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In the five years Ndamukong Suh spent with the Detroit Lions, he developed into a superstar—an All-Pro defensive tackle who could change the outcome of entire possessions with his disruptive pass rush. It was, in no uncertain terms, a mutually beneficial partnership for a half-decade.

But the relationship between Suh and the Lions was not without its warts. Suh was disciplined multiple times for hostile on-field actions, and the atmosphere behind the scenes with management was never thought to be the smoothest.

Eventually, this became a marriage destined to end. It came as no surprise when he left as a free agent for the Miami Dolphins in 2015, signing a six-year, $114 million contract. This proved to be a good move for his on-field reputation. He wasn’t fined once during the time he spent with the Dolphins.

Miami would cut Suh in 2018, not because he was washed, but because the team wasn’t at a point in its development where it made sense to pay an over-30 tackle superstar money. Suh has since opted for two one-year deals—the first with the Los Angeles Rams, and the second with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now, he finds himself entering free agency again. And with the Lions working off a season in which they ranked 26th in points allowed per game, more than a few people are wondering whether he could be in line for a return.

The short answer is…no.

Not only did Suh leave Detroit under less-than-warm circumstances, but the Lions are on the verge of entering a major rebuild. Some wonder whether quarterback Matthew Stafford’s days might be numbered, and the team itself is coming off a three-win season in which they missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year.

Suh is best suited in a situation where he has access to a playoff chase. Those squads are more likely to meet his expected asking price, and it will be easier for him to make a difference with other talented defensive players around him.

One team to consider on this front: The Seattle Seahawks. They’ve hemorrhaged defensive talent over the past few seasons. Suh isn’t going to generate the same number of sacks per year that he did in his prime, but he is absolutely disruptive enough to put pressure on the quarterback and tighten up their run defense.

If it’s not the Seahawks, it will be another team that pays Suh—just not the Lions.

December 5th, 2011

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Seventh-round NFL picks aren’t supposed to amount to anything. Some do. (Tom Brady, anyone?) Mostly, though, these selections are used on fliers and stab in the dark. They may go on to play multiple NFL seasons, or they may never set foot on the field in the regular season.

Peyton Hillis was among the many players supposed to fall into this afterthought category. Drafted 227th overall in 2008 by the Denver Broncos, the running back was never billed for regular-down contribution, let alone stardom.

And yet, the former Arkansas Razorback showed something as a rookie. With the Broncos backfield decimated by injuries in 2008, he turned in some admirable efforts, including a 129-yard performance against the New York Jets in Week 13.

Though Hillis was eventually relegated to the backburner once the Broncos’ backfield returned to full strength in 2009, he was offered a lifeline, in the form of a trade, by the Cleveland Browns in the 2010 offseason. He responded by having one of the best years among all running backs, tallying 1,177 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. He added another 477 yards and two touchdowns as a pass-catcher.

Only five other players totaled more yards from scrimmage in the 2010 season, and all of them were stars: Darren McFadden, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, and Arian Foster. While Hillis wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl, he had a strong case. And his performance in Cleveland earned him the Madden 2012 cover as part of an inaugural fan-voting campaign that saw him topple marquee names like Charles, Rice, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and many more.

Unfortunately, though, this represented both the peak and end of Hillis’ prime. His production fell apart in the 2011 season. No one knows for sure why, but failed contract talks loomed largely. Hillis was in the final year of his rookie deal, and rumors of failed negotiations between him and the Browns circulated throughout the league. He ended up missing two games under ambiguous circumstances and was never afforded the type of volume he enjoyed in 2010.

Hillis’ career never recovered from this rough patch. He still appeared on the cover of Madden 2012, but that’s now more so known as a random feat. He would only play a total of 29 games over the next three seasons, split between the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs, before leaving the NFL entirely before his age-29 season.

Was Hillis really a flash in the pan, a one-year wonder always destined to fall off? Or did a lack of opportunity in Denver coupled with a lack of confidence from Cleveland do him in? It’s also been reported he was dealing with depression at the time. That has to be part of his story, too.

However you view Hillis’ career, there’s an unfinished element to it. Maybe he wasn’t on the track to stardom, but we’ll never know for sure.

November 13th, 2011

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Perhaps this has been somewhat lost in Robert Griffin III’s precipitous demise in the NFL, but he remains, by and far away, the best quarterback to come out of Baylor.

Other players who have lined up under center for the Bears, of course, deserve honorable mention. There’s Bryce Petty, Don Trull, Seth Russell, Nick Florence, and Charlie Brewer—just to name a few. But nobody comes remotely close to matching the legacy and resume Griffin left behind during his four years headlining the Big 12 power.

For starters, no one else in Baylor history has ever taken home a Heisman Trophy. That honor belongs to Griffin alone. The school records he racked up over his four-year college career are also just absurd. He is first in passing yards and passing touchdowns by a country mile, and his body of work on the ground, as a runner, leaves him sixth in school history in total rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns.

That body of work speaks for itself. And he has the hardware to prove it. During his final season, in 2011, he won AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the Davey O’Brien Award and the 2011 Manning award, in addition to claiming the Heisman and finishing as a consensus All-American.

Even Griffin’s NFL career helps make his case. His prime was beyond short; he never fully recovered from his injuries. But he was 2012’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and finished 15th on the NFL’s list of the top 100 players in 2013. That’s hard to do in your first two years at the pro level.

All of which makes his turbulent fall from stardom so hard to wrap our heads around. Griffin went from a bona fide MVP candidate upon entering the league to serving as the Baltimore Ravens backup for the 2019 season. Injuries have a way of derailing careers, but his plunge down the NFL’s individual ladder was steeper than any unexpected fall in recent memory.

Still, in the context of the impact, Griffin had on Baylor, none of this matters. He isn’t just the best quarterback to ever come out of the school. He’s perhaps the best player they’ve ever sent to the NFL, period. Others have had longer careers—kicker Matt Bryant, to start—but Griffin is the only one who entered the NFL on a megastar trajectory.

November 13th, 2011

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The Cleveland Browns receiving corps was easily the worst in the NFL last season.

If you count receptions by players who are deemed wide receivers, the five players for the Browns totaled 129 receptions for 1,438 yards. Or for those of you who need easier numbers for comparison, 14 receptions more than Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White and 10 less yards receiving than Denver Broncos Pro Bowler Brandon Lloyd.

I mean, you know things are bad when two of the Browns top three leading receivers were tight end Ben Watson (763 yards) and running back Peyton Hillis (477 yards). In fact, those two had the same amount of receptions as the five Browns receivers on the season, as Watson had 68 and Hillis had 61 for a total of 129.

You can’t put all the blame on the Browns receivers though. When your team starts the season with Jake Delhomme under center, then has Seneca Wallace take over due to injury and then finally third-round rookie draft pick Colt McCoy takes over when Wallace goes down with an injury, it may be a little tough to develop any type of rhythm with your quarterback.

After the 2010 season ended with the Browns in their usual place, on the couch at home watching the playoffs, many fans thought the team would go out and either draft one of the top two available wide receivers (A.J. Green from Georgia or Julio Jones from Alabama) or throw big money at a veteran free agent like Santonio Holmes or Sidney Rice.

However, fans could not have been more wrong, as the team not only passed on drafting Jones by trading down, but they also left free agency without any major additions to the receiving corps. In fact, outside of second-round draft pick Greg Little from North Carolina, one could say the Browns did not do anything to their group of receivers.

But they could not be more wrong.

See, it was not so long ago that another “small” quarterback was taking over a franchise in a state of flux. In 2006, Drew Brees signed a deal to become the starting quarterback of a team coming off a 3-13 season. While I know Brees was already an accomplished quarterback with the San Diego Chargers and McCoy still has much to prove, my focus here is on the receivers, not who was under center.

Can you venture a guess at how many “big name” receivers Brees has had when he signed with the New Orleans Saints? Well I’m going to make it easy on you, none.

Yeah, Marques Colston is a household name now, but back in 2006 he was a seventh-round draft pick out of Hofstra. The Saints did not think he would make the roster when they drafted him, let alone post four 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his first five years in the NFL. The rest of the team’s leading receivers from the Brees era are listed below:

Lance Moore, 2005 Undrafted Free Agent from Toledo
Robert Meachem, 2007 First-Round Pick from Tennessee
Devery Henderson, 2004 Second-Round from LSU
Joe Horn, 1996 Fifth-Round Pick from Itawamba Community College
David Patten, 1996 Undrafted Free Agent from Western Carolina

The team also had the likes of tight ends Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush too. The point is the New Orleans Saints have been dominating the NFL in passing without top wide receivers in the draft or big name veteran free agents and they grew within the system itself.

What the Saints do is trust in the system and their quarterback. They gave Brees the keys to their version of the West Coast offense. Their fans don’t clamor for big name wide receivers, because they trust in their quarterback to put the ball on their compilation of guys who know how to run routes and catch the ball. And I think the Saints have been doing a pretty good job at it.

So when the Browns enter the 2011 season with the likes of Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi (currently injured), Josh Cribbs, Little, Carlton Mitchell and Jordan Norwood as McCoy’s wide receivers, don’t panic and start screaming for Terrell Owens. The big change to the receiving corps won’t be the addition of any “big name” players, it will be the installation of a new offense which will allow them to do what they are supposed to do best—catch the ball.

Under the direction of Pat Shurmur and Mike Holmgren’s West Coast offense, you will soon see it does not matter how big of a name the receiver has. What matters is that the guys can run the routes effectively and catch the passes thrown to them. It has worked with the combination of head coach Sean Peyton and Brees in New Orleans since 2006 when they came together, and it will work for Shurmur and McCoy in Cleveland.

November 8th, 2011

Posted In: NFL

It’s time to call a spade, a spade: Arkansas football is in a rut. In fact, it’s worse than that. They’re a borderline laughingstock in the SEC. 

The Razorbacks have not only finished below .500 in each of the past three seasons, but they’re working off consecutive 2-10 campaigns. Their latest months-long egg ended up costing head coach Chad Morris his job. He left with two games remaining on the 2019 season’s schedule, both of which were helmed by Barry Lunney Jr., and both of which were losses.

Arkansas has since tabbed Sam Pittman to be Morris’ permanent successor. Pittman was most recently the associate head coach and offensive line coach at Georgia. Many around college football fancy him a top-shelf recruiter, as well as one of the best offensive line minds in the country. 

The hope is that Pittman will be able to turn around Arkansas in something of a hurry. Schools target great recruiters so they can get back on track quickly. And with the Razorbacks having failed to make a Bowl Game in each of the past three seasons, you can bet that’s exactly what is happening here.

Unfortunately, though, a quick turnaround appears unlikely. Expedited rebuilds are possible, but Arkansas is working their way out from quite a deficit. They ranked 110th in points scored per game and 124th in points allowed per game last year. They can’t just climb their way out of that hole.

Experts aren’t looking to fondly upon the latest recruiting class, either. The folks over at 247 Sports have them checking in at 11th in the SEC, a conference that includes 14 teams.

It used to be that Arkansas was a semi-maintain. At the very least, you know they were going to finish above the Vanderbilts and the South Carolinas of the conference. That they’ve dipped below both universities in status is quite the gut punch.

Righting the ship now falls to Pittman, who worked on Arkansas’ staff between 2013 and 2015, before leaving to take his last post at Georgia. And there is an element of “Things cannot get any worse” at play, but the road back to contention or anything resembling it is rife with twists and turns.

To be honest, Arkansas’ biggest problem isn’t even one they can really reconcile. They’re in the nation’s most difficult conference, one that includes LSU, Alabama, and Auburn. Even the best recruiter ever would have a tough time outselling those powerhouses.

Maybe Pittman’s time with the program will be different. At the bottom, his era should go better than that of Morris, who left the school with an abysmal 4-18 record. So keep your eyes peeled in Arkansas. They’re fighting one of college football’s most uphill battles.

October 13th, 2011

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Mike Stoops.

There’s a name you haven’t heard around Arizona’s college football program in quite some time. Stoops coached the Wildcats for about seven-and-a-half seasons, compiling a 41-50 record and making three Bowl Game appearances. His legacy is, as those results imply, pretty complicated.

If you had to sum up Stoops’ tenure in Arizona with one word, it would be: disappointing. 

The Wildcats hired him in 2004, when they were working off a 2-10 season under two different head coaches. The hope was that he could build up the program into a defensive force, one that would become a staple in the national polls. 

Those ambitions never became a reality. It took Stoops four seasons before he could tally his first above-.500 record. Rebuilding programs can take time, but that transition is on the longer end. Arizona didn’t make many waves in the recruitment process, and those results showed on the field.

It is a borderline miracle Stoops lasted long enough to even begin to turn things around. People were clamoring for his departure around 2007, in the middle of his third season, after the team dropped to 2-6 following a 21-20 home loss to Stanford.

Arizona insisted that Stoops would be given an additional season at the time. It paid off. The Wildcats went 8-5 (5-4 in the conference) the next season, with a top-20 offense. They made their way to the Las Vegas Bowl, which they won 31-21 over Bringham Young.

In the two seasons that followed, though, Stoops was unable to build off that success. The Wildcats went 8-5 again in 2009 and were shut out in the Holiday Bowl by Nebraska, 33-0. The following season was even worse. The Wildcats went 7-6 in 2010, with a losing record in their conference, before falling in the Alamo Bowl to Oklahoma, 36-10. 

After getting off to a 1-5 start in 2011, Arizona elected to fire Stoops. He went on to become the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma between 2012 and 2018, a position he was fired from after the Sooners suffered a 48-45 loss at the hands of the Texas Longhorns. Stoops is currently a member of Alabama’s staff as an off-field analyst.

Arizona, meanwhile, went on to experience modest success by Stoops’ successor, Rich Rodriguez. He turned in four consecutive winning seasons that included three Bowl Game victories, before hitting a rough patch over the next two years. He has since been replaced by Kevin Sumlin, who is currently working off two below-.500 seasons to himself.

In hindsight, given how much Arizona has struggled to be a college football mainstay, it’s fair to ask: Was Stoops ever really the problem?

October 13th, 2011

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Few NFL rivalries have as much history as the one between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. Tensions always tend to be higher when division foes square off, but their contentious relationship is one forged over the course of years and through the crucible of many, many head-to-heads.

Green Bay leads the all-time series vs. Minnesota 62-54-3. That’s not a huge gap considering how many seasons’ worth of games are involved, but the Vikings have needed to recoup serious ground to even get this close to the Packers.

It took Minnesota five years after joining the NFL to pick up its first victory against Green Bay. A full half-decade is quite the drought.

The height of their rivalry may have come in 2005, the first year that both squads met in the playoffs. The Vikings jumped out to an early lead and ended up winning, 31-17. This matchup also happened to be one of Brett Favre’s worst postseason contests. He threw four interceptions and was flagged for an illegal forward pass on a critical third-and-goal. The Packers would go on to miss the 28-year-old field goal on that drive.

On top of all that, when Randy Moss caught his second touchdown of the game for the Vikings, he celebrated by fake-mooning the Green Bay crowd. The modern-day NFL remains ultra-conservative, so you can imagine how that form of taunting was received.

Speaking of Favre: He further contributed to the rivalry in 2008. He decided that he wanted to come out of retirement, and when it was clear the Packers didn’t want him, he expressed a desire to play for—you guessed it—the Vikings.

This didn’t sit too well with the Green Bay organization. They filed tampering charges against Minnesota and, in the ultimate display of pettiness, traded Favre to the New York Jets. He played out a season there before then signing with the Vikings that next year.

To be honest, though, the rivalry between Minnesota and Green Bay has sort of fizzled. The Packers have become postseason mainstays and Super Bowl champs with Aaron Rodgers under center, while the Vikings have remained solid to really good. That should be a recipe for butting heads.

At the same time, both squads have dealt with more internal strife. From the Packers not maximizing Rodgers in recent years, to the Vikings churning through a handful of quarterbacks over a years-long span, this rivalry has lacked the requisite continuity.

Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be rekindled sometime soon.

October 13th, 2011

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The Baltimore Ravens were labeled as one of the contenders this summer, even before the NFL lockout ended. This appeared to be a veteran team who returned the majority of the coaching staff and the players.

General manager Ozzie Newsome believed it was time to make difficult decisions on the roster by getting younger on both offense and defense. He decided to part ways with veterans Todd HeapDerrick MasonWillis McGahee and Leron McClain.

Newsome addressed part of the team’s plans early on in free agency. However, the wide receiver depth was a concern, and rookie Torrey Smith did not perform well in the team’s first preseason game to bestow confidence to the front office.

The Ravens didn’t waste time finding a new receiver by trading for Lee Evans. Evans provides not only veteran leadership, but also a down field threat that the offense has lacked in the past.

Quarterback Joe Flacco developed good chemistry with Evans in the last three preseason games. In Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Evans recorded zero catches in the win. Though, it must be noted that the Steelers defense planned to eliminate Evans from exploiting the weakness down field.

His presence allowed Anquan BoldinEd Dickson and Ray Rice to attack the vulnerable Steelers defense. Unfortunately, not only did the success not continue in Week 2, but the team was exposed by the Tennessee Titans.

With Boldin facing corner Cortland Finnegan, Flacco looked for Evans to step up as the main target. Evans continues to battle a foot injury, and it showed this past week. Evans did not appear to be on the same page with Flacco on multiple occassions.

In a conference call this week, head coach John Harbaugh was asked on the progression of the new receivers.

“I’d say it’s a work in progress,” said Harbaugh. “They’re progressing, but like anything its been one of those years where you add.. you didn’t get the rookies in the off season stuff and the veterans were added so late.”

“I think we’re going to see a lot of teams progressing as the year goes on and it’s really important not to overreact. It’s really important not to panic as a coaching staff or as an organization and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

It is not time to panic in Baltimore, yet. The Ravens were flat in all phases of the game last week, and the team will be prepared to take advantage of a Rams team decimated with injuries.

However, if the new receivers fail to make a bigger impact, the results will be the same in year’s past. The main priority needs to be Evans’ health. Evans needs to be the different maker down the stretch, which Derrick Mason could not bring the last few seasons.

Smith, Dickson, and Dennis Pitta need to take advantage of their playing time by stretching the middle of the field. Flacco has begun building chemistry with his young tight ends, while Smith appears to be a rookie that has suffered from a lack of off season workouts.

The Ravens offense will be challenged in their next few games. After the St. Louis Rams, the Ravens must prepare to face the defenses of the New York Jets and the Houston Texans. Time will tell if the Ravens can be the elite offense they have the potential to be.

September 24th, 2011

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Few could have imagined ever asking. Even fewer could have foretold weighing a less-than-obvious answer.

And yet, here we are. We have to ask: Have the Arizona State Sun Devils surpassed the USC Trojans in the Pac-12?

This question, again, might seem ludicrous on its face. USC is a premier football program. They have been to seven Bowl Games in the past eight years. Once upon a time, they were staples in the National Championship conversation. More recently, and only slightly less impressive, they’ve been on the peripherals of that discussion.

Arizona State cannot say the same. They’ve finished three or more games over .500 just once over the past half-decade. Their biggest win came in the Sun Bowl during that time. No one ever entertains them as a powerhouse capable of party-crashing the tippy top of the Pac-12, which is currently headlined by Utah and Oregon.

After that, though, the conference is surprisingly wide open. The second tier consists of any number of teams, including Arizona State, USC, California, Stanford, and Washington. There is a chance that ASU is the best of that second-shelf gaggle.

Their Bowl Game appearances may not be as impressive, but they’re still getting into those end-of-the-year contests in general. They’ve made a championship affair in eight of the last nine years, posting a record of 3-5.

Looking strictly at the present, they’ve commandeered a greater share of the national focus compared to USC as well. According to 247 Sports, the project as the fourth-best program in the Pac 12 next season, with eight four-star recruits on the roster—the second most in the entire conference.

Last year’s team laid a replicable blueprint for future iterations. Head coach Herm Edwards has installed a gritty defensive system. ASU ranked 35th in points per game last season and has even more defensive playmakers on the docket this time around.

This isn’t to say ASU is definitively better than USC overall. The latter is entering a transitioning period. They’ve had a lot of turnovers, and their recruiting class needs time to reset. Their offensive system coupled with a knack for inflating quarterback stats should give them a clear path to regaining status in the Pac-12.

For now, though, the debate between ASU and USC isn’t particularly close. What once wasn’t a question still isn’t a question—just for entirely different reasons.

After years of trailing USC in the popularity and competition rankings, ASU has moved in front of them.

September 24th, 2011

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The Tennessee Titans are working off one of the most surprising NFL seasons in recent memory. They entered the year as an afterthought, a team that might flirt with a wild card playoff berth but wouldn’t do much else. They ended up being something so much more.

A midseason quarterback switch to Ryan Tannehill, along with an MVP-caliber year from running back Derrick Henry, helped galvanize their playoff chances. And once there, they did some serious damage.

Not only did they upset the New England Patriots on the road in the wild card round, but they edged out the Baltimore Ravens and MVP Lamar Jackson in the divisional showdown. From there, they pushed the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs to the brink in the AFC Conference Championship, keeping them on the ropes for more than three-quarters of the game.

All this success begs the question: What’s next?

Head coach Mike Vrabel and company were a surprise last year—a feel-good story. But after getting so far in the playoffs, they’re up against actual stakes now. Expectations are elevated, even if unfairly. The issue now is whether these Titans are equipped to meet them.

To put it plainly, they’re absolutely not. Nor should they expect to be. They cannot let a Cinderella postseason push distract them from the fact that they were still just 9-7 during the regular season, with an offense that relied too much on Henry and dictating the terms of play. If they run it back next year, they’re unlikely to be nearly as good.

To that end, the Titans cannot be afraid to make changes—big changes. They still need a franchise quarterback. They’re clearly done waiting on Marcus Mariota to develop into a cornerstone, and they have no business riding Tannehill for another year simply because he was the guy under center during their most recent playoff push.

Anyone who watched them knows he wasn’t responsible for their success. Sure, he did a solid job protecting the ball. But the bulk of the work was done by Henry and the defense. The Titans aren’t taking that next step, the step their conference championship appearance implies they already made, without acquiring a stronger playmaker to put under center.

If the Titans are hoping to parlay these good vibes into an actual contention window, they’ll need to get busy in free agency. A number of quarterbacks will be available. From Andy Dalton to Tom Brady, they will have options. And yes, you better believe they need to explore them.

September 2nd, 2011

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