Archives for March 7, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Now that the 2017 NFL Combine is officially in the rear view mirror, let’s take a peek into the future with these questions about the top prospects on both sides of the ball. We start with the offense.
–Was NFLDraftScout.com’s top-rated QB Mitchell Trubisky, indeed, the top passer at the Combine?
Not necessarily. From measuring in at a solid 6-foot-2 (and an 1/8) and 222 pounds (with 9 1/2-inch hands) to impressing with his poise on the podium and during athletic drills, Trubisky checked all of the boxes necessary to remain as the top quarterback. He impressed with his speed during the 40-yard dash (4.67 seconds) and delivered strikes during the throwing session, showing the velocity and accuracy to project as a future NFL starter despite only starting 13 games at North Carolina.
–If it wasn’t Trubisky, then who stood out the most?
Just as he did the past two years in national title showdowns with Alabama, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson showed off his remarkable ability to raise his level of play when the lights shine brightest. Scouts knew he could run (4.66 in the 40-yard dash) but few expected that he would look as polished as he did in the five- and seven-step drops and be the most accurate passer during passing drills.
–Could Watson’s performance at the Combine earn him a spot in the top 10?
It certainly might. Watson remains a polarizing player in the scouting community. His 30 combined interceptions over the past two seasons led the country and no NFL team will overlook that fact. The QB-needy clubs in the top 10-12 picks, however, could be dazzled with his poise and upside.
–Was Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer as bad during his position workout as some suggest?
It was pretty bad. There is no denying Kizer’s arm talent but his inaccuracy during drills was frightening. The redshirt sophomore looked like he had never taken a five- or seven-step drop before, and the reality is that in Notre Dame’s shotgun-heavy attack, he rarely did during a game. Some longtime NFL evaluators after the workout asked me pointblank, “What has he been working on all this time?” After all, remember, the 4-8 Irish did not qualify for a bowl game.
–If this QB class is supposed to be so bad then why are as many as five being projected as first-round picks?
In a word, desperation. Potential free agents Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay), Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo) and Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco) are likely to earn big contracts in free agency despite coming with more questions than answers. With the rookie wage scale (and possible five-year contract that comes with it), teams could see investing a first-round pick as a much more palatable solution to their quarterback needs.
–Is too much being made about Dalvin Cook’s “pedestrian” workout?
Yes. Cook is a proven talent who plays quicker and faster than he times because he anticipates defenders. The stopwatch did not reflect that. If Cook falls on draft day, it will be due to medical or off-field concerns, not because his 40-yard dash or shuttle drills weren’t up to par.
–So, if we are to overlook Cook’s poor performance, the same is true for Leonard Fournette, right?
Not necessarily. I’ve been as big a Fournette fan (he was my No. 3 overall prospect heading into the Combine) as anyone, but I have to question how seriously he is taking this process after coming in at 240 pounds. Prospects should be in the best shape of their life at the Combine. I remain convinced that Fournette is as gifted as any back since Adrian Peterson, but what made AP great is not just his size, speed and power but his grit. Fournette’s stock is falling … and fast.
–Could concerns about his speed push Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams out of the top 20?
Yes. Williams, of course, did not run at the Combine, citing Clemson’s long season, but he did participate in positional drills and his lack of juice was alarming. For much of the process, many thought that Williams was the star who helped Watson look good. Following their respective Combine performances, it is worth wondering whether the opposite is, in fact, true.
–After setting a Combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, Washington’s John Ross is a first-round lock, right?
No. Athletically-speaking, Ross is clearly among the top 32 prospects and quite possibly the top receiver in the class. However, scouts already knew that Ross was fast. What they don’t know (yet) is his medical grade. Ross has undergone surgeries to both knees, including for a torn ACL (left knee) and meniscus (both knees), with a shoulder surgery (labrum) coming up. Ross “should” go in the first round but with his injury-marred past and narrow-shouldered 188-pound frame, there are many who question whether he can hold up to a 16-game NFL season.
–Who is an under-the-radar wide receiver whose Combine performance deserves more attention?
Take a peek at Northern Illinois’ Kenny Golladay. The 6-foot-4, 218-pounder was officially clocked at 4.50 in the 40-yard dash, had a 35.5-inch vertical jump and had a more than respectable 4.15-second short shuttle time. Even better, he looked terrific during the position drills, showing impressive body control during the gauntlet drills to haul in a pass thrown behind him, while maintaining his momentum.
–When is the last time a tight end class was this talented?
The 2002 draft saw three tight ends (Jeremy Shockey, Daniel Graham and Jerramy Stevens) go in the first round, and that may wind up being the case this season for the first time since then, with Alabama’s O.J. Howard, Miami’s David Njoku and Mississippi’s Evan Engram all deserving of top-32 consideration. That 2002 class saw 24 tight ends drafted, the most since 25 were drafted over 17 rounds in 1975. NFLDraftScout.com currently has draftable grades on 20 tight ends and I see two below that mark (Oregon’s Pharaoh Brown and Louisville’s Keith Towbridge) hearing their name called on Day Three, as well.
–Will there be a consensus on the top offensive tackle in this draft?
Probably not. The most gifted tackle in the draft is Utah’s Garett Bolles but he will turn 25 years old in May and has only one season of experience at the FBS level, as does Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk. Alabama’s Cam Robinson is a classic mauler in the running game but is not the dancing bear teams want at left tackle and comes with significant off-field concerns. The only consensus about this year’s tackle class is that it might be better to wait.
–Which player on offense has the most riding on his Pro Day?
It is hard to look past Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, who might have everything riding on Wednesday’s workout in Norman. Not only does he need to show his contrition for his well-documented mistakes off the field, Mixon must dazzle scouts with his athleticism. It is worth noting that poor workouts from Cook and Fournette (among other running backs), may have opened the door a little wider for Mixon, who is clearly among the draft’s most gifted athletes.
–Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed in partnership with The Sports Xchange, Sports Direct and CBSSports.com to Digital Sports Desk.
L.A. Clippers 116, Boston 102
When: 10:30 PM ET, Monday, March 6, 2017
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Change) – Former Celtics guard Jamal Crawford started hitting shots. The result was a solid second-half performance by Crawford that sparked the Los Angeles Clippers’ offense and allowed them to blow past the Boston Celtics on Monday night. Blake Griffin scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and the Clippers rallied by the Celtics 116-102 at Staples Center.
Chris Paul had 23 points, while Crawford, who made 4 of 5 from 3-point range, scored 17 of his 19 points after the break for the Clippers (38-25). Los Angeles center DeAndre Jordan collected 15 points and 12 boards.
“I think when I’m aggressive, I think that kind of sets the tone,” said Crawford, who hit 6 of 8 shots in the second half, including all of his 3-pointers. “It won’t always be my night. It may be Austin (Rivers) or (Marreese Speights). Whoever it is, we need to play off that guy, and from there, it creates easier shots for everybody.”
Crawford said Griffin told him at halftime to keep shooting despite Crawford going 0 of 5 in the first half.
“There’s times where he gets hot that you just get out of the way and let him do his thing,” Griffin said. “The thing that has separated him is the plays down the stretch, when he didn’t get hot, he started hitting (Jordan for dunks). Now teams can’t just load up on him. Now they have to figure out how to play him.”
Isaiah Thomas scored 32 points and handed out five assists for the Celtics (40-24). Marcus Smart had 21 points for Boston, while Avery Bradley added 14.
“I’m not concerned, but the way we lost tonight was unacceptable,” said Thomas, who connected on 10 of 19 shots from the floor and 4 of 8 from long distance. “We lost the game in the last 15 minutes. We played a really good game until the last 15 minutes. It’s the players’ fault, the coaches’ fault, everyone in this locker room’s fault. We could have done better.”
The Clippers opened the fourth quarter with a 21-9 run for a 96-80 advantage after three consecutive dunks by Jordan, the last one coming via an alley-oop pass from Crawford with 6:07 left. The Celtics were unable to get any closer than nine the rest of the way.
“Jamal made some tremendous shots,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “That’s what he does. We sent him to the free-throw line too much, and then we weren’t scoring on the other end. They were able to flip the script there at the end of the third quarter.”
Boston led by as much as 13 in the third after a bucket by Jae Crowder with 4:28 left in the quarter. However, the Clippers, who trailed by three at halftime, rallied with a 22-6 spurt to end the quarter with a 75-71 edge.
Griffin had 10 points in the third, while Crawford scored nine.
Los Angeles outshot Boston 53.4 percent to 41 percent overall.
Thanks in large part to Crawford, Los Angeles’ bench outscored Boston’s 45-33.
“I thought they outplayed us in the first half,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “They were more physical. And then I thought we turned that, and we became the more physical team in the second half. But that second unit was great, and we stuck with them a long time. That was good for us, too. Anytime we can win a game and get guys down in minutes, it is never a bad thing.”
The Celtics played without center Al Horford (sprained right elbow) for the second game in a row. Stevens said there is no timetable for Horford’s return.
NOTES: Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he is more amazed with the ability of Celtics 5-foot-9 PG Isaiah Thomas to convert points in the paint than any other part of his game. “I don’t even know if he can see anything sometimes when he’s down there, and he finishes,” Rivers said. … Boston has a 9-6 record in the second game of back-to-back contests. The Celtics lost 109-106 at Phoenix on Sunday when Suns rookie G Tyler Ulis hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. … Celtics F Jonas Jerebko missed the game with flu. … Both clubs resume play Wednesday on the road. The Celtics continue their five-game swing against the Golden State Warriors, while the Clippers visit the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Boston College vs Wake Forest
When: 2:00 PM ET, Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
Wake Forest can cement an at-large bid in the upcoming NCAA Tournament with a solid showing in the ACC tourney this week, beginning with a first-round matchup with Boston College on Tuesday in Brooklyn, N.Y. The 10th-seeded Demon Deacons went a long way toward securing an NCAA berth with three straight wins to end the regular season, but a loss to the last-place Eagles would severely hurt their postseason resume.
“This is huge for us,” All-ACC first-teamer John Collins told reporters after an 89-84 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday. “It’s showing progress, and it can’t happen at any better time. We’re going up to Brooklyn and hopefully going to the Big Dance.” Collins finished second in the in ACC Player of the Year voting after leading the league in shooting (62.3 percent), ranking second in rebounding (9.8) and third in scoring (19.1). He averaged 21.5 points and 11.5 boards in two wins this season over Boston College, which carries a 14-game losing streak into the postseason after Saturday’s 82-68 setback at Clemson. The winner takes on No. 7 seed Virginia Tech in the second round Wednesday night.
TV: 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ACC Network
ABOUT BOSTON COLLEGE (9-22): Coach Jim Christian said in the wake of the loss to Clemson that “we’ve got a good foundation now,” and it is no secret that he’s referring to guards Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman. Robinson, a sophomore, finished fourth in the ACC in scoring (18.7) and was an All-ACC honorable mention pick, while Bowman was part of the conference’s All-Freshman team after averaging 14.5 points and shooting 44.5 percent from 3-point distance. The Eagles, who were ousted in the opening round last season, have allowed at least 82 points in nine of their last 10 games.
ABOUT WAKE FOREST (18-12): Collins was limited to 13 points and nine boards in the win over the Hokies on Saturday as he wrestled with foul trouble, but guard Bryant Crawford carried the load with 26 points. Crawford (15.8) ranks second to Collins on the team’s scoring list and fellow sophomore Keyshawn Woods (12.8) is third. Austin Arians and Mitchell Wilbekin combined for 94 3-pointers while shooting a collective 40.3 percent from beyond the arc for the ACC’s third-ranked offense (82.1).
1. Wake Forest has lost three straight in the ACC tournament since a win over Notre Dame in the first round in 2014.
2. Eagles G Jordan Chatman scored 22 points while making 4-of-6 from 3-point range in the previous meeting.
3. Wake Forest is second in the ACC in foul shooting (77 percent) and Boston College ranks last (67.9).
Ottawa 4, Boston 2
When: 7:30 PM ET, Monday, March 6, 2017
Where: Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa, Ontario
OTTAWA — (Special to Digital Sports Desk) — The Ottawa Senators started a three-game homestand by struggling to defeat the NHL’s last-place team, then concluded it with a pair of impressive wins over Eastern Conference contenders.
The Senators’ most recent victory was Monday night’s 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins at Canadian Tire Centre that put them four points between the second- and third-place teams in the Atlantic Division standings. Ottawa resides four points behind the first-place Montreal Canadiens.
“It was like a playoff game,” said Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored once and turned in a solid defensive effort on the team’s checking line. “That’s how we took it. That was our motivation. All the sacrifices we did, the blocked shots, put somebody in front of their goalie, good box out from our D, good first pass … all the little details made the difference tonight.”
Derick Brassard, Mike Hoffman and Alex Burrows also scored a goal for the Senators (36-22-6). Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand replied for the Bruins (34-26-6).
Craig Anderson made 25 saves while improving his record to 19-8-1. Tuukka Rask stopped 25 shots as he fell to 30-16-4.
“I thought they did a really good job standing in front and creating the screens,” Rask said. “That was one of the better teams I’ve faced in a long time. They get big bodies moving around and finding open space. We didn’t do a very good job defending a lot of times.”
The Senators set the tone when Brassard and Pageau scored on the team’s first two shots.
“We definitely didn’t get the start we wanted,” said Bergeron, who cut the deficit in half with 1:33 left in the first period. “They got the speed they want to have in the neutral zone and I thought our D zone was poor, too many holes there and they took advantage of that. When you put yourself down by two after less than 10 minutes, it’s definitely hard to get back in games.”
The difference was what Senators coach Guy Boucher called his team’s “push back”. Rather than allowing the Bruins to get momentum off the Bergeron goal, the Senators were all over the visitors in a scoreless second period, outshooting them 16-5.
“For me that’s a real great reload mentally from the goal against,” Boucher said. “I think right now what’s happening, our team has grown over the last months. The first 2 1/2 months, very often we’d see our team change its way when we got a goal scored against us, when we didn’t start the game the right way, when we got a penalty, we had a tendency to change what we do. Now we’re staying steady. It’s definitely paying off.”
There was only one power play in the first two periods — a chance with which Ottawa could generate nothing — before Hoffman and Marchand exchanged man-advantage goals 74 seconds apart in the third.
Another penalty was whistled on the Senators when Marchand’s stick snapped in half while taking a shot from the slot, but the referees reviewed the play and realized there was no slash, just a faulty piece of equipment, and overturned the original call.
“It seems like they’re just making up rules as they go now,” grumbled Marchand, when asked about the referral of fortunes. “I’ve never heard of that. It is what it is.”
When Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was asked if he knew referees could change their mind like that, he replied: “Cleary they can because they did.
“It was a funny call,” continued Cassidy, who now has an 8-3-0 record since taking over the job from the fired Claude Julien. “Through the course of the game most officials would tell you there’s times they look back and go, well, that was one I probably missed, but they don’t tell you until after the game or the next day.
“They played their game better than we played ours, in a nutshell. It was a little disappointing at times that we were that stubborn, but then we would get going a little bit. That was it to me. I thought they played their game better than we wanted to execute our plan.”
The Senators have now defeated the Bruins four times in a row, including twice this season. The teams have a pair of games against each other remaining
“We had four lines going and I thought we managed the game really well,” Brassard said. “We had some short shifts, really intense out there. If we keep doing that we’re going to be hard to beat.”
NOTES: Senators D Dion Phaneuf missed the morning skate because he was sick, but with a game time decision he was in the lineup. He wound up with two assists … Senators scratches were D Fredrik Claesson, D Jyrki Jokippaka and F Chris DiDomenico … The Bruins scratches were F Jimmy Hayes, F Matt Beleskey, D John Michael Liles and D Joe Morrow.