#DigSportsDesk - The Lede

Will Rockets Land D'Antoni

HOUSTON - The Houston Rockets plan another interview with Philadelphia 76ers assistant Mike D'Antoni for their head coaching opening. According to multiple media reports and our league sources, the 76ers' associate head coach landed a second interview with Houston and is an "increasingly serious candidate."

The 65-year-old D'Antoni will meet this time with Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, according to ESPN. The Rockets met with D'Antoni and former Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel after Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff withdrew from consideration for the position earlier this month. The Rockets fired Kevin McHale just 11 games into what was the first season of a three-year deal.

The Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in five games in the first round of the playoffs. After his meeting with team officials, Bickerstaff withdrew from consideration, despite posting a 37-34 record after succeeding McHale. The offensive-minded D'Antoni has been a head coach with the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. Houston also has interviewed former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell, Charlotte Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, Rockets assistant Chris Finch, TNT analyst Kenny Smith and San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina.


Is Hornacek Choice for Knicks?

NEW YORK - Jeff Hornacek, who never guided his team to the playoffs in 2 1/2 years as head coach of the Phoenix Suns, will be the next head coach of the New York Knicks, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday. Howard Beck of Bleacher Report first broke the story.

Hornacek, 53, was fired by the Suns on Feb. 1 when the team was 14-35. The previous two seasons, he produced 48-34 and 39-43 records. Derek Fisher was replaced as the Knicks' coach on Feb. 8 after a 23-31 start to his second season. New York went 17-65 in his first year. Interim coach Kurt Rambis guided the Knicks to a 9-19 mark down the stretch this season.After the season, the Knicks reportedly had interest in Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt. In addition, Rambis was viewed as a front-runner due to his longtime relationship with Knicks president Phil Jackson dating to their time with the Los Angeles Lakers. Walton wound up accepting the Lakers' head-coaching job.

Despite the presence of high-scoring forward Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have endured three consecutive losing seasons. They have won one playoff series since the 1999-2000 season. Anthony led the team again this season with an average of 21.8 points per game. Forward Kristaps Porzingis finished second in Rookie of the Year voting this week after averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Hornacek enjoyed a lengthy playing career as an NBA guard. The Suns' second-round draft pick in 1986, he spent six years in Phoenix. He then was with the Philadelphia 76ers for 1 1/2 seasons before playing 6 1/2 season with the Utah Jazz. He made the 1992 All-Star team with the Suns. Hornacek reached the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons with the Jazz in 1997 and 1998, losing each time to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. In 1,077 career games, Hornacek averaged 14.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds.


Has Window Closed for Duncan, Ginobili?

SAN ANTONIO  -- The run is over for the San Antonio Spurs and possibly the careers of veterans Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs, after winning a franchise-best 67 games and tying an NBA record for going 40-1 at home this season, were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night in the second round of the playoffs.

"I really don't know what they're going to do, but when they do decide to move on somewhere between now and the next five years -- it's a little bit of a joke, you can laugh -- it will feel a little differently walking into the gym, for sure," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said of Duncan and Ginobili during Friday's season-ending news conference.

Moments after the Spurs' 113-99 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, the 40-year-old Duncan wasn't ready to announce his future plans.

"I'll get to that after I get out of here and figure out life. That's it," said Duncan, who scored 19 points with five rebounds in 34 minutes of action.

Popovich was surprised when asked after the game whether Duncan had played his last game with the Spurs after 19 seasons.

"Why do you say that?" Popovich asked. "Do you know something that I don't know? I just wanted to make that clear. Tim was playing really well. So we played him as much as we possibly could because he earned the minutes. He really did a good job."

The 38-year-old Ginobili said he plans to take his time in making the decision about a possible return to the Spurs for a 15th season."Of course, it's been an amazing run," said Ginobili, who scored five points in the game. "We all enjoy playing with each other. I'm so proud of having played with those guys for so many years and winning so many games, and even playing with the new guys.

"If there's a reason why you always want to come back and keep being part of this, (it's) because of the amazing chemistry, the good times and the good people that you play with and spend time with. It's not always about winning a game or winning a championship. But you learn from losses, and it's important to enjoy every day. Being a part of this team, I'm very proud of it, even if sometimes it doesn't go our way."

Duncan and Ginobili both have player options for the 2016-17 season -- Duncan's deal is $6.4 million while Ginobili's option total is $2.9 million. Duncan is the second player in NBA history to win an NBA title in three different decades (John Salley is the other). Duncan has won five titles overall.

"(Duncan) played great," point guard Tony Parker said after Thursday night's game. "Pop went to him a lot, and he was aggressive. He was not thinking, just a big game."
Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are the first set of three or more teammates to win four titles together since Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis, according to ESPN.

Parker was asked about the futures of Duncan and Ginobili.

"Every year, it's the same thing with us," Parker said. "TD, obviously, and Manu, it's the same question every year. They're either going to come back or not. We'll see."

The Spurs have made the playoffs each of the last 19 season since Duncan was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft.

"I haven't talked to Timmy in about 11 years," Popovich deadpanned to reporters Friday, via the San Antonio Express-News. "And Manu stopped talking to me about three or four years ago, so I doubt it highly. They're just going to come in and say, 'Pop, this is what I'm doing.' And whatever they say, that's what I'll do."

Popovich praised his players for their effort and thanked the Spurs' fans.

"They gave everything they could, and went as far as they could," Popovich said Friday. "I'm really pleased with their effort and their ability to persevere all year long, and keep their eye on what we were trying to do. It's just a group that was very special.

"That hurts as much as anything, because you get to the airport last night, and there were all those people out there, and you feel like, oh my gosh, you just feel like you let everybody in the world down. We'll go back to work and do what we do."


NFL Draft 2016 - Top 100

2016 NFL Draft: Final top-100 Draft Board

(Wire Service Report)


With the 2016 NFL Draft a week away, my final draft board expands to the top-100 prospects led by Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil who hasn't conceded his top spot through the process. In fact, my top-seven overall players hasn't changed since my first draft board in January.
UCLA linebacker Myles Jack remains at the No. 2 spot, although his projection is much more difficult with the concern over his knee. Nonetheless, without knowing specifics about the injury, I'm keeping him at the second spot. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is more worrisome and he has dropped out of the top-100 altogether.
Here are my top 100 players in this draft class:

1. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss (6-5, 305, 5.23, Jr.)
Despite never earning SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors in his three-year Ole Miss career, Tunsil is the best prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft. He is a nimble big man with a rare athletic skill-set for the position and his flaws are more nit-picking than true weaknesses.

2. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA (6-1, 245, 4.56, Jr.)
Jack is an athletic specimen with above average pursuit speed, contact balance and mental processor to know everything going on around him. He has the athletic skill-set to be a difference-maker, but several teams have red-flagged his knee, which is obviously worrisome.

3. Jalen Ramsey, DS, Florida State (6-1, 202, 4.49, Jr.)
If you combined a safety, cornerback and linebacker into one prospect, the result would look something like Ramsey, who was blessed with the inherent instincts and an impressive size/athletic profile. It's rare to see defensive backs mentioned as worthy of the top pick, but he deserves it.

4. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State (6-5, 275, 4.82, Jr.)
Bosa is very physically gifted, but even better, he knows how to use those gifts and works his tail off to maximize his potential. He might never be a consistent double-digit sack artist in the NFL, but he is scheme versatile with the power, athleticism and instinctive traits to disrupt the pocket.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (6-0, 225, 4.42, Jr.)
Elliott has the résumé of a playmaker and is extremely well-rounded, doing some of his best work away from the ball. He is outstanding at syncing his eyes with his feet to read, cut and go in a fluid motion, displaying the playmaking traits to make an impact runner from day one.

6. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss (6-2, 210, 4.52, Jr.)
Although he's not a sudden athlete, Treadwell plays with athletic twitch and power to be a threat before and after the catch. He has exceptional ballskills and catching radius with strong hands to pluck away from his body, drawing comparisons to a lesser-dynamic version of Dez Bryant.

7. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon (6-7, 290, 4.87, Sr.)
Buckner plays with explosive movements and terrific body control for a man his size, flashing heavy hands and initial power to be a disruptive force. He's still learning how to string together rush moves, but developed into more of a consistent playmaker as a senior.

8. Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville (6-1, 303, 4.92, Sr.)
A balanced athlete for his size, Rankins is a physical presence with the hand strength to press blockers off his frame, create separation and disrupt the backfield. He keeps his eyes trained on the ball and understands different hand tactics – ascending player.

9. Jared Goff, QB, California (6-4, 210, 4.82, Jr.)
Goff has good, but not great, physical traits and arm strength, but his best qualities are his intelligence, pocket mechanics and ability to self-evaluate. He undoubtedly faces a learning curve in the NFL, but he has the passing traits and mental process to find success early in his pro career.

10. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State (6-5, 231, 4.84, RSr.)
Although his internal clock and eye use need maturing, Wentz boasts a NFL-style skill-set with his size, athleticism and arm talent. He lacks ideal experience against top competition, but his tape shows the anticipation and field vision to work through reads and make sound decisions.

11. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson (6-3, 270, 4.67, RJr.)
Despite losing eight defensive starters from 2014, Clemson's defense ranked top-10 nationally in 2015 and Lawson was a substantial reason for that, leading the nation in tackles for loss (25.5). He isn't a long-armed, twitchy athlete, but his efficient pass rush process makes him productive.

12. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State (6-1, 235, 4.48, RSo.)
A high school quarterback, Lee is still young in linebacker years, but he is a fantastic athlete with long arms, aggressive hands and the striking ability to finish through his target. He is a versatile run-and-hit defender with an attacking mind-set that fits today's NFL. Lee's Combine performance could make him the first linebacker drafted.

13. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson (5-10, 195, 4.43, RSo.)
Alexander didn't record an interception in college, but he wasn't consistently targeted, not allowing a touchdown the final 24 games of his career. While his route anticipation and technique need work, he is able to smother receivers with his lower body fluidity and quick reflexes.

14. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame (6-6, 315, 5.17, RJr.)
A dancing bear, Stanley was blessed with the athleticism, long arms and above average feet to handle speed and mirror rushers in space. He needs to fine-tune his mechanics before he's ready for NFL snaps, but his upside and athletic skill-set should land him in the top-10.

15. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida (5-11, 199, 4.48, Jr.)
Although he has only ordinary size, Hargreaves is above average in three main areas for the position: play speed, instincts and competitive toughness. He needs to improve his timing and spacing in coverage, but has a coachable attitude and decisive reactor.

16. Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama (6-3, 313, 5.14, Sr.)
Although not a rangy player, Reed is a smooth athlete for his size, scraping down the line of scrimmage and pushing the pocket (led all Alabama defensive linemen in tackles each of the last two seasons). He is the draft's top nose tackle due to his stout anchor and balance.

17. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State (6-6, 318, 5.43, RJr.)
Conklin will struggle with speed at times, but no one is going through him due to his wide base and contact balance, always ready for action, which compensates for his elite quickness in pass protection. He is well-coached, physical and a natural competitor.

18. Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky (6-3, 261, 4.68, RJr.)
An Ohio State transfer, Spence is one of the top wildcards in the 2016 class due to his immense talent, but heavy baggage off the field. He is a slippery rusher with the initial burst, lateral quicks and natural leverage to threaten the pocket on a regular basis.

19. Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis (6-6, 230, 4.95, RJr.)
A late bloomer, Lynch needs mechanical work and on-field reps, but he checks boxes for his size, athleticism, arm talent and appetite for football. Although his pro transition requires time, the ingredients are there for Lynch to develop into a NFL starter.

20. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama (6-2, 252, 4.72, Sr.)
An excellent point of attack defender, Ragland has terrific play speed and it's no coincidence that he's always around the ball with his diagnose skills. He can be overaggressive at times, but he's a punishing tackler and flashes violence in his hands to detach himself from blocks.

21. William Jackson, CB, Houston (6-1, 195, 4.52, Sr.)
Jackson, who leaves Houston with a school-record 48 passes defended, was a wide receiver in high school and does a lot of receiver-like things at the catch point with his tracking ability, length and ballskills. He can struggle in zone, but he plays sticky coverage in press-man.

22. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor (5-10, 190, 4.42, RJr.)
Baylor's wide-open offense is mostly half-field reads and unchallenged routes, making it difficult to compare Coleman's college film to what he'll see in the NFL. However, he has the athletic traits and competitive temperament that suggest it's only a matter of time before he finds success.

23. Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State (6-4, 309, 5.08, RSr.)
Whitehair left an indelible mark at KSU with his leadership, work ethic and high-level of play the last four years at both tackle and guard. He doesn't have the length to hold up consistently on the edges in the NFL, but Whitehair has the base strength and instincts to start at guard right now.

24. Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida (6-3, 283, 4.86, Sr.)
A player who benefited by returning for his senior season, Bullard is a wrecking ball at the line of scrimmage due to his anticipation off the snap and quick reflexes to find the ball. He is limited as a pass rusher, but scheme diverse due to his play recognition at the point of attack.

25. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss (6-3, 296, 4.86, Jr.)
A boom or bust type of prospect, Nkemdiche has above average athleticism for his size with the movement skills to skirt blockers and win with power. He is one of the top-10 talents in this draft class, but not one of the top-10 football players at this point in his development.

26. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State (6-1, 200, 4.52, RSo.)
Apple isn't afraid to be physical and contest at the top of routes, but he's still learning what he can get away with and what will draw flags. He has several traits for the position that translate well to the next level with his size, length and athleticism to stay in phase with receivers.

27. Josh Doctson, WR, TCU (6-2, 195, 4.49, RSr.)
Although his experience is in a spread offense that didn't ask him to run a full route tree, Doctson shows outstanding effort on throws in his zip code, expanding his catch radius, contorting his body and finding ways to finish catches – often bailing out his quarterback.

28. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State (6-7, 315, 5.21, Sr.)
Although he can struggle at times with speed off the edge, especially flexible rushers who can bend underneath him, Decker has the frame, balance and forceful hands to neutralize quickness and control the point of attack. He doesn't have a high NFL ceiling, but he's a day one starter.

29. A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama (6-3, 312, 5.18, Jr.)
Nicknamed the "man child" growing up, Robinson has the look and power of a full grown man. His flashes are very good, but they don't happen consistently, mostly because he was asked to two-gap, clog things up and occupy blockers, which doesn't show up in the box score.

30. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor (6-1, 310, 5.04, Jr.)
Billings, who was a record-setting weight-lifter in high school, flashes dominant qualities when he keeps his pad level low, rolls his hips and pushes his momentum into the pocket. As the technique and discipline catch up, Billings should continue to get better.

31. Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State (6-3, 210, 4.54, RJr.)
Although not the fastest or most explosive, Thomas is a good-sized athlete and detailed route runner with little wasted movements to create spacing at the stem. He will need time to adapt to a NFL playbook, but his savvy footwork, body control and ballskills are starter quality.

32. Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA (6-2, 310, 5.14, Jr.)
A former high school wrestling champ, Clark translates several of those techniques from the mat to the football field. He is powerful at the point of attack and flashes the violence, agility and motor to twist and drive blockers backwards, projecting in an even or odd front.

33. Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech (6-3, 309, 5.06, Sr.)
Butler's flashes are impressive due to his lower body athleticism and upper body power to stack blockers and make stops at or behind the line of scrimmage. He needs to develop his pass rush technique, but his relentless playing temperament fits every scheme.

34. Ryan Kelly, OC, Alabama (6-4, 297, 5.23, RSr.)
The glue of the Crimson Tide offensive line, Kelly was a three-year starter in Tuscaloosa and a model of consistency. He tends to get overaggressive and fall off blocks, but he is quick in his movements and works hard to maintain leverage, projecting as the draft's top center.

35. Su'a Cravens, DS/LB, USC (6-1, 225, 4.58, Jr.)
Cravens was asked to do a little bit of everything for the Trojans in a hybrid safety/linebacker role. His take-on strength and physical nature as a tackler are both below average, but he's a fluid athlete with excellent reaction skills and instincts to cover on an island.

36. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson (6-4, 275, 4.84, RJr.)
Although he didn't start until this past season, Dodd made it count with 23.5 tackles for loss and a dozen sacks, numbers that fell just shy of Lawson's for the team lead. Dodd is still raw in areas, but with his size and quickness off the ball, he has been steadily rising.

37. Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor (6-0, 201, 4.58, RJr.)
Howard won't be featured as the prototype for fundamentals in coverage, but his ability to find the ball in flight and use his ballskills to disrupt the catch point is above average. Although his long-speed isn't ideal, he mixes things up and does a lot of receiver-like things in coverage.

38. Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas (6-3, 303, 5.02, RJr.)
Ridgeway displays an impressive skill-set with his power, athleticism and instincts, detaching himself from blocks and quickly finding the ball. He needs technique and conditioning work, but if he stays healthy, Ridgeway is a starting two-down one-technique in a 4-3 base.

39. Kamalei Correa, DE/LB, Boise State (6-3, 243, 4.69, Jr.)
Correa lacks much variety with his pass rush at this point in his development and his production is based more on effort and raw athleticism than technique and discipline. But he has the movement skills and competitive toughness worth grooming in a 3-4 scheme.

40. Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma (5-10, 194, 4.48, Sr.)
Although his lack of size and strength will limit him in some areas, Shepard has above average body control and route savvy, using tempo and multiple gears to get open. Despite his limitations, Shepard is a very natural pass-catcher with the skills to be a YAC monster.

41. Ronald Blair, DE, Appalachian State (6-2, 284, 5.15, RSr.)
Although his Combine numbers don't accurately reflect his impressive tape, Blair belongs in the second round discussion. He plays with violent hands and aggressive pass rush moves to rip through blockers, showing the effort to finish in the pocket.

42. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (6-2, 242, 4.54, Jr.)
Since 2011, Alabama has had four running backs drafted in the first two rounds (with mixed results) and Henry should be the fifth. He is a powerful, yet graceful north-south athlete who can fit through tight spaces, using patience and instincts to gash defenses.

43. Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina (5-11, 208, 4.52, Jr.)
A playmaker with the ball in his hands, Cooper displays the play speed, elusive cuts and start/stop movements to create on his own, before and after the catch. Similar to Randall Cobb when he came out of Kentucky, Cooper is a jack-of-all-trades weapon on offense.

44. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame (6-0, 184, 4.42, RJr.)
A dynamic deep threat, Fuller has the uncanny ability to create separation late in his route, using an extra gear when the ball is in the air, a burst that most cornerbacks can't match. His dropped passes are frustrating, but he is a big-time playmaker due to his ability to stretch the field.

45. Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana (6-6, 301, 4.94, Sr.)
A high school tight end, Spriggs was a four-year starter for the Hoosiers and doesn't have many negative snaps on his film. Although he needs to strengthen his core for the NFL, he has the frame, athleticism and body control to start at the next level.

46. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (6-0, 197, 4.48, Jr.)
Fuller looked like a future high round pick his first two years in Blacksburg, but 2015 was a lost season for him due to a torn meniscus. Nonetheless, he has the short-area quickness, controlled footwork and natural feel in coverage to be a reliable NFL starter.

47. Vonn Bell, DS, Ohio State (5-11, 205, 4.52, Jr.)
Although his tackling mechanics need some refinement, Bell plays with the requisite mental and physical toughness and can hold his own in man coverage. His athleticism, timing and savvy at the position translate well to the next level, along with his decisive reactor.

48. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State (6-3, 275, 4.76, RJr.)
A native of Nigeria, Ogbah is a "coach's dream" according to Mike Gundy due to his strong work ethic, intelligence and discipline. He is still learning the complexities of the position and lacks elite burst, but he's a balanced athlete with a coachable mentality that can be molded.

49. Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State (6-3, 325, 5.27, RJr.)
A prospect whose production matches his tape, Johnson is built well to take on multiple blockers and clog the middle of the field. His motor is always revving and he moves well in small areas, showing the strong hands to stack and create movement in even and odd fronts.

50. Artie Burns, CB, Miami (6-0, 193, 4.53, Jr.)
Although undisciplined as a tackler and with his hands in coverage, Burns has the requisite play speed, lower body explosion and hip fluidity to play in both man and zone coverage in the NFL. He will be a special teams stand-out while his route anticipation and hand tactics improve.

51. Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State (6-1, 196, 4.64, Jr.)
52. Joshua Perry, LB, Ohio State (6-4, 254, 4.68, Sr.)
53. Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas (6-5, 250, 4.68, Jr.)
54. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh (6-2, 197, 4.52, Jr.)
55. Kyler Fackrell, LB, Utah State (6-5, 245, 4.72, RSr.)
56. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia (5-10, 205, Sr.)
57. Leonard Floyd, DE/OLB, Georgia (6-6, 244, 4.60, Jr.)
58. Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame (6-1, 293, 5.07, Sr.)
59. Keanu Neal, S, Florida (6-1, 211, 4.62, Jr.)
60. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State (6-1, 309, 4.93, Sr.)

61. Deion Jones, LB, LSU (6-1, 222, 4.39, Sr.)
62. Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn (6-6, 307, RJr.)
63. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State (6-1, 201, 4.43, RSr.)
64. Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M (6-6, 324, 5.27, RJr.)
65. Nick Martin, OC, Notre Dame (6-4, 299, 5.22, RSr.)
66. Jeremy Cash, S, Duke (6-0, 212, RSr.)
67. Devontae Booker, RB, Utah (5-11, 219, RSr.)
68. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (6-4, 217, 4.79, RSr.)
69. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State (6-4, 251, 4.82, RSr.)
70. Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri (6-0, 245, 4.82, RSr.)

71. Christian Westerman, OG, Arizona State (6-3, 298, 5.12, RSr.)
72. Will Redmond, CB, Mississippi State (5-11, 182, Sr.)
73. Josh Garnett, OG, Stanford (6-4, 312, 5.32, Sr.)
74. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech (5-10, 215, 4.56, Sr.)
75. Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State (6-7, 277, 4.84, RSr.)
76. C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame (6-1, 220, 4.48, RJr.)
77. Jalen Mills, DB, LSU (6-0, 191, 4.47, Sr.)
78. Joe Dahl, OG, Washington State (6-4, 304, 5.18, RSr.)
79. Joe Schobert, LB, Wisconsin (6-1, 244, 4.76, Sr.)

80. Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State (6-6, 310, 5.03, Jr.)
81. Jordan Jenkins, DE, Georgia (6-3, 259, 4.80, Sr.)
82. Ryan Smith, CB, North Carolina Central (5-11, 189, 4.47, RSr.)
83. Roberto Aguayo, PK, Florida State (6-0, 207, RJr.)
84. Le'Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech (6-5, 316, 5.16, RSr.)
85. Kenny Lawler, WR, California (6-3, 203, 4.64, RJr.)
86. Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State (6-3, 301, 5.03, Sr.)
87. DeAndre Houston-Carson, S, William & Mary (6-1, 201, 4.54, RSr.)
88. Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers (6-0, 211, 4.50, Sr.)
89. Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas (5-11, 220, 4.63, Sr.)
90. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona (6-0, 239, 4.87, Jr.)

91. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska (6-2, 311, 5.03, Jr.)
92. Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU (6-0, 197, 4.39, Sr.)
93. Nick Vannett, TE, Ohio State (6-6, 257, 4.89, RSr.)
94. Isaac Seumalo, OC, Oregon State (6-4, 303, 5.19, RJr.)
95. D.J. Reader, DT, Clemson (6-3, 327, 5.27, Sr.)
96. Jihad Ward, DL, Illinois (6-5, 297, 5.09, Sr.)
97. Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma (6-3, 271, 4.59, Sr.)
98. Darrell Greene, OG, San Diego State (6-3, 321, 5.20, RSr.)
99. Matt Ioannidis, DT, Temple (6-4, 399, 5.03, Sr.)
100. Tyler Higbee, TE, Western Kentucky (6-6, 249, RSr.)

Dane Brugler is senior analyst of NFLDraftScout.com, owned and operated by The Sports Xchange in cooperation with CBSSports.com.

 


Goodell Talks Future NFL Draft Venue 

APRIL 13, 2016 - (Wire Service Report) -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said it is "very likely" the draft will move to another city in 2017 after two years in Chicago. The league had been conducting the draft in New York City for 50 consecutive years -- since 1964 -- until deciding in 2015 to offer up the three-day event to bids from other cities.

The draft exceeded expectations last year and the 2016 event will be held in downtown Chicago again starting Thursday night with the first round.

"We really didn't know what to expect," Goodell said during an informal meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday. "We were very pleased."

Chicago city officials estimated 250,000 fans attended the downtown weekend draft event last year and the NFL estimates were closer to 200,000, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The NFL is expecting 300,000 this year. Competition for the event has increased and a site for the 2017 draft likely will be announced in July.

"I think the draft will be back in Chicago," Kara Bachman, the executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission, told the Sun-Times. "I don't know for '17, but it will certainly be back."

The NFL sent a memo to all the teams asking if their cities would be interested in hosting the draft in future years.

The Broncos and the city of Denver want to host the 2019 draft in the league's 100th season. Canton, Ohio, also is trying to get a draft at the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019 or 2020, and the possibility of hosting drafts was part of the Rams' successful relocation bid to Los Angeles.


Home Opener at Fenway Brings Hope

By TERRY LYONS

BOSTON - April, 2016 - Another Arctic front dropped three or four inches of a wet, cement-like snowfall on the front walks of New England homes and the plow operators earned time and a half last Monday night just as the Villanova kids were whooping it up in Houston or out on Philly's Main Line. Shoveling snow in April is not what Abner Doubleday or Rob Manfred had in mind, as chilly winds, wintry mixes and outright cold weather was the cause of seven games being postponed in the season of the year 2016 in Major League Baseball.

It took eight days on the road for the Boston Red Sox to compile a 3-2 record to start a season which has lofty expectations. Today, two games back in the American League East standings, the Sox will crack the bats in their 2:05pm home opener against the division-leading Baltimore Orioles as the Massachusetts faithful crack open a few Sam Adams and school kids cut-out early, citing an appointment with Dr. Lansdowne. Suffice to say, Cold Snap has yet to yield to Summer Ale, but that is quite okay today because hope springs eternal.
 
Opening Day brings life to Boston. It brings hope of brighter days to come this year. Opening Day in Boston is better than New Year’s Day because the resolutions today are only promises of a pennant or, at least, a wild card. Opening Day at Fenway Park brings light.
 
It starts with planning your day around the 2:05pm start time. The Sox home opener requires careful planning. Securing tickets is a part of that, yes. But, more importantly, it is planning to weave the Red Sox into the fabric of your life. That is what this baseball team requires if you live in Massachusetts. Like no other team in the land, the Red Sox are Boston.
 
Yes, the Cubs have their friendly confines and their own long-suffering fans who love the ivy of Wrigley Field more than anyone could imagine. Yes, the Cardinals capture the mind and spirit of St, Louis and some of southern Illinois. Yes, the Dodgers have Vin Scully and Chavez Ravine and even the Blue Jays sell some tickets in an igloo in Toronto, but the Sox have Fenway.
 
Fenway Park! Say no more. It is the chapel of all-time, well, aside from the Sistine version, I guess?
 
At 4:45am on Opening Day, Fenway Park is alive. It’s lights are on and its motor is running.
 
New crews are setting up shop for the day, all scouring the renewed Fenway neighborhood looking for the perfect place to do dozens of live-shots for the eye-opening broadcasts right up until the Noon news. On Landsdowne, fans who camped out for tickets are playing wiffel ball in the brisk dawn sunshine. Bar-owners are rejoicing because the boys are back in town.
 
The Celtics will be hosting some NBA Playoff games over by North Station while the Bruins clean out their lockers after a disappointing season of more downs than ups. But the fabric of life in New England revolves around the Sox and baseball, not any other sport, including that American Football game that does pretty well in the tv ratings game.
 
Baseball has its place. It has its tradition and New Englanders love that fact. 
 
Contrary to the death-knoll forecast by thought leaders of the Millennial generation, Red Sox baseball holds up. Generation after generation after generation have flocked to Fenway Park, oldsters and youngsters hand-in-hand. High school friends still meet in the same places. Families take the day off and trek in to Kenmore Square on the Green Line. Yawkey Way is closed down for a money-making festival of summer. And, it’s all good.
 
It’s good as long as the Sox starting rotation can step up. It’s good as long as Hanley Ramirez performs up to his high capabilities at first base. It’s all good if David Ortiz can continue his “Big Papi” role while knocking in runs and doubling about 35 or 40 times. It’s good if the Price is Right and free agent ace David Price wins 20 games and contends for the Cy Young Award. It’s good if Sox captain Dustin Pedroia stays health and bats .300 or better and if Brock Holt plays nealry every day of the year at a different position than the day before.
 
You see, the hopes of Opening Day come with expectations in Boston. Fans expect to win and they’ll still turn-out if those expectations aren’t met. After all, bagging tickets to see the Sox is a challenging sport in itself. Sox tix come with very hefty price tags, limited availability, and a secondary ticket mark-up scheme if you’re heading to the guys at Ace Ticket or the Sox new season-ticket holder recycling plant, called Replay (a pretty good idea), to grab a pair behind the plate or up on the famed Green Monster. But, if the Sox aren’t about 10 games over .500 by June, those faithful citizens of Yawkey might be calling for Hanley’s bat or Manager John Farrell’s job.
 
The cold fact of life on Opening Day is that Major League Baseball whacks up the wins and losses and gives each team one after every single game. Half win and half lose in the cold, cruel world of professional sports. Rising up, way over .500, is what it takes to win titles. Avoiding injury and getting some good, old-fashioned luck doesn’t hurt. But, on Opening Day at Fenway, cold beer will be served as hope springs eternal, at least until Clay Buchholz takes his next turn in the rotation.

2016 MLB Season Preview

The Kansas City Royals made back-to-back World Series and are defending the title for the first time in 30 years. The Chicago Cubs are suddenly a trendy pick to win their first championship in more than a century. The Pittsburgh Pirates, a laughingstock for decades, are now a postseason regular. All of the recent turnarounds must give hope to all 30 major league teams that anything is possible.

Here is a capsule look at each team, ranked from best to worst, heading into the 2016 season:

1. CHICAGO CUBS
2015 record: 97-65 (third in NL Central, wild card)
Key additions: OF Jason Heyward, RHP John Lackey, INF/OF Ben Zobrist, RHP Adam Warren.
Key losses: 2B Starlin Castro, OF Austin Jackson, RHP Jason Motte, RHP Fernando Rodney, OF Chris Coghlan, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Dan Haren.
2016 skinny: A rotation led by RHP Jake Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner, backed by LHP Jon Lester and RHP John Lackey makes the Cubs strong contenders to go to the World Series. They were able to sign Heyward and Lackey away from division rival St. Louis. Winning the offseason is one thing, however, and winning the season is another.

2. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2015 record: 95-67 (first in AL Central)
Key additions: RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Joakim Soria.
Key losses: RHP Greg Holland, 2B/OF Ben Zobrist, RHP Johnny Cueto, RF Alex Rios, RHP Ryan Madson, LHP Franklin Morales, RHP Jeremy Guthrie.
2016 skinny: A deep and talented bullpen again should be the key to the Royals' success, although the rotation also has talent. The re-signing of LF Alex Gordon, who was a free agent, leaves the offense mostly intact and gives Kansas City a chance to repeat as World Series champions.

3. NEW YORK METS
2015 record: 90-72 (first in NL East)
Key additions: SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Neil Walker, LHP Antonio Bastardo.
Key losses: 2B Daniel Murphy, LHP Jon Niese, SS Ruben Tejada, RHP Tyler Clippard.
2016 skinny: Armed with baseball's best rotation and a good enough offense, the Mets are more than a one-year wonder. One pressing question is how to get the ball to their dominant closer, RHP Jeurys Familia, a weakness exposed during the 2015 postseason.

4. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2015 record: 84-78 (second in NL West)
Key additions: RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Jeff Samardzija, OF Denard Span.
Key losses: RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Mike Leake, RHP Tim Hudson, OF Nori Aoki, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, RHP Yusmeiro Petit.
2016 skinny: The Giants shored up their rotation and improved their defense up the middle. This is a well-rounded team as it tries to continue its trend of winning the World Series in alternate years -- 2010, 2012, and 2014 -- while missing the postseason in the next season. The Giants have a chance to keep it going this season.

5. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2015 record: 100-62 (first in AL Central)
Key additions: RHP Mike Leake, RHP Seung Hwan Oh, SS Ruben Tejada, C Brayan Pena, INF Jedd Gyorko
Key losses: RF Jason Heyward, RHP John Lackey, RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Matt Belisle, RHP Steve Cishek.
2016 skinny: The Cardinals are well-equipped to fend off the challenge of the Cubs in the division, bolstered by the acquisition of Leake. They also will have C Yadier Molina for Opening Day as he returns from thumb surgery, and RHP Adam Wainwright will be available from the opening of the season after missing almost all of last year due to a torn Achilles tendon.

6. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2015 record: 93-69 (first in AL East)
Key additions: LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Drew Storen, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Gavin Floyd, OF Darrell Ceciliani.
Key losses: LHP David Price, RHP Mark Lowe, OF Ben Revere, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, RHP Liam Hendriks, C Dioner Navarro.
2016 skinny: The offense is potent and, with Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop from the start of the season, the defense is solid. The bullpen should be good whether Storen or RHP Roberto Osuna closes for a team that should make a strong run at a division repeat. The question is the rotation, beginning with the Opening Day starter, RHP Marcus Stroman, a brilliant talent who has not pitched a full major league season.

7. LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2015 record: 92-70 (first in NL West)
Key additions: LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Kenta Maeda, RHP Joe Blanton, INF Micah Johnson, OF Trayce Thompson.
Key losses: RHP Zack Greinke, SS Jimmy Rollins, RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Joel Peralta.
2016 skinny: Greinke's departure as a free agent means the rest of the rotation must pick up the slack behind ace LHP Clayton Kershaw. Dave Roberts begins his managing career, replacing Don Mattingly. Just winning the division will not be enough. Roberts also must avoid the kind of early postseason exit that has plagued the Dodgers. Greinke's absence makes that more difficult.

8. TEXAS RANGERS
2015 record: 88-74 (first in AL West)
Key additions: INF/OF Ian Desmond, RHP Tony Barnette, RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, OF Justin Ruggiano.
Key losses: OF Leonys Martin, 1B Mike Napoli, RHP Yovani Gallardo.
2016 skinny: RHP Yu Darvish is expected to return from elbow surgery in May, and LHP Cole Hamels will be in the rotation from the beginning of the season, which can only be positive. The outfield could be thin. Free agent signee Desmond, a veteran shortstop, is being converted to left field with Josh Hamilton injured.

9. HOUSTON ASTROS
2015 record: 86-76 (second in AL West, wild card)
Key additions: RHP Doug Fister, RHP Ken Giles.
Key losses: 1B Chris Carter, LHP Brett Oberholtzer.
2016 skinny: The rotation that features the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, LHP Dallas Keuchel, will open the season without promising RHP Lance McCullers, who has a sore shoulder. The lineup can hit, and Carlos Correa, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, will be the shortstop from the outset. The Astros are a potential World Series team.

10. BOSTON RED SOX
2015 record: 78-84 (fifth in AL East)
Key additions: LHP David Price, RHP Craig Kimbrel, OF Chris Young, RHP Carson Smith, LHP Roenis Elias.
Key losses: LHP Wade Miley, LHP Craig Breslow, RHP Alexi Ogando.
2016 skinny: The addition of free agent Price and the trade for closer Kimbrel strengthened the Red Sox at both ends of the pitching staff and thrust them into a contenders' role. Other pitchers will need to improve this season, however, and the defense should be better than it was last year.

11. NEW YORK YANKEES
2015 record: 87-75 (second in AL East, wild card)
Key additions: LHP Aroldis Chapman, 2B Starlin Castro, OF Aaron Hicks.
Key losses: RHP Adam Warren, LHP Justin Wilson, OF Chris Young, 2B Stephen Drew.
2016 skinny: The Yankees' strength is the back of the bullpen, especially when Chapman returns from suspension, but the weakness appears to be the rotation. The offense depends on injury-prone older players, but the middle-infield defense is improved over last year.

12. CLEVELAND INDIANS
2015 record: 81-80 (third in AL Central)
Key additions: 3B Juan Uribe, 1B Mike Napoli, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Joba Chamberlain, OF Marlon Byrd.
Key losses: OF Ryan Raburn, RHP Ryan Webb
2016 skinny: Once again, Cleveland will open its season brimming with promise based on a strong rotation. Success will depend on how well the Indians hit. SS Francisco Lindor will be on the team from the start this season, and that should help if he continues to display the form he demonstrated in the second half last year.

13. PITTSBURGH PIRATES
2015 record: 98-64 (second in AL Central, wild card)
Key additions: LHP Jon Niese, INF David Freese, 1B John Jaso, RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Neftali Feliz, INF Jason Rogers.
Key losses: 1B Pedro Alvarez, 2B Neil Walker, RHP A.J. Burnett, RHP Charlie Morton, LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Joakim Soria.
2016 skinny: It could be a struggle for the Pirates to keep up with the Cardinals and Cubs in the division after losing Alvarez, Walker and Happ to free agency. They still have RHP Mark Melancon closing, and the bullpen will be the key.

14. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
2015 record: 83-79 (second in NL East)
Key additions: 2B Daniel Murphy, CF Ben Revere, INF Stephen Drew, RHP Trevor Gott, RHP Shawn Kelley, LHP Oliver Perez, RHP Yusmeiro Petit.
Key losses: RHP Jordan Zimmermann, SS Ian Desmond, RHP Drew Storen, CF Denard Span, 3B Yunel Escobar, RHP Doug Fister.
2016 skinny: The Nationals failed to live up to expectations last year, and they underwent several changes in the offseason, including hiring Dusty Baker as manager. The rotation is led by RHP Max Scherzer and the offense is keyed by RF Bryce Harper, so Washington cannot be counted out.

15. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
2015 record: 85-77 (third in AL West)
Key additions: 3B Yunel Escobar, SS Andrelton Simmons, RHP Al Alburquerque, C Geovany Soto.
Key losses: SS Erick Aybar, 3B David Freese, OF David Murphy, C Chris Iannetta, RHP Trevor Gott, OF Matt Joyce.
2016 skinny: CF Mike Trout leads the offense and DH Albert Pujols should chip in as he returns from offseason surgery on his right foot. The acquisition of Simmons brings superb defense to a team that could make a run at the postseason.

16. TAMPA BAY RAYS
2015 record: 80-82 (fourth in AL East)
Key additions: OF/DH Corey Dickerson, SS Brad Miller, 1B/OF Logan Morrison, OF/INF Steve Pearce, RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Danny Farquhar.
Key losses: LHP Jake McGee, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 1B/DH John Jaso, RHP Brandon Gomes, RHP Nathan Karns.
2016 skinny: The Rays should continue with their trademark strong pitching and defense, although the throws of SS Brad Miller were an early spring training concern. The hitting might improve enough for the Rays to contend. The bullpen will be tested early with closer Brad Boxberger out until mid-May after having abdominal surgery during spring training.

17. DETROIT TIGERS
2015 record: 74-87 (fifth in AL Central)
Key additions: LF Justin Upton, RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Mark Lowe, CF Cameron Maybin, LHP Justin Wilson.
Key losses: C Alex Avila, OF Rajai Davis RHP Alfredo Simon, RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Al Alburquerque.
2016 skinny: The Tigers fell to last after winning the AL Central for four years running as their vaunted rotation faltered. The starters should rebound and the offseason additions will help. The bullpen remains a question mark despite moves to strengthen it.

18. MINNESOTA TWINS
2015 record: 83-79 (second in AL Central)
Key additions: DH Byung Ho Park, C John Ryan Murphy, LHP Fernando Abad.
Key losses: RF Torii Hunter, CF Aaron Hicks, RHP Blaine Boyer, RHP Mike Pelfrey, LHP Brian Duensing.
2016 skinny: The Twins were considered a surprise last season mainly because the rotation exceeded expectations. With a better season from RHP Phil Hughes and a full season from RHP Ervin Santana, the starters should be good again. If Park makes the adjustment to the majors and 1B Joe Mauer has a better season, Minnesota will be a team to watch.

19. SEATTLE MARINERS
2015 record: 76-86 (fourth in AL West)
Key additions: C Chris Iannetta, 1B Adam Lind, 1B Dae-Ho Lee, OF Nori Aoki, OF Leonys Martin, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Steve Cishek, RHP Nathan Karns, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Evan Scribner.
Key losses: 1B Logan Morrison, SS Brad Miller, OF Austin Jackson, 1B/OF Mark Trumbo, RHP Carson Smith, LHP Roenis Elias, LHP Joe Beimel.
2016 skinny: The Mariners are unlikely to make their first postseason appearance since 2001, the longest drought in the majors, despite improvements to a rotation led by RHP Felix Hernandez and a rebuilt bullpen. They will improve on 2015, however.

20. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2015 record: 76-86 (fourth in AL Central)
Key additions: 3B Todd Frazier, 2B Brett Lawrie, SS Jimmy Rollins, OF Austin Jackson, RHP Mat Latos, C Dioner Navarro, C Alex Avila.
Key losses: DH/1B Adam LaRoche, SS Alexei Ramirez, RHP Jeff Samardzija.
2016 skinny: The White Sox made some key moves in the offseason to try to end a run of three losing seasons. The story now is whether the controversy about LaRoche's retirement over an attempt to limit his son's presence will lead to a fractured clubhouse and undo the positive effects of the offseason work.

21. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
2015 record: 79-83 (third in NL West)
Key additions: RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Shelby Miller, RHP Tyler Clippard, SS Jean Segura.
Key losses: OF Ender Inciarte, 2B Aaron Hill, RHP Chase Anderson, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RHP Jhoulys Chacin.
2016 skinny: Adding Greinke and Miller could be enough to make the Diamondbacks contenders. They have a good offense. The onus now is on the rest of the rotation, the bullpen and the middle infield.

22. MIAMI MARLINS
2015 record: 71-91 (third in NL East)
Key additions: LHP Wei-Yin Chen, INF Chris Johnson, RHP Edwin Jackson.
Key losses: RHP Henderson Alvarez.
2016 skinny: Don Mattingly takes over as manager, and Barry Bonds takes over as hitting coach to help boost a struggling offense. Chen adds consistency to a rotation led by RHP Jose Fernandez, but Miami might need more to contend.

23. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
2015 record: 81-81 (third in AL East)
Key additions: OF Hyun Soo Kim, OF/1B Mark Trumbo, RHP Yovani Gallardo, DH Pedro Alvarez.
Key losses: LHP Wei-Yin Chen, OF Gerardo Parra, 1B Steve Pearce, C Steve Clevenger.
2016 skinny: The Orioles will hit home runs and score plenty of runs. They need their pitching to step up to contend. They added the serviceable Gallardo to their rotation, but the consistent Chen departed.

24. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
2015 record: 68-94 (fifth in AL West)
Key additions: OF Khris Davis, RHP Ryan Madson, INF Jed Lowrie, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, RHP John Axford, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP Henderson Alvarez.
Key losses: 3B Brett Lawrie, RHP Jesse Chavez, LHP Fernando Abad, LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Evan Scribner, 1B Ike Davis.
2016 skinny: Oakland was out of the money last season after three straight postseason appearances, and the Athletics' chances are not bright this season. The bullpen, one of the worst in the majors last season, was bolstered, but there remain questions about the rotation beyond RHP Sonny Gray.

25. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
2015 record: 63-99 (fifth in NL East)
Key additions: RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Charlie Morton, RHP Vince Velasquez, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, OF Peter Bourjos, OF Tyler Goeddel, RHP David Hernandez, RHP Andrew Bailey, OF Will Venable, OF David Lough.
Key losses: RHP Ken Giles, OF Domonic Brown, RHP Aaron Harang, RHP Jerome Williams, LHP Cliff Lee.
2016 skinny: The Phillies could rebound from their dismal 2015 to offer some hope to their fans. They have some talent on the way. Meanwhile, they will have to find a closer and a way to overcome some outfield injuries. 3B Maikel Franco was a home run machine at spring training.

26. ATLANTA BRAVES
2015 record: 67-95 (fourth in NL East)
Key additions: OF Ender Inciarte, SS Erick Aybar, RHP Bud Norris, RHP Jim Johnson, C Tyler Flowers, LHP Alex Torres, RHP Alexi Ogando.
Key losses: SS Andrelton Simmons, OF Cameron Maybin, RHP Shelby Miller, RHP Edwin Jackson.
2016 skinny: The Braves are in a rebuilding program. and this year should be more of the same. Their main threat at the plate is 1B Freddie Freeman, and their rotation is filled with questions.

27. MILWAUKEE BREWERS
2015 record: 68-94 (fourth in NL Central)
Key additions: 1B Chris Carter, RHP Blaine Boyer, INF Aaron Hill, RHP Chase Anderson, SS Jonathan Villar, OF Rymer Liriano, 3B Will Middlebrooks, OF Eric Young Jr., LHP Franklin Morales.
Key losses: 1B Adam Lind, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, SS Jean Segura, RHP Kyle Lohse, OF Khris Davis, INF Jason Rogers.
2016 skinny: The Brewers are rebuilding. They will not contend this season in a division that had both wild cards last season. The best they can look forward to is the eventual promotion of prospects such as SS Orlando Arcia.

28. SAN DIEGO PADRES
2015 record: 74-88 (fourth in NL West)
Key additions: RHP Fernando Rodney, SS Alexei Ramirez, CF Jon Jay, LHP Drew Pomeranz, C Christian Bethancourt.
Key losses: LF Justin Upton, RHP Craig Kimbrel, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Joaquin Benoit.
2016 skinny: The Padres went all out for last season and flopped. Now they have pulled back and are rebuilding their minor league system. They figure to miss the postseason for the 10th year in a row. Their biggest offseason acquisition was Ramirez, 34, who is coming off a sub-par season.

29. COLORADO ROCKIES
2015 record: 68-94 (fifth in NL West)
Key additions: LHP Jake McGee, RHP Jason Motte, OF Gerardo Parra, RHP Chad Qualls, INF/OF Mark Reynolds.
Key losses: OF Corey Dickerson, 1B Justin Morneau, C/INF Wilin Rosario, RHP John Axford, RHP Tommy Kahnle.
2016 skinny: The Rockies added to their bullpen, but the youthful rotation is a work in progress. They do not figure to contend this season. They traded away the face of the franchise, SS Troy Tulowitzki, last season and shored up their prospect base but in the process are stuck with Jose Reyes.

30. CINCINNATI REDS
2015 record: 64-98 (fifth in NL Central)
Key additions: RHP Alfredo Simon, OF Scott Schebler.
Key losses: 3B Todd Frazier, LHP Aroldis Chapman, C Brayan Pena, RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Manny Parra, INF/OF Skip Schumaker.
2016 skinny: The Reds are a rebuilding team, and they have a long way to go after shedding some good players. They would do well to reduce their loss total from the 98 they had last season.


 


Final Four Insurance? Try TickAssure!

NEW YORK, March 9 - As NCAA Selection Sunday fast approaches, March Madness bracketologists will be sharpening their pencils and studying the results of the many conference tournaments all in hopes of picking a perfect bracket. The tournament selection committee makes best efforts to disperse the most worthy college basketball teams, placing No. 1 and No. 2 seeds into four separate regions in an attempt to craft the perfect Final Four. Nearly each and every March, an underdog, a darling, a Cinderella story, as Bill Murray might say, breaks through and carries-out the big upset - the Bracket Buster.

Much of the nation follows along with their bracket print-out and markers in hand, but with no real rooting interest in mind, other than bragging rights with their friends or grabbing the office pool kitty. More sophisticated players might play for higher stakes or even head to Las Vegas for the NCAAs, especially opening weekend which has surpassed Super Bowl Sunday in terms of fanaticism at the hotels and resorts in the desert. Only a handful of fans are the students, faculty, alumni, subway alums or college townspeople who actually have a direct connection to their favorite college basketball team and they are the potential clients for a new version of March Madness Bracketology, as they will watch the early rounds of the NCAAs with hopes of attending the Final Four.

Nowadays, as the face-value price tags increase and secondary ticket market fuels soaring demand, very few of those diehard fans can afford the price of a ticket, nevermind a pair of good seats to watch their team at college basketball’s annual convention. This year, there’s a new mechanism in the marketplace and it’s called TickAssure! You might be quite surprised to learn that the insurance industry - notably the people of Lloyd’s of London - who’ve created the analytics and crunched the numbers to allow insurance underwriters to create an online marketplace where, currently (as of March 9, 2016), a policy costing $12.67 and a keen mind to predict the four college basketball teams to navigate their way through the madness and win their way on the Road to the Final Four in Houston, Texas, concluding April 4 at NRG Stadium.

“TickAssure’s mission is to provide the everyday sports fan an opportunity to have access to big-time championship events,” said Todd Armstrong, founder and CEO of TickAssure! “If a fan is forced out to the secondary market for an elite-level event, it is not cheap. It’s gotten to a point where most fans, A - can not afford or B - they are simply unwilling to pay prices that high.

“When I came up with TickAssure, it was out of a real-life example when Auburn advanced to the BCS national championship game and, like so many other fans, I went out on the secondary market to buy a ticket and simply could not afford not only the tickets but the tickets and the whole trip,” said Armstrong. “I thought that surely, there was a company out there selling some kind of financial product that might help fans afford tickets to these elite games. I dug-around, looked, and there was nothing in the marketplace. I had some early conversations with friends in the insurance business and we found there was no such company. My next question was, ‘Well, why not?”

Armstrong realized the fact no one in the ticketing world or the insurance industry had “connected the dots,” and said he was introduced to underwriters at Lloyd’s of London.

“I was looking for a solution,” noted Armstrong, “not to start a company.”

After Lloyd’s proved they had quite an appetite to create a new product in the insurance world, TickAssure! was created with a focus on college football and now basketball.

“They are really indemnity contracts, legally,” said Armstrong, noting that any party may indemnify another party. “We call them ‘championship protection plans,’ and they are written by our underwriters who use our proprietary rating index for the teams in each sport and then the actuaries come back to us with the price.”

TickAssure! does not secure the tickets and, currently, the company is not affiliated with any specific ticket source or secondary ticketing company, although they list a few dozen approved sources where fans must purchase and supply proof of purchase to be reimbursed up to $1,500 per ticket for the current NCAA Final Four offering. Armstrong is in discussions for potential partnerships in the industry.

The Select Four Protection Plan offering of $12.67 will be in place until tournament committee provides the actual teams/brackets, thus skewing the odds significantly. If predicting the entire final four seems daunting, fans of any one team (potentially or definitely) in the tournament can secure a protection plan just for their team, a product much more expensive but closer in line to Armstrong’s original idea to create a system where a ticket-buyer might significantly cut costs to attend the championship event. However, just like car insurance, if your team doesn’t qualify for the NCAA semifinals, it’s as though you never get in a car accident - you get nothing.

“The prices fluctuate from week-to-week, depending on the sport,” said Armstrong who pounds the software as the actuaries rack their brains for all possibilities, mirroring the gaming world for sure.

Although Armstrong and TickAssure! have yet to discuss direct connections with the NCAA or various bowl game organizers, they have approached specific teams, with the result being sure signs of interest and unanimous agreement that the new insurance product is an attractive option for fans. They are contemplating “Season Ticket Protection Plans” whereby significant success on the field can ensure discounted prices for season ticket holders to renew their plan.

Fans can find the most updated individual team and select four protection plan prices by visiting www.tickassure.com online. The company has created an online product only and while it is mobile friendly, they have yet to develop an app.