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Charles Barkley Rocks Jared Sullinger, Tells Him to Stay off Twitter

1 hour 16 min ago

Charles Barkley doesn’t take no mess, especially when it’s the playoffs and your team is sitting at home.

It might only be the first round, but the Inside the NBA analyst is already in finals form. He’s arguing with Shaquille O’Neal, dropping one-liners and taking zero prisoners in his usual contrarian style.

If you tangle with Chuck, you’re eventually going to get burned—a fact Jared Sullinger learned the hard way on Wednesday night.

Barkley and O’Neal were neck-deep in their ongoing Dwight Howard debate when the 22-year-old Boston Celtics forward tweeted out a message about the two analysts. He thought it was funny how Barkley never agreed with anything O’Neal said.

Does Shaq and chuck get paid on TNT just to argue with one another. Doesn't matter what Shaq says. Chuck disagreeing lol

— Jared Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) April 23, 2014

A casual observation, Sullinger had no idea that he’d rattled Sir Charles’ cage.

Co-caster Ernie Johnson read Sullinger’s tweet out loud on the air, prompting Barkley to prickle and retaliate predictably.

Ben Watanabe of Fox Sports spotted video of the ensuing bluster, which involved Barkley throwing weapons-grade shade the young forward’s way. 

“First of all, we should not be showing tweets from guys who do not make the playoffs,” Barkley said. “Jared, don’t be tweeting if you don’t make the playoffs.”

Boom. Toasty. 

Be on the lookout for more Barkley gems as the playoffs progress. The man is a quote machine, and he’s not going to sit there and let some kid out of Ohio State call him out on his show.

 

On the Twitters. Don't shade me, Chuck.

NBA Playoff Picks: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats, Game 3

1 hour 17 min ago

The Miami Heat have won all 17 of their games against the Charlotte Bobcats since Chris Bosh and LeBron James joined forces with Dwyane Wade, which is important to consider when making your NBA playoff picks Saturday, as the two teams meet up at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Sports bettors will find that the Heat are five-point road favorites in the pro basketball odds, with the betting total sitting at 188 in the market.

Let's take a closer look at Game 3 of this best-of-seven series in the Eastern Conference, while offering up a prediction along the way.

 

Gambling stats via SBR Forum 

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NFL Draft 2014: Projections for Biggest Potential Sleepers in This Year's Class

1 hour 25 min ago

With so much depth across multiple positions, the 2014 NFL draft offers teams the opportunity to come away with some major steals outside the first round.

It is still hugely important to come through with solid first-round selections, but franchises will have plenty of chances throughout the draft to bring in impact players. Prospects fall down draft boards for seemingly innocuous reasons every year, and 2014 is no different in that regard.

Here are three prospects who will be taken well below their true value but who will ultimately prove to be major steals for the teams that select them. 

 

Austin Seferian-Jenkins

With so much attention being paid to Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro, to a lesser extent, Austin Seferian-Jenkins has become a forgotten man. The tight end position is arguably more important now than ever before in the NFL, yet one of the most intriguing all-around tight ends to enter the draft in quite some time is considered a second-rounder at best.

At 6'5" and 262 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins is bigger than many defensive ends. Add in the fact that he has soft hands and a nose for the end zone, and there is a lot to like about the University of Washington standout's ability to translate to the NFL level.

Perhaps the two biggest things holding Seferian-Jenkins back are a stress fracture in his foot and perceived character issues. Seferian-Jenkins expects his foot to be healed in the near future, though, according to Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk.

Also, the character issues are overblown. Per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, Seferian-Jenkins admitted to being charged with driving under the influence, but he chalked it up to a one-time mistake that won't happen again.

Plenty of players have received third, fourth and even fifth chances, so Seferian-Jenkins certainly deserves an opportunity to prove himself. According to Alex Marvez of Fox Sports 1, the 21-year-old comes across as a mature individual:

That is definitely a plus in his favor, but his on-field ability will ultimately dictate his NFL success. After hauling in 69 receptions for 852 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, Seferian-Jenkins took a big step back in terms of production last season with 36 catches for 450 yards, although he did muster eight scores.

Since the Huskies focused so much on the running game, Seferian-Jenkins was asked to block more than he was asked to make plays in the passing game. He excelled in that area, and he shouldn't be punished for it.

In fact, NFL Network's Charles Davis believes that Seferian-Jenkins' all-around game makes him the most complete tight end in the 2014 class, according to Bryan Fischer of NFL.com.

I've heard great reports on him lately. He's cut weight and looks like he's headed in an upper track and is the number two tight end. He should have always been challenging to be the number one tight end in this draft. I think he's more complete than Eric Ebron when his game is on.

Despite his upward trend, it still looks as though he will be taken in the second round at the earliest. A number of teams could potentially benefit from a tight end like Seferian-Jenkins, but look for the Buffalo Bills to strike at No. 41 and land the best tight end in the entire draft.

 

Ka'Deem Carey

Running back has become somewhat of a forgotten position in general in the NFL draft over the past several years. Due to the fact that capable backs can be found in the mid-to-late rounds and even as undrafted free agents, there isn't much urgency in terms of trying to grab one on Day 1 or even Day 2 of the draft.

That will hurt the running back crop as a whole, but it is especially troubling for Ka'Deem Carey. The University of Arizona product enjoyed a spectacular career with the Wildcats, and he looked to be one of the top running back prospects in the draft. But ordinary pre-draft workouts have caused his stock to slip.

Carey isn't a particularly big back at 5'9" and 207 pounds, so the perception is that he will have to use his speed to succeed in the NFL. Unfortunately, he clocked in at 4.70 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. That shouldn't be the only thing that scouts look at, but that is the nature of the beast when it comes to talent evaluation.

The fact is that Carey was one of the most productive running backs in college football over the past two seasons. He averaged better than 1,900 yards rushing per season in 2012 and 2013, he found the end zone a total of 44 times during that stretch and he even proved to be a capable pass-catcher.

One observer who believes that teams are making a big mistake by sleeping on Carey is NFL.com's Bucky Brooks. According to Brooks, Carey has what it takes to be a star in the NFL.

I continue to believe Ka'Deem Carey will be a standout running back in the NFL despite his poor performance in the 40 in workouts. Although he is not an elite athlete, Carey is the most natural runner in the draft. He exhibits outstanding vision, balance and body control with the ball in his hands, yet is a violent runner who consistently runs through contact to fall forward at the end of runs. Carey's punishing running style belies his slender frame, but it is one of the reasons I believe he will excel as a feature back in a zone-based running scheme.

One team that could make for an interesting fit is the Tennessee Titans. After releasing Chris Johnson, they don't necessary have a true bell-cow back. Carey could be that guy within Tennessee's blocking scheme, and he would make a lot of sense for the Titans with the 12th pick of the fourth round.

 

Antonio Richardson

The 2014 draft is rich with talent at offensive tackle, but University of Tennessee star Antonio Richardson hasn't received much hype. For teams that miss out on elite prospects such as Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan, though, he has the ability to provide similar production.

At 6'6" and 336 pounds, Richardson is a mountain of a man who dwarfs essentially anyone he comes up against. His mobility is obviously somewhat of a concern, but he is extremely difficult to get past once he engages in a block.

Richardson had to deal with some of the most explosive pass-rushers in college football in the SEC, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reports that his peers felt as though he stacked up quite well:

Richardson impressed at the combine with 36 bench press reps, which was tied for the second-highest total. Even if he doesn't pan out as a tackle in the NFL, that strength should allow him to kick inside to guard quite effectively.

He was Tennessee's starting left tackle for the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons, and although left tackle may be a reach for Richardson in the NFL, he could be an elite right tackle if he lands in an ideal situation.

Every team in the league is looking for offensive line depth, but the Miami Dolphins may be at the top of that list. They would benefit from help at both tackle and guard, and they would be wise to select Richardson with the 17th pick of the third round due to his potential versatility in the NFL.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Why 3 Weeks Up to 2014 Spanish Grand Prix Could Set Up Rest of 2014 F1 Season

1 hour 31 min ago

The three-week gap between the Chinese and the Spanish grands prix gives each of Formula One’s 11 teams an opportunity to sit back, take stock and assess their season so far.

It is easy to forget, given the excitement that surrounded the start of the new season, that hundreds upon hundreds of team employees have travelled in little over a month to four different countries for four different races.

A return to Europe, where the vast majority of those members are based, represents a well-earned chance to take a breather from the intensity of battle, with this break the second longest of the season behind the four-week summer gap between the races in Hungary and Belgium.

Well, we refer to it as a “break,” but—in true F1 style—the work that goes on behind the scenes over the next three weeks will arguably be just as hectic and relentless as what we see occur on the track over a grand prix weekend.

And in 2014, that is truer than in any season in recent memory.

The Spanish Grand Prix, as the first European event of the season, has traditionally been the weekend which sees the introduction of major technical upgrades. With the Circuit de Catalunya known to be a thorough test of a car’s aerodynamic efficiency, due to its mixture of high, medium and low speed corners, the Barcelona weekend is where hopes and dreams will either be realised or crushed.  

With Mercedes having dominated the first handful of races of the year, allowing Nico Rosberg and then Lewis Hamilton to blow the opposition away, the emphasis is now on the remaining 10 teams to quickly eradicate the performance deficit and ensure that this season does not become a waste.

Worryingly, however, you could only pinpoint Force India, Toro Rosso and perhaps Marussia as teams—apart from Mercedes—that could declare themselves content with their starts to the season.

And with the greatest of respect to each of those outfits, you would hardly expect them to take the fight to the Silver Arrows for the remainder of the season due to their sheer lack of resources and historical failure to challenge at the very front of the grid.

Mercedes’ traditional rivals and the most likely teams to challenge for the title, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, have all encountered inconsistencies and dropped easy points so far this season. This, despite securing at least one podium each, which are common sporting symptoms of a desperation to recover ground before it’s too late.

The early struggles of all three teams in getting a firm grip of the 2014 regulations could mean that they have more scope to improve as the season progresses in contrast to Mercedes, which began the season with a much higher baseline.

This, coupled with Mercedes’ historically patchy rate of development even in the days when the team were known as BAR, Honda and Brawn GP, could see a shift in power as the season progresses.

After all, Jenson Button only managed two further podiums for Brawn after winning six of the first seven races in 2009 as he came under severe pressure from teammate Rubens Barrichello and the Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber as the campaign reached its climax. 

Both McLaren and Red Bull have recently implied that 2014 could take a similar path, with Eric Boullier, the former’s racing director, telling Jonathan Noble of Autosport:

Definitely (McLaren can return to the level of performance which saw the team claim a double podium finish in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix).

This is 100 per cent sure because we know already back in the factory what is going to happen in the next three or four races.

I know what is going on, so I know we are on a very good development rate.

What we picked up now since a few weeks is good. Very good.

I hope it is going to come sooner than later. In the windtunnel already we have picked up a lot of performance.

Back in the factory it is fine. It is just a question of preparing everything and shipping it to the track.

In the article, Noble claimed that “the rate of downforce improvement unlocked in Woking in recent weeks has been greater than it has achieved at any point over the winter,” backing the view that the potential for rapid improvement is vast.

Boullier’s comments came only weeks after Vettel, the reigning world champion, told Sky Sports F1 following the Malaysian Grand Prix that his Red Bull team were “making bigger steps” in terms of development than the current world championship leaders.

But for all the talk surrounding the development of the predators, you would be forgiven for assuming that the prey, Mercedes, are allowed to improve their car too—but might decide not to.

That was the claim of Mark Hutcheson, the former race engineer of David Coulthard at Red Bull, who appeared on Sky Sports’ Midweek Report programme. Hutcheson suggested that because Mercedes currently have so much pace in hand over the rest of the field, having not been forced into pushing their cars to the limit so far this season, they have no urgency to improve the W05 car.

If that was not ominous enough, consider this statistic, courtesy of F1 journalist Ian Parkes:

The Spanish Grand Prix is looking increasingly like the resumption of normal service rather than a potential defining point of the Formula One season.

Rarely has something so important been so meaningless.

SEC Football: Incoming Freshmen Who Will Flourish in 2014 Fall Camp

1 hour 34 min ago

Several members of the class of 2014 have already made an impact, as some early enrollees have staked their claim to positions in the fall around the Southeast.

Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen, Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson, Crimson Tide cornerback Tony Brown and Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams all made waves during spring camp.

But what about the prospects in the class of 2014 who are coming in this summer?

While some positions have been settled in the spring, many more doors are open for incoming freshmen to become stars in the SEC sooner rather than later.

Which incoming freshmen this summer will flourish in fall camp in 2014? Our top five are in this slideshow.

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Champions League 2014: Semi-Final 2nd-Leg Live Stream, Fixtures and Predictions

1 hour 35 min ago

All teams remained cautious throughout much of the opening legs of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, and with just one goal scored over both matches, the return legs are shaping up to be filled with all the fireworks and drama this week's fixtures lacked.

The defending champions, Bayern Munich, dominated possession but had little to show for it, falling victim to an expert counter and losing to Real Madrid 1-0 at the Bernabeu.

Real will be hoping for a similar result at the Allianz Arena, but this will be easier said than done.

Atletico Madrid couldn't break down a well-organised Chelsea squad and will need to take care of business in London, but last year's Europa League winners have all the experience in the world on this level and showed against Paris Saint-Germain that they know how to work some late magic.

 

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid

Tuesday, April 29, 7.45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET

Live stream: ITV Player App, Fox Soccer 2 Go

Football purists were perhaps the biggest losers of the first legs of this year's semi-finals, as both Bayern and Atletico ran into well-organised, athletic units that have no qualms giving up possession in order to defend the goal whatsoever.

WhoScored.com indicates that the German champions held the ball a staggering 72 percent of the time, but mustered few real chances. Meanwhile, the hosts employed the Italian school of football, displaying ruthless efficiency on their way to a 1-0 win.

Was the result deserved? There's no point in debating that. In football, the only statistic that really matters are the two numbers up on the scoreboard when the match is over.

Real perfectly neutralized Bayern's passing game by attacking the passing lanes rather than the man playing the ball. Without any real threat coming from the Bavarian flanks, it was all too easy for Los Blancos to put a lot of bodies between the ball and the goal.

Credit the team's wing play for this. The amount of work Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria put in defensively was phenomenal, and even Karim Benzema added a presence in the centre of the pitch when Bayern held the ball.

But as this fan pointed out, Bayern's lack of width had reasons other than the phenomenal performances of Real's wingers:

Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are two great players, but both can be neutralized when lacking support. Robben in particular has a tendency to revert to one or two simple moves when he's not receiving overlap from the players backing him up:

Unless Bayern figure out how to utilise the wide spaces better, Real will simply travel to Germany with the same game plan.

Los Blancos have arguably the most athletic team in all of football and are one of the few teams that can plan around giving up 72 percent of possession.

Speaking of athleticism, The Daily Mirror's Oliver Holt reminded everyone of the fact that their two fastest players weren't even fully healthy:

Width will be key in this match, and it will be up to the hosts to force Real's wingers further back with more of an emphasis on the play of their wing-backs.

Prediction: Bayern 1-1 Real, Real advance.

 

Chelsea v Atletico

Wednesday, April 30, 7.45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET

Live stream: Sky Go app, Fox Soccer 2 Go

Is it really shameful to refuse to play into your opponent's biggest strengths as a club or is it just plain stupid to allow the other team to do what they do best?

You might not like the man, but Jose Mourinho is a football genius. Atletico Madrid have more physicality than some of their Spanish colleagues, like Barcelona, but they still don't have the team to spend 90 minutes dropping cross after cross into the box, hoping someone will connect.

Somehow, that's exactly what happened at the Vicente Calderon during the first leg. Despite a number of early injuries to Petr Cech and John Terry, the Blues maintained their discipline for the full 90 minutes to shut out the powerful Atletico attack.

Chelsea's biggest concern following the match must have been their lack of creativity playing on the counter. Without Eden Hazard, the team seemed to lack a certain connecting element in midfield and counters often died a silent death just beyond the centre line as a result.

According to The London Evening Standard's Simon Johnson, the Belgium international should be fit in time for the return leg:

Chelsea’s attacking midfielder Eden Hazard is on schedule to return from a hamstring injury to play in the second leg against Atletico.

Hazard has missed the last three games with the problem having limped off during the quarter-final victory against Paris St Germain.

In case you were wondering exactly how important Hazard is to the team, Squawka has you covered:

You can't really fault Diego Simeone and his troops for not knowing how to deal with the black wall they faced during the first leg of this tie, but it's clear as day the team's crossing approach wasn't working.

Koke and Diego did, however, have possession near the edge of the box with a shooting window on several occasions. Failing to pull the trigger in such a scenario is a mistake the team's midfielders can't afford to make on Wednesday.

Yes, chances are a defender will step out in time to block your shot. Conversely, the ball might ricochet into goal or the 16 players between the ball and the goal might block the keeper's view enough for the ball to sneak in.

The point is, you'll never know unless you actually try.

Prediction: Chelsea 0-0 Atletico, Chelsea advance after ET/penalties.

 


UFC 172 Predictions: Projecting Biggest Winners at Marquee MMA Event

1 hour 35 min ago

UFC 172 looks to be one of the most stacked cards in recent memory. Most of the focus will be on Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira, but there will be intriguing bouts throughout the night.

There is no question that UFC 172 will have a huge impact across several different weight classes moving forward. In addition to a major title fight in the main event, elite athletes will look to put themselves in position for future cracks at UFC's top prizes.

With UFC 172 quickly approaching, here are predictions for which fighters will come through with the most meaningful victories of the night. 

 

Jon Jones

Although Jon "Bones" Jones is considered by most to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, the UFC light heavyweight champion has plenty to prove against Glover Teixeira. Jones was less than convincing in his most recent win over Alexander Gustafsson, and there is no doubt that Jones would like to reassert his dominance within the UFC.

Jones came away with a unanimous-decision victory over Gustafsson, but that doesn't accurately describe how close the fight really was. Jones is used to outclassing his opponent, and he was unable to do that for one of the few times in his career. According to UFC on Fox, fellow light heavyweight star Phil Davis doesn't believe that Jones deserved to win that fight:

Even Jones has acknowledged that he wasn't at his best, and he blames himself for that more than anything. Per radio host Jim Rome, Jones didn't put forth all of his effort against Gustafsson and let his guard down to some degree:

Now that Jones is fully aware of the fact that he needs to respect his opponents, it is hard to imagine him taking Teixeira lightly. Jones is a massive favorite, and everyone expects him to win, but it is unlikely that Jones will enter the fight with that mentality.

As long as he sticks to the game plan that has made him so successful over the years, he should be able to take care of his 34-year-old opponent.

 

Phil Davis

If Jones is able to defeat Teixeira at UFC 172, then there is a definite shortlist of fighters who deserve the next crack at him. Gustafsson may be first in line, but after that, there is no question that Phil Davis is someone who must be considered.

With a 12-1 record, along with impressive victories over the likes of Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida, Davis is certainly a worthy opponent. Jones has already run the gauntlet for the most part, but a dangerous all-around fighter like Davis could pose a true threat. It is a bout that many observers would love to see, including Bleacher Report's Jeremy Botter:

In order for that fight to happen, though, Davis must take care of business on Saturday. Davis has a tough matchup on tap against Anthony Johnson, who makes his return to the UFC after two years with other promotions. Johnson is on a six-fight winning streak, and he has knocked out opponents left and right.

Davis has never been knocked out, though, and he is versatile enough to give Johnson major issues. He is capable of brawling if the situation calls for it, but Davis is also adept at mat wrestling and locking in submissions.

Due to the fact that Johnson is largely a one-dimensional fighter, Davis will come out on top.

 

Luke Rockhold

Luke Rockhold is one of the fastest-rising stars in the UFC's middleweight division, and he has a chance to bypass another rung on the ladder at UFC 172. Rockhold will take on a very credible opponent in the form of Tim Boetsch, but this is Rockhold's fight to win or lose.

While Boetsch has carved out a nice career for himself, he has generally struggled against elite competition as evidenced by losses to Davis and Costa Philippou. Rockhold is coming off an awesome knockout victory over Philippou, and that should give him an edge against Boetsch.

It would be very easy for Rockhold to look ahead to bigger and better challenges, but he is focused on Saturday, according to Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports.

I fought a striker the last time (defeating Philippou) and people saw that side of me and now with this fight, Tim could help me to show a different aspect of my game. I'm not sleeping on Tim Boetsch. ... I have to go out and perform is the bottom line, no matter who I fight. When you want to be the best in the world, you have to be ready and able to beat whoever they put in front of you, and I feel like I'm ready to do that.

If Rockhold stays true to his word, then there is no reason why he shouldn't come out on top against Boetsch. He will definitely have to be cognizant of Boetsch's power, but Rockhold will prove at UFC 172 that he is the total package.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Benfica vs. Juventus: Europa League Live Score, Highlights, Report

1 hour 45 min ago

Europa League—Estadio da Luz

 

Benfica vs. Juventus (kick-off 8:05 p.m. BST / 3:05 p.m. EDT)

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)

 

Projected Line-ups

Benfica: Moraes; Pereira, Garay, Luisao, Siqueira; Markovic, Amorim, Perez, Sulejmani; Rodrigo, Lima

Juventus: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Tevez, Llorente

 

Join us 35 minutes before kick-off for live commentary and team news as it comes in.

 

10 Reasons Brendan Rodgers Could Become Liverpool's Very Own Sir Alex Ferguson

1 hour 50 min ago

With three Premier League matches to go, Liverpool are well-placed to win their first league title in 24 years.

Brendan Rodgers has rightly received many plaudits for his work with the Reds this season, having succeeded Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish almost two years ago.

Contrast that with the fortunes of Manchester United, who this week dispensed with David Moyes after a disastrous 10 months at the helm of the Old Trafford club. Moyes’ troubles were not helped by the constant presence of Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager he replaced at the Red Devils.

The pendulum has seemingly swung back to Liverpool after Ferguson established a Manchester United dynasty, with a 51-point swing between England’s two most historically successful football clubs a damning indictment of Moyes’ disastrous reign.

Meanwhile, at Anfield, Rodgers is quietly going about his task with aplomb and could very well become Liverpool’s very own Sir Alex. Here are 10 reasons why.

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Tim Elliott Embraces the Awkward, Credits Dominick Cruz, Joe Rogan for Style

2 hours 47 sec ago

You don't hear most fighters admit to listening to the media. Evidently Tim Elliott doesn't mind taking the road less traveled in that regard.

It's not the only unorthodoxy about the flyweight, who takes on yet another contender Saturday at UFC 172 when he faces Joseph Benavidez at the top of the undercard.

Elliott might have the most distinctive style in the division (or beyond), stalking down opponents from a Keith Jardine-style crouch, unbalancing them by switching stances frequently and initiating brawls with all manner of kicks and punches with little or no windup.

And that's to say nothing of his hyper-aggressive wrestling game, heavy on the scramble phase and rife with the risk of a chokeout from the top or bottom.

"Awkward," Elliott deadpanned when asked to describe his style at a UFC 172 media event attended by Bleacher Report.

The style isn't an accident, either. It's a taste Elliott acquired over the years in a deliberate attempt to stand out and gain a competitive edge.

"I try to do my own thing and bring something unique to the table that not everybody is doing," he admits. "I feel like I bring something in that you can't mimic. I can bring in guys who are fast and good strikers like Benavidez, but I don't think he has anybody in his camp that can mimic the style of fighting I'm going to bring."

The urge is understandable. Elliott (10-4-1, 2-2 UFC) is only 27 years old and four fights into his UFC career, but he has faced a 125-pound murderer's row. Before Benavidez, there was Ali Bagautinov, who defeated Elliott and is now fighting for the title. Before that, there was Louis Gaudinot (a win), Jared Papazian (win) and constant contender John Dodson (a loss). 

Well before his UFC days, Elliott and his coaches made up their minds to do something different. The rightness of the decision, in Elliott's mind, was upheld during his loss to Dodson by someone far outside his corner. 

"Joe Rogan said it perfect," Elliott said. "That [Dodson] was faster and more athletic than me, and I just made up for it with awkward movement. It just kind of stuck with me."

That's the Rogan who handles color commentary for most UFC telecasts. But the style and Elliott's decision to stick with it has even deeper roots which intertwine even further with the MMA media.

Several years ago, Elliott spent a month with Dominick Cruz, the former UFC bantamweight champion who relinquished the title after a protracted injury layoff. Cruz is now one of the best fight analysts in the business. When he fights, he's also known as one of the sport's most awkward fighters, employing a herky-jerky boxing style.

"I got to go out and train with Dominick Cruz when I was 0-2-1, I think, in my pro career," Elliott said. "One day with him, I started trying to mimic his style as a joke, and it worked really well. I kept it from then on out."

Tim Elliott thinks when Dominick Cruz returns to bantamweight he'll quickly become the champ. pic.twitter.com/93sGdHhr8i

— Luke Thomas (@SBNLukeThomas) April 23, 2014

Elliott said he tried a more traditional game in his last contest. But after that loss, he's back to stay. Saturday, Elliott said, it will be all awkward all the time.

"It's something I can bring that's all my own," he said. "I got away from it in my Bagautinov fight, and it worked to my disadvantage, so we're going back to my original style again."


Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter if you feel so inclined.

NFL Punishes Seattle Seahawks for Being Too Good at Home?

2 hours 5 min ago

It’s not personal, Seattle. It’s just business. 

Seattle Seahawks fans love their home-field advantage. They bathe in the sonic havoc of the 12th man and relish every blowout their team puts up at home.

There’s a double edge to the Seahawks’ wild success at defending their home turf, however: It’s bad for ratings.

Indeed, it would appear Seattle’s penchant for blowing out opponents at CenturyLink Field will cost the franchise a number of prime-time television spots in the 2014 season. 

According to Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com, a league source said the NFL was hesitant to schedule more Seahawks home games in prime-time air slots because the contests have a tendency to become “uncompetitive.” 

In other words, it appears the NFL is tired of people changing the channel because Russell Wilson and company are too good at home. 

If true, this would go far in explaining the Seahawks' 2014 television schedule. More than one fan raised an eyebrow on Wednesday when the NFL released team schedules for the upcoming season.

These incredulous looks arose when fans noticed that the defending Super Bowl champs are only slated for one nationally televised home game. The Seahawks will play for a national audience when they host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, September 4. After that, Seattle’s three remaining nationally televised games are at Washington, San Francisco and Arizona.

Crabtree puts the Seahawks’ 2014 schedule in perspective, noting over half the league will host more nationally televised home games.

“The Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles all host three prime-time games in 2014,” Crabtree writes. “Fifteen more teams host two prime-time games. The defending champion Seahawks only get one at home.” 

While a bit of a bummer, the silver lining in regard to the neglect of the Seattle Seahawks is obvious.

You can complain about the lackluster amount of air time, but at least you’ll go to sleep knowing your team is, paradoxically, too good for prime time. Put that feather in your cap and wear it proudly.

This is why God invented RedZone.

 

Courtois, Moses and Why the Loan System Needs a Complete Overhaul

2 hours 15 min ago

Not so long ago, the loan system was used to give young players on the fringe of a squad some valuable first-team experience elsewhere. David Beckham, for example, was farmed out to Preston North End early in the 1994-95 season, scoring two goals in five appearances before graduating to his Premier League debut for Manchester United in the latter stages of the campaign.

These days, however, top-flight sides appear to use the loan system for more nefarious means, loaning their surplus talent to rivals within their own division. Last week, Liverpool received a huge boost in their title prospects without even kicking a ball when their on-loan striker Fabio Borini scored a goal for Sunderland against Chelsea.

The Blues, meanwhile, currently have 28 players out on loan, three of whom are plying their trade in the Premier League: Romelu Lukaku, Ryan Bertrand and Victor Moses.

This weekend, Chelsea will face Liverpool at Anfield, but Moses will not be in action. Current Premier League rules stipulate that a player cannot face his parent club, even if he is allowed to do his parent club's bidding against their league opponents.  

Loan players shipped out within the same league are effectively secret agents who help their parent clubs without posing a threat towards them. Last December, Jose Mourinho plainly boasted of the benefits of this arrangement to the Daily Mail:

From my angle, I’m happy that [Romelu Lukaku is] scoring goals against our direct rivals, and he doesn’t score against us because he can’t. It’s phenomenal you have a player that, even when he is not playing for you, is scoring against your opponents.

It seems inconsistent that a team like Chelsea can farm out their considerable talents to help weaken their opponents without those same talents being able to inflict equal damage on their parent club.

It is even more inconsistent when the case of Thibaut Courtois is considered. The Belgian keeper has been on loan from the Blues at Atletico Madrid for the past three seasons, but since UEFA have no stipulation against loan players facing their parent clubs, he was allowed to face Chelsea in the Champions League this week (even if UEFA had to overrule a contract clause stating he would only be available at a price). 

In most cases, this arrangement wouldn't be an issue—but what if an unscrupulous owner whispered in the ear of his on-loan player, asking him to influence the game in favour of the team who own his contract? Although I am by no means suggesting Courtois and Chelsea are guilty of anything, there is clearly potential for corruption here.  

Courtois' freedom to play against Chelsea is made to look even more farcical by Juan Mata's situation this season. Having already played for Chelsea in the Champions League, the Spaniard was cup-tied for Manchester United's European campaign.

So, in the eyes of UEFA, it is not permissible for someone to play against clubs outside his domestic division if he has been sold that season, but if he has been loaned, he can play against whomever he wants, including his actual owner.

Why can a loan player face any team he wants in a particular league, but someone who has been sold mid-season cannot? It makes no sense. 

Clearly, the loan system is a mess (as is the cup-tied system, but that's a story for another day). The Premier League and UEFA must have a consistent ruling, while loan players should be able to feature against all clubs in their parent's domestic league (including the parent) or none of them.

Earlier this month, Arsene Wenger criticised the loan system (via ESPN) and made some pertinent suggestions for new rulings:

I believe if you want to continue the loan system, we have to make them available against the teams that loan them out, or the system is not defendable. It is just a protection of the clubs who loan the players out to hurt their opponents and they have no risk at all.

I think the best would be that the players are only loaned in lower divisions or abroad, and even abroad I am not completely convinced it is right.

Wenger's comments are undoubtedly spurred by Arsenal's top-four battle with Everton, whose manipulation of the loan system has brought them the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry, Gerard Deulofeu and Lacina Traore.

However, his suggestion that players may only be loaned to other divisions or abroad is fair and sensible—particularly if those players sent abroad will not meet their parent club in a continental competition that season.   

Whether the Premier League and UEFA will recognise that these changes need to be made is another matter. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @RyanJayBailey

Alabama 'On Their Way' to 5th Straight Recruiting Title After Huge Weekend

2 hours 16 min ago

The Alabama Crimson Tide landed some huge recruits at their spring game this past weekend. Nick Saban pulled in one 5-star and three 4-stars and continues his amazing recruiting streak. 

Minkah Fitzpatrick, a 5-star cornerback, is one of the hottest recruits in the 2015 class. He will contribute much-needed depth to Alabama's secondary. Fitzpatrick chose the Tide's offer over pretty much every other program in the country. 

Watch Matt Scalici from AL.com break down Alabama's huge recruiting weekend with Adam Lefkoe

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. Recruit rankings from 247Sports

2014 NFL Schedule: Not All Primetime Is Created Equal for CBS, NBC and ESPN

2 hours 19 min ago

The 2014 NFL schedule was finally released Wednesday night, ending weeks of speculation as to who is playing where and when this coming fall. The NFL Network marked the occasion with a three-hour televised event—showing us that, yes, only the NFL can put a show in primetime that has but one function: to tell viewers when their actual show will be on this season.

Thankfully, the league didn't wait until the end of their three-hour tour of the schedule to release it to the masses, creating a feeding frenzy of trip-planning, ticket-brokering and NFL-division-prognosticating well into the night on Wednesday and trickling on through to Thursday's news cycle.

The NFL schedule is a big freaking deal in this country, and it's great to finally get a chance to break it all down.

And while far smarter footballing minds than mine are scouring the 17-week slate for the best matchups, toughest schedules and easiest roads to the postseason, I find myself far more fascinated with breaking down the logic of the NFL schedule-makers.

The fact is, nobody knows which games are going to be good and which games are going to be one-sided blowouts (last season's Super Bowl result will attest to that). So while it's fun to guess which late-season games are going to matter the most, there is no telling if the Week 17 Jaguars-Texans tilt will be a meaningless division game between two teams with a combined six wins or a de facto playoff game that decides the AFC South title.

That's why the modern NFL is so much fun, and it is why watching the games is a billion times more entertaining than almost anything else on television.

Did I say billion? Multiply that by five.

That's how much the NFL rakes in each year from its media partners to put these games on the air; it's no wonder the league has such a tough task putting the schedule together. There are a lot of media mouths to feed, and for a few billion dollars those mouths are going to want something rather delectable in return.

In 2011, the NFL signed enormous extensions with NBC, CBS and Fox that take effect at the start of this season and will continue to run through 2022. Those deals total more than $3 billion annually for the NFL and comprise of both regular-season and playoff games, including a rotation of the Super Bowl.

In a separate move, the league also made a deal with ESPN in 2011 to expand the network's day-to-day coverage, highlighted by the extension of its existing Monday Night Football package. ESPN pays the NFL nearly $2 billion per season for MNF as well as expanded rights and usage of highlights and game film.

This February, the league opened up bidding for a limited Thursday Night Football schedule, won by CBS—it's worth noting that Turner, which owns Bleacher Report, was involved in that bidding process—adding $275 million to the network's annual tab for the NFL. (This SportsBusiness Journal article by John Ourand has all the details of the NFL's current contracts, which includes the DirecTV Sunday Ticket deal that ends this season deal as well.)

For five billion dollars, the league better get this television schedule right.

It's no wonder it takes a group of schedule-makers more than two months to finalize the slate. Not only does the league have to worry about making all of the TV networks happy, but they need to actually worry about competitive balance, home and road contests and outside forces, too—like if there is a rugby contest already scheduled the day before a game.

Seriously, here is a look from Peter King of Sports Illustrated at the scheduling process:

This year, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz and his team had the following roadblocks to the schedule you’ve bitched and moaned about since last night: a combined 17 games in non-traditional slots—Thursday CBS/NFL Network games, Saturday NFL Network games, and a Sunday morning FOX game (Detroit-Atlanta, from London)—as well as six One Direction concerts at NFL venues in the fall, New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks playing at Soldier Field on Saturday of Week 9 (the NFL won’t risk a bad-weather rugby game ruining an already-iffy field for a Bears game the next day), and baseball.

The joke in the room late Wednesday was the NFL would have to root against the Phillies all summer, because the Eagles are home on potential baseball playoff weekends on Oct. 5 and 12. Lord help the league if the Pirates get hot in October—because the Steelers are home Oct. 20 and 26. And it’s not neighborly to fool with the World Series. 

The NFL tried to mess with MLB's schedule last season in Baltimore and lost, so there is no chance they want to deal with that public-relations gaffe again. The rugby thing is just kind of hilarious.

It's an insurmountably difficult task to make everyone happy in the NFL, so it feels unfair to rip the league for any scheduling decisions. If you think your team got screwed on the schedule, just look back at last year's prognostications—that road game at Atlanta or Houston didn't end up being as bad as you thought in 2013, did it?—and chill out.

Instead, let's look at the breakdown of games, the primetime balance between the networks and a few other interesting notes in a 2014 schedule that is clearly the most intricate, complex and downright confusing in league history.

 

The Daytime/Primetime Breakdown

There is far more money in televising games in prime time than on a normal Sunday afternoon. No matter how many people in this country plan their Sundays around NFL telecasts, there is still more cache with playing a game at night, even if the game happens to be on a Monday or Thursday night.

Of the 256 games on the 2014 NFL slate, 49 of them will be in prime time, with another two games coming during the day on Thanksgiving, which, for ratings purposes, is as good as being in prime time.

By comparison, there will be 150 games played at 1 p.m. ET this season, with one additional game being played at 9:30 a.m. ET as part of the NFL's international series.

Red Zone will never be more important than in 2014.

The traditional 4 p.m. ET block of games, which often funnels into the early part of Sunday evening's prime time on the East Coast, has just 52 games, with another two late-afternoon games scheduled for Saturday in Week 16.

The NFL loads up on early Sunday games for a reason. Those games are often sent to limited markets, giving fans a local or in-division offering in the early window. There is just one week of the season that will have more than four games in the late Sunday afternoon window, and most weeks have but two or three games in that time slot, giving either CBS or Fox a "Game of the Week" matchup to show to most of the country.

No matter what spin the NFL puts on it, this decision is not to serve the audience as much as it is the networks.

By putting one or two national-level games in that late window, the NFL is maximizing its ratings for that one game. It's more difficult to parse the ratings for six games and add them up to create an overall rating for the window, so having one marquee game in the late slot creates a much more dramatic ratings victory for the league.

Better ratings means more advertising revenue for the networks looking to earn back some of those billions and, theoretically, it means more power for the league in the next negotiating window. Everybody wins.

What's most interesting is that 59 percent of the schedule is still slated for 1 p.m. ET—or 10 a.m. on the West Coast—while 20 percent of the schedule is now in prime time, which is nearly the identical percentage of games set for the late Sunday afternoon time slot.

The NFL is redefining where the audience will go, using the schedule to create five unique windows of weekly must-see action, with more and more high-profile games headed to prime time.

 

NBC: The Happy Network

When NBC took over Sunday Night Football, the NFL shifted its focus of marquee prime-time games from the traditional Monday night window to Sundays, thanks to the everlasting power of network television.

Here's the odd thing about that: there are just over 115 million households in America, and about 97 percent of them have televisions. Of those 111 million homes, nearly 110 million have the ability to watch NBC.

ESPN is in somewhere between 98 million and 100-plus million homes. The difference is nearly 10 percent of overall households, but for the NFL's purposes, that difference seems nominal at best. And still, the network giant gets the by far the best games in the Sunday night window.

NBC has 18 regular-season games this season, with 16 on Sunday and two—the season opener and Thanksgiving night—on Thursday. Of the 36 team slots on NBC this season, 25 were given to those that made the playoffs last year.

There are just eight games this season on NBC that will not feature two teams from the playoffs last season, and there are just two games in which neither team made the playoffs in 2013. Those two games are the Ravens and Steelers matchup in Week 9—one of the two or three best rivalries in the sport over the last decade—and the Cowboys and Giants contest three weeks later.

Moreover, the NBC schedule is loaded up on division rivalries after the midway point, safe-guarding the schedule from potential late-season clunkers if last year's playoff teams don't repeat their performances from 2013.

NBC has eight divisional games this season, seven of which come after Week 8. And if that's not enough, the league announced that NBC will have the ability to flex out of games starting as early as Week 5, making sure that late-season contests are as high profile as possible on Sunday nights.

The 2014 NFL schedule should make for a lot of happy peacocks this season.

 

CBS Thursday Night Drama

The Thursday night schedule may be thinner on playoff teams than Sunday night, but the league is not messing around in terms of mid-week rivalry games for CBS this year.

CBS and the NFL Network will share the early part of the Thursday slate, with games appearing on both networks for some nonsensical reason before the NFL Network shows the final seven games exclusively on its own network. The final "Thursday night" set of games will actually come on Saturday afternoon during the second-to-last week of the season.

Of the 16 games shared between CBS and NFLN as part of this expanded Thursday package, 14 are division rivalries, with the only two non-division games being Cowboys at Bears the week after Thanksgiving and Chargers at 49ers on the penultimate Saturday.

The logic? Competitive balance.

The league has been maligned for the marked lack of quality of Thursday night games, so making these games more important for each division will optimistically create more natural energy for the teams involved. In addition, making the Thursday slate nearly all divisional contests gives neither team an advantage going into—and out of—a short week created by the Thursday game.

While the league mandates that every team has one Thursday game, the Cowboys and Bears will actually have two, as both play on Thanksgiving this year before facing each other on full rest the following Thursday in the only non-division Thursday game.

It is a prudent move by the league to stack Thursday with division games, but NFL fans are very savvy viewers; we know that not all rivalries are created equal.

The Steelers-Ravens matchup leads off CBS's Thursday schedule, which highlights early games like the Giants-Redskins, Vikings-Packers, Jets-Patriots and Chargers-Broncos. These should be really good games for CBS to lock down the Thursday night audience.

What's interesting, however, is that the best Thursday matchup of the season, at least on paper, is the Saints at the Panthers, which comes on Oct. 30, the week after the CBS Thursday schedule ends. Thursday's early schedule is certainly more stacked for CBS than the late games are for NFLN, but the league's network did manage to pull one of the biggest division games of the entire season.

 

ESPN's Monday Night Mediocrity

This is a great line from King's MMQB piece about ESPN's Monday Night Football schedule:

Don’t cry for ESPN. Even with more quality games siphoned off to CBS on Thursday, the Monday slate doesn’t look bad at all. Check out the quarterbacks in the first five Monday games: Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Luck, Jay Cutler, Tom Brady—and in the sixth, it’s a Russell Wilson-Robert Griffin III matchup. 

Yes, America. Don't cry for ESPN, says the guy employed to cover NFL games for NBC.

Of course King is going to spin the schedule to make it look like ESPN is getting some high-profile games so there is less heat put on the NFL for handing his network the best schedule by leaps and bounds. The entire post-schedule release process is about spin, but there's no spinning out of the fact that of the networks featuring prime-time games, ESPN has gone from second fiddle to third.

ESPN has 17 games on Monday night this season, including a double-header to start the year. The Worldwide Leader has just three divisional games all season, and just one—Redskins at Cowboys—that will have anyone excited about a rivalry game at all.

There will be just 15 appearances—out of a possible 34—from 2013 playoff teams, including only four games between two teams that both went to last year's postseason.

There is a chance that one or two of the ESPN games could prove to be more enticing than they look today—the Texans at Steelers bout on Oct. 20 could be interesting if Houston gets off to a better start this season, and the Seahawks at Redskins matchup is somewhat intriguing with Russell Wilson facing Robert Griffin III on Oct. 6—but there isn't much ESPN should be too excited about this year. It certainly doesn't look like two billion dollars worth of quality matchups.

Now, that's not to say there may not be some close (read: good) games on ESPN. The Eagles and Colts are both coming off playoff years, and both should have high-powered offenses clicking when they face off in Week 2, ut there's really little juice to that game, especially compared to most of the other CBS and NBC games.

The Patriots go to Kansas City in Week 4, which could be a good game, I guess. And the Eagles are on again in early November, hosting the Panthers, which could have big playoff implications.

Again, who knows? The Dolphins at Jets on Dec. 1 could decide the AFC East this year, so it's hard to look at the schedule and prognosticate how it will play out in five months. But on paper—the only thing we can do right now is look at the schedule on paper—ESPN is going to have to do a lot of promotional spinning to find good reasons for casual NFL fans to tune in on Monday nights this fall.

That, or ESPN better hope the Falcons, Steelers and Ravens have bounce-back years. Things might not be so bad at the end of the year if a few teams have the solid results this year that we thought they would have had last year.

 

Marquee Teams at Marquee Times

No team will be in prime time more than five times this season—though Chicago and Dallas have a sixth "prime-time" game when factoring in day games on Thanksgiving— and every team has at least one prime-time game, with the Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, Vikings and Buccaneers only getting one national game on a league-mandated Thursday night.

There are nine teams that have at least five prime-time games—a number that grows to 10 if you include the Eagles playing on Thanksgiving—and all of those teams but the Cowboys, Giants and Bears made the playoffs last year.

The defending-champion Seahawks have five games in prime time, including the season opener and a game on Thanksgiving night, giving the league's best team a ton of high-profile exposure this season. Having said that, the schedule-makers did them no favors in terms of difficulty, as four of those five prime-time games are on the road.

 

Crossflexing

The 2014 schedule is so odd that the NFL had to make some abnormal concessions to appease all the networks. The league calls it "crossflexing", per King's story, which allows the schedule-makers to put up to seven games that would normally be slated for CBS or Fox on the other's network.

Traditionally, the NFC market games are on Fox while the AFC market games are on CBS. This year the Redskins and 49ers will play on CBS because Fox already had too many good games in Week 12. It's odd, however, that the NFL flexed an all-NFC game back to CBS instead of Detroit at New England or St. Louis at San Diego, which would have featured at least one AFC team.

It's also odd that Thanksgiving will feature six NFC teams in three games. Clearly, the NFL thinks the NFC teams are currently bigger draws nationally. Outside of Denver and New England in the AFC, it's hard to argue that point.

 

(NFC) East Coast Bias

Speaking of the NFL's conference bias, it's worth looking at each division to see which teams have the most prime-time games this season.

Again, including all three Thanksgiving games as "prime" football viewing slots on the schedule, the AFC South has the fewest marquee slots with 10, five of which involve the Colts.

Both the AFC East and NFC South have 11 prime-time slots, led by the Patriots and Saints (who each have five), while the AFC North and AFC West have 12 apiece, led by the Steelers and Broncos, respectively.

The NFC North has 14 prime-time slots, led by the Bears with six and the Packers with five, while the NFC West has 15 this season, buoyed by five each for the 49ers and Seahawks.

It's the NFC East, which had no team win more than 10 games and three teams finish .500 or worse last season, which has by far the most attention this season, securing 19 of a possible 104 "prime" slots for 2014.

The final schedule was reportedly one of half-a-million possibilities the NFL computers created. One has to wonder how many marquee games Jerry Jones might have secured in the other 499,999 scenarios.

Miller and Simms Debate Who's the Better Prospect: Joeckel or Matthews?

2 hours 22 min ago

Jake Matthews is widely regarded as the cream of the crop when it comes to offensive tackles in the 2014 NFL draft class.

How does Matthews compare to top tackles from recent drafts? Is he a better prospect than Luke Joeckel was coming out of college?

Watch as Adam Lefkoe, Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller and Bleacher Report NFL analyst Chris Simms debate Joeckel vs. Matthews in the video above.

Video courtesy of XOs Digital

Ultimate 2014 Draft Plan to Get New York Jets Back in the Playoff Picture

2 hours 23 min ago

The 2014 NFL draft is rapidly approaching, and the New York Jets have the 18th overall pick.

How can the Jets make the most out of their early selections on draft weekend? What moves would instantly improve their roster?

Watch as Adam Lefkoe and Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Chris Simms give you the Jets' ultimate draft plan in the video above.

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Updated Bracket and Preview of Thursday's Action

2 hours 25 min ago

The Stanley Cup playoffs have lived up to and probably even exceeded the hype in the early going with a cavalcade of thrilling games. The NHL is also helped by the fact most of the series have remained close, as only one team has advanced so far.

A unexpectedly dominant series from the Montreal Canadiens allowed them to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning. They could be joined in the second round by the San Jose Sharks, who head into Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings with a 3-0 series edge.

It's one of three games on the docket as the postseason rolls on. Let's check out an updated bracket for both conferences as the hunt for the Stanley Cup continues along with previews and predictions for Thursday's playoff games.

 

Updated Playoff Bracket

Eastern Conference

First Round Conference Semifinals Conference Finals (1) Boston 2     (W) Detroit 1       TBD   (2) Tampa Bay 0 (3) Montreal   (3) Montreal 4   TBD     TBD (1) Pittsburgh 2     (W) Columbus 2 TBD     TBD   (2) NY Rangers 2     (3) Philadelphia 1    

 

Western Conference

First Round Conference Semifinals Conference Finals (1) Anaheim 2     (W) Dallas 2       TBD   (2) San Jose 3 TBD   (3) Los Angeles 0   TBD     TBD (1) Colorado 2     (W) Minnesota 1 TBD     TBD   (2) St. Louis 2     (3) Chicago 2    

 

Predictions for Thursday's Games

Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings (Boston leads 2-1)

The Bruins have taken complete control of the series after Detroit stole Game 1 in Boston. They have won the last two games by a combined score of 7-1 thanks in part to the strong play of Tuukka Rask between the pipes. It puts a lot of pressure on the Red Wings heading into Game 4 at home.

As is often the case in these hard-fought playoff series, special teams have been crucial. John Buccigross of ESPN notes Boston has connected on 38 percent of its power-play chances in the series while Detroit hasn't registered a goal with the man advantage:

The absence of Henrik Zetterberg, who scored 48 points in 45 games before suffering a back injury, is obviously having a major impact on the Detroit offense. Without a definitive timetable for his return, it's up to Pavel Datsyuk and Co. to elevate their play with hope Zetterberg can return later in the series.

Ultimately, it would take a far more complete performance from the Red Wings to level the series after two lackluster showings. A battle-tested Boston squad knows this is its chance to gain total control of the matchup and will do exactly that.

Prediction: Bruins 3, Red Wings 2

 

Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild (Colorado leads 2-1)

This series has played out pretty much as expected so far. The Avalanche were able to force uptempo, high-scoring games in Colorado to grab a 2-0 lead before Minnesota returned home, slowed the pace and won Game 3. The style of play is crucial to success for both teams.

The advanced stats favor Minnesota, which has the highest Fenwick percentage of any team in the playoffs, according to ExtraSkater.com. But possession isn't as important when Colorado is able to open the game up and let their young stars like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog show off their skill.

Playing at home, Minnesota is able to get the matchup it wants to slow down those rising stars, but doing so on the road is more difficult. Since each side has a distinct advantage on home ice, this series certainly seems like it should go at least six games.

The other interesting thing to keep tabs on in Game 4 will be the play of Darcy Kuemper. He was outstanding given the chance to start after two shaky games from Ilya Bryzgalov and could very well be the player who turns the series in the Wild's favor in a close series.

Prediction: Wild 3, Avalanche 1

 

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings (San Jose leads 3-0)

What was supposed to develop into one of the most competitive series of the opening round has been totally one sided, at least so far. The Sharks have scored 17 goals in three games as Jonathan Quick, who was terrific over the team's last two playoffs runs, hasn't been able to bail out a porous defense.

Los Angeles has a championship pedigree, though. The Sharks realize that and understand they must try to finish off the series before the Kings start building comeback momentum. Ross McKeon of the San Francisco Chronicle passed along comments Dan Boyle had about exactly that:

Having been in these situations before, you've got to put a team away when you can. You don't want to give them any sign of life, any belief in (anything). You want to take it away as soon as possible.

Clearly the biggest question mark is whether the Sharks offense can keep up its torrid pace. While averaging more than five goals per game would be impressive against any postseason opponent, doing it against the NHL's best defensive team from the regular season is astounding.

On the flip side, it's hard to imagine the Kings shutting them down enough over the next four games to complete a monumental comeback. They should be able to do enough in Game 4 to at least start putting a little bit of doubt in San Jose's head, though.

Prediction: Kings 4, Sharks 3

 

2014 NBA Mock Draft: Updated Projections for Where Top Stars Fall in First Round

2 hours 25 min ago

The NBA draft doesn't have to be rocket science.

Granted, you're taking a leap of faith with any player who's yet to play in the NBA, but there are unquestionably players of whom you know will deliver right from the opening tip of their rookie seasons. That doesn't always mean they'll turn into All-Stars or MVPs, but they at least offer value in the short term.

As this is one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory, there is no shortage of talent that's ready to provide an immediate impact.

Below is a projection for the first round. The players underlined are most prepared to help their teams right away.

Note: Draft order is via NBA.com.

 

1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas

No player in this draft is better than Andrew Wiggins, and the Milwaukee Bucks don't have LeBron James playing the 3. This should be an easy decision. Although Wiggins' lone season at Kansas was a bit of a disappointment, it doesn't change what he's capable of in the NBA.

 

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke

Until we've seen what Nerlens Noel can or can't do in the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers should hold off on drafting another big man. That paves the way for Jabari Parker. The Duke star is such a great scorer and would take a lot of the offensive burden off Michael Carter-Williams.

ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman believes Parker offers the lowest risk of any player in the 2014 draft:

Sixers fans haven't had a lot to get excited about, but a core of Noel, MCW and Parker at least offers hope for the future.

 

3. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia

The Orlando Magic might find it tempting to draft Joel Embiid, but the presence of Nikola Vucevic makes the Kansas star more of a luxury than a need. It wouldn't be a bad decision, but Dante Exum is both a talented player and fills a major hole in the Magic's lineup. They lack an explosive point guard like Exum, and pairing him with Victor Oladipo would give Orlando a nasty backcourt duo.

 

4. Utah Jazz: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas 

Although Enes Kanter is only 21 years old, he regressed a bit in 2013-14. His per-36 numbers dropped nearly across the board, and his PER went from 17.6 in 2012-13 to 15.6 this past year. The Utah Jazz could stick with Kanter, but seeing Embiid hanging there might be too good to pass up.

This is the kind of big man who only comes along every few years. Andy Larsen of Salt City Hoops thinks Embiid would be a great addition for Utah:

Embiid possesses great athleticism for a 7-footer, and his game is much more advanced for somebody who only really picked up the game a few years ago. He's only going to improve, and that's scary.

 

5. Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

Rajon Rondo's future in Boston remains up in the air. The Celtics are clearly in rebuilding mode, and they may want jettison him now before he gets fed up with losing. Even if Rondo stays on board, Marcus Smart at least gives Boston some great depth at the point guard position.

 

6. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

The Los Angeles Lakers are in a position where they can draft anything except a shooting guard, and it would represent an upgrade. Julius Randle is a beast in the post. His offensive game features a nice variety of moves, and he can clean up on the boards.

 

7. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona

It's easy to see how Aaron Gordon could get compared to Blake Griffin or Shawn Marion. Although his jump shot needs work, his athleticism is off the charts. Even if Gordon's offense never comes along, he'll at least contribute on the boards and defensively.

 

8. Detroit Pistons: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State

The Detroit Pistons are in need of a steady hand between the shot-happy Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Gary Harris isn't lights-out from behind the arc, but he's the kind of player who won't try and take shots that aren't there. His offensive efficiency would help counteract Smith and Jennings.

 

9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana

Unless the Cleveland Cavaliers offload Dion Waiters or Anthony Bennett, they should look for Anderson Varejao's long-term replacement with their first pick. While Noah Vonleh needs some work on the offensive end, he's the best big man available. As long as the Cavs are patient with him, he should grow into a productive starter.

 

10. Philadelphia 76ers: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia

Although the Sixers would already have Parker, Dario Saric would still represent a solid addition in Philly. Plus, the 76ers are in a position where they could wait on Saric until he's ready to hit the NBA if he wants to spend another year in Europe.

 

11. Denver Nuggets: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse

After Ty Lawson, the Denver Nuggets' point guard cupboard is bare. Tyler Ennis won't become an explosive scorer in the NBA, but he'll have no trouble in running an offense. Ennis possesses great vision and would allow Lawson to play fewer than 36 minutes a night.

 

12. Orlando Magic: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke

Among other things, the Magic lacked scorers. Rodney Hood has an impressive offensive repertoire. He can attack the basket or spot up from three-point range—shooting 42.0 percent from downtown in 2013-14. Orlando's offense would improve greatly if the team can grab both Exum and Hood.

 

13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan

The Minnesota Timberwolves finished 26th in three-point percentage (34.1 percent) during the regular season. Nik Stauskas is a great shooter and would give the T-Wolves an added dimension in 2014-15. Plus, his potential and all-around game offer better value than Doug McDermott.

 

14. Phoenix Suns: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton

Speaking of McDermott, there's no question he's one of the best shooters available and will contribute immediately. Getting Gerald Green to shoot 40.0 percent from three-point range might be hard to do for the Phoenix Suns, so they should hedge their bets by grabbing McDermott.

Some might look at the Creighton star and come to the conclusion he can't get much better than he is now. While that is true to a certain extent, there's a certain value that should be attached to a player of whom you know exactly what you're getting. Few players in this draft can step into the NBA right away and give a team as much production as McDermott will.

 

15. Atlanta Hawks: James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky

If James Young can figure out his shooting, he's a tremendous value pick here. The Atlanta Hawks might look to a 3 who's more of a long-range threat, but Young's potential is too good to pass up. At the very least, he's a great option to bring off the bench for DeMarre Carroll.

 

16. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State

With the absence of Luol Deng, the Chicago Bulls need to add a scorer at the 3. T.J. Warren isn't your typical small forward, but he finds a way to the bucket and can give you the odd three-pointer every now and then.

 

17. Boston Celtics: Kyle Anderson, SF/PF, UCLA

Although Kyle Anderson played point guard at UCLA, he doesn't have the athleticism or defensive ability to play there in the NBA. He's a good ball-handler, though, and can create for his teammates. With the presence of Smart and Rondo, Brad Stevens wouldn't have to worry about Anderson's biggest limitations hurting the team.

 

18. Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland

The Suns already have a great backcourt, so they should look to strengthen their frontcourt here. Clint Capela still needs some time to develop, but that shouldn't be a problem for Phoenix. Markieff Morris has really emerged, and by the time Channing Frye moves on, Capela would be ready to step into a larger role. He's an athletic big man and wouldn't have any problem with Jeff Hornacek's faster-paced offense.

 

19. Chicago Bulls: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse

Drafting two 3s might not seem like a good idea, but Hood's game is a little different to Jerami Grant, who balances between being a small forward and a power forward. With the Bulls already built to win now, they could afford to let Grant's game develop.

 

20. Toronto Raptors: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State

Adreian Payne doesn't have the ceiling of a guy like Julius Randle, but the Michigan State star does a little bit of everything, making him well worth a mid-first-round pick. Payne can spot up from long range or back his way into the post, where he's more than capable of passing out to open teammates.

 

21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia

Although the Oklahoma City Thunder already have Steven Adams, Jusuf Nurkic is worth drafting and storing away until he's ready. He's already an imposing presence in the post. Only 19 years old, Nurkic would have plenty of time to grow and develop.

 

22. Memphis Grizzlies: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends

Three-point shooting has been one of the Memphis Grizzlies' biggest problems this year. They attempted (1,147) and made (405) the fewest three-pointers of any team in the league, and their three-point percentage (35.3 percent) was 19th. P.J. Hairston isn't a three-point specialist, but he can knock them down from long range.

 

23. Utah Jazz: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson

The Jazz sit last in defensive efficiency (109.1). The one thing K.J. McDaniels brings to the court right now is defense. This is a forward who blocked 2.8 shots in 2013-14 and 2.1 shots in 2012-13. McDaniels would be a huge help for Utah on the defensive end.

 

24. Charlotte Bobcats: Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA

If the Charlotte Bobcats get the first-half version of Zach LaVine, they'd have the perimeter threat they sorely need. The UCLA guard was deadly from long range early on for the Bruins before falling back to earth later in the year.

 

25. Houston Rockets: Cleanthony Early, SF/PF, Wichita State

Chandler Parsons is bound to cash in once his rookie deal is over. Cleanthony Early gives the Houston Rockets an insurance policy in case it becomes too costly to keep Parsons around. Early can stretch opposing defenses and would give Houston another long-range threat at small forward.

 

26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut

Few players in recent memory have improved their draft stock in the NCAA tournament as much as Shabazz Napier has. He's gone from fringe first-rounder to lock for the top 30.

You know exactly what you're getting with the UConn star. He can't knock it down from long range, but he can drive to the basket and set up his teammates.

When it comes to the Miami Heat, saving every penny is important, so re-signing Mario Chalmers might be a little too much to bear this offseason. Napier can step into the NBA right now and replace the veteran guard. With the supporting cast the Heat have, he would have an easy transition to the pros.

Perhaps most in Napier's favor is he's already got LeBron James on board.

27. Phoenix Suns: Vasilije Micic, PG, Serbia

Keeping Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic together might get too costly for the Suns, so working on a succession plan might be important. Vasilije Micic isn't in a position to contribute to Phoenix right away, but by the time he's ready, the path to the starting lineup might be a little more clear.

 

28. Los Angeles Clippers: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette

Even the best need a solid backup. Keeping Darren Collison in behind Chris Paul doesn't make sense financially when you can draft a player like Elfrid Payton here. Payton is a solid ball-handler who can run an offense. Plus, he'll get to learn from a great PG like Paul.

 

29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, Serbia

There's a good chance Bogdan Bogdanovic won't be available here. If he is, the Oklahoma City Thunder should pounce. Bogdanovic is a very good three-point shooter who could step into the Thunder's rotation in another year or two.

 

30. San Antonio Spurs: Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona State

It really doesn't matter whom the San Antonio Spurs draft here, does it? They always take somebody late and turn him into an All-Star. At 5'10", Jahii Carson will always be at a height disadvantage. However, he's so quick and good on the ball that with the right coaching, he could turn into a major contributor. Don't doubt Gregg Popovich's ability to get the best out of Carson.

 

Note: All stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

NFL Mock Draft 2014: Top Move Your Team Must Choose

2 hours 25 min ago

The first round of the 2014 NFL draft is so close to actually materializing on May 8 at Radio City Music Hall, and as unpredictable as this sporting spectacle always is, this year figures to be particularly hard to gauge.

A record 98 underclassmen have declared themselves eligible, creating an influx of talent and depth rarely seen in draft history. Most positions are filled with pro-ready prospects except for the most important one. There are no surefire franchise quarterbacks to be had, making it difficult for those in need near the top of the order to invest such a significant pick in one of them.

Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman made note of this in his latest report about the buzz he's hearing:

Here is an updated mock of the entire first round, with the more extended analysis focusing on the moves that teams must make based on a player's talent level and the spark he'd bring to the organization.

 

1. Houston Texans (2-14): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Everyone appears to be doubting Clowney because he took some plays off as a junior, and his passion for the game has been questioned time and again. Even if he is the No. 1 overall pick after the pre-draft grilling he's taken, shouldn't he have a chip on his shoulder to prove himself?

A hard-nosed head coach like Bill O'Brien and a superstar at his own position in J.J. Watt should allow Clowney to flourish in Houston if general manager Rick Smith pulls the trigger on this choice. Frankly, it's hard not to take a flier on Clowney simply due to his physical gifts and talent.

If O'Brien truly is a quarterback guru as he's reputed to be, Smith should feel comfortable enough to wait until the early second round to find an answer under center. None of the top-tier QB prospects have the promise Clowney has shown.

Clowney is 6'6" and 266 pounds with 4.53-second speed in the 40 yard dash, and Houston would likely regret passing on him, since its organization is an ideal fit to address any red flags he has.

 

2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Against the relentless defenses of the NFC West division, St. Louis sure could use some attitude in the trenches. Robinson is a great run-blocker and has unbelievable athleticism, allowing him to fill in just about anywhere in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's run-heavy offense.

Quarterback Sam Bradford needs some insurance due to the tenuous state of the Rams' left tackle position, brought on by Jake Long's torn ACL and MCL.

 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Jaguars fans may be pining for a quarterback, but Mack is too strong of an all-around prospect for coach Gus Bradley to let slide by. GM David Caldwell can trade back into the first round if he needs to, allowing Jacksonville to get a game-changing defensive dynamo in the process.

This came recently from SI.com's Peter King: "Jacksonville is the most logical spot for the loser of the No. 1 pick derby between Clowney and Mack. GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley want a pass-rusher, badly."

Look for the Jags to address receiver in the second or third round, since the pool of talent is so deep at that position, along with quarterback on Day 2.

 

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

It's true—no one needs the growing legend that is Johnny Football more than the Cleveland Browns. Manziel can make all the throws and has big enough hands to extinguish concerns about playing in the elements brought on by Lake Erie late in the season.

Play-caller Kyle Shanahan worked with Robert Griffin III in Washington and had plenty of instant success, galvanizing that franchise and carrying it to a division title in their first year together. With how wide open the AFC North is, something similar could be on tap for Cleveland.

Armed with 10 draft picks and two other picks in the top 35, new GM Ray Farmer shouldn't fear making a splash. The Browns have seen quality QBs fall past them time and again since returning to the league in 1999. This is as good of a time as any to roll the proverbial dice.

CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler cited Cleveland and Jacksonville as the likeliest landing spots for Manziel:

Using the intel gathered from King's SI.com article, this creates a situation in which Manziel lands in Cleveland, where he already has Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, along with Ben Tate in the backfield. With a plethora of picks, including two third-rounders, Farmer can snag even more help for Manziel later on.

 

5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Quarterback Matt Schaub will be doing cartwheels if Watkins falls to the Silver and Black at No. 5. Watkins is the best wideout on the board and should have no trouble making an instant impact in the pros, despite the underrated nuances that come with the position.

With Watkins in the fold, suddenly the receiving corps of Rod Streater, Denarius Moore and James Jones is a lot more formidable.

 

6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Since the top two defensive players are off the board—and don't rule out GM Thomas Dimitroff trading up for one of them—Matthews is a safe choice here. Star signal-caller Matt Ryan could use some enhanced protection, and Matthews is versatile enough to play really any position on the offensive line.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Pairing Evans with Vincent Jackson is something the Bucs have to consider, especially now that Mike Williams is no longer with the team. At 6'5" and 231 pounds with a 4.53-second 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine, Evans is the most explosive and physical offensive weapon in this draft.

 

8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Apparently tanking or torpedoing for Teddy no longer became a thing, even though Bridgewater was viewed at the end of his 2012 campaign as the consensus No. 1 QB prospect.

Bridgewater does have some shortcomings in terms of stature and arm talent, yet no one is as ready to take on an NFL playbook. Although he's a quiet leader who seems to lead by example more than anything, Bridgewater has to be absolutely furious at the ridicule he has faced leading up to the draft.

ESPN draft expert Todd McShay stated recently that Bridgewater could fall as far as the second round, per the NFL on ESPN's official Twitter account:

Given that the Vikings whiffed by reaching for Christian Ponder just a few short years ago, they might be hesitant to invest another top pick in a signal-caller. With someone as cerebral and smart as Bridgewater, though, it would be something Minnesota wouldn't regret.

Adrian Peterson would provide Bridgewater with a solid running game, and plenty of weapons already exist on the outside in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerome Simpson, along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. With offensive coordinator Norv Turner now in Minnesota, it's hard to imagine a better situation for Bridgewater to land in.

 

9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Throw Lewan over at right tackle, and see what happens. The Bills have C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield, and they have supported E.J. Manuel with a slew of targets to throw to. With plenty of talent on the defensive side, Lewan makes a lot of sense to bring in for his tenacity and the quickness he'd bring to Buffalo's uptempo offense.

 

10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

It would be a bit of a shock to see Detroit ignore the secondary with its top pick with a specimen like Gilbert available. In addition to having great ball skills, Gilbert is fast and physical. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton likes big guys who can run and "little" guys who can hit hard. That makes Gilbert a win-win acquisition for the Lions, because he's a little of both.

 

11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Ranking in the bottom third in the league in sacks in 2013 is not a good look for Tennessee entering this year.

Adding aging linebacker Shaun Phillips should only help a moderate amount, but investing in the present and future by bringing Donald in to either line up over the center or at defensive end and collapse the pocket is a sage decision.

 

12. New York Giants (7-9): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Adrien Robinson has managed to play in just three games in two seasons, leading the Giants to upgrade QB Eli Manning's supporting cast by bringing Ebron in.

Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle should divert attention away from Ebron, who can fill in as a Week 1 starter and be a dangerous red-zone option. New York needs that. Per TeamRankings.com, it ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season.

 

13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

The first safety off the board fits right into the division's physical mentality. Pryor is able to flock to the football in coverage and versus the run in particular. Coordinator Gregg Williams will love having someone with Pryor's violent style of play serving as his last line of defense.

 

14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

As reported by ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson, Chicago brought Barr in for a private workout in late March.

Based on Barr's pure physical skills alone, it stands to reason the Bears came away impressed. Adding Barr to the equation would give Chicago a dynamic blitzer off the edge and a potential dark-horse candidate for the league's top defensive rookie.

 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Antonio Brown is a strong all-around wideout, and Lance Moore brings experience and savvy instincts as a slot receiver.

Beckham would be a strong addition on the outside opposite Brown, with his speed giving big-armed QB Ben Roethlisberger a pure deep threat who can blow the top off defenses. That combination could be lethal off of play action in a reputedly physical AFC North.

 

16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

Needing a spark in the secondary—and on defense in general—America's Team enlists the help of a polished safety prospect in Clinton-Dix who can provide instant stability.

Pro-style, complex concepts are something Clinton-Dix is used to from his time in Tuscaloosa, and he'll also have some talented corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to help him out.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame

Since Martin projects well as either a tackle or guard at the NFL level, Baltimore could use him at either spot. Should he slide to right tackle, Martin is an upgrade there, and if he's deployed at guard, he should help the Ravens' struggling rushing attack progress after a down year in 2013.

 

18. New York Jets (8-8): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

The importance of cornerbacks in coach Rex Ryan's defense puts the need for a playmaker on the back burner and leads to GM John Idzik taking a shot with Dennard at No. 18 overall. Dennard's man-to-man coverage ability rivals that of anyone else in this class, which is vital for the Jets to blitz as often as Ryan likes to.

 

19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA

A ton of talented offensive tackles have already gone, so the Dolphins reach a bit with the 19th pick to ensure that they upgrade their biggest need.

Su'a-Filo is not a glamorous choice so high in the draft, yet he is just what Miami needs to fortify its blocking up front and put third-year QB Ryan Tannehill in the best position to succeed. Per UCLABruins.com, he started seven games at left guard and six at left tackle, proving his versatility and technical prowess.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Coach Bruce Arians has mentored the likes of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck at the start of their careers. Bortles can sit and learn behind Carson Palmer before taking the reins a year or two from now. The UCF product is not ready to lead an NFL team right now, so this is a perfect spot for him to fall.

 

21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois

The good thing about choosing Ward here is that he can play coverage in the slot and pitch in on nickel and dime packages, with the upside to start at safety as well. Morgan Burnett has proved capable of starting at both safety positions, giving Green Bay flexibility on the back end to add Ward.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Now that DeSean Jackson is no longer around, his replacement could be Cooks, who has the capability to get behind any defense and can devastate opponents after the catch. Philadelphia could elect to go for defensive help or add a bigger-bodied target here, but Cooks is simply too quick-twitch to avoid at this slot.

 

23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Before a lackluster 2013 campaign, it's worth remembering that Lee played in a pro-style offense at USC and caught 118 passes and had 14 touchdown catches the previous year. Lee shouldn't fall out of the first round if he's still around when the Chiefs are picking.

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Although Verrett isn't the biggest corner, he still has the natural instincts and vicious attitude to play on the outside. Since he's suited to play in the slot, too, Cincinnati should strongly consider adding him to a veteran defensive backfield.

 

25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Shoring up the run defense and freeing up pass-rushers are things Nix can do even as a rookie, and it should help the Chargers climb further up in the AFC West. If that doesn't materialize, San Diego should look to a cornerback, but Nix helps out too much all around to ignore.

 

26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

I think many evaluators are underrating Shazier's ability to play on the inside. Head coach Mike Pettine will assemble a hybrid front defense, and Shazier lining up with Karlos Dansby—with a rotation of Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo on the outside—would give the Browns' linebacker corps serious teeth.

A deep defensive line will also benefit Pettine in the beginning of his tenure in Cleveland, and the Browns can address cornerback early in Round 2.

 

27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Rob Ryan's aggressive style has proved to be just the swagger the Saints need, as they ranked in the top five in sacks a season ago. Adding Ford is a bit of a luxury pick, but with this crop of prospects so loaded at skill positions, acquiring a weapon for prolific QB Drew Brees can wait until the second day of the draft.

 

28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Cam Newton has yet to have a legitimate, massive target to throw to. Benjamin changes that with his incredible 6'5", 240-pound size that allowed him to nab 15 touchdowns on just 54 receptions as a sophomore in Tallahassee. The upside is too great for the Panthers to resist taking a moderate risk late in Round 1.

 

29. New England Patriots (12-4): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

His measurements at the combine were 6'4" and 273 pounds. Capable of filling in as a stout defensive end to provide depth behind Rob Ninkovich or Chandler Jones on the edge, Ealy's size and football savvy hailing from the SEC will have the Patriots intrigued enough to take him.

 

30. San Francisco 49ers (13-3): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

This is the third consecutive time yours truly has mocked Roby to the Niners. Even amid a turbulent offseason, this is one of the winningest franchises in the NFL that has produced nothing but elite results on the gridiron in recent years. San Francisco badly needs a corner, and no one is more talented than Roby.

 

31. Denver Broncos (13-3): C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

The front office focused on defense after getting pummeled in Super Bowl XLVIII, adding DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. Mosley is a logical pickup who can play right away in the heart of the defense at middle linebacker.

 

32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Previous right tackle Breno Giacomini is now with the Jets, creating a need at that spot for the Seahawks. Thankfully for them, Kouandjio falls to No. 32 and has the size to make the move from left tackle. In the event that Russell Okung continues to struggle with injuries, this pick essentially kills two birds with one stone.

Quarterback is the most important position, and Seattle's Russell Wilson proved in being drafted in Round 3 in 2012 that value can be had at later junctures. Wilson also proved that diminutive QBs can thrive in the modern NFL, a label that has beset both Bridgewater and Manziel leading up to the 2014 draft.

But if Manziel lands in Cleveland and Bridgewater goes to Minnesota, don't be shocked if they take their teams to the playoffs as rookies. They should both thrive as long-term starters, but the Texans won't rue the day they passed either of them, because Clowney will prove to be one of the best pass-rushers and all-around defensive ends in recent memory, serving as a perfect complement to Watt in Houston.

All combine results via NFL.com.

TNA Sacrifice 2014: Date, Match Card, PPV Schedule, Rumors and Predictions

2 hours 25 min ago

Wrestling fans have become spoiled with the constant stream of wrestling the WWE Network has provided, but there is a portion of the audience that yearns for an alternative that can give them something else to watch.

TNA fills that void with its Sacrifice pay-per-view on Sunday, April 27.

After weeks of building since the Lockdown PPV, each week of Impact Wrestling added more intrigue to the storylines leading into Sacrifice, and fans of the sport will be treated to an excellent show on Sunday.

With several marquee matches featuring the top talent in the business, this year’s Sacrifice PPV will be an instant classic. Here is all the vital viewing information, the entire match card, rumors and predictions for Sunday’s big main event.

 

Where: Universal Studios, Orlando, Fla.

When: Sunday, April 27 at 8 p.m. ET

Watch: Pay-per-view (local cable providers)

 

 

Main Event Preview and Prediction

The main event of the 2014 Sacrifice PPV is the TNA World Heavyweight Championship bout between defending champion Eric Young and former champion Magnus.

Young beat Magnus for the world title on the April 10 episode of Impact Wrestling after defeating nine other men in a Gauntlet match to earn a shot at the title. Despite suffering an arm injury during the match, Young asked for a shot at Magnus’ belt that night and was granted his wish.

One piledriver later, and Young is your new world champion.

As the first-time TNA Heavyweight champion prepares for his first career title defense, Young told Ring Rust Radio about the pressure of being the man everyone is chasing and how he has handled it:

The old saying says you have a target on your back. That’s how it works in sports and that’s how it works in pro wrestling. Having that target on your back is a huge compliment too. Now everyone is looking to come after me. As crazy as that sounds, it sounds like fun. I want to create as many memories and amazing moments for myself and wrestling fans as I can. That’s what pro wrestling is to me.

As interesting as Young’s rise to the top has been, a huge drop in television ratings during his first night as champion, according to Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc., is undeniable and should be a major issue for the company.

With the company’s deal with Spike TV reportedly expiring later this year, per PWInsider (via Wrestling Inc.), the need to draw big ratings at this moment is imperative. If the experiment of putting the title around Young’s waist isn’t working, TNA must abort the mission and put the title right back on Magnus now that he has used his rematch clause.

Although Magnus hadn't been drawing huge television ratings, he is a despicable heel who can force emotion from the fans when the faces finally get their hands on him. During Magnus’ reign as champion, the numbers weren't overly impressive, but they were consistently better than last week’s .83 rating.

Magnus understands the business side of the sport, but he told Ring Rust Radio about being the challenger this time around and his success as the company’s top star:

It’s a different story once you’ve tasted the success of being champion. It doesn’t make you want it any less; if anything, it just makes you want it even more. I’m looking forward to locking up with EY again. I know a lot of people were surprised at the outcome, but it’s nice to be able to surprise people sometimes.

I think that the viewing figures all through my reign as champion can kind of point to the fact that people are just interested in what we’re doing now and that it’s fresh and exciting. If I can be a small part in that as the champion, then great.

Young is a talented performer, a great personality and a loyal employee of TNA, but the fans aren’t buying him as world champion after little build to the ultimate payoff.

All is not lost for Impact Wrestling, though. If Magnus gets the championship back on Sunday, the company could use the title change to further shake up the heavyweight scene by incorporating a King of the Ring-style tournament.

Not only could TNA crown a fan favorite like Samoa Joe or Austin Aries as the new No. 1 contender, but the company could also hit the reset button on many tired feuds by starting new rivalries in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the tournament.

Sacrifice must be looked at by TNA as the chance to reset moving forward. There is no question that the talent is there and the commitment to telling stories and building characters is perfect, but Impact Wrestling has to play to the audience more.

If Magnus wins on Sunday, the company has the unique opportunity to take a bona fide star like Kurt Angle and start a feud for the world title that would instantly give the company and the belt credibility.

On the other hand, if Young successfully retains the title on Sunday, the company will have to find a heel over enough with the crowd to carry a main event feud. While Aries and Bobby Roode are good enough to do it, fans would want them to eventually win the title.

With the idea of getting the biggest ratings each week, having a title change Sunday and building a huge main event storyline leading into Slammiversary is the smartest plan of action.

It should come down to the question of who does TNA want holding the company’s flagship title heading into one of the biggest shows of the year: Magnus or Eric Young?

The answer should be Magnus.

Predicted Winner: Magnus

 

For more wrestling talk, listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot topics or catch the latest episode in the player below (some language NSFW).