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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Unitas Rediscovers Moore

20 Sep

The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off an upset defeat at the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, try to rebound against the Indianapolis Colts this week on the NFL’s week 3 schedule. So we’ll highlight a game played between these 2 franchises for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It was played on November 21, 1965 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium (the Colts wouldn’t move to Indianapolis for another 20 years or so). The Colts, under coach Don Shula, were having a great season, with a 9-1 record entering the game, while Philly was mired in a losing campaign at 3-7. Baltimore took command early, jumping out to a 14-0 lead as Colt quarterback John Unitas, arguably considered the best in the game at the time, hit Lenny Moore with a 52 yard scoring pass for the first touchdown, and safety Jerry Logan intercepting an Eagle pass and returning it 36 yard to paydirt. The Colts added a field goal but the Eagles showed some grit by netting a field goal of their own and adding a pair of touchdowns before the half, with Norm Snead throwing to his tight end, Pete Retzlaff, for one TD and future Hall of Famer Ollie Matson running for another, leaving the teams deadlocked at 17-17 at the midway point.

The third quarter belonged to Philadelphia as they jumped out to a 24-20 lead and looked poised to pull off the upset, but the Colts asserted their superiority in the final quarter, led by Unitas. He led a pair of late game scoring drives, which was his trademark back then. Jimmy Orr was a recipient of a 22 yard touchdown throw to give Baltimore the lead, while Moore scored again, this time on a 1 yard plunge, to seal the victory, 34-24. Unitas played his usual excellent game in the win, passing for over 300 yards and spreading the ball around to his favorite targets – Orr, Raymond Berry and tight end John Mackey. For this contest, however, he rediscovered the receiving talents of his halfback, Moore, who grabbed 7 of his throws for a whopping 163 yards and a TD. Moore added 54 yards on the ground to the attack, piling up 217 total yards. The NFL has always been a copycat league, and in an era where star halfbacks like Frank Gifford, Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell were transitioning into becoming “flankerbacks”, Shula realized that Moore, who had always been a receiving threat in his earlier years, was perfect for the role.

 

shula-gallery1Colt legends Unitas, Moore and Shula

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Out Of The Bears’ Shadow

13 Sep

Week two of the NFL schedule includes a match between two nomadic franchises, the Rams and the Cardinals. The Rams began their existence in Cleveland, moved to Los Angeles, relocated to St. Louis where they had a measure of success, then bolted back to the West Coast to L.A., although technically they are currently playing in Anaheim. The Cardinals started out in Chicago, moved to St. Louis where they stayed for a pretty long period, then ran off to the desert and became the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals in the late 1980s. So the contest this week between teams that both bolted the Gateway to The West city could be deemed The We Screwed St. Louis Bowl.

Anyway, the game we harken back to took place on September 23, 1960. It was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, on the opening day of the ’60 season. It’s significant in that it was the first game the Cards played as the St. Louis Cardinals. After toiling in the shadow of George Halas’ Bears in Chicago since the NFL’s inception in 1920, team owner Violet Bidwill Wolfner petitioned the league to relocate to St. Louis after the 1959 season. At the time, the American Football League was forming to begin play in 1960, so the league allowed the Cardinals to move, mostly to claim the St. Louis market before the fledgling AFL could. Minnesota and Dallas were added as expansion teams during this period also, in proactive moves by the NFL to shut out the new league.

 

ramscards1960Rams vs. Cardinals game program 9/23/1960

The Rams had been an offensive powerhouse in the 1950s, behind future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield. Van Brocklin was now quarterbacking the Philadelphia Eagles, while Waterfield was the Rams’ head coach. Billy Wade, now L.A.’s signal caller, opened the scoring with a touchdown pass to Clendon Thomas. In the second quarter, Wade threw another scoring pass, a 57 yarder to Red Phillips, while John David Crow scored the first 2 touchdowns for the newly anointed St. Louis club, the first on an 18 yard throw from King Hill, and the second on another passing play, this time a 52 yarder from John Roach, who replaced Hill at quarterback. A pair of Bobby Joe Conrad field goals and a safety put St. Louis ahead 22-14 and the Cardinals coasted from there, led by a spectacular performance from Roach. He connected with star split end Sonny Randle for touchdown throws of 37, 57 and 24 yards to break the game open. Amazingly, Roach only completed 6 passes on the day, and 4 went for touchdowns. The Rams could only muster one more score, as they replaced Hill with backup Frank Ryan. Ryan hit rookie Carroll Dale with a 54 yard TD pass, but in the end the Cardinals, in their inaugural game as the St. Louis Cards, prevailed 43-21. The win launched the Redbirds to a winning season, as they finished 6-5-1, a marked improvement over their 2-10 finish in their last season in Chicago in 1959. (The NFL season only consisted of 12 games back then).

Incidentally, both Wade and Ryan would be traded later on, and both went on to great success. Wade led his new team, the Chicago Bears, to the NFL title in 1963 while Ryan quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns to a championship in 1964. Dale, who had a great statistical game in the loss for the Rams (5 catches for 106 yards and the late TD), would later be traded to Green Bay, where he helped the Packers win 3 titles, including the first 2 Super Bowls.

 

1960gridcardinals1960 St. Louis Cardinals

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Jim “Wrong Way” Marshall

06 Sep

Another new NFL season is upon us, which means Rayonsports kicks off it’s weekly Thursday Throwback post featuring a contest from yesteryear played between two franchises that are scheduled to meet on the week’s slate of games. The Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers match up on the opening week’s schedule, so we travel back to a meeting between these clubs that was played on October 25, 1964. This particular game between Western Division rivals lives on in NFL lore because of a play made by one of the greats of the game, Viking defensive end Jim Marshall, but Marshall would just as soon forget the game. In the fourth quarter of that game, he recovered a 49er fumble and returned it 66 yards, the wrong way, into his own end zone, resulting in a 2-point safety for San Francisco.

The game started out with 49er quarterback John Brodie taking early control, scoring on a 2 yard run and throwing an 80 yard touchdown pass to Dave Parks to give his club a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Tommy Mason ran for a Viking TD and Tommy Davis kicked a field goal to give San Fran a 17-10 lead at the half. The only third quarter scoring came on a Fred Cox field goal for Minnesota, but the Vikings took control in the fourth quarter, led by their Purple People Eater defense. QB Fran Tarkenton ran for a score, and defensive end Carl Eller scooped a fumble and ran 45 yards for another touchdown. Eller’s recovery, incidentally, was made possible by a Marshall sack/strip. Marshall’s infamous gaffe came later in the final stanza, but didn’t really affect the final outcome as the Vikings won the game 27-22.

It’s really a shame that the legendary Viking defender is mostly remembered for his wrong way run. He played 20 years in the league and was a dominant defender, and with this summer’s induction of Jerry Kramer into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Marshall now stands as perhaps the biggest “snub” as far as Hall voting is concerned. He really deserves to be inducted, but doesn’t even draw minimal consideration now that his playing days are so far in the past.

Jim Marshall

A distraught Jim Marshall after realizing his mistake

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills 2018 Season Preview

04 Sep

The preseason schedule has been completed, and cuts have been made to trim the roster to the final 53 players, so it’s time for our annual Buffalo Bills season preview. The Bills, thanks to some late-game heroics from Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd, snuck into the playoffs as an AFC wild card last season, breaking a 17 year drought. Nonetheless, management continued their “process” and made major changes to the makeup of the club entering 2018. Here’s my position by position preview of Buffalo’s new and hopefully improved roster:

 

Front Office/Coaching

Sean McDermott’s initial season as head coach of the Bills has to be considered a success, just by the fact that the team qualified for a playoff spot. Now that this standard has been set, the challenge will be to not only maintain that level of success, but improve on it. With a roster that is not exactly loaded with top-tier talent, meeting the challenge will be difficult. McDermott enters the new season having made a major change to his staff, replacing Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator with Brian Daboll, who held the same position with national champion Alabama last year and has an extensive NFL coaching background also. General manager Brandon Beane continued to show that he’s not afraid to shake things up in a big way – he dealt tackle Cordy Glenn and starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor for draft picks that enabled the team to have what should be a successful draft. Although there wasn’t a big splash made in free agency, his signings there appear to have shored up some holes on the roster also.

 

Quarterbacks

2018joshallenPrize rookie QB Josh Allen

Tyrod Taylor was the starting QB on the Bills’ team that finally broke the playoff drought last year, but his in-season benching in favor of Nathan Peterman was the first indication that he wasn’t the club’s long term answer. Add to that the fact that a terrific defensive effort in the wild card playoff game against Jacksonville was wasted when Taylor could only muster 3 points with the offense, and his fate was sealed. With Taylor gone, the competition at quarterback was left to Peterman, free agent signee AJ McCarron and top draft choice Josh Allen. Coach McDermott declared an open competition for the starting job entering camp, and Peterman won the starting position with a clearly better performance in the preseason. McCarron failed to show anything until the final quarter of the final preseason game, and was eventually traded to Oakland. Allen may be the team’s long term answer, but the one year’s experience Peterman had in 2017 won him the job.

Running Backs

2018Marcus-MurphyVersatile back Marcus Murphy

The Bills’ offense will rely heavily on the talent of Pro Bowl back LeSean McCoy, who is without a doubt the team’s most valuable weapon. He is the stalwart contributor to the running game, and can be expected to see a lot more action in the passing attack also. Marcus Murphy has been a revelation in training camp as McCoy’s main backup, and looks like he’ll see a major role spelling McCoy and returning kicks. Free agent signee Chris Ivory is another new back in the team’s stable. He is a power runner who will provide a change of pace from McCoy. Both Murphy and Ivory are improvements over last year’s backup, Mike Tolbert. At fullback is Patrick DiMarco, whose main role is as a blocker and occasional receiver out of the backfield. Taiwan Jones also stuck on the final roster, strictly as a special teamer.

Receivers

 

WR Kelvin Benjamin

Buffalo’s receiving corps is full of question marks entering the 2018 season. Kelvin Benjamin, acquired in an in-season trade last year, is the only bonafide NFL star among the group, and he has struggled to stay healthy in his career so far. Jeremy Kerley is a veteran slot receiver whose experience should help stabilize the group, but after him there is a lot of mystery. Zay Jones enters his second year as a player who has a lot of potential and has shown flashes of ability, but he still needs to up his game. Andre Holmes won a spot on the roster because he is a special teams stalwart, but could also add a veteran’s touch to the receiving corps in a limited role. Rookie Ray-Ray McCloud adds some speed to the unit, and should help in the return game also. Rookie undrafted free agent Robert Foster is a wild card entering the regular season. He didn’t show much in the exhibition games but the coaching staff must have a plan for him. Charles Clay leads a tight end group that, like the wide receiving corps, has potential but is unproven. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s scheme relies heavily on the tight ends, which explains why the team went heavily at the position on their final 53 man roster. Logan Thomas, Jason Croom and Khari Lee all provide different skill sets behind Clay.

Offensive Line

 

Left tackle Dion Dawkins

Stability was a word used to describe the Bills’ offensive line entering the 2017 season, but entering this season the unit is in a state of flux after the trade of Cordy Glenn, the retirement of center Eric Wood and the release of left guard Richie Incognito. Holdover Ryan Groy and free agent signee Russell Bodine battled all summer to become Wood’s replacement at center, with Groy ultimately winning the starting job. He also provides depth at guard. Vlad Ducasse was shifted over from right guard to Incognito’s spot on the left, with John Miller at right guard. Buffalo seems to have a pair of at least capable, though certainly not spectacular, players holding down the tackle spots in Dion Dawkins and veteran Jordan Mills. Besides Groy, depth at guard is provided by rookie Wyatt Teller, an aggressive blocker who flashed potential in camp but has a lot to learn. The backups at tackle are a major question mark. It can be argued that both Conor McDermott  and veteran Marshall Newhouse had failing grades in their preseason action. Coach McDermott stressed the urgency to eliminate penalties throughout training camp, and Newhouse was the biggest offender in that department.

Defensive Line

 

2018kylewilliamsVeteran DT Kyle Williams

The Bills were among the worst teams in the NFL at stopping the run in 2017, so some much-needed additions were made to the defensive line group in the off-season. Their main free agent signings were designed to shore up the line – run-stuffing tackle Star Lotulelei from Carolina and end Trent Murphy from Washington, a pass rush specialist. The former will be paired with Bills’ stalwart Kyle Williams at the starting tackle spots, while Murphy is penciled in opposite incumbent Jerry Hughes at end. Buffalo’s braintrust is hoping Murphy will mirror the success they had with the signing of safety Jordan Poyer last year – a veteran recovering from a major injury who is a question mark but rebounds to have a great season. Depth at tackle starts with a promising rookie draft pick, Harrison Phillips, a Kyle Williams clone who is the heir apparent to that starting tackle job. Vet Adolphus Washington is the other interior backup, while depth at the end positions is well manned with Shaq Lawson, who looks poised for a breakout year, and reliable Eddie Yarbrough.

Linebackers

 

2018lorenzoalexanderLB Lorenzo Alexander

The Bills made what they hope is a major investment in their defense of today, and in the future, when they traded up for the second time in the draft’s first round to corral Tremaine Edmunds, a top prospect who immediately fills a spot at middle linebacker vacated when Preston Brown left in free agency. Edmunds should be an upgrade over Brown in every area except experience. The other starting backers will be second year man Matt Milano and grisly vet Lorenzo Alexander, who still shows very few signs that his play is declining despite his advanced age. All three backups at linebacker – Deon Lacey, Julian Stanford and Ramon Humber, are on the roster strictly for their special teams skills. If any of the trio are forced into the starting lineup due to injury, the Bills’ defense will take a major hit, especially in the pass coverage area.

Defensive Backs

 

Safeties Jordan Poyer (21) and Micah Hyde (23)

The secondary turned into one of the team’s main strengths last season, and 3 of the 4 starters return there. Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, both free agent signings for 2017, return to patrol the back end while last year’s rookie phenom, Tre’Davious White is back at one cornerback spot. One-time Pro Bowler Vontae Davis was signed to replace oft-injured EJ Gaines as the other starting CB. The Bills hope to get the Pro Bowl version of Davis, but he was targeted and burned often by opponents in the preseason. Rookie Taron Johnson and veteran free agent signee Phillip Gaines both won roster spots and it’s still uncertain entering the regular season which of them will be the slot cornerback. The other reserve corners are returnee Lafayette Pitts, another bomb squad mainstay, and Ryan Lewis, who was claimed off waivers at the final cutdown and is a complete unknown. The signing of Rafael Bush to be a veteran safety backup to Poyer and Hyde looks like a good one. The other reserve safety is rookie draft pick Siran Neal.

 

Special Teams

 

Kicker Steven Hauschka (Getty Images)

Another of the stellar 2017 free agent signings leads off the list of Buffalo’s specialists, placekicker Steven Hauschka. “Hausch Money” was automatic in 2017 and hopefully he can repeat his reliable campaign of a year ago. The Bills made a surprise move on cutdown day by waiving their incumbent punter, Colton Schmidt, and replacing him with a totally untested rookie, Corey Bojorquez. He was on New England’s preseason roster but never punted in a game. The left-footer had an impressive college career at New Mexico, however, and the Bills are obviously counting on him to replicate that in the NFL. Ryan Ferguson returns as the long snapper, while possible kick return candidates include Taiwan Jones, Marcus Murphy and Ray-Ray McCloud. Players like Holmes, Humber, Pitts, Lacey and even starter Lorenzo Alexander will be commonplace on the punt and kickoff squads.

For fans anxious to get hyped for the start of the season, here is the annual audio “Shout” song clip:

 
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NFL – Mock Draft 2018

05 Apr

Welcome to the third annual Rayonsports.com mock draft of college players to the National Football League. This year our panel of expert draft analysts will expand our picks to three rounds. Here are our guesses for how the NFL’s teams will restock their rosters through the college draft:

Round One

 

darnoldUSC QB Sam Darnold

 

  1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold, QB (USC). He seems to be the consensus top pick on most draft boards.
  2. New York Giants – Saquon Barkley, RB (Penn State) – many draft experts consider him to be the top player in the draft.
  3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis) – Josh Rosen, QB (UCLA) – his big time personality will bode well for success in the Big Apple.
  4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) – Bradley Chubb, DE (NC State) – the best edge rusher in the draft gets paired up with last year’s top pick, Myles Garrett.
  5. Denver Broncos – Denzel Ward, CB (Ohio State) – Broncos add a blue chip replacement for Aquib Talib.
  6. Indianapolis Colts (from NY Jets) – Quenton Nelson, G (Notre Dame) – Colts realize the importance of protecting Andrew Luck, and add a solid offensive lineman to help accomplish that.
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S (Alabama) – Bucs pluck a playmaker from the national champion Crimson Tide.
  8. Chicago Bears – Vita Vea, DT (Washington) – this run-stuffing beast will be a big part of reviving the Monsters of The Midway defense in the Windy City.
  9. San Francisco 49ers – Tremaine Edmonds, LB (Virginia Tech) – a great combination of size and speed makes this youngster a top ten pick.
  10. Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith, LB (Georgia) – Raiders covet Edmonds, but grab the next best ‘backer in this powerful Bulldog.
  11. Miami Dolphins – Derwin James, S (Florida State) – Fish consider a quarterback, but opt to go with the “best player available” strategy instead.
  12. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati) – Baker Mayfield, QB (Oklahoma) – this pick stirred up the most debate among our panel of experts, but the final choice was the controversial Heisman Trophy winner.
  13. Washington Redskins – Harold Landry, LB (Boston College) – linebacker may not be his true position, but neither is defensive end. Like NC State’s Chubb, he is one of what NFL talent evaluators list as an “edge rusher”.
  14. Green Bay Packers – Joshua Jackson, CB (Iowa) – in a bit of a reach here, Packers choose to upgrade their weak secondary.
  15. Arizona Cardinals – Josh Allen, QB (Wyoming) – there’s a distinct possibility that this pick and Buffalo’s at #12 are reversed.
  16. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Ridley, WR (Alabama) – the first receiver of the draft comes off the board as the Ravens add a dynamic playmaker for QB Joe Flacco.
  17. Los Angeles Chargers – Lamar Jackson, QB (Louisville) – Bolts recently signed Geno Smith, but that won’t stop them from grabbing Phillip Rivers’ eventual replacement.
  18. Seattle Seahawks – Derrius Guise, RB (LSU) – Hawks finally find an adequate replacement for Marshawn Lynch.
  19. Dallas Cowboys – Marcus Davenport, DE (Texas-San Antonio) – another “edge rusher” that will step in and help the Cowboys defense.
  20. Detroit Lions – Maurice Hurst, DT (Michigan) – with a nod to new coach Matt Patricia, the Lions go defense with this pick, despite Hurst’s possible medical issues.
  21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo) – Will Hernandez, G (Texas-El Paso) – Bengals need to strengthen their interior offensive line.
  22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) – Rashaan Evans, LB (Alabama) – he should step in as a day one starter at middle linebacker, as coach Sean McDermott seeks a speedier replacement for the departed Preston Brown.
  23. New England Patriots (from LA Rams) – Leighton VanderEsch, LB (Boise State) – this rangy inside backer could become an instant star playing in coach Bill Belichick’s defense.
  24. Carolina Panthers – Christian Kirk, WR (Texas A&M) – some analysts have him rated as a second round prospect so this may be a reach for the Panthers.
  25. Tennessee Titans – Da’Ron Payne, DT (Alabama) – Titans add a strong presence to their interior defensive line.
  26. Atlanta Falcons – Ronnie Harrison, S (Alabama) – back-to-back defensive picks from the national champion Crimson Tide.
  27. New Orleans Saints – Mike McGlinchey, T (Notre Dame) – in a bit of a down year for offensive tackle prospects, the Saints add the best of the lot, a steal this far down in the round.
  28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Hughes, CB (Central Florida) – Coach Mike Tomlin recognizes the need to fortify his club’s weak secondary.
  29. Jacksonville Jaguars – Cortland Sutton, WR (SMU) – after suffering some free agent losses at this position, the Jags add a potent weapon for QB Blake Bortles.
  30. Minnesota Vikings – Arden Key, DE (LSU) – another “edge rusher”, he should be an added defensive piece to what should be a top NFC contender.
  31. New England Patriots – Isaiah Oliver, CB (Colorado) – after surrending 41 points to the Eagles in the Super Bowl, the Pats move to add much needed help to their defense.
  32. Philadelphia Eagles – Jaire Alexander, CB (Louisville) – Super Bowl champs wind up the first round by choosing a second round prospect, but still a top defender in this year’s draft.

 

Round Two

33. Cleveland Browns – Connor Williams, T (Texas) – the Browns, with a wealth of picks, make this one with an eye toward replacing retiring All Pro Joe Thomas.

34. New York Giants – Isaiah Wynn, G (Georgia) – the likelihood that Eli Manning remains the starting QB makes protecting him a priority.

35. Cleveland Browns – Taven Bryan, DT (Florida) – Brownies resort to the “best player available” mode with this pick.

36. Indianapolis Colts – Sony Michel, RB (Georgia) – with Frank Gore gone, Colts plug in a runner who some scouts are calling this year’s Alvin Kamara.

37. Indianapolis Colts – Uchenna Nwosu, LB (USC) – Colts grab an edge rusher who is a solid first round talent.

38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Nick Chubb, RB (Georgia) – a replacement for the departed Doug Martin.

39. Chicago Bears – Brian O’Neill, T (Pittsburgh) – Bears add a protector for their new franchise QB Mitch Trubisky.

40. Denver Broncos – Lorenzo Carter, LB (Georgia) – the fourth Bulldog chosen so far in the second round, he will look great lined up as an edge rusher opposite Von Miller.

41. Oakland Raiders – Sam Hubbard, LB (Ohio State) – another edge rusher, the Raiders continue to load up on defense.

42. Miami Dolphins – Mike Gesicki, TE (Penn State) – Dolphins choose a player who will likely be an instant starter with Julius Thomas gone.

43. New England Patriots – Anthony Miller, WR (Memphis) – with Tom Brady as his QB, this kid steps into a great situation.

44. Washington Redskins – James Washington, WR (Oklahoma State) – yes, Mr. Washington goes to Washington.

45. Green Bay Packers – Josh Sweat, DE (Florida State) – defensive end and outside linebacker, in today’s game, have pretty much morphed into a new position – edge rusher. This kid is another one.

46. Cincinnati Bengals – James Daniels, C (Iowa) – with a need at the center position, Bengals reach to draft a round 3-4 prospect.

47. Arizona Cardinals – Braden Smith, G (Auburn) – Cardinals begin the process of adding protection for their shiny new QB.

48. Los Angeles Chargers – Billy Price, C (Ohio State) – despite an injury that may postpone the start of his career, Chargers find his value too good to pass up.

49. Indianapolis Colts – Carlton Davis, CB (Auburn) – a much needed cover corner for the Colts’ secondary.

50. Dallas Cowboys – Holton Hill, CB (Texas) – “Hollywood” Hill is made to play for the ‘Boys. He’s a flashy corner who doesn’t lack confidence.

51. Detroit Lions – Mark Andrews, TE (Oklahoma) – Lions reach a bit for a replacement for Eric Ebron.

52. Baltimore Ravens – Quenton Meeks, CB (Stanford) – Baltimore needs to infuse some youth into their secondary.

53. Buffalo Bills – D.J. Chark, WR (LSU) – Bills add a solid deep threat to their thin receiving corps with this stud who stood out in the Senior Bowl.

54. Kansas City Chiefs – Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE (Oklahoma) – KC finally gets their first choice in this draft and adds a bona fide pass rusher.

55. Carolina Panthers – Harrison Phillips, DT (Stanford) – Bolts grab a great D-line addition to pair with Joey Bosa.

56. Buffalo Bills – Darius Leonard, LB (South Carolina State) – Bills add this small school undersized gem to their stable of LBs, which is need of a major upgrade.

57. Tennessee Titans – D.J. Moore, WR (Maryland) – Titans snap up this explosive pass catcher who gets first round grades from some scouts.

58. Atlanta Falcons – Malik Jefferson, LB (Texas) – athletic inside linebacker who fits the Falcons’ defensive scheme.

59. San Francisco 49ers – Michael Gallup, WR (Colorado State) – Niners pile up another shiny new toy for Jimmy G to play with.

60. Pittsburgh Steelers – Mason Rudolph, QB (Oklahoma State) – could this kid be Ben Roethlisberger 2.0?

61. Jacksonville Jaguars – Hayden Hurst, TE (South Carolina) – after jettisoning veteran Marcedes Lewis, Jags grab a young replacement.

62. Minnesota Vikings – Frank Ragnow, C (Arkansas) – rugged future building block for the Vikings’ interior offensive line.

63. New England Patriots – Justin Reid, S (Stanford) – Pats continue to fortify their secondary.

64. Cleveland Browns – Jesse Bates III, S (Wake Forest) – Steelers see a lot of upside in this young addition to the secondary.

 

Round Three

 

65. Buffalo Bills – Kolton Miller, T (UCLA)

66. New York Giants – Da’Shawn Hand, DT (Alabama)

67. Indianapolis Colts –  Orlando Brown, T (Oklahoma)

68. Houston Texans – Donte Jackson, CB (LSU)

69. New York Giants – Mike White, QB (Western Kentucky)

70. San Francisco 49ers – Brendan Mahon, G (Penn State)

71. Denver Broncos – Deon Cain, WR (Clemson)

72. New York Jets – Jeff Holland, LB (Auburn)

73. Miami Dolphins – Kalen Ballage, RB (Arizona State)

74. San Francisco 49ers – Dallas Goedert, TE (South Dakota State)

75. Oakland Raiders – Marcell Ateman, WR (Oklahoma State)

76. Green Bay Packers – M.J. Stewart, CB (North Carolina)

77. Cincinnati Bengals – Joshua Frazier, DT (Alabama)

78. Kansas City Chiefs – R.J. McIntosh, DT (Miami)

79. Arizona Cardinals – Dante Pettis, WR (Washington)

80. Houston Texans – Derrick Nnadi, DT (Florida State)

81. Dallas Cowboys – DeShon Elliot, S (Texas)

82. Detroit Lions – Ronald Jones II, RB (USC)

83. Baltimore Ravens – Josey Jewell, LB (Iowa)

84. Los Angeles Chargers – Rasheem Green, DT (USC)

85. Carolina Panthers – Tarvarus McFadden, CB (Florida State)

86. Kansas City Chiefs – Duke Dawson, CB (Florida)

87. Los Angeles Rams – Tegray Scales, LB (Indiana)

88. Carolina Panthers – Anthony Averett, CB (Alabama)

89. Tennessee Titans – Bradley Bozeman, C (Alabama)

90. Atlanta Falcons – Shaquem Griffin, LB (Central Florida)

91. New Orleans Saints – Luke Falk, QB (Washington State)

92. Pittsburgh Steelers – Troy Fumagalli, TE (Wisconsin)

93. Jacksonville Jaguars – DaeSean Hamilton, WR (Penn State)

94. Minnesota Vikings – Kameron Kelly, S (San Diego State)

95. New England Patriots – Kyle Lauletta, QB (Richmond)

96. Buffalo Bills – Rashaad Penny, RB (San Diego State)

97. Arizona Cardinals – Wyatt Teller, G (Virginia Tech)

98. Houston Texans – Brandon Parker, T (North Carolina A&T)

99. Denver Broncos – Poona Ford, DT (Texas)

100. Cincinnati Bengals – Riley Ferguson, QB (Memphis)

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

23 Jan

The fourth and final entry of our Bills’ 2017 season review takes a look at positions of need for the team going into next season, and some possible avenues, through trades, free agency and the draft, that they can address those needs:

 

Quarterback

 

There is almost no chance the Bills bring back Tyrod Taylor as their starting QB in 2018. He will be cut or possibly traded if they can find a willing partner. With third stringer Joe Webb III being unsigned, the only signal caller under contract is rookie Nathan Peterman. Peterman is still a project at this point, and although he still could be a future starter, management has to bring in a different, and hopefully better option than Taylor, to be a bridge QB until Peterman or any rookie they draft, is ready. The possibilities include a free agent, like Sam Bradford or Josh McCown. I don’t see them breaking the bank on a high-priced vet like Kirk Cousins. Most likely, they’ll use a draft choice on a QB, either by packaging some of their draft capital and/or players to move up in the draft, or staying put and nabbing a player they like with their own picks. Possibilities there include Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Western Kentucky’s Mike White or Luke Falk of Washington State.

 

Running Back

 

LeSean McCoy is the heart and soul of Buffalo’s offense, but the team needs to find him some help in the form of a capable backup who can lessen his workload. Late season signee Marcus Murphy showed some promise but depth is needed here badly. In the free agent market, Minnesota’s Jerick McKinnon would be an option. Rookie Dalvin Cook will return from injury next season so the Vikings may not put a priority on signing McKinnon. Other free agents include Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell and Rex Burkhead of the running back-loaded Patriots. Sometimes gems can be found in the middle to late rounds of the draft at running back. There are a few possible diamonds in the rough there – Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, L.J. Scott from Michigan State and Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb.

 

Receiver

 

The Bills could go high in the draft for a receiver, since they could use a sure-handed deep threat to add to this unit. A lot of mock drafts have them plucking Oklahoma State’s James Washington with one of their first round picks. His teammate, Marcell Ateman is also rated high. In the middle rounds, a sleeper could be L.S.U.’s D.J. Chark. An intriguing free agent prospect is John Brown of the Arizona Cardinals, who has played in Larry Fitzgerald’s shadow but could blossom if given an opportunity to be a featured receiver.

 

Defensive Line

 

One of the Bills’ most pressing needs is a run-stuffing defensive tackle, followed by a consistent edge rusher who can improve the pass rush. A top draftee who may interest the Bills is Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, a projected first rounder. In the middle rounds, Kentavius Street of North Carolina State is a possibility. Marcus Davenport of Texas-San Antonio is a top rated edge rusher who would fit nicely in the Bills’ D-line rotation. In free agency, the Bills management’s fascination with Carolina Panther players could lead them to pursue D-tackle Star Lotulelei, while a much-sought after pair of pass-rushing ends will be Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence and Detroit’s Ezekiel Ansah. Could the Bills persuade either of them to sign here?

 

Linebackers

 

This is another area of great need for the Bills. They have to add youth, speed and toughness to their linebacking corps. Demario Davis of the Jets stands out among a weak class of free agents, so linebacker looks to be a need the team will address in the draft. Georgia’s Roquan Smith is a standout inside backer who would be a good fit if he drops to one of the Bills’ first round spots. In the middle rounds, Josey Jewell of Iowa is a classic over-achiever who might surprise in the pros. Middle round outside linebacker draft prospects include Jeff Holland of Auburn, Miami’s Chad Thomas and Tegray Scales of Indiana.

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review- Part 3

19 Jan

Part 3 of our Buffalo Bills’ season review looks at the defensive side of the ball, which had an up and down season and looks like it will be going through a lot of changes entering the 2018 season. Here’s a positon-by-position look at the defense, and also the special teams:

 

Defensive Line

 

There a lot of question marks with this unit heading into next season. Will Kyle Williams be back? Who will replace the departed Marcel Dareus? How can the pass rush be improved? There’s no question Bills’ management wants Williams, a major locker room leader, to return. Should he come back, his role in the line rotation may be diminished due to his age but he is unquestionably still a very productive player. How much the trade of Dareus hurt the team is debatable, but there’s no question the team needs to find another big run-stuffer to replace him, preferably one with more of an unselfish, team-first attitude. The current management hasn’t shown a lot of patience with players brought in by the previous regime, so the futures of Adolphus Washington, and even Jerry Hughes, are very much up in the air. Washington’s play has been average, although he is still young and developing. Hughes, on the other hand, has underperformed since signing a big contract a couple of years ago, and looks like a prime example of the type of player the team wants to replace with an upgrade in talent. Shaq Lawson, who ended the season on injured reserve, is a cross between Washington and Hughes. He’s still young, but hasn’t lived up to his first round billing. Will the team give him time to develop, or decide he doesn’t fit into their plans? Three other members of the D-line rotation, Ryan Davis, Cedric Thornton and Eddie Yarbrough, performed admirably but are just stop-gap players. Attempting to find some depth along the defensive front as the year went on, the Bills added a pair of street free agents, Cap Capi and Rickey Hatley, late in the season. Both saw playing time, and should be afforded an opportunity to expand on their roles in training camp this year.

 

Linebackers

 

This unit could look radically different entering the 2018 season. Rookie Matt Milano, who won a starting job during the season, might be the only member returning. Lorenzo Alexander and Ramon Humber are aging, average players, and Preston Brown is not necessarily a fit in the style of defense the Bills want to employ. There will be a concerted effort to find more speed at the linebacker position, either through free agency or the draft. Two other LBs on the roster, Deon Lacey and Tanner Vallejo, are almost exclusively special teamers, although Vallejo, a rookie, will be given every chance to try and crack the lineup in his sophomore season. There’s no question the lack of quality players and depth at linebacker need to be addressed this off-season.

 

Defensive Backs

 

The biggest surprise of the 2017 season was how well the completely revamped Bills’ secondary jelled together. Buffalo entered the season with all new starters – E.J. Gaines (acquired from the Rams for Sammy Watkins) and rookie Tre White at the corners, and free agent signees Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer at safety. An argument could be made that White, Hyde and Poyer all deserved to be Pro Bowlers. The regular nickel corner, Leonard Johnson, was also a newcomer. He had his ups and downs, but was mostly a solid contributor. Injuries forced Shareece Wright, Lafayette Pitts, Shamarko Thomas and Colt Anderson into action at different times in 2017, with varying results. Pitts, Thomas and Anderson were big special teams contributors, while Wright looked liked an aging stop-gap player who won’t be on the roster in 2018. Another late-season signee, Breon Borders, didn’t get to show much.

 

Special Teams

 

The biggest bright spot on the bomb squads in 2017, and one of the highlights of the entire team, was the free agent addition of kicker Stephen Hauschka. “Hausch Money” was a dramatic improvement over Dan Carpenter, who declined badly in 2016. Punter Colton Schmidt was hot and cold, but mostly adequate. He will likely get training camp competition, though, on a team always striving to get better in all areas. Long snapper Ryan Ferguson was barely noticeable, which means he was practically flawless. The kick coverage teams did an admirable job all year. The Bills’ return game could use a shot in the arm. Brandon Tate was uninspiring most of the year as the primary punt and kickoff returner. They need to upgrade to a more dynamic player in 2018.

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

17 Jan

Part 2 of our Bills’ season review deals with the offense, a major weakness in the 2017 season. The unit regressed under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, leading to Dennison’s departure after only a single season. Both the rushing and passing attacks had sub-par results, and there are major questions about what direction the offense will take next season, starting with what is the philosophy of newly hired OC Brian Daboll. Here is a position-by-position look at the Bills’ offense in 2017:

Quarterbacks

 

Tyrod Taylor’s days as Buffalo’s starting quarterback are surely numbered. Coach Sean McDermott hinted at his displeasure with the veteran’s play when he benched him for rookie Nathan Peterman during the season. Although Peterman wasn’t the answer at that point and the return to Taylor to finish the season was inevitable, there’s no question the Bills’ organization will look for other options during the off-season. Peterman is still an option, if only as a backup, but he needs more seasoning before he’s ready. Veteran Joe Webb III made some positive contributions when he was thrust into action, but he is mostly a special teams contributor and also an impending free agent. The QB roster will undoubtedly look a lot different in Buffalo entering the 2018 season, and Daboll will be challenged to try and construct a workable offense around whoever winds up behind center.

Running Backs

 

It’s safe to say the Bills would be nowhere without LeSean McCoy, their elusive running back. He put up amazing numbers despite being the only credible threat on the offensive unit most of the season. The Bills clearly need to upgrade the depth behind him. Veteran Mike Tolbert played that role in 2017, but he is a fullback by trade. So is Patrick DiMarco, who was signed as a free agent mostly to be a blocker and receiver out of the backfield. He lived up to his reputation as a blocker but underachieved as a receiver. Two street free agents, Travaris Cadet and Marcus Murphy, provided some spark in limited opportunities to spell McCoy, and both are worth a look in training camp next season. Taiwan Jones is another runner on the roster but is almost exclusively a special teamer. As a team that empathizes the running game, Buffalo needs to find McCoy more help in carrying the load entering the 2018 season.

Receivers

 

In scouring the Bills’ wide receiver/tight end roster as of now, there are only 3 names that seem to be certainties to be with the team in 2018 – wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones, and tight end Nick O’Leary. Tight end Charles Clay may possibly be on this list also, but his inconsistent play and high salary could make him a target for trade or release. Otherwise, the list includes mostly mediocrities who made little or no contributions this past season, or are at least no sure things to return if management decides a major overhaul of the receiving corps is in order. Some street free agents – Andre Holmes, Deonte Thompson, Brandon Tate and tight ends Logan Thomas and Khari Lee, are no locks to return next year. Thompson, signed during the season, contributed the most after seemingly developing some chemistry with Taylor. Tate was mostly used as a kick returner and his play in that role declined significantly. A couple of practice squad receivers, Brandon Reilly and Malachi Dupre, were promoted to the active roster as the season wound down, indicating the Bills’ desire to give them a shot at making the club next year.

Offensive Line

 

This is as stable of a unit as the Bills have going into 2018, but the management team of GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott don’t appear to be too keen on standing pat in any area. The starting five at season’s end should return – center Erik Wood (played every snap in 2017), guards Vlad Ducasse and Richie Incognito, and tackles Dion Dawkins and Jordan Mills. However, Wood and Incognito are both in their 30s, and the team has been attempting to upgrade from Mills for a couple of years now, so nothing is written in stone. Veteran Ryan Groy provides much needed depth and experience. In fact, he was probably under-utilized this past season. Two former starters – guard John Miller and tackle Cordy Glenn, have fallen out of favor with the current management team, and could be prime trade bait. It’s highly unlikely Seantrel Henderson and his medical issues will be back, while another practice squad member who earned a promotion to the active roster but never got a chance to play, tackle Conor McDermott, should be back to battle for a spot next year.

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

14 Jan

This is Part 1, 2017 edition, of our annual four part series reviewing the Buffalo Bills’ season.  This first section deals with the management and coaching side of the franchise:

All this team needs is a real leader who will demand accountability from his players and who has some semblance of organizational skills.”

That was the final sentence of the management/coaching section of the 2016 season review, describing what owners Terry and Kim Pegula needed to find in their search for a new head coach.  In hiring Sean McDermott to lead the franchise, they accomplished this, judging by the first year results the new coached provided. Using catch phrases like “trust the process” and “playoff caliber”, McDermott drove home a consistent message to his players that a new standard was being set for the team. Thanks to a miraculous fourth down touchdown engineered by Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd, the Bills qualified for the playoffs on the season’s final day. Also brought in by the owners was a new general manager, Brandon Beane, who had worked with McDermott in Carolina. Unlike previous regimes, Beane and McDermott seem to be on the same page when it comes to the overall vision for the franchise. Beane showed guts by being unafraid to unburden the team from players who didn’t fit his and the coach’s type of character people they want to go forward with. Gone in trades were Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, Marcell Dareus, Cardale Jones and Reggie Ragland. Beane hit home runs in his free agency signings, landing a pair of standout safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, a starting guard in Vlad Ducasse, fullback Patrick DiMarco, as well as kicker Stephen Hauschka. He also added possible pieces for the future by acquiring receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews,and cornerback E.J. Gaines in trades. In all, McDermott got amazing results from a roster that had few playmakers and was loaded with marginal players plucked from the waiver wire or signed off the street. Offensively, the team regressed from a mediocre 2016 season, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison paid the price for that, being fired shortly after the season. Western New York native Brian Daboll was just hired as his replacement. Daboll has an impressive resume, having had OC experience with 3 different NFL teams as well as serving in that role for Alabama’s national champion team this year. He also has multiple Super Bowl rings from his days as a New England assistant. Beane acquired a number of high picks for the 2018 draft, and the Bills will have to hit on those picks, as well as have another successful free agency period, to take the next step toward their ultimate goal of establishing themselves as a consistent winning franchise.

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Saturday Night Surprise

28 Dec

The final week of the NFL’s regular season will be played this weekend, and one of the matchups is between 2 old rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The Steelers are headed to the playoffs with a first round bye secured, while the Browns are winless and are the league’s ultimate bottom-feeders, having won only one game in the past two seasons. Our final Throwback Thursday feature for 2017 harkens back to October 10, 1964 to a meeting between these 2 franchises back when their fortunes were reversed. The Browns were a powerhouse in the league and were on their way to claiming the NFL Championship that season, while the Steelers were half a decade away from hiring Chuck Noll as head coach and turning the team’s fortunes around. Pittsburgh was a rough team that played hard-nosed, and sometimes dirty, defense, while routinely losing games.

In what was an annual tradition at that time, the game was played on a Saturday night rather than the usual Sunday afternoon, and on this night, the Steelers pulled off a Saturday Night Surprise, as they dominated the Browns on their own home field, the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Using a power running game that featured future Hall of Fame fullback John Henry Johnson,  Pittsburgh threw the ball only 11 times all night, and wound up gaining 354 yards on the ground on 64 attempts. Johnson carried 30 times for an even 200 yards and scored all 3 of his team’s touchdowns, while Clarence Peaks added another 96 yards on 21 tries. Meanwhile, the rugged Steeler defense neutralized Cleveland’s star fullback, Jim Brown, holding him to only 59 yards for the night. They also harassed quarterback Frank Ryan, sacking him 4 times (although sacks were not an official statistic at the time). In all, the Steelers outgained the Browns in the game, 477 total yards to 217 in securing a 23-7 victory. It was Cleveland’s first loss of the year, dropping their record to 3-1-1, while the win lifted Pittsburgh to 3-2 and within a half game of overtaking the Browns.

Pittsburgh reverted to their losing ways, however, finishing the season at 5-9 while the Browns, as stated earlier, went on to capture the league championship. Coach Blanton Collier’s Browns also got revenge on the Steelers later that year, going into Pitt Stadium and pulling out a 30-17 win in November.

 

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John Henry Johnson grinds out yardage vs. Browns (Getty Images)