Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Philadelphia Eagles 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: at Cleveland
Week 2: Baltimore
Week 3: at Arizona
Week 4: New York Giants
Week 5: at Pittsburgh
Week 6: Detroit
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Atlanta
Week 9: at New Orleans (Mon.)
Week 10: Dallas
Week 11: at Washington
Week 12: Carolina (Mon.)
Week 13: at Dallas
Week 14: at Tampa Bay
Week 15: Cincinnati (Thur.)
Week 16: Washington
Week 17: at New York Giants

Order your 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- It is a good thing the bye week comes when it does for the Eagles. Philadelphia will face a six-game run that will rival any in the NFL in 2012: NY Giants, at Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta, at New Orleans and Dallas. If you are counting at home, that stretch features five playoff teams from a year ago not to mention three of the last four Super Bowl champions. And the Cowboys were one game away from winning the NFC East a year ago. Thankfully, the bye falls directly in the middle of that brutal run for the Eagles. They are going to need it.

- The Eagles will play three non-Sunday games this season with a pair of showcase games. A Monday nighter at New Orleans could carry wild card implications. A Week 15 Thursday nighter against Cincinnati should also feature two teams fighting for a playoff bid. But the one to circle is the Week 12 Monday night contest against Carolina. Anytime Michael Vick and Cam Newton are on the field together, it’s must-see TV.

- Two of those non-Sunday contests are against the NFC South — the division the NFC East has to face in round-robin competition this fall. Carolina provides a primetime QB showcase while Phily could be fighting with the Saints and/or Falcons for a wild card playoff berth. The Bucs should also be improved this fall as well.

- In AFC play, the East will have the unenviable task of facing the AFC North this fall. It might be the deepest and toughest division in the AFC, so having to face three playoff teams from a year ago won’t be easy for Vick and company. The season gets started with a road trip to Cleveland. Getting Baltimore and Cincinnati at home is a nice break, but traveling to Pittsburgh isn’t. Some small comfort can be taken from facing the Browns and Steelers within the first five weeks — when the weather in Ohio and Pennsylvania shouldn't be too terrible.

- Within the NFC East, a division that could be completely wide open in 2012, Philadelphia will face only the NY Giants before Week 10. This means the Eagles will face five divisional opponents in the last eight games of the season. It starts with three divisional games in four weeks, including both games against the rival Cowboys. If Andy Reid wants to challenge for a division title, he likely needs to go 2-1 in that span. Additionally, the season will end with back-to-back NFC East games, including a season finale road test in the Meadowlands to battle the Super Bowl champs. This is a cannibalistic division that tends to beat on itself. This season should be no different.

- Home-road splits are negligible in 2012 for the Eagles. They will play consecutive road games only once (Week 13-14) and will play consecutive home games twice (Week 15-16 and Week 6-8).

- The two floating games on the Eagles' schedule this fall will be Arizona (road) and Detroit (home). Former Eagle Kevin Kolb could still be the Cardinals' starting quarterback in Week 3 when Phily visits the desert. Both are winnable contests. 

Fantasy Focus: The fantasy playoffs looks pretty comfortable for any owners with Eagles players. The postseason opponents will be some combination of Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Washington. This adds some value to the LeSean McCoys and Jeremy Maclins of the world. If your league uses Week 17, knock them down a peg since Phily visits the Giants in the season finale.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

Teaser:
<p> Philadelphia Eagles 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Tampa Bay Bucs 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: Carolina
Week 2: at New York Giants
Week 3: at Dallas
Week 4: Washington
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Kansas City
Week 7: New Orleans
Week 8: at Minnesota (Thur.)
Week 9: at Oakland
Week 10: San Diego
Week 11: at Carolina
Week 12: Atlanta
Week 13: at Denver
Week 14: Philadelphia
Week 15: at New Orleans
Week 16: St. Louis
Week 17: at Atlanta

Order your 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The toughest part of the Bucs' 2012 schedule has to be the round robin with the NFC East. While there are some question marks about Dallas’ and Phily’s ability to push for a postseason bid, there is no doubting their ability to compete. The East has three quality teams and an improving Redskins squad that now features Robert Griffin III. In fact, the season begins with a home game against Carolina before three straight NFC East games. The brutal back-to-back NFC East road games — at NY Giants, at Dallas — in Weeks 2 and 3 will be virtually impossible for Josh Freeman and company.

- The NFL has condensed the bye week schedules into a smaller window than normal in 2012. The Buccaneers’ off-week comes at the second-earliest possible date in Week 5. This could have multiple effects on a new coaching staff and young roster. The early bye will give the new coaching staff and first-time NFL head coach a chance to regroup after the first month of the season — especially, considering the tough first four weeks of the season. This could be great news for Greg Schiano. This also means his youthful team must play 12 straight contests to end the year. It won’t allow for any injury recovery time after September and all major adjustments or position battles will have to be played out on the field.

- The overall difficulty of the Bucs' slate, at least at this point of the summer, seems to pale in comparison to most NFL schedules in 2012. Within the NFC, there is no Green Bay, San Francisco, Detroit or Chicago on the docket. The Buccaneers will also miss New England, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Buffalo, Tennessee, Cincinnati and the Jets in the AFC. If only one team from the NFC East and AFC West make the playoffs, the Bucs could face as few as three playoff teams in 2012.

- The crossover AFC schedule includes road trips to Oakland and Denver with home dates against Kansas City and San Diego. Those cross-country trips are magnified when played at altitude and for a team based in Florida. A 2-2 record would likely be considered a big success in interconference play.

- The Bucs will start with two of their first three games on the road and will finish with three of their last five (and two of three) on the road. So while the beginning and end of 2012 might be extremely tricky, the middle should provide some opportunities for success. Over a seven-week span (Weeks 4-10) Tampa will play only two road games, gets the bye week and plays four home games. Finishing its away slate against Peyton Manning (Week 13),  Drew Brees (Week 15) and Matt Ryan (Week 17), however, will be tough.

- The two floating games for the Bucs will feature two very winnable games. Tampa Bay gets St. Louis at home in Week 16 and visits Minnesota on a Thursday evening thriller in Week 8. For a team that won a total of four games a year ago, these two contests should be circled for Greg Schiano.

Fantasy Focus: Following the bye week, the Bucs have a tasty run of average to below average defenses which could provide some sneaky value. If you need a bye week spot starter, the Bucs might be a solid place to look as they will face Kansas City, New Orleans, Minnesota, Oakland, San Diego and Carolina in successive weeks. Only the Chargers, and to a lesser extent possibly the Raiders, offers any semblance of defensive prowess.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

Teaser:
<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 02:59
All taxonomy terms: New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFC South, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

New Orleans Saints 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: Washington
Week 2: at Carolina
Week 3: Kansas City
Week 4: at Green Bay
Week 5: San Diego
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: at Tampa Bay
Week 8: at Denver
Week 9: Philadelphia (Mon.)
Week 10: Atlanta
Week 11: at Oakland
Week 12: San Francisco
Week 13: at Atlanta (Thur.)
Week 14: at New York Giants
Week 15: Tampa Bay
Week 16: at Dallas
Week 17: Carolina

Order your 2012 New Orleans Saints Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- Joe Vitt is the interim head coach for the New Orleans Saints in 2012, but he won’t officially begin his stint on the sidelines until after his own six-game suspension is over. The Saints will have to tackle the Packers and Chargers in their first six, but otherwise, face four beatable opponents (WAS, CAR, KC, TB). If the Saints get Vitt back sporting a 4-2 mark, Who Dat nation might be postseason bound. The bye week coming during the interim’s interim should also help the coaching staff adapt.

- Vitt and company better get work done early in the 2012 season because the second half, and more specifically the final month, will provide brutal tests. Three of the final five games will be on the road, including road trips to division rival Atlanta, the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants and into Jerry’s Palace to battle the Cowboys. Only once will the Saints have back-to-back home games all season — Weeks 9 and 10 against the Eagles and Falcons.

- The NFC East will be the intra-conference round robin for the NFC South. The season gets started with a visit from Robert Griffin III and the Redskins while Michael Vick brings the Eagles to town for a Monday night showdown to start November. Finally, the Saints have the misfortune of having to face both the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys on the road — both within the final four weeks of the regular season.

- The intriguing aspect to the Saints divisional slate in 2012 is how spaced out the schedule is. Not one time will New Orleans face back-to-back divisional opponents this fall. It does have to face division favorite Atlanta twice in a four-week span, packaged around a long road trip to Oakland and a visit from the 49ers. It wraps-up NFC South play facing Tampa and Carolina at home in the final three weeks of the season (sandwiched around a trip to Dallas). This could be the Saints' saving grace if it expects to compete for a division title in 2012.

- The Saints' schedule as a whole looks extremely difficult — as if Roger Godell would have it any other way. But a three-week stretch from Week 12 to 14 could make or break the Saints' playoff hopes this season. After facing Atlanta at home and visiting Oakland, the Saints will have to host San Francisco (Week 12), visit Atlanta four days later (Week 13) before heading north to East Rutherford to take on the Super Bowl Champs (Week 14). Yes, the Falcons will have a short week to prepare for the Thursday night bout with the Saints, but visiting the Bucs the Sunday before will be slightly less strenuous than battling with Jim Harbaugh’s hard-hitting defense.

- In crossover play, the NFC South faces the AFC West in 2012. There are no elite teams out west in the AFC but each has a chance to be improved from a year ago. Kansas City at home is the closest thing to a sure-fire win, but trips to Denver and Oakland won’t be easy. When New Orleans travels to Denver to face the Broncos in Week 8 it will mark the first time that Peyton Manning will face the Saints since tossing his infamous interception in the Super Bowl XLIV loss to Drew Brees and company.

- The two floating games for the Saints couldn’t be tougher — and have to be the toughest of any team in the league. Brees will have to visit Lambeau Field for the second straight season in Week 4 and will host the 49ers in Week 12. Those were the two best teams in the stacked NFC a year ago and likely will have the best records in the conference again in 2012.

- Will any defense face more athleticism at the quarterback position than the Saints? Aaron Rodgers, Vick, RG3 and Cam Newton (twice) will get their crack at the reworked New Orleans defense. Toss in both Mannings, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan twice, and Carson Palmer and the Saints secondary appears to be in for a long season this fall. 

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

Teaser:
<p> New Orleans Saints 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-may-29
Body:

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

Patience is a virtue. Those who have bided their time with first basemen Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau and outfielder Nelson Cruz have seen their fantasy teams rewarded. Getting Pujols for dirt cheap may never happen again, so if you want to go after the historic slugger, now is the time. His price is rising by the day.

Cruz has the ability to completely dominate the fantasy world when hot – and that Nelson Cruz is so hot right now.

And don't look now, but the White Sox outfield is a pretty good place to find fantasy support if your lineup needs a boost.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (05/21-05/28):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Melky Cabrera SF OF 11 2 8 3 .414 1.245
2. Paul Konerko CWS 1B 10 3 10 0 .536 1.567
3. Mark Teixeira NYY 1B 8 4 10 0 .524 1.868
4. Jason Kipnis CLE 2B 7 2 6 3 .448 1.122
5. Troy Tulowitzki COL SS 8 3 9 0 .429 1.341
6. Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 8 3 8 1 .370 1.285
7. Albert Pujols LAA 1B 6 4 8 1 .357 1.227
8. Nelson Cruz TEX OF 6 3 11 1 .320 1.106
9. Alex Rios* CWS OF 8 3 9 1 .286 1.012
10. Michael Brantley* CLE OF 6 0 6 4 .409 .935
11. Dayan Viciedo* CWS OF 6 3 10 0 .357 1.093
12. Justin Morneau* MIN 1B 7 4 10 0 .250 1.017
13. Brandon Phillips CIN 2B 7 3 8 0 .348 1.247
14. Jeff Francoeur* KC OF 5 3 4 1 .478 1.457
15. Dexter Fowler* COL OF 6 2 4 1 .533 1.630
16. Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 8 2 5 1 .333 1.127
17. Yadier Molina STL C 3 2 9 0 .417 1.107
18. Adrian Beltre TEX 3B 4 2 7 0 .400 1.087
19. Starlin Castro CHC SS 3 2 6 2 .308 .923
20. Joe Mauer MIN C/1B 8 1 2 1 .385 1.038
21. Colby Rasmus* TOR OF 3 2 5 2 .333 1.083
22. Quintin Berry* DET OF 6 0 2 3 .360 .869
23. Bryce Harper WAS OF 6 2 4 0 .391 1.220
24. Tony Gywnn Jr.* LAD OF 4 0 6 3 .308 .616
25. David Freese STL 3B 7 2 4 0 .350 1.181

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Outfield Help

Of the Top 25 hitters from last week, 13 of them were outfielders. But most importantly, eight of those 13 are owned in 70% or less of Yahoo! leagues. If you need power Dayan Viciedo, who has been hitting seventh behind Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski, should be able to provide some pop — and some ribeye steaks as well. Rios and Jeff Francoeur are what they are but have the ability to deliver over short periods of time — only if you can handle the 2-for-23 runs that generally follow suit. 

I would be more interested in the "post-hype" names on this list, Dexter Fowler and Colby Rasmus. Fowler is playing at a high fantasy level currently and should be one of the top OF adds this week. Rasmus might need to prove it for another 7-10 days before I give him a shot. 

For what it is worth, I picked-up Viciedo this morning over all other OFers on this list.

DL Watch

- I can't make this up. Brewers stud catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who is hitting .345, was sent to the DL after breaking his hand on his own luggage. While searching for a sock under his hotel bed, his wife somehow managed to drop the suitcase on his hand. It is broken and he will miss 4-to-6 weeks. 

- Jered Weaver has provided the biggest fantasy scare of the week thus far after leaving his Monday start after throwing to just four Yankees. After 12 pitches, the Angels ace left with "excruciating lower back pain." He will have an MRI Tuesday and a trip to the DL is uncertain. It certainly didn't look good. Especially, considering CJ Wilson is questionable for his June 2 start against Texas.

- Roy Halladay is questionable for his June 2 start against Miami. This one is very concerning as his shoulder soreness has led the Phillies' ace to get an examination after lasting only two innings on Sunday. He is having one of his worst seasons, so fantasy owners' worries should be warranted.

- Freddie Freeman is questionable for Tuesday's game against the Cardinals with an eye issue. He missed Monday's game because of vision problems and Atlanta doesn't seem too optimistic about his long-term availability. Apparently, he cannot make tears. 

- Dustin Pedroia is doubtful for Tuesday's game against Detroit with a thumb issue. The two-sacker left Monday's game with a jammed right thumb, but it doesn't appear to be serious enough to warrant a DL trip. He could miss a few games, however.

- Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera is doubtful for Tuesday's start against Kansas City. He is day-to-day due to tightness in his left hamstring. Those are tricky to nail down. The Indians need the shortstop's bat now that catcher Carlos Santana is on the seven-day DL with concussion issues.

- The brittle David Freese had a great week over the last seven days but is questionable for Tuesday's game with a wrist injury. 

- Matt Kemp has begun his Triple-A rehab assignment and could be back as early as Tuesday. The A's Yoenis Cespedes also went 1-for-3 and played left field in his rehab stint and should be back this week as well while pitcher Brandon McCarthy could return to the mound June 2 against the Royals. The Mets' Jason Bay has been DHing and will soon play the field in an effort to return to the Flushing this weekend. 

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Chris Sale CWS 19.2 3 28 0.92 0.76
2. Gio Gonzalez WAS 20.0 3 29 2.25 0.80
3. R.A. Dickey* NYM 20.1 2 29 1.77 0.74
4. Kevin Millwood* SEA 20.0 2 14 0.45 0.65
5. James McDonald PIT 20.2 2 24 1.74 0.82
6. Josh Beckett BOS 21.2 2 19 1.25 0.88
7. Justin Verlander DET 17.0 1 19 1.06 0.59
8. Cole Hamels PHI 23.0 3 23 2.74 0.96
9. Andy Pettitte* NYY 15.0 2 17 1.20 0.87
10. C.J. Wilson LAA 17.2 2 15 1.02 0.96
11. Dan Haren LAA 15.2 1 19 1.72 0.70
12. Kyle Kendrick* PHI 22.0 1 12 1.23 0.77
13. Chris Capuano LAD 19.1 2 19 2.33 0.93
14. Adam Wainwright STL 20.2 2 12 1.31 1.06
15. Brandon Beachy ATL 21.0 1 18 2.14 0.90
16. Felix Doubront* BOS 17.2 2 22 2.55 1.19
17. Clayton Kershaw LAD 16.0 1 10 1.12 0.88
18. Ryan Vogelsong* SF 13.1 2 9 2.02 0.90
19. Johan Santana NYM 22.0 1 19 2.45 1.00
20. J.A. Happ HOU 18.1 2 20 1.47 1.42

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Tues. - Sun.):

1. Chris Sale, CWS: Seattle (Sun.)
The stud Sox youngster has rebounded perfectly after a short injury scare. Struck out 15 hitters on Monday against Tampa and should dominate the Mariners this weekend.

2. Ryan Dempster, CHC: San Diego (Wed.)
Might not be on your wire, but has yet to win a game in 8 starts. This is his best chance yet.

3. Trevor Cahill, ARI: at San Diego (Sun.)
Is walking too many people (12 in his last five starts) but has been solid of late. Will face one of worst offenses in the league.

4. Ubaldo Jimanez, CLE: Minnesota (Sat.)
Has been very wild but if any match-up will get him back into the swing of things, it will be against the Twins.

5. Gavin Floyd, CWS: Seattle (Sat.)
Got shelled the last three outings but has nice 8.0 K/9 and 3.18 K/BB ratio thus far. Will face lowly Mariners at home.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Fernando Rodney TB 16.2 1 10 17 0 1.08 0.84
2. Aroldis Chapman CIN 13.2 2 3 23 3 0.00 0.44
3. Santiago Casilla SF 14.1 1 10 13 0 1.26 1.05
4. Chris Perez CLE 12.1 0 10 15 0 1.46 0.73
5. Jim Johnson BAL 13.2 0 9 8 0 1.32 0.51
6. Jason Motte STL 12.1 2 5 10 0 2.19 0.73
7. Kenley Jansen LAD 10.1 2 5 15 2 1.74 0.97
8. Joe Nathan TEX 11.0 0 6 14 0 0.82 0.64
9. Ernesto Frieri* LAA 14.0 0 2 26 4 0.64 0.71
10. Joel Hanrahan PIT 11.0 1 8 12 0 2.45 1.09
11. Tyler Clippard* WAS 11.2 0 3 15 5 0.77 0.51
12. Jake McGee* TB 12.0 2 0 13 4 0.75 0.67
13. Nate Jones* CWS 15.0 2 0 16 2 0.60 1.00
14. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 11.1 0 7 15 0 3.18 0.88
15. Brett Myers HOU 11.2 0 8 9 0 2.31 1.03
16. Craig Stammen* WAS 18.1 1 0 18 1 1.47 0.82
17. Casey Janssen* TOR 10.1 0 4 8 1 0.00 0.68
18. Brian Fuentes* OAK 11.1 1 4 7 1 1.59 0.79
19. Alfredo Aceves BOS 17.2 0 6 20 0 3.06 1.08
20. Jordan Walden* LAA 12.1 2 0 12 4 0.73 0.89

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: May 29</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 03:10
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: at Denver
Week 2: NY Jets
Week 3: at Oakland
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Philadelphia
Week 6: at Tennessee (Thur.)
Week 7: at Cincinnati
Week 8: Washington
Week 9: at NY Giants
Week 10: Kansas City (Mon.)
Week 11: Baltimore
Week 12: at Cleveland
Week 13: at Baltimore
Week 14: San Diego
Week 15: at Dallas
Week 16: Cincinnati
Week 17: Cleveland

Order your 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The Steelers will face the NFC East in 2012 and that delivers no favors for the Steelers. The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champs, while Philadelphia, Dallas and Washington are no easy outs. The East could be second only to the NFC North in terms of depth in a loaded NFC this fall. To top it off, Pittsburgh must face the top two contenders in the East — Dallas and New York — on the road.

- Within the conference, the Steelers will play the AFC West. While it isn’t the strongest division in the AFC, it could end up as the most balanced. The most intriguing match-up will take place in Week 1 when Pittsburgh returns to the scene of the crime in Denver. Now led by Peyton Manning, the Broncos will face a Steel Curtain defense that is sure to test the reconstructed neck of No. 18. Pittsburgh’s season was infamously ended in overtime at the hands of Tim Tebow last year and fans can bet that every member of the Steelers' organization will be ready to compete right out of the gate — which will be a good thing for a team likely picked to win the division.

- The NFL has squeezed the bye weeks into a smaller window over the last few years, starting them later and ending them sooner. But the Steelers will get the first bye week available after playing three AFC games in 2012. Generally speaking, most teams would want the bye to fall as close to Week 8 or 9 as possible to split the season evenly — or just before or just after a key stretch of the schedule. That said, the Steelers are trying to get Rashard Mendenhall back into the line-up and the early bye week could give him one extra game played. The bye week also could benefit the team if there are any growing pains with Todd Haley’s new offensive system that need to be ironed out after three weeks.

- The division slate is very interesting. First, the two games with the rival Baltimore Ravens will take place within a three-week span between Week 11 and Week 13 — generally, the most difficult area of any NFL schedule — sandwiched around another division road game against the Browns. The division crown will likely be decided in that three-week period of time. Second, the Steelers won’t face a divisional opponent until Week 7 when they visit Cincinnati, meaning six of the final 11 games will be within the division. Lastly, the final two weeks of the season will feature two home division games against the Bengals and Browns.

- Notably absent from the 2012 Pittsburgh schedule are what could be considered the top two teams in the AFC, New England and Houston. Missing the rival Patriots and rising Texans could play a huge role in two ways come seeding time for the playoffs. Head-to-head tie-breakers will not be applicable for first-round byes between what will likely be considered the top three teams in the conference.

- Home-road splits are intriguing with this team. Pittsburgh will be forced to play four of its first six games on the road — against four teams that were at least .500 a year ago nonetheless. The flipside of that equation, of course, is finishing the 2012 campaign with three of the last four at home – including back-to-back home divisional games against Cincinnati and Cleveland. An interesting twist comes from Week 6 to Week 9, when the Steelers will have three brutal road games (TEN, CIN, NYG) in four weeks which begins with a short week of preparation for a Thursday night road trip to Tennessee.

- The two floating games will be a home game against the Jets in Week 2 and a road trip to the Tennessee Titans in Week 6.

- As a completely meaningless side note that matters very little to the outcome of anything, Pittsburgh will begin its 2012 season against Denver, the team that drafted Tim Tebow, followed by the Jets, the team that currently employs Tim Tebow.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers


NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: at Minnesota
Week 2: Houston
Week 3: at Indianapolis
Week 4: Cincinnati
Week 5: Chicago
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: at Oakland
Week 8: at Green Bay
Week 9: Detroit
Week 10: Indianapolis (Thur.)
Week 11: at Houston
Week 12: Tennessee
Week 13: at Buffalo
Week 14: New York Jets
Week 15: at Miami
Week 16: New England
Week 17: at Tennessee

Order your 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The season won’t get started easily for second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He will have to face fierce pass rushes from Houston, Cincinnati and Chicago all within the first five weeks of the season before reaching the bye. The Colts and Vikings do offer some respite, but both of those games will come on the road. It feels like 0-5 and 1-4 heading into the bye week while 2-3 would be considered a windfall.

- The Jags will need that bye when it comes around in Week 6. They will have faced some powerful defenses in the first month and then have two brutal road trips following their off week. First, they travel 3,000 miles to Oakland before heading north to face Green Bay in Lambeau in the first two games following the bye. Just to make sure they are tested, Matt Stafford and Megatron come to town the next week.

- The NFC North is the cross-over division Jacksonville will face in 2012 and it could be the top division in a loaded NFC. Three playoff teams could come from this group this fall, including what many consider the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in the Packers. The only comfort? The Jags get Detroit and Chicago at home and Minnesota on the road. Green Bay is a loss either way, so it might as well come on the road. All four NFC North games will take place in the first half of the season, giving the Jags eight straight AFC foes to end the year.

- The intraconference division Jacksonville will face this season is the AFC East. One excellent team, two quality teams and one improving squad makes for another tough draw for the Jags. The real bizarre story line, however, for Jacksonville’s round robin with the AFC East is the timing. Jacksonville will play all four teams from the East in four consecutive weeks starting in Week 13 — on the heels of playing three straight divisional games. The most intriguing story line here, obviously, includes a visit from local legend Tim Tebow. The Jets visit the largest metro area in the lower US in Week 14. Expect a hero’s welcome for No. 15. It could be the biggest crowd of the year for the Jags as they will likely to have to remove some tarps to accommodate the Tebow fanatics.

- Speaking of division play, the Jags will be in a fierce battle with the Colts to see who won't finish last in the AFC South. The intriguing aspect to the Jags' schedule is the peaks and valleys. They will play back-to-back games within the division in Weeks 2 and 3 and won’t face another AFC South team until Week 10 — where they will face three straight. Following their strange four-game run against AFC East teams, Jacksonville will wrap-up 2012 on the road against the Titans.

- The really nice aspect of the Jaguars' schedule are the home and road splits. The 2012 slate is extremely balanced from this perspective as Jacksonville will alternate home-road games over the first four weeks and the final seven weeks of the season. It is a small comfort that it will play back-to-back road games only one time all season long — Week 7 and 8 following the bye week.

- Jacksonville will visit Oakland and host Cincinnati in their two floating games of the year. Not deadly, but not easy either.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers


NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 02:59
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-may-14
Body:

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

As I stated last week, we will no longer analyze the current season-to-date Top 25 players will instead look at the Top 25 hitters and pitchers based on last week. This way, each week you fantasy owners know exactly who are the hottest players in the game. This comes with a warning label, however, in the form of Joey Votto. 

Votto had the fifth-best week of any hitter in baseball over the last seven days. Votto has been solid, walking a ton (31 BB in 113 AB so far) and has been hitting for average (.296 before yesterday). But after his 4/5, 3-HR, 6-RBI, 4-R day agains the Nats, he finished last week as the No. 5 hitter in the game. He had three runs, no homers and two RBI in the first six days of the week. 

So while this chart can certainly tell you excatly who to target on the waiver wire, it can also deceive from time to time. The lesson? Do your homework before dropping, adding or trading players.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (05/17-05/13):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB AVG OPS
1. Josh Hamilton TEX OF 10 9 18 0 .467 1.962
2. Carlos Beltran STL OF 8 6 13 0 .360 1.648
3. Nelson Cruz TEX OF 9 1 7 1 .500 1.313
4. Josh Reddick* OAK OF 7 3 8 1 .417 1.375
5. Joey Votto CIN 1B 7 3 8 1 .429 1.586
6. Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B 8 2 9 1 .393 1.205
7. Andrew McCutchen PIT OF 5 3 6 1 .524 1.600
8. Rafael Furcal STL SS 4 1 3 2 .667 1.506
9. Allen Craig* STL 1B/2B/OF 5 4 9 0 .348 1.318
10. Elvis Andrus TEX SS 10 0 4 1 .419 1.002
11. Raul Ibanez* NYY OF 5 4 8 0 .353 1.539
12. Will MIddlebrooks* BOS 3B 6 3 9 0 .308 1.126
13. David Wright NYM 3B 6 1 7 0 .481 1.258
14. Nick Markakis BAL OF 4 3 7 1 .333 1.240
15. Elliot Johnson* TB 2B/SS 5 1 3 2 .500 1.279
16. Ryan Braun MIL OF 6 2 3 1 .429 1.348
17. Brandon Inge* OAK 2B/3B 3 3 12 0 .286 1.080
18. Danny Espinosa* WAS 2B 4 2 5 2 .304 1.012
19. Adam LaRoche* WAS 1B 4 2 7 0 .450 1.477
20. Jemile Weeks* OAK 2B 4 0 0 4 .389 .920
21. Melky Cabrera SF OF 5 1 4 0 .500 1.288
22. Austin Jackson DET OF 7 0 2 2 .364 .919
23. Roger Bernadina* WAS OF 3 2 5 2 .286 .967
24. Andy Dirks* DET OF 5 1 4 0 .500 1.304
25. Mike Trout* LAA OF 4 1 5 1 .421 1.184

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Middle Infield Help

If you needed MI help this week, or next, you should have plenty of options on your waiver wire. Allen Craig, Elliot Johnson, Brandon Inge, Danny Espinosa and Jemile Weeks all boast some sort of middle infield eligibility and all had Top 25 weeks. Most importantly, all of them are owned in less than 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Weeks and Craig are less likely to be available and both have the most long-term potential. But while Evan Longoria is on the shelf, Johnson has some intriguing value as he can contibute across the stat box and has the coveted "2B/SS" moniker.

Espinosa might be the top name to watch, however. He likely has the most raw talent and nearly got to the 20/20 mark a year ago (21/17). He will never help your team's batting average, but there is no weakness in his counting stats. Just be prepared for streaky ups and downs.

DH or No DH

Keep an eye on your DHs out there as Interleague play begins this week. There are some names out there who will either A) lose at-bats because they cannot help the team enough in the field or B) will gain eligibility somehow (fingers-crossed David Ortiz owners). Other platooners who need more at-bats in the NL could find some easy plate appearances as a DH. Keep your eyes peeled.

DL Watch

- Uber-star Matt Kemp has a tweaked hamstring and many believe (and want) to see him protected from himself with a quick DL stint. Kemp himself refuses to admit he will visit the DL. As the top player in the game, fans need to keep a close eye on this one. A week or two off doesn't seem like a bad idea.

- Arizona OF Chris Young is expected to start his Class A rehab this week. Keep a close eye on the young Diamondback.

- Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes is going to miss a few weeks after finally being placed on the 15-day DL with his broken hand.

- The Braves' Chipper Jones is questionable with "soreness." This may be the case for the rest of his swan song.

- The Cubs placed closer-turned-set-up man Carlos Marmol on the DL with a hamstring issue. Am I the only one that has "conspiracy theory" flashing in bright lights in the back of my head?

Rickie Weeks is questionable with a hand and wrist issue after missing a few games. That isn't the only thing wrong with the .158 hitter.

- Scott Rolen was placed on the DL over the weekend with a shoulder injury.

- Outfielder Dexter Fowler is questionable this week with an eye injury.

- The Royals Mike Moustakas missed a couple of games with a hamstring issue, but it doesn't appear to be serious.

- The Halos' Dan Haren is questionable for his Monday start against Oakland.

- The Mets' Ike Davis missed some time with an illness but should be back while Jason Bay's rehab is taking longer than expected — also with an flu-like illness.

- Erik Bedard is questionable for his May 16 start against Washington with a back issue.

- The Nationals' Wilson Ramos appears to be out for the season with a brutal knee injury.

As far as pitching goes, to accurately analyze who is hot and who is not, all pitchers need to be graded on an equal playing field. We will use every two weeks to breakdown the mound, since most every starter in the game will get three starts in every two week period of time. It makes for a very interesting Top 25:

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of the last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Carlos Zambrano* MIA 23.0 1 21 0.39 0.87
2. Brandon Morrow TOR 15.0 2 18 0.60 0.73
3. Jeff Samardzija* CHC 19.2 2 20 1.37 0.86
4. Scott Diamond* MIN 14.0 2 10 0.00 0.71
5. Chris Capuano LAD 14.0 2 10 0.64 0.64
6. Bud Norris* HOU 18.2 2 19 1.45 0.96
7. James McDonald* PIT 22.0 2 25 2.05 1.05
8. Brandon McCarthy* OAK 13.2 2 14 0.66 0.88
9. Justin Verlander DET 21.0 2 21 2.57 0.90
10. CC Sabathia NYY 16.0 2 15 1.13 0.94
11. Cole Hamels PHI 21.0 2 19 1.71 1.05
12. Paul Maholm* CHC 13.0 2 7 0.69 0.69
13. Matt Cain SF 21.0 1 22 2.14 0.90
14. Lance Lynn STL 17.2 2 20 2.55 1.02
15. Felix Hernandez SEA 22.2 1 25 1.99 1.10
16. Max Scherzer* DET 13.1 1 18 2.03 0.83
17. Johnny Cueto CIN 16.0 1 9 0.56 0.81
18. Brandon Beachy ATL 19.1 2 13 2.33 0.93
19. Jason Vargas SEA 14.1 1 11 1.26 0.77
20. Joe Blanton PHI 15.2 1 13 2.30 0.70

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Tues. - Sun.):

1. Ervin Santana, LAA: Oakland (Tues.)
Coming off three quality starts in a row. Also gets the Padres on Sunday.

2. Doug Fister, DET: Minnesota (Thur.)
Has been excellent since returning from the DL and faces lowly Twins.

3. Max Scherzer, DET: at White Sox (Tues.)
Has 18 Ks and 2 BBs in last two starts. Also gets the Pirates on Sunday.

4. Colby Lewis, TEX: Kansas City
Two poor starts in a row (12 ER) but had 12 Ks against Orioles last time out.

5. Ryan Vogelsong, SF: Oakland (Sat.)
Two earned runs allowed in last 14.1 IP. Gets Oakland this weekend.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of the last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Pedtro Strop* BAL 15.0 3 2 16 3 1.20 0.80
2. Fernando Rodney TB 14.0 1 7 14 0 0.64 1.07
3. Jim Johnson BAL 12.0 0 8 9 0 0.75 0.67
4. Chris Perez CLE 11.0 0 10 8 0 2.45 0.82
5. Brett Myers HOU 11.2 0 8 7 0 1.54 0.69
6. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 11.0 0 8 13 0 2.45 0.82
7. Wilton Lopez* HOU 16.2 2 0 15 3 1.62 0.60
8. Santiago Casilla SF 12.0 0 7 9 0 1.50 0.83
9. Kenley Jansen LAD 12.2 0 3 19 6 0.71 0.79
10. Darren O'Day* BAL 14.2 2 0 16 2 1.23 0.75
11. Alexi Ogando* TEX 13.0 1 0 12 3 0.00 0.46
12. Aroldis Chapman CIN 11.2 1 0 20 2 0.00 0.69
13. Craig Kimbrel ATL 10.0 0 8 19 0 3.60 1.30
14. Jose Arredondo* CIN 11.2 2 0 17 0 1.54 0.69
15. Jason Motte STL 10.2 1 4 11 0 1.69 0.84
16. Logan Ondrusek* CIN 10.2 2 1 8 3 0.00 0.75
17. Robbie Ross* TEX 13.2 4 0 10 1 2.63 0.95
18. Steve Cishek* MIA 11.0 4 0 13 1 2.45 1.27
19. Rafael Betancourt COL 10.0 1 4 11 0 2.70 1.00
20. Joe Nathan TEX 9.2 0 5 10 0 0.93 1.14

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Closing Carousel

Casey Janssen and Dale Thayer have been clean (so far) in their week-long stints as closers for Toronto and San Deigo respectively. Sergio Santos and Huston Street should be back at some time, but for now these two seem safe to use in your desperate chase for saves.

Brian Fuentes has been named the Athletics' closer. He has plenty of experience in the ninth inning but plays for a bad team and has been anything but a sure thing over the course of his career. Keep an eye on this one.

Frank Francisco got off to a great start finishing games for the Mets, but has been terrible — 5 ER in 0.2 IP in his last two outings — of late. Jon Rauch has experience and the inside track while Bobby Parnell has the whiff-stuff needed to close.

This has been easily the most volatile and unexpected year of the closer I can remember. Prices for formerly concerning names like Chris Perez and Jason Motte continue to rise. Owners are going to be waiver chasing or paying premiums this season. 

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: May 14</p>
Post date: Monday, May 14, 2012 - 01:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-may-8
Body:

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

As we enter our second month of the 2012 season, these weekly rankings updates will switch gears a bit. Thus far, we have looked at the best players across the board for the season up until this point. Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton are still pacing the field and have justified thier lofty draft status. Yet, starting next week, we will only be ranking the best players of the week to show owners excatly what has taken place over the last weekend. So you Bryan LaHair and Jose Altuve owners will have one more list to gloat about...

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp LAD OF 29 12 27 2 .406 1.320
2. Josh Hamilton TEX OF 21 10 28 2 .376 1.138
3. Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 22 7 26 5 .320 .998
4. David Ortiz BOS UTL 21 7 23 0 .380 1.128
5. Adam Jones BAL OF 23 8 17 5 .297 .917
6. Derek Jeter NYY SS 22 5 15 1 .397 1.034
7. Edwin Encarnacion TOR 1B/3B 17 9 25 4 .279 .931
8. Carlos Beltran STL OF 21 8 20 5 .280 .925
9. Starlin Castro CHC SS 15 1 19 11 .350 .825
10. Jay Bruce CIN OF 18 9 21 3 .298 .980
11. Ryan Braun MIL OF 18 9 19 4 .288 .974
12. Ian Kinsler TEX 2B 29 5 17 2 .287 .884
13. Rafael Furcal STL SS 22 2 15 6 .342 .905
14. Freddie Freeman ATL 1B 21 6 26 0 .291 .848
15. Jason Kipnis CLE 2B 19 5 19 6 .287 .875
16. Bryan LaHair CHC 1B/OF 14 8 17 0 .388 1.279
17. Curtis Granderson NYY OF 20 9 18 0 .284 .973
18. David Freese STL 3B 14 7 26 0 .307 .933
19. David Wright NYM 3B 18 3 16 3 .374 1.031
20. Michael Bourn ATL OF 20 0 7 11 .333 .809
21. Andre Ethier LAD OF 15 6 30 0 .278 .880
22. Jose Altuve HOU 2B 18 2 13 5 .351 .920
23. Hunter Pence PHI OF 18 6 20 3 .267 .780
24. Jason Heyward ATL OF 17 4 13 9 .269 .849
25. Mike Aviles BOS 2B/SS 20 5 19 4 .261 .750

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

DL Watch

-Ryan Zimmerman has been activated from the DL while Jayson Werth will miss roughly 12 weeks after having surgery on his broken wrist. I guess Bryce Harper isn't headed back to Triple-A ball anytime soon.

-Nolan Reimold continues to frustrate with solid numbers and missed at-bats. He landed on the DL with a bulging disc in his neck. He was hitting .313 with a .960 OPS and five homers in 67 ABs so he might be worth stashing if you have the space. 

-The Giant's Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, was hitting .316 when he broke his left hand. He had surgery and is supposed to miss at least four weeks.

-Josh Beckett is questionable for his start on May 9th against Kansas City.

-Brett Gardner is slated to make his rehab starts in Triple-A this week and could be ready shortly thereafter for the Yankees.

-Jemile Weeks is questionable for Tuesday's start after tweaking his groin injury recently. The A's two-sacker has struggled mightily this season thus far. 

-Cliff Lee is schedule to come of the DL on Wednesday against the Mets. BE SURE TO ACTIVATE HIM TODAY IF YOU HAVE TO!

- The Cardinals are supposed to welcome back Lance Berkman this weekend. Be sure to monitor closely and adjust your line-up accordingly.

-Kevin Youkilis is on the disabled list for the forseeable future. Will Middlebrooks might be the long-term solution at the hot corner for Boston.

-Scott Downs didn't last too long in the closers' role in L.A. He underwent an MRI on his knee on Sunday but the test showed little damage. He should be held back for a week and could be ready by the weekend.

-Justin Morneau has finally landed on the DL — again — with a wrist issue. The tendinitis is on his left wrist, the same one which needed stabilization surgery last September. He may never return to his AL MVP form.

-Desmond Jennings is questionable for Wednesday's game with a knee injury.

-Rueben Tejada is DLed with a quad injury for the near future. 

Current Top 20 fantasy starting pitchers:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Jered Weaver LAA 50.2 5 47 1.60 0.79
2. Lance Lynn STL 38.2 6 37 1.40 0.85
3. Felix Hernandez SEA 52.1 3 51 1.89 0.94
4. Jake Peavy CHW 45.1 3 39 1.99 0.75
5. Gio Gonzalez WAS 36.2 3 41 1.72 0.90
6. Johnny Cueto CIN 41.1 4 26 1.31 0.99
7. Stephen Strasburg WAS 38.0 2 38 1.66 0.84
8. Jason Hammel BAL 38.2 4 38 2.09 0.98
9. Matt Cain SF 45.1 1 40 2.38 0.73
10. Cole Hamels PHI 40.1 4 44 2.45 1.02
11. Justin Verlander DET 45.1 2 42 2.38 0.86
12. Ted Lilly LAD 32.0 4 21 1.41 0.88
13. Brandon Beachy ATL 39.0 3 27 1.62 0.95
14. David Price TB 38.1 5 35 2.35 1.12
15. Kyle Lohse STL 38.1 4 24 2.11 0.94
16. C.J. Wilson LAA 41.1 4 39 2.61 1.04
17. Chris Capuano* LAD 36.2 4 36 2.21 1.12
18. Brandon Morrow TOR 41.2 3 29 2.38 0.91
19. Madison Bumgarner SF 39.0 5 22 2.31 1.08
20. Matt Garza CHC 33.2 2 36 2.67 0.89

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Wed. - Sun.):

1. Doug Fister, Detroit: at Oakland (Sat.)
Ho-hum seven scoreless innings on Monday debut off DL.

2. Carlos Zambrano, Miami: at NY Mets (Sun.)
Lowered ERA to 1.98 after complete game, three-hit shutout on Monday.

3. Eric Bedard, Pittsburgh: Washington (Wed.)
Posted 11 strikeouts against Cardinals last time out.

4. Jonathon Niese, NY Mets: at Miami (Sun.)
Has 29 Ks in 33.2 IP with five quality starts in six trips to the mound this year.

5. Ricky Nolasco, Miami: at NY Mets (Sat.)
Picked up fourth win on Monday, dropping ERA to 2.72 and WHIP to 1.11

Current Top 15 fantasy relief pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Fernando Rodney TB 13.2 1 9 12 0 0.66 0.66
2. Aroldis Chapman CIN 14.2 2 0 25 3 0.00 0.61
3. Jim Johnson BAL 12.2 0 8 11 0 0.00 0.87
4. Steve Cishek* MIA 14.1 4 0 15 3 0.63 0.91
5. Alexi Ogando* TEX 15.2 1 1 16 6 0.57 0.38
6. Pedro Strop* BAL 17.0 3 2 15 2 1.59 1.00
7. Henry Rodriguez WAS 12.1 1 6 16 0 1.50 1.00
8. Robbie Ross* TEX 11.2 4 0 10 1 1.54 0.69
9. Kenley Jansen LAD 16.2 2 2 27 7 2.70 0.96
10. Chris Perez CLE 12.2 0 11 9 0 2.84 1.11
11. Duane Below* DET 13.1 2 0 9 0 0.00 0.60
12. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 12.0 0 9 13 0 3.00 1.00
13. Brett Myers HOU 8.2 0 7 6 0 1.04 0.58
14. Logan Ondrusek* CIN 13.1 2 0 11 3 0.00 0.83
15. Huston Street (DL) SD 9.2 0 4 13 0 0.93 0.52

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Closing Carousel

Heath Bell. Carlos Marmol. Jordan Walden. Javy Guerra. Huston Street. These are all highly-thought of closers who entered the season with the ninth inning in their hands. And for a variety of reasons, all of them are now sitting on the pine when the ninth frame rolls around.

Bell and Walden are likely to return to the closer role at some point in the near future. They are their teams best options and simply need to iron out the current control issues that have plagued each in the early going. For the time being, Steve Cishek will get the ninth in Miami while look for recently acquired Ernesto Frieri — and his 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings — could be the sneaky pick-up out in Anahiem.

Marmol and Guerra may have a tougher time returning to the ninth inning. Marmol has been downright atrocious. He has blown two of his three save chances and has 15 walks in 10.2 innings. Look for Rafael Dolis and James Russell to get the call in the ninth inning. Guerra started hot but Kenley Jansen has way too much ability to keep in the eighth. Guerra and Marmol may never see the ninth inning again — at least, not in 2012.

Street, shockingly, went on the DL this weekend. Andrew Cashner, Dale Thayer and Luke Gregerson could all get chances to close while Street is out. Cashner has a closers' pedigree and strikeout stuff but has struggled with control thus far. Look for a day-to-day decision process for Bud Black.

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: May 8</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 13:27
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-may-7
Body:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for May 7, 2012.

1. Dodgers - Lost seven of last 13.

2. Rangers - Lost five of seven and headed to Baltimore.

3. Rays - Orioles suddenly a huge series this weekend.

4. Braves - Freddie Freeman getting it done with bat and glove.

5. Cardinals - +62 run differential is best in baseball.

6. Yankees - Still in shock over losing Mariano Rivera.

7. Nationals - Nattitude alive and well in DC.

8. Orioles - Took five of six in New York and Boston.

9. Blue Jays - Need to gain ground at Oakland and Minnesota this week.

10. Indians - Won four of five with only loss in extra innings to Texas.

11. Tigers - Vaunted offense managed just 12 runs over last four games.

12. Reds - Mired within two games of .500 for past two weeks.

13. Diamondbacks - Need Paul Goldschmidt to unleash his power.

14. Phillies - Starting pitching will be good enough to keep them in hunt.

15. Giants - Leading run-producer Pablo Sandoval out for at least a month.

16. Mets - Frank Francisco has won or saved last four games.

17. Marlins - Giancarlo Stanton is beginning to heat up.

18. Brewers - Ryan Braun enjoyed three-homer day at San Diego.

19. A’s - Getting outhit and outscored, but still better than .500.

20. Angels - Pujols breaks through with homer, but hitting below .200.

21. Mariners - Kyle Seager providing most of the offense.

22. Rockies - Swept by Atlanta as three different pitchers got saves.

23. Astros - Jose Altuve should be NL All-Star second baseman.

24. Red Sox - Baltimore’s DH Chris Davis shut down hitters for two frames.

25. White Sox - Adam Dunn leads team with 23 RBIs.

26. Pirates - Batting .228 and averaging 2.8 runs per game.

27. Cubs - Cards’ Lance Lynn ended both of Cubs’ two-game win streaks.

28. Royals - Haven’t lost a series in two weeks.

29. Padres - Only National League team with single-digit wins.

30. Twins - Have won back-to-back games only once this season.

 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's weekly look at baseball's best and worst teams</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 01:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-do-recruiting-rankings-matter
Body:

Football recruiting is an inexact science.

It is nearly impossible to evaluate the motivation, maturity and integrity of 17- and 18-year old kids. However, I personally believe that recruiting rankings are outstanding indicators of how a prospect will turn out.

Yet, there are still plenty of non-believers out there. The Athlon Consensus 100 rankings consistently raise a question that is always a hot-button issue within the walls of the Athlon Sports headquarters: Do recruiting rankings really matter?

In an effort to shed some light on this long-debated argument, I examined the recently completed first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. What better way to truly evaluate talent than with a list of the best players selected by NFL talent gurus and personnel wizards.

Before I dive into the 2012 first round, the full scope of college football recruiting must be understood. Trying to rank American high school football prospects is an expansive enterprise that is extremely time consuming.

Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about the 2008 NFL Draft explaining the depth and breadth of prep football rankings:

Using a 3,000-player pool for any given year (25 scholarships x 124 FBS teams = 3,100 prospects), here is how an average recruiting class looks:

Five-Stars: 25-30 per year
Four-Stars: 275-325 per year
Three-Stars: 700-800 per year
Two-Stars: 1,600-1,800 per year

This means that only the top one percent of high school football players receive that coveted fifth star. The top 10 percent get a fourth star. If a prospect is ranked in the Rivals 100 — or the Athlon Consensus 100 — he is ranked in what is roughly the top three percent of high school prospects.

That is rarified air.

Those are just the ones that get evaluated and receive the subsequent star ratings, however. According to MaxPreps.com, there are roughly 15,000 high school football teams in this country. That is approximately 300,000 senior football players in any given year (15,000 teams, 20 seniors per team). Those aforementioned percentages become microscopic when applied to the true player pool.

One-thousandth of one percent of high school senior football players will ever receive a five-star rating. Keep that in mind.

Now that all of that is out of the way, the following is a look at the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft — according to how there were ranked as high school seniors:

RELATED: NFL Draft 2012: Grading the First Round

Note: For the sake of consistency, star rankings will come from Rivals.com

1. Andrew Luck, QB (2008, AC100) ****
The Houston Stratford quarterback was the No. 4-rated passer in the nation by Athlon Sports and Rivals.com. He was the No. 6-rated player in the state of Texas and was No. 47 in the AC100.

2. Robert Griffin III, QB (2008) ****
The Copperas Cove (Texas) product was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and the Lone Star State’s No. 42 player.

3. Trent Richardson, RB (2009, AC100) *****
The Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback was the No. 20-rated player in the nation in the 2009 AC100, the No. 3-rated running back in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state of Florida.

4. Matt Kalil, OT (2008, AC100) *****
The big blocker from Anahiem (Calif.) Servite was the No. 2 offensive lineman in the nation back in 2008. He finished as the No. 18-rated player regardless of position nationally and the No. 3 player in the state.

5. Justin Blackmon, WR (2008) ***
A three-star recruit from Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview, Blackmon ranked as the No. 91 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 10 player in the state by Rivals.com.

6. Morris Claiborne, CB (2008) ***
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of Louisiana and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Claiborne was a three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB.

7. Mark Barron, S (2008, AC100) ****
The Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back in the nation behind names likes Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley.

8. Ryan Tannehill, QB (2007) ***
From Big Spring High School, the Aggies quarterback was the No. 23-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the nation and the No. 88-ranked prospect in the state of Texas.

9. Luke Kuechly, LB (2009) ***
This Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier tackler was the No. 44 outside linebacker in the nation and the No. 37 player in Ohio.

10. Stephon Gilmore, CB (2009, AC100) ****
The No. 88 overall prospect in the nation, Gilmore signed with South Carolina from Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe. He was ranked as the fourth-best player in the state and was the No. 16-rated defensive back in the nation.

11. Dontari Poe, DT (2008) **
The lowest-rated prospect in the first round was an unknown coming out of Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale. He was the No. 19-rated player in the state of Tennessee by Rivals.com.

12. Fletcher Cox, DT (2009) ****
The Yazoo City (Miss.) grad missed the AC100 (No. 179) but landed in the Rivals’ version of the Top 100 at No. 94. The recruiting site ranked him as the No. 2 player in the state and the No. 5 weakside defensive end in the nation.

13. Michael Floyd, WR (2008, AC100) *****
This one was pretty unanimous. Floyd was easily the top player in the state, hailing from famed St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall. He was the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation and finished as the No. 13-rated prospect in the entire country regardless of position.

14. Michael Brockers, DT (2009) ****
From Houston (Texas) Chavez, Brockers was ranked as the No. 10-rated strongside defensive end in the nation, the No. 23-rated player in the state of Texas and finished at No. 201 overall.

15. Bruce Irvin, DE (2010, JUCO) ****
Irvin went the junior college route after dropping out of high school before his junior year. He turned into a four-star JUCO talent after excelling at Mt. San Antonio C.C. in Walnut, Calif. He was the No. 6 overall JUCO prospect in the 2010 class.

16. Quinton Coples, DL (2008) ****
After playing at Hargrave Military Academy, Coples finished as the No. 6-rated strongside defensive end in the nation and the No. 4 player in the state of Virginia. He just missed the Rivals100 (No. 105).

17. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (2009, AC100) *****
The Gadsden City (Ala.) star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100.

18. Melvin Ingram, DE (2007) ****
Out of Hamlet (N.C.) Richmond County, Ingram was the No. 10-rated player in the Tar Heel State. He was the nation’s No. 21 outside linebacker, listed at 6’2” and only 224 pounds.

19. Shea McClellin, OLB (2007) **
This Maring (Idaho) product was the No. 7-rated player in the state of Idaho and had no national ranking of any kind.

20. Kendall Wright, WR (2008) ***
The Pittsburg (Texas) native was ranked as the No. 64 “athlete” in the nation and was the No. 81 overall player in the state of Texas by Rivals.

21. Chandler Jones, DE (2008) **
The third two-star prospect taken in the first round, Jones was a unranked tight end recruit from Endicott (N.Y.) Union.

22. Brandon Weeden, QB (2002) N/A
We knew Weeden was old but I bet you didn’t know he is older than Rivals.com recruiting rankings? He played baseball from 2002-07 and pre-dates the star system.

23. Riley Reiff, OL (2008) ***
The Parkston (S.D.) product was a three-star strongside defensive end prospect by Rivals.com.

24. David DeCastro, OG (2008) ***
This mauler was the No. 6-rated player in the state of Washington (Bellvue High School). He was rated as the No. 11 center in the nation by Rivals and picked Stanford over Washington, Oregon State and Washington State.

25. Dont’a Hightower, LB (2008) ****
From Lewisburg (Tenn.) Marshall County was ranked as the No. 3 player in the Volunteeer State and the No. 15 player at his position nationally.

26. Whitney Mercilus, DE (2008) ***
Relatively unknown, the nation’s leading sack master (14.5) hails from Akron (Ohio) Garfield High School. He was ranked as the No. 39 prospect in the state of Ohio and the No. 28 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals.

27. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin (2008) ***
Scout rated this Milwaukee (Wis.) Lutheran blocker as the No. 22 offensive guard in the nation. He was the No. 3-rated player in the state of Wisconsin.

28. Nick Perry, DE (2008, AC100) ****
The Detroit MLK pass rusher was the No. 95-rated player in the AC100. He was the No. 5 defensive and the No. 4 player in the state of Michigan.

29. Harrison Smith, S (2007) ****
The Notre Dame safety hails from Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic and was the No. 25-rated “athlete” in the nation and the No. 7-rated player in the state of Tennessee.

30. A.J. Jenkins, WR (2008) ***
The Jacksonville (Fla.) Terry Parker product was the No. 53-rated wide receiver in the nation by Rivals.com.

31. Doug Martin, RB (2007) **
The fourth two-star prospect in this draft came to Boise State as an unranked tailback from Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary’s.

32. David Wilson, RB (2009) ****
The talented tailback from Danville (Va.) George Washington was the No. 4-rated running back in the nation, the No. 40 overall player in the nation and the No. 1 player in the state of Virginia.

RELATED: Early 2013 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings

  Top 100 5-Stars 4-Stars 3-Stars 2-Stars Pos. Top 5 State Top 10
Total Number: 10 4 13 10 4 9 18
% of 1st Rd: 31.3% 12.5% 40.6% 31.3% 12.5% 28.1% 56.3%

 

CONCLUSION: On the surface, it appears that a five-star recruit is just as likely to get drafted in the first round as the two-stars, considering that four of each were taken this year. But that isn't using math correctly. There are only 25-30 five-star recruits in any given year while there are roughly 1,600-1,800 two-stars each cycle. Therefore, if you are rated as five-star, you have roughly a 13.3% chance to get drafted in the first round (4/30). But if you are a two-star prospect, you have a 0.2% chance of being drafted in the first round (4/1,800).

A pretty massive difference. 

If you are a four-star prospect, you have a 4.3% chance of being drafted in the first round (13/300), and as a three-star recruit, you have a 1.3% chance of going in the first round (10/800). It's safe to say, that the higher-ranked prospects have a dramatically better chance of landing in the first round.

These numbers are not an end-all be-all. There are simply a look at one round of one draft. But as the industry of college football recruiting rankings continue to grow, fans can expect these self-proclaimed talent evaluators to continue getting better at predicting the future.

So as a special service announcement to all the recruiting haters out there, PAY ATTENTION!

Recruiting is the lifeblood of the sport we all love so much.

-By Braden Gall

@bradengall

 

Other NFL Draft Related Content:

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades

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 Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III
2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Top 25 Undrafted Free Agents of Last 25 Years

NFL Draft 2012: Grading All 32 NFL Teams

Teaser:
<p> NFL Draft: Do Recruiting Rankings Matter?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL
Path: /college-football/early-2013-nfl-draft-rankings
Body:

The ink technically isn't even dry yet on some of the newest members of the NFL. 

While undrafted free agents continue to find roster spots, Athlon is already looking ahead to the 2013 NFL Draft. After polling the Athlon editors, here is a look at the top 50 NFL prospects who will be draft eligible at the end of the 2012 season. 

With a quality season on the field — and an uneventful one off of it — many of these names will find themselves drafted in the prestigious first round of the 2013 NDL Draft:

* - underclassmen with eligibility remaining

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (6-2, 230)
While he might get knocked for his overall lack of height — he is generously listed at 6-2 — there is no better passer of the football than Barkley. He is the picture-perfect face of a franchise off the field and in the locker room. Barring a horrific injury, the Trojans will once again have a quarterback selected at No. 1

2. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU (6-4, 245)*
As only a redshirt sophomoe, Montgomery landed on multiple All-American teams after leading his team to the SEC title. He is a freakish off-the-edge prospect who will be a premiere pass rusher this fall for LSU. The Tigers' leading sackmaster (9.0) also posted 49 tackles and 13.5 tackles for a loss in 2011.

3. Robert Woods, WR, USC (6-1, 190)*
He may not have the freakish measurables of Megatron or Larry Fitzgerald, but there is no more explosive (draft eligible) wide receiver in the nation. He already owns multiple USC and Pac-12 receiving records and is only a junior. In two years, he has 176 catches, 2,084 yards, 21 touchdowns and is a dangerous return man as well.

4. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (6-3, 241)*
This do-everything hybrid was a Butkus finalist a year ago after leading the SEC with 13.5 sacks. The former USC transfer found a home in Todd Grantham's NFL-style 3-4 scheme and is poised for another huge season blitzing the passer. He is the most talented, most explosive hybrid player in this class as of today.

5. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (6-0, 220)*
There is a running back who stands above all on the college gridiron and his last name is Lattimore. There is no more talented, no more complete player at this position than this Gamecock. He is the only "first round" back in the college game today as it takes a truly special talent to deserve a first-round pick. If he can prove this year that the ACL injury was simply a one-time thing, he will easily be the top back off the board next fall.

6. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee (6-6, 213)*
He has the NFL frame. He has the NFL arm. He simply needs to mature into the leader Vols fans need this fall to land in the first round. He can make every throw on the field and was on pace to challenge some Tennessee school records (1,328 yards and 14 TDs in four games) before breaking his thumb last fall. Should he stay healthy and lead Big Orange nation to a bowl game, he will grade out higher than names like Jones, Wilson, Smith or Thomas.

7. David Amerson, CB, NC State (6-2, 194)*
This guy is the complete package: Length, height, speed, instincts, play-making ability and scheme versatility. He led the nation with 13 interceptions last fall, and while he shouldn't come close to that number in 2012, he is all but locked in as the top coverman in next year's draft.

8. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas (6-4, 260)
Enters his senior season with 21 starts under his belt and there simply aren't many players with his skill set. He is powerful, athletic, quick and productive. He can play the run with ease on early downs and will terrorize passers on third down. A tireless worker, Okafor is a sure-fire first-rounder next fall.

9. Keenan Allen, WR, Cal (6-3, 206)*
This is a freakish athlete. The No. 1 player in the nation at his position as a recruit has lived up to the hype at Cal. He brings elite speed, agility, ball skills, competitive edge and leaping ability. Do yourself a favor and watch No. 21 for Cal — jaw-dropping is the only word that comes to mind when watching him play. He has 135 catches for 1,751 yards and 11 scores in only 19 starts.

10. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin (6-6, 322)
Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler, Peter Konz, John Moffitt, Kraig Urbik, and Bill Nagy are the Badgers' offensive lineman who have been drafted since 2009. Wagner is the next in a long line of bookend tackles from Madison.

11. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas (6-5, 250)*
The son of NFLer Jim Jeffcoat, Jackson exhibits extreme polish and high football IQ for a player of his age. In his first full season as the starter, he posted 54 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks as only a sophomore. He and Okafor should give Texas the top defense in the Big 12. 

12. Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn (6-4, 240)*
An elite recruit coming out of high school, Lemonier broke out on a bad defense as only a sophomore. He posted 13.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks and forced five fumbles. He can get to the passer in a hurry and NFL scouts will love his measurables. He should fit extremely well into new coordinator Brian VanGorder's NFL scheme, which should only help his draft stock.

13. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame (6-2, 255)
This position, like safety or guard, generally isn't a top ten overall position. But Te'o is the best option in this class and he will likely finish his career with incredible statistics. He has the sideline-to-sideline ability needed to stay on the field all three downs and is a natural leader. A truly great year in South Bend will solidify Te'o as this class' top linebacker.

14. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (6-5, 302)
Jones has been an All-SEC-type performer at literally every position on the offensive line. He has already excelled as a guard, won the Outland Trophy at left tackle and will be an All-American candidate at center this season. While he won't get drafted this highly if he lands at guard or center, he could go even higher if he eventually projects as a tackle. There may not be a better all-around football player in the nation than Jones this fall.

15. Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma (5-10, 200)*
This stellar athlete has played a hybrid S/OLB role for the first two years of his career in Norman. Now, with new coordinators Tim Kish and Mike Stoops calling the shots, scouts should expect a huge season from the Sooners safety. He is a freakish athlete who has as much range as any player in the nation. He is physical, a leader and simply makes plays. He has six interceptions, 6.5 sacks, 139 total tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss — as a defensive back. Expect huge things from Jefferson this fall.

16. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (6-3, 215)
The first thing scouts will notice about Smith will be his arm. He has a massive arm that is lightning quick and powerful enough to make every throw. He has the size to grade out as a first-rounder and has been incredibly productive in the same system that just produced Brandon Weeden. He will likely break most major West Virginia passing records this season.

17. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State (6-4, 317)*
As only a sophomore, Hankins emerged as one of the Buckeyes' most talented D-Liners. The massive tackle was all over the field with 67 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks last fall. Hankins will be the first of many Urban Meyer first-round defensive lineman, something he was known for at Florida. This big fella will be one of two potential OSU first-round defensive lineman, along with John Simon, in next year's draft. This is one stock that could sky-rocket over the next six months.

18. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (6-6, 335)*
The measurables are off the charts for big Fluker. He will need to prove his talents this season and he will get knocked for playing alongside so many talented blockers. But he will wow scouts at the combine and his team is a lock for success in 2012. There is still much to be proven for Fluker, but his raw talents are obvious.

19. T.J. McDonald, S, USC (6-3, 205)
The long-time stabilizing force of the Trojan defense will finally have to depart USC's secondary after 2012. But his resume, after enduring two sanction-riddled seasons, should be as complete as possible (especially, if USC plays for the national title). He has the size, physicality, speed, intangibles and statistics. He has posted 146 tackles and six interceptions over the last two seasons.

20. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas (6-3, 220)
In his first season as the starter, Wilson finished second in the SEC in passing efficiency and posted an incredible 24:6 touchdown-to-interception rate. He has a solid arm, solid size and solid all-around skill set for the next level. However, he needs to prove his talents against the best defenses college has to offer — LSU and Alabama. He threw for 196.0 yards per game, with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Razorbacks' 77-31 combined losses to the Tigers and Tide last year. He has the skills needed to succeed in the NFL, but proving his mettle without Bobby Petrino on the sideline will go a long way to securing a first round pick.

21. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (6-4, 325)
This monstrosity is one name that could land in the top ten with a soild year in Salt Lake City. He claimed the Morris Trophy, given to the Pac-12's top defensive lineman, a year ago after collecting 44 tackles and 9.0 tackles for a loss. He is impossible to double team and can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.

22. Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU (6-5, 240)*
Mingo doesn't get the same pub his teammate Montgomery gets, but his talents aren't too far behind. He is a bit bigger than Montgomery but not quite as explosive. Otherwise, their skill sets are very similar. He has the ability to play in a 3-4 as that coveted hybrid OLB/DE position. He won't have the same grade as the best player at his position (Jarvis Jones) but has first-round talent.

23. John Simon, DE, Ohio State (6-2, 260)
He is a bit undersized and will likely have to play outisde rush backer in a 3-4 or a more traditional end role in a 4-3. But there may not be a stronger player in this draft than Simon. He is an extremely physical, powerful player whose motor never shuts off. He is an all-around football player who should play a long time in the NFL.

24. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (6-2, 185)
Banks, like Amerson, has excellent size and toughness for the cornerback position. He is a sure tackler, has excellent open space agility and led his team in interceptions a year ago with five. He posted eight tackles for a loss, a rarity for a coverman.

25. Eric Reid, S, LSU (6-2, 210)*
This superstar not only made the biggest play of the regular season last year but has more superior athletic ability than nearly every player at his position. He is a monster factor at the backend of the Bayou defense as he led this loaded roster in tackles a year ago (76). He has the size, speed, range, instincts and tackling skill to easily land in the first round.

26. Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State (5-11, 175)
A fixture in the Spartans' Big Ten-leading defense, Adams has played in 42 games and started 28 before the start of his final season. His has adequate size, is extremely well coached, and, as corners have risen into the first round more often of late, should hear his name called in round one next spring.

27. Matt Elam, S, Florida (5-10, 210)*
This electric athlete was a well-known commodity as a high schooler when he came to Florida as the top safety prospect in the nation. He emerged as a sophomore as the Gators' team leader in tackles for a loss (11.0), forced fumbles (2) and pass breakups (7). With a good year under former safety Will Muschamp, it will be hard to keep him out of the first round.

28. Oday Aboushi, OL, Virginia (6-6, 310)
Mike London has reestablished the UVa brand name in football circles and Aboushi, with another stellar season along the line, will hear his name called very early in the 2013 draft. He will be packaged with fellow NFL prospect Morgan Moses on one of the ACC's top blocking units in 2012.

29. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina (6-8, 267)
His measurables are off the charts (if not a bit overzealous on the official school site), and the NFL scouts will love him when he gets to the combine. He is a play-maker with ideal size for the NFL defensive line. He has started 32 games in the SEC heading into his final year and has 15.5 career sacks.

30. Alex Hurst, OT, LSU (6-6, 340)
This big fella will lead what could be the natin's best team in 2012. He has the size, coaching, experience and overall athleticism to be a first-round pick. He should finish his career with nearly 50 games of experience and potentially 36 starts against the best NCAA football defensive lines have to offer in the SEC.

31. Kwame Geathers, DT, Georgia (6-6, 350)*
He is huge. He is powerful. He plays for an NFL 3-4 scheme. Geathers could easily find his way into the top ten if he plays as well as expected this fall. He will be one of the country's biggest prospects at 6-6 and 350 pounds. He is immovable at times and NFL scouts tend to like that. Fellow tackle John Jenkins might also be good enough to play his way onto this list as well. Good luck trying to move the interior of the UGA line this fall.

32. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (5-9, 175)*
The Honey Bagder is one of the more controversial propects in the nation. He is small. He isn't a truly great coverman. But he makes big plays on special teams and plays extremely hard. It will be very interesting to see if he lands in the first round.

The Best of the Rest:

33. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
34. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
35. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*
36. Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida*
37. Khaled Holmes, C, USC
38. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
39. Ray-Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
40. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*
41. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
42. Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*
43. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
44. Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
45. Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M
46. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
47. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
48. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
49. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
50. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

-By Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a very early look at who could have their name called in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 18:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-apr-30
Body:

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

I gave owners the standard "don't panic" speech last week and Jay Bruce completely proved me right. On April 18, Bruce was hitting .191, went 14 straight games without a home run and hadn't stolen a base all year. Yet, Bruce belted a home run in each of his last four games, raised his average to .296 since April 18, stole three bases and drove in 11 runs. In a matter of 10 days, Bruce vaulted himself into the top five of all fantasy hitters. Never fear Albert Pujols owners, he will come around. So will Jose Reyes, Justin Upton, Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista.

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Pos Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 23 11 24 2 .425 1.383
2. Josh Hamilton OF TEX 20 9 25 2 .395 1.182
3. Edwin Encarnacion 1B/3B TOR 14 7 20 4 .310 1.005
4. Adam Jones OF BAL 17 6 12 4 .330 .973
5. Jay Bruce OF CIN 14 7 17 3 .296 .954
6. Derek Jeter SS NYY 16 4 13 1 .396 .954
7. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 23 5 12 2 .297 .972
8. David Ortiz UTL BOS 14 4 18 0 .395 1.098
9. Miguel Cabrera 1B/3B DET 15 7 20 0 .298 .939
10. Evan Longoria 3B TB 15 4 19 2 .325 .994
11. Curtis Granderson OF NYY 18 8 16 0 .272 1.002
12. Carlos Gonzalez OF COL 16 4 16 4 .288 .892
13. Paul Konerko 1B CHW 13 5 15 0 .383 1.123
14. David Wright 3B NYM 14 3 14 2 .397 1.094
15. Starlin Castro SS CHC 10 0 13 10 .326 .774
16. Carlos Beltran OF STL 17 5 11 5 .256 .838
17. Josh Willingham OF MIN 13 5 15 1 .353 1.163
18. Desmond Jennings OF TB 18 3 9 6 .273 .757
19. Jose Altuve* 2B HOU 15 1 10 4 .373 .984
20. Yadier Molina C STL 14 4 15 2 .316 .961
21. Nick Swisher 1B/OF NYY 10 6 23 0 .284 .972
22. Corey Hart OF MIL 16 6 13 1 .286 1.049
23. David Freese 3B STL 10 5 20 0 .333 .935
24. Mike Aviles 2B/3B/SS BOS 16 4 13 3 .284 .832
25. Andre Ethier OF LAD 11 5 24 0 .277 .887

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Rookies Unite

It happened a little sooner than maybe most fantasy GMs thought, but Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are both on major league rosters before May 1. Harper already has two hits in six at bats, including a double. He showed off his arm on Saturday night in center field and will hit seventh for now. With Harper's continued growth, and Ryan Zimmerman landing on the DL, there is certainly a chance for him to move up in the order. He plays every play at 100% and his talent is painfully obvious. I doubt he is on your waiver wire, but do not even finish reading this paragraph until you at least go and see if you can still add the 19-year old to your roster.

Trout has gone hitless in his first two games (0-7), but might actually have more fantasy value than Harper this summer. Trout has batted lead-off in his first two games and has 40 games and 123 major league at-bats under his belt already. He was crushing the ball in triple-A and has forced the flailing Angels to inject some energy into the line-up. Now, if they could just figure out a way to get Mark Trumbo into the line-up everyday. As a side note, Trumbo added 3B eligibity to his "1B/OF" status this weekend. Something tells me the Angels aren't done moving pieces around just yet. 

Big Moves

Part of the reason the Halos had space to call-up Trout was the release of Bobby Abreu. The aging on-base machine could have some value if he lands, oh let's say, in Boston or New York. Keep an eye on this guy as he generally can contribute to most fantasy rosters across the board.

Part of the reason the Nats called-up Harper was Ryan Zimmerman landing on the disabled list. After an MRI on his shoulder was negative, the Nationals are expecting their stud third-sacker to be back when eligible. It doesn't appear to be a long-term injury and it certainly explains his slow start to the season. But fans and fantasy GMs alike have to be nervous about a guy who has spent the better part of two seasons on the DL.

DL Watch

-Zimmerman lands on 15-day DL after second anti-inflammatory injection. Brad Lidge has also landed on the 15-day DL with an abdominal issue. Henry Rodriguez is clearly the full-time closer.

-Jim Johnson is dealing with an illness that has made him questionable of late for late-inning usage. Pedro Strop looks like the hand-cuff option for now.

-After seeing multiple experts, Carl Crawford appears to be out for at least a few months. For you keeper leagues, look to pick him up off the wire in late June.

-Kevin Youkilis is questionable for this week's early games with a back issue.

-Paul Konerko is questionable for Tuesday's game with a neck injury.

-Shin Soo-Choo hasn't seen the field since April 24 and is questionable with a hamstring issue for Tuesday's game.

-Josh Hamilton left Sunday night's game with back stiffness and is questionable, however, it appears he will give it a try today. Monitor closely!

-Carlos Lee is questionable for Tuesday with an ankle issue.

Current Top 25 fantasy pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Jake Peavy CHW 37.2 3 0 33 0 1.67 0.69
2. Lance Lynn STL 27.0 4 0 24 0 1.33 0.81
3. Stephen Strasburg WAS 32.0 2 0 34 0 1.12 0.88
4. Kyle Lohse STL 33.1 4 0 21 0 1.62 0.84
5. Jered Weaver LAA 35.2 3 0 36 0 2.02 0.95
6. Justin Verlander DET 37.1 2 0 35 0 2.41 0.86
7. Gio Gonzalez WAS 29.2 2 0 34 0 1.82 0.94
8. Roy Halladay PHI 37.0 3 0 24 0 1.95 0.95
9. Joe Saunders* ARI 30.0 2 0 18 0 0.90 0.87
10. Clayton Kershaw LAD 30.1 2 0 28 0 1.78 0.89
11. Matt Garza CHC 33.2 2 0 36 0 2.67 0.89
12. Colby Lewis TEX 32.2 3 0 29 0 1.93 1.04
13. Matt Cain SF 30.1 1 0 26 0 2.37 0.63
14. Johnny Cueto CIN 32.1 3 0 22 0 1.39 1.05
15. Jason Hammel* BAL 26.0 3 0 25 0 1.73 1.00
16. Fernando Rodney TB 9.1 1 7 8 0 0.96 0.64
17. Bartolo Colon* OAK 42.2 3 0 26 0 2.53 0.94
18. Wade Miley* ARI 21.0 3 0 15 0 1.29 0.81
19. Aroldis Chapman CIN 12.1 2 0 21 3 0.00 0.73
20. Brandon Beachy ATL 25.2 2 0 20 0 1.05 0.97
21. Kenley Jansen* LAD 14.2 2 2 24 5 2.45 0.89
22. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 27.0 1 0 16 0 1.33 0.70
23. Cole Hamels PHI 26.1 3 0 30 0 2.73 1.03
24. Jake Westbrook* STL 27.2 3 0 15 0 1.30 1.01
25. Felix Hernandez SEA 36.1 2 0 33 0 2.48 1.02

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

The Ninth Inning

The ninth inning revolving door has been a clear issue for most fantasy teams this year. Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos, Brian Wilson, Drew Storen and Jordan Walden were all quality options come draft day. Hector Santiago is now closing games for the White Sox, however, Addison Reed has yet to allow a run and could figure in should Santiago struggle. Santos, Wilson and Storen are all out for the time being. Brad Lidge was going to close in place of Storen but is hurting himself now. Henry Rodriguez and his unpredictable 100-mph fastball is now firmly entrenched in the ninth. And aging lefty Scott Downs is filling in for Walden while he tries to regain his control. Walden won't be used in even eighth or seventh innning roles either (so don't expect holds) for the time being. He should be the closer at somepoint, but track his "down-by-six-run sixth inning outings."

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

Timm-Ah!

One of my favorite pitchers of the last decade has been Tim Hudson. He made his season debut this weekend and his tidy line (5 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) allowed him to get the win. First, it was against the Pirates, so he will deal with some lumps. But Huddy should be rostered and close to a near-start every time to the bump. With Jair Jurrjens down on the farm, it appears that Randall Delgado's spot in the rotation appears to be safe. 

Waiver Wire Starts This Week

1. Lance Lynn, STL: at PIT (Wed.) Stats:
2. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU: NYM (Wed.) Stats:
3. Mark Buehrle, MIA: at SD (Sat.) Stats:
4. Daniel Bard, BOS: OAK (Wed.) Stats:
5. Jeff Niemann, TB: SEA (Thur.) Stats:
5a. Jonathan Niese, NYM: at HOU (Tues.) Stats:

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Apr. 30</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 11:28
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-grading-first-round
Body:

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft is in the books. The Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins got their franchise quarterbacks as expected. But how did your favorite team do in this year's first round? Athlon grades every pick in the first round and gives some names for each team to target in the coming days:

1. Indianapolis: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (6-4, 234)
Team Needs: QB, WR, DT, OL, DE
Montana to Young. Favre to Rodgers. And now Manning to Luck. The long awaited marriage of the Stanford quarterback to the city of Indianapolis finally took place as the Colts wasted no time selecting the best quarterback prospect in two decades. There are no weaknesses in his game whatsoever and Colts fans can rest easy despite the loss of No. 18. First Round Grade: A+

2. Washington (From STL): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (6-2, 231)
Team Needs: QB, ILB, OT, S, CB
While Luck is the most complete prospect at the quarterback position in many years, Griffin III might be the best athlete under center ever. The former track star is a savvy leader who elevated an entire program to levels unforeseen in Waco in more than 15 years. His ability to keep plays alive with raw athleticism while maintain focus down the field is a rare trait. He, too, is the complete package at the game’s most important position. The only dent in the armor could be his durability, especially considering his penchant for running the football. He has missed games due to injuries in each of the last two seasons and Mike Shanahan likely won’t let him run around too much. First Round Grade: A

3. Cleveland (From MIN): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (5-9, 228)
Team Needs: RB, QB, OT, OLB, DE
Running backs must be special athletes to be taken in the top 20 overall much less at No. 3. While Cleveland clearly gave up too much to jump one spot – it cost four total draft picks to land the superstar tailback – the Alabama running back will likely be worth it. Richardson’s resume is loaded with personal awards, statistical records and two national championship rings. He is as strong as any running back to ever enter the league and his toughness should match the hard-nosed attitude abundant in the city of Cleveland. First Round Grade: A-

4. Minnesota (From CLE): Matt Kalil, OT, USC (6-6, 306)
Team Needs: OT, CB, S, DT, WR
The Vikings have many needs but protecting their first round investment under center with the clearcut top blocker in the draft was an excellently boring move. Kalil has played in an elite pro-style passing attack that is as close to the modern NFL schemes as there is in college. He has the size, pedigree, experience and athleticism to keep Lions, Packers and Bears off Christian Ponder’s back for years to come. This was an excellent day for Vikings fans as they added Kalil and three extra picks to drop one spot. First Round Grade: B+

5. Jacksonville (From TB): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (6-1, 207)
Team Needs: WR, OT, CB, DE, RB
Wide receiver is the deepest position in this draft and Blackmon certainly topped the list. He has the size and speed to be a dangerous play-maker across the middle and down the field. He played in a pass-heavy system that padded his stat line, but his level of production has dwarfed the rest of college football for two straight seasons. His ability to consistently produce when every coach in the nation is trying to stop him has been remarkable. The idea to support the young Blaine Gabbertt with a talent like Blackmon is an obvious one, but was the price worth it and does this team have other, more pressing needs? First Round Grade: B

6. Dallas (From WAS through STL): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (5-11, 188)
Team Needs: CB, DT, DE, G, LB
Tyrann Matthieu got all of the headlines but anyone who knows football knew that Claiborne was the real star of the LSU secondary. The Thorpe Award winner is the best pure coverman in the nation and a dangerous return specialist in his own right. He possesses extraordinary feel for the football and will attack it with tremendous ball skills. This was a pricey pick for Dallas but there is little-to-no downside with this Bayou Ballhawk. First Round Grade: A-
 
7. Tampa Bay (From JAC): Mark Barron, S, Alabama (6-1, 213)
Team Needs: S, CB, OG, LB, RB
It was shocking to see Roy Williams comparisons pop up on twitter heading into the draft for Barron. The Alabama safety is one of the safest picks in the entire draft and is the only elite playmaker at his position in this class. Barron is much more athletic, fluid, agile and versatile than the former Oklahoma Sooner. One thing Barron does have in common with Williams, however, is that they will both decapitate anyone with their hands near the football. Tampa Bay showed excellent patience here and added an immediate plug-and-play contributor along with additional picks with this maneuver. First Round Grade: B+
 
8. Miami: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)
Team Needs: QB, S, DE, WR, OT
The first real reach of the draft belongs to a team that has featured 16 different starting quarterbacks since Dan Marino retired. Tannehill is the first Texas A&M passer taken in the first round and is the first quarterback the Dolphins have taken in the first since Marino. The Aggie passer is a long-term project who has loads of development still to go. He threw for 283 yards per game but tossed 21 interceptions in his 19 career starts. He finished 12-7 as a starter and his teams consistently choked in the second half of play. Tannehill is a tremendous athlete who has loads of upside. This is the definition of high-rick, high-reward at this stage in the draft. First Round Grade: C+
 
9. Carolina: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (6-3, 242)
Team Needs: ILB, DT, CB, OT, DE
From one of the riskier picks in the first round to one of the safest, Carolina added a heartbeat to the middle of its defense with this selection. There have been few linebackers to emerge from the collegiate ranks with as much polish and experience as the Eagles tackling machine. He consistently produced huge numbers for a team that offered little in the way of defensive support. Like Barron, Kuechly is easily the top player at his position in this class and offers little downside of any kind. First Round Grade: B+
 
10. Buffalo: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (6-0, 190)
Team Needs: CB, OT, CB, WR, OLB
Gilmore has played a lot of football in a great conference. Yet, his game needs plenty of refinement for him to justify a top ten pick. He has great size but lacks fundamentals when tackling and in some coverage schemes. He is best when the play is in front of him as his natural instincts aren't are advanced as they should be. His excellent size could provoke a move to safety, where his range and size may be better utilized. First Round Grade: B-
 
11. Kansas City: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis (6-3, 346)
Team Needs: DT, LB, DE, G
Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and now Dontari Poe. Analysis from talking TV heads just about summed it up “his game tape isn’t that impressive” and “not many intangibles.” And that was when Mike Mayock was trying to be positive. The biggest red flag? Poe was not a dominate player at a very mediocre level of play at Memphis in Conference USA. His defenses were atrocious, his teams lost four out of every five games and he failed to produce any significant statistic on the sheet. Poe looked great in shorts and a t-shirt at the combine, and no one can argue with his raw physical upside, but he disappeared from August to January – when they play actual football games. This one could hurt for years. First Round Grade: D
 
12. Philadelphia (From SEA): Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (6-4, 298)
Team Needs: DT, OLB, S, OT, DE
The Eagles knew who they wanted, and when the Chiefs reached on big Poe, Philly didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Cox. The massive defensive tackle has been facing elite level centers and guards in the SEC. There may not be a better way to prepare for the next level than competing with the William Vlachos and Patrick Lonergans of the world. He can play inside or out and will be be a disruptive interior player. Brockers may end up being the top tackle in this class but Cox isn’t far behind. First Round Grade: B+
 
13. Arizona: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (6-2, 220)
Team Needs: WR, OT, DE, QB, OLB
This pick was a bit peculiar considering the many other holes on the Cardinals two-deep, but there are also a lot worse things than lining-up Michael Floyd opposite of Larry Fitzgerald. In fact, they have similar builds, styles and talents, but that isn't the only thing the two stud wideouts share. Floyd and Fitzgerald both hail from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Arizona now boasts arguably the top two wide receivers to ever come from the talent-rich St. Paul-Minneapolis area. Floyd’s only knocks – off the field focus and nagging injuries – are things that should be helped by day-to-day contact with one of the best models of professionalism in the game today. First Round Grade: B-
 
14. St. Louis (from WAS): Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (6-5, 322)
Team Needs: DT, WR, OT, CB, LB
A massive run-stuffing, pocket-collapsing defensive tackle is a rare commodity in the college ranks. But Michael Brockers is just that and he did it against the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State. Not Tulane, UTEP or Rice. Jeff Fisher and the Rams did an excellent job building a massive draft board loaded with extra picks while still landing their guy in the first round. Brockers is the best tackle prospect in the draft. First Round Grade: A-
 
15. Seattle (From PHI): Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia (6-3, 245)
Team Needs: DE, LB, WR, OL, TE
Yes, Irvin might be the best pure pass rusher in the draft. Yes, he might have the most explosive first step in the class. And yes, he was a huge reach at No. 15 for Pete Carroll. Adding some picks and dropping down was a smart move, but Irvin has major question marks. His off the field issues aside, Irvin is a one-trick pony. He was barely good enough to play on first and second down in the Big East much less against the 49ers. Irvin feels like a much better fit on a team that is one pass rusher from the Super Bowl, and that is not the Seahawks. First Round Grade: C
 
16. NY Jets: Quinton Coples, DL, North Carolina (6-5, 284)
Team Needs: DE, OLB, WR, OT, ILB
This is an interesting pick. The Jets may never have expected him to be still on the board and he likely caused a slight audible. His versatility along the defensive line has to be an intriguing quality for Rex Ryan’s multiple front defense. His ability to slide inside and play tackle could be invaluable on passing downs. He is a massive prospect who appeared to, at times, let the troubling situation around him last fall affect his output. If he stays committed, his rare physical talents should help him succeed in the defense-friendly Jets locker room. First Round Grade: B-
 
17. Cincinnati (from OAK): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (6-1, 185)
Team Needs: CB, G, SS, DE, DT
The third Crimson Tider to go in the first round has been long considered a first round pick. Kirkpatrick was the No. 1 defensive back prospect in the nation coming out of high school and went on to win two national championships under Nick Saban. He has incredible height and length for a cornerback and exhibits elite speed. His size might precipitate a quick move to safety where he could bulk up slightly and play with rare speed and athleticism. His fluidity and play-making skills in man-up open field situations will be the determining factor as to which position he plays. First Round Grade: B-
 
18. San Diego: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina (6-1, 264)
Team Needs: DE, OT, DT, G, S
If Ingram were two inches taller and his arms two inches longer, he might have been the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. He is a bit undersized for a pure defensive end but his raw athleticism for a man his size is simply remarkable. He moves incredibly well in space and can be used all over the defense in a variety of roles and positions. He is active, strong, quick and savvy and at his best when rushing the passer. First Round Grade: B+
 
19. Chicago: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State (6-3, 260)
Team Needs: DE, OT, G, DT, CB
“Assassin” was the word Chris Peterson used to describe the Boise State Bronco hybrid. As part of a senior class that won 50 of 53 games played, McClellin proved game-in and game-out that he belonged playing against elite competition. He is tough, strong and fluid enough in space to drop into the open field when needed. Opposite of Julius Peppers, the hard-nosed lineman should have plenty of chances to make plays against the law firm of Rodgers, Stafford and Ponder. First Round Grade: B+
 
20. Tennessee: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (5-10, 196)
Team Needs: WR, S, CB, DE, OL, LB
The Titans feel comfortable with Jake Locker as the future under center, and, with Chris Johnson signed for the near future, wide receiver was one of the key missing pieces on offense. Kenny Britt or no Kenny Britt, Wright will fill a giant void in the slot that has been empty ever since Derrick Mason left. His overall production was likely inflated by his offensive system and quarterback, but this speedster is a dynamic play-maker in all phases of the game. He can stretch the seam, work underneath, take hand-offs, return kicks and maybe even throw a pass or two if needed. Wideout might not have been the most pressing need, but Wright fills a position that’s been missing for years. First Round Grade: B
 
21. New England (From CIN): Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse (6-5, 266)
Team Needs: DE, DT, LB, DB, C
On a rare night where Belichick moved up twice in the first round, the Patriots dramatically upgraded their front seven. It started with giving up a third rounder to move up to snag a complete package at defensive end. Jones has the size and raw athletic ability to play all three downs for the Patriots complicated defensive system. The Pats had to find someone to get pressure on the opposing quarterback after ranking near the bottom in pass defense a year ago. Jones certainly does that. First Round Grade: B
 
22. Cleveland (from ATL): Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221)
Team Needs: RB, QB, OT, OLB, DE
If this gunslinger was six years younger, he would be the guy heading to South Beach, not Tannehill. Oklahoma State’s all-time leading passer will turn 29 in October, and other than his age, has virtually no weaknesses. He could use some vocal leadership classes, but he has huge statistical production, the Pokes only Big 12 championship, the big frame, strong NFL arm and modest off the field lifestyle conducive to NFL success. The only worry in Cleveland should be how will a Longhorn and a Cowboy co-exist in the same locker room? First Round Grade: B+
 
23. Detroit: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa (6-5, 313)
Team Needs: OT, CB, OT, G, LB, RB
This was not a great year for offensive tackles. It makes evaluating the Reiff pick all that much more difficult. On one hand, Detroit has to be happy with landing the consensus No. 2 tackle prospect in the draft at No. 23 overall. But the Iowa Hawkeyes struggled to protect the quarterback or open up any running lanes a year ago. Were the Lions simply a victim of position scarcity or did they get a star dropped in their lap? Only time will tell. He is likely more of a right tackle than left for the time being. First Round Grade: B
 
24. Pittsburgh: David DeCastro, G, Stanford (6-5, 316)
Team Needs: G, OT, DT, LB, DB
It seems like the Steelers have been trying to stabilize their offense line for the better part of a decade. Landing this nasty, snarling interior lineman is a major step in the right direction. He has played in power pro-style attack and excelled at an elite level. Stanford’s best two year run in history was directly tied to this offensive senior class. And this savvy road-grader was a huge piece of the puzzle. Any help Big Ben gets up front will be welcome. First Round Grade: B+
 
25. New England (From DEN): Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama (6-2, 265)
Team Needs: DE, LB, DT, DB, C 
If Belichick wanted a battering ram to place next to Jerod Mayo on defense, he could not have asked for a better first round pick than Hightower. The massive linebacker dealt with some health issues over the course of his career at Alabama, but the heavy hitter helped lead what was possibly the best defense in college football history. He won two national championships and fits the 3-4 scheme perfectly. Moving up to grab this burly backer was a sly move from the Draft Master. Packaged with Jones, New England’s defense just took a major step forward. First Round Grade: A-
 
26. Houston: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois (6-3, 261)
Team Needs: DE, OT, G, WR, CB
This talented edge rusher was arguably the top sack artist in the nation last fall. The Big Ten is loaded with stud offensive tackles and Mercilus was still able to wreak havoc in opponent’s backfields. The Texans have plenty of talent at the outside linebacker/defensive end positions and likely had bigger needs. To that end, this pick is a bit surprising. He will have to gain strength and bulk to see the field in obvious running downs - and justify this selection. First Round Grade: C+
 
27. Cincinnati (From NO through NE): Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin (6-4, 314)
Team Needs: CB, G, SS, DE, DT 
Kuechly, Barron and Zeitler were the three safest picks in this year’s first round not named Luck. The big burly Badger blocker has excellent size, polish and experience against elite level competition – see Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Johnathan Hankins, K-Short, Jordan Hill and John Simon. He is a nasty finisher who has played in a complicated pro-style attack for years. Zeitler adds exemplary protection for franchise quarterback Andy Dalton and will help improve the ground game. Along with a few extra draft picks and Kirkpatrick, the Bengals had one of the best nights in the league on Thursday. First Round Grade: B+
 
28. Green Bay: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC (6-2, 271)
Team Needs: OLB, S, DE, RB, CB
Consistency is the name of the game for Perry. He has all the talent in the world but the motor tends to throttle back at times. When he decides to press the gas pedal, he can produce exactly what Green Bay is looking for – an edge pass rusher to pair with Clay Matthews who doesn’t have to come off the field on first and second downs. When he backs off, he can disappear from action for more than a few plays. If he stays focused, he will be a nice addition to the Dom Capers 3-4. If not, fans are going to be pointing at what Courtney Upshaw will be doing in for years to come. First Round Grade: C
 
29. Minnesota (From BAL): Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)
Team Needs: OT, S, CB, DT, WR 
This is a heady player who has loads of career starts under his belt in South Bend. But he likely landed in the first round based more on positional scarcity and team need than any other player taken last night. After Barron, there was little left at the safety position with first round talent. The question about Smith will remain his overall speed, agility and explosiveness at the back end of an NFL defense against the likes of Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall. First Round Grade: C+
 
30. San Francisco: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois (6-0, 190)
Team Needs: WR, G, DE, CB, OLB
The 49ers might need a wide receiver at some point in this draft, but this felt early. And since it’s the deepest position in the draft, Jenkins going here was a bit of a surprise. Jenkins was incredibly productive in his final season on campus but offers no one special talent. He is an average sized player with above average speed and solid quickness. He is a solid overall player, but how much better is he than the 10-12 wideouts that will be taken in the next two rounds? First Round Grade: C+
 
31. Tampa Bay (From NE): Doug Martin, RB, Boise State (5-9, 223)
Team Needs: S, RB, CB, OG, LB
Boise State’s talent is finally starting to pop into the first round. Martin, after McClellin, became only the fourth Bronco ever selected in the first frame of the draft. While Martin doesn’t possess one elite trait – breakaway speed, massive size, etc – there is nothing that this tailback can’t do. He can play all three downs, has the strength and power to move the pile, the quickness to get to the edge, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up the blitz. The Bucs would have jumped at Pensacola native Richardson had he been there at five, but moving back once to land Barron and then back up to snag Martin was a savvy move by Greg Schiano and company. First Round Grade: B
 
32. NY Giants: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206)
Team Needs: RB, OT, LB, DT, S
Super Bowl champions rarely have massive holes to fill and so this pick was used to reach just a bit on a high quality talent. Wilson is a game-changing back with explosive big-play ability and slashing running style. He is low to the ground and incredibly powerful in his lower body – think Ray Rice with more burst. He posted big numbers in two years as the starter at a high level of play in the ACC. This was a bit early for Wilson, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with this pick. First Round Grade: B+
 
-by Braden Gall

Ranking the First Round Picks:

  Name Pos. NFL Team Pick Grade
1. Andrew Luck QB Indianapolis No. 1 A+
2. Robert Griffin III QB Washington No. 2 A
3. Trent Richardson RB Cleveland No. 3 A-
4. Morris Claiborne CB Dallas No. 6 A-
5. Michael Brockers DT St. Louis No. 14 A-
6. Dont'a Hightower LB New England No. 25 A-
7. Matt Kalil OT Minnesota No. 4 B+
8. Mark Barron S Tampa Bay No. 7 B+
9. Luke Kuechly LB Carolina No. 9 B+
10. Fletcher Cox DT Philadelphia No. 12 B+
11. Melvin Ingram LB/DE San Diego No. 18 B+
12. Shea McClellin LB/DE Chicago No. 19 B+
13. Brandon Weeden QB Cleveland No. 22 B+
14. David DeCasrto OG Pittsburgh No. 24 B+
15. Kevin Zeitler OG Wisconsin No. 27 B+
16. David Wilson RB NY Giants No. 32 B+
17. Justin Blackmon WR Jacksonville No. 5 B
18. Kendall Wright WR Tennessee No. 20 B
19. Chandler Jones DE New England No. 21 B
20. Riley Reiff OT Detroit No. 23 B
21. Doug Martin RB Tampa Bay No. 31 B
22. Stephon Gilmore CB Buffalo No. 10 B-
23. Michael Floyd WR Arizona No. 13 B-
24. Quinton Coples DL NY Jets No. 16 B-
25. Dre Kirkpatrick DB Cincinnati No. 17 B-
26. Ryan Tannehill QB Miami No. 8 C+
27. Whiteney Mercilus DE Houston No. 25 C+
28. Harrison Smith S Minnesota No. 29 C+
29. AJ Jenkins WR San Francisco No. 30 C+
30. Bruce Irvin DE Seattle No. 15 C
31. Nick Perry DE Green Bay No. 28 C
32. Dontari Poe DT Kansas City No. 11 D

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review
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> NFL Draft: Grading the First Round</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-day-twos-best-prospects
Body:

After the dust settled on Day One, or the first round, of the 2012 NFL Draft, eyes in 32 war rooms returned to their draft big boards. 

Who is still on the board that we didn't expect to see? (Upshaw) Who was taken way too early at the end of round one that we had targeted late in the second round? (Jenkins) Which positions are still loaded with talent? (WR, DE)

These are all questions GMs are floating at subordinates of all types. With only 32 names crossed off, there is still loads of talent still ripe for the picking. And if the good teams are any indication - Giants, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers - then the most important day of the draft might just be No. 2.

Related Content:
NFL Draft: Grading the First Round

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review

Here are Athlon's Best Available Players:

1. Courtney Upshaw, LB/DE, Alabama (6-1, 272)
Physical monster at the point of attack who can dominate his side of the ball. He won two national championships at Alabama and was a part of the best defense in two decades of college football. He will be a steal for some 3-4 scheme on Day Two.

2. Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska (6-0, 233)
In only two short seasons, David injected his name into the Huskers record books with nearly 300 tackles. He can play sideline-to-sideline and will fill agianst the run between the tackles. He is one of the few excellent 4-3 weakside backers in the draft.

3. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State (6-2, 309)
A bit on the short side, but few have been as productive agianst elite level offensive lineman as Worthy. The star of the Big Ten's best unit, Worthy helped lead his team to the Big Ten title game.

4. Cordy Glenn, OG/OT, Georgia (6-5, 345)
Versatile prospect was the SEC East champs best blocker a year ago. He could be successful on the next level at either guard or tackle. The interior of the line feels like the most likely destination for Glenn.

5. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin (6-5, 314)
Arguably the best center in the country a year ago, Konz led what turned out to be three of the most prolific offenses in school history. He is a leader along the line and helped push the Badgers into consecutive Rose Bowls.

6. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford (6-6, 247)
Athletic, tall, handsy tight end is truly the only elite prospect at the position in this class. Orson Charles has a chance to be productive but he is not anywhere near the same size as Fleener. His pro-style background will help him adapt quickly.

7. Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State (6-2, 214)
Smart, savvy, poised, mature leader of a program that won 11 games for the first time in school history - twice - under Cousins' control. He is the school's all-time leading passer in nearly every category and has the size and arm strength to be a starter in the NFL.

8. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State (6-7, 323)
The suspension has cast a shadow of doubt over Adams' overall dedication to the game. If he is focused and committed, there will be few better values than this big blocker on Day Two.

9.Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford (6-5, 312)
David DeCastro's partner in crime, Martin has been responsible for protecting Andrew Luck's backside for the last three seasons. He is a two-time all-Pac-12 performer and has the tools to a contributing right tackle very quickly.

10.Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall (6-3, 266)
Speed, edge rusher who was very productive against lower level of competition in Conference USA. He is likely the top pure pass rusher left on the board.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Devon Still, DT, Penn State
12. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
13. Mychal Kendricks, LB, CAL
14. Kendall Reyes, DT, UConn
15. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
16. Jeff Allen, OG, Illinois
17. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
18. Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss
19. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
20. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson

 

-by Braden Gall

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review
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> NFL Draft: Day Two's Best Prospects</p>
Post date: Friday, April 27, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-look-first-round-trades
Body:

The 77th annual NFL Draft is upon us.

Tonight will be the culmination of decades of hard work for players, months of laborious scouting for NFL front offices and weeks of preparation for talking TV heads who have to fill three hours of dead time with highlights and graphics.

However, the not-quite news, pseudo-entertainment extravaganza tonight is all about the fans. Jets and Eagles fans will finally have something to boo about again after a three-month hiatus. Packers, Giants, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens fans will quietly sit by and watch their teams select under the radar All-Pros with little fanfare. And months of excitement for Colts and Redskins supporters will finally come to fruition.

Andrew Luck will be the first pick and Robert Griffin III will be the second. After that, however, fans should be in for plenty of fireworks.

There were 13 first-round NFL trades in the 2009 NFL Draft. There were 11 first-round trades over the last two drafts. And there has already been one blockbuster in 2012 involving the rights to RG3.

With the new rookie salary wage cap, conditions are much more conducive for first-round trades than ever before.

NFL mastermind Jeff Fisher has already landed a small bounty for his St. Louis Rams in the form of three first-round picks — 2012, 2013, 2014 — and the 39th overall pick this year when he dropped four spots from No. 2 to No. 6. He may not be done yet, either.

If the last two years are any indication, fans can anticipate half-a-dozen more first-round swaps tonight. In fact, the last two drafts have provided some of the most explosive first rounds in recent memory.

The biggest splash, of course, came only six picks into the 2011 NFL Draft when the Atlanta Falcons mortgaged their future on wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta sent it’s first round (27th overall), second round (59th) and fourth round (124th) selections in 2011, along with its 2012 first rounder (22nd) and fourth rounder (118th), to Cleveland for the sixth overall pick. The Falcons took the game-changing wide receiver from Alabama in a trade that appears to have worked out for both teams.

In 13 games, Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yads and eight scores. It’s fair to say the 6-3, 220-pound wideout has lived-up to the hype. No NFL franchise is one wide receiver from a Super Bowl, but, with its NFC South foe, the New Orleans Saints, in utter turmoil, Atlanta is poised to win its division in 2012 with Jones opposite All-Pro Roddy White.

The Browns landed defensive tackle Phil Taylor with the 21st pick (after trading up from No. 27), wideout Greg Little with the 59th pick and do-everything back Owen Marecic with the 124th selection. Marecic started four games and played in 13. Little’s 61 receptions trailed only A.J. Green amongst NFL rookies. Taylor started all 16 games, registering 59 total tackles and four sacks. With three of top 37 picks and six of the top 118 thanks to the Jones deal, Cleveland has a chance to totally rebuild with one trade.

While it wasn’t as high-profile as the Atlanta-Cleveland exchange, Washington did its best Browns impersonation, moving back six spots from No. 10 to No. 16, when it flipped picks with Jacksonville. The Redskins got Ryan Kerrigan — who posted 64 total tackles and 7.5 sacks as a rookie — and proceeded to turn the 49th pick it got from Jacksonville into five additional draft picks when all was said and done. Washington ended up with wideouts Leonard Hankerson (79th) and Aldrick Robinson (178th), tailback Roy Helu (105th), defensive back Dejon Gomes (146th) and offensive lineman Maurice Hurt (217th).

Hankerson earned his way into the starting line-up and posted a 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended with a hip injury. Helu played in 15 games (five starts) rushing for 640 yards while catching 49 passes for 379 yards and scoring three total touchdowns. Gomes posted 32 tackles in five starts while Hurt started eight games in place of the injured Kory Lictensteiger.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars got Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback who barely completed half  of his passes, tossed nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12), and averaged less than 150 yards passing per game. This, in a year when Cam Newton broke records and Andy Dalton led the Bengals, of all teams, to the playoffs.

Those weren’t the only moves in the first round however. The Saints traded their 2012 first rounder (27th) and their 2010 second rounder (56th overall) to the Patriots for the right to draft Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick a year ago. The former Heisman winner missed six games and totaled 520 yards from scrimmage. The Pats selected Cal tailback Shane Vereen in the second round last year and will pick twice in the first round this year. The Pats also landed stud tackle Nate Solder with the first-round pick they acquired from Oakland when they traded Richard Seymour to the West Coast at the start of training camp.

The 2010 first round was no different. Except two years ago, it was all about the Mile High City.

Denver infamously selected Demaryius Thomas with the 22nd pick and Tim Tebow with 25th. Yet, most forget the Bronocs started the 2010 draft with the 11th overall pick and it took four trades to land the tandem that won them a Wild Card game last year.

First, Denver dropped two spots to No. 13 when San Francisco moved up to snag Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis. The Broncos then dropped to 27th when the Eagles moved up to pick Brandon Graham at No. 13. Denver got three additional picks (70th, 87th, 113th) with those two trades.

They weren’t done yet, however, as they shipped the 24th and 113th picks to New England for the right to draft Thomas at 22. New England then flipped the 24th pick to Dallas for the 27th and 90th picks, allowing the Cowboys to take Dez Bryant. Meanwhile, with the very next pick, Denver jumped back into the first round by sending their 43rd, 70th and 114th overall picks to Baltimore for Tim Tebow.

You got all of that?

San Francisco got Davis. The Eagles got Graham. New England dropped twice from No. 22 to No. 27 and netted Devin McCourty (27th), Taylor Price (90th) and Aaron Hernandez (113th). Baltimore got Sergio Kindle (43rd), Ed Dickson (70th) and Dennis Pitta (114th) for the 25th pick. Denver moved back twice, moved up twice and drafted Thomas (22nd), Tebow (25th) and Eric Decker (87th) after all of the dust had settled.

John Elway still wasn't finished.

After all of that, Tebow, the most talked about player in the NFL last fall, was worth a grand total of two late-round picks. Elway shipped him and the Broncos' seventh-round selection to New York for a fourth- and sixth-round draft pick. So in reality, the Broncos got Thomas, Decker, a fourth, a sixth and one playoff win out of the deal (Peyton Manning aside, of course).

It’s amazing how a few slots in the draft can dramatically shift the NFL’s balance of power.

With two extra picks in the first four rounds the Browns have the chance to completely rebuild their franchise in two drafts. The Falcons are the team to beat in the NFC South because they made the move last year to go up and grab Jones. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Pats have two All-Pros in Hernandez and McCourty. And the Ravens replaced Todd Heap with ease and are expecting big things from Kindle this fall.

The rich get richer.

So far in 2012, we know that the Redskins have their guy in Griffin III. Fisher and the Rams will either take star wideout Justin Blackmon to help Sam Bradford or continue to move back in an effort to stockpile picks. Either way, there figures to be plenty of war room phone calls on draft night.

Who will sell the farm to snatch Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 3? Will anyone move up to grab the only game-changing safety in this class in Alabama's Mark Barron? Which team vaults back into the first round to secure one of the few solid offensive tackles left on the board?

And, as usual, there figures to be plenty of Tyson Alualu/Darrius Heyward-Bey/Hank Hill “Do What?” moments tonight.

Sit back and enjoy.

-by Braden Gall

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> 2012 NFL Draft: First-Round Trades</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-ranking-positions
Body:

Each and every NFL Draft is a totally unique experience. Draft day trades, team needs, rookie salary caps and positional trends all play major roles in who takes what player with which pick.

Positional depth may play the biggest role of them all in helping teams organize their big boards. Knowing when to reach for scarcity or pass because of quality second choices is key for any NFL GM on draft day.

So what positions are the deepest in the 2012 NFL Draft? Athlon ranks each position in this year’s draft complete with potential first-rounders, quality mid-round options and deep sleepers that are sure to surprise.

1. Wide Receiver

The 2008 recruiting class of wide receivers might have been the best collection of pass catchers to enter college at one time ever. Julio Jones and AJ Green have already provided a solid foundation for that assumption. But the rest of the ’08 wideout class will provide plenty of firepower for NFL teams across the country. There were 27 and 28 wideouts taken in the last two drafts respectively and this class could surpass those numbers with ease.

Potential First-Rounders (4):
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (6-1, 207), Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (6-2, 220), Kendall Wright, Baylor (5-10, 196), Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (6-4, 215)

Day Two Picks (14):
Rueben Randle, LSU (6-3, 210), Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina (6-3, 216), A.J. Jenkins, Illinois (6-0, 190), Brian Quick, Appalachian State (6-3, 220), Joe Adams, Arkansas (5-11, 179), Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (5-11, 192), Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers (6-1, 211), Nick Toon, Wisconsin (6-2, 215), TY Hilton, FIU (5-9, 183), Keshawn Martin, Michigan State (5-11, 188), Tommy Streeter, Miami (6-5, 219), Chris Givens, Wake Forest (5-11, 198), Danny Coale, Virginia Tech (6-0, 201), Marvin McNutt, Iowa (6-3, 216)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
DeVier Posey, Ohio State (6-2, 211), Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M (6-4, 223), Juron Criner, Arizona (6-2, 2224), Dwight Jones, North Carolina (6-3, 230), Eric Page, Toledo (5-9, 186), Greg Childs, Arkansas (6-3, 219), Devon Wylie, Fresno State (5-9, 187)

2. Cornerback

With the advent of intricate three-, four- and five-wide sets in the NFL, the need for talented covermen has pushed the cornerback position squarely into the first round. The bigger, less-fluid, less-agile cornerbacks can be easily converted into speedy safeties (see Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore) in case they aren't capable of man-up coverage. And much like the offensive tackle position, there is a high washout, or bust, rate at this position. More risks are taken at this position in the first round in an effort to find the next Darrelle Revis. The 2012 collection of covermen features some pure studs (Claiborne), plenty of mid-round depth and talent (Hosley, Johnson, Minnifield) and a couple of seriously talented late-rounders (Menzie, Harris). Expect a lot of CBs to go off the board in the first 100 picks.

Potential First-Rounders (4):
Morris Claiborne, LSU (5-11, 188), Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina (6-0, 190), Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama (6-1, 185), Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama (5-10, 193)

Day Two Picks (10):
Josh Robinson, UCF (5-10, 199), Dwight Bentley, UL Lafayette (5-10, 182), Trumaine Johnson, Montana (6-2, 204), Brandon Boykin, Georgia (5-9, 182), Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska (5-10, 204), Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina (6-0, 197), Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (5-10, 178), Chase Minnifield, Virginia (5-10, 183), Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt (5-11, 192), Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma (5-10, 206)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
DeQuan Menzie, Alabama (5-10, 195), Sean Prater, Iowa (5-10, 190), Cliff Harris, Oregon (5-11, 175), Keith Tandy, West Virginia (5-10, 202)

3. Defensive Tackle

The value of this class is clearly in the first round. Interior defensive lineman are a rare commodity — like a book-end tackle, shutdown corner or great quarterback — and teams will reach for them. This group (other than possibly Dontari Poe) is well-deserving of its first-round grade. The SEC features two can’t-miss products while the Big Ten will provide two superstars within the first 40 picks or so. If Poe were to pan out as a sound first-round value, albeit an unlikely proposition, this class could provide five or six bona fide All-Pros.

Potential First-Rounders (6):
Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State (6-4, 298), Michael Brockers, LSU (6-5, 322), Jerel Worthy (6-2, 309), Kendall Reyes, UConn (6-4, 299), Dontari Poe, Memphis (6-3, 346), Devon Still, Penn State (6-5, 303)

Day Two Picks (7):
Brandon Thompson, Clemson (6-2, 311), Alamdea Ta Amu, Washington (6-2, 348), Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati (6-5, 318), Mike Martin, Michigan (6-1, 308), Mike Daniels, Iowa (6-0, 291), Billy Winn, Boise State (6-4, 294), Josh Chapman, Alabama (6-1, 316),

Athlon’s Sleepers To Watch:
DaJohn Harris, USC (6-3, 306), Loni Fangupo, BYU (6-1, 323), Marcus Forston, Miami (6-1, 301), Kheeston Randall, Texas (6-5, 293)

4. Offensive Guard

Guards are not first-round selections. They can be had in any round in the draft and traditionally are a big part of the middle rounds (3-5). There have been a total of three guards selected in the last three NFL Drafts, but 22 have been taken in rounds 3-5 over that same span. The depth and value in this class could come in the much-later rounds, however, as big-time recruits turned long-time starters on a BCS level will fly off boards. Names like Ryan Miller, Lucas Nix and Brandon Washington could all dramatically out-perform their draft status.

Potential First-Rounders (2):
David DeCastro, Stanford (6-5, 316), Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin (6-4, 314)

Day Two Picks (8):
Jeff Allen, Illinois (6-4, 307), Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State (6-5, 333), Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State (6-3, 311), Tony Bergstrom, Utah (6-5, 313), Adam Gettis, Iowa (6-2, 293), Brandon Brooks, Miami-OH (6-4, 353), James Brown, Troy (6-3, 306), Joe Looney, Wake Forest (6-3, 309)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Brandon Washington, Miami-Fla. (6-3, 320), Ryan Miller, Colorado (6-7, 321), Lucas Nix, Pitt (6-5, 317), Markus Zusevics, Iowa (6-5, 303)

5. Quarterback

This is a unique position to evaluate. It is the most important position on the field and it’s also the position with the most specific skillset in the game — mental make-up, arm strength, pocket presence, work ethic and more. Over the last three years, the NFL Draft has featured no fewer than 11 and no more than 14 signal-callers drafted. This season should feature a number that could top 14 easily. What makes this QB class special is the two names atop the list who are as sure-fire as any prospects in decades and the depth in the second and third round. There are more than half-a-dozen productive, big-framed winners in this group that each have a chance to start on the next level. This is the year to take a mid-round chance on a quarterback.

Potential First-Rounders (3):
Andrew Luck, Stanford (6-4, 234), Robert Griffin III, Baylor (6-2, 231), Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)

Day Two Picks (6):
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (6-3, 214), Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221), Brock Osweiler, Arizona State (6-7, 242), Nick Foles, Arizona (6-5, 243), Ryan Lindley, San Diego State (6-3, 229), Russell Wilson, Wisconsin (5-11, 204)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Kellen Moore, Boise State (6-0, 197), Case Keenum, Houston (6-1, 208), Darron Thomas, Oregon (6-3, 220), Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois (6-2, 219)

6. Running Back

The biggest shift in drafting philosophy has taken place at the running back position. The modern version of the NFL will grind the life out of even the best backs in the nation in very short order. The physical nature of the game gives the average NFL runner a three- to five-year life span. This means investing first-round money on a running back is a much riskier proposition. To this end, only one back should be taken in the first round this weekend — and he is special and deserves it. Yet, the value at this position has been clearly defined as the second, third and fourth rounds. Look at the NFL’s leading rushers from last fall? Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy finished one, two and four in rushing last year and all three were second-round picks. Michael Turner was third and he was taken in the fifth. Arian Foster was fifth and was undrafted while Frank Gore was sixth and was taken in the third round. This class should match these trends and will produce some excellent runners — this is a much better running back class than experts are acknowledging.

Potential First-Rounders (1):
Trent Richardson, Alabama (5-9, 228)

Day Two Picks (14):
Doug Martin, Boise State (5-9, 223), David Wilson, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206), Chris Polk, Washington (5-10, 215), Lamar Miller, Miami-Fla. (5-10, 212), LaMichael James, Oregon (5-8, 194), Edwin Baker, Michigan State (5-8, 204), Bernard Pierce, Temple (6-0, 218), Robert Turbin, Utah State (5-10, 222), Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati (5-10, 197), Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State (5-8, 200), Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (5-10, 206), Tauren Poole, Tennessee (5-10, 205), Terrance Ganaway, Baylor (5-11, 239), Chris Rainey, Florida (5-8, 180)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Dan Herron, Ohio State (5-10, 213), Davin Meggett, Maryland (5-8, 222), Lennon Creer, Louisiana Tech (5-11, 219), Vick Ballard, Mississippi State (5-10, 219), Darrell Scott, USF (6-0, 231)

7. Inside Linebacker

The role of the inside linebacker has avoided the massive paradigm shift that the outside linebacker is undergoing at the moment. A three-down inside tackler who can play both against the pass and the run is a rare commodity. The middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and must be involved in everything that a defense does. From rushing the passer, filling against the run, dropping into zone or man coverages or chasing ball-carriers to the edge, the middle backer is the defense’s heart and soul. So it makes grading a prospect as a first-rounder that much more difficult. Luke Kuechly, however, might be the least risky prospect in the entire draft. He led the world in tackles and is a three-time all-everything middle linebacker. The intrigue and value at this position, however, is in the second and third rounds. Names like Kendricks, Wagner, Lewis, Burfict and Carder have Lofa Tatupu or Curtis Lofton written all over them.

Potential First Rounders (2):
Luke Kuechly, Boston College (6-3, 242), Dont’a Highower, Alabama (6-2, 265)

Day Two Picks (7):
Mychal Kendricks, Cal (5-11, 239), Bobby Wagner, Utah State (6-0, 241), Travis Lewis, Oklahoma (6-1, 253), Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State (6-1, 248), James Michael-Johnson, Nevada (6-1, 241), Tank Carder, TCU (6-2, 236), Emmanuel Acho, Texas (6-1, 238)

Athlon’s Sleepers To Watch:
Audie Cole, NC State (6-4, 246), Najee Goode, West Virginia (6-0, 244), Chris Marve, Vanderbilt (6-0, 239), Marcus Dowtin, North Alabama (6-1, 228), Jerry Franklin, Arkansas (6-1, 241)

8. Outside Linebacker

The proliferation of 3-4 schemes and unique defensive line-ups have increasingly blurred the lines between outside linebacker and defensive end. Courtney Upshaw, for example, could play either positions — as could Andre Branch, Shae McClellin, Bruce Irvin or Ronnell Lewis. Lavonte David is the top pure outside backer who fits into the traditional 4-3 role for an outside tackler. Once the big names are off the board at this position, 4-3 teams will find plenty of talent, value and upside in the mid-to-later rounds. Names like Bradham, Spence, Trevathan and Manning are all traditional strong and weakside backers. The pass-rushing OLB/DE hybrids will go much earlier.

Potential First Rounders (3):
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (6-1, 272), Shea McClellin, Boise State (6-3, 260), Lavonte David, Nebraska (6-1, 233)

Day Two Picks (5):
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2, 253), Zach Brown, North Carolina (6-1, 244), Bruce Irvin, West Virginia (6-3, 245), Keenan Robinson, Texas (6-3, 242), Nigel Bradham, Florida State (6-2, 241),

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Sean Spence, Miami (5-11, 231), Terrell Manning, NC State (6-2, 237), Danny Trevathan, Kentucky (6-0, 237),

9. Defensive End

There are some intriguing options at this position but GMs will likely have to take a risk if he wants a pure pass-rusher in the first round. Names like Coples and Ingram feel like future stars but there are loads of question marks surrounding other names like Mercilus, Branch and Perry. The middle of the class isn’t very deep either. So for a position that ranks behind only the QB and the LT in importance, 2012 looks like a week year for ends. Much like the safety position, however, your team could pass on a defensive end this year in hopes of getting in on a loaded 2013 DE draft class that should include Sam Montgomery, Alex Okafor, Barkevious Mingo, Jackson Jeffcoat, Devin Taylor, John Simon, William Gholston, Ronald Powell, Dion Jordan, Corey Lemonier and Kareem Martin.

Potential First-Rounders (6):
Quinton Coples, North Carolina (6-5, 284), Melvin Ingram, South Carolina (6-1, 264), Chandler Jones, Syracuse (6-5, 266), Nick Perry, USC (6-2, 271), Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (6-3, 261), Andre Branch, Clemson (6-4, 259)

Day Two Picks (5):
Vinny Curry, Marshall (6-3, 266), Olivier Vernon, Miami, Fla. (6-2, 261), Tyrone Crawford, Boise State (6-4, 275), Trevor Guyton, Cal (6-2, 285), Cam Johnson, Virginia (6-3, 268)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Jake Bequette, Arkansas (6-4, 275), Malik Jackson, Tennessee (6-4, 284), Taylor Thompson, SMU (6-6, 282)

10. Center

The quarterback of the offensive line is the least drafted position on the football field as roughly half-a-dozen centers are taken each year. The 2012 NFL Draft should be no different as only one prospect appears to be a first-round talent. There have been a total of 11 centers drafted in the last two years, including five in rounds six or later. However, if your team needs a center, there is some excellent value in the mid-rounds. The Big Ten claimed the top three centers in the nation last fall and all three should go relatively early this weekend. And all three should be excellent pros. If seven centers are drafted it will be the most since 2009.

Potential First Rounders (1):
Peter Konz, Wisconsin (6-5, 314)

Day Two Picks (4):
Ben Jones, Georgia (6-2, 303), David Molk, Michigan (6-1, 298), Michael Brewster, Ohio State (6-4, 312), Phillip Blake, Baylor (6-3, 311)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
William Vlachos, Alabama (6-0, 306), Quentin Saulsberry, Mississippi State (6-2, 304)

11. Offensive Tackle

The tackle is easily the most highly sought-after offensive line position. And based on salaries, protecting the blind side is the second most valuable skill in the NFL to throwing the football. This is why left tackles like Matt Kalil are selected in the top five each and every year. In fact, over the last three drafts, more tackles are taken in the first round than any other round in the draft. Fourteen tackles have been taken in the first round over that span. This is certainly a much weaker OT class than in recent memory, but it doesn’t mean that teams won’t move on a bookend if they feel he has what it takes. Upwards of six names could jump into the first round due to the lack of depth in the middle at this position. Once the top six or seven names are taken, look for the position to be non-existent until the much later rounds.

Potential First Rounders (6):
Matt Kalil, USC (6-7, 306), Riley Reiff, Iowa (6-5, 313), Cordy Glenn, Georgia (6-5, 345), Mike Adams, Ohio State (6-7, 323), Jonathan Martin, Stanford (6-5, 312), Bobby Massie, Ole Miss (6-6, 316)

Day Two Picks (4):
Mitchell Schwartz, Cal (6-5, 318), Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (6-5, 320), Donald Stephenson, Oklahoma (6-5, 320), Brandon Mosley, Auburn (6-5, 314)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Nate Potter, Boise State (6-6, 303), Matt Reynolds, BYU (6-4, 313), Marcel Jones, Nebraska (6-6, 316), Tom Compton, South Dakota (6-5, 313), Jeff Adams, Columbia (6-6, 306).

12. Safety

Needless to say, this isn’t a strong safety class. Mark Barron is the only sure-thing at the position as one SEC assistant coach told me that the Alabama safety was the best player in the SEC last year. He is the only dominant player at his position in this draft and should be the only player taken in the first round. There are some intriguing options in the middle rounds but there is very little depth at safety this year. Expect teams who may need a safety to pass this year and wait for 2013 — which will feature a loaded draft class of free and strong safeties that could include TJ McDonald, Eric Reid, Matt Elam, Ray-Ray Armstong, Tony Jefferson, Robert Lester, Kenny Vaccaro, Bacarri Rambo, Isaiah Johnson, Hakeem Smith and John Boyett.

Potential First-Rounders (2):
Mark Barron, Alabama (6-1, 213), Harrison Smith, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)

Day Two Picks (6):
Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State (6-0, 207), Brandon Taylor, LSU (5-11, 202), Antonio Allen, South Carolina (6-1, 201), George Iloka, Boise State (6-3, 225), Brandon Hardin, Oregon State (6-2, 222), Charles Mitchell, Mississippi State (5-11, 202)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Trent Robinson, Michigan State (5-10, 195), Sean Richardson, Vanderbilt (6-2, 216), Kelcie Mccray, Arkansas State (6-2, 202), Eddie Pleasant, Oregon (5-10, 211)

13. Tight End

The tight end is one of the most interesting positions in the draft. Rarely does more than one tight end every get selected in first round. In fact, only one has been taken in the first frame in each of the last three years. Yet, nearly 40 total tight ends were taken overall in the last two drafts (39). In the modern spread, pass-happy NFL, the versatile tight end has become a dangerous weapon that every team acknowledges are important. But no one is willing to pay for them with high picks. Because this is a weaker TE class, it may not be the best Petri dish, but where tight ends are taken could be a trend to watch over the next few years. If more two tight end sets continue to crop-up around the league, the tight end will begin to move up into the first round.

Potential First-Rounders (1):
Coby Fleener, Stanford (6-6, 247)

Day Two Picks (7):
Dwayne Allen, Clemson (6-3, 255), Orson Charles, Georgia (6-2, 251), Michael Egnew, Missouri (6-5, 252), Ladarius Green, UL Lafayette (6-5, 238), James Hanna, Oklahoma (6-3, 252), Deangelo Peterson, LSU (6-3, 243), Adrien Robinson, Cincinnati (6-4, 267)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
George Bryan, NC State (6-5, 265), Kevin Koger, Michigan (6-3, 262), Evan Rodriguez, Temple (6-1, 239)

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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> 2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-apr-23
Body:

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

After roughly three weeks of a fantasy baseball action, I will take this time this morning to provide my annual piece of early season fantasy roto advice:

Don't panic.

It is still very, very early on and a GM can easily get jittery about highly drafted, punchless players. Albert Pujols is still going to hit plenty of dingers and eat plenty of ribeye steaks. Jose Reyes is going to hit better than .230/.671 and still swipe plenty of bags. Giancarlo Stanton is still going to hit plenty of bombs. Robinson Cano is going to go on a tear and raise his average from .242 to something near .300 very soon.

So don't panic.

As we saw this weekend, it is only a matter time for the proven commodities to turn it on. Evan Longoria raised his average from .289 to .339, doubled his RBI total (7 to 14) and tripled his HR numbers in only four games. In his last six games, Mark Teixeira went from .188 with zero long balls and only one RBI to .288 with 11 ribbies and three home runs in six games. Mike Napoli, in his last seven games, went from batting .100 to .286 — and hit six home runs with 11 RBIs.

So don't panic.

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 17 9 22 1 .450 1.467
2. Josh Hamilton OF TEX 15 7 17 1 .418 1.214
3. Chris Young OF ARI 8 5 13 2 .410 1.397
4. Derek Jeter SS NYY 12 4 12 0 .382 1.029
5. Adam Jones OF BAL 12 5 8 4 .303 .954
6. Chase Headley* 3B SD 14 4 13 2 .293 1.035
7. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 16 4 11 2 .284 .982
8. Carlos Beltran OF STL 13 5 8 3 .298 .964
9. Edwin Encarnacion 1B/3B TOR 9 4 13 3 .323 .981
10. Josh Willingham OF MIN 10 5 12 1 .328 1.090
11. Curtis Granderson OF NYY 14 6 10 0 .279 1.003
12. Evan Longoria 3B TB 11 3 14 1 .339 1.036
13. Starlin Castro SS CHC 9 0 8 7 .365 .889
14. Nolan Reimold* OF BAL 9 5 10 1 .370 1.166
15. Michael Young 1B/2B/3B CHC 9 2 12 1 .403 .963
16. Mike Napoli C/1B TEX 10 6 13 0 .286 1.041
17. Andre Ethier OF LAD 8 4 21 0 .279 .923
18. Yoenis Cespedes OF OAK 7 4 15 4 .255 .873
19. Jordan Schafer* OF ATL 13 2 7 6 .263 .741
20. David Ortiz UTL BOS 9 2 12 0 .436 1.166
21. Michael Bourn OF ATL 12 0 4 7 .338 .834
22. Hanley Ramirez 3B/SS MIA 10 4 12 3 .263 .873
23. Nick Swisher 1B/OF NYY 7 4 20 0 .283 .954
24. Miguel Cabrera 1B/3B DET 12 4 12 0 .290 .857
25. Freddie Freeman 1B ATL 12 3 15 0 .283 .851

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Post-Hype Sleepers

Kansas City's Alex Gordon defined the term "post-hype" last fall with a career year. Each year there are a number of names who were once untouchable top-tier prospects turned near-bust who actually realize their potential. Through three weeks of action, there are plenty of names to snap off the waiver wire. Baltimore's Nolan Reimold was drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft and in three MLB seasons (roughly 77 games per year), has averaged 10 homers and five stolen bases per year with a career .256 average. He has found a new home atop the batting order — he has a career-best .324 BA as a lead-off man — and has delivered a juciy .370/1.166 line thus far. There is no reason for him to be on your waiver wire. If he could just stay healthy...

Houston's Jordan Schafer could provide serious help to a team in need of stolen bases — he has six swipes in eight attempts — and runs scored. San Diego's Chase Headley is the top-rated third-sacker in the game at the moment and could provide production in all five categories. Even Toronto's Colby Rasmus is off to a solid start — his three homers in 15 games matched his total in 35 games with the Jays last fall. Always keep an eye on once highly-touted prospects who have been traded to new teams.

DL Watch

-Adrian Beltre left Game 1 of the Rangers' double-header against Detroit on Saturday with a strained left hamstring. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI later today.

-B.J. Upton returned to the Rays line-up and wen 0-for-3. He should quickly move up the line-up card once he gets back into the swing of things. 

-Justin Upton escaped a trip to the DL with his thumb injury, and got back on the field this weekend. He went 1-for-6 with one walk and a double. It should only be a matter of time for J-Up.

-Chris Young is out until at least early May but Gerrado Parra isn't. He smacked a grand salami and went 2-for-4 with a stolen base on Sunday.

-Brandon Phillips is questionable for his Tuesday game against the Giants with a hamstring issue.

-Omar Infante is questionable for his Tuesday start against the Mets with a shoulder issue.

-Ryan Zimmerman is questionable for his Tuesday start against the Padres with a shoulder issue.

Bean-Town Bashers

Looking for spot-start hitters this week? This may sound crazy but the Twins and White Sox might be the best place to look. Yes, the Sox played two of the best offenses in the league in Texas and the Yankees, but Boston is in complete disarray. Nevermind the second-worst record in the AL (4-10), the Red Sox own the worst team ERA in the majors at 6.68 through 124.0 innings. The team BAA of .297 and the 26 home runs allowed also "pace" the majors. The bullpen has been especially atrocious as Alfredo Aceves' ERA sits at 24.00, Mark Melancon has been optioned to the minors and Justin Thomas (7.71), Vicente Padilla (9.82) and Franklin Morales (6.35) have been wildly ineffective.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are obvious starts, but so is Denard Span, Josh Willingham and possibly even Danny Valencia. Later in the week, however, is where the real money can be made. The White Sox have provided some sneaky waiver wire adds this year in the form of lead-off man Alejandro De Aza, rejuvinated on-baser Adam Dunn and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Toss in Alex Rios (.333/.907) and the Southsiders could produce some big numbers against against Felix Doubront, Daniel Bard, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett in a four-game home series. 

Keep a very big eye on Bard's role on this team. With the bullpen issues, Bard could very easily slip back into the ninth inning and close out games in Boston.

Current Top 25 fantasy pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Kyle Lohse STL 27.1 3 0 16 0 0.99 0.66
2. Justin Verlander DET 31.1 2 0 31 0 1.72 0.80
3. Jered Weaver LAA 29.2 3 0 28 0 2.43 0.78
4. Roy Halladay PHI 30.0 3 0 19 0 1.50 0.90
5. Stephen Strasburg WAS 25.0 2 0 25 0 1.08 0.92
6. Lance Lynn* STL 19.0 3 0 17 0 1.42 0.74
7. Matt Cain SF 24.0 1 0 19 0 1.87 0.50
8. Aroldis Chapman* CIN 10.0 2 0 18 0 0.00 0.48
9. Bartolo Colon* OAK 27.1 3 0 19 0 2.63 0.80
10. Javy Guerra LAD 8.1 1 7 10 0 2.16 0.84
11. Brandon Beachy ATL 19.1 2 0 14 0 0.47 0.88
12. Fernando Rodney TB 7.1 1 5 7 0 2.16 0.84
13. Phillip Humber* CHW 14.1 1 0 16 0 0.63 0.63
14. Ross Detwiler* WAS 16.0 2 0 15 0 0.56 0.94
15. Matt Harrison* TEX 21.2 3 0 13 0 1.66 0.97
16. Luis Perez* TOR 10.0 2 0 12 0 0.00 0.70
17. Jake Peavy* CHW 19.2 2 0 21 0 2.75 0.81
18. Colby Lewis TEX 26.2 2 0 24 0 2.02 1.05
19. Grant Balfour OAK 10.0 0 4 6 0 0.90 0.50
20. Jim Johnson BAL 7.2 0 7 6 0 0.00 1.30
21. Duane Below* DET 10.0 2 0 7 0 0.00 0.70
22. Clayton Kershaw LAD 22.1 1 0 22 0 1.61 1.03
23. Johnny Cueto CIN 25.1 2 0 19 0 1.78 1.11
24. Cliff Lee PHI 23.0 0 0 18 0 1.96 0.70
25. Felix Hernandez SEA 29.1 1 0 31 0 2.76 1.02

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

The Disabled List

The veritable who's who in this top 25 is fairly predictable. Verlander, Weaver, Halladay, Strasburg and Cain are pretty good. But the hottest name on the mound these days is the Disabled List. The Phillies' Cliff Lee was placed on the 15-day DL on Saturday after straining his left oblique in the 10th inning of his memorable scoreless duel with Matt Cain. Philadelphia will play it very safe with Lee so expect him to miss 3-4 starts. Arizona might be in worse shape with Daniel Hudson. The young right-hander was dropped onto the 15-day DL on Sunday with right shoulder impingement. Shoulders are much scarier than obliques so monitor this situation very closely. The Yankees' Michael Pineda lasted only 15 pitches in an extended spring training game before being totally shut down. His shoulder pain, which has kept him out since March 30, should be very concerning to fantasy and real GMs alike. 

Additionally, Josh Johnson of the Marlins and Tim Lincecum of the Giants are worthy of heavy scrutiny in the DL department. Johnson and The Freak have not gotten off to the starts they want. Johnson has eight strikeouts in 16.2 innings with no wins and a 5.94/2.04 line. Lincecum has a solid K-rate with 16 whiffs in 13.2 innings. However, he has allowed no fewer than five runs in each of this three starts. Both got rained out on Sunday and Lincecum is scheduled to pitch in Game 1 of today's Giants-Mets double-header. Johnson is scheduled to pitch against the Mets in New York on Tuesday. Keep an eye on both of these delicate arms this week.

Hitting Nats

When a pitcher is on, he can "hit gnats" with his pitches. Conversely, no one can hit the Nats' starting rotation at the moment. Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman have been stellar. Edwin Jackson has also been solid in the early going and will get the coveted Petco Park draw on Wednesday. Lefty post-hyper Ross Detwiler is worth an add this week as well. He has been stellar in three starts and will head to the pitcher-friendly mound in Dodger Stadium. With six games on the west coast, the Nats should provide plenty of pitching value this week.

Waiver Wire Starts This Week

1. Chris Sale, White Sox: At Oakland (Wed.) Stats: 18.0 IP, 2 W, 21 K, 3.50/1.22
2. Ubaldo Jimanez, Indians: Kansas City (Thur.) Stats: 18.0 IP, 2 W, 11 K, 4.00/1.50
3. Ted Lilly, Dodgers: Atlanta (Wed.) Stats: 13.0 IP, 2 W, 9 K, 0.69/1.00
4. Henderson Alvarez, Toronto: Seattle (Sun.) Stats: 19.1 IP, 8 K, 4.66/1.03
5. Edwin Jackson, Washington: San Diego (Thur.) Stats: 19.0 IP, W, 20 K, 4.26/0.84

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Apr. 23</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 11:13
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-busts-ryan-tannehill-and-dontari-poe
Body:

The NFL Draft is a potpourri of optimism, dreams come true, paydays and new beginnings for fans, players, agents, coaches and General Managers.

It can also be a horrific nightmare.

Like any other act in life, there are some who are better than others at evaluating, scouting and drafting NFL talent. For those who can’t hack it in the big leagues, failed first-round draft picks can cost you a seven-figure paycheck in short order. And can set playoff-starved franchises back years, both competitively and financially.

Yes, the new rookie wage scale has lessened the pressure to hit a home run with every early draft pick in the war room. And constructing a championship-caliber team in the NFL is much more than simply drafting well in the first round. But to keep one of those 32 general manager jobs under The Shield, one has to avoid the word “bust” at all costs.

Just ask the Cleveland Browns, who at one point selected Craig Powell, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green and Jeff Faine in six consecutive first rounds (1995, 1999-2003). Those six picks, four of which were top 16 picks, played an average of 3.6 seasons in a Browns uniform and none played more than five years in Cleveland.

The Browns have played in one playoff game since 1995.

While it is impossible to conduct a perfect draft every year, it seems virtually impossible to perform as ineptly as the Browns did over that six-draft span. Yet, each and every year some ridiculously highly paid decision maker sends a card to the commissioner with a name like Tony Mandarich or JaMarcus Russell stamped on it. There is no doubt that technology and the media have honed this inexact science into a much more predictable pastime, but that doesn’t mean that Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t sometimes selected (well) before Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree or Austin Collie.

So who is this year’s Vernon Gholston?

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)
Rumored Upside: No. 3, Miami Dolphins

Right now, the worst-case scenario for late-riser Ryan Tannehill appears to be the No. 8 overall pick, which belongs to the Miami Dolphins. And if Miami feels that someone might snake the Texas A&M quarterback prior to the eighth pick, it could easily move up to No. 3 and make it three straight quarterbacks to start.

This would, of course, forever link Andrew Luck, the best quarterback prospect since John Elway, Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, and, wait for it, Ryan Tannehill.

Which one doesn’t belong?

Tannehill is a tremendous athlete. He has a rare combination of size and speed for a quarterback that allowed him to provide solid production as a wide receiver for the Aggies. He left College Station with 112 receptions, 1,596 yards and 10 scores as a pass catcher. Midway through his junior season, however, the now-fired Mike Sherman turned to Tannehill to quarterback his team. His ability to quickly adapt to a new and very difficult position is a credit to his work ethic and athletic ability.

It doesn’t mean he can lead a winning NFL franchise. Or complete key fourth-quarter, third-down passes against the Patriots.

Needless to say, with only 19 starts under his belt, a 12-7 record as a starter and 21 career interceptions, Tannehill is a total project. Luck and Griffin III are as sure-fire as quarterback prospects get and the drop-off to the converted wide receiver is severe.

Scouts and GMs can’t argue the production. He threw for 283 yards per game in those 19 starts and chucked 42 touchdowns strikes. But who did he do it against? The Big 12 had one defense, Texas, ranked in the Top 50 nationally. By comparison, the SEC claimed five of the top eight defenses in the country. The Big 12 didn’t have a single defense rank in the top 30 in scoring defense. By comparison, the SEC had seven in the top 30. All but three Big 12 teams allowed more than 25 points per game last fall.

Certainly, there is some chicken-and-egg factor with those stats. Is it poor defense or great offense in the Big 12? And the SEC traditionally struggles at the quarterback position while the Big 12 is loaded with talent under center. But Seth Doege of Texas Tech had more yards, a better completion percentage, was more efficient and threw fewer interceptions than Tannehill for a much worse team against essentially the exact same schedule.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the Aggies' signal caller should be his inability to win games in the second half. Certainly, the defense and coaching staff deserves plenty of blame for Texas A&M's horrific second-half performances in 2011, but so does the leader and most important player on the field. Texas A&M led at halftime in 11 of their 13 games last fall and trailed only once all year at the break (Oklahoma). The Aggies had a 17-point halftime lead over Oklahoma State and Arkansas before being outscored 52 to 12 in the second frame. TAMU lost both games. They led by 11 over Missouri and nine over Texas at the half before being outscored by a combined 41 to 12 in the second half in those two losses. And three of those four losses came at home.

Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all outscored the Aggies in the second half as well. The defense gets its share of the guilt, but a truly great quarterback simply doesn’t allow his team to choke this often in the second half. Not with that much talent around you and not against those lowly defenses.

Miami fans have endured 16 starting quarterbacks since No. 13 stepped aside. Damon Huard, Ray Lucas, Sage Rosenfels, Cleo Lemon, Tyler Thigpen and John Beck are just the tip of the depressing iceberg. Hitching the future of the franchise to Tannehill will only continue the need for Zoloft in South Florida.

This was a 6-10 team a year ago that played much better football in the second half of the season. They could use a safety (Mark Barron), linebacker (Luke Kuechly) or wide receiver (Michael Floyd) as well as more support along the offensive line (Riley Reiff). With the depth of this year’s quarterback class, the Dolphins should pass on Tannehill in the first round. Barron is the safest bet and will make the biggest immediate impact. Or target a wide receiver with the first pick and pull a Cincinnati Bengals and take the quarterback in the second round.

Kirk Cousins, who is eerily similar to Andy Dalton in nearly every way, or Brandon Weeden have just as good a chance to be a starting NFL quarterback as Tannehill. Cousins is a natural leader who wins games and has an NFL frame and strong arm. Weeden’s only negative is his age (28) — which makes him more mature and prepared (and married) than any other NFL rookie passer.

Todd McShay, shockingly, wasn’t crazy at all when he stated that Tannehill is a far superior athlete to USC’s Matt Barkley. He is taller, bigger, faster and more athletic in almost every way.

The trouble is, Barkley is a much better quarterback.

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis (6-3, 346)
Rumored Upside: No. 9 overall, Carolina Panthers

It never fails. Some ripped-up, middle of the road prospect will head to the combine with five career sacks and will leave a projected top 10 pick for all the wrong reasons. This year’s Chris Henry — think Arizona not West Virginia — is Dontari Poe.

What’s not to like? The massive defensive tackle from Memphis looks really, really good in spandex and an E39 T. He tossed up 44 reps on the bench (225 pounds), clocked a sub-5.00 40-time at 346 pounds and showed tremendous agility and foot speed.

Let’s face it, Poe is a stud. When not wearing pads running in a straight line against air.

It doesn’t take a genius to notice his raw athletic ability. But aside from this unrefined talent, Poe brings very little to an NFL roster. At least, not at a first-round price tag.

Just pop in a tape of any Memphis Tigers football game and it won’t take long NOT to notice Poe. Nevermind the fact that the Tigers have produced one of the NCAA’s worst defenses over the last few season — they finished 117th in 2011, 115th in 2010 and 116th in total defense the last three years — Poe hasn’t been productive individually either.

Going up against C-USA linemen, who hardly conjure up images of Matt Kalil, Poe wasn’t even considered one of the top four defensive lineman in his own league last fall. He was voted onto the second-team All-C-USA squad as a junior. He finished tied for 11th in tackles (33), fifth in sacks (1.0) and third in tackles for a loss (8.0) on his own team — a team that went 2-10. He has never had more than 2.0 sacks in a season, which is unacceptable against C-USA competition. He finished his career with 101 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss and 5.0 sacks in 35 career games.

Poe gives inconsistent effort, his technique and fundamentals need a lot of polish and his instincts appear to be average. As a part of a team that went 5-31 during his time on campus, there is little about Poe that indicates he should be taken in the first round other than his 40 time, bench reps, height and weight. Despite popular opinion, however, what takes place between August and December on the field matters more than one weekend in February.

Comparisons to Outland Finalist, consensus All-American and Pac-10 Defensive Player of Year Haloti Ngata are laughable.

Every player in the draft has a break-even point of risk and reward. The big fella from Memphis does have plenty of raw physical upside, and if he was available late in the second round, he would probably be worth the risk.

But not at nine overall.

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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
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> 2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-sleepers-and-steals
Body:

One could argue that drafting well in the middle rounds is how to win a Super Bowl.

The Packers, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens have made a living by dominating rounds two through four of the NFL Draft and it has paid off with championships. While high-risk, high-reward positions like quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback tend to gravitate to the first round, leadership positions like linebacker, center, running back and safety can be found in abundance in the middle rounds.

The 2012 NFL Draft is no different as there will be plenty of Greg Jennings (Round 2, 2006), Curtis Loftons (Round 2, 2008) and Ryan Kalils (Round 2, 2007) drafted this spring.

Here are the sleepers to keep an eye on come draft day:

David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206)

While Wilson appears small in stature, his lower body is anything but weak. The former Hokie back has incredible lower body strength that will allow him to survive a heavy workload on the next level. But what makes this compact runner special is his big-play ability. He can rip-off huge chunks of yards in all three phases of the game — rushing, receiving, returning — and will be a three-down back despite his lack of raw size. His running style and burst will remind fans of Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, yet, Wilson is much stronger and thicker than Charles has ever been.

Wilson led the ACC in rushing and averaged almost six yards per carry on 462 career attempts. Running backs must be special to be first-round picks and Wilson should not be taken that high. But teams are finding great ball-carriers every year in the middle rounds of the draft — try Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy — and Wilson has a chance to be that type of player on the next level.

Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska (6-0, 233)

There is little not to like about this tackling machine. He graduated from powerhouse South Florida high school Miami-Northwestern. Eight of his teammates signed with Miami and he ended up with no offers and landed in junior college. In only two seasons at Nebraska, David posted 285 total tackles, good for fourth all-time in school history. His 152-tackle Big Red debut in 2010 set a single-season Huskers’ record for stops. He has excellent range and will be that coveted sideline-to-sideline stopper that defensive coaches crave. Additionally, David won’t have to come off the field on third downs due to his advanced experience in pass coverage. He is a bit undersized, but makes up for it with toughness and strength.

He has been overlooked his entire career and has done nothing but produce at an elite level. He is a perfect weakside backer in the more traditional 4-3 scheme. If he sneaks into the first round, his value will be realized. If he falls into the second round, he could be a steal for one lucky franchise.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State (6-2, 214)

While the measurables — 40 time, bench reps, shuttle time — don’t favor Cousins much, the intangibles and leadership skills are off the charts. He is the winningest, most efficient passer in Michigan State history. He is poised, polish, mature and played in an pro-style attack in college. The arm strength is more than adequate and his ability to command a huddle is only matched by his ability to command a press conference.

The affable leader reminds me a lot of Andy Dalton of TCU. Cousins is the same size, has the same arm strength and a virtually identical mental make-up and collegiate resume. Incredibly productive, efficient, wins games, holds others accountable and makes his teammates better. What more can you ask from a quarterback? The smart signal caller will have a chance to win a starting job if he lands in the right location.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221)

When trying to compare Cousins to Weeden, there are a few small differences. Most notably, the Oklahoma State passer will turn 29 on October. This makes him more mature, more prepared, more grounded and especially more married than most NFL rookie passers. This also means his window for success is shorter. He is a touch bigger than Cousins and possesses a slightly stronger arm. He didn’t play in a pro-style system in college, but the Pokes utilized a power rushing attack within their spread — much like many of the new NFL schemes.

Few have produced at a level that Weeden has as well. He owns essentially every Cowboys’ passing record in the book and led them to their first-ever Big 12 championship. He is a hard-worker and will be focused off the field, but developing his vocal leadership skills would help his case. He is absolutely worth a look late in the second round.

TY Hilton, WR, FIU (5-9, 183)

The smallish slot receiver will always have to overcome his overall lack of strength and size, which has, at times, led to nagging injuries. But get the ball in his hands and he produces. He touched the ball 452 times on offense and special teams over the course of his career and he produced 7,498 all-purpose yards — 498 rushing, 3,531 receiving, 614 punt return, 2,855 kick return. He scored seven times on the ground, 24 times through the air, six times on special teams and even tossed a touchdown back in 2008. In the high-flying modern NFL offensive attack, Hilton is the perfect weapon. He can line up in the slot, contribute in the return game and even carry the ball out of the backfield. There is just too much offense in the NFL right now for this versatile, open-field play-maker to not find a home on a roster and get on the field.

Mychal Kendricks, LB, Cal (5-11, 239)

Not too many resumes come as nice as Kendricks. He is short for his position, but he makes up for it with great speed, fluidity and open-space skill. He can play all over the defense — aka inside, outside, 3-4 and 4-3 — and will be able to cover sideline-to-sideline in both the passing and running games. And when he gets to the ball, he is a quality tackler who rarely misses a takedown. He posted 107 total tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss en route to his Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall. This, in a league that puts most defenses to shame — see Andrew Luck, Darron Thomas, Brock Osweiler and Nick Foles — Kendricks could be a late second-, early third-round steal this weekend.

Other Names To Watch:

Suspended Ohio State Buckeyes
Wide receiver DeVier Posey (think Hakeem Nicks), running back Daniel Herron (think LaDainian Tomlinson) and Mike Adams (think Jake Long) all have a chance to dramatically outperform their draft status. And it all stems from being suspended the majority of their senior seasons. Each would have likely been all-conference players had they played full seasons in 2011.

Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech (5-10, 180)
Stud ballhawk — 12 interceptions in final two seasons — from DB-U is an elite coverman when healthy. Also a return specialist.

David Molk, OC, Michigan (6-1, 298)
A bit undersized, but was named the top center in the nation last fall. Think Alex Mack.

Bradie Ewing, FB/H-back, Wisconsin (5-11, 239)
Won’t get drafted high but will produce for a long time. Tremendous intangibles as blocker, receiver, runner and leader.

Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (5-11, 192)
No player has caught more passes in NCAA history (349). Vocal, intelligent, motivated leader fits perfectly into modern slot position.

Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas (5-11, 180)
Nearly identical player to TY Hilton – great return man and slot receiver with speed and elusiveness.

DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama (5-10, 195)
Tough-nosed, physical defensive back can cover in both man and zone schemes. A leader and a winner.

Janzen Jackson, S, McNeese State (5-11, 188)
Former troubled Tennessee Vol has elite-level talent but focus remains a question. Loads of upside.

 by Braden Gall

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 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> 2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-running-back-rankings-2012
Body:

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the Big Ten running backs for 2012:

1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (SR)
Rushing Stats: 307 att., 1,923 yards, 33 TD
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 306 yards, 6 TD

There is little room left on Ball’s resume for another stellar season but that is exactly what Big Ten fans should expect in 2012. No player in the nation rushed for more yards that the Heisman Trophy finalist last fall and no player in history has scored more touchdowns than his Barry Sanders-tying 39 total touchdowns (well, officially). Big Red fans would be fooling themselves, however, if they think Ball will come close to repeating his unprecedented performance. Three first-team All-Big Ten lineman are gone. The greatest quarterback in program history is gone. And the greatest playcaller in school history in Paul Chryst is gone. New coordinator Matt Canada has been playing with two-back sets, so James White expects to get plenty of touches as well. Certainly, the offense will still run directly through No. 28, but something closer to 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns should be expected — which would be excellent numbers normally but are dwarfed by his 2011 Hall of Fame-type production.

2. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (SR)
Rushing Stats: 284 att., 1,357 yards, 15 TD
Receiving Stats: 21 rec., 177 yards, 2 TD

There may not be a more complete football player in the nation than Rex Burkhead. He is a tremendous leader who delivers toughness and effort on every play. He can hit the edge, move the pile, pick up the blitz and catch passes with ease. In the win over new divisional rival Iowa, he set a school record for rushing attempts in a single game with 38. He is a true workhorse who can be counted on all three downs in all four quarters all season long. In his first full season as the starter, he delivered over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns — numbers which pale in comparison to Montee Ball’s a year ago but are elite nationally. Three starters are gone from the offensive line, but the receiving corps is possibly the best in the league and Taylor Martinez should be in for his best season. All of which is built upon a foundation laid by Burkhead.

3. Silas Redd, Penn State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 244 att., 1,241 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 9 rec., 40 yards

In his first full season as the starter, Redd got started quickly with 104 yards and two scores in the 2011 debut. He then got Big Ten play started by topping the 100-yard mark in five straight conference games to help the Nittany Lions start 5-0. Yet, without any semblance of production from the quarterback position and the breaking Jerry Sandusky scandal, Redd and the Lions limped down the stretch. Redd returns to an offense that still lacks a proven signal caller and has major rebuilding issues along the offensive line. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound junior has NFL ability and could find sledding tough under new head coach Bill O’Brien in what could be his final season in Happy Valley. Make no mistake, however, there is one name that needs to be healthy and productive over all others on this offense and it’s Redd.

4. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan (JR)
Rushing Stats: 187 att., 1,041 yards, 9 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 28 yards, TD1

Toussaint entered his junior year having played in only six career games. He began the season in nice fashion with a pair of touchdowns in the season opener, but it wasn’t until late October that Brady Hoke finally realized what he had in No. 28. He had never topped the 14-carry mark until October 29 against Purdue when got 20 carries and produced in a big way. He rushed for 170 yards and two scores in the 36-14 win. He went on to top the century mark in four of the final five games of the regular season. Toussaint finished as Michigan’s first 1,000-yard running back since Mike Hart in 2007, and he did it by averaging 5.5 yards per carry. There is no doubt that Hoke wants a secondary rushing option to Denard Robinson and Toussaint gives him just that.

5. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 182 att., 948 yards, 13 TD
Receiving Stats: 35 rec., 267 yards

Bell has the potential to be a first-team All-Big Ten player if he can provide consistent production week in and week out. He has scored 21 touchdowns in two seasons as an underclassman and has the frame — 6-foot-2, 238 pounds — to be a future star on the next level. However, Bell has only one game of at least 20 carries in his career and failed to score in 14 of his 27 career games — meaning he scored 21 times in 13 games. This is likely why Mark Dantonio has felt the need to motivate the rising junior this spring. The head coach knows that much of the team’s offensive success in 2012 will run through Bell. The Ohio native has a chance at a special season behind a solid offensive line if he can play with consistency and dedication.

6. James White, Wisconsin (JR)
Rushing Stats: 141 att., 713 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 150 yards

White has totaled nearly 2,000 yards rushing and exactly 20 touchdowns in two seasons as a backup in the run-heavy Wisconsin offense. New coordinator Matt Canada appears to be more dedicated to getting White the ball in 2012. The Badgers will line-up in more two-backs sets with both he and Montee Ball on the field at the same time. Using the talented junior-to-be more in the slot as a receiver, and as the ball carrier, will allow Canada to get his best players on the field while also resting his star tailback a bit more. White is as good a complimentary piece as there is in the nation.

7. Stephen Houston, Indiana (JR)
Rushing Stats: 151 att., 802 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 164 yards

There wasn’t much to like about the Hoosiers offensive attack in 2011, but over the course of the second half of the season, Indiana fans could take pride in the rushing attack. This was due in part to the emergence of talented dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson, but Kevin Wilson also decided to give Houston the football more. The junior college transfer got only 22 carries in the first four games of his Indiana career last fall. Over the last eight games of the year, however, Houston averaged nearly 18 touches per game and over 100 yards from scrimmage. He topped the century mark in rushing three times in the final seven games and scored seven of his eight touchdowns over that span. The 6-foot, 220-pounder earned IU Offensive Player of the Week four times last fall and returns to Bloomington as the focal point of the offense.

8. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 106 att., 588 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 73 yards

Not much is really known about the Ohio State rushing attack other than there are loads of talented options vying for touches. Quarterback Braxton Miller could lead the team in rushing once again, but in Urban Meyer’s spread, Hyde has the skills to be the power back the new head coach craves. Hyde, at 235 pounds could fill the Tim Tebow role in the legendary spread attack. He has the best chance to be the workhorse if there is such a thing in this scheme and will likely have the most rushing attempts at season’s end. Settling the offensive line, something that isn’t making Meyer happy at the moment, will be key this summer for anyone running the football in Columbus.

9. Akeem Shavers, Purdue (SR)
Rushing Stats: 111 att., 519 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 5 rec., 58 yards, TD

Shavers played well in a supporting role of starter Ralph Bolden a year ago and provided solid production. In his first season in West Lafayette after attending junior college, Shavers never saw more than 13 carries in any one game. That is, until the Boilermakers first bowl since 2007 when Bolden went down with another knee injury in the regular season finale. In the Little Caesars Bowl win over Western Michigan, Shavers posted a career high in carries (22) and yards (149) and earned bowl MVP honors. While Bolden recovers from his third torn ACL injury, Shavers appears poised for a breakout season for Danny Hope.

10. Donovonn Young, Illinois (SO)
Rushing Stats: 87 att., 451 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 15 yards

On an offense that struggled mightily last fall, Young appears to be the feature back. He will certainly have some competition from fellow sophomore Josh Ferguson (150 yards in the spring game), but Young is the leading returning running back in yards, attempts and touchdowns. He missed most of spring football with a foot injury but displayed plenty of big play ability in his first season on the team. He posted his first and only 100-yard game against Western Michigan and posted a career-high in attempts in the bowl win over UCLA. If this offense is going to improve under Tim Beckman in year one, it will have to feature an improved running game.

11. Larry Caper, Michigan State (SR)
Rushing Stats: 30 att., 116 yards, TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 86 yards, TD

After a promising freshman season, and very high profile game-winner against Notre Dame, Caper has seen his production drop two years in a row. He has also missed some time over the last two seasons for a variety of injuries. Yet, Caper enters his final season at Michigan State with lofty expectations. Mark Dantonio is counting on Caper to help lead what will be a very inexperienced offense, and productive or not, the senior tailback has played in 34 career games. Fans should see plenty of Caper.

12. Treyvon Green, Northwestern (SO)
Rushing Stats: 97 att., 362 yards, 4 TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 39 yards

Quarterback/wide receiver/running back Kain Colter led the Wildcats in rushing a year ago, but Green is technically the leading returning running back. After a solid freshman season, the 215-pound tailback from Mesquite, Texas has a chance to explode onto the scene. He got loads of experience against some of the Big Ten’s best defensive units with 46 of his carries came against Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska. His 362 yards are the most by a Northwestern true freshman since Tyrell Sutton in 2005.

Others Names to Watch:

13. Josh Ferguson, Illinois (SO)
Ferguson was low on the touches totem pole last season but won’t have that issue in 2012. After 150 yards in the spring game filling in for injured Donovonn Young, Ferguson appears poised to be the clear No. 2 for the Illini. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound in-state native has a chance to be a great change of pace to the the 215-pound Donovonn Young.

14. Greg Garmon, Iowa (FR)
There aren’t too many true freshman as battle tested as Greg Garmon. His home burnt down when he was in the sixth grade and he has already overcome a rare form of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (roughly 10 in one million before age of 15) at age 13. Maneuvering Big Ten defenses should be a breeze for the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Erie, Pa., native.

15. Bri’onte Dunn, Ohio State (FR)
Competing with Garmon for Freshman of the Year honors in the Big Ten could be Top-100 recruit Brio’onte Dunn. All signs are that the early enrollee has earned some touches in the backfield rotation after a productive spring practice. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder could finish as high as No. 2 on the Ohio State depth chart if he continues his solid play.

16. Jordan Hall, Ohio State (SR)
The smaller, more nimble Hall will be used plenty this fall by Urban Meyer — it just may not be in the traditional backfield sets.

17. Mike Trumpy, Northwestern (JR)
Tore his ACL last fall against Illinois. What Trumpy lacks in pure, physical talent he makes up for with toughness, heart and effort when healthy.

18. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota (JR)
With Duane Bennett gone from campus, Kirkwood is the leading returning tailback for an offense that could be better than it has been in years.

19. James Gillum, Minnesota (JR)
After two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College, the 5-foot-11, 204-pound tailback will compete for carries with Kirkwood right away.

20. Akeem Hunt, Purdue (SO)
Clearly the No. 2 Akeem Boilermaker runner, Hunt offers speedy change of pace to Shavers.  

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Big Ten Football: Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks

Big Ten 2012 Schedule Analysis

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Big Ten Predictions

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Football: Running Back Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 08:02
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-apr-16-1
Body:

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

Please raise your hand if you had the Los Angeles Dodgers as the best team in baseball after two weekends of play? It's not like they have the psuedo-reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner, right?

While the rankings, both in the fantasy world and in the real standings, are still extremely volatile, there are some trends to keep an eye on. For example, if the Dodgers stay healthy — Andre Ethier, Ted Lilly, etc — there is no reason to believe that the boys in blue won't be in contention all season. Which means great things for fantasy owners of speedster Dee Gordon (leds the MLB in stolen bases with 7), Ethier (second to only Kemp in RBI) and Chad Billingsly (No. 1-rated pitcher with 15 K in 14.1 IP).

If the Washington Nationals can get pitching like they have early from Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, they too should be in contention all season. 

On the flip side, however, don't buy into the Mariners (as if I should need to tell you) as five of their six wins have come at the expense of the offensively challenged Athletics.

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 13 6 16 1 .487 1.549
2. Chris Young OF ARI 6 4 11 2 .364 1.293
3. Yadier Molina C STL 9 3 10 1 .353 1.156
4. Josh Hamilton OF TEX 10 4 6 0 .390 1.137
5. Josh Willingham OF MIN 7 4 7 1 .419 1.385
6. Starlin Castro SS CHC 6 0 7 6 .359 .831
7. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 11 4 7 1 .268 1.031
8. David Freese 3B STL 6 3 11 0 .406 1.111
9. Carlos Pena 1B TB 7 3 11 0 .353 1.185
10. Edwin Encarnacion 1B/3B TOR 7 3 9 2 .289 .957
11. Omar Infante* 2B MIA 9 4 6 0 .343 1.190
12. Carlos Beltran OF STL 9 3 4 2 .324 1.013
13. Adam Jones OF BAL 6 3 4 3 .343 1.052
14. Andre Ethier OF LAD 5 3 15 0 .289 1.030
15. Corey Hart OF MIL 7 4 8 0 .321 1.314
16. David Ortiz UTL BOS 6 1 10 0 .444 1.169
17. J.D. Martinez* OF HOU 5 3 10 0 .371 1.150
18. Austin Jackson OF DET 10 1 3 1 .412 1.159
19. Jason Heyward OF ATL 7 2 5 2 .345 1.079
20. Jordan Schafer* OF HOU 8 1 2 5 .242 .738
21. Pablo Sandoval 1B/3B SF 7 2 8 0 .333 1.026
22. Kelly Johnson* 2B TOR 9 3 6 0 .270 .927
23. Adam LaRoche* 1B WAS 3 2 12 0 .341 .963
24. Emilio Bonifacio 3B/2B/SS MIA 7 0 1 5 .316 .725
25. Miguel Cabrera 1B DET 7 3 9 0 .242 .895

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

On the flip side, owners of first-round strugglers shouldn't be panicking too much. Albert Pujols currently ranks 734th while Jose Bautista sits at No. 728. Needless to say, these trends won't continue. These are the names you attack on the trading block. Others who have scuffled out of the gate like Mark Teixeira, Ryan Zimmerman, Justin Upton and Jose Reyes could be at their lowest value. 

If you jumped early on names like Josh Willingham, Jordan Schafer, JD Martinez, Omar Infante and Adam LaRoche, now would be the time to start shopping their services to vulnerable GMs. Chris Young, the No. 2 player in the game right now, is a career .241 hitter. Put him on the block now. 

Replacing Jacoby

Red Sox star outfielers Jacoby Ellsbury has landed on the DL (again) and will miss at least a month. His partially dislocated shoulder not only puts a crick in the Red Sox' AL-leading offense (53 runs) but crushes fantasy owners. He is scheduled for an exam on Monday to determine the extent of the injury. However, GM Ben Cherington is already investigating the trade martket where names like Marlon Byrd and Coco Crisp have come into play. If Crisp lands atop the Sox order, there could be some sneaky value there. They have also put a claim in on Tigers' outfielder Clete Thomas. If they stay in house, it looks like Cody Ross moves to center with Darnell McDonald getting more time in left. Looks like that Josh Reddick-Andrew Bailey trade is working out as planned. This injury could sap this lineup — especially considering how Bobby Valentine feels about Kevin Youkilis.

Outfield Help

Looking for some outfield help in the early weeks? Here are two names that could fit the bill: Chicago's southsider Alejandro De Aza and Minnesota's Denard Span. The two lead-off hitters are off to solid starts for two offenses that don't figure to supply much fantasy help. However, Span is a career .287 hitter with the potential to score 75-80 runs and swipe 25-30 bases. He has 10 hits in is last 19 at-bats, including four doubles. With a healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, Span could easily return to 2009 form should he stay healthy. De Aza crushed the ball down the stretch in 2011 and has picked-up where he left off. Is a 10-HR, 30-SB, 90-R season that far-fetched for a guy who knows to get on base?

Current Top 25 fantasy pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Chad Billingsly LAD 14.1 2 0 15 0 0.63 0.63
2. Aroldis Chapman* CIN 8.0 2 0 15 1 0.00 0.38
3. Javy Guerra LAD 6.0 1 5 5 0 0.00 0.67
4. Roy Halladay PHI 15.0 2 0 8 0 0.60 0.53
5. Lance Lynn* STL 12.0 2 0 13 0 1.50 0.75
6. Matt Garza CHC 14.2 1 0 14 0 1.23 0.75
7. Kyle Lohse* STL 13.1 2 0 5 0 1.35 0.53
8. Stephen Strasburg WAS 13.0 1 0 14 0 0.69 0.85
9. Fernando Rodney* TB 3.2 1 3 2 0 0.00 0.00
10. Edwin Jackson* WAS 14.0 1 0 15 0 2.57 0.64
11. Barry Zito* SF 16.0 1 0 8 0 1.12 0.69
12. Matt Cain SF 15.0 1 0 15 0 3.00 0.60
13. Brandon League SEA 6.0 0 4 4 0 0.64 0.83
14. Jake Westbrook* STL 14.0 2 0 4 0 0.64 0.86
15. Jonathon Niese* NYM 12.2 2 0 12 0 2.13 0.95
16. Bryan Shaw* ARI 6.0 0 2 8 2 0.00 0.50
17. Justin Verlander DET 16.1 0 0 14 0 2.20 0.55
18. Kyle Drabek* TOR 12.2 2 0 10 0 1.42 1.03
19. Matt Harrison* TEX 14.0 2 0 7 0 0.64 1.07
20. Frank Francisco NYM 4.0 0 3 7 0 0.00 0.75
21. Colby Lewis TEX 12.2 1 0 15 0 1.42 1.03
22. Craig Stammen* WAS 7.2 2 0 10 0 1.17 1.17
23. Grant Balfour OAK 7.0 0 2 5 0 0.00 0.57
24. Jim Johnson BAL 4.2 0 4 3 0 0.00 1.07
25. Jerad Weaver LAA 14.0 1 0 17 0 3.21 0.86

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Looking For Spot Starts

Some of this advice might seem obvious, but do you know where to look when snagging a spot start here or there? Look for those pitching against Pittsburgh (18 runs in nine games), Oakland (28 runs in 10 games), Minnesota (28 runs in nine games) and San Diego (34 runs in 10 games). But the Ryan Howard-less Phillies are actually 15th (second-worst) in the NL in runs scored thus far. The Mets just got three quality starts from RA Dickey, Jonathan Niese and Mike Pelfrey on the road in Philly. This offense might never return to its peak 2008 form and could (shockingly) provide some value to opposing pitchers.

Not Buying St. Louis' Starters

No Dave Duncan. No Tony LaRussa. No Albert Pujols. No Chris Carpenter. No problem. The Cards are still in first place thanks to hot starts from David Freese, Carlon Beltran and Rafael Furcal. However, the performance of starters Lance Lynn, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook has been the real reason for early success from the defending champs. They rank as the No. 5, No. 7 and No. 13 pitchers in all of fantasy baseball. While Lynn offers some intriguing K-rates (career 10.2 K/9) and the other two should win their share of games, it is hard to officially buy any of these names yet. Lohse and Westbrook have combined for nine strikeouts in 27.1 IP and each boast nearly identical career ratio's of 4.61/1.39 and 4.30/1.39. Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright have struggled out of the gate but are still the better longterm fantasy options.

Just Like Brian Wilson Did

Be it a Barenaked Ladies song, Beach Boy singer and Giants' closer, Brian Wilson has seen better days. Wilson looks to have structural damage to his pitching elbow and may require his second Tommy John surgery. This leaves Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla left to clean up the ninth for Bruce Bochy. He claims he will go by committee in the short team, but Romo and Casilla are the two names to invest in. In 48.0 innings, Romo was filthy last year in the set-up role with a 1.50 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and a downright insane 70:5 K:BB ratio. Casilla wasn't too far behind as his 1.74 ERA and 1.12 WHIP were more than servicable last year. However, his walk totals (25 in 51.2 IP) may push Bochy towards Romo first. Lopez is the lefty of the group and has been the least productive. Keep an eye on how and when Bochy handles his end game situations. 

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Subject:</p> <p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Apr. 16</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 12:20
Path: /college-football/big-ten-quarterback-rankings-2012-0
Body:

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the 12 quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2012:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,173 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT, 14, 55.0%
Rushing Stats: 221 att., 1,176 yards, 16 TD

The list of accomplishments is in a constant state of expansion for the quarterback nicknamed Shoelace. He currently holds the NCAA single-season rushing record for a quarterback (1,702), is the only player in history to join the 2,500-1,500 club, owns the top six single-game offensive output in Michigan history and, oh by the way, snapped the seven-game losing streak to that school from down South. He is eighth in Wolverines rushing history (3,229), fifth in career touchdowns (35) and third in total offense (8,160). Most importantly, D-Rob led the Maize and Blue to a 10-win season for the first time since 2006 last fall and has the team poised for its first Big Ten title since 2004. The most explosive quarterback in the nation saw his efficiency dip slightly in 2011, but he was asked to do less with the emergence of talent around him on the offense. Michigan is smelling Roses heading into the summer, and their Week 1 match-up with Alabama could be a Heisman Trophy showcase for Shoelace.

2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,159 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT, 54.1%
Rushing Stats: 159 att., 715 yards, 7 TD

It only took one short season for Ohio State fans to realize the rare physical gifts Miller brings to an offense. He showed poise and maturity on the field well beyond his freshman classification — just ask the Wisconsin secondary. And his acceleration in the first 10 yards may trail only Robinson nationally, this in a league with explosive names like Martinez, Gray and Colter. Over the second half of the season, Miller rushed for 486 yards, including three 100-yard efforts, and scored all seven of his rushing touchdowns. He threw nine of his 13 touchdown passes over the final seven games of the season, including his top three passing games of his young career. The rebuilt offensive line might slow his development, but the pass-catchers and backfield will only get better over the summer. With Urban Meyer now in town designing a spread attack that fits his skills perfectly, Miller has a chance to be a transcendent talent under center.

3. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,089 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 56.3%
Rushing Stats: 188 att., 874 yards, 9 TD

Martinez burst into the hearts and minds of Big Red faithful after 323 yards and five touchdowns in a thrilling 51-41 win over Oklahoma State as a freshman. After a public disagreement with his head coach — and miserable performance on the field against Texas A&M, questioned swirled around T-Magic’s second season. However, as a sophomore, he answered one of the biggest question marks by maturing as a leader and developing mental toughness. The final stage of his growth will come in the form of consistent and accurate passing. His completion rate dipped in year two under center, but his interception rate did too as his yardage totals increased. With his electric ability to pickup yards with his legs, and possibly the top receiving corps in the Big Ten, Martinez should have his eyes set on a monster 2012 campaign. He has won 18 games in his first two years as a starter and a trip to the Big Ten title game will fall to his ability to complete key third-down passes late in close games.

4. James Vanderberg, Iowa (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,022 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 58.7%
Rushing Stats: 78 att., 61 yards, 3 TD

The record-setting prep quarterback waited his turn behind Ricky Stanzi and did not disappoint in his first year under center. Arguably the best pure passer left in the Big Ten (after Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins departed), Vandenberg will have to find a replacement for Marvin McNutt — also known as the most productive receiver in Iowa history. That said, Keenan Davis and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz should keep the vertical passing attack near the top of the Big Ten once again. However, Iowa and the 6-foot-3, 212-pound pro-style passer will only challenge for a division title if it can get some help from what was the worst rushing attack in the Big Ten a year ago — now, without Marcus Coker. How far can Vandenberg carry the Hawkeyes?

5. Danny O’Brien, Wisconsin (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,648 yards, 7 TD, 10 INT, 56.4%
Rushing Stats: 33 att., 57 yards, 2 TD

O’Brien is a long way from his ACC Rookie of the Year season at Maryland back in 2010. A broken arm, an underwhelming on-the-field performance, a bizarre divorce with head coach Randy Edsall and torrid (second) recruitment landed the redshirt junior in Madison. For the second straight season, the Badgers will hang Big Ten title hopes on an ACC transfer. O’Brien will graduate in mid-May and will begin working with new coordinator Matt Canada shortly thereafter. He is undoubtedly the top option on the UW roster and will be playing in the best situation of his career — aka with Montee Ball and the UW O-line. His experience — 4,086 career yards, 32 total touchdowns — gives the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder a shot at returning the Badgers to the title game. If DOB returns to his freshman All-American status, Wisconsin should be back in Indianapolis. However, if Badger fans are expecting a Wilson-like performance from O'Brien, they will be sorely mistaken.

6. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 966 yards, 6 TD

This triple-threat athlete has finally settled into his role as starting quarterback. After 645 career receiving yards and 1,341 yards rushing, Gray enters the 2012 season as the unquestioned veteran presence under center that the recruiting rankings projected back in 2009. After missing the 58-0 drubbing at the hands of Michigan last fall, Gray strung together his best sequence of starts in his career. He scored 11 of his 14 total touchdowns, rushed for 615 yards and posted a career-high 295 passing yards against Michigan State. He led an upset victory over Iowa with 255 yards of offense and two scores and finished the season with 327 yards rushing over the final two weeks of the season — a road loss to Northwestern and home victory over Illinois. Gray’s size and speed combination is a rarity – even in the most athletically gifted quarterback league in the nation.

7. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,110 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 191 att., 624 yards, 6 TD

Most fans and analysts alike had big plans for Scheelhaase heading into his second full season under center in 2011. Yet, after a stellar freshman campaign, the heavily voweled quarterback sludged through a second-half collapse that rivaled that of Texas Tech, Clemson or Texas A&M. His interception rate went up, his touchdown rate went down, his yards per carry dropped to a paltry 3.2-yard clip and Illinois lost its final six games of the regular season. The collapse prompted a coaching switch from Ron Zook to Tim Beckman — a move that will undoubtedly help Mr. Scheelhaase get back on his developmental track. Replacing A.J. Jenkins won’t be easy, but as an upperclassmen now, the offensive onus must fall completely on Scheelhaase’s talented but inconsistent shoulders.

8. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State (JR)
Passing Stats: 171 yards, TD, 0 INT, 69.2%
Rushing Stats: 5 att., -2 yards, 0 TD

Little is known about the big-armed junior-to-be from Midland, Mich. He has been patient and learned the position behind arguably the program’s most historic quarterback Kirk Cousins. He has the support of the coaching staff as the unquestioned starter for the Spartans in 2012. Head coach Mark Dantonio had this to say about his future starter this spring, “He has a very live arm and he’s an outstanding leader. He’s very calm and poised and I think great things are around the corner for him.” The poise, leadership, mental approach to the game, stature (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and arm strength have led most observers to Cousins comparisons for Maxwell. If he is half of the quarterback Kirk Cousins was in East Lansing, Spartan fans will be very happy — and he will be much higher on this list come next summer.

9. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Passing Stats: 673 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT, 67.1%
Rushing Stats: 135 att., 654 yards, 9 TD
Receiving Stats: 43 rec., 466 yards, 3 TD

Not many starting quarterbacks in any league have the 2011 resume of Colter’s. He was stellar in all three phases of the offense as his athletic ability was on full display in the signature win of the Wildcats season. Colter rushed 17 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 115 yards and another score in the upset win over Nebraska on the road. He caught three passes for 57 yards and was unstoppable in the second half after Dan Persa got hurt. He threw only four passes after that game, but was dynamic in both the rushing and receiving game. He totaled 55 touches for 268 yards from scrimmage and scored in three of the last four games. The 6-foot, 190-pound do-everything talent should be the next in a long line of tremendously productive Northwestern signal callers.

10. Caleb TerBush, Purdue (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,905 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 61.7%
Rushing Stats: 83 att., 219 yards, TD

For the first time in years, the quarterback position (barring injury — fingers firmly crossed as I type this) appears to be a position of strength for the Boilermakers. TerBush will be pushed by quality depth behind him (Robert Marve or Rob Henry), but has the inside track on starting for Danny Hope. He threw an interception in only four games last year and none in the final four games — which covered 78 pass attempts. More importantly, Purdue won three of those final four games, including the thriller over Ohio State and the Boilers first bowl win since 2007. Marve has a chance to push for time, but the competition should be a positive for TerBush as he enters his final season in West Lafayette.

11. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Passing Stats: 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 109 att., 426 yards, 2 TD

As only a freshman, Roberson was handed the keys to Kevin Wilson’s attack midway through the 2011 season. The offense was sparked by the dynamic athlete, as the Hoosiers rushing attack flourished in the second half of the season. Roberson’s production did not include any wins but he posted four games of at least 70 yards rushing in his final five contests. If Wilson expects to improve in 2012, he will have to lean heavily on the legs of the young sophomore.

12. Matt McGloin, Penn State (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,571 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT, 54.1%
Rushing Stats: 24 att., -12 yards, 0 TD

McGloin gets the nod as the Penn State placeholder at this point. The quarterback position is in ugly shape for new head coach Bill O’Brien, who is used to dealing with Tom Brady in New England. McGloin was given the chance to sling it around full-time against Nebraska (the first game JoePa didn’t coach) and he completed only 16 of his 34 attempts in the loss. Rob Bolden and Paul Jones will also get plenty of early looks this summer, but McGloin is the most “pro-style” of the bunch and likely has the slight lead in the clubhouse. His skillset fits the scheme O’Brien wants to employ best, but no one on this roster has been productive under center since Michael Robinson.

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Big Ten 2012 Schedule Analysis

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Big Ten Predictions

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Quarterback Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-49
Body:

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

The first weekend is in the books.

No, the New York Mets are not going to finish 162-0 and David Wright will not lead the majors in hitting (.667). No, the Red Sox and Yankees are not going to go winless and finish tied for last in the AL East. No, the Rangers will not finish 12th in the American League in runs scored. No, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp won’t finish as the No. 1 and 2 fantasy players in baseball – okay, well, that one could be 100% true.

So the first weekend of action is more about kicking back and enjoying the fact that America’s pastime is back in action. So be sure to take the current fantasy baseball rankings with a grain of salt. Yet, it doesn’t mean that we can learn a few things to tweak our rosters.

Each weekend, Athlon will analyze the hottest names from around the fantasy diamond and break down who needs to be added to your roster or who needs to be ignored. Here is how the rankings shake out after one weekend of action:

Week 1's Top 25 Hitters:

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 6 2 8 1 .412 1.213
2. Miguel Cabrera 1B DET 5 3 8 0 .455 1.806
3. Carlos Pena 1B TB 3 2 7 0 .500 1.654
4. Yoenis Cespedes OF OAK 3 3 7 0 .308 1.477
5. Eric Hosmer 1B KC 5 2 4 1 .286 1.000
6. Carlos Beltran OF STL 4 2 3 1 .389 1.143
7. Rafael Furcal* SS STL 3 0 3 2 .526 1.234
8. Alex Avila C DET 4 2 5 0 .417 1.500
9. Corey Hart OF MIL 3 3 4 0 .444 2.101
10. Jay Bruce OF CIN 3 3 5 0 .273 1.341
11. Nick Markakis OF BAL 3 2 4 0 .556 2.111
12. Starlin Castro SS CHC 2 0 1 4 .385 .847
13. Prince Fielder 1B DET 4 2 3 0 .417 1.346
14. Cameron Maybin OF SD 4 1 2 2 .294 .839
15. Adam LaRoche* 1B WAS 3 2 4 0 .417 1.379
16. David Freese 3B STL 2 1 6 0 .421 1.000
17. Dustin Ackley 2B SEA 4 1 3 1 .316 .790
18. Austin Jackson OF DET 5 0 2 0 .571 1.482
19. Emilio Bonifacio OF FLA 3 0 1 3 .333 .777
20. Zack Cozart SS CIN 4 1 2 0 .545 1.765
21. Evan Longoria 3B TB 4 1 1 0 .600 1.792
22. Kelly Johnson 2B TOR 5 1 2 0 .357 1.097
23. Shane Robinson* OF STL 2 1 4 0 .667 1.834
24. Chone Figgins* 3B SEA 2 0 4 1 .412 1.000
25. Dee Gordon SS LAD 3 0 1 3 .222 .578

* - unowned in the Athlon Sports Fantasy League

Find Your Middle Infield Help Now

Cincinnati’s Zach Cozart is had a top 25 weekend after hitting in the two-hole all three games of Opening Weekend. That puts the rookie directly in front of Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce. Don’t buy Top-10 shortstop value just yet, but he certainly has the bat to be an adequate producer at a shallow position all season long.

Washington’s Ian Desmond also had a key weekend, hitting with a .385/.429/.462 line for the weekend. He led off all three games and has a chance to provide big return on investment when it comes to stolen bases and runs scored in a much-improving line-up. But he could also easily get to double-digit dingers and a sound slash-line.

St. Louis’ Rafael Furcal might have been the biggest surprise of the weekend, however, don’t go wasting a top waiver priority on the aging shortstop. He has topped the 400 at-bat mark only one time since 2007 and has failed to top the 200 AB plateau in three of the last five years. He should be helpful when in the line-up, but like much of the Cardinals' batting order, he needs to stay fully healthy to be valuable.

Kelly Johnson, Aaron Hill, Chris Getz and Rueben Tejada all had solid first weekends that require more observation time.

Yoenis Cespedes is For Real

Normally, it takes time for imports to get acclimated with the speed, control and raw talent of big league pitching. Well, Cespedes is putting that myth to bed as he stroked three home runs in his first four games. He has seven RBIs and has the raw athletic ability to swipe some bases too. I cannot imagine the Cuban defector didn’t get drafted in your league, but if he happens to be sitting on your wire, do not hesistate to snap him up.

Week 1's Top 25 Pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K ERA WHIP
1. Chad Billingsly LAD 8.1 1 0 11 0.00 0.48
2. Jared Weaver LAA 8.0 1 0 10 0.00 0.50
3. Roy Halladay PHI 8.0 1 0 5 0.00 0.25
4. Frank Francisco NYM 3.0 0 3 4 0.00 0.67
5. Jeff Samardzija* CHC 8.2 1 0 8 1.04 0.46
6. Fernando Rodney TB 1.2 0 2 1 0.00 0.00
7. Zack Greinke MIL 7.0 1 0 7 0.00 0.57
8. Lance Lynn* STL 6.2 1 0 8 1.35 0.45
9. Clayton Richard* SD 7.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.29
10. Lucas Harrell HOU 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.43
11. Justin Masterson CLE 8.0 0 0 10 1.12 0.38
12. Justin Verlander DET 8.0 0 0 7 0.00 0.38
13. Duane Below* DET 2.2 2 0 3 0.00 0.38
14. Jake Arrieta* BAL 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.57
15. Kyle Lohse* STL 7.1 1 0 3 1.23 0.27
16. Johnny Cueto CIN 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.71
17. Aroldis Chapman CIN 3.0 1 0 5 0.00 0.33
18. Brandon League SEA 3.0 0 2 2 0.00 0.67
19. Jeremy Hellickson TB 8.2 1 0 4 0.00 0.81
20. Jason Hammel* BAL 8.0 1 0 5 1.12 0.63
21. Javy Guerra LAD 2.0 0 2 2 0.00 0.50
22. Ryan Dempster* CHC 7.2 0 0 10 1.17 0.65
23. Josh Lindblom* LAD 4.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.50
24. Jim Johnson BAL 1.2 0 2 2 0.00 1.20
25. Luis Perez* TOR 4.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.75

* - unowned in the Athlon Sports Fantasy League

Bullpen Happenings

It wasn’t a good weekend for bullpens. Boston’s group is in complete disarray and I would not be rostering any of the names (Alfredo Aceves, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vincente Padilla) who could get the potential save chances. Look for the Red Sox to go after a rental in early summer — aka Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street, Frank Francisco, Matt Thornton, etc. Speaking of...

Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Addison Reed were all preseason picks to land in the closing role on the Southside of Chicago. Yet, it appears that Hector Santiago, who pitched a perfect ninth on Saturday to earn his first career save, might be the guy to close games for the White Sox. Robin Ventura still might play the match-ups, but Santiago is worth an add this week. 

With Drew Storen still a few weeks away from returning to action — should his elbow injury not be (gasp) anything worse — it appears that Davey Johnson’s decision to platoon Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez was no empty threat. Both Lidge and Rodriguez were effective this weekend, combining for 2.0 scoreless innings with five total strikeouts and one save for each.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Athlon looks back at another weekend of fantasy baseball action.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 10:44
Path: /college-football/ucla-bruins-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.

UCLA Bruins 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-8, 5-4 Pac-12  

Spring practice: April 3-May 5 

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Kevin Prince, 126 of 224, 1,828 yards, 12 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin, 166 att., 976 yards, 5 TD
Receiving: Joseph Fauria, 39 rec., 481 yards, 6 TD
Tackles: Patrick Larimore, 81
Sacks: Datone Jones, 3
Interceptions: Andrew Abbott, 4

Redshirts to watch: QB Brett Hundley, NT Kevin McReynolds, WR Devin Lucien, OG Ben Wyscoki, DE Sam Tai, NT Brandon Tuliaupupu

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 at Rice
Sept. 8 Nebraska
Sept. 15 Houston
Sept. 22 Oregon State
Sept. 29 at Colorado
Oct. 6 at Cal
Oct. 13 Utah
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 Arizona
Nov. 10 at Washington State
Nov. 17 USC
Nov. 24 Stanford

Offensive Strength: There is a bit of tie between the offensive line and skills players. Both lost quality starters but both return deep and versatile groups with upside. Johnathan Franklin, Joseph Fauria and Malcolm Jones should provide plenty of playmaking ability behind what could be a solid offensive line.

Offensive Weakness: The quarterback position has been a major issue for the Bruins for the better part of a decade. Does this sound familar? This roster has lots of talented depth at the position but lacks a consistent, driving force under center.

Defensive Strength: By all accounts, this defensive line has a chance to be one of the best in the conference. The collective star-rankings of names like Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odigizuwa, Brandon Willis and Datone Jones as recruits looks real pretty on paper. The depth and talent of this group is too much not to be the strength of this unit.

Defensive Weakness: Leadership and development. This unit is loaded with elite recruits at nearly every position. Yet, somehow this group finished 92nd in the nation in scoring defense at over 31 points allowed per game and 89th in total defense at over 417 yards per game. With a totally new coaching staff, finding leaders on this side of the ball will be key. Can the defensive line be both the strength and weakness of a defense?

Spring Storylines Facing the Bruins:

1. Building cohesion on a brand new coaching staff. Mora is hungry to prove he can win and he started by building a deep and talented coaching staff around him. He hired former Arizona State coordinator Noel Mazzone to run his offense and former Washington Redskins linebackers coach Lou Spanos to manage the defense. With the crosstown rival USC rising once again into national prominence, this coaching staff has to get acclimated with Westwood and its roster in a hurry this spring. After the Trojans, the South is wide open and UCLA is as talented as any other team in this league. It will be all about the coaching. 

2. Mazzone's first order of business is to implement his up-tempo scheme and find someone to run it with consistent efficiency. The quarterback position has been a complete failure for the Bruins since...Cade McNown? But UCLA has not been without talent at the position and this roster will be no different. Incumbents Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut need to adjust more to the new speed of the offense (think Oregon Ducks) rather than the new formation as it shifts from a true pistol to a hybrid spread attack. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and true frosh T.J. Millweard should also press for reps this spring as well. Prince will get the first crack as the most experienced player on the team, but Mazzone should have no loyalties when deciding who will run his offense in 2012.

3. Organizing the offensive line will go a long way to developing a signal caller. Three contributors are gone from the front line, but there is plenty of talent returning. Greg Capella (14), Jeff Baca (11), Alberto Cid (6), Chris Ward (4) and Wade Yandall (3) all got starting experience a year ago and will be champing at the bit to earn a starting spot. What could make this a special group is former uber-recruit Xavier Su'a Filo. He returns from his two-year Mormon Mission after flashing elite ability as a true freshman in 2009. Should he be ready to go at a BCS championship level, this group could turn into a strength of a team that was able to move the football on the ground last fall — third in the Pac-12 (178.4 ypg).

4. Spanos has a glut of riches to work with along the defensive line and three linebackers returning with a total of 218 tackles last year. But this unit finished 11th in the conference in rushing defense (190.6 ypg, 96th nationally) and was 112th nationally in quarterback sacks. If this defense is going to improve — which it needs to do across the board — stabilizing the front seven will be paramount this spring. There is too much talent on the front line and too much experience in the linebackers for this group not to show marked improvement in 2012. Spanos should have fun installing his system.

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> UCLA Bruins 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-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.

Oregon Ducks 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12  

Spring practice: April 3-April 28 

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Bryan Bennett, 25-of-46, 369 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Kenjon Barner, 939 yards, 11 TD
Receiving: Josh Huff, 31 rec., 430 yards, 2 TD
Tackles: John Boyett, 108
Sacks: Dion Jordan, 7.5
Interceptions: Four tied with 2

Redshirts to watch: WR B.J. Kelley, WR Tacoi Sumler, QB Marcus Mariota, WR Devon Blackmon, DT Jared Ebert (JC), OL Andre Yruetagoyena, LB Tyson Coleman, TE Christian French, OL Tyler Johnstone

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Arkansas State
Sept. 8 Fresno State
Sept. 15 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 22 Arizona
Sept. 29 at Washington State
Oct. 6 Washington
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 18 at Arizana State
Oct. 27 Colorado
Nov. 3 at USC
Nov. 10 at Cal
Nov. 17 Stanford
Nov. 24 at Oregon State

Offensive Strength: Those with ball in hand. Josh Huff, Justin Hoffman and Colt Lyerla will offer talented options with the ball on the edge and down the seam, but the real fireworks will come from Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. Both have game changing ability and will be on the field at the same time. Needless to say, Chip Kelly has plenty of toys to play with on offense.

Offensive Weakness: The pass-catchers are relatively unproven and will need to be developed. The running backs lost a Doak Walker winner in LaMichael James. Quarterback Darron Thomas left school early. And two studs departed the offensive line. Yet, every position on this offensive two-deep has elite level skill and talent. This offense has no weaknesses, but if one area was a biggest "unknown" it would have to be the quarterback position.

Defensive Strength: All three layers of this defense are in similar shape: losing a couple of starters but return talented stars and loads of depth. The constant rotation of fresh bodies has given this unit loads of depth and talent. The defensive line, led by all-everything end Dion Jordan and all-league tackle Taylor Hart might be the strongest unit on the team. But Kelly's ability to build depth through playing time has worked incredibly well at this position (and others).

Defensive Weakness: There is really isn't a glaring area of weakness as there is depth and talent on every level. Linebacker loses two all-conference performers, the secondary lost first-teamer Eddie Pleaseant and the D-Line replaces a pair of productive ends. Yet, each level returns experience and upside to every position. Pinpointing any specific weakness on this unit is virtually impossible. 

Spring Storylines Facing the Ducks:

1. Darron Thomas' announcement to go to the NFL might have been a shock to the masses — and possibly some NFL scouts — but wasn't to those inside the Ducks' program. As shocking as it sounds, the school's all-time leader in touchdowns was going to face pressure from a trio of talented passers: Sophomore Bryan Bennett, redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota and early enrollee Jake Rodrigues. Despite the rumors that Bennett and Mariota might actually be better than Thomas (gasp!), very few teams can simply replace someone who accounted for 6,334 yards of total offense and 71 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Bennett (6-3, 205) should have the early lead after showing well in a win over Arizona State and a start against Colorado (156 yards, 2 TD, 6 att., 69 yards rushing) as a freshman last season. Mariota was the star of the scout team a year ago and is extremely similar to Bennett in skillset, size (6-4, 205) and personality but has yet to play in a college game. Even true freshman Jake Rodrigues (6-3, 210) is already enrolled and working to learn Kelly's offense. All three are unquestioned athletic fits for the Ducks' spread attack, but all three also need development as passers and efficiency could be the determining factor in picking a starter.

2. Finding some big-play pass-catchers will be a focus of the spring workouts. Josh Huff and Justin Hoffman will likely be the starters most of the time — aka whenever De'Anthony Thomas is in the backfield. Rahsaan Vaughn also figures heavily into the mix as well.  Certainly, losing Lavasier Tuinei and tight end David Paulson, who combined for 79 receptions and 16 touchowns a year ago, and any suspension doled out to Huff, will hurt the offense. However, Lyerla, Thomas and even Barner combined for 17 of their own touchdown receptions last year and should only get better this fall. And the list of potential big-play talents champing at the bit to get the ball is long and is the envy of most teams in the nation: Eric Dungy, Devon Blackmon, Keanon Lowe, Daryle Hawkins, Tacoi Sumler, Will Murphy, Curtis White and Brian Teague.

3. Replacing two starters along the offensive line will also be an area of focus this spring, especially considering left guard and veteran Carson York won't be practicing (knee). Departing all-league talent Mark Asper and Darrion Weems leave holes at key positions up front. That said, the Ducks have recruited well along the line and always seem to plug holes with relative ease. Jake Fisher saw plenty of action as a freshman last season and redshirts Andre Yruretagoyena and Tyler Johnstone have loads of raw talent. These three will push veterans Everett Benyard, Ryan Clanton and junior college transfer Kyle Long for the empty starting positions. The good news is Hroniss Grasu should only get better and become more of a leader at center while right tackle Nick Cody returns for his senior season. Like most spots on this roster, Oregon will miss some key pieces but has a glut of riches waiting in the wings.

4. Losing honorable mention All-Pac-12 end Terrell Turner and fellow starter Brandon Hanna, like the O-Line, shouldn't be too painful but needs to be addressed. Taylor Hart returns to the interior and Dion Jordan return to the outside, but Kelly rotates so many bodies that most of the "back-ups" have seen extensive playing time. Tony Washington, Isaac Remington, Rickey Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi will all continue to grow into bigger roles while early enrollee and super-stud recruit Arik Armstead gets his first taste of big-time college football this spring.

5. As the knit-picking continues with the Oregon defense, filling starting spots in the back seven left by first-team all-conference linebacker Josh Kaddu, honorable-mention performer DeWitt Stuckey and first-teamer Eddie Pleasant at the Rover position should be surprisingly easy. Michael Clay is a tackling machine while Kiko Alonso is finally beginning to take advantage of his obvious physical gifts. Alonso got better as 2011 went along, culminating in a Rose Bowl MVP performance against Wisconsin. Boseko Lokombo enters the starting lineup with tons of stat-stuffing playing time as well (33 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT). John Boyett, the only starter from the 2010 BCS title game still on the roster, is the unquestioned leader of the secondary from his free safety position. With Anthony Gildon (and Cliff Harris) gone for good from the corner spot, youngsters Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill and Ifo Ikpre-Olomu should grow into potential play-makers after receiving a baptism by fire a season ago. Erick Dargan, Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson also got hefty playing time a year ago. Expect Patterson and Jackson to compete for the starting safety spot. The positive effect of over-using the depth chart (and recruiting really well) will never be more obvious than in Eugene this fall as replacing outstanding starters on all three levels appears to be no big deal whatsosever.

6. Possibly the only thing that could derail the Ducks fourth consectutive trip a BCS bowl — besides the USC Trojans — will be the potential off-the-field questions. This is a team that has dealt with multiple knucklehead blunders by players, a coaching flirtation with the NFL and one man named Willie Lyles. Transgressors Thomas, LaMichael James and Harris have moved on the program and Kelly seems to be committed to the Ducks longterm success (at least for 2012), however, the NCAA's investigation into the Lyles scandal could be hanging over the program for the forseeable future.

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Oregon Ducks 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 07:01

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