive linemen in the Pac-12 last season. However, a torn ACL in the fourth game ended his season, leaving Jamora with just 15 tackles and one sack on the season. Although the injury was a setback for Jamora, it occurred early in the year and Jamora should be at full strength when the season begins. The sophomore will anchor one of the end spots in Washington’s new 3-4 approach and will be counted upon to be one of the unit’s top disruptors up front in 2012.

Newcomer to Watch: Travis Coons, K
Erik Folk has finished his eligibility in Seattle, leaving the Huskies with no proven kicker on the roster. Coach Steve Sarkisian dipped into the junior college ranks to fill this void, bringing in Travis Coons from Mt. San Antonio College. There’s a lot of pressure on Coons to perform right away, but having experience at the junior college ranks should help his transition to FBS play.

Position Battle: Running Back
Chris Polk’s decision to leave for the NFL leaves a huge void at running back. The depth chart is completely bare, as Washington returns two players with experience and a couple of intriguing options waiting for an opportunity. Jesse Callier is the leading candidate to replace Polk after rushing for 260 yards and one touchdown last year. However, he will be pushed by Bishop Sankey, who rushed for 187 yards and one score in 2011. If neither Callier or Sankey claim the top spot, coach Steve Sarkisian could choose to get an extended look at sophomore Deontae Cooper or athlete Antavius Sims. Cooper has missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries, so his ability to hold up to a full season of carries is a concern. It’s possible the Huskies could use a committee, but it seems more likely Callier or Sankey emerges as the No. 1 rusher.

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Teaser:
<p> Washington Huskies 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 21:05
Path: /college-football/washington-football-will-huskies-challenge-oregon-2012-north-title
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 begins with No. 25 Washington. The Huskies are coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons, but the program appears to be on the right track. Washington's defense is still a question mark, but the offense will be explosive. 

Can Washington Surpass Stanford and Challenge Oregon for the Pac-12 North title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Around mid-October last year, I bought into Washington. Keith Price’s play early swayed me enough were I overlooked a porous defense that gave up 27 to Eastern Washington, 32 to Hawaii and 51 to Nebraska. The mirage was over by November. Washington’s defense should improve under Justin Wilcox, and the offense is bound to be explosive again. Still, I think there’s a tendency to forget how much ground Washington still has to make up on the way to the top of the Pca-12. Sure, Stanford’s going to take a step back without Andrew Luck, but the Cardinal still beat Washington by 34 points on the field and by three games in the standings. After the 5-1 start, Washington’s only wins thereafter came against Arizona and Washington State at home, and the Huskies still found a way to squeeze in a loss to lowly Oregon State. Washington may pass Stanford eventually, but Washington still has more holes on defense and Stanford has too strong a foundation for it to happen this year.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There really are two parts to this debate: A) Has Washington closed the rather large gap with interdivisional rival Stanford who has dominated the Huskies by a combined 105 to 21 over the last two seasons? B) If so, can they challenge the reigning three-time Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks? The answer to the first question is most definitely yes. Stanford is losing four of the top 42 selections in the NFL Draft on offense, including all-world signal caller Andrew Luck, and is two years removed from cult of personality head coach Jim Harbaugh. The heart and soul has been effectually removed from the Cardinal football program, so some sort of step back must be expected in 2012. Washington, meanwhile, is trending in a much different direction as a reworked star-studded coaching staff has elevated the overall talent level in Seattle. Quarterback Keith Price set school records in his first season under center and led his team to its first winning season since 2002. Both teams will finish around the 8-4 mark, so the deciding factor should be the head-to-head match-up that takes place in Seattle. A win in Week 5 over the Cardinal vaults Washington into contender status. For one week, at least. While the Huskies are clearly rededicated to becoming a top ten program once again under Steve Sarkisian, they are not ready to topple the Ducks' dominance just yet. Seven days after hosting Stanford, Washington must travel to Eugene to battle with Oregon. Coach Sark has made large strides in restoring Husky Pride, but this program is still another year away from defeating the three-time conference champions in Autzen Stadium.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The gap between Oregon and the rest of the North is very wide. However, the gap between Washington and Stanford is closing fast. The Huskies aren’t ready to beat Oregon, but they are ready to beat the Cardinal for second place in the division.

Even though Steve Sarkisian has a 19-19 record through three seasons, it’s clear the program is on the right track. Washington has brought in three consecutive top 25 recruiting classes, and the program is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances. Sarkisian made some much-needed coaching changes, bringing in Justin Wilcox to coordinate the defense and hiring one of college football’s top recruiters (Tosh Lupoi) to coach the defensive line. The Huskies ranked as one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 last season, but there’s enough returning talent to expect immediate improvement in 2012.

Even though running back Chris Polk will be missed, the Huskies will have one of the Pac-12’s top offenses. Quarterback Keith Price should build upon a successful sophomore campaign, especially with Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins returning as the top receiving weapons. The Huskies need to stabilize their offensive line and find a capable replacement for Callier at running back.

An obstacle that could prevent Washington from challenging for second in the North is a difficult schedule. The Huskies have a tough non-conference road game at LSU, while playing at Oregon and catching USC and Utah in crossover games with the South. The one break in Washington’s favor? They host Stanford on Sept. 27 in a key game for North positioning.

Considering Stanford lost quarterback Andrew Luck and two of college football’s top offensive linemen, the Cardinal are due for a step back this year. Washington has its flaws, but I think the Huskies will surpass Stanford and finish second in the Pac-12 North this year. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Washington is getting better, but the Huskies aren’t quite ready to make a big jump in the standings in the Pac-12 North. Oregon is clearly the team to beat, and I still like Stanford to finish in second, ahead of Washington.

There’s a lot to like about UW, most notably quarterback Keith Price and a young crop of pass-catchers like tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams. But there are also some serious issues with this team. I think the loss of Chris Polk will be huge. He was one of the more underrated skill-position players in the nation, and UW has no proven replacements. And what about the defense? I like the hire of Justin Wilcox, but you can’t ignore the facts: The Huskies were awful last year on defense. The secondary should be okay, but it doesn’t look like the defensive line or the linebacking corps has the type of athletes needed to make a significant improvement.

Again, I think UW is on the right path — the Huskies are in the preseason top 25, after all — but this is still a flawed team that isn’t ready to join the elite in the Pac-12. 

Mark Ross
Yes and no. I think Washington can surpass Stanford, but I don't think either will offer much of a challenge to Oregon this season. The Huskies appear to have all the pieces in place offensively, led by quarterback Keith Price. The problem, just like last year, is will they be able to stop anyone. Steve Sarkisian made plenty of changes to his defensive staff, but I still expect plenty of bumps in the road as they acclimate to a new system. Depth could be an issue as well, although Washington does have help on the way starting with this recruiting class.

With Stanford, my concerns center around one thing - and this is who is under center. There's a reason Andrew Luck was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft and David Shaw and the rest of the offense don't have him to lean on any more. The quarterback situation for 2012 probably won't be decided until the fall and although the Cardinal should be able to run the ball effectively with Stepfan Taylor behind another solid offensive line, this year's version should not be confused with last year's. Stanford will need the running game and the defense to carry them this year, and I think that's too much to ask for in order to succeed in the Pac-12.

Who finishes second to Oregon in the Pac-12 North may very well come down to who wins the head-to-head match up between these two. Interestingly, that game happens early as Washington hosts Stanford on Thursday, Sept. 27. These two teams also have pretty much the same conference schedules, as UCLA (Stanford) and Utah (Washington) are the only Pac-12 foes they don't have in common this year. So in the end, the Bruins or Utes also could have a say in who claims second behind the Ducks.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Washington could have a special season with quarterback Keith Price leading the way, but I still project Stanford to be the top challenger to Oregon in the Pac-12 North. The Huskies offense has some quality skill players with Price throwing to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams, plus four starters return on the line. All-conference running back Chris Polk will be missed, but Steve Sarkisian’s bunch should score plenty of points. The concern for UW is on defense, where last season’s 106th national ranking must obviously improve. There is talent on that side of the ball for new coordinator Justin Wilcox, with linemen Hau'oli Jamora and Josh Shirley and backs Desmond Trufant and Sean Parker leading the way. Stanford loses some key personnel and has a tough schedule, but the Cardinal program still looks slightly better than Washington. The Huskies are on the way back to national prominence, but it may take another season before they challenge for the North crown.

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Teaser:
<p> Washington Football: Will Huskies Challenge Oregon for 2012 North Title?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 21:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL
Path: /college-football/early-2013-nfl-draft-rankings
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The ink technically isn't even dry yet on some of the newest members of the NFL. 

While undrafted free agents continue to find roster spots, Athlon is already looking ahead to the 2013 NFL Draft. After polling the Athlon editors, here is a look at the top 50 NFL prospects who will be draft eligible at the end of the 2012 season. 

With a quality season on the field — and an uneventful one off of it — many of these names will find themselves drafted in the prestigious first round of the 2013 NDL Draft:

* - underclassmen with eligibility remaining

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (6-2, 230)
While he might get knocked for his overall lack of height — he is generously listed at 6-2 — there is no better passer of the football than Barkley. He is the picture-perfect face of a franchise off the field and in the locker room. Barring a horrific injury, the Trojans will once again have a quarterback selected at No. 1

2. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU (6-4, 245)*
As only a redshirt sophomoe, Montgomery landed on multiple All-American teams after leading his team to the SEC title. He is a freakish off-the-edge prospect who will be a premiere pass rusher this fall for LSU. The Tigers' leading sackmaster (9.0) also posted 49 tackles and 13.5 tackles for a loss in 2011.

3. Robert Woods, WR, USC (6-1, 190)*
He may not have the freakish measurables of Megatron or Larry Fitzgerald, but there is no more explosive (draft eligible) wide receiver in the nation. He already owns multiple USC and Pac-12 receiving records and is only a junior. In two years, he has 176 catches, 2,084 yards, 21 touchdowns and is a dangerous return man as well.

4. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (6-3, 241)*
This do-everything hybrid was a Butkus finalist a year ago after leading the SEC with 13.5 sacks. The former USC transfer found a home in Todd Grantham's NFL-style 3-4 scheme and is poised for another huge season blitzing the passer. He is the most talented, most explosive hybrid player in this class as of today.

5. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (6-0, 220)*
There is a running back who stands above all on the college gridiron and his last name is Lattimore. There is no more talented, no more complete player at this position than this Gamecock. He is the only "first round" back in the college game today as it takes a truly special talent to deserve a first-round pick. If he can prove this year that the ACL injury was simply a one-time thing, he will easily be the top back off the board next fall.

6. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee (6-6, 213)*
He has the NFL frame. He has the NFL arm. He simply needs to mature into the leader Vols fans need this fall to land in the first round. He can make every throw on the field and was on pace to challenge some Tennessee school records (1,328 yards and 14 TDs in four games) before breaking his thumb last fall. Should he stay healthy and lead Big Orange nation to a bowl game, he will grade out higher than names like Jones, Wilson, Smith or Thomas.

7. David Amerson, CB, NC State (6-2, 194)*
This guy is the complete package: Length, height, speed, instincts, play-making ability and scheme versatility. He led the nation with 13 interceptions last fall, and while he shouldn't come close to that number in 2012, he is all but locked in as the top coverman in next year's draft.

8. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas (6-4, 260)
Enters his senior season with 21 starts under his belt and there simply aren't many players with his skill set. He is powerful, athletic, quick and productive. He can play the run with ease on early downs and will terrorize passers on third down. A tireless worker, Okafor is a sure-fire first-rounder next fall.

9. Keenan Allen, WR, Cal (6-3, 206)*
This is a freakish athlete. The No. 1 player in the nation at his position as a recruit has lived up to the hype at Cal. He brings elite speed, agility, ball skills, competitive edge and leaping ability. Do yourself a favor and watch No. 21 for Cal — jaw-dropping is the only word that comes to mind when watching him play. He has 135 catches for 1,751 yards and 11 scores in only 19 starts.

10. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin (6-6, 322)
Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler, Peter Konz, John Moffitt, Kraig Urbik, and Bill Nagy are the Badgers' offensive lineman who have been drafted since 2009. Wagner is the next in a long line of bookend tackles from Madison.

11. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas (6-5, 250)*
The son of NFLer Jim Jeffcoat, Jackson exhibits extreme polish and high football IQ for a player of his age. In his first full season as the starter, he posted 54 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks as only a sophomore. He and Okafor should give Texas the top defense in the Big 12. 

12. Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn (6-4, 240)*
An elite recruit coming out of high school, Lemonier broke out on a bad defense as only a sophomore. He posted 13.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks and forced five fumbles. He can get to the passer in a hurry and NFL scouts will love his measurables. He should fit extremely well into new coordinator Brian VanGorder's NFL scheme, which should only help his draft stock.

13. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame (6-2, 255)
This position, like safety or guard, generally isn't a top ten overall position. But Te'o is the best option in this class and he will likely finish his career with incredible statistics. He has the sideline-to-sideline ability needed to stay on the field all three downs and is a natural leader. A truly great year in South Bend will solidify Te'o as this class' top linebacker.

14. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (6-5, 302)
Jones has been an All-SEC-type performer at literally every position on the offensive line. He has already excelled as a guard, won the Outland Trophy at left tackle and will be an All-American candidate at center this season. While he won't get drafted this highly if he lands at guard or center, he could go even higher if he eventually projects as a tackle. There may not be a better all-around football player in the nation than Jones this fall.

15. Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma (5-10, 200)*
This stellar athlete has played a hybrid S/OLB role for the first two years of his career in Norman. Now, with new coordinators Tim Kish and Mike Stoops calling the shots, scouts should expect a huge season from the Sooners safety. He is a freakish athlete who has as much range as any player in the nation. He is physical, a leader and simply makes plays. He has six interceptions, 6.5 sacks, 139 total tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss — as a defensive back. Expect huge things from Jefferson this fall.

16. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (6-3, 215)
The first thing scouts will notice about Smith will be his arm. He has a massive arm that is lightning quick and powerful enough to make every throw. He has the size to grade out as a first-rounder and has been incredibly productive in the same system that just produced Brandon Weeden. He will likely break most major West Virginia passing records this season.

17. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State (6-4, 317)*
As only a sophomore, Hankins emerged as one of the Buckeyes' most talented D-Liners. The massive tackle was all over the field with 67 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks last fall. Hankins will be the first of many Urban Meyer first-round defensive lineman, something he was known for at Florida. This big fella will be one of two potential OSU first-round defensive lineman, along with John Simon, in next year's draft. This is one stock that could sky-rocket over the next six months.

18. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (6-6, 335)*
The measurables are off the charts for big Fluker. He will need to prove his talents this season and he will get knocked for playing alongside so many talented blockers. But he will wow scouts at the combine and his team is a lock for success in 2012. There is still much to be proven for Fluker, but his raw talents are obvious.

19. T.J. McDonald, S, USC (6-3, 205)
The long-time stabilizing force of the Trojan defense will finally have to depart USC's secondary after 2012. But his resume, after enduring two sanction-riddled seasons, should be as complete as possible (especially, if USC plays for the national title). He has the size, physicality, speed, intangibles and statistics. He has posted 146 tackles and six interceptions over the last two seasons.

20. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas (6-3, 220)
In his first season as the starter, Wilson finished second in the SEC in passing efficiency and posted an incredible 24:6 touchdown-to-interception rate. He has a solid arm, solid size and solid all-around skill set for the next level. However, he needs to prove his talents against the best defenses college has to offer — LSU and Alabama. He threw for 196.0 yards per game, with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Razorbacks' 77-31 combined losses to the Tigers and Tide last year. He has the skills needed to succeed in the NFL, but proving his mettle without Bobby Petrino on the sideline will go a long way to securing a first round pick.

21. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (6-4, 325)
This monstrosity is one name that could land in the top ten with a soild year in Salt Lake City. He claimed the Morris Trophy, given to the Pac-12's top defensive lineman, a year ago after collecting 44 tackles and 9.0 tackles for a loss. He is impossible to double team and can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.

22. Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU (6-5, 240)*
Mingo doesn't get the same pub his teammate Montgomery gets, but his talents aren't too far behind. He is a bit bigger than Montgomery but not quite as explosive. Otherwise, their skill sets are very similar. He has the ability to play in a 3-4 as that coveted hybrid OLB/DE position. He won't have the same grade as the best player at his position (Jarvis Jones) but has first-round talent.

23. John Simon, DE, Ohio State (6-2, 260)
He is a bit undersized and will likely have to play outisde rush backer in a 3-4 or a more traditional end role in a 4-3. But there may not be a stronger player in this draft than Simon. He is an extremely physical, powerful player whose motor never shuts off. He is an all-around football player who should play a long time in the NFL.

24. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (6-2, 185)
Banks, like Amerson, has excellent size and toughness for the cornerback position. He is a sure tackler, has excellent open space agility and led his team in interceptions a year ago with five. He posted eight tackles for a loss, a rarity for a coverman.

25. Eric Reid, S, LSU (6-2, 210)*
This superstar not only made the biggest play of the regular season last year but has more superior athletic ability than nearly every player at his position. He is a monster factor at the backend of the Bayou defense as he led this loaded roster in tackles a year ago (76). He has the size, speed, range, instincts and tackling skill to easily land in the first round.

26. Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State (5-11, 175)
A fixture in the Spartans' Big Ten-leading defense, Adams has played in 42 games and started 28 before the start of his final season. His has adequate size, is extremely well coached, and, as corners have risen into the first round more often of late, should hear his name called in round one next spring.

27. Matt Elam, S, Florida (5-10, 210)*
This electric athlete was a well-known commodity as a high schooler when he came to Florida as the top safety prospect in the nation. He emerged as a sophomore as the Gators' team leader in tackles for a loss (11.0), forced fumbles (2) and pass breakups (7). With a good year under former safety Will Muschamp, it will be hard to keep him out of the first round.

28. Oday Aboushi, OL, Virginia (6-6, 310)
Mike London has reestablished the UVa brand name in football circles and Aboushi, with another stellar season along the line, will hear his name called very early in the 2013 draft. He will be packaged with fellow NFL prospect Morgan Moses on one of the ACC's top blocking units in 2012.

29. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina (6-8, 267)
His measurables are off the charts (if not a bit overzealous on the official school site), and the NFL scouts will love him when he gets to the combine. He is a play-maker with ideal size for the NFL defensive line. He has started 32 games in the SEC heading into his final year and has 15.5 career sacks.

30. Alex Hurst, OT, LSU (6-6, 340)
This big fella will lead what could be the natin's best team in 2012. He has the size, coaching, experience and overall athleticism to be a first-round pick. He should finish his career with nearly 50 games of experience and potentially 36 starts against the best NCAA football defensive lines have to offer in the SEC.

31. Kwame Geathers, DT, Georgia (6-6, 350)*
He is huge. He is powerful. He plays for an NFL 3-4 scheme. Geathers could easily find his way into the top ten if he plays as well as expected this fall. He will be one of the country's biggest prospects at 6-6 and 350 pounds. He is immovable at times and NFL scouts tend to like that. Fellow tackle John Jenkins might also be good enough to play his way onto this list as well. Good luck trying to move the interior of the UGA line this fall.

32. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (5-9, 175)*
The Honey Bagder is one of the more controversial propects in the nation. He is small. He isn't a truly great coverman. But he makes big plays on special teams and plays extremely hard. It will be very interesting to see if he lands in the first round.

The Best of the Rest:

33. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
34. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
35. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*
36. Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida*
37. Khaled Holmes, C, USC
38. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
39. Ray-Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
40. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*
41. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
42. Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*
43. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
44. Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
45. Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M
46. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
47. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
48. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
49. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
50. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

-By Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a very early look at who could have their name called in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 18:00
Path: /nfl/top-25-undrafted-free-agents-nfl-over-last-25-years
Body:

Undrafted free agents are signing all over the NFL, and some stars in the league do slip through the scouting cracks from time to time. Could Chris Polk, Chase Minnifield, Dwight Jones or William Vlachos be that next surprise? Here’s a look at some big-time players who earned it the hard way. Our list begins in 1987, so you will not see greats like Dick “Night Train” Lane, Warren Moon or Willie Wood.

1. Kurt Warner, QB, Northern Iowa
He played in three Super Bowls with the Rams and Cardinals and won the league’s MVP twice. He was also MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV when St. Louis defeated the Titans 23-16. Warner holds many postseason records and should make the Hall of Fame.

2. John Randle, DT, Texas A&I
The ferocious Vikings pass rusher was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. Randle totaled 137.5 sacks in his 14 seasons with the Vikings and Seahawks. He made seven Pro Bowls and was elected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s.

3. Antonio Gates, TE, Kent State
The Chargers turned to the basketball court to find Gates, who did not play college football. He’s made eight Pro Bowls in nine seasons in San Diego, and Gates has amassed over 7,700 receiving yards and 76 touchdowns in his career.

4. Wes Welker, WR, Texas Tech
The ultra-quick Welker was also drafted by San Diego, but then was cut and signed on with Miami. However his numbers have skyrocketed in the New England spread system, and Welker has an NFL-leading 554 catches over the last five years.

5. Adam Vinatieri, K, South Dakota State
Some may disagree with having a kicker this high, but Vinatieri’s contributions to elite teams should not be undervalued. He has been a part of four championships with the Patriots and Colts and made a last-second, game-winner in two of those Super Bowls.

6. Brian Waters, G, North Texas
Waters failed to latch on with the Cowboys during his first year out of college in 1999, but he found a home in Kansas City the next season. The elite blocker made five Pro Bowls with the Chiefs and then a sixth with the Patriots last season.

7. Jeff Saturday, C, North Carolina
The five-time Pro Bowler anchored the Colts offensive line from 2000-11. During his time snapping to Peyton Manning, Indy won double-digit games nine times and claimed a Super Bowl XLI title.

8. Priest Holmes, RB, Texas
The former Ravens and Chiefs runner had a solid career with over 8,000 rushing yards and 94 total touchdowns. Holmes had an amazing three-year run in Kansas City from 2001-03, amassing 4.590 rush yards and 56 TDs on the ground.

9. Tony Romo, QB, Eastern Illinois
The popular Cowboys signal caller is still building his legacy, but he has already made three Pro Bowls and tossed 149 touchdowns in 77 starts. Romo’s career passer rating is a very impressive 96.9.

10. James Harrison, LB, Kent State
The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year bounced around for a couple of years before landing back with the Steelers in 2004. Harrison has become a playmaking force in Pittsburgh, including winning two Super Bowls.

11. Rod Smith, WR, Missouri Southern
He played his entire 12-year career in Denver, and Smith’s 849 receptions put him in the top 20 in NFL history. He was part of two Super Bowl winners with the Broncos and went over 1,000 yards receiving eight times.

12. Jesse Tuggle, LB, Valdosta
The Georgia native played for the Falcons from 1987-2000, making over 1,800 tackles in 209 games. “The Hammer” was a five-time Pro Bowler, and Tuggle’s No. 58 was retired by Atlanta in 2002.

13. Pat Williams, DT, Texas A&M
The massive run stuffer took a while to make a mark in the NFL, but he became a defensive force for the decade of the 2000s. Williams made three straight Pro Bowls from 2006-08 while playing for the Vikings.

14. Jeff Garcia, QB, San Jose State
The four-time Pro Bowler starred in Canada to begin his professional career, and did not play in the NFL until age 29. However, Garcia made his mark by throwing for over 25,000 yards with the 49ers, Browns, Lions, Eagles and Buccaneers.

15. London Fletcher, LB, John Carroll
The undersized tackling machine has been a playmaker with the Rams, Bills and Redskins for over a decade now. He has never missed a game in 14 NFL seasons and has started every game over the last 11 years.

16. Arian Foster, RB, Tennessee
The Texans star runner is the youngest member on this list, but he has put up some staggering numbers over the last two seasons. Foster led the NFL in rushing in 2010 with 1,616 yards and followed that with 1,224 yards in 13 games a year ago.

17. David Akers, K, Louisville
The reliable kicker has led the NFL in scoring over the last two seasons. Akers has made 338 career field goals with a better than 82% accuracy rate. After making five Pro Bowls with the Eagles, he made his sixth last season in San Francisco.

18. Shaun O'Hara, C, Rutgers
The tough interior blocker started his career playing guard for the Browns, but he flourished with the Giants from 2004-10. During that span, O’Hara made three Pro Bowls and was a leader on the Giants Super Bowl winner in 2008.

19. Bart Scott, LB, Southern Illinois
The entertaining linebacker has played on some quality defenses with both the Ravens and Jets, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2006. Over the last six seasons, Scott has only missed one start.

20. Antonio Pierce, LB, Arizona
He had a fairly short NFL career but was a tackling machine from 2004-08 with the Redskins and Giants. Much like O’Hara, Pierce was an underrated leader for the Super Bowl XLII champions.

21. Jake Delhomme, QB, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Bayou native started slow with the Saints, but he found a nice niche with the Panthers from 2003-09. Delhomme passed for over 19,000 yards and 120 TDs during those seven seasons and led Carolina to a Super Bowl appearance in 2003.

22. Barry Sims, T, Utah
The starting left tackle for two league championship games and a Super Bowl in 2002, Sims played 12 NFL seasons in the Bay Area. He was a solid blocker in Oakland for nine years before finishing his career in San Francisco.

23. Wayne Chrebet, WR, Hofstra
The New York fan favorite was a classic underdog story, and he played his entire career with the Jets. Chrebet was especially effective from 1995-2002, when he caught 507 passes and 39 TDs during that eight-year span.

24. Josh Cribbs, KR/PR, Kent State
The college quarterback has been mainly known as a returner for the Browns, but he did have 445 receiving yards and 614 rush yards from 2008-10. Cribbs has averaged 25.7 yards on 344 career kick returns, while scoring eight times.

25. Cullen Jenkins, DL, Central Michigan
The younger brother of Kris Jenkins turned himself into a solid interior defender with the Packers and Eagles after some time in NFL Europe. He had a career-high in tackles last year with Philadelphia.

--Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> Top 25 Undrafted Free Agents in the NFL over the last 25 Years</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 16:27
Path: /nascar/kyle-busch-wins-richmond
Body:

Saturday evening’s Capital City 400 at Richmond International Raceway was not unlike many of the NASCAR Sprint Cup events over the past month. A dearth of cautions — only five, the second-least at RIR in 14 years — pockmarked the 300-mile event.

However, Richmond provided an exciting, and controversial, finish that produced an all-too-familiar victor in Kyle Busch.

While Busch had yet to win in the 2012 season, his victory marked the fourth consecutive win in Richmond’s spring race for the 26-year-old Las Vegas native. But while his past wins have been dominant, it took a string of bizarre events late in the race for Busch to cash in.

“Wherever that last caution came from, that was the saving grace — just the luck of the day,” Busch said of a debris caution on lap 388 of 400. “The guys did a fast pit stop, got us the lead off pit road, which was a huge advantage, just being able to give me the control of the restart and not have to wait on Tony (Stewart) or cause myself to spin my tires or what have you and get behind.

The fireworks started well before then, though.

A caution for debris on lap 311 changed the complexion of the race. Busch was awarded the Lucky Dog, placing him on the lead lap after being down one.

Race leader Jimmie Johnson was then issued a pit road penalty during his stop, sending him to the rear of the field. The subsequent restart found Tony Stewart the leader, with Carl Edwards to his outside. Edwards, though, believed his No. 99 Ford to be the lead car, and when the green waved, Stewart spun his tires, allowing Edwards to sprint away. NASCAR ruled that Edwards “jumped the restart” by taking off before crossing into the “restart box” — a pair of painted lines on the track prior to the start/finish line that mark when the leader can hit the gas.

Edwards was assessed a black flag, handing the lead back to Stewart. But just as it appeared Stewart would cruise to his third win of the season, the final debris caution was thrown, reportedly for an aluminum can on the backstretch.

When the field hit pit road for a final set of tires, Busch beat Stewart out and quickly jumped to a sizable lead on the restart.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. also got by Stewart, but when his brakes began to fade, the race was clearly in Busch’s hands.

“That’s what it looked like to me,” a curt Stewart said of the debris afterwards. “I mean, it was out of the groove. It had been sitting there for eight laps. When the caution is for a plastic bottle on the backstretch, it’s hard to feel good about losing that one.”

As for Edwards’ penalty, he and crew chief Bob Osborne questioned NASCAR about it during and after the race, even meeting with officials in the NASCAR hauler.

Their contention was that the team’s spotter was told by an official that they were the lead car, prompting Edwards to bring the field to green. He was also posted on the track’s pylon as the leader.

NASCAR vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton, made it clear after the race that Edwards was not the leader and that he did jump the start. So his point was moot regardless.

“We had to just agree to disagree, and that’s the way it is,” Edwards said after his meeting with NASCAR. “They run the sport, and they do the best job they can, and I drive a racecar and do the very best job I can.”

by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:
@MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
<p> Kyle Busch won the Capital City 400 at Richmond International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 14:49
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-april-30
Body:

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for April 30, 2012.

  1. Dodgers—Sweep of Nationals proved Dodgers are best — for now.

 2. Rangers—Lost first series of the season over the weekend.

 3. Rays—David Price making early Cy Young bid.

 4. Cardinals—Of three NL pitchers with four wins, two are Cardinals.

 5. Braves—Craig Kimbrel has saved four of last five wins.

 6. Nationals—Respectable debut for Bryce Harper.

 7. Yankees—Only four AL teams have allowed more runs.

 8. Blue Jays—Edwin Encarnacion leading the offense.

 9. Tigers—Recent slump has allowed Indians and White Sox in the race.

10. Diamondbacks—Joe Saunders emerging as D’backs’ ace.

11. Indians—Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez ERA: 2.40; other starters: 4.90.

12. Reds—Won seven of 10 with Cubs and Pirates on docket this week.

13. Orioles—Next 15 games will be tough stretch.

14. Phillies—Big games at Atlanta and Washington upcoming.

15. Giants—Won eight of 12 to get back on track.

16. Brewers—Corey Hart carrying the offensive load so far.

17. Rockies—Opponents are hitting .285, third-worst BAA in majors.

18. Mets—David Wright carrying a .506 on-base percentage.

19. Red Sox—Won six of seven against weaker teams.

20. White Sox—Next 15 games are within the division.

21. Angels—Scored 11 runs in last seven games, won only one.

22. A’s—Only AL team with fewer runs than Angels.

23. Mariners—Clean-up hitters are batting .194 with 22 Ks and 18 hits.

24. Pirates—Batters Nos. 6-9 hitting just .167.

25. Marlins—Scored 13 runs in last eight games, won one.

26. Astros—Outhomered 26-13 but outscoring competition.

27. Cubs—Won five of eight behind strong pitching.

28. Padres—4-1 when Cory Luebke starts, 3-15 when he doesn’t.

29. Twins—Four of last seven losses were by one run.

30. Royals—Jonathan Broxton settling in as closer.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's weekly look at baseball's best and worst teams.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 13:41
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-apr-30
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.

I gave owners the standard "don't panic" speech last week and Jay Bruce completely proved me right. On April 18, Bruce was hitting .191, went 14 straight games without a home run and hadn't stolen a base all year. Yet, Bruce belted a home run in each of his last four games, raised his average to .296 since April 18, stole three bases and drove in 11 runs. In a matter of 10 days, Bruce vaulted himself into the top five of all fantasy hitters. Never fear Albert Pujols owners, he will come around. So will Jose Reyes, Justin Upton, Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista.

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Pos Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 23 11 24 2 .425 1.383
2. Josh Hamilton OF TEX 20 9 25 2 .395 1.182
3. Edwin Encarnacion 1B/3B TOR 14 7 20 4 .310 1.005
4. Adam Jones OF BAL 17 6 12 4 .330 .973
5. Jay Bruce OF CIN 14 7 17 3 .296 .954
6. Derek Jeter SS NYY 16 4 13 1 .396 .954
7. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 23 5 12 2 .297 .972
8. David Ortiz UTL BOS 14 4 18 0 .395 1.098
9. Miguel Cabrera 1B/3B DET 15 7 20 0 .298 .939
10. Evan Longoria 3B TB 15 4 19 2 .325 .994
11. Curtis Granderson OF NYY 18 8 16 0 .272 1.002
12. Carlos Gonzalez OF COL 16 4 16 4 .288 .892
13. Paul Konerko 1B CHW 13 5 15 0 .383 1.123
14. David Wright 3B NYM 14 3 14 2 .397 1.094
15. Starlin Castro SS CHC 10 0 13 10 .326 .774
16. Carlos Beltran OF STL 17 5 11 5 .256 .838
17. Josh Willingham OF MIN 13 5 15 1 .353 1.163
18. Desmond Jennings OF TB 18 3 9 6 .273 .757
19. Jose Altuve* 2B HOU 15 1 10 4 .373 .984
20. Yadier Molina C STL 14 4 15 2 .316 .961
21. Nick Swisher 1B/OF NYY 10 6 23 0 .284 .972
22. Corey Hart OF MIL 16 6 13 1 .286 1.049
23. David Freese 3B STL 10 5 20 0 .333 .935
24. Mike Aviles 2B/3B/SS BOS 16 4 13 3 .284 .832
25. Andre Ethier OF LAD 11 5 24 0 .277 .887

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Rookies Unite

It happened a little sooner than maybe most fantasy GMs thought, but Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are both on major league rosters before May 1. Harper already has two hits in six at bats, including a double. He showed off his arm on Saturday night in center field and will hit seventh for now. With Harper's continued growth, and Ryan Zimmerman landing on the DL, there is certainly a chance for him to move up in the order. He plays every play at 100% and his talent is painfully obvious. I doubt he is on your waiver wire, but do not even finish reading this paragraph until you at least go and see if you can still add the 19-year old to your roster.

Trout has gone hitless in his first two games (0-7), but might actually have more fantasy value than Harper this summer. Trout has batted lead-off in his first two games and has 40 games and 123 major league at-bats under his belt already. He was crushing the ball in triple-A and has forced the flailing Angels to inject some energy into the line-up. Now, if they could just figure out a way to get Mark Trumbo into the line-up everyday. As a side note, Trumbo added 3B eligibity to his "1B/OF" status this weekend. Something tells me the Angels aren't done moving pieces around just yet. 

Big Moves

Part of the reason the Halos had space to call-up Trout was the release of Bobby Abreu. The aging on-base machine could have some value if he lands, oh let's say, in Boston or New York. Keep an eye on this guy as he generally can contribute to most fantasy rosters across the board.

Part of the reason the Nats called-up Harper was Ryan Zimmerman landing on the disabled list. After an MRI on his shoulder was negative, the Nationals are expecting their stud third-sacker to be back when eligible. It doesn't appear to be a long-term injury and it certainly explains his slow start to the season. But fans and fantasy GMs alike have to be nervous about a guy who has spent the better part of two seasons on the DL.

DL Watch

-Zimmerman lands on 15-day DL after second anti-inflammatory injection. Brad Lidge has also landed on the 15-day DL with an abdominal issue. Henry Rodriguez is clearly the full-time closer.

-Jim Johnson is dealing with an illness that has made him questionable of late for late-inning usage. Pedro Strop looks like the hand-cuff option for now.

-After seeing multiple experts, Carl Crawford appears to be out for at least a few months. For you keeper leagues, look to pick him up off the wire in late June.

-Kevin Youkilis is questionable for this week's early games with a back issue.

-Paul Konerko is questionable for Tuesday's game with a neck injury.

-Shin Soo-Choo hasn't seen the field since April 24 and is questionable with a hamstring issue for Tuesday's game.

-Josh Hamilton left Sunday night's game with back stiffness and is questionable, however, it appears he will give it a try today. Monitor closely!

-Carlos Lee is questionable for Tuesday with an ankle issue.

Current Top 25 fantasy pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Jake Peavy CHW 37.2 3 0 33 0 1.67 0.69
2. Lance Lynn STL 27.0 4 0 24 0 1.33 0.81
3. Stephen Strasburg WAS 32.0 2 0 34 0 1.12 0.88
4. Kyle Lohse STL 33.1 4 0 21 0 1.62 0.84
5. Jered Weaver LAA 35.2 3 0 36 0 2.02 0.95
6. Justin Verlander DET 37.1 2 0 35 0 2.41 0.86
7. Gio Gonzalez WAS 29.2 2 0 34 0 1.82 0.94
8. Roy Halladay PHI 37.0 3 0 24 0 1.95 0.95
9. Joe Saunders* ARI 30.0 2 0 18 0 0.90 0.87
10. Clayton Kershaw LAD 30.1 2 0 28 0 1.78 0.89
11. Matt Garza CHC 33.2 2 0 36 0 2.67 0.89
12. Colby Lewis TEX 32.2 3 0 29 0 1.93 1.04
13. Matt Cain SF 30.1 1 0 26 0 2.37 0.63
14. Johnny Cueto CIN 32.1 3 0 22 0 1.39 1.05
15. Jason Hammel* BAL 26.0 3 0 25 0 1.73 1.00
16. Fernando Rodney TB 9.1 1 7 8 0 0.96 0.64
17. Bartolo Colon* OAK 42.2 3 0 26 0 2.53 0.94
18. Wade Miley* ARI 21.0 3 0 15 0 1.29 0.81
19. Aroldis Chapman CIN 12.1 2 0 21 3 0.00 0.73
20. Brandon Beachy ATL 25.2 2 0 20 0 1.05 0.97
21. Kenley Jansen* LAD 14.2 2 2 24 5 2.45 0.89
22. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 27.0 1 0 16 0 1.33 0.70
23. Cole Hamels PHI 26.1 3 0 30 0 2.73 1.03
24. Jake Westbrook* STL 27.2 3 0 15 0 1.30 1.01
25. Felix Hernandez SEA 36.1 2 0 33 0 2.48 1.02

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

The Ninth Inning

The ninth inning revolving door has been a clear issue for most fantasy teams this year. Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos, Brian Wilson, Drew Storen and Jordan Walden were all quality options come draft day. Hector Santiago is now closing games for the White Sox, however, Addison Reed has yet to allow a run and could figure in should Santiago struggle. Santos, Wilson and Storen are all out for the time being. Brad Lidge was going to close in place of Storen but is hurting himself now. Henry Rodriguez and his unpredictable 100-mph fastball is now firmly entrenched in the ninth. And aging lefty Scott Downs is filling in for Walden while he tries to regain his control. Walden won't be used in even eighth or seventh innning roles either (so don't expect holds) for the time being. He should be the closer at somepoint, but track his "down-by-six-run sixth inning outings."

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

Timm-Ah!

One of my favorite pitchers of the last decade has been Tim Hudson. He made his season debut this weekend and his tidy line (5 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) allowed him to get the win. First, it was against the Pirates, so he will deal with some lumps. But Huddy should be rostered and close to a near-start every time to the bump. With Jair Jurrjens down on the farm, it appears that Randall Delgado's spot in the rotation appears to be safe. 

Waiver Wire Starts This Week

1. Lance Lynn, STL: at PIT (Wed.) Stats:
2. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU: NYM (Wed.) Stats:
3. Mark Buehrle, MIA: at SD (Sat.) Stats:
4. Daniel Bard, BOS: OAK (Wed.) Stats:
5. Jeff Niemann, TB: SEA (Thur.) Stats:
5a. Jonathan Niese, NYM: at HOU (Tues.) Stats:

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Apr. 30</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 11:28
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-washington-rivals
Body:

Here are some of our favorite jokes about Washington Huskies' biggest rivals.

 

• The Foo Fighters are playing Martin Stadium this fall. They're 10-point favorites.

 

• How many Wazzu football players does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but he gets four academic credits for it.

 

• What's the difference between a litter of puppies and Oregon fans? Eventually puppies grow up and stop whining.

 

• What do you get when you cross Washington State with a groundhog? Six more weeks of bad football.

 

• What do you call a beautiful woman on the arm of a Washington State fan? A Tattoo.

 

• What happens when Lane Kiffin takes Viagra? He gets taller.

 

• What do you call 20 Wazzu fans skydiving from an airplane?
Skeet.

 

• Did you hear that Washington State’s football team doesn't have a website? The Cougars can't string three "Ws" together.

 

• How does a Wazzu fan count to 10? 0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4…

 

• Why do Oregon football players like smart women? Opposites attract.

 

Related Washington Content

Washington Huskies Cheerleader Gallery
Washington Huskies 2012 Team Preview

Washington Huskies Top 10 Players for 2012

Washington Huskies 2012 Team Predictions

Can Washington Challenge Oregon for the Pac-12 North Title?

Washington Huskies Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Greatest Moments in Washington Football History

 

Teaser:
<p> Because sometimes it's good to make fun of the other team</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 11:00
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-grades-0
Body:

It's never too early to grade the 2012 NFL Draft, which saw Commissioner Roger Goodell hugging and high-fiving future Pro Bowlers and potential busts. Here's a team-by-team look at the winners and losers from this year:

Arizona Cardinals
Grade: C+

Pick. Player, Pos., School
13. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
80. Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma
112. Bobby Massie, T, Ole Miss
151. Senio Kelemete, T, Washington
177. Justin Bethel, CB, Presbyterian
185. Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State
221. Nate Potter, T, Boise State

Twin Cities product Michael Floyd joins fellow Purple Rain fan Larry Fitzgerald, who practiced with Vikings' soon-to-be Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter once upon a time. Reminds me of Nick Fairley teaming up with Ndamukong Suh in Detroit last year; even if he would've busted under different circumstances, he should be at least above-average with an All-Pro to mimic. O-line, as always, was an issue for the Cards, who brought in a trio led by fast-rising raw tackle prospect Bobby Massie.

Atlanta Falcons
Grade: C

Pick. Player, Pos., School
55. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
91. Lamar Holmes, T, Southern Miss
157. Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
164. Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Troy
192. Charles Mitchell, S, Mississippi State
249. Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina

Julio Jones has to be factored into the 2012 draft for the Dirty Birds, who traded their first- and fourth-rounders this year (along with their first-, second- and fourth-round picks in 2011) to move up from No. 27 overall to the Browns' No. 6 overall last year in order to acquire the soft-J wideout who throws hard blocks, goes over the middle and provides another deep threat across from Roddy White. Hit rewind, a vanilla draft is spiced up by a game-breaking option such as Jones.

Baltimore Ravens
Grade: B

Pick. Player, Pos., School
35. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
60. Kelechi Osemele, T, Iowa State
84. Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple
98. Gino Gradkowski, G, Delaware
130. Christian Thompson, S, South Carolina State
169. Asa Jackson, CB, Cal Poly
198. Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami
236. Deangelo Tyson, DE, Georgia

Bama's Courtney Upshaw was ready to be the fifth member of the Crimson Tide drafted in the first round on Thursday. Instead, the edge rusher had to stay the night in New York before being drafted by Alabama Hall of Fame tight end and Baltimore draft guru Ozzie Newsome. Upshaw will learn from and play next to Ray Lewis, and be protected by Haloti Ngata up front. Who needs the first round if that's your fate? As usual, Ozzie got his guy and collected picks for later; he's one of the best. 

Buffalo Bills
Grade: C

Pick. Player, Pos., School
10. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
41. Cordy Glenn, T, Georgia
69. T.J. Graham, WR, NC State
105. Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State
124. Ron Brooks, CB, LSU
144. Zebrie Sanders, T, Florida State
147. Tank Carder, LB, TCU
178. Mark Asper, G, Oregon
251. John Potter, K, Western Michigan

Stephon Gilmore's stock soared northbound all the way to Toronto, or at least upstate New York, in the weeks leading up to the draft. But the corner with fewer red flags than Dre Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jenkins didn't look too happy to be roaming with the Bills to Canada, or Ralph Wilson's temporary Buffalo home. FSU's Nigel Bradham and TCU's Tank Carder are underrated linebackers who should make plays in the domed Rogers Centre sooner rather than later. Seriously, the Bills are moving to Toronto, or else they wouldn't be playing ANY games there, right?

Carolina Panthers
Grade: B+

Pick. Player, Pos., School
9. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
40. Amini Silatolu, T, Midwestern State
103. Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
104. Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas
143. Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina
207. Brad Nortman, P, Wisconsin
216. D.J. Campbell, S, California

If Luke Kuechly is Dan Morgan without the concussions, Carolina's front office will feel like Cam Newton must every day since he enrolled at Auburn. (Cam won the BCS national title and Heisman Trophy before being the NFL's No. 1 overall pick and Offensive Rookie of the Year, as well as Under Armour's face of the franchise, for those who haven't followed the "icon and entertainer.") Kuechly is now the quarterback of the Cats' defense. Amini Silatolu was a fringe-first-rounder who adds beef on the O-line.

Chicago Bears
Grade: C–

Pick. Player, Pos., School
19. Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State
45. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
79. Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State
111. Evan Rodriguez, TE, Temple
184. Isaiah Frey, CB, Nevada
220. Greg McCoy, CB, TCU

Sorry, Jay Cutler. No offensive line help for you. Keep proving how tough you are. Stare down Brandon Marshall until Alshon Jeffery gets open. What do you mean he can't separate from defenders and isn't as big as he was listed during his career at South Carolina? Get that look off your face, we traded for your buddy Brandon. That's one more receiver than you've had since coming to Chicago. 

Cincinnati Bengals
Grade: A

Pick. Player, Pos., School
17. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
27. Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
53. Devon Still, DT, Penn State
83. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
93. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
116. Orson Charles, TE, Georgia
156. Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
166. Marvin Jones, WR, California
167. George Iloka, S, Boise State
191. Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State

Mohamed Sanu was prank called prior to the No. 27 overall pick by the Bengals in the first round. Someone pulled off a cruel joke by convincing Sanu that he had been drafted by Cincy; his agent confirmed via Twitter. I wouldn't blame Sanu if he hung up on the call from Cincinnati at No. 83 overall. I also wouldn't be shocked if the Bengals discovered who Sanu was by reading a story on Deadspin about his unfortunately well-executed crank-yank.

Cleveland Browns
Grade: B

Pick. Player, Pos., School
3. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
22. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
37. Mitchell Schwartz, T, California
87. John Hughes, DT, Cincinnati
100. Travis Benjamin, WR, Miami
120. James-Michael Johnson, LB, Nevada
160. Ryan Miller, G, Colorado
204. Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas
205. Billy Winn, DT, Boise State
245. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona
247. Brad Smelley, TE, Alabama

Plan A was trading the Nos. 4 and 22 picks (and whatever else it took) to move up and acquire Robert Griffin III. After that fell through, Plan B was Trent Richardson, the second first-round back (along with Mark Ingram) from Alabama's 2009 BCS national title team. There was no Plan C. So, when rumors started swirling around that the Jets were looking to trade up to No. 3 for T-Town's top runner, the Browns were forced to trade up one spot. It was the right call. Brandon Weeden, who is nearly 15 months older than LeBron James, was not the right move, however. But hey, Cleveland just added the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, no matter what an angry Jim Brown thinks. Take the Browns' paper bags off your head, Cleveland. It's okay. When Weeden grows up, he wants to be just like Colt McCoy.

Dallas Cowboys
Grade: A

Pick. Player, Pos., School
6. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
81. Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State
113. Kyle Wilber, LB, Wake Forest
135. Matt Johnson, S, Eastern Washington
152. Danny Coale, WR, Virginia Tech
186. James Hanna, TE, Oklahoma
222. Caleb McSurdy, LB, Montana

Jerry Jones might as well turn the "Palace in Dallas" (or "Jerry's House") into a year-round Scouting Combine. He did, after all, witness Morris Claiborne hurdling Ducks and shutting down Oregon receivers first-hand during the season opening 40-27 LSU win over UO in Arlington last year. Needing secondary help on their Big D, the Cowboys made a Texas-sized move up the board to get their cover man. The only question was whether it would be Claiborne or Alabama safety Mark Barron, who went one pick later to the Buccaneers. Either would have been a grade-A move.

Denver Broncos
Grade: D

Pick. Player, Pos., School
36. Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
57. Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State
67. Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State
101. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
108. Philip Blake, C, Baylor
137. Malik Jackson, DT, Tennessee
188. Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky

The Tim Tebow trade has brought out the worst in everyone, especially NFL Network's Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock, who got in a Day Three verbal slap-fest over super-agent Jimmy Sexton's favorite client and super-petty John Elway's least favorite person. Mayock, who refused to say the name "Tim Tebow," came crashing down after his three-day bender of Red Bull with a splash of 5-Hour Energy Drink cocktails. Eisen was more than happy to bring up as many Tebow references as possible, whenever the Broncos or Jets picked. Mayock exploded in a much-ado-about-nothing turn of events; Eisen basked in the meltdown. Turns out, Tebow wins again.  

Detroit Lions
Grade: B

Pick. Player, Pos., School
23. Riley Reiff, T, Iowa
54. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
85. Dwight Bentley, CB, UL Lafayette
125. Ronnell Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
138. Tahir Whitehead, LB, Temple
148. Chris Greenwood, CB, Albion
196. Jonte Green, CB, New Mexico State
223. Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

The short arms of Riley Reiff pushed him down the board on draft night, after the latest Iowa tackle was presumed to be a top-15 pick earlier in the draft evaluation process. Ryan Broyles' 4,500 yards and 45 receiving TDs at Oklahoma meant something after all. U-La-La's Dwight Bentley looked so good on tape and at the Combine, the Lions only needed to draft an Albion and New Mexico State corner to sleep well at night. One of Oklahoma's Lewis linebackers better pan out.

Green Bay Packers
Grade: C

Pick. Player, Pos., School
28. Nick Perry, DE, USC
51. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
62. Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
132. Mike Daniels, DT, Iowa
133. Jerron McMillan, S, Maine
163. Terrell Manning, LB, NC State
241. Andrew Datko, T, Florida State
243. B.J. Coleman, QB, UT Chattanooga

Brett Favre's best friend (and agent Bus Cook's client) B.J. Coleman stole the headlines for no legit good reason. Favre has a better chance of starting in Green Bay than Coleman. USC end Nick Perry and Michigan State tackle Jerel Worthy were overrated, but being surrounded with Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji may help mask their deficiencies. Vandy's Casey Hayward is a ball-hawk corner with upside. Ted Thompson took a few chances but did just fine, as usual.

Houston Texans
Grade: B+

Pick. Player, Pos., School
26. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
68. DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State
76. Brandon Brooks, G, Miami (Ohio)
99. Ben Jones, C, Georgia
121. Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State
126. Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
161. Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M
195. Nick Mondek, T, Purdue

After making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Texans did what they could to replace free-agent export Mario Williams (with the bizarro-initialled Whitney Mercilus) and help protect oft-injured Andre Johnson (by selecting DeVier Posey). Nebraska D-tackle Jared Crick could be the steal, after having his draft stock plummet due to a torn pectoral injury earlier in the season.

Indianapolis Colts
Grade: A

Pick. Player, Pos., School
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
34. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
64. Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
92. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Florida International
136. Josh Chapman, DT, Alabama
170. Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State
206. LaVon Brazill, WR, Ohio
208. Justin Anderson, T, Georgia
214. Tim Fugger, DE, Vanderbilt
253. Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois

Stanford's Andrew Luck (2012) follows in the horseshoes of Tennessee's Peyton Manning (1998), Illinois' Jeff George (1990), Stanford's John Elway (1983) and Oregon's George Shaw (1955) as quarterbacks picked No. 1 overall in Colts history. Oliver's son, Jim Harbaugh's recruit and David Shaw's security blanket is one of the better prepared players to enter the league in some time. Surrounding Luck with his Stanford teammate, tight end Coby Fleener, was brilliant. Adding another tight end, Dwayne Allen, was a move of genius. Indy acquired the top two tight ends in the draft, giving Luck a Tom Brady-style offense with wanna-be Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez comfort zone options. That said, the Colts should still battle the Jaguars for worst team in the NFL in 2012.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Grade: D

Pick. Player, Pos., School
5. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
38. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
70. Bryan Anger, P, California
142. Brandon Marshall, LB, Nevada
176. Mike Harris, CB, Florida State
228. Jeris Pendleton, DT, Ashland

This grade is based on Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert being a clear-cut bust who is afraid to hold on to the football long enough to look downfield. It may not be Justin Blackmon's fault, but if he catches 30 passes for 400 yards, he'll catch unfair heat due to Gabbert (and who?) not being able to get him the ball. Andre Branch is a boom-or-bust. The punter pick of Bryan Anger speaks to the mindset of the organization right now. They punted this draft. And shanked it.

Kansas City Chiefs
Grade: D

Pick. Player, Pos., School
11. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
44. Jeff Allen, T, Illinois
74. Donald Stephenson, T, Oklahoma
107. Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State
146. DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama
182. Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
218. Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State
238. Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan

If Memphis' Dontari Poe is not at least a non-BCS version of Patriots All-Pro nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who went No. 21 to the Patriots in the epic 2004 draft, than the ex-Patriots running the Chiefs (namely Scott Pioli) will be very disappointed. At 6'4", 346 pounds, Poe ran a 4.98 in the 40 and ripped off 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the Combine. That will play. Or will it? He played piss-Poe against mediocre competition at Memphis. Still, the Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells coaching tree has branched out to KC; there are only so many men on Earth with Poe's measurable size, strength and speed.

Miami Dolphins
Grade: D

Pick. Player, Pos., School
8. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
42. Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
72. Oliver Vernon, DE, Miami
78. Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
97. Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
155. Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon
183. B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
215. Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
227. Rishard Matthews, WR, Nevada

There's another beautiful woman moving to Miami. Ryan Tannehill's wife, Lauren (not pictured), lit up the green room at Radio City Music Hall. This pick was essentially made by first-year Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who hired Joe Philbin (his new boss in Miami) with the Packers way back in 2003 and coached Tannehill at Texas A&M just yesterday (or last year, 2011). Anyone who thinks this is the "next Dan Marino" must have only watched the first half of Aggie games this year. Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin played next to guard David DeCastro and blocked for quarterback Andrew Luck, but he is a notch below both in terms of both toughness and talent.

Minnesota Vikings
Grade: A

Pick. Player, Pos., School
4. Matt Kalil, T, USC
29. Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame
66. Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida
118. Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
128. Rhett Ellison, FB, USC
134. Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas
139. Robert Blanton, CB, Notre Dame
175. Blair Walsh, K, Georgia
210. Audie Cole, LB, NC State
219. Trevor Guyton, DE, California

Matt Kalil is a left tackle prodigy carrying on a rich USC tradition that includes Anthony Munoz and Tony Boselli. He also has an older brother, Ryan Kalil, who is a Pro Bowl center for the Panthers. His father, Frank, played ball in the USFL and is a big talking NFL breeder at this point. But it was the ladies of the Kalil family, mom in a red dress and sister in an orange skirt who took home top prospect honors. High jumping back into the first round and taking underrated, athletic Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith was a savvy movve.

New England Patriots
Grade: A

Pick. Player, Pos., School
21. Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
25. Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
48. Tavon Wilson, S, Illinois
90. Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
197. Nate Ebner, S, Ohio State
224. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
235. Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern

Bill Belichick bounced around early to get both Alabama middle linebacker and part-time sledgehammer Dont'a Hightower and Syracuse edge rusher Chandler Jones (brother of MMA champ light heavyweight champ Jon "Bones" Jones). New England also added a fringe second-third-round-type in the seventh round in Nebraska corner Alfonzo Dennard. Make your Jeremy Ebert, Wes Welker comparisons in the privacy of your own home, lest ye be judged.

New Orleans Saints
Grade: IR

Pick. Player, Pos., School
89. Akiem Hicks, DE, Regina
122. Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
162. Corey White, S, Samford
179. Andrew Tiller, G, Syracuse
234. Marcel Jones, T, Nebraska

This is what Commissioner Roger Goodell's death penalty (lost second round) plus trading up to take Alabama back Mark Ingram last year (traded first round) looks like. Also, Gregg Williams may have told the Saints to "kill the head"; after all, the draft did die. That's not a funny joke to anyone who is familiar with Al Toon's concussion history.

New York Giants
Grade: B

Pick. Player, Pos., School
32. David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
63. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
94. Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
127. Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati
131. Brandon Mosley, T, Auburn
201. Matt McCants, T, UAB
239. Markus Kuhn, DT, NC State

The defending Super Bowl champs made up for Eli Manning being the third most talked about quarterback in his own city. Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez got nothing on Eli, who has two Super Bowl rings to go along with his new fast running back (Virginia Tech's David Wilson) and new big receiver (LSU's Rueben Randle). Jerry Reese has Big Blue well under control.

New York Jets
Grade: D

Pick. Player, Pos., School
16. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
43. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
77. Demario Davis, LB, Arkansas State
187. Josh Bush, S, Wake Forest
202. Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor
203. Robert T. Griffin, G, Baylor
242. Antonio Allen, S, South Carolina
244. Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan

Vernon Ghoston Jr., a.k.a. Quinton Coples, is not the safest bet after showing "very indifferent tape" yet "Julius Peppers type ability" according to NFL Network's Mike Mayock. Stephen Hill is fast, and drafting behind Georgia Tech products Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson, but he's not the prospect either Rambin' Wreck wideouts were. Baylor's Robert T. Griffin has a name grade fit for a king, but his socks don't match.

Oakland Raiders
Grade: RIP

Pick. Player, Pos., School
95. Tony Bergstrom, T, Utah
129. Miles Burris, LB, San Diego State
158. Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State
168. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
189. Christo Bilukidi, DE, Georgia State
230. Nathan Stupar, LB, Penn State

The first draft since the late, great Al Davis (July 4, 1929 - Oct. 8, 2011). "Just win, baby," was a motto that set the tone for an organization that won three Super Bowls under Al Davis, the draft day architect for 50 years in Oakland and Los Angeles, in the AFL and NFL. The Raiders have not yet properly replaced Mr. Davis, and it showed in this year's draft results.

Philadelphia Eagles
Grade: B–

Pick. Player, Pos., School
12. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
46. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California
59. Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
88. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
123. Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
153. Dennis Kelly, T, Purdue
194. Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
200. Brandon Washington, G, Miami
229. Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State

Philly fans boo Andy Reid for being too predictable on game day. Well, it's just as easy to guess what Reid will do on draft day. The Eagles took D-line early (Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox, Marshall's Vinny Curry) and a project quarterback (Arizona's Nick Foles) for the QB professor, and a linebacker (California's Mychal Kendricks) to keep the faithful from rioting.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Grade: A+

Pick. Player, Pos., School
24. David DeCastro, G, Stanford
56. Mike Adams, T, Ohio State
86. Sean Spence, LB, Miami
109. Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington
159. Chris Rainey, RB, Florida
231. Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado
240. David Paulson, TE, Oregon
246. Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M
248. Kelvin Beachum, T, SMU

The best overall draft of 2012. Pittsburgh added two plug-and-play offensive linemen, with Stanford's "can't miss" guard David DeCastro in the first round and Ohio State's "problem child" tackle Mike Adams in the second round. Both were value picks, at Nos. 24 and 56, respectively. Then, Blitz-burgh added a sideline-to-sideline linebacker in Miami's Sean Spence, a zero-technique nose tackle in Washington's Alameda Ta'amu and a triple-threat track star in Florida's Chris Rainey, who new offensive coordinator (and former Chiefs coach) Todd Haley sees in a Dexter McCluster-type role.

San Diego Chargers
Grade: B–

Pick. Player, Pos., School
18. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
49. Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
73. Brandon Taylor, S, LSU
110. Ladarius Green, TE, UL Lafayette
149. Johnnie Troutman, G, Penn State
226. David Molk, C, Michigan
250. Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State

The best high-five of Thursday night, South Carolina tweener Melvin Ingram hyped upped Commissioner Roger Goodell's perceived street cred with a choreographed greeting on stage, shortly after Ingram was drafted much later than he intended. The Commish hugs and has special handshakes on draft night. It's impressive. Meanwhile, the "Lord of No Rings" A.J. Smith did a solid though not spectacular job. It's doubtful that Smith or coach Norv Turner had a special high-five planned the first time they met Ingram.

San Francisco 49ers
Grade: C–

Pick. Player, Pos., School
30. A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
61. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
117. Joe Looney, G, Wake Forest
165. Darius Fleming, LB, Notre Dame
180. Trent Robinson, S, Michigan State
199. Jason Slowey, C, Western Oregon
237. Cam Johnson, DE, Virginia

Why didn't Jim Harbaugh just draft his old Stanford players? Everyone in the Bay Area would have been happier. Illinois wideout A.J. Jenkins and Oregon running back LaMichael James add much-needed speed to the Niners offense. But both were over-drafted and are likely candidates to under-perform.

Seattle Seahawks
Grade: D

Pick. Player, Pos., School
15. Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia
47. Bobby Wagner, LB, Utah State
75. Russell Wilson, QB, NC State
106. Robert Turbin, RB, Utah State
114. Jaye Howard, DT, Florida
154. Korey Toomer, LB, Idaho
172. Jeremy Lane, CB, Northwestern State
181. Winston Guy, S, Kentucky
225. JR Sweezy, DE, NC State
232. Greg Scruggs, DE, Louisville

Speaking of former Pac-10, BCS bowl-winning coaches who over-drafted prospects likely to under-perform, former USC beach boy Pete Carroll recruited a junior college pass rusher in Bruce Irvin. A couch-burner from West Virginia, Irvin has plenty of red flags waving but enough strip-sack potential to roll the dice on. NC State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson (along with his very-TV-aware blonde fiance and her purse dog) had more face time on day two of ESPN's draft coverage than Seattle's second-round pick, Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner, did during his entire college career.  

St. Louis Rams
Grade: A

Pick. Player, Pos., School
14. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
33. Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State
39. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
50. Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati
65. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
96. Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest
150. Rokevious Watkins, T, South Carolina
171. Greg Zuerlein, K, Missouri Western
209. Aaron Brown, LB, Hawaii
252. Daryl Richardson, RB, Abilene Christian

Jeff Fisher impression starts now: The Rams got the Redskins 2012, 2013 and 2014 first-rounders in the RG3 trade; beast LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who has a LeBron James beard; Pacman Jones 2.0 in Florida and North Alabama corner-returner Janoris Jenkins; and Montana product Trumaine Johnson. FYI, Johnson, Fisher's son and Fisher's son's friend, Titans Pro Bowl return specialist Marc Mariani, all played ball at Montana and were drafted by Fisher in some capacity. The RG3 trade riches will buy the Rams high-priced talent over the next couple drafts. It's up to Fisher and Co. to make those picks continue to count. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Grade: B+

Pick. Player, Pos., School
7. Mark Barron, S, Alabama
31. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
58. Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
140. Najee Goode, LB, West Virginia
174. Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia
212. Michael Smith, RB, Utah State
233. Drake Dunsmore, TE, Northwestern

Team Tampa 2 played press coverage in the first round, moving down to pick Alabama safety Mark Barron and moving up to grab Boise State running back Doug Martin. Both players should make an immediate impact. Barron was a two-time national champ and defensive leader for Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. Nebraska blackshirt backer Lavonte David and the West Virginia duo of linebacker Najee Goode and corner Keith Tandy rounded out a solid defensive draft for first-year coach Greg Schiano.

Tennessee Titans
Grade: C

Pick. Player, Pos., School
20. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
52. Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
82. Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
115. Coty Sensabaugh, CB, Clemson
145. Taylor Thompson, TE, SMU
190. Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State
211. Scott Solomon, DE, Rice

The Zach Brown Band is playing Music City. Problem is, NFL Network's Mike Mayock called the North Carolina linebacker "allergic to contact," to which Rich Eisen cracked, "can't you take Claritin for that?" Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin and Clemson cornerback Coty Sensabaugh are excellent value picks. The surprise selection of Baylor receiver Kendall Wright may say more about the organization's lack of trust in Kenny Britt, whose injuries and off-field issues continue to mount. 

Washington Redskins
Grade: A

Pick. Player, Pos., School
2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
71. Josh LeRibeus, G, SMU
102. Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
119. Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas
141. Adam Gettis, G, Iowa
173. Alfred Morris, RB, Florida Atlantic
193. Tom Compton, T, South Dakota
213. Richard Crawford, CB, SMU
217. Jordan Bernstine, CB, Iowa

Robert Griffin III's old school Redskins color scheme "Go Catch Your Dreams" socks were a nice touch for the adidas spokesman who wore Superman socks to his victorious Heisman Trophy ceremony. A true dual-threat, RG3 is a seemingly a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan's version of the West Coast offense, which Steve Young, John Elway and Jay Cutler all thrived in since the early 1990s. The selection of Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins is a fascinating but logical one. RG3 and Cousins can compete and grow together, while giving Washington two potential leaders for the future. RG3 better be able to beat out Cousins for the top spot.

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> It's never too early to grade the 2012 NFL Draft, which saw Commissioner Roger Goodell hugging and high-fiving future Pro Bowlers like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, and potential busts like Dontari Poe and Bruce Irvin. Here's a team-by-team look at the winners and losers from this year.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 07:46
Path: /college-football/10-teams-may-end-secs-national-title-streak
Body:

Spring practice is wrapping up around the nation, which means the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. Athlon’s top 25 for 2012 kicks off on May 1 and ends in early June with our pick to win the national title. The SEC has won six championships in a row, but will that streak end in 2012? The early odds favor a SEC repeat, but there are some threats looming for a seventh consecutive title. USC is the early favorite to end the SEC’s reign, but Oregon, Michigan and Oklahoma are strong contenders.

Here’s a look at 10 threats to end the SEC’s string of national titles in 2012.

1. USC – The Trojans are likely the biggest obstacle to a seventh consecutive national title by a SEC team. USC is still dealing with scholarship reductions, but returns Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley at quarterback and college football’s top receiving corps. Losing left tackle Matt Kalil was a blow to the offensive line, but four starters are back. The defense returns seven starters, but the line must be revamped. Considering how strong LSU and Alabama are in the trenches, the holes on the offensive and defensive lines will be USC’s biggest issue. The Trojans have a favorable non-conference schedule and host Oregon on Nov. 3. The biggest landmines on the road appear to be an Oct. 4 date at Utah and an Oct. 13 trip to Washington. USC closed out 2011 by winning its final four games and there’s plenty of motivation to get to the national title game after spending the last two years banned from postseason play. 

2. SEC team(s) – That’s right, don’t adjust your vision. Sure, the SEC has won six titles in a row, but what if the conference beats up on each other? Alabama and LSU are the favorites to win the SEC, but it’s possible both teams end up with two losses. What if the winner of the SEC West enters the conference title game with one defeat and then loses to the East champ in Atlanta? Would a two-loss SEC team make a national title game appearance over an undefeated or one-loss team from another conference? It’s really anyone’s guess what could happen in that scenario, but a realistic possibility. 

3. Oregon – In the pecking order of Pac-12 teams, the Ducks will likely rank behind USC in most preseason polls. Replacing quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James is the top priority for coach Chip Kelly, but the cupboard is far from bare. Quarterbacks Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota appear more than capable of leading the Ducks’ high-powered offense. De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner should form one of the nation’s top one-two combinations at running back in 2012. The defense loses two first-team All-Pac-12 performers, but returns six starters. If the Ducks can get by USC in the Pac-12 title game, a trip to the national title game is certainly within reach.

4. Oklahoma – Which Sooner team will we see in 2012? Will the Oklahoma team that started 6-0 in 2011 show up again? Or is this the team that finished 4-3 in the final seven games? If the Sooners return to the form that had them in position for the national title midway through last season, this team should be a threat to finish unbeaten. The non-conference schedule is manageable, featuring games against UTEP, Florida A&M and Notre Dame. The slate is more difficult in Big 12 play, thanks to dates against Texas, Oklahoma State and road games against West Virginia and TCU. Losing receiver Ryan Broyles was a huge blow to the offense last year. However, with a full offseason to sort out the receiving corps and make adjustments to the scheme, the Sooners should be in better shape offensively. The defense returns seven starters and gains the services of Mike Stoops at defensive coordinator. Most preseason polls will have Oklahoma behind USC. However, with no Big 12 title game, it’s one fewer opportunity for the Sooners to lose, which could be important with USC likely to play Oregon two times next year.  

5. Michigan – With an opening week matchup against Alabama, we will know early in the year if the Wolverines are a national title contender. Michigan is back among the top-10 teams after a successful 2011 season, and coach Brady Hoke has this program poised to win the Big Ten title in 2012. Quarterback Denard Robinson is one of the nation’s most exciting players, but he has to stay healthy for the Wolverines to finish in the top two of the BCS rankings. Hoke also needs to find replacements for center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin – two of Michigan’s best players last season. Another obstacle to overcome is the competition in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have to play Ohio State in Columbus and games against division foes Michigan State and Nebraska won’t be easy. Even if Michigan loses to the Crimson Tide in the opener, finishing the season with just one loss should keep them in the mix for a spot in the national championship. 

6. Texas – The Longhorns improved their win total by three games from 2010 to 2011. Another three-game improvement would mean 11 victories and at least an appearance in a BCS bowl. There’s a lot to like about Texas as a potential darkhorse for the national title, but quarterback play must improve. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, but he will be challenged by Case McCoy and Connor Brewer in fall practice. With the concerns about quarterback play, expect Texas to lean heavily on one of the top backfields in college football. Sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron combined for 1,225 yards and 10 scores last year, while true freshman Johnathan Gray will see a heavy role in 2012. Although the defense has to replace All-Big 12 linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, this unit should be one of the best in college football. The non-conference schedule should allow Texas to jump out to a 3-0 start. However, a challenging three-game stretch (at Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma) early in the year will decide whether the Longhorns can win the Big 12.

7. Florida State – An ACC team hasn’t played for the national title since 2000. Could that change in 2012? The Seminoles are the early frontrunner to win the ACC, but Clemson and Virginia Tech will certainly be in the mix. Florida State has underachieved recently, but coach Jimbo Fisher is accumulating some impressive talent and depth. The Seminoles have one of the deepest defensive lines in college football and return two solid cornerbacks in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. While the defense could be the best in the nation, the offense has to improve for Florida State to challenge for a national title. Quarterback EJ Manuel battled injuries last year and didn’t have much help from the rushing attack and offensive line. If the Seminoles can get improved play from the line, this could be the year Florida State becomes a national title contender once again.

8. Clemson – If Florida State is a national title contender, Clemson can’t be too far behind. The Tigers claimed the ACC Championship last year, but ended the year with losses in three out of their final four games. The offense is loaded with talent, as quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receiver Sammy Watkins could all challenge for All-American honors. The key question mark on offense will be the line. The Tigers must replace three starters up front, including tackles Landon Walker and Phillip Price. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables has some work to do, especially with a rebuilt defensive line. Clemson’s schedule isn’t too daunting, but a road trip to Florida State on Sept. 22 could decide the ACC Atlantic title.

9. Michigan State – Although Michigan is the early favorite to win the Big Ten, the Spartans will be in the mix. Michigan State has won 22 games over the last two years, but is still looking for its first BCS bowl appearance. The Spartans return 12 starters, but must replace two key performers in quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. New quarterback Andrew Maxwell suffered a knee injury and missed a part of spring practices, but is expected to have a good season in his first as the starter. The offensive line should be better in 2012, while running back Le’Veon Bell is expected to rush for 1,000 yards. If Michigan State can successfully replace Worthy in the middle, the defense should remain one of the best in college football. The Spartans have non-conference games against Boise State and Notre Dame and have to make road trips against Wisconsin and Michigan. Michigan State needs a lot to fall its way to play for the national title, but it should push Michigan and Nebraska to be the top team in the Big Ten.   

10. West Virginia – With quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey returning, the Mountaineers will have no trouble fitting into the offensive-minded Big 12. West Virginia’s offense averaged 37.6 points a game last year, but that number could increase in 2012, especially with the players more comfortable with Dana Holgorsen’s scheme. With running back Dustin Garrison’s status uncertain with a torn ACL, the Mountaineers have concerns about the rushing attack. The offensive line was also shaky last year and needs to play better if West Virginia wants to win the Big 12. The defense must replace ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin and cornerback Keith Tandy. The Mountaineers will also be changing from a 3-3-5 to a 3-4 scheme under new co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. West Virginia’s debut season in the Big 12 won’t be easy, especially with road dates against Texas and Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers are a longshot, but if they win the Big 12, they will certainly be in the discussion to be one of the top five teams in the nation.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?
Alabama or LSU: Which Team Will Win the SEC West in 2012?

Georgia or South Carolina: Which Team Will Win the SEC East in 2012?

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Will the SEC's streak of national championships end in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 07:01
Path: /college-football/usc-or-oregon-which-team-wins-pac-12-2012
Body:

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

USC or Oregon: Which Team Wins the Pac-12 in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Welcome back, USC. The Trojans should return to the top of the Pac-12 in 2012, reclaiming the seat taken by Oregon the last three seasons. That’s not a knock on the Ducks, even though they lose Darron Thomas and LaMichael James. Oregon will be fine. The Ducks should be able to plug and play in the backfield, with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas returning. Oregon is the presumptive favorite in the Pac-12 North and a possible top-10 team. That said, USC is ready to contend for a national championship. Even if Oregon is able to adequately replace Thomas with Bryan Bennett, USC still counters with a senior Matt Barkley and two elite receivers. If there’s any question for the Trojans, it’s on the defensive line where end Wes Horton is the only returning starter. USC might be able to navigate its schedule with a green defensive line, but the key to defeating Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams has been up front. Lucky for USC, the Trojans won’t face Oregon until November and they’ll do so in Los Angeles right around the same time USC caught fire last season.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
College football fans get not one but two Games of the Century in 2012 and both take place on November 3. All eyes in college football will be on Baton Rouge that afternoon when Alabama visits LSU in SEC play. Later that night, however, the West Coast will be the epicenter of NCAA action when Oregon visits USC. Not only are conference bragging rights on the line, a No. 1 overall ranking, home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game and a potential bid to the national championship game could be on the line in the Coliseum.

Oregon returns a loaded roster with talent and depth at nearly every position. Their offense replaces quarterback Darron Thomas and star tailback LaMichael James, but should skip few beats as Bryan Bennett, DeAnthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner will keep things humming in Eugene. But are the Ducks better than last year's team that failed to defeat USC at home? The answer is no. Matt Barkley has the best receiving corps in the nation and the back-seven on defense returns entirely intact for Monte Kiffin, who continues to adapt to the college game. This is the best USC team since 2008 and is the only roster in the nation that is comparable to LSU or Alabama. Chip Kelly's team may only lose two games in 2012, and could easily play in the Rose Bowl, but those two losses will come at the hands of Lane Kiffin and the Men of Troy. Additionally, if you want to hedge your bets, the South does not claim a team that can challenge USC for division supremacy while Oregon is dealing with a dramatically improved division loaded with speed bumps. All the stars — easier division, hosting the head-to-head, returning quarterback — are aligned for the Trojans to return to the pinnacle of Pac-12 play.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Outside of the SEC West race, the battle to win the Pac-12 will be college football’s most intriguing conference to watch in 2012. Unless USC or Oregon loses two games, it’s likely the winner of the Pac-12 Championship will play in the national title.

USC is still dealing with scholarship reductions, but the postseason ban has been lifted, and the Trojans are ready to compete for the national title. Although depth is a concern, USC still has plenty of talent to round out its depth chart. Quarterback Matt Barkley is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman and returns college football’s top receiving corps. Depth on the defensive line is probably the team’s biggest question mark, but the back seven should be one of the best in the Pac-12. The Trojans also seemed to jell at the end of last year, winning their final four games, including a 38-35 victory in Eugene against Oregon.  

Although Oregon must replace quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, the Ducks will once again be in the mix to win a national title. Bryan Bennett started one game in place of Thomas last season, but is getting a push from redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota in spring practice. James will be missed, but De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are back to form a potent one-two combination. There are a few holes on defense, but thanks to rotating several players into game action, the Ducks shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production.

Both teams are capable of winning the national title, but I have to give the edge to USC for the Pac-12 Championship. The Trojans knocked off the Ducks in Eugene last season and catch Oregon in Los Angeles this year. And with a win over the Ducks in the regular season, it will be a huge boost to USC’s chances of hosting the Pac-12 title game. I think both teams should be a lock to be in the preseason top five, but USC gets the nod to win the Pac-12 title.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with the Trojans because of an experienced quarterback and amazingly-talented receivers, but the Ducks will make it tough. The interesting thing about these two quality teams is that they will meet in Los Angeles on November 3, and there is a good chance of a rematch a month later in the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC has a loaded roster, especially on offense with Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley throwing to dynamic pass catchers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. There are a few questions on defense, but a Trojans have plenty of talent and one of the best secondaries in the country. Oregon has done a great job in recruiting as well, and Chip Kelly’s teams always put up points. Bryan Bennett takes over for Darron Thomas at quarterback, and UO has electric playmakers in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Bennett and the Ducks will need to find a way to make 40+ yard plays against the Trojans, something that did not happen in USC’s victory at Oregon last year. It will be fascinating to watch the adjustments these teams make from November to a possible rematch, and I will take Barkley and the Trojans to prevail at home.
 

Where will USC and Oregon finish in the 2012 Pac-12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 Running Back Rankings for 2012
Pac-12 2012 Football Schedule Analysis

Washington or Stanford: Better 2012 Record?

Pac-12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> USC or Oregon: Which Team Wins the Pac-12 in 2012?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-eleven-april-23
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 27.

• SI’s Peter King details how Morris Claiborne surprisingly ended up in Dallas, as well as other first-round thoughts.

• CBS’ Pete Prisco is not sure what the Cleveland Browns were thinking with their picks of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.

• ESPN’s Andrea Adelson has the story on West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin, who the Seahawks selected in first round’s biggest surprise.

• Will the NBA adopt a “two and done” rule? That change would definitely have huge ramifications for college basketball.

• Shutdown Corner looks at the NFL Draft’s first round, which was dominated by trades.

• SportsGrid has a humorous take on the absolutely awful Charlotte Bobcats.

• Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times previews this weekend’s matchup of first-place teams, with the Nationals taking on the Dodgers.

• The Big Ten had to wait until No. 23 to have a player drafted, but then finished the first round strongly.

• Will Miami be talking more about new quarterback Ryan Tannehill or his wife? Not going to question the new signal caller’s decision making one iota. 

• It sounds like Vikings star Adrian Peterson is ahead of schedule in recovering from a torn ACL.

• So you want to be a first-round pick? Sounds like Mr. Irrelevant might be the way to go in our Video of the Day…

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com
 


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 26.

• ESPN previews tonight’s NFL Draft.

• The Daily Dolphin analyzes whether Miami should draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

• Best car ad ever?

• Dave Miller of the National Football Post looks at the  ongoing talks for college football to move towards a four-team playoff.

• Kobe Bryant needs 38 points tonight to win the NBA scoring title. The Lakers already have the Western Conference No. 3 seed locked up, so how much will he play?

• Berry Tramel looks at the surprising news that true freshman Wes Lunt will be the Oklahoma State starting quarterback

• Would the Bills trade up to the No. 3 pick to get USC’s Matt Kalil?

• The Orange County Register looks at the Angels’ bad start and the struggling Albert Pujols.

• Clarence Hill has the Cowboys first-round possibilities down to four prospects.

• Could the Patriots trade up this year, instead of down like most past drafts?

• ESPN is reporting that the Pro Bowl might be shelved, and it’s doubtful that anyone will miss it. I remember only one play in Pro Bowl history, and it’s our Video of the Day…

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com
 


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 25.

• SB Nation Dallas has the latest on who the Cowboys might draft at No. 14.

• Bleacher Report SEC blogger Barrett Sallee says new Arkansas coach John L. Smith “ascended to the Les Miles level of quotable SEC coaches” in his opening press conference in Fayetteville.

• Could Giants defender Osi Umenyiora be headed out of New York? Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News has the latest.

• It looks like Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel is being traded to the Atlanta Falcons on the eve of the NFL Draft.

• Could the Vikings shake up the draft and trade out of the No. 3 pick?

• Royals Review wonders if Kansas City manger Ned Yost could be fired with the team losing 12 straight game, including 10 of those at home.

• Could Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and his first-round talent, go undrafted?

• ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell looks at the still-in-flux UCLA quarterback situation for Jim Mora in his debut season.

• Jim Young of ACCSports.com looks at Virginia Tech’s mishandling of the Seth Greenberg firing.

• The Wall Street Journal looks at the management failures of ex-NBA stars like Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas.

USC football players in an organic chemistry class? Just doesn’t sound right for guys coached by Ed Orgeron, but our Video of the Day explains…

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com
 


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 24.

• Chris Bahn of ArkansasSports360.com has the Razorback reaction to John L. Smith’s hire in Fayetteville.

• New Jersey State Police are being investigated for possibly escorting a group of high-dollar sports car racers, including Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, in a 100+ mph race down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City. Maybe they were trying to get away from Snooki?

• Future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who recently decided to retire, has one of the coolest “first pitches” ever before the Rangers-Yankees game.

• Gobbler Country’s Josh Parcell looks at the legacy of former Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg.

• Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report believes Arkansas made a solid hire with John L. Smith.

• Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett has thoughts on the league’s primetime games this season.

• Would Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis hold out again? The National Football Post says it could happen.

• The San Diego Union-Tribune dispels the rumors that San Diego State was considering not joining the Big East next season

• SB Nation in New Orleans has the latest on eavesdropping charges against Saints GM Mickey Loomis. The franchise categorically denies the accusations and may counter with legal action.

• Jon Gold of Inside UCLA looks at the impact of Ben Howland’s top-rated recruiting class after big man Tony Parker committed to the Bruins.

• Check out this “fake pass” by Tony Allen of the Grizzlies in our Video of the Day.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 23.

• SI.com’s “Hot Clicks” is now five years old, and Jimmy Traina celebrates with his 10 most memorable moments and 20 best videos. Wow Kate Upton, just wow.

• Here’s to hoping that Robert Griffin III is more accurate with the Redskins than with meeting hottie Alex Morgan of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team.

• Erin McLaughlin of Bleacher Report says Everett Golson made the best case to be the Notre Dame starting quarterback during the Irish spring game.

• Oh the irony, a guy named “World Peace” is ejected from the Lakers-Thunder game for a vicious elbow. Deadspin has the video of the thug formerly known as Ron Artest.

• ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett recaps the Ohio State spring game, where 81,112 turned out to see Urban Meyer’s “debut”.

• Rays Index has the video of retried NBA center Matt Geiger doing his best Steve Bartman impression. Although he appeared to be ejected, reports surfaced later that Geiger was only “relocated”. Tampa Bay is just glad to have someone – anyone – show up.

• SB Nation in Cleveland makes the case for the Browns drafting Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the No. 4 overall pick.

• Would Gus Malzahn be the right hire at Arkansas? A decision is expected soon in Fayetteville.

• Boston Globe columnist Tony Massarotti looks at what’s ailing the last-place Boston Red Sox. Think Bobby Valentine is wearing his old mustache disguise around Beantown already?

• The Omaha World-Herald has an in-depth Q&A with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini following spring ball.

• NC State’s defense dominated the spring game. Can the Wolfpack challenge Clemson and Florida State in the ACC’s Atlantic Division?

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com
 

Teaser:
<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links from the NFL, MLB, NBA, college football and more.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 12:31
Path: /college-football/lsu-vs-alabama-which-team-will-finish-no-1-sec-west
Body:

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

LSU or Alabama: Who Will Win the SEC West in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Alabama’s win in the national championship game was so dominant, it almost makes LSU’s 9-6 win during the regular season look more like a fluke than a defensive struggle. Really, that makes more sense with the way one close, contested play – the Eric Reid interception wrestled away from Michael Williams – settled the first matchup. Given the turmoil at Arkansas, the SEC West may end up being a one-game grudge match between LSU and Alabama again and fodder for a constant debate between now and Nov. 3. LSU’s defense could be just as good as it was last season, and the Tigers’ offense could be more consistent if Zach Mettenberger is the real deal. I’d expect Alabama’s defense to take a step back – as in from the most dominant defense in the country by a wide statistical margin to merely elite. In the national title game, A.J. McCarron proved himself as more than a caretaker for the offense, rather as a quarterback who can put a game on his shoulders against another top-notch defense. Even without Trent Richardson, Alabama should still be able to run the ball behind a stout offensive line. Now, McCarron gives the Crimson Tide more balance. Even with the game in Baton Rouge, I’m going to pick Alabama to win the rubber match of the last two seasons.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This will be a heated debate for the next six months until November 3 rolls around. That is the day, of course, that Alabama must head down to the bayou to face the LSU Tigers in a third straight battle for national — and conference — supremacy. On paper, LSU has the best roster in America. The Athlon editors are dead split on who should be the pick in the West and Les Miles appears to be the only reason for the debate. If Nick Saban and Miles were to magically switch positions, the Bayou Bengals would be the clearcut, no doubt pick to win not only the SEC but also the National Championship. Removing the taste of the BCS championship game performance by Miles from my mouth is virtually impossible. LSU was the most horribly prepared team for a championship game in (at least) the BCS era and The Hat's inability to make any semblance of in-game adjustments simply cannot be forgotten. 

Saban's team isn't without its own flaws, however. A huge chunk of that legendary defense needs to be replaced and Trent Richardson is no longer running the football. While LSU can boast the best roster in the nation, Alabama may be a close second — even with the losses. Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and freshman T.J. Yeldon will fill in admirably for T-Rich. In fact, the offense should be better in 2012. The Tide boasts the top offensive line in the nation and quarterback A.J. McCarron will only continue to develop. This, after he led the SEC in completion percent last fall (66.8%). And despite losses at wideout and tight end, the pass-catchers will actually be more explosive and talented this season. On defense, the line should be just fine and a pair of juco covermen, Deion Blue ad Travell Dixon, appear to have solidified a secondary that still has Robert Lester. Nico Johnson, CJ Mosley and Trey DePreist are no slouches filling in for the lawfirm of Hightower, Upshaw and Harris as well. Needless to say, they got some athletes at The Capstone.

Until proven otherwise, I have to stick with Saban and the Tide as the team to beat in the SEC. However — and no one outside of the Sunbelt wants to hear this — but that game down in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3 could be meaningless once again in 2012 as both LSU and Bama could find their way back to the title game no matter who wins the first meeting. LSU-Bama IV on South Beach? It's got my blood going already.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This question is easily the most difficult of the preseason debates. LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but was handled easily by the Crimson Tide in the national championship. So which result should we believe? 

LSU could be better than it was last year, provided Zach Mettenberger lives up to the hype at quarterback. The Tigers will have one of the top defenses and rushing attacks in college football, but won’t repeat as SEC champions if the quarterback play doesn’t improve. Although the defensive line is one of the best in the nation, there are concerns about the linebacking corps and finding a cornerback to replace the cover skills of Morris Claiborne.

Alabama has a lot of losses on defense, but there’s no shortage of talent waiting to step into playing time in Tuscaloosa. While the Crimson Tide may take a step back on defense, the offense should be better, especially with the return of quarterback AJ McCarron. Yes, Trent Richardson will be missed at running back, but Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart, T.J. Yeldon and Jalston Fowler is a capable group to carry the workload. Assuming there’s no drop-off from Jim McElwain to Doug Nussmeier at offensive coordinator, McCarron could contend for All-SEC honors.

Expect another tight battle to decide the SEC West, but it definitely helps LSU’s case that the game is in Baton Rouge this year. However, by November, Alabama’s defense will be back among the nation’s elite. And even though Les Miles has led LSU to two victories in the last three matchups against Alabama, I trust Nick Saban just a little more. I think the Crimson Tide finds a way to pull out a close win against LSU, which will clinch the SEC West title for 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll take the Tigers to repeat in the SEC West. Les Miles’ roster is loaded, and the only real question looming in Baton Rouge is how quarterback Zach Mettenberger will fare against SEC defenses. LSU has the best pair of tackles in the country in Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, and that offensive line will pave the way for a crew of talented running backs. The defense will be stellar once again, led by Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan up front and Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid on the back end. Alabama will be a contender because of elite recruiting and top-notch coaching, but there will be some tough roles to fill with the loss of four first-round picks. The Tide offensive line should be excellent, and quarterback AJ McCarron showed his potential in the BCS Championship Game. The losses on defense are significant, but Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will field another talented unit even with some inexperience. Both SEC powers will be in the national title hunt in 2012, but I’ll take LSU to be the league’s top team once again.

Where will LSU and Alabama finish in the 2012 SEC standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Georgia or South Carolina: Which Team Will Win the SEC East in 2012?
Ranking the SEC's Running Backs for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Missouri or Texas A&M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> LSU vs. Alabama: Which Team Will Finish No. 1 in the SEC West?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 08:20
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-grading-first-round
Body:

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft is in the books. The Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins got their franchise quarterbacks as expected. But how did your favorite team do in this year's first round? Athlon grades every pick in the first round and gives some names for each team to target in the coming days:

1. Indianapolis: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (6-4, 234)
Team Needs: QB, WR, DT, OL, DE
Montana to Young. Favre to Rodgers. And now Manning to Luck. The long awaited marriage of the Stanford quarterback to the city of Indianapolis finally took place as the Colts wasted no time selecting the best quarterback prospect in two decades. There are no weaknesses in his game whatsoever and Colts fans can rest easy despite the loss of No. 18. First Round Grade: A+

2. Washington (From STL): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (6-2, 231)
Team Needs: QB, ILB, OT, S, CB
While Luck is the most complete prospect at the quarterback position in many years, Griffin III might be the best athlete under center ever. The former track star is a savvy leader who elevated an entire program to levels unforeseen in Waco in more than 15 years. His ability to keep plays alive with raw athleticism while maintain focus down the field is a rare trait. He, too, is the complete package at the game’s most important position. The only dent in the armor could be his durability, especially considering his penchant for running the football. He has missed games due to injuries in each of the last two seasons and Mike Shanahan likely won’t let him run around too much. First Round Grade: A

3. Cleveland (From MIN): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (5-9, 228)
Team Needs: RB, QB, OT, OLB, DE
Running backs must be special athletes to be taken in the top 20 overall much less at No. 3. While Cleveland clearly gave up too much to jump one spot – it cost four total draft picks to land the superstar tailback – the Alabama running back will likely be worth it. Richardson’s resume is loaded with personal awards, statistical records and two national championship rings. He is as strong as any running back to ever enter the league and his toughness should match the hard-nosed attitude abundant in the city of Cleveland. First Round Grade: A-

4. Minnesota (From CLE): Matt Kalil, OT, USC (6-6, 306)
Team Needs: OT, CB, S, DT, WR
The Vikings have many needs but protecting their first round investment under center with the clearcut top blocker in the draft was an excellently boring move. Kalil has played in an elite pro-style passing attack that is as close to the modern NFL schemes as there is in college. He has the size, pedigree, experience and athleticism to keep Lions, Packers and Bears off Christian Ponder’s back for years to come. This was an excellent day for Vikings fans as they added Kalil and three extra picks to drop one spot. First Round Grade: B+

5. Jacksonville (From TB): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (6-1, 207)
Team Needs: WR, OT, CB, DE, RB
Wide receiver is the deepest position in this draft and Blackmon certainly topped the list. He has the size and speed to be a dangerous play-maker across the middle and down the field. He played in a pass-heavy system that padded his stat line, but his level of production has dwarfed the rest of college football for two straight seasons. His ability to consistently produce when every coach in the nation is trying to stop him has been remarkable. The idea to support the young Blaine Gabbertt with a talent like Blackmon is an obvious one, but was the price worth it and does this team have other, more pressing needs? First Round Grade: B

6. Dallas (From WAS through STL): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (5-11, 188)
Team Needs: CB, DT, DE, G, LB
Tyrann Matthieu got all of the headlines but anyone who knows football knew that Claiborne was the real star of the LSU secondary. The Thorpe Award winner is the best pure coverman in the nation and a dangerous return specialist in his own right. He possesses extraordinary feel for the football and will attack it with tremendous ball skills. This was a pricey pick for Dallas but there is little-to-no downside with this Bayou Ballhawk. First Round Grade: A-
 
7. Tampa Bay (From JAC): Mark Barron, S, Alabama (6-1, 213)
Team Needs: S, CB, OG, LB, RB
It was shocking to see Roy Williams comparisons pop up on twitter heading into the draft for Barron. The Alabama safety is one of the safest picks in the entire draft and is the only elite playmaker at his position in this class. Barron is much more athletic, fluid, agile and versatile than the former Oklahoma Sooner. One thing Barron does have in common with Williams, however, is that they will both decapitate anyone with their hands near the football. Tampa Bay showed excellent patience here and added an immediate plug-and-play contributor along with additional picks with this maneuver. First Round Grade: B+
 
8. Miami: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)
Team Needs: QB, S, DE, WR, OT
The first real reach of the draft belongs to a team that has featured 16 different starting quarterbacks since Dan Marino retired. Tannehill is the first Texas A&M passer taken in the first round and is the first quarterback the Dolphins have taken in the first since Marino. The Aggie passer is a long-term project who has loads of development still to go. He threw for 283 yards per game but tossed 21 interceptions in his 19 career starts. He finished 12-7 as a starter and his teams consistently choked in the second half of play. Tannehill is a tremendous athlete who has loads of upside. This is the definition of high-rick, high-reward at this stage in the draft. First Round Grade: C+
 
9. Carolina: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (6-3, 242)
Team Needs: ILB, DT, CB, OT, DE
From one of the riskier picks in the first round to one of the safest, Carolina added a heartbeat to the middle of its defense with this selection. There have been few linebackers to emerge from the collegiate ranks with as much polish and experience as the Eagles tackling machine. He consistently produced huge numbers for a team that offered little in the way of defensive support. Like Barron, Kuechly is easily the top player at his position in this class and offers little downside of any kind. First Round Grade: B+
 
10. Buffalo: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (6-0, 190)
Team Needs: CB, OT, CB, WR, OLB
Gilmore has played a lot of football in a great conference. Yet, his game needs plenty of refinement for him to justify a top ten pick. He has great size but lacks fundamentals when tackling and in some coverage schemes. He is best when the play is in front of him as his natural instincts aren't are advanced as they should be. His excellent size could provoke a move to safety, where his range and size may be better utilized. First Round Grade: B-
 
11. Kansas City: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis (6-3, 346)
Team Needs: DT, LB, DE, G
Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and now Dontari Poe. Analysis from talking TV heads just about summed it up “his game tape isn’t that impressive” and “not many intangibles.” And that was when Mike Mayock was trying to be positive. The biggest red flag? Poe was not a dominate player at a very mediocre level of play at Memphis in Conference USA. His defenses were atrocious, his teams lost four out of every five games and he failed to produce any significant statistic on the sheet. Poe looked great in shorts and a t-shirt at the combine, and no one can argue with his raw physical upside, but he disappeared from August to January – when they play actual football games. This one could hurt for years. First Round Grade: D
 
12. Philadelphia (From SEA): Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (6-4, 298)
Team Needs: DT, OLB, S, OT, DE
The Eagles knew who they wanted, and when the Chiefs reached on big Poe, Philly didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Cox. The massive defensive tackle has been facing elite level centers and guards in the SEC. There may not be a better way to prepare for the next level than competing with the William Vlachos and Patrick Lonergans of the world. He can play inside or out and will be be a disruptive interior player. Brockers may end up being the top tackle in this class but Cox isn’t far behind. First Round Grade: B+
 
13. Arizona: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (6-2, 220)
Team Needs: WR, OT, DE, QB, OLB
This pick was a bit peculiar considering the many other holes on the Cardinals two-deep, but there are also a lot worse things than lining-up Michael Floyd opposite of Larry Fitzgerald. In fact, they have similar builds, styles and talents, but that isn't the only thing the two stud wideouts share. Floyd and Fitzgerald both hail from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Arizona now boasts arguably the top two wide receivers to ever come from the talent-rich St. Paul-Minneapolis area. Floyd’s only knocks – off the field focus and nagging injuries – are things that should be helped by day-to-day contact with one of the best models of professionalism in the game today. First Round Grade: B-
 
14. St. Louis (from WAS): Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (6-5, 322)
Team Needs: DT, WR, OT, CB, LB
A massive run-stuffing, pocket-collapsing defensive tackle is a rare commodity in the college ranks. But Michael Brockers is just that and he did it against the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State. Not Tulane, UTEP or Rice. Jeff Fisher and the Rams did an excellent job building a massive draft board loaded with extra picks while still landing their guy in the first round. Brockers is the best tackle prospect in the draft. First Round Grade: A-
 
15. Seattle (From PHI): Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia (6-3, 245)
Team Needs: DE, LB, WR, OL, TE
Yes, Irvin might be the best pure pass rusher in the draft. Yes, he might have the most explosive first step in the class. And yes, he was a huge reach at No. 15 for Pete Carroll. Adding some picks and dropping down was a smart move, but Irvin has major question marks. His off the field issues aside, Irvin is a one-trick pony. He was barely good enough to play on first and second down in the Big East much less against the 49ers. Irvin feels like a much better fit on a team that is one pass rusher from the Super Bowl, and that is not the Seahawks. First Round Grade: C
 
16. NY Jets: Quinton Coples, DL, North Carolina (6-5, 284)
Team Needs: DE, OLB, WR, OT, ILB
This is an interesting pick. The Jets may never have expected him to be still on the board and he likely caused a slight audible. His versatility along the defensive line has to be an intriguing quality for Rex Ryan’s multiple front defense. His ability to slide inside and play tackle could be invaluable on passing downs. He is a massive prospect who appeared to, at times, let the troubling situation around him last fall affect his output. If he stays committed, his rare physical talents should help him succeed in the defense-friendly Jets locker room. First Round Grade: B-
 
17. Cincinnati (from OAK): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (6-1, 185)
Team Needs: CB, G, SS, DE, DT
The third Crimson Tider to go in the first round has been long considered a first round pick. Kirkpatrick was the No. 1 defensive back prospect in the nation coming out of high school and went on to win two national championships under Nick Saban. He has incredible height and length for a cornerback and exhibits elite speed. His size might precipitate a quick move to safety where he could bulk up slightly and play with rare speed and athleticism. His fluidity and play-making skills in man-up open field situations will be the determining factor as to which position he plays. First Round Grade: B-
 
18. San Diego: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina (6-1, 264)
Team Needs: DE, OT, DT, G, S
If Ingram were two inches taller and his arms two inches longer, he might have been the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. He is a bit undersized for a pure defensive end but his raw athleticism for a man his size is simply remarkable. He moves incredibly well in space and can be used all over the defense in a variety of roles and positions. He is active, strong, quick and savvy and at his best when rushing the passer. First Round Grade: B+
 
19. Chicago: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State (6-3, 260)
Team Needs: DE, OT, G, DT, CB
“Assassin” was the word Chris Peterson used to describe the Boise State Bronco hybrid. As part of a senior class that won 50 of 53 games played, McClellin proved game-in and game-out that he belonged playing against elite competition. He is tough, strong and fluid enough in space to drop into the open field when needed. Opposite of Julius Peppers, the hard-nosed lineman should have plenty of chances to make plays against the law firm of Rodgers, Stafford and Ponder. First Round Grade: B+
 
20. Tennessee: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (5-10, 196)
Team Needs: WR, S, CB, DE, OL, LB
The Titans feel comfortable with Jake Locker as the future under center, and, with Chris Johnson signed for the near future, wide receiver was one of the key missing pieces on offense. Kenny Britt or no Kenny Britt, Wright will fill a giant void in the slot that has been empty ever since Derrick Mason left. His overall production was likely inflated by his offensive system and quarterback, but this speedster is a dynamic play-maker in all phases of the game. He can stretch the seam, work underneath, take hand-offs, return kicks and maybe even throw a pass or two if needed. Wideout might not have been the most pressing need, but Wright fills a position that’s been missing for years. First Round Grade: B
 
21. New England (From CIN): Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse (6-5, 266)
Team Needs: DE, DT, LB, DB, C
On a rare night where Belichick moved up twice in the first round, the Patriots dramatically upgraded their front seven. It started with giving up a third rounder to move up to snag a complete package at defensive end. Jones has the size and raw athletic ability to play all three downs for the Patriots complicated defensive system. The Pats had to find someone to get pressure on the opposing quarterback after ranking near the bottom in pass defense a year ago. Jones certainly does that. First Round Grade: B
 
22. Cleveland (from ATL): Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221)
Team Needs: RB, QB, OT, OLB, DE
If this gunslinger was six years younger, he would be the guy heading to South Beach, not Tannehill. Oklahoma State’s all-time leading passer will turn 29 in October, and other than his age, has virtually no weaknesses. He could use some vocal leadership classes, but he has huge statistical production, the Pokes only Big 12 championship, the big frame, strong NFL arm and modest off the field lifestyle conducive to NFL success. The only worry in Cleveland should be how will a Longhorn and a Cowboy co-exist in the same locker room? First Round Grade: B+
 
23. Detroit: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa (6-5, 313)
Team Needs: OT, CB, OT, G, LB, RB
This was not a great year for offensive tackles. It makes evaluating the Reiff pick all that much more difficult. On one hand, Detroit has to be happy with landing the consensus No. 2 tackle prospect in the draft at No. 23 overall. But the Iowa Hawkeyes struggled to protect the quarterback or open up any running lanes a year ago. Were the Lions simply a victim of position scarcity or did they get a star dropped in their lap? Only time will tell. He is likely more of a right tackle than left for the time being. First Round Grade: B
 
24. Pittsburgh: David DeCastro, G, Stanford (6-5, 316)
Team Needs: G, OT, DT, LB, DB
It seems like the Steelers have been trying to stabilize their offense line for the better part of a decade. Landing this nasty, snarling interior lineman is a major step in the right direction. He has played in power pro-style attack and excelled at an elite level. Stanford’s best two year run in history was directly tied to this offensive senior class. And this savvy road-grader was a huge piece of the puzzle. Any help Big Ben gets up front will be welcome. First Round Grade: B+
 
25. New England (From DEN): Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama (6-2, 265)
Team Needs: DE, LB, DT, DB, C 
If Belichick wanted a battering ram to place next to Jerod Mayo on defense, he could not have asked for a better first round pick than Hightower. The massive linebacker dealt with some health issues over the course of his career at Alabama, but the heavy hitter helped lead what was possibly the best defense in college football history. He won two national championships and fits the 3-4 scheme perfectly. Moving up to grab this burly backer was a sly move from the Draft Master. Packaged with Jones, New England’s defense just took a major step forward. First Round Grade: A-
 
26. Houston: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois (6-3, 261)
Team Needs: DE, OT, G, WR, CB
This talented edge rusher was arguably the top sack artist in the nation last fall. The Big Ten is loaded with stud offensive tackles and Mercilus was still able to wreak havoc in opponent’s backfields. The Texans have plenty of talent at the outside linebacker/defensive end positions and likely had bigger needs. To that end, this pick is a bit surprising. He will have to gain strength and bulk to see the field in obvious running downs - and justify this selection. First Round Grade: C+
 
27. Cincinnati (From NO through NE): Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin (6-4, 314)
Team Needs: CB, G, SS, DE, DT 
Kuechly, Barron and Zeitler were the three safest picks in this year’s first round not named Luck. The big burly Badger blocker has excellent size, polish and experience against elite level competition – see Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Johnathan Hankins, K-Short, Jordan Hill and John Simon. He is a nasty finisher who has played in a complicated pro-style attack for years. Zeitler adds exemplary protection for franchise quarterback Andy Dalton and will help improve the ground game. Along with a few extra draft picks and Kirkpatrick, the Bengals had one of the best nights in the league on Thursday. First Round Grade: B+
 
28. Green Bay: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC (6-2, 271)
Team Needs: OLB, S, DE, RB, CB
Consistency is the name of the game for Perry. He has all the talent in the world but the motor tends to throttle back at times. When he decides to press the gas pedal, he can produce exactly what Green Bay is looking for – an edge pass rusher to pair with Clay Matthews who doesn’t have to come off the field on first and second downs. When he backs off, he can disappear from action for more than a few plays. If he stays focused, he will be a nice addition to the Dom Capers 3-4. If not, fans are going to be pointing at what Courtney Upshaw will be doing in for years to come. First Round Grade: C
 
29. Minnesota (From BAL): Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)
Team Needs: OT, S, CB, DT, WR 
This is a heady player who has loads of career starts under his belt in South Bend. But he likely landed in the first round based more on positional scarcity and team need than any other player taken last night. After Barron, there was little left at the safety position with first round talent. The question about Smith will remain his overall speed, agility and explosiveness at the back end of an NFL defense against the likes of Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall. First Round Grade: C+
 
30. San Francisco: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois (6-0, 190)
Team Needs: WR, G, DE, CB, OLB
The 49ers might need a wide receiver at some point in this draft, but this felt early. And since it’s the deepest position in the draft, Jenkins going here was a bit of a surprise. Jenkins was incredibly productive in his final season on campus but offers no one special talent. He is an average sized player with above average speed and solid quickness. He is a solid overall player, but how much better is he than the 10-12 wideouts that will be taken in the next two rounds? First Round Grade: C+
 
31. Tampa Bay (From NE): Doug Martin, RB, Boise State (5-9, 223)
Team Needs: S, RB, CB, OG, LB
Boise State’s talent is finally starting to pop into the first round. Martin, after McClellin, became only the fourth Bronco ever selected in the first frame of the draft. While Martin doesn’t possess one elite trait – breakaway speed, massive size, etc – there is nothing that this tailback can’t do. He can play all three downs, has the strength and power to move the pile, the quickness to get to the edge, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up the blitz. The Bucs would have jumped at Pensacola native Richardson had he been there at five, but moving back once to land Barron and then back up to snag Martin was a savvy move by Greg Schiano and company. First Round Grade: B
 
32. NY Giants: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206)
Team Needs: RB, OT, LB, DT, S
Super Bowl champions rarely have massive holes to fill and so this pick was used to reach just a bit on a high quality talent. Wilson is a game-changing back with explosive big-play ability and slashing running style. He is low to the ground and incredibly powerful in his lower body – think Ray Rice with more burst. He posted big numbers in two years as the starter at a high level of play in the ACC. This was a bit early for Wilson, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with this pick. First Round Grade: B+
 
-by Braden Gall

Ranking the First Round Picks:

  Name Pos. NFL Team Pick Grade
1. Andrew Luck QB Indianapolis No. 1 A+
2. Robert Griffin III QB Washington No. 2 A
3. Trent Richardson RB Cleveland No. 3 A-
4. Morris Claiborne CB Dallas No. 6 A-
5. Michael Brockers DT St. Louis No. 14 A-
6. Dont'a Hightower LB New England No. 25 A-
7. Matt Kalil OT Minnesota No. 4 B+
8. Mark Barron S Tampa Bay No. 7 B+
9. Luke Kuechly LB Carolina No. 9 B+
10. Fletcher Cox DT Philadelphia No. 12 B+
11. Melvin Ingram LB/DE San Diego No. 18 B+
12. Shea McClellin LB/DE Chicago No. 19 B+
13. Brandon Weeden QB Cleveland No. 22 B+
14. David DeCasrto OG Pittsburgh No. 24 B+
15. Kevin Zeitler OG Wisconsin No. 27 B+
16. David Wilson RB NY Giants No. 32 B+
17. Justin Blackmon WR Jacksonville No. 5 B
18. Kendall Wright WR Tennessee No. 20 B
19. Chandler Jones DE New England No. 21 B
20. Riley Reiff OT Detroit No. 23 B
21. Doug Martin RB Tampa Bay No. 31 B
22. Stephon Gilmore CB Buffalo No. 10 B-
23. Michael Floyd WR Arizona No. 13 B-
24. Quinton Coples DL NY Jets No. 16 B-
25. Dre Kirkpatrick DB Cincinnati No. 17 B-
26. Ryan Tannehill QB Miami No. 8 C+
27. Whiteney Mercilus DE Houston No. 25 C+
28. Harrison Smith S Minnesota No. 29 C+
29. AJ Jenkins WR San Francisco No. 30 C+
30. Bruce Irvin DE Seattle No. 15 C
31. Nick Perry DE Green Bay No. 28 C
32. Dontari Poe DT Kansas City No. 11 D

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review
NFL Draft: Day Two’s Best Prospects
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III
2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> NFL Draft: Grading the First Round</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-day-twos-best-prospects
Body:

After the dust settled on Day One, or the first round, of the 2012 NFL Draft, eyes in 32 war rooms returned to their draft big boards. 

Who is still on the board that we didn't expect to see? (Upshaw) Who was taken way too early at the end of round one that we had targeted late in the second round? (Jenkins) Which positions are still loaded with talent? (WR, DE)

These are all questions GMs are floating at subordinates of all types. With only 32 names crossed off, there is still loads of talent still ripe for the picking. And if the good teams are any indication - Giants, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers - then the most important day of the draft might just be No. 2.

Related Content:
NFL Draft: Grading the First Round

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review

Here are Athlon's Best Available Players:

1. Courtney Upshaw, LB/DE, Alabama (6-1, 272)
Physical monster at the point of attack who can dominate his side of the ball. He won two national championships at Alabama and was a part of the best defense in two decades of college football. He will be a steal for some 3-4 scheme on Day Two.

2. Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska (6-0, 233)
In only two short seasons, David injected his name into the Huskers record books with nearly 300 tackles. He can play sideline-to-sideline and will fill agianst the run between the tackles. He is one of the few excellent 4-3 weakside backers in the draft.

3. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State (6-2, 309)
A bit on the short side, but few have been as productive agianst elite level offensive lineman as Worthy. The star of the Big Ten's best unit, Worthy helped lead his team to the Big Ten title game.

4. Cordy Glenn, OG/OT, Georgia (6-5, 345)
Versatile prospect was the SEC East champs best blocker a year ago. He could be successful on the next level at either guard or tackle. The interior of the line feels like the most likely destination for Glenn.

5. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin (6-5, 314)
Arguably the best center in the country a year ago, Konz led what turned out to be three of the most prolific offenses in school history. He is a leader along the line and helped push the Badgers into consecutive Rose Bowls.

6. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford (6-6, 247)
Athletic, tall, handsy tight end is truly the only elite prospect at the position in this class. Orson Charles has a chance to be productive but he is not anywhere near the same size as Fleener. His pro-style background will help him adapt quickly.

7. Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State (6-2, 214)
Smart, savvy, poised, mature leader of a program that won 11 games for the first time in school history - twice - under Cousins' control. He is the school's all-time leading passer in nearly every category and has the size and arm strength to be a starter in the NFL.

8. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State (6-7, 323)
The suspension has cast a shadow of doubt over Adams' overall dedication to the game. If he is focused and committed, there will be few better values than this big blocker on Day Two.

9.Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford (6-5, 312)
David DeCastro's partner in crime, Martin has been responsible for protecting Andrew Luck's backside for the last three seasons. He is a two-time all-Pac-12 performer and has the tools to a contributing right tackle very quickly.

10.Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall (6-3, 266)
Speed, edge rusher who was very productive against lower level of competition in Conference USA. He is likely the top pure pass rusher left on the board.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Devon Still, DT, Penn State
12. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
13. Mychal Kendricks, LB, CAL
14. Kendall Reyes, DT, UConn
15. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
16. Jeff Allen, OG, Illinois
17. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
18. Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss
19. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
20. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson

 

-by Braden Gall

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review
NFL Draft: Grading the First Round
NFL Draft: Day Two’s Best Prospects
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> NFL Draft: Day Two's Best Prospects</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: 2012 NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-first-round-review-0
Body:

The NFL ran its own version of the no-huddle on Thursday night as the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft was completed in three hours, a record in the modern draft day era according to the league.

Part of the reason for this is that the first two picks had already been decided before either Indianapolis or Washington were officially put on the clock. After that, however, was where things got interesting as the first round played out in Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Eight trades involving 12 teams and a total of 25 picks were made last night alone, with the first pick traded being the third overall selection. In the end, three different picks ended up switching hands a second time before the night's events were finished.

Here's a summary of all that took place last night.

Colts, Redskins, Dolphins AND Browns Get Their Quarterback
Everyone knew that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were going to the Colts and Redskins, respectively, with the first two picks. It was widely assumed that the Dolphins would select Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M with the eighth overall pick. What wasn’t necessarily expected, however, was that Cleveland would also join the party, but that’s just what the Browns did when they took Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick.

Make no mistake, the jury is still out on how both Tannehill and Weeden will fare in the NFL. In Tannehill’s case, the converted wide receiver has started a total of 20 games under center at Texas A&M, so it’s fair to say he is still learning how to play the position.

On the other hand, Weeden was the Cowboys’ full-time starter the past two seasons and threw for more than 9,000 yards and 71 touchdowns in that span. Weeden, however, is already 28 years old having spent five seasons in the New York Yankees’ minor league system as a pitcher.

The good news for Tannehill is that the Dolphins appear to present the ideal situation for him to continue his development as a quarterback. For one, Miami’s offensive coordinator is Mike Sherman, who was Tannehill’s coach at Texas A&M. Secondly, the Dolphins’ new head coach is Joe Philbin, who served as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator from 2007-11. So not only will Tannehill be reunited with his former college coach, he also gets the chance to play for and learn from Philbin, who helped develop Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP.

Despite the skeptics and critics, it’s clear that the Dolphins liked what they see in Tannehill enough to make him the first quarterback the team has drafted in the first round since 1983. That was the year they took a quarterback from Pittsburgh by the name of Dan Marino with the 27th overall pick.

The last time the Browns drafted a quarterback in the first round was 2007 when they took Brady Quinn at No. 22. Just three years later, however, the Browns drafted Colt McCoy in the third round, and that is who Weeden will learn the ropes from, and presumably take over for at some point in the future. That is provided the Browns don't decide to trade McCoy to another team.

Of course, the irony here is that McCoy, the apparent mentor, is nearly three years younger, than Weeden, the student. How quickly the student passes the teacher remains to be seen, but given the first-round pick Cleveland used to get a 28-year-old quarterback, the Browns seem to think it won’t be too long.

Follow the Moving Draft Picks – Part 1
The Redskins were able to take Griffin at No. 2 because in March they agreed to swap places with St. Louis. Although that was more than a month ago, it turned out to be a precursor to what was to come.

Of the first eight picks in the draft, only two of them – the Colts at No. 1 and the Dolphins at No. 8 – were made by the teams that originally held that pick. Before the first round officially started last night, word broke that Minnesota and Cleveland had swapped places at Nos. 3 and 4.

Even though it was only one spot, the Browns did the deal to ensure that they got their guy – Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Minnesota made it known early that it would be willing to move out of the third spot, and reportedly had discussions with several interested teams. One of those teams was Tampa Bay, who also showed serious interest in Richardson, so Cleveland decided to make the deal with Minnesota to prevent the Bucs from getting ahead and taking the coveted back.

The Browns entered the draft with a total of 13 picks, so they had more than enough inventory to use to make the deal. The Vikings were still able to get one of the players they wanted, USC left tackle Matt Kalil, and netted three more picks in return.

The Vikings received a fourth-round pick, which was one of the picks the Browns got last year in their trade with Atlanta when the Falcons traded up to take wide receiver Julio Jones, along with a fifth and seventh-rounder. Minnesota increased their total of picks to 13, which is just what a team like the Vikings, who went 3-13 in 2011, need to try and fill multiple needs in one draft.

Before Kalil walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City to shake NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand, the next trade had occurred. Tampa Bay and Jacksonville agreed to swap first-round picks with the Buccaneers receiving a fourth-round selection from the Jaguars in return for moving down two places. The Jaguars then took Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the player new Jags’ owner Shahid Khan reportedly coveted.

St. Louis and Dallas were next up on the NFL’s version of “Let’s Make A Deal” as Jerry Jones made yet another first-round trade. This time Jones moved up eight spots from No. 14 to No. 6 so he could take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

The Rams, who already had gotten the Redskins’ third-round selection this year along with their first-round picks the next two years in the Griffin deal, received the Cowboys’ second-round pick in addition to moving down to No. 14. With those two trades, the Rams now have three (Nos. 33, 39 and 45) of the first 13 picks in the second round.

The reshuffled top 10 continued to play out with Tampa Bay selecting Alabama safety Mark Barron with the seventh pick. Miami took the aforementioned Tannehill at No. 8, finally restoring “order.”

Bruce Almighty?
Seattle switched places with Philadelphia in the first round, moving down from No. 12 to 15. The Eagles moved up to take Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was expected to be taken at some point in the first round.

The Seahawks moved down and selected West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin, who was certainly NOT expected to be taken in the first round. Irvin was the top outside linebacker prospect according to some scouts and received high grades and praise for his pass-rushing ability. In two seasons with the Mountaineers, Irvin registered 22.5 sacks, 14 of those coming in 2010.

However, in terms of overall ability, Irvin was not considered to be on the same level as fellow linebacker prospects Luke Kuechly from Boston College, who Carolina took with the ninth overall pick, Boise State’s Shea McClellin, who went to the Bears at No. 19, Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower, who the Patriots moved up to No. 25 to take, or Nebraska’s Lavonte David. There also were question marks about Irvin's character, as he has had some issues off the field, including one right after scouts came to see him at his pro day in Morgantown.

While Seattle bypassed the others not named Kuechly is anyone’s guess, but the Seahawks are no doubt hoping Irvin will have the same impact on their pass rush that he had with the Mountaineers. Seattle finished tied for 19th in 2011 with 33 sacks, 11 of those coming from defensive end Chris Clemons.

Let’s not forget that the Seattle also received the Eagles fourth- and sixth-round picks as part of the deal, but for all intents and purposes this trade will be considered a success or mistake based on one thing – whether Irvin ends up being Bruce Almighty or Bruce Not-So-Mighty.

Getting Defensive
The first five players to go off the board Thursday night were offensive – two quarterbacks, a running back, a lineman and a wide receiver. After that it was the defense’s turn to dominate.

Starting with the sixth pick, 17 of the next 24 selections were used on defensive players. Eight defensive linemen, five defensive backs and four linebackers were taken with those picks.

Three defensive backs – Claiborne, Barron and South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore to Buffalo at No. 10 – were taken in the first 10 picks. The others selected in the first round were Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick by Cincinnati at No. 17 and Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith by Minnesota, who traded back into the first round to do so, at No. 29. The Bengals got Kirkpatrick with the first-round pick they received from Oakland as part of the package they got from the Raiders last season for Carson Palmer.

Memphis’ Dontari Poe, who many, including me, predicted would fall, ended up being the first defensive lineman taken, going to Kansas City at No. 11 overall. The Eagles moved up to No. 12 to take Cox, and St. Louis selected LSU’s Michael Brockers two picks later at No. 14.

North Carolina’s Quinton Coples was the next DL to come off the board to the Jets at No. 16, followed by South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, who the Chargers took with the 18th pick.

New England did what the Patriots do best – move up to get the player they want – this time swapping spots with Cincinnati to grab Syracuse’s Chandler Jones at No. 21. Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus (Houston – No. 26) and USC’s Nick Perry (Green Bay – No. 28) rounded out the first-round defensive linemen selections.

Besides Kuechly (Carolina – No. 9) and Irvin (Seattle – No. 15), the other linebackers taken in the first round were Boise State’s Shea McClellin, who the Bears took at No. 19, and Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower, the fourth ‘Bama player taken in Round 1, who the Patriots selected with the 25th overall pick.

Follow the Moving Draft Picks – Part 2
There were a total of eight trades on Thursday night alone, and if you include the St. Louis-Washington deal that went down in March, that would make nine that impacted the first round.

And that’s just this year, don’t forget about last season’s Cincinnati-Oakland deal involving Carson Palmer, and 2011 first-round draft deals between Cleveland and Atlanta, and New England and New Orleans. In other words, there were a lot of moving picks this year, both early and then later on.

Following the flurry of trades involving picks Nos. 3-7 and the Seattle-Philadelphia swap, four more trades went down, starting with the 21st pick. New England made a deal with Cincinnati to move up from No. 27 so they could take Jones at No. 21. Cincinnati moved down six spots, selected Wisconsin offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler at No.27, and also received the Patriots’ third-round pick (No. 93 overall).

But wait, the Patriots weren’t done, this time hooking up with Denver to get the 25th pick, which they used to select Hightower. Denver moved down to No. 31 and also acquired New England’s fourth-round (No. 126) selection in the deal.

Denver didn’t hold on to either of the picks they got from New England very long, however. The Broncos and Buccaneers made the final trade of the night, with Tampa Bay getting back into the first round at No. 31, sending the Denver its second-round pick (No. 36) in return.

The teams also swapped fourth-rounders, which, ironically enough, were picks that neither team owned prior to the start of the draft. Tampa Bay sent pick No. 101, which they got from Jacksonville earlier in the evening, to Denver for pick No. 126, which the Broncos had just received from New England.

The Broncos’ double-header was sandwiched by the evening’s other trade, where Minnesota got back into the first round by acquiring the 29th pick from Baltimore in exchange for the Vikings’ second- and fourth-round selections.

Got all of that? Good, but it’s probably best to write all of this down in pencil. Because if the first round is any indication, chances are these picks could be on the move once again as the rest of this draft plays out.

Offense Comes Off the Board Late
After Tannehill went to the Dolphins at No. 8 the next offensive player to be selected was Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, who Arizona took at No. 13. The Cardinals now have a young, athletic receiver to team with All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald to form a potentially lethal duo, provided they can figure out their quarterback situation.

Tennessee also went the wide receiver route, taking Baylor’s Kendall Wright with the 20th overall pick. The Titans could have their own deadly duo in Wright and Kenny Britt, provided Britt makes a complete recovery from the ACL tear he suffered last season.

After Weeden went to the Browns at No. 22, the next three offensive players selected were linemen. Iowa’s Riley Reiff, who at one time was projected as a top-10 pick, “fell” all the way to Detroit at No. 23. The Steelers followed that by taking Stanford’s David DeCastro with the 24th pick. DeCastro fills an immediate need for the Steelers, who struggled mightily in protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last season.

The final offensive lineman to go in the first round was Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler, who Cincinnati chose at No. 27, the spot they ended up after swapping places with New England.

The final three picks of the first round were of the skill-position variety, starting with Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins going to the 49ers at No. 30. Jenkins may not have been a projected first-rounder, but he clearly fills a need as San Francisco looks to develop an offense that ranked 26th in the NFL in 2011.

The first round ended with back-to-back running backs coming off the board, the first being Boise State’s Doug Martin, who Tampa Bay took at No. 31. That was the pick that the Buccaneers got from Baltimore.

The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants then brought the evening to a close by tabbing Virginia Tech running back David Wilson with the 32nd and final pick of the first round. Like Jenkins, Wilson wasn’t necessarily expected to go in the first round, but the explosive back who rushed for more than 1,700 yards last season will bring a new element to the Giants’ running game and should also have an impact as a kick returner on special teams.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 27, 2012

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: Grading the First Round
NFL Draft: Day Two’s Best Prospects
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports offers a summary of all that took place on Thursday night during the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 00:04
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/penis-sign-pops-suns-post-game-show
Body:

You've got to love crazy sports fans with colorful poster boards, fat magic markers and no fear of public humiliation. Apparently there are a few in Phoenix, who gathered for the Suns post-game show to display their love for their team and Steve Nash, who may have played his final game as a member of the Suns. Fans made signs that included "Go Suns," "Let's Get Nashty" and a giant penis drawing. Well done, Phoenix. Well done. Video is below.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 21:48
Path: /nascar/best-nascar-has-offer
Body:

Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte stretch unequalled on Cup schedule

Much was made of the first five races of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule being run on diametrically diverse tracks. From the season opening restrictor plate Daytona 500, to the bumper-car bonanza that made up the closing laps at Martinsville, and the intermediate downforce contests in Las Vegas and Fontana.

Now that those races are in the books, the series begins to transition into the meat of the season. The next four weeks are held at equally unique racetracks as the season begins to take shape and winnow out the weak. The following is a preview of the next month of Sprint Cup competition and where to place your fantasy picks — or place an ill-advised wager if you’re one who happens to frequent such establishments.


Richmond
There are many images that come to mind when one mentions racing at Richmond. From Rusty Wallace punting Jeff Gordon in 1997, Kevin Harvick and company stomping on Ricky Rudd’s hood in 2003, or Kyle Busch’s brush with mortality after getting into Dale Earnhardt, Jr. while racing for the win in ’08 — it’s like somebody had the bright idea to mash Martinsville and Michigan together into a three-quarter mile oval and ended up with the perfect track. That said, what I am about to declare may be proof that the Mayans are right on target with the 12-21-12 end date:

The winner this weekend will almost certainly be a Michael Waltrip Racing entry.

While that may have been a funny quip a couple of years ago, it’s an undeniable fact that in 2012, this team is for real. MWR has had a long and storied — and at time notorious — history at Richmond. Who can forget Michael Waltrip jacking up a hapless Casey Mears the entire length of the frontstretch in 2008 after the two had made contact? Considering it was one year ago here that Martin Truex Jr. went Tim Daland in Days of Thunder and summarily fired the entire pit crew, it’s fair to say it would be more than fitting if the No. 56 NAPA Toyota found its way to Victory Lane on Saturday.

Truex has been on a tear this year, notching six top 10s in the first eight races, while his three top 5s already match what he achieved in all of 2011. His late-race fade at Kansas was indicative of a team that has the speed and performance to win, but has not been in that position before, and therefore, is still learning how to seal the deal. Yeah, I know … bad set of tires, the sun came out, it was cold. Truex may have made his banzai video game pass attempt on Denny Hamlin about a lap too early, before he went all Carl Edwards 2008, but he was a legit contender — and no doubt had the best car of the day up until that point

Teammate Clint Bowyer has always had speed at Richmond, having won there in 2008 to go along with five other top 10s in 12 Cup starts. Mark Martin will be back in the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine after finishing a season low 33rd in Kansas courtesy of a blown engine with 12 laps to go while running sixth. Martin has 24 top 10s and 17 top 5s in an amazing 52 starts at RIR, with just one win, which came in 1990. (The circumstances surrounding the resulting controversial fine are still a point of contention and a reason for most Martin fans to go.)

Driving in a part-time capacity this year, Martin has been at worst a top-10 car at every race, with Brian Vickers guiding the No. 55 to a top 5 at Bristol. There’s no reason to believe anything would be different this weekend, as the 55 was the fastest car on the track the last 20 laps at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

Prediction: A win for one of Mikey’s three teams in the Year of the Mayan. After all, there’s a reason that Dick Clark passed away the year there’s not supposed to be a New Year’s Eve.


Talladega
Rick Hendrick has got to be sick and tired of lugging around all of those “Hendrick Motorsports 200th Cup Win” commemorative hats. HMS has gone goose egg since the October race at Kansas last year, which was won by Jimmie Johnson. Hendrick has since had to endure allegations of trying to build a fast superspeedway car, keep sharp objects away from Kasey Kahne, and find new ways for Jeff Gordon to communicate that, “We have to qualify better.”

After the Martinsville incident that saw a guaranteed one-two finish go up in smoke — which, prior, had been most recently witnessed in my last season in career mode playing NASCAR Thunder 2003 for PS2 — the 200th win question has loomed large, nearly overshadowing the 600-pound dancing bear in the room: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak that dates back to a time when Greece was solvent and Secret Service agents were, uh, secretive. While Junior has been doing a commendable job, these hats need to be distributed, so that means all eyes were on “Five Time” at Texas Motor Speedway — just as Greg Biffle set a pick and subsequent slide job on Johnson exiting Turn 4 with 30 laps to go.

Cut to another scene of Mr. Hendrick slowly removing his headset and dismounting the No. 48 war wagon.

At Talladega, this all will change. Daytona was a disaster, with Johnson getting turned into the wall after just one lap and Gordon blowing the bottom end out of the powerplant of his No. 24 machine. Kahne was involved in a late-race dust up, which meant that Earnhardt had to take on the Ford tandem of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth in the final laps by his lonesome. Junior did what he could en route to a second-place finish, which should provide hope for Junior Nation, as well as the HMS brain trust.

With any luck, two droughts will be wiped out at Talladega, and if there is one track more perfectly suited for Junior to make a difference, they haven’t built it yet.

Prediction: Earnhardt ends a 138-race winless streak and Hendrick disposes of what now must be an irritating hat collection. Junior Nation then goes Soccer Fan, demolishing every Occupy rally across North America, tipping over their own vehicles and lighting them ablaze.


Darlington
OK, what are the chances that some scumbag tries to make a lame tie-in with “The Lady In Black” and Danica Patrick making her first attempt at “The Track Too Tough to Tame”? Hmm … sounds like the basis for another GoDaddy.com commercial. Well, in that case, I demand some royalty monies for planting the seed.

But I digress. They simply don’t make them like Darlington anymore. A track whose shape was determined by a minnow pond and whose reconfiguration has been limited to some soft walls and moving the start/finish line to the other side and doing away with the backstretch pits. To many, Turn 2 will always be Turn 4, but what is for certain, the only race that deserves to be called The Southern 500 is the one held here the second week of May.

So who will be the one to claim triumph at the original superspeedway over Mother’s Day weekend? I’ll tell you who you can forget: Anything or anybody coming out of the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing stables. If there is one organization that continues to baffle, this is the one. A solid Chase contender in ’09, a perennial threat at Indy and the restrictor plate tracks, and a showcase for Jamie McMurray’s renaissance in 2010, EGR has been seemingly out to lunch at every single event dating back to the 2011 season. It has even regressed after most of the old guard departed in the offseason, including longtime competition director Steve Hmiel, founding team member Tony Glover and crew chief Brian Pattie.

The net result? Juan Pablo Montoya sits 16th in points and McMurray 19th. Not exactly the rebound to the 2011 season that team principal Chip Ganassi deemed “pathetic.”

Those that stand a reasonable chance of contending for the win are those who have managed their miserable luck thus far, performed well here last year and are gaining momentum the last couple of races. Kahne faded to fourth last year after leading 124 laps — after walling it in the final stages of the race. Edwards was a close second to first-time winner Regan Smith (well, second-time if you happened to see the fall 2008 race at Talladega), and is part of a Roush contingent that is a top-5 threat each and every weekend. Roush Fenway Racing has won two races in 2012 and currently occupy first (Biffle), third (Kenseth) and ninth (Edwards) in the points standings.

Prediction: Flip a coin between the No. 5 of Kahne and No. 99 of Edwards, but I’m calling heads for Kahne.


Charlotte
The original 1.5-mile tri-oval that served as the model for such cookie-cutter copycats as Texas, Kansas, Chicago, and to some extent, Atlanta. A resurfacing in 2005 provided a dire warning to anyone who dared futz with a perfectly good racetrack, and helped introduce a word that should be forever banished from the lexicon of motorsport: Levigation. Upon completion, Mark Martin lamented, “They took the greatest racetrack in the world and ruined it.” Upon painting the walls a hideous shade of yellow, they’ve somehow made it worse.

However, it’s still Charlotte, and still the best intermediate track on the circuit. Where else are you going to see a gigantic spark plug do donuts in a roadster after fast-roping out of a Blackhawk or a school bus jump through a wall of fire?

Held on Memorial Day weekend, the Coca-Cola 600 is desert on the table of the greatest feast in motorsports. Things get kicked off early with Formula One’s Grand Prix of Monaco as an appetizer, followed by the main course, The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. NASCAR’s endurance race is held in the hub of the industry, capping off a two-week stint that includes the All-Star Race and Pit Crew Challenge. The official start of summer is also the unofficial start to the Summer Stretch, an eight-week stint that essentially dictates who’s going to be contending for the championship in the fall and who’s going to be burning through old inventory to make way for the new 2013 Car of Tomorrow.

The race still needs to be run, however, yet the recent races at downforce tracks might not be the best indicator of who will be the team to beat as night falls on Concord, N.C. While the Roush cars have certainly been the class of the field for much of the season on these type of tracks, there’s a reason that Johnson and Chad Knaus once referred to CMS as “our house” – and not just because sponsor Lowe’s held the naming rights for the facility at the time. The No. 48 team has six wins there, having won all but one race during the 2003-05 seasons.

Johnson’s teammate, Kahne has three wins, and has been fast all year despite having the kind of luck that only Kahne … er, Cain … would wish upon Abel.

While his finish at Kansas may not have been indicative of my pick for a Coke 600 win, the qualifying results and ultimate winner are guiding my direction here. There seems to be some newfound oomph! in the Toyota camp, even though they popped a few TRD engines last weekend (would that make them TuRDs?), which will likely be ironed out in time for the 600. TRD-powered machines qualified third through sixth at Kansas, and took the top two spots at race’s end.

That said, there’s one driver who’s been notoriously absent up front and a bit too quiet for my liking this year — and Charlotte is the perfect two-week test session to try some new technology. The All-Star Race is a go-for-broke-dash-for-cash-and-crash event, while the 600 dictates that a car must be drivable during the day, and dialed in when it’s dark. For both of those events, I’d put my money on one car in particular …

Prediction: In the 2010 All Star Race, he declared that somebody better keep him away from his teammate or he’d kill the (insert two-word derogatory phrase here). In 2011, he achieved 128 mph in a 45 mph zone driving a Lexus LFA. In 2012, however, Kyle Busch will get his season righted with a win at the Coca-Cola 600 … and the All-Star Race.

So after struggling through an at-times mind-numbing month on the Sprint Cup circuit, enjoy the fruitful May stretch that lies ahead.


by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter:
@VitoPugliese
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese notes that NASCAR's month of May — with races at Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte — is the best of the season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 19:56
Path: /college-football/texas-football-can-longhorns-win-big-12-2012
Body:

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Can Texas Win the Big 12 in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is probably closer to winning the Big 12 title than it is to finishing 8-5 again, especially if we’re to believe what we saw from quarterback David Ash in the bowl game. If Texas can win eight games (and finish 11th in the country in defense) in its back-to-the drawing board season after the 5-7 debacle, the Longhorns certainly can complete the rebuilding job in two years. The question is if the offense is ready to compete for the Big 12 title. I think it will be. The run game is proven, and the young offensive line will have another year to develop. Provided Jaxon Shipley is healthy and Ash can cut his turnovers, Texas has the potential for a balanced offense. On the other side of the ball, Texas could have the best pass defense in the league, a critical cog in winning the Big 12. Texas won’t be a national title contender, but the Longhorns could be good enough to win the Big 12. Oklahoma probably will be the favorite, but the Sooners have lingering questions in the passing game with Ryan Broyles gone. Landry Jones and receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds seemed lost without the all-time reception leader on the field. As a conference favorite, Oklahoma may be vulnerable. If Texas can repeat the strides made last year, the Longhorns will be a worthy contender.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Without question the Texas Longhorns will compete for a Big 12 title in 2012. Manny Diaz enters year number two on the 40 Acres with clearly the best defensive unit in the conference. There is elite level talent on every level of the Burnt Orange defense after leading the Big 12 in rushing, passing, pass efficiency and total defense a year ago. With Robert Griffin III, James Franklin, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden all gone from the schedule in 2012, there is no reason to think this side of the ball won't get even better for Mack Brown.

Bryan Harsin and the Longhorn offense, however, is a totally different story all together. Harsin, also entering his second year on campus, should have no concerns about his offensive playmakers in the backfield or on the edge. The stable of backs and trio of talented receivers give quarterback David Ash plenty to work with in 2012. Yet, the sophomore's development and consistency are still major question marks. We think he solidified himself in the bowl win over Cal and we think he locked down the starting job in spring practice last month. But we won't know anything until the bright lights at DKR Memorial Stadium click on in September. While quarterback play is huge for Texas, the offensive line could actually be the lynchpin for any Longhorn success this fall. If Ash can turn around and trust his talented tailbacks to pick-up key yards, his job will be that much easier. The O-Line has to lead the offense this year.

The schedule sets up nicely for the Horns to challenge for a conference title as well. Gamey Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia both have to come to Austin while road trips against road trips to Lubbock and Lawrence shouldn't be too difficult. Brown catches a break by facing Oklahoma State (in Stillwater) early in the year as true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt will be facing a pass rush the likes he has never even dreamed about. As usual, the trip to the Texas State Fair on October 13 will likely determine the Big 12 champion — that is, if Texas can exercise some purple demons on the final weekend of the season in Manhattan, Kansas.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite to win the Big 12, but the gap between the Sooners and Texas is very narrow. Losing receiver Ryan Broyles certainly had a huge impact on the offense late last season, but Oklahoma’s passing attack should be better with a full offseason to scheme to make changes to its scheme to compensate for the personnel losses. Trey Metoyer should be a breakout player at receiver for quarterback Landry Jones, but the offense also needs a full year from running back Dominique Whaley. Oklahoma’s defense has a few holes but will benefit from the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator.

Its not crazy to think Texas’ Big 12 title hopes could rest on one person – quarterback David Ash. The Longhorns have a deep stable of running backs and the best defense in the conference, but won’t win the league if the passing game doesn’t improve. Ash doesn’t have to be Robert Griffin, but he can’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns.

I am picking Oklahoma to win the Big 12, but would not be shocked if Texas ended up as conference champs. The Longhorns improved their win total by three last year and improving the quarterback play could mean another two victories. If Ash develops consistency and allows Texas to open up the offense, there’s no reason why the Longhorns can’t win the Big 12 – especially if Oklahoma struggles to get its passing attack in order. Regardless of which team finishes No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference, the Big 12 should have a good shot to get two teams into BCS bowls in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Longhorns have the talent to get back on top of the Big 12, but I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite. Texas will be led by a stingy defense, featuring a pair of ferocious ends in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The secondary will be excellent as well, with safety Kenny Vacarro and corners Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs leading the way. The obstacle that Mack Brown’s club faces to regain league supremacy is getting the offense back to the high level it enjoyed under Vince Young and Colt McCoy. The running game improved last season with Malcolm Brown toting the rock, but the Horns must find some stability at quarterback. Davis Ash looks to be the leading candidate to improve the Texas passing game, and the Longhorns must find a way to score more points in a conference that gives up a lot defensively. The UT roster is loaded, but I still see the Sooners as the class of the Big 12.

Where will Texas finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related Big 12 Content

How Will West Virginia Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?
How Will TCU Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?

Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Texas Football: Can the Longhorns Win the Big 12 in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 19:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-apr-26
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.

Another Week, Another Elite Third Baseman Hurt
Two weeks ago it was David Wright, who fractured his right pinkie finger, last weekend it was Adrian Beltre, who strained his left hamstring in the first game of Saturday’s double-header against Detroit. This week it’s Ryan Zimmerman, who hasn’t played since last Friday because of a shoulder issue.

The good news for Washington Nationals fans and his fantasy owners is that a MRI done on Wednesday revealed no structural damage. That does not mean, however, Zimmerman won’t avoid the disabled list, so you probably should plan accordingly.

As far as your replacement options go, I would steer away from Zimmerman’s fill-ins as Nationals manager Davey Johnson will probably go with some sort of committee approach with the trio of Mark DeRosa, Chad Tracy and Stephen Lombardozzi. Of the three, Lombardozzi who’s just 23 years old and is hitting .364 in limited action so far, offers the most upside, but you should be able to find better options on your waiver wire.

For one, Zimmerman wasn’t off to the greatest of starts at the plate, posting a .224-1-7 line in 15 games so far. Another third baseman who’s already been injured this season, but is still producing when he’s in the line up is Chipper Jones. The venerable Brave has just 36 at-bats on the season, but he’s already hit three home runs and driven in 10 with a .913 OPS. He may be worth a look if you are willing to accept that he’s no longer an everyday player. Jones’ backup, Juan Francisco also has three home runs and .957 OPS in just 30 at-bats, but his playing time is tied directly to Jones’ health.

Some other hot corner hitters worth taking a look at include Cleveland’s Jack Hannahan, who’s hitting .333 with 13 RBIs on the season. Hannahan has only scored three runs, but if he keeps getting on base, you would have to think that number will increase. Seattle’s Kyle Seager has out-performed Zimmerman to this point as well with a .267-1-7 line to go along with two stolen bases. All of the players mentioned above are owned in 36 percent or less of Yahoo! leagues, meaning there’s a good chance you can find them on the waiver wire in your league.

Another Week, Two More Pitchers Gone for the Season
Before the season even started, Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria went down with elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery. Brian Wilson was the next to fall and he had the surgery last week. This week, the Yankees’ Michael Pineda and Brewers’ Chris Narverson became the latest to see their season come to an early end.

Pineda, who was traded to the Yankees in January for Jesus Montero, has yet to throw a pitch for his new team as he was sidelined during spring training. On Wednesday, the team announced the young right-hander will undergo surgery next week to repair a labrum tear in his throwing shoulder and is done for the year.

Pineda’s loss is a big blow to the Yankees’ pitching depth, although help could be on the way soon as 39-year-old Andy Pettitte is continuing his comeback after a one-year hiatus in the minor leagues. The Yankees’ starting rotation has not performed well so far this season, as the starters have a collective 5.73 ERA and .303 opponent’s batting average to this point.

Naverson was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff and he will undergo surgery as well. There also are plenty of pitchers who are currently on the disabled list for different ailments including starters Cliff Lee (strained oblique), Daniel Hudson (shoulder impingement), Ryan Dempster (strained quadriceps) and closer Sergio Santos (strained shoulder).

Fear not, however, as you should be able to find suitable short-term replacements on your league’s waiver wire. And in some cases, some of these pitchers could be worth a longer look in your rotation. Consider:

Ross Detwiler, WAS – The Nationals’ starting rotation has been the best in all of baseball so far this season, with a sparkling 1.71 ERA and a 8-2 record through 18 games. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman have pitched up to their billing, but Detwiler, has matched them start-for-start. The 26-year-old left-hander has given up one earned run in three starts with nearly as many strikeouts (15) as innings pitched (16). When Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson named Detwiler the fifth starter and the team sent John Lannan down to AAA, many around baseball were surprised. At this point, though, it appears the skipper made the right call as the Nationals currently have the National League’s best record at 14-4 entering Thursday’s action.

Jason Hammel, BAL – Hammel picked up this third win on Wednesday when he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Blue Jays. The 29-year-old righty has seemed to find a home in the Orioles’ rotation after struggling the past two seasons with the Rockies. Hammel’s early season success can be attributed to his 25:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and and the fact he has allowed just one home run in 26 innings so far. Last season he gave up 21 home runs in 170 1/3 innings, or one every eight innings pitched.

Philip Humber, CWS – By now everyone knows what Humber did this past Saturday, pitching the 21st perfect game in major league history against Seattle. Humber’s ERA and WHIP both stand at 0.63 right now and he has more strikeouts (16) than innings pitched (14 1/3). The right-hander was serviceable last year, going 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA, but he only struck out 116 in 163 innings pitched. No one’s expecting Humber to throw a perfect game every time he’s out on the mound, but if he’s able to continue his increased strikeout rate and consistently throw his slider like he did against the Mariners, he could be more than just a serviceable fantasy option in 2012. His next start comes tonight against the Red Sox, which even though they have been struggling to start the season, are certainly a more formidable line up than what the Mariners have to offer.

Tommy Milone, OAK – The 25-year-old lefty came over to Oakland in December as part of the trade that sent the aforementioned Gonzalez to Washington. Gonzalez (2-0, 1.52 ERA) has certainly done his part for the Nationals and the same cane said for Milone, who earned a spot in the starting rotation out of spring training. Milone is 3-1 after tossing eight scoreless innings against the White Sox on Tuesday. His WHIP currently stands at 0.85 and he’s only allowed 17 hits (just one home run) in 27 innings. If there’s any reason to pause about Milone’s long-term sustainability it’s the fact he doesn’t strike many batters out, with just 13 so far, meaning he will need to continue to limit base-runners to maintain his early-season success.

Weekend Series to Watch

Detroit at New York
The Yankees just dropped two of three to the Rangers in Texas and will welcome Detroit to the Bronx for a three-game set starting Friday. Justin Verlander (2-1, 1.72 ERA) will be paired against Ivan Novoa (3-0, 3.79 ERA) in the series opener. Verlander has picked up where he left off last season, but has been victimized by a lack of run support and some late-inning comebacks early on. Novoa has been the Yankees’ most consistent starter so far, but will need his teammates to get to Verlander as he will try and limit Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and co. Fielder went 2-10 with a RBI last season when the Brewers came to New York to face the Yankees in interleague play.

Even though Robinson Cano has just one home run three RBIs through 18 games, the Yankees trail only Texas in home runs (29) and are currently third in the majors in runs scored (100). Derek Jeter (.420-4-13) has been on a tear to start the season, while Curtis Granderson has shaken off a slow start and has put together a .300-6-12 line in his past 13 games.

Tampa Bay at Texas
The current AL East-leading Rays travel to Texas to face the Rangers, who at 15-4 have the best record in all of baseball entering Thursday. Texas’ offense leads the majors in runs, hits, home runs and batting average, thanks in large part to Josh Hamilton’s ridiculous .390-8-19 start. Ian Kinsler (.304-5-12) has been the catalyst atop the lineup with Mike Napoli (.271-7-14) providing the thunder behind Hamilton.

Texas also has been extremely solid pitching-wise as both Matt Harrison (3-0, 1.66 ERA), who will take the mound in Friday’s opener, and Colby Lewis (2-0, 2.03 ERA) have been spectacular to start the season. Yu Darvish got into the act on Tuesday, holding the Yankees scoreless through 8 1/3 innings, giving up seven hits with just two walks and 10 strikeouts.

Tampa Bay’s trio of James Shields (3-0, 2.76 ERA), who will oppose Harrison on Friday, David Price (3-1, 2.63 ERA) and Jeremy Hellickson (3-0, 2.84 ERA) have done their part, while the Rays are still waiting for young lefty Matt Moore (0-1, 5.12 ERA, 12 BB, 11 SO) to settle into his new role.

Offensively, the Rays were powered early by Carlos Pena (.297-4-13), while Evan Longoria (.328-3-14), Matt Joyce (.309-4-7) and Luke Scott (.298-4-15) have been doing more of the hitting as of late. Tampa Bay also welcomed back B.J. Upton, who was placed on the DL after colliding with teammate Desmond Jennings during a spring training game, and hope his bat will get going soon. Upton is just 3-of-14 since his return, although one of those hits is a home run and he already has six RBIs. The Rays also are looking for Ben Zobrist, who’s currently hitting a measly .180, to start turning things around at the plate as well.

Washington at Los Angeles Dodgers
Besides being a matchup between two current division leaders, the Nationals vs. Dodgers three-game series in Los Angeles features some strong pitching matchups. On Friday, young left-hander Ross Detwiler (2-0, 0.56 ERA) will face off with 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (1-0, 1.61 ERA). Saturday’s pairing is Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.08 ERA) versus Chad Billingsley (2-1, 3.04 ERA) and the series concludes on Sunday afternoon with a lefty-lefty duel between Gio Gonzalez (2-0, 1.52 ERA) and Chris Capuano (2-0, 3.52 ERA).

The Nationals’ starting pitching has been the stingiest in all of baseball to start the season, but will face a tough task in keeping Matt Kemp (.449-10-23) and Andre Ethier (.288-4-22 off of the bases.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 26, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports offers some news, notes and other things to watch to get you ready for this weekend's fantasy action on the baseball diamond</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 13:01
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-richmond
Body:

This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Richmond International Raceway for some good ol’ fashioned short track racing in the hopes of putting on an exciting race — something many fans are clamoring for after a dull month. Typically one of the more action-packed tracks on the schedule, Richmond has averaged 10.8 cautions since 2007 and last year's September race saw a total of 15 yellow flag periods.

In short, expect more action Saturday night under the lights in the Capital City 400 than the last five weeks combined.

Sunday's race in Kansas primarily featured green flag racing, yet came down to a good battle to the checkered flag. Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. was the dominant car on the day, leading 173 of the 267 laps.

However, Denny Hamlin and his Darian Grubb-led crew were in position in the end to jump out front with 31 laps to go. Clearly the best car of the day, Truex's Toyota didn't work well on the final set of tires, allowing Hamlin to take advantage.

This weekend, the Virginian driver-crew chief duo head to their home state with momentum, confidence and the advantage of two race wins already under their belts.

To say Hamlin considers Richmond his home track would be quite the understatement. Hamlin is from nearby Midlothian, the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is held at RIR and he has two wins, six top 5s and eight top 10s in 12 Sprint Cup starts on the three-quarter mile oval. He is also the defending champion of the Nationwide Series race, a title he will attempt to defend this weekend.

Hitting its stride early in the season, the No. 11 team is fifth in points, with two wins, three top 5s and four top 10s through the first eight races. Hamlin has been the class of the JGR field in 2012, a trend that will continue this weekend in Richmond.

With an average finish of 7.6 at RIR, plus the momentum from last week's win and the excitement of heading back to Virginia, Hamlin, Grubb and the No. 11 crew are this week's overwhelming fantasy favorites.

Frustrated on missing out on last week’s win, Truex's disappointment is a testament to how far the No. 56 NAPA team has come. Throughout the first part of the season, the group has been on its game, as it sits second in points with three top 5s and six top 10s in the first eight races while chasing a winless drought that dates back to June 2007.

While Truex’s results are not noteworthy at RIR through his two seasons with MWR — he has only one top 10 (seventh, 2010) — he and the team are running well regardless of track at the moment. Given the strong start, Truex could disappoint Hamlin's hometown crowd Saturday night by cashing in on the win that is coming.

Also keep an eye on Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch. Currently 14th in points, Busch has not had the greatest of starts to the season. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has only one top 5 and three top 10s to go along with three finishes of 23rd or worse.

Busch holds the best average finish of any active driver at RIR (5.0), with three wins, 11 top 5s and 12 top 10s in 14 starts. Dating back to ’09, Busch has won each of the spring races and is looking to continue that trend Saturday night. In fact, Busch has never finished worse than fifth (2006) in the spring race at RIR.

Five Favorites: Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart


The Hendrick Motorsports brigade has been hot on the heels of that elusive 200th win for team owner Rick Hendrick of late. Unable to capture the historic win over the last 14 races, they’ll soldier on at Richmond this weekend.

HMS has 10 Cup wins at Richmond, the last of which came in 2008 when Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag. Since then, Hendrick cars have been shut out of Victory Lane, but perennial fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. could fly under the radar this weekend and end two winless streaks that many fans would like to see come to an end.

Earnhardt has three wins on the short track in Richmond, but has struggled to produce the results of late. Since his last win in ’06, Earnhardt has only on top-5 finish and nine finishes of 15th or worse. Yet, the No. 88 team has been one of the best Hendrick cars throughout the early part of the 2012 season. Fourth in points, Earnhardt appears to be on the verge of snapping a winless skid that dates back to June 2008 nearly ever week. Running well seems to have rekindled a fire in both Earnhardt and the No. 88 team, led by crew chief Steve Letarte.
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 12:09
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-4
Body:

What makes for good racing ... and would "phantom" cautions help NASCAR?

Ask a NASCAR fan a question about the sport and you’ll likely get a strong opinion. Ask the Backseat Drivers Fan Council about the sport and you get many strong opinions — especially when the questions focus on the racing.

Fan Council members were not shy with their feelings when asked if NASCAR should throw a caution to break up a long green-flag run in a race, a topic that has garnered considerable debate this season. Here’s what Fan Council members said about that issue and others this week.


SHOULD NASCAR THROW A CAUTION TO BREAK UP A LONG GREEN-FLAG RUN?

79.8 percent said No
20.2 percent said Yes

What Fan Council members said:
• I may stop watching NASCAR if that's what they go to. If anyone says yes to this question they are not a true fan of NASCAR or racing. Period the end.

• Strung out racing is boring. The most exciting points are restarts — so why not have more of them?

• NO, dear Lord. Please, please, please DO NOT start creating "phantom" cautions to bunch up the field or do anything to change the outcome of the race. I firmly believe that if you do not have enough of an attention span to watch a race from green to checkers, with the chance there may be little or no caution laps, then I'm sorry but NASCAR may not be your cup of tea. I want to watch racing not wrecking. Please take this opportunity to exit NASCAR and go to the local demolition derby if you are in this for nothing but wrecks.

• Yes, I'd definitely like to see more cautions but there is a difference between hoping for cautions and looking for wrecks. Don't lump us all in together — there are those who like cautions because they bunch up the pack and those that want cautions because they want to see wrecks. Too often those two thoughts are combined into one.

• Of course not! No way should NASCAR cheat. I can't believe anyone would want NASCAR to throw a fake caution after all the complaints over the years blaming them for cautions that benefited various drivers. That just proves that the fans who complain are only complaining to complain.

• Everyone wants a late caution to bunch the field... unless their favorite driver is the one with the 10-second lead.

• Once the race is under green I want NASCAR to stay out of the “show making” business. A race, like every other sporting event, is an organic event that needs to play out on its own. NASCAR needs to let the teams and drivers determine the outcome. Not every race is going to come down to a last-lap pass with a win by 0.001 seconds, just like not every baseball game ends in a walk-off grand slam. What NASCAR can/should do is work on ways to encourage more passing and competition in the field by somehow finding a way to reduce the influence of clean air.

• People complained about their artificial debris cautions, now they complain about NASCAR not finding a reason for a caution. You can't please everyone all the time, and I, for one, am loving the racing this season. Feels much more real, it accentuates the drivers’ real talents behind the wheel. I'd much rather see two drivers and their styles clash to see who comes out on ahead.

• They do need to do something to make these races a little more exciting. I know I have turned off the last two.

• HELL NO! If NASCAR starts artificially manipulating races, then I am out. I prefer to see how the race unfolds naturally. If a driver manages to get out to a great lead, so be it. If a driver leads the whole race, that is okay with me.

• NASCAR's number one purpose is to entertain. Without fans in the seats and fans watching the races on TV, there would be no NASCAR. But if NASCAR wants to turn this into WWE and fabricate the results, I will no longer be a fan. Arbitrarily throwing a caution to add entertainment value is wrong.

• The restarts were the exciting part of this week’s race, so for entertainment purposes, yes.


WHAT MAKES FOR GOOD RACING?

54.8 percent said passing throughout the field
19.4 percent said a close battle for the lead at the end of the race
13.6 percent said Other
10.4 percent said many lead changes
1.8 percent said numerous cautions

What Fan Council members said:
• Just good hard racing makes the race more exciting to watch. It gets boring when the cars get strung out and there is really no side-by-side racing.

• Battling for the lead is what I remember most from watching on TV. You see more passes back in the pack when you attend live, but passing for the lead is what makes a race exciting.

• A good race to me is many lead changes, passing throughout the field, and a close battle for the lead at the end. I don't ask for much. When I am at the track I only need the sights, sounds, and smell.

• What every fan wants is drama, which always seems to be missing at California, Michigan and multiple cookie cutters.

• In my mind, auto racing should be a combination of human skills and equipment quality and endurance, the perfect blend of human and mechanical structures organized into a symphony action, reaction with an unknown outcome.

• I love good side-by-side racing, especially at the tracks that make up the bulk of the schedule (the 1.5- and 2-mile tracks). It’s exciting and you stay tuned to see who is going to prevail. There is an exception though, at the short tracks (Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond, etc.). That's when I like to see beating and banging and cautions because that is what short track racing was built upon.

• Not just a close a battle at the end but throughout. Making sure the pit crews do their job, the crew chief calls a good strategy all race long. All that stuff makes up a good race. I also like seeing many cars going for it, not just two or a few. A little sideways to watch now and then doesn't hurt either, but I don't watch for wrecks.

• I would like the teams to have a chance to work on their cars under caution and give more drivers a shot to drive up through the field and contend for the lead. Such few cautions don't allow for drivers to work on anything and pretty much the top 10 stays the same from qualifying to the finish.

• The battle between Hamlin & Truex was very exciting (at Kansas) and kept me on the edge of my seat. Neither are my favorite drivers, but I was cheering for Truex at the end to pass Hamlin.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council debates whether NASCAR should throw cautions to spice up the racing and grade the STP 400 from Kansas Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 10:21
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-look-first-round-trades
Body:

The 77th annual NFL Draft is upon us.

Tonight will be the culmination of decades of hard work for players, months of laborious scouting for NFL front offices and weeks of preparation for talking TV heads who have to fill three hours of dead time with highlights and graphics.

However, the not-quite news, pseudo-entertainment extravaganza tonight is all about the fans. Jets and Eagles fans will finally have something to boo about again after a three-month hiatus. Packers, Giants, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens fans will quietly sit by and watch their teams select under the radar All-Pros with little fanfare. And months of excitement for Colts and Redskins supporters will finally come to fruition.

Andrew Luck will be the first pick and Robert Griffin III will be the second. After that, however, fans should be in for plenty of fireworks.

There were 13 first-round NFL trades in the 2009 NFL Draft. There were 11 first-round trades over the last two drafts. And there has already been one blockbuster in 2012 involving the rights to RG3.

With the new rookie salary wage cap, conditions are much more conducive for first-round trades than ever before.

NFL mastermind Jeff Fisher has already landed a small bounty for his St. Louis Rams in the form of three first-round picks — 2012, 2013, 2014 — and the 39th overall pick this year when he dropped four spots from No. 2 to No. 6. He may not be done yet, either.

If the last two years are any indication, fans can anticipate half-a-dozen more first-round swaps tonight. In fact, the last two drafts have provided some of the most explosive first rounds in recent memory.

The biggest splash, of course, came only six picks into the 2011 NFL Draft when the Atlanta Falcons mortgaged their future on wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta sent it’s first round (27th overall), second round (59th) and fourth round (124th) selections in 2011, along with its 2012 first rounder (22nd) and fourth rounder (118th), to Cleveland for the sixth overall pick. The Falcons took the game-changing wide receiver from Alabama in a trade that appears to have worked out for both teams.

In 13 games, Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yads and eight scores. It’s fair to say the 6-3, 220-pound wideout has lived-up to the hype. No NFL franchise is one wide receiver from a Super Bowl, but, with its NFC South foe, the New Orleans Saints, in utter turmoil, Atlanta is poised to win its division in 2012 with Jones opposite All-Pro Roddy White.

The Browns landed defensive tackle Phil Taylor with the 21st pick (after trading up from No. 27), wideout Greg Little with the 59th pick and do-everything back Owen Marecic with the 124th selection. Marecic started four games and played in 13. Little’s 61 receptions trailed only A.J. Green amongst NFL rookies. Taylor started all 16 games, registering 59 total tackles and four sacks. With three of top 37 picks and six of the top 118 thanks to the Jones deal, Cleveland has a chance to totally rebuild with one trade.

While it wasn’t as high-profile as the Atlanta-Cleveland exchange, Washington did its best Browns impersonation, moving back six spots from No. 10 to No. 16, when it flipped picks with Jacksonville. The Redskins got Ryan Kerrigan — who posted 64 total tackles and 7.5 sacks as a rookie — and proceeded to turn the 49th pick it got from Jacksonville into five additional draft picks when all was said and done. Washington ended up with wideouts Leonard Hankerson (79th) and Aldrick Robinson (178th), tailback Roy Helu (105th), defensive back Dejon Gomes (146th) and offensive lineman Maurice Hurt (217th).

Hankerson earned his way into the starting line-up and posted a 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended with a hip injury. Helu played in 15 games (five starts) rushing for 640 yards while catching 49 passes for 379 yards and scoring three total touchdowns. Gomes posted 32 tackles in five starts while Hurt started eight games in place of the injured Kory Lictensteiger.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars got Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback who barely completed half  of his passes, tossed nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12), and averaged less than 150 yards passing per game. This, in a year when Cam Newton broke records and Andy Dalton led the Bengals, of all teams, to the playoffs.

Those weren’t the only moves in the first round however. The Saints traded their 2012 first rounder (27th) and their 2010 second rounder (56th overall) to the Patriots for the right to draft Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick a year ago. The former Heisman winner missed six games and totaled 520 yards from scrimmage. The Pats selected Cal tailback Shane Vereen in the second round last year and will pick twice in the first round this year. The Pats also landed stud tackle Nate Solder with the first-round pick they acquired from Oakland when they traded Richard Seymour to the West Coast at the start of training camp.

The 2010 first round was no different. Except two years ago, it was all about the Mile High City.

Denver infamously selected Demaryius Thomas with the 22nd pick and Tim Tebow with 25th. Yet, most forget the Bronocs started the 2010 draft with the 11th overall pick and it took four trades to land the tandem that won them a Wild Card game last year.

First, Denver dropped two spots to No. 13 when San Francisco moved up to snag Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis. The Broncos then dropped to 27th when the Eagles moved up to pick Brandon Graham at No. 13. Denver got three additional picks (70th, 87th, 113th) with those two trades.

They weren’t done yet, however, as they shipped the 24th and 113th picks to New England for the right to draft Thomas at 22. New England then flipped the 24th pick to Dallas for the 27th and 90th picks, allowing the Cowboys to take Dez Bryant. Meanwhile, with the very next pick, Denver jumped back into the first round by sending their 43rd, 70th and 114th overall picks to Baltimore for Tim Tebow.

You got all of that?

San Francisco got Davis. The Eagles got Graham. New England dropped twice from No. 22 to No. 27 and netted Devin McCourty (27th), Taylor Price (90th) and Aaron Hernandez (113th). Baltimore got Sergio Kindle (43rd), Ed Dickson (70th) and Dennis Pitta (114th) for the 25th pick. Denver moved back twice, moved up twice and drafted Thomas (22nd), Tebow (25th) and Eric Decker (87th) after all of the dust had settled.

John Elway still wasn't finished.

After all of that, Tebow, the most talked about player in the NFL last fall, was worth a grand total of two late-round picks. Elway shipped him and the Broncos' seventh-round selection to New York for a fourth- and sixth-round draft pick. So in reality, the Broncos got Thomas, Decker, a fourth, a sixth and one playoff win out of the deal (Peyton Manning aside, of course).

It’s amazing how a few slots in the draft can dramatically shift the NFL’s balance of power.

With two extra picks in the first four rounds the Browns have the chance to completely rebuild their franchise in two drafts. The Falcons are the team to beat in the NFC South because they made the move last year to go up and grab Jones. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Pats have two All-Pros in Hernandez and McCourty. And the Ravens replaced Todd Heap with ease and are expecting big things from Kindle this fall.

The rich get richer.

So far in 2012, we know that the Redskins have their guy in Griffin III. Fisher and the Rams will either take star wideout Justin Blackmon to help Sam Bradford or continue to move back in an effort to stockpile picks. Either way, there figures to be plenty of war room phone calls on draft night.

Who will sell the farm to snatch Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 3? Will anyone move up to grab the only game-changing safety in this class in Alabama's Mark Barron? Which team vaults back into the first round to secure one of the few solid offensive tackles left on the board?

And, as usual, there figures to be plenty of Tyson Alualu/Darrius Heyward-Bey/Hank Hill “Do What?” moments tonight.

Sit back and enjoy.

-by Braden Gall

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Draft: First-Round Trades</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-history-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-part-2
Body:

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft will commence on Thursday night, marking the 77th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting.” From Thursday through Saturday 253 college players will hear their names called, adding their name to the NFL history books, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

Indeed, as history will tell, some past drafts have become more known for the players who were selected and did not enjoy success in a NFL uniform than those that did. There are also those players who did not hear their names called in the draft, but signed on with a team as an undrafted free agent and would eventually become solid players, if not All-Pros.

Here is a look back at the 1998-2007 drafts, as we reminisce and see which picks panned out for teams (Solid Picks), and those that failed miserably (Busts), as well as acknowledging those players that didn’t let disappointment on draft day get in the way of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL (Sleepers).

Note: Part 1 will cover drafts from 1998-2002, Part 2 will cover the 2003-2007 drafts.

2003 NFL Draft
Cincinnati tabbed Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer with the first overall pick. Palmer didn’t play at all in his rookie season but was the Bengals’ starter in 2004 and enjoyed seven fairly productive seasons there. Injuries took their toll on him starting with a significant suffered in the 2006 AFC Playoffs and later an elbow issue that resulted in him missing most of the 2008 season. Palmer’s tenure in Cincinnati came to a messy end as the team began the 2011 season without him before eventually trading him to the Oakland Raiders.

Solid Picks: They don’t get more solid than Andre Johnson, who Houston took with the second overall pick. The wide receiver from Miami is not only solidly built, but he’s a solid and steady contributor, with five 1,100-yard receiving seasons and a total of 706 receptions in nine seasons with the Texans.

The Panthers took Jordan Gross, who has established himself as a franchise tackle, with the eighth pick, and the Ravens found another defensive star in the first round, this time Terrell Suggs (No. 10). The Steelers also did pretty well in taking Troy Polamalu at No. 16, while the Raiders drafted their own All-Pro defensive back in Nnamdi Asomugha with the second-to-last pick in the first round.

Offensively, the Colts took tight end Dallas Clark (No. 24) in the first round, while the Cowboys took fellow tight end Jason Witten (3rd, No. 69) in the third round. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin (Cardinals – 3rd, No. 54) and Brandon Lloyd (49ers – 4th, No. 124) also came out of this draft.

On the defensive side, some of the stalwarts that were drafted in 2002 include Osi Umenyiora (Giants – 2nd, No. 56), Lance Briggs (Bears – 3rd, No. 68), Asante Samuel (Patriots – 4th, No. 120), and Robert Mathis (Colts – 5th, No. 138).

Busts: Detroit’s lack of successful first-round picks continued in 2003 when they selected Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers with the second pick. Unfortunately, the local collegiate hero never grew up and his lack dedication and maturity combined with some bad luck with injuries sabotaged his brief time in the NFL. In three forgettable seasons with the Lions, Rogers caught a grand total of 36 passes and scored four touchdowns in just 15 games. Dewayne Robertson (No. 3) never really had the impact of a top 5 pick in his six-year career, but he lasted longer than fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, whom New Orleans took with the fifth pick. Sullivan had 1.5 sacks in 36 games in his three seasons with the Saints.

In fact, of the eight defensive linemen taken in the first 15 picks of the 2003 draft more washed out than panned out. Suggs, Kevin Williams (Vikings – No. 9) and Ty Warren (Patriots – No. 13) all worked out in one degree or another, while Robertson, Sullivan, Jimmy Kennedy (Rams – No. 12), Michael Haynes (Bears No. 14), and Jerome McDougle (Eagles – No. 15) never really lived up to their first-round billing.

Sleepers: After the draft, San Diego signed a college basketball player as an undrafted free agent and it’s arguably one of the best moves the franchise has ever made. The Chargers took a chance on Antonio Gates, who was a forward on the Kent State basketball team, but has developed into one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Gates was named first-team All-Pro from 2004-06 and has 593 receptions, 7,783 yards receiving and 76 touchdowns in nine seasons. The Chargers found another hidden gem in 2003 in offensive lineman Kris Dielman. Dielman retired in February, after a nine-year career in which he was a two-time All-Pro selection and was invited to four Pro Bowls.

Similar to San Diego, Dallas took a chance on a small-college quarterback by the name of Tony Romo. Romo joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and after watching from the sidelines for two seasons, became the starter in 2006. Outside of injury, Romo has been under center since then and has earned three trips to the Pro Bowl in his six seasons as the starter. One of the most criticized quarterbacks in the league, by analysts, fans and even teammates alike, Romo has thrown for nearly 21,000 yards with 149 touchdowns and 72 interceptions in 105 career games, 77 of those starts.

2004 NFL Draft
The 2004 draft will probably go down in history as the Eli Manning draft. When Eli and his famous father, Archie, made it known that the younger Manning had no desire whatsoever to play for San Diego, the holders of the No. 1 overall pick, the Chargers orchestrated a trade with the New York Giants.

The Giants got the rights to the No. 1 pick in exchange for their first- and third-round pick in the 2004 draft and their first- and fifth-round selections in 2005. The Giants got Manning, who has since won two Super Bowls, and the Chargers took Philip Rivers with the fourth overall pick.

The Chargers also selected kicker Nate Kaeding with the 2004 third-round pick they got, and took Shawne Merriman in 2005 with the first-round pick (No. 12 overall) they received from the Giants. The Chargers ended up trading the extra fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for offensive lineman Roman Oben. Oben was a reliable starter for about two seasons for the Chargers before retiring from football in 2008. All in all, this ended up being a win-win trade for both teams, although Rivers has yet to enjoy the postseason success that Manning has.

Solid Picks: Arizona took Larry Fitzgerald with the third pick and the former Pitt Panther has certainly thrived out in the desert. The 2004 NFL Draft could end up being known as one of the best quarterback drafts of all time as besides Manning and Rivers, Pittsburgh got Ben Roethlisberger at No. 11. Manning and Big Ben combined have already won four Super Bowls. Matt Schaub (No. 90) was taken by Atlanta in the third round and after being traded to Houston in 2007, he has developed into one of the top starters in the league.

Later in the first round, New England took Vince Wilfork (No. 21) and St. Louis drafted running back Steven Jackson (No. 24). The Chargers also got reliable center Nick Hardwick in the third round (No. 66) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (No. 98) in the fourth round of this draft, adding to an impressive haul.

Kansas City drafted Jared Allen (No. 126) in the fourth round, who has become a four-time All-Pro and one of the most productive pass rushers with first the Chiefs and now the Vikings. San Diego’s 2004 draft bounty continued with running back Michael Turner in the fifth round (No. 154). The backup to LaDainian Tomlinson his first four years, Turner signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2008 and has rushed for more than 5,200 yards 50 touchdowns in four seasons in Atlanta.

Busts: Considering he started 12 games for Seattle last season, it may be too harsh to label Robert Gallery a “bust.” Still, no one can really argue that the offensive lineman has not lived up to his billing when he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Raiders in 2004. A trio of wide receivers never developed into the first-round talents they were drafted as, headlined by Roy Williams, who the Lions took at No. 7. In fairness, Roy was not as bug a bust as Reggie Williams, who the Jaguars took with the ninth pick, or Michael Clayton (Buccaneers – No. 15). Unlike, Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman (No. 22) did not pan out as an NFL quarterback, which was bad news for the team that drafted him in the first round, the Bills.

Sleepers: One wide receiver that didn’t get drafted, but certainly panned out was Wes Welker. The diminutive Welker from Texas Tech was signed by San Diego as an undrafted free agent, but was released before the 2004 season even started. Just think how good the Chargers’ ’04 draft would have been if they had kept Welker?

Welker signed with Miami where he was used mostly on special teams. He finally started seeing action at wide receiver in 2005 and prior to the 2007 NFL Draft was traded to New England for second- and seventh-round picks. All Welker’s done with the Patriots so far is catch 554 passes in five seasons, including leading the NFL three different times, along with 6,105 yards and 31 touchdowns.

The Dolphins ended up with Samson Satele and Abraham Wright, the two players they drafted with the picks they got from the Patriots for Welker, and in many instances a front-row seat to the damage Welker and Tom Brady have done together. Welker is 7-2 in career meetings against his former team, with 75 receptions for 981 yards and four scores in those games.

2005 NFL Draft
Alex Smith went No. 1 overall to the San Francisco 49ers, a decision that up until last season seemed to have “bust” written all over it. Prior to the 2011 season, Smith had gone 19-31 as the 49ers’ starter, with more interceptions (53) than touchdown passes thrown. In 2011, however, he turned things completely around, tossing 17 touchdown passes to just five interceptions and more importantly, leading his team to a 13-3 record, the NFC West title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Smith also showed he could make plays with his legs, which not only earned him the confidence of head coach Jim Harbaugh, but a new contract that should secure his status as the 49ers' starting quarterback moving forward.

Solid Picks: Similar to Smith, Cedric Benson seemed like a bust early, but he has since proven otherwise. Chicago took Benson out of Texas with the fourth overall mark in 2005, but the running back lasted just three tumultuous seasons in the Windy City. The Bears released Benson during the 2008 offseason due in large part to two alcohol-related incidents. Cincinnati took a chance on Benson before the start of the ’08 season, and Benson responded by rushing for 747 yards, or more than he previously done in any of his seasons with the Bears, in just 12 games. However, he was just getting started. Benson followed up his first season with the Bengals by rushing for a career-high 1,251 yards, the first of three straight 1,000-yard campaigns.

As far as the 2005 draft went, the majority of the impact players that were taken came outside of the top 10. At No. 11 Dallas took sack-master DeMarcus Ware, followed by the Chargers selecting the aforementioned Merriman with the first-round pick they received in the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade, and Kansas City tabbed linebacker Derrick Johnson at No. 15.

The big prize, however, of the first round was none other than Aaron Rodgers, who Green Bay took at No. 24. At the time, the decision was largely criticized, if for no other reason the presence of one Brett Favre. Three seasons later, however, when Rodgers took the reins from the departed Favre, the Packers were the one getting the last laugh as the quarterback won a Super Bowl and was named the NFL MVP within his first four seasons as a starter. Atlanta and Pittsburgh also have gotten great returns out of their 2005 first-round picks in wide receiver Roddy White (No. 27) and tight end Heath Miller (No. 30).

The second round saw both Vincent Jackson (San Diego – No. 61) and Frank Gore (San Francisco – No. 65) go off the board, with the New York Giants landing defensive line stalwart Justin Tuck (No. 74) in the third round.

Busts: Ronnie Brown (Miami – No. 2) has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, while Braylon Edwards (Cleveland – No. 3) has no one to blame but himself for failing to capitalize on his talents and lost potential. Tennessee also learned a hard lesson when it comes to players with lots of upside but character question marks galore when the Titans selected Adam “Pacman” Jones with the sixth pick. Jones has since ended up in Cincinnati and appears to have gotten his act together and is well aware of the opportunity he wasted in Tennessee.

Busts among the top 10 players drafted also included wide receivers Troy Williamson (Minnesota – No. 7) and Mike Williams (Detroit – No. 10). For the Lions, Williams represented the third straight wideout taken with a top 10 pick that did not pan out, not to mention the selection of Joey Harrington with the third overall pick in 2002. No wonder the Lions didn’t make to the playoffs at all during the 2000s.

Sleepers: Cleveland signed Joshua Cribbs, their dynamic return specialist and versatile offensive weapon as an undrafted free agent, while New England signed kicker Robbie Gould. Gould never kicked for the Patriots, but he has for the Bears the last seven seasons, making it to the Pro Bowl and earning All-Pro honors in 2006.

2006 NFL Draft
Houston decided to take Mario Williams No. 1 overall in 2006, bypassing 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, who went to New Orleans with the second pick. Tennessee followed at No. 3 by taking quarterback Vince Young. Young went on to win 2006 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, Williams made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and ’09, and showed flashes of his amazing athleticism and play-making ability in isolated moments early on with the Saints.

However, entering the 2012 season, none of the three are still with the team that drafted them. Bush signed with Miami as a free agent in 2011, Williams became the first defensive player to sign a $100-million contract as he left the Texans for Buffalo in March, and Young, who was with Philadelphia last season following his release by the Titans, is still looking for team to join. How quickly things can change in the NFL.

Solid Picks: After the first three, teams fared a little better with their early first-round selections. The Jets took dependable tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson with the fourth pick, followed by linebacker A.J. Hawk to Green Bay, and tight end Vernon Davis to San Francisco. At No. 11 Denver selected quarterback Jay Cutler, who put up decent numbers with the Broncos before being traded to Chicago in March 2009. Baltimore got one of the centerpieces of their defense at No. 12 when they picked Haloti Ngata. Carolina and Indianapolis both used their late first-round picks on running backs and neither team came away disappointed with DeAngelo Williams (No. 27) or Joseph Addai (No. 30).

Second-round standouts from the ’06 draft include Roman Harper (New Orleans – No. 43), Greg Jennings (Green Bay – No. 52), Devin Hester (Chicago – No. 57) and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville – No. 60). Players taken in the fourth round included All-Pro offensive lineman Jahri Evans (New Orleans – No. 108) and Brandon Marshall (Denver – No. 119), who is now reunited with Cutler in Chicago after being traded from Miami.

Busts: Bush was not the only Heisman winner taken in the top 10 in 2006 as Matt Leinart, the ’04 recipient, was drafted by Arizona with the tenth pick. Leinart’s yet to make any sort of impact in the NFL, first with the Cardinals and now in Houston where he’s the backup to Schaub. Defensive back Tye Hill didn’t play like the top-15 player he was drafted in his brief 40-game career with St. Louis.

Sleepers: Although he was drafted, I am still labeling Cortland Finnegan as a sleeper. Tennessee selected the relatively unknown defensive back from Samford in the seventh round (No. 215) and no one really had any idea what to expect from the small-college prospect. All Finnegan did was develop into an All-Pro cornerback and he cashed in as a free agent this offseason, signing a five-year, $50 million deal to reunite with Jeff Fisher, the head coach who drafted him, in St. Louis.

Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin and Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes both went undrafted in ’06, but have since established themselves as standouts at their respective positions with the teams that took a chance on them.

2007 NFL Draft
Oakland took JaMarcus Russell, the tall, athletic quarterback with a big arm out of LSU, with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and there’s no question it’s a decision they would love to take a mulligan on. Following a lengthy hold out that extended into Week 1 of his rookie season, Russell signed a six-year contract worth more than $60 million with nearly half of that guaranteed. Russell proceeded to play in just four games in ’07 and a total of only 31 in his oh-so-brief NFL career. Russell never took advantage of his seemingly endless potential, which coupled with his well-earned reputation for being lazy and undisciplined, cemented him as the biggest bust in NFL history this side of Tony Mandarich.

Solid Picks: At least Detroit finally got a top 10 pick right. After years of swings-and-misses, the Lions finally hit one out of the park in taking Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the second overall pick. Besides quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s premier pass-catchers, CJ also seemingly ended the Lions’ “curse” with first-round picks, as evidenced by quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 and Ndamukong Suh, who they took with the second pick in 2010.

After Johnson, Cleveland took franchise left tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick and four selections later Minnesota chose running back Adrian Peterson, who’s worked out pretty well, wouldn’t you say? The impact talent didn’t stop there, however, as San Francisco tabbed Patrick Willis, the heart and soul of their defense, at No. 11, Marshawn Lynch went to Buffalo with the 12th pick, Darrelle Revis to the Jets at No. 14, Dwayne Bowe to Kansas City at No. 23, and the 49ers hit paydirt once again with tackle Joe Staley at No. 28.

Pittsburgh took LaMarr Woodely (No. 46) and Carolina chose Ryan Kalil (No. 59) in the second round. Green Bay got reliable kicker Mason Crosby in the sixth round (No. 193), while the New York Giants waited even longer, using a compensatory pick at the end of the draft, to select running back Ahmad Bradshaw (7th – No. 250).

Busts: Even though Russell is by far and away the biggest bust of the 2007 draft, if not all time, he was not alone. Other first-round picks that didn’t pan out included Jarvis Moss (Denver – No. 17), quarterback Brady Quinn (Cleveland – No. 22), and wide receiver Craig Davis (San Diego – No. 30). At least Davis has an appropriate nickname in regards to his NFL performance, “Buster.”

Sleepers: No real stand out among the crop of undrafted free agents, but this year did produce running back Pierre Thomas (signed with New Orleans), wide receiver/return specialist Eric Weems (signed with Atlanta, now with Chicago), and quarterback Matt Moore (signed with Dallas, now with Miami).

by Mark Ross, published on April 25, 2012

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 06:58

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