NFL’s Top 100: Landon Collins (#92)

Landon Collins

If you were wondering how much team success or failure can impact an individual athlete’s reputation, look no further than New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and strong safety Landon Collins.

During the 2016 NFL season, when the Giants went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs, Manning was being talked about as a future Hall of Famer, and he won the NFL’s Man of the Year award. Collins received first team All-Pro honors, and he was heavy in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

In 2017, the Giants went 3-13 and finished with the second-worst record in the league. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: Malcolm Jenkins (#96)

Malcolm Jenkins

Malcolm Jenkins is apparently too good to get blackballed.

The two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro safety for the Philadelphia Eagles was right there on the front lines with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid in 2016 when those two former San Francisco 49er teammates began kneeling during the pre-game playing of the national anthem, a move that sparked a movement of NFL players publicly protesting police brutality and racism in the United States.

Jenkins, who is widely recognized as the heart and soul of the Eagles, chose to protest by raising his fist during the anthem — similar to track and field icons John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics. His version of silent, yet powerful protest drew its share of headlines and support and criticism.

But while Kaepernick’s stand against injustice appears to have cost him his NFL career, and Reid has inexplicably (and blatantly) gone unsigned on this year’s free agent market — both players have filed grievances against the NFL, accusing team owners of collusion — Jenkins hasn’t gone anywhere. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (#100)

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Beginning in 2011, the NFL Network has surveyed NFL players to compile an annual ranking of the league’s top 100 players. The list is unveiled in a multi-part series during the offseason, with each episode profiling 10 players on the countdown to the No. 1 spot.

Because the ranking is decided by players and not the media or fans, those who often don’t get mainstream attention receive their just due: e.g., offensive linemen, linebackers who don’t get a lot of sacks, guys who standout on bad or small-market teams.

That’s good for defensive backs. Continue reading

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Combine star Troy Apke leads DBs on Day 3 of NFL Draft

Troy Apke

Sorry if I’m not so sorry about the plight of the football player who slides a few picks lower than expected in the NFL Draft.

While there are some truly unfortunate bigger-picture areas of concern — e.g., would Heisman-winning QB Lamar Jackson have been chosen much higher than 32nd overall if he weren’t Black? — for the most part, a guy who had top-10 dreams but winds up at the end of the first round or going in the second round is still in very good shape for his pro career moving forward.

My sympathy lies more with the players who are still waiting for that life-changing phone call on Day 3 of the draft. The ones who weren’t picked in the first three rounds, who go into the final day of the draft having to confront the possibility that they may not get selected. Continue reading

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Day 2 of 2018 NFL Draft features run on DBs

Josh Jackson

The NFL Draft is an opportunity for some teams to change the direction of their franchise with one superstar selection. Other teams who don’t need a savior can stay among the upper echelon by simply adding depth to a position that is already a strength. Other teams that are a few pieces away from contending can use the draft to give an entire position group a makeover.

On Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers used their second-round pick on Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson; that came after the Packers used their first-round pick on Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander.

For a team that finished 31st in the league last season in Passer Rating allowed, 29th in passing touchdowns allowed and 23rd in passing yards allowed on its way to missing the playoffs, placing an emphasis on improving the secondary was a must. Continue reading

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Six DBs picked in 2018 NFL Draft first round

Denzel Ward

In the months leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward was widely considered the best cornerback in the pool. Cornerback also happens to be one of the most coveted positions in the NFL.

So why was it such a surprise — drawing a harmonized “Whoa!” from the NFL Network’s TV panel of experts — when Ward was the first defensive back chosen in Thursday’s first round?

Probably because in a vast majority of mock drafts, the first defensive back to come off the board was a safety: Either Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, or Florida State’s Derwin James. That Ward went No. 4 overall to the Cleveland Browns was also a surprise, as many prognosticators had the Browns taking NC State pass-rusher Bradley Chubb in that spot. Continue reading

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Defensive backs took over the 2018 NFL Combine

Derwin James

The final day of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine was the most busy in terms of action on the field, as a group of 70 defensive backs (43 cornerbacks, 27 safeties) performed drills and showcased their skills in preparation for this year’s NFL Draft.

There were more defensive backs at the Combine than players at any other position, and it was the largest group of DBs in the event’s history.

According to the majority of reviews and recaps I’ve read, and after watching most of the DBs do their thing on TV, the biggest fish in the big pond was Florida State safety Derwin James. Continue reading

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Brian Dawkins voted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

Brian Dawkins

Perhaps it should have been taken as a sign of things to come.

Before the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots met in Super Bowl LII this past Sunday, two men who are arguably the greatest defensive backs in each franchise’s respective histories were among the finalists up for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2018.

Ty Law, the five-time Pro Bowl cornerback who spent 10 seasons with the Patriots, didn’t make the cut. Brian Dawkins, the nine-time Pro Bowl safety who spent 13 seasons with the Eagles, was voted in on Saturday. The next day, the Eagles defeated the Patriots for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Continue reading

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Lattimore wins NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

Marshon Lattimore

The NFL’s first Defensive Rookie of the Year award was given to a cornerback: Lem Barney of the Detroit Lions back in 1967. Since then, only seven other corners (and two safeties) have received the honor.

Marshon Lattimore of the New Orleans Saints joined the club at Saturday’s NFL Honors award show, winning a landslide vote over Buffalo Bills CB Tre’Davious White and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster.

Lattimore and Barney have another historical connection: With Saints running back Alvin Kamara winning the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Lattimore and Kamara became the second set of teammates to sweep the league’s ROTY awards. The first were Barney and Lions RB Mel Farr in 1967, exactly 50 years prior. Continue reading

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Super Bowl 52: A look at the secondaries

Malcolm Butler (21), Patrick Chung (23)

Flip the number 52 around and you’ll get 25. Which I found interesting for the purpose of this piece, because there are a lot of similarities between this year’s Super Bowl 52 pitting the New England Patriots against Philadelphia Eagles, and Super Bowl 25, when the Buffalo Bills faced the New York Giants in 1991.

Back then, the Bills were heavily favored to beat the Giants. Buffalo had the NFL’s most prolific offense, led by quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, and receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton. (All of them are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.) The defense was solid — led by Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith — but it was Buffalo’s offense that was its biggest strength.

The Giants made it to the Super Bowl thanks primarily to its defense, headlined by Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor (arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history), Pro Bowl DE Leonard Marshall and LB Carl Banks, and cornerback Everson Walls, who is a finalist for the 2018 Hall of Fame class. Continue reading

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