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While NBA team executives and coaches anxiously await the start of the free agency period beginning just after midnight on Wednesday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has other plans. Instead of vying from a normal schedule, he clearly stated that he will be in bed. He told the San Antonio Express News, “I'm not calling anyone at midnight. I'll be in bed. And if that's the difference, then I don't want them.”
Popovich is the longest tenured active coach in the league, and he is clearly a reason for the Spurs’ success. In 19 seasons, he has led his team to 18 straight playoff appearances, highlighted by five NBA championships. The Spurs are expected to be active in free agency, as they are believed to be the strongest choice for PF LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs might not be the first time he speaks with, but Pop certainly knows what he is doing.
Enjoy this video of some great Pop moments:
The bleeding never stopped. The Falcons blew a 17-point lead at home in the 2012 NFC Championship Game and, two full seasons later, still haven’t recovered. An offensive line thin on talent suffered a collection of season-ending injuries in two consecutive offseasons. Julio Jones, easily the most talented player on the roster, was lost in 2013 to a broken foot. Tony Gonzalez, the greatest tight end in NFL history, retired after a frustrating 4–12 year that was supposed to be a last run at the Super Bowl. A defense built on bending instead of breaking shattered beyond repair, and a hasty personnel change did nothing to fix both lines in 2014.
From 2008-12, the Atlanta Falcons under Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff were a blueprint for stability and success. Matt Ryan became a franchise quarterback, and the organization posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in history. But since that so-close title run, the Falcons have imploded, winning 10 games in two years. Smith became the fall guy, due in large part to the defensive-minded head coach’s stubborn control of a league-worst unit. Accordingly, owner Arthur Blank has now turned to Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, architect of back-to-back Super Bowl defenses under Pete Carroll.
Entering 2013, the franchise seemed a tweak or two away from its first Super Bowl title. Entering 2014, conventional wisdom wrote off a stunning collapse as an extreme bout with Murphy’s Law. There’s no clear prognosis now: Atlanta has to rebuild its defense almost from scratch while finding a way to keep Ryan alive and productive.
The cautionary tale of almost any NFL failure is that no matter what, you can’t win without an elite quarterback throwing to consistent playmakers. The Falcons have one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league and perhaps its best wide receiver. The problem — and the cold truth for Falcons fans — is that after that, there’s not much else.
Ryan, Jones and Roddy White: Even in the worst stretch of the Smith era, that battery remained reliable (when healthy). What 2014 exposed is that just about everything else has imploded around the Pro Bowl trio since the 2012 playoff run.
Expect an entirely new running game under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. His 2014 Browns were fourth in the league in rushing touchdowns, while the Falcons’ 1,498 rushing yards were the 22nd-rated attack in Football Outsiders’ offensive efficiency metrics. Atlanta will shift to a zone-blocking scheme, emphasizing fast and mobile linemen breaking open holes for an overhauled trio of backs.
Porous line play and Steven Jackson’s career twilight hindered play-calling. Now rookie Tevin Coleman (2,036 yards and 15 TDs last year at Indiana) and Devonta Freeman will be expected to read blocks and break upfield. Still buried on the depth chart is the dangerous Antone Smith (10.3 yards per carry in two seasons as a backup). Smith has broken TD runs of 48 and 50 yards and could explode under Shanahan.
If Atlanta can run the ball with more efficiency and create balance, Ryan won’t have to force throws and risk turnovers. It’s hard to criticize Ryan’s increase in interceptions post-2012, as he’s been sacked 75 times in two years of 1,279 pass attempts. The unbalanced pass/run ratio has damaged the perception of Ryan as an elite quarterback.
Shanahan’s a creative play-caller, but simply bumping the run game up to mediocre will free Jones and White more than any schematic. Free agent Leonard Hankerson and rookie Justin Hardy will complement one of the best receiving tandems in the league. While veteran Jacob Tamme isn’t Gonzalez, he’s more reliable as a weapon than blocking tight end Levine Toilolo.
Quinn has carte blanche with an awful defense — 27th in scoring, 21st in rushing, and last in passing and third-down conversions — so any experimentation is welcome.
The end of the Smith era brought rumblings of discord between the staff and front office, with the beleaguered pass rush at the heart of the matter. Smith and former DC Mike Nolan wanted to stop the run to force the pass, while Dimitroff longed for a prototypical pass rusher. Quinn’s influence over the 2015 draft was inarguable, and Vic Beasley will almost certainly start at LEO, the end/linebacker weak-side rush position Seattle uses to great effect.
If Shanahan merely has to adjust and balance, Quinn and new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris have to perform a complete overhaul, and must do so with misfit parts. Smith and Nolan flirted with a transition to 3-4 looks in 2014, adding big bodies such as Paul Soliai and Ra’Shede Hageman to a rickety, aging 4-3 depth chart. The hybrid look was a total bust, and teams converted an astounding 46.8 percent of third downs.
Aside from Beasley, it’s anyone’s guess who makes the Opening Day front seven and how they’ll position exactly. Hageman and former undrafted rookie middle linebacker Paul Worrilow might be the only returning names, as Quinn and Dimitroff pulled in a host of former Seahawks and other free agents who are a better fit for the new style. Former Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn will likely start opposite Beasley, and former Cowboy Justin Durant is the favorite to replace the departed Sean Weatherspoon at weak-side linebacker.
Desmond Trufant isn’t going anywhere, though: The third-year corner has quietly developed into one of the best in the league at his position. His size makes him a “Quinn guy,” and the Falcons drafted Jalen Collins, another long, aggressive corner to groom as his counterpart. Free safety is a question mark, but veteran William Moore is expected to have recovered from multiple injuries and should reclaim the job at strong safety.
A dramatic overhaul in philosophy and execution is needed. There is literally nowhere to go but up, and that’s the best news possible.
Devin Hester might be the best free-agent signing of Dimitroff’s career. The veteran was supposed to help bolster the Falcons’ return game and instead lit the entire special teams and receiving corps on fire. Hester led the league in total kickoff return yardage (1,128, the only player to go over 1,000 last season thanks to an awful Falcons scoring defense) and averaged 13.3 yards per catch as a viable rotation receiver. Until Jones’ deal is extended, Matt Bryant’s new contract extension is easily the most important bit of front office business in 2015. Bryant hit 29-of-32 field goals and was perfect inside of 50 yards as he’s remained one of the league’s elite clutch kickers. Punter Matt Bosher’s career 41.3-yard net average has made him one of the most reliable at his position.
It’s a distant memory now, but the Falcons were a possession away from locking up a Super Bowl trip two seasons ago. While it’s hard to classify any team with elite quarterback play as a true rebuilding effort, the Falcons’ long and horrific decline on defense might qualify them regardless of Ryan. Quinn has the bones of a terrific offense waiting on a defensive miracle, which is what he’ll have provided if Atlanta makes the playoffs in 2015.
Prediction: 3rd in NFC South
In 2014, the Carolina Panthers did something no other team in the NFC South had done before — they repeated as division champs.
Now in 2015 they will try to extend that streak to three years, relying once more on a standout defense that is the strength of the team.
In the offseason, the Panthers tried to get faster and to get quarterback Cam Newton some help for an offense that often struggled a year ago. They hope to avoid the awful start they had in 2014, when they began the season 3–8–1 and looked likely to earn a top-10 draft pick. They then ripped off five straight wins — four in the regular season and one in the playoffs over Arizona — before falling to Seattle on the road in a divisional playoff game.
The Panthers let troubled defensive end Greg Hardy leave for Dallas in free agency, but they still have the best middle linebacker in the game in Luke Kuechly. Newton and Kuechly are the faces of the franchise and will again determine much of the team’s fortunes in 2015.
The Panthers will remain a run-first offense in 2015. In the final five weeks of the 2014 regular season, Carolina ran for more yards than any other NFL team and went 4–1. That is the blueprint again this season. Bulldozer Jonathan Stewart will get the majority of the carries now that franchise leader DeAngelo Williams has been released. Newton is the Panthers’ second-best running threat — he has always been a dual-threat quarterback, although he is trying to be smarter about not taking as many hits. Fullback Mike Tolbert regressed in 2014 but will be counted on in short-yardage situations. Rookie Cameron Artis-Payne will contend with scatback Fozzy Whittaker for many of the carries that Stewart doesn’t get.
The most notable change on the offensive line comes at left tackle, where Michael Oher was signed to replace Byron Bell at one of the Panthers’ problem positions. Oher was unsuccessful at his last stop in Tennessee, but the Panthers believe he still has enough in the tank to protect Newton. Center Ryan Kalil anchors the unit with professionalism and calm.
As for the passing game, it has to get more explosive. Tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin each caught 1,008 yards worth of passes in 2014 — the first time since 1999 the Panthers had two 1,000-yard receivers. They will be the primary targets for Newton again this season. Olsen is a Pro Bowler who catches everything; Benjamin has some problems with drops but also has a knack for the spectacular.
But neither Olsen nor Benjamin are deep threats. The Panthers had success with Ted Ginn Jr. in that role in 2013, and after he disappointed in Arizona in 2014, they have re-signed him to do the same thing. Second-round draft pick Devin Funchess will play a lot early at the other wideout, but he’s a big receiver with medium speed, similar to Benjamin. Corey Brown also will be counted on to run some deep routes, and Stephen Hill will get a chance, too. Second tight end Ed Dickson has good hands and, like Olsen, signed a new deal in the offseason.
As for Newton, he remains an incredible athlete and has become a much better leader. But he still has occasional problems with his accuracy and throwing mechanics. Unlike 2014, however, Newton has been healthy throughout the offseason, which should help. The Panthers also showed their commitment to their franchise quarterback by signing Newton to a five-year, $103.8 million contract extension in early June.
It starts with the linebackers — Carolina believes it may have the best tandem in the game in Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Those two never come off the field, and they chase down so many plays from sideline to sideline that potential 20-yard gains for the opposition are often getting turned into 4-yard plays. Kuechly’s form tackling should be studied by every youth football player.
Shaq Thompson, the team’s first-round draft pick, is a versatile athlete (he also gained 456 yards as a running back in his last year at Washington) who may start at weak-side linebacker right away over A.J. Klein — if Thompson can show he has the strength to get off blocks.
The defensive front loses Hardy, but it didn’t have the erratic defensive end for 15 games in 2014, either, due to a domestic violence issue. Second-year end Kony Ealy will need to step up his game to help replace Hardy, with Wes Horton and Mario Addison also helping out. The other defensive end, Charles Johnson, is winding down his career but is still a bull-rushing force when single-blocked. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was not a star in 2014 after a great rookie year, and the Panthers need a more consistent performance from him in his third season. Kawann Short may be poised for a breakout season at the other defensive tackle spot.
The secondary was the team’s weak spot for most of last season and remains a little iffy. Cornerback Josh Norman is emerging as one of the best cover corners in the NFC, but the second corner spot may need to be filled by Charles “Peanut” Tillman if he can still run fast enough to do it. Bene Benwikere is more naturally suited to the nickel cornerback role and will play there. Safety Roman Harper has lost a step but is still crafty. Free safety Tre Boston has speed but makes too many youthful mistakes.
Carolina is one of only three NFL teams to boast a top-10 defense in each of the past three seasons (Seattle and San Francisco are the others). If the Panthers are going to make the playoffs again, they will need a fourth straight year in the top 10.
Carolina took a step back in 2014 on special teams, and it cost the team several times. Most notably, the Panthers had two punts blocked — and both ended up going for Minnesota touchdowns in a nasty loss to the Vikings. General manager Dave Gettleman made a point in the offseason of signing several players who will be contributors on the coverage and return units and also brought back Ginn to return punts. Kicker Graham Gano had the best touchback percentage in the league last season (77.2) and has such a strong leg that a 65-yard field goal is not out of the question — although he did miss a couple of key field goals last year. Punter Brad Nortman and long snapper J.J. Jansen are solid.
The Panthers are fortunate to play in a division without a great team, and the early part of the schedule looks soft enough that they should start at least 3–1. An Oct. 18 road trip to Seattle — the team that has been the Panthers’ bugaboo ever since Russell Wilson arrived — will be critical.
Newton’s play will be as important as ever, but the Panthers also need at least one more playmaker on offense and hope Funchess can be that guy. A stout defense will keep Carolina in nearly every game. This is a team that should contend for a third straight playoff berth but will need to improve offensively if it is going to advance far in the postseason.
Prediction: 2nd in NFC South
As long as Drew Brees is the quarterback, the Saints will always have a shot to win the NFC South and make the playoffs. But rivals have passed the Saints in other areas, and it all caught up to them in 2014. Team officials realized they couldn’t continue to rely on Brees to simply outscore opponents with his dazzling passing skills. So they conducted an eyebrow-raising roster overhaul in the offseason in an effort to bolster their aging offensive line and flagging defense. The Saints are counting on more new faces than they have in a long time and are something of a mystery team in the NFC race.
The names change, but the production should remain prolific. Even without Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, look for the Saints to continue to rank among the league leaders in yards and points. Since coach Sean Payton and Brees arrived in 2006, the Saints have finished no worse than sixth in total offense and 12th in scoring offense. At 36, Brees has started to show signs of age, but he’s still highly effective when not asked to do too much and given time in the pocket to find his receivers. Look for Brees to spread the ball around more without the dynamic Graham in the lineup. The Saints have no one on the roster with Graham’s physical skill set, and his absence will challenge Payton’s play-calling creativity, especially in the red zone, where an alley-oop to Graham meant an automatic six points the past few seasons.
The Saints are high on athletic third-year tight end Josh Hill. He showed big-play ability in a limited role last season, when five of his 14 receptions went for touchdowns. Speedy Brandin Cooks was extremely productive as a rookie before breaking his thumb. He’ll be called on to produce more explosive plays with Graham and Stills gone. Young veterans Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman will compete for spots in the rotation.
Until the passing attack sorts itself out, Brees can lean on a reliable run game that ranked ninth in the NFL in average yards per carry (4.5). With Mark Ingram, C.J. Spiller and Khiry Robinson in the backfield, the running game should be a strength. Ingram is coming off his finest season as a pro and is firmly entrenched as the lead back. Spiller was signed in free agency to play the satellite back role in which Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles excelled from 2006-13. The powerful Robinson is one of the most difficult backs in the league to tackle.
All of this firepower will go for naught if the offensive line doesn’t improve. The unit had been one of the most consistent in the NFL over the years but started to show its age last season. Brees was sacked 29 times and often hurried into crucial interceptions. To that end, the Saints acquired veteran center Max Unger in the Graham trade and selected tackle Andrus Peat in the first round of the NFL Draft. Peat is probably a year away from seeing the field, with the athletic Terron Armstead and the underrated Zach Strief bookending the line at tackle. But Unger, a former Pro Bowler, will be an immediate upgrade at center. Right guard is the lone question mark. Former undrafted free agent Tim Lelito will get the first crack to replace Ben Grubbs. He’ll need to stay healthy, because there is little experience behind him.
Whatever pixie dust coordinator Rob Ryan had in his glorious debut season, he ran out of in 2014 as the Saints plummeted from No. 4 to No. 31 in total defense. Payton has given him the chance to right the ship but brought in former Raiders head coach and Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to assist him. The Saints were plagued by blown coverage assignments and alignment errors early last season and never recovered.
The top offseason priority will be improving the play of the team’s talented but underperforming defensive line. Ends Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan are both due for rebound seasons after disappointing in 2014. Hicks has the physical skills to dominate opponents but is frustratingly inconsistent. He could be facing a make-or-break season. Likewise, Jordan failed to make enough big plays, but the team still decided to sign him to a five-year contract extension in June that could be worth up to $60 million. The team’s best pass rusher, outside linebacker Junior Galette, was rewarded with a four-year, $40 million contract early in 2014, then lost the trust of team officials because of off-field transgressions. He has explosive burst but is undersized and can be overpowered at the point of attack. Brodrick Bunkley and John Jenkins form a powerful one-two punch at nose guard.
The linebacker unit needs work. Three rookies and veterans Anthony Spencer and Dannell Ellerbee were acquired in the offseason in an effort to bolster the unit. Only veteran David Hawthorne, who replaces Curtis Lofton as the play-caller inside, appears locked into a starting spot. Rookie sparkplug Hau’oli Kikaha will platoon with veteran Parys Haralson on the strong side. The staff loves his intensity and pass-rush ability. Hulking rookie Stephone Anthony is the kind of physical thumper Ryan has longed for since he arrived in 2013. He’ll compete with Ellerbe at the other inside spot.
The return to health of veteran free safety Jairus Byrd will go a long way toward improving the leaky secondary. The former Pro Bowler should be motivated for a big season after his injury-riddled debut in New Orleans. His center field skills free up Kenny Vaccaro to play the joker role in which he thrived as a rookie.
The No. 2 cornerback spot riddled the Saints last season, and they hope veteran free agent Brandon Browner can fill the role opposite Keenan Lewis. The success of Ryan’s scheme relies on strong press coverage.
There’s an army of candidates but few proven commodities beyond Browner and Lewis. Rookies P.J. Williams and Damian Swann will compete with former Jets first-round washout Kyle Wilson for the nickel spot. CFL import Delvin Breaux is the sleeper in the group. Second-year men Brian Dixon and Stanley Jean-Baptiste are also in the mix.
Thomas Morstead remains one of the most consistently productive punters and kickoff specialists in the league. He’s the strength of an otherwise nondescript special teams group. Jalen Saunders and rookie Marcus Murphy will try to spice up the club’s moribund return units. The Saints haven’t returned a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown since 2011. Veteran placekicker Shayne Graham had his struggles last season, but the team stuck with the 14-year veteran. He was re-signed to a one-year deal in February, but the Saints terminated his contract in May, seemingly handing the kicking job to strong-legged Dustin Hopkins, who has yet to even appear in a regular season game.
Look for the Saints to bounce back from their disappointing 2014 campaign. How far back remains to be seen. The best thing they have going for them is the mediocre competition in the NFC South. If the defensive changes work, the Saints can resume their winning ways and challenge the Falcons and Panthers for the division title. But there are more questions than answers on both sides of the ball, and a lot of things will have to fall into place for them to regain their status as title contenders in the NFC. They’ll be competitive as usual but are a cut below the conference’s elite.
Prediction: 1st in NFC South
The morning of the NFL Draft, Bucs general manager Jason Licht took a walk around the team’s three practice fields completely at peace with the decision to select Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick.
“It’s like your wedding day,” Licht says. “Without the cold feet.’’
For better or worse — and some would lean toward the latter — the Bucs’ fortunes and those of Licht and coach Lovie Smith are married to Winston, one of the most polarizing picks in modern NFL Draft history. A civil suit stemming from allegations of a sexual assault for which Winston was never charged, along with a series of relatively minor acts of immaturity, follow the mercurial former Seminole to the NFL.
But the Bucs' decision-makers are more than satisfied with Winston’s character after doing research that included conducting exhaustive interviews of more than 75 people.
“If he wasn’t a good guy, we wouldn’t have used a first pick on him,” Licht says.
On the field, Winston has few peers. He went 26–1 as a starting quarterback at Florida State, and he won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
“I would just ask our fans to give him a chance,” Smith says.
The Bucs believe Winston is a transformational quarterback who will eventually put them on equal footing with the other gunslingers in the NFC South — the Saints’ Drew Brees, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the Panthers’ Cam Newton.
Winston is a plug-and-play talent who comes from a pro-style offense. He can check protections, read the defense and get through all the progressions. Perhaps more impressive, Winston can make any throw on the field.
The key is whether the Bucs can find a way to protect him. Tampa Bay allowed 52 sacks last season, tied for the third-most in the NFL. That’s why Licht invested a pair of second-round picks on Penn State left tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet from Division III Hobart College. Both are projected to start as rookies. But the Bucs must get better performances from holdovers such as center Evan Dietrich-Smith, guard Logan Mankins and tackle Demar Dotson.
Winston does have 6-5 targets in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Evans was a Rookie of the Year candidate despite missing most of the offseason with a hamstring strain. He had a monster three-game stretch in November in which he caught 21 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns. Second-year tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins missed the final four games of 2014 with a back injury but shows the ability to get downfield. He caught 21 passes for 221 yards but is capable of much more.
The Bucs decided not to pick up the fifth-year option on running back Doug Martin, who has played only 17 games in the last two years after rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. Martin doesn’t seem to be versatile or physical enough to fit Smith’s preference of running style, but at least he will be motivated in a contract year. The Bucs plan to increase the workload for Charles Sims, who missed the first half of his rookie season with an ankle injury. He showed more promise as pass catcher than runner. Licht attempted to upgrade the speed and athleticism on offense, beginning with the two linemen and Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell.
One of the biggest additions to the Bucs attack is offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who hung 56 points on Smith last season while operating the Falcons offense. Smith and the Bucs were dealt a setback with the loss of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who never returned after a heart procedure, but Koetter is more than a stopgap replacement, and he has a spread-the-field passer in Winston like he had in Matt Ryan.
But make no mistake. The offense will develop as quickly as Winston does.
The Bucs struggled in the first year of Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme. After six weeks, opponents were averaging 34 points per game. That prompted the beginning of an overhaul that will continue through 2015.
The foundation is defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who led the team with 8.5 sacks, and linebacker Lavonte David, who has the distinction of being an All-Pro (2013) before making a Pro Bowl. McCoy needs help and got some with the waiver claim of Jacquies Smith, who had 6.5 sacks in seven starts last season. The Bucs traded a fifth-round pick to the Lions for defensive end George Johnson, giving them another edge rusher to complement McCoy.
The Bucs also changed their philosophy in free agency. They pulled off the Band Aid by cutting high-priced free agent busts — such as Michael Johnson after only one season — and replaced them on defense with players who have a history of success in Smith’s defense or the Tampa 2 scheme.
Safety Chris Conte and defensive tackle Henry Melton both played for Smith in Chicago. Looking for more playmaking ability at middle linebacker, the Bucs signed former Cowboy Bruce Carter, who had five interceptions last season. They used a fourth-round pick on LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, another run-and-hit machine with speed.
The secondary is solid with cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Johnathan Banks. Banks led the team with four interceptions, and Verner, a former fourth-round pick of the Titans, was an under-the-radar free-agent acquisition last offseason. In addition to the rangy Conte, the Bucs believe the future is bright for strong safety Bradley McDougald, who took over following the trade of Mark Barron to the Rams. Tampa Bay also claimed former Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger off of waivers in May. A 2013 second-round pick, Swearinger made 22 starts for the Texans, but struggled last season.
Smith’s teams in Chicago were known for winning games on special teams. That’s hardly been the case in Tampa Bay, which struggled to settle on a kick returner. That’s why they drafted Utah’s Kaelin Clay, who had four returns for touchdowns last season to lead college football. The punt and kickoff return jobs are his to lose. Punter Michael Koenen is in the final year of his contract that pays him $3.75 million. But his pay didn’t match his production as he ranked 29th with a 37.1-yard net average and the team claimed former Cleveland punter Spencer Lanning off waivers in early June to create competition for the job. The Bucs’ placekicking game is solid behind Patrick Murray, who was 5-of-6 from 50-plus yards, including a long of 55. Overall, Murray made 20-of-24 field goals but is capable of more. The kick coverage teams should be improved with the addition of some athletic linebackers and receivers who have specialized as gunners such as Bell.
Winston has the talent and confidence to be a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. But until the Bucs improve around him, he won’t be enough to make them real contenders in the NFC South. The season opener against the Titans and Marcus Mariota offers a juicy storyline. But Winston has to be dedicated on and off the field to make this gamble pay off.
Prediction: 4th in NFC South
(Winston photo at top courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Web site)
Try not to laugh your way through this.
In a recent interview with Cleveland.com, the former Chicago Bull compared himself to LeBron James. While it is usually Michael Jordan most mentioned with James, Pippen says he's no slouch.
"I was LeBron James before LeBron James," Pippen said. "I'm no slouch, but when comparing LeBron's game, I'm usually left out."
I respect Pippen's game, but there's a reason he's left out.
"They want to compare him to the greatest whether it be Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, but he's more closer to myself," Pippen said. "It's natural for folks to say that, but if you look at how he plays the game and how I played the game, you'll see more similarities with us."
People make the comparisons with James and Jordan because the two are similar. It's hard to even think of Pippen's name without thinking of Jordan (or that stint he had with the Blazers).
This is where we have to draw the line when it comes to comparing basketball greats to one another.
As is the case every year, the state of Louisiana is absolutely loaded with top FBS-quality talent. The Class of 2016 is top-end heavy with players like Calvary Baptist quarterback Shea Patterson (verbally committed to Ole Miss), Kentwood cornerback Shyheim Carter (Alabama), St. Thomas Aquinas defensive tackle Edwin Alexander (LSU), and Donaldsville wide receiver Stephen Sullivan (LSU).
The list of FBS talent long exceeds past 5- and 4-star ranked players with teams like Stanford, Arkansas, and TCU coming into the Bayou State for 3-star talents like University Lab safety Malik Antonie, Teurlings Catholic quarterback Cole Kelley, and Zachary High School center Kelton Hollins respectively.
Of the 100-plus players that are expected to sign with FBS teams come National Signing Day 2016, 10 of the top 25 ranked players in the Sportsman’s Paradise have not yet committed to a top college program.
In addition to the four previously mentioned verbally committed players, St. Augustine tight end Jamal Pettigrew, Calvary Baptist cornerback Andraez Williams, Destrehan defensive tackle Glen Logan, Wossman safety Cameron Lewis, Edna Karr defensive end Andre Anthony, and Denham Springs defensive end Caleb Roddy are all committed to LSU giving the Tigers nine of the state’s top 25 players.
Other FBS teams have been able to make headway in Louisiana with Arkansas snatching up Archbishop Rummel defensive tackle Briston Guidry, Florida State taking Holy Cross cornerback Kyle Meyers, and Arizona State luring Meyers' running back teammate Tre Turner to Tempe. Mississippi State was able to land prized Parkway cornerback C.J. Morgan-Walker, leaving 10 4-star caliber players still wavering on where they want to play their college ball.
The following is a list of the top 10 remaining players from the state of Louisiana who are still undecided. The list includes their schools, the programs they hold offers from, and public perception on which school they may be leaning towards.
DT Rashard Lawrence – Neville High School, Monroe
This 6-foot-3, 305 pound 5-star is seemingly on every college recruiting board. Over 20 schools have offered including UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas, Oregon, Florida State, Georgia, USC, Texas A&M, Washington, Cal, Oklahoma State, Louisville, and Tennessee.
If unofficial visits and camps mean anything LSU, Alabama, and Ohio State appear to be in the lead with many believing he will be the second 5-star in-state recruit to sign with the Tigers.
OT Willie Allen – John Curtis High School, New Orleans
Allen is a nearly 6-foot-8, 300 pound behemoth that could seemingly roll off the high school field and contribute immediately as a true freshman in 2016. He has the size and athleticism to be a cornerstone bookend. A year or two in the weight room plus some heavy drills on footwork and technique and Allen could be an all-conference-caliber player by his junior and senior seasons.
The John Curtis star holds offers from nearly 30 schools with Auburn, Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss at the top of the mix.
CB Kristian Fulton – Archbishop Rummel, Metairie
Fulton also has over 20 offers from every other school in the SEC and Big 12 and beyond. Michigan, Nebraska, Louisville, and Notre Dame have all made plays for this cover corner’s skill set.
The recruiting process has not been lost on the New Orleans area native. He has reported unofficial visits to Arkansas, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Many feel that LSU is the team to beat given they are the top in-state team and the Tigers' track record of producing NFL-quality defensive backs.
Fulton, at least outwardly, seems very open to the recruiting process meaning a long shot could steal him away from the Tigers.
One recruiting note in LSU’s favor: St. Augustine tight end Jamal Pettigrew. Pettigrew and Fulton are friends and Pettigrew is committed to the Tigers.
OLB Michael Divinity – John Ehret High School, Marrero
Divinity is another player that could be heading out of state. The 6-foot-2, 215 pound outside linebacker is knocking on the door of 30 scholarship offers with SEC and Big 12 teams, along with some ACC and Pac-12 teams showing interest.
The rangy and athletic linebacker has taken unofficial visits to TCU and Ole Miss but his visits to Texas A&M and LSU are the water cooler talk when it comes to Divinity's upcoming decision.
RB/LB Devin White – North Webster High School, Springhill
If there was ever a guy that could fill the term athlete correctly, given how often the term is floated loosely in recruiting circles, White is the man.
The 6-foot, 230-pound, two-way star could play any number of positions at the collegiate level, and do it well. He could line up at running back, fullback, outside linebacker, and even safety if he dropped a couple of pounds. If he adds an inch or two to his frame he could be a defensive end, middle linebacker, a tight end, or even an H-back. The proof is in the stat line after he picked up 2,287 yards on 270 carries with 30 touchdowns and also came up with 93 tackles.
Depending on what position White wants to play at the next level will depend on where he plays his college ball. Teams like Arkansas are coming after White hard as a running back. The Razorbacks may be considered the early frontrunner because of the prospect of early playing time due to the likelihood that running back Alex Collins leaves after his junior season combined with the departure of his tag-team partner, senior Jonathan Williams. A seemingly wide-open backfield could be more than enough to convince White to sign with Bret Bielema and stake his claim to a starting job as a true freshman.
White attended Tennessee’s Junior Day, visited Ole Miss and Alabama in April and then headed back to Tuscaloosa in early June for a camp. Auburn and LSU are also teams considered to be in the running.
Still not impressed? White turned in a sixth-place finish in the 100 meters of the Louisiana state track and field championships, running a 10.84 while also helping out on the 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams.
WR Clyde Leflore – Warren Easton, New Orleans
The state of Louisiana always turns out guys with great speed and Leflore fits the bill. The 6-foot, 170 pound slot receiver could make a difference on offense and on special teams as a punt returner right out of the gates for any given college program.
After turning in a 33-catch season with 821 yards and nine touchdowns all the usual cast of SEC characters came with offers, along with Pac-12 teams like UCLA, Arizona, and Utah. Big 12 teams like TCU, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have also come calling. Earning Leflore’s signature on NSD could come down to Texas A&M and LSU.
WR Mykel Jones – Patterson High School, Patterson
Mykel Jones is another speedster with good hands that can line up on the outside or in the slot. To date 14 teams have offered and the 6-foot, 180 pound receiver and he seems wide open to the process. Jones has made Junior Day visits to LSU and Alabama, taken an unofficial to USC, and camped at Ole Miss in early June.
UCLA, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Penn State, Georgia, Arizona State, Texas and Tennessee are among the other schools ready to bring Jones to campus in 2016.
WR Isaiah Graham – Bastrop High School, Bastrop
Graham, like Mykel Jones, is anyone's guess on where he will end up. Twelve different schools have put offers on the table for the 6-foot-1, 180 pound wideout with Arkansas, TCU, Mississippi State and LSU all in the running.
Graham caught national attention after hauling in 48 passes for 1,138 yards with 20 touchdowns in 2014.
DE Willie Baker – Livonia High School, Livonia
Nine schools have given offers to Baker but the only rumored school that matters is Texas A&M. The Aggies apparently have the inside track on Baker over Louisville, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arizona State among others.
Baker proved to be a disruptive force in opposing Louisiana high school backfields when he came up with 108 tackles, including 29 for a loss, and 12 sacks.
DT Stephon Taylor – McDonogh 35 – New Orleans
Football games are won in the trenches and 34 different college football programs believe Taylor can help them accomplish that goal. The 6-foot-4, 290 pound defensive tackle is both a line plug as well as a line mover.
The list of schools that want Taylor is a who's who of college football royalty including Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas, Florida State, Florida, Miami, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, TCU, Tennessee, Utah, Arizona, Cal and Baylor, and that's not all.
Taylor has let it be known that LSU and the Longhorns are at the top of his list.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
By now, you're probably getting the picture. The Ohio State Buckeyes — defending national champions — are the prohibitive favorite of nearly every media outlet and college football analyst to repeat as champions. As such, that puts a giant target on their backs for both opposing teams and fanbases to take a shot at.
The popular cry outside of Columbus — much like Tallahassee over the last couple of seasons — has been "Who do they play?" Granted, the Buckeyes don't play the most difficult slate of games on paper in the nation. That said, they still must play (and likely win) every game on their schedule if they want to earn a bid into the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year.
Each week, Ohio State's opponent will vary in terms of "degree of difficulty." Not all of that is contingent on the talent level of the teams they face, as scheduling and logistics are sure to play a part as well.
Here now are Ohio State's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 12 vs. Hawaii
This will be Ohio State's home opener against a team that won four games a season ago playing more than 4,400 miles from home. Jet lag will be the least of Hawaii's worries.
11. Sept. 26 vs. Western Michigan
I can see the Buckeyes coming out a little sluggish early in this one. Two weeks of playing inferior teams and one week getting ready for Western Michigan won't make it easy to keep focus. It might take a quarter or so, but this one should end up looking about like you'd expect on the scoreboard at the end of the day.
10. Oct. 10 vs. Maryland
This will be Ohio State's conference home opener and the first chance for the Buckeyes to strut their stuff against some athletes that they, quite frankly, won't feel so bad about beating down. The Buckeyes should be fairly pumped for this one and cruise to an easy win.
9. Sept. 19 vs. Northern Illinois
The Huskies are one of the more underrated programs in the country over the past few seasons. They show up and play everyone tough with a roster full of kids who grew up in Big Ten country who want nothing more than to pile up wins over high-profile Big Ten programs who never gave them a look.
8. Oct. 3 at Indiana
The Hoosiers are tough to read this season. They lost what might have been the best player in their program's history, but look like a program on the rise with some of what they have returning and the players they've brought in via transfers. Indiana knocked off Missouri a season ago, so anything is possible in this one.
7. Nov. 14 at Illinois
The Buckeyes will travel to Champaign coming off what very well could be their toughest game to date against Minnesota. The Illini have just enough talent on both sides of the ball — starting with running back Josh Ferguson — to hang around and be pesky.
6. Oct. 24 at Rutgers
Minnesota plays a factor in this one as well. After a night game against Penn State, the Buckeyes will need to now focus on this night game at Rutgers without looking ahead to their bye week and subsequent matchup with the Gophers. Rutgers has a number of players scattered around the field on both sides of the ball who will play on Sundays. This might not be a cakewalk.
5. Oct. 17 vs. Penn State
Penn State is rarely an easy game for the Buckeyes lately. Thanks to James Franklin's recruiting efforts, the talent gap between the two teams might be closing, as Ohio State faces far and away the best quarterback it will have faced to date.
4. Nov. 28 at Michigan
The only reasons this one gets ranked this high are history and location. To a man, the Wolverines aren't capable of winning many position battles against the Buckeyes. Be that as it may, it's still Harbaugh's first game against Ohio State in the Big House in what will be the last hurdle for Urban Meyer's bunch to get over before a likely trip back to Indy for the Big Ten Championship Game. Nerves and emotion cannot be ignored.
3. Nov. 7 vs. Minnesota
Win or lose, the Gophers will have already faced what is likely to be a top-five team in TCU. They bring a strong secondary, a seasoned quarterback and arguably the best X's and O's coach in the conference into Columbus in an attempt to shock the world. This one should be fun.
2. Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech
Ohio State will have revenge on their minds, but the Hokies have all summer to prepare for the biggest game of their season. This will be under the lights at Lane Stadium with "Enter Sandman" playing in the background as Frank Beamer's squad take the field as the last team to best the Buckeyes. The atmosphere should be electric.
1. Nov. 21 vs. Michigan State
Are the Spartans rebuilding or reloading? Is Connor Cook the real deal? We'll know the answers to those questions by the time these two meet — likely for division supremacy. This one has a "Rocky" feel, with the Spartans playing the role of Balboa and the Buckeyes playing the part of Apollo Creed.
Marshawn Lynch loves Skittles.
While on "Conan," the Seahawks running back had one of his life-long dreams come true. He got to dive in a huge tub of Skittles. As one can imagine, he was thankful.
The Big 12 is going to be a hotly contested conference this season. Last year there were five teams within three games of first place Baylor and TCU. Those two schools figure to be leading again with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State waiting to take advantage of an injury or a bad loss in front of them. Two teams who will not be much of a factor this season will be Kansas and Iowa State.
For the purposes of this exercise, projected win totals are broken down into three categories — definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups. Most of the conference games will in the toss-up category, especially ones on the road. This preview will offer thoughts on each team and if there’s any value either over or under.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 10 wins -140...Under 10 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 11-2, 8-1
Returning Starters: 17 (8 on offense, 9 on defense)
Offense: Bryce Petty is gone, but Seth Russell inherits the keys to one of the nation's most potent offenses. Russell threw eight touchdowns last year in spot duty for the Bears. He's got Shock Linwood in the backfield and solid WRs in Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and KD Cannon. The unit has its entire offensive line back as well.
Defense: Shawn Oakman is worth the price of admission. He had 11 sacks last year and resisted the temptation to go pro. The entire secondary also returns, although that unit was ranked 107th against the pass last season.
Schedule: A road trip to SMU starts things off before home games against Lamar and Rice. A weak non-conference schedule didn't help Baylor last year and it's not going to be looked upon favorably this year either. Three of four are on the road in November, including the big tilt with TCU on Thanksgiving weekend.
Selection: Vegas got this one right, as I came up with 10 wins for the Bears. The offense will be fun to watch while Oakman and the defense will get pressure on the quarterback. This schedule really isn't that difficult
(Over 3 wins -140...Under 3 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 2-10, 0-9
Returning Starters: 10 (6 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: The Cyclones bring back Sam Richardson at QB. He's not only the team's leading returning passer, but rusher as well. With Aaron Wimberly gone, Iowa State will be looking for a new lead RB to take over. Wide receiver Quenton Bundrage figures to be healthy at some point this season and will be a nice pairing in the passing game with D'Vario Montgomery.
Defense: There's not much to like on this side of the ball. The front seven is devoid of returnees outside of senior DE Trent Taylor. Last year this team gave up 528.9 yards per game and it could be that bad again in 2015.
Schedule: Each one of the non-conference games present their own challenge with home contests against Northern Iowa and Iowa before a road game at Toledo. FCS teams have tripped up ISU in the past. The Cyclones close out the year with three of four on the road.
Selection: It's going to be a rough season for Iowa State. The lack of talent and the EVEN price tag for the under makes me lean in that direction. If the Cyclones don't get one of Northern Iowa or Iowa to start things off, then they could be staring at a one-win season.
(Over 1.5 wins -185...Under 1.5 wins +145)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 1-8
Returning Starters: 6 (3 on offense, 3 on defense)
Offense: This unit has a lot to work on. They return just seven catches from last season. Montell Cozart could get the call at QB after Michael Cummings' injury this past spring. The offensive line needs to replace three starters.
Defense: There's not to like on this side of the ball either. Not a single member of last year's secondary is back. This team allowed 34 points or more in five of their last six in 2014.
Schedule: The non-conference slate features home contests against South Dakota State and Memphis followed by a road game at Rutgers. Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State each come to Lawrence.
Selection: It's hard to take the under when the total is so low. There's no margin for error with a low number like that. That said, if I had any selection for this one, it would be the under. I just don't think they win a single conference game and may struggle with the other FBS opponents.
(Over 7 wins -130...Under 7 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 7-2
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Joe Hubener will be under center for the Wildcats. The WR corps loses Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton, which will be an issue. At least the team has most of its offensive line back, which should help an uncertain RB position as well.
Defense: Tom Hayes' bunch did not close out the 2014 season well, giving up 38 points or more in three of the last four games. The unit returns the majority of the secondary from last year led by Dante Barnett and Morgan Burns.
Schedule: South Dakota leads things off with a road game at UTSA to follow. The last non-Big 12 game is a home contest against Louisiana Tech. The Wildcats have Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma at home where they've been tough traditionally.
Selection: I lean to the over for Kansas State although not with much confidence. There are some holes to fill, but Bill Snyder's teams always seem to find a way.
(Over 9 wins -110...Under 9 wins -130)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 5-4
Returning Starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: It starts and ends with Samaje Perine, who had an incredible season. Perine ran for 1,713 yards as a freshman, with 21 touchdowns on the ground. Sterling Shepard (5 TD catches) is a solid WR, but question resides at quarterback and who will be getting the ball to these weapons.
Defense: Dominique Alexander is back and he'll quarterback the defense along with Jordan Evans. Charles Tapper up front is solid along with linebacker Eric Striker, who had nine sacks last year. Mike Stoops has a lot of pieces to make this side of the ball work.
Schedule: Oklahoma gets home games with Akron and Tulsa as well as a road tilt with Tennessee, who the Sooners beat 34-10 last year at home. October has Bob Stoops' team on the road for three of its five games.
Selection: Slight lean to the under for the Sooners. The November stretch of Baylor (road), TCU (home) and Oklahoma State (road) is a killer and will decide the win total. I think Oklahoma will lose two of those to go along with road games at Tennessee and Kansas State.
(Over 7 wins -280...Under 7 wins +200)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 4-5
Returning Starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Mason Rudolph was extremely solid last season under center, beating Oklahoma and Washington. He has multiple returnees at WR including Brandon Sheperd and Jhajuan Seales. The Cowboys picked up Victor Salako, who came over from UAB and will help the offensive line.
Defense: Emmanuel Ogbah is back and so are his 11 sacks from last year. There's plenty returning on every level of the defense. It should be noted that Ben Grogan was real good at kicker and he too is back.
Schedule: The Cowboys play at Central Michigan before home contests with Central Arkansas and UTSA. Oklahoma State closes out the year with TCU, a road trip to Iowa State before hosting Baylor and Oklahoma.
Selection: I'll say this...there is a definite case for the under if you aren't a fan of this team. Oklahoma State will not lose a non-conference game, but almost every conference contest has its own pitfalls outside of Kansas and Iowa State.
(Over 10 wins -155...Under 10 wins +115)
Record Last Year: 12-1, 8-1
Returning Starters: 15 (10 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Trevone Boykin is a contender for the Heisman this season. Boykin had 33 touchdown passes last year and will have pretty much every weapon back again. Aaron Green returns in the backfield while Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee lead the way at wide receiver.
Defense: A real good defense is going to have to fill the holes left by the departing Paul Dawson and Chris Hackett. James McFarland is back with his seven sacks as well as a few members of the secondary. Jaden Oberkrom has the most made FGs of any active kicker.
Schedule: The Horned Frogs should enter Big 12 play 3-0 with a game at Minnesota followed by Stephen F. Austin and SMU at home. TCU's November will be full of tests with road tilts at the Oklahoma schools as well as Baylor coming to Fort Worth.
Selection: This team should be favored in almost every contest. Still I think TCU slips up and lands right on the 10 number. This will be one of the best offenses in the country, but with a vulnerable defense, it's hard to project more than 10 wins.
(Over 6.5 wins +145...Under 6.5 wins -185)
Record Last Year: 6-7, 5-4
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard represent a tough race at QB. Swoopes had 11 interceptions last year to just 13 passing TDs. Johnathan Gray is a nice place to start at RB. There's going to be a lot of competition at WR and offensive line.
Defense: Texas was one of the best against the pass last year, giving up 184.2 yards per game. The Longhorns return three of four in the secondary, which will be huge considering the question marks up front.
Schedule: The Longhorns have three straight home games after an opener at Notre Dame. Road games at TCU, Baylor and West Virginia will test Charlie Strong's bunch.
Selection: I have no problem with taking the over at this price. Texas will probably lose to Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. If the Longhorns can win at Iowa State or West Virginia then the over is attainable.
(Over 6 wins -105...Under 6 wins -135)
Record Last Year: 4-8, 2-7
Returning Starters: 15 (8 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: A decision has to be made at QB with Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes vying for the position. The offensive line is a stout group with four of five returning to open holes for DeAndre Washington. He put up over 1,000 yards on the ground last year although it led to only two touchdowns.
Defense: David Gibbs has been brought over to help out a unit that allowed over 40 points per game last year. The secondary is intact with the defensive line almost all back as well. Linebacker Pete Robertson led the way last year with 81 tackles and 12 sacks.
Schedule: The Red Raiders host Sam Houston State and UTEP before a road game at Arkansas. They have five of their first six overall at home, but then play three of their next four on the road.
Selection: Six wins is a very good number from Vegas. Texas Tech has some opportunities for upsets at home against Baylor and TCU, but the rough closing stretch will hurt.
(Over 8 wins +150...Under 8 wins -190)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 5-4
Returning Starters: 15 (6 on offense, 9 on defense)
Offense: Skyler Howard got a taste at QB last year and threw eight touchdowns without an interception. Rushel Shell will be a threat if he can stay healthy. Shell ran for 788 yards and seven touchdowns despite an ankle problem. Wendell Smallwood and Jordan Thompson have some big shoes to fill at WR with Kevin White and Mario Alford departing.
Defense: The defense is loaded in the secondary and on the front line. Nick Kwiatkoski had 103 tackles from the LB position. This unit was 72nd last year in scoring defense, allowing 27.6 points per game.
Schedule: It's a home-friendly September as Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland all come to Morgantown. It's a road-heavy start to conference play with three of four on the road while November features three home games out of four.
Selection: Once again the Vegas number is right on the money. If you believe the Mountaineers can win at Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU or Kansas State, then go with the over. The defense will have to play well while the offense works itself out.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
The SEC is home to some of college football’s top receivers in 2015. Laquon Treadwell is a first-team Athlon Sports All-American, and the Ole Miss receiver should be at full strength from a leg injury suffered against Auburn. In addition to Treadwell, the SEC features Auburn’s D’haquille Williams, Florida’s Demarcus Robinson, Mississippi State’s De’Runnya Wilson and South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper.
While having a clear No. 1 go-to target for a quarterback is ideal, the overall strength of a receiving corps is critical as well. Which teams have the best overall group in the SEC this year? Here’s a 1-14 ranking, with Texas A&M leading the way at the top.
Ranking the SEC Wide Receiver Units for 2015
1. Texas A&M
The Aggies are among the nation’s best at this position. Five of the top six statistical options return for quarterback Kyle Allen, including All-SEC candidates Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. Noil is one of the conference’s top all-purpose threats, while Reynolds ranked second among SEC receivers with 13 touchdowns. As if that trio wasn’t enough to stop for opposing defenses, true freshman Christian Kirk could make an immediate impact in 2015. Kirk was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
2. Ole Miss
All signs point to Laquon Treadwell returning at full strength from a season-ending leg injury suffered against Auburn in November. When healthy, Treadwell is among the nation’s best receivers, as he recorded 48 receptions for 632 yards and five scores last year. The talent around Treadwell continues to improve, as coach Hugh Freeze added Washington transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow and talented freshman DaMarkus Lodge to the mix. The depth extends to senior Cody Core and sophomore Markell Pack, while tight end Evan Engram (17.4 ypc) is an Athlon Sports All-American for 2015.
Related: SEC Football 2015 Predictions
The Volunteers return nearly everyone from last season’s receiving corps, and this unit is only going to get better with another offseason to work with coach Butch Jones and quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Junior Marquez North suffered a shoulder injury last season and was limited to 30 catches. When healthy, North has the talent to be one of the SEC’s top receivers. Senior Pig Howard, junior Jason Croom and sophomore Josh Malone combined for 98 receptions last year and are back for 2015. True freshman Preston Williams and tight end Ethan Wolf are two names to watch in the fall.
Related: 2015 All-America Team
The big-play ability of Sammie Coates will be missed, but Auburn is still in good shape at receiver. D’haquille Williams caught 45 passes for 730 yards in his debut last year, and the junior college recruit could be one of the nation’s top receivers in 2015. Ricardo Louis and sophomore Jason Smith could have breakout seasons, while Melvin Ray, Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis are back to provide depth.
There’s plenty of talent here, but LSU’s passing attack hinges on development at quarterback. Junior Travin Dural ranked third among SEC receivers last season with eight catches of 30 yards or more. He also led the team with 37 catches and averaged 20.5 yards per reception. Sophomore Malachi Dupre was a five-star recruit in 2014 and caught 14 passes for 318 yards in his debut. Sophomores Trey Quinn and John Diarse round out the top four returning options, but incoming freshman Tyron Johnson will push for snaps.
With quarterback Dak Prescott returning for his senior year, the Bulldogs will be one of the SEC’s best on offense. And Prescott is going to have plenty of help from his receivers, as this group is loaded with talent and experience. Junior De’Runnya Wilson (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) is a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive backs. Fred Ross is another All-SEC candidate after averaging 16.3 yards per catch in 2014. Jameon Lewis and Malcolm Johnson (TE) must be replaced, but Gabe Myles (22 catches), Joe Morrow (20.2 ypc) and junior college recruit Donald Gray should easily fill the voids left behind this year.
While most of the focus in Tuscaloosa remains at the quarterback position, the receiving corps still has to find a way to replace standout Amari Cooper. The good news? Talent certainly isn’t an issue. True freshman Calvin Ridley is expected to play a prominent role in the offense this year, and Oregon State transfer Richard Mullaney was a solid pickup to add depth and talent to an unsettled group. Sophomores Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart, along with junior Chris Black will be counted on to help fill the void left behind by Cooper. Tight end O.J. Howard is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2015.
The Bulldogs have suffered a few critical injuries at this position over the last two years, and the receiving corps enters 2015 with uncertainty. Malcolm Mitchell caught 85 passes in his first two seasons with the Bulldogs but missed nearly all of 2013 with an ACL tear and caught only 31 passes in 2014. Mitchell’s health is crucial to the development of Georgia’s passing game with a new quarterback. Sophomore Isaiah McKenzie, junior Reggie Davis and freshman Terry Godwin are other names to watch, while tight end Jeb Blazevich is primed for a breakout campaign after catching 18 passes in 2014.
Considering the skill talent in the state of Florida, it’s a little surprising to see the Gators struggling to develop playmakers at this position. Junior Demarcus Robinson (53 catches in 2014) is the go-to guy for quarterback Will Grier. And tight end Jake McGee is back after missing nearly all of 2014 with a leg injury. But outside of McGee and Robinson, can the Gators find consistent production? Converted running back Brandon Powell is a name to watch this fall.
The Razorbacks’ run-first approach isn’t going to change under new coordinator Dan Enos, but the former Central Michigan coach should help this passing attack take a step forward. Tight end Hunter Henry is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2015, and senior Keon Hatcher is the top target for quarterback Brandon Allen at receiver. Junior Jeremy Sprinkle is primed for a breakout year opposite of Henry at tight end, but the Razorbacks need a No. 2 and No. 3 option to emerge at receiver.
11. South Carolina
South Carolina’s place among SEC receiving corps is largely based on the strength of one player: Pharoh Cooper. The junior caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine scores and added 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2014. Cooper is one of the nation’s top receivers, but the Gamecocks have question marks everywhere else in this group. Can freshman Deebo Samuel and senior tight end Jerell Adams step up as an effective duo for new quarterback Connor Mitch?
This ranking might be too low for Kentucky by the end of 2015. The Wildcats have four of their top six returning options back, including Ryan Timmons (45 catches) and sophomores Garrett Johnson, Blake Bone and Dorian Baker. Tight end C.J. Conrad is a name to watch this fall, and the offense will benefit from a full year from sophomore Boom Williams at running back. Sophomore Jeff Badet – 22 catches in 2013 – is back after missing all of 2014 with injury.
Much like the defensive end position, Missouri has generally reloaded with ease at receiver. The Tigers will be tested here this fall, as the top four statistical options in the passing game are gone. Receivers Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, along with running back Marcus Murphy expired their eligibility after combining to catch 175 of Missouri’s 221 passes in 2014. Sophomore Nate Brown is a breakout option to watch in 2015.
The Commodores need better production from their quarterbacks, but this unit also has to provide more help. Tight end Steven Scheu led the team with 39 catches last year and only two other receivers caught more than 20 passes. Scheu suffered a leg injury in the spring and his status for Week 1 is in question. New coordinator Andy Ludwig is counting on players like C.J. Duncan, Latevius Rayford and Caleb Scott to step up even more in 2015.
The Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football podcast is back!
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox take listeners inside the preseason College Football preview magazine.
The guys break down the top four teams in the preseason top 25 and how the Athlon team settled on our College Football Playoff Projections. Why did we put two SEC teams into the Playoff? Why did we pick Baylor over TCU? Is there any reason at all NOT to pick Ohio State to win it all?
Will the Playoff Committee put two teams from the same league into the playoff or will it stick with conference champions and who are the best options? Michigan State? TCU?
The Ohio State starting quarterback debate rages on and the guys break down new Big 12 expansion rumors as well.
All of that and much more on this edition of the Cover 2 Podcast.
Kansas is facing an uphill battle in 2015, as first-year coach David Beaty inherits a major rebuilding project and few returning stars.
But the Jayhawks could be rebuilding in 2015 with new uniforms and helmets.
A post that popped up on the Twitter account (@UniformSwag) shows a few new designs for the Jayhawks at an event that could be coming this year.
If these are the real deal, this looks like a nice upgrade:
With the deadline looming, Dwyane Wade joins a lengthy list of NBA players, who recently opted out of their deals in favor of free agency. Before last season, Wade signed a two-year contract, but now he wants a longer contract like so many other players. The Heat obviously didn’t want him to opt out, as they will now have to fend off others for him.
In 12 years with the team, he has won three NBA championships and went to 11 All Star Games. He has been widely regarded as one of the league’s best players and could be an upgrade for most teams. It would be devastating for the Heat to lose their star player of so long, and thus they will surely do everything they can to retain him.
Take a look at some of Wade's best highlights:
As arguably one of the nation’s top college basketball coaches, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan announced that he would retire after this upcoming season. Ryan has been the team’s head coach since 2001, amassing a 357-125 overall record over that time. He has led his team to the NCAA Tournament every year, highlighted by two straight Final Four appearances. Thus, he hopes to continue his success in his 15th and final season as head coach.
While the team will be missing their legendary coach, Ryan made it clear that he wants to see his assistant, Greg Gard, to be his successor. Gard has spent most of his career with Ryan, starting together at UW-Platteville, then going to UW-Milwaukee, and ultimately to University of Wisconsin. Gard has constantly been called one of the best assistants in basketball and will certainly be highly considered to be Ryan’s replacement.
Here are some of Bo Ryan's most vocal moments:
They don't call him "Money" Mayweather for nothing.
Floyd Mayweather tops Forbes list of highest-paid celebrities with $300 million, thanks in large part to the fight against Manny Pacquiao. Speaking of which, Pacquiao came in second yet again with $160 million. The two fighters top musical acts such as Katy Perry and One Direction. That's big money.
Other athletes to make the list are Cristiano Ronaldo with nearly $80 million, Lionel Messi with $74 million, and Roger Federer with just under $70 million. NBA stars LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant also make the list.
Check out the full list here.
New SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and several league basketball coaches supported removing the Confederate flag from conference campuses and athletic facilities.
Speaking on the summer SEC men’s basketball teleconference, Sankey reiterated a statement the league office released Wednesday supporting governors from South Carolina and Alabama in ordering the removal of Confederate flag from state offices.
“Our athletic programs provide a key rallying point for our state and our region and we want to make sure they are a welcoming circumstance as much as that’s possible when you’re a visiting team in our arenas and stadiums,” said Sankey, who replaced Mike Slive officially on June 1. “Let’s make our campuses welcoming for all who are on our teams and populating our campuses.”
South Carolina men’s basketball coach Frank Martin echoed statements made by football coach Steve Spurrier and athletic director Ray Tanner in support of removing the Confederate flag.
Although the flag represents something positive for many, Martin said, the battle flag remains offensive to other groups and should not be displayed on government grounds.
“We can’t just embrace one side and say to heck with the other group,” Martin said. “That’s why I think there’s a place for that flag in people’s private homes and in museums that represent the Confederate states and history of South Carolina, but not in public places. Government buildings are a representation of all of our people and not just some of our people.”
Martin also said the Confederate flag never came up as a barrier in recruiting. The Miami native and former Kansas State coach also called South Carolina the most "unified" state he's lived in.
"It’s important that the message gets out there that the people of South Carolina are absolutely beautiful," Martin said. "The way they’ve reacted to difficult times shows the amount of love that this state has."
Kentucky’s John Calipari, the league’s most visible basketball coach, also supported removing the Confederate flag from public grounds.
“Sure,” Calipari said. “They offend, and I would say do it (remove them).”
Urban Meyer has a difficult predicament this offseason, although it isn’t necessarily a bad one. As college football fans are aware, Ohio State cycled through three quarterbacks, after the first two went down to injuries. However, J.T. Barrett’s father thinks that medical redshirt senior Braxton Miller should resume his starting spot. A shoulder injury in practice sidelined Miller all season, as J.T. Barrett assumed the starting position. However, he went down late in the season, and Cardale Jones finished the season, leading Ohio State to be the first College Football Playoff National Champion.
No matter who starts this season, it seems that Ohio State will be in strong contention to repeat. All quarterbacks have proven themselves worthy to start on the nation’s best team, but Barrett’s dad does bring up a strong point. This will be Miller’s last eligible season, and he has so far been outstanding over his career.
Take a look at some highlights of all three quarterbacks (Miller, Barrett, Jones):
Let this be a lesson that anyone at any time could end up getting sacked by J.J. Watt.
While attending a Zac Brown Band concert, the Texas star saw a fan rushing the stage and did what he does best. Watt took off and tackled the fan. Ouch. Just imagine if it was a hard rock concert or something.
The realness of the event is up for debate, but real or fake would you want to be tackled by Watt?
On Saturday, at the conclusion of several consecutive camps, USC landed prized Florida defensive tackle Keyshon Camp.
Camp, a former Miami Hurricanes commitment, made his verbal commitment to USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and then took to Twitter to make the announcement official, posting, “I’m Announcing that Im Officially commiting to USC #FightOn #Trojans.”
College coaches nationally jumped at a chance to recruit the 6-foot-4, 275 pound tackle. At the conclusion of his junior season he had posted a stat line of 71 tackles (38 solo), 19 tackles for a loss, 5.0 sacks, a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, and a safety.
In total Camp has 24 offers from programs like Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami, Duke, FIU, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Iowa State, Marshall, Michigan, NC State, Northwestern, and Western Kentucky. USC, UCLA, Oregon, Miami and Kentucky were among the schools heavily pushing for Camp's commitment.
USC now has 13 verbal commitments in its 2016 recruiting class. Camp is the second commitment in as many days after the Trojans picked up Pennsylvania tight end Cary Angeline on Friday.
USC Trojans 2016 Commitment List
LB Daelin Hayes, 6-4, 250 lbs, Skyline HS, Ann Arbor, Michigan
LB Jordan Iosefa, 6-2, 216 lbs, St. Louis HS, Honolulu, Hawaii
LB Mique Juarez, 6-2, 222 lbs, North HS, Torrance, California
DE Liam Jimmons, 6-4, 240 lbs, Huntington Beach HS, Huntington Beach, California
DE Keanu Saleapaga, 6-5, 270 lbs, La Mirada HS, La Mirada, California
DT Keyshon Camp, 6-4, 275 lbs, Lake Gibson, Lakeland, Florida
OT Frank Martin, 6-5, 300 lbs, Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, California
OT Nathan Smith, 6-7, 264 lbs, Murrieta Mesa HS, Murrieta, California
TE Cary Angeline, 6-7, 230 lbs, Dowingtown East HS, Exton, Pennsylvania
RB Melquise Stovall, 5-8, 180 lbs, Paraclete HS, Lancaster, California
QB Matt Fink, 6-3, 185 lbs, Glendora HS, Glendora, California
WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, 6-2, 205 lbs, North Gwinnett HS, Suwanee, Georgia
WR Velus Jones Jr., 5-11, 180 lbs, Saraland HS, Saraland, Alabama
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
If any pitcher is flying under the radar right now, it has to be Zack Greinke. He only has six wins, tied with 17 other pitchers for 32nd best in the MLB. However, he ranks atop the MLB in ERA and is second in WHIP (behind Max Scherzer). Yesterday, he picked up his first win since May 5. Yes, it has almost been two months in between wins. He pitched 7.2 strong innings, scattering four hits and allowing no runs. He has not allowed a run in over 20 innings, spanning three straight scoreless starts.
In the time between his two previous wins, Greinke has allowed only 12 earned runs over nine starts. Save one game where he gave up five runs (the team won the game), that number lowers to seven runs allowed over eight games. He has received very little run support over the past month, which has led to his underinflated win total. Whether he wins a game or not, it seems to almost be a guarantee that he’s going to put the Dodgers in a strong position to win.
Watch below as Zack Greinke's season is discussed:
It may be hard to believe but Richard Sherman is not the most opinionated player on the Seahawks.
Doug Baldwin is never one to shy away from controversy and with all the talks surrounding the Confederate flag, now is the time to get a few things off his chest. The wide receiver grew up in the south where the flag is prominant, and doesn't see the use in supporting it.
Just like last year, Athlon Sports' 2015 NFL Preview magazine includes NFL player rankings at every position. The rankings in the magazine are provided by Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, a company that's been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.
When it comes to the NFL's top defenders, the list starts with Houston Texans All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt. Now a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year honoree, Watt's jaw-dropping athleticism and big-play ability was on full display last season, as he not only terrorized quarterbacks, he also helped his own put points on the board thanks to his three touchdown catches as a situational tight end. While Watt is clearly the cream of the crop right now, he's not the only defensive linemen that is getting paid handsomely for his efforts either. Ndamukong Suh, the No. 1 defensive tackle, inked a record-breaking six-year contract with the Miami Dolphins this offseason that could be worth more than $114 million and is guaranteed to play the former Lion nearly $60 million.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services
2015 NFL Player Rankings: 3-4 Defensive Ends
1. J.J. Watt, Houston
A unanimous All-Pro, Watt has never missed a game in his four-year career, recording 51.5 sacks in the past three years.
2. Sheldon Richardson, N.Y. Jets
The 2013 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year built on his first season by registering 67 tackles and eight sacks.
3. Muhammad Wilkerson, N.Y. Jets
Wilkerson has played in 61 games since he was drafted four years ago and has collected 237 career tackles and 24.5 sacks.
4. Calais Campbell, Arizona
Campbell is a wiry and strong player at the point of attack and has the speed to run a play down from behind.
5. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia
A battler from snap to whistle, Cox takes good angles in both long and short pursuit and has good use of hands at the point of attack.
6. Justin Smith, San Francisco
This relentless and tenacious warrior announced his retirement in May, so his inclusion on this list is more a tip of the cap for Smith's impressive 14-year career.
7. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh
An explosive player with innate strength, the fifth-year pro has put together back-to-back solid seasons.
8. Haloti Ngata, Detroit
Detroit acquired Ngata, a nine-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler, this offseason to offset the loss of Ndamukong Suh.
9. Mike Daniels, Green Bay
One of the top disruptors in the league, Daniels is undersized for a 3-4 defensive end, but he’s quick and resourceful in his play.
10. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee
The four-year veteran is a productive, quick and high-effort competitor. Casey refuses to stay blocked and has the burst to close and finish a play.
11. Jason Hatcher, Washington
12. Ray McDonald, Free Agent
13. Timmy Jernigan, Baltimore
14. Corey Liuget, San Diego
15. Tommy Kelly, Free Agent
16. Cory Redding, Arizona
17. Cedric Thornton, Philadelphia
18. Jared Crick, Houston
19. Vinny Curry, Philadelphia
20. Desmond Bryant, Cleveland
2015 NFL Player Rankings: 4-3 Defensive Ends
1. Cameron Wake, Miami
The 2014 Pro Bowl selection has the hand strength and leverage to control the blocker and stack the run. Wake finished 2014 with 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
2. Michael Bennett, Seattle
Bennett plays with strength and leverage and sets the edge of the defense with good lateral quickness. He has elevated his total game over the past five years.
3. Junior Galette, New Orleans
The long-armed edge pass rusher has an explosive first step. A good athlete with exceptional change-of-direction ability, Galette has 22 sacks the past two years.
4. Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit
A talented and disruptive high-effort athlete, Ansah controls the blocker with his long arms and big hands. He elevated his overall game his second season.
5. Jason Pierre-Paul, N.Y. Giants
The speed rusher takes advantage of his long arms and huge hands. He finished the season with 77 tackles and 12.5 sacks.
6. Everson Griffen, Minnesota
Griffen has outstanding lateral quickness with a relentless burst to the quarterback. An explosive leverage player, Griffen had 12 sacks last season.
7. Charles Johnson, Carolina
A productive pass rusher with the ability to stop the run, Johnson has quick feet with his outside rush or inside charge. Has 52.5 sacks in the last five years.
8. Cliff Avril, Seattle
Avril has explosive first-step quickness and uses his long arms to set the edge in the run game. Avril has recorded 13 sacks the past two years.
9. Mario Williams, Buffalo
A Pro Bowl pass rusher who can turn speed to power on a rush. He has sudden first-step quickness and covers a lot of ground quickly.
10. Robert Quinn, St. Louis
The 2014 Pro Bowler possesses natural hand, foot and lateral quickness. He refuses to stay blocked and can slip and accelerate off a block.
11. Chris Long, St. Louis
12. Robert Ayers, N.Y. Giants
13. William Hayes, St. Louis
14. Jerry Hughes, Buffalo
15. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati
16. Jeremy Mincey, Dallas
17. Justin Tuck, Oakland
18. Olivier Vernon, Miami
19. Jared Allen, Chicago
20. DeMarcus Ware, Denver
21. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans
22. Anthony Spencer, New Orleans
23. George Johnson, Tampa Bay
24. Jonathan Massaquoi, Tennessee
25. Lamarr Houston, Chicago
26. O’Brien Schofield, Atlanta
27. Derek Wolfe, Denver
28. C.J. Wilson, Oakland
29. Jarius Wynn, Buffalo
30. Greg Hardy, Dallas
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Tackles
1. Ndamukong Suh, Miami
A new arrival with the Dolphins, Suh has recorded 239 tackles including 36 sacks from the inside at defensive tackle.
2. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo
A Pro Bowl selection after a 10-sack season, Dareus is a long-armed power player who doesn’t stay blocked.
3. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay
The five-year veteran has catlike quickness, good agility and body control to work his way through traffic. He excels as a one-gap penetrator.
The relentless, slippery leverage player has good flexibility to dip and bend. The 2014 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year had nine sacks and 48 total tackles.
5. Kyle Williams, Buffalo
He missed 11 games due to injury in 2011, but other than that, he has been a tireless blue-collar worker Bills fans appreciate.
6. Johnathan Hankins, N.Y. Giants
Hankins plays hard inside out to the perimeter and has good lateral quickness and change of direction.
7. Kawann Short, Carolina
Playing in front of NFL tackling leader Luke Kuechly, Short absorbs blocks and gets upfield push in the pass game.
8. Stephen Paea, Washington
With his strength and leverage, Paea is tough to block one-on-one. He gains an advantage with his first-step quickness.
9. Terrance Knighton, Washington
This wide-bodied pocket presser was just what the doctor ordered for Washington to stop the inside running game.
10. Jared Odrick, Jacksonville
A free-agent signee, Odrick is projected to play inside in a four-man front. He’s a disruptive player who gets upfield pressure.
11. Vince Wilfork, Houston
12. Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota
13. Brandon Williams, Baltimore
14. Jay Ratliff, Chicago
15. Tyrone Crawford, Dallas
16. Sen’Derrick Marks, Jacksonville
17. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati
18. Star Lotulelei, Carolina
19. Damon Harrison, N.Y. Jets
20. Henry Melton, Tampa Bay
21. Dan Williams, Oakland
22. Nick Fairley, St. Louis
23. Tyrunn Walker, Detroit
24. Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta
25. Linval Joseph, Minnesota
26. Clinton McDonald, Tampa Bay
27. Michael Brockers, St. Louis
28. Kevin Williams, Free Agent
29. Bennie Logan, Philadelphia
30. Tom Johnson, Minnesota
The Tennessee Volunteers took another big step forward towards locking down in-state Class of 2016 talent on Friday landing 3-star Memphis linebacker Timothy Hart.
Hart (6-1, 215) had a productive junior season coming up with 77 solo tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, three sacks, an interception, and four quarterback hurries.
College recruiters took notice of the Memphis University talent with 10 FBS programs extending offers. LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss, Memphis, Cal, Indiana and Illinois were among the schools looking to bring Hart to campus in 2016. Hart had reported unofficial visits to Mississippi State and to Tennessee, attending the Vols' spring game, and camped at Ole Miss on June 5 before making his commitment.
Hart made the commitment official posting his decision on Twitter writing, “After much reflection with my family and by myself I am proud to say I've committed to the University of Tennessee.”
Tennessee 2016 Verbal Commitment List
ATH Dorian Banks, 5-9, 168 lbs, Sevier County, Sevierville, Tennessee
ATH TaDarryl Marshall, 6-0, 180 lbs, Leeds HS, Leeds, Alabama
QB Jarrett Guarantano, 6-4, 200 lbs, Bergen Catholic, Oradell, New Jersey
OT Ryan Johnson, 6-6, 277 lbs, Brentwood Academy, Brentwood, Tennessee
TE Devante Brooks, 6-5, 230 lbs, St. John’s College, Washington D.C.
TE Austin Pope, 6-4, 220 lbs, Christian Academy, Knoxville, Tennessee
WR Jeff George, 6-6, 193 lbs, Dodge City C.C., Dodge City, Kansas
WR Corey Henderson, 6-1, 170 lbs, Evangel Christian, Shreveport, Louisiana
CB Marquill Osborne, 5-11, 185 lbs, William Amos Hough, Cornelius, North Carolina
DE Chidi Okonya, 6-6, 230 lbs, Riverdale HS, Riverdale, Georgia
DT Alexis Johnson, 6-4, 299 lbs, Fort Scott C.C., Fort Scott, Kansas
LB Timothy Hart, 6-1, 215 lbs, Memphis University, Memphis, Tennessee
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Top Mets pitching prospect Steven Matz did more than just pitch well in a rout of the Cincinnati to earn his first Major League win in his first start. In 7.2 innings, he only allowed two runs, while striking out six. But arguably his best production came on the opposite end of pitching: Batting. In three at-bats, he doubled and singled twice, driving in a debut franchise record four RBIs.
While there have been arguments against pitchers batting in the NL, especially after Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles batting, Matz has, at least for now, injected a true threat at the plate. As Matz dominated on the mound and at the plate, his grandfather may have stolen some of the show. He celebrated as if the Mets were winning the World Series, and maybe Matz will bring them one step closer to a championship.
Look below at his first at-bat, a two-out, two-RBI double: