Next Wave of Premier Players Ready For NFL Draft

With the sporting world having pretty much shut down due to COVID -19 – marble racing and premier league soccer in Belarus not withstanding – it is important to look forward to some event that can bring some sense of normalcy back to the sporting calendar. The NFL have confirmed that the 2020 NFL Draft will be going ahead as scheduled, though the event will be held remotely instead of in Las Vegas as was originally planned. This means we can look forward to seeing where the next wave of premier players in the NFL will (eventually) be taking their talents and there is no player in this draft better than Ohio State Buckeyes superstar Chase Young.

Young – an EDGE rusher in NFL terms – may not be the first player selected in this draft because of the value that NFL teams put on elite quarterbacks. That is why the likes of LSU QB Joe Burrow and Alabama passer Tua Tagovailoa may well be chosen before Young. If we were to draft purely on talent, production, and fit at the NFL level, however, there is no doubt that this premier player would be the first one snatched off of the 2020 board.

Young has the prototypical build of an EDGE rusher in the modern game. He stands at 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds. He has explosive speed off of the edge that shows in every game tape that you will watch of this premier player, though with individual workouts curtailed by the pandemic we will not see a recent 40-yard-dash time from Young after he decided his tape did enough talking for him and he skipped the drills/workouts portion of the combine.

Young is an immediate impact kind of player. He will not take a year of seasoning and study to become the kind of game-changing player that he was in college. This is a guy that spent most of the last two seasons facing double and triple teams on a down-by-down basis and was still productive enough to take over games. In 12 starts in 2019 he led the FBS with 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles as a player who knows not only how to get to the quarterback, but also how to create a momentum shifting turnover with his sacking technique.

Young finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season – exceptionally high for a defensive player – and he can work as either a stand up rusher or with his hand in the dirt. The best pass rushing prospect of the last decade (at least), Young is a game wrecker who knows how talented he is and who backs it up every time out on the field.

The country is going to need a new breed of premier players to get behind after this crisis and inject life and energy into sports as they resume. Young is one of those stars poised to breakout at the next level whenever sports begin again.

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Baseball Will Unite America On Opening-Day

The premier players on the diamond were supposed to begin their season on March 26, 2020. All opening days in sports are important, but there is something special about the beginning of a baseball season that isn’t replicated in other sports.

On the purely athletic level it is important because baseball – despite its challenges in a world of instant gratification – is a sport with a rich history that has endured wars and depressions and come out strong. There is a pomp and circumstance to Major League Basketball’s opening day that just doesn’t happen with other sports, from ceremonial first pitches through to the peanuts and Cracker Jack in the stands.

But it’s so much more than all that.

Baseballs opening day has always meant the end of winter and the knowledge that summer is just around the corner. It means we are a step closer to long nights of grilling in the backyard, of vacations to far flung places, and to doing nothing by the pool for hours. These are not thoughts and dreams that are part of the core of what baseball is, but they are much needed releases that opening day always brought as a sort of hopeful look to the future and the next six months of life.

It’s almost certain that in 2020 the boys of summer will be playing a limited schedule do to COVID-19. Exactly what – and when – that will be we have no clue at this point, but when those premier players take to the diamond it is going to be a joyous day all across America. Sports fans are suffering right now, but the surge in interest and pride that will come out on the back end of this will be like nothing we have seen in a couple of decades.

The premier players of baseball will eventually have their opening day and it will be an opening day for the world to prove we have all come together. Also, we are putting it out there right now that the Dodgers will win the 2020 World Series in six games thanks to a shortened season bringing down the workload of veteran starters like David Price and Clayton Kershaw.

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Big3 Basketball Ready To Entertain Fans With Premier Talent

Sports are an essential escape to the sometimes mundane march of everyday life. That is why the shutting down of sports as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak has been so hard for people to take. At a time where sports are needed to lift us emotionally, they are gone.

While the premier leagues in many sports will not return for an undisclosed period of time – albeit a period which doesn’t seem likely to be any time soon – there is one premier competition that is looking to get set up and bring sports to the American public as soon as this April.

The Big3 is a 3-on-3 basketball tournament that gained some traction last year as the premier competition of its type in the country. Big3 executives Josh Kwatinetz and Ice Cube have been in the entertainment business for over 30 years and they see both the opportunity to create something for themselves and – more importantly – a chance to entertain people in a way they think will help with everything the world is currently going through.

Their concept is certainly intriguing. Essentially the tournament would take place in a quarantined house somewhere in the LA area with 16 to 22 players involved. These players – who would only be allowed in after testing negative for Coronavirus – would then take place in something that would be part reality TV show and part premier competition for 3-on-3 basketball.

The Big Brother meets Big3 concept would have to pass some hurdles given the shelter-in-place order that has been announced in California, but the prospect of live sports is one that any American that enjoys competition would be happy to hear. The league lowered its age limit for its regular season from 27 to 22 in January and it would be very interesting to see which players would sign up and take part in a format that would – if this goes as reported – feature seven rounds of games with a player being eliminated after losing three times.

It is a watch-this-space situation – as is the entire sports world – but the sooner we can get sports back on TV (health permitting of course) the better.

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Cardinals’ Deal For Hopkins A No-Brainer, Sorry Houston

DeAndre Hopkins is now an Arizona Cardinal. That is going to take some time to get used to seeing on the field on a Sunday afternoon. In this sport-free world we currently live in it is nice to have something to talk (write) about again, but you have to feel a little for fans of the Houston Texans who saw arguably the biggest icon in the history of the franchise – and a premier player who is one of the very elite at his position in the league – be traded away for what seems like pittance in return.

The Texans walk away from this trade with a combination of running back David Johnson and a second round draft pick in their pocket. That does not feel like something that Texans fans should be good with given that they gave up a premier player in the prime of his career. Johnson is a solid player – he had a monster season in 2016 and was solid in 2018 – but he is injured too often and regressed to a player with 715 total yards and six total touchdowns last season.

Hopkins – by comparison – finished third in the league last season with 104 receptions. He also had 1,165 yards – good for 11th in the league – and he caught seven touchdowns. These numbers were down from his 1,5 72 yards and 11 touchdowns from 2018 and his 1,378 yards and 13 scores in 2017, but there were mitigating factors such as the health of wide receiver partner Will Fuller and how his lack of play would often lead to Hopkins playing an entire game in double coverage. Even then, he still was third in the NFL in catches.

This is not the first time that Texans’ GM Bill O’Brien has leaned towards the unconventional with his moves. Even by his standards though, this one is shocking. It is the most lopsided trade of the 2020 offseason already and it is arguably the most lopsided deal we have seen made in more than a decade.

That the Cardinals got better immediately when Johnson was replaced by Kenyan Drake – who Arizona plucked from the Dolphins for a sixth-round pick midseason last year – should tell you everything you need to know about why this premier player and elite WR should have had more value than this.

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Brady Must Make Biggest Decision Of Team’s Dynasty Era

It is pretty obvious that Tom Brady is a premier player. He might even be the greatest player in his position – or any position for that matter – in the history of the NFL, but that is a debate for another day.  What we know right now is that this premier player is coming off of a season where – after a monster start – he started to show signs of decline.   With that in mind, and with Brady testing the free agent market for the first time in his career, we have to look at the possibility that the Brady/Belichick combination that created a dynasty in New England as a premier player and a premier coach, could have already reached its end.

The future comes fast at the back of a career.  That Brady was still playing lights-out football in his forties is a compliment to everything the 42-year-old has done to extend his playing career.  If there is one thing we know about Brady, it’s his ultimate competitor streak that the greatest athletes all have and, as such, he will not want his 2019 season to be the one that defines his legacy.  This is a premier player doing what premier players do; they don’t go out like that.

When looking at the future for Brady it is important to look at the mitigating factors that made last season such a mess.  His wide receiver corps was never consistent as it was blitzed by injuries and drama all season long.  Those players that were catching balls from Brady were players who, by and large, he had no history with and they were unable to connect consistently.  Add in an offensive line that was among the worst the Pats have had in a decade and the reasons quickly mount as to why Brady wasn’t Brady last season.

Odds are Brady will be in New England next year. The Pats have the cap space to keep their legend in town and build something a little more competitive around him.  There are options that Brady could chase and there are players out there that the team could bring in, but can you really see Brady wearing the powder blue of the Chargers or the red and gold of San Francisco?

Peyton Manning – Brady’s longtime rival – left the Colts and found a Super Bowl in Denver. Could this premier player do the same for a different franchise and get yet another leg up in their head-to-head battle to be classed as the best of their generation?

For now there are so many more questions than answers, but with Tom Brady – even at 42 – whichever team he suits up for will feel like they have a chance of winning the Super Bowl when the season kicks off.  That is just what premiers players do.

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Premier Player of Tennis Sharapova Announces Retirement

One of the premier players in women’s tennis over the past couple of decades recently announced her retirement. News filtered through that Russian player Maria Sharapova is set to walk away from the game. The 32-year-old leaves the game with a career record of 645-171 after turning pro in 2001 at the tender age of just 14.

It is not a sport that you think of often in terms of attrition and burnout, but tennis is a craft that swallows up athletes at a young age and sees plenty of players – especially in the female game – retire from the sport while still in their twenties. To that extent, Sharapova beat the system of the game and this is especially true when you consider that despite some very significant injuries at the peak of her career, she was able to capture five Grand Slam titles.

Her lasting legacy in the sport will be those Grand Slam wins. She is one of just 10 women in the history of the game to win all four of the majors at least once, with the only repeated Grand Slam event win coming in the French Open. This is a little ironic as this premier player would often talk of how the clay courts of Roland Garros sought to expose here weaknesses, yet it was on the crushed rock that she was at her most successful.

Sharapova was at her best (weirdly) in even numbered years. The Grand Slam titles came in 2004 (Wimbledon), 2006 (US Open), 2008 (Australian Open,) and 2012/2014 (French Open). She also won an Olympic silver medal for Russia at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She reached another five Grand Slam finals that she failed to win, giving her a career record of 5-5 in such contests.

In a sport where the commercial deals have long gravitated towards the Williams sisters, Sharapova was – for a while – as big a star as there was in tennis – male or female. Her on-court career earnings have been dwarfed by here sponsorship opportunities, with the Russian perfectly summing up the ‘Strong is beautiful’ motto of the WTA. This premier player was one who quickly became known for her skill and her winning as opposed to her looks, with Sharapova being a feared and dominant competitor in every match she played when healthy.

Sharapova has the mindset of a premier player still wanting to compete, but the arduous and repetitive nature of practice and play has caused her body – in the shoulders and arms especially – to cause her to not play at the level she wishes. Retirement is a smart option at this point for her legacy, but the world of sport will be a little dimmer without Sharapova on the tennis scene.

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NBA All-Star Game Shows The Power of Sports, Athletes

The 2020 NBA All-Star Game was always going to be about Kobe Bryant. This is exactly how it should be after one of the premier players of any sport, anywhere, tragically passes away weeks before the biggest talents of the game gather for a showdown.

However, the 2020 NBA All-Star Game was also a show of the power of basketball and the power of sports in general.  This was a real game down the stretch – more on that in a moment – and not the free scoring shotfest that the All-Star game has sometimes been in recent years.

There was no more fitting a tribute to Bryant – a man who thought winning the exhibition All-Star Game was as important as a playoff win – than the fact this game was played (in the fourth quarter at least) like it really mattered. It was a game that raised $500,000 and counting for local charities based on which team won each quarter, and it was the first game where the NBA has used a novel scoring system down the stretch that its premier players seemed to all embrace instantaneously as the fourth quarter went on.

This scoring system – known as the Elam system – set the final quarter to be a race to 157. The score was calculated by adding 24 (Kobe’s number) to the score that the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. It is a scoring system that literally anyone who has ever played a team sport, where points are counted, can endorse. How many games of flag football between friends have been drifting along until the magic call of “first to five wins” is made.  At that point, everyone playing becomes ultra-competitive and the game matters.

That is what happened in this NBA All-Star Game as the teams ramped up down the stretch to the point that coaches were challenging replays and players were caring about every foul. Kobe would have LOVED this environment and he would have thrived in the pressure of such a game. It helped that the Chicago crowd were into the contest from the minute the tributes to the great Laker ended, finishing by barely sitting down from the middle of the third quarter onwards.

Sometimes we forget how sports – and certain athletes – can bring people together on a local, national, and global scale. Sunday night in Chicago was all the proof we needed to remind us of that.

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Jaguars Continue To Build Home Crowd In London

As the premier league in the world, the NFL is always trying to find new ways to push boundaries and become more marketable.

Super Bowl LIV, which saw the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 after a frantic second half comeback, pulled in almost 100 million viewers in the United States.  However, the league and commissioner Roger Goodell know that the key to expansive growth – and thus more money for the franchises – is to be found overseas.

The NFL has been aggressively pursuing this angle and as the premier league of its kind in exploring international markets, the experiments have been a success. Ever since the league started staging a game in London every year – which quickly became multiple games in London featuring different teams each time – the theory has been that Goodell and the other owners want to see a full time franchise based in the city of around nine million people.

As of the 2020 season, we may just be a little closer to seeing this happen.

The Jacksonville Jaguars – a team long considered likely to be the first franchise moved if such an opportunity became available – will be playing two “home” games at Wembley Stadium in the English capital next season. It is common knowledge that the Jags don’t always draw well and that their games at Wembley actually pull in more than double the money of a game at TIAA Bank Field.

The Jags are feeling extra pressure to increase their share of the league revenue after some of the lower-earning teams in the league have recently relocated. With the Rams, Charges, and Raiders moving to Los Angeles, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas respectively from small-market cities, the league is clearly encouraging teams to look for additional revenue opportunities.

Much of the Jags future in Jacksonville is tied to a $700 million entertainment complex planned to be built around the stadium, but that has yet to receive a green light. That makes this a huge opportunity for London – and the fans in the UK – to prove they can get behind a specific team for a couple of weekends in a row and really show the NFL that relocating an actual franchise would be a great move.

Without knowing it we may be looking at the first step in a new era of international expansion for the premier league in world sport.

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Coach Reid’s Play Innovation Keeps Chiefs Competitive

The premier coach in the NFL to never win a Super Bowl no longer carries that damning caveat on his resume. As of Super Bowl LIV, Kansas City Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid will always be known as a Super Bowl winner to go along with all the other accolades he has picked up throughout his Hall of Fame caliber career.

Big Red – as he is affectionately known – is one of the most well liked and most respected men in the history of the National Football League. He is such a down to earth character that Reid celebrated the AFC title game that put him within 60 minutes of the crowning achievement for a coach by eating a cheeseburger and going to bed.

It was hardly the act of someone going back to the Super Bowl 15 years since his last shot at the Lombardi Trophy.

Reid, though, never seemed to let that chase change him. Over 14 years in Philadelphia with the Eagles and then his first six years in Kansas City he has always been the same guy. He and the Eagles parted ways at the right time – both the franchise and the man now have Super Bowl wins to prove it – and this premier coach landed in an organization in Kansas City with fans who couldn’t believe their luck.

That luck only increased on draft day three years ago when Patrick Mahomes became the Chiefs’ first round pick, giving Reid a quarterback with unique and perhaps even generational levels of talent to develop. One of the greatest aspect of Reid’s coaching is that he has never been afraid to try things, he has never got stuck in his ways and refused to see how the game has changed. That a 61-year-old can run an offense as innovative as any in the NFL is a testament to his ability to lead and his ability to self-critique what he is doing as a coach.

In the year that the NFL celebrated a full century of play, there is no more fitting a first-time coaching Super Bowl champ than Andrew Walter Reid.

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Kobe’s Skills On The Court Drove All Parts of His Life

There is way too much to be said about Kobe Bryant and his legacy that we could ever hope to capture in one article. That is why this piece is going to look at Kobe as a player and athlete only, not touching his amazing transition into life as a coach, father, and family man that occurred before his life was cut tragically short at the age of just 41 in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning.

There are many players in the sports we cover that are said to be premier players. Kobe was not just a premier player in his own time; he was one of the premier players in the history of his sport. He was a premier player in the city of Los Angeles, a city where he would be on the Mount Rushmore of sports icons. He was a premier player who transcended his sport and became a household name around the world thanks to 20 seasons of highlights, determination, and excellence.

His legacy is a complicated one, but his playing style is one that we will likely never see again. In this era of load management, no player will eat the minutes that Kobe did throughout his career. This is a player that once played to the point of tearing his Achilles tendon, but still went to the free-throw line to finish his play with two successful shots, such was his will to win and his dedication to making that happen.

Kobe took shots that kids today would be benched for trying. He retired leading the league (historically) in just one single stat. That stat was the number of missed shots over a career. While that should be a negative, it’s not. That’s because the toughness of Kobe made him want to take those shots, knowing that every shot not taken was two (or three) points that would never be made.

You can’t be a shot-selection player and score 60 points in your final game. You can’t be that and put up the second most points ever in a single contest with his 81-point explosion against the Raptors in 2006. You can’t be that and win five NBA titles, be an 18-time All-Star and a 15 time All-NBA selection. You can’t be that and be feared each and every night by every opponent you face.

Kobe had the footwork, the stroke, and the competitive fire to take himself to the very top. That so many of the premier players in the NBA today cite Kobe as their inspiration says more about his legacy than anything that could be put to paper. The world is a worse place without Kobe Bryant in it, but we must push forward and strive for success every day to the best of our ability. After all, that is what Kobe would do.

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