College Football

Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft Part 2: Joe Smeltzer's Projections

#1
Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE Texas A&M

Size and speed. That's what makes Myles Garrett a once-in-a-generation type talent. It's pretty much a consensus opinion that Garrett will be taken #1 overall, and if you don't know why, here are some highlights. 
#2
San Fransisco 49ers: Mitchell Turbisky, QB North Carolina
This one is much less of a sure thing than the #1 pick. As a team that went 2-14 last season, the 49ers have a lot of areas that need improving. The consensus is that they will either take Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, or the quarterback, Mitch Turbisky.

I could see San Fran going either way. However, because a quarterback is always the hottest thing to have, I think that will be what will sway them to take Turbisky, who is believed to be the most NFL ready QB in the draft. The 9ers will be of the mindset that it all starts with the quarterback, and if they are the draft a quarterback, it will be Mitchell Turbisky. 
#3 
Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams, Saftey LSU

It is a pretty safe bet that the Bears will take a safety, and the two best in the draft are Ohio State's Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams from LSU. Yes, Adams had a down year in 2016. However, he is still the most "safe" of all of the options at safety. Adams is polished, and he has the potential to make a huge difference for an NFL team. That is what will drive Chicago to take him.  

#4 
Jacksonville Jaguares: Solomon Thomas, DE Stanford
In most other years, Thomas would be the best defensive end in the draft, and if the 49ers decide to take him at number two, I would not be surprised. The 6 ft. 2, 275 pounder is a freak athlete who has to ability to line up in multiple different positions. Thomas is a beast, and Jacksonville will lick their chops if the 49ers do not decide take him. 

#5
 Tennesse Titans: Marshan Lattimore, CB Ohio State 
Yes, 2017 will be another year there are a lot of Buckeyes to choose from, and at the top of the list is the top cornerback in the draft. The 6 ft. 1, 192 pound sophomore is athletic smart, and knows how to wrap, and all of those things will be essential to making him a top five draft choice. Tennesse needs a corner, and Lattimore could well be that guy. 

#6
 New York Jets: Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson
This may come as a surprise. But to me, Watson to the Jets just makes perfect sense. Here is a team that needs something to feel good about, and that is in despreate need for a quarterback. So, putting those together, wouldn't it be a "New York" thing if the national champ went to the Jets? Think about that. 
#7
LA Chargers: Malik Hooker, Saftey Ohio State 

I watched Malik Hooker play in high school. He was pretty good. But I never envisioned that he would turn into a top 10 NFL draft choice, and that appears to be on the verge of happening. Hooker is aggressive, has an eye for the ball, and is a guy who can create a big play on defense at any moment. Experts have compared him to the great Ed Reed, and these highlights will show you why. 
#8 
Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Allen, DT Alabama 

I remember seeing mock drafts during the season that placed Allen at number one, and I could see it. At 286 pounds, the guy is a freak, and he also is a fantastic pass rusher who can line up in multiple positions. As a member of team Saben, Allen has played against the best of the best, so he is ready to be a solid pro.
#9 
Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Barnett, DE Tennesse 

From one SEC defensive lineman to another. This year has a lot of promise for the big boys up front, and Barnett is no exception. Another big man, Barnett has a great first step and is slick enough run around offensive lineman. His combination of size, speed and football IQ would make a welcome addition to Cincinnati, who is looking to have a bounce-back season in the AFC North. 
#10
Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams, WR Clemson

It is agreed upon that the two best receivers in this years draft are Williams and Western Michigan's Corey Davis. I think Williams is the one that will go first. For one, I think he is a safer pick than Davis, as teams feel more comfortable going with a national champion than somebody from a small school. Two, I think Williams is a better player then Davis, and if you watched the National Title game, than you would know what Williams can do. 

#11
New Orleans Saints: Reuban Foster, ILB Alabama 

Another big school guy. Yes, it is possible that Foster takes a hit because of his alleged freakout at the combine. But Foster is still an aggressive, physical speciman who can play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. Also, he played for Alabama, which tends to have some pretty solid NFL talent. 

#12: Cleveland Browns (From PHI): O.J. Howard, TE Alabama

"But Smeltz, shouldn't the Browns draft a quarterback at some point? Well, it wouldn't hurt. But there just aren't that many quarterback options to choose from, and more than likely, Cleveland is going to be in a position to draft a franchise QB again next year. Howard is far and away the best tight end in the draft and could pay dividends when the Brows do get that quarterback. I see Howard as a guy who would start right away and could be an impact player in a short amount of time.  

#13: Arizona Cardinals: Pat Mahomes, QB Texas Tech 

Mahomes is one of those guys that people would argue is a perfect fit for college, but would not translate well to the pros. In most years, that theory would drop Mahomes out of the top 15 and maybe out of the first round. But Arizona needs a quarterback, and there aren't that many to choose from. Mahomes is moble, has a cannon for an arm, and once put up 819 yards of total offense against Oklahoma. Mahomes is certinaly a hit or miss type of guy, and I think the Cardinals will be willing to take that risk. 

#14: Philadelphia Eagles: Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan

As mentioned above, Davis is the second best receiver in the draft behind Mike Williams, and boy, is he fun to watch. Despite playing for a MAC school, Davis is a freak of nature, putting up over 1,500 yards receiving this year to go along with 19 touchdowns. The Eagles need a receiver to help out poor Carson Wentz, and Davis could well be that guy. 

#15: Indianapolis Colts: Hasson Reddick, OLB Temple 

Two in a row for the MAC. The Colts need defense, and this former defensive back who can rush the passer and play in coverage would be a great fit. Temple football is on the legit, baby. 

#16: Baltimore Ravens: Leonard Fournette, RB LSU 

This is possibly my most interesting prediction. Many mocks have Fournette as the top running back in the draft, and some even have him going in the top 10. While I agree that Fournette is the top runner on the board, I don't think the demand for the position is high enough to where he would fit in the top 10, so I have him falling just outside of the top 15. The Ravens are likely to either draft a running back or a receiver, and I think Fournette's value this low in the first round will sway them to make a splash with number 16.


#17: Washington Redskins: Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State

Next to Fournette, either Cook or Christian McCaffery will be selected as the next running back in the first round. I think the Redskins will go with Cook because of his versatility. Not only was Cook an explosive runner while at FSU, but he was also an excellent receiver. I think that versatility and athleticism will sway the Redskins, who are depleted on offense, to take number four with number 17.
#18: Tennesse Titans: David Njoku, TE Miami

I like Tennesse's future,  and I think they could compete for a wildcard spot in 2017. With Delanie Walker getting older and Anthony Fasano moved on to the Dolphins, a tight end would make sense for Tennesse in round one. With O.J. Howard off the board, Njoku would make perfect sense as the next best option available. Njoku possesses athleticism that is rare to see from a tight end and could prove to be a huge target for Marcus Mariota in the coming years. 
#19: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford 

Anybody who watches college football knows what McCaffrey can do. Similar to Fournette, I just don't see the demand as high enough for McCaffery to go too high in the first round. Nonetheless, this guy would be a welcome addition to the Tampa Bay Bucs. 
#20: Denver Broncos: Ryan Ramczyk, OT Wisconsion 

Wisconsin is known for producing quality offensive lineman, and Ramczyk is a hoss. At 6 ft. 6 and 310 lb, the All American is expected by many to go to Denver, who is in need of an offensive lineman. Being that Ramczyk is the best one in the draft, this one should be a no-brainer. 
#21: Detroit Lions: Taco Charlton, DE Michigan 
In addition to having the best name in the draft, Taco Charlton is also a part of this excellent class of defensive linemen. Part of Michigan's outstanding front, Charlton is an absolute beast who has great length, can move and can lineup anywhere. It would also be solid for the Lions to get somebody who is familiar with the great state of Michigan. 

#22: Miami Dolphins: Forrest Lamp, OG Western Kentucky 

With the second O-lineman taken in this year's draft, here is a big man from a small school. Instead of me rambling on like usual, here is an excellent article on why Lamp will excel in the National Football League. 
#23: New York Giants: Garret Bolles, OT Utah

Another big boi. The Giants top running back had 593 yards rushing last year. So, they need something to jump start their running game. Bolles, who is an excellent run-blocker with shifty footwork, could go a long way in doing that. Yes, it might make sense for the G-Men to draft a running back to help their running game. But runners in the draft are fewer these days, and as the Dallas Cowboys have shown the past few years, a good offensive line can go a long way into having a successful running game. Bolles could be a huge piece in that line. 
#24 Oakland Raiders: Kevin King, CB Washington 

Before suffering an injury, King was projected to go in the top half of the first round. Now, he's fallen a bit, but I still expect to see his name called on day one. King is a long, athletic corner, and defensive backs are quite important these days. At Washington, King had to deal with plenty of PAC 12 offenses, so he knows what it is like to go against explosive receivers as well. 

#25 Houston Texans: Davis Webb, QB California 

This is a bold prediction, but as mentioned earlier, the depth at the quarterback position this year is not as strong as it has been in the past. Being a Penn State fan, I know how much Bill O'Brien loves quarterbacks, and at this point in the draft, the gunslinger from Cal could be their best bet. It might be a stretch, but I would not be surprised to hear Webb's name called on Thursday night. 
#26 Seattle Seahawks: Obi Melifonwu, Saftey Connecticut 

The Seahawks are not what they once were, and I see them going back to their roots and getting a safety. They can do that by drafting this reliable tackler who runs a 4.4. Melifonwu is a physical beast, and could fit right into the future of the "Legion of Boom."
#27: Kansas City Chiefs: Jarrad Davis, ILB Florida 

The Chiefs are a team that loves defense, and they are expected to add to that defense in this year's draft. A possible fit for them is this linebacker from another school that loves defense, that being the University of Florida. Davis is projected by some to go in the top 20, but as you can see, I do not envision that working out. So, the Chiefs could be in for a steal with this guy. 

#28: Dallas Cowboys: Takkarist McKinley, OLB UCLA 

Aside from having an awesome name, McKinley is a beast, and luckily for the Cowboys, his stock appears to be dropping. McKinley is described by NFL.Com as a "worker bee," meaning that he is not content and is always striving to make life miserable for offensive tackles. The Cowboys defense is perhaps the reason they did not make a Super Bowl appearance last year, and McKinley could be a piece to fixing that puzzle.



#29 Green Bay Packers: T.J. Watt, OLB Wisconsion 

This guy's big brother is pretty good at football, in case ya didn't know. Watt to Wisconsin makes all the sense in the world to me. Not only is he a beast in his own right, but the Packers taking a somewhat local player with great ties to the state would be a great PR move. Considering also that their defense is not very good, there is no reason for the Packers not to draft Watt should be be avaliable at number 29. 

#30: Pittsburgh Steelers: Zach Cunningham, ILB Vanderbilt 
The Steelers love to draft defensive players. Now, for the first time in years, they need a rock at middle linebacker. Cunningham could be that guy. Even though he goes to a place not know for its football, Cunningham has great instinct, is very athletic, and could be a long-term replacement for LT.



#31: Atlanta Falcons: Carl Lawson, DE Auburn 

Sticking with the SEC, Lawson is a solid defensive end stuck in a year which is filled with lineman who are more higlhy touted than him However, I do not see Lawson dropping out of the first round. Atlanta's defense is not great, and Lawson could become a great pass rusher that would complement Vic Beasley well.


#32: New Orleans Saints (from NE): John Ross, WR Washington 


The Saints lost Brandin Cooks to the Patriots. But they also got New England's first-round draft choice. Now, they can use that option to take a wide receiver, and John Ross could be that guy. Speed kills, and John Ross has more of it than perhaps any player in this draft. Now imagine him running in the Superdome with Drew Brees throwing him the football? You like that, Saints fans? 

2017 NFL Mock Draft Part 1: Donny Chedrick's Projections

1. Cleveland (1-15) - Myles Garrett, DE/OLB (Texas A&M) - Garrett should be a consensus even though the Browns haven't made that official yet. He's a potential defensive cornerstone. PICK HIM.
2. San Francisco (2-14) - Jamal Adams, S (LSU) - There are truly so many options that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan can go with here, but with the defensive state in San Francisco, Adams is the pick. A QB can be selected in the later rounds.
3. Chicago (3-13) - Marshon Lattimore, CB (Ohio State) - The Bears have Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller - both former 1st round selections, but Lattimore can make that secondary very good. However, there is a possibility of Adams here if he isn't picked #2 or Malik Hooker.
4. Jacksonville (3-13) - Leonard Fournette, RB (LSU) - T.J. Yeldon hasn't worked out in his first few seasons so the Jaguars may look to do what Dallas did at #4 at year ago and pick the most explosive RB in the class.
5. Tennessee (9-7) from LA Rams - Solomon Thomas, DE (Stanford) - A very safe pick here as all experts point to Solomon Thomas as being a "respectable" pro player in the very least. If he's gone before #5, the Titans will obviously have to look elsewhere.
6. TRADE: Cleveland (1-15) from NY Jets - Mitchell Trubisky, QB (North Carolina) - Trades are difficult to project, but I could see one here if the Browns get worried about their targeted QB. Cleveland has the picks to do it and the Jets could still get their guy by moving down.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11) - Malik Hooker, DB (Ohio State) - He will be the first WPIAL player drafted in the 1st Round that hasn't attended the University of Pittsburgh since 2000, and he could be the next Ed Reed. Tremendous ball-hawking skills and a nose for the end-zone - Hooker would help solidify a spot left open by Eric Weddle's departure last offseason.
8. Carolina (6-10) - Christian McCaffrey, RB (Stanford) - Jonathan Stewart is aging as the Panthers' RB and this would be a perfect time to give Cam Newton and that offense another weapon. McCaffrey could play RB or slot and give Newton a lot of options.
9. Cincinnati (6-9-1) - Jonathan Allen, DE (Alabama) - Cincy goes for the best guy available in the form of Jonathan Allen. A defensive front with Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap looks pretty good, but Allen can be a great depth guy that can jump in if he has to.
10. Buffalo (7-9) - Reuben Foster, LB (Alabama) - The Bills need help at the linebacker position as Ramon Humber is the guy in the "Will" spot at the moment. Joining two Alabama guys in Foster and Reggie Ragland would set up a good, young LB core for Buffalo.
11. New Orleans (7-9) - Marlon Humphrey, CB (Alabama) - The Saints have two 1st Round picks and the first one needs to address the main need - the secondary. Humphrey is one of the better CBs in a draft full of them.
12. TRADE: New York Jets (5-11) from Cle., from Phila. - O.J. Howard, TE (Alabama) - Josh McCown signed a 1-year, $6 million deal with the Jets this offseason, but QB isn't out of the question to mold for a year. However, the Jets are in dire need of a TE and Howard is the best one on the board.
13. Arizona (7-8-1) - Patrick Mahomes, QB (Texas Tech) - Carson Palmer's successor could be picked tonight in the form of Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech. Mahomes' draft stock has risen mightily since the combine and pro days took place and the expectation of a 1st Round selection is pretty much a certainty. If he doesn't go here, he could drop to Houston at #25.
14. Philadelphia (7-9) from Minn. - Derek Barnett, DE (Tennessee) - Derek Barnett was overshadowed last season due to the high talent level in SEC defenses with players like Garrett, Adams, Foster and Allen. Barnett has the athletic tools and joining a talented defensive line in Philly could make Eagles' fans excited for the team's future.
15. Indianapolis (8-8) - Charles Harris, LB (Missouri) - Harris is another riser in this draft that came onto the scene after the combine and pro days took place. His ability to play DE could give him a shot at immediate impact in place of Kendall Langford on the Indy defensive line.
16. Baltimore (8-8) - Mike Williams, WR (Clemson) - After losing veteran WR Steve Smith to retirement this offseason, the Ravens can replace him immediately by drafting arguably the best WR available, and that is Mike Williams. Williams made a handful of great catches in his collegiate career coming from fellow 1st Round hopeful, Deshaun Watson.
17. Washington (8-7-1) - Takkarist McKinley DE/OLB (UCLA) - McKinley is a long, lengthy player that can play OLB or DE in the Redskins' system. Filling in for Stacy McGee or Terrell McClain seems more likely for a quicker impact, but his versatility will make him a value to that defense.
18. Tennessee (9-7) - Corey Davis, WR (Western Michigan) - The Titans have a very good setup for this year's draft because of the two relatively early 1st Round selections. After picking a defensive star at #5, I see Tennessee finding Marcus Mariota a big-time target in the form of Corey Davis.
19. Tampa Bay (9-7) - Dalvin Cook, RB (Florida State) - A connection between a QB and RB could prove to be vital in getting a team over the hump and that's what the Bucs could have if they go with Dalvin Cook at #19. Cook and Jameis Winston are both former Florida State stars and two guys that could elevate Tampa Bay to the top of the NFC South.
20. Denver (9-7) - Ryan Ramczyk, OT (Wisconsin) - One pick that surely looks like a lock in the opening round of tonight's draft is Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin. The Badgers have a good history of offensive linemen in the NFL and the Broncos are in need of a juggernaut bruiser in the trenches like Ramczyk.
21. Detroit* (9-7) - Jarrad Davis, LB (Florida) - Tahir Whitehead is the starting MLB for the Lions and Jarrad Davis can add depth or even jump the guy that had 99 solo tackles a season ago for Detroit. Nonetheless, the Lions need somebody to aid the linebacker core so they could look to Davis or to others based on who's available.
22. Miami* (10-6) - Forrest Lamp, OG (Western Kentucky) - Miami can continue to build its offensive line by adding a solid guard like Forrest Lamp. A promising offense can help the Dolphins return to the playoffs with a more solidified offensive front.
23. New York Giants* (11-5) - David Njoku, TE (Miami) - This is a really talented football team on both sides of the ball with the exception of offensive line and a reliable TE. Njoku is the second-best TE on the board and could give Eli Manning yet another target for next season joining OBJ, Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. If Fournette,
McCaffrey and/or Cook fall the Giants would go there, or New York could jump early on Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon.
24. Oakland/Las Vegas* (12-4) - Haason Reddick, LB (Temple) - If Haason Reddick falls to #24,t he Oakland Raiders should be licking their chops. Even though CB is more of a concern, that area is very deep in this draft so the Raiders could jump on a guy that would add to the LB position, joining Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
25. Houston* (9-7) - Deshaun Watson, QB (Clemson) - Would be surprised if the national-champion signal caller fell this far, but let's face it, Houston...we have a problem, and that problem is not having a QB. Right now, Tom Savage is in the starting role, but being a former 4th-round pick, Savage may not be the guy to carry this franchise. Watson is a proven winner and Bill O'Brien will not let him slip by #25.
26. Seattle* (10-5-1) - Garett Bolles, OT (Utah) - The Seahawks really need to select either a guard or tackle with their first pick and Garett Bolles may be their guy here. After Seattle added Luke Joeckel in the offseason, they could be looking for Bolles to make his mark at RT or at one of the guard positions.
27. Kansas City* (12-4) - Tre'Davious White, CB (LSU) - Kansas City has a highly-talented defense, but a piece this team could add is a corner opposite Marcus Peters. Adding Tre'Davious White to this mix could make the Chiefs secondary even more lethal than before.
28. Dallas* (13-3) - Adoree' Jackson, CB (USC) - The Cowboys like some flash and Adoree' Jackson has it. One of the faster players in this year's draft, Jackson could provide help to Dallas not only on defense, but also in the special teams game, making him a versatile and very attractive player for the Cowboys somewhat needy secondary.
29. Green Bay* (10-6) - Joe Mixon, RB (Oklahoma) - Aaron Rodgers had to basically do it all last year for the Packers because his main RB was Ty Montgomery - who is more known for his receiving. Although this could be considered a reach, especially with Mixon's shady past, the RB from Oklahoma has a lot of upside and could fit right into an offense now without former 1,000-yard rusher, Eddie Lacy.
30. Pittsburgh* (11-5) - T.J. Watt, LB (Wisconsin) - The signing of Coty Sensabaugh and the hopeful return of Senquez Golson make it look like the Steelers will steer away from the CB position and look at a pass rusher in the 1st Round of tonight's draft. If T.J. Watt is on the board, Steelers Nation would welcome him with open arms as the potential replacement for the aging James Harrison down the road. His brother is pretty good if you follow football and he claims T.J. is even better.
31. Atlanta* (11-5) - Taco Charlton, DE (Michigan) - Adding Dontari Poe to the defensive line was a big offseason move for the defending NFC Champions. Adding another name to that pass rush in the opening round could be where Atlanta looks. With Brooks Reed and Ra'Shede Hageman as the two starting DE's for the Falcons, Taco Charlton could be the man picked to jump right in to one of those slots.
32. New Orleans (7-9) from NE - John Ross, WR (Washington) - Even though New Orleans should use its second 1st Round pick of the night on another defensive player, look for the Saints to replace Brandin Cooks and give Drew Brees another slot/deep threat. John Ross is the fastest player in the draft after dawning a record-breaking 40-yard dash time of 4.22 seconds, which would also give the Saints another option in the return game, joining veteran Ted Ginn Jr.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thank you, Mr. Dan

Art Rooney created the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's common knowledge for anybody who lives in this city that does not want people to laugh at them. We remember "The Chief" as the old man who smoked giant cigars, and as a genuinely kind person who gave his heart and soul for our city. It should also be common knowledge to yinzers that the Steelers were quite rubbish for their first 40 years of existence, and that their glowing reputation did not happen genetically. What a lot of fans might not know or at least don't think about as much as they should, however, is that it was not Art Rooney who made the Steelers a powerhouse, but rather his son, Dan.

Dan Rooney passed away at the age of 84 on Thursday, April 13. With the loss of Rooney, the Steelers lost not only an icon, but also the man who created the franchise as we know it.

For all of the good that Arthur J. Rooney did for this city, from an on-field standpoint, he was not a good owner. He hired lousy coaches. His draft picks did not work out, and he did not have a real scouting system, and that contributed in large part to why the Steelers posted just eight winning seasons between 1933-1971. All of this started to change in 1969, when Art's first born son, Dan, took charge of day-to-day football operations.

In 1969, things started to happen. In 1969, Chuck Noll took over as head coach. In 1969, the Steelers still went 1-13. So, how did things improve? Well, a lot of it had to do with how Dan Rooney ran what was now, essentially, his team.

Family run sports franchises don't always work out after the father passes it down to the son. The Steinbrenner's ownership of the Yankees and the Brown's ownership of the Bungals are evidence of this. So when Art passed the team down to Dan, it could have easily led to 35 more years of pain. But, with all due respect to Arthur J. Rooney, Dan did not repeat his father's mistakes.

Instead of hiring coaches based on one man's glowing recommendation like his father had with Bill Austin, who preceded Noll as head coach, Dan did a thorough evaluation when he hired Chuck Noll. Instead of drafting players based on recommendations, Rooney worked together with his coaches and scouts, and also hired his secret weapon, in what is one of the smartest moves he ever made football wise, this being the hiring of Bill Nunn.

Nunn is one of the most valuable unsung heroes in Steelers history. It was through Nunn's scouting of historically black schools that the Steelers were able to land gems such as John Stallworth, Mel Blount and Donnie Shell, three players who played huge roles on those Super Bowl teams. Without Rooney's eye for scouts and the importance of them, none of Bill Nunn's deeds would have transpired in the steel city, and who knows what the domino effect of that might have led too? Thankfully, Nunn was able to contribute, and it resulted in four Super Bowl wins in six years.

Above all else, however, is that, from the accounts of those who knew him, Dan Rooney was a great man. Rooney, like his father, and his son, Art II, who currently keeps the show going, was a wealthy man who did not act like one. I never had the pleasure of meeting the legend, but from most accounts, Rooney was humble, caring and still had that aura about him despite being soft-spoken. Despite his seemingly mellow personality, Rooney wanted to win. I mean, he really wanted to win. His brother, also named Art, learned this the hard way in 1987 when Dan made the decision to fire him as head of the scouting department. Winning meant so much to Dan Rooney that he did not care who a person was. If he was not meeting the expectations of his job, he was out. That, to me, is something to be respected.

Not only did Rooney make a huge impact on his franchise, but he also was a big player for the National Football League as a whole. One thing that will forever be a part of Rooney's legacy is the "Rooney Rule."  While some may not approve of the rule, it must be said that it has made an impact league-wide, and shows that Dan Rooney cared about the game and not just himself and his team. Speaking of caring, that is something that Dan Rooney did as well as anybody else.

I think a lot of sports fans have a particular image of owners. They see an average sports owner as a rich, old man who doesn't pay attention to life so long as he is making money. Regardless of how real this image generally is, Dan Rooney was far from a prototype of it. Just like his father, Rooney was a man who would do anything for his coaches, players, and organization, and that, to me, sums up his legacy more than six rings ever could.

As I prepared to write this piece, I thought about providing links of accounts from people who knew Rooney, but if you live in this city, I think you can agree that it would not have been necessary. Even those of us who are not Steeler die-hards probably are aware of what this family has meant to the city of Pittsburgh over the past 83 years, and that sums up a lot of why the Rooney's are so unique among sports owners.

Yes, Art Rooney founded the Steelers in 1933. But the Steelers that we know today, the six-time Super Bowl Champs, the most popular franchise maybe in North American sports, were created by the son. Rest easy, Mr. Dan.




Saturday, April 1, 2017

Why I'm pulling for South Carolina (and why you should be too)

By: Joe Smeltzer
Photo creds to thestate.com

It's been almost 11 years since my cousin Ryan Stewart enrolled at Vanderbilt University. Before Ryan arrived in Nashville, I barely knew anything about the school. Of course, I was eight years old, so I knew petite about most things, but sports (shocker) were a strength of mine back then, and I knew a lot about most college football and basketball programs. Vanderbilt, however, was a school that I did not know well. I remember the Commodores women's team coming to Pittsburgh to take on Duquesne, and that's about it. As soon as Ryan arrived on that campus, I took an interest in Vandy, particularly in their men's basketball program.

Seven years later, Ryan's sister, Erin, enrolled at the University of South Carolina, another SEC school. I'm not sure why, but my cousin's move to Columbia did not add any intrigue to the school for me. It wasn't that I didn't like South Carolina, as I had respect for Steve Spurrier and the football program. It wasn't because I have a preference as far as my cousins go, although if I were speaking with Erin right now, I most definitely would say that in harmless fun. Maybe it was because I was seven years older and a changed man, but whatever the case, I was not that interested in the University of South Carolina, especially it's basketball program.

In case you haven't been watching the NCAA tournament, which I'm assuming you have been, given the fact that you are taking the time to read this piece, South Carolina is not known for its basketball prowess. I would go deep into numbers to prove my point, but I don't feel it's necessary (again, there is a reason you are reading this article.) But this March, the tables have turned, and I am on the bandwagon.

It's not just because of the connection with my cousin. Sure, I have had my cousin in mind throughout this tournament run. But aside from family connections, here are the three biggest reasons for basketball fans who don't root for Gonzaga, Oregon or North Carolina to be all in for the Gamecocks.


#1: It's an underdog story

The most cliche reason, and the most obvious as well. Although 75% of the Final Four has never been there (no, Oregon's appearance in 1939 does not count), I would argue that South Carolina is the only real "underdog story" remaining. Yes, Gonzaga has surprised people by making it this far. But they have made 19 consecutive tournament appearances, and probably will make 19 more, so the Bulldogs and March do go together. Yes, Oregon is making their first semifinal appearance since before Perl Harbor (if you really feel like counting that) but the Ducks won the PAC 12, so how much of a "surprise" are they compared to these Gamecocks?

Not only is South Carolina a seven seed, which alone would make it the best feel-good story remaining, but it also has won more tournament games in the past two weeks than it had in their entire history before that. Pretty awesome right? So while Oregon and Gonzaga have defied a lot of expectations this March, they ain't got nothing on USC.


#2: The way they play basketball             

For people who have not yet watched a lot of the Gamecocks, it is still easy to tell that this team is likable based on the numbers. But what those numbers don't always show is the way that this team plays the game. USC is disciplined, they are tenacious, and they dominate in the paint. You can ask Mike White and Florida about all of those things, as the Gamecocks domination of the offensive glass was the key to their victory in the Elite 8 this past Sunday. Sindarius Thornwell may have gone through the regular season as college basketball's greatest hidden gem, and now is putting his talents on display.

P.J. Dozier is a 6-6 guard who is just a Sophomore and will look to lead the Gamecocks for the future. Rakym Felder is a little 5-10 freshman who makes big plays. Malik Kotsar is a 6'10 freshman from Estonia who played a huge role in that Florida game. South Carolina is deep, experienced, and it's tough play is a product of it's general.
#3: Frank Martin 

I remember attending the first two rounds of the 2012 NCAA tournament at what was then Consol Energy Center. It just so happened that the Kansas State Wildcats were one of the teams privileged enough to come to Pittsburgh. Although KSU did not make it past the first weekend, I got to see first hand how brilliant it's head coach, Frank Martin, was. He looked intimating- like, drill sergeant level. But he knew what he was doing, and his Wildcats teams consistently made it to the dance.

It turns out that I was in attendance for Martin's last game at Kansas State, as he would take the South Carolina job less than a month later. In five years, Martin has turned one of college basketball's more obscure major conference programs into a Final Four participant. That is amazing, but it is far from the only thing to like about Frank Martin.


Watch how he answers this kids question. Read this quote about "kids these days." Most importantly, read this article that tells of how unlikely his story is. Frank Martin is the man, and he makes the already likable Cocks that much easier to root for.

So, if you are not committed to one of these four teams for the long hull, but still want to cheer for Gonzaga, Oregon or even mighty UNC, then that is acceptable. But I know that I'm pulling for the team with the underdog backstory, brilliant head coach, and that might never be in this situation again. Go Cocks!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why UCLA will win it all: How the Bruins look against other top seeds

It's March Madness. Here is what I think

Why UCLA will win it all, and who they will take out to do it. 
By: Joe Smeltzer
Photo creds to UCLA.edu

The strengths of the UCLA Bruins are evident. They are the best offensive team in college basketball, possibly in the past decade, and feature some of the best players in the land, those being Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Bryce Alford. That is the main reason why I love them. That is the main reason why I think they will win it all. However, there is a reason that they, in spite of being the most offensivley gifted team in the country, are a #3 seed and not a #1 seed, and that is their defense.

Defensively, the Bruins are pedestrian at best, horrendous at worst. They allow 75.3 points per contest, which is good for 256th in the country, and 9th in the PAC 12. There have been occasions this season in which the Bruins allowed 89, 92 and 96 points, and two of those games resulted in defeat. So, UCLA's defensive concerns are legitimate, and they could well cost them a national title. However, let's look at some of UCLA's likely tournament opponents, assuming they get past the first two rounds,  as they may have some similar issues that the Bruins can exploit.

Kentucky
Malik Monk (20.4 PPG) is trouble for any defense he comes across (photo creds to NCAA.COM

If all goes according to plan, Steve Alford's men will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16. A simple way to say that UCLA can beat Kentucky is that they've done it before, as they pulled out a 97-92 thriller (at Rupp Arena, mind you) on December 3. Another reason involves Kentucky, like UCLA, struggling on the defensive end.

Like the Bruins, the Wildcats know how to put the ball in the basket, as only four teams in the country score more than Kentucky, UCLA, of course, being one of those teams. On defense, however, the Bruins allow 71.8 points per game, good for just 8th in the SEC and 162nd in America. UCLA has proven that they can carve up Kentucky's defense, and it's not like the Bruins have forgotten how to score over the past three months.

As a fan, I would love to see this matchup take place, as it would be a Final Four quality contest in the Sweet 16. This game would be almost guaranteed to be a shootout, and as proven on December 3, UCLA can win those things.

UNC
#2 Joel Berry is a stud. But are his temmates well-rounded enough to get to the Final Four? (Photo creds to The Daily Tar Heel)

I'll be blunt for a minute; North Carolina is the most overrated team in this tournament. They are poorly disciplined. They are reckless at times. They are inconsistent, and oh yeah, they can't play defense! (8th in the ACC in opponent PPG)

Having said all of that, UNC is still among the nation's most talented offensive teams, and yes, they would be likely to score a lot against UCLA. However, I cannot trust this North Carolina team to be smart enough. If UNC makes dumb mistakes, and UCLA takes advantage of those careless mistakes, a Final Four could well be in their future for the boys of Westwood.


Kansas
Landen Lucas (#33) is the only big man that could play a big factor for KU.

In some ways, Kansas is similar to both Kentucky and UCLA. High scoring, poor defending. However, although Kansas is a #1 seed and Kentucky a #2, I think the Jayhawks would, in fact, be a better matchup for UCLA than the Wildcats would be.

The reason for this is that while both UK and KU struggle defensively, Kentucky has an advantage in size, as six of their players are 6'10 and above. Kansas, on the other hand, does not have a legitimate inside presence aside from the 6'10 Landen Lucas. Although UCLA is not known for pounding the ball in the paint, if and when these two teams meet, don't be surprised if big Thomas Welsh has a field day.

Kansas will score their fair share of deuces and treys, just as everybody else does against this Bruins team. However, like Kentucky, the Jayhawks are vulnerable on the other side, so much so, that I would not be surprised if UCLA were to win this game by 10-15 points. Ralk Chalk, no championship.

The Dukies/Wildcats
In my eyes, UCLA will either play
A. The Duke Blue Devils
B. The Arizona Wildcats
Both of these teams are excellent, and therefore, this match-up would be a tricky one for the Bruins. However, it is one that they could win. First, I'll talk about Arizona.

The Wildcats have a decent shot to get to the Final Four, as either they or mighty Gonzaga will come out of that West region. Arizona is a familiar foe for these Bruins, as the two teams have had three meetings with each other, with Zona having a 2-1 edge. On the surface, it seems like a tough chore to pick UCLA in this game, as Arizona defeated the Bruins just five days ago and looked pretty good doing it. However, there are a few reasons why I do not expect that to happen again.

The first is that, in my heart of hearts, I do not expect Arizona to get to the Final Four, as Gonzaga has their most balanced attack ever. The second is that I don't see the Duke Blue Devils beating UCLA either. I will not argue that Duke is the most talented team in the East region, and I will admit that the Dukies might well be the hottest team in the country. However, one thing separates UCLA from Duke, and that is consistency.

This is a Duke team that is on fire. But this is also a Duke team that has lost eight games. This is also a Duke team that, albeit partly due to injury, has lost games to Syracuse, NC State and Virgina Tech this season. This is also a Duke team that was 11-7 in the ACC. So, who's to say that inconsistency wouldn't appear if these men faced off with the Bruins? UCLA is not perfect. But they are pretty damn good on most nights, and I would expect this young Dukie team to fall off the rainbow if they were to face Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, and Bryce Alford.

Now, let's say UCLA is to face Arizona. It would be so easy to pick the Wildcats, especially considering that they, unlike Duke, Kansas or Kentucky, can play defense. However, I believe life has a way of evening itself out, meaning that this UCLA team is too good to lose three times to a single opponent.

So, because of their offense, and because many of their big matchups can't play defense, I like the ultra-talented Bruins to score and score in bunches, so much so, that they will win their 12th National Title. Somewhere, John Wooden will be smiling.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Don’t Feed the Birds

By: Alex Gordon
It finally happened.  After seven absurd seasons in Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins finally got out, and he escaped to a situation that many didn’t expect him to end up in. February 20th the most talented center in the league was traded to the New Orleans for Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, and 2017 first and second round draft picks.  Hield is the only real “upside” player among these three.  Even if the Pelicans don’t drastically improve with the acquisition of Cousins, they will most likely find that the picks don’t turn into much either (especially considering that Cousins and Isaiah Thomas are the only impact players the Kings have managed to draft in the last seven years).  
 The Pelicans managed to acquire one of the most sought after players in the league for cheap, and in doing so most likely turned around their middling franchise.  The knock on the Pelicans since they drafted Anthony Davis is that they have never been able to surround him with the right pieces, and they waffled between having him play center or power forward. Insisting, in the last few seasons, that he be paired with an Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca for a significant portion of the game. Many argued that this made him less effective. Judging by the fact that the Pelicans played their best with him at Center over the last few years, and with the league going smaller anyway, that the pounding he might take playing center wouldn’t be as significant as it would have 5 years ago. 
   What’s fascinating about this pairing is that it was never a question of whether Davis could be productive as a power forward, but if you could get a center talented enough to warrant playing him there.  Realistically that had never been a possibility; it’s much easier to acquire skilled power forwards than skilled centers.  Cousins is the best hypothetical partner for Davis in the front court.  He’s bruisingly physical, the center that people were referencing when they would say “Davis is too skinny to match up with.” At the same time, Cousins has range, and the ability to handle the ball on the perimeter, so there’s no need to worry about them sticking up the lane for each other.  We legitimately have never seen a front court like this in recent NBA history.  It’s terrifying, their skill sets complement each other, and if they’re able to get a competent point guard and some shooters around them they will give every team in the league fits. 
The idea that the Pelicans gave up too much to get him is ridiculous,
Cousins is a first team all-NBA center, and they gave up two middling  NBA players and an intriguing young talent for him.  Considering the Celtics were willing to lay out the war chest for him, they got Boogie on an absolute steal.  They still have Jrue Holiday, who, if he can get back to his past form, could be the solid top 15 point guard that they need to run the offense. All the other pieces can be filled in from there. Essentially none of the other Pelicans players need to be protected this offseason, they just need to fill out the roster around those three this coming season and they could be a top four team next year.  
Going back to the Celtics, it's  unfortunate that they weren’t able to take advantage of this situation.  If they were confident that Cousins and Thomas could work together (there was some talk that their relationship is what caused Thomas to be traded away from the Kings originally) , they probably should have gone for it. This is the type of player that the Celts have been “acquiring assets” for, and they missed the chance. They’re already the second or third best team in a conference, so it’s not the end of the world, but Cousins fits what they have. Horford would have fit easily next to him as a power forward, Thomas would have been great as a secondary scorer/closer.  Considering how deep they are they most likely could have held onto a good piece of their own core and wouldn’t have needed to piece much together around those three. Time will tell, but if the Celtics can never get over the hump in the East, this could a painful what if for them.