This Week’s Sports Illustrated: 2014 NFL Draft Preview features Johnny Manziel, The Trouble with Running Backs, Mock Draft, and the Four Most Sought After Skill Sets for 2014

Johnny Manziel_5.5The May 5th issue of Sports Illustrated @SInow – on newsstands NOW features a 10-plus page section of the 2014 NFL Draft Preview with Texas A&M’s quarterback Johnny Manziel on the cover. This is Manziel’s first SI cover.

The 2014 NFL Draft Preview answers every question a fan could have about the upcoming draft with a specific focus on Manziel’s future in the NFL. In order to inform his feature, The MMQB’s Peter King watched Manziel’s games with five of the best quarterback evaluators in the business, Doug Flutie, Rich Gannon, Mike Holgrem, Kevin Gilbride and David Cutcliffe. In the article, they each bring their own level of expertise to Manziel’s evaluation. The feature examines Manziel’s accuracy, footwork, mechanics, improvisation, situational awareness, anticipation, shotgun and the opposition. Each evaluator offers his own opinion on the lightening rod quarterback but in the end all agreed he has an “innate ability to create and do some very unorthodox stuff.” (Page 47)

Scouts are calling 2014 will be the deepest draft in NFL history so SI’s Chris Burke’s “Mock Draft” has projections all the way through round 2. Burke includes the top 64 players and breaks them down by those he believes will be instant starters, value picks, trade baits, stretch, off-field risk and sinkers. His first pick prediction? The Texans will take Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end out of South Carolina. To round out the top 5 picks Burke predicts:

Number 2: the Rams will take Jake Matthews, the tackle out of Texas A&M

Number 3: the Jaguars will take Khalil Mack, the outside LB from Buffalo

Number 4: the Browns will take Johnny Manziel, the quarterback from Texas A&M

Number 5:  the Raiders will take Sammy Watkins, the wide receiver from Clemson

Also included in the NFL Draft Preview, SI’s Doug Farrar analyzes the four skill sets of crucial importance in 2014 which include: a mobile franchise quarterback (think Andrew Luck of the Colts), three-down linebacker (think NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers), shutdown press cornerback (think Richard Sherman of the Seahawks) and coverage safety (think Earl Thomas of the Seahawks).



**Download a high res version of the Manziel cover here 

This Week’s Sports Illustrated: Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet  


NEW YOR17COVv12_PromoK, NY (April 23, 2014) The 2013 Al Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers is on the cover of  this week’s Sports Illustrated @SINow –  on newsstands NOW.  On his way to becoming another starting pitcher to sign a nine-figure contract, Scherzer is in complete control both on and off the field. This is Scherzer’s first SI cover.

SI’s Albert Chen examines why Scherzer declined the dramatic $144 million offer in the off-season in the feature, “Mad Max.” States Chen: “Max Scherzer is a really smart guy, so what does he know that we don’t?” (Page 29)

Also in this week’s issue, SI’s Andy Staples’ feature titled, “A Cut Above” he predicts Sammy Watkins will be the first receiver off the board at the NFL draft next month. Although many would argue Watkins slipped from an All-American freshman at Clemson to sophomore whose season was anti-climatic, Staples discusses why Watkins is one to watch.

Additionally in a special report titled, “If You Give a Mouse a Concussion,” The MMQB’s Robert Klemko discusses how a brilliant intern at an NIH lab in Maryland stumbled upon a groundbreaking way to observe the brains of concussed mice in real time. Now, that mistake has helped to transform the approach to understanding how the brain reacts to mild traumatic injury and pointing the way to possible treatment.Writes Klemko: “Roth’s paper reported, among other findings, that passing an antioxidant through the skull immediately after a concussion reduced brain tissue damage by nearly 70%.” (Page 42)



Angry Birds

COV0210.LO.inddAfter dropping the BOOM on Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense in Super Bowl XLVIII, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane appear on this week’s cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (2/10/14)—on newsstands NOW. Seattle’s D held Denver to just one touchdown in a 43–8 romp at MetLife Stadium. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was flustered for most of the first half, throwing two interceptions. Linebacker Malcolm Smith, named MVP of the game, picked off Manning late in the first half and returned the ball 69 yards for a touchdown. The Seahawks, lead 36–0 before the Broncos finally scored on the last play of the third quarter. Senior writer S.L. Price writes, “Even if you didn’t know that the Seahawks, quietly miffed by a sudden national obsession with Manning’s “Omaha” snap count, barked the buzzword at one another as a goad, “every day, about 10 to 12 times a day,” says receiver Percy Harvin. “They showed him [Manning}, all right, and the result was as brilliant as it was brutal. Bearing all the arrogance of youth and all the rage of the underrated, on Sunday the NFL’s youngest playoff team laid waste to the 37-year-old Manning and his epic offense. The outcome was hardly a shock for the 82,529 folks bellowing in the relative, yes, warmth of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., but the margin and manner surely were.” (Page 26)

The game got off to an odd start when Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, resurrecting his famous flashy duds with an oversized fur coat, botched the coin toss at the start of the game. Then, on the first play from scrimmage, Broncos center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball past Manning, who was walking up to the line and didn’t have his hands ready. That set the tone for the trouncing the Broncos would receive for the rest of the night. Writes Price, “Not 12 seconds in, Ramirez, addled by the roaring crowd, lofted a snap over Manning’s right shoulder into the end zone for a safety. ‘There’s no explanation for it,’ Ramirez explained. None but flat-out defeat. No team ever scored faster in a Super Bowl—not even Devin Hester on his kick-return TD to open XLI—and that was only the beginning. Pressed by Seattle’s relentless front line, Manning never lost the harried, confused look of those first moments; the game once expected to be a career topper soon became a potential legacy mangler.” (Page 26)

The rest of the game never turned around for Denver’s top-ranked offense, despite a touchdown and two-point conversion late in the third quarter. Seattle’s Legion of Boom continued to wreak havoc on Manning while also shutting down running back Knowshon Moreno and the entire Broncos rushing game, holding it to just 27 yards for the night. Writes Price, “This was Seattle’s first championship since they joined the league as an expansion franchise in 1976. Before their run to the Super Bowl in 2006 (an XL loss to the Steelers), they had gone a record 21 years without a playoff win, and until this season always seemed a step behind their rivals in San Francisco. But the unique identity created in ’10 by owner Paul Allen, GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll—brainy, upbeat and tough—proved perfect for transforming unheralded talent into a smart and singularly fierce outfit.” (Page 28) | SI Senior Writer, S.L. Price

For a gallery of the best photos from Super Bowl XLVIII go to:

For gallery of the Top 10 Worst Super Bowls go to:

Michael Bennett and Brandon Mebane on this week’s Sports Illustrated Cover

COV0210.LO.inddMichael Bennett and Brandon Mebane appear on this week’s Sports Illustrated cover. After dominating the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014, the Seahawks will bring the Lombardi trophy back to Seattle.

To download a hi-res image of the cover, click here








Peyton Manning Has One More Ghost To K.O.

Broncos cover 1.27.14Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in a 26–16 win over the Patriots in the AFC championship game, appears on the national cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (1/27/14)—on newsstands NOW. Manning broke the single season record for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in 2013 and will now lead Denver to its first trip to the Super Bowl since 1999. Still, despite his stellar season in the Mile High City, Manning has one more ghost to exorcise: The playoff choke. In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl pundits will undoubtedly point out Manning’s perfectly average stats in two Super Bowls: two TDs, two INTs and an 85.4 passer rating. In SI’s 10 Things We Think We Think Super Bowl XLVIII preview, Andrew Lawrence writes, “Manning is certain to hear the choker talk from the minute he steps off the plane in New York. Which is perhaps what Broncos vice president John Elway—the two-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer whose outsized reputation crushed every Denver quarterback who followed him, until now—was driving at last week when he said that Manning doesn’t get enough credit. That’s a laughable statement to make about a four-time MVP, until you measure it against Manning’s intake of grief. ‘I’ll be honest with you: As a parent, I get tired of it,’ said a typically awe-shucks Archie Manning, from the eye of a delirious Broncos locker room. ‘You play 16 years . . . so what’s he played in? Twenty-two postseason games? And he’s kind of being ridiculed. I mean, I played in zero postseason games. I can tell you a bunch of guys in my era, quarterbacks, buddies of mine—they’d love to say they played in 22 postseason games. . . . My text count just hit 108 since the game’s ended. The last one I got is [from] Fran Tarkenton. So there are a lot of guys out there who played the game, friends of mine, friends of Peyton, who are proud of him.’” (Page 41)

The Broncos led the NFL in total offense, passing, receiving and touchdowns scored during the regular season. The Seahawks led the league in total defense, pass defense and interceptions. So what happens when the most prolific passing offense in history meets a secondary of superheroes? Writes Lawrence, “The Seahawks boast the league’s top defense, but who has challenged them, really? Throw out the Saints, whose fourth-rated attack is as one-dimensional as it is explosive, and the average rank of the offenses that Seattle has faced is 23rd. The people who still hew to the thinking that defense wins championships clearly haven’t watched the last four Super Bowls. In three of them all the best defense won was an up-close view of the winner’s confetti shower. If Peyton wins at MetLife Stadium, he’d become the only quarterback walking around with rings from two different teams. He would be able to smile, and maybe even lose the Manning face, safe in the knowledge that his greatness is no longer in doubt.” (Page 41)

So it’ll be the best cornerback in the league versus the best quarterback in the league. SI Senior writer Peter King is putting his money on Manning and predicting a Pot Roast: Broncos 27, Seahawks 24.

 For Peter King’s early thoughts on Super Bowl XLVIII click here:

Richard Sherman: Denver Dominant Receivers Can Be Corralled

Seahawks 1.27.14Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, whose fingertip save against the 49ers helped send Seattle to the Super Bowl for a showdown with Peyton Manning and the Broncos, appears on the regional cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (1/27/14)—on newsstands NOW. Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions during the regular season, deflected a pass intended for Niners wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone during the closing minute of the NFC championship game, which caused the ball to bounce into the grasp of linebacker Malcolm Smith, sealing Seattle’s 23–17 win. In SI’s Super Bowl XLVIII preview, writers list the key storylines as the Broncos and Seahawks head to MetLife Stadium in 10 Things We Think We Think. NFL analyst Andy Benoit believes that Seattle’s D could corral Denver’s dominant receivers, writing, “The Seahawks led the league in every major pass-defending category because they perfected a hybrid scheme that features suffocating press-man corners on the outside. One of them, Sherman, speaks the truth when boasting that he’s the best in the NFL; the other, Byron Maxwell, is long, strong, athletic and alert—and he’s on track to join Sherman on the first tier. With corners who can own the perimeter, Seattle’s speedy, hard-hitting safeties and ’backers can play a more condensed zone inside.” (Page 48)

The Broncos led the NFL in total offense, passing, receiving and touchdowns scored. The Seahawks led the league in total defense, pass defense and interceptions. So what happens when the most prolific passing offense in history meets a secondary of superheroes? Writes Benoit, “It will be fascinating to see how the record-setting Broncos offense attacks this secondary. Manning’s system is rich in man-beater concepts: intertwined crossing patterns, receiver screens, (legal) pick plays and switch releases, in which receivers who are aligned close to one another essentially crisscross early in their routes, hoping to cross up their defenders. While no defense has truly stopped this attack yet, the Sea–hawks are equipped to do so. Sherman and Maxwell can take away Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside. When those receivers go inside, they’ll encounter zone defenders who are among the best in the league at recognizing route designs and picking up assignments. So instead of following these wideouts on crossing patterns and falling susceptible to picks, Sherman and Maxwell can just pass them off to the zone defenders (on plays that even get that far). Denver’s receivers will first have to break free from jams, and the offensive line will have to hold up against a dynamic Seahawks front four.” (Page 48)

So it’ll be the best cornerback in the league versus the best quarterback in the league. Despite Sherman’s penchant for picking off QBs like Manning, SI Senior writer Peter King likes Pot Roast: Broncos 27, Seahawks 24.

For Peter King’s early thoughts on Super Bowl XLVIII click here:

Blount Force Drama

Patriots Cover_1.20Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns (a franchise record) against the Colts in the AFC divisional playoff, appears on the national cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (1/20/14)—on newsstands NOW. Blount, who is in his first season with New England after spending three years with the Buccaneers, had his biggest play against Indiana on a 73-yard touchdown run with 13:08 left in the fourth quarter to put the Patriots up 36–22, before closing it out with a 43–22 and a spot in the conference championship game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. As NFL analyst Andy Benoit writes, “The Broncos’ run defense will face its own challenge in the 6-foot, 250-pound Blount, who has racked up 355 yards and six TDs in his last two games. Led by tackle Terrance Knighton, Denver stifled the white-hot Chargers last week, but Blount runs—plows, really—behind a man-blocking front that’s particularly mobile and voracious on the left side, where perennial Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and svelte tackle Nate Solder ply their trade.”

Then there’s the Patriots’ undersized and often undervalued wide receiver, Julian Edelman who, after re-signing with New England because no other team wanted him more, had a breakout 1,056 receiving yards season, including 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 34–31 win over the Broncos in Week 12. Writes SI senior writer Tim Layden in this week’s feature on Edelman, “These Patriots are the unlikeliest AFC finalists of the Bill Belichick era, a team that went 12–4 despite being steadily thinned by personnel losses (injuries and otherwise) from June into January. No position incurred deeper cuts than receiver, where quarterback Tom Brady lost his top five targets from 2012, including Wes Welker, the most productive slot man in NFL history. Into that void surged Edelman, 27, who caught 105 passes—fourth in the league, 50 more than any other Patriot and seven fewer than Welker’s average in New England. Edelman also finished fourth in the league in punt return yardage (374). It’s perilous to suggest that these Patriots wouldn’t have survived further attrition (Brady excepted), but it’s also difficult to imagine them in Denver without Edelman.”

Of course all of the hype surrounding the AFC Championship will focus on Brady vs. Manning, who will compete on an NFL field for the 15th time in their pro careers (Brady leads the series 10-4.) This weekend’s game, however, will come down to whether the Broncos’ defense can survive against New England’s dynamic Blount-Edelman duo.

SI’s prediction: Patriots 34, Broncos 28. | NFL analyst Andy Benoit 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 130 other followers