The autumn leaves are turning as is much in the pro football world. It was the beginning of December last year and I was awaiting a subway train at Canal street station in the lower east side of Manhattan, New York City. I was headed uptown to enjoy a night out with friends when I heard the devastating news of the suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and personal friend Jovan Belcher. I was truly distraught to learn that after shooting his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, Jovan drove to the Kansas City Chiefs stadium parking lot and took his own life in front of head coach Romeo Crennel and General manager Scott Pioli. He thanked them both for everything they had done for him before he pulled the trigger. I remember picturing Crennel and Pioli in that parking lot and just how bad it had all gone for them in Kansas and how nobody can ever prepare for a situation like that. This incident had nothing to do with football but I just knew that both of these great men would be out of their jobs at seasons end. I shed a tear and remembered the few messages I had shared with Jovan. I was shocked and devastated. The following week I made my way down to Philadelphia to watch Eagles head coach, Andy Reid, coach one of his last games on the Philadelphia side-lines and how I felt bad for him having lost his son Garrett just a few months prior. As I left the stadium I started to think of possibilities for coach Reid and the Kansas City head coaching job came straight to mind as a great home. What a comeback story that would be I thought as I walked into the Lincoln financial field media area looking for more ESPN people to hand my mission statement to. I knew the Chiefs had talent and I believed they had the best un-discovered defensive talent in the game. the 2012 AFC pro bowl roster will tell you that. This season, Along with the addition of San Francisco’s outcast quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs have brought that fortress like 12th man back to Arrowhead stadium. When their good, this stadium is known as the loudest in football and this Sunday should set decibel records as they look to go 6 -0 against their division rival Oakland Raiders. Three teams remain undefeated in the NFL going into this week. The New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos and the aforementioned Kansas city chiefs. The last time Drew Brees and Payton Manning were undefeated at this point they went on to meet in the superbowl. When the Kansas city chiefs were selecting Eric Fisher first overall in last Aprils draft I knew they were a team with talent. I knew they were a team with a story and if all the pieces fell into place, I knew they could be a team of destiny so the way their playing right now is not a surprise to me but I must admit I will favour them in any game this season based on the people there and their stories. The Chiefs and Broncos both play in the AFC West and you can mark your calendar for Sunday, November 17th for the first match-up between the two in Denver . I’m about to focus further on the Chiefs up rising but to start this week’s write up I’d like to go to the college game and mention a few players I believe helped their draft stock this past weekend. I thought I’d mention the Jovan Belcher incident so that you can understand how down this franchise was last season. I know Jovan would be proud of his Chief team mates and I’d like to send my condolences to all who lost loved ones in the tragedy.
WEEK 6 DRAFT STOCK REPORT
Here are a few prospects I think helped themselves this weekend in the NCAA and believe will go on to excel in the NFL.
RUNNING BACK – CARLOS HYDE – OHIO STATE. – 6’0” 240 lbs.
After an off-field incident in the summer, Hyde was suspended for the first three games of the 2013 season. Coach Urban Meyer has slowly been working him back onto the field the last few weeks with five carries against Florida A&M off the bench followed by 17 rushes for 85 yards as the starter a week later against Wisconsin. But Hyde’s breakout game came this past weekend as he carried Ohio State past Northwestern, finishing with a career-best 168 rushing yards on 26 carries (6.5 average) and three touchdowns. The senior also had four catches for 38 yards and was the workhorse for the Buckeyes offense in Evanston with Braxton Miller struggling at quarterback. Hyde is a tough, downhill runner who carries the rock with determination and picks up extra yardage after contact. He has some fluidity to his 240-pound frame to wiggle out of tackles, showing an excellent ability to absorb hits while continuing to pump his legs. Hyde did get winded and fatigued, but his tolerance should improve with more action the next few weeks. It’s important to remember Northwestern’s defense doesn’t have many future pros (if any) and his ground and pound style isn’t ideal for the next level, but his performance against Northwestern is his most impressive collegiate game tape yet. He entered the season with a late round draft grade, but he’s running angrier than ever and will continue to move up boards with these type of performances. CBS draft experts have him ranked 15th overall at his position and as a 5th or 6th round pick in next years draft. I say he goes in the top 5 and in the 3rd round.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE – DANIEL McCULLERS – TENNESSEE. – 6’6″ – 351 lbs.
Despite its top two rushers sidelined due to injury, Georgia ran for 238 yards against Tennessee on Saturday en route to the 34-31 overtime victory. But it was still a positive performance by McCullers who showed why some view him as a top-50 prospect for May’s NFL draft. He is a double-team magnet with his massive frame and overall length, but he has above average natural power to overwhelm single blocks and win 1-on-1 matchups. McCullers has shown improved awareness and uses his eyes better to track and make plays against the run, although most times he just doesn’t get there in time. He has tight hips and struggles to freely move laterally which inhibits his overall range. But that’s not his game, McCullers is a short-area defender who clogs the middle and can handle multiple blockers while still making plays against the run whether lined up as a nose tackle or outside the guard’s shoulder. CBS Sports draft experts have him ranked 7th overall at his postition and a third round pick in next years draft. I say he goes in the first or early second round and as one of the top 5 defensive tackles taken next year.
RUNNING BACK – VENRIC MARK – NORTHWESTERN. – 5’8” – 175 lbs
While Hyde and the Buckeyes went home with the victory, it was a productive outing for Mark who returned to the field after missing the previous three games due to a leg injury. He is easily the Wildcats’ most valuable player for his ability as a running back, receiver and return man on special teams. Against Ohio State, Mark showed terrific acceleration out of his cuts to scamper through arm tackles towards daylight at the second level. He is very shifty between the tackles, doesn’t run hesitant and wastes little time getting north-south downfield. Mark has a smallish frame at 5-8 and 175 pounds with little growth potential, but he isn’t afraid to lower his pads and deliver a pop at the point of attack. He lines up at running back and wide receiver and is a versatile offensive weapon who doesn’t have a true NFL position, but has skills that translate to the NFL level. CBS have him being drafted in the 6th round as a receiver but I easily see him going in the first 4 rounds as either a receiver or running back. Think Dexter McCluster.
DEFENSIVE END – PRINCE SHEMBO – NOTRE DAME. – 6’1” 258 lbs
With Notre Dame showing a lot more four-man fronts in 2013, Shembo is playing primarily in a three-point stance at defensive end for the Irish. Over the first five games, he was somewhat quiet, but had a breakout game against Arizona State Saturday night with his first three sacks of the season. Shembo finished the game at AT&T Stadium with five tackles, three tackles for loss and three sacks, which matched a career-best. He lacks elite explosion off the edge and is more of a one-speed type of rusher, but he’s always playing at full effort with his hair on fire. Shembo has above average toughness and is a smart rusher with awareness to follow the ball and close quickly. He has room to get more creative with his pass rush technique, but Shembo has developed a strong inside move and translated his effort into production against the Sun Devils. CBS have him going in the 5th round as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I also see him making the transition to linebacker given his hight but would be shocked if he fell below the 3rd round.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Kansas City Chiefs have not only surprised much of the NFL world this season. For the most part, they’ve confounded a few of us here at sport city as well. ( not me.. lol. )Why are they 5-0? How good are they?
The usual suspects don’t provide an explanation. Their quarterback, Alex Smith, has provided leadership and security (only four turnovers) but has hardly been a dynamic player. (His QBR of 51.2, which takes into account 161 rushing yards, ranks No. 16 in the league.) Tailback Jammal Charles, meanwhile, has rushed for 397 yards, which projected over a full season would leave him short of his 16-game performances in 2010 and 2012. But here is something that you probably wouldn’t realize if you haven’t watched the Chiefs’ games: Their pass defense — especially the game-changing play variety — has been off the charts so far. Technically, the Chiefs’ pass defense ranks No. 4 in the league because it is giving up 198 yards per game. But more important, I think, is a metric that ESPN Stats & Information refers to as “disrupted dropbacks.” It is a combination of sacks, passes defended, interceptions and batted balls, and the Chiefs are way out in front of the league in those kinds of big plays.
Indeed, the Chiefs lead the NFL with 21 sacks through five weeks of the season. Their 30 pass breakups, 10 batted passes and 20 passes defended also sit atop the league rankings. They are tied for third with seven interceptions. (Linebacker Justin Houston leads the NFL with 12.5 disrupted dropbacks: 8.5 via sacks and four via batted passes. Defensive tackle Dontarie Poe, meanwhile, has a total of 6.5 disrupted dropbacks — tied for No. 10 — with 4.5 sacks and two batted passes.) These types of plays don’t simply prevent the opposition from gaining yards. They disproportionately impact the outcome of games, leading from unfavorable down-and-distances to change of possession and ultimately failed offensive game plans. It’s no surprise that opponents are averaging 11.6 points per game against the Chiefs, by far the lowest total in the league. The NFL is so geared toward the passing game that the rarest of commodities is a defense that can stop the pass. That’s why Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman told reporters this week that, in truth, “this is a game of contested throws.” Can receivers make catches against defenders who are in position? Or can the defenses make the play to keep the ball away? So far this season, the Chiefs have done a better job of the latter than any team. If it continues, there is no telling how far Kansas City might go. A team with the playmakers to stop NFL passing attacks? Yes, please.
For me Eric Berry is the best defensive back in football right now and on his day Brandon Flowers can cover any receiver in this league. At seasons end I expect to see Dontarie Poe, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry all selected to the pro bowl. It speaks volumes of the great parity in the league that a team can come from the bottom and be undefeated within a few months. To me that’s what makes the NFL the greatest sports league on the planet. You just wouldn’t see this in the MLB, NBA, English premiership or any other league in sports. The NFL is truly a unique product and it’s going global with the news breaking this week of three regular season games here in the United kingdom next season. I can’t wait to be the ambassador for the sports city chefs at all three. Exciting times across this side of the Atlantic.
You’ve probably heard more than you care to about the causes of football concussions, the NFL’s increasingly detailed diagnosis process and its treatment protocol. Independent neurologists are on the sideline during games this season, for instance, and players must be taken to the locker room to undergo tests at any sign of concussion symptoms.
While those steps are helpful and important, there is still ample evidence of the remaining gray area in this issue. ESPN columnist Kevin Seifert has covered two games so far in 2013, and in both, an individual has played while concussed. (Or, in one case, played while claiming to have hidden a concussion.) Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman returned to a Sept. 16 game after being cleared of a possible head injury, and Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor remained in last Monday night’s game for two plays after a brutal hit that was later determined to have caused a concussion. Let’s walk through both issues and then I’ll offer a few thoughts. Redman was slow to get up on the opening kickoff in Week 2 at Paul Brown Stadium. He was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury, was cleared and returned to the game. He played 19 snaps, carrying on three of them and also catching two passes, and finished the game. Seifert was among the reporters who interviewed Redman afterwards after the game. He spoke of being “embarrassed” by the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, among other topics, and never once did Seifert think, “Wow, this guy seems hazy.” This week, however, Redman told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that he in fact had suffered a concussion and “was pretty much out of it the rest of the game.” Asked how he had beat the concussion tests in the locker room, Redman said: “I said I was alright.” In a statement, the Steelers detailed their evaluation process: “Isaac was taken out of the game, and we announced that he was being evaluated for a concussion. He was then taken through the proper protocol by our medical staff and it was deemed he was cleared to return to action after multiple examinations. He then re-entered the game and saw action shortly thereafter and throughout the rest of the game.” Meanwhile, last Monday night, we all saw Pryor absorb a crushing hit from Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard late in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Stadium. Pryor remained face down for a moment, and during an ensuing review to determine whether he fumbled, he wandered the field as if trying to collect himself. Officials determined that the Raiders would maintain possession. Pyror returned to the huddle and threw a third-down pass to receiver Rod Streater. As the Raiders huddled for a fourth down play, Pryor turned and looked at the sideline as if he couldn’t hear the call. The Raiders called timeout, Pryor walked to the sideline to get the play, and then returned to throw an incomplete pass. Pryor didn’t play again, the next day he Tweeted: “Sorry about the loss RaiderNation. I don’t remember much ! Good hit by whoever it was. I heard our team fought well .. We will be back!” I’m not looking to assign blame here. Concussions don’t always look the same and they descend at different paces. I don’t think we want to get to the point where every hard hit leads to a player getting tested in the locker room during a game. And despite warnings from the league, the NFL Players Association and independent doctors, we should probably expect at least some players to try to play through them. The process is better, no doubt, but it’s not perfect and never will be.
By Rhodri Jones.
Inspired by Brooke.