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Thornton initially suffered a knee injury on April 2 and didn't appear in the postseason until Game 3. The Sharks ultimately lost the series, 4-2.
This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.
Richard Sherman isn't going anywhere—at least for now.
Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider told reporters Monday that "right now we've kind of moved past" trading the Pro Bowl corner, who has been available in talks throughout the offseason. Schneider said the team would still consider making a move if a team swoops in with a big offer.
Sherman, 29, made his fourth straight Pro Bowl in 2016.This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has spoken out against star winger Eden Hazard becoming more selfish, even though team-mate Cesc Fabregas believes the Belgian needs to focus more on himself to become as good as Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
Fabregas made the claim, per Metro's Evan Bartlett: "I've told him many, many times, he needs to be selfish sometimes and have that killer instinct to score more goals and then he will be whatever he wants to be."
However, Conte disagrees, per Allan Valente of Sky Sports: "The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent in the team. I don't think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The best players in the world don't exist without the team."
Conte even bemoaned the idea top players have to be selfish on the pitch to achieve greatness: "For me, it's sad when I listen to this, that one player must be more selfish to reach the top level. This is not my idea of football. I never will understand this. Never."
Greatness is something Fabregas believes Chelsea's No. 10 is destined for. In fact, the Spaniard thinks Hazard is already close to Messi in terms of raw talent, per Bartlett: "Ability wise, there is only one player above him and we all know who he is: Messi. Ability-wise he's up there with the best."
Yet Fabregas has emphasised his team-mate needs to be more of an individualist in the final third: "I've played with many players and sometimes when we have a counter attack and it's two against two and he passes the ball, I tell him: ‘You have the capability to score by yourself. Do it'."
Fabregas' point is well-taken considering what a plethora of goals can do for a player's standing in the modern game. There is little doubt Messi and his chief rival, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, dominate the voting for football's major individual awards, such as the Ballon d'Or, because of their phenomenal scoring records.
Hazard recently found out how a lack of goals can impact a player come awards time when he saw Chelsea midfield man N'Golo Kante win the 2017 PFA Premier League Player of the Year gong, per BBC Sport.
Kante has been an influential figure for the title-chasing Blues, but destructive qualities like his aren't often recognised at awards time. It's also true Hazard was unfortunate to miss out after scoring 14 times and providing five assists in England's top flight, per WhoScored.com.
Kante has been a solid force for Chelsea, but Hazard has been the catalyst in the final third, the true match-winner for these Blues. It's hard to believe he wouldn't have won an individual award with a few more goals on his stat sheet.
Still, Conte's adherence to football's team ethic is a commendable one, even if major success is only ever guaranteed by individual star power adding a flourish to a hard-working core.
For more news, rumors and related stories about Eden Hazard, Chelsea and the Premier League, check out the Premier League and Chelsea streams on Bleacher Report's app.
Rising Pune Supergiant beat the Mumbai Indians by three runs in the 2017 Indian Premier League on Monday. Ben Stokes was the star for Rising Pune, both as a bowler and in front of the wicket.
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma's commendable score of 58 wasn't enough for the Indians, who finished on 157/8 after being set a challenging total of 160/6 by Stokes and Co., as the Supergiant completed the double over Mumbai.
Here are the standings after Monday's match:
Here is the updated schedule:
The success of Rahul Tripathi with the bat got Rising Pune off to a terrific start. The 26-year-old finished five short of a half-century but still left the Supergiant en route to a spectacular total, per ESPNcricinfo:
Tripathi's wasn't the only costly wicket to fall, with Steven Smith exiting the field soon after. His dismissal confirmed a landmark for Harbhajan Singh:
It was left to Ben Stokes to settle things, with the 25-year-old smashing a four off the first ball against Mitchell Johnson. Stokes and MS Dhoni topped up Rising Pune's tally with some safe and steady play, while Mumbai bowlers Johnson and Jasprit Bumrah struggled to force mistakes.
Mitchell McClenaghan was the next Indians bowler to see a delivery sent to the boundary by Stokes, who turned a hit off stump to bring up another four. It was left to Johnson to punish Stokes for not protecting leg stump.
Even so, the Supergiant still finished on a more than respectable 160/6.
The Indians had been set a gaudy total, but Jos Buttler made a solid start by smashing a pair of fours off deliveries from Shardul Thakur. Buttler's wicket soon fell, though, when he was caught by Washington Sundar off a delivery from his England international team-mate Stokes.
Taking the wicket completed a terrific wicket-maiden over for Stokes. It also increased the pressure on Mumbai, with their task becoming even tougher once Nitish Rana was caught by Jaydev Unadkat.
Things looked daunting for Mumbai when they were 86 for three with just eight overs left. It was 86/4 when Stokes took another wicket, this one at the expense of Karan Sharma.
Only the big hitting of Rohit Sharma was keeping Mumbai in it, especially after he smashed a four and a six to leave the Indians trailing by 53 with a little more than five overs remaining.
Sharma cut the gap further when he hit Stokes for another boundary. Next up, Thakur saw Sharma send his delivery for a six.
Sharma soon put up his half-century before Hardik Pandya hit two fours from consecutive deliveries to leave the Indians needing 24 runs from the final two overs.
Stokes returned to limit Sharma and Pandya to mere singles during the 18th over. The last over started with Stokes catching Pandya, but another six from Sharma ensured a nervy last three balls for Rising Pune.
Unadkat finally ended Sharma's run with a smart catch to end Mumbai's hopes of another win. That was the decisive wicket, but Stokes had been the undoubted star:
Rising Pune will hope this win creates extra confidence for Thursday's meeting with the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Houston Rockets veteran Nene Hilario displayed impressive efficiency in Sunday's 113-109 Game 4 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, collecting 28 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes to record his first double-double of 2016-17.
Nene reached double-digit boards for the first time this season Sunday, but that wasn't his most magnificent feat. The big man finished the night a perfect 12-12 from the floor, tying the NBA postseason record for most field goals made without a misfire, per the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN.com).
Larry McNeil of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings originally posted the record in 1975 and stood alone with the mark until Sunday.
At 34 years old and in his 15th NBA season, Nene no longer can play the minutes he did in past seasons. However, he's improved his efficiency in limited spurts, making a career-high 61.7 percent of his shots during the 2016-17 regular season.
While his rebounding numbers have dropped significantly over the past couple of seasons, Nene still contributed just over four per game during the regular season this year.
A key bench player for the Rockets, Nene actually outscored and outrebounded the entire Thunder bench by himself in Game 4, per ESPN Stats & Info. He finished the night with 28 points and 10 rebounds versus 22 points and nine rebounds for Oklahoma City's bench.
The Rockets' victory gave them a 3-1 lead as the series shifts back to Houston for Game 5. The club—led by MVP candidate James Harden—will attempt to close out the Thunder on Tuesday evening.
A CAA spokesperson released the following statement on behalf of Peppers, per Schefter:
One NFL front office executive wasn't buying that explanation, however, per Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report:
Peppers now becomes the second first-round talent to test positive for a dilute sample, joining Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
Peppers seemed like a safe bet to be a late first-round or early second-round selection at this year's draft. But as Albert Breer of The MMQB noted, the news will not only potentially affect Peppers' draft stock, but also his standing when he enters the NFL:
B/R's Matt Miller ranked him as the fourth-best safety in this draft and compared his skill set to Landon Collins, writing, "On defense, Peppers has played defensive back and linebacker but is more of a work in progress as a blank canvas who can be molded into an NFL safety. His football IQ and his leadership skills are ideal. He's a hardworking, confident leader."
Miller also projected Peppers to the Pittsburgh Steelers as the No. 30 overall selection in his latest mock draft. Now, however, Peppers may slip from being a Thursday selection at the draft to coming off the board during Friday's second or third round.
For more news, rumors and related stories about Jabrill Peppers, the NFL draft and the NFL, check out the NFL and NFL draft streams on Bleacher Report's app.
It's quite easy to overlook the fact that the 2017 NFL draft class is loaded with offensive talent.
One would think Josh Ross ripping off a 40-yard-dash time of 4.22 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine would highlight the offensive side of this class and never let the attention span of the process turn back toward the defense.
But it hasn't played out that way. This is a class so deep at premier positions like edge defenders who can get after quarterbacks and versatile defensive backs that the offensive players simply cannot grab the headlines and keep them.
For shame, as it undersells the great talents in the class who will be making plenty of highlights for years to come, including during rookie campaigns. Let's highlight a few targets in the passing game who continue to rise after a review of a fresh mock.
2017 NFL Mock Draft
Receiving Prospects on the Rise
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
Ross gobbled up all the headlines for running fast in a straight line, but his iffy injury history otherwise has his stock at a standstill.
In reality, East Carolina's Zay Jones boosted his stock more than Ross in Indianapolis.
Jones was a lesser-known talent for most of his career yet finds his way into the first-round conversation this offseason for a few reasons. He's 6'2" and 201 pounds and at the combine ripped off 4.01 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 11.17 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle—quickness sure to help him create separation at the next level.
As Pro Football Focus noted, reliability was a staple of Jones' game: "Jones recorded a drop rate of just 3.7 percent, second in the FBS among receivers with at least 100 targets. The FBS average drop rate for receivers was 8.3 percent."
With Ross falling and other top wideouts having question marks around their game (Corey Davis being from a small school in Western Michigan and not working out, Mike Williams the latter), Jones continues to soar up the board.
In the mock above, the Washington Redskins pull the trigger on the reliable Jones, who pairs well with Terrelle Pryor and others in a passing game attempting to make up for the loss of DeSean Jackson.
David Njoku, TE, Miami
There isn't a tight end in the class who can touch Alabama's O.J. Howard, but David Njoku sure comes close.
Njoku isn't the blocker Howard is, but he's otherwise one of the most exciting prospects in the class. Tight ends who come in at 6'4" and 246 pounds with great speed (6.97-second three-cone drill) and an ability to pick up monster yards after the catch tend to excite the NFL.
More important to Njoku's stock than anything, though, is his ability to move all over the field as a weapon. As the draft process has continued, this blatant ability on film has NFL teams dreaming of what they can accomplish with such a weapon.
In a scouting report comparing him to Antonio Gates, Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke noted the following about Njoku's versatility:
Njoku shifted from an inline role to the slot for Miami. He also can (and did) split out wide, further complicating alignment headaches for opposing defenses. No matter where he starts out a play, he's a threat to get downfield—he has the speed simply to run past linebackers or even safeties, along with the size to go up over the top for contested catches.
Given the somewhat iffy posture of the wideout class this year, grabbing a tight end who can play like one looks like quite the bonus.
As such, the Dallas Cowboys pick up Njoku at No. 28 in the above mock. While the Cowboys have bigger needs, this is a case of best player available and further weaponizing an offense. Not only is Jason Witten on his last legs, Njoku can move all over the field and take pressure off both Witten and Dez Bryant as a rookie.
Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
Speaking of tight ends who look like wideouts, none in the class fit the description better than Ole Miss' Evan Engram.
Engram is a bit of a late riser, but the more scouts and media digest of him, the better he looks.
Standing at 6'3" and 234 pounds, Engram doesn't offer anything as an in-line blocker, but he's a chess piece coaches will move all over the field to create mismatches. While comparing him to Jordan Reed, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller broke down the upside of finding Engram the right fit:
An easy-moving athlete, Engram is an ideal projection to a slot position as a pass-catcher. He knows how to play above the rim and uses his size, speed and flexibility well as an athlete down the field. In an offensive system that will feature his tools in space, Engram could be a very prolific pass-catcher early in his career.
This ability to give defensive coordinators nightmares has Engram's stock on the rise. He's a surefire rookie starter in the right locale, which is part of the reason the Pittsburgh Steelers grab him in the mock above.
Giving Big Ben another mismatch weapon doesn't seem fair to the rest of the AFC. But the lack of proven talent at wideout necessitates picking a weapon this year. Engram is the proper response and one who will improve the unit as a whole right away.
The Boston Globe shared a photo of Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, arriving for the service:
The Boston Globe's Travis Andersen provided another photo of the scene outside the funeral home:
Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey were among those in attendance, while free-agent wide receiver Riley Cooper was also expected to attend, per TMZ. All three were Hernandez's teammates at the University of Florida.
Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell last Wednesday in an apparent suicide.
As Monday's services got underway, Marc Fortier of NBC 10 in Philadelphia reported a Bristol County Superior Court judge released three suicide notes written by Hernandez to his family.
"The family has the right, during this grieving process, to know their loved one's final thoughts," wrote George Leontire, Jenkins-Hernandez's lawyer.
Hernandez's death came five days after a jury found him not guilty of murder in the deaths of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu. The 27-year-old was serving a mandatory life sentence after being found guilty in 2015 of first-degree murder in the death of Odin Lloyd.
A Massachusetts judge has ordered that copies of the three notes Aaron Hernandez left in his cell before taking his own life be released to his family, according to Nestor Ramos of the Boston Globe.
"The family has the right, during this grieving process, to know their loved one's final thoughts," Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez's attorney, George Leontire, wrote in the family's request, per ESPN.
Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, who was engaged to Hernandez, made the request after Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. initially refused to share the contents of the notes until his office concluded its investigation into Hernandez's death.
Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett revealed more information on the notes and investigation, per Ramos:
Hernandez hanged himself in his cell last Wednesday, just days after he was found not guilty of murdering Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. He was already serving a life sentence after being found guilty of murdering Odin Lloyd.
Ware played 12 years in the NFL, nine of which came with the Cowboys. The Dallas Morning News' David Moore reported the 34-year-old signed a one-day contract with Dallas in order to retire as a Cowboy.
The Star-Telegram's Clarence E. Hill Jr. shared a video from Ware's press conference:
Ware first announced his retirement in March:
Monday's press conference made it official, and retiring as a Cowboys player is fitting for one of the best pass-rushers in the franchise's history.
Ware's best years undoubtedly came in Dallas, though. He was a first-team All-Pro on four occasions, and his 117 sacks are the most ever for a Cowboys player.
Cowboys fans may not have seen the last of Ware, who said he's open to taking a coaching role with the team.
"If [Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett] wants me to do it, and [team owner Jerry Jones] wants me to do it, you will see me out there coaching the guys," he said, per Mike Leslie of WFAA.
For more news, rumors and related stories about DeMarcus Ware, the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL, check out the NFL and Cowboys streams on Bleacher Report's app.
Oklahoma City Thunder superstar point guard Russell Westbrook notched 35 points, 14 assists and 14 rebounds in the club's 113-109 loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday.
In doing so, he joined Wilt Chamberlain as one of two players in NBA history to notch three straight triple-doubles, per ESPN Stats & Info. However, Chamberlain's run was split between two different series, making Westbrook the only player to total three straight triple-doubles in a single series, per NBA History.
Westbrook racked them up to the tune of an NBA-record 42 during the regular season, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the ninth-year player has continued that success in the playoffs. Chamberlain's postseason streak extended as far as four games, meaning Westbrook will have a chance to equal it during Game 5 back in Houston.
The Thunder—despite Westbrook's output—dropped the contest and have fallen behind 3-1 in the series versus the Rockets. If the club has any shot at upsetting the opposition, their star will likely have to carry them back, including two road wins. While it's not impossible, it would be a highly improbable comeback for the group.
Oklahoma City and Houston feature the two frontrunners—Westbrook and James Harden—for the 2017 Most Valuable Player award. While the series may go to the Rockets and Harden, that doesn't mean the MVP award will land in his hands.
Regardless of the series or award outcome, Westbrook can at least lay claim to a historical season in 2016-17. He'll attempt to keep the Thunder's season alive through Game 5 on Tuesday.
Despite taking a brief hiatus from his WWE career and turning 40 on Sunday, John Cena remains as strong as ever.
The 16-time world champion shared a video on Twitter in which he deadlifted 602 pounds:
Cena hasn't appeared on WWE programming since WrestleMania 33 when he teamed with Nikki Bella in a win over The Miz and Maryse. Cena proposed to Nikki after the match.
PWInsider's Mike Johnson reported Cena is taking a break to film The Pact, which will hit theaters in April 2018. Filming began in April and is set to continue through June, so it's unlikely Cena makes his return to WWE before then.
For more news, rumors and related stories about John Cena and the WWE, check out the WWE stream on Bleacher Report's app.
MTV have announced the roster for the top athletes competing on the show The Challenge: Champs vs. Pros and the team includes several big names, including UFC star CM Punk, hurdler-turned-bobsledder Lolo Jones and former NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman.
The three are part of a team that will take on 10 top contestants from The Challenge in a special six-week event, starting on Tuesday, May 16, per Jordana Ossad of MTV's official website.
NFL free-agent wide receiver Victor Cruz will also take part as the show's host. He told Katie Barnes of ESPN W he's a long-time fan of The Challenge:
The Challenge is an iconic MTV series that I grew up watching. The sports world is known for producing remarkable athletes, colorful characters, and memorable heroes, but this competition will give my fellow pro-athletes a chance to test their skills against some of the absolute best Challenge Champs, and I can't wait to see how it all unfolds!
According to Ossad, the rules for the season will see the winning team captain nominate a member to take part in an elimination round, while the losing team's captain automatically partakes. The field will be whittled down until one male and one female contender remain, with the two having the chance to earn $50,000 for charity.
Each episode will focus on one strength, including agility, ingenuity, brawn and more. The MTV champions team will be announced on May 9.
The Cleveland Cavaliers took care of business on Sunday, knocking off the Indiana Pacers 106-102. In the process, Cleveland became the first team in the 2016-17 NBA playoffs to advance to Round 2.
The Golden State Warriors, who lead the Portland Trail Blazers 3-0, can become the second team this postseason to send its opponent home. Not surprisingly, the Cavaliers and the Warriors are the two favorites to win the NBA title this year.
Here, we're going to examine the latest championship odds—courtesy of our friends at OddsShark.com—for the remaining teams and the current playoff standings. We'll also take a look at some of the latest storylines heading into the final week of April and make our predictions for the remainder of Round 1.
NBA Championship Odds
Ties All Around
OK, so not every series is tied. After four games in most of the series, though, it is worth noting that four of the eight series are. This includes the East's No. 1 seed, the Boston Celtics, against the No. 8 Chicago Bulls.
Many of these teams appear evenly matched, but the Celtics have battled back from a two-game deficit and have looked strong in doing so. The team seems to be playing with a lot more attitude over the past two games as well. Point guard Isaiah Thomas certainly has gained some confidence after Sunday's Game 4 victory:
Of course, it's also worth noting that the Celtics have been helped by the absence of Chicago point guard Rajon Rondo, who has been out with a thumb injury.
The Bulls aren't the only team with injury drama either. The Los Angeles Clippers have announced that star Blake Griffin will miss the remainder of the postseason:
In other words, there has been plenty of drama and excitement early in this edition of the playoffs—well, except for where the Cavaliers and Warriors have been concerned.
LeBron in Store for Another Milestone
Speaking of the Cavaliers, their sweep of the Pacers came largely due to more postseason domination from one LeBron James. Over the last two games, he scored 74 points with 23 rebounds and 16 assists.
This kind of domination is nothing new for James either. The man has appeared in the postseason for 12 consecutive years, and his teams have never lost an opening-round series. This is the seventh time his team has swept the competition in the opening round. He has won 21 straight first-round playoff games.
"I go out every night to try and win a ballgame," James said, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. "Do whatever it takes to help my teammates be successful and do whatever it takes to help me be successful. That's been the result of it."
These are impressive feats, but James is on the verge of doing something truly remarkable.
If the Cavaliers can make it all the way to the NBA Finals, James will have a chance to become the league's all-time leading postseason scorer. He entered the playoffs in fourth place, according to Brett Pollakoff of FoxSports.com—68 behind Kobe Bryant, 190 behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and 415 behind Michael Jordan.
Last year, he scored 601 postseason points. James has already scored 131 points this postseason and is on pace to score more than 500 points as long as Cleveland reaches the finals.
Houston's Bench Too Much for OKC
The Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the postseason thanks to the individual greatness of their superstar, Russell Westbrook. We knew that the Houston Rockets were a more complete team, but the Rockets proved just how much more complete they were in Game 4.
But the Rockets got a huge lift from their bench, and that was ultimately the difference. Lou Williams and Eric Gordon chipped in 18 apiece, and Nene set an NBA playoff record for perfection by going 12-of-12 from the field on the way to a 28-point, 10-rebound performance in just 25 minutes on the floor.
If the Rockets can figure out how to win consistently without leaning heavily on Harden, they could be one of the more dangerous teams in the Western Conference. This isn't too different than the formula the Cavaliers discovered by surrounding James with shooters off their bench.
This could make Houston a legitimate threat to the Warriors, who have superstars galore but not the strongest second team.
As for the finals, we do believe the Cavaliers will reach the big series, again meeting the Warriors. So far, though, Cleveland is the only team that has punched its ticket to Round 2. Here are our predictions for the remainder of the opening round:Golden State over Portland, 4-0 Utah over L.A. Clippers, 4-3 Houston over Oklahoma City, 4-1 San Antonio over Memphis, 4-3 Boston over Chicago, 4-2 Washington over Atlanta, 4-2 Toronto over Milwaukee, 4-3
The absence of Brock Lesnar from the card at WWE Payback means that the rest of Raw's champions have an opportunity to step into the limelight at Sunday's show.
The fact the dust is still settling from WrestleMania 33 and the Superstar Shake-up means that the midcard title traded to Raw is not defended at Payback, while instead SmackDown Live's United States Championship is on the card.
Four titles will be on the line, including what should be a fantastic Raw Women's Championship match between Alexa Bliss and Bayley.
But who will be the winners on the night? Here's a look at some predictions for how all the champions slated to compete on the night will fare.
Long, 31, was the former No. 1 overall pick of the Miami Dolphins in the 2008 NFL draft. His career included stints with the Dolphins (2008-12), St. Louis Rams (2013-14), Atlanta Falcons (2015) and Minnesota Vikings (2016).
Early in his career, Long was one of the most dominant left tackles in football. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons and was a first-team All-NFL selection by the Associated Press in 2010.
As Chris Mortensen of ESPN noted, however, Long was unfortunately hampered by injuries throughout his career:
Long last played 10 or more games in a season in 2013, and his 2016 campaign was cut short after he suffered a torn Achilles. Ultimately, that inability to stay on the field as injuries mounted ended Long's career.
For more news, rumors and related stories about the NFL, check out the NFL stream on Bleacher Report's app.
Per Jones, the team is likely to formally announce the decision prior to the start of the NFL draft on Thursday.
The deadline for picking up the option is May 3, and if the Giants chose not to, the talented wide receiver would become a free agent following the 2017 season.
Beckham later tweeted about his offseason and motivations for the coming year:
While it seems like a mere formality that the Giants would lock up Beckham for a fifth year, general manager Jerry Reese was noncommittal when asked last week.
"We are going to discuss that when the time gets closer," he told Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. "We will keep all of our options open with respect to that."
As Schwartz noted, the option would pay Beckham around $8 million in 2018, "the salary average of the third-through-25th highest-paid receivers in the NFL." Given that Beckham, 24, has registered at least 90 receptions, 1,300 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons, that represents a relative bargain for the superstar.
Schwartz added that Beckham's next contract could exceed $100 million. Given his status as one of the top receivers in the game—Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 51st-best player in the NFL in 2016 and the fourth-best wideout behind Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown—Beckham could become the highest-paid wide receiver in the league once he signs his next deal.
For more news, rumors and related stories about Odell Beckham Jr., the New York Giants and the NFL, check out the NFL and Giants streams on Bleacher Report's app.
"There are some very good football players with some excellent talent in this country that have issues that don’t fit well with us or another team," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said of the team's scouting process. "We’ve done a lot of research. We don’t just use our scouts. We have other instruments and avenues on the backside to get ready for this (in order to be) sure, as much as possible, that we are making the most educated decision."
Head coach Dan Quinn further elaborated.
"Having the scouts go to the schools and talk to the people there and determine why that player was given a second chance, sometimes they get that second chance and thrive," he noted. "Some people have that second chance, third chance and fourth chance… maybe that’s not the best fit. It’s on a case-by-case basis."
Mixon is certainly a polarizing case. One one hand, he's an undeniably talented running back, to the point that one unnamed NFL executive called him the best player in the draft, per Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And B/R's Matt Miller ranked him as the second-best running back in the draft and a top-15 talent overall, comparing his skill set to Pittsburgh Steeler star Le'Veon Bell.
However, Mixon was seen on video punching a woman in the face during an altercation and broke four bones in her face. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was suspended by Oklahoma for the entirety of the 2014 season.
Because of his past, Mixon has been reportedly been removed from a number of draft boards, including Atlanta's. But given his talent and production, he could still potentially be taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, and Miller projected him to be the No. 41 overall pick to the Cincinnati Bengals in his latest mock draft.
For more news, rumors and related stories about Joe Mixon, the NFL draft and the NFL, check out the NFL and NFL draft streams on Bleacher Report's app.
“No, I don’t. It’s crazy,” Bryant said. “I started playing when I was 2. After playing for 20 years in the league, what I have now is—everything I’ve learned from the game, I carry with me to this day. The game has never truly left me. Physically, yes. But emotionally, and the things that I write, all stem from the game. So it’s still a part of me.”
Bryant, 38, retired after a 20-year NBA career last season. He's embarked on multimedia endeavors since his retirement, working to write and produce films. Dear Basketball, his first major release since retirement, released Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
The six-minute film is based on the poem he wrote for The Players' Tribune when he announced the 2015-16 season would be his last.
“I tried to write it in a very visual way versus simply coming out and saying, ‘This is how I feel,’” he explained. “I tried to put it through story. You see the whole dedication and commitment [of his childhood playing basketball] through rolling my dad’s tube socks. You see it through all the VHS tapes of all the past games. So you can see the growth and see the love.”
Bryant said he hopes to show other athletes that there is a potential for life and happiness after their playing careers end. He said there is a "difference between doing what you do versus understanding that that is not who you are."
For more news, rumors and related stories about Kobe Bryant and the NBA, check out the NBA stream on Bleacher Report's app.
The 2017 NFL draft class features elite talent at the top of the board in Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and LSU's Leonard Fournette. After that? This is one of the deepest classes in the six years I've been scouting for Bleacher Report.
Stacking the board from top to bottom for the '17 class was no easy task. There is a record-breaking amount of first-round talent on my board. Outside of Round 1, it was easy to imagine 60 of the top players landing in the top 40. If you can't find starters in Round 4 of this class, you're doing it wrong.
So, who is the best overall? How about the best at each position? The goal of the NFL Draft 400 series is to figure that out.
The top 400 players were tracked, scouted, graded and ranked by me and my scouting assistants, Eliot Crist, Marshal Miller, Dan Bazal and Connor Rogers. Together, we viewed tape of a minimum of three games per player (the same standard NFL teams use). Oftentimes, we saw every play by a prospect over the last two years. That led to the grades, rankings and scouting reports you see here.
Players were graded on strengths and weaknesses, with a pro-player comparison added to match the prospect's style or fit. The top 400 players will be broken down position by position for easy viewing before the release of a top-400 big board prior to the draft.
In the case of a tie, a player was ranked based on his overall grade in our top 400.
Here are the top running backs for the 2017 draft.
All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus. All athleticism metrics courtesy of Mockdraftable.
Monday's WWE Raw marks the final chance for the red brand's warriors to sharpen their swords before Payback.
Before the April 30 pay-per-view, Dean Ambrose is poised to take a few more swings at his rival. Bayley is bound to face a test from the new No. 1 contender for the Raw Women's Championship—Alexa Bliss. Braun Strowman is set to prepare for the PPV by devouring a luchador.
The Spirit Center Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, will host it all on the go-home edition of Raw.
The short turnaround after WrestleMania 33 means many of Raw's stories still need major work ahead of the PPV. The tag team title picture lacks animosity. Bliss and Bayley's rivalry is only in its early stages. WWE still has bouts to add to the card, as well.
It can't let Finn Balor sit on the sidelines again, right?
Backstage news, social media updates and the Raw preview on WWE.com provide a look at what to expect when the red brand wraps up the Payback build beginning on Monday at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network.
Kalisto will stand up to a monster on Monday night. He challenged Strowman to a Dumpster match in Kansas City. Raw general manager Kurt Angle approved the bout.
The clash is a result of Strowman hurling Kalisto into the garbage on last week's Raw. The big man barreled through the backstage area, hurting anyone within striking distance.
Kalisto refused to let Strowman's attack slide. He will now get a chance to bring the bully to his knees. The way WWE has booked The Monster Among Men of late, though, suggests The King of Flight is about to be the herring that a massive shark gobbles up.
News, Potential Spoilers
It will surely be with a heavy heart, but it looks as if Roman Reigns will be in action on Raw.
His brother Matt Anoa'i passed away on April 17. And Reigns took time off as a result. Dave Meltzer reported on Figure Four Online: "Reigns was removed from all shows, presumably due to the death of his brother, but is scheduled to return on Monday in Kansas City for Raw."
The cruiserweight division, meanwhile, will be without one of its veterans going forward.
Tajiri noted on Twitter (h/t Paul Jordan of PWInsider.com) that he has decided to return to Japan, leaving WWE after the company would not clear him to compete. The Japanese Buzzsaw had been dealing with a knee injury and hadn't appeared on TV since January.
The Raw tag champs may undergo a transformation soon.
Meltzer noted on Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Raj Giri of Wrestling Inc) that WWE plans on returning Matt Hardy to his "broken" gimmick. The company is reportedly in the process of making a deal with Impact Wrestling to bring the character to TV.
Matt and his brother Jeff haven't shown any signs of their broken incarnation since rejoining WWE at WrestleMania. WWE's writers will suddenly have a wealth of options for the tag champs if The Hardys start embracing who they were at the end of their Impact Wrestling run.
When healthy, Balor has been unstoppable. WWE has booked the former NXT champ very strongly to open his tenure on the main roster.
That continued on the most recent edition of Raw, when Balor took down Curt Hawkins in a matter of seconds.
Balor is now 3-0 since returning from injury, per CageMatch.net. And he's 5-0 on Raw in his career.
Big Cass and Enzo Amore haven't had that kind of momentum in a long while.
As seen on CageMatch.net, The Realest Guys in the Room are 0-4-1 in their last five bouts on Raw. They lost won a match on Feb. 20.
For now, The Club, Cesaro and Sheamus, and the Hardys seem to be ahead of them in the tag team hierarchy.
Bliss is set to challenge Bayley for the Raw Women's Championship at Payback, hoping to have the kind of success she had on SmackDown. The Wicked Witch earned that spot by outlasting three other Superstars last Monday.
With the PPV title bout fast approaching, WWE has to hurry this narrative along to stir up some intriguing bad blood between Bliss and Bayley.
WWE.com's Raw preview offered a hint of how the company may go about that. It reads: "Given Alexa's penchant for mind games, she'll be looking to wage some serious psychological warfare this Monday night."
Ambrose and The Miz are more likely to settle things with physicality.
Their last two encounters have ended with The Lunatic Fringe putting The Miz on his back. Last Monday, the intercontinental champion clobbered his rival during a Miz TV segment.
The logical move for The Miz is to gain a measure of revenge. A sneak attack would allow the self-proclaimed A-lister to remind the audience how dangerous he is. That would be an easy setup to make an IC title match official for Payback.
Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe are already on the PPV docket as The Kingslayer looks for retribution against the man who injured him in January. Monday's Raw should showcase their animosity ahead of that battle.
This rivalry has yet to truly get going. With only days left until they meet at Payback, WWE is going to have to craft a memorable moment between them to increase the hype around the match.
As for Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton, the road to that contest promises to get weird.
So far during this feud, Orton has burned down The Wyatt Family compound, Wyatt has baptized himself in ashes and The Eater of Worlds has projected images of worms onto the canvas.
The Raw preview on WWE.com teased more odd stuff: "Expect The Eater of Worlds to continue preying on Orton's psyche, drawing the entire WWE Universe further into his twisted version of reality."
Perhaps we get more of a clue as to what exactly is a House of Horror match. The bout Wyatt challenged Orton to remains a mystery.
If the recent pattern holds up, though, Strowman will be the star of the show. The powerhouse's displays of strength and his path of destruction have been the highlights of Raw. The Monster Among Men will look to continue his hot streak as he stomps down the road to Payback.
Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis said he wants to spend his entire career in New York but acknowledged winning is the most important factor in deciding his long-term future.
“Absolutely, I want to stay here all my career," Porzingis told Latvian magazine Sporta Avize, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. “But the thing I want most of all is winning. When the time comes, I will seriously start to think about it. Right now I just try to do my best."
Porzingis, 21, skipped out on his exit meeting with Knicks President Phil Jackson due to displeasure with the organization's direction. Ian Begley of ESPN.com reported Porzingis is unhappy with the inconsistent offensive philosophies and organizational outlook during his two years with the team.
While he stopped short of blasting Jackson, it's clear Porzingis wants a clearer vision for the future. He was also not appreciative of how the Knicks president handled the Carmelo Anthony situation.
“This was a situation media did not hesitate to heat up more than it was in reality," Porzingis said. "I think there was some mistakes from Phil—things he maybe shouldn’t [have] said or written, things that made the situation worse or made him not look good. But at the same time—it’s that kind of business. I understand.’’
Anthony, arguably the Knicks' best player since Patrick Ewing, was the subject of near-constant trade rumors during the regular season. His relationship with Jackson slowly deteriorated in public and in private to the point it's unlikely he returns in 2017-18 despite having a no-trade clause. Jackson told reporters that Anthony would be "better off somewhere else" at his season-ending press conference.
The discord reared its head on the court with the Knicks finishing 31-51. Porzingis said he wants to take more of a leadership role going forward, particularly on the defensive end.
As a player who wants to be leader someday—when I saw things we need to change and be better at—I tried to speak up in the locker room. But there are many players used to playing this kind of basketball for more than ten years so you can’t change them. Coaches can try but it is what it is.
In a one way this was a good year for me to see how can I handle so crappy a time and learn from that. It was unpleasant but valuable experience to learn from, to get through it and continue to play with the right attitude and maximum concentration. If you want to be a leader you have to start with yourself — first you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself: what can you do better? And only then tell your teammates what they should do better…a real test for the brains.
Regardless of Porzingis' desire to stay in New York, his comfort with publicly pressuring the Knicks already does not speak well to Jackson's tenure.
Butler has been the source of trade rumors for much of this offseason after he didn't sign his tender with the Patriots initially and the team signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract. But Butler signed the one-year, $3.91 million tender last week.
According to Schefter's report, Butler had been hoping to sign an offer sheet with another team and had visited with the New Orleans Saints. But the Patriots would have had the opportunity to match any offer and, because they placed a first-round tender on Butler, would have received a first-round pick from the team that signed him if they chose not to match the contract.
Talks between the Saints and Butler were so advanced that the two sides had reportedly come to a "basic agreement" on a long-term deal that would have placed him amongst the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (h/t Kevin Patra of NFL.com).
Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald offered more details on that prospective contract:
Peter King of The MMQB broke down why the Saints are unlikely to trade for him, however:
The Saints (picking 11, 32, 42, 76, 103 in the first three rounds) are still interested in Butler, but someone familiar with their thinking believes they are leaning toward keeping their first three picks. The Saints believe that their board between 25 and 75 has a slew of players capable of contributing immediately, with grades close to each other, and the thought of dealing one or more picks for Butler, then paying him a huge contract, is less attractive than it once seemed.
With Butler now probable to return to New England next season, the Patriots will have an elite combination at the position for at least one year. And if Butler continues to be a top option at the position—he was ranked the 25th-best player in the NFL last year by Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus—he'll be in line to earn a major payday next offseason.
For more news, rumors and related stories about Malcolm Butler, the New England Patriots and the NFL, check out the NFL and Patriots streams on Bleacher Report's app.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Johnson will stay put. The Rams franchise-tagged their star corner for the second straight year in March and have seemingly made no progress on a long-term contract.
Johnson will make $16.7 million in 2017. He had previously mentioned being on the trade block in a March Snapchat update:
Rapoport's confirmation that Johnson is staying likely means the Rams were unable to find their desired draft pick compensation ahead of this week's draft. Trading him was always going to be a difficult task, given the amount of guaranteed money involved here.
Between the two franchise tags, Johnson will have racked up more than $30 million in guaranteed money over a two-year period. Any long-term deal he would have signed with a new team likely would have had to make him the highest-paid cornerback in league history to make it worth his while.
Johnson can re-enter the market next offseason and should wind up reaping even more financial rewards, barring a catastrophic injury. Should he sign a contract with something around $20 million in guarantees—an extremely conservative number—he'll have locked up $50 million in guarantees over the course of a three-year span.
No team was going to give up a high-round draft pick for the right to pay a player who is still yet to make a Pro Bowl. The best-case scenario here for both parties is that Johnson emerges as an actual star in 2017 and the Rams pay him long-term accordingly.
For more news, rumors and related stories about Trumaine Johnson, the Los Angeles Rams and the NFL, check out the NFL and Rams streams on Bleacher Report's app.
You're never going to believe this, but there are some rumors heading into Thursday's start of the 2017 NFL draft.
I understand if you need a minute to pick up your slacked jaw. People really care about this thing! And sometimes folks inside the league want there to be publicity for the event! Sometimes, reports that are slightly less than 100 percent correct happen!
It's all a very strange and new world out there and not at all like the past 9,212,155 draft processes. I'm being facetious, but this draft does feel particularly littered with smokescreens and discussions of behind-the-scenes workings.
The Cleveland Browns hold the No. 1 overall pick, and despite having months to make their decision, are yet to make anything set in stone. Their plans for the No. 1 pick highlight the latest set of rumors floating around the league.
Trubisky Still In Play at No. 1, No. 2?
Via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
Despite that Browns head of football operations Sashi Brown gave strong vibes during his pre-draft press conference Wednesday that the Browns have zeroed in on Myles Garrett, they're still strongly considering taking Trubisky there, sources say.
The feeling on the part of the front office, sources say, is that the Browns are ready to draft their quarterback of the future and might not want to risk losing him if they try to trade up or hope he falls to them at No. 12.
Via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
According to several sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, the 49ers are still strongly considering taking a quarterback second overall. That would be somewhat of a surprise, considering they signed presumptive starter Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in the offseason -- and they have Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins potentially as an option for 2018. Taking a quarterback high would likely end any chance at Cousins.
It's important to remember we're still fully in the smokescreen process, but it's beginning to feel more and more like Trubisky will come off the board at some point in the top five—if not as the top overall choice.
Garrett has been the favorite to land in that spot for months and remains the likeliest option. The Texas A&M star has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him as a dominant pass-rushing force. His combination of size, athleticism and production is potentially generational; he's arguably just as strong of a prospect as Jadeveon Clowney was pre-injury.
Trubisky's a quarterback. It's really that simple. When it comes to grading these two prospects on their NFL readiness, it's not even close. Garrett is light years ahead of Trubisky. He can step in day one as a starter and should already slot in as a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Quarterback is the most important position on the field. Finding even a competent signal-caller is a near-impossible task at times. The Browns are rolling into 2017 with nearly two decades' worth of abysmal quarterback play. If Trubisky or Deshaun Watson is even above-average, he might wind up with a statue.
The 49ers, like the Browns, have holes all over their roster that make them a bad for a quarterback early. Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas or Marshon Lattimore are all surer bets who will help fill needs for potential stars. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are in their first year in San Francisco, so they have time.
How the draft plays out will ultimately be dependent on how itchy the trigger fingers are at the top.
Reuben Foster's Draft Stock Slipping?
Via Rob Rang of CBSSports.com: "Whether because of the medical or the character red-flags created with his expulsion from the original combine, Foster's stock is slipping, according to multiple league sources contacted by NFLDraftScout.com."
Considered by most as the top middle linebacker in this class, Foster's pre-draft process has been a bit of a mess. He was sent home from the scouting combine after an argument with a worker at a hospital in Indianapolis. The Butkus Award winner revealed last week to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com that he also failed his drug test at the combine due to a diluted sample, which he attributed to food poisoning:
I couldn't eat much, but I had to drink water and Gatorade. Then a few coaches said something about me being too light. And I'm a coach-pleaser. I don't care what everybody thinks, but I care what coaches think. So I drank and ate as much as I could without throwing up. Then I went in there, drinking and drinking water, trying to flush out my system from whatever was making me sick and trying to keep my weight up and took the test.
Despite his protestations otherwise, it appears Foster has gone from a top-10 lock to falling down draft boards. It's unlikely he'll fall out of the first round entirely, but he might be available in the No. 15-20 range—something that was borderline unthinkable at the start of this process.
Could 5 QBs Go in Round 1?
There are plenty who believe that Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and California's Davis Webb could also earn first-round picks, with some even suggesting that it would be a surprise if at least one of these passers was not a top-32 selection.
Given that the value of young quarterbacks has never been higher (and that the depth at typically hard-to-find positions like edge rusher and defensive back is so good this year), it is a possibility worth considering, though most believe that Kizer and Webb (and perhaps Mahomes, as well) are at least a year away from contributing much.
OK, now this would be a surprise. It would also be an indictment of the draft process itself—specifically the way the rookie salary scale. On merit, Trubisky and Watson are probably the only first-round picks in this class. Patrick Mahomes has all the physical tools as a developmental prospect, so it might make some sense if a team like the Houston Texans grabs him late in the first round.
But Kizer and Webb? That would border on a step too far, as if every general manager went full tilt on a quarterback class that's considered average at best. It would be akin to everyone falling over themselves in 2011 to draft a quarterback, when Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder all went off the board in the top 12.
Newton is the only one of those four still with his first team. Locker retired from football. Gabbert and Ponder are free agents, currently hoping to compete to keep their careers alive. The fifth quarterback in that class, Andy Dalton, wound up arguably the best pure passer of the bunch (Newton is obviously the best player of the five).
What I'm saying is that five quarterbacks going off the board Thursday is not a good idea. You could, in fact, say it is a bad idea. Indeed, you could say that. Very bad. Bad, bad, bad idea.
Serena Williams, who announced she was 20 weeks pregnant last week, posted an open letter to her unborn child on her Instagram account Monday.
My Dearest Baby,
You gave me the strength I didn’t know I had. You taught me the true meaning of serenity and peace. I can't wait to meet you. I can't wait for you to join the players box next year. But most importantly, I am so happy to share being number one in the world with you.... once again today. [email protected] from the world's oldest number one to the world's youngest number one. -Your Mommy
Williams, 35, reclaimed her No. 1 WTA ranking Monday. It will mark her 317th week atop the rankings, which ranks behind only Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. The 23-time Grand Slam winner won her seventh Australian Open in January while pregnant.
Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said he believes Williams will return to tennis after having her child.
“It’s difficult to say, because it’s a situation that’s completely new and that she has never been through,” Mouratoglou said, per Christopher Clarey of the New York Times. “It’s very difficult to imagine in advance how someone will react when they are a mother. It’s so special and such a life change.
“I do think she’ll come back, and she will come back all the more if everyone thinks she’s done. So I encourage you to write that she’s finished. Please.”
Her referencing of the "players box," where friends and family sit during matches, also seems to indicate Williams' plans to return.
For more news, rumors and related stories about Serena Williams tennis, check out the tennis stream on Bleacher Report's app.
Darryl Rudolph, the father of NFL draft prospect and former Florida State receiver Travis Rudolph, died in an accidental shooting at a strip club in Florida.
According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office statement obtained by Safid Deen of the Orlando Sentinel, Darryl Rudolph was shot while making repairs at a club. Deen reports "the gunshot came from an adjacent room when another coworker was moving a firearm off of a shelf."
Police are still investigating the case but do not believe the shooting was intentional.
The younger Rudolph recorded 56 receptions for 840 yards and seven touchdowns last season at Florida State. He opted to forgo his senior year in Tallahassee in favor of entering this month's draft.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Rudolph ranked as the No. 27 wide receiver in this class. He is considered a potential Day 3 selection.
Darryl Rudolph was 55.
So let's get something out of the way first: pitchers don't need a scouting report on Tim Tebow right now. He's a 29-year-old former college football star who's playing in Single-A minor league baseball where the average player is 21 years old.
At the moment, Tebow is hitting .218/.283/.364 with two homers, and although he ended last week with a couple multi-hit games, it's clear that he has not been playing well.
But Tebow has shown flashes, particularly in the first week of the season, when he hit two home runs against the Augusta GreenJackets, including one in his first at-bat of the season. It was typical Tebow: somehow finding a way to surprise us with his success, even if that success appears short-lived.
Pitchers have been trying to keep his success to a minimum, and though it's early in the former gunslinger's baseball career, there appears to be a consensus forming on how to approach pitching to the 2010 NFL first-round pick.
"Changing speeds is really effective," says GreenJackets pitcher Matt Solter. "I think for lefties, changeups are good. If you go hard in and then mix a changeup away, just to make sure it looks like a fastball as much as you can, you'll get some weak contact or a swing over a pitch."
Solter enjoyed success against Tebow in that first week of the season. He struck him out twice and induced two groundouts. GreenJackets pitcher Domenic Mazza, however, wasn't quite as lucky. Prior to giving up Tebow's first homer for the Columbia Fireflies, Mazza says he was hoping to work the former Heisman winner inside before leaving a hanging pitch over the plate.
"We were trying to establish in, but Tebow was able to hit a pretty well-located inside fastball off of my teammate," Mazza says. "I would still, as a left-handed pitcher, try to expand off the plate with the breaking ball away."
Part of the challenge (relatively speaking) of facing Tebow is the fact that, well, it's Tim Tebow in the batter's box. Tebow is arguably the most famous baseball player in America, and, combined with his football stature, he can be an intimidating opponent to face.
"I think anybody would be lying if they said they didn't at least acknowledge it a little bit. That's part of the pre-pitch," Solter says. "You clear it and, as cliche as it sounds, you attack him like any other batter and see how he reacts to different pitches and adjust accordingly to make some pitches and get an out."
The fact that Tebow isn't built like a typical baseball player also plays a role in how teams approach him at the plate. In theory, teams like to pound Tebow with inside fastballs because his frame doesn't allow him to turn on pitches as quickly as others do.
"There wasn't really a scouting report. The first day, we saw them take BP a little bit and we saw them stretching," Solter says. "You can tell, obviously, right away that he's a big guy. The power is going to be a real tool for him. Outside of that, there wasn't a whole lot we had on him."
"He's definitely bigger than most guys out here," Mazza says. "Just based off of that, you get the sense that he's going to have some power."
Mazza and Solter both laugh when asked about Tebow's first weekend against the GreenJackets, when he hit both homers.
"Everybody was just, I don't know if in awe was the right word, but I felt like that was a very Tebow thing to happen, for him to homer in his first pitch in instructs," Solter says. "There's something about the Tebow Effect that he was able to put a good swing on the pitch."
The chances that Tebow actually works his way up to the major leagues remain slim. He's already got a lot of things working against him—his age, that he hasn't played baseball since high school and that only a small percentage of pros actually make it to the show, for starters. But, for at least two of the pitchers that faced him, Tebow fits right into Single-A baseball.
"He hit those two home runs against us," Solter says. "I'm not sure what his stats are right now, but he doesn't look overmatched. He has a much better eye than we expected. We didn't know if he'd be swinging at everything, but he had a really good feel for the strike zone."
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Fast-paced, tight and thrilling are words very much synonymous with the quest for the Stanley Cup, and the 2017 NHL playoffs are living up to that billing this spring.
The Western Conference's top two teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild, have already been knocked out, and seemingly every game this postseason is being decided at the wire. The initial round of the 2017 playoffs finished among the closest in league history, per NHL Public Relations:
This, along with numerous big-time matchups, gives fans and viewers plenty of hope that the second round will be just as exhilarating. Let us take a look at the conference semifinals television and live-stream schedule, along with a preview of each series:
Anaheim vs. Edmonton
The first postseason of the Connor McDavid show continues, as the league's brightest young star leads the upstart Edmonton Oilers against an experienced-laden Anaheim Ducks team.
Edmonton got the best of its Pacific Division rival in the regular season, owning a 3-2 record that included a pair of overtime wins. However, the Ducks should be plenty rested after easily sweeping the Calgary Flames, while the Oilers survived the San Jose Sharks in a rugged six-game series.
Anaheim is deep and skilled up front, as they can match up superstar Ryan Getzlaf against the 20-year-old McDavid while still being able to create advantages with speedy depth players like Andrew Cogliano.
While the Ducks do not have a shutdown defender like San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic to shadow the NHL's top scorer, their defensive group as a whole matches up better than the Sharks because of their swift skating and the puck-moving skills of all three pairs.
That group looks to only get better in this series. Per NHL.com's Kyle Shohara, Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle expects top defenseman Cam Fowler to return from injury sometime against Edmonton. Also, Sami Vatanen is working toward a return as well after going down with an upper-body injury in Game 1 against the Flames.
With these two teams being so evenly matched, special teams could play a key role. This is where Edmonton showed inexperience in Round 1, with the Oilers leading the playoffs with 65 penalty minutes.
Anaheim will be sure to take advantage of these opportunities. The Ducks scored three power-play goals in the first round, and their extra-man unit was strong during the regular season, with an 18.7 percent mark compared to San Jose's 16.7 percent rating.
The Ducks may have led the postseason with six power-play goals allowed in Round 1, but that may have been an anomaly considering their penalty kill ranked fourth in the NHL in the regular season. Anaheim could become even scarier by combining that discipline with their dominating playoff five-on-five play, which has so far resulted in an 11-3 scoreline.
This may be this Anaheim core's best shot at making a Stanley Cup run, with Edmonton only set to improve in the coming years and Chicago surprisingly eliminated. The series will be close, but the Ducks get a slight edge here due to depth and experience.
Anaheim wins the series 4-3
Washington vs. Pittsburgh
The fact this matchup between the Eastern Conference's clear-cut best teams is taking place in the second round is a black mark on the playoff format, but it will still be the top conference semifinal series to watch.
This series has everything. Two generational superstars collide in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. History exists, with these teams meeting in the playoffs for the third time since 2008-09. Each squad's supporting cast is among the league's best.
Pittsburgh ended Washington's Stanley Cup dreams in the second round last season following the Capitals' Presidents' Trophy-winning regular season, but can they repeat history this time around? Injuries to Kris Letang and Matt Murray suggest not, but the team's first-round dominance of the Columbus Blue Jackets says they can.
The Penguins' puck movement and electric team speed pretty much emulates everything the Toronto Maple Leafs did to frustrate the Captials in the first round, except it is much better.
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who quelled any health concerns with a whopping 11 points in five games against the Jackets, run the show, but several others like Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary are more than capable of producing offense. NHL.com's Pete Jensen provided some more context of Pittsburgh's tremendous scoring depth:
Per Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post, Caps head coach Barry Trotz is also keenly aware of the Penguins' strength despite injuries. There is no drop-off in net with Marc-Andre Fleury, and guys like Justin Schultz, 51 points this season, can still drive offense from the back end. Trotz said:
We're going on to play the Stanley Cup champions. They had a wonderful season. They had a lot of injuries, and we didn't pass them really or really pull away from them until the last week of the season, so we know how good they are and they knocked us out last year, so we get a chance to go back at them.
Washington is loaded at every position, and it is the more physically imposing team, but that did not seem to matter against the Maple Leafs. The Capitals' preferred style of quick transition play into grinding possession in the offensive zone was wiped out by Toronto's first pass defensively, and Pittsburgh should create even more problems in this area.
In the end, the Penguins' passing and speed should move them past the Capitals once more, as Washington has yet to prove it can consistently overcome this style of play. This series will be epic, but it will end in a similar fashion to last season's postseason meeting.
Pittsburgh wins series 4-2
St. Louis vs. Nashville
Goaltending questions plagued both the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues heading into these playoffs, and that area turned into a strength in the first round.
Other than a strong 2011-12 campaign, during which he posted a 2.07 GAA and a .929 save percentage in 10 starts, Nashville's Pekka Rinne had never recorded a GAA below 2.50 and a save percentage above .911 in five playoff runs. On the other hand, St. Louis' Jake Allen posted dismal save percentages of .904 and .897 in his previous two playoff stints.
Both have lit up the postseason entering Round 2, ranking either first or second in both major categories:
Their play is so strong that TSN's Dustin Nielson has each among his Conn Smythe Trophy favorites:
Each goalie's past suggests that neither has earned complete faith moving forward. However, Rinne's situation looks much more promising.
Nashville has arguably the top defensive group in the NHL, which was evident by its minuscule three goals allowed in the series against Chicago. Its top four of Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban all range from very good to elite two-way defensemen.
St. Louis has a strong top four as well, led by Alex Pietrangelo. The problem for both teams, though, is the extended ice time each top defense group is logging:
Still, this balance favors Nashville since its top minutes are more spread out. The Predators' bottom-pairing defensemen, Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber, are also a slight improvement over St. Louis' Robert Bortuzzo and Carl Gunnarsson.
The Blues have the best offensive player in the series in Vladimir Tarasenko, but Nashville has the best line with Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen. The three each averaged at least a point per game against the Blackhawks while combining for a startling plus-22.
Nashville looks to be fulfilling its preseason hype as a Stanley Cup contender, and it should be able to score enough to hold off a St. Louis team that failed to outshoot Minnesota in any of its first-round games. Expect the Predators to advance.
Nashville wins series 4-2
Ottawa vs. New York
After surviving six straight one-goal games to open the playoffs, including four overtime contests, life does not get any easier for the Ottawa Senators.
The team has undoubtedly the best player in the series in Erik Karlsson. Per TSN's Brent Wallace, the Swede is playing with two hairline fractures in his left foot but still leads the playoffs in ice time while throwing ungodly full-ice sauce like this, via Sportsnet:
Still, he does not have much support elsewhere. Derick Brassard, eight points, and Bobby Ryan, seven points, are playing slightly above themselves, and Ottawa lacks other offensive threats outside of Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone.
This is a problem against the New York Rangers, who play as balanced as any team remaining this postseason. Every player other than Pavel Buchnevich and Marc Staal recorded a point in their first-round series against a tough Montreal Canadiens squad, and every regular roster player outside of Tanner Glass is averaging over 10 minutes of ice time per contest.
Defensively, Ryan McDonagh is playing over 26 minutes per night, but every other defender is logging at least 18 minutes. This depth is paying off in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who sparkled against Montreal with a 1.70 GAA and a .947 save percentage.
This four-line, three-defensive-pair approach was able to wear down a Canadiens team that possessed more high-end talent, and the same should happen against Ottawa.
The Senators were not overly impressive against the Boston Bruins, but they should at least have a chance against New York since goaltender Craig Anderson has played his best in this matchup throughout his career, per TSN's Ian Mendes:
Still, this does not make up for the fact Ottawa only averaged 2.5 goals per game despite the fact the Bruins were missing three defensive regulars in Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Andrew McQuaid. The Senators are also due for a much greater defensive test, as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak made up the only threatening Bruins line.
New York is clearly the better overall team, and that should come to light in this series. The Rangers are a faster side than Boston, and look for that and their depth to overwhelm Ottawa.
New York wins series 4-1
All statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
Boxer Adrien Broner said he was targeted in a shooting earlier this month because "every killer wants a celebrity on their list."
"They tried to kill me because they're jealous of my success, man," Broner said in an interview with TMZ Sports. "Every fake killer, or every killer, wants a celebrity on their list. I was once them before. You know, the higher the celebrity you got on your list, you know, that's how people respect you."
Police pulled Broner over in Kentucky early Thursday morning, finding multiple bullet holes in the side of his SUV. Broner told the officers that he was shot at multiple times after leaving a bar in Cincinnati earlier that evening.
No suspect has been apprehended in the case. Broner said he does not know who shot at him, and he was unharmed in the incident.
"This ain't my first rodeo. I've been on the bull a long time," Broner said of whether he's worried. "I feel like the Dennis Rodman—I've been on the bull a long time, man. I'm all right."
Broner added that he's considering taking additional measures to protect himself and his family from future acts of potential violence. He said the "best thing" would be for him to move out of Cincinnati, which is his hometown.