Could the Giants target Senior Bowl standout EDGE Jermaine Johnson in the top ten?

jermaine johnson, giants, seminoles

The New York Giants are sitting comfortably with two top-ten picks in the first round of the upcoming 2022 NFL draft. These two draft picks are providing the Giants with a lot of flexibility in this year’s draft. The team has the opportunity to address major positions of needs with top prospects in this year’s class or trade down to acquire more draft capital. The class does happen to be rich in the Giants’ biggest needs, though, with offensive tackle and edge rusher talents loading the top of the draft board. One under-discussed edge rusher product could sneak into play at seven overall for the Giants. FSU edge rusher Jermaine Johnson stood out at the Senior Bowl and has seen his draft stock rise in recent weeks.

Joe Marino of The Draft Network recently published a new mock draft. In this mock, the Giants come away with an offensive tackle and an edge rusher. However, it is not the edge rusher that Giants fans have had their eyes on, Kayvon Thibodeaux. Instead, the Giants land a home-run in tackle Ikem Ekwonu at five overall. Then, they snag that Senior Bowl standout Jermaine Johnson at seven overall. Thibodeaux was off the board at four overall in this mock draft, leaving Jermaine Johnson as the best edge rusher available. If the Giants have to settle for Jermaine Johnson, would they really be settling? Or should the Giants actually be targeting Jermaine Johnson in the top ten?

What could Jermaine Johnson bring to the Giants?

The Giants need an upgrade in the pass-rushing department. Azeez Ojulari is a promising young edge rusher on one end of the tackles, but New York needs to add another talent opposite of the Georgia product. Jermaine Johnson out of FSU could fit this bill. Johnson is generating buzz as a potential top-ten draft selection after an impressive spring. This could be a scenario where need meets value for the Giants.

Jermaine Johnson was described as the “biggest winner” from the first couple of days of Senior Bowl practices this year. He turned heads all week long and made every list of standouts.

Jermaine Johnson has a very quick first step as a pass-rusher, a trait that will make him coveted by NFL teams. But what makes Johnson an even more impressive prospect is his advancement as a run-defender. He knows how to set the edge and make an impact in run defense. PFF projects Johnson’s role in the NFL to be that of an edge setter, a “defensive end who profiles best in the run game.” Jermaine will eat tight ends alive on the edge.

But of course, the reason Jermaine Johnson is getting top-ten buzz is his pass-rushing potential. The Florida State Seminole totaled 11.5 sacks in 12 games in his 2021 senior year. Johnson’s productivity as a pass-rusher combined with his prowess as a run-defender makes him an attractive first-round prospect. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Jermaine Johnson has the ideal physical traits to be an NFL-caliber edge rusher. The New York Giants would be getting a day-one impact edge rusher with Jermaine Johnson if they do indeed draft him with one of their first-round picks.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin is just starting to scratch potential: I’m nowhere near the top of my game

It has been a long wait for Obi Toppin.

The New York Knicks’ eighth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft is starting to live up to his pre-draft hype, albeit almost two seasons too late.

Toppin has recorded back-to-back 20-point games, his NBA career-high. Over seven games as a starter, Toppin averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while shooting 55.7 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from the three-point territory, a swing skill once he develops a solid outside shot. The Knicks have been outscoring their opponents by 4.4 during Toppin’s minutes as the starter.

“I feel like I’ve improved on a lot of things, but I hold myself to a very high standard,” Toppin told reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “I could definitely improve a lot more in a lot of areas of my game — defensively, shooting, passing, being able to drive and find the guy on the opposite corner, or something like that. There’s a lot more room for improvement with me.”

Toppin is just starting to scratch his potential that made the Knicks fall in love with him that they even tried to move up in the draft, fearing he would be gone by the time they pick at eighth.

He came into the NBA with a lot of hype after slam dunking his way to become the College Player of the Year. He was one of the favorites to win the Rookie of the Year award until Randle played out of his mind and led the Knicks to their first playoff berth in eight years last season.

Toppin was reduced to an occasional slam-dunking highlight reel while watching his draft classmates, picked after him, surge ahead in the NBA learning curve.

Tyrese Haliburton, the 12th overall pick, is turning out to be a special player. Tyrese Maxey, the 21st overall pick, is growing into a solid third piece in a championship contender. Saddiq Bey, the 19th overall pick, is making Jerami Grant expandable in Detroit. Cole Anthony, the 15th overall pick, is having a breakout season. The last pick of the first round, Desmond Bane, is contending for the Most Improved Player award.

Finally, Toppin is getting the experience he desperately needed to catch up with his peers in the NBA learning curve and, more importantly, to show the Knicks brass that he’s not just the future but the present.

“It’s just reps,” Toppin said. “I feel like I can do a thousand things off the court, in practices and stuff, but there’s nothing like it being in the game.”

“When you’re in the game, and you have the opportunity to get the reps in, to mess up a couple of times and learn from those mess-ups, I feel like that helps a lot.”

Repetition breeds rhythm and confidence.

The usual burst of energy and hops are still there. But there’s more Toppin has to offer. Against the Magic, he shot 4 of 10 from deep. As his minutes rose to starter level, so was his level of play. It was also an opportunity to show some new tricks he’s been practicing, like the hesitation pull-up jumper off the dribble he did against the Magic.

“These past couple of games, I’m starting to learn like I’m getting more minutes, and I’m starting to see little mistakes that I’m doing,” Toppin said. “I can easily fix those by learning them. I wouldn’t know what to fix if I wasn’t put into those positions. Me having that opportunity is helping me a lot.”

Unlike his lower draft classmates, who were given longer leashes to learn and grow through their mistakes, Toppin has to earn his stripes in practice. So, Toppin is relishing this opportunity that may never come again next season as long as Randle remains with the team. While the fans blame New York coach Tom Thibodeau for holding Toppin back, his hands are tied because it’s illogical to start Toppin ahead of the player who is set to become the highest-paid on the roster.

Toppin’s future will always be tied with Randle.

So Toppin isn’t leaving it to chance. Even if Randle remains with the Knicks, Toppin knows how he could carve a bigger role, just like what rookie Quentin Grimes did.

“Being able to guard one through five — I think that’s the biggest thing [I have to develop],” Toppin said. “Being able to switch onto Kyrie (Irving) or (Stephen) Curry, being able to guard these athletes, and being able to switch onto Kevin Durant. I want to be a really good defender because that will take my game to another level.”

Wednesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets will be a good test.

Toppin has vertical and athletic gifts. It’s just about putting it together. Despite contradicting Toppin’s notion that all he needs is game reps dismissing it as a ‘misnomer,’ Thibodeau credited his sophomore forward for adhering to his coaching principles.

“It starts with reps in practice. Once you do it well there, then you do it in a game; that’s the next step. And then there are different levels, so you always want to keep adding,” Thibodeau said.

“I love the way he’s worked. He’s a terrific worker. He’ll be in right away as soon as the season ends, he’ll take a couple of weeks, and then most of our guys will be here for the summer. So that’s a very important part of the development and of going through the season and understanding the thing that you could do better and add to your game and grow. I think his experience has helped him. He’s got two years under his belt and seen different things.”

His transition from a 15-minute-a-night burst of energy to a 30-plus minute starter in these Knicks’ final games has revved up Toppin’s confidence. But Thibodeau dropped a hint that Toppin may be ready for something bigger next season.

“He’s gotten stronger. That’s a big plus,” Thibodeau said.

Does that mean he’ll see minutes with Randle more? That remains to be seen.

So these remaining Knicks games, however meaningless they are (in the standings), hold more significant value to Toppin and the Knicks front office than in the win column.

Toppin was never the standout prospect that jumped out from day one. Throughout his journey to the NBA, he was often overlooked and took time to hit his strides. He had to go to a prep school before earning a Division I scholarship. He redshirted before becoming the College Player of the Year.

So, when Toppin said: “I’m nowhere near the top of my game, and I’m going to keep working on getting there.”

You have to believe him. Because it’s looking like history is repeating itself.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC’s Julianna Pena blasts PFL’s Kayla Harrison for fighting “Tomato Cans”

The UFC‘s bantamweight champion Julianna Pena (11-4) is not a big fan of PFL‘s Kayla Harrison (12-0). A lot of this stems from Pena’s win over Amanda Nunes that came back in December when she captured the bantamweight title.

Harrison was in attendance and was visibly upset after the matchup. The general thought was that Pena’s win likely derailed a potential UFC contract for Harrison as the super-fight between Nunes and Harrison lost it’s luster with Nunes’ loss to Pena.

Harrison was a free agent after capturing her second PFL title and the UFC was interested. She came out and said that she could beat Julianna Pena with one arm chopped off after Pena defeated Nunes. Harrison also said that she would think about dropping to 135 pounds for that fight.

Now, Harrison has further clarified that the comment regarding bantamweight was more tongue and cheek. Nevertheless, she got the UFC champion’s attention and Pena pulled no punches. Pena appeared on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani earlier this week and she made it clear how she feel’s about the PFL star.

UFC vs PFL

The UFC champion said, “How easy is it to say that you’ll beat Julianna with one-hand tied behind your back then turn around and sign a seven-year deal with the PFL. It’s easy to talk shit when you know nothing is going to happen. She just signed her life away to the PFL. Best of luck with that, make your career off of beating tomato cans, that’s great.”

The message was strong and very clear from the champion. I want to come right out and say that I’m a fan of Kayla Harrison. She’s a star in the PFL for a reason and I’m a big fan. That being said, there’s really nothing wrong about what Julianna Pena said in regards to the competition level.

Let’s be honest, Kayla Harrison has no challenges in the PFL. Sure, they signed Julia Budd. However, she’s not fighting Cris Cyborg. She’s not fighting Amanda Nunes. The competition level is just not there and because of that, she’s likely never going to get the shine that she could if she was in Bellator or the UFC.

Now, you can point to Cyborg and Nunes’ current competition at 145 pounds in their promotions. That’s a fair point, however, they did get those big fights against the biggest names throughout their career. Their legacies are set in stone, meanwhile Harrison is still trying to build hers in the PFL.

Unless PFL makes big signings, Harrison is going to go undefeated in her career, but she’ll never be looked at as one of the very best to ever do it. The resume will be lacking compared to someone like Amanda Nunes or even Julianna Pena.

Giants host 2 running-backs on Top-30 visits they could target on Day 2

james cook, giants, breece hall

The New York Giants have begun bringing NFL prospects into their facilities for their top-30 visits just three weeks before the draft. Interestingly, they brought in a slew of running backs despite having Saquon Barkley on the roster. Could that suggest a potential trade, clearing $7.2 million in guaranteed salary space? Possibly.

However, you can make the argument that selecting a mid-round running back is always beneficial, especially if you have a strong scheme with solid run blocking.

General manager Joe Schoen helped the Buffalo Bills select Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in the mid-rounds. Schoen could execute a similar strategy with the Giants, despite former GM Dave Gettleman taking Gary Brightwell in the 6th round last year.

Both Georgia running back James Cook and Iowa State workhorse Breece Hall both enjoyed tours of the Giants’ facilities. While the two backs boast completely different styles, either would be phenomenal selections.

Two running backs the New York Giants should target in the mid-rounds:

1.) James Cook – Georgia

Cook is an intriguing option in the third round at 5’11” and 199 pounds. With Georgia, Cook made 15 appearances this past season, tallying 728 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. He also added 284 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. Altogether, he recorded over 1000 all-purpose yards and showcased why he could be a steal for the Giants in the third round.

Cook offers good speed with a 4.42 40-yard dash and shifty capabilities, similar to his brother Dalvin Cook with the Minnesota Vikings.

NFL analyst Lance Zierlein projects Cook as a change-of-pace runner with vision and flow, but he lacks the functional strength to be a workhorse back in a power scheme. Cook can provide that and more if the Giants are looking for a phenomenal complement to Barkley this upcoming season. His intuitive style and agility between the tackles allow him to pick up extra yards and hide behind offensive linemen. While he’s not going to break any big-time tackles in the hole with his power, he does a great job finding lanes to run through and squeezing out extra yards with his shifty-ness.

Cook also presents a fantastic receiver out of the backfield, something Daniel Jones could utilize when under pressure.

2.) Breece Hall – Iowa State

Iowa State ball-cow Breece Hall offers something completely different compared to Cook. At 5’11” and 217 pounds, Hall ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and is one of the most accomplished RBs in the draft.

Zierlein compares Hall to former NFL RB Matt Forte with his style, providing great size, power, and patience behind the line of scrimmage. Breece isn’t going to juke a defender out of his shoes, but he runs with intelligence and a high football IQ. He’s best utilized in a scheme that allows him to cut vertically and choose his holes prematurely. Behind the right offensive line and a good scheme, Hall has the potential to be an awesome pick on Day 2, especially proving he can handle a big workload and remain healthy.

Depending on what the Giants are looking for, either of these running backs would present great value for 2022 and beyond. Breece has more of a starting running back feel while Cook is a great complement to a starter, but the value is there for both players, and the Giants should be able to maximize their talents with a coaching staff focused on offensive creativity.

Yankees: One lowkey pitching prospect who could make an impact on 2022 season

matt krook, yankees

The New York Yankees failed to bring in any top-tier pitchers during the offseason, and that may end up costing them in the long run. However, the fact they have several impressive minor league (and young major leaguers) arms who can eventually make an impact this year is undeniable.

One of those under-the-radar arms is definitely Matt Krook. The left-hander, who was taken by the Yankees in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft in late 2020, had an impressive Triple-A debut on Tuesday night.

He was on the mound for five innings in which he only conceded a couple of hits, a walk, and no runs. He struck out seven foes in his first start of the year for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Yankees’ prospect specialist Eli Fishman talked a bit about Krook via Twitter. “Heavy sinker which produces insanely high ground ball rate. 2020 MILB Rule 5 Draft pick from Tampa, spent 2021 w/ Somerset and Scranton. Would expect to see in the big leagues at some point this season,” he tweeted.

Last year, the Yankees decided to make him a full-time starter. His former organization, the Tampa Bay Rays, had been alternating him between the rotation and the bullpen.

The Yankees’ prospect will go as far as his control lets him

To make a successful transition, the Yankees helped him learn a third pitch besides his excellent sinker and his slider: a cutter.

He told the San Mateo Daily Journal last summer: “The sinker and the breaking ball have always been good. It’s sort of what makes me, me. The cutter was just something, it’s easier to get in the zone because it doesn’t move quite as much. It was just good to have a third pitch. And going back to starting this year after being a reliever then past few years, I just had to get a third pitch.”

For Krook, the key will be his control. With the San Francisco Giants (his first organization) and the Rays, his BB/9 (walks per nine innings) was never lower than 5.76 in a full season. During his stint with the Double-A Somerset Patriots to start 2021, he posted a 2.15 ERA and a rock-solid (for him) 3.38 BB/9 mark.

After his promotion to Scranton, his control abandoned him somewhat (5.75 BB/9), but he was able to post a 3.17 ERA in 76.2 innings anyway.

He is off to a great start: last night, he only walked one in five frames. The Yankees will closely monitor his progress during the spring and the summer, as he is a candidate to be a contributor for the big league team in 2022.

Yankees get bad Opening Day news against Red Sox with inclement weather

yankees, gerrit cole

The New York Yankees were projected to face off against the Boston Red Sox on opening day, Thursday, April 7. However, the game was rescheduled to Friday, April 8, at 1:05 PM at Yankee Stadium due to inclement weather.

Fans have been waiting quite some time for baseball as the lockout took over and kept teams from preparing for the regular season. The shortened off-season and exciting free agency period have made the transition a bit more exciting, but live action can’t come fast enough.

The Yankees Opening Day pitching matchup:

The Bombers will feature Gerrit Cole on the mound against the Red Sox on Friday.

Last year, Cole posted a 3.23 ERA over 30 games with the Yankees, winning 16. He earned a 12.06 strikeouts per nine rate and his lowest home runs per nine rate since 2018 at 1.19. He posted a 43.1% ground ball percentage and 77.9% left on base rate. While Cole has had trouble keeping the ball on the ground at times, giving up too many home runs, he is still one of the best starters in baseball.

This spring, Cole recorded a 6.75 ERA over two games in 5.1 innings of action. He gave up six hits and two homers, striking out 10 batters and walking three. Cole normally has inconsistent spring starts, but he turns on the jets once the regular campaign gets started.

On the other side of the mound, the Red Sox will host Nathan Eovaldi as their opening day pitcher. Eovaldi finished the 2021 season with a 3.75 ERA over 182.1 innings of play. He played for the Yankees back in 2015 before joining the Tampa Bay Rays and then Boston in 2018 after dealing with injury.

However, Eovaldi is a solid starter who is capable of great performances, so the Yankees will need to be on their A-game if they want to take advantage and start the season with a win. Management is still putting together the opening day roster but has already announced some depth decisions, including Marwin Gonzalez and JP Sears.

Giants have ‘real possibility’ of landing stud Alabama tackle at 5th overall

evan neal, giants

It has been over a decade since the New York Giants had a premium offensive line. With years of poor drafting plaguing the trenches, new management is looking to solve it once and for all.

However, it ultimately boils down to coaching, as we’ve seen over the past few seasons, which left tackle Andrew Thomas somehow managed to escape despite everybody around him failing to develop.

Thomas took a monstrous step forward in his growth last season, and the Giants have an opportunity to pair a great young tackle on the right side, taking a big step forward and helping Daniel Jones put the pieces together.

Having two first-round picks gives the Giants great leverage in acquiring one of the top three offensive tackles on the board. Whether it be Ikem Ekwonu, Charles Cross, or Evan Neal, Big Bue has an opportunity to inject more talent into the right tackle position after years of turnover.

With the NFL Draft quickly approaching, player stocks have fluctuated, and the Giants are now in line to potentially land Alabama stud tackle Evan Neal.

Neal is one of the best players in the entire draft class, making him a steal at 5th overall for the Giants. Standing at 6’7” and 337 pounds, he ran a faster 40-yard dash than Ekwonu, who is 30 pounds lighter.

Neal features an unbelievable frame covered in muscle, similar to Aaron Donald. While there is some concern with his intensity and aggressiveness, he has impeccable fundamentals entering the NFL coming from a pro-ready Alabama system. Some believe he’s getting preferential treatment because he’s coming from Alabama, but there’s no question he would immediately upgrade the RT position for the Giants and put them in place to build a sufficient line finally.

In addition, moving him to the right side may benefit him long-term since it wouldn’t be the quarterback’s blindside.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein raves about Evan Neal in his draft profile:

Three-year starter with rare combination of measurables, talent and pedigree. Neal has experience against the best competition the college game has to offer. He has started at both left and right tackle and should project on the left side if he can continue to manage his weight. While he has flashes of greatness on tape, he doesn’t always maintain that level throughout a game. Intensity and consistency are two areas that will be key in matching performance with profile. Technique has been drilled into him and Neal plays with good fundamentals across the board. He’s well-versed and capable in a variety of run schemes and has correctable areas of improvement in pass protection. Neal will come into the league as a good NFL starter, but greatness will require additional attitude and action.
Looking at Neal objectively, there is reason to believe that Ekwonu and Cross could have better professional careers. Still, Neal is the most well-rounded player at the position and has All-Pro upside if developed correctly.

Yankees bring-back polarizing 1st baseman after dominating Triple-A in Colorado

greg bird, yankees

The New York Yankees had difficulty navigating the first base position this off-season, eventually deciding to bring Anthony Rizzo back on an extension. Rizzo signed a two-year, $32 million deal, despite the Yankees’ intrigue in Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson.

Rizzo is a solid player that offers good defensive qualities and a big lefty bat in the middle of the order. General manager Brian Cashman has focused on acquiring a lefty to play first base, and Rizzo played well for the Bombers last year over 49 games, hitting .249 with eight homers and 21 RBIs.

Unfortunately for Luke Voit, the Yankees never intended on utilizing him as a starter, instead trading him to the San Diego Padres. The Yankees acquired pitching prospect Justin Lange as compensation for Voit.

However, Cashman reunited with one of his favorite prospects from the past, Greg bird. Bird spent between 2011 and 2019 with the Yankees before signing with Colorado and featuring in their Triple-A team in 2021.

Bird was one of the more polarizing prospects in the Yankees farm system, being elevated to start at first base but failing to provide consistency and adequate production.

In 2018, Bird played in 82 games, featuring a .199 average with 11 homers and 38 RBIs. At 28 years old last season at the Triple-A level, he hit .267 with 27 HRs and 91 RBIs, providing a bit of optimism regarding his potential play at the MLB level.

If Rizzo sustains any injury, the Yankees may call upon Greg to fill the spot. However, they also have DJ LeMahieu, their star utility-man, who’s capable of playing many different positions. Last year, LeMahieu played 55 games at first, recording a .997 fielding percentage and one error over 321 innings.

LeMahieu isn’t a lefty hitter, but he has great experience at the spot and is a fantastic defensive player. Despite reuniting with Bird, the Yankees would only use him in a worst-case scenario.