New York Giants: Passing attack and O-line improve in PFF two round mock

New York Giants, Devonta Smith

The outlook is unclear for the New York Giants going into the draft after they addressed some of their big needs in free agency, but Pro Football Focus sees the franchise focusing on the offense when the time comes. The Giants have of course already added a premier weapon in wide receiver Kenny Golladay, but a team can never have too many threatening receivers, and there is a chance the Giants will be able to take one of the best players in the college game with the 11th pick.

That player is the current Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, who could fall due to his National Championship injury and LSU star Ja’Marr Chase being the preferred prospect. The two round mock draft sees the Giants managing to land him at an undervalued spot.

DeVonta Smith’s reported weight (170 pounds) shouldn’t keep the Giants from pulling the trigger on the Heisman Trophy winner if he falls into their laps at No. 11 overall. And while the team did just break the bank for former Detroit Lions receiver Kenny Golladay, Smith is an instant upgrade over Darius Slayton or Sterling Shepard — one who will benefit from playing a rotational role split between the outside and the slot.

Similar to Miami’s situation with Tua Tagovailoa, New York needs to do everything it can to see if Daniel Jones can be “the guy” for the franchise before making the decision to either move on from him or offer an extension. Adding Smith is a step in that direction.

Taking a look at round two

There’s been a lot less talk and discussion about which player the Giants will take in the second round, but that will be important too. If the mock draft is accurate, the player that the Giants will settle for in round two is Alabama center Landon Dickerson.

This is of course a pick that would have a chance of improving the offensive line right away by giving competition to Nick Gates, who doesn’t look like the long term option at the spot. He came into the league as an undrafted free agent, after all. Gates has overachieved to get in the spot he’s in, but at the end of the day, the Giants would benefit from someone with a higher ceiling.

Joe Judge was notably a former part of the staff at Alabama. It won’t be surprising if the Giants end up taking at least one player from the Crimson Tide in the draft, considering how Judge has already brought over some of the hallmark cultural aspects of college football’s top dynasty.

Even if the Giants don’t take Smith, that player may end up being Dickerson, who recently showed off with cartwheels that he’s over an ACL injury that might have raised questions for scouts.

BREAKING: Nate Diaz – Leon Edwards booked for UFC 262

Tonight we learned that UFC 262 is getting quite the co-main event. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani broke the story tonight that Stockton’s own Nathan Diaz (20-12) is going to be taking on Leon Edwards (18-3, 1 NC) in the co-main event on May 15th.

While the fight is big news in itself, what’s really interesting is the details. Diaz and Edwards will be the co-headliner, but the fight will be five rounds. This is the first non-title and non-main event five round fight in UFC history.

Leon Edwards got his wish in a quick turnaround after his fight with Belal Muhammad. Edwards had been out of the cage for almost two years when he returned to the UFC a few weeks ago.

“Rocky” looked really good in the first round and even rocked Muhammad with a headkick. However, right as the second round started, Edwards accidentally poked Muhammad in the eye.

Muhammad was unable to continue and the fight was ruled a No Contest. Since Edwards took no damage and he had only fought once since July of 2019, he asked the UFC for a quick turnaround. Leon Edwards got his wish.

UFC return for Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz is without question one of the biggest stars in the UFC. However, it’s been a while since we’ve seen him inside the octagon. The last time we saw him was during his BMF title fight with Jorge Masvidal.

That fight at UFC 244 started rough for Diaz, but he was starting to come on as the fight entered the third round. After the third round was over, a ringside doctor called a stop to the action due to a cut over Diaz’s eye.

Since then, we haven’t seen Diaz inside the octagon. The UFC tried setting up a couple of different fights for Diaz last year, but nothing ever materialized. Diaz has wanted to get back in there against a top guy and he’s getting that in Leon Edwards.

Edwards is ranked in the top three at welterweight. If Diaz is able to pull off a victory at UFC 262, it would vault him straight into the title picture at 170 pounds. This is a tremendous co-main event for UFC 262.

New York Rangers Defeat the Caps Behind Five Unanswered Goals

After giving up two early goals, the New York Rangers scored five unanswered goals to defeat the Washington Capitals 5-2. Adam Fox scored at 6:32 of the third period, which proved to be the game-winner. It was the first time this season that the Rangers have come-back to win a game when trailing in the third period.

Fox was selected as the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the week ending on Mar. 28. Since the NHL began awarding Three Stars of the Week at the start of the 2006-07 season, Fox is only the eighth defenseman who has been named the NHL’s First Star of the Week. He is the first Rangers defenseman to win that award.  Also, Fox has recorded 20 points in March. Per @PR_NHL, Fox is the third Rangers defenseman who has recorded at least 20 points in a calendar month in franchise history.

Artemi Panarin had three points on the night with a goal and two assists. Per NYR Stats&Info, Panarin posted his fifth three-point game of the season, and all five have taken place at MSG.

Panarin’s goal came on a breakaway, as did Filip Chytil‘s, who scored the first goal of the night for the Blueshirts.

Kaapo Kakko and Pavel Buchnevich also scored for the Rangers.

Igor Shesterkin was excellent in goal, saving 30 of 32 shots, some of which were of the outstanding variety.

Ryan Strome extended his point streak to 10 games and his assist streak to nine games. With an assist in the next game, he will tie Rod Gilbert’s franchise record for consecutive games with an assist by a forward.

New York Rangers come alive and score four goals in the third period

After a lackluster first two periods, the Rangers came out fast and furious with their four-goal effort.

In his post-game interview, Chytil talked about what the difference was in the third period for the team. “We didn’t shoot too much the first two periods'” Chytil said. “We said in the locker room that we needed to shoot more. put more pucks to the net and we had a couple of nice plays.”

Shesterkin played extremely well after the first two early goals. The Rangers usually help their goalies out by limiting the number of shots that teams get on them. Coming into tonight’s game the Blueshirts had held its opponent to 30 shots on goal or fewer in 11 of the last 13 games and in 23 of 34 games this season. In his post-game Zoom conference, Shesterkin was asked about how he responded after the first two goals and he replied” “I just did my job. After the first two goals, I removed myself from that moment and continued to do my job.”

Head coach David Quinn was very pleased with his team’s response after giving up the two early goals. He talked about that and their excellent third period in his post-game Zoom conference. “We have to continue to have a shooting mentality. It’s really killing us against a team like that. We have to get more pucks to the net. I thought that third period the way we came out and got more pucks to the net. To come out with the tenacity we did was a really great sign.”

The Rangers return to action when they travel to Buffalo to take on the Sabres on both Thursday and Saturday nights.

 

 

 

 

 

2021 could make or break Gary Sanchez’s New York Yankee career

Austin Wells, New York Yankees

It’s certainly been no secret that Gary Sanchez has greatly underperformed the past three seasons for the New York Yankees. In the Aaron Boone era, Sanchez has had just one season above a .200 average and a .800 OPS. He’s worked hard to break out of his extended hitting slump, but now in 2021, there could be even more pressure to do so.

Austin Wells, the Yankees 2020 first round draft pick, has performed well this spring. Despite not yet making any minor league appearances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wells’s potential was high enough to receive an invite to major league spring training. In seven at-bats, Wells singled twice, including a hard hit up the middle on March 28 against Philadelphia.

At just 21 years old, Wells is making a strong impression on the Yankees. He was actually drafted in the 35th round of the 2018 draft by the Yankees out of high school, but decided to go to college instead. Being that the Yankees chose him again in the 2020 draft, that shows how highly the teams thinks of him.

Wells will finally get minor league at-bats this season since MiLB baseball is finally resuming, and he’ll have an opportunity to really show what he can do. If he performs well, the Yankees likely won’t be hesitant to advance him to higher minor league levels, especially if Sanchez is struggling in the majors.

So, if Gary Sanchez doesn’t perform well this season, his Yankee days could soon be outnumbered. If Wells continues his strong play in 2021, he could progress through the minor league ranks quickly and be major league ready soon. It’s certainly not unheard of that players make their MLB debuts within a couple years of their draft, and that could be the case for Wells if Sanchez continue to underperform for the Yankees.

 

BREAKING: UFC headliner between Marvin Vettori and Darren Till is off

A pivotal headliner in the UFC‘s middleweight division is off. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani was the first to report that the upcoming headliner between Darren Till (18-3-1) and Marvin Vettori (16-4-1) is off.

Darren Till suffered an injury to his collarbone and had to pull out of the fight on April 10th. This is the second straight headlining matchup that Till has had to pull out of.

Marvin Vettori took to Twitter and said that he is willing to fight anyone who’s willing to step in on two weeks notice. At this time, the UFC is currently exploring replacement options to keep Vettori in the headliner.

This Fight Night was set to be the second UFC Fight Night on ABC. The matchup was pivotal given the fluid middleweight division. The winner could have produced the next title challenger for Israel Adesanya.

UFC’s Options

The UFC had huge middleweight matchups booked for April and two headliners have been called off. On April 17th, Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa were set to fight in a title eliminator.

However, Costa had to pull out of the fight. Now, that event was saved as Kelvin Gastelum stepped up to take on Whittaker on short notice. Now, the UFC has to try and find a new opponent for The Italian Dream.

So what options are available to the UFC? I doubt this is a possibility, but the promotion could always give Derek Brunson (22-7) a call. Brunson just won a headliner against Kevin Holland (22-6) 10 days ago, but that was his fourth win in a row.

If he’s willing to do a Donald Cerrone-like turnaround, this is the matchup that makes the most sense from a rankings perspective. Holland has also said he would step in on Twitter. The only other option could be either Chris Weidman (15-5) or Uriah Hall (16-9).

Those two are scheduled to fight at UFC 261 so one of them could choose to step up and take the main event spot. This situation is very fluid and it’s one to keep your eyes on over the next few hours.

New York Jets’ debut 17th game comes against Philadelphia

The first-ever 17-game regular season will feature a matchup between the New York Jets and their cross-conference green rivals.

The NFL confirmed plans to move forward with its first-ever 17-game regular season on Tuesday afternoon. League owners voted in the new change, which also trims the preseason slate from four games to three.

Under this new format, which will take effect immediately, the Jets will host a ninth home game, this debut edition coming against the Philadelphia Eagles.

A 16-game schedule had been an NFL staple since 1978, with exceptions in the strike-shortened 1982 and 1987 seasons. These newly minted extra games will apparently be interconference matchups, corresponding to the matching divisional finish with another quartet. For example, under the first year, the squads of the AFC East will battle those in their NFC equivalent.

By virtue of their fourth-place finishes, the Jets (2-14) will battle the Eagles (4-11-1) at MetLife Stadium. Division champions Washington and Buffalo will square off in Orchard Park while the Miami Dolphins will make a second visit to East Rutherford to battle their fellow runner-ups, the New York Giants. The matchups are rounded out by a battle between the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots in Arlington.

The Jets and Eagles have met quadrennially since the league switched to the current eight divisions in 2002. Alas for the Jets, the matchup has proven torturous as they have lost all 11 regular season meetings, the last being a 31-6 shellacking at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019. The teams have met annually in the preseason since 2001, a get-together that has proven far more lucrative for New York, who owns a 13-6 advantage.

In further NFL news, the 2021-22 season will open on Thursday, September 9 in a game that will likely involve the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the extra game on the schedule, the playoffs will begin on January 9 with Super Bowl LVI scheduled for February 13 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The Pro Bowl is set to return after being forced to virtual settings last season, with the 2022 edition set to be held at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Who will Francis Ngannou face after UFC 260?

Francis Ngannou

This past Saturday at UFC 260, Francis Ngannou (16-3) became the heavyweight champion of the world. Ngannou knocked Stipe Miocic (20-4) old cold in the second round to become the undisputed champion.

UFC 260 was the pinnacle for Ngannou who waited nearly two and a half years to get another shot at Miocic. In their first fight, Ngannou showed his inexperience with how wild he was on his way to losing a decision.

Saturday night, Ngannou was calm and composed. He dominated the fight from start to finish and scored the biggest knockout of his career. Ngannou is now 5-0 with five knockouts in his last five fights.

The UFC has their next superstar in Francis Ngannou. For months, we figured that Ngannou would be facing Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) if he were to capture the heavyweight title. At least, that’s what Dana White had been saying.

However, Jones and the UFC appear to be at odds right now. Before the weekend, we thought we had a clear picture of the heavyweight title picture. However, it now appears that everything is cloudy.

Who will challenge Ngannou after UFC 260?

Right now, the UFC has two primary options for Ngannou’s first title defense. The first and most obvious choice is Jon Jones. Jones is considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all time.

The long reigning light heavyweight champion has been preparing for his move to the UFC’s heavyweight division. Again, prior to this latest public spat, the promotion had been saying that Jones was next for the heavyweight title.

Dana White said after Saturday that Derrick Lewis (25-7, 1 NC) could actually be the next in line for the heavyweight title. Lewis and Ngannou have already fought once in an extremely underwhelming affair that took place at UFC 226.

However, Lewis has won four fights in a row to put himself in a prime position in the heavyweight division. If Jones’ issue with the UFC cannot be resolved, I fully expect Derrick Lewis to get the next shot at the title.

The wildcard in this entire situation is Stipe Miocic. Miocic and Ngannou are 1-1 with both men having dominated one of the fights. In theory, it would make sense to do another trilogy, however, there are multiple barriers.

The former UFC heavyweight champion and his wife are getting ready to have another baby. With that and the knockout, I would expect Miocic to take some time off. Ngannou is wanting to be an active champion so that pretty much rules Miocic out.

This situation is going to be very fluid, but I would expect a resolution before the month of April is over. If I had to put money on anyone, I believe they will get the Jones situation resolved. However, when it comes to the egos involved, who really knows.

New York Jets: Drafting Zach Wilson goes beyond talent

zach wilson, new york jets

Just a few days ago, the world saw BYU QB Zach Wilson produce one of the most memorable pro days in the past decade. Wilson caught the eye of so many that he’s viewed as a virtual lock to the New York Jets. Wilson’s performance may have booked him a ticket to MetLife for some, but others were less than enthused about his performance in shorts and drew comparisons to Sam Darnold’s past performances. The reality is that although Wilson is unproven, sometimes it’s better to take a shot at contention than aspire to toil in mediocrity. That shot is trading Sam Darnold and selecting Zach Wilson.

The case for trading Darnold goes beyond just the bad outweighing the good; since the day Darnold came out of USC, there has always been concern about his turnovers and decision making.

In two seasons as the quarterback for the Trojans, Darnold had 57 TDs to 22 INTs. Darnold also had a completion percentage of 64.9% in college, which is above average, but not a number that jumps off the page. For comparison, Zach Wilson had 56 TDs to 15 INTs. Not only that, but his completion percentage was over 3% greater than Darnold.

The eye-opening season that vaulted Wilson above Darnold in these categories was last season. After spending his offseason with John Beck, Wilson saw a jump from around a 64% completion percentage in his first two seasons to 73.5% last season. He also saw his interceptions drop from 9 in the season before to 3. Not to mention his pass attempts went up by over 25, his yards per attempt went up by nearly 4 yards and his touchdowns went up by an astronomical 22 touchdowns. Wilson refined his game and had a jump on par with that of Joe Burrow. Wilson’s decision-making is evidently better than Darnold’s was at this point, and there is an argument to be made Wilson has grossly exceeded where Darnold was when he came out of college.

The problem for Darnold is that his biggest issue was never talent, everyone knows he is talented. Darnold needed to see a jump in key categories like completion percentage and his touchdown to interception ratio, and it’s just not there. Darnold had a completion percentage of 59.8% throughout his three seasons to this point, along with a touchdown to interception ratio of 45 to 39. His touchdowns barely outweigh his interceptions, and his completion percentage ranked below nearly every quarterback who started a game last season. Darnold lacks confidence, and that stems from a lack of development. He doesn’t trust himself, and when he does, he tries to overcompensate with poor decisions.

It has been beaten to death how bad of a supporting cast he had, and that is true. I legitimately cannot think of a worse offensive line or wide receiver room than the Jets trotted out last season. Not to mention the utter incompetence of head coach. Darnold has not had help, and he has not seen any legitimate progression to this point. Sam Darnold is capable of making throws like Zach Wilson, and he has proven it, but Darnold has not developed, and with a new head coach, new offense, and a new future for the Jets, it may be best for parties to separate. It’s an unfortunate reality that, once again, a Jets quarterback has not worked out, but Darnold has not developed enough to earn the keys to the kingdom, and Wilson at least gives the Jets a chance to start fresh and the front office personnel a chance to take their guy.

Buffalo Bills’ Orchard Park stadium gets another new name

The establishment formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium undergoes another name change, as the Buffalo Bills reached a naming rights deal.

The Buffalo Bills added a little more blue to their repertoire this week.

The team announced the selling of naming rights to Bills Stadium this week through a partnership with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York. Orchard Park’s football palace will now be officially known as Highmark Stadium. 

“We are proud to welcome Highmark to the Buffalo Bills family and we are thrilled to partner with them on a new naming rights deal for our stadium,” Bills Owner/President Kim Pegula said in a statement on the team website. “We are confident that Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York is committed to maintaining their status as a healthcare and philanthropic leader in our region.”

“We look forward to many years of working together with their team creating great memories at not only NFL football games but at many other health and wellness events and community celebrations.”

Though financial details have not been disclosed, Ben Fischer and Terry Lefton of Sports Business Journal report that it is a ten-year deal.

Highmark Stadium has hosted Bills football since 1973 and has gone under several different monikers. Its original status as Rich Stadium (1973-97), named after Buffalo-based Rich Products, was one of the earliest examples of stadium naming rights in American sports.

The stadium’s most famous identity arrived in 1998 when it was named Ralph Wilson Stadium after the then-Bills owner. Many fans continue to refer to the stadium as “The Ralph” and have expressed their plans to do so on social media upon the new name announcement. Another Buffalo business, the New Era Cap Company, purchased naming rights in 2016 but backed out of their agreement in July 2020. The stadium was thus known as Bills Stadium last season during Buffalo’s run to the AFC title game.

Other notable events to take place on the stadium’s turf include the inaugural NHL Winter Classic in 2008 and Erie County high school football playoffs.

With the naming rights in Orchard Park sold once more, Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati) and Soldier Field (Chicago) are the only two NFL stadiums without an official corporate sponsor name. The Kansas City Chiefs’ dwelling is now officially as GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium after inking a deal in March.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Mets will bring back the black jerseys this season

The New York Mets are about to introduce the black jerseys after months of speculation regarding the matter. One of the most polarizing subjects among hardcore fans, the re-introduction of the equipment was announced by team owner Steve Cohen.

Cohen, who took over the team just a few months ago, said on Monday that the Mets’ players will use the black uniform in “a few games.

“It is the most critical question that needed to be answered — more important than anything else we could even imagine,” Cohen said, laughing, on a YouTube Q&A with fans. While replying to a follow-up question, the owner called the black jerseys “another example of celebrating Mets history.”

The Mets wore the black jerseys regularly from 1998 to 2012. Some historic players have been outspoken in their support of the equipment, associated with the Mets’ 2000 World Series trip and the 2006 postseason run.

Mets’ slugger Pete Alonso loves the black uniforms

Even current members of the team have advocated for them to be back, including Mets’ first baseman Pete Alonso.

“The reason why I love the black uniforms so much [is] when I think of the New York Mets, I think of Pedro [Martínez],” Pete Alonso said last year. “I think of Mike Piazza. I think of Edgardo Alfonzo. I think of Cliff Floyd. David Wright wore the blacks. Carlos Beltrán wore the blacks. I think of so many just electric players that wore the black.”

“I’m just picturing in my mind everybody in the stadium with a blackout jersey,” Alonso said recently. “I think it would be so intimidating, just a sea of black shirts out there in the outfield with music banging out of the speakers, lights going. It would bring a lot of swagger and a lot of moxie.”

The Mets will show a lot of that swagger with the black uniforms.