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Last Season’s Six Worst Teams: Who will Bounce Back?

As the wise Big Sean once said, “Last night took an L, but tonight I bounce back”. The 2016-2017 NFL Season was arguably the worst NFL season in over a decade. Fans were forced to endure penalties for trivialities like custom cleats and touchdown dances, heartbreaking injuries that ruined teams’ seasons, and for what seems like the millionth time … another Patriots Super Bowl. What really drove the point home was the abysmal performance of six NFL teams: the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Bears, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Los Angeles Rams, and the New York Jets. With one of the most talented NFL draft classes behind us, fans of these horrid teams look ahead to the 2017-2018 NFL season with hopes that it will expunge the terrible records of the past and usher in a new era of prosperity for their respective teams.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland fans were lucky that they have the successes of the Cavaliers and the Indians to brag about because the Browns’ 1-15 season was a black mark on an otherwise successful year for Cleveland sports. The Browns were so bad that they even sucked at being bad. What’s the point in going 1-15, when you might as well break a record and go 0-16? When all is said and done, I think the Browns will bounce back in the upcoming NFL season. Cleveland had three first round picks, which they used to draft three players who could make an immediate impact. Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, a defensive monster who is bound to cause problems the second he steps on the field was selected first overall. Michigan Safety Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku were taken in the other two spots, and Cleveland has high hopes for these talents as well. The Browns wisely waited until the second round to draft QB Deshone Kizer, who was one of the better quarterbacks in the draft, although he has issues with decision making as well as maturity.

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In addition to these new players, the Browns also retain LT Joe Thomas and LB Jamie Collins, both of which are great players with a lot of experience. RB Isaiah Crowell and WR Kenny Britt have shown flashes of brilliance, with both players expected to see an uptake in production. Additionally, the Cleveland Browns will also be going against weaker teams. On average, the teams that they are going against this season showed a relatively low 46.9% win rate last year. Three of the teams that the Browns will face are mentioned in this article (Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars) and another opponent, the Los Angeles Chargers, narrowly missed the cut. I believe that the Browns will bounce back in 2017. While the Browns won’t make the playoffs next year or the year after, I expect them to finish the 2017 Regular Season with an improved record of 6-10.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are lucky that they’re in the same division as the LA Rams. Both of their wins in 2016 were against their unimpressive division rival. Most of the other teams in this article haven’t made the playoffs in five or six years, but the 49ers were almost Super Bowl 47 Champions and made it to the NFC Championship in 2014. The only bright side of their season was Colin Kaepernick, but even he was incredibly inconsistent, sporting a 122.3 Passer Rating in one game and a 56.4 Passer Rating in the next. That being said, Kaepernick is no longer on San Francisco. New 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t believe that he is a good fit for the offensive system he intends to implement in the upcoming season.

The Niners chose to approach the draft defensively, using their three picks in the first two rounds to draft DE Solomon Thomas, LB Reuben Foster, and CB Ahkello Witherspoon. The Niners, in fact, outperformed most of the NFL in the draft as they also weaseled four picks out of the Chicago Bears. However, they still don’t have any offensive weapons to help them out on the other side of the ball. Rookie QB C.J. Beathard, certainly isn’t the answer to their woes, nor is Rookie TE George Kittle. While RB Carlos Hyde is a solid running-back, it isn’t enough to save the 49ers this season

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco’s 2017 schedule doesn’t have many easy wins either, with an average opponent win rate of 50.2%. Their division will be pitted against the second best division in 2016, the NFC East. All in all, the 49ers won’t win many games in the 2017-2018 season. I predict them to finish the regular season with the same record as last year, 2-14, if not slightly better at 3-13.

Chicago Bears

If I was a Bears fan, I would enjoy the peace and calm of the next few months, because once the NFL Season starts, there won’t be much to celebrate. The Bears will not – under any circumstances – bounce back.  The only position that I can truly say that they don’t need to worry about is the RB position. Jordan Howard was a beast last season, and quite frankly was one of the only reasons that the Bears won three games at all. He finished with the second most rushing yards in the NFL as a rookie, which is no small feat. The Bears managed to salvage wins against the Lions and the Vikings, and were fortunate enough to go against the 49ers for an easy win, resulting in a 3-13 season. If you had talked to a Bears fan only 2-3 years ago, they would have bragged about QB Jay Cutler’s cannon arm or WR Alshon Jeffery’s hands, but the Bears lost both players this offseason.

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Chicago’s performance in the NFL draft hurt their chances in the upcoming season. They traded 4 picks to move up and get Mitch Trubisky, who has only started 13 college games. Overall in the draft, the Bears only had 5 picks and had no picks in the 3rd, 6th, and 7th rounds because of awful trades with other teams. The decision to draft Trubisky also hindered the Monsters of Midway because they had just signed Mike Glennon to a 3-year, $45 million contract. Don’t be fooled by the low win percentage of the Bears’ opponents (47.9%), they still have a very difficult schedule. Three out of the first four teams they play (the Falcons, Steelers and Packers) all made it to the playoffs last year, and should instill panic in the Chicago front office once they deliver the team three losses. I predict that the Chicago Bears will go 0-8 before their bye week in the regular season. If the Bears are lucky, they will finish the season 2-14, but it is more likely they will win even less than that.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars went under the radar last season, at least compared to the rest of the teams mentioned in this article. However, their record is even more inexcusable being that they played in one of the weakest divisions last year, but still went 3-13. The Jaguars have a solid quarterback in Blake Bortles, but the problem is that he throws too many interceptions. In week 13, Bortles threw his 11th career pick-six, marking the most pick-sixes by any quarterback in history in their first three seasons. At that point in time, he had more pick-sixes than career wins. Bortles throws so many interceptions that he’s already in the top 50 all-time in career pick-sixes thrown. Bortles has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career. The young and talented WR Allen Robinson was a vital part of Jacksonville’s offense in 2016

Jacksonville drafted Leonard Fournette in the first round, which wasn’t an immediate need, but a pick that will benefit them sooner rather than later, as he was one of the most talented running-backs in a draft class filled with amazing running backs. However, their offensive line was a huge problem, and OT Cam Robinson will go a long way in fixing that problem. Talented WR Dede Westbrook will ensure that Bortles has someone to throw to apart from Robinson and the other team’s defense.

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I wouldn’t sleep on the Jaguars’ defense either. Jacksonville has a highly coveted CB tandem in AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey showed the league what he was capable off with an impressive rookie season, where he only allowed two touchdowns and an average passer rating of 68.0. Jacksonville’s coaching staff trusted Ramsey enough to allow him to cover the opponent’s best receiver. In Week 10 of the 2016 Regular Season, Ramsey managed to contain the highly skilled Deandre Hopkins to five receptions and a total of 48 yards. AJ Bouye was a key linchpin to the Texan’s top ranked defense in 2016. He used his speed to defense 16 passes and contain opposing quarterbacks to an average passer rating of 60.6. Together, the two are bound to create a lot of trouble for opposing quarterbacks this season. Players like Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson help keep opposing quarterbacks on their toes, and bolster the run defense.

The Jaguars have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL for the upcoming season. They are tied for the second-lowest opponent win percentage (.439). They are also tied for the least opponents who had nine wins or more last year (six). The Jags will go 5-11 in this upcoming season, thanks to a successful draft, a two-headed CB monster and an easy schedule.

Los Angeles Rams

If I wrote about everything wrong with the Rams, we’d be here for days so let me sum it up in one word: offense. On the offensive side of the ball, they have two underwhelming QBs who are competing for a starting spot, a running-back who had a great season in 2015 but a terrible one in 2016, an offensive line that is full of obscure players, and Tavon Austin. Even Austin did poorly last year, as Kenny Britt, who is now on the Browns led the team in receptions, targets, yards and touchdowns.

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings

As far as the NFL draft is concerned, the Rams drafted TE Gerald Everett and WR Cooper Kupp. The hope is that the rookies will give Jared Goff consistent receivers, because as of right now, there is no one who the Rams can count on to support their young first overall pick in Jared Goff. The Rams’ schedule is in the middle of the pack with an opponent win percentage of 51%. However, they are going against one of the hardest divisions in the NFL, so don’t take their schedule lightly. The Rams won’t bounce back this year, and I expect them to do even worse. The Rams will go 2-14 this year.

New York Jets

Being from New Jersey, and being surrounded by Jets fans on a daily basis puts the downturn that the Jets took into perspective. The Jets went from 10-6 in 2015 to 5-11 in 2016. I still have fond memories of that fateful day in 2015 when they beat the Patriots. That being said, they were terrible last year. Part of the reason they went 5-11 last season was that they couldn’t seem to figure out their QB situation. They started three quarterbacks last year in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty, and none of them could solidify themselves as the starter, let alone a starter on any NFL team. Nick Folk, the Jets’ kicker, had more points than any starting receiver or running back on the Jets last season.

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Gang Green had a successful draft for the first time in years. The 2017 NFL draft marked the first time the Jets didn’t take a QB in five years. Instead, they focused on the defensive side of the ball, drafting two extremely talented safeties in the first two rounds. In the third through fifth rounds, they drafted two receivers and a tight end, which was a smart move considering their horrid receiving core. However, being that they didn’t draft a quarterback, the question on everybody’s mind is, “Who will the Jets start at QB?” Is Josh McCown the solution to all of the problems the Jets are facing in finding a QB? Will Christian Hackenberg come off the bench and be the next Tom Brady? Being as neither of these is likely and coupled with the difficult schedule the Jets have this year (53.5% win percentage) and the fact they’re going against the AFC West, the Jets probably won’t bounce back. New York will finish off the season with a record of 3-13.

One Week Later: 2017 NBA Draft Grades

Last Thursday, June 22, players in the most talented draft class that the NBA has seen since 2003 began their NBA journey. NBA teams who were looking to rebuild acquired young talent, while teams who were in dire need of a veteran leader traded their picks for such a player.

Eastern Conference

Boston Celtics: A

President of Operations Danny Ainge has claimed that the Celtics would’ve drafted the same man they would eventually take with the third pick if they kept the first overall selection. That man is Jayson Tatum. They traded their top pick to Philly to slide down two spots in the draft and get a future first-round pick. Tatum is a consistent scorer at the SF position, and is a perfect fit for the Celtics who were in dire need of both a forward and strong scorer. Boston used their 37th pick to draft Semi Ojeleye, who will bolster their bench, and will be sure to rack up of rebounds and points inside the paint. The Celtics also drafted guards Kadeem Allen and Jabari Bird, who are both offensive threats.

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Toronto Raptors: A-

The Raptors only had a single pick in this year’s draft and used that pick to draft OG Anunoby out of Indiana at 23. Anunoby is easily one of the best defensive players in the 2017 draft, and with a bit of fine-tuning, his outstanding athleticism and raw skill could potentially translate into a starting role at small forward. Anunoby’s ACL tear caused his draft stock to slide, but if he remains healthy, he could be the biggest steal of this year’s draft.

New York Knicks: C

Honestly, I agree with Phil Jackson. The Knicks must not have done any scouting going into this year’s draft. They passed on both Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk to draft Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick, which was a safe pick, but not one that will translate into any immediate success. They drafted a good shooter in SF Damyean Dotson with the 44th pick, but Malik Monk would’ve solved both of the Knicks’ problems: backcourt depth and shooting. 58th pick Ognjen Jaramaz has potential, but a successful future in the NBA isn’t very likely.

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Philadelphia 76ers: A

No one was surprised when the Sixers picked Markelle Fultz with the top selection. Fultz is a phenomenal guard who is touted by some as a generational talent, and he was exactly what Philly needed to supplement their loaded frontcourt. Fultz shot the lights out at Washington and can score from anywhere on the floor. He is also a fantastic playmaker, and one of the better passers in the draft. Philly also used their other three picks wisely, drafting Anzejs Pasecniks (25, via Magic), Jonah Bolden (36) and Mathias Lessort (50).

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Press Conference

Brooklyn Nets: B+

While many would argue that the Nets deserve a lower grade, I feel otherwise. Brooklyn traded away their 27th pick and Brook Lopez, their best player, to acquire D’Angelo Russell, the second pick in the 2015 draft. He was better than anyone the Nets could’ve gotten with their 27th pick and an aging Lopez, and could develop into a franchise player. The Nets also used their 22nd pick to draft center Jarrett Allen who has a ton of upside, and looks to fill the hole left by Lopez’s departure.

Cleveland Cavaliers: D

The Cavs had no draft picks this year, and weren’t able to use Kevin Love to trade for anyone. They needed to bolster their squad to appeal to LeBron James as he approaches free agency next offseason, and as they found out that their current team was not nearly enough to combat the Warriors, even at full-strength.

Milwaukee Bucks: B

The Bucks used the 17th pick to draft PF DJ Wilson, who will add to their already loaded frontcourt. Wilson might have been a bit of an overdraft, as his draft stock rose significantly as a result of Michigan’s unlikely postseason run. Wilson most likely won’t be a starter for the Bucks, given that Duke product and 2014 second overall pick Jabari Parker makes a full recovery. Sterling Brown was a decent pick, and is a versatile guard who will be able to play multiple positions, but neither player will make an immediate impact.

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Indiana Pacers: C

The Pacers’ biggest need coming into the draft was a guard, but used the 18th pick to draft UCLA PF TJ Leaf and the 47th pick to draft center Ike Anigbogu. They finally drafted a PG in Edmond Sumner with the 52nd pick (via Charlotte), but he’s recovering from an ACL tear and was a risky pick. TJ Leaf is an athletic shooter, but will most likely just be a role player for Indiana. Anigbogu has upside and was originally projected to go in the late first round, but his draft stock fell amid rumors about his medical history. Anigbogu can prove to be a steal, but the odds are stacked against him.

Chicago Bulls: C-

It seems that the Chicago Bulls decided to take a page out of the Chicago Bears’ book, and completely botch the draft. Don’t get me wrong, Lauri Markkanen is an athletic big man who can spread the floor. He has already drawn many comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis, but is he and an injury prone Zach LaVine and a disappointing Kris Dunn really worth All-Star Jimmy Butler? The answer is no.

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Orlando Magic: A-

The Magic used their four picks wisely, trading away two of them for future picks, and keeping the 7th and 33rd picks in the draft. Orlando used the seventh overall pick to draft Jonathan Isaac, a versatile combo forward who according to some experts, has one of the highest ceilings in the draft. Isaac is a defensive stud and can guard every position. He’s also able to create and shoot thanks to his impressive ball-handling skills and peak physical condition. He hasn’t established himself as a scorer just yet, but given his work ethic and potential, he can thrive on the Magic and develop into a star, Kawhi Leonard style. The Magic used their 33rd pick to draft Wesley Iwundu, another versatile offensive player.

Charlotte Hornets: B+

The Hornets drafted Malik Monk out of Kentucky with the 11th pick. Monk is a great shooter and ball-handler who fell a bit from where he was projected to go, but he lacks defensive stature and ability for his position. Fortunately, Monk’s speed and athleticism suggest that he has the potential to improve defensively, and that should be his main concern this season. The Magic also drafted Dwayne Wade – I mean Bacon – with the 40th overall pick, who will need to work on his jumper if he wants to succeed in the NBA.  Malik Monk and Kemba Walker will make a strong back-court this season for the Hornets, and along with Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum, they will guarantee a strong year for Charlotte.

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Detroit Pistons: B+

The Pistons’ biggest draft need was a shooter, and Luke Kennard who the Pistons drafted with the 12th pick is just that. Kennard shot 43 percent from beyond the arc at Duke, and is an all-around offensive machine. He can shoot well off the dribble and can create shots thanks to his ball-handling ability. Kennard will work well with Andre Drummond and company, which points to an exciting season.

Miami Heat: C

The Heat used their sole draft pick to take Edrice “Bam” Adebayo 14th overall. This pick came as a surprise to many analysts, who projected him going later in the draft. Adebayo contributes nothing on the perimeter, but is a physical presence who dominates the paint. Still, there were better big men available when the Heat drafted Adebayo, and a big man was hardly their draft need with Hassan Whiteside down low.

Atlanta Hawks: B

The Hawks are undergoing a rebuild that has seen the departures of Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and most recently, Dwight Howard. Paul Millsap has also opted out of his contract, and will become a free agent this offseason. Being as such, the Hawks were looking for a good big man to replace Howard and Millsap, and used the 19th overall pick to do just that. John Collins is an athletic big who knows how to finish at the rim. Collins wasn’t the most skilled player available, but the Hawks played it on the safe side and drafted Collins. The Hawks drafted Tyler Dorsey out of Oregon, who’s a well-rounded player that led the Ducks to the Final 4. The last pick of the draft was Alpha Kaba, a big from France that looks to bring his athleticism to Atlanta.

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Washington Wizards: B

The Wizards had no picks in the 2017 Draft, but traded their late-second round pick for G Tim Frazier from the Pelicans. Frazier is a strong passer and accumulated starting minutes for the Pelicans when Jrue Holiday went down with an injury. He is a solid backup for John Wall, and better than anyone they could have hoped to take at their draft position.

Western Conference

Utah Jazz: B+

The Jazz have a defensively-oriented playing style, so when it came time to draft players, they made selections who fit their model. The Jazz traded up to acquire the 13th and 28th picks, which they used to draft Donovan Mitchell and Tony Bradley. Mitchell is not only a flexible defender, but also an athletic marvel with a 6’10” wingspan in spite of a 6’3” stature. With some fine-tuning, he could also become a skilled scorer. Tony Bradley is a stretch four, as well as a reliable interior defender thanks to his 7’5 wingspan. He will make a good backup for Rudy Gobert. Jazz rookie PG Nigel Williams-Goss, the 55th overall pick, will serve as more of a role player and won’t get many minutes despite his NCAA tournament heroics with Gonzaga.

Golden State Warriors: A-

The defending world champs gave up $3.5 million to the Bulls to acquire the 38th pick, which they used to draft Jordan Bell. Bell is a multifaceted defender who’s able to guard almost every position. The Oregon PF is also an elite rebounder, which was one of the Warriors’ biggest needs.

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Los Angeles Lakers: A

To no one’s surprise, the Lakers drafted UCLA PG Lonzo Ball with the second pick in the draft. Ball is a terrific passer, playmaker, and shooter. He’s one of the most unselfish players in the draft and will go a long way under Magic Johnson’s tutelage. Both Kyle Kuzma (drafted 27th) and Josh Hart (drafted 30th) are versatile players on both sides of the ball and are excellent picks. Thomas Bryant, who the Lakers picked up with the 42nd pick, will make a reliable backup center and was also a good pick for the Lakers. Overall, expect to see big things from the Lakers rookies this year as their young core expands.

Houston Rockets: B-

The Rockets used the 43rd pick in the draft to get PF Isaiah Hartenstein. Hartenstein has a lot of potential thanks to his athleticism and 7-foot frame. Many NBA analysts predicted that Hartenstein could’ve been a lottery pick in the next couple of years. He won’t contribute immediately to the Rockets, but could prove to be a valuable asset in a couple years after he’s refined his shot.

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Oklahoma City Thunder: B

The Thunder needed a three-and-D type of player to help them progress in the playoffs because Russell Westbrook can only carry them so much. Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson has the capacity to be an elite wing scorer and shooter. His size and athleticism also mean that he could become a serious defensive threat. However, Ferguson needs to develop so that he can compete in a professional setting.

Los Angeles Clippers: B+

The Clippers acquired two picks in the second round through trades. They used the 39th pick to draft PG Jawun Evans out of Oklahoma State and the 48th pick to draft SG Sindarius Thornwell out of South Carolina. Jawun Evans is a playmaker not unlike a young Chris Paul who was projected to be a first rounder for many. He will step in to lead the offense if the Clippers fail to retain Paul. Thornwell averaged over 21 points a game and was able to lead South Carolina to a Final Four appearance, destroying brackets all around the country. Both players are proficient scorers who will make an impact this season.

Sacramento Kings: A+

You usually wouldn’t expect a lot of praise for the Kings, but they had a stellar night. They used the fifth pick in the draft to get De’Aaron Fox, the best two-way guard in the draft and a possible Rookie of the Year. Fox is already easily one of the best players on the Kings roster, and led Kentucky to the Elite Eight where they narrowly lost to eventual champions UNC. The Kings drafted NCAA champion Justin Jackson with the 15th pick, who is both a great shooter and defender. Sacramento’s night didn’t end there, as they also traded for the 20th pick which they used to draft Harry Giles out of Duke. Giles was the best high-school player in his draft class, and if he had remained healthy, he would’ve probably been a lottery pick. The Kings used their final, 34th overall pick to draft Frank Mason III out of Kansas. Mason played a significant leadership role on the Jayhawks and is another prolific perimeter shooter.

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Denver Nuggets: D+

What was one thing the Nuggets didn’t need coming in the draft? A forward. What did they go ahead and draft? A forward. The Nuggets have a very crowded frontcourt with Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari (assuming they come back next season), Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur and Juancho Hernangomez. Yet, they traded one of their picks for another PF and drafted Tyler Lydon with the 24th overall pick. By no means is Lydon a bad player, but he doesn’t really contribute much to the Nuggets frontcourt. They drafted yet another forward with the 49th pick in Vlatko Cancar, though he will probably stay overseas. The Nuggets also drafted Monte Morris with the 51st pick, but he won’t contribute much and has a very little chance of even making the team.

Minnesota Timberwolves: A

The Timbs were able to trade their seventh overall pick and a couple of other players to the Bulls to acquire 26 year-old All-Star Jimmy Butler, who was better than anyone they could’ve drafted with their pick. The trade also resulted in the 16th overall pick being sent to Minnesota which they used to pick center Justin Patton who stands at a tall 7’0”. Patton has proven that he has good instincts and is able to knock down 3’s, and will be a good backup for Karl-Anthony Towns, once he’s bulked up a bit.

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Portland Trail Blazers: B-

The Blazers traded two picks to acquire the tenth pick from the Kings. They used this pick to draft Zach Collins, an interesting decision. While the Blazers were right in trying to improve their frontcourt, Collins demonstrates a very similar playing style to that of Jusuf Nurkic, the current Portland center. Collins is a good player, but is not the right pick for the Trailblazers, especially since they could’ve used the pick to draft a forward like Justin Jackson or Harry Giles. PF Caleb Swanigan, on the other hand, was a good pick for the Trail Blazers at 26. He is an elite rebounder, which is a big need for the Blazers, and possibly the hardest worker in the draft.

Phoenix Suns: A-

The Suns drafted an immediate starter when they drafted Kansas SF Josh Jackson. Jackson is an elite defender and, if he touches up his jump shot, a scoring machine. The Suns drafted another good shooter at 32nd overall in Davon Reed. Reed will most likely function as a 3-and-D type of guy if he lives up to his potential. Alec Peters, the 54th pick in the draft, has experience as a four-year college player and could provide some much-needed assistance to the Suns front-court.

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Memphis Grizzlies: B

The Grizzlies drafted Ivan Rabb with the 35th pick in the draft and Dillion Brooks with the 45th selection. Rabb is a physical defender and rebounder and could potentially serve as a replacement for Zach Randolph if he signs with another team. Dillon Brooks is a decent offensive player, and could help rack up points and improve the Grizzlies bench.

New Orleans Pelicans: B

The Pelicans used the 31st pick to draft SG Frank Jackson out of Duke. NOLA arguably has the best front court in the NBA with two of the NBA’s best big men. That being said, their biggest draft need was a guard who can shoot, making Jackson the perfect prospect. He is a good shooter and ball-handler, but is coming off of foot surgery, making him a risky pick for the Pelicans.

Dallas Mavericks: A-

The Mavericks satisfied a gaping hole at point guard by using their ninth draft pick to acquire Dennis Smith Jr. out of North Carolina State, who was expected to be taken before they made their selection. Smith is exactly what the Mavericks need as an athletically gifted explosive guard. Despite being inconsistent, Smith will definitely help the Mavericks improve their weak offense this season and battle with rookie standout Yogi Ferrell for the starting position.

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San Antonio Spurs: B

The Spurs made a smart decision (as usual) when they drafted PG Derrick White with the 29th pick in the draft. As Tony Parker nears the end of his NBA career, the Spurs must look for a good guard to replace him. White has the potential to become that replacement. He is an all-around offensive player who can create, shoot, and dunk, who will be a perfect fit for the Spurs’ system. 59th pick Jaron Blossomgame needs a bit of work with his shooting, but will definitely prosper under Gregg Popovich’s coaching.

 

 

Is the Reign of the Cavs Over?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the biggest names in sports since acquiring the one and only LeBron James with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. The Cavs have only further etched their name into sports history since LeBron’s return in 2014. The defending NBA champions averaged 38.7 FG per game last season, jacking up 10.7 3-pointers-made per game. This offensively dynamic team is led by a stacked starting lineup including James, who now has three championships under his belt, and 4x All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Together, this triumvirate brought an end to Cleveland’s 52-year professional sports title drought. Times have changed since their dramatic championship run. Before Cleveland’s win against the Celtics on April 6, the Cavs had dropped to second in the East. After four straight wins, they resumed their status at the top of the East. With continuous fluctuations at the top of the standings the Cavs have found themselves in uncharted territory, trailing Boston in the standings with no games left to be played in the regular season. The Eastern Conference is arguably in the worst state that it has been in years. Despite the Cavaliers’ placement in a weaker conference and talented roster, their record is the only good for fifth best in the league, tied with four other teams and trailing the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Celtics. Many believe that the Cavs aren’t the super team they were once made out to be.

One of the reasons behind this new viewpoint is because the Cavaliers stopped playing to win towards the end of the regular season. The Cavs were characterized by their fire and physical dominance in the 2015-2016 season have lost their motivation to perform in the regular season, and if I were a Cavs fan, I would be worried about how that would translate in the playoffs. They have shifted their focus to outside of the perimeter, relying on sharpshooters like Irving and Kyle Korver to win games by close margins. They have attempted the second most 3-pointers per game in the NBA at 33.7, up by four from last year, and their win percentage is down 6% from last year.

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Three-point stud Kyle Korver is among the many acquisitions that the Cavs made this season in a last-ditch effort to improve their chances at being successful this season.

Because of this outlook that regular season games don’t matter in the broad spectrum, the Cavaliers have been resting LeBron, sparking an intense debate regarding its ethical implications. LeBron has missed six games this season due to rest and the Cavaliers are 0-6 without him.  King James himself has shrugged off questions about regular season games, citing his immaculate record and saying, “I’m not one to get caught up in the regular season. I’m sorry. I’ve been to six straight finals, man. I’m the last person to ask about a regular-season game.”

Hall of Famers have begun speaking out against the Cavs’ resting tactics. Former Utah Jazz great and second all time NBA leading scorer Karl Malone spoke about the Cavs’ loss to the Clippers on March 19, saying, “If you don’t have at least ten years’ experience, get your ass playing.” Malone himself was one of the hardest workers to ever play in the NBA, missing only ten games in his first 17 years in the league, compared to LeBron’s six missed games in this season alone.

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NBA greats Karl Malone (left) and Dennis Rodman (right) are among the many former players who have criticized the trend of resting players this season.

Dennis Rodman also spoke out against LeBron’s actions. “You know what, LeBron’s doing one thing that I always said that Michael Jordan never did,” Rodman said. “He never rested. He played every game. He played every game.”

Another reason behind their decreasing productivity is the Cavaliers’ team chemistry. When there is so much talent on a single team, tensions tend to fly high as players fight for individual statistics and personal acclaim rather than doing what is necessary to procure a win. After the Cavs’ last season, players expect to win and a lack of results leads to players blaming one another. This culminated in the heated exchange between LeBron and Tristan Thompson. After a made three-pointer by Pacers All Star Paul George, LeBron publicly blamed Thompson for leaving him completely unguarded. Even though James and Thompson both apologized during their respective post-game interviews, sources from inside the Cavs locker room stated that there was still an air of tension.

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Tempers have flared this season in Cleveland, culminating in public disputes between players.

The Cavaliers’ defense has also been disappointing, especially in the second half of the season. Since the All-Star break, the Cavs have been 28th in the NBA in defensive rating. This season, Cleveland has the least amount of steals per game in the league. They’re in the bottom half of the league in defensive rebound percentage, blocks per game, and opponents’ points per game. The fact of the matter is that there is no defensive powerhouse on the Cavaliers outside of LeBron, and it could come back to haunt them at the end of the day.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that the Cavs don’t have a chance of back-to-back titles, being that they demolished the first place Celtics 114-91 on April 6, but they are in no way the same team as last year. Despite playing less games, James continues to break records this season as he is now the 7th leading scorer of all time after starting the season as the 10th leading scorer. James is also the first player in NBA history to average more than 25 points per game in 13 consecutive seasons, previously being tied with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone for a streak of 12. It is quite possible that we will see a paradigm switch as the Cavs enter the postseason, because as the Cavs showed during their comeback in the 2016 NBA finals, it is never too late to count them out.

 

 

NFL Combine Highlights Promising 2017 Draft Prospects

The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine took place between February 28 and March 6 at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. All around the stadium, there 300-pound men were running 40 yards in under five seconds, hulking giants bench-pressing rep after rep, prospective NFL players jumping several feet into the air, and several yards forward. The athletic prowess displayed at the NFL combine is unlike any other.

The NFL Scouting Combine is an annual NFL event where college players invited by NFL teams perform in a variety of events including the timed 40-yard dash, the broad jump, the vertical jump and the bench press. These workouts are designed to test their mental and physical capabilities while simultaneously gauging the talent for the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. The Combine was first proposed by Tex Schramm, the former president and owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He suggested bringing college players together for a single cohesive event, instead of each team bringing in players individually to run drills and participate in workouts. As a result, the National Invitational Camp was created in 1982, and was later renamed the NFL Scouting Combine after a merger between three such camps. Since 1987, the event has been permanently moved to Indianapolis, and has since turned into an NFL tradition.

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Schramm (pictured) saw a need for further league-wide exposition for potential NFL draft picks and helped pioneer the NFL Combine

The 2017 Scouting Combine hosted some very talented players from a variety of colleges. Some of the most notable benefactors of the 2017 NFL Combine include John Ross, Myles Garrett, Deshaun Watson, Jabrill Peppers, Obi Melifonwu and Bucky Hodges.

John Ross’ 40-yard-dash result was one of the most notable performances of the four-day event. Ross broke the previous all-time 40-yard dash record, by running the distance in an astounding 4.22 seconds. NFL teams like the Eagles, Bills and Titans who have expressed interest in drafting a wide receiver will be surely consider this speedster when it comes time for them to draft.

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Washington WR John Ross (pictured) broke NFL RB Chris Johnson’s combine record for the 40-yard dash.

DE Myles Garrett and LB Jabrill Peppers were among the most dominant defensive players of the NFL Combine. Most analysts have projected that Garrett will be drafted first overall by the Browns. He proved that he deserved this tremendous honor with a vertical jump of 41 inches, higher than any other 2017 defensive lineman. Additionally, his 4.64 second-40 yard dash was faster than that of 18 starting QBs, including that of Super Bowl 51 winner Tom Brady. Not to be overlooked, Peppers also boasted impressive stats, running a 4.46 40-yard-dash and a making a noteworthy broad jump of 10 feet and 8 inches. Both of these stats were the best performances of any 2017 linebacker in their respective events. It should be noted, however, that Peppers will most likely be drafted as a safety, and that he only ran with the linebackers to stand out more. Experts project that Peppers will also be drafted in the first round either by the Chargers, Redskins, or Steelers.

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Jabrill Peppers (pictured) is considered to be one of the most athletic players entering the draft.

Top QB prospect in the draft, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, also proved his merit at the Combine. His 4.66-second 40-yard dash, 32.5-inch vertical jump, 9 foot-11 inch Broad Jump, and 6.95-second performance in the three cone drill all placed within the top five for prospective QBs. This type of outstanding athleticism and skill, coupled with his championship win against Alabama, is why many experts think that Watson is one of the best QBs in the 2017 draft class.

Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges and UConn safety Obi Melifonwu were some of the players in the NFL combine who outperformed their projections. Hodges had a 39-inch vertical, which was first among 2017 tight ends, but his best performance was in the Broad Jump, where he set a record for the longest leap by a tight end, managing a staggering 11 feet and 2 inches. Melifonwu possibly had the best performance at the 2017 NFL Combine. Both his 44 inch vertical and his 11 foot, 9 inch broad jump were the best of any player in the 2017 NFL Combine. While Hodges and Melifonwu, weren’t first-round draft prospects going into the combine, their outstanding performances definitely drew enough attention to merit first-round consideration.

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Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges (left) made his imprint on the NFL Combine, largely influencing his draft stock.

Many sports analysts claim that the 2016 NFL Season was one of the worst seasons in NFL History due to more games being won by much larger margins than they have been in previous years. Teams like the Jets, Jaguars, Browns and 49ers look to start anew and they turn to this year’s draft class to give them the boost that they so desperately need. The NFL Combine was a great presentation of the skill that the incoming NFL athletes have to offer prospective teams, and shows that there is still hope for the aforementioned teams to build a new, talented core.

Peyton Manning’s Life After the NFL

In February 2016, one of the best players to ever play in the NFL announced his retirement. Peyton Manning was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL draft, playing for an illustrious 18-year career that featured four Super Bowl appearances and for two Lombardi rings. Upon his retirement, Manning held the record for most career QB wins, most QB career passing yards, most QB passing yards in a season, most career touchdowns by a QB and the most season touchdowns by a QB, among many other records. The day he retired, there was only one question in everybody’s mind: “What will Peyton Manning do next?”.

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Even a year later today, that question remains unanswered. For a quarterback with so much experience such as himself, there are plenty of avenues that Manning can pursue. Will he consider a coaching job? Peyton Manning has first-hand experience with how a former quarterback can make a difference as a general manager or as a coach in an NFL team. Former Bronco quarterback great John Elway came back as the general manager of his former team and helped guide Manning and the Broncos to two Super Bowls within a span of three years. Could Manning follow a similar fate?

Another path that Manning could take is a career in television. Many retired football players find refuge on talk shows as sports analysts. Peyton Manning has become known for his down-to-earth personality, and was also known for being one of the best football minds in the game. The way he took control of his team at the line of scrimmage in regards to play-calling and making audibles after reading opposing defenses was unparalleled. If he followed the path laid by football greats like Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw, Peyton Manning could have a prosperous career in television.

For sports fans and non-sports fans alike, Peyton Manning is also known as the guy from the Nationwide commercials, or the Papa John’s commercials. Manning could become a pitchman and maybe even create his own brand. Players across every sport have tried this and made millions of dollars. If Manning looks to ever own a team, he will need to make a lot more money than he has already accumulated and this could be a good start.

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If Manning has any plans for his future, he hasn’t indicated it yet. He has spent the past year taking a break from the rigors of football. He has been golfing, fishing, and engaging in other activities with friends, family, and fans. We may not know much about Peyton Manning’s future, but from his storied football family and career, we know that he’s destined for greatness.