2017 Midseason NFL Award Races

By Alexander C. Lawrence

It’s that time of the year again and that’s midseason NFL awards! We all love them and let’s be honest, it’s always fun to look back at and see how right or wrong we were come seasons’ end. This season of candidates for each award is like no other year. There is no shortage of talent, just some familiar faces missing such as Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr and Matt Ryan, all of whom were seen as potential MVP candidates. I’ll take us through some MVP, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year choices.

MVP

1) Carson Wentz – The Eagles are off to a great start as Wentz and Co. are 8-1 now and in firm control of the NFC East. A big reason for this is Carson Wentz, who has played out of his mind in his second full-season in the NFL. It’s crazy to think during  Wentz’ rookie season there was talks of Chase Daniel starting over him.

Wentz is pacing the NFL with 23 touchdown passes. The duo of Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffrey is becoming more and more dangerous and it’s time to consider the Eagles a serious playoff threat. He has the Eagles with the best record in the NFL. He is second in passing yards and third in passer rating among QBs. Not to mention all the tight coverage throws he has completed and made look easy all season.

Wentz is having the type of season that makes you check the record books. That’s just how good he is right now. For example Donovan McNabb has the club record with five games in a season with four or more touchdowns passes. Wentz is currently at three. The most touchdown passes by an Eagles’ QB in a single season is 32. The North Dakota State product is on pace to have a staggering  41 TD passes. Wentz is seemingly re-writing the Eagles record book and well on his way to breaking a few of them.

2) Alex Smith – Mr. Efficiency himself is now in the MVP conversation as the Kansas City Chiefs started off the season red-hot. And who was behind this great start? Not the defense, but Smith and rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who himself is on the verge of having a rookie of the year campaign (see below). Alex Smith has been known as the conservative QB who doesn’t attempt to throw down the field that often and is more of a check-down guy. You might be surprised to know he leads the NFL this season with 8.4 yards per pass attempt. He also leads the NFL in passer rating with 115.4.

3) Tom Brady – Every year Brady plays it seems like he’s in the conversation for MVP and until he stops playing I don’t see that stopping. He has the Patriots atop the AFC East right now; clearly father-time hasn’t impacted his playmaking ability. He’s won the award before and he’s always the team’s MVP, but this season he has some deadly weapons, even with Julian Edleman out for the year. Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks are proving to be very reliable targets which are keeping Brady’s numbers on pace to warrant the MVP talks. Where Brady separates himself from the rest is how he performed with the Pats’ poor defensive play in the first half of the season and being forced to keep pace with other offenses. Still, he’s picking apart opposing team’s defenses to win games and managing to supplement a bad defense. Tom is very much in this race each and every year until proven otherwise.

4) Russell Wilson – People were disappointed with Russell Wilson’s play last season, but a strong season in 2017 has put Wilson firmly back in the MVP race. The Seahawks just traded for Duane Brown, one of several great trade deadline moves, who will only help Wilson feel more comfortable and less pressured during games. If you saw that epic 41-38 win over the Houston Texans you know why everyone may believe the hype around Wilson and what this offense can achieve. I don’t believe all their cards have been dealt and I can see the Seahawks being a sleeper candidate to make an appearance in the Super Bowl. Wilson has to carry the load of the team and put it on his back much like Tom Brady. He’s showing he can be up to the task to shoulder the offense and as long as he continues to put up points, Wilson will be in MVP talks.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

1) Deshaun Watson – Okay before you tell me Watson is out for the year just hear me out for a minute. Since becoming the starter in his short stint with Houston, the rookie has helped the offense put up 13, 33, 57, 34, 33, and 38 points during the games he did start. That is more than enough offense to win some games which he did. He went 3-4 as a starter, but he was tied (with Carson Wentz) for passing TDs with 19 up until his ACL injury. The talent was there and I see no reason why he couldn’t have continued to be a rookie revelation, even if his numbers eventually fell back to Earth. He’s a good candidate nonetheless since he proved he can tear a defense a part. He threw for 402 yards against a Seahawks D in Seattle and kept the game going back and forth. Anyone who can put up that much offense should be seriously looked at. He is everything we’d hope he would be when he came into the league.

2) Kareem Hunt – The Toledo product who most saw as no more than an afterthought quickly became a break-out rookie. His top tier production has been boosted by the injuries in the Kansas City Chiefs’ backfield. He leads the NFL in rushing yards though Zeke Elliott and Le’Veon Bell are quickly approaching behind him and with 32 receptions he has made an impact through the air as well. He came onto the scene quickly and is already a critical piece of that offense. He’s averaged over a 100 yards from scrimmage, no easy feat to achieve. Look at what he’s done for Alex Smith and helping Smith balance out his game with an effective and consistent run game.

3) JuJu Smith-Shuster – There’s something in the air in Pittsburgh. Much credit goes to the coaching staff, since it seems the Steelers are always developing wide receivers well; JuJu Smith is just the latest. Among the rookie receiver class he doesn’t have too much competition at this moment. Watch out as he already does have over 400 receiving yards and averages 17.7 yards per reception. Regardless of how many targets he is given, he should continue to be one of the most electrifying rookies this year.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

1) Marshon Lattimore – It’s clear why many scouts viewed him as the top CB prospect in the draft and the New Orleans Saint were more than happy when he fell to them. It was a match made in heaven and Lattimore is proving it every week. Lattimore’s impact has made the Saints a surprisingly good defense which we haven’t seen for quite a while now. He tackles well and is outstanding in coverage. For last decade the Saints have typically been awful on defense and the playmaking ability he brings to that team is enough to outshine most other defensive rookies.

2) Marcus Maye – Talk about getting your own “Legion of Boom” version for Gang Green when they drafted Jamal Adams (1st round) and Marcus Maye (2nd round) in the 2017 NFL draft. Marcus Maye has performed well to this point and has been a real leader for that Jets defense and looks to be a cornerstone for years to come. He is tied with the team lead in interceptions with two and his nose to get to the ball and make plays this season can’t be ignored.

Defensive Player of the Year

1) Jalen Ramsey – No need to really explain this one as Jalen Ramsey has quickly made his mark in the NFL and is perhaps the best Cornerback in the league. He has made a huge difference with the Jaguars defense and stepped up to be a leader. He should be an obvious candidate and maybe a favorite to win DPOY if he can continue to play at such a high level with amazing consistency. He controls the defense and how he has helped transformed that secondary is well deserving of the award. I do realize that Calais Campbell is leading the NFL in sacks and destroying opposing offenses in his own right so while both are deserving of the award, I have to give the nod to Ramsey.

3 Keys to Watch in this Weekend’s Tune up Games

By Jack Drapkin

Look we all know Duke’s real season begins every year with the Champions Classic. It is a great measuring stick for the team to see where they are at in relation to the other great teams in the country. This year is no different, as they will go in as the #1 team against #2 Michigan State. Besides the fact I think Michigan State and Tom Izzo deserve the #1 ranking, they are a more experienced team with all of a top-5 recruiting class from last season including the electric Miles Bridges, returning. Michigan State is also one of the few teams who will be able to match Duke’s size, with their combination of Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson, and Gavin Schilling. But before getting too carried away with the excitement of this matchup I wanted to give you guys a couple of things to pay attention to in this weekend’s matchups against Elon and Utah Valley.

Shooting

I can’t seem to stress this enough, this is the first time in the last five seasons at least, where I have legitimate question marks about how the team will shoot. We know what Grayson Allen is capable of, but he will be the lone shooter who teams have to respect. Despite shooting 49 times from behind the arc in the first two games, Duke has only made 15 of those attempts or 30%. Even more concerning is the fact that Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. have accounted for 12 of those makes alone. Speaking of Gary Trent Jr., he has looked outstanding in the exhibitions, knocking down 64% of his looks on a variety of shots. If Duke is going to have success as we move deeper into the season, Marvin Bagley III and/or Wendell Carter Jr. will need to be at least respected from beyond the arc.

Defense

I have the loved the defense I have seen from the Blue Devils early on this season. They have been aggressive, active and in-sync on that end of the court. If this continues this weekend look for the bigs to continue leading the charge. The athleticism and ability to switch has been a real difference maker and could be a key for Duke in the matchup against Michigan St.

Rotation

Pay attention to the minutes distribution in the 1st half, it will be a good indicator of who will play in the Michigan State game. Since I am expecting both of these games to be under wraps by the 2nd half, who plays in the first half will be the true indicator. In particular, see how many people come off the bench in the first half and what is the order. In particular, the minutes of freshmen point guards, Trevon Duval and Jordan Goldwire will be key as the Blue Devils will want to keep Grayson Allen at the two as much as possible.

I’ll be back early next week to recap these two games and preview the Michigan State in detail. Until then check out our great content on the Youtube page, Dealing with the Devils!

Winners & Losers of the NFL Trade Deadline

By Alexander C. Lawrence

Going into this deadline I didn’t believe there would be many, if any, blockbuster deals. The NFL typically doesn’t have the most active teams making trades right up until the deadline and with big names involved. I was very wrong. In fact this may be one of the most arguably active deadlines in history. Some pretty big names were moved and we could be witnessing some teams pull away and prove they are true contenders. Like any NFL fan I enjoy to see trade action, especially big names on the move to new teams. Here’s a look at some of the best and worst deals that were made at the deadline.

WINNERS

1) Jay Ajayi – He was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the Philadelphia Eagles for just a fourth-round pick! There was a lot of mixed reactions about his snap count in Miami and that he’d be reduced to a part-time role in Philly with LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and Wendall Smallwood lurking in the backfield. However, I’m not too concerned about his ability to make an impact with that impeccable offensive line.

It’s no secret that Ajayi through the first half of the season didn’t live up to expectations after breaking out in 2016 with Miami. I don’t understand why Miami didn’t ask for more in compensation for him, but nonetheless he is an Eagle now and I believe he was the missing piece to help the Eagles soar and compete in the playoffs with the way Wentz and that offensive have already performed this season. I see nothing but improvement in that offense coming as Ajayi has too much talent not to do so.

2) Duane Brown – Brown was a big part of the reason Deshaun Watson succeeded so quickly in his rookie year prior to a devastating ACL injury. The Seahawks got a proven offensive linemen who will make Russell Wilson much happier in Seattle. The potential of the production that Wilson and can put up with a significantly now upgraded offensive line is exciting.

Left Tackle is one of the most important positions and sometimes that’s forgotten in the mist of all these touchdowns being scored. This trade is one of the best things Seattle could’ve done. To put this in perspective Seattle’s production from the left tackle position has had Wilson under pressure 84 times. Brown has given up less than half the amount of pressure in the last 17 games he’s played.

3) 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo – A second rounder is what it took for the Patriots to move the prized back-up of Tom Brady and hand him over to the 49ers, the team Tom Brady grew up rooting for. After sitting and learning behind Brady for four years all eyes are on Jimmy to see what he can do. He is in a contract year so, the ball is now in the 49ers court to evaluate him in their facilities, and not the few snaps he got with the Pats, and determine if he is indeed their franchise QB worthy of a contract that matches that.

The Browns offered a trade to the Patriots six months ago during the 2017 NFL draft. Cleveland would deal a second rounder in exchange for Garoppolo. The question remains; what changed six months later? We may not ever find out that answer, but I do expect Jimmy Garoppolo to suit-up for the 49ers soon and I think this may play out well for San Fran. A second rounder for your highly regarded back-up who was seemingly the heir to the Patriots throne once Brady hung it up is not a bad price. But the time is now for Jimmy Garoppolo to make his NFL mark.

4) Tom Brady – At 40-years-old a lot of people were wondering what the job security of arguably the best QB of this generation was like. The Jimmy Garoppolo trade shed some light on the situation as it seems the Patriots are okay with the age of Tom Brady and his ability to continue playing at an elite level. There’s no question Garoppolo would’ve commanded massive money to remain a back-up and then there’s the issue of a highly paid back-up QB and wasting that money for someone to ride out the bench. Brady’s fight with father time continues and don’t be shocked, based on their history, if they draft a QB in the 2018 NFL draft.

5) Rashard Robinson – A week ago he was one of the worst teams in the NFL (49ers) but he has since moved to the New York Jets who sit at 4-5 (last place in AFC East). Coming into the season people thought the Jets would be getting a top three pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but now that seems highly unlikely. This move indicates the Jets are not giving up, and improving themselves on defense with the addition of this defensive back. Don’t expect big things, but no one can deny the Jets are playing significantly more competent football than what was expected heading into the 2017 season.

LOSERS

1) The Jaguars trading for Marcell Dareus – To say Dareus has been a bust in Buffalo would be an understatement. He experienced success when he recorded 19 sacks between 2013 and 2014, but other than that all he’s done is wind up with a few suspensions and headaches for the Bills front office. There is risk, but that’s why he was traded for a sixth-rounder. The potential is there for Dareus to be an impactful defender for the Jags but he doesn’t always give it a 100% on the field. If the Jaguars can change his training habits and mature him he could very well be an excellent addition to an already-talented defense that features Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey.

2) Kelvin Benjamin – When I heard about this trade I was partly confused as most people wrote the Bills off after they traded away Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, and Reggie Ragland. It made me wonder what the Bills’ organization was doing. And then it turned out their team played better without them.

Benjamin was never a #1 receiver in Carolina in my opinion and I still don’t like him in Buffalo, but the Bills are making their team work as they are 5-3 (second in the AFC East), which most fans did not expect coming into 2017. Bills fan it is time to start believing this team can end their lengthy playoff-drought, but temper expectations for Benjamin. He won’t be a #1 receiver here either with the likes of Jordan Matthews and rookie Zay Jones around. The move just doesn’t seem poised to work out and the Panthers were getting the most out of Benjamin with Cam Newton so Tyrod Taylor may not do much better for his real life or fantasy value.

 

Duke Basketball’s Projected 2017-18 Rotation

By Jack Drapkin

Thanks for tuning in or for those returnees coming back. For the remainder of the season, I will be primarily writing about the Dukies to go along with our new channel, “Dealing with the Devils“. So since they just played their first exhibition of the season against D2 Northwestern St., I figured it would be a great time to take a look at their rotation in this game and try to extrapolate what this means moving into the regular season and then conference play.

*Note this was written under the assumption that Duval’s suspension would not affect his playing time in the regular season.*

First off, the starters Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. have a ton of suffixes in their names. Besides that, it’s four freshmen and a senior who have a ton of athleticism and length. Shooting still remains a concern for me with this team and this group as while we know Grayson is knock down, the other four while capable, still have question marks. More importantly, defensively this team has a chance to be one of the better ones Duke has had in recent years. With the size and athleticism combination as well as depth Duke should play a lot more man pressure this season and at times even full court or 3/4 court press. Then again, we said many of the same things in anticipation of last year’s injury-riddled campaign.

Now to the bench, which has been a sore spot for Duke in recent years. The first two players off the bench in the first exhibition were Marquese Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. With each man standing over 6’10” the Blue Devils are clearly going to play big this season. I thought Javin looked much improved, as he nailed a 3-pointer and looked much more comfortable out on the court. The reason the first two guys off the bench was a key to me is because Coach K rarely plays more than 7 so these could be the last two guys getting meaningful playing time.

Some last thoughts here on the rest of the roster. A surprise to me was freshman point guard Jordan Goldwire being the 8th man into the game. It appears based on his early entrance that he is inline for backup PG minutes allowing Grayson to remain at the two spot. If true, this is a big development for the Dukies as it enables everyone to remain in their natural spots when Duval goes to the bench or inevitably gets in foul trouble. Finally, I was surprised at how late 2nd-year man Jack White got into the game, I thought he could emerge as a key role player this year but may have to bide his time instead. Anyways, let me know what you thought as we move into our 2nd exhibition game today at 1:00.

John Collins Quiet Ascent in Atlanta

By Jack Drapkin

Don’t look now, wait until January or February when the NBA Rookie Ladder is in full swing, but John Collins will find himself comfortably within the Top 10 of that list. You may be saying but Jack, it’s only the third game of the season how can you be so confident. Well for one here’s me discussing the impact I think Collins will have, and here too. But most importantly, in a minuscule three-game sample size Collins has averaged 12 points and nearly seven rebounds on zero three-point attempts a game. The last part is most important to me, as even though I alluded to him adding it to his arsenal, he knows where his game is at and is playing within himself.

On the offensive end of the court, Collins uses his intelligence and athleticism to create openings for himself inside the arc. A capable mid-range jump shooter, he utilizes his pump-fake to drive past defenders and get to the rim. He has also excelled on the offensive glass, averaging 5.5 offensive rebounds per-36 minutes. He has like most rookies do struggled with his ball security in the early part of this season. If he could carry over his offensive instincts and motor consistently to the defensive end of the court, we would be discussing a Rookie of the Year candidate

Still far more confident and comfortable on the offensive end of the court expect Collins to struggle on the defensive end for the remainder of his rookie season. While he has shown activity on that end in the early part of the season,  six combined steals and blocks, he still has ways to go with his positioning and could improve his strength as well. This combined with the four fouls a game he is currently picking up say it will take time, but at least the effort has been there unlike what it was in college.

In short, look now, look later, but Collins will find himself among the top rookies by the All-Star break even if no one is watching the Hawks.

Kareem The Dream: Breaking Down His Stratospheric Start

By John Camera

Don’t look now but the rookie runner leading the league in rushing has become a top-tier runningback in the NFL. Arguably only sitting behind stars like Zeke Elliot, David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt is establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with with each game that passes.

Hunt was one my personal favorite runningbacks in this past draft class, second only to Jamaal Williams, and I compared him to perennial 1,000-yard rusher Frank Gore. That’s a lofty comparison but I truly believed Hunt deserved it and would emulate Gore if he improved the weaknesses in his game. Boy has he ever.

The following is my scouting report on Hunt following his senior year at Toledo:

hunt scouting


All of the positives I found in his game transitioned almost immediately, not something that happens very often as rookies adjust to the speed and complexity of the NFL. Not only that, but Hunt improved on the negatives that made him a very good back rather than an elite one on the level of Leonard Fournette.

To start, I greatly underestimated Hunt’s finishing speed on his carries at Toledo. While I did note his speed was excellent and acceleration immediate, I didn’t think he had that game-breaking gear to pull away and break off runs for 70, 80 yards a pop. Hunt proved me wrong in his very first game, twice pulling away from the New England defense and hasn’t stopped since then. Make no mistake, Kareem Hunt may not look like Gurley or Fournette but he is as much, if not more, of a world class athlete as those guys are.

Hunt has also shown a commitment to his pass-blocking game, something that was already solid but needed some work to it. Hunt has protected Alex Smith well since taking over the starting role for the injured Spencer Ware. In addition, the Toledo product has kept his weight in the 210s, a perfect weight for his combination of speed and power, not getting as high as the 230s that he was at in his earlier years with the Rockets.

Most impressive to me is how Hunt has gotten better and more patient as a runner. That manic style that he sometimes exhibited is much harder to find now than it was last season at Toledo. Hunt should get major props for how he has not only adjusted to the speed of the NFL but improved as a player at the same time.

While improving his negatives, every one of Hunt’s positives that I noted has transitioned almost perfectly to the NFL. The rookie has shown his great speed, impressive acceleration and elite level change of direction and agility in every single performance. On top of that, his vision has been very strong to start the season; Hunt is trusting his blockers and picking the right holes to run through.

Hunt’s ability to move the pile, whether at 230 or 200, could never be disputed, but it’s still worth noting just how well a 5’10” and 216 pound runningback is crushing defenders. His full toolbox of open field moves and elite balance has also helped him churn out yards even when it seems little to nothing is there for him.

The one positive that I did note but am nonetheless still surprised at how well Hunt has adapted it into the NFL is his receiving ability. While not on the level of fellow rookie Christian McCaffrey, Hunt has immediately inserted himself into the Chiefs passing game and done an excellent job of contributing to it. Hunt was always a good receiver at Toledo, he caught 73 passes there, but he wasn’t quite the contributor that he has become for the Chiefs.

While it would be fair to imagine the rookie having speedbumps or games similar to the 9-carry, 21-yard performance he had against Pittsburgh, don’t think for one second that Kareem Hunt will be a one-year wonder. Defenses will figure out the best way to defend this potent Chiefs offense and Hunt will see games where his chances are limited, but rest assured the Toledo product’s name is one we can get used to for a long time.

Time for Middleton to Emerge in Milwaukee

By Jack Drapkin

When discussing the Milwaukee Bucks, the conversation rightfully is centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak who will turn 23 in December is the young centerpiece of a franchise on the uptick. However, Giannis needs help and with Jabari Parker sidelined until at least January, someone will need to take up some of the playmaking slack. Some writers are looking towards second-year players Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon to bridge this gap. However, both players seem more likely to stay in their current roles than drastically increase them. This leaves Khris Middleton, now a year removed from a hamstring tear to pick up the playmaking slack.

So why Middleton and not Brogdon or Maker, after all, Middleton is the oldest player of this group and the one who presumably has tapped into his potential the most. A career 40% shooter from deep, Middleton had increased his role each year with Milwaukee before his injury-ravaged campaign last year. Peaking at over 18 points and four assists a game in the 2015-16 season. This numbers should surprise the most ardent of NBA fans, just not the top-notch Bucks fans, I hear ya Milwaukee!

So why will this year be the year for Middleton and the Bucks. Two reasons, opportunity, and health. To the latter, a year removed from the major hamstring injury from last season, expect Middleton to look fresh and re-invigorated at the start of the season. Now as far as opportunity is concerned, this will be the best situation Middleton has had a chance to play on throughout his career. The difference in the level of play that Giannis is playing at compared to the last time Middleton was completely healthy is night and day. The openings created by playing with Giannis are tremendous and will make Middleton’s life easier to pick apart his defender with his old-man, Joe Johnson-like game. Also with the additions of Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon, the defensive burdens will be less on Middleton this season allowing him to have more energy on the offensive end.

With Middleton’s 15 points, nine rebound, six assist opening night performance is just the way the Bucks hoped his season would start.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – New York Giants Week 6

By Aaron Weiss

The New York Giants defied the odds and any semblance of logic, rolling over the now 3-2 Denver Broncos by a score of 23-10. While there are a good number of things to criticize (such as Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins getting beat all night by Demaryius Thomas, although he redeemed himself with a critical pick six), considering the Giants got their first win of the season, in primetime, against a Super Bowl contender and their premier defense, with their top three receivers, starting center, top EDGE rusher, captain linebacker, and star slot corner out, I’m going easy on the G-Men. Let’s breakdown everything that happened and look forward to the Giants last game before their bye!


The Good:

Evan Engram – With the Giants top three receivers out this week (and two of them out for the year), Engram was thrust into the top spot as it comes to receiving options, and he did not disappoint. He had more targets, yards, and touchdowns than the Giants 3 wide receivers combined, and he caught 45% of the Giants completions, had 64% of their receiving yards, and their lone offensive touchdown. Sterling Shepard will return either next week or after the bye week, which will lighten the load on Engram somewhat, but there’s no doubt that the continuing success of the Giants offense is going to depend on Engram putting up numbers like he did on Sunday.


Jason Pierre-Paul – Denver RT Menelik Watson is the weak link on the Broncos’ offensive line, coming into the contest with a PFF score of 40.2, and he had the unenviable task of going up against Pierre-Paul. JPP definitely won the matchup, notching 6 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble, all in the first half (which was as far as Watson would make it in the contest, he’d get hurt and be replaced by Billy Turner and his 38.9 PPR grade in the 2nd half). Despite not having Olivier Vernon to draw primary or even double coverage on the other side, JPP totaled 3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits, and a QB hurry, continually spooking Trevor Siemian even when he wasn’t generating pressure. JPP reminded the world why he remains a premier edge rusher in this league.


The Offensive Line – The offensive line hardly qualifies as above average yet, but perhaps they’ve found their best iteration. The Giants moved star LG Justin Pugh to RT, moving RG John Jerry to LG and backup OL DJ Fluker to RG (also with C Weston Richburg out Brett Jones played center, although that will undoubtedly revert to Richburg when he’s healthy). I don’t know if this is the “we need our best OL at tackle” gameplan, or if it’s the “lets put our best OL on their best DL,” which in this case is Pugh vs Von Miller, but either way, this o-line kept the pressure on Eli Manning limited while absolutely punishing Denver in the run game (especially with Orleans Darkwa in the backfield). With the Giants’ wide receives not doing a whole lot, credit this offensive line for keeping this offense on the field.


Mike Sullivan – For the first time since Ben McAdoo joined the Giants as their offensive coordinator, McAdoo wasn’t calling the offensive plays, passing off those duties to current offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, and in Sullivan’s first opportunity he showed what he brings to the offense. He didn’t call any crazy plays, and you have to wonder how much of the play calling changes are due to Sullivan and how many are due to the new receivers the Giants are stuck with, but Sullivan was incredibly solid, sticking to the ground game while not overextending Eli or making him rely on his new receivers (the Giants ran the ball 32 times while passing a mere 19). McAdoo also looked more in control without having to call the offensive plays. Sullivan will almost certainly call the plays next week and for the immediate future, and we’ll see if he can continue to be successful, but tonight Sullivan earned his pay as the Giants’ offensive coordinator.


The Bad:

The Little Three – With the big three of Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Brandon Marshall out, the Giants turned to the new lesser three in Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, and Travis Rudolph, and…it didn’t really work out. They combined for 2 catches on 4 targets in the first half, collectively getting outworked by TE Evan Engram. As mentioned above, Shepard will return to the lineup and inherit the top receiving spot, but GM Jerry Reese should be looking to find outside help this week. Perhaps disgruntled Pittsburgh WR Martavis Bryant could be an option going forward.


The Ugly:


Injuries:

The Giants had a couple of players banged up, with players like Jay Bromley and BJ Goodson briefly going down on the field, but the only significant injury was to rookie linebacker Calvin Munson, who had a quad injury in the game and was unable to return. While he is a backup, meaning his loss isn’t as critical, the Giants are currently paper thin at linebacker, with Jonathan Casillas missing the contest with a neck injury. Should Munson be out for an extended period it would be wise of the Giants to acquire some depth at the position.


NFC East Picture:

Dallas had their bye week, so they remained in third place at 2-3. However, their stock in the division fell dramatically with news that star RB Ezekiel Elliott had his suspension reinforced immediately, meaning that, barring further legal directives, he will miss the Cowboys’ next six games. Philly won a tight battle against Carolina on Thursday night football, going to 5-1, and Carson Wentz and his Eagles continued to show they’re in a different class than their division counterparts. Finally, Washington eked out a victory against the now 0-6 San Francisco 49ers, leaving them in second place at 3-2.


Next Week: The Giants come home to face the Seahawks before they go on their desperately needed bye week. Seattle comes into the game at 3-2, coming off of their bye week, which means they’ll be fresh against a Giants team that could not be more battered. On the other hand, Seattle is 1-2 on the road, although those losses came against a Mariota-led Titans and a Rodgers-led Packers. Still, the Giants showed they’re capable of contending with top defenses with mediocre offenses, and while the Seahawks offense is much better than Denver’s, their putrid offensive line will mean more JPP sacks and pressures, keeping this one close. Look for a slugfest, but considering what the Giants have as receiving options, look for Seattle to edge out a victory.

Prediction – Seahawks win 17-13

Potential 2nd Year NBA Breakout Players

By Jack Drapkin

With the season starting this upcoming week, I figured it was time to take a look at the rising sophomores from the 2016 NBA Draft Class. A class that by most measures disappointed across the board. Think about this, the three best rookies of last season were two rookies from Philly in Dario Saric and Joel Embiid who were both part of the 2014 draft and the 36th overall pick Malcolm Brogdon. It’s safe to say that the top of the 2016 NBA Draft failed to live up to the expectations that were frankly already set fairly low. So who changes this narrative and steps up as we head into a new season? I attempt to put on ‘Genie’ hat and predict which players are going to take a step forward this season.

Brandon Ingram

Look, the beginning of his career was not pretty. As a skinny nineteen-year-old in the NBA maybe as a collective, our expectations should have been lower. However, they were not and he struggled immensely through early January. Then, something funny started to happen, things began to click for Ingram. His shot started falling a bit more frequently as he became more assertive on the court increasing his scoring from eight ppg before the All-star break to 13 ppg after the break. Many of the same doubters from last season are pointing to a weak pre-season showing from Ingram as a sign that his performance at the end of last season was a fluke. I’d be careful of following that advice, with pre-season games more accurately reflecting that of pick-up quality, expect Ingram to slowly grow into his role this season and be a 15 ppg scorer on a better than expected Lakers team.

Henry Ellenson

After spending one season at Marquette, Ellenson spent much of last season in the G-League with just 19 appearances to his name. So why is Ellenson poised for a bigger sophomore campaign. Two reasons, first he is much more confident with his skills as was apparent with his summer league dominance. If you’re highly drafted 2nd-year player doesn’t dominate in the summer league its a cause for concern. Ellenson, tore it up to the tune of 17 points and seven boards a game. And, I know it’s just summer league but it is still important for his confidence. Second, the Pistons lost Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes this offseason. Two players who combined were playing 50 frontcourt minutes a game. Besides journeyman Anthony Tolliver the only other frontcourt player Detroit brought in was Eric Moreland, Ellenson is due for minutes this season.

Taurean Prince/DeAndre’ Bembry

The Atlanta Hawks are not going to be a good basketball team this year. That’s the bad news, the good news they have a number of intriguing young players including this pair of sophomore wings. Prince, in particular, was able to move into the rotation last season after the trade of Kyle Korver and performed admirably, especially in the playoffs. If I had to pick one or the other it would be Prince who will have the better season. Bembry however, has a unique game, not a great shooter but does everything else well, and is a deceptively explosive athlete who will look to take advantage of the minutes departed by Tim Hardaway Jr. The Hawks are hopeful they have a couple of wings for the future in today’s switch happy NBA.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – New York Giants Week 5

By Aaron Weiss

In a season that somehow keeps getting worse, the Giants lost their week five matchup against the now 1-4 Los Angeles Chargers 27-22, dropping to 0-5. The Giants simply could not hang around with the Chargers after suffering a rash of injuries, in what ended up being one of the worst three hour periods in New York Giant history. Let’s break down what little went right, everything that went wrong, and anything else in between while look forward to New York’s week 6 match-up.


The Good:

Wayne Gallman & Orleans Darkwa – The Giants may finally have a run game! Gallman, playing his second regular season game, and Darkwa, coming back from injury, combined for 19 carries, 126 yards and a touchdown. The pair alone had the Giants best single game effort on the ground this year (with a 91 yard performance coming in second and a 62 yard performance coming in third), which doesn’t include contributions by Shane Vereen and Odell Beckham, who brought the Giants’ run game total to 152 yards on 25 carries. Darkwa has looked impressive all year when he’s been healthy, and Gallman has made a impactful impression to start his career, averaging 3.8 yards per carry after contact. Given the other developments of the day, look for the Giants to try and push this pair further into the spotlight.


Darian Thompson – Thompson was all over the field on Sunday. He may not have the skillset or the star power of his fellow safety Landon Collins, but Thompson recorded his first interception, along with a team high 11 tackles, 2 passes defended, and 1 QB hit. To date he hadn’t made much of an impression to distance himself from fellow sophomore and last year’s starting safety Andrew Adams, but performances like this will secure his status as the starting Free Safety.


Damon Harrison & Dalvin Tomlinson – While the Giants got absolutely steamrolled by Chargers RB Melvin Gordon, the big interior duo on the Giants’ defensive line did a remarkable job holding Gordon and anyone else trying to work down the middle in check. Gordon rushed 7 times down the middle for a measly 22 yards (3.1 yards/carry), as opposed to 13 carries for 83 yards (6.4 yards/carry), when rushing to the left or right side of the offensive line (although Gordon did have a 26 yard run up the middle negated by a holding penalty). Snacks Harrison also excelled in pass defense, recording 4 QB hurries on 24 pass rushing snaps.

 

The Bad:

Penalties – Once again this season, the Giants’ agonizing mental mistakes were overshadowed by worse ones from an opponent, but that’s no reason to give the Giants a pass. The G-Men had 10 penalties for 67 yards (as opposed to LA’s 11 penalties for 87 yards). Some of the more egregious penalties were unnecessary roughness from BJ Goodson, running into the kicker from Nordly Capi (which thankfully didn’t extend the Chargers’ drive), and 2(!) defensive offsides penalties from beleaguered edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (his 50.4 PFF grade is 24.2 points worst than his previous worst PFF grade). In a game where everything outside of New York’s control went wrong, the Giants couldn’t make sure to do the easy things right.


Pass Protection – Bobby Hart and his 36.6 PFF grade returned to the lineup after missing time with an injury, and boy oh boy did it show. Unlike Philip Rivers, who wasn’t sacked once, Eli Manning was brought down 5 times, losing 42 yards and one fumble in the process. Manning took 7 QB hits on the day, and once again he often looked spooked in the pocket. To be clear, the offensive line continues to “improve”, with the average rush yards before contact increased to 2.0, but once again this offensive line showed it couldn’t stop the duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

 

The Ugly:

Injuries – Wow. Just wow. In what has to be one of the most wrath of godlike moments in NFL history, the Giants lost 4 of their 5 active WR’s on injury throughout the game. WR Sterling Shepard sprained his ankle early in the second quarter, only to have fellow WR Brandon Marshall hurt his ankle the very next play (while Coach McAdoo called his injury a sprain, the fact that he’s undergone surgery implies it’s something more serious). Special teams ace and plugin WR Dwayne Harris broke his foot on a special teams play in the third quarter, and, most significantly, superstar WR Odell Beckham fractured his ankle in the fourth quarter, a huge blow both in the short term (he was scorching hot against star cornerback Casey Hayward, making 5 catches on 8 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown, and Eli Manning would fumble the ball the play after Odell left), and in the long run. Of the 4, only Sterling Shepard avoided injured reserve, and he is listed as day to day, although the odds he plays this upcoming week are slim. This rash of injuries left Eli Manning with one active healthy receiver for the last few minutes of the game, Roger Lewis, and on the Giants last make or break drive, Manning had Lewis and TE Rhett Ellison lined up outside, with TE Evan Engram on the inside and pass catching specialist RB Shane Vereen in the backfield, a recipe that led to a disastrous interception. No offense, and no quarterback (excepting perhaps Aaron Rodgers) can successfully win a game with only a 4th string wide receiver and no other WRs, and the rash of injuries doomed any chance that Giants had to win a close game they so desperately needed.

 

NFC East Picture:

In one of the more contentious divisions to date, it was the Philadelphia Eagles who stood out the most, convincingly beating the Arizona Cardinals 34-7, and going to 4-1 on the season in the process. Washington had a bye week, and the Dallas Cowboys met the same fate most teams do when facing the inhuman god that is Aaron Rodgers, falling to 2-3. Barring a miracle, the Giants are out of playoff contention, but for the first time this season, it looks like one of the teams in the NFC East is on the cusp on breaking away from the competition.


Next Week: The Giants signed veteran WR Tavarres King, who they cut in the offseason, and practice squad WR Travis Rudolph to replace Beckham and Marshall (they also signed WR Darius Powe, who they also cut in the offseason, to the practice squad). That means, unless Sterling Shepard makes a remarkable comeback and plays this week, that King, Rudolph and Lewis, who have a combined 19 career receptions (15 for King, 4 for Lewis and 0 for the rookie Rudolph), will go head to head with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr, and Bradley Roby, who have a combined 55 career interceptions and 7 Pro Bowl appearances. The rest of the Denver defense is just as intimidating, and while the Giants may make headway against the run, they still only ran the ball to the left side twice against the Chargers, so clearly there are still issues to be addressed. While it would not be surprising to see the Giants’ defense push around Trevor Siemian and the mediocre Denver offense, it’s honestly more likely that the Giants score a touchdown on defense than offense. There’s no way, especially on the road, and with the Broncos coming off their bye week that this Giants’ team beats the 3-1 Denver Broncos.

Prediction – Broncos win 17-3