Should the NFL’s 2016 rookies be worried about a sophomore slump?

Authentic Kids Randy Bullock Jersey In 2016, a handful of rookies became household names by playing like seasoned veterans. But the risk of sophomore slumps for players like Joey Bosa, Dak Prescott, Jordan Howard, Tyreek Hill, and Ezekiel Elliott may have fans feeling anxious as the 2017 season approaches.

The 49ers will be bad in 2017. That’s not a hot take, just the reality of the situation. Shanahan’s tenure won’t be judged off an obvious rebuilding year — wins and losses will be less important than how the team actually looks on the field.

If the 49ers are competitive every week, keeping games close, and responding to the culture Shanahan implements, then that’s an encouraging sign. It’ll give the team hope for the future as it starts building up a core of real NFL talent.

Nearly everything about San Francisco’s defense was a trash fire last season. The unit allowed a league-high 30 points per game, was dead last with 165.9 rushing yards allowed per game, and was No. 28 in defensive DVOA. All of these numbers are the worst in franchise history.
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Linebacker NaVorro Bowman was by far the best player on that side of the ball, and once he tore his Achilles in Week 4, the entire unit rolled over and died.

Thankfully, there are glimmers of actual talent on this defense. Thomas will be paired up with rising second-year lineman DeForest Buckner. Linebacker Malcolm Smith and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell came over in free agency, while Foster is solid insurance in case Bowman can’t come back healthy. Jimmie Ward, who got his fifth-year option picked up, will transition from cornerback to safety full time.

There are still too many holes in too many positions, but first-time defensive coordinator Robert Saleh at least has more to work with than Jim O’Neil did last season.

NBA free agency rumors: Pau Gasol declines option, opening door for Chris Paul to join Spurs

The summer of the super team is underway, and the rumors of Chris Paul joining the Spurs are heating up again after The Vertical reported Tuesday Pau Gasol will decline his $16.2 million option for next season and take less money to remain with the team.

Gasol, who will be 37 next season, is doing the Spurs a huge favor as the team attempts to clear cap space for Paul, who is “seriously considering” the Spurs in free agency with hopes of pursuing a championship.

“Stephen A.’s mother unfortunately passed away and he is taking time to be with his family. Our thoughts are with him and his loved ones during this difficult time,” said ESPN in a statement.

Smith on Thursday posted a poignant tribute to his mother, about whom he often talked on the air.

Because of the NBA’s scheduling, Game 2 of the Finals won’t tip off until Sunday, June 4, on ABC (8 p.m. ET). It’s still to be determined whether Smith will be back for that telecast in Oakland, Calif.

Sunday is also supposed to be the day Smith leads the first of up to seven additional “First Take” telecasts that will air in prime time and on weekends.

The loss of Smith, ESPN’s most prominent NBA voice, would no doubt hurt the network’s ratings, but his social media activity indicated he’ll be back on the air soon. He posted several tweets Thursday night during Game 1 thanking fans, colleagues and sports executives for remembering his mother.

Stephen A. Smith reveals NBA Finals prediction

I’m not sure I’m in love with any of the picks here for the Lakers. I might put this pick on the market and see if LA can get something for it. But I have Tatum ahead of Ball on my board, and believe he’d be a perfect fit in the frontcourt next to Brandon Ingram due to the way they would accentuate each others’ weaknesses.

While I’m more bullish on the potential of a Lonzo Ball-D’Angelo Russell pairing than some, the Tatum-Ingram pairing presents fewer questions. They’re both switchable on defense, and Tatum can be the shot-maker and creator while Ingram does the little things like rebound, pass, take tougher defensive assignments and protect the weak side of the rim. Having said that, I’d be shocked if the team went in this direction.

Sorry Warriors, Stephen A. Smith may have just cursed your team.
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The outspoken ESPN personality, who has gotten every NBA Finals prediction wrong since 2011, recently revealed his prediction for the 2017 title series between the Warriors and Cavaliers.

Authentic Kids Jalen Ramsey Jersey The Golden State Warriors will hold on and knock off the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7, said Smith. I’m quite sure LeBron and them are very happy, because every time I pick against them, he wins.

For what it’s worth, Smith did offer a warning before revealing his prediction.

James is putting this team on his back. He’s already posted 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 19 minutes. This is very much a If we lose, it sure as hell won’t be my fault game from LeBron.

The Cavs cut the deficit to three points, then the Warriors push off a dead-ball turnover for an easy score. Tyronn Lue can’t be happy with that. Lack of focus.

NBA free agency 2017: Kyle Lowry wants to stay with Raptors, team prez insists

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has joined Kyle Lowry in shooting down a Toronto Star report that says the All-Star point guard has zero interest in remaining with the team.

LeBron James got behind the Celtics defense and caught an outlet pass from Kevin Love just as he approached the rim. James wound up for a monster dunk, but there was just one problem. The ball hit the far side of the rim and caromed high off the cylinder and into the hands of Boston’s Avery Bradley.

Had James made the dunk, he would have given the Cavaliers a 70-69 lead, which would have been the first time they led the game since jumping out to a 5-0 lead to open Tuesday’s Game 4. The 6-8 James had missed just six dunks all season.

Elite Mens Mike Mitchell Jersey The Celtics scored the next three points, but the Cavs did eventually hold an 87-80 lead after three quarters as Kyrie Irving picked up the slack for James, who sat for the final 6:46 of the first half with four fouls. Irving scored 19 of Cleveland’s final 21 points of the quarter.
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If I look at the numbers, look at the body of work, I can say that six championships later, Phil Jackson is one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports. Not just basketball, but in sports. And I can say that definitively. And I can also look at the numbers and say that as the guy running the New York Knicks, he’s done a poor job. When you look at the results, he’s been a failure thus far. Carmelo Anthony is an outstanding basketball player who has handled himself remarkably during these last couple of years. At the end of the day, he negotiated a no-trade clause. I think [Phil Jackson is] going about it the wrong way trying to force [Anthony] out. He has all the power and he’s taking full advantage of it.

The Redskins were only a half game back of their division-winning campaign of 2015

It was a golden opportunity to win and get in the playoffs at home, wasted. It wasn’t as bad as the prime-time whiff against the Panthers in Week 15, but it had the same effect of costing Washington a playoff position.

The Redskins were only a half game back of their division-winning campaign of 2015, but Cousins, after seeming to turn the corner at midseason, wound up taking several steps back. Sure, only Drew Brees threw for more than Cousins’ 4,917 yards, but it came with fewer TDs (29 to 25) and more INTs (12 to 11).

Overall, Cousins’ numbers look solid with still above-average efficiency, but the same issue lingers: his coming through in the biggest, toughest games when his team needs him most. The ability to light up teams downfield with his big arm is there, but so is the maddening inconsistency.

Washington did have some other problems. It struggled against the run for most of the season. It had only flashes of an effective power running game. Cousins, more times than not, was the relative bright spot.

Through all his greatness, the grit is often forgotten. It’s easy to do just that, because that persona was more tied to his predecessor, Brett Favre.

It may seem unfair that Rodgers can be so precise and efficient as a passer, and still have the moxie to run around for several seconds under hot pursuit to deliver pure magic see his amazing TD to Allison.

Did Rodgers close his case for MVP That’s up to a vote, but it’s hard to ignore him leading the league in TD passes for the first time in his career with the big 4-0. That’s the tiebreaker vs. his other main QB competition, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, who was suspended the first four games of the year.
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Broncos coach Gary Kubiak tells players he is ‘stepping down’ for health concerns

Gary Kubiak is putting his own well-being ahead of his career.

The Broncos coach wouldn’t discuss his future Sunday, leaving that until Monday. But his players confirmed what was already suspected.

Tight end Virgil Green confirmed to reporters Sunday night that Kubiak told them he was stepping down.
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Kubiak spoke with his players immediately after Sunday’s 24-6 home win over the Raiders, but did not want to answer questions from the media after the game.

Todays about the team and the players, Kubiak said. Ill address my situation tomorrow, but I did have a really good moment with the players and told them how proud of them I was.

Kubiak, 55, was diagnosed with a complex migraine condition following an Oct. 9 loss to the Falcons. He had an overnight stay in a hospital and missed Denver’s 21-13 loss at San Diego four days later.
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That episode came three years after Kubiak collapsed on the sideline after suffering a ministroke as coach of the Texans. He was walking off the field at halftime of a game against the Colts when he collapsed.

Kubiak was the offensive coordinator of the Ravens in 2014 before getting hired as the Broncos head coach last season. He led the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship in his first year, but the Broncos went 9-7 this season and missed the playoffs.

Eight of Detroits nine victories were the result of fourth-quarter comebacks, which says two things: 1) Caldwell deserves credit for the resiliency exhibited by his squad; 2) The Lions were overachievers much of the year considering their early-season defensive woes and problems rushing the football that date to Barry Sandersretirement in the last century (1999).

Steelers’ Antonio Brown torches Miami on two 50-plus yard TDs

The AFC wild-card matchup between the Steelers and Dolphins is quickly turning into the Antonio Brown show.

Brown scored two touchdowns on receptions of 50 yards or more on Sunday. His second score was his thirdreception, and gave him 119 yards with time still left in the first quarter.

Even more impressive, Brown becamethe fourthreceiver ever with twotouchdowns over 50 yards in a playoff game, and the first since Randy Moss did it against the Saints in 2001.He’s just the third player to do it in the Super Bowl Era, joining Moss and Ricky Sanders for the Redskins in the 1987 season.

His first touchdown, a 50-yarder, put the Steelers up 7-0. It was the first postseason score of his career, the first time in seven games. He one-upped himself on his second touchdown, going 62 yards to the house.

The Dolphins might want to figure out a way to guard Brown if they want to stay in this game. McDowell has substantial character issues, and they’re likely to come to light during the draft process and become the reason he slips outside the top 10. Still, he’s too talented to fall out of the top 20. The Redskins still could use more interior defensive line help.
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‘Whenever you can feel like, ‘No matter what happens here, our offense has our back,’ it’s just amazing,’ said Freeney, who enjoyed that same luxury in Indianapolis when Peyton Manning was quarterbacking. ‘You can go out there playing confident and loose knowing that we have a great offense.

‘Matt moves that ball around and gets everybody involved. Obviously, that has a lot to do with Shanahan and what his scheme is. It’s like people keep coming off the sideline. It seems like we have 15 tight ends and three running backs and 15 receivers.’
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Freeney’s conference title game debut came during his second NFL season with the 2003 Colts and ended with a loss at New England. How special that opportunity was didn’t dawn on a 23-year-old Freeney (‘I didn’t know anything,’ he admits).

Joseph added three more hits, a home run and three RBIs.

Phillies trio Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Tommy Joseph stalked the plate for nine combined hits in an 11-4 win against the hapless Braves and Bartolo Colon. Herrera went 3 for 5 with a home run, two doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs. He became the first Phillies player to record multiple doubles in three straight games.

Altherr went 3 for 4 with two runs scored, a home run and three RBIs. Joseph added three more hits, a home run and three RBIs.
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It appeared Carlos Martinez (4-5) was going to complete another dominant start, but the Cardinals ace, after maneuvering through six scoreless innings, gave up all four of his earned runs in the seventh inning to lose 4-2 against the Reds.

Red Sox (31-25) at Yankees (32-22) 7:05 p.m. ET — The storied rivals kick off a three-game series with an intriguing pitching duel between the surging Drew Pomeranz (5-3, 4.24 ERA) and the struggling Masahiro Tanaka (5-5, 6.34 ERA). Both teams have been inconsistent lately, which has allowed the rest of the AL East to gain some ground. Still, this series could serve as a nice springboard for the team that comes out on top.

I used a common sense pitch count in my head, not the exact number, he said.

Cox didn’t care, beyond being known to ask Mazzone on occasion what the real pitch count was for a hurler who’d been in the game awhile.
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Then there was John Smoltz.

Smoltz began the 1991 season 2-11, before going 12-2 over the rest of the season and helping carry the Braves to the 1991 World Series. Smoltz famously went to see sports psychologist Jack Llewellyn at the All-Star break that year. But Mazzone said Cox is the No. 1 reason Smoltz is in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Ditka blasts ‘a—hole’ journalists hounding Tom Brady over Donald Trump

Iron Mike Ditka never disappoints.

Nearly a year after he called President Barack Obama the “worst” president ever, the outspoken ESPN analyst ripped sports journalists concerned about Tom Brady’s friendship with President Donald Trump, Obama (again) and protesting 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The Redskins used a first-round pick on TCU’s Josh Doctson last year, but there’s no guarantee he can shake off his tricky rookie foot injury (Achilles’) and be a reliable producer in his second season. Calling upon him to be a No. 1 who can both stretch the field and finish in the red zone is unreasonable.

So is assuming Reed, with his history of concussions and a recent shoulder issue, can be counted on to provide an athletic mismatch over a full season. That makes Davis, 33, coming off a resurgence and coming with a much cheaper price tag than that of Garcon or Jackson, a no-brainer to re-sign.

Going into the 2017 season with Doctson and Crowder as the top two returning wide receivers would set up Cousins for post-contract regression. Cousins has built good downfield chemistry with both Garcon and Jackson. It would be impossible — in short term, at least — for him to re-create it with a newcomer. Crowder was a key go-to guy for Cousins, too, but he’s better suited to have impact inside.

Here’s the rub: The market is inflated for veteran wideouts. The Redskins might have no choice but to be lukewarm on retaining Jackson, because his big-play flair will attract many teams in need of a pure home-run hitter. He likely will be well overpaid, around $10 million per season. Garcon, for some of the same reasons Washington loves him, is set up to get $9 million-plus from one of several suitors.texans_138

Here’s a look at 10 possible options for the Browns at No. 1.

Game Mens John Johnson Jersey Pro: This is the best option as of now. Garrett is considered the top pick across several mock drafts — including Sporting News — and he’s a 6-5, 270-pound freak pass rusher off the edge who had 31 career sacks with Texas A&M. Keep in mind what AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa did for San Diego in 2016. Garrett could have that kind of impact. Quarterback also wouldn’t be a question if the Browns get a chance to pursue Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor.

Con: Garrett said on Dec. 27 he’d “like not to go anywhere cold.” Well, it’s cold in Cleveland. Very cold. Drafting Garrett would bring inevitable comparisons to Penn State’s Courtney Brown, who the Browns took No. 1 in 2000. Brown had 17 sacks over five seasons with Cleveland.

After forcing another Patriots three-and-out, the Falcons made New England pay … quickly. Matt Ryan fired an absolute beauty of a pass to tight end Austin Hooper, who was working against man coverage in the end zone.

Shanahan has had frustrating moments with Manziel and Robert Griffin III, but he just finished making a masterpiece of Matt Ryan. Garoppolo is more of the tough pocket passer Shanahan needs, and he’s also smart and athletic enough to handle all of his concepts, much like Ryan.

Game Mens Jason Taylor Jersey The Jets’ contracts, while large on the surface, were for the most part designed to be two-year deals, most of which were signed in 2015. This has left the Jets with the most flexibility in the NFL to create cap space; flexibility they will use this year.