House-call Hardman: The Chiefs Secret Weapon.

By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most stacked offences in the league, if not the most stacked.

Asking someone to name off their weapons would be like asking the Army to name all of theirs; they’d get half-way through and you’d already know that you were going to lose.

Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, Damien Williams; the list goes on and they really do seem as dangerous on paper as on the grass of the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami where they will face up against the equally impressive San Francisco 49ers for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy.

But despite all the big names on their roster, and despite all the first-round picks on the 49ers defence, there is a certain name you should be looking out for as soon as that ball is kicked off on the 2nd February.

Mecole Hardman.

A second round pick out of Georgia this last year, Hardman’s explosive rookie season has seen him go to the pro-bowl as a returner, and as I’ll explain, may take him to Super Bowl MVP.


Return to sender


Hardman’s impact as a return specialist has been incredibly impressive in just his rookie season.

You can expect the Pro-Bowler to attempt to affect field position and even cause some danger to the end-zone in Miami as Hardman has a serious chance to be the first player since Devin Hester to return the opening kick-off of a Super Bowl for a touchdown.

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Stan Szeto/UAS TODAY Sports

The Chiefs not only lead the post season in return yards with 247, but also post the highest average return of any team that featured in the Championship round.

The 49ers gave up 148 kick return yards to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round, so the possibility of breaking a big runback is there for Hardman who ranked highly in all returning statistics this season.


A helpful alternative


Mecole Hardman’s fairly lowkey status may also be of huge assistance as he shoots to become the Chiefs main Super Bowl weapon.

With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce likely to be doubled by the 49ers defence, there is space for an alternative threat to emerge for Andy Reid’s offence.

Image result for mecole hardman travis kelce tyreek hill
Abbie Parr/Getty

Hill will be in crosshairs come game time after his performance in the AFC Championship meaning that he may see coverage rolled his way by Niners DC, Robert Saleh.

And as for Kelce, well you can expect to see him struggle in Florida as well, as the 49ers gave up just 552 receiving yards to Tight Ends in the regular season, the fewest of any team.

Kelce suffered a similar fate vs the Tennessee Titans as he saw chips and bracketing galore in an attempt to slow him down, which worked.

These techniques used by opposing DC’s to prevent the Chief’s main weapons often give up some space to players like Hardman to make a name for themselves, or indeed Sammy Watkins who ended up over 100 receiving yards last time out.


Slotting into place


Both at the University of Georgia and indeed as a Chief, Hardman has done much of his business from the inside the hashes.

37% of his season has been spent trying to take advantage of the slot and the people who defend it, and it has been fairly successful as Hardman collated 6 receiving touchdowns in his debut campaign.

Image result for mecole hardman lined up
Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

This week he is likely to face up against Slot Cornerback K’Waun Williams who had a good game against the Green Bay Packers and specifically Allen Lazard.

The challenge for Williams this week is the incredibly rapid Hardman, who times in over a quarter of a second faster over 40 yards (4.33 to 4.58) than Williams and posts far higher agility and speed scores, per PlayerProfiler.

The 2019 49ers defence for all its dominance, have given up 50+ yard and one touchdown receiving games to both Tyler Lockett of the Seattle Seahawks and Pharaoh Cooper of the Arizona Cardinals.

Of all the players to have returned against the Niners, interestingly these two post the hights snap share in the slot, 50% and 67% respectively, all of which could be pointing to an area of small weakness for Andy Reid to try and use.


Rushing to conclude


If I hadn’t already convinced you to back Hardman at the Hard Rock, then just give me one last chance.

Any college football fans will probably recall, the 2017 National Championship between Alabama and Georgia, but what you might not remember is Mecole Hardman having over 130 all purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Image result for mecole hardman georgia vs alabama
Jamie Squire/Getty

Apart from preventing concerns that Hardman struggles to perform when the lights are bright and the pressure is on, his rushing touchdown in that game on a Jet Sweep leads me to my bravest prediction.

Andy Reid often takes advantage of trick plays like Jet Sweeps and motions from his receivers like Tyreek Hill’s first touchdown of the Championship game.

He has only rushed Hardman four times this season, preferring Hill for this duty, which if I’m not mistaken, is setting us up for an attempt or two in the big game for number 17.

Hardman may just end up with a rushing touchdown to match the 150 all purpose yards and a receiving touchdown that i’ll be betting on him to have.

Preseason Positional Top 5’s: Offense

With College Football right around the corner, it’s time to update my top 5 player rankings at each position (draft eligible players only). 

Since I released my first rankings, I’ve watched a heck of a lot more tape and feel much more in touch with this draft class than I did in June. However, we are still waiting for Saturday and the first snap of a live football in many months and there will be plenty of movement between now and April 23rd 2020 in Las Vegas. 

So, here we go with the offensive side of the ball… Enjoy!

Quarterbacks

  1. Justin Herbert, Oregon (-) 
  2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (-) 
  3. Jake Fromm, Georgia (-) 
  4. Jordan Love, Utah State (New Entry) 
  5. Khalil Tate, Arizona (-) 

Same top 3 as back in the early summer and for now, that feels pretty set. I still have Justin Herbert top of the pile with Tagovailoa closely behind; I have these two in the top tier.

Jake Fromm is in the second tier on his own and after that I think it gets pretty messy when it comes to draft eligible players – I really don’t feel a lot towards many of this senior class.

I do feel quite a lot for Jordan Love, on the other hand. I think he’s the best group of 5 QB in college football – You could say I have a lot of love for Jordan.

Running Backs 

  1. Travis Etienne, Clemson (-) 
  2. D’Andre Swift, Georgia (-) 
  3. J.K Dobbins, Ohio State (-) 
  4. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (-) 
  5. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt (-) 

No movement here at all. This is a very fun running back class, one that I’m really looking forward to watching this season.

Eno Benjamin of Arizona State and J.J Taylor of Arizona are 6 and 7 for me right now. 

Wide Receivers 

  1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama (-)
  2. Laviska Shenault, Colorado (-)
  3. Collin Johnson, Texas (-)
  4. Tee Higgins, Clemson (-)
  5. CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma (-) 

No change here amongst my wideouts. This class is excellent, no two ways about it. There’s plenty of scope for change here as the season progresses because I could quite easily have gone and named a top 10 and probably still felt like I left some guys out. 

Tight Ends 

  1. Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt (+1)
  2. Albert Okweugbunam, Missouri (-1)
  3. Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma (+1)
  4. Colby Parkinson, Stanford (New Entry) 
  5. Hunter Bryant, Washington (New Entry) 

I was fairly down on this class on first viewing but I’m now a little more positive. I like the match up issues that Bryant and Parkinson could cause this season and therefore, their potential. 

Offensive Tackles 

  1. Andrew Thomas, Georgia (+2)
  2. Tristan Wirfs, Iowa (-1)
  3. Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn (New Entry) 
  4. Lucas Niang, TCU (New Entry) 
  5. Trey Adams, Washington (-) 

This is a good group of offensive tackles. Thomas and Wirfs are in the top tier but I love the potential of Tega Wanogho and Niang so again, there’s potential for that too tier to become more bloated as we move through the season.

Again, still rooting for Adams to blossom after injuries in his past. 

Interior Offensive Line 

  1. Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin (-) 
  2. Tre Smith, Tennessee (-) 
  3. Darryl Williams, Mississippi State (-) 
  4. Shane Lemieux, Oregon (New Entry) 
  5. Jake Hanson, Oregon (New Entry) 

Still not a huge fan of this interior offensive line class but after watching the Oregon unit, I certainly feel much better about it than I did in June!!

I actually feel like they’re the best unit in the country… Shame on me for taking so long to watch them. 


Check back on Wednesday for the defensive rankings. 

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Follow Lee on Twitter @Wakefield90

SEC Preview by Tom Borrett

The SEC Preview

The Southeastern Conference, where do I begin? I mean, it just means more right? Both the West and the East are absolutely stacked with talent. 11 of the 13 teams went bowling last year, six teams are present in the CFB coaches’ top 25 preseason rankings and results last year show that anyone can beat anyone on their day. We have a vast amount to get excited about this season; multiple players who will be competing for the Heisman, Coaches hoping to prove they now own their programmes and can produce the results needed, as well as talented players joining the conference through the transfer portal. 

Sooo many questions…

Will Alabama and Georgia meet in the conference decider again? Can Jake Fromm finally take the Bulldogs past the Crimson Tide? How will Kelly Bryant perform going home to Missouri? Will Jimbo and the Aggies be able to safely navigate their way through their extremely tough schedule? Can Auburn and Florida live up to expectations and challenge this year? Will Joe Burrow and the offense at LSU be able to produce the same quality produced by their awesome defence? Can Kentucky back up 2018 without Josh Allen & Benny Snell Jr? Will Coach Muschamp deliver in his fourth year at SC? I could go on for hours… but let’s get into it  

Looking back at 2018

So 2018 was dominated again by those boys from Tuscaloosa. Alabama won the SEC West and went 14-1 with their only loss coming to Clemson in the National Championship Game. Georgia gave them a close-run SEC championship match-up where Alabama needed an intervention from back-up QB Jalen Hurts to take the OT win, but apart from that, no one in the SEC really looked like challenging.

Elsewhere in the West there are notable mentions for LSU and Texas A&M, not only because they treated us to a 72-74, seven OT thriller but they finished second and third respectively. Both finished with conference records of 5-3, LSU didn’t lose a non-conference match and also defeated the 25-0 UCF Knights in the Fiesta Bowl whilst TAMU finished nicely with a four-game win streak.

Over in the East, Georgia dominated, (apart from that championship game against Bama and their away loss in Baton Rouge) they made light work of the rest of the conference. Georgia went 7-0 at home last season plus Jake Fromm firmly confirmed that the Bulldogs are his team.

Big shout out in the East goes to Florida and Kentucky, both teams finished with a 5-3 conference record like their 2nd and 3rd place equivalents in the West and took some significant scalps along the way. Florida were unbeaten on the road at 4-0 and UK made Kroger Field a fortress going 6-1 with the only loss coming to that strong Georgia side.

Oh… and just to reiterate my point that on their given day anyone really can beat anyone in the SEC, last season; LSU beat Georgia, Texas A&M beat LSU, Auburn beat Texas A&M while Tennessee beat Auburn. Tennessee also beat Kentucky, but UK had a great season and beat Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina. Mississippi State beat Auburn but lost to Florida, and then Tennessee got beat by Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. It’s a madness!

What should you expect for 2019?

I’m coming straight back at you with an Alabama v Georgia SEC championship game, what a surprise…. In fairness there has been a lot of talk about Florida taking Georgia in the East this year however come the Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on November 2 I think the Bulldogs will prove too strong for the Gators. 

Alabama are still the football powerhouse they always have been under Nick Saban, the depth down in Tuscaloosa means even when they lose good players to the NFL guys are lining up and ready to be counted. The have last season’s Heisman Runner-up Tua Tagoviloa returning in the QB spot, Tua told the press at SEC Media day that he is arguably in the best shape he’s ever been in having dropped down to 215lbs from 230lbs before Spring-practice begun. His eye will be set firmly on the National Championship and the Heisman trophy in what will be his last season before heading to the draft.

Elsewhere on the roster there are studs everywhere you turn, Jerry Jeudy is the best WR in the nation in my opinion and if he can have a season with even better stats than 68 receptions for 1315 yds and 14 TD’s he may even put himself in Heisman contention with the pool of talented QB’s around the nation. 

Defensively’ players like Xavier McKinney and Raekwon Davis will keep this strong Alabama defence hard to beat and keep an eye out for LB Dylan Moses, wow, ranked as the no.1 recruit in his 2017 class, Moses will be key to the Bama D. Check out Lee’s article on Supply lines and Alabama LB’s here.

As mentioned, I think they will meet the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship decider. If there is a season that Georgia are going to go all the way, it’s got to be this one, right? Jake Fromm returning, Heisman hopeful, arguably the best leader in the country – Check out my piece on the race to the Heisman here – and with the experience of a National Championship and SEC championship loss in consecutive seasons at the hand of Alabama you’d hope this time he will be able to deliver… third time lucky?

The Bulldogs lost some seriously talented receivers in Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin but in my opinion they have the best O-Line in all of college football. This is going to create space for elite running back De’Andre Swift and five-star recruit Zamir White who was the number one ranked player in High School Football 2018. The O-Line should also allow Fromm a little extra time on the ball to pick out those less experienced receivers. 

Florida were the most improved team in all of the SEC last year and are heading in to year two of Dan Mullen’s reign off the back of a ten-win season. Feleipe Franks has shown us he can throw the football and seemed to be a new, much more confident, man at SEC media day. Whilst I think Franks and the Gators will get the better of many next season, I have Georgia down in Jacksonville on what I’m sure will be the SEC East decider.

Looking back to the West

Both LSU and Texas A&M have strong teams again. Coach O is in Baton Rouge to stay and Jimbo moves in to year two of his programme, but how will they fair?

Firstly I’ll touch on TAMU, despite really liking the Aggie’s I am finding it hard to see them winning the magic 10 games this season. Matches against Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and LSU stand out as to reasons why it may be unfeasible. I think they can definitely get one win out of these four and I have a sneaky feeling it may come against National Champions Clemson. TAMU pushed Clemson very close at Kyle Field last year and they play them early on again this season, if they hit the ground running, they could cause an upset that will have a dramatic knock on effect on the College Football Playoffs. 

When it comes to LSU, well, I think their schedule means they won’t finish top of the West with tough matches against Texas, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M – I certainly don’t think they will win out – However I do think they will be a top ten team this season and with Joe Burrow returning perhaps they do have a recipe for an attack on that top spot… because the LSU Defence is outrageous!

Keep a particularly close eye out for Safety, Grant Delpit – Coach O said at SEC media day that he genuinely believes Delpit is the best Defensive Back returning to College Football and boy does his stats from last season prove it. He had 46 solo tackles, 9.5 for a loss – as a Safety! – 5 sacks and 5 interceptions. He will be a first round NFL pick for sure.

Sleeper team 

There has been a lot of talk about Auburn being the sleeper team in the SEC West but again I think their schedule will prove too tough. They have one of the best Defensive units in the nation with a line led by seniors Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson as well as Junior Nick Coe. 

They are going to have either a redshirt or true Freshman at the helm, personally I think Bo Nix wins the battle this season but whether he has what it takes against an experienced Oregon side and first round NFL prospect Justin Herbert opening day will be another story. They also have to navigate their way past Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. I think their absolute ceiling is 8 wins this year.

For my sleeper pick in the SEC this year you have to look East to Missouri, bold take but I genuinely believe they could be 8-0 before they have to play Georgia and Florida back to back. Mizzou aren’t bowl eligible this year and many players were targeted in the transfer portal… but they remained. Not only did players remain but they have star quarterback Kelly Bryant joining from Clemson who, let’s be honest, has only moved on because a certain Trevor Lawrence seems to be on another planet.

Bryant is going to offer much more than an improved passing game, he’s a dual threat QB who has the ability to take off and make things happen on the ground. If key defensive players like LB Cale Garrett play to their potential, then Coach Odom and Mizzou’s nothing to lose attitude may upset the apple cart this season.

What’s your take on these?

Kentucky obviously had a great season in 2018, they only lost at home once and that was to Georgia and they went on to beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl to top off a successful 10-3 season. This year however, may be a bit of a challenge. Kentucky had five players drafted in to the NFL, that’s the most in one draft since 1979 where eight players were selected. They lost defensive powerhouse and leader Josh Allen who was drafted 7th overall, along with RB Benny Snell Jr who went in round 4. Lonnie Johnson Jr., Mike Edwards, and George Asafo-Adjei made up the five and I simply cannot see Kentucky filling these very big shoes. Kentucky to fall in the rankings this season.

Will Muschamp feels that he has his strongest side to date and as he moves in to his fourth year programme at South Carolina, he now has a full squad of players recruited by him and his staff. One date you should definitely add to your diary is November 30th where the Gamecock’s host rivals Clemson. Muschamp was asked about being the ‘little brother’ now to Clemson and his response was clear – We are not the little brother, OK – don’t miss that one folks.

Mississippi State have a relatively straight forward schedule this year, so I have the over under on wins this year at 7.5. I don’t however think they will be good enough to beat Auburn, LSU, Bama and TAMU so they won’t be in contention in the SEC West.

Help me on the Vols!

Tennessee are driving me mad this pre-season! Obviously, they will hope to be an improved team and I think they could potentially be a surprise package this season. Moving into the second year under Jeremy Pruitt the Vols will be looking to improve on their 5-7 record last year. The only way is up right? Well… maybe not, there is a more-than-likely chance they will lose to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and my sleeper team Missouri… that’s four L’s right there.

But will they? There is a lot to get excited about, they beat Auburn and an in-form Kentucky last season and they have lured in a top-quality recruiting class ranking 10th in the nation. Included in that is Henry To’oto’o who they have stolen from Alabama and they also have Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright who are both five-star offensive tackles. 

Propping up the bottom

Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas…. I’m conscious that this piece is getting pretty lengthy now, so I won’t keep you much longer. For me I can’t see vast improvements at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss or Arkansas, I mean… Arkansas will improve I’m sure after an 0-8 conference record last year, but I think their absolute ceiling is 6-5. Ole Miss are going through a bit of a rebuilding patch and Vandy aren’t getting more than 6 wins. 

To conclude…

Breaking it all down, and making ridiculously early predictions for this season I’m taking;

  • Georgia to win the SEC East
  • Alabama to win the SEC West
  • Georgia to beat Alabama in the SEC championship game. 
  • Tennessee to be the most improved team in the conference
  • Missouri to be 8-0 before playing Georgia and Florida and finishing with 9 wins
  • Texas A&M to beat Clemson (I know that’s technically non-conference)

Thanks for your time in reading this piece, I will be covering the SEC this season so please feel free to tweet me at @BlogsBoz with anything you’d like me to cover.


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Pick It Apart; Johnathan Abram

The Draft is in the books and the dust has settled. But how well did your team do in the first round?

We are taking a look back at every selection in the first round and giving you the lowdown on the pick; Was it a reach? Was it a steal? We’ll tell you and give you the impact for fantasy football….

Pick: #27

Player: Jonathan Abram

Drafted by: Oakland Raiders

Grade: B-

Analysis:

This pick is of course the Dallas Cowboys’ pick that was sent to Oakland for Amari Cooper midway through the 2018 season.

I’m not sure Lee would’ve been so kind on the grade on as few levels. Firstly, the player level. Surprising the Abram was taken here consideringhe was a 2 star recruit, kept transferring back and forth from Georgia to Jones County and finally Mississippi State. Secondly, the positional value. Safeties are not in vogue at the moment in the NFL. It’s all about linebackers and pass rush. The back end… not so much. It’s true in the NFL and in horse fancy dress costumes.

Abram managed to produce in his final year, with a team leading 93 tackles and made the 2018 First team All-SEC. He also had the title of the hardest hitting safety in College. We’ll see about that if he gets a chance to run towards CJ Anderson.

His qualities are more in stopping the run game and many question his abilities to cover for an extended amount of time. He has sideline to sideline abilities and pursuit speed is pretty decent, as told by his 4.45 40 yard dash at the combine. Spending a pick on someone who will want to effectively play as an extra linebacker this high is questionable but with that being said, would actually be a decent tight end match maker. He doesn’t have the greatest vision or playmaking skills, illustrated by just 2 opportunisitic interceptions in College. He also doesn’t look the most comfortable in zone coverage and will be most effective when being used in blitzes or any time he is asked to go forward. He is known also for his leadership skills, something in which Chuckie likes on his team.

Jon Gruden and Mayock obviously have plans for him, as they do Clelin Ferrell otherwise it would be nonsensical to pick him here. He’ll be an instant starter on team lacking on defensive talent (if only they had someone like Khalil Mack..). He’ll be a physical, tough and hard hitting addition to the NFL (which can bring durability concerns) and it’ll be interesting to see how he puts his mark on some opposing players.

Overall, I am not sure the pick here at 27 will be justified and probably could have waited til pick 40 at the very least.

Fantasy Football Impact:

None, absolutely none. Oakland are a poor defence, you wont be drafting them. Maybe some deep IDP league appeal.