NFL Rookies Best (and Worst) Set up for Early Success

So every year guys get drafted by teams that just put them in the perfect situation, whether that be the scheme fit or having the right supporting cast around them. A lot of times success and failure in the NFL is based on just being in the best situation. So with that, let’s take a look at some rookies that are in the best and worst position to succeed.

Best: Sony Michel-RB-New England Patriots

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This one’s not quite so obvious, but hear me out. Yes, Michel is in a VERY crowded backfield in New England and he’s going to be in an offense that prefers to throw the ball (who could blame them with the GOAT slinging it). However it’s a very similar situation to what he had at Georgia and look how that turned out. Michel shared a backfield first with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, then with Chubb and D’Andre Swift. Nowadays he’s going to be sharing with James White (pass catcher), Rex Burkhead (wildcard), and either Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee (power back) and replacing Dion Lewis as the de facto all-around guy. One of Michel’s main issues coming out of college was stamina and when you’re splitting carries, it allows you to remain fresh throughout the game. Michel will basically be doing the exact same thing in New England that he was at Georgia only this time the roles are more defined and there will likely be a specific gameplan geared towards his skills. I think that bodes well for his future NFL success. He may never reach 1000 rushing yards in a season, but his yards per carry is probably going to be nuts.

Worst: Sam Darnold-QB-New York Jets

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Darnold is probably the safest quarterback in this year’s class. There’s very little that he does poorly, or at least there are far fewer red flags than what you get from the other quarterbacks. However there was one major flaw at USC that had me a little concerned about team fits and that was the fact that his play dropped significantly when the talent around him wasn’t as good. He was awesome his redshirt freshman season when he was throwing to guys like Juju Smith-Schuster, however when Juju was drafted by the Steelers and Darnold’s entire offensive line went pro as well, he struggled mightily. While from a talent standpoint, the Jets are obviously better than USC, they are one of the least talented offenses on paper. Robbie Anderson is the #1 receiver and while he had a pretty solid season last year, that was more out of necessity than anything. The offensive line of the Jets isn’t great either and unless the front office somehow manages to swing a deal for some talent before Darnold gets the starting job (whether that be this year or next), he could be in for a world of hurt, no matter how good he is.

Best: Saquon Barkley-RB-New York Giants

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Barkley doesn’t really need help to be great but he’s going to get it anyway. Not only is he the most talented runningback to come out of college maybe ever, but he’s going into a situation that will be really beneficial for him. Now yes, the Giants sucked last season, but injuries and offensive line woes played a big part of that. Well ODell Beckham Jr is coming back healthy and the Giants signed Nate Solder at left tackle and drafted Will Hernandez out of UTEP to play guard. Plus, if they should decide to move Ereck Flowers to guard, that could wind up being beneficial for his career. So having Beckham back to take pressure off of him and an improved offensive line should set up Barkley nicely for early career success.

Worst: Denzel Ward-CB-Cleveland Browns

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Ward is a really good corner but given the Browns’ lack of options at the position, he may draw #1 receiver duties from Day 1. Now granted, it worked for Marshon Lattimore with the Saints last year, but I felt like Lattimore was a more complete player than Ward was. Ward struggled with the bigger receivers and there are plenty of them in the AFC North like AJ Green, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Michael Crabtree. Plus there’s also the smaller but even more dangerous Antonio Brown to contend with. Lattimore didn’t have an ideal group of guys to cover either like Julio Jones and Mike Evans, but again, he was more polished than Ward is and Lattimore also didn’t have to draw #1 receiver duties out of the gate. And even if he did, he had better safeties available to bail him out should he need them. I’m not saying Ward isn’t up to the challenge because if any cornerback in this year’s rookie class is it’s him, but his situation isn’t ideal by any stretch.

Best: Rashaan Evans-LB-Tennessee Titans

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Evans was a leader on Alabama’s National Championship-winning defense and it looks like he’s going to be thrust into the limelight in Tennessee as well, as he immediately becomes the best member of the Titans’ needle-thin linebacking corp. The offensive lines he’ll be going up against in the AFC South are mediocre and the only really potentially deadly runningback he’ll have to face at this point is Leonard Fournette. He’s also got an excellent coach of linebackers in Mike Vrabel as his head coach so he’s going to get even further mentoring. He’s in prime position for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Worst: Rashaad Penny-RB-Seattle Seahawks

<> on December 23, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Penny was a reach by Seattle, however given that he was likely going to be gone the next time they picked (late 3rd round), I can understand why they went that route if they were so high on him. Penny’s a good back, don’t get me wrong, and he fits the bruising style of running back the Seahawks like to employ. However the Seahawks have once again hardly touched that god-awful offensive line this offseason so they’re just setting Penny up for failure. Duane Brown at left tackle is the only competent guy on that offensive line and he’s going to be 33 when the season starts. He’s basically going to be running for his life out there. Plus aside from Doug Baldwin, there aren’t any receivers of note to take the pressure off the running game. Again, Penny does have the power to bulldoze over guys, but he’s going to get stuffed behind the line more often than not and I’ve got a feeling his yards per carry numbers are going to be pretty ugly.

So those are just a few guys that have some interesting situations brought about with them. I stuck with just first rounders given that the expectations for them are so much higher than the others. Let me know what you think of these conundrums in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Each Team’s Biggest Draft Bust in the 21st Century

We rave about these prospects as “can’t miss” or “once in a lifetime” type players come Draft season. But every year, without fail, somebody taken in the first round fails to live up to expectations. I’m going to take a look at each team’s biggest blunder since 2000 to remind everyone to humble themselves when it comes to getting excited about your team’s first round pick. Some things to take note of when it comes to my rules for this list: First rounders only, the 2017 draft class is excluded since we really don’t know shit about them yet (Hell, Jared Goff was looking like a colossal bust after his first season. Look what happened there), and we are only considering a player’s success with the team that drafted them. So for example, Cedric Benson is a bust candidate even though he had a successful stint with the Bengals. He was drafted by the Bears, where he was awful. Draft position also matters here. The first overall pick’s bust status is going to weigh more than the 32nd overall pick’s status, even if the 32nd pick was a way worse player. I’ll also be noting some players that played the same position as the bust in question that were taken later who had much more successful careers to add salt to the wound.

Cleveland Browns-Courtney Brown-EDGE-Penn State (1st Overall in 2000)

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The first pick of the millennium, Brown was a freak of nature athlete and, to be fair to the Browns, judging by the body of work at Penn State and his physical traits, it’s really hard to blame them for taking Brown. He was basically Myles Garrett before Myles Garrett. While Garrett looks like a budding star if he can stay healthy, Brown notched just 17 sacks in his 5 years with the Browns, never eclipsing 4.5 in a season. There were definitely worse players the Browns have taken (probably the most misses in the NFL since their revival in 1999), but Brown was the only one that went first overall.

Who they could’ve had: John Abraham-South Carolina, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila-San Diego State

New York Giants-Ereck Flowers-OT-Miami (FL) (9th Overall in 2015)

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Flowers’ huge frame made him enticing to the Giants, however he’s been one of the worst tackles in the game, as he was rushed into the starting role before he was ready and it showed. Every Giants fan I know consistently calls for his head and it doesn’t help him that the Giants just signed Nate Solder to a huge contract.

Who they could’ve had: Andrus Peat-Stanford, DJ Humphries-Florida

New York Jets-Vernon Gholston-EDGE-Ohio State (6th Overall in 2008)

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Gholston was a genetic freak but that didn’t translate whatsoever to the NFL, as he recorded as many sacks as I did in the NFL: Zero (I had 2 sacks in high school but I guess that doesn’t count). Anytime I see a rookie get their first NFL sack, I think to myself “better pick than Gholston.”

Who they could’ve had: Calais Campbell-Miami (FL), William Hayes-Winston-Salem State, Erik Walden-Middle Tennessee State, Cliff Avril-Purdue

Houston Texans-Travis Johnson-DL-Florida State (16th Overall in 2005)

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A lot of people will want to say David Carr for this pick, but to be fair to the guy, he played behind what was statistically the worst offensive line of all time. Carr got sacked an NFL record 76 times as a rookie and that destroyed his confidence and he never recovered. Travis Johnson was an okay player for the Texans, but he wasn’t worth the 16th overall pick. He was out of the league by 2011. There really aren’t that many busts in the Texans’ short history (since 2002).

Who they could’ve had: Jonathan Babineaux-Iowa

Denver Broncos-Paxton Lynch-QB-Memphis (26th Overall in 2016)

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You know it’s bad when you can’t beat out the 7th rounder your team took the year before for the starting job. We knew Lynch would need time to develop, but even now that he has an opportunity, the Broncos are already looking to move on. He’s only made 4 starts in his NFL career and has thrown just 4 TD’s.

Who they could’ve had: Jacoby Brissett-North Carolina State, Dak Prescott-Mississippi State

Indianapolis Colts-Bjoern Werner-EDGE-Florida State (24th Overall in 2013)

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Werner was this big European guy that everybody was foaming at the mouth over with his potential. However he lasted just 3 NFL seasons and recorded just 6.5 sacks in only 16 starts before getting cut by the Colts. He was not picked up elsewhere.

Who they could’ve had: Alex Okafor-Texas, William Gholston-Michigan State

Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Mark Barron-S-Alabama (7th Overall in 2012)

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Barron was a nightmare in coverage with the Buccaneers and lasted just 2 and a half seasons in Tampa before being shipped to the Rams. Since joining the Rams, though, they moved him to linebacker and he has been decent in his new role. At bare minimum he starts for one of the deadliest defenses in the league.

Who they could’ve had: Harrison Smith-Notre Dame, Coty Sensabaugh-Clemson, Robert Blanton-Notre Dame, George Iloka-Boise State

Chicago Bears-Kevin White-WR-West Virginia (7th Overall in 2015)

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I hate calling guys who can’t stay healthy “busts” because it’s not always their fault, but White has played just 5 games since being the 7th overall pick in 2015. It’s just one serious injury after another with this guy. It’s hard to overlook.

Who they could’ve had: DeVante Parker-Louisville, Nelson Agholor-USC, Devin Funchess-Michigan, Tyler Lockett-Kansas State, Jamison Crowder-Duke, Stefon Diggs-Maryland

San Francisco 49ers-AJ Jenkins-WR-Illinois (30th Overall in 2012)

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I was scratching my head when the 49ers made this pick (I had Jenkins as a 4th rounder) and he did nothing to dispel my confusions. Jenkins lasted just 1 year with the 49ers before being traded to the Chiefs. He was out of the league by 2015 with just 17 catches and 223 career receiving yards to his name.

Who they could’ve had: Alshon Jeffery-South Carolina, Mohamed Sanu-Rutgers, TY Hilton-FIU, Travis Benjamin-Miami (FL), Marvin Jones-California, Rishard Matthews-Nevada

Oakland Raiders-Jamarcus Russell-QB-LSU (1st Overall in 2007)

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Russell was a can’t miss quarterback prospect. Then he held out almost his entire rookie season because he wanted a bigger contract, went 7-18 as a starter, ballooned to 300 pounds, and was out of the league by 2010. He’s considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time, certainly the biggest of this millennium.

Who they could’ve had: Drew Stanton-Michigan State, Trent Edwards-Stanford (2007 was a REALLY bad year to pick a quarterback)

Miami Dolphins-Dion Jordan-EDGE-Oregon (3rd Overall in 2013)

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Issues with drugs caused Jordan to miss two entire seasons due to suspension. He only played 2 years with the Dolphins and has 1 career start. Currently a member of the Seahawks, he registered 4 sacks in 5 games last season so perhaps he’s turning a corner. But after the Dolphins traded up 9 spots to get him, they have to be fuming with the results they got.

Who they could’ve had: Ziggy Ansah-BYU, see Bjoern Werner’s section

Buffalo Bills-Aaron Maybin-EDGE-Penn State (11th Overall in 2009)

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Maybin had 6 career sacks and they were all for the division rival Jets in 2011. Maybin lasted just 2 years in Buffalo and was out of the league by 2013.

Who they could’ve had: Brian Orakpo-Texas, Clay Matthews-USC, Connor Barwin-Cincinnati, Paul Kruger-Utah, Michael Johnson-Georgia Tech

Washington Redskins-Rod Gardner-WR-Clemson (15th Overall in 2001)

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This was almost Patrick Ramsey, but Ramsey was taken 32nd in 2002 while Gardner went 15th in 2001 so Gardner edges him out. Gardner got off to a decent start, posting a 1000 yard season his second year, but he never eclipsed 700 again and was out of the league by 2007.

Who they could’ve had: Santana Moss-Miami (FL), Reggie Wayne-Miami (FL), Chad Johnson-Oregon State, Chris Chambers-Wisconsin, Steve Smith-Utah, TJ Houshmandzadeh-Oregon State

Green Bay Packers-Jamal Reynolds-EDGE-Florida State (10th Overall in 2001)

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Reynolds played just 3 seasons and had a grand total of 3 sacks in his career. Really can’t say much about his career because there was hardly anything to speak of. Really bad look for the tenth pick in the draft.

Who they could’ve had: Kyle Vanden Bosch-Nebraska, Aaron Schobel-TCU, Derrick Burgess-Ole Miss, Reggie Hayward-Iowa State,

Arizona Cardinals-Matt Leinart-QB-USC (10th Overall in 2006)

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It was hard to choose between Leinart and Jonathan Cooper (when you miss on a guard at #7 overall, you know you messed up). But the Cardinals have been scared to take a quarterback in the first round ever since the former Heisman Trophy winner, so he’s going to get the nod.

Who they could’ve had: Jay Cutler-Vanderbilt, Kellen Clemens-Oregon, Tarvaris Jackson-Alabama State, Charlie Whitehurst-Clemson

Baltimore Ravens-Breshad Perriman-WR-Central Florida (26th Overall in 2015)

at Nissan Stadium on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Similar situation with Perriman as Kevin White with the Bears. He has a lot of talent and is very fast for his size, but health has been a major issue. Perriman’s only made 4 starts and has just 43 catches in his two years of actually playing (2016 and 2017, he missed his rookie year).

Who they could’ve had: see Kevin White

Los Angeles Chargers-Larry English-EDGE-Northern Illinois (16th Overall in 2009)

at Qualcomm Stadium on August 8, 2013 in San Diego, California.

12 career sacks in 7 NFL seasons will not get the job done. English never had more than 3 sacks in a season and never started more than 5 games.

Who they could’ve had: see Aaron Maybin

Seattle Seahawks-Aaron Curry-LB-Wake Forest (4th Overall in 2009)

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Curry was considered the safest prospect in the class, however he just couldn’t figure things out in the NFL. He has since become a college coach at Charlotte.

Who they could’ve had: Brian Cushing-USC, James Laurinaitis-Ohio State, Rey Maualuga-USC, DeAndre Levy-Wisconsin

Dallas Cowboys-Bobby Carpenter-LB-Ohio State (18th Overall in 2006)

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A solid special teamer, but you don’t take a special teamer in the first round. Carpenter never made more than 3 starts in a season.

Who they could’ve had: DeMeco Ryans-Alabama, D’Qwell Jackson-Maryland, Stephen Tulloch-North Carolina State

Detroit Lions-Charles Rogers-WR-Michigan State (2nd Overall in 2003)

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Arguably the biggest wide receiver bust of all time, Rogers lasted just 3 seasons in the NFL and had a grand total of 440 yards in 15 games played.

Who they could’ve had: Andre Johnson-Miami (FL), Anquan Boldin-Florida State, Nate Burleson-Nevada, Brandon Lloyd-Illinois

Kansas City Chiefs-Glenn Dorsey-DL-LSU (5th Overall in 2008)

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Not gonna’ lie, I liked Dorsey so much in college that I bought his Chiefs jersey before his first NFL game. But he never amounted to anything with the Chiefs. He became a pretty good nose tackle with the 49ers, though.

Who they could’ve had: Pat Sims-Auburn, Red Bryant-Texas A&M, Ahtyba Rubin-Iowa State

Cincinnati Bengals-Peter Warrick-WR-Florida State (4th Overall in 2000)

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Warrick never managed more than 819 yards in a season, which wouldn’t be awful if he weren’t the 4th overall pick. Had he been a 4th rounder, we’d be considering him a steal. However, that production just won’t cut it for the value.

Who they could’ve had: Plaxico Burress-Michigan State, Laveraneus Coles-Florida State, Darrell Jackson-Florida

Los Angeles Rams-Jason Smith-OT-Baylor (2nd Overall in 2009)

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This very easily could’ve been Greg Robinson, as the credentials (tackle that was the 2nd overall pick) are basically identical. But Smith’s going to get the nod on the basis that he got beat out by the tackle the Rams took in the second round of the same draft (Indiana’s Rodger Saffold, who is still with the team to this day as a guard).

Who they could’ve had: Andre Smith-Alabama, Eugene Monroe-Virginia, Michael Oher-Ole Miss, Sebastian Vollmer-Houston

Carolina Panthers-Jeff Otah-OT-Pittsburgh (19th Overall in 2008)

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Very few busts for the Panthers, giving Otah the nod. Otah was decent when healthy, however he played just 29 games in his 4-year career and was out of the league by 2012.

Who they could’ve had: Duane Brown-Virginia Tech, King Dunlap-Auburn, Geoff Schwartz-Oregon

Tennessee Titans-Jake Locker-QB-Washington (8th Overall in 2011)

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Locker got off to a promising start, as he was pretty good in his first game, but he never got better. It’s also worth mentioning that all 7 guys picked ahead of him made the Pro Bowl in what was an absolutely stacked 2011 class. Locker retired after 4 seasons.

Who they could’ve had: Andy Dalton-TCU, Colin Kaepernick-Nevada, Tyrod Taylor-Virginia Tech

Atlanta Falcons-Jamaal Anderson-EDGE-Arkansas (8th Overall in 2007)

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Anderson registered just 7.5 career sacks, never more than 3 in a season, and was out of the league by 2013.

Who they could’ve had: Anthony Spencer-Purdue, Lamarr Woodley-Michigan, Charles Johnson-Georgia, Brian Robison-Texas

New Orleans Saints-Johnathan Sullivan-DL-Georgia (6th Overall in 2003)

2003 New Orleans Saints Headshots

All Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert

Sullivan played just 4 years in the NFL, 3 with the Saints, started 12 games as a rookie but 4 the rest of his career. He was out of the league by 2007.

Who they could’ve had: Kevin Williams-Oklahoma State

Pittsburgh Steelers-Jarvis Jones-EDGE-Georgia (19th Overall in 2013)

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6 career sacks for a guy who at one point in the draft process was being slated as the #1 overall pick. He’s currently a member of the Arizona Cardinals but hasn’t played a snap for them.

Who they could’ve had: see Dion Jordan

Jacksonville Jaguars-Luke Joeckel-OT-Texas A&M (2nd Overall in 2013)

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There were a lot of guys that were really deserving but Joeckel is going to win out because he was taken 2nd overall. Joeckel has been a turnstyle on the offensive line and is currently a member of the Seattle Seahawks, starting 11 games at guard for arguably the NFL’s worst offensive line.

Who they could’ve had: Lane Johnson-Oklahoma, Justin Pugh-Syracuse, Terron Armstead-Arkansas-Pine Bluff, David Bakhtiari-Colorado, Ricky Wagner-Wisconsin

Minnesota Vikings-Troy Williamson-WR-South Carolina (7th Overall in 2005)

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Williamson was an absolute freak at the Combine, but those skills never translated to the NFL. He never had more than 455 yards in a season and was out of the league by 2010.

Who they could’ve had: Roddy White-UAB, Vincent Jackson-Northern Colorado

New England Patriots-Dominique Easley-DL-Florida (29th Overall in 2014)

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Easley’s tenure in New England lasted just 2 seasons before he was traded to the Rams after numerous injuries and what many considered to be a “cancerous” personality in the locker room. It didn’t help that he only started 3 games for the Patriots.

Who they could’ve had: Timmy Jernigan-Florida State, Beau Allen-Wisconsin

Philadelphia Eagles-Danny Watkins-OG-Baylor (23rd Overall in 2011)

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Watkins played just 2 seasons with the Eagles before he retired to become a firefighter. Never made a huge impact when he was on the field either.

Who they could’ve had: Clint Boling-Georgia, Daniel Kilgore-Appalachian State

There are going to be busts in every draft, however there are also steals, guys who slip through the cracks and outperform their draft slot. Tomorrow I’m going to do something similar and pick out each team’s best draft steal since 2000. Let me know what you think of these draft busts in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves

The big story outside of baseball for me today is the fact that Dallas Mavericks owner and Indiana alumnus Mark Cuban got fined $600K by the NBA for openly admitting that it was in the Mavericks’ best interest to tank this season. I mean, he’s right and bad teams tanking is not some unknown phenomena going around, it’s pretty well established at this point. But you can’t openly say that’s what your team is doing, especially considering the league sees tanking as a big issue and is trying to take steps to prevent it. That being said, the $600K fine is ENORMOUS overkill. Let’s take it easy, here, Adam Silver. I know Cuban wipes his ass with $600K, but you’re setting a pretty rough precedent here. Tanking really isn’t THAT bad for the league, I actually think it’s good for eventual parity, as it ensures the top college prospects aren’t going to the teams that are already absolutely loaded already. Speaking of tanking, we are in Day 3 of my 30 Clubs in 30 Days series and today we’re focusing on the Atlanta Braves. Let’s take a look at how the Braves are projected to do in 2018.

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2017 Results:

Record: 72-90, 3rd in NL East, 25 games behind Washington Nationals, 15 games behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: RP Peter Moylan, C Chris Stewart, RP Chase Whitley

Notable Offseason Subtractions: RP Jason Motte, RP Ian Krol, 1B Matt Adams, SP RA Dickey, 2B Jace Peterson, 3B Adonis Garcia, CP Jim Johnson

Best Position Player: 1B Freddie Freeman

Best Pitcher: Julio Teheran

Depth Chart

C-Tyler Flowers, Kurt Suzuki, Chris Stewart

1B-Freddie Freeman

2B-Ozzie Albies

3B-Johan Camargo, Rio Ruiz

SS-Dansby Swanson, Charlie Culberson

LF-Lane Adams, Preston Tucker

CF-Ender Inciarte

RF-Nick Markakis

SP-Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Sean Newcomb

Bullpen-Arodys Vizcaino (CP), Peter Moylan, Rex Brothers, Chase Whitley, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, Dan Winkler

Coaching Staff

Manager-Brian Snitker (2nd Season with Braves)

Hitting Coach-Kevin Seitzer

Pitching Coach-Chuck Hernandez

1st Base Coach-Eric Young

3rd Base Coach-Ron Washington

Bench Coach-Walt Weiss

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I’m not going to sugarcoat things, it’s going to be a long season for the Braves. The thing I would look forward to the most if I’m a Braves fan is the later part of the season, August-Septemberish, when they start making their September call-ups because their farm system is absolutely loaded and it’d be exciting to see what kind of young talent the team has for the future. Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies were the first in this talented group to really get their first taste of action but the Braves also feature Ronald Acuna (MLB.com’s #2 prospect), Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard, and Max Fried, all of whom could get their shot with the big club this season. Something worth noting, all those guys I just mentioned with the exception of Acuna are pitchers so perhaps the Braves may be in for a Mets-like rotation within the next couple of years. But offensively, Atlanta is going to struggle. Here’s how they’re projected to look to start the season.

1. Ender Inciarte-CF

2. Ozzie Albies-2B

3. Freddie Freeman-1B

4. Nick Markakis-RF

5. Tyler Flowers-C

6. Dansby Swanson-SS

7. Lane Adams-LF

8. Johan Camargo-3B

9. Pitcher’s Spot

Not good. Not good at all. One thing I pride myself in is knowing who everybody in baseball is. I’m sorry to report that going into this blog I had no idea who Lane Adams and Johan Camargo were. It’s bad that you have one guy I’ve never heard in your starting lineup but these guys have two. Plus they’ll be featuring Nick Markakis near the top of their order, who hasn’t been worth more than 2 WAR since 2014. The only positives are Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman. Granted, they are HUGE positives for this lineup, but not enough to get them out of the bottom third of the league in runs scored like they were last season. But these two guys really are the only offensive threats the Braves have right now. Inciarte is one of the most underrated centerfielders in baseball both defensively and offensively. Last season, Inciarte hit .304 with 11 home runs, 57 RBI, 22 stolen bags, a DRS of 5 in centerfield, and a WAR of 3.0. Meanwhile Freeman continued to put himself in the discussion for best first basemen in the game as he hit .307 with 28 home runs, 71 RBI, slugged .586, and was worth 4.5 WAR despite battling injuries all season. But if the Braves are going to head in the direction they need, Dansby Swanson has to take the next step forward. The former #1 overall pick that the Braves traded Shelby Miller to the DBacks to acquire (a trade that would an all-timer of a steal if he can develop) struggled in his first full season of action, hitting just .232 with 6 home runs and 51 RBI with -7 DRS and only had a WAR of 0.1 in 144 games played. Not good at all. He is a very talented player but another season like that could be really damaging for the Braves’ rebuilding process.

during a game  at Marlins Park on September 28, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

Pitching is not a strong suit for the Braves either. Julio Teheran is easily the most talented pitcher on the roster but he’s also the most inconsistent. His seasons seem to always be good-bad-good-bad. Last year he had a career-worst ERA of 4.49 a year after making the NL All Star team in 2016 and finishing with an ERA of 3.21. Teheran also had an ERA of 2.89 in 2014 but followed that up with an ERA of 4.04 in 2015. Based on that trend, it appears that 2018 will be a strong season for Teheran but the rest of the Braves staff leaves much to be desired. Mike Foltynewicz (pronounced FOLT-in-EV-ich) is very talented but he hasn’t been able to put that talent together for a full season. You’ve also got over-the-hill starters like Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir who were basically the excess from the Dodgers’ pitching staff that they were trying to get rid of. Once upon a time both guys were quality starters (in Kazmir’s case, an ace), but nowadays they’re just drifting off towards the sunset.

There are some decent pieces in the Braves’ bullpen that I think could be assets for playoff-caliber teams. Arodys Vizcaino has some really dominant stuff and pitched well last season with a 2.83 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings. Newly-signed Peter Moylan is an underrated middle relief guy who, despite being 39 years old, can still pitch well, as he had an ERA of 3.49 last year with the Royals. He’s one of those submarine pitchers, which I have noticed tends to add a couple of years to a pitcher’s career as long as they can remain productive. He could be a guy that can help the Braves out late in games. There’s also some young talent in that bullpen such as Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, and Dan Winkler who could quietly have strong seasons for the Braves’ ‘pen.

Overall, I don’t expect much out of the Braves this season, but I’m sure they’re well aware of that. But their plethora of prospects is so loaded that I don’t think they’re going to suck for a whole lot longer provided their coaches can properly develop them (Swanson’s 2018 season will be a big barometer for whether or not these guys are up to the challenge). The only thing that’s really going to keep them out of the cellar of the NL East this season is a healthy Freddie Freeman because he’s such a good hitter that he can take over games if you’re not careful. Unfortunately, there is absolutely zero protection around him right now so if he’s on a hot stretch, opposing pitchers have literally no incentive to pitch to him. This season is basically an opportunity for the organization to see what the younger guys can do and plan for the future.

Projected Finish: 71-91, 4th in the NL East

That’s going to do it for Day 3 of the 30 Clubs in 30 Days series. Join me tomorrow on my 22nd birthday where I will be previewing the Baltimore Orioles, who are kind of in no-man’s land at the moment, as the front office will have some HUGE decisions to make when July rolls around. Let me know what you think of the Braves’ chances this season in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Super Bowl LII Preview

So it’s all come down to this. Super Bowl Sunday. The Eagles and Patriots took very different routes to get to this point. The Eagles were running roughshod over the league before losing their potential MVP quarterback in Carson Wentz to an ACL tear. He gets replaced by Nick Foles, who had been inconsistent up until the NFC Championship game, where he absolutely lit up the NFL’s #1 defense in the Vikings. Meanwhile the Patriots got off to a rough start and everybody wondered if this was the beginning of the end of their dynasty. Then they remembered they were the Patriots and proceeded to collect win after win en route to another AFC Championship game appearance, where they had to overcome a 10-point 4th quarter deficit to defeat the upstart Jaguars. So lets do what I always do with championship games and go position-by-position to see which team has the advantage.

Quarterback

Patriots: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Eagles: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Advantage: Patriots

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Was there really ever any doubt? Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time whether he has protective bandages over his throwing hand or not. While Nick Foles played extremely well in the NFC Championship game, he’s too inconsistent for me to really give him a chance here. And as much as I love Nate Sudfeld, him being the previous Indiana quarterback, he can’t hold a candle to Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was the 49ers starting quarterback to start the season and how many guys can say they have a winning record as a starter for the reborn Browns? Just Hoyer. So this was a pretty easy choice here.

Runningback

Patriots: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Patriots

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While I do think that the Eagles runningbacks are better rushers, the Patriots runningbacks are far more dynamic and versatile. Ajayi and Blount are good running the football, but they have bricks for hands out of the backfield. They usually have Clement receiving the passes. Lewis, White, and Burkhead are all not only good rushers, but they’re good receiving out of the backfield as well, which is why they’re getting the nod over the Eagles backs.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Patriots: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Advantage: Patriots

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A healthy Julian Edelman would’ve made this an easy choice, but alas, we take what we get. This is probably one of the most balanced receiving groups the Patriots have had since the Moss-Welker days as they have a speedster who can take the top off (Cooks), possession receivers that can move the chains (Hogan and Amendola) and a huge red zone threat (Gronkowski). The Eagles have a similar group of guys (Agholor moving the chains, Smith the speedster, Jeffery the huge red zone threat), but I think the Patriots have utilized them most effectively this season.

Offensive Line

Patriots: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, La’Adrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Eagles: Hal Vatai, Stefen Wisniewski, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson

Advantage: Eagles

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Finally, the Eagles are on the board here and it’s thanks in large part to probably the best right side of an offensive line I think I’ve ever seen. You can make an argument for all three of Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson being the best at their respective spots on the offensive line in the entire NFL. While the Patriots’ O-line is solid, they don’t have nearly enough talent to contend with the Eagles. And imagine if Jason Peters were healthy on the left side. Vatai is the weakest link on either of these offensive lines, but his teammates are so good they make up for his shortcomings.

Defensive Line

Patriots: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Alan Branch, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois, Eric Lee

Eagles: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Vinny Curry

Advantage: Eagles

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There’s just too much talent on this Eagles defensive front. In fact, I think Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, the starting DT’s, are going to be the most critical pieces if the Eagles hope to beat the Patriots. Brady does pretty well when there’s pressure coming from the tackles but he’s like a deer in the headlights when there’s pressure coming up the middle. Cox and Jernigan are one of the best DT duos in the NFL and they’re going to need to get lots of pressure to stifle Brady. For the Patriots, their defensive line is a patch-up job as they lost a lot of their guys to either free agency in the offseason or to injury and it’s resulted in them being possibly the weakest unit on this team.

Linebacker

Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, James Harrison, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, David Harris

Eagles: Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode, Dannell Ellerbe, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Advantage: Eagles

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This was probably the closest one to choose from and I debated calling this a tie. But I hate ties so I decided to go with the pure talent aspect and that’s where the Eagles won out. Both teams lost their star middle linebackers midway through the seasons (Dont’a Hightower for the Patriots, Jordan Hicks for the Eagles) and they’ve both been trying to get by with the pieces they have. While Van Noy is having a career year, the talent around him in Elandon Roberts and a 39 year-old James Harrison doesn’t quite stack up to what the Eagles have in Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham.

Secondary

Patriots: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Johnson Bademosi, Brandon King, Jordan Richards

Eagles: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Rodney McLeod

Advantage: Patriots

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It was a tale of two halves of the season for the Patriots’ secondary and no better was it personified than in the play of Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore looked lost in Matt Patricia’s system his first few weeks, as he would blow coverage after coverage while the Patriots would get lit up by quarterbacks that probably shouldn’t be doing so. He suffered a concussion midway through the year and after he returned, he’s been his old Pro Bowl-caliber self, locking down any receiver that he’s matched up on. Eric Rowe has also been a bright spot in this secondary as well and it’s interesting to note that the Patriots acquired him from the Eagles in a trade a couple years ago after a poor showing to start his career in Philly. For the Eagles, their secondary is considered their weak spot as their cornerbacks in particular have been very inconsistent this season.

Specialists

Patriots: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jake Elliott, Donnie Jones, Nelson Agholor, Rick Lovato, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Eagles

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I’d probably give this a tie to the kickers and punters, as both units for both teams have been very solid this season. The thing that puts the Eagles over the top is Kenjon Barner as their return man. While he isn’t Devin Hester by any means, Barner would definitely be an upgrade over Lewis and Amendola as returners.

Coaching

Patriots: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia

Eagles: Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, Jim Schwartz

Advantage: Patriots

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Got to go with the Patriots here for obvious reasons. While it can’t be overstated the job that Pederson and company have done with this Eagles team, it’s Bill Belichick for Christ’s sake. Plus, he’s got two head coaches serving as his coordinators in McDaniels and Patricia, who will be taking over the Colts and Lions respectively after this game ends.

Scoreboard: Patriots 5, Eagles 4

No need to even watch the game now, congratulations to the Patriots on their sixth Super Bowl victory. As a Pats fan, I pray I don’t regret that sentence. This will be my third championship prediction segment, first time around I picked the Dodgers to win the World Series (I was wrong) then I picked Alabama to win the CFP National Championship (I was right). So really there isn’t anything to suggest how this is going to go based on my picks. Let me know who you think is going to win the Super Bowl in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.