Nick Saban Wants It Both Ways

By John Camera

Alabama is a good football team. A damn good football team. But after their embarrassing 26-14 loss against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, it is clear that they are not the best team in the nation. That argument is certainly up for debate but is best left for another article. Simply put, Alabama doesn’t deserve to be in the playoff this year and Nick Saban’s whining shouldn’t change that.

To be fair to him, Saban is being a good coach when he said post-game that his guys deserved a shot at the playoff. There are a lot of talented players on his roster, guys who are Seniors and guys who will go to the NFL after their Junior season. This is their last chance to win a championship and Saban, like every other coach in America, wants to deliver that to them. But his words ring hollow, especially after his comments following the Crimson Tide’s 27-19 win over Texas A&M back on October 7.

“It’s like taking poison. Like rat poison.”

That was what Saban said in regards to the hype sports pundits had placed on Alabama. The head coach heaped blame on the media for inflating his team’s ego and affecting their performance against Texas A&M, a game that Saban thought shouldn’t have been as close as it turned out.

“I’m asking them (the players) are you going to listen to me or are you going to listen to these guys (the media) about how good you are?” Saban continued in his postgame press conference. The coach is telling his team to remain humble, as any coach would, but is reminding them they are not as great as the media has dubbed them.

Up until their near-loss against Mississippi State, two weeks before the Iron Bowl, the Tide seemed unstoppable in the regular season yet again. Even with a great Georgia team wrapping up the SEC East and an emerging Auburn team, Bama still seemed like the favorite to finish 13-0 and earn the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. Things obviously did not turn out this way and Alabama will both finish the year 11-1 and without being able to play for the SEC Championship. If they hope to make the playoffs, they will have to do so as a team that is not a conference champion. This would be the first time that a team would make the playoff without at least a stake in its conference championship.

If Alabama had lost to a team like LSU or Mississippi State earlier in the season, it would’ve diminished their record and ranking but would not have had the same affect as losing to Auburn. Losing to LSU or Mississippi State and then beating Auburn would’ve guaranteed Alabama a spot in the playoff as long as they beat Georgia for the SEC Championship. But losing to Auburn on the last week of the regular season and missing out on a chance to play in the Championship has doomed Bama barring a series of upsets this coming weekend.

If Alabama does indeed miss out on the playoff, it would be the first time in the tourney’s history that the Tide won’t be in it. But when Nick Saban declares that his team is not as good as the media says and then argues that his team is good enough to be in the playoff despite failing to take care of business against Auburn, he cannot be able to have it both ways. This is an Alabama team that has big wins over bad squads like Tennessee, Arkansas and Mercer. They also have played average teams very close, like Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State. The best team they faced all year, Auburn, decidedly bested them by 12 points and dominated almost the entire game.

Alabama is not the same juggernaut they have been in past years, Saban is right about that much. And for that reason, they do not belong in the College Football Playoff this season.

 

Duke’s Blue Collar Worker… Gary Trent Jr.

By Jack Drapkin

If the Duke Blue Devils were to succeed this year, it was to be on the backs of senior guard Grayson Allen, point guard Trevon Duval and/or the freshman frontcourt tandem of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Gary Trent Jr., was expected to have a prominent role, however there were no guarantees that he would even start at the beginning of the season. While everyone has had the spotlight at times, Trent Jr. has been bringing his lunch pale to work and getting it done while no one is watching.

I’ll be the first to admit, I was worried about Gary. After a promising exhibition campaign and first two games of the season, Trent Jr. could not buy a bucket from the outside. However, despite his shooting struggles he remained active and engaged on the defensive end of the court. He seems to be okay doing his work out of the spotlight and is comfortable not receiving the credit. Not only does this help tremendously with this Duke team, but it also allows Gary to show NBA teams that he can do the same things for them too.

As a defender, Gary Trent Jr. moves his feet well and has active hands. It’s not as though Gary has had a tremendous number of steals or blocks either. He just is always in the right spots on the court, and that kind of accountability is what a coach is looking for. This is part of the reason why Trent Jr. is averaging over 31 minutes a game for Duke, Coach K can trust him.

On offense, Gary Trent Jr. has a diverse repertoire of moves and can score from all three levels of the court when he has it going. He has a great three-point stroke and will need to knock them down more consistently in ACC play. While not the most explosive athlete, his heady play allows him to find openings in the defense and get a step on defenders, like his game-tying and-one drive against Texas.

Look for Trent Jr. to be wearing his hard hat all season long, doing the dirty work while no one is watching.

 

Who Is Sam Darnold?

By Alexander C. Lawrence

By now just about everyone knows who Sam Darnold is and how he led the turnaround for USC as all hope for a successful season seemed lost with a record of 1-3. In comes the calm, cool, collected quarterback to save the day. No one saw them winning the Rose Bowl in dramatic fashion against Penn State, but regardless he impressed and raised a lot of eyebrows. The question remains who exactly is Sam Darnold?

A lot of people may think Darnold must’ve been groomed for the NFL level, but that simply isn’t the case. His parents made sure their son, Sam knew he wasn’t going to be forced to focus on one sport and that he had the choice of what his future sport would be. Growing up Sam played Football, Basketball, and Baseball so his parents let him get exposed to various sports.

He has showed a humbleness not many of us are familiar with. His tone doesn’t change; he just talks with a cool and calm sense whether it be about Josh Rosen or the Rose Bowl win that was the best college football game of 2017, if not this decade. He doesn’t have a big ego when reporters talk to him.

The only time I’ve seen Darnold give off a wrong impression was when he publicly told the Jets to not tank for him. Even that was not an overly huge deal, but still this young gun doesn’t lose a beat on or off the field and you love to see that in a young QB. He doesn’t care for the expectations placed on him, he just goes out and performs. He isn’t on social media so there is never the issue of the dramas and criticisms that it brings.

Sam Darnold is the popular top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and experts project the New York Jets to have the worst record, making them likely candidates to draft the USC product. With Quincy Enunwa out for the season and preparing for neck surgery and no clear cut answer at QB with McCown or Hackenberg primed to be the QB1 this season, the potential to grab Darnold is there.

The case to draft Darnold is strong, especially since the Jets’ defense has already started it’s rebuild there with LB Darron Lee and DL Leonard Williams (also a USC product). The offense is at a point where it needs a complete do-over and they have cleaned house already so now it’s time to develop that side of the ball through the draft and free agency in the coming years. And let’s be real why not root for the Jets to “Stink for Sam.” It won’t be pretty, but let’s prepare for the future of the Jets and let them grow the right way.

I don’t want to hear about the talk of the USC QB curse and will Darnold be next in line to endure it. Carson Palmer has been a fine QB for the Bengals and Cardinals over the course of his NFL career.  Let’s not even bother bringing up Mark Sanchez as the first three seasons there was reason to believe he was the answer for the Jets even though he came out of USC. Sure he didn’t pan out well, but Sanchez still played some exciting football early on.

Sam Darnold has already been praised as one of the best QBs USC has ever produced. Big title, but nothing Darnold can’t handle with his calm approach to the game. He is a true leader and that is what the Jets need and really any QB needy team would want.

For the time being Darnold is the favorite to win the Heisman award and looks to pick right back up from where he left off after that outstanding 52-49 Rose Bowl win against Penn State. He will be fun to watch and looks primed to make the leap from a great college QB to an elite one. Don’t worry about pressure getting to Sam’s head because he’s already mastered being under pressure and handled it smoothly thus far in his young career.

Time will tell if Darnold will be better than past QBs who have proven to be nothing more than average (talking about you Cody Keesler and Matt Barkley) but my guess is he will be the NFL’s next big star.

REPORT: Lakers Would Pass on Lonzo Ball

By John Camera

According to Bleacher Report writer Jordan Schultz, if the NBA Draft was held today, the Los Angeles Lakers would pass on the player many expect them to select, UCLA Point Guard Lonzo Ball. Schultz notes that the Lakers are very concerned with Lonzo’s father, LaVar, and the impact he would have. LaVar has manifested fame through the success of his son and with Lonzo landing in a prime time destination like LA, just down the street from where he played college, LaVar could have an even bigger voice. Along with this, the Lakers’ front office is concerned with Ball’s on-court game, skeptical of whether he can transition to being a true star at the next level.

While his father LaVar is an unknown, who knows how he’ll act when his son is in the place he’s wanted him to be since the beginning of this process, the Lakers concerns with Lonzo’s game are serious and well-warranted.

Ball does has a safety net to fall back on. At the very worst he projects to be a Ricky Rubio type of player who can act as a distributor and play-maker but does little to create for himself. Rubio as a worst case scenario isn’t very bad and the best case prospects for Ball should excite anyone. He could be the second coming of Jason Kidd or Penny Hardaway if he adjusts well to the NBA game. However, there are still deterrents that could prevent him from getting there.

The two biggest negatives to Lonzo’s game are his lack of elite athleticism and his funky, unorthodox shooting motion. Lonzo does not have blazing speed or quickness like some of his contemporaries in this draft class and it could be a factor that may limit him throughout his career; this isn’t a very fixable issue. What is fixable is his lack of great dribble moves that can separate him from defenders, something he will have to work on if he is to create consistent separation at the NBA level.

The other problem Ball will need to clean up to achieve NBA stardom is his shooting motion, which includes a low release point and may limit his dribble jumper at the next level. Ball will need to adjust the shot to get it to work against bigger, stronger, longer defenders or rebuild his mechanics from the ground up. While he should receive credit for being a solid three point and off-ball scorer at UCLA, he will need to do more, such as building a mid-range game, to become an NBA star.

While these are real issues that may hold Lonzo Ball back, it should be noted that he is still the best option for the Lakers if Markelle Fultz is off the board. However, a player to watch for Los Angeles is Kentucky’s lightening-fast De’Aaron Fox. Fox could transform into a John Wall-type player as he fills out and learns to shoot better and turn the ball over less. As is, Fox is a speed demon with good mechanics, basketball IQ, and defending ability. If the Lakers are going to pick between Fox and Ball they have two choices; go with the potential homerun in Fox or take the safe pick and select Ball.

 

Don’t Believe the Hype: Davis Webb Is Not A First Rounder

By John Camera

The NFL Draft hype machine is whirring and churning with the most ridiculous takes you’ve heard this off-season as General Managers continue to throw smokescreens. Chief among them is the idea that California QB prospect Davis Webb is a first round caliber player and will ultimately go in the first 32 selections come April 27th. Just like Tom Savage in 2014 and Matt Barkley in 2013, Webb is getting extreme, unwarranted hype merely for looking like the prototypical pocket passer that has been the standard for NFL teams since the advent of the forward pass. Tall? Check. Big arm? Check. Can he throw? Eh. Maybe.

Davis Webb is by no means a horrible prospect, he just isn’t a first round caliber talent and is, frankly, far from it. He does some things very well. He does have great size and arm strength and has really good accuracy in the short and deep areas of the field. Webb also does a lot more field-reading than most spread QBs, especially those in an “Air Raid” scheme like the one he runs. He generally gets rid of the ball quickly and doesn’t allow himself to take drive-killing sacks. Those are some of the positives to his game and they shape up to equal a Quarterback who is likely a very good back-up or, down the line, a serviceable spot starter. He is by no means the “savior” or franchise QB that so many teams covet.

There are also a great deal of weaknesses that will hold Webb back from being a legit first round talent like the hype train is trying to sell. His accuracy in the middle area of the field from about 10-20 yards past the line of scrimmage, isn’t very good. He doesn’t consistently drive the ball to where his receiver can make the catch and keep running, instead often putting it on the back shoulder or too far wide. Even more concerning is Webb’s pocket presence, especially since he isn’t a great athlete. Webb looks uncomfortable even in a clean pocket, failing to step up and often trying to escape. If there’s an inside rush, he breaks down altogether. His footwork is also a big work in progress, as Webb often doesn’t bring his hip all the way around to complete his throw.

As Public Enemy reminds us, “don’t believe the hype,” especially when it comes to late draft-season proclamations that seem out of the blue considering what we had been hearing all along. Davis Webb is not a first round QB. He is a fourth round talent who could one day start but likely will have a lengthy career as a dependable backup. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

UNC’s Small Receiver with a Big Skill-Set

By John Camera

Ryan Switzer doesn’t look like the next great slot prospect entering the NFL in 2017. He measured in at 5’8″, 158 pounds, and only ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine. And while all of that matters, it takes a back seat when analyzing Switzer. The UNC Wideout doesn’t use size or speed to beat college, and soon to be NFL, CBs. He uses his fantastic quickness.

Switzer was one of the Combine’s top performers at his position in the 20 yard shuttle, illustrating he has some of the best quickness of any receiver in this draft class. It’s evident how he uses that shake in his route running, he’s able to get excellent separation because he can change direction with such ease that it often leaves his Corner in a trail position. To boot, Switzer is also a superb route-runner, consistently showing hip explosion in his breaks and overall crispness throughout his routes. That quickness and attention to detail makes Switzer a deadly option coming out of the slot for NFL Nickel Corners to try and defend against.

As mentioned earlier, Switzer won’t win many footraces against NFL CBs. However, he is more than fast enough to gain separation and be a great YAC (yards after catch) option. He probably won’t be able to finish plays and DBs should be able to track him down on plays where he gets into the open field, but don’t underestimate how his quickness, route-running, and reliable hands will quickly gain the favor of what Quarterback is lucky enough to have him.

 

4 ACC NBA Prospects to Watch in March Madness

By Jack Drapkin

North Carolina

Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and the Carolina Bigs get all the attention but I want you to pay attention to Theo Pinson.

Pinson is a bit unconventional as he is only about 6’4-6’5, but plays a lot at the 3 and 4 positions. He’s able to get away with it because of two things, extreme athleticism and a high basketball iq. Specificially I would bookmark Pinson for two things this tournament. One a highlight real dunk and two average four assists a game.

Pinson is  a ridiculously smart player who is one of those guys who always ends up near the ball. Not to mention he is also the teams best perimeter defender. He is often tasked with trailing the opposing team’s best player around. Not only is he usually successful but it is definitely something he prides himself in.

Theo Pinson should stay in school for his senior year but is a good candidate to be drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft. He has the potential the to be Andre Iguodala-like.

Duke

Well if you talk about North Carolina you better discuss Duke, and so in a similar vein as Pinson here’s a guy who to watch for in the 2018 NBA Draft, Frank Jackson.

Jackson, a freshman, has emerged at the at the end of the season as he was given the opportunity to start when Grayson Allen was out with an injury against Miami. Since then he has averaged 15 points a game and broke the 20 point barrier twice.

Frank gets his buckets two ways, agressive drives to the basket and a streaky three point jumper. Watch out when he hits one early, he’s usually in for a good game so long as…he stays out of foul trouble. When he has been able to stay on the court, he has scored the ball. Simple.

Notre Dame

The sweet-shooting V.J. Beachem is the first guy to mention that will be in contention for the 2017 NBA Draft as he is a senior this year. Beachem really struggled in the first game of the tourney against Providence going 1-9 from the field. If Notre Dame is to beat West Virginia, Beachem will have to shoot the ball much better. I suspect he will. Of the six times this season Beachem failed to score double figure points, five of them he responded with a double digit output the next game.

The thing that could make Beachem stick at the next level is his sneaky athleticism. Known as a shooter Beachem, has shown the ability to dunk all over someone when given an opportunity.

Virgina

Lots of the buzz at the end of the season has been on Kyle Guy and for good reason. He is not a typical Virginia player in the sense that he can create his own offense. I think Guy is going to be a really good player maybe even as soon as next year, but the guy to watch this tournament is Isaiah Wilkins.

Yes Wilkins, is related to that Wilkins, but he is a totally different player, except they share one thing, elite athleticism. Wilkins a post player, is constantly in the right places with his defensive rotations and is one of the few players in the country to average a steal and a block per game.

I expect Wilkins, a junior, to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft and is a guy who could make a difference at the next level as an athletic, defensive playmaker.

 

Can Dalvin Cook Keep Up His Explosive Play in the NFL?

By Alexander C. Lawrence

NCAA Football Player Profile – Dalvin Cook, Running back

School: Florida State
Year:
Junior
Height: 5’11
Weight:
213lbs

A 5-star recruited back who originally committed to Clemson and then to Florida, but after a disappointing season from Florida, Cook believed it was best to fully commit to Florida State University. In his first season he split carries with Karlos Williams (Steelers, suspended), but would eventually take over as the lead back and had a spectacular career at FSU.

One of the hot topics in the NFL Draft will be Dalvin Cook and LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who are arguably the top two backs in a class of RBs that has a lot of potential. If you’re looking for speed, great cuts, and great pass-catching look no further than Cook. He’s been an explosive RB ever since he got to FSU. He has the ability to beat you as a receiver too and proved to be a productive back on third-down throughout his time at FSU. He may not have the overall strength that Fournette does, but Cook makes it difficult for defenders to tackle him with his lower body strength. He showed skills to be an every down back and can handle a lot of touches. Another thing that is exciting about Cook is that he often shines in the biggest games. He’s a back who can break-off for huge runs at any given time.

Cook has the ability to run with a strong presence at times, but will need to look to do it on a more consistent basis in the NFL. When he gets to the NFL he’ll need that consistency because of the difference in NFL defender compared to college.

The other concerns about Cook are his hands and off the field concerns. His first two seasons at FSU he had fumbling issues, but this season he had better grip on the ball. In July, 2015 he was arrested for an incident outside of a bar which a month later he was found not guilty. Whenever a player gets in trouble, scouts take note of that. In his case I don’t think it’ll affect him too much in terms of draft stock, but something to note going forward.

Pros:

  • Good speed and explosion
  • Has ability to be a star back
  • Quick-cuts
  • Can be an effective receiving back
  • Can block when asked
  • Productive on third-down
  • Big play making ability

Cons:

  • July 2015 bar incident
  • Fumble concerns
  • Must run tough more consistently

When you watch Dalvin Cook play you see a speedy back with a dynamic punch. He can be a workhorse back and whoever gets him can put him to work right away. A few teams I can see drafting Cook would be the Panthers, Giants, or Packers. I highly doubt the Buccaneers could pass up a Cook and Winston reunion. Teams that have established QBs would be getting a nice weapon to add to their offense.

Draft projection: 1st round

Comparison: Clinton Portis

 

Looking For A Big-Arm Gunslinger? His Name is Chad Kelly

By Alexander C. Lawrence

NCAA Football Player Profile – Chad Kelly, Quarterback

School: Ole Miss
Year:
Senior
Height: 6’2
Weight:
224lbs

Chad Kelly started his career off at Clemson in 2012, a former four-star recruit who was redshirted his first year. His time at Clemson would be cut short in 2013 after he appeared in 5 games. In April 2014 he was kicked off the team for detrimental conduct, he went on to East Mississippi Community College and had an outstanding year. He then transferred to play for Ole Miss where he played tough competition and proved he can win those big moment games in 2015, his first year as a starter there. In 2016 his season was cut short as he led Ole Miss to a disappointing 4-5 record before he suffered a torn ACL which ultimately ended his college career.

When you watch Chad Kelly play his junior year in which he had a good supporting cast around him and a stud WR in Laquan Treadwell, you see why he was a top recruit and why Clemson believed in him. Unfortunately due to coaching conflicts and other behaviors Kelly showed while on the team he was never able to showcase his talent. You do however; see that throughout his nine games he played his senior year that he  he did play well even if his team’s record didn’t indicate that. He displayed great confidence against some of his tougher opponents this season.

Kelly will get a chance to shape his NFL career differently. He can’t change the past but can convince teams he’s a better person. He has what you like to see talent wise, but being a distraction will usually cost you your career. Look at Johnny Football and Randy Gregory who did little to help their team so far and yes their careers aren’t over, but the more off the field issues you have the less patience a team will have. Kelly also displayed serious potential to be an NFL starter with the talent he has.

Pros:

  • He can compete against elite college programs
  • Throws confidently from the pocket
  • Has arm talent and strength
  • Quick release
  • Cam adjust to defensive schemes well
  • He doesn’t stare down one target

Cons:

  • Torn ACL in November 2016
  • Off the field issues
  • Play is too frantic at times
  • Must learn to play under center in NFL

When you watch his overall performance at Ole Miss he did play pretty well and proved he can compete against anyone. That being said he’s had issues with being frustrated with coaches’ decisions and voices his opinion which is what some will argue was a reason he was dismissed from the Clemson football program. I don’t see a guy who’s a huge team problem in terms of his behavior, just a guy who loves the game of football. He needs to control his excitement for the game and stay out of trouble. Every scout will be asking “Can we trust Chad Kelly to stay out of trouble?” and “Will our coach have issues with him?” That’s yet to be determined, but if he can obviously develop his overall skill set with all the talent he has. If loses these off the field issues we could see a solid starter emerge. He’s set the foundation for his career and he reacts and answers to reports and scouts questions will greatly factor in if a team drafts him.

Draft projection: 4th round

Comparison: Rex Grossman

The 2017 Cornerback Class is Legendary (And Might Just Be On Par with the 2014 WR Class)

By John Camera

One you rattle off the Wide Receivers taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, it sounds like you’re listing the best receivers in the game today. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, etc. To prevent this article from being a list I will direct you to all the WRs taken in the 2014 draft. The class wasn’t just deep at the top, everyone single Round 1 receiver hit, but the depth is impressive as well. That very same attribute could be applied to a similarly ridiculously-loaded Cornerback class this year.

Starting off at the top of this Cornerback class are two familiar names from familiar schools; Marshon Lattimore from The Ohio State and Marlon Humphrey from Alabama. Lattimore, despite some injury red flags over his hamstrings, should go first just because of his combination of speed, fluidness, technique, and ball skills. Simply put, Lattimore is the complete package. Humphrey is also rock-solid and is my favorite Alabama CB to date. He’s very good in both man and zone coverage and is super aggressive attacking the ball; his run defense has even made some draft evaluators see him as a Strong Safety. I think both of these guys will go in the top 15 as likely the first two CBs off the board.

Some of the depth players that should also go in the first and second rounds include Lattimore’s teammate Gareon Conley, Florida CBs Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, Washington’s Sidney Jones, and Colorado’s Chidobe Azuwie. Excepting Azuwie, all of these CBs fit the new mold of big, tall athletes who can run with and cover the biggest, most freakish athletes the NFL has to offer today. Any one of them would be considered CB1 in a regular draft class; but this is no regular draft class.

The sleepers to look for in this year’s class include UCLA’s Fabian Moreau and teammate of Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon. Moreau is sort of Marshon Lattimore-lite; speedy, smooth, and just generally does a great job of locking his man down in coverage. He should be a total steal for whoever can steal him on Day 2. Witherspoon is a huge 6’3” freak with good speed and surprisingly good polish. He could be very similar to Sean Smith and be a huge asset to a team like New Orleans or Tampa Bay, who are tasked with facing Julio Jones twice a year.

Just to show off the insane depth of this class, here are a few more names that could be the Donte Moncriefs and Quincy Enunwas of this year’s CB class; guys who are underappreciated because of the sheer talent ahead of them. Be on the look out for UT’s Cameron Sutton, LSU’s Tre’Davious White, Miami’s Corn Elder, and WVU’s Rasul Douglas. If your team drafts a CB this year, you’d be safe to assume he’s going to be a good one.