Taking the pressure off DeAndre Hopkins in Houston:

Photo credit: Brett Carlsen / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Houston Texans did everything they can to give DeAndre Hopkins a supporting cast around him. For the Texans that meant drafting Will Fuller and Braxton Miller to help avoid Hopkins from being doubled teamed. When you add in the Texans quarterback will be Brock Osweiler things are certainly looking better for the Texans offense. Hopkins was one of the best pass catchers in the league last season and the Texans desperately needed another wide receiver to contribute to those efforts. Now the Texans are hoping they will have two other players who can contribute to their passing game. Fuller was excellent at Notre Dame recording back to back 1,000 yard receiving seasons, while Miller was slowly emerging into a productive wide receiver. Now the Texans are hoping to use all 3 players in 3 wide receiver sets to create spacing on the field. That would mean teams will have to do extra coordination to stop the Texans big 3 in the passing game. Production wise this could go either way for Hopkins, he could improve from the other threats around him or he could regress due to less balls thrown his way. The Texans are hoping that those 3 players will mesh and the teams offense will improve on their 19th ranking that they finished with in 2015. It’s clear talent wise the team is much improved at the quarterback and receiver position. Now it’s about coming out and executing in games. Sometimes teams are very talented on paper but don’t fulfill that potential because they don’t sync in and play like a sound unit. Don’t expect that to be the case with the Texans however, Bill O’ Brien has slowly improved this team since he has got to Houston. It feels like he is the right guy for the job and the Texans will do everything they can to repeat as AFC South champions in 2016. Expect DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller to be a big reason they do so.

Charity of the day: Firefighters Charitable Foundation

Go donate! www.ffcf.org

The Redskins believed improving their defense would give them the best chance for success in 2016:

Photo credit: Al Bello / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Washington Redskins won the NFC East and went to the playoffs in 2015 and in order to top that performance the team needed to get better defensively. The Redskins front office understood this and that is why we seen the team add Josh Norman as the big off-season acquisition. Norman is an elite level corner who will make passing against the Redskins much tougher. Norman can break on throws as good as anyone in the NFL right now and he will give the Redskins a huge boost in the secondary. That wasn’t the only defensive move the Skin’s made though, they also made sure they got their fair share of defensive players in the draft as well. The team drafted 3 straight defensive players with the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th round picks (Washington didn’t have a 4th round pick). Which included Su’a Cravens from the University of Southern California who was a terrific football player and should be able to help the Redskins at some linebacker position. Coach Gruden has stated that Cravens will likely play inside linebacker for the team, so we will see how well he transitions to that position and what kind of contributions he can make to Washington’s defense. With the Cowboys landing Ezekiel Elliot Cravens will be needed to help keep Dallas and the other NFC East teams in check. Gruden and the rest of the coaching staff believe Cravens can do so and that is ultimately why Cravens finds himself in D.C. Another notable player the Redskins drafted was Kendall Fuller in the 3rd round. Kendall Fuller is from the prestigious Fuller family which now has their 4th son playing in the National Football League with Kendall. The pedigree is certainly there for Kendall Fuller and expect him to play a lot like his brother Kyle Fuller who plays for the Chicago Bears. That would be a good player to pair along with Josh Norman and you can begin to see why the Redskins put such a priority on defense this off-season. The team is hoping they can be a true contender in the 2016 postseason and with these moves they very well might be. This is the best the Redskins have been talent wise since Joe Gibbs era.

Charity of the day: Center for Victims of Torture

Go donate! www.cvt.org

Can Ryan Tannehill become elite in 2016?

Photo credit: Joel Auerbach

Author: Jon Kuzma

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had an impressive season in 2015. He recorded 24 touchdown passes and only 12 interceptions. Those efforts were good enough to put Tannehill in the category of good quarterbacks but if he wants to join the elite group with guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Tannehill will have to throw for more than 30 touchdowns and at least 4,500 passing yards. That would be the first step in proving that he is an elite level quarterback and after he achieves that he should work on doing it consistently year in and year out. That is what makes the best quarterbacks in the league the best. That ability to come out and make it happen every game. For the quarterback position that means throwing for 300 yards almost every single game. Tannehill was able to achieve that feat 6 times in 2015. Keep an eye on whether or not he can top six games of 300 passing yards in 2016 and if he does you at least know Tannehill is progressing. The Dolphins success hangs on Tannehill’s shoulder because it takes an elite level quarterback to win when you get deep in the postseason. There are rare circumstances where a lackluster quarterback has won the Super Bowl but that means the other positions on the team were stacked talent wise. You can tell Tannehill wants to improve his game, now it’s about having that breakout season and really solidifying himself. New coach Adam Gase will certainly try mold  Tannehill into that top tier quarterback but it’s up to Tannehill to complete the transition by putting in the work. The Dolphins could have a worse quarterback so you can’t really hate on this guy but the fans in Miami are expecting him to take that next step in 2016. We will see if Ryan Tannehill rises to the occasion.

Charity of the day: American Brain Tumor Association

Go donate! www.abta.org

Aaron Donald: dominant in the trenches

Photo credit: Michael Thomas

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Los Angeles Rams got a terrific player when they drafted Aaron Donald in the first round of the 2014 Draft. Donald was a an All-American for the University of Pittsburgh before his pro career and widely considered one of the best defensive tackles in the country. No one could of predicted just how good Aaron Donald would be at the pro level though. Donald has recorded 20 sacks in his 2 year professional career and averaging 10 sacks a season will earn you a reputation quickly in the National Football League. Donald has so many ways to beat opposing offensive lineman, it seems like on every snap he is in the offensive backfield. He also has an unusually quick spin move for an interior defensive lineman that he uses to punish blockers with. It’s that awareness on the field combined with Donald’s superior athletic ability that makes him one of the premier defensive tackles in the league. Now with the Rams moving to Los Angeles it will be up to Donald to take his act to Hollywood and continue to do what he has always done on the field, simply dominate. An example of how good Aaron Donald can be when he dominates is the game he played against the Detroit Lions last season. Donald finished that game with 5 tackles and 3 sacks. When you get that kind of production upfront from one player, it makes everyone else’s job easier around Donald. The Rams head to LA without James Laurinaitis, or Chris Long so it will be up to Donald to have his best year of football to ensure the Rams start off on the right foot LA. Jeff Fisher knows he has a special player in Aaron Donald and his leadership will also be essential to the Rams success. If this guy can come out and set the tone for the Rams, it will set a good precedent for this football team. Expect him to do so because Aaron Donald is one of the best in the business.

Charity of the day: American Brain Tumor Association

Go donate! www.abta.org

Gronkowski’s dominance earned him the 2017 Madden cover:

Photo credit: Doug Pensinger

Author: Jon Kuzma

Rob Gronkowski has been absolutely dominant on the football field over the duration of his 6 season career. So dominant that the people at Electronic Arts decided that Gronkowski should be on the cover of the 2017 edition of Madden. Gronkowski has been stellar on the football field recording 5,555 career receiving yards and 65 career touchdowns. Those statics put Gronkowski on pace to be one of the best tight ends to ever play the game of football and don’t be surprised if he ends up in the Hall of Fame someday. Gronkowski’s 2015 performance which included 1,176 receiving yards and 11 touchdown receptions is what actually notched Gronk the video game cover though. He was great in 2015 and the Madden franchise wanted to capitalize on Gronkowski’s marketability. It’s reported that Gronkowski will earn a little less than $500,000 for being on the cover and Electronic Arts is hoping that Gronkowski can put together one of his best seasons ever in 2016 to help optimize sales. Betting on Gronkowski is a good move because he has only had less than 10 touchdown receptions once in his 6 seasons and he is about as automatic of a player that you’re going to find. Gronkowski will have to overcome the loss of Tom Brady for four games but you have to think that he will still be able to put up a touchdown every other game in Brady’s absence. That will give Gronkowski 12 games with Brady to get 8 touchdowns and post yet another season of 10 touchdown receptions. That should be enough to please E.A Sports and continue Madden’s legacy as the best sports video game to ever exist. Football fans have to be happy for Rob Gronkowski and if there is a guy who will defy the “Madden curse” it’s certainly Rob Gronkowski. Gronk very well might end up as the best tight end to ever play the game and the cover is an award Gronkowski certainly deserves. When it’s all said and done it’s just another accolade for the Patriots tight end.

Charity of the day: Huntington’s Disease Society of America

Go donate! www.hdsa.org

Can the Chiefs take the next step in the postseason?

Photo credit: Jamie Squire

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Kansas City Chiefs overachieved last season making it all the way to the AFC divisional round. Now with another off-season under Head Coach Andy Reid’s belt the team will try to take that next step and do whatever they can to get to that Lombardi Trophy. The Chiefs signed Travis Kelce to a contract extension to make sure their key tight end doesn’t skip town. The team also franchise tagged Eric Berry to keep one of their better defenders in the mix. There weren’t any marquee free agent signings from other teams, but that is always how Reid does business. He prefers to build through the draft and promote from within. That is why Reid’s players respect him so much because ultimately Coach Reid does a great job of looking out for his players best interest. The result of that philosophy is Reid’s teams always have great team morale and outstanding team chemistry. Which is why the Chiefs overachieved last season and ultimately why Andy Reid has continuously overachieved as a head coach. In the draft the Chiefs traded out of the first round in exchange for 3 draft picks (2nd, 4th, and 6th). That allowed the team to get a couple extra players during the draft which will help contribute in 2016. As far as player selection goes, the Chiefs continued to address the trenches like Reid always does. The team took a defensive tackle with their first pick in the draft (2nd round, 6th pick) and that player was Chris Jones out of Mississippi State. Smith can come in and add a boost to that Chiefs defensive line and will certainly result in more pressure for the team’s defense. The team also selected 3 cornerbacks in the draft hoping that one player can be paired along with Marcus Peters. Clearly the Chiefs’ front office thought the position was a serious need for the team and that is why we seen them take a shot at the cornerback position in the 2nd, 4th, and 6th round. Overall it’s clear the team is trying to take that next step by adding a surge of youth to their team. The Chiefs believe they can take young talents and mold them into effective football players and that strategy allows Kansas City to avoid taking any gambles on overpriced free agent. It’s worked this far but it’s hard to say how much ground the Chiefs have gained in the AFC playoff picture. You have to take a “wait and see” approach with the Chiefs because nobody thought they’d be as good as they were last year. They easily could be better or they easily could regress. A lot of factors go into those final results and really the thing that is most key is whether or not the team can stay healthy. Still you have to like this team’s chances in the AFC West. The Raiders are much improved, but you still have to give the edge to the Chiefs or Broncos. With the Broncos losing some key players though it might be the Chiefs division for the taking.

Charity of the day: Huntington’s Disease Society of America

Go donate! www.hdsa.org

Marcus Mariota must become tougher in order to thrive in the National Football League:

Photo credit: Al Pereira/ Getty Images Sport

Photo credit: Jon Kuzma

The Tennessee Titans did a great job of landing their franchise quarterback when they drafted Marcus Mariota 2nd overall in the 2015 Draft. The former Ducks quarterback was a big time player at Oregon and his efforts led him to receiving the Heisman Trophy which is given out to the best player in college football. Those past accomplishments put him all over the Titans radar and they wasted no time when it came to selecting a player off the board in that 2015 Draft. Now after one season in the league and reflecting back on Mariota’s play, it’s clear Marcus Mariota has to make a few adjustments moving forward to ensure he can become a successful football player at the professional level. The main weakness Mariota has to address is simply getting tougher. Mariota was very effective as a passer throwing for 19 touchdowns and 91.5 passer rating. However Mariota only played in 12 games and was often sidelined by injuries he sustained while playing for Tennessee. Part of the reason Mariota was injured and out of action for 4 games was the fact that he was sacked 38 times last season. It seemed like every time Marcus Mariota dropped back last season he was being hit or a defender was in his face. That really made it difficult for him to have success and the Titans addressed that problem by drafting Jack Conklin out of Michigan State in the 1st round of the 2016 draft. That protection upfront will certainly help Mariota and the Titans also added two running backs this off-season to take pressure of their quarterback as well. With all of these pieces in place the last thing that needs to happen is Mariota has to simply get tougher. He has to understand that he will take some punishment playing in this league and sometimes being a leader in the NFL means having some grit and playing through those physical setbacks. The guy is good at being a vocal leader and rallying the troops verbally but he now needs to step up and show he can do it physically. That means being on the field for every snap, and understanding he is going to take bumps and bruises along the way. If Mariota can do that then there are no limits on the things he can achieve in the National Football League. If not he will continue to be a flashy player who is brittle and can’t stay on the field. 2016 will be a great way to assess Mariota’s durability and see if he can withstand the grind of being a pro football player. 16 games is the goal for Mariota.

Charity of the day: International Peace Institute

Go donate! www.ipinst.org

Romo is making good progress in his recovery:

Photo credit: Tom Pennington / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

Tony Romo has looked good at Dallas Cowboys camp this off-season throwing the football. Romo was sidelined for most of the 2015 season with a clavicle injury before trying to rush back to the football field. That resulted in Romo breaking his clavicle twice in one season last year, and people around the Cowboys organization were certainly nervous about the status of Tony Romo. Now rumors leaking out of Dallas are Romo has been throwing for about a month or so and has had good velocity on most of his throws. That is good news for the Cowboys who finished 4-12 last season, and the team is hoping to get all of their key pieces back on the field playing at the same time. The team also lost Dez Bryant last year early on and that really set the team back. Now having both of those players healthy and in the mix. The Cowboys will have a much better shot at claiming the NFC East title. The team will also get a significant boost from Ezekiel Elliott coming into the fold. Elliott has been one of the best running backs in all of college football the last couple seasons. He is a dynamic playmaker that will mesh well with what the Cowboys want to do. The Cowboys have a good offensive line as well so the team will get a good boost from their now loaded backfield. Those moves are great for the Cowboys because it gives Tony Romo a chance to hand the ball off early on and rely on the team’s running game. That will give Romo the opportunity to get back into game form and hopefully by the end of the season he will be playing at a high level again. The Cowboys have to get past the Redskins to get back on top of the division and Romo is a key piece of that puzzle. If he can come out and put up big numbers anything is possible for the Cowboys. If he goes down to injury again it will put the Cowboys back in the gutter and Romo’s career will be in question moving forward. It’s safe to say it’s a make or break year for Tony Romo personally.

Charity of the day: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Go donate! www.cff.org

Jarryd Hayne: the second time around:

Photo credit: Michael Zagaris

Author: Jon Kuzma

With former rugby star Jarryd Hayne coming back for his second season of action expect him to see a growth in his play. While some might say Hayne was a letdown last season, the fact that he even made an NFL roster is a testament of his athletic prowess. This is a guy who has never played football before at any level and he came out and played his first football game ever at the professional level. You don’t do that unless you are a highly gifted athlete and don’t be surprised if you see Jarryd Hayne taking the next step in his second year. Hayne finished 2015 with 17 carries for 52 yards and 8 punts for 76 yards however the thing that stood out the most was the fact that Hayne had an elusiveness and ball carrier’s vision that was clearly higher than a lot of players already in the National Football League. If Hayne can get the other parts of the game down most notably the “ball security” aspect of the game. Then things are definitely going to get brighter for Jarryd Hayne and he will almost certainly be on the 53 man roster. Now Hayne did get cut last year by the 49ers but the team signed him to their practice squad. Then they eventually brought him back to the active game roster, so that ability to withstand those setbacks and battle back onto the roster is another good sign for Hayne. This guy is a world class competitor before he is a rugby player or football player. That drive to push pass failures and letdowns is what got Jarryd Hayne to the pros and eventually what will drive Jarryd Hayne to NFL success. It’s hard not to root for a guy like Jarryd Hayne because he works so hard at his craft to be able to compete. The 49ers might of landed a special talent when they inked Hayne and 2016 will be a great way to measure what this guy can truly do on the gridiron.

Charity of the day: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Go donate! www.cff.org

Lions trade for Bostic in hopes of bolstering defense:

Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Detroit Lions made another move today under new General Manager Bob Quinn. The Lions traded a 7th round draft pick for linebacker Jonathan Bostic in an exchange with the New England Patriots. The move is a low risk move for Detroit because they only give up a 7th round pick and the team is hoping to add a little depth at the linebacker position by acquiring Bostic. Bostic has been shipped out by the Bears and the Patriots in the last year, so the Lions are hoping he can find a home in the Motor City. Bostic only recorded 2 tackles all of last year so the Lions are really hoping that he meshes well with their system and can elevate this football team. On paper it doesn’t seem like a great move because Bostic has been poor stats wise recently and he has been traded from his last two teams. However sometimes it takes situations like Bostic has faced to realize the opportunity at stake. Bostic is still young enough at 25 years old to turn it around and get back to playing at that high level that he was playing at during his time at the University of Florida. It will take some serious discipline though and a lot of hard work. Bostic now finds himself in a situation where he is running out of opportunities in the National Football League. If he doesn’t produce in Detroit there might not be any other teams knocking at the door and looking to sign Jonathan Bostic. There clearly has to be a reason why the Bears and Patriots chose to move him, and that is why Lions fans shouldn’t get too excited about this trade. On the positive side though it’s good to see Bob Quinn taking action, that is what this football team has lacked for so long. A guy at the general manager position who has a vision for this football team. If he can keep taking low risk moves like this that pan out for the Lions, the future might be brighter sooner than expected for Detroit fans. Still this organization needs to be unconventional and shake things up a bit, they are already facing an uphill battle being the Lions (a historically bad franchise) and it will take much more than one trade to make them relevant again.

Charity of the day: Huntington’s Disease Society of America

Go donate! www.hdsa.org

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