2014 NFL Draft Targets: TE Eric Ebron, UNC

1o9ROG.AuSt.156Ebron is a tight end with ideal size (6’4”, 245lbs) and excellent speed (4.60 40yd dash). He also had good production on a team with shaky quarterback play (62 for 973yds and 3 TDs). Ebron is an extremely talented athlete that can make big plays with his feet and is difficult to tackle. A very versatile player, he can line up next to the O-line, in the slot, or on the perimeter. He plays similarly to 49ers TE Vernon Davis, although Ebron needs to work on his hands (a few too many drops) to reach that comparison. That being said, Ebron is still an incredibly gifted player. He was able to dominate any and every defense that he played in college. He has no issues catching the ball running in traffic, or going up to catch the ball at the highest point. Ebron’s blocking is average, but not bad for a pass-catching tight end. He would give Tom Brady an extremely effective weapon in the passing game to complement the often-injured Rob Gronkowski. That combination would be a matchup nightmare for any defense. Although he was projected to be picked by the Patriots in some early mock drafts, Ebron is unlikely to be unavailable when the Patriots pick. His meteoric post-season stock rise would force New England to move up into the mid to late teens to grab him.

Pro Comparison: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers

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2014 NFL Draft Targets: DT Aaron Donald, Pitt

Aaron-DonaldAlthough he is undersized (only 6’0”, 285lbs), Donald had a very productive career at Pitt. He totaled 47 tackles, 16.0 TFL and 11.0 sacks in 2011, 64 tackles, 18.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in 2012, and 59 tackles, 28.5 TFL and 11.0 sacks in 2013. His first step is good, and he creates consistent pressure in the pocket by utilizing an extremely powerful bull rush. Donald can use his hands very effectively to knock an O-lineman of balance, and occasionally displays good swim and spin moves when he chooses to use them (not often enough). The biggest knock on Donald is his size; because he is smaller he isn’t able to wrap up running backs and quarterbacks like a taller DT could. This results in the occasional missed tackle, as is evident in the FSU game. Donald put together an excellent combine performance, running a 4.68 40 yard dash and benching 35 reps of 225 pounds. He was also one of the top performers for his position in the 3 Cone Drill (7.11 seconds), which is a drill the Patriots value highly. His outstanding workout, however, may have pushed him out of the Patriots range. But, if he falls, which is possible, expect the Patriots to jump on the opportunity to pair Vince Wilfork with a pass rushing DT.

Pro Comparison: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

Top Ten Days on the NFL Calendar (From a Fan’s Perspective)

1. Super Bowl

The two best teams in football facing off in the biggest sporting event of the year. Not only is the game itself great, but when play is stopped, you’re either watching hilarious commercials or an amazing musical performance. There is not much that needs to be said about the Super Bowl, only that it is football’s high and holy day.

 

2. Divisional Weekend

What makes the Divisional Round better than the Championship Round is simple; there are four games instead of two. Some people may ask why the Divisional playoffs are better than Wild Card weekend, and the easy answer to that is the quality of the teams is so much better. The playoff’s weakest four teams have already been eliminated, and now it’s down to the true contenders.

 

3. Championship Weekend

The incredible joy and heartbreak of Championship weekend is equal to that of the Super Bowl. The quality of these games is easily as good as the Super Bowl because the winning teams get their tickets punched to the Big Game. In recent years the Championship round has provided fans with some intensely exciting games, such as last years Falcons-49er’s matchup, or the previous years Patriots-Ravens thriller.

 

4. Wild Card Weekend

Hopes are high for all fans coming into Wild Card Weekend. It doesn’t matter how your team performed during the regular season, because an entire year of preparation comes down to one game. Upsets are frequent because of the one-and-done format of the playoffs. A perfect example of that was in 2010-11, when the 7-9 Seahawks upset the heavily favored 11-5 Saints. Anything can happen in the playoffs, especially during Wild Card Weekend.

 

5. Week 1

Are you ready for some football! The date circled on every football fan’s calendar finally arrives. The entire 16 game season lies ahead, and hopes are high for every team. What happened the previous season doesn’t matter, whether you won the Super Bowl or didn’t make the playoffs. Week 1 is the only time of the season when each team has the same record, and has the same odds of making the playoffs. Hopes are always high during Week 1.

 

6. Week 17

For some teams, week 17 can be a bore. Teams who have already clinched playoff spots tend to play cautiously, sometimes putting in backup players to prevent injury. There also are the teams who have already been eliminated from playoff contention, and are just competing for pride, and roster spots. However, there still are games which have major implications to the playoff standings. Just last season, Adrian Peterson carried the Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs with his 199 yard rushing performance. That same day, division rivals the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys battled for the division title, and a chance to perform in the playoffs. Although every game may not be an instant classic, week 17 does produce it’s fair share of amazing games.

 

7. NFL Draft

A wild flower in the barren dessert of the NFL offseason, the NFL Draft gives fans something to be excited about while they agonizingly count down the days until Week 1. Although the draft may not be the most exciting event to the casual fan, it can be entertaining to more devoted fans who are eager to see the new potential stars for their teams. The April draft date is life changing to the players who are selected, having achieved their goal of making it to the NFL. The draft is also a bridge between college football and professional, uniting the two different football worlds.

 

8. NFL Free Agency Starting Date

Free agency can be pleasing to some fans, whose team acquires a high-profile free agent, but can also be devastating to the team that loses that same player. Not all teams are exceedingly active during free agency, but those that are create a serious amount of buzz among the fan base. For example, the Miami Dolphins signed multiple highly touted free agents this year, such as Mike Wallace, and they have been one of the most talked about teams so far this offseason. Signing the right free agents can make or brake a franchise, and free agency provides something for fans to be excited about, similar to the NFL Draft.

 

9. Training Camp Opening Day

Although the official starting date to each NFL season is at the beginning of the draft, opening day at training camp seems like the more realistic date. Thousands of diehard fans show up to the first few days of training camp, which are opened to the public, to get a first glimpse of their team.

 

10. Any Given Sunday

Every Sunday, or Thursday or Monday, when your favorite team is playing is a great day. Whether you’re at the game or watching from home, football is always a great time. Although most people associate Sundays with the Christian religion, there is another religion that is worshipped on the same day. Football. Every week of football proves to be exciting, and you never know what’s going to happen on any given Sunday.

Two a Day: Patriots Free Agency Preview 1/25

Now that the Patriots season has come to an unfortunate end, it’s time to look ahead towards free agency, which starts on March 12th.

To begin, let’s take a look at the Patriots on the current roster who are set to become unrestricted free agents this year.

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Sebastian Vollmer: Vollmer has been pestered by injuries in the past, but this year he was able to start 15 games, and remained an anchor in the Patriots offensive line. The 6 feet 8 inch, 320 pound offensive tackle has maintained steady protection during the time he has been healthy. Offensive line is a top priority in New England in order to keep Tom Brady safe, so Vollmer is an important player for the Patriots to resign. New England will most likely get a deal done with the 4th year player from Germany before free agency begins, but if they are unable to successfully negotiate a new deal, it’s possible that the Patriots will place the franchise tag on Vollmer; that is, if they have already dealt with Welker and Talib. Vollmer is a seriously underrated tackle who can play both the right and the left side, as we saw this year, so it is important to get a long term deal done with him.

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Danny Woodhead: Checking in at 5 feet 8 inches, the Patriots running-back Danny Woodhead is probably the most well rounded back on the team, as well as a fan favorite. Woodhead can run up the middle, take it to the outside, block, catch out of the backfield, and even line up on the line of scrimmage. He is incredibly versatile, and definitely fits the bill as a Belichick-type player. Woodhead’s role has taken a little bit of hit in the past year with the emergence of young running-backs Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen, so now he is used mostly as a third-down back, but he has proven that he can convert on third and long situations. Although he is not a necessity to the football team, the Patriots will probably bring Woodhead back if the price is right.

*Images found on http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2012/11/the-paradox-of-danny-woodhead.html, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1316638-sebastian-vollmers-return-sigh-of-relief-for-patriots-and-more-afc-east-news*

Two a Day: Patriots Free Agency Preview 1/24

Now that the Patriots season has come to an unfortunate end, it’s time to look ahead to free agency, which starts on March 12th.

To begin, let’s take a look at the Patriots on the current roster who are set to become unrestricted free agents this year.

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Wes Welker: Although he seems to be the number one priority for the Patriots to deal with this year, Wes Welker’s contract situation with the New England remains unclear to an outsider’s perspective. After unsuccessful negotiations last off season, the Patriots and Welker will look to try to get a deal done before free agency gets under way. If they are unable to do that, I see the Patriots letting Welker test the market, and then trying to match an offer made by another team. It’s possible that the Patriots use the franchise tag on him, but that’s unlikely, and they will use the franchise tag elsewhere. New England feels that they can succeed without Welker, so they are not going to overpay to keep him, but I’m sure they will do their best get Wes Welker back in a Patriots uniform for next season given that he has been one of the most productive players in the league since he joined New England in 2007.

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Aqib Talib: Talib has had his fair share of off-field issues, but proved to the Patriots why he was Tampa Bay’s first round draft pick back in 2008. It seems as though Talib has molded to the “Patriot Way” and dealt with his off the field problems, and is focused on contributing to the New England secondary. He has had an immediate impact on the Patriots defense since debuting against the Colts, a game in which he returned an interception for a touchdown. Talib allows New England to move Devin McCourty from corner to safety, where he is better suited because of his great range and instincts. Talib’s man coverage abilities also allow the Patriots to use more variety in their defensive packages, given his solid one-on-one play. It is clear the impact that Aqib Talib has when he is on the field, and he is a must to resign for the Patriots, regardless of him being somewhat injury prone.

*Images from http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1414000-colts-vs-patriots-aqib-talib-could-bring-new-englands-secondary-together, http://gomadden.com/content/fantasy/fantasy-free-agent-wes-welker-2013/*