Buffalo Bills reportedly love Darnold: But will he land there?

There are a few things you just can’t escape when you live in Buffalo: chicken wings, crazy snowfalls, and a quarterback controversy.

With a disastrous second half of the Bills season, the Tyrod Taylor experiment will seemingly be put to rest. The team got a glimpse of what Nathan Peterman looked like under center and I think it’s safe to say him being the team’ starter next September would not be ideal.

Both Kirk Cousins and Eli Manning could be free agents and big solutions to the Bills quarterback problems. However, neither player is being linked to the Bills as strong candidates to land them.

Thus, the Bills will probably look to spend draft picks to land their quarterback of the future.

As far as college quarterback prospects go, It’s been a two-horse race at the top all season long. Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. Some believe Josh Allen could also be in contention due to his six-foot-five 240-pound prototypical stature, but he’s notably the third tier next to these two.

Despite Darnold being an underclassman, reports have surfaced indicating that the Bills have strong interest in the USC signal caller with a most recent report saying they “love” him.

This isn’t major news considering most teams in QB danger are interested in the talented USC product. The only problem is many draft experts are skeptical if he will even declare for the 2018 NFL draft.

After a bumpy start for Darnold, which saw him throw nine interceptions in his first six games of the year, some believed the young California native may decide to forgo the draft and stay in school another year to further develop before making the leap to primetime.

That was before the talented young quarterback capped off a great second half to his season with a strong performance in the PAC-12 championship game against the Stanford Cardinals. Darnold dazzled in this game tossing for 325 yards and two touchdowns without surrendering a single turnover.

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Sam Darnold Pac-12 Championship game MVP

There is no doubt that the Buffalo Bills have liked what they’ve seen out of Darnold, but a lot would have to go right for him to be part of Bills Mafia next season.

Firstly, He needs to declare.

Secondly, Cleveland—who I presume will end with the top pick— would have to like Rosen more than Darnold. This is still a legitimate possibility, too, considering the UCLA quarterback outdueled his fellow passer in their matchup on November 18th. Granted, I suppose a trade with Cleveland at number one is foreseeable based on recent past –enter Carson Wentz— and the amount of draft capital the Bills posses, but it would be unworldly for the Browns franchise to make that mistake again.

Even if both of those scenarios play out, the Bills would have to find a trade partner at the top of the draft in order to have a shot at Darnold.

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Draft standings as of the start of Week 14

Considering the logjam in the top-10 of this year’s draft after week 13 it’s too early to say if the trade option will be possible. Not to mention, the basement dwellers of the league usually don’t have strong quarterback play and would need an upgrade at the position. And if a talent like Darnold is available it would be tough for a team to pass him up.

However, there are always instances where a team may not be sold on a specific prospect and may be willing to move back. It happened in the 2017 draft when the QB needy San Francisco 49ers traded back with Chicago instead of taking Mitchell Trubisky themselves.

The advantage the Bills have is the aforementioned draft capital. Buffalo has five picks in the first three rounds.  Thus, they could bundle a number of them to go get “their guy” if he’s available.

So, if all three of these happen: Darnold declares, Browns pass on him, and the Bills move up, then there will be celebrations breaking into the streets of downtown Buffalo. But that would have to mean for a lot of good to happen to a team who has had some seriously bad mojo over the past two decades.

The date Bills brass will have circled on their calendar is January 16th. This is the deadline players have to declare for the NFL draft and all eyes will be on USC’s Darnold. Until then, you can bet that there will be a lot of discussions revolving the Bills and Darnold.

Like I said, quarterback talk is inevitable in Buffalo whether you like it or not. And as Christmas approaches, so too will the snowfall.

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Andrew Luck’s internal clock

The Colts have a premier quarterback running the show in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck is blessed with a brain that processes the game of football like a computer in a chess match. But sometimes he’s too smart for his own good.

Luck has one of the best internal clocks in football when under pressure, however, Indianapolis’s inefficient offensive line has resulted in him forcing uncharacteristic errors when under pressure and has tainted his reputation as a generational talent. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Luck was pressured on 44.4% (highest in the league) of his dropbacks last season and was sacked 41 times, which was second most in the NFL next to Tyrod Taylor’s 42 sacks with the Bills. The difference between the two is how long each quarterback holds onto the ball in conjuncture with the average length of time the quarterback spent in the pocket before getting sacked. The Colts offensive line gave Luck an average of 3.01 seconds in the pocket before being sacked, which ranks as the second quickest time in the NFL. To compare, despite being the most sacked quarterback in the league last season, the Bills offensive line gives Taylor the most time in the pocket with 4.62 seconds before getting sacked.

 What is interesting to note is the heightened sense of Luck’s internal clock. The Colts quarterback flirts with the three-second rule to get rid of the football more than any other quarterback. On average Luck uses 2.88 of the 3.01 seconds his line allows him in the pocket before throwing the ball. That gives him .13 seconds to pass before being sacked, which gives him the smallest margin for error in the NFL. Despite this, Luck was only sacked on 14.7% of his dropbacks in 2016, proving his efficient internal clock. However, this short timespan hinders his decision making process and forces Luck to make uncharacteristic throws while under pressure, which led to nine interceptions.  

Andrew Luck threw 13 total interceptions last season with nine of them while under pressure, which tied him for third-most in the league. Considering his 44.4% pressure rating, nine picks is not a horrible number. But compared to his 20 touchdowns and four-interceptions stat line when not hurried, it raises eyebrows a little bit. If Luck was given more time in the pocket and wasn’t pressured as often, he’s shown that he can be an extremely effective quarterback in this league.  

Granted, the Colts offensive line showed marginal improvement toward the end of the last season and will be returning the same crop of players again in 2017. So if the Colts want to have any kind of success next season they need to continue progressing and give Luck more time in the pocket to focus on his receivers downfield, and not on his very brief internal clock.

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s emergence makes disgruntled Martavis Bryant expendable

It’s no secret that Martavis Bryant is growing sick and tired of his reduced role in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

Two weeks ago, reports surfaced he was unhappy with his utilization on the field and supposedly requested a trade (Bryant has since refuted those reports). But after only being used in 52% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps in Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, rumblings re-surfaced again of him wanting to be traded.

Following Sunday’s match against the Bengals, Bryant took to Instagram to trash his teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster when a fan declared that his teammate was better than him.

 

 

After deleting the comment, Bryant “called in sick” on Monday, missing the team’s mandatory meetings.

 

 

It’s clear Bryant doesn’t want to be in Pittsburgh any longer and the emergence of rookie receiver Smith-Schuster makes Bryant expendable.

Smith-Schuster, the team’s 2017 second round pick, has outplayed Bryant to this point in the season. The former USC Trojan has 17 catches on 26 targets (65.4%) for 231 yards and three scores on 277 snaps (66.27%). Whereas Bryant has only one score on the season in 285 snaps (68.15%), to go along with a 50% catch rating on his 36 targets.

The rookie wideout has seemingly surpassed Bryant on the depth chart the past three weeks as Smith-Schuster has played 140 snaps, compared the disgruntled receiver’s 131. It starts to make sense once you start breaking down the numbers.

When Ben Roethlisberger is passing the JuJu, his passer rating is a whopping 132.1% and has not thrown an interception. Comparatively, the Roethlisberger-to-Bryant connection is operating at a deflating 68.5% QB rating this year.

The chart below illustrates a comparison of Bryant and Smith-Schuster’s season thus far.

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Before Bryant’s suspension in 2016, he and Antonio Brown were a lethal combination that opposing teams’ secondaries were afraid to play against. But after missing an entire year of football, the 25-year old Clemson Tiger alumnus’ status with the team as irreplaceable has diminished.

In back-to-back weeks there has been a lot of drama surrounding Bryant. After a frustrating start to his 2017 season, it’s conceivable to say the Steelers may be content with replacing Bryant with Smith-Schuster going forward and potentially rid themselves of the burden the former 2014 fourth-round pick has been all season long.

With the Hallowe’en day trade deadline coming up, the Steelers could have busy phone lines over the next week.

Mid-season trades rarely happen in football because of how difficult it is to familiarize a new playbook. Despite this, there are a few wide-receiver needy teams who would love to have Bryant in their lineup.

Below is a list of five teams who could entertain a Bryant trade:

Buffalo Bills
New York Jets
New York Giants
Chicago Bears
San Francisco 49ers

The six-foot-four 211-pound receiver has proven he has the necessary skill set to succeed in this league. Perhaps a change of scenery and an expanded role elsewhere will bring back his passion for football and allow him to become a down-field threat once again.

Reggie Traccitto: From Uni to Pro

What seemed like a major inconvenience in furthering his hockey career, university hockey turned out to be the break this young man needed to fine-tune his game to prolong his career and set him up for success.

Canadian university hockey can be the end of the road for a lot of athletes aspiring to make a living by shooting a puck, but this young man made the best of his time as a Usport athlete and turned his successful Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) career into a big step toward his goal of playing professional hockey.

Brampton Beast defenceman, Reggie Traccitto, was released from the Ontario Reign of the East Coast Hockey League at the age of 20 in November 2010 and was contemplating his future in the sport of hockey. With no phone calls coming his way to play hockey professionally, Traccitto decided there was only one way to try and prolong his playing career, the Canadian Interuniversity Sports league (CIS).

The CIS, also referred to as Usports, is the sports governing body that promotes the student-athlete experience within Canadian Universities.

Traccitto played five seasons with the University of Prince Edward Island where he laced up the skates for 120 games for the UPEI Panthers.

The appreciation for university hockey wasn’t exactly instant for Traccitto.

“When I went back I was kind of caught up of still playing pro.  I was in California and playing too, I went from one coast to the other and it’s freezing in PEI,” said Traccitto. “My first year I was kind of in limbo a little bit, I didn’t really want to go back to school because I was out of school for two or three years, especially when I was playing in the OHL.”

So how does a guy who didn’t want to go back to school fall in love with the CIS culture and stay for five seasons?

“Reggie had a period of transition,” UPEI head coach Forbes Macpherson said, “once [the former pro players] get through the transition and grasp onto the CIS culture they really start to succeed in both areas, school, and sport.”

“Reggie went from perhaps struggling a little bit, to working through the transition, to completely flourishing. By the end of it [Reggie] was an All-Canadian player and an All-Canadian academic as well,” Macpherson acknowledged.

University hockey can be precarious, and a professional contract offer could be awarded from a pro team at any time. Traccitto knew this and had not fully committed to a full five year CIS hockey career when he originally left California for P.E.I.

After his first season with UPEI Traccitto was offered a chance to attend the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp. He didn’t make the team or receive an invitation, but Traccitto took what he learned from the Canadiens coaches and said to himself, “you know CIS hockey is actually really good, and I’m just going to continue it out.”

“My first year we probably had three or four guys that ended up playing pro a little bit before going there.” raved Traccitto.

Canadian Usports is trying to brand themselves as an elite option for athletes to play at a highly competitive level and to better themselves while simultaneously receiving a degree.

“[The CIS] doesn’t want to have… players that come in to do the school and leave.  They want to have guys come in, do the best they can, and eventually go to the [ECHL], AHL or NHL,”  Traccitto said.

MacPherson added that “When [the CIS] get guys like Reggie, they still have the dream that they still want to play pro hockey, and while they’re at university they remain disciplined, they remain focused, they remain driven and, therefore, they’re still a hungrier athlete.”

The Usports brand is expanding and Canadian university sports, especially hockey, is starting to make a name for itself amongst athletic circles.

“There’s a lot of scouts coming to the games,” Traccitto mentioned, “Since I was there it’s been getting a lot bigger too, a lot more pro scouts coming to the games as well, so it’s awesome.”

For some player’s university hockey is the end of the road, but Traccitto used his experience to make adjustments to his game in an effort to move onto the next level of his career.

Macpherson believes that “the reason why players end up in the CIS is because there is something in their game that the player has to work on and the CIS affords them to not only get an education but take three or fours years and work on those details and get back into pro hockey…” and for Traccitto that was “…to be more consistent in his game.”

“Over his time at university it really gave him the time to work on his consistency and he became a premier defenceman in Canada,” Macpherson said of Traccitto.

In Traccitto’s final two seasons in the CIS he was named an AUS First Team All-Star and CIS Second Team All-Canadian. This encouraging improvement led to a phone call from the Brampton Beast to come play pro hockey again and keep his dream alive.

Traccitto is not even two years out of school and already has an ECHL Kelly Cup championship trophy to add to his career accolades.

“It definitely prepared me playing [at UPEI],” Traccitto acknowledged. “I think it matured me more as a player, so it was definitely a good thing.”

Stars with big offseason

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Winners of the early summer
By: Michael DiStefano

The Dallas stars have had a tremendous summer so far. After becoming the regular season western conference champions in 2015-2016, the Stars endured a steep 30-point drop off last season.

With NHL superstars like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in the lineup on a nightly basis goals should be a frequent occurrence, but goaltending, however, has been rather dreadful for the past two seasons with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi manning the crease.

Knowing the team needed an upgrade in goal, the Stars kicked off their offseason by acquiring the rights to Ben Bishop and locking him up long term. Bishop has a 2.32 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage over his eight year NHL career. The 30-year-old net minder is just one season removed from an All-Star worthy season two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup Finals as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His presence in net should stabilize the goalie carousel that has hindered Dallas for years and allow them to compete for a playoff run in the west.

Dallas lost Cody Eakin to the expansion draft, bought out Niemi, and let Ales Hemsky and Patrick Sharp walk in free agency; four guys who were not impact players last season. The weapons that the Stars added in front of Bishop to replace the trio of players they lost is why they are the winners of the early part of summer.

The Stars latest singing is 30-year-old winger Alexader Radulov, who signed for five years with an annual cap hit of $6.25 million. Radulov is a dynamic playmaker and was arguably the biggest fish in free agency this year and will certainly bolster Dallas’s offensive depth. Radulov spent last season in Montreal after returning from the KHL and was able to put up 54 points for les habitants, despite an eight-year absence from the NHL game. A top line of Seguin, Benn and Radulov will be a highly dynamic line and should do damage in the west.

Another smart addition was the 6-foot-6 Czech centreman, Martin Hanzal. Hanzal didn’t quite have the best transition after being traded at the deadline from Arizona to Minnesota. Hanzal only scored four goals after the trade, and only had a single point in the playoffs where the Wild was eliminated in the first round. But the large centreman will not be asked to play a big role in Dallas, rather he should be expected to play more of a complimentary piece in the middle six of the lineup and help improve the penalty kill.

A player than Bishop will love playing with next season is newly acquired Marc Methot. Methot was chosen by Vegas in the expansion draft but was traded to Dallas four days later for a 2020 second round draft pick and goaltending prospect Dylan Ferguson. Methot plays a more stay-at-home style of game which allows for his partner to be more fluid with the puck and jump into rushes, a la Erik Karlsson, his old defensive partner. Perhaps he finds himself on a pairing with another Swedish puck moving defenseman John Klingberg.  Regardless of who Methot will play with, he is a solid addition to a weak defensive group.

Dallas may have also made the most underrated signing of the summer. Right winger Tyler Pitlick signed three years at $1 Million per year to play for the Stars. Pitlick was starting to have a breakout campaign last season as an Oilers when he had eight goals through 31 games. He should provide good scoring depth and is capable of playing up and down the lineup for the Stars next season.

Expectations in July do not always equate to winter success, but assuming all goes well this season in Dallas, the Stars should be closer to a Stanley Cup final than a lottery pick next June.

Curios case of Markov and the Habs

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Is Markov still part of the now for Montreal?
By: Michael DiStefano

It’s no secret that Andrei Markov and the Montreal Canadiens would like to strike a deal and reunite for one last go at Lord Stanley’s mug. Markov has been a member of the Canadiens for 17 years, making him the longest tenured player on the team. Markov has been through the organizations ups and downs over that time, including two trips to the Eastern Conference finals. After all the defensive retooling this offseason Montreal lacks a left-handed puck-moving defenseman like Markov, but he may no longer fit the culture anymore.

Markov will turn 39 in December and has noticeably regressed as a top pairing defenseman, but still posses the smarts to keep playing at the NHL level. Last season the Montreal defender played 62 games and scored six goals with 30 assists and was strong on the power-play next to Shea Weber.

Montreal’s power-play operated at a 19.6 per cent last season and the Habs have already lost one vital member of their man-advantage team in Alexander Radulov. The loss of Markov as well could be worrisome for the 13th ranked power-play. Between the two players they combined for 28 points with the man advantage and with the loss of one Russian power-play specialist, the Canadiens can’t afford to lose another. Markov led the Canadiens in power-play assists and was fifth on the team in power-play points and second among defenseman behind Weber. The ex-predator captain has an absolute cannon from the point but needs a partner to pass him the puck and Markov is one of the best options the Canadiens have that fits the mold, and his 11 power-play assists last season proves it.

Markov’s ability to move the puck and make the strong first pass is indisputable. According to ownthepuck hero charts the Russian defenseman owns a 10/10 rating for first assist, which alludes to his vision and offensive playmaking abilities from the backend. The next best Canadiens defender who supports a noteworthy first assist rating is Jeff Petry with a 6/10. Thus, the departure of Markov could prove to be costly for Montreal offensively. However, the offseason additions to the blue line show’s Montreal plans to instil a new identity anyway.

The additions of Montreal’s new left-handed defenders David Schlemko and Karl Alzner infer that the Canadiens’ defensive model will have a whole new look next season. The newly minted Habs defenders are more defensive minded than offensive, and that seems to be the new identity of the Canadiens blue line. According to ownthepuck, Schlemko and Alzner’s shot suppression rating is higher than all three defenseman that departed from Montreal this offseason. Thus, the Canadiens backend will try to suppress as many shot attempts and scoring chances against rather than relying on puck movers. But again, the issue with these additions is Montreal’s 15th ranked offence will take a toll by eliminating the players who moves the puck down the ice like Markov.

It seems like the culture is shifting behind the scenes in Montreal and it is resulting to on-ice changes as well. Since the 2015-2016 collapse, Jeff Petry is the lone defender remaining from that team. A major overhaul on the blue line is occurring in Montreal and whether or not Markov will be part of the future remains to be seen despite the lack of puck moving defensemen on their roster.

Marleau, a huge signing for Leaf culture

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What Patrick Marleau Means for the Maple Leafs
BY: Brandon Cameron

On July 2nd 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a huge splash in the free agent market (surprise, surprise) with their signing of veteran forward of Patrick Marleau. The former Shark spent his whole career playing in San Jose but chose to finally leave at the age of 37. On the surface it seems like the Leafs may be up to their old ways of making outrageous deals, a la David Clarkson and Jeff Finger, but this deal means a lot more for the Maple Leafs. It’s a signing that gives the Leafs many options in the future.

With the signing of Patrick Marleau, the Maple Leafs are adding an extremely talented player to their roster. The Leafs added a player who’s scored over 500 goals, more than 1000 points, and played almost 1500 career games. Usually signing a player at the age of 37 is a diminishing asset, but Marleau is coming off of a 27-goal season with the Sharks which proves he still has some game left to play in the NHL. Bringing in a player who has won a gold medal under Mike Babcock’s system at the Olympics definitely adds much more intangibles than just offensive production to the Maple Leafs.

Being one of the youngest teams in the NHL, with their marquee players being teenagers, Marleau brings in some much needed experience to the Maple Leafs lineup. Something people tend to forget about is that before Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton were captains in San Jose, Patrick Marleau was the captain of the team for five seasons. Moreover, the Leafs are still left captain less and this could lead to the possibility of the Leafs finally allowing someone to wear the “C”. The Leafs could theoretically Make Marleau the captain for a few seasons while nurturing Morgan Rielly or Auston Matthews t take over when he ultimately retires at the end of his three-year deal. The Marleau signing may seem like too much term, and too high of a cap hit, but the Maple Leafs new regime  has a strong track record fo making smart moves and the organization wouldn’t make a move that would hurt the long-term success of this team.

The addition of Patrick Marleau brings another quality winger into the Maple Leafs roster which gives Toronto an excess amount of NHL caliber forwards ready to make an impact at the NHL level. In particular, the maple leafs’ top-nine forward group has exceptional depth. Their left wingers currently consist of Marleau, James VanRiemsdyk, William Nylander, and Leo Komarov. All four of these players are capable of playing in a  high role. Not to mention Josh Leivo and Matt Martin also battling for NHL spots, thus, creating a log jam at the left wing position.

It seems logical that Nylander will continue to play with Matthews and Hyman to start the year, and that Marleau would slide down the depth chart to play with either Kadri’s line or Marner’s line. The problem there is that those spots are currently occupied by other quality NHL players. It is no secret that the Leafs have been in the market for a top-four defenseman and withthe signing of Marleau it allows the Leafs to potentially shop around James VanRiemsdyk or another good wingerto acquire the the defenseman they covet. The acquisition of Marleau definitely  would cushion the loss of whichever winger is dealt, especially if the Leafs could trade or a topend defenseman.

Patrick Marleau means something a lot more than just the flexibility of fine-tuning the roster. He brings with him something that the Maple Leafs had been missing for a long time. Almost immediately after taking over the Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan began a much needed culture change in Toronto. Toronto has always had a negative reputation around the league for their lack of success over the last 60 years. Shanahan has done everything he can to change the culture in Toronto, and the signing of Patrick Marleau just confirms what every Leafs fan could have ever hoped for—Toronto is finally an attractive market for marquee players. While not being the best player in the league, bringing in a player of Marleau’s caliber clearly shows that the Leafs are getting noticed as a team that can legitimately compete for Stanley Cups, yes pluralized cups, in the very near future.

It is a very exciting time in Toronto and with the signing of Marleau it seems like the Leafs are finally turning a page and becoming a competitive team again. Granted, some of the ground work had been laid in the last few years, but now the Maple Leafs seem to be at the fine-tuning portion of the rebuild. Marleau may not be the player he once was, but he brings hope to Toronto because it shows that the league sees that this Leafs roster is filled with the potential and may finally be ready to contend and bring a cup home to Toronto for the first time since 1967.