It's Almost Opening Day...And Even The Grounds Crew Aren't Excited
Although once known as "America's Pastime," baseball has morphed into something that only pays tribute to a time in America's Past. Whether it's the length of the games, the steroids, the lack of prominent American players, or personal preference, MLB has lost its panache. The only saving grace to a large portion of its remaining fans is the long, and sometimes arduous, Fantasy Baseball season. As the boys of summer get set to take the field this season, I sat back for about 15 minutes and came up with the following predictions. Hey, it worked out for me in last year's world series. Why not now? We'll start with the AL East.
1. Tampa Bay Rays: Even though their franchise and fan base is one of the biggest travesties in professional sports, you cannot argue with their brand of winning. If Evan Longoria can stay healthy, the Rays may run away with the division by August. I know, the Blue Jays made all those moves, but NL players moving to the AL struggle at first (even Pujols struggled). Specifically, pitchers struggle, and I was never a big fan of R.A. Dickey in the first place. Record: 94-68
2. Toronto Blue Jays: Is there a sexier pick this year than the Blue Jays? Canada's team finally has something to cheer about again. I do expect them to struggle out of the gate due to the flux of NL players playing in the AL for the first time (Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey to name a few), but they'll right the ship and finish behind the Rays. It's surprisingly fun to say that the Rays and Jays will finish atop the AL East. Let's just hope that they will have more success than this Ray J. Record: 90-72
3. New York Yankees: Conversely, is there a less sexy pick than the Yankees this year? This is a team that is showing its age with all of the injuries (Jeter, ARod, Texeira, and Granderson to begin the season on the DL). Despite all of this, manager Joe Girardi has his roots in playing small ball, and was successful at it in his time with the Marlins. This Yankees team will win a bunch of games, just not the way fans are used to seeing them win. They have a boatload of speed with Brett Gardner and Ichiro, and they still have an AL-MVP candidate in Robinson Cano in the heart of the lineup. Plus, Mariano Rivera is back and makes almost every game 8 innings long. Record: 87-75
4. Baltimore Orioles: Seriously, how did the Orioles make the playoffs last year? By winning 29 one-run games. That won't happen twice. And I think the pendulum will swing towards more losses rather than more wins. And it's not because the Orioles got worse, it's just that the division got significantly better top-to-bottom. Record: 75-87
5. Boston Red Sox: It's sad to see, but this franchise is running itself into the ground. There isn't much to be excited about in Boston, and when you look at how many things have to go right in order for this team to compete, the list is too long and too much of a longshot. Felix Doubront has the fanbase excited, but unless he's the second coming of Roger Clemens, this rotation will still be lackluster at best. The lineup has not been intimidating since the days of Manny Ramirez and his PEDs (coincidence? I think not). This team simply isn't good enough. And that makes for some great Facebook/Twitter status' from fans. Can't wait! Record: 70-92
The NFL's version of the "Hot Stove" season is just about to begin with free agency set to begin soon. Rumors are already flying all over about trades, signings, cuts, etc. This mock draft will vary based on what really happens, but before all the action starts. Here is a mock draft appetizer to excite your NFL offseason palettes.
Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel (OT) Texas A&M: Poor Chiefs. Finally get the first overall pick, and there's no one good enough to really warrant it, which really limits the ability to trade down. This draft class is full of solid B+, A- players, but no standouts. New coach Andy Reid made his intentions clear at QB when they traded a 2nd and a conditional draft pick to San Francisco for Alex Smith that Geno Smith is not going to be their choice here. There are also rumors that last year's backup, Brady Quinn, will be shipped off to the Jets. This could mean that the Chiefs do have their minds set on a QB in the draft, just not here. If Landry Jones is still around in the 3rd round...that would be a good fit/value. But for now, take a bookend tackle that will keep whoever plays QB safe.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner (DE) Florida State: Werner is arguably the most complete DE prospect in the draft, and will pair nicely with Jason Babin. Last year the Jags were last in the NFL in sacks (20) and desperately need more athleticism to get after the opposing QBs in their division (Locker, Schaub, Luck).
Oakland Raiders: Shariff Floyd (DT) Florida: Biggest winner from what Mike Golic calls the "Underwear Olympics" otherwise known as the NFL Combine. Oakland has needs everywhere on defense and Floyd demands double teams or else he will rush right into the face of opposing QBs.
Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher (OT) Central Michigan: Another big winner from the combine and Senior Bowl. Fisher is strong, yet light on his feet when pass blocking. New head coach Chip Kelly knows that he needs to protect Mike Vick from taking the unexpected shots in the pocket, and Fisher is a good fit there
Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner (DB) Alabama: I'm being conservative projecting Milliner at five. It would not surprise me to see Milliner jump to a top-3 pick as we get closer to the draft. His size/speed/quickness combination at the combine further proved what we've all seen him do at Alabama.
Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones (OLB) Georgia: Spinal Stenosis: the only thing keeping the most freakishly athletic DE/OLB prospect from being in the top-5.
Arizona Cardinals: Geno Smith (QB) West Virginia: Even though he's not a franchise QB, he'd be the best QB on this franchise.
Buffalo Bills: Cordarrelle Patterson (WR) Tennessee: The Bills have a few options here: they can take a big gamble on Matt Barkley, but I think they'll wait until later to grab a QB from this lackluster class. Ezekiel Ansah, the perfect compliment to Mario Williams, would do nicely to replace the retiring Chris Kelsey. However, Patterson would give whoever is playing QB for the Bills a big time target, which would help open up space for Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson, and C.J. Spiller.
New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah (DE) BYU: I've been his biggest fan since the NFL offseason started. Has gone up in every mock draft I've done. Would not be surprised if he cracks the top-5 at some point soon.
Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei (DT) Utah: The only reason why he's this low is because of a heart condition found at the combine. Pending medical results, he may go back to the top-5 or fall out of the first round completely.
San Diego Chargers: Chance Warmack (OG) Alabama: Chargers have needs all throughout their offensive line, and the draft is much deeper at OT than OG, and Warmack is a once-in-a-generation prospect. Best since Steve Hutchinson.
Miami Dolphins: Sheldon Richardson (DT) Missouri: Miami's biggest need is at WR, but there isn't a good enough prospect here to warrant the selection. They were really hoping Patterson would fall to them. However, if they grab a WR of Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace's caliber, I would not be shocked if the Dolphins took a shot at Tavon Austin. They would go from a team with zero to two legitimate WR threats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dion Jordan (DE) Oregon: Another big winner from the combine. May go as high as the Lions at #5. Bucs were last in NFC in sacks last season (27).
Carolina Panthers: Keenan Allen (WR) California: Need a receiver to give Cam Newton and Steve Smith some help. Allen had a great combine and can provide a bigger target for Newton.
New Orleans Saints: Kenny Vaccaro (S) Texas: Need some defensive toughness in the worst way...without a bounty system, of course.
St. Louis Rams: Lane Johnson (OT) Oklahoma: Jeff Fisher even said they needed to improve offensive front...
Pittsburgh Steelers: Damontre Moore (DE) Texas A&M: Big loser from the combine, but lands in a great spot.
Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper (OG) North Carolina: Dallas desperately needs interior O-line help, and Cooper is one of two grade-A prospects at OG. And since Chance Warmack is long gone...
New York Giants: Alec Ogletree (LB) Georgia: With Michael Boley being cut, the Giants would be lucky to have Ogletree if he's still here. Ogletree is a palymaker. He consistently did what Manti Te'O could not do against Alabama: get solo tackles against Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Drove both backs back near the goal line.
Chicago Bears: D.J. Fluker (OT) Alabama: Jay Cutler's 3-step drop was one, two, three, DUCK! Needs some help and some protection.
Cincinnati Bengals: Tavon Austin (WR) West Virginia: He and A.J. Green would make a terrifying duo in terms of speed in what is now a passing league. If this is the pick, flash a camera to quarterback Andy Dalton drooling all over himself.
St. Louis Rams: Justin Hunter (WR) Tennessee: Was looking for Hunter's college teammate Patterson with their #16 pick, but settle for Hunter six picks later AND get solid offensive line help with Johnson. Not a bad first round at all.
Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins (WR) Clemson: If the WR start coming off the board as quickly as they did in this mock, look for the Vikings to trade up to make sure they grab one of the faster ones than Hopkins, who ran a 4.5+ 40-yard dash. But Hopkins is the best one left here. And they need the help that much.
Indianapolis Colts: Desmond Trufant (CB) Washington: Trufant is rising quickly up draft boards, and the Colts need to shore up a shaky pass defense.
Seattle Seahawks: Kawann Short (DT) Purdue: Chris Clemons' injury casts a large shadow on what was a dominant D-line last season. Short would help fill that shadow if Clemons has to miss time next season.
Green Bay Packers: Barkevious Mingo (DE) LSU: Falls because he simply never put up the in-game production to match his athleticism. Playing opposite Clay Matthews is a great spot to "fall" to.
Houston Texans: Manti Te'O (LB) Notre Dame: Doesn't even deserve to be this high, but Texans can take a chance that his natural instincts will compensate for his lack of athleticism.
Denver Broncos: Sylvester Williams (DT) North Carolina: No way he realistically falls this far because someone would trade up to get him. This would be a dream come true for Denver.
New England Patriots: Xavier Rhodes (CB) Flordia State: Could not get a stop against the pass when they really needed it. Plus, Rhodes is a solid run defender.
Atlanta Falcons: Zach Ertz (TE) Stanford: Exit Tony Gonzalez, enter the prospect mostly compared to him. He even went to college in the bay area...
San Francisco 49ers: Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB) Connecticut: Another fast riser not previously in the first round radar, but Wilson is solid at everything you'd want in a CB. He's just does not have good hands and will drop easy interceptions. Otherwise, he'd be a top-10 pick.
Baltimore Ravens: Johnathan Hankins (DT) Ohio State: Hankins is not Ray Lewis' replacement, but it's too early to reach on a guy like Kevin Minter from LSU. The Ravens need to get younger on defense, and I anticipate that they will build the defense from the middle. Hankins will have one of the best tutors, as well: Haloti Ngata.