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Each year we ask college football coaches to tell us what they really think about the other teams in their conference. But we don't want the cliche'd press conference platitudes, so we ask them to give us their quotes...anonymously. Here are this year's quotes in alphabetical order for each team in the Big 12.
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Baylor
“Baylor is the most difficult team in the Big 12 to prepare for. They do so many unique things, especially on offense. But even defensively, they did some things that were a little different. They weren’t really talented on defense, but they did some unique things."
"Texas and Texas A&M can’t sign everyone in Texas, and they have done a good job getting some athletes in there."
"Their wide receivers are so fast it’s freaky. They have big offensive linemen. They have looked like a different team in the past few years. They look like a Big 12 football team."
"With all that talent, they spread you out and put that skill in space. And what is the scariest is they have (eight) starters returning on offense."
"Robert Griffin is amazing. He would be good on any team in any system. He can throw it. He is a smart kid. Sometimes you question his toughness a bit. But 99.9 percent of the colleges in this country would want him. "
"You can be good on defense at Baylor, but you have to willing to accept the fact that your defensive numbers aren’t going to be great. You have to create turnovers and get the ball back from the offense. Are you going to give up some points? Yes. Are you going to give up some yards? Yes. The other team has the ball for so long.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Iowa State
“I think they will be better without Austen Arnaud. They started to depend on him too much. I don’t think he always went through his reads. He was tough as nails, and they believed in him. But they can be better without him."
"Their personnel is not good. It’s near the bottom of the league, with Kansas and Kansas State and Baylor."
"I don’t know who has done more with less than Paul Rhoads. Two years ago, the Cyclones got to a bowl game and last year they just missed. They beat Texas last year and the year before won at Nebraska. Those are huge wins for their program."
"It’s tough to win there. You are in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have any tradition. At least Kansas State has some tradition. Iowa State is hard. You can win some. You can take junior college players and win some, if you can get some stuff to go together. But it’s hard to win consistently."
"The kids play hard for Paul Rhoads. They play really hard. They are a tough team. They want to play for him and they are well-coached. They are doing things the way they are taught."
"Part of the reason for Rhoads’ success has been the acquisition of defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. What he has done is simply amazing. The defense has carried this team despite not a great deal of talent.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Kansas
“I was surprised how bad they were last year. They were bad. Very bad. But if you think about it, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise, because they were never that talented. (Mark) Mangino was such a good coach, and people got spoiled."
"They lost a lot of recruiters who were getting Texas kids. They are doing a good job recruiting now, going to Florida more."
"None of their quarterbacks really put much fear in a defense, and they’re average at the skill positions. Really I guess they’re average everywhere. They try to run the spread, but in that offense there is such a premium on quarterback play, everything goes to the quarterback. It’s hard to be good in that offense if the quarterback is not that good."
"They weren’t good at quarterback last year, but I don’t know how much of it was the quarterback or the offensive line. They didn’t have any playmakers. They lost Dezmon Briscoe. They lost Kerry Meier. They lost some playmakers. I don’t know how good their quarterbacks are because they didn’t have anybody around them who could make any plays."
"On defense, they weren’t very good. It just seemed like they struggled to fill the gaps."
"Turner Gill is a great recruiter. They will have some players eventually. They have awesome facilities."
"Last year was not the kind of start Gill needed to have to prove that he’s the right coach for Kansas. They were held without a touchdown in losing the opener to North Dakota State and finished with only three victories.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Kansas State
“Thank God Daniel Thomas isn’t back. He was so physical. They will have a huge hole trying to replace him. Last year the offense revolved around him. As he went, they went. Now they have to replace him. Bryce Brown, who transferred from Tennessee, could be a nice addition, if he lives up to the hype."
"They have to replace quarterback Carson Coffman. You know certain things to expect with a Bill Snyder-coached team: They will be good on special teams, be physical and incorporate some sort of option."
"They keep you honest on defense. They are as well-coached and physical as anyone in the league. If they only had a lot more talent like they did before Snyder stepped down the first time, they could be really strong. But you can tell he’s building it back. Snyder lost a lot of impact players. On most teams you would expect a big drop-off, but with Snyder he’ll scrape together another winning season and bowl berth like he always does."
"They need to find some playmakers on offense. With Thomas gone, there will be more pressure on the quarterback and the wide receivers."
"Their talent level isn’t great, but they find a way to win some games. Not sure how they do it, but they get it done."
"Coffman was solid at quarterback. Didn’t get a lot of attention, but he was good. Didn’t make the big mistake.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Missouri
“It will be interesting to see how they replace Blaine Gabbert. They lost a great one at quarterback. None of their running backs really scare you that much, but Michael Egnew is a good one at tight end. Also T.J. Moe catches anything thrown his way. You have to always account for both of those guys. If they can find an adequate replacement at quarterback, they should be set."
"It is a hard place to play. They have some pretty intense fans."
"Gary Pinkel is a great coach. That staff has been together for so long, they all know each other so well. They know the adjustments they need to make at halftime. They know the exact type of kid they want to recruit."
"They are a program that will continue to keep rising. Especially with Nebraska leaving, they have a chance to be really good. They might be the next big team. … They were very good on defense last year. They had playmakers. Their two defensive ends (Jacquies Smith and Aldon Smith) were unbelievable. Their linebackers were good. They are long and athletic."
"Missouri will be a solid team again, but I don’t think they’re in the class of Oklahoma. But then again, who is?"
"The thing about Missouri is that they run a spread offense, but they’re unique in their own way. If Oregon is unique and Auburn is unique in their spread attacks, Missouri is unique in their own way. Trying to get ready in four days to face their offense is not an easy task.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Oklahoma
"Obviously quarterback Landry Jones and wide receiver Ryan Broyles are two of the best around. Jones is excellent, as is Broyles. Also, I think Roy Finch has a chance to be a difference-maker at running back. I think he can be every bit as good as DeMarco Murray was. He could be the next great Sooner running back."
"Oklahoma is the league’s most physical and most skilled team and they also happen to have the league’s best quarterback. They have no weaknesses. They’re probably going to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason and will be in the national championship hunt all year. And they should be with eight starters coming back on offense. I don’t feel sorry for Bob Stoops."
"That is the most difficult place to play, especially now that Nebraska is out of the league. They have so much confidence. Even when you are playing really well against them, they still think they are going to win. They just have a certain swagger that other teams don’t have. And they have a lot of good players."
"They have so many weapons. They keep replacing great players with great players."
"They should be the team to beat in our league next year. There are some other good teams, but no one else has the type of talent that Oklahoma does.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Oklahoma State
“Their recruiting is great. You should be able to recruit there. Their facilities are unbelievable. They have a very personable head coach. They have a good recruiting base. In my opinion, they should be able to recruit better than Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Their facilities are like the Taj Mahal."
"I wasn’t really surprised at their success last year, because I know what kind of recruiting classes they were getting. They have some dudes."
"The Brandon Weeden kid is unbelievable. His presence. His arm. He can make every throw. They have most of their starters returning on offense, including the two big ones in Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The fact those two returned makes Oklahoma State a legitimate top-10 team. The biggest unknown is how they do without Dana Holgorsen as offensive coordinator."
"Justin Blackmon is a freak. He is so good because he has great ball skills. He is not overly fast, but he has amazing ball skills. You throw the ball up to him and he will go get it."
"Brandon Weeden has a strong arm, but it’s not outrageous. He is really, really smart. The ball goes to one-on-one matchups, and when you’ve got a guy like Blackmon, that’s a good thing. He makes plays."
"(Defensive co-coordinator) Bill Young is unbelievable. I am a huge Bill Young fan. I thought he was the reason they were good at Kansas. His teams are always sound and well-prepared. They attack your protections, but they make it simple and easy for his guys. I am a huge fan.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Texas
“Their quarterback (Garrett Gilbert) wasn’t as good. I don’t like to say that. But it’s hard to be as good as Colt McCoy, so it’s kind of unfair. But he wasn’t as good."
"They get a ton of early commitments, so we are talking about the best 16-year-olds in the country. But you are playing with 19-year-old kids. Sometimes the best 16-year-old kids don’t turn into the best 19- and 20-year-old kids. They get all their commitments before the end of their junior years; maybe they aren’t getting the best players. I think there is something to be said about that. Another thing: The guys they are taking are good-character kids, and good for them. But they don’t get a lot of kids who have overcome a lot of adversity. How tough are they? When things aren’t going right, how tough are they?"
"Surprisingly, they were not that physical last year. They weren’t physical at all. You also never felt like the quarterback (Garrett Gilbert) could beat you. Also, it just didn’t feel like they played hard last year. They have some big running backs and some wide bodies up front, but something was missing there. They never utilized their running back last year — they gave up on it and they were quick to abandon the running game."
"I guess Mack Brown figured the best way to shake up the program after last year’s dismal season was to blow up the coaching staff. We’ll see if that was the answer this fall.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Texas A&M
“Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is an excellent player. Running back Cyrus Gray also is a very nice player, and the fact wide receiver Jeff Fuller opted not to turn pro is huge for them. You could argue they have the three best skill players in the league — certainly the three best returning skill players. They also get (running back) Christine Michael back from injury."
"They had a nice season last year. About halfway through the year, they were starting to let it slip away, but they regrouped and finished strong."
"I don’t think they’ve got enough firepower to unseat Oklahoma, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they followed up last year’s (Big 12 South co-championship) with a runner-up finish this season."
"What Tim DeRuyter accomplished last season in his first year as defensive coordinator was very impressive. The defense did a 180 with him in charge. They ran multiple fronts and gave you different looks. It fits in pretty well against what we see on offense in this league. They do have to find replacements for stud linebackers Von Miller and Michael Hodges, but I think they’ll continue their improvement from last season."
"That was a big year for Mike (Sherman). There was talk about his future, but they got it done. They were really, really good down the stretch."
"Tannehill was very good at quarterback, but they’ve had some quarterbacks not play well as seniors, for whatever reason. They need him to play well, obviously.”
What Big 12 Coaches Are Saying About: Texas Tech
“Quarterback is the biggest question for the Red Raiders. They lost both Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. It looks like Seth Doege is the frontrunner for the job."
"(Tommy) Tuberville keeps telling people they want to run the ball more than (Mike) Leach and how he is committed to running the football, but then they were throw, throw, throw, then run."
"They just don’t scare you to death offensively like some of the other teams in the league. They used to scare you. Not anymore."
"On defense, they should look different with new coordinator Chad Glasgow, who comes over from TCU. Last year Tech was among the nation’s worst defenses. This fall, they’ll have a new look ditching the 3-4 alignment for TCU’s 4-2-5 defense."
"Tech has a lot of key guys back, so another bowl trip is not out of the question. However, I think at best they’re a middle of the pack team in the Big 12 and probably the best they could realistically hope for would be to finish fifth or sixth in the league."
"This is a big year for Tommy as he tries to change the identify of the team. Last year, they didn’t run the ball well and weren’t good on defense. That’s not Tommy Tuberville football. It will be interesting to see if he can get his team playing the way he wants to.”
Other Candid Coaches' Quotes:
Want to know whose best efforts came in the second half of the season? Here’s a list of 35 players that scored at least 51 percent of their fantasy points from Weeks 9-17 of the 2010 season.
|Player||Pos.||Team||2010 Pts||Weeks 9-17|
|Return yards not included|
*Holmes missed the first four games due to an NFL suspension. He averaged 4.4 fantasy points in his first four games and 14.6 in his final eight.
Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams
If you're the starting quarterback for an SEC team who also happens to be a Top 10 overall team in the nation, we think it may be a good idea not to kick someone in the head in a bar fight. But that's just what LSU Tigers' Quarterback Jordan Jefferson did.
And now he's under arrest and in jeopardy of being suspended by Les Miles and missing some, if not all, of the season.
If you were one year away from being drafted in the NFL (Jefferson wouldn't have gone very high, but there's still a pretty big payday for every draftee), wouldn't you do everything in your power to keep your nose clean. Not only did this stupid bar fight incident cost him legal issues, it also probably cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars as he'll drop many rounds in the draft.
Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees' captain and star shortstop has ended his three year relationship with the mega-sexy Minka Kelly, the Friday Night Lights actress.
Derek Jeter, who's known to date some of the world's hottest women (at one point, he had dated seven of the top 20 women to appear on Maxim's Hot 100 list), will no doubt have any problems finding love. Or at least someone who will love him.
The reason for the split isn't known yet, but we should take a second to appreciate Derek Jeter's ability to keep his relationships quiet.
Minka Kelly, who's been in (500) Days of Summer in addition to Friday Night Lights, was a big star before she dated Jeter, and once their relationship started he managed to keep her out of the papparazzi spotlight. Maybe Derek should run a class for other celebs on how to keep their private lives private.
Jeter is arguably the most popular and famous man in New York City. Despite A-Rod's larger paycheck, no is more loved int he Big Apple than Jeter. He has been linked to and has dated celebs for the last 15 years and yet he's never been caught in any scandal or exposed doing anything that could remotely be used against him in the tabloids.
Who is he? The Invisible Man?
He's dated Mariah Carey, Adriana Lima, Jessica Alba, Lara Dutta, Vannessa Minillo, Jessica Biel (he does like the Jessica's), Rachel Uchitel and Jordana Brewster just to name a few. You'd think there would be papparazzi huddled outside his apartment with telephoto lenses trying to get photos of him and whichever hot woman he's dating doing something naughty.
And yet, you never heard anything about one of the greatest Yankees' of all time.
And while his Yankee teammates and guys like Tiger Woods get caught in giant news-dominating scandals, Jeter manages to be the most popular man in New York dating super-celebs and is never once photographed getting into an elevator with some floozy or busted sexting with Casino waitresses.
Way to go, Jeter. We know his next girlfriend will be someone famous, but we also know we won't hear about the Captain's private life, either. That's also why he's one of the classiest celebrity athletes (and celebrities in general) of the past 20 years.
By Tom Blaz of the Recruiting Eagle
The defending national champion Auburn Tigers will have many new faces as they defend their title.
With only a handful of returning starters, the opportunities are numerous and the battles for starting
roles are fierce.
Auburn has enjoyed great recruiting success the past two seasons, ranking anywhere from first to
fifth (depending on the recruiting service). While the team is extremely young and inexperienced,
the talent level can not be disputed.
1) Barrett Trotter- Quarterback 6’2” 207 Junior
It took most of fall practice, but Trotter was finally named the starter after an elongated battle with backup Clint Moseley. When asked about following Cam Newton, Trotter said he’s not filling shoes, rather skis.
An academic All-SEC member, Trotter appeared in only six games in 2010, entirely mop up work. Trotter has tremendous credentials following a storied high school career with 7,968 yards passing and 88 touchdowns. Trotter will have to overcome two knee injuries suffered while with the Tigers and the presence of super freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier.
2) Trovon Reed- Wide Receiver 6’0” 183 Freshman (Redshirt)
The debut of Trovon Reed was delayed a year due to injury suffered in September against Clemson. Reed, the top player as a high school senior in Louisiana was among the top recruits of Auburn's 2010 class. Offensive Coordinator had/has big plays for Reed, from running wildcat quarterback, catching passes out of the slot and returning kicks.
A consensus top-50 player in high school, Reed is so athletic he served as a defensive back in the US Army All-American bowl due to injury. Reed has flashed electric ability during Fall practice and will be a key part of the Auburn Tigers' attack.
3) Jeffrey Whitaker- Defensive Tackle 6’4” 312 Sophomore
While Auburn suffered losses across the board, the hardest hit position has to be defensive tackle.
Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof lost his top three DT’s, including Lombardi Trophy winner Nick Fairley.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Whitaker received invaluable experience as part of the two deep as a true
freshman in ‘10. Whitaker appeared in all 14 games last season, posting seven tackles. Whitaker
was arguably the most important recruit in the 2010 class with Auburn’s senior laden interior defensive line. Whitaker moves from understudy to leader of a young but talented group.
4) Jake Holland- Middle Linebacker 6’1” 235 Sophomore
Like many of his 2011 teammates, Holland has some huge shoes to fill in departed three year starter
Josh Bynes. As Bynes now learns from Ray Lewis on the Baltimore Ravens, Holland is expected to take over the leadership role in the middle of the Tigers defense.
As a true freshman, Holland played in nine games with a dozen tackles. Holland was an absolute tackling machine in high school with 351 tackles in his career. Holland will be counted on to steady a young defense during the brutal October portion of the schedule.
5) T’Sharvan Bell- Cornerback 6’0” 180 Junior (Redshirt)
Bell has already secured a place in Auburn folk lore after a huge sack and forced fumble of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy in last year’s historic comeback win in the Iron Bowl. Bell’s role grew as the season wore on last season, picking off a pass for a score in the SEC Championship game blowout of South Carolina and starting and posting five tackles in the BCS National Championship win over Oregon.
With CB Neiko Thorpe moving to safety and CB Demond Washington now in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, Bell will provide leadership to a younger, but more talented group of defensive backs.
TheRecruitingEagle.com has all the info you could want on the Auburn Tigers.
We make five out-on-a-limb predictions for the upcoming NFL season.
1. LIONS WILL FINISH WITH A WINNING RECORD
The Detroit Lions have had three consecutive double-digit-loss seasons. They are 48–128 since their last playoff appearance in 1999. Yet, it won’t be a surprise if the Lions win nine games — for the first time since 2000 — and flirt with a postseason berth.
The Lions won their final four games last season, beating the Packers, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Vikings, and they did it without their starting quarterback. Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, has made only 13 starts in his two seasons, including only three in 2010, because of injuries.
The third time will be the charm for Stafford, who can’t possibly be that unlucky. Ndamukong Suh — who will be on one of the top defensive lines in football with Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Nick Fairley — says that if Stafford can stay healthy, the “sky is the limit” for the Lions.
Detroit will be the biggest threat to the Packers in the NFC North.
2. THE COLTS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS
Elsewhere in this magazine, we pose the question of whether Peyton Manning is overrated. We thought, why not — let’s go all-in with our heresy and predict the Colts to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
It’s not nearly as outlandish as it seems at first blush. Age catches up with all of us eventually, and the 35-year-old Peyton Manning is undergoing his first real bout with health concerns. The real possibility he won't be ready for the first game of the season due to off-season neck surgery will certainly hamper the team’s preparation following a lockout-shortened offseason.
Old problems — lack of a consistent running game, a defense that has trouble stopping the run and rushing the passer, a figurehead of a head coach — have yet to be corrected.
Then there are the Colts’ primary rivals for AFC South supremacy. The Houston Texans have teased and tantalized with their potential for years, only to fall short. Unlike the Colts, though, the Texans have addressed their weaknesses, hiring defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to fix a woeful defense.
As odd as it may sound, the old Cowboys castoff could represent a real and present danger to the Colts’ divisional dominance. It was an impressive run, but this is the year the Colts’ mastery over the AFC South will come to an end.
3. GREATEST SHOW ON TURF RETURNS
The St. Louis Rams were known as the Greatest Show on Turf when Kurt Warner was the ringmaster. St. Louis was 61–27, including the postseason, and won two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl from 1999-2003. After a long wait, it appears the Rams finally have found Warner’s replacement, and thus rediscovered their winning ways.
Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, was named the NFC’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after passing for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He led the Rams to within one game of a playoff berth — a 16–6 loss to the Seahawks in the season finale — without much of a receiving corps.
The Rams haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, and they haven’t been a contender since Warner’s departure after the ’03 season. With his biggest weapons back, and a year of NFL experience under his belt, Bradford appears ready to take the Rams where they haven’t been since Warner called St. Louis home.
4. PHILLIPS WILL SAVE KUBIAK’S JOB
Gary Kubiak is 37–43 in his five seasons in Houston. He gets one more chance to give the Texans their first postseason berth, and in Wade he trusts. Wade Phillips, fired by the Dallas Cowboys at midseason, was hired by Kubiak to fix the Texans’ defense, which finished 30th in total defense and 32nd against the pass last season.
Phillips is switching the Texans from a 4-3 to a 3-4, moving Mario Williams from end to outside linebacker in the process. He got the five defensive players he wanted in the first five rounds of the draft, including J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Brandon Harris, and the Texans significantly upgraded the secondary in free agency by signing corner Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning.
Houston has been a popular pick to make the playoffs in recent years only to come up short. This, however, will be the year.
5. BRETT FAVRE STAYS RETIRED
Will he or won’t he? That is not the question this year. Even if Brett Favre wanted to play another season, he wouldn’t find a suitor. His playing days are finished, a year later than they should have been.
The Vikings have moved on, drafting Christian Ponder as their quarterback of the future, and trading for Donovan McNabb for the short term. They can only hope McNabb does as well as Favre’s replacements in Green Bay and New York. Aaron Rodgers sat on the bench for three seasons after the Packers made him the 24th overall pick in 2005.
In 2009, the Jets used the fifth overall pick on USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. He has helped the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games. McNabb has an easier job: He doesn’t have to make Vikings fans forget Favre, because they already have.
A photo of Larry Fitzgerald on a Segway has been making the rounds, so we thought we'd have a little fun with it. Enjoy.
Hurricane Larry is about to hit New York City:
Larry and JFK Enjoy A Ticker Tape Parade:
Larry Catches Up To The White Bronco:
Larry and the Queen Greet The Masses:
With all the hub-bub going on about Jerry Richardson telling Cam Newton how to dress, it seems like we uncovered the real reason why the Panthers owner wants his star rookie quarterback to take a second and think about his appearance.
But after seeing this photo, we thought that Jerry may want to focus on things like "fluffy angel outfits," "high pink socks" and "pretty, pretty wands" instead of the thuggish tattoos and piercings. Also, he may want to have a talk with Cam about having male nurses with thigh-highs in his crew.
Here are five important story lines to watch this upcoming NFL season.
1. CAN TONY ROMO AND THE COWBOYS REBOUND?
The Cowboys began last season openly talking about becoming the first team in history to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. They ended it with a new head coach, a third-string quarterback and plenty of questions.
Dallas got off to a 1–4 start but looked to turn it around against the Giants. The Cowboys led the Giants 10–7 and had just gotten their third turnover of the game, but that’s when blitzing linebacker Michael Boley got to Tony Romo untouched.
Romo’s fractured left clavicle sucked out whatever life was left in the Cowboys. The Cowboys lost that game and the next two, prompting the firing of Wade Phillips. Interim coach Jason Garrett was given the job after the Cowboys went 5–3 in the second half, including a 14–13, season-ending victory over the Eagles in third-string quarterback Stephen McGee’s first career start. Romo’s shoulder is completely healed, and so, the Cowboys say, are they.
Defensive guru Rob Ryan was hired to fix a defense that set a team record in allowing 436 points, and the Cowboys spent two of their first three draft picks to help Romo and the offense. The Cowboys are ready to do this season what they didn’t do last season — at least look like contenders. That, however, won’t be easy in the rugged NFC East.
2. SAN DIEGO’S NOT SO SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS
The Chargers ranked first in the NFL in total offense and first in total defense last season. Yet, San Diego finished only 9–7 and missed the playoffs.
The reason? The Chargers had arguably the worst special teams in NFL history. They allowed three kickoffs and one punt to be returned for touchdowns, had four punts blocked and another deflected and ranked last in punt coverage.
The Chargers replaced veteran special teams coach Steve Crosby with Rich Bisaccia, who held the same job in Tampa Bay the previous nine seasons. They loaded up with special teams players in the draft, selecting Marcus Gilchrist, Jordan Todman, Vincent Brown, Jonas Mouton, Shareece Wright and Andrew Gachkar specifically for their special teams skills.
The young, speedy players can’t hurt, but how much will they help? The Chargers’ special teams will determine whether San Diego finally can fulfill its Super Bowl goal.
3. HARBAUGH HYPE
The 49ers’ past three full-time head coaches didn’t do anything for fans’ enthusiasm in the Bay Area. Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary combined for a 45–82 record. But San Francisco’s hiring of Jim Harbaugh has delivered hope to an organization desperately in need of some.
Harbaugh has yet to coach an NFL game, and yet, he already is drawing comparisons to one of his mentors. Harbaugh is following in the footsteps of Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowls after leaving Stanford for the 49ers.
The 49ers haven’t had a winning season since 2002, the last time they made the playoffs. But Harbaugh, 47, took over a 1–11 Stanford team and quickly turned around that program. 49ers fans expect similar results in the NFL.
4. MICHAEL VICK’S FUTURE
A year ago, the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb and handed the starting job to Kevin Kolb. But Kolb lasted only half a game, suffering a concussion. He was replaced by Michael Vick, who became an MVP candidate and the NFL’s feel-good story of the year.
Though he rushed for 676 yards and nine touchdowns, Vick became a different quarterback, a better quarterback. Vick, who had never completed better than 56.4 percent of his passes in a season, completed 62.6 percent in 2010, throwing for a career-high 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns and making his fourth career Pro Bowl despite starting only 11 games.
Vick, now in his third season removed from prison, could have used an offseason working with Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. No matter — as long as Vick can stay healthy, he should continue to electrify the league and put up big numbers in Philadelphia.
5. CAM NEWTON’S IMPACT
Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien Award and was the Walter Camp National Player of the Year. He led Auburn to an undefeated season and a national championship. In the NFL, all that means little.
Can Newton do what he did in one season at Auburn for a career in the NFL? Can he adapt to an NFL offense, playing under center? Will he be the hardest worker on the team? Will he be a leader?
Newton declared himself an “entertainer and icon” in a pre-combine interview, but he has to become an NFL quarterback first. Newton insists he will not be Heath Shuler or Akili Smith or Tim Couch. The Panthers are counting on it.
BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2
|Alabama vs. Oklahoma|
BCS vs. BCS
|Florida State vs. West Virginia|
BCS vs. BCS
|Notre Dame vs. LSU|
BCS vs. BCS
|Boise State vs. Texas A&M|
BCS vs. BCS
|Nebraska vs. Oregon|
|The Rest of the Bowls|
Pac-12 vs. MWC
|Oregon State vs. Colorado State|
WAC vs. MAC
|Fresno State vs. Ohio|
C-USA vs. Sun Belt
|Tulsa vs. FIU|
Big East vs. C-USA
|Cincinnati vs. East Carolina|
MWC vs. WAC
|Air Force vs. Nevada|
Pac-12 vs. MWC
|Arizona vs. TCU|
WAC vs. C-USA
|Hawaii vs. UCF|
ACC vs. MWC
|Clemson vs. San Diego State|
Big Ten vs. MAC
|Illinois vs. Toledo|
ACC vs. Big East
|NC State vs. Pittsburgh|
Navy vs. ACC
|Navy vs. Boston College|
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
|Arizona State vs. Texas Tech|
ACC vs. Big East
|Miami vs. Syracuse|
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
|Stanford vs. Texas|
BYU vs. C-USA
|BYU vs. Southern Miss|
Big East vs. Big 12
|Connecticut vs. Northwestern*|
ACC vs. SEC
|Maryland vs. Auburn|
Big 12 vs. Big Ten
|Michigan State vs. Baylor|
Meineke Car Care
Big 12 vs. Big Ten
|Missouri vs. Penn State|
Pac-12 vs. ACC
|Washington vs. North Carolina|
C-USA vs. SEC
|Mississippi State vs. SMU|
Kraft Fight Hunger
Pac-12 vs. Army
|Army vs. Utah|
ACC vs. SEC
|Virginia Tech vs. Florida|
Big Ten vs. C-USA
|Michigan vs. Houston|
Big Ten vs. SEC
|Ohio State vs. South Carolina|
Big Ten vs. SEC
|Georgia vs. Wisconsin|
Big Ten vs. SEC
|Iowa vs. Tennessee|
SEC vs. Big 12
|Arkansas vs. Oklahoma State|
SEC vs. Big East
|Kentucky vs. South Florida|
Sun Belt vs. MAC
|Troy vs. Northern Illinois|
* According to our projections, the Big 12 will fail to fill their allotted slots.
Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.
But if you miss out on one of the top WRs or get one, go elsewhere for a few rounds and then look to get another one or two later, here's who we have as the sleepers to look out for and the busts to avoid. These are in no particular order. Check out the Athlon 280 to see who is where, as well as our current preseason WR rankings.
See more of Athlon Sports value players, overvalued players and top rookies in our Best Bets story
Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
It didn’t take long for Holmes to work his way into the Jets’ passing plans. After serving his four-game suspension to start last season, the former Steeler drew nine targets his first time out. Over the final 12 games, he drew at least 13 more targets than anyone else on the team. He also caught two more TD passes than anyone else. Holmes’ yardage should climb from a career-low average, but even last year’s rates over a full season would make him a top-20 fantasy wideout.
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore
His debut season in Baltimore started out according to plan but turned sharply south. Through seven games, Boldin was on pace for 87 catches, 1,181 yards and 11 TDs. After the bye, though, everything fell apart. He saw 13 fewer targets over the final nine games than in the first seven. His catch rate dropped from 62 percent to 54 percent. The receiving average went from 13.6 to 12.3. Boldin has taken a lot of hits and is about to turn 31, but the first half of 2010 shows he still has something. The addition of Lee Evans to stretch the field and no proven TE helps as well.
Mario Manningham, New York Giants
Manningham drew 20 more targets, caught 10 more balls and scored three more TDs in the eight games after Steve Smith’s 2010 injury than in the previous eight. However, 28 of Manningham’s 56 second-half targets came in two games. Take away those and his two no-catch October games, and you get a five-target average per game. Nine of the remaining 12 games fell within one of that number. With Smith now gone to Philly, Manningham should see plenty of opportunities.
Jacoby Ford, Oakland
Ford figures to be one of the more fun guys to draft in fantasy this year. He looked awesome when given the chance in the second half of 2010, specifically in a pair of 100-yard receiving days. The speed that produced three kick-return TDs met with unexpectedly good hands. Now, his new coach — last year’s coordinator — calls Ford a No. 1 receiver and potentially one of the league’s best. He might not arrive there this year, but that belief should at least translate into opportunity.
Devin Hester, Chicago
It wouldn’t be fair to say the Hester-as-receiver experiment failed. He’s been OK. He just hasn’t turned into the kind of reliable starter the team hoped. That’s all right. Hester showed in 2010 that he could go back to being the league’s best return man with a chance to focus there. In addition to being listed as the team's kick and punt returner, Hester is also penciled in as a starting WR. With an ADP of 202 and as a starter in that offense, he's certainly worth a shot.
Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati
Has any receiver gone so quickly from bust to busting out? Through the 13th game of his third season, the former second-round pick had one career reception. Then he gathered 21 targets, 18 catches, three TDs and a pair of 120-yard games in the final two weeks. Coach Marvin Lewis said Simpson could be a No. 1 wideout. The new offense, uncertain QB situation and addition of A.J. Green limit that, but Simpson has at least grown excitement from what looked like a pot of disappointment.
Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints
Meachem can be dangerous. He’s a big-play guy in arguably the league’s most exciting offense. He has 17 TDs in only 101 career catches. He also has yet to catch 50 passes in a season three years after the Saints picked him in the first round. Meachem says that his surgically repaired ankle will be better than it has been for a while. Camp will tell us more. Meachem also heads into a contract year with Marques Colston coming off a second microfracture knee surgery. The stage is set.
Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh
The first thing Sanders needs to do this summer is prove that his broken foot is fully healed. Following February surgery, he got back to running in late June. If that checks out, though, his 2010 performance has led many observers to predict a 2011 breakout. Sanders sat significantly behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward in season targets but closed the gap in the second half of the season. He drew just eight fewer than Ward over the final seven games, though he caught 10 fewer passes.
Steve Breaston, Kansas City
Injury and the absence of QBs made Breaston easy to miss in 2010, but he still delivered points of value. He topped 130 yards twice in the first four games he played. He reached 10 targets three times in the first seven. His 87 targets over 12 games project to 117 in a full season. Breaston remained a key option in a bad passing game and posted a career-high 15.3 yards-per-catch average. He brings the big-play ability of a kick returner. Now he reunites with Todd Haley in Kansas City with a strong running game and could be a solid option for the Chief passing game.
Derrick Mason, New York Jets
Mason’s six TDs over the final nine games — with Anquan Boldin struggling — made it look like he came on strong down the stretch. The fact is, though, that his targets per game dipped slightly, and his receiving average slipped by a yard per catch. Mason’s receptions per game were virtually the same in each half, and his season total was his lowest as an NFL starter. Mason remains a productive player heading into his age-37 season, and could be a safety valve for an average QB in Mark Sanchez.
PPR GOLD (Grab these guys if your league awards points for points per reception)
Mike Thomas, Jacksonville
Thomas is a man of hidden value in fantasy. The eight-catch, 149-yard day in Week 10 against Houston last year might have been the only game you could call “big” by fantasy standards. His lone TD in that one came on a batted Hail Mary. Thomas reached 90 yards only one other time. He surpassed six catches only one other time. He also only fell short of four receptions five times. He also ran for 114 yards and ranked sixth in the league in punt-return yardage.
Santana Moss, Washington
Strictly a PPR play. He racks up targets and catches but few TDs. He's shown in the preseason that he's still a solid PPR play. There's nothing sexy about the pick other than consistent productivity.
Danny Amendola, St. Louis
This year's "the next Wes Welker." There’s something to be said for knowing your role, and Amendola does. He’s a solid kick returner who has turned into a dependable interior receiver with limited yardage. Rotoworld.com’s Chris Wesseling pointed out that Amendola’s 8.1-yard receiving average last year was the lowest ever for a wideout with at least 60 receptions. Amendola averaged 3.5 yards more per rush. If Josh McDaniels looks at him and sees Wes Welker, though, there could be even more of those short shots.
Davone Bess, Miami
Brandon Marshall arrived to play No. 1 receiver last year and ranked fifth among wideouts in targets per game (10.4) and sixth in total receptions. Despite that, Bess’ workload increased. He ranked 19th at the position in targets and 11th in catches, and there was no spike in the games Marshall missed or noticeable increase when Brian Hartline went down. Bess has simply become central to the Dolphins’ pass offense. He presents low yardage but possesses the team’s most consistent hands.
Lance Moore, New Orleans
Moore isn’t just sneaky for opposing defenses. He slips the coverage of fantasy owners as well. He finished two of the past three seasons as a top-25 wideout across formats. Perhaps the injury trouble of 2009 was the only thing between Moore and a third such season. At the same time, the Saints present so many options. If Robert Meachem steps up, does Moore fall? Does Jimmy Graham take TDs away? Moore caught more than two-thirds of his targets each year, so we know he’ll be dependable.
Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati
Shipley proved just as dependable right away in the NFL as he was in college. His 70.3 percent catch rate ranked fifth among all wide receivers with at least 25 targets, and none of the four ahead of Shipley matched his 74 targets. He faces the same uncertainty as the rest of the Bengals’ offense, with a new coordinator, new QB and other new pieces. Still, it’s tough to imagine OC Jay Gruden not finding a place for the second-year wideout, who tied for third on the team in catches in 2010.
Steve Smith, Philadelphia
Smith has preached encouragement at the speedy recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee. The lockout has kept us from discovering proof, though. The emergence of Hakeem Nicks last year cut into his big receiving numbers of 2009, but Smith was on pace for 144 targets and 94 catches through the first eight games. That would have ranked seventh and third at the position, respectively. He can be had very, very late these days and may drop all the way to a waiver wire pickup. See how the Eagles roster settles out and then make a decision on him.
BIG TARGETS (simply put these guys are attractive red zone targets)
Braylon Edwards, San Francisco (6-2, 214)
Edwards finished 2010 as a top-20 fantasy WR without PPR and a top-30 guy with it. Edwards posted the largest receiving average of his career in 2010. He notched his second-best TD total. The yardage is quite likely to come down. He’ll need to catch more balls to repeat his TDs. Edwards drew more targets in three Browns seasons than he did last year, and two of those ended with fewer yards and TDs despite more receptions. Here's what he has going for him: Michael Crabtree is a bust and if his QB can attempt a forward pass he has the frame to go get it.
Plaxico Burress, New York Jets
He replaces Edwards and should step into the role nicely. He's basically Edwards, but has this going for him: He has two receivers to draw attention away and could be the go-to target in the red zone as opposed to Vernon Davis probably being the red-zone target in San Fran.
Roy Williams, Chicago (6-2, 215)
Even while disappointing wildly since joining the Cowboys, Williams has posted strong TD rates the past two seasons. He has scored about once every six catches over that span. He reunites with Mike Martz and gives Chicago a big receiver for Jay Cutler to aim at.
Mike Williams, Seattle (6-4, 235)
There are unlikely comebacks, and then there’s this guy. Williams spent a year away from football before being drafted in 2005 and never seemed to recover. He washed out of Detroit in two years, as well as two other stops. Williams seemed like a novelty last summer when Pete Carroll brought him to Seattle, but a slimmed-down version drew 7.9 targets per game. Williams will remain the No. 1 target and should score more but will also continue to be limited by the Seattle offense.
Eric Decker, Denver (6-3, 220)
The foot injury that cut his senior college season short also caused a slow start to his pro career. Decker showed extremely reliable hands in college, topping out with a Big Ten-leading 84 catches and 1,074 yards as a junior. He sits behind Eddie Royal on the depth chart and on a team that's unlikely to see many three-WR sets, but if he can supplant Royal he profiles as the guy who will get the necessary yardage to convert on third down. Decker’s also capable of the big play; he averaged 15.2 yards a reception in his final season with the Gophers.
Jacoby Jones, Houston (6-1, 210)
Jones seemed poised for a big step forward in 2010 but didn’t really deliver. A dip from 2009’s TD rate seemed inevitable, but cutting his TDs in half while nearly doubling his catches didn’t help fantasy owners. Jones did catch an impressive 65.4 percent of his targets. The problem was that he didn’t earn more playing time or an even bigger role, in spite of injuries to others. His receiving average also fell. If Jones can grow his role, however, big-play upside comes along.
Riley Cooper, Philadelphia (6-3, 222)
Being 6'3" and 222 pounds as a receiver makes you noteworthy as soon as you make a roster. Cooper could grab a few TDs as a red zone target. The addition of Steve Smith may hurt Cooper's 2011 potential.
Harry Douglas, Atlanta
Douglas’ 2009 ACL tear didn’t cause him to miss any time in 2010. It might have cost him a shot at prominence, though. Atlanta could have used another downfield threat to complement Roddy White, but Douglas could only garner 53 targets, and he caught fewer than half of them. He has posted a decent nine catches of 20 yards or more in 45 career receptions. If Atlanta morphs into a passing team, Douglas becomes much more intriguing on a team with two outside threats and he can settle into the inside role he belonged in all along.
Jason Avant, Philadelphia
Avant’s numbers actually dipped a bit with Michael Vick under center last season, which makes some sense. Vick’s big arm makes it easy to look downfield on the scramble when plays break down, while his legs make it attractive to go after the first down himself. With Green Bay’s D focusing on DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in the wild card round, though, Avant led with nine targets and seven catches and the lone TD catch. His No. 3 role, however, will always cap Avant’s production.
Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay
Benn finally started to really get worked into the gameplan over the season’s final third. He never drew more than three targets in a game before Week 12, but then went 6-5-4-4 over the next four contests. Week 16 brought a torn left ACL. Offseason reports have been nothing but positive, and Benn says he won’t be held back at all. Can we believe it? Only Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams and Cadillac Williams topped his 25 catches last year. The team might have to believe in Benn.
Dezmon Briscoe, Tampa Bay
The team may be able to hold off or delay its belief in Benn due to Briscoe's preseason performances. He has been a solid target for Josh Freeman throughout camp and could start if Benn can't make it back before the opener, and could hold onto the gig anyways.
Golden Tate, Seattle
There are players for whom you can find statistical reasons for optimism. Then there are purely speculative upside picks. Tate is the latter. There was plenty of hope for his debut season, but he was slow to pick up the offense, was admittedly undisciplined and missed five games. Coach Pete Carroll has consistently mentioned Tate as a guy they want to “break out.” The Seahawks desperately need that playmaking and will ensure opportunity if Tate is anywhere close to ready.
Blair White, Indianapolis
Combine Peyton Manning with the obvious “Blair White Project” nickname, and it’s tough to ask for much more from White’s debut. After Austin Collie’s first concussion (and Dallas Clark’s injury), White turned into a solid PPR contributor. He caught four passes or more in five of the final seven games, though he never topped 52 yards. If Collie stays healthy in 2010, we likely won’t see much of the “Project,” but the concussion questions mean that we shouldn’t forget about him.
Marcus Easley, Buffalo
Easley drew strong reviews with his speed last year and has been deemed a “beast” by teammate Steve Johnson. Another deep threat never hurts, particularly when a passing team traded away deep threat Lee Evans this preseason.
Earl Bennett, Chicago
It was disappointing to see Bennett’s targets per game fall in season one under Mike Martz. Part of that can be attributed to the team’s league-low pass-attempt total, but Martz has also copped to not getting Bennett enough work. If Martz makes good on his word to fix that, Bennett could be in for a significant bump. His catch rate in 2010 topped Devin Hester’s by 11 percentage points and Johnny Knox’s by 14. His connection with Jay Cutler that dates to college could finally pay off.
Danario Alexander, St. Louis
Two things are obvious with Alexander: talent and injury risk. The troublesome left knee made him go undrafted. Then Alexander got a four-year deal off the practice squad and caught four passes for 72 yards and a TD in his first game. Then he had a fifth surgery on the knee; then two outings with more than 90 yards. Alexander shows inconsistent hands, but the knee is the real question. If he can get healthy, he should find a prominent role. That’s a gigantic “if,” though.
Jason Hill, Jacksonville
A third-round pick of the Niners in 2007, Hill was never able to crack the starting lineup before getting dumped. Hill’s highlight was a fleeting two-TD flash in his first game of 2009 that followed rumors of a developing connection with Alex Smith. In Jacksonville, he's starting opposite Mike Thomas. Hill averaged 22.5 yards per catch in brief action with the Jags last year and would take over a spot where Mike Sims-Walker excelled at times.
Anthony Armstrong, Washington
Was Armstrong a bright spot in a fairly dismal 2010 for Washington, or did he just appear to be because everything else was so dim? Armstrong emerged as a downfield weapon in his rookie season. His 19.8 yards per catch ranked third among all players with at least 20 receptions. He matched teammate Santana Moss with six games of at least 80 yards despite catching less than half as many balls. He is behind Moss and Jabar Gaffney on the depth chart, but could rise to the top once the roster settles in.
Greg Little, Cleveland
You know a team needs passing-game playmakers when a second-round pick who sat out the 2010 season in college is immediately viewed as the likely No. 1 receiver. That said, Little is easy to like. A former RB with 166 career college carries who caught 62 passes in 2009, Little possesses good hands, terrific size, excellent leaping ability and enough speed. If he shakes off the rust quickly from a year away, Little shouldn’t have much trouble snatching offensive prominence.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore
The Ravens so badly need a downfield threat that they tried to pretend Donte’ Stallworth was an answer last year. He caught two passes, while Todd Heap posted the best receiving average among Ravens with at least 10 catches. Enter Smith. The former Maryland Terrapin is a raw route-runner but a speedy guy with pretty good size. He added more than two yards to his receiving average in his final college season and blew up for 12 TDs. The acquisition of Lee Evans probably hurt him for 2011, but it's not like Evans has lit up the NFL universe. So keep an eye on his progress to determine Smith's.
Tandon Doss, Baltimore
Doss didn’t post huge receiving averages in college, but he was enough of a playmaker that Indiana handed him the ball 42 times over his final two seasons and used him as the primary kick returner. He joins a Baltimore team with an aging receiving corps. Despite leaving after his junior season, Doss might be a more polished prospect than second-rounder Torrey Smith. Better route-running might help him get on the field more than Smith in 2011, especially if injury strikes a starter.
Vincent Brown, San Diego
The Chargers already have big-play options in the passing game, guys who can dominate downfield. What they could use is a more consistent shorter-range threat. To that end, Brown enters the league as a crisp route-runner with dependable hands. The speed doesn’t drop jaws, but he managed to convert it to receiving averages of 17.3 and 19.6 yards in his final two college seasons. At the least, the status of several Chargers receivers could clear a starter path by Year 2.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville
Shorts arrives in Jacksonville with the “polished” tag after generating some pre-draft buzz from the school (Mount Union) that also produced Pierre Garçon. He averaged a strong 17.1 yards per catch as a senior and posted six multiple-TD games despite missing three weeks. Going to the Jaguars also presents opportunity with Mike Sims-Walker gone and few proven targets remaining. The reality, though, is that Shorts comes from a Division III program, which is even a significantly bigger jump in competition level than most rookies face. With Jason Hill the only thing standing between himself and a starting spot, Shorts is worth keeping an eye on.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
It’s easy to predict a slide for Wayne. At 32, he put up the lowest receiving average of his career in 2010. Youngsters Austin Collie and Pierre Garçon have emerged, and Peyton Manning is certain to throw fewer than last year’s 679 passes. Wayne has finished top 15 at WR in targets for five straight years, though. He accounted for at least 25 percent of Colts targets in four of those seasons. Manning is looking uncertain for the opener per the signing of the "retired" Kerry Collins. It drops all Colt skill players, and even upon his return the timing will be off and there are plenty of other options Manning has these days if all are healthy.
Desean Jackson, Philadelphia
Jackson and Michael Vick might be the best combo since chopped steak and Cheez Whiz. The strong-armed, improvisational QB found the lightning-quick wideout for five TDs last year in limited time together. They also averaged 23.4 yards per connection, 0.9 better than Jackson’s already-absurd season average. Health will probably always be a problem for the diminutive Jackson, and a 49 percent catch rate portends continued inconsistency. The highs are high, though.
Marques Colston, New Orleans
Here’s what to like about Colston: Everything to this point. In five NFL seasons, he has led the crowded Saints offense in receptions three times and receiving yards four times. The only time he didn’t was when he missed five games in 2008. Here’s what not to like: offseason right knee microfracture surgery. The good news is that he had the same thing on his left knee before the 2009 season, didn’t miss a game and scored nine TDs. His receptions dipped compared with other seasons, though.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
Bowe’s numbers will fall this year. We know that. Randy Moss and Terrell Owens have never posted consecutive 15-TD seasons. Jerry Rice did so once. We also know that the Chiefs attempted the fourth-fewest passes in the league last year, at least 61 fewer than they did in any of the previous three seasons. They’ll play a harder schedule this year. They won’t win as much. That should mean significantly more passing. Look for a reception total in the 80s.
Brandon Marshall, Miami
If you arrive with Marshall’s baggage and proceed sluggishly through your first season with a new team, try to spend the offseason doing something other than getting stabbed by your wife. Fortunately, aside from that, Marshall has said he’s gotten into the best shape of his career with the same regimen he used to prepare for the 2006 draft. He did draw the fifth-most WR targets in the league last year despite missing about 2.5 games and surpassed 1,000 yards for the fourth straight time. But is he worth the mid-fourth round ADP he currently possesses? In PPR leagues maybe. In non-PPR leagues, forget it.
Sidney Rice, Seattle
Through four seasons, Rice has spent much more time in the training room than the end zone. The most significant impediment came in the form of last year’s hip injury. With that all better, it’s tough to shake the vision of his 2009. And we shouldn’t. Rice will be only 25 when the season starts and showed enough flashes in his first two seasons that many weren’t shocked by the breakout. The best evidence of that upside is a 12.3 percent career TD rate, 0.5 points better than Cris Carter’s. Then there's Tarvaris Jackson. If that's not enough, there's Charlie Whitehurst. Still not impressed, what about Brodie Croyle. Rice is going around Dez Bryant, Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates currently. That's an ADP of 53. He and Mike Williams should both go around Williams' ADP of 75, and that may be courteous with this QB situation.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco
It’s hard to find reasons for new enthusiasm with Crabtree. He’ll play with the same QB of the past two years, the one he spent the summer in no hurry to join. You give Crabtree a chance, though, because the talent is there. That’s why the Niners drafted him 10th overall and started him right away despite a holdout that lasted into the season. It’s why Jim Harbaugh has already spoken highly of him. Keep an eye on the foot soreness that reportedly bothered him in the summer.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati
Judging by his size, deep speed and list of glowing scout assessments, Green looks like a more-polished version of Sidney Rice. He topped the yardage total of teammate Mohamed Massaquoi as a 2008 freshman in two fewer catches and matched the second-round NFL pick in TDs. Green went on to lead Georgia in all three categories for two years. Lauded as perhaps the best receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson, Green should quickly become the favorite option in Cincinnati. Problem is his QB situation. Neither rookie Andy Dalton nor Bruce Gradkowski are appealing options to get him the ball on a consistent basis, particularly with the current ADP of 98 he carries.
Johnny Knox, Chicago
Here's what we said prior to learning Roy Williams had pushed Knox to the fourth receiver spot in Chicago: This will either be a breakout season for Knox or the end of people predicting a breakout. Some might argue that downplays his 2010. The Bears threw the fewest passes in the league last year — shocking under pass-happy OC Mike Martz. Project Knox’s rates in those 466 attempts over the 563 of 2009, and you get a top-20 PPR receiver or a top-15 guy in non-PPR. For what it’s worth, rookie Torry Holt posted a 52-788-6 line for Martz in 1999. In 2000, he jumped to 82-1,635-6. His ADP of 117 concurs with his unfortunate demotion, but just in case you hadn't followed the Roy-over-Johnny situation, this lets you know not to draft him in the fifth to sixth round where he belongs. Until this roster settles, he's not draftable.
Deion Branch, New England
We figured that reuniting with his original team could only help Branch last year, but who could have expected 48 catches, 706 yards and five TDs as a Patriot? Those 11-game reception and yardage totals were his best season marks since 2006, his first year in Seattle. Branch hadn’t scored five TDs since his last year in New England. Not even second-half knee trouble could slow him down. Branch’s age and the maturation of some young Pats receivers could hurt his numbers in 2011. The addition of Chad Ochocinco and two RBs in the draft don't help either. He's a bust right now because he has an ADP of 88, and with this many mouths to feed, he's not worth an early eighth-round pick.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego
Floyd’s fantasy-sleeper groundswell grew stronger as Vincent Jackson’s 2010 holdout moved closer to the regular season. The year began without Jackson, and Floyd scored in three of the first five games, went for 95 yards twice in that span and broke out for 213 at Oakland. He also experienced more of the injury woes that have been a recurring theme. Heading into his age-30 season, Floyd has only twice topped 37 targets in a season, finishing 2010 with a 48.1 percent catch rate. He currently has an ADP of 80, and even in this pass-happy offense he's not worth a mid-seventh round pick.
More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams
by Matt Taliaferro
Dancia Patrick is coming to NASCAR full-time. The current IndyCar Series driver and “GoDaddy.com girl” announced on Wednesday that she will leave the open-wheel series at the conclusion of the 2011 season to drive the JR Motorsports GoDaddy.com No. 7 Chevrolet in a full Nationwide Series campaign in 2012. JR Motorsports is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Patrick and GoDaddy.com CEO Bob Parsons held a press conference in Phoenix, Ariz. — Patrick’s and GoDaddy.com’s hometown — in which they each signed the driver/sponsorship contract and unveiled her 2012 paint scheme.
Patrick says they are planning a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2012 in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy, but would not speculate on rumors that she will run in the season-opening Daytona 500 (though it is widely believed she will). Patrick stated she will likely run eight to 10 races, and that a full-time Cup schedule in 2013 is the goal.
As for the 2012 Indianapolis 500, Patrick said she was “still uncertain” as to whether she will participate.
In 20 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts in 2010-11, Patrick has one top-5 finish — a fourth at Las Vegas in March — and two additional top 10s (10th-place runs at Chicago and Daytona in 2011).
Currently in her seventh season on the IndyCar circuit, Patrick has one career win (Montegi, 2008) and 61 top-10 runs in 111 starts.
That's going to leave a mark.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Considering there is just 1 day until kickoff, the 2011 season is just around the corner. With the anticipation building for the upcoming season, Athlon will cover one interesting storyline to watch in college football over the next 50 days.
1. (August 31) National Title Prediction
With only one day until kickoff, it’s time for a national title prediction. Will the SEC keep its streak of national champions alive? Or is Oklahoma, Florida State or Oregon ready to claim No. 1? Go ahead and pencil in the winner of the SEC for a spot in the national title game. Unless the SEC champ has two or three losses, a spot in that game is virtually guaranteed. Oklahoma seems to be the most likely candidate for the second spot, but don’t count out Florida State. If the Seminoles can defeat the Sooners in Week 3, the schedule sets up favorably for an undefeated season. Although Oklahoma will have its hands full against Florida State, expect Bob Stoops team to find a way to win and finish as the No. 2 team in the BCS standings this year. Athlon’s official pick for the title game is Alabama vs. Oklahoma, with the Crimson Tide winning the championship for the second time under Nick Saban.
2. (August 30) Louisville Climbing Back Under Charlie Strong
The Steve Kragthorpe era was a huge failure for Louisville, but choosing Charlie Strong as his replacement has Louisville back on track. The Cardinals were predicted by many to finish last in the Big East last year, but surprised with a 7-6 record and a bowl win over Southern Miss. Strong has done a good job on the recruiting trail over the last two years and should have the Cardinals contending for a Big East title in the next couple of seasons. However, Louisville could take a small step back in 2011. The depth chart is filled with youth and cornerback could be a big issue for the defense. New quarterback Will Stein should be solid, but the line is rebuilt from last year and the offense needs a healthy season of production from backs Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson. There’s a lot of promise surrounding Louisville’s future and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this team is picked near the top of the Big East in 2012. However, with a lot of roster turnover, the Cardinals may slip back to the bottom, before rising next year.
3. (August 29) More Improvement at Baylor?
Art Briles hasn’t gotten enough credit nationally for the job he has done at Baylor. The Bears have made steady progress in Briles’ three years and earned their first bowl bid since 1994 last season. Helping Briles to raise Baylor’s profile has been quarterback Robert Griffin. The junior is among the nation’s top quarterbacks, after throwing for 3,501 yards and 22 scores last year, while adding 635 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Griffin is the centerpiece of Baylor’s attack, but the talent around him has also improved over the last couple of years. The Bears feature a solid offensive line, and linebacker/safety Ahmad Dixon could be one of the Big 12’s top breakout players. Expecting Baylor to contend for a conference title in 2011 is probably unrealistic, but moving another notch or two in the standings is a strong possibility.
4. (August 28) Texas A&M and the SEC
All signs point to Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in the next two or three weeks. With this move coming close to the start of the season, there’s a lot of concern about this becoming a distraction for the Aggies. Texas A&M is expected to be one of the top teams in the Big 12 this year and could contend for an at-large spot in the BCS. Reaching expectations has been difficult for Texas A&M, so any distractions will be a concern for head coach Mike Sherman. Although the potential move to the SEC makes sense, the Aggies are stepping into the most difficult conference in college football and won’t have an easier path to a national title. There are still plenty of details to be worked out, including how the SEC would handle 13 teams. What teams will join the Big 12? Will the SEC add a 14th? Although those questions will be answered over the next couple of months, the Aggies will have to dodge the distractions of the move to the SEC. Considering the returning talent in College Station, there’s no reason Texas A&M should struggle to win 10 games this year. However, there’s just no way to know if a potential move to the SEC will be a distraction - and what impact it could have on the Big 12 championship.
5. (August 27) Jerry Kill the Right Hire at Minnesota
After the failed Tim Brewster tenure, Minnesota made the right hire to bring in Jerry Kill as its next head coach. Kill has been successful at each of his coaching stops, including his last stint as the head man at Northern Illinois. The Golden Gophers won’t contend for a Big Ten title in 2011, but there’s hope for a bowl game and at least six wins. Minnesota should be able to go 3-1 in the non-conference slate and picking up wins against Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern in Big Ten play isn’t out of the question. New quarterback MarQueis Gray is raw, but has a lot of talent. The Golden Gophers should be solid on offense, but the defense needs a lot of work. Only five starters are back and this unit ranked 11th in the Big Ten against the run last season. Minnesota probably won’t contend for a Big Ten title every year under Kill, but look for the Gophers to become an annual bowl team.
6. (August 26) No Jake Locker, No Problem?
Even with the loss of quarterback Jake Locker, it’s possible Washington could have a better record in 2011. The Huskies return 10 starters, and coach Steve Sarkisian has increased the talent in the program over the last two years. Running back Chris Polk is one of the Pac-12’s top offensive players, while the defense should show significant improvement in 2011. The defensive line came on strong over the final games of last season and could be one of the most improved units in the nation. Sophomore Keith Price has a lead over Nick Montana for the starting quarterback job and both are capable options for the Huskies. The schedule sets up well for Washington, missing Arizona State on the crossover schedule and hosting Oregon on Nov. 5. Don’t expect the Huskies to win the Pac-12 North, but winning eight or nine games is a reasonable expectation.
7. (August 25) Alabama’s Quarterback Situation
It’s rare to see a team with an unsettled quarterback situation picked by many to be the No. 1 team in college football. However, Alabama fits that mold in 2011. The Crimson Tide has yet to decide between AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims as the starter for the opener against Kent State. McCarron completed 30 of 48 passes for 389 yards and three scores last season, while Sims redshirted. Although Alabama needs to get solid play from its quarterbacks, this team is built to succeed without an elite passing game. Running back Trent Richardson should be one of the nation’s leading rushers, while the offensive line is among the best in college football. The Crimson Tide also own a shutdown defense, which will only make life easier for whichever quarterback ends up as the starter. Both passers could play, but expect McCarron to start the season opener against Kent State on Sept. 3. As long as McCarron is solid and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, the Crimson Tide will be in the thick of the national title hunt.
8. (August 24) Virginia on the Rise in the ACC Coastal?
With the ongoing controversies at North Carolina and Miami, Virginia Tech is a heavy favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division. However, its in-state rival is a team to watch this year. Virginia finished 4-8 in Mike London’s first season, with one of those victories a 24-19 upset over Miami in late October. The Cavaliers played better as the season progressed and lost two games in November by a combined 11 points. Expecting Virginia to contend for the conference crown is unrealistic, but a bowl game is within reach if London can find a few answers on offense. The Cavaliers have four candidates competing for the starting quarterback job, including true freshman David Watford. Although the quarterback spot is a concern, having four starters back on the line and a solid running back (Perry Jones) has eased some of the uncertainty on offense. Expect the defense to show significant improvement this year, as seven starters are back and corner Chase Minnifield is one of the best in the nation. Virginia has four winnable games in non-conference play, which should help the quest to get back into the postseason. The Cavaliers are picked fifth in the Coastal Division, but with Georgia Tech struggling and the cloud over North Carolina, don’t be surprised if they easily outperform preseason expectations.
9. (August 23) Kevin Wilson a Great Fit at Indiana
Winning at Indiana isn’t easy. The Hoosiers have posted only one winning season since 1994 and their last bowl victory came in 1991. Five coaches have roamed the sidelines in Bloomington since the 1991 Copper Bowl, but Indiana appears to have hit a home run with its latest hire – Kevin Wilson. The former Oklahoma offensive coordinator has a lot of work to do, but all signs point to future success in Bloomington. With only nine starters returning and a question mark at quarterback, Indiana will be facing an uphill battle to get bowl eligible this year. Wilson has done a good job on the recruiting trail, luring Athlon Consensus 100 quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel to Bloomington for the 2012 season. The Hoosiers have a favorable four-game stretch to open the year, but will need to pull off an upset or two in order to reach a bowl. Considering the returning talent, it’s unlikely Indiana gets to six wins. However, there’s a clear direction from Wilson and it’s one that should result with improvement over the next few years.
10. (August 22) Low Expectations at Auburn
Although the Tigers are the defending national champs, getting to a bowl game would be considered a success for 2011. Why the low expectations? With five starters back, the depth chart is littered with youth and several key players must be replaced. The offense suffered heavy losses, particularly with quarterback Cam Newton and four offensive linemen. The defense struggled last season, but only three starters are back, so coordinator Ted Roof has a tough task ahead of him. Auburn didn’t catch any breaks in the schedule, with a non-conference date at Clemson and road games at South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. Expect the Tigers to get better as the season progresses, but there are too many holes to make a return trip to the national title. Although Auburn will take its lumps in 2011, with a young roster, don’t be surprised to see this team back in the SEC title mix in 2012.
11. (August 21) Andrew Luck Back at Stanford
Despite coach Jim Harbaugh leaving for the NFL, Stanford remains a threat to win the Pac-12 title in 2011. Quarterback Andrew Luck is back for his junior year, after throwing for 3,338 yards and 32 scores last season. Luck’s return is enough to keep the Cardinal in the hunt for a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl berth this year. The junior is arguably the top NFL prospect in college football and should be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luck can’t win it all on his own, which makes the concerns about the offensive line and receiving corps something to watch early in 2011. The line must replace three key starters, while the top two wide receivers are gone from last year. Senior Chris Owusu could be a No. 1 target for the offense, but has to stay healthy. If consistent weapons don’t emerge at receiver, don’t be surprised if Stanford uses a lot of multiple tight end formations. No one knows if new coach David Shaw will be as successful as Harbaugh, but with Luck returning in 2011, Stanford should be in the hunt for the Pac-12 title.
12. (August 20) Notre Dame BCS Bowl Bound?
The Irish closed out 2010 by winning their final four games, which included a 20-16 win over USC and a 33-17 blowout win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. Hopes are high for the Irish to return to a BCS game, especially with 16 starters back in the mix. The biggest question mark revolves around the quarterback position. Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees are competing for the job and both are capable of leading the Irish to 10 wins. The defense has been a concern for years in South Bend, but eight starters are back and the defensive line has several talented underclassmen ready to make their mark. The schedule isn’t overly favorable, but it isn’t overwhelming either. The most difficult games for Notre Dame on the road will likely be at Michigan and Stanford, while South Florida, Michigan State and USC visit South Bend. With the solid core of returning starters, young talent on defense and a favorable schedule, expect Notre Dame to get to 10 wins and its first BCS bowl appearance since 2007.
13. (August 19) How Will USC Handle Another Year of Probation?
Digging out of the harsh NCAA sanctions won’t be an easy job for USC coach Lane Kiffin. The Trojans simply lack depth and the roster will be young in several spots this season. Even though the Trojans are ineligible to win the conference crown or play in the first Pac-12 title game, don’t expect this team to quit on Kiffin. The offense could be explosive, provided the young, but talented receivers emerge and the offensive line keeps quarterback Matt Barkley upright. The defense was awful last season, but should be better with eight starters returning. The Trojans open with three home games, before hitting the road to play at Arizona State in a critical Pac-12 South showdown. With no bowl game to play for, getting off to a good start will be critical for USC. If the Trojans suffer some early defeats, team morale could be low going into November. However, expect the Trojans to finish with the best record in the Pac-12 South and finish ranked among the top 25 teams at the end of the year.
14. (August 18) Todd Graham Takes Over at Pittsburgh
Although Dave Wannstedt recruited well, Pittsburgh never won a Big East title during his tenure. Wannstedt was fired in early December last year, and Mike Haywood was hired from Miami (Ohio) to be Pittsburgh’s next coach. However, Haywood was fired after a domestic violence charge, which led to Graham’s hire from Tulsa. Graham was a solid coach at Tulsa and Rice and is making a big change to Pittsburgh’s style of play. The Panthers will be an uptempo team on offense, while moving to a 3-4 attack on defense. Pittsburgh can win the Big East, if the offense can get solid production from quarterback Tino Sunseri. The one-two punch of running backs Ray Graham and Zach Brown might be the best combination on the ground in the Big East. The Panthers should start out 2-0, before a tough three-game stretch with games at Iowa and then back in the Steel City for Notre Dame and South Florida. Even with the coaching turnover and the transition to a new scheme on both sides of the ball, considering the uncertainty in the Big East, the Panthers have a shot to win the conference in Graham’s first season.
15. (August 17) A Bounce Back Year at Georgia
Finishing 6-7 is unacceptable at Georgia and that’s why Mark Richt enters 2011 on the hot seat. The Bulldogs are coming off a miserable 2010 season, but there’s hope last year is simply a small speed bump. Aaron Murray is coming off a solid freshman debut and is expected to be the SEC’s top quarterback. The rushing attack should get a boost with the addition of true freshman Isaiah Crowell – one of the top recruits in the nation. The transition to the 3-4 defense had its share of rocky moments, but expect improvement in the second year of the scheme. Also working in Georgia’s favor will be the schedule. The Bulldogs catch a huge break by missing Alabama, LSU and Arkansas from the SEC West, while hosting South Carolina in Week 2. With a favorable slate the starpower of Murray and Crowell, Georgia could return to the SEC title game in Atlanta.
16. (August 16) Al Golden Takes Over at Miami
When the ACC expanded to 12 teams, most expected to see several Florida State-Miami matchups in the conference title game. However, the Hurricanes have yet to make an appearance in the ACC Championship. After failing to reach expectations under Randy Shannon, Al Golden was brought in to make Miami relevant on the national scene once again. The Hurricanes have some nice pieces in place for 2011, but still face an uphill battle to win the conference crown. Quarterback play is a huge question mark. Will it be senior Jacory Harris or sophomore Stephen Morris? The offensive line suffered a huge blow in the fall, when it was learned tackle Seantrel Henderson will likely miss all of 2011 with a back injury. The Hurricanes should be solid on defense, especially with seven starters back. Golden is the right man for the job at Miami and while there’s some promising talent to work with, expect the Hurricanes to fall short of earning their first trip to the conference title game.
17. (August 15) A Healthy Dan Persa at Quarterback
What a difference a player can make. With Dan Persa in the lineup, Northwestern went 7-3. Without him, the Wildcats went 0-3 and struggled to generate any offense. An Achilles tear is a difficult injury to return from, but all indications out of Evanston indicate Persa will be at full strength for the season opener against Boston College. The Wildcats will probably take it easy on Persa early on, but they will need him for a difficult Big Ten stretch, starting on Oct. 1 at Illinois. The Wildcats have a difficult road to claim the Legends Division title, but if Persa is 100 percent and back at the level he showed last year, don’t count out Northwestern. Sure, the Wildcats have some question marks on defense, but this could be one of the best offenses in the Big Ten and Pat Fitzgerald is an underrated coach.
18. (August 14) Quarterback Battle at Penn State
If the Nittany Lions can sort out the quarterback battle, they could be a factor in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Sophomore Rob Bolden and junior Matt McGloin shared the job in 2010, with neither turning in a particularly impressive season. McGloin threw more touchdown tosses (14), but had a worse completion percentage than Bolden. The quarterback situation isn’t the only issue in Happy Valley. The offensive line struggled last year and loses its best player – guard Stefen Wisniewski. With Ohio State’s issues and Wisconsin trying to get Russell Wilson acclimated into the offense, Penn State can contend for a spot in the first Big Ten title game. However, the quarterback situation needs to get sorted out early in the year. The Nittany Lions host Indiana State in the opener, which is a tune-up before Alabama visits in Week 2. Although McGloin finished as the starter last year, look for Bolden to start and finish the year as the No. 1 quarterback.
19. (August 13) Air Force a Sleeper to Watch in the Mountain West
TCU and Boise State should be the class of the Mountain West, but don’t dismiss Air Force from contending for the conference title. The Falcons return 12 starters, including senior quarterback Tim Jefferson. Finding a new fullback to pair with running back Asher Clark will be critical to the offense’s success, but Air Force always seems to find capable replacements in the backfield. The Falcons finished 37th nationally in total defense last year and the secondary should be among the best in the Mountain West with three starters returning. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, as Air Force will host TCU in Week 2 and San Diego State on Oct. 13. Road dates at Notre Dame and Boise State figure to be the biggest landmines. Head coach Troy Calhoun is 34-17 in four years at Air Force and could be targeted by several BCS schools at the end of the 2011 season. Even if the Falcons don’t win the Mountain West, cracking the top 25 and finishing the year with 10 wins a reasonable expectation.
20. (August 12) Building Momentum at Texas A&M
Mike Sherman didn’t get off to a great start at Texas A&M, but seems to have the Aggies pointed in the right direction going into the 2011 season. The Aggies were a disappointing 3-3 in late October, but won six-straight regular season games to earn a berth in the Cotton Bowl. The Aggies return 18 starters – the most in the Big 12 – and get running back Christine Michael back from injury. The team seemed to find its identity over the second half of last year, which included a quarterback change to Ryan Tannehill and the emergence of Cyrus Gray at running back. The offensive line also took a step forward in the final games of last season. With the returning starters and the finish to last season, the expectations are high at Texas A&M. The Aggies have failed to reach those expectations in the past, but most believe this is a different team. Texas A&M hosts Oklahoma State on Sept. 24, which could decide which team pushes Oklahoma for the Big 12 title.
21. (August 11) The Next Boise State?
SMU has made steady progress in three seasons under June Jones. With 18 starters back in 2011, the Mustangs are poised to win the Conference USA crown. The offense is loaded at the skill positions and all five starters are back on the offensive line. Although the offense will get most of the credit, the defense showed big improvement last year. The Mustangs finished second in the conference in scoring defense and ranked 40th nationally in total defense. The season opener against Texas A&M should be a good test for this team, but the real battle comes in conference play. The Mustangs have to travel to their toughest competition in the West Division – Houston and Tulsa – and must play UCF and at Southern Miss in the crossover games from the East. Although the schedule isn’t overwhelmingly in favor, SMU has turned a corner under June Jones. With TCU joining the Big East in 2012 and Boise State experiencing a lot of turnover next season, could the Mustangs be the next non-AQ team to crash the BCS?
22. (August 10) Big Loss for Oklahoma’s Defense
Oklahoma’s Travis Lewis will likely be sidelined for eight weeks due to a broken bone in his foot. The senior is one of the best linebackers in college football – an Athlon Sports second-team preseason All-American – and his absence will be felt by the defense. The Sooners are still in good shape in the linebacking corps, thanks to the emergence of Tom Wort and Corey Nelson. Sophomore Tony Jefferson is playing a hybrid linebacker/safety role, which helps Oklahoma cover the offenses in the Big 12. Although the Sooners have talent in the linebacking corps, they will be young and will miss Lewis’ leadership. Barring a miracle recovery, Lewis won’t be on the field when Oklahoma plays at Florida State on Sept. 17 and against Missouri one week later. The matchup against the Seminoles is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for an undefeated season. With Oklahoma missing its top defensive player in a hostile environment, could play a key role in the game? It’s doubtful Lewis’ absence will cause a drastic decline in the play of the defense, but there’s no doubt it would be better to have him on the field.
23. (August 9) Another National Title for the SEC?
Will the SEC’s run of national titles come to an end in 2011? Probably not. The conference has claimed five national titles in a row and figures to be in the mix to send a team to the national championship once again. Alabama is projected to finish the year as the No. 1 team by Athlon Sports, with Oklahoma a close second. The Crimson Tide will have a first-year starter at quarterback, but the rest of the team is in great shape. Alabama returns arguably the nation’s top offensive line, linebacking and secondary units. Running back Trent Richardson is ready to step in as the team’s go-to back and should easily surpass 1,000 yards. The Crimson Tide has a favorable schedule too, missing Georgia and South Carolina from the East and catching LSU in Tuscaloosa. Barring two losses to the SEC champ or an upset in the title game by a team from the East, the winner of the West Division should have an inside track on a spot in the national title game. Although Alabama enters the year with a few question marks, this team should be in great shape by the end of the season.
24. (August 8) A New Era at Colorado
Jon Embree has his work cut out for him in 2011. The former Colorado player will make his debut as a head coach this season, but it could be a very challenging year. The Buffaloes return 14 starters, including likely All-Pac-12 running back Rodney Stewart. However, the offense needs quarterback Tyler Hansen to stay healthy and show improvement to push for a winning record. In addition to the concerns on offense, the back seven of the defense needs to be revamped. Even with NFL Draft first-round selection Jimmy Smith at cornerback, the Buffaloes ranked near the bottom of the nation at defending the pass. With two new starters at cornerback, the pass defense could be even worse in 2011. The personnel questions are enough to keep Colorado out of a bowl game, but the schedule is one of the toughest in college football. The Buffaloes play 13 games due to the opener at Hawaii, but also have road trips to Ohio State, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State and Utah. Additionally, catching Oregon and USC at home isn’t much of a break. Embree has a large mountain to climb just to get Colorado back into Pac-12 title contention. But with the significant question marks and holes on the roster, it could be another two years before the Buffaloes get back into a bowl game.
25. (August 7) Coaches on the Hot Seat
Hot seat talk is usually a popular topic throughout the regular season. Which coach will be the first to be fired in 2011? My guess would be New Mexico’s Mike Locksley. He is somehow back on the sidelines for his third season, after posting a disastrous 2-21 record. Considering his two horrendous years in Albuquerque, Locksley needs to show major progress to return in 2012. Just behind Locksley is Washington State’s Paul Wulff. He inherited an awful roster and has made small steps with this team in three years, but a winning record may be necessary to return for a fourth season. UAB’s Neil Callaway and Tulane’s Bob Toledo also need to produce if they want to return for 2012. Georgia’s Mark Richt is a popular name to mention for hot seat talk. However, Richt should feel pretty good about his team, as the Bulldogs are a popular pick to win the SEC East this year. Even though Richt is mentioned in the hot seat discussion, I would be very surprised if he is not at Georgia in 2012. With Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer in the crop of available coaches, the carousel could be very active when the regular season ends in early December.
26. (August 6) Utah’s first season in the Pac-12
The Utes will be under the microscope in their debut with the Pac-12. How will Utah handle a tougher week-to-week schedule? The Mountain West is arguably the top non-AQ conference, but playing a more challenging conference slate will be a good test for Utah’s depth. Quarterback Jordan Wynn was out for the spring due to shoulder surgery and still needs to prove he can be one of the elite passers in the Pac-12. The Utes could start a true freshman at running back, but the offensive line could be among the best in the conference. The defense is usually a strength for Utah, but four new starters will suit up in the secondary. There’s a lot of questions in Salt Lake City, but don’t write off the Utes in the Pac-12 title race. The South Division is wide open, especially with USC ineligible for the championship game. Utah is one of the Pac-12’s most mysterious, but intriguing teams to watch in 2011.
27. (August 5) Turnaround at Texas?
Mack Brown knows 5-7 won’t work at Texas. After last season’s debacle, Brown made several staff changes, which includes two new coordinators – Bryan Harsin (offense) and Manny Diaz (defense). However, coaching changes alone won’t be enough to turn Texas around. The Longhorns have to be better at every position on offense. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert had a dismal first season as the starter, tossing 17 interceptions and completing less than 60 percent of his passes. Gilbert doesn’t deserve all of the blame, as the Longhorns need a better push from the offensive line and the rushing attack. True freshman Malcolm Brown was one of the top running back recruits in the 2011 signing class and will be expected to make an immediate impact. With Texas still finding the right pieces on offense, the defense will need to carry the team early in the year. With six starters back, the Longhorns should rank near the top of the Big 12 in scoring and total defense. The second game of 2011 against BYU should be an early indication of how far Texas has come since last season. Expect the Longhorns to show improvement, but winning the Big 12 is at least another year away.
28. (August 4) The Best Quarterback in Oklahoma?
Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship caused quite a stir in the Sooner State with some of his comments at Conference USA Media Day. The first-year coach commented his quarterback (G.J. Kinne) was the best in the Oklahoma. Although Blankenship raised some eyebrows with his comments, Kinne probably doesn’t get enough credit on the national stage. The senior started his career at Texas in 2007, but transferred after his redshirt freshman year. In two years as Tulsa’s starting quarterback, Kinne has thrown for 6,382 yards and 53 touchdowns, while adding 960 yards and 12 scores on the ground. The Golden Hurricane offense will miss former coordinator Chad Morris, who left to take the same job at Clemson. With a new coaching staff and a tough schedule, Kinne may not be able to repeat as Conference USA’s Player of the Year. Blankenship and Kinne will get a shot at Oklahoma in the first game of 2011 and against Oklahoma State in Week 3. I’m not sure I’d vote Kinne as the best quarterback in Oklahoma, but he will have a chance to earn that honor with big games against the Sooners and Cowboys. Jones, Weeden and Kinne are all solid quarterbacks, which should make this an entertaining year for football in the Sooner State.
29. (August 3 ) Can South Carolina Repeat as SEC East Champs?
The Gamecocks finally broke through last season, earning their first SEC East title and a trip to Atlanta. With 14 starters back, South Carolina will be a popular pick to repeat as division champs. Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore proved to be a real difference maker, and his emergence helped to ease the pressure on quarterback Stephen Garcia and the passing attack. Garcia has been in coach Steve Spurrier’s doghouse and another arrest will likely spell the end of his career. However, Garcia has approached the fall with a different attitude and the issues off the field may be a thing of the past. Although the trio of Garcia, Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery will score plenty of points, the Gamecocks face a difficult road to repeat. The SEC East was down last year and Florida, Georgia and Tennessee should all show improvement this season. South Carolina has a difficult road slate, drawing away dates against Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas. There’s no question Spurrier has raised the talent level and expectations in Columbia. However, the Gamecocks have struggled to reach lofty expectations in the past. With Georgia and Florida turning things around in 2011, it would not be a surprise to see South Carolina not repeat as SEC East champs.
30. (August 2) Uncertainty at Connecticut
Even though the Huskies return 16 starters and are the defending Big East champs, they have been picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. Although a good chunk of the roster is back, some of the losses were significant. Quarterback play wasn’t a strength last year, but starter Zach Frazer has finished his eligibility. Although Frazer wasn’t anything special, none of the candidates stepping into the job have much experience. Running back Jordan Todman carried the offense last season, but he decided to leave for the NFL. Senior D.J. Shoemate was a highly-regarded recruit coming out of high school, but has yet to live up to that billing. The receiving corps is also a concern, especially with Michael Smith lost for the year due to academics. With so many questions on offense, the defense will have to carry this team. The Huskies return 10 starters on defense, which should make this unit one of the best in the Big East. As if the personnel concerns on offense weren’t troubling enough, there’s a new head coach. Randy Edsall left for Maryland and in steps Paul Pasqualoni. The veteran coach has been out of college football for a while, serving in the NFL as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. The Huskies have a favorable non-conference slate, but there’s a lot of question marks to expect another Big East title in 2011.
31. (August 1) Pressure Rising in Berkeley
Considering Jeff Tedford’s background, it’s been a surprise to see California struggle to get consistent offensive production over the last couple of years. Tedford will take on a bigger role in calling the plays this year, but he will enter the 2011 with a lot of question marks. Expected to start at quarterback is Zach Maynard, who sat out last season after transferring from Buffalo. Maynard has starting experience, but needs to be better than he showed in two years at Buffalo. California has been a factory for running backs under Tedford, but there’s cause for concern. Isi Sofele is the likely starter, but checks in at 5-foot-7. Can he hold up for a full season? There’s some potential with some of the backups, but not a lot of experience. The receiving corps returns two potential all-conference players in Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, but not much depth behind them. Three starters return up front, but the line needs to play with more consistency. With the question marks on offense, California will need its defense to rank near the top of the conference again. A subtle issue surrounding this team is the lack of a true home stadium, as they will play their home games in AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants), while their stadium is renovated. All of the issues add up to a preseason projection of fifth in the Pac-12 North. Another 5-7 will put Tedford squarely on the hot seat and in danger of losing his job.
32. (July 31) Another Big Ten Title in Madison?
With Ohio State dealing with a NCAA investigation, the loss of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel, Wisconsin has emerged as the favorite in the Big Ten Leaders Division. The Badgers were co-champs last year with Michigan State and Ohio State, but represented the conference in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin does have some key losses to address, including finding a replacement for defensive end J.J. Watt, tight end Lance Kendricks and left tackle Gabe Carimi. Although those losses are big, none are enough to knock Wisconsin out of the Big Ten title race, especially with the addition of quarterback Russell Wilson from NC State. Wilson’s arrival should solidify the quarterback spot, while the Badgers will remain one of the nation’s best rushing teams. Road games at Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois won’t be easy. However, Wilson’s arrival and Ohio State’s turmoil have made Wisconsin the favorite in the Big Ten Leaders Division.
33. (July 30) Missouri a Big 12 Title Contender?
Despite losing quarterback Blaine Gabbert, keep an eye on Missouri as a possible sleeper team in the Big 12. The Tigers return 16 starters, which ranks as the second most in the Big 12 behind Texas A&M. The Tigers were off to a 7-0 start last year, but finished the season 3-3 over the final six games. Tackle Dominique Hamilton will rejoin the defensive line and is presence will make a difference. When Hamilton was healthy, Missouri allowed only 114 rushing yards per game. When Hamilton missed the final six contests, the Tigers allowed 197 yards per game. The defensive line should be among the best in college football, which will help make up for an inexperienced secondary. Quarterback play is a concern, but Missouri’s last three starters have turned out pretty well – Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Gabbert. New quarterback James Franklin is surrounded by plenty of weapons and if he puts together a solid year, Missouri could surprise in the remodeled Big 12.
34. (July 29) Turmoil in Chapel Hill
North Carolina’s firing of Butch Davis a week before the team is scheduled to report to fall camp has to be one of the strangest college football coaching decisions in recent memory. Although Davis led the Tar Heels to three straight seasons of eight wins, they never emerged as a factor in the ACC Coastal race. His tenure at North Carolina will be remembered more for the off-the-field distractions over the last year, which may have cost the Tar Heels a potential ACC title season in 2010. Interim coach Everett Withers has a tough job this season. It’s unlikely he will retain the job in 2012, but he has to keep the recruiting class together, while keeping the players focused on the field. With James Madison, Rutgers and Virginia the first three games of this season, the Tar Heels should have a good chance to start 3-0. However, if the distractions hang over this team throughout the year, the Tar Heels could struggle to reach a bowl game. Even if North Carolina makes a bowl in 2011, the timing of this decision and starting over with a new coach in 2012 likely means a division title will have to wait a few more years.
35. (July 28) Success With First-Year Starting Quarterbacks
Is experience at quarterback overrated when projecting a national champion? Since the BCS was created in 1998, eight quarterbacks have played for the title in their first season. Greg McElroy was a first-year starter when Alabama won the title in 2009. Cam Newton and Darron Thomas were both first-year starters when they played for the championship last season. What teams could continue this recent trend in 2011? Alabama, Florida State and Virginia Tech are the most likely candidates. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are battling for time in Tuscaloosa and both have yet to make their first start. EJ Manuel has a couple of starts under his belt, but this will be his first full season under center. Tyrod Taylor will be missed at Virginia Tech, but Logan Thomas looks to be a capable replacement. Even though having an experienced team certainly helps in the national title race, recent history suggests a first-year starter at quarterback isn’t a bad thing. With Athlon projecting Alabama as the national champion, it looks like the run of first-year starters at quarterback will continue.
36. (July 27) Despite Losses, TCU Still a Factor in Mountain West
Topping last year’s 13-0 record and Rose Bowl title is almost an impossible task for TCU. The Horned Frogs return only six starters, and quarterback Andy Dalton must be replaced. Casey Pachall threw nine passes in a backup role last year, but has yet to make a start under center. TCU has plenty of talent returning on defense and is set at the skill positions on offense. However, the season will come down to Pachall and the offensive line’s development. The Horned Frogs didn’t catch a break with the schedule, facing Baylor and Air Force in the first two weeks. An 0-2 start isn’t out of the question considering the personnel losses from last year. TCU also has a trip to Boise State late in the season that will likely decide the Mountain West title. Even if the Horned Frogs win 9 or 10 games this year, look for them to be comfortably in the top 25 by season’s end. This will be TCU’s swan song in the Mountain West, as they move to the Big East next year. The depth chart is littered with a lot of sophomores and juniors stepping into starting roles this year, which is good news for TCU’s chances of contending right away in a new conference in 2012. Coach Gary Patterson is one of the best in college football and TCU won’t fall far this year, even with the loss of some key players.
37. (July 26) LSU Needs Big Year From Jordan Jefferson
Say what you want about Les Miles and his clock management skills, but he has won at least 11 games in four out of his six seasons in Baton Rouge. Although the Tigers usually have one of the top defenses in the SEC, finishing near the bottom of the conference in offense is usually not a sound recipe for a team trying to win a national title. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson holds the keys to LSU’s season. Jefferson played better over the final three games of 2010, which included a solid performance against Texas A&M in a 41-24 Cotton Bowl victory. New coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has given Jefferson positive reviews, but he could be on a short leash this year. Zach Mettenberger was brought in from the JUCO ranks to add competition, but didn’t put much pressure for the starting job in spring practice. If Jefferson minimizes his mistakes and improves his completion percentage closer to 60 percent, the Tigers should have a much better statistical year on offense. If Jefferson struggles once again, LSU won’t be a factor in the national title race.
38. (July 25) Looking for Improvement at Cincinnati
Losing Brian Kelly to Notre Dame was a huge loss for Cincinnati, but not the only reason for its 4-8 record last year. The Bearcats ranked 119th nationally in turnover margin and ranked last in the Big East in scoring defense. There’s a lot of pressure on Butch Jones to get Cincinnati back in the top tier of the conference, but improvement can be expected this year. The offense will be one of the most explosive in the Big East. Quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead are back, and DJ Woods is ready to become the team’s new No. 1 target. With 10 starters returning on defense, there’s no way this unit ranks at the bottom of the conference once again. The Bearcats can’t be counted out of the Big East race, but it’s more likely they bounce back with a winning year and a trip to a bowl game.
39. (July 24) Coordinator Change at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in scoring, passing and total offense last year, but can it repeat that success with a new coordinator? Dana Holgorsen left to be the head coach at West Virginia, prompting head coach Mike Gundy to hire Todd Monken as the new offensive coordinator. Monken was coaching in the NFL, but has a previous stop in Stillwater from 2002-2004. Although the Cowboys will have a new offensive coordinator, the setup could be one of the most interesting in college football. Gundy wants to keep the same scheme in place, which means Monken will learn the offense, not install his own as customary with new hires. Having an experienced quarterback like Brandon Weeden certainly helps, but it may be difficult to repeat last year’s success on offense. Although Monken has plenty of experience, picking up Holgorsen’s scheme and putting Oklahoma State back in the top five of scoring offense won’t be easy. However, don’t expect too much of a drop in production, especially with one of the top pass-catch combinations in the nation with Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon returning.
40. (July 23) Darkhorse Candidate for National Title?
If you are looking for a team off the radar that could find its way into the national title game, keep a close eye on Virginia Tech this year. Despite losing quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Hokies are in good shape to make a run at an undefeated season. The schedule sets up favorably for new quarterback Logan Thomas, with a soft non-conference slate in September and the first ACC road game at Wake Forest on Oct. 15. Thomas has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton due to his physical tools, but is still developing as a passer. While Thomas eases his way into the lineup, the Hokies can lean on running back David Wilson and a solid defense. Virginia Tech has won at least 10 games in seven consecutive seasons and even with an inexperienced quarterback taking over, the Hokies should be a safe bet to reach that total in 2011. If the Hokies manage to finish the regular season unbeaten, a potential matchup against Florida State in the ACC title game could have national championship implications.
41. (July 22) Wanted: An Offensive Line in Arizona
Arizona averaged 28.2 points per game on offense last season, but that number could increase closer to 35 in 2011. Nick Foles returns at quarterback, after throwing for 3,191 yards and 20 scores last year. Although Foles has worked his way onto NFL Draft radars for 2012, he won’t be the only Arizona weapon. The Wildcats own one of the nation’s best receiving corps, with the return of All-America candidate Juron Criner, David Douglas and David Roberts. Texas transfer Dan Buckner is eligible this year, which will give Foles another talented weapon to target. However, will all of those weapons matter if Arizona can’t develop an offensive line? All five starters will be new, with only one player (center Kyle Quinn) having any previous starting experience. With question marks about the offensive line, the Wildcats could throw more than they did last year, asking Foles to complete short passes and allowing the receivers to work in open space. If the line comes together, the Wildcats could be a darkhorse to win the Pac-12 South. However, if this unit struggles, making a bowl game will be difficult, especially with a challenging schedule.
42. (July 21) A New Group of Big 12 Running Backs Must Emerge
With media days picking up over the next two weeks, it’s always worth a few minutes of time to check out the media predictions and all-conference teams. The Big 12 released its preseason all-conference team on Tuesday, which featured a few interesting selections. The Big 12 is weak at running back this year, but voting Bryce Brown as a first-team selection was a surprise – especially when Texas freshman running back Malcolm Brown was voted as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Outside of Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray, there’s not another easy pick on the first-team ballot. Brown didn’t have much of a chance to impress at Tennessee, but has every opportunity to earn playing time this year with the departure of Daniel Thomas. Roy Finch was also voted to the first team as a third running back, but he will have to contend for carries with a couple of other running backs. It’s all preseason discussion, but the running backs in the Big 12 certainly have something to prove in 2011. While the running backs are down, don’t be fooled about the offenses in the conference. With three of the nation’s top quarterbacks returning, the Big 12 will feature plenty of high-scoring offenses once again.
43. (July 20) Broncos Back in BCS Mix
Boise State is considered by many to be a preseason top five team. Considering the significant personnel losses after this year, 2011 could be the Broncos best shot at reaching the national title for a couple of seasons. Quarterback Kellen Moore has posted an unbelievable 38-2 record in three years as the starting quarterback and will contend for All-America honors. The Broncos are loaded in the trenches, boasting one of the nation’s best offensive and defensive lines. All of the pieces are in place to once again finish with double-digit wins and a BCS bowl bid. What will it take for the Broncos to reach the national title? Just like last year, winning the season opener will be critical. Boise State beat Virginia Tech last season and gets a shot at Georgia to kickoff 2011. The Bulldogs are favored to win the SEC East by Athlon and like the Hokies, will be a difficult opening draw. However, if there’s one team the nation has learned not to doubt it’s Boise State.
44. (July 19) No Mallett, No Problem
Losing a quarterback like Ryan Mallett is usually bad news for any team going into the next season. However, Arkansas should feel good about its chances to have one of the SEC’s best offenses in 2011. New quarterback Tyler Wilson has yet to make his first start, but threw for 453 yards and four scores in limited action last year. Most of his yardage came against Auburn, after Mallett was knocked out of the game. Wilson has the confidence of the coaching staff, one of the nation’s deepest receiving corps and running back Knile Davis returning. The biggest issue for the offense is the line, where three starters must be replaced. Wilson’s limited track record last year did not come against one of the SEC’s top defenses, but with the weapons in place and Bobby Petrino’s penchant for producing high-scoring offenses, Arkansas won’t miss a beat with a new quarterback under center.
45. (July 18) Coaching Carousel in the Big East
There will be three new coaches in the Big East this season – Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, Todd Graham at Pittsburgh and Paul Pasqualoni at Connecticut – but that may not be the biggest story surrounding that group. Greg Schiano is the longest-tenured coach in the conference, spending 10 years on the sidelines at Rutgers. Why is that significant? Schiano’s 10 years are more seasons than the rest of the coaches have combined for in the conference with their current teams. Butch Jones (Cincinnati), Skip Holtz (South Florida) and Louisville (Charlie Strong) have all been with their teams for one season, while Doug Marrone has spent two years at Syracuse. If the Big East wants to shake the “worst BCS conference” title, keeping good coaches is a must. If a coach isn’t performing, then it’s a no-brainer to get rid of him. However, Strong, Holtz, Graham and Holgorsen could be mentioned for bigger jobs in the future and it’s important for the profile of the conference for the successful coaches to stick around.
46. (July 17) BYU Goes Independent
BYU’s decision to go independent will be one of the most intriguing storylines from the conference realignment craze of 2010. The Cougars were able to piece together a solid schedule for their first year of independence, going to Ole Miss, Texas and Oregon State, while hosting UCF and playing a neutral site game against TCU. The Cougars have already lined up some challenging games for the future, but was this the right move? BYU’s television contract with ESPN is much better than its previous arrangement with the MTN. However, access to a BCS bowl isn’t easier. In fact, it could be more difficult. Even though the Cougars will have some marquee opponents every year, the schedule won’t be overly difficult. BYU’s former conference – the Mountain West – has a chance to get an automatic bid into the BCS. The bowl games likely won’t be better, but the school should be able to bring in more money and has a better television deal. Is it worth it? Only time will tell.
47. (July 16) T-Magic Needed in Lincoln
The health of Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez will play a significant role in determining the Big Ten champion. Martinez was banged up throughout most of the second half of last season and the entire Nebraska offense suffered in terms of production. The Cornhuskers scored less than 10 points in two out of the final four games last year and struggled to generate anything against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. If Martinez is healthy, the sophomore will be one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks and should lead Nebraska to the conference title. However, if Martinez gets hurt, depth at the position will be an issue. Cody Green decided to transfer, leaving redshirt freshman Brion Carnes and Ron Kellogg to contend for the backup job. True freshman Bubba Starling could figure into the mix, but may decide to sign with the Kansas City Royals after going in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft.
48. (July 15) A Record-Breaking Season in Houston?
Houston’s Case Keenum is back under center after suffering a torn ACL against UCLA in the third game of last season. Not only does Keenum’s return boost Houston’s Conference USA title hopes, but he has a chance to join some elite company in the record book. Through 43 games at Houston, Keenum has thrown for 13,586 yards and 107 touchdowns. His best season came in 2009, throwing for 5,671 yards and 44 scores. Timmy Chang ranks No. 1 in FBS passing yardage leaders, throwing for 17,072 yards in his career at Hawaii. Keenum needs just 3,487 yards to break Chang’s record and become the all-time leader in passing yards. The senior is currently No. 5 on the list, behind Chang, Graham Harrell, Ty Detmer and Colt Brennan. Considering his previous totals, the suspect defenses in Conference USA and Houston’s willingness to throw the ball, Keenum should finish as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yardage.
49. (July 14) The Pac-12's Unique Linebacking Corps
If Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict can cut out some of the senseless personal foul penalties, the junior could be the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds, Burfict is one of the nation’s most intimidating linebackers and is a ferocious hitter. Burfict led the team with 90 tackles last season and should claim that honor once again in 2011. Although Burfict is the headliner, the most interesting storyline on the Arizona State defense is all three expected starting linebackers played high school ball in Corona Calif. at Centennial High School. Seniors Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons played with Burfict in high school and should team to form the Pac-12’s top linebacking corps. Magee finished second on the team with 73 tackles last year and could find his way onto the All-Pac-12 team at the end of 2011. Lyons was limited to seven games due to injury last season. It’s not uncommon to see three players from a high school play on the same team in college. However, having three from the same high school all start in the linebacking corps is definitely unique.
50. (July 13) - Quarterback play in the ACC
A talented, but largely unproven group of quarterbacks is stepping into the spotlight for the ACC this season. Christian Ponder, Tyrod Taylor and T.J. Yates have finished their eligibility, while Russell Wilson has moved on to Wisconsin for his senior year. Maryland's Danny O'Brien is Athlon's first-team All-ACC quarterback for 2011, but he's not a lock to win that honor. With a new coach and coordinator in place, the Terrapins could be more conservative on offense this year. NC State coach Tom O'Brien believes in Mike Glennon enough to let Wilson transfer for his final year of eligibility. Florida State's EJ Manuel has six starts already under his belt, including last year's ACC title game. At least six teams will turn to a first-year starter under center, and that number could grow if Stephen Morris beats Jacory Harris out at Miami. Interestingly enough, six ACC teams could start a quarterback with a hometown in Virginia. Even though quarterback is the most important position on the field, don't be surprised if two first-year starters end up meeting in the ACC title game - Virginia Tech (Logan Thomas) vs. Florida State (EJ Manuel).
The SEC West has won the last two BCS championships, and the league’s balance of power remains tilted in a westerly direction heading into the 2011 college football season.
Nick Saban has built a machine at Alabama during his brief tenure in Tuscaloosa, and despite the loss of solid starting quarterback Greg McElroy and 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, the Tide has once again turned its attention toward a national title.
So what about the defending national champs? With decimating losses on both sides of the ball, Auburn seems poised to take a step back, as Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State surge forward in this impossibly stacked division. Much like Bama in first place, Ole Miss seems locked in at sixth as the Rebels try to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season.
In the East, Steve Spurrier seems to have recaptured some of his old Florida mojo; his Gamecocks are coming off their first division title, and fans are clamoring for more. But a return to Atlanta is far from certain, especially with the ongoing drama with quarterback Stephen Garcia.
It would have seemed unthinkable five years ago, but Mark Richt is probably one mediocre season away from unemployment. Fortunately for him, he has the horses to win the division, led by quarterback Aaron Murray, who has transitioned from question mark to lead Dawg.
There’s a new sheriff in Gainesville, as Will Muschamp inherits a talented roster from Urban Meyer. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is one of the more intriguing hires of the offseason, and Gator quarterback John Brantley should be the primary beneficiary of Weis’ pro-style philosophy.
Tennessee will be fighting an uphill battle in Derek Dooley’s second season, while James Franklin’s inaugural campaign at Vanderbilt promises to be long and difficult. Better days seem to lie ahead, though, for both of the Volunteer State’s SEC programs. Kentucky is stout on defense, but the Cats’ offense is in need of some playmakers.
Athlon's 2011 SEC Previews
A NEW CHAMP?
The SEC is on an unprecedented run of national dominance: Auburn’s BCS championship was the league’s fifth in a row, by four different schools.
So will the league make it six in a row? And what are the chances it will be by a fifth different school?
Alabama (the 2009 champ) and LSU (2007) start the year with probably the best chances. But if you were looking for a “new” champ, here are a few candidates:
• Georgia, which last won a national title in 1980, has perhaps the league’s top returning quarterback in Aaron Murray, a highly rated recruiting class and a favorable schedule.
• South Carolina, if it can settle its quarterback issues, has a Heisman candidate in Marcus Lattimore, a bevy of other future NFL players and a coach (Steve Spurrier) who’s won nationally before.
• Arkansas will have a high-octane offense as long as Bobby Petrino is coach, and the defense began to improve last year.
• Mississippi State — which like South Carolina and Arkansas has never won an AP title — already surpassed expectations last year by going 9–4. What if Dan Mullen keeps the upward trend going?
Sure, all four may sound far-fetched. But this time last year, so did Auburn.
Uncertainty Under center?
Has the SEC ever entered a season with less returning star power at quarterback? When a redshirt sophomore (Georgia’s Murray) is arguably the top returning QB, that says something. But there’s still a lot of talent in the league — some stars are sure to emerge.
LSU could be a prime example. While Jordan Jefferson has been erratic, transfer Zach Mettenberger has a chance to be this year’s Cam Newton. OK, maybe a stretch, but Mettenberger (who was kicked off Georgia’s team for off-field issues) has great size and an arm cannon. Alabama’s AJ McCarron, a first-year starter, was one of the nation’s top recruits a few years ago. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray finished last year strong. Florida’s John Brantley could flourish in Charlie Weis’ system. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson should put up big numbers in Petrino’s offense.
The moral of the story: By year’s end, expect there to be plenty of new stars at the game’s most important position.
Scheduling small — for a reason
Nationally, the SEC takes some pot-shots for its non-conference scheduling. Too weak. Too many hyphenated opponents. Too afraid to travel out of the region.
But how fair is that?
Yes, the trend has been for SEC teams to schedule “down.” Florida famously only plays its arch-rival Florida State while playing the likes of Charleston Southern (in the opener) and The Citadel (late in the season). Most SEC teams now only play one other BCS conference team in non-conference play.
But those ‘one’ games should be pretty challenging this year.
• LSU opens with defending BCS runner-up Oregon in Arlington, Texas
• Ole Miss opens with BYU in Oxford.
• Alabama is playing at Penn State.
• Georgia opens with Boise State in Atlanta.
• Vanderbilt plays Connecticut, the defending Big East champion, in Nashville.
• There are regional or in-state matchups: Auburn-Clemson, Arkansas-Texas A&M, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson.
Beyond that, what motivation is there for SEC teams to stack their non-conference schedules? When Georgia canceled a series with Oregon last year — by mutual agreement — UGA athletics director Greg McGarity pointed out that non-conference schedule strength essentially doesn’t matter.
“There is no RPI in football,” McGarity said. “At the end of the day if Georgia is 8–0 and beats Georgia Tech, chances are they’re going to play for the national championship.”
There’s also a local economic factor: Because SEC football is such an event, the schools and their towns generate a lot more revenue for home games. In these economic times, who can blame them for wanting to maximize the amount of home games per year?
That factor, and the fact that eight league games a year is challenging enough, mean that the current SEC scheduling model should stay this way for awhile.
By Saul Hutson
Since NBA teams aren’t allowed to contact their stars during the lockout, your favorite pros have spent their downtime risking career-ending injuries at the local Y. It all came to a head this weekend when the country’s two most prominent pro-am leagues faced off and Kevin Durant’s Goodman League squad (Washington, DC) knocked off the Drew League team (Los Angeles) led by Brandon Jennings.
The game was intense, competitive and not nearly as enjoyable as watching NBA All-Stars embarrassing lesser talent in front of someone with a flip-cam. For that, just keep clicking through our list of the most demeaning basketball highlights of the summer.
10. Brandon Jennings will dribble off of anything…including your face
When he’s not bouncing the ball off of faces, he’s tossing the ball through his opponents’ legs.
9. Deron Williams locks up the University of Illinois alumni game MVP award in one play.
We don’t think that’s legal in Turkey.
8. Kevin Durant does real-life NBA Jam impression, hits five consecutive DEEP three-pointers
Take note, Western Conference teams. The most effective way to stop the league’s two-time defending scoring champ when he’s on a roll is to have the fans storm the court until the game is called.
7. LeBron Posterizes Helpless Child
This clip is the perfect microcosm for LeBron’s career: take it to the rim for a highlight dunk over a helpless opponent, wind up losing in the end anyway.
6. D-Wade Swats A Child
If the Heat didn’t seem evil enough already, here’s their other star punching an innocent child’s shot in a totally meaningless camp game of Knockout. This is probably what LeBron and D-Wade do to Chris Bosh during Heat practice.
5. JR Smith Stuffs A Child
Apparently NBA players snuffing out shots by toddlers became quite popular this summer. Smith would fit right in with the Heat with those intense celebratory low fives.
4. Cleveland's Highlight of the Summer
Unlike the rest of these, this one didn’t exactly work out in the NBA’s favor. It’s also pretty much porn for Cavaliers fans.
3. Michael Jordan is Still Dunking
We know it’s a little sad, but he’s 48. When we’re 48, we just hope we can still pee standing up.
2. Michael Beasley Mushes A Heckler In The Face
If this happened in a real NBA game with David Stern watching, Beasley would be kicked out of the league for good. Unfortunately, it happened during an exhibition, so he still has to play for the Timberwolves when the lockout is lifted.
1. Stan Van Gundy Goes From Love Handles To Mad Handles
SVG has mad handles from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.
We’d like to say this is the most athletic thing a Van Gundy has ever done on a basketball court, but it’s gonna take a lot more than a couple spin moves to top Jeff’s rodeo ride on Alonzo Mourning’s leg.
By Jake Veyhl
Scan the list of the 2001 NFL Draft first-round selections below and you’ll probably recognize quite a few of the biggest names from college football. There are future Hall of Famers, franchise staples who are still with the organizations that drafted them and guys who have bounced around the league. And of course, there are a few busts.
All in all, the decision makers involved in the 2001 draft got it right. An astounding 19 of the 31 players selected in the first round in 2001 played football in 2010 or are signed for 2011. That’s nearly two out of every three picks, a remarkable percentage for a sport where injuries alone end many careers prematurely.
As for the picks themselves, check out these tidbits:
• Only one quarterback was selected, and you’ll probably feel some sort of emotional twinge when you see who it was.
• Still don’t think there was enough talent to go around? The first five picks of the second round included four Pro Bowlers: Drew Brees, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Alge Crumpler, Chad Johnson. If those guys lasted until the second round, there must have been some pretty good players ahead of them. Without further ado, turn the clock back 10 years and relive the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.
1. Atlanta: Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech
’01-06, Falcons; ’09-present, Eagles
You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard about Vick in the last 10 years. On the field, Vick proved to be a fantastic athlete with dual-threat capabilities that made him one of the most exciting players in the game. Though his win-loss record is far from the NFL’s elite, he’s a four-time Pro Bowler who in 2006 became the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. But Vick’s biggest headlines were made off the field following that season. In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to funding a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in Virginia and was later sentenced to 23 months in federal prison. He returned to the NFL as a backup with the Eagles in 2009, and in 2010 won the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award after passing for more than 3,000 yards, rushing for more than 600 and accounting for 30 touchdowns. He’s returning as the Eagles’ starter on a one-year contract in 2011.
2. Arizona: Leonard Davis, G, Texas
’01-06, Cardinals; ’07-10, Cowboys
The Cardinals paid Davis handsomely for his services, but aside from simply starting nearly every game in his six seasons in the desert, the former Longhorn didn’t live up to his draft position. He alternated between left tackle and right guard for the Cards, but he didn’t find his groove in the NFL until the Cowboys permanently made him a guard. The Cowboys signed the 6'6", 350-pounder as a free agent and were rewarded with three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons from 2007-09. Davis, however, was released shortly after the lockout ended.
3. Cleveland: Gerard Warren, DT, Florida
’01-04, Browns; ’05-06, Broncos; ’07-09, Raiders; ’10-present, Patriots
Even though Warren is the only top-six pick from 2001 not to reach at least one Pro Bowl, he has still put together a respectable career. A reliable but unspectacular defensive tackle, Warren has played for four different teams in 10 years, amassing 35.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
4. Cincinnati: Justin Smith, DE, Missouri
’01-07, Bengals; ’08-present, 49ers
Following a rookie contract holdout, Smith hit the field and hasn’t left it since. A 16-game starter from his second season on, Smith posted a Bengals’ rookie record of 8.5 sacks that stood until 2010. For his career, he has averaged 67 tackles, 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble per season, making consecutive Pro Bowls with the 49ers in 2009-10. Signed through 2013 on a six-year, $45-million deal.
5. San Diego: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU
’01-09, Chargers; ’10-present, Jets
One of the best running backs ever to play the game, Tomlinson will one day enter the Hall of Fame with an extended list of credentials. The 2006 MVP is currently sixth in career rushing yards (13,404) and yards from scrimmage (17,727), second in rushing touchdowns (144) and third in total touchdowns (159), among numerous other accomplishments. Tomlinson has earned five Pro Bowl berths, four first-team All-Pro selections and began his career with eight consecutive 1,100-yard rushing seasons. Will back up Shonn Greene in New York this season.
6. New England: Richard Seymour, DT, Georgia
’01-08, Patriots; ’09-present, Raiders
The Patriots hit it big by drafting Seymour with the sixth selection. In his first five seasons in the league, the Georgia product won three Super Bowls, went to four Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro three times by the Associated Press. He averaged nearly five sacks per season with the Patriots. Was traded to Oakland in 2009 where he made his sixth career Pro Bowl in 2010. Signed through 2012 with the Raiders, Seymour has a good shot at reaching Canton.
7. San Francisco: Andre Carter, DE, California
’01-05, 49ers; ’06-10, Redskins
Carter made the short trip from his college home in Berkeley to San Francisco but never quite lived up to lofty expectations. A standout pass-rusher at Cal, Carter has been a frustrating talent who never could string consecutive outstanding seasons together. In his 10 professional seasons, he’s registered at least 10.5 sacks three times but didn’t record more than 6.5 in the other seven. Never elected to the Pro Bowl, but in 149 games he has 66 sacks and 15 forced fumbles. Now a free agent after being released by the Redskins.
8. Chicago: David Terrell, WR, Michigan
’01-04, Bears; ’05 Broncos
Terrell recorded 1,602 yards and nine touchdowns in 53 games with the Bears. The first receiver taken in the draft, he certainly didn’t live up to expectations, but it’s hard to place all the blame on Terrell as the Bears’ passing game was in shambles. The organization shuffled through nine different starting quarterbacks while he was there. Injuries in Denver prevented his career from going further.
9. Seattle: Koren Robinson, WR, N.C. State
’01-04, Seahawks; ’05, Vikings; ’06-07, Packers; ’08, Seahawks
Troubles with alcohol and other off-field issues kept Robinson from living up to his potential. In his second year in the league, Robinson tallied a career-best 1,240 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and in ’05 he made the Pro Bowl with the Vikings as a kick returner. His career was marred by numerous run-ins with the law, jail time and a one-year suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Interestingly, during his second stint with the Seahawks, Robinson caught a 90-yard touchdown pass, the longest in franchise history.
10. Green Bay: Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State
Reynolds takes the cake as the biggest bust of the top-10 draft picks. A star pass-rusher at Florida State, Reynolds was hounded by knee injuries in his first two seasons, and a lack of ability brought his NFL career to a quick halt. His career ended after only 18 games (none started), three sacks and two forced fumbles.
11. Carolina: Dan Morgan, OLB, Miami
An excellent linebacker whenever he played, Morgan had a difficult time just staying on the field. In seven seasons with the Panthers, he averaged fewer than nine games played due to a variety of ailments. There’s no question Carolina’s defense was better when he was in the lineup. The organization made its first-ever Super Bowl during his third season. Morgan’s best season came in 2004 with 102 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two recoveries, all in only 12 games.
12. St. Louis: Damione Lewis, DT, Miami
’01-05, Rams; ’06-09, Panthers; ’10, Texans
Lewis isn’t often the guy you hear broadcasters raving about, but he’s survived in the NFL for 10 years as a big-bodied run-stuffer. A starter for less than half of the 141 games in which he’s appeared, Lewis has accumulated 23.5 career sacks, four forced fumbles and five recoveries for three separate teams.
13. Jacksonville: Marcus Stroud, DT, Georgia
’01-07, Jaguars; ’08-10, Bills; Present, Patriots
Stroud was considered one of the league’s premier defensive tackles during his heyday with the Jaguars when he teamed with John Henderson to form an imposing interior D-line. Stroud reached three consecutive Pro Bowls from ’03-05 and ended his Jags career with 22 sacks and 22 passes defensed in 100 games. Traded to Buffalo, where he quickly became the best player on one of the league’s worst defenses. Was signed and then released this offseason by New England.
14. Tampa Bay: Kenyatta Walker, T, Florida
Walker started all 16 games at left tackle as a rookie, then moved over to the right side, where he started 56 games from 2002-05. Though never considered a great player, he was a productive part of the Bucs team that won the Super Bowl following the ’02 season. A knee injury cut his ’06 season short after three games and essentially ended his NFL career.
15. Washington: Rod Gardner, WR, Clemson
’01-04, Redskins; ’05, Panthers, Packers; ’06, Chiefs
The Redskins pegged Gardner as their impact player in the receiving game. A starter from the beginning, Garner averaged 16.1 yards per catch in his rookie year and broke the 1,000-yard mark in ’02, Steve Spurrier’s first as coach. That breakout season was the high point of his career as he recorded only 600 and 650 yards in ’03 and ’04, respectively. Traded to Carolina before the ’05 season but didn’t make an impact there or at his final two stops.
16. N.Y. Jets: Santana Moss, WR, Miami
’01-04, Jets; ’05-10, Redskins
A small (5'10"), but speedy receiver, Moss has topped 1,000 yards in a season four times with career totals of 593 receptions, 8,558 yards and 52 touchdowns. Has also scored three times and averaged 11.3 yards on 112 career punt returns. Moss made his only Pro Bowl appearance in ’05 after posting a career-best 1,483 yards receiving. Re-signed with the Redskins this offseason.
17. Seattle: Steve Hutchinson, G, Michigan
’01-05, Seahawks; ’06-present, Vikings
One of the best interior linemen ever to play, Hutchinson has put together a Hall of Fame-worthy career that included seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and five AP first-team All-Pro selections from ’03-09. Hutchinson blocked for 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander and played in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XL loss to the Steelers that season. Signed with the Vikings through 2012.
18. Detroit: Jeff Backus, T, Michigan
The second consecutive Michigan offensive lineman drafted, Backus has never been recognized as a Pro Bowler like Hutchinson, but he’s been a steady presence as the Lions’ left tackle each and every week for the last 10 years, starting in all 160 possible games during that stretch. The Lions have him locked up through 2011.
19. Pittsburgh: Casey Hampton, NT, Texas
Hampton is a beast of a man (6'1", 320) who has been clogging up running lanes for the Steelers since he was drafted. A prototypical nose tackle in the 3-4 defense, Hampton has produced far beyond his nine career sacks in 144 games. The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion will continue to create opportunities for the Steelers’ linebackers in 2011.
20. St. Louis: Adam Archuleta, SS, Arizona State
’01-05, Rams; ’06, Redskins; ’07, Bears
Archuleta recorded three interceptions, five fumble recoveries and three touchdowns during his five years with the Rams. He parlayed that decent — but far from elite — tenure into a six-year, $30 million contract with Washington before the ’06 season — the richest for a safety in NFL history at the time. Oddly, though, he didn’t seem to be in the coaches’ plans and played only one year in D.C. before being traded to Chicago, where he lasted just one year before being released.
21. Buffalo: Nate Clements, CB, Ohio State
’01-06, Bills; ’07-10, 49ers; '11, Bengals
A 2004 Pro Bowler, Clements made plays all over the field during his six-year tenure with Buffalo. He intercepted 23 passes, forced 13 fumbles and scored five touchdowns on defense while scoring twice more as a punt returner. That success led the 49ers to make him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the game with an eight-year, $80 million contract. Was released by the 49ers and signed by the Bengals this offseason.
22. N.Y. Giants: Will Allen, CB, Syracuse
’01-05, Giants; ’06-present, Dolphins
A notably competitive corner, Allen has started all but one of the 125 games he’s appeared in during his career, recording 15 interceptions, one touchdown and an impressive 106 passes defensed with two teams. Allen missed the entire ’10 season following knee surgery but will return to the Dolphins’ secondary — though probably not as a starter — with a restructured contract in 2011.
23. New Orleans: Deuce McAllister, RB, Ole Miss
McAllister battled injuries throughout his career but still ended as the Saints’ all-time leading rusher. The two-time Pro Bowler posted four 1,000-yard seasons, including a career-high 1,641 in ’03, en route to a career total of 6,096 rushing yards and 49 touchdowns. He added 1,720 yards and five touchdowns through the air. McAllister continues to be a Saints fan favorite, and the organization made him an honorary captain of the NFC Championship Game following the ’09 season.
24. Denver: Willie Middlebrooks, CB, Minnesota
’01-04, Broncos; ’05, 49ers
One of the few busts in the draft, Middlebrooks started only two games in his NFL career and earned much of his playing time on special teams. Issues off the field, including a 2005 New Year’s Day assault charge, helped expedite his exit from the league. Latched on with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, where he was a starter at cornerback from ’08-10.
25. Philadelphia: Freddie Mitchell, WR, UCLA
An outspoken receiver known as “FredEx”, Mitchell is best known for catching the Eagles’ 4th-and-26 pass in the final minute of the NFC Divisional Playoff game against Green Bay following the ’03 season, which the Eagles won in overtime. Also part of the Eagles’ ’04 Super Bowl team. His subpar career ended with 90 receptions for 1,263 yards and five touchdowns.
26. Miami: Jamar Fletcher, DB, Wisconsin
’01-03, Dolphins; ’04-05, Chargers; ’06, Lions; ’07, Texans; ’08, Bengals
Played eight years in the league for five different teams but never became a full-time starter. In 105 games (12 starts), Fletcher recorded seven interceptions, 26 passes defensed and 193 tackles. Best season came with the Lions in ’06, when he picked off three passes, scored his only career touchdown and recovered one fumble.
27. Minnesota: Michael Bennett, RB, Wisconsin
’01-05, Vikings; ’06-07, Chiefs; ’07-08, Bucs; ’08-09, Chargers; ’10, Raiders
Bennett became a Pro Bowl running back in his second season, posting 1,296 yards and five touchdowns with the Vikings. Since then, he’s remained in the league by becoming one of the NFL’s most reliable third down options, playing for four different teams after his rookie contract expired with the Vikings. Currently a free agent with career totals of 3,703 rushing yards, 1,294 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns.
28. Oakland: Derrick Gibson, DB, Florida State
This selection was particularly painful for Raiders’ fans considering the productive careers of the players chosen immediately afterward. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited Gibson’s career in Oakland. The Florida State product played five seasons at safety (missing the entire ’04 campaign), recording 194 tackles, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and one forced fumble.
29. St. Louis: Ryan Pickett, DT, Ohio State
’01-05, Rams; ’06-present, Packers
Pickett became a starter in his second season with the Rams and has been a productive part of the defensive lines of both the Rams and Packers since. The 6'2", 340-pounder has recorded 454 tackles and 9.5 sacks in his career and was a key part of the Packers’ Super Bowl championship run during the 2010 season. Signed through 2013.
30. Indianapolis: Reggie Wayne, WR, Miami
The best receivers of all time often go hand-in-hand with the best quarterbacks. Wayne is no different, matching up with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis since he became the fourth Miami Hurricane drafted in the first round in 2001. A five-time Pro Bowler who stepped out of Marvin Harrison’s shadow to become the Colts’ No. 1 target, he has topped 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons. Wayne continues to climb up the career receiving charts with 10,748 yards, 69 touchdowns and a Super Bowl championship in his pocket. Entering the final year of his contract.
31. Baltimore: Todd Heap, TE, Arizona State
The then-reigning Super Bowl champions selected Heap with the final pick of the first round, and he didn’t disappoint, remaining an integral part of the Ravens’ offense throughout the entire decade. Heap is a two-time Pro Bowl tight end with more than 5,400 career receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. Was released by the Ravens following the lockout.
First 5 Picks of Second Round
1. Drew Brees, QB, Chargers
2. Quincy Morgan, WR, Browns
3. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Cardinals
4. Alge Crumpler, TE, Falcons
5. Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals
Late Round Notables
3. Steve Smith, WR, Panthers
4. Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals
4. Ryan Diem, RT, Colts
7. Renaldo Hill, DB, Cardinals
7. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Bengals
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Kyle Busch “The Surgeon” begins to pull away … kind of like he’s going 128 mph and the rest of the field is doing the 45 mph speed limit.
2. Jimmie Johnson To those harping about how Johnson is ripe for the taking, take notice that he has only six finishes worse than 11th (in 23 races) this year and sits second in the point standings. Blue 48, prepare to make your Chase run.
3. Jeff Gordon The four-time champ has averaged a seventh-place finish since the calendar turned to June. And in this point system — even more than the last — consistency is key.
4. Brad Keselowski The Keselowski Express rolls on with a third-place showing at Michigan on the heels of first- and second-place showings. Is he a title contender? Let’s not go there yet, but man, is he turning heads.
5. Carl Edwards A stalwart atop the Horsepower Rankings throughout the season, Edwards’ performance was supposed to improve after he re-signed with Jack Roush, not plateau off in mediocrity.
6. Matt Kenseth Led a largely-disappointing Roush contingent at Michigan — one that saw teammate Greg Biffle win the pole and lead the most laps. But in the end, Kenseth’s 10th was the best Uncle Jack could muster.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Each week, the Athlon editors will vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top ten Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.
Note: The scoring system is as follows: A first place vote earns a player 10 points. A second place votes earns nine points - so on and so forth until the 10th place player receives one point.
With less than 10 days left until the kickoff of the season, is there any doubt who the best, most important player in college football is heading into 2011?
He has an architecture degree from one of the most prominent academic schools in the nation. He finished second in the Heisman voting a year ago. He led his team to its first ever BCS Bowl win with an absolutle dismantling of the ACC champion Virginia Tech Hokies in the Orange Bowl. He has his team poised for a Pac-12 and BCS national title run in 2011.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you Athlon's top vote-getter in the preliminary Heisman vote:
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (88 of 90 possible pts, 7 of 9 first place votes)
They lost their head coach, but the Cardinal are welcoming back the nation’s finest quarterback. Luck, who spurned the NFL Draft, threw for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns (and only eight INTs) as a sophomore to lead Stanford to its first 12-win season in school history.
|Name||POS||Team||Tot Pts||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th||Left Off|
|4.||Kellen Moore||QB||Boise State||60||-||-||3||2||3||0|
|5.||Marcus Lattimore||RB||South Carolina||58||-||2||-||3||1||0|
|7.||Justin Blackmon||WR||Oklahoma St||26||-||-||-||-||-||2|
|9.||Brandon Weeden||QB||Oklahoma St||17||-||-||-||-||-||4|
|15.||Manti Te'o||LB||Notre Dame||1||-||-||-||-||-||9|
|16.||Geno Smith||QB||West Virginia||1||-||-||-||-||-||9|
|17.||David Wilson||RB||Virginia Tech||1||-||-||-||-||-||9|
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (77/90 pts)
Speedster led the nation in rushing last season with 1,731 yards for the national runners-up. With seven starters back on offense, including three on the offensive line, the Ducks should continue to put up gaudy numbers.
3. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (62/90 pts)
Jones has been wildly productive in his two years as the starter in Norman. In 2010, he broke school records for pass attempts (617) and completions (405) en route to a 4,718-yard, 38-touchdown season. With a host of weapons at his disposal, expect more of the same from the fourth-year junior.
4. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (60/90)
Moore, 38–2 as a starter, needs eight wins to pass Colt McCoy as the all-time winningest quarterback in the FBS ranks. He must forge ahead without his top two receivers from last season, as well as offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, now at Texas.
5. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (58/90)
Lattimore was sensational as a true freshman, rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 scores for the SEC East champs, and promises to be even better as a sophomore after a year in the weight room. With issues at quarterback — will Stephen Garcia ever behave? — the Gamecocks could lean on their running game even more this fall.
6. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (48/60)
He’s been arguably the best backup in the nation the past two seasons. Now, with former Heisman winner Mark Ingram off to the NFL, Richardson is the top option at Bama. Last year, he rushed for 700 yards on only 112 carries for a sparkling 6.3-yard average.
7. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (26/90)
Blackmon teamed with Brandon Weeden to form one of the nation’s most explosive pass-catch duos. After catching 20 passes as a redshirt freshman in 2009, Blackmon blew up last fall, ranking second in the nation in receptions (111) and third in yards (1,782) while leading the country (by a wide margin) with 20 TD catches.
8. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor (22/90)
He’s the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the country — he threw for 3,501 yards and rushed for 635 in 2010 — but Griffin will have a tough time impressing Heisman voters unless the Bears can somehow challenge for the Big 12 crown.
9. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (17/90)
The former minor league pitcher threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading the Big 12 in passing efficiency in his first year as the Cowboys starter. Having his favorite target, Justin Blackmon, back is a plus, but losing highly regarded coordinator Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia is a blow.
10t. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (13/90)
10t. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (13/90)
There might not have been two more polarizing words when the Big Ten announced it was naming its football divisions “Legends” and “Leaders” in December.
The new division names were welcomed as much as a plague.
“With all the great history and tradition available to it, the haughty Big Ten went low brow, corporate, generic,” wrote CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd. “Leaders and Legends? That’s the name of the trophy store down the street. What, were ‘Gods’ and ‘Superheroes’ already taken?”
James Edward Delany, the man ultimately responsible for the division names, was taken aback by the criticism and negative feedback.
“We wanted to build on the historic, legendary features, and then, what is intercollegiate athletics about if it’s not about building future leaders?” Delany says.
Ironically, the two words that have provided the most grief for Delany are actually the two words that best define the Big Ten’s commissioner — a legend and a leader.
This July marks his 22nd year leading the Big Ten. Only the fifth commissioner since the league’s founding in 1896, Delany has many achievements during his tenure — most notably league expansion and the formation of the Big Ten Network.
In August 2007, Delany also was the guiding force in the creation and launch of the Big Ten Network — the first national conference-owned television network devoted to the athletic and academic programs of a single league. In its first 30 days, it reached 30 million homes, the first network to post those numbers. It’s now available in 19 of the nation’s top 20 television markets and reaches an estimated 75 million homes overall.
Those are just a couple of reasons that in 2007, BusinessWeek ranked Delany as the 31st-most powerful person in sports. The only college official who ranked higher on the list was then-NCAA President Myles Brand.
The 63-year old Delany, who was a guard on two of Dean Smith’s Final Four teams at North Carolina in the late 1960s, remains one of college athletics’ heaviest hitters. Just ask Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson.
Last December in New York, Benson was part of a panel at the IMG Intercollegiate Forum in New York City. Benson was joined on stage by Delany and four of the other five BCS conference commissioners in a discussion of the BCS and its impact on college athletics. General Custer stood a better chance than Benson.
During the forum, Delany went on about how he already had testified three times before Congress. Delany also discussed at great length the media and public pressures that he and the other BCS commissioners had faced defending the BCS system. He even referenced something called “BCS-defense fatigue.” He said he felt the need to be “politically correct” when discussing the smaller conferences, such as the Mountain West Conference or Benson’s WAC.
Equal access for the non-BCS conferences is not a subject Delany enjoys discussing. At least on two occasions during the forum, Delany interrupted Benson to hammer his opinion home.
“The BCS has provided greater access,” Benson said. “Look at 120 schools, 11 conferences and to establish opportunities for those student-athletes. To play on the big stage, we’ve been to the big stage. …
“The problem,” Delany interrupted, “is your big stage takes away opportunities for my teams, to play on the stage they created in 1902.”
Responded Benson: “I think the group of five (non-automatic qualifying BCS conferences) has established value in the last five years.”
“The notion,” Delany said, “that over time by putting political pressure on, it’s just going to get greater access, more financial reward and more access to the Rose Bowl … I think you’re really testing. I think people who have contributed a lot have, what I call, ‘BCS defense fatigue.’
“If you think you can continue to push for more money, more access to the Rose Bowl, or Sugar Bowl — I have tremendous respect for Boise and TCU. … I think they are tremendous teams that can beat any team in the country on a given day. I think the only question is, ‘Does one team’s 12–0 and another team’s 12–0 equate?’ And that’s where the discussion plays out, not whether or not they’re elite teams or deserving access to the bowl system.
“I’m not sure how much more give there is in the system.”
In 1998, the BCS began when the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl agreed to join the SEC, Big 12, ACC and Big East as well as the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls to ensure a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national title game each season.
In the 13 years since, the BCS has expanded access to the bigger-paying BCS bowls for teams in the non-automatic qualifying conferences (WAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt) and has increased the revenue to those leagues. In 2009, the five non-automatic qualifying BCS leagues divided $24 million, with the Mountain West receiving $9.8 million and the WAC $7.8 million.
However, the Big Ten and SEC each received $22.2 million and the Big 12, Pac-10, ACC and Big East each received $17.7 million.
Benson supports the BCS but wants even more access and more revenue. This is not a popular subject with Delany.
“We gave up the Rose Bowl, the SEC gave up access to the Sugar Bowl, others were included, but they never had access to any of this before,” Delany said. “You have to understand who brought what to the table. Who’s continuing to give and who’s continuing to get.”
Then Delany made his stance on the subject crystal clear.
“The only thing I would say: If you think you (the non-automatic qualifying leagues) can continue to pressure the system and we’ll just naturally provide more and more and more, I don’t think that’s an assumption that our presidents, athletic directors, football coaches and commissioners necessarily agree with.
“Karl (Benson) says we like this contract and we want more. Well, we’ve got fatigue for defending a system that’s under a lot of pressure. The pressure is for more. It’s never enough.”
In 2009, non-automatic qualifying teams Boise State and TCU received BCS bowl berths. Last season, TCU earned an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl after the “Granddaddy of Them All” lost Pac-10 champion Oregon to the BCS title game. Delany didn’t hide his displeasure that Stanford, the Pac-10 runner-up, was not allowed to replace Oregon — instead of TCU — and play Wisconsin. Maybe we know why: Wisconsin went on to lose to TCU.
While the current BCS system runs through 2013, Delany suggested — no, make that all but promised — that if the automatic-qualifying leagues are pressured to give the smaller leagues even more money and more access to the bowls, the BCS leagues would likely go back to the bowl system before the BCS. In this scenario, the bowl games would align with the most attractive conferences and have the freedom to choose whatever team they wanted — i.e., a WAC or Mountain West team likely never would be selected by one of the big four bowls (Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange) again.
Think the BCS schools won’t do it? Think again. And, if anyone has the power to make it happen, it’s Delany.
Other Big Ten Content:
Predicting College Football's Breakout Players: Big Ten
Ranking the Big Ten's Top 40 Players for 2011
Athlon's 2011 Big Ten Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Big Ten Team
Top 25 Players of BCS Era
Best Quarterback in the Big Ten?
Will Michigan Surprise in the Big Ten title race?
Illinois: A Sleeper Team?
Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.
Take a look at the pros & cons of all of the potential first-round RBs.
But if you miss out on one of the top RBs or get one, go elsewhere for a few rounds and then look to get another one or two later, here's who we have as the sleepers to look out for and the busts to avoid. These are in no particular order. Check out the Athlon 280 to see who is where, as well as our current preseason RB rankings.
See more of Athlon Sports value players, overvalued players and top rookies in our Best Bets story
Shonn Greene, New York Jets
No RB disappointed fantasy folks more in 2010. Greene failed to build on the terrific 2009 playoff run and couldn’t even get relevant when LaDainian Tomlinson slowed down midway through the year. With LT another year older, though, Greene should get more opportunity this time around. We have to be wary after a mere 4.1 yards-per-carry average and two TDs last year, but the previous production wasn’t imaginary. Greene must show better instincts for finding the hole, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says Greene is ready to “explode.”
Mark Ingram, New Orleans
Yeah, things are crowded in the Saints backfield. The team didn’t jump back into the first round for a committee back, though. Sean Payton’s debut season in 2006 saw Deuce McAllister draw 51.7 percent of carries. No player has surpassed 40 percent since. Pierre Thomas was that kind of runner for half of 2008 but can’t stay healthy. Ingram was a strong, highly dependable runner in college and should be the guy Payton leans on to lead the rushing attack in 2011. TDs will come.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati
Last season brought Benson career highs in carries, receptions and rushing TDs. It was the first time he played all 16 games. He also managed just 3.5 yards per carry. The low TD total came despite the third-most red zone carries in the league; the two RBs ahead of him each scored at least 12 times. Cincinnati figures to have Andy Dalton under center, and the short-yardage blocking must get better. Benson will continue to be a high-carry back but will be hard-pressed to generate much greater production.
Daniel Thomas, Miami
Thomas doesn’t come with big-play speed, but he can be a punishing between-the-tackles runner. He averaged a strong 5.2 yards per carry over two seasons as Kansas State’s starter and was particularly productive in the red zone. Thomas scored two TDs or more in eight of 13 games en route to 19 scores for the 2010 season. He isn’t a special receiver but did catch 52 passes over the two years. Assuming Reggie Bush cannot be the workhorse back, which he is not, Thomas should lead the Miami backfield in carries and stand first in line for TDs behind a rising O-line.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay
James Starks is the exciting new guy scaring folks off of Grant. Starks wasn’t exactly Shonn Greene from the ’09 playoffs, though. Grant isn’t the big-play threat some other backs are, but he comes with two 1,200-yard seasons behind him. He converted 11 TDs in 2009 despite only tying for 14th in the league in red zone carries. He’s the proven player and is recovered from his September ankle fracture. There’s no reason for the Packers to marginalize him, even if a few carries go the kid’s way.
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis
Fantasy owners seem to treat Addai as some dude riding Peyton Manning’s coattails. He might not be a special runner, but Addai has produced as a receiver, goal line back and pass protector. In 2009, he ran for 10 TDs and amassed the league’s seventh-most red zone carries. He scored all of his three receiving TDs from inside the red zone. Last year brought the best rushing average since his rookie year. Addai’s biggest challenge has been health. He has reached 230 carries only once in five seasons.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo
Jackson’s coaches always take a bit of time to realize his value. A new staff in 2010 waited until Marshawn Lynch was gone to finally give Jackson more than nine carries in a game. Then he averaged 17.3 over the final 11. That would have ranked 11th in the league for the season. C.J. Spiller will get more work in his second year, but Bills coaches would be foolish to go away from Jackson constantly. He has averaged at least 4.2 per rush every year behind lackluster lines and has topped 30 catches in three straight seasons.
Beanie Wells, Arizona
Two years ago, he was the first-round pick set to save the Arizona running game. Last year he was ready to build on some late-season success after a slow start in 2009. Now Wells is a well-conditioned question mark who needs to put it together in real games to be trusted. The talent is certainly there. Wells is a big, fast back on a team seeking a lead runner. With Ryan Williams out for the year and Tim Hightower traded to Washington, this might be his last chance in the desert. Three thoughts post Williams injury: With no one there to push him do we get same old Beanie? Can he handle the role he has failed to handle so far? And if the team tries to acquire more depth, what will Wells' role be? If he can answer the first two positvely then he's worth a shot.
James Starks, Green Bay
After basically missing the regular season, the rookie drew 81 postseason carries. He was effective, with 123 yards to ice the Eagles and 52 on just 11 carries in the Super Bowl. He wasn’t explosive, though. Starks averaged just 3.9 yards per rush and had only one run of 20 yards or more. Against Philadelphia, he topped 10 yards on only two other carries. Coaches love him, but we have yet to see what the kid brings to the table that Ryan Grant doesn’t.
Mike Tolbert, San Diego
Tolbert was a bit of a novelty before last season. His teammates loved his TD dances. Fans might have known him best for his 66-yard TD reception in 2009. Last year, though, he emerged as Peyton Hillis Lite after Ryan Mathews got hurt. Tolbert delivered near the goal line, tying for sixth in the league in rushing TDs, and caught 25 of his 29 targets. Word is that the Chargers want to split carries between he and Mathews this year.
Reggie Bush, Miami
His percentage of team rushes slipped every year since 2007, down to 9.5 percent in 2010. Some of that is injury, which combines with Bush’s running limitations to lower his fantasy value. That said, he’ll always be a high-reception guy. Bush was on pace for 68 last year had he played all 16 games.
Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants
The early season story was Jacobs flinging his helmet into the stands and disappointing on the field. By the end, he had a personal-best 5.6 yards per carry. Jacobs also produced his largest rate of 20-yard runs. His performance motivated coaches to promise more carries for the big man in 2011. Jacobs doesn’t fill a true goal line role but gets enough work for non-PPR production. Injuries must be accounted for with Jacobs, though, as last year was the first time in five years he played every game. He re-negotiated his deal with the Giants, actually for less money so the team could re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw, but did so with a reported caveat that he get more carries than he did in 2010. Reportedly this will be a shared backfield, making Jacobs a good mid-round pickup.
Javon Ringer, Tennessee
Ringer was a very productive runner in college and has looked solid in short work as a pro. The reason he’s relevant, though, is that Chris Johnson is among the few true NFL workhorses. A devastating injury to Johnson would shove a ton of work someone’s way behind a pretty good line. The question is whether Ringer can hold off rookie Jamie Harper. Ringer has averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per carry so far in the NFL and might benefit from the lockout limiting workouts. Harper has looked solid in preseason, but Ringer would get the starting nod if there were no CJ this season. The longer CJ holds out the more likely it is Ringer becomes that starter, and who's to say even if Johnson did show up right before Week 1 he would stay healthy. There's not a massive sample size to gain research from those backs that holdout and come back right at the start of the season, but with no offseason whatsoever to get ready, the chances of an injury have to increase dramatically. Ringer and Rashad Jennings will probably be the favorite handcuffs this year, and you will probably have to go earlier than you would like for them.
Michael Bush, Oakland
Bush’s career 4.4 yards-per-carry average through three seasons shows that he can be an efficient back overall. His seven red zone TDs showed his effectiveness as a goal line back. A similar role could produce bigger numbers this year. Bush drew nearly one-fifth of his runs last year in the red zone for a team that scored the sixth-most points in the league. That came despite a struggling passing game that should be better in 2011. If Darren McFadden gets hurt again, Bush can deliver in a feature role.
Roy Helu, Washington
Projecting Mike Shanahan’s backfield plans can be frustrating but also quite rewarding. The coach is well-known for believing he can turn late-round backs into rushing stars, and he packaged three picks for the chance to do so with Helu in 2011. The former Husker averaged 5.9 yards over 578 carries in college, including 6.6 per rush as a senior. Helu is the kind of downhill runner Shanahan likes and brings good speed when he has room to get going.
Delone Carter, Indianapolis
At 5'9", 225 pounds and with more short-area quickness than speed, Carter perfectly fits the short-yardage profile. Perhaps just as important, scouts say he’s already impressive in pass protection. Those qualities will help him get on the field for the Colts, who could use more power in the backfield and always value blocking. Carter lacks experience and proven ability as a receiver, but his skill set and 24 college rushing TDs make him a good complement for Joseph Addai.
Tim Hightower, Washington
Was the second-round selection of Ryan Williams a bigger knock on Beanie Wells or Hightower? Perhaps the answer is “both,” but the Cards seem determined Hightower wouldn’t be the feature back as they shipped him off to Washington. He topped 13 carries only twice last year. Most alarming is the fact that Hightower stopped getting passes. A year after ranking second in RB receptions, he finished just 30th in RB targets. But now he is in the lead in the snafu that is the Washington Redskins backfield. He is probably going too high in drafts because Mike Shanahan is so fickle with his backs, but if you can get him after in the ninth round and beyond, it's probably worth the risk.
Kendall Hunter, San Francisco
Anthony Dixon might get more work when Frank Gore is healthy, but Hunter should be the handcuff target. He topped 100 carries in three of four seasons at Oklahoma State and finished each of those seasons with a rushing average of 5.7 yards or better. Hunter surpassed 1,500 yards and ran for 16 TDs in each of his two full starting seasons. His size (5'7", 200) is a bit scary, but Hunter runs tough inside. That might wear him down quicker after a few pro seasons but is helpful early on.
Jerome Harrison, Detroit
For a few years in Cleveland, Harrison looked like a guy who just needed a chance. He flashed big-play ability and then enjoyed that absurd stretch to close 2009. His 106 carries and 561 yards in three games gave way to a disappointing start to 2010, though. Harrison quickly ceded the starting job to Peyton Hillis and was shipped to Philly. It’s hard to imagine Harrison as more than a complementary piece now, but it’s also hard to believe the upside has disappeared. One thing he has going for him: He went to Detroit after rookie Mikel Leshoure went on IR with an Achilles injury. So the Lions were obviously looking for another back to tote the rock with Jahvid Best. After what Harrison did in 2009 and basically sitting in neutral in 2010, there is a good chance that he could fill the role Leshoure was drafted to perform.
Thomas Jones, Kansas City
Jones was expected to play goal line vulture to Jamaal Charles in 2010 and basically did that. He wasn’t special in the role, though. Among RBs with at least 100 total carries, 15 others saw a higher percentage of their rushes come in the red zone. Starters and younger, more productive short-yardage guys finished ahead, despite the Chiefs scoring nearly 25 percent more points than in 2009. Jones got a surprising amount of between-the-20s work, putting forth a lackluster 3.7 yards per carry overall. It is going to be a tough schedule for the Chiefs this year, much tougher than last, and particularly tougher against the run. Jones could either be there to pound out the tough yards or take on a bigger role if the smaller Charles gets roughed up during the year.
Willis McGahee, Denver
Talk about a player who knows his role. In 2009, McGahee got 29 of his 109 carries in the red zone. His TDs fell last season, but we can pin at least part of that on the decline of the Baltimore line. McGahee is a short-yardage specialist and has been pretty good at it the past three years. Only eight players had more rushing TDs over the past three seasons, and each carried at least 197 more times than McGahee. There seems to be no love for Knowshon Moreno coming from the run-friendly John Fox and the new Broncos coaching staff. We wouldn't be surprised to see McGahee get 12-15 carries a game and become the feature back in the Mile High city.
Kraig Lumpkin, Tampa Bay
The Bucs will need a change of pace from the plodding LeGarrette Blount. Kraig Lumpkin could be that change. He could fill the void that Cadillac Williams left. Williams had 125 rushing attempts and 46 catches last season. Lumpkin is currently in a battle with veteran Earnest Graham and rookie Allen Bradford. Both Lumpkin and Bradford (keep an eye on who wins the backup RB job) would serve as spectacular late, late round fliers.
Mike Goodson, Carolina
Not much good emerged from Carolina last year, but Goodson was a bright spot. He ranked second on the team with 40 catches and produced two 100-yard games among his three starts. Goodson topped 20 carries in each of those two outings but likely isn’t a high-carry prospect. He is a top-shelf speedster who matched Chris Johnson’s 57 targets last year despite inconsistent use over the first six games. He’ll be a more consistent piece of a run-heavy offense in 2011, particularly if DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart propensity to get injured remains..
Montario Hardesty, Cleveland
There are two main factors working against Hardesty: His ACL tear last summer and Peyton Hillis’ ensuing beastly performance. It might also seem worrisome that the coach who drafted him is now gone. The team president and GM, however, are not, and new head coach Pat Shurmur has stated his desire for a two-headed running game. Hardesty is a 225-pounder with 4.49 speed who averaged 12 yards per reception as a college senior. If healthy, he’ll be a threat. Plus, Hillis (back) and newly acquired Brandon Jackson (turf toe) are already dealing with injuries in preseason.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
It’s fair to wonder whether Murray has already hit his ceiling. He arrived at Oklahoma as an exciting big-play threat and averaged 5.8 yards per carry over his first two years. Murray also dealt with injuries every year in college, though, and averaged just 4.2 yards per rush over his final two seasons. Murray did go for double-digit TDs in three of four years and turned in huge receiving numbers. His best bet might be to settle into a third down role for the Cowboys and marginalize Tashard Choice. The role could be bigger if Choice is shipped out, though.
Tashard Choice, Dallas Cowboys
Finally. Marion Barber is gone. Time for Choice to step into a more prominent role in a cleared-out backfield. Wait, DeMarco who? Choice has spent three years looking like the Cowboys RB most likely to consistently help fantasy owners. At the same time, Jason Garrett has been cutting down his work. Choice went from a few promising 2008 starts to fewer than 85 total touches each of the past two years. His best bet might be primary goal line work until Felix Jones’ next injury. He's a sleeper if he ends up on another team; perhaps old NFC East rival Arizona would be a good fit to replace Ryan Williams.
Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
The Patriots' preseason hero thus far, Ridley doesn’t come with the speed or moves to become a feature back but is a hammer at the line of scrimmage. He scored 15 touchdowns last year for an LSU team on which no other RB or receiver surpassed four rushing and/or receiving. He’ll serve as early insurance for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and figures to replace the 2010 breakout player whenever BJGE leaves. Ridley is a good fit for Bill Belichick’s committee approach.
Joe McKnight, New York Jets
For most of his rookie season, McKnight was best known for puking during training-camp conditioning drills. Perhaps some folks were more aware of him disappointing coaches with his slowness in picking up the offense. Either way, he made no real impact until a 32-carry, 158-yard Week 17 performance against Buffalo. After the season, Rex Ryan referred to McKnight as a special talent. The second-year player should push LaDainian Tomlinson for third down duties.
Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh
Redman’s profile says goal line horse. His usage says otherwise, though. After not touching the ball as a rookie, Redman averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year but took only 10 of his 52 handoffs in the red zone. He caught passes in five of the final eight games. Redman won’t vulture TDs as long as Rashard Mendenhall is healthy and will have trouble finding much more work at all. His all-around play in 2010, however, suggests he could step in solidly should injury befall the starter.
Ben Tate, Houston
A year ago, he looked like the odds-on favorite to lead the Houston backfield. The Texans traded up to draft Tate in 2010’s second round, and his speed-power combo looked potentially special. A broken leg later and Arian Foster is a No. 1 fantasy pick. Now Tate will have to compete with Derrick Ward for backup duties. Camp will tell us if he’s all the way back, but Tate will have had more than a full year to recover. He should carry more upside than the veteran Ward.
Jamie Harper, Tennessee
If Chris Johnson's holdout extends much longer than most of us fantasy players would like (and it already had), then Harper has a chance to be a TD vulture. The rookie from Clemson looked solid in the second preseason game and the reps leading up to the season can do nothing but help. He might be worth keeping an eye on even if CJ is back in time for Week 1, still running as that vulture role.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
This time last year, many were skeptical of Charles’ chances of building on his late-2009 run of astounding production. Everyone believes now. There is no more explosive back in the NFL. He actually increased his yards per carry with a growing workload each of the past two years. Of the 23 RBs with at least 200 carries last year, none came within 1.2 yards of Charles’ 6.4 average. He has probably hit a ceiling there but should see more red zone work than the meager 20 carries of last year. He sits as a potential bust due to the brutal schedule. The Chiefs play seven defenses that were top 10 against the run in 2010 — six of those seven come prior to the fantasy playoffs and then they get the Jets to start the fantasy playoffs.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Bradshaw proved his toughness in 2010, playing through nagging injuries while garnering a career-high 276 carries. A bad left ankle sapped his second-half effectiveness, though. Bradshaw averaged 5.3 yards per carry over his first seven games, 3.7 per carry over the final nine. His foot and ankle issues date back to college and led to offseason surgery for the second straight year. He should be fine heading into the season, but coaches are concerned about his workload. Fantasy owners should worry about another second-half swoon. Talk in the preseason has been of a 50-50, 60-40 split with Brandon Jacobs. That's not good news. Neither is losing the receiving threats down the middle in Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. Add in Dallas, Washington and the Jets in the fantasy playoffs, and we're a bit skiddish.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland
No one expected anything near Hillis’ 2010. We should have expected good things, though. As a college fullback, Hillis was the leading receiver on a team that included Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and receiver Marcus Monk. Pressed into starting duty for the Broncos as a 2008 rookie, Hillis ran for five TDs in less than four full games and turned in a 100-yard receiving game. Montario Hardesty will return and steal some work this year, the question is how much. Hillis and Denver receiver Brandon Lloyd have been the poster boys for fantasy busts in 2011, and Hillis seems to be nudging Lloyd off of that poster so he can have it outright.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England
No one can complain about anything from BJGE’s 2010 breakout. An effective complementary back previously, he seized his opportunity and tied for the second-most rushing TDs in the league. There’s reason to expect less work, though. He drew 50 percent of the Pats’ carries in 2010, the first time since 2004 that any player did so. Otherwise, the team became known for spreading it around its backfield. Sure enough, the draft added Shane Vereen and big back Stevan Ridley. There’ll be work, just not as much.
Jahvid Best, Detroit
Turf toe injuries to both feet limited Best’s effectiveness as a rookie. He returned to full strength this offseason and says his speed is back. The team drafted Mikel Leshoure so the two could share the backfield. Leshoure goes down and the team signs two more backs in Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell. All signs point to Best not being the bell cow of the backfield. He has already been banged up in the first two presason games. He does, however, have big-play ability and receiving skills as only five RBs caught more passes last year (and that was with Best dealing with turf toe injury times two).
Knowshon Moreno, Denver
Moreno hasn’t been what the Broncos expected when they took him in the first round of the 2009 draft. Injuries have stunted his growth, but more important, Moreno hasn’t shown the big-play ability critical for an early first-round back. He has been a quality receiver, so good that the team has split him out wide on occasion. Moreno caught more passes than Adrian Peterson and MJD last year despite missing three games. Only four RBs produced a better receiving average. That will help Moreno contribute numbers in a more complementary role in 2011. Willis McGahee in that backfield is a major buzzkill for those hoping this would be the year Moreno finally broke out.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego
The knock on Mathews heading into his rookie year was his injury background in college. Sure enough, a Week 2 ankle sprain knocked his entire season off track. A wrist injury later in the year also required offseason surgery. Mathews ceded work to Mike Tolbert and struggled in pass protection when on the field. He did bounce back for five TDs over the final four games, including a huge Week 17. That was the only game, though, in which Mathews surpassed 20 carries or reached 80 yards. We’re left wondering if he can translate his talent to the pros. And word from Norv Turner in training camp that he is leaning heavily toward a split-carry backfield does not bode well for Mathews, particularly with the mid-third round ADP he currently carries.
More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams
Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2011. Until kickoff, look for updated rankings, player profiles and strategy pieces every week. As we dive into our preseason research, expect plenty of tweaks to the rankings before the season starts.
Scoring system rankings based upon -
1 passing touchdown = 4 points
Rushing/receiving = 6 points
25 passing yards = 1 point
10 rushing/receiving yards = 1 point
1 interception = - 1 point
Updated: August 26
|3||Dominique Davis||East Carolina|
|7||Brandon Weeden||Oklahoma State|
|9||Austin Davis||Southern Miss|
|10||Alex Carder||Western Michigan|
|11||Geno Smith||West Virginia|
|14||Kellen Moore||Boise State|
|16||Ryan Aplin||Arkansas State|
|20||Chandler Harnish||Northern Illinois|
|26||Dayne Crist||Notre Dame|
|27||Kolton Browning||UL Monroe|
|28||Seth Doege||Texas Tech|
|32||Tim Jefferson||Air Force|
|33||Ryan Tannehill||Texas A&M|
|34||Logan Thomas||Virginia Tech|
|39||Brock Osweiler||Arizona State|
|40||Chris Relf||Mississippi State|
|43||EJ Manuel||Florida State|
|44||Ryan Radcliff||Central Michigan|
|46||Stephen Garcia||South Carolina|
|47||Kirk Cousins||Michigan State|
|50||Zac Dysert||Miami (Ohio)|
|52||Jeff Tuel||Washington State|
|54||Ryan Lindley||San Diego State|
|55||Tevin Washington||Georgia Tech|
|59||Ryan Katz||Oregon State|
|61||Alex Gillett||Eastern Michigan|
|62||Matt Schilz||Bowling Green|
|63||Nick Isham||Louisiana Tech|
|64||Keith Wenning||Ball State|
|65||Mike Glennon||NC State|
|66||Derek Carr||Fresno State|
|70||B.J. Daniels||South Florida|
|71||Collin Klein||Kansas State|
|75||Bryn Renner||North Carolina|
|77||Pete Thomas||Colorado State|
|79||Chris Masson||UL Lafayette|
I was IMing with a friend of mine who works in Manhattan when I heard about the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit New York City, Virginia and Washington DC. This was his response when I asked him if his building shook:
mikegeorge2: (1:11:02 PM) no
mikegeorge2: (1:11:03 PM) well
mikegeorge2: (1:11:07 PM) everyone's talking about it
mikegeorge2: (1:11:09 PM) but i didn't notice
mikegeorge2: (1:11:14 PM) because i'm eating a burrito
mikegeorge2: (1:14:56 PM) apparently everyone ran out of our buioding
You know you're eating a pretty good burrito when it can cause you to miss the biggest earthquake to hit NYC since 1944.
Every NFL season has its share of drama. Unfortunately, with the Twitterverse and 24/7 media world, most of that drama happens off the field, as opposed to on. In the spirit of preseason predictions, I looked into my crystal ball and predicted 10 stories the sports media world will work itself into a frenzy over this season.
10. The Lack of NFL Kickoffs Will Have A Serious Effect On Ratings
How The Drama Will Start: The Nielson ratings will come out (duh.)
The way the NFL has been working for the viewer the last few years has been something like this:
2. Wait three minutes for replay-booth review to confirm what was clearly a touchdown is actually a touchdown.
3. Wait three minutes to watch pointless PAT.
4. Five-minute commercial break.
5. Kickoff and runback.
6. Another five-minute commercial break.
7. Next offensive drive starts.
What stands out in that sequence as the only actual NFL action? The kickoff. And guess what there's going to be a lot fewer of this year? You guessed it, kickoffs. The average American viewer has the attention span of a gnat on a coke-binge, so do you really think they're going to wait 15 painful football-less minutes and not click around to one of their other 270 channels? I didn't think so, either.
How The Drama Will End: A bunch of NFL execs with official-sounding titles will show up on talk shows and talk about how committed the league is to safety. And then they'll reinstitute the old kickoff rules by Week 10.
9. The Eagles Will Be Called Overrated
How The Drama Will Start: Nnamdi Asomugha will get burned for a TD pass, Vick will miss two games and/or the Eagles will lose two games in a row.
It's going to happen. Asomugha will give up a TD pass or Vick will have a bad game or Andy Reid will accidentally lower his play sheet far enough below his mouth so that the opposing team reads his lips and know exactly which play he's calling next. And when it does, the media will turn on a dime and say the words "overrated" and "chemistry" more often than Al Davis says the word "braaaaiiiiiiins." The same people who called the Eagles a Dream Team will be baffled at how "everyone else" thought this "group of talented free-agents" could compete against "individuals who play like a team."
How Will it End: The Iggles will rattle off 7 straight Ws, win the NFC East and be the team to beat in the NFL playoffs.
8. Jay Cutler's Heart Will Be Questioned
How The Drama Will Start: Jay Cutler's face.
Poor Jay Cutler. The guy gets destroyed almost every game while playing behind a pop warner offensive line, but because his face always looks like he's smelling someone's used jock, no one thinks he cares. He sticks up for his teammates and says all the right things (for the most part), yet the media will still try to kill him for his body language. (Jay Cutler will also glady remind everyone that his face also dated a super hot celeb.)
How Will It End: Jay Cutler's face will continue to have that jock-smelling look if he throws a 75-yard TD bomb to Roy Williams (which would be difficult, since that would mean Roy Williams would have the ability to catch a football), or if he throws one of his patented red-zone drive-killing interceptions. People will realize that at some point and stop bothering him about his face.
7. Commissioner Roger Goodell Will Fine The S&%# Out of James Harrison
How The Drama Will Start: James Harrison will tackle an opposing player
You know Goodell is waiting for this one. You can't call someone who has the ability to make your life a living and financial hell a "crook" and a "devil" and not expect a little blowback from the guy who also happens to be the most powerful man in football. Harrison should go ahead and send a $100,000 check to the front office and get it over with.
How Will It End: Harrison will pay the fine and say all the right things through clenched teeth at a post-fine press conference as a smiling Dan Rooney holds a gun to his back.
6. Brett Favre Will Be An Annoying, Invisible Presence All Season
How The Drama Will Start: A starting quarterback will get injured.
For some reason the idea of Brett Favre throwing a football in tight pants turns grown men into little girls. The moment a starting quarterback goes down this season, the media Twitterverse will freak out with tweets like "OMG, Brett Favre shuld B My Team's BFF!" or "@BrettFavre u wuld make our qb dreams come tru". But this is the year Favre finally says "STFU, I Like Mowing On A Tractor Now" Then Carson Palmer will tweet, "Hey guys, still on my couch. Hello? Hello?" And that's when I will "LOL."
How Will It End: Brett Favre ain't coming back, people. Deal with it.
5. Plaxico Burress Will Get Arrested For Something Stupid Like Drunk Driving
How The Drama Will Start: Plax will blow a 2.4 BAC on Riverside Drive early one early October morning.
This always happens. Some idiot screws up his second chance by doing something super stupid again. (Sidenote: Why do NFL millionaires drive themselves to and from the bar? I make 1/1,0000000th of what they make and I can afford a cab. I never understood why don't don't just have drivers so they can get as obliterated as they want.)
How Will It End: Plax will make the walk of shame out of a Manhattan courthouse, wearing sunglasses and being hounded by reporters. The media will get on its high horse until a starting QB gets injured and they forget about Plax and start drooling over Favre again.
4. Tim Tebow's Followers Will Demand His Ascension to the Starting QB Job
How The Drama Will Start: Kyle Orton (aka Judas Orton) throws an interception.
Tim Tebow's already numerous (and loud) disciples have put Big Time Timmy Jim in the football Hall of Fame already. They are just waiting to pounce on Orton once he makes a mistake or could remotely be blamed for a Broncos loss. How long will the Broncos, who've shelled out $6 million to the Timster let all that cash just sit on the bench? That's a very expensive cross to bear.
How Will it End: Orton will remain the starter and Tebow will stay a very expensive pine-rider all season who sees some QB-sneak and goal line work, but nothing more.
3. Fights In The Stands Will Be Reported On More Than The Games
How The Drama Will Start: Do we need another reason (I'm looking at you 49ers and Raiders fans.)
Another "incident" will happen at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Fox will start filming every Raiders game like an episode of Cops, with handheld cameras chasing thugs down in the stands and getting blurry footage of fat guys trying to punch each other and hold $9 beers at the same time. You'll have to check the box score to see who won the actual game.
How The Drama Will End: Every Bay area football fan will end up in prison, the hospital or the morgue.
2. Gary Kubiak Might Actually Maybe Get Sort Of Fired
How The Drama Will Start: The "loaded" Texans will go 8-8...again.
Do any of these proclamations sound familiar: "This is their year!", "The Texans are definitely going to do it this year!", "The Texans have all the weapons to be Super Bowl contenders!" Well, they should, because the sports media has been shouting them at you for the last five years. But THIS YEAR is REALLY the year. We promise.
How Will The Drama End: The Texans quiet the critics and not only make the postseason, but win a playoff game. Or Kubiak gets fired this time. No, really.
1. A Few HGH Busts Will Cause The Media To Momentarily Care About Steroids In Football
How The Drama Will Start: A couple high profile players will get busted for HGH.
With the new CBA rules testing players for HGH this year, there's no doubt that a few high profile players are bound to get busted. But since this isn't baseball, the media will get worked up about these roid busts for about a week, and then go back to not caring which players are juicing and which ones aren't. Members of the baseball media world will continues to watch the double standard with a baffled and irritated look on their faces.
How The Drama Will End: Three days will pass after the juicers are busted and the whole subject will quietly go away.
Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2011. Until kickoff, look for updated rankings, player profiles and strategy pieces every week. As we dive into our preseason research, expect plenty of tweaks to the rankings before the season starts.
Scoring system rankings based upon -
1 passing touchdown = 4 points
Rushing/receiving = 6 points
25 passing yards = 1 point
10 rushing/receiving yards = 1 point
1 reception = 0.5 points
1 fumble = -1 point
1 interception = - 1 point
Updated: August 25
|2||Lance Dunbar||North Texas|
|4||Bobby Rainey||Western Kentucky|
|5||Marcus Lattimore||South Carolina|
|6||Ronnie Hillman||San Diego State|
|7||David Wilson||Virginia Tech|
|8||Doug Martin||Boise State|
|14||Lennon Creer||Louisiana Tech|
|22||Cyrus Gray||Texas A&M|
|24||Brandon Bolden||Ole Miss|
|25||Edwin Baker||Michigan State|
|29||Robert Turbin||Utah State|
|30||Robbie Rouse||Fresno State|
|31||Cierre Wood||Notre Dame|
|34||Silas Redd||Penn State|
|35||Joseph Randle||Oklahoma State|
|36||Vick Ballard||Mississippi State|
|41||Cameron Marshall||Arizona State|
|42||Jasmin Hopkins||Northern Illinois|
|43||Eric Stephens||Texas Tech|
|48||Daniel Herron||Ohio State|
|50||Montel Harris||Boston College|
|51||Andre Williams||Boston College|
|54||JJ Di Luigi||BYU|
|59||Shontrelle Johnson||Iowa State|
|60||Christine Michael||Texas A&M|
|63||Bryce Brown||Kansas State|
|70||Kendrick Hardy||Southern Miss|
|71||Asher Clark||Air Force|
|73||Andrew Buie||West Virginia|
|77||Tevin Drake||Western Michigan|
|82||Ryan Houston||North Carolina|
|84||Josh Harris||Wake Forest|
|86||Jermaine Thomas||Florida State|
|88||Jeremy Smith||Oklahoma State|