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NFL – Mock Draft 2018

05 Apr

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

Round One

 

darnoldUSC QB Sam Darnold

 

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

 

Round Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Round Three

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

23 Jan

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

 

Quarterback

 

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

 

Running Back

 

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

 

Receiver

 

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

 

Defensive Line

 

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

 

Linebackers

 

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

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review- Part 3

19 Jan

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

 

Defensive Line

 

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

 

Linebackers

 

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

 

Defensive Backs

 

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

 

Special Teams

 

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

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

17 Jan

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

Quarterbacks

 

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

Running Backs

 

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

Receivers

 

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

Offensive Line

 

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

 
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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

14 Jan

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

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

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

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Saturday Night Surprise

28 Dec

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

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

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

 

jhjohnson

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

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tie A Yellow Ribbon

21 Dec

The Philadelphia Eagles face the Oakland Raiders on this week’s NFL schedule, taking our Throwback Thursday feature back to Super Bowl XV, played between these 2 franchises on January 25, 1981 in New Orleans, to decide the NFL’s championship for the 1980 season. The atmosphere surrounding the game was patriotic, as the Iran hostage crisis had ended just 5 days earlier. The episode was a hostage situation in which 52 American diplomats were held hostage in Iran for 444 days, and minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the new U.S. president, they were released. A national symbol of the crisis saw Americans tying yellow ribbons around trees as an expression of hope that the hostages would be freed, and for the Super Bowl game, the New Orleans Superdome was adorned with a giant yellow ribbon.

The game itself was a contest between two organizations that were diametrically opposed. The Raiders had a reputation of being rebel castoffs who were free spirits, an image their owner, Al Davis, not only cultivated but advanced with his own behavior as a renegade owner. The Eagles, on the other hand, were a button-down, by the book team that mirrored their stiff, high-strung coach, Dick Vermeil. The Raiders, being their usual loose and fun-loving selves, took advantage of the nervous Eagles and jumped out to a quick 14-0 first quarter lead on the strength of a pair of Jim Plunkett touchdown passes – a short 2 yarder to Cliff Branch and an 80 yarder to running back Kenny King. Philadelphia got on the board in the second quarter on a Tony Franklin field goal, but the Raiders countered that when Plunkett again found Branch for a score, this time from 29 yards out. That gave Oakland a 21-3 lead that they never relinquished. The Eagles finally managed a touchdown when Ron Jaworski found Keith Krepfle for an 8 yard TD, but they never seriously challenged the Raiders, who added 2 Chris Bahr field goals to complete a 27-10 victory.

It was a day of redemption for Plunkett, who had been considered a major bust after failures in New England and San Francisco to start his career. On this day, he completed 13 of 21 passes for 261 yards and the 3 touchdowns to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player award. Vermeil took a lot of criticism for being too rigid and having his team wound too tight to the point where they didn’t perform well, but he learned his lesson later in his career, when he coached the powerhouse St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show On Turf” club to an NFL title.

 

superdomeyellowribbon

Yellow ribbon tied around the Superdome for the Iran hostages

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Mel Gray’s Phantom Catch

14 Dec

It’s another week of the National Football League schedule, and another Throwback Thursday feature. This week, the Washington Redskins face the Arizona Cardinals, and our TBT will highlight a game played on November 16, 1975 between these two teams. The Cardinals were based in St. Louis at the time and both clubs were members of the league’s NFC East division. They entered this contest fighting for the division lead with identical 6-2 records. A defensive struggle produced a scoreless first quarter, then St. Louis’ Jim Bakken hit a short field goal to give his team the lead. Redskin quarterback Randy Johnson, a journeyman veteran filling in for regular signal caller Bill Kilmer, hit on a pair of touchdown passes, to Charley Taylor and Mike Thomas, to give Washington a 14-3 lead. The Cardinals pulled to within 14-10 when Jim Hart hit J.V. Cain on an 8 yard scoring toss, but Mike Moseley extended the ‘Skins’ lead to 17-10 with a field goal. Later in the fourth quarter, Hart led his team down the field attempting to tie the game, and reached Washington’s 6 yard line. He then proceeded to toss 3 consecutive incompletions, setting up what would be one of the most controversial plays in Redskin history. He fired a pass to his favorite target, Mel Gray, who clutched the ball in the end zone as he was being hit simultaneously by Redskin cornerback Pat Fischer. The ball popped out and hit the ground, and while one official ruled it incomplete, another called it a touchdown. After a huddle among the zebras, the play was ruled a touchdown. Bakken’s extra point tied the game, and the Cardinal kicker won it in overtime, 20-17, with another field goal.

Fischer, a former Cardinal, protested the call and insisted the pass was never caught. Gray even put his hands on his helmet in frustration, thinking it was an incompletion. There was no replay review in those days, so the officials’ call on the field was gospel. One thing is certain – there is no way, under today’s rules, that the pass would be anything but an incompletion, as a receiver is required to hold onto the ball and make a “football move” to complete the catch. The game knocked coach George Allen’s Washington team out of first place, and they never recovered, falling to an 8-6 final record which kept them out of the playoffs. St. Louis used the victory as a springboard to their second consecutive NFC East title.

 

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Cardinals’ Mel Gray snags a Jim Hart pass in the end zone

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Gray “completes” the “catch” for the tying TD

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Golden Boy’s Final Golden Moment

07 Dec

Throwback Thursday for this week harkens back to the 1965 National Football League championship game, played on January 2, 1966. It was contested on a sloppy field between two teams that match up on this week’s NFL schedule – the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns. Both franchises were powerhouses at the time, with the Browns returning to the title game after being crowned champs in 1964, and the Packers heading to the championship after winning back-to-back titles in ’61 and ’62. The weather conditions were bad and it didn’t take long for the field to turn into a quagmire, which meant a strong rushing attack would be an advantage in the game. That figured to favor the Browns, who had pro football’s most dynamic back of all time, Jim Brown, lined up in their backfield. Coach Vince Lombardi’s proud Packers, however, were determined to reclaim their glory and had not one, but a pair of future Hall of Famers in their backfield in Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, not to mention another future HOF inductee in quarterback Bart Starr.

Early in the first quarter before the field deteriorated, both teams managed to score through the air, with Starr hitting Carroll Dale on a 47 yard strike and Cleveland’s Frank Ryan countering with a 17 yard scoring toss to the 1964 championship game’s MVP, Gary Collins. The Browns missed the extra point on their score, and with the weather worsening the defenses took over and the teams traded field goals, with Green Bay’s Don Chandler and Cleveland’s Lou Groza both connecting on a pair of three-pointers. The Packers took a slim 13-12 lead into the locker room at halftime, and then took over the game in the second half with a pounding, ball control run game featuring their vaunted power sweep. Hornung, the one-time “Golden Boy” from Notre Dame who was getting up in age, put in a dominant performance in what turned out to be his last shining moment in a Packer uniform. He wound up with 105 yards rushing on 18 carries and pretty much sealed a 23-12 victory for his team on a 13 yard sweep into the end zone in the third quarter. Taylor carried 27 times for another 96 yards as Green Bay amassed 204 yards on the ground in the game, dominating the time of possession. This kept Jim Brown off the field for most of the contest. He churned out 50 yards, but only got 12 carries as Lombardi’s troops kept the ball on long, time-consuming drives most of the day. It was the type of performance that Lombardi loved, and the Pack not only dethroned Cleveland as NFL champs, but went on to beat Dallas in the next 2 NFL championships, following up those wins with victories in the first 2 Super Bowls.

It was a fitting swan song for Hornung. He remained with the Packers for the 1966 season but played very little due to injuries, then was left unprotected in the expansion draft the next year and was picked by the fledgling New Orleans Saints in that draft. He never played for them due to all his injuries, but his backfield mate, Taylor, also wound up with the Saints, being traded there by Lombardi when he balked about his salary and threatened to hold out.

 

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Paul Hornung grinds out yardage in the muddy 1965 NFL title game

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Cookie Sets The Tone

30 Nov

An AFC East matchup between old American Football League rivals, the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, is on this week’s NFL schedule, and for our Throwback Thursday feature we’re going to throw it way back, to the 1964 AFL season, to a game played between these 2 teams on December 20, 1964. It was the regular season finale for both teams and the Patriots, defending AFL Eastern Division champions, were playing at home and favored. They had earned their way into the 1963 AFL title game by defeating the Bills 26-8 in a special playoff game since the teams were tied for the division lead, then sauntered into the Bills’ home field, old War Memorial Stadium, earlier in 1964 and handed Buffalo one of their two losses, 36-28, in the current season. The game would decide who was Eastern Division champ, and the Pats were confident and cocky going into it. Buffalo coach Lou Saban was being coy about which of his quarterbacks, Jack Kemp or Daryle Lamonica, was going to start the game. Kemp was the Bills’ starter but Lamonica had come in to relieve him in various games during the season and played well. Boston defensive end Larry Eisenhauer claimed “Saban isn’t saying who’ll start but it won’t make a difference, we’ll still beat ’em.” That only served to fire up the Bills, and on the first play of the game, their star fullback, Cookie Gilchrist, set the tone on a routine running play. He took a handoff from Kemp, turned the corner on the snow-covered field and proceeded to run over Patriot defensive back Chuck Shonta, knocking him unconscious. On his way back to the huddle, Gilchrist pointed at the Boston players gathered around their fallen teammate and said “which one of you motherf****rs is next?!”

That was a defining moment in the game. The Bills’ running game wasn’t particularly dominant the rest of the way. Gilchrist and fellow back Wray Carlton combined to rush for only 83 yards, but the team’s fired-up defense dominated and Kemp, determined to reward Saban for giving him the start, had a great game, throwing for one touchdown and scoring twice on one yard quarterback sneaks to lead Buffalo to a 24-14 win. Despite the miserable weather conditions and the sloppy Fenway Park field, both of Kemp’s wideouts, Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion and Glenn Bass, had over 100 yards receiving, with Dubenion scoring on a 57 yard bomb for the game’s first touchdown. Pete Gogolak, pro football’s first ever soccer style kicker, completed the scoring with a short field goal. With their Boston Patriot jinx conquered, the Bills would move on to the AFL championship game against the high-flying Western Division champion San Diego Chargers, an offensive juggernaut that had slaughtered the Pats 51-10 in the ’63 title contest. Buffalo upset the Chargers to win their first of back-to-back titles.

 

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Cookie Gilchrist in action in ’64 season finale