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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Falcons’ First Win

18 Oct

In past Throwback Thursday posts, we’ve featured a number of “firsts” that occurred over the years in pro football, including the first AFL game ever played, the New Orleans’ Saints first ever game, and this year, the Cardinals’ first game as the St. Louis Cards. This week, with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants meeting on the NFL schedule, we go back to November 20, 1966, when the Falcons’ franchise recorded the first victory in team history with a 27-16 win over New York. Welcomed into the National Football League as an expansion team in ’66, the Falcons had their top draft pick, linebacker Tommy Nobis, and not much else. They lost their first 9 games of the year, but this particular week they traveled to Yankee Stadium to battle an equally inept club in the Giants, who had a lone victory and a tie to show for their season so far.

Nobis had been a stalwart on defense for a bad team most of the year, and the team had another rookie first round draft pick leading the offense in quarterback Randy Johnson, who didn’t have much to work with on his side of the ball either. On this day, however, Atlanta had a secret weapon on their side – a highly motivated fullback named Ernie Wheelwright. He had been plucked by the Falcons off the Giants’ roster in the expansion draft held before the season to stock the new franchise. Wheelwright, a career journeyman with pedestrian statistics, was a key figure in beating his old team on this day, accounting for 86 yards from scrimmage and scoring 2 touchdowns on short throws from Johnson. The rookie QB threw 3 TD passes on the day and also ran for a touchdown in the final quarter to secure his team’s first win ever. Running back Joe Morrison was a lone bright spot in a dismal season for the Giants, and in this game scored a pair of touchdowns in a losing cause. Atlanta would ride the momentum from winning this contest to grab 2 more victories to finish the year at 3-11, escaping last place while the Giants continued their losing ways, finishing last behind the Falcons in the Eastern Division standings at 1-12-1. This era was not a very successful one for the proud Giants’ franchise, and finishing last behind an expansion team was a particular low point.

tommynobis

Falcons’ linebacker Tommy Nobis

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Catch II

11 Oct

With this week’s NFL schedule including a matchup of the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, our Throwback Thursday feature will go back to an NFC wild card game played between these 2 iconic franchises on January 3, 1999. The game featured a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Green Bay’s Brett Favre and San Francisco’s Steve Young, but the offensive production for both teams in this contest came mostly from their running games. The star running backs on this day weren’t necessarily household names. Dorsey Levens, for most of his career a backup, racked up 116 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries for Green Bay, while Garrison Hearst totaled 128 yards on 22 carries for the Niners.

Although the running games were featured by both teams, Favre and Young used short passes to complete drives as the game went on. Up until the last 2 minutes of the contest, Favre completed 2 short scoring passes to Antonio Freeman, while Young connected with Greg Clark on a pair of touchdown throws, with both scoring plays totaling a whopping 9 yards. The team’s field goal kickers, Ryan Longwell of the Packers and San Fran’s Wade Richey, traded field goals all game long, and with 2 minutes left to play, the Packers took a 27-23 lead when Favre hit Freeman for his second TD of the game. That left Young with the opportunity to match Favre with some late game magic of his own. Although their weren’t a lot of aerial fireworks in this game, the signal callers, who were both recent Super Bowl winning QBs, showed their excellence in putting together scoring drives when it mattered. Young proceeded to lead his club downfield and with 9 seconds left, he hit his young, brash wide receiver, Terrell Owens, with a pinpoint post pattern throw covering 25 yards for the winning score, sealing a 30-27 victory for the 49ers.

It was a bit of a coming out party for Owens with his dramatic touchdown. He had been playing second fiddle to Niner legend Jerry Rice since arriving on the scene, and became quite emotional on the sideline after his game-winning heroics. In some ways, it was the start of a symbolic passing of the torch with the 49ers, as Rice was nearing the end of his reign with the team while Owens’ career was just beginning. Some people labeled the winning play “The Catch II” after the original “The Catch” made by another 49er, Dwight Clark, in 1982 on a throw from Joe Montana. Owens’ play wasn’t quite as dramatic, however. It happened in a wild card game while the Montana to Clark play came in an NFC Conference championship game and propelled San Francisco to its’ first Super Bowl appearance.

owenscrying

An emotional Terrell Owens after his game-winning catch

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Music City Miracle

04 Oct

The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans clash on the NFL schedule for the upcoming week five, and our Throwback Thursday feature travels back to a wild card playoff game between these 2 clubs contested on January 8, 2000. It was a hard -fought game that was decided in the final seconds by a controversial play that was a throwback in itself – the name of the play was  “The Home Run Throwback”. Although the 2 teams only qualified as wild cards, they were both imposing clubs. The Titans had finished at 13-3 while the Bills, with an 11-5 record, boasted the #1 defense in the NFL in yards allowed. It was a defensive struggle from the start, and after a scoreless first quarter, the Titans took command as they sacked Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson for a safety, then got a 42 yard return of the “free kick” following the safety by Derrick Mason to give themselves great field position. Tennessee QB Steve “Air” McNair finished off the short drive with a one yard touchdown run, and an Al Del Greco field goal later in the quarter sent the Titans into halftime with a 12-0 lead.

The Bills had gained only 64 yards in the opening half, and a controversial decision to change signal callers for this game was beginning to look bad. Doug Flutie had been the Bills’ QB all season, leading a low-scoring but efficient attack as the club rode the strength of their defense to most of their victories. In a meaningless regular season finale, Johnson was given a start against the Indianapolis Colts and was so impressive that the Bills’ brass decided to go with him in the playoff game instead of Flutie. Under enormous pressure to produce, Johnson came out in the second half and began to mount a comeback. The Bills took the opening kickoff of the half and used their running game, specifically star back Antowian Smith, to put together a 64 yard scoring drive. a 44 yard run by Smith highlighted the drive, and a 4 yard run for a touchdown by him finished it. Johnson led another touchdown drive, this time for 65 yards and highlighted by a 37 yard completion from him to Eric Moulds. The drive was capped off with another 4 yard TD run by Smith, and after failing on a two-point conversion try, the Bills found themselves with the lead at 13-12. McNair, who had only 76 yards passing for the day, pieced together a drive that netted the Titans another Del Greco field goal, putting Tennessee up 15-13 with a little under 2 minutes to play.  Johnson again led the Bills downfield, orchestrating a drive that led to a go-ahead field goal from Steve Christie that appeared to ice the game for the Bills, as only 16 seconds remained.

Then came the infamous play that would make this game one of the most memorable in NFL playoff history. Lorenzo Neal fielded Christie’s “pooch” kickoff, and handed it to Pro Bowler Frank Wycheck. Wycheck stopped, turned to his left and lofted a “lateral” across the field to speedster Kevin Dyson, who raced past the few Buffalo defenders who were on that side of the field to an improbable touchdown return to give his team a 22-16 victory. The play was extremely controversial in that it appeared that Wycheck had thrown an illegal forward pass. In fact, Bills’ coach Wade Phillips appeared to be very calm after the play, confident that it would be overturned on replay review. Replays showed Wycheck was clearly behind the yard line when he launched the pass, with Dyson clearly ahead of it when he caught the ball. However, referee Phil Luckett, after review, ruled that Wycheck’s arm was parallel to where Dyson was, so it was a legal lateral. Luckett’s role in the play was highlighted in the fact that he had been involved in a couple of controversies earlier in the season, botching the coin toss in one game and ruling a Vinny Testaverde QB sneak a touchdown even though replays clearly showed him being stopped a half yard short. Controversy aside, the touchdown stood and the “Music City Miracle” was born, although Bills’ coach Phillips always referred to it as “The Music City Mistake”.

 

2000-Titans-Online

Kevin Dyson follows a convoy of blockers to “Music City Miracle” winning TD

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: “I Love You, Brian!”

27 Sep

The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders match up on the NFL’s week four schedule this Sunday, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to January 4, 1981, a cold, snowy day in Cleveland when these 2 clubs met in an AFC divisional playoff game. The Raiders were a wild card entry in that year’s playoffs, while the Browns enjoyed an 11-5 season in which their quarterback, Brian Sipe, won the league’s MVP award in leading his team to the AFC Central Division title. Sipe and his Browns earned the nickname “Kardiac Kids” for their habit of winning close games with come-from-behind victories all year, and this game played out like many of their regular season contests, except for the ending.

Weather conditions would be a big factor in the game, as neither team could muster much offense. The Browns’ defense broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter when Ron Bolton returned one of his 2 interceptions of Raider QB Jim Plunkett 42 yards for a touchdown. Mark Van Eeghen tied the score before the first half ended with a one yard plunge for a Raider TD. The only third quarter scoring came on a pair of Don Cockroft field goals for Cleveland, leaving the Browns up 12-7 entering the final quarter. When Van Eeghen scored a second 1-yard TD to put the Raiders up 14-12, Sipe and the Browns were put in their familiar spot of needing a fourth quarter comeback to secure a win. Starting at his own 15 yard line, Sipe masterfully drove his team downfield, reaching the Oakland 13 yard line with 49 seconds to play. The Browns were already in position to kick a game-winning field goal, but because of the severe weather conditions, coach Sam Rutigliano opted to have Sipe throw a pass to All Pro tight end Ozzie Newsome in the end zone to get the win. The decision backfired when Raider safety Mike Davis intercepted the pass, ending Cleveland’s season. As a disheartened Sipe came off the field , Rutigliano hugged his signal caller and exclaimed “I love you, Brian!”

The play, which carried the name “Red Right 88”, would become the first of the city of Cleveland’s infamous gaffes regarding heartbreaking Browns’ defeats. “The Drive” starring John Elway and “The Fumble” featuring Earnest Byner would follow in later years. The Browns remain one of the few teams in the NFL to have never played in a Super Bowl (although they were a dominant force in the pre-Super Bowl era). The Raiders took advantage of their good fortune of Rutigliano’s decision to pass by going on to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl that season.

 

Oakland’s Mike Davis seals the win (Getty Images)

 

 

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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