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Success on the field is breeding success on the recruiting trail for Washington State. The Cougars brought in one of their best recruiting classes under Mike Leach on the most recent national signing day. Washington State's 2017 class was ranked in the top 50 nationally by all three major recruiting services.
The Cougars focused much of their attention on bringing in a new crop of speedy and versatile wide receivers and defensive backs. There are also some promising prospects at other skill positions and along both the offensive line and defensive line.
Here's a closer look at five players new to the program in 2017 who are poised to be rising stars.
Jamire Calvin, WR
Calvin surprised many people when he chose to sign with Washington State after previously committing to Oregon State and then Nebraska. The 5-foot-9 receiver fits the mold of a player built for the air raid offense. Calvin is speedy and shifty in the open field. He caught 86 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior at Cathedral High (Calif.) and was also one of the nation's top punt returners in high school.
Connor Neville, QB
Luke Falk returning for his senior season was a dose of good news for Washington State's offense heading into 2017. But the cupboard won't be bare once Falk is gone. Neville has the tools to add a dangerous element to Leach's passing attack. The 6-foot-2 quarterback can scramble well when a play breaks down and has a strong arm. His dual-threat potential promises to only give the Cougars even sharper claws down the road. Neville threw for 7,768 yards and 88 touchdowns over three seasons at Willsonville High (Ore.).
Preston Hendry, DE
Moving to the defensive line is the smartest thing Hendry could have done. He played at wide receiver in high school until switching to defensive end as a senior. Since that time, he has evolved into a pass rusher who knows how to torment defenses. Hendry is dangerous off the edge and can disrupt things in a hurry. He tallied 8.5 sacks in two seasons at Orange Coast College (Calf.) and ranked 54th among the JUCO Top 100 in the 2017 class.
Josh Talbott, S
Talbott has all the tools to compete for a starting job in his first season on campus. The 6-foot safety reads routes well and has strong closing speed in coverage. He is also a physical player who can shed blocks and tackle receivers with equal proficiency. Talbott recorded 35 tackles and two interceptions as a senior at Long Beach Poly (Calif.). He chose to sign with the Cougars over Arizona, Colorado, Texas A&M, UCLA, Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.
Anthony White, Jr., WR
White is another receiver who has all of the right skills to flourish in the Air Raid offense. The 6-foot-1 receiver from Miami Central (Fla.) is a legit four-star prospect who spurned offers from LSU, Cincinnati, South Carolina, Illinois and Kentucky to come to Pullman. White has good field awareness and enough burst to get significant yards after catches on the outside for the Cougars. He was ranked among the Top 100 receivers in the nation by Rivals.
— 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.
When one fantasy football season ends, most owners take a little break and then start looking ahead to the next season. One of the key elements to look for is to see what players may have a change in value – for better or worse – in the next season. These players are usually those that are free agents, and their 2017 value is dependent on what team they land on, or players returning from injury.
Fantasy owners usually look at the previous season to determine the value for the following season. While this logic does work in most cases, it's tough for those that missed time in the previous season. Often those players return and make a fantasy impact; equally as often those players those players come back and struggle. Keep in mind a change in fantasy value is not always a positive change.
Here are 10 players (in alphabetical order) whose situations and fantasy outlook could change between now and draft day.
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Fantasy owners draft Allen each year hoping for a top wide receiver. He should be a clear-cut WR1, but he hasn't been able to stay on the field over the past two years. After suffering a lacerated kidney in 2015, Allen tore in his ACL in Week 1 this past season. He's reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery and should be ready to go come the fall. He's the No. 1 wide receiver in San Diego, if he can stay healthy. He will likely fall in drafts based on his injury history, but he certainly has the potential to exceed his draft position.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
Anderson is just 26, although it probably seems he’s older than that. He’s had success in Denver, but he’s also been a disappointment. A meniscus injury ended his 2016 season after just seven games, and fortunately for him no one stepped up and seized the job in his absence. Rookie Devontae Booker looked good early, but then struggled mightily and saw his role reduced as the season progressed. Kapri Bibbs couldn’t handle the lead back role either, as the Broncos brought in veteran Justin Forsett in December. Assuming no major change is made at the position, the No. 1 job should be Anderson’s to lose in training camp. When healthy, he’s been successful, and he could end up a value pick depending on far he falls in drafts. He’s no more than a RB2 for now, but the upside is there, especially if he’s given a full workload and Denver shores up its offensive line.
Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota Vikings
The early reports on Teddy Bridgewater are that he will miss the entire 2017 season recovering from the devastating knee injury he suffered last preseason. Following his trade from Philadelphia, Bradford actually put together a decent campaign, despite the Vikings’ offensive woes. He set a new career high with 3,877 passing yards, while posting a very impressive 20:5 TD-to-INT ratio. He threw a touchdown pass in every game but two, and he ended the season with two 3-TD games. He's not going to be a fantasy stud, but if Stefon Diggs can step up and Laquon Treadwell can put together a decent sophomore season, Bradford will have QB2 value.
Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
Coleman's rookie season was marred by injury, poor quarterback play, and offseason issues. Assuming the off-field stuff works itself out, Coleman should have a solid role in the offense in 2017. It seems likely that Terrelle Pryor will return, so the pair will be the Browns’ primary targets. Who will be throwing them the ball, however, is the million dollar question. With a solid quarterback, Coleman is a clear WR2. He had a great game in Week 2 with two touchdowns and more than 100 receiving yards before injuring his hand, which cost him almost two months. By that point, Pryor was the focal point of the offense and Coleman couldn't get going again. With both receivers as part of the game plan, they both can have value. It just will depend on who’s at quarterback.
Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets
Decker is coming off both hip and shoulder surgeries and is hoping to be ready for the start of the 2017 season. A touchdown machine when healthy, it's going to be hard to trust him unless some big changes occur within the Jets offense. They need a quarterback who can get him the ball in the end zone, to start with. Also, Brandon Marshall may or may not return, depending on if the team wants to pay him at his current salary. It's hard to gauge Decker's value right now with all of these factors at play. But with a solid quarterback and plenty of targets, he has potential to be a WR1, even with the injury history. However, it's much more likely that he's a WR2 with games that will be great and weeks that will be brutal.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Technically, Gronk played in eight games this season, but fantasy owners only wanted to start him in four of those. He had a disappointing season, especially for those who drafted him in the first round. While Gronkowski's contract isn't up, the Patriots have to be frustrated with their top tight end who can't stay on the field. Gronkowski will no longer be a first-round tight end. It is debatable if he is even the best tight end to draft. There is no question that when he's healthy, he's great, but at this point, it's hard to imagine him not missing some time. Is half a season or less of Gronk worth drafting him as a TE1 as long as you get the other half? He's going to fall in drafts and be avoided by the risk-averse, or those who simply have Gronk fatigue.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery is a pending free agent, but it is possible that he will re-sign with the Bears. He played under the franchise tag in 2016, and he didn't exactly put together a spectacular season. While he did manage to stay healthy, he also missed four games because of suspension. In the 12 games he played, he had only 14 more receiving yards than he did in nine games last season with two fewer receptions. He had a career-low two touchdowns and struggled to find chemistry with quarterbacks not named Jay Cutler. Cutler also may not be back with the Bears, so Jeffery’s fantasy value could depend in large part on where he ends up. He’ll turn 27 on Valentine’s Day, so he's still young enough to be a fantasy difference-maker.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
After a disappointing 2015 season, Lacy lost some weight and came back ready to prove his worth. He played five games, got hurt and wound up on injured reserve because of an ankle injury that required surgery. In those five games, he had just one 100-yard effort and zero touchdowns (in 75 total touches), although he did average 5.1 yards per carry. He’s a pending free agent, and the Packers have said that they are open to re-signing him. There’s plenty of familiarity and he’ll be 27 at the start of the season. Green Bay struggled to run the ball all season, as the team ended up turning to converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery to serve as the primary ball carrier, Montgomery had good games, but he also had poor outings, so there’s still a “need” for someone like Lacy to lead the way on the ground. If he returns, he’ll be a relatively safe RB2 with upside.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's certainly no guarantee that Martin returns to the Buccaneers after he ended the season with a four-game suspension. He's 28 years old and the Bucs can easily move on from him, even though they don't have a lot to turn to. Martin had a solid 2015 campaign, but couldn't live up to his own expectations this past season. His production plummeted across the board, especiallyi in rushing yards (1,402 in 2015, 421 in ’16), although playing in just eight games because of the suspension and some hamstring issues certainly played a factor. Durability is another concern with Martin, as outside of his rookie season in 2012 and ’15, he has played in a total of 25 games. When healthy, he has produced, but given all that transpired last season he’s no longer a safe RB1 and depending on where he lands, he may not even be a RB2.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
It seems likely that Peterson has played his last game in a Vikings uniform. However, a change of scenery does not mean he will immediately return to the top of the running back ranks either. For starters, Peterson will be 32 years old at the start of the 2017 season, and is coming off a knee injury. He will be fine to play, but a 32-year-old running back is a hard sell. Peterson did have a solid season in 2015 before the disaster that was this past year. He was a first-round pick, and ended up as one of the bigger disappointments of the year for fantasy owners. Even when he was healthy to start, he managed just 50 rushing yards on 31 carries in the first two games. He has shown that he has the work ethic to get in football shape and has come back strong from injury before, but he may be just a RB2, at best, in 2017.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
The Red Sox spent years building for the future. Under Dave Dombrowski, however, they’re acting as if the apocalypse is drawing near. Blessed with a young roster and loads of talent at the big-league level, Dombrowski is going for it in a big way. By trading away the top two remaining jewels of his farm system — Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — for former White Sox ace Chris Sale, he has opened what amounts to a three-year window of contention for a Red Sox club that’s one of the favorites in the American League. If the Sox win a World Series, no one in Boston will complain. If they don’t, we could look back at his aggressive dealing as the beginning of another dark age.
Two short years ago, the Red Sox sent Clay Buchholz to the mound on Opening Day. Now they have their choice between Cy Youngs past (David Price), present (Rick Porcello) and future (Sale). Porcello made the leap in his second year with the Red Sox, winning the Cy Young Award on the strength of perhaps the most consistent season in baseball, but he’s not even close to the most talented starter on the roster. That distinction belongs to Sale, who’s working on four straight top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting but has yet to win the award. They’re joined by Price, who knows he needs to be better than his middling debut. Talented lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez should claim the fourth spot, with the fifth coming down to All-Star knuckleballer Steven Wright and trade-deadline acquisition Drew Pomeranz, who’s likely the slight favorite.
What manager John Farrell wouldn’t give for a dependable eighth-inning option. That man looked like Koji Uehara last year, but then he got hurt and joined the Cubs in free agency. Farrell also shuffled through Matt Barnes, Junichi Tazawa, Brad Ziegler, Robbie Ross and Joe Kelly with inconsistent results. Now the Red Sox have former Brewers setup man Tyler Thornburg for the role, with the intriguing Kelly also in the mix. They’ll set up All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who allowed just enough big hits to produce questions about his reliability in October. The rest of the pen will probably need some sorting out in spring training, and then into the season, with the loser of the fifth starter race joining the pen alongside lefty Fernando Abad and perhaps righty Heath Hembree, who’s out of options.
In a word: linchpins. The Red Sox are as strong up the middle as any team in the game, thanks to former MVP Dustin Pedroia at second and emerging star Xander Bogaerts at short. Pedroia authored one of the best seasons of his career, hitting .318 with an .825 OPS and finishing as a Gold Glove finalist. Bogaerts, meanwhile, mysteriously tailed off in the second half, but he still won his second straight Silver Slugger, and he’s steady enough defensively, especially if he regains his form of 2015, to nail down shortstop for years to come. The two could pair atop the order, or Bogaerts could drop down to give length and balance to the lineup in the Nos. 5 or 6 holes.
No one saw Hanley Ramirez coming, but he responded to questions about his commitment with a monster 30-100 season and acceptable defense at first base. He’ll get the lion’s share of the at-bats at DH this year, with Gold Glover Mitch Moreland starting at first against righties and Ramirez probably donning his glove against lefties. The real question comes across the diamond, where the decks have been cleared for underachieving veteran Pablo Sandoval to regain his starting job and erase the misery of his first two seasons in Boston. Whether Sandoval is up to the task remains to be seen, but he at least showed a commitment to weight loss in the offseason.
The Red Sox outfield is the envy of baseball. Right fielder Mookie Betts won a Gold Glove and finished second in the MVP voting during a breakout 2016. A 30-30 season feels almost inevitable. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. started the All-Star Game and erupted for 26 homers while slugging nearly .500. Then there’s youngster Andrew Benintendi, who many scouts believe could win a batting title with his scything swing from the left side. He’s also a center fielder by trade, which gives the Red Sox astounding outfield range and athleticism. We could be seeing a lot of Win, Dance, Repeat — the 20-something outfield’s selfie-pantomiming victory celebration — in 2017.
Here’s where things get tricky. Each of the three catchers on the roster comes with questions. Surprise 2016 starter Sandy Leon hit .458 over his first month and .204 over his last one. After hitting .238 in 10 minor-league seasons and .184 in four prior big-league seasons, can he really be counted on to continue producing in a full-time role? Christian Vazquez brings a tremendous arm and reputation for great defense, but his bat lags considerably. Youngster Blake Swihart is an athletic marvel, but the Red Sox are returning him to catching, where he was a work in progress, after a disastrous stint in the outfield produced a season-ending ankle injury last year. Look for Leon and Vazquez to open the season in the big leagues.
The Red Sox face a monumental task — replacing David Ortiz, who walked into the sunset with the greatest final season in history (.315-38-127). The bulk of his at-bats will likely go to Ramirez, who’s a lifetime .331 hitter with a 1.014 OPS at DH. The rest of the bench will get used, with outfielder Chris Young DHing against lefties when Ramirez plays first, super-sub Brock Holt serving as third base insurance should Sandoval struggle, and Rule 5 pick Josh Rutledge providing right-handed options at third and in the middle infield.
If you only read the Boston papers or listened to the airwaves without actually seeing the results, you’d assume Farrell was the worst manager in baseball. But his young team played hard all season, particularly during an 11-game winning streak in September that salted away the division. Does Farrell get in his own way at times late in games? Perhaps. But Dombrowski is on record that he views in-game strategy as far less essential to a manager’s job than the bigger-picture focus of keeping players pulling in the same direction over the course of 162 games, and on that count, Farrell delivers. As for Dombrowski, he has already proven that he will act decisively if the Red Sox need reinforcements in July, and he’s not afraid to trade prospects.
The Red Sox are all-in on 2017. Dombrowski has blown up the farm system to obtain All-Stars Kimbrel and Sale, and he won’t hesitate to move more young talent if the Red Sox develop an obvious need before the trade deadline. Everyone from Dombrowski to Farrell to Price to young stars Bogaerts and Betts will be feeling the heat as the Red Sox attempt to win it all for the fourth time since 2004. Anything short of a World Series berth will feel like a disappointment.
2017 AL EAST PREDICTION: 1st
The original plot line — before Carl Edwards and Joey Logano crashed and before Jimmie Johnson somehow rallied to his record-tying seventh Cup championship — in last fall’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was breaking in Kyle Larson’s direction. His No. 42 was the fastest long-run car, and Larson had shown masterful skill in running inches from the wall for much of the 400-mile race with hardly a scratch on the right side. It was his race to win, right until he didn’t.
Fortunately, Larson has a short memory.
“It stings, I guess, for a couple days,” Larson says. “But my life’s so fast and hectic that it’s easy for me to move [on] and forget about it.”
Larson, 24, races so often and in so many places that it’s easy to believe him. Just four days after that Homestead finale, he was winning the Turkey Night Grand Prix, a prestigious USAC National Midget Series dirt track event in Ventura, Calif.
Now starting his fourth season in Cup for Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson is doing all he can to fully break through at stock car’s highest level. He’s getting closer.
Last year, in what he called “definitely my best year” in Cup, Larson qualified for the postseason for the first time thanks to a well-timed first career win at Michigan International Speedway in August. It was an exclamation point on a season that also saw Larson lead more laps in Cup than ever and set a new career benchmark for top-10 finishes (15) in a season. But getting to that point wasn’t easy.
“Our racecars were really bad to start the year, and we had a new crew chief,” Larson says, referring to Chad Johnston. “I think it took (Johnston) just a couple months to get things how he wanted. Once his cars got to showing up to the race track, that’s when we really picked up speed.”
Larson’s change in performance last season reflects his theory about Johnston’s touch. In the first 12 races of 2016, Larson averaged a 21st-place finish and a 19th-place start. The rest of the 36-race schedule saw Larson rocket to a 12th-place average finish and eight of his 10 top-5 finishes. An improvement like that makes it easy to choose what to focus on in the new year.
“Hopefully, we can keep up with it through the offseason,” Larson says. “That’s where we struggle. It seems like in the three years I’ve run, we end the year good, but we don’t start the years off great, so we’re always working really hard to gain points back.”
Larson will continue this season to run dirt races where he can. He has a limit of 25 per year, but he says he’ll struggle to find time this season to fill that number, thanks to NASCAR’s calendar featuring one less off-week than normal.
Likely not on Larson’s calendar — at least for 2017 — is a turn in a Ganassi IndyCar seat at the Indianapolis 500.
“I would love to run the double, and Chip knows that,” Larson says. “He always told me to worry about winning a Cup race first, so now I’ve done that. I haven’t asked if I could run, but I would for sure love to do the doubles some day. I’d love to run the Indy 500 at least once in my lifetime.”
Larson knows this season will be an important one for his career, thanks to a soon-to-expire contract and the prospect of a potential change in sponsorship on the No. 42 in 2018. Target, Larson’s largest primary sponsor, opted to end a 27-year relationship with Ganassi’s IndyCar program due to a corporate strategy shift after last season and has a contract on Larson’s car that expires after this season.
Larson, as usual, is taking it all in stride and just focusing on better results.
“I’d like to be more consistent, have less DNFs, and make the final four at Homestead,” Larson says. “To win the championship would be the ultimate goal, but final four at Homestead would be great, just knowing you had a shot at winning the championship.”
The Tennessee Volunteers will be well represented in the upcoming NFL Draft for the first time in several years. That's nice, but the drawback is that the Vols will have plenty of big shoes to fill on Rocky Top in 2017. In order to help fill that void, Butch Jones will undoubtedly have to turn to some of the younger players on his roster.
While it will be a tall order to replace the likes of Joshua Dobbs and Derek Barnett (amongst others), Tennessee does have a promising group of young candidates that have the potential to step up. That includes one particularly special redshirt freshman, as well as a handful of talented prospects that were added by way of this year’s No. 17 ranked recruiting class. Here is a closer look at five newcomers that could see the field early and often as the Volunteers attempt to make another run at the SEC East in 2017.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB – RS Freshman
Following a redshirt in his first year in Knoxville, Guarantano appears poised to make a run at the Vols’ vacant starting quarterback position this fall. The former Under Armour All-American will have to beat out the slightly more experienced Quinten Dormady to earn the honor. However, many feel that Guarantano’s athleticism and dual-threat abilities make for a better fit in Butch Jones’ offense. If he earns the spot, Guarantano could easily have the biggest impact of any player on the Vols’ roster in 2017.
Trey Smith, OL – Freshman
The Volunteers return four of their five starters on the offensive line from 2016. They also feature a host of other experienced offensive linemen that help make up one of Tennessee’s deepest position groups heading into 2017. That being said, it will be difficult to keep the Vols’ most prized 2017 recruit on the sidelines this fall. Trey Smith was ranked the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation for a reason. At 6-6 and 313 lbs., Smith has an SEC ready frame and a nasty disposition on the field to go along with it. As an early-enrollee, Smith should immediately be able to put himself in the running for a starting position. His impact could go a long way in helping the Vol offense this season and beyond.
Ty Chandler, RB – Freshman
The Vols return just two scholarship running backs from last year’s team, making it one of the thinnest position groups on the team. Tennessee addressed this issue by adding three running backs to its 2017 signing class. The most prominent addition being Army All-American Ty Chandler. The nation’s No. 5 ranked high school running back rushed for 6,158 yards and 92 touchdowns over his final three seasons at Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy. Chandler projects to be a prominent fixture in the Tennessee rushing attack in 2017.
Will Ignont, LB – Freshman
Tennessee’s depth at linebacker was seriously put to the test last season following a rash of injuries, and the results were not pretty as the Vols were gashed repeatedly down the stretch. That is a big reason why 4-star linebacker Will Ignont became a priority for Butch Jones in the ’17 signing class. At 6-2 and 237 lbs., this one-time Alabama commit is SEC ready. He should see the field early in 2017, and at a minimum, Ignont will add some much-needed quality depth to the Vols’ linebacker corps and play a significant role on special teams.
Matthew Butler, DL – Freshman
Butler flew under-the-radar with regard to several of the recruiting services, but a monster senior season at Garner High School in North Carolina speaks for itself. He racked up 96 tackles, 44 tackles for loss and 26 sacks in his final year of high school ball. Those numbers are practically unprecedented for a defensive linemen, which is a big reason why he was able to garner first-team Parade All-America honors. His ability to play either defensive end or defensive tackle in college, which are both huge positions of need for the Vols, makes him a very special addition to the 2017 signing class. Butler should quickly find his way into the Volunteers’ defensive line rotation, along with fellow freshman Eric Crosby.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
The party is ongoing and will continue for quite some time. Clemson is still the National Champion and will be for another 11 months.
But on March 1st, spring practice will open and head coach Dabo Swinney will not be thinking about what happened on the night of January 9. He will be trying to figure out how he is going to replace the talent that left Clemson in order to get his team ready for Kent State on September 2.
Obviously, the Tigers lose a great deal of talent. But here are five newcomers that could step in and contribute.
Zerrick Cooper, QB, Redshirt Freshman
Swinney stated that junior-to-be Kelly Bryant will get the first opportunity to fill Deshaun Watson’s gigantic shoes. But Cooper has a big arm and many think that eventually the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder will earn the starting job. True freshman Hunter Johnson is a name to watch this spring in the quarterback battle.
Tee Higgins, WR, Freshman
With Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow, and others, the wide receiver cupboard is pretty full. With size, speed, and great hands, the five-star prospect looks like the next great Tiger receiver and he will push for serious playing time this fall.
Xavier Kelly, DE, Redshirt Freshman
Last August, the Kansas native was beginning to impress when he was injured in a traffic accident. Now, with Carlos Watkins moving on, Kelly is poised to join Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant in the rotation at defensive end.
Isaiah Simmons, S, Redshirt Freshman
Another Kansas product, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Simmons has the potential to be a physical presence on the Tiger defense. Simmons will compete for playing time at Jadar Johnson’s now vacant strong safety position.
A.J. Terrell, CB, Freshman
At 6-foot-2, Terrell has great length for a cornerback and is a very good athlete. Along with another big corner in rising sophomore Trayvon Mullen, Clemson has some exciting options to replace Cordrea Tankersley.
— 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.
Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas were far from the only major college football programs to fail to meet expectations in 2016 — they were just the biggest.
What Went Wrong For: Michigan State I Notre Dame I Oregon I Texas
2015 recap: 7-6 (3-6 Pac-12)
2016 preseason: Unranked
2016 recap: 3-9 (1-8 Pac-12)
What Went Wrong for the Wildcats
There’s no denying injuries played a big impact — 17-year-old freshman quarterback Khalil Tate ended up seeing extensive action — but this was just not a great team, especially defensively, where the Wildcats were loaded with upperclassmen and still managed to surrender 38.3 points per game, good for 117th nationally … which was still better than rival Arizona State, which Arizona beat in the finale.
How It Can Be Fixed
New linebackers coach Scott Boone from Nevada should help get his young corps up to speed, but it will be a challenge. Offensively, the future looks promising with dual-threat QB Brandon Dawkins, although he’ll have to improve as a passer.
Arizona State Sun Devils
2015 recap: 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12)
2016 preseason: Unranked
2016 recap: 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12)
What Went Wrong for the Sun Devils
Like Arizona, ASU was hit hard on the injury front, especially at the QB position. But like Arizona, there was no fixing this mess of a defense, which ranked 123rd nationally in scoring, at 39.8 points per game. The offensive line was underwhelming, and the lack of a running game made it tough for whoever was under center to develop any consistency. It all resulted in a 1-7 finish after a promising 4-0 start.
How It Can Be Fixed
ASU has to like what it has coming back offensively, as Kalen Ballage did show promise as a runner (he scored 7 TDs in one game) and N’Keal Harry was one of the nation’s top freshmen receivers (659 yards). The Sun Devils add Alabama transfer Blake Barnett at QB, too. But nothing’s going to mean much if this D doesn’t get fixed, and quickly.
Duke Blue Devils
2015 recap: 8-5 (4-4 ACC), Pinstripe Bowl champions
2016 preseason: Unranked
2016 recap: 4-8 (1-7 ACC)
What Went Wrong for the Blue Devils
Perhaps Duke was due for a down year, after an unprecedented four-year run of success. Starting QB Thomas Sirk suffered his third Achilles tear just before the season, leaving redshirt freshman Daniel Jones in charge. All-everything DB and specialist DeVon Edwards missed most of the season, too. Jones played well, but the Blue Devils’ defense looked gassed at the end of the year, giving up 40-plus points to Pitt and Miami in its final two games. Duke did beat Notre Dame and North Carolina, though, and gave Louisville and Virginia Tech all they could handle.
How It Can Be Fixed
Duke may have a QB quandary on its hands, as Sirk was granted an extra year of eligibility but will have to beat out the promising Jones. Otherwise, there’s no need to really panic. Duke was young and tripped over itself a bit this past season, and the ACC Coastal Division as a whole improved a bit from previous years, too. As long as head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff continue to develop and recruit the way they have, Duke should be a regular bowl team again.
Ole Miss Rebels
2015 recap: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
2016 preseason: No. 11 AP, No. 12 coaches, Sugar Bowl champions
2016 recap: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
What Went Wrong for the Rebels
A combination of QB injury, horrendous defensive play and, let’s face it, the lingering cloud of NCAA uncertainty in Oxford all likely contributed to an underwhelming season for the Rebels, who were so close to wins over Florida State and Alabama but ended up missing a bowl altogether.
How It Can Be Fixed
The talent is there, and the SEC is coming off a, shall we say, not-that-great season — at least in the non-Alabama realm. Head coach Hugh Freeze brought in a pair of new coordinators in Phil Longo (offense) and Wesley McGriff (defense), and it will be interesting to see how QB Shea Patterson builds off a promising, yet brief, freshman season and how a defense that ranked 100th in scoring and 111th in total D can make the most of its returning pieces. There are quite a few up front.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2015 recap: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)
2016 preseason: Unranked
2016 recap: 5-7 (3-6 Big 12)
What Went Wrong for the Red Raiders
No game may better encapsulate Tech’s season than its 66-59 loss at Oklahoma. Patrick Mahomes was sensational all season long, throwing for 5,052 yards, but he got little help from the run game this year and even less help from the other side of the ball, which ranked dead last nationally in total defense, surrendering 554.3 yards per game.
How It Can Be Fixed
Mahomes is gone and will be tough to replace, although this may force Tech to have a more balanced offense. The D, meanwhile, has nowhere to go but up. It is young, as the Red Raiders redshirted most of their freshmen and welcome in plenty more on that side of the ball, and the unit will have much more of head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s attention, although his background is on the offensive side. Linebacker Dakota Allen is back, too, after a dismissal and stint at East Mississippi CC that followed a strong freshman campaign in Lubbock in 2015.
2015 recap: 8-5 (5-4 Pac-12)
2016 preseason: No. 16 AP, No. 24 coaches
2016 recap: 4-8 (2-7 Pac-12)
What Went Wrong for the Bruins
Unlike the rest of its Pac-12 brethren, UCLA cannot blame its defense, which was decent, ranking fifth in the Pac-12 in total D. Instead, the Bruins’ failures came offensively. Sophomore QB Josh Rosen being hurt didn’t help at all, but the coordinator switch from Noel Mazzone to Kennedy Polamalu didn’t work out, with Polamalu getting fired. The Bruins rushed for a ridiculously low 84.25 yards per game, which was second to last in the country.
How It Can Be Fixed
A healthy Rosen will certainly be a boost, for one. And in theory, a new OC will, too, as the Bruins hired Jedd Fisch from Michigan. That said, this will be Rosen’s third OC in three years, and the rest of the Pac-12 just seems to be getting better and better, so this is a very, very crucial year for head coach Jim Mora, whose Bruins have a tough schedule ahead in 2017 but have another strong recruiting class on deck.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball
Injuries are an unfortunate part of any college football season and usually take a toll on every FBS team by the end of the year. Several key players were hit by the injury bug in 2016, including a handful of big names from the SEC. Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker, Tennessee defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, LSU linebacker Corey Thompson, South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore and Arkansas linebacker Dre Greenlaw are just a few of the top players returning from injury into SEC action this fall.
Additionally, Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio and Ole Miss cornerback Ken Webster are just a few of the other key players slated to return to action around the SEC in 2017.
20 Key SEC Players Returning From Injury in 2017
Drew Barker, QB, Kentucky
Patrick Towles’ transfer to Boston College paved the way for Barker to become Kentucky’s starting quarterback last fall. However, Barker’s stint under center was a short one. The Kentucky native suffered a back injury in early September and was limited to just three games (18 of 36 for 334 yards). Junior college recruit Stephen Johnson received the majority of snaps under center the rest of the way and returns to compete with Barker for the starting job this offseason.
Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2017
Terry Beckner, DL, Missouri
Beckner was a huge pickup in the 2015 signing class, as the Illinois native ranked as a five-star recruit and was an impact addition under former coach Gary Pinkel. Beckner wasted no time making an impact as a true freshman, recording 27 tackles (eight for a loss) before a season-ending knee injury in 2015. Beckner returned in time for the 2016 campaign but was sidelined in mid-October with another season-ending knee injury. Getting Beckner back to full strength is critical for Missouri’s defense, especially after top edge rusher Charles Harris left for the NFL.
Nate Brown, WR, Missouri
Missouri’s offense finished second in the SEC by averaging 295.4 passing yards per game in 2016. Coordinator Josh Heupel and quarterback Drew Lock will have another talented weapon at their disposal in 2017, as Brown returns to action after sitting out last year due to an ankle injury. Brown ranked second on the team in 2015 with 27 catches for 326 yards and four scores.
Tolando Cleveland, CB, Mississippi State
Mississippi State’s secondary suffered an early setback in fall camp when Cleveland was lost for the year due to a knee injury. Prior to 2016, Cleveland played in 38 games with the Bulldogs and accumulated 80 stops (seven for a loss) and 13 passes defended. Assuming Cleveland is 100 percent, he should return to handle a significant role in the secondary for new coordinator Todd Grantham.
Quartney Davis, WR, Texas A&M
Davis ranked as one of the top recruits in Texas A&M’s 2016 signing class but suffered a preseason knee injury and was ruled out for the year. With Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones departing for the NFL, and Josh Reynolds expiring his eligibility, Davis could be one of the top targets in Texas A&M’s offense for 2017.
Jamel Dean, DB, Auburn
Dean ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2015 signing class and originally started his career at Ohio State before landing at Auburn. The Florida native sat out 2015 as a redshirt and was poised to claim a starting role in 2016 before a preseason knee injury. Assuming Dean returns to full strength, he will give Auburn’s secondary a talented trio of cornerbacks, which is headlined by the return of Carlton Davis and Javaris Davis for 2017.
Luke Del Rio, QB, Florida
Del Rio earned the starting job prior to the 2016 campaign and threw for 1,358 yards and eight scores in six appearances. However, a knee injury forced Del Rio to miss games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt and a shoulder ailment prevented him from playing in the final five contests of 2016. Del Rio is expected to miss spring practice after offseason shoulder surgery, which allows redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks a chance to stake his claim for the starting job.
Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Alabama
Alabama’s defense is losing a couple of key contributors from its 2016 unit, including standout linebackers Reuben Foster, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, along with All-America end Jonathan Allen. Dion Hamilton should be one of the leaders for this group in 2017, as he returns from a knee injury suffered against Florida in the SEC Championship. Prior to the injury, Dion Hamilton recorded 64 tackles (nine for a loss) and one forced fumble.
Dre Greenlaw, LB, Arkansas
Greenlaw was an emerging star entering the 2016 season for coach Bret Bielema. As a freshman in 2015, Greenlaw ranked as one of the SEC’s top freshmen by recording 95 stops and two forced fumbles. However, Greenlaw’s 2016 season was derailed by a foot injury suffered against Alabama in early October. He returned for the Belk Bowl and recorded six tackles against Virginia Tech.
Christian LaCouture, DL, LSU
Lewis Neal expired his eligibility and Davon Godchaux left Baton Rouge for the NFL, but the Tigers won’t have to look far for help on the defensive line. LaCouture returns to the lineup after missing all of 2016 due to a knee injury. The Nebraska native has 23 career starts at LSU and recorded 86 tackles (eight for a loss) and 4.5 sacks in his three years on campus.
Connor Lanfear, OL, Texas A&M
Lanfear was a key cog in Texas A&M’s 2016 offensive line, as he recorded eight starts through the first nine games last fall. However, Lanfear suffered a season-ending injury against Mississippi State. He returns to help anchor a group that returns two other full-time starters from last year.
De’Niro Laster, LB, Kentucky
Laster sat out 2015 as a transfer from Minnesota and cracked the two-deep prior to 2016 as a backup linebacker. In five appearances, Laster recorded 14 stops, one sack and two tackles for a loss. However, he was lost for the year in mid-October due to injury. He should provide depth at linebacker once again in 2017.
Dre Massey, WR, Florida
Massey was penciled in as a key contributor for Florida’s receiving corps last season but suffered a knee injury in the opener and missed the remainder of the year. Massey ranked as the No. 27 junior college recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2016 signing class.
Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina
South Carolina’s defense suffered a significant setback before the 2016 season, as Moore was ruled out due to a neck injury. The Florida native was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2015 after recording 111 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and three forced fumbles. Moore’s return is a huge boost for South Carolina’s defense in 2017.
Eric Swinney, RB, Ole Miss
Swinney was poised to push for a major role in the Ole Miss backfield last season, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida State in the opener. With Akeem Judd expiring his eligibility, Swinney should once again push for significant carries this offseason.
Corey Thompson, DB/LB, LSU
Thompson was expected to be used in a versatile linebacker/safety role for coordinator Dave Aranda last season but missed all of 2016 due to injury. Prior to the injury, Thompson was penciled in as a starter. The Texas native has played in 31 games since 2012 and recorded 66 tackles and three pass breakups. If healthy, Thompson should return to the linebacker/safety role in 2017.
Shy Tuttle/Kahlil McKenzie, DL, Tennessee
Tennessee’s defense was hit hard by injuries last season, with the line losing two key cogs on the interior. Tuttle suffered a season-ending leg injury against South Carolina, while McKenzie was lost for the year after a pectoral injury in mid-October. Getting both players back to 100 percent for 2017 is essential with end Derek Barnett off to the NFL. Tuttle ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2015 signing class, while McKenzie was the No. 6 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Ken Webster, CB, Ole Miss
Webster started all 13 games for the Rebels in 2015 and was slated to push for All-SEC honors as a junior in 2016. However, Webster was injured in the opener against Florida State and missed the rest of the entire year. In 2015, Webster recorded 41 tackles, 11 pass breakups and one interception. His return is critical for a secondary that loses Carlos Davis, Tony Bridges, Derrick Jones and Tony Conner.
Darius West, S, Kentucky
With the return of cornerbacks Chris Westry and Derrick Baity, and the emergence of safety Mike Edwards, Kentucky has the makings of a solid secondary for 2017. Coach Mark Stoops also has help coming in the form of West, who missed 2016 due to a knee injury. As a freshman in 2015, West recorded 17 tackles in 10 appearances. He’s expected to push for a starting job this offseason.
Other Key Players Returning From Injury
Evan Berry, DB, Tennessee
Justin Dunning, DB, Texas A&M
Paul James, DE, Auburn
D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
Kevin Richardson II, DB, Arkansas
Antonio Riles, OL, Florida
Britto Tutt, DB, Arkansas
Kobie Walker, LB, Kentucky
Isaiah Washington, DL, LSU
Patriots fans may never completely forgive ESPN for starting Deflategate, and that was made clear recently.
When one Patriots fan took a video of Rob Gronkowski drinking a beer and then spiking it, ESPN came calling. Unfortunately for them, the call wasn't answered. The worldwide leader in sports wanted to use the video to run on air but soon learned it wouldn't be easy.
GRONK BEER SPIKE!!! pic.twitter.com/lhQ0MAbICr— Steve Perrault (@Steve_Perrault) February 7, 2017
.@ESPNAssignDesk No, you cannot have permission. You started deflategate. GTFO— Steve Perrault (@Steve_Perrault) February 7, 2017
Well that's one way to say no.
Everyone is still talking about the Falcons' collapse in the Super Bowl... even teams in other leagues.
The San Jose Sharks gave up a lead to the Sabres, causing the game to go into overtime. Unfortunately the Sharks ended up losing but found a way to look on the bright side.
Probably shouldn't expect to see any of the Falcons at a game in the near future.
With pitchers and catchers ready to report for Spring Training and another MLB Opening Day just around the corner, the Athlon Sports 2017 Baseball Annual slides home in time to provide the preseason analysis and predictions craved by fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between.
We take a lap around the big leagues in "17 Things to Watch in 2017," examining the emerging Cubs dynasty, the spike in home runs, the Braves rebuild and more. "Short Hops" takes a peek at the lighter side of a day at the ballpark, highlighted by the curious case of Chris Young, an almost-unbelievable run of coincidences last season, Bryce Harper's contradictory comments and the always-intriguing calendar of the weird.
We offer a look at the next generation of MLB stars with our ranking of the top 50 prospects in the minor leagues, and we look ahead to the 2017 draft by ranking the top 40 prospects in both high school and college.
In addition, we preview the 2017 college baseball season with a top-25 ranking and All-America team.
Our Fantasy Baseball section provides a top-100 cheat sheet, as well as extensive position-by-position rankings that includes over 400 players. This year's edition also includes a team-by-team preview of all 30 clubs, with rosters, stats and schedules as well as a look at each club's farm system. We also present our predictions for the 2017 American League and National League division races, playoffs and World Series, as well as the top candidates for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. Athlon Sports Baseball Annual is the most complete preview available today.
Visit newsstands or order your copy now!
Despite concluding the 2016 college football season on a very disappointing note, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his restructured coaching staff were able to land one of the nation's best recruiting classes. Ever since being hired as Ohio State's head coach in November 2011, Meyer has been bringing in quality talent to Columbus. What has Ohio State's coaches and fans excited, and national recruiting analysts in a state of awe and admiration, is that the 2017 recruiting class Meyer has assembled may be the very best in his prestigious career, which is saying something.
With so many highly-touted freshmen to choose from within the 2017 recruiting class, as well as redshirt freshmen from the 2016 crop who are eager to make an impact, it was challenging to come up with only five players who will bear watching in 2017. As half of the 2017 recruiting class are already enrolled and will participate in spring football for the Buckeyes, here are five players who have already enrolled at Ohio State and who may emerge this fall.
1. Baron Browning, LB
Browning was ranked as a 5-star prospect by the major recruiting analyst sites (247Sports, Rivals and Scout), and was considered one of the top 10 players in the country. Despite being listed as an outside linebacker, Browning could emerge as an option to take over Raekwon McMillan's spot at middle linebacker this spring.
2. J.K. Dobbins, RB
Dobbins was considered one of the top all-purpose running backs in the country, despite missing his senior season due to an injury sustained in his first game. While Mike Weber will enter spring practice as Ohio State's starting tailback, Dobbins could make a move on the depth chart and emerge as a playmaker during the 2017 season.
3. Josh Myers, OL
Myers is one of the few Ohioans in the recruiting class, but is already being touted by Urban Meyer as someone who will play this upcoming fall. While Myers played offensive tackle in high school, Myers could get a look at the open spot at guard, now that Billy Price has moved over to play center this season.
4. Jeffrey Okudah, DB
Even with so many highly regarded recruits in the 2017 class, Okudah may rank as the best. Ohio State is listing Okudah at cornerback, but he also could factor at safety as well. If Okudah does play safety, that may open up the door for...
5. Shaun Wade, CB
Wade committed to Ohio State during the 2015 national championship game against Oregon. Even Urban Meyer was surprised that Ohio State was able to hold onto Wade's commitment, as the Jacksonville, Fla., product was heavily pursued by the other top programs in the country from 2015 until National Signing Day last week. Jeffrey Okudah and Wade are considered the top two cornerback recruits in the nation, and Ohio State was able to land them both.
So often in recruiting it comes down to quantity versus quality. As it stands with Ohio State in 2017, it truly seems as though the Buckeyes were able to gain both.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
Winning championships can certainly cement a head coach’s greatness, but his place in history cannot be defined by titles alone. One must look at the full body of work throughout his NFL career and factor in all of his individual seasons, his performance at every team he coached and his contribution to the game. With those variables in mind, here are the 25 greatest head coaches in NFL history.
25. Blanton Collier
76-34-2 (8 years), 3-4 in playoffs
5 division titles
1964 NFL championship
Collier followed two legends, Bear Bryant at Kentucky and Paul Brown with Cleveland. He won on both the college and professional levels, including leading the Browns to the 1964 NFL title.
24. George Allen
Los Angeles Rams 1966-70; Washington 1971-77
116-47-5 (12 years), 2-7 in playoffs
3 division titles
Super Bowl VII appearance
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2002
Allen never had a losing season in 12 years with the Rams and Redskins, and his coaching innovations inspired generations that followed him.
23. Marv Levy
Kansas City 1978-82; Buffalo 1986-97
143-112 (17 years), 11-8 in playoffs
6 division titles
4 Super Bowl appearances (XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2001
How do you make it to four straight Super Bowls? Through great coaching. Despite coming up short on Super Sunday, Levy’s Bills went 58-19 (including playoffs) from 1990-93.
22. Hank Stram
Dallas Texans 1960-62; Kansas City 1963-74; New Orleans 1976-77
131-97-10 (17 years), 5-3 in playoffs
4 division titles
3 AFL championships (1962, ’66, ‘69)
2 Super Bowl appearances (I, IV); Super Bowl IV champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2003
The AFL’s greatest coach won three AFL titles and Super Bowl IV and showed that wearing a microphone during football games makes for great television.
21. Marty Schottenheimer
Cleveland 1984-88; Kansas City 1989-98; Washington 2001; San Diego 2002-06
200-126-1 (21 years), 5-13 in playoffs
8 division titles
Schottenheimer coached four different teams and had only two losing seasons. That tells you how good he was.
20. Steve Owen
New York Giants 1931-53
151-100-17 (23 years)
10 division titles
2 NFL championships (1934, ’38)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1966
Owen coached the Giants for 23 seasons and won two NFL titles. He is still the franchise’s all-time winningest coach.
19. Mike Tomlin
103-55 (9 years), 8-6 in playoffs
5 division titles
2 Super Bowl appearances
Super Bowl XLIII champion
If Tomlin continues to sustain his success with the Steelers, he will end his career near the top of this list.
18. Ray Flaherty
Boston Redskins 1936; Washington 1937-42; New York Yankees (AAFC) 1946-48; Chicago Hornets (AAFC) 1949
80-37-5 (11 years), 2-4 in playoffs
6 division titles
2 NFL championships (1937, ’42)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1976
Flaherty won two NFL titles with the Redskins and many credit him with inventing the screen pass.
17. Bill Cowher
149-90-1 (15 years), 12-9 in playoffs
8 division titles
2 Super Bowl appearances (XXX, XL)
Super Bowl XL champion
Cowher and Paul Brown are the only coaches in NFL history to make the playoffs in each of their first six seasons.
16. Dick Vermeil
Philadelphia 1976-82; St. Louis Rams 1997-99; Kansas City 2001-05
120-109 (15 years), 6-5 in playoffs
3 division titles
2 Super Bowl appearances (XV, XXXIV)
Super Bowl XXXIV champion
Vermeil turned three different teams into winners and won a Super Bowl along the way.
15. Tony Dungy
Tampa Bay 1996-2001; Indianapolis 2002-08
139-69 (13 years), 9-10 in playoffs
6 division titles
Super Bowl XLI champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2016
The recent Canton inductee turned Tampa Bay around and then he took Indianapolis to the next level. Unlike many of the coaches on this list, he was also genteel and classy at every turn in his career.
14. Bud Grant
Minnesota 1976-83, ‘85
158-96-5 (18 years), 10-12 in playoffs
11 division titles
4 Super Bowl appearances (IV, VIII, IX, XI)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1994
Ironically, Grant and Marv Levy are the only coaches in history to lead teams to the CFL’s Grey Cup and the Super Bowl.
13. John Madden
103-32-7 (10 years), 9-7 in playoffs
7 division titles
Super Bowl XI champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2006
Madden’s .759 winning percentage is the best of any coach in the modern football era.
12. Guy Chamberlin
Canton Bulldogs 1922-23; Cleveland Bulldogs 1924; Frankford Yellow Jackets 1925-26; Chicago Cardinals 1927
58-16-7 (6 years)
4 division titles
4 NFL titles (1922-24, ’26)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1965
As a player/coach, Chamberlin won four NFL titles with three different teams in the 1920s.
11. Curly Lambeau
Green Bay 1921-49; Chicago Cardinals 1950-51; Washington 1952-53
226-132-22 (33 years), 3-2 in playoffs
8 division titles
6 NFL championships (1929-31, ’36, ’39, ’44)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1963
Lambeau founded the Packers and then led them to six NFL titles.
10. Bill Parcells
New York Giants 1983-90; New England 1993-96; New York Jets 1997-99; Dallas Cowboys 2003-06
172-130-1 (19 years), 11-8 in playoffs
5 division titles
3 Super Bowl appearances (XXI, XXV, XXXI)
Super Bowl XXI, XXV champion
Pro Football of Fame, Class of 2013
The Big Tuna won two Super Bowls and made the playoffs with four different teams.
9. Chuck Noll
193-148-1 (23 years), 16-8 in playoffs
9 division titles
Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, XIV champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1993
The Steelers had never won a championship since being founded in 1933. Then Noll arrived and they won four in six seasons.
8. Tom Landry
250-162-6 (29 years), 20-16 in playoffs
13 division titles
5 Super Bowl appearances (V, VI, X, XII, XIII)
Super Bowl VI, XII champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990
Landry’s record of 20 straight winning seasons is one that may stand forever.
7. George Halas
Decatur/Chicago Staleys (APFA) 1920-21; Chicago 1922-29, ’33-42, ’46-55, ’58-67
318-148-31 (40 years), 6-3 in playoffs
10 division titles
6 NFL championships (1921, ’33, ’40-41, ’46, ’63)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1963
Pro football would not be where it was without “Papa Bear,” who coached the Monsters of the Midway for 40 seasons, racking up 324 total wins and six NFL titles.
6. Joe Gibbs
Washington 1981-92, 2004-07
154-94 (16 years), 17-7 in playoffs
5 division titles
4 Super Bowl appearances (XVII, XVIII, XXII, XXVI)
Super Bowl XVII, XXII, XXVI champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1996
Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. That’s a testament to a great coach.
5. Paul Brown
Cleveland Browns (AAFC) 1946-49; Cleveland 1950-62; Cincinnati 1968-75
213-104-9 (25 years), 9-8 in playoffs
14 division titles
4 AAFC championships (1946-49)
3 NFL championships (1950, ’54-55)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1967
One of the game’s greatest innovators was the first coach of two franchises, the Browns and the Bengals, and he won with both teams. His ten straight title game appearances with Cleveland is a record that will likely never be broken (Note: Four of them were with the All-America Football Conference.).
4. Bill Walsh
San Francisco 1979-88
92-59-1 (10 years), 10-4 in playoffs
6 division titles
Super Bowl XVI, XIX, XXIII champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1993
Walsh invented the last true revolutionary offense in NFL history and won three Super Bowls with it.
3. Don Shula
Baltimore Colts 1963-69, Miami 1970-95
328-156-6 (33 years), 19-17 in playoffs
16 division titles
6 Super Bowl appearances (III, VI, VII, VIII, XVII, XIX)
Super Bowl VII, VIII champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1997
Pro football’s all-time career wins leaders coached in six Super Bowls and commandeered the only perfect season in NFL history.
2. Bill Belichick
Cleveland 1991-95; New England 2000-Present
237-115 (22 years), 26-10 in playoffs
14 division titles
7 Super Bowl appearances (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI, XLIX, LI)
Super Bowl XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI champion
Whether you love him or hate him, Belichick’s Patriots have been dominant in an era designed for parity. If he wins a sixth Super Bowl (which does not seem far-fetched at this point) and/or has 20 straight winning seasons, he will move to the top of this list.
1. Vince Lombardi
Green Bay 1959-67; Washington 1969
96-34-6 (10 years), 9-1 in playoffs
6 division titles
3 NFL championships (1961-62, ’65)
Super Bowl I, II champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1971
Lombardi won a total of five championships (3 NFL tiles, 2 Super Bowls) with the Packers in nine seasons. He might have had similar success with the Redskins if his life had not been cut short by colon cancer.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Vince Lombardi photo courtesy of NFL.com)
The Orioles are picked to finish in or near last place every offseason, and they continue to contend while confounding their critics. The upcoming season shouldn’t be any different. They can hit, they can field and no one puts out a better bullpen. They also have one of the game’s best managers in Buck Showalter and an executive vice president, Dan Duquette, who never stops crafting the roster and making depth moves that so often pay off down the road. The Orioles would benefit from a legitimate table-setter atop their order, which was a priority over the winter, and they desperately need the rotation to duplicate its September success. The starters will make or break the season, and the unit on paper pales in comparison to the rest of the division. That’s the primary concern.
The Orioles may not have the best starters, but they’re not hurting in the depth department. They went into the winter with six candidates for five spots, leaving open the possibility of a trade in spring training. Chris Tillman remains the ace. He appeared to be on his way to a 20-win season before suffering a shoulder injury. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are former first-round picks with ace stuff, but they’re still developing. Gausman needs to finally make the jump instead of inching along. Bundy just needs to stay healthy after moving into the rotation last summer. Showalter has indicated that the club won’t worry about Bundy’s innings total. Veterans Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley are vying for the last two spots, and they’re all pending free agents. Jimenez has been a bust since signing his four-year, $50 million contract, but he came on strong over the final month of the 2016 season. Gallardo showed up in camp with a weak shoulder and eventually landed on the disabled list, but he’s a nice bounce-back candidate. Miley disappointed after the Orioles traded for him, posting a 6.17 ERA in 11 starts, but he allowed only four runs over his last three outings.
J.J. Hardy and Jonathan Schoop form one of the best double-play combinations in baseball. Hardy remains one of the most reliable shortstops in the game, making every routine play and plenty of tough ones. He doesn’t have the best range or arm, but he’s always in the right place, and he’s the undisputed leader of the infield. Schoop possesses a rifle for an arm, and any runner sliding into him does so at his own risk. His range grades out poorly in the defensive metrics, but he passes the eye test.
Third baseman Manny Machado makes the short list of best players in the majors. He’s already won a Platinum Glove. No one has a stronger arm or better range at the hot corner. Factor in his production at the plate, including the 40 doubles, 37 home runs and .876 OPS, and it’s no wonder he finished fifth in AL MVP voting. Across the diamond, Chris Davis was a finalist for a Gold Glove and finally shed the label of underappreciated defender. No one is better at scooping throws in the dirt. He played most of the season with a hand injury that hurt his production at the plate in his first season after signing a seven-year, $161 million contract. However, he’s still one of the most feared power hitters in the game.
The Orioles want to upgrade their outfield defense. Center fielder Adam Jones wasn’t a finalist for a Gold Glove, though he remains one of the better defenders. Critics say he plays too shallow. He needed to cover a lot of ground in the alleys with Hyun Soo Kim and Mark Trumbo flanking him. Trumbo, who just re-signed with the Orioles in January, projects as a designated hitter. Kim was better than advertised, but still not close to elite. Kim did, however, lead the club in average (.302) and on-base percentage (.382) in his first season outside the Korean Baseball Organization. He was a platoon player, receiving only 18 at-bats against lefthanders, and may share the position with former Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard. Rickard, who didn’t play after July 20 due to a hand injury, can handle all three outfield positions and is a candidate to start in right field if the Orioles can’t find anyone else. He brings speed to the lineup that’s sorely needed.
Matt Wieters won’t be behind the plate for the first time since 2009, with the Orioles deciding to spend less on catching. They signed Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract that includes a $7 million player option for 2018. They wanted a short-term commitment while waiting for prospect Chance Sisco, who needs more experience at Triple-A. Castillo has some pop and a plus-arm, but he also was charged with 10 passed balls last season and grades poorly in pitch framing. Caleb Joseph is expected to be the backup, though Francisco Pena is on the 40-man roster and out of minor league options.
The Orioles are prepared to make rookie Trey Mancini their primary designated hitter despite a résumé that includes only five major-league games. The three home runs he hit in those give games turned heads. They could platoon him with a left-handed hitter or send him to the bench if they add a hitter later in the winter. Either way, they seem committed to breaking camp with him. Ryan Flaherty was a non-tender candidate, but the Orioles offered him a contract. He doesn’t do much with the bat, but he plays every position except catcher.
Showalter took heat for not using Britton in the wild card game, an 11-inning loss in Toronto, and he’s willing to take it. He knows it comes with the gig and it shouldn’t erase all of his accomplishments. Showalter changed a losing culture; the Orioles have posted five straight non-losing seasons and made the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Duquette is methodical, but there’s a method to his madness. He’s gotten some great bargains by letting the market play out, and the Trumbo-for-Steve Clevenger trade with the Mariners was a steal.
The Orioles always appear at a disadvantage in a division filled with big spenders. They also don’t have the prospects to swing major deals. They know who they are, and they somehow make it work. There’s no reason to believe they won’t contend in 2017, but the rotation could stand in their way. It’s filled with question marks.
2017 AL EAST PREDICTION: 2nd
For a guy who has a reputation for being volatile and over the top, Kurt Busch is flying under the radar at Stewart-Haas Racing. He didn’t have the stellar 2016 season Kevin Harvick did. He didn’t have a retirement tour like Tony Stewart. And he doesn’t garner the attention that Danica Patrick does. Busch won only one race in 2016, and his two poles came by the third race. Still, he had a good season when all was said and done. His 21 top-10 runs tied a career high (2016 was his fourth time hitting that mark). He finished all but two races, and only Kasey Kahne completed more laps than Busch.
It was also a season without controversy, resulting in Busch’s best points finish since 2009. The biggest ripple was Busch’s offseason marriage to Ashley Van Metre, a far cry from ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll’s domestic violence allegations that got him suspended three races in 2015.
Looking ahead, his Stewart-Haas Racing organization has two major changes on the horizon.
The first is a new teammate as Clint Bowyer replaces Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car. Stewart plans to be at the tracks in his ownership capacity many weeks, but having Bowyer behind the wheel represents a big change — he and his teammates will have to feel each other out and learn each other’s driving and communication styles in order to work together effectively. Bowyer brings elite-level talent and an outgoing personality to the table, but there will be an adjustment period for the organization.
The biggest change, though, comes as the team switches from Chevrolet to Ford. That means baseline chassis differences, to the point the team spent much of the fall and offseason hanging bodies and transitioning to the new cars. For four teams, that’s a daunting task. While the current car minimizes differences between manufacturers, there will be growing pains, especially since only one of the team’s drivers has driven a Ford — Busch, who won the 2004 title driving one for Roush Fenway Racing.
With the switch comes a change from Hendrick power to Roush Yates engines. Roush Yates powers Fords, including those of title contender Team Penske. It would appear to be a lateral move in the engine department. Where the team will benefit is from added support from the manufacturer. They’ll have whatever they need, and Ford’s research and development facility in Concord, N.C., provides them with plenty to draw from, including a top-of-the-line simulator that other Ford drivers have used to their benefit. If Busch and his teammates don’t excel every step of the way, it won’t be due to lack of help from Ford.
One of the reasons for Busch’s renewed strength is crew chief Tony Gibson. Gibson joined Busch at the tail end of 2014. He wasn’t meshing with Patrick, and Busch and Daniel Knost weren’t clicking either. Busch and Gibson work well together; both are veterans who know how to make a car go fast, and Gibson deals with the volatile Busch well, and that’s important. When things aren’t going well for Busch, communication breaks down, and the resulting berating of his crew on the radio doesn’t help anyone.
Sponsor Monster Energy stepped up its commitment in the sport in a big way, taking over NASCAR's Premier Series sponsorship rights from Sprint, but it remains committed to Busch for now. Team co-owner Gene Haas will round out the schedule with his Haas Automation brand. One key fact to watch is Busch’s contract, expiring after this season. Will Monster resign with a 39-year-old or look to go younger, forcing SHR’s hand on the veteran driver?
Busch looks to be a Chase factor on consistency again in 2017. He’s not likely to reel off several wins or run in the top 5 every week, but he’s a safe bet to make the playoffs, and he’s capable of going deep if he does. He’ll have to reinvent himself a bit to be a title contender, but he will make his competition work for it as well.
Since the University of Oklahoma hired Bob Stoops as head football coach in 1999, the Sooners have ruled the Big 12 on the field. However, their rivals south of the Red River have dominated February. Year in and year out, Texas fielded the most talented roster in the Big 12, thanks to the Longhorns’ annual recruiting bonanzas.
That changed in 2017. OU’s class finished eighth nationally, according to the 247Sports Team Composite rankings. Combined with Texas’ slide from 11th overall in 2016 to No. 26 this year, the Sooners vaulted to the top of the conference.
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for Big 12 schools over the last five classes according to 247Sports Team Composite rankings and each team's record over the last five seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.
Ranking the Big 12's College Football's Rosters in 2017:
Not-So-Big Talent in the Big 12
A constellation of factors have contributed to the ongoing talent drain in the Big 12, and it showed little evidence of abating in 2017. The top of the conference continues to lag behind the other Power Five leagues. Once you get past the upper crust, though, the middle and bottom tiers actually compare favorably with the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12. (The SEC remains in its own stratosphere, of course.)
The reviews weren’t pretty for new Texas head coach Tom Herman’s first class in Austin. Circumstances suggest, however, that we’re talking about a bridge year for the ‘Horns. It’s not as though Charlie Strong left the new regime with a bare cupboard, either.
New Rhule at Baylor
In light of everything that has come to light at Baylor in the last 18 months, Matt Rhule did a solid job by just assembling a functional recruiting class on the shortest of notices. Even so, the direction of the Bears’ signing classes did a clear U-turn this year. Baylor finished 39th nationally in the 247 Composite in ‘17, down precipitously from 17th a year ago. Putting an end to this decline will require a gargantuan effort from Rhule and his staff out on the trail.
Trouble Brewing in Morgantown and Lubbock?
Lackluster classes for West Virginia and Texas Tech will do little to quell talk of hot seats beneath Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen. WVU’s recruiting, in particular, seemed to nosedive this year. The Mountaineers fell from No. 39 in ‘16 to 57th overall.
Realignment Winner: TCU
As shown by TCU’s No. 31 ranking, the Horned Frogs might be the biggest winners from the conference realignment shake-ups of the last decade. Gary Patterson and his assistants now have a Power Five program to sell that is smack dab in the middle of a legitimate hotbed of high school stars.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
It seems just like yesterday we were in the middle of the 2016 fantasy football season and we were making trades, crushing the waiver wire and making fun of friends on our way to our destiny – a fantasy football championship!
Time sure flies doesn’t it? If you’re like me and are now left with a gigantic void in your life (and a lot of extra spare time), there is good news!
It’s never too early to start prepping for the upcoming fantasy football season and what better way to do so than with some crazy and outlandish bold fantasy football predictions for 2017. Here we go!
Both Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson will go over 2,500 all-purpose yards
In the history of the NFL, only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk has ever had 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. He did that back in 1999 with the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams. Faulk rushed for 1,381 yards and caught 87 balls for 1,048 yards. Now fast-forward to 2017 and we have two running backs who will each go over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. Bell might have done it this year if not for his three-game suspension to start the season. Bell finished 2016 with 1,268 rushing yards and 616 receiving yards. He is the focal point of the Steelers’ high-powered that will no doubt look to get him the ball as much as possible in 2017. As for Johnson, he almost achieved this feat last season with 1,239 rushing yards and 879 receiving yards. With Larry Fitzgerald turning 34 and the uncertainty surrounding Carson Palmer, you can bet Johnson is going to get plenty of touches in 2017.
Derek Carr will be the biggest fantasy bust of 2017
The MVP candidate – it’s crazy in the first place he’s even considered one of the contenders considering his statistical mediocrity – is an overpriced “luxury” vehicle that’s a true lemon. Yes, his hand injury limited him late in the season and he broke his leg in Week 16, but his unexciting yards per attempt (YPA) and completion percentage in consecutive seasons rubber stamp his overrated status. People will reach for him due to mainstream media takes, but analyze the metrics and he’s nothing more than a middling QB2. His aforementioned devastating fibula injury only complicates matters.
Deshaun Watson will have a better rookie season than Robert Griffin III did in 2012
Remember back in 2012 when RGIII was the second coming of Michael Vick? RGIII threw for 3,200 yards with 20 TDs and ran for an outstanding 815 yards and seven more scores. Watson’s name no longer sits atop many draft boards, but, for me, that kid has checked all the important boxes. He’s been a relentless winner over multiple seasons, and we’ve already seen him in action against the best defenses in college football. Watson has completed more than 67 percent of his passes, gaining 8.5 yards per attempt, while delivering a career TD-to-INT ratio of nearly 3-to-1. He’s a terrific dual-threat QB as well, having run for more than 1,600 yards in the past two seasons. If he lands in the right spot, with a creative coaching staff and competent receivers, he’ll have a path to fantasy stardom.
Rookie WR Corey Davis will be this year’s Michael Thomas
Davis is a beast and we would be getting far more attention if he played in the SEC or ACC for example instead of in the MAC for Western Michigan. He’s the complete package who is an absolute menace after the catch. Most impressively, he generates ample cushion from defenders with nifty footwork and clean routes. It’s no wonder why he totaled at least 78 receptions, 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns three straight seasons for the Broncos.
Marquise Lee will finish with more than 1,000 receiving yards
Jacksonville, thanks to Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson, left a bitter taste in many fantasy owners’ mouths this past season, but Lee certainly tickled the buds down the stretch. His routes sharpened and confidence soared as he not only gashed underneath coverage but also won several contested balls along the sidelines. In PPR settings, he scored at least 13 fantasy points in four of his final six games. It could be argued he’s the Jags’ most reliable receiver. Hopefully the new coaching regime will fully utilize his versatile assets.
Dalvin Cook will be this year’s Ezekiel Elliott
While you might think the answer should be Leonard Fournette, it will actually be Cook putting together the best rookie season, especially in PPR leagues. Cook topped 100 rushing yards in eight of his season’s final nine games for Florida State, averaged 6.0 yards per carry, and had some big games against key competition (4 TDs vs. Clemson, 3 TDs vs. North Carolina). He’s a capable receiver, too. Landing spot is everything at this position (though maybe not in Fournette’s case), but Cook has the profile of an every-down, workhorse-type of back.
Brandin Cooks will be this year’s DeAndre Hopkins (a huge disappointment)
“Strange” best summarizes Cooks’ 2016 campaign. Though he landed inside the position’s top 10 in total fantasy points, his up-and-down pattern of production left much to be desired. He surpassed 75 yards in a game just five times and found the end zone in six contests. People will invest solely on the superficial data, but I expect more consistency from a top receiver. Also, consider the advancements Michael Thomas is sure to make and Cooks is a middling WR2 masquerading as an overpriced WR1.
DeMarco Murray will be this year’s Todd Gurley (a huge disappointment)
Murray was one of the best steals of last year’s fantasy football season. He produced elite RB1 numbers and was drafted in the fourth, fifth or even sixth round. Everyone thought he was done, but he found new life in Tennessee. That’s not going to be the case in 2017. There’s just no way Murray gets the volume he got last year (293 carries for 1,297 yards). The reason for that is Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner. Henry isn’t going to be an understudy again in 2017 and the Tennessee backfield should be more of a 50/50 split in 2017.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
The 14 teams in the Big Ten rarely recruit a hefty number of junior college prospects each season, but there are a handful of names joining the conference expected to make an impact in 2017. Ohio State lost three key members from its 2016 secondary, and former Alabama cornerback Kendall Sheffield should compete for a starting job after a year in the junior college ranks. Andrew Van Ginkel is expected to push for significant snaps as a hybrid edge rusher in Wisconsin’s 3-4 scheme, while Purdue inked five junior college prospects in coach Jeff Brohm’s first class in West Lafayette.
Which junior college recruits could have the biggest impact on the Big Ten in 2017? Here are 15 players to watch this offseason:
15 JUCO Transfers to Watch in the Big Ten for 2017
Ryan Brand, QB, Maryland
North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and freshman Kasim Hill are considered the favorites to start at quarterback for the Terrapins in 2017. However, Brand is also a name to watch this offseason, as the former Air Force quarterback landed in College Park after a season at the College of San Mateo. The Detroit native threw for 918 yards and nine scores in his only year at San Mateo.
Related: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2017
Kai Higgins, DE, Purdue
Purdue inked a Big Ten-high five junior college recruits in the 2017 signing class. The additions from the junior college ranks are key for new coach Jeff Brohm and the program’s hopes of generating quick improvement this fall. Higgins played one season at Chaffey College and recorded 25 stops with three sacks in nine appearances. He will have three years of eligibility with the Boilermakers.
T.J. Jallow, CB, Purdue
Jallow is the highest-rated of the five junior college prospects inked by Purdue on National Signing Day. The Mississippi native ranked as the No. 56 junior college prospect by the 247Sports Composite and was a four-star recruit by ESPN. Jallow had a standout 2016 campaign at East Mississippi Community College, recording 43 stops and seven pass breakups.
Mike McGinnis, LB, Indiana
Indiana returns one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers in Tegray Scales, but this unit was hit with a surprise departure after Marcus Oliver left early for the NFL. McGinnis should have a chance to crack the two-deep this offseason, as the New Jersey native joins the team after a standout career at ASA College. McGinnis recorded 91 tackles (18 for a loss), three forced fumbles, one interception and 2.5 sacks in 2016. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Neil McLaurin, QB, Minnesota
Replacing Mitch Leidner at quarterback is one of Minnesota’s biggest offseason question marks for new coach P.J. Fleck. Former walk-on Conor Rhoda (8 of 16) is the most-experienced option, but redshirt freshman Seth Green and junior Demry Croft return for 2017. McLaurin committed to Minnesota under former coach Tracy Claeys and enrolled in time to compete during spring practice. The Mississippi native threw for 964 yards (52.8%) and eight scores and added 440 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 at Southwest Mississippi Community College. McLaurin ranked as a three-star prospect and the No. 172 junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite.
Del’Shawn Phillips, LB, Illinois
Lovie Smith’s defense has several voids to fill in the front seven after the departures of standout linemen Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips and Chunky Clements, along with linebacker Hardy Nickerson. Phillips should be an impact addition for Smith, as the Michigan native should push for a starting job at linebacker this offseason. Phillips originally started his career at Western Michigan and ended up at Garden City Community College for two years. In 2016, Phillips recorded 95 stops (12.5 for a loss), two sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions.
Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State
Sheffield ranked as the No. 2 defensive player from the junior college ranks in the 247Sports Composite. The Texas native started his career at Alabama in 2015 and is back at the FBS level after one season at Blinn College. During his only year at the junior college level, Sheffield recorded 31 stops, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups. Sheffield fills an immediate need for Ohio State after the departures of cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley early to the NFL.
Royal Silver, DT, Minnesota
Minnesota’s line needs a few reinforcements for 2017 with the departure of Hendrick Ekpe (28 tackles) and Scott Ekpe (17 tackles). Tackle Steven Richardson should push for All-Big Ten honors next year, but this unit needs more depth and help off the edges and on the interior. Silver should help plug some of the gaps in the middle, as the 285-pound lineman heads to Minneapolis after two years at Iowa Western Community College. In 2016, Silver recorded 63 tackles (11 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Ethan Smart, OL, Purdue
Center Kirk Barron and tackle Matt McCann headline the options for new coach Jeff Brohm in the trenches, but there are significant voids to fill after guards Jason King and Jordan Roos and tackle Cameron Cermin expired their eligibility. Smart should provide depth or compete for a starting role after transferring in from Northeast Mississippi Community College. He ranked as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
Nick Underwood, LB, Maryland
Maryland’s linebacker corps already has one of the Big Ten’s top defenders in Jermaine Carter (110 stops in 2016), and this group should have some additional help from Underwood in 2017. The Oregon native started his collegiate career at Air Force before spending 2016 at Riverside Community College. Underwood collected 71 stops (11.5 for a loss), two interceptions and recovered four fumbles in 11 game at Riverside last year.
Andrew Van Ginkel, LB, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s defense has to retool its linebacker unit under new coordinator Jim Leonhard after the departures of T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. This unit will have help in the form of Chris Orr and Jack Cichy returning from injury, along with Van Ginkel’s arrival from the junior college ranks. The Iowa native starred at South Dakota in 2015, recording 18.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He transferred to Iowa Western Community College in 2016 and recorded 50 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. Van Ginkel ranked as the No. 25 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite and should be a good fit as a hybrid edge rusher for the Badgers.
Haydon Whitehead, P, Indiana
Whitehead isn’t transferring in from a junior college, but he’s a noteworthy addition for Indiana. The Australia native joins the team after participating at Prokick Australia and is a former Australian Rules Football player. Whitehead should compete to be Indiana’s starting punter in 2017.
Alex Woods, DB, Maryland
Maryland’s secondary will have a couple of new faces after the departures of cornerbacks William Likely and Alvin Hill, along with safety Jarrett Ross. Additionally, the status of safety Denzel Conyers is uncertain after he applied for an extra year of eligibility after a season-ending injury in 2016. Even if Conyers returns, Woods should compete for snaps right away this fall. The North Carolina native spent two years at Lackawanna Community College and played in seven games as a freshman in 2015. Woods did not play at the junior college level in 2016. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Terry Wright/Isaac Zico, WR, Purdue
New Purdue coach Jeff Brohm produced some of the nation’s best offenses during his three-year stint at WKU. Assuming the Boilermakers can find a few capable targets for quarterback David Blough, this offense should take a step forward in 2017. Purdue must replace its top four statistical wide receivers from 2016, as tight end Cole Herdman (35 grabs) is the top returning target. Wright and Zico should have an opportunity to make an immediate impact or compete for a starting job this fall. Wright averaged 16.1 yards per catch at Coffeyville Community College in 2016, while Zico grabbed 46 passes for 938 yards at Georgia Military College last fall. Zico ranked as the No. 113 junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite, while Wright checks in at No. 298.
We may never know what drove Steve Sarkisian to the Falcons offensive coordinator job, but Danny Kanell has a theory.
The ESPN host shared his thoughts on the fact that Nick Saban, and his Alabama work ethic, may not have quite aligned with Sark. Before the seat gets too hot, or the Saban pressure gets to him, Sark is making his way to Atlanta.
"I don't think any coach wants to coach for Nick Saban," Kanell said. "I don't think any coach wants to go there and is like, 'hey I want to be a lifetime assistant for Nick Saban.'"
Soccer (or football, as it's known to anyone outside of the U.S.), is the most popular sport on the planet. Fortunately, it's catching on in America as fans have more access than ever to watch matches being played around the world. And like all sports in America, we feel the need to turn it into a fantasty sport. So, if you’re going to join a fantasy soccer league, you’re going to need a cool name for your team. We have scoured the interweb to generate what we think are some of the funniest, silliest, craziest, and best fantasy soccer team names for 2017 to help get you started in your quest for fantasy soccer glory. Here they are in alphabetical order…
2 Girls 1 Schlupp
2 Goals 1 Cup
99 Problems, but a Pitch ain’t 1
About to Get Messi
Arse ‘n’ All
Baines on Toast
Bale Me Out!
Beat Around Debuchy
Benteke Fried Chicken
Best Team Evra!
Busquets and Gravy
Chicken Fried Reus
Ctrl Alt De Laet
Deeney in a Bottle
De Roon is on Fire
Dirty Sánchez Messi Pepe
Don’t Call Me Schürrle
Dukes of Hazard
Every Day I’m Schneiderlin
Eye of the Schweinsteiger
For Fuchs Sake
Game of Throw-Ins
Green Eggs and Lahm
Hakuna Juan Mata
Hit Me Bebe’ One More Time
How I Met Your Mata
I Bent My Set Piece
I Smell Pu Nani
Kane You Kick it?
Kings of Lyon
Klopp Goes the Weasel
Klopps and Robbens
Klose, but no cigar!
Kroos-ing for a Bruising
Leave My Arse-elona!
Lord of the Ings
Lovren an Elevator
Man Chest Hair United
Men Behaving Chadli
Motor Boateng Man Titty
Moves Like Agger
My Little Kone
Neymar Mr. Nice Guy
No Fuchs Given
No Weimann No Cry
Not a Karius in the World
Not Kalou, bro
One Flew Over Lukaku’s Nest
Petr Cech Yourself
Phantom of the Chopra
Pjanic at the Disco
Pleased to Michu
Queens Park Strangers
Right in the Feghoulis
Robben You Blind
Show Me the Mane’
Silence of the Lahms
Slum Dog Mignolet
Sons of Pitches!
Tea and Busquets
Teenage Mutant Ninja Skrtels
The Big Lewandowski
The Kouyaté Kid
The Wizard of Özil
We’re Going Toulouse
Who Ate All DePays?
Willian Dollar Baby
You Kante’ be Serious
You Musa be Joaquin
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
Mitch Light and Braden Gall to breakdown the latest in college football. Don't forget to subscribe here and rate us if you like (or don't like) what you hear!
- Alabama is looking for another offensive coordinator... again. What does it mean for the Tide that Coach Sark left?
- What did National Signing Day teach us about the future of college football? We break down the national team recruiting rankings and what it all means for coaches as well as the 2017 season. We go conference by conference to cover the important teams and rankings for each of the Power 5 leagues.
- The guys also explore the Death Penalty and how involved the NCAA should be criminal investigations. Should any of this apply to Baylor?
Trying to find your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (Feb. 9-12) golf tournament: the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California? Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.
Brandt Snedeker ($10,000)
The two-time AT&T Pebble Beach champion is vying with Dustin Johnson for the status of reigning horse for this course, and Sneds is a cheaper option than DJ. He's finished in the top 15 in three of his last four starts on Tour.
Phil Mickelson ($9,300)
Lefty's another Pebble Beach ringer (four-time champion and runner-up last year). He's showing signs of a turn-back-the-clock season with top-25 finishes in his last three starts.
Patrick Reed ($8,300)
In four career starts at Pebble, Reed has finishes of T6, T7 and T13 and no missed cuts. His ability to string together flurries of birdies always makes him an intriguing fantasy option.
Jim Furyk ($7,500)
The newly minted 2018 Ryder Cup captain is making his first start of the season and should arrive refreshed and — we hope — fully healthy after dealing with wrist issues last year. Mr. 58 can get hot at any time and has a solid record at Pebble.
Sean O'Hair ($7,300)
O'Hair is quietly having a very good season with three top-11 finishes in five starts. He's made eight straight cuts at Pebble, making him a virtual lock to cash a check this week.
Vaughn Taylor ($6,900)
The defending champion looks like a sneaky value pick. He's seven-for-seven in cuts made this season.
It took until after the Super Bowl, but all six NFL head coaching vacancies have been filled. Of the six, Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone is the only “new” hire with any previous head coaching experience, meaning Buffalo, Denver, San Francisco and both Los Angeles teams (Chargers, Rams) are entrusting their teams to rookies.
While these six men will ultimately be measured by what happens on the field, how did each team do? Let’s hand out some grades.
Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
At 31 years old, Sean McVay is not only the youngest head coach in NFL history; he’s also the biggest question mark out of the six new hires. And speaking of history, it’s not necessarily on McVay’s side as each of the previous four youngest coaches (Lane Kiffin, Raheem Morris, Dave Shula and Josh McDaniels) was fired within five seasons or fewer.
What is on McVay’s side is he was able to develop Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins into a Pro Bowler. McVay also oversaw an offense that finished third in yards (403.4) and 12th in points (24.8) per game last season.
Hiring veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is an excellent start for McVay. His next priority is to help 2016 No.1 overall pick Jared Goff develop into the franchise quarterback the Rams need. In seven games in 2016, Goff passed for 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
After Gus Bradley was fired following the Jaguars’ Week 15 loss to Houston, Marrone was named interim head coach and kept the team competitive in the last two games of the season. The Jags beat a Titans team that was fighting for a playoff spot in Week 16 and lost to the Colts by just four points in the finale. Apparently, that was enough for Jacksonville owner Shad Khan and general manager David Caldwell to remove the “interim” tag and name Marrone the fifth head coach in franchise history.
Marrone went 15-17 as Buffalo’s head coach from 2013-14, a tenure that ended in a rather strange way. After leading the Bills to a 9-7 record, their only winning season since 2004, Marrone chose to exercise a three-day out clause in his contract that was put into effect with the team’s recent ownership change. Marrone quit on Dec. 31, but still collected his 2015 salary. The move did not sit well with Buffalo fans or several of his former players, as Marrone wound up in Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ assistant head coach/offensive line coach.
Jacksonville was thought to be one of the up and coming teams in 2016, but instead struggled mightily, finished 3-13, and would up with fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft. Marrone has plenty of talent to work with, but both sides of the ball need to improve, with much of the attention focused on quarterback Blake Bortles.
Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
Sean McDermott was a defensive coordinator for eight seasons for Philadelphia (2009-10) and then Carolina (2011-16). After 18 seasons as an NFL assistant, McDermott gets the task of taking on one of the toughest head coaching jobs in the league.
The Bills have many questions on their roster and it starts at quarterback. Buffalo will need to decide soon on Tyrod Taylor as the team can choose to opt out of his contract by March.
During McDermott’s tenure in Carolina, the Panthers finished in the top 10 in total defense four out of the last five seasons (2012-15). In 2016 under head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills’ defense was 19th in that category, as teams ran all over them to the tune of 133.1 rushing yards per game (29th). McDermott’s defensive background was no doubt one of the reasons why Buffalo hired him.
Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
Even though Shanahan is young (37) in some respects, he has paid his dues around the league. An offensive coordinator from 2008-16 for four different teams (Houston, Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta), his units have finished in the top 10 in total offense six times. San Francisco is hoping he can maintain this track record, as the 49ers finished second to last in total offense and 27th in scoring offense in 2016.
San Francisco will have a new quarterback to run Shanahan’s offense, but his work with the Falcons’ Matt Ryan should have 49er fans optimistic. This past season was a career year for Ryan, a first-team All-Pro who set career highs for passing yards (4,944), touchdown passes (38), completion percentage (69.9), and passer rating (117.1, best in NFL), while throwing a career-low seven interceptions.
Shanahan along with first-time general manager John Lynch will attempt to return the 49ers to contention in the NFC West. If anything, San Francisco is hoping for stability, as Shanahan is the franchise’s fourth head coach in as many seasons.
Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
Until last season, Lynn had never been a coordinator, and now he finds himself as head coach of the recently located Los Angeles Chargers. Lynn’s meteoric rise in the coaching rankings started with his promotion from Buffalo running back coach in the middle of September following the dismissal of Greg Roman. Lynn was then named interim head coach for the Bills when Rex Ryan was fired prior to the regular season finale against the Jets.
Despite his lack of experience, Lynn is in a good situation even if the Chargers have to become familiar with new surroundings. Unlike in Buffalo, Lynn has no question mark at quarterback with Philip Rivers maintaining his status as one of the NFL’s best, along with other young players like running back Melvin Gordon.
Lynn also has surrounded himself with a veteran staff led by coordinators that have been head coaches. He retained offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and hired former Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley to oversee the defense.
The Chargers lost nine games by eight points or fewer last season, and were ravaged by injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. With better health and some improvement on defense, the Chargers could be a surprise team in their new home in 2017. Lynn has certainly put himself in a good position to succeed by constructing a solid staff.
Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos
If someone looks at Miami’s defensive statistics from 2016, Joseph’s only season as a coordinator, Denver’s decision to hire him may seem curious. But the Broncos have been high on Joseph for some time, thinking highly of his leadership skills, and thought enough of the job he did with the Dolphins, considering the situation.
Miami’s defense was impacted heavily by injuries last season, including those to safeties Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi, as well as cornerback Xavien Howard. Even with all of these injuries, the Dolphins won 10 games and made the playoffs. Miami’s defense was particularly stout on third down, holding opponents to a 36.2 conversion rate, considerably better than 2015’s 43.7 percent.
Now in Denver, Joseph takes over one of the best jobs in the NFL and a team that is one season removed from winning the Super Bowl. The Broncos went 9-7 last season and still have an abundance of talent on their roster, especially on defense. Bringing former San Diego head coach Mike McCoy back to Denver to serve as offensive coordinator (was with Broncos from 2009-12) was a brilliant move, as was promoting secondary coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator.
If the Broncos and Joseph can figure out the quarterback situation and shore up their offensive line, Denver could be back in the playoffs as early as next season.
— 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.
Martin Truex Jr. is in new territory, fresh off a 2016 season that was easily his best yet. He reached career highs in wins (four), poles (five) and top-5 finishes (eight). There were a series-best 1,809 laps led. And he was a legitimate championship favorite right until his Toyota engine expired unexpectedly at Talladega Superspeedway in the postseason’s second round.
So what’s next?
“We’re going to win it all next year,” said Truex, smiling and jovial at the end of last season. “Eight wins, 10 poles and a championship. So that’s your story for (this) year.”
Truex is happy, if you couldn’t tell. No, he’s not actually calling his shot for this season. But those numbers and that result? It no longer seems far-fetched. The once-questioned business model of his Denver-based Furniture Row Racing team has solidified thanks to its lockstep partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex, for all intents and purposes, drives a fifth car for NASCAR’s top Toyota team but has the benefits of working in the environment of an independent organization.
“I’m having so much fun with this team right now. What we’re doing, it’s been a dream come true,” Truex says. “The situation we’re in, the people we have. I’ve just enjoyed the heck out of it. I think, even as good as it was, we could have done better, and what we’re looking at doing is improving.”
Improvement for Truex will come in converting more opportunities to strong finishes and wins. Truex’s average finish last season was more than four spots lower than his average running position, a count that was the worst among all competitors. Attribute some of that to bad luck — it’s easy to remember Truex’s top-5 run at the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale ending with his Toyota ablaze in Turn 2 after getting caught in an unavoidable crash — and some to team mistakes. Truex also suffered in-race penalties more often than he would like, and he was particularly vocal about what he felt was uneven enforcement after races at Kentucky Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
After the Kentucky incident — Truex felt he had a winning opportunity stolen when NASCAR cited a rarely enforced rule and judged that he passed a competitor on pit road — he vowed to discuss the enforcement with series officials. The conversation, Truex says, didn’t bring any notable policy shift. “If you’re going to call rules, that’s fine, but don’t just pick a time, choose your times to call them,” Truex says.
The FRR stable will grow next season with the addition of JGR developmental driver Erik Jones. Jones’ arrival and the accompanying ramp-up of the FRR shop promises to be the most significant hurdle of the offseason. Everything about the expansion is a little tougher compared to most North Carolina-based NASCAR teams, with the chief concern finding the right new employees who often must relocate to Colorado.
Truex isn’t worried that Jones’ addition will be a distraction to his performance. The information sharing with JGR and the incredible success that it brought last year in only the first season of that relationship is enough to lay those worries aside. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal, at least that’s what I’m telling myself,” Truex says. “Toyota’s got a lot of experience (with expansion).”
Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, and the No. 78 team’s engineers have also played a role in selecting the team that will work on Jones’ No. 77, a process that Truex says will keep the move from “upsetting the applecart” of team dynamics.
After his most successful Cup season to date, Truex is guaranteed to see countless replays of the 2016 Daytona 500 finish before the season opens. Truex lost last year to Denny Hamlin by inches. But he’s not that bothered by it. “I’ll tell you one thing,” Truex says. “It was better than finishing third.”
There will be no shortage of high-quality running backs available in the 2017 NFL Draft. That said, only a handful of them excel as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. An even smaller number were the focal point of their team's respective offenses.
UL Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire is one such player – and has been for the duration of his collegiate career.
The 5-foot-9, 210-pound offensive dynamo was a four-year starter for the Ragin' Cajuns, piling up 4,312 yards and 42 touchdowns on the ground along with 1,383 receiving yards 10 more scores.
He has the patience of Le'Veon Bell, the fluidity of Matt Forte and the build and agility of Doug Martin. Quite simply – he's the total package for any team looking for a three-down back they can depend on for the next 6-8 years.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, keep an eye on how he fares in comparison to some similar backs – guys like Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara and Corey Clement – that had the luxury of playing at higher-profile programs and subsequently becoming higher-profile prospects. Because of the depth at the position, McGuire holding his own in workouts with those players won't necessarily boost his draft stock. It will, however, make him a target of value in the later rounds for teams that decide to address other needs with their earlier picks.
Those types of scenarios often lead to quality players landing with quality teams – even contenders – and having their careers flourish due to better situations than their peers.
If your team needs help at the running back spot, you'll want to keep a close eye on McGuire's Combine performance as well as any subsequent movement in the mock drafts that follow. He's currently projected to go late – likely in the fifth or sixth round. I expect that to change after the Combine.
— 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.