Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /college-football/jimbo-fisher-improved-facilities-florida-state-nation-elite
Body:

Jimbo Fisher was only kidding, but the image he conjured during a press conference before Florida State’s spring practices commenced was colorful and plenty accurate.

 

When asked about the challenges of moving forward with a program that has aspirations of national contention every year, Fisher likened himself to his children, who seem to spend the majority of their time around him looking for something other than fatherly advice.

 

“They go to mom a lot, but they come to me for money,” Fisher said to big laughs.

 

Fisher plays that role when he speaks with FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox. It takes more than fine athletes to satisfy the appetite of big winners. There have to be facilities fit for the most exclusive country club — Oregon has a barbershop in its football building — donors willing to wield platinum checkbooks, and a support system capable of helping players with their classwork and the normal rigors of college life. The list doesn’t end. And neither do Fisher’s requests.

 

“I always have something for them, I promise you,” Fisher says.

 

It’s hard to believe Fisher would have to draw up a wish list at Florida State, but the Seminole program is not yet on a par with some of college football’s aristocracy, despite last year’s national championship and the Bowden heyday, which included 14 straight years of double-digit wins and top-five finishes, and two national titles. FSU is just now reaching parity with the best of the best in terms of facilities and has finally begun to mobilize its donor base to fund the program on a level that’s in line with its competitors.

 

Despite its huge success during the late ’80s and ’90s, Florida State is not found on the rolls of college football’s most tradition-bound programs. It didn’t start playing ball until 1947 and wasn’t even thought about beyond the state lines until Bowden took over in ’76. Without generations of alumni and donors to draw upon, and with a location that makes it hard for fans to come for games and stay, FSU has had to move quickly to create an infrastructure congruent with that of its competition. Doing that leads to wins, but it also convinces Fisher that Tallahassee is the place to stay long-term and end annual rumors that he is a candidate for whatever top job (say, Texas) happens to open.

 

“I think we have been behind,” says senior associate AD Monk Bonasorte, who was a standout defensive player for Bowden from 1977-80. “The facilities we’ve added have helped us.”

 

Last year, the Noles opened an indoor practice facility. By the start of this season, they will have new locker, meeting and office space. It all matters, even the ability to practice inside, which doesn’t seem to mean much in Florida. Snow and cold aren’t the issues in Tallahassee, but freak late summer and fall rainstorms are. So are hours of lightning that can prevent outdoor work. The new team amenities need no explanation, other than to say that premium high school recruits are savvy enough to know whether lockers are made of cherry or mahogany. There’s no barbershop planned, but it isn’t 78 degrees in mid-March in Eugene, Ore., either.

 

“Every day, other institutions are continually improving their facilities,” Wilcox says. “That’s what we have to work at on an annual basis.”

 

When Fisher approaches Wilcox or any other administrator with his wish list, he does so knowing that everything he wants is necessary. Remember that he fell out of the Nick Saban coaching tree, so his requests are made to create a climate that will allow him to compete with the Alabama sideline cyclone, and not just for esoteric reasons. Saban has set the template, and Fisher is following it. “If you’re sitting still, someone is going past you,” Fisher says.

 

One of the keys to the fundraising efforts that have supported the facility growth is the re-engagement of Bowden, who remains a living legend in the state, despite the program’s struggles during his final four seasons. Bowden’s decision to step out of the limelight during Fisher’s first few years was generous, but Bowden has moved back into the public consciousness and has been helpful in the school’s identifying some previously untapped resources and enticing them to endow the program.

 

The one thing that even Bowden can’t overcome is Tallahassee. Nestled in Northwest Florida, about 20 miles from the Georgia border, the state capital isn’t easily reached by most of the state. Further, because it isn’t home to much industry or many business headquarters, there isn’t a hospitality infrastructure that can accommodate thousands of fans who want to stay for home football weekends. It may sound ridiculous, but this is the first year in several that the Noles sold out their season ticket allotment. And that’s as much due to the arrivals of Clemson, Florida and Notre Dame as it is to the residual excitement of last year’s national title or to the growing affection for the program.

 

It is a testament to Bowden’s charisma that the Seminoles were able to sustain such overwhelming success for so long without the same tradition or facilities as the schools against which they competed for recruits. Personality went a long way at the end of last century. These days, brick and mortar — not to mention funky uniforms — are what draw top talent, and Florida State has taken the necessary steps to make sure that big-time recruits have no reason to look elsewhere. That also goes for Fisher, whose new contract, announced right before the title game win over Auburn, is worth $4.015 million annually and makes him one of the top 10-15 highest-paid coaches in the country. As long as he has the ability to mine the fertile Florida talent vein with the same facilities as do his rivals — and gets paid like a CEO — he will stick around. And Florida State will continue to win big.

 

“Different people take different jobs for different reasons, and you would hope the success Jimbo has here and the opportunities he has to win are enough,” Bonasorte says. “Coaches want to win. At Florida State, with the availability of recruiting and the kids you can bring in, you should be able to win.”

 

Even with all of that, Fisher’s going to keep asking for more. And Wilcox had better have his wallet at the ready.

 

This is going to get pretty expensive.

 

Written by Michael Bradley (@DailyHombre) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 ACC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Jimbo Fisher's Drive and Improved Facilities Push FSU Among Nation's Elite
Post date: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-most-pathetic-nfl-teams-expansion
Body:

The Seattle Seahawks own the 16-game NFL record for fewest points scored with 140 in 1992. Seattle also owns the all-time mark for fewest yards in a game when it totaled minus-7 yards against the L.A. Rams in 1979.

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers set the modern NFL mark for worst point differential by being outscored by 287 points in 1976. The Baltimore Colts allowed an NFL-record 533 points back in 1981. The Houston Oilers claim the NFL mark for most interceptions thrown in a single season with 48 picks tossed in 1962. And the Philadelphia Eagles own the NFL’s single-season sacks allowed mark with 104 back in 1986.
 

Needless to say, there are many ways to measure NFL ineptitude. So while offensive and defensive statistical production (or lack thereof) is a huge factor in measuring pathetic-ness, wins and losses are still the most important way to evaluate any team.
 

Who are the worst NFL teams since expansion in 2002?
 

1. 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)

Point Differential: -249 (268 PF, 517 PA)

Offense: 30th (268.3 ypg), 27th (16.8 ppg)

Defense: 32nd (404.4 ypg), 32nd (32.3 ppg)


No other team has ever gone winless in the modern NFL era (16-game regular season), which means the Detroit Lions must be considered the worst team due in large part to the massive "0" in the win column. Winning is all that really matters in sports and the Lions failed in truly epic fashion. Top it off with the worst defense of the expansion era, as this team fell just 16 points shy of setting an NFL record for points allowed (533). This team posted an NFL-worst four interceptions on defense, was next to last in sacks allowed (52.0) and finished 14th in the NFC in turnover differential. Dan Orlovsky led a five-man QB platoon that featured 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions and a combined 71.3 QB rating.


2. 2009 St. Louis Rams (1-15)

Pt Differential: -261 (175 PF, 436 PA)

Offense: 29th (279.4 ypg), 32nd (10.9 ppg)

Defense: 29th (372.8 ypg), 31st (27.3 ppg)


This team redefined the term offensive struggles as its 175 points were only 35 away from the NFL mark set by Seattle (140) in 1992. It is the all-time low for a Rams team that played 16 games while the 261-point differential is the worst in franchise history as well. Marc Bulger was the leading passer with 1,469 yards, 5 TDs and 6 INTs. The team itself finished with 12 total TD passes and 21 INTs and a collective passer rating of 64.0. The Rams were shutout twice and scored 10 or fewer points in nine games. St. Louis also finished 31st in the NFL in turnover margin (-13). The Rams were one of only three teams since 2002 to win one or fewer games.


3. 2009 Detroit Lions (2-14)

Pt Differential: -232 (262 PF, 494 PA)

Offense: 26th (299.0 ypg), 27th (16.4 ppg)

Defense: 32nd (392.1 ypg), 32nd (30.9 ppg)


While the '09 Rams set offensive football back two decades, the '09 Lions continued to show its lack of defensive prowess. The Rams did defeat the Lions (17-10) that year, but for the season, Detroit scored nearly 100 more points and won twice as many games. This Lions team also finished dead last in turnover margin (-18) and No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford missed the final six games of the season. The Lions went 0-6 after Stafford was lost.


4. 2007 Miami Dolphins (1-15)

Pt Differential: -170 (267 PF, 437 PA)

Offense: 28th (287.5 ypg), 26th (16.7 ppg)

Defense: 23rd (342.2 ypg), 30th (27.3 ppg)


This version of the Fish lost the first 13 games of the season before winning their only game of the year over Baltimore. Cleo Lemon was 1-6 as the starter, John Beck went 0-4 and Trent Green was 0-5. The trio combined to throw 12 touchdown passes — 16 fewer than the opposition. Ronnie Brown led the team in rushing after playing only seven games (602 yards) while Jesse Chatman actually got the most carries (128). The only shot Cam Cameron has had to be a head coach in the NFL was his one-win season at the helm of the Dolphins.


5. 2008 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Pt Differential: -233 (232 PF, 465 PA)

Offense: 27th (287.3 ypg), 31st (14.5 ppg)

Defense: 28th (371.9 ypg), 31st (29.1 ppg)


The 233-point scoring differential was a franchise record at the time and would still be the Rams' worst-ever scoring season had it not been for the 2009 team that came along the next year. This team lost the final 10 games of the year and scored only 19 offensive touchdowns all season. In fact, this offense was the most scored upon OFFENSE in the NFL. That is right, the Rams offense had seven turnovers returned for touchdowns, a number that tied for the league lead.


6. 2011 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Pt Differential: -214 (193, 407)

Offense: 31st, (283.6 ypg), 32nd (12.1 ppg)

Defense: 22nd (358.4 ypg), 26th (25.4 ppg)


If not for the 2008 and '09 teams, this team would have been the most outscored Rams team in history. The 193 total points scored are the second-worst in team history for one that played 16 games. Losing Sam Bradford to an injury after 10 games certainly didn't help the offense as the team finished with nine touchdown passes and a paltry 53.2 percent completion rate. St. Louis also led the league in sacks allowed with 55.0 while the rushing attack contributed only seven scores of its own.


7. 2010 Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Pt Differential: -212 (196 PF, 408 PA)

Offense: 32nd (12.3 ypg), 32nd (258.4 ppg)

Defense: 18th (335.9 ypg), 26th (25.5 ppg)


The offense did little to contribute to this football team whatsoever. Not only were the 196 total points scored the worst in the 18-year history of the franchise, but this season also was the only time the Panthers failed to reach 250 points. Jimmy Clausen (1-9), Matt Moore (1-4) and Brian St. Pierre (0-1) combined for a nasty 9:21 TD:INT ratio while finishing 30th in 3rd downs (30.4 percent) and 25th in turnover margin. To top it off, the 408 points allowed were third worst in franchise history on the defensive side of the ball.


8. 2011 Indianapolis Colts (2-14)

Pt Differential: -212 (196 PF, 408 PA)

Offense: 32nd (12.3 ypg), 32nd (258.4 ppg)

Defense: 18th (335.9 ypg), 26th (25.5 ppg)


Obviously, without Peyton Manning, the Colts experienced its worst season since 1998, No. 18's rookie year. If not for a "torrid" 2-1 finish to the year, the Colts were in danger of challenging the winless Lions of 2008. In the first 13 losses, Indy allowed less than 23 points only one time. The total points scored, which included only 14 total touchdown passes (or 12 less than Manning's career low), and point differential were the worst numbers for the Colts since the 1993 season. The top ball carrier, Donald Brown, led the team in rushing despite making just two starts all year (645 yards).


9. 2004 San Francisco 49ers (2-14)

Pt Differential: -193 (259, 452)

Offense: 26th (286.6 ypg), 30th (16.2 ppg)

Defense: 24th (342.6 ypg), 32nd (28.3 ppg)


San Francisco was two games worse than every other team in the NFL that year, and, technically, the 49ers were winless in regulation as both wins came in overtime. The Niners were 30th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in points allowed while finishing 31st in turnover margin (-19). Tim Rattay (1-8) and Ken Dorsey (1-6) were equally ineffective, throwing 16 TDs against 21 INTs and completing only 57.9 percent of their passes. The ground game finished 30th in the NFL in rushing at just over 90 yards per game. The 452 points allowed were one point shy of the franchise record set in 1999 and the 193-point differential was an organizational record.


10. 2005 Houston Texans (2-14)

Pt Differential: -171 (260, 431)

Offense: 30th (253.3 ypg), 26th (16.3 ppg)

Defense: 31st (364.0 ypg), 32nd (26.9 ppg)
 

There were some bad Texans team and David Carr paid a big price. After getting sacked a league-worst 76 times as a rookie, Houston once again led the league in sacks allowed in 2005 with 68. This franchise will be playing in just its 13th season this fall, but the '05 team set the benchmark for fewest wins (tied with last year's team), points allowed and point differential, all of which led to the firing of Dom Capers. Carr started every game and averaged a pathetic 155.5 yards passing per game, threw only 14 touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions and fumbled 17 times.
 

The...Worst of the Rest?
 

2012 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

This team was outscored by nearly 200 points (minus-189), yet beat the Tennessee Titans as well as a shocking early season upset of the Colts. This team ranked 29th in total offense and 30th in total defense in 2012.


2004 Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Began 3-3 before losing nine straight in which they scored more than 15 points only one time. Trailed only the Niners for worst record. The offense was led by Jeff Garcia for 10 games, Luke McCown for four and Kelly Holcombe for two.
 

2002 Houston Texans (4-12)

The lowest scoring team in franchise history (213 pts) finished last in total offense as well as sacks allowed with 76. The first year of the Texans was salvaged by two strange wins over playoff teams (NYG, PIT) and is the only thing keeping this team out of the top ten.


2011 Tampa Bay Bucs (4-12)

The Bucs led the league in turnovers (40) and posted the worst turnover margin (-16) in 2011. After starting 4-2, Tampa Bay crumbled down the stretch with 10 straight losses and set a franchise mark with 494 points allowed (keep in mind, that is a BUCCANEERS franchise record).
 

2008 Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)

This team couldn't get off the field in 2008 as it was the worst 3rd down team in the league (47.4 percent) and dead last in sacks (10). It finished 31st in total defense and the 440 points allowed and -149-point differential are Chiefs single-season records.


2006 Oakland Raiders (2-14)

The Silver and Black defense was good enough to keep them out of the top ten, but the offense was nearly historic in its struggles. The 168 points scored were 28 away from the all-time NFL mark, these Raiders finished dead last in sacks allowed (72), turnover margin (-20) and both scoring and total offense. Oakland was also 31st in the league with 23 interceptions thrown.

Teaser:
10 Most Pathetic NFL Teams Since Expansion
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/will-muschamps-future-florida-hinges-revamped-offense
Body:

The days of Steve Spurrier’s Fun ’n’ Gun are long past — relegated to record books, YouTube clips and faded memories among longtime Florida Gators fans.

 

Tim Tebow is doing TV, Percy Harvin is preparing for his sixth NFL season and Urban Meyer is coaching at Ohio State.

 

The Gators’ offense followed them out the door, apparently never to return.

 

Left now are question marks, coaching transition and waning patience from even the most loyal Florida fans.

 

Head coach Will Muschamp enters his fourth year on the hot seat following the program’s first losing season since 1979. While Muschamp’s defenses have finished each year ranked in the top 10 nationally, his offenses have not once cracked the top 100. The Gators averaged 14.4 points during a seven-game losing streak to cap 2013’s 4–8 season, leaving Muschamp with time for one more Hail Mary to save his coaching career in Gainesville.

 

Enter Kurt Roper, the longtime protégé of Duke head coach and quarterback whiz David Cutcliffe, one-time mentor of Eli Manning at Ole Miss and the man handed one of the toughest jobs in college football.

 

Roper’s up-tempo scheme carried the Blue Devils to new heights and helped Duke’s offense go toe-to-toe with Johnny Football and Texas A&M during a shootout loss in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Now, Roper has one offseason at Florida to teach his system to a collection of unprovens, unknowns and underachievers.

 

Or else he and the Gators’ coaching staff might not be back for another offseason.

 

“We have to produce,” Muschamp says. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. I’d feel a little bit more uncomfortable if we didn’t have some of the talented players we have on our football team.


Florida's Offense Over the Last Three Years
 2013
(SEC rank)
2012
(SEC rank)
2011
(SEC rank)
Total offense316.7 ypg
(14th)     
334.0 ypg
(12th)
328.7 ypg
(10th)
Yards per play4.79 ypp
(14th)
5.25 ypp
(12th)
5.42 ypp
(6th)
Rushing145.8 ypg
(13th)
187.7 ypg
(3rd)
143.0 ypg
(8th)
Passing170.9 ypg
(12th)
146.3 ypg
(14th)
185.7 ypg
(5th)
Scoring18.8 ppg
(14th) 
26.5 ppg
(10th)
25.5 ppg
(8th)

“I feel confident in the players we have and the changes we’ve made in our staff moving forward.”

 

The Gators finished 2013 ranked last in the SEC in points and yards. Even in 2012, when Florida went 11–2 and earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl, the Gators were last in the league in passing.

 

The day after Florida’s season ended with a 37–7 loss to Florida State and without a bowl bid for the first time in 23 years, Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis after two seasons.

 

Muschamp is banking on Roper and veteran offensive line coach Mike Summers to tap into the potential of a host of high-level recruits who have failed to produce as planned.

 

Chief among them is junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who will be the key if the Gators’  offense is to turn things around in 2014. Driskel is 11–3 as a starter at Florida, but he rode the coattails of the nation’s best defense as a sophomore in 2012, finishing with 12 touchdown passes and 35 sacks, many because he held onto the ball too long. Last season, Driskel had five turnovers, including three critical miscues during a 21–16 loss at Miami, before he broke his leg in the season’s third game, against Tennessee.

Related: College Football's Top Players Returning From Injury for 2014

 

But one thing Driskel has shown he can do is run; he totaled 716 rushing yards, not including sacks, in 2012.

 

Roper will place Driskel in the shotgun and use the spread formation to highlight the dual-threat abilities that made him the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit in 2011. Too often, Driskel appeared paralyzed by the decision-making required of Pease’s pro-style system.

 

“He’s talented, folks,” Roper said in March during spring practices. “I mean we’re sitting here talking about a guy that’s really, really gifted. And his experience shows whenever we have conversations. He understands football. It’s not his first rodeo.”

 

Upbeat evaluations are as common that time of year as springtime allergies. Optimism also does not hide the facts. No returning Gator wide receiver caught more than one touchdown in 2013, while the tight ends (not including Virginia transfer Jake McGee) combined for four receptions. Tailback Kelvin Taylor, son of former NFL star Fred Taylor, displayed a hard-running style as a first-year player, but the Gators lack a home-run threat anywhere on offense to change a game in one play.

 

Meanwhile, Summers, a 34-year coaching veteran, faces one of his toughest assignments yet when it comes to the Gators’ offensive line. Florida allowed 66 sacks the past two seasons and lost two quarterbacks to season-ending injuries in 2013. UF’s run game averaged 3.6 yard per carry. Worse, the Gators lost their two best linemen, three-year starters Jon Harrison and Jon Halapio.

 

“They don’t have a receiver on their football team that would start at another SEC school right now,” Scout.com national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg says. “Think about that. This is the University of Florida.”

 

Under Spurrier, the Gators revolutionized SEC football. The Fun ’n’ Gun era produced four straight SEC championships, a national title and 59 40-point games.

 

The Gators won two more national titles using Meyer’s spread offense, with Tebow at the controls and thoroughbreds like Harvin lined up beside him.

 

Offensive talent flocked to Gainesville during those days. Lately, top recruits are jumping ship.

 

When five-star running back Dalvin Cook of Miami changed his commitment in January from Florida to Florida State, the Gators lost the kind of big-play threat they have lacked since Harvin. Cook also left Florida fans with a bad taste in their mouths when he explained his decision.

 

“Coach Roper is a great coach, but I don’t think Florida has the athletes like Duke got,” Cook said. “That’s all I can say.”

 

Recruiting misses, injuries and coaching turnover have plagued the Gators dating to Meyer’s final season in 2010.

 

To see the big picture, look no further than sixth-year senior wide receiver Andre Debose.

 

Debose was tabbed “the next Percy Harvin” when he signed with the Gators in 2009. Since then, he has worked with five wide receivers coaches, four offensive coordinators and endured two season-ending injuries.

 

These days, Debose is recovering from an ACL tear suffered last August, hoping finally to make his mark during the extra season gained by the NCAA’s medical hardship waiver. A five-star recruit with four touchdown catches in three seasons, Debose will turn 24 the day before the Gators’ SEC opener on Sept. 13 at home against Kentucky. He believes he stuck around long enough to see Florida finally turn things around on offense.

 

“I expect this offense to definitely put up some numbers,” Debose says. “I feel like the whole SEC is changing to the spread from the smashmouth. It’s going to be a challenge this season for other teams to stop us.”

 

Roper says that the offense that Florida will put on the field will be far easier to execute than it will be for opposing teams to stop.

 

“The Gators want to have an offense that is simple to learn, but complicated to defend,” he says.

 

The mandate for Debose, Roper and the entire Florida offense this season is not complicated in the least: It’s time to produce.

 

Written by Edgar Thompson (@osgators) of the Orlando Sentinel for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 SEC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Will Muschamp's Future at Florida Hinges on an Offensive Overhaul
Post date: Monday, July 21, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/recruiting-757-key-talent-area-virginia-tennessee-and-florida-state
Body:

There are at least six good reasons why top college football programs recruit the Tidewater area of Virginia. Let’s try Bruce Smith, Michael Vick, Percy Harvin, Lawrence Taylor, DeAngelo Hall and Plaxico Burress. Should we keep counting? OK, let’s try Tajh Boyd, Ronald Curry, Jerod Mayo, Kam Chancellor, Dré Bly and E.J. Manuel.

 

Those are just a handful of the galaxy of stars who learned to play football in the Tidewater area — also known as ‘the 757’ for the region’s area code — which is one of the country’s most fertile recruiting grounds.

 

If you like athletes, grab a map and head this way. Most assistant coaches can tell you where to start.

 

“You name a top-25 program, they are there,” Virginia Tech running backs and associate head coach Shane Beamer says. “Everyone comes to Virginia to recruit now. It used to be probably Virginia, Virginia Tech, Penn State, North Carolina. Now you have Michigan and Ohio State hitting it hard, Florida, FSU.”

 

The 2014 recruiting class included three Tidewater players in the 247Sports Top 100, impressive for an eastern sliver of Commonwealth land with a population of about 1.7 million in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Hampton.

 

That’s not counting Richmond, which is about 100 miles northwest of Virginia Beach and produces serious star power.

 

There are several reasons for the large pool of talent. The 757 is considered a growing area for families, including military transplants. Football is year-round between fall Fridays and 7-on-7 travel teams. Teenagers grow up wanting to play football, because they look up to the Tidewater stars that came before them.

 

“They are dedicated to their football,” Virginia coach Mike London says. “The demographics, the student population of that particular area — there are schools that are still being built. The population continues to grow.”

 

Tidewater players are a passionate bunch, coaches say, so you can’t fake your way into players’ good graces.

 

They will catch on quickly.  The families value loyalty.

 

“You have to be active recruiters there. You have to build relationships. You can’t just come in and look at one player and leave,” says Virginia Tech tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring, “I’ll go in there three weeks at a time. I might as well have a locker room in those schools. A 757 game on a Friday is standard procedure.”

 

Several top programs hit the 757 hard, but not everyone has success. Here are four schools that generally do.

 

Virginia

 

The Cavs try to sign several 757 players every year, and they use the background of their coaches to get it done. London went to Tabb High School in nearby Yorktown. Four of his staffers have deep Tidewater ties.

 

This year, London scored his biggest recruiting coup with Chesapeake defensive tackle Andrew Brown and Virginia Beach safety Quin Blanding. Both are five-star, top-12 national players. And both played for the Thoroughbreds, the area’s traveling 7-on-7 team with which London’s staff has a good relationship.

 

Some critics have wondered aloud how UVa pulled a top-30 national recruiting class despite going 0–8 in ACC play last year. With hard work, London says. NCAA rules permit 7-on-7 camps as a recruiting tool. London says the teams travel to different campuses, and evaluations are allowed.

 

“Quin Blanding and his mother — they chose UVa because it fit what (he) wanted, not because somebody else was saying where he needed to go,” London says.

 

The Cavs’ impressive 757 haul also includes top-150 receiver Jamil Kamara and quarterback Corwin Cutler.

 

Virginia Tech

 

Virginia Tech will always be a presence in the 757 because of Frank Beamer’s clout and the Hokies’ sustained success. From Smith to Vick to Chancellor, Virginia Tech’s résumé with Tidewater talent is extensive.

 

But Tech’s relationship with the Thoroughbreds, who produce several high-profile players, is considered shaky. According to a source, a Thoroughbred coach has held a grudge because the Hokies didn’t take one of his quarterbacks a few classes ago due to the player’s sub-par grades.

 

But Tech still has the trust of high school coaches around the state.

 

Shane Beamer says each year that the Hokies try to sign four-to-six Tidewater players, four-to-six from the Richmond area and four-to-six from Northern Virginia. “We don’t try to do anything differently — we hit the Tidewater area hard, and we always have,” Beamer says.

 

Tech did not sign 2014’s top 757 stars but did get two potential impact players in defensive tackle Ricky Walker and running back Marshawn Williams. The Hokies are also in on several Tidewater players for 2015.

 

Tennessee

 

The Tidewater region has been a sneaky good recruiting spot for the Vols, dating back to the signing of eventual first-round draft pick Todd Kelly in the late ’80s. Two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo chose Tennessee over NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. NFL receiver Justin Hunter eschewed offers from several major schools in favor of the Vols.

 

Second-year coach Butch Jones didn’t sign any Tidewater high school players in 2014, but he did get junior college star Von Pearson, a Newport News native with loads of potential.

 

“Our new staff, we’ve made a commitment to make Virginia Beach a priority in recruiting,” Jones says. “We’ve been there pretty hard this past year.”

 

Tennessee recruited at least 12 different states last year — including 10 in-state players — but Jones considers the Tidewater a “no-brainer. It’s based on the proximity to us and the success we’ve had,” he says.

 

Florida State

 

Florida State could stay in its home state and produce top-10 classes every year, but the Seminoles have had modest success in the 757.

 

Top-100 defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi was the third-ranked Tidewater player in 2014. FSU is considered to be one of the favorites for 2015 defensive end Josh Sweat out of Chesapeake. The Noles will also have two other Virginia natives on their 2014 roster — center Alec Eberle from Mechanicsville (near Richmond) and inside linebacker E.J. Levenberry from Woodbridge (near the D.C. area).

 

Florida State recruiting coordinator Tim Brewster says that two assistants have Tidewater responsibilities.

 

“Great area for Noles,” Brewster says.

 

In-state talent will always dominate FSU’s classes, and with good reason. Fifteen of FSU’s 29 signees are from the Sunshine State. But Brewster plans to focus on at least one or two top Tidewater prospects annually.

 

Other 757 Interlopers —

 

UNC, Ohio State, Penn State

 

The Tar Heels didn’t score big in Virginia Beach last year, but they always hit Virginia hard, which means they’ll have more chances at a home-run 757 player.

 

UNC signed five of Virginia’s top-50 players last year. “We include Virginia as an in-state area for us,” says UNC coach Larry Fedora, who assigns assistant Keith Gilmore to the state. “We don’t just cherry-pick it.”

 

Ohio State won’t spend considerable time in Virginia, but it has the clout to pluck a few stars — like it did with weak-side defensive end Jalyn Holmes out of Norfolk. This Urban Meyer stealth special was similar to the Buckeyes descending on Atlanta to get linebacker Raekwon McMillan.

 

Penn State doesn’t have any 757 home runs of late (quarterback Christian Hackenberg is from the middle of the state), but word is that James Franklin has been pushing the area while he attacks the entire Northeast region. 

 

Written by Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) of CBSSports.com for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 ACC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Recruiting the 757: A Key Talent Area for Virginia, Tennessee and Florida State
Post date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Johnny Manziel, NFL, News
Path: /johnny-manziel-brings-new-hope-cleveland-browns
Body:

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had barely finished announcing the name of the 22nd overall draft pick when all hell broke loose in Cleveland. Browns fans wasted no time in changing Johnny Manziel’s nickname from “Johnny Football,” interrupting his post-draft press conference at Radio City Music Hall with chants of “John-ny Cleve-land!”

 

Manziel has become the city’s newest savior.

 

In the 16 hours after drafting Manziel, the Browns sold 2,000 new season tickets. It took only slightly longer for Manziel’s No. 2 jersey to become the best-selling in the NFL since April 1. The league’s official website store sold almost as many Manziel jerseys during draft weekend as it did Robert Griffin III, Tim Tebow and Andrew Luck jerseys during their draft weekends combined.

 

Related: Does Johnny Manziel Have Any Fantasy Value in 2014?

 

Manziel’s popularity extends far and wide. He counts Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, recording artists Drake, Wale and the Jonas Brothers, NBA star LeBron James and the “Duck Dynasty” crew among his admirers. He’s been photographed with model Kyndal Kyaire’s arm around his neck.

 

If Manziel can carry the success he had at Texas A&M into the NFL, he stands to become the biggest star in the most popular professional sports league in the U.S. Thus, the NFL finds itself rooting for “Johnny Cash” almost as much as Browns fans.

 

“Johnny Football!” Goodell says. “I think he represents so much passion for the game, so much excitement. If he brings that to the NFL, that would be a great thing for us, and I think a great thing for the fans. He’s a wonderful young man. … He’s obviously focused and determined to be successful. I wouldn’t count him out, that’s for sure.”

 

Joe Namath ranks as the closest any NFL player has come to Manziel’s stardom, which transcends football, but the Hall of Fame quarterback played in an era that lacked social media and 24-hour sports stations.

 

During the first round of the draft, which went three-and-a-half hours, 5.2 percent of all Twitter messages mentioned Manziel. TV ratings soared as NFL teams kept passing on Manziel. ESPN drew 9.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched draft in the 35 years the network has carried it. Another 2.4 million viewers tuned into The NFL Network for first-round draft coverage.

 

“He’s a celebrity. He’s Elvis Presley,” says Jones, whose Cowboys passed on Manziel with the 16th overall pick. “And, by the way, he just happens to be a football (player), too. That is what this is all about and the kind of visibility and the kind of interest (he brings), and he is that, so that’s a plus.”

 

Spurned by LeBron James (Editor's note: This story was written shortly after the NFL Draft in May before James decided to return to play for his hometown Cavaliers.) and disappointed by their NFL and MLB franchises many times over, Cleveland fans finally have something to celebrate. After twice passing on Manziel — first at No. 4 by trading with the Bills and then at No. 8 when they selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert — the Browns traded up later in the first round to nab Manziel.

 

It prompted some Browns fans to greet Manziel with chants of “Super Bowl!” when he arrived for the first time at the team’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio.

 

The Browns last won an NFL title in 1964, the pre-Super Bowl era. That also marks the last time Cleveland won a title in any major sport.

Manziel knows the team’s sad history. As soon as he declared for the draft in January, he used the Internet to research all the quarterback-needy teams with top picks. In the only interview he granted before the scouting combine, Manziel mentioned the Browns’ inability to find a franchise quarterback, the biggest reason they are 77–163 since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999.

 

Manziel’s quote sounded a bit like a Namath-esque guarantee. 

 

“If … it’s the Cleveland Browns that draft me, I’m going to pour my heart out for the Dawg Pound and try to win a Super Bowl for Cleveland,” Manziel said. “I don’t care if they’ve had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. I’m going to be the 21st, and the guy that brought them the Super Bowl.”

 

Of their 18 first-round draft selections since 1999, the Browns now have used four on quarterbacks. Cleveland made Tim Couch the No. 1 overall pick in 1999. Brady Quinn (2007) and Brandon Weeden (2012), like Manziel, were selected No. 22 overall, a fact Manziel called coincidence rather than foreshadowing.

 

None offered the excitement and the promise the Browns hope Manziel does.

 

“He’s always must-see,” says George Whitfield Jr., Manziel’s personal quarterbacks coach. “He’s always exciting. You don’t know what you’re going to see. It’s like watching Michael Jordan. You watch him, and there’s a good chance you’re going to see something you’re still talking about next week. That’s how Johnny is. He honestly feels if he has something to do with the circumstances, his team is going to win. ‘These couple of sticks? I can make a fire.’”

 

Manziel, 21, casts himself as a small-town kid who made good. He was born in Tyler, Texas, a town of 99,000, and played high school football in Kerrville, Texas, with a population of 22,000. Because of his small stature, Manziel received only a handful of scholarship offers despite a decorated schoolboy career that earned him the famous nickname that has followed him since.

 

He chose A&M over Oregon, and after a redshirt season, Johnny Football hit the big stage. In the school’s first season in the SEC, Manziel led the Aggies to an 11–2 record, including a victory over eventual national champion Alabama. He set the conference record for most total yards (5,116), accounted for 47 total touchdowns and became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Manziel posted a 20–6 record in his two seasons as the Aggies’ starter, with his final game a 52–48 victory over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the biggest comeback in school history. In his two seasons with the Aggies, Manziel passed for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns, ran for 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns and became the most entertaining, and arguably the most productive, quarterback in college football history.

 

Now, Manziel takes his show to Cleveland, a city of nearly 400,000 in need of good luck, good times and good news.

 

“We definitely liked his ability to perform and make plays,” Browns general manager Ray Farmer says. “We liked a guy who brought all the things when we talk about ‘Play Like a Brown.’ He was passionate. He was relentless. He played fearless. He was competitive. We added a guy to our roster we thought could help us win.”

 

But questions remain about Manziel’s transition to the NFL: He stands under 6'0", a big reason he lasted until late in the first round; he took only one snap from under center at A&M; Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, a former NFL defensive back, tweeted that Manziel played “backyard ball,” which won’t work at the next level; and a scouting report, reputedly from the Patriots, appeared on the website BroBible.com that included criticism of Manziel’s work ethic.

 

While his critics continue to talk the talk, Manziel vows to continue to prove them wrong.

 

“Criticism never gets to me all that much,” says Manziel, who admits he lives with a chip on his shoulder.

 

Manziel had insisted he would measure “exactly 72 inches” at the scouting combine. Instead, he stood 5'11 ¾", making him only the third modern-era quarterback shorter than 6'1" drafted in the first round. Michael Vick and Rex Grossman are the others.

 

It was Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who opened the door for Manziel. Wilson measured 5'10 5⁄8"at the 2012 combine and wasn’t drafted until the third round but became the Super Bowl XLVIII-winning quarterback. Now, Manziel gets his chance to show that size really doesn’t matter.

 

“It’s hard to relate to LeBron because he’s 6'8", or Cam Newton because he’s 6'6",” Whitfield says. “They’re almost mythical. But when Johnny comes in wearing an extra-large shirt like you do, or gets in the car and doesn’t have to push back the seat, or he’s in a crowd seeing eye to eye with just about everybody else, he really is an everyman. But he’s out there playing among these giants. It sets him apart. It’s like he becomes Superman. But he’s the same size as us. I can’t believe it. There’s a level of disbelief.”

 

Manziel insists his heart allows him to play taller than he is, and he repeatedly refers to himself as “a winner.” But Manziel first has to win the job. Incumbent Brian Hoyer goes into training camp as the starter, with Manziel having a lot to learn.

 

Hoyer, a Cleveland native, posted a 3–0 record as a starter last season before tearing the ACL in his right knee. After Farmer informed Hoyer the team was taking Manziel, Hoyer responded: Bring him on. Manziel began readying for the competition three days after the draft when he arrived in Cleveland. He’s put his head into the playbook and his heart into trying to live up to expectations of Browns fans. It’s Super Bowl or bust.

 

“I want to come in and compete,” Manziel says. “I’m a highly competitive person. That’s absolutely a goal to come in and compete and try to make our team better.

 

“He’s obviously had a head start on getting to learn some of these things and he knows these guys better than I do, so there’s a lot I can take away from him.”

 

Manziel already has an ending in mind for a story he expects to be a bestseller.

 

“It’s a great story,” Manziel says. “It’s perfect for me to end up with a team that has fans that are as passionate as I am on the field. Those guys have heart. They’re passionate about a team that hasn’t had an incredible amount of success, and they’re still very loyal, very diehard. That means a lot. … I’m going to come in and pour my heart out for this organization and for this team and for these fans and try to bring some excitement. More than anything, we want to win. That’s how I am. I am a winner, and I want to continue that trend.”

 

— Written by Charean Williams for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in Athlon Sports' 2014 NFL Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.

Teaser:
Johnny Manziel Brings New Hope to the Cleveland Browns
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Johnny Manziel, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /does-johnny-manziel-have-any-fantasy-value-2014
Body:

Even though Johnny Manziel wasn't the first player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, let alone the first quarterback, no one drew more attention this May than Johnny Football. After passing on him with their first pick, the Cleveland Browns traded up to select the Heisman Trophy-winning dual-threat quarterback from Texas A&M at No. 22 overall.

 

Related: Johnny Manziel Brings New Hope to the Cleveland Browns

 

Now that Manziel will call the Dawg Pound home, the question becomes, does he have any fantasy value this season? Athlon editors and fantasy contributors chime in with their thoughts on Manziel's fantasy outlook as a rookie.

 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports

Without a doubt, the most productive fantasy quarterback in the history of the SEC has fantasy value for the Cleveland Browns. Will Johnny Manziel start every game — or stay healthy for the entire season? The answer is likely no, but his playmaking ability and overall competitiveness mean he won’t sit behind Brian Hoyer for very long. As soon as Manziel is in the starting lineup, he becomes a top-20 quarterback.

 

He proved he could make all of the throws from the pocket a year ago — he is the all-time most accurate passer in SEC history (68.9 percent) — while scoring 93 total touchdowns and churning out nearly 10,000 total yards of offense in just two seasons in America’s toughest league. He is a perfect late-round keeper option and should provide value the moment he enters the starting lineup.

 

David Gonos (@davidgonos), SI.com/FantasySports.About.com

Manziel absolutely does have fantasy value for this season, but he is more of an in-season player to consider than one to draft in July or August. I expect him to start the season on the bench for a couple games, maybe seeing spotty action, before eventually being installed as the starter. With just 12 quarterbacks (on average) starting in fantasy leagues, it’s tough to make an argument that Manziel is a top-12 player once he becomes the starter. But his fleet feet and ability to improvise and make plays, a la Tim Tebow, make him someone to consider as a bye-week replacement once he is playing. If he’s starting, and Josh Gordon isn’t suspended all season, Manziel could make a nice fantasy starter in Week 9, when the Browns play Baltimore and six other teams are on a bye. He has fantasy value, but only on a per-game basis, not necessarily all season.

 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports

The only way I see Manziel having any fantasy value in 2014 is through a keeper format. Without Josh Gordon (assuming he will be suspended some length of time) and with an NFL learning curve after playing in a spread offense at Texas A&M, Manziel is going to take his lumps as a rookie. Also, Cleveland shouldn’t be in a rush to get Manziel in the lineup, as this team is still a few seasons away from contending in the AFC North. Brian Hoyer showed last year he could be a capable bridge to the rookie.

 

Additionally, the Browns’ schedule doesn’t give Manziel any breaks. Cleveland has to play Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore — three of the AFC’s top defenses — two times each during the regular season. Also, improving defenses like New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Houston and Carolina will give the Browns trouble. If you are desperate for a backup in a redraft league, Manziel is a late-round possibility, but I don’t see him having much value in 2014.

 

Eric Mack (@ErickMackFantasy), Bleacher Report

The easy answer is yes. The more difficult questions are at what point and just how much value he’ll have on draft day. The Cleveland Browns are going to have some shred of value in fantasy leagues, and the quarterback figures to be a part of that. Coming out of OTAs, it looked as if Brian Hoyer might start initially. Once Hoyer proves to be the career backup he has been, Manziel should step forward and be a contributor in fantasy, mostly in two-quarterback formats.

 

You should not consider drafting the Manziel wild card until the late rounds — even if hype might force you to do so before that point. Sure, he could be a factor like Cam Newton was in blowout games and by scoring rushing touchdowns, but until he proves something on the field, he is probably not worth his draft-day cost.

 

Matt Schauf (@SchaufDS), DraftSharks

Since 1969, just four rookie quarterbacks have rushed for at least 400 yards. All four finished among the top-12 fantasy passers.

 

Johnny Manziel doesn’t approach Cam Newton or Robert Griffin III in overall talent. He’s not nearly as polished a passer as Russell Wilson. But Vince Young finished 2006 as fantasy’s No. 12 quarterback despite starting just 13 games. He did so despite just 2,199 passing yards and 12 touchdown passes, because he ran for 553 yards and seven scores.

 

Fantasy folks perennially underrate a quarterback’s rushing value. Manziel racked up 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground in college. He joins a Browns team missing Josh Gordon and coached by Kyle Shanahan, who helped design the run-heavy offense that made Griffin a top-five fantasy quarterback in 2012.

 

Manziel will have starter-level fantasy weeks this year and belongs on a roster in your league.

 

(Top photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns' Web site, www.clevelandbrowns.com.)

 

Athlon Sports' 2014 Fantasy Football magazine is now available for purchase at newsstands everyone or online. The ultimate draft-day resource, this year's edition features 419 in-depth player reports, informative features, a 20-round mock draft, team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers and much more. Whether your fantasy league is head-to-head, roto, PPR or IDP, this magazine has all the stats and insight you need to help you get ready for the upcoming season. Click here to purchase you copy today!

Teaser:
Does Johnny Manziel Have Any Fantasy Value in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 14:00
Path: /college-football/it-time-panic-michigan-football
Body:

It’s easy. Or at least that’s what Devin Gardner says. The fifth-year Michigan quarterback and his teammates found little difficulty ignoring the criticisms and outrage directed at them during — and following — last year’s dreary 7–6 performance.

 

“We know what goes on in our building and on the field, and the outside noise is something we ignore,” Gardner says. “(Critics) know nothing. It’s not hard to ignore people who know nothing.”

 

Fans and media are indeed unaware of the inner machinations of a football program. They only know what they see, and last year the optical evidence against Michigan was pretty damning. The Wolverines lost to both Michigan State — the Spartans punched them in the mouth — and Ohio State. They finished 102nd nationally running the football and 105th in sacks allowed, slaps to the face of a program that has boasted about its toughness since Bo Schembechler first growled on an Ann Arbor sideline in 1969. Their bowl meltdown against Kansas State was partially due to the foot injury Gardner suffered against OSU (although freshman Shane Morris acquitted himself well) but mostly the responsibility of a munificent defense that allowed the Wildcats to pile up 420 total yards. And the first month of 2014 featured a groggy end to the recruiting season that dawned with so much promise in the summer of ’13.

 

Last year at this time, many — this magazine included — were heralding a return to the old days of the Big Ten, in which ancestral rivals Michigan and Ohio State would rise above the rabble and stage yet another Ten Year War. Now, some are wondering whether the Wolverines will catch up to the Buckeyes and the Spartans, both of whom played in BCS bowls last year. And now there is reason to fear Penn State. The Nittany Lions have remained competitive despite crippling NCAA sanctions and are beginning to recruit at an elite level under new head coach James Franklin. Michigan, meanwhile, dropped the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 31–14. “Whatever happened last year has nothing to do with this year,” U-M head coach Brady Hoke says. “(Michigan State’s and Ohio State’s bowl games) are achievements you want, and expectations you have. Is it incentive? I think so. It always is.”

 

By the end of last season, his third in Ann Arbor, Hoke was hearing dissatisfaction among Wolverine fans, a first since he arrived promising Big Ten titles and a definitive move away from Rich Rodriguez’s disastrous tenure. Perhaps most galling was the team’s inability to match up when rivals used roughneck tactics against it. It’s one thing to lose six games, and another to get pushed around doing it.

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Hoke counters that four of Michigan’s losses came by a combined 11 points, and that the team wasn’t far from a double-figure win season. That’s true, but he also refers to “the toughness you need to have from a mental perspective” as a prerequisite for reversing that trend of close defeats. That’s not a poke at the 2013 team’s ability to handle the tough times, but it does illuminate one of the program’s missions for this campaign — specifically, to prohibit rivals from bullying it.

 

“As much as anything else, that’s the identity we’re striving for,” Hoke says. The most apt barometer for that personality is the running game. Michigan averaged a feeble 3.3 yards per carry last year, an embarrassment for a program that has sold itself — except for the forgettable Rodriguez interregnum — as a rugged Rust Belt offense. Then-offensive coordinator Al Borges used five different starting combinations on the line, to no avail, and the backs lacked the necessary horsepower to burst through whatever holes did materialize.

 

Borges is out. And whether his removal was the doing of hands-on AD Dave Brandon or Hoke, who insists it was his decision, a new era has dawned under former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier, who has simplified some of the team’s schemes and promises that the Wolverines will run the ball better this year. “The offensive line is nastier,” senior middle linebacker Jake Ryan says. “You can definitely tell that.”

 

Whether U-M can replicate Bama’s success without Bama’s personnel is another question. Gardner, however, is convinced. “We’re going to be able to run the football. I promise you that,” he says.

 

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose salary will approach $1 million per year by 2016, has some work to do also. Though the 2013 numbers on his side of the ball aren’t as gloomy as the offense’s, Michigan did surrender 97 points in its final three games and must get stouter along the front seven. That has been a priority in the spring.

 

“I think we’ll be more physical,” says Ryan, a playmaker who moved to the inside this year. “We’ll be a tough-nosed, downhill team.”

 

Michigan will also be a more veteran squad. Hoke won’t say it, but Rodriguez’s recruiting efforts have hurt the program. Rich Rod pursued smaller, faster players, the better to fit his system. He succeeded in making U-M a less robust team, and that has hurt Hoke’s efforts to play a more physical brand of football. There are only 12 scholarship seniors and 18 juniors on the roster, so underclassmen comprise the vast majority of the Michigan personnel. In a way, last year could have been predicted, since 25 members of the 44-man offensive and defensive depth chart for the KSU game had either freshman or sophomore eligibility.

 

“We’re still a young program in a lot of ways,” Hoke says. “We’re really backloaded. That’s a positive thing. A lot of them played last year, too. Are they going to be like someone who started 35 games? No. But they are getting a lot of reps in spring ball.”

 

Filling the pipeline with more talent is vital to the Wolverines, especially since the Buckeyes continue to dazzle recruiting experts with their classes. Michigan could sign only 16 newcomers in February, because of its crowded roster. And though 11 of them were rated four stars or higher (five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers leads the pack) by ESPN, there were some setbacks, like when defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand startled many by choosing Alabama over U-M, and in-state five-star defensive tackle Malik McDowell chose MSU. Two commitments for the 2015 class backed out of their pledges as well, although both continue to list Michigan among their finalists. The Wolverines still had a great class, but the defections created a sense of lost momentum.

 

Hoke pledges to get it back. The 2014 schedule is tough and features road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. But Gardner is a fifth-year senior with plenty of experience, the depth chart is dotted with talent and growing experience, and the young depth is of a Michigan quality. Nussmeier is expected to make the offense more productive, and Mattison vows an angrier defense.

 

“Everybody sees how close we were to a 10-win season last year,” Gardner says. “Losing (four games) by 11 points combined is pretty good and also bad. We had the opportunity and didn’t take advantage of it. That makes it worse. You feel horrible. Eleven points more. We have to give that effort.”

 

And produce results that anybody can see.

Written by Michael Bradley (@DailyHombre) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big Ten Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Is it Time to Panic at Michigan?
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/steve-spurriers-top-quotes-2014-sec-media-day
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is generally the high point of SEC media day, always good for a quip, some perspective and maybe a little smack.

Here are his greatest hits from the 2014 edition, touching on former quarterback Stephen Garcia, rivalries and boosters.

“He got his long hair back. I said it looked like he had joined Duck Dynasty instead of the media. They assured me he's with the media now.”
-On former quarterback Stephen Garcia

“If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC. That is how big it is to them, that one game. Personally I'd rather win the SEC. I don't mind saying that. Personally that's the bigger trophy.”

“Gus Malzahn is one of the best coaches in the country, not just the SEC. I think everybody knows that. They didn't win that national championship (in 2010) unless he was there. I think everybody knows that, too.”


Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football Podcast
Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

“It's a shame that Texas and Texas A&M don't play each other, though. I don't mind saying that. Two schools that have been playing for over a hundred years, just because one of them joins another conference, get mad at each other, We're not playing you anymore, we're not playing you anymore. So I don't know. I think it is sad.”

“All of you know I'm an advocate for giving some expense money to college football and basketball players. Those two sports bring in billions. They deserve a little bit more. I know the commissioner has addressed that. I wish something would happen sooner than we hope it's going to happen.  But that should happen real soon down the road.”

“The big donors in college are similar to like an owner in the NFL because they put the money up. The best part of it, they don't tell us what to do, though. They're sort of the owners from a distance. They don't tell you who to play, what plays to call, so forth.”

“We found some boosters, some big‑time donors that give over a million bucks. When I got there we had one person to give over a million bucks in the history of the school. Now we have 12 or 13, something like that.”

Teaser:
Steve Spurrier's top quotes from 2014 SEC Media Day
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:12
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-defensive-backs
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

When it comes to the current NFL, bigger is better in the secondary. Just ask Seattle, as the defending Super Bowl champions claim not only the best cornerback in the league (Richard Sherman), but the best safety (Earl Thomas) too. Combined with Ourlads’ No. 10 safety Kam Chancellor and No. 13 cornerback Byron Maxwell, and it’s pretty clear to see why the Seahawks’ defensive backfield is considered the best in the league.

 

With three of the four defenders taller than six foot and all but one weighing in at more than 200 pounds, this foursome has earned their “Legion of Boom” moniker for the heavy hits they deliver on the field. It also certainly doesn’t hurt to have a mouthpiece like Sherman to represent them off of it either.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Cornerbacks

 

1. Richard Sherman, Seattle

No one has more than the 20 interceptions he has collected since 2011. A smart and aggressive playmaker who is highly competitive. Good hands and hip flexibility. Uses height (6'3") and length to his advantage.

 

Related: Q&A with Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman

 

2. Darrelle Revis, New England

Was the Patriots’ target after Aqib Talib defected to Denver. New England is gambling that the league’s most dominant corner before his knee injury will return to his elite form.

 

3. Patrick Peterson, Arizona

Making a run as the NFL’s top corner. Big, fast, athletic, flexible, strong, intelligent, confident and competitive. Outstanding eye-hand coordination.

 

4. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis

Has had his ups and downs over his career, but was up in 2013. As the mainstay corner, he shows outstanding athletic ability. Reacts quickly on run support and forces the action quickly.

 

5. Aqib Talib, Denver

Staying on the field has been a bit of an issue in recent seasons, but when he’s out there, Taiib is one of the best cover corners in the league. There’s a reason the Broncos gave Talib $26 million in guaranteed money in his six-year contract and it just wasn’t to sign him away from rival New England.

 

6. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona

Is listed at corner, but played free safety and lined up in the nickel packages as a corner. His athleticism gives the Cardinals’ secondary flexibility.

 

7. Desmond Trufant, Atlanta

Had a solid rookie season and demonstrated good short-area quickness, competitiveness and the ability to mirror receivers’ cuts. Confident and focused in his play.

 

8. Chris Harris, Denver

A playmaker who has few mental and physical errors. Good open-field wrap-up tackler. Rarely gives up run-after-catch yards.

 

9. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, NY Giants

Signed during free agency. After six years in the league, the Giants are hoping that the best is yet to come. A fluid and smooth athlete with good hands and quick feet.

 

10. Brent Grimes, Miami

Played big in 2013 despite coming off a torn Achilles tendon. He was rewarded with a long term deal. A consistent competitor who makes plays on the ball. Aggressive and smart in his play.

 

11. Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay

12. Jason McCourty, Tennessee

13. Byron Maxwell, Seattle

14. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota

15. Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia

16. Tramaine Brock, San Francisco

17. Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo

18. Joe Haden, Cleveland

19. Keenan Lewis, New Orleans

20. Alan Ball, Jacksonville

21. William Gay, Pittsburgh

22. Lardarius Webb, Baltimore

23. Johnathan Joseph, Houston

24. Prince Amukamara, NY Giants

25. Drayton Florence, Free agent

26. Rashean Mathis, Detroit

27. Nickell Robey, Buffalo

28. Corey Graham, Buffalo

29. Walter Thurmond, NY Giants

30. Orlando Scandrick, Dallas

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Safeties

 

1. Earl Thomas, Seattle

The best free safety in the league and a defensive leader. A safety with corner skills. Has an inside feel for secondary play. Competitive and aggressive. Can force the run coming downhill or play the ball deep down the field.

 

2. Eric Weddle, San Diego

An instinctive safety with range and good ball skills. An intense and aggressive playmaker who makes plays when tight on a receiver. Has been highly productive over his career.

 

3. Devin McCourty, New England

Continues his renaissance at safety since moving from corner a few years ago. A good athlete with range and finishing speed. Drives quickly on the ball and can make a big hit or slap the ball away.

 

4. Jairus Byrd, New Orleans

A Pro Bowl-caliber safety with corner skills. Athletic and productive. May be the most instinctive safety in the league. Sudden to read and react. Will make all the calls in Rob Ryan’s defense.

 

5. Donte Whitner, Cleveland

One of the NFL’s most impactful hitters and instinctive players. Productive and active. Good anticipation. An intense competitor who can reroute receivers.

 

6. Eric Berry, Kansas City

Is a leader in the secondary and a Pro Bowl player at strong safety. An intelligent and instinctive player who has the awareness to recognize and quickly analyze offensive set tendencies.

 

7. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh

Plays at an elite level when he’s on the field. He is fighting off age and time to continue to be one of the NFL’s dynamic playmakers. Intense and explosive.

 

8. T.J. Ward, Denver

Is a consistent tackler who is a hard hitter and has improved his overall pass-coverage skills. A competitor with good body control. Takes good support and pursuit angles.

 

9. Will Hill, NY Giants

When on the field he has all the tools and play of a Pro Bowl safety, but he is now facing his third suspension in three years.

 

10. Kam Chancellor, Seattle

One of the largest safeties in the league and has had several splash-type collisions over his career. His coverage skills have gotten better each year he has been in the league.

 

11. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans

12. Antrel Rolle, NY Giants

13. Eric Reid, San Francisco

14. Michael Griffin, Tennessee

15. Chris Clemons, Houston

16. Glover Quin, Detroit

17. James Ihedigbo, Detroit

18. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati

19. Bernard Pollard, Tennessee

20. Rafael Bush, New Orleans

21. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego

22. Aaron Williams, Buffalo

23. George Iloka, Cincinnati

24. Jamarca Sanford, Minnesota

25. Michael Mitchell, Pittsburgh

26. Robert Lester, Carolina

27. Reshad Jones, Miami

28. George Wilson, Tennessee

29. Rashad Johnson, Arizona

30. Charles Woodson, Oakland

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Backs
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Richard Sherman, NFL, News
Path: /sherman
Body:

One of the big developments of the 2013 NFL season was the emergence of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. He was not only a superior football player, but also a fixture in the headlines, making big plays and big noise. We caught up with the league's No. 1 cornerback shortly after he signed a new four-year, $57 million contract extension in early May.

 

Related: 2014 NFL Player Rankings - Defensive Backs

 

Athlon Sports: You might be one of the most recognizable people in the world now, going to the White House Correspondents Dinner, getting saluted by Time Magazine and turning up everywhere. Has this new-found fame surprised you, and do you worry that it might change you?

Richard Sherman: I guess it’s unusual. I never expected to be thrown into the spotlight like this. I take it for what it is. I try to stay the same person. I know who I am. I don’t worry about it changing me too much. I’m pretty set in my ways. I just want to get better and be different.

 

After you were taken to task for speaking your mind, people now want your opinion on just about everything. Do you feel like you are the voice of the NFL?

I don’t mind it. It’s an honor that people think that way. I don’t know if I speak for the entire NFL. Everybody has their voice. But I like giving my opinion. I don’t mind being criticized either.

 

Is the NFC title game play referred to as “the Immaculate Deflection” the biggest play of your career?

Athletically, I’ve made better plays. As far as a big one, I don’t think I’ve made a bigger play. It got us into the Super Bowl. I had a feeling I’d get a chance. It was the final drive, cover 3, the strong safety leaned over. It was something we practice. We practice the tip drill all the time.

 

Who is the toughest wide receiver in the NFL to cover?

Doug Baldwin. I go against him every day. He’s super quick. He’s hard to stop. He runs different routes every time. On other teams? Megatron (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson) is a pretty tough cover. He’s real fast, real big and real strong.

 

What is your favorite opposing stadium to play in?

Dallas. They always have a party going on during the game. You go to a game in Dallas, and you know what I mean.

 

What other coach in the NFL, besides your own, would you like to play for?

Gus Bradley. I played for him before. His message is always the same: Think positive. It’s very similar to what we do in Seattle.

 

Some former Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls during their careers. With talk of a mini-Seattle dynasty, would four satisfy you? If not, how many?

I don’t know. It would have to be a lot. I’m a guy who tries not to limit himself. I wouldn’t limit myself to that. If we got five, then we’d want six.

 

You were a wide receiver at Stanford before switching to corner. Could you have been an elite NFL pass-catcher?

I think I’d be pretty good. You never know. I think I’d be able to at least hold my own. Elite? I couldn’t tell you unless I got out there. But with a good quarterback, a good system, I think I’d be OK.

 

Who is the best cornerback in NFL history and can that be you some day?

It’s somewhere between Mel Blount and Deion (Sanders). I’d need a lot more interceptions. I’ll figure it out soon enough. Anything is possible.

 

With three Pro Bowlers in the mix, and you and Earl Thomas considered the league’s best at your respective positions, who’s the Seahawks’ best defensive back?

Each one of us thinks he’s the best defensive back on the team. It’s a battle. Do we say anything to each other about it? Not really. It’s a known deal on the team that everybody really believes it’s him.

 

You were mad that you were a fifth-round draft pick. Does that mean you were mad at the Seahawks? And did you ever ask them why they waited so long to take you?

I was mad. I wasn’t as mad at them because they gave me opportunity. You can’t be too mad at them. I did ask them about it and they said they had me in the third round. But they said nobody took me and they had to address other needs.

 

When you were a kid, did you envision yourself playing in the NFL and for what team?

I always pictured it once I figured out they were paying people for a game I was playing for free. It was, oh man, I want to do that. The Raiders were the team. We saw them the most in L.A. I wore their stuff. My whole family did.

 

It’s hard for anyone to play for just one NFL team. Do you think you will spend your entire career in Seattle?

The city surprised me. I was incredibly happy with it. It’s unique from any place I’ve ever been, with its greenery and outdoor stuff, all that boating. It’s been a great opportunity. One team? I get a couple more years with this, so we’ll see.

 

When your pro football career is done, what comes next for you? Will you be mayor of Los Angeles? Or Seattle?

I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. I want to stay around the world of sports, but I want to be a philanthropist and be a positive influence around kids. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do, but philanthropy will be part of it.

Teaser:
Q&A with Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/great-coaches-improved-facilities-and-new-tv-deal-have-fueled-pac-12s-rise
Body:

It’s understandable that David Shaw would be somewhat conflicted when it comes to the Pac-12’s nine-game conference schedule. On the one hand, the fourth-year Stanford coach is a competitor, and there is something appealing about being the ruling party two seasons running in a league that tests manhood like no other.

 

He is also a pragmatist, and when he sees the annual parade of late-season scrimmages favored by SEC schools — hello, Furman, Appalachian State, Chattanooga and Florida Atlantic — he gets a little jealous, although he may have chuckled when he saw Georgia Southern knock off Florida last year.

 

“We would have loved to have put a game (like that) between UCLA and Oregon State last year,” Shaw says.

 

Stanford survived that test against back-to-back ranked opponents. It even knocked off Oregon 12 days later. But the Cardinal eventually succumbed to the grind and dropped a 20–17 decision at USC. Shaw can’t complain too much, because even though the loss was in mid-November, Stanford still won the Pac-12 North and then whipped Arizona State for the conference crown. By the time the game against ASU was over, the Cardinal had played six league games against ranked opponents. “And that doesn’t include a ranked Notre Dame team and a ranked Michigan State team in the Rose Bowl,” Shaw says.

 

Shaw would be wise to avoid seeking sympathy for his team’s tough schedule. Not too many people would commiserate, given Stanford’s recent run of success under him and predecessor Jim Harbaugh. His point is less a woe-is-me complaint than a celebration of the Pac-12’s growth and increased success. Once known for its wacky explosions of points and a rather cavalier approach to defense, the conference has become deeper, stronger and more able to make a national impression. Thanks to improved commitments to on-field success throughout the conference and a more focused branding effort from the conference office, the Pac-12 is escaping its previous image as a league on the fringes, whose Saturday night games served as lullabies for half the country.

 

“Right now, the conference is the best it has ever been,” says Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who grew up in Pac-12 country and has spent more than a decade coaching in the conference. “The depth and talent of teams and coaching staffs are so much better than they were. The facilities and the commitment to the facilities are off the charts.”

 

Last year, Pac-12 schools went 6–3 in bowl competition, an impressive performance that included 75 percent of the conference’s members. (California, Utah and Colorado were the lone exclusions.) Thanks to new deals with ESPN and Fox and the league’s bold step to create its own TV network, media revenues are soaring, and thanks to a new program that divides the spoils equally, there is an opportunity for everyone to benefit. Commissioner Larry Scott, who this fall enters his fifth school year atop the conference, has employed his promotional savvy to help bolster the Pac-12 brand throughout the nation.

 

The Pac-12 still must fight the time-difference issue, but its national image is on the rise, and as one of the lucky Big Five conferences that will get preferred treatment with this year’s debut of the College Football Playoff, it is positioned well for future prosperity.

 

Although the league crows about its success in all sports and has won more aggregate national championships than any other confederation, the true measure of the Pac-12’s — or any other conference’s — health is football. In that regard, things are looking good.

 

“We are heading in the right direction from a football standpoint and from the standpoint of a lot of sports,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne says. “We’ve always been strong historically across the board, but we have seen that schools have done a good job investing in their infrastructures, and some of that has been done through increased conference revenue and donations.”

 

When Scott took over the league in the summer of 2009, the Pac-12 was fifth among BCS conferences — ahead of only the Big East — in terms of TV money and national football perception. While USC was playing great ball, and those Oregon uniforms sure attracted the teenage crowd, depth was lacking. There was some discontent among the ranks, because larger-market schools were getting more of the conference pot than were those in outposts such as Corvallis and Pullman.

 

Within a year, the league had announced the additions of Utah and Colorado, negotiated new TV deals with ESPN and Fox that more than tripled revenues from the Pac-12’s previous contracts and decided to split any income evenly among its members. (Utah and Colorado went through a three-year probationary period upon entering the conference, during which they received less than other members.) With the improvement of several programs — Washington State went to a bowl last year! — the Pac-12 is now healthy financially and on the rise on the football field. Throw in a concerted effort to bring the conference brand to a wider audience, the better to boost Pac-12 Networks revenue and also enrollment, and you have an impressive package.

 

“Day to day, as coaches, we don’t think about marketing the conference,” Shaw says. “We have a great combination of an unbelievable group of coaches who are pushing players to be national contenders and a commissioner that is pushing the league to be the best in everything. You have to recognize that.”

 

UCLA coach Jim Mora was nowhere near Westwood when USC and Pete Carroll were winning back-to-back national title in 2003-04. But Mora, who spent part of his youth in L.A. before moving to Seattle and graduating from the University of Washington, understands fully the value for a conference of having the best team in the country carrying the standard. Over the past several years, there have been some with the temerity to suggest that the SEC isn’t the best conference around. They were shouted down by those who reminded them that no matter how bad some of its members may be, the past seven national champs have been SEC schools. That streak ended in 2013, but not without a conference member (Auburn) staging a pretty good run at the crown.

 

So, Pac-12 fans will have to excuse Mora when he doesn’t jump for joy over last year’s 6–3 bowl record. He’s proud to be part of a league with good depth and plenty of talent, but Mora understands that real recognition doesn’t come until someone from the conference can jab an index finger skyward and shout, “We’re number one!”

 

“It’s great when the whole league is good, because it shines a brighter light on teams excelling in any given year and gives teams the respect they deserve,” he says. “But we need to win some national championships.

 

“The only way we will get national respect is by winning a national championship in football.”

 

Mora understands that the recent success by Stanford and Oregon atop the Pac-12 has attracted more eyes to the league. He also understands that real legitimacy comes from having a team on top. That’s why you’ll probably read a bunch of articles leading up to the start of this season about how ACC football is making great strides, thanks to Florida State’s 2013 national title. It’s nice to have teams that can win the Sun and Hawaii Bowls, but that kind of second-tier success only looks good when a league can also wave the biggest banner of them all.

 

Pac-12 coaches believe there is sufficient talent to make it happen. The state of California alone has enough talent to stock three or four national contenders. Throw in major population centers like Seattle, Phoenix and Denver, and there are a lot of top FBS players from which to choose. Thanks to the improved television coverage, it’s possible to expand that area eastward, the better to offset the recruiting efforts of schools from other parts of the country that pillage the Pac-12’s recruiting stocks.

 

“We’re getting farther east,” Helfrich says. “TV makes this a smaller country and allows us to get players from Florida, New Jersey and Michigan. We can get in a living room and tell parents that they will be able to watch their son on TV every weekend. They’ll be able to look at his face and see if he needs a phone call.”

 

Shaw, who insists that Stanford is “the one true national recruiter in college football,” loves the fact that the Pac-12 Networks, while hardly able to boast universal clearance, still reaches parts of the Northeast and Deep South. For a highly selective private school, that’s a big deal. But it’s not just the Pac-12 Networks. The deals with ESPN and Fox have brought the conference’s product to a much wider audience. When Scott took over, only 39 percent of the league’s football and men’s hoops games were broadcast nationally, and 10 percent of the football games didn’t have any TV exposure, according to a November 2013 New York Times report.

 

“We tell kids to find the Pac-12 Networks and watch us,” Shaw says. “They can see the player profiles and learn about the rest of the conference. They can say, ‘I may be from Virginia, but I can see the stadium and see the school.’ It’s more than just a coach telling them about it.

 

“It makes it real.”

 

What the prospects see is a conference with a lot going on. Many people think of Pac-12 football as just Oregon’s funky uniforms and that crazy duck on the back of a motorcycle. That show has certainly helped the conference’s identity. Stanford’s success has done a lot, too. But now that coaches like Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham have brought their spread attacks to the league, there may be more potent offenses in the league than ever before.

 

“You have so many different styles,” Shaw says. “You have to tweak what you do every week. You have to be unique with what you do but also be ready to face different kinds of teams every week. There are lots of spread teams, but they are different spread teams. You have to be able to adjust.”

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The rise of Mora’s UCLA team has made things interesting, too. Granted, it has helped the Bruins that cross-town rival USC has been struggling with probation, but the Bruins’ success has given the Pac-12 another school capable of attracting national attention.

 

Given UCLA’s recent basketball travails — and the short memories of today’s high school students — the “basketball school” label that has haunted the Bruin football program may not apply in a few years, especially if it can establish itself as the place to go for the Golden State’s talented high school recruits.

 

“California is bursting with talent,” Mora says. “Everybody is in California trying to pluck guys. Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas are all crossing our borders. But there is also a tremendous amount of talent and good football played in the Northwest and throughout the West Coast. There’s a lot of talent here.”

 

Those standouts who choose to stay home and play for Pac-12 schools are doing so as much for the facilities as they are for the cool offensive schemes. And that’s something new. All across the conference, schools are adding new stadiums, offices and workout centers or beefing up existing sites. The new contracts and more equitable distribution program are allowing schools like Washington State to be more competitive with the rest of the league, from a facilities standpoint.

 

Even though Utah didn’t receive a full revenue share during its first three years in the league, that didn’t stop it from transforming the $10 million football center it had planned while still a Mountain West Conference member into a $32 million project once it joined the Pac-12. The school raised half the money through fundraising and the other half through a bond issue, which it had never done before.

 

“We had to decide, ‘Do we want to be in the Pac-12 to have a nice time or to compete?’” Utah AD Chris Hill says. “We want to compete.”

 

While schools boost their facilities’ profiles, and coaches work to make their teams more competitive, Scott sells the Pac-12 brand, bringing football and men’s basketball bosses east before every season to meet with media who don’t cross the Rocky Mountains (or the Mississippi, for that matter) very often. He fights to get the Pac-12 Networks greater carriage on cable and satellite providers across the country. The goal is to create a brand that rivals those of the Big Ten and SEC, which had far better profiles than their western counterpart just a few years ago.

 

It hasn’t all been perfect. Money from the Pac-12 Networks is not exactly pouring in. Rather than partner with an established TV presence like ESPN (SEC) or Fox (Big Ten), Scott decided to go it alone. “No one else has been able to do what we were able to do,” he says. “We can control programming and control branding and the messaging on it. That’s important to our universities.”

 

Some are not happy that the pioneer spirit has resulted in a smaller revenue stream, but Scott points to the opportunity to have flexibility and control down the road.

 

“It’s very much a long-term strategic initiative,” he says. “We are off to a great start.”
 

That can’t be denied. Pac-12 schools are making money, winning on the football field and gaining notice nationwide. There is work to be done, but a lot of problems could be overcome with a national title.

 

“The one thing that will define us as the conference is national championships,” Mora says. “Not one, but multiple.

 

“That will take time.”

 

Not as much as once was thought.

 

Written by Michael Bradley (@DailyHombre) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Pac-12 Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Great Coaches, Improved Facilities and New TV Deal Have Fueled Pac-12's Rise
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-auburn-florida-and-vanderbilt-media-day
Body:

SEC Media Day is here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. Day 1 started with comments from commissioner Mike Slive plus Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt.

 

On the docket for the first day was Mike Slive's push for autonomy, the absence of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Florida's hot seat coach and new offense and higher expectations for Derek Mason at Vanderbilt.

 

Joining us today were Brandon Marcello from AL.com and Edgar Thompson from the Orlando Sentinel.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at [email protected] or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt from Media Day
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 18:58
All taxonomy terms: linebackers, player rankings, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-linebackers
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

Carolina’s Luke Kuechly may be the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but according to Ourlads, he’s not even the best at his position. The top two inside linebackers — NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis — play for the same team in the NFC West. In fact, when you pair Bowman and Willis with Aldon Smith, San Francisco boasts three of the top eight linebackers overall.

 

Unfortunately for the 49ers, the likelihood of this trio being intact at the start of the season doesn’t appear to be too high. Bowman sustained a serious knee injury in the NFC Championship Game loss to Seattle and is a fairly safe bet to start the season on the PUP list, while Smith is facing a possible suspension of some length from the league for his various off-the-field incidents. It may be more of a one-man show in the middle of the 49ers’ defense this fall.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Inside Linebackers

 

1. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco

Joins teammate Patrick Willis as a Pro Bowl-caliber productive athlete. Instinctive with rare change of direction. Aggressive and competitive. Coming off a knee injury.

 

2. Patrick Willis, San Francisco

Had another Pro Bowl season with his excellent tackling ability versus the run and the speed to excel in coverage.

 

3. Luke Kuechly, Carolina

The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Tackling machine is the heart and soul of the Panthers’ defense. A sideline-to-sideline player who is only entering his third year.

 

4. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City

Was voted to the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season. A downhill sideline-to-sideline player with speed and a closing burst.

 

5. Karlos Dansby, Cleveland

Signed with the Browns in the offseason. A productive and athletic run-and-hit linebacker with good speed and range. A good blitzer who makes plays.

 

6. Sean Lee, Dallas

Has been the leader of the Cowboys’ defense since stepping on the field in 2010. Injuries have set him back at times, but he’s productive when on the field. (Editor's note: Lee tore the ACL in his left knee during OTAs on May 27 and will miss the entire 2014 season.)

 

7. Stephen Tulloch, Detroit

An undersized but instinctive linebacker who makes plays all over the field. Elevated his game in 2013 after coming off a 2012 knee injury.

 

8. Kiko Alonso, Buffalo

Played beyond expectations as a rookie in the middle last fall and will be moved to the weak side in 2014. A focused and intense competitor versus the run and pass. (Editor's note: Alonso tore the ACL in his left knee while working out earlier this summer and will miss the entire 2014 season.)

 

9. Brian Cushing, Houston

Was lost for two years in a row with injury. When on the field, this big-time hitter is instinctive and active in defending the run and pass.

 

10. Bobby Wagner, Seattle

Battled an injury in 2013 after an outstanding rookie campaign. A quick and explosive reactor who attacks blockers. Has good range and takes good downfield angles in pursuit.

 

11. Daryl Smith, Baltimore

12. Daryl Washington, Arizona (Editor's note: Washington has been suspended for the entire 2014 season for another violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.)

13. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh

14. James Laurinaitis, St. Louis

15. Brandon Spikes, Buffalo

16. Josh Bynes, Baltimore

17. Wesley Woodyard, Tennessee

18. Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis

19. Akeem Jordan, Washington

20. David Harris, NY Jets

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Outside Linebackers

 

1. Von Miller, Denver

Became a more complete linebacker, excelling in coverage before an ACL injury late in the season. His impact is immense — pressuring and sacking the quarterback.

 

2. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay

Is one of the more unheralded and well-rounded linebackers in football. His skills are tailor-made for the new Tampa-2 scheme.

 

3. Robert Mathis, Indianapolis

Versatile enough over his career to play as a down end or a standup rusher for the Colts. Undersized athlete with rare initial quickness and speed. Can turn speed to power. Plays low to the ground with good knee and hip flexibility. (Editor's note: Mathis will miss the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.)

 

4. Aldon Smith, San Francisco

Has been a productive player on the field, especially when Justin Smith helps clear a free running lane. Has outstanding athletic ability and long arms to rush the passer. Productive with 42 sacks in three years.

 

5. Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati

Led the Bengals in tackles his first two years in the league. Has come a long way from his undisciplined college career, where the talent was evident, but production was uneven.

 

6. Thomas Davis, Carolina

Came back from a third ACL tear to play at a high level in 2013. An aggressive and explosive hitter who is a consistent wrap-up tackler.

 

7. Akeem Ayers, Tennessee

Will be making a move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme linebacker, which may get him to the quarterback more in 2014. Drives quickly on check-downs and ball-carriers in front of him.

 

8. Danny Trevathan, Denver

Had a breakout year in 2013 and racked up 129 tackles from the weak side. Physical and tough in his play. Quick to key and diagnose a play.

 

9. Dont’a Hightower, New England

Stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie and hasn’t looked back since. A physical run-stuffer who sheds quickly at the point of attack.

 

10. DeAndre Levy, Detroit

Elevated his playmaking ability in 2013. An athletic linebacker who can run and hit. Plays square with good hand and arm use to shed and tackle.

 

11. Malcolm Smith, Seattle

12. Sio Moore, Oakland

13. Jerod Mayo, New England

14. Bruce Irvin, Seattle

15. Alec Ogletree, St. Louis

16. Chad Greenway, Minnesota

17. James Anderson, Chicago

18. Philip Wheeler, Miami

19. Kevin Burnett, Oakland

20. K.J. Wright, Seattle

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Linebackers
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Boise State Broncos, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/bobby-petrino-ready-succeed-louisville-once-again
Body:

Social media crackled with disbelief on the day word leaked that former University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino was in line to become the replacement for Charlie Strong at U of L last January.

 

Talk-radio hyperventilated. Opinions flew from every direction. Louisville can’t be hiring that two-timer, can it? National columnists powered up their keyboards and took their most vicious shots.

 

Considering the way Petrino had walked out on Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 and then driven his career (and motorcycle) off the road at Arkansas in 2012, outsiders howled that athletic director Tom Jurich had finally fumbled a big decision.

 

Actually, the decision to bring Petrino back from Western Kentucky was every bit a calculated Jurich move. People who know Jurich know that Petrino was the first option from the moment Strong’s name was linked to Texas.

 

The reaction in Louisville to Petrino’s return for a job that he didn’t want seven years earlier? That he was getting a deal worth $3.5 million per season with a $10 million buyout?

 

Primarily long and sustained applause.

 

“The offense isn’t going to be boring around here any more,” former Louisville running back Michael Bush said on a live microphone in front of 27,500 fans at the Cardinals’ spring game.

 

In the aftermath of Petrino’s arrival, the demand for U of L football season tickets increased. The waiting list grew. Any complaints within the ambitious fan base disappeared after a few days.

 

Why?

 

Because Petrino wins football games, and Louisville has become accustomed to winning after ringing up victories in the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons.

 

“I don’t think anybody will quarrel with his knowledge,” Jurich says.

 

Louisville is making its move into the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, and the program needed a head coach who could scheme with Jimbo Fisher and the other big dogs in a more demanding league. “He’s as good as anybody I’ve seen or been around,” says Jurich.

 

What about it, coach?

 

Says Petrino, “It’s been great. Every day has been great, for me and my family. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back.”

 

The Cardinal fan base adored Petrino when he was the head coach from 2003-06, when his teams would routinely score 40, 50, 60 points — and never trailed Kentucky for one second in four games.

 

Louisville started 2013 with a victory in the Sugar Bowl, won the men’s basketball NCAA title, finished second in the women’s basketball tournament and sent its baseball team to the College World Series. If any athletic director had the muscle to sell Petrino, it was Jurich.

 

But there was another reason insiders were not surprised: They knew that Jurich played a critical role in helping Petrino land his initial comeback job at Western Kentucky.

 

Without a strong endorsement from Jurich, WKU athletic director Todd Stewart would have never hired Petrino only eight months after Arkansas fired him for hiring his mistress on the Razorbacks’ staff and then lying about it.

 

Petrino was toxic then. Jurich did as much as anybody to help Petrino repair his reputation and career.

 

Stewart called Jurich to discuss Petrino before WKU hired him as Willie Taggart’s replacement in December 2012. Jurich had every reason to bury Petrino, and why not? Petrino had misled him several times while interviewing for other jobs early in his Louisville career. He flirted with jobs at LSU, Notre Dame, Florida and elsewhere, even though Jurich was the first guy to give Petrino a head coaching opportunity.

 

Then Petrino bolted for the Falcons less than a week after coaching the Cardinals to an Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest.

 

Jurich is first-team all-loyalty. He’s been at Louisville since October 1997, even though several prime-time programs, including Texas, inquired about his interest. Not only was Petrino always in a hurry to get to the next job, but he’d also later walked out on the Falcons in the middle of his first season and then embarrassed Arkansas.

 

But Jurich did not encourage Stewart to scratch Petrino from his list of WKU coaching candidates. He told him that Petrino deserved a chance — and that he would do excellent work in Bowling Green.

 

Huh?

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 ACC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Petrino and Jurich had repaired their relationship while the coach sat out the 2012 season. He apologized for things that happened at Louisville. He asked Jurich if he would help him mend his career. Jurich told him that the first thing he needed to do was mend his life with his family — his wife, Becky, and their four children.

 

They had several conversations. By the time WKU called to inquire about Petrino, Jurich was convinced that his former coach was ready for another chance. And he endorsed Petrino for that job.

 

The contract and the buyout were structured that if Petrino left during the first two seasons, WKU would make money. If it ­didn’t work out, WKU would only suffer a small PR hit. But it worked — for WKU, for Petrino and for Louisville.

 

How would the Cardinals benefit?

 

Because the stories about everything that Petrino did wrong were written during the buildup to his first season at Western Kentucky. He talked about the mistakes he had made and lessons that he had learned.

 

Becky Petrino came to Bowling Green with him. So did two of their children. Two other Petrino children were already in Louisville, attending U of L. If the family was going to make it again, they were going to make it in Kentucky.

 

Most of the negative stories would be aired out at Western Kentucky. By the end of his first season, there would be a fresh Petrino narrative. He was the coach who beat Kentucky in his season-opener as well as the guy who won eight games, more than WKU had ever won as an FBS program.

 

He was the guy grateful for a second chance, a coach who understood this was his last chance to make it right.

“I think the opportunity to get someone who is very seasoned as we head into the ACC (is critical),” Jurich says. “But somebody who is definitely a changed person.

 

“I think the opportunity to get Bobby Petrino is what sold me. Like I said, if it was the same Bobby Petrino as eight years ago, I wasn’t interested, and I had to be convinced of that.”

 

“The first mistake I made was leaving Louisville,” Petrino says, and he has said it multiple times. “But now I feel like my family and I have come back home.”

 

Written by Rick Bozich (@RickBozich) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 ACC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Bobby Petrino Ready to Succeed at Louisville Once Again
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/oklahomas-bob-stoops-regains-swagger-sooners-poised-playoff-run-2014
Body:

Bob Stoops fired surprising shots at the SEC last offseason, calling out the nation’s power conference and causing his sanity to be called into question in most corners of the country.

 

“They’ve had the best team in college football. They haven’t had the whole best conference,” the Oklahoma coach said in May 2013, just months after Alabama had won another national title, the SEC’s seventh straight national championship.

 

“You’re listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed to you.”

 

So had Big Game Bob become Big Mouth Bob?

 

Little did we or Stoops know that he’d be staring down the mighty Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl in January. Suddenly, Stoops’ months-old words had become fighting words.

 

Yet the swaggering Stoops and his Sooners hardly backed down.

 

No, they backed it all up, pounding Bama and capping a late-season turnabout that altered everything in Norman, flipping feelings on the season and the program’s recent substandard perceptions, and of course, the future.

 

Big Game Bob was back. And taking a victory lap.

 

Oh, Stoops wasn’t boasting, not in a finger-wagging way. Still, he didn’t waste the opportunity to offer some semi-subtle reminders.

 

“I won’t have to dodge any punches, I guess you could say that,” he said in the aftermath of the Sooners’ 45–31 romp. “I have the utmost respect for Alabama. And I think this shows that obviously we can play with anybody.

 

“So enough of that. And I just watched them go through their entire conference and play pretty well. And, again, I admire the way they play, I really do, and Coach (Nick) Saban and the way they do things. I’m not pointing any fingers, but I think sometimes the comparisons aren’t necessarily very true.”

 

Neither, it seems, are perceptions of Stoops and his program.

 

Not of late, anyway.

 

Stoops reset the high bar at Oklahoma, winning a national championship in his second season and playing for three more in his first 10 years of restoring the Sooners as a college football powerhouse. Entering his 16th season, he’s the winningest coach in OU history, having passed Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bennie Owen. His teams have captured eight Big 12 titles, with a 7–1 record in conference championship games, and gone to a program-record 15 consecutive bowl games.

 

Still, critics have picked at Stoops in recent years. They’ve pointed to his 0–3 record in national title games since the 2000 breakthrough. They’ve suggested that he’s beaten a retreat in the Big 12, where three other teams (Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor) have risen up to claim the past three league trophies.

 

Legitimate critiques, or nitpicking?

 

The Sooners, after all, have posted double-digit win totals each of the past four seasons and in seven of the last eight.

 

Have they reached that high bar Stoops has set? Not quite. So in truth, there are probably some valid arguments on both sides. And even Stoops signaled a need to alter course while acknowledging that things may have grown stagnant, firing a total of five assistants in the two years prior to the 2013 season after not sending a single coach packing his previous 12 years on the job.

 

As recently as last November, there was a degree of panic among the fan base, after the Sooners were thumped 41–12 at Baylor in what had been anticipated as a showdown. That, after they’d been gouged 36–20 by archrival Texas in the Red River Rivalry a month earlier.

 

The Sooners were shuffling quarterbacks, with Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson taking turns behind center, and none thriving.

 

Then, in the span of little more than four quarters, everything turned. For the Sooners. For program pride. For Stoops.

 

It started in Bedlam, with Oklahoma State poised to win for the second time in three years in the series, marching to a 24–20 lead with 1:46 remaining. But Bell, inserted for the injured Knight and an ineffective Thompson, guided the Sooners to their first offensive touchdown of the day, finishing the drive with a 7-yard scoring pass to Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds left to lift OU to the improbable win.

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Then came the matchup with Bama in the Sugar Bowl, a game analysts and fans from across the country counted as a Tide throwdown before kickoff, before the 17-point underdog Sooners surged ahead early and kept pouring it on.

 

“I get annoyed when people ask me if I’m afraid,” OU defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said at the time, reflecting his head coach’s brashness. “Just shut up.”

 

Said Stoops: “We weren’t coming in on a load of wood. We’ve won some games around here. That’s how we feel. Everyone else, we weren’t that concerned about.

 

“We played how we expected to play, to be quite honest. And, again … I’ve got the absolute utmost respect for Alabama. But we have a lot of confidence in what we do, too.”

 

Stoops, in good times and bad, is confident. So his remarks about the SEC ­shouldn’t have come as a shock. Asked a question, he simply answered, honestly and boldly. And that confidence flows through his coaching staff and players, who seem to operate with a permanent chip on their shoulder, despite their status among college football’s elite.

 

“What we were able to do against Alabama was no fluke,” says defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, Bob’s younger brother. “That was our team playing on all cylinders as a young team.

 

“That gave us a lot of momentum heading into the last month of recruiting. … We feel like we’re a championship-caliber team. That’s what the kids want to play for.”

 

Don’t expect that confidence to wane anytime soon.

 

The Sooners’ late-season surge fueled a recruiting rally, provided strong answers to critical personnel questions and thrust OU back into national title talk for 2014 as a heavy favorite in the Big 12.

 

Bob Stoops’ stock enjoyed a surge of sorts, too. Trusting his instincts, he again seems to be pulling all the right strings, whether making over his staff or overseeing tweaks to both sides of the ball or returning to the gambling in-game decision-making style that marked his earlier years at the helm.

 

Big Game Bob appears to be back and charging forward, thankful for the Sugar Bowl rush, yet ready to move on.

 

“They’re not sitting back thinking about that and not doing what they need to do moving forward,” Stoops says of his team. “I think, more than anything, it’s made them hungrier to build on it and to keep improving.”


Written by John Helsley (@jjhelsley) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big 12 Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops Regains Swagger; Sooners Poised to Push for Playoffs in 2014
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL
Path: /college-football/10-more-awkward-sports-reunions-wed-see
Body:

Jerseys can’t be unburned, but perhaps the love between a city and an athlete can be rekindled.

LeBron James will put that to the test with his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and his home state of Ohio. His exit — ahem, taking his talents to South Beach — wounded an entire city in 2010. Four years and two NBA championships later and James will return to team that drafted him.

The move is somewhat unprecedented. Rarely has an athlete, never mind one of the greatest in the world, gone from hometown hero to archvillain and back to favorite son. All while he's still in his prime.

We asked ourselves, what would be some of the other returns in the sports world that could compare? Which would be the most awkward, and somewhat plausible, reunions in sports?

Here are our 10.

Steve Spurrier to Florida
Perhaps one of the closet parallels to LeBron and Cleveland. Spurrier won the Heisman at Florida and built the Gators into one of the premier programs in college football. After Ron Zook was fired, a segment of Florida fans wanted Spurrier to return when the Ol’ Ball Coach was looking for work after his short-lived tenure in the NFL. Florida hired Urban Meyer instead, and Spurrier went to South Carolina. The idea of a Spurrier return to Florida may warm the hearts of older Florida fans. Meyer on the other hand...

Rick Pitino back to Kentucky
Pitino brought back the Kentucky program back after NCAA sanctions. He led “The Unforgettables” to the Elite Eight and won Kentucky’s first national title in 18 years. When Pitino left for the Boston Celtics, he left enough for successor Tubby Smith to win a national title of his own, but what really burned Big Blue Nation was Pitino’s return to the college game at rival Louisville. Kentucky fans are thrilled with the coach they’ve got now, but they had to go through the Billy Gillispie dark ages to get there.

Peyton Manning back to the Indianapolis Colts
Yes, the Colts' offense is in perfectly good hands with Andrew Luck under center. However, the organization's, and, perhaps more important, the fan base's bond with Manning remains. Besides, Manning certainly isn't getting any younger, so perhaps playing time won't be an issue another year or two down the road? After all, the only Super Bowl Manning has won so far has come in a Colts uniform.

Michael Vick to the Atlanta Falcons
Believe it or not, but it's been 13 years since Vick was taken No. 1 overall by the Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft. Obviously a lot has happened between now and then, but Vick's clearly not the same person (or football player for that matter) that he was when he first entered the league as a young, electric, dual-threat quarterback. They say time heals all wounds, so perhaps the timing is just right for a reunion. And the Falcons wouldn't have to worry about a potential quarterback controversy either, as Vick already seems to have embraced his backup role with the Jets.

Albert Pujols back to the St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols was starting to be mentioned with Stan Musial around St. Louis before bolting for the Angels. Cardinals fans were heartbroken, but they’re doing just fine without him with a trip to the World Series and the NLCS. The longer St. Louis goes without a championship and the more Pujols starts to look like his old self, the more the Cardinals may start to miss him.

Greg Schiano back to Rutgers
Rutgers had one bowl appearance in over 100 years of football before Schiano showed up in Piscataway. So after six bowl appearances and building a posh on-campus home, Schiano broke Scarlet hearts when he tried his hand at the NFL in 2012. His disciplinarian tactics didn't go over well in the pro ranks, and he was shown the door. He’s out of work now, but we're pretty sure the Knights would beg him to return to Jersey.

Texas A&M back to the Big 12
Awkward, yes. Realistic, no.

Bobby Petrino back to Arkansas
Petrino already returned to where he built his name with a return to Louisville. If not for a fateful motorcycle ride, Petrino may still be at Arkansas, where he had the Razorbacks just a step behind Alabama and LSU. Few things would be more Petrino than using Louisville (again) to take a better job.

Kurt Busch back to any former NASCAR team
Busch has burned so many bridges in NASCAR that a return to anywhere (Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing) would be beyond awkward.

Brett Favre back to Green Bay
Where is Ed Werder when you need him? We set out to look at only active athletes, but retirement is all relative when it comes to Favre. After an ugly divorce in Green Bay, Packers fans weren't all that upset to watch their departed quarterback squirm during a Deadspin-fueled scandal with a Jets broadcaster or when he was on the wrong end of Bounty Gate while playing for the rival Vikings. Green Bay has a fine quarterback of their own now, but you never know when he might need a new backup.

David Fox, Braden Gall, Mark Ross and Matt Taliaferro contributed to this post.

Teaser:
10 More Awkward Sports Reunions We'd Like To See
Post date: Saturday, July 12, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-defensive-linemen
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

With the NFL evolving into a pass-happy league, a disruptive defensive line is becoming even more important. Look no further than this past Super Bowl when Seattle relied primarily on its defensive line, instead of blitzes, to put pressure on Denver’s Peyton Manning. Even though the Seahawks finished with just one sack, the pressure was effective. Michael Bennett and company held the record-setting MVP to 280 yards passing and one touchdown, while picking him off twice in their dominating 43-8 victory.

 

So whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme, one of the keys to success in today’s NFL is a strong first line of defense. Just ask the Seahawks.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: 3-4 Defensive Ends

 

1. J.J. Watt, Houston

A dominant defensive lineman who had another stellar year. Explodes off the snap and plays the game with great passion and emotion. A relentless competitor.

 

2. Calais Campbell, Arizona

Has become a welcomed star on the Cardinals’ defensive line and a disruptive high-effort player. Chases the ball down effectively from the backside.

 

3. Sheldon Richardson, NY Jets

Was voted the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Instinctive with lightning-quick reactions and the ability to change direction. An explosive high-effort talent.

 

4. Kyle Williams, Buffalo

Is an explosive up-the-field penetrator who battles every down. Has inside pass-rush ability. Keeps his hands and feet moving with an upfield burst.

 

5. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans

Blossomed at the 5-technique position under Rob Ryan and turned in a big year that included 12.5 sacks.

 

6. Muhammad Wilkerson, NY Jets

Like his running mate Sheldon Richardson, he shuts down the run. He also added 10.5 sacks, showing his quickness, athletic ability and field awareness.

 

7. Justin Smith, San Francisco

Is shedding age and time like the blockers he regularly defeats. Still has an explosive first step and takes on blockers aggressively. Active hands and body control.

 

8. Arthur Jones, Indianapolis

Left the Ravens in free agency after a big year and landed in Indianapolis. A blue-collar worker who is an ascending player with the ability to stop and stack in the run game.

 

9. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia

Played as a 5-technique in the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme and demonstrated strong pass-rush skills along with lateral quickness and run-stuffing ability.

 

10. Mike Daniels, Green Bay

Is a quick and resourceful defender who had his best year since the Packers drafted him in the fourth round in 2012.

 

11. Cedric Thornton, Philadelphia

12. Vinny Curry, Philadelphia

13. Antonio Smith, Oakland

14. Akiem Hicks, New Orleans

15. Allen Bailey, Kansas City

16. Mike DeVito, Kansas City

17. Cory Redding, Indianapolis

18. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh

19. Alan Branch, Buffalo

20. Ray McDonald, San Francisco

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: 4-3 Defensive Ends

 

1. Robert Quinn, St. Louis

An explosive right end who recorded a team-record 19 sacks in 2013. Possesses natural hand, foot and lateral quickness. Tough to block, exhibiting outstanding flexibility.

 

2. Greg Hardy, Carolina

Was awarded the franchise tag tender after recording 15 sacks in 2013 and 11 in 2012. Explosive edge speed. Can bend the corner and turn speed to power.

 

3. Cameron Wake, Miami

A natural 4-3 end who draws protection and frees up guys like Olivier Vernon, who corralled 11.5 sacks in 2013. Has the strength, quickness and leverage to control the blocker and stack the run.

 

4. DeMarcus Ware, Denver

Signed with the Broncos after his Cowboy release and will team with productive Von Miller to form a formidable defensive duo.

 

5. Michael Bennett, Seattle

Led the Super Bowl champions with 8.5 sacks and was re-signed during the offseason. Versatile enough to play end and tackle. A good athlete who plays with strength and leverage.

 

6. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati

Signed a contract extension last year and overcame chronic injuries to elevate his overall game and pass-rushing abilities.

 

7. Lamarr Houston, Chicago

A versatile inside or outside competitor whose motor is always running hot. Explosive first-step quickness to split blockers. A disruptive pass-rusher who bats balls down or pressures throws.

 

8. Michael Johnson, Tampa Bay

Was signed in the offseason to pressure the quarterback in Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2. Rare athletic ability with explosive initial quickness.

 

9. Derrick Morgan, Tennessee

Has developed into a solid pro. Demonstrates jolt and explosion to shock the blocker. Relentless player. Could struggle in move 3-4.

 

10. Chandler Jones, New England

Athletic pass-rusher with a long and rangy build. Has elusive first-step quickness and can close laterally on inside runs. Finishes long crossfield pursuit. Flies around the field looking to make plays.

 

11. Chris Long, St. Louis

12. Charles Johnson, Carolina

13. Willie Young, Chicago

14. Robert Ayers, NY Giants

15. Rob Ninkovich, New England

16. Justin Tuck, Oakland

17. Cliff Avril, Seattle

18. Brian Robison, Minnesota

19. Shaun Phillips, Tennessee

20. Everson Griffen, Minnesota

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Tackles

 

1. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit

Is the league’s most dominant interior lineman, with explosive strength and top-level athletic ability. A disruptive player who is generally double-teamed and makes big-time plays because of extra effort. Must eliminate untimely penalties.

 

2. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay

Finally came into his own in 2013 after avoiding injury. He emerged as a one-gap disruptor and made his second Pro Bowl.

 

3. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati

Collected 20 sacks from the interior in 2011 and ’12, the most in the NFL. He was on his way to another banner season with six sacks when he suffered an ACL injury against Miami in early November.

 

4. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo

Provides quickness and strength to anchor the inside gaps. Long-armed power player becoming more consistent with his hands and technique.

 

5. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee

Led the Titans in sacks with 10.5 last season. He must now make a scheme change to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3. A high-effort competitor who is quick and explosive.

 

6. Randy Starks, Miami

Was re-signed and the big-framed tackle is a solid run-defender and explosive as a leverage player. A good effort competitor who finishes pursuit.

 

7. Jason Hatcher, Washington

Signed in the offseason and is expected to hold down one of the end spots for the Redskins. With the Cowboys, he moved inside to a 4-3 tackle.

 

8. Dontari Poe, Kansas City

Started his career slowly but went from lamb to lion in 2013. He proved that he is an immovable anchor against the run and gets explosive push in the pass game.

 

9. Jared Odrick, Miami

Is physical at defensive end on run downs and is versatile enough to move down inside on pass downs. A disruptive athlete who gets upfield pressure.

 

10. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore

He’s 30 now, but had another productive year at nose tackle. A dominant force when healthy.

 

11. Pat Sims, Oakland

12. Terrance Knighton, Denver

13. Brandon Mebane, Seattle

14. Damon Harrison, NY Jets

15. Star Lotulelei, Carolina

16. Malik Jackson, Denver

17. Kawann Short, Carolina

18. Linval Joseph, Minnesota

19. Paul Soliai, Atlanta

20. Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco

21. Barry Cofield, Washington

22. Kevin Williams, Free agent

23. Cullen Jenkins, NY Giants

24. Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta

25. Phil Taylor, Cleveland

26. Tony McDaniel, Seattle

27. Karl Klug, Tennessee

28. Corey Peters, Atlanta

29. Nick Fairley, Detroit

30. Clinton McDonald, Tampa Bay

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Linemen
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-top-50-2014
Body:

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with Joe DiSalvo of thecffsite.com to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

Thecffsite.com is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 50 overall performers for 2014. Want to go deeper? Check out thecffsite.com’s draft kit, which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo (@theCFFsite)



Visit Fantrax.com to play college fantasy football in 2014.

 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).

Other Positional Rankings: Quarterbacks Running Backs | Wide Receivers


College Fantasy Football: Top 50 Overall for 2014

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

 

3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

 

4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

 

5. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

 

6. D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State

 

7. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

 

8. Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall

 

9. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

 

10. Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green

 

11. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech

 

12. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

 

13. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor

 

14. Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina

 

15. Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State

 

16. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

 

17. Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston

 

18. Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green

 

19. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

 

20. Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon

 

21. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC

 

22. Jahwan Edwards, RB, Ball State

 

23. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas Sate

 

24. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh

 

25. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke

 

26. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

 

27. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

 

28. Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

 

29. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

 

30. Josh Harper, WR, Fresno State

 

31. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

 

32. Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU

 

33. Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina

 

34. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

 

35. Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

 

36. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State

 

37. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

 

38. Javorius Allen, RB, USC

 

39. Desmond Roland, RB, Oklahoma State

 

40. Titus Davis, WR, Central Michigan

 

41. Tommy Shuler, WR, Marshall

 

42. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

 

43. Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon

 

44. Jordan Williams, WR, Ball State

 

45. Marcus Cox, RB, Appalachian State

 

46. Devante Davis, WR, UNLV

 

47. Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State

 

48. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

 

49. William Stanback, RB, Central Florida

 

50. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

 

 

To find additional college fantasy football material, visit The College Fantasy Football Site and check out their 2014 College Fantasy Football Preseason Draft Guide.

 

What's included:

 

• Over 500 player rankings (QB, RB, WR, TE, K, and D/ST).

 

• Bullet-point analysis for over 100 players (QB, RB, WR).

 

• 2014 Sleepers

 

• Draft Day Cheat Sheet

 

• Blank cheat sheet to customize rankings for your draft.

 

• Results of a 12-team, 10-round mock draft based on theCFFsite rankings, roster

 

requirements, and scoring system.

 

• Schedule Analysis

 

• 35-plus Freshmen to Watch

 

• 18-page printable PDF document

 

• Access to updates throughout the preseason.

 

Follow theCFFsite on twitter: @theCFFsite

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football: Top 50 for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/alabama-vs-auburn-iron-bowl-nations-most-important-rivalry
Body:

The scene played out in Jordan-Hare Stadium like an improbable dream or a horrific nightmare, depending on whether you say “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide.” Auburn’s Chris Davis fielded Alabama’s missed field goal opportunity with no time on the clock of a tie game and kept running and running and running.

 

When Davis finally stopped, it was Auburn — not two-time defending national champion Alabama — in position to reach the final BCS National Championship Game. Gus Malzahn had fired the opening shot at Nick Saban in their first meeting as head coaches. After that, Malzahn won — at least for now — the intense offseason debate over hurry-up offenses in college football that drew battle lines in Alabama as if the debate paired Democrats vs. Republicans.

 

Bubbling at the surface of Auburn’s surprising 2013 season and Malzahn’s unique offense is one very important question: Can Alabama and Auburn consistently be elite at the same time in a relatively small state with 4.8 million people?

 

History suggests no. Something usually happens to quickly swing the balance of one of the teams — coaching changes, NCAA violations, or lack of enough players in a state the size of Alabama.

 

But a funny thing happened as the Iron Bowl produced five straight BCS Championship Game participants, including four national champions. The majority of players on both Alabama and Auburn that make up this intensely local grudge match are no longer from Alabama. And the respective teams’ national recruiting efforts will only continue when the SEC Network debuts this season.

 

The 78th Iron Bowl last year produced arguably the highest-stakes game in series history. Not only did Alabama and Auburn meet in a winner-take-all game for the SEC West title for the first time, but both were also in the national championship race.

 

From 1975-2009, the two bitter rivals met as top-10 opponents only once. That’s now happened twice in the past four years, including last season’s first top-4 matchup ever in Iron Bowl history.

 

Did we just witness the reinvention of the Iron Bowl into a high-stakes national game on a consistent basis? Or was 2013 the culmination of the state of Alabama’s dominance on the national scene? Recruiting, as it usually does, plays a significant role in answering those questions.

 

Last season, 34 percent of Crimson Tide players came from the state of Alabama. That was down from 55 percent in 2008 and 66 percent in 2003. Saban, who has built a recruiting juggernaut, can pick and choose while competing for the best players in different states. Alabama had players from 19 different states last season, compared to 12 five years ago. Seventeen percent of Alabama’s 2013 roster grew up west of the Mississippi River.

 

Meanwhile, only 35 percent of Auburn’s 2013 roster hailed from Alabama, down from 45 percent in 2008. The Tigers came from 19 different states, up from 11 five years ago in Tommy Tuberville’s final season. Thirteen percent of last year’s Auburn players came from west of the Mississippi.

 

The trend continued for Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class in which only 30 percent of the signees were in-state recruits. Saban signed a five-star defensive back from Texas, a five-star defensive end from Virginia and a five-star offensive lineman from Louisiana, in addition to three five-star recruits from Alabama. Saban journeyed to faraway places such as Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado and California in compiling the nation’s No. 1 class.

 

Auburn had only 35 percent of its 2014 class come from Alabama. The class was ranked ninth nationally by Rivals, yet only seventh in the SEC — a sign of how competitive recruiting is in the nation’s strongest football conference. Auburn signed more players from nearby Georgia than from Alabama.

 

There is only so much talent to go around in less-populated states, even a football-crazy state such as Alabama, which is fourth in the nation per capita in producing NFL players. Alabama ranked 11th last season in NFL players with 48, well behind states such as California (225), Florida (186), Texas (184) and Georgia (95).

 

Forty-five percent of Auburn’s roster last year came from California, Florida, Texas and Georgia, up from 42 percent in 2008. At Alabama, 37 percent of its players were from California, Florida, Texas and Georgia, compared to 26 percent five years ago.

 

As the SEC won seven straight national titles and negotiated more lucrative television deals, Alabama and Auburn took advantage. More money and exposure equals more opportunities to recruit nationally. Only three schools produced Rivals top-10 recruiting classes in each of the past five years: Florida State, Alabama and Auburn. Those were your national champions in the past five years.

 

Alabama and Auburn care so much about winning in football that it’s simply unacceptable whenever they drop off. Also, when one team does well or goes on NCAA probation, the other side attempts to bring them down.

 

Over the past 22 years, Alabama and Auburn have never gone more than five years without one of them getting hit with major violations in one sport or another. Some of college football’s great rivalries have never had that occur over any 20-year period: Florida-Florida State, Miami-Florida State, USC-Notre Dame, Texas-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma and Oklahoma-Texas.

 

But what happens when both Alabama and Auburn are on top? How long can it last in the ultra-competitive SEC?

 

Gene Chizik won a national title with Cam Newton in 2010. Two years later, amid a program with major discipline issues, Chizik was fired after going winless in the SEC. A year after being fired, Chizik told USA Today that the coach of Auburn must “get up every day trying to figure out how to beat Alabama in everything, and if you don’t get up every day and strategize on how you’re going to beat them on the field and in recruiting, it’s going to be hard to do it.”

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

In Malzahn, does Auburn have the coach who can both recruit and coach up players to consistently compete with Saban? That question loomed over a proposed rule by the NCAA Football Rules Committee that would have prevented offenses from snapping the ball until 10 seconds had passed on the play clock.

 

The proposal was justified for safety reasons, but up-tempo coaches such as Malzahn doubted that was the reason. Up-tempo offenses, if they don’t substitute, pin defenses at the line of scrimmage and prevent them from making substitutions based on down and distance.

 

Situational subbing has been a major part of Saban’s defenses at Alabama. Saban has publicly questioned whether football should be a “continuous game,” and along with another traditional-offense proponent, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, met with the rules committee prior to the proposal being passed.

 

After the outcry, the rules committee tabled the idea. But the debate isn’t going away. And although it impacts the entire sport, the argument is squarely centered in Alabama between Malzahn and Saban.

 

The questions are fast and furious within Alabama, where football is debated 365 days a year.

 

Auburn fan: Does Saban need a rule change to compete with Malzahn?

 

Alabama fan: Does Malzahn need a gimmick offense to beat Saban?

 

Auburn fans will forever have the 2013 Iron Bowl memory. What remains to be seen is if that was a seminal moment that changed the rivalry moving forward.

Written by Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 SEC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Alabama vs. Auburn: Is the Iron Bowl the Nation's Most Important Rivalry?
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-footballs-biggest-injury-concerns-2014
Body:

As impactful as injuries can be to an NFL team, the damage done to a fantasy football roster when one of your top players go down can be even worse. Just ask those unfortunate owners who were looking to Julio Jones, Arian Foster, Doug Martin or Rob Gronkowski to help lead them to a championship last season.

 

So what does the 2014 season hold for these and other key players who missed significant time last season? Here’s a breakdown of the 2013 fantasy infirmary (In alphabetical order):

 

Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis

Andrew Luck lost one of his favorite targets for all but one game last year when Allen suffered a hip injury in Week 1. His reckless playing style adds long-term concern, but Allen should be healthy for the start of the season.

 

Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis

In four professional seasons, Bradford has played 16 games twice and missed at least six games twice. Last fall, he was off to his best start before a torn ACL in Week 7 cost him the final nine games of the season.

 

Arian Foster, RB, Houston

After three straight seasons with more than 330 touches, Foster missed the final eight games a year ago with a back injury that required surgery in November. He’s made 16 starts only once in his career.

 

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England

A beast when he’s on the field, Gronkowski underwent back surgery last June. He finally made his 2013 season debut in Week 7, only to tear the ACL and MCL in his right knee in Week 14. Coming back from yet another significant injury, Gronk’s timeline for this season is uncertain at best right now. He could be ready to go by Week 1 or he could start the season on the PUP list and miss the first six games at minimum.

 

Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle

The smallish pass-catcher is perennially an injury concern. Harvin missed seven games in 2012 with an ankle injury and all but one game a year ago due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery in August. He missed the NFC title game with a concussion but played a prominent role in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory.

 

Chris Johnson, RB, New York Jets

Johnson missed one start in the last five seasons with the Titans but claimed to have played all of 2013 with a nagging knee injury. He underwent surgery in late January to repair a torn meniscus and will begin his career with the Jets this fall.

 

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta

Jones was on pace to torch all of his personal bests last year before a fractured foot forced him to miss the last 11 games. He’s a big, physical target who takes a lot of hits but should be healthy to start his fourth season.

 

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee

Oft-injured in college at Washington, Locker has continued his brittle ways in the NFL. He missed five games in 2012 with a shoulder injury and was headed toward his best season a year ago before a severe foot injury (Lisfranc) ended his season after nine weeks.

 

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia

Maclin always has been a bit brittle, but he suffered the worst injury of his career last July during preseason camp, as a torn ACL cost him the entire 2013 campaign. Maclin also missed a combined four games in 2011-12. 

 

Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay

Martin missed the final 10 games of the 2013 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He was cleared medically in late March, and new Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith says that Martin remains the team’s feature back.

 

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota

He’s the best in the game today, but his physical running style has caused him a variety of problems. He’s missed six games in the last three seasons and had groin surgery in January.

 

Jordan Reed, TE, Washington

The tight end went through major highs and lows in his rookie season. He was a bona fide fantasy starter before missing the final seven games with a concussion.

 

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas

The Cowboys signal-caller has missed only one game over the last three years, but a herniated disk in his back required surgery late in the season and cost him the season finale. Reports indicate he will be 100 percent for the 2014 season, but a bad back for a 34-year-old quarterback is cause for concern.

 

Matt Schaub, QB, Oakland

Schaub started 16 games in 2009, ’10 and ’12. He also missed at least five games in 2007, ’08, ’11 and ’13. Last season, he made his fewest starts (eight) since becoming a starter, thanks to an injured ankle (and poor play), and he will be 33 this season.

 

Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis

He played in every game from 2002-12 but missed nine games last year due to the first major injury of his career. Now, Wayne must come back from a torn ACL at age 35.

 

Athlon Sports' 2014 Fantasy Football magazine is now available for purchase at newsstands everyone or online. The ultimate draft-day resource, this year's edition features 419 in-depth player reports, informative features, a 20-round mock draft, team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers and much more. Whether your fantasy league is head-to-head, roto, PPR or IDP, this magazine has all the stats and insight you need to help you get ready for the upcoming season. Click here to purchase you copy today!
Teaser:
Fantasy Football’s Biggest Injury Concerns for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-offensive-linemen
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

They may be the least recognized, but there’s no questioning the value of a solid offensive line. Not only is it the primary line of defense in keeping the quarterback upright and on the field, but the success, or lack thereof, in the running game often comes down to how well this quintet functions as a unit.

 

Take the Philadelphia Eagles for example. In tackle Jason Peters, guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce the defending NFC East champions have the top or second-ranked player at their respective position, according to Ourlads. Which makes sense considering the Eagles led the NFL with 160.4 yards rushing per game, finished second in total offense (417.3 ypg) and fourth in scoring (27.6 ppg). Obviously, Chip Kelly’s offensive system and coaching had a lot to do with the Eagles’ production last season, but don’t overlook the contributions of the five men up front.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Tackles

 

1. Trent Williams, Washington

Has matured, and he stayed healthy in 2013, which resulted in a Pro Bowl invitation. He is now a team captain and has become the dominant player he was drafted to be.

 

2. Jason Peters, Philadelphia

Is the most athletic and productive left tackle in the league when healthy. Missed 2012 with a ruptured Achilles.

 

3. Joe Thomas, Cleveland

The road-grading left tackle annually spends a week in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl. Solid, athletic and consistent with a nasty style.

 

4. Tyron Smith, Dallas

The Cowboys’ best offensive lineman is heading into his fourth season after a Pro Bowl year in 2013. The long-armed and big-handed tackle is a zone-blocker supreme.

 

5. Joe Staley, San Francisco

Tremendous downfield blocker with unmatched mobility. Pairs with Anthony Davis as one of the best tackle duos in the league.

 

6. Ryan Clady, Denver

Missed most of 2013 with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. When healthy, he is one of the top 50 players in the league and one of the best blindside pass-protectors.

 

7. Zach Strief, New Orleans

Has developed as a leader. A mauler in the run game and a consistent mirror-and-slide tackle with a solid punch.

 

8. Jared Veldheer, Arizona

The athletic competitor has made a habit of walling off some of the best NFL pass-rushers.

 

9. Nate Solder, New England

The athletic tackle weekly demonstrates his functional strength and quickness. A patient pass-protector who plays in balance.

 

10. Jake Long, St. Louis

Nicked up in recent years, but when on the field he is a physical player who shows quickness, power and a mauler mentality.

 

11. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore

12. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo

13. Michael Roos, Tennessee

14. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati

15. Orlando Franklin, Denver

16. Russell Okung, Seattle

17. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota

18. Demar Dotson, Tampa Bay

19. Doug Free, Dallas

20. Andre Smith, Cincinnati

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Guards

 

1. Evan Mathis, Philadelphia

Has put together back-to-back Pro Bowl-caliber years and is one of the league’s top interior linemen.

 

2. Josh Sitton, Green Bay

A four-year starter who elevated his play in 2013 among the top guards in the NFL. Versatile, tough and physical.

 

3. Louis Vasquez, Denver

Proved his worth as a pass-protector and a consistent run-blocker who makes few mental errors. Earned a Pro Bowl berth.

 

4. Larry Warford, Detroit

Played exceptionally well and was in consideration for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The burly guard has sudden first-step quickness and an explosive punch.

 

5. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore

A relentless blood-and-guts competitor who is a violent finisher. Had another Pro Bowl year.

 

6. Matt Slauson, Chicago

Was an offseason acquisition after starting for the Jets for three years. He paid dividends his first year with a physical and explosive approach and consistent play.

 

7. Travelle Wharton, Free agent

Is an unrestricted free agent who refuses to retire. A smooth athlete who has quick feet and is effective in space.

 

8. Ben Grubbs, New Orleans

Struggled at left guard in 2012 but had a solid year last season, boosting him into the Pro Bowl in 2013. An athletic competitor who is aggressive in-line or in space.

 

9. Brandon Fusco, Minnesota

Heading into his fourth season with confidence and strength to handle the inside power players. Explosive, with a good pad level and flexibility.

 

10. Geoff Schwartz, NY Giants

Signed with the Giants in the offseason after a strong year in Kansas City, where he beat out incumbent Jon Asamoah. Controls defensive tackles with his huge hands and technique.

 

11. Brandon Brooks, Houston

12. Andy Levitre, Tennessee

13. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh

14. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh

15. T.J. Lang, Green Bay

16. Jahri Evans, New Orleans

17. Rodger Saffold, St. Louis

18. Logan Mankins, New England

19. Jon Asamoah, Atlanta

20. Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dallas

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Centers

 

1. Alex Mack, Cleveland

Is a happy camper, signing a five-year deal worth $42 million. The Pro Bowl pivot is a tenacious run-blocker and a consistent pass-protector.

 

2. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia

Has overcome his lack of ideal size at center with his athletic ability, intelligence and quick-twitch reactions.

 

3. John Sullivan, Minnesota

Is underrated by the casual fan, but is one of the top centers in the league. Had a strong season after recovering from microfracture knee surgery.

 

4. Dominic Raiola, Detroit

The grizzled 13-year veteran keeps holding off the younger talent to help maintain stability in the middle of the offensive line.

 

5. Manny Ramirez, Denver

Stepped in at center when J.D. Walton was unable to play and responded with technique, savvy, instincts and a good use of hands.

 

6. Evan Dietrich-Smith, Tampa Bay

Was signed away from the Packers in free agency after a year in which he demonstrated his ability to play with a good base, knee bend and hand control.

 

7. Chris Myers, Houston

Has been a consistent and solid Pro Bowl-caliber performer who, like fine wine, is getting better with age.

 

8. Travis Frederick, Dallas

Took the heat off Jerry Jones for drafting him in the first round by responding as the anchor of an offensive line that had been substandard in recent years.

 

9. Ryan Kalil, Carolina

Is a rock in the middle for the Panthers and returned to Pro Bowl form in 2013 after missing all but five games in 2012.

 

10. Stefen Wisniewski, Oakland

Moved from guard to center and proved to be  a solid and consistent mainstay for the Raiders to build around.

 

11. Mike Pouncey, Miami

12. Roberto Garza, Chicago

13. Nick Hardwick, San Diego

14. Nick Mangold, NY Jets

15. Jonathan Goodwin, New Orleans

16. Will Montgomery, Denver

17. Brian de la Puente, Chicago

18. Rodney Hudson, Kansas City

19. Max Unger, Seattle

20. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Offensive Linemen
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-2014-wide-receiver-rankings
Body:

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with Joe DiSalvo of thecffsite.com to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

Thecffsite.com is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 20 fantasy wide receivers for 2014. Want to go deeper? Check out thecffsite.com’s draft kit, which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo (@theCFFsite)

 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).


College Fantasy Football: Top 20 Wide Receivers for 2014
 

1. Antwan Goodley, Baylor

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.

2. Justin Hardy, East Carolina

 

3. Deontay Greenberry, Houston

 

4. Nelson Agholor, USC

 

5. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

 

6. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

 

7. Jamison Crowder, Duke

 

8. Josh Harper, Fresno State

 

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

 

10. Titus Davis, Central Michigan

 

11. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State

 

12. Tommy Shuler, Marshall

 

13. Jordan Williams, Ball State

 

14. Devante Davis, UNLV

 

15. Dres Anderson, Utah

 

16. Rashad Greene, Florida State

 

17. Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State

 

18. Shane Wynn, Indiana

 

19. Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green

 

20. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football: 2014 Wide Receiver Rankings
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: player rankings, wide receiver, WR, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-wide-receivers
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

There’s little debate, if any, that Calvin Johnson is the top wide receiver in the NFL. Besides holding the single-season record for receiving yards (1,964, 2012), the man known as Megatron has averaged 88 yards per game over his seven seasons. That is No. 1 all-time, even better than Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (75.6 ypg), who is considered the greatest of all-time at the position. If anyone has a chance to potentially supplant Rice as the GOAT, it’s Johnson.

 

In fact, the top four in career receiving yards per game can be found in Ourlads’ top 10. After Johnson, this list goes Andre Johnson (82.2 ypg), A.J. Green (81.6) and Julio Jones (80.5). That said, there is only one team in the league that boasts two of the top 10 wide receivers. The Chicago Bears have both Brandon Marshall (No. 4) and Alshon Jeffery (No. 8) to torment opposing defenses. Two explosive pass-catchers (not to mention the No. 6 RB and No. 9 TE) AND a lucrative, seven-year contract? Jay Cutler is a lucky man.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Wide Receivers

 

1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit

Shrugged off some injuries and caught 84 balls, racking up 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. A rare combination of measurables, athletic ability and intelligence. Can break a tackle or make a defender miss.

 

2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona

Has been a reliable, sure-handed and consistent playmaker over his career, and 2013 was no different with 82 receptions, 954 yards and 10 touchdowns. A polished route-runner who changes up his speeds well to set up defenders.

 

3. A.J. Green, Cincinnati

An explosive All-Pro talent. Has rare quickness and leaping ability. A consistent and sharp route-runner with a strong and wiry build.

 

4. Brandon Marshall, Chicago

Led the Bears with 100 receptions and was second in yards with 1,295. He is also an uncompromising blocker. A physically strong wide receiver who can beat coverage with quickness or strength.

 

5. Andre Johnson, Houston

Will be 33 this season but hasn't slowed down. Once again, he led the Texans with 100-plus catches and 1,400-plus yards. An imposing physical specimen who is an excellent athlete.

 

6. Demaryius Thomas, Denver

A physically gifted receiver who led the Broncos with 92 receptions and 1,430 yards. A playmaker who will reach and extend for the ball away from his body. Uses his size and strength to dominate between the hash marks.

 

7. Josh Gordon, Cleveland

An exciting and emerging talent for the Browns. Has the speed to get behind secondaries and take the ball away from small defensive backs. Explosive player after the catch.

 

8. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago

Had a breakout year, leading the Bears with 1,421 yards and catching 89 passes. Many of his catches were of the circus-style variety. Makes plays with his big frame and long arms.

 

9. Dez Bryant, Dallas

Is a roller coaster of emotions, but his talent is undisputed as is his production — 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

 

10. Julio Jones, Atlanta

Was hurt last year and finished the season on injured reserve. He is a big, physical receiver with rare speed for his size. Will sacrifice his body for the ball.

 

11. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco

12. Percy Harvin, Seattle

13. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

14. DeSean Jackson, Washington

15. Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay

16. Keenan Allen, San Diego

17. Eric Decker, NY Jets

18. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco

19. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

20. Golden Tate, Detroit

21. Marques Colston, New Orleans

22. Marvin Jones, Cincinnati

23. Wes Welker, Denver

24. Nate Washington, Tennessee

25. Kendall Wright, Tennessee

26. Pierre Garcon, Washington

27. Michael Floyd, Arizona

28. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis

29. Julian Edelman, New England

30. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Wide Receivers
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: player rankings, tight end, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-tight-ends
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

Now that there’s no dispute (at least in the NFL’s eyes) that Jimmy Graham is a tight end, there’s absolutely no risk in revealing that Ourlads ranks him No. 1 at his position. Even though he played more than half of last season with a partially torn plantar fascia, Graham still put up numbers (86 rec., 1,215 yards, 16 TDs) that wide receivers dream about, forget tight ends.

 

Right now Graham simply has no peer and that could be the case even if Rob Gronkowski was healthy. Gronk and Graham both ushered in a new era for the tight end with their breakout 2011 campaigns, but Tom Brady’s favorite target has missed (14) nearly as many games as he’s played (18) over the past two seasons. If both are healthy and survive the entire season this could be an entertaining head-to-head battle, if you will, to watch this fall.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Tight Ends

 

1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

Led the Saints with 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. Excellent eye-hand coordination. Exceptional leaping ability to high-point the ball. Has developed his route-running over the past four years and is a matchup nightmare.

 

2. Rob Gronkowski, New England

Struggled with health issues in 2013. A big red-zone target with long arms. Physically dominates in the end zone. Can’t be covered one-on-one. Has soft hands with the ability to make the tough catch.

 

3. Vernon Davis, San Francisco

Has elevated his week-to-week and year-to-year consistency to become one of the NFL’s most complete blocking and receiving tight ends. He scored 13 touchdowns among his 52 receptions in 2013.

 

4. Jason Witten, Dallas

Performed at a high level again in 2013. The 32-year-old has been a model of pass-catching and blocking consistency over his career.

 

5. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

He began to assert himself as the season wore on. He became a reliable blocker and receiver, particularly in two-tight end formations.

 

6. Delanie Walker, Tennessee

Had as big a season as the Titans could hope for after he departed San Francisco. The athletic receiver and willing blocker caught 60 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns.

 

7. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis

Stepped up last fall to fill a void after budding star Dwayne Allen missed all but one game with an injury.

 

8. Julius Thomas, Denver

Had a breakout season and hauled in 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. The former basketball star is a matchup problem with his size and speed.

 

9. Martellus Bennett, Chicago

Responded in his first year with the Bears by snagging 65 passes for 759 yards and stepped up his in-line run-blocking.

 

10. Ladarius Green, San Diego

Made his move in 2013 to receive the pass-catching torch from dependable veteran Antonio Gates. He is fast, athletic and has reliable hands.

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Tight Ends
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-2014-running-back-rankings
Body:

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with Joe DiSalvo of thecffsite.com to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

Thecffsite.com is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 20 fantasy running backs for 2014. Want to go deeper? Check out thecffsite.com’s draft kit, which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo (@theCFFsite)


Visit Fantrax.com to play college fantasy football in 2014.
 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).


College Fantasy Football: Top 20 Running Backs for 2014
 

1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.

2. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

 

3. D.J. Foster, Arizona State

 

4. Todd Gurley, Georgia

 

5. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

 

6. Mike Davis, South Carolina

 

7. Jay Ajayi, Boise State

 

8. Tevin Coleman, Indiana

 

9. Travis Greene, Bowling Green

 

10. Byron Marshall, Oregon

 

11. Jahwan Edwards, Ball State

 

12. Duke Johnson, Miami

 

13. Kareem Hunt, Toledo

 

14. Jamaal Williams, BYU

 

15. Shock Linwood, Baylor

 

16. Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State

 

17. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

 

18. Javorius Allen, USC

 

19. Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State

 

20. Thomas Tyner, Oregon

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football: 2014 Running Back Rankings
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 10:00

Pages