USA Soccer: What Now?

 

Matt Dunham/ AP Photo

Matt Dunham/ AP Photo

Posted by Jack Tumen

It was a fun ride; but the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team has finally (and somewhat inevitably) been eliminated from the World Cup. However, unlike past World Cups, the interest in our men’s national team is not likely to die away so quickly.

Firstly, a standing ovation is in order for the players who so valiantly represented the stars and stripes. They gave every last ounce of effort while attempting a miracle comeback in extra time. Even after Belgium seemingly put it away with their second goal, we were still treated to a “wait, we just scored” moment; then we were treated to a “holy shit/face grabbing” moment when a masterfully drawn up play fell inches shy of coming to fruition.

Yes, Chris Wondolowski completely blew that last second ‘gimme’ to pull off the stunner, but the blame shouldn’t be placed fully on his shoulders. This is a team that consistently struggles with ball control; they were practically on defense the entire game. Tim Howard was forced to have the game of his life; and boy did he ever. Howard had the most saves in a World Cup match since 1966 with 16. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he had the performance of the century. 16 saves? Are you kidding me? If it took nearly 50 years for that record to be broken, combined with the growing number of offensive stars the game has to offer, I’ll make the educated guess that a keeper won’t achieve that feat for at least 50 more yearsHeck, we should have been down 5 nil in that game. Tim Howard was the only thing in the world giving the U.S. hope.

Yves Herman/Reuters

Yves Herman/Reuters

Aside from the game itself, the nation came out in a big way to support this World Cup effort. You saw countless people wearing their team USA jerseys in the streets. The “I Believe That We Will Win” chant ran rampant throughout crowds of viewers at outdoor events and bars. For the first time, we felt emotionally connected to this team; we knew the players names and what positions they played. We knew that Graham Zusi was supposed to take the corner kicks. And we finally figured out what offsides is. The match vs. Belgium was one of the highest rated World Cup matches that ESPN has televised, drawing over 16 million viewers.

In my opinion, this was finally the World Cup that built enough interest at home for it to stick. This team captivated our nation. People who didn’t know a thing about soccer found themselves having fun while watching this World Cup.

That said, I don’t think the excitement will carry over to the MLS. National team players will receive name recognition, but the focus will be on the nation representing itself every four years rather than a growing interest at the day-to-day level. We like to be good at the sports that we invented ourselves like (American) Football, Baseball and Basketball – Regardless, it’s about time the United States caught up on the sport that 6.5 billion other people so endearingly call, “Futbol.”

Jurgen Klinsmann & His Kinsmen

Posted by Jack Tumen

Getty Images

Getty Images

The U.S. men’s national soccer team has been an enigma for some time now. Not only on the field but off it as well. When it comes to the popularity of soccer in our country, America has been playing catch-up with the rest of planet Earth for decades.

For a sport that single-handedly gives lifeblood to many world countries, soccer (or futebol, as the majority of humans call it) has spent a considerable amount of time on the back burner of the American sports scene. However, the World Cup has always drawn the attention of general sports fans; but usually to witness the typical powerhouses like Brazil, Argentina and Spain demonstrate their mastery of the sport – not to see team America compete for a title…

…Because team America could never realistically compete for a title; until now.

Ok, well, maybe not even now, but my name’s Elvis Presley if our country didn’t get fired up after the epic victory we pulled out over rival, Ghana. That game was the most goddamn American thing I’ve ever seen; we lost one of our best players to a pulled hammy early; our captain played the majority of the match with a bloodied, broken nose; one of our youngest and most inexperienced players displayed epic heroics to take a late lead; all while holding off a relentless attack from the team that knocked us out of the last two World Cups.

And all of this coming the day after the season finale of Game of Thrones.

Getty Images

Getty Images

However, Monday’s events were the culmination of much previous uncertainty. The hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011 was…simply a hire. We would hear his name maybe once a month on Sports Center during an international friendly or something of the sort, but no one really cared; the next World Cup was three years away and there was a lot of football, basketball, baseball and hockey to be played in that time span.

As the cup drew nearer, the hype naturally increased but the same underlying doubt resided amongst Americans regarding the team’s chances of getting very far. Then, Klinsmann pulled a Klinsmann (because I hear he’s pretty daring) and left the U.S.’s all-time leading World Cup goal-scorer off the final squad. Landon Donovan; the perennial face of United States soccer is not representing the United States in the biggest tournament of modern mankind? Well fuck us. How will this impact the team? Don’t we need that experience and leadership to advance out of the GROUP OF DEATH?!?! Now Landon’s upset; now he’s ripping his own country for cutting him – and now the team’s gonna implode – and now we won’t win a game – and now I can’t breathe – can’t…breathe…

…Until Clint Dempsey put that sucker in the back of the net faster than I can say MURICA! Man, that was awesome; instant gratification. We’re winning! Let’s go, baby! But wait, that was way too easy. Great, now we only have 89 1/2 minutes plus extra time to hold the lead. Not a chance, buddy; we all knew that equalizer was coming to break our hearts when we could almost smell victory. This is going to overtime. We’re losing in overtime. It’s just gonna happen. Good run, boys.

Getty Images

Getty Images

But fate was in store this evening for the 21-year old, John Brooks; the second of three subs that Klinsmann inserted due to injuries. Just 4 minutes after Ghana brought us back down to Earth, a perfect ball from Graham Zusi (the third U.S. sub) off the corner kick found its way through a crowd of white jerseys. Brooks nailed a perfect header to cap off a Hollywood ending for team U.S.A.

Now, even Klinsmann himself said that it was unrealistic for the U.S. to win the world cup. That statement is even more true now that Jozy Altidore blew out his hammy. Regardless, there are a million reasons to be incredibly proud of this team for what it accomplished on Monday – And next they get Portugal man down…maybe this Group of Death thing isn’t so bad after all.

Having to utilize his bench three different times, Klinsmann put the utmost faith in his hand-picked group of players to support one another when the going got rough; and they did that in the biggest way possible. Even if this team isn’t the best on paper, Jurgen Klinsmann has his team – our team – believing.

You’re on, Portugal.

Finals Season Comes Hot Out of the Gate

Posted by Jack Tumen

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

…And suddenly it was June.

The NHL and NBA Playoffs have reached their respective pinnacles; two tales of greatness that run parallel to one another. One series showcases a blue-collar underdog (literally) against a physical juggernaut. The other boasts two of the best franchises in modern sports clashing at the finish line for the second consecutive year.

In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers came out of the gate like California Chrome in game 1. Two early goals by New York sent a message to L.A. that the Rangers had come to play; and the Kings received that message.

In typical Kings fashion, L.A. used physicality and brute strength to tire out the Rangers while scoring three unanswered goals en route to an overtime victory. There’s nothing quite like playoff hockey.

But oh, the drama in game 1 of the NBA finals. Forget the fact that the series is a rematch; the Heat actually couldn’t take the heat. With the air conditioning failing in the AT&T Center, temps were upward of 90 degrees inside the arena. Every person in that stadium was sweating bullets; the fans were fanning themselves with the team programs; Bill Simmons looked like a tomato during the half time show; it made for a great storyline…

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

…But then LeBron cramps up in the 4th quarter. In what was a tight game through and through, the best player in the world cramps up so badly he can barely walk. Heck, his teammates had to carry him to the bench. It was just one of those moments. I’m gonna have that image of LeBron limping off the court engraved in my head forever. It made for quite the dramatic scene. And if Miami ends up winning the series? Boy that’ll look good in a 30 for 30.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next…

The New York Jets Draft In Depth

Posted by Jack Tumen

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 draft was the most important one the Jets have had in recent memory. Tied with San Fran for a league-high 12 picks and the most the franchise has had since ’98, the second draft of the John Idzik era needed to be a slam dunk for the team to continue ascending in the coming seasons. When it was all said and done, I can’t say it went how I thought it would, but then again when does it ever with the Jets?

First things first; Calvin Pryor. When the Jets went on the clock, I couldn’t believe the plethora of talent that was on the board; players like Johnny Manziel, Darqueze Dennard and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix sitting there for the taking. Heck, I was so giddy I didn’t even think about Pryor; I was sold the pick was gonna be Dennard or Cooks. But when Goodell announced the choice, I was like “hell yes.”

Throughout the entire Rex Ryan era, the Jets haven’t had a franchise safety. Rex has done a great job of disguising the need by getting the most out of his corners, but I’ve always thought the Jets D would be over-the-top sick if they could just get a permanent body to hold down the back side; I was fed up with these one year stop-gap signings. They haven’t had a franchise safety since Kerry Rhodes (another Louisville guy I might add.)

Pryor is the epitome of a Rex Ryan safety; he’s the hardest hitting, most physical son-of-a-bitch I’ve seen in quite some time. Although there’s still the need at corner and wideout, I’m more happy than I thought I would be with this pick, especially for the value; I expected him to be gone by the time the Jets picked at 18. It’s a pick that shows the cooperation that Rex and Idzik are having which bodes well for the franchise as a whole.

Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

In round 2, the Jets went offense in a big way, selecting Texas Tech tight end, Jace Amaro. At the time, I naturally found myself wanting Allen Robinson; but I’m not complaining. This pick covers the tight end and receiver need in one; Amaro will be the Jets’ version of Jimmy Graham, if you will. They’ll flex him out wide and use him to stretch the field and spread out defenders. Geno Smith will love having him around and I think this pick is a huge piece for his development as a quarterback. The Jets have never had a weapon like Amaro before.

This next pick left me with my head in my hands. Dexter McDougle? What? Who? Idzik, c’mon man. I hate to bash the kid, but for the value and the players that were on the board, this wasn’t the right move. I know we have yet to see him take the field and I hope he can prove me wrong, but this was one of those picks where you immediately leave the television, get in your car to grab another 6 pack, all the while repeating “Dexter McDougle” out loud.

Finally the Jets decide to wake up and take back-to-back wideouts, Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans. First things first; the Jets have a guy named Shaq. I like the Evans pick more than I like the Saunders pick. Evans has pretty good size and has the tools to develop into a steady number two over time. Saunders is a bit undersized; and although explosive as a punt returner and shifty in the slot, this pick immediately endangers Jeremy Kerley’s future on the team…which I don’t like. Kerley is the man. He’s a real nice slot guy and I’d hate to see him go. However, this almost certainly pushes Stephen Hill out the door. Let’s not even bring that one up right now.

Dakota Dozier. Nice pick. Jets got good value here. He’ll replace Colon next year and (hopefully) be the man at guard for a decade. I think Jeremiah George is one of those ‘backers who can use his elite instincts to overcome what he lacks in size to eventually contribute in run support. Brandon Dixon? Sure. Don’t know a thing about him but he’s a big corner so let’s see what he’s got. Ik Enemkpali? How do you pronounce that? What about Quincy Enunwa? He was ‘aight in college but he’ll earn his stripes on special teams. Also that 26 year old Trevor Reilly they took in the 7th. I hear good things about him as a pass rusher but who knows what he’ll do in camp.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

But dude…Tajh Boyd. I really dig this pick a lot, especially so late in the draft. Once upon a time Tajh was a first round pick, then I don’t know what happened. All I know is that the Jets have him now and he’ll finally boot Matt Simms from the team. I love his physical stature and his ability to take off and run. Vick will be a good quarterback for him to learn from. I look forward to Tajh being Geno’s backup in a year or two…or maybe he could eventua-…nahhh.

I have one major qualm about this draft. With 12 picks, the Jets had SO much capital to make a few trades and move up to grab some top-tier talent at positions of need. They didn’t. That’s so Idzik. Major missed opportunity in my opinion. The Jets don’t need 12 picks; only half of them will probably make the team! I’d rather have five quality players than twelve rookies, half of which are no more than camp bodies.

One trend that I did like, however, was the fact that they selected five team captains on the third day. That’s a major character push. I’m all about it. Locker room culture hasn’t been the Jets’ strong suit since T-Rich was on the team but I’m glad to see the front office pushing back in that direction.

Overall, there are good pieces here but the Jets could have gotten more out of this draft. I think that Pryor and Amaro were slam dunks and will have a large impact on the field, but it’s only human nature to think about the what if’s.

Grading the Draft: Winners & Losers

Posted by Jack Tumen

Craig Ruttle/AP Photo

Craig Ruttle/AP Photo

Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to go back and take a look at who came away with some future studs and who whiffed on their selections from the NFL Draft. In my mock draft, I nailed a grand total of…four picks! Woohoo! This was the deepest draft class in recent memory but there were some teams who really nailed their selections and others who still have me scratching my head.

Winner – St. Louis Rams

The Rams far and away had the best draft of any team. Greg Robinson number 2 overall was the safe-bet pick, then Aaron Donald “slipping” to 13 was the icing on the cake for their 1st round. The Rams understand that controlling the line of scrimmage is the way to win games in this league and they took that approach with these two picks.

Then with the 41st overall pick they took DB Lamarcus Joyner; a player whom I feel is going to be a star in this league. Add Tre Mason in the 3rd? Your first four picks can’t get much better than that. How about later when they plucked Mizzou’s E.J. Gaines just for some more CB depth. On top of all that, they made the most historic pick in NFL history, stealing Michael Sam in the 7th round to make him the first openly gay player to be drafted. As the Co-SEC Defensive POY in 2013, that dude should have gone in the 4th round. Jeff Fisher and his staff absolutely killed it.

Other Winners – Jacksonville, Oakland, Houston

Loser – Indianapolis Colts

With only five picks and little capital, the Colts had to sit back and let the draft fall to them in the wake of the horrendous Trent Richardson trade. But with five picks in a deep draft, you’d figure they land a few big names, right? How about nooo. I dig Donte Moncrief as a WR prospect, but with their other four picks they took who, who, who and WHO? Jeez, man. If I was a Colts fan, I would’ve had my head in my hands for 3 straight days while that draft was going on. I’m looking at who they had a chance to draft when they picked and they passed up some really great players like Allen Robinson and Tre Mason in favor of…Jack Mewhort? Listen, I get that O-line isn’t a glamour pick but that’s just TURRIBLE.

Other Losers – Kansas City, Miami

Adam Hunger – USA TODAY Sports

Adam Hunger – USA TODAY Sports

Best Pick – Teddy Bridgewater

I’m really happy for this kid. I stayed up until quarter to 6 in the morning to see the first round through and I’m glad that I got to see him picked. Minnesota made a great move by trading back into the 1st round for the second year in a row; this time to get their franchise quarterback of the future. The value of this selection is what makes it the best pick. One poor outing at his pro day really sent Teddy tumbling down the draft board but I’m glad that the Vikings saw past that and gave him a chance. He’s in the right place in Minnesota

Worst Pick – Taylor Lewan

Honestly, I don’t know what Tennessee was thinking with this pick. Their offensive line was already very solid prior to this and they had other needs that were much more dire; Lewan wasn’t even the best player on the board at the time. This is a kid with major character concerns who was facing three misdemeanor assault charges just weeks prior to the draft. They made up for it with their later picks but overall a poor first choice of the Ken Whisenhunt era.

Player to Immediately Succeed – Brandin Cooks: The Saints traded up for this stud wideout and he’ll be plugged right in to New Orleans’ high-octane passing attack. He’ll quickly find a new best friend in Drew Brees; it’s a perfect fit.

Biggest Risk – Justin Gilbert: I have Gilbert as my biggest risk only because the Browns traded up within the top 10 to take him. With Joe Haden already in the fold, I think the Browns would have done themselves justice trading up one spot further to grab Mike Evans. Top-10 was a little high for Gilbert if you ask me but he’s certainly a talented player. We’ll see how that one pans out.

Biggest Steal – Louis Nix III: If I hadn’t already given Teddy a category, he’d probably be this guy as well. However, the fact that Nix fell to the third round was surprising in its own. Houston did themselves a solid by stopping his slide and putting him next to Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt on the league’s scariest defensive line. In other news, Oakland swiping Khalil Mack at no. 5 was a steal in my book.

Can’t wait to see how it all plays out on the field. Now, for my 2015 mock draft!

…not.

Calm Before the Storm: Jacked Up Mock Draft

Posted by Jack Tumen

With the draft only days away, it’s time for my first round mock. The rules are: there are no trades. Let’s do it.

AP

AP

With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select…

1. Jadeveon Clowney – DE, South Carolina

When a talent like Clowney comes around once in a blue moon, you embrace the opportunity to have that talent on your roster. There’s been chatter about Khalil Mack jumping Clowney to be taken first overall, but I don’t see it happening. Yes, they need a quarterback, but this is the year to wait on one; they can take a Jimmy Garoppolo at the top of the 2nd. The character concerns will always be present with Clowney, but Bill O’Brien knows what kind of beast he has in front of him.

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2. Greg Robinson – OT, Auburn

At 6’5″, 332lbs, this mountain of a man anchored the left side of Gus Malzahn’s run-heavy offense that buoyed Auburn’s dream season. Jake Long tore his ACL and MCL after a nice start and Rodger Saffold failed his physical in the attempted Oakland trade. The Rams have whiffed on tackles before with the 2nd overall pick (Jason Smith in ’09) but have a chance to turn the pick that could’ve been RG3 into their franchise left tackle for the next decade.

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3. Johnny Manziel – QB, Texas A&M

If there’s anything that Jacksonville needs, it’s a quarterback; if there’s any quarterback that Jacksonville needs, it’s Johnny Football. A franchise that’s been QB-less and struggling for years now (on and off the field) the Jaguars have the opportunity to draft the most polarizing player to ever play college football; and more importantly put booties in the seats.

images-14. Khalil Mack – LB, Buffalo

Mack has seen his stock rise in meteoric fashion over the last few months. Many argue that he’s in fact the most talented player in this draft; but with so much uncertainty this year it’s tough to say. What is certain, however, is that Browns’ head coach, Mike Pettine, is a defensive minded man. After spending a few seasons under the tutelage of Rex Ryan as the Jets’ defensive coordinator, Pettine has quickly ascended the coaching ladder and in my opinion is the best head coach Cleveland’s hired since Bill Belichick. He won’t pass up the opportunity to have a player like Mack in his hands; and with 3 out of the first 35 picks, they have plenty of time to take a QB.

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5. Sammy Watkins – WR, Clemson

Staying true to the Raider way, Oakland goes for a speedy wideout with the 5th overall selection. But we all know that Watkins is more than just speed; he’s a freakish playmaker who broke records on records at Clemson. I was tempted to pick a surprise tight end here, but I like Mychal Rivera’s potential to break out with TE-loving Matt Schaub at the helm. I don’t think they’ll draft a QB to hold a clipboard behind Schaub; the only thing he’d learn is how to throw pick-sixes. A game-changing stud out wide is what Oakland needs.

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6. Jake Matthews – OT, Texas A&M

Atlanta’s offensive line struggled mightily last season, ultimately leaving them as one of the league’s biggest disappointments. However, starting left tackle, Sam Baker, missed the majority of the season due to injury. After solidifying the interior by signing guard, Jon Asamoah, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. Having said that, taking Matthews here makes a lot of sense. He’ll step right in and start at left or right tackle, depending on what they choose to do with Baker’s fluctuating game. Either way, they need to find a way to give Matt Ryan more time to make throws, or else Matty Ice will continue to be ice cold.

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7. Mike Evans – WR, Texas A&M

Standing at 6’5″, 231lbs, Evans has received Vincent Jackson comparisons leading up to the draft. You know what would be great for the Buccaneers? Two Vincent Jacksons. Josh McCown proved he can ball with two gigantic receivers like he had in Chicago with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Although he’s just a stopgap at quarterback for now, Lovie Smith sounds like he can deal with McCown as the guy for at least this year. With virtually no other starting-caliber wideouts on the roster besides Jackson, Evans should be the guy for Tampa Bay.

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8. C.J. Mosley – LB, Alabama

I was close to taking Bortles here, but the Vikings just re-signed Matt Cassel and still have former first round QB, Christian Ponder hanging around. New Head Coach, Mike Zimmer, is a defensive mind and Chad Greenway is his only true starting-caliber linebacker on the roster. Mosley is one of the most seasoned and mature players in this entire draft class after a four year career at Alabama. He could have come out last year and been a top 10 pick if he wanted to, but he stayed, which speaks volumes nowadays. Some are saying that Aaron Donald is the pick here, but after using one of three first rounders on Sharrif Floyd last year and signing Linval Joseph this offseason, I don’t see it. Mosley might be the safest pick in the draft.

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9. Eric Ebron – TE, North Carolina

Buffalo simply needs more on offense. Scott Chandler is a capable tight end but not one to be proud of as a starter. Despite some motivational questions, Ebron is easily the most talented tight end in this draft and will infuse new life into a Bills passing game that just added Mike Williams via trade from Tampa. Robert Woods expects to improve on a modest rookie season while Marquise Goodwin can play burner. Stevie Johnson has been in decline due to injury and E.J. Manuel needs more weapons if he’s to take the next step in his development. In a time of uncertainty for the Bills organization post-Ralph Wilson, Ebron could be a step in the right direction.

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10. Justin Gilbert – CB, Oklahoma State

Detroit has needs at both the wide receiver and corner positions, but I think signing Golden Tate is just enough to nudge the scale in favor of a corner here, especially in such a receiver-rich draft. Gilbert is long and athletic; he has the talent to step in and be the guy. Darius Slay hopes to improve on his rookie year but the need is simply too dire here for the Lions not to address it; especially when they face Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery twice a year.

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11. Aaron Donald – DT, Pittsburgh

This was a tough pick to predict; Tennessee has a few needs, QB possibly being one but none more glaring than running back. However, RBs go later in the draft nowadays and new HC Ken Whisenhunt has stated the team won’t take a back in the 1st round. Obviously it could be a smokescreen but I think the pick here is to sure up the middle of that defensive line with the best D-Tackle in the draft. Aaron Donald lining up next to an up-and-coming Jurrell Casey would make for an underrated and nasty duo on the Titans front seven.

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12. Anthony Barr – LB, UCLA

The Giants are desperate for a tight end; but Eric Ebron is gone at this point and drafting Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins at 12 would be a huge reach. When I look at the Giants’ roster, however, I don’t see too many quality linebackers outside of Jon Beason and Jameel McClain. Anthony Barr is a fluid pass-rusher who can disrupt coming off the edge and was hyped as a possible number-one-overall way back when. Some analysts debate that Barr is superior to Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, but under these circumstances it’s the right fit based off need and value for the G-Men.

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13. HaSean Clinton-Dix – S, Alabama

Boy, does St. Louis have it good. In possession of two out of the first 13 picks, the Rams have a chance to get better on both sides of the ball. With four current safeties on the roster that no one’s ever heard of, “Ha Ha” is the droid that Jeff Fisher is looking for. After a really nice career under Nick Saban, Clinton-Dix improved his game every year and is probably the most solid safety in the draft.

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14. Calvin Pryor – S, Louisville

We’ve got back-to-back safeties coming off the board. Former Packer, M.D. Jennings, is the top safety on the Bears’ roster while Major Wright has never been able to improve his game. Pryor would bring a vicious swagger to Chicago’s secondary that already has Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings manning the outside. Although he tends to get caught out of position at times, Pryor can lay a lick on a ball carrier like no other player in this draft. It’s the move.

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15. Darqueze Dennard – CB, Michigan State

A physical man-to-man corner? Sounds just like what Dick LeBeau ordered. Pittsburgh is doing OK on the offensive side of the ball; Markus Wheaton figures to step in and start across from Antonio Brown at wideout and the offensive line played better than expected last year. Dennard is the most physical corner in the draft, and in my opinion, the best. Now 34, Ike Taylor needs a successor to hold down the fort across from Cortez Allen. Swiping Dennard here makes sense for Pittsburgh.

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16. Odell Beckham Jr. – WR, LSU

There’s tons of chatter about Dallas moving up for Johnny Manziel…after they just paid Tony Romo $100 mil. That move is so Jerry Jones, it hurts. But in all seriousness, Dallas needs a body to play across from Dez Bryant. Terrance Williams started coming into his own toward the end of last season, but with Cole Beasley acting as the current number 3 and only 5 wideout bodies on the roster, Odell Beckham should be Cowboy. In my favorite wideouts column, I tabbed Beckham as my number 1 favorite receiver in this draft; the kid’s a freakish athlete and brings good character to a franchise lacking just that.

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17. Jimmie Ward – S, Northern Illinois

Two first-round safeties two years in a row should sure up the back side of Baltimore’s secondary post-Ed Reed (Matt Elam last year.) Ward is a thumper and an all around balanced player. He’ll be a nice piece of the puzzle for a Ravens defense trying to find a new identity.

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18. Brandin Cooks – WR, Oregon State

The Jets need help at wideout and cornerback. Kyle Fuller is a likely choice given these circumstances but Cooks is a unique weapon. His blistering 4.33 40 yard dash cemented him as the fastest wideout in the draft. He’s been tabbed as a bigger, stronger and faster version of DeSean Jackson, but I’d lean more toward Steve Smith. He’d be a nice add to a Jets offense that already signed Eric Decker and Chris Johnson in free agency. Geno Smith needs more toys if he’s to succeed.

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19. Zack Martin – OL, Notre Dame

6’4″, 308lbs sounds like a good way to sure up the offensive line. Following the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin fiasco, Miami has some large holes to fill…literally. Scouts are saying that Martin can play tackle or guard, so the versatility up front will be a plus for Ryan Tannehill and his stagnant development.

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20. Blake Bortles – QB, UCF

This was another tough pick to predict. I have Bortles dropping a bit but still being the 2nd QB off the board. There’s been talk about Teddy Bridgewater sliding to the 2nd round after his horrific pro day and I think that Derek Carr will hang around for a few more picks. Had Miami not already taken Zack Martin one pick ahead, I would have used this pick on him; Arizona’s O-line graded out dead last in Pro Football Focus’ 2013 rankings and they could use help there. The once-hyped quarterbacks are now perceived as one of the weakest positions in this year’s incredibly deep draft. Bortles could develop into a nice passer if he holds the clippy for a year or two behind Carson Palmer. Bruce Arians should be able to utilize his Roethlisberger-like skill set to give birth to “Big Blake.”

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21. Ryan Shazier – LB, Ohio State

The Packers expect Nick Perry to take the next step going into his 3rd season out of USC. A.J. Hawk’s play has leveled off in recent seasons and Clay Matthews, although a beast when healthy, has trouble staying just so. Shazier clocked a ridiculous 4.36 40 yard dash; faster than nearly every other receiver at the combine. He’d be an instant force on a defense that just added Julius Peppers in the offseason.

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22. Bradley Roby – CB, Ohio State

With the top 4 wideouts gone at this point, the Eagles go and grab an immensely talented corner. Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin are 1 and 2 in that secondary and could use some major help from the likes of Roby. Character issues are a concern but I think this is the right move for Philly. Chip Kelly will give Jeremy Maclin a chance to prove himself in the offense while operating on a make-or-break one year deal. I think the breakout potential of Zach Ertz as a move TE is enough that Philly can hold off until the later rounds to grab another receiving option.

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23. Allen Robinson – WR, Penn State

Kansas City flat out needs more receiving options. Dwayne Bowe is pushing 30 and their next best guy is Donnie Avery. A-Rob would immediately be the tallest wideout on the roster at 6’3″ and would be a huge help for Alex Smith. A jump ball and screen game specialist, Robinson has the potential to wow at the next level and could force opposing defenses to respect the pass more to take some pressure off Jamaal Charles. After a tremendous pro day, Robinson hears his name called in the back half of the 1st round.

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24. Jason Verrett – CB, TCU

Dre Kirkpatrick has done zero since being drafted in the first round a few years back. Adam Jones and Terence Newman are two aging corners that can’t hold down the fort by themselves. Verrett is a feisty slot corner who will be in the right environment in Cincinnati. Although I think Fuller is the better all-around cornerback, Verrett makes more sense for the Bengals here.

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25. Kyle Fuller – CB, Virginia Tech

I really like this kid. Fuller is a seasoned four-year starter with good instincts and a strong all-around game. Richard Marshall is currently the best CB on San Diego’s roster; safe to say, the need is dire.

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26. Derek Carr – QB, Fresno State

The Browns get their man with the pick they acquired from Indy in the Trent Richardson trade. I think it’s safe to say who won that swap-a-rooskie at this point. Carr is my favorite QB in this draft. Natural throwing ability and excellent leadership skills are the basis of this kid’s chemical make-up. He’ll be sure to find a new best friend in Josh Gordon. Expect Carr to be under center week 1.

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27. Dee Ford – DE, Auburn

Cameron Jordan has blossomed into one of the league’s best young pass rushers. Throw the high-motored Ford across from him and you’ve got a D-line to be reckoned with.

 

28. Marqise Lee – WR, USC

Carolina needs receiving help more than any team in the NFL right now. Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are their top 2 options at the moment, both are age 31 and both are number 3 options at best on a full roster. Lee should have a strong chip on his shoulder after being one of the most forgotten players in this draft. Look for Carolina to take one or two more wideouts down the road as well.

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29. Jace Amaro – TE, Texas Tech

The Patriots offense is an anomaly; Julian Edelman is their top receiver; Danny Amendola has been hurt; Rob Gronkowski can’t stay on the field; yet Brady still does his thing. Amaro would be the target the Pats offense has been missing since Aaron Hernandez left the team. This would be considered a reach, but by the time New England picks again he’ll be gone. At 6’5″, 265lbs, Amaro would occupy the field nicely in between the hashes and make for a dangerous connection with Tom Brady.

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30. Louis Nix – DT, Notre Dame

This is where the draft starts getting weird and unpredictable; and in an already unpredictable draft, I’ve got the 9ers taking one of the best talents on the board. On a team that has no glaring needs, any choice here is for depth. Maybe a wideout wouldn’t hurt, but there’s plenty of those this year. Nix is a guy that can be a starter from day one. Once thought of as a top 10 pick, Nix can shuffle in and out the rotation along with guys like Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Glenn Dorsey. A great roster gets even better.

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31. RaShede Hageman – DT, Minnesota

Hageman is one of those freak athletes who has questions about his motor. Denver took Sylvester Williams in the first round last year but he didn’t produce quite like they would have hoped. Not to say they’ll throw in the towel one year in, but it’s always nice to have that top-tier defensive line talent on your roster; and Hageman provides just that.

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32. Xavier Su’a-Filo – OG, UCLA

Hustlin’ Russell hit the deck more than any other QB in the league last year. Solidifying that horrendous offensive line should be GM John Schneider’s priority. Su’a-Filo is one of the best interior linemen available in this class and if Seattle wants to keep grinding away championships, they’re going to need his services to do so.

Notables Left Out: Teddy Bridgewater, Taylor Lewan, Timmy Jernigan…

So there you have it; my first round mock of Thursday’s draft. Chances it actually plays out this way? Zero. Honestly, the draft is so unpredictable this year that if I get even five of these picks right I’ll be ecstatic. All we can do now is sit back and watch. See you in prime time.

NFL Draft: My Favorite Safeties

Posted by Jack Tumen

Boy oh boy is the draft getting close! These extra two weeks of anticipation have really had everyone on their heels waiting for Houston to be on the clock. I’ll be in Croatia when that happens (which ‘aint so bad) but I’ll most likely be scrambling to find Wi-Fi at 2 am. So since we’re all so restless, how about a little bit more anticipation? These are my three favorite safeties in the 2014 draft class.

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

3. Calvin Pryor – Louisville

After I watched Pryor’s tape, I couldn’t believe how hard he hits. He throws himself at ball carriers like Brian Dawkins used to. And I mean he launches himself. I’m pretty sure he’ll be the most fined and penalized player in the league unless he adjusts his target zone. He’s going to have to start wrapping up on his tackles because the big boys won’t go down with merely a shoulder hit. But I think he’s capable of making that change and becoming one of the most feared safeties in the league. At 5’11″, 207lbs, Pryor is one of those players that will make receivers afraid to run routes across the middle. Just see for yourself.

AP Photo

AP Photo

2. Vinnie Sunseri – Alabama

A torn ACL last season put Sunseri on the back burner for most of the winter while simultaneously dropping him from the ranks of the draft’s elite safeties. However, I have not forgotten about this stud; and I truly believe that when healthy, he’s one of the best safeties this entire draft class. The kid is smart and incredibly instinctive. His football IQ brings a sense of calm and finesse to a secondary. Although he’s a physical, run-stuffing strong safety, Sunseri also possesses top-notch ball skills and is always in the right place at the right time. In addition, he loves contact. At 5’11″, 210lbs, I’d compare him to a bigger, more physical version of Jim Leonhard. Although he may slide into round 4 or later, Sunseri has what it takes to become a quality starter in the NFL.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

1. Lamarcus Joyner – Florida State

If you were standing next to Lamarcus Joyner, you probably wouldn’t know that he was one of the best players in college football last season. At 5’8″, 184lbs, Joyner racked up 69 tackles (7 for loss,) 5.5 sacks, 2 INTs and 3 forced fumbles during his senior season. As those stats indicate, Joyner can do a little bit of everything; but that only scratches the surface. He plays much bigger than his frame suggests and isn’t afraid to get up in the grill of larger pass-catchers. His game is incredibly versatile; he excels at playing both safety and cornerback, while acting as the primary return man for the Seminoles during his first three seasons. On top of that, he possesses unique leadership skills that helped carry his team to a national title. Joyner is a special athlete who will quickly earn the respect of his teammates…and the players lining up across from him.

Breakout Candidates for 2014

Posted by Jack Tumen

Every year a handful of young players take their games to the next level. These are the breakout players. I’ve got a few in mind that I think will raise the bar from their output in 2013.

Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

Markus Wheaton – WR, Steelers

The 79th overall pick in last year’s draft missed nearly his entire rookie season with a broken pinky. Now fully healed, Wheaton is poised for a productive year. Following the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, Wheaton should slide in as the number two option at wideout opposite the explosive Antonio Brown.

Pittsburgh added some depth at the position in free agency by signing Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, but both figure to play in three and four receiver sets. Wheaton should be able to draw some double teams away from Brown in order to open up the Pittsburgh passing attack. I’m thinking between 50-70 receptions for this guy in 2014.

Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Dee Milliner – CB, Jets

It wasn’t all pretty for Milliner during his rookie campaign; he was benched multiple times by Rex Ryan and was forced to learn how to play corner the hard way, being thrust into the fire as an immediate starter opposite Antonio Cromartie. In addition, he was constantly pressed by the New York media about being Darrelle Revis’ replacement; an unrealistic expectation.

But as the season wore on, things started to click for the top-10 draft pick. He finished 4th on the team in solo tackles and intercepted three passes in the final two games. Now, Milliner is suddenly the number one corner on the Jets roster after Cromartie signed with Arizona as a free agent. Even with Dimitri Patterson now in the fold, Dee will lead the pack that includes himself, Patterson and Kyle Wilson. The Jets are fully expected to take a corner in May’s draft, but even then, Milliner will be the the man to lineup across from the opponent’s top receiver.

Getting in a full offseason will help immensely as well; Dee missed the majority of the offseason program last year while recovering from his fifth shoulder surgery and spent a lot of time playing catch-up. Rex Ryan certainly knows how to get the most out of his guys, and Milliner is no exception. Look for no. 27 to make an impact in his second season for the green and white.

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Mychal Rivera – TE, Raiders

Rivera had a less-than-ideal quarterback situation playing for the Raiders his rookie season. Now, they have Matt Schaub as their definite starter, barring a QB selection at 5th overall in May’s draft. Although Schaub is a stopgap above all, he’s a more capable passer than Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin. On top of that, he likes throwing to his tight ends; Owen Daniels was always a threat to strike in Houston with Schaub as his quarterback.

At 6-3, 245lbs, Rivera is an athletic-bodied tight end with the tools to create mismatches in the middle of the field. His game almost reminds me of Dustin Keller. Coming off a 38-407-4 season, he’s poised to emerge as a true weapon as Oakland’s top tight end option. Look for Rivera to be a bright spot in the black hole in 2014.

Other Notables

Levine Toilolo – TE, Falcons - There are only three tight ends on Atlanta’s roster. At 6-8, 265, this beast of a man could be the heir-apparent to Tony Gonzales for the dirty birds.

Terrance Williams – WR, Cowboys - With Miles Austin out of the mix, Williams is locked in as the man across from Dez Bryant. 44-736-5 was a nice starting point, but those numbers should balloon this season.

Jamie Collins – LB, Patriots  – This guy went on a mean streak toward the end of last season and especially emerged in the playoffs, recording 9 solo tackles, a sack and an interception. He’s the type of athlete who can become an enforcer on defense with proper coaching; and I think he’s got it where he’s at.

NFL Draft: My Favorite Quarterbacks

Posted by Jack Tumen

The quarterbacks of the 2014 draft class have been poked, prodded and highly scrutinized over the last 5-6 months. Many names we’ve known for some time now; others grew on us as the season progressed. Regardless, it’s all about to unravel on draft day. When it does, my five favorite quarterbacks will find new homes in the National Football League.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

5. A.J. McCarron – Alabama

People have made excuses that A.J. McCarron isn’t all that we think he is because he was surrounded by the best team in the nation at Alabama. Maybe he was; but then again maybe the players around him were that good because he was there. A.J. had a magnificent run as a three-year starter down in Tuscaloosa, commanding a dynasty that took three years and a miracle to unseat as the consensus number one team in college football. Many have tagged him as a game manager and I feel that’s a low blow for a guy with two national titles; Andy Dalton is a game manager; Christian Ponder is a game manager; A.J. McCarron is more than that. Standing at 6’3″, 220lbs, he might be the most consistent quarterback in this entire draft and he’s steadily improved his numbers year after year. Don’t sleep on A.J.

Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

4. Blake Bortles – UCF

I had the pleasure of watching Bortles pick apart Penn State’s secondary first hand back when he was still a no-name QB. Now, he’s in consideration to be the number one overall pick in the entire draft. Funny how that happens. Bortles is one big dude, standing at 6’5″, 232lbs and he possesses great arm strength that scouts covet. I don’t think he’s the most consistent QB in the world and he comes off as sort of nonchalant to me. He’s been compared to Big Ben, which makes sense; he’s fairly mobile for such a big guy, but he needs to polish his all around game first. I think he’ll be a solid NFL QB if he can learn how to be a true field general. His ceiling remains high.

Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

3. Jimmy Garoppolo – Eastern Illinois

Garoppolo is one of the more intriguing prospects in this years quarterback class. He’s a national name from a small school; the same one Tony Romo played at. He won the Walter Payton Award as the FCS’ most outstanding player after throwing for over 5,000 yards. He vastly improved his senior year, going from 31 TDs and 29 INTs as a junior to 48 TDs and 15 INTs a season ago; that’s one of the most important stats a quarterback can have and it shows how much better he can get at the next level. At 6’2″, 226lbs, Garoppolo throws passes with perfect touch and has a great starting skill set for an incoming rookie quarterback. He’ll probably go behind a few other names because of popular demand, but he’s a strong pick in the second round of May’s draft.

Getty Images

Getty Images

2. Connor Shaw – South Carolina

Yes, Connor Shaw. The kid was easily the most under appreciated quarterback in college football during his career at South Carolina and was overshadowed by the likes of Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney on his own roster. At 6’0″, 206lbs, Shaw is incredibly mobile, running a 4.66 40 in Indy; but his scrambles are calculated moves, not wild improvisation like Johnny Manziel. He’s a tough, heady kid who had complete command of his offense under the old ball coach, Steve Spurrier. As a senior, Shaw had the 10th best passer rating in the nation at 162.9 and threw 24 touchdowns compared to just one interception. His arm is incredibly underrated; his ball placement is superb and he’s got one of the better deep balls I’ve seen. Out of every quarterback out there, Shaw is most similar to Russell Wilson than anyone else; their games are nearly identical. Only a bold team will take a chance on this kid, but he will find a way to contribute at the next level one way or another. Watch the tape.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

1. Derek Carr – Fresno State

Not only is Carr my favorite QB in this draft, but I also believe he’s the best as well. At Fresno State, Carr threw for 3,544, 4,104 and 5,082 yards in each of his three seasons as the starter while amassing 113 touchdowns in that time span. He lead the nation is passing yards and touchdowns last season and also completed nearly 70% of his passes his junior and senior seasons. The stat I like the most, however, is the fact he threw less than 10 interceptions in each of his 3 seasons as a starter. A fiery, emotional leader, Carr has the “it” factor when it comes to rallying the troops. His teammates love and respect him as their captain and those traits will serve him quite well at the next level. At 6’2″, 214lbs, scouts have questioned his footwork at times but his natural throwing ability makes up for whatever qualms they may have. It would be cool to see him follow in his brother’s footsteps and go number one overall to Houston; David Carr also played at Fresno State and was the first Texan in history. Whoever ends up getting him, though, will have one heck of a quarterback on their hands.

Left Off

No, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel are not on this list. I’m one of those guys that doesn’t think Manziel’s game translates to the NFL, even if he is the greatest college football player ever. I mentioned earlier that he uses “wild improvisation.” His scrambling stunts won’t work against men who are professionals at chasing and tackling. He also has yet to take a legitimate hit. If he want’s to succeed at the next level, he’ll have to mightily improve his passing game. As for Bridgewater, he’s still lean and also has yet to take a big hit. Nothing about his personality or game really “wows” me. He’s a nice athlete and a fine quarterback, but I just don’t see things playing out in his favor. Disagree? Gimme a piece of your mind!

Three “Told You So’s” for 2014

Posted By Jack Tumen

Predictions predictions predictions. We make a million of them and we’re probably right about less than half of the time. Nonetheless, we continue to predict because let’s be honest, it’s fun to say “I told you so.” So here are three of my “told you so’s” for the 2014 NFL season.

Bill Reilly

Bill Reilly

1. The Baltimore Ravens will win 11 games in 2014.

Birdland experienced a classic Super Bowl hangover following their 2012 championship run, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs all together. Safe to say, losing Ray Lewis left a glaring hole in the leadership department. Ray Rice had his worst season since his rookie year in 2008, rushing for a meager 660 yards with 4 TDs on a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry. Joe Flacco actually set a career mark in passing, going for 3,912 yards, but negated that with only 19 TDs to 22 INTs. Previously, he’d only thrown 10 or 12 INTs in a season (10 twice, 12 three times.)

Let’s be real; Flacco didn’t deserve half of that $120 mil. contract. It was more like a “thanks for winning us a Super Bowl.” He’s not an elite QB; he’s a totally fine QB. At the same time, losing Dennis Pitta hurt the team in a huge way. It further exploited the lack of depth they had at the receiver position. I’m a huge fan of Torrey Smith, but Jacoby Jones was forced to do his best impersonation of a number two receiver when in reality he’s a number three at best.

I really think that Steve Smith was a great addition for that offense. He may not be as explosive as he was five years ago but he’s an emotional leader that will steady the offense and draw some attention away from Torrey Smith. Having Pitta back for a full season will also help Flacco regain his underlying sense of confidence. On top of that, the Ravens received four compensatory picks from the league: a 3rd, two 4ths and a 5th rounder. That’s quite generous if you ask me. Look for a bounce-back year from these fellas.

Beck Diefenbach/AP Photo

Beck Diefenbach/AP Photo

2. Rashad Jennings will rush for 1,000 yards.

One of the best free agent signings, in my opinion, was the Giants grabbing running back, Rashad Jennings. Any time this guy gets the rock – whether it was behind MJD in Jacksonville or filling in for DMC in Oakland – he gives it 110%. Jennings is a fluid north-south runner with excellent hands out of the backfield. Heck, he even blocked a punt in 2013! Most importantly, he’s a high-character guy who will bring much needed stability to a Giants’ backfield that ranked 29th in rushing last year.

After losing David Wilson to injury early in the year, Big Blue was forced to shuffle between Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox and Brandon Jacobs while waiting for Andre Brown’s return from a broken leg. Jennings’ signing doesn’t bode well for Wilson, a former first round pick who possesses all the athleticism in the world but lacks consistency with ball protection. With Andre Brown hitting the free agent market, look for the 29-year-old Jennings to lead the Giants’ backfield and surpass 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career. His highlight reel is pretty impressive too.

3. Tampa Bay Will Have a Top 5 Defense.

Buccaneers.com

Buccaneers.com

With the nightmare that was the Greg Schiano era behind them, the Buccaneers get a fresh start with new Head Coach, Lovie Smith. Lovie returns to Tampa Bay where his NFL career began as their linebackers’ coach from 1996-2000. Now he has a chance to turn around a young roster that’s full of potential.

A defensive-minded coach, Lovie inherits a defense loaded with talent. Gerald McCoy is a top three D-tackle. Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron might be the best safety duo in the league. Adrian Clayborn is one of the best lineman that no one talks about. Lavonte David and Mason Foster are studs at linebacker while Jonathan Banks is an up-and-coming corner.

Yet, this group was utterly average last year, ranking 17th in total defense. So with a few quick phone calls, Lovie decided to bolster that defense by cleaning up in free agency. He signed DE Michael Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner, DT Clinton McDonald and CB Mike Jenkins (also TE Brandon Meyers on offense, pictured above. Major bouce-back candidate.)

Johnson is only two years removed from an 11.5 sack season; he was sidelined by a concussion for most of 2013 but is a fine-tuned machine at defensive end when healthy. Verner was brought in to replace the baggage that is Darrelle Revis and will pair up with a comeback-minded Jenkins and Jonathan Banks to make an athletic and fast trio in the secondary. McDonald is the least-known name on this list, but he knows what a defense is supposed to look like after contributing to Seattle’s Super-Bowl-winning squad last season.

On top of all that, maybe Lovie will be able to wake up the sleeping giant that is Da’Quan Bowers, who has been a disappointment thus far in his NFL career.

New GM, new Head Coach and new uniforms; there’s a lot to like about this group and it’s one that I have high hopes for going into 2014.