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Can this man earn an NFL linebacker’s friendship with breakfast tacos?

Posted by    |    April 30th, 2017 at 10:13 pm

Jordan Hicks meets a total stranger who knows way, way too much about him.

At this point in my life, I go through most days without making a new friend. Sure, an acquaintance or associate here and there, but fewer opportunities to connect with individuals in meaningful, emotional ways. So when I was presented with the chance to build a special friendship with Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks, I jumped in my car and set forth on a journey neither of us will soon forget.

Jordan exemplifies strength, and not just with those muscles of his. He’s an inspiration because of how he’s been there for everyone in his life, no matter the circumstance. Combine that with his generosity and genuineness and you’ve got yourself the foundation for a good friend. I guess you could say it was just my lucky day.

How could I ever prove myself worthy, though? How do I show him what we have in common and what he would get from our friendship? How do I tell him who “Will” is? It may be tough, but if there’s a friend at the end of the tunnel, I’ll do whatever it takes.

So what do you say, Jordan Hicks: Will you be my friend?

How do the headsets in quarterback helmets work?

Posted by    |    April 30th, 2017 at 9:04 pm

The QB helmet radio exists thanks to two Browns fans with a top-secret plan

Whenever Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes take their first snap in a professional game, there won’t be any of those big signboards used to send in plays from the sidelines. You know, the ones with weird logos and emojis and photos of cats on them. They don’t exist in the NFL for one reason: the quarterback helmet radio. While it was invented in the 1950s by two Cleveland Browns fans — secretly, in the woods, at the request of the head coach — the sideline communications system we’re all familiar with was banned by the NFL for almost 40 years.

Warren Moon, Brian Billick, and Trent Dilfer were all part of the 1994 NFL season, and the first to use the QB radio system league-wide. They told us about the advantages and challenges the technology presented at the time. Helmet radios have changed the game for offenses and defenses (thanks, Spygate!) alike. This is the story of how they were born, forgotten, reintroduced, and evolved.

Clippers lost Game 7 to the Jazz and may never be the same again

Posted by    |    April 30th, 2017 at 5:16 pm

With looming free agency for the Clippers’ biggest names, the Lob City era could have ended on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday when they lost at home to the Utah Jazz in Game 7, 104-91. The crushing defeat marks yet another chapter in the book of disappointing Clippers playoff finishes in the Lob City era.

Utah won in part due to its ability to limit J.J. Redick all game. He scored his only points at the 3:28 mark in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles lost despite only 13 minutes from Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who played only five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.

The Clippers and Jazz were tied after one quarter at 24 apiece, but Utah pulled away and never looked back. The Jazz outscored Los Angeles, 55-39, in the second and third quarters. The Clippers attempted a late-game rally, but could not come up with timely stops and scores necessary to erase the double-digit deficit.

The Clippers looked strong in the series against a tough Jazz opponent. But the positive post-season outlook was crushed when Blake Griffin suffered a season-ending toe injury in Game 3.

Now, Los Angeles finds itself in a particularly murky situation moving forward.

That’s because three of the Clippers’ biggest names become free agents this summer.

No player is more important to the Los Angeles franchise right now than Chris Paul, who can exercise the player option of his contract to opt out and test free agency. If he opts in, Paul could make more than $24 million next season. He could also opt-out to sign a more lucrative, long-term deal in Los Angeles.

But he’s not the only free agent. Blake Griffin is in a similar scenario, with a player option and the ability to test the waters over the summer. Griffin has missed consecutive playoffs with devastating injuries and has had his fair share of setbacks over the course of his career. But he is also 28 years old in the prime of his playing career.

Redick is also a free agent at the end of this season, and at 32 years old, the prospect of winning a championship weighs heaviest at this point of his career.

Combined, it could cost the Los Angeles more than $200 million to retain their core going forward.

NFL draft grades 2017: Not much love for the Bears’ big move

Posted by    |    April 30th, 2017 at 3:21 pm

Bad news for Chicago fans; pundits loved the Packers draft, too.

The Bears made the biggest splash of the 2017 NFL Draft by trading away four picks to move up one spot in the first round. While that allowed them to make Mitchell Trubisky the first quarterback off the board, it also brought on scorn from draft pundits.

Chicago topped out at a “C+” in the earliest post-draft grades from pundits across the NFL. To make matters worse, division rivals like the Packers and Vikings earned “As,” deepening the gap between the top of the NFC North and the Bears’ spot at the bottom.

Green Bay shored up its most glaring weakness by adding a pair of dynamic athletes in the secondary. Minnesota found first-round talent despite not having a first round draft pick. Detroit took quality over need, adding big prospects that won’t fix their problems at tailback or pass rusher.

The Bears? They got a project quarterback and a project tight end for their troubles. Here’s what analysts thought about the NFC North as a whole.

Chicago Bears

Chicago paid a king’s ransom at the draft to be able to select Mitchell Trubisky, just months after paying a king’s ransom in free agency to give Mike Glennon the chance to start at quarterback. That’s a big gamble to take a passer at No. 2 overall in a draft notoriously weak at the position. That move limited their draft capital, but they paired their developmental QB with a developmental tight end in the second round — Adam Shaheen was a beast in college, but that was against Division II competition.

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: C
Mel Kiper, ESPN: C+
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: D
Chris Burke, SI: C-
Nate Davis, USA Today: C-
Chad Reuter, C+

Detroit Lions

The Lions didn’t really address their biggest needs this draft, failing to pick up a running back despite a deep class and neglecting to add a pass rushing threat. Teez Tabor plays much better than his testing numbers and Jarrad Davis can come in and start from day one, but the consensus is Detroit could have done much more with its opportunities.

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: C
Mel Kiper, ESPN: C+
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: D
Chris Burke, SI: B
Nate Davis, USA Today: C+
Chad Reuter, B

Green Bay Packers

The Packers failed to address their tailback needs early in the draft, instead repairing a fractured secondary by adding Kevin King and Josh Jones in the first two rounds. They’d add two solid college backs on day three with Aaron Jones and Devante Mays, along with yet another receiving weapon in Malachi Dupre.

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: B+
Mel Kiper, ESPN: B+
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: A
Chris Burke, SI: B+
Nate Davis, USA Today: B+
Chad Reuter, B+

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota didn’t have a first round pick but still came away with first- and second-round talents thanks to smart drafting. Dalvin Cook will provide an immediate boost for the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing offense, and Pat Elflein will help clear a path for him at the interior of the line. Bucky Hodges was a strong value pick who could give the Vikings a dynamic tight end tandem alongside Kyle Rudolph.

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: A
Mel Kiper, ESPN: B+
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: C+
Chris Burke, SI: B+
Nate Davis, USA Today: B
Chad Reuter, B+

4 NFL undrafted free agents to get excited about in 2017

Posted by    |    April 30th, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Let’s meet some great college players who, for different reasons, might be fun to watch in the pros.

The end of the NFL draft means the start of undrafted free agency, and dozens of players have found professional homes in the hours after not getting picked.

Your team probably will not sign the next Kurt Warner or Wes Welker or Chris Harris Jr. during this period. All-Pro-caliber UDFAs come along only rarely. But solid-contributor UDFAs come around all the time; it’s just a matter of finding them.

It goes without saying that none of these players is guaranteed any sort of professional success. That’s true for first-round picks, and it’s definitely true for UDFAs. But these players are all fun, and if your team nabbed one of them, there’s a chance you’ll at least have someone to pull for during training camp.

Here are a few whom I, a college football person, think you should watch:

Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State (signed by Jets)

Marks will not wow you physically. His 40 time at the NFL combine was 4.56 seconds. He repped 11 times on the bench and leapt 29.5 inches in the air. But he was the top target and a catch machine in Mike Leach’s air raid at WSU, hauling in 193 balls over the last two seasons. The NFL is clearly growing more acceptant of air raid QBs, and ex-air raid receivers like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola have been under-the-radar gems. If Marks makes the Jets, he will catch many footballs.

For what it’s worth, Marks seems like a cool guy. WSU blog Coug Center:

He wants the ball on every play, but he’s not your typical, outspoken, greedy wide receiver. He’s confident, but he’s always been a team-first player. He wants to win, plain and simple. And he’ll work his ass off to makes he does his part to make that happen.

Gabe Marks is the coolest human being to ever rock the crimson and gray. He helped put Washington State football back on the map and he made it look so easy, routinely making catches that seemed impossible. Gabe Marks was a gift to Washington State.

If you’re going to root for a UDFA, you have to like him. Marks is easily liked.

Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech (unsigned)

Evans transferred to Virginia Tech from junior college last season, and he led the Hokies to an ACC Coastal title with a fun mix of power running and decent throwing. Evans does not strike me as a starting NFL quarterback, but some team could have lots of fun deploying him in goal line packages and on select downs. Evans is a hoss at 6’3 and 232 pounds. Sign him, and put him on the field for your two-point conversions. He might be a decent H-back, and he can also make some throws.

Hunter Dimick, DE, Utah (signed by Jaguars)

Dimick was a really, really good college football player. Here’s Block U:

Dimick was very productive in his Utah career, registering 29.5 sacks in four years and 45 tackles for loss. He has an endless motor and above average athleticism. The reason no team drafted Dimick is he lacks length that NFL teams want in their pass rushers. My hunch, though, is that there will be more than a few teams in the NFL that regretted drafting Dimick, because he plays with a huge chip on his shoulder and is a hard worker, so I expect him to succeed as a pro.

Dimick was a key figure in Kyle Whittingham’s defensive front for years. He’s a listed 6’3 and 269 pounds, which doesn’t scream “terrifying defensive end” or “impenetrable gap-plugger,” and that’s an issue. But Dimick played in a program that’s good at player development, and which had eight fellow draftees this year. He stood out among a lot of pro talent, and I think he’s good enough to make a team.

Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson (signed by Panthers)

The emotional leader (and star inside linebacker) on Clemson’s national championship defense last season. Boulware does not have impressive measurables, and that matters when you’re a linebacker in the NFL who has to cover tight ends and blow up run plays from time to time. Boulware’s kind of a badass, though. He’s got a cool beard. He yells a lot on the field and draws rave reviews for his toughness and leadership. He’s also a Carolina kid staying in the Carolinas, and it’s hard not to root for a success story.

Part of our writeup when he signed:

“Linebacker wins” aren’t a statistic, but Boulware’s contributions to Clemson’s national championship this past season are what put him on the the board. Boulware was the emotional leader of the Clemson Tigers, and his play on the field was just as admirable. With six tackles (two for loss) and a pass defense, Boulware was dominant in the Tigers’ January victory over the Crimson Tide, earning game MVP honors.

Also, Boulware got Clemson’s College Football Playoff trophy tattooed on his Achilles to make fun of Desmond Howard calling linebackers Clemson’s Achilles heel.

That is fun. Football should be fun.