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All taxonomy terms: 2012 NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-first-round-review-0
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The NFL ran its own version of the no-huddle on Thursday night as the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft was completed in three hours, a record in the modern draft day era according to the league.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— by Mark Ross, published on April 27, 2012

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

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

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports offers a summary of all that took place on Thursday night during the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 00:04
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-apr-26
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Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Series to Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— by Mark Ross, published on April 26, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports offers some news, notes and other things to watch to get you ready for this weekend's fantasy action on the baseball diamond</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 13:01
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-history-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-part-2
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The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft will commence on Thursday night, marking the 77th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting.” From Thursday through Saturday 253 college players will hear their names called, adding their name to the NFL history books, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Mark Ross, published on April 25, 2012

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

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

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 06:58
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-first-round-primer
Body:

The first-round of the 2012 NFL Draft begins Thursday night and although the Indianapolis Colts have the first pick, there's no mystery where the Colts or Washington, who have the second selection are going.

Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson confirmed on Tuesday what everyone already knew — that the Colts would take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. It's also pretty much a done deal that the next name NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces from his podium will be Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Baylor that the Redskins have had in their sights for some time.

Even though the identity of the first two picks in this year's draft is known that doesn't mean there's no reason to follow the rest of the first round. In fact, here are some story lines, players and teams to keep an eye on as the remaining 30 picks play out.

The Fun Starts at No. 3
Since it’s well known what direction the Colts and Redskins are going with the first two picks, that means the Minnesota Vikings, who have the third pick, are on the clock. It also means that what the Vikings decide to do with the pick – use it or trade it – could significantly impact or even alter how the first round plays out.

The Vikings are picking third because they finished 3-13 last season and are a team with plenty of holes to fill, so they could certainly use the pick to meet one of these needs with the player that’s at the top of their draft board at that position. Minnesota is reportedly considering three players with this pick – tackle Ryan Kalil from USC, cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

If presented with the offer, however, I think the Vikings would gladly move down from the No. 3 pick, in hopes of acquiring additional picks along the way. Again, the Vikings have many needs, and stockpiling picks would allow them the opportunity to address several of them.

Of the teams most likely to swing a deal and move up, I think you can put Miami, Jacksonville, Seattle and possibly Tampa Bay in that group. I also don’t think you can rule out New England, who has two first-round picks it can use as trade ammo, or Dallas, if anything because of Jerry Jones.

I the think the chances that the Vikings trade down are better than 50-50 at this point. However, if Minnesota doesn’t get the offer they are looking for and decided to keep the pick, I think the choice will be Kalil.

What Will the Browns Do?
Cleveland has the fourth pick, the first of its team’s 13 selections in this year’s draft, which is the most of any team. That’s the good news for Browns fans, the bad news is your team also has numerous holes to fill.

If the Vikings decide to trade down and get out of the third spot, then the teams that didn’t put in the winning bid for the pick could turn their attention to the Browns to get their guy at No. 4. However, the Browns are in a unique situation in that they have two first-round picks, Nos. 4 and 22, and 11 more after that, so they will probably only move out of the fourth spot if they are blown away with a package that greatly improves their positioning for the rest of the draft or nets them early future picks.

Since it appears the Browns will be staying put at No. 4, the question then becomes who do they take? Depending on what happens at No. 3, the Browns conceivably could have their pick of Ryan Tannehill, considered to be the best available quarterback on the board, running back Trent Richardson, far and away the top running back in this year’s draft, Blackmon, largely considered the No. 1 wide receiver option, or perhaps even Kalil, the best offensive lineman available. Any of these four would fill a significant need for the Browns.

In the end, I think it comes down to choosing between Richardson or Blackmon, depending on which player the front office and coaching staff likes best. Even though NFL teams are shying away from taking running backs with early first-round picks, I don’t think the Browns will let Richardson slide past them. Production in the running game was a big problem for the Browns’ offense last year, and Richardson by all measures is one of those unique talents that a team shouldn’t pass on.

Where Will Tannehill Land?
The aforementioned Tannehill, and not Luck or Griffin or anyone else, has arguably received the most buzz and attention in recent weeks. The wide receiver-turned-quarterback’s stock has intermittently soared and plummeted on respective draft boards, depending on who you ask.

Teams reportedly seriously interested in the former Texas A&M signal-caller include Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami and Seattle. All of these teams are slotted in the top 12, but the consensus among draft pundits is that Tannehill will be off the board as early as No. 3 and no later than the eighth pick.

Minnesota has the third pick and they took a quarterback (Christian Ponder) in the third round last year, so the only way Tannehill goes at No. 3 is if the Vikings trade out of that spot. Miami is currently in the eighth slot and are said to be the team that’s highest on Tannehill. The fact that Tannehill’s former college coach, Mike Sherman, is the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator does nothing to diffuse this idea.

If the Dolphins do want Tannehill, do they want him bad enough to trade up to either the third or fourth spot, currently held by Cleveland, to ensure that they get him? In my opinion the Vikings seem more likely than the Browns to trade down in this draft, but either way the price is sure to be high for the Dolphins.

Miami has eight picks in this year’s draft, including an additional third-round selection they got from Chicago in the Brandon Marshall deal. If they do trade up, it more than likely will cost them either a first- or second-round pick in next year’s draft to get a deal done. If that’s the case, the Dolphins’ front office has to decide whether that’s a price their willing to get Tannehill, who is anything but a can’t-miss prospect, or do they take their chances and see if he’s still there at No. 8?

The bigger question is if the Dolphins don’t take Tannehill, then who does? Do the Browns, Jaguars or Seahawks like him enough to pull the trigger early? Or does Tannehill do his best Brady Quinn imitation and become the last man waiting in the green room?

I would be surprised if Tannehill slips past No. 8 and I think in the end, he will be taking his talents to South Beach. After all, the last time the Dolphins drafted a quarterback in the first round was in 1983. The quarterback they took 19 years ago with the 27th pick in the first round? Dan Marino. That worked out pretty well for the Dolphins didn’t it?

Players to Watch

Mark Barron, S, Alabama
LSU’s Claiborne is considered the best defensive back prospect in this year’s draft, but Barron isn’t too far behind and he’s the No. 1 safety. His size and overall skill set could be tempting enough for a team with a need at the position to trade up in order to get him. Barron is projected by most to go somewhere in the 12-17 range.

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
This year’s workout warrior at the Scouting Combine, Poe’s stock seems to have fallen just as quickly as it rose back in February. Poe appears to be the complete package on paper, it’s the lack of production on the field that’s causing teams to think long and hard about calling his name early in the first round. Plenty of teams have a need for a defensive tackle, and Poe is considered among the best available at the position. But if Poe makes it past the teens, he could be waiting until the end of the first round to hear Commissioner Goodell announce his name.

Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Fellow linebacker Von Miller went No. 2 overall last year to Denver. Kuechly won’t go that high, mainly because the Redskins are taking Griffin with the second pick, but the tackling machine should be the first linebacker to come off the board, most likely in the 10-15 range. Like Barron, Kuechly is another player that a specific team could trade up for to grab.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
As has already been mentioned above, he could go as early as third overall if the Vikings decide to trade down or the Dolphins could wait to see if he’s still there at No. 8. If he gets past Miami, it will be interesting to see which team decides to pull the trigger and when.

Teams to Watch

Cleveland Browns
The Browns have 13 picks in this year’s draft, the most of any team. Cleveland has two first-round picks (Nos. 4 and 22) and five of the first 100. The Browns have many needs to fill and should be in a position to address several of them, especially in the early rounds.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota has the No. 3 pick and because the entire world knows the first two picks are going to be Luck and Griffin, all eyes are on them. The Vikings can either use the pick to address one of their most pressing needs or they can trade out of the spot in hopes of improving either their position in this year’s draft or a future draft. What the Vikings end up doing could dictate how the first round plays out.

New England Patriots
For once, the Patriots don’t have an abundance of draft picks to work with as they have a total of six in 2012. However, that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick and co. won’t be heard from this year as they have two first-round choices (Nos. 27 and 31) and a total of five in the first 100 picks. New England could use some young talent and fresh blood to help revitalize a defense that finished next-to-last in the league in 2011.

Don’t rule out the hooded one from doing what he’s done better than anyone in the draft – working with what he has to improve his draft position to get who he wants. In this case, don’t be surprised if New England tries to package some of their picks together to move up and take one of the impact defensive players, like a Barron or one of the defensive linemen.

St. Louis Rams
The Rams are also in an interesting spot, having already traded down from No. 2 with the Redskins. The Rams got an extra second-round pick in this year’s draft as well as the Redskin’s first-round picks in 2013 and ’14. It’s not out of the question that the Rams could trade down again in order to stockpile even more picks as new coach Jeff Fisher looks to remodel the roster to his liking.

Washington Redskins
Yes, the Redskins are getting Griffin, the guy they wanted all along, but it also cost them a lot – a second-round pick this year, along with their first-round picks the next two years. During Daniel Snyder’s tenure as Redskins’ owner, the team’s success in the draft has been spotty at best, thanks in large part to focusing more on free agency rather than the draft as the means to improve their roster.

And just because they made the trade to secure Griffin at No. 2 doesn’t mean this stance is going to change anytime soon. After they make it official and take Griffin with the second overall pick, the Redskins won’t be on the clock again until early in the third round (No. 69) and then have five picks after that, including two fourth-round selections.

Remember, this is a team that was originally slotted to pick No. 6 because they were just 5-11 in 2011. The Redskins have a lot of holes to fill, and while Griffin addresses their biggest need, they still have a lot of work to do, which must be accomplished with the inventory of picks they have to work with. This puts even more pressure on those who will be in the Redskins’ war room to target and draft those players in the later rounds who best fit their needs. This is a team that can’t afford many “misses” in this year’s draft.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 25, 2012

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

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

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports looks at some story lines, players and teams to watch as the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft unfolds on Thursday night</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-history-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-part-1
Body:

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

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

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

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

1998 NFL Draft
We start with 1998 because of the obvious synergy with this year’s draft involving No. 1 picks, quarterbacks and the Indianapolis Colts. In 1998, the Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1 overall over Ryan Leaf. While Manning is no longer with the Colts, no one can say the franchise didn’t make the right pick as Manning led them to 150 wins, eight divisional titles, two AFC championships and a win in Super Bowl XLVI in 2007. The Chargers didn’t have near the same success with Leaf, who lasted just three seasons in the league and won a total of four games in his short-lived career. To make matters worse, Leaf has had his share of personal and legal issues since his NFL playing days.

Just like what happened with Manning in 1998, the Colts are hoping history will repeat itself 14 years later as they have informed Andrew Luck they will take him with the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday night. The Colts have decided to go with Luck over Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who will presumably go to the Washington Redskins at No. 2. Whether Luck becomes the second coming of Manning for the Colts remains to be seen, but the Redskins certainly hope that Griffin doesn’t follow in the forgettable footsteps of Leaf.

Solid Picks: The Colts weren’t the only team to draft a franchise player in 1998. The Raiders took Charles Woodson with the fourth overall pick and the Vikings took a chance on Randy Moss that turned out pretty well for them. Fred Taylor and Alan Faneca also were taken in the first round. Other players selected include Olin Kreutz (3rd – No. 64), Hines Ward (3rd – No. 92), Matt Birk (6th – No. 173), and Matt Hasselbeck (6th – No. 187).

Busts: While Leaf is certainly the headline in terms of busts from the 1998 draft, he was not alone as many recall the career of Andre Wadsworth, who went No. 3 overall to the Arizona Cardinals, and Bears’ fans are still trying to forget Curtis Enis, who was taken with the fifth pick.

Sleepers: Besides a franchise quarterback, the Colts also ended up with an All-Pro offensive lineman from the class of 1998. Jeff Saturday, Manning’s long-time center, originally signed as an undrafted free agent with Baltimore. He ended up in Indianapolis in 1999 and went to become a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro in his 13 years with the Colts. London Fletcher and David Akers also went undrafted, but ended up on an NFL roster and both made the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro recognition in 2011.

1999 NFL Draft
Although this draft is probably remembered more for the New Orleans Saints trading all of their picks in 1999 plus two more in 2000 to the Redskins for Ricky Williams, it also represented the last draft in which the first two players taken were quarterbacks. In fact, quarterbacks were taken with the first three selections as the Cleveland Browns took Tim Couch, the Philadelphia Eagles took Donovan McNabb and the Cincinnati Bengals took Akili Smith.

Everyone knows what happened after that, Couch never panned out, lasting just five seasons and finishing his career with more interceptions (67) than touchdowns (64). Smith fared even worse, as he was in the league for four seasons, but only played in a total of 22 games. McNabb clearly had the best career of the three and now will wait to see if his overall body of work (37,276 passing yards and 234 passing touchdowns, 3,459 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns) is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.

Solid Picks: After the Saints took Williams fifth overall, the St. Louis Rams selected Torry Holt and the Redskins took Champ Bailey. Holt retired as a Ram earlier this month after a productive 11-year career, while Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowler, is entering his 14th year in league, ninth with the Denver Broncos, this fall. The Steelers took both Joey Porter (3rd – No. 73) and Aaron Smith (4th – No. 109), while the Green Bay Packers drafted Donald Driver in the seventh round (No. 213), who has since become the Packers’ all-time leading receiver.

Busts: Couch and Smith weren’t the only quarterbacks taken in the first round who didn’t pan out. The Bears took Cade McNown with the twelfth overall pick. McNown’s career was even shorter than Smith’s, as he was done after the 2000 season after winning three games in 15 career starts under center.

Sleepers: I’m not so sure two punters (Chris Hanson and Brian Moorman) qualify, although both had careers that lasted more than 10 years and earned at least one Pro Bowl invitation.

2000 NFL Draft
Let’s face it, the first draft of the 21st century will forever be known as the Tom Brady draft. The Patriots took Brady, a relatively unknown quarterback from Michigan with 199th overall pick in the sixth round. Three Super Bowl rings, nearly 40,000 yards passing, 300 touchdowns, 124 regular-season wins and counting, this is arguably the greatest value pick in the history of the NFL Draft.

Solid Picks: That’s not to say Brady was the ONLY player taken in the 2000 draft, mind you. The Ravens took running back Jamal Lewis, who had just the fifth 2,000-yard season in NFL history in 2006, with the fifth overall pick, and the Arizona Cardinals selected fellow back Thomas Jones seventh. Jones has rushed for more than 10,000 yards in his career. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Plaxico Burress with the eighth overall pick, but unfortunately Burress’ career will always be overshadowed by what took place off the field, rather than on it.

Chicago got Brian Urlacher with the ninth pick and he quickly became the next great Bear linebacker, following the likes of Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. The New York Jets got more than lucky with John Abraham at No. 13, while the Seattle Seahawks took Shaun Alexander from Alabama with the 19th pick. All Alexander did was earn NFL MVP honors in 2005 as he led the league in both rushing (1,880 yards) and touchdowns (27) as the Seahawks rode his legs all the way to the Super Bowl.

Also let’s give some credit to the Oakland Raiders, who have earned more than fair share of criticism when it comes to draft decisions. In 2000, however, they got two picks right when they selected kicker Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th overall pick and punter Shane Lechler in the 5th round (No. 142). All these two have done is form the NFL’s most valuable kicking duo for 12 years running. Too bad their success and productivity hasn’t rubbed off on the team as a whole.

Busts: The Browns missed big on Courtney Brown, who they took No. 1 overall. Brown never adjusted to the pro game, lasting just six forgettable seasons. The Bengals didn’t fare much better with Peter Warrick, who they took with the fourth overall pick, and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who was selected by the Giants at No. 11, was never able to establish himself in the NFL.

Sleepers: As has already been mentioned, Brady is probably the biggest draft sleeper of all time, but he was drafted. That was not the case for offensive linemen Shaun O’Hara and Brian Waters. O’Hara won a Super Bowl with the Giants, while Waters is a two-time All-Pro and been named to six Pro Bowls in his career.

2001 NFL Draft
The Atlanta Falcons and the San Diego Chargers swapped first-round picks, a trade which gave the Falcons the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for a third-round pick in 2001, second-rounder in 2002 and a player (wide receiver Tim Dwight). All in all, it was a trade that worked out for both sides as the Falcons took Michael Vick with the first pick and the Chargers ended up with LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 5. Vick took what was a moribund franchise to new heights and helped usher in a new era of athletic, mobile quarterbacks, while Tomlinson, who is currently third on the all-time touchdowns list and fifth in rushing yards, will go into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.

Solid Picks: Besides Tomlinson, Richard Seymour (No. 6 overall) and Steve Hutchinson (No. 17) could both end up in the Hall of Fame eventually. Other notable first-round selections include Justin Smith (No. 4), Santana Moss (No. 16), Deuce McAllister (No. 23), Reggie Wayne (No. 30) and Todd Heap (No. 31). Drew Brees (No. 32) was taken by the Chargers with the first pick in the second round and Chad Johnson was taken by the Bengals four picks later. The New England Patriots took Matt Light (No. 48) later in the second round. Light is expected to retire at some point this offseason after a 10-year career as the Patriots’ left tackle otherwise known as the blindside protector for the aforementioned Brady. In the third round, the Carolina Panthers selected Steve Smith (No. 74), who holds all of the franchise’s receiving records.

Busts: While Wayne, Johnson and Smith were hits for their respective teams, there were several wide receivers drafted in 2001 that ended up being big misses. In the first round alone, the Bears whiffed on David Terrell (No. 8 overall), the Redskins with Rod Gardner (No. 15) and the Eagles with Freddie Mitchell (No. 25). Mitchell was known more for what he said (including his infamous “FredEx” nickname) than what he accomplished on the field. Not what you want in any draft pick, let alone a first-rounder.

Sleepers: The Redskins signed linebacker Antonio Pierce, who would go on to make the Pro Bowl as a Redskin in 2006, as an undrafted free agent, while the Tennessee Titans (Rob Bironas) and Buffalo Bills (Shayne Graham) signed reliable kickers. Bironas was named first-team All-Pro in 2007, while Graham would only be with the Bills for one season before eventually becoming a Pro Bowler with the Bengals. Several other solid players got their start as undrafted free agents in 2001, including offensive lineman Stephen Neal (Patriots) and Rich Seubert (New York Giants).

2002 NFL Draft
Another draft with quarterbacks taken early that didn’t pan out. This time it was David Carr, who the Houston Texans took with the franchise’s first-ever No. 1 overall pick. Carr spent most of his five years with the Texans running around for this life, as he was sacked a NFL-record 76 times in his first year. It didn’t get much better in the years that followed as in many ways Carr was a victim of a lack of support. Detroit took Joey Harrington third, who in four years with the Lions won just 26 games and finished with more interceptions (62) than touchdown passes (60).

Solid Picks: In between the two quarterbacks, the Carolina Panthers selected defensive end Julius Peppers with the second overall pick. The athletic freak of nature was named the 2002 NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year and racked up 81 sacks and 37 forced fumbles in his eight years with the Panthers. He signed with the Bears as a free agent in 2010 and is still one of the NFL’s most-feared defensive players. The Colts also selected a defensive end with their first-round selection, Dwight Freeney (No. 11), and like Peppers, Freeney is a three-time, first-team All-Pro and has 102.5 sacks in his career.

While Peppers and Freeney could end up enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton when their careers are over, one player who’s already secured his spot is Ed Reed. The Ravens drafted the dynamic ball-hawk from Miami with the 24th overall pick and he has not disappointed. Reed is an eight-time Pro Bowlers, been named first-team All-Pro five times and is ninth in career interceptions with 57. The 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year, Reed is the record-holder for longest interception return in NFL history, 108 yards.

The 2002 NFL Draft also had Clinton Portis (No. 51) and Brian Westbrook (No. 91) taken in the second and third rounds, respectively.

Busts: Besides Carr and Harrington, other first-round picks that didn’t exactly work out included defensive tackle Ryan Sims (Chiefs – No. 6), running back William Green (Browns – No. 16), wide receiver Ashely Lelie (Broncos – No. 19), and quarterback Patrick Ramsey (Redskins – No. 32).

Sleepers: The Steelers and the Ravens both found hidden gems among the undrafted free agents as the Steelers signed James Harrison and the Ravens brought in Bart Scott. Harrison was the 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year, while Scott was a key member of the Ravens’ defense, which consistently ranked among the NFL’s best, for seven seasons.

Part 2: 2003-07 NFL Drafts

— by Mark Ross, published on April 23, 2012

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

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

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

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<p> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
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The NFL released its 2012 regular-season schedule on Tuesday night, laying out the slate of 256 games that will start in September and carry through December. Here are some of the games that caught our attention.

2012’s Must-See NFL Regular-Season Match Ups
(listed in chronological order)

Sept. 9, San Francisco at Green Bay
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants get the spotlight on Wednesday, opening up the 2012 NFL regular season by hosting Dallas at home, but the game to watch in Week 1 may just be this one. The top seeds from last season’s NFC playoffs meet in Green Bay as the Packers (No. 1) welcome San Francisco (No. 2) to Lambeau Field.

This figures to be a contrast of strengths as reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense (No. 1 in the NFL in scoring in 2011) will face off against All-Pros Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman and the rest of the 49ers’ stout defense (No. 4 in total defense). The game also features a battle of coaching acumen between Mike McCarthy, who was the 49ers offensive coordinator before becoming the Packers’ head coach, and Jim Harbaugh, the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 2011.

Sept. 9, Pittsburgh at Denver
Peyton Manning will make his Denver Broncos debut at home on Sunday night, which is a must-see event in and of itself, but the NFL didn’t do him or the Broncos any favors with their opponent. Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers come back to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where their 2011 season came to a stunning end, thanks to a 80-yard Tim Tebow-to-Demaryius Thomas connection just 11 seconds into overtime.

Tebow is now with the New York Jets, but the Broncos replaced him with Manning, the four-time NFL MVP. With Manning under center, the Broncos’ offense figures to be more dynamic and dangerous in the passing game, but may not be clicking on all cylinders come Week 1. The Steelers’ defense, which was No. 1 in the NFL in both total and scoring defense last season, will not only offer a good barometer of what Broncos’ fans can expect in 2012 from the revamped offense, it also will apply all the pressure it can on Manning to see if he’s fully recovered from his neck injuries and lengthy absence from the field.

Sept. 30, Buffalo at New England
On the surface this Week 4 encounter may not seem like a must-see match up, considering New England is the defending AFC Champion and Buffalo finished 6-10. However, remember that the AFC East foes split their two meetings in 2011. The Bills won the first game in Week 3 of last season, overcoming a 21-0 second-quarter deficit and kicking a game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock to secure the 34-31 thrilling victory at home. The win also snapped the Bills; 15-game losing streak to the Patriots.

The Patriots got even in the regular-season finale, but it wasn’t easy. This time it was Buffalo who jumped out to a 21-0 lead in Foxboro in the first quarter before Tom Brady and the Patriots answered back. And they answered back in a big way, out-scoring the Bills 49-0 in the final three quarters to become the first NFL team in history to win a game by 20 or more points in which they trailed by 20 or more points.

The Bills finished the season ranked No. 26 in the league in total defense, but signed former Houston Texan Mario Williams as a free agent to help fix that. The former No. 1 overall pick signed a six-year contract that could be worth up to $100 million, the first-ever such pact for a defensive player. The Bills added Williams to show their serious about defense and getting back to postseason and this first match up against Brady and Patriots’ offense, which finished No. 2 in the NFL in total offense in 2011, in Foxboro will be as good a test as any.

Sept. 30, New Orleans at Green Bay
The winners of the previous two Super Bowls heading into last season served as the opening act for the 2011 regular season last September, a game won by the Packers 42-34. The Saints return to Lambeau again this September and fans can expect plenty of offensive fireworks.

The Saints finished 2011 No. 1 in total offense, with the Packers coming in at No. 3 and both teams averaged more than 34 points per game. This Week 4 meeting also means the Saints will have already played three games, so hopefully by the time they play the Packers they will have completely shifted their focus from their tumultuous offseason to on-the-field business.

Oct. 7 Denver at New England
Yes, it’s Manning vs. Brady, although No. 18 will be a different uniform this time around, but this game offers much more than that. First there’s the matter of the 45-10 beat down the Patriots gave the Broncos in last year’s playoffs. Denver gets to return to the scene of the crime, if you will, and try and exact a little payback.

There’s also the Josh McDaniels factor. McDaniels left the Patriots in 2009 to become the Broncos’ head coach. Among the things McDaniels did while he was leading the Broncos was trade then-quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears, ship Brandon Marshall off to the Dolphins and then trade up back into the first round to draft Tim Tebow in the 2010 NFL Draft.

McDaniels never found success on the field as Denver went 11-17 in his two seasons before being fired following the end of the 2010 season. McDaniels resurfaced last season as the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator, but was let go after the season following the dismissal of head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

The Patriots brought him back into the fold during last season’s playoff run, during he served as an offensive assistant coach. When Bill O’Brien left to become the head coach at Penn State, Bill Belichick tabbed McDaniels once again as his offensive coordinator. You have to think McDaniels has definitely circled this game on his calendar.

Oct. 7, San Diego at New Orleans
Three seasons ago, the Chargers finished 13-3, which tied for the second-best record in all of the NFL. Seemingly a team on the brink of putting it all together, Norv Turner’s squad has missed the playoffs the past two seasons. Both times they were done in by slow starts, struggling to a 2-5 start in 2010 and suffering a crushing six-game losing streak following their bye week last season.

Turner is still calling the shots and the Chargers, led by quarterback Phillip Rivers, appear to have the pieces in place to contend in the AFC West, although they did lose wide receiver Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay in free agency. If the Chargers are to be taken seriously, they must get off to a better start. This match up against Drew Brees and the Saints in the Big Easy, along with a Sept. 23 visit from the Falcons will serve as early indicators of whether they are contenders, or once again, pretenders, in 2012.

Oct. 14, Green Bay at Houston
The Giants and the Patriots played each other in Week 9 of last season, and at the time few people, if any, thought we would see them face off again in Super Bowl XLVI. Could this Week 6 Sunday night contest between Green Bay and Houston serve as the precursor for Super Bowl XLVII?

It’s entirely possible, but even if they don’t see one another again the rest of the way, this figures to be a highly entertaining game as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will travel to Houston to face the Texans, a team that appears to be on the cusp of taking that next step as a contender. The match up of the Packers’ offense versus the Texans’ defense (No. 2 in total defense in 2011) will be a fun one to watch, as will Clay Mathews, Charles Woodson and company trying to slow down Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson on their home turf.

Nov. 4, Carolina at Washington
This Week 9 offering is all about the quarterbacks. If everything goes according to plan in next week’s NFL Draft, the last two Heisman Trophy winners should be under center. The Panthers’ Cam Newton, who won the Heisman in 2010 and followed that up by being named Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, will have the experience edge over the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, the reigning Heisman Trophy recipient, who is expected to be the starter by this point.

Both quarterbacks are similar in style, as they can beat you with their arm and their legs, and the Redskins and coach Mike Shanahan would like nothing more than for Griffin to follow in Newton’s footsteps in his first NFL season. Last season, Newton set numerous records, including most passing yards by a rookie (4,051) and the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14).

Nov. 22, Houston at Detroit
The first-game in a stuffed Thanksgiving triple-header (Washington at Dallas, New England at New York Jets are the other games), Detroit’s successful 2011 season, which ended the Lions’ 11-year playoff drought, adds even more significance to this game against Houston. Besides being a match up of two teams who will more than likely be in the thick of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences, this game features several of the NFL’s rising stars.

Both teams have potent offenses and while Houston’s defense (No. 2 in total defense in 2011) may have been more productive, the Lions’ defense is already pretty nasty in one sense, and has the pieces and potential to be fairly stingy in the other.

The Texans’ offense includes quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster, while the Lions counter with quarterback Matthew Stafford, but all eyes will be on the wide receivers. It’s a Johnson vs. Johnson face off as the Lions’ Calvin and the Texans’ Andre will get the chance to steal the spotlight from the other on Thanksgiving Day.

Nov. 25, Green Bay at New York Giants
The last two Super Bowl winners face off in this Week 12 Sunday night affair as the Giants welcome the Packers. The reigning champs ended the Packers’ 2011 season with a convincing 37-20 victory in Lambeau in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs, and Green Bay would like nothing more than to return the favor this time around in MetLife Stadium in the Big Apple.

Besides the payback factor, the outcome of this game could go a long ways to deciding playoff seeding in the NFC, if not much more. Remember last year the Giants defeated the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs. Had they not won that game, they wouldn’t be hosting the Packers in this game as the defending Super Bowl champions.

Nov. 26, Carolina at Philadelphia
It remains to be seen if this Week 12 contest will have any playoff-related implications or not. But one thing this Monday night game does offer is a great quarterback pairing. It could be the passing of the guard as Michael Vick and his Eagles welcome Cam Newton and the Panthers to Lincoln Field.

Besides representing Newton’s inaugural appearance in the coveted Monday night time slot, this could serve as a passing of the guard between the two signal callers whose style of play appear to mirror one another. Vick burst on the scene after the Falcons drafted him No. 1 overall in 2001 and immediately dazzled and thrilled with his athleticism, dual-threat abilities and numerous highlight-reel plays.

Vick will be 32 once the 2012 NFL season starts, while Newton, who the Panthers took No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft, is nine years younger. Despite the critics and skeptics, Newton put together arguably the best statistics of any rookie quarterback in NFL history, shattering numerous records along the way with both his arm and his legs. There’s no more fitting backdrop than this Monday night to witness the passing of the torch between these two dynamic quarterbacks.

Dec. 10, Houston at New England
AFC supremacy, including possibly the top seed in the playoffs, could be on the line in Week 14 when Houston travels to New England for this Monday night contest. New England captured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs last season thanks to a 13-3 mark and rode home-field advantage to the Super Bowl.

The Texans, meanwhile, won the AFC South with a 10-6 mark, earning the first playoff berth in the franchise’s 10-year history. The Texans defeated the Bengals in the Wildcard Round only to fall to the Ravens 20-13 in the Divisional Round. If Houston wants to take that next step toward becoming a legitimate championship contender, a victory over the Patriots in New England would go a long ways, for both 2012 and beyond.

Dec. 16, Pittsburgh at Dallas
Winners of a combined 11 Super Bowls will meet up in the regular season in Week 15 when Dallas hosts Pittsburgh. The two have actually faced each other in the Super Bowl three times with the Steelers claiming victory in Super Bowls X and XIII, while the Cowboys won the most recent title game match up, a 27-17 victory in Super Bowl XXX in 1996.

The Cowboys hold a 14-13 head-to-head advantage over the Steelers in regular-season meetings, but Pittsburgh has won the last two (2004 and ’08). Given the history and winning tradition associated with these two proud, long-standing franchises, this is a game that’s sure to attract plenty of attention.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 18, 2012

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<p> Athlon Sports presents its list of NFL regular-season games you don't want to miss in 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 12:44
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The 2012 NFL season is still more than four months away from kicking off, but the path to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans is set. The NFL released its 2012 regular-season schedule on Tuesday. Here are some highlights of the upcoming slate.

Heavy is the Schedule For the Team That Wears the Crown
Seven teams have won consecutive Super Bowls in NFL history, the last being the New England Patriots in 2004-05. The New York Giants will aim to accomplish this feat this season, but the road back to the Super Bowl will be anything but easy. The Giants open the 2012 season by hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 5. Besides their NFC East division games against the ‘Boys, Eagles and Redskins, the G-Men’s schedule includes games against seven teams that made the playoffs last year.

The Giants’ other games against NFC opponents include trips to both Atlanta and San Francisco, and a home game against Green Bay, the three teams they defeated to get to the Super Bowl last year. The Giants also host New Orleans, who won its division last season, and all four AFC North teams – Baltimore (road), Cincinnati (road), Cleveland (home) and Pittsburgh (home).

Rough Ride Ahead for Manning, Broncos
Welcome to Denver Peyton. I hope you are taking full advantage of the uninterrupted offseason to get acclimated with your new surroundings and team because the league sure didn’t do you or the Broncos any favors schedule-wise. Year 1 for Manning in Denver opens in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would like nothing more than to exact a little revenge for last season’s stunning overtime playoff loss in Denver. That’s followed by a trip to Atlanta and a visit from Houston, Manning’s former AFC South divisional foe who are coached by former Bronco assistant Gary Kubiak.

It just wouldn’t be right if Manning and Tom Brady didn’t face one another at some point during the season, and this year’s match up comes Oct. 7 in New England, where the Broncos’ 2011 campaign ended unceremoniously in a 45-10 playoff beat down provided by the Patriots. The Broncos then fly back west to meet Phillip Rivers and the Chargers in San Diego on Monday Night Football in their last game before their Week 7 bye.

After the bye, the Broncos host the Saints on Sunday night, and go to Cincinnati and Carolina the next two Sundays. The final seven games include four divisional contests, including trips to Kansas City and Oakland, along with a Week 15 visit to Baltimore to play the Ravens.

Welcome to the League Rookies
Barring something unforeseen happening, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are fully expected to be the first two picks in next week’s NFL Draft, where they will be taken by the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, respectively. It's also possible that both will be under center starting in Week 1. So what lies ahead for the two first-year signal callers?

The Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft and inserted him as the starter in Week 1. If history repeats itself in 2012 the former Stanford star will need every bit of Luck he can muster as he will make his NFL debut in Chicago against Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the rest of the Bears defense. Luck also will have the opportunity to observe some of the league’s premier quarterbacks in action as the Colts’ schedule includes a home game against reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and his Packers on Oct. 7 and a Nov. 18 visit to Gillette Stadium, home to Tom Brady and the defending AFC champion Patriots.

Luck’s other inaugural NFL road tests include games against the Jets in the Big Apple, the Lions in Detroit and the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Colts and Steelers also have the earliest bye week, coming in Week 4, meaning Luck’s first season will have him dealing with a stretch of 13 straight games. Luck and Stanford played 13 games in 2011, but not in a row, and nearly 40 days separated the Cardinal’s regular-season finale from their appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

If Redskins coach Mike Shanahan inserts RGIII as his starting quarterback right away, the Heisman Trophy winner will start his NFL career on the road in New Orleans against the defending NFC South champion Saints. His home debut would come in Week 3 against Cincinnati and the Skins’ three games leading up to their bye in Week 10 have them on the road in back-to-back weeks facing the Giants and Steelers followed by a home date with the Carolina Panthers in a match up featuring the last two Heisman winners – Griffin and Cam Newton.

Following the bye, Griffin will familiarize himself with his NFC East rivals as the Redskins will play five of their six divisional games in the final seven weeks of the season. Their post-bye slate opens up with the Eagles on Nov. 18 with a trip to Dallas just four days later. The Giants come calling the first Monday in December followed by the Ravens that next Sunday. Washington concludes the regular season with a trip to Philadelphia and a Dec. 30 home date versus the Cowboys.

Turkey Day Trifecta
Thanksgiving and football go hand in hand. This season the NFL has done its part, serving up three mouth-watering match ups for fans to feast on. The appetizer will be Houston at Detroit. Not only will this game feature two of the league’s up-and-coming teams, but it also will have two All-Pro wide receivers named Johnson – Calvin and Andre – in action.

The main course, if you will, is a NFC East showdown between Washington and Dallas in the house that Jerry Jones built. This is always a tasty match up, regardless of the records, but the presumed presence of the aforementioned Griffin in a Redskin uniform only adds to the intrigue. Griffin won the Heisman last year playing for Baylor and went to high school in Copperas Cove, which is about three hours away from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington making this somewhat of a homecoming for him.

And to finish things off, the NFL Network will serve up New England at the Jets on Thursday night to round out this football feast. This won’t be the first time these AFC East divisional rivals will have met during the regular season, but still it’s the Patriots vs. Jets, Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan, Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow, oops, I mean Mark Sanchez. What better way to end a day that’s all about family, friendship and food than to watch two teams that absolutely, positively can’t stand one another leave it all on the football field?

Monsters of Monday Night
The Chicago Bears have already reunited wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler through an offseason trade and the duo will get plenty of chances to showcase their chemistry in a coveted time slot. The Bears are the only team scheduled to make three appearances on Monday night. Contrast that to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the New England Patriots, who the Giants defeated in Super Bowl XLVI, who each have just one Monday night game on tap.

Chicago will travel to Dallas on Oct. 1 to play the Cowboys, host Detroit in a key NFC North match up on Oct. 22, and face off against former Bear and current San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers on their home turf on Nov. 19.

Coach, I Don’t Think You’re in Piscataway Anymore
Tampa Bay reached into the collegiate ranks to fill its head coaching vacancy, luring Greg Schiano away from Rutgers. The Bucs then presented free agent acquisitions Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright as housewarming gifts to their new coach.

Once the season starts, however, the Bucs’ early season opponents will be more than willing to pull the welcome mat out from under Schiano’s feet. He will make his NFL head coaching debut at home against NFC South foe Carolina and then instead of the Big East, he will get a full helping of the NFC East, as Tampa Bay’s next three games are on the road against the Giants and Cowboys, followed by a home date with the Redskins.

Schiano and the Bucs will get to catch their breaths in Week 5 with a bye, which also will allow them the chance to prepare for the rest of their slate which includes home games against the Chargers and Eagles, along with a trip to Denver and two games against both Atlanta and New Orleans. There isn’t a Tulane or Howard, Rutgers’ first two opponents this season, anywhere to be found on this slate.

What We Won’t See
Those who were hoping for a New York Giants vs. New England Patriots rematch this year are out of luck. Next January? We’ll have to wait and see. Speaking of Luck, while Andrew and RGIII will most likely go Nos. 1 and 2 in the upcoming NFL Draft, they won’t get the chance to size each other up on the field as the Colts do not play the Panthers in 2012.

The Jets and Broncos don’t meet up in the regular season either, meaning any Tebow reunion with his former teammates will have to wait until the playoffs, if it even happens at all. We also won’t see Sean Payton on the sidelines this entire season as he serves his one-year suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the Saints’ defense’s bounty system.

What you will see is a full 17 weeks of NFL action that will carry you from September to the end of the year and set the stage for another exciting postseason starting in January. Now we just have to wait a mere 140 days for the games to begin. Sept. 5 can’t come soon enough.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 18, 2012

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

David Wright’s Latest Tough Break
Poor David Wright, he just can’t seem to catch a break. Well, actually he did and that’s the problem for both him and his fantasy owners. Wright, the Mets’ third baseman who was plagued by injuries last season and dealt with a abdominal issue in spring training, was off to a sizzling start to the season. In the first four games, Wright had gone 7-12 (.583 average) with one home run and four RBIs.

Unfortunately, Wright injured his right pinkie finger sliding back into first base on a pickoff throw in Monday’s game against Washington. Further examination revealed he fractured the finger and while he has yet to be placed on the disabled list, he missed the Mets’ next two games, which coincidentally were the first two the team lost after starting 4-0.

Wright may be back in the lineup on Friday against Philadelphia as for now he’s wearing a splint and hoping to avoid surgery. If he does try and play with the broken pinkie, you have to figure at the least he will be limited at the plate. If he does go on the DL, the Mets will probably move Daniel Murphy to third and put Justin Turner at second base.

Murphy is off to a solid start at the plate, hitting .320 with three doubles and three RBIs, and his versatility adds to his fantasy value. However, the left-handed hitter doesn’t have near the power (20 career home runs in three MLB seasons) that Wright has.

Turner is more of an unknown, but could be worth a look in deeper leagues if he gets the starting job at second because of Murphy moving to third. In his first full major league season last year, Turner hit .260 with four home runs, 51 RBIs, 49 runs scored and 30 doubles in a little more than 400 at bats.

If Wright does go on the DL one replacement option, depending on the size and position eligibility requirements of your league, could be David Freese, who’s picked up where he left off during last year’s World Series, hitting .429 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his first seven games. If he stays healthy, Freese could be in for a big season.

Other names to consider include Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion, who’s off to a decent start (.269-1-6, 2 SB), San Diego’s Chase Headley, who hit a grand slam Sunday against the Dodgers, and Arizona’s Ryan Roberts, who could provide a little pop and speed as he posted a near 20-20 campaign (19 HR/18 SB) last season with the Diamondbacks.

There’s also Chipper Jones, who had knee surgery during spring training, but came out swinging when he made his season debut on Tuesday with a home run. Health and regular playing time are things to take into consideration with Jones, who is playing in his final season, but the veteran switch-hitter’s resume speaks for itself - .304 career batting average, 455 home runs, 1,563 RBIs, more walks than strike outs in 19 seasons.

Struggling Aces
It’s still early, but several frontline pitchers who were undoubtedly drafted rather high by the vast majority of fantasy owners are aiming for a much better showing on the mound as they make their second starts on Thursday.

Dan Haren got knocked around by the Royals in his first start, giving up 11 hits, including two home runs, and five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. The good news is that he struck out five, while just walking one and this time around he will take the mound against Minnesota in Target Field. The Twins are currently second-to-last in the majors with just 12 runs scored through their first five games and as a team they are hitting .190 entering Thursday’s game against Haren and the Angels.

San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner was a popular Cy Young pick headed into the season, but the 22-year-old lefty certainly didn’t get off to the start he was hoping for. Bumgarner lasted just four innings in his first start against Arizona, yielding four earned runs on seven hits, two of those leaving Chase Stadium, in just four innings. Unfortunately for Bumgarner, his second start comes today against a Colorado Rockies team that pounded out 22 hits and scored 17 runs against the Giants on Wednesday night.

The Cincinnati Reds gave up a lot to get Mat Latos in the offseason to be their ace, but he didn’t pitch like one in his first outing. Latos didn’t get out of the fifth inning against the Marlins in Great American Ballpark, giving up seven hits and four earned runs in the process. His second start will be on the road, taking on a Nationals team that’s gotten off to a 4-2 start.

These three are not the only top-flight starting pitchers struggling, however, as aces Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia are among those who have not had much success in their first two starts of the season.

Johnson, who was limited to just nine starts in 2011 due to shoulder issues, has been knocked around hard in his first two starts. Johnson, who held opposing hitters to a .185 average in 2010, has given up 21 hits in 9 2/3 innings (.447 average) to start the season.

Lincecum has looked nothing like his Cy Young self in his first two starts as his ERA currently stands at 12.91. He gave up five earned runs on six hits, two of those home runs, to the Diamondbacks on April 6, but still struck out seven with just one walk. On Wednesday night against the Rockies in Colorado, however, Lincecum didn’t make it out the third inning, as the Rockies collected eight hits and scored six runs in the shortest start (2 1/3 IP) of his career. There have already been questions raised regarding Lincecum’s diminished velocity, but command also has been an issue for the 27-year-old right-hander to start the season.

Sabathia won his second start, a 6-4 decision over Baltimore on Wednesday night, but the big lefty has surrendered 16 hits and nine earned runs in 12 innings so far. His ERA stands at 6.75 and although he has a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (5:15) right now, his owners no doubt would like him to not give up so many hits in the process.

It’s entirely too early to give up on any of these pitchers, but their next starts bear careful monitoring as the last thing any owner wants to do, especially to start the season, is have to worry about their ace hurler.

Weekend Series to Watch

Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees
The Yankees make their 2012 home debut on Friday, hosting Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols will look to get on track at the plate, as the slugger is hitting just .222 with two RBIs and one run scored in his first five games. This is Pujols’ first game in new Yankee Stadium. He went 3-10 with one HR in 2003 inter-league series with the Cardinals in old Yankee Stadium. As a team, the Angels have hit just two home runs in their first five games.

For the Yankees, Derek Jeter has gotten off to a sensational start, batting .370 with one home run, which is the same number that Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have hit combined. Granderson is the only one of this quartet to go deep so far, while Cano and Rodriguez are looking for their first RBI of the season. A-Rod has been struggling the most, as the third baseman is currently batting just .174 with a total of four hits in his first six games.

Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay travels to Boston for a four-game set starting Friday, which could go a long ways to determining how the AL East race plays out. The Rays are off to a 4-1 start entering Thursday’s series finale in Detroit thanks in large part to hot start of Carlos Pena. The first baseman has thrived in his second tour of duty with Tampa, as he’s batting .389 with two home runs and seven RBIs in his first five games. Last season with the Chicago Cubs, Pena didn’t hit his second home run until May 4.

Boston has struggled mightily out of the gate with just one win in its first six games. The bullpen has been a disaster as closer Alfredo Aceves (27.00 ERA) and setup man Mark Melancon (36.00 ERA) have each already blown a save and have combined surrendered more home runs (two) than strikeouts (one) so far. The offense hasn’t exactly done its part either with just two home runs and 22 runs scored to this point. Jacoby Ellsbury (.130, 2 RBI, 0 SB) and Kevin Youkilis (.100, 0 R, 0 RBI) both hope to find their hitting groove at home. Last season, Ellsbury batted .326 with 15 home runs and 19 stolen bases in home games, while Youkilis is a career .305 hitter at Fenway.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 12, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon has some things to watch to get you ready for this weekend's fantasy baseball action</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 12:46
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-early-top-25-2012-2013
Body:

Kentucky has cut down the nets and added another championship banner to Rupp Arena. The question now is how deep the NBA draft will cut into the Wildcats roster, and what kind of influx of talent will arrive in Lexington.

Ten days since the national championship game, the outlook for the 2012-13 is a little clearer. The NCAA deadline for college underclassmen to remove their names from NBA draft consideration passed April 10, but the NBA’s deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft is April 29. In short, any underclassman who declares between now and April 29 cannot return to school.

Most players around the country have declared their draft intentions, but some major notable exceptions apply, including five key players from Kentucky, Florida guard Bradley Beal and N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie.

As for the new roster additions for 2012-13, Kentucky added one more Wednesday to perhaps the nation’s top recruiting class with an announcement from center Nerlens Noel. A number of other top prospects could sign during spring signing period, but here’s our first look at the potential top teams for 2012-13.

1. INDIANA (27-9, 11-7 Big Ten)

Key departure: G Verdell Jones III

Key returnees: F Cody Zeller, F Christian Watford, G Jordan Hulls, G Victor Oladipo, G Maurice Creek, F Will Sheehey

Top newcomers: G Yogi Ferrell, F Jeremy Hollowell, F Hanner Perea

Outlook: After four seasons in the depths of the Big Ten, Indiana has turned the corner. The Hoosiers’ 27 wins last season was one fewer than the first three seasons of Tom Crean’s tenure combined. Look for Indiana to make another leap in 2012-13. Cody Zeller and Christian Watford announced they would remain in Bloomington, meaning Indiana will return its top five scorers. The Hoosiers also hope guard Maurice Creek, who missed all of last season with injury, will be able to contribute. If Indiana is going to be a Final Four-caliber team, though, the Hoosiers will need to improve their 3-6 mark in Big Ten road games. Verdell Jones is gone, but incoming freshman point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell will be a major addition.

 

2. KENTUCKY (38-2, 16-0 SEC)

Key departures: G Darius Miller

Still undecided: F Anthony Davis, F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F Terrence Jones, G Marquis Teague, G Doron Lamb

Key returnee: F Kyle Wiltjer

Top newcomers: C Willie Cauley, G Archie Goodwin, G Ryan Harrow, F Alex Poythress, C Nerlens Noel

Outlook: Kentucky’s top five underclassmen are waiting until the NBA’s April 29 deadline, but it’s safe to say the bulk of them, if not all, will head to the draft. As usual, that’s no cause for concern in Lexington. Cycle one recruiting class out, and bring in the next. On Wednesday, Kentucky added the replacement for Davis with an announcement – via a UK shaved into the back of his head – from center Nerlens Noel (the No. 1 prospect according to Scout.com and ESPN). On the same day, the Wildcats lost out on Shabazz Muhammad (the No. 1 prospect according to Rivals.com), who landed at UCLA. Still, Kentucky adds one of the nation’s elite freshman classes with Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley plus N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow. If forward Kyle Wiltjer is the only holdover from the 2011 class, he’s no throw in. He’ll be a star as a sophomore. And without Muhammad in the class, Kentucky is still pursuing another elite recruit during the spring signing period, forward Anthony Bennett.

 

3. KANSAS (32-7, 16-2 Big 12)

Key departures: F Thomas Robinson, G Tyshawn Taylor, G Conner Teahan

Key returnees: C Jeff Withey, G Elijah Johnson, G Travis Releford

Top newcomers: F Perry Ellis, G Ben McLemore, F Andrew White

Outlook: One way or another, Kansas always seems to have a player deep on the bench who will eventually become a star. Think of Thomas Robinson in 2010-11 or Cole Aldrich in 2007-08. Guard Ben McLemore may be the next revelation after sitting last season while he was ineligible for his first season. Robinson is gone, but the Jayhawks should have a formidable backcourt with Johnson taking over the point and all-around guard Travis Releford entering his senior year. The Jayhawks have failed to win 30 games only once in the last six seasons, when they won 27 in 2008-09.

 

4. LOUISVILLE (30-10, 10-8 Big East)

Key departures: G/F Kyle Kuric, G Chris Smith

Key returnees: G Russ Smith, F Chane Behanan, G Peyton Siva, C Gorgui Dieng, G Mike Marra, G/F Wayne Blackshear

Top newcomers: G Luke Hancock, G Terry Rozier

Outlook: Louisville finished the season winning eight of its last nine games with a Big East tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. The Cardinals will look to use that as a springboard, but the key to Louisville playing consistently from beginning to end without the mass injury problems that plagued the Cardinals the last two seasons. Peyton Siva, who averaged 11.3 points and six assists in Big East and NCAA tournament play, returns as does rising sophomore forward Chane Behanan. Two of the top three scorers are gone in Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, but the Cardinals will look to have Wayne Blackshear, who averaged only seven minutes in 15 games, healthy for the whole season, plus George Mason transfer Luke Hancock is now eligible. Russ Smith must improve his shot selection, and Gorgui Dieng can improve in the weight room.

 

5. NORTH CAROLINA (32-6, 14-2 ACC)

Key departures: F Harrison Barnes, F John Henson, G Kendall Marshall, C Tyler Zeller

Key returnees: G/F Reggie Bullock, G Dexter Strickland,G P.J. Hairston, F James Michael McAdoo

Top newcomers: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, C Joel James, F J.P. Tokoto

Outlook: Losing Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall early to the NBA draft was no great surprise. North Carolina loses four players who started at least 30 games and return no double-digit scorers. The Tar Heels won’t lack for talent. Forward James Michael McAdoo probably made the wise decision to return to school and could become a breakout player now that takes a larger role. Like McAdoo, guard P.J. Hairston is another McDonald’s All-American who was a role player as a freshman but could break out as a sophomore.  Veterans Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland (who played only 19 games because of injury), the top two returning scorers, also look to take expanded roles. North Carolina expects to have guard Leslie McDonald back from a torn ACL and, as usual, a top-notch signing class.

 

6. OHIO STATE (31-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: C Jared Sullinger, G William Buford

Key returnees: F Deshaun Thomas, G Aaron Craft, G Lenzelle Smith, F Evan Ravenel

Outlook: The lingering question after Ohio State’s Final Four run was if forward Deshaun Thomas would return to the Buckeyes or follow Jared Sullinger to the draft. As a full-time player in 2011-12, Thomas took major strides, improving his shooting percentage from 47.9 percent as a freshman to 52 percent as a sophomore. With Sullinger and William Buford gone, Thomas is the go-to player for the first time in his career. Point guard Aaron Craft is the floor general and top defender, but he may need to expand his offensive role. Amir Williams, Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross were decorated recruits in 2011, but they played sparingly as freshmen.

 

7. MICHIGAN (24-10, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: G/F Zack Novak, G Stu Douglass, F Evan Smotrycz

Key returnees: G Trey Burke, G Tim Hardaway Jr., F Jordan Morgan

Top newcomers: F Mitch McGary, F Glenn Robinson III, G Nik Stauskas

Outlook: Point guard Trey Burke’s late decision to return to school gives Michigan the look of a Final Four contender. Incoming freshman forward Glenn Robinson III will give the roster another player with NBA bloodlines, joining guard Tim Hardaway Jr. However, Robinson won’t be the top incoming freshman. That distinction belongs to Mitch McGary, who will give coach John Beilein his first legitimate big man since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Top rebounder Jordan Morgan also returns, but the Wolverines lose two veterans, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, who started on three NCAA tournament teams.

 

8. DUKE (27-7, 13-3 ACC)

Key departures: G Austin Rivers, F Miles Plumlee

Key returnees: G Seth Curry, F Mason Plumlee, G Tyler Thornton, G Andre Dawkins, F Ryan Kelly, G Quinn Cook

Top newcomer: G Rasheed Sulaimon, F Marshall Plumlee

Outlook: After losing to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament (a major shock) and losing Austin Rivers to the NBA draft (not a shock), Duke received some good news with the return of forward Mason Plumlee, who averaged 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds last season. Apart from Rivers and Miles Plumlee, Duke returns every other key player. With Rivers gone, the class of second-year players is now led by sophomore guard Quinn Cook and redshirt freshman center Marshall Plumlee. Duke will add freshman shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon and remains in contention for other recruits, but will that be enough to help a Duke team that couldn’t advance through the NCAA tournament even with Rivers?

 

9. N.C. STATE (24-13, 9-7 ACC)

Key departures: G/F C.J. Williams

Still undecided: F C.J. Leslie

Key returnees: F Richard Howell, G Lorenzo Brown, F Scott Wood

Top newcomers: G Rodney Purvis, F T.J. Warren

Outlook: After defeating San Diego State and Georgetown to advance to the Sweet 16, N.C. State may be a popular preseason pick to win the ACC. If C.J. Leslie (14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds) returns, N.C. State will return its top four scorers. All four averaged at least 10.8 points per game. The Wolfpack also adds an elite guard recruit in Rodney Purvis. Given the personnel, N.C. State may be poised for a long-awaited banner year in Mark Gottfried’s second season. If there’s any reason for pause, N.C. State defeated only four NCAA tournament teams during the regular season – UNC Asheville, Texas, St. Bonaventure, Virginia. None of which were seeded higher than 11th and none won a tournament game.

 

10. MICHIGAN STATE (29-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: F Draymond Green, G Brandon Wood, G Austin Johnson

Key returnees: G Keith Appling, C Derrick Nix, F Branden Dawson, C Adreian Payne, G Travis Trice

Top newcomers: G Gary Harris, F Matt Costello, F Kenny Kaminski

Outlook: Draymond Green may be the most difficult to replace player in the nation next season, but there’s good reason to have faith Michigan State and Tom Izzo can recover and continue to challenge for a Big Ten title. Keith Appling adapted well to a full-time role. Centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne managed the most of their split time, averaging a combined 15.1 points per game. The biggest reason for optimism will be the development of rising sophomore Branden Dawson, who averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds before he sat the final six games with a torn ACL.

 

11. FLORIDA (26-11, 10-6 SEC)

Key departures: G Erving Walker

Still undecided: G Bradley Beal

Key returnees: G Kenny Boynton, F/C Erik Murphy, F/C Patric Young, G Mike Rosario

Top newcomers: G Braxton Ogbueze, G Michael Frazier

Outlook: If Bradley Beal decides to return, Florida is a top-five team. That said, Beal has been projected as a top-five pick, so the Gators shouldn’t hold their breath. Leading scorer Kenny Boynton and standout forward Patric Young both said they will return to a team that was a second-half collapse against Louisville away from the Final Four. The Gators have three guards committed and are continuing to recruit forward Anthony Bennett. Even without Beal and Bennett, Florida appears to be the clear No. 2 in the SEC after Kentucky.

 

12. BAYLOR (30-8, 12-6 Big 12)

Key departures: F Perry Jones, F Quincy Acy, F Anthony Jones

Key returnees: G Pierre Jackson, F Quincy Miller, G Brady Heslip, G A.J. Walton

Top newcomers: C Isaiah Austin, F Ricardo Gathers

Outlook: Losing Perry Jones to the draft was all but a given and Quincy Acy was a senior. The Bears still have talent left on the roster, especially after Quincy Miller (10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds) elected to return to school. The guard duo of Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip returns, giving Baylor a strong perimeter presence. Miller’s return will be huge for a frontcourt in transition, though the bears add seven-foot center Isaiah Austin and forward Ricardo Gathers.

 

13. SYRACUSE (34-3, 17-1 Big East)

Key departures: F Kris Joseph, G Dion Waiters, G Scoop Jardine, C Fab Melo

Key returnees: G Brandon Triche, F C.J. Fair, F Rakeem Christmas, F James Southerland

Top newcomers: C DaJuan Coleman, F Jerami Grant

Outlook: Syracuse loses Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo from a team that battled distractions from the start of the season to the end and still managed to win 34 games. Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair will need to become the team’s veteran leadership for a group that will have plenty of unproven pieces. Forward James Southerland played well late in the season when he played additional minutes with Melo out, and Rakeem Christmas had 11 rebounds and eight points against Kansas State in the NCAA tournament. Syracuse won’t have trouble finding talent on the roster with sophomore Michael Carter-Williams in the backcourt and incoming freshmen DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant in the frontcourt.

 

14. SAN DIEGO STATE (26-8, 10-4 Mountain West)

Key departures: F Garrett Green, F Tim Shelton

Key returnees: G Jamaal Franklin, G Chase Tapley, G Xavier Thomas, G James Rahon

Top newcomers: F J.J. O’Brien, F Dwayne Polee  F James Johnson, F Winston Shepard

Outlook: With the Pac-12 continuing to struggle, San Diego State should be in contention for the top team in the West. The top four scorers all return, though all are guards – Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, Xavier Thomas and James Rahon. For a team that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game until 2011, the Aztecs have pulled some key recruiting victories in recent years, first with Kawhi Leonard (who was two and done) and then forward Winston Shepard, who committed in February. Beyond Shepard, San Diego State will try to boost its front court with transfers Dwayne Pollee (a starter at St. John’s in 2010-11), J.J. O’Brien (6.4 points, 5.5 rebounds as a freshman at Utah), and James Johnson (who redshirted his only season at Virginia).

 

15. ARIZONA (23-12, 12-6 Pac-12)

Key departures: G Kyle Fogg, F Jesse Perry

Key returnees: F Solomon Hill, G Nick Johnson, G Josiah Turner, G Brendon Lavender, G/F Kevin Parrom, G Jordin Mayes

Top newcomers: F Brandon Ashley, C Kaleb Tarczewski, C Grant Jerrett, G Gabe York

Outlook: The Pac-12 must have a top-25 caliber team in 2012-13, right? Arizona may be the team that reclaims a little respect for the conference. Kyle Fogg (13.5 ppg) and Jesse Perry (10.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are gone, but Solomon Hill, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, is back. Kevin Parrom, who averaged 7.5 points per game on the Elite Eight team a year ago, will be healthy. Guards Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson, highly prized recruits from a year ago, will be sophomores. Oh, and Arizona adds one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

 

16. KANSAS STATE (22-11, 10-8 Big 12)

Key departure: F Jamar Samuels

Key returnees: G Rodney McGruder, G Will Spradling, G Angel Rodriguez, F Jordan Henriquez, F Thomas Gipson, G Montavious Irving

Outlook: Kansas State was one of the Big 12’s pleasant surprises once again, but now the Wildcats have some uncertainty in their future as former Illinois coach Bruce Weber takes over for Frank Martin. Weber inherits a roster that is mostly intact other than the departure of forward Jamar Samuels. Rodney McGruder, who averaged 15.8 points last season, will be a senior while Angel Rodriguez and Thomas Gipson started a combined 39 games as freshmen last season.

 

17. WISCONSIN (26-10, 12-6 Big Ten)

Key departure: G Jordan Taylor

Key returnees: F Ryan Evans, F/C Jared Beggren, G Josh Gasser, G Ben Brust, F Mike Bruesewitz

Outlook: Jordan Taylor is gone. That’s a major hit, but the Badgers return five other players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season. Wisconsin still won 26 games and reached the Sweet 16 even though Taylor was not as productive as he was as a junior and the Badgers were uncharacteristically vulnerable at home. The Badgers tend to stick around the top of the Big Ten despite personnel changes, but Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Mike Bruesewitz must adjust to not having a star player on the court.

 

18. CREIGHTON (29-6, 14-4 Missouri Valley)

Key departure: G Antoine Young

Key returnees: F Doug McDermott, C Gregory Echenique, G Grant Gibbs, F Ethan Wragge, G Jahenns Manigat, G Josh Jones

Outlook: Doug McDermott again will be a national player of the year candidate after earning first-team All-America honors. Between McDermott and Gregory Echenique again will have a formidable frontcourt duo, but the Bluejays must replace Antoine Young, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.8 assists combined the last two seasons. Every other key player returns.

 

19. GONZAGA (26-7, 13-3 West Coast)

Key departure: C Robert Sacre

Key returnees: F Elias Harris, G Kevin Pangos, G Gary Bell Jr., F/C Sam Dower, F Guy Landry Edi

Outlook: The guard duo of Kevin Pangos (13.6 ppg) and Gary Bell Jr. (10.4 ppg) are only sophomores while the frontcourt duo of Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Sam Dower (8.3 ppg) will be seasoned veterans. Robert Sacre, who first stepped on campus in 2007-08, is gone. The Bulldogs should be poised for another 25 wins with a chance to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

 

20. MEMPHIS (26-9, 13-3 Conference USA)

Key departures: G Will Barton, G/F Wesley Witherspoon

Key returnees: G Joe Jackson, F Tarik Black, G Chris Crawford, G/F Adonis Thomas, G Antonio Barton

Top newcomer: F William Goodwin

Outlook: A handful of Memphis players are still looking to reach their full potential. The Tigers will need it after losing Will Barton, who led the team in scoring and rebounding. After a loss to UTEP on Feb. 18, Memphis beat its final seven opponents before the NCAA tournament by an average of 21 points per game before losing to Saint Louis in the round of 64. Memphis has the ability to win Conference USA again, but will the Tigers have the consistency to be a player on the national stage?

 

21. NOTRE DAME (22-12, 13-5 Big East)

Key departures: F Tim Abromaitis, G Scott Martin

Key returnees: F Jack Cooley, G Jerian Grant, G Eric Atkins, G/F Pat Connaughton, G Alex Dragicevich

Top newcomers: F Cameron Biedscheid, F Zach Auguste

Outlook: Notre Dame was one of the nation’s biggest overachievers last season, finishing third in the Big East despite playing on two games with top player Tim Abromaitis. The Irish are awaiting word on a sixth year of eligibility for Abromaitis and guard Scott Martin. Even if the NCAA grants neither player an extra year, Notre Dame still return three veterans who averaged at least 12 points per game last season – Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.

 

22. VCU (29-7, 15-3 Colonial)

Key departures: G/F Bradford Burgess

Key returnees: F Juvonte Reddic, G Troy Daniels, G Rob Brandenberg, G Darius Theus, G Traveon Graham, G D.J. Haley

Outlook: With Bradford Burgess gone, none of the top five scorers from VCU’s 2011 Final Four team will be back for 2012-13. That shouldn’t be a huge deal for VCU. Coach Shaka Smart resisted overtures from Illinois and will return to a veteran team. Burgess in the only major loss from a team that lost two games (George Mason on the road and Indiana in the NCAA tournament) after Jan. 8 by a total of three points.

 

23. TENNESSEE (19-15, 10-6 SEC)

Key departure: G Cameron Tatum

Key returnees: G Trae Golden, F Jeronne Maymon, F Jarnell Stokes, G Jordan McRae, G Skylar McBee, F Kenny Hall

Notes: Stokes played only 17 games last season

Outlook: After starting 10-12, Tennessee finished the season 9-3 in February and March. On the good side, the Volunteers defeated Florida on the road and Vanderbilt in Knoxville, but two of the last three games were losses to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament and Middle Tennessee at home in the NIT. Cam Tatum is the only major departure, but the Volunteers will have a full season of Jarnell Stokes. The freshman was a major reason for the Vols’ turnaround late in the season when he arrived in January.

 

24. MURRAY STATE (31-2, 15-1 Ohio Valley)

Key departures: G Donte Poole, G Ivan Aska, G Jewuan Long

Key returnees: G Isaiah Canaan, F Edward Daniel

Top newcomers: G Dexter Fields

Outlook: The return of Isaiah Canaan will make Murray State a favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference (which will now include Belmont), but the Racers will have difficulty in reaching the 30-win mark again. Donte Poole, Ivan Aka and Jewuan Long were the next three scorers on the team behind Canaan.

 

25. SAINT LOUIS (26-8, 12-4 Atlantic 10)

Key departure: F Brian Conklin, G Kyle Cassity

Key returnees: G Kwamain Mitchell, F Cody Ellis, F Dwayne Evans, G Mike McCall Jr., G Jordair Jett, F Rob Loe

Outlook: Saint Louis improved from 12 wins to 26 in one season before picking up the program’s first NCAA tournament win 1998. Leading scorer Brian Conklin is gone as is starter Kyle Cassity, but the balanced Billikins return two other double-digit scorers and four who averaged at least seven points per game. 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon looks far ahead at next season's top programs</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 11:47
All taxonomy terms: Contests, Jamie McMurray, sweepstakes, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/best-nascar-contests-sweepstakes-facebook
Body:

It's never easy trying to win free things, especially when the contests and sweepstakes are scattered across the Internet. So to make it easier, we rounded up our favorite Facebook contests and sweepstakes with NASCAR prizes to save you the trouble. 

 

The Ultimate LiftMaster Racing Experience

For fans of NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, this one is a must-enter. And even if you don't root for the driver of the No. 1 car, it's well worth checking out just to win a trip to fabulous Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

GRAND PRIZE: A trip for two to Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., and VIP attendance at the Coca Cola 600 NASCAR Race (5/26/12 – 5/28/12). Prize includes round-trip coach airfare, rental car, hotel accommodations, behind-the-scenes tour of the garage, LiftMaster racing cap and T-shirt, a signed Jamie McMurray Hero Card, LiftMaster Garage Door Opener 8550 installation, and an Apple iPod Touch.

Contest ends May 11.

For more details and to enter, visit Facebook.com-LiftMasterPro

 

Hunt Brothers Pizza's "Flat Kevin" Photo Contest

This contest requires a little effort and creativity. You must print and clip out a photo of Kevin Harvick off Hunt Brothers Pizza's Facebook page and then photograph it at NASCAR events or with NASCAR-themed scenes. Not a bad deal if it helps you meet the real Harvick at a race in Kentucky. 

GRAND PRIZE: Two tickets and two garage passes to the 2012 NASCAR race in Kentucky on June 29, plus souvenir racing gear and a meet and greet with Kevin Harvick (schedule permitting).

Contest ends May 15.

For more details and to enter, visit Facebook.com/hbpRacing

 

Ace 2012 Champion's Week Getaway Sweepstakes 

If you're hoping to meet NASCAR drivers and take part in numerous NASCAR events, this may be the sweepstakes for you. 

GRAND PRIZE: A VIP trip for two to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week, which may include access to view the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony and the NASCAR Victory Lap event and NASCAR After the Lap event. Also includes airfare, three nights hotel lodging, ground transportation and $250 spending money.

Contest ends April 30.

For more details and to enter, visit  Facebook.com/AceBrand

 

Banana Boat Cool Zone Pit Crew Sweepstakes

If you miss out on the LiftMater Racing Experience mentioned earlier, and you're still hoping to meet Jamie McMurray, here's another opportunity. Not only do you get to meet McMurray, but you'll also get to hang with his pit crew. You can enter this sweepstakes daily. 

GRAND PRIZE: A winner and guest(s) get to experience a NASCAR race at Talledega (Ala.), which includes hotel accommodations, gift bags, and some face time with McMurray and his pit crew prior to the Oct. 7 race.

Contest ends July 9.

For more details and to enter, visit Facebook.com/BananaBoatBrand

Teaser:
<p> Rounding up the best NASCAR prizes on social media</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 15:48
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-week-1-preview
Body:

It’s been 158 days since the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, but baseball — and yes, fantasy baseball — is finally back. OK, the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners played two games in Tokyo last week, but the official Opening Day is Thursday, so play along with me.

Speaking of that two-game series in Japan, can you guess who’s currently leading the majors in batting average? None other than Ichiro Suzuki, who gave his countrymen plenty to cheer about by collecting four hits in the opener. Young stars Dustin Ackely and Yoenis Cespedes each hit a home run and drove in two during their short stay in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Here are some other storylines and players to watch this opening week as the 2012 fantasy baseball season gets underway.

Say Hello to Marlins Park
The Cardinals begin defense of their World Series title by helping the Marlins christen their brand-spanking new downtown stadium on Wednesday night. While eyes will no doubt be focused on the Marlins’ new 37,000-seat home, complete with a retractable roof, aquariums behind home plate and outfield glass panels, fantasy owners should also play close attention to the mound.

Josh Johnson will be toeing the rubber for the first time since last May 16 when shoulder issues limited him to a total of nine starts and 60 1/3 innings in 2011. Johnson has pitched very well during spring training and has experienced no setbacks with the shoulder. It also doesn’t hurt that Johnson will be facing a Cardinals line up without Albert Pujols, who’s now in Anaheim with the Angels.

For the Cardinals, Kyle Lohse gets the opening night assignment, as Chris Carpenter has been sidelined with nerve issues in his neck and shoulder. Lohse will be tasked with facing a Marlins line up that now includes Jose Reyes at the top of the order.

No one knows how Marlins Park is going to play just yet, whether it will favor the hitters or the pitchers, but don’t be surprised if new Miami manager Ozzie Guillen gives the green light early and often to his base stealers at the top of his line up. That’s good news for owners who have Reyes (39 SB in ’11), Emilio Bonifacio (40) and Hanley Ramirez (32 in ’10).

AL MVP Ballot on Display in Detroit
Five of the top 10 vote-getters in last year’s AL MVP balloting will be in action in Detroit as the defending AL Central champion Tigers open up against Boston. In fact, the first at bat will feature a match-up of the top two finishers as Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox will step into the batter’s box against Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who took home both the AL MVP and Cy Young Award last year.

Besides Ellsbury and Verlander, the game will have Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez (7th in AL MVP voting in ’11) and Dustin Pedroia (9th), along with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (5th). Batting behind Cabrera will be new Tiger Prince Fielder, who finished third in the NL MVP voting and will make his Detroit debut. Fielder and the rest of the Tigers will be facing Jon Lester, who like the rest of his Red Sox teammates, will be looking to put last season’s September collapse behind him.

New Citi, Same Results?
The New York Mets will open their season on Thursday against NL East rival Atlanta in newly configured Citi Field. The Mets brought some of the outfield fences in during the offseason in hopes of giving the park an offensive boost. Last season the Mets finished 13th in the National League in home runs with 108 and only 50 of those coming at home.

This opening series against the Braves will be an early indicator to see if the Mets’ sluggers like David Wright, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will be able to take advantage of the new dimensions or not. Tommy Hanson, who yielded 17 home runs in 130 innings pitched last year, will be on the mound for Atlanta in the series opener, followed by Jair Jurrjens (14 HR in 152 IP) on Saturday and Mike Minor (7 HR in 82 2/3 IP) on Sunday.

For the Mets, Johan Santana gets the Opening Day assignment. Santana, the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner (2004, ’06), last pitched in 2010 when he went 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA. He missed all of last season recovering from a torn capsule in his shoulder and it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first start in more than 19 months.

Mauer Out to Prove He’s No Ordinary Joe
It seems a lot longer, but it was just three years ago that Joe Mauer was the AL MVP when be won the batting title with a .365 average, hit 28 home runs and drove in 96. Perhaps it’s because in the past two seasons combined he’s hit just 12 home runs with 105 RBIs, while battling a myriad of injuries.

The good news is that Mauer has fared well at the plate during spring training and appears to be 100 percent healthy headed into the season, something he wasn’t last year. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if he’s the 2009 version or something more along the lines of 2010 (.327-9-75).

Mauer’s not the only Twin looking to stay healthy and rebound from a disappointing 2011. Justin Morneau, Denard Span and Francisco Liriano also dealt with injuries last year and saw their production plummet as a result. Lirianio has arguably had the best spring of them all, posting a 33:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings.

Span appears to finally be free of the concussion-related symptoms that wrecked his 2011 season, and while Morneau may never be the same player he was from 2006-08, he has looked more comfortable at the plate lately.

It also doesn’t hurt the Twins that they open their season in Baltimore against an Orioles staff that’s not expected to be very good. Target Field has not been kind to the Twins’ power hitters as the team hit more home runs (57) on the road than at home (46) last year. More to the point, Mauer has hit a grand total of one home run in 112 career games played at Target Field while Morneau has just seven in 74 games played there.

Quick Hitters

  • Stephen Strasburg will make his first start of the season in the Nationals’ opener in Chicago against a Cubs line up that has more question marks than clear-cut answers. Strasburg should be a productive starter every time he takes the mound, but owners should not overlook his projected innings cap (around 160) in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. The Nationals took the same approach with Jordan Zimmerman last season and were more than happy with the results.

  • The aforementioned Pujols and C.J. Wilson will make their Angels debuts at home against Kansas City. It will be interesting to see what effect Pujols has on the Angels’ offense as a whole, while Wilson should benefit from no longer having to pitch his home starts in Rangers Ballpark. Last year, Wilson’s home ERA was 3.69 compared to a 2.31 mark on the road. For the Royals’ young hitters like Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, this opening series against Anaheim will be a good test as they will have to face Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Wilson. That trio combined for 50 wins and 596 strikeouts in 697 1/3 innings pitched in 2011.

  • Besides being a key NL West series, the Giants vs. Diamondbacks opening three-game set starting on Friday features arguably the strongest collection of fantasy starting pitching. The opener has Tim Lincecum vs. Ian Kennedy, followed by Madison Bumgarner against Daniel Hudson, and ends with Matt Cain vs. Josh Collmenter. With the exception of Collmenter, the other five won at least 12 games and struck out 169 or more batters last season, while all six pitchers posted sub-3.50 ERAs and finished with a WHIP of 1.21 or lower in 2011.

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy baseball is back and here are some players and storylines to watch this week</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 10:48
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/broncos-go-all-peyton-manning
Body:

"Plan B? I don't have a Plan B. We're going with Plan A."

Those were the words uttered by Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway at Peyton Manning’s introductory press conference on March 20. Plan A is to hand the team over to Manning and ride his right arm to the Super Bowl.

That may seem like a lot to ask of Manning, who turned 36 years old a couple of days ago and last played in a NFL game in January 2011. Manning, however, made it clear he and Elway are on the same page as to why he chose Denver over the other teams interested in him, namely San Francisco and Tennessee.

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my playing career with the Denver Broncos," Manning said. "This truly is a special football environment, and I'm glad to be a part of it. ... I'm thrilled to be here. I'm looking forward to meeting my new teammates, and doing whatever I can to help this franchise win another Super Bowl."

On the surface, having Manning, the four-time NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer, as your Plan A is a nice position to be in and no one can fault Denver owner Pat Bowlen, Elway or general manager Brian Xanders for going all in with No. 18.

That was certainly the strategy employed by Indianapolis when the Colts took Manning with the first pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. Manning was immediately handed the starting job in Week 1 of his rookie season and he never relinquished it.

In Manning's 13 seasons as the Colts’ starting quarterback, he led the team to 150 wins (including playoffs), eight divisional titles, two AFC crowns and a win in Super Bowl XLI in 2007. He also didn’t miss a single game, playing in 227 in a row including playoffs, basically making the Colts’ backup quarterback nothing more than a hat-wearing, clipboard holder on the sidelines.

That was until 2011, when a neck injury finally did to Manning what opposing defenses were never able to do – knock him out of the game. For the first time since the final game of the 1997 season, the Colts had to go to Plan B at quarterback.

In Week 1 against Houston that was 38-year-old Kerry Collins. Three weeks later after Collins was sidelined by a concussion, the Colts turned to Curtis Painter, their sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft. Eight losses later, Dan Orlovsky, who was originally drafted by Detroit in the fifth-round of the 2005 draft, took over the reigns for the rest of season.

Collectively, the trio led the Colts to a 2-14 record, the worst in the NFL. In early January, Colts owner Jim Irsay fired head coach Jim Caldwell, vice chairman Bill Polian, vice president/general manager Chris Polian and the vast majority of the coaching staff in the first phase of what has become an extreme makeover of one of the league’s most successful franchises since the arrival of Manning in 1998.

After hiring Chuck Pagano as the Colts’ new head coach and installing Ryan Grigson as the new general manager, Irsay moved on to reconstructing the roster first by parting ways with Manning on March 7 and two days later cutting several other long-time Colts, including running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett and tight end Dallas Clark.

The Colts have since been active in free agency, re-signing veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne and several other players, but the most significant acquisition will come on April 26.

That’s when the Colts, just as they did in 1998, plan on taking their next franchise quarterback, either Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Whether or not they end up starting right away like Manning did, whoever the Colts end up selecting becomes their new Plan A.

In Denver, the current Plan A is fully in place, secured by the five-year, $96 million contract Manning signed with his new team, and in motion. Since Manning’s introduction, the Broncos have made several other moves, including adding wide receiver Andre Caldwell and tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, a former Colts teammate, to the offense.

As for Plan B? Initially, Plan B was expected to be Tim Tebow, who replaced Kyle Orton as the Broncos’ starting quarterback after a 1-4 start to the 2011 season. With Tebow under center, the Broncos went 8-5 the rest of the way, winning the AFC West title and defeating the Steelers in the Wildcard round of the playoffs.

However, Tebow’s future in Denver was immediately placed in doubt when news broke that Manning would be signing with the Broncos. And it was sealed the day after the press conference when Elway traded Tebow and a seventh-round pick in the upcoming draft to the Jets for New York’s fourth- and sixth-round picks.

So with no Tebow, who is Manning’s backup? It’s not Orton, who earlier this month signed a three-year deal with Dallas after finishing last season with Kansas City.

No, Manning’s backup is none other than Caleb Hanie. Hanie signed as a free agent with Denver after three seasons with the Bears. An undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, Hanie went 0-4 filling in for an injured Jay Cutler last season. In those four games, Hanie completed 50 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and nine interceptions.

For all the criticism of Tebow’s passing ability and the doubts raised about him developing into a successful NFL quarterback, his numbers are considerably better than Hanie’s. Especially when it comes to the most important category – wins. Tebow is 9-7 in his career as a starter. Hanie is still looking for his first NFL win.

Granted, opportunity plays a big part into a quarterback’s statistics, and Tebow, a first-round pick in 2009, has a significant advantage over Hanie in that respect. Regardless it doesn’t change the reality of the Broncos’ backup quarterback situation. It could have been Tebow, but instead the front office has decided to go with Hanie. Showing once again, that there is no Plan B.

Just like the Colts did in 1998, the Broncos are pinning all of their hopes on Manning. Back then, Manning was 22 and had just finished his career at the University of Tennessee. Now, Manning is 36 years old, has already played in 228 NFL games, has had three different neck surgeries in less than two years and hasn’t been under center in a game since January 2011.

In Indianapolis, Plan A, whether it ends up being Luck or Griffin, is about the future. In Denver, Plan A is all about the present as Manning himself made clear at his press conference.

"I realize I don't have 14 years left, by any means," Manning said. "This isn't something where I'm just building a foundation to do something in two years or three years. This is a ‘now’ situation. We're going to do whatever we can to win right now. That's all I'm thinking about right now."

It’s clearly Super Bowl or bust for the Broncos with Manning leading the way. Everyone from Bowlen to Elway to Xanders to the players is on board with Plan A, which rests largely on the shoulders of No. 18.

“I believe that he's got a lot of great football left in him,” Elway said of his new QB. Broncos fans sure hope he’s right because, just as he said, “I don’t have a Plan B.”

— by Mark Ross, published on March 30, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Denver Broncos' Super Bowl hopes begin and end with Peyton Manning</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 11:33
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-relief-pitcher-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

No position has been impacted by injuries more during spring training than relief pitching, or more specifically, closers.

Ryan Madson (No. 10 RP, No. 122 overall) and Joakim Soria (No. 17 RP, No. 157 overall) are both out for the season after tearing ligaments in their pitching elbows that will require Tommy John surgery to repair. Their loss is a blow for the Reds and Royals, their respective teams, but also presents an opportunity for someone else.

To this point, Reds manager Dusty Baker has said he's leaning towards going with a closer by committee. Sean Marshall figures to get the first shot at the save opportunities for the Reds, but others to watch include Bill Bray, Aroldis Chapman and Nick Masset. To add even more uncertainty to the Reds' bullpen situation, both Bray and Masset are dealing with injuries and the team has already said that Masset will start the season on the DL.

With the Royals, Jonathan Broxton, who saved 36 games for the Dodgers in 2009, could be first in line to replace Soria, but he's not only candidate. Greg Holland and Aaron Crow are two young pitchers who bear watching and could seize the closer's job and not relinquish it.

Drew Storen (No. 5 RP, No. 91 overall), who saved 43 games for the Nationals last season, is another closer dealing with elbow issues. In Storen's case, his does not seem to be serious, but he will start the season on the DL. The Nationals hope to have him back by the middle of April.

While Storen is out, the Nationals appear to be leaning towards handing closing duties to Brad Lidge. Lidge was one of the top closers in the game from 2004-10 when he was with the Astros and Phillies, averaging more than 31 saves a season during that time. Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez also could get a chance to close, especially should Lidge struggle finishing games.

Be sure to consult Athlon Sports' MLB Fantasy Closer Grid throughout the season to keep track of every team's bullpen situation.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA — USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

Rank OVR LR Player Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 49 45 Craig Kimbrel ATL RP 30 39 62 75 52 57 65 63 56
2 76 80 Jonathan Papelbon PHI RP 32 112 87 74 71 82 79 73 77
3 79 78 Mariano Rivera NYY RP 56 110 73 88 57 85 82 84 76
4 85 88 John Axford MIL RP 36 92 93 108 70 127 96 82 78
5 91 89 Drew Storen WAS RP 50 93 89 96 78 141 107 110 82
6 110 112 Matt Moore TB RP 115 104 74 221 140 79 95 130 91
7 114 109 Brian Wilson SF RP 84 133 106 122 92 189 106 118 112
8 120 116 Jose Valverde DET RP 61 154 125 117 90 171 124 120 131
9 121 111 Heath Bell MIA RP 92 94 148 151 83 165 117 139 108
10 122 127 Ryan Madson CIN RP 129 120 99 182 108 132 118 107 113
11 125 144 Joel Hanrahan PIT RP 135 134 119 170 103 155 128 104 136
12 132 128 J.J. Putz ARI RP 149 113 142 145 102 120 130 168 138
13 134 135 Cory Luebke SD SP/RP 144 135 130 174 134 67 136 177 137
14 139 140 Andrew Bailey BOS RP 130 143 158 - 109 119 179 112 143
15 153 182 Rafael Betancourt COL RP 150 159 114 - 172 118 141 - 146
16 155 160 Sergio Santos TOR RP 176 155 - 178 131 123 151 137 159
17 157 151 Joakim Soria KC RP 196 142 152 169 119 187 135 160 162
18 170 188 Jason Motte STL RP 178 172 136 197 136 175 156 194 178
19 171 170 Jordan Walden LAA RP - 171 163 163 125 183 143 - 173
20 175 174 Carlos Marmol CHC RP 198 - 183 - 127 148 146 182 174
21 177 179 Joe Nathan TEX RP - 156 - 195 128 181 164 170 184
22 180 159 Neftali Feliz TEX RP - 187 141 - - 121 181 - 168
23 188 162 Daniel Bard BOS RP 185 - 185 - - 99 - - 165
24 197 NR Huston Street COL RP - - 176 - 157 186 167 - -
25 201 202 Kyle Farnsworth TB RP - - 172 - 147 184 195 - 196
26 202 NR Brandon League SEA RP - - 191 - 149 172 188 - 198
27 219 NR Matt Thornton CHW RP - - - - 189 159 - - -
28 221 192 Kenley Jansen LAD RP - - - - 190 161 - - -
29 226 NR Sergio Romo SF RP - - - - - 158 - - -
30 230 226 Jonny Venters ATL RP 166 - - - - - - - -
31 233 225 Francisco Cordero TOR RP 167 - - - - - - - -
32 235 224 Rafael Soriano NYY RP 168 - - - - - - - -
33 241 NR Frank Francisco NYM RP - - - - 173 - - - -
34 243 NR Tyler Clippard WAS RP - - - - - 174 - - -
35 248 185 Chris Perez CLE RP - - - 183 - - - - -
36 250 NR Javy Guerra LAD RP - - - - 185 - - - -
37 255 NR Mike Adams TEX RP - - - - - 190 - - -
38 261 NR Koji Uehara TEX RP - - - - - 195 - - -

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 30, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

 

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports has updated its consensus relief pitching rankings to help get your bullpen ready for Opening Day</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 09:45
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-starting-pitcher-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

There's a new No. 1 atop the starting pitching depth chart as Roy Halladay edged out Clayton Kershaw in the updated rankings. They are followed by fellow Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, who rounds out the award-winning top 5. The rest of the top 10 is the same except for the No. 10 spot as Dan Haren replaces David Price.

Outside of the top 10, most of the movement was related to position in the Top 200 as there wasn't a lot of change in the starting pitching rankings themselves. Some of the biggest risers in the Top 200 included Adam Wainwright (No. 100, up from No. 110), who looks to be progressing well in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, Ubaldo Jimenez (No. 147, up from No. 158), and Jeremy Hellickson (No. 156, up from No. 172), last year's AL Rookie of the Year.

Some of the fallers included Ian Kennedy (No. 78, down from No. 63), Tommy Hanson (No. 92, down from No. 82), Michael Pineda (No. 95, down from No. 85), and Tim Hudson (No. 168, down from No. 133).

Hudson's decline is health-related, as he is recovering from offseason back surgery and another pitcher to watch along those lines is Chris Carpenter (No. 124 overall). Carpenter has been dealing with nerve issues in his neck and shoulder during spring training. He will certainly not be ready by Opening Day, and he could be out until late May or early June, if not longer.

Further down the rankings, the pitchers who made large jumps to break into the Top 200 were Ted Lilly, Brandon Morrow, Brandon McCarthy and Chris Sale.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA — USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

Rank OVR LR Player Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 13 12 Roy Halladay PHI SP 10 6 12 19 23 10 12 22 18
2 14 11 Clayton Kershaw LAD SP 9 7 20 13 19 8 22 21 15
3 16 13 Justin Verlander DET SP 8 10 17 17 22 17 21 17 16
4 20 19 Cliff Lee PHI SP 20 11 22 21 27 14 24 26 24
5 25 23 Felix Hernandez SEA SP 24 21 28 28 28 31 32 35 30
6 27 26 Jered Weaver LAA SP 15 25 31 38 33 25 39 45 35
7 29 28 Tim Lincecum SF SP 25 27 32 32 30 51 42 32 28
8 31 31 CC Sabathia NYY SP 67 22 43 25 38 28 31 33 31
9 33 27 Cole Hamels PHI SP 23 24 39 40 31 46 36 66 32
10 41 37 Dan Haren LAA SP 47 31 41 61 41 65 34 46 49
11 42 35 David Price TB SP 21 34 53 48 47 56 54 53 50
12 43 41 Zack Greinke MIL SP 66 28 48 57 46 55 50 44 40
13 51 46 Matt Cain SF SP 37 70 61 73 48 36 59 77 54
14 56 50 Jon Lester BOS SP 49 50 56 55 61 98 78 62 58
15 58 55 Stephen Strasburg WAS SP 35 58 75 84 81 20 68 108 57
16 60 60 Yovani Gallardo MIL SP 54 40 65 85 58 90 92 48 59
17 68 62 James Sheilds TB SP 76 36 64 78 72 103 62 72 81
18 72 75 Madison Bumgarner SF SP 46 49 79 94 67 72 88 87 80
19 73 70 C.J. Wilson LAA SP 101 61 68 70 51 69 75 80 88
20 78 63 Ian Kennedy ARI SP 90 35 72 86 76 70 69 122 79
21 88 91 Mat Latos CIN SP 111 47 94 103 62 104 84 119 100
22 92 82 Tommy Hanson ATL SP 77 62 116 131 80 68 86 142 97
23 93 95 Josh Johnson MIA SP 53 59 128 124 91 66 108 132 101
24 94 96 Daniel Hudson ARI SP 109 63 85 109 89 116 99 94 102
25 95 85 Michael Pineda NYY SP 91 60 96 116 105 74 101 116 116
26 97 103 Matt Garza CHI SP 114 71 101 119 93 107 109 86 104
27 100 110 Adam Wainwright STL SP 78 64 97 143 126 89 100 134 99
28 101 99 Ricky Romero TOR SP 65 82 81 90 118 134 113 127 124
29 107 100 Josh Beckett BOS SP 75 51 108 121 107 145 119 128 126
30 111 105 Yu Darvish TEX SP 108 80 124 186 148 76 105 129 87
31 119 117 Brandon Beachy ATL SP 123 81 123 137 132 80 137 165 110
32 124 122 Chris Carpenter STL SP 132 136 103 114 100 - 97 159 133
33 126 124 Gio Gonzalez WAS SP 118 73 132 115 160 - 125 161 109
34 134 135 Cory Luebke SD SP/RP 144 135 130 174 134 67 136 177 137
35 136 131 Jordan Zimmerman WAS SP 131 115 110 184 138 - 122 125 139
36 137 134 Anibal Sanchez MIA SP 134 96 137 173 137 125 133 191 141
37 144 138 Johnny Cueto CIN SP 87 162 151 134 180 163 152 149 152
38 147 158 Ubaldo Jimanez CLE SP 151 121 105 141 158 - 140 174 144
39 150 145 Shaun Marcum MIL SP 147 186 122 - 114 142 129 179 148
40 156 172 Jeremy Hellickson TB SP 160 164 91 165 164 - 161 156 158
41 164 166 Doug Fister DET SP 174 175 144 196 163 108 148 - 163
42 168 133 Tim Hudson ATL SP 133 189 139 132 - 179 174 - 166
43 169 181 Jaime Garcia STL SP 199 163 154 139 179 144 180 183 180
44 173 173 Max Scherzer DET SP 190 188 134 185 130 - 178 171 169
45 181 206 Ted Lilly LAD SP 191 - 164 - 159 151 147 - 192
46 183 191 Hiroki Kuroda NYY SP 193 174 147 - - 170 150 196 193
47 184 152 Ervin Santana LAA SP 148 - 161 156 - - 176 187 197
48 187 NR Brandon Morrow TOR SP - 176 170 154 161 - 198 175 -
49 189 184 Wandy Rodriguez HOU SP - 137 166 199 194 185 184 189 186
50 193 197 Justin Masterson CLE SP - 158 159 153 - - 200 - -
51 194 214 Brandon McCarthy OAK SP 170 200 179 188 - 147 - - 189
52 198 204 Chris Sale CHW SP 183 - 177 - - 143 199 - 187
53 205 199 Jhoulys Chacin COL SP - 178 - - 146 - 185 - 194
54 206 NR Colby Lewis TEX SP - 173 173 - 184 - 173 - -
55 208 195 Scott Baker MIN SP - - 157 - 165 - 187 - -
56 211 215 Vance Worley PHI SP 184 177 - - - 157 - - -
57 212 209 Clay Buchholz BOS SP 195 165 187 193 - - - 181 -
58 224 NR Derek Holland TEX SP - 190 - 191 - - 193 185 -
59 228 208 Jair Jurrjens ATL SP 197 - - 166 - - - - -
60 234 NR Bud Norris HOU SP - - 198 - 170 - - - -
61 239 NR Chad Billingsley LAD SP - - - 175 197 - - - -
62 242 NR Tim Stauffer SD SP - - 181 - - 194 - - -
63 244 218 Roy Oswalt SP 179 - - - - - - - -
64 245 217 Alexi Ogando TEX SP 180 - - - - - - - -
65 246 210 Trevor Cahill ARI SP - 180 - - - - - - -
66 252 NR John Danks CHW SP - 199 - - 195 - 196 - -
67 257 NR Gavin Floyd CHW SP - - 193 - - - - - -
68 260 NR Mike Minor ATL SP - - 195 - - - - - -
69 262 NR Henderson Alvarez TOR SP - - - - - 196 - - -

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 30, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports' updated consensus fantasy rankings reveal plenty of starting pitching to go around</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-catcher-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

There's no change among the top eight catchers with Carlos Santana leading the way followed by Mike Napoli and Brian McCann. Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, both of whom are trying to rebound from disappointing 2011 seasons impacted by significant injuries, round out the top five.

Alex Avila is the biggest riser among the catchers, as he went up 11 spots on the Big Board from No. 119 to No. 108. After Avila, the next five catchers on the list all experienced drops of at least 10 positions on the Top 200.

Two of the biggest fallers, were J.P Arencibia and Russell Martin. The two AL East catchers each dropped at least 25 spots, which resulted in them barely maintaining their Top 200 status.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA — USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings**: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

Rank OVR LR Player Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 36 33 Carlos Santana CLE C/1B 52 17 52 30 35 32 46 40 41
2 38 38 Mike Napoli TEX C/1B 57 43 47 27 39 30 41 36 53
3 44 44 Brian McCann ATL C 48 41 69 46 43 47 44 39 83
4 67 73 Buster Posey SF C 62 52 127 51 75 44 87 61 75
5 77 76 Joe Mauer MIN C/1B 43 48 131 58 66 77 85 93 95
6 82 86 Matt Wieters BAL C 60 65 84 69 88 106 93 74 90
7 96 97 Miguel Montero ARI C 69 53 117 125 113 86 103 89 122
8 108 119 Alex Avila DET C 122 44 121 99 120 130 126 91 127
9 179 169 Yadier Molina STL C - 132 186 140 - 193 191 164 179
10 196 171 J.P. Arencibia TOR C - 125 - - 178 - - 199 181
11 200 161 Russell Martin NYY C - 116 - - - - - - 171
12 213 201 Wilson Ramos WAS C - 160 - 158 - - - - -
13 225 203 Geovany Soto CHC C - 166 - - - - - 192 -
14 258 NR Kurt Suzuki OAK C - 193 - - - - - - -
15 268 205 Devin Mesoraco CIN C 200 - - - - - - - -

Other names to consider (in alphabetical order): John Buck (MIA, C), Ryan Doumit (MIN, C), Ramon Hernandez (COL, C), Nick Hundley (SD, C), Chris Ianetta (LAA, C), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL, C), Salvador Perez (KC, C), A.J. Pierzynski (CHW, C), Carlos Ruiz (PHI, C), Jarod Saltalamacchia (BOS, C)

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 29, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

 

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports has updated its consensus fantasy rankings for catcher</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 11:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-outfield-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

Matt Kemp still leads the way among the outfielder rankings, but Ryan Braun is nipping at his heels. Braun, who was ranked No. 71 overall on the previous Big Board, soared up the Top 200 this time around and now checks in at No. 4.

It's no secret that the reason for the drastic change in his rankings is because his 50-game suspension for violation of MLB's drug policy was overturned in late February. Now that we know Braun, if healthy, will be eligible to play a full season, it's a matter of if the reigning NL MVP can repeat or come close to last season's numbers without Prince Fielder hitting behind him.

Outside of Braun, the only change among the first fifteen outfielders has nothing to do with rankings. Giancarlo Stanton (No. 32 overall, No. 10 OF) is the Marlin  formerly known as Mike Stanton. The 22-year-old slugger announced in late Februray that he wanted to be called by his given first name, rather than Michael/Mike, which he started using in the fifth grade.

Carl Crawford and Corey Hart are the two among the top 30 that saw their stock drop the most as both are dealing with injuries. Hart (No. 104 overall, down from No. 93) had knee surgery in early March, but there's still a chance he could ready by Opening Day or shortly thereafter. That does not appear to be the case for Crawford (was No. 17 OF, now No. 24), whose recovery from offseason wrist surgery has taken longer than initially expected.

Among the top 50 outfielders, Andre Ethier (No. 130, up from No. 150), Martin Prado (No. 140, up from No. 157), Melky Cabrera (No. 143, up from No. 165), Carlos Lee (No. 172, up from No. 200) and Angel Pagan (No. 185, up from No. 213) were the biggest risers.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA — USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings**: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

Rank OVR LR Player Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 3 2 Matt Kemp LAD OF 6 4 3 1 1 4 2 1 2
2 4 71 Ryan Braun MIL OF 5 5 4 8 5 2 1 2 6
3 5 4 Jose Bautista TOR 3B/OF 11 2 5 6 3 6 5 5 5
4 8 6 Jacoby Ellsbury BOS OF 19 8 8 2 8 9 6 12 12
5 11 10 Justin Upton ARI OF 14 18 9 14 7 21 10 11 10
6 12 14 Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 12 19 16 18 15 12 11 16 11
7 21 18 Curtis Granderson NYY OF 38 15 23 22 13 23 17 20 22
8 26 25 Andrew McCutchen PIT OF 40 38 26 20 26 29 28 30 27
9 30 32 Josh Hamilton TEX OF 26 46 40 35 36 49 25 27 34
10 32 34 Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 83 68 25 33 25 22 30 25 25
11 37 39 Matt Holliday STL OF 42 57 30 36 65 45 33 28 36
12 40 40 Hunter Pence HOU OF 45 77 37 66 56 24 29 34 44
13 47 47 Jay Bruce CIN OF 63 90 38 62 34 40 55 38 51
14 50 52 Ben Zobrist TB 2B/OF 93 72 51 41 45 64 43 51 52
15 54 54 Nelson Cruz TEX OF 94 76 44 56 37 95 48 37 37
16 61 65 Michael Bourn HOU OF 80 74 35 72 87 84 51 42 67
17 63 68 Shin-Soo Choo CLE OF 51 75 77 80 85 58 64 49 63
18 64 58 Desmond Jennings TB OF 99 85 104 68 50 54 61 50 43
19 65 69 Alex Gordon KC OF 82 87 50 81 60 73 66 59 66
20 66 77 Shane Victorino PHI OF 102 69 55 65 79 78 58 56 65
21 70 79 Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF 103 83 71 53 82 42 70 83 62
22 80 84 B.J. Upton TB OF 106 99 80 82 73 87 60 64 69
23 83 87 Lance Berkman STL 1B/OF 105 78 59 77 96 52 77 99 86
24 84 67 Carl Crawford BOS OF 79 67 70 29 59 - 71 52 103
25 87 92 Adam Jones BAL OF 86 117 78 102 110 63 83 88 89
26 90 90 Howard Kendrick LAA 1B/2B/OF 85 119 118 79 84 88 91 101 72
27 99 101 Brett Gardner NYY OF 110 109 90 105 104 124 89 78 107
28 102 106 Chris Young ARI OF 117 88 107 110 116 93 81 98 125
29 103 102 Drew Stubbs CIN OF 113 129 112 87 95 136 102 79 92
30 104 93 Corey Hart MIL OF 107 89 100 97 176 114 80 96 93
31 105 108 Ichiro Suzuki SEA OF 116 84 88 120 121 129 90 106 106
32 106 115 Jayson Werth WAS OF 121 140 82 98 94 113 104 100 114
33 112 120 Michael Cuddyer COL 1B/2B/OF 96 152 92 123 156 139 98 121 70
34 113 114 Jason Heyward ATL OF 119 153 109 92 106 182 111 102 85
35 117 104 Nick Markakis BAL OF 88 128 145 111 139 48 112 176 130
36 129 130 Cameron Maybin SD OF 143 139 143 138 99 160 155 81 140
37 130 150 Andre Ethier LAD OF 137 130 140 127 174 100 166 109 120
38 131 132 Carlos Beltran STL OF 128 196 115 135 - 111 120 95 105
39 135 125 Emilio Bonifacio MIA SS/3B/OF 124 114 213 83 - 109 142 172 119
40 140 157 Martin Prado ATL 3B/OF 152 122 168 128 150 115 162 157 150
41 141 149 Nick Swisher NYY 1B/OF 163 170 150 146 115 137 158 114 153
42 143 165 Melky Cabrera SF OF 164 141 149 149 151 102 138 173 157
43 148 142 Logan Morrison MIA OF 146 - 153 118 - 75 171 133 145
44 149 156 Jeff Francoeur KC OF 189 151 180 136 124 133 144 146 164
45 154 154 Torii Hunter LAA OF 172 - 146 159 198 94 149 131 154
46 163 NR Coco Crisp OAK OF - 146 138 167 199 112 153 169 170
47 172 200 Carlos Lee HOU 1B/OF 161 - - 147 - 150 183 123 175
48 176 189 Austin Jackson DET OF 177 148 - 179 144 - - 136 182
49 185 213 Angel Pagan SF OF 187 167 178 187 154 - 163 193 -
50 186 NR Delmon Young DET OF 155 195 - 162 177 177 169 - 200
51 191 187 Matt Joyce TB OF - 150 - 192 - 164 194 163 199
52 192 175 Carlos Quentin SD OF 194 - - 126 - - - 166 183
53 195 NR Josh Willingham MIN OF - - 184 - 183 167 190 158 -
54 204 177 Peter Bourjos LAA OF - 194 - - 155 - 186 167 -
55 207 NR Lucas Duda NYM 1B/OF - - - - - 173 - 143 190
56 209 155 Mark Trumbo LAA 1B/OF - - - 155 - - 177 - 185
57 210 NR Brandon Belt SF 1B/OF - 197 - 190 186 192 - 154 -
58 215 178 Seth Smith OAK OF - - - - - 128 - - 195
59 216 219 Colby Rasmus TOR OF 175 - - - - - - 152 -
60 217 NR Alex Rios CHW OF - - 197 - 175 - 172 186 -
61 222 NR Yoenis Cespedes OAK OF - - - - - 153 - - -
62 223 216 Yonder Alonso SD 1B/OF 181 - - - - 176 - - -
63 227 NR Jose Tabata PIT OF - 184 - - - 178 - - -
64 231 NR Dexter Fowler COL OF - - - 177 - - - 190 -
65 232 NR Mike Carp SEA 1B/OF - - - - - 166 - - -
66 237 223 Jason Kubel ARI OF 169 - - - - - - - -
67 240 221 Jason Bay NYM OF 173 - - - - - - - -
68 249 NR Brennan Boesch DET OF - - - - 196 - - 188 -
69 251 212 Mike Trout LAA OF 188 - - - - - - 200 -
70 254 NR Bryan LaHair CHC OF - - - 189 - - - - -
71 263 NR Ben Revere MIN OF - - - - - - - 197 -
72 264 NR Jon Jay STL OF - - - - - 197 - - -
73 266 167 Alejandro de Aza CHW OF - - - - - 198 - - -
74 267 NR Jason Kubel ARI OF - - 199 - - - - - -

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 29, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

 

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports' updated consensus fantasy rankings reveal plenty of options in a deep outfield</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-shortstop-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is just a few weeks away and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

Troy Tulowitzki remains the clear-cut leader at shortstop followed by Hanley Ramirez and his Marlins' teammate Jose Reyes.

Reports out of spring training are that Ramirez has not only embraced the move to third base due to the arrival of Reyes, but he also has looked good at the plate.

Whether you draft and use Ramirez at shortstop or third, when he becomes eligible there, early signs indicate that you may be getting the offensive force at the plate he was just two seasons ago (.342-24-106 with 101 R and 27 SB). One thing's for sure, if you draft Ramirez, who comes in at No. 19 overall on the Big Board, you certainly don't want a repeat of his 2011 injury-plagued campaign (.243-10-45 in just 92 games).

Overall, there's not a lot of changes in the shortstop positional rankings. Erick Aybar and J.J. Hardy both increased their standing in the Top 200 by at least eight slots, while Emilio Bonifacio went backwards 10 spots, resulting in the three of them swapping positions in the positional rankings.

Stephen Drew cracked the Top 200, but it's all but certain he will not be ready by Opening Day as he continues his recovery from the broken ankle he suffered last July. Drew will most likely start the season on the DL in hopes of returning sometime in May.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA — USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings**: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

Rank OVR LR Player Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 6 5 Troy Tulowitzki COL SS 4 9 6 5 6 15 8 6 4
2 19 20 Hanley Ramirez MIA SS 27 29 13 9 16 34 15 13 21
3 24 24 Jose Reyes MIA SS 18 32 21 31 18 61 19 14 19
4 45 43 Starlin Castro CHC SS 44 79 57 63 42 59 37 43 38
5 57 51 Elvis Andrus TEX SS 64 108 60 60 63 92 49 41 42
6 71 66 Asdrubal Cabrera CLE SS 97 86 63 47 54 97 56 92 64
7 81 81 Jimmy Rollins PHI SS 104 102 49 54 69 146 53 76 73
8 116 121 Derek Jeter NYY SS 125 118 113 101 97 - 94 105 118
9 118 123 Alexei Ramirez CHW SS 127 138 86 89 123 131 116 145 129
10 127 139 Erick Aybar LAA SS 153 127 129 95 112 - 131 111 135
11 133 141 J.J. Hardy BAL SS 140 168 111 91 129 191 170 90 134
12 135 125 Emilio Bonifacio MIA SS/3B/OF 124 114 213 83 - 109 142 172 119
13 138 147 Dee Gordon LAD SS 138 145 133 157 169 138 139 162 96
14 151 163 Jhonny Peralta DET SS 142 169 126 106 193 200 159 138 149
15 190 NR Stephen Drew ARI SS - - 160 152 - - 197 151 -
16 199 211 Yunel Escobar TOR SS 192 183 200 161 - - - 153 -
17 214 NR Marco Scutaro COL SS - - 169 - 171 - 182 198 -
18 238 222 Ian Desmond WAS 2B/SS 171 - - - - - - - -
19 256 NR Mike Aviles BOS 2B/SS/3B - - - - 191 - - - -

Other names to consider (in alphabetical order): Clint Barmes (PIT, SS), Willie Bloomquist (ARI, SS/OF), Jamey Carroll (MIN, 2B/SS), Alcides Escobar (KC, SS), Rafael Furcal (STL, SS), Alex Gonzalez (MIL, SS), Macier Izturis (LAA, 2B/SS/3B), Jed Lowrie (HOU, SS/3B), Sean Rodriguez (TB, 2B/SS/3B), Ruben Tejada (NYM, 2B/SS)

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 23, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

 

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki remains the clear-cut No. 1 shortstop in Athlon Sports' updated consensus fantasy rankings</p>
Post date: Friday, March 23, 2012 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-second-base-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is just a few weeks away and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

The top four at second base stay the same as Robinson Cano leads the way followed by Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Ben Zobrist.

Brandon Phillips and Michael Young have swapped places at fifth and seventh, respectively, with Dan Uggla falling in between them. Phillips slight move up the Top 200 could be attributed to Reds manager Dusty Baker's assertion that Phillips will star the season as his leadoff hitter. Phillips was moved to the leadoff spot last August and thrived there, hitting .350 with seven home runs, seven stole bases and a .417 on-base percentage.

Chase Utley dropped just a few spots in the Top 200, but that's subject to change as the Phillies' second basemen is dealing with issues with both knees. He left the Phillies' camp earlier this week to see a knee specialist and the team has already said his availability to be ready by Opening Day is in doubt.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA — USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings**: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

Rank OVR LR Player: Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 7 8 Robinson Cano NYY 2B 3 16 7 10 10 13 7 8 8
2 15 15 Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B 13 14 15 11 21 16 14 19 17
3 22 22 Ian Kinsler TEX 2B 28 30 19 26 14 35 20 15 20
4 50 52 Ben Zobrist TB 2B/OF 93 72 51 41 45 64 43 51 52
5 53 59 Brandon Phillips CIN 2B 39 101 54 49 49 71 52 47 55
6 55 57 Dan Uggla ATL 2B 100 103 42 52 64 50 45 55 48
7 59 53 Michael Young TEX 1B/2B/3B 74 56 95 43 101 26 57 75 61
8 75 64 Rickie Weeks MIL 2B 95 95 83 45 55 96 67 54 84
9 89 83 Chase Utley PHI 2B 68 100 76 71 98 - 74 67 71
10 90 90 Howard Kendrick LAA 1B/2B/OF 85 119 118 79 84 88 91 101 72
11 112 120 Michael Cuddyer COL 1B/2B/OF 96 152 92 123 156 139 98 121 70
12 123 129 Dustin Ackley SEA 2B 112 144 171 93 135 152 132 103 117
13 146 148 Neil Walker PIT 2B 141 157 167 104 - 117 154 144 147
14 152 146 Jason Kipnis CLE 2B 139 - 174 148 167 135 134 141 156
15 159 164 Ryan Roberts ARI 2B/3B 162 123 165 112 192 162 189 180 155
16 162 168 Danny Espinosa WAS 2B 182 185 189 113 166 140 165 155 160
17 167 186 Jemile Weeks OAK 2B 165 131 - 180 - 156 145 147 177
18 178 193 Kelly Johnson TOR 2B - 161 175 164 141 199 157 - 188
19 229 NR Aaron Hill ARI 2B - 198 - 168 - - - - -
20 256 NR Mike Aviles BOS 2B/SS/3B - - - - 191 - - - -
21 259 NR Darwin Barney CHC 2B - - - 194 - - - - -

Other names to consider (in alphabetical order): Jose Altuve (HOU, 2B), Gordon Beckham (CHW, 2B), Jamey Carroll (MIN, 2B/SS), Allen Craig (STL, 2B/OF), Mark Ellis (LAD, 2B), Orlando Hudson (SD, 2B), Macier Izturis (LAA, 2B/SS/3B), Daniel Murphy (NYM, 1B/2B/3B), Ryan Raburn (DET, 2B/OF), Brian Roberts (BAL, 2B), Sean Rodriguez (TB, 2B/SS/3B), Scott Sizemore (OAK, 2B/3B), Ruben Tejada (NYM, 2B/SS)

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 23, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

 

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports' updated consensus fantasy rankings at second base reveal no change at the top</p>
Post date: Friday, March 23, 2012 - 09:45
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-third-base-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is just a few weeks away and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get you ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

Jose Bautista still leads the way at third base, that is until Miguel Cabrera gains position eligibility at the hot corner.

Hanley Ramirez is also making the switch to third, and for what it's worth, he would come in behind Evan Longoria in these rankings. Neither he nor Cabrera appear below because they have not gained third-base eligibility at this point.

David Wright is someone to keep an eye on these next few weeks as he is dealing with a torn abdominal muscle in his left side. It's the same injury that fellow third baseman Ryan Zimmerman suffered during spring training last season.

Zimmerman originally tried to play it through, but was put on the DL shortly after the start of the season and ended up having surgery in early May. He finally returned in the middle of June, but it took him a few weeks to get going and he finished the season with career lows in both home runs (12) and RBIs (49).

Wright is trying to let his abdominal muscle heal with rest and treatment in hopes of avoiding surgery, but it's a situation that definitely bears watching.

Brett Lawrie has been tearing the cover off of the ball during spring training, which probably is part of the reason for his slight rise in the Top 200 and passing Michael Young in the third base rankings.

The biggest risers at third in the rankings are Martin Prado (No. 140 overall, up from No. 157) and David Freese (No. 166, up from No. 198).

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA — USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings**: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

Rank OVR LR Player Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 5 4 Jose Bautista TOR 3B/OF 11 2 5 6 3 6 5 5 5
2 18 17 Evan Longoria TB 3B 33 20 11 16 17 19 16 7 13
3 28 30 Adrian Beltre TEX 3B 31 37 27 34 29 53 23 29 26
4 34 29 David Wright NYM 3B 73 23 29 24 20 91 26 23 29
5 35 36 Ryan Zimmerman WAS 3B 29 42 34 42 32 60 47 24 33
6 39 48 Pablo Sandoval SF 3B 34 54 33 44 68 27 38 69 39
7 48 56 Brett Lawrie TOR 3B 71 55 46 67 44 33 63 71 45
8 59 53 Michael Young TEX 1B/2B/3B 74 56 95 43 101 26 57 75 61
9 62 61 Alex Rodriguez NYY 3B 98 66 67 50 53 83 72 58 46
10 69 72 Kevin Youkilis BOS 1B/3B 58 45 98 59 77 105 76 68 60
11 74 74 Aramis Ramirez MIL 3B 89 107 58 64 86 62 73 57 74
12 115 113 Mark Reynolds BAL 1B/3B 120 98 156 107 111 101 123 124 128
13 135 125 Emilio Bonifacio MIA SS/3B/OF 124 114 213 83 - 109 142 172 119
14 140 157 Martin Prado ATL 3B/OF 152 122 168 128 150 115 162 157 150
15 159 164 Ryan Roberts ARI 2B/3B 162 123 165 112 192 162 189 180 155
16 166 198 David Freese STL 3B 145 192 194 160 145 169 - 117 167
17 174 180 Mike Moustakas KC 3B 186 181 190 130 - 149 - 148 172
18 203 194 Edwin Encarnacion TOR 3B - - - 144 162 - - - 191
19 220 NR Chase Headley SD 3B - 179 - - - 188 - 184 -
20 256 NR Mike Aviles BOS 2B/SS/3B - - - - 191 - - - -
21 269 NR Pedro Alvarez PIT 3B - - - 200 - - - - -

Other names to consider (in alphabetical order): Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE, 3B), Chris Davis (BAL, 1B/3B), Macier Izturis (LAA, 2B/SS/3B), Chipper Jones (ATL, 3B), Jed Lowrie (HOU, SS/3B), Daniel Murphy (NYM, 1B/2B/3B), Placido Polanco (PHI, 3B), Sean Rodriguez (TB, 2B/SS/3B), Scott Sizemore (OAK, 2B/3B), Ian Stewart (CHC, 3B), Danny Valencia (MIN, 3B), Ty Wigginton (PHI, 1B/3B/OF)

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 21, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

 

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports' has updated its consensus fantasy rankings at third base</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-first-base-rankings
Body:

Opening Day is just a few weeks away and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

At first base, not much has changed in the updated positional rankings. Miguel Cabrera, who's moving to third this season, and Albert Pujols flip-flop places atop the first base rankings, followed by Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder, the reason why Cabrera is moving over to the hot corner.

The biggest changes are all injury or illness-related as Ryan Howard (Achilles), Ike Davis (lung infection), Justin Morneau (concussion-related symptoms and numerous surgeries) and Mark Trumbo (stress fracture in foot) all dropped in the rankings. Howard is out until at least May, if not longer, which is the main reason why he has fallen in the rankings. Davis and Trumbo were both limited early on in spring training by their situations, but appear to be back on track, while Morneau has struggled to find his timing and power at the plate.

There has been some positive news on the injury front, however. Kendrys Morales, who last played on May 29, 2010 due to a severely fractured ankle, has been making slow, but steady progress during spring training. He is scheduled to make his long-awaited return to game action later this week.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
OVR
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – CBSSportsline.com (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – FOXSports.com (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – MLB.com (as of 3/15/12)
RC – RotoChamp.com (updated 3/18/12)
RS – RotoSummit.com (updated 2/27/12)
USA - USAToday.com (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings**: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

Rank OVR LR Player Team Pos AS CBS ESPN FOX MLB RC RS USA Y!
1 1 3 Miguel Cabera DET 1B 2 1 1 4 4 1 4 3 1
2 2 1 Albert Pujols LAA 1B 1 3 2 3 2 3 3 4 3
3 9 7 Joey Votto CIN 1B 16 12 10 12 9 5 9 10 7
4 10 9 Adrian Gonzalez BOS 1B 7 13 14 7 11 11 13 9 9
5 17 16 Prince Fielder DET 1B 17 26 18 15 12 7 18 18 14
6 23 21 Mark Teixeira NYY 1B 22 33 24 23 24 18 27 31 23
7 36 33 Carlos Santana CLE C/1B 52 17 52 30 35 32 46 40 41
8 38 38 Mike Napoli TEX C/1B 57 43 47 27 39 30 41 36 53
9 39 48 Pablo Sandoval SF 1B/3B 34 54 33 44 68 27 38 69 39
10 46 42 Paul Konerko CHW 1B 70 97 36 37 40 38 35 65 47
11 52 49 Eric Hosmer KC 1B 41 106 45 39 74 43 40 60 68
12 59 53 Michael Young TEX 1B/2B/3B 74 56 95 43 101 26 57 75 61
13 69 72 Kevin Youkilis BOS 1B/3B 58 45 98 59 77 105 76 68 60
14 70 79 Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF 103 83 71 53 82 42 70 83 62
15 77 76 Joe Mauer MIN C/1B 43 48 131 58 66 77 85 93 95
16 83 87 Lance Berkman STL 1B/OF 105 78 59 77 96 52 77 99 86
17 90 90 Howard Kendrick LAA 1B/2B/OF 85 119 118 79 84 88 91 101 72
18 98 98 Billy Butler KC 1B 55 111 102 129 153 37 121 85 123
19 109 107 Freddie Freeman ATL 1B 81 147 120 76 143 81 127 97 115
20 112 120 Michael Cuddyer COL 1B/2B/OF 96 152 92 123 156 139 98 121 70
21 115 113 Mark Reynolds BAL 1B/3B 120 98 156 107 111 101 123 124 128
22 141 149 Nick Swisher NYY 1B/OF 163 170 150 146 115 137 158 114 153
23 142 143 Paul Goldschmidt ARI 1B 136 - 182 150 117 126 192 113 98
24 145 136 Adam Lind TOR 1B 158 - 135 142 133 110 115 195 142
25 158 183 Gaby Sanchez MIA 1B 156 182 162 133 200 154 175 115 161
26 160 118 Ryan Howard PHI 1B 159 126 196 171 187 - 160 150 94
27 161 137 Ike Davis NYM 1B 157 149 208 172 152 - 168 140 111
28 165 153 Justin Morneau MIN 1B 59 191 - 176 181 - - 126 151
29 172 200 Carlos Lee HOU 1B/OF 161 - - 147 - 150 183 123 175
30 182 190 Kendrys Morales LAA 1B 154 - - - 168 122 - - 176
31 207 NR Lucas Duda NYM 1B/OF - - - - - 173 - 143 190
32 209 155 Mark Trumbo LAA 1B/OF - - - 155 - - 177 - 185
33 210 NR Brandon Belt SF 1B/OF - 197 - 190 186 192 - 154 -
34 218 NR Carlos Pena TB 1B - - 192 - 182 180 - 178 -
35 223 216 Yonder Alonso SD 1B/OF 181 - - - - 176 - - -
36 232 NR Mike Carp SEA 1B/OF - - - - - 166 - - -
37 236 NR James Loney LAD 1B - - - - - 168 - - -
38 253 NR Adam Dunn CHW 1B/DH - - - - 188 - - - -

Other names to consider (in alphabetical order): Chris Davis (BAL, 1B/3B), Todd Helton (COL, 1B), Aubrey Huff (SF, 1B/OF), Garrett Jones (PIT, 1B/OF), Adam LaRoche (WAS, 1B), Mitch Moreland (TEX, 1B/OF), Daniel Murphy (NYM, 1B/2B/3B), Justin Smoak (SEA, 1B), Ty Wigginton (PHI, 1B/3B/OF)

— by Mark Ross, updated on March 21, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

 

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports' updated consensus fantasy rankings reveal the AL's strength and depth at first base</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/peyton-manning-decides-continue-his-nfl-career-denver
Body:

While we still don't know how well Peyton Manning will look under center come this fall, at least we now know what uniform he will be wearing.

ESPN is reporting that Manning intends to sign with Denver and has instructed his agent to engage in contract negotiations with the Broncos, ending a nearly two-week long saga following his March 7 release by Indianapolis. While as many as 12 teams reached out to Manning’s representatives to gauge the quarterback’s interest in signing with them once he became a free agent, in the end Manning chose the Broncos over Tennessee and San Francisco.

Although Manning’s decision wasn’t announced via a live television special ala LeBron James’, the process leading up to it has been the focus of much attention these past two weeks. Manning’s movements along with those teams interested in signing him have been followed closely, everything from his visits to these teams’ facilities or trips to Durham, N.C., to watch him throw, along with every flight plan filed by any of the parties involved in between.

Fortunately, now that Manning has picked Denver, the Manning Watch can officially come to an end and the 49ers and Titans can move on to their other offseason business. For the Broncos, however, it’s anything but business as usual.

For starters, there will be the obligatory introductory press conference, where Manning, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, Executive Vice President of Operations John Elway, and head coach John Fox will talk about the process, his decision, his impact on the team this coming year and moving forward.

No doubt everyone will be all smiles during this press conference and for all the cameras present when Manning holds up his new jersey. Fortunately, the last and only Bronco to wear No. 18, Frank Tripucka, the franchise’s first quarterback, has already given his blessing to the team to un-retire the number for Manning.

But while Manning’s jersey number should not be a problem, the same can’t be said for the instant quarterback controversy that has been created as a result of his decision to join the Broncos. What happens to Tim Tebow?

It was just two months ago that Elway, who has never been hesitant to share his opinions regarding Tebow’s performance and progression as the Broncos’ quarterback, said Tebow was the team’s starting quarterback entering the 2012 season. With Manning coming to town, it appears all but certain that Tebow will once again be second on the depth chart come this fall.

That was the situation this past season, when Tebow replaced Kyle Orton as the Broncos’ starting quarterback after a 1-4 start. Tebow would go on to lead his team to the AFC West title and a win over the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. Even though Tebow performed poorly in the Broncos’ season-ending 45-10 loss to the Patriots in the divisional round, all indications were that Tebow had earned the opportunity to be the man in Denver this coming season.

At least that’s what Elway said in January. That was before the Hall of Fame quarterback added Manning, who like Elway will be enshrined in Canton as soon as he becomes eligible for induction, to his roster.

It’s safe to assume that Manning is not coming to Denver to compete with Tebow for the starting job, so for the second straight year, Tebow knows he will enter training camp as the backup. That is if he’s still with the Broncos once training camp rolls around.

The Broncos could end up trading Tebow to another team, looking to capitalize on his value. Questions may persist about Tebow’s ability to develop into a consistent, productive thrower in the NFL, but no one can question his will, determination and drive, nor the fact that he went 8-5 in his first chance at being a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Tebow is already one of the NFL’s most popular, if not polarizing, players in the league, so there’s the added incentive of what he could mean to a team, ranging from ticket sales to fan interest.

With Manning now off the market and Matt Flynn signing with the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend, one could argue that the two most attractive quarterback options that are in need of one are Alex Smith, who is a free agent, and Tebow, who the Broncos could decide to trade.

Whether the Broncos’ brain trust of Bowlen, Elway and Fox decide to trade Tebow or not remains to be seen, but you can bet it’s one of the questions that will be raised during Manning’s introductory press conference. And just like that the Broncos go from celebrating one decision, to having to deal with a new one.

— by Mark Ross, published on March 19, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Peyton Manning decides to resume his NFL career with Denver, choosing the Broncos over the 49ers and Titans</p>
Post date: Monday, March 19, 2012 - 13:13
Path: /college-football/north-carolina-tar-heels-2012-spring-preview
Body:

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

North Carolina Tar Heels 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 7-6, 3-5 ACC

Spring practice: March 15-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Bryn Renner, 239 of 350, 3,086 yards, 26 TDs, 13 INTs
Rushing: Giovani Bernard: 239 car., 1,253 yds., 13 TDs
Receiving: Erik Highsmith: 51 rec., 726 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Kevin Reddick, 71
Sacks: Kareem Martin, 4
Interceptions: Tre Boston, 3

Redshirts to watch: DL Devonte Brown, OL Kiaro Holts, QB Marquise Williams, S Darien Rankin, OL Jarrod James

Early Enrollees: TE Terrance Knox, LB Shakeel Rashad

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Elon
Sept. 8 at Wake Forest
Sept. 15 at Louisville
Sept. 22 East Carolina
Sept. 29 Idaho
Oct. 6 Virginia Tech
Oct. 13 at Miami (Fla.)
Oct. 20 at Duke
Oct. 27 vs. NC State
Nov. 10 Georgia Tech
Nov. 15 at Virginia
Nov. 24 Maryland

Offensive Strength: North Carolina has two of the ACC’s top returning offensive players in quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard. Renner led the ACC in passing efficiency last season as a sophomore, while Bernard, who will be just a sophomore in 2012, is the conference’s leading returning rusher. The Tar Heels also return four starters on the offensive line, which is anchored on the left side by Jonathan Cooper and James Hurst. Both earned 2nd team All-ACC honors in 2011.

Offensive Weakness: There’s no question the Tar Heels will miss wide receiver Dwight Jones. Last year he led the ACC with 85 catches, was third in receiving yards (1,196) and fifth in the conference in touchdowns (12). The focus now shifts to who will step up and help senior Erik Highsmith (51 receptions in 2011) and become a reliable receiver for Renner. There’s also the matter of making the switch to new head coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense from the pro style scheme used last year by interim head coach Everett Withers and his staff.

Defensive Strength: The Tar Heels return six starters on defense, headlined by linebacker Kevin Reddick, cornerback Tre Boston and defensive end Kareem Martin. They also return several experienced players from last year’s two-deep who are ready for the opportunity to become starters. This year’s defense will be under the direction of new co-coordinators Vic Koenning and Dan Disch. Koenning had been the defensive coordinator at Illinois the past two seasons, during which time the Fighting Illini’s defense improved from 91st in the country in total defense in 2009 to seventh in 2011. Disch follows Fedora from Southern Miss where he successfully implemented his brand of a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

Defensive Weakness: Although the defense returns six starters, it still lost a lot of talent and production in the departures of the other. Defensive end Quinton Coples is projected as a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft and linebacker Zach Brown will more than likely hear his name called in the early rounds as well. Defensive lineman Donte Paige-Moss and Tydreke Powell and cornerback Charles Brown could also get drafted or eventually end up on a NFL roster too. Just like the offense, the defense will be switching schemes as Koenning and Kisch are expected to implement a hybrid 4-2-5/3-3-5 style.

Spring Storylines Facing the Tar Heels

1. On Monday, the NCAA announced that the North Carolina football program had been banned from postseason play in 2012 and other additional penalties stemming from numerous violations committed under former head coach Butch Davis. The program was also placed on three years’ probation and increased the reduction of scholarships from nine to 15 over the same period. The school was well aware that this announcement was forthcoming, but it’s still not the way new head coach Larry Fedora wanted to start his first season as head coach. Davis and all the other key figures associated with the violations, which included academic fraud, impermissible agent benefits, participation by ineligible players and a failure to monitor the football program, are all gone so at least now the focus can switch back to the product on the field.

2. Fedora will be working hard to teach his spread offense to his new team this spring and it will be interesting to watch how quickly they pick it up. In his four seasons at Southern Miss, the Golden Eagles finished in the top 20 in the nation in total offense three times. The best North Carolina did in that same time span was 51st in 2010. Tar Heel fans shouldn’t expect to see instant results, as Renner isn’t the prototypical quarterback to run a spread offense, but should like and enjoy the new scheme more and more as the season progresses. Don’t be surprised to see Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, who was with Fedora at Southern Miss, tailor the offense more this season to better fit the strengths of both Renner and Bernard, two of the ACC’s premier playmakers.

3. Another reason to temper expectations with the offense is the lack of returning experience and production in the receiving corps. Highsmith is the Tar Heels’ leading returning receiver with 51 catches for 726 yards and five touchdowns. Bernard is next with 45 receptions out of the backfield. After the remaining returning wide receivers combined for 20 catches last year. The returning tight ends had more, but regardless someone will have to step up in the spring if North Carolina wants to develop any sort of consistent passing attack. Senior Jheraine Boyd and sophomore T.J. Thorpe are two receivers to watch, along with senior tight end Nelson Hurst and sophomore Eric Ebron. Two freshmen to keep an eye on are receiver Quinshad Davis, one of the key pieces to Fedora’s first recruiting class, and tight end Terrance Knox.

4. Although the offense will be changing, the defense is undergoing an even more extensive makeover, switching from a 4-3 to a hybrid 4-2-5/3-3-5 scheme. Six starters return, but besides learning all the concepts of the new defense, some of them also may be changing positions as Koenning and Disch figure out where each player fits best. The defensive line lost three standouts in Coples, Paige-Moss and Powell, but linebacker is the position that has the biggest question marks headed into spring practice. Tackle machine Brown is gone and although Reddick is more than capable of assuming the leadership role in the linebacker corps, who will line up beside him remains to be seen. Two players to watch here are junior Darius Lipford and sophomore Travis Hughes. The secondary will play an even more important role in the new scheme putting pressure on returnees like Tre Boston, Jabari Price, Gene Robinson and Tim Scott. Don’t be surprised to see breakdowns in coverage and execution early in the season as the players adapt to and get comfortable in the new system.

5. Fedora and his coaching staff already had enough to deal with in their first season in Chapel Hill, including getting settled in their new surroundings, putting together a recruiting class in a short amount of time and start the process of teaching the players the new offense and defense. Now following the NCAA’s announcement of the additional penalties levied on the football program, they have a new challenge – keeping the team motivated throughout a season that will not include a bowl game. Because of the postseason ban, seniors will be able to transfer to another school and play right away. It remains to be seen if any Tar Heel seniors will go this route, but the success of the North Carolina football program moving forward could very well depend on how the younger players approach this season. Will it be the first step in laying a foundation for the future or will they just go through the motions and not take the opportunity to learn what Fedora and the coaching staff are trying to teach as he works to transform the football program into what he envisions. Only time will tell, but given all the circumstances you could argue no one has a tougher job in college football right now than Fedora and his staff.

Related College Football Content

Athlon's Early Top 25 for 2012
Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2012

C
ollege Football Coaches on the Hot Seat: Spring Practice Edition
College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch

2012 ACC Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Larry Fedora looks to rebuild the North Carolina football program from the ground up while dealing with NCAA penalties that he inherited from the previous coaching regime.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 06:42
Path: /nfl/brandon-marshall-traded-bears-reunited-jay-cutler
Body:

The Chicago Bears have a new wide receiver. Introductions, however, will not be necessary for quarterback Jay Cutler as his new weapon is also a familiar face.

The Bears acquired Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, a move that overshadowed the beginning of free agency when it was announced. The move reunites Cutler and Marshall, who played together in Denver from 2006-08. Miami will receive Chicago's third-round picks in this year's and the 2013 NFL Draft in exchange for Marshall.

Headed into free agency it was clear the Bears' most pressing need was to add a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. To that end, there was widespread speculation that the Bears had identified free agent Vincent Jackson as their top target. Instead, the team decided to make the deal for Marshall and can now turn its focus to addressing other needs through free agency.

Whether or not Marshall was their intended target all along isn't clear, but this much is — he comes at a much cheaper cost than Jackson. Marshall is under contract for three more years and stands to earn a little more than $28 million over that period. The amount he will count towards the Bears' cap each of these years is less than $10 million.

Contrast that to Jackson, who signed a five-year contract worth more than $55 million with Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Jackson's cap hit is reported to be $13 million for the first two seasons of the deal. Marshall's also a year younger than Jackson, as he will turn 28 later this month. Jackson turned 29 in January.

Although it cost the Bears two draft picks, the trade for Marshall allows them the opportunity to use their remaining cap space to address other needs. The Bears had about $24 million in cap space to work with at the start of free agency. This amount places him in the upper-third of the league in terms of available cap space, which should put them in a good position to fill other holes through free agency.

Regardless of what other moves the Bears make, this has already been a successful offseason for first-year general manager Phil Emery. Not only has he filled a glaring need on the roster, he did it with a move that really didn't cost the team a great deal and it's also sure to fire up the city and the Bears' devoted fan base.

One Chicagoan who is definitely excited about Marshall coming to town is Cutler. Cutler's two best seasons as a passer came in 2008 and '09 in Denver. In those two seasons, Cutler averaged nearly 4,100 yards passing and 26 touchdowns, while completing better than 61 percent of his passes. Cutler made the Pro Bowl in 2008 when he threw for more than 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns.

It's no coincidence that in those same two seasons Marshall was Cutler's top target. In 2008-09 combined Marshall had 205 catches, 2,365 yards receiving and 16 touchdown receptions. He also had a 102 receptions for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns in 2007, Cutler's first as the Broncos' starting quarterback.

Contrast those seasons with Cutler's first three in Chicago where he's yet to have a 1,000-yard receiver. Johnny Knox came the closest with 960 yards receiving in 2010. To be fair, Cutler only played in 10 games last season because of a thumb injury, but at the time he also was on pace for his worst passing numbers since 2007.

To take it further, the last Bears wide receiver to have more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season Marty Booker, who had 1,189 yards back in 2002. Marshall has had five straight 1,000-yard seasons, including last year's 1,214-yard campaign on just 81 receptions and working with three different Miami quarterbacks - Chad Henne, J.P. Losman and Matt Moore.

Marshall also made the Pro Bowl in 2011, his third trip in four seasons. The Bears on the other hand, the have had just one wide receiver named to the Pro Bowl in the last 10 years and that was Booker in 2002. Knox was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2009, but that was a kick returner, not a receiver.

Even if Marshall doesn't earn an invite to the Pro Bowl in his first season in a Bears' uniform, he's sure to make a lasting impression on the Bears' passing attack, which finished 26th in the NFL last season. The sheer presence of Marshall on the field is sure to draw attention from opposing defenses and secondaries and it also allows other receivers like Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett to fill roles in the offense that are more suited to their respective skills.

Mike Martz, the architect of the potent "Greatest Show on Turf" offense of the St. Louis Rams in the early 2000s, may no longer be calling the plays in Chicago, but I'm sure new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will find a way to get Marshall involved early and often in the Bears' offense this coming season.

Besides Marshall, the Bears also added former Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell to their roster on Tuesday. Campbell signed a one-year deal to backup Cutler, who missed the last six games of the 2011 season after breaking his thumb in the game against San Diego. Although Cutler is fully expected to be ready to go at the start of training camp, the addition of Campbell, who has started 70 of the 71 games he has appeared in his six seasons with Washington and Oakland, gives the Bears plenty of insurance at the quarterback position.

Last season the Bears went to Caleb Hannie after Cutler got hurt and eventually turned to Josh McCown after Hannie struggled mightily in his four starts. Hannie and McCown led the team to a 1-5 finish, combining for 1,015 yards passing, five touchdowns and 12 interceptions in those last six games. Campbell is 31-39 in his career as a starter with 14,417 yards passing, 74 touchdowns, 50 interceptions and a 60.8 completion percentage.

Once Campbell gets to Chicago, he will no doubt introduce himself to all his new coaches and teammates, including Marshall. That won't be necessary for Cutler. He and Marshall have already connected off and on the field.

And while the duo's relationship off the field will no doubt be analyzed and scrutinized, it's their chemistry and productivity on the field that matters the most. It worked pretty well the first time around and a repeat performance in Chicago is what everyone, from the front office to the fans, are hoping for and eagerly anticipating, even though the 2012 NFL season is more than five months away.

— by Mark Ross, published on March 14, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Chicago Bears trade for Brandon Marshall, reuniting wide receiver with Jay Cutler, his former teammate in Denver</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 08:11
All taxonomy terms: Free agents, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-free-agency-10-players-watch
Body:

The NFL’s new league year officially starts today. One of the first orders of business will be free agency, which starts up at 4 E.T. this afternoon. With about 600 free agents on the market, there will be lots of activity and business should be brisk from the outset.

Here are 10 key players that everyone will be keeping an eye on in anticipation of where they will end up signing. All of these players are unrestricted free agents, meaning they can sign with whichever team they want to or makes them the best offer.

1. Peyton Manning, QB
Even though he turns 36 in less than two weeks, Manning is the hottest commodity on the market. Released by Indianapolis last week, Manning has crisscrossed the country since then visiting different teams to gauge their interest in signing him so he can resume his NFL career.

There’s no shortage of interest in the four-time NFL MVP despite the questions surrounding his physical condition following three neck surgeries in 19 months and not playing in a single game all of last season. At this stage in his career Manning clearly wants to go to a team that will turn over the offense to him from the start and that has the pieces in place to be a Super Bowl contender.

Interested teams: Manning has already visited Arizona and Denver and teams like Miami, Kansas City, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington have all expressed interest in some form or fashion. I don’t think you should rule out San Francisco either, especially if the 49ers don’t re-sign Alex Smith.

Where he ends up: At this point, it sounds like it’s a two-team race between Arizona and Denver, although Manning is reportedly meeting with both Miami and Tennessee over the next couple of days. Denver, Miami and Tennessee each would allow Manning to stay in the AFC, something he seems to prefer. Miami has the biggest need at quarterback of those three, but Manning's meeting with the Broncos was said to have gone well and Titans owner Bud Adams has said he will do whatever it takes to sign the former University of Tennessee quarterback. Arizona doesn't have a lot of cap space to work with, but the Cardinals can free up some by cutting players, starting with incumbent quarterback Kevin Kolb. Arizona also appears to have the offensive personnel and game plan that fits better with Manning, especially when it comes to one Larry Fitzgerald. In the end, I think Manning will follow in Kurt Warner’s footsteps and relocate, fittingly enough, to Phoenix where he will look to resurrect his career out in the desert. ARIZONA

UPDATE: Manning informed Denver on March 19 of his desire to sign with the Broncos. On March 20, prior to his introductory press conference, Manning and the Broncos agreed on a five-year, $96 million contract.

2. Mario Williams, LB
Houston could have applied the franchise tag to Williams in order to keep him with the team, but they chose not to, making the former No. 1 overall pick a free agent. The Texans instead committed big money to re-signing running back Arian Foster and have several other key free agents and very little cap space to work with, so the chances are Williams will be wearing a new uniform in 2012.

Injuries have limited Williams the past two seasons as he played just five games last season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Still, he is a two-time Pro Bowler who is just 27 years old and he averaged nearly 11 sacks a season from 2007-10. There figures to be a large market for an athletic, dynamic pass-rusher who can play either linebacker or defensive end.

Interested teams: Pretty much any team that can afford Williams would love to add him to their roster. Teams like Dallas, New England and Tennessee will surely reach out to gauge his interest, as could Chicago, Jacksonville, Seattle and Tampa Bay. I also wouldn’t rule out Denver, especially should the Broncos not manage to bring Manning into the fold. Broncos coach Mike Fox had a fair amount of success in Carolina with a player similar to Williams by the name of Julius Peppers.

Where he ends up: Titans owner Bud Adams has already gone on record that he wants Manning on his team. But who is team really needs is Williams, a dynamic defensive player who has an established track record of being able to get to the quarterback. The Titans finished 31st out of 32 teams in sacks last season and have several free agents of their own along the defensive line. Williams fills both needs and the Titans also offer the added bonus of facing his former Texans’ teammates twice every season. TENNESSEE

UPDATE: Williams signed a six-year contract with Buffalo on March 15 that could be worth as much as $100 million.

3. Vincent Jackson, WR
San Diego chose not to use the franchise tag on Jackson a second straight season, granting the Pro Bowl wide receiver the free agent status he has been yearning for. Now’s the opportunity for Jackson, who bounced back from a disappointing 2010 season with 60 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, to finally cash in.

There are about 60 wide receivers in this year’s free agent class, but Jackson’s combination of size, speed and athletic ability will probably make him the most sought after at the position. He would fill the bill for any team looking for a No. 1 wideout, especially one that has a quarterback that likes to throw the ball deep down the field.

Interested teams: Teams like Chicago, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Washington all need a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver. San Diego fits that bill as well and don’t rule out a reunion with the Chargers, who have some cap space to work with. Buffalo, St. Louis and Tampa Bay are possibilities as well. And there’s teams like Carolina, Minnesota and New England who could look to add Jackson as a complement to what they already have. Can you imagine Jackson lining up beside or opposite of Wes Welker with Tom Brady pulling the trigger or Cam Newton having Jackson and Steve Smith as options?

Where he ends up: Jackson wants to get paid and I think he also wants to be the clear-cut No. 1 guy wherever he lands. Jay Cutler likes to throw the ball downfield and the Bears haven’t had a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver since the days of Willie Gault. Or at least that’s the way it probably feels like to Bears fan. Either way, this makes too much sense to me to not happen. CHICAGO

UPDATE: Jackson signed a five-year contract with Tampa Bay worth more than $55 million on March 13.

4. Carl Nicks, OL
New Orleans’ preference would have been to apply its franchise tag to Nicks rather than quarterback Drew Brees. But the Saints were unable to come to terms with Brees on a new contract before the deadline, so they tagged Brees, making Nicks a free agent.

A First-Team All-Pro last season, the Saints’ top priority is to re-sign Nicks, who is certain to draw plenty of attention. If anything, re-signing Nicks could serve two purposes. Besides keeping the Saints’ stout offensive line intact, bringing Nicks back would figure to make Brees, who Nicks helps protect and keep upright, happy and possibly more amenable to working out their differences regarding a new, long-term contract.

Interested teams: Which team wouldn’t want to add an All-Pro left guard like Nicks? That said, New Orleans is going to do everything it can to keep him, but I expect teams like Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minnesota, Seattle and even Washington to be involved and if anything, drive up the bidding.

Where he ends up: Unless some team with a lot of cap space decides to throw a ridiculous amount of money Nicks’ way, I just don’t see the Saints letting him get away and risk ticking off Brees even more at this point in their contract negotiations with him. NEW ORLEANS

UPDATE: Nicks signed with Tampa Bay for five years and a reported $47.5 million.

5. Stephen Tulloch, LB
Probably not a name many would expect on this list, but Tulloch has been one of the best middle linebackers in the entire league the past three seasons and like the aforementioned Williams, he is just 27 years old. Tulloch didn’t miss a beat in his first season with Detroit after being with Tennessee the previous five as he collected 92 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and recovered three fumbles.

Interested teams: Detroit would like nothing more than to bring Tulloch back as he is a perfect fit for head coach Jim Schwartz’s, who also coached him in Tennessee, defensive system. However, young, productive middle linebackers who can cover a lot of ground and are available like Tulloch are few and far between. Don’t be surprised to see teams that need help at linebacker, like Buffalo, Philadelphia, Seattle and Tampa Bay to be in play either.

Where he ends up: Of these candidates, the Eagles probably have the biggest need, but given how much they spent in free agency last season, probably won’t be able to last long should a bidding war develop. If the Eagles aren’t seriously involved, I don’t see Tulloch wanting to leave a situation like he has in Detroit and some Lions’ players have already restructured their contracts to free up more cap space to help keep last season’s roster intact. DETROIT

UPDATE: On March 20, Tulloch agreed to a new five-year contract to remain with the Lions.

6. Marques Colston, WR
Colston (6-4, 225) has the look of a No. 1 wide receiver, but is probably best suited for a team where he can share the load, and not tote it on his own. He has certainly produced like a top wideout, with five 1,000-yard receiving seasons and an average of eight touchdown receptions during his career.

He also has missed at least one game in four of his six seasons and a pretty extensive medical history for someone under 30. Colston also is more of a slot or possession-type of receiver who is perfectly suited for his role in New Orleans’ passing attack.

Interested teams: I’m pretty sure New Orleans would gladly welcome Colston back, but it would have to be at their price given their other free agents and available cap space. Outside of the Saints, Colston seems to a good fit for teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tampa Bay or Washington, who could use a possession/slot receiver to help bolster their corps. Chicago could be a player if they are unable to sign the aforementioned Jackson, and Indianapolis and St. Louis are two other teams to keep an eye on.

Where he ends up: The Saints are the best fit for him and who wouldn’t want to catch passes from Drew Brees? I’m just not sure the Saints are in a position to afford him and will be hard-pressed to match any offers made by teams with more cap space. If a bidding war does ensue for Colston, then it may come down to who offers him the most money, even if it means going to a team that doesn’t have the look of a contender next season or even in the immediate future. This may seem a little far-fetched, but we know for sure that there will be a new quarterback in place here and most likely the top two receivers from last year will not be back, so why not the Colts? INDIANAPOLIS

UPDATE: New Orleans re-signed Colston before the start of free agency on March 13 to a four-year contract worth around $40 million.

7. Matt Flynn, QB
Flynn has served as Aaron Rodgers’ back up in Green Bay the past four years. His apprenticeship under the 2011 NFL MVP is similar to Rodgers’ three-year stint as the backup to Brett Favre.

Now does that mean Flynn is going to be a Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP within the next four years? Not likely, but at the very least it does look like he’s going to get his chance at being some team’s starter. Several teams appear to have a need at the position and Flynn could serve as Plan B for these teams if they are not able to lure Manning to their city.

Interested teams: Cleveland, Miami and Seattle appear the most likely destinations for Flynn, and two of these three seem be out of the running for Manning’s services. The Dolphins’ new head coach is Joe Philbin, who served as the Packers’ offensive coordinator the past five seasons.

Where he ends up: Familiarity with the head coach and the offensive system he most likely will implement are no doubt appealing, but let’s not forget about the south Florida climate. Where would you rather play in December – sunny Miami or on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field? Come on now. Be honest. If the Dolphins are unable to lure Manning's talents to South Beach, then I think Flynn is Plan B. MIAMI

UPDATE: Flynn reached agreement with Seattle on a three-year contract on March 18. The deal is reportedly worth $26 million.

8. Brandon Lloyd, WR
After a breakthrough 2010 campaign with Denver, Lloyd started off slowly last season while being caught up in the Broncos’ quarterback controversy. Lloyd was traded to St. Louis after just four games and was fairly productive (51 rec., 683 yards, 5 TDs in 11 games) considering the Rams ranked 30th in the league in passing offense.

Lloyd will be 31 by the time the 2012 season rolls around, but still looks to have plenty left in the tank as he came up just shy of his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season in 2011. He would be a perfect sidekick for a team that already has an established No. 1 wide receiver.

Interested teams: The same teams that figure to go after Jackson and Colston will more than likely keep tabs on Lloyd as well. That means teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Washington will probably at least kick the tires. Then there's New England, where Josh McDaniels is the offensive coodinator running a system that Lloyd has already had success in at both Denver and St. Louis. Lloyd appears to be a perfect complement to Welker should New England be willing.

Where he ends up: Lloyd’s breakout season in Denver came when McDaniels was the Broncos’ head coach. The two were reunited last year in St. Louis, where McDaniels was the Rams’ offensive coordinator, after Lloyd was traded to the Rams. McDaniels is now back with New England as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator. So guess where Lloyd has already started he would like to end up? NEW ENGLAND

UPDATE: Lloyd and the Patriots reached agreement on a three-year, $12 million deal on March 17.

9. Cortland Finnegan, DB
Tennessee and Finnegan were unable to agree on a long-term contract and the Titans used their franchise tag on safety Michael Griffin, placing the former All-Pro cornerback on the market. The cost of the franchise tag for cornerbacks (more than $10.2 million for a one-year deal) is one of the reasons why the Titans didn’t tag Finnegan, who is certainly looking to be paid like one of the top cornerbacks in the league.

The former seventh-round pick has played with a chip on his shoulder from the start of his rookie season in 2006 and has established a reputation for his physical style of play. Any team looking to shore up its secondary and add some fire to its roster will probably take a close look at Finnegan.

Interested teams: Detroit and St. Louis, two teams with ties to Finnegan already immediately come to mind. Schwartz, the Lions' head coach, previously served as the Titans’ defensive coordinator. Then there are the Rams, now coached by Jeff Fisher who was the Titans’ head coach when Finnegan was drafted through 2010. Cincinnati and Tampa Bay are two other teams that could show interest and I wouldn’t rule out Dallas or Washington either.

Where he ends up: Detroit and St. Louis both bear watching if nothing else for their connections to Finnegan and need for a top-flight, tough cornerback. The Rams are in better shape cap-wise, but the Lions appear to offer the better opportunity to make it to the postseason and possibly contend for a Super Bowl. However, Finnegan has made it clear he wants to be paid and paid well, so I think he will end going to the team that makes him the best offer, which usually brings Dallas and Washington into play. However, on Monday the NFL announced it was taking away millions of cap space from both the Cowboys and Redskins for front-loading contracts during the uncapped 2010 season, which could take both teams out of the running for Finnegan and any of the other marquee free agents for that matter. That leaves the Bengals and Buccaneers, both of which have plenty of cap space to make Finnegan a big offer. On the surface, the Bucs seem to be the better fit and have the more pressing need for Finnegan, who is reportedly trying to convince a certain free agent wide receiver with the last name Jackson to join him in Tampa as a package deal. If this happens that would be quite the housewarming gift for new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.TAMPA BAY

UPDATE: On March 13, Finnegan signed a five-year deal worth approximately $50 million with St. Louis on where he will be reunited with Jeff Fisher, his former head coach when he was wtih the Titans.

10. Reggie Wayne, WR
Wayne, who will turn 34 in November is on this list for the same reason that I could have put fellow Indianapolis cast-off tight end Dallas Clark. They both were very productive playing with Peyton Manning and it's not out of the realm of possibility that either of them could be reunited this fall.

Wayne has already put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume with 862 receptions, 11,708 receiving yards and 73 touchdowns in 11 seasons. The majority of that came with No. 18 throwing the ball to him. Wayne's days as a true No. 1 wide receiver are probably behind him, but he could be a very productive complementary wide receiver for some team who also could serve as a mentor for young players at his position.

Interested teams: The ties to Manning connection shouldn't be overlooked, but when you consider the teams Wayne's former quarterback has either visited or is scheduled to visit, only Denver and Miami seem to fit. Arizona has cap space issues to negotiate and other needs they will need to fill other than wide receiver, while I don't think Tennessee is that interested in a Manning-Wayne reunion. If Wayne is willing to play with another quarterback than I think his market could increase quite a bit and teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, San Diego, Seattle, Washington and possibly even New Orleans could get involved.

Where he ends up: As I said earlier, I think Manning ends up in Arizona, but I don't see Wayne joining him there. I actually think Clark would have a better chance of ending up with the Cardinals in that scenario than Wayne for what it's worth. If he can't play with Manning then I think Wayne will look to either get back to Miami, where he played in college, or to New Orleans, where he's from. The Saints will more than likely lose Colston to another team, so Wayne would be a nice replacement. And if he can't catch passes from Manning, I think Wayne would "settle" for Brees. NEW ORLEANS

UPDATE: On March 13, Wayne agreed to a new three-year deal to return to the Colts.

— by Mark Ross, published on March 13, 2012, updated at 2 p.m. CT on March 29

Related NFL Free Agency Content:

2012 NFL Free Agency Primer
2012 NFL Free Agent List

Teaser:
<p> <font id="yui_3_2_0_17_13315952532584354"><span class="yui_3_2_0_17_1331595253258257" id="yui_3_2_0_17_13315952532584353">A look at 10 of the most interesting NFL free agents available and where they may end up</span></font></p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 21:30
All taxonomy terms: free agents, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-2012-free-agency-primer
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This time last year, the NFL lockout had just begun, claiming free agency as one of its first casualties. When the NFL finally got back to business on July 30, free agency was just one of numerous pieces of business that happened in earnest as teams had to scramble to make up for lost time.

Fortunately for teams, players and especially fans, that was then and this is now. The lockout is totally in the rear-view mirror and the NFL has resumed its normal operating schedule with free agency set to start at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Considering there about 600 free agents out on the market, more than 1/3 of all the players in the NFL, there’s no doubt teams have used all of the time afforded them to get ready for the flurry of activity that will begin Tuesday afternoon.

To keep you up to speed, we've put together a quick rundown of how this year’s free agent class shapes up.

For starters, this year’s class of free agents is heavy on the defensive side of the ball. About half of the entire class are defensive players. The biggest group of available players is cornerbacks and wide receivers, each of which numbers around 60. Safeties and outside linebackers follow on the defensive side, each having more than 50, while the number of available inside linebackers in this year’s class is fewer than 40.

It’s a widely held belief that championship teams are built up front, meaning the offensive and defensive lines. If that’s the case, then teams will have plenty of potential building blocks to choose from as there are more than 90 available players from each group.

On offense, it’s little surprise that wide receivers are the largest group (about 60) considering the proliferation of pass-oriented offenses in recent years. There are also nearly 50 running backs (including fullbacks) and more than 30 tight ends looking to land with a team.

Of course, we can’t forget about the quarterback, right? This year’s free agent quarterback class numbers nearly 40 and includes some guy named Manning.

And to be fair, we can’t leave out the special teams guys, represented by about 30 punters, kickers and long snappers, who round out this year’s free agent class. In fact, of the 21 teams that used the franchise tag this year, five of them applied them to their kicker. In addition, the New York Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions, applied their franchise tag to their punter, Steve Weatherford.

Click here for a complete list of 2012 NFL free agents

Now let’s take a closer look at each position group.

Quarterbacks
Peyton Manning is hands down the biggest prize of this group and he is the first domino that needs to fall to get the rest of the movement started. Manning’s decision not only dictates what will happen to some of the other free agent quarterbacks, but it’s also sure to have an impact on the upcoming draft as several teams will look to one (free agency) or the other (draft) to fill their signal-caller needs.

Besides Manning, Drew Brees is technically a member of this class, but he’s not going anywhere as New Orleans slapped the exclusive franchise tag on their field general. Brees may not be thrilled with the move by the team, which could hamper progress toward a long-term contract, but regardless he’s with the Saints at least for one more year because of the exclusive tag.

Then there’s Alex Smith, who, like Manning, is a former No. 1 overall pick. Smith played the best football of his career last season as his 49ers went 13-3 and won then NFC West. If Smith doesn’t re-sign with San Francisco, one of the many rumored potential destinations for Manning, it remains to be seen if another team’s willing to make him their starter.

The other interesting name out there is Matt Flynn. Flynn’s served as Aaron Rodgers’ back up in Green Bay the past four years, but could find himself headed to Miami. There he could become the Dolphins’ starter and be reunited with former Packers’ offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who is Miami’s new head coach.

Other notable free agent quarterbacks: Jason Campbell, Rex Grossman, Chad Henne, Kyle Orton, Curtis Painter, Brady Quinn, Vince Young

Running Backs
Baltimore and Chicago both used their franchise tag on their running backs, so it doesn’t appear that Ray Rice and Matt Forte will be changing uniforms this season. Two other marquee running backs were removed from the potential free agent pool recently when Houston signed Arian Foster to a five-year deal and Seattle kept Marshawn Lynch in the fold with a four-year pact.

There’s still plenty of backs to keep an eye on, including Peyton Hillis, who is almost guaranteed of a change of scenery given how his last season in Cleveland went, both on the field and off of it. Staying in the AFC North, Cedric Benson’s time in Cincinnati may be coming to an end, but it seems highly likely that some other team will find room for a running back who’s rushed for 1,000 or more yards the past three seasons and doesn’t turn 30 until the end of the year.

Joseph Addai, LeGarrette Blount, Ronnie Brown, Ryan Grant, Brandon Jacobs and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are other 1,000-yard rushers who are currently less than 30 years old that are on the market. At first glance, it appears that Green-Ellis, depending upon what direction Tampa Bay goes with its first-round pick (Alabama’s Trent Richardson perhaps?), is the likeliest to remain with his old team. Addai and Jacobs are among the most recent free agents added to the pool as they were both released on Friday.

Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson headline the group of veterans with more than 10 years of experience looking for jobs. In the case of Tomlinson, he’s looking for the right fit on a team that has a good shot at winning the Super Bowl, the only thing missing from his impressive resume.

One other situation that bears watching is in Pittsburgh. Isaac Redman is a free agent, but don’t be surprised if he stays with the Steelers. Redman took over the starting duties after Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in the team’s final-regular season game on New Year’s Day. While nothing’s been decided, it’s entirely possible that Mendenhall will be lost for the entire 2012 season, which would put even more impetus on bringing back Redman.

Other notable free agent running backs: Lance Ball, Michael Bush, Justin Forsett, Earnest Graham, Tim Hightower, Jerious Norwood, Kevin Smith, Mike Tolbert, Cadillac Williams

Wide Receivers
With nearly 60 wide receivers available, there figures to be a fair amount of movement within this group. This is also a group from which several bidding wars among interested teams could take place in the hopes of adding the likes of a Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Mike Wallace or Reggie Wayne.

That group doesn’t include Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker, who each tagged by their respective teams and most likely won’t be switching uniforms this coming season.

One wide receiver that is looking to cash in after a big season is Laurent Robinson. Robinson started last season with San Diego, but was released by the team at the end of training camp. Robinson quickly signed with Dallas, only to be released less than a week later due to a hamstring injury.

Robinson got a second chance with Dallas, however, due to a rash of injuries to the Cowboys’ wide receivers, and this time he made it count. In just 11 games, Robinson led Dallas and finished tied for fourth in the NFL with 11 touchdown receptions. Other than those already mentioned, there’s arguably no other wide receiver in a better bargaining position right now than Robinson.

There’s also one other interesting name out there that certainly bears watching – Randy Moss. Moss didn’t play in 2011 after a disappointing 2010 that saw him suit up for three different teams. However, it looks like Moss wants to return in 2012 as he worked out for New Orleans last week. Does any team have any interest in the mercurial Moss, who is currently second all-time in touchdown receptions, fifth in receiving yards, ninth and receptions and turned 35 in February? We shall see.

Other notable free agent wide receivers: Danny Amendola, Deion Branch, Plaxico Burress, Early Doucet, Lee Evans, Pierre Garcon, Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Jerome Simpson, Donte Stallworth, Roy Williams

Tight Ends
Washington used its franchise tag on Fred Davis, so it appears the Redskins will stick with him even though he missed the last four games of the season after being suspended for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

While Davis may not be going anywhere one former All-Pro tight end is definitely looking for a new team. Dallas Clark was one of five players cut by Indianapolis on Friday, just two days following the release of Manning. Clark was hampered by injuries all of last season and will turn 33 in June, but he's also a productive and dependable tight end with more than 400 receptions, nearly 5,000 yards receiving and 46 touchdowns. He compiled most of these numbers with Manning, could a reunion be in order?

Other notable free agent tight ends: Martellus Bennett, John Carlson, Kellen Davis, Joel Dreessen, Randy McMichael, Leonard Pope, Bo Scaife, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jeremy Shockey, Jacob Tamme

Offensive Line
When New Orleans decided to use the franchise tag on Brees, that meant the team was not able to tag left guard Carl Nicks. The Saints top priority is to re-sign Nicks, but the First-Team All-Pro in 2011 is sure to attract plenty of interest from other teams.

Jeff Backus, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Ryan Diem, Russ Hochstein, Steve Hutchinson and Kareem McKenzie are among the veterans of this group hoping to continue their NFL careers.

Center will be an interesting position to watch as well as free agent options include Matt Birk, Dan Koppen, Jeff Saturday, Scott Wells and Casey Wiegmann.

Other notable free agent offensive linemen: Stacy Andrews, Demetrius Bell, Jacob Bell, Dan Connolly, Ben Grubbs, Andre Gurode, Artis Hicks, Montrae Holland, Chris Kemoeatu, Doug Legursky, Deuce Lutui, Sean Locklear, Todd McClure, Chris Myers, Barry Richardson, Jake Scott, Max Starks

Defensive Line
Cliff Avril (Detroit) and Calais Campbell (Arizona) were tagged, as was Robert Mathis (Indianapolis). That tag wasn’t on there long, however, as the Colts and Mathis quickly came to terms on a new long-term contract. Kroy Biermann also re-signed with Atlanta before making it to free agency, but that still leaves about 90 defensive linemen who are available.

The defensive end pool includes John Abraham, Raheem Brock, Shaun Ellis, Israel Idonije, Aaron Maybin and Cory Redding. Teams looking to bulk up the interior of their defensive line have plenty of choices as well, including Brodrick Bunkley, Tommie Harris, Albert Haynesworth and Paul Soliai.

It’s a pretty safe bet that Haynesworth won’t be signing another $100-million contract in the immediate future, However, considering the two-time First-Team All-Pro will be just 31 this season, there’s a good chance another team will take a chance on him, provided the price is right.

Other notable free agent defensive linemen: Anthony Adams, Dave Ball, Michael Bennett, Adam Carriker, Wallace Gilberry, Kelly Gregg, Williams Hayes, Jason Jones, Jeremy Mincey, Amobi Okoye, Cory Redding, Shaun Rogers, Aaron Smith, Dave Tollefson, Gerard Warren

Linebackers
Last year four linebackers were tagged by their respective teams. This season, the only team to use its franchise tag on a linebacker was Dallas on Anthony Spencer.

One team that could have used its tag on a linebacker was Houston on Mario Williams, but the Texans chose not to, making the former No. 1 overall draft pick a free agent. Even though injuries have limited Williams the past two seasons, including just five games played in 2011 due to a torn pectoral muscle, the two-time Pro Bowler who is just 27 figures to be one of the most attractive free agents in this year’s class.

The teams that miss out on Williams have other options including Chase Blackburn, who made the biggest play of his career when he picked off Tom Brady in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVI in February, as well as Gary Brackett, Dan Connor, James Farrior, London Fletcher, David Hawthorne, Curtis Lofton and Stephen Tulloch.

Other notable free agent linebackers: Bobby Carpenter, Mario Haggan, Geno Hayes, E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson, Leroy Hill, Bradie James, Manny Lawson, Rocky McIntosh, Joey Porter, Matt Roth, Barrett Ruud, Ernie Sims, Wesley Woodyard

Defensive Backs
This season teams applied the franchise tag to three safeties and one cornerback. So while Tyvon Branch (Oakland), Dashon Goldson (San Francisco), Michael Griffin (Tennessee) and Brent Grimes (Atlanta) are more than likely staying put, there are still more than 110 defensive backs who are free agents.

Cortland Finnegan, LaRon Landry and Reggie Nelson are three options who will probably draw a lot of attention in hopes of landing a lucrative long-term contract. Some other names to watch include Brandon Carr, Brian Dawkins, Jim Leonhard, Richard Marshall, Terence Newman, Tracy Porter, Carlos Rogers, Aaron Ross and Lardarius Webb, to name a few.

Other notable free agent defensive backs: Jason Allen, Will Allen, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Ronde Barber, Melvin Bullitt, Chris Carr, Cedric Griffin, Kelvin Hayden, Chris Hope, Adam Jones, Justin King, Jacob Lacey, Brodney Pool, Bob Sanders, Greg Toler, Madieu Williams, Gibril Wilson, Eric Wright, Tom Zbikowski

Kickers/Punters
Thanks to the franchise tag, it appears that Connor Barth, Phil Dawson, Mike Nugent, Matt Prater and Josh Scobee won’t have to worry about trying on a new uniform this season. The same cannot be necessarily said about Jay Feely, Nick Folk, Shayne Graham, John Kasay and Neil Rackers, who are free agents.

And while Weatherford won’t be hitting the market, some punters who could be on the move include Britton Colquitt, Donnie Jones, Brad Maynard, Matt McBriar and Matt Turk. And let’s not forget about the long snappers, either, as nine of them are part of this year’s free agent class.


Regardless of your positional preference, the size and makeup of this year’s free agency class offers plenty to watch and monitor as the process gets underway on Tuesday afternoon. Football fans had to do without it out last year because of the lockout, but it’s back this year.

Fittingly enough, the NCAA Tournament also kicks off on Tuesday, as opening-round games will take place in Dayton, Ohio. So while the first step in determining this year’s men’s basketball champion happens Tuesday night, earlier in the day the fate of about 600 NFL players will begin to play out as well with the start of free agency. Welcome to March Madness, NFL-style.

— by Mark Ross, updated at 3 p.m. CT on March 13, 2012

Teaser:
<p> A look at what NFL players are available and may be joining a new team once free agency starts on Tuesday</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 06:50

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