Atlanta will be a long shot to make the playoffs after some key departures:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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The Atlanta Falcons are heading in the wrong direction. After going to the Super Bowl just a couple of years ago Atlanta will now find themselves clawing and scratching to make the playoffs. When you look at the moves this team has made it’s easy to see why they’ll take a step backwards in 2018. The most obvious losses are the departures of Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe. Both of those guys are tough as nails on the defensive front and it’s going to be difficult to replace them. Expect Atlanta to draft a defensive tackle to bolster their run stopping abilities a little bit. Florida’s Taven Bryan would be a great fit for the Falcons and could lessen the blow of Clayborn / Poe leaving. That’s if Bryan can be a contributor from day one. Thomas Dimitrioff really should pick the Gators top defender and trade for another player to put on that defensive line. Takk McKinley will get better in his second season but the Falcons need more firepower in the trenches. It almost feels like this organization’s window to win it all has already came and gone. The people of Atlanta might not want to hear that but it appears to be true. Dimitroff must get creative in the draft to help his team become a contender again. Ultimately that’s going to mean this franchise will have to take a few risks. One possible option could be trading Julio Jones. Jones is 29 years old and his trade value will diminish significantly in the next couple of years. Why not part ways with Jones, save a ton of money, and get a bunch of draft picks in return? If you’ve been paying attention lately Julio Jones is beginning to become frustrated with the Falcons. Both sides should part ways now because it will be the best for everybody. Then in a couple of years those draft picks acquired for Jones can help get this team back in the hunt. It’s either that or just let things slowly regress which has been exactly what’s been happening since the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.

Charity of the day: American Humane

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Rob Gronkowski is on the trade block. Bill Belichick would like to unload the tight end before Gronkowski loses his trade value:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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Rob Gronkowski seems to be on the trade block and the Patriots tight end has a number of teams interested. The early indications are that the 49ers, Rams, and Lions could be in the mix for the star pass catcher. While it’s obvious that every team would like to have Gronk the concern for each organization has to be the price tag. Nobody wants to pay a 2nd round pick plus additional assets to land a player who is clearly towards the end of his career. Gronkowski has so much wear and tear on his body that he hasn’t even committed to playing in 2018. Bill Belichick would like to get some value in return for Gronkowski before he walks away from the game. Which is exactly why we have arrived at the point where New England is shopping one of their best players. On Gronkowski’s end it feels like the veteran is ready for a fresh new start. Gronk has a big personality and naturally that can be restricted by the way Belichick does things. Both sides definitely respect one and other but they still clash from a philosophy stand point. That could ultimately be the underlining factor if a trade does happen and don’t be surprised if Rob Gronkowski wants to go to San Francisco. The 5X Pro Bowl tight end has made it clear he is a firm believer in Jimmy Garoppolo. Those two worked on their rhythm and timing when they were both Patriots. So that past rapport could yield big results for Gronk if he does get traded to the 49ers. Only time will tell how this situation plays out but the rumors are definitely true. Belichick would like to sell high on Rob Gronkowski for some draft picks. A type move that’s been very common over the years in Foxborough.

Charity of the day: American Humane

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The Dolphins are in rebuild mode after a rough off-season:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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The Dolphins have been shipping out a ton of talent this off-season and you have to wonder if they’re going to be able to compete in 2018? Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey are all gone which is a lot talent that just walked out the door. Miami is going to have a very difficult time replacing those elite players and its tough to understand what this front office is thinking? Obviously the plan is to lower their salary cap a little bit but tanking is never the answer. This franchise is way worse on paper than a season ago and they only had 6 wins in 2017. Frank Gore and Robert Quinn aren’t enough to erase the problems Miami struggled with last year. There’s just no real direction for the Dolphins right now and it could end up costing Adam Gase his job. The fans in Florida want to see a team that has chance to compete. It doesn’t appear they’re going to get that this upcoming season and now it looks like Miami will be near the bottom of the rankings. A lack of talent, a recovering quarterback, and questionable decision making is the reason the Phins are so down and out. If this organization wants any shot of turning this thing around they better nail this upcoming draft. Really the only option Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier have is trading back and bringing aboard additional picks. There’s so many roster spots to fill and it’s going to take more than just seven draft selections to overhaul their personnel. The sad news is Miami could draft perfectly and still not be a winning ball club. This team needs a lot of work and it doesn’t seem like anything will be achieved anytime soon. They’re in complete rebuild mode in South Beach and the future is grim.

Charity of the day: Red Cross

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The Cowboys seem to be unfairly throwing Dak Prescott under the bus:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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Dak Prescott seems to be getting a lot of the blame for the Cowboys collapse last season and that’s totally unfair. Prescott had to deal with an enormous amount of pressure after Ezekiel Elliot got suspended and it was the wrong way to treat the second year quarterback. Prescott has been a spark plug for Dallas ever since arriving in Texas. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to throw Dak Prescott under the bus when he is the reason the Cowboys were able to put up 9 wins in 2017. When Tony Romo went down Jason Garrettt and this organization should have been in shambles. Instead Prescott came in and completely revamped America’s Team. Even though the expectations are extremely high in Dallas there still has to be some realistic goals in mind. How much was Dak Prescott really supposed to accomplish with Elliott out of the line up? If anything the fingers should be pointed at Ezekiel Elliott but we live in times where people are scapegoated often. Prescott is just the latest example and it’s not alright for Garrett to send messages to the media that his quarterback needs to elevate his game. While most people would say that a coach should hold his players accountable. This situation is different because Prescott has been the glue holding things together through tough times. It’s a miscalculation to apply pressure to the guy who is actually the leader fighting for the right cause. Garrett is on the hot seat himself and if he doesn’t win this season the Cowboys coach could be fired. Maybe Garrett thinks he can throw Dak Prescott to the wolves and buy himself another year of coaching. The business can be shady at times and hopefully Dallas wins so that doesn’t happen to Prescott. Regardless though it feels like Jason Garettt is setting up Dak Prescott to be the fall guy.

Charity of the day: Red Cross

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Michael Thomas has been a top tier wide out since entering the league back in 2016. The Saints have a true weapon on the outside in Thomas:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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Michael Thomas was a big time playmaker at thee Ohio State University and so far those skills have made the transition to the professional level. Thomas is a big target at 6’3 203 pounds plus his skill set is phenomenal with solid hands and a great football IQ. That has presented a match up problem for defensive backs around the league and now teams just try to limit Thomas. You’re not going to complete eliminate the Saints top receiver from the offensive game plan because he’s a natural football player. So teams have to scheme against this guy and find a way to somewhat take him out of the ball game. Detroit did a good job of doing that last year when they held Thomas to just 3 catches for 11 yards. The problem for the Lions was the fact that the other receivers torched Detroit’s defense and the Saints ended up winning the game 52-38. Which proves even having Michael Thomas creates a strategic mismatch because either you key in on number 13 in black and gold or let the other receivers pick you apart. It feels like if you really want to defend Thomas you’re going to have to play a bail technique with the corner lined up off him. You don’t want to keep a defender in the face of Michael Thomas because he’ll eventually make you pay. By playing a cover 3 soft zone on the former Buckeye receiver you can give him the underneath catches but you avoid allowing him to put up the big play. Either way you’re in rough shape when you have to play the back to back 1,000 yard pass catcher. There’s just too many moves in Thomas’ arsenal and football has always came easy for him. Thomas was a Pro Bowler in 2017 as well so the awards are going to start rolling each year too. It’s only a matter of time before everyone knows Michael Thomas is one of the best around.

Charity of the day: Electronic Frontier Foundation

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Myles Garrett is going to end up being a superstar in the National Football League. You can already tell the Browns got it right by selecting Garrett number 1 overall in last year’s draft:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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Every season we get a few players coming out of the draft that end up being busts but Cleveland Browns Defensive End Myles Garrett isn’t one of them. Although Garrett struggled initially missing the first four games of 2017 with a high ankle sprain. When the former number 1 overall pick did suit up he was unstoppable. Garrett ended up recording 7 sacks in eleven games and that was enough to keep all the naysayers at bay. Now if Garrett can play all sixteen games he should be able to really prove his worth to the Browns. Cleveland has done a great job of improving their roster this off-season and Myles Garrett will be a key component whether or not this team gets back to winning football? Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor, and Carlos Hyde are all going to do their part on the offensive side of the ball. Garrett needs to rally the rest of the defense behind him and get some stops along the way. In order for that to happen Garrett will have lead by example. Essentially that means the second year pass rusher will have to increase his sack total from a year ago. The former Aggie will have to be around the 10 sacks mark and if Garrett really wants to solidify himself he should try to be in the 12-15 sack range. A significant contribution like that is going propel this guy into one of the brightest stars in the game. The question is whether or not Garrett takes that next step and lives up to those expectations or will he regress? A sluggish year would be so detrimental to Garrett’s brand so the defensive end has a lot ridding on this season and he’ll need to play his tail off from the get go.

Charity of the day: Mercy Corps

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Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell will be a nice one two punch for the Jets running game. It’s always a good strategy when you put an emphasis on running the football:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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The New York Jets picked up Isaiah Crowell in free agency and that’s going to be a huge addition for this football team. Crowell and Bilal Powell are both good running backs and together they have a chance to really wear down opposing defenses. Crowell should end up being the starter he’s a little bit bigger and more suited for the every down role. Isaiah Crowell can set the tone on game day by rattling off big gains and tiring out defenders. Then Powell will come in the game and take advantage of a fatigued opponent which should yield favorable results for the Jets offense. So the real difference between the two is the fact that Crowell can be utilized better between the tackles and is a little bit more durable. While Bilal Powell is shiftier and can be used out of the backfield on swing passes and screen plays. By playing to both players strengths the Jets can put together a pretty formidable ground game. Ultimately that’s going to help New York establish a much more balanced offense in 2018 which is a step in the right direction. It’s so fundamental to play that style of football because now teams overexert themselves trying fill those running lanes. When that happens it opens up windows downfield which Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater can exploit. New York moved up in the draft to most likely select a quarterback for the future. However you have to really consider drafting Quenton Nelson if he’s available with the number 3 pick. Nelson is supposed to be the best player in the draft and picking a QB wouldn’t help this team right now. Nelson on the other hand would be plugged in as a starter from day 1. The stand out Notre Dame offensive lineman would also open a ton of holes for Crowell and Powell.

Charity of the day: Mercy Corps

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Brandin Cooks will be even better in his second season with the Patriots. Cooks and Tom Brady’s rhythm and timing should really improve after another off-season of working with each other:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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Brandin Cooks first season in New England was a productive one with the former Saints receiver hauling in 1,082 yards and 7 touchdowns. That was an impressive year for the speedy wide out but this upcoming season could be even better. Cooks and Tom Brady will get a huge boost from having another off-season together which is really where a quarterback and receiver’s rhythm and timing gets hashed out. Those two positions are dependent on each other when it comes to having success and Cooks will be much better now that’s he’s familiar with Brady’s style of play. Really that cohesion is going to be a difference maker for the Patriots and the combo of Brady / Cooks will be one of the best in the league in 2018. New England really had a setback in the Super Bowl when Cooks was knocked out of the game early on. We all know how that ended for the Patriots but things could have been different if Cooks was on the field. Randy Moss once said he is known for “taking the top off a defense” and Brandin Cooks is that same style of player. Obviously Moss was a once in a generation player but Cooks is a vertical threat and makes his living by going deep. Brady’s playing career is winding down and he’ll need Cooks to optimize these last few years he has left. That means Brandin Cooks production should spike and if you’re a Patriots fan that’s going to be very entertaining to watch. Everyone loves to see exciting football and Brandin Cooks is a big play waiting to happen. New England needs to put last season behind them and prove they can get back on top. Brandin Cooks is going to have such a big impact on New England’s outcome to do so and that’s definitely an angle that we have to be aware of heading into 2018.

Charity of the day: RedRover

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Melvin Gordon is getting better every season and that has to be a concern for the other AFC West teams:

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Author: Jon Kuzma

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Los Angeles Chargers Running Back Melvin Gordon had a pretty good 2017 season recording 1,105 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns. That was an outstanding year but there’s a real chance Gordon could be even better next time around. Each season that has passed Gordon has increased his output and that confidence is going to be the biggest factor for the fourth year player. We all know Los Angeles likes to trust Philip Rivers and the passing game but Gordon should take some of those throws away. Most coaches are going to prefer the run over the pass if they know they can win with that plan of action. There’s a lower probability of turnovers when the ball is being ran and Gordon is a workhorse. Why not control the time of possession and keep opposing defenses on the field longer by trusting Gordon’s legs? That’s the smartest approach for the Chargers and it will keep LA’s own defense on the sidelines well rested. When you actually plug in the tape and watch what this guy does well a few things become obvious. First and foremost Melvin Gordon has outstanding vision and reads plays phenomenally. Whether it’s cutting up field or drifting towards the sideline the Chargers RB tends to make the right decision and that leads to big gains. It should also be noted that Gordon always fights for extra yardage and he does a great job of breaking tackles. That toughness is such core part of what the former Wisconsin stand out does and it’s everything you look for in a running back. Now if there is any knock against number 28 for the Bolts it’s that he doesn’t necessarily have break away speed. Gordon is a 4.5 40 yard dash type of speed and he isn’t a home run hitter by any means. The good news is Gordon has really evolved as a pass catcher out of the backfield so he is finding different ways to get the job done. At the end of the day though you have to love everything Los Angeles’ top ball carrier brings to the table because above all he’s a competitor. Players that play with passion and tenacity will always have a place in this league.

Charity of the day: Mercy Corps

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Across the Middle Podcast (March/ Off-season)


Jon Kuzma and Chuck Cobb host the latest Across the Middle Podcast and touched on all the off-season action. Find out why the Rams are the hottest team in football and whether or not Minnesota will have enough firepower with the addition of Kirk Cousins? We also covered the Browns, Raiders, and Lions latest moves. Tune in and make sure to visit Endzoneblog.com for all your latest NFL news.

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