Though the Golden State Warriors look like near locks for an effortless cruise to a Finals victory once again, the scuffle just below them should be an intriguing follow. The West appears even more crowded than ever with the introduction of LeBron James and the battle royale set to commence for a playoff spot promises must-watch basketball, despite the Warriors unparalleled dominance.
For the first time in years, the city of Chicago has bonafide faith in their beloved Bears. A potential franchise quarterback, a brand new head coach, a doglike defense, everything seems to point up for the Windy City. But, with the too-comforting rose-colored glasses off, the team still will probably be a pretty rocky squad with still a dubious amount of holes, raw and rough around the edges in every way possible. In order to stay competitive, a lot of factors must tip in their favor. So today, let us run down a few of those factors.
In most preseason games, stellar performances from roster-bubble players usually end up swept under the rug, pinning the praise on the opposing second strings that allowed for such an impressive performance. However, in the seventh round rookie Javon Wims’ case, the 114 yard and one touchdown breakout game can’t be discredited as an inevitable.
It seems that with every season, without fail, unknown scrubs that barely cracked the roster in the first place transform into a premier contributor or a former early round pick finally adjust to the profesional game and prove themselves worthy of that high pick.. Naturally, as the sport of football relies heavily on coaching and system to squeeze production out of players rather than inherent talent, stars align and the NFL treats us with stories like Case Keenum, Todd Gurley, and Nelson Agholor.
1.Antonio Brown v. Jalen Ramsey (November 18th)
Great defensive back and wide receiver matchups need to carry both top-tier talent and historical significance. As both the mountain peak of their respective positions, an unmissable Antonio Brown and Jalen Ramsey duel would still land very high on this kind of list. But with last season's AFC Divisional round that saw Brown’s Steelers have their seasons ended in a total shootout to Ramsey and the Jaguars despite a wickedly competitive Brown smoking Jacksonville for 132 yards and two scores, this matchup has to be circled extra on both squads’ schedules. And after Brown named Ramsey “his favorite corner”, the newly budding rivalry between the AFC heavyweights flows through the clash of Brown and Ramsey.
With summer nearly arriving, and with it the draft, here are the top 45 prospects that fans and teams should be familiar with.
The Eastern Conference Finals and specifically the 2018 Cavaliers in said Finals will an intriguing case study in hardened teamwork and its benefits compared to a singular superhuman basketball entity putting a team on his shoulders. While the first drubbing of the Cavaliers at the hands of the Celtics came through as particularly satisfying, it also blares more alarms than we anticipated after merely a single game.
It has been a dream season for the Rockets. Splash offseason acquisition Chris Paul majorly panned out exactly as they had hoped, Harden looks to be a sure lock for MVP after too many years of spiteful snubs, and with the timely emergence of Clint Capela, they ripped the first seed in the West right out of the reigning champions injury-riddled hands. And after making swift work of the Timberpups and Jazz, they get the opportunity go toe-to-toe with the perennial sovereigns Golden State Warriors.
Riding the momentum of a Game Four upset over the Warriors, the Spurs felt prepared to repeat the impossible. They felt “more aggressive than previous games”, said Manu Ginobili, and still coached by the wizard who orchestrated the surgical Game Four win Ettore Messina after horrible tragedy of losing Erin Popovich, looked wired to contain the Warrior’s seemingly unbeatable offense.
Though the Cubs were pummeled 11-2 by the Rockies earlier this month, State Representative Thaddeus Jones proved that sports are about much more than just the final score.
Jones, who has represented a number of communities south of Chicago in the legislature since 2011, took matters into his own hands to ensure that students from Ford Heights got to witness their very first Cubs game. Representative Jones brought 150 students - ranging from first grade to high school - on a scenic tour of Wrigley. The kids got to see Wrigley’s outstanding new fan park and take pictures by the Ernie Banks statue before settling into seats on the third base line.
Another year, another Bears’ draft in the books. With brighter horizons ahead after another stellar draft for Ryan Pace and company, let’s run down and assign some grades to the picks. For this, we will assign a traditional school grade to both the player, defining his talent and potential, and to his value to the Bears, depending on how much the player fills a hole.
As with all sports, there is really never an offseason in the NBA and this past summer proved to be more invigorating than the playoffs before it and stakes a claim as arguably the most entertaining offseason in NBA history. Though the Warriors came off such a dominant playoff, this season still brought a little sizzle to it after such a chaotic offseason. Big names dealt left and right, a historically shimmering draft class and a few big signings to boot left a lot of dust to be settled.
Week 1: at Packers — Sept. 9 (SNF)
Week 2: vs. Seahawks — Sept. 17 (MNF)
Week 3: at Cardinals — Sept. 23
Week 4: vs. Buccaneers — Sept. 30
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: at Dolphins — Oct. 14
Week 7: vs. Patriots — Oct. 21,
Week 8: vs. Jets — Oct. 28,
Week 9: at Bills — Nov. 4
Week 10: vs Lions — Nov. 11
Week 11: vs. Vikings — Nov. 18
Week 12: at Lions — Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving)
Week 13: at Giants — Dec. 2
Week 14: vs. Rams — Dec. 9
Week 15: vs. Packers — Dec. 16
Week 16: at 49ers — Dec. 23
Week 17: at Vikings — Dec. 30
James Harden, G, Rockets
Basketball is a game of scoring points and the league has never seen a player so adept at points scoring. Harden is a rare offensive specimen, being able to flat out run an entire offense with the combined court vision and intelligence of a point guard and the scoring and shooting touch of shooting guard. He led the league in points scoring and points per shot of any player with more than ten field attempts while placing top three in assists per game even in sharing the court with the four-time assist champion Chris Paul. He will more than likely bring home MVP and at the same time land a spot on the First Team All-NBA.
Drafts are generally never won in the first round and Ryan Pace has made a name for himself in the sleeper game. While his first-round selections haven’t always panned out as he might have hoped (cough Kevin White cough), he has nailed Pro Bowl talent in the later rounds of the draft. Digging up top rusher Jordan Howard and the All-Pro safety Adrian Amos in the fifth round and Week 7 NFC Defensive Player of the Week safety Eddie Jackson in the fourth, Pace has a nose for value in the late rounds.
The NFL draft is a magical time that can either fuel playoff runs with a strong crop or completely bury a team bust for bust. With not a single playoff appearance 2010 but a greatly improved roster, the Chicago Bears sit in a dubious spot where one wasted high pick may be enough to prolong the drought. So in order to prepare for the ensuing madness and the potential of the next great Chicago Bear, let’s lay out the Bears’ greatest needs and a few options to cover them.
1.Edge Rush/Defensive End
Best Options: Bradley Chubb (NC State), Marcus Davenport (UTSA), Harold Landry (Boston College)
Pass rushing has quickly become a necessity of a successful defense in years past thanks to the unparalleled dominance of Von Miller and Calais Campbell and the Bears couldn’t be thinner at the position. Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston all split, leaving only a raw Leonard Floyd coming off an unfavorable knee injury and a precariously unproven Aaron Lynch to cover the pass rush.
Opportunely, this year’s draft looks to be a rather deep at the edge rush department. Chubb carries many similarities to Myles Garrett, unstoppable in pass rush and run stuff, Davenport has physical gifts on the same plane as Jadeveon Clowney, and Landry has the same power and quick-twitch athleticism as Vic Beasley. All apart of this new wave of freakishly athletic pass rushers, the Bears should be keen to pounce on one of them. Not to mention deeper in the draft rests the risky yet talented couple of LSU's Arden Key and USC's Rasheem Green.
If Chubb falls to the eighth, he would be the steal of the draft. In the event the Buffalo Bills trade up, 4 to 5 quarterbacks realistically could be selected in the top six, including other high profile prospects like Quenton Nelson and Saquon Barkley that could be enough for Chubb to fall. Trading down to mid to late-first round would be enough to land them Davenport or Landry. However, as deep as this draft is in the pass rush class, this need could very well be addressed in the second round with Key or Green.
Best Options: Guards: Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame), James Daniels (Iowa), Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)
With weaknesses inside the line outside of the consistency of Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair, the Bears should aim for a left guard early in the draft. Especially with Long coming off multiple major surgeries, Pace cannot pass up Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson if so he remains on the board at the eighth, especially if Chubb is already off the board.
Nelson brings exceptional size and extraordinary power, dominating defensive lineman with both pure technique and brute strength. He possesses all the tools to become a perennial All-Pro guard and while eighth looks a little high for a guard, very little else available at this pick outweighs the necessity of an interior lineman. Nelson would solve essentially every problem at the line (besides tackle) and would flip the offensive line from painfully mediocre to notably strong.
Unless Bradley Chubb plummets or the prospect of Minkah Fitzpatrick becomes too enticing for Pace (more on that later), Nelson would be a key pickup in this draft. The offense primed themselves for a big season after a flurrious free agency and the hopeful notion of a breakout season from Trubisky, only set to collapse on itself if the offensive line struggles or can’t stay healthy again. Nelson would solidify the rocky line and certifies the offense’s legitimacy.
Best Options: Denzel Ward (Ohio State), Josh Jackson (Iowa), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), Derwin James (FSU)
A comeback season out of Kyle Fuller relaxes the need a little bit but without much behind the freshly resigned Prince Amukamara, holes at the corner spot stand. Safety looks a little more stable, having the All-Pro Adrian Amos and sophomore Eddie Jackson to hold down the fort, but very little dwells behind them. Fortuitously, this draft appears to be a broad class of defensive backs, with a couple of potential gems mixed in.
Fitzpatrick headlines the defensive backs, a freakish athlete combined with doglike intensity. His dangerous combination speed and power enables him to blanket the field in pass coverage and bring the hammer like a linebacker. Equally versatile is James who also brings alpha dog leadership, however, he lacks the elite awareness in coverage and the attack mode in run defense.
For the pure corners, Ward looks to be the finest option with shutdown man coverage with gilt-edged footwork and burst speed. His twiggy frame does hold him back in run defense and against brutally physical receivers, but his supreme athleticism facilitates tight coverage and ball hawk capabilities. Iowa’s Jackson comes a little more raw and inexperienced but boasts incredible ball skills with the length and instincts to notch 27 passes defended in his final season.
In the case that both Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson have already been selected by the eighth, there will be a strong chance Fitzpatrick will be up for grabs. With expectations of a quarterback-heavy top five and throwing Saquon Barkley and the aforementioned Nelson in there, the defensive studs will more than likely fall right into the Bears lap. If not Chubb, then Fitzpatrick will be an explosive addition to the defense.
Best Options:D.J Moore (Maryland), Simmie Cobbs Jr. (Indiana), Christian Kirk, (Texas A&M)
The signing of Allen Robinson and the speedy Taylor Gabriel allows the Bears to fret a little less about the receiver position but the little depth and Robinson’s torn ACL still stands. The question of whether or not he can make a full recovery still lingers and letting Cameron Meredith walk doesn’t leave a lot deeper in the lineup. However, a first or second rounder doesn’t need to be wasted on a receiver, specifically because this draft runs deep with receivers.
The bigger names like Calvin Ridley and Courtland Sutton will be well off the board by the time the Bears address more pressing matters. Therefore, Moore, Cobbs and hopefully Kirk will find a Bears jersey in the mid rounds. The best case would Kirk, a prototypical slot receiver with skillful footwork and steady hands who would fit perfectly in the middle.
Since Robinson and the eminently forgotten Kevin White (stop laughing, it could happen) cover the outside, a hole in the slot still remains. Projected to go in either second or third round, Kirk can’t take precedence over a greater need like edge or defensive back and probably will not fall to the fourth or fifth round where the Bears should target a receiver.
Come third round and guard and edge already handled with nothing exciting left for corner or offensive lineman, he may not be a bad pickup. But with urgencies elsewhere, Moore and Cobbs may fit in the plan far finer. Cobbs has wonderful size and an uncanny ability to win 50-50 balls while Moore brings great YAC potential. With both projected to fall, either one will be available in convenience.
The second round can be a secret stockhold for teams to scrounge up first-round level talent who fall via too many question marks. Whether it be character issues that plagued a college career, unease over lackluster measurables, or concerns over his transition to the pro game, second rounders bring more risk yet the round usually houses the finer sleepers of a draft. So when the Bears selected the tight end out of Ashland Adam Shaheen 45th overall, it felt like Ryan Pace nailed another pick.
First overall picks ordinarily arrive into the league rather well-equipped for the NBA landscape. Most have moments of vigor but still have a level of green to them that holds them back, merely using their rookie campaign as a stepping stool to what they will accomplish. Sometimes, players enter the league and dominate from the first tip. Less often are the ones who can’t seem to find their footing and drip out of the league. Whether it be due to health concerns or teams simply giving up on the young lad, busts happen every once in a while. And then you have Markelle Fultz.
As the regular season winds down and the playoffs nearing, let’s run down the biggest weakness for every contender down the stretch.
Celtics: Depth Scoring
Baker Mayfield ranks as one of the most confusing yet polarizing prospects in recent memory. Some see him worth a top three pick while others believe he’s a trap waiting to spring and that Mason Rudolph (yes, that Mason Rudolph) would be a better and safer selection. Scouts generally don’t bat an eye at the annual Heisman winners and Mayfield is no different.
According to NFL insider Adam Schefter, the Chicago Bears have found their new kicker in the former Miami Dolphin Cody Parkey. He intends to sign with the Bears once free agency officially opens on Wednesday, replacing mid season pick up Mike Nugent.
According to NFL insider Ian Rapoport, the Chicago Bears are expected to lock down former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson to a three year, 42 million deal. Because free agency opens on Wednesday, he cannot be officially signed just yet but barring a desperate swing from another team, the Bears have found their top receiver.
The Raptors historically don’t have much to boast about in the playoff department. They have only been able to claw to the Conference Finals a single time in their 23-year history and only nine total Raptors teams have made it past April. A conference semis appearance is all they have to show for the Vince Carter era and with the current DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry era faring just as poorly in terms of playoff success, watching the Raptors soar to the first seed in the East this season feels like watching a young child attempt to ride a bike without training wheels for the third time in his life and merely preparing for him to crash into a tree.
Every year, there seems to be a player or two in the draft that has a narrative tied to him far better than the draft’s own natural drama and intrigue. Whether it be a heartwarming underdog tale or a frat boy everybody simply can’t wait to see fail, college football usually blesses us with more than just the yearly dry analysis of prospects. This year, current darling and feel-good story of the college season Shaquem Griffin has been gaining a lot of traction in not only headlines and Twitter circles, but in legitimate draft stock as well.
For those who haven’t paid much attention to the draft or just football in general, Griffin shredded college football in his last couple of seasons. In his senior year at linebacker, he led the defense on an undefeated Central Florida team en route to a Peach Bowl victory, in which he won defensive MVP to add to his 2nd-team All-American and Sports Illustrated’s All-Bowl team honors. But what makes him all the more remarkable is he accomplished all this with a single hand.
Tragically amputated at a young age due to amniotic band syndrome, Griffin has gone through his entire football playing career without his left hand. In most cases, NFL teams would see this as an unavoidable red flag, rendering a player like him virtually undraftable. But Griffin has not let any of it hinder him in the slightest up to this point
He absolutely stole the show at the annual Combine. He first put up an absurd 20 reps of 225 pounds at the bench press using a prosthetic hand. His previous best before this was only 11 reps. He only impressed further in the 40, dropping the fastest time for a linebacker since 2003 with a 4.38. As a six foot one, 227-pound linebacker, that kind of speed is rare and dangerous, nevermind the one hand.
Yeah, while balance issues have plagued his entire career and open field tackles bring their own unique difficulties, a player with his levels of instincts, blazing speed at the linebacker position and overall versatility has incredible value despite it. He even has adapted to catch passes, with three interceptions in his college career and showed the capability off in the coverage drills.
But what has been capturing teams’ attention over all of his athletic gifts lies in his competitive motor and heart. One-handed athletes don’t find too much success in the world of sports, especially such a demanding sport like football, and Griffin would be the very first player in the NFL modern era to play with only a single hand. The fact he even managed a division I college roster is impressive enough but to take over the way he did and be expected to be drafted relatively high should be more than enough to convince general managers and fans alike of his unparalleled spirit.
Even with his obvious talent, unreal combine showing, and motor scouts still project him as third or fourth round selection. While his natural playmaking abilities and dynamic athletic qualities could arguably be first-round caliber, adjusting to the pace and demands of the pro game down a hand forces teams to be a little wary of him on day one. He will more than likely hear his name called high-third to mid-fourth and honestly will be able to compete for a contributing role if coaches are willing to work around the missing left hand.
So enter the Chicago Bears. A rebuilding team doing everything in their power to evolve into an athletic force on defense. They have already cut plenty of aging veterans, (looking at you Jerrell Freeman, Pernell McPhee, and Willie Young) at linebacker to make room for cap space and to allow for the young bucks to start to spread their wings. Considering only Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks make up the pass rush, for now, the Bears will more than likely be digging for versatile and preferably young edge rushers to aid the budding defense.
Griffin ticks all of these marks and then some. His greatest skill rests as his pass rushing instincts and robust ability to get to the quarterback, which is exactly what the Bears would be searching for. Add in his coverage skills and wonderful story, and he would be an instant fan favorite who would set the bar for the defense. His journey is inspiring enough but to watch him (hopefully) grow into a star on the founding franchise of the NFL would be a headline for the ages.
And if there will be any coach who could widdle around the one handedness, it would be defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. His creativity on the defensive side keeps him employed and seeing what he has been able to accomplish when given the versatility he wants. Eddie Jackson and Floyd have been smashing successes and as a rookie, Griffin would slide into secondary sets beautifully.
The only problem? The Bears don’t own a third-round selection this year and with such a deep draft in the receiver, interior offensive lineman, and corner positions slim-fitting the Bears’ needs, it may not be worth pulling the trigger on Griffin in the second. However, this wouldn’t be a complicated fix at all as Pace has already shown how aggressive he can be on draft day. Nabbing an early third rounder would be his morning coffee and toast.
The pieces just fit too well on this one. Griffin already has developed a great following and his awesome personality would bring some much-needed character to the Bears, especially if he did grow into a star in this league. His talent would be a perfect addition to the blooming defense and his playmaking skills could inject some excitement into Soldier Field.
Here’s hoping Pace will find a way to get Griffin in blue and orange.
Arguably the best player in the draft without a combine invitation, Texas nose tackle Poona Ford’s strong senior year and a very impressive Senior Bowl performance tucks his name among the finer sleeper picks. Projections for the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year range from the fifth round all the way down the seventh, with almost zero mock him anywhere near day one or two, an oddity for a player who had dominated both the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Bowl to his degree. While concerns about height handicap his perceived value to teams, short nose tackles have found great success in this league before.
Position: Nose tackle
Pro comparison: Mike Daniels
A powerful rusher, he has flashed enough upper body to effectively avoid redirect blocks and utilizes his thick build for solid gap filling abilities. He also possesses much more length than he gets credited for with 33’ arms to boot.
However, his greatest gift lies in his sense of leverage. Because of his small stature, Ford has an uncanny ability for getting low and squeezing through blockers from his low hips alone. Complemented by his sturdy upper body strength, watch how he pries through for the sack.
He also flaunts great motor. A determined player who can make plays well out of his area. With any player of this height in the pros, intensity and motor can make up for a lot of size deficiencies. Ford is one of those cases. While not a particularly speedy player, watch the impressive chase down tackle from him.
Ford has very little block shedding capabilities due to his inactive hands and general lack of quickness. If he does not win with the bull rush, he will not win at all. His lack of height isn’t a deal breaker but without improvement to his little explosiveness off blocks, he could be a liability in the pass rush.
Texas utilized him mostly in a slanting scheme and without the right scheme, he may flounder in being asked to make tackles in opposite gaps as he often gets too caught up in the man in front of him. His impact could be very limited in the run game in a scheme that does not emphasize the slant. Asking anything outside of gap disruption may be too much for him to handle.
Fit with Bears
With Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks locking down the defensive line as the primary defensive lineman, Ford’s wrecking ball style has run stuffing potential on a defense focused on a versatile pass rush. His lack of agility won’t bode well in pass rush but his gap filling skill could benefit Leonard Floyd on the outside.
While he will not be worth a high pick, seeing as his stock is relatively low, if available in the later rounds, he could be worth the pickup. With some improvements to his block shedding, Ford will be a nice addition.