By Drew Willers
At the end of the day, there’s no way you can know what’s going to happen today, but that’s just apart of the fun. The intrigue and speculation has made this arguably the most enjoyable event in the NFL offseason. General Managers and NFL front offices are far too unpredictable to peg down exactly whom a team will take, and what they are willing to give to get “their guy.” That being said, I thought it would be fun to put my very first Round 1 mock draft together (because I have no interest in doing 7 whole rounds… I am not Mel Kiper Jr.). Enjoy, and feel free to give me your thoughts on my mock selections. Enjoy the draft, NFL Enthusiasts!
1.) Buccaneers: Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
There are some speculators out there that seem to have grown increasingly vocal that the Buccaneers may pass on “Famous” Jameis and either trade the pick, or just forego Winston and take Marcus Mariota out of Oregon. However, HC Lovie Smith is the kind of coach that isn’t intimated by the type of off-the-field issues that has been attached to Jameis Winston. Smith is a high-character coach that gets his players to forego the personal BS and focus on doing their jobs. Smith and the Bucs front office feel they’ve done their due diligence on Winston, making him the no-brainer 1st overall. Winston has all the “intangibles” you like in a franchise quarterback, but even beyond that, he just wins games, something Tampa desperately needs.
2.) Titans: Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
The temptation for me is to try and predict who will trade for this pick, because like most analysts out there, I do not believe the Titans will own this pick at the number 2 spot, and there are far too many candidates that really want the pick. Philadelphia, San Diego and Cleveland have all been reported to have extreme interest in moving up to the 2 spot. The real question is whether or not Titans HC Ken Wisenhunt believes that Mariota can be molded into a pro-style pocket passer, and not a “system” quarterback. If the answer is “no,” don’t be surprised if San Diego sends Philip Rivers to Tennessee for the pick, or if Chip Kelly’s Eagles can complete their offseason quest to re-create Oregon football at the professional level.
3.) Jaguars: Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
It would probably be a better move for the Jags to take an edge rusher like former Florida Gator Dante Fowler Jr., but I believe the Bortles to Cooper connection is too much for the Jags front office to handle, and after the disappointment of Justin Blackmon and Marqise Lee (I know Lee is still green… but c’mon) I think the Jags will take Cooper, who has been named the undisputed best receiver in the draft.
4.) Raiders: Dante Fowler Jr. (OLB/Edge Rusher, Florida)
After taking a defensive player with their 1st pick in last year’s draft in Khalil Mack, I think the Raiders will look to build on that trend in re-shaping a young defense. With Justin Tuck at the left end spot turning 32 and CJ Wilson at 28 years old at the right, adding a young explosive edge rusher could go a long way in the AFC West this year against slow, immobile, pocket passing quarterbacks in Alex Smith, Philip Rivers (if he isn’t moved on draft day) and Peyton Manning.
5.) Washington: Leonard Williams (DT, USC)
There’s the temptation here to take the speed demon that is Kevin White out of WVU, but with DeSean Jackson already on roster and with a relatively deep receiver draft, Washington can afford to work on their front seven. Disrupting run heavy offenses like Philly and Dallas should be a premium for Washington in the NFC east, and Leonard Williams provides a body mover to disrupt the run game. Washington should be stoked to have the privilege of filling a need as well as the best player available.
6.) New York Jets: Kevin White (WR, WVU)
With Percy Harvin taking his talents to the neighboring Buffalo Bills, and no chance of taking a quarterback at 6 (lest Mariota should fall) it’s awfully hard to look away from the super explosive Kevin White, and it really is that simple. Todd Bowles should be happy with what he’s got on defense with the acquisition of Darelle Revis, so getting this weak offense some weapons is all the more important at the 6th pick.
7.) Chicago Bears: Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
It wouldn’t be too difficult to see them taking Brandon Scherff at offensive guard, but I think it’s far too important for the Bears to find a replacement for Brandon Marshall (even more so now if they are seriously looking to deal Martellus Bennett). Obviously defense is a huge need for this club, but so are offensive weapons, and with no one of value wanting to play on the same offense as Jay Cutler in free agency, drafting a receiver to compliment Alshon Jeffrey and the Matt Forte run game is too important.
8.) Falcons: Brandon Scherff (OG, Iowa)
Many mock drafts have the Falcons taking Trae Wayans (DB Michigan St.) or Bud Dupree (LB Kentucky). As atrocious as Atlanta’s defense was last year, I think anchoring down the offensive line with Scherff after taking Jake Matthews last year is the right move. Matt Ryan is still the cornerstone of this franchise, and providing him with all the assets he needs to sustain success and longevity, should be at the top of their needs list entering this draft.
9.) Giants: Bud Dupree (OLB, Kentucky)
If Victor Cruz and OBJ can make it to the start of the regular season with clean bills of health, I don’t think there is a ton of need on offense for the Giants at number 9. Like the Redskins at the number 5 spot, stopping the high-octane runners in Philly and Dallas should be of the utmost importance and Bud Dupree’s raw athleticism should provide a spark for the New York front seven.
10.) Rams: Ereck Flowers (OG, Miami)
I believe the Rams will actively pursue moving down in today’s draft. That being said, if they can’t, protecting Nick Foles and keeping him upright in the pocket in an NFC West division full of dangerously aggressive pass rushing defenses should be the goal. The Rams also proved that they have a decent committee of RBs, and getting a dude who is 6’6” and a massive 330 lbs. should help move the line at the point of attack. An offensive lineman at 10 isn’t super sexy (which is why they’ll try to move up) but the Dallas Cowboys took 3 consecutive offensive lineman with their 1st picks, and that helped pave the way for Demarco Murray this last season.
11.) Vikings: Trae Wayans (CB, Michigan St.)
Many mock drafts that I’ve read have the Vikings taking Teddy Bridgewater’s former Louisville teammate Devante Parker. While that wouldn’t upset me as a Vikings fan, it’s not my ideal scenario. The acquisition of Mike Wallace provides the deep speed the Vikings needed this offseason, and he should fit well in Norv Turner’s vertical passing offense. The Packers are still king in the NFC North, and the goal should be to neutralize that passing attack in any way possible. A secondary with Trae Wayans, Harrison Smith, and Xavier Rhodes provides length and athleticism to help counter the big athletic receivers in this division.
12.) Browns: Danny Shelton (NT, Washington)
If Cleveland were smart, they would hang on to their two first round picks and use them on things that aren’t quarterbacks, because as bad as that situation is on the Cleveland depth chart, there are also many, many needs on this team on BOTH sides of the ball. Cleveland’s secondary is quietly stout. The front seven? Not so much. Cleveland was dead last in the league in stopping the run. At 6’2” and 340 lbs. Shelton is a truck. The Browns will probably give both 1st round picks away, but if they don’t, I think Shelton is the right pick.
13.) Saints: Kevin Johnson (CB, Wake Forest)
It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the Saints taking Vic Beasley at this spot, and, quite frankly, with how poorly Rob Ryan’s defense played last season, it’s really a horse apiece. I went with Kevin Johnson because there is currently nobody on the depth chart that can handle Julio Jones or Kelvin Benjamin in the oddball NFC south. At 6’0” he may not have the length to cover the big guys, but his versatility and overall competitiveness is something Rob Ryan desperately wants to employ into his defense.
14.) Dolphins: Arik Armstead (DT, Oregon)
After making major waves during free agency in acquiring Ndamkong Suh, Arik Armstead would make running on the Dolphins a nightmare, something that a team needs to do if it’s going to beat the Patriots twice a year. Armstead is raw, no question, but the upside is tremendous, and if you can get Suh to help bring him along (and that’s a big IF), really watch out for the Dolphins this season in the AFC East.
15.) Niners: Vic Beasley (OLB, Clemson)
When describing this offseason as a Niners fan, our very own Steve Cravens used the term “exodus.” It’s hard to argue with him. Many departures, especially on the defensive side of the ball, must have first time head coach Jim Tomsula feeling shaky at the very least. The acquisition of Beasley should help. He fits perfectly into what the Niners need at the outside 3-4 position. Ideally, they would want a middle linebacker, but I think it’s possible to slide Navorro Bowman into the middle and let Beasley take the spot of Chris Borland. The Niners bread and butter has been a badass top 5 defense, look for them to get back to their roots with the 15th pick.
16.) Texans: Breshad Perriman (WR, Central Florida)
Losing Andre Johnson makes finding new targets on offense essential for the Texans. Fortunately for them, this is supposed to be a relatively deep draft at the WR position. Perriman hasn’t been grabbing headlines the way the other receivers have, but he is consistent and sharp, and though he displayed weak hands at the combine, his pro day should quell those doubts. Regardless of whoever is throwing the ball in Houston, they should be happy to have Perriman on the roster.
17.) Chargers: Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
The Chargers will most likely move up from 17, but if they are unable to do so, and they end up being stuck with Philip Rivers, giving him help is going to be essential. The Chargers have been desparate for a strong runner since the departures of Ladanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Gurley’s ACL injury may be a red flag, but he is undeniably the best runner in the draft, and the Chargers need to improve on their 30th ranked run offense.
18.) Chiefs: Cameron Erving (C, Florida St.)
If Perriman falls to the Chiefs, I believe he becomes the no-brainer pick at 18. I don’t see that happening, and with how weak the offense was last year, Andy Reid will want to take the big fella in the middle. Both Mike Mayock and Kiper have regarded Erving as being the best center in the draft, and the Chiefs need him at either center or tackle, experience Erving has at both positions.
19.) Browns: Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Like I said, if they’re smart, the Browns will hang on to both of their 1st round picks and address needs they have besides quarterback. This is unlikely given the Browns’ track record of giving away everything for the next franchise quarterback. I wrote a piece earlier this month about why it’s too early to give up on Johnny Manziel, and even if they decide it is time do so, Brian Hoyer is going to need help anyways. Melvin Gordon provides the Browns a smart runner with patience and decent acceleration. The Browns quarterback situation will not improve if they continue to ride the struggle bus in the run game. Be smart, hang on to the picks, and address needs around the quarterback position.
20.) Eagles: ??? JK… Damarious Randall (FS, Arizona State)
I am not even going to pretend to have any idea what in the blue hell Chip Kelly will do in this draft. At this point, it wouldn’t shock me if the Eagles took the Oregon Ducks mascot. If they don’t move up and grab Mariota, I believe Kelly will attempt to add as much speed as he can to this defense. Randall fits the mold as the ranging speedster that covers ground with little physicality, exactly what Kelly wants on defense.
21.) Bengals: Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
The Bengals want pass rushers. Unfortunately, with all the best ones already off the board and the others too far to reach, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther would be happy to bring aboard Brown to bring more strength to Cinci’s stout front seven. Bringing back Michael Johnson and acquiring AJ Hawk should help with the veteran leadership Brown needs to develop quickly in helping to stop Leveon Bell in Pittsburgh.
22.) Steelers: Byron Jones (CB, Connecticut)
“The Steel Curtain” is in need of a resurgence after losing it’s cornerstone Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu. Jones can take on the role of a corner or safety, and that type of versatility is a small step in the right direction of attempting to replace Polamalu.
23.) Lions: Andrus Peat (OT, Stanford)
The Lions will continue to air it out, and as they do, keeping Stafford healthy becomes more and more important. Peat has the versatility to play either right or left tackle. If Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon happens to fall, don’t be surprised if the Lions jump all over it, but that seems unlikely at this point.
24.) Cardinals: DJ Humphries (OT, Florida)
Much like the Lions above, protecting the 35 year old Carson Palmer is essential. The Cardinals were a competent starting quarterback away from making a serious run in the playoffs. The temptation is to take a receiver, but they aren’t falling all the way to 24.
25.) Panthers: TJ Clemmings (OT, Pittsburgh)
As much as the Panthers tried to deny the injuries to Cam Newton were hurting his play, anyone could see he was ailing throughout much of the season, keeping him immobile for much of the year. The former 2 sport athlete will immediately help the Panthers o-line.
26.) Ravens: Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
27.) Cowboys: Landon Collins (SS, Alabama)
28.) Broncos: Jake Fisher (OT, Oregon)
29.) Colts: Cedric Ogbuehi (OT, Texas)
30.) Packers: Denzel Perryman (ILB, Miami)
31.) Saints: Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Missouri)
32.) Patriots: Randy Gregory (OLB, Nebraska)
By Christian Schneider
Sports fandom is an funny thing.
1) It can be something earned by quality of play: "Hey the Warriors are so much fun, I think they're my favorite team!"
2) It can be something forced upon you as a simple survival instinct: "Dude, I know you don't care about baseball but it's gonna a lot easier for you if you root for the Sox, they're playing the Yankees this week"
3) It can be something bequeathed you by your predecessors: "Son, I have rooted for the Vikings from the Purple People Eaters all the way through Christian Fucking Ponder. And now, on your fifth birthday, I present you with you very own vintage Randall Cunningham jersey"
4) Or it can just be something that just happens for reasons that only make sense to you: "Tony Parker was married to Eva Longoria until he cheated on her with a teammate's wife. She sucks and I hate Desperate Housewives. Go Spurs Go!"
(I know people who only pull for sports teams for Reason #4, such as a female friend who rooted for the Seahawks during our Super Bowl party because she found Russell Wilson hot. First off, we got TOM BRADY on our team dammit! Secondly, if the Pats hadn't pulled out the win in the end she would have had the uneaten bean dip flung in her general direction by yours truly. Anyway...)
I am a North Carolina basketball fan for the first three reasons.
Firstly, my father is a Tar Heel, graduate of Chapel Hill in 1982. For those of you who don't know, 1982 is the Dream Season for Tar Heel basketball: James Worthy led the Heels to a national championship by dunking everything that was thrown into his hands, Dean Smith finally erased his reputation as the coach who couldn't win the big one (0-6 in Final Fours before that), and a skinny frosh named Michael Jordan hit the gamewinning shot in the title game that turned him into MICHAEL FUCKING JORDAN. My dad and his friends celebrated by painting Franklin Street (Chapel Hill's party center) Carolina blue. His then-girlfriend's cat had a litter of 5 kittens that night and they named them for the 5 UNC starters (has there ever been a better name for a cat than Sam Perkins?). Suffice to say I was destined for UNC fandom.
Secondly, Carolina basketball has always been a standard bearer for the "student athlete." The late, great Dean Smith won two national championships and produced some of the greatest basketball players of all time, but his legacy comes from his athletes' commitment to staying in school and fulfilling their degrees. Even the greats like Worthy, Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn Jamison, and Vince Carter who left school to be top 5 draft picks came back to graduate. A diploma meant something to Tar Heel players. No disrespect to Anthony Davis, but do you really think he's coming back to Kentucky to get a degree?
Thirdly, Carolina basketball kicks ass on the court. Jordan, Worthy, and Perkins. Stackhouse and Wallace. Carter and Jamison. Some of the most brilliant and entertaining teams in college basketball history played under the rafters of the Dean Dome. They won and they won with style, even if that meant Phil Ford running the Four Corners (you're welcome America, that play was the reason we got a shot clock in college games).
One of the great memories as a young kid was watching UNC win the 2005 National Championship. They had been horrible for years thanks to Matt Doherty's disaster of a tenure and had been Duke's personal whipping boy as Coach K became the biggest name in college sports. '05, when Roy Williams arrived like a messiah and turned Sean May, Raymond Felton, and shitty Rashad McCants into winners, changed that. Carolina was back on top. The following years produced Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Brandan Wright, and Wayne Ellington. They won again in 2009 and won an incredible 4 straight games in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, which was then seen as the most difficult environment in college hoops, with its nauseating atmosphere filled with sweat, chants, and upper-class private school privilege. It was a new golden age for the Heels.
And now it's all falling apart. In every way. And that's the story today.
Two days ago Brandon Ingram, the #3 high school prospect in America, committed to Duke University. This is the latest in a series of blows that UNC has been suffering for about 4 years now. Brandon Ingram is a native of Kinston, NC. For those of you who aren't familiar with college basketball recruiting, there are certain areas of North Carolina that are "no-fly zones" for opposing schools. Places like South Mecklenburg, which produced players like Walter Davis and Bobby Jones. Places that have fed North Carolina basketball for years with top-notch high school talent who have grown up idolizing Tar Heel legends and have dreamed of their turn to wear Carolina blue. Kinston is one such area. It has produced Jerry Stackhouse, one of the great Tar Heels of all time, and more recently Reggie Bullock, who has made his way to the NBA. Brandon Ingram was considered, for years, to be a surefire Tar Heel.
And he would've been. If not for the scandal. The academic fraud scandal in the UNC African-American department that came to light in 2011 has Carolina's blueblood legacy bleeding out. The revelation that many UNC athletes (primarily from football, but also many basketball players) were academically eligible as a result of paper classes with bogus requirements has the NCAA sniffing around and the possibility of sanctions, possibly postseason bans. Whether the athletic department was privy to this fraud (and that is certainly open to doubt, it frankly looks more like a professor chose to keep African-American Studies majors in school by rigging their courses) it has damaged the reputation of the basketball program beyond repair.
Added to that are Rashad McCants' allegations that him and his teammates never went to class and that their tutors wrote their papers for them (This much at least is definitely bullshit and McCants is a straight up fucknuts who washed out of the NBA and tried to be an actor, but it still hurts that a former player is attacking the program so publicly and viciously), the dismissal of Will Graves and his subsequent pot bust, and the PJ Hairston weed/rental car/firearm/what-the-fuck-are-you-doing episode.
But back to Ingram. He was planning on committing to UNC this past summer, but the threat of playing for a team that will be banned from the NCAA tournament caused him to wait. In stepped Duke, the Satan-worshipping newly crowned national champions, adversaries of Carolina. Coach K got Ingram. Stole him. In broad daylight right before our very eyes.
My first reaction was the classic "We Will Be Revenged!!!" response. Ingram is now public enemy number 1. I marked my calendar for the next UNC-Duke game, labeling it "the day we pay Benedict Ingram back." We'll break him all right; like we did that buttplug Shavlik Randolph before him. We'll shut him down and kill his draft stock and roll on to take the National Championship. To steal a quote from famous Duke fan Joffrey Baratheon, "So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished!"
But as the Bloodwrath subsided another thought crept into my mind, one that I hate with a flaming fiery passion but one that I know in my heart to be the truth: Ingram made the right decision. He was right to go to Duke. He was right to spurn Carolina.
Ingram is a can't-miss NBA prospect, a 6'9 wing who can drive, post up, shoot the three, and play great defense. He has Jay Bilas' famous "wingspan" of 7'3, he is a big time player and almost certainly a lottery pick. The only thing that could hurt him is committing to the wrong school and not getting a shot at the NCAA tournament, which the Duke trio of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones all used to vault them into the 1st round of the NBA Draft, possibly the lottery for all three. UNC has a lot of talent and experience and may very well be the preseason pick to win it all next year. They DEFINITELY would have been had Ingram joined them. But that's all for naught if the NCAA decides to exclude them from the tourney. Their season may end in March, long before America really takes an interest.
Instead, Ingram threw in with Coach K, who has in the last 5 years sent Kyrie Irving, Jabari Parker, and now Okafor as top-3 picks in the draft. Coach K, who has turned the tide back to Duke on Tobacco Road, winning in 2010 and now 2015. Who swept Carolina this season. Who has won 10 of the last 13 against the Tar Heels. Who coaches the Olympic team that has been so vital in his recruiting takeover of one-and-dones. John Calipari has had some fun in Lexington but Coach K is still the top dog, no matter what way you slice it, not just on Tobacco Road, but ANYWHERE. And Ingram was smart to choose him.
And Carolina is slipping. No Final Fours since 2009, no ACC tournaments. Their 2012 team had championship written all over it but injuries to John Henson, Dexter Strickland, and tragically Kendall Marshall kept them from even reaching the semi-final. UNC hasn't mustered a top team since then.
And now Duke's taking our players in our own backyard.
UNC fans, true fans that is, don't ever jump off the bandwagon. They didn't when the 2002 team went 8-20. They didn't when 2010 team went to the NIT while Duke won a championship. We won't now, sanctions or no sanctions. But something's gotta change and it's gotta happen soon. Because Duke's kicking our ass.
There was a time when it seemed that the enduring image of Kawhi Leonard would be a missed free throw in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. And why wouldn't it? It left the door open to the most dramatic, mind-blowing, oh-my-God-that-has-never-happened-and-will-never-happen-again shot in NBA playoff history. Shuttlesworth's signature moment. Leonard's eternal shame. The basketball gods had decreed that Kawhi Leonard would join the Nick Anderson/Frank Selvy club of famous Finals chokers.
But then a funny thing happened; he flipped the script. As a New Englander, when Aaron Boone hit the ALCS-winning home run against the Sox in 2003, there was the assumption that Sox Nation would be haunted by it for decades to come, a la Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner. Instead, just one year later, revenge was a dish served boiling hot with a six-pack of Sammy Adams. So it was with Leonard and the Spurs. The flat out ass-whipping they administered to the Heat not only purged the memory of Game 6 forever, but it made the Spurs the story of the era, how they had prolonged their greatness well into the twilight years of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. And for Leonard, it was pure, undeniable redemption.
The lasting image of Leonard has become, for me at least, Adam Silver announcing that the 22-year-old had been named NBA MVP:
Stuart Scott (RIP): "Here to present the Larry O'Brien trophy for Finals MVP, is Commissioner Adam Silver."
Silver: "Kawhi Leonard" (He is forced to pause as the San Antonio crowd explodes) "The city of San Antonio knows how great you are and now the whole world knows."
Watch the video. The entire Spurs team reacts like you've never seen a team react on the podium. Their smiles are ear-to-ear and they grab Leonard in one massive fundamentally-sound bearhug as Leonard, silent and stoic throughout the series (if not since birth), howls with joy. There really is nothing like it.
Since that moment, Leonard has been on the rise. He seemingly gets better every game. He has gone from unlikely hero to NBA superstar this season. If not for an early injury this season he'd have made his first All-Star game. His stats, particularly on the offensive end, have improved and he has developed into what every Spurs hater has feared for years: a dynamic, multi-threat wing scorer. The Spurs have never had this. Closest to that would be Sean Elliot back in the 90s and he didn't attack the rim like Leonard.
At the same time, oh yeah, he's the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Say what you want to about the voting (Draymond Green got more first-place votes but Leonard won on total points, meaning that way more people picked him second or third than they did Green), but I say the voters picked the right man. His defensive efficiency is first in the league, he led the NBA in steals per game, and he is capable of guarding the 1-4 slots. He is a game-changing, havoc-wreaking defender and serves as a wild-card for the Spurs defensive schemes.
Just last night (I write this the morning after Game 5 of an AWESOME Spurs-Clippers series) he hounded JJ Redick around screens, minimizing his impact, stepped up to neutralize Jamal Crawford, and played in isolation several times against Chris Paul, preventing him from taking over at critical moments. And, despite this being by far his worst game of the series, he pulled down the game-winning offensive rebound and finished with 18 and 9.
Barring a truly remarkable turnaround by the Clippers, the Spurs are going to win the series and move on to face Houston. If that happens, I pray that we see Leonard check James Harden for long stretches of the game. Just too good of a matchup to miss. But if the Spurs advance, let's recognize the reason for it. With Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili clearly hobbled by a variety of small injuries, and Tiago Splitter utterly spent, the Spurs are on the verge of eliminating a Clipper team that 1) Had homecourt advantage over the Spurs, 2) Has Blake Griffin playing the best basketball of his career and Chris Paul doing Chris Paul things, and 3) Is playing the best defensive basketball it has at any point in the Paul-Griffin era. The reason for it is Leonard catching fire offensively. His 32 pt, 13-18 Game 3 was a flat-out masterclass and he still anchored a defense that held the explosive Clipper offense to 73 pts.
For the last few years, the question regarding San Antonio has been when will Kawhi Leonard take the reins from the likes of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. The answer is that he already has. He just did it in classic Kawhi Leonard style: quietly.
By Drew Willers
Much has been said of Johnny Manziel since he has re-emerged from an alcohol/drug rehabilitation stint at the Caron treatment center near Reading, Pennsylvania. After being drafted 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns last year at the NFL’s 79th annual NFL draft, Manziel would embark on what can only be described as a very tumultuous first season. Manziel sat and watched Brian Hoyer struggle to carry the club to a 7-6 record, before head coach Mike Pettine would hand the keys to the Brownies’ offense to the former Texas A&M phenom. Results were less than spectacular. After showing some promise 2 weeks earlier in a relief appearance against the Buffalo Bills, Manziel looked lost as Cincinnati’s defense thrashed the Browns, ultimately crushing their playoff hopes. The week after, Manziel would only play a quarter and a half of football before being removed from the game due to a rib injury. The Browns shut down Manziel for the remainder of the season, just to watch the rookie miss a rehab assignment at the team facility after reportedly throwing a party at his Cleveland residence. Sources said that when team officials went to his house they found Manziel, “drunk off his ass.” Reports began to surface that this type of behavior was common throughout his rookie season, and teammates and team officials had grown tired of it. Weeks later, the Browns announced that Manziel had elected to check himself into rehab, acknowledging that he had a problem.
Since re-emerging after 10 weeks at the facility, it seems everyone has written the young man off completely. The Browns said they would approach the offseason this year as if they didn’t have their starting quarterback despite having both Hoyer and Manziel on the depth chart, and it seems every NFL analyst under the sun has taken that as a lack of faith in the young quarterback. Though I can’t deny that the kid’s word isn’t worth much (if anything at all), and he has much work to do to become even a competent NFL starter, I still believe it’s too early to completely write off Johnny Manziel.
First and foremost, he’s only 22 years old. We saw him play only 6 quarters of football last year. It’s impossible to deny that he struggled mightily against professional defenses, but let’s not forget that when this kid was a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M, he thrashed SEC defenses putting up 3,706 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, and a passer rating of 155.3. Combine that with 1,410 yards on the ground and 21 rushing touchdowns, and you get a season worthy of a Heisman trophy… as a FRESHMAN (the first one ever, in fact). It has been proven time and time again that success at the collegiate level does not always translate to success at the NFL game, but I don’t think 6 quarters of football in an already lost season with a team that has many MAJOR needs beyond finding a competent starting quarterback, is a fair assessment of whether the kid will be able to play ball.
Analysts such as ESPN’s Merrill Hoge have cited many flaws in Manziel’s game: his inconsistent footwork, his lack of poise and patience when operating in the pocket, and his reckless gunslinger mentality. These are all completely valid, but there comes to mind a certain Hall of Fame quarterback from Southern Miss. that had similar issues when entering the league as a rookie; Brett Favre. I am not saying that Manziel will be a Hall of Fame quarterback on par with one of the all-time greats like Favre, but there’s something to be said about the competitive fire both quarterbacks seem to possess. That’s what made Manziel such a hot commodity coming out of the draft. There were definitely red flags concerning his behavior off the field, but I don’t think anyone can deny that Manziel displayed great leadership and toughness during his tenure at College Station. His teammates rallied around him in crucial moments, and his coaches loved that Manziel always played with a chip on his shoulder. It’s that type of mentality that made me and other NFL execs salivate at the prospect of making Manziel a franchise quarterback. The elite athletes, in any sport, play like they have something to prove. Every. Single. Play. I believe that Manziel still possesses that mentality. It also doesn’t hurt that Manziel had the best Wunderlic score (32) of any quarterback at the combine, as well as a 4.68 40-yard dash. Again, combine numbers don’t always translate to W’s at the NFL level, but this type of talent doesn’t evaporate.
After becoming, arguably the most polarizing and popular athlete in American sports, making friends with other superstar professional athletes and celebs, Manziel became ultra-entitled. He felt that he had already arrived, and that he had earned the right to rage when he probably should have kept his nose in his playbook. Time and time again, he would be caught through the lens of camera phones and TMZ paparazzi at nightclubs across the country. A day after saying that he had to get it figured out; he was caught on camera at a nightclub in Miami. At some point, Johnny Football became bigger than Johnny Manziel and before the 22 year-old knew what was happening, the beast that had become Johnny Football had gotten out of control.
I credit Manziel for acknowledging this, and having the wherewithal to enter rehab; to stop denying the problems he’s created and to try and tame the beast he’s bred. This is not an easy decision for a 22 year old to make. Manziel knew that his credibility would take a beating, his critics would rejoice at his fall from grace, and that he would become a punch line amongst NFL fans on social media. Manziel hasn’t denied that all of this is of his own doing. He dug this hole, and must now dig himself out. However, I don’t think being back at square one means that everyone should ultimately write off Johnny Manziel as a quarterback at the professional level; especially because he now has a long road to climb. There is something about competitors that have something to prove which ignites the fire within and brings out their best. I believe that Johnny Manziel possesses that competitive fire.
He’s a young man that showed poor judgment and terrible decision making, but that does not mean the story ends here. It didn’t for many young athletes with the same issues. One of my all-time favorite athletes, Cris Carter, struggled with cocaine and alcohol addiction early in his career. Carter was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. It’s certainly far cry to say that Manziel will be a Hall of Fame quarterback, but I believe that it’s just as ridiculous to write him off at this point in his career.
Like plenty of 22 year olds, he’s acted immature and dumb. That cannot be denied. But is there no room for empathy? He has acknowledged he has a serious problem, and taken it on himself to change it. That shows incredible fortitude. This is a competitive young man that has proven he is at his best when he has something to prove. For the first time since his incredible freshman season at Texas A&M, Manziel is facing incredible adversity. Adversity that he brought upon himself, no question, but it’s not too late for Manziel to change the narrative, and I believe he possesses the ability to do just that.
I could be wrong, but after taking the necessary first steps in rehabilitating himself, there is an opportunity now for Manziel to wash his hands of the Johnny Football mess, and start his career as Johnny Manziel. Now that he has taken the time to clear his head and refocus, let’s see what the kid can do with an entire offseason ahead; Let’s see if he can prepare for an NFL season the right way. Let’s see if he can make this year all about the game that he loves, before we write him off as another complete bust. He’s shown in the past that all he needs is an opportunity, and with the current state of the Cleveland Browns quarterback situation (barring a major move in this year’s draft) Manziel will get just that. Don’t be too surprised if he jumps all over it.
By Tyler Berry
No need for bad jokes and no need for ramblings with this one. This is part 2 of my first round NBA playoff predictions. This time, the Western Conference. Let’s get to it.
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 8. New Orleans Pelicans.
Prepare for 4 straight “scrimmage” games. Joking. The Pelicans and budding superstar Anthony Davis deserve a lot more respect than that. They squeaked into the playoffs on the final night, thanks to the Spurs rolling over and letting them have the game. However, that doesn’t mean this team should be taken lightly. Anthony Davis finished the regular season with the highest PER (Player Efficiency Rating) in the NBA, at 30.89. Impressive. But at the end of the day, the Golden State Warriors are just going to be too much for them. I been Steph Curry with the shot / Been cookin with the sauce / Chef Curry with the Pot is just going to light things up all up and down the basketball court. I apologize for my Drake reference…
Oracle Arena is the loudest it’s been all season during game 1. The Warriors come out pumped up and ready to play. Curry and Klay tag team for 60-plus points and lead the crew to a blowout win. Game 2 is a different story. Anthony Davis shows up and takes it straight at Andrew Bogut in the low post. Bogut turns to Bogus and the Pelicans take game- wait oh my god here comes Steph Curry. Curry lights up the 4th quarter from behind the 3-point line and the Warriors squeak by with a win. Almost had you going there for a minute. The Pelicans are happy to be home in New Orleans for game 3. Their crowd goes wild. Anthony and Tyreke Evans take the game over, shutting down any possible Curry/Klay runs. Game 3 to the Pelicans. Games 4 and 5 see the Warriors in true form. They’ve gotten in their groove, the loss is out of the way, and they cruise to a series victory quite comfortably.
Golden State wins the series 4-1
2. Houston Rockets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks
James Harden, the possible MVP (should be Steph) is not someone you want to meet in round 1 of the playoffs. He’s been an absolute force all season, even when he’s had to carry a Dwight-less squad. Let’s be honest, even with Dwight on the floor, half the time they’re Dwight-less. Harden and the boys are eager to put last year’s last second Dame Lillard dagger behind them and get a series win. The Mavericks are just limping along, trying to prove they are still relevant. Harsh, yes. But have you seen Dirk? The man can still shoot with the best of them but he literally can’t move.
Oh boy. Game 1 is a massacre. James Harden comes out swinging, showing why he’s da real MVP. Parsons doesn’t play for the Mavericks and Monta Ellis hogs the ball. Mavs can’t get a shot to fall. Game 1 to the Rockets. Game 2, Parsons plays. After missing a few games with a knee injury, he’s ready and eager to show his former squad what they are missing. Parson’s goes off for 30, Dirk shoots well, Dwight falters and the Mavericks escape with a game 2 win. Back in Dallas for game 3, this one is close. Dwight works hard to redeem his unimpressive game 2 and finishes with a solid double-double. On the other end, Monta makes up for his bad start and gets some tough shots to drop, sparking a second half Mavs run. Mavs win game 3! Game 4 is all Houston though. It’s a Josh Smith sighting! Who knew this guy would have a resurgence with the Rockets after being so lazy on the court for so long. Smith and Harden control the tempo of the game and the Rockets head back to Houston all tied up. Game 5 and Game 6 are close, but the Rockets show that they aren’t going to lose this series. Dirk is tired, hurting, finished. His shots won’t fall and Monta/Chandler can’t get it done alone. Houston easily finishes off this Dallas team.
Houston Rockets win the series 4-2
3. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6. San Antonio Spurs
Now this might be the most interesting first round series. If you listen to our podcast, you’d know that most of us didn’t expect the Clippers to be such a high seed after Blake Griffin went down with a staph infection for 12 weeks. DeAndre stepped up though, along with some surprising contributions from bench players (Austin Rivers??) and the Clippers won A LOT of games. Now, the Spurs have really turned things around as of late. During November and December, the team was abysmal. It looked like the defending champs weren’t even going to be in the playoff race at all. We all doubted them and as always, we were proven wrong by Coach Pop, Duncan and the rest of the San Antonio crew. Now the Spurs look poised for another deep playoff run.
It’s all Spurs in game 1. They come out ready to play, showing why they’re the defending champs. Blake and DeAndre get in early foul trouble, forcing them to play with timidity in the low post. Duncan gets one of his vintage double-doubles along with some impressive inside-out assists. Parker and Ginobili prove that the old men can still get it done against a younger squad. CP3 plays admirably, as he tends to do, but it’s not enough and the Spurs escape with the win. Game 2, the Clips come back and make it a series. Amidst a loud and proud Staples Center, Blake and CP3 go off, finishing off the Spurs early in the 4th quarter. Game 3 and 4 down in San Antonio are split. The depth of the Spurs takes one of the two games but Pop’s Hack-a-DeAndre plan makes no difference in the other and the Clippers big men help get the win. Game 5 in LA is a star-studded affair. With the series tied up, game 5 is huge for both teams. A back and forth game leads to the series’ first overtime. The Spurs take the win and head back home. Game 6 is another close one but again it’s the depth of the Spurs that carries them and the Clips’ lack of depth that buries them. San Antonio wins game 6 and the series.
San Antonio Spurs wins the series 4-2
4. Portland Trailblazers vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies
This is an interesting series. It could either be a blowout or extremely close. Why? Well, the Grizzlies swept the season series 4-0 and have been the better team down the stretch. With Marc Gasol playing extremely well, it’s going to be a task for the Blazers to defend him. However, both teams are battling a lot of injuries so it’s going to come down to who can stay the healthier squad. Spoiler alert: This series goes 7 games.
Game 1 in Oregon, it’s clear that the Blazers miss Wes Matthews. Dame Lillard struggles from behind the arc and the Blazers backcourt can’t get their shots to go down. For Memphis, Gasol puts his team on his back and leads them to a solid victory. Game 2 and the Blazers are ready to fire back. Lillard redeems himself, showing that he can still make big shots like last year against the Rockets in game 7. Dame goes off, Aldridge gets 20 and 10, and the Blazers take game 2. I’ll make the next few games brief…Grizzlies win game 3 and 5. Blazers win games 4 and 6. GAME 7 is all that matters: The most exciting game of the first round of the playoffs. It’s back and forth for 47.5 minutes. With 30 seconds to play, the ball is in Dame Lillard’s hands. The shot clock winds down…5…4…3…2…Lillard with the three! No!! He misses. Memphis has one last chance with about 4 seconds left on the clock. 4…3…2…a dribble drive from Mike Conley, the floater goes up, it’s good! Memphis moves on!
Memphis Grizzlies win the series 4-3
We’re done! 3000 words over the course of two posts and my predictions for the first round of the playoffs are done. Here’s one last recap for you. Warriors in 5, Rockets in 6, Spurs in 6, Grizzlies in 7. In the East, Hawks in 4, Cavs in 5, Bulls in 5, Raptors in 7.
Thanks for reading everyone. I’ll be back with another post for the second round of the playoffs.