Schottenheimer Leaves Lasting Impact On The NFL

If there is one NFL premier coach who has a legacy defined by winning in great numbers and then losing in the bigger games, then that would be Marty Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer enjoyed an astonishing 200 career wins as a head coach as he led four teams to become the eighth-winningest coach in the history of the NFL. Those four teams – the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, and the San Diego Chargers – combined to go 200-126-1 under the premier coach who died at the age of 77 on February 9, 2021.

You know that a coach has had an impact on the game when an entire style of play is named after him. Schottenheimer believed wholeheartedly in “Martyball”. This method of winning football games relied on a hard-nosed approach from hard-nosed players. As the league was evolving around him in the late 90s and through the 2000s, Schottenheimer continued to preach “Martyball”, building the success of his teams – and their entire roster – around an overpowering running game and a defense that would lay their bodies on the line whether it was 3rd-and-30 in the first quarter or 4th-and-one with the game on the line.

Schottenheimer – a man who lived by his mantra of “one play at a time” – could never find the success he deserved in the postseason. The coach with a career winning percentage in the regular season of 61% was never able to make his style of football work in the playoffs. Schottenheimer went 5-13 when coaching in the postseason, a career winning percentage in those games of just 28%. This included first-round playoff exits with teams such as the 13-3 Chiefs in both 1995 and 1997, along with the 14-2 Chargers in 2006.

That Chargers team – perhaps the best overall squad that Schottenheimer ever coached led by NFL MVP LaDanian Tomlinson – imploded in what was to be Schottenheimer’s final NFL game. They lost a home divisional round game 24-21 to Tom Brady (that guy again) and the New England Patriots. It was a loss – combined with the tension between Schottenheimer and general manager A.J. Smith –that saw Schottenheimer fired in a move that shocked the NFL world given the team they had put together and Schottenheimer’s obvious ability to win football games and have his team believe in his methods and his tactics.

While some of the losses may have been down to poor clock management or a stubborn belief in the power of his system, it is hard to look at this premier coach as not being a tad unlucky to have never reached a Super Bowl. He lost twice to John Elway-led Broncos teams in the AFC Championship Game while coaching the Browns in games that became known as “The Drive” and “The Fumble”. To have one game lost in a way that gives it a name that lasts down the decades is rough, to have it happen twice is downright cruel.

It is with the Chiefs that Schottenheimer is synonymous with most fans. You can lay a direct path from the work that Schottenheimer produced in Kansas City through the Dick Vermeil era and to the Andy Reid-led team that is one of the most feared in the league today.

“When Marty arrived in 1989, he reinvigorated what was then a struggling franchise and quickly turned the Chiefs into a consistent winner,” Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said in a statement. “Marty’s teams made Chiefs football a proud part of Kansas City’s identity once again, and the team’s resurgence forged a powerful bond with a new generation of fans who created the legendary home-field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium.”

After that, it was to San Diego and another brutal playoff loss that came from a player mistake and not a coaching one. With the Chargers up by eight and with six minutes to play, Marlon McCree picked off Brady and the game should have been sealed. Instead of dropping to the turf, however, McCree was hit and fumbled with the Patriots recovering. On such small margins are playoff football games won and lost and Schottenheimer, for all his outstanding coaching, often seemed to be on the wrong side of them.

To dwell on that, though, is to diminish a career. The NFL is a better place for Schottenheimer having been involved and when premier players like Tomlinson and Drew Brees speak of Schottenheimer’s work ethic, wisdom, and attention to detail it tells you everything about what kind of coach he was.

Article by Premier Players

Rivers Takes His Stellar NFL Career To St. Michael Catholic HS

Philip Rivers might have just been a quarterback playing at the wrong time. The 17-year NFL veteran decided to retire this offseason after a glittering career that was denied multiple Super Bowl berths thanks to a combination of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (and now Patrick Mahomes) dominating that spot in the AFC.

Rivers has retired at a point where he seemingly has plenty left in the tank. He didn’t choose to bow out after a down year or two, with this premier player calling it quits after guiding an Indianapolis Colts team that was 7-9 in 2019 back to the playoffs with an 11-5 record in 2020. Rivers took to Indianapolis like a duck to water after 16 seasons on the West Coast with the Chargers. He passed for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions and there were many who expected him to be back in a Colts uniform in 2021. Instead, Rivers has chosen to meander off into the sunset with his Indy stint a footnote in a career that will see him go down as one of the greatest Chargers to ever play the game.

The 39-year-old passer will be one that is strongly discussed when it comes time to vote on Hall of Fame matters after his five years of non-playing are up. This could – and probably will – be five years from now, but you have to imagine that if a legitimate contender in the next two seasons needs a quarterback late in the season after an injury that Rivers will be one of the first calls they make. This is especially true because while Rivers is retiring from the professional game, this premier player is going to give back to the sport and he has already been hired as a high school coach at St. Michael Catholic just outside of Mobile, Alabama.

Rivers’ legacy is secure because of his numbers. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler. He ranks fifth all-time in the NFL (upon his retirement) in both passing yards (63,440) and in touchdown passes (421). Rivers would be considered one of the NFL’s all-time greats at his position in terms of toughness. The quarterback made 240 consecutive regular-season starts, a stat that puts him tied for third on the all-time list with center Mick Tinglehoff. The only more durable players in the history of the league – by this measure at least – are legendary tough guy quarterback Brett Favre and legendary all-around tough guy Vikings defensive lineman Jim Marshall.

The only taint to his legacy – a legacy that includes an NFL record for touchdown passes between a quarterback and a tight end for the 89 times he and Antonio Gates hooked up for scores in San Diego – is Rivers’ post-season woes. Rivers had an astonishing 12 seasons where he passed for over 12,000 yards, yet he was never able to lead the Chargers (or Colts) to a Super Bowl and his career 5-7 record in the playoffs contains just one AFC Championship Game appearance.

Even that, however, comes with a caveat when Rivers is considered. It was the 2007 AFC Championship Game that Rivers reached with the Chargers and nothing was going to stop this premier player from taking the field against the New England Patriots. The Chargers lost 21-12. Rivers was not at his best as he passed for just 211 yards with no touchdowns and two picks. It was a hard-fought win for Brady and the Patriots, one that they achieved with Rivers limping through the game with a torn ACL. Rivers’ knee had to be unlocked after the injury suffered just one week before in the Divisional Round but it is that level of toughness and mental fortitude that will remain the defining features when Rivers’ name comes up in debates about quarterbacks.

Article by Premier Players

Smith Only Needed Half The Game To Shine Brightest Among Stars

It feels crazy to think that coming into the 2020 college football season all eyes on the wide receiver position at Alabama were on Jaylen Waddle. Waddle – still a mighty receiver in his own right – fractured his ankle early in the season and seemed to leave a void at the position for the Crimson Tide. Circumstance can lead to greatness, however, and that is exactly what happened this fall as DeVonta Smith exploded onto the scene as one of the premier players in the country and as potentially the greatest college wide receiver (in a single season) of all time.

Smith was domineering in the first half of the National Title game. He outgained Ohio State on his own, catching an insane 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. He made the whole thing look incredibly easy – gliding around the field like he owned it (which he did) while the Buckeyes’ defenders were running in mud and chasing his shadow. The game was all but over thanks to Smith as the Crimson Tide were up 35=17 at the half on the back of their premier player, and it would have been very interesting to see what type of numbers Smith would have put up if he hadn’t picked up a pretty disgusting looking finger injury right at the start of the second half.

They say that the stars shine brightest in the biggest moments, the biggest games, and with all the star power on the field – Mac Jones/Najee Harris/Justin Fields – it was Smith who simply took over the contest.

Smith did everything he wanted in this game. He was able to score touchdowns beating double-coverage with his peerless route running. He was able to beat tough one-on-one coverage from the Buckeyes’ best cover guy in Shaun Wade because his feet and balance are so good that Smith is able to catch passes that most playing on Sundays would struggle with. He was able to use matchups and schemes to his advantage – anyone that can give me a reasonable explanation why linebacker Tuf Borland was covering Smith on his final touchdown I’m here for it – to out think and out run the entire Buckeyes’ team. It was incredible to watch.

The wild part of all of this is that Smith being very, very good cannot have come as any surprise to Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and his coaching staff. Smith being the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard of Michigan in 1991 – and even his win was skewed by Howard’s special teams work – was a clue. Other clues would be that Smith led the entire FBS in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641), and receiving touchdowns (20). Those are huge numbers in any season, let alone one with Alabama having played two fewer games than normal because of the pandemic. Covering Smith had to be priority No. 1 for the Ohio State defense, yet this premier player just took over the game with his skill.

One of the wildest aspects of Smith’s success is that he is far from a big guy. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 175-pounds – though there is a feeling that the NFL Combine will show these stats to be overselling both properties – he isn’t the typical Alabama receiver that overwhelms defenses with a killer trait. The likes of Calvin Ridley, Amari Cooper, and Julio Jones all had elite size, elite speed, or both. Smith really has neither. He just has a feel for the game that can’t be taught and rather than those elite prospects his best comparison might just be to Jerry Rice – the greatest receiver of all time who also didn’t have killer measurable or traits.

Where Smith and his 43 career touchdowns – almost triple that of Jones – goes from here is yet to be seen. What we can say is that for one season – and then one half – this premier player was untouchable.

Article By Premier Players

Henry Carries On The Legacy of Great Titans Running Backs

There are few things more entertaining in football than watching a running back take over a game. I was reminded this once again on Sunday as Derrick Henry did his best impression of a human freight train for the Tennessee Titans against the Indianapolis Colts.

While Henry is the latest Tennessee Titans’ running back to be that dominant of a force, he comes from a team with a surprising amount of stars at the position, especially if you go back to their days as the Houston Texans.  Recent fans will remember the speed freak of a back that was Chris Johnson – he of the ridiculous 4.24 time in the 40-yard-dash – while those of a certain age will recall the legendry Earl Campbell, one of the premier players at the position that has ever graced the NFL.

For others – mainly those of us in our 30s and 40s – the player most synonymous with the running back position in Nashville is Eddie George.

While Campbell was a beast for the Oilers in the late 70s and early 80s – a time before the magic of modern television and technology making games accessible to all – George was the lead back for the franchise from 1996-2003. This was a time of explosive growth in both revenue and popularity for the NFL, allowing more eyes to be on franchises weekly wherever you were in the country.

Also – and crucially – George was the back in charge when the Oilers moved states to become the Titans. This makes him the first true running back for this iteration of the franchise, making him feel like a more modern player even if he was rushing between the tackles almost 25 years ago as of writing.

George flashed in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Ohio State, but a couple of costly fumbles in a game against Illinois that the Buckeyes lost saw his playing time never really expand to where it could have been during those two seasons. As a junior he started to break out – he rushed for just under 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns – but it was as a senior that he dominated the college landscape. This premier player won the Heisman Trophy in 1995 on the back of a year where he rushed for 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns at an average of 5.9 yards per carry. It was also this season that George showed the type of power and durability that would become his hallmarks on Sundays.

George was the 14th overall pick of the 1996 NFL Draft and he was the third running back taken off of the board. He was picked behind Lawrence Phillips and Tim Biakabutuka, but outperformed both massively as they suffered from legal issues and injuries respectively.  George won the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1996 and then went on to excel as the starting running back for the team without missing a start before moving to Dallas for a year at the end of the 2003 season. George is one of only two running backs to pass the 10,000 yard mark without missing a start (Jim Brown) and is second behind Walter Payton in consecutive regular season games started (130).

Those are names any running back would want to be associated with at the end of a career and help cement the status of George as one of the premier players at his position. George has only increased his legacy in retirement, working with charities including those trying to prevent Type 2 diabetes and even performing on Broadway – pre-pandemic – following 12 years of acting and singing lessons to hone his skills at a new craft. Some people are driving to be the best they can be multiple times in life and this premier player – and maybe one day premier actor – is just such a person.

Article by Premier Players

Navy Academy Nominates Myles Fells For Freddie Solomon Community Spirit

Myles Fells is known among his Navy teammates and coaches as one who attacks his football and classwork with passion and looks at a turbulent, troubled world with compassion and a yearning to help make it a better place.

In the short term, the senior slotback from Little Rock, Arkansas is preparing to graduate with a degree in political science and commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the United States Marine Corps. He likes the idea of sticking around next season on temporary assigned duty as a graduate assistant coach.

As long as Fells is serving someone or something larger than himself, he is a happy man which is why the US Navy Academy has nominated him for The 2020 Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award presented by The Premier Players Sports Foundation in Tampa, FL.

In the long view, Fells wants to lift and inspire others from a high-profile position of leadership. He talks matter-of-factly about running for public office successfully in his home state. He envisions himself serving the people of his home state as their Governor.

“My main goal is to leave [the world] better than the way I found it,” Fells says. “As I’ve seen things that have happened where I’m from, and as I’ve seen the state of things in various places around the United States, I feel the call to help my community. Life can be better — especially in places like where I’m from.”

There is Fells giving a short and passionate speech at a rally at the state capital in Little Rock. He is venting frustration following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, an incident that angered a nation.

There is Fells, bullhorn in hand, saying much during a snippet of a speech he organized without writing a word down. He estimates he came up with his speech in about five minutes.

“I grew up Black in Little Rock. My mom has had ‘the talk’ with me, about getting pulled over by police,” Fells said, identifying with the cheering crowd that includes many public school teachers and other African-Americans as he relays his own fear.

“I was driving back from a football game, and I got pulled over by three cop cars, for not having a light on. I was terrified,” he continues. “That was the same year [2012] Trayvon Martin was killed — a young Black man who looked just like me. I can’t help but think of my two brothers standing over there. What if it was them? What if it was one of my classmates?

“I couldn’t sleep for the past week, because this is weighing on me. The fact that we have so much traction [protesting racial injustice]…I have hope,” Fells adds. “Do everything in your power to be a strong role model. Continue to educate. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s time to have those conversations. Let’s help the people of Arkansas spread peace around the world!”

The rousing energy behind those words spoken in Fells’ clear and booming voice reflects the same quality he brings to each day on the Yard. Senior slot back C.J. Williams calls Fells “a machine” for the way he works tirelessly on his game and lifts teammates’ spirits. Senior Justin Smith admires how Fells exudes charisma and attracts followers with his need to know things about everyone on the team (Where are you from? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Names?).

As much as they feed off of Fells’ upbeat, day-to-day outlook, the Navy football family marvels at Fells’ mature perspective on a world that has taught him real-life lessons, both heart-warming and tragic.

The son of service-driven parents — his mother, Kecia, is an elementary school counselor and has worked in education for more than three decades; his father, Kenny, is a chemist who processes hazardous waste at a treatment storage and disposal facility two hours south of Little Rock in Eldorado, Ark. — Fells was developing his caring ways, even as a boy barely walking.

“At daycare, Myles was always quick to help the other kids, [for example] by picking up a bottle when one would drop it,” says Kenny Fells, who was drafted in 1986 as a running back by the Washington Redskins. “His work ethic was just different than most kids his age. I’ve told him since elementary school he’s a natural-born leader. People look to him, flock to him.”

Up until nearly middle school, when he attended Pulaski Academy in West Little Rock, Fells lived in the John Barrow section of the city, a neighborhood stricken by the twin scourges of drugs and violence.

The family then moved about 20 miles outside of Little Rock and lived on five acres that represented the picture of safety and security. The boys — older brother JaRon, now a nurse in Oklahoma City, and Morgan, a junior at Joe Robinson High School, Myles’ alma mater — commuted to school in Little Rock.

For financial reasons, Kenny, Kecia, and Morgan moved back to Little Rock after Myles had started his journey in Annapolis. Last spring, when the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, students all over America took to online learning at home. Myles went back to his old neighborhood in March, where he would remain for several months, before returning to Annapolis.

While living back in Little Rock, the killing of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police touched off the nationwide discussion and demands for racial justice in America. Fells says he attended at least half a dozen protests, against the wishes of his worried mother.

“I asked my mother do I want to look back on this time and be someone who played it safe, or do I want to be a guy who made his voice heard?” Fells recalls. “Do I want to tell my kids one day I was out there trying to help or did I run and hide? So many people have been there to help me. I’ve got to help as much as I can.”

One of the things that spurred Fells on to make his speech at the state capital was a terrible run of local tragedy that touched him. Over about 10 days, Fells says five young men whom he’d known as a youth died — four by gunshot, one by opioid overdose.

“I didn’t notice how bad things were when I was younger living in the J.B. neighborhood — the killings, the robberies, the drugs,” Fells says. “We’ve seen shootings, heard gunshots.”

“Myles has been through and seen some things that a lot of us haven’t seen or been through. He’s got a perspective and wisdom a lot of us don’t know,” says Ken Niumatalolo, Navy’s 13th-year head coach, who believes Fells will be an exceptional leader in the military and in politics, should he eventually choose that path.

“[Fells] doesn’t make speeches often, but the guys perk up when he talks,” Niumatalolo adds. “He speaks the truth, [with] no ill will, the best intentions. He’s one of the most respected people on our team because he has a great heart. He’s done a lot of selfless things for our team without complaining. He’s a really good football player. Myles is also one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.”

“Myles is the type of teammate that keeps your head above water, keeps you level-headed and seeing the big picture,” says Smith, who adds Fells helped him to let go of his frustrations as an offensive performer and to embrace his effective roles on Navy’s kickoff, kickoff return, and punt return teams.

“I come from an opposite sort of background in Virginia Beach, compared to the situation Myles comes from. But he doesn’t run away from challenges or adversity, he attacks them head-on,” Smith adds. “He’s got friends who are in jail or have died due to the violence in Little Rock. He’s never satisfied with the way things are. He’s a born leader. I’ve seen examples of it around our team for a long time. He doesn’t do fake energy.”

As an outstanding student-athlete, Fells’ talent on and off the field blossomed in high school, first at Pulaski Academy over two seasons. As a sophomore, he led Pulaski in rushing on a team that won the Class 4A state title. But Fells tore his ACL in the state semifinals and could not play in the title game.

After having knee surgery, Fells transferred to Robinson High in the fall of 2015. He struggled with the knee and wasn’t the same player, but he re-committed to rigorous training and weight lifting to prepare for his senior year. And Fells came into his own in new ways academically.

He was chosen to represent Robinson as a rising junior at Boys State, a week-long camp and immersive program in civics education, operated in part by elected public officials and complete with governing bodies. Fells responded tremendously to Boys State’s focus on participation and personal experience and its design that mirrored the government’s operation in Little Rock.

Fells was chosen by Boys State officials as Governor of Arkansas at Boys Nation.

“Myles has always had this overarching idea of justice and standing up for what he believes is right,” says Damian Patterson, a career educator in Arkansas who coached and mentored Fells as a youngster. “His drive to be successfully kept pushing him in football and he’s driven to serve, just like the people he’s been around.

“We’ve talked a lot about pushing the envelope to change policies and not letting it get too emotional. Be calm and deliberate in your actions,” Patterson adds. “Myles exhibits all of those things. I tell him he’s not responsible for the fate of Black America, just do his piece. When he came back home during Covid, I told him he would be the first Black governor of Arkansas.”

While the knee injury scared off numerous Division I schools recruiting Fells — Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Memphis among them — Navy wanted him by the middle of his senior year in early 2017. By then, Fells was hitting on all cylinders.

He was a two-way starter in football, and shined on both sides of the ball, as Robinson reached the quarterfinals of the state championship tournament. Fells rushed for 928 yards and 14 touchdowns, had 240 yards receiving and seven more scores, but startled everyone by his prowess on defense as a first-time starter at LB, where Fells led 4A with 115 tackles, including 20 tackles for a loss and four sacks.

Fells was one of three finalists for Arkansas Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, as a senior, he led 4A in scoring in men’s soccer, after going nearly a decade without playing the sport. He served as captain of both teams that year.

And after not expressing much interest in running for Class President as a senior, a Robinson administrator urged him to give a speech with the rest of the competitors in the school auditorium, before the vote was held. Fells was the last person to speak. He was voted Class President.

“He is the type of kid everybody gravitates to,” says Tyler Updegrove, who coached Fells at Robinson. “You watch him play, you want to play harder. And you see he truly has a heart for other people.”

Fells has started every game for the Mids in 2020. He has averaged 7.3 yards on 19 carries, caught a career-long, 73-yard touchdown pass, and thrown a slew of crisp blocks.

And those close to Fells are waiting to see how far this born leader takes that part of his game. Kenny Fells gets emotional when he imagines what his son can become.

“If it’s something he wants, you’re not going to stop Myles,” he says. “He’s sitting on the verge of greatness.”

Article provided by US Navy Academy

Notre Dame Nominates DL Daelin Hayes For Freddie Solomon Community Award

Notre Dame has nominated defensive lineman Daelin Hayes for the 2020 Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award because of his leadership on racial injustice and inequality. He serves as part of the football program’s unity council, which took the initiative to help register the entire team to vote in November. He has also served as a voice for those efforts and a commitment to health and safety, joining programs like NBC’s The Today Show to speak on behalf of the team.

Daelin organized a rally in honor of Juneteenth on the Notre Dame campus. Most of the team had returned to campus by June 19, but they were the only students on campus and had not yet started on-campus workouts as they were awaiting the first round of COVID test results. While many had participated in protests or marches at home following the death of George Floyd, the players had not yet had the opportunity to make their voices heard together. Daelin led the charge in organizing the event in roughly 72 hours. In addition to his speech, prayers were offered by University president Rev. John Jenkins and teammate Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, while teammate Max Siegel II and head coach Brian Kelly also spoke. That was followed by a unity march through campus.

Prior to his recent work, Daelin has been actively involved in the Robinson Community Learning Center, an educational initiative jointly operated by the University of Notre Dame and the Northeast Neighborhood residents of South Bend. Between classes at the Center and outreach to community schools, the Center reaches over 8,000 children in the Greater South Bend area annually. Daelin taught a twice-weekly class last fall at the Center, working with 4th & 5th graders on how to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner.

Daelin is also a leader at team community service events, including Shop With A Player (team members take children from local schools and the Pokagon Band shopping for Christmas presents), Football & The Force charity softball game between Notre Dame football and local law enforcement officers, Saint Mary’s College Dance Marathon to benefit Riley Hospital for Children, and Roof Sit to prevent child abuse in St. Joseph County.

Other volunteer efforts include Food Bank of Northern Indiana (weekly in 2018), South Bend Center for the Homeless (weekly 2018-19), Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County (weekly in 2018), Facilitator at Notre Dame Summer Bridge Program (2019) helping new freshman student-athletes begin at college, Kindness to Prevent Blindness helping underprivileged youth get eye exams and glasses, Ambassador for Irish Strong mental health initiative for student-athletes, a representative for Fighting Irish Fight for Life program which sees teams adopt children fighting a rare disease, volunteer to read weekly at Studebaker Elementary School (first graders) and mentor at the South Bend Juvenile Detention Center.

Freddie Solomon played his college football at the University of Tampa (Florida) and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins for three seasons before joining the San Francisco 49ers where he helped win two Super Bowl championships.  His career in the National Football League as a wide receiver came to a close after 11 years.  Then the Sumter, SC, native known as “Fabulous Freddie”, came back to Hillsborough County (Tampa) to make a more lasting impact.  Solomon devoted the next 12 years of his life to the youths of Tampa Bay, working with the Sheriff’s department to teach kids life lessons through football.  His efforts impacted more than two decades of youths and his lessons are still carried on in the community.  The Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award continues Solomon’s efforts to help make the world a better place by annually honoring a collegiate football player who has impacted the lives of others through giving and community service.

Information provided by Claire Kramer
Notre Dame Athletics

Washington QB Alex Smith Beats All Odds & Returns To The Gridiron

You would have to walk through many NFL locker rooms before finding a premier player as resilient and unwilling to let his career go as Washington football team quarterback Alex Smith. In many ways, Smith has battled the NFL odds his entire career, but those odds looked to have caught up to the signal-caller back in 2018 when he suffered one of the more brutal lower leg injuries in the history of the game.

At 34-years-old, when the injury happened, no one would have blamed Smith for hanging up his cleats and calling it a career. However, this premier player is one who lives for the game, and his inspirational return to a starting quarterback position is one of the few positives to take from a year that has tested our ability to be positive and inspiring like Smith.

In a game against the Houston Texans on November 18, 2018, Smith was sacked by the Texans’ pass rush. It looked like a routine football play right until the point where Smith couldn’t get up and was clearly on the ground in agony. The sack – and how the players fell – had caused a compound fracture of both the tibia and fibula in Smith’s right leg. The injury itself was a big enough deal to come back from – but initially, things only got worse from there.

Smith soon discovered a flesh-eating bacterial infection in his leg. This issue – which is every bit as painful as it sounds – means that to get to the point of strapping on his helmet against the Detroit Lions on November 15, 2020, Smith will have undergone a total of 17 surgeries on his left injury. The comeback should have been impossible – Smith has to wear a titanium brace on the leg for protection because of the amount of soft tissue he lost – but the former Utah Ute wouldn’t let outside forces tell him that it was time to retire.

Football was so far away from the realm of possibility for Smith at one point that quotes from the period in question are hard to believe. This quote – per ESPN – from Washington team physician Dr. Robin West speaks to just how serious the situation was for this premier player. “We’re doing the best we can.”, said West. “And right now, our first priority is we’re going to save his life. And then we’re going to do our best to save his leg. And anything beyond that is a miracle.”

Smith is a miracle. He overcame sepsis – a condition where the body fights itself by releasing chemicals into the blood to stave off an infection that can cause organ failure – at a point where doctors considered a lower leg amputation to save his life. From there, Smith has worked and worked and refused to let this be the end. His rehab partly took place at a military facility because his injury was considered bad, as some seen in combat. The environment helped Smith with the inspiration to keep fighting and keep working, justifying that if people worked that hard to come back from war wounds, he should do the same after a football injury.

“So for me, certainly having the ability to go down to San Antonio and be around a lot of our servicemen and women that were severely injured protecting this country,” Smith said. “And making the ultimate sacrifice for us and how humbling that is to be around these men and women that have toed the line and how much, how real that is.”

The work has paid off. Smith will play every snap for the rest of 2020, knowing that each one is a blessing given a career that began as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft – and that has seen him named as a three-time Pro Bowler – could have ended so differently without his will and determination to get back on the field.

Article by Premier Players

Premier Players Who Can Quickly Impact Their NFL Teams

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone and it was a strange old beast. Watching the premier players of college football be picked while sitting at home in their basements instead of being in the green room at the draft was a pretty surreal experience that maybe gives an inside peek into our new normal of sports for the foreseeable future.

As the only show in town – and basically the world – this draft was always going to get more attention than normal, something that isn’t easy for what is already a show-piece event on the calendar. A total of 32 premier players were plucked from the college ranks on Thursday night for Round 1, and here are five picks we at Premier Players look forward to seeing on the field:

Pick 1:  Joe Burrow, Quarterback, LSU/Cincinnati Bengals
Sometimes the key to a draft is not to over think it. That is what the Bengals did here as they took the guy who was the best player in the FBS (football bowl subdivision) last season. Burrow threw for an insane 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns in 2019 and by not trading out of this pick the Bengals have their successor to Andy Dalton for the foreseeable future.

Pick 5:  Tua Tagovailoa, Quarterback, Alabama/Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had a direct choice between Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert of Oregon who went one pick later. Dan Marino was the last Pro Bowl QB the Dolphins had and they swooped on Tagovailoa who was the prospective No. 1 pick in the draft before the 2019 season unfolded. If Tua can stay healthy he has all the intangible traits of a premier player to go with his football and leadership skills.

Pick 7:  Derrick Brown, Defensive Tackle, Auburn/Carolina Panthers
The Panthers sat at No. 7 and came out of the first round with the best run stopper in the entire draft. Brown is a monster of a player who routinely saw teams in college game plan against him by running all their plays in the opposite direction. His partnership with Pro Bowler – and pass rush DT specialist Kawann Short – is going to be exciting to watch.

Pick 13:  Tristan Wirfs, Offensive Tackle, Iowa/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The least sexy pick in the first round gives the Bucs a premier player to protect their soon to be 43-year-old QB. Wirfs is a classic Big 10 offensive line prospect, a player with no flash and no question who will knuckle down to work on his first day of minicamp and occupy a spot on the Bucs line for the next decade.

Pick 17:  CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma/Dallas Cowboys
The big question about this draft in five years may revolve around how a wide receiver with the talent of Lamb slid all the way down and into the lap of the Cowboys at No. 17? Lamb had 32 touchdowns in 41 games with the Sooners and while the Cowboys seemed set at wide receiver, the value with Lamb was just too high for Jerry Jones to pass on.

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Three Premier Players To Watch In 2020 NFL Draft

The 2020 NFL Draft will be held in a sports vacuum unlike anything we have ever seen before. The draft – which was moved from a grand Las Vegas event to a bunch of teams drafting from war rooms that we can only assume are in the owners’ basements – does at least give sports fans something to watch and look forward to at a time where there isn’t much of anything going on. This is abundantly clear by the amount of money being wagered on the draft by sports bettors with nothing else to throw their money at.

The premier players that made the 2019 college football season such a delight will find their names called over the next few days. We have already picked out some athletes who will make a difference in the NFL – the likes of Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Chase Young.  However, here are three more premier players to watch out for (in our eyes) over the course of the draft.

Lynn Bowden – WR – Kentucky

Lynn Bowden was a high school quarterback that was about to break out as a wide receiver for Kentucky this season before injuries at QB forced him back to his old position. Bowden is a dynamic Swiss army knife of a premier player that – in the right system – will be a machine. He is a player that will take on any role to help his team win and even at the NFL level he will be one of the more dangerous mismatches on the field wherever he lines up.

Jordan Love – QB – Utah State

Love is a premier player who has polarized draft experts through this whole process. His best fit will be with a team where he can sit for a year and learn – maybe the New Orleans Saints? – before exploding onto the scene in his second year as a pro. Love led the entire Football Bowl Subdivision in interceptions last year, but his upside is huge and there is going to be a team that falls in love with Love and his unique skill set that features elite athleticism for the position.

Kenneth Murray – LB – Oklahoma

Watching an Oklahoma game last year when their defense was on the field was basically like watching The Kenneth Murray Show. Murray is a beast of an athlete – he has those long arms that scouts love and runs a 4.52 40-yard-dash at 6’2″ and 245 pounds – and he would be a scheme fit for any number of defenses looking for a tackling machine with unlimited range. If explosive, play-making linebackers are your thing – and they should be – then watch where Murray goes on draft day as he will be in impact player from this first snap in the league.

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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.

Article by Premier Players