Category Archive: TOP STORIES

  1. Kentrell Brothers ranked among the elite at his position

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    Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers was ranked as the 2nd best senior inside linebacker NFL Draft prospect by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Here’s what Kiper had to say about Brothers:

    “Fits best as a weakside ‘backer at the next level, where he can use his pursuit and cover skills. He led the Tigers in tackles last year with 122.”

    Brothers returns for his third year as a starter in the Tigers’ defense. He broke out in 2014 with 122 tackles, including 5 tackles for loss and a sack.

    Brothers committed to Mizzou as a three-star prospect out of Oklahoma. He was a highly sought-after recruit, but never got an offer from Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, a fact that Brothers readily admits put a chip on his shoulder. Being ranked among the best linebacker prospects in the country for next year’s NFL Draft isn’t a bad way to prove Brothers’ worth to the two in-state schools that seemingly overlooked him.

  2. Mizzou Football Positional Previews: The Quarterbacks

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    Over the coming weeks, BK will preview each and every position on the Mizzou football roster in anticipation for the 2015 season. The preview will begin the first week of July, and we will continue up until August 1st – which just so happens to be the first week of Mizzou football camp. See what we did there?

    We start with the quarterbacks. Obviously, quarterback is hugely important in Missouri’s success – as is the case for any major college football team. Mizzou’s had an incredible run of quarterbacks under head coach Gary Pinkel. The team transitioned from Brad Smith to Chase Daniel to Blaine Gabbert to James Franklin to Maty Mauk seamlessly. I’m not sure you could find another team in all of college football that went the past 15 years without ever having a major question mark at the quarterback position. Say what you will about Gary Pinkel – and I’m not sure what, exactly, you could question at this point – he’s always got the quarterback position right.

    Will that continue in 2015? Let’s take a look, shall we?

    BK’s Projected Depth Chart:


    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    1. Maty Mauk, RS Junior
    2. Eddie Printz, RS Sophomore
    3. Corbin Berkstresser, RS Senior
    4. Marvin Zanders, RS Freshman
    5. Johnny Eirman, RS Freshman

    The Good:


    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Well, you could start with the fact that Missouri knows who its quarterback is. Very few SEC teams can say the same. Mizzou is one of just four SEC teams whose starting quarterback for the 2014 season-opener is also expected to start in 2015. Maty Mauk had his up’s and his down’s last year, but his play has been good enough for the Tigers to go 13-4 in his starts. That’s pretty damn impressive.

    Mauk’s play really improved down the stretch last season, too. He had a quarterback rating above 110 in the team’s final seven games, and his 189 passing yards per game are the third most of all returning SEC quarterbacks. His biggest improvement came on third down. As I documented last week, Mauk was really bad on third down in the first four weeks of SEC play. But Mauk was actually quite good in third down situations over the second half of the SEC schedule.

    Mauk has all of the tools. He’s quick, he has a high football IQ, and he has one of the best arms in the country (literally, ranked). If he improves his completion percentage and gets more comfortable in the pocket, he has the potential to be one of the five best quarterbacks in the SEC in 2015.

    The Bad:

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    With Mauk, the high’s are really high and the lows are really low. Two games immediately come to mind that illustrate the bad – his four interception performance against Georgia, and his 6-18 game against Florida. Mauk was a combined 15/39 for 117 yards and 5 interceptions in those two games. Those performances illustrate Mauk’s greatest struggle as the Missouri starting quarterback; his completion percentage. Mauk has completed greater than 60 percent of his passes in just one of his 13 starts in conference play. That ain’t great.

    Also working against Mauk is the fact that his top four receivers in 2014 (Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White and Marcus Murphy) have all graduated. His top returning receiver – Sean Culkin – has 21 career receptions. Between the lack of receiving options, and Mauk’s already inconsistent play, there is some reason for concern when it comes to the Mizzou passing game.

    Realistic Expectations:

    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Mauk’s 2015 projections are incredibly difficult to put together. Even if Mauk improves dramatically in comparison to his 2014 season, his overall numbers may look somewhat similar due to the new cast of characters lining up out wide. In order to take a look at what Mauk could be in 2015, lets take a look back at what Mizzou’s quarterbacks have done over the years.

    2014 (Mauk): 221/414, 2648 yards, 25 TD, 13 INT

    2013 (Franklin & Mauk): 267/454, 3540 yards, 31 TD, 8 INT

    2012 (Franklin & Berkstresser): 228/414, 2614 yards, 15 TD, 14 INT

    2011 (Franklin): 243/383, 3010 yards, 23 TD, 11 INT

    2010 (Gabbert): 312/490, 3292 yards, 17 TD, 10 INT

    2009 (Gabbert): 274/467, 3711 yards, 26 TD, 11 INT

    We’ll stop with 2009, because Chase Daniel put up video game numbers at Mizzou. Over the past six years, the Missouri quarterbacks averaged a line of: 257/437 for 3135 passing yards, 23 TD’s & 11 INT’s.

    If I had to guess right now, I would assume the Tigers will try to run the ball a bit more in 2015 in order to play more of a ball-control style offense. They did that at the end of the 2014 season, and did so with a lot of success.

    Lets say Mauk attempts an average of 30 passes per game, and he completes right around 55% of his attempts (a 2 percent improvement from 2014). If those numbers bear out, it would mean Mauk finishes the year 214 for 390. Add in an average of 7 yards per attempt (the Mizzou QB average), and Mauk is up to 2,730 passing yards. I believe it’s fair to expect Mauk to finish right around MU quarterback season average in terms of touchdowns and interceptions.

    If all of that bears out (it won’t), Mauk’s projected line would be… 214/390, 2,750 yards, 23 TD’s, 11 INT’s.

  3. Terrence Phillips: “We’re in the gym a lot more than I think most people expected”

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    How has the summer been going for you so far?

    “The first two or three days here – the freshmen… We were drained. Going to class, going to lunch, having study hall, then lifting… We were drained the first three days. We just wanted to get in a nap. But we’ve adjusted. We learned to get our rest in. We learned to stay in the gym. I think that’s a big thing with this freshman class – we’re in the gym a lot more than I think most people expected.”

    You’ve Tweeted about the difficulties of not having a car with you. Are you getting your car soon?

    “I need a car up here real soon. I know for sure I need one in August. I don’t mind walking, but when it’s hot and humid outside and I have to go all the way across campus… I need my car up here. So, that’s in the works.”

    Did you know how humid it gets here in the summer?

    “When I came to do my visit, it was cold. I wasn’t thinking about humidity. When I got here, I was just like, ‘whoa, man!’ It really hit me.”

    The game is on the line. Your team is down two. Who do you want to have the ball in their hands? (Note: He couldn’t pick himself).

    “Wes Clark. He’s a guy that’s been here for this team. Even though last year they were in a little drought, but every game he played, he played his heart out. Even the Arkansas game, or even when he got hurt. He just kept playing. He’s a tough guy, and he’s never going to give up on you.”

    What does having a guy like Cullen Van Leer do for you?

    “It opens up the entire floor. I know after a few weeks playing pickup with Cullen (Van Leer), I like putting him on the side of me in the pick-and-roll so he can ride. So, either way, we’re going to get a layup for me, a dump off for the big guy, or we’re going to hit Cullen. And when he gets going, there’s no stopping him.”

    What is the point guard competition like between you, Tramaine Isabell, Wes Clark and Martavian Payne?

    “We’re going to battle every practice. It’s a long summer, it’s a long fall until the season starts. But, to me, it doesn’t really matter whether I start or not. I would like to start. But if I have to come off the bench to create some spark for the team, I don’t mind. I did that my sophomore year (at Oak Hill Academy) and I loved playing that role. I feel like it brings a great impact on this team. But we’re going to compete every practice, we’re going to get after each other at practice, we’re going to make each other better and we’re going to pick each other up at the end of the day.”

    What has been the biggest adjustment for you?

    “I think the pace of practice – when I was at Oak Hill we went hard at practice – but you have to go that much harder here in practice. And then, the pace of the game in pickup. The things that I could do in high school, I can’t do certain things now. I might need an extra dribble here or there. But, just the game in general, I have to adjust to. And I’ve adjusted well so far.”

    How would you describe your relationship with Coach Fulford?

    “That’s my guy. That’s how I’m going to put it. I like having him as a coach. When I mess up, he pulls me to the side. He says, ‘hey, we have to do this better’, or ‘next time down the floor, see this’, or ‘hey, lets go a little harder there.’ So, we work with each other. I’m not negative with him. When he tells me something, I listen to him. I know, at the end of the day, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s going to get me better. And we’re in the same boat here. We just want to win.”

    Did you know Coach Fulford when he was at Huntington Prep?

    “When he was at Huntington Prep, we never played each other. But we always talked trash to each other when we saw one another. And I told him this year, I said – ‘when we play Huntington Prep this year, we’re going to beat them.’ And we ended up beating Huntington Prep this year. But we had a good relationship when he was at Huntington Prep and that has carried over.”

    Who has surprised you the most over the first few weeks of summer?

    “Cullen (Van Leer). When I got here, they told me we had Cullen Van Leer coming in. He’s a shooter – he can really shoot it. But you hear that about all types of shooters. And then in the first day of pickup, it’s just cash, cash. It’s just going in. And I was just like, ‘I see why you’re here.’ It’s great to have him aboard on this team.”

  4. Rob Fulford: “I would compare Cullen Van Leer to Ben Hansbrough”

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    How has your role as an assistant coach evolved?

    “Coach (Anderson) and I talked about that. He was open at the end of the season that he expects more from all of us this year, but me in particular. Coming in last year as an assistant coach – it was really the first time I’ve been an assistant, obviously at this level. It was a new experience for me. You feel like you want to fit in and not step on any toes. So I didn’t know what was too much, what was too little… I think it was a learning experience for everyone. (Coach Anderson) and I have agreed that I will talk until he says to shut up. I bring a lot to the table. For me, it’s just being more vocal with ideas.”

    The team looks like it’s a little smaller than you may like, but does that open things up with the offense?

    “The two things that we have this year that we didn’t have last year is we have playmakers and shooters… And when we were recruiting, that’s what we went out to get. We probably are a little undersized, but if you think about our conference – outside of Kentucky – nobody really has centers. Most of the centers in the league are 6-foot-8-inches. There’s not really any true back-to-the-basket guys anymore.  So, you don’t get hurt as much as you might think you would by being undersized. We wanted guys that could penetrate – we got guys that can penetrate. We wanted guys that could shoot – we got guys that can shoot. Now we have to create spacing for those guys to get in the lane and create shooting opportunities for others. With Terrence Phillips, Wes Clark, Tramaine Isabell and Martavian Payne – those guys can all get two feet in the paint. (Kevin) Puryear is a pick and pop guy that can really shoot. Cullen (Van Leer) doesn’t miss. I just think we have a lot of guys – with KJ (Walton) that can shoot, Namon (Wright) that can shoot. We’re a totally different team than we were last year. Last year, we had a couple guys that the ball stuck with. This year, it won’t do that. These guys are making the extra pass. And now, for us, we have to create the system – we don’t have to create it, it’s created. We just have to put it in.”

    What kind of offense will you be running this year?

    “Mike D’Antoni and I are from the same small town in Mullens, West Virginia. I have his playbook sitting up in my office. And a lot of people run it. At Iowa State, that’s what (Fred) Hoiberg ran. A lot of people run it, a lot of people use it because it creates mismatches. It lets guys play. But it’s all about reading what the defense gives you out of it. It’s extremely hard to guard because you have space. For us, it makes sense to do that. And it wouldn’t have last year.”

    Will the offense look different to fans than it did last year? 

    “I would think it’s going to be a lot more up-tempo, a lot quicker. We don’t have a true 5, a true 4. (Ryan) Rosburg is probably a ‘true’ 5, and then Russell Woods is probably more of a 4 that will be playing a 5. And then Jakeenan (Gant) is probably a ‘true’ 4, but an athletic 4. Other than Ryan (Rosburg), those guys are face-up guys. When you put 4 and 5’s on the other team in pick-and-roll situations at the same time, it creates driving lanes, it creates bigs that can pull guys away. Jakeenan (Gant) is working on his face-up and rip-throughs. We’re going to run some of the same things that we did last year, but from an overall offensive standpoint, it’s going to be a little bit faster.”

    Looking at the recruiting class, everyone seems to have a defined role. Is that what you were going for?

    “We needed to get guys that could fill voids that we had last year. As you sit back and you look at the season we had last year – we just didn’t have enough playmakers. When we got open shots, we just didn’t make enough shots. Now, we have a competitive environment… Bob Knight used to call it ‘butt to brain.’ When things aren’t going well, at some point, your butt’s going to tell your brain to get off the bench. We have competition. We just didn’t have a lot of that last year. This year, we’re a lot deeper. And the makeup of the team is a lot different. I mean, we had to scheme last year just to stay in some games. And I think this year, it’s going to be a little more open.”

    On paper, there seems to be 12 guys that are competing for playing time. Can that make things difficult when it comes to building a rotation?

    “It’s competition. Guys will hold each other accountable. We’ll hold them accountable. But that’s what you have to create. You have to create an identity for the team. Coach wants to hold these guys accountable for their actions. And it’s not just off the court, but on the court. These guys have been great so far. And I think having too many players is a good problem to have. When I was in prep school, there were years when I had 8, 9, 10 division-1 players on my team. You can’t play that many guys. I had a kid going to Baylor that averaged 5 minutes per game. He averaged 5 minutes per game because he didn’t choose to work as hard as the guy that was playing 25 minutes.”

    How has Tramaine Isabell evolved as a player and a person?

    “He was suspended some games – I think it was good for him, because he matured. Some people will look at it and think, ‘he got suspended for x amount of games’, but when he came back, he’s been a totally different kid. It helped him understand that it’s more about the team than it is him. And he’s really matured. And, from that, he’s been a much better leader. It’s just the little things that we do as coaches. Like, ‘hey, make sure all the guys are at such and such at this time.’ I’ve let Tramaine take a role. Like, ‘hey, this is your week.’ or, we have to do this tonight. Make sure you text everybody.’ Just putting little leadership roles on him that last year, he wouldn’t have done. I probably had to text him to get him there, not have him get everyone else there. Just from a maturity standpoint, he’s been great so far.”

    There were a lot of fans questioning the Cullen Van Leer signing. What should fans know about Cullen?

    “He was a local kid that the national media had never heard of. They had never seen him play. I watched him play about seven games last spring. And we basically told coach, ‘hey, that’s exactly what we have to have.’ It’s a situation were – some guys get over-hyped in high school.  We know that. And Cullen’s one of those guys that – night in and night out, opposing coaches are going to scout for him. Because, you can’t leave him open. Are we going to have to do some things defensively? Probably early on. But, he’s athletic. He can defend. But, it gets into a case where, even the local people look at it and they’re like, ‘he’s a three-star… He’s not a top 150 guy.’ But, I’ve said this before, you give me a three-star guy that wants to be a five-star guy instead of the five-star guy that works like a three-star any day of the week. And I think, for him, he buys into that. And you look at all of our freshmen – Terrence (Phillips), he wasn’t highly recruited. But he wants to prove that he belongs. KJ (Walton) is a four-star kid, but schools dropped off on him because his academics didn’t look like they were going to get in line. So, those guys have things to prove. With Cullen (Van Leer), he has things to prove within the state of Missouri. There are a lot of people within the state of Missouri that didn’t think he was good enough to be here. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s a really good player. He’s going to have a great career at Missouri. I told coach – coach was like, ‘well, I don’t know… He reminds me – and I hope he has the type of career that this kid has – the comparison I would probably put on him that people may relate to a little bit, is Ben Hansbrough. I think that’s what he will be by the end of his career.”

  5. Tramaine Isabell: “Coach Anderson has taken me under his wing”

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    Have you noticed a difference what you are working on right now compared to what you were working on at this point last summer?

    “Last year we worked a lot on defense. This year we’re working on getting our stamina up so we can run and play fast.”

    What have you seen from the freshman class?

    “They work hard. They’re a very competitive group. All of them bring something the team can use.”

    What do you think was the team’s lowest point last year?

    “The game at Kentucky was the lowest (point). It wasn’t that they were 49 points better than us, it was that we weren’t playing together… We weren’t ‘in it.’ And that became 16 games. I think the 16-game losing streak was my lowest point.”

    For you, personally, was there a moment or a game that hurt the most? 

    “One of my lowest points was after the Kentucky game. I had never been in something like that before. I feel like, as a group, that sucked for all of us. And I think that’s why my class wanted to stick together, so we could figure it out.”

    How would you describe your relationship with Coach Anderson?

    “He’s taken me under his wing. I talk to him all the time. He’s helped me in a lot of ways. He’s pushing me to be the best I can be.”

    Coach Anderson was recently quoted as saying, ‘Tramaine Isabell is the reason you coach.’ What does that mean to you?

    “That means a lot. Last year, I didn’t get to showcase how good I can be. Not because of my talent, but because of certain things that he expects from his point guard. I’ve been doing those things, and I’ve been getting better at those things. Hopefully that can help us succeed.”

    Your high school career was well documented in Washington, and if I recall, you had some struggles over the first couple years. Were you able to draw anything from that as you were going through the struggles of last season?

    “I went to a very small private high school that’s very focused on education. We weren’t very good at all my first two years there. My first year, we were sub-.500. My sophomore year we were sub-.500. Everyone thought I would leave and go to one of the public schools. But my junior year – we stuck it out – and after the core had been together for so long, we got really good because of team chemistry. Not because we were better than everybody. And we ended up making it to the state championship. I know a program doesn’t happen like that (snaps). And I know one bad year can’t define a program. So I’m excited to see where we go from here.”

    You look bigger and stronger… Is that something you put an emphasis on throughout the spring and into the summer? 

    “I have been in the weight room for the weight room. I worked a lot back home with my trainers. I’ve been working with Coach (Matt) Herring in the weight room. I feel like I’ve gotten quicker and I’ve gotten stronger… I feel like last year I was trying to keep up with others. I want it to be the exact opposite.”

  6. A Sign of Improvement from Maty Mauk?

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    Daniel Jeremiah’s Move the Sticks podcast on the NFL’s “All 3rd Down Team” got me to thinking – how did Mizzou perform on third down last year? Specifically, how did Maty Mauk perform?

    Missouri is one of just five SEC teams that has the same starting quarterback entering the 2015 season as it did entering the 2014 season. That’s pretty startling, considering Missouri and Mississippi State are the only two of those five teams that finished the 2014 season with a winning conference record.

    The first thought that came to mind as I prepared to dig into the research was that Missouri struggled mightily on third down at the start of SEC play. How much of that was on Mauk, though? I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure, honestly. But I know the numbers now… And, WOOF. Those first four games were U-G-L-Y.

    As for how I came up with these numbers – I did it the old fashioned way. I went through the play-by-play of every game, charted every third down play, and came up with some interesting results.


    Maty Mauk on third down in non-conference play:

    1) South Dakota State – 2/6 for 1 first down, 0 first down runs (0 rush attempts), 0 sacks, 1 TD, 0 INT

    2) Toledo – 6/9 for 4 first downs, 0 first down runs (0 rush attempts), 0 sacks, 2 TD, 1 INT

    3) Central Florida – 4/6 for 2 first downs, 2 first down runs (2 rush attempts), 0 sacks, 2 TD, 0 INT

    4) Indiana – 1/10 for 1 first down, 1 first down run (2 rush attempts), 1 sack, 0 TD, 0 INT

    Non-Conference Totals: 13/31 for 8 first downs, 5 TDs, 1 INT, 2 sacks, 3 rushing 1st downs (4 rush attempts)


    Maty Mauk on third down in SEC play:

    1) South Carolina – 2/10 for 0 first downs, 1 first down run (1 rush attempt), 1 sack, 0 TD, 0 INT

    2) Georgia – 0/4 for 0 first downs, 0 first down runs (1 rush attempt), 0 sacks, 0 TD, 1 INT

    3) Florida – 2/6 for 1 first down, 2 first down runs (4 rush attempts), 0 sacks, 0 TD, 1 INT

    4) Vanderbilt – 2/7 for 2 first downs, 2 first down runs (2 rush attempts), 1 sack, 0 TD, 0 INT

    5) Kentucky – 7/9 for 5 first downs, 2 first down runs (4 rush attempts), 1 sack, 0 TD, 0 INT

    6) Texas A&M – 5/7 for 4 first downs, 0 first down runs (1 rush attempt), 0 sacks, 0 TD, 0 INT

    7) Tennessee – 5/9 for 2 first downs, 1 first down run (1 rush attempt), 0 sacks, 2 TD, 0 INT

    8) Arkansas – 5/8 for 5 first downs, 2 first down runs (3 rush attempts), 1 sack, 0 TD, 0 INT

    SEC Totals: 28/60 for 19 first downs, 2 TD’s, 2 INT’s, 4 sacks, 10 rushing 1st downs (17 rush attempts)


    SEC Splits:

    First Four Games: 6/27 for 5 first downs, 0 TD’s, 2 INT’s, 2 sacks, 5 rushing 1st downs (8 rush attempts)

    Final Four Games: 22/33 for 14 first downs, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s, 2 sacks, 5 rushing 1st downs (9 rush attempts)


    There you have it. Maty Mauk’s third down results in the 2014 season. Some of my top takeaways:

    1. Many Missouri fans the loss against Indiana on Markus Golden’s injury – and I do believe Missouri wins that game if Markus Golden plays. However, Mauk going 1/10 on third down certainly didn’t help.
    2. Mauk was hugely inconsistent on third down in non-conference slate. He was 3/16 with three total first downs against South Dakota State and Indiana, but he was 10/15 for 8 total first downs against Toledo and UCF.
    3. Mauk was less inconsistent in SEC play. His play on third down can pretty much be divided into the first half of SEC play and the second half of SEC play. In the first half he was bad. In the second half he was actually pretty damn impressive.
    4. One thing I noticed as I was going through the game logs – and I would have to research further to prove this true or untrue – is that Mauk seemed most comfortable (and successful) throwing to three players: Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Marcus Murphy. I would estimate that more than 70 percent of his first downs in the 2nd half of SEC were completed to one of those three players.
    5. The second half of the season has to be an encouraging sign to Mizzou fans. Mauk had his struggles in 2014, and those struggles are well documented. But he was solid in the second half of the season. If he can build upon that and keep up that level of play for all of 2015 – even despite his losses at wide receiver – the Tigers will be in position to win double-digit games once again.
  7. Justin Houston makes NFL Network’s “All 3rd Down Team”

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    Daniel Jeremiah of posted a great podcast on the “All NFL 3rd Down Team” on Monday. The premise of the podcast was to find the players that performed at the highest level on 3rd down throughout the 2014 football season. Jeremiah was joined by NFL Network researcher Bill Smith, who provided all of the numbers and statistics throughout the podcast. Below are some of the best nuggets from the podcast.


    Top 5 Quarterbacks in QB Rating on 3rd Down in 2014:

    1) Aaron Rodgers – 15 TD, 2 INT; Best passer rating on 3rd down (121.7)

    2) Carson Palmer – 10 TD, 2 INT; 2nd best passer rating on 3rd down (119.4)

    3) Tony Romo

    4) Andrew Luck

    5) Peyton Manning

    Other Notable QBs on 3rd Down in ’14:

    10) Tom Brady – 10 TD, 3 INT; 10th in passer rating on 3rd down

    27) Russell Wilson – 2 TD, 4 INT; 27th in passer rating on 3rd down

    Cam Newton – 24 RUSHING 1st downs on 3rd down (most in the NFL. Lynch 2nd w/ 19)

    Running Backs:

    Notable RBs on 3rd Down in ’14:

    Le’Veon Bell – 20 receptions (15/20 went for 1st downs)… Top 5 in rushes converted for 1st down

    Matt Forte – 21 receptions (6/21 went for 1st downs)… Top 5 in rushes converted for 1st down

    Wide Receivers:

    WR’s w/ the highest percentage of 3rd Down Receptions Converted for 1st Downs in ’14:

    T1) Marques Colston – 11 receptions (11/11 converted for first down)

    T1) Brandon Marshall – 14 receptions (11/11 converted for 1st down)

    3) Mike Evans – 21 receptions (20/21 converted for 1st down)

    4) Randall Cobb – 26 receptions (24/26 converted for 1st down; 6 TDs)

    5) Antonio Brown – 36 receptions (28/36 converted for 1st down)

    WRs w/ the Most 3rd Down Receptions in ’14:

    1) Antonio Brown – 36 receptions

    2) Golden Tate – 34 receptions

    T3) Demaryius Thomas & James Jones – 31 receptions

    T5) Anquan Boldin & Odell Beckham Jr. – 30 receptions

    Tight Ends:

    Notable TEs on 3rd Down in ’14:

    Rob Gronkowski – 22 receptions (21/22 1st downs 16 yards per reception; 3 TDs)

    Antonio Gates – 20 receptions (20/21 1st downs; 6 TDs)

    Pass Rushers:

    Notable Pass Rushers on 3rd Down in ’14:

    T1) Connor Barwin – 9 sacks

    T1) Justin Houston – 9 sacks

    T4) JJ Watt – 7 sacks

    T4) Paul Kruger – 7 sacks

    T9) Von Miller- 5.5 sacks

    T9) Olivier Vernon- 5.5 sacks

    T9) Robert Quinn – 5.5 sacks

    Everson Griffin – 5 sacks

    DeMarcus Ware – 2.5 sacks

    Aaron Donald – 2 sacks

    Inside Linebackers:

    Notable ILB’s on 3rd Down in ’14:

    CJ Mosley – 31 tackles on 3rd down

    DeAndre Levy – 4 PBU on 3rd down

  8. The Sports Wire: Craig Edwards

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    BK penned an article suggesting Jason Heyward could command up to $200 million on the open market after the season. Craig Edwards of Viva El Birdos and Fangraphs seems to agree, and he wouldn’t be disappointed if the Cardinals were the team that gave Heyward the money. That, plus what Jaime Garcia has to do the remainder of this season for the Red Birds to pick up his option, and will the Cardinals win over or under 100 games?

    All of that and more in our conversation with Craig Edwards from Saturday on The Sports Wire.


  9. The Sports Wire: John Harris

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    John Harris is an excellent analyst for, but he’s also a former high school football coach, and the love for the game carries over to the college football level. So much so that John has a new SEC Football Preview Magazine available online! He joined BK on The Sports Wire to take a way-too-early look at the Missouri Tigers, including why he believes Evan Boehm is the best center in the country, how Kenya Dennis compares to Chiefs first round pick Marcus Peters, and why John loves watching Sean Culkin.

    All of that and more in Saturday’s conversation with John Harris on The Sports Wire.


  10. Is Jason Heyward a $200 million player?

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    Jason Heyward’s career batting average is below .270. He’s never hit more than 27 home runs or stolen more than 21 bases in a season.

    Despite some of Heyward’s less-than-stellar traditional metrics, the St. Louis Cardinals were willing to part with four years of club control over starting pitcher Shelby Miller in order to acquire Heyward’s plus-defense, solid base running and, at times, impressive power hitting. Why would the Cardinals do that if they didn’t believe they could re-sign the 25-year-old corner outfielder? The short answer is that they probably wouldn’t.

    The long answer is why I’m writing this article.

    Heyward is a fascinating case-study. He’s a free agent after the 2015 season, and he will enter the market at the young age of 25. Heyward is a sabermetric wizard. His advanced metrics are among the best in baseball. He’s the MLB leader in defensive runs saved since 2010. The only outfielders with a higher WAR than Heyward since 2010 are Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, Ben Zobrist (what?) and Matt Holliday. The talent is there, and the production – however unconventional – has been omnipresent since he first hit the big leagues in 2010.

    And this brings us to Heyward’s open-market value. I’ll start by stating the obvious: it’s incredibly difficult to project how Heyward will finish this season, and it’s even more difficult to project exactly how much someone would be willing to spend on a 25-year-old corner outfielder. One reason it’s so difficult to project is because this simply doesn’t happen in the MLB.

    In talking with someone who has knowledge of these sort of contract negotiations, three names came up as recent examples of players that hit free agency at such a young age: Prince Fielder in 2012, Adrian Beltre in 2005 and Alex Rodriguez in 2000. Fielder was 28 years old when he signed a nine-year, $214 million contract, Beltre was 26 at the time of his five-year, $64 million deal and Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 million deal when he was 25.

    In short, it’s been 15+ years since we’ve seen a position player in the same stratosphere as Heyward reach the open market before his 27th birthday. Why does this matter, exactly? Well, a team could conceivably sign Heyward to a 10-year deal, and get his prime for roughly 70 percent of the contract. If a team gives a 10-year deal to a 30-year-old player, he’s going to be in his prime for less than half of the deal. That makes a huge difference in the expected return on investment.

    So, what are the numbers going to look like? Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has a great write-up on exactly what we could expect. Cameron uses Carl Crawford, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki and Jacoby Ellsbury as his comparisons for Heyward. None of the four contracts are a perfect comparison, but using all four as a guide can be of some assistance.

    Lets start with Carl Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal in 2010 when he was 28 years old. Keep in mind, comparing contracts from 2010 to those signed in 2015 can be difficult. In order to compare the contracts fairly, we must take inflation into account. Based on Cameron’s conversions, Crawford’s seven-year, $142 million contract in 2010 would be a seven-year, $175 million deal in 2015. That’s a lot of money. But, it’s only one contract. How does Crawford’s contract compare with his peers? Lets take a look.

    Year & Age when Signed: Contract at time of signing: Contract adjusted for inflation (per Fangraphs):
    Carl Crawford 2010, 29 7 yr, $142M 7 yr, $175M
    Carlos Beltran 2005, 28 7 yr, $119M 7 yr, $201M
    Ichiro Suzuki 2007, 34 5 yr, $90M 5 yr, $124M
    Jacoby Ellsbury 2013, 30 7 yr, $153M 7 yr, $161M

    There you have it. The closest comparisons, based on the advanced metrics, for Jason Heyward’s upcoming contract. If you look at the contracts as average dollars per year, here’s how they break down: Crawford $25 million/year, Beltran $29 million/year, Suzuki $25 million/year, Ellsbury $23 million/year.

    Lets say Heyward were to sign a seven-year contract. If you take the averages of the four contracts listed above, you could expect something along the lines of a seven-year, $175 million contract. That would tie Giancarlo Stanton as the highest average salary ($25 million) among right fielders. The only position players in all of baseball with a higher average salary would be Miguel Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez.

    Will Heyward end up getting $25 million per year? It’s hard to say. It certainly seems possible. Will the Cardinals be the team that gives him that money? I have my doubts on that. This is the purple elephant in the room any time we in the media discuss Jason Heyward this season. We have no idea what will ultimately take place, but what we do know is that a free agent deal will be struck with Jason Heyward at some point between now and next season.

    The Cardinals, and their fans, seem to believe that contract will be with St. Louis. But at what cost? That remains to be seen.