New York Giants: Is Leonard Williams playing better than expected?

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The New York Giants are signed defensive lineman Leonard Williams to a monstrous contract extension this offseason after a career-year in 2020. Williams totaled 11 sacks last season. Through the first five weeks of this season, Williams has only posted one sack. This has led to an abundance of criticism from fans and writers.

However, upon further inspection, some of the criticism toward Leonard Williams might be unfair. Sure, the sack total could be higher, but if we compare the start of Leonard’s 2021 season to the start of his 2020 season, the numbers might surprise.

Leonard Williams 2020 vs 2021

Through the first five weeks of the 2020 NFL season, Leonard Williams totaled: 19 Tackles, 4 TFL, 4 QB Hits, and 2.0 Sacks. 2020 ended up being a career-year for Big Cat. Williams’s stellar 2020 performance earned him a three-year $63M contract. Fans do not feel as though Leonard is living up to his $21M per-year price tag.

Leonard Williams has totaled 26 Tackles, 2 TFL, 4 QB Hits, 1.5 and Sacks through the first five weeks of the 2021 season. These stats compare quite closely to the stats from Leo’s 2020 season.

It is a long season, and there is no guarantee that Leonard Williams will finish the year with stats that compare so nicely to last season. However, Big Cat is making a greater impact than fans are giving him credit for, and he is making that impact despite getting double and triple-teamed:

Leonard Williams is not the biggest problem with the Giants’ pass rush. He gets paid more than anyone on the team’s defense, so he is subject to criticism. However, the numbers show that Leo is doing his job. It is the pass-rushers around Leonard Williams that are failing the New York Giants’ defense.

New York Giants: Insider names Daniel Jones likely starter for week 6

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants are faced with a dilemma in week 6. With Daniel Jones sustaining a concussion in the team’s week 5 loss in Dallas, some of the discourse leading up to week 6 has turned to the subject of whether or not Jones should start.

That is to say, not everyone agrees with starting Jones even if the doctors clear him to play.

The doctors, in this case, are the ones who hold the final decision on whether the Giants can field Jones. For a player to leave the concussion protocol, the NFL requires an independent neurologist to clear them. The Giants haven’t yet said if Jones is starting, and that’s because the matter isn’t in the hands of the coaching staff.

However, a report from NorthJersey.com claims that Jones is more likely to start than sit.

“It’s likely Daniel will be the starter,” an individual with knowledge of the situation told NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY Network. The individual was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation… “There are still hurdles to be cleared, but that’s where everyone hopes it’s headed.”

The arguments around playing Jones in week 6

Some want to see Jones sit this game out after his concussion in week 5. That sentiment is backed up by experiences from previous seasons where the Giants brought back an injured Saquon Barkley as well as Jones himself too soon, only for both players to flop in their respective returns.

With that being said, this situation isn’t exactly like either of those. When it comes to concussions, the process of bringing a player back involves more than just the team’s trainers. It’s unlikely that the league’s doctors will approve Jones to play if symptoms are still present.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to imagine the coaching staff choosing to sit Jones if the independent doctor gives him the go-ahead.

While the Giants are 1-4 and being counted out by many at this point in the season, the coaches and players certainly aren’t thinking of things that way.

The Giants need all the wins they can get as they enter this tough stretch of the schedule, and getting an upset win against the Rams on Sunday would take off some of the pressure going into a November that features road games in Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

If Jones is cleared, expect the coaches to play him rather than assuming the season is already over and taking the minimal risk option instead.

Bellator made a mistake with AJ McKee and Patricio Pitbull

AJ McKee

Last week, Scott Coker appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Hour where he broke some Bellator news. One of the key pieces of news that he announced was that Patricio Pitbull (32-5) would be vacating the lightweight title to stay at featherweight.

His brother, Patricky Pitbull, would be fighting in November for the vacant lightweight title. This decision has been rumored for some time, but it wasn’t official until last week. Patricky is one of the top lightweights but with his brother holding the title, he was blocked.

Now with Patricio Pitbull giving up the Bellator title, Patricky will have his chance. Pitbull gave up the title in order to stay at his natural weight class of 145 pounds. He’s focused on getting a rematch with the champion, AJ McKee (18-0).

McKee and Pitbull met at Bellator 263 at the end of July. They met in the finals of the Featherweight Grand Prix with the title on the line. McKee completely dominated the fight and submitted Pitbull in the first round.

Given the career success of Pitbull in Bellator, everyone assumed that a rematch between the two would be next. However, the debate was around which weight class it would take place at. They fought at featherweight, but there was an option to run it back at 155.

Bellator’s Mistake

Coker told Helwani that Bellator is currently working booking the rematch between McKee and Pitbull. I don’t disagree with the booking and in fact, I believe it’s the right fight to make. However, I don’t like the decision to do it at featherweight.

AJ McKee has massive star potential for Bellator. He’s fought his entire career with the promotion and his star is just now really starting to shine. Yes, they didn’t fight long in the first fight, but I think it’s safe to say that McKee will be a sizeable favorite when they fight again.

If I was in the Bellator front office, I would have tried to make the fight happen at lightweight. McKee wants to move up eventually and this would’ve given him the opportunity to become the promotion’s champ-champ.

On one hand, I understand the logic of having them fight at 145 again. Pitbull was the greatest featherweight in the promotion’s history and he’s really never been a lightweight. He simply moved up to fight Michael Chandler and avenge a loss that his brother had.

If McKee defeats Pitbull again at 145, he will have taken over as the promotion’s greatest featherweight and then he can do whatever he wants. I understand both sides of the issue, I just wish Bellator would’ve booked the champion vs champion rematch. It’s the bigger fight with more on the line.

Knicks News: Taj Gibson is the roadblock in front of Jericho Sims, but for good reason

new york knicks, rj barrett

The New York Knicks will be leaning on some of their veteran players this upcoming season to maintain discipline. Head coach Tom Thibodeau relies on some of the older players to help guide the team’s youth, and that is exactly what he expects out of reserve center, Taj Gibson this upcoming year.

Gibson has been a productive player in the NBA for quite some time, and he signed a two-year, $10.1 million deal this past off-season with the Knicks. While the contract has an OUT after the 2021–22 season, the Knicks are still excited about what he can offer them behind Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel.

“He’s a great veteran leader. It’s like having another assistant coach out there. He just knows everything,” Thibodeau said about Gibson. “He doesn’t make mistakes, he plays hard. He can guard every position. His shooting, really he’s always been a pretty good shooter, from 15 to 17 [feet], but now he’s really comfortable shooting the 3. He’s put a lot of work into it.”

Gibson continues to impress, adding a shooting element to his game this off-season that presented itself during the Knicks’ most recent preseason win over the Detroit Pistons. Over 31 minutes, Gibson posted 21 points and nine rebounds, shooting 9-of-14 from the field and connecting on a three-point shot over two attempts.

Thibodeau commended Gibson for adding even more talents to his arsenal, which should help the team if he’s called upon.

“So I think that’s what good veterans do. They continue to add to their game and he’s done that.”

The team is hopeful that Mitchell Robinson can make an appearance during Friday’s preseason finale against the Washington Wizards, and if not, they will try to get Noel involved in his place. It is unlikely that Robinson makes a significant impact to open the year, but the team has plenty of depth at center.

Rookie Jericho Sims has shown fantastic athleticism and aggressiveness rebounding around the rim but has a lot to learn regarding defensive shape and positioning. A season with the G-League would do him well, but having so many veteran faces to learn from should benefit him tremendously.

Report: Knicks sign former Spurs first-round pick Luka Samanic to two-way contract

The New York Knicks are taking a flier on Luka Samanic after the San Antonio Spurs waived the 21-year old Croatian.

On Friday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Knicks and Samanic have agreed on a two-way contract.

Samanic was the 19th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft after playing two seasons professionally in Europe.

The 6-foot-11 forward averaged 3.8 points and 2.2 rebounds in 9.9 minutes in his two seasons with the Spurs. During his rookie year, he averaged 5.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting from deep in 16 minutes. He added 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists as he rounded out the season as one of the Spurs’ intriguing young players.

Samanic scored a career-high 16 points against Utah Jazz during his rookie season. In the Spurs’ 119-93 dismantling of the Knicks last March 2, Samanic came off the bench to fire 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds in 20 minutes. He shot 3-of-5 from the three-point zone.

The Knicks roster is now 20 with 14 guaranteed spots and two-way players in rookie center Jericho Sims and Samanic.

As two-way players, Sims and Samanic can be on the Knicks’ active roster up to 50 games during the regular season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC Vegas 40 Preview: Aspen Ladd – Norma Dumont

Tomorrow in the main event of UFC Vegas 40, we are going to see a rare headliner in the women’s featherweight division. One of the brightest prospects in the promotion Aspen Ladd (9-1) makes her return as she takes on Norma Dumont (6-1).

Ladd was supposed to fight last weekend at 135 pounds. However, she failed to make weight and ultimately the fight was called off. When Holly Holm fell out of this weekend’s main event, the UFC called Ladd and asked if she’d take this headlining spot at 145 pounds.

Without hesitation, Ladd accepted the opportunity. This will be Ladd’s first fight in just under two years. The last time we saw her was back in 2019 when she stopped Yana Kunitskaya. Ladd is one of the best prospects in the UFC‘s bantamweight division, but she’s always had trouble with weight.

Fighting at 145 pounds should be refreshing for the young star. Standing across from her tomorrow is going to be Norma Dumont. Dumont is 2-1 since joining the UFC and her lone loss came against Megan Anderson in her promotional debut.

Since that loss, she’s put together two consecutive wins. Her last win came against former title challenger Felicia Spencer by split decision. If Dumont is able to defeat Ladd tomorrow, she could have an argument as a deserving challenger in the UFC‘s shallow featherweight division.

UFC Vegas 40 Prediction

This main event at UFC Vegas 40 is going to come down to takedowns. It’s no secret what Aspen Ladd’s game plan is going to be tomorrow night. Ladd is going to try and close the distance in order to get Dumont to the mat.

If she’s able to do that, she can easily finish this fight. Ladd has some of the nastiest ground and pound out of any fighter on the roster male or female. If she gets on top of you, she will throw everything including the kitchen sink at you.

That said, if she can’t get it to the ground, she could be in for a rough night. I really like the striking especially at range of Dumont in this matchup. If she can defend the takedowns, I can easily see her picking apart Ladd from the outside.

I keep going back-and-forth on my prediction for this matchup at UFC Vegas 40. In a vacuum if both fighters were at their best and trained for this, I would pick Aspen Ladd. However, given the short-notice nature and the weight cut from last week, I like Dumont by decision.

Prediction: Norma Dumont by Unanimous Decision

Knicks: Kemba Walker is a huge fan of Immanuel Quickley

immanuel quickley, knicks

When Kemba Walker signed with the New York Knicks, it meant there was another former All-Star point guard who would crowd Immanuel Quickley in the backcourt.

But Quickley did not see it that way.

“We added a guy, Kemba Walker, who can do it all, somebody I can learn from, compete with to expand my game. I want to be where he is eventually one day. So no better guy than Kemba Walker to come in — just like I learned from Derrick Rose, I can learn from somebody else,” said Quickley during the NBA Summer League in August.

It turns out the admiration is mutual.

Guesting on ESPN NBA insider Zach Lowe’s podcast on Friday, Walker revealed that Quickley is one of his closest Knicks teammates.

“I’m a huge fan of Quickley. I think he can be really special,” Walker said. “I think I can help him get his game to another level.”

Through the first three preseason games, Quickley’s playing time (19.3 minutes) stayed the same as last season (19.4 minutes).

Quickley’s shooting numbers (36.4 percent from the field, 30 percent from three-point territory) are down, primarily hurt by his last game where he missed all five shots.

With Walker resting, Rose started in his place, leaving Quickley the main target of the Pistons’ second unit defense.

But there’s an encouraging sign that Quickley could be up for a bigger sophomore season. He has improved as a table-setter with an uptick in his assists numbers (4.7 from 2.0 last season) as he has been getting more run as a point guard even when he’s paired with Rose for the most part.

The Knicks have made a conscious effort to let Quickley grow as a point guard starting in the Summer League that carried over in the preseason. Aside from Rose, Quickley has been learning the ropes from Walker, a four-time All-Star and a former All-NBA point guard.

“First of all, he’s just such a great kid. He asks a lot of questions,” Walker said. “He wants to be good and I love that about him. And he’s literally always in the gym like he is such a gym rat. I just see so much of myself in him. So I think he’s one of the guys who I kind of gravitating towards.”

While the preseason games are just a small sample size, and we shouldn’t be reading much into it, it’s different with the Knicks. Coach Tom Thibodeau has been treating it like the regular season. It’s safe to say that there’s a defined role for Quickley, and with a pair of former All-Star point guards to glean from, he can only grow from here.

Quickley wasn’t the only Knicks player that caught Walker’s eye.

“Another guy is Obi (Toppin). Obi is such a great kid. Another guy who is always in the gym,” Walker said. “It’s gonna be a big year for Obi. Obi is gonna be so great for us because he’s gonna do a lot of the small things for us.”

“And his personality is second to none. He’s such a great dude. He’s always smiling, always joking. And he brings energy. He’s gotten so much better and he’s always in the gym.”

Toppin had gotten so much hype as the most ready-made rookie when he entered the NBA. But without the benefit of a Summer League and the sudden rise of Julius Randle as an All-NBA forward, Toppin got lost in the transition. But Toppin’s confidence started growing after the All-Star break and when Rose arrived.

With Rose finding Toppin more in transition, he started to get comfortable and played solid in the playoffs. That spilled over to his first Summer League and the preseason games. Toppin looked more fluid and playing with more confidence.

Last year, Toppin averaged 25.4 minutes in the preseason and produced only 7.3 points on 37.9 percent shooting and 6.0 rebounds. In his first three preseason games this year, Toppin averages 9.7 points on 46 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds despite playing just 18.9 minutes.

“Those two guys are always in the gym. And I know from experience that when you’re always in the gym, it always pays off for sure. Those are the two guys I can highly speak of,” said Walker.

Walker knows it because it’s the same route he took to add a solid outside shot to his arsenal and grew from a 30.5 percent three-point shooter on 3.4 attempts as a rookie to last season’s 36 percent on a career-high 8.2 attempts.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Bellator books Aaron Pico – Justin Gonzalez

Bellator has finalized a big time matchup featuring two of their best featherweight prospects. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto was the first to report yesterday that the promotion had finalized a matchup between Aaron Pico (8-3) and Justin Gonzalez (12-0).

The matchup will take place at Bellator 271 on November 12th. While many will of course focus on Aaron Pico for this matchup, there needs to be a lot of attention on “The J-Train” Justin Gonzalez.

Gonzalez will be making his second appearance with Bellator since signing with the promotion earlier this year. After starting out his career a perfect 9-0, Gonzalez got a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2019.

Gonzalez was able to win by decision, but that wasn’t enough to get a contract with the UFC. From there, Gonzalez went to LFA where he defeated the previously unbeaten Jake Childers. That win was enough for Bellator to come calling.

He made his debut back in June when he took on Ty-wan Claxton. It was a close fight, but Gonzalez was able to pick up the split decision win at Bellator 260. Now, he’s getting a high profile fight against the dangerous Aaron Pico.

Bellator title run for Pico?

There weren’t many prospects that have ever started MMA with the level of hype Aaron Pico had. Maybe Brock Lesnar but that’s not entirely fair considering Lesnar’s status with the WWE prior to jumping into MMA.

Pico was looked at as a prodigy and Bellator signed him before he even turned 18 years old. He made his professional debut in 2017 and proceeded to lose in 24 seconds. From there, he won four straight before getting knocked out in back-to-back fights.

After those losses, Pico switched things up and went to Jackson-Wink for his training. Since making that transition, Pico has now won four straight fights again. With this current streak, not a single fight has gone the distance.

Pico is getting closer and closer to a shot at Bellator gold. This is going to be a very tough matchup for him and given the undefeated status of Gonzalez, the winner might only be a win or two away from a title shot. This is definitely one to watch at Bellator 271.

Bellator 268 Preview: Benson Henderson – Brent Primus

Benson Henderson

Tomorrow night on the main card of Bellator 268, we will see a fun matchup in the lightweight division. Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (28-10) will look to snap a two-fight losing streak as he takes on former Bellator champion Brent Primus (10-2).

Henderson will be making the walk for the 11th time as a member of Bellator. The former UFC champion signed with the promotion back in 2016 while trying to compete in the welterweight division. During his time with Bellator, he’s gone 0-2 at 170.

However, he has gone 5-3 at lightweight which is his correct weight class. He was knocked out by Michael Chandler in August of 2020 which snapped a four-fight win streak. He’s been mentioning retirement, but before he does, he wants to wear Bellator gold.

The last time we saw Brent Primus was back in July when he lost a split decision to Islam Mamedov. Primus has spent virtually his entire career with Bellator having gone 8-2 with the promotion and during that stretch, defeated Michael Chandler for the lightweight title.

Primus would go on to lose to Chandler in the rematch, but he has tasted Bellator gold unlike Benson Henderson. This is a big matchup for both men as the lightweight division is crowning a new champion next month and this fight could prove to be a title eliminator.

Bellator 268 Prediction

This fight will be decided very early on for me. I know that Primus is going to try and take this fight to the ground. We’ve seen Henderson be someone who is extremely tough to take down when he’s on his game. If he’s on, he could be in for a good result at Bellator 268.

Henderson wants this fight to stay on the feet. If it does, I would expect a variety of kick attacks and distance strikes to score points. I don’t believe either of these men would put the other out on the feet so expect more of a tactical battle for points.

Don’t rule out Primus landing a takedown early, but the majority of this fight should take place on the feet. Because of that, I like Henderson in this matchup. If he’s motivated and on top of his game, I expect a decision win from him at Bellator 268.

Yankees could target elite free-agent shortstop after he professed love for the ‘stripes’

Carlos Correa, Houston Astros, yankees

The New York Yankees have to make a big move this off-season to solve the shortstop position after years of trying to fill it with homegrown talent. The hope was that Gleyber Torres would be able to hold down the spot for years to come, but his inconsistencies have forced the Bombers into making a transition, which ended up being third baseman Gio Urshela during the latter portion of the 2021 season.

At this point in time, the front office needs to be thinking about the future, and with several quality options on the market this off-season, I wouldn’t be surprised Yankees tried to go after the best of the bunch.

Unless management wants to go in a cheaper direction, Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa could be a primary target, despite other teams’ obvious interest. At 27-years-old, Correa is the former first overall pick in the 2012 June Amateur Draft, and now he’s looking to cash in on a long-term deal. After spending the last seven seasons with the Astros, Correa posted a .279 average with 26 homers and 92 RBIs this past season. He recorded 94 singles and 34 doubles while striking out a career-low 18.1%.

Correa has already indicated that he is seeking a massive deal, and with the Yankees already tied up with Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Gerrit Cole over the next half-decade or so, it is also probable they won’t have the funds to make a run at him.

“A lot of people don’t believe in 10-year contracts and in long-term deals and all that,” Correa said. “But when you look at most of the 10-year contracts they’ve been giving out, the long-term deals, they’re players that are 31, 30, 32. I’m going to be 27 on my first year. I’m young, I’m healthy, and I perform. So we’ll see what happens.”

Correa has already begun testing the market with choice words, indicating his love for the “stripes,” avoiding to mention if they were Yankees pinstripes or the orange and blue of the New York Mets.