Tag Archives: Christian McCaffrey

2017 NFC South Draft Grades

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Atlanta Falcons

First-Round Pick: Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

Best Pick: Takkarist McKinley

Grade: B-

The sting of the Super Bowl loss is still fresh for the Atlanta Falcons, but nobody is going to feel sorry for them in the National Football League. The Falcons have been attempting to put it all together this off-season in regards to getting back to the Super Bowl and this year’s draft saw them find an impact player early on.

Takkarist McKinley

The Falcons traded up in the first round of the draft with the Seattle Seahawks to select UCLA Bruins outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley. We all know about McKinley’s passionate speech that he gave following being drafted, but he plays with that same desire on the football field.

Last year McKinley led UCLA in sacks with 10 and he joins a Falcons team that needs a bookend edge rusher to offset outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. who led the National Football League in sacks last year with 15.5.

Other than getting McKinley, the draft process was rather pedestrian for the Falcons. But if McKinley can come in and have a strong impact for the Falcons defense, it will be a big positive.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

First-Round Pick: O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

Best Pick: Round Five-Jeremy McNichols-Running Back-Boise State

Grade: B+

After barely missing out on making the playoffs last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to build off of that, and a solid showing at the 2017 National Football League Draft was just what the doctor ordered for them.

In the first round I expected the Buccaneers to focus on either the offensive line or defensive line. However Tampa Bay instead opted to give quarterback Jameis Winston another play maker to get the football to.

O.J. Howard

The Bucs drafted Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard who over the last two years emerged as a solid pass catching tight end. Howard has the ability to stretch the field from the tight end position and his presence in Tampa will mean less double teams on wide receivers Mike Evans and the recently acquired DeSean Jackson.

It’s too bad that the City of Tampa does not have an NBA franchise due to the fact that some of the Bucs players could suit up for them. The Buccaneers continued to bring more big and physical play makers in the third round of the draft when they selected Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Chris Godwin who will give Winston another solid option to get the football to in the red zone.

Tampa Bay has needed a leader on the defensive side of the football for some time now and they may have found one with a compensatory pick in the third round when they selected LSU Tigers middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith. Beckwith was LSU’s second leading tackler last year with 91, and he will provide the Bucs with knowledge and athleticism.

Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht continued to add talent in the fifth round when he selected Boise State Broncos running back Jeremy McNichols. All McNichols did last year was to rush for 1,709 yards and score 23 rushing touchdowns. At 5’9″, McNichols gives the Bucs another undersized running running back to team with Doug Martin in their backfield, and he should be able to have an immediate impact.

The Bucs will enter next season as a trendy pick to make the playoffs and this draft class should be able to provide solid production for them.

New Orleans Saints

First-Round Pick: Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State, Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

Best Pick: Marshon Lattimore

Grade: C+

With a pair of first round picks heading into the 2017 National Football League Draft, the New Orleans Saints had a solid chance to upgrade their roster, but unfortunately for the folks on the bayou, they missed the boat.

The Saints need all the help that they can get on the defense as they were 27th in the National Football League last season in total defense, while they were last in the league versus the pass. The Saints would use the 11th overall selection on Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore. And although that Lattimore’s arrival in New Orleans does fill a need, the Saints had other pressing issues which they failed to address.

The Saints need players that can rush the quarterback as defensive end Cameron Jordan led the team in sacks last season with just 7.5. The Saints would have been better served drafting Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett who ended up being taken by the Philadelphia Eagles a few spots later.

The selection of Lattimore could have also been used on Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard as Saints quarterback Drew Bress has missed having a reliable go-to-guy in the passing game since tight end Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seattle Seahawks.

And when the run on cornerbacks began later in the first round, the Saints had already selected one as they would use their second pick of the round on Wisconsin Badgers offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk who might be better served playing the right tackle position as opposed to the left.

The Saints would draft a defensive end, but not until their compensatory pick in the third round when they selected Florida Atlantic Owls defensive end Trey Hendrickson. And when it is all said and done, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis will look back and see an opportunity that was missed as in a division with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, New Orleans needs players that can rush the passer and put consistent pressure on these Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks.

Carolina Panthers

First-Round Pick: Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

Best Pick: Christian McCaffrey

Grade: B

When the Carolina Panthers went 15-1 during the 2015 National Football League season en route to winning the NFC Championship, they were the bullies of the league. The Panthers were a very physical team on both sides of the football which showed up in their record. But when the Panthers sputtered last season as they went 6-10, they got away from their formula for success which started with a power rushing attack. But hope springs eternal and this off-season the Panthers are getting back to their bread and butter.

Christian McCaffrey

I expected the Panthers to select a running back early during the 2017 National Football League Draft, and with LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette off of the board, Carolina set their sights on Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey comes to the Panthers as a very talented athlete which included him being named as the Pac-12 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2015 when he set a Football Bowl Subdivision record with 3,864 all-purpose yards. McCaffrey can do it all as he can be a running back, wide receiver, and kick/punt returner as he should have an immediate impact on the Panthers offense.

The second round saw the Panthers select Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Curtis Samuel who has breakout performer written all over him. Samuel led the Buckeyes in receptions (74) and receiving yards (865) last season in an offense that wasn’t pass oriented. And now with Samuel on the receiving end of passes from a former National Football League MVP in Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, along with playing alongside wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, Samuel could be ready to make a big contribution in Charlotte.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman would use the rest of the draft to add depth which included taking Texas A&M Aggies defensive end Daeshon Hall in the third round. And after finishing last in the NFC South in 2016, this draft class could help the Panthers get back to the postseason this year.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

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1. Cleveland Browns-Myles Garrett-Defensive End Texas A&M

Entering the 2017 National Football League Draft, Myles Garrett is the best player available which makes this an easy selection for the Browns.

2. San Francisco 49ers-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

The Niners need a quarterback, but they get a value pick in Jonathan Allen while still having the ability to address that issue later in the draft.

3. Chicago Bears-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

In a division that features quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the Bears must get better in their secondary.

Dalvin Cook

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

As the Jaguars leading rusher last season was T.J. Yeldon with just 465 yards. And with Tom Coughlin entrenched as the Jags executive vice president of football operations, Jacksonville will be a better running team by hook or by crook.

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

The Titans are on the verge of being a playoff team and it’s time to get defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau some more play makers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

The Jets can go in several directions with this selection, but their safest choice could be cornerback.

Jabril Peppers

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Jabril Peppers-Strong Safety-Michigan

Not since the days of Rodney Harrison have the Chargers had an enforcer in their secondary which could change if they draft Jabril Peppers.

8. Carolina Panthers-Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

The Panthers took a huge step backwards in 2016, and in order for them to resemble the team that went 15-1 in 2015, they have to get back to the basics which means a power rushing attack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

After allowing veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to leave in free agency, the Bengals need to get more athletic on their offensive line.

10. Buffalo Bills-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

New Bills head coach Sean McDermott is a defensive minded coach. And after Buffalo allowed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to leave in free agency, this is a chance for them to address that void.

11. New Orleans Saints-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

If the Saints are going to squeeze another title run out of quarterback Drew Brees, they must assemble a defense that can stop opponents.

Deshaun Watson

12. Cleveland Browns (From Philadelphia Eagles)-Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson

With the luxury of two, first-round picks the Browns can get the best player available along with their franchise quarterback.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

As the Cardinals are looking to bounce back in 2017, the first thing that they need is a leader on the defensive side of the football.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (From Minnesota Vikings)-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is working on getting this team back to what it was during the 2000’s which was being a consistent playoff team, and a defensive end like Derek Barnett who can wreak havoc is a step in that direction.

15. Indianapolis Colts-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

The Colts have a new general manager in Chris Ballard and it is time for this organization to put more talent around quarterback Andrew Luck.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

The Ravens have always been an organization that is known for defense and player like Cunningham plays with a nasty disposition.

17. Washington Redskins-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

After the Redskins allowed wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to walk in free agency, this is an opportunity to keep quarterback Kirk Cousins happy.

18. Tennessee Titans-John Ross-Wide Receiver-Washington

The Titans love to run the football and a burner like John Ross could be dangerous off of play action.

Christian McCaffrey

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

The Buccaneers front office is showing that they are serious as far as putting a team around quarterback Jameis Winston and here they would get one of the best play makers in the draft.

20. Denver Broncos-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Broncos still have questions at the quarterback position, but bringing in a solid pass-catching tight end will benefit whoever is taking the snaps.

21. Detroit Lions-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

As a team the Lions only had 26 sacks last year with no player accumulating more than 8 which makes selecting Taco Charlton here a no-brainer.

22. Miami Dolphins-Obi Melifonwu-Strong Safety-Connecticut

As the Dolphins continue to bring in play makers on the defensive side of the football, they’ll be out to show that their playoff run last year wasn’t a fluke.

23. New York Giants-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama

There are several directions in which the Giants can go here, but it might be time for them to move Ereck Flowers to right tackle.

24. Oakland Raiders-TreDavious White-Cornerback-LSU

When quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula last year, the Raiders secondary got exposed when the offense wasn’t putting up 30 points per game anymore.

25. Houston Texans-Forrest Lamp-Guard-Western Kentucky

The Texans already have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and it could get better here by adding Forrest Lamp.

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garrett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

Last year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 41 times and that isn’t going to cut it if Seattle wants to get back to the Super Bowl.

27. Kansas City Chiefs-Curtis Samuel-Wide Receiver-Ohio State

In 2016, the Chiefs didn’t have a wide receiver gain 600 yards as they need explosiveness at the position in order to take some attention off of tight end Travis Kelce.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Dallas Cowboys have everything on offense to be a Super Bowl contender, but until they can improve their pass rush, it won’t mean a thing.

29. Green Bay Packers-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle-Michigan State

In three playoff games last season the Packers surrendered 88 points as quarterback Aaron Rodgers cannot bail them out all of the time.

Tim Williams

30. Pittsburgh Steelers-Tim Williams-Outside Linebacker-Alabama

Tim Williams could be the steal of the first round as he goes to a team in the Steelers that loves to have versatile linebackers.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

The Falcons had a solid defense in 2016, but after watching the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51, it is clear that they need more pass rushers.

32. New Orleans Saints (From New England Patriots)-Carl Lawson-Defensive End-Auburn

If the Saints are able to fix their defense, a trip to the postseason is very likely here in 2017.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

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1. Cleveland Browns Myles Garrett-Defensive End-Texas A&M

The Cleveland Browns have a ton of needs heading into the National Football League Draft, and a good place to start is to pick the best player that will be available.

 

Mitch Trubisky

2. San Francisco 49ers- Mitch Trubisky-Quarterback-North Carolina

The San Francisco 49ers are set to begin life with a new general manager in John Lynch, and a new head coach in Kyle Shanahan as it only makes sense for them to find a new franchise quarterback as well.

3. Chicago Bears-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

In order for the Chicago Bears to once again be a player in the NFC North, they are going to have to get tougher in the trenches.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

In 2016, the Jacksonville Jaguars leading rusher was running back T.J. Yeldon with just 465 which is all that you’ll need to know why they must select a running back here.

5. Tennessee Titans-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

The Tennessee Titans are on the cusp of being the team to beat in the AFC South. And with Dick LeBeau as the Titans defensive coordinator, it’s time to stockpile up on versatile edge rushers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

There are numerous ways that the New York Jets can go with this selection. But with an aging Darrelle Revis at cornerback, the Jets must get younger in the secondary.

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

2016 saw the Los Angeles Chargers go out of their way to lose games, and a turnaround begins with solidifying the secondary.

 

Leonard Fournette

8. Carolina Panthers- Leonard Fourtnette-Running Back-LSU

The Carolina Panthers love to run the football which is something that they got away from last year. But it won’t take the Panthers that long to get back to what won them the NFC Championship in 2015.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

Injuries have taken away from the effectiveness of wide receiver A.J. Green, and it’s time for the Cincinnati Bengals to add some depth at the position.

10. Buffalo Bills-DeShone Kizer-Quarterback-Notre Dame

This selection will signal the end of Tyrod Taylor’s time with the Buffalo Bills.

11. New Orleans Saints-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

The NFC South is littered with quality quarterbacks, and if the New Orleans Saints are going to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, they are going to need more pass rushers.

12. Cleveland Browns-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

Browns head coach Hue Jackson is looking to change the culture within his locker room. And what a better way to begin that process than by bringing in a player such as Reuben Foster who is a winner.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked 40 times last year. And if the Cardinals are going to entertain any chances of making the Super Bowl, they must protect Palmer.

14. Indianapolis Colts-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama

For too long the Indianapolis Colts organization has asked quarterback Andrew Luck to do too much by himself. Luck is one of the better play makers in the NFL, but he needs protection in front of him.

15. Philadelphia Eagles-Teez Tabor-Cornerback-Florida

In a division with wide receivers such as Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles need as many athletes as possible in their secondary.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

When the Baltimore Ravens are at their best, they are rushing the passer.

17. Washington Redskins-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

Last season the Washington Redskins were 25th in the NFL in pass defense as they need a play maker in their secondary.

 

Jabril Peppers

18. Tennessee Titans-Jabril Peppers-Strong Safety-Michigan

Don’t expect the Titans to be pushed around defensively in 2017.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their franchise quarterback as they are continuing the process of putting quality players around him at the skill positions.

20. Denver Broncos-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

For many years wide receiver Ed McCaffrey was one of the go-to guys for quarterback John Elway with the Denver Broncos. And with Elway now serving as the Broncos executive vice president of football operations, he’ll find another play maker from Stanford who’ll make a huge impact in Denver.

21. Detroit Lions-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

Last year the Detroit Lions only managed to register 26 sacks, and if they’re going to overtake the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, they must find a way to get to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

22. Miami Dolphins-David Njoku-Tight End-Miami

David Njoku won’t spend that much money on moving expenses as he’ll just move to another locker room at Hard Rock Stadium.

23. New York Giants-Carl Lawson-Defensive End-Auburn

Just in case that the New York Giants don’t re-sign defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, they’ll get themselves some insurance.

24. Oakland Raiders-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

The Oakland Raiders issues in their secondary were exposed when quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula. And if the Raiders are going to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they must improve the secondary.

25. Houston Texans-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

If the Houston Texans can get themselves a quality veteran quarterback, they’ll have a championship caliber defense to pair him with.

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garrett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

The Seattle Seahawks don’t resemble the team that won the Super Bowl in 2013. And for the Seahawks to get back to being a championship team, they are going to have to run the football more effectively, while also protecting quarterback Russell Wilson which begins with better play on the offensive line.

27. Kansas City Chiefs-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

There is a huge drop off in the passing offense of the Kansas City Chiefs once you eliminate tight end Travis Kelce from the equation as they need some more production from the wide receiver position.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Dallas Cowboys were 14th in the NFL last year in total defense, but through injuries and suspensions, they lacked a game changing edge rusher.

 

Desmond King

29. Green Bay Packers-Desmond King-Cornerback-Iowa

With the issues that the Green Bay Packers had in their secondary last season, they could use a tough minded player in the unit who can also contribute on special teams if asked to.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers-Tim Williams-Outside Linebacker-Alabama

Bud Dupree has begun to show flashes as a quality edge rusher for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but this team needs a versatile enforcer for the unit.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Evan engram-Tight End-Ole Miss

As good as the Atlanta Falcons offense is, they still need a tight end who can take some pressure off of wide receiver Julio Jones.

32. New England Patriots- Dan Feeney-Guard-Indiana

The rich get richer as the defending Super Bowl Champions will continue to add depth on the offensive line in front of quarterback Tom Brady.

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To Play, Or Not To Play

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Like it or not, you are going to see more college football players skip their bowl games in favor of the National Football League Draft. And you cannot blame them.

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2016 Heisman Preview

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Christian McCaffrey is just one of several talented players to look at in this year’s Heisman race.

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2016 Pac-12 Conference Football Projections

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North

Washington State Cougars 9-4 (6-3)

Mike Leach

When Mike Leach became the head football coach of the Washington State Cougars in 2012, the expectation level at Pullman changed. Leach was taking over a program that only had two Pac-12 Titles to their credit, and they not made a bowl game since 2003. By 2013, Leach got the Cougars to a bowl game, but when the expectations for this team grew in 2014, they folded under them as they were only able to go 3-9. However last year saw Washington State come out of nowhere to win 9 games, and now heading into 2016, the Cougars are ready to make a move in the Pac-12 North.

One thing that you’re going to get from a team that is coached by Leach is a proficient passing offense. Last year the Cougars were first in the nation in passing offense and you can expect more of the same in 2016. As a sophomore, quarterback Luke Falk had one of the most prolific passing seasons in school history as he threw for 4,561 yards and 38 touchdowns. Washington State knows how to put stress on opposing secondaries as their duo of senior wide receivers in River Cracraft and Gabe Marks are two of the best pass catchers that the Pac-12 has to offer.

Washington State hasn’t been known as a hotbed for defensive football, but there are some impact players on that side of the football this year in Pullman. Senior free safety Shalom Luani can cover ground in the secondary, while defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa showed tremendous run stopping and pass rushing ability in 2015 when he led the team in sacks with 7. Junior middle linebacker Peyton Peuller led Washington State in tackles last year with 101 and he’ll once again be vital to any success that the Cougars intend on having.

Washington State will attempt to do something that isn’t easy to do which is to defeat the Boise State Broncos of the Mountain West Conference on the road when they travel there on September 10. And once Pac-12 play begins, it won’t take us that long to see if the Cougars are for real as they’ll begin their conference slate by hosting the Oregon Ducks on October 1 before traveling to take on the defending conference champs in the Stanford Cardinal on October 8. There is also a good possibility that Washington State’s season finale against their arch rivals in the Washington Huskies could decide the winner of the Pac-12 North which would add even more intrigue to the Apple Cup.

Oregon Ducks 8-4 (6-3)

For most college football programs, a 9-win campaign would be something tremendous, but not if you’re the Oregon Ducks. Prior to 2015, you have to go back to 2007 to find the last college football season that ended with Oregon not winning at least 10 games. And whereas Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich might not have a team that can contend for the national title here in 2016, the Ducks still have a squad that should be a player in the race to win the Pac-12 Conference.

Jeff Lockie

Senior quarterback Jeff Lockie has had to bide his time as Oregon’s backup quarterback; first behind Marcus Mariota, and last year as the understudy to Vernon Adams. However in Lockie’s last year in Eugene, it isn’t a guarantee that he’ll be operating the Ducks spread offense when the season rolls around as he has competition from transfer Dakota Prukop. But whomever will be the starting quarterback for Oregon, he will have the ability to hand to football off to junior running back Royce Freeman.

Last year Freeman for 1,836 rushing yards, along with 17 touchdowns, and if it weren’t for the exploits of Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCafferey, he might have been the Pac-12 Conference’s Player of the Year. Freeman has the blend of size and speed that makes him a match-up nightmare in the Ducks uptempo offense.

However the Ducks will be leaning heavily on Freeman as there will be some inexperience for them at wide receiver and on the offensive line where a pair of redshirt freshman in center Jake Hanson and right tackle Calvin Throckmorton are expected to be starters.

Last year as an abysmal one defensively for Oregon as they were 117th in total defense which isn’t going to cut it which falls into the lap of the team’s new defensive coordinator in former Michigan Wolverines head football coach Brady Hoke. The Ducks are hopeful that junior defensive back Tyree Robinson will continue to grow into a play maker, but he is only one player, and others must step up as well.

The Ducks should be on cruise control until they embark on a three-week stretch in November where they’ll face the USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal, and Utah Utes which will decide their fate in the Pac-12 Championship race.

Washington Huskies 9-3 (6-3)

Chris Petersen

With two years under his belt as the head football coach of the Washington Huskies, Chris Petersen has seen his squad compete in the Pac-12 Conference, but is this the year in which they will have a breakthrough? Each of the last six years has seen the Huskies make a bowl game, but they have not won the Pac-12 since 2000 and they’ve taken a backseat in the Pac-12 North.

 

As Washington went 7-6 last year, there were plenty of underclassmen that were able to gain valuable experience which should pay off here in 2016. The Huskies will return 9 offensive starters with only one senior in guard Jake Eldrenkamp. Sophomore Jake Browning is on the verge of becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and if he is able to develop into a leader, the Huskies could be very formidable.

Peterson has a reputation for having pass happy offenses, but make no mistake about it that his teams can run the football as well. Sophomore running back Myles Gaskin is coming off of a year in which he gained 1,302 rushing yards while also averaging 5.7 yards each time that he touched the football as a runner. Gaskin is also a durable running back, and if he can once again eclipse 200 carries, it should mean that Washington had a good year.

Just like on offense, Washington has a ton of experience returning on defense in the form of seven starters from 2015. Junior linebackers Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria were Washington’s top tacklers in 2015, and each player has the potential to be All-Pac-12 performers this year. There’s also a wealth of experience in the secondary where three starters are returning as led by junior cornerback Sidney Jones, Washington’s secondary accounted for 15 interceptions last year.

Washington will be tested early as two of their first three conference opponents will be on the road as they’ll face the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks, but this Peterson led team is built for the long term and should be in the Pac-12 North race until the very end.

Stanford Cardinal 7-5 (5-4)

David Shaw

Very quietly the Stanford Cardinal have become the gold standard of the Pac-12 Conference under head football coach David Shaw. In five years at the helm of Stanford’s football program, Shaw has complied a record of 54-14 which includes three Pac-12 Championships and a pair of Rose Bowl Titles. Stanford is coming off of a convincing victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes this past January in the Rose Bowl. But after losing so much talent to graduation, this could be Shaw’s toughest year at Palo Alto.

A big part of Stanford’s recent success can be attributed to quarterback Kevin Hogan who was one of the most prolific winners in school history. But all good things must come to an end as Hogan is now in the National Football League. Enter sophomore quarterback Keller Chryst who is ready to add his name to the ledger of quality quarterbacks that have suited up for the Cardinal. Chryst shouldn’t attempt to do it all by himself as he can hand the football off to one of the best play makers in the nation.

 

Christian McCaffrey

Last year running back Christian McCaffrey enjoyed a season for the ages as he set an NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards with 3,864. McCaffrey is the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and after finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting last December, he has his sights set on winning it this time around as he is arguably the most elusive runner in the country.

The Stanford offensive line has been at the forefront of the team’s recent success, but there are huge holes to fill on the line where just two starters will be returning from last year.

 

 

 

Defensively Stanford will also have to replace a ton of experience, however there are some play makers in the secondary in the form of senior strong safety Dallas Lloyd and sophomore cornerback Quenton Meeks.

Stanford will face one of the toughest schedules in college football with non-conference games against the Kansas State Wildcats and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, along with road games in the Pac-12 against the UCLA Bruins, Washington Huskies, Arizona Wildcats, and Oregon Ducks.

Oregon State Beavers 4-8 (2-7)

2015 wasn’t a banner year for Oregon State Beavers football as they stumbled to a 2-10 record and a last place finish in the Pac-12 North. The Beavers record also marked the first time since 1995 that they went winless in Pac-12 play as they lost seven conference games by 15 points or more. But Oregon State head football coach Gary Anderson is the right man to get things turned around in Corvallis as he set to embark on his second year there which is evident by what he was able to do during his stints with both the Utah State Aggies and Wisconsin Badgers. And although that the Beavers might not be a bowl team in 2016, they will definitely be a thorn in the side of the contenders in the Pac-12.

Anderson will have a very familiar face under center for him this season as junior Darell Garretson has transferred from Utah State. Garretson is familiar with how Anderson expects his offense to be run, and his ability as a dual-threat quarterback should help an Oregon State offense that was 111th in the nation last year in total offense.

The Beavers defense didn’t fare that much better as they were 116th in total defense. But led by senior linebacker Rommel Mageo, Oregon State will have their top five tacklers from last season returning and after a poor showing in 2015, there is only one way for the unit to go which is up.

I doubt that Oregon State will finish this year with a winning record, but they will be a team that nobody will want to face in the Pac-12.

California Golden Bears 1-11 (0-9)

It didn’t take head football coach Sonny Dykes that long to return the California Golden Bears to respectability as in just his third year at Berkley, he got them to a bowl game. But things will be much different for Cal in 2016 as they must find a way to replace the contributions of former quarterback Jared Goff. Last year Goff accounted for 43 touchdowns which led him to being the first overall pick of the National Football League Draft by the Los Angeles Rams.

Dykes will still implement the same wide open offense that has brought him success throughout his coaching career, but it is now up to Goff’s understudy last year in sophomore quarterback Chase Forrest to lead the Cal offense.

Goff’s play making ability covered for numerous deficiencies that the Golden Bears had, and without him this team will be fighting an uphill battle in the competitive Pac-12 North.

South

UCLA Bruins 9-4 (6-3)

Ever since Jim Mora became the head football coach of the UCLA Bruins, he has changed the way that people view the football program in Westwood. In four years at UCLA, Mora has never had a losing record which includes winning the Pac-12 South in 2012, and possessing a 3-1 record against the USC Trojans. Under Mora, the Bruins have begun each of the last three years ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll, and in 2016, they should once again be in contention to win the Pac-12 South.

Josh Rosen

The Bruins are coming off of an 8-5 season, but quarterback Josh Rosen gained valuable experience as a freshman which should really pay off for UCLA this year. At 6’4″, 210 lbs., Rosen has good size and the pro potential to play quarterback. Rosen also has pocket awareness that should have him the discussion to be the Pac-12 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. But the burden of carrying the UCLA offense will fall more on the shoulders of Rosen this year as the Bruins leading rusher from 2015 in Paul Perkins, along with the top two pass catchers in Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte are now in the National Football League.

 

 

2015 wasn’t a banner year for UCLA’s defense as they were 67th in the nation in total defense. But as Tom Bradley is set to enter his second year as UCLA’s defensive coordinator, the unit should be an improved one; especially with play makers such as senior inside linebacker Jayon Brown and senior cornerback Ishmael Adams.

Under Mora, UCLA cannot be accused of hiding in Los Angeles as their non-conference schedule includes a trip to College Station, Texas to face the Texas A&M Aggies of the Southeastern Conference, and the Brigham Young Cougars. And when Pac-12 play begins for the Bruins, they’ll have to run the gauntlet as they have games against the Arizona Wildcats, Arizona State Sun Devils, Utah Utes, Stanford Cardinal and USC as this could be Mora’s toughest year at Westwood.

USC Trojans 8-4 (6-3)

The past six years have not been the best of times for the football program of the Southern California Trojans. USC had to dig themselves from under NCAA sanctions, while they’ve also employed five different head coaches. It appeared that Steve Sarkisian was going to be the guy that would return the Men of Troy to prominence until he was dismissed by the school last year after personal issues. Clay Helton would replace Sarkisian on an interim basis, but when USC knocked off the UCLA Bruins to win the Pac-12 South, he was given the job on a full-time basis. Now Helton takes over a program that went 8-6 last year, but they have lofty expectations in the very tough Pac-12 South.

It will be tough for USC to replace the contributions that quarterback Cody Kessler has made over the last few years, but junior quarterback Max Browne will give it the old college try. At 6’5″, 220 lbs., Browne has that prototypical size to be a signal caller, it’s just a matter of whether or not that he’ll be able to handle the expectations that come with being the Trojans starting quarterback.

There is plenty of speed in the USC backfield with senior running back Justin Davis and sophomore Ronald Jones II as the duo has the potential to each gain 1,000 yards on the ground. And just like there is speed at tailback for the Men of Troy, that is also the case at wide receiver with the likes of  juniors Adoree Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Last year’s coaching change at USC meant that underclassmen got more playing time which should pay off this year defensively where sophomore middle linebacker Cameron Smith and sophomore cornerback Iman Marshall could be ready to become defensive leaders in Los Angeles.

Clay Helton

The pressure will be on Helton as USC faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation that begins with meeting the defending national champions in the Alabama Crimson Tide on September at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, along with conference road games against the Stanford Cardinal, Utah Utes, and Arizona Wildcats.

Arizona Wildcats 8-4 (5-4)

With high expectations heading into the 2015 college football season, the Arizona Wildcats stumbled to a 7-6 record. The Wildcats got punched in the mouth by the gauntlet that is the Pac-12 Conference schedule as they were 3-6 within the conference. But as Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez is set to begin his fifth season in Tuscon, he knows what it takes to win in the Pac-12 South, and he’s hopeful that he has a team that can win the division for the second time in the last three years.

Anu Solomon

After having a freshman season for the ages in 2014, quarterback Anu Solomon was served a huge slice of humble pie by defenses around the Pac-12 in 2015. Solomon could do no wrong in 2014 as his passes were precise, while he was also a deadly runner in Rodriguez’s spread offense system. But in six games last year, Solomon rushed for negative yardage which is something that must change if Arizona is going to improve.

As a unit Arizona was 23rd in the nation last year in rushing, but junior running back Nick Wilson must become the feature back for this offense. The big plus for the Wildcats offense is that they have four starters returning on the offensive line including a pair of seniors in center Zach Hemmila and guard Freddie Tagaloa.

But the main issue for Arizona that must be addressed is their defense which was 115th in total defense last year. The Wildcats had five games in which they surrendered at least 40 points which led to defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel not retaining his job in Tuscon. Marcel Yates has assumed the role of defensive coordinator for Arizona and he’ll inherit a unit that has eight starters returning from 2015, but will anyone be able to step up and become an impact player this season?

Arizona will have their work cut out for them to win the Pac-12 South as their schedule includes road games against the UCLA Bruins, Utah Utes, and Washington State Cougars.

Utah Utes 8-4 (5-4)

During the Utah Utes time in the Mountain West Conference, they were the epitome of the underdog. The Utes scrapped and clawed for respectability which included them going undefeated without a shot at the national title in 2008. Since joining the Pac-12 Conference in 2011, the Utes remain a team that nobody wants to face as a trip to Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City will leave opponents battered and bruised and they have to pack a lunch in order to defeat them. Kyle Whittingham is in his 12th year as Utah’s head football coach, and after a 10-win season, along with consecutive victories in the Las Vegas Bowl, is his team ready to win the Pac-12 South for the first time in school history?

It will be interesting to see who Whittingham will go with to be his starting quarterback as it will be either junior Brandon Cox or freshman Tyler Huntley. After being a backup for his first three years at Utah, Joe Williams will get his chance to be the Utes starting running back. The Utes will employ a veteran offensive line with all five starters being seniors as left tackle Sam Tevi will anchor the unit.

Kyle Fitts

Defensively the Utes can bring the pressure as they amassed 37 sacks last year and you can expect more of the same this season from a defensive line that features senior defensive end Kyle Fitts who knows how to live up to his last name. Junior free safety Marcus Williams had 5 interceptions last year and his range in the secondary will make quarterbacks in the Pac-12 think twice about testing him.

As usual Utah will be tough and they could be a dark horse to win the Pac-12 South.

 

Arizona State Sun Devils 5-7 (3-6)

Todd Graham

When Todd Graham became the head football coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils in 2012, he burst onto the scene which included winning the Pac-12 South in 2013. But the Sun Devils took a step backwards in 2015 as they went 6-7 for their first losing season on Graham’s watch as they found out how hard that life can be in the Pac-12 Conference. But will the Sun Devils be able to improve in 2016?

Sophomore Manny Wilkins appears to be the guy who will start the year at quarterback for Arizona State which should symbolize that the offense in Tempe will be a work in progress. As Wilkins gets his feet wet, the Sun Devils will look to junior running back Demario Richard to carry the offense. And Richard will attempt to do this behind an offensive line that features senior left tackle Evan Goodman.

It’s no secret that Arizona State’s defense got toasted last year as they were 113th in the nation in total defense as they surrendered 38 points or more in a contest eight times. Keith Patterson is set to begin his third year as the Sun Devils defensive coordinator and he must get more out his defense. For Arizona State to improve, it will begin with senior linebacker Salamo Fiso and junior linebacker Christian Sam who have the potential to be impact players for Patterson and Graham.

If the Sun Devils defense is unable to take huge strides, this could be a long year as their offense doesn’t have the ability to carry them like they have in year’s past.

Colorado Buffaloes 5-7 (3-6)

It’s been a tough go for anyone that follows the Colorado Buffaloes football program as they’ve indeed fallen on hard times. After having success in the Big Eight Conference and initially in the Big 12, the Buffs have gotten away from their winning ways. The Buffaloes have not played in a bowl game since 2007, while their last winning season came in 2005. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Colorado has an overall record of 14-48 which includes just five victories within the conference. Mike MacIntyre is set to begin his fourth year as Colorado’s head football coach, and after winning four games in 2015, he is hopeful that he can finally break through and get Ralphie and the Buffaloes to a bowl game.

In order for Colorado to become bowl eligible in 2016, they are going to need more out of an offense that was 68th in total offense a year ago which means that it will be paramount for junior running back Phillip Lindsay to rush for at least 1,000 yards, and senior quarterback Sefu Liufau to pass for 3,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Last year as a freshman, linebacker Rick Gamboa was second on the team in tackles with 78 and he could develop into a leader which MacIntyre needs. The Buffs also had 14 interceptions as a team and an opportunistic defense could keep them relevant in the Pac-12 South.

MacIntyre is building something in Boulder, and a trip to a bowl game in 2016 would be a huge shot in the arm for him and his program.

Pac-12 Championship Game-Levi’s Stadium-Santa Clara, California: Washington State vs. UCLA

Conference Champion: UCLA

Coach of the Year: Mike Leach-Washington State

Offensive Player of the Year: Luke Falk-Washington State

Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Fitts-Utah

Sources: Nationalchamps.net, Cfbstats.com, Ourlads.com, Sports-reference.com

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The Return Of The Running Back?

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It’s safe to say that the National Football League has diminished the value of having a quality running back. This decade has only see nine running backs selected in the first round of the NFL Draft while this past season only produced seven running backs that gained at least 1,000 yards on the ground. The NFL has become more of a passing league where teams have diminished the role of the running back. More teams are going to running back tandems in order to keep their backs fresh as the physical riggers of the game can be grueling on the position. This off-season has already seen running back Marshawn Lynch retire. Lynch is only 29-years of age, but he apparently had enough of the physical pounding that comes with playing the position. But as Lynch decided to retire, the running back position in the NFL is still defined by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson who is the current gold standard for the position and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley who is the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year. But there could be some help on the way from the collegiate ranks to make the running back position once again the glamour position in the NFL.

The past college football season saw 66 players gain at least 1,000 yards rushing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level and some of these guys are expected to be headliners once again in 2016. Last year saw Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry win the Heisman Trophy and for the first time since 1999, we could see a running back win the Heisman in consecutive years.

Christian McCaffrey-Stanford

This past season saw Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey finish second to Henry in the Heisman voting. McCaffrey gained 2,019 yards on the ground while setting a new NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards with 3,864. There was a growing consensus about the “West Coast” bias when it came to McCaffrey not winning the award, and he gave the nation an opportunity to see what he was about in last month’s Rose Bowl victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes where he set a Rose Bowl record for total offense with 368 yards. McCaffrey will return to Stanford for his junior year, and if it were not for the National Football League rules which require a player to be out of high school for at least three in order to get drafted, he would be a first-round pick this April. But McCafrrey’s loss in college football’s gain as he will be displaying his skills for free for another year.

Leonard Fournette-LSU

Whereas McCaffrey stepped onto the college football scene as a relative unknown, the same could not be said about LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette came to LSU as a highly touted recruit. Last year Fournette had three consecutive games in which he rushed for at least 200 yards which paved the way for him gaining 1,953 rushing yards to go along with 22 touchdowns on the ground. Like McCaffrey, Fournette has been done in by the rules of the National Football League as he must return to college for his junior year before becoming eligible to be drafted next year. At 6’1″, 230 lbs., Fournette is a load and I feel sorry for any defenders that have to tackle him.

Dalvin Cook-Florida State

Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook is another back that has his sights set on the National Football League in 2017. Like McCaffrey, and Fournette, Cook will be a junior heading into the 2016 college football season and he is the real deal. Cook was a product of Miami Central High School which has produced NFL talent such as Bruce Armstrong and Willis McGahee. As a freshman at Florida State, Cook ran for 1,008 yards and he was also the MVP of the Atlantic Coast Conference Title Game. This past season Cook rushed for 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns and heading into 2016, he will look to reach the 2000-yard mark in rushing.

Semaje Perine-Oklahoma

As a true freshman in 2014, it didn’t take running back Samaje Perine that long to make an impact for the Oklahoma Sooners. In Perine’s first collegiate game, he rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries and he was just getting warmed up. Before 2014 ended, Perine set a new single-game Football Bowl Subdivision record with 427 rushing yards against the Kansas Jayhawks as he was named as the Big 12 Conference’s Rookie of the Year. This past season, Perine ran for 1,713 yards in helping Oklahoma win the Big 12 and advance to the College Football Playoff.

Perine’s running ability will translate to the next level due to the fact that at 5’11”, he runs very low to the ground and he has very thick legs as he tips the scales at 237 lbs.

Royce Freeman-Oregon

Another potential junior that will garner interest from the National Football League next year is Oregon Ducks running back Royce Freeman. Make no mistake about it that Freeman is a burner and he is tailor-made for the spread-offense attack of the Ducks. Freeman will be an early favorite to be the Pac-12 Conference’s Player of the Year as there are not that many defenders around in the nation that can catch him when he gets a full head of steam.

Wayne Gallman-Clemson

Unlike the other running backs so far, Clemson Tigers running back Wayne Gallman had the opportunity to leave school this year. Heading into the 2016 college football season, Gallman will be a redshirt junior, but he is returning to school as he is looking to help Clemson win their first national title since 1981.

Last year Gallman exploded for 1,527 rushing yards as he was intrical in helping the Tigers play for the national championship. This year all eyes in the Atlantic Coast Conference will be on Gallman and Clemson, but another strong performance will have the scouts of the National Football League focused on him.

Elijah Hood-North Carolina

Last year saw the North Carolina Tar Heels win 11 games for the first time since 1997 along with making their first trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference Title Game with a big part of the team’s success being running back Elijah Hood. As a sophomore in 2015, Hood ran for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he was overshadowed within the ACC by Cook and Gallman. However if Hood can lead the Tar Heels to the ACC Title in 2016, everyone will know who he is.

The Tennessee Volunteers are coming off of their best season since 2007 and heading into the 2016 college football season, they will be a trendy pick to win the Southeastern Conference. A big part of the Volunteers re-emergence can be traced to running back Jalen Hurd. At 6’4″, 240 lbs., it is safe to say that Hurd is a load as he gained 1,288 on the ground last year. And as a junior in 2016, a 1,500-yard season by Hurd should symbolize a solid season for the Vols. Due to Hurd’s size, defenders tend to tackle him low, but he is agile, and he can be a solid short yardage back at the next level.

And once you factor in the talent of New Mexico State Aggies sophomore Larry Rose III , Wyoming Cowboys sophomore Brian Hill, Georgia Southern Panthers junior Matt Brieda, Northwestern Wildcats sophomore Justin Jackson, and South Florida Bulls sophomore Marlon Mack, the running back position will be loaded heading into the 2016 college football season with all of these players expected to make National Football League rosters in 2017 as we could see a return to the ground attack as opposed to doing everything by air.

Source: Sports-reference.com

 

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