General Sports: February 12

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-The Indianapolis Colts have hired former Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich to be their next head coach. Reich had been the Eagles’ OC each of the last two seasons as the team saw a significant uptick in production between year 1 and year 2. While many credit Doug Pederson for calling the “Philly Special” (despite it being an illegal formation…yes I’m still salty), Reich played a huge role in designing and developing that play. As Trey Wingo noted on Twitter, this may actually be an upgrade over the failed Josh McDaniels hire, as the Colts will now be landing the OC that won the Super Bowl, rather than the one that lost. Reich’s offensive scheme relies heavily on run-pass options, or RPO’s, and they were extremely effective in the Eagles’ wins over the Vikings and Patriots. Under his system, Carson Wentz went from an intriguing quarterback with a lot of potential to the MVP frontrunner and after his injury, Nick Foles went from a guy who hadn’t been good since 2013 into Super Bowl MVP. With so much uncertainty surrounding the Colts’ quarterback situation given Andrew Luck’s unknown health, getting a guy like Reich could become an excellent hire.

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-Paul Pierce had his number 34 retired by the Celtics and it was quite the ceremony as Celtics legends were spotted all over the place, from Bill Russell to Kevin Garnett to Rajon Rondo. It didn’t end well for the Celtics as the new-look Cavaliers smoked the boys in green 121-99, but it was a nice moment for the Celtics legend Pierce. Speaking of the Cavs, they looked really sharp as a new unit and it seems like they made all the right trades at the deadline. It’s still early, but early returns are promising.

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-People are just now freaking out over Eagles tackle Lane Johnson’s comments about the Patriots’ culture even though the interview in which that took place on Pardon My Take aired on Friday. I’m what PMT refers to as an “Award-Winning Listener” and when I heard what Johnson had to say, I didn’t really care. He said that the Patriots seem to build their culture around fear and doesn’t get the sense that Patriots players really enjoy their time in Foxboro. He also went on to state that he would rather win 1 Super Bowl and have a blast doing it than win 5 and be miserable. I don’t know why people are making such a fuss over this. One little complaint I’d have with this statement is word choice and it’s literally just one word I disagree with: fear. I don’t think the Patriots build their culture around fear, I think they build it around what’s best for business. It’s no secret that playing for the Patriots requires one to be pretty uptight and about as professional as humanly possible. But professional football is a business, it’s not about having fun at that stage. If you are having fun, great, you’re one of the luckiest people on Earth that you get to not only play football for a living, but have a blast doing it. But that business-like mentality isn’t exclusive to the Patriots. Most teams try and conduct themselves in a similar fashion, the Patriots get more publicity for it because of their run of success. You could tell that the Eagles were a much more laid back group from as early as Week 1, as their endzone celebrations were some of the best in the newly relaxed league. It worked out well for them, just like the Patriots’ business-like approach works well in Foxboro. So really, I think people need to calm down about Johnson’s comments.

-I almost got caught looking very silly during my wrestling broadcast on Sunday.

During this match, I was reading my notes and giving off information about each wrestler when I happened to glance up at the perfect possible moment when Devin Skatzka landed the pin. This would’ve gotten pretty ugly because it was a huge win for Indiana to get themselves back into the meet with Northwestern. Northwestern ended up winning reasonably handily, but this pin made things interesting. It actually happened so fast (28 seconds) that I never even got a chance to introduce the Northwestern wrestler. Had I missed the pin, it could’ve derailed the whole broadcast. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

-The NCAA released their first bracket preview where they showcased where each team stands right now in the March Madness rankings, only doing the top 4 seeds for each region. The teams are:

1 Seeds: Virginia (#1 Overall), Villanova, Xavier, Purdue

2 Seeds: Cincinnati, Duke, Auburn, Kansas

3 Seeds: Michigan State, Texas Tech, Clemson, North Carolina

4 Seeds: Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arizona

I haven’t been keeping up with college basketball like I wanted to but I promise I’ll at least post my bracket when the time comes. But overall I find these seedings to be very interesting, especially considering where a lot of these teams were at the start of the season. I doubt very many people would’ve guessed that traditional football schools like Auburn, Clemson, and Ohio State would rank very highly as well as Xavier and Purdue being 1 seeds along with Cincinnati and Texas Tech being amongst the 16 best teams. But I’m very excited for March Madness season because I have no effing clue who’s going to win. Usually there’s one team you can confidently point to and say “those guys are going to go far” but I could very easily see all of these teams collapsing at any given time. Is it March yet?

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-There have been reports that the Nationals are interested in signing Jake Arrieta, which should be absolutely TERRIFYING for the rest of the National League. A potential rotation of Max Scherzer, Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark is so wildly unfair that the Nats may go weeks without letting up a run. Roark could be the number 1 pitcher on a weak staff but on this possible Nationals’ staff, he’s the fifth man. Though signing Arrieta would take the Nationals from slim chances to re-signing Bryce Harper to zero chance. We saw that Yu Darvish got a 6-year $126M deal with the Cubs on Saturday and Arrieta has a far more impressive resume so he’s certainly going to command more money. He may want to sign soon, though, because pitchers and catchers report for most teams on Valentine’s Day.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports, let me know what you think of each storyline in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Conference Championship Picks

So it’s come down to this. The final 4 teams left with a shot at Super Bowl LII on the line. The New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, and Minnesota Vikings are the only teams left standing after a grueling NFL season. It’s also possibly the most interesting group of quarterbacks remaining as well, as it’s down to Tom Brady, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum. One is the greatest of all time, one is basically a meme at this point in his career, and the other two were backup quarterbacks when the season started. So let’s see who I think will go to the Super Bowl. One quick thing to note if you’re a gambling man. I’m 2-6 in the postseason so far. I’ve gone 1-3 in each round, including being winless in all of my NFC picks (the only ones I’ve hit were Jags-Bills and Pats-Titans). So take what I say with a grain of salt.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) vs New England Patriots (13-3)

The Jaguars showed up to play in the AFC Divisional Round against the Steelers while Pittsburgh was thinking about New England. In fact, there has been so much dysfunction in that organization that one has to wonder if Mike Tomlin’s job is safe or not. But that’s for another blog entirely. But the Jaguars have had an incredible turnaround after having gone 3-13 last season. Doug Marrone has done a terrific job in his first year at the helm in Jacksonville and the biggest part of that resurgence has been the defense. Despite the fact that they gave up 42 points last week, I still thought the Jaguars defense played well. On all four of Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown throws, he had to squeeze the ball into the tightest of windows or drop a perfect deep ball right into his receiver’s lap. The one rushing touchdown was a weird lateral play to Le’Veon Bell that I think would’ve caught most defenses off guard anyway. Plus, Yannick Ngakoue’s strip sack of Roethlisberger resulting in a Telvin Smith scoop-and-score was the point of no return in my opinion, especially considering Pittsburgh had been gaining some momentum. Meanwhile the Patriots started off slowly against the Titans, trailing 7-0 after the first quarter and their offense looked pretty stagnant. Then Tom Brady remembered that it was the Titans and the offense got their act together and dropped 35 unanswered en route to a 35-14 win. The defense played great, particularly the pass rush, which hasn’t been a strong suit for New England. They registered 8 sacks, bullying Jack Conklin’s injury replacement seemingly the moment he stepped into the game. The Patriots open this game as double-digit favorites, however things aren’t going as smoothly as one might expect. Tom Brady is dealing with a bum right hand after a teammate (which we just found out was Rex Burkhead) ran into it and created a lot of pain for the 5-time champ. The fact that it was Burkhead that caused the injury tells me that perhaps it occurred on a botched handoff in practice rather than some defender not respecting the red jersey. Jacksonville’s defense is a scary one to face when you aren’t 100% but if anybody can do it, it’s Tom Brady. However it does level the playing field a bit, as before it was unthinkable to ask Blake Bortles to defeat Tom Brady, but now that Brady isn’t at his best, it seems to be a more realistic belief for the Jaguars to reach the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl. I’m anticipating a lot of dinks and dunks from New England, particularly to runningbacks such as Burkhead and James White, whom I think will be the X factors in this game. I’ve got New England winning it just simply because I don’t think that Jacksonville will be able to score enough points to top the Patriots, who will be headed to the Super Bowl for the third time in 4 years and 8th time overall under the Brady-Belichick regime.

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Projected Score: Patriots 23 Jaguars 17

Minnesota Vikings (13-3) vs Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

The ending of the NFC Divisional Round between the Vikings and Saints was probably the craziest ending I’ve ever seen in a football game. While I was watching it and saw Case Keenum heave the ball toward the sideline, I immediately figured Stefon Diggs would go for a toe-tapper to stop the clock with about 3 seconds left. He turned upfield and I thought to myself “what the Hell are you doing?!” until I realized there was only green grass ahead of him after Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on the hit. Diggs scored the walkoff touchdown as time expired and perhaps the greatest moment in Vikings history (so far) had been cemented. One thing to say before I get to this matchup: lay off of Marcus Williams. That could’ve been anybody. It looked to me like he was trying to balance a lot of things with that tackle attempt. First of all, no, he was not going for the knockout hit like an idiot. Anybody watching could see that. He also had to make sure he didn’t get there too early or else it would be pass interference, the ball would be placed at the spot of the foul, which was well within Vikings kicker Kai Forbath’s range, and the clock would’ve stopped and he’d still be the pariah. Plus, he wanted to make sure that he tackled Diggs in bounds so that the clock would tick down to zero since the Vikings had no timeouts left to stop it. However, all those things racing through his mind appeared to throw him off his game because it amounted to nothing as he missed the tackle and Diggs trotted into the endzone, ending New Orleans’ season. Now onto the matchup itself, the Vikings will look to host the Super Bowl with a victory over the Eagles after a pretty unlikely season. After Sam Bradford torched the Saints in Week 1, it looked like it would be him that would lead the Vikings charge. However he got injured in practice, forcing Case Keenum into the starting lineup. Keenum has pretty much entered journeyman status at this point in the league, getting opportunities in both Houston with the Texans and St. Louis/Los Angeles with the Rams before being forced out of both. He was seemingly on his last legs in Minnesota and likely would’ve been the third string quarterback there had Teddy Bridgewater not still been recovering from a gruesome ACL injury a year prior. But there he was in the starting lineup and he played great, throwing for 3547 yards, 22 TD’s and only 7 INT’s with a quarterback rating of 98.3. There was a brief moment where the Vikings tried to reinsert Bradford into the starting lineup, but Bradford clearly wasn’t ready and Keenum was able to save the game by beating the Bears. They face an Eagles team who is also on their backup quarterback in Nick Foles. Carson Wentz had been fantastic all year for the Eagles heading into their Week 14 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. He was arguably the frontrunner for NFL MVP and had the Eagles at 10-2. Then he tore his ACL diving for the goalline and Nick Foles had to be inserted into the lineup. It had been a mixed bag for Foles as Eagles starter. He played well in the Eagles’ comeback victory over the Giants in his first start, was unimpressive in their Week 16 win over the Raiders, and downright sucked in Week 17 against the Cowboys before being sat for Nate Sudfeld. Eagles fans were a little tense about how Foles would play in the Divisional Round against the defending NFC champion Falcons and their fears were not consoled very well when he threw a duck on his first pass that got knocked down by the wind. Foles recovered nicely, though, and finished the game with a solid line of 23-30 for 246 yards with no TD’s and no turnovers. The Eagles were able to come away with a 15-10 victory over the Falcons after some poor playcalling by Atlanta doomed them on the final drive. Both the Eagles and Vikings feature very impressive defenses that helped carry the team through their occasional offensive struggles and I expect a low-scoring affair in this one. However I do believe that the Vikings will prevail in this and will take on the Patriots in Super Bowl LII in their home stadium.

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Projected Score: Vikings 20 Eagles 14

That’s going to do it for my Conference Championship picks. I’m predicting it will be Patriots-Vikings for the Lombardi Trophy. Let me know what you think of my picks in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

Divisional Round Picks: Day 1

The Wild Card Round was rough for my picks segments, as the only game I hit on was Jaguars-Bills (one of the worst playoff games I’ve ever had the privilege to miss most of due to being on a plane). But now the winners of those games face the teams that had a week to prepare for them but history has shown that it’s not always a guarantee the team with the extra week will win. So with that, let’s get to the picks.

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) vs Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

The Falcons dispatched an inexperienced Rams team in Los Angeles in their 26-13 victory. The Rams special teams unit made botch after botch, most of them revolving around Pharoh Cooper and the Falcons managed to take advantage. They take on an Eagles team that is actually quite similar statistically. The Eagles averaged exactly one more yard per game than the Falcons did offensively and defensively both teams sport top 10 defenses. The Eagles were the talk of the NFL for most of the year, getting out to a 10-1 start and finishing the year as the 1 seed in a stacked NFC at 13-3. Quarterback Carson Wentz was having an MVP-caliber year and may be the favorite had he not torn his ACL in the Eagles’ 43-35 win over the Rams in Week 14. Nick Foles has been the Eagles quarterback since then and he hasn’t been particularly great, just good enough to get the job done. The Eagles were 2-1 in his starts, the one loss being when he didn’t play a whole lot in Week 17 against the Cowboys and was sat to rest in favor of former Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who actually finished with the highest completion percentage amongst quarterbacks playing their first game at 83% (minimum 20 attempts). Foles’ line as starter was 47-87 for 439 yards with 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s in 3 starts, which isn’t awful overall, but it’s a far cry from what Carson Wentz was doing. The Eagles’ rushing attack was also quietly very good, as the stable of LeGarrette Blount, midseason acquisition Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood combined to be the 3rd best rushing attack in the NFL. They also got a potentially career-saving year out of Nelson Agholor at receiver and a breakout season from tight end Zach Ertz. Defensively, the Eagles thrived under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who may be in line for his second head coaching gig when all is said and done. They were 4th overall in scoring and total yards and were best in the NFL at stopping the run. However I think they’re going to run into some problems against the Falcons. They’re going to have to ask Nick Foles to keep up with the reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan and I just don’t think he’ll be able to do that. It’s not 2013 where that isn’t so ridiculous a thought (seriously, go back and look at Foles’ stats when he was the Eagles’ starter in 2013. He was fantastic). But despite how good the Eagles have been defensively overall, stopping the pass has been more of a weak point for them, as they’re only average at that (17th against the pass). Their corners will have a hard time stopping the trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel. Plus, the Falcons were a top-10 defense this season and have guys that can fly around the field and cause problems for the Philly offense. I’m actually going to pick the Falcons to advance to the NFC championship game for the second consecutive year. However had Carson Wentz been healthy, I think this might be a different story.

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Projected Score: Falcons 27 Eagles 20

Tennessee Titans (9-7) vs New England Patriots (13-3)

What a game between the Titans and Chiefs. I expected the Chiefs to win in a bloodbath, which it looked like they were well on their way to doing. However Travis Kelce suffering a concussion late in the first half plus a lack of touches for Kareem Hunt really hurt the Chiefs as the game went along and allowed the Titans to creep back into the game. It was 21-3 at halftime in favor of the Chiefs, then Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown pass to himself and momentum seemed to swing in the exact opposite direction. The Titans were able to pull out a 22-21 victory over the Chiefs and will take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The Patriots had a year that seemed akin to their 2014 run with a blend of 2015 in it. They got off to a slow 2-2 start to the point where everyone was questioning if this was the year the Patriots would finally fall off. But then the Patriots remembered they’re the Patriots and finished the year going 11-1 and seemingly fixing every problem they had in the first four games. Except there’s one little blemish for New England that makes there some resemblance to the 2015 team: injuries. It started with Julian Edelman tearing his ACL in a preseason game against the Lions and it hasn’t let up since. The list of Patriots on IR include Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Derek Rivers, Malcolm Mitchell, Vincent Valentine, Shea McClellin, Cyrus Jones, Nate Ebner, and Martellus Bennett. That’s a lot of key contributors. But the Patriots have had guys step up in big ways. Kyle Van Noy was able to adequately fill the void left by Hightower’s injury. The combination of La’Adrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming have adequately filled in for Cannon. The Patriots have continued to follow their “next man up” mantra and it has helped them finish near the top in the NFL in many major categories. They’re the #2 scoring offense, #1 in total yards, #2 in passing, #10 in rushing, and #5 in scoring defense despite being #29 in yards allowed. That’s the definition of a bend-but-don’t-break defense right there. One of the breakout stars for the Patriots has been Dion Lewis, who has reinvented himself from just a scat back that was used as a change of pace to an all-around back that isn’t afraid to run through defenders from time to time. In fact, Lewis led the NFL in rushing in the second half of the season to finish with 896 yards rushing on just 180 carries (5 yards per carry). I’m predicting in this game that Lewis will again be a big factor in a Patriots victory over the Titans to advance to their 7th straight AFC Championship game against either the Steelers or the Jaguars.

at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Projected Score: Patriots 30 Titans 17

That’s going to do it for my picks for day one of the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Let me know what you think about this slate of games in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

The Quarterbacks of the 2018 NFL Draft Class

As much as people like to say that the 2018 draft class is the weakest since 2013 (which it kind of is), there is still at least one redeeming factor: the quarterback class. I think this group has the potential to be as good, if not better, than the 2012 group that saw the likes of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, and Robert Griffin III (for one season) emerge. I’m going to go through a few guys that I like that have the potential to go in the first round. These aren’t necessarily rankings as much as they are just going down the list of guys and saying what I like and don’t like about them and what type of future I see in them.

Josh Allen-Wyoming

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So far, for the underclassman quarterbacks, Allen is the only one who has declared for the Draft. There were talks that he could’ve come out last year and potentially been a high pick, but he elected to return to school to develop, which I thought was a smart move. However his season didn’t go that great, though a bum shoulder can certainly be a contributing factor. But he did deliver his best performance of the 2017 season in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (what a stupid fucking name) yesterday against Central Michigan. He didn’t throw the ball much, only 11 completions on 19 attempts, but he made the most of his throws, including 3 touchdowns in the first quarter. Wyoming ran the ball a TON in that game (42 times) but it was what they needed as they scored an easy victory over the Chippewas.

Strengths: Size, Arm, Mobility

Just look at this throw from Allen as you try not to vomit from looking at the uniform/field combinations.

That, folks, is what we call a laser. Allen has an absolute cannon and as you saw right up there, is accurate enough to squeeze the ball into tight spaces. He’s got the prototypical size you look for in a QB, as he stands at 6’5 233 pounds, which puts him at about the same size as Carson Wentz. He’s also deceptively quick for a guy his size, as Wyoming would often have him running the football, which he did as many as 18 times in a game this season.

Weaknesses: Level of Competition, Poor Showings Against Power-5 Teams, Health

As far as physical traits go, Allen is about as perfect a specimen as you could ask for. It’s the other stuff that might make you nervous. He played in a very weak conference in the Mountain West and the Cowboys couldn’t even win it, as they went 7-5 prior to their bowl win. He also had a chance to show what he could do against tougher competition like Iowa and Oregon, but both games were disasters for him, as he combined to go 32-64 (50% completions), 238 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. That’s just awful. To be fair to Allen, the talent around him is pretty bad, so perhaps he can be forgiven for those showings, but for being as highly touted a quarterback as he is, he needs to be able to elevate the play of his teammates. These aren’t fair comparisons to make, I know, but you see guys like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers make their teammates significantly better by just being on the field. I don’t see that from Allen. Health is also a concern, as he missed the final two games of the regular season while nursing that bum shoulder. He also missed basically all of his 2015 season with a broken clavicle, a bone located in the shoulder region.

Draft Thoughts: I wouldn’t draft Allen in the first round unless I had a veteran who was on the way out that he could sit behind and not only learn from, but adapt to the higher level of competition as well as a strong supporting cast around him. This kid has all the ability in the world but he really hasn’t shown it to the extent that one would think of with a kid who has been in the discussion for number 1 overall pick. Some potential landing spots could be the Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pro Comparison: 

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Carson Wentz. Both came from small schools where they played against inferior competition but showcased some high level skills and prototypical measurables that get scouts excited.

 

Sam Darnold-USC

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Before the season began, Darnold was the consensus number 1 overall pick in the Draft. He had won the starting job for USC midseason and led the Trojans on an absolute tear en route to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. However, his encore left a lot to be desired. He struggled MIGHTILY with turnovers this season, leading all players in that category, whether it be interceptions or fumbles. Darnold’s throwing motion also became widely criticized as being “funky.” Nonetheless, he showed some really good things as well, such as his ability to make big time throws and great mobility.

Strengths: Size, Arm, Mobility, Elevating Teammates, Winner

When Darnold took over the starting job in 2016, USC was 1-3 and head coach Clay Helton’s job was in SERIOUS danger. Once Darnold took over for Max Browne, however, USC’s fortunes flipped and they didn’t lose another game the rest of the season. He’s got excellent arm strength and can put balls in spots that a lot of quarterbacks can’t. I watched a couple of games this year and a few of his 12 interceptions were the result of his receivers dropping the ball and it landing in a defender’s arms. I think Darnold really missed Juju Smith-Schuster this past year because the only quality receiver on the Trojans was Deontay Burnett and he’s a marginal NFL prospect at this stage. This is also something Darnold does that Allen doesn’t: he makes his teammates better. Guys like Burnett really aren’t that great of talent, but they perform beyond their talent because Darnold gives them the opportunity to make plays with where he puts the ball at times. Also has very good footwork in the pocket, as he’s always in a position to scurry away from the rush when needed.

Weaknesses: Delivery, Decision-Making

Watch how long it takes Darnold to throw the ball after beginning his motion.

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Now look at how Tom Brady throws it, which is widely considered to be the ideal throwing motion.

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What’s different is where the ball is when they begin their throwing motion. Darnold basically has the ball at his hip where he starts, Brady’s is practically at his shoulder. Darnold’s also kind of winding up like a pitcher in baseball instead of just slinging it like what the best quarterbacks do. That’s something that can be worked with though, as a good coach can help tweak that. But the reason Darnold’s isn’t great is because that extra split second is the difference between the pass rusher getting a sack or just getting pressure. Or a receiver open and a safety cutting him off. His elongated throwing motion very easily could have led to a lot of his interceptions or strip sacks. Perhaps on some picks the guy was open when he started his motion, but he took so long to get the ball there that the defender was in position by the time the ball was out.

Draft Thoughts: I personally think that returning to USC for one more season could be really beneficial for Darnold to have a full season to refine a new throwing motion before getting thrown to the wolves like he would be in the NFL. But I think he’s going to declare for the Draft and he’s so gifted and played against such good competition, he’s not going to make it past the top 5 picks. How he performs against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl will be a huge barometer for how well he might transition to the pros. That’s about as close to an NFL defense as he’ll face all year and if he performs really well, he could justifiably be the top pick. I think quarterback-needy teams such as the Browns, Giants, and Broncos should all be in on this kid.

Pro Comparison: 

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Philip Rivers. Both guys have similar thick builds and have similar throwing motions and have a tendency to make the best of what they have. Rivers rarely ever has Pro Bowl-caliber receivers (Keenan Allen has been the one exception the last few years) but he gets them to play beyond their ability (Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, among others).

Lamar Jackson-Louisville

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Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in college football. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and actually improved in 2017. At first, I thought no chance is he an NFL quarterback, but after watching some throws he was making, I started re-evaluating things. I still think he would make a better wide receiver in the NFL, where his elusiveness can be better utilized, but if he can continue to grow as a passer the way he did between 2016 and ’17, then we could be looking at the next Michael Vick

Strengths: Running Ability, Arm Strength

If a defense isn’t careful, Jackson can take over games with his legs. I mean, human beings shouldn’t be this athletic.

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But Jackson is. Not only that, but in 2017 his passing numbers skyrocketed while his rushing totals kept pace with his monstrous 2016 season. Just look at this throw right here.

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This is a beautiful job of reading the safeties and hitting his receiver in stride.

Weaknesses: Size, Gimmick Play Style

You might notice that Lamar Jackson is PAINFULLY skinny, especially at a position where it’s become of heightened importance to have some build to you due to how much damage you take. Add in the fact that Jackson is a running quarterback that by nature will take a lot of hits, and you have the potential of a guy who may have a shortened career. Also, when was the last time a run-first quarterback had long-term success in the NFL? The only one I can think of is Michael Vick and he was a once-in-a-generation talent. You could argue Russell Wilson, but his passing game has developed so well that he’s kind of shed the mold of a run-first quarterback. Jackson will need to follow Wilson’s developmental model if he wants to have a long career in this league.

Draft Thoughts: Again, I would prefer it if Jackson were to move to wide receiver, as I think that would be where he’d have the most success in this league. I wouldn’t take him in the first round just on the reputation of running quarterbacks and their lack of sustained success alone. However I do think that there will be a team that will be interested enough to take a chance on him in the first round, though I think as a quarterback he’s a third rounder. I think a team like the Buffalo Bills could be a landing spot for him, as he plays a similar style of game to the incumbent Tyrod Taylor, who has been handled about as poorly as an organization can handle a quarterback.

Pro Comparison: 

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Colin Kaepernick. They basically have identical frames with great athleticism and strong throwing arms. Kap is one of the aforementioned run-first quarterbacks that fizzled out as their careers went along.

Baker Mayfield-Oklahoma

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Baker Mayfield is about as polarizing a quarterback prospect as I can find. On the one hand, I see a lot of Russell Wilson in him. He’s short for a quarterback (6’0) but he plays with a lot of intensity and is able to use his legs to make plays, whether that be scrambling for a first down or moving out of the pocket to buy his receivers time to get open. On the other, he shows some Johnny Manziel traits that scare me. Mayfield is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and has led Oklahoma to a CFP berth for the second time in the last 3 years.

Strengths: Playmaking Ability, Athleticism, Accuracy, Intensity

Look at this play from Oklahoma’s bowl game last year.

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Notice how he never took his eye away from downfield but was still able to react accordingly to the unblocked defender that his guard absolutely WHIFFED on. A lot of quarterbacks in that situation will panic and chuck it away or into coverage, including Tom Brady. But Mayfield is so confident in his running ability that he doesn’t panic and uses his peripherals to his advantage, then drops a dime to Dede Westbrook. Which brings me to another point of strength with him: his accuracy. Mayfield led the nation in completion percentage this season and being accurate is something that translates to the NFL extremely well. Also that play above was on a fourth down, showing how cool under pressure he can be.

Weaknesses: Height, Decision-Making (not interception-related)

My main concern with Mayfield is that despite having the potential to be the next Russell Wilson, I could also just as easily see him being the next Johnny Manziel. Mayfield’s had three instances this season where his maturity was called into question. The first came in the offseason when he was tackled by campus police after trying to flee while publicly intoxicated. The next time was planting the OU flag at midfield after their win against Ohio State. Finally, the whole grabbing his nuts and cussing at the Kansas bench. The first his just him being an idiot college kid, but Manziel had a host of incidents like that. The other on-field incidents could result in fines and some unwanted media attention were they to occur in an NFL game.

Draft Thoughts: As much as it seems like I might be criticizing Mayfield’s antics, I actually chalk this up more to just him being really intense and getting really amped up during games rather than him just being a prick, which was the vibe I got when Manziel would do his antics. I think it’s more likely that Mayfield becomes the next Russell Wilson than the next Johnny Manziel but I’d like to see him sit a year behind a veteran before being thrust into a professional offense, as he was in an air raid system at Oklahoma, which translates about as poorly to the NFL as any offense in college football outside of the wishbone. I personally would take him in the second round, but I think someone will take a chance on him in the first. I think some potential landing spots could be the Jaguars, Bills, and Cardinals.

Pro Comparison: 

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Russell Wilson. I’ve already made the comparison enough in this so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Josh Rosen-UCLA

at Rose Bowl on November 24, 2017 in Pasadena, California.

This is my favorite quarterback in this class and if I were the Cleveland Browns, I’m taking him #1. He literally has everything, the only issue I’ll get into later. I was extremely impressed by some of the throws he made when he squared off with Darnold to the point where I couldn’t believe they were even being compared to each other. Rosen has been the starting quarterback at UCLA since he set foot on campus. He showed a lot of promise as a freshman, but was lost in his sophomore season due to injury. Then his junior season he picked up right where he left off from his freshman season, opening the season with an incredible comeback against Texas A&M.

Strengths: Arm Talent, Pocket Presence, Experience

Are you kidding me with this ball placement right here?

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If this is thrown in any other spot, it’s picked off and based on how few Bruins are in the vicinity, it likely would’ve resulted in great field position for the Aggies. But he’s able to thread the needle and put the ball in the spot where only his receiver could get it. He’s also great in the pocket, as he seamlessly navigates the pocket and avoids pressure.

Weaknesses: Personality, Winning Percentage

The main knock I keep hearing from NFL scouts is that Rosen is a huge turnoff, with one scout going so far as to call him an “entitled prick.” They didn’t go into much detail about why that was, but it wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Rosen also hasn’t generated a ton of wins for UCLA, as his career record is only 17-13 (Darnold’s is 20-2 for comparison). However I think that has more to do with the talent around him, as his defense was pretty bad this season.

Draft Thoughts: I would take Rosen with the top pick in the Draft. I think he has all the measurables you could ask for in a quarterback and despite complaints from scouts about his personality, he has gotten the backing of his teammates, who seem to like him, which matters significantly more to me than whether scouts think he’s a dick or not.

Pro Comparison: 

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Matt Ryan. Both have similar builds and similar play styles with great pocket presence.

Mason Rudolph-Oklahoma State

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Mason Rudolph was the orchestrator of some of the most exciting games in college football this season, particularly his duel with Baker Mayfield in the Bedlam Game. Despite losing the game 62-52, Rudolph was spectacular against his Heisman-winning counterpart. Rudolph also seems to develop great relationships with his receivers, as both James Washington and Marcell Ateman had tremendous seasons catching passes from Rudolph.

Strengths: Arm Talent, Size

Rudolph is basically the exact same size as Allen, 6’5 230 so the benefits between these two are basically identical. Rudolph played in an offense that elevated your stats, but he took advantage of that better than anybody outside of Pat Mahomes. He may have run an air raid offense, but his ball placement and arm talent often made up for the lack of playbook. Look at this throw right here.

Mason-Rudolph

Yes his receiver missed the catch, but that ball went right through his hands and that ball could not have been thrown more perfectly. You’ve got to catch that if you’re the OK State receiver. Also, notice where that ball was thrown from: the 50. He was able to hit a touch throw 50 yards downfield and he didn’t even have to get much of a crowhop under there. Rudolph’s arm will be very enticing to NFL Teams.

Weaknesses: Type of Offense Run, Mobility

The type of offense run is a big one, mainly because he hasn’t had to make very many different kinds of throws. The routes the Cowboys receivers run are about as simplistic as they come and he’s never had to learn a playbook, which is what he’ll need to be able to do in the NFL. He’s probably going to have the biggest learning curve out of all the guys on this list but the talent is there. He’s also slow as dirt and his pocket presence and his ability to avoid pressure could use some work.

Draft Thoughts: Rudolph has a lot of talent but he might need a year or two to learn how to operate an NFL offense before being thrust into a starting role. I wouldn’t take him higher than the second round but I also wouldn’t be surprised if a desperate team falls in love with him and takes him earlier than they probably should. I think the Saints would be the perfect landing spot for him, as that would probably be the smoothest transition for him, the Saints offense being the closest we have to an Air Raid offense in the NFL. Plus their success on the ground could take a lot of pressure off him when Drew Brees decides to hang them up.

Pro Comparison: 

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A better version of Bryce Petty. Both guys had similar skillsets and flaws coming out of college, however I think Rudolph is a bit more refined than Petty, who has shown the occasional flash in the NFL but the entire body of work hasn’t been great. I think if Rudolph is thrusted into the starting role too soon, then his career will be disastrous.

Those are my thoughts on a potentially stacked 2018 quarterback class. Agree? Disagree Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman 10 and contribute to my Patreon.

NFL Midseason Awards

It’s Week 9 and that marks the official halfway point of the NFL regular season so I thought it was high time I got to prematurely handing out awards I have no authority to give. These are my thoughts on who I would vote for if the NFL season were to end today. I’m going to touch on the major awards as well as a few made up ones. So without further ado, here are my midseason awards.

NFL MVP: Carson Wentz-QB-Philadelphia Eagles

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photo credit: Philadelphia Sports Nation

Wentz has taken a HUGE step forward in his second year in the league, leading the Eagles to the NFL’s best record at the season’s halfway point while also being third in passing yards and first in passing touchdowns. His elusiveness in the pocket has been the talk of the league as day-in and day-out he makes plays that are just shocking to behold. This was a tough choice because there are two other really legitimate candidates: Tom Brady and Alex Smith. Brady leads the NFL in passing yards by almost 400 yards despite not having safety net Julian Edelman and Alex Smith has yet to throw an interception this season. But I think I’m going to go with Wentz simply because I think the Eagles would absolutely IMPLODE without him, whereas I think the Patriots and Chiefs would remain afloat without Brady or Smith (that’s more a credit to the coaching than anything).

Others receiving consideration: Tom Brady-QB-New England Patriots, Alex Smith-QB-Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown-WR-Pittsburgh Steelers

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photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I want to set one quick ground rule about my edition of this award. I don’t consider quarterbacks mainly because the MVP is basically already a quarterback’s award unless a runningback has a mind-blowing season (each of the last 3 runningback MVP’s have set a major record in the season they won the award or at least approached one). So you won’t be seeing Brady or Wentz or Smith here. I’m going with Antonio Brown mainly because of how far ahead of other receivers he is right now. His 835 receiving yards leads the NFL, next closest is Adam Thielen with 627. His 57 catches lead the NFL, next closest is Jarvis Landry with 50. His 287 yards after catch is 5th, however everybody else in the top 10 on that list is a runningback, whose yards after catch are pretty much all of their receiving yards because of where they typically catch the ball. So not a difficult decision for me here.

Others receiving consideration: Kareem Hunt-RB-Kansas City Chiefs, Toddy Gurley-RB-Los Angeles Rams, Le’Veon Bell-RB-Pittsburgh Steelers

Defensive Player of the Year: Calais Campbell-DT-Jacksonville Jaguars

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photo credit: Big Cat Country

Not only is Calais Campbell a terrifying physical specimen (6’8 300 pounds), he’s also a damn good football player. After the Cardinals didn’t resign him in an effort to get younger defensively, Campbell signed with the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars and he has been a leading catalyst in this “Sacksonville” revolution. He’s tied for second in the league with 10 sacks and he’s doing it from the interior of the defensive line, where he faces constant double teams. The potential knock against Campbell would be that perhaps his numbers are so good because opposing offensive lines have to deal with Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr, and people who argue that would have a point. But I present a counter point: why didn’t Ngakoue and Fowler have great production until Campbell got to Jacksonville?

Others receiving consideration: DeMarcus Lawrence-DE-Dallas Cowboys, Marcus Peters-CB-Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kareem Hunt-RB-Kansas City Chiefs

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photo credit: Fake Teams

I want to give a quick shoutout to Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, who may have won this midseason award had he not just torn his ACL as I was starting this blog (seriously, I had my opening paragraph written when a buddy of mine texted me the news). Watson was tied with Wentz for the most passing touchdowns in the NFL with Wentz and his insertion into the starting lineup for Tom Savage changed the Texans from an absolute joke to a juggernaut. Now that I’ve given Watson his due, it’s time to talk about the insane season Kareem Hunt is putting forth. Hunt leads the NFL in rushing at 763 yards. Le’Veon Bell trails him by just 3 yards, however Bell needed 48 more carries and Hunt still leads. Since fumbling his first career carry against New England, Hunt has arguably been the best runningback in the league. Not bad for a third round pick from a mid-major school. I feel ashamed for having 8 runningbacks ahead of him in my NFL Draft rankings.

Others receiving consideration: Deshaun Watson*-QB-Houston Texans, Leonard Fournette-RB-Jacksonville Jaguars

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore-CB-New Orleans Saints

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photo credit: The Advocate

I really wanted to consider Browns DE and #1 overall pick Myles Garrett for this, as he has 4 sacks in 4 games played, but he’s missed too much time for me to consider him. There really aren’t a whole lot of other defensive players who stand out outside of the cornerback position, which has been really good for rookies. Bills and Cowboys rookies Tre’Davious White and Jourdan Lewis have been excellent in their roles but I think Marshon Lattimore has been the absolute best of the bunch. Lattimore is already the top corner for the Saints and has been a major factor in this defense’s turnaround. He typically follows the opposing team’s number 1 receiver and can keep up with any receiver in the NFL with his 4.36 speed.

Others receiving consideration: Tre’Davious White-CB-Buffalo Bills, Jourdan Lewis-CB-Dallas Cowboys, Jarrad Davis-LB-Detroit Lions, Carl Lawson-DE-Cincinnati Bengals

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick-New England Patriots

NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots

photo credit: Patriots Wire

The league almost has to cast Belichick aside because otherwise he would win this award every year. The Hoodie is arguably the greatest coach to put on a headset and he continues to do great work this season. The Patriots have dealt with a number of injuries to key contributors, such as Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower as well as down years from guys like Malcolm Butler but the Patriots still find themselves at 6-2 heading into their bye. The defense also struggled MIGHTILY to start the season but since the Tampa Bay game this defense has gone from embarrassing to very competent and even held the high-flying Falcons offense to 7 points. There’s nobody better in sports today than Bill Belichick.

Others receiving consideration: Andy Reid-Kansas City Chiefs, Sean McDermott-Buffalo Bills, Sean McVay-Los Angeles Rams, Doug Marrone-Jacksonville Jaguars

Comeback Player of the Year: Keenan Allen-WR-Los Angeles Chargers

San Diego Chargers v Baltimore Ravens

photo credit: Chargers Wire

Keenan Allen tore his ACL and lost his season in Week 1 of the 2016 season, devastating Chargers fans and me, having drafted him in the fourth round of my fantasy draft. The loss of Allen was a huge blow to the Chargers but he returns this year healthy and is 8th in the NFL in receiving yards at 548.

Others receiving consideration: Julius Peppers-DE-Carolina Panthers, Rob Gronkowski-TE-New England Patriots

Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Alex Collins-RB-Baltimore Ravens

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photo credit: Field Gulls

Alex Collins was a guy I liked coming out of the 2016 NFL Draft from Arkansas. He reminded me a little bit of a poor man’s Marshawn Lynch but my main knock was he had bricks for hands. Nevertheless, I thought of him as a third round pick. The rest of the league disagreed with my projection and Collins wasn’t taken until the 6th round by the Seattle Seahawks. He bounced around from practice squad to active roster before getting cut before the 2017 season and claimed by Baltimore. All he’s done for Baltimore is win the starting job and lead the league in yards per carry (6.0). Meanwhile, Seattle struggles to find a runningback that sticks.

Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Dante Fowler Jr-DE-Jacksonville Jaguars

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photo credit: Sports Illustrated

Dante Fowler Jr was a borderline bust entering this season, who was more known for “savage” moments off the field rather than his performance on it. However this season, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft looks like a completely different player, as he is constantly getting pressure in the quarterback’s face and is on pace for a double-digit sack season.

All Pro Teams (First player listed is First Team, second player listed is Second Team)

QB: Tom Brady-New England Patriots, Carson Wentz-Philadelphia Eagles

RB: Kareem Hunt-Kansas City Chiefs, Le’Veon Bell-Pittsburgh Steelers

RB: Todd Gurley-Los Angeles Rams, Jordan Howard-Chicago Bears

WR: Antonio Brown-Pittsburgh Steelers, Adam Thielen-Minnesota Vikings

WR: DeAndre Hopkins-Houston Texans, Brandin Cooks-New England Patriots

WR: AJ Green-Cincinnati Bengals, Tyreek Hill-Kansas City Chiefs

TE: Zach Ertz-Philadelphia Eagles, Travis Kelce-Kansas City Chiefs

OT: Tyron Smith-Dallas Cowboys, Taylor Lewan-Tennessee Titans

OT: Trent Williams-Washington Redskins, David Bakhtiari-Green Bay Packers

OG: Marshall Yanda-Baltimore Ravens, Shaq Mason-New England Patriots

OG: Zack Martin-Dallas Cowboys, Trai Turner-Carolina Panthers

C: Alex Mack-Atlanta Falcons, Travis Frederick-Dallas Cowboys

DE: DeMarcus Lawrence-Dallas Cowboys, Joey Bosa-Los Angeles Chargers

DE: Everson Griffen-Minnesota Vikings, Yannick Ngakoue-Jacksonville Jaguars

DT: Calais Campbell-Jacksonville Jaguars, Geno Atkins-Cincinnati Bengals

DT: Fletcher Cox-Philadelphia Eagles, Akiem Hicks-Chicago Bears

LB: Justin Houston-Kansas City Chiefs, Ryan Kerrigan-Washington Redskins

LB: Bobby Wagner-Seattle Seahawks, CJ Moseley-Baltimore Ravens

LB: Von Miller-Denver Broncos, Chandler Jones-Arizona Cardinals

CB: Marcus Peters-Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

CB: Richard Sherman-Seattle Seahawks, Jalen Ramsey-Jacksonville Jaguars

S: Earl Thomas-Seattle Seahawks, Devin McCourty-New England Patriots

S: Glover Quin, Detroit Lions, Micah Hyde-Buffalo Bills

K: Greg Zuerlein-Los Angeles Rams, Kai Forbath-Minnesota Vikings

P: Bradley Pinion-San Francisco 49ers, Pat O’Donnell-Chicago Bears

Those are my midseason NFL Awards picks. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.