From The Editorial Board: A New Twist in Hazing Allegations

On behalf of everyone at The Pacific Tribune, we would like to provide you with the latest developments in a recent reporting surrounding a small Mississippi community. We regret that this has been an emotional and heated issue for the town of Brandon and many of our readers. However, unanswered questions still remain.

On Friday, a reporter with The Pacific Tribune, who is based out of Horn Lake, Mississippi, covered allegations of hazing on the baseball team at Brandon High School. Upon learning of these allegations, our journalist followed the proper editorial procedures and contacted both the high school and the police department to confirm those allegations. After speaking with and getting statements from both the school and police, an investigation was launched and our reporter felt confident enough to publish the story.

During our reporter’s conversation with his source, he agreed to give her anonymity because she feared for the safety of her child.

The credibility, integrity, and ethics of our publication were called into question. On Wednesday, school administration and authorities from the Brandon Police Department conducted a press conference surrounding the allegations of hazing at Brandon High School.

Based on yesterday’s press conference, many of our readers got the impression that our reporter made up these allegations. However, during an internal investigation conducted by our editorial board, we were provided with evidence confirming that our reporter was in fact contacted by a source whose child attends Brandon High School. The source informed our reporter that they made school administrators aware of these allegations via an anonymous email account. This evidence stands in direct conflict with the impression given during yesterday’s press conference.

When we were made aware of the press conference, we reached out to the police department. The Pacific Tribune has fully agreed to cooperate with their investigation. It is our understanding that the police department is further looking into the allegations.

The source has since brought to our attention that these allegations may have been a rumor. However, details are still developing and it is entirely possible that there may be a thread of truth to these allegations.

Due to the sensitivity of this issue, we have pulled this story from our website.

We take any all allegations surrounding the safety and well-being of children seriously. We are committed to following up with this story – wherever the facts may lead. We will continue to work closely with local law enforcement as this investigation continues.

We appreciate the continued support of our regular readers.

Wimbledon: The Jewel In The Tennis Crown

Is there any greater sight in the world of tennis, than the magnificent and expertly manicured grass courts of Wimbledon?

A kind English summer, strawberries, cream and the finest tennis players in the world, dressed immaculately in pearl white. What more could a tennis, or sports fan ask for?

How about a throwback in history, to a time when Roger Federer was regularly the preeminent favourite, with his primary challenger, Rafael Nadal looking to prove his critics wrong on the game’s quickest surface. Sound familiar?

Only the most bold tennis pundits and commentators could have even contemplated a tennis season in the year 2017 dominated almost completely by two men ‘on the wrong side of thirty’.

The shift from clay to grass, much like the shift from hardcourt to clay in April, brings with it a change in style of play, a change of shot pace, as well as changes in bounce, player movement, and rally length. It also brings success and defeat to different players as the different surfaces play to their respective strength or weakness.

The Wimbledon Championships is the marque tournament of the entire tennis calendar, the most sought after crown for any professional tennis player, male or female.

Rather regrettably though, the grass court season is now barely a month long, starting the day after the Roland Garros final, and concluding on the second Sunday at Wimbledon in mid-July.

Because of the tight scheduling, there’re only six warm up tournaments in the lead up to Wimbledon, at the speed of two per week; Stuttgart and s-Hertogenbosch, Halle and Queens Club, Antalya and Eastbourne.

Frenchman Lucas Pouille was victorious in Stuttgart, Gilles Muller took home the bacon in the Netherlands, Roger Federer won a 9th title in Halle, Feliciano Lopez won a thrilling final against Marin Cilic at Queens, Yuichi Sugita won his 1st ATP title in Turkey and late addition, Novak Djokovic warmed up well for Wimbledon with a win in Eastbourne.

Speaking of the Serb, at this stage twelve months Djokovic held all four Grand Slam titles, a super human feat in itself, but he has struggled for form, motivation and titles ever since. The fact that he has brought in numerous new faces (Andre Agassi among them), changed up his schedule at the last minute to squeeze in a warm up tournament in Eastbourne, speaks to his desire to get back to the top of his game. A fairly kind draw (minus a possible del Potro 3rd match up), should get ‘The Joker’ every opportunity to reach the semi finals even if he isn’t playing his best tennis. If his best tennis comes out, look out!

Andy Murray may have risen to world number 1 in the last 12 months, but he hasn’t cracked the Slam stage since this very tournament last year. Furthermore his form since ascending to the top of the rankings has been average and patchy, and an early round loss at Queens to low ranking Australian Jordan Thompson hasn’t helped. Injuries are a concern too, after pulling out of an exhibition/warm-up earlier last week. Grass still remains Murray’s best surface, and his best chance to add to a cabinet with three Grand Slam titles already tucked away.

Stan Wawrinka has the opportunity to achieve a rare career Grand Slam if he is victorious in a fortnight. His particular Grand Slam would be unique as he would’ve won each slam only once, without doubling up. Although there’s still a long way to go before that can even be seriously entertained, Wawrinka has a good a chance as any, with two dominant grass courters, Djokovic and Murray currently down on form and confidence.

Rafa Nadal hasn’t been a serious threat on grass since 2011, hasn’t played a single warm-up tournament since his Roland Garros triumph and has structured his whole season around the clay and the French Open. Nonetheless, Nadal was simply indomitable on the clay. Accumulating 10 French Open titles is one of the finest feats in professional tennis history, but just how that will translate to grass remains to be seen. If he can get through the first week healthy, and in form, he can win it all. Which is a sign of how great his resurrection has been in 2017.

Nadal’s greatest rival is also in the midst of a most remarkable and unexpected season. Roger Federer elected to forego the entire clay court season, after dominating in Australia and on the US hardcourts, and has been focused on Wimbledon since the Miami Open in March.

At the age of 35 (!) he is the bookie and fan favourite to win an 8th Wimbledon title, and 19th Grand Slam championship overall. His play this year has been unmatched in its aggression, precision and execution. Against a likely future Grand Slam winner in Alexander Zverev last week in Halle, he at times toyed with the young German, with gorgeous, jaw dropping drop shots and supreme net play to take the title. Like the Australian Open draw, Federer hasn’t received the easiest of paths, Dimitrov, Zverev/Raonic, and Djokovic all will likely stand between him and the final. But even those men, with their wide variety of strengths, challenges and playing styles won’t stop him, if the early 2017 Roger Federer is front and centre.

2016 finalist, Milos Raonic hasn’t lived up to expectations since last year’s personal best grand slam finish. Grass is easily his best surface, with that serve, and Wimbledon is his best chance for a Grand Slam title.

Marin Cilic’s strongest surface is also grass, but unlike Raonic, Cilic is in form and with a nice section of the draw, progressing beyond the quarters is very doable for the Croat, who has had success before on some of tennis’ biggest stages.

Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios are certainly capable of winning Wimbledon, if not this year then in the future. Both have excellent grass court games, and supreme confidence. Zverev did have a bad loss to Federer in the Halle final, he was comprehensively outplayed and out-thought and will likely face Federer in the quarters, if he makes it that far. Kyrgios’s troubles are well known, but his talent and skill are undeniable. If wielded with a healthy body and healthy mind, he could do real damage.

Dominic Thiem is another of these young chargers looking to take the next step towards Grand Slam glory. But that next step isn’t likely to take place on the English grass, easily his weakest surface, and his current grass court form backs that up.

There’re other challengers who could make a run, including the French trio of, Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille. Queen’s Club winner, Feliciano Lopez is always a joy to watch on grass, whilst big servers, John Isner, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson always do well on the hallowed Wimbledon turf.

Popular sentiment and social media has been extremely vociferous in their demands for a Federer/Nadal final. The draw and seedings have made this scenario possible, and the last time these two men met at ‘The Championships’ in 2008, it was widely regarded as the greatest tennis match of all time.

They may be the front runners, but the chasing pack should be trending upwards, Murray is back on his home court, where he’s had many great victories. Djokovic, has made many changes and won his warm-up tournament, Stan is always a threat, as is Cilic and Raonic on his day. Regardless of the eventual winner or results on court, Wimbledon never disappoints.

Assessing The Troublesome State Of Offensive Line Play

Far too many franchises in 2016 saw their seasons come crashing down in large part thanks to the play of their offensive line. Strong rosters such as those in Seattle and Cincinnati, were seriously hamstrung in their Super Bowl and playoff aspirations as their men up front struggled.

The quality of offensive line play across the board was concerning, as lineman coming out of college struggled to adapt to the complexities of the pro game.

The offensive line is one position group that doesn’t particularly stand out when watching the game on TV, unless they’re playing poorly.

Several genuine Super Bowl threats were held hostage last year (and in previous seasons) by an inability to create holes in the running game, or more worryingly, to protect their quarterback.

Even more concerning for teams in need of o-line reinforcements, was an average free agency group and a very sub-par draft class, with no blue-chip offensive line prospects. This in turn creates a void that less talented and less pro-ready players are forced into, thus lowering the standard of play around the league.

In this season’s draft, the first offensive lineman, Garrett Bolles, didn’t disappear from the board until the Broncos 1st round pick, 20th overall. And only one more tackle, Ryan Ramczyk was taken in the first round (32nd overall). In a league choc full of sub-par o-line play, the fact that general managers and ownerships throughout the league felt that so few lineman were worth a first round pick is a big concern.

Pro Football Focus have compiled rankings and ratings for each offensive lines performance in 2016, and their prospective rankings heading into the 2017 season (hit up the links to check out the articles). Based on 2016, it comes as no surprise that the Titans, Cowboys, Steelers, Raiders and Redskins lines head the list with some of the league’s best groups. A common thread throughout these offensive lines was the ability to play the same five starters almost every week, along with some of the most highly rated individual players in the game.

PFF’s most highly rated tackle, Trent Williams leads the pack for the Redskins, but the Cowboys’ Tyron Smith and Titans duo, Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin are right towards the pointy end of the rankings too.

At guard, Steeler, Ramon Foster was ranked 2nd overall, ahead of Cowboys stud Zack Martin, the Raiders’ Kelechi Osemele and the second Steelers guard in the top 10, David DeCastro.

Cowboys’ center, Travis Frederick is one of only two men who received elite grades from PFF, with other notable examples including Raiders’ veteran Rodney Hudson 4th, Titan’ Ben Jones 7th, and the Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey 14th.

The Cowboys, Titans and Raiders all received excellent run blocking grades, and were among the finest and most productive running attacks in the league, despite productive passing games too.

When it comes to pass protection, all five offensive lines were in the top 8 overall when it came to sacks, with the Raiders on top conceding only 18 sacks.

With the exception of the Redskins, these teams all had reasonably successful 2016 campaigns, the Cowboys unleashed a new rookie QB/RB duo and the offensive line was a major reason for their success.

The Raiders re-emerged into the playoffs behind a strong passing attack, led by Derek Carr and several brilliant free agency moves on the offensive line. The Steelers went to the AFC Championship game, thanks primarily to their offensive line and an assortment of brilliant skill position players.

The Titans two most recent first round draft selections settled in beautifully at left and right tackle, and Tennessee probably would’ve won the AFC South had Mariota not been crippled in Week 16. And yes, the Redskins did struggle, but that certainly wasn’t on the hands of the offensive line and the way Kirk Cousins was protected in 2016.

However on the flip side, there were many terrible, terrible offensive lines in 2016. Or at the very least, lines that kept their team or quarterback from ascending to the next level. Recent Super Bowl champions, Denver and Seattle had among the worst units in the league, conceding 40 and 42 sacks respectively, whilst they both averaged less than 4 yards per carry in the running game, problematic for offences playing with a run first emphasis.

The Seahawks have neglected their o-line via free agency and the draft for several seasons, and have even traded out their best man, center Max Unger to New Orleans in 2015. When Russell Wilson suffered a knee injury early last season, his inability to move out of the pocket and hit targets downfield suffered horribly, struggles which were magnified at times by truly incompetent play on the offensive line.

The Broncos were relying on strong offensive line play, to help acclimatise their new quarterback, Trevor Siemian, with an effective running game. The interior line, led by excellent center, Matt Paradis is ok, especially with ex-Cowboys’ guard Ron Leary joining the crew. But the real issue has been at tackle, Donald Stephenson, Ty Sambrailo and Russell Okung all failed dismally, and first round draft pick, Garrett Bolles will have to pick up the slack.

The Bengals 2016 struggles cannot be completely laid at the feet of their offensive line, but on of the strongest position groups throughout the league over the past five seasons, regressed enormously in 2016. Rookies, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher struggled mightily, and worse still their two best linemen, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler departed in free agency, leaving their depth chart, at least on paper in a precarious position.

The Vikings won their first 5 games in 2016, but from there injuries, and ghastly, ghastly play from the offensive line torpedoed their season. The running game, even with Adrian Peterson (for three weeks) was non existent, whilst Sam Bradford topped the league in completion percentage (an impressive feat), with an assortment of short throws thanks to a lack of pass protection all across the line.  Left tackle Matt Khalil really struggled before he went on IR, but the drop off when T.J Clemmings took over was drastic and the Vikings line never recovered. Looking ahead, ex-Panthers’ tackle Mike Remmers and Lions’ blind side man, Riley Reiff have arrived as some sorely needed reinforcements.

The Seahawks, Broncos, Bengals and Vikings are only a small sample of sub-par offensive line play around the league. Other franchises have had varying levels of offensive line issues, but it’s often overlooked with other glaring weaknesses on their rosters.

Down in San Diego, the Chargers suffered a cruel spate of injuries (again!) all over the park, but in particular to their offensive line (again!), and in a division with the Broncos and Chiefs defences that was never going to cut it.

In the midwest, the Colts know they must protect Andrew Luck more effectively, and their 2016 first round pick, Ryan Kelly has aided the cause. But the right side of the line needs help and or significant improvement before the Colts can regain the AFC South.

The Jets’ offensive line, for years a position of strength on their roster has been diluted over the past 12 months, with the losses of tackle, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. With arguably the weakest roster in the entire NFL, and a million issues requiring attention you can’t expect a lot out of this position group and team this season.

The 49ers and Jaguars both need vastly improved play from their respective o-lines, although the form of Blake Bortles in Jacksonville and the 49ers defence will be far more critical to those teams success, or struggles in 2017. The Giants, Panthers, Buccaneers, Cardinals and Lions will all be seeking improvement from their 300 pounders in the upcoming season.

Which offensive line was the worst in 2016?

The Vikings and Seahawks are definitely up there, but it’s hard to go past the Rams, who were simply abysmal in all facets of their game. Statistically, they finished with 3.3 YPC (yards per carry), which was 31st in the league. This from a team that wanted to and needed to run the pigskin. They were also 31st in sacks conceded, with 49, they were last in touchdowns scored and points per game. 2014 second overall pick, Greg Robinson was a colossal bust and was traded to Detroit last week, capping a disastrous three year tenure for the ex-Auburn Tiger.

Todd Gurley one of the stars of his rookie season in 2015, became a non-factor, number one overall pick Jared Goff was awful, although to be fair he likely would’ve struggled without line issues.The only ‘positives’ are that PFF rated them as only 27th best line in the league, and that they have signed blue-chip left tackle Andrew Whitworth to help anchor the line.

As the copy above addresses, there’re far too many teams right now that are being let down by shoddy play up front. Most teams can tolerate a player who is average with run blocking, if he can hold his own against the pass rush. With the greater emphasis on the passing game in today’s NFL, pass rushers have become the defence’s answer. And it’s not just Von Miller flying off the edge, teams now demand an interior presence against the pass too. Defensive tackles are desired to have three-down qualities and an ability to send fast pressure up the middle, see Aaron Donald or Muhammad Wilkerson. Guards and centers need to be as proficient as their counterparts on the outside when it comes to passing downs, they’re just as rigorously tested.

The answers lies in part in the college game.

Speaking to ESPN in 2015, Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said, “I’m not wanting to offend anybody, but college football, offensively, has gotten to be really, really bad fundamentally.

“Unfortunately, I think we’re doing a huge disservice to offensive football players, other than a receiver, that come out of these spread systems. The runners aren’t as good. They aren’t taught how to run. The blockers aren’t as good,” Cable said.

Redskins coach Jon Gruden added weight to Cable’s sentiments speaking on the difficulties rookie lineman face, “They don’t have a real good background in how to get the stance and get out of a stance and pass protect, let alone pick up stunts, blitzes, handle audibles.

“It’s a whole new world,” Gruden said.

Additionally, the 2011 CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) placed a limit on the weekly and pre-season padded practices, practices that are more critical to young players in such technical positions than anyone else. The agreement was a result of the NFL’s response to health and safety concerns, particularly concussion fears then sweeping the league.

Chaos, Carnage And Confusion As Ricciardo Wins In Azerbaijan

Australian Dan Ricciardo has won a drama and carnage filled Azerbaijan Grand Prix, after brake issues in the opening laps saw him drop as low as 17th.

The victory was the fifth of Ricciardo’s career and is certainly the most surprising, considering his crash in Q3 on Saturday, resulting in the Australian starting from 10th on the grid.

18 year old rookie Lance Stroll, kept his nose clean throughout the long afternoon, before being pipped only metres from the finish for second place, thanks to a resurgent Bottas in his flying Mercedes.

The drama started on the opening lap when Bottas bounced off the inside kerb at turn two and collided with Raikkonen, forcing the Finn into the pits for a new front right tyre and a new nose, dropping him down by several laps and seemingly out of contention. The Raikkonen Ferrari suffered minor damage, that would be compounded as the afternoon went on.

Through the first segment of the race, Hamilton held the lead from Vettel, Verstappen, Perez, Raikkonen and Massa, whilst Ricciardo pitted for fresh rubber and to clear his break scoop of debris.

Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso only lasted 10 laps, before retiring and bringing about the first of several safety cars. Max Verstappen’s Red Bull followed Kvyat’s lead on the following lap as engine failure knocked him out of 3rd place, much to the Dutchman’s fury and frustration. 

Several laps later whilst backing the field up under the safety car, Hamilton slowed suddenly on the exit of turn 16, and Vettel, clearly caught unaware ran into the back of him. The contact was only minimal and the damage minor at worst, but Vettel’s fury and subsequent reaction was anything but.

The German quickly pulled his Ferrari out of the queue and alongside his British rival before turning into the Mercedes!

Again, contact was only minimal and no apparent damage was inflicted, but social media was lit alight and Hamilton reacted with bewilderment, telling his team, “Vettel just literally came along side me and turned into me!”

The race restarted on the very next lap, with Vettel under assault from Felipe Massa and the two Force India’s of Perez and Ocon. Then in a horror moment for the Pink team, Ocon tagged Perez down the inside at turn 2 (in a remarkably similar incident to the opening lap contact between Bottas and Raikkonen), resulting in damage for both cars and ending any hopes of a podium finish or a possible race win.

With debris now strewn about all over the circuit, Fernando Alonso correctly predicted the need for a red flag to allow the marshals time to clean up the track.

With the remaining cars lined up in the pit lane, teams took advantage of the temporary halt to grab new tyres and repair any minor damage for the second half of the race. However, the rules do stipulate that repair work can only occur in the fast lane and not in team garages, something Perez and Raikkonen did not adhere to and they were duly punished following the restart.

From the restart, Hamilton and Vettel got away cleanly, however third place Massa had reported an issue in the warm up lap, and his concerns were confirmed on the start finish straight, when teammate Stroll and a flying Ricciardo flew past him into turn 1. Hulkenburg and Magnussen went past on the following lap, as Massa’s engineer identified the issue as a broken rear damper, sending the unfortunate Williams into retirement.

The bad luck trend hit Nico Hulkenburg next after he nicked the wall and broke his front right suspension, whilst sitting in 6th place. Then it was the turn of the race leaders, Hamilton and Vettel.

In a bizarre twist, after the red flag stoppage, it appeared Hamilton’s headrest had been incorrectly fitted before the restart, and in the longer straights Hamilton attempted to push it back down, although in vain. It became a safety issue and Hamilton was obliged to pit for a new headrest costing him the lead of the race. Ferrari’s joy at Hamilton’s misfortune lasted only moments however, as Vettel was then struck down with a 10 second stop and go penalty for dangerous driving via the earlier incident with Hamilton behind the safety car.

This dropped the lead of the race into the lap of Red Bull’s Ricciardo, who seemed slightly bemused by what had taken place, and now began to pull a lead out on Stroll, Magnussen, Ocon, Bottas, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton who rejoined close together, but in the opposite order.

Vettel and Hamilton both made quick work of Alonso’s powerless McLaren, whilst Magnussen fell to Ocon, Bottas, Vettel and Hamilton in quick succession.

With 11 laps remaining, Bottas made his move past Ocon and onto the podium along pit straight, and set about chasing down Stroll, which appeared to be a bridge too far, considering laps remaining and a sizeable gap. But bridge the gap he did, and in a most remarkable cherry on top of a most outlandish race, he zoomed past Stroll in the shadow of the chequered flag to regain some pride for Mercedes.

Ricciardo couldn’t hide his trademark grin on the podium or in the post race press conference, and he certainly acknowledged his good fortune, “”It was just a crazy race, we knew the podium was a chance after the restart and then we heard about the problems with Lewis and Seb.”

Stroll was also overjoyed as he became the second youngest man in history to stand on a prestigious F1 podium. Bottas put in arguably the drive of the day, ahead of Stroll, with Vettel 4th, Hamilton 5th.

Ocon, who recovered well finished 6th, Magnussen was 7th, Sainz who also recovered from a spin on lap 1 was 8th, Alonso secured McLaren’s first points for the year in 9th, and Wehrlein in his Sauber was 10th.

But the real story moving forward is the hostility and very real animosity between the two world championship contenders. Hamilton believed Vettel’s penalty wasn’t severe enough, and post race he aggressively condemned the German’s behaviour.

“He was obviously sleeping and driving alongside and deliberately driving into a driver and coming away scot-free is a disgrace. He disgraced himself.

“If he wants to prove he’s a man, we should do it out of the car face-to-face. Driving dangerously in any way can put another driver at risk,” Hamilton said.

Vettel was just as strident in his feelings on the incident, stating that he believed that the Brit brake tested him and thus caused the incident.

When pressed on the issue Vettel said, “It was very clear. We are racing with men. I don’t have a radio to him. If we get a penalty, we should both get a penalty.

“I wasn’t happy with the brake-testing. I drove alongside him and raised my hand to say that is not the way to do it and we had a little contact.

“I don’t run into the back of him on purpose,” Vettel said.

Whatever people’s opinions, the die is now cast as we head into the European stage of the championship. Mercedes vs Ferrari, Hamilton vs Vettel, our first real inter-constructor duel for the world championship since 2010.

Vettel, Raikkonen And Ferrari Dominant In 1-2 Finish

A creative, alternate strategy from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel allowed him to leapfrog teammate Kimi Raikkonen during the pitstop phase of the race, to take the Maranello’s first Monaco Grand Prix victory since 2001.

Ferrari’s decision to leave Vettel out on a longer opening stint played enormously to his advantage, much to the chagrin of Raikkonen, who was clearly furious at the team’s strategy calls that benefitted the German and disadvantaged himself, the pole-sitter.

Post-race Raikkonen didn’t expand on his obvious annoyance and disappointment with his predicament, “I was called in and that’s about it,” Raikkonen said of the tactics.

“Obviously it didn’t work out very well for me. I got the bad end of the story today,” Raikkonen said.

The second place is Raikkonen’s best finish of the season, as he looks to hunt down his teammate, Vettel and the Mercedes duo, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

Speaking of Mercedes, Sunday’s race was one of their worst in the last four years. Bottas finished fourth sandwiched between the two Red Bulls, whilst Hamilton made good ground after qualifying 13th, to come home in 7th.

Australian Dan Ricciardo followed the same long first stint strategy as Vettel, much to his advantage as he leapfrogged his teammate, Max Verstappen and Bottas to finish on the final step of the podium. 

Like Raikkonen, Verstappen was less than thrilled with this development after his pitstop, and he let his team have it.

“What a f***ing disaster,” Verstappen blasted over the radio.

Verstappen had been quicker than Bottas and Ricciardo over the course of the weekend, but with the nature of the Monaco circuit, that makes overtaking all but impossible, the Dutchman had to settle for 5th.

The enormously impressive Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso finished 6th, ahead of a frustrated  triple-world champion in Lewis Hamilton.

American team Haas, had their strongest Grand Prix performances of the season, with both cars finishing in the points; Romain Grosjean in 8th and Kevin Magnussen in 10th.

Williams’ Felipe Massa benefited from all the carnage towards the end of the race, to finish 9th and gain some greatly needed points for Williams.

2009 World Champion, Jenson Button, who returned in the place of former teammate Fernando Alonso for the Monaco weekend had a torrid time, hit with a 15-place grid penalty on Saturday, he spent most of his race stuck behind the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein, before an aggressive overtaking manoeuvre on lap 60, ended with Wehrlein’s car on it’s side up against the barrier, and Button’s car with extensive suspension damage. 

Minutes later with the safety car on track, the second Sauber of Marcus Erikson crashed going into turn one, as he attempted to unlap himself under yellows. The guilty party, was a lack of brake temperature.

On the restart, Force India’s Sergio Perez snuck down the inside of Stoffel Vandoorne, only to force the Belgian wide into the barrier and out of the race. Minutes later, Perez collided with Daniel  Kvyat, forcing the latter into retirement and the former back into the pitlane with a flat front left, shortly before the races conclusion.

The long-term outcome of this race is a major victory for Ferrari, and in particular Sebastian Vettel, who has extended a now hefty lead over Hamilton in the drivers championship (25 points), whilst  Ferrari regained the lead in the constructors title race. All in all, not a bad weekends work for a team that hadn’t won on the tight streets of Monaco since Michael Schumacher in 2001.

Choosing The Right Succession Plan At The Quarterback Position

One of the most important roles for an NFL General Manager is maintaining an effective championship roster in the present, whilst ensuring that their franchises’ long-term roster security is maintained. The most glaring issue is preparing for a transition at the quarterback position, and not leaving your franchise without at least a viable starter in the sport’s most important position.

There’re many differing examples as to how this process can develop, take for example, young Dak Prescott starting as a rookie, and the high level of his play essentially forcing an ageing and oft injured Tony Romo into retirement.

Also, Indianapolis, when they elected to release Peyton Manning in 2012, already had their eyes firmly fixed on the highly touted Andrew Luck, with the first overall pick of the draft, after Manning missed the entire 2011 season following neck fusion surgery.

Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers as Brett Favre’s successor in 2005, with Rodgers spending three years as Favre’s backup, before the veteran was moved onto New York in acrimonious circumstances, that placed a sad bookend on Favre’s lengthy tenure in Wisconsin.

At this point, all three of the succession plans above have been mostly beneficial for all parties involved, Rodgers and the Packers won a Super Bowl, so did Manning after his move to Denver, the Colts made the playoffs the first three years of Luck’s tenure, and Tony Romo landed a job as the lead colour commentator for CBS in 2017.

However, not all successions plans (or lack of them) work out so swimmingly. When Dan Marino retired in 2000, the Dolphins were without a true franchise quarterback and that trend has followed them since the turn of the century, with the Dolphins only making the playoffs four times since, with only one playoff victory in the last seventeen years.

In contrast to Marino and the Dolphins was his great rival, Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. After four Super Bowl championships in the 1980’s, Montana graciously allowed himself to be traded to the Chiefs in 1993, with backup Steve Young winning a Super Bowl of his own, and earning a hall of fame career in the bay area.

Once a quarterback reaches his mid to late 30’s, the whispers, blog posts and editorial pieces start to appear online and in newspapers, questioning just what a franchises’ plans might be, either in the short or long term.

Right now, there’re six quarterbacks in the league, who are 35 years or older, Tom Brady (39), Drew Brees (38), Carson Palmer (37), Ben Roethlisberger (35), Eli Manning (36), and Philip Rivers (35).

Brady will turn 40 before the season starts, and right now the Patriots appear to be the only franchise of the six, with a guy they see that can take them into the future, with Jimmy Garoppolo. Luke McCown is Brees’ backup in New Orleans, and has been there for the past four seasons, but he’s certainly not the long-term successor.

With Big Ben missing time as the Steelers starter over the past few seasons, Landry Jones has been given every opportunity to impress, that hasn’t happened, which explains the Steelers drafting, Joshua Dobbs in the 4th round of the 2017 Draft.

The Chargers have been surrounded by trade talks regarding Philip Rivers for some time, that never eventuated, and Rivers appears to be set in position as starter, at least for the next few seasons. The backup, Kellen Clemons is just that, a backup.

The Giants and Cardinals are arguably in the deepest hole regarding long-term stability and transitioning at the quarterback position. Eli Manning really struggled last year, raising questions about his future beyond 2017-18, if his form and his arm struggles continue.

Carson Palmer has a chequered injury history and is a big concern in Arizona, after a down 2016 season. If that form continues into 2017, the Cardinals will have the option to release him, without too much dead cap space for 2018. Neither the Giants or Cardinals have anything in the way of capable backups, despite former first round pick Blaine Gabbert signing on in Arizona last week.

Reasonable thought indicated that these teams might’ve addressed this position in the draft, but a lack of perceived quality, and other teams (namely the Bears, Chiefs, Texans) aggressively trading up put paid to that possibility. Whispers indicated interest for Arizona, New Orleans and New York, but these teams are no longer looking for a number 2 quarterback, they are searching high and low for a future franchise passer.

The 2018 draft class figures to be far higher in quality and quantity than 2017 at the quarterback position, with USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen all exciting prospects with another year of college growth ahead of them. Of course, the Jets, Browns and 49ers are all expected to be in competition for these standout passers come next April.

The key for these franchises with strong, playoff calibre rosters is to not wait too long in moving for the future, so to ensure that the level of your quarterback’s play doesn’t dissipate too quickly. Nor can they jump too soon, closing a Super Bowl window by packing a franchise passer out of town, only to replace him with a raw rookie, and a roster that expects playoff success is a recipe for disaster.

The Patriots find themselves in the middle of a very intriguing, quarterback storyline. They have the peerless 39 year old Tom Brady, fresh off a fifth Super Bowl championship and his young backup, Jimmy Garoppolo who impressed in the two games he started this season, but is in the final year of his rookie contract. So what can the Patriots do?

There’s no doubt Bill Belichick likes what he see’s in Jimmy G, the decision to not trade him for substantial draft ammunition this offseason was proof of that. Now, assuming Brady plays on post-2017, the Patriots have several options available to them.

Firstly, they could simply let Garoppolo hit free agency, and sign wherever he wanted, which is unlikely considering they could’ve sent him away this offseason, for a probable first round pick.

Secondly, they could extend him on a new deal, but this would be a financial deal far short of what Garoppolo could receive on the free agent market, and Garoppolo would probably avoid signing it to chase $$ and a starting job elsewhere.

The most obvious solution would be the franchise tag, the Patriots have plenty of cap space, and they could play safe for 2018, then if Brady declines, they can replace him or trade Jimmy G if #12’s play is still of elite calibre.

Belichick has shown throughout his tenure in New England that he doesn’t suffer sentimentality, he ruthlessly trades popular veterans out of town before the obvious decline has begun, and it’s hard to believe Brady would be an exception to that rule. One can only imagine the backlash in New England however, if Brady is mailed out of town only for him continue to win elsewhere, whilst Garoppolo struggled back in Foxboro.

This storyline will be one to watch develop over the next 12 months, as the Patriots move closer and closer to one of the most important decisions in their history.

New York Mets’ Stars Victims Of Devilish Prank

New York Mets catcher, Kevin Plawecki has stumbled into the headlines in rather humorous and embarrassing circumstances, after his franchises’ twitter account posted a rather incriminating photo following the Mets win over the Miami Marlins.

In the right hand side of the posted image, just behind Mets star, T.J Rivera, lies a seemingly innocuous object, until closer inspection reveals its true identity. An old fashioned sex toy, not obvious at first glance, but once you’ve spied it, you can’t get it out of your head!

There can be little doubt the unobscured placement of said sex toy, was an obvious joke on both the man in the photo, (Rivera) and Plawecki, in who’s locker the object was cleverly placed.

The photo in the tweet aimed to highlight the match winning performance of first baseman, T.J. Rivera, who hit his first home run and game tying double, against the Marlins. The new tradition for the Mets is to give their best or most impressive performer from that game a crown in the post match festivities.

Fortunately for the Mets’ social media manager, the tweet was not online long as they quickly uploaded a heavily cropped version of the same photograph, without the ‘sex toy’ visible.

Plawecki was sheepish and enormously embarrassed as he tried to shake off the humorous prank. “Honestly, I don’t really know how to handle this one, this is kind of unbelievable, really,” Plawecki said.

The All Mets catcher categorically denied that the device was his, but was unable to identify which of his highly amused teammates might be responsible for the creative placement of the object front and centre in his locker.

“We’ve got some good pranksters in here, that’s for sure,” Plawecki said. “I mean what can you do, just kind of laugh this one off.”

There was some suggestion that the object was a source of superstition, and not of practical use in the Mets’ locker room. Superstitious items are not uncommon in locker and dressing rooms, as a surprisingly large number of sportspeople are enormously superstitious, see tennis champion, Rafael Nadal and former Mets’ reliever Turk Wendell.

 

Valtteri Bottas Snares First Grand Prix Win In Sochi

There’s a new ‘Flying Finn’ in the Formula One paddock, after Valtteri Bottas stunned Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari duo Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, to win the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi.

The win, is Bottas’ first grand prix victory, after 83 grand prix starts.

Starting on the second row alongside teammate Hamilton, Bottas gained a supreme start slipping by not only the Brit, but both Ferrari’s as well, via the superior speed of his Mercedes engine. From there the young Finn was never headed, as he drove confidently and assuredly to an impressive maiden victory.

The Ferrari pair of Vettel and Raikkonen were clearly taken aback by the Bottas challenge, as opposed to Hamilton who was struggling back in 4th place.

It wasn’t smooth sailing though for several other competitors though, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso power unit failed on the warm up lap, leaving the Spaniard frustrated with such an inferior piece of machinery at his disposal.

Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer collided on the opening lap, ending both their races rather prematurely, with Grosjean less than thrilled with Palmer turning into him as they entered turn 3.

Red Bull’s Dan Ricciardo, also suffered a similar, disappointing fate, with rear brake failure ending is race only five laps in, continuing a frustrating trend for the young Aussie, in 2017.

Pitstops and strategy allowed Bottas to maintain his lead over Vettel, before the four-time world champion began to narrow the margin over the final 15 laps. If Vettel had any chance in overtaking Bottas, he needed to be within one second of him, so to take advantage of DRS. Although, the superior power of the Mercedes engine would’ve made an overtake on the long Sochi straights a tough task.

The closest Vettel came to Bottas was on the final lap, before lapped traffic, Felipe Massa’s Williams, ‘unintentionally’ interfered allowing Bottas to cross the line with some ‘breathing space’.

Behind Vettel, came teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who took out the fastest lap of the race, and generally looked more competitive than he has in recent rounds. A frustrated Lewis Hamilton was fourth after suffering intermittent overheating issues throughout the race.

The lone surviving Red Bull of Max Verstappen finished fifth, leading home the Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, who have quietly established themselves as the fourth fastest team on the grid, leapfrogging Williams. 

Rounding out the point scorers for the Russian GP were Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Williams’ Felipe Massa and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. All three of whom continue to significantly outperform their respective teammates.

Although Ferrari failed to take out the top step of the podium, it was still a victory of sorts for Vettel’s world title assault, as he extended his points lead over Lewis Hamilton. As it currently stands, Vettel holds a 13 point lead over Hamilton, who is 10 points clear of Bottas.

If there was any thought that Ferrari’s Australian GP victory was a fluke of strategy over speed, that’s been dispelled in the following three races, with Ferrari more than maintaining and in some cases exceeding the speed of Mercedes. As we enter the European phase of the season, Hamilton will need to get his mojo back as his rivals gain confidence, and an increasingly intimidating points lead.

Bears, Chiefs And Texans Get Their ‘Franchise’ Quarterback

So much of the pre draft chatter focused on the quarterback position, and the possible landing spots for the three or four most highly rated passers.

Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, DeShaun Watson and DeShone Kizer were all considered borderline first round prospects at the very least. The thirst and desire to find your franchise quarterback drove the Bears, Chiefs, Texans to trade significant draft stock in order to get their man.

First time General Manager, John Lynch in San Francisco received an envious call from Bears’ GM, Ryan Pace offering an abundance of picks in order to simply swap places (3rd overall to 2nd overall), so the Bears could take Trubisky in a surprising move.

The Chiefs ascended all the way from 27th overall to 10th overall, in a trade with the Bills to take long-term project quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. The Browns, who are in quarterbacking purgatory themselves, traded out of the 12th spot with the Texans who desired DeShaun Watson. Cleveland waited until day 2, where they nabbed DeShone Kizer.

The insatiable need for that franchise quarterback drove these three aggressive trades, even though none of the quarterbacks above are seen as surefire day 1 starters or future pro bowlers. The Trubisky pick was particularly unexpected. Chicago just signed Mike Glennon in free agency, and with $18 million guaranteed owed to Glennon, there was little indication that the Bears were interested. Furthermore there’re fair questions as to whether Trubisky has the runs on the board to succeed at the the pro level.

The Browns with 11 accumulated draft picks, had the ability to play aggressive, which they did, making three first round selections. Edge rusher, Myles Garrett 1st overall, safety Jabrill Peppers 25th overall, and tight end David Njoku 29th overall, are impressive playmakers that should improve their roster immediately.

Another surprise was the early run on wide receivers, with Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross all disappearing off the board in the top ten overall. Davis was coveted by the Titans, Williams snared by the Chargers, and Ross selected by the Bengals in a very surprising selection at 9. The Ross pick comes only a year after the Bengals took Tyler Boyd in the second round, and with AJ Green and Tyler Eifert leading the receiving options in Cincinnati, Ross’ addition makes this Bengals offence very dangerous indeed.

Cincinnati also waded into controversy with their second round selection of running back, Joe Mixon, who viciously punched a woman in the face back in 2014, the footage of which has been seared into the brains of all scouts, coaches and general managers across the league. Multiple, indeed quite possibly a majority of franchises removed Mixon completely from their draft boards. But according to the Bengals Head Coach, Marvin Lewis, “We’ve done such a lot of work regarding Joe Mixon, throughout the entire process this year and based on all the time, all the research, we felt that we can continue to move forward.”

Regardless of the Bengals research and diligence, regarding Mixon, it remains a poor look for the NFL that has vowed a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence, as incidents continue to plague the league.

The Colts meanwhile, have had a sneaky good offseason as they look to end their two-year hiatus from the playoffs. Malik Hooker’s slide out of the top 10, turned into a dream for first year GM, Chris Ballard. They also added a nice cornerback in Quincy Wilson in the second round to greatly strengthen the secondary.

Dallas too needed upgrades on defence to offset free agency losses, and their top three picks certainly filled those needs. Defensive end, Taco Charlton, and cornerbacks Chindobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis will all be needed to contribute if the Cowboys are to keep pace with the class of the NFC this season.

Washington will be delighted that health concerns with Jonathan Allen’s shoulders, saw him drop to 17 and into their grateful hands. Allen’s presence is a greatly needed addition to the Skins’ interior defence, which lost their best defensive tackle, Chris Baker to Tampa Bay in free agency.

Speaking of Tampa Bay, their offseason has been extremely productive thus far. Their draft performance only added to the hype around them for 2017. The offence are the primary beneficiaries, with blue-chip tight end O.J Howard joining a potentially explosive group in Florida. But the Buccaneers weren’t done there, they added wide receiver, Chris Godwin and underrated running back, Jeremy McNichols.

With their second first rounder at 32 (acquired in the Brandin Cooks trade), the Saints were extremely disappointed to miss out on the falling linebacker, Reuben Foster, whom they were on the phone to, before the 49ers traded back into the first round ahead of them (31) to virtually pull Foster out of their grasp.

Arguably the most ‘feel good’ story of the draft, came from new Atlanta Falcons edge rusher, Takkarist McKinley. The young Falcon was extremely emotional and boisterous as he made his way onto stage, carrying a picture of his deceased Grandmother. McKinley and his grandmother were extremely close in his formative years, and he vowed on her deathbed that someday he’d make it to the NFL and change the families fortunes. Considering that, and the circumstances in which the young man found fame and financial fortune, it’s an outstanding testament to himself and his grandmother.

As draftees and undrafted free agents fill out a majority of the remaining space on team’s rosters, all rookie projections are now officially useless. The real test now is how these young men will adapt to pro environments, advanced playbooks, and the rigours and pressures of the NFL.

Here’s One Final Mock Draft Before Round 1

I know, I know. We’re all sick to death of these countless mocks and hypotheticals, so close to draft day. It’s been a solid three months straight of everyman and his dog projecting, analysing, mocking and trading potential picks and players.

But here’s the good news, the real thing is only a day away. The first round will commence tomorrow night at 8pm EDT live in Philadelphia, on NFL Network and ESPN and most fans and analysts couldn’t be more excited. So for the last time in 2017, here’s one final, first round mock draft, let’s see how it shapes up.

Pick 1, Cleveland Browns, Myles Garrett, Edge Rusher, Texas A&M

This pick appears to be relatively straightforward. Garrett is the consensus number one player in the draft, at a position of need for the Browns. The pick almost makes too much sense, and Cleveland would be mad to go quarterback so early in the draft, with this blue-chip player available.

Pick 2, San Francisco 49ers, Jamaal Adams, Safety, LSU

Trading down would be the perfect scenario here, but finding a willing partner might be beyond them. So, the best fit here is taking safety Jamaal Adams, who is as safe a prospect as possible in a draft class. And that’s what the 49ers need more than anything else, safe, stable playmakers, as Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch look to turn round the dire state of this roster.

Pick 3, Chicago Bears, Jonathan Allen, Defensive Line, Alabama 

The Bears could go a number of ways here, cornerback, edge rusher, or safety. But Alabama’s Jonathan Allen is an elite talent defensive lineman that offers strength against the run and a powerful pass rush from either the inside or outside. He led an impressive Alabama defence in sacks (13), and is scheme versatile.

Pick 4, Jacksonville Jaguars, Solomon Thomas, Defensive Line, Stanford

A magnificent physical specimen, Thomas is listed as a defensive end, but could very well make the move inside to tackle, such is his versatility and size. Although defence is not a priority need right now, Thomas could immediately help to fill a passing rushing need, with the jury still well and truly out on early round selections, Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue.

Pick 5, Tennessee Titans, Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, Ohio State

This would be the perfect scenario for the draft pick heavy Titans. Arguably their biggest need lies at the cornerback position, and Lattimore is this draft class’ best. Gaining a potential number one cornerback, via last year’s Jared Goff trade would be a real treat for the ascending Titans.

Pick 6, New York Jets, Malik Hooker, Safety, Ohio State

This kid’s potential is something special. A rare combination of skill, speed, size and athleticism could see him having the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft. The Jets desperately need defensive reinforcements, and Hooker should give them an elite playmaker in the secondary.

Pick 7, Los Angeles Chargers, Mike Williams, Wide Receiver, Clemson

An interesting choice here, but unless the Chargers trade down, it’s their best option. Keenan Allen is an excellent number one receiver, but he has missed far too much game time and Williams can either vill that void or join Allen in one hell of an dangerous combination for Philip Rivers.

Pick 8, Carolina Panthers, Leonard Fournette, Running Back, LSU

This could be an absolute steal of a pick. Fournette is a brilliant rusher, with all the attributes including speed, power and a supreme ability to gain yards after contact. With DeAngelo Williams ageing, and Cam Newton taking an absolute battering, Fournette would be a greatly sought after addition in Panther heartland.

Pick 9, Cincinnati Bengals, Derek Barnett, Edge Rusher, Tennessee

The Bengals really need offensive line help, but there’s no value for a player like that with a top ten selection. Derek Barnett, however, is value. Barnett is one of the draft’s best pass rushers, and could come in and fill in a desperate need opposite Carols Dunlap, for a Bengal’s defence that regressed awfully in 2016.

Pick 10, Buffalo Bills, O.J Howard, Tight End, Alabama

He might’ve been highly underused by Nick Saban’s offence in Alabama, but there’s no denying the supreme talent that is O.J Howard. The tight end would give Tyrod Taylor a sorely needed weapon on the inside, and would strengthen the Bills’ running game, already one of the league’s best.

Pick 11, New Orleans Saints, Reuben Foster, Linebacker, Alabama

Foster’s draft status has taken several hits since the Combine, but his on-field play cannot be disregarded or undervalued. Foster is an elite talent at the inside linebacker position, and for the Saints, who are desperate to rebuild large parts of their defence, Foster could be the key cog in that rebuild.

Pick 12, Cleveland Browns, Mitchell Trubisky, Quarterback, North Carolina

The Browns avoided taking a quarterback at the top and they’re rewarded here, with the top passer and Hue Jackson’s personal favourite, Mitchell Trubisky. The North Carolina product only had the past season starting at college level, but was by far the best quarterback in that time and he’s arguably the most ready to start week 1.

Pick 13, Arizona Cardinals, Corey Davis, Wide Receiver, Western Michigan

Twelve months ago, no one could’ve predicted the Cards taking a pass catcher in the first round of this year’s draft. But the quality and depth of the Cards’ receivers has been compromised and Corey Davis in this situation is too good to pass up. Larry Fitz can’t do it all by himself forever!

Pick 14, Philadelphia Eagles, Tre’Davious White, Cornerback, LSU

Unless there’s a run on cornerbacks before this pick, the Eagles will surely select whomever is highest on their board. Tre’Davious White is a fantastic prospect, with great speed, aggression, ball playing awareness and with scheme versatility, he can play outside or in the slot.

Pick 15, Indianapolis Colts, Taco Charlton, Edge Rusher, Michigan

At 15, for Indianapolis it’s a simple case of picking the best defensive player available on their board. They have to ignore the noise and exciting running backs (Cook, McCaffrey etc). Taco Charlton is a possible top ten pick and he would be an enormous upgrade on the edge for the Colts, who are pass rush hungry.

Pick 16, Baltimore Ravens, Ryan Ramczyk, Offensive Tackle, Wisconsin

The offensive line class is certainly the weakest draft position in 2017, but Ryan Ramczyk is the premier tackle of that class. The former Wisconsin Badger is a reliable pass protector, and even better in the run game. The Ravens are in need of a future right tackle, opposite last year’s first round pick, Ronnie Stanley.

Pick 17, Washington Redskins, Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Stanford

McCaffrey has become one of the most popular and sought after players in the entire draft. His four down value cannot be overstated, an effective and elusive inside runner, brilliant and explosive in the passing game and a dynamic punt and kick returner. Who wouldn’t want him?

Pick 18, Tennessee Titans, John Ross, Wide Receiver, Washington

If the real draft falls this way on Thursday night, Titans management will be jubilant. Get a corner early, and back it up with the frighteningly fast receiver John Ross here at 18. Ross is a home run threat like no other player in this draft, and he gives Marcus Mariota an exciting weapon on the perimeter.

Pick 19, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Haason Reddick, Linebacker, Temple

Linebacker, Haason Reddick was arguably the biggest winner from the NFL Combine, as his draft stock has risen to a point where he’s now a surefire first round pick. As an off-the-ball linebacker, Reddick has flourished with his athleticism, speed, coverage ability and his ability to go after the passer, a useful benefit for the Bucs.

Pick 20, Denver Broncos, Cam Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Alabama

Alabama’s Cam Robinson is still a project in the making, with issues that he’ll need to iron out before he can be trusted to protect an NFL quarterback’s blindside. Fortunately for the Broncos, Robinson has enormous talent. Talent that Denver are in desperate need of at the tackle position.

Pick 21, Detroit Lions, Takkarist McKinley, Edge Rusher, UCLA

The Lions priority need is definitely pass rusher, and Takkarist McKinley is the best rusher on the board at this stage. Most of the Lions front-seven requires work and McKinley could add a stable and effective pass rusher as the defence evolves.

Pick 22, Miami Dolphins, Forrest Lamp, Offensive Guard, Western Kentucky

Dolphins could go a few different ways here, cornerback, linebacker, possibly tight end, but guard Forrest Lamp might just be the draft’s best lineman and a steal down here at 22. Miami took Laremy Tunsil in the first round last year, where he played guard in his rookie year, but having now switched outside to tackle, there’s a starting position available for Lamp.

Pick 23, New York Giants, Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Florida State

Cook’s draft status has fluctuated over the past two months, between the top ten and the bottom of the first round. There’s no doubting his pedigree though, a brilliant runner, with unreal big play potential, who is also a threat in the passing game. He would instantly improve the Giants’ offence and take pressure off Eli Manning.

Pick 24, Oakland Raiders, Malik McDowell, Defensive Tackle, Michigan State

The Raiders need defensive line reinforcements, and McDowell is a powerful and explosive interior player who is still far from his ceiling as a player. McDowell does have some red flags off the field, but the talent is too much to ignore at the bottom of the first round.

Pick 25, Houston Texans, DeShaun Watson, Quarterback, Clemson

So for the moment the Texans have missed out on Tony Romo, and Tom Savage just doesn’t cut it as a starter. DeShaun Watson is a proven winner at Clemson, and with such a competitive roster in Houston he’ll have time to grow and develop, without the onus of having to win it all by himself.

Pick 26, Seattle Seahawks, Garrett Bolles, Offensive Tackle, Utah

Garrett Bolles has the makings of a very good player in the NFL, and should he end up in the north-west, he’ll certainly get his chance. The Seahawks are desperate for improvement on the o-line, the performance of this group has crippled their Super Bowl runs the last two years.

Pick 27, Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes, Quarterback, Texas Tech

This is certainly more of a projection pick for the Chiefs than an immediate need. The Chiefs’ roster is pretty strong, but there’re fair concerns that Alex Smith can’t take them over the top. Young Mahomes is a super aggressive playmaker, with an enormous ceiling, but he’s not even close to being ready to start in the pros.

Pick 28, Dallas Cowboys, Gareon Conley, Cornerback, Ohio State

Free agency dented an already sub-par Cowboys defence, particularly in the secondary. Ohio State’s Gareon Conley is a high class cornerback who could go a long way to bringing it back up to standard in a super competitive NFC.

Pick 29, Green Bay Packers, Marlon Humphrey, Cornerback, Alabama

The Packers’ defence was humbled (again) in humiliating fashion by the Falcons in last year’s championship game. The focus this draft has to be defence, and in particular the cornerback position. Humphrey is the best corner available at this stage, but the Packers will have to double up later in the draft.

Pick 30, Pittsburgh Steelers, David Njoku, Tight End, Miami

Pittsburgh struggled mightily last season when Antonio Brown was the only decent receiver on the field. Martavius Bryant can’t be relied upon right now, so the Steelers can address that by drafting an athletic, dangerous pass catching tight end who can help take pressure away on the inside.

Pick 31, Atlanta Falcons, Charles Harris, Edge Rusher, Missouri

Fortunately, the Falcons don’t have any glaring needs on their roster, but they would like a second pass rusher opposite 2016 sack leader, Vic Beasley. Charles Harris, although not a noted run defender, is an excellent pass rusher and could make a challenging and frightening combination with Vic Beasley.

Pick 32, New Orleans Saints, Teez Tabor, Cornerback, Florida

Saints have to double up on defence in this hypothetical mock draft. The cornerback depth cannot be ignored, especially combined with the Saints desperate need at the position. Tabor would almost certainly be a day one starter, a physical, fiesty presence on the outside.