Ezekiel Elliott is the best RB in the NFL Draft, and he’s even dangerous without the ball


Ezekiel Elliott will almost certainly be the first running back off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft, but it’s not just the Ohio State product’s ability when the ball is in his hands that makes him such a valuable addition. He’s also lauded for his ability to keep defenders away from his teammates.

Is Glenn Gronkowski as good as Rob?

No. Glenn, a three-year fullback at Kansas State, is projected to be a late-round pick. He only carried the ball 16 times in his career, but did show a proclivity to make big plays from time to time. He averaged 24.6 yards on 15 receptions, which is the highest average in Kansas State history among players with at least 15 catches.

Last season, Glenn carried the ball 11 times for 45 yards while catching five passes for 76 yards. He only ran the ball and recorded a reception in the same game on four occasions.

Though the youngest Gronkowski was productive whenever he had the ball in his hands, it’s clear the Wildcats decided he was best used on a limited basis. NFL teams likely view Glenn as a spare part, too, considering clubs are scouting him at both fullback and tight end. At 6’3, 234 pounds, if Baby Gronk is going to make it in the NFL, it will probably have to be as a multi-faceted option.

Is Glenn Gronkowski as fun as Rob?
No. Glenn, who didn’t attend the Gronk Party Cruise, says his older brother sets a tough example to follow.

“He’s crazy, obviously,” Glenn said at the Combine. “He loves to have fun. I’m probably not as much fun as him. That’s kind of hard to beat.”

That’s not to say the youngest Gronk doesn’t goof around, though. Last month, for example, he allowed UFC’s Rashad Evans to put him in a very painful chokehold.

From All-Star to adieu: Why Pirates would trade Andrew McCutchen


One of the most intriguing subplots this offseason is whether the Pittsburgh Pirates will trade five-time All-Star and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. It’s rare for a team to trade a player who has won an MVP award for that franchise, but not unprecedented. In recent years, for example, the Minnesota Twins traded Justin Morneau and the Seattle Mariners traded Ichiro Suzuki.

The bow ties take the feather statement to another level.

Newton has worn one of the feather ties after five games. The exceptions were the Atlanta game in which he didn’t have a press conference because he was in the concussion protocol, the Tampa Bay game he missed because of the concussion and Sunday’s game at Los Angeles because he wore a regular tie.

Newton likes the ties so much that there are discussions with Brackish about a custom Cam collection. Supporting a small company in the Carolinas makes it a natural fit for Newton, who likes to support the local economy.

Newton isn’t the only celebrity who has worn the feather ties. Bill Murray wore one to the 2014 Oscars and the wedding of George and Amal Clooney. Andy Samberg wore one when he hosted the 2015 Emmy Awards.

Don Cheadle, Tituss Burgess and Terrence Howard wore one to the 2016 Emmys. Craig Melvin wore one to the 2016 White House correspondents dinner.

Jack Nickelson and Ted Danson also have worn them.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has one, although he hasn’t worn it to a postgame press conference yet.

But seeing Newton in one of the ties excited Plotner more than most. He grew up a Panthers fan and went to Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the Panthers train.

Jay Cutler, Kapri Bibbs lead Week 10 spot starts


Nothing is ever easy in fantasy football, and that’s what makes it fun. Whether it be injuries, poor matchups or underperformance it’s rare that we can count on starting the same players week-in-and-week-out. Sometimes we have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for options in good spots that given week for a desperation play.

So what took so long to finally do A Football Life on this larger-than-life figure whose impact went way beyond the field? Well, it wasn’t for lack of trying by NFL Films.

Anthony Smith, producer of the film, said Brown was always at the top of the list for A Football Life. However, Brown remained elusive in turning down inquiries. “HBO did a documentary on Brown in the early 2000s,” Smith said. “Whenever we brought it to him and his family, they felt the story already had been told.”

Smith, though, thought he detected an opening when he saw Brown and his wife, Monique, at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canton in 2015. She remarked that she wanted to do something special to celebrate his life on Brown’s 80th birthday.

One thing lead to another, and Brown finally agreed to do A Football Life on him. “He now has (teenage) children who travel with him,” Smith said. “I’m not speaking for Jim, but they are older now and they are getting an appreciation of his legacy and what he has meant for people. I think they finally felt the time was right to tell his story.”

That brought up the next challenge for Smith. How do you tell the many aspects of Brown’s immense life within a one-hour A Football Life? Smith admitted there was talk of doing a longer film on Brown. Eventually, they opted to stay within the format for the series.

“There was a sense of leaving the audience wanting more,” Smith said. Smith, though, still had to make sure he hit all the high-points in this fast-moving film. Of course, there are numerous clips of Brown’s devastation of opposing defenses during his spectacular 9-year career.

How dodgeball made Cardinals’ David Johnson a dual threat


The feet. The hands. The toughness.

All the traits that have turned Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson into one of the best pass-catching running backs since Marshall Faulk weren’t developed on the Pop Warner fields of his hometown of Clinton, Iowa.

They were made playing dodgeball in school gyms across Eastern Iowa.

Every day before practice he went through receiving drills in individual warm-ups, growing his route tree and building on a childhood of playing dodgeball and “razzle dazzle” catch in his backyard. It paid off. When he graduated, he was Clinton’s all-time leading receiver.

“He did just a great job of running patterns,” Camp said. “He’s got a knack for getting open and the biggest thing, I think, is just his drive to get the football. He’s going to go out and meet the football at the highest point or come back to the ball — do whatever he needed to make him have the best chance of catching the ball.”

“His pass-receiving skills are off the charts,” Arians said after drafting Johnson in May 2015. “But if you wanted to hand it to him 20, 25 times, he’s used to that.”

With the Cardinals at the midway point of the season, Johnson leads all running backs in receiving with 35 receptions for 407 yards. When quarterback Carson Palmer watches Johnson catch passes, Johnson’s receiving background is evident.

“His hands. His body control. Everything he does in the receiving game. The way he runs his routes,” Palmer said. “He runs his routes, whether it be a double move or a post, his rhythm and his footwork is in line with what we do with our receivers. Everything he does in the pass game looks receiver-like.”

Having that knowledge and experience made Johnson’s adjustment to being a pass catcher in the NFL “comfortable.” He wasn’t confused by the terminology, footwork or route combinations thrown at him earlier in his career.

“It wasn’t tough for me,” Johnson said. “I think that’s where I think it helped out that I played it in college.”

NFL Network suspends Brian Baldinger for saying Eagles should put a bounty on Ezekiel Elliott


NFL Network analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger has been suspended after suggesting that the Eagles needed to put a bounty on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, according to Pro Football Talk.

“This is the guy that that we’ve got to hurt,” Baldinger said of Elliott in a radio interview on Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic last week. “This is the guy that we’ve got to take out of the game. There’s got to be 10 guys that want to hurt him every single play. In fact, we may even put a little bounty on Ezekiel Elliott.”

The Vikings ran a similar offense last season with a healthy Teddy Bridgewater, and moving the ball with short and intermediate passes was good enough for an average of 22.8 points per game. This year, the Vikings are averaging fewer than 20 points per game. Coupled with the strength of the defense, it was enough to get the Vikings to an 11-5 record and a playoff bid in 2015.

Given his experience with Bradford, Shurmur should have a good idea of his quarterback’s skill set and limitations. Bradford said he has a good relationship with his new offensive coordinator.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with Pat,” Bradford said. “I think he’s a great football mind.”

Just a shift in timing and coaching Bradford to get the ball out more quickly could help Shurmur put the Vikings in a better position to protect their quarterback and succeed. It doesn’t matter if the Vikings dink and dunk their way to wins, as long as they turn things around.

The Vikings also confirmed that tight ends coach Pat Shurmur will serve as the interim offensive coordinator.

After starting the season 5-0, Minnesota is coming off two consecutive losses that can be pinned mostly on the Vikings’ stagnant offense. The Vikings are 31st in the NFL in total offense, averaging 293.3 yards per game. Minnesota’s 19.9 points per game places them 23rd in the league.

When Zimmer was hired as the head coach in 2014, he brought Turner on board as the offensive coordinator. Zimmer publicly criticized the offensive line after the team’s first loss.

Steph Curry might be the grittiest player in the NBA


When you think of grit in the NBA, you probably think of big men setting hard screens and battling for position in the paint, or players hitting the ground to secure a loose ball.

“A lot of times it’s being ugly, not pretty,” Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts says.
The definition translates well to sports, where all athletes are going to have to persevere through setbacks at some point in their careers because of their passion to compete.

That 53-point lead Golden State amassed in the preseason against their old friends from Clipperland gave you a glimpse of what they’re capable of.

Golden State will figure it out on offense, as they slowly did in this game. Defensively, the issues are more pronounced and probably more enduring. While commending the team’s improved effort, Warriors coach Steve Kerr cited miscommunication as a reason the night did not go so easily. “We’re going to have to get so much better,” Kerr said after the game. “You can see how much work we have ahead. We have plenty of talent but talent is not going to be enough.”

The Warriors are carrying a half-dozen centers on the roster (depending on how one defines a big). On Friday night, young Kevon Looney, he of 20 years and two hip surgeries, got thrown into the fire. “I thought he was great,” Kerr said. “He was a +13 in 7 minutes.” Kerr added, “He’s one of those guys, he doesn’t look that fast. He doesn’t look like he jumps very high. But he knows what he’s doing.”

Looney performed well, especially under the circumstances. Golden State had a one-point lead when Looney entered with five minutes remaining in the stanza. At the end of the quarter, the Warriors led by 11. Of course, much of this had something to do with a Curry scoring 8 consecutive points, but the effort was steadied by Looney’s hand — most especially on the quarter’s chaotic, closing possession when the UCLA product turned a sure Curry turnover into an assist aimed at Andre Iguodala. Of the play Looney said, “I was looking at Klay first. They jumped out, I made the right play. Just reading the defense, really.” Of his comfort in getting thrown out there in these situations, Looney added, “I practice with these guys every day. These are some of the best players in the league, so I get confidence playing against Draymond (Green) and (Kevin Durant) every day, so I was ready to play.”

Is Looney the solution to Golden State’s weakness in the middle? That’s likely too much to put on a 20-year-old who’s still trying to build his body up. What’s clear is Golden State, for all the preseason hype, has a weakness it’s still struggling to address. While one doesn’t want to overreact after two games, the Warriors’ defense looks, at this point, unrecognizable.

Whether that’s due to a lack of rim protection or a lack of comfort, the Warriors must improve on that flaw. When and if they do, they are sure to get very little credit for the feat. For this team, meeting expectations might be a lot easier in theory than in practice.

Don’t ask Bill Belichick if he’d bench Tom Brady for his backup quarterback


There’s times when you ask obvious questions in journalism just to get something officially on the record. Asking whether Tom Brady would start when his four-game suspension was up might have been too obvious. C’mon now.

And especially, you don’t want to ask Bill Belichick that. You know this’ll be his reaction. You just know it.

To answer everyone’s question, no, it wasn’t me. pic.twitter.com/KEG6rVtA9R

— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 29, 2016
There’s a joke here somewhere that Belichick just announced Jesus Christ will be his new starting quarterback. But seriously, Jesus is probably the only person who could take Tom Brady’s role on the Patriots, and maybe not even.

Roster spots are valuable and few teams even keep three quarterbacks when it’s time to trim down to 53 players. In 2000, the New England Patriots elected to keep four quarterbacks into the regular season rather than cut ties with a sixth-round rookie named Tom Brady who they thought might turn out alright. But that decision was a rare exception and keeping Fitzpatrick, Smith, Petty and Hackenberg into September isn’t realistic.

The second element McAdoo exhibits that matters is his approach to adversity. I asked him on Thursday that what if it all blows up early, if nothing works, if struggle comes, if his team gets in an early hole?

His answer: “Well, the first thing you do is you address it head on. And the second thing you do is you never flinch.”

He looked forceful, direct and confident when he said it.

The Giants training camp unfolds, the preseason games come and the season commences on Sept. 11 at Dallas. They look hungry enough to play that game this weekend.

“I liked the look in their eyes,” McAdoo said after their first camp team meeting.

It was likely easy for him to recognize. It mirrors his own.

Johnson put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers in his 12 seasons with the Houston Texans, leading the league in catches and yards twice while amassing more than 1,000 receiving yards seven times. His best year was 2008, when he caught 115 passes for 1,575 yards.

Aaron Rodgers is playing better than you think


One productive half against the Chicago Bears could not realistically suppress all the panic surrounding Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ offense. The concerns draw from a yearlong decline in production. A recent column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggested Rodgers had fallen from the ranks of the greats as a result.

Since the start of the 2003 season, home teams have covered the spread at a 48.8 percent clip. That’s hardly surprising for weekly readers who have heard this point reiterated ad nauseum, but bettors may not realize than the edge in picking the road team only exists because of divisional rivalries.

After a slow start to the season, my system picks rebounded with a 4-1 performance in Week 7. Using Bet Labs data analysis software, I’ll look to continue that success with a new system that has gone.

The Browns’ best chance to win a game in 2016 comes this Sunday when they host the Jets. FPI gives Cleveland a 39 percent chance to win that game. The Browns’ chance to win is 33 percent or lower in seven of their eight games after Sunday.

FPI gives the Browns a 6 percent chance to lose all of their remaining games. That’s three times more likely than any other team. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams each have a 2 percent chance to lose out.

Part of the Browns’ ugly projection comes from what would be a tough schedule for any team. But that’s only part of the story.

Cleveland currently ranks 22nd or worse in offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency.

In 1987, the Bears had six quarterbacks throw at least 11 passes: McMahon, Mike Tomczak, Mike Hohensee, Sean Payton (the current Saints coach), Steve Bradley and Jim Harbaugh. Of course this was the strike season, which explains the situation.

That Bears team also made the playoffs, going 11-5 and losing in the divisional round to Washington. McMahon played quarterback in the playoff game.

Technically, the Browns have not been eliminated from the playoffs. So there is hope they could be like those Bears teams. Right?

But this week’s starter is a mystery.

Kessler is in the NFL concussion protocol and McCown still is trying to come back from a broken left collarbone. It’s possible Hogan will be the fourth different starter this season. Hogan played Sunday in Cincinnati and did OK given the circumstances, completing 12 of 24 passes for 100 yards and running for 104 more.

It marked the second time in a non-strike season a team has had six players throw a pass in the first seven games. The last: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, when they went 0-14.

One other thing: If Hogan starts, he’ll be starting QB No. 27 since 1999.

Dak Prescott is ready for whatever kind of ice cream the NFL throws at him


DELICIOUS DEFENSES: Dak Prescott is not afraid of “vanilla” or “rocky road” defenses. Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Dak Prescott has been one of the preseason’s best stories, and the former Mississippi State star is confident he can handle anything that’s thrown at him. Even pralines?

The five most injured teams in the NFL … so far

1. Patriots — They lost two offensive linemen and Dion Lewis within a week. Worse, Rob Gronkowski has been seen limping around and hasn’t practiced for a week. And then there’s Brady’s suspension, but given the state of the AFC East, there’s no reason to panic.

2. Bills — Their woes started with first-round pick Shaq Lawson’s shoulder surgery and have continued through Manny Lawson’s suspension and Marcell Dareus’ decision to enter rehab. After winning the offseason, they’re losing training camp.

3. Colts — It’s not the length of the list, it’s who’s on it. Cornerback Vontae Davis is their best player on that side of the ball, and he’s out indefinitely.

4. Chargers — D.J. Fluker was seen with crutches and a walking boot, never a good sign. Joey Bosa still isn’t practicing, but the Spanos’ being cheap isn’t his fault.

5. Steelers — It’s not so much the injuries as it is the suspensions. Le’Veon Bell is getting an NFL-mandated three-game break to start the season. Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year. Tight end Ladarius Green could fill the void of offensive weapons, but nobody seems to know what the hell is going on with his injury status.

Mincey was a sixth-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2006, but was released later that year. He was signed to the San Francisco 49ers practice squad and didn’t really make a name for himself until 2010 when he battled his way into the starting lineup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He tallied eight sacks in 2011 and earned a four-year, $20 million deal from the Jaguars, but managed just three sacks the following season and was released in 2013.

He caught on with the Denver Broncos that season, making an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII. The next season, he signed on with the Dallas Cowboys. Mincey returned to form as a full-time starter in 2014, but was held without a sack in 2015 and saw limited time.

In nine seasons, Mincey appeared in 96 games and totaled 26 sacks.

NFL fines Antonio Brown for twerking TD celebration


The No Fun League strikes again. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has been fined for a new twerking touchdown dance he unveiled in their win against Washington on Monday Night Football this week, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.

Brown also said he was fined for wearing blue cleats, but added it’s “nothing to a boss.”

Midway through the third quarter, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Brown on a 26-yard touchdown pass. Following the play, Brown thrusted his butt five times, which is illegal. He was flagged 15 yards for the play.

Marshall had just three catches for 32 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. Prior to injury, Marshall appeared to be bouncing back, hauling in two catches for 52 yards against the Bills.

Buffalo scored 17 unanswered points beginning late in the second quarter, including a fumble returned for a touchdown. Buffalo established a 24-20 lead, but the Jets answered with 17 unanswered points of their own. Two Matt Forte rushing touchdowns and a Nick Folk field goal let New York take a 37-24 lead.

The Bills were inconsistent throughout, and though they had a late-game rally to narrow the Jets’ lead to 37-31, New York’s Brandon Marshall recovered the onside kick. Buffalo’s defense forced a three-and-out, giving the Bills the ball and 10 seconds to try to make something happen. Taylor did fire off a deep ball to Goodwin, but he didn’t get out of bounds and time expired.

Brown caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener. So as long as he remains one of the best wide receivers in the game, the Steelers will likely have no problem with his flamboyant on-field behavior.

Marshall remained on the ground and immediately grabbed his left knee following the tackle, and he was down for a few minutes, but he was able to walk off the field under his own power. He attempted some jogging on the sideline, but headed to the locker room for further examination shortly after.

He was apparently healthy enough to return to the game because he was back on the field just minutes after walking to the locker room.

GOODELL IS MAKING ANOTHER GRANT: NFL to launch new $100 million concussion initiatives to improve player safety. It sounds great. But remember when the NFL donated money to the National Institutes of Health and then tried to manipulate the results?

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