Articles By All

All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Angels, MLB
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-angels-2017-preview-predictions-schedule
Body:

Los Angeles Angels LogoThe state of the Angels is evident in the popularity of a debate that should be unthinkable: Would they be better off trading Mike Trout to jump-start a rebuilding effort?


Already a two-time MVP and just 25 years old, Trout is the best player in baseball, a generational talent just dipping into the heart of a likely Hall of Fame career. But the talent around Trout is pedestrian and the roster thin. A series of costly decisions on the free-agent market has left the Angels with the weakest farm system in baseball, $20 million in obligations still to pay for the ill-advised Josh Hamilton dalliance and a potential millstone in the aging Albert Pujols, who had foot surgery again in the offseason and, at age 37, is still owed $140 million over the next five years.


The Angels did take baby steps in GM Billy Eppler’s first year to address the organizational shortcomings. There is hope for the future, but it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel at this point, and there’s no telling how old Trout will be when the Angels emerge as contenders once again.

 

ROTATION

There is something to be said for quantity being as important as quality in starting pitching given the challenges of a 162-game schedule. The Angels certainly learned that last year when injuries gutted their starting rotation. A year later, it is quantity they have — even with longtime fixture Jered Weaver gone. As many as 12 pitchers could be considered candidates for the 2017 starting rotation. It’s a group that includes uninspiring veterans such as Ricky Nolasco and Jesse Chavez, others returning from injuries such as Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker and faded prospects such as Alex Meyer and Brooks Pounders. The Angels’ one shot at a high-quality starter, Garrett Richards, comes with reservations. They figure to proceed cautiously with the young ace, who appears to have avoided Tommy John surgery with stem-cell therapy.

 

BULLPEN

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
Huston Street is an established closer with 324 career saves. But at age 33, he is coming off the worst season of his career (due in large part to injuries that led to knee surgery in August), and the Angels will rethink their bullpen hierarchy in spring training. Cam Bedrosian, 25, has emerged as a legitimate closer candidate after he posted a 1.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 45 appearances for the Angels last season. Veteran Andrew Bailey is a former All-Star closer (albeit several years ago). However the roles sort out in the spring, those three will handle the late innings in 2017 with a grab-bag of players that includes J.C. Ramirez, Deolis Guerra, Mike Morin, Jose Alvarez, Daniel Wright and former Indian Austin Adams (acquired via trade prior to the start of spring training) filling out the bullpen.

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons was everything the Angels hoped for defensively last year and improved some offensively, batting .281 (his highest full-season average) with a .690 OPS (his highest since his first full-season in 2013) — though his pop has all but disappeared since an aberrational 17-homer debut in 2013. After making do at second last year, Eppler went back to the trade market this winter and acquired a displaced Danny Espinosa from the Washington Nationals. A shortstop in D.C., Espinosa will move to second base in Anaheim, pairing with Simmons to give the Angels exceptional defense up the middle.

 

Printable Los Angeles Angels 2017 ScheduleCORNERS

Eppler addressed an annual issue in Anaheim when he acquired Yunel Escobar from the Nationals in December 2015. Escobar has joined a long line of players who have taken up temporary residence at third base for the Angels. Anyone remember Dallas McPherson, Brandon Wood, Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo and David Freese? But Escobar has given them adequate defense and filled the leadoff spot with a .304 average in 2016. That was enough for the Angels to pick up his contract option for 2017. With Pujols appearing to enter the full-time (or nearly so) DH phase of his career, former first-round draft pick C.J. Cron got his chance to establish himself as an everyday player. The young first baseman did hit 16 home runs last season, valuable support for Trout, Pujols and Kole Calhoun on a team that finished 13th in the American League in slugging percentage. But Cron will likely lose playing time to Luis Valbuena, who was signed to a two-year deal in late January. The nine-year veteran hit a career-high 25 home runs in 2015 with Houston, but injuries limited him to just 90 games last season. A left-handed hitter, Valbuena figures to get most of the starts at first against righties, and he also can fill in at third.

 

OUTFIELD

The outfield is in good hands — even more so now that the acquisition of Cameron Maybin has given the Angels a legitimate left fielder. Maybin (career-high .315 batting average and .801 OPS for the Tigers last season) fills what has been an absolute black hole in left field the past two seasons. He can’t help but do better than the .592 and .584 OPS Angels left fielders combined for in 2015 and '16, last in the majors both seasons. Trout and Calhoun remain the heart of the Angels’ everyday lineup in center and right, respectively. Trout won his second AL MVP last season, somehow managing to get even better in his fifth full season. He matched his career-high in OPS (.991), set a new high in on-base percentage (.441) and raised his batting average back over .300 (.315) for the first time since 2013.

 

CATCHING

A year ago at this time, the Angels were ready to hand their catching job over to Carlos Perez. By midseason, however, Perez was back in the minors and the Angels had turned to Jett Bandy instead. Bandy is gone, traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for a more established catcher, Martin Maldonado. Maldonado, 30, has never started more than 66 games in a season but will be the Angels’ primary catcher with Perez backing him up. Maldonado is a good defender with above-average pitch-framing skills, giving the Angels plus-defenders at every position up the middle.

 

DH/BENCH

Pujols’ deterioration continues. He had foot surgery again in December, possibly delaying the start of his season, and has become a one-dimensional hitter, still able to drive the ball for home runs but posting a .266 average and sinking OPS in his five years with the Angels. Ben Revere was signed to a one-year deal to be the team’s fourth outfielder; the Angels hope he can bounce back from a dismal season in Washington. Depending on who is at first, Cron and Valbuena figure to be the power bats available in the late innings.

 

MANAGEMENT

Things seem to have stabilized in Anaheim after recent years clouded by the power struggle between manager Mike Scioscia and former GM Jerry Dipoto and the ugly divorce between owner Arte Moreno and Hamilton. Eppler seems to have been given the kind of free hand his predecessors didn’t have to tug the Angels into the 21st century. The longest-tenured manager in baseball (now entering his 18th season in Anaheim), Scioscia was never the New Age Luddite he was portrayed to be at times during the Dipoto regime. But he is more willing now to use the new tools a modern front office can provide.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

From 2002 through 2014, the Angels won at least 90 games seven times, won six division titles, reached the ALCS three times and won the franchise’s only World Series championship in 2002. This is a much different era. Though Eppler defiantly says the Angels “intend to contend” in 2017, the road to fourth place is paved with good intentions.

 

2017 AL WEST PREDICTION: 4th

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2017 - 10:01
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-spartans-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

The 2016 college football season was nothing short of a nightmare for the Michigan State Spartans and their fans. A year removed from punching a ticket to the College Football Playoff, Mark Dantonio's Spartans won just three games all season – and only one game in conference.

 

Related: What Went Wrong for Michigan State in 2016 and How to Fix the Spartans

 

It was understood that there would probably be a bit of a drop-off after losing the caliber of talent that they did. Few, however, could have predicted that the team would fail to qualify for a bowl game for the first time in 10 years. To make matters worse heading into 2017, legal matters involving both players and coaches hang over the program like a dark cloud.

 

With the strides being made by the "other" Michigan team in the Big Ten, the pressure is on Dantonio and the Spartans to rebound and establish themselves as serious contenders in the East Division once again. For that to come to fruition much work needs to be done and many questions need to be answered this spring.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Michigan State's Spring Practice

 

1. Brian Lewerke's command of the offense

All signs point to Lewerke being the guy at quarterback for the Spartans. He saw action during four games in 2016 and showed flashes of brilliance against both Northwestern and Michigan before breaking his leg. If he can hold off Damien Terry, show command of the offense and have a solid spring, that opens the door for him to become the next long-term starter at the position. Stability at the quarterback position has gone hand-in-hand with Michigan State's recent success.

 

2. Elite playmakers emerging on defense

The Spartans have been at their best over the years when they have elite defenses led by elite playmakers like Shilique Calhoun, Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes. They lost another big-time talent from last season in defensive tackle Malik McDowell. Sophomores Mike Panisiuk and Raequan Williams will be leaned on heavily to not only replace McDowell on the field, but also to become vocal leaders as well. The Spartans are in need of a consistent, effective pass rusher too. Robert Bowers seems like the most likely candidate to emerge and assume that role.

 

3. New faces on the offensive line

Michigan State's offensive line lost three starters to graduation from last season. Guard Brian Allen does return and has all-conference potential, but the rest of this unit is largely unproven. You may see Allen start at center, forcing David Beedle to step into that guard position. The spring will be the time to look for effective combinations and rotations, hopefully solidifying the unit before fall camp opens. LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes is the best running back tandem in the Big Ten, but they'll struggle mightily if the offensive line doesn’t come together.

 

4. New faces in the secondary

The Spartans lost two safeties and a corner to graduation and the draft. Justin Layne is the only returning defensive back with legitimate game experience, and he'll be looked to as the leader of the unit. Guys like Grayson Miller and Khari Willis will be instrumental in filling those voids and continuing the recent trend of dominant play in Michigan State's defensive backfield.

 

5. Replacing R.J. Shelton

Shelton was one of the more dynamic players in the Big Ten over the last couple of seasons. He was a guy who made opposing defensive coordinators do that extra bit of preparation to account for everything he did through the air and on the ground. Michigan State needs that type of player in its offense – someone to provide that extra wrinkle to ensure the Spartan attack isn't one-dimensional. Donnie Corley seems like the most likely candidate. A natural defensive back, he stepped into the receiver role last season and proved capable. His athleticism should allow the Spartans to do some of the same things with him that they did with Shelton. Pay close attention to how and where Corley is used during the spring session.

 

Pre-Spring Michigan State Outlook in the Big Ten

 

With so much uncertainty at so many positions heading into 2017, it's tough to see the Spartans getting back into the mix for a division title this season. They'll be one of the youngest teams in the conference and facing a formidable schedule coming off of season when almost nothing went right. The home game against Notre Dame – a team in a similar situation after a disappointing 2016 – will likely set the tone this fall. Even then, the Spartans host Iowa and Penn State and travel to Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Ohio State. Bowl eligibility is a realistic goal for this team. Anything more would be a bonus. The Spartans are probably another year away from competing for trips to Indianapolis again.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Michigan State Spartans 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, NC State Wolfpack
Path: /college-football/nc-state-wolfpack-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

After being on the hot seat nearly the entire 2016 season NC State head coach Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack finished with a 7-5 record and an Independence Bowl victory over Vanderbilt. This was the third straight bowl appearance for Doeren in his four years in Raleigh.

 

It remains to be seen if NC State can compete with Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in the ACC Atlantic Division. One thing is for sure, the division is a lot tougher with Wake Forest and Boston College also making bowl appearances last season.

 

Here are the questions NC State will need to address entering spring practice, which begins on Feb.  25.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in NC State's Spring Practice

 

1. Replacing Matthew Dayes
NC State needs to replace the production of its top running back, who exhausted his eligibility after last season. As a senior, Dayes finished third in the ACC with 1,166 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

 

Junior Reggie Gallaspy II is the likely choice to fill Dayes’ spot in 2017. Last season, Gallaspy ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Dakwa Nichols and Johnny Frasier also should get opportunities to win the starting tailback job.

 

2. How much can Ryan Finley improve?
In his first season after transferring from Boise State, Finley threw for 3,055 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Wolfpack will need to see more consistency from Finley in 2017 if they hope to improve in the ACC standings.

 

In seven wins last season, Finley threw 12 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. In the five losses, however, Finley had more picks (eight) than scores (six). It doesn’t take a genius to know that the Wolfpack had a much better chance for victories when Finley limited his mistakes.

 

3. Will an experienced offense help?
It is projected that NC State will return eight starters on an offense that finished that finished 63rd in the nation in yards per game (416.4) last season. With that much experience returning, the Wolfpack have the potential their offensive production.

 

The running game will need a new leader, but there’s experience returning elsewhere, including at wide receiver in Stephen Louis and in tight end/fullback hybrid Jaylen Samuels. Louis led the team with 678 receiving yards on 35 catches, two of them going for touchdowns. Samuels was tops in both receptions (55) and touchdowns (seven) while accumulating 565 yards through the air and another 189 with six scores on the ground.

 

4. Can the Wolfpack defense be among the ACC’s best?
Not only will NC State field an experienced offense in 2017, but their defense also will have plenty of familiar faces returning. Nine starters on that side of the ball are expected to return, a group that’s led by one of the best defenders in the entire ACC.

 

Many expected defensive end Bradley Chubb to enter the NFL Draft after his junior season, but instead the Wolfpack’s Defensive MVP decided to return. Chubb was among the nation’s leader in both tackles for a loss (22) and sacks (10.5) last season.


Germaine Pratt also should help improve the Wolfpack’s depth at linebacker. He redshirted in 2016 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

 

NC State finished 24th in total defense a year ago and this unit has the potential to be one of the best in the ACC, provided all the key pieces can stay healthy.

 

5. Can NC State take the next step?
The Wolfpack finished their 2016 campaign with a lot of momentum, first upsetting archrival North Carolina in Chapel Hill and then handily beating Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl, 41-17. Sometimes, the way a team ends the previous season can carry over into the next.

 

NC State will open its 2017 season against South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Later on September, the Wolfpack will travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State, who will likely be the preseason favorite in the ACC and considered one of the top contenders to make it to the College Football Playoff.

 

With a schedule that opens up like that, it’s critical that NC State makes the most of the spring because come fall camp this team needs to be ready to get off to a strong start. The silver lining to the tough start is that both Louisville (Oct. 5) and Clemson (Nov. 4) come to Raleigh, so there will be opportunities for the Wolfpack to make a statement later in the season too.

 

Pre-Spring NC State Outlook in ACC

 

Even with last season’s strong finish, this is a critical year for Dave Doeren and his staff. Winning records and bowl appearances are nice, but the Wolfpack are coming off of back-to-back 7-6 seasons, so a little more progress in the win column would go a long way.

 

The season opener against South Carolina will be tough, but NC State should be 3-0 heading into its Sept. 23 date at Florida State. Eight wins before the bowl game is possible, but to get there, the Wolfpack will have to be at their best on the road against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and can’t afford a slip up at Wake Forest either.

 

Clemson is the defending national champion and even though the Tigers lost several key players, they remain a talented and dangerous team. Louisville struggled down the stretch last season, but still features the Heisman Trophy winner. These two teams have to come to Raleigh and with as much experience as NC State is bringing back and the potential on defense, don’t be surprised if the Wolfpack make some noise in the ACC Atlantic Division this fall.

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
NC State Wolfpack 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-football-basketball-coaching-duos-2017
Body:

While the SEC is considered college football’s best conference, the coaching ranks aren’t particularly deep on the gridiron. Alabama’s Nick Saban ranks as the best coach in the nation, but the next few spots are up for grabs. A similar situation plays out on the hardwood. Kentucky’s John Calipari is one of the nation’s best college basketball coaches and ranks as the best in the SEC. But who follows Calipari in the SEC as the league’s No. 2 coach? 

 

Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

Ranking the SEC's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017

 

1. Alabama

Football: Nick Saban

Basketball: Avery Johnson

 

Saban’s (deserved) reputation as the top college football coach in the nation vaults this duo to the top of the list. Avery Johnson has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail and figures to have Alabama back among the top programs in the league in the near future.  

 

Related: Early College Football Top 25 for 2017

 

2. Kentucky

Football: Mark Stoops

Basketball: John Calipari

 

Calipari’s status as far and away the best basketball coach in the league puts Kentucky safely at No. 2 on this list. Stoops’ seat was red hot as recently as October, but the Wildcats won five of their last seven in the regular season, highlighted by a 41–38 victory at Louisville. Another bowl appearance in 2017 — which is likely — would cement his status as a solid SEC coach.

 

3. Auburn

Football: Gus Malzahn

Basketball: Bruce Pearl

 

Pearl has yet to break through at Auburn, but his track record is too good — at both Tennessee and Milwaukee — and his recruiting too strong to believe that he won’t get it done at Auburn. Malzahn’s stock isn’t quite as high as it was a few years ago, but he is still a very good coach who has an 18–14 record in the SEC in four seasons at Auburn.

 

4. Mississippi State

Football: Dan Mullen

Basketball: Ben Howland

 

Mullen has had only one winning SEC record in seven seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach, but he is 61–42 overall and has guided Mississippi State to a bowl game in each of the past seven seasons. Howland, like Johnson at Alabama and Pearl at Auburn, appears to have his program on an upward trajectory — even if the record doesn’t show it. 

 

Related: Early Top 50 College Football Players Returning in 2017

 

5. Florida

Football: Jim McElwain

Basketball: Mike White

 

McElwain has won two SEC East titles in his two seasons at Florida, but Gators fans don’t seem to be overly impressed. Maybe it’s because the East has been down. Maybe it’s because his recruiting has been a bit lackluster. White has a great reputation in coaching circles, but it must be noted that he has yet to take any of his five teams (four at Louisiana Tech, one at Florida) to the NCAA Tournament. That drought will end next month.

 

6. Tennessee

Football: Butch Jones

Basketball: Rick Barnes

 

Jones isn’t exactly the most popular guy in Knoxville right now, but there is no denying that he has raised the profile of the program and has the Vols back in the national conversation. At some point, he will need to win a division title (at least) to satisfy the demanding Tennessee faithful. Barnes had some great years at Texas, but it seems unlikely that he will return the Vols’ basketball program to the levels it reached under Pearl in the late 2000s.

 

Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2017

 

7. Ole Miss

Football: Huge Freeze

Basketball: Andy Kennedy

 

Freeze’s stock is slipping due to the Rebels’ surprising struggles in 2016 (2–6 SEC record) and the ongoing NCAA issues at Ole Miss. Kennedy is an interesting study: He has reached the NCAA Tournament only two times in 10 seasons, but he has had a .500 or better record in the SEC seven times. He’s been consistently solid at a place that doesn’t have great basketball tradition.

 

8. South Carolina

Football: Will Muschamp

Basketball: Frank Martin

 

Muschamp improved his reputation nationally — which wasn’t great after his struggles at Florida — by guiding an undermanned South Carolina team to a bowl game. It’s been a slow build for Martin and the basketball program, but the Gamecocks appear to be headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.  

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Coaches from 2016

 

9. Vanderbilt

Football: Derek Mason

Basketball: Bryce Drew

 

No coach nationally improved his status more in the final two weeks of the 2016 regular season than Mason, whose team reached bowl eligibility by beating Ole Miss and rival Tennessee. Drew is in his first season at Vanderbilt after winning big at Valparaiso (65–19 conference record in five seasons).

 

10. Texas A&M

Football: Kevin Sumlin

Basketball: Billy Kennedy

 

This might seem a bit low, but Sumlin is only two games over .500 in the SEC at a school that recently spent well over $200 million to renovate its stadium (translation: Texas A&M really wants to be very good at football), and Kennedy has made the NCAA Tournament only one time in four seasons at A&M — and isn’t likely to make it this year, either.

 

11. Arkansas

Football: Bret Bielema

Basketball: Mike Anderson

 

Bielema’s reputation is better than the results; he’s 10–22 in the SEC in four seasons (and 10–14 if you remove his first season in which he went 0–8 under adverse circumstances). Anderson’s inability to get Arkansas basketball back to the upper tier of the SEC has been puzzling. The Hogs have reached the NCAA Tournament one time in his five full seasons.

 

12. Georgia

Football: Kirby Smart

Basketball: Mark Fox

 

The early returns for Smart the football coach weren’t very good (8–5 record in Year 1). The early returns for Smart the recruiting are outstanding (top-5 signing class). We will see if doing well in the latter leads to success in the former. Fox is over .500 in his seven-plus seasons at Georgia but has reached the NCAA Tournament only twice.

 

13. LSU

Football: Ed Orgeron

Basketball: Johnny Jones

 

Orgeron did a solid job as the Tigers’ interim head coach last season; we will soon find out how he does as the full-time boss. Jones entered the 2016-17 with a 40–32 record in the SEC but has guided his alma mater to only one NCAA Tournament appearance in four seasons (and none with Ben Simmons on his roster). The Tigers are struggling mightily in Year 5.

 

Related: Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2017

 

14. Missouri

Football: Barry Odom

Basketball: Kim Anderson

 

Odom’s first season as the head coach at his alma mater ended on a solid note (a comeback win over Arkansas), but the Tigers had their worst overall record (4–8, .333) since 2000. Anderson took over a tough situation (gutted roster, NCAA sanctions), but his tenure has been a huge disappointment.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/25-greatest-linebackers-nfl-history
Body:

Linebacker is one of the most important and demanding positions in football. A truly great linebacker must be able to read the offense, set the defensive scheme, play the run with cat-like instincts and defend the pass with the utmost precision. All while being tasked with avoiding blocks and keeping tabs on the opposing quarterback. A tall order to say the least, and these 25 players did it better than anyone in the history of the NFL.

 

There are a number of factors that go into determining a linebacker’s place in NFL history. The various roles of a linebacker have changed tremendously over the years as the game has evolved making it one of the most difficult positions to gauge. For the purpose of this exercise, the criteria included personal achievements, team accomplishments, statistics, overall impact on the game and the era in which each played.

 

Here are the 25 greatest linebackers in NFL history:

 

25. James Harrison

Pittsburgh 2002, ‘04-12; Cincinnati 2013; Pittsburgh 2014-Present

4-time All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XL, XLIII champion (Steelers)

2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

 

Harrison is one of the most imposing linebackers to ever play the game. He played a vital role in helping the Steelers win two Super Bowls. His 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII is the longest defensive play in the game’s 51-year history. He is the Steelers all-time sack leader with 81.5 career sacks and continues to play at a high level at age 38.

 

24. Sam Huff

New York Giants 1956-63; Washington 1964-69

6-time All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

1956 NFL champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1982

 

The hard-hitting linebacker and leader of the Giants defense played in six NFL title games. He was the first NFL player to grace the cover of Time magazine and even garnered his very own CBS television special in 1960 entitled “The Violent World of Sam Huff.”

 

23. Terrell Suggs

Baltimore 2003-Present

2-time All-Pro, 6-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XLVII champion

2003 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

2011 Butkus Award winner (Professional)

 

The Ravens’ all-time sack leader (114.5 career sacks) is often overshadowed by former teammate Ray Lewis, but Suggs continues to pave a path of success that can be matched by only a few select linebackers in NFL history. He is one of just a handful of linebackers to reach the 100-sack mark. And he also is one of the few at the position to win a Super Bowl and be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

 

22. Patrick Willis

San Francisco 2007-14

6-time All-Pro, 7-time Pro Bowler

2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

2009 Butkus Award winner (Professional)

 

While Willis’ NFL career was relatively short, he definitely left his mark on the game. He made the Pro Bowl in every season in which he played more than four games. He was a sure tackler and one of the most instinctual defenders ever.

 

21. Rickey Jackson

New Orleans 1981-93; San Francisco 1994-95

6-time All-Pro, 6-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXIX champion (49ers)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2010

 

Jackson is one of the most underrated linebackers in NFL history. The Hall of Famer is the Saints’ all-time sack leader and one of the greatest pass rushers in the history of the game. His 128 career sacks rank 15th all-time. Jackson also recorded 1,173 tackles during an exceptionally productive career.

 

20. Kevin Greene

Los Angeles Rams 1985-92; Pittsburgh 1999-95; Carolina 1996; San Francisco 1997; Carolina 1998-99

3-time All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

1996 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2016

 

Greene was a force to be reckoned with from his outside linebacker position. He has more sacks than any linebacker in NFL history (160) and he currently ranks third overall. He is the oldest player to lead the league in sacks (14.5 in 1996 at age 34). Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

 

19. Harry Carson

New York Giants 1976-88

6-time All-Pro, 9-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXI champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2006

 

Along with Lawrence Taylor, Carson served as a disruptive force in the middle of the Giants defense and helped form one of the greatest linebacker tandems in NFL history. He is widely regarded by his peers as one of the best all-around linebackers to ever play in the NFL.

 

18. Joe Schmidt

Detroit 1953-65

9-time All-Pro, 10-time Pro Bowler

2-time NFL champion (1953, ’57)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1973


In 2007, Schmidt was named the 65th Greatest Football Player ever by The Sporting News. He was renowned for his toughness and led a career worthy of his status in the Hall of Fame.

 

17. DeMarcus Ware

Dallas 2005-13; Denver 2014-2016

7-time All-Pro, 9-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl 50 champion (Broncos)

2008 NFC Defensive Player of the Year

Butkus Award winner (2008, ’11, Professional)

 

At age 34, Ware has already built a resume worthy of the Hall of Fame. His 138.5 sacks rank eighth all-time and only Kevin Greene has more sacks from the linebacker position.

 

16. Ray Nitschke

Green Bay 1958-92

7-time All-Pro, 1964 Pro Bowl selection

5-time NFL champion (1961-62, ’65-67)

Super Bowl I, II champion

1962 NFL Championship Game MVP

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1978

 

The Hall of Famer was the leader of a Green Bay defense that helped build a colossal dynasty under Vince Lombardi.

 

15. Bill George

Chicago 1952-65; Los Angeles Rams 1966

8-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

1963 NFL champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1974

 

George helped revolutionize the linebacker position, as he is credited as the first to drop back into pass coverage. He also is regarded as the NFL’s first true middle linebacker and by default the originator of the 4-3 defense.

 

14. Brian Urlacher

Chicago Bears 2000-12

5-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

 

A sure-fire future Hall of Famer (eligible in 2018), Urlacher was one of the most complete middle linebackers to ever play the game. He recorded 1,353 tackles, 41.5 sacks and was responsible for creating 34 turnovers. Urlacher was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.

 

13. Ted Hendricks

Baltimore Colts 1969-73; Green Bay 1974; Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders 1975-83

9-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl V (Colts), XI, XV, XVIII (Raiders) champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990


A towering presence (6-7), “The Mad Stork” is the tallest linebacker to ever play the game. He also is one of the most decorated linebackers in NFL history.

 

12. Willie Lanier

Kansas City 1967-77

8-time All-Pro, 6-time Pro Bowler

2-time All-AFL, 2-time AFL All-Star

Super Bowl IV champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1986

 

Lanier earned the nickname “Contact” for a reason. He was a notorious head-hunter and a devastating hitter. He also excelled in pass coverage, which helped him to 27 career interceptions.

 

11. Derrick Brooks

Tampa Bay 1995-2008

9-time All-Pro, 11-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXXVII champion

2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2014

 

Brooks is often regarded as one of the most instinctual and technically sound linebackers to ever play the game. He was a sure tackler and excelled in pass coverage. He recorded more than 1,700 tackles and was responsible for 49 turnovers during his Hall of Fame career.

 

10. Bobby Bell

Kansas City 1963-74

2-time All-Pro, 3-time Pro Bowler

6-time All-AFL, 6-time AFL All-Star

2-time AFL champion (1966, ’69)

Super Bowl IV champion

1969 NFL Defensive Player of the Year
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1983

 

Bell (6-4, 230) was one of the most imposing and physically gifted linebackers ever. He also was one of the fastest players of his era, regardless of position. The Hall of Famer recorded 26 interceptions from his outside linebacker position and is tied with Derrick Brooks for the most career interceptions returned for a touchdown (6). Bell scored nine touchdowns during his career.

 

9. Chuck Bednarik

Philadelphia 1949-62

10-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

2-time NFL champion (1949, ’60)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1967


A true Iron Man, Bednarik never left the playing field during a game. In addition to his linebacker duties, he also served as the Eagles’ center on offense. Bednarik is unquestionably one of the all-time greats, and one of the most punishing tacklers in the history of the game. In addition to being a Hall of Fame football player and the namesake for the award given to the most outstanding defensive player in college football, Bednarik also was a World War II veteran.

 

8. Junior Seau

San Diego 1990-2002; Miami 2003-05; New England 2006-09

10-time All-Pro, 12-time Pro Bowler

1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

1994 AFC Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2015

 

Seau was one of most instinctual linebackers to ever play the game. He was a sure tackler and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, which is evident by his 1,849 career tackles. Seau tragically took his own life at the age of 43, three years prior to his 2015 induction into the Hall of Fame. His suicide is believed to be the result of CTE, a form of brain damage linked to multiple concussions.

 

7. Jack Ham

Pittsburgh 1971-82

8-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, XIV champion

1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1988

 

Versatile and extremely fast, Ham was one of the most complete linebackers in NFL history. His 53 forced turnovers are the most all-time by a linebacker. He also helped lead the famed “Steel Curtain” defense to four Super Bowl victories.

 

6. Derrick Thomas

Kansas City 1989-99

6-time All-Pro, 9-time Pro Bowler

1989 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2009

 

One of the greatest pass rushers in league history, Kansas City’s all-time sack leader had 126.5 sacks in just 157 NFL starts. Thomas also holds the NFL record for sacks in a single game with seven. If not for his untimely death at the age of 33 stemming from complications from injuries sustained in a car accident, Thomas may be even higher on this list.

 

5. Mike Singletary

Chicago 1981-92

9-time All-Pro, 10-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XX champion

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1985, ’88)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1989

 

When you think of Singletary, the first thing that comes to mind is intense focus. The only thing that could match his signature stare was the stellar play of “Samurai Mike” on the field. Singletary was one of the key leaders of the famous ’85 Bears defense, arguably the greatest defense in the history of the NFL. He also played a big role in one of the most dominant performances by a defense in Super Bowl history.

 

4. Jack Lambert

Pittsburgh 1974-84

8-time All-Pro, 9-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, XIV champion

1974 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1967, ’83)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990

 

Lambert’s signature toothless snarl struck fear into the hearts of the opposition and lends credence to his legendary status as one of the toughest players all-time. He was the notorious leader of one of the greatest defenses to ever make its way onto a football field – Pittsburgh’s famed “Steel Curtain.” The versatile middle linebacker played a significant role in helping the Steelers win four Super Bowls in a span of six years in the 1970s.

 

3. Dick Butkus

Chicago 1965-73

8-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, ’70)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1978

 

There is a reason the award given to the best linebacker in high school, college and the NFL each year is named after Butkus. He was the quintessential linebacker and easily the greatest of his era. Butkus’ nasty disposition and ability to blow up anyone standing in his path made him one of the most feared players in the history of the game.

 

2. Ray Lewis

Baltimore Ravens 1996-2012

10-time All-Pro, 13-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXXV, XLVII champion

Super Bowl XXXV MVP

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2000, ’03)

 

A true enforcer in every sense of the word, Lewis’ intensity was unmatched by any player of his era. He led some of the greatest defenses in NFL history in both performance and spirit. He holds the NFL record for the most Pro Bowl selections by a middle linebacker (13).  He also is the only linebacker to ever win a Super Bowl MVP and be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the same season (2000). Love him or hate him, the future Hall of Famer (eligible in 2018) has earned the title of greatest middle linebacker of all-time.

 

1. Lawrence Taylor

New York Giants 1981-93

10-time All-Pro, 10-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXI, XXV champion

1981 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

1986 NFL MVP

3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1981-82, ’86)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1999

 

L.T. could hit like a freight train, but it was his finesse and high football IQ that helped him revolutionize the linebacker position. He is not only the greatest linebacker in NFL history, he is one of the game’s greatest players period. Taylor is one of only two defensive players (Alan Page, DT - 1971) in the history of the NFL to be named NFL MVP. He is the only linebacker to ever take the honor.

 

Here are 10 that barely missed the cut (in alphabetical order):

Robert Brazile
Nick Buoniconti
London Fletcher
Randy Gradishar
Von Miller
Hardy Nickerson
Joey Porter
Pat Swilling
Zach Thomas
Andre Tippett

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

 

(Top photo courtesy of NFL.com)

Teaser:
25 Greatest Linebackers in NFL History
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 12:30
Path: /nfl/2017-nfl-draft-top-5-quarterbacks-entering-scouting-combine
Body:

There are a select few NFL teams that believe they already have their franchise quarterback on their roster. Meanwhile the rest of the league is searching for one, which is one reason why 36 have been taken in the last three drafts alone.

 

This year’s draft class may not feature a quarterback prospect that clearly stands out from his peers, but it does have several talented, intriguing options. With so many quarterback-starved teams out there, it’s possible that as many as four quarterbacks could be taken in the first round in what is considered a down year for the position.

 

With the Scouting Combine set to take place Feb. 28-March 6, here is an early ranking of the quarterbacks who will hear their name called in the 2017 NFL Draft.

 

1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson

A two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, as a sophomore and junior no less, Watson still has his doubters even though he led his Tigers team to the national championship in an epic performance against Alabama.

 

A lot of Watson’s skeptics will point to his 17 interceptions in 2016, after throwing for 13 in ’15. But his body of work (32-3 as a starter), along with his athleticism, leadership and big-game ability are unquestioned.

 

Watson showed an ability to make plays with both his arm (420 passing yards, 3 TDs vs. Alabama) and his legs (1,934 career rushing yards) in college. At the Combine, scouts and analysts will pay particular attention to some of his physical measurements, as there has been some concerns raised about his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame.

 

Watson also will need to show that he can make the transition to being a quarterback in the NFL, but otherwise possesses the qualities and a collegiate track record that make him the least risky prospect at the position.

 

2. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

After biding his time behind Marquise Williams, Trubisky finally got the opportunity to start last season for the Tar Heels, and the redshirt junior took full advantage. In 13 games, Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He also ran for 308 yards and five scores.

 

Considered one of the more accurate passers in this draft class, Trubisky will need to continue to improve his footwork. He has the size (6-3, 220) teams are looking for at quarterback, but most overcome concerns about his lack of playing experience.

 

3. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

An immensely productive quarterback for the Red Raiders, Mahomes must prove to scouts, coaches and team executives that he’s more than just a system guy and can succeed in leading a pro-style offense.

 

The numbers – 5,052 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions in 2016 – certainly speak for themselves. Mahomes also is one of the better athletes at the position, having rushed for 22 touchdowns in his last two seasons.

 

He has good size (6-3, 215), a strong arm and displayed good accuracy in college. His athleticism also allows him the chance to turn a busted play into a big gain, similar to an Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger.

 

Because of the type of offense he operated at Texas Tech, Mahomes will have his work cut out for him in breaking down plays and when teams have him analyze game film. He has to be willing to show teams that he can take what the defense gives him rather than trying to go for the big play that can result in a turnover instead.

 

The skill set and talent appear to be there with Mahomes. It’s just a matter of landing with the right team and the right coaching staff that can help him develop.

 

4. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

After sharing the snaps with Malik Zaire to start the 2016 season, Kizer wound up as the primary starter for the Fighting Irish, finishing with 2,925 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Even though Notre Dame struggled to a 4-8 record, Kizer elected to declare for the draft.

 

The first thing scouts and NFL teams notice about Kizer is his appealing size (6-4, 230). He has a cannon for an arm and the ability to make any throw. Like others in this class, he possesses dual-threat ability as he rushed for 472 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

 

Kizer can show a little too much faith in his arm at times. In Notre Dame’s 17-10 loss to Stanford last season, he was benched after throwing two interceptions and completing a little more than half of his passes.

 

Kizer has all of the intangibles teams look for in a starting quarterback, but he’s far from a finished product. He will need to show teams he has what it takes to make the right reads and decisions in running an NFL offense, along with answering questions about what went wrong for the Irish last season. If he shows well at the Combine and throughout the pre-draft process, he could work his way into the first round.

 

5. Brad Kaaya, Miami

A three-year starter for the Hurricanes, Kaaya finished his collegiate career with 3,532 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 62 percent of his attempts in 2016.

 

Unlike many of his peers in this draft class, Kaaya is a traditional drop-back pocket-passer. He has plenty of experience under center in a pro-style offense, but he doesn’t possess a big arm.

Kaaya has a reputation for taking what defenses will give him and not making critical mistakes, but he always wasn’t the most accurate with his throws. Miami’s offensive line play was an issue throughout his tenure, so it will be interesting to see how scouts and teams address that with Kaaya in the interview process.

 

Kaaya has plenty of question marks surrounding him, but he’s not alone in that respect when it comes to his peers. A strong showing at the Combine could help him separate himself some from the pack.

 

Other quarterbacks to keep an eye on: Cooper Rush, Central Michigan; Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh, Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee, Davis Webb, California

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
2017 NFL Draft: Top 5 Quarterbacks Entering the Scouting Combine
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2017-fantasy-baseball-top-300-rankings
Body:

MLB’s spring training camps in Florida and Arizona are in full force now. While the games that really matter are still several weeks away, it’s never too early to think ahead to the start of the upcoming season, and that’s especially the case when it comes to fantasy baseball.

 

Even though the regular season doesn’t start until April, late February and March are the most exciting months to be a fantasy baseball fan, especially if you love the draft. In fact, it’s entirely possible that some drafts have already started, and for those in Dynasty leagues the season never truly ends.

 

Related: 150 Funny Fantasy Baseball Team Names for 2017

 

So what better way to shift the focus to the 2017 season than with some rankings, right? Below you can find my initial top 300 overall. It probably goes without saying, but these will be fluid and updated as spring training progresses and we get closer to April.

 

On the field, much of the attention will be paid to the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Their amazingly young core of players seems well positioned to defend their title, something that’s reflected in four Cubs landing in my top 40 – with reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant and All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo both in the top 10.

 

Mike Trout continues to have a stranglehold on the top spot overall, and he mentioned wanting to become a terror on the base paths once again, which would only add to his fantasy value. Mookie Betts’ fantastic 2016 campaign helped myself and plenty of others realize he is the real deal and is easily a top-three player along with Paul Goldschmidt.

 

Further down the rankings is where the more difficult decisions are made. Can players like Michael Fulmer continue to build on his strong AL Rookie of the Year campaign? What about Wil Myers? Will top prospect Yoan Moncada get his playing time in a new uniform with the White Sox and meet his potential? Which Byron Buxton is the real one? The one we saw the final two months of the 2016 season, or the version that spent his time shuttling back and forth between Minnesota and AAA? Also will Bryce Harper rebound to his MVP form? I certainly hope so. Can Justin Verlander maintain his Cy Young-esque production?

 

So many questions and the beauty of it is you have to make your best guess since the draft will take place before we can actually “see” the results. If anything, these will help get you started with your draft prep, as well as your discussions, debates and the always-entertaining Twitter tantrums. Keep checking back at AthlonSports.com for updates to these overall rankings, and stay tuned for positional rankings, tiers and more good stuff!

 

 

 

 

— Rankings by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
Fantasy Baseball Cheat Sheet: Top 300 Rankings for 2017
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten
Path: /college-football/kirk-ferentz-banking-new-look-offense-make-iowa-big-ten-threat-again
Body:

As National Signing Day once again came to a close, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ Class of 2017 made a significant leap up the rankings when last-minute additions shook out, putting the Hawkeyes a solid 39th in an average of the top recruiting publications (247Sports, ESPN, Rivals, Scout). But with signing day now in the rear-view mirror, observers once again turn back to the nuts of bolts of deciphering what sort of climate recruits can expect upon arriving in Iowa City.

 

With the abrupt mid-January announcement that offensive coordinator Greg Davis would be retiring after five seasons with the program, the first thing the newest Hawkeyes will discover are some new faces calling the shots.

 

Shortly after the Davis announcement, two other members of the staff, wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and running backs and special teams coach Chris White, also left the Iowa program after being informed their contracts would not be renewed. In their place head coach Kirk Ferentz took a look to both the future, and the past. In making the first replacement, he turned quite literally to a member of the family, promoting his son, Brian (above, right), to offensive coordinator. Ferentz has been on his father’s staff since 2012, first as offensive line coach and then added running game coordinator to his duties in ’15.

 

But in what was unquestionably the bigger surprise, Kirk Ferentz brought back former offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe as quarterbacks coach. O’Keefe had been in the NFL the past five seasons serving on the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff, most recently as senior football research analyst. Iowa’s offensive coordinator from 1999-2011, the end of O’Keefe’s tenure with the Hawkeyes was somewhat the result of an ill-fated go-round with fans following a season that saw the offense struggle down the stretch.

 

However, Ferentz is hoping that time can heal some old wounds and that O’Keefe can focus on one of the things he did best when we has on staff – mentor some of the best quarterbacks in Iowa program history. Kyle McCann, Brad Banks, Nathan Chandler, Drew Tate and Ricky Stanzi produced five of the top 10 single-season performances under O’Keefe’s tutelage.

 

With O’Keefe’s departure Hawkeye fans had come to expect more from Davis, the man chosen to replace him, but ultimately Davis was never able to maintain consistent offensive success. From 2012-16, Iowa failed to crack the top 50 in the FBS rankings in either total or scoring offense. Last year’s team finished near the bottom (121st) nationally in yards per game (325) and didn’t fare much better in points (24.9, 95th). Among their Big Ten peers, the Hawkeyes were last in total offense and 10th (out of 12) in scoring offense.

 

During that same five-season span Iowa would finish no better than 8-5 with the exception of its 12-2 2015 campaign in which the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten West Division and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl.

 

But O’Keefe and Brian Ferentz aren’t the only changes to the offensive coaching staff, as Kirk Ferentz is shaking things up after a sustained stretch of mediocrity (and that may be putting it too kindly).

 

Replacing Kennedy as wide receivers coach is Kelton Copeland, who comes to Iowa from Northern Illinois, where he served in the same capacity last season and was running backs coach from 2013-15 prior to that. Under his watch, the Huskies boasted first-team All-MAC selections at both wide receiver and return specialist. Copeland also was part of the coaching staff for Northern Illinois’ 30-27 upset victory over Iowa at Kinnick Stadium to open the 2013 season. In that game, the Huskies’ ground game nearly matched the Hawkeyes yard-for-yard.

 

With Brian Ferentz moving up to offensive coordinator, former North Dakota State assistant Tim Polasek has been hired to coach Iowa’s offensive line. Similar to Copeland, Polasek also knows what it likes to beat the Hawkeyes on their home field, as the Bison from the FCS ranks won at Kinnick 23-21 last September. Following that loss, Iowa would go just 6-4 the rest of the season, finishing in ugly fashion by getting blown out by Florida, 30-3, in the Outback Bowl.

 

As the offensive coordinator and running backs coach at North Dakota State from 2014-16, the Bison won two of their five consecutive FCS national championships. The running game was consistently one of the FCS’ best, ranking no worse than 13th nationally in that three-season span, averaging a collective 237.5 yards per game and well over five yards per carry. North Dakota State also excelled in time of possession, first downs and third-down conversions over that period.

 

There's no question the Hawkeyes were in drastic need of an offensive make-over based on the results of the last several seasons. And with these changes, Ferentz is clearly angling to recreate some of the magic of his early campaigns at Iowa after taking over the program in 1999.

 

Whether these changes signal a full-on commitment to the future, or simply the type of corrections necessary after nearly two decades leading the program is yet to be decided. But one thing is clear. This program is now officially being run, once again, the “Ferentz way.” Whether that will result in improved performance, or yet another string of disappointing seasons, will begin to come into focus on Sept. 2 when the Hawkeyes host another potentially overlooked opponent in Wyoming from the Mountain West Conference. Not only will that be Hawkeyes’ fans first shot at seeing the new coaching staff (in a game that counts), but they also can expect to see as many as five true freshmen on the field in key roles.

 

The outcome of the season opener will most likely, for better or worse, signal what direction this newly energized Iowa program will be heading and possibly how long that direction will include Ferentz at the helm. If results don't come soon enough for athletic director Gary Barta this time around, it could signal the beginning of the end of the Kirk Ferentz era as well.

 

— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, an independent writer and member of the Athlon Contributor Network since July 2015. Boleyn is a native Iowan, currently based in Southern California, and attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.

 

(Kirk and Brian Ferentz photo courtesy of @TheIowaHawkeyes)

Teaser:
Kirk Ferentz Banking on New-Look Offense to Help Make Iowa a Big Ten Threat Once Again
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Houston Astros, MLB
Path: /mlb/houston-astros-2017-preview-predictions-schedule
Body:

Houston Astros Logo 2017On the morning of June 30, 2014, the Astros were in last place with a 36–47 record en route to a 70–92 finish that, while unimpressive, broke a string of three straight 100-loss seasons. The Sports Illustrated cover dated June 30, 2014, featured Astros rookie George Springer and the caption, “Your 2017 World Series Champs.” After somewhat surprisingly making the playoffs in 2015 and somewhat surprisingly missing them in 2016, Astros management dominated the pre-Thanksgiving news cycle, adding three veterans to a team that had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, was the youngest in the majors on offense, and featured four key pitchers 25 or younger. With one of the league’s better offenses, a strong bullpen, and (fingers crossed) a return to health/effectiveness in the starting rotation, the Astros appear poised to improve on last year’s 84–78 record, return to the postseason and try to deliver on Sports Illustrated’s prophecy.

 

ROTATION

The starting rotation was the team’s weakness last year, as the starters’ ERA ballooned from 3.71 in 2015, second best in the league, to 4.37. The biggest drop-off was that of Dallas Keuchel, who went from 20–8, 2.48 in his 2015 Cy Young season to 9–12, 4.55. But he wasn’t alone; rotation mates Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers slipped as well, and while Lance McCullers posted the same 3.22 ERA in 2016 as he did in 2015, injuries limited him to 14 starts. All four are back, though both Keuchel (shoulder) and McCullers (elbow) are on the mend. Assuming they and free-agent pickup Charlie “Ground Chuck” Morton, a groundball machine who was limited to four starts last year due to a torn hamstring, are healthy, Fiers will compete with Joseph Musgrove for the fifth spot in the rotation.

 

BULLPEN

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
The overall numbers for the Astros’ bullpen don’t jump out at you. Houston tied with the Twins for the sixth-most blown saves in the league, and its 3.56 ERA, while good, was only sixth best. But that doesn’t tell the full story. The Astros bullpen was 0–4 in April with a 4.75 ERA (worst in the AL) and had six blown saves (second most in the league) in May. After June 4, when Luke Gregerson blew his fifth save and became the setup man, the relief corps came together. In the season’s second half, the Astros led all American League bullpens in strikeout percentage, strikeout-to-walk ratio and holds. They had the third-fewest blown saves and the fourth-lowest batting average allowed. Ken Giles became a dominant closer, Gregerson remained a strong setup man, and middle relievers Will Harris, Michael Feliz and James Hoyt averaged over a strikeout per inning (Chris Devenski and Tony Sipp fell just short of the mark). Those seven combined for a 3.34 ERA and struck out 29.7 percent of the batters they faced (the average for AL relievers was 3.84 and 22.8 percent).

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

Last year, Carlos Correa was a 21-year-old shortstop who batted third and fourth, hit 20 homers and drove in 96 while batting .274/.361/.451 — and his season was viewed as a disappointment by some, as his home run and stolen base numbers declined from his 99-game rookie season in 2015. Second baseman Jose Altuve led the league in hits and batting average and was third in the MVP vote. They’re the core of the team and form, easily, the best middle infield tandem in the game (sorry, Cubs, Red Sox, and Indians fans; it’s true).

 

Printable Houston Astros 2017 scheduleCORNERS

The Astros signed 32-year-old Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel in mid-July for $47.5 million, and after 15 games with four minor-league teams, he joined the Astros in August. After batting .338/.360/.521 in his first 21 games, he hit only .169/.210/.220 in his last 15. He’s penciled in as the starting first baseman, where he started only four games last year. Another midseason call-up, 2015 draft first-round pick Alex Bregman, 10 years Gurriel’s junior, will play third. Flipping Gurriel’s performance, Bregman started his major-league career 1-for-34 but hit .311/.359/.569 after that, taking over the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

 

OUTFIELD

The free-agent signing of Josh Reddick (four years, $52 million) on the heels of adding Nori Aoki on waivers creates a surplus. Springer is a fixture in the leadoff spot, thanks to his .359 on base percentage (19th in the AL) and plus fielding in right. Reddick, also a strong fielder, will probably slide over to left. The Astros have another skilled defender, Jake Marisnick, in center, but he’s a lifetime .225/.268/.339 hitter. Aoki, a left fielder selected from the Mariners, is an on-base machine (OBP between .349 and .356 in each of his five major-league seasons), and he’ll see playing time as well, moving Reddick to right and Springer to center.

 

CATCHING

The team traded two hard-throwing minor-league pitchers to the Yankees for backstop Brian McCann and cash. He replaces the departed Jason Castro. The Astros will pay McCann $23 million of the $34 million he’s owed through 2018. He’s hit 20 or more homers in nine straight seasons; no Astros catcher has ever hit that many in a single season. Designated hitter Evan Gattis provides the Astros the luxury of not having to carry a spare catcher on their roster.

 

DH/BENCH

Signing Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $16 million contract pushes Gattis into a reserve role. Backing up a soon-to-be 40-year-old designated hitter (who was 17th in the AL in OPS in 2016) and a 33-year-old catcher should give Gattis, who had a career high in homers (32) and slugging (.508) in 2016, ample playing opportunities. Marwin Gonzalez returns to his utility role; he played every non-battery position but right field last year and will likely be Beltran’s legs in late innings. Aoki and Marisnick will be bats off the bench (and, in Marisnick’s case, a defensive replacement) when the other’s playing. First baseman A.J. Reed, who hit 35 homers in the minors in 2015 but was unimpressive in 45 games in Houston last year, could be a left-handed power option at first and DH.

 

MANAGEMENT

A.J. Hinch doesn’t stand out tactically. He’s reluctant to let starting pitchers go deep into games, and he rarely calls for an intentional walk, but he’s middle-of-the-pack on most strategies. Where he stands out is his willingness to trust young players, resulting in the emergence of Altuve, Correa, Springer and Bregman as young stars. As he enters his third season, that characteristic has made him the longest-tenured Astros manager under GM Jeff Luhnow.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

A rebound seems plausible. The team finished five games out of the Wild Card, but they didn’t have Bregman, Gurriel, Reddick, McCann, or a settled bullpen when they began the 2016 season. The Rangers were a record-setting 36–11 in one-run games, an indicator more of luck than skill, so some regression is to be expected, and the Mariners have become one of the league’s oldest teams. Given Houston’s depth on the field and in the bullpen, a modestly better performance by the rotation could propel the Astros back to October baseball and on the path toward Sports Illustrated’s prediction.

 

2017 AL WEST PREDICTION: 1st

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 09:38
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-football-basketball-coaching-duos-2017
Body:

The Pac-12’s depth in the coaching ranks has increased in recent years, as this conference has made stellar hires on the gridiron, including Washington’s Chris Petersen, Oregon’s Willie Taggart and Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre. On the basketball side, the conference is anchored by Oregon’s Dana Altman, Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak and Arizona’s Sean Miller.

 

Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

Ranking the Pac-12's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017

 

1. Utah

Football: Kyle Whittingham

Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak

 

After a relatively rough transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12, the Utah football program has averaged 9.3 wins over the last three seasons and is 16–11 in league play over that stretch. Krystkowiak has done a masterful job rebuilding the Utah basketball program. The Utes went 13–5 in the Pac-12 in each of the last two full seasons and could be headed back to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year with a strong finish.

 

2. Oregon

Football: Willie Taggart

Basketball: Dana Altman

 

Taggart’s tenure in Eugene got off to a difficult start with some off-the-field issues, but he brings a solid résumé to his new job. Altman is regarded as one of the elite coaches in college basketball and has elevated the status of this program nationally in the past few seasons. 

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Head Coach Hires for 2017

 

3. Colorado

Football: Mike MacIntyre

Basketball: Tad Boyle

 

MacIntyre earned several National Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Buffaloes to the Pac-12 South title. He has now completed successful rebuilds at both San Jose State and Colorado. Boyle has done a very good job with the basketball program, leading the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament four times in his first five seasons. This year has been a bit of a struggle, but he is an outstanding coach.

 

4. UCLA

Football: Jim Mora

Basketball: Steve Alford

 

Mora’s done a decent job at UCLA, with an overall record of 41–24 and a 25–20 mark in league games, but the general feeling — both among UCLA fans and nationally — is that the program is not reaching its potential. Alford reached the Sweet 16 in his first two seasons at UCLA before hitting rock bottom with a 15–17 record last season. However, it’s safe to say the Bruins are back. The ’16-17 team is one of the best in the nation and the program is well-positioned to win at a high level in the next few years.

 

5. Arizona

Football: Rich Rodriguez

Basketball: Sean Miller

 

Miller elevates this duo to near the top of the rankings. It’s only a matter of time before he leads Arizona to a national championship. Rodriguez is highly respected nationally, but he went 6–18 in the Big Ten in three seasons at Michigan and is 18–26 in the Pac-12 in five seasons at Arizona. 

 

Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2017

 

6. Stanford

Football: David Shaw

Basketball: Jerod Haase

 

Shaw has the Stanford football program in great shape. Haase is a bit of a mystery at this point. He did an outstanding job at UAB, but the Cardinal have been a bit underwhelming in his first season on the Farm.

 

7. Washington

Football: Chris Petersen

Basketball: Lorenzo Romar

 

Petersen might be the No. 1 football coach in the league, but the Huskies check in at No. 7 on this list due to Romar and the slumping basketball program.

 

8. USC

Football: Clay Helton

Basketball: Andy Enfield

 

After a rocky start, Helton had a very nice first season as the full-time coach at USC, ending the year with a thrilling win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Enfield went a combined 5–31 in the Pac-12 in his first two seasons but is on the verge of leading the Trojans to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the late 2000s.

 

Related: College Football's Early Top 50 Players Returning for 2017

 

9. Washington State

Football: Mike Leach

Basketball: Ernie Kent

 

Leach has returned Washington State football to relevance both in the Pac-12 and nationally. Kent had a good run at Oregon, his alma mater, before being fired after the 2009-10 season. The Cougars have been surprisingly competitive this season, but it’s doubtful they will make a big move in the league in the next few years.  

 

10. Oregon State

Football: Gary Andersen

Basketball: Wayne Tinkle

 

Andersen won at Utah State and Wisconsin and appears to have the Beavers on the right track. After going winless in the Pac-12 in 2015, his first season, Oregon State improved to 3–6 last fall. In 2016, Tinkle guided Oregon State to its first NCAA Tournament since 1990, but the Beavers have been ravaged by injuries this season and have been one of the nation’s most disappointing teams.

 

11. Arizona State

Football: Todd Graham

Basketball: Billy Hurley

 

Graham’s stock is at its low point after the Sun Devils slumped to 2–7 in the Pac-12 in 2016 following a 4–5 mark in 2015. Still, he’s done a solid job at Arizona State. Hurley enjoyed two strong seasons at Buffalo before making the move across the country to Tempe. The Sun Devils haven’t been a factor in the Pac-12 since his arrival, but he has done a good job recruiting better talent.

 

12. California

Football: Justin Wilcox

Basketball: Cuonzo Martin

 

Martin is highly respected around the game, but his teams always seem to underachieve just a bit. Wilcox is a first-time head coach who has strong ties to the Pac-12.

Teaser:
Ranking the Pac-12's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/20-redshirt-freshmen-watch-big-12-2017
Body:

Redshirt freshmen make an impact for every college football team during the course of a season, and it’s no surprise a handful of talented players are ready to push for time after sitting out the 2016 campaign. A variety of reasons could be pinpointed for the redshirt year, but the extra time could be beneficial to learn a scheme, develop physically in the weight room or help provide some space on the depth chart with a stacked group of upperclassmen departing the following year.

 

Which redshirt freshmen could make an impact in the Big 12 in 2017? Here are 20 names to watch:

 

20 Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in the Big 12 in 2017

 

Chase Allen, TE, Iowa State

With Allen Lazard and Deshaunte Jones returning, Iowa State should have one of the Big 12’s best receiving corps next fall. This group will only get deeper with the addition of Allen, who ranked as a three-star prospect in last year’s class. Allen caught 33 passes for 654 yards and seven scores as a high school senior in 2015. The 6-foot-6 Missouri native will be an intriguing target for quarterbacks Jacob Park and Joel Lanning.

 

Related: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2017

 

Ross Blacklock/Brandon Bowen/Isaiah Chambers, DL, TCU

TCU’s defensive line will get some extra reinforcement from three talented redshirt freshmen this spring. Blacklock, Bowen and Chambers were each regarded as four-star prospects from last year’s class and ranked among the top 300 players in the nation by the 247Sports Composite. With ends Josh Carraway and James McFarland and tackle Aaron Curry departing, expect Bowen, Chambers and Blacklock to push for snaps this spring.

 

De’Quan Bowman, WR, Texas Tech

Despite losing Devin Lauderdale and Reginald Davis, the Red Raiders aren’t hurting for options at receiver for new quarterback Nic Shimonek. Jonathan Giles (69 catches), Cameron Batson, Ian Sadler, Dylan Cantrell and Keke Coutee form a talented core for coach Kliff Kingsbury to build around this spring. This unit will get even deeper with the addition of Bowman. The New Jersey native was a junior college signee from Hutchinson Community College in 2016 but used last season as a redshirt year. Bowman caught 50 passes for 770 yards and five scores in 2015.

 

Chris Daniels/Andrew Fitzgerald, DL, Texas

The Longhorns could have the Big 12’s best defensive front next fall, and this unit is only getting deeper with the addition of Daniels and Fitzgerald. Both players ranked as four-star prospects and are ready to push for time after a redshirt year in 2016.

 

Related: Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2017

 

Zach Farrar, WR, Oklahoma

Replacing receiver Dede Westbrook is the biggest offseason concern for coordinator Lincoln Riley. Mark Andrews (31 catches) and Nick Basquine (20 catches) are the top returning targets, but the Sooners need more from those two players and the rest of the receiving corps in order to repeat as Big 12 champs. Farrar was a late-January addition to the 2016 signing class and ranked as a three-star prospect. Considering the losses and uncertainty at receiver, Farrar will have an opportunity to stake his claim for playing time in spring ball.

 

Brendan Ferns, LB, West Virginia

Ferns was the top recruit in last year’s haul for coach Dana Holgorsen but was forced to redshirt due to injury. The Ohio native ranked as the No. 137 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and will push for time in a linebacker unit that loses Justin Arndt but returns David Long and Al-Rasheed Benton.

 

Sean Foster, OL, Iowa State

Foster ranked as the top recruit in Iowa State’s 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. The Illinois native was regarded as the No. 346 prospect and used the redshirt year to bulk up to 290 pounds. The 6-foot-8 tackle will help an offensive line that loses four starters and added graduate transfers Dave Dawson (Michigan) and Khaliel Rodgers (USC) for 2017.

 

Patrick Hudson/J.P. Urquidez, OL, Texas

The trio of Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe and Zach Shackelford provides a strong foundation for new coach Tom Herman to build around in the trenches this spring. And Herman should have no trouble finding options to fill out the other spots or building competition with Hudson and Urquidez coming off redshirt years. Hudson originally signed with Baylor but left campus after Art Briles was dismissed. He ranked as the No. 50 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Urquidez ranked as the No. 245 prospect and could push for snaps at right tackle this spring.

 

Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2017

 

Bronson Massie, DL, Kansas State

Jordan Willis is gone and leaves big shoes to fill off the edge, but Kansas State has a good starting point at end with Reggie Walker and Tanner Wood. Three linemen from the 2016 signing class – Massie, Kaelin Kay and Jordon Robertson – did not record a snap from the school’s game log last fall. Massie was the highest-rated recruit out of that trio, ranking as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Massie should help contribute depth at end in 2017.

 

Breontae Matthews, OL, Kansas State

Even though guard Terrale Johnson (13 starts) expired his eligibility, Kansas State’s offensive line is still in good shape with the return of three other players who started in all 13 contests last season. Matthews is an interesting prospect for coach Bill Snyder, as he joined the team after two years at Fullerton College but did not enroll in time for the spring semester. After sitting out a year, Matthews should at least provide depth for the Wildcats this fall.

 

Houston Miller, DL, Texas Tech

The Red Raiders have surrendered over 40 points a game in each of the last three seasons, and the rebuilding effort for coordinator David Gibbs didn’t get any easier this offseason with the departure of lineman Breiden Fehoko. Miller is a player that should work his way into the defensive line rotation after a year to develop within the scheme. Miller was regarded as Texas Tech’s top defensive prospect from the high school ranks in last year’s class and ranked as the No. 873 player in the nation by the 247Sports Composite.

 

Related: College Football's Early Top 50 Players Returning in 2017

 

Ian Peterson, CB, Kansas

The Jayhawks are set to lose seven key contributors from last year’s secondary, which should open the door for Peterson to compete for snaps this spring. The three-star prospect from Texas was rated as the No. 4 recruit in last season’s signing class for Kansas by the 247Sports Composite.

 

Steven Smothers, WR, West Virginia

Despite the departure of Daikiel Shorts and Shelton Gibson, new West Virginia quarterback Will Grier isn’t hurting for options at receiver. Ka’Raun White (48 catches), Jovon Durante (35) and junior college recruit (and former Mountaineer) David Sills is a good trio to build around. Smothers ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 278 recruit in last year’s class and figures to compete with Gary Jennings, Marcus Simms and Sills for snaps.

 

Tyriek Starks, QB, Kansas

Junior college recruit (and former Washington State quarterback) Peyton Bender is the favorite to start under center for the Jayhawks in 2017. But the backup job is up for grabs after the offseason transfers of Ryan Willis, Montell Cozart and Deondre Ford. Starks was a three-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite and finished his high school career in New Orleans by throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 40 scores.

 

Raleigh Texada, CB, Baylor

Baylor’s recruiting class was hit hard by departures following Art Briles’ dismissal in May, and the Bears utilized most of their freshmen due to depth issues last year. Texada was one of the few players who redshirted. He was regarded as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite and will provide help for a secondary losing cornerbacks Tion Wright and Ryan Reid, along with safety Orion Stewart.

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2017

 

Rodarius Williams, CB, Oklahoma State

The Cowboys are set to lose two of their top cornerbacks from last season, as Lenzy Pipkins and Ashton Lampkin expired their eligibility following the Alamo Bowl win over Colorado. Ramon Richards (3 INTs) is the top returning option at cornerback for coordinator Glenn Spencer, but the Pokes can never have enough depth at this position in the offensive-minded Big 12. Williams ranked as the No. 4 recruit in Oklahoma State’s 2017 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. The Louisiana native picked off nine passes in his final two years in high school.

 

Others to Watch

 

Tyrell Alexander, WR, Oklahoma State

LD Brown, RB, Oklahoma State

Noah Jones, DL, Texas Tech

Matt Kegel, OL, Oklahoma State

Nick McCann, DL, Texas Tech

Erik Swenson, OL Oklahoma

Jon-Michael Terry, LB/DL, Oklahoma

Oge Udeogu, OL, Iowa State (Junior College Redshirt)

Deonte Williams, LB, Baylor

Teaser:
20 Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in the Big 12 in 2017
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/tom-brady-suspect-list-missing-jersey-new-england-patriots-julian-edelman-lady-gaga
Body:

Tom Brady's jersey went missing shortly after the Super Bowl and he's been on a mission to find it ever since.

 

The Patriots quarterback takes a light-hearted approach to putting together a list of people who could've taken the prized possession, valued by some at around $500,000. Everyone from Julian Edelman to Lady Gaga and even Scooby the dog could've had a hand (or paw) in the crime. 

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 13:09
All taxonomy terms: Minnesota Twins, MLB
Path: /mlb/minnesota-twins-2017-preview-predictions-schedule
Body:

Minnesota Twins Logo 2017Coming off a 103-loss nightmare, the post-Terry Ryan era begins with an attempt to right the ship. The newly hired team of chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine pledged to do their part to build a team capable of sustainable success. 


Veteran catcher Jason Castro was brought in via free agency on a three-year, $24.5 million contract, the richest for an outside free-agent position player in franchise history. Beyond that, there were only modest adjustments. A blockbuster trade involving second baseman Brian Dozier continued to be discussed into the new year, but the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared unwilling to meet the Twins’ lofty asking price for the 42-homer man. 


With the reigning pennant winners from Cleveland (Falvey’s former employer) ramping up for another long postseason run, the Twins joined their other three division rivals in cutting back on payroll, at least modestly. Whether that means another year or two of pain before the Twins’ contention window reopens remains to be seen.

 

ROTATION

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
A lesser man might have exploded at some point amid the second-worst run support in the majors, but veteran righthander Ervin Santana somehow maintained a sunny disposition throughout a 7–11 season that saw him finish 10th in the American League with a 3.38 ERA. Now 34, Santana has two years (plus an option) left on his contract, but the Twins seem intent on keeping him for now to front baseball’s worst rotation. Lefthander Hector Santiago, acquired at the Aug. 1 trade deadline in a swap with the Los Angeles Angels, reversed a miserable four-start introduction with the Twins and should prove a valuable innings-eater, if nothing else, as he enters his walk year. Sinkerball specialist Kyle Gibson still doesn’t miss many bats, but he’s solid on and off the field. Veteran Phil Hughes is coming off a double whammy of a broken leg and surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, but he’s expected to be ready for spring training. The final rotation spot could fall to one of several young righthanders: Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey or Trevor May. Berrios, shelled to the tune of an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie, enters as the favorite.

 

BULLPEN

Journeyman Brandon Kintzler was a revelation after stepping into the closer’s role in mid-June, nailing down 17 of 20 save chances. He could open 2017 in that same capacity as three-time All-Star Glen Perkins tries to work back from shoulder surgery in late June. Setup man Ryan Pressly opened eyes with his improved velocity, and rookie Taylor Rogers made a successful conversion from minor-league starter to situational lefty in the majors. Hard-throwing righties J.T. Chargois and Michael Tonkin remain to take up the slack if May earns one of the starting spots.

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

Thirty-three of Dozier’s homers came in a dizzying span of 73 games that started on June 25 at Yankee Stadium and carried through Sept. 14 at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Entering his age-30 season, Dozier knows he still must prove himself to a legion of skeptics, but the fact remains he has averaged 28 homers over the past four seasons since making the permanent switch from shortstop. He probably doesn’t get enough credit for his defense, baserunning and leadership, so any decision to deal him with two years left on his contract must be taken quite seriously. Switch-hitting Jorge Polanco has excellent plate discipline at 23, but his defensive skills, especially his arm, profile better at second than short.

 

Minnesota Twins Printable 2017 ScheduleCORNERS

It took a hamstring strain to liberate Miguel Sano from an ill-fated experiment in right field, but the rust was apparent once he returned to his natural spot at third base. A late-season flare-up in his surgically repaired throwing elbow proved no cause for lingering concern, so the Twins opted to cut ties with incumbent Trevor Plouffe as he entered his final year of arbitration. Joe Mauer, who turns 34 in April, struggled to stay on the field over the final six weeks due to a quadriceps strain. Unable to maintain a sizzling start, the six-time All-Star figures to see increased time as the designated hitter.

 

OUTFIELD

Scouts always caution against reading too much into September stats, especially when a team is out of the playoff race, but Byron Buxton hit as if the light finally went on in his fourth crack at the majors. His defense in center field was every bit as impressive as expected, but he was still getting the hang of basestealing at the highest level. Fellow rookie Max Kepler had the opposite experience, sagging over the final six weeks after showing a surprising power stroke across the midseason portion. Lefties continued to trouble him, so it’s possible switch-hitting reserve Robbie Grossman could spell him more frequently in 2017. Free-swinging Eddie Rosario, who endured a difficult sophomore season that included a six-week demotion to the minors and a season-ending thumb injury in September, returns in left.

 

CATCHING

Castro doesn’t have to be Pudge Rodriguez in his prime to make an impact on his new club. The ability to throw out runners and frame pitches should make him a clear upgrade over predecessors Kurt Suzuki and Juan Centeno, both of whom struggled on the defensive side. Castro’s lefty power (13.5-homer average over the last four seasons) should come in handy as well for a team that ranked in the bottom seven in slugging and isolated power against right-handers by lefty hitters. John Ryan Murphy’s pitch framing ranked as the minors’ best over the four months he spent at Rochester.

 

DH/BENCH

Byung Ho Park’s debut, which ended in August surgery on his right hand, was considered a disappointment, but he still hit 22 homers in 93 games between the majors and Triple-A Rochester. Grossman, picked up off the scrap heap in mid-May, showed the ability to pound lefties even as he had his share of woes in left field. Veteran utility man Eduardo Escobar, who failed to hold the Opening Day job at shortstop in 2016, was brought back as insurance up the middle. Speedy switch-hitter Danny Santana remains, but the bulk of his sporadic playing time now comes in the outfield.

 

MANAGEMENT

Falvey and Levine, the latter of whom spent the previous 11 years as assistant GM for the Texas Rangers, vowed to work closely with their inherited manager — Paul Molitor, entering the final season of a three-year contract — and his staff. Just as notably, they kept nearly everyone in place in the scouting and farm departments.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

Saddled with the majors’ second-most losses over the past six seasons, the Twins are finally joining the game’s analytics revolution while maintaining a strong emphasis on traditional scouting.  Their payroll figured to remain right around $100 million as they continued to break in young talent and sought new methods of procuring future weapons. The honeymoon for the new front-office duo figures to last for at least a couple of years while the Twins find their footing once more in a difficult division. 

 

2017 AL CENTRAL PREDICTION: 5th

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 12:03
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/25-greatest-defensive-linemen-nfl-history
Body:

In addition to their physical dominance in the trenches as the first line of defense against the run, great defensive linemen have long been revered for their ability to change the complexion of a game by taking down the opposing quarterback. That being said, it was not until 1982 that the quarterback sack actually became an official statistic in the NFL, finally giving defensive linemen their just due. Thanks to NFL historians and plenty of film, we also have very accurate sack numbers by which we can measure the old-timers as well, even if they are not “official.”

 

While sacks are obviously a key component in measuring a great defensive lineman, there were a number of other very important factors weighed in order to determine the 25 greatest in NFL history. For the purpose of this exercise, personal achievements, statistics, team accomplishments and most importantly, legacy and overall impact on the game were all taken into consideration.

 

Before we get to the 25 greatest, here are 10 defensive linemen that narrowly missed the cut (in alphabetical order)

 

Jared Allen

Art Donovan

Dwight Freeney

Mark Gastineau

Dan Hampton

Dexter Manley

Leslie O’Neal

Richard Seymour

Dana Stubblefield

J.J. Watt

 

25 Greatest Defensive Linemen in NFL History

 

25. Cortez Kennedy

Seattle 1990-00

5-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2012

 

Kennedy was a high-motor player widely regarded as one of the best defensive tackles to ever play the game. He holds the single-season sack record for an interior lineman with 14 in 1992. Additionally, he routinely ranked among tackle leaders for his teams despite being constantly double- and triple-teamed. Kennedy’s efforts earned him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

 

24. Jason Taylor

Miami 1997-07, ’09, ‘11; Washington 2008; New York Jets 2010

4-time All-Pro, 6-time Pro Bowler

2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

2-time NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year (2005, ‘06)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2017

 

Taylor is the Dolphins’ all-time sack leader, and one of the all-time great pass rushers. His 139.5 career sacks rank seventh all-time in the NFL. The two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year also had 46 forced fumbles and eight interceptions in his stellar career. Taylor has been selected for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017.

 

23. Chris Doleman

Minnesota 1985-93, ‘99; Atlanta 1994-95; San Francisco 1996-98

5-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2012

 

Doleman’s 150.5 career sacks ranks fourth on the official all-time list, and the speedy pass rusher is behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White among defensive linemen. He collected double-digit sacks eight times during his Hall of Fame career, including a career-best 21 with the Vikings in 1989.

 

22. Howie Long

Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders 1981-93

5-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XVIII champion

2-time NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year (1984, 1985)

1985 NEA Co-Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2000

 

Long is one of the greatest 3-4 defensive ends of all-time. The football player turned actor turned analyst for FOX Sports was named NEA Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and helped the Raiders blow out the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

 

21. Carl Eller

Minnesota 1964-78; Seattle 1979

7-time All-Pro, 6-time Pro Bowler

1969 NFL champion

1971 NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2004

 

Eller was the left defensive end for the famed “Purple People Eaters” unit that dominated the NFL in the early 1970s. His 133.5 career sacks would be good enough to rank 12th all-time if sacks had been counted as an official statistic during his era. The Hall of Famer was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1971 and appeared in four Super Bowls.

 

20. Doug Atkins

Cleveland 1953-54; Chicago 1955-66; New Orleans 1967-69

10-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

2-time NFL champion (1954, ‘63)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1982

 

At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, Atkins was anything but a gentle giant. He used his immense size, nasty disposition and agility as a champion high jumper to dominate opposing offensive linemen for 17 seasons. The NFL Network named Atkins the ninth-best pass rusher in NFL history. The two-time NFL champion was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

 

19. Charles Haley

San Francisco 1986-91, ’98-99; Dallas 1992-96

2-time All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXIII, XXIV (49ers), XXVII, XXVIII and  XXX (Cowboys) champion

2-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1990, ‘94)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2015

 

Haley was a hybrid player, also spending time at outside linebacker, but he truly left his mark on the game as a disruptive edge pass rusher in the trenches. He is the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. The Hall of Famer is a member of the prestigious 100 Sack Club as well.

 

18. Richard Dent

Chicago 1983-93, ‘95; San Francisco 1994; Indianapolis; 1996; Philadelphia 1997

4-time All-Pro, 4 time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XX (Bears), XXIX (49ers) champion

Super Bowl XX MVP

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2011

 

Dent is best remembered as a star defensive end for the famed 1985 Chicago Bears defense that is widely regarded as the best in the history of the NFL. Dent had 17 sacks during the ’85 season, which was tops in the NFL. He also took home MVP honors for his stellar performance in Super Bowl XX, which included 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He is one of just three defensive linemen to ever win a Super Bowl MVP. The Hall of Famer is tied for ninth with John Randle on the all-time sacks list with 137.5 career sacks.

 

17. Willie Davis

Cleveland 1958-59; Green Bay 1960-69

5-time All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

5-time NFL Champion (1961, ‘62, ‘65, ‘66, ‘67)

Super Bowl I, II (Packers) champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1981

 

In terms of championships, Davis is one of the most decorated players in NFL history. He anchored a Packers defensive line that would achieve dynasty status under Vince Lombardi, winning five NFL championships and two Super Bowls from 1961-68. Additionally, Davis was an exceptional pass rusher. Research suggests that he had in excess of 120 sacks during his Hall of Fame career.

 

16. Julius Peppers

Carolina 2002-09; Chicago 2010-13; Green Bay 2014-2016; Carolina - Present

6-time All-Pro, 9-time Pro Bowler

2002 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

2004 NFC Defensive Player of the Year

2004 NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year

 

The former collegiate basketball star is already considered one of the best defensive linemen to ever play in the NFL. He currently has 143.5 career sacks to rank fifth on the all-time list. In addition to his impressive sack totals, Peppers has been responsible for 47 forced fumbles, 11 interceptions, six touchdowns and countless batted balls during a career that will undoubtedly result in his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

15. John Randle

Minnesota 1990-2000; Seattle 2001-03

6-time All-Pro, 7-time Pro Bowler

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2010

 

There is not another defensive tackle on this list that could find his way into an opposing backfield with the ferocity and ease of Randle. His 137.5 career sacks officially rank ninth all-time and first among defensive tackles. He is the only true defensive tackle in the 100 Sack Club out of the 31 total members. The Hall of Famer had double-digit sacks in eight consecutive seasons from 1992-99.

 

14. Warren Sapp

Tampa Bay 1995-2003; Oakland 2004-07

6-time All-Pro, 7-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXXVII (Buccaneers) champion

1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2013

 

This controversial defensive tackle was one of league’s all-time great trash talkers, and his on-field play backed up every bit of it. His freakish combination of speed, power and athleticism, especially for a player of his size, helped him to 100 career sacks (including the playoffs), officially the second most for a defensive tackle in NFL history. Sapp also was an exceptional run stuffer, compiling 573 career tackles during his Hall of Fame career.

 

13. Buck Buchanan

Kansas City 1963-75

6-time, All-AFL, 6-time AFL-All Star

1971 All-Pro, 2-time Pro Bowler

2-time AFL Champion (1966, ’69)

Super Bowl IV champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990

 

Buchanan missed just one game in 13 seasons making him one of the most durable players in NFL history. It was his immense size, speed and power that helped him become one of the greatest defensive tackles in the history of the game. His long frame (6-7) helped him bat down 16 passes in 1967. In 1999, The Sporting News voted Buchanan as the 67th greatest football player ever.

 

12. Jack Youngblood

Los Angeles Rams 1971-84

8-time All-Pro, 7-time Pro Bowler

2-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1975, ‘76)

1975 NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2001

 

In addition to being one of the NFL’s greatest pass rushers, Youngblood was one of the toughest players to ever play the game. He famously played throughout the playoffs, the Super Bowl and even the Pro Bowl with a broken leg. He unofficially compiled 151.5 sacks in 202 games during his Hall of Fame career. That total would place him fourth on the current all-time sacks list.

 

11. Lee Roy Selmon

Tampa Bay 1976-84

5-time All-Pro, 6-time Pro-Bowler

1979 NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year

1979 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1995

 

Selmon had a relatively short NFL career due to injury, but no one can debate his status as one of the greatest defensive ends in the history of the game. He is the Buccaneers’ all-time sack leader (78.5), he had 380 quarterback pressures, forced 28.5 fumbles and compiled a remarkable 742 tackles in just 121 career games.

 

10. Michael Strahan

New York Giants 1993-2007

6-time All-Pro, 7-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XLII champion

2-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year

2001 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2014

 

Strahan is the Giants’ all-time sack leader and officially ranks sixth in NFL history with 141.5 career sacks. He also holds the official record for sacks in a single NFL season with 22.5, set in 2001. He is just as well liked off of the football field as he was on it, parlaying his Hall of Fame credentials into a successful career as a TV personality.

 

9. Randy White

Dallas 1975-88

9-time All-Pro, 9-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XII champion

Super Bowl XII co-MVP

1978 NFC Defensive Player of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1994

 

White was famously moved from linebacker to defensive tackle early in his career where he would thrive as one of the best interior linemen to ever play in the NFL. He also was extremely durable, missing just one game in 14 seasons. The Hall of Famer played in three Super Bowls, six NFC title games and is one of just three defensive linemen in NFL history to win a Super Bowl MVP. White (unofficially) had 1,104 career tackles and 111 career sacks.

 

8. Bob Lilly

Dallas 1961-74

9-time All-Pro, 11-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl VI champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1980

 

Lilly was a true iron man, missing just one game during his 14 seasons. He is considered one of the most intelligent players in NFL history and Lilly’s volatile combination of speed and strength helped him become one of the all-time greats at the defensive tackle position. The Hall of Famer also is affectionately known as “Mr. Cowboy.”

 

7. Gino Marchetti

Dallas Texans 1952; Baltimore Colts 1953-64, ‘66

10-time All-Pro, 11-time Pro Bowler

2-time NFL champion (1958, ‘59)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1972

 

Marchetti’s skills as an elite run-stopper and relentless pass rusher earned him 11 consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. He was named the top defensive end of the NFL’s first 50 years. Marchetti also served as a machine gunner during World War II and fought in the famous Battle of the Bulge.

 

6. Merlin Olsen

Los Angeles Rams 1962-76

9-time All-Pro, 14-time Pro Bowler

1962 NFL Rookie of the Year

1974 Professional Football Player of the Year (Bert Bell Award)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1982

 

Olsen is regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the history of the NFL. He was as a member of the Rams’ famed “Fearsome Foursome” defensive front alongside Deacon Jones. Olsen was selected to play in the Pro Bowl 14 times (tied for an NFL record), missing the cut in only his final professional season.

 

5. Joe Greene

Pittsburgh 1969-81

8-time All-Pro, 10-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, XIV champion

1969 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1972, ‘74)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1987

 

“Mean” Joe Greene served as the focal point and first line of defense for Pittsburgh’s famed “Steel Curtain” defense which won four Super Bowl titles. He earned his nickname thanks to a nasty mean streak that helped him dominate opposing offensive linemen. A temperament that often carried over even after the whistle had blown. He was a disruptive force in the middle and proved to be extremely effective against both the run and the pass in spite of constant double-teams throughout his career.

 

4. Deacon Jones

Los Angeles Rams 1961-71; San Diego 1972-73; Washington 1974

8-time All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1967, ‘68)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1980

 

The legendary Jones is credited with coining the term “sacking the quarterback.” This makes sense considering he is one the best ever at doing just that. Jones (unofficially) had 173.5 career sacks, which would be good enough for third all-time. “The Secretary of Defense” averaged over 20 sacks per season during a ridiculously productive five-year stretch (1964-68). Jones was renowned for his amazing sideline-to-sideline speed, as well as his notorious “head slap,” which stunned opposing offensive linemen and was eventually outlawed by the league.

 

3. Alan Page

Minnesota 1967-78; Chicago 1978-81

9-time All-pro, 9-time Pro Bowler

1969 NFL champion

2-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1970, 1971)

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (AP 1971, NEA 1973)

1971 NFL MVP

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1988

 

A member of Minnesota’s feared “Purple People Eaters,” Page is certainly in the conversation for the greatest defensive tackle of all-time. He is credited with 173 career sacks, which would rank far and away as the most ever by a defensive tackle if sacks were counted as an official stat during his era. That number also would place him third on the all-time list, behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Page is just one of two defensive players to win an NFL MVP award, and the only defensive lineman to ever receive the honor. Page would go on to serve as an Associate Justice in Minnesota’s Supreme Court from 1993-2015.

 

2. Bruce Smith

Buffalo 1985-99; Washington 2000-03

11-time All-Pro, 11-time Pro Bowler

3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1990, ‘93, ‘96)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2009

 

Smith is one of the most dominant players in NFL history regardless of position or era. He is the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 200 and also holds the NFL record for most seasons with double-digit sacks (13). Those numbers become even more impressive when you consider that Smith spent most of his career playing in a 3-4 scheme which is not traditionally geared to yield high sack numbers for the defensive end position.

 

1. Reggie White

Philadelphia 1985-92; Green Bay 1993-98; Carolina 2000

13-time All-Pro, 13-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XXXI champion (Packers)

Most sacks in a Super Bowl (3)

3-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1987, 1991, 1995)

2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1987, ‘88)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2006

 

The “Minister of Defense” is widely considered the greatest defensive lineman to ever play the game. No other player in the history of the game could explode through an offensive line quite like No. 92. He was a master of the “swim move,” the bull rush and the forearm shiver. These techniques helped White fight through constant double-teams, transforming him into an unstoppable force as a pass rusher. White took down opposing quarterbacks 198 times in 15 seasons, the second most in NFL history. He was equally impressive shutting down the run, amassing 1,112 tackles during his Hall of Fame career. In all honesty, his numbers do not even begin to do his career justice.

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

 

(Reggie White photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
25 Greatest Defensive Linemen in NFL History
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-oregon-ducks-watch-2017
Body:

Change is an inevitability of college football. Players spend four years in a program; sometimes five, and in other instances, just three. Add the game's increasingly high stakes for coaches, and the inevitability of roster turnaround extends to the sidelines and skyboxes.

 

But even amid the change inherent through the sport's very nature, the 2017 season marks a seismic shift in the football landscape in Eugene, Oregon. Willie Taggart is the Ducks’ new head coach, and the program's first head-coaching hire off the branches of the Rich Brooks tree.

 

That's a tree that took root deep in the woods four decades ago, and began a line of succession that went from Brooks to his offensive coordinator, Mike Bellotti; Bellotti's offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly, assumed the reins later. Then, in 2013, Kelly turned the program over to his offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich.

 

A dismal end to the 2015 campaign under Helfrich set the tone for a trying ‘16, prompting Oregon athletic brass to go outside for a new direction. Just two years removed from playing for a national championship, Ducks football seeks an overhaul. That means plenty of newcomers looked upon to establish a new identity, starting with the most prominent of all the Oregon newcomers, Taggart.

 

Taggart's first National Signing Day produced a top-20 class — and the influx of new talent may not be over. The Ducks have been rumored in the running for transfers Jalen Hurd (running back, Tennessee) and Scott Pagano (defensive tackle, Clemson). In the meantime, the following five should have meaningful impacts for the Ducks in 2017.

 

Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir, CB, True Freshmen

The hallmark of former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's underrated units was an uncanny ability to generate turnovers. The Ducks finished at or near the top of college football in takeaways much of the late 2000s and early 2010s, but last season, ranked near the bottom at No. 118.

 

A pair of 4-star freshmen out of Southern California could help restore the ball-hawking missing from Oregon's secondary. Graham, out of Rancho Cucamonga, and Lenoir from Los Angeles-based Salesian, are two of the most highly rated newcomers in Taggart's 2017 signing class. 247Sports.com ranks both in the top 100 among all prospects nationwide. The Ducks also have a third 4-star defensive back prospect in Jaylon Redd to add to the intrigue.

 

Graham could get a leg up on the competition to make-over the defense. He's an early enrollee and will participate in spring practices.

 

Braxton Burmeister, QB, True Freshman

Oregon relied on quarterback graduate transfers from FCS programs each of the last two seasons. Vernon Adams worked out in 2015; Dakota Prukop's tenure in ‘16 was much rockier, which paved the way for first-year phenom Justin Herbert to standout.

 

A new coaching staff means Herbert will have to reestablish himself, despite the promise he showed a season ago. He'll get plenty of competition from Burmeister.

 

A longtime Arizona verbal commit, Burmeister made a 23rd hour reversal to the Ducks. The La Jolla, California, native plays a style similar to that of Quinton Flowers, the All-American Athletic Conference quarterback who flourished under Taggart at South Florida.

 

Isaac Slade-Matautia, LB, True Freshman

A woeful defense last season (No. 126 in points allowed) needs an overhaul in all phases, including pass rush. Enter Slade-Matautia, a 4-star prospect, touted for his athleticism. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, he has the size to enter the rotation right away.

 

He comes to Oregon from Saint Louis School, the same high school in Hawaii that produced 2014 Heisman Trophy-winning Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota.

 

George Moore, OL, Junior College Transfer

The glory days of a not-at-all distant past for Oregon football featured some of the best offensive line play in the nation. The front five doesn't have the glaring needs some other Ducks units showed last season, but the more depth a line that ranked No. 82 in sacks allowed a season ago can add, the better.

 

In Moore, the Oregon line adds a prospect with collegiate experience. He played at College of the Canyons in California last season. At 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, he comes to Eugene with Pac-12 size.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
5 Newcomers for the Oregon Ducks to Watch in 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/colorado-buffaloes-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

Nobody could have scripted a much better turnaround season for Colorado than what unfolded in 2016. The Buffaloes rose from the Pac-12 cellar to claim their first divisional title and also reached a bowl game for the first time in a decade.

 

Can Colorado build on that success entering 2017?

 

There are significant holes for the Buffaloes to fill if they want to successfully defend their divisional crown. Colorado must replace eight defensive starters from a unit that ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense (342.5 yards per game), passing defense (193.6 ypg) and scoring defense (21.7 points per game). The Buffaloes also must replace a four-year starter, Sefo Liufau, at quarterback. Liufau set or tied 98 school records on offense and finished his career as the school’s all-time leader both in total offense (10,509) and passing yards (9,568).

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Colorado’s Spring Practice

 

1. Can the Buffaloes rebuild their defensive line?

Colorado faces the unenviable task of replacing all three starters on the line from last season. Jordan Carrell, Josh Tupou and Samson Kafovalu combined for 144 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 9.0 sacks a year ago. They helped the Buffaloes rank in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense (21.7 points per game) and total defense (342.5 yards per game).

 

Seniors Leo Jackson III and Timothy Coleman and junior Jase Franke figure to have bigger roles this season. Jackson III has made 14 career starts with the Buffaloes so far. He totaled 15 tackles a year ago. Coleman and Franke each had eight tackles and Coleman added 1.5 sacks.

 

Their ascension is not assured. Junior college transfers Javier Edwards and Chris Mulumba could challenge for starting jobs from day one. Edwards totaled two sacks and 51 tackles in two seasons at Blinn (Texas) College while Mulumba had 63 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and four sacks at Diablo Valley (Calif.) College in 2015.

 

2. Who will step up in the secondary?

Replacing impact players possessing NFL-level talent like Tedric Thompson, Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon is never easy. Thompson led the team with seven interceptions in 2016 and the trio combined for 151 tackles and 49 pass break ups. Still, the quiver of arrows is far from empty for the Buffaloes in the defensive backfield.

 

Afolabi Laguda returns at safety where he was the top tackler (69 tackles) in the secondary last season. Ryan Moeller is a versatile defensive back who can be plugged in wherever he's needed. Isaiah Oliver and Nick Fisher could both be poised for breakout seasons after showing high disruptive playmaking potential in limited starts last season. Dante Wigley and Kevin George, a pair of highly regarded junior college transfers, should immediately push for playing time.

 

3. How will the offense look without Sefo Liufau?

Colorado got a sneak peek at life after Liufau last season after he missed three games with an injury. Steven Montez filled in as the starter and kept the offensive engine humming in Liufau’s absence. Montez threw for 823 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions during those three games and led Colorado to victories over Oregon and Oregon State.

 

Montez is the early favorite to become the new starting quarterback this season. He can throw the deep ball and has enough speed and mobility to extend plays. Montez isn’t a true dual-threat quarterback in the mold of Liufau. The sophomore is a closer fit to the prototypical pocket-passer mold. Colorado’s offense will feature much more vertical passing with Montez at the helm.

 

Montez will see some competition for the top spot. Freshman Sam Noyer redshirted last fall and showed high upside in practices. True freshman Tyler Lytle is a pro-style quarterback with a strong arm and good football IQ.

 

4. Will the kicking game see improvement this year?

Field goal kicking proved to be a major weakness for Colorado throughout last season. The Buffaloes connected on just 17 of 26 (65.4 percent) field goal attempts. Punting wasn't much better with Colorado averaging 40.1 yards per punt while kicking 5.3 punts per game. The Buffaloes ranked 81st nationally in punting and 104th nationally in field goal kicking.

 

Davis Price and Chris Graham will likely compete for placekicking duties again this season. Price has a stronger leg and, if he improves his accuracy, could unseat Graham as the primary field goal kicker. Alex Kinney showed some progress as a punter a year ago, increasing his per punt average from 40.1 to 41.3 yards. Kinney will need to make even bigger strides in 2017 to turn the punting game into a major defensive weapon.

 

5. What will the defense look like under a mostly new staff?

Successful programs often face turnover on their staffs from one season to the next as assistant coaches leave for promotions elsewhere. Colorado felt those winds of change blow through the program and reshape how the defensive coaching staff will look in 2017.

 

Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt left after two seasons to take the same position at Oregon. Safeties coach Joe Trumpkin resigned in January amid allegations of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend. Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat remains the lone holdover from a season ago under new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.

 

Eliot is well versed in using the 3-4 defensive alignment that's favored by head coach Mike MacIntyre. The schemes should remain relatively unchanged from a season ago, although execution could vary depending on how well new starters can step up and fill larger roles.

 

Colorado’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12

 

If the Buffaloes can successfully reload on defense, there’s no reason to believe Colorado can’t seriously challenge for back-to-back Pac-12 South crowns. There’s enough talent returning at the offensive skill positions to make the Buffaloes dangerous on that side of the ball again. Colorado has enough horses to compete with the best teams in the league. The fact that the Buffaloes have risen so high in just a year’s time, speaks to the solid winning foundation that Mike MacIntyre has finally built in Boulder.

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Teaser:
Colorado Buffaloes 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/91-things-never-happened-baseball-until-2016
Body:

The 2016 MLB season will forever be remembered for the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series title in more than a century. But that historic ending was just one of numerous baseball “firsts” that occurred last season. Here is a rundown of all the history that was made on the diamond in 2016.

 

Related: The Weirdest Things That Happened in Baseball in 2016

 

2016 was the first time in baseball history that a team...

» Won an Opening Day shutout by a margin of as many as 15 runs (Dodgers).

» Was victorious on Opening Day despite getting just one hit (Rangers).

» Was shut out in its first three games of a season and/or in five of the first 10 (Padres).

» Had more strikeouts than hits in each of its first nine games of a season (Twins).

» Hit three pinch-hit home runs in one game (Cardinals).

» Won four consecutive contests after losing its first nine of a season (Braves, Twins).

» Had two starters with three or more wins and a sub-1.00 ERA 20 games into a season (Cubs, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel).

» Used three pitchers who failed to record an out, yet finished with a shutout (Marlins).

» Lost a home game despite erasing deficits in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings (Pirates).

» Was saddled with a bullpen that allowed a run in 23 consecutive games (Reds).

» Got home runs from its first two batters of a game, both of whom were 22 or younger (Rangers, Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara).

» Had four players simultaneously carrying 12-game hitting streaks in home games (Red Sox).

» Got a home run from two Canadian-born players in the same game (Blue Jays, Michael Saunders and Russell Martin).

» Gleaned 52 strikeouts from its pitchers in a three-game series (Astros vs. Orioles).

» Compiled a slugging percentage as high as 1.2051 in a game (Rockies).

» Received multiple-home run performances from four different players in four successive games (Mariners).

» Lost a game despite hitting six more homers than its opponent (White Sox vs. Blue Jays).

» Assembled a streak of 41 strikeouts between walks from its bullpen (Yankees).

» Turned a 3-3-5 triple play (Nationals).

» Got a home run from all four infielders and an assist from all three outfielders in the same game (Indians).

» Struck out 61 opposition batters in a four-game series (Astros vs. Blue Jays).

» Allowed exactly one run, each via a solo homer, in four consecutive contests (Royals).

» Hit four home runs in a game before making an out (Orioles, who lost anyway).

» Collected 17 pinch-hit homers (Cardinals).

» Put 28 players on the disabled list (Dodgers — including Andre Ethier, who broke his leg during spring training).

» Won 76.6 percent of its one-run games (Rangers).

» Connected on multiple home runs in the first inning of three straight games (Angels).

» Allowed 103 home runs by its relievers and/or 258 by its entire staff (Reds).

» Utilized nine pitchers in a shutout of nine or more innings (Indians).

» Won a game in which it overcame multiple two-run deficits with home runs in the ninth inning and later (Mets over Phillies).

» Struck out 1,543 times in one season (Brewers).

» Prevailed in 10 straight win-or-go-home postseason games (Giants).

» Received its first complete game of the year in a postseason contest (Blue Jays, Marco Estrada).

» Threw five shutouts in a single postseason (Indians).

 

A player...

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

» Hit 42 home runs for a 100-loss team (Brian Dozier).

» Who won the batting title the previous year ripped three extra-base hits in his first game of the next (Dee Gordon).

» Produced a multi-homer game in each of his first 14 seasons in the majors (Miguel Cabrera).

» Hit three home runs in a game, one of which was a grand slam in extra innings (Aaron Hill).

» Was walked six times and hit by a pitch in the same contest (Bryce Harper).

» Hitting out of the 9-hole drove in at least six runs in a game for a second time in his career (Jackie Bradley Jr.).

» Homered in each of the first two innings of back-to-back tilts (Mookie Betts).

» With an average below .050 (min. 25 ABs) homered for the sole run of a game (Erik Kratz).

» Tripled and hit a grand slam in the first inning of a game (George Springer).

» Recorded his first 18 home runs of a season in games in which he which he also struck out (Chris Carter).

» Went deep three times and doubled twice in one game (Kris Bryant).

» Reached on catcher’s interference 12 times in a season (Jacoby Ellsbury).

» Batted above .450 with a minimum of 50 at-bats prior to an All-Star Game (Sandy Leon).

» Aged 40 or older batted cleanup in an All-Star Game (David Ortiz).

» Hit safely in each of his first five All-Star Games (Mike Trout).

» Homered off a 16th different Cy Young Award winner (David Ortiz).

» Struck out 221 times in his first 150 major league games (Miguel Sano).

» Fanned four times in a game as both a teenager and a 40-year-old (Alex Rodriguez).

» Did not draw a walk until the 282nd plate appearance of his career (Bartolo Colon).

» Went 5-for-5 or better five times in a two-year span (Yunel Escobar).

» Homered multiple times in a 5-for-5 performance more than once in a season (Kris Bryant).

» Racked up more than 30 hits, with at least 10 of them leaving the yard, in the first 22 games he played in a season (Gary Sanchez).

» Hit a 134th first-inning home run in a career (Albert Pujols).

» Drew 21 walks as a pinch-hitter (Matt Joyce).

» Passed 400 career home runs before hitting his first regular-season walk-off (Mark Teixeira).

» Was batting below .200 for his career at the time he hit his 50th home run (Mike Zunino).

» Struck out 174 times in a 50-stolen base season (Jonathan Villar).

» Amassed as many as 216 hits in a 20-homer/30-stolen base campaign (Jose Altuve).

» Went deep twice hitting out of the 9-hole in a World Series game (Roberto Perez).

» Homered to lead off a World Series Game 7 (Dexter Fowler).

 

A pitcher...

» Won a third consecutive Opening Day start for a third different team (David Price).

» Pitched a postseason game for a different team in four consecutive seasons (David Price).

» Was removed with a no-hitter as late as the eighth inning only to see a reliever ruin the no-no (Ross Stripling).

» Made two scoreless starts of at least six innings and also won two games in relief, all in April (Logan Verrett).

» Was removed from a no-hitter as late as 23 outs into a game (Adam Conley).

» Lost five decisions out of the bullpen in April (Brett Cecil).

» Struck out at least 10 batters while issuing no more than one walk in six straight starts (Clayton Kershaw).

» With an ERA of 8.00-plus after a minimum of five starts allowed no runs and struck out 12 or more batters in his next one (Matt Shoemaker).

» Threw at least six scoreless innings and allowed three or fewer hits in four straight starts of the same season (Michael Fulmer).

» Pitched six or more innings and allowed fewer than six hits in 12 consecutive games (Marco Estrada).

» Allowed 12 runs in a modern-era start in which he failed to record four outs (Edinson Volquez).

» Gave up only one hit in a start of at least five innings with that hit being a grand slam (Kyle Hendricks).

» Made 43 straight appearances without surrendering an earned run (Zach Britton).

» Saved 56 games prior to his 22nd birthday (Roberto Osuna).

» Walked five or more batters in three consecutive appearances of less than four innings (Brandon McCarthy).

» Roped the first nine hits of his season for extra bases (Adam Wainwright).

» Had issued only nine walks at the time of his 150th strikeout (Clayton Kershaw).

» Retired the first 21 batters of a game, then was yanked (Rich Hill).

» Saved at least 30 games for one team and 15 for another in the same campaign (Mark Melancon).

» Struck out eight batters in the first three innings of a postseason game (Corey Kluber).

 

A rookie...

» Homered in each of his first three MLB games (Trevor Story).

» Hit 10 home runs in the month of his big-league debut (Trevor Story).

» Homered three times in a game while playing shortstop (Corey Seager).

» Produced an ERA below 0.95 in any 10-start stretch of his debut season (Michael Fulmer).

» Homered in his first MLB at-bat immediately following a teammate who did the same (Aaron Judge, after Tyler Austin).

» Included 38 extra-base hits among his first 50 knocks in the majors (Ryan Schimpf).

» Drove in the first run of four postseason games (Corey Seager).

 

— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports

 
Teaser:
91 Things That Never Happened in Baseball Until 2016
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /nfl/top-10-nfl-free-agents-2017
Body:

Prior to the start of the new league year in March, NFL teams make out their free agent wish list and check it twice. Some teams must make tough decisions on their own free agents, while others are looking to upgrade the talent on their roster.

 

Starting on Feb. 15, teams could begin using the franchise or transition tag on one player before the start of the new league year. If a player isn’t tagged by 4 p.m. ET on March 1, they will become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. on March 9.

 

The franchise tag will guarantee that player a one-year salary for the average of the top-five players at his position or 120 percent of that player’s previous year’s salary, whichever one is greater. The transition tag guarantees the player’s original team the first opportunity to match any deal he may make with another team.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawaan Short are three players that will most likely receive the franchise tag, so they were not considered among the top 10 available free agents. Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwell and head coach Bruce Arians have said multiple times that linebacker Chandler Jones also will be tagged if they cannot come to an agreement by March 1, so he also was not included in this exercise.

 

So which players will likely be the most sought-after in free agency? Here are the top 10 unrestricted free agents this offseason.

 

1. Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs

It is hard to imagine the Chiefs letting their five-time Pro Bowl safety leave in free agency for nothing, but it is possible. The team used the franchise tag on Berry last year and he has already stated that he will not play under those circumstance again in 2017.

 

At 28 years old, Berry is in the prime of his career and is coming off of an All-Pro season in which he recorded 77 tackles, four interceptions and nine pass breakups. The Chiefs need to lock up Berry not only so he doesn’t go to another team, but also so that they can use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Dontari Poe if they so choose.

 

Editor's note: Berry and the Chiefs agreed to a six-year, $78 million contract ($40 million guaranteed) on Feb. 28.

 

2. Dont’a Hightower, inside linebacker, New England Patriots

Hightower emerged as one of the anchors of the Patriots’ defense last season, recording 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 13 games. His strip sack of Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI was a huge play that helped spark New England’s historic comeback.

 

The Patriots have a history of not overpaying for players, but perhaps they will take a different stance with Hightower. After trading fellow linebacker Jamie Collins midway through last season, New England needs to find a way to keep Hightower in the fold although you never know what Bill Belichick is going to do.

 

3. Brandon Williams, defensive tackle, Baltimore Ravens

Williams’ 2016 stats aren’t exactly attention-grabbing as he recorded 51 tackles and one sack. But he is an excellent nose tackle to help anchor a 3-4 defense, whose contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet. Last offseason, Damon Harrison signed a five-year, $46.2 million contract with the New York Giants and Williams is a similar type of player. There are several teams that could use help up front so the 28-year-old Williams will not lack for suitors.

 

4. Melvin Ingram, outside linebacker, Los Angeles Chargers

Somewhat quietly last season, Ingram put together an impressive, all-around season with 46 tackles, eight sacks and four forced fumbles. He posted similar numbers in 2015 (52 tackles, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles), so Ingram has established himself as one of the more productive pass rushers in the league and shouldn’t struggle to find a team willing to match his contract demands.

 

5. Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears

If the Bears don’t use the franchise tag on Jeffery, he will be the clear-cut top wide receiver on the market. When healthy, Jeffery is one of the league’s top pass catchers, although he has not been at his best the past two seasons. A combination of injuries and a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances could impact Jeffery’s perceived value in free agency. But again Chicago may not let him get there and either way, Jeffery won’t be without a job for long.

 

6. Kevin Zeitler, guard, Cincinnati Bengals

Zeitler is one of the NFL’s best guards and it isn’t likely the Bengals will offer him enough money to return in 2017. He has been an anchor on the right side of Cincinnati’s offensive line the past three seasons, playing every snap during that span. Zeitler figures to be the No. 1 free agent offensive linemen on the market and some team will pay him as such once free agency starts.

 

7. Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end, New York Giants

Last March, the Giants signed Pierre-Paul to a one-year, $10 million prove-it contract. In 12 games, JPP produced to the tune of 53 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles. New York’s spending spree on defense last season may prevent them from bringing him back, especially if another team is willing to offer the 28-year-old pass rusher more.

 

Pierre-Paul does have some injury concerns, as he’s missed 12 games the past two seasons combined, but he’s already overcome plenty in returning from the extensive hand injuries he received in the July 4 fireworks-related accident from July 2015 and showed last season he has plenty left in the tank.

 

8. A.J. Bouye, cornerback, Houston Texans

Bouye has said he would like to return to the Texans, but Houston will have plenty of competition for his services. A former undrafted free agent out of UCF, Bouye enjoyed a breakthrough 2016 season in which he recorded 63 tackles, 16 pass breakups, an interception and a sack. The 6-foot, 191-pound cornerback has developed into an all-around defensive back with the ability to shut down an opponent’s top receiver. Look for Bouye to cash in this offseason.

 

9. Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, Buffalo Bills

New Bills head coach Sean McDermott must hope the team can find a way to bring back Gilmore this fall, but it could get expensive. According to a report by Sal Capaccio of WGR 560 Sports Radio in Buffalo, Gilmore is seeking a contract that would make him one of the top five cornerbacks in the league, which is around $14 million a year.

 

Gilmore had a stellar 2016 season as he recorded 48 tackles, five interceptions and 12 pass breakups.

Gillmore has the combination of size (6-1, 190), skills and stats that could result in some team giving him the lucrative contract he’s seeking.

 

10. Calais Campbell, defensive lineman, Arizona Cardinals

Campbell is a nine-year veteran coming off one of his more productive seasons. Last season he had 53 tackles, eight sacks, a career-best three forced fumbles and also recorded an interception. Campbell has shown he’s effective as both a pass rusher and when it comes to stopping the run.

 

Arizona has used Campbell in a number of ways in its defensive game plan, so that versatility to play both on the edge and in the middle will increase his value. Campbell’s age (turns 31 on Sept. 1) may prevent him from securing a long-term deal, but some team will be happy to add him to their defense.

 

Other notable potential free agents: OG T.J. Lang, DT Dontari Poe, WR Terrelle Pryor, TE Martellus Bennett, CB Trumaine Johnson, DE Jabaal Sheard, OT Andrew Whitworth, WR DeSean Jackson

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Top 10 NFL Free Agents for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-watch-north-carolina-tar-heels-2017
Body:

There will be some major changes within the North Carolina football program this year; more than just the departure of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. There will be plenty of moving parts on the field as well.

 

Finding a replacement for quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be at the top of head coach Larry Fedora's priority list this spring. Along with that battle, there will be openings at wide receiver, running back, and at a couple spots along the offensive line. Defensively, tackle Nazair Jones opted for the NFL and the secondary will need some new pieces.

 

That creates plenty of opportunities for younger Tar Heels. Here are five newcomers that will push for playing time in 2017.

 

Michael Carter, RB, True Freshman

UNC loses leading rusher Elijah Hood. But the 5-foot-8, 191-pound Carter will never be a bruiser like Hood and will instead will take over T.J. Logan’s all-purpose role. The Navarre, Fla., native enrolled early and is already part of the program.

 

J.T. Cauthen, WR, True Freshman

With Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins all moving on, new receivers must be found. Like Carter, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Cauthen is on campus and will participate this spring. The Waxhaw, N.C., product was considered a three-star recruit, but he did have an offer list that featured Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Penn State, and Tennessee.

 

C.J. Cotman, CB, True Freshman

Unlike his classmates mentioned above, Cotman won’t enroll until this summer. But he is a dynamic athlete that could play on either side of the ball. He will most likely start at corner and will also be utilized in the return game.

 

Jay-Jay McCargo, OT, Redshirt Freshman

McCargo could play inside or he may get a look at the right tackle position that is vacant due to the graduation of Jon Heck. Either way, the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder that had offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, and Michigan will get a chance to earn quality playing time.

 

Chaz Surratt, QB, Redshirt Freshman

The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder will have competition from Nathan Elliott and fellow redshirt freshman Logan Byrd. Surratt was the highest ranked recruit in the Class of 2016 and is a dual-threat option, meaning that if he is named the starter the Heels’ offense will look more like the one Marquise Williams ran in 2015 than the pro style-oriented attack that Trubisky guided last fall.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

Teaser:
5 Newcomers to Watch for the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-football-basketball-coaching-duos-2017
Body:

The Big Ten isn’t hurting for talent in its coaching ranks. The duo of Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio ranks as the best in the conference, but Ohio State (Urban Meyer and Thad Matta) and Michigan (Jim Harbaugh and John Beilein) round out a strong top three. And the conference also features some up-and-coming duos, including Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State.

 

Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

Ranking the Big Ten's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017

 

1. Michigan State

Football: Mark Dantonio

Basketball: Tom Izzo

 

The 2016-17 academic year hasn’t been great for either of the bosses at Michigan State, but Dantonio (who won a total of 65 games from 2010-15) and Izzo (who has been to seven Final Fours) are among the best in the business in their respective sports.

 

2. Ohio State

Football: Urban Meyer

Basketball: Thad Matta

 

Meyer, with national championships at two schools (Florida and Ohio State) and an undefeated season at a third (Utah), is an all-time great. Matta’s program has slipped a bit in the past two seasons, but he has won at a very high level in stops at Butler (one year), Xavier (three years) and Ohio State (13 years).

 

Related: Early Top 50 Players Returning for 2017

 

3. Michigan

Football: Jim Harbaugh

Basketball: John Beilein

 

The 2016 season ended on a disappointing note, but Harbaugh has had an enormous impact in a short time at Michigan. Beilein had a great run at Michigan from 2011-14 (four NCAA Tournaments, two Elite Eights, one national runner-up finish) but has leveled off in recent seasons. He still is regarded as one of the game’s top coaches.

 

4. Northwestern

Football: Pat Fitzgerald

Basketball: Chris Collins

 

Fitzgerald has turned Northwestern into a consistent winner, guiding his alma mater to a bowl game in seven of the last nine seasons. The Wildcats are 11–6 in the Big Ten in the last two seasons. Collins has the basketball team on the verge of its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

 

5. Wisconsin

Football: Paul Chryst

Basketball: Greg Gard

 

Chryst wasn’t the most exciting hire, but he has a combined 21–6 record in two seasons, including a 13–4 mark in league play. That’s pretty strong. Gard has done a great job in a tough spot — replacing the legendary Bo Ryan. The Badgers are as good as ever.

 

Related: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2017

 

6. Iowa

Football: Kirk Ferentz

Basketball: Fran McCaffrey

 

Ferentz takes a lot of heat for his bloated contract, but he has done a solid job in his 18 years at Iowa. He has an 83–64 record in the Big Ten, highlighted by two 8–0 seasons and one 7–1 season. McCaffrey is known for his frequent outbursts on the bench, but he, too, has done a really nice job in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes made the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons (2014-16) but appear to be a longshot to make it this year.

 

7. Purdue

Football: Jeff Brohm

Basketball: Matt Painter

 

Painter has recovered from a rough patch (13–23 Big Ten record in ’12-13 and ’13-14) and has the Boilermakers back among the league’s elite. Brohm was a great hire by Purdue. The Bobby Petrino disciple went 30–10 in three seasons at Western Kentucky and did so while running one of the nation’s top offenses. 

 

Related: Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2017

 

8. Penn State

Football: James Franklin

Basketball: Pat Chambers

 

Franklin guided the Nittany Lions to an unlikely Big Ten title in his third season Happy Valley. His most impressive accomplishment, however, is winning a combined 18 games in his final two seasons at Vanderbilt. Chambers is having a tough time turning things around at Penn State (no NCAA Tournaments in five full seasons), but recruiting has been on an uptick and his current team has a talented young core.

 

9. Maryland

Football: D.J. Durkin

Basketball: Mark Turgeon

 

After reaching the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons at Texas A&M, Turgeon had some unexpected struggles in his first three years at Maryland. Since the move to the Big Ten, however, Maryland has returned to national relevance. Durkin is off to a strong start with the Terps’ football program, both on the field and on the recruiting trail.

 

10. Minnesota

Football: P.J. Fleck

Basketball: Richard Pitino

 

Fleck is unproven at the Power 5 level but is fresh off a great run at Western Michigan. He will bring a ton of energy to a program that has been good — but hardly great — in recent seasons. Pitino, now in his fourth season, is still looking for his first trip to the NCAA Tournament. This should be the year.

 

Related: 15 Junior College Transfers to Watch in the Big Ten for 2017

 

11. Indiana

Football: Tom Allen

Basketball: Tom Crean

 

Crean has seemingly never been embraced by the IU faithful, but he has won two outright Big Ten titles in the last four seasons and has made three trips to the Sweet 16 in the past five years. Allen, a widely respected defensive coordinator, is untested as a head coach. 

 

12. Nebraska

Football: Mike Riley

Basketball: Tim Miles

 

Riley rebounded from a 6–7 record in Year 1 to win nine games and finish in a tie for second place in the Big Ten West. Still, many wonder if he can win big at a school that still expects to compete for championships. Miles has made the NCAA Tournament one time in four full seasons and finished 10th or worse in the other three.

 

Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2017

 

13. Rutgers

Football: Chris Ash

Basketball: Steve Pikiell

 

Pikiell will try to do what so many before him could not — make Rutgers basketball relevant. He’s done a nice job in Year 1, but this program still has a long way to go before it can be consistently competitive in the Big Ten. Ash’s first season as the football coach did not go well. The Scarlet Knights did not win a Big Ten game and scored seven points or fewer seven times vs. league opponents.

 

14. Illinois

Football: Lovie Smith

Basketball: John Groce

 

Groce, who made the NCAA Tournament in his first season (2012-13), has yet to have a winning record in the Big Ten. Injuries have played a key role in the recent struggles, but playing in the NIT simply isn’t the goal at Illinois. Smith, in his first season back in the collegiate ranks since he was an assistant at Ohio State in 1995, went 3–9 overall and 2–7 in the Big Ten.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big Ten's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-usc-trojans-watch-2017
Body:

After years of playing non-New Year’s Six games, USC returned to the Rose Bowl this past season with a bang. In one of the best bowl games of the year, the Trojans defeated Penn State 52-49 in a comeback for the ages, at least until the Super Bowl.

 

The USC Spring Game is set for April 15, but there is a lot of work to be done between now and the season opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2. With some key players off to the NFL, the incoming recruiting class and members of previous ones will be expected to step up and take the place of those leaving.

 

While the Trojans continuously put together top-10 recruiting classes, here are five newcomers that could step up and contribute right away.

 

Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, True Freshman

Of all the recruits USC needed the most, Tuipulotu would be near the top of the list for most experts. What USC got out of Utah grad-transfer Stevie Tu’ikolovatu was nothing short of a miracle. The Trojans’ defensive coaches referred to him as the heart of the defense and that’s exactly the type of role they imagine for Tuipulotu, who enrolled early and will participate in spring practice.

 

Stephen Carr, RB, True Freshman

With the departure of Justin Davis, Carr has a chance to come in and make an impact alongside Ronald Jones II. Carr has all the physical tools and was a consensus five-star recruit. If he is able to deliver on even half of his potential, USC could have its next great back.

 

Jay Tufele, DE, True Freshman

A late grab for USC, Tufele was projected to go to Utah when he chose the Trojans. It couldn’t have worked out better for USC, who picture a nice 1-2 punch with Tufele and Tuipulotu. One of the nation’s best defensive tackles, Tufele is going to be expected to come right in and compete for playing time.

 

Joseph Lewis, WR, True Freshman

The nation’s No.  31-ranked recruit will be expected to come right in and help at the position with the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Lewis has blistering speed and is a bit more polished than some of his peers when it comes to running routes and route concepts. USC is loaded at the wide receiver position, but Lewis is the type of athlete who makes room for himself on the depth chart.

 

Michael Pittman, WR, Sophomore

This one is kind of cheating since Pittman is not a freshman or junior college transfer, but he didn’t play much last year with USC having options like the aforementioned Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers to throw to. Now that those folks are gone, expect Pittman, who was one of the most physical and gifted prospects in the 2016 signing class, to emerge as one of Sam Darnold’s favorite targets.

 

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a Marvel Comics guru. Webb has been writing about USC for Athlon Sports for three seasons now. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.

Teaser:
5 Newcomers for the USC Trojans to Watch in 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/draftkings-golf-lineup-picks-pgas-honda-classic-national-resort-spa-dfs-daily-fantasy
Body:

Trying to find your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (Feb. 23-26) golf tournament: the Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion Course) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.? Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
 
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.

 

Adam Scott ($12,200)

We thought that Scott would be less great without the long putter. Proving that length isn't everything, he leads the Tour in strokes gained, putting. The defending Honda champ has a streak of eight rounds of par or better at PGA National.

 

Russell Knox ($9,000)

Knox has two top-3 finishes in three Honda appearances. Until a missed cut at Phoenix, he had yet to finish outside the top 20 this season. We'll assume Phoenix was an outlier.

 

Luke Donald ($7,600)

Luke's not the force he once was — remember when he was No. 1 in the world? — but he comes in with consecutive top 25s and has a solid history here (four top 10s).

 

Scott Brown ($7,400)

Brown cashes checks with regularity (seven made cuts in a row). He is coming off a T2 at the Genesis Open and finished T10 at the Honda last year.

 

Graeme McDowell ($7,300)

It's been a struggle for McDowell over the last year or so, but that just means he can be had on the cheap this week. He had a T13 in Dubai a couple weeks ago and finished fifth at the Honda last year. 

 

Ernie Els ($6,400)

Once the gold standard among players not named Tiger, the four-time major winner can be found in the discount bin these days. He lives in the Palm Beach area, so it's a homecoming of sorts, and he did have a T13 in Qatar recently. 

 

DraftKings Optimal Lineup for golf's Honda Classic

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/weirdest-things-happened-baseball-2016
Body:

Baseball can be a strange sport, especially when you take into consideration that it’s been played professionally for more than 140 years yet continues to provide those “what just happened” moments. Take last season for example. In 2016 the oddball occurrences started in early April and continued up until Game 7 of the World Series.

 

In fact, some may say the strangest thing that occurred on the diamond last season was that the Chicago Cubs ended the longest championship drought in sports by winning the World Series. But as you will see below, that was just one example of the weirdness that happened during the 2016 MLB season.

 

MLB's 2016 Calendar of the Weird

 

April

April 11 Two guys who had never before played in the majors — Trevor Story and Tyler White — are the season’s first Players of the Week in their respective leagues.

April 16 For the second straight night, the Yankees go 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position against Seattle.

April 17 A pair of Mets relievers — Jerry Blevins and Addison Reed — are credited with two strikeouts apiece in the ninth inning.

April 20 For the first time this season, in their 16th game, the Phillies reach double digits in hits — notching their 10th on a walk-off infield single in the 11th inning.

April 21 Chasen Shreve is the first pitcher in a decade to allow a home run on each of the first two pitches he throws in a game.

April 22 Wil Myers’ season-opening strikeout streak reaches 16 games.

April 26 The Braves fail to go deep for a 15th straight game — ultimately more than double the length of any other team’s streak in 2016.

 

May

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

May 5 Six days after allowing a 12-run inning to the Mets, Giants hurlers are stung for a 13-run frame by the Rockies.

May 6 Reds relievers snap their stretch of being scored upon in 23 consecutive games in which one has appeared, setting a record for a single season.

May 8 With Bryce Harper, who was batting in front of him, being walked six times and getting hit by a pitch, Ryan Zimmerman leaves a record 14 men on base and makes the final out of four innings in Washington’s loss to the Cubs.

May 9 J.T. Realmuto is the first player in 10 years to lose a home run for passing a teammate on the basepaths.

May 13 The Phillies execute three bunt singles and a go-ahead suicide squeeze by pitcher Jeremy Hellickson in a 3–2 defeat of the Reds.

May 14 Thirty-five games into the season, the Braves become the last team to hit a triple and are still hunting for their 10th home run when everyone else has at least 29.

May 16 Jordan Zimmermann is the first pitcher since Lefty Grove faced Babe Ruth’s 1927 Yankees to win a game in which he permits at least eight runs and strikes out nine or more batters.

May 18 A 15th consecutive Phillies victory is by three or fewer runs.

May 19 Erick Aybar misses a game after having a chicken bone removed from his throat.

May 22 Giancarlo Stanton whiffs for the 17th time (tying a record for a six-game span) in his last 20 at-bats.

May 23 The A’s, after a franchise-record 83 games dating to 2015 without one, are the last team of the year to coax a seven-inning start from a pitcher.

May 23 Gio Gonzalez’s longest active streak of starts without allowing multiple homers (44) goes by the wayside when he serves up a second to the Mets — then a third two pitches later.

May 25 The Twins, 46 games into their season, finally have a two-win starter (Tyler Duffey).

May 27 The Elias Sports Bureau informs that, for the first time in 51 seasons, a player (Josh Donaldson) drives in a go-ahead run in four plate appearances in one game.

May 30 The Cubs bullpen provides seven perfect innings — the most in a game since 1917, when Red Sox starting pitcher Babe Ruth was ejected and Ernie Shore completed a no-hitter.

 

June

June 1 The Mets plate only one of their 20 baserunners and lose, 2–1, when rotund reliever Matt Albers doubles for the first hit by a White Sox pitcher in 11 years then scores the winning run.

June 1 Exactly one-third of the way into their season, the Cardinals whack their 10th pinch-hit home run, matching their total in the previous four years combined.

June 4 Carlos Correa logs his third game-winning hit in the 12th inning or later in the past 12 days.

June 4 Jeff Samardzija serves up four gopher balls (plus a single and a double) in a span of 28 pitches.

June 9 A Prince Fielder home run ball blows up the cell phone of a fan who had held it up to protect herself from the oncoming missile.

June 13 James Shields is the first pitcher since 1894 to allow at least seven runs prior to the fourth inning in three consecutive starts.

June 15 The Mariners lose for the 17th time in their last 19 games of 13 or more innings.

June 19 The Padres win for the first time in 11 tries on a Sunday.

June 20 The Rockies and Marlins set a record by launching eight solo homers to account for every run of a game.

June 21 After being defeated in their previous seven games while scoring a total of 12 runs, the Phillies lose despite tallying 10 times.

June 22 Washington’s Michael A. Taylor strikes out five times, then commits a three-base error that allows the game-tying and -ending runs to score.

June 25 The White Sox, joining the 1995 and 2004 Tigers, become the second franchise to lose a tilt in which it hits seven home runs.

June 28 Though he’s pitched fewer than 250 innings, J.J. Hoover sets a Reds record by allowing the sixth grand slam of his career.

 

July

July 1 For the second time in a week, Bryce Harper forfeits an extra base because he lollygags at the plate watching a drive he thought was going farther.

July 6 Thanks to Chase Utley (on the heels of C.J. Cron and Wilmer Flores), it is the first time in history that three players have six-hit games in a five-day period.

July 8 The White Sox, in their 86th game, turn their third triple play of the season.

July 10 The A’s begin a game having played a franchise-record 15 straight errorless games, then make four (including a game-ender) in a 2–1 loss to the Astros.

July 12 In an All-Star Game managed by Terry Collins of the Mets, none of the four players on his own team appear.

July 17 The lone run of a game scores on a passed ball for the first time since 1986, as the Reds edge the Brewers.

July 17 Farm clubs Bluefield and Greeneville combine for 56 strikeouts in a 20-inning game.

July 19 The Yankees fail to score in the first inning for a 23rd straight contest.

July 23 Red Sox TV analyst Jerry Remy is knocked out of a game when a TV monitor in the broadcast booth falls on his head.

July 24 Tyler Chatwood is first NL pitcher known to have won a game in which he pitched as few as five innings, did not allow a run and issued at least eight walks.

July 27 Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis commits what will be his only three errors of the season (201 chances) in the span of two innings.

July 28 Jeurys Familia blows his second save in less than 24 hours after converting 52 in a row over the previous 360 days.

July 30 Jameson Taillon is deprived of his first major-league hit when, after lining an apparent single, he is thrown out at first by the right fielder.

 

August

Aug. 3 Thanks in part to a three-run homer from Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays are the first AL team to be 20 or more games under .500 and score 12 runs in a shutout of the defending champs (Royals).

Aug. 11 Oakland starts a different pitcher for an eighth consecutive game — the first time in 55 years a team has done that.

Aug. 13 Brandon McCarthy, after walking three or fewer batters in 122 consecutive starts, issues five for the third outing in a row.

Aug. 19 A ninth different batter (Ehire Adrianza) notches the game-winning RBI in the last nine supplied by Giants pinch-hitters.

Aug. 23 Danny Salazar has lasted a total of 11 innings over his last four starts.

Aug. 28 Kevin Gausman wins for the first time in 26 road starts.

Aug. 31 In a major-league first, rookies on opposing teams hit grand slams, as Stephen Cardullo and Andrew Toles connect.

 

September

Sept. 2 For the second time in three months, the Mariners cobble together a nine-run inning without the benefit of an extra-base hit.

Sept. 2-4 The Red Sox tie a post-1900 record by scoring at least 12 runs against the same foe (A’s) in a fourth straight meeting... then tally 11... then are shut out.

Sept. 5 Chad Bettis and Ubaldo Jimenez, who enter the day with a combined 5.70 ERA in 52 appearances and no complete games in their last 214 starts, both throw two-hitters.

Sept. 12 The White Sox score in all eight innings against Cleveland, and the Red Sox tally in their first seven versus Baltimore.

Sept. 14 The Diamondbacks are the first team in 86 years to hang a double-digit hit total on a team (Rockies) in 14 consecutive games of one season.

Sept. 14 Five teams with winning records are shut out on the same day for only the second time ever.

Sept. 25 The Mets bat 11 times (including four by Jose Reyes) with the bases loaded in a 17–0 destruction of the Phillies.

Sept. 28 The Twins put up a crooked number after 106 consecutive innings of scoring zero or one run — the longest streak in 74 years.

 

October

Oct. 2 The Angels conclude their season as the first AL team in more a century without an extra-inning win.

Oct. 7 Elias notes that, for the fourth time in five years, a left-handed batter who didn’t homer against a southpaw in the regular season did so in the postseason.

Oct. 19 The Indians clinch the ALCS despite everyone other than Francisco Lindor batting .138.

Oct. 25 Roberto Perez, who hit three home runs in 153 regular-season at-bats, goes deep for the third time in his 27th trip of the postseason.

 

November

Nov. 2 Three different Cubs catchers drive in a run as Chicago wins Game 7 of the World Series.

 

— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports

Teaser:
The Weirdest Things That Happened in Baseball in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Kansas City Royals, MLB
Path: /mlb/kansas-city-royals-2017-preview-predictions-schedule
Body:

Kansas City Royals logoKansas City’s championship window is closing. The cash-strapped Royals set a franchise record with a $131.5 million payroll in 2016, but team owner David Glass instructed general manager Dayton Moore to scale back for 2017. The Royals aren’t in fire-sale mode, but shipping impending free-agent closer Wade Davis to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler, who is under club control through 2020, clearly was a cost-cutting move. 


With the bulk of its two-time American League championship core — center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, and shortstop Alcides Escobar — set for free agency next offseason, the edict to trim spending handcuffed Moore from making a free-agent splash like he did last offseason, when he signed Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy to the richest contracts in franchise history. Still, the Royals, who slipped back to .500 last season, hope for one final run before the expected dismantling.

 

Unfortunately, Kansas City also will be playing this season with a heavy heart, following the unexpected and tragic death of pitcher Yordano Ventura. The 25-year-old enigmatic fireballer was killed in a car crash on Jan. 22 in the Dominican Republic, his home country.

 

ROTATION

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
The Royals ranked 12th in the American League with a 4.67 ERA from the starting rotation. Duffy, a 28-year-old lefthander, emerged as the club’s ace, finishing 12–3 with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts after beginning 2016 as a reliever. He signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension in January and his continued development as a front-of-the-rotation star will be critical. Kennedy — who is entering the second season of a five-year, $70 million deal — also is locked into the rotation, along with veteran lefthander Jason Vargas. Kennedy pitched to expectations in a solid Kansas City debut, while Vargas has been limited to 12 games during the last two seasons after Tommy John surgery in August 2015. When healthy, he’s been solid for the Royals, going 16–12 with a 3.68 ERA as a 2014 free-agent signing. Vargas’ return fills Edinson Volquez’s hole in the rotation after he signed with the Marlins, but the bigger question is how the team replaces Ventura. A pair of former Cubs, Jason Hammel and Travis Wood, were each signed to two-year deals prior to the start of spring training. Hammel won a career-high 15 games last season, but was left off of the World Series champions’ postseason roster and boasts a career ERA of 4.42 over 11 seasons. Wood will get a chance to start after serving as a bullpen jack-of-all-trades for Cubs manager Joe Maddon last season. Veteran righthander Chris Young and lefthander Matt Strahm, who posted a 1.23 ERA in 21 relief appearances after a late-July call-up, also will battle for those open rotation spots, with lefthander Mike Minor as a dark horse.

 

BULLPEN

The Royals’ relief corps was the backbone of back-to-back pennants, but the glory days of HDH — when a relay from Kelvin Herrera to Davis to Greg Holland dominated the final three innings — are a fleeting memory. Holland sat out 2016 after Tommy John surgery, and Davis, who was set to make $10 million this season, was traded away. The Royals also cut ties with former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar among other bullpen losses. Herrera — who owns a 182 ERA+ the last three seasons, including a 2.75 ERA with 86 strikeouts against 12 walks and 57 hits in 72 innings last season — is the new closer, a role he’s expected to flourish in after saving a career-high 12 games last season with Davis sidelined. Unless he wins a rotation spot, Strahm and veteran righthander Joakim Soria project as the club’s setup men. Soria — a 2016 free agent who signed a three-year, $25 million deal — was a disappointment in his return to Kansas City, going 5–8 with a 4.05 ERA.

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

For the second time in three seasons, Escobar started all 162 games at shortstop for the Royals in 2016. He set modest career highs with seven home runs and 55 RBIs last season, but he also had the fourth-lowest OPS among qualified batters (.642). The 30-year-old shortstop has slashed .259/.293/.335 the last two seasons, but he remains a solid defensive player at a premium position. Kansas City is hopeful Raul Mondesi can emerge as the everyday second baseman. He’s a slick-fielding speedster and the heir apparent at shortstop, but he’ll only find a regular spot if his bat comes around. If not, Whit Merrifield gets the nod at second base after a solid rookie season.

 

Kansas City Royals 2017 Printable ScheduleCORNERS

Moustakas and Hosmer served as linchpins for the Royals’ title-winning youth movement, but there’s no chance both will remain in Kansas City beyond next season. Moustakas hit well last season, including a career-best .500 slugging percentage, in 27 games before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee May 22 after a collision with Gordon. The Royals hope he can recapture the All-Star form he first flashed in 2015 when he slashed .284/.348/.470 with 34 doubles, 22 home runs and 82 RBIs. Hosmer, who isn’t an elite fielder despite a Gold Glove reputation, also regressed last season at the plate despite obliterating his career highs with 25 home runs and 104 RBIs. 

 

OUTFIELD

The Royals’ outfield defense is stout with Gordon, Cain and Paulo Orlando from left to right field. Cain had emerged as a star in recent years, posting a 118 OPS+ with a .304/.351/.447 slash line in 2014-15. He averaged 47 extra-base hits and 28 steals during that span and also plays sparkling defense at a premium position. However, Cain missed time with hamstring and wrist injuries last season, which tamped down his production. Injuries also derailed Gordon the last two seasons, including lengthy absences due to  groin and wrist injuries. The Royals need Gordon to revert to the player who slashed .281/.359/.450 from 2011-15 after he was a shockingly bad .220/.312/.380 last season. The newly acquired Soler could poach time in right field from Orlando, if first base coach Rusty Kuntz can work a miracle with Soler’s sub-par defense.

 

CATCHING

Behind the plate, the Royals have a four-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner in Salvador Perez, who added his first career Silver Slugger last season. Perez struck out far too much in 2016 and has slashed .256/.286/.421 the last three seasons, but he remains an elite catch-and-throw guy. Drew Butera is Perez’s backup.

 

DH/BENCH

Soler projects as the primary DH, but regulars with an injury history — think Perez, Moustakas, Gordon and Cain — could occasionally DH to save wear and tear without sacrificing lineup punch. Utility outfielder Jarrod Dyson was rumored to be on the offseason trade block. Cheslor Cuthbert can play anywhere on the infield except shortstop and proved valuable in extended action as Moustakas’ replacement. Veteran Brandon Moss also will get the opportunity to carve out a role, as his left-handed power (28 home runs in 413 AB with St. Louis last season) could be an asset off the bench or at DH.

 

MANAGEMENT

Manager Ned Yost, who at 549–550 owns the franchise’s most managerial wins and losses, has shown a steady hand well suited for Moore’s roster, but his decision-making will be tested in 2017 with less certainty in the bullpen. Yost’s unflinching loyalty doesn’t play well with fans when it comes off as stubbornness, as was the case when Soria floundered last season. More flexibility might be required moving forward.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

There’s a looming fire sale if Kansas City falls from contention with changes to the collective bargaining agreement that restrict compensation for players lost in free agency. Don’t expect Moore to be as aggressive as 2015 at the trade deadline with a depleted farm system. Health and player development will be keys to squeezing out a playoff push from a roster that’s already demonstrated its championship mettle, and one that also will be dedicating this season to the memory of a beloved teammate.

 

2017 AL CENTRAL PREDICTION: 3rd

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-football-basketball-coaching-duos-2017
Body:

The Big 12 has a deep group of coaching tandems in place at all 10 programs. Oklahoma leads the way once again with Bob Stoops and Lon Kruger, but there is plenty of depth in the next group of teams, which features TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State. Kansas boasts the league’s best basketball coach (Bill Self), while David Beaty enters his third season with a rebuilding project on his hands.  

 

Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

Ranking the Big 12's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017

 

1. Oklahoma

Football: Bob Stoops

Basketball: Lon Kruger

 

Stoops is one of the most underappreciated coaches in the nation. He has averaged 10.6 wins in his 18 seasons in Norman and has won 10 Big 12 championships. Kruger is the only coach in history to win an NCAA Tournament game at five schools (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma).

 

Related: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2017

 

2. TCU

Football: Gary Patterson

Basketball: Jamie Dixon

 

Patterson is nearly 100 games over .500 in his 16 years TCU and has six league titles (one in C-USA, four in the Mountain West, one in the Big 12) on his résumé. Dixon led Pittsburgh to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in his 13 years at the school and is authoring a quicker-than-expected turnaround at TCU, his alma mater.

 

3. Texas

Football: Tom Herman

Basketball: Shaka Smart

 

This pairing looks great on paper, but is more about potential at this point. After making the NCAA Tournament last season (losing in the first round as a No. 6 seed), Texas is headed toward its first losing season since 1998. Herman appears to be a great fit at Texas, but he has yet to coach a game in the Big 12.

 

Related: College Football's Early Top 50 Players Returning in 2017

 

4. Oklahoma State

Football: Mike Gundy

Basketball: Brad Underwood

 

Gundy’s success in league play might surprise you; he has a 63–39 record in Big 12 games in 12 seasons (and that includes a 1–7 mark in Year 1). Underwood recorded an astounding 53–1 record in Southland Conference games in his three seasons at Stephen F. Austin. It would be a big surprise if he doesn’t enjoy success at Oklahoma State.

 

5. Kansas

Football: David Beaty

Basketball: Bill Self

 

Self, with 12 straight Big 12 titles, is one of the elite coaches in college basketball. Beaty is 2–22 in two seasons in charge of the KU football program. He will be given ample time to turn things around.

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 Impact JUCO QBs for 2017

 

6. Kansas State

Football: Bill Snyder

Basketball: Bruce Weber

 

Snyder oversaw arguably the greatest reclamation project in the history of college football and will be remembered as one of the all-time greats. Weber is regarded as an outstanding coach and average recruiter. The Wildcats appear headed to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in his five seasons at K-State.

 

7. West Virginia

Football: Dana Holgorsen

Basketball: Bob Huggins

 

Huggins has enjoyed a remarkable — and underappreciated — career. He has had only two losing conference seasons in 31 years as a Division I head coach. Holgorsen has been good, but not great, in his six seasons at WVU. He went 7–2 in the Big 12 in 2016.

 

Related: Big 12's Top 15 Players Returning From Injury in 2017

 

8. Baylor

Football: Matt Rhule

Basketball: Scott Drew

 

With Baylor enjoying one of its best regular seasons in program history, Drew is finally earning some recognition for his coaching — not just his recruiting prowess. He will have the Bears in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Rhule did a tremendous job at Temple, winning 10 games in each of the last two seasons. He has a difficult rebuild at Baylor — mostly due to off-the-field issues.

 

9. Iowa State

Football: Matt Campbell

Basketball: Steve Prohm

 

The Cyclones won only three games in Campbell’s first season but were painfully close to winning several more and flirting with bowl eligibility. The football program is on the uptick. Prohm has kept Iowa State relevant in the Big 12 following in the footsteps of the wildly popular Fred Hoiberg.

 

Related: Ranking the Big 12's Football Rosters for 2017 

 

10. Texas Tech

Football: Kliff Kingsbury

Basketball: Chris Beard

 

Kingsbury has yet to record a winning record in the Big 12 or finish higher than a tie for fifth in the league standings in his four seasons at his alma mater. Beard did a remarkable job in his only season as the head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock and is an ideal fit in Lubbock.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 10:30

Pages