For the last several years, The NFL’s traditional game honoring the best players around the league, the Pro Bowl, continues to lose its meaning and significance. Turning into a popularity contest like that of the NBA’s All-Star Game, plenty of players are missing out on a check that they are commendable of because either they do not play on the best team, their play is being overlooked or simply because they aren’t a household name, the latter conceivably being the main reason.

The 2014 NFL Pro Bowl had a couple of players deserving of the job from many positions. One person who should have made it is Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who threw for almost three thousand yards, tossed 27 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions; a popular quarterback who got in is Tom Brady, who is arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the sport, but was not necessarily up to par this season due to losing three of his top weapons – wide receiver Wes Welker to free agency, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to injuries and off the field issues – while in the process of getting acclimated with rookies Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Despite the fact that Tom Brady threw for almost 1,500 more yards than Foles, Foles did however toss three more touchdowns and eight less interceptions in four less games than Brady, while also possessing an NFL rating of 119.2 in comparison to Tom’s 88.0.

That is just an iota of a sample to show the direction the Pro Bowl is headed in. The left tackle position has become so heralded that no right offensive tackles were chosen for the 2014 Pro Bowl. But that is neither here nor there. Arguably the most difficult position in the NFL, the cornerback position, had a few members of their fraternity snubbed of a Pro Bowl ballot by other satisfactory cornerbacks, but one can argue that a couple of the guys who got in over others was because of popularity. One of the all time great cornerbacks Deion Sanders had a huge part in choosing who got in, as he and Jerry Rice are captains in this years’ Pro Bowl, a new dimension to the game attempting to help it regain its significance. There are a couple of cornerbacks who irrefutably deserved the trip and got their ticket, but some of the player options are questionable at the position.

One traditional aspect of the Pro Bowl that has been lost is the equal amount of players from both conferences at certain positions. The 2014 Pro Bowl roster at the cornerback position features eight cornerbacks –Alterraun Verner, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Brent Grimes, Brandon Flowers, Aqib Talib and Joe Haden – only three of the eight representing the National Football Conference (Revis, Peterson, Sherman), while the other five are from the AFC. One quandary with the new method of selection is that a team like the Kansas City Chiefs, who went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 in 2013, have had a significant amount of recognition from around the league throughout the season. That being said, a guy like Brandon Flowers, who has played exceptionally well in previous seasons, has not necessarily been the same cornerback, despite the team overall improving and him being one of the captains. Compared to his 2012 season alone when the team went 2-14, Flowers was targeted eighty times and allowed forty receptions, surrendering 479 yards and allowing 3 touchdowns, while also intercepting three passes. In 2013, Flowers fell victim to uncertain circumstances, as the Chiefs secondary got better, but he became one of its weakest links. Flowers gave up sixty-four receptions in the 2013 regular season on ninety-six targets, a 66.7 completion percentage compared to his 50 percent he surrendered in 2012. The receiving yards he gave up also almost doubled, from 479 to 846, one interception compared to three and allowing four touchdowns, a 103-passer rating on him alone by opposing quarterbacks (65.6 in 2012). One can find ways to defend Flowers’ downplay from 2012 to 2013 by stating the heavy dosage of man coverage the Chiefs run, as well as Flowers transitioning to their nickel cornerback role, as covering a slot wide receiver can be one of the toughest tasks in the sport. They have the option to go inside or outside on corners, while that corner has no help in either direction in most cases. But the juxtaposition of his statistics in the given two seasons is reasonable evidence for Flowers to have not been a 2014 Pro Bowler.

Image(kansas.com)

One person who should have been considered a Pro Bowl recipient over Flowers is Philadelphia Eagles’ cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boykin is Philly’s nickel corner, which, once again, can be argued as the most difficult position in the NFL. Targeted four times less than Flowers was, Boykin allowed eleven less receptions than Flowers, almost 200 less yards and one less touchdown, while intercepting six balls of his own, allowing a mere 65.5 quarterback rating on opponents when throwing his way. Wes Welker took the position of slot wide receiver to another level; in week four against the Denver Broncos, Boykin was targeted six times, allowed four catches and one touchdown to Welker, but only 37 yards in an Eagles defeat to the Broncos. Flowers was on Welker for the majority of the duration in the Chiefs two meetings against Denver. In week 11, Flowers did not allow a touchdown, but did fall victim to eight receptions on nine targets for eighty-two yards; in week thirteen, Flowers allowed 120 yards on five catches and two touchdowns (one of the catches being a 41-yard touchdown while defending Eric Decker, not Wes Welker). Boykin has had his growing pains sporadically this season, but he has conceivably eclipsed Broncos’ cornerback Chris Harris as the best nickel cornerback in the sport, as Harris has worked his way into being the starter and Champ Bailey the Broncos’ nickel. Boykin displayed his value in a win-or-go-home week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys, as he had the game-winning crucial interception that sealed the game and an Eagles playoff birth.

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Another NFC cornerback who considerably should have gotten a Pro Bowl bid over Flowers is Green Bay Packers’ Sam Shields. Shields has dealt with the growing pains of shadowing the best wide receivers on opposing teams from AJ Green to Calvin Johnson to Dez Bryant. But Shields has never gotten discouraged, as his numbers and film have shown. Shields, a wide receiver at the University of Miami who converted to cornerback his senior year of college has shown vast improvements the past two seasons when given a bigger task. He conceivably has the best closing speed in the sport, and similar to Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, he has the hands and breaking speed of a wide receiver as they were both heavily recruited at the position in high school to their early college years. Shields has given up 50 percent of balls thrown his way, 42 out of 84, while also recording four interceptions and twelve passes defensed, compared to five for Flowers.

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Shields and Boykin are two cornerbacks mentioned not only for their exceptional play this season, but because they are in the NFC, and the position would have still been a quid pro quo tradeoff if either of the two were selected as opposed to Flowers, evening the odds of four corners from each conference in the Pro Bowl, rather than five from the AFC and three from the NFC. Other NFC recipients who could have been considered, even though they haven’t been starters for the entire season are Byron Maxwell of the Seahawks, Tramaine Brock of the San Francisco 49ers and Captain Munnerlyn of the Carolina Panthers. The three cornerbacks mentioned have not been playing on the same level of Alterraun Verner or Richard Sherman, but they have been as important to their team as Brandon Flowers has been to the Chiefs.

The list goes on and on of other cornerbacks who could have been considered rather than Brandon Flowers. From Jason McCourty to Logan Ryan to Chris Harris; several other cornerbacks played with the tenacity that Flowers exemplifies on the field while statistically having a year as good or even better than that of Flowers’. Oakland Raiders free agent to be wide receiver Jacoby Ford even said Flowers was the best corner he ever had to deal with, along with Champ Bailey. But as for the 2013 NFL regular season, Flowers has not had a Pro Bowl caliber season, therefore showing that the Pro Bowl is becoming a popularity contest and players whose names are not common at the moment in the NFL are being stripped of a golden opportunity. When a player goes into the Hall of Fame, the number of times he has been to the Pro Bowl is almost mentioned every time. There might be an asterisk next to that accomplishment in the future for Pro Bowl recipients to be.

(Please note: the statistics used in this post were provided by http://www.profootballfocus.com)

Image(blog.chron.com. Photo by Dale Robertson)

The team with the ninth overall defense has been getting little recognition over the past couple of years, but now that the Tennessee Titans have brought in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, their defense is one not to take lightly, as they have a bunch of stars flying under the radar. With the few exceptions of defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, the Titans entire defense is full of guys they drafted that have blossomed into some very good professionals. They have done a great job of drafting and infusing the confidence in their players to get the job done. Currently sitting with a 3-1 record, their only loss coming in overtime to the Houston Texans, the Titans are making it clear for the prognosticators to not hand over the AFC South crown to the Texans or Andrew Luck’s Colts. There are a few players atop of that roster who are homegrown players, turning into one of the best in the NFL at their position.

Image(cstv.collegesports.com. Photo by Jordan Moore)

The Titans selected one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft. His name is Jurrell Casey. The third year pro out of USC fell into a deep class of defensive tackles, as he was passed on for guys like Phil Taylor (Browns), Nick Fairley (Lions,), Stephen Paea (Bears) and Marcell Dareus (Bills). It is safe to say that Taylor and Dareus have been phenomenal picks by their respected teams, but none of the defensive tackles drafted ahead of him are infallible and easily separate themselves from Casey. Casey trails only Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy in terms of QB pressures, which constitute QB sacks, hits and hurries. If you turn on any game tape of him, it is clear as day what a mismatch he is to centers and offensive guards, and his hand work is arguably second to only JJ Watt. During the 2011 draft, the whispers were that Jurrell Casey was too short (6’1”) to be a productive defensive tackle in the NFL, which might factor in to why he dropped to the third round. But just like Bengals’ defensive tackle Geno Atkins, Casey has proved the doubters wrong thus far, as he has showed the Titans organization that they made the right selection, choosing him where they did and him not landing on an opposing teams roster.

Image(bleacherreport.com. Photo by Benjamin Mott)

Another secret superstar who is making noise around the NFL for the Titans is second year linebacker Zach Brown. The second round pick Zach Brown ran a blazing 4.50 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Combine, something that we have seen in previous years from several other linebackers. But what Brown has proven is that his speed and undersize is best for today’s NFL, as more teams are running the read option and more spread formations. Brown is currently second among all 4-3 outside linebackers with three sacks and has the third best pass coverage and second best run defense grade according to Pro Football Focus. The 52nd overall pick in 2012 isn’t going anywhere soon, nor is his teammate Jurrell Casey. It will be best if we all get familiar with them as quickly as possible.

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Most teams drool at the fact that the can have one of the best players at their position on their team on all three levels of the defense. Head coach Mike Munchak and defensive coordinator might want to pick their jaws up off the floor, because they may very well have three of the best this year. Other than Casey and Brown who are domestic (for lack of a better word) draft picks, the Titans also have a premiere cornerback who is falling into his rhythm as well. While there is somewhat of a residual effect around the NFL as we are seeing teams feel like it is their onus to draft a cornerback above six feet with the new breed of receivers built like Calvin Johnson, the Titans have 5’10” Alterraun Verner maturing into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Quarterbacks have a 12.9 QB rating throwing at Alterraun Verner, which is the lowest rating any cornerback has surrendered in the NFL. On 23 pass attempts, quarterbacks have completed just eight passes when throwing at Verner, and he has defensed four of those passes and intercepted another four, which is tied for the league lead. In his fourth year out of UCLA, Verner is also in the final year of his contract. If he keeps playing the way he has, he is due for a huge payday either with the team that selected him or anywhere else in the NFL. Every year he has shown progress, and through four games in 2013, these are the most gradual steps he has made in his young NFL career.

It will be interesting to see the Titans retain Verner, Brown and Casey. But given that the business side of the NFL isn’t always what one would want it to be, who knows what will be next for each of these individuals. The gyration that the entire team is showing is one for them to be competitive for years to come. These three unselfish players with huge upside are great faces for the Titans organization. Will be interesting to see if the Titans can retain them, as well as others in the near future. Be sure to keep an eye on these three lethal weapons.

Can the Raiders Upset the Broncos?

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImageLamarr Houston getting the team ready (Raiders.com)

There is a laundry list of reasons that the Oakland Raiders are fourteen point underdogs heading into Denver for a Monday Night Football matchup. Not even resorting to the decade of egregious performances on the field, but under the new regime of Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie alone, the Raiders have struggled coming off a win. There isn’t much real estate to work with here, being that Allen and McKenzie are only in their second year, but of the four wins last seasons, the Raiders looked impotent, especially their defense being porous. As Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News pointed out, after Oakland beat Pittsburgh last season, the following week they lost 37-6 to Denver, surrendering over 500 yards of offense. When they beat Kansas City on the road in week 7, the following week they gave up over 500 yards again and almost 300 yards rushing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 42-32 loss at home. They also lost to the Panthers after beating Kansas City the previous week, the offense only accumulating 189 total yards.

            But this season, despite us only seeing two weeks of regular season football, this Raiders team is not the same from last year. Denver has faced the Ravens and Giants so far, and the Raiders’ offense and defense have performed better than both teams so far, as Oakland’s offense has the #1 rushing offense in the league and are tied for first place in the sack category thus far. That being said, can Oakland prove the doubters wrong and pull off an upset, or at the very least frustrate the gamblers who are betting on the 14-point spread?

Image Safety Usama Young gets the sack (photo credit http://www.SBReport.net)

            The Denver Broncos got bad news earlier this week that the Raiders are more familiar with than any other team in the NFL; Broncos’ star and one of the best LTs in the NFL, Ryan Clady has suffered a lisfranc injury that will sideline him for a significant portion of the 2013 season, if not the rest of the year. Raiders’ RB Darren McFadden and WR Jacoby Ford both suffered from the injury the past two seasons, and neither were able to recover in the same season. The bad news that Clady is out is bad for Denver as backup Chris Clark will be stuck with trying to cool down Raiders DE Lamarr Houston, who has been on fire to start the season. According to www.profootballfocus.com, Houston leads the NFL with QB disruptions (sacks, hits and hurries combined:16). In his contract year, Houston has been proving why he should be one of the homegrown players in Oakland who deserves a contract extension, as the Raiders have secured Marcel Reece, Sebastian Janikowski and Jon Condo.

            As the pendulum swings to the Broncos’ defense, they are still without one of the NFL’s best defensive players in Von Miller, and cornerback Champ Bailey is questionable to play next Monday. Offensive Line coach Tony Sparano has done well without LT Jared Veldheer and RT Menelik Watson, as the Raiders picked up FA Tony Pashos and moved Khalif Barnes to LT, which worried a lot of people, but both have helped Terrelle Pryor keep his jersey clean. And without Von Miller (and Elvis Dumervil due to a fax machine), the Broncos’ pass rush will come from former San Diego Charger Sean Phillips. Phillips has done a good job of getting to the quarterback so far, as he has three sacks and five QB hurries through two games, via PFF. The other pass rush comes from the other two levels, as LB Wesley Woodyard and CB Chris Harris have also made their presence felt on blitzes so far for the Broncos’ DC Jack Del Rio.

ImagePryor eluding pressure and making a play (photo credit http://www.SBReport.Net

            One thing the Broncos have not seen so far this season is a mobile quarterback. The Broncos’ defense is only giving up 40 rushing yards per game through two weeks, and the Oakland Raiders have the #1 rush offense in the NFL, averaging almost 200 yards a game and have eight runs of over 20 yards. The read option that Oakland has adopted with QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Darren McFadden and interchangeably Marcel Reece and Rashad Jennings has shown some promise in Oakland. The Indianapolis Colts got torched by Terrelle Pryor, leading to the Jacksonville Jaguars to focus on him, which led to Darren McFadden having a huge game and Reece scoring a touchdown. Denver might be able to stagnate one of the crowded bunch the Raiders have to feature, but some big runs will do justice for the Raiders, giving their defense rest, keeping Peyton Manning off the field and wearing down the depleted, yet reliable Broncos defense.

            Raiders WR Denarius Moore had a bad game in week two against the Jags, while Rod Streater and Jacoby Ford did their best with limited opportunities to provide needed assistance for Terrelle Pryor. The Broncos have been using arguably the best nickel cornerback, Chris Harris, on the outside with Bailey injured, and Harris has shown struggles out there on the island. In the slot is a different story. That being said, if Pryor sees Harris on the outside against Streater or Moore, he should take advantage of that opportunity. Pryor left some plays on the field in week two, as he went through his progressions too fast at times, as if he were a bit more patient, his WR was wide open.

            The Oakland Raiders are to be without star SS Tyvon Branch for a couple of weeks, meaning safeties Usama Young and Brandian Ross will be forced to step up against Peyton Manning, as the two of them, as well as Charles Woodson, will be forced to come down in certain nickel situations as well as cover emerging tight end Julius Thomas. We can more than likely expect Peyton Manning to throw several times against Oakland, as he is averaging 46 pass attempts per game. Not to say it is Manning’s intentions to create an aerial assault on teams, as he has a slew of weapons to choose from. But the Broncos’ offensive line has been disastrous in run blocking, something that they and the Raiders have in common. Denver however does have a three running back rotation, and an above average running back should be able to create some of their own opportunities, rather than the relying on the offensive line to open up holes to spring them free.

            Rather than being scrupulous against the Denver defense, the Raiders have to go into Mile High stadium with the same stoic attitude that they have carried under head coach Dennis Allen. Disguising the defense against Peyton Manning, the offense staying aggressive and special teams continuing to not allow the opponents to start with great field position will be critical for the Raiders if they want to upset the Colts and leave the prognosticators who often pick against them bemused. This Oakland Raider team has played with more heart in the first two games than almost every other team put on the team after the year 2002. They will not go into Mile High Stadium afraid of Peyton Manning, but fear is not what will cause them to lose. As long as they continue to play with the same synergy we have seen so far this season, do not be surprised if the Denver Broncos are on upset alert.

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A bit of a controversy for a starting job has surfaced in Oakland after the third preseason game, as Terrelle Pryor continues to prove that he is here to be a starting quarterback, rather than settling for the backup job. He made his biggest claim of being the starter against the Chicago Bears, as he completed seven of nine passes, threw for a touchdown and ran for another. The Oakland Raiders’ offense looked out of sync with Matt Flynn at the helm; it was not as if Flynn was a lost soul who could not capitalize on golden opportunities. The offensive line played egregiously horrible, and every time Flynn dropped back to pass, he saw a Bears defender in his face. There was also miscommunication with Flynn and the receivers on hot routes, something we saw last season with Palmer and the receivers. So in all fairness, Flynn possibly losing the starting job for good is not completely his fault. A team that lacks protection up front and significant offensive talent is best with a mobile quarterback, a claim that Terrelle Pryor is trying to prove.

When Terrelle Pryor entered the NFL, it was best to watch him practice if you wanted to get a good laugh in. But since then, he has come a long way, from fighting for a third quarterback position to a starter. Against Chicago, even though the stat sheet showed that he was 7-9 for 93 yards and a touchdown, there was something in that box score that the statistics did not show. Pryor’s ability to keep the Raiders out of 2nd or 3rd and long, as well as his converting on long downs and distances is a key argument why he should be the starting quarterback.

Terrelle Pryor first entered the game with less than a minute left in the second quarter when the Raiders were down 27-0. From 1st and 10, a six-yard completion to tight end Richard Gordon ended up making it 2nd and 4, which led to a first down scramble by Pryor with 18 seconds left in the half. Following that, Pryor completed a beautiful pass to Mychael Rivera for 26 yards, floating the ball over the linebacker and dropping it right into Rivera’s hands, leading to a 58-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal to end the half.

In the second half, after a 2nd and 4 first down run by Rashad Jennings was negated by a holding call, the Raiders faced a 2nd and 14, in which Terrelle Pryor converted an acrobatic 19 yard pass to Rod Streater, leading to another Raider first down, eluding pressure and breaking tackles to avoid a sack. On the same drive, an unnecessary roughness penalty by a Bears defender gave the Raiders better field position, and on 2nd and 10 from the 25-yard line, we saw Terrelle Pryor run for a touchdown, again bailing the Raiders out of long down and distance and putting points on the board.

Image(Raiders.com)

On the preceding drive with Pryor at QB, where the Raiders’ defense recovered a fumble, giving them great field to work with, Pryor scrambled for four yards on 3rd and 6, leading to 4th and 2. Nine times out of ten in the preseason, teams go for it on fourth down with only two yards to go. Unfortunately for Oakland, head coach Dennis Allen decided to bring in Sebastian Janikowski and settles for a field goal, which is still questionable to this day. Given Pryor’s skill set and the range of different plays they could have called, it would have been worthy of Oakland going for it, to make the QB battle all the more intriguing, had the offense converted on 4th and 2.

Terrelle Pryor was in the game for one more drive following the Janikowski field goal, and to little surprise, the Raiders put up more points on the board. Facing a 3rd and 16 from the 19-yard line, converting that play would seem virtually impossible in recent years of the Oakland Raiders. However, on a one-step drop out of shotgun formation, QB Terrelle Pryor hit rookie TE Nick Kasa on his back shoulder up the middle of the field, away from the linebacker and safety, leading to another Raider touchdown.

Image(raiders.com)

Granted, three of the four scoring drives were against the Bears second unit defense, but it was the Raiders’ second offensive unit on the final two scoring drives with Pryor at QB.

As Pryor will be starting the final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, he may only be out there for two or three drives, as the preseason finale is primarily for the guys fighting for a roster spot to make a claim that they are deserving of making the 53-man roster. In the few outings that Pryor will be out there, it is important that he impresses, whether Oakland puts points on the board or not. They will be without WR Rod Streater and RB Darren McFadden, so it will be a bit difficult evaluating Pryor with a first unit missing a couple of its key players. But if he keeps the chains moving and shows more evidence that his accuracy has improved, Oakland might have found their starting quarterback heading into the 2013 NFL regular season. They take the field against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday at 7pm. There should be fireworks, as all eyes will be on number 2 for the Oakland Raiders.

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Some may call him stubborn, cocky or even arrogant, but if you ask any of his opponents, Floyd Mayweather is the complete package once they enter the ring. The infallible unbeaten champ, Floyd Mayweather still has five fights remaining on his current six-fight contract with Showtime/CBS over the next 30 months for up to $250 million. One of those opponents are already set in stone, as he will face Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on September 14th, a fight that is sure to break the 2.5 million Pay-Per-View buys record that Mayweather set in 2007 against Oscar De La Hoya. And being that it took six years for a fight of such magnitude to come remotely close to the Mayweather-De La Hoya record, it may be unfathomable for Mayweather to eclipse those numbers again after September 14th. However, that does not discredit whoever are the final four opponents after Alvarez in the Mayweather sweepstakes before he hangs his gloves up for good*. There are several junior welterweights moving up to welterweight, as well as already being quality opponents at 147 and junior middleweight. Lets take a guess at who will be Money Mayweather’s remaining four opponents; that is if he obliges to go the distance of what he signed off on.

 

1. Danny Garcia – 26-0, or Lucas Matthysse – 34-2

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            Richard Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya have made Floyd Mayweather a very wealthy man at Golden Boy Promotions. Since he has defeated the Golden Boy himself, Floyd Mayweather has fought opponents under GBP in Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero and now Saul Alvarez. Other than Alvarez, the cash cow at Golden Boy Promotions will be the winner of the Garcia-Matthysse fight, which is a co-main event to the Mayweather-Alvarez card on September 14th. Floyd should be favored to win no matter which of the two he faces, given his experience and comfort level as a welterweight, as both Matthysse and Garcia are junior welterweights and will have to move up a class to clash with the Pound-for-Pound king. Matthysse is a fighter who comes forward and tries to dictate the pace of the fight by cutting the ring off from his opponents and throwing vicious hooks with either his right or left hand, while Garcia is a fighter who can cut the ring off as well, but does so many other small things right that Matthysse doesn’t. As boxing Hall of Famer Al Bernstein eloquently put it, “Danny Garcia isn’t great at anything, but he is pretty good at everything.” Not counting out either fighter, as Matthysse has one of the highest KO percentages in the sport and Garcia has proven to win as the underdog for primarily his entire career. But which ever gets a date with Floyd better have the best training camp of their life and leave it all on the table. Hopefully for Matthysse, his power comes up a weight class with him when he ventures as a welterweight.

 

2. Amir “King” Khan – 28-3

Image(telegraph.co.uk)

            Unlike the Garcia – Matthysse fight where it is difficult in deciding who will win the bout, I believe (if they fight) Amir Khan will return to old form against Devon Alexander and reign supreme, putting himself in the Mayweather sweepstakes as a possible opponent. Khan and Mayweather might have clashed in the past if Khan fought Lamont Peterson on fair ground and had a looping hook from Danny Garcia not caught him on the temple, which was the beginning of the end of that fight. Slowly Khan has been regaining his composure and confidence, as he has fought an up and comer in Carlos Molina and a seasoned veteran with seven losses in Julio Diaz. That does not take anything from Khan’s skills however, as he has some of the quickest hands in the sport of boxing. He also is a good businessman, and we all know Floyd Mayweather is all about business. Amir Khan’s biggest vulnerability is his fragile chin, which has let him down in the fights he should have won. Hopefully under new trainer Virgil Hunter will prepare him for bigger fights and improve Khan’s defense, as Hunter has worked with the #2 P4P champ Andre Ward since day one, who conceivably is the best defender in the sport behind Mayweather (and probably Guillermo Rigondeaux). Good luck, Amir.

 

3. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez – 42-0-1

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            Yes, I do think Floyd will see Canelo again before it is all said and done. On top of that, I do think Mayweather defeats Canelo on September 14th, but it will not be as one-sided as how Floyd did Robert Guerrero. However, Canelo has shown signs of getting winded in fights and taking rounds off when he knows he is up in the fight to catch his breath. Being in the same shape he was in against Austin Trout on September 14th will lead to Floyd Mayweather to do him exactly how he did Arturo Gatti, as Canelo is also flat-footed at times. Canelo does, for the first time have an endurance coach to help him be in the best shape he has ever been in. Hopefully that will help him against Floyd Mayweather, the most accurate puncher in the sport. But if Canelo attempts to take rounds off, Mayweather will recollect how he did Gatti and will find his truth serum in the middle of the fight. September 14th will be a classic.

 

4. Keith “One Time” Thurman – 21-0

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            The eighth-ranked welterweight to Ring Magazine, Thurman has stayed active in the sport and said Mayweather is on his radar. Thurman has done what Gennady “GGG” Golovkin has done recently – stay active in the sport and your title shot will come. Thurman fought four times in 2012 and twice in 2013, while still looking for a possible fight before the end of the year. Hypothetically, if Thurman fights once again in 2013, two or three times in 2014 and once in 2015 before a date with Mayweather (assuming Floyd fights twice in 2014 and on Cinco De Mayo weekend in 2015 before a clash with Thurman), Thurman could possibly be 26-0 with probably 24 KOs heading into a payday with Money Mayweather on the final fight of his contract. Thurman has been calling out the wannabe Mayweather, Adrien Broner, and if he get that fight soon, it’ll be more believable that he can cash in with a dance with Floyd. Thurman is one of the best in the sport at cutting the ring off from his opponent and Floyd Mayweather has arguably the best defense in the history of the sport. A fight between them (assuming Thurman keeps getting better) will show us what it is like when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. A confluence between Thurman, with his impressive offense and any great defensive fighter is a dream matchup. Why not go against the best?

 

A couple of honorable mention fighters Floyd could possibly fight are Devon Alexander if he beats Amir Khan, Kell Brook if he fights some quality opponents and win, as well as Marcos Maidana if he undeniably beats Adrien Broner. “Vicious” Victor Ortiz has pleaded that he deserves a rematch with Floyd Mayweather and we are not sure when he will return to the ring, but he may have to go through a few quality guys before he is back in the sweepstakes. Mayweather has hinted at fighting past his six-fight contract, assuming he wins all his fights, he will be 49-0, the same record as legendary heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano. Will he go for 50-0? We shall see, especially if the money is right.

            And no, I don’t think Mr. Miyagi will fight Daniel son, meaning Floyd will not fight Adrien Broner.

In an interview after the NFL draft, Reggie McKenzie said he was fully aware of the players on the roster who are in the final year of their contracts. And in the past seven days, the Oakland Raiders have announced that they have extended kicker Sebastian Janikowski and long snapper Jon Condo to four-year and three-year extensions, respectively. It has been a very busy offseason for Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders, who are playing the underdogs to the naysayers around the NFL. Some might assume that re-signing a place kicker and long snapper are not big business, but when the kicker is the longest tenured on the team, and only person on the roster who was around when the Raiders last had a winning season is more important than one might assume. So now that Condo and Janikowski are extended, the question begins to surface as to who will next be extended by Oakland?

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            The Oakland Raiders’ biggest weapon, Darren McFadden is the person who McKenzie was asked about the most in the offseason in terms of questions on contract extensions. McKenzie said he wants to get a new contract for Darren as soon as possible, but in an interview during OTAs, McFadden said they have yet to discuss a new contract. That can possibly be due to DMC’s lack of durability, as he has yet to play a full season in his first five years as a pro. As soon as the 2013 football season started, McFadden was asked by head coach Dennis Allen about how he felt about the failed attempt to adjusting to the zone blocking offense. McFadden told coach Allen and McKenzie his displeasure for the system, which factored into them hiring offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who features a downhill running scheme. McKenzie’s effort to hiring an OC who will bring out the best in Oakland’s players, including McFadden, shows that he wants to win and believes this Raiders team can compete. If they do and McFadden plays a full season, we could possibly be seeing Darren McFadden getting a contract extension; maybe not before week one of this regular season, but possibly near the end of the season or the offseason, judging by the number of games McFadden plays.

            Utility back Marcel Reece could possibly be the next Oakland Raider extended before Darren McFadden, who he actually came into the NFL with. Reece, the former college WR, could be the cheapest among the integral pieces in Oakland who has an expiring contract. Vonta Leach, who is arguably the best FB in the NFL, signed a 3-year contract in 2011 with the Baltimore Ravens for $11 million. Those numbers could be manageable for a new contract for FB Marcel Reece in Oakland. Reece is the starting fullback in Oakland, but has played RB, TE and WR. He doesn’t complain about being needed elsewhere, yet does everything he is asked of. If Reece’s new contract is more than the one Leach got from Baltimore in 2011, maybe it will be for four years with a bit less guaranteed money, including incentives (which are accomplishable). Reece has said he wants to retire an Oakland Raider. Hopefully he is in the foreseeable future that Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen has in place.

            Wide Receiver Jacoby Ford has missed 24 of the last 32 NFL games due to injuries. And the whispers in training camp have been that he is standing out like he did in his 2010 rookie season, where he averaged 18 yards per catch and returned three kick returns. Ford can be like Randall Cobb in Green Bay – versatile enough to play on the outside, at slot and even in the backfield when needed. If Ford can stay healthy, he will be a quality safety blanket for whoever is the starting QB week one. And with Josh Cribbs, who is arguably the best returner in NFL history (statistically, at least) Ford can benefit learning small things from Cribbs that will take Ford a long way as a kick returner. Oakland has signed undrafted rookie WR Sam McGuffie, who is also a slot receiver. That can be insurance in case Ford goes down again, and Cribbs as a returner in case Ford is injured. But, given the mentality that this Raider team has that they can be winners this upcoming season, the robustness of Jacoby Ford’s health is essential to the future of the Oakland Raiders, and this season will define if he is next in line to be signed to a contract extension.

            Left Tackle Jared Veldheer, aka the Hulk, has bulked up this offseason and is willing to prove that he can be one of the best blind side protectors in the NFL. In a contract year, the starting QB might factor in to if Veldheer is given a contract extension during the season or in the 2014 offseason. That being said, if Matt Flynn is the starter, we will see the Veldheer that we are accustomed to seeing, a left tackle who wants to be one of the best in the league. Terrelle Pryor as the starting QB could possibly benefit Veldheer as well, given his athleticism. Raiders 2nd round pick RT Menelik Watson allowed only one sack last season in college. That could possibly be due to his college QB EJ Manuel’s versatility to extend plays and elude pressure. Pryor has similar skills as EJ Manuel and could run for yards rather than take sacks, which could play a role into Vedlheer’s numbers as a pass blocker, as he was graded as ProFootballFocus’ ninth best pass-blocking Offensive Tackle. That put Veldheer two spots ahead of Kansas City Chiefs’ LT Branden Albert, who is slated to make just under $10 million this upcoming season as their franchise tagged player. A new contract could be less than $10m for Veldheer, but if he is franchise tagged next season, Oakland should be worried that they might lose him in 2015. It is hard to find LTs who are top 10 against the run and pass. Raiders should try to lock Veldheer up soon to an extension.

            Defensive lineman Lamarr Houston can play anywhere across the DL, but is listed as Oakland’s starting Right Defensive End. Houston’s strength could possibly be better used inside at DT, where he desultory time last season. In the final year of his contract, Houston is slated to have a huge year no matter where he is placed. The Oakland Raiders’ upgrade at the linebacker position should benefit Houston exponentially, given DC Jason Tarver’s crave of blitzing his backers. A blitz last season freed Houston up and allowed him to record a sack on Peyton Manning. Those small things matter, and to provide a contract extension to a leader like Houston is infallible for Oakland moving forward. Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap recently signed a six-year, $40 million contract. That could be in the ballpark of Houston’s next contract (maybe less), as Oakland will have around $50 million in cap next season. However, it will be beneficial to give Houston an extension before the end of the season.

            A bunch of guys like FS Charles Woodson, CB Mike Jenkins and RB Rashad Jennings were given one-year contracts. Should any of them get contract extensions, it might be in the offseason. But the important players listed above are probably not on Oakland’s backlist. Signing a guy like LB Phillip Wheeler to a one-year deal last season bit McKenzie in the end, as that was one guy he would have loved to retain. Should some of the guys given one-year deals have a season and stand out like Wheeler did in 2012, McKenzie will do all he can to wrap them up in the Raiders’ future. This will be an interesting upcoming season, and the contract guys should be distinctively watched.

 

You can follow Antoine Johnson on twitter @twonYBAB

Several rookies burst on the scene in the NFL in 2012 to give the fans more than enough clarification that the 2012 draft class was one of the deepest in recent memory. Three Quarterbacks were selected in the top 10, all who could have been Pro Bowl rookies had it not been for seasoned veterans like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Franchise running backs were found in Trent Richardson and Doug Martin, as well as two Linebackers who are going to be around for a very long time in Luke Kuechly and Lavonte David. Several other guys had solid rookie campaigns that did not get much recognition, while some other second year players will be in a new system that benefits them more than the system in place their rookie year. Here’s a list of some second-year players expected to have an increased role this season to keep an eye on.

9. Tommy Streeter – WR – Baltimore Ravens

            The trade of Anquan Boldin in the middle of the offseason came to a surprise after how well he performed in the 2012 playoffs, including the Super Bowl. We all expected Ozzie “The Wizard of Oz” Newsome to either draft, trade or sign a veteran WR after getting rid of Boldin. However, plenty of Ravens players, including Torrey Smith pleaded that they did not need another Wide Receiver. Streeter missed his rookie year due to injuries and saw no playing time. He was a deep threat in college at The U, and is a decent intermediate route runner. He will fare well with Smith, Tandon Doss and Jacoby Jones. He won’t have Anquan Boldin stats, but we should see a lot from Streeter this upcoming season.

8. Olivier Vernon – DE – Miami Dolphins

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            Vernon had 3.5 sacks in his rookie year. The Dolphins do a good job of mixing 4-3 and 3-4 packages, given their depth on the front-7. Vernon can play 5-tech in a 3-4 or line up as a traditional DE in a 4-3. He was a good run supporter as a Miami Hurricane, and he has been getting better annually, transitioning into a fine professional. You can expect a bigger year from Jared Odrick, Cameron Wake and rookie Dion Jordan, but don’t rule Vernon out. His statistics may not be groundbreaking, but he does come up when needed in pressuring the QB and getting in the face of RBs before they get to the next level.

7. Alshon Jeffery – WR – Chicago Bears

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A Chicago Tribune article suggested that new Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman is ”one of the premier offensive strategists in the game.” We all know that Trestman loves to spread his offense and create an intense passing attack. Gunslinger Jay Cutler is perfect for that system, and how long can he rely solely on Brandon Marshall to be the guy he constantly goes to? Jeffery was on his way to an impressive rookie year before being injured and missing six games. He averaged 15 yards a catch his rookie year on 24 receptions. I think Jeffery will be one of the more solid WR2s in the NFL, especially if he keeps learning from Brandon Marshall. He creates mismatches with his 6’3” frame and his 4.38 40-yard dash speed.

6. Lamar Miller – RB – Miami Dolphins

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It is hard to believe that Daniel Thomas will be the Dolphins’ feature RB, despite them using an early draft pick on him a few years ago. Lamar Miller is almost being handed a starting job and it is his to lose. I think he is the reason the Dolphins refused to bring back Reggie Bush. Miller showed his blazing speed and outstanding cutting ability in college, and we saw minimal flashes his rookie year in 2012. He stands 5’10”, but weighs close to 220 pounds. He does a good job of staying low to the ground and is a good option out the backfield in passing situations. He only had 51 carries his rookie year, but averaged almost 5 yards per carry. The Patriots aren’t going anywhere in the AFC East, and the Buffalo Bills are going to challenge Miami for a possible Wild Card birth at best. Miller will be pivotal in determining how far Miami goes this year.

5. Mark Barron – SS – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Tampa has a completely revamped secondary. Barron could possibly be the only returning starter from last year. Johnthan Banks will push Eric Wright for a starting job, and Revis and Goldson are huge upgrades from what they had last year. Barron showed early in his rookie year that he is already one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league. He is also great in run support, as TB had the #1 run-defense in the league last year, but the last pass-defense. The draft picks and free agent signings will benefit them well in a division that features Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Barron has a little Ronnie Lott in him (not calling him the next Lott), and he is also due for a huge sophomore campaign.

4. Mychal Kendricks – LB – Philadelphia Eagles

One of the most dynamic young LBs in the NFL, Kendricks was targeted 32 times in coverage and gave up 20 catches, 4.8 ypc. He was seen defending Cowboys TE Jason Witten, holding him to 5 yards on 2 catches, and even Panthers WR Steve Smith. Kendricks only had one sack his rookie year, and people expect new Eagles HC Chip Kelly to use Connor Barwin as a pass rusher to how he used Dion Jordan at Oregon. I think Kendricks will actually be given those duties, and he will do a good job as well. In the right system, presumably Chip Kelly’s, Kendricks is a star in the making.

3. Bernard Pierce – RB – Baltimore Ravens

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            He is not the strongest, nor is he the fasted back in the NFL. But Bernard Pierce is a relentless runner who doesn’t mind hurdling over a defender and he packs a mean stiff-arm, and I will make the case that he has arguably the best vision among RBs in the NFL. We all know that Ray Rice is Baltimore’s feature back, but their offense will look completely different from how it looked in 2012. One of those changes will be an increased role for Pierce. Pierce averaged 5 yards a carry last year on 108 attempts. Baltimore won’t have two 1,000 yard rushers in 2013, but I can see Pierce getting around 800 rushing yards this season, as I believe he and Rice will share the load, as the Ravens transition into Joe Flacco’s team.

2. Josh Gordon – WR Cleveland Browns

           

It is a blessing to Gordon and the Browns that he was only suspended for the first 2 games of the 2013 season. Expect Gordon to be the #1 option in Cleveland, as Chud and Norv Turner will develop a young, dangerous offense with Gordon, Trent Richardson, Travis Benjamin and company. Gordon was arguably the best deep threat in the NFL his rookie year, which tells us that he will only become even more dangerous as he continues to blossom as a pro.

1. Whitney Mercilus – OLB – Houston Texans

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            Mercilus is the reason Houston didn’t stress over losing Connor Barwin, an OLB who only had 3 sacks in 16 starts. Mercilus managed to get 6 sacks 4 starts, as well as two forced fumbles. The Texans will get a full season with Mercilus starting, on top of getting starting ILB Brian Cushing back. We can expect another huge year from the Texans, hoping Matt Schaub can get them over the hump. But their defense will see vast improvements if they can stay healthy. Their new x-factor will be Mercilus moving forward. I think he will live up to the hype.

A couple of other second year guys to look forward to in having an increased role is T.Y. Hilton of the Colts, Rod Streater of the Raiders, Sean Spence of the Steelers and Rueben Randle of the Giants. The 2012 class was loaded with talent, including guys who went undrafted and made splashes. The young guns are the face of the league, and the 2012 class will be looked back at as one of the best overall draft classes of all time.