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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Alternating QB Experiment

29 Sep

As the NFL enters week 4 of it’s 2022 schedule, the always entertaining NFC East rivalry between Dallas and Washington is on the menu. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll reach way back to November 4, 1962 for a matchup between the 2 clubs. It was week 8 of the season, and both the Cowboys and Redskins were competitive in the NFL’s tough Eastern Division. The New York Giants and Cleveland Browns were dominant forces in the division, and even the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers were playing well that season. Washington came into the contest with only a single defeat at 4-1-2 (ties were common in those days with no overtime) while Dallas was still in it’s infancy, in only their third season under coach Tom Landry. Still, Landry had guided them to a respectable 3-3-1 mark.

Landry, always the innovator, implemented a system on his offense in which he alternated his quarterbacks, something that would be scoffed at in today’s game considering the fragile egos of today’s signal callers. Playing 2 quarterbacks was relatively common in those days, but mostly coaches would make an in-game change solely due to poor performance or injury, since the quarterbacks took brutal beatings back then. Landry took the ploy to extremes as he changed QBs at will regularly during a game. Whether it was a sound strategy or not, it worked out well for the Cowboys on this day. Young Don Meredith got the first kick at the can. After the teams traded first quarter field goals, he connected with Lee Folkins on an 11 yard touchdown pass. Old soldier Eddie LeBaron got his turn next, and he delivered with a 23 yard scoring toss to fullback Amos Marsh. Meredith then took another turn and found J.W. Lockett on a short 4 yard throw to put Dallas in front 24-3. In the final quarter Amos Bullocks scored on a 4 yard run, then LeBaron returned and led a drive culminating in a 14 yard TD toss to Frank Clarke.

Now the rout was on. Redskin coach Bill McPeak then made the move common to the era, replacing the ineffective Norm Snead at quarterback with backup Galen Hall. Hall put together a scoring drive that he finished off himself with a touchdown scamper from a yard out. Marsh was the offensive star for the Cowboys with 10 carries for 109 yards on the ground and 3 receptions for 53 yards and the TD through the air. Dallas left town with an impressive 38-10 victory in tow, but as the season wore on both teams took a nosedive in the standings, finishing fourth and fifth respectively in the 7 team East, each with losing records.

Coach Landry eventually settled on the younger Meredith as the full time starter later in the decade, but he did revert to the alternating tactic again in the early 1970s with Craig Morton and Roger Staubach. The Cowboys finally shed their “can’t win the big one” label in 1971 when he gave Staubach the job full time. They defeated Miami that season for their first Super Bowl title.

 

1960 Cowboy QBs LeBaron, Meredith, Don Heinrich

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Raiders Complete AFL Dominance

22 Sep

A pair of meandering NFL franchises meets on the league’s week 3 schedule, the Las Vegas Raiders and Tennessee Titans. For this week’s Thursday Throwback feature, we’ll highlight an American Football League championship game played between them on New Year’s Eve, 1967. At the time, the Titans were located in Houston as the Oilers, while the Raiders were still in their original home – Oakland. One of pro football’s most nomadic franchises, the Raiders moved from Oakland down the California coast to Los Angeles, back to Oakland and eventually to their current home in the Nevada desert.

At this point, Al Davis, who temporarily left the franchise to become AFL commissioner during merger talks with the NFL,  had built his team into a dominant force in the AFL. An October loss to Joe Namath and the New York Jets was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season as Oakland finished 13-1, winning the AFL’s Western Division crown by a whopping 4 games over rival Kansas City. Houston, under coach Wally Lemm, reversed their fortunes from the previous season, turning a 3-11 record into a 9-4-1 mark that proved good enough to win the Eastern Division title and a trip to Oakland for the championship match.

Although Lemm’s club managed to wrestle the crown from three-time East champion Buffalo and the up-and-coming Jets, they proved to be no match for the Raiders in the title game. Oakland’s rugged defense smothered the Oiler attack, holding them to 146 total yards on the day and forcing 4 fumbles and an interception. Offensively, Raider quarterback Daryle Lamonica completed only 10 passes, but 2 of those went for touchdowns, 17 yards to tight end Dave Kocourek and 12 yards to Bill Miller. Oakland’s offense demolished the Oilers with a relentless ground attack, as both Hewritt Dixon (144) and Pete Banaszak (116) ran for over 100 yards. Dixon’s total included a 69 yard scoring run. Lamonica added a 1 yard touchdown run and George Blanda booted 4 field goals to complete the Raiders’ scoring in a 40-7 rout of the Oilers that was never much of a contest. The beleaguered Houston club could only manage a fourth quarter 5 yard TD pass from Pete Beathard to Charley Frazier, avoiding a shutout but not being very satisfied with the result.

Having bulldozed through the AFL in winning 14 of 15 games, the Raiders appeared to have a team capable of competing with the NFL’s juggernaut Green Bay Packers in the second Super Bowl, following a 35-10 thrashing of Kansas City by the Packers the previous season. Vince Lombardi’s troops, after all, had to muster every ounce of fortitude they had to dispatch the Dallas Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl” to make it back to the big game. Alas, Oakland’s lack of experience showed in the game, and mistakes led to another resounding Packer victory, 33-14.

 

 

FB Hewritt Dixon outruns Oiler defenders

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Fighting For Their Playoff Lives

15 Sep

It’s week 2 of the NFL season and on this week’s schedule the New York Jets tangle with the Cleveland Browns, leading us at Rayonsports to travel back to December 10, 1978 for a late season meeting between these franchises. Both clubs entered the game on the fringes of the AFC playoff race. The Jets stood at 8-6 and trailed both New England and Miami in the AFC East, while the Browns languished at 7-7, ranking third in the AFC Central. With their faint playoff hopes on the line, the 2 teams battled feverishly to stay alive.

Cleveland jumped out to a 14-0 lead as Calvin Hill ran in from 2 yards out for the only score of the first quarter, and quarterback Brian Sipe hit Greg Pruitt with a 22 yard touchdown pass. The teams traded second quarter field goals, and Matt Robinson, subbing since early in the season for the injured Richard Todd, pulled the Jets to within 17-10 at the half with a short scoring toss to Bruce Harper. Cleveland again took charge in the third stanza as veteran placekicker Don Cockroft added another field goal and Sipe scampered into the end zone from 2 yards out, upping the lead to 27-10. Coach Walt Michaels’ Jets refused to fold, however. Robinson engineered a pair of touchdown drives, finishing them off with TD throws of 4 yards to tight end Mickey Shuler and 20 yards to Harper. After Pat Leahy hit a 39 yard field goal and Kevin Long scored on a 1 yard plunge, the Jets had run off 24 unanswered fourth quarter points and found themselves in the lead at 34-27. Coach Sam Rutigliano’s Browns, who had been dubbed the “Cardiac Kids” for pulling off a series of comebacks and late game heroics, dug down deep and drove downfield with Sipe hitting Hill for an 18 yard touchdown with 14 seconds left to tie the game and force overtime.

Cockroft ruined the day for the Jets by connecting on his third field goal, from 22 yards out, to give Cleveland a 37-34 victory. The hard-fought battle went for naught for both clubs. When Miami and the old Houston Oilers both won to clinch the final AFC wild card spots, both Cleveland and New York were officially eliminated. They each finished the season with mediocre 8-8 records after that, and this game took a toll the following week as both teams appeared deflated. The Jets lost to Dallas 30-7 and the Browns were pummeled by Cincinnati 48-16 in the season’s final games.

 

Sipe and the Browns huddle up

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Wild Card Shootout

08 Sep

The 2022 NFL season is upon us, beginning with the league’s Thursday Night opener in Los Angeles. The start of the new season also marks the return of our weekly Throwback Thursday feature, which highlights a game from the past played between 2 teams that are pitted against each other on the schedule that week. The schedule makers have the Detroit Lions meeting the Philadelphia Eagles in week 1 this season, so we’ll travel back to December 30, 1995 for a Wild Card playoff matchup between this pair of old NFL clubs.

The game saw the Eagles’ quarterback, Rodney Peete, matched up against the team he had spent the first 5 years of his career with in the Lions. The teams traded first quarter touchdowns as Charlie Garner scampered 15 yards to paydirt for Philly and Detroit QB Scott Mitchell tossed a 32 yard touchdown pass to David Sloan. The fortunes for the 2 signal callers, Peete and Mitchell, changed drastically after that. Peete guided the Eagles on a scoring rampage that stretched into the third quarter, as Philly racked up 51 unanswered points. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s day went south, as he was sacked twice and threw 4 interceptions before being replaced by Don Majkowski. The Eagles’ scoring onslaught included 3 TD passes from Peete to Fred Barnett, Ricky Watters and Rob Carpenter, a 1 yard touchdown run by Watters and 3 Gary Anderson field goals. The defense also chipped in, as Barry Wilburn returned one of the picks from Mitchell 24 yards for a touchdown.

Now trailing 51-7 in the third quarter, Detroit coach Wayne Fontes inserted Majkowski into the game hoping to at least regain some pride. The “Magic Man”, as Majkowski had been dubbed in earlier years while with Green Bay, lived up to the moniker. He proceeded to lead touchdown drives in the final 2 quarters that ended with 4 touchdown passes, including a 68 yarder to Herman Moore. Unfortunately for the Magic Man, the Philadelphia defense intervened in the comeback and stemmed the tide of Detroit scoring when William Thomas picked off a Majkowski pass and returned it 30 yards for the Eagles’ second pick six of the game. When the dust finally settled, Philly escaped with a 58-37 victory. Despite surrendering the 37 points, the Eagle defense had a stellar day with 6 total interceptions and the 14 point contribution to the scoring. The win was the highlight of the ’95 playoffs for Philadelphia. They were routed by the eventual Super Bowl champions, coach Barry Switzer’s Dallas Cowboys, 30-11 the following week in the divisional round.

 

 

Eagle QB Rodney Peete scans the defense

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ 2022 Season Preview

04 Sep

Thirteen seconds. It goes down in Buffalo Bills’ lore along with Wide Right as another huge disappointment for fans of the team. It’s the amount of time they couldn’t hold the lead at the end of their divisional playoff loss to Kansas City last year in what could have been a Super Bowl season. It also will be a prime motivator for the club throughout the 2022 campaign. They are being hailed as title favorites by analysts everywhere, and here is our look at the team entering this season:

 

Front Office/Coaching

Brandon Beane and his staff have done an A+ job of building the Bills into a contender through trades, free agency and shrewd drafting. Joe Schoen, the assistant GM, was lost to the New York Giants, but the quality of the 2022 draft shows that the front office didn’t miss a beat. Head coach Sean McDermott has mostly been solid but he has to take the majority of the blame for the 13 second disaster. His coaching staff will be different, with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson following Schoen to New York. Also, special teams coach Sean Farrell left for Jacksonville. The replacements for those 3 are Aaron Kromer as O line coach, a position he held previously here under Rex Ryan, and a pair of in-house promotions of Matt Smiley as special teams coach and Ken Dorsey from quarterback coach to OC.

 

Quarterbacks

 

QB Josh Allen, MVP candidate

 

Without question, the quarterback position in Buffalo is now set in stone. Josh Allen enters the 2022 season as a solid MVP candidate and the engine that drives the Bills’ offense. The only question going into training camp was who would replace the departed Mitch Trubisky as his backup. GM Brandon Beane went with NFL game experience, bringing in Case Keenum to fill that role. Matt Barkley also returns, albeit to the practice squad, to help out in the quarterback room.

 

Running Backs

 

Starting back Devin Singletary

 

Buffalo’s running back group can be described this season as versatile if nothing else. Starter Devin Singletary came on late in the year to provide a spark to a lagging rushing attack. His forte is racking up missed tackles by defenders. Zack Moss, now fully recovered from injury, is the short yardage and goal line pounder the team will need, while rookie James Cook could be the most well-rounded of all of them. He has one attribute the other 2 lack – breakaway speed. He is also a sneaky tough runner and has elite skills as a pass receiver out of the backfield or spread out wide. How he will be used in the Bills’ attack is one of the most intriguing mysteries going into the season. Taiwan Jones is on the roster strictly for his special teams play.

 

Receivers

 

TE Dawson Knox, an emerging force

 

Buffalo’s receiving corps underwent some changes in the off-season. Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley are gone. Stefon Diggs is the clear # 1 threat, while Gabe Davis, who gained national notoriety in last year’s playoffs, replaces Sanders as the other outside receiver. In Beasley’s slot position, the team has a pair of options in Isaiah McKenzie and free agent signee Jamison Crowder, a seasoned vet who killed the Bills in the past while suiting up for the division rival Jets. They should more than make up for Beasley’s production. Rookie Khalil Shakir turned heads with his play in preseason. Some are predicting that his role may be similar to the one Davis played as a rookie – a solid contributor off the bench in key situations. The final WR of the group is Jake Kumerow, a fixture on special teams and occasional contributor on offense. Buffalo is carrying 4 tight ends on the roster, the best of whom is Dawson Knox. He is the unquestioned starter. Tommy Sweeney returns in a backup role and a spot on special teams, while Quinton Morris, a practice squad member in 2021, fought his way onto the regular roster this year with a solid preseason. The fourth TE is Reggie Gilliam, whose versatility is valuable. He plays tight end, fullback and special teams.

 

Offensive Line

 

Ryan Bates solidified the OL when he became a starter

 

The offensive line play vastly improved late in the season and in the playoffs last year after Ryan Bates was inserted into the starting lineup at guard. The line returns mostly intact, with a couple of minor tweaks that the Bills hope will make them even better. The addition of line coach Aaron Kromer is one change, while the one new starter, guard Rodger Saffold, is a seasoned veteran who should be an upgrade over the departed Darryl Williams. The anchor of the line returns in center Mitch Morse, and the starting tackles are once again Dion Dawkins, who is a borderline Pro Bowler, and young Spencer Brown, who fought his way into the starting role last season as a rookie. The depth along the line is a mixture of returnees in Tommy Doyle and the polarizing Bobby Hart, and free agent acquisitions David Quessenberry and Greg Van Roten. Hart is a whipping boy for the fans, but he has shown improvement, especially when filling in at guard. Quessenberry may be the best swing tackle the team has employed in years, and Van Roten is versatile in that he can man all spots on the line.

 

Defensive Line

 

DE Greg Rousseau is primed for a breakout year

 

In many of Buffalo’s losses last season a glaring weakness in stopping the run was exposed. GM Beane did an extreme makeover of the defensive front in an effort to correct this flaw. Five of the nine D-linemen on the 2022 roster are changes from last year, with the big prize being veteran All Pro end Von Miller. The former Super Bowl MVP is the “finisher” the Bills’ pass rush has lacked, and the attention he will draw from opponents should make life easier for the emerging young pass rushers on the roster – Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa. Former Bills’ first round draftee Shaq Lawson returns as a “new” face to add to the pass rusher rotation. The interior of the line needed some additional beef and Beane provided that with 3 free agent signings. They are DaQuan Jones, who figures to start at one tackle spot, Tim Settle, a potential breakout star who was buried on the depth chart in Washington behind some high draft picks, and another old face returning in Jordan Phillips, who should bring a spark when utilized in the rotation. The lone returning player among the tackles is Ed Oliver. He has improved every year, and could be ready to have his best season with all the new additions around him commanding more attention.

 

Linebackers

 

Tremaine Edmunds anchors the LB corps

 

It was somewhat surprising that the Bills kept 6 linebackers on their final 53 man roster considering they only use 2 on the field most of the time. (The actual number could be 7 if suspended Andre Smith is counted). They have 2 solid starters in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Both have helped the team rank as a top defense and should be capable of reaching an even higher level with the new extra help around them. Their backups are special teams stalwarts Tyler Matakevich and Tyrel Dodson, with impressive rookies Terrel Bernard and Baylon Spector waiting in the wings behind them. All 4 of the reserves figure to have roles on the special teams when all is said and done.

 

Defensive Backs

 

CB Dane Jackson bears heavy responsibility in 2022

 

Always the strength of the team’s top-ranked defense, the secondary is a question mark entering the season. Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White will miss at least the first 4 games while recovering from a knee injury, leaving Dane Jackson and a pair of rookies, Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford, to hold down the outside corner positions. The safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will be expected to guide the inexperienced new faces on the back end, but both of them missed training camp reps due to injury and could be shaking off some rust to start the year. The slot cornerback position is basically a starting spot on the Bills’ defense, and Taron Johnson handles those duties admirably. The Bills have great depth in their secondary. Backup safeties Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin could start for many NFL clubs, while Siran Neal and Cam Lewis are comfortable playing both corner and safety. As with a lot of the backups on the roster, all of the secondary reserves are special teams contributors.

 

Special Teams

 

Punter Sam Martin seizes an opportunity

 

Coach Sean McDermott puts extra emphasis on the bomb squads, and that is evident in the amount of players who stick on the final 53 almost exclusively for use on those parts of the team. They include Taiwan Jones, Jake Kumerow, Tyler Matakevich, Tyrel Dodson, Damar Hamlin, Reggie Gilliam and of course, long snapper Reid Ferguson. Kicker Tyler Bass is one of the NFL’s best. At punter, the Bills endured a major hiccup with the Matt Araiza allegation fiasco, but in the end may have actually upgraded the position when vet Sam Martin was cut by Denver and fell into their lap. In the preseason the identity of who will fill the roles as punt and kickoff returners wasn’t evident. Candidates include Isaiah McKenzie, Khalil Shakir and possibly James Cook.

 

Here’s your annual song to get psyched up for the upcoming season, the Bills’ Shout song:

 

 

 

 
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Buffalo Bills’ 2022 Draft Picks

05 May

Buffalo General Manager Brandon Beane continued his quest to build a Super Bowl-winning roster in Las Vegas over the weekend at the NFL’s annual college player draft. The Bills are in a position where they have a championship caliber roster and other than  maybe cornerback, just needed to find a few pieces for depth and to help them get over the hump. Here’s an analysis of the choices they made:

 

 

Round 1Kaiir Elam (CB, Florida) – good cover corner with versatility and NFL bloodlines as both his father and uncle played in the league. Cornerback is the top position of need for the Bills, and Elam will have a great opportunity to win a starting job in his rookie year, replacing the departed Levi Wallace.

 

 

Round 2James Cook (RB, Georgia) – some scouts compared him to the Saints’ Alvin Kamara due to his ability to both run and catch passes out of the backfield. Another player with NFL bloodlines as his brother is Vikings’ RB Dalvin Cook. He is more of a breakaway threat than any back currently on the Bills’ roster. A definite positive addition to the running back room, and there’s a good chance he develops to the point he is RB1.

 

 

Round 3Terrel Bernard (LB, Baylor) – an undersized linebacker who covers the field from sideline to sideline and is a solid tackler. He may be a replacement for A.J. Klein, or could even be an eventual replacement for Tremaine Edmunds depending on how the Bills view him long term.

 

 

Round 5Khalil Shakir (WR, Boise State) – a great value at this spot in the draft, he has good run after the catch ability and makes highlight reel catches, although he will need to work on cutting down on dropped balls. Along with Cook, he is another weapon for Josh Allen to use in exploiting opposing defenses.

 

 

Round 6A – Matt Araiza (P, San Diego State) – the “Punt God” was considered the best punter in the draft and was surprisingly the third one chosen. He’s left-footed and has a booming leg. He can also placekick even though the Bills don’t have a need there. He should have the inside track to win the punting job over the disappointing Matt Haack.

 

 

Round 6B – Christian Benford (CB, Villanova) – a little-known prospect from a school better known for producing basketball players. The Bills have a need for depth at the position and Bernard has shown a knack for being around the ball, racking up 14 interceptions in his college career. He will have to make the transition from small school competition to the pros.

 

 

Round 6C – Luke Tenuta (OT, Virginia Tech) – The Bills apparently like extremely large offensive linemen, as he is the third 6’8 player drafted by them in the last 2 years. He can also play on the inside at guard, where the Bills can use some added depth.

 

 

Round 7Baylon Spector (LB, Clemson) – another undersized linebacker with a high motor. Buffalo seems to be seeing the need for lighter, faster backers who can cover as opposed to bigger hard-hitting tacklers who specialize in stopping the run. A practice squad candidate if nothing else.

 
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NFL – Bills’ 2022 Mock Draft Predictions

22 Apr

The Buffalo Bills are in the midst of a Super Bowl window that they have yet to achieve, and in this year’s college draft they hope to add some pieces that will help them get there. With no trading of picks allowed, here are the predicted 7 round Buffalo selections by each of our pro football analysts – Connor Pohlman of Sunrise Sports Report, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz and Ray Prelewicz:

 

Round 1, Pick #25

Connor Pohlman – Kaiir Elam (CB, Florida) – nagging injuries kept his production down in 2021, but he’s an aggressive, physical boundary corner who could comfortably step into a starting role with the Bills. He does have some issues with aggressive penalties.

 

Josh Pohlman – Jameson Williams (WR, Alabama) – another prospect whose draft status is hurt by injury. If he falls to the Bills this late in the round, they could perhaps be getting the best wideout in the draft. Coming off a torn ACL, the Bills would have to be patient with him, but the reward would be another big time weapon for Josh Allen.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Garrett Wilson (WR, Ohio State) – his status is similar to Williams’, without the injury concerns.  Brandon Beane would make this pick in a heartbeat if the Buckeye star falls to 25. He is not a speedster, but is a precise route runner with great after-the-catch ability.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Trent McDuffie (CB, Washington) – although slightly undersized, he is an aggressive tackler, is rarely out of position and drives on the ball well when targeted, all traits the Bills covet. An immediate starter opposite Tre White at Levi Wallace’s old spot.

 

Round 2, Pick #57

Connor Pohlman – Troy Andersen (LB, Montana State) – he’s a raw prospect from a small school, which makes him a risky pick, but an intriguing one. He played quarterback, running back and linebacker for the Bobcats, and excelled when he found a home as a LB. He’s very versatile, which the Bills love, can cover well, is a willing tackler and has tremendous sideline-to-sideline range.

 

Josh Pohlman – Kenneth Walker III (RB, Michigan State) – a dynamic back who excels running inside between the tackles, a trait the current Bills’ backs don’t possess. He is also explosive and could easily become RB1 in Buffalo’s attack if he can help in the passing game as a receiver, something he didn’t do much of at Michigan State.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Derion Kendrick (CB, Georgia) – he has the profile the Bills like – a willing tackler, athletic, fluid in his movements and has good ball skills. His technique can be raw and he can be undisciplined at times, but that can be coached up and he would be a good addition in an area of need.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Troy Andersen (LB, Montana State) – see above.

 

Round 3, Pick #89

Connor Pohlman – James Cook (RB, Georgia) – he’s a smooth runner with low mileage since the Bulldogs used him primarily on third downs, and being the younger brother of the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, he won’t be intimidated by the transition to the pro game.

 

Josh Pohlman – Tariq Woolen (CB, UTSA) – he is a converted wide receiver who lacks major experience as a CB, but he’s a tall, physical specimen who should be able to handle the bigger wideouts in the NFL once he learns the way the position is played in the pros. He was a standout basketball player and ran track in high school so he’s definitely a great athlete.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Ed Ingram (IOL, LSU) – although the LSU program has diminished in stature lately, he has been a steady starter on the Tigers’ O-line for a good part of 5 years, so he brings a wealth of experience to the position heading into the NFL. He’s fundamentally sound with good mechanics, and has the pedigree to blossom into a solid pro.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Zyon McCollum (CB, Sam Houston State) – a tall (6’2) prospect from a small school, he checks all the boxes – quick, athletic, intelligent, a willing tackler and his best trait of all, his ball skills. He has a definite knack for finding the ball and is the definition of “ball hawk”.

 

Round 4, Pick #130

Connor Pohlman – Cam Jurgens (IOL, Nebraska) – he is slightly undersized and probably strictly a candidate to play center, but the Bills have a need there for a backup with the departure of Jon Feliciano. He would be an ideal depth pick here, with an eye on having him be the eventual replacement for Mitch Morse.

 

Josh Pohlman – Nick Cross (S, Maryland) – the Bills have a couple of young safeties on their roster that they’re high on, but both starters at the position are in their 30s and Cross is an intelligent back liner who has explosive speed and makes plays on the ball.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Hassan Haskins (RB, Michigan) – at 6’1 and 220 lbs. he is the tough yardage back the Buffalo offense lacks at the moment. He enjoys the physical side of the game and has a reputation as a “finisher”, a back who keeps his legs churning and fights for every yard.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Chad Mays (IOL, Tennessee) – a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, his draft stock has dropped but he still has the potential to develop into a depth piece and has the one trait the Bills look for, versatility. He played 4 of the 5 positions on the line, including center, where the Bills have a need for a backup.

 

Round 5, Pick #168

Connor Pohlman – Danny Gray (WR, SMU) – he is a developmental player with speed and ball skills, much like Marquez Stevenson was for the Bills last year. He definitely has the pedigree to make an impact in the pros, and also had some kick return reps in college.

 

Josh Pohlman – Chasen Hines (IOL, LSU) – big, agile blocker with good hands. He plays to the whistle and is a good run blocker. This draft is stocked with good mid-round interior offensive linemen, and Hines is one of those.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Joshua Williams (CB, Fayetteville State) – another small school prospect, he was a wide receiver in high school, and considered joining the Army before he was switched to CB and started to thrive. He’s tall (6’2), raw and rangy but certainly has the chops to make it in the pros with the right coaching.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Hassan Haskins (RB, Michigan) – see above.

 

Round 6A, Pick #185

Connor Pohlman – Matt Araiza (P, San Diego State) – there will be plenty of love for the “Punt God” in this draft, and Buffalo was surely disappointed with Matt Haack’s game last season. His ability to both punt and place-kick makes him an excellent value, and some pundits think he won’t last until the late rounds, but if he does the Bills would be wise to grab him.

 

Josh Pohlman – Cam Taylor-Britt (CB, Nebraska) – one of the Bills’ biggest needs is at corner, so it makes sense that they will look in the early rounds and scour the late rounds for them. Taylor-Britt has long arms and good recovery speed that help him in coverage, and is a missile as a tackler in the run game. In a deep CB draft, he would be outstanding value at this pick.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Slade Bolden (WR, Alabama) – this guy is lost in the talent pool at Alabama, but is an excellent route runner with good hands who can also get open deep. He could be a depth piece with an eye on eventually taking over the Cole Beasley role in the Buffalo offense.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Cole Turner (TE, Nevada) – in a weak draft class for tight ends, he was one of the most productive. Turner  is a 6’6 red zone target who is raw and will need time to develop, but is worth a look in the late rounds. He might be an upgrade over Tommy Sweeney and that’s the roster spot he would be competing for.

 

Round 6B, Pick #203

Connor Pohlman – Kalon Barnes (CB, Baylor) – he might be the fastest player in this draft, and speed is a high priority for the Bills in their search for CB help as they look for answers in covering the many outstanding AFC receivers. He’s a good coverage man and the tape shows his speed helps him cover up some of the mistakes he makes. Again, a developmental player but well worth the late round draft pick.

 

Josh Pohlman – Matt Araiza (P, San Diego State) – see above.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Nick Zakelj (T, Fordham) – Brandon Beane likes to take risks on small school players in the late rounds, and Zakelj is one of those. He has 4 years of experience at the school where Vince Lombardi played, so the only thing he has to show is that he can play at the highest level. He is plenty strong enough but needs to work on maintaining leverage.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Jake Camarda (P, Georgia) – if the “Punt God” does get snatched up earlier than expected, he is a good consolation prize. He has a strong leg and may be the most accurate punter in this class, consistently having his punts downed inside the 20 yard line.

 

Round 7, Pick #231

Connor Pohlman – Michael Clemons (Edge, Texas A&M) – an under-the-radar prospect in a deep edge rusher class, he was overshadowed even on his own team. He has great size and strength and was quietly productive in 2021. The Bills have spent a lot of high draft capital on edge rushers recently, so he would be a depth or practice squad piece at best, which is what is expected of players this late in the draft.

 

Josh Pohlman – Malcolm Rodriguez (LB, Oklahoma State) – good read and react player who is a willing tackler but sometimes goes for the big hit and doesn’t wrap up the runner. He is a high effort player who is decent in pass coverage also.

 

Scott Prelewicz – James Skalski (LB, Clemson) – as a six year college player at Clemson, he is one of the oldest prospects in the draft, which will hurt his status. However, it also means he is experienced. He is agile and has good football instincts. At 5’11 he’ll have to overcome his lack of height, but he has the mental make-up to stick on a pro roster.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Jereth Sterns (WR, Western Kentucky) – a short receiver who lacks high end speed, his strengths are being a good route runner who tracks the ball well. He is a willing downfield blocker, which should endear him to the Bills.

 

 
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2022 NFL First Round Mock Draft

20 Apr

The wait is over! The 2022 Rayonsports NFL round one mock draft is here. Compiled by expert analysts Connor Pohlman, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz and Ray Prelewicz, here are the choices, with trades not allowed:

 

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (Connor Pohlman) – Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
  2. Detroit Lions (Josh Pohlman) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
  3. Houston Texans (Scott Prelewicz) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
  4. New York Jets (Ray Prelewicz) – Evan Neal, T, Alabama
  5. New York Giants (CP) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
  6. Carolina Panthers (JP) – Ikem Ekwonu, T, North Carolina State
  7. New York Giants-from Chicago (SP) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
  8. Atlanta Falcons (RP) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
  9. Seattle Seahawks-from Denver (CP) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
  10. New York Jets-from Seattle (JP) – Ahmed (Sauce) Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
  11. Washington Commanders (SP) – Charles Cross, T, Mississippi State
  12. Minnesota Vikings (RP) – Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
  13. Houston Texans-from Cleveland (CP) – Travon Walker, Edge, Georgia
  14. Baltimore Ravens (JP) – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
  15. Philadelphia Eagles-from Miami (SP) – Derek Stingley, Jr., CB, LSU
  16. New Orleans Saints-from Indianapolis/Philadelphia (RP) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
  17. Los Angeles Chargers (CP) – Trevor Penning, T, Northern Iowa
  18. Philadelphia Eagles-from New Orleans (JP) – Drake London, WR, USC
  19. New Orleans Saints-from Philadelphia (SP) – Jamaree Salyer, G, Georgia
  20. Pittsburgh Steelers (RP) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
  21. New England Patriots(CP) – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
  22. Green Bay Packers-from Las Vegas (JP) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
  23. Arizona Cardinals (SP) – Cam Thomas, DE, San Diego State
  24. Dallas Cowboys (RP) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
  25. Buffalo Bills (CP) – Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson
  26. Tennessee Titans (JP) – Zion Johnson, G, Boston College
  27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (SP) -Daniel Faalele, T, Minnesota
  28. Green Bay Packers (RP) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
  29. Kansas City Chiefs-from San Francisco/Miami (CP) – Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, Florida State
  30. Kansas City Chiefs (JP) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
  31. Cincinnati Bengals (SP) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
  32. Detroit Lions-from L.A. Rams (RP) – George Pickens, WR, Georgia

 

The national champion Georgia Bulldogs take the prize for the most first round players in our mock draft with 5, and they have a number of other prospects who could be considered first round material and will likely go high on day 2 of the draft. Only 3 other schools produced multiple first rounders by our count, with Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State having 2 each. The Southeastern Conference produced the 2 teams that battled for the national title, so it stands to reason that they had the most top picks among conferences, with an amazing 11. The often maligned Big 10 came in second with 8, while the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac 12 had 5 and 4 respectively.

COMING SOON: Our draft experts submit their seven round mock drafts for the local NFL franchise, the two-time reigning AFC East champion Buffalo Bills.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

28 Jan

The fourth and final section of our annual Bills’ season review is always my favorite part. I put on my imaginary GM hat and project the moves the team needs to make in order to continue climbing the ladder towards winning a Lombardi Trophy. Even though Buffalo’s roster is a lot more complete than it was a few years ago, the list of positions that need to be addressed is longer than usual. So let’s get right to it in suggesting the team’s off-season changes.

 

Quarterback

Again this year, this should contain an asterisk. It’s only backup quarterback that needs to be addressed. GM Brandon Beane made 2 interesting comments at his postseason press conference regarding the quarterbacks:

  1. He expects Mitch Trubisky to pursue a starting job
  2. He says Davis Webb is like a player/coach in the QB room

So Webb is likely to return as at least the practice squad QB. The Bills can look in 2 directions for a replacement for Trubisky. They can scour the free agent list for a veteran backup or spend a mid-to-late round draft pick on a player who projects as an NFL backup. The list of available veterans includes 3 names familiar to Bills’ fans – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Barkley. Andy Dalton or Colt McCoy would be adequate options, and if the team wants to try to match the backup more closely to Josh Allen’s playing style, they could kick the tires on Marcus Mariota. The late round cupboard is pretty bare in what is considered a weak quarterback draft overall. A couple worth mentioning are Brock Purdy of Iowa State and Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe. They are both long range development guys and I highly doubt the Bills want to have this important spot manned by a green rookie.

 

Running Back

The Bills have gotten mixed results from their backs the last couple of years and haven’t had a real breakaway threat since LeSean McCoy left. Kansas City’s Jerick McKinnon is an interesting free agent option, and Cordarrelle Patterson’s versatility is certainly intriguing. Marlon Mack has gotten lost in Indianapolis and will be looking for a better opportunity. He’s only 25 and could really help boost the ground attack. In the draft, the pickings depend on the style of back the Bills would want to add. Do they go early and try to grab a potential home run hitter like Kenneth Walker III of Michigan State? Or do they wait until the middle rounds for a prospect like Brian Robinson of Alabama or Michigan’s Hassan Haskins? There is a long list of “change of pace” backs on the draft board, all of whom should be considered late round picks. Ty Chandler of North Carolina and a possible undrafted diamond in the rough, South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong, may be worth a look.

 

Wide Receiver

This is a strong position group but it was last year also and the Bills still went out and signed Emmanuel Sanders. They made it clear they are looking to add speed, so maybe a young (25) veteran like the Jaguars’ D.J. Chark would draw their interest. Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse”, Jakeem Grant of the Bears is an under the radar speed guy who endured a lost season in Chicago with injuries. He was a major kick return threat in his time in Miami and could replace Isaiah McKenzie if the team moves on from him. There are at least 6 receivers in the draft with first round grades, and if the Bills really go with best player available when they choose at pick 25, one could fall to them, possibly Arkansas’ Treylon Burks or Penn State’s Jahan Dotson.

 

Tight End

Buffalo had only one reliable tight end, Dawson Knox, on their roster all of last season. You have to think they need to add depth here. There are some big ticket free agents on the list, but I don’t see Buffalo going in that direction. Some viable and cheaper options include Atlanta’s Hayden Hurst and Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan, especially with the Packers in deep salary cap trouble. It’s not likely the Bills would draft a tight end in round one, so possible targets for later in the draft would be Charlie Kolar of Iowa State, Cole Turner of Nevada and Isaiah Likely from Coastal Carolina.

 

Guard

Normally you would say the team has to target offensive linemen in general, but I believe this year there is a specific need to beef up the interior O line. A prime catch would be Andrew Norwell of Jacksonville, but there’s no way Beane is spending big money on a 30 year old lineman, who will command a big payday. They would be better off targeting the salary cap-strapped Rams for 26 year old Austin Corbett, who would be a great fit for their front line. There are some interesting draft prospects rated highly who looked like good possibilities for the Bills, like Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green, but he is quickly moving up draft boards. They could get a day 2 gem like Zion Johnson of Boston College, Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard or one of a pair of Georgia beasts, Jamaree Salyer or Justin Shaffer. Because guard isn’t a sexy early round choice of a lot of teams, the pool of later round players is pretty good also. Andrew Voorhees of USC, LSU’s Ed Ingram and Ben Brown from Ole Miss, among others, all have a chance to be contributors on NFL rosters.

 

Punter

Beane used a late round pick in 2020 to identify and draft a reliable placekicker. This year, with extra picks in both the 6th and 7th round, he needs to do the same with a punter. The best available is Matt Araiza of San Diego State. Oklahoma’s Michael Turk has great special teams bloodlines. His uncle Matt Turk was a three-time Pro Bowl punter and another uncle, Dan Turk, a former long snapper. There aren’t any punters worth pursuing on the free agent market.

 

Defensive Tackle

I believe there are going to be extensive departures from the defensive line this offseason. Beane addressed the edge rusher spots in the last 2 drafts, and now has to beef up the middle of the defensive line. They need a big run stuffer to complement the emerging Ed Oliver, and the free agent list is lean in that department. Maybe a trade with a salary cap troubled team, or a club changing coaching staffs that wants to start over and rebuild? One potential free agent who could be a fit is New York Giants’ nose tackle Austin Johnson. He’s relatively young (27) and his 2021 numbers – 4 sacks, 72 tackles and 7 QB hits show that he’s active for a big man. In the draft, Georgia’s Jordan Davis might be available when the Bills pick in the first round. He is a top 15 rated prospect but some scouts believe he could slide because he’s not a 3 down player so he doesn’t have the value. Buffalo would be wise to draft him if he’s there. Later in the draft, UConn’s Travis Jones is a massive tackle with a third round grade who has the versatility to play either tackle position. Later in the draft, John Ridgeway of Arkansas is an intriguing name, along with another huge space-eater, Tulsa’s Tyarise Stevenson.

 

Linebacker/Edge

The lines between linebackers and edge rushers, who normally line up in traditional defensive end spots, have blurred in recent years. Buffalo has a need for difference makers in this area. Most of the big name free agents are too expensive and/or approaching or over 30 years old. Beane usually likes to take gambles on younger players who could blossom with proper coaching, or on the verge of breaking out. Miami’s Emmanuel Ogbah fits that description. The Eagles’ Derek Barnett has a good resume and  potential to get even better and is only 25. Carolina’s Haason Reddick is young and has produced numbers, but you have to question why teams are willing to part with such a productive player. All the top edge rushers eligible for the draft will be gone in the top picks, and after using 3 top choices on edge rushers in the last two seasons, you have to wonder if Beane would go that route again this year. They’re more likely to address other needs and then take a later round flyer on someone like Sam Williams of Ole Miss, Boye Mafe of Minnesota or DeAngelo Malone of Western Kentucky.

 

Cornerback

This is a position that Beane must address. The uncertainty of Tre White’s return from injury and lack of depth is glaring. Of available free agents, one name stands out that fits all of Beane’s measurables. That would be the Packers’ Rasul Douglas. Signed in season by the Packers, he was a revelation, and has earned a decent payday. Green Bay has cap issues and may not be able to bring him back. He’s 26 and had 5 interceptions. Unless a huge bidding war starts, the Bills should target him early and fill a big hole. It would be no surprise if the Bills picked a first or early round corner in the draft also. Andrew Booth of Clemson and 2 Washington Huskies teammates, Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie, should be on their radar.   A late round possible diamond in the rough is Texas-San Antonio’s Tariq Woolen, a big 6’4″ 205 lb. specimen with speed and good tackling ability.

 

One thing is for certain. Beane cannot stand pat with his current roster with the Bills smack in the middle of a huge Super Bowl window with Josh Allen as his quarterback. He can’t fall in love with certain players who have been here but haven’t reached their full potential. He and coach Sean McDermott must add the pieces necessary to strengthen this contending club even more. That may also mean taking a hard look at the coaching staff, and whether or not there are better position coaches/teachers available to push the young talent to a higher level.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

27 Jan

Part 3 of our annual Bills’ season review looks at the defensive unit. How do you analyze a unit that finished on top of every major category in the NFL, but not only got torched by the Chiefs in the playoffs for the second straight year, but also looked very average and beatable against quality opponents like Tennessee, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay? Here’s our position-by-position analysis of this puzzling unit, also including the special teams:

Defensive Line

The Bills use a rotational plan up front like no other club does, and as a result they keep a large number of players on the roster on the defensive line. The group is a mixture of aging veterans, younger veterans and young diamonds in the rough who haven’t reached their full potential. At tackle, Ed Oliver had a breakout season and seems poised to only get better. The starter alongside him is Star Lotulelei, a high-priced vet whose availability has been questionable for at least 2 seasons now. He also will carry a salary cap number that nowhere near matches his low production, so he could be a cap casualty next season. Harrison Phillips had a good season in a contract year, possibly earning an extension as a rotational piece. Vernon Butler is another older player who hasn’t contributed much. At defensive end, there are a pair of aging players, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, who have had varying degrees of success in rushing the passer, and it may be time for Beane to decide it’s better to jettison players a year early than a year late with them. Young veteran Efe Obada flashed some play-making ability but was never consistent. The team needs to decide if there’s a higher ceiling with him or not. Justin Zimmer, an overachieving street free agent who has battled his way into significant playing time the last 2 years, wound up on injured reserve and is a free agent so his future is cloudy. The Bills really need to somehow add an impact pass rusher to their roster for 2022. They have 3 possibilities in their last 3 top draft picks – A.J. Epenesa, Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham – who could emerge into that type of player but none of them have reached that level yet.

 

Linebackers

Buffalo only uses 2 linebackers on the field a majority of the time, and has a couple of good ones in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. The key word with them is, however, “good” but not necessarily great. Milano can be categorized as an overachiever. He was a fifth round draft pick and quickly developed into a quality starter who is good against the run and in coverage. If Edmunds’ ceiling is a dominant play-maker, he is a long way from getting there still. In some ways he signifies what the entire Bills’ defense does. The team’s unit ranked at the top in almost all statistical categories, yet was beaten badly in games against some quality opponents. Edmunds has actually been a Pro Bowler in his young career, but you are always left expecting more from him. A.J. Klein and Tyrel Dodson are quality backups, and have performed well when called upon to play. Also in the mix are Tyler Matakevich and Andre Smith, who are important special teams pieces.

 

Defensive Backs

This is a solid group that had a good season, even after losing starting cornerback  Tre’Davious White to a season-ending injury. At least that was the case until they met Kansas City. Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson played well down the stretch but struggled in the playoff loss. Taron Johnson, who is basically a starter, is one of the NFL’s elite slot corners. Cam Lewis and the versatile Siran Neal also provide important depth, but this might be a position that the Bills look to upgrade for 2022. Buffalo’s starting safeties, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, finally got some national recognition this season. They are stellar in all areas, although they struggled with tackling issues, along with the rest of the defense, against the Chiefs. Of course, the defensive meltdown in that playoff game could be blamed on an inexplicable soft, conservative scheme that had the players on their heels all game instead of attacking, but that’s just my opinion. There are 2 quality youngsters waiting in the wings as backups at safety in Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin.

 

Special Teams

This is a bit of a mixed bag when analyzing the special teams units. Long snapper Reid Ferguson is always near perfect, the kick coverage teams were excellent and young placekicker Tyler Bass is another late round draft gem on Beane’s resume. The kickoff and punt return squads missed the consistency of Andre Roberts. They alternated Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Marquez Stevenson at the job with not very dynamic results, and even finished the year with Hyde fielding punts. Punting was a head-shaker all season. The expectation has to be that there will be plenty of competition brought in to challenge Matt Haack for that job in 2022.

 
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