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All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2017-fantasy-baseball-third-base-rankings
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Third base is another position that offers great power opportunity when putting together your fantasy baseball team this season. Much like shortstop, the hot corner also has witnessed an impressive youth movement.

 

Related: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Top 300 Rankings

 

It didn’t seem that long ago that players like Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, David Wright and Evan Longoria were staples. Now their time has come and gone, and while only Beltre and Longoria remain fantasy-relevant, the ones that have taken over are impressive in their own right.

 

At the top, Nolan Arenado is in a virtual tie for me with Kris Bryant, but I give the edge to Arenado this season. After that you probably have Manny Macahdo (also SS eligible in some leagues), Josh Donaldson and Kyle Seager in some order, but there are intriguing names beyond this rock-solid five.

 

The red-hot start Jake Lamb put together last season gave us glimpses of his potential, but was it legitimate? Can Jonathan Villar (could have 2B and SS eligibility too, depending on the league) continue with what he did surprisingly in 2016? Will we see Anthony Rendon realize his potential after an up-and-down campaign? And what about other young guys like Houston’s Alex Bregman and Philadelphia’s Maikel Franco? Only time will tell, but there’s certainly no lack of options for you to choose from.

 

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Fantasy Baseball Cheat Sheet: Third Base Rankings for 2017
Post date: Friday, March 3, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/penn-state-mike-gesicki-dunk-show-nittany-lions-tight-end
Body:

If Mike Gesicki ever wanted to give up football he's got a backup plan.

 

The Penn State tight end threw down some monster dunks during a contest the Nittany Lions were having and it's easy to see how he rises above defenders to make almost impossible catches.

 

 

That was better than the most recent NBA Slam Dunk contest if we're being honest. 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 3, 2017 - 10:45
Path: /college-football/texas-tech-red-raiders-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

Despite the optimism entering the season, the Texas Tech Red Raiders failed to qualify for a bowl game for the second time in three years and sat at home this winter with a 5-7 record.

 

Simply put, it was the same old story in Lubbock. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense lit up the scoreboard with a high-octane passing attack, but the defense couldn’t make enough stops. Case in point: the Red Raiders lost three games in which they scored at least 44 points, including a 68-55 loss to Arizona State and a 66-59 loss to Oklahoma.

 

As the Red Raiders open spring practice March 4, and prepare for the spring game at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ new headquarters and practice facility in Frisco, on April 1, we take a look at five storylines to watch as the program takes aim at getting back to a bowl game.

 

Podcast: The 2017 Big 12 Primer



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

5 Storylines to Watch During Texas Tech’s Spring Practice

 

1. Replacing QB Patrick Mahomes
It’s never easy to replace a player as productive as Mahomes, who guided Texas Tech’s offense to 566.6 total yards of offense and 463.0 passing yards per game last season – both of which led the nation. The Red Raiders also scored 43.7 points per contest, which ranked fifth in the FBS.

 

Mahomes was tops in the nation with 5,025 passing yards and he finished third with 41 touchdown passes. A superb athlete, he also ran for 12 scores. He declared for the NFL Draft shortly after the season and this week is in Indianapolis taking part in the Scouting Combine looking to prove to scouts, coaches and team executives that he’s more than just a system quarterback.

 

Mahomes is the most talented QB to come through Lubbock in a long time, but he isn’t irreplaceable. Nic Shimonek got his feet wet last season, completing 38 of 58 (65.5 percent) of his passes for 464 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception as Mahomes’ backup. The rising senior was 15-for-21 for 271 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas in relief of an injured Mahomes in the Red Raiders’ 55-19 win. Junior college transfer McLane Carter will also be in the mix.

 

Shimonek and Carter will have plenty of weapons to throw to, as Texas Tech returns its top four receivers from last season. This quartet is headlined by Jonathan Giles (team-high 69 receptions, 1,158 yards, 13 TD) and also includes Derrick Willies (18-288-2), who struggled with injury in his first season with the Red Raiders. Both running back and offensive line are question marks, but this the reality is that this offense has shown an ability score points in bunches and still lose. Which brings us to…

 

2. Defense, Defense, Defense
Regardless of how well Shimonek plays, if the Red Raiders don’t make significant improvement on the defense, Texas Tech can’t expect better results in the win column.

 

The Red Raiders coughed up 554.3 yards per game last season, which was the worst in the nation by more than 30. Opponents averaged 7.05 yards per play, which ranked 126th out of 128 FBS teams. The Red Raiders allowed 315.8 passing yards per contest, and surrendered 8.6 yards per pass attempt – both of which ranked among the bottom 10 nationally.

 

Talented defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko left the program, which is a major blow to a unit that also has to replace starting tackle Ondre Pipkins. In total, this defense lost 40.5 percent of its tackling production to graduation, including linebacker Malik Jenkins (64.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss) and defensive back Justis Nelson (52.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 12 pass breakups).

 

There is hope that the unit can improve. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks is a bright spot that led the team with 73.5 tackles as a true freshman. Brooks also contributed five tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Jah’Shawn Johnson also returns. Johnson was the team’s second-leading tackler and the only Red Raider with multiple interceptions.

 

3. Re-Tooling the Offensive Line
Because of the sheer number of passing plays the Texas Tech offense calls (the Red Raiders attempted 653 in 2016), its offensive line is going to give up a high number of sacks. Tech allowed 30 last season, an average of 2.5 per game that ranked eighth in the Big 12 and No. 95 nationally. The 4.6 percent sack rate wasn’t terrible, but there is room for improvement. Also, while the Red Raiders don’t rely heavily on the running game, a 3.2 yards per carry average, which shrunk to just 2.9 in conference play, ranks among the worst in the nation.

 

Terence Steele is the only returning offensive linemen who started all 12 games last season, and the 46 combined career starts among returnees is the second fewest among Big 12 teams (Iowa State). Fortunately, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has injected some talent into the unit, and early enrollee Jack Anderson headlines the newcomers that should make an impact. The highest-rated member of the 2017 recruiting class, Anderson was an Under Armour All-American with dozens of other offers.

 

4. Newcomer to Know
Given the state of the Texas Tech defense as a whole – and the secondary in particular – one player isn’t likely to make much of a difference. That’s why the Red Raiders added six defensive backs in the 2017 recruiting cycle, including three junior college players that are already on campus.

 

Among them, four-star cornerback recruit Octavious Morgan enters the spring as a favorite to earn a starting spot in the secondary. A talented, 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback with shutdown potential, Morgan recorded nine interceptions in two seasons at Butler (Kan.) Community College and scored two defensive touchdowns.

 

5. Make or Break for Kliff Kingsbury?
Texas Tech decision-makers surely expected better than a 24-26 overall record and zero winning seasons in Big 12 play when they tabbed the former Red Raiders quarterback to lead the program four years ago. As a result, Kingsbury enters the 2017 campaign with one of the warmest seats in the league. If Tech can’t fix its defense to the point that scoring six touchdowns in a game isn’t good enough to win, and misses a bowl game for the third time in five seasons, it is likely that Kingsbury will be fired.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Texas Tech in the Big 12

 

Looking around the Big 12, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State appear to be the early favorites. Texas is as talented as anyone, and Tom Herman has a great track record, but first-year head coaches are hit-and-miss. Baylor is in that boat as well with Matt Rhule, and the Bears have a ton of off-the-field distractions that could weaken their on-field performance. Kansas State has great promise, but there are questions surrounding the health of legendary head coach Bill Snyder. TCU and West Virginia have been inconsistent in recent seasons.

 

All in all, the Big 12 – especially in the middle of the standings – features a great deal of unknowns. There is opportunity for a team like Texas Tech to make a move. If Kliff Kingsbury and company stay explosive offensively and make strides on the defensive side of the football, the Red Raiders can finally put together a winning conference record and climb into the top half of the league standings. Of course, we’ve been saying that for years now.

 

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

Teaser:
Texas Tech Red Raiders 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, March 3, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Miami Marlins, MLB
Path: /mlb/miami-marlins-2017-preview-predictions-schedule
Body:

Miami Marlins logoThe Marlins believe — like they did last year — that they can compete for the postseason in 2017.

 

This time, however, they’ll have to do so without the late Jose Fernandez, one of the game’s top pitchers who died in a boating accident in late September. As a result, an already suspect rotation enters the season without a bona fide ace.

 

But Miami has faith in its core of position players, particularly after career years from outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Marlins boast one of the top outfields with Yelich and All-Stars Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of the order. Plus, the back end of the bullpen piles up strikeouts with the trio of A.J. Ramos, David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough.

 

Leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, Miami was in the thick of the National League Wild Card race and sought outside help by dealing top prospects for reliever Fernando Rodney and starter Andrew Cashner. Neither move panned out.

 

Then the injury bug hit and exposed a lack of depth. Stanton, first baseman Justin Bour, lefthanders Adam Conley and Wei-Yin Chen, Ramos, utility player Derek Dietrich and Phelps had overlapping disabled list stints during the second half. 

 

The high-water mark of nine games above .500 quickly turned into three games below with a 32–41 record after the All-Star break, though the Marlins stayed in the race until the final weeks of the season.

 

ROTATION

Chen, the club’s key offseason signing in ’15 and the ’16 Opening Day starter, went 5–5 with a career-worst 4.96 ERA in 22 starts and missed nearly two months of the season with an elbow sprain. Conley was putting together a solid first full season in the big leagues until landing on the DL with left third finger tendonitis, finishing 8–6 with a 3.85 ERA in 25 starts and often flirting with no-hitters. Tom Koehler, who has made at least 31 starts in each of the last three seasons (just the third Marlins pitcher to do so), is the other returning starter. Free-agent signees and former All-Stars Edinson Volquez (10–11, 5.37 ERA in ’16) and Jeff Locke (9–8, 5.44 ERA) reunite with vice president of pitching development Jim Benedict, who worked with them in Pittsburgh. The Marlins also acquired Dan Straily from Cincinnati in a trade for three prospects. Straily won a career-high 14 games with a 3.76 ERA for the Reds last season while pitching nearly 200 innings.

 

BULLPEN

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
There is no shortage of velocity among Miami’s relievers, as evidenced by their 570 strikeouts (fourth most in MLB). The issue in 2016 was control, with their 262 walks second most in the majors. After the Marlins missed out on free-agent closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, they signed submariner Brad Ziegler (85 saves) to present opponents with a different arm angle. Miami also added Junichi Tazawa in the hope of forming a super bullpen that likely will have only one southpaw, Hunter Cervenka. Before fracturing his right ring finger in August, the role of closer was Ramos’. Rodney filled in and remained in that capacity until his well-documented struggles (5.89 ERA). Ramos went on to record 40 saves, becoming just the fifth closer in club history to reach that mark. Barraclough’s nasty fastball-slider combination helped him lead the NL in strikeouts (113). Phelps proved to be a reliable setup man after years as a starter.

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

As good of a 2015 as Miami’s double-play duo had, it was quite the opposite in ’16. MLB suspended Dee Gordon, fresh off numerous accolades and a contract extension, in late April for 80 games for violating its PED policy. Upon his return in late July, it took some time for Gordon to find his groove. When he did, the two-time All-Star stole 14 bases in September — tied for most in the majors — and provided the most memorable moment of the season with his upper-deck leadoff homer in honor of Fernandez. After setting career highs in various offensive categories in ’15, Adeiny Hechavarria couldn’t find his swing last season, batting .236 with just three homers and 38 RBIs. He also wasn’t an NL Gold Glove Award finalist for the first time in two years.

 

CORNERS

Printable Miami Marlins 2017 scheduleMartin Prado led the majors with a .368 average with runners in scoring position among players with as at least 140 at bats in those situations. More important, he became the unofficial captain of a team that turned to him for leadership and professionalism. The Marlins wanted continuity at the hot corner and re-signed him to a three-year, $40 million deal. Bour, meanwhile, proved Miami right as the club’s first baseman until spraining his ankle on July 2. At the time, he was batting .268 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs in 68 games, mainly in a lefty-righty platoon with Chris Johnson. The Marlins are considering using Realmuto at first every so often to rest his legs.

 

OUTFIELD

The Marlins already felt they had the best trio in baseball, and 2016 helped that case. Yelich captured an NL Silver Slugger Award, shattering career highs in hits (172), doubles (38), homers (21), RBIs (98) and OPS (.859), among others. Ozuna made his first All-Star team, and despite tailing off in the second half, still finished with 23 homers and 76 RBIs. Stanton, who was scuffling at the plate before a groin injury kept him out for more almost a month, still slugged a team-high 27 home runs.

 

CATCHING

Realmuto, a former high school shortstop, has the tools to be a star. In his first two full seasons as backstop, he has recorded 268 hits, 52 doubles and 21 homers. He also showed improvement behind the plate, throwing out 28 baserunners, tied for fourth in the majors. His backup will be A.J. Ellis, who reunites with manager Don Mattingly, after Jeff Mathis signed with the D-backs following four seasons in Miami.

 

BENCH

Dietrich’s bat allowed the Marlins to stay in the hunt despite Gordon’s absence. Once thought of as a defensive liability, Dietrich committed just four errors at second and none in his stops at first, third and left field. With Hechavarria’s struggles, Miguel Rojas tied a career high in starts at short (26). Known for his glove, he learned to play first and often entered as a late-game defensive replacement. Ichiro Suzuki showed flashes of his old self, finishing with a .291 average and surpassing the 3,000-hit mark, making it a no-brainer to pick up his club option.

 

MANAGEMENT

In his first season at the helm, Mattingly certainly left his mark. Both he and the players never got too high or too low, especially during a season with plenty of unexpected challenges thrown their way. Mattingly’s former teammate, Mike Pagliarulo, is in as hitting coach. Former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez replaces Lenny Harris as third-base coach. Bench coach Tim Wallach returns after receiving interest for various vacant managerial jobs.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

Whether the Marlins snap baseball’s second-longest postseason drought (13; the Mariners’ streak stands at 15) depends upon their success at resolving the rotation. In the end, the biggest factor will be health. The Marlins were at the top of the Wild Card standings until injuries became too much to overcome with their lack of depth.

 

2017 NL EAST PREDICTION: 3rd

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 3, 2017 - 10:01
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2017-spring-football-preview
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Texas A&M fans have been patient with head coach Kevin Sumlin, even if each season feels like déjà vu. After wowing the Aggie faithful with an 11-2 record and a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma in his 2012 debut, Sumlin set the bar high but a 9-4 showing in ’13 has given way to three consecutive 8-5 campaigns. On top of that, 2017 is shaping up to be a rebuilding year of sorts in College Station, something fans won’t be too thrilled to hear.


As has been the case each season under Sumlin, Texas A&M got off to a hot start only to fall apart in November against some of the SEC’s top teams. No one questions Sumlin’s ability to put together an offense but his defenses have always been questioned. The hire of former LSU defensive coordinator Jon Chavis prior to the 2015 season was supposed to take care of that problem, but finishing strong remains the biggest issue plaguing the Aggies.

 

Quarterback continuity has been a common theme recently too with Texas A&M shuffling signal-callers over the past two seasons. The production has basically remained the same (about 260 passing yards per game), although transfer Trevor Knight provided a little more boost with his running ability last season.

 

The defense, however, took a step back last season, as the Aggies had difficulty against the pass, resulting in them giving up 442 yards per game. This was despite the presence of defensive end Myles Garrett, an unanimous All-American who could be the first player taken in the upcoming NFL Draft.

 

Garrett is one of 11 starters Texas A&M is looking to replace this season, a process that begins in spring practice. With so many positions seemingly open and plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball, this spring is shaping up to be a pivotal one for Sumlin and company.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Texas A&M’s Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback Battle

Trevor Knight may not have been the most accurate of quarterbacks but he had a way of throwing a strike downfield for big plays at key times or frustrating defenses by scrambling to keep drives alive. In 11 games last season, Knight averaged 277 total yards per game, accounting for 29 total touchdowns. Knight has exhausted eligibility, leaving Jake Hubenak as the most experienced quarterback on the roster. A rising senior, Hubenak has starting experience and threw for 884 yards with six touchdowns and two picks last season. He is not a scrambler like Knight, which could open up the door for redshirt freshman Nick Starkel or true freshman Kellen Mond. Starkel impressed the Aggies’ coaching staff in practices last season.

 

2. Sorting out the Receiving Corps

Three of the Aggies’ top four receivers from the 2016 season are gone, as Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil combined for 108 receptions, 1,697 yards and 15 touchdowns. Replacing that production won’t be easy, but there are options, starting with Christian Kirk, who led the team with 83 catches and was second in both yards (928) and touchdowns (nine) last season. Sumlin also has a slew of younger players that could contribute right way, including a trio of four-star prospects in his 2017 recruiting class – Camron Buckley, Hezekiah Jones and Jhamon Ausbon. They will complete alongside 2016 recruits Quartney Davis and Clyde Leflore-Chriss. Expect the lineup on the outside to be fluid until leaders start emerging from a very talented, yet inexperienced, group.

 

3. Filling Holes in the Defensive Front Seven

Defensive coordinator Jon Chavis enters spring ball not only having to replace All0-American defensive end Myles Garrett, but also fellow lineman Daeshon Hall and linebacker Shaan Washington. Garrett and Hall combined for 83 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks even with the former missing a couple of games due to injury. Washington led the team with 104 tackles.

 

The linebacker unit should remain strong with Otaro Alaka, Richard Moore, Cullen Gillaspia and Tyrel Dodson. Junior Jarrett Johnson was productive up front in relief last season, registering 6.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in 12 games. Fellow defensive end Qualen Cunningham should take on a bigger role as well. Chavis also will get long looks at redshirt freshman Justin Madubuike and true freshmen Jayden Peevy and Tyree Johnson, each of whom will have a chance to play right away if they can show they are ready.

 

4. Can the Rushing Attack Continue to Improve?

The Aggies are quite literally gaining ground in the run game over the past two seasons with Tra Carson rushing for 1,165 yards in 2015 and Trayveon Williams’ breakout performance as a freshman with 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns. Texas A&M had three new starters along the offensive line last season and now must replace both tackles with  Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor gone. Who will be the next men up?

 

Junior Koda Martin and sophomore Austin Anderson should compete for time at the tackle positions. Early enrollee Jared Hocker has the ideal size (6-6, 310) for a left tackle, so expect him to get a shot for early playing time. The rest of the 2017 recruiting class will bring in some interior depth but might only produce one other player ready to contribute early in four-star Grayson Reed.

 

5. Can Sumlin End the Cycle?

Sumlin has no doubt heard the grumblings from the fan base after three consecutive poor Novembers. The 2016 season was no different, as Texas A&M entered the final month of the regular season 7-1 only to lose three of its final four games (two of those at home), and then fall to Kansas State in the Texas Bowl to close out the year.

 

Looking ahead to this season, the Aggies’ open at UCLA but the rest of the non-conference schedule offers three matchups that should pad the win column. It always comes down to the SEC slate, which starts with Arkansas in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 23. That opens a stretch of six straight conference games, including a visit from Alabama and a trip to Florida in back-to-back weeks. The Gators are the only true road game in that span, but after hosting New Mexico Nov. 11, Texas A&M closes things out at Ole Miss and at LSU. Is this the year the Aggies finally finish strong?

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Texas A&M in the SEC

 

The most optimistic of Aggie fans could put Kevin Sumlin down for another hot start with a 5-0 record. The Alabama and Florida games in consecutive weeks will test just how strong this Texas A&M team will be in 2017. The November slide could start early for Sumlin and team. An open date on Oct. 21 before back-to-back home games against Mississippi State and Auburn could help right the ship if things have changed. If not, another poor final month will only give fans more to grouse about.

 

If Sumlin wants to turn down the noise in College Station he needs to make the most of these spring practices with so many key spots on both sides of the ball needing to be filled.

 

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.

Teaser:
Texas A&M Aggies 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, March 3, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/iowa-state-cyclones-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

The Matt Campbell era officially enters its second season in Ames with an emphasis on players and coaches alike knowing what to expect, both from opponents and themselves. A philosophy which shouldn't be hard to abide, given how much the 2017 version of the Iowa State Cyclones will look like the ‘16 edition. Youth and inexperience will once again be factors in how well the Cyclones fare on the gridiron.

 

There is one major difference, however, in the eyes of Campbell entering spring drills – coaches and players alike are once again excited about Iowa State football. And not just about the prospects to improve the numbers in the win column. They're also excited as coaches about the continuity already demonstrating itself in the little things, like weight training. Beyond those little things, they're excited about the opportunities for growth their focus on fundamentals will bring about for these young and hungry Cyclones in what will undoubtedly, as always, be a very competitive Big 12 conference.

 

One look up and down the roster and it's not difficult to conclude that there will be a fair amount of familiarity returning on both sides of the ball when the team gathers for fall camp in August. So the questions to ask have very little to do with who will be playing, and everything to do with how well they'll play. But before we worry about the fall, let’s take a look at what to keep an eye on this spring.

 

Podcast: The 2017 Big 12 Primer



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

5 Storylines to Watch During Iowa State’s Spring Practice

 

1. Can you identify even one offensive lineman?
With just two returning starters on the offensive line for the second consecutive year, there's no question this is ground zero for the Cyclones’ coaching staff in their battle for continuity. From that standpoint the unit will be in good hands with offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Tom Manning, a 2016 Broyles Award Semifinalist for the nation's top assistant coach. He'll have his hands full working with several new starters, but certainly no worse than what he inherited there in 2016. Watch for Manning's focus to be on a trio of redshirt freshmen – Sean Foster, Josh Mueller and Oge Udeogu – as he seeks to fill those holes.

 

2. Isn't it really just a one-horse race at quarterback?
As head coach Matt Campbell and his staff continue to focus on continuity it seems only logical they'd enter 2017 with the same two guys at quarterback as they ended last season. And they will, but the job descriptions have changed. After starting the final five games of last season, Jacob Spark enters spring atop the depth chart. Joel Lanning, a rising senior, will still see some snaps at quarterback, especially around the goal line, but the coaching staff also is planning on using him at both running back and wide receiver on offense and may give him a look at linebacker on defense as well. The idea is take advantage of his athleticism and versatility as much as possible. For Park, the hope is that the end of last season has prepared him to take command early and help this offense take the next step forward.

 

3. How to handle the defensive youth?
While you couldn't necessarily count the number of career starts from the returning defensive linemen on both hands, you could probably take off a shoe and get there. That's not to say there won't be talent in the defensive trenches for these Cyclones. Keep an eye on the two anchors at end – JD Waggoner and JaQuan Bailey. Waggoner was on his way to his best season in 2016 before being sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury vs. Baylor. And Bailey was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-American by Campus Insiders. The back end is in good hands with All-Big 12 defensive backs Kamari Cotton-Moya (second team in 2016) and Brian Peavy (honorable mention) leading the way. These four will not only be the keys to the defense’s development, they'll also be called on to mentor the younger players. But the biggest challenge for defensive coaches will not be finding players eager to contribute, so much as sorting out the options.

 

4. Is there too much talent at wide receiver?
No one “in the know” would likely dispute the assertion that this is the one position on the roster where it is more about keeping everyone happy, given just how much talent returns. Allen Lazard, who finished fifth in the Big 12 with 1,018 receiving yards last season, will be the focus, but he shouldn’t be the only one making an impact in the passing game. Deshaunte Jones led all Big 12 freshmen in receiving with 536 yards and also caught six touchdown passes. His development will go a long way toward ensuring the continuity factor Campbell has made the No. 1 priority. How he and Lazard mesh with Park could factor heavily into how productive Iowa State’s offense is this season.

 

5. How bright does Campbell see the Cyclones’ future?
In his first year in Ames, the focus for Campbell was putting his stamp on the program and installing a new culture, while putting his players in the best position for success. And while a 3-9 record doesn’t look that impressive, it doesn’t account for all the work behind the scenes that Campbell and his staff put in to lay the groundwork for the future. Now that everyone has had a full year to become familiar with one another and to experience the new culture, this spring is all about building on the progress that was made last year and seeing which players are eager to take advantage of the opportunities put before them. No one is expecting Iowa State to contend for the Big 12 title this fall, but you can bet that Campbell has made it clear that 3-9 in Ames doesn’t cut it anymore.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Iowa State in the Big 12

 

Iowa State enters its second spring under head coach Matt Campbell feeling good about the direction the program and players are headed. With a renewed focus on continuity and the fundamentals at the core of their efforts it's still a rebuilding job with a long way to go. But they'll be doing it with players that will most likely be around for a few more years. While the offensive line, where at least three redshirt freshmen are expected to get long looks, will be a focus, the coaching staff can feel good about the talent the Cyclones have at wide receiver, starting with Allen Lazard, and quarterback – the one-two punch of Jacob Park and Joel Lanning.

 

On defense, coaches will be breaking in several junior college transfers while leaning heavily on All-Big 12 defensive backs Kamari Cotton-Moya and Brian Peavy. The adjustment to a new coaching staff and attitude are really just beginning so 2017 could end up looking a lot like ’16 as far as wins and losses go. But Campbell and his staff knew going in this would be a multi-year effort and show no signs of buyer’s remorse about their decision to come to Ames.

 

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

Teaser:
Iowa State Cyclones 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, March 3, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/mississippi-state-bulldogs-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

Mississippi State used a blocked field goal to beat Miami (Ohio) in the St. Petersburg Bowl in late December and cap a 6-7 season that included Dan Mullen's fifth Egg Bowl win. Mullen hauled in a top-30 recruiting class in February, keeping State fans optimistic about the Bulldogs' 2017 season. With a number of key players returning to Starkville, lofty expectations aren't unfounded.

 

Last season offered several head-scratching moments — MSU's season-opening loss to South Alabama notwithstanding — that provided angst for Mullen and his assistants. To be fair, the departure of eventual AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott among others was bound to set the Bulldogs back during their 2016 campaign.

 

However, MSU enters the 2017 season with more experience. An SEC West schedule isn't for the faint-hearted, and the Bulldogs will once again jostle weekly to remain relevant in the division race.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Mississippi State’s Spring Practice

 

1. Nick Fitzgerald's maturation

Last year's burning question from Starkville was who will replace Dak Prescott? Thankfully for Bulldog fans, Fitzgerald answered the question, rushing for 1,375 yards — second most in the SEC — and throwing for another 2,423 yards (eighth) as a sophomore. And for good measure, he was responsible for a total of 37 touchdowns, 16 of those coming on the ground. Not shabby for a guy who was buried on the depth chart entering fall camp.

 

If Fitzgerald is to replicate his production in 2017, he'll have to do so without top target Fred Ross (917 receiving yards, 12 TDs), who has exhausted his eligibility. Donald Gray is expected to emerge as Fitzgerald’s new No. 1 receiver in 2017. A sophomore last season, Gray pulled in 41 catches for 709 yards and five touchdowns.

 

2. New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham

Peter Sirmon left MSU for Louisville after just one season. In a coaching trade of sorts, the Bulldogs announced the hire of Grantham, who was the Cardinals’ DC from 2014-16, in January. The Bulldogs’ defense under Sirmon was porous and gave up 31 points per game. MSU finished the season ranked 13th in scoring and 12th in total defense in the SEC.

 

Grantham's hire was the first step in shoring up the defense. Although Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson and Louisville's offense earned loads of accolades in 2016, and rightfully so, Grantham's defense ranked in the ACC's top five in total defense throughout his three-year tenure. He knows what he’s doing.

 

Grantham also brings SEC experience, as he led Georgia's defense from 2010-13. He's also had stops as a position coach in the NFL in Cleveland, Dallas, Houston and Indianapolis.

 

3. Who emerges as the premier running back?

If the Bulldogs are to be relevant in conference play next season, Fitzgerald can’t be expected to carry the rushing load all by himself. He led the team in carries, yards and touchdowns last season, followed by running back Aeris Williams’ 137 attempts for 720 yards and just four scores. Dan Mullen's spread-option offense gives his quarterbacks the liberty of keeping or handing off the football depending on the defense, but Fitzgerald also needs to limit the amount of punishment he takes.

 

Williams produced two 100-yard games last season, including an Egg Bowl performance where he ran for 191 yards and two scores. MSU landed four-star running back Kylin Hill in February, and he should bolster the depth of a position group that last season totaled just four touchdowns outside of Fitzgerald and Williams.

 

4. Incoming linebacker Willie Gay
Starkville High School’s Gay was the crowned jewel of the recruiting class. With the addition of a new coordinator (Grantham), Bulldog fans have reason to believe in a bright defensive future. Gay, a four-star recruit, selected MSU over Alabama, LSU, Georgia and a number of Power Five programs.

 

Gay accumulated 83 tackles his senior season at Starkville. In 2015, he made 84 stops, recorded six sacks and snagged four interceptions. He should see playing time early and has all the tools to succeed in the league as a true freshman.

 

5. Revamped defense

The Bulldogs enter spring with a 2017 recruiting class that includes seven junior college players. This means Grantham will have some experienced guys at his disposal. One such player to keep an eye on is Chauncey Rivers, a former Georgia commit who was dismissed from the program after a string of arrests. He’s back in the SEC after a year at East Mississippi Community College, where he posted 45 tackles, eight sacks and one forced fumble.

 

Another incoming JUCO prospect is former Michigan State defensive lineman Montez Sweat, who was expected to compete for playing time for the Spartans before leaving the team in 2016. Sweat, a Georgia native, signed after playing at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College. At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, he should plug in nicely to the Bulldogs’ defensive line. MSU’s JUCO signings also include the top two defensive tackle prospects (Deion Pope and Lee Autry), as well as the No. 2-ranked safety, Johnathan Abram, another former Georgia Bulldog.

 

Related: SEC's Top 35 Impact Junior College Transfers for 2017

 

Pre-Spring Oulook for Mississippi State in the SEC


In hindsight, Mississippi State’s 2016 season wasn’t as bad as some expected. The offense, headlined by sophomore dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, emerged as one of the conference’s best by season’s end. Although the Bulldogs will lose top wide receiver Fred Ross, Donald Gray appears well-suited to emerge as the go-to guy. Fitzgerald’s athleticism also masks a lot of deficiencies. Returning running back Aeris Williams should add another boost to the ground game.

 

While MSU’s offense provided plenty to cheer for in 2016, the same can’t be said for its defense. New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham should turn things around. How long it will take him, however, is another question. MSU’s influx of talented junior college defensive players should ensure that the unit doesn’t lag near the bottom of the conference in points and yards allowed per game again.

 

The last few seasons haven’t shown much parity in the SEC West, but the Bulldogs have shown they too can compete with the right roster. While hoping for an SEC West title might too ambitious, Mississippi State should be able to find a way to get to at least eight wins.

 

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

Teaser:
Mississippi State Bulldogs 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, March 3, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Braves, MLB
Path: /mlb/atlanta-braves-2017-preview-predictions-schedule
Body:

Atlanta Braves logoAnd so, the awkward adolescent phase begins. Following the 2015 season, the Braves began trading away veterans in earnest for what they would bring back in prospects, leaving the major-league roster to be staffed by Freddie Freeman and whoever else happened to be left over. The good news is that those trades have left the Braves with a farm system considered one of the best in the game.

 

The Braves are following a rebuilding plan that’s been used countless times. Sometimes it even works. But now that the dust has settled and the fans saw what occurred in all of those trades, the hard work of turning “the kids” into actual big-league contributors begins. It’s baseball’s version of adolescence with all of the awkwardness that goes with it. In 2017, the Braves are likely to show flashes of what they may become, but those will be sandwiched between plenty of moments when fans will be mumbling, “I thought he was supposed to be good.”

 

But they will play in a new stadium!

 

ROTATION

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
There are 1,458 innings (at least) to cover in 162 games, and someone has to pitch them. So, the Braves made a trio of strategic offseason moves in their rotation, signing one-year deals with 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and 44-year-old fastballer Bartolo Colon, and then trading for Jaime Garcia. The idea is to have these three join forces with 26-year-old staff ace Julio Teheran, who for the fourth straight year pitched 180 innings of very good baseball. It’s shrewd business, because the Braves have been stockpiling pitching prospects. Rather than expose them to developing on the job in what might be another 90-loss team, the Braves can let guys like Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler marinate a little more in Class AAA. If one of them is ready quicker than expected, the Braves have very little committed to their new arrivals and could easily clear a spot. Atlanta also added 20-year-old lefty Luiz Gohara in a January trade with Seattle for outfielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons. At the trade deadline, if the Braves are out of contention, one or two of the veterans might even bring back a decent prospect.

 

BULLPEN

The Braves wisely brought back reliever Jim Johnson, a veteran who stepped into the breach last year and saved 20 games. He’ll serve as the mentor for a bullpen that features flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino, who began 2016 as the closer but got hurt. The rest of the bullpen might feature arms such as Jose Ramirez and Mauricio Cabrera trying to solve their problems with walking so many hitters on live television. The wild card might be lefty Ian Krol, whom the Braves got in a trade with the Tigers before the 2016 season. Krol’s strikeout and walk numbers both dramatically improved upon donning a Braves uniform. To succeed, a rebuild needs a few “hidden” players who emerge into solid major leaguers. For Braves fans who want to know how the rebuild is going, watching whether Krol can hold on to his improvements will be a good indicator.

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

How Braves general manager John Coppolella talked the Arizona Diamondbacks into giving up Dansby Swanson, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, in a trade for Shelby Miller remains one of the great mysteries of the universe. Swanson begins the year as the Braves’ starting shortstop. He’ll be joined by three-time All-Star Brandon Phillips, who was acquired from the Reds on Feb. 12 for two pitchers. Phillips, 35, isn’t the run producer he used to be, but the defense is still Gold Glove-caliber and this gives the Stone Mountain, Georgia, native a chance to play close to home. The 15-year veteran also should serve as a great mentor for Swanson, while giving prospect Ozzie Albies plenty of time to develop in the minors.

 

Printable Atlanta Braves 2017 scheduleCORNERS

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Freeman was the 11th-most valuable position player in 2016 by their Wins Above Replacement metric, and the best among first basemen. Playing on a team that lost 93 games didn’t do much for Freeman’s national name recognition, but another season of 34 home runs and a .400 on-base percentage might do the trick no matter what the Braves do in 2017. One of the hardest parts of any rebuild is developing a bona fide superstar, but the Braves — who will employ Mr. Freeman through the 2021 season — already seem to have one. On the hot corner, Adonis Garcia did just enough to be useful in 2016, but he is not the long-term answer. The Braves are hoping that 23-year-old Rio Ruiz, who showed good on-base skills but limited power in AAA last year, is that answer, but it’s not clear that he’s ready for the jump to the big leagues.

 

OUTFIELD

The trade that brought Swanson also netted center fielder Ender Inciarte, who after being hurt at the beginning of the season returned to post a .351 on-base percentage and played Gold Glove defense. He’ll be flanked in left by Matt Kemp, who has become a defensively challenged, one-dimensional hitter. His 35 home runs in 2016 may look gaudy, but it’s not hard to find a power-hitting corner outfielder, and his other shortcomings erode the value that his bat brings. Nick Markakis has been exactly what the Braves had hoped he would be when he signed with the team prior to 2015: a solid player, but one for whom “solid” represents the highest praise he’ll receive. Markakis’ performance against lefties has begun to deteriorate, making him a possible candidate for platoon duty only.

 

CATCHING

Tyler Flowers is the starter, and while his .232/.302/.384 career numbers don’t inspire sonnets, he is among the game’s best at framing pitches — an important skill that is appreciated now more than ever. The Braves signed free agent Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal to give them a veteran backup backstop.

 

BENCH

Atlanta was counting on Sean Rodriguez, who played every position but pitcher and catcher in 2016 with Pittsburgh and hit 18 home runs in 342 plate appearances, to be their super-utility guy, but his family was involved in a serious car accident in Miami in late January and he could miss the season because of a shoulder injury. That means Jace Peterson, the Braves’ former starting second baseman, will likely be the fourth outfielder and also will see time at second and third when needed. Chase d’Arnaud also has the versatility to play all over the diamond and could be used to spell Markakis against lefties.

 

MANAGEMENT

After starting the 2016 season 9–28, the Braves parted ways with manager Fredi Gonzalez and replaced him with long-time organizational stalwart Brian Snitker as interim manager. The Braves played nearly .500 baseball under Snitker (59–65), and as a reward his job title was cut in half. Rebuilding teams require a manager who can motivate a team to continue to put forth effort. The Braves have made a clear statement of their opinion of Snitker’s abilities, keeping him rather than turning to a more experienced manager.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Braves are in an enviable position for a team on a rebuilding track. They already have a franchise player in Freeman and the makings of one in Swanson. They have a couple of players who have already bloomed into good role players, but they really only have a starter kit for a pitching staff beyond Teheran and too many positions where they will be fielding placeholders. The consensus is that the Braves have one of the best farm systems in the game after their flurry of trades, but while some of the youngsters will be seen at SunTrust Park this year, it will be another two years at least before they are collectively ready to make their mark.

 

2017 NL EAST PREDICTION: 5th

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 17:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/mike-francesa-says-women-coaching-mens-teams-impossible-nba-professional-sports
Body:

Mike Francesa is blunt if nothing else. 

 

The radio personality completely goes in on a caller who talks about how his daughter loves sports and hopes to see a female head coach one day in a professional league. Francesa says it's "impossible" and went on to talk about legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and how even she couldn't coach an NBA team (if she were alive).

 

It's hard to be shocked by Francesa these days.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 14:48
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/podcast-2017-big-12-college-football-primer
Body:

Braden Gall and Mitch Light 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!

 

Today, we begin our 2017 spring primer series and it has nothing to do with spring practice. We start with the Big 12.

 

- How difficult a job does Matt Rhule face at Baylor? Are they an upper half team in '17?

 

- Kansas, Iowa State and Texas Tech fall into the bottom tier this fall but which team has the most upward mobility? And what will happen to Kliff Kingsbury?

 

- Oklahoma is the clear favorite but who are the top contenders to the Sooners?

 

- TCU and West Virginia have lots of interesting strengths and lots of large question marks. Is the difference coaching? QB play?

 

- Texas appears to be the surprise upset pick in the Big 12 already. Could Tom Herman actually get Texas to 10 wins in his first season in Austin?

 

- Does Oklahoma State have enough balance to win the Big 12 and does Kansas State make any sense at all? Ever?

 

 

 

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @AthlonMitch or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com/podcastiTunesStitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Podcast: 2017 Big 12 College Football Primer
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 13:39
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2017-fantasy-baseball-shortstop-rankings
Body:

Shortstop has become a haven of young talent over the last four years, and this season is the definition of this as a look at the top of the fantasy rankings at the position will show. Consider that a player like Troy Tulowitzki, a guy that was an elite fantasy producer, is now on the downsides of his career and is no more than a borderline top-10 option.

 

Related: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Top 300 Rankings

 

Instead Tulo has passed the mantle on to the likes of Manny Machado, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor. This season these young bucks (and a few others) should continue to develop more and we may find out if Lindor’s surprising new power stroke is real or not in 2017.

 

Much like second base, there are players with more power who are shortstop-eligible while others offer more speed. The good news is that shortstop is no longer a position that boasts only three elite options followed by a cesspool of question marks. This season, the debate is how soon do you take one (and who), although chances are you can still end up with a decent option if you decide to wait a few rounds. It’s always a good thing to have options.

 

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Fantasy Baseball Cheat Sheet: Shortstop Rankings for 2017
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL
Path: /nfl/2017-nfl-draft-top-5-tight-ends-entering-scouting-combine
Body:

The 2017 NFL Draft will feature a number of talented tight ends. While two of them stand out among the rest, there will be a number of players teams could take a chance on in the later rounds that could become key contributors.

 

Here are the top five tight ends in the 2017 NFL Draft entering this week’s (Feb. 28-March 6) Scouting Combine in Indianapolis:

 

1. David Njoku, Miami

During his two seasons with the Hurricanes, Njoku flew under the radar party because Miami didn’t get a lot of national attention. But Njoku has not gone unnoticed by scouts and draft analysts, which is why he’s not only considered the best tight end prospect, but some view him as one of the best players in this draft period.

 

Last season, Njoku caught 43 passes for 698 yards and eight touchdowns. An excellent athlete, the Hurricanes used him not only as a tight end, but also as a slot receiver on the outside. A former New Jersey high school high jump champion, Njoku uses this athleticism to go up and get the football at its highest point.

 

Njoku has the size (6-4, 245) of an NFL tight end as well as the strength. Not only was he able to run away from defenders after making the catch, he also ran over his share. His hands are a little bit of a concern, as he struggled with drops. He also needs to improve in pass protection, but that’s nothing unusual when it comes to collegiate tight ends making the jump.

 

In the vast lineage of Miami tight ends, Njoku could be the next great from The U. He is still new to the position, but Njoku could turn into the next Greg Olson in the NFL.

 

2. O.J. Howard, Alabama

Howard is the most talented and gifted tight end in 2017. Many will point to his lack of production at Alabama as a negative, but that was more or less because of the type of offense that the Crimson Tide runs.

 

Last season, Howard caught 45 passes for 595 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. In 2015, he had 38 receptions for 602 yards and two scores.

 

At 6-foot-6, 249 pounds, Howard is physically imposing and has the look of an NFL tight end. A large man, Howard still possesses good speed, which is something that should appeal to many teams.

 

A smooth pass catcher who is able to adjust after the ball has been thrown; Howard also is ahead of the curve as a blocker, which helps make him a well-rounded prospect.

 

Teams will probably ask Howard why he wasn’t more of a difference-maker while at Alabama, and he will need to get a little stronger and develop a more physical mind set at the line of scrimmage.

 

There’s no mistaking that Howards oozes potential and although he’s more polished than some of his peers, he’s not a finished product. With the right coaching, Howard can potentially become a Pro Bowl tight end for years to come.

 

3. Evan Engram, Ole Miss

Ole Miss’ disappointing 5-7 showing last season should not detract from the impact that Engram had on the field. One of the most athletic tight ends in the nation, Engram earned All-SEC and All-American honors after recording 65 receptions for 926 yards and eight touchdowns.

 

With Engram’s speed, he can run away from most linebackers, forcing teams to try and cover him with a nickel back instead. A matchup problem because of his combination of size (6-3, 236) and speed, Engram was a legitimate vertical threat for the Rebels.

 

He did have some issues with drops at time and wasn’t known for his blocking prowess. He may not have prototypical tight end size, but his athleticism and pass-catching abilities give him the potential to be a big-play threat in the right offensive system.

 

4. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech

A towering presence (6-7, 245), Hodges looks more like a tall wide receiver rather than a tight end. Relatively new to the tight end position, Hodges was very productive in his three seasons with the Hokies.

 

Last season, Hodges caught 48 passes for 691 yards and seven touchdowns. With his height and athletic ability, Hodges has the ability to go get the football wherever it’s thrown. He also played quarterback in high school, which has helped Hodges understand and dissect coverages.

 

Hodges has played tight end only three seasons, so he still has a lot of room for improvement. His hands are less than ideal as he was prone to making catches against his body. He also doesn’t possess breakaway speed.

 

While still raw, Hodges could be a good value selection as early as the second or third round, as he has the tools to be a long-time starter in the league for years to come.

 

5. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas

Sprinkle did not end his collegiate career on a positive note. Before the Belk Bowl, he was cited for shoplifting from a Belk store and was subsequently suspended for the game against Virginia Tech. Sprinkle will have to answer plenty of questions about this incident when teams sit down and talk to him in Indianapolis.

 

That aside, Sprinkle has good size (6-5, 256) as he caught 33 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Razorbacks.

 

Early indications are Sprinkle could be an every-down right end, as he is a sure blocker while also serving as a big target across the middle. He uses his size and length to his advantage to catch the ball over defenders.

 

His route running could use some work, but he should be able to contribute to an NFL team right away. Hopefully, the poor choice he made in late December won’t impact his NFL future too much.

 

Other tight ends to watch: Jake Butt, Michigan; Michael Roberts, Toledo; Jordan Leggett, Clemson, Jonnu Smith, FIU; Gerald Everett, South Alabama

Teaser:
2017 NFL Draft: Top 5 Tight Ends Entering the Scouting Combine
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /nfl/10-sec-players-watch-during-nfl-scouting-combine-2017
Body:

Every year when the list of NFL Scouting Combine invitees is released, there’s always one conference atop the standings and it’s seemingly always the SEC. This year is no exception with a whopping 66 players from the league invited to the event. Pro factories at Alabama and LSU are sending 10 players a piece to Indianapolis, which combined is one more than an entire Power Five league (the Big 12).

 

Who’s under the most pressure this week (Feb. 28-March 6) and who’s destined to be a future star on Sundays? Here’s a look at 10 SEC players to keep an eye on when the Combine gets under way and what they can do to solidify their status. 

 

1. Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M

It’s hard to have anybody other than the potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft slotted in this spot. Garrett was a monster on the field for the Aggies and will give the Cleveland Browns plenty to think about with that first pick given his blend of size, speed and ability to track down the quarterback. It’s rare you’re able to find a complete package like Garrett at the top of the draft so it’ll be fun to watch him go through the ringer in Indy. Don’t discount how important the medical side will be for the prospect either given how banged up he was last year.

 

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Pretty much since he was in high school, Fournette has been labeled the best running back since Adrian Peterson. While the numbers didn’t quite catch up to that hype in Baton Rouge, he was nevertheless a dominant runner at times in college and has just about everything teams are looking for in the first tailback off the board. How high he goes in the first round could be determined by how well he tests and if there are any red flags on the medical side of the Combine.

 

Related: Top 5 Running Backs Entering the NFL Scouting Combine

 

3. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

Allen stayed in school another season and that bet on himself has paid off in a big way as he could be a potential top-five selection this year. Perhaps the most technically sound player on defense in the draft, there’s very few things that he cannot do on the football field. Perhaps not the most explosive athlete available, he is still a top-tier pass rusher — to say nothing of his ability to stop the run. In terms of a safe pick, there’s nobody safer than Allen and he can solidify that in Indianapolis.

 

4. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

The race to be the first tight end taken in the draft should be a fascinating one and Howard might be the odds-on favorite in the first round. There are simply few better athletes than he is at the position and the Combine is a perfect place to showcase those skills. NFL evaluators have been anxious to get a shot at drafting this kind of player, who just about everybody believes could have a much, much more productive career at the next level compared to Alabama.

 

5. Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

There’s been plenty of buzz about the Fournettes and Dalvin Cooks of the draft but Kamara could join those two in the first round if he continues to ascend up draft boards. He should burn up the turf with a fast 40 in the Combine and impress with his change of direction during drills. Key to a strong showing for scouts will be convincing them he’s perfectly suited to stay on the field for every down and checking out on the medical side.

 

6. Derek Barnett, DL, Tennessee

Vols fans have been pretty vocal on Barnett not getting the proper respect when it comes to the star pass rusher but the Combine should put those issues in proper perspective with a good effort. He probably won’t test the best out of the defensive ends but he has flashed plenty of Pro Bowl potential in the right system and his past production speaks for itself. If he can show added quickness during drills, expect Barnett’s name to come up even more than it does now.

 

7. Jamal Adams, DB, LSU

Go down the list and chances are high that Adams has a checkmark next to his name. Rangy safety? Check. Hard hitter? Check. Ball hawk? Check. There have been some terrific defensive backs to come out of LSU but in terms of being an all-around safety and quality leader, few come as highly recommended as Adams does. If he can run well and show fluid hips at the Combine, it wouldn’t be that surprising to see him go in the top 10.

 

8. Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama

Humphrey is no stranger to an event like the Combine considering his father was a former Pro Bowl running back. The testing phase should present plenty of opportunities for the track star to excel and his quickness will be on full display to wow scouts in just about every event. He could be yet another first-round selection for Alabama out of the secondary and getting a team to become enamored with his skills at the Combine is the first step in that.

 

9. Quincy Wilson, DB, Florida

The Gators have been churning out defensive talent and Wilson is the latest in a long line of stars to enter the league out of the secondary. Teammate Teez Tabor got a little more press in college but the Combine should offer a chance for Wilson to hog the spotlight as many in the NFL believe he’s one of the best players in the back end. A bigger question that he could answer when going through the paces at Lucas Oil Stadium is if he’s better suited to be a corner or a safety at the next level.

 

10. Carl Lawson, DL, Auburn

Lawson will be a fascinating case to follow to the draft and that starts at the Combine where he could put up some seriously impressive numbers in testing. He’s fast, looks the part and has displayed some impressive moves on tape. However, there are some questions about his actual size and whether he will be quick enough to be a starting edge player in the pro. Don’t discount how important the medical checks will be at the Combine for Lawson either given his injury history.

 

Don’t sleep on: Tre’Davious White (DB, LSU), Teez Tabor (DB, Florida), Tim Williams (LB, Alabama), Cam Robinson (OL, Alabama), Charles Harris (DL, Missouri), Avery Gennesy (OL, Texas A&M), Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss), Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida), Montravius Adams (DL, Auburn), Kendell Beckwith (LB, LSU), Daeshon Hall (DL, Texas A&M), Malachi Dupre (WR, LSU), ArDarius Stewart (WR, Alabama), Speedy Noil (WR, Texas A&M), Josh Reynolds (WR, Texas A&M), Caleb Brantley (DL, Florida), Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt), Joshua Dobbs (QB, Tennessee)

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

Teaser:
10 SEC Players to Watch During the NFL Scouting Combine
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/auburn-tigers-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

Auburn capped off its 2016 football season with a Sugar Bowl berth, where it got handled by Oklahoma 35-19. While the Tigers didn't finish the season well (losing three of their final four games), there were plenty of bright spots along the way, including a 7-2 mark in early November.

 

Auburn showed flashes of greatness with a relatively young team, and it ended up having one of the SEC's better defenses. There is now plenty of hope as we look ahead to 2017. 

 

With 15 returning starters and plenty of depth entering spring practice, head coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers look like a potential contender in the SEC West. Running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway are both back this season to tote the rock, and they'll be joined by plenty of talent at quarterback in what should be a healthy battle in the spring. There is a lot of positive momentum on the plains right now. It's now a matter of whether Auburn can build on that momentum in spring practice.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Auburn's Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback Battle
Talk about a luxury. The Tigers have a ton of talent at the quarterback position and now they just have to decide which one to start. OK, so maybe it's not that easy, but it's a better situation than that of most other teams headed into spring practice. A former five-star recruit and Baylor/McLennan (Texas) Community College transfer, newcomer Jarrett Stidham, is creating a lot of buzz around campus as many believe he is the future at the position for the Tigers. And there is good reason to think that, but he's not the only guy available.

 

Related: SEC's Top 35 Impact Junior College Transfers for 2017

 

Sean White returns this season but will miss team drills during spring practice. He battled with injuries late last season. White racked up most of Auburn's yards through the air, but while he was fairly efficient, there wasn't anything overly impressive about the passing game. John Franklin III played well in limited action and is a senior now, so he'll get a crack at the job. But there's a reason people are excited about Stidham. He has the potential to be elite in Auburn's system. Whether or not he ends up getting the job, Stidham should get plenty of reps in the spring.

 

2. Running Back Progression
With Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway both returning, the Auburn backfield is loaded. Both of these guys are only juniors and they’ve already proven themselves as two of the SEC's top running backs. Pettway rushed for more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns last season as he led the SEC with 122.4 rushing yards per game. Johnson was a fantastic complement, gaining nearly 900 yards on the ground and led the team with 11 touchdowns.

 

Auburn's running backs are in the perfect system under head coach Malzahn, as his offense almost always focuses on the run first. The Tigers have a strong offensive line to run behind and if these guys can remain healthy, Auburn's running game is going to be just fine this season. It will be interesting to see how Johnson and Pettway have improved coming into spring practice.

 

3. O-Line Overhaul
Yes, Auburn is still going to be OK on the offensive line. The Tigers have recruited well under Malzahn and they've got plenty of capable run blockers who have been patiently waiting their turn to get on the field. It's never easy losing an offensive guard the caliber of Alex Kozan. He was arguably the SEC's best pulling guard for two years straight. Tackle Robert Leff also departs. But again, not all is lost.

 

Auburn returns three starting offensive linemen in Darius James, Austin Golson and Braden Smith. The Tigers also welcome FCS All-American Casey Dunn, a graduate transfer from Jacksonville State. Price Michael Sammons, Mike Horton and Marquel Harrell could potentially fill in the rest of the holes. And don't forget, Herb Hand is regarded as one of the nation's best offensive line coaches. Spring practice should tell us a lot about how the rotation will look.

 

4. New Offensive Coordinator
With Rhett Lashlee taking over as the offensive coordinator at UConn, Auburn brings in Chip Lindsey to help run the offense. Lashlee was with Malzahn for a long time and usually just implemented what the head coach wanted without changing things up too much or ruffling too many feathers. It's not that Lashlee wasn't a good coach, but he wasn't going to stray from Malzahn's approach. They were too similar.

 

That's why Lindsey should be seen as an upgrade. He was at Arizona State last season and Southern Miss before that. He is a proponent of a similar no-huddle, fast-paced approach but he brings a special contribution in his ability to recruit and develop quarterbacks. Auburn's running game has never been an issue. Malzahn needed someone who could help evolve the passing game, and it appears Lindsey should be the man for the job. He is a guy whose background is running an Air Raid offense. We'll see if and how different Auburn’s offense looks in spring ball.

 

5. D-Line Development
Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson are gone on the defensive line. The duo is NFL-bound after combing for 13.5 sacks last season and wreaking havoc along and behind the line of scrimmage. Both were effective in stopping the run, particularly Adams. But as with most defensive linemen, it wasn't really the statistics that jumped off the page. It was the fact that you had to account for them, often with two offensive linemen. They brought a huge advantage to Auburn's front seven.

 

With Adams and Lawson off to the pros, Auburn may have a tough time replacing them. At the least, it's going to take some time to get guys to that level of play. Jeff Holland played linebacker last season, but he is making the switch to defensive end and should be able to handle the learning curve. Nick Coe also is a popular candidate to work his way into the rotation up front. Spring practice will be a good time for Auburn to sort out all of the options.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Auburn in the SEC

 

As mentioned above, there is plenty of excitement in Auburn. The Tigers have some work to do in the spring in replacing some key players, but they've also got a lot of important pieces of the puzzle coming back. Plus, there's at least a possibility that the Tigers have a star quarterback ready to emerge. As is the challenge for every team in the SEC West, Auburn has to deal with... the SEC West.

 

It won't be easy going up against college football's deepest division. But right now, at least on paper, Auburn may be the second-most talented squad behind Alabama. The Tigers also are one of the most experienced. With the exception of an early tilt with Clemson, the schedule doesn't get too tough until midseason, and that should give the Tigers time to adjust. If all goes well, Auburn could certainly challenge for second place in the SEC West.

 

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host on Sports Radio 1180 WVLZ in Knoxville, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.

Teaser:
Auburn Tigers 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC
Path: /college-football/florida-gators-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

Jim McElwain’s second season as Florida’s head coach was very similar to his first. The Gators won the SEC East with an 9-4 record, but they again lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. However, unlike like last season’s 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, Florida finished on a high note, blasting Iowa 30-3 in the Outback Bowl.

 

Now Gator fans not only want to win the SEC title for the first time since 2008 but also compete for a national championship. Florida opens spring practice on Feb. 28 and there are a few key areas the Gators will need to address if they want to overtake Alabama in the SEC.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Florida’s Spring Practice

 

1. Who will step up at quarterback?
If anyone has watched the Gators for the last few years, it has been painfully obvious that the team hasn’t had a quality quarterback for some time. Florida hopes one of its young players will step up and become the quarterback the team has been seeking since Tim Tebow left Gainesville.

 

Luke Del Rio won the starting job, but he was injured most of the season and ineffective when he played, throwing for just 1,358 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in six games. Del Rio will miss the entire spring as he is recovering from shoulder surgery, so Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney will all have the opportunity to claim the top spot on the depth chart.

 

Franks, who was four-star recruit coming out of high school in 2016, redshirted during his first season on campus. Like Franks, Trask also is redshirt freshman while Toney is a true freshman who should see a lot of reps under center during the spring.

 

Related: 5 Newcomers for the Florida Gators to Watch in 2017

 

2. Can Florida get offensive line help?
No matter if it was Del Rio or backup quarterback Austin Appleby, the Gators’ offensive line didn’t give either much help regarding protection. Florida’s offensive line also didn’t perform well in the running game.

 

The Gators allowed 28 sacks in 2016, which was not good, to put it mildly. Their rushing attack also was among the FBS’ worst, finishing 113th in nation at 128.2 yards per game.

 

Four starters return up front, but left tackle David Sharpe passed on his senior year for the NFL Draft and will need to be replaced. Sophomore Martez Ivey, one of the top recruits from the 2016 class, is expected to take over at left tackle.

 

3. Receiver depth
Antonio Callaway was the Gators’ leading receiver last season with 54 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdowns. But Florida’s offense needs to find more playmakers.

 

Brandon Powell had 45 catches in 2016, but they went for just 387 yards. Tight end DeAndre Goolsby could play a bigger role after recording 38 receptions for 342 yards and three touchdowns. Both are rising seniors.

 

After these three, the production dropped off significantly. The hope is that younger players such as Tyrie Cleveland, C’yontai Lewis and Josh Hammond can emerge as reliable contributors this spring.

 

4. Can the Gators replace their defensive stars?
Florida has relied a lot on its defense the last few seasons because the offense has been dreadful at times. Now the Gators will have to replace some key stars on that side of the ball due to graduation and those who declared for the NFL Draft early.

 

Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Marcus Maye, Jarrad Davis, Caleb Brantley, Alex Anzalone and Joey Ivey are all gone. While there’s still a lot of talent on defense, a number of these players are unproven.

 

The secondary should remain a strength with the return of Nick Washington, Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner.

Jabari Zuniga, Cece Jefferson and Keivonnis Davis should be the leaders up front. David Reese and Kyla Johnson both got playing time last season at linebacker and will be first in line to fill the void left by Davis and Anzalone.

 

5. Could any of the early enrollees see a lot of snaps?
Five freshmen enrolled early in January. Toney, Kemore Gamble, Kadeem Telfort, Kyree Campbell and James Houston will have an early advantage to gain valuable snaps, but who could see the most playing time of the bunch?

 

Toney will get snaps at quarterback, but look for Franks and Trask to get most of the time under center. Florida is pretty set at tight end with Goolsby and Lewis, but Gamble was a four-star recruit from Miami Southridge High School.

 

With the Gators’ questionable offensive line, Telfort is probably the favorite to receive the most snaps out of the early enrollees. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound tackle from Miami prep powerhouse Booker T. Washington was considered one of the best linemen in the 2017 recruiting class and could help Florida right away.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Florida in the SEC

 

Florida has won two straight SEC East Division titles under Jim McElwain, but it could be tough to win a third. Georgia should be much improved in head coach Kirby Smart’s second season. South Carolina also appears pointed in the right direction now that head coach Will Muschamp has a quarterback in Jake Bentley.

 

Opening the season against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, won’t be an easy task the Gators. After their season opener, they will have five of their next six games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium before their bye week prior to the annual showdown with the Bulldogs.

 

Florida’s two toughest road games figure to be at Kentucky (Sept. 23) and at South Carolina (Nov.11). LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida State all come to the Swamp, so the schedule is manageable in that respect. Florida fans are expecting to see results and another blowout loss in the SEC Championship Game or a second-place finish in the East could begin some grumblings in Gainesville.

 

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

Teaser:
Florida Gators 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy, Overtime
Path: /overtime/60-funny-clever-names-your-softball-team
Body:

It’s time to break out the old bat and glove, and perhaps most essentially, your favorite muscle ointment. That’s right, recreational slow-pitch (and fast-pitch) softball season is upon us! That being the case, you are obviously going to need a name for your team, right? Not to worry, we scoured the internet in search of some of the more clever, silly, funny and humorous team names that we could find to help you out. At the very least, you may be able to draw some inspiration from the following suggestions to come up with something even better on your own. We have divided the names into three sections. Each based on the particular type of league you might be playing in, Co-Ed, Men’s or Women’s.

 

Co-Ed Teams

Scared HitlessClever softball team name

 

Chickson Dix

 

The He-She’s

 

The Soft Serves

 

Weakened Warriors

 

Caught Looking

 

Yager Bombers

 

Multiple Scoregasms

 

Hit For Brains

 

One Hit Wonders

 

Swingers

 

Smokin’ Bases

 

Bat Attitudes

 

Alcoballics

 

The Beer View Mirrors

 

Slapnut Magoos

 

The Lazer Show

 

The Fighting Amish

 

Ice Cold Pitchers

 

Walk-Off Warriors

 

Men's Teams

Master Batters

 

Inglorious Batters

 

Blue Ballers

 

Sons of Pitches

 

Where My Pitches At?

 

Balls Deep

 

Big Test Icicles

 

Yank-Deez

 

Team No Glove, No Love

 

Quit Your Pitching

 

Balls Out

 

I’d Hit That

 

Saved By the Balls

 

Thunder Down Under

 

Nine Inch Males

 

Pitches Be Crazy

 

The Odd Sox

 

Brokebat Mountain

 

Balls to the Wall

 

Pitch Slaps

 

Women's Teams

Breaking Balls

 

Cleats and Cleavage

 

Victorious Secret

 

Blood Bath and Beyond

 

Base-ic Pitches

 

Leather and Lace

 

Trigger Happy Bunnies

 

Queen Bees

 

Voo Doo Dolls

 

Nice Snatch!

 

Happy Dugouts

 

Split Finger Hoochie Mamas

 

Dirty Divas

 

Farmer’s Daughters

 

Ball Busters

 

Pink Sox

 

Diamond Divas

 

Ponytail Express

 

She Devils

 

Beerly Legal

 

RELATED: Funny Volleyball Team Names

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football
Path: /college-football/north-carolina-tar-heels-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

Springtime in Chapel Hill usually means one thing: the hope of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. With the Tar Heels entering this week in the top 10 of the national polls and having already secured no worse than a share of the ACC regular season title, this year is no different.

 

So quietly, football head coach Larry Fedora will be trying to rebuild his team after suffering some major personnel losses following an 8-5 campaign that ended with a loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl. Here are five things to watch as North Carolina gets it going on the gridiron.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in North Carolina’s Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback Battle
North Carolina will have a new starting quarterback... again. Mitch Trubisky’s one season as the leader of the Heels’ offense resulted in the Mentor, Ohio, product becoming a projected first-round NFL Draft pick. Fedora will now look at several options including Chaz Surratt, Nathan Elliott and Logan Byrd. Surratt, a redshirt freshman, may have the inside track.

 

2. Offensive Skill Positions
Trubisky was hardly the only offensive weapon that has left Chapel Hill. Running back Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan are moving on while receivers Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins need to be replaced as well. Austin Proehl and Thomas Jackson will be the leaders at wideout as they enter their senior year and will try to help develop the inexperienced members of the receiving corps. At running back, Fedora hopes that Jordon Brown can improve after seeing spot time as a freshman and keep an eye on early enrollee Michael Carter.

 

Related: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2017

 

3. Offensive Line
To add to North Carolina’s offensive to do list, the offensive line needs to be re-tooled as well. Guard Tommy Hatton got some starts at the end of his redshirt freshman season and will look to take the next step this spring. Bentley Spain will be the anchor at left tackle but North Carolina will need a replacement for Jon Heck on the other side.

 

4. Secondary
The Tar Heels lost cornerback Des Lawrence and safety Dominique Green from last year’s squad. But cornerrback M.J. Stewart decided to return for his senior season and will anchor the back end, and there are some exciting, younger options to keep an eye on. Myles Dorn was on the two-deep as a true freshman and is counted on as Green’s replacement at free safety. Another 2016 contributor, Patrice Rene, has an opportunity to grab the open cornerback spot. D.J. Ford, Greg Ross, K.J. Sails, and Myles Wolfolk are other members of the 2016 recruiting class that will compete for time in spring workouts.

 

5. New Defensive Coordinator
Defense has not been a strength for North Carolina but there was progress made over the past couple of seasons under Gene Chizik. Now that Chizik has left the program, John Papuchis has taken over the reins. Papuchis was the linebackers coach under Chizik and mentored Andre Smith and Cole Holcomb, two players that will be back for Carolina. How Papuchis tweaks the system and how the players respond will be something to keep an eye on as practice begins.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for North Carolina in the ACC

 

There are personnel changes galore for North Carolina, especially on offense. Just about every major contributor – with the exception of left tackle Bentley Spain – has either seen his eligibility expire or chosen to jump to the NFL. Defensively, the Tar Heels need to replace only a few components and return two productive linebackers in Andre Smith and Cole Holcomb. But with John Papuchis taking over for Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator, there will be an adjustment period for that unit too. Head coach Larry Fedora has done a fine job in Chapel Hill but getting this team to challenge in the ACC Coastal Division in 2017 will be a monumental challenge.

 

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

Teaser:
North Carolina Tar Heels 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/10-pac-12-players-watch-during-nfl-scouting-combine-2017
Body:

The Pac-12 has been a major player when the NFL Draft has rolled around and that should continue to be the case in 2017 with a solid 46 players from the conference heading to Indianapolis. Historical powerhouses like USC and Washington have plenty of potential first-rounders again this year but there’s a deep and intriguing group of prospects from around the league set to strut their stuff this week (Feb. 28-Marcah 6) for scouts and coaches.

 

Who’s under the most pressure and who’s destined to be a future star on Sundays? Here’s a look at 10 Pac-12 players to keep an eye on when the Combine gets under way and what they can do to solidify their status.

 

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so it will be fascinating to see how McCaffrey is really received by NFL folks at the Combine. Is he an every-down back or more of a slot receiver at the next level who can return kicks? Teams are probably going to be split on their opinion of the uber-productive tailback but he could make a strong impression with big numbers at the Combine and a showcase during the skills portion.

 

2. Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford

While there may be more name recognition when it comes to his teammate on offense, Thomas figures to be the first Cardinal player drafted this year. He had an incredible performance in the team’s bowl game and has been one of the best college defensive linemen in the country during his time on the Farm. His size makes him a bit of a tweener when it comes to position though and seeing how he measures and runs at the Combine could play a role in terms of how high teams pick him.

 

3. Garett Bolles, OL, Utah

Bolles is no household name for those outside of the state of Utah but he certainly is on draft boards and in NFL personnel rooms. He might be the most athletic offensive lineman to go to the Combine since Lane Johnson a few years ago and he should run laps around a few of the players in his group. With just one year of FBS football though, he’ll be a bit of a projection for some teams who will use the event to really see if he’s a potential Pro Bowler or just another player who needs to be developed further.

 

4. Sidney Jones, DB, Washington

Defensive backs from the South get a ton of attention at the Combine but Jones should be right there with all of the other big names. A potential first-rounder, he should test well and go the earliest of any of the Huskies headed to the draft this year. His biggest knock is that he’s not as big as others so hitting certain marks when getting measured will be key for Jones, who will get compared a ton to ex-teammate Marcus Peters (on the field, at least).

 

5. Takkarist McKinley, DL, UCLA

It seems like every year the Bruins are sending an athletic freak to the league and this year it’s McKinley’s turn to carry the banner. UCLA’s terrible season overshadowed just how great a year that he had in the interior of the line and there’s even more room for him to grow as a pass rusher. He’ll test off the charts at the Combine and it will shock nobody if he emerges from Indianapolis with plenty of first-round buzz.

 

6. John Ross, WR, Washington

If you’re going to tune into the Combine for just one thing, it might be to see what kind of time Ross puts down in the 40-yard dash. One of the most electrifying college players to come out of the West Coast, few people in the sport have the kind of speed that the Huskies receiver does. His smaller size probably hamper his draft stock a bit but if he tests as well as everybody thinks (and his knees get the OK from doctors), there’s no question he could sneak into the first round.

 

7. Adoree’ Jackson, DB, USC

USC has had a ton of great players to come through the program the past few decades but former No. 2 overall pick Reggie Bush might be the only other Trojan who is in the same league as Jackson is as an athlete. He can do just about everything on the football field and the Combine will allow him to turn heads during testing and when going through drills. His size may mean he isn’t a first-round cornerback but his versatility could make him a very productive player at the next level.

 

8. Davis Webb, QB, Cal

The Pac-12 has produced an impressive number of quarterbacks over the years but the 2017 crop has questions all over. That makes the Combine a big stage for somebody like Webb to answer questions about transitioning to a pro-style offense. He has the arm talent and is one of the top seniors at the position in the draft but will need a strong spring to show scouts that he’s more than just an Air Raid signal-caller.

 

9. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA

Vanderdoes figures to be a polarizing prospect given that he looked like a future first-rounder early on in Westwood but saw injuries limit him the past two years for the Bruins. He’s got great size and impressive quickness but the Combine will be a place for him to prove he’s fully healthy and that he’s more than what he flashed recently.

 

Related: 5 Players Who Could Impress During the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

 

10. Budda Baker, DB, Washington

Baker was a star from the moment he arrived in Montlake and has been terrific as the defensive leader for the Huskies the past few seasons. He’s got plenty of speed and quickness for days but don’t sleep on his ability to run up and smack a ball carrier around. His smaller size will make him an interesting projection at the next level as some teams may view him as better suited to be a slot corner, but there’s little doubt that he’s one to watch given how productive he’s been.

 

Don’t sleep on: JuJu Smith-Shuster (WR, USC), Chidobe Awuzie (DB, Colorado), Chad Hansen (WR, Cal), Kevin King (DB, Washington), Gabe Marks (WR, Washington State), Zach Banner (OL, USC), Pharaoh Brown (TE, Oregon), Sefo Liufau (QB, Colorado), Elijah Qualls (DL, Washington), Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (DL, USC), J.J. Dielman (OL, Utah), Joe Williams (RB, Utah)

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

Teaser:
10 Pac-12 Players to Watch During the NFL Scouting Combine
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2017-fantasy-baseball-second-base-rankings
Body:

Second base in fantasy baseball this season offers a little bit of everything. You want power? Brian Dozier, Rougned Odor can likely get you close to 30 home runs. You want speed? Jose Altuve, Dee Gordon and Trea Turner should be able to pad those categories.

 

Related: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Top 300 Rankings

 

And don’t forget that almost all of the top 10 second basemen should be able to provide a respectable batting average, while supplying some power and speed. I wouldn’t go so far as to say second base is an extremely deep position in 2017, but there’s nothing wrong with any of the first eight on the board.

 

If you are in a standard 12-team league you should be fine with any of those top eight guys or be able to survive with someone from the top 15. That is good news for fantasy owners.

 

Don’t’ forget, these and other rankings (both positional and overall) will change as we get closer to the start of the season. Be sure to check back often!

 

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Fantasy Baseball Cheat Sheet: Second Base Rankings for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/former-nba-star-amare-stoudemire-knicks-heat-gay-teammate-avoid-israeli
Body:

Former NBA star Amar'e Stoudemire is making headlines in the United States, despite playing overseas.

 

Stoudemire currently plays for an Israeli professional team Hapoel Jerusalem and many different players said they wouldn't have a problem with a gay teammate. The ex-NBA star had a different take on the matter. 

 

"I'm going to shower across the street, make sure my change of clothes are around the corner," Stoudemire said. "And I'm going to drive — take a different route to the gym."

 

 

Although it seemed as if Stoudemire was just joking, his statements about there being some truth to it has everyone talking.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 11:10
Path: /college-football/biggest-questions-big-12-teams-entering-spring-practice-2017
Body:

College football teams are stirring once again, as spring practice has begun in different parts of the country. Activity will only pick up as the calendar turns to March, especially in Big 12 country.

 

Iowa State (Feb. 28) is the first Big 12 team to return to the field with Oklahoma (March 21) and Kansas State (March 29) scheduled to round things out. Even though the Sooners are the defending conference champions, the start of spring practice signals a fresh start for everyone, as well as the opportunity to get a closer look at what the fall could hold.

 

With Big 12 teams set to get back to work, here is a look at the biggest question mark and possible solution for all 10 teams entering spring practice.

 

How much depth will new Baylor head coach Matt Rhule have in his first season?

Baylor’s 2016 recruiting class was much leaner than expected after several transfers and defections following the sexual assault scandal around the program. While Rhule and his staff closed strong in 2017 with 27 commitments, some of the new faces might find themselves on the two-deep immediately. That is especially true in the secondary where the Bears are looking to replace key contributors Orion Stewart, Ryan Reid and Patrick Levels. Look for redshirt freshman Raleigh Texada and Chris Miller to see a lot of action this spring.

 

Can Iowa State’s defense match its offense?

The Cyclones return an impressive group of skill players on offense with QB Jacob Park, WR Allen Lazard and RB David Montgomery. But the concerns for Iowa State lie on defense. The good news is that Matt Campbell has a pair of top-100 junior college recruits that should help immediately on the defensive line in Matt Leo and Ray Lima. These two will need to help solidify a defense that allowed 5.2 yards per carry, which was third worst in the Big 12 in 2016. If the Cyclones’ defense starts making strides this spring, watch out.

 

What does new Kansas offensive coordinator Doug Meacham have in store?

After spending the past three seasons helping revitalize TCU’s stagnant offense, Meacham has an even tougher job in Lawrence. Last season the Jayhawks were last in the Big 12 in scoring offense and total offense, and placed eighth in passing offense. Comparatively, TCU ranked third nationally in total offense and seventh in scoring in 2015.

 

First off, Meacham needs to figure out who is quarterback is going to be. Montell Cozart was the latest KU QB to transfer, but the favorite for the job was always going to be Washington State/Itawamba (Miss.) Community College transfer Peyton Bender. It’s hard to believe Meacham wouldn’t take this job if he didn’t think he was going to be upgrading at quarterback by going from the overrated Kenny Hill to Bender.

 

How healthy is Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder?

It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Snyder is undergoing treatment for throat cancer. He is not supposed to miss any of spring practice and his cancer has been called “very treatable.” But the reality is Snyder will be 78 years old this season. Folks in Manhattan have speculated for the last couple seasons about when Snyder might retire (again) and who could be his replacement. There’s no doubt that chatter will only begin to heat up and Snyder will face more questions than ever about his future.

 

Who will Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield be handing off to?

The Sooners just lost two of the best running backs to ever come through the program in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, which is really saying something. Because of this, it’s very possible OU goes with a rotation in the backfield in 2017. Abdul Adams is the returning running back with the most experience. He played in seven games as a freshman last season and totaled 283 rushing yards. But keep an eye on true freshman Trey Sermon, who is enrolled early and ready to give Adams and Rodney Anderson, the only other returning scholarship running back, some serious competition this spring.

 

Can the Oklahoma State running attack keep pace with the passing game?

We know the explosiveness the QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington combination brings to the table, but the running game has struggled in recent seasons. In 2015, Oklahoma State ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing offense, but the Pokes were up to seventh last season. Freshman Justice Hill (1,187 rushing yards) came on strong for the Cowboys last season, along with an improved offensive line. But Chris Carson and Rennie Childs, who combined for more than 800 yards in 2016, both graduated. On top of that, the team’s running backs coach Marcus Arroyo recently left for Oregon. There isn’t a ton of depth at the position, but expect to see more of Jeff Carr, and some looks for La’Darren Brown this spring. One of Oklahoma State’s top recruits from the 2017 class was Canadian running back Chuba Hubbard, but he did not enroll early, so Cowboys fans won’t see him until the summer.

 

Can TCU QB Kenny Hill keep his job?

Hill threw 17 touchdowns compared to13 interceptions last season and his decision-making was often suspect. Last year Hill beat out Foster Sawyer for the starting job, but Sawyer left for FCS member Stephen F. Austin. There are other candidates who have been around the program (Grayson Muehlstein, Brennen Wooten), but true freshman Shawn Robinson is the quarterback everyone around TCU has pinned their hopes on. Robinson led DeSoto (Texas) High School to a state title last season and is already being compared to former TCU QB Trevone Boykin. Robinson enrolled in January, which means he may see a chance to get on the field ASAP in Fort Worth.

 

Who’s under center for new Texas head coach Tom Herman?

Considering last year’s Texas team was mediocre, Shane Buechele had a solid true freshman season, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards, with 21 touchdowns, only 11 interceptions, while completing more than 60 percent of his passes. But new head coach Tom Herman has made it clear he has no returning starters as he reevaluates the program. Newcomer Sam Ehlinger is a hometown product from nearby Westlake High School and he is expected to give Buechele all he can handle. Ehlinger has better wheels than Buechele and we know how much Herman likes a QB who can run from his time with Greg Ward Jr. at Houston. Unlike in recent seasons, Texas actually has a QB battle that’s worth watching.

 

Can Texas Tech coordinator David Gibbs finally turn around this defense?

Gibbs enters his third season as defensive coordinator and the Red Raiders have seen little, if any, improvement on this side of the ball. In 2016 Texas Tech was last in the Big 12 in total defense, rushing defense, and pass defense efficiency. Early enrollees who could turn some heads this spring include JUCO linebacker Tony Jones from Butler County (Kan.) Community College and his teammate, defensive back Octavius Morgan. Also keep an eye on defensive back Vaughnte Dorsey and defensive end Nelson Mbanasor. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Gibbs better hope these newcomers show serious promise this spring, or the 2017 recruiting class may be their last in Lubbock.

 

How will West Virginia rebuild its defense?

For the second straight season, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will need to work his magic on defense. Last year, the Mountaineers replaced nine starters on defense, but did it with eight seniors and one junior. So once again, the turnover is real for the Mountaineers. Rasul Douglas, Noble Nwachukwu, Darrien Howard, Justin Arndt, and several other key pieces are gone.
 

In 2016, West Virginia was third in the Big 12 in total defense and second in pass efficiency defense. The Mountaineers do welcome back safety Dravon Askew-Henry from a season-ending knee injury suffered last August. Also, WVU lost one of its best recruits from the 2016 class, linebacker Brendan Ferns, to a knee injury last summer as well. These are two impact players coming back from serious injuries. With the holes on defense, their health this spring deserves a close eye.

 

— Article written by Pete Mundo, owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio and can found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.

Teaser:
Biggest Questions for Big 12 Teams Entering Spring Practice
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC
Path: /college-football/ole-miss-rebels-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

How quickly things have changed in Oxford. Two years after downing No. 2-ranked Alabama, topping rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and capping the season with a Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma State, Ole Miss finds itself facing uncertainty about the future of its football program after the NCAA added eight new charges to a Notice of Allegations sent to the school in February.

 

The future of head coach Hugh Freeze also is in jeopardy as the Rebels begin to open spring practice on the heels of a 5-7 season that included a 55-20 season-ending loss to archrival Mississippi State. With a self-imposed, one-year bowl ban in response to the NCAA’s latest allegations, it’s safe to say there have better days in Oxford.

 

With a boatload of distractions, Ole Miss will trudge along as it opens spring ball.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Ole Miss’ Spring Practice

 

1. Will Freeze withstand the latest allegations?
After concerns were raised about Ole Miss’ top-10 ranked recruiting class in 2013, Freeze invited those with suspicions to email the school’s compliance office — in hindsight, probably not the brightest move. When the smoke cleared, the school ended with 21 allegations and was slapped with the dreaded lack of institutional control charge. Ole Miss, which has hired two law firms, has 90 days to respond to the NCAA.

 

Despite being well loved in Oxford and around the state, some wonder how Freeze will withstand the controversy. Ole Miss, in a show of good faith toward the NCAA, could preemptively let him go, signaling its opposition to the recklessness and washing its hands of the matter.

 

2. Shea Patterson’s development
Patterson appeared in Ole Miss’s last three games of the season after the Rebels lost star quarterback Chad Kelly to injury. The then-true freshman threw for 338 yards and a touchdown and interception while rushing for 64 yards in his first start at Texas A&M. In his second start, he had 222 passing yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. Patterson finished the season by throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions while running for 73 yards in Ole Miss’ Egg Bowl loss.

 

Patterson finished the season with 880 passing yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. He also added 169 yards on the ground. Patterson was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2016 class after posting gaudy numbers in high school. He reaffirmed his commitment to the school after the latest round of NCAA allegations and is primed to have a stellar sophomore campaign.

 

3. What else will the NCAA investigations bring?
With all that’s going on in Oxford, it’s probably difficult for fans to remain upbeat about the upcoming season. But it could get worse. Yes, the school announced its self-imposed, one-year bowl ban, but the severity and number of allegations make it likely the NCAA will hand down a more severe punishment.

 

As past incidents have shown us, this could take the form of anything from an additional postseason ban to scholarship reductions, or a combination of the two. Only time will tell (and it could take a while to resolve), but it’s probably safe to say Ole Miss hasn’t seen the worst of the ordeal.

 

The impending verdict from the NCAA will loom large over Oxford.

 

4. How will new offensive coordinator Phil Longo adjust to the SEC?
The Rebels parted with co-offensive coordinator and QBs coach Dan Werner in December and replaced him with Longo, who previously was at FCS member Sam Houston State. In addition to sharing offensive coordinator duties with Matt Luke, Longo will coach quarterbacks.

 

Longo thrived at Sam Houston State, as the Bearkats averaged 547 yards per game last season. Throughout his three years at the school, his offenses ranked among the FCS’ best. In 2016, Sam Houston State was first in scoring offense (49.5 ppg), second in passing offense (368.3 ypg) and 37th in rushing offense (179.0 ypg), going 12-1 with the only loss coming in the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs against eventual national champion James Madison.

 

While Longo’s numbers are impressive, he’ll have to prove he can do the same against SEC defenses.

 

5. Wesley McGriff and the Ole Miss defense
Longo won’t be the only new assistant debuting in Oxford this fall. McGriff, who served as Ole Miss’ co-defensive coordinator in 2012 was hired after spending a season at Auburn in the same capacity. He also spent time as a defensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints.

 

After a shaky start to 2016, Auburn’s defense found its groove, and the unit ended the season in among the top five units in the SEC in total, scoring and rushing defense. Ole Miss in particular was abysmal against the run last year, finishing last in the conference and near the bottom of the FBS as a whole (120th out of 128 teams), surrendering 246.3 rushing yards per game. In contrast, Auburn gave up nearly half of that (132.8 ypg) to finish third in the SEC and 27th nationally. Tiger fans can take solace in knowing it can, and hopefully will, get better.

 

Pre-Spring Oulook for Ole Miss in the SEC


Despite all that has occurred this month, the Rebels now have to shift their focus to the field. Last season, Ole Miss suffered an insanely large number of injuries that began in the opener against Florida State and continued throughout a disappointing 5-7 campaign. It’s difficult to imagine Hugh Freeze’s team suffering the same misfortune two seasons in a row.

 

However, gone is record-setting quarterback Chad Kelly, along with All-American tight end Evan Engram. New co-offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s lack of FBS experience leaves questions about the offense, even with talented, dual-threat quarterback Shea Patterson, but the Rebels’ attack under Freeze has always been solid. Defensively, the addition of new defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff should net positive results for a unit that struggled mightily against the run in 2016.

 

Ole Miss should win more than six games in 2017, but unfortunately, no bowl trip will await it.

 

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

Teaser:
Ole Miss Rebels 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Texas Rangers, MLB
Path: /mlb/texas-rangers-2017-preview-predictions-schedule
Body:

Texas Rangers logoThe good news for the Texas Rangers the past two seasons, of course, is that they won the American League West. Some might say they did so unexpectedly, even in 2016 as the defending division champs. Their playoff experience, though, has been a disappointment, with consecutive losses to the Toronto Blue Jays in the division series. In 2016, the Rangers were barely competitive in a three-game sweep.

 

Here the Rangers are again, being doubted. They no doubt have their flaws but are also a better team than they were a year ago.

 

ROTATION

Cole Hamels was a Cy Young contender in his first full season with the Rangers before a subpar September. The lefthander issued more walks and home runs than he deems acceptable but pitched well with runners in scoring position. Yu Darvish will be in his first full season after Tommy John surgery, and the Rangers expect the traditional jump that comes 18-plus months after the procedure. The righthander saw a jump in fastball velocity and again showed he could dominate with a wipeout slider. Lefty Martin Perez was inconsistent but durable, and he pitched well down the stretch. Andrew Cashner signed a one-year, $10 million contract in November after recording a 5.25 ERA in stops in San Diego and Miami in 2016. The Rangers believe he will blossom working with pitching coach Doug Brocail. They could add another starter before spring training but might have to look internally for the final piece to the rotation. A.J. Griffin would be a strong candidate after making 23 starts last season, albeit with a 5.07 ERA. Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez have pitched in the majors, including so-so showings in 2016. Waiver claim Tyler Wagner and Rule 5 Draft pick Mike Hauschild, both righties, are also possibilities.

 

BULLPEN

Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
Sam Dyson will open as the Rangers’ fourth different closer in the past four seasons after taking over the spot in May. Dyson saved 38 games, using an upper-90s sinker and improved changeup as an effective two-pitch combo. If he struggles, Matt Bush could be next in line. Bush missed several seasons while in prison for a drunk-driving incident that nearly killed a motorcyclist. He has hit 100 mph, and his slider and curveball are also out pitches. Another bullpen bright spot was Tony Barnette, who became a steady middle-innings reliever. He was a closer in Japan, and it showed often as he was unfazed by high-leverage opportunities. Jeremy Jeffress is another potential closer-in-waiting after being acquired at the trade deadline. He was Milwaukee’s closer but assumed a prominent setup role after the deal. Lefty Jake Diekman and righty Keone Kela had down years after solidifying the bullpen in 2015. Both have fastballs that sit in the mid-90s with quality sliders. Diekman lost his command late in the season and then his spot in the bullpen pecking order. He’s also out until at least the All-Star break after undergoing surgery in January to remove his colon to alleviate the ulcerative colitis he has dealt with since he was a kid. Kela needed early-season surgery on his elbow and upon returning wasn’t as sharp as he was in 2015. Alex Claudio figures to assume a bigger role after a breakout season as a long reliever. 

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

Shortstop Elvis Andrus is coming off a career year, and fellow Venezuelan Rougned Odor had a season that put him in the upper echelon of offensive second basemen. Andrus finished with a team-best .302 average, the first .300 season of his career, and posted career highs in on-base percentage (.362), slugging percentage (.439), homers (eight) and RBIs (69) while stealing at least 20 bases (24) for the eighth time in his eight big-league seasons. His defense was improved, too. Odor has room to grow defensively. If he develops at the plate, the Rangers could be looking at a perennial All-Star. Odor, 23, launched a team-best 33 homers and batted .271 after flirting with .300 for much of the season.

 

CORNERS

Printable 2017 Texas Rangers ScheduleThird base is a sure thing, while the corner opposite from Adrian Beltre figures to be manned by a former All-Star teammate. Beltre enjoyed a rebound that saw him top 30 homers (32) for the first time since 2013 and 100 RBIs (104) for the first time since '12. He capped the year with his fifth career Gold Glove. Beltre, who will top 3,000 career hits this season, is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. Mike Napoli signed a one-year deal right before the start of spring training and figures to get most of the playing time at first since Gold Glove winner Mitch Moreland signed with Boston as a free agent. Napoli, who played for Texas from 2011-12 and towards the end of '15, bounced back in a big way last season, slugging 34 home runs and driving in 101 for AL champion Cleveland. An All-Star with the Rangers in 2012, Napoli has always enjoyed hitting in Arlington and his power bat should make Texas’ lineup even more dangerous.

 

OUTFIELD

When it came to addressing a need in center field, the Rangers went with affordability and defense in choosing to re-sign Carlos Gomez on a one-year, $11.5 million deal instead of Ian Desmond. Gomez was signed off the trash heap in August following his release from Houston, and he was arguably the Rangers’ best player down the stretch as their left fielder and leadoff hitter. Desmond had an All-Star season, and he cashed it into a five-year, $70 million deal with Colorado. The Rangers aren’t sure how the rest of the outfield will line up, though the best bet is Nomar Mazara at one of the corner spots after a standout rookie season with either Shin-Soo Choo, Jurickson Profar or Ryan Rua manning the other. Mazara’s average cooled to .266 after a hot start while replacing Choo during the first of four DL stints. Mazara popped 20 homers, but the left-handed hitter needs to be better against southpaws. If Choo is healthy, he can be a force from the leadoff spot.

 

CATCHING

Lucroy was acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline and became the Rangers’ best catcher since Ivan Rodriguez. No one outworks Lucroy in the video room as he formulates a scouting report for each game, and he knows how to manage pitchers. His framing skills are enviable and have been copied by many. His throwing can help shut down running games. Lucroy isn’t just defensive-minded. He swatted a career-high 24 homers, 11 in 47 games after the trade.

 

DH/BENCH

The Rangers are considering not having a full-time designated hitter but instead rotating several players at the spot, including Choo, Profar, Rua and maybe even Napoli. In theory, that would keep players healthy and allow Texas the opportunity to field a pretty deep lineup. A bench of catcher Robinson Chirinos, Delino DeShields as an extra outfielder and infielders Hanser Alberto and Drew Robinson offers speed and defensive flexibility. Joey Gallo, remains a question mark, as the youngster has plenty of power with just as many holes (76 SO in 133 AB in the majors) in his swing. He could make the team out of spring training as a reserve, but is likely headed back to Triple-A Round Rock.

 

MANAGEMENT

Jeff Banister returns for his third season along with the 2016 coaching staff, except for field coordinator Jayce Tingler, who took over as farm director. Tingler was replaced by Josh Bonifay. Tony Beasley is expected back full time as third-base coach after being declared cancer-free in December. GM Jon Daniels enters his 12th season and has shown no hesitancy in trying to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

A third-straight AL West title is within reach. The Rangers have two aces in the rotation, a top-flight bullpen and offensive firepower. That combination will help them stay in contention in the AL West, but the rest of the rotation needs to carry its weight. Choo and Beltre must stay healthy, Napoli needs to keep slugging, and DH must be productive to make a push for a three-peat.

 

2017 AL WEST PREDICTION: 2nd

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 10:25
Path: /college-football/vanderbilt-commodores-2017-spring-football-preview
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Derek Mason's Vanderbilt Commodores finally reached a bowl game in 2016 after getting hot at the end of the regular season. Vandy hammered Ole Miss 38-17 and knocked off rival Tennessee 45-34 in its last two games to reach the postseason. Although the Commodores got beaten badly by NC State in the Independence Bowl, last season in general felt like another positive step forward under Mason, whose teams have gotten better record-wise every year in his tenure.

 

Vanderbilt will try to build off last year's six wins and return roughly 17 starters, which is one of the highest totals among SEC teams. That includes all-time leading rusher Ralph Webb, as well as quarterback Kyle Shurmur. Defensively, the Commodores will bring back a key leader at linebacker in Oren Burks, as well as several experienced defensive backs. The outlook for 2017 could be bright, but there is plenty to work on in spring practice.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Vanderbilt's Spring Practice

 

1. Kyle Shurmur’s Progression
News broke just this week that quarterback Wade Freebeck would not be returning for the Commodores this fall. Luckily Vanderbilt was able to find its full-time starter at the position last year in Shurmur, who enters his junior season. With plenty of quarterback issues in Mason’s first two years at the helm in Nashville, it will be nice to have some consistency for once headed into spring practice.

 

Shurmur threw for more than 2,400 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016. He was able to torch Tennessee’s defense for 416 passing yards in the final game of the regular season and approached 300 yards against Western Kentucky and Ole Miss. There’s plenty to be excited about with Shurmur, but he did throw 10 interceptions, which won’t cut it unless he increases his productivity in the other categories significantly. He’ll need to learn to make better decisions with the ball, and that  starts this spring.

 

2. Ralph Webb’s Explosiveness
Webb is one of those guys who it seems has been on campus for 10 years. Maybe it’s because he’s been the backbone of Vanderbilt’s offense for the last three years. Webb enters his senior season as the Commodores’ best player after three consecutive campaigns of improvement. As a freshman, he ran for 907 yards, improved to 1,152 as a sophomore and finished fourth in the SEC with 1,283 rushing yards last season.

 

Webb’s explosiveness has always been the best part about his skill set — that ability to take the ball to the end zone on any given play. It will be interesting to see just how much better he’s gotten in one offseason. If his continuous improvement coupled with last year’s 13 touchdowns (tied for third in SEC) are any indication, Webb probably has found a way to become even more lethal in 2017.

 

3. A Defense Without Zach Cunningham
Without a doubt, the biggest loss on defense for the Commodores is at inside linebacker. Cunningham racked up some of the most impressive accolades in the history of Vanderbilt football and would likely rank near the top of any Vandy “GOAT” list. Cunningham was the first Commodore player in team history to earn unanimous first-team All-America recognition.

 

Cunningham led the SEC with 125 total tackles, a number that also ranked in the top 10 nationally. Nobody in the SEC had a better nose for where the football was going, and that’s not an easy thing to replicate. Senior Oren Burks should be a solid fill-in for Cunningham at inside linebacker, having racked up 59 stops himself last season. But the level of expectation at the position has certainly been raised.

 

4. Know Your Deficiencies
One problem Vanderbilt has had in spring practice over the last three years is not being able to identify its biggest weaknesses, particularly on offense. The Commodores have rolled into the fall the past three seasons with a vague identity offensively. The fact that they were able to find it toward the end of last season bodes well for what could be on the horizon.

 

But Mason noted recently that his team needs to see its deficiencies in the spring so it can bridge the gaps during summer workouts headed into the fall. This is critical for Vanderbilt, because if the Commodores are able to actually start the season with a positive approach instead of scrambling to find production on offense, this could be a superb team by November.

 

5. Ending with a “Spring Showcase”
The Commodores will be the first SEC team to try a “Spring Showcase” as opposed to a spring game on March 25. Vanderbilt will scrimmage and work on game situations in the showcase, but it won’t actually be a game. However, there will be a player autograph session afterward. Mason said he wanted to move away from the spring game concept but noted that this wouldn’t be much different.

 

Mason added that he wants to maximize time with this group, and it doesn’t help that the numbers are down this year. Vanderbilt currently has just 75 players on its roster, which could be another reason for not playing an actual spring game. Vanderbilt’s showcase is the only final spring practice event among SEC teams that will not be televised.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Vanderbilt in the SEC

 

The SEC East is improving, but it’s still anybody’s ball game on a given Saturday. Georgia would probably be listed as the close favorite at this point, but two-time defending division champion Florida isn’t far behind. Tennessee could be a contender, as well, but the Volunteers may have missed their best chance to win the division last year. Kentucky has a lot of talent returning while South Carolina should only get better under Will Muschamp. Missouri probably won’t be very good.

 

Honestly, with 17 returning starters including arguably the SEC’s best running back, as well as one of the conference’s top defensive units, the Commodores shouldn’t be overlooked as a dark horse contender in the East. They’ve shown they can beat Georgia and Tennessee, and they’ve show constant improvement every year under head coach Derek Mason. Now that the Commodores have achieved a taste of the postseason, seven or eight wins and the ability to compete for the division should be the next step.

 

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host on Sports Radio 1180 WVLZ in Knoxville, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.

Teaser:
Vanderbilt Commodores 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football
Path: /college-football/clemson-tigers-2017-spring-football-preview
Body:

If it seems like Clemson football hasn't had a break, it would be because they really didn’t have a break. From winning the national championship on Jan. 9 through National Signing Day and the unveiling of the new football facility to preparing for the opening of spring practice on March 1, Dabo Swinney and his staff have had no let up.

 

But the Tigers will be ready to go on Wednesday and with a few very important departures, Clemson fans have plenty to watch in the coming weeks. Here are five things to keep an eye on, with number one being very obvious.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Clemson’s Spring Practice

 

1. Who is the Next Quarterback?
Talking about replacing Deshaun Watson or filling his shoes is ridiculous and unfair to whoever wins the quarterback job. But somebody will be taking snaps when Kent State comes to Death Valley on Sept. 2 and this spring will be the first test for all of the candidates. Kelly Bryant will open at the top of the depth chart, but he will have several guys nipping at his heels in the coming weeks. Zerrick Cooper is a talented dual-threat option that could unseat Bryant sooner rather than later. Tucker Israel is another run-pass threat and early enrollee freshman Hunter Johnson was a five-star recruit, who apparently has a pretty good arm.

 

Related: 5 Newcomers for the Clemson Tigers to Watch in 2017

 

2. Development of Deon Cain
With Mike Williams off to the NFL, Clemson has to find a new No. 1 wide receiver. Hunter Renfrow is dangerous but doesn’t necessarily fill that role. Ray-Ray McCloud seems like he could thrive in Artavis Scott’s role as the possession receiver. That brings us to Cain. He primarily been a deep threat during his time at Clemson but has the ability to become much more and he will look to take the next step this spring.

 

3. Defensive Tackle Depth
Dexter Lawrence is a beast and it is scary to think how good he could become. Albert Huggins is in position to take over as the other interior starter. But one of the keys to Clemson’s success – and a necessity for a team that likes to up the tempo on offense – is to have depth along the defensive line, especially at tackle. With Carlos Watkins graduating and Scott Pagano transferring out for his fifth year, more bodies are needed at that position. Assuming that Christian Wilkins stays at end, it’s time for redshirt freshman Nyles Pinckney to make an impact.

 

4. Cornerback Battle
Clemson has a slew of skilled athletes in the defensive backfield, so the competition for Cordrea Tankersley’s vacant corner position will be fierce.  Mark Fields was in the mix to start last season but wound up as a back up to Ryan Carter. Fields has the experience, but Trayvon Mullen looks (6-2, 185) the part of a shutdown corner. And don’t forget about Marcus Edmond, the player that forced James Quick out of bounds to seal the victory against Louisville.

 

5. Attitude
This has rarely been a problem under Dabo Swinney. If you’re not all in, you’re not going to be part of the Clemson program for long. But things become a little different after a championship. The Tigers are now the big dog and while that is fine, the chip on their shoulders needs to remain. Plus, with players like Watson, Williams, Wayne Gallman, Ben Boulware, Watkins, Pagano, and others elsewhere, there is a huge leadership void that has to be filled. Which players emerge as the go-to guys has begun during conditioning workouts and will begin to unfold even more during spring drills.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Clemson in the ACC

 

After all that Clemson has accomplished over the past two years – and really going back four years to the Orange Bowl win over Ohio State – no one in the ACC will feel sorry about the Tigers’ personnel losses. And in reality, despite losing Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Ben Boulware and all the other stars that generated so much success, the only ACC team that is on Clemson’s level in the talent department is Florida State. So while there will most likely be a dip in 2017, the Tigers should still contend for league honors. Plus, with a gifted young roster and outstanding recruits waiting to wear the orange, more College Football Playoff appearances appear to be on the horizon.

 

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

Teaser:
Clemson Tigers 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 09:30

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