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Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-22

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

• The new Rock/Marky Mark vehicle "Pain and Gain" opens today. There's no pain involved in this slideshow of actress/model Mindy Robinson, who's in the movie too.

• Fat guys ruled the night at the NFL Draft. Here's the breakdown from Grantland. Meanwhile, Athlon professor Braden Gall offers his grades for each pick.

The NFL Draft party for Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh got real when he got the call from the Giants.

• Andy Reid dressed down for his first draft with the Chiefs, and nothing stands out in a room full of people like an obese man in a Hawaiian shirt.

• Are you happy now, Pro Football Weekly? Geno Smith sat undrafted in the Green Room for all to see. Note to future prospects: Don't show up unless you know you're going to be drafted.

• Mr. Irrelevant's name won't be called until tomorrow, but he'll join a proud fraternity. Here are the last 10 and what they're doing now.

• As promised, Rick Pitino got a tattoo to commemorate Louisville's national title. And it's kind of a doozy.

SEC titans Saban, Miles and Spurrier weigh in about future scheduling.

A three-legged alligator crossing a fairway added a little local flavor to the Zurich Classic.

• Humor is subjective, but this countdown of the 50 funniest actors of all time is pretty good. One quibble: They leave out Rodney Dangerfield. No respect.

• I run hot and cold on Frank Caliendo, but I gotta admit, he's got Mel Kiper down pretty good.


--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

April 25

• It's Christmas morning for Draft addicts. Here are some great moments in Draft WAG history, including the time we were introduced to Ryan Tannehill's wife (pictured).

• To celebrate Draft Day, here's a vintage photo of Jets fans preparing to be royally pissed by their team's draft pick.

Mandatory offers up its NFL Draft matrix — best- and worst-case scenarios for prospects. And, if you're not worried about liver damage, here's an NFL Draft drinking game that's sure to result in dangerous levels of intoxication. Prepare to call in sick tomorrow.

• If any first-round prospects are reading this — and I know you are — here's a handy guide to bro-hugging Roger Goodell. We're here to help.

• One last word of warning to NFL GMs: Avoid over-drafting the workout warriors.

Apparently, Mel Kiper is some sort of ageless monster. Given the widow's peak, I'm thinking vampire.

• I don't know if this helps Mark Richt, or hurts him: Georgia has had the SEC's most NFL Draft picks over the last 10 years.

A lackluster Hawks-Pacers series is slightly redeemed by monster dunks. Slightly.

• Masters champ Adam Scott wisely shot down the Bachelor rumors. Here are 20 more athletes who would make terrible Bachelors.

Boston Magazine used its cover to fashion a cool tribute to the bombing victims.

• Gareth Maybin is a golfer you've never heard of. He's also possibly the greatest trick shot artist out there.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

April 24

Lindsey Vonn's parents apparently approve of Tiger Woods. Apparently, they don't follow golf, or the news. Of course, this provides us an excuse to link to Ms. Vonn's fine work for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.

• The Draft is like porn for NFL fans. But that doesn't mean there aren't cringe-inducing moments, like when Roger Goodell lurches toward giant men to hug them awkwardly. Here's a rundown of the most awkward NFL Draft moments.

Add the Jaguars' hilariously sad Draft war room to the awkward list.

The best part of this Harrison Barnes dunk is the reaction from his teammates on the bench.

• In other playoff action, JR Smith beat the first quarter buzzer with a 35-footer, and then he celebrated with a classic Pete Townsend windmill.

The college football playoff has a name: the College Football Playoff. Catchy. Wonder how many committees it took to come up with it. The first championship game, not surprisingly, will be held in Jerry Jones' palace in Arlington on Jan. 12, 2015.

• You'll never guess who leads the SEC in turnover margin over the last five years. Alabama, you say? Okay, maybe that wasn't that hard. The SEC's tale of the tape in turnovers from Saturday Down South.

• The power of images: ESPN succeeded in transforming JaMarcus Russell from a punchline to a guy you actually want to root for.

• Just when you think there's no hope for humanity, you read this: A guy is ending his college track career early to donate bone marrow to a person he's never met.

• Manny's gonna be Manny, no matter what language they're cheering in.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

April 23

• When sports figures procreate, the results can sometimes be pleasing to the eye. Here's a slideshow of sports star spawn, including Alex Schlereth, daughter of NFL player Mark (pictured).

• It's NBA playoff season, meaning it's time for Chris Paul to do the spectacular and make it look routine.

• With the NBA regular season behind us, SI presents The Floppies: the 10 most egregious flops, collapses and dives of the season.

• Impending NFL Draft pick D.J. Fluker tweeted that he took money from agents while at Alabama. Naturally, Fluker's current agent claimed hacking. The tweet's been scrubbed, but it lives on at Deadspin.

• People. They're the worst. Here are 21 supremely annoying fan behaviors at sporting events. Of course, on the flip side, some fans are cool. I said some. And then there are fans who are just desperate, like the overweight Jets fan in the jersey who'll show up at the Draft just to boo his team's pick.

• Old and busted: Never spend a high draft pick on a guard. The new hotness: Guards are sexy picks — four could go in the first round.

Will Farrell and Jack Black are making a movie about a 23-year-long game of tag. Based on a true story. Color me slightly intrigued.

• How do you motivate a team that's won three titles in four years? Nick Saban will find a way.

• Doing some job hunting this year? Here's a list of the best and worst jobs for 2013. No. 1 on the list is Actuary. I don't know what an actuary does, but sounds exciting.

• Gotta love Green Man, even if Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson doesn't.


--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

April 22

• The new Tom Cruise vehicle "Oblivion" opened over the weekend. If Tom doesn't do it for you, maybe his co-star, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, will. That's her in the photo.

• If you've ever had a bad first day at a new job, watch this clip and feel better about yourself (strong content warning): A North Dakota weekend anchor opened his first day on the job by cursing into a live microphone. He tweeted his shame and remorse, but he was suspended.

Jermichael Finley's baby mama napalmed him on Twitter over unpaid child support. I'm glad I'm not Jermichael Finley today.

• More celebrities behaving badly: A-lister Reese Witherspoon was arrested over the weekend for objecting to her agent husband's drunk driving arrest. She actually played the "Do you know who I am" card with the cops. In her defense, her mug shot does display a degree of remorse. Not to be outdone, Al Michaels was also popped for alleged DUI over the weekend. And Raven Rolando McClain was arrested in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., for the third time in two years. Hey Rolando: I think the cops in Decatur are onto you.

Seven SEC spring games, seven observations from Saturday Down South. At Auburn, they rolled the oaks at Toomer's Corner one last time. At Tennessee, they dressed in their Saturday best.

This is very good news. The headline says it all.

• Another spring game, another kid with cancer gets the thrill of a lifetime. We can't get enough of this kind of stuff, especially after the events of the last week.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 10:28
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-draft-grading-first-round

The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft is complete and 32 new faces have joined the ranks of professional football. Some will play right away and become instant Pro Bowlers like first-rounders Matt Kalil, Andrew Luck, Doug Martin and Robert Griffin III did a year ago as rookies. Others rarely played like A.J. Jenkins (just three games played) or dealt with major injuries like Nick Perry (six games), David DeCastro (four games) or Dre Kirkpatrick (five games). Others like Detroit's Riley Reiff played, but simply didn't live up to the expectations.

In all, 24 of last year’s 32 first-round picks played in either 15 or 16 games last year. Needless to say, your first-round pick must be able to contribute quickly to justify the lofty draft status.

Last year’s grades included six “A’s” for Luck, Griffin, Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers and Dont’a Hightower. San Francisco, for example, got a “C” for Jenkins, who reported to camp out of shape and rode the bench for the first 12 weeks. And the only “D” was for the Chiefs' selection of Memphis’ Dontari Poe. He played all 16 games without registering a sack, tackle for loss, forced fumble or fumble recovery. It wasn’t all Poe’s fault obviously, but Kansas City was the league’s worst team, fired its coach and still needs defensive line help.

But 2013 is a new season and the 2013 NFL Draft is a new opportunity to rebuild.

So how did your favorite team do in the first round?

1. Kansas City: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (6-7, 306)
Team Needs: OL, DL, ILB, S
The Chiefs needed a lot of help and have gone defense in the first round in four of the last five years. With a new quarterback and Jamaal Charles in the backfield, protecting his skill players was a priority for Andy Reid. In a draft with no elite quarterback, the Chiefs did an excellent job filling the second most important position on the field. Fisher has great feet, a mean streak, a huge frame and little downside whatsoever. That said, there is a reason he is the first MAC player to be ever be taken No. 1 overall and only time will tell if Reid took the right left tackle.
First Round Grade: A-

I sat down with Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos last night just minutes after Fisher got selected:

2. Jacksonville: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (6-6, 306)
Team Needs: DE, QB, DT, CB, OL
For my money, the massive left tackle from College Station is the best player in the draft. He has every possible box checked with elite ability, track record of success and upside. There is less downside with Joeckel than Fisher and the Jaguars should be applauded for taking the best available when he dropped into their laps. Blaine Gabbert hasn't gotten a real shot at competing at a high level and whether he is the answer or not, Jacksonville has a body guard for its quarterback for the next decade-plus. He will also help extend the career span of Maurice Jones-Drew.
First Round Grade: A+

3. Miami (from OAK): Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon (6-6, 248)
Team Needs: OL, CB, DE, TE
There is plenty of risk here for a team with a lot of needs. That includes the price to move up in the draft but also some risk involved in a player who needs to develop consistency. Jordan has Aldon Smith skills, size and upside but also disappeared at times early in his career. Was this simply the maturation process or was it a lack of focus and drive? Odds are his measurables and raw skill will remind people of Smith — or, perhaps, Jason Taylor.
First Round Grade: B-

4. Philadelphia: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma (6-6, 303)
Team Needs: OL, CB, QB, WR
Chip Kelly loves athletic linemen who can move in space and have great feet. The former quarterback is exactly that. He is a tremendous athlete who has excellent footwork, balance and quickness. He should develop the overall bulk and sheer power needed to play left tackle in the NFL but his type of upside athletically isn't coachable, it's innate. There is plenty of risk involved with a guy who hasn't played the position for as long as his peers, but there is elite upside here as well.
First Round Grade: B

5. Detroit: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU (6-5, 271)
Team Needs: OT, DE, WR, LB
The scouting report on Ansah is pretty straight forward. He is a raw prospect who hasn't played a lot of football at an elite level. He doesn't practice well and lacks overall fundamentals. Yet, every time the tape is running, he is making plays all over the field. He has tremendous physical talents and should refine his technique and overall discipline. With a need for a pass-rusher, the Lions tabbed the former Cougars hybrid backer/end.
First Round Grade: B

6. Cleveland: Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU (6-4, 241)
Team Needs: OG, QB, WR, ILB
Defensive line is always a need for almost every team at all times. But the Browns could have used big-time help at a number of other positions. And underachieving, unproductive prospects who don't have great work ethic isn't the answer this high in the draft. On the positive side, Mingo has an elite frame with elite athletic ability and tons of upside. He also failed to produce at a high level — 4.5 sacks as a senior — for a team loaded with underachievers.
First Round Grade: C-

7. Arizona: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (6-2, 311)
Team Needs: OL, OLB, TE, S
There is something to be said about downside and Cooper has none of it. The ceiling might not be as high as most traditional first-round picks as few guards can justify a pick this high, but the floor is about as high as any player at any position in the draft. He has great feet, a nasty streak and has produced at an elite level throughout his career. Is he better than Chance Warmack? That remains to be seen but Arizona — who's running game has struggled since... ever — got a player who can be plugged into the starting lineup on day one and likely won't leave for years to come.
First Round Grade: A-

8. St. Louis (from BUF): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (5-8, 174)
Team Needs: S, WR, OL, OLB
The Rams gave up plenty of value to move up to get Austin, but Jeff Fisher got his guy. Austin might be the only truly game-changing offensive skill position player in this draft and Fisher will have fun figuring out how to use his new toy. Some much-needed big-play ability is now at Sam Bradford's disposal. Fans can figure to see the small speedster in the backfield, on trick plays and on special teams. There is little downside to Austin other than his lack of overall size.
First Round Grade: B+

9. NY Jets: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (6-0, 201)
Team Needs: OLB/DE, QB, OT, DB
There is some injury concern with Milliner but there should be no question about his ability to play cornerback. He should recover from off-season shoulder surgery and be ready to play early in 2013. He is a better all-around player at the position than fellow teammate and 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick. The former No. 1-rated cornerback prospect in the nation in high school consistently made bigger plays, is a better tackler and is the best pure lockdown cover corner in the draft. He is a great player but does he fill a pressing need for a coaching staff facing a pivotal season?
First Round Grade: B+

10. Tennessee: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (6-2, 317)
Team Needs: DE, S, OG, WR
The Titans running game has no excuses now that Chance Warmack and free agent signings Andy Levitre and Shonn Greene are coming to town. Warmack is a war-daddy of an offensive lineman who has little to no downside whatsoever. He is big, physical, nasty and has done nothing but win, and win big. The road grader will be in the starting lineup in Week 1. Titans running back Chris Johnson said it best on Twitter immediately following Warmack's selection: "THANK GOD."
First Round Grade: A+

Related: 2013's Best Day Two Prospects

11. San Diego: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (6-5, 339)
Team Needs: OL, DB, WR, RB
Fluker has always been a big-time NFL prospect ever since he was the No. 1-rated offensive line recruit in the nation. He worked his way quickly into the starting lineup and eventually locked down the right tackle spot for a two-time national champion. However, he was beat out for left tackle by potential 2014 first-round sophomore Cyrus Koundjio. He has elite size but may not be suited for left tackle — and thus justifying this selection. A great right tackle for years to come isn't a bad consolation prize, but is it worth the No. 11 pick? He has little downside and fills a need, so the Bolts could have done much worse.
First Round Grade: B

12. Oakland (from MIA): D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston (5-11, 191)
Team Needs: CB, OL, DT, LB, QB
The ghost of Al Davis must be floating around the facilities in Oakland because this was a definite reach. Hayden has speed and made plenty of plays while at Houston — facing C-USA quarterbacks, offensive schemes and wide receivers. This pick feels emotional and rushed — much like most of Davis' draft picks — which the is worst thing any front office can do on draft day (see every good team's draft day strategy). Hayden will play early but there is way too much risk at No. 12. Trading down to get extra picks, however, and filling a need was extremely commendable.
First Round Grade: C+

13. NY Jets (from TB): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (6-2, 294)
Team Needs: DL, QB, OT, DB
As usual, the J-E-T-S fans faces were priceless in Radio City Music Hall. And while the Mizzou D-lineman wasn't the top defensive tackle on the board, this wasn't a reach. Richardson has been a elite prospect since his five-star days as a recruit and he provided excellent support up the gut for the Tigers. He is a big, powerful, athletic defensive lineman who should help the Jets' front immediately. Did they need a pass-rusher more? Maybe so. But Richardson is no reach and he was one of the few players for Missouri who belonged in the SEC after changing leagues.
First Round Grade: B

14. Carolina: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (6-2, 311)
Team Needs: DT, DB, WR, OT
Despite the bizarre health issue that appears to be resolved (or contained), there is little downside with the big Utes defensive tackle. Few players produced at a more difficult position the way Lotulelei did for Utah the last two seasons. A former junior college prospect, he took time to find his stride, but his power, excellent fundamentals, toughness and motor make him an impact player at a rare position. To top it off, the Panthers did a great job filling one of its most pressing needs with what could be the best player at his position.
First Round Grade: B+

15. New Orleans: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (6-0, 214)
Team Needs: OT, CB, DL, S
There is a lot to like about the Longhorns safety, but there is a lot to question about him as well. He is a gifted athlete with great speed and size for a player at his position. He is versatile and will be capable of dropping into the box against the run. However, he isn't as fluid in space as he needed to be to match up with many of his more talented peers in the Big 12 — like fellow 2013 NFL draftees Tavon Austin, Terrance Williams and Kenny Stills, for example. Additionally, his Texas defenses dramatically underachieved and were, by in large, extremely disappointing. The upside seems limited here but he has the talent to be serviceable.
First Round Grade: C

16. Buffalo (from STL): EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State (6-5, 237)
Team Needs: QB, WR, LB, G/C
This is likely to be the most controversial pick in the first round but its far from the worst. Manuel has every single physical tool an NFL offensive coordinator is looking for from both a physical and mental standpoint. He is a tremendously intelligent student of the game who leads by example and is focused on doing what it takes to be a winner. He has elite level size, athletic ability and was efficient throwing the football. He is one of just two players in NCAA history to start and win four bowl games. Consistency is a concern, but he is the most physically gifted and mentally grounded quarterback in the draft so it shouldn't be a surprise he is the first and only quarterback off the board in the first round. Does he need to refine his consistency in the pocket? Yes, but he is a gym-rat type who do what it takes to be successful.
First Round Grade: B-

17. Pittsburgh: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (6-2, 245)
Team Needs: RB, OT, LB, WR, DL
He doesn't posses ideal size for his hybrid position and he has dealt with a bizarre neck injury in the past, but Jones is an excellent player. If he stays focused on every play — the Steelers organization generally makes sure of work ethic — Jones has a chance to be a disruptive force. He showed the ability in the best league in America to dominate games on the attack off the edge. Once he gets rolling he was impossible to stop. His skills are a perfect fit in a system that knows a thing or two about undersized outside linebacker-pass rusher-types.
First Round Grade: B+

18. San Francisco (from DAL): Eric Reid, S, LSU (6-1, 213)
Team Needs: DL, S, OLB, TE
The 49ers had few needs and were already a Super Bowl frontrunner, but moving up to grab what could be the best safety in the draft is a power move that should force the NFC to take note. Eric Reid has the speed, size, toughness, quickness and smarts to be an elite player right out of the gate. He was the most consistent performer in a secondary loaded with talent... and turmoil. Reid was one of the few hard workers on this roster in 2012 and his ability to play in the box against the run as well as center field against the pass is invaluable on the next level. He is a future star and now he plays for Jim Harbaugh.
First Round Grade: A

19. NY Giants: Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse (6-4, 307)
Team Needs: OL, LB, DB, RB
There is little downside with this pick. The Orange bookend tackle has loads of experience and has been widely recognized among his peers as one of the best in the game the last few seasons. He doesn't have the elite-level size or athleticism that a Joeckel or Fisher has, but he isn't few steps behind in any one category. Pugh is a polished passer who has a low(er) ceiling and high(er) floor that fills arguably the most pressing needs in the Giants locker room.
First Round Grade: B

20. Chicago: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon (6-6, 313)
Team Needs: LB, OL, CB, QB
The pick is the right position and the right upside, but it has tons of risk. The younger brother of former first-round pick Chris Long and NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, Kyle brings excellent footwork and quickness to the offensive line. He has tackle size and athleticism but questions remain about his bookend talent skills. Guard is possible but right tackle feels like the right fit. This could be a sneaky good pick but also could come back to bite the Bears. Getting help at a key position of need was critical for Chicago and Long definitely helps the line of scrimmage no matter where he plays.
First Round Grade: C+

21. Cincinnati: Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati (6-6, 251)
Team Needs: S, LB, RB, OL
The Irish tight end is an excellent player who is a sure-fire NFL starter as soon as he gets to camp. He has great size, speed, hands, awareness and plenty of potential as an inline blocker. The issue, however, is the depth chart. Former first-round pick Jermaine Gresham and undersized athlete Orson Charles already gives Andy Dalton two excellent receiving options at tight end. It's commendable picking who was likely the best available player on the board as Eifert likely was, but did the Bengals really need another pass-catcher?
First Round Grade: C+ (B+ player)

22. Atlanta (from STL/WAS): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington (6-1, 190)
Team Needs: CB, DE, WR, DL
Fans in Atlanta should be cautiously optimistic with their new lockdown corner. Trufant has a great pedigree as an NFL legacy at defensive back to go with an interesting career trajectory. He broke into the Pac-12 in a big way with an excellent freshman season before plateauing for sometime before an improved final campaign. Under the tutelage of a rebuilt coaching staff at Washington, he blossomed in 2012 once again. Odds are he is a dependable starter for many years without ever really developing into one of the elite stars.
First Round Grade: B

23. Minnesota: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (6-3, 297)
Team Needs: WR, MLB, CB, S
This might be the best pick in the first round, bar none. No team got more value and more talent with any one pick than the Vikings got with Floyd. Warren Sapp could not be a more perfect comparison as work ethic, burst or "get-off," size and power define the young nose guard. He can play in either technique as his disruptive abilities will play anywhere along the defensive front. Floyd never takes a play off and has the ambition and drive that made Sapp special for so many years in the NFL. The rest of the NFC North be warned, Floyd wouldn't be the first statement made by the Vikings on Thursday night.
First Round Grade: A+

Related: Sharrif Floyd's amazing journey to the NFL

24. Indianapolis: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State (6-3, 266)
Team Needs: OG, CB, OLB, RB
Werner is a hard-working, football junkie who will give it his all and provide dependable play at a key position of need. That said, questions arise as to where his true position lies and what his strengths will be on the next level. He is a fundamentally sound and refined young player but does he have the size for defensive end or the quickness for outside linebacker?
First Round Grade: C

25. Minnesota (from SEA): Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State (6-1, 210)
Team Needs: WR, MLB, CB, S
Few corners come packaged quite like Rhodes does. He has elite level, Patrick Peterson-type size and length for a cornerback, but he isn't the same raw athlete with the same quickness and agility of the No. 5 overall pick of the 2011 draft. He will definitely shift at some point in his career to a hybrid safety-corner role like Charles Woodson did and will be extremely effective. Rhodes is more than athletic enough to match up in man coverages in a division that features the largest and most physical wide receivers in the league — Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall.
First Round Grade: B+

26. Green Bay: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA (6-4, 283)
Team Needs: S, OL, RB, DL
The similarities with the selection of Jones and the team's first-round pick last year should be a major case of deja vu for Packers fans. Jones was an elite recruit who blossomed into a playmaker during his junior season under a new coach for a Los Angeles Pac-12 school. Exactly like Nick Perry. There is some serious upside with Jones all along the defensive line as he brings elite size and athleticism to the table for Green Bay. However, he took a long time to develop and the risk is huge with a late bloomer who underachieved most of his career.
First Round Grade: C+

27. Houston: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson (6-1, 214)
Team Needs: WR, OLB, ILB, OT
Some players are perfect fits at perfect times for perfect teams. Landing on a great team with an established running game and Hall of Fame veteran to learn from at wideout is about as perfect a situation as "Nuke" Hopkins could have hoped for. He isn't as talented as former teammate and potential 2014 NFL Draft prospect Sammy Watkins but has great size, hands and toughness to make plays opposite Andre Johnson. He may be more of an elite No. 2 but few players in the first round will step into a more favorable situation to succeed than Hopkins.
First Round Grade: B+

28. Denver: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina (6-3, 313)
Team Needs: MLB, S, DE, RB
The Broncos needed to fill some gaps along its defensive line Williams should do that quickly. While he may not be as productive or disruptive as Floyd or Lotelelei, he has good footwork and get-off. His quickness should allow him to rotate inside and out depending on game scenario and should give the Broncos continued flexibility along a reworked defensive line. It doesn't feel like a sexy pick for the Broncos, but building from the interior on a team loaded with offense is the right move.
First Round Grade: B-

29. Minnesota (from NE): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (6-2, 216)
Team Needs: WR, MLB, CB, S
Patterson is a big-time athlete who is dripping with talent and will contribute on special teams right away. However, he is a long way from being a productive No. 1 wide receiver, especially with a young quarterback who isn't overly talented. His size, burst and athleticism are elite for his position but his understanding of the position and its subtle nuances are far from NFL-ready, which is indicative of his junior college background. Look for him to be used in trick plays, short passes, on special teams and a few deep go routes for the first few seasons.
First Round Grade: B-

30. St. Louis (from ATL): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (6-2, 242)
Team Needs: S, WR, OL, OLB
Another sound decision from one of the best CEOs in the NFL. Fisher once again got his guy with this talented tackler from Georgia. Ogletree plays at one pace: fast. He needs to refine his game and pack on some bulk but he has the instincts, explosiveness and range to be an elite player for years to come. His physicality and burst is uncoachable.
First Round Grade: B+

31. Dallas (from SF): Travis Frederick, G/C, Wisconsin (6-4, 312)
Team Needs:
Frederick is a quality player who would be a starting member of most NFL offensive lines. In that sense, Jerry Jones might have finally made a quality first-round offensive line choice. But in typical Jones fashion, he likely misjudged the value of this player. If it difficult to fault someone for taking "their guy" but some had the Badgers versatile blocker going in the third round, not the first. Use of the second-rounder — pick 47 overall — would have been dramatically more prudent for the Cowboys.
First Round Grade: D+

32. Baltimore: Matt Elam, S, Baltimore (5-10, 208)
Team Needs: WR, OT, ILB, S
Replacing Ed Reed won't just happen with one first-round draft pick but Elam has some rare ability. He might be the hardest-hitting player in the entire draft as he patrols the secondary with reckless abandon. He is shorter than desirable but played with great speed and range for one of the best defenses in the best league in college football. That said, his out-of-control style of play occasionally caused him problems with over-reactions and penalties. There are some kinks to iron out but Elam goes a long way as the Ravens attempt to replace Reed, a surefire future Hall of Famer.
First Round Grade: B-

Player Pos. NCAA NFL Pick Grade
Luke Joeckel OT Texas A&M Jacksonville #2 A+
Chance Warmack OG Alabama Tennessee #10 A+
Sharrif Floyd DT Florida Minnesota #23 A+
Eric Reid S LSU San Francisco #18 A
Eric Fisher OT Central Michigan Kansas City #1 A-
Jonathan Cooper OG North Carolina Arizona #7 A-
Tavon Austin WR West Virginia St. Louis #8 B+
Dee Milliner CB Alabama NY Jets #9 B+
Star Lotulelei DT Utah Carolina #14 B+
Jarvis Jones LB Georgia Pittsburgh #17 B+
Xavier Rhodes CB Florida State Minnesota #25 B+
DeAndre Hopkins WR Clemson Houston #27 B+
Alec Ogletree LB Georgia St. Louis #30 B+
Lane Johnson OT Oklahoma Philadelphia #4 B
Ezekiel Ansah DE BYU Detroit #5 B
D.J. Fluker OL Alabama San Diego #11 B
Sheldon Richardson DT Missouri NY Jets #13 B
Justin Pugh OL Syracuse NY Giants #19 B
Desmond Trufant CB Washington Atlanta #22 B
Dion Jordan DE Oregon Miami #3 B-
EJ Manuel QB Florida State Buffalo #16 B-
Sylverster Williams DT North Carolina Denver #28 B-
Cordarrelle Patterson WR Tennessee Minnesota #29 B-
Matt Elam S Florida Baltimore #32 B-
D.J. Hayden CB Houston Oakland #12 C+
Kyle Long OL Oregon Chicago #20 C+
Tyler Eifert TE Notre Dame Cincinnati #21 C+
Datone Jones DL UCLA Green Bay #25 C+
Kenny Vaccaro S Texas New Orleans #15 C
Bjoern Werner DE Florida State Indianapolis #24 C
Barkevious Mingo DE/LB LSU Cleveland #6 C-
Travis Frederick G/C Wisconsin Dallas #31 D+

<p> Grading Every First-Round Pick of the 2013 NFL Draft</p>
Post date: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 09:30
Path: /nascar/will-joe-gibbs-racing-come-out-swinging-richmond

1. Beaten down Joe Gibbs Racing should come out swinging
Matt Kenseth suffered perhaps the most crushing penalty NASCAR has ever assessed that isn't a driver suspension. Kyle Busch has a strong memory of team mistakes killing his chance to qualify for last year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. And Denny Hamlin, the best Richmond International Raceway driver by advanced statistical measure in the last five-plus seasons, won't even get to suit up for Saturday night's race.

Joe Gibbs Racing hasn't had a good week, and it will be extremely interesting to see how it responds. Because it's Richmond, thinking that JGR will fold under the pressure seems almost impossible.

Since Busch joined the team in 2008, JGR six wins at RIR, just under half of the laps led (1,945 of 4,010) and 15 total top-5 finishes. It’s figured something out in the .75-mile track seemingly beyond other teams. It might have to do with Busch and Hamlin sharing similar demands from a race car at the short track, unlike other Cup venues.

"We do like similar setups there, unlike other mile-and-a-half tracks or two-mile tracks where we don’t run very similar setups," Busch says. "Richmond is one of those places where we both know what it takes to get around and we’re both similar to one another in that we both run well.”

Expect JGR to continue a streak more than a decade old Saturday night: having at least one car lead a lap. The last time that didn't happen? The fall of 2001.

<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to Richmond International Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 09:25
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/where-will-texas-longhorns-finish-big-12-2013

With each of the top contenders experiencing some key personnel departures, the Big 12 is easily the toughest conference to predict for 2013.

Texas has underachieved in recent years, but the Longhorns appear to be back on track after a 9-4 record last season. After going 5-7 in 2010, Texas has made the climb back to Big 12 title contention, but another 7-5 or 8-4 year could spell the end of Mack Brown’s tenure in Austin.

Most of the key players are back for Texas, and the schedule sets up favorably for a run at the Big 12 title. However, can the Longhorns have question marks on defense and need a big season from quarterback David Ash.  

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Where Will the Texas Longhorns Finish in the Big 12 in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is on a slide, and it’s trendy to to pile on the Longhorns after the last few seasons. The upcoming year might not be the turnaround Texas fans want with UT winning the Big 12 again, but there’s enough talent here to think Texas can finish in the top three in the Big 12 again. And I don’t mean third like Texas finished third last season -- at 5-4 behind two teams that finished 8-1. We forget David Ash looked pretty good early in the season, completing 78 percent of his passes for 1,007 yards with 10 touchdowns and an interception in the first four games. Five offensive linemen and Johnathan Gray back means the offense should get better from last season, but that’s not the question. That defense was a mess last year. Nine starters are back, and the Big 12 won’t be as good an offensive league as it was a year ago. That’s going to even things out for Texas, enabling to at look like a Big 12-contending team in 2013.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I know this sounds insane, but I am going with the Texas Longhorns to win the Big 12. Now, it may happen with two losses, but this is a critical season that Mack Brown has been pointing to for years. The offensive line and running game has steadily improved the last two seasons and will feature one of the best backfields in the nation. David Ash took a huge step forward as a sophomore and could be ready to be much more than a game manager as a junior. And the much-maligned defense has plenty of star power. Most importantly, a once QB-rich conference now appears devoid of talent at the position. Offenses won't be as potent this time around and it means the Longhorns will win the league based on tie-breakers.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Outside of the Big East, the Big 12 is probably the toughest BCS conference to predict in 2013. The lack of a clear favorite is largely due to the state of the quarterback position within the conference, which experienced a lot of turnover from 2012 to 2013. 

There’s no question the talent is in place for the Longhorns to win the Big 12 title in 2013. The offense returns nine starters, including one of the best running back corps in the nation, along with an offensive line that has made steady progress the last few seasons. Quarterback David Ash wasn’t awful last year but needs to take another step forward in 2013.

The biggest question mark for Texas is a defense that surprisingly finished sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed. This unit was pushed around by opposing offensive lines, allowing 192.2 rushing yards per game. Losing end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro are huge setbacks, but the Longhorns return end Jackson Jeffcoat from injury, and the offseason should help some of the younger players get more acclimated to the defense.

Although the talent and schedule is in place to win the Big 12, I think Texas will finish third in the conference. The Longhorns are moving in the right direction, but there are enough concerns about the defense and passing attack to push this team down a few spots in the conference. The Big 12 race is a wide-open affair, but I would give Oklahoma State and Oklahoma a slight edge over Texas right now. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
The natives down in Austin have been restless for the last few seasons as Texas hasn't won at least 10 games and played in a BCS bowl since 2009. The Longhorns are 22-16 in the past three seasons combined and have fared even worse, 11-15, in Big 12 play. Despite amassing 150 wins and one national championship (2005) in his 15 seasons at Texas, the pressure is on head coach Mack Brown to return the Longhorns back to where the fan base is accustomed to seeing them, atop the Big 12.

Will that happen this fall? It very well could as Texas returns nine starters on each side of the ball. These returnees were part of a team that went 9-4 last season, with all of those losses coming in Big 12 play. The Longhorns will get tested early as their non-conference slate has them going to BYU and hosting Ole Miss the first two Saturdays in September. That should get this team more than ready for conference play, which opens with Kansas State at home. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU figure to be the other Big 12 contenders and Texas will get a shot at each of them. These three games could very well decide not only the eventual conference champion, but the difference between finishing second and fourth.

Texas has seemingly lost some of its mystique and swagger because of the lack of typical Longhorn success over the past three seasons. And as good as this Texas defense may be, I like the defenses at TCU and Oklahoma a little bit more. It should be a fairly tight race for the top spot in the Big 12, but I have the Longhorns coming up short of another conference title. I think the program will continue to get back to where it once was, but as far as this fall goes, I have Texas a step or two behind both Oklahoma and TCU, resulting in the Longhorns finishing third. I also wouldn't be shocked if they somehow ended up second, but don't see enough to crown them, at least not this season.

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Ranking the Big 12 Quarterbacks for 2013
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College Football's Top 10 Head Coaches on the Rise for 2013

<p> Where Will the Texas Longhorns Finish in the Big 12 in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /college-football/will-michigan-state-win-more-seven-games-2013

After a disappointing 2012 season, Michigan State hopes to climb back into discussion for the Big Ten Legends Division title.

The Spartans had a top-10 defense last year, but the offense was one of the worst in the Big Ten. Question marks remain about this unit in 2013, especially with the departure of running back Le’Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims.

Michigan State has a favorable schedule and should win more than seven games in 2013. However, with a questionable offense, getting to eight or even nine victories won’t be easy.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will Michigan State Win More Than Seven Games in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Michigan State should come close to matching the 2012 win total (seven) just by virtue of the schedule -- Western Michigan, USF, Youngstown State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois are six right there. And that doesn’t include Iowa on the road and Minnesota at home. The schedule is manageable and all the close losses last season indicate a team that’s going to turn around, but I’m going against the trends I usually like. Michigan State is going to continue to slide. This is a team that had a top-10 defense and a running back that rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and still went 3-5 in the Big Ten with a team that was painful to watch. Le’Veon Bell is gone as are play-making defenders William Gholston and Johnny Adams. With Ohio State and Michigan rebounding, I fear Michigan State is headed to a similar fade as what we’ve seen out of Iowa in recent years. Last season may have been the first indication.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
If the 6-6 regular season record is the benchmark then the answer is yes. Ohio State, Boise State and Wisconsin are no longer on the schedule, which automatically bodes well for the Spartans. Michigan State won't play Penn State either as Mark Dantonio's squad will play the three worst teams in the Leaders Division — Indiana, Illinois, Purdue. And on the whole, this team should be better and more balanced. The defense is still stacked with All-Big Ten talent on all three levels and Andrew Maxwell can only get better in his second season. Losing Le'Veon Bell hurts but Dantonio always finds someone to carry the ball. Without pulling a single upset — at Notre Dame, at Nebraska, at Northwestern and Michigan at home — Michigan State could easily finish two games better in 2013.

Kevin McGuire, and
Michigan State should be an interesting team in Big Ten play this season but I would have to consider them a bit of a rebuilder in 2013 more than anything else. The offense has a good formula with a solid offensive line and experienced starting quarterback but must find some new legs to run with, while the defense will be a mystery backed up by a solid linebacking unit. All of that said, can Mark Dantonio's program scratch out seven wins? I think so.

Michigan State should pick up three wins right out of the gate, and if they can establish an identity early on they could sneak out of South Bend with an upset win against rival Notre Dame. In Big Ten play, as I look over the schedule now, I am already jotting down four wins in conference play (home vs. Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and on road vs. Illinois). That gives the Spartans seven wins in my book, with a number of toss-ups scattered throughout.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite having a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally of the four major statistical categories (rush, pass, total and scoring), the Spartans finished 7-6 and needed a second-half rally against TCU in the bowl game just to get over the .500 mark. While the defense was one of the best in the nation last year, the offense averaged only 20 points a game and struggled to get consistency from quarterback Andrew Maxwell.

The bad news for Michigan State? The same scenario is setting up for 2013. The Spartans will have one of the Big Ten’s top defenses, but the offense is a major issue. Although everything that happens in spring isn’t a good indication of what will happen during the regular season, Michigan State’s passing game looks questionable once again, and there’s no clear No. 1 back to replace Le’Veon Bell.

Despite the personnel concerns on offense, I think Michigan State can get to eight wins. The Spartans play Indiana, Purdue and Illinois – arguably the three worst teams from the Leaders Division – in crossover action and should go 3-1 in non-conference games. If Michigan State wins those six matchups, it would just need to beat Minnesota or win at Iowa to match last year’s win total, with the potential to beat Michigan or claim a bowl victory.

Considering the suspect offense, getting to eight wins won’t be easy. However, the schedule certainly sets up well for Mark Dantonio’s team.

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Michigan State won seven games in 2012, and that's only because the Spartans eked out a 17-16 win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Can Mark Dantonio's bunch top that this fall? Thanks in large part to a manageable schedule they'll have a chance.

The non-conference schedule is fairly easy with Western Michigan, South Florida and FCS member Youngstown State the first three on tap. After that, things get much tougher, starting with a visit to South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame. Ohio State is not on this season's Big Ten slate, which is a break for Sparty, as is the fact that the Buckeyes are replaced by Illinois. The worst stretch for Michigan State will come in November, which opens with a home game against Michigan and also includes back-to-back road trips to Lincoln, Neb., and Evanston, Ill. As difficult as that trifecta is, the rest of the Spartans' slate is very favorable, making eight wins in the regular season alone realistic.

However, the issue for Michigan State is Le'Veon Bell, the Big Ten's leading rusher last season, has left campus, as has Dion Sims, one of the top tight ends in the nation, and William Gholston, the anchor of last season's defensive line. There will be a drop off of some sort with whoever takes their places in the lineup. The defense should be fine with enough talent and experience returning, the question lies with the offense. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell struggled in his first season as the starter under center, completing less than 53 percent of his passes for just 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He must show improvement, especially since the running game is basically starting over from scratch after Bell's departure, who accounted for 84 percent of the team's rushing production last season.

The schedule sets up very nicely for the Spartans to surpass last season's seven wins before the postseason, it's just a matter of the team taking advantage of it. As good as the defense should be, I think there are too many questions on offense for me to fully endorse eight wins by the end of November. Anything less than seven, however, would have to be considered a disappointment. 

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<p> Will Michigan State Win More Than Seven Games in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 07:35
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/if-ryan-lochtes-new-show-were-answer-jeopardy-question

Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte's new show, "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?", premiered last Sunday. It was awful. If you don't believe us, you can watch the second episode, which airs this Sunday night on E! But before you do, know that Lochte's not going to wow you with his smarts…or creativity…or any talent that doesn't involve swimming really, really fast. 

To summarize what you can expect, we put together this helpful graphic of his utter stupidity, based on things that happened during the first episode. Don't say we didn't warn you.
<p> If Ryan Lochte's New Show Were The Answer to A Jeopardy Question</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 17:57
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-draft-sharrif-floyd
As the final seconds ticked away at Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium last fall, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was in no mood to celebrate his Florida Gators’ upset of their bitter rival.
Not yet, at least. Floyd was too tired.
“At the end of the game everyone is celebrating, I’m on a knee,” he recalled. “I’m trying to gather some air to get up on my feet.
“I’m giving you everything, I’m giving you everything I got until the last second on that clock goes down to zero.”
Floyd has risen up draft boards for many reasons — a 4.87-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, the ability to play three downs and the versatility to play 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end.
But nothing might excite the men making multi-million dollar decisions more than the 6'3", 297-pounder’s passion for the game.
“He plays the game like it should be played, down in and down out,” Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell says. “For a defensive lineman to play as hard as he does for as many plays as he does is pretty impressive.”
Football is important to Floyd.
But it goes deeper than the competition, camaraderie and certain financial security as one of the NFL’s top picks at the 2013 NFL Draft on April 25.
That’s because every snap for Floyd is a step closer to a brighter future and away from his dark past.
“To play the game, you have to love it,” he says. “But my drive is remembering where I came from. That’s enough to drive anyone.”
Growing up in a rough North Philadelphia neighborhood, Floyd had a mother who battled drug addiction and a father who was murdered when Sharrif was 3. Floyd lived in a basement and suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of a man he assumed for many years to be his father.
Meanwhile, Floyd was bullied in grade school because he was the biggest kid in class and wore tattered clothes.
But football and the love of his grandmother, Lucille Ryans, would save Floyd. Ryans, now 76, told Floyd to remain strong like she had done as a child working in the fields picking cotton. 
“That was driving me,” Floyd says, “knowing what she’s been through and trying to get her out of her situation.”
By the end of his senior season at Philadelphia’s George Washington High School, Floyd was the nation’s top-rated defensive tackle. Three years later, he has a good chance to be a top-five draft pick, possibly even No. 1.
Floyd will use some of his seven-figure signing bonus to buy his grandmother a house in Atlanta, where she has family.
“At this point it still hasn’t hit me yet because it’s not in my hands,” he says. “I don’t want to get myself wound up to be that No. 1 pick, and I’m not. I’m not saying I’m not happy that I’m considered the No. 1 player in the draft.
“I’m actually really proud of myself for that.”
Floyd was a good player for two seasons at Florida who became a dominant one in 2012.
A first-team All-SEC performer, third-team All-American and anchor of the nation’s fifth-ranked defense, Floyd had 46 tackles, including 13 for a loss, three sacks and two blocked field goals. But his impact went beyond numbers: Floyd commanded double teams, collapsed the pocket and made everyone around him better.
“A lot of people look at football and just see sacks — they see statistics,” he says. “That’s not all football is. Football is way more advanced than that.”
Floyd does not have to convince NFL decision-makers. They’re sold. Yet, through the unforeseen highs and unimaginable lows, Floyd’s most impressive accomplishment might be that he has not changed.
“He’s the same Sharrif he was when he was here,” former Gators defensive tackle Omar Hunter says. “I love it.”
Says Floyd, “It’s kind of something I stress a lot: Don’t change. I like the person I am. I want to remain the same person and just be me.”
—By Edgar Thompson
<p> Sharrif Floyd's Amazing Journey to the 2013 NFL Draft</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 11:10
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-draft-first-round-primer

The 2013 NFL Draft will commence tonight (8 pm ET) with the first round in primetime on ESPN. While 222 players will be taken on Friday and Saturday, it's the 32 whose names will be called in the first round that have everyone's attention.

Unlike last year when it was a foregone conclusion that Andrew Luck was going with the first overall pick and Robert Griffin III with the second, there appears to be very little consensus who Kansas City will take with the No. 1 overall pick, let alone what will happen after that.

Rather than presenting a pick-by-pick mock of how the first round could go, here are some key storylines, players and teams to watch as the action on Thursday night unfolds.

Who's No. 1?
As hard as it may be to believe, Kansas City actually picked a bad year to have the No. 1 overall pick. It's not that the Chiefs won't end up with a quality player who has the potential to be really, really good, it's just that there isn't a surefire, no-doubt No. 1 option on the board. Last year you had two in Luck and Griffin III. This year's draft class has much more of an eye-of-the-beholder feel to it with some team's apparent preferences dictated somewhat by positional need.

Which bring us back to Kansas City. Even though it may not be unanimous, the general consensus among so-called draft experts appears to be that Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel is the No. 1 player on the board. The problem for the Chiefs is that they don't really need a left tackle, since they have Branden Albert already on the roster, for now anyways. The Chiefs used the franchise tag on Albert this offseason, and he has made it known that he would prefer a long-term deal instead. Adding to the intrigue is that Albert also has said he doesn't want to move to the right side of the line to make room for Joeckel. Thus the numerous that the Chiefs and Dolphins are in trade discussions regarding Albert.

Not only is there not a no-doubt No. 1 option on the board, there doesn't seem to be any interest whatsoever in a team swapping places with the Chiefs either. So Kansas City and new head coach Andy Reid, barring a late development, will be making this pick. But who will it be? There seems to be plenty of smoke to the Albert trade talk with the Dolphins, which then seemingly would result in the Chiefs taking Joeckel. If Albert doesn't get traded, do the Chiefs still stick with the former Aggie and worry about bruised egos later? Or do they change gears and go with the second-best available offensive lineman on the board, which happens to be another tackle in Central Michigan's Eric Fisher?

I think it's between Joeckel or Fisher, but it also wouldn't shock me if the Chiefs went a completely different direction and took a defensive player. It's going to be that kind of draft folks.

Moving Up or Moving Down?
Last year 14 picks in the first round alone were traded and that doesn't include two other picks that were involved in previous transactions. Of those 14 traded picks, two were traded a second time before a team selected a player.

While it's almost a guarantee that several picks will be swapped before the night is done, the interesting thing about this year's draft is that there appears to be more interest in trading down rather than trading up. Again some of this is due to the general perception that the talent level among the top players is generally even.

Last year, Washington initially had the sixth pick, but then swapped places with St. Louis for the No. 2 pick, which the Redskins used to take Griffin III. Minnesota and Jacksonville, who already were among the top seven picks, also worked out trades to move even higher up and Dallas also got into the act, trading the 14th pick to St. Louis for the sixth pick the Rams got from the 'Skins.

This year, the Cleveland Browns are in the No. 6 spot and are one of the many teams rumored to be interested in moving down, not up. While there are undoubtedly some teams that would love to move up to increase their chances of getting their guy, it remains to be seen if they are willing to pay the price. St. Louis got three first-round picks and a second rounder from Washington for one pick. Considering how well Griffin performed in his rookie season, no one's really second-guessing Washington for making the trade at this point. But again, there's no RGIII in this year's draft.

In the end, there may not be many trades in the first round simply because there are no takers for those earlier picks. However things play out, this certainly bears watching as all it takes is one team to move up a few spots to shake things up the rest of the way.

Quarterback Questions
Not only did Luck and Griffin III go in the first two picks of last year's draft, but Ryan Tannehill (No. 8) and Brandon Weeden (No. 22) also went in the first round. And of course, we can't forget about Russell Wilson (3rd, No. 75) either. What about this year? How many signal callers will hear their name called tonight?

There could just be one quarterback taken in the first round and it may not be the one you think. West Virginia's Geno Smith is widely considered to be the best available quarterback in this year's draft, but that doesn't guarantee he will be taken in the first round.

Several of the teams seemingly in need of a quarterback - like Jacksonville, Arizona, Buffalo and the New York Jets - are in the top 10, but none seem that interested in going that high to take Smith. In fact, the general feeling is that if the Bills do decide to draft a quarterback with their pick, No. 8, they will take Syracuse's Ryan Nassib and not Smith.

Nassib's ties to new Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone, who was the quarterback's coach at Syracuse, are hard to ignore, but my guess is that the Bills' desired preference would be to move down in the first round to get Nassib. That may not be possible, however, with the Bills' AFC East rivals, the Jets, lurking at Nos. 9 and 13. One way or another, the Bills will draft at least one quarterback by the end of this draft, it's just a matter of who and where.

Now back to Smith, if the Bills are focused on Nassib where does that leave him? Again, I don't think the Jaguars or Cardinals will take him where they sit right now, picking second and seventh respectively. That would put the Jets in play, but after that I don't see another team that would take Smith, let alone a quarterback in the first round.

A potential dark horse in the Smith sweepstakes is Philadelphia. The Eagles are currently sitting at No. 4, but Smith seems to be an ideal fit for new head coach Chip Kelly's offense, at least when you consider the type of quarterbacks he had at Oregon. I don't think the Eagles will pull the trigger if they stay where they are. If they move down, however, that changes things.

In the end, I think one quarterback is all but guaranteed to go in the first round. I'm leaning Nassib to the Bills, who decide to stay put after being unsuccessful in trading down, but I'm also not ruling out one of the aforementioned teams either moving down or trading back into the first round late (more on that later) to grab Smith. If he doesn't get taken in the first round, Smith's wait shouldn't last very long once the second round gets going on Friday.

Where are the Running Backs?
Can you name the last time no running back was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft? Don't be ashamed if you can't. The last draft that did not feature at least one running back taken in the first round was the 1963 NFL Draft, which consisted of a total of 14 picks. For what it's worth, there were no backs taken in the first round (8 picks) of the AFL Draft that year either.

While I don't think we will witness history in that respect tonight, that's not to say there's no chance of that exact scenario playing out either. Last year, three running backs were picked in the first round. Cleveland selected Alabama's Trent Richardson with the third overall pick (after moving up from No. 4 by trading with Minnesota), while Tampa Bay traded back into the first round to grab Boise State's Doug Martin at No. 31 and the New York Giants ended the first round by taking Virginia Tech's David Wilson with the 32nd pick.

The last time only one running back went in the first round was just two years ago when New Orleans took Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram with the 28th pick, and I think another Alabama back will factor into the first round discussion this year. Eddie Lacy has seemingly established himself as the top option at his position, but similar to Geno Smith, that doesn't guarantee him as a first-round lock.

Although Lacy played at Alabama like Richardson and Ingram and had a hand in multiple national championships, he doesn't come into the draft with the same Heisman pedigree or track record of production as that of his fellow Crimson Tide. Simply put, Lacy isn't viewed the same way Richardson or Ingram were, which affects his first-round chances.

Another factor hurting not only Lacy's draft stock, but every other running back in this year's class is the fact that the NFL as a whole is going away from the workhorse running back and moving to more of a timeshare or two-back system. This committee approach, if you will, alone places less of an emphasis or impacts the perceived value of running backs, especially come draft day.

So will we see history happen tonight or can Lacy (or someone else) keep the running back's first-round streak alive? The teams to watch in this regard are St. Louis (Nos. 16 and 22) and Green Bay (No. 26) and maybe the Jets (Nos. 9 and 13) or Cincinnati (No. 21), especially if they are able to move down. It's also possible that one of these teams or a mystery team (San Diego? Pittsburgh?) could try and sneak back in at the end of the first round should Lacy fall that far.

Save the Best for Last?
And speaking of sneaking back in, a draft that's seemingly as wide open and up in the air as this one is shaping up to be is an excellent candidate for a flurry of activity, such as trades, as the first round winds down. Last year, Minnesota and Tampa Bay both worked trades so they each could take another player in the first round.

Depending on how things shake out early, the same could happen this year, especially if teams that don't currently have a first-round pick (Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington) see someone they really like and are able to work something out with one of the teams at the end of the round.

Should that happen, that could then make teams picking early in the second round, such as Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati or Cleveland, think long and hard about trying to move up themselves in order to ensure they get the guy they were hoping would be there for them initially. The ingredients are certainly there for some late fireworks. It's just a matter of a team or two lighting the fuse.

Other Players to Watch

Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The dynamic, all-purpose threat that teamed with Geno Smith to put up ridiculous numbers at West Virginia is considered the top wide receiver on the board. Last year, Jacksonville took Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon fifth overall followed by Arizona selecting Notre Dame's Michael Floyd at No. 13. I don't see Austin matching Blackmon's spot, but I do expect him to be off the board not too long after the 13th pick, if not before. If everyone stays where they are, I think either St. Louis at No. 16 or Pittsburgh at 17th are the farthest the diminutive (5-8) Mountaineer will fall.

After Austin, the question then becomes who's the next wide receiver taken and how many total go in the first round. California's Keenan Allen, Tennessee's Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, and USC's Robert Woods are probably next on most team's draft boards in some order, and outside of the Rams and Steelers, teams like Minnesota (No. 23 and 25), Houston (No. 27) and even New England (No. 29) could be in the market for another wideout option. The same could be said for the Browns, Chargers, Jets and Raiders, who all pick earlier.

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
There's no questioning the talent and his production (14.5 sacks, 24.5 TFL last season) in the SEC, but the former All-American's Pro Day performance left much to be desired and there appear to be plenty of questions regarding his maturity and character. His stock has definitely slipped, but there are several teams (Chicago, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Tennessee) that could use someone with his athleticism and talent. Does the potential trump his apparent warts? Or is it possible teammate Alec Ogletree and/or another linebacker ends up going ahead of Jones? I don't see him falling past the Bears at No. 20, if he even lasts that long.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
At one point the Utes' defensive star was considered the No. 1 overall prospect. But then red flags were raised when he was prevented from working out at the Combine based on some test results on his heart. Lotulelei was medically cleared soon after the discovery, but the damage had already been done regarding his draft prospects despite a strong showing at his Pro Day. I fully expect him to be a top-10 pick, but will that be as high No. 2 overall to Jacksonville or will he "fall" all the way to Tennessee at No. 10?

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
There's little dispute that Milliner is the top defensive back in this year's draft class, if not a top-five prospect overall. Milliner, however, has a fairly large medical folder of his own as he has undergone five surgeries. His most recent one was on his shoulder, which was done in March and will reportedly sideline him until the start of training camp in the fall. Will this affect his draft status? At what point does the potential reward outweigh the risk for any team interested in taking him? I think his ceiling is around the fifth pick to Detroit and his floor is no lower than 15th. There's a good chance Milliner may be hanging around in the green room tonight a little longer than he anticipated.

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
It has quieted down somewhat, but you know ESPN is going to milk all the air time they can out of the Te'o soap opera, especially if he happens to fall down the board. For all the attention he's received for his off-the-field matters, Te'o is still considered a first-round prospect and you can't dispute how good he was for the Fighting Irish last season. Even though Notre Dame got blown out by Alabama in the BCS Championship Game, the Irish wouldn't have been there if not for the efforts of Te'o. Now all that matters is which team is the one to call his name tonight? If Jarvis Jones is off the board when Chicago comes up at No. 20, I think the Bears will think long and hard about giving Te'o a chance at filling Brian Urlacher's big shoes. If not there, I don't think Te'o will have to wait much longer, not with Cincinnati and Minnesota next up. I also wouldn't rule out Baltimore with the last pick (No. 32), but I doubt Te'o will last that long. Probably would make ESPN happy though.

Teams to Watch

Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have 10 picks this year, thanks to the Carson Palmer trade with Oakland that netted them an extra second-rounder. (How did that deal work out for you Oakland?) The Bengals could package one of their second-round picks with their first (No. 21) if they wanted to try to improve their position. The Bengals don't seem to have a huge need along either the offensive or defensive lines, which is where the majority of the perceived top players are in this year's draft class, so they may not want to move up. Perhaps they shift gears and consider using their extra draft ammo to acquire an additional first-round pick?

Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were one of the busier teams in free agency this offseason, signing wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe among others, but the team also could be in for a productive draft. Miami has 11 picks, which include two each in the second and third rounds thanks to the Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis trades respectively. The Dolphins have the 12th pick and need a new left tackle as former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long left as a free agent to sign with St. Louis. The roster also could use an upgrade at cornerback. Miami may try to use its extra picks to either move up to ensure they end up with one of the best tackles available or perhaps Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who may or not be there at No. 12.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings got Seattle's first-round pick in Percy Harvin trade, so they are currently sitting at Nos. 23 and 25. Minnesota signed former Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings as a free agent, but could use another weapon to line up alongside him. They also are in need of a difference-maker at linebacker. Solid options to fill both of these needs should be there for them where they are right now, but they also could try and package the two to move up if there's one player (Tavon Austin? Jarvis Jones? Barkevious Mingo?) they really want. There should be no lack of potential suitors for the Vikings to try and work out a deal with. It's just a matter of how high the Vikings want to get and is the cost worth it?

New York Jets
The Jets changed their draft outlook when they sent All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay earlier this week. New York got the Buccaneers' first-round pick (No. 13) and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2014 that could end up being a third in the deal. With the trade, the Jets now have the No. 9 and 13 selections, putting them in the catbird's seat in many ways. The Jets could simply stand pat and use the two first-rounders to address two positions of need, namely quarterback, safety, linebacker or offensive tackle. Or they could trade one or both to acquire even more picks, should they find the right buyer. This is a make-or-break year for head coach Rex Ryan, so if he still has any pull in the organization, I think he keeps the picks and goes pass-rusher on the first (Barkevious Mingo? Star Lotulelei?) and will take the best available at the next greatest area of need with the second, either a linebacker or tackle. I'm not ruling out quarterback, but I would be somewhat surprised unless the Jets' reported late interest in Ryan Nassib is more than just trying to make division rival Buffalo nervous.

San Francisco 49ers
The defending NFC champions have a whopping 13 picks in this year's draft, including two each in the second, third and sixth rounds. The 49ers don't really have a lot of areas of weakness so they can package some picks to try and move up in the first or improve the position of their second-round pick (already own Kansas City's second-rounder, No. 34), which is at the end right now, to focus on specific targets. The team also could look to make deals with other teams to stockpile future picks, especially if another team's willing to pay a decent price. Otherwise, look for the 49ers to go after certain players to further strengthen the team's depth, especially along the defensive line and in the secondary.

St. Louis Rams
The Rams, just like the Jets and Vikings, have two first-round picks. Theirs is No. 16 and they also have Washington's (No. 22) thanks to last year's trade for the No. 2 overall pick. St. Louis lost wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson in free agency, so it's all but given the Rams will be taking a wide receiver with one of these picks. If Tavon Austin is their target, the team will have to watch closely to see how things unfold before them in case they need to try and move up a few spots to get him. If the board works out in their favor, then the Rams should be in good shape to get Austin first and then either take Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro with their next pick or use it on an offensive lineman or linebacker. Unless something crazy happens, the St. Louis war room should be full of plenty of smiling faces by the end of tonight.

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NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers

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<p> Athlon Sports looks at some storylines, players and teams to watch as the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft unfolds on Thursday night</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 10:45
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-toyota-owners-400-richmond

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit up the road to Richmond, Va., on Saturday for the Toyota Owners 400. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Goeffrey’s fantasy predictions for Richmond ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least finishing toward the front:

A List
1. Clint Bowyer

Fourteen career Richmond starts. Two wins. Eight top 10s. Thirteen lead lap finishes. Don't tell me you're gonna pick against Clint freakin' Bowyer — in anything — on a Saturday night.

2. Tony Stewart
Smoke has the most points scored in the last four races at RIR, and is the only driver with four top 10s. One would think, because it's not a 1.5-mile track, that Stewart won't continue his early season stink.

3. Kevin Harvick
Harvick, twice a winner at Richmond, has led two of the last four races there. But he's only got one top 10 this year, and a grand total of one lap led. His 15 career top 10s at RIR are the most of any track on his Sprint Cup resume — even with Ricky Rudd stealing one away prior to a hood stomping in ’03.

4. Jeff Gordon
In 40 career starts, he boasts the best average starting spot (7.9) of any current driver and the most Richmond top 5s (16) of all current full-time drivers. Oddly, he hasn't won there since Bill Clinton was president (2000).

5. Jimmie Johnson
Led just three laps at Richmond last season and his last win at RIR was in 2008. Most widely celebrated Richmond moment was when he wrecked Kurt Busch intentionally in 2011. More people have him on their Richmond roster than any other driver, though.

6. Kasey Kahne
Held off Stewart for his first career victory at RIR in 2005 before performing a miracle at the .75-mile track in 2011: earning a top-3 finish in a Red Bull Racing car. Average finish of 8.5 last year in Hendrick equipment, and potentially still has Richmond beef with Marcos Ambrose.

7. Brad Keselowski
As long Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans — still angry about him "causing a caution" that hosed the No. 88 at Kansas — don't run him out of town, Keselowski figures to be average in Richmond. Two top 10s last year were his best yet, but he's still never led a lap at RIR.

8. Matt Kenseth
One top 5 since 2006 at Richmond for Kenseth doesn't make Saturday night's race look promising. However, he did race unusually well at Martinsville, so perhaps the JGR equipment can help him again. Don't expect that advantage to come from the engine, though.

9. Denny Hamlin
Not racing, but still has a better chance to win at Richmond than most. Obviously, take a pass this week.

<p> Geoffrey Miller ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 10:43
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Maryland Terrapins, News
Path: /college-football/will-maryland-terrapins-make-bowl-2013

Maryland is just 6-18 in the last two years, but there’s some optimism surrounding this team for 2013.

Despite a rash of injuries at the quarterback position, the Terrapins were able to improve their win total by two games last year. And with a full complement of passers back for 2013, Maryland should be in better shape on offense. There’s also a handful of playmakers ready to emerge on offense to help sophomore standout Stefon Diggs, including junior college transfer Deon Long and running backs Albert Reid, Brandon Ross and Wes Brown.

The schedule isn’t overwhelming, but Maryland has to rebuild a defense that ranked third in the ACC in yards allowed last season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will the Maryland Terrapins Make a Bowl in 2013?

Patrick Stevens,, (@D1scourse)
It might seem a bit optimistic given how the last couple years have gone in College Park, but there's a very real chance this happens.

Maryland is not without its questions. Will quarterback C.J. Brown, who established himself as a capable rusher in 2011, come back and be effective after his ACL tear last August? Can the Terrapins stitch together even a decent offensive line? With five starters lost in the front seven, how much of a drop-off will occur there?

If Brown is good to go, it will help solve the offensive line question. Maryland's offense was probably at its sharpest in the second half of its loss to N.C. State, when it put the elusive Devin Burns in at quarterback after Perry Hills got hurt. With someone who could nimbly run the zone read, the Terps suddenly could move the ball. But then Burns got hurt and didn't play for the rest of the year, and within a couple weeks Maryland was playing a linebacker at quarterback. That turned out pretty much as expected.

If the best thing going for Maryland is an influx of skill position talent (notably sophomore Stefon Diggs and junior college transfer Deon Long at wideout), the schedule isn't too far behind. The Terps won't be in the neighborhood of Clemson or Florida State, but the rest of their division games (Boston College, N.C. State, Syracuse and Wake Forest) are all winnable. So is a date with Virginia, an opening stretch against Florida International, Old Dominion and Connecticut and perhaps even a meeting with depleted West Virginia in Baltimore.

There's six wins to be had there --- it is hardly a certainty, but it is far from an impossibility. Barring another absurd rash of injuries, Maryland has the look of a roster that could wind up in one of the ACC's lower-tier bowls (perhaps the nearby Military Bowl?) without too much trouble and perhaps do better with a few breaks.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This may be the year where Randy Edsall and Maryland stop being a punchline. Now, that doesn’t mean Maryland will be particularly good, but there’s enough here for the Terrapins to get to six or seven wins. The Terps finally have a little bit of stability after all the transfers in Edsall’s first season and all the injuries in his second. Maryland had the second-most turnovers in the ACC last season, thanks to the most lost fumbles. The Terrapins’ 18 lost fumbles in 2012 was more than the last two seasons combined (11). That kind of bad luck, along with the deluge of quarterback injuries, isn’t going to happen again. C.J. Brown, who ascended to the starting job in 2011, will be healthy, and he just has to find a way to get the ball to Stefon Diggs. The Terps also found a quality running back tandem in Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, who both topped 100 yards in the spring game. Improving personnel on offense along with a defense that allowed five yards per play (fourth in the ACC) and 3.5 yards per carry (second in the ACC), means Maryland has the ability to turn some close losses into wins. 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
In a word? Yes. Randy Edsall was left little in the way of talent or camaraderie when he arrived in College Park and has slowly, but surely rebuilt the roster. He doubled his win total from 2011 to 2012 and it could have been even better had the Terrapins finished one or two of their four losses which came by one score or less. There is no possible way his team could endure as many quarterback injuries as they did a year ago and Stefon Diggs is a special player who will break onto the national scene in 2013. This should allow the offense — rated 12th in the ACC last year — to catch up with the defense — rated third in the ACC last year. With a weak schedule in the weaker Atlantic Division, Maryland has a chance at seven wins this fall.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Randy Edsall’s tenure in College Park got off to a rough start, but it seems the Terrapins are back on track in their final year in the ACC. After going 2-10 in 2011, Maryland went 4-8 last season, despite numerous injuries at the quarterback position. With C.J. Brown, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe returning from injury, along with the arrival of transfer Ricardo Young, there’s plenty of depth at the quarterback position, and the passing attack should show significant progress in 2013. The receiving corps is solid, led by Stefon Diggs and junior college transfer Deon Long. And the running back position has some intriguing options ready to break out in 2013.

The biggest obstacle for Maryland to get back to a bowl is the personnel losses on defense. Replacing the production from linemen A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano, linebackers Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenny Tate won’t be easy. However, getting defensive end Andre Monroe back from injury should ease the losses in the trenches, and the secondary returns three key performers from a unit that ranked 30th nationally against the pass.

Helping Maryland’s case to return to the postseason is a weak conference. Outside of Florida State and Clemson, there are no guaranteed top-25 ACC teams for 2013. The Terrapins also won’t play Georgia Tech, North Carolina or Miami – arguably three of the top four teams from the Coastal Division – in crossover play. With Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College coming to College Park, there’s enough wins on the schedule for Maryland to get to 6-6 or 7-5 this year and go bowling for the first time under Edsall.

Anson Whaley, Founder and Editor of Cardiac Hill@PittPantherBlog
Maryland returns a pretty big core of their offense in quarterbacks Perry Hills, Shawn Petty, and CJ Brown, running backs Brandon Ross and Wes Brown, and receivers Stefon Diggs and Marcus Leak. The good news for the Terrapins is that, with the exception of Brown, all of those guys were underclassmen last year and should improve significantly in 2012. And with all of the injuries the offense endured, it's hard to envision that side of the ball being as bad as it was last year when they ranked near the bottom of the FBS in several statistical categories. The schedule is also manageable in my mind. Maryland gets some winnable games at home with FIU, Old Dominion, Boston College, Virginia, and Syracuse. And while road games against Wake Forest and North Carolina State aren't gimmes by any stretch for them, those teams didn't finish very far ahead of the Terrapins last season. It'd be easy to look at their four wins from last year and wonder if they can improve enough. But in 2010, Maryland won nine games fresh off of a two-win 2009, making a huge turnaround. And don't forget, the team was more competitive than their record would indicate in 2012, losing three games by three points or less. I'll go ahead and tentatively predict at least six wins for the Terps in 2013.

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Maryland still has plenty of work to do, but things are starting to look up for Randy Edsall's Terrapins. Injuries were a big issue for this team last year, especially under center, and still are a bit of a question mark entering the fall. If projected starting quarterback C.J. Brown can make it back from knee surgery and be ready to go in the fall, this could be a sneaky offense with Brown, running back Wes Brown and dynamic wide receiver/return specialist Stefon Diggs leading the way.

The defense suffered some pretty big losses in All-American defensive lineman Joe Vellano and a pair of linebackers in Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenneth Tate. Still, the talent level and depth has been getting better in College Park, as evidenced by the Terps' doubling their win total last season compared to 2011. Don't get me wrong going from two to four wins isn't that big of an accomplishment, but Maryland also lost three games last season by three points or fewer.

What's more, Maryland's 2013 schedule shapes up pretty well, as the Terps open with FIU and Old Dominion at home and also get Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College at home. Early road tests at Connecticut and a matchup with a rebuilding West Virginia team in Baltimore, will serve as a barometer for how far this team has come. If Maryland can continue to get better as the season progresses it could be playing for a bowl bid by the time the aforementioned Eagles come calling and the Terrapins travel to Raleigh to face NC State to finish the regular season. The optimist in me says that Edsall has enough talent and will get a few more breaks injury-wise this fall to earn that much-desired postseason invite. The only caveat is it's critical that the Terrapins get off to a good start as their margin of error is razor thin.

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<p> Will the Maryland Terrapins Make a Bowl in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-running-backs-2013

The Pac-12 is loaded with potential standout running backs for 2013.

Leading the way is Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, who should be a first-team All-American selection this year. Carey rushed for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and should be well over 1,500 yards once again in 2013. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas should see more carries with Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, and the junior could establish himself as one of the nation’s top all-around running backs. Washington’s Bishop Sankey quietly rushed for 1,439 yards last season and could exceed those numbers in 2013 with more help from his offensive line.

Outside of the top four names, California’s Brendan Bigelow, Oregon State’s Storm Woods and Stanford’s Barry Sanders are running backs that could have a breakout year.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the Pac-12 Running Backs for 2013

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona (JR)
The star tailback from Tucson (Ariz.) Canyon del Oro might have been the most underrated player in the nation in 2012. Yet, after leading the nation in rushing (1,929 yards), setting multiple school and Pac-12 records and a few ugly off-the-field incidents, the junior-to-be is flying anything but under the radar in 2013. He is a workhorse back who can do anything he wants on the field and needs to learn that doesn’t apply to his personal life. A domestic abuse incident with his girlfriend as well as a run-in with campus police has his long-term future in question at Arizona. Should he walk the straight and narrow, Carey will be a Heisman candidate in Rich Rodriguez’ zone-read option scheme. If he cannot behave himself, he will find himself suspended or worse.

2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon (JR)
Gone is LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, leaving ‘DAT’ a shot at a huge 2013 season. The diminutive do-everything dynamo from Los Angeles has electric speed to burn and the ability to contribute in a variety of ways. He has scored 18 rushing touchdowns on 147 attempts, 14 receiving touchdowns on 91 receptions and four return touchdowns through just two seasons of action. He is a perfect fit for Oregon’s offense, be it run by Chip Kelly or Mark Helfrich, and could see his workload increase in 2013. Pac-12 defenses beware.

3. Bishop Sankey, Washington (JR)
Steve Sarkisian might not be able to provide consistent production on both sides of the ball from year to year, but he has proven the ability to develop tailbacks. Sankey, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior-to-be from Spokane, Wash., exploded for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012 — numbers good for 17th and 15th nationally. More impressively, he produced those numbers behind a porous and oft-injured offensive line. With improved play from Keith Price at quarterback, Sankey could be in for a big season this fall.

4. Silas Redd, USC (SR)
With Penn State dealt a postseason ban, Redd transferred to USC in hopes of competing for a national title. Things didn’t quite go according to plan last year, as the Trojans finished 7-6, and Redd finished with 905 yards and nine touchdowns. The Connecticut native had three games of 100 yards or more, including 155 in the 24-14 win over Washington. In his career, Redd has 2,583 yards and 18 rushing scores. With USC breaking in a new starting quarterback, the senior should be the focal point of the offense early in the year. Redd has the talent to be an All-American, and in his final year in college, expect him to produce more than 1,000 yards on the ground for the second time in his career.

5. Marion Grice, Arizona State (SR)
In his first year at Arizona State, Grice led the team with 679 yards and 11 scores. The junior college transfer finished the year by recording back-to-back 100-yard performances, including 156 in the win over in-state rival Arizona. Grice also was a factor in the passing attack, catching 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns. The Texas native was one of the top big-play threats for the Sun Devils, averaging a touchdown every 7.6 touches. With Cameron Marshall departing, Grice should handle more of the workload this year. DJ Foster will see plenty of carries, but the senior has the size to approach 200 carries. After finishing off 2012 with momentum, look for Grice to top 1,000 rushing yards in '13.

6. Storm Woods, Oregon State (SO)
Oregon State has a rich history of producing great running backs since Ken Simonton helped lead the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl win in 2000. This includes great freshman performers like Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. Woods, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last year, is just the next in this long line of OSU tailbacks. The Pflugerville (Texas) High product finished his first season strongly by scoring seven touchdowns in the last four games. He is ready to make a name for himself in 2013.

7. Brendan Bigelow, California (JR)
Yet another star sophomore out West, Bigelow teased the fans with glimpses of brilliance in 2012. His two long touchdown runs against Ohio State were jaw-dropping — he rushed four times for 160 yards in the Horseshoe. But he was buried behind Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson on the Cal depth chart. As an upperclassman now, the Fresno (Calif.) Central East has the football all to himself and a new offensive whiz calling plays in Sonny Dykes. Look for the explosive all-purpose back to continue to drop jaws and pop eyes in 2013.

8. Byron Marshall, Oregon (SO)
As a freshman from San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian, Marshall quickly endeared himself to Ducks fans. He earned the No. 3 job (behind Barner and Thomas) last year and averaged more than five yards per carry for the season. He didn’t get a ton of work (87 carries) but has a more physical style of running and posted a career high 125 yards against Tennessee Tech. Look for him to complement Thomas perfectly in the Oregon backfield as the next potential developing star in Eugene.

9. DJ Foster, Arizona State (SO)
Just like Marion Grice, Foster made a huge impact in his first season on campus. The Arizona native rushed for 493 yards and two scores on 102 attempts and caught 38 passes for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Foster didn’t record a 100-yard rushing effort, but he had 49 yards in the huge in-state win over Arizona and 61 in the 45-43 loss to UCLA. With Cameron Marshall out of eligibility, Arizona State will lean even more on Grice and Foster in the backfield. Foster should see an increase in carries and overall touches, which certainly isn’t a bad thing for the Sun Devils, especially since the Arizona native averaged 4.8 yards per rush last year.

10. Anthony Wilkerson, Stanford (SR)
Trying to continue the power running tradition started by Toby Gehart and Stepfan Taylor is a tall order. But the senior from Foothill Ranch (Calif.) Tustin might get the first crack after playing the role of primary backup to Taylor last year (224 yards, TD). The 220-pounder will battle with fellow senior powerback Tyler Gaffney and young speedster Barry Sanders Jr for primary ball-carrying honors in 2013. There may not be a true workhorse in Palo Alto but fans can bet David Shaw will run it early and often.

11. Christian Powell, Colorado (SO)
There were few bright spots for Colorado last season, but Powell quietly turned in a productive year. Despite missing two games due to injury, he recorded 691 yards and seven scores. Powell only caught seven passes for 30 yards but with receiver Paul Richardson sidelined with an ACL tear, he was Colorado’s most reliable player on offense last year. The converted fullback should see plenty of carries in 2013, as the Buffaloes enter the season with uncertainty surrounding the quarterback situation, but return a veteran offensive line. If Powell stays healthy, surpassing last year’s totals are a reasonable expectation.

12. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (SR)
A two-sport star from San Diego (Calif.) Cathedral Catholic, Gaffney enters his senior season ready to compete for lead back carries on The Farm. The 220-pounder is a physical back who gives Shaw what he wants from that position but to earn carries he will have to beat out Anthony Wilkerson and Barry Sanders Jr. for time.

13. Thomas Tyner, Oregon (FR)
The record-setting in-state true freshman with elite power and speed might be the most talented running back recruit to sign with Oregon. Yes, that includes De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Lache Seastrunk and Jonathan Stewart. He’s that good.

14. Barry Sanders Jr., Stanford (FR)
There’s no question Sanders has the talent to be an All-Pac-12 running back. However, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney are likely to see more carries than the talented freshman this season, so he may have to wait until 2014 for his turn as the starter. The son of former NFL standout Barry Sanders should at least see limited action this year, before emerging as Stanford’s top back next season.

15. Kelvin York, Utah (SR)
John White’s departure leaves some big shoes to fill in the Utah backfield. York is expected to get the first opportunity to start for the Utes. The Louisiana native showed potential in limited opportunities last season, rushing for 273 yards on 60 attempts. Interestingly enough, York shared time as a high school senior with former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and was committed to USC before joining Utah. The Utes have the makings of a solid offensive line, and York seems to have the talent to have a productive year if he holds off Lucky Radley, James Poole and Devontae Booker for the starting job.

16. Paul Perkins, UCLA (FR)
Replacing Johnathan Franklin’s production won’t be easy for UCLA in 2013. The Bruins lack a clear replacement, as Perkins, Damien Thigpen, Jordon James and Malcolm Jones are all battling for time. Perkins was a high school teammate of Bruins’ quarterback Brett Hundley and ranked as a three-star recruit by in the 2012 signing class. Perkins is the early frontrunner, but UCLA could use a committee of backs in 2013.

17. Jordon James, UCLA (JR)
James was rated as one of the top high school backs in the nation in 2010 but has yet to make an impact during his first three years on campus. He rushed for 54 yards and one touchdown as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and recorded 215 yards and two scores on 61 attempts last year. With Johnathan Franklin out of eligibility, James, Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones and Damien Thigpen will compete for the starting nod this preseason.

18. Justin Davis, USC (FR)
Although Silas Redd is entrenched as USC’s No. 1 back, don’t be surprised if Davis sees plenty of carries this year. The true freshman enrolled early and impressed the coaching staff in the spring, staking his claim to the backup spot and playing time in 2013. Davis ranked as the No. 16 running back by Athlon Sports in the 2013 recruiting class and is someone to watch once the season kicks off.

19. Terron Ward, Oregon State (JR)
The junior-to-be from Antioch (Calif.) De La Salle came on in the second half of the 2012 season. He rushed for 383 of his 415 yards and all six touchdowns over the final six games of the year. The 200-pounder plays much bigger than his 5-foot-7 frame would indicate.

20. Teondray Caldwell, Washington State (SO)
The 5-foot-8, 197-pound sophomore-to-be came to Pullman from Los Angeles (Calif.) Venice. The Cougars rushing attack was pathetic last year but at almost five yards per carry, Caldwell is their best hope at reestablishing some sort of ground attack.

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Washington or Oregon State: Who Will Have More Wins in 2013?

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<p> Ranking the Pac-12's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 07:19
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL, Monthly
Path: /nfl/big-names-big-health-concerns-2013-nfl-draft

Size, speed, stats and awards don’t matter if a prospect is Physically Unable to Perform. Here are biggest health concerns in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Matt Barkley QB, USC (Shoulder)

After suffering a sprained AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder on Nov. 17, Barkley missed USC’s final two games of the season and was unable to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. Arm strength was already an issue for Barkley, whose draft stock has plummeted from the preseason projected No. 1 overall pick to that of anxious prospect just hoping to hear his named called on Thursday night.


Jarvis Jones OLB, Georgia (Neck)

Jones was a freshman at USC when it was discovered he suffered from spinal stenosis — an abnormal narrowing of the spinal column. The Trojans’ medical staff refused to give Jones medical clearance, going so far as to suggest he retire from football due to his condition. He was among the SEC’s most feared defenders after transferring to Georgia. Now NFL teams must decide just how far they’re willing to stick their neck out with Jones’ medical risks.


Marcus Lattimore RB, South Carolina (Knee)

After missing half of the 2011 season with an ACL tear in his left knee, Lattimore suffered a torn ACL and LCL in his right knee on Oct. 27 last fall. Despite a decorated high school and college career — as well as the recent rehab success of runners such as Adrian Peterson — there is still cause for concern when drafting a back who has had devastating injuries to both knees in consecutive seasons.


Star Lotulelei DT, Utah (Heart)

A routine medical test at the NFL Scouting Combine uncovered an abnormally low ejection fraction for Lotulelei, whose left ventricle of the heart was pumping blood at a reported 44 percent, compared to the normal 55 to 70 percent. Rapid weight loss has been the rumored cause of the problem. Before drafting the versatile Lotulelei, teams will need to feel certain that the 320-plus-pounder has a healthy heart.

<p> Big Names with Big Health Concerns in the 2013 NFL Draft</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL, Monthly
Path: /nfl/top-foreign-players-2013-nfl-draft

The NFL is interested in expanding its presence internationally, and the world is reciprocating by providing talent for league teams. Kansas City Pro Bowler Tamba Hali (Liberia), standout Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski (Poland) and Giants end Osi Umenyiora (England/Nigeria) are just a few of the many imports found on NFL rosters last year. Expect that number to swell in 2013, thanks in part to these four top prospects.

Ezekiel Ansah
DE, Ghana
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock watched Ansah practice prior to the Senior Bowl and wondered why everyone was so enamored of the 6'5 ¼", 271-pounder. Then, during the game, he watched Ansah track down a receiver on a reverse and was sold. “He is very raw but freakishly gifted,” Mayock says. “He can bend, dip and burst off the end.”
“I didn’t think there was any way he could get him,” Mayock says. Ansah showed that remarkable athletic ability frequently at Brigham Young, but he remains raw. “He’s so gifted, but how quickly will you see a return?” Mayock asks. Ansah ran a 4.63 at the Combine and had a vertical leap of 34 ½ inches, impressive numbers made more remarkable when one considers Ansah did no special training for the event, choosing instead to focus on his studies.
Margus Hunt
DE, Estonia
If the “Eastern Block” doesn’t make it as a full-time end, he should make his mark swatting away kicks. While at SMU, the 6'8", 277-pound former discus and shot put standout knocked down 17 of them. But he wasn’t just a specialist. Hunt registered 11.5 tackles for a loss last year, including eight sacks. Hunt lit up the Combine. He ran a 4.6 40, jumped 34 ½ inches and hoisted 225 pounds 38 times on the bench press.
He has the potential to be a 5-technique end in a 3-4 or a base end in the 4-3. NFL Network Draft expert Mike Mayock says Hunt “has a little bit of a tendency to play high,” making him more easily blocked, but he has a pile of potential and should be a second-round pick. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he went higher,” Mayock says.
Bjoern Werner
DE, Germany
The ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year could have stuck around Florida State for another season, but why bother? The former youth soccer player has blossomed into an all-around end, posting 13 sacks last year. “He doesn’t have enough of a quick twitch to go against left tackles,” says Mayock. “But he is a first-round pick.”
Werner projects as an end in a 4-3 scheme, and Mayock says he would be best deployed on the left side, against opposing right offensive tackles. 
Jesse Williams
DT, Australia
Williams’ journey to Alabama wasn’t an easy one — he signed with Hawaii and played at Arizona Western College before arriving in Tuscaloosa — but he demonstrated tremendous strength against the run as a nose tackle or defensive end. At 6'3", 323, Williams has the size necessary to handle the middle spot on a 3-4 line. “He’s excellent against the run,” Mayock says. “He can push the pocket some on the pass rush with strength and leverage.”
Although Williams didn’t run at the Combine, due to a knee injury, he ran in the 4.9 range at the Alabama Pro Day and displayed solid athleticism (he played rugby and hoops as a youth) in the three-cone drill.
By Michael Bradley
<p> Top Foreign Players in the 2013 NFL Draft</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 15:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-running-backs-2013

The Big Ten doesn’t have the deepest set of running backs in the nation, but the 2013 group still boasts plenty of talented options.

Northwestern’s Venric Mark shined in his first full year at running back, while Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah kept the Cornhuskers’ rushing attack going with Rex Burkhead sidelined due to a knee injury. Montee Ball is gone at Wisconsin, but James White and Melvin Gordon could be among the nation’s best one-two combinations.

After the top group, there’s plenty of intriguing options waiting to step up, including Michigan’s Derrick Green, Purdue’s Akeem Hunt and Ohio State’s Jordan Hall.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the Big Ten Running Backs for 2013

1. Venric Mark, Northwestern (SR)
In his first full season at running back, Mark emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top rushers. Mark spent the first two years at receiver but caught only six passes during that stretch. Moving the Texas native to running back proved to be a shrewd coaching decision by Pat Fitzgerald, as Mark ended the year with 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching 20 passes for 104 yards. His best performance came against Minnesota, recording 182 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts. Mark also rushed for 162 yards against Iowa and 104 yards against Michigan. At 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Mark isn’t the biggest back, so Northwestern will have to be careful not to overwork him in 2013.

2. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (JR)
Despite losing Rex Burkhead to a knee injury early last season, Nebraska’s rushing attack never missed a beat. Abdullah became the Cornhuskers go-to back in 2012, recording 1,137 yards and eight scores. He also caught 24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Abdullah recorded six 100-yard efforts, including four consecutive games in the middle of the season. His best performance came against Arkansas State, rushing for 167 yards and two touchdowns, while recording 116 in the 32-23 win over Penn State in early November. With Burkhead out of eligibility and Braylon Heard transferring, Abdullah is clearly set as Nebraska’s top back for 2013. With one of the top offensive lines in the conference blocking for him, Abdullah should push for first-team All-Big Ten honors.

3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (SO)
The heir apparent to Montee Ball’s ridiculous production will be the redshirt sophomore from Kenosha (Wisc.) Bradford. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is one of the most talented runners in the Big Ten and has a chance to pick up where Ball left off. Gordon has the power and burst through the hole as he averaged over 10 yards per carry as a freshman in 2012. He showed the nation how good he could be in last season's Big Ten title game against Nebraska, rushing for 216 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. James White will get plenty of touches but Gordon is the most talented runner on the UW roster.

4. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State (SR)
The 240-pound bowling ball from Naples (Fla.) High had a breakout second half in 2012. After missing two games early in the year to injury, Hyde returned to the lineup and rushed for 14 of his 16 touchdowns over the final seven games. He posted four games of at least 137 yards rushing over that span and was just 30 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. The Ohio State system will always spread the ball around but the senior-to-be’s proficiency around the goal line and in short yardage situations makes him the ideal complement to dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller.

5. James White, Wisconsin (SR)
The 5-foot-10, 197-pound runner is destined to be one of the best No. 2 backs in history. Even in high school, White was second fiddle to Giovani Bernard at prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. White then rushed for 1,052 yards as a freshman behind John Clay before spending the next two seasons behind the record-setting Montee Ball. White enters his final season with an impressive 2,941 career yards from scrimmage and 33 total touchdowns. Yet, he should once again be a more of a complimentary piece to new workhorse Melvin Gordon.

6. Zach Zwinak, Penn State (SR)
The burly senior-to-be from Frederick (Md.) Linganore didn’t get the starting call until Week 4 last year but was unstoppable from the word go. He rushed for 94 yards in his first extensive action against Temple before rattling off six 100-yard games in a total of eight Big Ten contests. He rushed for exactly 1,000 yards — all but two of those yards coming in Penn Sate's final nine games — and scored seven total touchdowns. He is a physical, bruising 234-pound converted fullback who will be asked to carry more of the load as Penn State breaks in a new quarterback.

7. Mark Weisman, Iowa (JR)
Iowa’s bad luck with running backs continued last season, as an injury to Damon Bullock opened the door for Weisman to become the No. 1 back in Iowa City. After recording just two carries in the first two games, Weisman posted four consecutive 100-yard performances, including 217 yards and three scores against Central Michigan. Weisman also battled injuries late in the year but finished with 91 yards against Nebraska in the season finale. With three starters back on the offensive line and an unproven quarterback taking over, Iowa should lean on Weisman and Bullock to carry the offense in 2013. If Weisman stays healthy, 1,000 yards should be within reach.

8. Stephen Houston, Indiana (SR)
The former junior college transfer hails originally from Little Rock (Ark.) Lakota West. But after 1,082 yards at Independence (Kan.) Community College., Houston landed in Bloomington. In his first season, he sparked the Hoosiers' rushing attack with 711 of his 802 yards and seven of his eight touchdowns in Big Ten play. He increased his workload as a junior last year, scoring 16 times on 198 offensive touches. The 225-pounder has power and speed and gives Kevin Wilson exactly what he wants in his backfield. But keep an eye on sophomore Tevin Coleman, as he could cut into Houston's workload in 2013.

9. Akeem Hunt, Purdue (JR)
The Covington (Ga.) Newton prospect has played in 25 of 26 possible career games since coming to Purdue. He has rushed for 622 yards in his first two seasons, acting primarily as a backup to Akeem Shavers (’12) and Ralph Bolden (’11). The 5-foot-9, 184-pound tailback now has a chance to shine as the starter for new head coach Darrell Hazell — who had extremely productive all-purpose backs at Kent State.

10. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota (JR)
Inconsistency on the offensive line prevented Minnesota’s ground game from getting on track last season, but Kirkwood still finished with 926 yards and six scores. He recorded three 100-yard performances, including 152 yards on 28 attempts against Illinois. Kirkwood had a solid game against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, rushing for 77 yards and one score on 19 attempts. With sophomore Phillip Nelson still learning the ropes at quarterback, it’s important for Minnesota’s rushing attack to have a big season. Kirkwood has shown potential but needs to top 1,000 yards and become the clear go-to back for the Golden Gophers.

11. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan (SR)
Toussaint had a year to forget in 2012. After a suspension to open the year, he suffered a broken leg against Iowa on Nov. 17. Toussaint finished last season with 514 yards and five scores and never topped 100 yards in any one game. Some of the blame for Michigan’s struggles on the ground was due to the offensive line, but Toussaint will be under pressure to perform this fall, especially with top freshman Derrick Green poised to push for time. Considering Toussaint is coming off a significant leg injury, he could be rusty to start the season.

12. Derrick Green, Michigan (FR)
Even though Fitzgerald Toussaint is expected to return by the season opener from a serious leg injury, Green could be tough to keep off the field. The Virginia native ranked as the No. 26 overall prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and has the size and skill set necessary to be an every-down back for Michigan. Even if Green plays in just a complementary role, expect him to see plenty of action for the Wolverines as a true freshman.

13. Jordan Hall, Ohio State (SR)
The small, speedy Buckeyes running back has played in at least six games in four straight seasons in Columbus. However, the Jeannette (Pa.) High product spent most of last year sidelined with a bizarre foot injury and eventual PCL tear in his knee. He brings speed and big-play ability to the backfield when healthy and should easily top his career highs of 99 carries, 405 yards and two rushing touchdowns in 2013.

14. Imani Cross, Nebraska (SO)
With Braylon Heard transferring, Cross is firmly entrenched as the backup to Ameer Abdullah. Last season, the Georgia native rushed for 324 yards and seven scores on 55 attempts. Cross rushed for 100 yards against Idaho State and recorded 35 yards and one score against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, Cross provides more power than Abdullah and should easily surpass last year’s rushing totals.

15. Donovonn Young, Illinois (JR)
The 220-pound junior-to-be led the Illini in carries (131) and yards (571) while scoring more rushing touchdowns (3) than every other running back combined. Illinois needs more production from its running game and that responsibility falls on Young in 2013.

16. Nick Hill, Michigan State (JR)
Replacing Le’Veon Bell will be a tough task for Michigan State. The Spartans finished spring practice without much clarity in the backfield, and the picture was clouded even more when linebacker Riley Bullough switched to running back and shined in the spring game. Hill is the team’s leading returning rusher, recording 48 yards and one touchdown on 21 attempts last year. Although Hill has the edge on the stat sheet, he needs a big performance in the fall to secure the top spot on the depth chart.

17. Akeel Lynch, Penn State (FR)
Lynch, a 215-pounder from Ontario, Canada, redshirted last season but showed fans in spring practice what to expect in 2013. The longtime PSU fan rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown in the spring, giving Bill O’Brien another talented option in the backfield.

18. Damon Bullock, Iowa (JR)
The Mansfield (Texas) High product enters his third year after an effective year of spot duty for Iowa. Bullock only played in six games but got at least 22 carries in five of those six and posted 85.5 yards per game when he played.

19. Josh Ferguson, Illinois (SO)
The third-year running back from Naperville (Ill) Joliet Catholic saw limited action a year ago, rushing for 312 yards on 75 carries. Yet, he provided a boost in the passing game, catching 29 balls for 251 yards. Look for more work from the all-purpose back this fall.

20. R.J. Shelton, Michigan State (FR)
This spot is essentially a placeholder for one of Michigan State’s three incoming freshmen running backs. Shelton, Delton Williams and Gerald Holmes all will have an opportunity to battle Nick Hill, Riley Bullough, Jeremy Langford and Nick Tompkins for the starting job. Shelton was a three-star recruit by and could see significant action in 2013.

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related College Football Content

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Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2013
Ranking All 125 College Football Head Coaches for 2013

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College Football's Top 25 Pre-Spring Heisman Contenders

<p> Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/will-tennessee-volunteers-make-bowl-game-2013

After a 15-21 record in three years on Rocky Top, Derek Dooley was fired as Tennessee’s coach and was replaced by Butch Jones. The Volunteers have missed out on a bowl game in each of the last two seasons and have just two conference wins during that stretch.

Jones did a good job in two previous coaching stops, recording a 27-13 mark in three years with Central Michigan and a 23-14 record at Cincinnati.

Jones seems to have Tennessee back on track, but the Volunteers have a lot of question marks to answer in 2013. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will Tennessee Make a Bowl Game in 2013?

Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
No doubt, the goal for Butch Jones in his first year is a bowl game, but there could be rough waters ahead for the near future. Welcoming Jones to Knoxville is just an overall brutal schedule as the new leader, with road games in back-to-back weeks to Oregon and Florida followed up by the remorseless stretch of Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. Those five alone will make the hair stand up on any coach’s neck.

Can Tennessee make a bowl game? Sure, but there are too many personnel questions right now to say they will make a bowl game. I could see another 5-7 season for the Vols, but rest assured, there are brighter days ahead with The Butch in command. The only area of the Vols’ team that Jones can even feel remotely positive about is the offensive line. Outside of the big uglies, who are SEC Championship caliber, there are questions all over the roster.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the momentum and direction Jones has created in just his first five months on the job. Tennessee has their man. Now, they must give him time to succeed. But the learning curve for Jones’ first year is just too great to feel good about going to a bowl game, especially with the talent lost on offense. Ironically, Tennessee could be sitting at four wins with Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the last two weeks. The key to the whole season is the Vandy game. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
In a few years, Tennessee is going to be happy with Butch Jones. He’s unfairly labeled as standing on Brian Kelly’s shoulders after following him at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. On the contrary, last season was probably his best coaching job. But that’s partly because he rebuilt the foundation with the Bearcats before going 10-3 in 2012. In Knoxville, he may as well be starting from scratch. The defense was so bad last season that even a top-20 offense nationally couldn’t win more than one SEC game. And now Tyler Bray is gone. With a veteran offensive line -- one that allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the country last season -- the regression for the offense will be mitigated. And this coaching staff already worked miracles with a bad Cincinnati defense it inherited from Kelly’s final season. Tennessee will have to win a handful of games they couldn’t last season, but they were closer to bowl eligibility than we remember last season. The Vols lost in four overtimes to Missouri, by a field goal to South Carolina, by a touchdown to Georgia, not to mention a Florida game that got away from them in a span of a few minutes in the second half. Tennessee should be counted on to win four games, and after that the season hinges on a road trip to Missouri and a home game against Auburn. A bowl seems plausible to me.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Despite the worst two-year SEC run in program history, there are things to like about the Tennessee Volunteers in 2013. New head coach Butch Jones has built a competitive coaching staff that knows how to win (and recruit). But most importantly, the Vols will boast one of the nation's best offensive lines. The ability to run the ball and protect the quarterback will help whoever is under center or catching passes. The schedule has some huge obstacles — at Oregon, Florida and Alabama to go with home games with South Carolina and Georgia. Assuming Tennessee loses all five, that leaves five winnable and two swing games for the Vols to compete for the postseason. Austin Peay, Western Kentucky, South Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky should be wins, leaving a home game with new rival Vanderbilt and a road trip to Missouri left to determine bowl eligibility. One win in those two and Tennessee will likely make it to a bowl. The change from Derek Dooley to Jones should be worth at least one game, right?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
So far, Butch Jones is making all of the right moves at Tennessee. But winning the off-the-field battles and games in the SEC are two totally different matters.

With the departure of quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Volunteers have some gaping holes on offense at both positions. The good news is the offensive line could be the best in the SEC, and running back combination of Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane is solid.

While the quarterback battle is getting the most attention in Knoxville, Tennessee has to find some answers for a defense that was one of the worst in the nation last year. The Volunteers probably weren’t as bad as the numbers indicated, especially since the talent never meshed with Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 approach. With seven starters back, this unit should show some improvement in 2013.

In order to get to a bowl game, Tennessee has to go 3-1 in non-conference play. With Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama on the schedule, getting three wins outside of the SEC should be attainable. However, finding three victories in the SEC won’t be easy. The Volunteers’ best chances at victories in conference play will likely come in November, as they play Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. I don’t think it will be easy, but Tennessee should find a way to get to 6-6 and play in a bowl in Butch Jones’ first season. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
As much as I like the Butch Jones hiring, I think he will need some time to get things going in Knoxville. Besides starting over from scratch from not only a coaching standpoint but also the players having to learn new offensive and defensive systems, Tennessee saw a lot of talent leave for the NFL, especially on offense. While the offensive line should be a strength for the Volunteers, there's no Taylor Bray under center or Justin Hunter or Cordarelle Patterson (or Zach Rogers or Mychal Rivera for that matter) to catch passes. Then there's UT's schedule, which has two "guaranteed" wins on it - the season opener against Austin Peay and a Sept. 28 visit from South Alabama - and then four more potential winnable games at best. That would get the Vols to six wins and bowl-eligible, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Western Kentucky, Missouri, Auburn or dare I say it, even Kentucky was able to beat Tennessee this season. I think it's going to be a rocky road for "Rocky Top" this fall as the Vols will miss out on a bowl for the third straight season.

Nathan Rush (@AthlonSports)
Butch Jones is no Derek Dooley — and as a result, the Volunteers will make a bowl game this year. But there is little room for error, and the postseason party will almost certainly by an in-state affair at either the Music City or Liberty Bowls, respectively. Gone are the days when you couldn't spell Citrus (now the Capital One Bowl) without "UT," as Steve Spurrier famously quipped during the 1990s heyday of Phillip Fulmer's Big Orange machine. The Volunteers' schedule has five losses built in (at Alabama, at Oregon, at Florida, Georgia and South Carolina). Plus, the "easy" SEC games are on the road (at Missouri and at Kentucky). The cupcakes are South Alabama and Austin Peay. That leaves James Franklin's Vanderbilt, Gus Malzahn's Auburn and Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky — three winnable (but losable) home games at Neyland Stadium — to decide the fate of Tennessee. Coach Jones needs at least two of those three to take the Vols bowling for the first time since 2010. If Jones can't make that happen, he better plan a Lane Kiffin exit strategy because patience is a thing of the past in Knoxville after the doomed Dooley era.

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC College Football Writer for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
As long as the secondary can turn things around under first-year defensive coordinator John Jancek, I'd say that's not only a realistic goal, but an attainable one on Rocky Top.

Butch Jones takes over a program that's in a similar state as it was when former head coach Derek Dooley took over before the 2010 season. Scheme changes plus personnel changes doesn't typically equal immediate success, but that doesn't mean that the Vols are set for another rebuilding year.

The front seven for Tennessee will benefit tremendously from the switch back to the 4-3, and you'll see more consistency from the secondary as a result. A stout pass rush creates opportunities in the back end, and that will pay dividends for the Vols in 2013.

The schedule is brutal, and doesn't lend itself to a major turnaround in Year 1. But a .500 record and a lower-tier bowl game is progress. Jones will make that happen with this team.

Related College Football Content

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Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Wins More SEC Games in 2013?
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013

Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013

College Football's Top 10 Assistant Coaches on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013

<p> Will the Tennessee Volunteers Make a Bowl Game in 2013?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 07:10
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-six-key-stats-richmond-international-raceway

Every year the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hits a stretch of the season in which it is premature to judge the championship hunt, but cogent enough to pinpoint problems with underperforming drivers and teams. It’s an odd stretch, for sure. Through eight races we have seen some unexpected strong performances from non-household names, while also getting much of the same from the usual title-contending suspects, some of which you will read about below. It’s been a crazy, competitive year that has provided plenty of statistical fodder.

As usual, that’s why I’m here. Use this knowledge to increase your understanding of the sport, to strengthen your fantasy roster or to look the like the smartest NASCAR fan at any race-watching party you attend. I prefer the third option, but warning: you’ll be perceived as annoying after a while. Resort to chips and dip if that happens.

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on

4.5  Busch’s 4.5-place average finish in the last six Richmond races is the best in the series by three whole positions.

He also has three victories and five finishes of sixth or better in those six starts. He has twice led over 50 percent of the race (spring 2010 and spring 2011) and his lone win in a lean 2012 season for the No. 18 team came on the .75-mile track. With hometown favorite Denny Hamlin potentially still sidelined due to injury, Busch is Richmond’s heavy-footed favorite.

15.7  Kyle Busch’s No. 18 team holds the most inconsistent finish deviation (15.7) in the Cup Series.

In a season thus far bookended by finishes of 34th at Daytona and 38th last weekend in Kansas, Busch has scored five top-5 finishes which include two victories. The winning is good; never knowing when the fickle No. 18 will flip from Jekyll to Hyde isn’t. After five consecutive top-5 runs, two crashes prompted by an ill-handling car highlighted his afternoon at Kansas. It’s a good thing Richmond is next on the schedule, considering Busch ranks as the track’s most productive driver, with a 6.250 PEER there in the last 12 races.

<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 19:20
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/16-amazing-mlb-stats-week-april-15-21

The Chicago White Sox finally passed Joey Votto in the Walk Chase, but there remain some amazing digits from the Week of April 15-21.

8-of-9    Batters struck out by Greg Holland
After a rough couple of weeks to begin the season, Kansas City closer Greg Holland was absolutely lights out last week. In three appearances, he faced nine batters and struck out eight to notch three saves for the surging Royals.

10    RBIs for Boston’s Mike Napoli
First baseman Mike Napoli is more than earning his $5 million salary so far this season. Last week, he drove home 10 runs in seven games as the Red Sox went 5-2 to move into first place in the AL East. For good measure, Napoli bookended that week with two RBIs on the Sunday before and five ribbies the Monday after for 17 RBIs over a nine-game span from April 14-22. He now leads the AL in RBIs.

6.28    ERA for the Yankees’ fourth and fifth starters
How important are fourth and fifth starters? Presumably a team’s fourth starter will take the mound as many times as its ace. And the No. 5 man only a few less. The Yankees are cruising when CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda take the hill. The trio is a combined 8-3 with a 2.69 ERA. Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes are not pulling their weight just yet. The two are 1-3 with a 6.28 ERA.

.322    Batting average for Baltimore’s first five hitters
Managers expect the top of the lineup to produce runs. They expect the 1-2 hitters to get on base, be able to run and set the table for the run producers at the 3-4-5 spots in the order. The Orioles are meeting all of Buck Showalter’s expectations in that regard. None of the Orioles’ AL East brethren is close to Baltimore’s .322 average. Boston is the next best at .285.

.114    Batting average for Baltimore’s last four hitters
But a successful lineup must have depth. And Baltimore doesn’t. The Orioles are getting very little production from the bottom of the order.

.179    Batting average for Mets cleanup hitters
The Mets’ No. 4 hitters, primarily Ike Davis, are batting just .179. But the news isn’t all bad, the cleanup hitters have produced 12 RBIs, which equates to about 114 over a full season.

27.8    Percent of Dodgers runs scored by Carl Crawford
The former All-Star appears to be returning to form. He’s batting .338 with a .427 OBP and has scored 15 runs (tied for 10th in MLB). His teammates are having trouble touching all the bases. Only the Marlins (43) have scored fewer runs than the Dodgers (54) this season. Just two other players — Austin Jackson of Detroit (23.8) and Desmond Jennings of Tampa Bay (20.5) — have scored more than 20 percent of their teams’ runs.

.232    Pirates batting average
It’s not that the Bucs are the worst hitting team in the majors, there are six teams with lower batting averages. It’s just that, as of the end of the week, the Pirates had outscored their opponents 68-66 in spite of their offensive inadequacies.

4    Hitters below .210
Four Twins with enough qualifying at-bats are hitting below .210. That’s right four. The Braves are the only other team with as many as three below the .210 line and six teams have none. Bottoming out for the Twinkies is rookie Aaron Hicks at .059.

9    Run support for Felix Hernandez – Total
King Felix has toed the rubber for the Mariners four times this season and the offense has produced very little for the ace. Seattle has managed nine runs in the four games. Although Hernandez had a 2.51 ERA, his record stood at 1-2.

.222-2-8    Batting average, home runs, RBIs for Josh Hamilton
The Angels’ right fielder signed a 5-year, $133 million deal over the winter, but has yet to hit his stride with his new team in Anaheim. But let’s wait until May 5 to judge Hamilton too harshly. Last May 4, Albert Pujols’s line looked rather dismal as well at .194-0-5. The Angels were 10-17 at that point last season.

.383/.179    Detroit’s Austin Jackson’s batting averages in the Tigers’ wins and losses
Yes, the Tigers have last season’s Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, who is off to a terrific start this season, and Torii Hunter, who has found happiness to the tune of a .390 batting average, in the lineup. But the Tigers go as their leadoff man goes. In Detroit’s nine wins, Jackson is batting .383 and has scored 15 runs. In the nine losses, he stands at .179 with only four runs.

200    Career wins for Roy Halladay of the Phillies
He joins Andy Pettitte as the only active pitchers with at least 200 wins. But Tim Hudson of the Braves is scheduled to go for No. 200 on Wednesday at Colorado. CC Sabathia of the Yankees is just six wins away from the milestone.

.149    On-base percentage for Jeff Keppinger
 Keppinger has yet to draw a walk this season in 74 plate appearances. With a .153 batting average and two sacrifice flies, Keppinger of the White Sox is the only player of the 189 with enough qualifying at-bats with a higher batting average than OBP.

9    Games the Miami Marlins have plated fewer than two runs
Through 19 games the team is on pace for 77 games with fewer than two runs. The most in a season in the 2000s for any team is 45 by the 2011 San Diego Padres.

7    Players with more home runs than the Marlins
Three of those hitters — Justin Upton, Bryce Harper and John Buck — call the NL East home.

-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

<p> The Chicago White Sox finally passed Joey Votto in the Walk Chase, but there remain some amazing digits from the Week of April 15-22.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 13:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/baseball%E2%80%99s-best-rookies-each-position

It’s tough to gauge just which rookies will emerge this season. Some players—like the Rays’ Wil Myers—are expected to become stars, but the Rays haven’t called Myers up from Durham yet. Others, such as Evan Gattis of the Braves, have an excellent opportunity to show what they can do now, but once regular catcher Brian McCann returns from injury, Gattis’ playing time will all but disappear. 

Here are our projections for the best rookie seasons in 2013 at each position.
Mike Zunino, Seattle
He hasn’t been called up to the big leagues yet, but the Mariners are high on his potential and believe he will be a star for a long time. The 2012 first-round pick batted .360 and slugged .689 last season between Single-A and Double-A. 
Other names to watch: Rob Brantly, Miami; Evan Gattis, Atlanta
First Base
Matt Adams, St. Louis
Known as both “Big Country” and “Big City” for some strange reason, Adams won’t get a huge number of at-bats, but Mike Matheny will have him face pitchers he can handle. He’s made just six starts, but has at least two hits in five of them. His early .542 batting average certainly won’t last, but he’ll have respectable numbers at season’s end.
Other name to watch: Mike Olt, Texas
Second Base
Jurickson Profar, Texas
At some point, the Rangers will figure out how to get this kid in the lineup every day. With shortstop Elvis Andrus signed long-term, the best option appears to be at second base. As soon as Texas can find another home for Ian Kinsler (perhaps at first base), we will see Profar on a regular basis. The other possibility is that Profar is traded. 
Other name to watch: Jedd Gyorko, San Diego
Third Base
Nolan Arenado, Colorado
A strong defender at third base, Arenado is hitting better than .400 through the first few weeks at Triple-A this season. It’s only a matter of time before the future star takes over the hot corner full-time at the big league level.
Other name to watch: Conor Gillaspie, Chicago White Sox
Pete Kozma, St. Louis
Since taking over the position late last season after the injury to Rafael Furcal and keeping it through the playoffs, it doesn’t seem like Kozma is still a rookie. But technically, he is. His defense is improving and his even-keel demeanor helps him stay focused offensively as he hit .333 over the last 26 games in 2012.
Other name to watch: Adeiny Hechavarria, Miami
Wil Myers, Tampa Bay
The Rays haven’t recalled him yet. But remember, the Nats and Angels called up Bryce Harper and Mike Trout for the final weekend of April last season. With Tampa Bay’s offense struggling, Myers may be summoned sooner than that.
A.J. Pollock, Arizona
In order to make All-Rookie teams, there must be an opportunity to play. And Pollock is enjoying that in Arizona with fellow rookie Adam Eaton injured. He’s made 14 starts, mostly in center, is batting over .300 and leads the NL with nine doubles.
Logan Schafer, Milwaukee
The Brewers are high on this youngster, and manager Ron Roenicke is searching for ways to get him in the lineup. Unlike Pollock, Schafer doesn’t have an immediate opportunity and is currently the fourth outfielder.
Other names to watch: Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston; Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati; Aaron Hicks, Minnesota
Starting Pitchers
Jose Fernandez, Miami
There isn’t much positive baseball news coming out of South Florida this season, but Fernandez will be an exception. The Marlins just hope they can give him enough run support to keep him enthused. In 11 innings over his first two starts he allowed just one run, yet got no wins.
Shelby Miller, St. Louis
With Chris Carpenter’s injury woes, Miller has become an integral part of the Cardinals’ rotation. And this for an organization that expects to compete in the playoffs every year. So far this season he’s allowed 11 hits, five walks and has 18 punchouts.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, L.A. Dodgers
The Dodgers forked over a $25.7 million posting fee and another $36 million to sign the Korean pitcher. With Zack Greinke out, the Dodgers will ask Ryu to do some heavy lifting.
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore
Whether in contention or not, the Orioles could use another starter down the stretch. Expect to see Bundy in the second half.
Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati
Before his recent call-up, the 23-year-old lefty had a 0.349 WHIP and 14.1 shutout innings over three starts at Louisville.
Other names to watch: Brendan Maurer, Seattle; Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay; Brad Peacock, Houston; Wily Peralta, Milwaukee;
Julio Teheran, Atlanta
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee
The Brewers’ bullpen has been a mess. Ron Roenicke will take a committee approach for now, but eventually, Henderson will settle in as closer.
Other names to watch: Paco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Dodgers; Bruce Rondon, Detroit; Justin Wilson, Pittsburgh
<p> Baseball’s Best Rookies at Each Position</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 13:30
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-2005-08

The 78th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting,” better known as the 2013 NFL Draft, will commence on Thursday. Thirty-two college players will hear their names called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when the first round of the draft is broadcast live on ESPN from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Following the first round, 222 more college players will be selected by all 32 NFL teams on Friday and Saturday. Every player that is picked will become a part of NFL history, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

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

Here is a look back at the 2000-08 drafts, as we reminisce and see which picks panned out for teams (Solid Picks), and those that failed miserably (Busts), as well as acknowledging those players that didn’t let disappointment on draft day get in the way of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL (Sleepers).

Related: NFL Draft Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks: 2000-04

2005 NFL Draft
Alex Smith went No. 1 overall to the San Francisco 49ers, a decision that up until 2011 seemed to have “bust” written all over it. Prior to the 2011 season, Smith had gone 19-31 as the 49ers’ starter, with more interceptions (53) than touchdown passes thrown. In 2011, however, he turned things completely around, tossing 17 touchdown passes to just five interceptions and more importantly, leading his team to a 13-3 record, the NFC West title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Smith led the 49ers to a 6-2-1 start in 2012 before he was sidelined by a concussion and replaced by second-year pro Colin Kaepernick. The dual-threat from Nevada never looked back, leading San Francisco all the way to the Super Bowl. Kapernick's emergence made Smith expendable and San Francisco traded him to Kansas City in March. Smith will now get a chance to prove to new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid that he's the current and long-term answer under center.

Solid Picks: Similar to Smith, Cedric Benson seemed like a bust early, but he has since proven otherwise. Chicago took Benson out of Texas with the fourth overall mark in 2005, but the running back lasted just three tumultuous seasons in the Windy City. The Bears released Benson during the 2008 offseason due in large part to two alcohol-related incidents. Cincinnati took a chance on Benson before the start of the ’08 season, and Benson responded by rushing for 747 yards, or more than he previously done in any of his seasons with the Bears, in just 12 games. However, he was just getting started. Benson followed up his first season with the Bengals by rushing for a career-high 1,251 yards, the first of three straight 1,000-yard campaigns. Benson signed with Green Bay prior to the 2012 season, but a foot injury limited him to just 248 yards on the ground in five games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, none of the three are still with the team that drafted them. Bush first signed with Miami as a free agent in 2011 and did the same with Detroit in March, while Williams became the first defensive player to sign a $100-million contract as he left the Texans for Buffalo last March. Then there's Young, who ended up with Philadelphia in 2011 following his release by the Titans, and is desperately looking for another team that's willing to give him yet another chance. How quickly things can change in the NFL.

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

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

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

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

Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin and Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes both went undrafted in ’06, but have since established themselves as standouts at their respective positions with the teams that took a chance on them. After earning a Pro Bowl invite in 2010, Grimes struggled through two injury-plagued seasons and signed a one-year deal with Miami in March as he hopes to prove to the entire league that he's completely healthy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2008 NFL Draft
From a player perspective, this draft will most likely be known as the Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco draft, as the two franchise quarterbacks were taken in the first round by Atlanta and Baltimore respectively. Five years after the fact, however, this draft also can be described in one word – volatile.

During the draft itself, a total of 34 trades took place, which surpassed the previous record of 29 from the 2004 draft. Eight picks in the first-round alone swapped hands in addition to the four others that were involved in pre-draft trades.

Five years later, the movement associated with this draft hasn’t stopped either. Consider this: 13 of the 31 players taken in the first round who were on an NFL roster last season are no longer with the team that drafted them. This turnover includes Jake Long, who went No. 1 overall to Miami. The Dolphins made Long the first offensive lineman taken with the first pick since 1997 when St. Louis drafted Orlando Pace. The ironic thing is that Long is now a Ram himself, as he signed with St. Louis as a free agent this offseason.

Solid Picks: Virginia defensive lineman Chris Long went to St. Louis with the second pick, as the Rams tabbed the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie. Atlanta took Ryan with the next pick, making the Boston College quarterback the successor to Michael Vick, a decision the Falcons have not regretted for one moment.

Oakland took running back Darren McFadden at No. 4 while Denver and Kansas City found future franchise left tackles in Ryan Clady (No. 12) and Branden Albert (No. 15). Tennessee surprised some by taking East Carolina running back Chris Johnson with the 24th pick, but all Johnson has done is average 1,378 yards rushing per season, including 2,006 on the ground in 2009.

Flacco was taken by Baltimore with the 18th pick, a spot the Ravens weren’t in initially. The Ravens entered the draft with the No. 8 overall pick, but traded that to Jacksonville for the Jaguars’ first-round pick (No. 26), two third-round selections and a fourth-round pick.

The Ravens then packaged that pick, one of the third-round selections they got from Jacksonville and a fourth-round pick to swap places with Houston in the first round, moving up from No. 26 to No. 18. In the end, the Ravens ended up with Flacco, the Texans got left tackle Duane Brown, who earned first-team All-Pro honors last season, and the Jaguars used the No. 8 pick overall on Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey, who had eight sacks in three disappointing seasons in Jacksonville.

Besides Flacco, Baltimore also netted a workhorse running back in this draft, as the Ravens took Ray Rice in the second round (No. 55 overall). Chicago’s Matt Forte (No. 44) and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (No. 73) were also selected in this draft.

The second round of the 2008 draft saw 10 wide receivers go off of the board, the most notable being Jordy Nelson (Green Bay – No. 36) and DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia – No. 49). Later round picks for this draft that have worked out include Cliff Avril (Detroit – No. 92), Carl Nicks (New Orleans – No. 164), Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis – No. 205) and Stevie Johnson (Buffalo – No. 224). But again in keeping with volatility theme, Avirl, Nicks and Garcon are no longer with the teams that drafted them.

Busts: While the aforementioned Harvey is probably the biggest bust of the 2008 draft he’s not alone in this unflattering distinction. The New York Jets had high hopes for Vernon Gholston, whom they took with the fifth overall pick, but the former Ohio State star lasted just three seasons in the Big Apple and has since been signed and waived by two other teams.

Other first-round selections that haven’t exactly lived up to expectations include Sedrick Ellis (New Orleans – No. 7), Keith Rivers (Cincinnati – No. 9) and Jeff Otah (Carolina – No. 19), although in Otah’s case knee injuries are largely to blame.

Sleepers: Even though 252 players were selected in the 2008 draft, that didn’t mean there were no hidden gems. In fact, this draft had quite a few undrafted free agents that have gone on to become productive NFL players.

On offense alone, notable undrafted free agents included Danny Amendola (signed with Dallas originally), Davone Bess, BenJarvus Green-Eillis, Mike Tolbert and Danny Woodhead. Those on the defensive side of the ball included Kyle Arrington (originally signed with Philadelphia), Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Jerrell Freeman (Tennessee), Jameel McClain and Wesley Woodyard.

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks: 2000-04

2013 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2013 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Picks

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Middle Linebackers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Outside Linebackers

<p> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-running-backs-2013

With Lache Seastrunk’s emergence late in the 2012 season, and another solid year from Kansas’ James Sims, the Big 12 has two top-tier options for 2013. Seastrunk was on a tear at the end of the year and should post even bigger numbers with a full season as Baylor’s No. 1 back. Sims missed three games last year, yet finished with more than 1,000 yards.

After Seastrunk and Sims, the Big 12 has a group of rushers waiting to emerge. Texas’ Johnathan Gray should be better as a sophomore, while Oklahoma State’s Jeremy Smith should step into the lineup to replace Joseph Randle.

There’s plenty of other proven options for the Big 12, as West Virginia’s Andrew Buie, Oklahoma’s Damien Williams, Kansas State’s John Hubert, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams and TCU’s Waymon James could threaten 1,000 yards this year.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the Big 12 Running Backs for 2013

1. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (JR)
After rushing for just 181 yards through the first seven games of 2012, Seastrunk went on a tear over the final six contests. The Texas native averaged 138.5 yards per game over the final six games, including four straight 100-yard performances to close out 2012. Seastrunk’s best game came against Kansas State, rushing for 185 yards and one touchdown on 19 attempts. After breaking into the starting lineup late last season, Seastrunk now has the full confidence of the coaching staff and is poised to record another 1,000-yard season. The junior should be one of the top running backs in the nation and a first-team All-Big 12 pick for 2013.

2. James Sims, Kansas (SR)
Despite a three-game suspension to open 2012, Sims finished as the Big 12’s leading rusher at 112.6 yards per game. And Sims’ production is even more impressive when you consider the lackluster passing attack Kansas had last season, which forced even more attention on the ground game. In nine games last year, the Texas native finished with 1,013 yards and nine scores, while catching 14 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown. For his career, Sims has 2,482 rushing yards and 27 scores. Although Kansas will have to rebuild its offensive line, expect Sims to close out his career on a high note.

3. Johnathan Gray, Texas (SO)
The No. 1 running back recruit in the nation last year from Aledo (Texas) High is ready for the spotlight. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder played in all 13 games but eventually became Mack Brown’s top option in the backfield, starting five of the last six games. He posted two 100-yard games and finished with 701 yards as a true freshman. He led the team in rushing and could explode in 2013 should the offense continue to develop around him. He is the complete package at running back — running for power, running with speed, catching passes and protecting his quarterback.

4. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State (SR)
After three very productive seasons in Stillwater, Joseph Randle decided to leave for the NFL. Although Randle is a big loss, Oklahoma State’s backfield is far from bare. Smith moves from the No. 2 role to the top spot in 2013 and is poised to make a run at 1,000 yards. Over the last three seasons at Oklahoma State, Smith has rushed for 1,439 yards and 25 touchdowns. He is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and recorded 119 yards and two scores in the 44-10 blowout win over Oklahoma in 2011. Although it’s a bit of a projection to place Smith this high in his first year, the talent is in place for a huge senior season.

5. Damien Williams, Oklahoma (SR)
The Sooners' leading rusher from a year ago originally signed with Arizona State from San Diego (Calif.) Mira Mesa. Yet, after two stellar junior college seasons at Arizona Western, Williams landed in Norman and quickly proved he was ready for big-time college football. He averaged nearly six yards per carry and was just 95 yards shy of 1,000. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is an excellent receiver and will be Blake Bell’s best friend in 2013.

6. John Hubert, Kansas State (SR)
An underrated recruit from Waco (Texas) Midway, the diminutive 5-foot-7 running back had been a perfect complement to now-departed quarterback Collin Klein. Hubert, at 190 pounds, plays more physical than his small stature would indicate and has proven to be effective in tough yardage situations — he scored 15 touchdowns a year ago. Without Klein, Hubert will have to shoulder more of the load, and, undoubtedly, is looking for his first 1,000-yard season after rushing for 947 yards a year ago and 970 in 2011.

7. Malcolm Brown, Texas (JR)
Before Johnathan Gray there was Malcolm Brown. He too was the No. 1-rated running back recruit in the nation when he signed with the Longhorns out of Cibolo (Texas) Steele in 2011. Despite missing three games as a freshman, Brown rushed for 742 yards and was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. His sophomore season was off to a quality start — two 100-yard games in the first two — before getting hurt and missing five games. The 6-foot, 225-pounder has all the talent in the world to succeed, but he needs to prove his proclivity for injury was just bad luck and not a concerning trend.

8. Glasco Martin, Baylor (SR)
Lost in Lache Seastrunk’s breakout performance at the end of 2012 was a solid performance by Martin. The Texas native recorded 889 yards and reached paydirt 15 times last season. Martin had two 100-yard performances, including 113 in the upset victory over Kansas State. Prior to 2012, Martin had only 289 rushing yards in his career but he is averaging 5.2 yards per rush attempt over the last three years. Although Seastrunk will garner the All-American attention, Martin could quietly approach 1,000 yards and should be a tough option for defenses to stop around the goal line.

9. Waymon James, TCU (SR)
The Sherman (Texas) High star posted over 1,300 yards rushing in his first two seasons on campus. He was slated to power the TCU rushing attack last year and was ripping off 9.9 yards per carry through two games last season before season-ending knee surgery. The 5-foot-8, 205-pounder is compact and explosive and, should he prove to be fully recovered, could easily push for All-Big 12 honors as the starter in Fort Worth.

10. Kenny Williams, Texas Tech (JR)
The 5-foot-9, 220-pound bowling ball posted a sneaky-good sophomore season in 2012. The honorable mention All-Big 12 back rushed for 824 yards and scored six total touchdowns for the pass-happy Red Raiders. Williams is poised to become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since another Williams, Ricky, did so for Texas Tech in 1998 (1,582 — yes, there were two Ricky Williams in the Big 12 in 1998).

11. James White, Iowa State (SR)
The fifth-year senior from famed Dallas (Texas) Skyline split time with Shontrelle Johnson a year ago. White was more effective, as he rushed for more yards and posted a better per-carry rate than Johnson — who is recovering from offseason ACL surgery. White, a 5-foot-8, 192-pounder, now heads what could be one of the deeper running back corps in the conference. He has rushed for 1,249 yards over the last two years.

12. Andrew Buie, West Virginia (JR)
With Geno Smith moving on to the NFL, the Mountaineers may lean a little more on the run in 2013. Luckily for coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has a stable of proven backs, headlined by Buie. In 13 contests last year, he rushed for 851 yards and seven scores, while adding 28 catches for 318 yards. Buie’s best game came against Texas, gashing the Longhorns for 207 yards and two touchdowns. If he has more carries in 2013, Buie could approach 1,000 yards.

13. Joe Bergeron, Texas (JR)
The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder plays in the same backfield with the nation’s last two No. 1 RB prospects. Yet, it was the Mesquite (Texas) North product who scored a team-best 16 times last year. He is a great — maybe, one of the best in the nation — complementary piece for the Longhorns.

14. Tony Pierson, Kansas (JR)
James Sims was forced to miss the first three games of last season, but the Jayhawks’ rushing attack was in good hands with Pierson. The Illinois native rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games to open the season and finished 2012 with 760 yards and four scores. On a team that’s thin in proven receivers, Pierson is one of the team’s most dangerous weapons in the passing game, as he caught 21 passes for 291 yards and two scores last year. Although Sims remains Kansas’ workhorse back, Pierson should see plenty of opportunities this season.

15. Brennan Clay, Oklahoma (SR)
A big-time recruit from San Diego, Clay has yet to live up to his elite hype but has been more than productive for Bob Stoops. He has increased his carries, yards, touchdowns and yards per carry each year of his three-year career.

16. Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State (JR)
With Joseph Randle leaving early for the NFL, the Cowboys need a big season from new starter Jeremy Smith, along with Roland in a secondary role. The Texas native has 63 rushing attempts in his career, recording 396 yards and four scores during his limited work. Roland is averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry and recorded 104 yards against Savannah State last season. Look for Roland to approach 500 rushing yards as Smith’s top backup in 2013.

17. Aaron Green, TCU (SO)
After finishing eighth in the Big 12 in rushing offense last season, it’s clear TCU needs to get more from its ground attack in 2013. The return of Waymon James from a knee injury should help, along with the arrival of Aaron Green via transfer (Nebraska). Green was a top-15 national recruit by ESPN in the 2011 signing class but managed only 105 yards in his only season at Nebraska. The talent is certainly there for Green to have a breakout performance for TCU. But can he surpass James and B.J. Catalon on the depth chart?

18. B.J. Catalon, TCU (SO)
Forced into action due to injury, Catalon played well as just a 5-foot-9, 190-pound freshman. He led all TCU backs with 123 carries and led the team with 582 yards rushing. He is an excellent No. 2 option for Gary Patterson.

19. Dustin Garrison, West Virginia (JR)
Garrison had a solid freshman campaign in 2011, rushing for 742 yards and six scores. However, his season ended prematurely when he tore his ACL in Orange Bowl practices, and his recovery extended into 2012. Although Garrison played in 11 contests, he clearly wasn’t the same player and rushed for only 207 yards and two scores. Now that he is a full year removed from his injury, expect Garrison to see more carries in 2013.

20. Dreamius Smith, West Virginia (JR)
There’s no question Dreamius Smith is a first-teamer on the college football all-name team for 2013. However, West Virginia needs to know: Can this junior college performer help the rushing attack? So far, it seems he can. Smith totaled 38 yards on seven attempts in the spring game and is expected to feature prominently in the offense in 2013.


by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Ranking the Big 12's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 07:21
Path: /college-football/can-california-improve-its-win-total-2013

After 11 seasons under Jeff Tedford, California decided it was time for a change. Tedford was fired after the season finale, and former Arizona offensive coordinator and Louisiana Tech head man Sonny Dykes was hired as the team’s new coach.

The Golden Bears have plenty of talent in the program but slipped to a disappointing 3-9 mark last year. If the pieces come together, California could challenge for a bowl game in 2013.

However, there’s a couple of obstacles to overcome, including a tough schedule and quarterback uncertainty.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
At first look, asking Cal to exceed its three wins from a season ago doesn’t seem like a big deal. You could pick just about any major conference team to win four games by accident. Only 15 teams in the BCS automatic-qualifying conferences won four or fewer games last season. But looking at Cal’s schedule there aren’t a whole lot of sure wins. We can probably count Portland State as one of them, but after that the Bears have to defeat Washington State at home, Colorado on the road and then ... who else? Northwestern, Arizona or Oregon State at home? I like Sonny Dykes’ ability to adapt to his personnel, as he did in his first two seasons at Louisiana Tech, but I’m not sure how he’s going to build this group into a team that can compete with Oregon, Stanford and Ohio State. At Cal, Dykes has an intriguing playmaker in Brendan Bigelow and then an unsettled quarterback situation and a lackluster defense. Even though, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Jim L. Mora all had quick success in the Pac-12, Dykes may have trouble matching those three first-year performances. The Pac-12 North is a gauntlet and coaches like Mora, Rodriguez and Mike Leach at Washington State all have a year’s head start on Berkeley. This may be a push for Cal in Dykes’ first season.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Sonny Dykes will improve the Golden Bears in his first season, it just may not show up in the win column. There is talent all over the roster, including a future star in redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Kline. However, the non-conference schedule is nasty with Ohio State and Northwestern coming to town with a combined 22 wins from a year ago. Road trips to Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Washington is about as tough a road slate as there is in the league. So a home game against Portland State is lone gimmie. To improve on last year's three wins, Cal would have to win three of the following five: Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona, USC and at Colorado. It's certainly possible but not likely, so I will say California is 3-9 once again.

Kyle Kensing, Editor at, (@kensing45)
Offensive inefficiency plagued Cal for much of the latter half of Jeff Tedford's run as head coach, but especially so in 2012. Sonny Dykes was a home run hire, especially for reinvigorating the Golden Bear offense. Louisiana Tech was the nation's highest scoring team a season ago, and Dykes was largely responsible for Arizona's two eight-win teams in 2008 and 2009.

Teams must be able to score in the Pac-12, and Dykes will get Cal to that point with his version of the air raid spread. It just won't be his first season. Cal returns the fewest starters of any team in the conference with nine -- four are on offense. A fresh start is probably a good thing for restructuring the system in the long-term, but replacing Keenan Allen and Isi Sofele is difficult in the short run.

Dykes also faces an absolutely brutal schedule in his first year. The Golden Bears face two Big Ten teams in the non-conference. First is Northwestern, which should be in the preseason Top 25, and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are preseason top five material.

The Bears do draw Colorado out of the South, but have to travel to Boulder. Washington State at home is a likely win, and any of Oregon State, Arizona or USC could be upset material at Memorial Stadium. UA in particular has struggled in Berkeley for years.

Four wins are likely. A bowl probably isn't. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think California will win more than three games and has an outside shot to push for a bowl game in 2013. Sonny Dykes was an excellent hire and should be a good fit in Berkeley, and former coach Jeff Tedford isn’t leaving the cupboard bare of talent. Provided he can stay healthy, running back Brendan Bigelow is a future star, and the receiving corps has a handful of talented players, including Chris Harper. The defense returns six starters and linemen Deandre Coleman, Chris McCain and Viliami Moala could contend for All-Pac-12 honors. The secondary is the biggest question mark, but Stefan McClure is back after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.

If the Golden Bears are going to challenge for a winning record, the two biggest obstacles to overcome is a tough schedule and uncertainty at quarterback. Zach Kline has a bright future at California but has no game experience on the FBS level. How quickly can he get acclimated to being a starting quarterback in the Pac-12? The schedule features non-conference games against Northwestern and Ohio State and crossover games with the South Division against UCLA, USC and Arizona. With a likely 1-2 record in non-conference play, California needs to find five wins in Pac-12 action to get bowl eligible. It’s unlikely, especially with Colorado and Washington State the only games the Golden Bears will likely be favored to win. However, I think California gets better as the year progresses and could pull off an upset or two, likely finishing at 4-8 or 5-7. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Considering California won just three games last season, you would think topping that wouldn't be that difficult of a task for new Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. After all, his Louisiana Tech offense led the nation in both total (577.9 ypg) and scoring (51.5 ppg) offense last season. However, Berkeley, Calif., is nearly 2,000 miles away from Ruston, La., and I expect the offensive production between this year's Golden Bears and last year's Bulldogs to be just as vast. Dykes does have a promising running back in Brendan Bigelow and potential big-play threat at wide receiver in Bryce Treggs, but after that it's anyone guess, including along the offensive line (two returning starters). The defense does return six starters, but it's from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in just about every major statistical category last season. Couple these factors with a non-conference schedule that has Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Ohio State lined up in the first three weeks of the season, and a Pac-12 crossover schedule that features Arizona, UCLA and USC, and it looks like Dykes will be in for a tough first season with the Golden Bears. Forget improving on last season's 3-9 mark, simply matching that win total would have to be considered a positive debut this fall for Dykes.


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<p> Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-easts-running-backs-2013

The Big East doesn’t have many household names returning at running back for 2013.

Houston’s Charles Sims is one of the best all-around backs in college football and leads the way for the Big East in 2013. Joining Sims atop the rankings is UCF’s Storm Johnson, Connecticut’s Lyle McCombs and Rutgers’ Savon Huggins. McCombs had a disappointing 2012 season but should top 1,000 yards in 2013.

After the top four, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this group of rushers. However, Louisville has two talented options in Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry, and SMU has an intriguing junior college recruit in Traylon Shead.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Big East Running Back Rankings for 2013

1. Charles Sims, Houston (SR)
Sims only had 142 carries in 2012, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. Against UAB, he recorded 133 yards on 26 attempts and posted a season best of 210 yards against North Texas in early October. Sims is a key receiver for Houston out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 373 yards and three scores last year. For his career, the Houston native is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and has scored 37 times. Don’t expect Sims to have 250 rushes in 2013, but he should easily exceed last year’s 142 attempts and is the Big East’s top all-purpose back.

2. Lyle McCombs, Connecticut (JR)
It hasn’t taken long for fans in Storrs to appreciate the tiny runner from Staten Island (N.Y.) St. Joseph. He rushed for 1,151 yards as a freshman in 2011 and posted 860 yards last fall as a sophomore. He has reached paydirt 14 times in his career and has proven to be an excellent receiver (43 career receptions). With a little help from the passing game, McCombs should return to the 1,000-yard club in 2013.

3. Storm Johnson, UCF (JR)
After a one-year stint at Miami, Johnson transferred to UCF and sat out the 2011 season due to transfer rules. Even with a crowded backfield last year, Johnson managed to work his way into the lineup, recording 507 yards and four touchdowns on 113 attempts. With Latavius Murray out of eligibility, the Knights will turn to Johnson as the team’s feature back. As one of the top running backs in the nation in the 2011 signing class, the talent is there for Johnson to be a 1,000-yard rusher this year. Expect Johnson to be one of the Big East’s leading rushers at the end of 2013.

4. Savon Huggins, Rutgers (JR)
Few players have ever started their career at Rutgers with more hype than the five-star recruit from Jackson (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep. His career began as fans had hoped, with two touchdowns in his first game. However, his true freshman season was cut short with injury and his sophomore year saw Jawan Jamison take the reigns of the offense. Still, Huggins showed improvement last year and is poised to become the next in a line of quality Scarlet Knights running backs.

5. Senorise Perry, Louisville (JR)
Before a torn ACL ended his 2012 season in early November, Perry was on track to lead Louisville in rushing yards. The Georgia native recorded three 100-yard efforts, including 118 against Southern Miss and 108 against Kentucky. Perry posted 101 yards and four touchdowns on 12 attempts against Pittsburgh and rushed for 86 yards against North Carolina. Assuming Perry is at full strength, he should be Louisville’s No. 1 back in 2013. However, Dominique Brown is expected to see his share of carries, which makes Louisville’s backfield a likely 50-50 split in terms of overall yards and touches.

6. Dominique Brown, Louisville (JR)
Brown committed to Louisville as a quarterback but was shifted to running back after he arrived on campus. The Cincinnati native sat out 2012 as a redshirt, giving him two more years of eligibility. In 2011, he rushed for 533 yards and four scores, while catching 16 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. With Jeremy Wright leaving the team after the Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, Brown and Senorise Perry will be charged with carrying the rushing attack. Brown is still looking for his first 100-yard game but that should come with more opportunities in 2013.

7. Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (JR)
Isaiah Pead gave way to George Winn who will give way to RDA-4. The speedster from Atlanta (Ga.) Westminster has big-play potential every time he touches the ball. He rushed for over five yards per carry, caught 28 passes and four touchdowns through the air and averaged 25 yards per kickoff return (32 returns., 801 yards). He has the skill to be extremely effective but can his 5-foot-7, 160-pound frame withstand the pro-style beating Tommy Tuberville’s new offense might ask of its running backs?

8. Marcus Shaw, USF (SR)
The senior from Arcadia (Fla.) De Soto has played in a lot of games for the Bulls (28 career games) but hasn’t gotten the chance to showcase his skills (three career starts). The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder came on late last fall getting double-digit carries against quality competition (Cincinnati, Miami, UConn). Look for new coach Willie Tagart — who got the most out of smaller backs at Western Kentucky — to find a way to use Shaw effectively.

9. Traylon Shead, SMU (JR)
Zach Line expired his eligibility after the Hawaii Bowl, leaving SMU without a No. 1 back for 2013. Rishaad Wimbley and Jared Williams have experience, but the Mustangs hope Shead is the answer for the rushing attack. The former Texas Longhorn transferred to SMU after a year at Navarro (Texas) College and should be the new go-to back for SMU in 2013. In his one season on the junior college level, Shead rushed for 1,194 yards and 17 touchdowns.

10. Brandon Hayes, Memphis (SR)
The former junior college transfer didn’t get into a game until Week 4 last year, but Hayes was effective once he took over. He posted 576 yards and six touchdowns while topping 100 yards in the season’s final two games.

11. Kenneth Farrow, Houston (SO)
In his first season on a college field, the 215-pound tailback from Hurst (Texas) L.D. Bell showed fans a glimpse of the future as a freshman. Farrow should only build on his 631 yards from scrimmage in 2013.

12. Jai Steib, Memphis (SR)
Steib matched Hayes' six rushing touchdowns a year ago for the team lead. Yet, on one more carry in three more games, Steib finished 149 yards behind Hayes in production. Look for both to get plenty of looks in 2013.

13. Kenneth Harper, Temple (JR)
With Montel Harris and Matt Brown out of eligibility, Temple is essentially starting over in the backfield. Harper is a slight favorite over Jamie Gilmore to begin the year as the Owls’ No. 1 back. He rushed for 65 yards and two scores on 13 attempts last season and has only 193 yards and three rushing touchdowns in his career.

14. Jamie Gilmore, Temple (SO)
Gilmore is competing with Kenneth Harper and incoming freshman Zaire Williams for the starting running back spot. As a true freshman last year, Gilmore rushed for 94 yards on 20 attempts, with his best performance coming against Army (49 yards). 

15. Tion Green, Cincinnati (SO)
The mid-level recruit from Sanford (Fla.) Lake Brantley saw limited action as a freshman last season but has the perfect build (6-foot, 211 pounds) to complement potential starter Ralph David Abernathy IV.

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Ranking the Big East's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 07:20
All taxonomy terms: Monthly, News
Path: /monthly/there-mlb-player-played-championship-teams-little-league

I’m wondering if there is a Major League Baseball player that played on a championship Little League World Series team and a championship College World Series team and a championship Major League Baseball team. 

— Kevin Bray, St. Petersburg, Fla.
No player possesses that unique Triple Crown. In fact, only two players have even appeared in each of the three settings you mention. Longtime Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek led his Altamonte Springs, Fla., team to the 1984 LLWS (losing in the finals to Seoul, Korea) before joining Georgia Tech teammates Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Payton in the 1994 College World Series, where they lost the title game to Oklahoma. Varitek was part of the curse-busting 2004 Red Sox and won another ring with the Sox in 2007. Ed Vosberg played for Tucson, Ariz., in the 1973 LLWS (Tucson lost in the finals to a Taiwanese team), then played for 1980 College World Series Champion Arizona before embarking on a journeyman career as a reliever that lasted until 2002 and included a stint with the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins.
<p> Is there an MLB player that played on championship teams since Little League?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 16:14
All taxonomy terms: Golf, Monthly, News
Path: /golf/which-golfer-arnold-palmer-jack-nicklaus-and-tom-watson-has-most-holes-one

Which of my three favorite golfers — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson — has the most holes-in-one? 

— Joe Triolo, Rockford, Ill.
It’s impossible to say just how many the three have combined to hit in leisurely rounds or during practice time, but here’s what we found: According to his website,, Jack has hit 20 holes-in-one in professional competition. Long-time Palmer assistant Doc Giffin calculates that Palmer has had about 20 in his life, although that likely includes non-tournament play. Watson’s number is tougher to pin down — it’s probably around 15 in competitive play — but he did thrill the crowd at the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s with a hole-in-one at age 61. You didn’t ask, but Art Wall, the 1959 Masters champion, holds the record; he’s credited with an astounding 45 holes-in-one during his professional career.
<p> Go on, ask us anything.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 15:57
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/best-performances-sports-biopic-history

Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson in the biopic “42,” which co-stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. But they are far from the first actors to portray iconic figures from classic true stories on the silver screen. Here are a few of the all-time great performances in sports biopics.

Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy
The Blind Side (2009)
Bullock earned the Academy Award for Best Actress by playing Michael Oher’s fiery adopted mother from Memphis in the highest grossing ($255 million) sports biopic ever.

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Cooper plays the “Iron Horse” in a baseball classic that also includes cameos from Gehrig’s “Murderer’s Row” teammates Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Mark Koening.

Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar
Invictus (2009)

Clint Eastwood directed Damon as the South African rugby star and Morgan Freeman as President Nelson Mandela in an emotional, politically charged “undefeated” drama.

Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta
Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus featured arguably the most realistic fight scenes ever and earned De Niro the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gritty performance.

Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard
Seabiscuit (2003)

Maguire hung up his Spiderman costume and hopped in the saddle to play the once angry, one-eyed jockey Pollard in an uplifting Depression-era tale of redemption.

Barry Pepper as Roger Maris
61* (2001)
Pepper’s turn as Maris and Thomas Jane’s effort as Mickey Mantle highlight Billy Crystal’s labor of love in the HBO film based on Maris’ historic 1961 season.

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane
Moneyball (2011)
Pitt stars as the Oakland A’s general manager in another successful biopic based on a book by Michael Lewis, who also wrote the source material for The Blind Side.

Ronald Reagan as George “The Gipper” Gipp
Knute Rockne, All American (1940)
Before becoming the 40th President of the United States, Reagan urged Rockne — the iconic Notre Dame coach played by Pat O’Brien — to “win just one for the Gipper.”

Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks
Miracle (2004)
Russell sends chills of exhilaration through the audience with Brooks’ now famous — and parodied — pregame speech to the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team.

Will Smith as Muhammad Ali
Ali (2001)
Smith gained 35 pounds of muscle, going from 185 to 220 pounds, in order to play the champ in the Michael Mann film that also stars Jon Voight as Howard Cosell.

Denzel Washington as Herman Boone
Remember the Titans (2000)

Denzel also played boxer Rubin Carter in The Hurricane, but his best sports biopic role is that of the football coach attempting to inspire and unify a racially divided team.

RELATED: A Chat with Chadwick Boseman, Star of Jackie Robinson Biopic "42"

<p> From De Niro as Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull" to Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blind Side."</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 14:00