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On Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they will not exercise the option on running back Adrian Peterson’s contract. Now the 10-year veteran, seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro, three-time league rushing champion and 2012 NFL MVP is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9, the first day of the new league year.
Minnesota wasn’t expected to pick up Peterson’s $18 million option as the running back is coming off a season where he only played in three games in which he rushed for a total of 37 yards because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. Peterson, who will turn 32 on March 21, has played in just 20 of the Vikings’ 48 regular season games over the past three years.
There’s still a chance that Peterson could return to the Vikings, as noted by their official statement announcing the move.
“Adrian is an important part of the Minnesota Vikings organization,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said in the statement. “We will continue to have conversations with his representatives and leave our future options open while determining what is best for both parties moving forward.”
Peterson has said on a number of occasions that he wants to end his career with the Vikings, but he has been keeping an eye on landing spots just in case things didn’t work out.
So besides Minnesota, who are the five teams that make the most sense for Peterson?
New England Patriots
The defending Super Bowl champions will have to make a decision on LeGarrette Blount, who also is set to become a free agent. Last season, Blount led the team with 1,161 rushing yards and led the NFL with 18 touchdowns, all of them coming on the ground.
New England doesn’t believe in paying big money for free agents, so Blount may not return if he gets a larger offer somewhere else. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has taken chances on older free agents in the past and could want Peterson to team up with James White and Dion Lewis if Blount does not return.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the uncertain future of Doug Martin after he was hit with a four-game suspension because of a failed drug test, the Buccaneers will likely be looking for some help at running back. The team could release Martin without any cap penalty and signing Peterson could make a lot of sense for a team that is trying to take the next step.
Last season, Tampa Bay ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing with just 101 yards per game. A healthy Peterson will only bolster an offense that already boasts Pro Bowl quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans, as well as tight end Cameron Brate.
Green Bay Packers
Viking fans wouldn’t want to see this, but Peterson could pull a reverse Brett Favre and head to the hated Packers. With Eddie Lacy’s lack of production in recent years and his impending free agency Green Bay has a fairly pressing need at the running back position.
Green Bay finished 20th in the league in rushing yards per game in 2016 with 106. 3 as the main ball carrier wound up being converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Similar to New England, the Packers typically don’t make big splashes in free agency, but they have taken chances on veterans, such as Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers.
Peterson doesn’t need to be the 1,600-yard back he was in 2015, but any semblance of a productive running game only helps quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Don’t forget Green Bay was just one more win away from playing the Super Bowl. Peterson could help the Packers get there, which is something he no doubt wants to do himself.
With 2016 leading rusher Latavius Murray becoming a free agent next month, the Raiders will need to address the running back position one way or another. The only other running backs on the Raiders roster currently are DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and Taiwan Jones, and none of them profile as a workhorse type of ball carrier.
Peterson could continue to bring balance to an already potent offense. Oakland finished sixth in the NFL in rushing (120.1 ypg) last season. The Raiders also are coming off of a 12-win season that was deflated at the end by an injury to Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr. Oakland is a team trending upward and could give Peterson a chance to compete for a championship.
New York Giants
A few weeks ago following Rashad Jennings’ release, Peterson posted a cryptic tweet:
The Giants been making some interesting moves.— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) February 16, 2017
While New York still has 2016 fifth-round pick Paul Perkins, who emerged as the primary back by the end of the season, he’s going to need help.
Eli Manning, 36, isn’t getting any younger and the Giants already have a potent passing game. Peterson’s presence could add another dimension to an attack that finished near the bottom (29th) in rushing with just 88.3 yards per game. Peterson clearly has interest in the Giants and general manager Jerry Reese could make the move if the price is right.
— 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.
Trying to find your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (March 2-5) golf tournament: the World Golf Championships (WGC)-Mexico Championship at the Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City? Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.
Henrik Stenson ($10,300)
Stenson hasn't played a ton in 2017, but he's riding a streak of six straight worldwide top 10s. His ultra-consistent ball striking will serve him well on an unfamiliar track.
Adam Scott ($9,200)
Scott has seven straight top-15 finishes. Extend the timeframe back to the 2016 Barclays, and Scott has been T-14 or better in 11 of his last 12 starts, with seven top 10s. In fantasy as in real life, the guy's money.
Tyrrell Hatton ($8,300)
We can't ignore this guy any longer. He's finished in the top 4 in three of his last four starts, including a T-4 at Honda. The Englishman could be a next-generation Lee Westwood, right down to the bad British teeth.
Phil Mickelson ($7,600)
We're going to fantasy-stalk Lefty until he files a restraining order. He tends to excel on unfamiliar courses, and Club de Golf Chapultepec certainly qualifies. He's made his last eight cuts.
Louis Oosthuizen ($7,200)
Oostie's globetrotting ways have included plenty of rounds at elevation, which will serve him well at 7,000-plus feet above sea level. He hasn't missed a cut since July and had two top 5s in his last three starts.
Bill Haas ($7,000)
Quiet consistency is a nice fantasy trait, and Haas has that in spades. He's finished in the top 20 in his last six starts, including a T-4 at the last WGC event, the HSBC Champions in October.
Redshirt freshmen make an impact for every college football team during the course of a season, and it’s no surprise a handful of talented players are ready to push for time after sitting out the 2016 campaign. A variety of reasons could be pinpointed for the redshirt year, but the extra time could be beneficial to learn a scheme, develop physically in the weight room or help provide some space on the depth chart with a stacked group of upperclassmen departing the following year.
Which redshirt freshmen could make an impact in the Pac-12 in 2017? Here are 20 names to watch:
20 Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in the Pac-12 in 2017
Renard Bell/Grant Porter, WR, Washington State
The Cougars have a few holes to fill at receiver after standouts Gabe Marks and River Cracraft expired their eligibility. The receiving corps has a solid foundation in place with Tavares Martin, Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Robert Lewis returning, but Bell and Porter – both three-star recruits in the 2016 class – should have an opportunity to push for snaps.
Ronnie Blackmon/Trey Udoffia, DB, Colorado
The Buffaloes finished 2016 with one of the nation’s best defensive backfields. Under former coordinator Jim Leavitt, Colorado ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense. The secondary was anchored by three standout seniors last season – Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon – but that trio has finished their eligibility. Udoffia and Blackmon should help fill the voids left behind by Awuzie, Thompson and Witherspoon, after a redshirt year for the former three-star recruits.
Brady Breeze, S, Oregon
New coach Willie Taggart made one of the offseason’s best assistant coach hires by luring defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon from Colorado. While the Ducks certainly have room to improve on defense, this unit returns largely intact and some help is on the way from the last two signing classes. Breeze ranked as a four-star recruit in last year’s haul and was the No. 281 player by the 247Sports Composite. He could push for a starting spot at safety this offseason.
Devaughn Cooper, WR, Arizona
Arizona enters spring ball looking to revamp a receiving corps that lost three out of its top four statistical performers from 2016. Cooper is an intriguing prospect for coach Rich Rodriguez, as the Los Angeles native is expected to push for significant playing time after a redshirt year. Cooper received limited snaps in the first three games of 2016 but only caught one pass for 15 yards. He ranked as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2017
K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford
With Keller Chryst rehabbing from a serious knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl against North Carolina, Ryan Burns and Costello are expected to battle for the top spot in spring ball. Costello ranked as the No. 46 overall player in last year’s signing class and spent 2016 learning the offense under coach David Shaw.
Nygel Edmonds, CB, California
After coordinating one of the nation’s top defenses at Wisconsin last season, new coach Justin Wilcox inherits a California unit ranked 127th nationally in scoring and 100th in pass efficiency defense. Wilcox and coordinator Tim DeRuyter certainly have a lot of work ahead this spring, but six starters are back and the secondary returns a handful of cornerbacks with experience. Edmonds is another name to add to the mix in the secondary, as the three-star recruit and top defensive prospect in California’s 2016 class is ready to contribute.
Isaiah Gilchrist/Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
The Huskies were hit hard by departures in the secondary, as cornerback Sidney Jones and safety Budda Baker left early for the NFL, while cornerback Kevin King expired his eligibility. However, Murphy and Gilchrist should be part of the solution for coach Chris Petersen, as both players used a redshirt year to develop last fall. He ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 98 overall player in the 2016 247Sports Composite. Gilchrist was also a four-star prospect and ranked No. 257 overall.
Related: Pre-Spring Top 25 for 2017
Max Gilliam, QB, California
Davis Webb’s one season at California was a successful one, but the Golden Bears enter spring with a wide-open battle under center. Gilliam is one of five candidates vying for the starting job after a redshirt year. The California native ranked as a three-star prospect in last season’s class and was the No. 361 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite.
Mique Juarez, LB, UCLA
Juarez was one of the highest-ranked recruits in last year’s signing class to not see a snap of game action in 2016. After a neck injury forced him to miss time in spring ball, Juarez took a leave of absence from the team during the regular season. All signs point to Juarez returning in 2017, which is a huge boost for a UCLA defense losing Jayon Brown (119 tackles) and linemen Tak McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes.
Chase Lucas, DB, Arizona State
Arizona State’s secondary has struggled over the last two seasons, but there’s optimism for 2017 with this group returning nearly intact. Lucas should be an impact addition for new coordinator Phil Bennett after taking a redshirt year in 2016. The Arizona native ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 236 player in last season’s signing class and was a high school teammate of Arizona State freshman standout receiver N’Keal Harry.
Jacob Colacion/Kahi Neves, LB, Arizona
Arizona’s linebacking unit was hit hard by departures this offseason. Standout Paul Magloire and Michael Barton expired their eligibility, leaving a relatively inexperienced group battling for time this offseason. Senior DeAndre’ Miller is one answer for coordinator Marcel Yates, but who will step up at the other spots? Neves and Colacion – three-star recruits in last year’s class – could be a key contributors in 2017.
Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford
Tight ends are a key cog in Stanford’s passing attack, and Smith should team with Dalton Schultz to form a talented duo for coach David Shaw in 2017. Smith ranked as a four-star recruit and the No. 37 overall player in last year’s signing class.
Maxs Tupai, DL, Utah
Sack Lake City will be looking for new standouts in the trenches after the departure of Hunter Dimick, Pita Taumoepenu and Pasoni Tasini. The return of Kylie Fitts at end alleviates some of the rebuilding project, as well as Tupai’s development after a redshirt year. He ranked as Utah’s No. 1 high school prospect in last year’s signing class and was regarded as a four-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite.
Trevon Sidney/Tyler Vaughns, WR, USC
In order for USC quarterback Sam Darnold’s Heisman campaign to take off in 2017, the sophomore is going to need a few names to emerge at receiver. The Trojans open spring ball looking to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, while Deontay Burnett (56 catches) is likely entrenched as the early No. 1 option. Vaughns and Sidney are two names coach Clay Helton will be counting on to produce this year. Both players ranked as four-star recruits in last year’s class, with Vaughns ranking as the No. 34 prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Christian Wallace, CB, Oregon State
Wallace was Oregon State’s top-ranked recruit by the 247Sports Composite last season, but the Texas native was forced to redshirt due to academic reasons. The four-star recruit is in good standing this spring and is participating in practice. With Xavier Crawford developing into a rising star at one cornerback spot, Wallace’s emergence could give the Beavers two promising young defensive backs to build around this fall.
Ignore the calendar that still says February, it’s time for spring football. At least at BYU anyway. The Cougars open up their second year under head coach Kalani Sitake.
Sitake posted a solid a 9-4 record in year one capped off with a victory in the Poinsettia Bowl over Wyoming.
Gone are a trio of stars in quarterback Taysom Hill, running back Jamaal Williams, and safety Kai Nacua. The Cougars will be looking to find the replacements to these and other key players starting with spring ball kicking off today.
Who will be the players that emerge to fill those spots left behind by those three players? Also, what are the other storylines to keep an eye on over the next month at Camp Cougar? Let’s dive into that.
5 Storylines to Watch in BYU’s Spring Practice
1. Replacing stars
As I mentioned, BYU has three players that it is trying to replace in 2017 who were a significant reason why the Cougars won nine games a year ago.
There’s no debate as to who will replace Tayson Hill at quarterback. Junior Tanner Mangum resumes his career as BYU’s top signal-caller. Mangum started in 12 games in 2015 and also was the starter in the bowl game two months ago after Hill suffered am injury.
Mangum is viewed by many at BYU as the next star quarterback in Provo. He was excellent in 2015 and there’s a lot to be excited about entering this season.
Mangum’s skill set is tailored for coordinator Ty Detmer’s pro-style offense that at times last season, went by the wayside to accommodate Hill’s excellent running abilities. Will BYU be putting up the video game numbers that the Cougars were accustomed to while Detmer was under center from 1988-91? No, don’t expect anything like that. But there’s no excuse for BYU to not be more consistent on offense in 2017.
At running back, it will be no small task to replace Jamaal Williams, BYU’s all-time leading rusher, but there are three players that people need to focus on. Junior Squally Canada was Williams’ primary backup last season and he is believed to have the inside track for the starting job entering spring. Sophomore Riley Burt and true freshman Ula Tolutau will be Canada’s biggest challenges on the depth chart.
Replacing Kai Nacua will be a difficult challenge but four-star true freshman Chaz Ah You is believed to be enrolled in school already and is going to be participating in spring football. If anything, this should give Ah You an excellent opportunity to compete for a starting role right away.
2. Competition at wide receiver
BYU also loses its top three receivers from a year ago, but then again the production from this group as a whole could be described as underwhelming, at best. No receiver posted a 100-yard game in 2016. With Mangum back at quarterback, there will be more trust in the ability to air it out. The question becomes who emerges as the Cougars’ go-to pass catchers?
Senior Jonah Trinnaman is a speedster junior college transfer who didn't have as smooth of a transition to the FBS level as many envisioned after signing out of Snow (Utah) College. He is expected to make a push to be BYU’s No. 1 receiver this spring. After that, look for Detmer to settle in on a lot of two-wide receiver sets this season. Sophomore Micah Simon is an intriguing prospect who was a star of spring ball last year before redshirting later in the fall. Also, JUCO transfer Beau Tanner could turn some heads during the spring.
3. Growth in year two
The first year is always a learning process for everyone involved when there’s a coaching change at a major college football program. Everything from technique to vocabulary to new practice structure are things that must be taught, learned and sometimes it takes time for everyone to get on the same page and acclimated to the new staff and culture. That was the case for BYU last year, as new head coach Kalani Sitake retained just one assistant from Bronco Mendenhall’s staff.
Now in year two, how far along are the players into the playbooks and knowledge of the systems they are running on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball? It shouldn’t take too long into the spring sessions to get a sense.
4. Trench play
Sitake has made an emphasis to improve the depth of his program. So far, one of the areas this is becoming noticeable is with the uptick in talent along the line of scrimmage.
BYU added four defensive linemen who enrolled in January to get a head start on the 2017 season by being able to participate in spring football, and pass-rushing specialist Sione Takitaki is rumored to be returning as well.
The offensive line has the potential to be the Cougars’ best since becoming an independent in 2011. The roster boasts 15 scholarship athletes along the offensive line, which is music to Sitake’s ears. Last year, BYU only had seven offensive linemen during the spring, which impacted not only what Sitake and his staff were able to do but also how they approached the spring game. Numbers shouldn’t be a problem this year.
5. Wealth of talent at cornerback
Since Sitake took over as BYU’s head coach, the Cougars have zeroed in on identifying under-the-radar defensive backs that have their best football ahead of them. Assistant head coach Ed Lamb has had a track record of developing defensive backs that go on to the NFL from his days as the head coach at FCS member Southern Utah. Cornerback has been an area of focus for the staff and it’s already paying off with a pair of talented sophomores returning in expected starters Troy Warner and Dayan Lake.
BYU’s staff feels the Cougars go about three-deep right now at cornerback and they’ll add two more talented freshmen from the San Diego area this fall.
Pre-Spring Outlook for BYU
One thing that head coach Kalani Sitake proved he could accomplish in year one was making BYU competitive in every game they played in. The Cougars were the cardiac kids of college football last season as nearly every game went down to the wire, including the bowl game.
BYU has a tough schedule yet again in 2017. The Cougars open a season with an FCS opponent for the first time since 2008, but then travel to Houston to take on LSU, who could be a preseason top-10 team. BYU then returns home for a pair of games against rival Utah, who has defeated the Cougars six straight times, and then the Cotton Bowl champion Wisconsin Badgers, who will be the first Big Ten team to ever play in Provo.
Quality depth will be necessary for BYU to come out of that four-game stretch with its head above water, but Cougar fans will be the first to tell you that there is no better man for the job than Sitake, who begins the process of putting together his 2017 roster.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
The NBA season is well underway, which means it’s time for fantasy basketball, both season-long and daily. Your “fantasy” team may not have as many good players as the “real” Golden State Warriors, but you can still come up with a championship-caliber fantasy basketball team name. Topical pop-culture humor and dirty debatable jokes work well, as do obscure basketball references from your favorite team.
Here’s our list of suggestions for funny, clever, crazy, cool and best names for the 2016-17 NBA season:
Adams Family Jewels
Headbands Make Her Dance
Ninjas in Paris
808s and Fastbreaks
Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Team
Pippen Ain’t Easy
Sprichst Du Dirk?
Brittney Griner Tight
Lions, Tigers and Goberts
D-Rose Train Conductor
Get Ur Greek Freak On
Greek Freak Nasty
Scoring Like Wilt
Stevie Wonder’s Courtside Seats
99 Problems, All of Them Beyonce
Charlotte HB2 All-Stars
Charlotte Stall Ball
Shirley Temple Sixers
Quincy Jones Fracture
Hinkie 4 Lyfe
Philadelphia 76 Centers
Serenity Now, Linsanity Later
Mike Conley’s Contract
Grindhouse in Graceland
Space Jam 2
Technically Fouled Out
Nothing But Actors
Kevin Love Lockdown
Everybody Loves Raymone
Mark Cuban’s Internet Radio
Harrison Barnes’ Bland Brand
O Canada Face
Son of Sabas
Yves Saint Westbrook
D’Angelo Russell’s Snapchat Story
Luuuuuuke… Bill is Your Father
3 & KD
Steph Curry with the Shot
73 Dub Salute
Forgot About Klay
Joe Lacob’s Lightyears
I Am Smarticus
Brad “Belichick” Stevens
Zen & Juice
Madison Square Rose Garden
Draymond Dick Pics & Kicks
Three Six Latvia
MJ > LBJ
Adam Silver Linings Playbook
David Stern’s Mustache
Real Recognize Beal
Dolla Dolla Beal
Shawn Kemp’s Kids
Pass the Rock to Lamar
James Gives Me a Harden
Go Harden the Paint
Lala’s Honey Nut Cheerios
Mother of Dragics
Better Call Gasol
White Men Can Jump
Spring training is in full bloom in Florida and Arizona, the World Baseball Classic is just around the corner and if you look hard enough you can see the start of another fantasy baseball season on the horizon. In fact, some leagues have probably already started their drafts.
So which player should you spend your first-round pick on? While some of the candidates have to be obvious – starting with reigning AL and NL MVPs Mike Trout and Kris Bryant – once you get past the first six guys, the choices may not be as clear-cut. There’s still plenty of star power to be had at different positions, but which All-Star or rising superstar would be a better pick for your fantasy team?
That’s where Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Baseball Big Board comes into play. We have culled rankings from trusted and respected sites such as CBSSports.com (Scott White), ESPN.com (Eric Karabell), FoxSports.com (John Halpin), MLB.com, and Yahoo!, combined and averaged them to produce these consensus rankings.
Obviously these will change since the regular season is a month away, but when you are on the clock and can’t decide whether to go with a position player or pitcher, or maybe going back and forth between two outfielders, you can use these to get a sense of what the experts think. If anything, this will give you more time to think about what you are going to name your team.
Also, don’t forget about Athlon Sports’ 2017 Baseball Preview magazine, which contains plenty of fantasy content in addition to other great features, team previews, statistics and more.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Big Board
Note: Players that tied are listed in alphabetical order.
|92||Jackie Bradley Jr.||BOS||OF||87||76||74||133||104|
|96||Seung Hwan Oh||STL||RP||125||94||106||62||97|
When the official list of invitees to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine was released, the college football world was abuzz at what a shockingly low number of players were headed to Indianapolis from the Big 12. In total, just 19 alums from the conference are set to showcase their skills for NFL scouts at Lucas Oil Stadium this week (Feb. 28-March 6), and some of the more interesting prospects like ex-Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon will watching at home. Despite the limited numbers, there are plenty of big time names set to run, catch and throw for the football world.
Who’s under the most pressure and who’s destined to be a future star on Sunday’s? Here’s a look at 10 Big 12 players to keep an eye on when the Combine gets under way and what they can do to solidify their status.
1. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
Few players dominated the second half of the college football season quite like Westbrook did, using his big-play potential to run all the way to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Despite some incredible numbers and terrific tape, where Westbrook winds up in the draft is anybody’s guess. He’s shown off speed on the field but will need to run a good 40 and test well to back up what we saw this past year. There are numerous off-the-field questions about Westbrook too so the interviews with teams during the week will play a big part in his draft stock as well.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes isn’t being mentioned among the top tier of quarterbacks but that doesn’t mean he can’t sneak his way into it after a good showing at the Combine. He certainly has the size and athleticism to make a move and the amount of ridiculous throws he made in Lubbock is off the charts. Still, he’s a raw prospect and it’s time for teams to figure out just how much seasoning he’ll need in transitioning into the league. Don’t be shocked if somebody starts to fall in love with his potential when all is said and done from the Combine.
3. KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
It should be worth tuning into the Combine to see Cannon run the 40-yard dash alone. Known by most Big 12 fans for his speed in stretching defenses, the wideout was made for an event like this. He’ll run fast, catch a lot of balls and should generally turn some heads. He’ll still have an uphill climb convincing some NFL scouts given his size and slender frame but the fact that former teammate Corey Coleman was a top-15 pick a year ago won’t scare folks away at all, especially with a good showing on the turf.
4. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
Foreman was one of the few bright spots for the Longhorns last year and jumped into the NFL after a 2,000-yard season that saw him carry the ball a ton. He’s a big back but has a surprising amount of athleticism, which he’ll be able to display during drills and testing at the Combine. Despite plenty of positives, he’s not in that top running back group and will need a top performance in Indy to help gain some draft momentum. One way is to show he can be a good pass catcher out of the backfield and that he’ll be a perfect third-down player for teams in dire need of such an option.
5. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
It seems strange to say but Oklahoma’s all-time leading rusher and the NCAA record holder for most yards in a game never seemed to get the proper amount of respect in Norman as he was often overshadowed by much more controversial teammate Joe Mixon. The Combine offers an opportunity to change that and his all-around skill set is perfectly suited to the next level. If he runs quickly in the 40-yard dash, you could see his stock take off as he’s got a lot of attributes that teams will covet. Medical checks also will be important with that naggy ankle injury that was a problem at times with the Sooners.
6. Jordan Willis, DL, Kansas State
Kansas State fans and die-hard Big 12 followers know all about how disruptive Willis was at the college level so it will be interesting to see how much buzz there is about the conference’s 2016 defensive player of the year. He’s clearly well coached coming out of Bill Snyder’s program and has solid size coming off the edge. He benefits from being versatile enough to play in either base defensive scheme but will need a strong showing at the Combine to prove he can be a quality starter down the road.
7. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Russell was trending toward being one of the best quarterbacks Baylor has produced the past few seasons but injuries derailed his time in Waco significantly. He has a good arm that can make all the throws though and displayed surprising athleticism for somebody his size with the Bears. The medical checks (and re-checks) will be huge for Russell however and might be the biggest factor in his trip to the Combine. If everything goes well though, you could start to see some interest build in him for later rounds.
8. Rasul Douglas, DB, West Virginia
The first-team All-Big 12 pick is entering the league at the right time given the emphasis being placed on larger defensive backs who can play the run as well as cover big receivers. He’s got all the size you’re looking for and was a ball-hawk last season for the Mountaineers to help with a good first impression when he meets with teams. If he runs a good 40-yard dash and looks smooth during drills, the NFL stock could take off quickly for Douglas.
9. Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma
Walker is one of the more interesting cases at the Combine considering he left school before the season was up to start training for the NFL. That certainly didn’t sit well with a lot of college fans but it’s a little understandable when you factor in his concussion history that kept him off the field late in the year. As a result, he’ll need a big-time performance in Indy when it comes to drills, interviews and on the medical front in getting the thumbs up from the doctors.
10. Josh Carraway, DL, TCU
Carraway will be an interesting NFL prospect after leaving TCU as one of the most dependable performers on Gary Patterson’s defense. He’ll shine when it comes to drills and measurements given his off-the-charts athleticism but he’ll need to prove to scouts that he’s got what it takes to set the edge and be strong enough to handle big offensive tackles. He’ll probably be viewed by most as more of a special teams player early in his pro career but there’s so much potential that he’ll be one to watch in Indy.
— 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.
For Monster Energy, their tenure as NASCAR Cup Series title sponsor couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The car they sponsor, Kurt Busch, wound up in Victory Lane at the 500, the veteran breaking a 0-for-15 drought in the sport’s biggest race. Their Monster Girls, while wearing less clothing than some wholesome fans thought necessary, made the type of glitzy, PR splash that got them positive attention and distracted from a soft activation (How soft? It was near impossible to find Monster Energy drinks at Daytona. Can you imagine, a sold-out crowd of 101,000 and you don’t make your drink available in the infield for race one!)
Most importantly, the sport’s TV ratings, the subject of continued criticism in the face of a $4 billion 10-year deal suddenly showed some signs of life. Overnights for the 500 were up seven percent in the Nielsens; final numbers will likely push higher for a race that featured 37 lead changes, including three in the final three laps. The winner was in doubt until the final turn; Busch himself led only once, the first Harley J. Earl trophy holder in history to only be in front for the last lap.
It was the type of parity that bodes well for NASCAR in what must be a recovery year for 2017. Here are five storylines that remain from the 500 this Tuesday I expect to play out over the next few weeks of the season…
1. New Car. Stewart-Haas Racing? No Problem.
Busch’s 500 victory put the bow on a very successful Speedweeks for Stewart-Haas Racing. The team, which switched from Chevy to Ford in the offseason entered Daytona shrouded in controversy. Danica Patrick’s primary sponsor, Nature’s Bakery, opted out and promptly filed a lawsuit against the team; Tony Stewart’s replacement behind the wheel, Clint Bowyer, remained without a primary backer after 5-Hour Energy deserted him for Toyota. The team also was adjusting to a new set of alliances, Team Penske replacing the Hendrick Motorsports affiliation that was crucial in earning SHR’s two championships, with Stewart in 2011 and Kevin Harvick in ’14.
Turns out all those obstacles did nothing to weaken the resolve of the four-car operation. Harvick, while failing to win during Speedweeks, led the most laps in the 500 (50) and was the favorite to win before getting caught up in one of the race’s big wrecks. Patrick started the week fourth in the exhibition Clash, ran top 10 in each of the race’s first two stages and looked competitive until she, too, got caught up in a crash along with Bowyer.
“It was definitely the right race for us,” she said. “We were having a really good weekend. The most fun I had at Daytona.”
SHR can only hope such confidence carries over to the non-plate tracks, intermediate ovals where Patrick has mostly struggled throughout her career.
And then there’s Busch. Arguably holding the strongest resume of any active driver without a 500 win, he finally checked that off the bucket list with the perfect mix of staying within the lead pack and conserving fuel. Despite being involved in a crash himself, like 35 others in the 40-car field, crew chief Tony Gibson did the perfect patch job and kept the No. 41 capable of running near the front.
Their reward? A 500 victory just two years after Busch was suspended from this race due to domestic violence accusations. (The allegations from ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, never proven have been replaced in the limelight with the sheer happiness of Busch with new wife Ashley Van Metre.)
“Here we are sharing Victory Lane together as a team, with my new bride, a crew chief that grows up in the shadows of the grandstands here at Daytona,” he said. “For (co-owner) Gene Haas to believe in me years ago... this is an incredible feeling.”
Co-owner Tony Stewart, once skeptical of the hire is now more than on board. After going 0-for-18 in the 500 during his own career, he joked, ”If I knew all it took was retiring to win the 500, I’d have done it years ago.”
2. Segment Racing = More Aggression
NASCAR’s new format, splitting the race into three segments with points scored after each one, changed the style of racing throughout the day. The side-by-side action, always a part of plate racing was fast and furious almost continuously through the pack. The aggression was more than we’ve seen at Daytona in about a decade, in particular toward the end of each segment and from 45 to 25 laps to go in the race.
That said, more action meant more mangled sheet metal and a dip into the pocketbooks for car owners. Some were unnerved by the level of crashes throughout the race; during a 42-lap stretch from Lap 106 to Lap 148, wrecks eliminated 15 cars, some 38 percent of the starting grid, while making several others look like they just completed a race at the short track of Martinsville – not a 200 mph superspeedway.
Still, reviews for the format were mostly positive as drivers agreed NASCAR had to do something to shake up the monotony of racing early in 500-mile events. The hope is with these shorter segments, splitting most races into three “sprints” between 150 and 200 miles, the end result is better competition and more fan support.
“Isn’t that what we’re trying to do, make some of these races more exciting throughout the middle of the race?” said third-place finisher AJ Allmendinger. “In the past, you’ve seen a lot of single-file racing. (Now,) everybody is constantly trying to position themselves to win the race. We’re going to drive as hard as we can.
“Isn’t that what we want? If nobody’s watching, it doesn’t matter.”
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is Fine
The sport’s Most Popular Driver had a very well-documented comeback at Speedweeks. And while the end result didn’t sit well with Junior fans, most of whom left the track after he was involved in a wreck at Lap 106, the 42-year-old proved he’s back to 100 percent after losing over six months to post-concussion syndrome.
“I really enjoyed the whole week,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. Everybody was looking forward to getting back to the racetrack. It meant a lot to me. I’m just sorry we weren’t able to deliver a better result for all our fans. We had a great car.
“At least we went out leading the race. It’s going to be a fun season and we’ve got pretty high spirits.”
Earnhardt, who insisted his health was great following the hit, will race for the next few months before deciding on whether to sign one final contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports. So far, it looks like he’ll be fine and the decision will be his to make, not forced by his health. Leading eight laps and running top 5 at one of his favorite tracks will certainly help push him to stick around.
4. Toyotas Have Tough Start
Remember last year, when the Toyotas spent most of the day running 1-2-3-4-5 in their dominance of the Daytona 500? This time around, not a single one finished inside the top 5 and only one cracked the top 10 (a retiring Michael Waltrip ran eighth in his final NASCAR start).
It was a weird week for a group that will have their share of growing pains going forward. Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing, in particular appeared to have their hands full after expanding to a second car in the offseason with Erik Jones. Their chassis came to Daytona out of balance, Jones was never competitive (making the rookie mistake of missing his stall) and Truex was a step behind most of the week.
For a split second, it looked like it might all work out. Truex inherited the lead when pole-sitter Chase Elliott ran out of gas on lap 197 but couldn’t hold it, eventually running out himself en route to 13th.
The heartbreak felt there was more like frustration foe Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch blew a tire, causing the day’s first big wreck, and wound up 38th after winning the race’s first stage. Busch, who let his emotions boil over criticized Goodyear for “not having tires that hold air” and may now be the best active driver winless at the 500 following the win of older brother Kurt.
But Kyle Busch’s problems at the 500 weren’t just due to Goodyear. Toyota had a bizarre strategy of trying to short-pit in the early segments, hoping to end them in the lead by creating their own draft behind the leaders and gaining on the pack until the rest stopped. It didn’t work. Their draft was three-tenths of a second slower when all were hooked up together and the whole experiment, while noble, just became a bit of a waste.
5. Underdogs Can Still Have Their Day... At Plate Tracks
The wrecks littered contenders all over the Daytona garage but, as is often the case in plate races, it gave underdogs a chance to step up. Aric Almirola, running a single car for consolidated Richard Petty Motorsports, gave the team a top-5 finish (fourth) after going without one in 2016. Ditto for Paul Menard (fifth), coming off one of the worst seasons of his career for Richard Childress Racing.
Further back? Michael Waltrip was eighth in that last start, driving for underfunded Premium Motorsports, who scored their first top 10 as an organization. Go Fas Racing, a single-car Ford team followed suit with Matt DiBenedetto (ninth), just the second top-10 finish of the third-year driver’s career.
And then? There’s Brendan Gaughan. Driving for a team in Beard Motorsports that was running their first Cup race, he ran 11th, his best effort since he was a rookie on the Cup Series way back in 2004. It was a best-case scenario for a team only scheduled to run the plate races this year.
That extended parity, perhaps is the next test for NASCAR as they look to build upon Daytona’s momentum. A handful of these smaller teams won’t be entered at Atlanta, simply because the chance of a strong finish will likely elude them at intermediate tracks. The sport needs to find a way to bring unpredictability to all its speedways in hopes of convincing more owners to jump on board and run the full schedule.
(Photos by ASP Inc.)
If you’re a team in need of a wide receiver in this year’s NFL Draft, you’re in luck. The 2017 draft will feature some talented receivers in not just the first and second round, but even in the latter rounds.
There are a couple of players that stand out among the rest at the position. While there isn’t a big name that’s generating a lot of buzz, there are plenty of talented prospects to keep an eye on. Here are the top five receivers in the 2017 NFL Draft heading into this week’s (Feb. 28-March 6) Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
1. Mike Williams, Clemson
DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are two former Clemson receivers that have had a lot of success in the NFL. Williams hopes he can continue that trend.
As a junior, Williams recorded 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. For his efforts, Williams was named second-team All-American by several outlets and first-team All-ACC by both the media and coaches.
Williams has the look of an NFL receiver at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He also has the strength and vertical speed to gain separation from his defenders.
Williams also has the arms and hands to obtain the ball at its highest point. His neck injury in 2015, which caused him to miss most of the 2015 season is a bit of a red flag. While Williams does need to work on his route running, he has the talent to be a Pro Bowl receiver for many years to come.
2. John Ross, Washington
Ross broke out in a big way last season, finishing with 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns (tied for third in the FBS). Those numbers not only helped him earn first-team All-Pac 12 and second-team All-American recognition, they also helped the Huskies win the Pac-12 and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Ross isn’t a big receiver (5-11, 190), but he can blow the top off a defense with his blazing speed, which makes him dangerous in the open field and a threat to score any time he touches the ball. He also possesses good hands, which is a must to succeed in the NFL.
Ross did struggled getting open against Alabama’s cornerbacks in the Playoff semifinal, finishing with just five catches for 28 yards. He also has a history of knee injuries, so teams will be looking over his medical records thoroughly.
Provided his surgically repaired knees hold up and let him show off his speed and athleticism, Ross’ big-play ability and upside will no doubt appeal to scouts and team executives.
3. Corey Davis, Western Michigan
A four-year starter for the Broncos, Corey Davis was one of the most productive receivers in college football history. His 5,285 receiving yards is the most in FBS history.
Last season, Davis had 97 catches for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns, which was tied for the most in the FBS. At 6-foot-3, Davis has the ideal height scouts look for and he excels when it comes to route-running.
One knock on Davis is that he doesn’t have top-end speed, and he did have some issues when it came to drops. The latter is something he can continue to work on though and doesn’t appear to be a big negative.
Playing for a MAC school, Davis will have to shed the small school label, but his game tape speaks for itself and unless something goes horribly wrong at the Combine, he should be well positioned to establish himself as a first-round pick. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he ends up being the first wide receiver selected.
4. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
As a junior college transfer, Westbrook quickly made an impression at Oklahoma. In his first season in 2015, he was named Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year after catching 46 passes for 743 yards and four touchdowns. Turns out, he was just getting started, as Westbrook exploded for 80 catches, 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, winding up a Heisman Trophy finalist in the process.
Westbrook may not look imposing at 6-foot and 170 pounds, but he makes up for it with his above-average speed and ability to make plays. He is at his best when running downfield, vertical routes. Westbrook also returned kickoffs and punts for the Sooners.
Westbrook’s frame may raise some red flags with NFL teams wondering whether he can hold up through a 16-game schedule. There also are some character concerns stemming from him being arrested twice (2012, ’13) on domestic violence charges, although they were eventually dropped in both cases.
On the field, Westbrook appears to have the necessary tools to play at the next level. Showing those in the Combine should only help his draft stock.
5. Zay Jones, East Carolina
Statistically speaking, Jones was one of the most accomplished receivers in college football history. The second-generation football player (his father, linebacker Robert Jones won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s), set the NCAA record for most receptions in a career with 399 and he also set the single-season record with 158 in 2016.
Jones has good size (6-2, 202) and arguably possesses the best hands of this entire draft class, as he has a highlight reel full of plays of him going up and grabbing the football out of the air at its highest point. He also is known for having a high football IQ.
He doesn’t have game-breaking speed and some of his peers are built a little sturdier. Jones projects to be an excellent slot receiver in the NFL. He was ridiculously productive target in college and should be at minimum a dependable pass catcher in the pros. Like Corey Davis, Jones also played in a non-Power Five conference, but that aloneshouldn’t hurt his draft stock too much.
— 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.
Game film and stats rarely lie. That said, when you are talking about college film and stats translating to NFL production, it's not exactly science. Speed, size, experience and maturity all come into play when it comes to elite college football players making the transition to the next level.
There are certain collegiate stars that enter the NFL Draft with high hopes of being taken early, resulting in bigger pay days thanks to the league's rookie pay scale. The first step in the transition from college to the NFL and toward that aforementioned pay day is the Scouting Combine. As a result, it is often the case that a bad Combine performance can cost a player millions of dollars.
We've highlighted some players who will be at the NFL Scouting Combine this week who must put up solid, if not-impressive performances in both workouts and interviews.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Trubisky may not be a household name, but he's projected as the first or second quarterback off the board in pretty much every mock draft you'll find. Scouts like his size and arm strength, but questions surround his body of work. The 2016 campaign was his only full season as a college starter. He looked the part for the majority of the season, but outings like the one he had against Virginia Tech leave doubts. He needs to erase those doubts during the passing drills and the interviews in order to solidify his projected position at the top of the 2017 NFL Draft.
John Ross, WR, Washington
Ross was quite simply one of the most dynamic and productive receivers in all of college football this season. It's tough to really tell how much of his success was due to the offensive scheme or the quarterback, but the eye test tells us the kid can play. The big issue is his size. At 5-foot-11 he needs to show scouts at the Combine with his hands, speed and vertical that he is a different specimen — along the lines of Antonio Brown or Julian Edelman — in order to convince teams that he is the clear-cut No. 3 wide receiver in this draft.
T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
Watt had one of the better seasons of any pass rusher in the country in 2016. He was a huge part of the Badger defense that allowed Wisconsin to hang around the top 10 of the major polls for most of the season. He made what some might call a questionable decision to leave school early. Watt is talented, but one must wonder how much his last name has to do with his current draft stock value. He'll need to make a name for himself — particularly in the shuttle and on the bench — to legitimize himself as a first or early second-round prospect.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Few corners in college football were as productive as Lewis was during the last couple of seasons in terms of preventing passes from landing in the hands of targeted receivers. That said, his interception total does not exactly jump off the page. That's one of the questions he'll likely have to answer in Indianapolis. Did his size and strength have anything to do with that. At 5-foot-11 and barely 190 pounds, his does not have the ideal frame when it comes to today's defensive backs in the NFL. He'll need to prove himself in the 40 and in the vertical leap to justify some projections that have him as a top-five prospect at his position.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette is a household name and has been so for the better part of two seasons. He's drawn comparisons to the likes of Adrian Peterson and Hershel Walker during his collegiate career. Sure, he's built like a linebacker and probably could have played every position but quarterback, receiver and corner, but there are still some questions in regard to how he'll fare at the next level. He's not the most consistent pass catcher, which is a big deal in today's pass-heavy offensive schemes. His top speed is sufficient, but his questionable agility and ability to change direction and improvise when compared to NFL players are the reasons he's not the top prospect available at his position. He needs to catch nearly every pass thrown to him and impress in all agility drills to justify most current projections that have him going in the top half of the first round.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
The goal in Seattle is simple — make the playoffs. While most teams have similar aspirations, the Mariners have gone longer than any other team in MLB without a postseason appearance — 15 seasons. That growing number looms over the organization, darkening the often-gray skies in Seattle. With the core pieces of the group that went 86–76 in 2016 returning, expectations are high for 2017.
Because of that, general manager Jerry Dipoto was extremely busy this offseason, orchestrating more than a dozen trades that resulted in a rebuilt starting rotation, a new leadoff hitter and even more turnover to a 40-man roster that looks basically nothing like the one he inherited when he became the team's GM in September 2015. It still all starts with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, a trio that’s as good as any in baseball, but it will ultimately be the new pieces that determine Seattle’s success.
A year ago, Seattle got 57 starts of five innings or fewer and produced a record of 13–44 in those games. The disappointments started with staff ace Felix Hernandez, who posted an 11–8 record with a 3.82 ERA in 25 starts. He missed six weeks with a calf strain, but even when he was healthy, signs of deterioration and age were noticeable. He lacked consistent command as evidenced by his 1.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio — the worst of his career. The organization challenged Hernandez to come back in better shape and more prepared for 2017. Hisashi Iwakuma did not miss a start in 2016, but he fatigued late in the season. At age 35, he wins games with command and deception, but those can only go so far. Lefty James Paxton, who went 6-7 with a 3.79 ERA in 20 starts, is the other holdover following the trades of Taijuan Walker and Nathan Karns, who are expected to be replaced by Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo. Smyly was acquired from Tampa Bay and even though he has battled injuries and struggled last season (7-12, 4.88 ERA); the 27-year-old lefty has the potential to be a legitimate No. 2 starter, if not a future ace. Gallardo was acquired from Baltimore for outfielder Seth Smith and should benefit from a change of scenery after posting a 5.42 ERA in just 23 starts with the Orioles last season. Righthanders Rob Whalen and Chris Heston (another trade acquisition) and lefty Ariel Miranda will provide depth in case of an injury, which is highly likely considering the track record of the arms ahead of them.
When Jean Segura steps onto the field on Opening Day, he’ll be the 10th shortstop that Cano has played with in his three seasons with the Mariners. Segura will easily be the best of that undistinguished list, which is why Seattle acquired him in the offseason. Segura is coming off a career year with the Diamondbacks, hitting .319 with an .867 OPS, 41 doubles, seven triples, 20 home runs, 64 RBIs and 33 steals in 153 games. Cano is coming off an even better 2016. He showed no effects from offseason hernia surgery, hitting .298 with an .883 OPS, a career-high 39 homers and 103 RBIs. Beyond the gaudy offensive numbers, Cano returned to form in the field, making stellar defensive plays at second. He also embraced a leadership role in the clubhouse that hadn’t been evident in his first two seasons with Seattle.
Seager just continues to put up consistently good numbers with slight increases each season. In 2016, he hit .278 with an .858 OPS, 30 homers and 99 RBIs in 158 games. He did commit an uncharacteristic 22 errors at third base, botching some routine ground balls moving to his left. But the Mariners believe it’s correctable. While Seattle has a cornerstone at third, the revolving door at first base continues. The plan for this season is to use rookie Daniel Vogelbach (acquired from Cubs last July in the Mike Montgomery deal) and veteran Danny Valencia in a platoon of sorts. The Mariners like the left-handed-hitting Vogelbach’s approach of power and patience at the plate. The right-handed-hitting Valencia is a proven masher of left-handed pitching in his well-traveled career.
Speed should not be an issue in the outfield with former Royal Jarrod Dyson in left and Leonys Martin in center. Dyson was traded for Karns and should finally get a chance to play every day. Right field figures to be a battle between rookies Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel. Seattle picked up Haniger in the Segura trade. He was Arizona’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2016, hitting .321 with a .999 OPS between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Gamel was acquired in late August and played in 27 games for Seattle.
Mike Zunino is back after spending the first part of the 2016 season in Triple-A to work on his swing. The changes yielded some extended periods of success, but a late swoon still put his batting average at .207 with 65 strikeouts in 164 at-bats. He did hit 12 homers and drive in 31 runs while still showing exemplary receiving and framing skills behind the plate. The Mariners acquired veteran Carlos Ruiz to serve as backup. Ruiz turns 38 before the season, but he still can hit left-handed pitching and provides a solid role model for Zunino and some insurance for the Mariners.
Cruz is not bothered by age or the unfriendly parks of the AL West. At 36, he hit .287 while posting team highs with a .915 OPS, 43 homers and 105 RBIs in 155 games. He also became more accepting of his transition to a near full-time DH. One of the big bonuses of acquiring Valencia was his ability to play first base, third base and both corner outfield spots. It gives manager Scott Servais some options. Shawn O’Malley proved to be the team’s best utility player option and showed he could play shortstop at a decent level, something that the new management team didn’t expect. The acquisition of speedy Tayler Motter will provide some competition during spring training.
Servais had never managed a game at any level in his life. There were times in the mechanics of a game where that inexperience was exposed in 2016. He dealt with injury issues to his starting rotation and a roster that was flawed and limited in versatility. But Servais got his team to buy in to a new way of thinking, preparing and playing. It helped that he got Cano, Cruz and Seager to believe in this new philosophy early in spring and embrace leadership roles.
It seems unlikely that Cano, Cruz and Seager can improve much on the stellar production of last year. But Dipoto has been very aggressive in building up the roster depth around his star trio, which should allow the Mariners to be competitive in a very tough American League West. It will come down to how the new-look starting rotation performs.
2017 AL WEST PREDICTION: 3rd
Purdue made what — on paper, at least — looks like one of the offseason’s better hires, as the Boilermakers landed Jeff Brohm from Western Kentucky.
Brohm went 30-10 in his three years with the Hilltoppers, including a 22-5 mark — and 15-1 in Conference USA play — over the past two seasons. His teams regularly lit up the scoreboards and became must-see action in league play. Can Brohm now bring those theatrics to West Lafayette, Ind.?
Here are the top storylines facing Brohm and the Boilers as they open spring ball on Feb. 27.
5 Storylines to Watch in Purdue’s Spring Practice
1. David Blough’s development
In Jeff Brohm’s first year at Western Kentucky, Brandon Doughty finished second nationally in passing yards (371.5 ypg). In Brohm’s second year, Doughty finished third (363.0). And last year, new Hilltoppers QB Mike White ranked eighth nationally in the same category (311.6). Of course, it would be a stretch to expect Blough to pick up a new offense with the snap of a finger, but Brohm’s teams are at their best when the signal-caller is letting it rip, so monitoring how well Blough and the rest of the QBs adjust this spring is the biggest storyline surrounding this team.
2. Wide receiver progress
Purdue had three players catch 39 or more passes last season for 356 or more yards. All three players — DeAngelo Yancey, Bilal Marshall and Cameron Posey — are gone. So Blough will have to work with a new cast of receivers, as the two leading returning pass catchers are a tight end (Cole Herdman) and running back (Markell Jones).
3. Can the defense make progress?
Purdue’s defense in 2016 was, to put it nicely, not very good. The Boilers finished last in the Big Ten and 117th nationally in scoring defense (38.3 ppg) and next-to-last in the conference (and 91st nationally) in total D (445.8 ypg). Brohm brought coordinator Nick Holt with him from WKU to lead Purdue’s defense, and Holt’s Hilltoppers units showed some progress from 2014-16, going from an abysmal 123rd nationally in total D in the regime’s first year, to 71st in ‘15, to 41st in ‘16. While the Boilers have their work cut out for them after an abysmal 2016, there is some consolation: They were very young, as they return six of their top seven tacklers from last season. (They also add WKU graduate transfer linebacker T.J. McCollum, although he will be limited to non-contact drills this spring because of elbow surgery.)
4. Depth concerns
The major concern with any new regime early on is mastering the balance of setting a new tone without adding to the inevitable attrition that comes to a roster experiencing a coaching turnover. For Purdue, this gets tricky on both the offensive and defensive lines.
"We're going to have to be careful we're not running them into the ground and we're not losing people during the spring because our numbers are low," Brohm said, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier. "With that being said, we need to get a lot of reps. We're going to have to police how we do a little bit and make sure we're smart with it."
5. Can early enrollees make an impact?
When you go 3-9 and your head coach gets fired, your team has plenty of holes to fill. That makes the monitoring of the Boilers’ five early enrollees more noteworthy, considering the opportunities that are there for the taking, especially for three of those five mid-year players, who are junior college transfers: defensive end Kai Higgins, cornerback T.J. Jallow and offensive lineman Ethan Smart.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Purdue in the Big Ten
The good news, bad news for Purdue is that the Boilermakers currently stand in arguably the worst shape of anyone in the Big Ten West — but that there’s nowhere to go but up. That’s what the hiring of Jeff Brohm is expected to do: Improve this program dramatically, restoring the Cradle of Quarterbacks moniker and making the Boilers a legitimate threat again.
Does this mean slaying Wisconsin and Nebraska in Year 1? Of course not. But there’s no reason this program can’t eventually climb out of the division cellar in a few years and at least throw punches with Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota or Northwestern annually. Of course, two of those aforementioned programs have experienced coaching changes themselves over the past two years, so Purdue has some competition in its fight for respectability. Still, the Boilers have done it in the past, and that should be the goal for a program that, if nothing else, ought to be exciting to watch offensively early on.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.
(Jeff Brohm photo courtesy of www.purduesports.com)
Ranking the college football and basketball head coaching tandems for the Power 5 conferences is no easy assignment. But that’s what Athlon Sports has set out to do this offseason, as spring practice is just starting around the nation for all 130 teams and tournament time is approaching for teams on the hardwood. Michigan State tops the rankings with Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo as its tandem. Duke, Louisville, Alabama and Ohio State round out the top five.
Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.
Ranking the Nation's Top 40 Football-Basketball Coaching Duos
1. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio
Basketball: Tom Izzo
The 2016-17 academic year hasn’t been great for either of the bosses at Michigan State, but Dantonio (who won a total of 65 games from 2010-15) and Izzo (who has been to seven Final Fours) are among the best in the business in their respective sports.
Football: David Cutcliffe
Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
The Blue Devils took a step back on the football field in 2016, but Cutcliffe’s résumé still shows a combined 27 wins in a three-year period from 2013-15. Krzyzewski is one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball.
Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2017
Football: Bobby Petrino
Basketball: Rick Pitino
Petrino has won at every stop (in the college game) and has an impressive 17–7 record in ACC play in his three years since returning to Louisville. Don’t forget: He went a combined 12–4 in the SEC in his final two seasons at Arkansas. Pitino has won over 750 games in stops at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville.
Football: Nick Saban
Basketball: Avery Johnson
Saban’s (deserved) reputation as the top college football coach in the nation vaults this duo to the top of the list. Avery Johnson has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail and figures to have Alabama back among the top programs in the league in the near future.
5. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer
Basketball: Thad Matta
Meyer, with national championships at two schools (Florida and Ohio State) and an undefeated season at a third (Utah), is an all-time great. Matta’s program has slipped a bit in the past two seasons, but he has won at a very high level in stops at Butler (one year), Xavier (three years) and Ohio State (13 years).
Football: Jim Harbaugh
Basketball: John Beilein
The 2016 season ended on a disappointing note, but Harbaugh has had an enormous impact in a short time at Michigan. Beilein had a great run at Michigan from 2011-14 (four NCAA Tournaments, two Elite Eights, one national runner-up finish) but has leveled off in recent seasons. He still is regarded as one of the game’s top coaches.
Football: Mark Stoops
Basketball: John Calipari
Calipari’s status as far and away the best basketball coach in the league puts Kentucky safely at No. 2 on this list. Stoops’ seat was red hot as recently as October, but the Wildcats won five of their last seven in the regular season, highlighted by a 41–38 victory at Louisville. Another bowl appearance in 2017 — which is likely — would cement his status as a solid SEC coach.
Football: Kyle Whittingham
Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak
After a relatively rough transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12, the Utah football program has averaged 9.3 wins over the last three seasons and is 16–11 in league play over that stretch. Krystkowiak has done a masterful job rebuilding the Utah basketball program. The Utes went 13–5 in the Pac-12 in each of the last two full seasons and could be headed back to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year with a strong finish.
Football: Willie Taggart
Basketball: Dana Altman
Taggart’s tenure in Eugene got off to a difficult start with some off-the-field issues, but he brings a solid résumé to his new job. Altman is regarded as one of the elite coaches in college basketball and has elevated the status of this program nationally in the past few seasons.
Football: Bob Stoops
Basketball: Lon Kruger
Stoops is one of the most underappreciated coaches in the nation. He has averaged 10.6 wins in his 18 seasons in Norman and has won 10 Big 12 championships. Kruger is the only coach in history to win an NCAA Tournament game at five schools (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma).
Related: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2017
11. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora
Basketball: Roy Williams
The Williams critics point out that he’s been a head coach at Kansas and North Carolina — two schools where it’s hard NOT to win — but the fact remains that he’s averaged a staggering 28.0 wins in 28 seasons. Fedora’s career has been highlighted by two very good seasons (12–2 at Southern Miss in 2011 and 11–3 at UNC in 2015). He’s averaged a rather ordinary 7.2 wins in his other seven seasons.
12. Virginia Tech
Football: Justin Fuente
Basketball: Buzz Williams
Fuente did a great job in his first season at Tech, guiding the Hokies to the ACC Coastal Division title. Williams, who led Marquette to the NCAA Tournament five times in six seasons at the school, is on the verge of taking the Hokies to the NCAAs in Year 3.
13. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly
Basketball: Mike Brey
The Irish slumped to 4–8 in 2016, but Kelly is still one of the game's better coaches. He has won every stop, including two Division II national titles while at Grand Valley State and an undefeated regular season at Cincinnati. Brey is one of college basketball's most respected coaches. He has guided the Irish to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in 16 seasons.
Football: Mike MacIntyre
Basketball: Tad Boyle
MacIntyre earned several National Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Buffaloes to the Pac-12 South title. He has now completed successful rebuilds at both San Jose State and Colorado. Boyle has done a very good job with the basketball program, leading the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament four times in his first five seasons. This year has been a bit of a struggle, but he is an outstanding coach.
Football: Gary Patterson
Basketball: Jamie Dixon
Patterson is nearly 100 games over .500 in his 16 years TCU and has six league titles (one in C-USA, four in the Mountain West, one in the Big 12) on his résumé. Dixon led Pittsburgh to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in his 13 years at the school and is authoring a quicker-than-expected turnaround at TCU, his alma mater.
Football: Tom Herman
Basketball: Shaka Smart
This pairing looks great on paper, but is more about potential at this point. After making the NCAA Tournament last season (losing in the first round as a No. 6 seed), Texas is headed toward its first losing season since 1998. Herman appears to be a great fit at Texas, but he has yet to coach a game in the Big 12.
17. Oklahoma State
Football: Mike Gundy
Basketball: Brad Underwood
Gundy’s success in league play might surprise you; he has a 63–39 record in Big 12 games in 12 seasons (and that includes a 1–7 mark in Year 1). Underwood recorded an astounding 53–1 record in Southland Conference games in his three seasons at Stephen F. Austin. It would be a big surprise if he doesn’t enjoy success at Oklahoma State.
Football: Gus Malzahn
Basketball: Bruce Pearl
Pearl has yet to break through at Auburn, but his track record is too good — at both Tennessee and Milwaukee — and his recruiting too strong to believe that he won’t get it done at Auburn. Malzahn’s stock isn’t quite as high as it was a few years ago, but he is still a very good coach who has an 18–14 record in the SEC in four seasons at Auburn.
19. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher
Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
Fisher is on the short list of active college football head coaches with a national championship. He has a 78–17 record in seven seasons. Hamilton, in his 15th season at Florida State, will have the Seminoles in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Prior to this recent slump, FSU went to the NCAAs every year from 2009-12.
Football: Dabo Swinney
Basketball: Brad Brownell
Swinney silenced his critics by winning the 2016 national championship — one year after losing in the national championship game. Brownell is a highly respected coach who has struggled to break through at Clemson. The Tigers could be headed to the NCAAs in 2017.
Football: Pat Fitzgerald
Basketball: Chris Collins
Fitzgerald has turned Northwestern into a consistent winner, guiding his alma mater to a bowl game in seven of the last nine seasons. The Wildcats are 11–6 in the Big Ten in the last two seasons. Collins has the basketball team on the verge of its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Football: Paul Chryst
Basketball: Greg Gard
Chryst wasn’t the most exciting hire, but he has a combined 21–6 record in two seasons, including a 13–4 mark in league play. That’s pretty strong. Gard has done a great job in a tough spot — replacing the legendary Bo Ryan. The Badgers are as good as ever.
Football: Mark Richt
Basketball: Jim Larranaga
Richt did a nice job in his first season at his alma mater. That followed a 15-year run at Georgia in which he went 83–37 in SEC games — but failed to win a league title in his final 10 years. Larranaga, who is 20 games over .500 in the ACC in his five-plus seasons at Miami, is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches.
Football: Jim Mora
Basketball: Steve Alford
Mora’s done a decent job at UCLA, with an overall record of 41–24 and a 25–20 mark in league games, but the general feeling — both among UCLA fans and nationally — is that the program is not reaching its potential. Alford reached the Sweet 16 in his first two seasons at UCLA before hitting rock bottom with a 15–17 record last season. However, it’s safe to say the Bruins are back. The ’16-17 team is one of the best in the nation and the program is well-positioned to win at a high level in the next few years.
25. Mississippi State
Football: Dan Mullen
Basketball: Ben Howland
Mullen has had only one winning SEC record in seven seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach, but he is 61–42 overall and has guided Mississippi State to a bowl game in each of the past seven seasons. Howland, like Johnson at Alabama and Pearl at Auburn, appears to have his program on an upward trajectory — even if the record doesn’t show it.
Football: Jim McElwain
Basketball: Mike White
McElwain has won two SEC East titles in his two seasons at Florida, but Gators fans don’t seem to be overly impressed. Maybe it’s because the East has been down. Maybe it’s because his recruiting has been a bit lackluster. White has a great reputation in coaching circles, but it must be noted that he has yet to take any of his five teams (four at Louisiana Tech, one at Florida) to the NCAA Tournament. That drought will end next month.
Football: Rich Rodriguez
Basketball: Sean Miller
Miller elevates this duo to near the top of the rankings. It’s only a matter of time before he leads Arizona to a national championship. Rodriguez is highly respected nationally, but he went 6–18 in the Big Ten in three seasons at Michigan and is 18–26 in the Pac-12 in five seasons at Arizona.
Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2017
Football: Butch Jones
Basketball: Rick Barnes
Jones isn’t exactly the most popular guy in Knoxville right now, but there is no denying that he has raised the profile of the program and has the Vols back in the national conversation. At some point, he will need to win a division title (at least) to satisfy the demanding Tennessee faithful. Barnes had some great years at Texas, but it seems unlikely that he will return the Vols’ basketball program to the levels it reached under Pearl in the late 2000s.
Football: David Beaty
Basketball: Bill Self
Self, with 12 straight Big 12 titles, is one of the elite coaches in college basketball. Beaty is 2–22 in two seasons in charge of the KU football program. He will be given ample time to turn things around.
Football: Dino Babers
Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Babers thrived at his first two stops as a head coach (Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green) but went 4–8 in Year 1 at Syracuse. He will be given time to turn things around. Boeheim has won one national championship and been to five Final Fours in his storied career at his alma mater.
31. Kansas State
Football: Bill Snyder
Basketball: Bruce Weber
Snyder oversaw arguably the greatest reclamation project in the history of college football and will be remembered as one of the all-time greats. Weber is regarded as an outstanding coach and average recruiter. The Wildcats appear headed to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in his five seasons at K-State.
Football: Kirk Ferentz
Basketball: Fran McCaffrey
Ferentz takes a lot of heat for his bloated contract, but he has done a solid job in his 18 years at Iowa. He has an 83–64 record in the Big Ten, highlighted by two 8–0 seasons and one 7–1 season. McCaffrey is known for his frequent outbursts on the bench, but he, too, has done a really nice job in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes made the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons (2014-16) but appear to be a longshot to make it this year.
Football: Jeff Brohm
Basketball: Matt Painter
Painter has recovered from a rough patch (13–23 Big Ten record in ’12-13 and ’13-14) and has the Boilermakers back among the league’s elite. Brohm was a great hire by Purdue. The Bobby Petrino disciple went 30–10 in three seasons at Western Kentucky and did so while running one of the nation’s top offenses.
Football: David Shaw
Basketball: Jerod Haase
Shaw has the Stanford football program in great shape. Haase is a bit of a mystery at this point. He did an outstanding job at UAB, but the Cardinal have been a bit underwhelming in his first season on the Farm.
Football: Chris Petersen
Basketball: Lorenzo Romar
Petersen might be the No. 1 football coach in the league, but the Huskies check in at No. 7 on this list due to Romar and the slumping basketball program.
36. Penn State
Football: James Franklin
Basketball: Pat Chambers
Franklin guided the Nittany Lions to an unlikely Big Ten title in his third season Happy Valley. His most impressive accomplishment, however, is winning a combined 18 games in his final two seasons at Vanderbilt. Chambers is having a tough time turning things around at Penn State (no NCAA Tournaments in five full seasons), but recruiting has been on an uptick and his current team has a talented young core.
37. West Virginia
Football: Dana Holgorsen
Basketball: Bob Huggins
Huggins has enjoyed a remarkable — and underappreciated — career. He has had only two losing conference seasons in 31 years as a Division I head coach. Holgorsen has been good, but not great, in his six seasons at WVU. He went 7–2 in the Big 12 in 2016.
Football: Matt Rhule
Basketball: Scott Drew
With Baylor enjoying one of its best regular seasons in program history, Drew is finally earning some recognition for his coaching — not just his recruiting prowess. He will have the Bears in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Rhule did a tremendous job at Temple, winning 10 games in each of the last two seasons. He has a difficult rebuild at Baylor — mostly due to off-the-field issues.
39. Ole Miss
Football: Huge Freeze
Basketball: Andy Kennedy
Freeze’s stock is slipping due to the Rebels’ surprising struggles in 2016 (2–6 SEC record) and the ongoing NCAA issues at Ole Miss. Kennedy is an interesting study: He has reached the NCAA Tournament only two times in 10 seasons, but he has had a .500 or better record in the SEC seven times. He’s been consistently solid at a place that doesn’t have great basketball tradition.
40. South Carolina
Football: Will Muschamp
Basketball: Frank Martin
Muschamp improved his reputation nationally — which wasn’t great after his struggles at Florida — by guiding an undermanned South Carolina team to a bowl game. It’s been a slow build for Martin and the basketball program, but the Gamecocks appear to be headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
An Erie Community College hockey player attacked a referee during a national title game and it resulted in an arrest.
Freshman Brandon Day can be seen storming the penalty box and charging at the referee in the final seconds of the National Junior College Athletic Association championship game. Even though it was the end of the game, he was charged with a ten-minute match penalty for abusing an official and was later arrested.
Erie Community College (NJCAA) player storms out of penalty box to level referee late in 3rd period, ending national title game pic.twitter.com/UuJYjSER3K— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 26, 2017
ECC president Jack Quinn issued a statement on the incident.
"The act of one player is in no way indicative of our mission as an educational institution, and does not personify the cordiality and dedication to service instilled in our student body."
The investigation is still ongoing.
One NFL prospect has the chance to own a private island. All he has to do is break the 40-yard dash record.
The catch is that he also must be wearing the new adidas cleats. Usually the company would offer a cash incentive—$1 million prize—if a prospect was wearing adidas cleats and broke the 4.24-second record set by Chris Johnson. But the stakes are even higher in 2017 as the brand is offering up a private island. So if you see a lot of prospects wearing cheetah-print cleats, you'll understand why.
Is it too late to get in on the action?
Trying to narrow down a list of the NFL’s 10 greatest kickers of all-time is not an easy task. Perhaps even more difficult is ranking them.
What matters most? Points scored? Success rates? Longevity? It's a tough call, but I think I cracked the nut.
Kickers, like referees in any sport, are meant to go unnoticed. They jog onto the field, have one job to do, do it, and jog off. That's it. If they do their jobs, we shrug it off on our way to the refrigerator or concession stand. It's only when they pull off the unthinkable, kick a game-winner — or in some cases fail — that we sit up, take notice and subsequently judge the “idiot” kicker.
Being one of the greatest kickers of all-time means doing your job well for an extended period of time while also accomplishing feats along the way that make you a household name.
10 Greatest Kickers in NFL History
10. John Carney
Tampa Bay 1988-89; Los Angeles Rams 1990, San Diego 1990-2000; New Orleans 2001-06,’09-10; Jacksonville 2007; Kansas City 2007; New York Giants 2008
All-Pro (1994), 2-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XLIV champion (Saints)
Career success rates: 82.4 percent FG (478 made), 98.4 percent PAT
2,062 career points in 302 games (23 seasons)
Carney was the ultimate journeyman, but he got the job done at a high level at every stop in his career.
9. Matt Stover
New York Giants 1990; Cleveland 1991-95; Baltimore 1996-2008; Indianapolis 2009
All-Pro, Pro Bowl (2000)
Super Bowl XXV (Giants), XXXV (Ravens) champion
Career success rates: 83.7 percent FG (471 made), 99.5 percent PAT
2,004 career points in 297 games (19 seasons)
Stover made his name with the Ravens. As great as the defenses he shared a locker room with were, he was about as good as a kicker can be for the PAT.
8. Jason Elam
Denver 1993-2007; Atlanta 2008-09
3-time All-Pro, 3-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXXII, XXXIII champion (Broncos)
Career success rates: 80.7 percent FG (436 made); 99.4 percent PAT
1,983 career points in 263 games (17 seasons)
Elam was one of the most prolific kickers of his era. He also owns the second-longest field goal in NFL history (63 yards).
7. Jason Hanson
All-Pro (1997), 2-time Pro Bowler
Career success rates: 82.4 percent FG (495 made), 98.8 percent PAT
2,150 career points in 327 games (21 seasons)
It doesn't matter what sport or position you play, you are probably doing it right when the same team holds on to you for 20 years. Hanson is the only kicker to ever be named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association.
6. Gary Anderson
Pittsburgh 1982-94; Philadelphia 1995-96; San Francisco 1997; Minnesota 1998-2002; Tennessee 2003-04
2-time first-team All-Pro, 4-time Pro Bowler
Career success rates: 80.1 percent FG (538 made); 99.2 percent PAT
2,434 career points in 353 games (23 seasons)
Anderson is quite simply the greatest kicker in the history of the greatest franchise of the Super Bowl era. For his troubles, the Steelers retired his No. 1 jersey.
5. Stephen Gostkowski
New England 2006-Present
2-time first-team All-Pro, 4-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XLIX, LI champion (Patriots)
Career success rates: 87.1 percent FG (303 made), 99.3 percent PAT
1,457 career points in 168 games (11 seasons)
There's a good chance the Gostkowski will finish his career as the greatest kicker who ever lived. The only thing he's really missing is some of those high-profile moments. The PAT he missed against Denver in the AFC Championship Game in January 2016 ended an NFL-record streak of 523.
4. Adam Vinatieri
New England 1996-2005; Indianapolis Colts 2006-Present
3-time first-team All-Pro, 3-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX (Patriots) and XLI (Colts) champion
Career success rates: 84.3 percent FG (530 made), 98.4 percent PAT
2,378 career points in 322 games (21 seasons)
Vinatieri is arguably the most famous kicker in NFL history, thanks to the three field goals that sealed Super Bowl wins for New England three different times and one miraculous kick in snowy Foxboro to beat the Raiders in the "Tuck Rule Game."
3. George Blanda
Chicago 1949, ‘50-58; Baltimore Colts 1950; Houston Oilers 1960-66; Oakland 1967-75
4-time AFL All-Star
1961 AFL MVP, 1970 NFL MVP (Bert Bell Award)
Career success rates: 52.4 percent FG (335 made); 98.3 percent PAT
2,002 career points in 340 games (26 seasons)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1981
Blanda was as good as a passer as he was a kicker, once tossing seven touchdowns in a single game. He played professional football in four different decades. He has kicked more extra points than any player in pro football history and is the kicker on the All-Time All-AFL Team.
2. Morten Andersen
New Orleans 1982-94; Atlanta 1995-2000, ’06-07; New York Giants 2001; Kansas City 2002-03; Minnesota 2004
6-time All-Pro, 7-time Pro Bowler
Career success rates: 79.6 percent FG (565 made), 98.8 percent PAT
2,544 career points in 382 games (25 seasons)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2017
Andersen was the premier kicker throughout the 1980s. It was his longevity that made him a legend that kicked in three different decades.
1. Lou Groza
Cleveland 1946-59, ‘61-67
4-time first-team All-Pro, 9-time Pro Bowler
4-time NFL champion (1950, ’54-55, ‘64)
Career success rates: 54.9 percent FG (264 made), 97.2 percent PAT
1,608 career points in 268 games (21 seasons)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1974
Groza's career wasn't about the stats. It was about him revolutionizing the kicking game. He was the first kicker to be considered a threat to put points on the board from 40-50 yards out. The Hall of Famer raised the bar for kickers. Today, the Lou Groza Award is given to college football's top placekicker.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
Gather 'round, boys and girls, and let me tell you a story of yesteryear. It was 2006, and Stanford football had just completed a 1-11 campaign. The Cardinal's 1-8 record in conference play marked a fifth straight season below .500 in the league, their second last-place finish in four years, and the bottom falling out over a brutal half-decade on The Farm.
Jim Harbaugh took over the next season, and thus began Stanford's ascent not only in the conference, but on the national college football scene. The Cardinal have now gone bowling every season since 2009, won three Pac-12 championships and two Rose Bowl Games, and reached the 10-win milestone six times. Harbaugh's former assistant and current Stanford head coach, David Shaw, has led the program through much of its success.
Times – and indeed, standards – have very much changed. Just a decade removed from losing 11 games, winning 10 in 2016 brings out a shocking number of results when Googling the phrase "Stanford football underachieved." Alas, expectations for Stanford ahead of last season deemed 10 wins without a Pac-12 championship something of a failure.
The Cardinal begin 2017 preparations in earnest with the opening of their spring camp, and there are some noteworthy changes. Nevertheless, the lofty standard under Shaw remains intact.
5 Storylines to Watch in Stanford Spring Practice
1. Feeling The Love
Much of last season's hype centered around the return of 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey. He left a game early, departing before December's Sun Bowl to embark on his NFL career. Reserve Bryce Love acquitted himself nicely, rushing for 115 yards in Stanford's defeat of North Carolina.
The Sun Bowl propels Love into his new role as the Cardinal's every-down back. He need not be Christian McCaffrey for the Cardinal to succeed offensively – really, the only way to replace McCaffrey straight-up would be to add vintage Reggie Bush or C.J. Spiller to the backfield.
Love also won't be a throwback to past Stanford ball carriers like Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney, all of whom had at least 30 pounds on Love. He has an opportunity to carve out his own style unlike previous Jim Harbaugh or David Shaw-coached running backs – particularly because of the uncertainty surrounding the overall look of the offense.
2. Quarterback Questions
Kevin Hogan quarterbacked Stanford to three Pac-12 titles and a couple of Rose Bowl wins; was placed on a hypothetical Mount Rushmore with Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Andrew Luck; and somehow, left The Farm wholly underappreciated.
Stanford's struggles at quarterback last season should have engendered greater appreciation for all Hogan accomplished in his time there. Meanwhile, the Cardinal head into 2017 still seeking to adequately replace him.
Ryan Burns started initially, but struggled mightily. Keller Chryst showed promise after taking over midway through the campaign, throwing 10 touchdowns with just one interception after settling in as starter. However, a knee injury sustained in the bowl game will keep him out of spring practices. Five-star recruit Davis Mills also suffered a knee injury at the end of his prep season.
Burns opted not to transfer, so expect him to get the majority of first-string reps in the spring – unless talented youngster K.J. Costello impresses.
3. Keeping the Party Going
The Stanford defense coined the phrase "Party in the Backfield" to denote the many sacks it racked up during the 2012 and ‘13 seasons. The party's raged on for years since, with Solomon Thomas serving as M.C. a season ago. He'll take his quarterback-terrifying ways to the NFL, which leaves new faces in charge.
Tackle Harrison Phillips is Stanford's top returning sacker, last season tallying 6.5. However, the Cardinal always thrive bringing a rusher off the edge, whether Thomas, Trent Murphy or Ben Gardner.
Sophomore Dylan Jackson has a prime opportunity to carry the mantle of outstanding Stanford pass rushers. He can arrive fashionably early to the party in spring practices.
4. Solidifying the Secondary
Amid its mid-season losing skid in 2016, the Stanford secondary struggled mightily. Chalk some of it up to injury; Quenton Meeks and Frank Buncom missed invaluable time early in Pac-12 play. Both return, and Meeks has the potential to be an All-American-caliber cornerback.
However, after giving up more than 2,900 passing yards a season ago, the Cardinal secondary does need more consistency.
5. The Big Trees up Front
Outstanding offensive lines powered Stanford throughout its run atop the Pac-12. While McCaffrey racked up highlights en route to the Heisman Trophy presentation in 2015, lineman Joshua Garnett could often be seen blasting would-be tacklers out of the way.
Garnett's absence loomed large on the Cardinal offense a season ago – perhaps largely than the void Hogan left at quarterback. The 2017 line's big loss is Johnny Caspers. A youthful front five awaits, with players like Nate Herbig likely to see their first opportunities.
Stanford’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12
Washington and Washington State blowing out Stanford in consecutive weekends suggested that the balance of power in the Pac-12 North shifted northward. However, the defending conference champion Huskies face considerable question marks with players leaving for the NFL, while Washington State's late-season collapse begets questions of the Cougars' ability to contend for a divisional title.
With Oregon and Cal breaking in new head coaches, and Oregon State thus far showing only scratching the surface under Gary Andersen, Stanford may well be Old Faithful in an uncertain division.
Surely, the Cardinal are not without their own issues, the quarterback conundrum being the most troubling. A talented and veteran defense ensures that at the very worst, however, Stanford will be a candidate to again win 10 games – if not the conference.
College basketball conference tournament time is upon us, which means almost every team gets a chance to make it to the Big Dance. Regardless of their record going into the conference tournament, we have seen plenty of teams make some crazy runs to get into the NCAA Tournament courtesy of that coveted automatic bid.
But March Madness also is the time when mid-majors and the smaller conferences get their chance in the spotlight, especially those that go on to upset a higher-seeded, power conference team in the NCAA Tournament. Every year there’s usually some team that takes a spin as Cinderella, but there also are those mid-major or lesser known teams that are legitimate threats in their own right and ones that the higher seeds don’t want to see when the brackets are revealed.
Here are five such teams that unless they lose in their respective conference tournament could play the role of bracket buster and contribute to the latest round of March Madness.
Conference: America East
Conference Tournament: Campus sites March 1, 6, 11
Power Five Wins: 0 (lost by 22 at Providence, by 1 to Houston, by 18 at South Carolina)
Leading Scorers: Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes, 11.6 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Catamounts have five players who average at least eight points per game. The majority of their rotation is filled with juniors and seniors. They also most likely won't leave their home gym for the conference tourney so they are the odds-on favorite to win the America East. They last made the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and have one victory in the school's history.
Florida Gulf Coast (23-7)
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Conference Tournament: Campus sites Feb. 27, March 2, 5
Best win: at Louisiana Tech 79-78 (lost by single digits to Baylor and Michigan State)
Leading Scorer: Brandon Goodwin, 18.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: Dunk City could ruin your bracket once again with four double-digit scorers and a veteran-laden team. Many of the same players on this year’s team helped FGCU win its First Four matchup in last year’s tournament before losing to North Carolina 83-67. This is a group that won't be afraid of anyone and much like Vermont, won't have to leave home in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
UNC Wilmington (25-5)
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
Conference Tournament: at North Charleston Coliseum (North Charleston, S.C.) March 3-6
Best Win: at St. Bonaventure 81-80 (lost by 5 to Middle Tennessee)
Leading Scorer: C.J. Bryce, 17.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Seahawks play a frenetic style and have four double-digit scorers. They can beat you in a track meet and also can hold you down and play a game in the 60s. UNCW, as a No. 13 seed, lost a tough one to Duke last year in the first round 93-85. The Seahawks have just one tournament win in program history, but don’t underestimate this team.
East Tennessee State (23-6)
Conference: Southern (SoCon)
Conference Tournament: at U.S. Cellular Center (Asheville, N.C.) March 3-6
Best Win: at Mississippi State 67-65 (lost by four to Tennessee)
Leading Scorer: T.J. Cromer, 19.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Buccaneers have a ton of balance with seven players that at least seven points per game. Hanner Mosquera-Perea is one of those guys and he brings a winning pedigree having started his collegiate career at Indiana. There are six seniors on this squad and they've tested themselves so far in 2016. Much like UNC Wilmington, ETSU plays an interesting style and can win both high- and low-scoring games.
Conference: Patriot League
Conference Tournament: Campus sites, Feb. 28, March 2, 5, 8
Best Win: at Vanderbilt 75-72
Leading Scorer: Zach Thomas, 16.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Bison tested themselves out of conference and will not leave home during their conference tournament. If you notice the teams that I've identified for this exercise, they each have a winning pedigree and Power Five-caliber talent. The Bison are a little undersized, but they are scrappy. Nathan Davis was a highly successful head coach at Division III power Randolph-Macon, so he’s no stranger to getting the job come tournament time.
Others that were considered: Middle Tennessee (Conference USA), Belmont (OVC), Illinois State (MVC), Monmouth (MAAC)
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
The A’s are making no promises about contending in 2017. It would be a stretch to suggest this team could keep up with the Rangers or Astros. The A’s finished last in consecutive seasons and seem to have 2019 in their sights more than 2017. Maybe some of their young players will be reaching stardom by then. Maybe their hopes for a new ballpark will be more than a dream by then. Maybe they’d consider keeping their best players long term by then.
Until further notice, it’s more of the same: Give young players the chance to succeed at the major-league level and, before they can reach their peak earning potential, dump them for younger players. It’s a vicious cycle that sometimes works and sometimes turns ugly. The system seemed perfectly fine when the A’s built playoff teams three straight seasons from 2012-14, but the past two years were a tough learning experience. The pattern isn’t expected to change in the immediate future. That’s not to say the next wave of young players doesn’t have promise, including starting pitcher Sean Manaea, third/first baseman Ryon Healy, catcher Bruce Maxwell and second baseman Joey Wendle, all of whom had nice runs in their first big-league seasons. But the anticipated growing pains and deficiencies throughout the roster make it tough to believe the A’s will make much noise in 2016.
Manager Bob Melvin went into the new year able to pencil in three starters: Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman and Manaea. Unless a veteran arm is added, the other two spots will be determined in spring training among a young field of Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden, Raul Alcantara, Dillon Overton and Frankie Montas. The rotation ranked next to last in the league in ERA (4.84), and Gray posted his worst season (5–11, 5.69 ERA, 1.496 WHIP) while battling injuries — a far cry from his first three years in Oakland (2.88 ERA, 1.134 WHIP). A bounce-back year is a must for all concerned. The A’s would be better with their ace returning to form, and his trade value would be better in case the A’s decide to move him before the deadline or next winter. He’s 27 with three more years of club control. While Gray struggled, Graveman was steady over a career-high 31 starts and 186 innings. Manaea scuffled after getting called up in April but eventually figured it out. His ERA was 3.86 in 25 games (24 starts) and 1.13 in four September starts. Cotton, acquired in the trade that shipped Josh Reddick to the Dodgers, posted a 2.15 ERA in five September starts.
After Marcus Semien’s vast defensive improvement, the A’s are set at shortstop. Second base is a different story. Jed Lowrie will need to prove he’s healthy after August surgery to his left foot, and the top prospect at the position, Wendle, has only one month of big-league experience. Executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane called second base “a concern” and was seeking depth. The A’s could look long term at Chad Pinder or their top overall prospect, Franklin Barreto, a shortstop by trade who’ll probably open at Triple-A. Semien cut his error total from 35 to 21 and supplied power with 27 homers and 75 RBIs, second on the team to Khris Davis in both categories, while hitting in eight spots in the batting order.
Healy was a pleasant surprise, called up after the All-Star break and eventually taking over at third base. He hit .305 with 13 homers in half a season and likely will open 2017 in the middle of the lineup. Oakland signed former Twin Trevor Plouffe to a one-year deal, which means Healy will move over to first base, his natural position. Plouffe was limited to just 84 games last season because of injuries, but prior to that he had averaged 21 home runs from 2012-15. With Healy moving to first, that shifts Yonder Alonso, who was arbitration eligible and re-signed for $4 million, to DH/reserve duty. Alonso is a super defender, but Healy offers more with the bat. The A’s also have third baseman Matt Champan, a first-round pick in 2014 who collected 36 homers and 96 RBIs in two minor-league stops, waiting in the wings. Chapman appears destined to start at Triple-A Nashville, but if he’s able to break into the majors it could mean Healy shifts to DH with Plouffe moving across the diamond to first.
Davis will return to left field after smacking 42 homers and collecting 102 RBIs and joining four Oakland heavyweights in the 40-homers club: Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi. He will be joined by two newcomers, Rajai Davis and Matt Joyce. The AL leader in stolen bases last season (43) with Cleveland, Davis inked a one-year deal in January to play center field. Joyce was signed for two years and $11 million, mostly to play right and face right-handed pitchers. His .403 OBP was fourth best in the National League among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances.
Two-time All-Star Stephen Vogt might open the season as the No. 1 catcher, but Bruce Maxwell is waiting in the wings after impressing the brass in his rookie season. Maxwell, who like Vogt bats left-handed, hit .283 in 33 games and started 17 times in September to give decision-makers a good look. It’s possible Vogt and Josh Phegley will open the season as the catchers, but Maxwell might not be far away.
The A’s agreed that Billy Butler was a $30 million failure at DH and released him with more than a year to go in his contract. The A’s pursued Edwin Encarnacion, who signed with Cleveland, and might rotate players at the DH spot, including Healy, Davis, Vogt and Alonso. The A’s don’t have much infield depth, although Barreto could emerge quickly, and Chapman is worth keeping an eye on too. Former starting infielder Adam Rosales also is back in Oakland after playing last year for the Padres. Rosales was with the A’s from 2010-13, making starts all over the infield. Jake Smolinski and prospect Matt Olson are the likely outfield options, as is Mark Canha, who’s coming off hip surgery.
With the A’s incrementally losing their revenue-sharing checks over the next four years, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, the team must get serious about a new park to generate more revenue. Meantime, team president Dave Kaval said every dollar generated would go to “the on-field product and the fan experience” but didn’t provide specifics or say whether payroll would be slashed.
The A’s play in an antiquated stadium. They don’t draw well. They trade their top players instead of paying them top dollar, making it tough for fans to be faithful. Of course, the sentiment would improve if the A’s got off to a quick start, re-energized their fan base and even took steps toward constructing a baseball-only facility in Oakland. Miracles do happen.
2017 AL WEST PREDICTION: 5th
The 2017 NFL Draft is still two months away but for players hoping to realize their dreams of playing on Sundays this week’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is a critical first step towards that goal.
While some jokingly refer to the week-long event as the “Underwear Olympics,” the reality is that the Combine is the first opportunity for invited players to make a strong initial impression on their potential future employer.
Regardless of whether this a made-for-TV event or something that’s not worthy the hype and attention it receives, drills such as the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic and BOD Pod tests are just part of the lengthy and exhaustive process these players are about to embark on leading up to this year’s draft, which will take place April 27-29 in Philadelphia.
So which players aced their opening interviews by opening eyes at the Combine? Here are 10 workout warriors (in alphabetical order) who impressed those holding the stopwatches, measuring tapes and clipboards.
Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006
Davis looked like a body builder or, at the very least, an actor from an Under Armour commercial en route to running a 4.38 in the 40, skying for a 42” vertical, 10’8” broad, and slamming 33 reps on the bench press.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012
The fastest quarterback in Combine history, RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL (at least initially) and commercial superstardom — with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.
Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1986
The two-sport tall tale weighed in at a chiseled 6’1”, 230 pounds before running an unofficial hand-timed 4.12 in the 40-yard dash — a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring effort that is still a part of Combine folklore.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech – 2007
Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina – 2008
Before he became CJ2K, the gold-grilled CJ4.24 was the gold standard official record-holder in laser-timed 40-yard sprints, posting a 4.24 and hitting the first-round finish line in-stride.
Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut – 2015
Jones literally jumped at the chance to impress at the Combine in 2015, putting up an eye-popping 12’3” in the broad jump. His mark was the best posted in the Combine in the past decade by eight inches. He followed up his broad jump with an equally impressive vertical jump of 44.5” (third-best at Combine over past 10 years), and subsequently watched his draft stock soar all the way to the latter part of the first round.
Mike Mamula, LB, Boston College – 1995
After all these years, Mamula remains the go-to cautionary tale of the Combine. The BC beast vaulted up draft boards after a 4.58 in the 40, 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test. Mamula never looked as good in pads as he did in shorts.
Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State – 1989
In hindsight, the most impressive thing the “Incredible Bulk” did was pass his steroid drug screening during the Combine. At 304 pounds, Mandarich ran a 4.65 in the 40, exploded for a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and ripped off 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State – 1989
The ultimate showman (and show-boater), Deion showed up fashionably late (and probably fashionably loud) to the Combine, then ran his 40-yard dash only once — in a time between 4.19 and 4.29, depending on whose hand-timed stop watch you trust. But Prime Time didn’t stop running once he hit the finish line; Sanders ran out of the building to a limousine waiting to take him to the airport.
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin – 2011
In hindsight, the numbers that Watt put up at the Combine were a window into his dominant Defensive Player of the Year future. At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds with 11 1/8” hands and 34” arms, Watt ran a 4.84 in the 40, soared for a 37” vertical and 10’ broad jump, and threw up a long-armed 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
After the seasons Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard had as rookies in 2016, running backs are once again the trendy position in the NFL. Elliott ran for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns as he helped the Cowboys win the NFC East. As a fifth-round pick, Howard rushed for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns for the Bears.
There is no lack of options in the 2017 NFL Draft for teams looking to improve their backfield. With the Scouting Combine set to take place Feb. 28-March 6, here are the top five running back prospects with the draft still two months away.
1. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
There have been a number of running backs that have made their way through Tallahassee throughout the years, but Cook could be the most talented of the bunch. In all three seasons for Florida State, Cook rushed for more than 1,000 yards as he kept getting better with each season.
In 2016, Cook rushed for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns on 288 carries. He also showed his ability as a receiver out of the backfield with 33 catches for 488 yards and a score.
Cook is exactly the type of running back that teams are looking for in today’s NFL. He has the quickness to make cuts on a dime while having excellent vision to see the hole and explode through it.
The one concern teams may have about Cook is ball security. During his three seasons at Florida State, Cook fumbled the ball 13 times. Also, Cook isn’t the best blocker in passing downs, but he can improve on that.
Cook has the potential to have the same type of impact Ezekiel Elliott had as the No. 4 overall pick last year. While at Florida State, Cook was a big game player as he performed well when the lights were at their brightest. Don’t be surprised if Cook is the 2017 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU
Fournette has all the intangibles to become one of the best running backs of all time. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound All-SEC player, showed flashes of his greatness with the Tigers.
He was at his best as a sophomore when he rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns on 300 carries. Last season, Fournette injured his ankle in the season opener and re-aggravated it later, as he was limited to 843 yards and eight touchdowns in just seven games.
Fournette is built like a bruising, between-the-tackles back, but he possesses the speed and explosiveness of a game-breaking receiver. Not only can Fournette run away from defenders, but he also loves to dish out contact to would-be tacklers.
His play in big games is a bit of a concern as he averaged less than 50 rushing yards and had just one touchdown in three games against Alabama. Fournette needs a lot of work in pass protection and when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield.
Fournette doesn’t have the vision of an Adrian Peterson when he came out of Oklahoma, but he does have the same physical gifts. If he can remain healthy with his violent running style, Fournette should be one of the best players in this year’s draft, regardless of position.
3. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
There’s no doubt about Mixon’s ability to play in the NFL, but his past could be the reason he isn’t an early-round draft pick.
On the field, Mixon is the complete package as he is an excellent runner, receiver and he can even contribute on special teams. Last season for Oklahoma, Mixon rushed for 1,274 yards and 10 touchdowns on 187 carries. He also chipped in 37 receptions for 538 yards and five more scores.
Mixon has exceptional vision and the patience to wait for his blockers to open the hole for him so he can burst through it. He doesn’t have breakaway speed to outrun defenders and ball security also is a concern.
But the biggest factor working against Mixon is history. In 2014, Mixon was redshirted after he was suspended for the season after striking a woman in a Norman, Oklahoma, restaurant. The woman suffered a broken jaw and cheek in the incident. Mixon was charged with a misdemeanor and had to complete community service but was not kicked off the team.
Because of Mixon's violent history, he was not invited to the scouting combine. Any player with a misdemeanor or felony conviction involving violence or use of a weapon, sexual offense or assault and domestic violence will not get an invitation to Indianapolis for the week-long event.
Mixon has first-round talent, but he was not invited to the Combine and it remains to be seen if he will be drafted at all given his history. Even if he goes undrafted, Mixon will end up in someone’s training camp and likely be on a roster this fall.
4. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
Coming out of high school, Kamara was highly recruited as he enrolled at Alabama. In 2014, Kamara transferred to Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College where he was the conference player of the year. Then in 2015, he transferred to Tennessee.
As a redshirt sophomore that season, Kamara rushed for 698 yards and seven touchdowns as a reserve. In 2016, Kamara missed time with some injuries, but still managed to run for 596 yards and nine touchdowns on just 103 carries.
At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Kamara isn’t the biggest running back, but he has incredible top-end speed. In his last year at Tennessee, Kamara caught 40 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns, so he should be able to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. He also has value on special teams as he returned punts for the Volunteers, taking one back for a touchdown.
Kamara doesn’t have the best vision as a runner, and teams will probably be a little cautious in evaluating him because of his lack of experience (24 games played at Tennessee). But what Kamara does possess is plenty of raw talent. If he shows well at the Combine, some team could take a chance on him as early as the second round because of his tantalizing upside and the fact he didn’t get a heavy workload in college.
5. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Despite being hampered by injuries, McCaffrey had another big season for the Cardinal in 2016, rushing for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns on 253 carries. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2015 after breaking Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards with 3,864.
McCaffey is the epitome of a do-everything running back. Besides rushing for nearly 4,000 yards in three collegiate seasons, he also recorded more than 1,200 receiving yards and an additional 1,859 as a kickoff and punt returner.
McCaffrey may lack the ideal size (he’s 6-0, 200) of an NFL running back so he may be best suited as a complementary ball carrier rather than a workhorse, but the league has pretty much shifted to a running back by committee approach so that shouldn’t be a huge concern.
In the right system, McCaffrey could emerge as a consistent contributor as a rookie. He may never be an All-Pro or even make the Pro Bowl, but there’s little question he belongs in the NFL.
Other running backs to keep an eye on: D’Onta Foreman, Texas; Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State; Jamaal Williams, BYU, Samaje Perine, Oklahoma; Curtis Samuel, Ohio State; Kareem Hunt, Toledo; Elijah McGuire, UL Lafayette
— 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.
Just a few years ago, there were question marks about the Big Ten’s ability to churn out NFL talent in large numbers. That’s no longer the case however, as the league is sending an impressive 51 players to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine this year.
Leading the way is Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan squad, which has more players in Indianapolis this week (Feb. 28-March 6) than any other with a whopping 14 former Wolverines expected to run, jump and interview for scouts and coaches galore. Rival Ohio State isn’t too far behind in terms of numbers either and could again have the most first-rounders of any school when all is said and done from the NFL Draft.
Who’s under the most pressure and who’s destined to be a future star on Sundays? Here’s a look at 10 Big Ten players to keep an eye on when the Combine gets under way and what they can do to solidify their status.
1. Jabrill Peppers, ATH, Michigan
Peppers was a regular on the college football awards circuit thanks to his versatility at Michigan and now it is time for NFL evaluators to sort out how that will transition to the pros. Is he an outside linebacker? Is he a safety? Is he a return man who has a package of plays on both sides of the ball? All that flexibility will no doubt add to Peppers’ value but it will be fascinating to see scouts try to peg his next role. As a result, there might be no more interesting player to watch at the Combine.
2. Marshon Lattimore, DB, Ohio State
It’s going to be an interesting battle right up to draft day to see whether Lattimore or former Buckeyes teammate Malik Hooker is the first defensive back taken. With Hooker missing the Combine due to offseason surgery, there’s an opening for Lattimore to state his case to teams. With a ton of teams needing corners in the top 10, this is a player who could use a great showing in Indy to propel himself to a big pay day.
3. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Size and a slight build may be the only thing that will keep Lewis from the first round but a strong Combine could keep him firmly in the mix to be a top-50 pick when all is said and done. He’s one of the premiere cover corners to come out of college the past few seasons but will still need to prove that is going to translate to the next level. It doesn’t help that he’ll be constantly compared to the big-time prospects from rival Ohio State but Lewis has a chance to impress in other ways this week.
4. Taco Charlton, DL, Michigan
Charlton checks just about every box you want when looking for in a pass rusher. He’s athletic, long and should get plenty of folks enamored with what he can do in trying to get to the quarterback. While he’ll need to answer questions about inconsistency during his time with the Wolverines, it’s possible some eye-popping testing numbers help enhance his case to be one of the first edge rushers off the board.
5. Desmond King, DB, Iowa
King was such a steady player for the Hawkeyes over the years and played a big role in the team’s surprising run to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago when he won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. He won’t get the buzz that some of the other top prospects in the secondary will but this will nevertheless be an intriguing second day pick for some team. If he can shake off questions about his speed and quickness during testing, King could certainly see his stock rise quickly.
6. Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
McDowell could be one of the most interesting prospects in the draft and teams will surely put him through the paces at Lucas Oil Stadium to figure out whether he can be an All-Pro based on his abilities or if he’ll struggle during his early days in the league. Physically, he has all the tools in the world and should have added value for teams given that he can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment. Perhaps he can write off his sub-par final season with the Spartans due to injury but a good Combine appearance could see talk of becoming a first rounder re-appear.
7. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
McMillan was a tackling machine at OSU and one of the most productive players on a stellar defense the past three seasons. How that translates to the NFL is a bit unknown however so showing he’s athletic enough to play all the time will be key when he goes through drills and runs in the testing section. He could be a name that goes later than many college fans expect come draft time but a strong performance could help prevent that slide and help turn McMillan into a solid starter for years to come.
8. Ryan Ramczyk, OL, Wisconsin
Let’s face it, the Combine isn’t the best of settings for offensive linemen aside from the bench press. While Ramczyk will miss most of the on-field testing anyway as a result of an injury, he still has a chance to become the first offensive lineman taken in the draft with a good showing in Indy by checking out on the medical side and proving he has plenty of strength to go with the highly regarded athleticism he already possesses.
9. Gareon Conley, DB, Ohio State
Conley isn’t quite the prospect as some of his fellow Buckeyes but a few good measurables in Indy could make him an early pick. He has plenty of game tape, solid size and should run fast enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams looking for help at cornerback. If he can prove that he’s much more of an all-around cover guy with a fluid showing during drills, there could be plenty of buzz that starts to build around Conley.
10. T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin
Watt’s last name will be a blessing and a curse when it comes to the Combine, as older brother J.J. will get brought up plenty of times (in addition to what likely will be a ton of commercials during TV coverage of the event). Still, he impressed last season as a starter and there’s plenty of positive attributes trending his way and he could continue to climb up draft boards with a strong outing at Lucas Oil.
Don’t forget about: Curtis Samuel (WR, Ohio State), Pat Elfein (OL, Ohio State), Noah Brown (WR, Ohio State), Riley Bullough (LB, Michigan State), Corey Clement (RB, Wisconsin), Sojourn Shelton (DB, Wisconsin), Garrett Sickels (DL, Penn State), Chris Godwin (WR, Penn State), C.J. Beathard (QB, Iowa), Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan), Ifeadi Odenigbo (DL, Northwestern)
— 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.
A whooping 60 ACC players are scheduled attend the annual NFL Scouting Combine and the pressure will be on every one of them to showcase their skills this week (Feb. 28-March 6) in front of every franchise during the most pressure-packed job interview of the players’ lives. National champion Clemson leads the way for the league in terms of representation with nine high-profile players headed to Indianapolis but Miami (also with nine) and Florida State will be sending plenty of alums to strut their stuff in front of all 32 teams.
Who’s under the most pressure and who’s destined to be a future star on Sundays? Here’s a look at 10 ACC players to keep an eye on when the Combine gets under way in Indianapolis and what they can do to solidify their status.
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
This year’s draft is full of big names but there are none bigger than the quarterback from Clemson who is fresh off a slaying of Alabama’s vaunted defense to win the national title. That’s one reason why Watson has been thrown around as a name for that No. 1 overall selection and how well he performs at the Combine could play a big role in him going first or slipping down in the draft. He’s expected to do the full gauntlet of drills so you can bet that all eyes will be on the college star as he takes his first steps to becoming a pro.
2. Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
This year’s quarterback class can best be described as intriguing and no prospect better defines that than the Tar Heels’ signal-caller. Trubisky has all the tools to become the first QB off the board this year and should test well given his athletic abilities and strong arm. What a lot of teams will need to figure out though, is if that limited sample size at the college level (just 13 starts) is either a warning sign for the potential top-10 pick — or a sign of things to come.
3. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook and Leonard Fournette will be neck-and-neck for most teams in terms of who is the top running back in this year’s draft and the Combine performances could give some insight as to which ultimately ends up being taken higher later this spring. The Seminoles star’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield could give him a nice leg up when it comes to showcasing his skills during drills but don’t discount how much the freakish athlete can wow folks when it comes to the testing portions either.
4. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
At this point, it would be pretty surprising if Williams isn’t the first wide receiver taken in the draft and he’s good enough to become an unquestioned top-five pick given what he showed in his final season with the Tigers. He’s got the size, speed and hands to impress in every portion of the Combine and if he meets expectations in Indy, it should make for a fascinating next few months as teams fall more and more into love with the terrific pass catcher from Clemson.
5. Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech
Evans was one of the more surprising early entrants to the 2017 NFL Draft, spending just a season in Blacksburg with the Hokies after being a top junior college recruit the year prior. That limited amount of game tape at the FBS level will be something to overcome with teams but there’s little doubt that his great size (6-4, 230 pounds), strong arm, and ability to run the ball will make him among the most interesting prospects at his position. Evans may not wind up a first-rounder but a strong showing at the Combine could cause him to shoot up draft boards given what he brings to the table.
6. Nathan Peterman, QB, Pitt
Every year there’s a quarterback who has a strong showing at the Combine and continues to pick up buzz all the way through to the draft. In 2017, that just might be Peterman, who checks off a lot of boxes for NFL evaluators in terms of size, accuracy and playing in a pro-style system. He may not be the biggest name on the board but when it comes to folks on the NFL side of things, this quarterback is certainly one to watch as a sleeper pick.
7. David Njoku, TE, Miami
The latest star tight end from “The U” doesn’t have the numbers or accolades of some of his fellow Combine invitees but his off-the-charts athleticism gives him a chance to be a first-rounder this year. He was a difference-maker for the Hurricanes on the field this year and not only brings the ability to become a top pass catcher at the position but a strong blocker too. The Combine should be a time for Njoku to shine when it comes to testing numbers and if he does well during drills, expect plenty of top 20 buzz to build around him next month.
8. Devonte Fields, DL/LB, Louisville
The Combine is not only a chance for players to showcase their athletic skills but also get in front of teams and the media to discuss their college careers. That off-the-field portion in Indianapolis will be crucial for Fields given some of the incidents that led him to Louisville after bursting onto the scene at TCU as the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year back in 2012. The testing portion should allow him to show off his terrific athleticism but he will also have to prove to teams that he isn’t a tweener between an undersized defensive end and an outside linebacker who isn’t quite quick enough.
9. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
There might not be a more divisive quarterback prospect in the draft than Kaaya. He’s what you want when you’re talking about size, strength, intelligence and the fact that he played in a pro-style system. However there are issues when it comes to accuracy and the fact that he forces plenty of bad throws when under pressure. He could go just about anywhere in the draft but the first step comes when he goes through the Combine process.
10. Ryan Switzer, WR/KR, North Carolina
There are a ton of great prospects coming out of the ACC this year but there might not be a more fun one to watch than Switzer, who is a bit of a Swiss Army knife coming out of Chapel Hill. His small stature will give some teams pause but he should test off the charts given his blend of quickness and speed. Expect to hear plenty of Wes Welker/Julian Edelman comparisons but the Combine should be the first step in Switzer carving out his own role.
Don’t sleep on: James Conner (RB, Pitt), Kermit Whitfield (WR, Florida State), Isaiah Ford (WR, Virginia Tech), Josh Harvey-Clemons (DB, Louisville), Amba Etta-Tawo (WR, Syracuse), Ejuan Price (DL, Pitt), Ken Ekanem (DL, Virginia Tech), Wayne Gallman (RB, Clemson), Ben Boulware (LB, Clemson)
— 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.
So much change has happened during a crazy NASCAR offseason it’s easy to forget about the part that puts fans in the stands every Sunday: the competition itself. Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota have each flexed their muscle so far during a busier-than-normal Speedweeks, giving hope that 2017 may produce more parity than ever in a sport where first through 40th place can be separated by less than a second on the lap chart.
The Fords appear reinvigorated, led by the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing whose newest driver, Clint Bowyer, was runner-up in his qualifying Duel. Heck, even Danica Patrick has made some noise, finishing fourth in Sunday’s Clash and remaining competitive despite questions about her future sponsorship. Add in the typical might of Team Penske (Joey Logano won the Clash) and it would be no surprise to see your Daytona 500 winner come from here.
But what about Toyota? They were 1-2-3-4 for much of Sunday’s Clash and boast a defending champion, Denny Hamlin, who snookered the best of the best in Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the end of Thursday night’s qualifying Duel. If JGR can keep together as a team, bringing rookie Daniel Suarez up to speed by Sunday they appear to have the most horsepower of anyone in the field.
Or does that honor belong to Hendrick Motorsports? Chevrolet, after a rough start in the Clash came back with a vengeance after Chase Elliott and Earnhardt swept the front row for Sunday’s race. Even Jamie McMurray, a plate race specialist and the 2010 Daytona 500 winner, was flexing some muscle along with teammate Kyle Larson. Add in Austin Dillon, whose push of Hamlin was the key to victory in the second Duel race and there’s a long list of contenders on their side.
When you add all that up, what you get is a field that’s wide open heading to a Cup race on Sunday without Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, and Greg Biffle in the field. The last time one of the five wasn’t a part of this circus? 1992.
So a clear changing of the guard is at hand, and as a result we’ve got the most unpredictable Daytona 500 in years. Any one of 20 faces could wind up in Victory Lane without so much as a raised eyebrow from the fan base. For a sport that’s in clear rebuild mode, armed with a new title sponsor and desperate to turn declining ratings around such parity is a great place to start.
59th Daytona 500
Time: 2 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Track: Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Chase Elliott
The last time Chase’s father, Bill, won the Daytona 500 in 1987 this 21-year-old wasn’t even born. But the son is trying to follow in the family’s footsteps, winning his second straight pole for “The Great American Race” and then deftly maneuvering through traffic to take Thursday’s qualifying Duel. You know who else won a Duel, at 21 years old driving the No. 24 car? A guy named Jeff Gordon. Wonder how his career turned out...
Who’s at the Back: Martin Truex Jr.
Furniture Row Racing, in general has struggled since adding rookie Erik Jones as a second team in the offseason. But while Jones can be expected to hit bumps in the road being a young rookie on the circuit, it’s Truex who’s coming off a career year. He struggled during the Clash, never really showing the speed of the other Toyotas and did the same in his Duel just one year after finishing second in the Daytona 500. One bad race does not a bad season make but Truex’s struggles could be worth watching. Expansion, especially for a team like FRR that has run as a single-car operation for so long can be tricky to navigate.
Denny Hamlin announced a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, along with sponsor FedEx that will keep him in the No. 11 Toyota for years to come. The signing ends speculation the 29-time Cup winner would be moved elsewhere to make room for young Erik Jones come 2018. Gibbs, the only owner Hamlin had ever driven for since moving up to Cup full-time in 2006, will now focus on the future of Matt Kenseth as all his other drivers are signed long-term.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted in an interview this week at Daytona Media Day that if he won this season’s championship, he’d consider retirement. “It’d be hard not to call it a career,” he said, admitting that’s the one goal on his racing bucket list that has not been checked off. Earnhardt, whose contract with Hendrick Motorsports expires at the end of the season, has put off extension talks for the next couple of months as he readjusts to full-time driving.
Danica Patrick claimed this week she’s had multiple concussions while driving a race car and that another one would give her pause as to continuing her driving career. If anything, the comments perhaps added further insight to Carl Edwards stepping away from the sport just months after falling just short of a championship.
“I think that we’d like to sweep it all under the rug,” she told ESPN. “But it’s our life. I love what I do but I love lots of other things and I also love life.”
Rules, rules, rules. NASCAR made so many changes this offseason it’s impossible to go through here but the one making headlines this week is the five-minute clock for repairing race cars. Once you get in a wreck at Daytona, you have five minutes to repair the car on pit road, then reach minimum speed after the green flag otherwise you’re headed to the garage area. The move is designed to cut down on the number of wounded race cars running around for points while becoming roadblocks and potential trash depositors on the track.
Joey Logano announced Friday morning he has signed an extension with Team Penske and primary sponsor Shell/Pennzoil that runs at least through the 2022 season. Logano, 26, has been a contender for the season title in each of the last three years since NASCAR switched to its current playoff format. Since joining Penske, he’s won 15 of 17 career races, made the sport’s final four at Homestead twice and captured the 2015 Daytona 500.
NASCAR by the Numbers
Age of the youngest Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne in 2011. Chase Elliott would be a winner at 21 if he accomplishes the feat Sunday.
Laps led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his return to the sport Thursday night. Earnhardt led most of his Duel before getting passed on the outside by Hamlin heading to the white flag.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing. Sure, they struggled to work together in the first Duel Thursday evening but Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch are arguably the best trio of teammates in the sport today. If they can work together, getting underdog rookie Daniel Suarez in the mix, they’ll form a 1-2-3-4 conga line Sunday that’s going to be difficult to beat. It’s how Hamlin won the 2016 Daytona 500 and they could easily rinse and repeat.
Guess who had the highest finish in all restrictor plate races last year? That would be none other than Austin Dillon, posting four top-10 finishes at Daytona and Talladega in four starts. The 2013 Daytona 500 pole winner has been stout in practice this week, worked well with others in the Duels and could be your dark horse for the 500. Either way, his consistency makes it a good bet the No. 3 car will be around at the finish.
The plate races provide opportunities for a number of underdogs and that’s where we’ll spend our time this week. Picking wisely here allows you to save picks for other drivers later in the season and earning a rare top-10 finish for guys like Michael McDowell, Landon Cassill, and other small-team performers you’d rarely have a chance to use otherwise.
Cassill, along with David Ragan, seems to be the best positioned for success Sunday. Front Row Motorsports has won at these plate races before and it’s clear their Fords have the speed to compete in the draft. The question is whether you can trust Ragan’s aggression. The No. 38 car caused an incident Thursday night in the second Duel that effectively ended the night for Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson. Will he make a mistake in the 500 that will cost both himself and others?
What Vegas Thinks
Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the way for the Daytona 500 with 5/1 odds, followed closely by Brad Keselowski at 7/1 according to vegasinsider.com. Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. are next up at 10/1 despite none of them having the strongest Speedweeks.
What I Think
Austin Dillon, who took a big step forward last year making the Chase, is poised to shine as Richard Childress Racing’s top dog this season. What better way to start than by winning your first Daytona 500 and Cup Series race? The sport’s Super Bowl will start with a surprise winner as hopefully this theme of parity will catch on.
Clemson fans are in for a treat.
QB Hunter Johnson has some crazy accuracy when it comes to slinging the football. The Clemson enrollee, while sitting down, hit the goal post from the 20-yard line. Twice. The start of the season is still months away, but this is surely a good sign for Tigers fans.
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