New York Giants: DeAndre Baker headed to Kansas City Chiefs

New York Giants, DeAndre Baker

The New York Giants aren’t bringing DeAndre Baker back after he was cleared of all charges in his legal case, and it looks like the former first round pick will end up in Kansas City. According to a report from Mike Garafolo, sources have reported Baker being close to signing with the Chiefs. This comes after Baker chose Kansas City as his only planned visit.

Obviously, the Chiefs are in a better position than the Giants right now so it’s interesting that they want a player that the Giants have moved on from. There’s a worry with some Giants fans that Baker will head to another team and immediately perform better, proving that the Giants as an organization can’t get the best out of their draft picks.

A situation that will be familiar to fans is the one with Eli Apple. The cornerback left New York after having problems on the field and, similar to Baker, having some attitude problems. However, Apple ended up having more success with the Saints after the Giants traded him.

When DeAndre Baker, another cornerback, was drafted by the Giants, fans were hoping for something other than another Eli Apple. But Baker didn’t get a chance for a second season before legal troubles kept him off the field. Now that he’s back in the league, the Giants have already made their decision on him. They’re not bringing him back, and fans will be left to watch with interest as Baker joins the one-loss Chiefs.

Baker may find success with them. Or he may not. But if he does, it won’t make the Giants’ front office look good for not getting the most out of Baker while he was there.

Knicks Draft Watch: There’s no stoppin’ Obi Toppin

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

The New York Knicks have their eyes on Brooklyn’s high-flyer Obi Toppin.

A year ago, Obi Toppin couldn’t even get an invite to the Draft Combine. Now, he’s one of the potential high lottery picks.

Toppin has been living in anonymity all his life until he defied gravity.

Despite averaging 20 points in his senior year as a 6-foot-5 guard in Ossining High School, Toppin couldn’t secure a college scholarship from big programs. His mother, Roni, tried her best to spread her son’s Rucker Park highlights on social media to no avail. When he was about to commit to Monroe junior college in New Rochelle, that’s when his godfather and mentor Victor Monaros saved him from obscurity.

Monaros, an assistant coach at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, used his connections to find a better basketball program for his godson.

“My brother was a good friend with Obi’s godfather and trainer (Monaros), and he knew we have a prep program here in Maryland,” Mt. Zion Prep head coach Rodrick Harrison told Empire Sports Media over the phone.

Harrison personally went to New York to see Toppin play. He liked what he saw. He went back to Baltimore with his new prized recruit.

“He was good. He was undersized at that time, but he can move, he can run, he’s athletic, he can shoot the ball, he checks all the boxes. The only thing was he was only 180 to 185 lbs. He looked different,” Harrison said.

At Mt. Zion Prep, Toppin was introduced to a more advanced and structured basketball.

“He learned to understand how to play at a high level against the nationally-ranked programs. It’s not like going to a typical high school. For him coming in just to get the chance to play against the best kids, compete against the best talents all over the country. That was one of the biggest adjustments for him —understanding the pace of the game at a high level. Once he embraced that, we started to see him getting unleashed and make that great strides,” Harrison added.

It was a stark contrast where Obi and his younger brother Jacob grew up.

Obi and Jacob’s father, Obadiah, was a streetball legend in Brooklyn who earned the nickname “Dunker’s Delight” for his high-flying acrobatic dunks.

“Me and my brother (Obi) used to go watch him play all the time. He used to play in all the city tournaments. He played with the (now-defunct) Court kings with AND1 star Hot Sauce. He played overseas, and he was like us, as a player,” Jacob Toppin told Empire Sports Media.

“He was very athletic, and I remember one time when I was at prep school, he came and visited me. And he was like, ‘let’s have a dunk contest.’ And he did a couple of tricks that I couldn’t do it. That’s cool. It sounds like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy!'” Jacob added.

With athletic genes flowing in his veins and a game made in New York playgrounds, all Toppin needed was a little polishing.

And he got that and more at Mt. Zion.

While preparing for his college jump, he had another growth spurt. He sprouted into a 6-foot-8 high-flying big man and soon attracted Division I schools.

“We knew that he had the potential to be a great player because he put on 20-lb muscle with us. We saw the change in his game. We saw that he was getting better. He was getting more confident once he starts looking like a man. And even when he went to Dayton, he continued to work in the same process,” Harrison said.

Toppin and the Dayton Flyers were a match made in heaven.

His gravity-defying acts became his ticket out from obscurity.

He would become the face of the Flyers basketball program carrying the team on his wings. He averaged 20 points on 63 percent shooting and 39 percent from the three-point region, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on his way to becoming the consensus best college talent, winning all the best player of the year awards last season. He will be remembered for his signature monster slam after leaving the program with a school record of 190 dunks.

Toppin told ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz that he wants to dunk the ball every time once he learned to do it.

There’s no doubt he’s got his father’s flair and showmanship.

His stint at Mt. Zion gave him confidence that empowered him to flourish in Dayton’s pace and space system. At Dayton, Toppin further advanced his development, receiving high-level coaching from Anthony Grant, a former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant in the NBA.

He tested the waters in last year’s NBA Draft. He entered his name but withdrew after not earning a Draft Combine invite. But going through the process was like Mt. Zion all over again.

It was an eye-opening experience for him, getting sound feedback from the few teams who worked him out.

With a chip on his shoulder, he returned to Dayton with a different fire under his belly.

Toppin morphed into a monster as a small-ball center. He led Dayton to greater heights, and they were poised to enter the NCAA tournament as a top seed before the shutdown.

Despite being a 22-year old prospect, his age doesn’t seem to bother executives around the league.

His offense fits the modern NBA, but his defense raises some questions.

Harrison is not buying those sentiments, claiming his former player could thrive at the next level.

“I think he’ll be fine. NBA is a bunch of spacing. It’s not like he’s one of those guys who don’t want to get better. He wants to get better. So once he got to that system and pushed him to understand and play the type of defense they play, he’ll be fine,” Harrison said.

Even NBA and NCAA personal trainer David Zenon, who played against Toppin in pickup games around New York before he blew up in Dayton, thinks that those kinks can be ironed out.

“I haven’t seen enough to say that this is an issue, but the little bit that I’ve seen, I would say that are things that he could do moving laterally at the help side, but those are fixable things,” Zenon told Empire Sports Media.

“It’s not like he loses his man. It’s not like he’s not gonna show up and play defense. And also, you’re talking about the college game; there will always be defensive schemes. In the NBA, there’s no zone. Him playing straight man to man, I think he’s gonna be able to defend in the NBA, and I’m not worried about him on that side of the ball,” he added.

On the other hand, Schmitz believes Toppin can develop into a passable defender in the pros because he got NBA-type of coaching in college.

“The defense, I think it’s gonna be a challenge. The fours are now wings. So for him chasing those guys will gonna be a challenge. But this kid has been coached. Anthony Grant is an NBA-level coach,” Schmitz said in Zach Lowe’s The Lowe Post Podcast.

“He sees the game at a really, really high level. I think that’s gonna help at least to become passable. He understands those things.”

Toppin’s offensive gifts are what make him an intriguing lottery pick.

“He’s worked on his jump shot tremendously. His footwork is great. He’s able to run the floor, and he’s a great passer off double teams, so that’s gonna translate well in the NBA. And I’m excited for him. And he’s a good kid, a really good kid,” Zenon said.

Toppin has heard those ramblings about his defense or lack thereof. But he is confident that he’s done enough during his preparation to address the issue.

He’s been hitting the weight room thrice a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and playing against NBA players Jalen Brunson, Kevin Knox, former NBA player Terrence Jones and other draftees like Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, and his brother Jacob since Aril.

“Having those different styles of play, playing against those guys have been helping me a lot, especially on defense. Guarding the guards helped me because of how fast they are, how shifty they are. And I have to keep up; otherwise, I’ll be exposed,” Toppin said on zoom call. “I’m improving a lot, and people who think I can’t play defense, I’m going to prove people wrong.”

Toppin has been compared a lot to Amar’e Stoudemire, but Schmitz sees a different trajectory.

“This kid is a much better passer, and I think that’s where his game will continue to grow. The question is drafting a 22-year old in the top 10, and if you’re looking at the last ten years, the list is not great. But he’s on a completely different trajectory. I do think there’s still an untapped potential there,” Schmitz said.

Toppin is a projected high lottery pick. He has met with the top three teams in the lottery — Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, and Charlotte Hornets — but he has never heard from the Warriors after what he felt was an impressive interview.

Save for the Warriors; he did in-person workouts with the rest of the top five teams — Timberwolves, Hornets, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The New York Knicks used one of their ten workouts on Toppin, sparking speculation that he might be a trade-up candidate.

The Knicks have been constantly linked to Toppin, not only because he’s from Brooklyn.

ESPN’s draft expected Jonathan Givony tried to connect the dots in The Lowe Post Podcast.

“I think eight is definitely the lowest he goes,” Givony said. “The guy who recruited him all year who signed him, you know, is running the team that has the number eight pick. I think from all understanding, and he’s dying to get Obi Toppin. There’s nobody that he trusts more in this draft. We’re talking about Leon Rose and the Knicks.”

Toppin, though emphatically denied this during his NBA Draft Combine media availability.

“No, I didn’t get to meet Leon (Rose) before CAA because I believed I was introduced to Austin Brown, who is my head CAA agent. And everyone on my team of agents — Mitch (Bukhar), Kristina (Kozica), and Sam (Rose), those guys right there I’m on the phone with those guys every single day. I believe I’ve never had a zoom call or talked to him before other than the zoom call with the Knicks,” Toppin said.

But while it’s true that Toppin hasn’t met Rose before the Knicks zoom call, Rose’s imprint is all over Toppin’s draft preparations.

Sam Rose is the son of Leon. Curiously, Toppin opted to station his training camp in Cherry Hills, South Jersey, Leon’s bailiwick.

Toppin has been training under Rick Brunson, Leon’s first NBA client. And he’s been hitting the Peak Skills gym and lifting weights in Adrenaline Sports Performance, which is co-owned by another former Leon’s client, Dajuan Wagner. Leon is a family friend of the Wagners even before he became the head of CAA basketball. Leon used to play against Dajuan’s father, Milt, in Camden. Rose’s senior advisor William Wesley, Milt’s best friend, is Dajuan’s godfather.

When Toppin signed with CAA, his brother Jacob transferred to Kentucky from Rhode Island to play under John Calipari, a CAA client and a known close ally of Rose and Wesley.

Those intertwined connections make Toppin a real possibility for the Knicks, whether at No. 8 or via Draft Day trade.

The Knicks are looking for a lead guard. But they also need an upgrade in almost all positions, including the power forward slot which Julius Randle, whose name has always been floated around in trade rumors, currently holds.

Toppin may not be the type of a Tom Thibodeau player, but his charisma and his exciting above-the-rim play will bring excitement to The Garden and sell tickets and jerseys when the pandemic is over.

“I spoke with the Knicks. I had an interview with them, and it went very well. They have a great organization. It will be great to go home, but there’s a lot of other teams that are in front of them that are great too. I spoke to a couple of teams, and we’re just waiting for the day to come for me to get drafted,” Toppin said.

If Toppin falls to No. 8, which is remotely possible, it’s hard to imagine Rose and the Knicks would pass up on him.

Toppin is one of the four players with New York roots in the draft, but he is expected to be the first New Yorker to be called on Wednesday night.

“Us having that name behind us, especially New York being a basketball city, we have a lot to live up. So we’re going to make sure we do so when we get to that next level,” Toppin said. “We’re going to have to stand out and be a name for New York. We’re going to have to do what we have to do to make sure people know where we’re from.”

Toppin always talks about living out his father’s dream, creating a legacy for his family.

“Seeing the smiles on mom and my dad’s face makes me work even harder every single day, Toppin said.

While the global pandemic prevented him from leaving a legacy behind in Dayton, he is determined to complete the unfinished business at the next level, whether in New York or elsewhere.

All he wants is a place like Mt. Zion and Dayton, where he is desired.

“Going to a place where people are going to want to help me develop and get better and make sure I’m going to be great one day, be a Hall of Famer, be Player of the Year, MVP. All these things,” he said. “I feel like going to a team that’s going to work on me and develop me to be a great player is where I want to go —whether that’s No. 1 or the bottom of the draft. I feel like where I want to go a team that’s going to prepare me to be great.”

Four years ago, Toppin looked like an afterthought. Now, he’s one of the most sought-after prospects.

And it all started in Mt. Zion, which gave him his shot to reach the summit of basketball.

Harrison’s reflection tells a lot about how far Toppin has come since discovering him in one of New York’s playgrounds.

“We always knew he would become a pro, but to predict him to be a lottery pick, no, we didn’t see it coming,” Harrison said.

Toppin’s remarkable rise is the stuff of legend.

Once he started to defy the weight of insecurity that came with obscurity, there’s no stoppin’ Toppin.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks should only be in on Westbrook for the right price

New York Knicks, Russell Westbrook

The NBA offseason is officially underway. Trades officially can be made as of Monday at noon, and the NBA Draft is Wednesday, which is then followed by the start of free agency on Friday. It’s going to be a jam-packed and super exciting week that will have NBA fans glued to Twitter trying to keep up with everything. As for the New York Knicks, there has been the usual influx of trade, draft, and free agency rumors, and one big name that they are reportedly interested in is star point guard Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook has quickly become the center of Knicks chatter over the past couple of days, especially after seeing long-rumored trade target Chris Paul land in Phoenix.

There are positives and negatives to bringing in any player, especially one of Westbrook’s caliber. The 32-year-old is a future Hall of Famer with nine All-Star appearances and one MVP award under his belt. He is still playing at a very high level and has shown no clear signs of regression, averaging a stat line of 27.2 points, 7.0 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game for Houston last season.

Westbrook is also one of the fiercest competitors the game has ever seen and plays with an unmatchable level of energy every second he’s on the court. He is a player whose work ethic and toughness would fit right into the kind of culture that Tom Thibodeau wants to build in New York, and he brings the kind of star power to Madison Square Garden that the Knicks haven’t had since Carmelo Anthony.

With all that being said, it would only be logical for the Knicks to make a move for Westbrook, or anyone for that matter, for the right price. As many positives as there are with Westbrook, there are negatives as well. His game is centered around his explosiveness, and that kind of playing style has resulted in multiple knee surgeries throughout Westbrook’s career, which will only increase as he continues to get older in age.

There’s also the issue of his massive contract. Entering the third year of a 5-year, $206 million dollar deal, Westbrook will be due over $41 million this season, $44 million in 2021, and $47 million in 2022. That’s a hefty price to pay for an aging point guard with some injury concerns.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Knicks shouldn’t entertain the possibility of a Westbrook trade. Westbrook is still one of the best point guards and overall players in the league, and he’d fill a huge need in a massive way. If they can acquire him and keep important assets like RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and the 8th overall pick in Wednesday’s draft, then they definitely have to consider it.

If they have to give up one or more of those assets, then it would be best to hold on to what they have and explore other ways to improve the team. After all, the Knicks giving up everything for an aging, oft-injured star is all too familiar for Knicks fans. Giving up all their assets for Westbrook would show that the Knicks haven’t learned anything over the past 20 years and keep making the same mistake over and over again.

So, while Brodie in the Mecca would be must-see TV and a hot commodity, the Knicks shouldn’t value that as reason to blow up everything they have been building and accumulating over the past few seasons.

Report: Nets, Rockets verbally agree on James Harden blockbuster trade

The Brooklyn Nets and the Houston Rockets are nearing completion of a blockbuster deal that will send James Harden to Brooklyn, according to Anthony Puccio of Front Office Sports.

Multiple sources have told Puccio that there’s a deal in place, and both teams already have a verbal agreement.

Shortly after the news broke out, Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated put out more details on the imminent trade.

The Rockets are seeking a massive haul in return for Harden, who has been the face of the franchise since 2012. The 2018 MVP earned his third scoring title last season after averaging 34.3 points. In addition to his dynamic scoring, Harden also averaged 7.6 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals, becoming just the third player to lead the NBA in total points and steals to join Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson in the exclusive group.

Harden, 31, earlier rejected a two-year, $103-million extension offer putting more pressure on the Rockets to trade him to his preferred destination.

The Nets rose on top of Harden’s wish list after conversations with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the West Coast, and with former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni joining the Nets in an assistant role to first-time head coach Steve Nash.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Jets release CB Pierre Desir (Report)

New York Jets, Pierre Desir

The defender’s New York Jets career ends after nine games, tallying 47 tackles and three interceptions in that span.

Per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, the New York Jets are releasing cornerback Pierre Desir. The defender was signed to a one-year deal by the Jets last spring after his release from the Indianapolis Colts.

Desir, 30, earned 47 tackles and three interceptions during his brief New York tenure. His most memorable moment came in the Jets’ Thursday night tilt against the Denver Broncos at the start of Week 4, when he tallied the second multi-interception game of his career, as well as his first touchdown. Desir also had an interception in the Jets’ Week 2 loss against San Francisco.

Despite these turnovers, Desir mostly struggled in a Jets uniform. According to Pro Football Focus, receivers covered by Desir have earned 35 catches, the ninth-worst in football. Desir was also called out by New York Daily News reporter Manish Mehta for not appearing to give a full effort during a crucial moment in the Jets’ latest loss, a narrow 30-27 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. The aforementioned Denver game also saw Desir victimized on a highlight reel touchdown catch by Jerry Jeudy in the Jets’ 37-28 loss.

With the reported departure of Desir, the Jets have bid farewell to a trio of former Indianapolis Colts in their secondary, joining Nate Hairston and Quincy Wilson. The previously released duo has since respectively signed with the Ravens and Giants.

The departure of Desir will likely lead to extended opportunities for the Jets’ rookie class. Fifth-round rookie Bryce Hall came in for Desir during the New England game, while the Jets are also experimenting with undrafted first-year man Lamar Jackson and sophomore Bless Austin in primary roles. New York is allowing over 281 passing yards per game, 29th in the NFL.

The Jets (0-9) return to action on Sunday late afternoon against the Los Angeles Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Should the New York Giants try and claim waived Jets’ CB Pierre Desir?

New York Jets, Pierre Desir

The New York Giants have utilized a revolving door at CB2, a position of severe weakness on defense. They started out the season with Corey Ballentine at the position, but he saw his reps decreased exponentially after just one poor performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week one.

They quickly transition to former third-round pick Isaac Yiadom, whom GM Dave Gettleman spent a seventh-round pick on prior to the start of the regular season. Yiadom represented a bit more athletic upside and experience at the position compared to Ballentine.

However, the Isaac experiment ended rather quickly, after posting poor coverage grades following the benching of Ballantine. However, he has gotten better and better as the season progresses, posting his best coverage great against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 10. It’s important to note the Eagles oddly targetted Bradberry in coverage more frequently, a massive mistake on their part. Still, his grading was about average at 65.1, but the progress is what I am trying to extrapolate on.

Yiadom is only earning reps at the moment because of an injury to a former undrafted free agent Ryan Lewis, who secured the position after several adequate performances. Now, the Giants have an opportunity to potentially claim a corner with more upside than Isaac or Ryan.

The New York Giants could add more talent to CB2:

The New York Jets waived their number one corner Pierre Desir. It was always optimistic for him to be their top option at the position. He has had an up-and-down season, being gashed every other week, with the latest coming against the New England Patriots.

You would be surprised what a lack of confidence can do for a corner or any positional player, and the Jets don’t offer much in terms of continuity and momentum.

Giants’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham might be able to utilize a player like Desir more efficiently than the Jets. He primarily works best in press man-coverage, and Graham loves to utilize man coverage in his defensive scheme. However, since the CB2 position has been tumultuous, they’ve been forced to play a soft zone coverage to limit big plays downfield.

Desir might be the answer at CB2 for the Giants and is only owed about $1.41 million for the rest of the 2020 season.

Considering the Giants are right in the middle of a potential push for the top seed in the NFC East, taking a flier on Desir might be a solid move. Not only is he a decent cover corner, but is also fantastic against the run, something Yiadom has been inadequate with this season.

Mets strongly considering Bobby Heck for front office job; ask permission to interview Indians’ GM

Simeon Woods-Richardson

The New York Mets, after announcing new owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson, are looking to fill two important positions in today’s game: president of baseball operations and general manager. After parting ways with GM Brodie Van Wagenen, the Queens’ club wants to appoint their men and start planning for next season and beyond.

According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, Rays special assistant Bobby Heck is “under consideration” for a top front office job with the New York Mets. It is not the first time that his name is linked with the organization, and it is not clear which position he would occupy.

Heck is a well-respected executive in MLB. He has been working in baseball for a really long time and has been with the Tampa Bay Rays since 2013, helping them build something great. Prior to that, he worked with the Houston Astros.

The Mets have real interest in Heck

According to Rotoworld, there is a “real chance” that the Mets and Bobby Heck soon formalize a working relationship.

Morosi also reported that the Mets asked the Indians permission to speak with general manager Mike Chernoff about their opening for president of baseball operations. Cleveland is a respected organization, known for getting the most out of its players and remain a perennial contender despite limited resources.

Chernoff helped the Indians go to the 2016 World Series, in which they were very close to defeating the Chicago Cubs.

As of now, it is not clear if the Indians will allow him to interview. The Mets were recently denied permission to speak with Milwaukee Brewers president David Stearns.

Chernoff, who has been with the Indians for over a decade, once declined to interview with the Mets back in 2018 (before Brodie Van Wagenen was appointed) but that was under the Wilpons.

New York Jets: Seven reasons to tune into the final seven weeks

The situation is undeniably dire, but there are still clean, less-than-macabre reasons for New York Jets fans to keep watching.

After a one-week reprieve, the New York Jets return to the football field on Sunday…much to the chagrin of their embattled fanbase.

The Jets’ annual bye was perhaps liberating for supporters of the NFL’s only winless team in 2020. It perhaps gave them the freedom to talk to family members, work around the house, prepare for their own week ahead. They probably tuned into other NFL action or partook in the final round of The Masters during a busy Sunday in sports. Those in the metropolitan area, in fact, are blessed enough that this tri-state area provides enough activities in which to adequately distance that one perhaps can avoid the Jets outright as they wrap up a woebegone 2020 season.

But countless fans will undoubtedly flock to their television monitors on Sunday late afternoon to watch the Jets battle the Los Angeles Chargers in their first visit to SoFi Stadium (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). New York returned to Florham Park this week, looking to find the good from their latest loss, a 30-27 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. Head coach Adam Gase that his team won’t be going down without a fight as they prepare to play seven weeks of what will amount to mostly meaningless football.

“I think we had some really good plays this last game, where we won one-on-one matchups and made the other side pay for it. I think defensively, we just got to continue to get better at getting people off the field,” Gase said, per notes from the Jets. “I think there’s a lot of little details that we can definitely clean up and I know our coaching staff’s, that’s what they spent the majority of the last week doing is making sure that we had a good plan going into this week, we explained it to the players today, we made sure that we went in detail of our expectations and what we need to work on moving forward.”

If Jets fans truly need a reason to get back into the fold of things, if only to have a built-in excuse for avoiding holiday preparations, ESM has a corresponding number of reasons…

(Photo: Getty)

Mims’ the Word

Jets fans had to be patient when it came to Denzel Mims’ NFL debut after the second-round pick endured hamstring injuries during training camp that eventually put him on injured reserve. So far, Mims has proven to be well worth the wait, earning 146 yards on 10 receptions thus far. Mims has earned positive reviews for his route running and ability to create separation and set an infantile career-best with 62 receiving yards in last week’s Monday night tilt against New England.

“I think the last few weeks you’ve seen some positive things from him, especially for a guy who’s really had two weeks of practices prior to playing in two games,” general manager Joe Douglas said about Mims, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “I mean really, this is almost like the end of training camp for him in terms of the amount of actual professional football reps that he’s had. We’re really excited about seeing his progression these last eight games and what he brings in terms of his catch radius, ball skills, and route running.”

The Baylor alum has strong potential as a big play receiver and has put the Jets’ minds at ease for passing on several name-brand receiving talents at 11th overall to take Mekhi Becton (who has done a decent job in dispelling those doubts as well). Some big milestones could await Mims over these final hours, including his first NFL touchdown and 100-yard game. Provided all stay healthy, the Jets’ progress with the top three receivers of their group (with Mims joining veterans Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman) should be something to keep an eye on. With all three in the lineup for the first on Monday against the Patriots, the Jets put up a season-best 322 yards of offense.

 Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Kids Are All Right

Even with extra playoff capital, 2020 was never meant to be a year of contention for the Jets, but one to develop and nurture their rookies. Between Becton and Mims, Douglas’ first draft has positive reviews, but other plays have struggled to get into the fold due to injuries (OL Cameron Clark, DE/LB Jabari Zuniga, CB Bryce Hall), or being stuck behind talent that has been bid farewell (RB La’Mical Perine, S Ashytn Davis)) or lost to injuries of their own.

With nothing to lose, there could be some prime opportunities for the Jets to work their rookies in their lineup on a more regular basis. Gase certainly appeared to have the idea in his mind shortly before the Jets departed for their open date.

“We’ve got to lead the way. I think especially, this rookie class, these guys have done a good job of just focusing on the present, trying to get better, trying to make sure that when their number is called that they’re available and they’re ready to make plays,” Gase in Jets notes. “I know these guys are getting a ton of playing time now, and that’s going to work to our benefit in the long run. It’s frustrating right now to go through, but seeing these guys going out there and playing and the amount of guys that are playing that are that are rookies,  I want to say we almost had 10 playing this last game.”

“The thing that you can say is the effort is through the roof, they’re given everything they have. We’re going to have to live through some mistakes, but at the same time a lot of these guys are playmakers and they’re going to help us find ways to win games eventually.”

Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Last Stand of Super Bowl XLVII

Joe Flacco and Frank Gore are more than likely set to join Brett Favre and Chris Johnson on the all-time “Wait, He Played for the Jets?” team’s depth chart. But these staples of new century football may be making their final stands not only in green New York uniforms but in the NFL as a whole. Flacco has taken over starting duties in the absence of Sam Darnold while Gore continues to hold primary rushing duties since Le’Veon Bell departed.

While it’s clear that neither potential future Hall-of-Famer is living up to the numbers or performances of their glory days, the former Super Bowl co-combatants have embraced their roles as veteran mentors to a team full of young players and guys trying to find their NFL footing.

“My goal is to show the young guys what it takes to be successful in the NFL. If they can see me working hard every day, they have no other choice than to follow. I’m going to keep working and keep fighting,” Gore told the Inside the Jets podcast. “That’s why I’m playing the game still.”

“The only thing you can do and, in terms of being on teams that have gotten through tough times, is that you have to stay in the moment, tune out the outside noise,” Flacco said in a report from Bell following a defeat in Miami last month. “It’s a lot harder to go out every week in practice. It happens to a bunch of teams every year, but the NFL doesn’t stop playing games because you’re going through a tough time.”

The Jets’ youngest participants would be wise to heed the advice of Gore, who is now 993 yards away from passing Walter Payton for second place on the all-time NFL rushing yards list. Gore’s NFL endeavors began in the midst of a rebuild in San Francisco, who began the rusher’s career with six consecutive non-winning seasons. With the help of fellow homegrown talents like Vernon Davis, Alex Smith, Patrick Willis, and Colin Kaepernick, Gore eventually broke the 49ers out of their rut with a 13-win season in 2011. The season after, Gore led the charge for the 49ers’ first Super Bowl trek in nearly two decades.

“Frank has been an unbelievable veteran to have on this team,” Douglas said, per notes and video from the Jets. “The leadership that he brings on a daily basis, how vested he is to help not only the offense but the entire team and especially young guys.

Free Agency’s Anything But Free

Part of the reason why it’s so ludicrous to guilt the Jets into the already ludicrous notion of tanking is that there well could be some NFL futures on the line moving forward. Rookies are relatively safe and veterans like Gore and Flacco are another step toward retirement or don’t figure to play major roles in future depth charts. But the Jets have plenty of free-agents-to-be whose last seven weeks could well be the difference between an NFL job next year and counting down the days until the XFL’s return in 2022.

The Jets have 29 players set to hit free agency once the 2020 season hits its merciful end. Primary among them are several defensive starters like Marcus Maye, Pierre Desir, and Brian Poole (who is currently dealing with injuries). An inevitable purge is likely coming to the Jets roster, a storm signaled by the dealing of reliable veterans like Bell, Avery Williamson, and Steve McLendon elsewhere. The final seven games will more or less serve as an audition for not only New York for the other 31 NFL outposts across the country. Offensively, Breshad Perriman will seek to not only stay healthy, but look to try and build a long-term home in either New York or elsewhere as he works with the final stages of his one-year deal inked over the spring. The former first-round pick is certainly excited about the immediate future and the opportunities ahead over these last seven weeks, especially if he can continue to work with Mims and Crowder on a consistent basis.

“You’ve got to kind of be positive about the situation,” Perriman said of the New England loss, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com. “It was the best game the offense has had all season, and like that’s just the start.”

 Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Sam-I-Am (the Future?)

Darnold’s continuing issues with a shoulder injury couldn’t have come at a worse possible time from a personal standpoint. With the team on a collision course for the No. 1 pick and the quarterback prospects that come with it in next spring’s draft, these final weeks could’ve served as one last stand for him, seven opportunities where the only thing that mattered is providing reassurance to the Jets’ decisionmakers that he is indeed the man under center for the future. The already painful injury must certainly sting a little more with the top receivers back, which could’ve set the stage for Darnold’s long term future.

In his statements during the bye week return, Darnold expressed a desire to play well over these final weeks but made it clear that his health had to come first, especially since he has already missed considerable time due to injury this season. Darnold sustained the injury during the Jets’ Week 4 loss against Denver and suffered a re-aggravation four weeks later against Kansas City.

“I’m just going to continue to do what I need to do, first and foremost to get healthy, and then when I do play, play well. Just make sure that I’m doing everything I need to do to execute the plays that are called,” Darnold said, per notes from the Jets. “At the end of the day, my job as a quarterback is to move the ball down the field, take care of the football, and score touchdowns. I feel like once I get back out there, I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”

If and when Darnold gets healthy and gets back on the field, his potential last stand could be one of the biggest storylines across the league, especially amongst the eliminated teams.

Quinnen Williams, New York Jets

Q & Pay

To say it’s been a tough season from a Jets standpoint would be the understatement of this chaotic year. But Quinnen Willaims, the final top pick of the Mike Maccagnan era, has undergone a redemption season that shows exactly why it was worth taking him third overall in the 2019 draft proceedings.

Apparently set to stick around after some rumors of a deal swirled at the trade deadline, Williams has been one of the rare consistent silver linings of the modern Jets. The sophomore from Alabama has already broken his rookie totals in tackles (31), tackles for a loss (7), and sacks (3). Amongst his fellow interior linemen, Williams ranks in the top ten in a good number of Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics.

The final seven games of Williams’ strong push in the right direction should be inspiring to Jets fans everywhere.

“He’s at the very top of our league as an interior guy,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (no relation) said shortly after the trade deadline passed, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “He’s only going to get better. I believe that. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be really, really, really good and I’m glad he’s here.”

Spoiler Alert!

This could well play a factor in the Jets’ joining the Lions and Browns in 0-16 infamy, but the Jets have an improbable chance to leave an impact on the NFL playoff picture in their winless state. With the exception of the Chargers (whose seven losses have come by a combined 32 points), each of the Jets’ remaining adversaries is no more than two games removed from a playoff spot. If the season ended today, all but two (the Chargers and Patriots) would go to the postseason.

The idea of the Jets disrupting the postseason party is not as shocking as it seems. Last season, their Week 16 win over Pittsburgh was more or less responsible for keeping the Steelers out of the 2019-20 playoffs. In modern times, this woeful campaign might all be worth it in the end if the Jets were to go to Seattle in Week 14 and at least put a dent in Jamal Adams’ playoff hopes. The Seahawks currently hold the final NFC playoff slot after dropping three of their last four games, leading Chicago by a game-and-a-half.

While many Jets fans would probably be downright pleased with losing outright to improve their draft position (if the apathetic reaction to the New England loss was any indication), the players aren’t letting the scary schedule determine their fate.

“It is Monday night football, but at the end of the day it is another game, another opportunity,” Fatukasi said prior to the New England game according to Bell. “My biggest objective is to go in and play as hard as I can with my teammates, rally with my teammates, and play a good game.”

“This is what we play for…to get a W.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

UFC books Max Holloway – Calvin Kattar

The UFC announced today a banger of a matchup that will take place on January 16th. Former featherweight champion, Max Holloway (26-6), will be returning against Calvin Kattar (22-4) in the headliner of the January 16th card.

It will be Holloway’s first matchup since he lost in a controversial way to Alexander Volkanovski back in July. The former UFC champion fought the current champion to a razor close split decision. Many, including Dana White, felt that Holloway won the fight.

With Holloway having fought Volkanovski twice in a row, the UFC decided not to run the fight back. Many have been wondering who the blessed express will take on next, and now we got our answer.

Back on the first trip to Fight Island, Calvin Kattar also competed. He headlined a card with Dan Ige. The two men fought in a war that Kattar took by unanimous decision. It was Kattar’s second consecutive win.

UFC January 16th

Both of these men are itching to get to the UFC title. Holloway is looking to get back to try to fight Volkanovski for a third time. Meanwhile, Kattar is looking to secure the biggest win of his career in this matchup with Holloway.

Since October of 2018, the only man to have gotten the better of Kattar in the UFC was Zabit Magomedsharipov. However, many people believe that Kattar would have won that fight if it would have been a traditional five round main event.

Instead, Zabit’s early lead carried him to the decision over Kattar. Kattar has looked sensational as of late. However, he’s going to get the biggest test of his career against Max Holloway.

The former champion is one of the very best in the world. Since 2013, Holloway has only lost to Volkanovski, Dustin Poirier, and Conor McGregor. If he’s able to knock off Kattar on January 16th, he might be next in line after Brian Ortega.

New York Yankees: Luke Voit is pain-free after dealing with ‘foot stuff’ late in the season

New York Yankees, Luke Voit

Luke Voit, the New York Yankees‘ starting first baseman, was the only player in the major leagues that hit more home runs in 2020 than in 2019. This year, he knocked 22 balls out of the park, one more than his output from last campaign. But even though he led all bigleaguers in dingers, he is already thinking about 2021.

Yes, the man that had 22 home runs in 56 games and finished ninth in the American League MVP voting, wants more. The New York Yankees have to be feeling pretty lucky about Voit’s appetite to get even better.

“Obviously, I want to get better and better every year,” Voit said to the YES Network. “Guys are still going to try to figure out ways to get me out and I need to be able to make adjustments. It’s a lot of fun when people say you’re the home run king or the home run champ, but 2020’s over with now and I’m just looking forward to having a better year next year.

And the most amazing development is that Voit had that kind of year for the Yankees while being limited with what manager Aaron Boone once hilariously described as “foot stuff:” it was later revealed that the first baseman was dealing with plantar fascitis.

The Yankees’ star got a PRP shot

Since the campaign came to an end (the Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series) Voit received a PRP shot in his foot, and he’s already back to feeling close to 100 percent.

“I’ve got no pain anymore,” Voit said. “I haven’t had pain since that PRP shot. It’s weird for a week because I was in the walking boot but everything feels great. So I’m glad I got it. I think that was the best case. I’ll get back to running in cleats in about a month or so to make sure I’m not rushed when I come to Spring Training.”

Voit’s excellent season has his name circulating around the league, but the Yankees will, most likely, retain his services for the future.

“It’s a part of it,” Voit said. “Everyone’s name is going to get thrown around, everyone’s a GM and everyone wants to talk about baseball somehow. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously, I want to be a Yankee. There’s a lot of Yankee guys who have had their name thrown around, but you don’t know, you just find out if it happens. Everyone tries to be their own GM right now and figure out their own trades, but it will all sort itself out.”