The Green Jacket

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

My wife and I were riding around town last week and we commented on a blooming Dogwood tree we drove by.

I said its Masters time baby. We get an unexpected treat in a couple of weeks and that is we will enjoy our second Masters Tournament in 5 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Masters was played last November with Dustin Johnson claiming his first Green Jacket.

The Favorites:

Dustin Johnson: Johnson is the betting favorite to win back-to-back in Augusta.

Johnson has the ability to overpower a golf course, and if the putter is clicking then he will be in the mix.

Johnson has been playing well and we will see if everything comes together again. Johnson is a player that plays well in major championships. Johnson is also the 2016 US Open champion.

Justin Thomas: Thomas just won The Players Championship, so his game is peaking going into Augusta.

Thomas may be the best player in the world at the moment, and a Green Jacket in 2021 could be the first of many. This is a guy to keep a close eye on.

Thomas finished 4th in the 2020 Masters. Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship.

Rory McIlroy: Rory needs the Masters to cap off the career grand slam. His best finish at Augusta is 4th back in 2015. Rory is searching for his game right now.

He just brought in a new swing coach and trying to find your game right before coming to Augusta National is like trying to mix oil and water.

Could it all come together for Rory in a couple of weeks? At 31 years of age there is plenty of time to get that elusive Green Jacket.

Jon Rahm: Currently ranked 3rd in the World Golf Rankings Rahm is due to win a major championship.

His best finish at Augusta is 4th and he has top 5 finishes in the US Open and PGA Championship.

Have you ever known a Spanish golfer that doesn’t have a great short game? Rahm will be the next major champion from Spain.

Brooks Koepka: This guy just plays well in the major championships. He has a couple of US Open’s and PGAs to his name. He finished in a tie for 2nd in the 2019 Masters.

He will be near the top of the leaderboard and will be a factor on Sunday. His game is rounding into form currently.

Bryson DeChambeau: The current US Open champion has not played well at Augusta. His best finish is 21st in 2016.

Will he try to overpower the golf course? The answer is yes and will that risk/reward style be successful for him in 2021. He has something to prove at Augusta.

Sleepers:

Rickie Fowler: I’m a huge Rickie Fowler fan.

He has top 3 finishes in all 4 major championships and finished 2nd in 3 of the 4. At 32 years of age, he is due.

He has the game to win at Augusta with a runner-up finish in 2018. If Fowler is in contention on Sunday, I will not leave my couch that day.

He will win a major in his career. Why not the 2021 Masters? Come on Rickie get it done.

Patrick Cantlay: Not many are talking about this guy, but he is that good. Every time I tune into golf on TV he is on the leaderboard. Don’t sleep on this guy folks.

Prediction: My head says Brooks Koepka and my heart says Rickie Fowler.

A Tradition Unlike Any Other takes place in just a couple of weeks.

 

Top Tight Ends

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There is debate at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and every defensive position on which NFL Draft prospect would be the top player at the position, but there is no question at tight end.

Florida’s Kyle Pitts is a special talent and will be an immediate weapon for the team that drafts him in the top 10.

After Pitts, there are three to four prospects who should be drafted on Day 2 followed by a handful of tight ends who will be targets in the mid to late rounds.

1.Kyle Pitts, Florida, 6-6, 246: On my draft board, Pitts is the second-best player in the 2021 NFL Draft and the rarest prospect after Trevor Lawrence.

Some scouts think Pitts could move to wide receiver and be a Calvin Johnson style player.

Pitts was dominant in 2020, showing superb speed, hands, leaping ability, route running, and dynamic mismatch potential for the NFL.

Every opponent was incapable of covering Pitts, including future first and second rounders in the Alabama and Georgia secondary. Some scouts say Pitts is the best receiving weapon in the draft and is a more dynamic mismatch than Chase, Smith and Waddle.

  1. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State, 6-5, 256: Freiermuth was solid in 2020 before going down with a season ending injury that required surgery.

Medicals will be extremely important for Freiermuth. As a receiver, Freiermuth has the potential to be a contributor to a team’s passing attack, but lacks separating speed and elite athleticism.

Freiermuth’s most distinctive positive trait is his physicality as a runner and blocker. NFL coaching will help him get a better technique and a more aggressive demeanor. Late round 2 – early round 3

  1. Brevin Jordan, Miami, 6-3, 244: Jordan is a smooth route runner with the quickness to separate.

He glides through the secondary and is able to use his athleticism with speed to get open.

Along with good route running, Jordan has very reliable hands that give him the ability to control the ball with his hands.

As a blocker, Jordan shows the willingness to block but he lacks size to take on NFL defensive ends and linebackers. Early round 3

  1. Hunter Long, Boston College, 6-5, 253: Long has good size and does an excellent job of winning contested catches.

He uses his build to shield off defenders with skilled body control and awareness to put himself in between the ball and coverage.

Long is a solid blocker but the skill set is not there for him to develop into an effective NFL blocker. He has the potential, but he needs to get stronger to pack more punch and sustain his blocks after point if contact. Late round 3 – early round 4.

  1. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame, 6-4, 252: Tremble displays the competitiveness to be a bulldozer as a run blocker and ties up defenders in pass protection.

Although his production was lacking at Notre Dame, his tape is enough to get scouts excited.

Tremble was an underutilized receiver in college and therefore unrefined in route running.

He flashed the athleticism and body control to work pass underneath defenders and make himself a large target. He is projected to be a better pro than college player as he continues to develop. Round 4-5.

  1. Tre’ McKitty, Georgia, 6-5, 245:McKitty only made six receptions during the 2020 season with the Bulldogs. He had better receiving production in 2018 and 2019 when playing for Florida State.

McKitty is a good athlete with a nice burst of speed out of his breaks to create space from defenders early on and challenge defenses vertically.

Scouts are concerned with his blocking and non-existent production in 2020.

Other players to look out for: Quintin Morris, Bowling Green; Nick Eubanks Michigan; Kenny Yeboah, Ole Miss; Pro Wells, TCU; Tony Poljan, Virginia.

There is a clear delineation between the haves and the have nots at tight end in the NFL nowadays and this year’s draft is the same. There is Kyle Pitts and everyone else

Loading The Gun

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2021 NFL free agency free-for-all began on March 17, and it’s still up in the air whether or not the Jacksonville jaguars found a pot of gold.

The Jags started the league year with over $80 million in salary cap space, and found a couple of gems right off the bat.

The most noteworthy acquisition so far is, arguably, former Seattle Seahawks CB Shaquill Griffin. The four-year veteran out of UCF had a solid 2020 campaign, posting 63 tackles, 12 coverage breakups, and three interceptions over 12 games.

His deal with Jacksonville is a 3-year, $44.5 million contract with $29 million guaranteed. It is expected that he will move immediately into a starting role opposite 2020 first-round pick C.J. Henderson.

This, combined with the re-signing of Sidney Jones, most likely means that last year’s injury-riddled season will be D.J. Harris’ last in teal & black.

Another defensive position getting some much-needed attention is Safety.

Former Charger Rayshawn Jenkins signed a 4-year, $35 million deal with $16 million guaranteed.

Another Safety, Auburn alum Rudy Ford, arrives from Philly, joining the team with a 2-year, $4.2 million contract. These two alone should provide some consistency for a wildly inconsistent defensive backfield.

Via trade, first year Head Coach Urban Meyer gets some help in the middle in the form of former Saints DT Malcom Brown.

A salary cap casualty for New Orleans, Brown joins DT Roy Robertson-Harris (CHI) and DE Jihad Ward (BAL) as the first pieces of a reworked defensive line that can easily improve on last years’ 30th ranked effort against the run.

Additionally, DT Tyson Alualu, the No. 10 overall selection by the Jaguars in 2010, returns after four years in Pittsburgh.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Jags signed two receivers off the Detroit Lions; ten-year veteran Marvin Jones Jr, and return specialist Jamal Agnew.

Jones should be a reliable target for assumed first overall pick Trevor Lawrence, and will help draw some double coverage away from DJ Chark.

Agnew is another player who will bring some consistency to their position (the Jaguars had six different kick returners last season), but whether or not his breakaway speed will be enough to earn him a WR3 slot on the offense over fellow free-agent acquisition Phillip Dorsett will be one of the more interesting stories to follow in training camp.

Regardless, the addition of this trio will help ease the sting of the pending shakeup in the Duval receivers corps.

While Keelan Cole has already signed with the Jets, the free-agent fates of former Bulldog Chris Conley and former Sooner Dede Westbrook have yet to be determined.

Another player re-joining the Jaguars is RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde played under former HC Doug Marrone in the massively under-performing 2018 season before being traded to the Browns. Hyde played college ball at Ohio State under Urban Meyer, so his familiarity with the system should make him a solid change-of-pace for second year back James Robinson.

At the Tight End position, the Jaguars have added former Panther Chris Manhertz, and have re-signed James O’Shaughnessy.

The team declined the option on former Bengal Tyler Eifert, and his status remains uncertain.

This position could be considered one of the few disappointments of the free-agent period so far, with the top two available TEs (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith) both signing with the New England Patriots.

While these moves addressed some glaring needs on both sides of the ball, the Offensive Line still needs to be addressed, as does the elephant in the QB room – Gardner Minshew II.

With the departure of journeyman Mike Glennon to the Giants, the question remains who will be the backup to Trevor Lawrence when the draft makes his arrival in Duval official.

While Coach Meyer has said this week that they have no plans to trade Minshew “for now,” the lack of another veteran signal caller could be a final area to be addressed.

Alex Smith continues to be a name mentioned to fill that role, but if the Joe Flacco to San Francisco rumors prove false, Jacksonville could also be a good fit for the 2013 Super Bowl MVP.

The Voyage Begins

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Sean Pender is excited about his 2021 football team this fall. “We are a talented football team, and we as coaches are excited to see how the talent develops. We have the potential to be a very good football team this fall”.

The head Pirate does have to replace 14 starters off of an 8-4 team from 2020 that won a share of the region championship, and a state playoff game. “We do have some holes to fill this year, but we played a lot of young kids last year that will move into starter slots this fall, but I love the work ethic of this football team. This team wants to be very good, and they are putting in the work to support that statement.”

Let’s take a look at position groups:

QB: Senior Jeffery Waye and Junior Jayden Drayton are locked into a battle at the QB position.

Pender says “if the season started tomorrow both would see playing time at the position”.

Waye was the back-up QB in 2020 and his coach says he has been very impressed with how he is progressing at the position.

Drayton, who transferred over from Glynn Academy, has put on almost 10 pounds of muscle in the winter conditioning program and is learning the new system at BHS.

His coach says “This kid will be recruited as an athlete and he will wear a lot of hats for us this fall. He will play some QB, WR, DB, and he will return kicks for us”.

OL: Kanaya Charlton will move to LT this fall and Pender says “Kanaya Charlton is as good as we’ve had here and that says a lot”.

Charlton at 6’7 and 330 pounds can play anywhere he wants at the next level. Offers are pouring in.

Jaquan Gibson returns as a starter at guard. Jamal Meriweather, AJ Anderson, Eli Smith, Lester Clark, Matthew Moore, William McDonald, Chris Wineski, and Jonathan Welson will battle for playing time, but depth at the position group is great.

WR: The position is very deep in talent, Kevin Thomas and Pat Leggett are playmakers. J ’Maun Weldon, Zeb Jackson, Terry Mitchell, Na’verious Williams, TJ Smith, Trey Elvine, and Jayden Drayton will all see targets in 2021. “We are deep and talented and will cause issues in space with this group” says Pender.

DL: Kayshawn Thomas will be back for his junior season with an SEC offer from South Carolina.

Thomas will lead a group that consists of River Creel, Jordan Jimerson, Jameer Lang, Jamal Meriweather, Anthony Bautista, and Matthew Moore. Pender says “#99 Thomas can be as good as he wants to be and will be a force in the middle”

LB: Pirates must replace 4 starters from last fall, but were 7 deep at the position last year.

Staffon Stanley, Adam Mweemba, and Lionel Twiity all started games last year at the position.

A name to watch could be Gerald Quick, who has the frame to be outstanding player at the position.

DB: Pender says “We are stacked 8-9 deep at DB”.

Jayden Drayton was All-Region in 2020. Derrick Smith and Keon Leggett were big contributors last fall. Ivan Johnson returns at safety. Na’verious Williams was a starter at Glynn last fall before transferring.

Other names to watch JaShawn Wilson, Tyler Sams, and Zeb Jackson, and Gerald Quick.

Anthony Elvine returns as punter, and McClain Fineran will handle PAT/FG’s.

Finally, the “Wolfpack” also known as the RB group.

Ree Simmons and Kobe Hill have both had seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing.

Hill in 2019, and Simmons in 2020. Barring injury this duo will finish their Pirate careers with over 5000 combined rushing yards.

Pender says “These guys are leaders and hate to lose and that mentality has taken root on this football team”.

Leon Charlton returns, Taivon Gadson, and Neshiek Cohen add depth. Embarrassment of riches at this position.

Spring Practice starts on May 4th and ends with the Blue and Gold Spring game on May 20th.

2021 could be special on Altama Avenue. #AllAboutTheFamily at BHS.

On The Block

By: Buck Blanz

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

To begin the Month of March, the Atlanta Hawks were sitting at a 14-20 overall record. That record would’ve left them out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season if the season ended at the All-Star break.

Atlanta had one of the most aggressive free agencies of the offseason throughout the NBA, by signing guys like Dalino Gallanari and Bogdan Bogdanovic. However, the Hawks have not seen all that much improvement from a statistical standpoint.

Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk has made it clear to the fans that the organization is craving a playoff push throughout the second half of the season.

Beginning with the firing of former Head Coach Lloyd Pierce, who had a record of 63-120 during his tenure in Atlanta.

The Hawks have now appointed an established coach throughout the league in Nate McMillan, who led the injury riddled Pacers to playoff appearances each of the past two seasons without their star players.

Since the Hawks have named McMillan the interim Head Coach of the Basketball club, he has posted a 6-0 record giving Atlanta their longest win streak since the 2016-17 season as well as catapulting them into the seventh spot in the East.

With the trade deadline quickly approaching, (March 25th at 3:00 ET) look for Atlanta to continue to be aggressive with trades as they try to solidify a much-needed playoff appearance for the organization.

The biggest name that has been floating around the rumor mill from Atlanta is the fourth year forward, John Collins out of Wake Forest.

This upcoming offseason Collins will be a restricted free agent due to the fact Collins rejected the $90 million contract extension from the Hawks last offseason.

However, by not signing that extension with the Hawks, Collins has put himself in a great position for a much larger contract opportunity this upcoming offseason with his production of the floor this season.

NBA experts currently have Minnesota and Boston as the frontrunners to land Collins, but the Hawks are hungry for more talent in return that will help them win now.

As much as the Hawks executives would love to be able to flip John Collins’ contract into more young talent, the $4.1 million contract that Collins currently has doesn’t make a lot of options for the Hawks to add another established player to their roster.

Also, I think it’s safe to say that Atlanta would not match offers exceeding $100 million for Collins this offseason with the pool of talented bigs they already have.

Another name that could be added to the trading block for Atlanta would be the young shooting guard, Kevin Huerter. Huerter is a proven shooter, while also a defensive liability for the Hawks. In today’s NBA there are a number of guys who can fill that role.

The Hawks, who are currently 10th in the league in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive, would like to be inside the top 15 in both of those areas to put themselves in the best position moving forward.

However, Kris Dunn who has yet to see action this season as well as Deandre Hunter returning from injury by the beginning of April, Atlanta will regain their defensive anchors on that end of the floor.

Although there is no clear picture of how the hawks will attack the trade deadline, it is sure to be an entertaining week as they will explore each and every option possible.

Wide Open

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Starting with Wide Receiver 1, there won’t be a consensus on this group from team to team or scout to scout. The amount of talent at receiver rivals last year’s class, which set a record with 13 drafted in the first two rounds.

I don’t think this class will break that record but I believe this class will have 15 plus receivers drafted in the top three rounds. For me, ranking the top receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class has been a head scratching exercise.

1.Jaylen Waddle, Alabama, 5-10, 182: Waddle showed signs of becoming a more refined receiver before an ankle injury caused him to miss most of the year.

Waddle has dangerous speed and is a scoring threat anytime he touches the ball. Waddle’s speed and game changing ability has him as my number one receiver. I believe Waddle will be selected in the top 10.

  1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU, 6-1, 200:Chase decided to skip the 2020 season and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. I think it was a wise choice to protect his draft stock because he could not get any higher in the rankings.

Chase was the best receiver in college football in 2019, averaging 21.2 yards per catch with 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Chase is another top 10 pick.

  1. DeVonta Smith, Alabama, 6-1, 165: Smith dominated college football in 2020, showing he is a true wide receiver who does everything well.

If Smith was 20 pounds heavier, he would be top 3 in the draft. He is a touch receiver who has demonstrated quality, but not elite speed, excellent route running and superb ball skills. Smith is the final top 10 pick from the ranking.

  1. Kadarius Toney, Florida, 5-11, 189: Toney is a loose, elastic athlete that routinely makes the first man miss with special start and stop abilities that create explosive plays.

Toney improved his route running and remains a work in progress. I think Toney belongs in the second round but he is a dangerous weapon as a receiver and punt returner.

I see Toney going in the late first round, but not top 10.

  1. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota, 6-2, 210: Bateman opted back in after the Big Ten decided to bring back football, then played in five games before opting out the remainder of the season.

Bateman is a natural hand catcher with length and excellent route execution. He lacks the explosive burst that the top four displays, so he is a late first early second round pick in my prediction.

  1. Terrace Marshall Jr, LSU, 6-4, 200: Marshall played well in 2020 before opting out of the last part of the season. He had good size, length, speed and mismatch ability. Marshall is a vertical threat, but lacks explosion and first step quickness.

He is a day two selection late second or early third round pick.

  1. Rondale Moore, Purdue, 5-9, 180:Moore feasted on jet sweeps and quick game targets. While short, Moore plays stout with a fluid ease of movement and instant acceleration to force miss tackles.

He has elite speed and is an explosive playmaker with the ability to score on any touch. Moore is a day two pick mid second early third pick.

  1. Dyami Brown, North Carolina, 6-1, 195: Brown has excellent one cut acceleration and separation quickness. He is highly skilled at the double move (head fakes, quick settling of his feet, ect..), and he plays with strength to make a living on the outside versus corners.

Brown is another day two pick.

Here are the other receivers I think will go in the first three rounds: Elijah Moore, Ole Miss; Amari Rodgers, Clemson; Tutu Atwell, Louisville; D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan; Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State; Amon-Ra St Brown, USC; Cade Johnson, South Dakota State.

If your favorite pro team needs a receiver, this is the year to grab one in the first three rounds, but then again, there is talent in day three of the draft: with the deepest group in this year’s class.

Fixed Wreck

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

This has been a surprisingly good season for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.

Head coach Josh Pastner has not had much success prior to this season.

He was hired in 2016 and that was his best season. Tech was 21 – 16 in 2016-17 and he was named ACC Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year.

He has had two losing seasons after that. In September 2019 the NCAA banned Tech from postseason play and put them on four years of probation.

The sanctions include a reduction in scholarships, limits on recruiting and a fine of $5,000 plus 2% of the program’s budget.

This was the result of major recruiting violations by Pastner’s former assistant coach and an ex-friend.

The Ramblin’ Wreck were 17 – 14 last season. Because of the global pandemic all postseason tournaments were cancelled.

On the surface the record was not impressive but there was one impressive takeaway. He had his first winning conference record in Atlanta, going 11 – 9 in the ACC.

Based on that we should have seen this season coming. Georgia Tech went 17 – 8, 11 – 6 in conference play. They were the fourth seed in the ACC Tournament.

They beat Miami in their first game. The next opponent was the No. 1 seed Virginia, but that game was cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 test within their program.

The Yellow Jackets advanced to the championship game against No. 2 seed and 15th ranked Florida State. They beat the Seminoles 80 – 75 and won the first ACC title since 1993. They shot 52% in the second half.

“First off, just want to give an incredible shout-out to our young men to get this from where we started, not only how it started this year, how it started five years ago,” Pastner said. “Holy Toledo, goodness gracious. Thank the good Lord. God bless everybody for sticking with us. And these young men, to do what we’ve done, to do this is just darned special, to put Georgia Tech back in the forefront of the ACC.”

Tech has the AP ACC Player of the Year, Moses Wright. The 6’9 senior forward was the only unanimous first-team pick on the AP’s All-ACC teams. He averages 18 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game. During a six-game winning streak he shot 65.6% and averaged 23.5 ppg and 10 rpg.

Tech is led by upper classmen. Senior guard Jose Alvarado is the second leading scorer with 15.3 ppg and 4.1 assists per game. Junior guard Michael Devoe averages 15.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.3 apg.

Even after winning the ACC Tournament and clinching an automatic birth to the NCAA Tournament they aren’t getting much respect. The Yellow Jackets are the No. 9 seed in the Midwest region. They play No. 8 Loyola Chicago (24 – 4) Friday March 19th at Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, IN) at 4:00.

They should be a higher seed but I think they have a serious chance to make the Sweet Sixteen.

4-Peat?

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NL East is the best overall division in Major League Baseball.

The Braves, Mets, and Nationals could all finish over .500 on the season. In 2019 the last full season before the pandemic four teams finished at .500 or better in this stacked division.

Let take a look at each team:

Miami Marlins: The Marlins made the playoffs in the pandemic shortened season of 2020, and eliminated the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs before the Braves ended their season.

This team has one of the top farm systems in baseball and just continues to produce talent.

Sixto Sanchez is one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Starling Marte is an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in the outfield and will be surrounded by all of that younger talent. This team will continue to improve.

Washington Nationals: The Nationals won the World Series in 201, and finished last in the division in 2020.

They still have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin in this rotation, so they will be in just about every game.

Juan Soto is a superstar and they have Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell potentially surrounding him in the line-up. How will this bullpen perform in 2021? That is the question surrounding this team.

Philadelphia Phillies: This team has spent a lot of money on free agents over the past couple of seasons but still floats around the .500 mark in the standings.

Bryce Harper is only 28 years old and will probably have a monster season and you have J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius.

The core is there, but will this pitching staff hold up? Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have to have great seasons for this team to contend.

NY Mets:  The Mets have become the trendy pick by most everyone to win the NL East.

Can this team be consistent enough to win the division? That is a huge question mark in my mind.

Pete Alonzo will probably hit 40+ HR’s, and the Francisco Lindor trade was huge offensively and defensively.

Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, and Marcus Stroman will lead this pitching staff. This team has good pitching and will hit a lot of HR’s.

Something to watch down the stretch is can Noah Syndergaard return this summer from his Tommy John surgery? If he does and is effective then this could tilt the NL East in the Mets favor.

Atlanta Braves:  We all know the Braves are one of the best teams in baseball. Freddie Freeman is the reigning MVP and Ronald Acuna Jr. is a young superstar.

The Braves resigned Marcell Ozuna. The Braves signed Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to beef up the starting rotation.

How quickly can Mike Soroka regain form in 2021 after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon last season?

Can Kyle Wright be the starter the Braves envisioned when they drafted him?

The everyday line-up is the best in the division if the Braves play Cristian Pache in CF.

Who will grab the closer job?

 

My NL East Predictions:

Atlanta Braves: 93-69

NY Mets: 91-71

Washington Nationals: 88-74

Miami Marlins: 78-84

Philadelphia Phillies: 75-87

I see the Braves winning the NL East in the last weekend of the regular season.

 

 

 

Running Wild

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As your teams prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, I will take a look at the top running backs in this year’s draft class.

This year’s running back class isn’t as top heavy as last year’s, which had seven running backs drafted in the top 70 picks.

I think there will be three or four running backs drafted in the top 60, followed by a handful of backs who will be targeted in the top 200 picks.

Which backs will have a chance to make an immediate impact?

1.Travis Etienne, Clemson, 5’10, 200lbs: Etienne ran really well in 2020, showing a dynamic burst, improved strength and the ability to pick up yards after contact. He is also a dangerous receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Etienne could be a three down starter and inject speed and explosiveness into a team’s ground game. On top of being very fast, Etienne demonstrates very good running fundamentals; like the patience to let the hole develop, the vision to see lanes and the posture to run behind his pads.

Etienne is not the biggest back, but he runs hard and will be the first running back selected.

  1. Najee Harris, Alabama, 6’2, 230lbs: Harris has the quick, graceful feet of a much smaller back to elude pursuit, showing improved decision making and on field maturity as a senior in Tuscaloosa.

There is no doubt Harris has the ability and skill to be an impactful NFL three down running back.

Aside from his size and speed, Harris is a natural runner with good instincts. He shows excellent vision, patience and anticipation to follow his line before busting downhill.

Harris is not a proven threat in the pros yet, but his reliable skills set as a rusher, receiver and blocker makes him the second back off the board.

  1. Javonte Williams, North Carolina, 5’10, 220lbs: Williams was a load for the Tar Heels in 2020, showing both power and quickness as a runner.  He may have three down starting potential for the NFL. Some NFL experts think Williams could end up being the first running back drafted in April.

Williams is a physical bell cow back who can be the engine of a tough rushing attack.  He is a downhill runner who can impose his will through sheer strength.

Williams’ strong build, knee bend and ability to run behind his pads let him break a lot of tackles and pick up yards after contact. However, Williams will need some work as a blocker and identifying blitzing defenders.

  1. Kenny Gainwell, Memphis, 5’11, 191lbs: Gainwell decided to sit out in 2020 due to losing four family members to COVID-19.

Gainwell is a fast and explosive back, as well as a threat to rip off chunk plays on any touch. He also is a superb receiver out of the backfield with 51 receptions for 610 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.

Gainwell lacks ideal size and power, which leads to durability and usage concerns.

He is a versatile rushing and receiving threat with instinctive playmaking ability, projecting as a scheme-specific offensive weapon.

  1. Kylin Hill, Mississippi State, 5’11, 215lbs: Hill was phenomenal in the 2020 season opener, showing serious receiving ability to help lead a crucial upset over LSU. On top of making some huge catches, Hill did well as a pocket protector.

Hill was suspended over a locker room incident, and decided to sit out the rest of the season. He has a good skill set and could become a starter in the NFL.

NFL teams have said that Hill jumped out to them and became impossible to ignore.

Future Faces

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL Draft always has one guarantee; hope.

It’s the one time of the year where every fanbase can at least start the day with hope for the future and speculation runs rampant.

This year is no different…well, at least after the first pick, that is.

Trevor Lawrence headed to the Jaguars with the first overall pick is as close to a lock as you’re going to get.

Granted there is a small but noisy contingent of JagNation that is trying to sway public opinion towards picking Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith instead of T-Law 2.0, and an even smaller contingent trying to convince Shad Khan to go for Gator QB Kyle Trask in a Tebow-esque reach with the first pick. We have names for those people, and they are “misguided” and “delirious,” respectively.

No, Trevor Lawrence is coming to Duval, you can bank on that one.

Whether he starts immediately or not will be largely determined by whether or not the Jaguars use a slice of their $85mil+ of cap space to bring in a journeyman quarterback to ease the transition (Alex Smith seems to be the speculation du jour).

After the first pick, however, this year’s draft could turn into a lesson in controlled chaos.

First round trades have been on the decline over the last few years, but I think (hope?) that this year will be different.

The crop of quarterbacks alone looks to rival that of the fabled 1983 draft, and there are more than a handful of franchises with question marks behind center. With most mock drafts having the first four picks selecting QBs, if two more signal callers get the first-round nod, that would tie the record for most quarterbacks in the first round.

That outcome might not be outside of the realm of possibility. I think it’s safe to say that the top four in some order will read Trevor Lawrence, Zack Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance (at least that’s the way I see them going), but there are several more that are worthy of first round consideration if the franchise fit is right.

Mac Jones, Alabama – Mac had a solid post-Tua career in Tuscaloosa. Draft prognosticators have him as a pretty solid first round candidate, more than likely headed to San Francisco or New Orleans.

Kellen Mond, Texas A&M – I’ll be honest, I always felt nervous when the Dawgs had to go up against him. There were times he looked like a Patrick Mahomes clone, and he had developed into a solid pocket passer with a refined touch pass already.

I don’t see why he couldn’t go late first round, especially last. I haven’t seen any speculation to back this up, but imagine him getting a year or two learning under Tom Brady. Scary. And speaking of scary…

Feleipe Franks, Arkansas – He’s a 6’ 6”, 234lb monster of a player with an attitude to match. If not for his consistency concerns, he’d be a first rounder easily. Regardless, there is a lot of potential there, and it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that a GM somewhere develops a serious man crush and takes a big reach on the big slinger (lookin’ at you, Denver…)

Jamie Newman, Wake Forest – I don’t care what CKS says, I will never consider Newman a Dawg, and I will never forgive him for leaving UGA in a pickle at the last minute in 2020.

That being said, he’s a solid, albeit rusty, pro-style passer that could be seen as a safe option for a team that gets nervous after a run on quarterbacks in the draft.

Kyle Trask – Just kidding. He’s got “third round” written all over him. But hey, stranger things have happened, and he’s been mentioned as an Indianapolis target. In short, who knows?

Will 2021 be a first-round record-setter? I think that will be largely determined by who blinks in the Deshaun/Texans standoff, whether someone tries to milk one more season out of FitzMagic, and if Drew Brees finally makes his retirement official.

We’ll find out soon enough.