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Classic Team Logo of The Day

20 Apr

Not a team logo, but the official logo of the National Football League’s 2000 college player draft. The annual selection meeting was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where it was held every year until the league put it up for bidding to different cities. Two Penn State teammates, Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington, were the top 2 picks. The most famous, and most successful selection of this draft came in the sixth round at pick 199 – quarterback Tom Brady.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

20 Apr

1974 Topps football card of former pro football safety Ken Houston, who played 14 seasons in the AFL and NFL for the Houston Oilers and Washington Redskins. Inducted in 1986, Houston is one of 8 players chosen in the 1967 draft to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and a member of both the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All Time teams. After retiring as a player, he spent 9 years in coaching with the Oilers and the University of Houston and is currently a guidance counselor for the Houston School District.

 

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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Classic Team Logo of The Day

28 Jan

Logo of a pro football team that played in the short-lived United Football League, the Omaha Nighthawks. The team joined the league as an expansion franchise in 2010, with Netsuite software mogul Zach Nelson as majority owner. The team name was chosen by a fan vote, and was derived from the F-117 Nighthawk, a stealth fighter used by the U.S. Air Force. The league suspended operations part way through the 2012 season, and the Nighthawks finished with a 6-10 record for their 2 1/2 years of existence.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

28 Jan

1972 Topps football card of former pro football fullback Wayne Patrick, who played 5 seasons for the Buffalo Bills in both the AFL and NFL. He was a backfield mate of O.J. Simpson in the Hall of Famer’s early years, and averaged over 4 yards a carry during that time while also serving as Simpson’s lead blocker. Patrick worked at the Harrison Radiator plant after retiring as a player, and died of heart and kidney disease in 2010.

 

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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Classic Team Logo of The Day

27 Jan

Used from 1960 until 1970, this is a logo of a college football team that has been a member of 6 different college  conferences, the University of Connecticut Huskies. The Huskies currently play as an independent, and are coached by former NFL coach Jim Mora Jr. UConn won 25 different conference titles over the years. Former Huskies who have enjoyed careers in pro football include Anthony Sherman, Erik Torkelson, Dan Orlovsky, Robert McClain, Booth Lusteg, Brian Kozlowski, Byron Jones, Ryan Griffin, Marcus Easley, Tyvon Branch and Darius Butler.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

27 Jan

1969 Topps football card of former pro football linebacker Paul Guidry, who played 8 years in the AFL and NFL, 7 of those coming with the Buffalo Bills. He was named an All-AFC player in 1970, the first season played with the leagues combined under the merger. Guidry served as union player representative for the Bills during his time there. He served in the U.S. Army reserves for 6 years, and also has supported a golf tournament for Cystic Fibrosis in Tennessee.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

26 Jan

In part 2 of our annual Bills’ season review, we look at the offensive side of the ball, and offer a position-by-position assessment of the team. Here are our thoughts on where the team stands:

 

Quarterbacks

Brandon Beane did his most remarkable work when he traded up to draft Josh Allen in 2018. Allen has cemented himself as not only the team’s unquestioned leader and franchise quarterback, but as one of the top signal callers in the NFL. He is going to be, and maybe already is, a perennial MVP candidate. The Bills signed an important insurance policy when they brought in Mitch Trubisky to back up Allen, but is questionable whether he’ll return after inking a one year deal. He’s still young and may want to pursue a starting opportunity. Davis Webb is a third option. He spent most of the year on the practice squad but was an important voice in the QB room. It’s very possible Buffalo will look to find another one year option to fill the backup role for 2022.

 

Running Backs

The running back position in general is a bit of an enigma in the Bills’ offense that relies so heavily on the pass. The club did see a need to add some semblance of a rushing attack as the season went on, and Devin Singletary answered the bell with a decent showing at the end of the year, as both an effective runner and a check down option for Allen in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the team now feels comfortable going forward with Singletary as the lead back, or if they feel the need to look for a better option. Zach Moss wasn’t much of a factor, and in fact regressed during his second year. The team normally doesn’t give up too early on their prospects and have had some players emerge in their third year, so he will likely be back, but in a dogfight for a roster spot, in 2022. Matt Breida was 2021’s version of T.J. Yeldon, an extra back who saw very little action. He made some minor contributions at times during the season, but is not a long term answer, and entering free agency, likely won’t be re-signed. It was telling that at season’s end and in the playoffs fullback Reggie Gilliam was seeing significant playing time in the backfield, as a blocker and a pass receiving outlet option. Taiwan Jones is another back on the roster, but is strictly a special teamer.

 

Receivers

This is the most important position group on the team as they employ a pass-heavy attack, and although his numbers slipped somewhat, Stefon Diggs is still Allen’s favorite, and most reliable target. Cole Beasley continues to be a beast playing out of the slot, and Emmanuel Sanders was a nice addition. The biggest revelation in 2021 was the stunning emergence as the season went on of Gabriel Davis. His playing time, when the season began, did not match what he was receiving last season as the team chose to feature Sanders more. But when Sanders missed some time, Davis stepped in and did what he almost always did last year – make incredibly timely catches in some big moments. His reemergence was topped off in the divisional round playoff game with a record-setting 201 yard performance in which he was on the receiving end of 4 Allen scoring throws. This guy was a fourth round crown jewel of Beane’s 2020 draft. Another top contributor is Swiss Army knife Isaiah McKenzie, who is adept at running jet sweeps, filling in when needed as a receiver and returning kicks. He is on a one year contract, so his return isn’t guaranteed. Jake Kumerow stuck on the roster mainly as a special teams player, and Marquez Stevenson got a few chances, mainly as a kick returner, but he’s still raw and at this point is an  interesting developmental project. His speed alone will give him a chance to stick around if he can refine his game. Like Singletary, Dawson Knox made tremendous strides in 2021, becoming a top target for Allen and one of the NFL’s bright prospects at the tight end position. Tommy Sweeney has been an up and down player so far, sometimes flashing ability and other times appearing to be prone to mistakes.

 

Offensive Line

It took until late in the season, but the Bills were finally able to identify the right combination of players along the line to increase production in the running game and protect Josh Allen in the pocket. Funny, but looking back at last season’s review, I made the same comment then. Obviously whatever stability they thought they found last year wasn’t the right answer. This season started out with a cluster at the guard positions and with starting right tackle Dion Dawkins dealing with Covid. As the season wore on, things gradually developed. Rookie Spencer Brown moved into the starting lineup at right tackle and Darryl Williams was moved inside to right guard. Dawkins came back with a vengeance, reclaiming his status as an elite left tackle and even being rewarded with his first Pro Bowl invite. When Ike Boettger’s season ended with an injury, Ryan Bates, a versatile backup, took over at left guard and solidified the line immensely. Another rookie, Tommy Doyle, took over an important role as a sixth offensive lineman in certain situations, a move that also helped to improve the run game. Center Mitch Morse, who at times in previous years had been benched, cemented himself as the starter and a leader of the unit. When the dust finally settled, Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford were left out in the cold. They remained as backups, but depth on the O line could be an area the Bills try to improve next season. Ford has never been able to take advantage of the many opportunities he’s gotten to win a starting job, and has certainly not lived up to the expectations of a high round draft pick. Veteran Bobby Hart bounced between the active roster and practice squad, but is very unlikely seen as a future asset. Boettger, meanwhile, may have a hard time getting his job back when he returns from injury, if the team decides to re-sign the impending free agent. Bates is also due to enter free agency, and should be a much higher priority to sign. The emergence of Brown was a major plus this season, and it’s possible Doyle could develop into a future starter also.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

26 Jan

Logo of a defunct football team that played in the United States Football League, the Memphis Showboats. The team played the 1984 and ’85 seasons in the league. Despite the USFL’s short existence, the Showboats drew decent crowds to their games, unlike most of the teams in the league. That box office success caught the NFL’s attention, and was a factor in NFL owners approving the move of the Houston Oilers to Tennessee. The team even played it’s first year in Memphis before moving to Nashville. Notable Showboat players include Reggie White, Rod Shoate, Gary Shirk, Terdell Middleton, Ken Johnson, Barney Bussey, Leonard Coleman and Larry Pfohl, who would go on to pro wrestling fame as Lex Lugor.