Archive for February, 2014

owie Philadelphia Eagles’ General Manager Howie Roseman is the talk of the town. After back-to-back solid drafts, a couple of phenomenal free agent signings, and the recent resignings of stars like Riley Cooper and Jason Peters, Eagles fans are beginning to warm up to the 38-year old executive. Things weren’t always hunky dory in The City of Brotherly Love, however. As recently as last year, most Philadelphians viewed Roseman as an “outsider.” A non-football mind in a foreign world, trying to build a program from the ground up with little more than his law degree and a finely pressed suit. Like Nicholas Sparks cast to write a Martin Scorcese movie, fans saw Roseman as a square peg mashed into a round hole. Fortunately for the franchise, this could not have been further from the truth.

Yes, Roseman has made some mistakes. Namely, the team’s failure to resign FS Brian Dawkins following the ’08 season (to be fair, that was Joe Banner and Andy Reid’s doing) and the epic chokejob that was the 2011 free agent carousel. But, it’s his ability to learn from those errors that has built him into a stronger executive. People claim that he’s not a football mind. No, he didn’t play the sport. You can thank his mother for that. She, after all, wouldn’t sign the permission slip in high school so her 125-pound son could play the game. But, make no mistake, Howie Roseman is a football mind.

As a young boy growing up in Marlboro, New Jersey, Roseman found a kinship with the management aspect of professional football. At the age of six, his obsession led the boy to sit in his bedroom everyday, conducting fantasy drafts and “player transactions” until his parents made him turn off the lights. Roseman, like a sponge slathering a sink, absorbed as much knowledge as he could. Statistics, contracts, trades, signings, releases; they were all figments of a boy’s childhood imagination. For young Howie Roseman, football was about more than the gridiron. It was about the task of fitting 53 pieces, all with different edges and shapes, into one championship puzzle. Now, as an adult, Roseman is using his childhood dreams to his advantage.

It wasn’t as though Roseman got this job because of his connections. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A lifelong New York Jets fan with dreams of becoming their GM, Roseman began writing every NFL team when he was still in high school. Having not been allowed to play football by his parents, Howie knew that his interest would be met with rampant skepticism. It took years to even get a response to his letters. From his time in high school, to his term as an undergraduate at the University of Florida, and finally through his time as a law student at Fordham University, Roseman wrote NFL front office personnel, pleading with them for a chance at a job. If anyone showed even the faintest bit of interest, Roseman would do his best to get to know them by name and implant his existence and interest in their memory.

Finally, after years of desperate pleas, Roseman hooked a fish. Mike Tannenbaum, then the Pro Personnel Director for the Jets, responded to Roseman’s inquiry. “The only reason I’m even going to spend five minutes with you (is because)…I look at my resume file, I have 20 letters from you (Roseman), and every time I send you a rejection, you’d send a thank you for the rejection,” said Tannenbaum, who would eventually become the GM of the Jets. Still, Roseman’s ability to get a response from Tannenbaum didn’t get his foot in the door. In fact, Tannenbaum and then Eagles’ executive Joe Banner found the kid’s persistence rather questionable, with his methods becoming a bit of a running joke between the two. “Could somebody be that persistent and be normal?” Tannenbaum asked his colleague.

“Was this guy the most persistent guy in the history of America or was he crazy? Should we stay away from him or should one of us interview him?” responded Banner. It wasn’t until 1999 that Roseman’s determination finally paid off, as Tannenbaum interviewed him for a vacant entry-level position in player personnel. “I remember Mike called me up one day. We had agreed. You know what, we think he’s crazy. But Mike said, you won’t believe this. I’ve got an opening, and I’ve decided that I’m going to meet this guy.” Shortly thereafter, Roseman finished law school and passed the bar in New York and New Jersey. Despite this, he never applied for a job outside of football.

The then 23-year old wasn’t hired by the Jets following that interview. But, in 2000, Roseman was hired by the Eagles as an unpaid intern to work on salary cap issues. Hard work and good faith led to his promotion to Director of Football Administration in 2003, Vice President of Football Administration in 2006, and Vice President of Player Personnel in 2008. On January 29th, 2010, following Tom Heckert’s hiring in Cleveland, Roseman became General Manager of the Philadelphia Eagles. A life of persistence, determination, and dedication had finally paid off. From unpaid intern to king of the castle in 10 years. Not bad for a little boy from Jersey who used to do fantasy drafts in his room for fun.

For Howie Roseman, it’s not about the mistakes he’s made in the past or the likely failures of the future. Instead, it’s about the journey he took to fulfill his lifelong dream. So, the next time you hear someone say that the Eagles’ don’t have a “football mind” for a GM, feel free to argue with the passion of a Philadelphian. Not only do they have a football mind in Howie Roseman. But, they’ve also got the right mind for the job.

NFL-Draft-logoWith the NFL Combine in our rearview mirror, it’s time to look at where the mock draft stands with just a few months to go until draft day.

1. 34Houston Texans – QB Blake Bortles, UCF

Blake Bortles continues to impress and has become the #1 quarterback in the eyes of most. The UCF star is certainly a raw talent who has major boom or bust potential. But, he doesn’t carry the durability risk of Teddy Bridgewater or the character concerns of Johnny Manziel. Bill O’Brien is a quarterback guru, and something tells me that he believes that he can turn Bortles into Houston’s next franchise signal-caller.

2. 14-1 St. Louis Rams (From Washington) – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

This pick was originally Jake Matthews, the offensive tackle from Texas A&M. However, Jeff Fisher has never been keen on selecting offensive linemen early. Instead, he’s always focused on improving the defense early in the draft. Clowney would have been the #1 overall draft choice a year ago. He still could be in 2014. Yes, St. Louis has Robert Quinn and Chris Long. But, the latter’s contract is going to be in excess of $15 million in 2015. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for St. Louis to grab Clowney, a generational pass rusher, and rotate him in during his rookie campaign before taking over for Long the following year. After all, the Seahawks proved in 2013 that you can never have too many pass rushers. A trade of this pick is also likely.

3. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (Stock up)

Jacksonville desperately needs a quarterback, and their spot at #3 in the draft will easily allow Gus Bradley to grab his franchise signal-caller. There’s a chance that they will have a pick of any of the available targets. But, Manziel may be the perfect man for the job. Jacksonville needs playmakers in an offense devoid of them. They also need big ticket players in a market desperate for attention.

4. cle Cleveland Browns – QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (Stock down)

I’d really be shocked if Cleveland didn’t select one of Bortles, Bridgewater, or Manziel at #4. With two picks in the first round, Cleveland can afford to take their franchise QB early considering it’s been over two decades since they’ve had one (was Bernie Kosar a franchise quarterback?). With both Bortles and Manziel gone, the Browns settle for Bridgewater, who may be the best bet for a franchise downtrodden for so long. Yes, Bridgewater carries with him injury concerns. But, his leadership, poise, and experience are exactly what the doctor ordered for the Browns.

5. oak Oakland Raiders – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (Stock up)

For weeks, I had Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews at this pick. For weeks, I tried to convince myself that the Raiders would make the smart pick and build their offensive line. For weeks, I was kidding myself. Oakland has a history of grabbing combine darlings and speed freaks early and often despite more critical needs at other positions. The Raiders certainly have a need at WR and Sammy Watkins is a decent value pick in the top-10. But, Jake Matthews projects as the most sure thing in this draft. After a decade of failure, Oakland could use a sure thing. I just don’t think they’ll do the right thing.

6. atl Atlanta Falcons – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

Atlanta saw all too well what not protecting Matt Ryan could do to their once prolific postseason hopes. The Falcons find the best tackle in the draft fall right into their laps, and they couldn’t be happier. Matthews, the son of Hall-of-Fame lineman Bruce Matthews, projects as a bookend tackle for a decade to come. The Falcons could use the remainder of their picks to boost their depth on defense and to find a replacement for Tony Gonzalez.

7. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo (Stock up)

In this scenario, Watkins is gone. So, the player I had previously mocked to Tampa Bay is off the board. That leaves the Buccaneers either looking at a reach with Mike Evans, or focusing on another need. Pass rusher is certainly a hole in the Buccaneers’ defense, and new coach Lovie Smith sure could use some help. After all, his Cover-2 defense relies heavily on a strong pass rush from the front-four. Mack, the second best pass rusher in the draft, would be a risk because the Bucs would be drafting him to play 4-3 end. But, he might just be a risk worth taking.

8. min Minnesota Vikings – DE Kony Ealy, Missouri

I haven’t felt comfortable with Derek Carr here the last few mocks. A few years ago, Minnesota made the mistake of reaching for Christian Ponder merely because they needed a QB. Carr has talent. But, he’s far from a sure thing and at #8, the Vikings have plenty of needs to fill. There’s a good chance that Minnesota cuts bait on Jared Allen this summer, as his high salary doesn’t fit with a rebuilding defense. Mike Zimmer would love to plug an electric pass rusher like Ealy into his spot. Even if Allen stays, having both Ealy and Allen rushing the passer this winter could make Minnesota’s defense a top-10 unit again.

9. buf Buffalo Bills – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

The Bills have a massive chasm on the right side of their line. Their dependence on the run will only be possible if EJ Manuel can stay healthy and command the offense for 16 games next year after missing time during his rookie season. Robinson was an anchor for Auburn’s run to the National Championship Game and would be solid for a decade to come on the Buffalo line.

10. lions8 Detroit Lions – CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (Stock up)

Detroit should look to improve their defense in the first round. With a solid front four, the Lions can hone their sights in on improving their woeful secondary. Dennard is the consensus best cornerback on the market, and his ability to line up against a team’s best receiver would greatly improve Jim Caldwell’s unit.

11. ten Tennessee Titans – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan (Stock up)

The Titans have needs at pass rusher, receiver, and on the offensive line. They could opt to reach for a rusher like Dee Ford or a reciever in Marqise Lee. Or, they could opt to take a tackle like Lewan, who spent four years on a solid program like Michigan. Lewan’s ability to excel both as a pass blocker and a run enforcer is critical to Ken Whisenhunt’s balanced offensive scheme.

12. giants19 New York Giants – OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (Stock up)

The Giants will likely opt to improve their eroding defense in the first round. Barr is the best 4-3 OLB in the draft, a welcome addition to a New York defense that has gotten very old, very fast. Jon Beason is a nice interior threat at linebacker. But, New York needs to improve their depth around him if they’re going to get their defensive unit back to the level that they were on when they were winning Super Bowls.

13. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (Stock up)

The Rams are likely going to release CB Cortland Finnegan this offseason to avoid paying the veteran his massive 2014 cap hit. A replacement for the former Pro Bowler is necessary. Gilbert isn’t as NFL ready as Dennard. But, his upside rivals the Michigan State star’s. Jeff Fisher is a defensive guru at heart, and odds are that he’ll add at least one defensive player in the first round.

14. chi3 Chicago Bears – DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida St.

I’m not so sure that Chicago can rely on Jeremiah Ratliff to stay on the football field for 16 games next season. Even if they can, their defensive front-seven was among the worst in football and couldn’t stop the run when their playoff lives depended on it. Jernigan is soaring up the boards after helping the Seminoles win the BCS championship and would be a brilliant fit on Chicago’s line.

15. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M (Stock down)

Antonio Brown emerged in 2013 as a valuable deep threat for Pittsburgh. But, after Brown, there’s not a whole lot on the depth chart. Emmanuel Sanders, the team’s second best option, is an unrestricted free agent. If he departs, the Steelers will desperately need to add to their WR corps. Evans is a mountain of a man, standing 6’5 and providing a red zone threat for his quarterback. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a player of Evans’ caliber since Plaxico Burress.

16. dal6 Dallas Cowboys – S HaSean Clinton-Dix, Alabama (Stock down)

“HaHa” Clinton-Dix is easily one of the top-five secondary players in the draft. The Cowboys, meanwhile, had one of the worst defenses in football a year ago. Clinton-Dix’s ability to play centerfield like Lenny Dykstra should entire Jerry Jones, who hasn’t spent a first round pick on a safety since Roy Williams. The Alabama safety isn’t the hitter that Williams was. But, his coverage skills rival a talented cornerback, something the Cowboys could utilize against talented passing attacks like Philadelphia.

17. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – ILB CJ Mosley, Alabama (Stock down)

Baltimore’s defense has taken quite a few hits in recent years. Gone are the days when Ray Lewis and Ed Reed struck fear into the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators. Now, Baltimore has a younger, less aggressive defensive unit. But, they could still use some reinforcements to replace those that have moved on in recent years. Mosley is the best inside linebacker prospect in the draft. His combination of speed, size, and aggressiveness would be a valuable fit in Baltimore’s attacking 3-4 scheme.

18. 20 New York Jets – WR Marqise Lee, USC

The Jets can’t go into 2014 with the same putrid set of weapons for Geno Smith as they did in 2013. Marqise Lee may spell his first name uniquely. But, he’s the best playmaker still on the board and would immediately be one of the best on the Jets’ entire roster.

19. mia15 Miami Dolphins – OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Miami desperately needs to reinvigorate their line after the Incognito-Martin scandal. Kouandjio was a versatile weapon on the line for Alabama, protecting AJ McCarron’s blindside for two championships in Tuscaloosa. The Dolphins could also look at Stanford G David Yankey.

20. cards22 Arizona Cardinals – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

Arizona could use an upgrade on their offensive line and at quarterback. But, the value just isn’t here for that kind of pick. The Cardinals haven’t had a solid tight end in years. Ebron is the best overall player at that position, and he doesn’t bring with him the potential baggage that Jace Amaro does.

21. pack9 Green Bay Packers – DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame

Green Bay is going to lose BJ Raji to free agency and it’s not as though their depth in the front seven was outstanding to begin with. Nix is your classic nose tackle, coming in at 6-2, 345 pounds. Just what the doctor ordered for a Green Bay team that struggled against the run at times in 2013.

22. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles – FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville (Stock up)

With Clinton-Dix gone, the Eagles settle for Pryor. That may be just what the doctor ordered for Philadelphia 30th ranked pass defense. The former Louisville Cardinal has a rare combination of size, explosiveness, and ball skills to swiftly become one of the best defenders on Philadelphia’s unit. Pryor has great vision and is more of a well rounded safety than Clinton-Dix. If he has one great weakness, it’s that Pryor may actually be too physical in an era where hard hits are flagged rather liberally. Still, the Eagles will gladly grab a player who brings an edge to their defense and gives them a fighting chance against prolific passing teams.

23. kc12 Kansas City Chiefs – WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Offensively, the Chiefs most pressing need is a deep threat for Alex Smith to take the pressure off of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. Beckham may not be a better overall prospect than Kelvin Benjamin. But, his 4.45 speed combined with top of the line elusiveness makes him the perfect match for Andy Reid’s offense.

24.  ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

There was a time when cornerback was a strength of the Bengals’ defense. That’s not the case anymore. Cincinnati could look to find a replacement for free agent DE Michael Johnson. But, the value pick here is Gilbert. The Oklahoma State product has solid size and speed and would immediately be a dramatic upgrade in the secondary.

25. cha24  San Diego Chargers – OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

San Diego’s secondary could use work. But, the offensive line relied far too much on King Dunlap last year to be considered even remotely a strength. Martin played in big games with the Irish, has tremendous versatility (played both guard and tackle at times), and dominated the Senior Bowl last month.

26. cle Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis) – WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (Stock down)

I’m a little bit uncomfortable putting this many wide receivers in the first round. That position has seen a sharp drop in instances where they’re drafted early in recent years. But, the Browns definitely have depth issues at the position (and a lot of others as well). After Cleveland grabs Teddy Bridgewater earlier in the round, they find their young gunslinger a big target in Benjamin. At 6’5, the former Florida State star is a solid compliment to the speedy Josh Gordon (assuming Cleveland doesn’t trade him). The Browns need all the help they can get on both sides of the ball.

27. saints18 New Orleans Saints – DE Dee Ford, Auburn (Stock down)

A fluid athlete with impressive burst, Ford emerged from the Senior Bowl as one of the most coveted pass rushers in this draft. Saints’ Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan knows the importance of a good pass rush (and a good breakfast). With the loss of Will Smith, New Orleans could use a boost of youth at defensive end.

28. panth29 Carolina Panthers – CB Jason Verrett, Texas Christian

The one weakness on Carolina’s defense is in the secondary. Verrett may not have the size that NFL teams covet nowadays (5-10, 175). But, his speed (4.49) could be enough to boost him into round one.

29. new17 New England Patriots – OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (Stock up)

I get that New England has Jamie Collins, a second year pro that they’re very confident in. But, the Patriots had serious issues with regards to depth at linebacker a year ago. Brandon Spikes missed most of the season and is expected to depart via free agency. Meanwhile, injuries to Jerod Mayo forced Donte Hightower to play a larger role in the offense than intended. Shazier can fit either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and has impressive burst when stopping the run and blitzing off the edge. A team leader as a Buckeye, Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles with 143 in 2013.

30. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – DT/DE RaShede Hageman, Minnesota

Justin Smith is aging and the Pro Bowl DE won’t be around for too much longer. Hageman is the type of hybrid lineman that can either play 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end. In San Francisco’s case, grooming him to supplant Smith as 3-4 end would give them a big piece to keep the pressure off their superstar duo at LB, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.

31. sanf7 Denver Broncos – DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (Stock down)

A pass rusher by trade, Donald is undersized, which prevents him from finding homes with teams looking for more girth out of their defensive front. For Denver, size is not an issue. The Broncos have big Terrance Knighton manning the middle of their defense, allowing them to focus on finding a pass rusher to line up next to him. When Von Miller went down late in the season, Denver had serious trouble replacing his ability to hurry the opposing quarterback. I think Donald would be an intriguing prospect due to his ability to do just that.

32. sea26 Seattle Seahawks – TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

The 6-5 tight end may have had the best numbers of anyone in the country, catching 98 passes for 1240 yards and 7 TD. If there was one weakness on the Seahawks this year, it was at tight end. Adding Amaro to an already talented offense might set the Seahawks up for another title in 2014.

33. 34Houston Texans – OG David Yankey, Stanford (Stock down)

Houston’s focus will probably be on a tackle here. But, Yankey a value pick by a team that could really use some help throughout their offensive front. Yankey comes from a pro style offense that has developed plenty of stars on the offensive line in recent years.

34. skinsWashington Redskins – S Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

The National Champion Florida State Seminoles should be churning out the draft picks over the next few years. Joyner is a versatile weapon who can play both cornerback and safety, though he may be best suited for the latter at the next level. Washington’s secondary play was atrocious in 2013 and there’s really nowhere to go but up.

35. cle Cleveland Browns – SS Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

The NFL is a passing league. With that comes the necessary ability to stop the pass. Cleveland has one of the better strong safeties in the NFL in TJ Ward. The problem, though, is that Ward is a free agent, and Cleveland may not be able to keep him. Why not replace one Ward with another in Jimmie?

36. oak Oakland Raiders – OT Morgan Moses, Virginia

Oakland could look to take Derek Carr here. But, I think that the Raiders will fill their open QB spot with a free agent. After grabbing Watkins in round one, the Raiders need to give their hypothetical QB some time to find their young, new target. Moses is the best tackle on the board at 36.

37. atl Atlanta Falcons – DE Trent Murphy, Stanford

Atlanta’s defense has aged considerable in recent years. They would love to grab Jadeveon Clowney in round one. But, that is probably out of the question barring a trade. A classic tweener, Murphy may not have the size that NFL teams covet. But, his explosive first step and toughness make him a valuable prospect in a pass happy league.

38. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee

The Buccaneers boosted their defense earlier. They’ll now look to aid Mike Glennon in grabbing holds of the offensive reigns. Richardson (6-6, 336) is the biggest tackle prospect in the entire draft. Good luck moving this mountain of a man off the LOS.

39. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – OLB Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young

Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley would love to add Van Noy, whose impressive size (6-3, 243) reminds many of the versatile linebackers he utilized during his Seattle days.

40. min Minnesota Vikings – QB Derek Carr, Fresno State

A lot of analysts have Minnesota going QB in round one. While that remains a possibility, I just don’t think a defensive minded coach like Mike Zimmer is going to reach on a guy like Carr. Getting the brother of Houston’s former #1 pick in round two, however, would be a steal.

41.  buf Buffalo Bills – WR Allen Robinson, Penn State

The Bills could use a few more weapons for EJ Manuel. Robinson has size, something Buffalo has lacked at the receiver position.

42. ten Tennessee Titans – DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State

I had Dee Ford going to Tennessee in round one with my last mock. But, the Titans looked to boost their offensive line in round one in this scenario. Crichton is the best available pass rusher, something Tennessee desperately needs to improve.

43. giants19 New York Giants – RB Andre Williams, Boston College

This may be a little early for Williams, who rushed for over 2000 yards in 2013. But, Giants coach Tom Coughlin used to coach the Eagles of BC, and he has selected numerous Boston College standouts in the past (Blackmon, Kiwanuka, Snee, Herzlich, etc.). The Giants went with a revolving door of Andre Brown, Brandon Jacobs, and Peyton Hillis in 2013. They’ll need to do better than that this year.

44. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State

The Rams passed on a tackle in round one to improve their defense. Now, St. Louis needs to turn its attention to the other side of the ball.

45. lions8 Detroit Lions – WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

Cooks’ solid speed is a good counterpart to Calvin Johnson’s tremendous size. Detroit needs to find a compliment to their superstar receiver before triple teams become a trend.

46. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

Another Buckeye goes in the second round as Pittsburgh, who took a WR in the first round, looks to rebuild their aging defense. It’s been awhile since the Steelers took a corner early in the draft, and it showed by the way their secondary performed in 2013.

47. dal6 Dallas Cowboys – QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Ilinois

Who knows what the deal is with Tony Romo’s back. But, Dallas could certainly try to find their heir apparent at some point in this draft. Drafting Garappolo this early might be both a reach and not necessarily a need for Dallas. But, I couldn’t resist getting the Cowboys another Eastern Illinois QB to be tutored by the school’s former star, Romo.

48. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – C Travis Swanson, Arkansas

When Matt Birk retired last year, it last a gaping chasm in the middle of Baltimore’s line. Replacing him this season should be a high priority.

49. 20 New York Jets – OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA

A good value pick, Su’a-Filo could go in the early second round as a fierce, mobile guard. Don’t expect any butt fumbles from this guy.

50. mia15 Miami Dolphins – OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

The Martin-Incognito scandal tore the Dolphins’ line apart. They’ll use their first two picks in this draft trying to piece it back together.

51. chi3 Chicago Bears – FS Ed Reynolds, Stanford

The Bears’ defense was just brutal last year. Especially the play of Chris Conte at safety. They’ll find a replacement for him early in the draft.

52. cards22 Arizona Cardinals – OLB Trevor Reilly, Utah

The Cardinals’ already have a solid linebacker corps. But, addin Reilly’s size would boost the team’s run defense in a division with three very talented running teams.

53.  pack9 Green Bay Packers – TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington

Green Bay will say goodbye to JaMichael Finley this offseason after the former Pro Bowl TE suffered a critical injury last year. Seferian-Jenkins is the best tight end on the board at this point.

54. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles – DT/DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

A very intriguing prospect with high upside, Tuitt fits into both the 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, as his versatility allows him to move over to 3-4 DE. He has the size of an interior lineman and the quickness of an edge rusher. Philadelphia could slot him opposite Fletcher Cox on their defensive line for years to come.

55. ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – OLB Telvin Smith, Florida State

A 4-3 linebacker by trade, Smith was a very valuable defensive cog for FSU last year. He’ll need time to learn the NFL game. But, the upside is there.

56. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

A tall, talented receiver is just what the doctor ordered for San Francisco, who struggled to go downfield against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

57. cha24  San Diego Chargers – CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

The Chargers’ secondary is not the worst in the league. But, they still had serious trouble with the pass for much of the season. Fuller has decent size (6’0) for an NFL corner and would immediately provide a boost to their depth.

58. saints18 New Orleans Saints – FS Dion Bailey, USC

The Saints continue to build their defense by selecting Bailey, who will replace free agent Malcolm Jenkins on the back end.

59. colts Indianapolis Colts – WR Paul Richardson, Colorado

Indianapolis needs help all over their defense. But, we saw how much losing Reggie Wayne affected Andrew Luck last season. The Colts need to find some help for TY Hilton and Richardson is the best available target.

60. panth29 Carolina Panthers – OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor

A player with tremendous upside, Richardson would be a huge get late in the second for Carolina.

61. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – RB Tre Mason, Auburn

Frank Gore isn’t getting any younger, and the 49ers could use a workhorse for when his days in San Francisco finally come to an end.

62. new17 New England Patriots – CB Louchiez Purifoy, Florida

A versatile athlete with tremendous quickness, Purifoy could play multiple roles early in his career with the Patriots before hopefully emerging as a top cornerback once he gains experience.

63. sanf7 Denver Broncos – CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

Champ Bailey and Quintin Jammer are fossils at this point. Meanwhile, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent. In other words, the Broncos need a cornerback. Jean-Baptiste is 6’3, which would immediately make him one of the tallest corners in the game.

64. sea26 Seattle Seahawks – DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

I get that Seattle doesn’t really NEED another defensive end. But, the likelihood of Michael Bennett departing via free agency gets higher by the day. Jeffcoat is your classic speed rusher, a fine fit on a line that loves to rotate rushers by down.

raysIt can be difficult to remember that the 2013 Tampa Bay Rays were a playoff team. Winners of the one game Wild Card Playoff over the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay would go on to lose the American League Division Series to the Boston Red Sox, 3-1.

It was another successful season in the career of Joe Maddon, who has taken the low payroll club to the playoffs in four of the last six seasons. In fact, Tampa Bay has won over 90 games in four consecutive years despite consistently having one of the cheapest rosters in baseball. How do they do it? Well, look no further than GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays’ spectacular farm system. Tampa’s starting rotation in 2013 consisted of five starters who were homegrown (the most in baseball). David Price (10-8, 3.33) was again among the best southpaws in the sport. A free agent following 2014, Price could be on the trade block if the Rays aren’t in playoff contention come late-July.

Joining the former Vanderbilt Commodore are Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29), Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76), and Chris Archer (9-7, 3.22). None of these three are older than 26, and all of them pitched like aces in 2013. The battle for the fifth starter’s role should be a dandy, as veteran Erik Bedard (4-12, 4.59) will compete with young Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 3.94) and veteran holdover Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 5.17) for the spot. Tampa Bay has the rotation strength and depth to compete with the rest of the American League East. Their fate, then, will be decided by the strength of their young, streaky offense.

The team made few changes to an offense that scored just 700 runs in 2013. David DeJesus (.260-2-11) will get a full season at Tropicana Field after joining the club late in 2013. The only full time starter acquired this offseason is expected to be C Ryan Hanigan (.198-2-21). The Rays landed the veteran backstop from the Reds in a three team trade that saw the Rays also land veteran RHP Heath Bell. Hanigan has shown a proficiency at the dish in the past. But, an injury plagued 2013 saw his average drop 60 points below his career mark.

The bullpen is improved, as Grant Balfour returns to the team that he burst onto the scene with in 2008. Bell and LHP Jake McGee will be Balfour’s primary setup men in 2014. The latter is a flamethrowing southpaw with loads of upside.

Key Acquisitions

C Ryan Hanigan (Reds)
INF Logan Forsythe (Padres)
3B Jayson Nix (Yankees)
DH Wilson Betemit (Orioles)
LHP Erik Bedard (Astros)
RHP Grant Balfour (Athletics)
RHP Heath Bell (Diamondbacks)

Key Departures

OF/INF Kelly Johnson (Yankees)
OF Delmon Young (Orioles)
DH Luke Scott (Korea)
RHP Roberto Hernandez (Phillies)
RHP Fernando Rodney (Mariners)
RHP Kyle Farnsworth (Mets)
RHP Jamey Wright (Dodgers)

Projected Lineup and Rotation

OF David DeJesus – .253-8-41
2B Ben Zobrist – .258-14-70
3B Evan Longoria – .260-27-91
OF Wil Myers – .262-22-84
DH Matt Joyce – .244-13-46
1B James Loney – .268-9-55
OF Desmond Jennings – .246-14-59
SS Yunel Escobar – .254-8-50
C Ryan Hanigan – .251-4-30

LHP David Price – 13-8, 3.18
LHP Matt Moore – 12-10, 3.63
RHP Alex Cobb – 13-9, 3.35
RHP Chris Archer – 11-9, 4.03
LHP Erik Bedard – 3-4, 4.35
RHP Jake Odorizzi – 4-5, 4.50
RHP Jeremy Hellickson – 4-4, 4.21

RHP Grant Balfour – 3-2, 3.19, 30 Sv

Outlook

Tampa Bay might have the best rotation in the American League. Their combination of incredible talent at the top coupled with significant depth towards the bottom makes them an incredibly tough opponent, especially during a 3 or 4 game series. Tampa did lose some of their veteran bullpen arms to free agency. But, Friedman and Co. did a fine job replacing the lost pieces by adding the always reliable Balfour through free agency and the formerly dominant, now merely adequate Bell via trade. Still, the Rays have enough arms in the farm that they could lose one or two bullpen pieces to injury and still have a decent pen to fall back on.

Their offense is a work in progress, and it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll have enough depth to overcome their dramatic on base issues. The Rays have no one in their starting lineup projected to finish with an OBP above .348. That’s pretty woeful at the big league level and,668_tampa_bay-rays-miscellaneous-2012 predictably, leaves the Rays in a lot of 1-0 games. There’s a reason that Tampa Bay has been no hit so many times since 2008. Still, Tampa has some serious power and run production in the middle of their order. All Star Evan Longoria returns and he’ll continue to get protection from the ever improving young phenom, Wil Myers. The former Royals prospect started slow last year. But, by the time the postseason came around, he was one of the most reliable bats in their order.

Behind the duo of Longoria and Myers, the Rays will see Matt Joyce, James Loney, and Desmond Jennings. This trio could be the key to their offensive success. Tampa invested heavily (by their standards, at least) when they agreed to a 3 year, $21 million extension with Loney a year after the first baseman played near the veteran minimum. Always a solid defensive option, Loney will have to continue to show improvement at the dish if the Rays are to not regret that move. Jennings and Joyce are solid outfield options who bring their own unique elements to the game. Joyce has power while Jennings brings the most speed of anyone in the lineup.

The Rays are a very capable ball club, and there’s no reason to think that they cannot once again be near the top of the East when all is said and done. I foresee Tampa Bay winning between 85-91 games, fighting with the Red Sox for one of the Wild Card spots.

maccoopThe Philadelphia Eagles are on the verge of agreeing to extensions with three very valuable offensive contributors. Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Jeff McLane is reporting that the Eagles are close to deals with wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper as well as center Jason Kelce. Terms of the deals have not yet been disclosed. Though, Maclin’s is expected to be a one-year deal while Cooper’s is a multi-year contract.

Maclin, 25, missed all of 2013 following knee surgery to heal an injury suffered in training camp. The 2009 first round pick played a critical role under Andy Reid during his first four seasons in the league. Maclin’s finest campaign came in 2010, when the receiver caught 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. He followed up those numbers by going for more than 850 yards in each of 2011 and 2012. With a one year deal likely upcoming, Maclin will have to prove his health in 2014 if he hopes to earn a long term contract in the future.

As for Cooper, the 26-year old from Oklahoma City appears to have successfully overcome a PR nightmare last summer to earn a multi-million dollar, long term deal with the Eagles. After becoming the latest celebrity to get caught spewing slurs during a concert last year, Cooper broke out behind Nick Foles and Chip Kelly’s tutelage. The former Florida Gator caught just 47 passes. But, his 835 yards and 8 touchdowns were among the team’s leaders when all was said and done. The market for Cooper was expected to be rich. So, the team agreeing to an extension this early is a bit surprising. Nonetheless, their ability to keep both Cooper and Maclin in the fold will allow them to focus on improving the defense in May’s draft.

Kelce, 26, is another key cog in the Eagles’ offensive core. He also is expected to agree to terms on an extension. A sixth round pick in 2011, Kelce has emerged as on of the best young centers in the game. The former Cincinnati Bearcat was the anchor on the best offensive line in football a year ago, helping to propel LeSean McCoy to the league’s rushing title in the process. Earlier Wednesday, the team announced that they had resigned tackle Jason Peters to a five year extension worth over $40 million. That solidifies Philadelphia’s front with Kelce and Peters being joined by Evan Mathis, Todd Herremanns, and Lane Johnson.

All of these deals (with the exception of the Peters signing) are unofficial. But, if Philadelphia does indeed finalize these moves; they’ve gone a long way towards improving a team that was already 2013 NFC Eastern Division Champions.

kelce

Deja Vu All Over Again for Arizona

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

On February 1st, 2015, the state of Arizona is scheduled to host the 49th Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. That honor was given to jan brewerthem on October 11, 2011, when Glendale defeated Tampa, Florida in the final round of voting for the rights to host the NFL’s championship game. Now, that right is coming into question. With the passage of Arizona’s new “Anti-Gay Law,” which allows businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, the NFL will be placed in an uncomfortable circumstance if the state’s governor, Jan Brewer, doesn’t veto the bill. All signs point to the league finding an alternate venue to play next year’s Super Bowl in, as allowing the game to take place in a state that has once again proven itself to be beneath the fiber of the rest of society would be a travesty.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Arizona cost itself a Super Bowl. In fact, this entire situation similarly occurred over 20 years ago in The Copper State. Super Bowl XXVII (27), played in January, 1993, was originally intended to be played in Tempe, Arizona at Sun Devil Stadium. In 1990, that venue was voted as the host for the league’s 27th Super Bowl. But, things quickly changed in response to Arizona’s actions towards the institution of Martin Luther King Day.

The story goes like this: In 1983, U.S. President Ronald Reagan (R) signed a bill that created a federal holiday known as Martin Luther King Day. In 1986, the first year that the holiday was observed, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt (D) issued an executive order creating the holiday after super bowl 27the Republican controlled state legislature voted against observation of Dr. King. That action did not last long, as Babbitt’s replacement in office, Republican Evan Mecham, rescinded the executive order a year later. Mecham noted that Babbitt did not have the executive authority to issue such an order and that Arizona would no longer observe the holiday.

Mecham became widely vilified for comments he made in the New York Times in December of 1986. In the article, the Arizona Governor stated that King did not deserve a holiday and that black supporters of the law should be more concerned with getting jobs. African-American entertainers as well as the widow of Dr. King, Coretta Scott King, orchestrated a boycott of the state. Finally, following Mecham’s removal from office in 1989, the state legislature approved the holiday. But, popular opposition to the law forced the holiday to be put on the ballot in November, 1990. There, it was defeated by popular vote in the state of Arizona and the holiday was no longer observed.

The NFL responded in kind by making good on their threats to strip the state of their right to host the Super Bowl. In 1991, the league held another vote, and Pasadena, CA was given the rights to host Super Bowl XXVII. That would be the last Super Bowl played in the Los Angeles Logo_unveiled_for_Super_Bowl_XLIX_host_c_1142380000_20131203070819_320_240area. Arizona would host Super Bowl XXX in 1996 after Arizona voters finally reached the 20th century by acknowledging the holiday during the 1992 elections. If Jan Brewer doesn’t veto this abhorrent bill, then Arizona could once again see their right to host the Super Bowl go by the wayside. This would not only be a public relations nightmare for the state. But, the loss of the game and all the festivities that go along with it would cripple the state’s economic outlook. Not to mention all the damage to the economy that isn’t football related that will occur if the law is signed by Brewer.

To some of us, the passage of this vicious attempt at segregation is mind-boggling and asinine. For the state of Arizona, it’s just deja vu all over again.

pigsLeave it up to my former employer, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, to come up with a new, public relations booming alteration by the time spring training comes a knocking. Last season, the IronPigs’ front office created quite a bit of buzz by installing urinal video games, controlled by the never-ending stream of urine supplied by endless $4.00 Miller Lites on warm summer nights.

This week, Lehigh Valley finally unveiled their new uniforms to the public. The organization teased their release with the slogan, “Smellthechange.” Speculation was rampant, with many wondering whether or not the team was preparing to bring a real “smelly” pig trough to Coca-Cola Park for opening day in April. Thankfully, we were spared the aroma of freshly grazed pigs and were instead treated to some of the more original uniform designs in the minor leagues.

Lehigh Valley, never one to shy away from humorous promotions, have unveiled a few changes to their 2014 uniforms. Most notably is the addition of a delectably delicious new hat featuring a piece of sizzling bacon above the brim. Everyone loves bacon. So, how can this go wrong? Granted, it’s a bit self-mutilating. After all, the team mascots are the duo of Ferrous and FeFe, fan friendly swine with smiles on their faces. I’m not sure how they feel about their dead, fried carcasses being put on display on the team’s noggins. It’s a bit like if the Miami Marlins unveiled a new hat that featured a McDonalds Filet-of-Fish sandwich on the front. When overanalyzed, the hat comes off as duly unusual. But, for an organization that prides itself on fun and family, it’s a perfect fit.

Everyone loves bacon, and everybody loves baseball. The IronPigs know that in the minor leagues, it’s all about customer appreciation and putting on a show. They’ve never failed at doing so, and will continue to regardless of what logo is on their cap. With their new, fresh duds, Lehigh Valley is ready for the 2014 season; and we cannot wait for opening day.

APTOPIX-Sochi-Olympics-Ice-Hockey-Men-1Another successful Olympic event is over. As we wave goodbye to Sochi and gaze towards the dawn of 2018, we are left wondering whether or not the games’ marquee event, men’s ice hockey, will include NHL players once again. The games, which will take place between February 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, promise to be worth watching. But, will the potential lack of NHL players hurt the viewership and interest in the men’s hockey tournament? Should NHL players head to the Far East? These are questions that will be answered in the next six months.

That’s right, there’s a good chance that this past week was the last chance you’ll get to see the NHL players partake in the Olympic Games. Executives of NHL teams have been poignant in their disinterest in sending them over again. There are plenty of reasons why this is the case. First, the players and teams aren’t paid for their duties. Owners of NHL teams are not being compensated for sending the players whose salaries they pay overseas to play for a foreign country. They’re also losing out big time on potential ticket, concession, and merchandise sales during the two week hiatus in which no games are played.

As if the financial realm of things wasn’t enough to clip the chance at more NHL involvement in the Olympics, there is a noted safety issue as well. This month alone, two prolific superstars, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and New York’s John Tavares, were injured during Olympic play. Owners are not insured against these injuries, and their team’s chances of winning NHL games is jeopardized by the loss of these tremendous talents. Should owners really feel obligated to send their investments to another country only to see them sent back in figurative body bags? These owners didn’t exactly get into their positions because they were stupid. No, these are investment moguls with a keen eye on when they’re being hosed. With regards to the Olympics, they are certainly coming out on the short end of the stick.

Granted, there are still plenty of reasons to send players to Pyeongchang in four years. There’s no doubt that the use of NHL players helps grow the sport both in and outside the United States. How many people would have paid attention to the men’s ice hockey team if it were populated by non-household names like Kane, Kessel, and Quick? Probably the same amount that paid attention to the women’s team. That’s a severe drop in ratings for the biggest event in the Winter Olympics. Keep in mind that NBC, the network that televises the Olympic Games in the United States, owns the rights to the NHL’s American broadcasts. If NHL players were not involved in 2018, NBC serves to lose a lot of money on advertising revenue. Something tells me that the network will have Gary Bettman’s ear as discussions continue over the next six months.

Another reason to continue having NHL players partake in the Olympics is simple: they want to! Players have been quoted as saying that playing in the Olympics for their home country is one of the highest honors in sports. In fact, when this same discussion came up years ago about whether or not to send players to Sochi, Russians like Alex Ovechkin stated that they would leave their team to play regardless of whether or not the league sanctioned it. Now, that may have merely been an empty threat. But, it certainly proves a point. The players want to play, and that might be all that matters in the end.

What do I think will happen? Well, it’s a tough decision. Boston Bruins’ executive (and former superstar) Cam Neely doesn’t like it. Neither does Philadelphia Flyers’ owner Ed Snider. But, the fans and players want the status quo to remain. In the end, it’s the fans who pay the player’s salary and it’s the players who bring the fans to the arenas. If owners hear enough from both of these factions, they’re likely to cave and allow NHL participation to continue. For all of us fans of the game, this would be the best scenario possible.