Every year the NFL sees players breakout and become stars and fan favorites, either due to being on a new team or just getting the right playing time. With that in mind I’m going to give you my list of player who I see becoming big stars this year and having a breakout year. So if you play fantasy, maybe take a give these guys a look when picking your team.
Drew Lock – QB, Denver Broncos
It seems that Denver may have finally found their guy in Drew Lock, the former Missouri signal caller was taken in the second round of the 2019 draft by the Broncos but unfortunately suffered a broken thumb in the pre-season and was placed in injured reserve in September.
He was cleared for practice mid November and activated to the full roster on November 30th and named as the starter for the game the next day against the Chargers. Throwing for 134 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception wasn’t what people focused on though. In the last 15 seconds of the game Lock lead the Broncos down the field and set up a Brandon McManus field goal leading the Broncos to a 23-20 win in his first NFL start. Lock continued to show his skills and went 4-1 in 5 starts.
Equaling franchise legend and current Broncos GM John Elway for most franchise wins by a rookie quarterback. What makes this more impressive is that it took him 5 games to accomplish this feat. It took Elway 10. This is what makes Lock so exciting, especially if you’re a Broncos fan.
With impressive play and decent stats and provided he stays healthy Lock is going to have a great year with the full 16 games to ply his trade. Oh…and Jerry Jeudy is going to be lining up next to him. Look out for Lock this season…he’s going to be fun to watch.
N’Keal Harry – WR, New England Patriots
After what can only be described as a disappointing rookie year on a struggling Patriots offence N’Keal Harry is going to look to breakout as a legit number 1 target in his sophomore season in New England.
The Canadian born receiver injured his ankle during training in September and was placed on injured reserve until November 2nd when he finally got activated to the full roster. As a rookie Harry played in 7 games for 12 catches, 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Safe to say this was not even close to what harry is capable of.
Going into second year he will be catching passes from fellow sophomore in quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a man who it is reported he has some serious chemistry with…well if reports from Patriots training camp is to believed.
I see Harry putting up double digit touchdowns and close to 1000 yards as he looks to be the number 1 wide out on this new look patriots offence.
Derrius Guice – RB, Washington Redskins
When I say the name Derrius Guice the first word that comes to mind is injury. Not many players have had luck this bad with injuries in recent years which is a shame because Guice is easily capable of being a top running back in the league.
Drafted in 2018 Guice, tore his ACL in his first ever pre-season game causing him to miss his whole rookie season, in 2019 he was once again injured against the Eagles in week 1 of the regular season…and later again when he made his return in November.
So it’s been a tough road for Guice. I watched him play while he was at LSU and believe me when I tell you this bad luck has lit a fire under Guice going into the 2020 season. He’s going to be a serious threat on this offence as sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins needs serious help in the backfield.
Look for Guice to put up double digit touchdowns and 1000+ yards if he manages to stay on the field for the full 16 games.
Teddy Bridgewater – QB, Carolina Panthers
After going 5-0 as a starter while future Hall of Famer Drew Bree’s was injured in the 2019 season Teddy Bridgewater earned his way back to a starting job taking over from a declining Cam Newton.
Teddy has had a somewhat tumultuous path to get to where he is now. Drafted in 2014, 32nd overall Bridgewater struggled to perform at the level he did at college and ended up bouncing to the New York Jets in 2018 and the New Orleans Saints in 2019. He really shined and showed how much he’s grown as a player while filling in for Drew Brees.
Carolina swooped in and picked him up in free agency with and gave him a 3 year $63 million contract. With a full 16 games at the head of this Carolina offence it’s pretty easy to see Bridgewater taking this team to the playoffs.
Ed Oliver – DT, Buffalo Bills
Seeing as Bills quarterback Josh Allen had a massive breakout year last year I figured I’d shout out another great Bills player due to blow up and that’s Defensive Tackle Ed Oliver.
Selected 9th overall in the 2019 draft, Ed Oliver was a highly sort after draft prospect that in my eyes didn’t even get close to touching his potential in his first year in Buffalo with only 5 sacks and 43 tackles.
So look for Ed Oliver to go hard this year and rack up double digit sacks and at least 70 tackles. Also given the way this team is playing look for Oliver to be a difference maker when it comes to the playoffs and his work rate will give a lot of offensive lines headaches.
To follow that I am now going all the way to the other end of the NFL spectrum and reviewing the draft class of the reigning champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
For franchises like the Bengals who need to improve on a poor season, the object of the draft has to be finding the players that can help rebuild and recharge the team and increase the amount of positive results on the field. In the case of the Chiefs, the short-term aim is different – work towards staying ahead of the chasing competition; repeat last season’s success and defend the Super Bowl title.
This is the group that Kansas City fans hope will assist the team in remaining at the top of the NFL.
– Round 1 (#32) –
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB), LSU
At the end of the first night the Chiefs made their opening selection with one of the best picks of the entire round.
There are actually very few offensive systems where it would feel as though Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s skill-set would not be valuable, but placing him in Kansas City’s high-powered offense is a wonderful fit and his large workload throughout the last college season should mean that he will be fine learning pro schemes.
He is the kind of back that is such a fun watch and uses his short and stocky build to full effect with a strong running style, possessing great balance and side-to-side movement – many of his best highlights show him slaloming away from defenders on the move so footwork and vision are both very good. Also has good top speed once he is in open space. Edwards-Helaire is the best receiving running back in the 2020 class and LSU used him on all sorts of routes.
It is this versatility that gives him the potential to flourish early out of the Chiefs backfield, especially on short-yardage downs.
– Round 2 (#63) –
Willie Gay Jr. (LB), Mississippi State
Gay Jr. flew up big boards everywhere by acing his NFL combine performance.
The ultra-athletic linebacker is capable of getting to the football from anywhere and his powerful tackling means he can finish plays very well.
He does look raw in some mental areas of play and needs to find more consistency, but defenders with his athleticism are often preferred by teams in today’s NFL, and the Chiefs took a chance on him in round two. They will hope Gay Jr. is a fast learner – if so, he could see some playing time along the linebacker formation during his rookie year as effort and toughness are certainly not an issue.
A big plus is that he has the traits required to play in the much-coveted hybrid LB role, with the speed to hold up in coverage even against medium and long passing situations.
– Round 3 (#96) –
Lucas Niang (OT), TCU
There is a bit of “boom or bust” about Niang as a prospect, with scouts and analysts rather split on his overall potential pre-draft.
Indeed, I was relatively low on him while evaluating those at the offensive tackle position, yet I would not have been surprised if a team made Niang a second-rounder. For that reason, there could be some good value here if he hits his ceiling in the NFL, it should also be noted that injury concerns would have attributed to his fall to the bottom of the third.
He looks best as a run blocker, showing good instincts, positioning and the ability to force space for his running back to work through. In the passing game, Niang gets set well and is solid enough to develop into a long-term protector for quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs coaching staff will surely have ideas about where they expect Niang to contribute and he will get opportunities to prove himself right across the offensive line as he has a technique suited to both tackle and guard.
– Round 4 (#138) –
L’Jarius Sneed (S), Louisiana Tech
I evaluated and graded Sneed as a safety because that’s where he spent most of his final college season, but many will also have him as a cornerback.
He has a long, rangy style and looks and plays a lot taller than he actually is, with enough speed to react and get to plays quickly that come into his zone – demonstrating the sort of instincts for the ball that you want to see from your safeties.
He is like fellow defensive rookie Gay Jr. in that he will add some aggression and energy to his position group; bringing an all-effort approach to the game that should have the Chiefs’ fanbase warming to him.
Sneed was moved around a lot in the secondary, similarly to the career of Chiefs all-pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, who will no doubt be a mentor to Sneed now that they will compete on the same defense.
– Round 5 (#177) –
Mike Danna (DE), Michigan
Recent years have shown that it is not a bad idea to draft edge rushers from the University of Michigan. Danna was in fact only at Michigan for one season following a transfer and was used sporadically along the D line during his time there.
For a player that looks undersized and whose technique has quite a bit of room for growth, selecting Danna in the fifth round does feel like somewhat of a reach by the Chiefs. He does have good power and a quick first step; as his senior year saw him as a rotational defender you really have to trust in Danna’s strengths.
Kansas City obviously see some things they want to work with here and as they are pretty well set at defensive end, there is no huge rush in terms of developing Danna. He will be a project for a few years and it will be interesting to see if he can progress into a starting role.
– Round 7 (#237) –
Thakarius Keyes (CB), Tulane
The Kansas City Chiefs certainly need to find more help at cornerback this off-season and at this point they traded back into the draft for one last go in round seven.
I think it was a surprise that they waited this far into the draft to select a CB, unless, as mentioned earlier, you are counting the Sneed pick as one at the position. The lack of depth remains an area to address, but taking Keyes here with their final pick is another good value move for the Chiefs.
He has plenty of upside and plays with good speed and physicality – looking comfortable at taking on receivers running a variety of routes on the outside, most effectively in close coverage. Keyes has some nice aggression to his playing style and will fight for a spot in the starting secondary from day one.
The Chiefs faithful should be optimistic about how the organisation went about this draft. In the immediate reviews and analysis, picking Edwards-Helaire became the favourite moment of the first round among many observers. He and Niang could certainly be making plays straight away on the offense as rookies.
The other selections, which all focus on the defensive side, are all developmental players with lots of potential, and Kansas City is the right team for all of them to realise that potential quickly. As these pre-season months for the Chiefs are all about ensuring they stay champions, this draft appears to have been a good way to begin that process.
The key story within the NFL this offseason, COVID-19 aside, has been the contract dispute between the Dallas Cowboys and their star Quarterback, Dak Prescott. The deal, or lack of, has received plenty of attention and speculation, with many members of the media portraying the negotiations as a clash of titans pitting Jerry Jones against the former fourth round pick. With that being said, we’ll look at the ongoing saga and the stage that has been set for the 15 July deadline for long term deals.
First of all, let’s look at the rumour. Reported by Chris Simms, the supposed rejected deal was a 5 year, $175 million contract which would have made Prescott the second highest annual earner slightly behind Russell Wilson. If this report is to be believed, Dak would receive $35 million per year. Simms also claimed the quarterback out of Mississippi State would be roughly on par as the highest earner in guaranteed money in line with the $110 million which Jared Goff received.
Following this claim by Simms, Prescott was met with harsh criticism for declining the proposed deal on grounds he wanted “north of $45 million in his final year”, but on further reflection, the saga may not be as clear cut as this.
The key issue raised with the report of Chris Simms is the source. Prescott and his team were, up until this point, declining the opportunity to discuss with the media. Since this leak was made by Simms, the implication made by Prescott’s agent is that someone, on behalf of ownership or not, leaked a deal to exert public pressure onto Dak during negotiations.
To support this claim, Ian Rapport, an NFL insider, tweeted that both the team and Dak’s agent argue these claims are false and that the key issue is the length of the deal. Prescott wants a 4 year deal, whereas the Cowboys want to settle on a 5 year deal.
Another issue raised with the deal is guaranteed money. If the major contract deals of the past few years are anything to go by, guaranteed money is the key component of any player contract within the NFL. Whilst total figures of contracts appear extortionate, in reality the players usually receive a fraction of this amount depending on performances and injuries.
The annual figure of around $32.5 million to $35 million has been widely agreed as an accurate representation of what the former MSU Bulldog has been promised, and is owed. But the guaranteed money is more hazy. Although Simms claimed Prescott had been offered a similar amount to Goff, at around $110 million, this figure has been refuted since the report of Simms.
Many NFL experts believe the real figure to be much lower than this, leading to the franchise quarterback to reject the deal. Given that Prescott has only earned $4 million from his rookie contract given that he was a fourth round pick, it is only fair that he is now searching for a more attractive payout now.
To summarise what we know so far, a leak from within the Cowboys organisation inflated figures to exert pressure on Prescott to take a deal less financially lucrative. But, in reality, money isn’t necessarily the sticking point in the deal, but more accurately what percentage is guaranteed and the length of the contract.
With that being said, it’s time to look at the stage which has been set. As the 15 July deadline inches closer, will a deal be done? There are plenty of those who doubt an agreement with be made with the two time pro bowler.
It has been argued that if the Cowboys genuinely believed Prescott to be their franchise quarterback he would have been payed last year and that Andy Dalton would not have been signed. Other notable draftees from the 2016 NFL Draft, Jarred Goff and Carson Wentz, were payed last offseason. And in addition to this, Dalton is a starting quality quarterback who could fill in for a disgruntled Prescott.
Whilst these arguments do have some validity to them, I do have my reservations about this case. Firstly, the Cowboys were in another contract saga this time last year with the Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliot who was threatening to sit out the season. Moreover, with regards to Andy Dalton, the move is a logical, precautionary move.
Whilst a side effect of the deal may be pressure put onto the former Rookie of the Year, I don’t believe this to be the sole focus of the deal. Firstly, to be able to sign a starting caliber quarterback to a 1 year $4million deal is an excellent business move. Prescott is yet to miss a game for the Cowboys. Take into account the Steelers’ season in 2019, Jones will be keen to avoid the scenario in which a talented team capable to making the playoffs is derailed by an injury. Prescott will miss a game at some point through injury, it is inevitable. But Jones has planned for this eventuality by signing Dalton.
In all likelihood, and if history is anything to go by, a deal will be made before the 15 July deadline.
Jerry Jones loves a star, and Prescott certainly is one. He has not only become the face of America’s team, but also of the NFL as a whole. As well as this, history shows Jones is willing to arguably overcompensate his star quarterback, as seen with Tony Romo.
Heading into the 2013 season, and with one playoff win under his belt, Jones signed Romo to a 6 year $110 million contract making him a top 3 earner in the league. Likewise, Dak is looking for a market setting deal despite having only 1 playoff win in his professional career as well. And finally, with the organisation in contention for their first Superbowl since 1996, the argument is that Jones would not risk this prospect before the season has even begun due to a dispute with the face of the franchise.
Ultimately, the saga between Prescott and the Cowboys which has lasted nearly a year by now will end one way or another come 15 July. Although I expect Jones to give way on either the percentage of guaranteed money or length, one thing is clear, the NFL is watching. With little else going on and the fact that Prescott will receive either record sums or the opportunity to join a team of his choosing, this is surely set to be a saga which shapes the NFL.
Back in the 1980s the NFC conference dominated the NFL landscape, winning eight of ten Super Bowls, with only the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders twice wrestling away the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the decade’s superior half of the league.
During the 80s two NFC teams achieved a feat that has to this day never been equalled. The achievement was combining for 15 regular season wins and winning a Super Bowl.
Remarkably the other four teams to have won 15 regular season games in a 16 game schedule (introduced out of interest as late as 1978) failed to win, and in some cases even reach the big dance.
They were as follows:
1998 Minnesota Vikings (lost NFC championship to the Atlanta Falcons)
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (lost AFC championship to the New England Patriots)
2011 Green Bay Packers (lost NFC Divisional playoff to the New York Giants)
2015 Carolina Panthers (lost Super Bowl to Denver Broncos)
Before anyone throws their arms up and says what about the 2007 Patriots and the 1972 Dolphins (both who went undefeated in the regular season) please note the small print in this piece, as neither team won 15 regular season games or went on to win the Super Bowl.
We all know the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to stay undefeated in an entire NFL regular and post-season, but they won a combined 17 games, not 19, and the 2007 New England Patriots indeed went 18-0 (16-0 in the regular season) but came unstuck against Eli Manning in the Super Bowl as the Giants came away with all the marbles.
Now I’m not going to explore the triumphs of the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX (1984 season) or Da Bearz in Super Bowl XX (1985 season), instead it’s time to turn the tables and dig a little deeper into the two games that prevented perfection for these two mid-80s powerhouses.
For a world yet to be saturated with mobile/cell phones it was somewhat ironic that Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘I just called to say I love you’ was atop the U.S. billboard charts in the middle of October 1984. Over in blighty the chart topping song was Freedom by Wham, and American football coverage was in it’s infancy on Channel 4.
The reigning NFL champions, the Los Angeles Raiders, fresh from their second Super Bowl win in four seasons, were lighting up the 1984 season early on going 4-0. That streak came to a grinding halt in Week 5 as a 4 yard third period rushing td from Denver Broncos running back Gerald Willhite was the gamebreaker in a 13-16 loss.
Over in the NFC the San Francisco 49ers were drawing the attention of West Coast reporters, but maybe not the rest of the NFLs journalists quite yet.
After four weeks the Niners were undefeated, the first time the franchise had gone 4-0 since 1952, and it was their defense that was garnishing all of the headlines as they streaked to 6-0. In fact between weeks 4-6 the Gold Rush defense, led by punishing defensive back Ronnie Lott, the team allowed a measly 24 points.
This was a team nobly led by Joe Montana, but when he was injured prior to a week 4 contest against the Eagles in Philly it was up to backup Matt Cavanaugh to come in and guide the team to a statement 21-9 victory. Cavanaugh threw three touchdown passes on the day, one to RB Roger Craig.
With the Niners at 6-0 and cruising they started to smell the polish on the Lombardi Trophy, and facing a mediocre 3-3 Pittsburgh Steelers team at home was not an opponent the team feared. Arguably the 49ers were looking to a Week 9 road game in L.A. as their next quality rival.
The 1984 Steelers were not a special team if you used the regular season as a metric to judge their success. They finished 9-7, barely winning the AFC Central over the 8-8 Cincinnati Bengals.
They did astonish the heavily favourited Denver Broncos in the Divisional playoffs before getting punched, kicked and knocked out by the Miami Dolphins in the AFC championship.
Coming from Pennsylvania to California in October would likely have been welcomed by Steelers players and fans alike, but their expectations would not have matched their optimism for some sunshine.
Playing a 6-0 team that won a Super Bowl just three seasons before would not have been welcomed, and the Steelers were a completely different team from the one that dominated the previous decade and won four Vince Lombardi trophies.
Dateline – October 14 1984, Candlestick Park, California.
Having come back from a one week sojourn on the injury list 49ers QB Joe Montana tossed five td’s and zero interceptions in Week 5 and 6 wins, the game against Pittsburgh was seen as a tough but imminently winnable game.
With an average roster the Steelers were remaining competitive in the main because of the winning mentality of their head coach Chuck Knoll, in his 16th consecutive year at the helm. Knoll had gained four Super Bowl wins in the 70s and would go on to coach the Steelers all the way until 1991.
To the shock of home fans the Steelers took a 10-0 lead, behind a first quarter Rich Erenberg 2 yard run and a Gary Anderson field goal. (Side note: It was the very same Gary Anderson that missed a game-winning field goal in the 1998 NFC championship for the 16-1 Vikings.)
Much like he did in Super Bowl XVI, 49ers QB Joe Montana opened his team’s scoring with a 7-yard run to bring the deficit down to three at half-time.
The third quarter was a 0 point slugfest, and it was the 49ers who took the lead in the fourth quarter courtesy of a Wendell Tyler run. Ray Wersching booted the extra-point. Tyler certainly enjoyed 1984 as he made his only Pro-Bowl appearance in 10 seasons as a pro.
The lead wasn’t held for long by the home team as the erratic Steelers QB Mark Malone connected with veteran WR John Stallworth on a six yard pass with under three and a half minutes left. Anderson added the point after.
Unable to counter the 49ers gave the ball back to Pittsburgh and Gary Anderson converted his second field-goal of the game – a dinky 21 yard attempt, that turned out to be the winning score for the black and gold.
The tale of the tape revealed that it was the Steelers running game that was the difference, holding the ball for almost 35 minutes thanks to 47 attempts. 11th round 1980 draft pick Frank Pollard led the team with 105 yards on 24 carries. QB Mark Malone was a paltry 11-18 for 156 yards, but his touchdown pass was the only aerial td on the day. Joe Montana had 241 yards in the air and 29 on the ground in the defeat.
The three-point loss turned out to be the 49ers single blemish on a remarkable season. The following week, a 34-21 win over the Houston Oilers, was the only other time in the whole season the Niners allowed over 17 points in regular or post-season.
Joe Montana went on to lift the Super Bowl and become the game’s MVP, beating the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino. Steelers QB Mark Malone, who prior to the 1984 season hadn’t registered a single victory, finished his career with 23 wins, and one playoff victory (in 1984) over John Elway’s Broncos.
Saying out loud or even typing the words ‘the 1985 Bears’ conjures up an almost mythical sense of nostalgia, evoking memories of Fridge-Mania, Walter Payton and Jim McMahon baring his pasty white posterior to a flying television crew.
Arguably the ultimate defense to ever be assembled, and without doubt the single greatest group of personalities ever to be grouped together on an NFL roster, the Chicago Bears, led by the combination of the outlandish head coach Mike Ditka and the defensive savant Buddy Ryan, began the season hotter than an exploding volcano in a heatwave.
From September until the end of November the team reeled off twelve consecutive wins, few being solid, but most being spectacular displays of defensive prowess, including weeks 7 to 12 where they allowed just 29 points in six games. Just absorb that – 29 points in six games – that’s under 5 points a game in that stretch.
Dateline – Monday December 2 1985, Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida.
Travelling east to Miami was not a common occurrence for the Bears, who were making only their fourth trip to play the Dolphins in their rich history. It was a fixture they had never previously won.
The Dolphins boasted a respectable 8-4 record after 12 weeks, and an unblemished 5-0 home record in the tropical Florida sunshine, the four losses coming on their travels to Texas, New York, Michigan and Massachusetts.
In a year that saw the cinematic release of ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ it was the Dolphins that drew the red stuff first, making the initial cut into the thigh of the Bears, Dan Marino hitting WR Nat Moore on a 33 yard passing score to set an early tone. The score, on the Dolphins first offensive possession saw Marino exploit Bears safety Gary Fencik.
The Bears, led by QB Steve Fuller, starting in place of an injured Jim McMahon, replied straight away, a bomb to Willie Gault helped move downfield quickly, and Fuller carried the rock himself on a 1 yard dive to tie up the game.
Still in the first quarter the Dolphins got to double digits, kicker Fuad Reveiz blasting a 47 yard field goal. With the wind in Miami’s sails they opened up the second quarter scoring with a rushing score from 6thround rookie Ron Daventport. The drive again aided by Nat Moore, who was lining up all over the field, including reps at tight-end.
Bears kicker Kevin Butler got the deficit down to 7, before Miami’s death by a thousand cuts offense, led by the arm of Dan Marino, the coaching guile of Don Shula and the outstanding blocking of the Dolphins offensive line, produced two late second period scores.
Before blinking the Bears found themselves down by 21 at the half as Miami completed a 21 point quarter. Davenport breaking the plane for his second one yard score, and WR Nat Moore capping off one of the single greatest halves of football in his career with a 6-yard TD grab.
Chicago fought back in the third quarter, backup QB Steve Fuller scoring twice in the third quarter, either side of Dan Marino’s third TD pass, a 43-yard laser caught by Mark Clayton, but that was all the Monsters of the Midway could muster.
A scoreless fourth quarter gave Bears fans time to realise that the team that had gone undefeated in the same regular and post-season had just prevented Chicago from pursuing perfection.
Everything that could go wrong in the game did for Chicago, including a blocked punt, a muffed kick-off and a pass deflected by DE Dan Hampton that ended up landing in a Dolphins players hands for a score.
Much like the 1984 49ers, the lone defeat was enough of a splash of icy water on the faces of the Bears players and coaches alike to refocus the team, as Chicago went on to crush their next six opponents, including the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
The Bears and Dolphins were clear favourites to reach the Super Bowl in 1985, but it was division rivals the New England Patriots, who finished third in the AFC East that season but still scraped into the playoffs, who became the AFC representatives.
In the AFC championship the Patriots held the ball just under 40 minutes, rushing for 255 yards, and effectively keeping Dan Marion on the side-lines. Marino’s stat line was an ugly 41% completion rate.
Super Bowl XX was a dominating display by the Bears, but even Mike Ditka regrets not having Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton score on the day, in the 46-10 mauling.
Going 15-1 in the regular season is absolutely no guarantee of winning a Super Bowl. Only one in three teams who complete a 16 game regular season with one cross in their schedule have ended up winning the big dance.
The 1984 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears are historically great teams, the Bears dominating in terms of popularity and misty-eyed greatness.
Both teams played each other in 1984 and 1985, the team that won the Super Bowl winning beating their fellow NFC foe on the way to victory.
The best 15-1 Super Bowl winners? I’ll be controversial here and give the overall nod to the 84 49ers, simply because they were the first to go 15-1 and win a Super Bowl in the same season. The team they beat in the NFC Championship to get to Super Bowl – none other than the Chicago Bears!
Follow me at @F10YRetro for more blasts from NFL past.
Now the draft’s done, we are truly into doldrums of the off-season.
We even have the worry that football won’t return on time in September but let’s shut our eyes, cover our ears and ignore all those worries and focus on your next draft.
There’s more of a buzz around this year’s quarterback class with Joe Burrow being selected #1 overall by the Bengals, another two taken in the top ten and a fourth in the first round.
Compare this to 2019 where the only real notable signal-caller selections were Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins.
Obviously we weren’t to know that sixth-rounder Gardner Minshew was to become a brief moustachioed sensation in Jacksonville or that Drew Lock’s promising end to the season for the Broncos – if you listen to Denver fans – would actually turn out to be the Second Coming of Our Lord and Saviour John Elway.
So to the forthcoming Fantasy Drafts. Are you looking at picking a rookie QB? If so, who? Let’s find out…
Jalen Hurts – Philadelphia Eagles
This was, initially, a surprise pick from The Iggles as they already have a franchise Quarterback in Carson Wentz but this is a player who can’t stay healthy for a whole season and as we saw in the playoffs against Seattle, their current backup of Nate Sudfeld just won’t cut the mustard.
So this ‘Bama/Oklahoma prospect taken 53rd overall had 32 passing touchdowns to go with 20 rushing touchdowns in the 2019 season and the instant comparisons are to Taysom Hill in terms of being a ‘dual-threat’ quarterback.
Will he see many snaps under centre this season? It all depends on Wentz’s health, frankly. A torn ACL and a lower back injury curtailed his 2017 and 2018 seasons respectively before carrying the Eagles to the playoffs last year only to be knocked out of the game after nine snaps by Jadeveon Clowney.
However, as the season goes on I’d not be surprised to see Hurts’ usage increase primarily in the backfield like the aforementioned Hill. In my opinion Hurts will be a good pickup this year for Dynasty leagues. I suspect he’ll be a starter before too long, be it with the Eagles or another team down the line.
Jordan Love – Green Bay Packers
If Eagles fans were stunned by their team picking up a Quarterback rather than a receiver, then imagine how Cheeseheads felt when the Packers – with their first round pick – didn’t select a receiver to give Aaron Rodgers a target other than Davante Adams but picked his replacement instead!
Make no mistake, the clock is ticking close to midnight on Rodgers and Green Bay’s relationship and if Green Bay find themselves below .500 come December will it be time for Wisconsin to feel the Love Generation?
Tua Tagovailoa – Miami Dolphins
Much like the actual draft, Tua could be someone who could go anywhere in Fantasy Dynasty Drafts. Will he be the great leap forward for the Dolphins who showed signs of life in December under Brian Flores’ supreme coaching?
I’m not so sure we’ll see as much of Tua as we’d like this year, the injury record is obviously much discussed and whilst it isn’t something that concerns me as much as it does others, I do think that Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starting QB in September.
However…Looking into the future I like what Tua will bring to the Dolphins and the increasing amount of weapons available to him – combined with his running threat – intrigues me.
I’m not saying he’s going to put up Lamar Jackson style numbers but with a lot of investment in the offensive line through the draft and also some free agent additions from the Dolphins is giving the ‘Bama alumnus the best possible chance to succeed. It may not be instantaneous but I expect Tua to be a reliable Fantasy player from 2021 onwards.
Justin Herbert – LA Chargers
I view Tua as having more upside than Herbert but his higher ranking here is down to being an immediate starter in LA, I don’t feasibly see Tyrod Taylor being the starter unless Herbert suffers a pre-season injury.
On the theme of injuries, this is another reason why I have Herbert above Tua. Whilst I would not be scared to draft Tua, I would err on the side of caution between Herbert and Tua in a draft this summer and pick the Oregon signal-caller.
Additionally, the fact that Herbert will be throwing to Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and screens to Austin Ekeler means he’s going to be putting up good numbers on a weekly basis from the opening weekend.
With the Chargers sharing a division with the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders they are going to need to score and score quickly to keep up. This should be enough for Herbert to not only be one of the better Fantasy Rookie QBs this year but I think he could be threatening the top ten of all QB scoring.
Joe Burrow – Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are going to be a lot better than 2019 and not just because Joe Burrow is going to be the quarterback although it certainly helps.
The LSU man is going to be throwing to AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, John Ross and Auden Tate. Admittedly the last two are a stretch but are promising receivers, especially if Green ends up being traded.
The consensus is that Joey Small Hands (trademark pending) will be the star of the Bengals for the next 10+ years and good for them, finally getting a quarterback that gives them hope.
On the fantasy side of things, the five receivers mentioned above are going to be a goldmine for Burrow who will no doubt find success with them. He threw for sixty touchdowns last year, an NCAA record. If he gets half of those for the Bengals in 2020 he will not only be a success in Cincinnati but also a success in fantasy.
A week or so ago, it emerged that basketball legend LeBron James, a three-time NBA champion, once considered playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
During the 2011 lockout, James started to train as a football player. Of course, he ultimately stayed with basketball but not before Jerry Jones, the owner of his favourite team, had sent him a contract. James went on to win consecutive NBA championships with Miami Heat in the next two seasons and obviously, it’s all gone swimmingly from then on.
We’ll never know how the 6’9” forward for the LA Lakers would have worked out in cleats and helmet. But it’s fun imagining a successful pro from another sport switching codes to play football, or vice versa.
Some NFL stars could have had promising careers in another sport if they’d chosen to pursue that option. Take baseball, for instance. Many of you will know that Arizona QB Kyler Murray was drafted first overall by the Cardinals in the 2018 NFL Draft, but also ninth in the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics, making him the only player to be drafted in the first rounds of both sports. (The A’s still hold his licence, should he decide to chuck in the whole football thing.)
He wasn’t alone in being drafted by MLB teams and, due to their ability to throw with speed and accuracy, most have been quarterbacks: John Elway, Dan Marino, Michael Vick, Colin Kaepernick, Johnny Manziel, Matt Moore and Jameis Winston were all drafted in both sports. Russell Wilson was drafted by two MLB teams and even TB12 himself, Tom Brady, was selected by the Montreal Expos.
To a man, they opted for football and the rest, as they say, is history. But what about those players that did switch to or from the NFL, and hit the heights in both fields? There aren’t many but there are certainly a few worthy of mention.
TONI FRITSCH – SOCCER
Back in the Sixties, Anton (“Toni”) Fritsch was a soccer player in Austria. He made 123 appearances for Rapid Vienna, winning the Austrian League three times and the Austrian Cup twice. He also represented his country nine times, and scored twice in a 3-2 win against England in 1965, earning himself the nickname “Wembley Toni”.
The nippy striker then went on to be the first Austrian to play in the NFL. He was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1971, even though he’d never played the game in his life, and trained to be a kicker – soccer-style kicking was all the rage at the time. His debut season couldn’t have gone any better, with a game-winning kick in his debut against the Cardinals, and the ‘Boys winning Super Bowl VI in early 1972. Given his earlier exploits in his home country, that makes him the only player in history to win professional titles in both association and American football.
His 11-year NFL career took in the San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, and his record of kicking a field goal in 13 straight playoff games remained untouched until Adam Vinatieri equalled his feat in 2007.
Fab fact: Fritsch is credited with introducing the “rabona” (where the kicking leg wraps around the back of the standing leg) to the NFL. He used it to take an onside kick in a 1972 Divisional playoff game against the 49ers, helping to seal a historic 30-28 victory.
BO JACKSON – BASEBALL
Vincent “Bo” Jackson is the only athlete in history to be named an All-Star in both baseball and football, arguably making him one of the greatest of all time. And his achievements are all the more impressive when you consider he played both sports pretty much simultaneously.
Having won the Heisman Trophy in 1985 while at Auburn, Bo was drafted as the first overall pick by the Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL Draft. He’d already told the Buccs not to bother; he wouldn’t play for them. And he wasn’t joking: Jackson turned down the five-year, $7 million contract in favour of a shorter, cheaper deal with MLB outfit the Kansas City Royals.
He eventually joined the Los Angeles Raiders as a running back a year later, having agreed with owner Al Davis that he could report in once the baseball season was over. He made it to LA by Week 8 in his rookie campaign, playing in seven games and scoring six touchdowns, three of which came against the Seahawks in Week 12. His 221 rushing yards that night, just a month into his fledgling NFL career, is still a Monday Night Football record.
He managed 10 games in 1988 (580 yards, 3 TDs), 11 in 1989 (950 yards, 4 TDs) and, despite a curtailed 1990 campaign, Jackson was selected to the Pro Bowl. All the while, Jackson turned out for the Royals, as well as the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels, hitting 141 home runs over eight seasons and earning All-Star status in 1989.
A hip injury ended his football career in 1991, after just 38 games, but after a hip replacement, he managed to prolong his baseball career until 1994.
Fab fact: Jackson’s Nike endorsements included the “Bo Knows” campaign for the first Nike Air trainer, in which he plays a range of different sports.
WILLIE GAULT – ATHLETICS
NFL fans of a certain age, myself included, may (just about) remember Willie Gault as a wide receiver and kick returner for the Bears (1983–87) and Raiders (1988–93). Gault, picked #18 in the 1983 NFL Draft, was a member of the Chicago team that defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XX in 1985. In his 11 NFL seasons, he claimed 6,635 yards, made 9 punt returns and 45 kick-off returns, and scored 45 touchdowns.
One of the NFL’s fastest-ever (his personal best for the 100 metres stands at a blistering 10.10 seconds), it should be no surprise that Gault qualified as a member of the U.S. Olympic track team. Alas, it was in 1980 when the United States – among others – boycotted the Moscow Games. Nonetheless, he went on to form part of a world record-setting 4×100 metre relay team (along with Emmit King, Calvin Smith and the legendary Carl Lewis) at the 1983 World Championships.
Fab fact: Gault has also set several world records in veteran categories, including the 100 metres (10.88 seconds) for the 50–54 age group in 2011.
HERSHEL WALKER – BOBSLEIGH
Walker earned a wealth of accolades, including the Heisman Trophy, while at the University of Georgia, and is widely regarded as the greatest college running back of all time. He then began his professional football career with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League (USFL), before going on to the Cowboys, Vikings, Eagles and Giants.
In 12 NFL seasons, Walker scored 84 touchdowns and gained 8,225 rushing yards, 4,859 receiving yards and 5,084 kick-off -return yards, making him the only player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways. He’s also the only NFL player with a 90+ yard reception, 90+ yard run and a 90+ yard kick-off return in one season (1994) and once scored two 84+ yard touchdowns – one rushing, one receiving – in the same game!
But why is Walker worthy of our attention here? Because he joined the US bobsleigh program and competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, as a member of the national team while with the Vikings. Running backs – 200-pound blokes with strong legs and a low centre of gravity – are well suited to being push men, apparently. And competing as the push/brake man in the two-man bob, Walker and his driver Brian Shimer were placed seventh, 0.3 of a second off a medal.
Walker is also a black belt at taekwando and undefeated as an MMA fighter. OK, he only had two fights but still, you wouldn’t wanna mess with the fella!
Fab fact: In 1989, the Cowboys traded Walker to the Vikings for five current players and six future draft picks, making the HWT (Herschel Walker trade) the largest trade in league history.
MARQUISE GOODWIN – ATHLETICS
Some of us know Mr Goodwin as the wide receiver and kick returner who was recently traded to the Eagles from the 49ers. He was initially drafted in the third round of the 2013 Draft by the Bills and to date, Goodwin has recorded 2,323 yards receiving, 468 return yards and a further 89 rushing, and notched 13 TDs. Some of his early seasons in Buffalo were blighted by injury, and he was also crocked in the second half of last year, which meant he missed San Francisco’s trip to the Super Bowl.
Goodwin’s track and field career is a similar tale of “close but no cigar”. In his specialty, the long jump, he won two national college championships, and represented the United States in Junior, University and World Championships, as well as the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where he finished 10th.
After a three-year hiatus, he marked his return to athletics with a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games, but finished a disappointing seventh at the Olympic Trials a year later – so no trip to Rio for Marquise.
In his time, he has also competed in the 60, 100 and 200 metres, and the triple jump.
Fab fact: Goodwin’s career-best long jump of 8 metres 45 centimetres would have been good enough to beat Greg Rutherford and win Olympic gold in London.
DEION SANDERS – BASEBALL
With “Prime Time”, now an analyst for CBS and the NFL Network, we may have saved the best till last. Sanders was successful at football, athletics and baseball at Florida State University, before being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft. He played primarily at cornerback, but also as a kick returner, punt returner and wide receiver.
During his 14-year career, he was named to eight Pro Bowls and made consecutive Super Bowl appearances: Super Bowl XXIX with the 49ers, when they beat the San Diego Chargers, and XXX with the Dallas Cowboys, who saw off the Steelers. He also turned out for the Redskins and Ravens before retiring in 2005. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and named in the NFL 100th Anniversary All-time Team.
“Neon Deion” also had a solid nine-season baseball career, playing as an outfielder for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. He lost his one World Series appearance in 1992, when the Braves lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, but nonetheless, Sanders is still the only person ever to appear in both a World Series and a Super Bowl.
Fab fact: On 11 October 1992, Sanders played for the Falcons against the Dolphins in Miami, then flew to Pittsburgh to join the Atlanta Braves for their National League Championship Series game against the Pirates later the same day. Alas, he didn’t make it out on to the diamond, which rather ruins the story, but I guess his manager wasn’t chuffed with him having played an hour of gridiron as preparation for their big game.
After missing almost the whole 2019 season due to injury Ben Roethlisberger is poised for a big comeback.
While I’m not a fan of this man, he’s undeniably a great player and given the problems the Steelers had with their quarterback situation last year, I’m sure most Steelers fans want to see him back. Even though Duck Hodges is undeniably one of the best personalities in the sport, his play isn’t quite up to scratch.
I’m a betting man so my money is on Big Ben winning the comeback player of the year with the weapons around him.
Todd Gurley – RB, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons landed the former first round running back, giving him a one year deal worth $5.5 Million.
Now this is more of a risky pick given Gurley’s history with injuries, but provided he can stay healthy, Gurley will want to prove what a mistake the Rams made by dropping him the way they did.
The Atlanta Falcons have a ton of weapons going into this season, so look for Gurley to be a big part of this offence and, health permitting, make a big comeback.
Baker Mayfield – QB, Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield was, to put it bluntly, a complete shambles last year. After a record-breaking rookie season Mayfield was poised to come in and bring the Browns their first winning season in years. He sadly flopped. You knew by midseason that hacks like Colin Cowherd were foaming at the mouth watching the Browns struggle to put it together come game time, despite their stacked roster.
The biggest reason for the Browns underperformance was having a first time head coach trying to manage a team full of talent and strong personalities. Oh, and instead of getting an extra piece for their offensive line, they just added OBJ and gave up a first round pick. Never change, Cleveland. Never change.
Mayfield has the talent to be a top tier quarterback in the league, and provided he gets the right attention in camp and stays away from filming so many endorsement deals, I see Mayfield being a serious contender for comeback player of the year in 2020.
Mathew Stafford – QB, Detroit Lions
Until his unfortunate injury last season, Matthew Stafford was looking like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He ranked 8th amongst quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus grading from week 1 to week 9; no small feat.
Now factor in all the weapons this offence has. TJ Hockenson, Kenny Golliday, Danny Amendola and now D’Andre Swift (Top receiving running back in the draft) among others.
If Stafford can start the season strong, and even string together some decent wins for the Lions, there’s no reason we can’t see Stafford take this award home for a second time. Honestly, Stafford has a good a chance as any.
J.J. Watt – DE, Houston Texans
It’s a shame that a man like J.J. Watt has been so unlucky with injuries. One of the best defensive players in the league and, before Aaron Donald came along, probably the best pass rusher, it’s fitting that the only person that can slow down J.J. Watt is J.J. Watt.
Provided he can stay healthy next year as the Texans push for another run at the playoffs, he’s going to be a force. It would be really great to see the former Walter Peyton man of the year award winner add a comeback player of the year award to his collection.
At 31, Watt’s days in the NFL may soon come to a close, so a return to form would be a fitting conclusion to a storied career. Watch for J.J. to leave it all on the field this year if he can stay healthy.
Hello! Brief intro before moving onto the heavy stuff. My name is Michael Lavery, I’m 21 years old and I live in the North of Ireland. All my life I’ve wanted to be a sports journalist or a TV presenter and I’m working towards that right now. The following is somewhat of a drunken word vomit; thoughts and feelings fuelled by a couple beers that I felt would be better in a word doc than in my head. I enjoy writing, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and a joy that I don’t find elsewhere. You can find much shorter versions of these ramblings over on twitter if you wanna follow me @Michaellavery98
I spent 14 years in school. In that time I did all I could. I studied, I was kind, I made friends and I was even Head Boy. Elected as the leading student representative of a school of 1800+ pupils, I was giving speeches to hundreds of students each week and meeting with school governors on the regular (cheese boards and meeting minutes taken – super formal for an 18 year old). I was living an exemplary lifestyle. I had it all right there in front of me, my future, waiting for me to grab it, and then, the exams came.
I failed just about every test I took, missed out on the chance of university and was seemingly back to square one. 14 years down the drain. The schools poster boy had failed all his exams and all eyes were on him, I didn’t know what to do and in a somewhat frenzied state I decided that sticking with my part time job, and moving to full time hours was the answer that I needed.
Two years go by and I’ve started to spend some time in the “real world”. At 19, I was the manager of a new multi-million pound retail convenience store (Fancy wording for a high-tech, modern filling station). A position I achieved through experience alone. I was responsible for everything from rotas to finances, staffing problems to my own 50+ hour week. Skip forward a few months and I’d been on stress/anxiety related sick leave for two months and I’d eventually left my post as manager.
Shortly after, I landed an 8-5, Monday to Friday office job. In the beginning I thought this was bliss. I’d finally found some sort of routine and I was absolutely loving it (My last job had me finishing at 11pm at night and starting again at 5.30am the next morning). But as time went on, and the walls of the office grew smaller, I missed the outside world. I didn’t have a window and the only voice I heard was that of the local radio DJ. The walls became suffocating and I knew I was doing something I didn’t love.
Again, I left my job (snowflake, right?) and spent a while doing literally nothing. I was seeing a lifeline counsellor who was helping me deal with the hardships of the past two years because although the tone of my text may not dictate so, I really had reached the lowest of lows. I gave up all sport, all friendships, all hope. I was in a very bad place.
I don’t want to dwell on that period of my life for too long but thankfully I’ve moved on. To cut a long story short I went back to college, got the grades I needed and come September time I will be moving to Derby in England to study sports journalism. But as is typical with the story of life, nothing is ever easy. Covid has taken centre stage in our lives and everything has ground to a halt. As prep for my uni course, I’ve been writing articles as much as I can. Talking about the NFL and occasionally the XFL and my love for the sport of American Football. The platforms I have been given to produce these articles have been my daily reminder and number one driving force to succeed in this industry. I want to produce high quality, reliable and intriguing content for people to read.
As I speak now I stand face to face with the biggest problem I’ve had to date. How do I practice my trade as a sports journalist when there are no live sports to report on? The answer? Well, it’s tough. I, like many others are feeding off the scraps left to us by the real world and our production is coming mostly through our means of imagination. Many of you will relate when I say that the most fun I (we) have during lockdown is after a few beer and a night spent on the PlayStation with the lads.
The process of writing an article is both time consuming and rewarding, but I love it. I love writing stories which are newly developing or other subjects of which I feel passionate about and I know will resonate with other people. I see myself now as being far past the worst of my darkest days, and now healthily striving on the other side. I’m stretching my legs in a place where I feel comfortable. Not a filling station or an office, but behind my laptop, reporting on the stories I know you want to hear.
When the world as we know it resumes to some sense of normality, I will have to fight for my place again and prove I’m capable of producing high quality content for a worthy platform, and truth be told? I can’t wait. This is everything I have been waiting for since those failed exams in college, so here I am. Ready for the challenge ahead.
I have used this article as a venting method. With the future currently looking so bleak in regards to my profession it’s hard to judge exactly how I should attack it. But with true faith, determination and practice, I know this lockdown won’t have gone to waste. I will have bettered myself compared to those who are entering the same field as me. It is my dream to make a living reporting for the NFL and I will stop at nothing to make sure I get there.
So, what do I do now? Well, I keep writing, I keep producing in the hope that someone sees my work and it takes off to the next level. It’s tough, I know but I am willing to put in the hours and learn my trade so that one day I can become the best at what I do. I am of the heavy assumption that is what everybody at this level strives for? It most certainly is what keeps me going.
From the bottom of my heart, can I just say thank you to everyone who has supported me to this point. Your backing will go further than you ever know and I thank you for that. Thank you for listening to my drunken ramblings and I hope to hear from you all very soon.