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1amsports http://1amsports.com A UK fans perspective on the world of US sport Tue, 01 Jul 2014 08:40:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Out of the Park Baseball 15 Review http://1amsports.com/mlb/out-of-the-park-baseball-15-review http://1amsports.com/mlb/out-of-the-park-baseball-15-review#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 08:40:08 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5408 The newest edition of the Out of the park Baseball series has hit our computers and after a month and a half solid playing it is safe to say they have managed to do what I never imagined they could and made it better than 14.

The thing that really stands out to me with this game is that you can absolutely do whatever you want with the game. If you want a deep baseball simulator where you control the on field actions or you just want to be the next Billy Beane and make the executive decision then this game offer the opportunities for both. What makes the game even better is that the attention to detail of this game is so superb that no matter how much control you take over your season the game is still one that will hook you for weeks and months.

out-of-the-park-baseball-12

One of the things that make this game so addictive is the superb and frankly simple presentation they utilise. From one screen it feels like you can do anything on the game with the click of two buttons but yet you don’t feel so overwhelmed when you see it that you want to jut close the game and give up like you do with some games. The big issue with the game presentation is that currently the option to have the games displayed in 3D is not available to the usual high standard that this series sets itself. However, I have seen people say that they don’t care about the 3D (I was one of the people who turned it off on Football Manager) so while this is a big issue in terms of what I expected from the game at launch at the same time it doesn’t really take away from my enjoyment.

Two things that stand out to me in OotP15 that are a big improvement on 2014:

  • Improved computer decision making: You can no longer pull off trades that see you ripping off the computer and stacking your roster for the next 5 years. This makes the game initially harder and more daunting but for the lifespan of the game it is a huge improvement because winning 100 games a year and the World Series in 4 games every year isn’t really that exciting is it?
  • Improved International Leagues: This gives you more options of where to manage but also allows you to scout players from other countries with more realism allowing you to get the leg up on the computer without taking the risks it felt like you had to take in 14.

field view

Perhaps my favourite bit of this game is the aspect of real life. As sports fan we all know that our favourite players can be subject to some moments of madness and Out of the Park uses that to great effect. Players make the news for cheating on their wives, being in car crashes or even being sent to jail for their off the field actions. Of course they do have some good acts by players but let’s face it we all love when a player makes the headlines for the wrong reason and it does provide a good laugh when you read what scrapes your opposition players have got into even though it is just a game!

As I said in my previous review if you are just a casual fan of the game then in my opinion one of the best ways of getting to know the subtle nuances of one of the most statistically laden and at times complex sports in the world is by spending a few days/weeks on Out of the Park Baseball 15. Yes at first it feels daunting but give it a couple of hours and you will wonder why it took you so long to purchase this game.

Overview:

  • Superb presentation both in and out of games
  • Great depth of international leagues and players
  • Improved Al decision making
  • 3D not working is disappointing but not the end of the world because the game is so good it more than makes up for it!
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MLB Review: AL Week 3 http://1amsports.com/mlb/mlb-review-al-week-3 http://1amsports.com/mlb/mlb-review-al-week-3#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 08:53:34 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5401 We are now three weeks into the season and the standings are beginning to take shape and we are beginning to get an idea for which teams will be contenders for the playoffs and who will be contending for the wooden spoon. My original plan for this article was to go back and forth between the AL and the NL each week but for the first week I got a bit caught up and covered both. So after a week off I have gone back to my original plan and this week will cover the AL and next week will cover the NL.

AL East

New York Yankees (11-8): The Yankees turned a 3-3 start into a division lead by going 8-5 over the next two weeks. That includes series wins against the Cubs and main rivals Boston as well as a tied series in Tampa which will all be huge positives. They will be disappointed to have lost at home to the Orioles but in a two week period they will take three positives to the one negative. One odd stat is they have a negative run differential whilst leading the division due to two heavy defeats in Tampa over the weekend.

Toronto Blue Jays (10-9): The Blue Jays got off to a slow start but have turned it round and with a 7 and 5 two week period. In that period they took 2 games at home to Houston and on the road in both Baltimore and Cleveland. They will have been disappointed to lose two games in Minnesota but considering the run they have had they will be able to brush off one bad day (they lost both games of a double header by a score of 16-5).

Boston Red Sox (9-10): The Red Sox came into this two week period off the back of an 0-3 series against Milwaukee in Fenway so they will be pleased to have taken two games off Texas and Baltimore in Fenway as well as two in Chicago. Losing three on the road to the Yankees though will be the thing that stands out to all Boston fans and no matter how the next couple of weeks go they will not be happy unless they can get their own back on the pinstripes.

Tampa Bay Rays (9-10): The Rays started off these two weeks with three road series and while they will be disappointed to have lost 5 of those the bigger hurt may be that they had to share a series with the Yankees at home. Going 2-4 within the AL East will be a big sticking point for fans and management a like especially as they were many peoples favourites for the division pre-season.

Baltimore Orioles (8-9): The Orioles have seen all of their rivals once in the last two weeks and will be pleased to have come out of that 6&5. They took two games on the road in New York and another 1 in Boston with 3 home wins against Toronto and Tampa Bay sandwiched in the middle (They went 3-2 at home due to having a game with Tampa Bay postponed due to rain). While they may sit bottom of the table they will be pleased to have bounced back from their 2-4 start in week 1.

AL Central

Detroit Tigers (9-6): The Tigers got off to a hot start in week 1, going 4-1, and they will be pleased that they could consolidate that by going 5-5 over the next two weeks. Those two weeks included tricky road trips to the Dodgers (1-1) and Padres (1-2) before returning home to face division rivals Cleveland (1-1) and then the Angels (2-1). They will be hoping their powerful line up can get going as they have currently only scored 62 runs and have their rotation to thank for their position.

Kansas City Royals (9-8): A 7-5 period for the Royals is just what the doctor ordered and while they will pleased to have beaten Tampa Bay and Houston they will be disappointed that 6 games with the Twins only yielded 2 wins with them losing all three games on the road.

Minnesota Twins (9-9): The Twins started and ended the two week period on a downer (losing three games at home to Oakland to start with and then ending with a 1-2 loss to the Royals) but will be pleased to have gone 5-1 at home to the Royals and Blue Jays in the middle of the period to end up sitting 6-6 for the period.

Chicago White Sox (9-10): The White Sox also sandwiched two good series with two bad going 2-4 on the road in Colorado and Texas and 4-2 at home against Cleveland and Boston. The main take away will be the series win over their division rivals but losing to one of their potential wild card rivals in Texas will have been a bad way to the end the week.

Cleveland Indians (8-10): Cleveland failed to win a series through the two week period giving up two out of three to San Diego (Home), Chicago White Sox (Away) and Toronto (Home). They did manage to draw the series in Detroit which may well be of some consolation to them however. A 4-7 run will be concerning this early in the season for a team who must have considered themselves an outside bet for the playoffs at the start of the year.

AL West

Oakland Athletics (13-5): The Athletics have stormed off the line in 2014 and have built on a 3-3 start in week one with at awesome 10-2 period to follow that up. What will make that even better is that they took 3 series and 7 games off division rivals (2@ Seattle, 2 @ LAA and 3 vs Houston). They started off the period by going 3-0 in Minnesota meaning they went 7-2 on the road and then delivered the goods at home against the worst in the division Houston Astros. Their league leading +32 run differential shows that both their pitching and hitting is off to a flyer and if just one of those stays as hot for the next couple of weeks they could have a strong grip on the division.

Texas Rangers (11-8): Texas have built on a solid 4-3 week one with wins against the Astros, Mariners and White Sox at home and will have been pleased to have grabbed a game on the road in Boston. They went 6-3 at home this week but they will be concerned about some of the big scores they have given up this season. Their pitching depth is their biggest weakness and if Darvish struggles or re-aggravates his injury they could be in major trouble going forward.

Los Angeles Angels (8-10): The Angels followed up a disappointing 3-4 start by going 5&6 including 3 games dropped in the division and 5 in the American League. They will be pleased to have sent the Mets packing having won two games in the series but losing at home to Oakland will be a disappointment for a team who underperformed last year.

Seattle Mariners (7-11): Seattle spent big in the offseason and would have hoped to get off to better start. They have given up 5 games in the division in the last two weeks including three at home. To then finish the period going 0-3 in Miami will have really disappointed them seeing as how many have Miami have one of the worst teams in the NL. The Mariners will want to improve quickly before their season spirals downwards fast.

Houston Astros (5-14): The old caveat about not being able to win the division in the first month but being able to lose it definitely applies here with the Astros. A solid if unspectacular 3-4 start quickly spiralled out of control in the last two weeks with them giving up 5 games in the division and failing to get a win in their one home series of the period. They have already called up George Springer and that pretty much sums up where Houston are headed this year

If The Season Ended Today:

Division Winners: Yankees, Tigers and Athletics

Wild Card: Texas and Toronto (Winner would face Oakland)

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Jags – is this the year to draft a QB? http://1amsports.com/nfl/jags-is-this-the-year-to-draft-a-qb http://1amsports.com/nfl/jags-is-this-the-year-to-draft-a-qb#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:48:03 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5331 Anyone got the sense of Déjà vu this year? We’re being told the Jags are QB needy and will almost definitely draft a QB with their first pick via the media, as has been the case for the past 3 years. This time last year there was a wholly renowned theory that Jacksonville would take the plunge on Geno Smith with their first pick. He was the clear #1 contender for the position in the Draft however was not a certain Franchise changer as much as you can be projected to be ala Andrew Luck, or to be honest anywhere close. Knowing this the Jags looked away, choosing OT Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M with the #2 overall pick.

We all thought that’s their opportunity with him gone, however poor old Geno sat in the Green room on his own the whole night & had to return on Friday following deliberations about whether to throw his toys out of the pram & not bother. Surely, this time he will be a Jaguar then? Nope, again Gus Bradley & his team looked elsewhere with John Cyprien.

Following this we should all be asking are the Jags ready to go out and get ‘their guy’ this year? Does ‘their guy’ even exist in this class? This years draft falls more along the lines of 2011 where the first round projected QB’s seemingly have more question marks than answers. A few years on only one of those guys out of the first round has proved a success at this moment & no, it wasn’t Blaine Gabbert.

Unfortunately, Cam was assessed way too heavily on his personality coming out of Auburn and his apparent character issues by some sections of the media, something that’s been non-existant to this point in the NFL. Along with a great defense, he has helped change the Panthers dynamic to a team that will be there or thereabouts around play-off time, even with a lack of reliable receivers, Steve Smith aside – up until Smith’s release.

One guy with similar character issues this year that are a bit more widely apparent is Johnny Manziel, however to be fair to Johnny Am.Football (sorry, it’s trademarked..) he’s not 6’6. Manziel has had some plays in College where if it happened on a video game the controller would be in the street.

He’s fascinating to watch and showed great commitment on a lost cause against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. At 5’11, he’s not the size you want in a QB though everyone will now be pointing straight to the shorter Russell Wilson. On the field he’s a top pick absolutely, even at his size, the question marks unfortunately are off it. Endorsements, celebrity lifestyle, money celebrations prior to taking a snap in the NFL, well… it doesn’t help.

Blake Bortles is the next guy being projected as a top pick in most mocks. Of very similar build & play style to Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger, capable of moving around the pocket to extend plays whilst never being someone you could mention as dual-threat. Bortles is a guy that has come out of relatively nowhere but at 6’5/230 has the size all of the scouts still look for. For his size surprisingly his arm is not particularly great as well as having rather lackadaisical footwork at times. It would seem Bortles would benefit from sitting behind a veteran QB, with Henne in place this could be an opportunity for the Jags.

Last but certainly not least at the top range of the prospects is Teddy Bridgewater out of Louisville. Unlike Bortles, Teddy is well known and has in recent weeks gone the opposite way of being the renowned 1st QB off the board, to perhaps 3rd or even 4th and beyond. This is in no small part to a rather poor Pro Day, though you’d have to question anyone drawing more attention to this than hours of positive film footage. Scouts have questioned his arm since being disappointed in both the Combine & Pro Day. However, this didn’t seem an issue at Louisville, particularly on the vertical or sideline throws that he made on regular occasions with consummate ease.

Bridgewater is still the most solid Pro-ready QB coming out of the Draft at the top range and for all purposes the guy the Jags should go for if they are intent on drafting a QB with their first pick. Jacksonville at this point could even take a risk, benefit on the slide and trade out of this pick to someone chasing a Sammy Watkins or a Jadeveon Clowney and try to catch Bridgewater further down the board.

Other potential suitors would be Derek Carr out of Fresno St or a project QB in someone like Zach Mettenberger from LSU or Aaron Murray out of Georgia, the latter 2 being available in the mid-rounds.

Next Year

Assessing all this it really does seem there are better fit, higher-ceiling QB’s next year for Jacksonville. The 2 stand-outs being Jameis Winston out of Florida State (commit depending) & the electric Marcus Mariota from Oregon. Whilst ‘Famous’ will continue to get the plaudits and rightly so throughout the off-season the real gem appears to be the rapidly improving 20 year-old Mariota. All you hear around the school are positives from a guy playing in one of the most complex Offensive systems in Football, both in College & NFL.

Mariota is coming off a season where his stat line read 31TD – 4 Int (pass alone), top this up with 9 rushing TD’s and you see the dual threat Marcus brings to the table, at the same time putting a strong argument against him being a run-first QB. The obvious comparison at this time would be a less physical Cam Newton, though just turning 20 means he will fill out naturally over the next few years.

Manziel might be just as exciting but he’s a dangerous pick due to his extra-curricular activities, when he’s appearing in front of Gruden mentioning he needs to focus on Football and then going off to basketball games with Drake a few days later you have to question the commitment. Not completely buying the theory he doesn’t enjoy it either, you don’t agree to Pro Days set up like his if you weren’t enjoying the limelight.

Should the Jags have a great year they’re still going to need a QB, presuming they don’t pick one up this year. Chad Henne is certainly not a long term option and whilst shouldn’t make too many boneheaded plays ala Gabbert won’t exactly push a franchise to the next level by throwing check downs on 8/10 plays. It would be an option for the Jags to throw the proverbial kitchen sink to trade up and get their guy next year should they be outside of the top picks.

Yes, aware it’s always easier to project next years QB prospects, however it would be hard to see either of the top 2 having Matt Barkley type slides.

They’ve made some really positive moves this year in FA and people are beginning to take notice that this Franchise is rapidly going in the right direction under Gus Bradley. The obvious issue is he will eventually need a QB to mould the Franchise around once the other bits in place but are the Jags ready to take a risk after what happened with Blaine & potentially reach for one in the 2014 Draft.

The question in short is now or next year?

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MLB: Week 1 Review http://1amsports.com/mlb/mlb-week-1-review http://1amsports.com/mlb/mlb-week-1-review#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:05:07 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5342 We had a false start a couple of weeks ago in Australia but last Sunday the baseball season kicked off in San Diego. What followed was a week full of exciting hitting and superb pitching reminding us all what we have been missing since last October. The trouble that many American sports fans have with baseball is the sheer number of games make it hard to keep track of the season so here at 1amsports I plan to provide the casual fan with regular updates about the season so that they can see the playoff race unfolding and track their favourite teams progress easily.

American League

East

Tampa Bay Rays (4-3): The Rays have a slim lead over the rest of the AL East after week 1. They played all 7 of their week 1 games at home and shared their first series of the year with Toronto at 2 games each before getting the best of Texas 2-1 to round of the week. Upcoming this week: 3 games @ Kansas City and 3 @ Cincinnati

New York Yankees (3-3): The Yankees were the only team in the AL East not to have a home game in the first week. They opened in against the Astros and considering Houston are regarded as one of the worst teams in the league they will be disappointed to have lost the series 2-1. What they will be pleased about is taking two games off division rival Toronto in Canada over the weekend. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Baltimore and 4 vs Boston

Toronto Blue Jays (3-4): Toronto were the only AL East team to play two other teams in their division and after a poor season last year they won’t be too disappointed with the outcome. Taking two games of Tampa will be considered a big positive but losing 2 games to the Yankees to the end the week offsets that positivity they would have had coming out of Tampa. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Houston and 3 @ Baltimore

Boston Red Sox (2-4): Last year’s champions will be disappointed with their sluggish start to the season. They would have been overjoyed to beat Baltimore 2-1 away from home but then to return to Fenway and go 0-3 against the Brewers will have sapped the energy out of a young squad. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Texas and 4 @ New York Yankees

Baltimore Orioles (2-4): The Orioles got off to a nice start beating Boston in their home opener but then went on a four game losing streak. They snapped out of the funk with an unlikely win against a Justin Verlander led Detroit Tigers in a tough low scoring pitcher’s duel to end the week on a high. Upcoming this week: 3 @ New York Yankees and 3 vs Toronto

Central

Detroit Tigers (4-1): It is no surprise to see the Tigers atop the central and do not be surprised if this becomes a regular thing this year. Two wins against the Royals could easily have been three if it wasn’t for a washout on Thursday. Another two wins against Baltimore will please the Tigers but they will be disappointed they couldn’t complete a week of wins on Sunday. Upcoming this week: 2 : Los Angeles Dodgers and 3 @ San Diego

Chicago White Sox (3-3): Two home wins to start the week will have pleased the Chicago management but a run of three straight losses to the Twins and Royals mean that a Sunday win salvages a .500 week. Upcoming this week: 3 @ Colorado and 4 vs Cleveland

Cleveland Indians (3-3): Cleveland’s hitters had a tough start to the season in the cavernous park of the Athletics and will be pleased to have come through that road series 2-1. However, they came thumping back to earth in their home series against Minnesota giving up 19 runs to a line-up that is consider one of the weaker in the American league while going 2-1 to end the week at .500. Upcoming this week: 3 vs San Diego and 4 @ Chicago White Sox

Minnesota Twins (3-3): The Twins are many peoples bet to finish bottom of this division and they are .500 this week mainly thanks to their hitters. Their pitching staff doesn’t have many stars so if they are to get anywhere near .500 through this season they will need keep hitting out of their skins. Finishing a week at the White Sox and the Indians evens will be considered a really good start before they head back to snowy Minneapolis. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Oakland and 3 vs Kansas City

Kansas City Royals (2-3): The Royals had a tough start against two of the better teams in the division and will be glad to have taken 2 off the White Sox on the road to salvage an 0-2 start against the Tigers at home. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Tampa Bay and 3 @ Minnesota

West

Seattle Mariners (4-2): Seattle made major moves this offseason and will be pleased to have got off to a strong start on the road in 2014. Taking three games off the Angels in Anaheim will be the highlight of the week and to escape from a tough match up in Oakland 1-2 (with a rain off) will mean they return home more than happy with their week away. Upcoming this week: 2 vs Los Angeles Angels and 3 vs Oakland

Oakland Athletics (3-3): A mixed week to start 2014 with 2 losses to the Indians salvaged by beating division rivals Seattle 2-1. This division is going to be tight all year with many teams likely splitting series so they will want to capitalise on their out of division games at home for the rest of the year. Upcoming this week: 3 @ Minnesota and 3 @ Seattle

Texas Rangers (3-3): Texas got off to an explosive start Monday in a 14-10 loss to the Phillies that immediately got Rangers fans worrying about their early season rotation. They fought back to beat the Phillies 2-1 at home before losing the first two in Tampa. They finished the week with a typically calm and controlled Yu Darvish performance which will have calmed some of the pitching woes. Upcoming this week: 3 @ Boston and 3 vs Houston

Houston Astros (3-3): Nobody has given Houston a prayer going into 2014 so to take two games off the Yankees will be seen as a nice confidence boost at home this year. Losing two games at home to LA to begin the weekend showed us more of what we were expecting this year before they salvaged a .500 week with a Sunday afternoon victory. Upcoming this week: 1 vs LA Angels, 3 @ Toronto and 3 @ Texas

Los Angeles Angels (2-4): The Angels were a massive disappointment last year and a big bounce back was expected so losing 3 at home to the Mariners will have been a bit of a shock to the system. They bounced back nicely against the Astros in Houston and will want to give Seattle a taste of their own medicine this week. Upcoming this week: 1 @ Houston, 2 @ Seattle and 3 vs New York Mets

National League

East

Miami Marlins (5-2): The Marlins have surprised many with their start to this year after a dreadful 2013 and failure to make major improvements to a weak line up. However, they scored a fantastic 29 runs against Colorado and another 15 against the Padres in their supposedly pitcher friendly park. They won both series they played in this week but with two division match ups this coming week we should have a better idea what they are made of this time next week. Upcoming this week: 3 @ Washington and 3 @ Philadelphia

Atlanta Braves (4-2): In contrast the supposedly stacked Braves line up only managed to score 15 runs this week but what matters is that they still managed to win both their series this week. The started away at Milwaukee and recovered from an opening day loss to win the series 2-1 before winning the deciding game off their series against the Nationals Sunday. Upcoming this week: 3 vs NY Mets and 3 vs Washington

Washington Nationals (4-2): Considering the week their best player (Harper) has had they will be extremely pleased to finish the week 2 games over .500. They took all three games at the Mets to open the season before struggling to a 1-2 record against the Braves to end the week Upcoming this week: 3 vs Miami and 3 @ Atlanta

Philadelphia Phillies (3-3): The much maligned Phillies line up got off to a flyer on opening day with 14 runs against the Rangers in a mixed opening week to 2014. They then struggled to take advantage of a depleted Rangers rotation losing the next two games in Texas before heading to Chicago where they took two games off the Cubs. Losing the series finale on the Sunday against a troubled Cubs team will disappoint them but they may have expected to leave Texas empty handed so they would have taken 3-3 at the start of the week. Upcoming this week: 2 vs Milwaukee and 3 vs Miami

New York Mets (2-4): The Mets opened 2014 by taking one of the best young pitchers deep in his first innings of work but then gave up a 3 run lead and blew a save to lose on opening day. They followed that up with two more home losses before they welcomed Cincinnati to Citi Field where they salvaged the week with a 2-1 series win over one of the better teams in the NL last year. Upcoming this week: 3 @ Atlanta and 3 @ LA Angels

Central

Milwaukee Brewers (4-2): The Brewers will have been pleased to put 2013 behind them with an opening day shut out win over the Braves but will have been disappointed to give up the next two to lose the series. However, they will be delighted with their weeks work as they won all three games in Boston to finish the week 2 games over .500. Upcoming this week: 2 @ Philadelphia and 3 vs Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2): The Pirates will be pleased with their week at home winning two series against division rivals. They beat the Cubs twice to start the week before pulling off a welcome series win over the ever strong St. Louis Cardinals in their attempt to show that 2013 was no fluke. Upcoming this week: 3 @ Chicago Cubs and 3 @ Milwaukee

St. Louis Cardinals (3-3): St. Louis was involved in three one scores game to open 2014 and will have been pleased to take the series on the road against their major rivals in the central, the Reds. They won’t be too worried about dropping a couple of games to the Pirates on the road and will be looking to take a winning record out of their home stand this week. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Cincinnati and 3 vs Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds (2-4): Three tight games against the Cardinals means the Reds can take some positives out of losing their home opening series. However, they will be more disappointed to have been beaten twice by the Mets, who lost three times to the Nationals to open the year.  Upcoming this week: 3 @ St. Louis and 3 vs Tampa Bay

Chicago Cubs (2-4): Nothing is expected of the Cubs this year and the fact one of their young players managed to take the field wearing the wrong jersey could be used to by many to demonstrate what they feel about the Cubs this year. They will be pleased to have taken a game off Pittsburgh in the Steel City but they would have liked to have beaten the similarly lowly predicted Phillies at home. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Pittsburgh and 3 @ St. Louis

West

San Francisco (5-2): Three wins on the road to start the year against Arizona will have given the Giants a lot of confidence for their return trip to LA where they beat the Dodgers 2-1. The week could have been so much better had former ace Cain not have been taken deep a few times by the Dodgers on Sunday but overall they will be pleased to take 5 games out of their main two division rivals.  Upcoming this week: 3 vs Arizona and 3 vs Colorado

Los Angeles Dodgers (5-3): The Dodgers got off to an early start to the season in Australia where they beat the slow starting Diamondbacks twice. Upon their return to America they lost their opening night game against the Padres but bounced back to take the next two games in the series. They returned home Friday to face the Giants and will have been disappointed to drop two game against their biggest rivals in the West. Upcoming this week: 2 vs Detroit and 3 @ Arizona

Colorado Rockies (3-4): The Rockies will have been disappointed not to have made more of their trip to the fast starting Marlins but will be pleased to have taken two games off the Diamondbacks upon their return to Coors Field. Perhaps more exciting than the actual results was the way their young centre fielder (Blackmon) ended the week with the bat, which should give them a lot of hope going forward. Upcoming this week: 3 vs Chicago White Sox and  3 @ San Francisco

San Diego Padres (2-4): The Padres were many peoples dark horses enter 2014 and they will have been pleased to take the first game of the season against the Dodgers on opening night. However, they will be less pleased to have then dropped the next two games to the Dodgers before dropping another two in Miami. They won their final game of the week Sunday to end the week 2 games under .500. Upcoming this week: 3 @ Cleveland and 3 vs Detroit

Arizona Diamondbacks (2-7): Arizona would have hoped to return to America with at least one win in the column after their trip to land down under but alas it was not to be. Things didn’t get much better for them upon their return to America with them dropping another 3 games against San Fran and winning one to start the season. They then travelled to hitter friendly Coors Field where they only managed to win game against the expected bottom feeding Rockies. Upcoming this week: 3 @ San Francisco and 3 vs LA Dodgers

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NHL Playoffs – Western Conference http://1amsports.com/nhl/nhl-playoffs-western-conference http://1amsports.com/nhl/nhl-playoffs-western-conference#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 21:14:41 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5338 With this being the first year of realignment of the NHL divisions, the Western Conference has shown why it’s so tough to play in, with many as 4 teams out of contention by November including the Flames, Oilers, Jets even with their performance of late. This year we have saw the resurgence of the Colorado Avalanche under rookie NHL coach and former Stanley Cup winner Patrick Roy, a quick turnaround of the Dallas Stars and dominance of the California teams. I take a look at the 4 matchups from the Western Conference in this preview.

San Jose Sharks v LA Kings

A rematch from last years playoff where we saw the Kings win in 7 after winning all 4 games on home ice but losing all 3 on the road. With the Sharks getting home ice in this years playoff could be an advantage to see them make a run. Both teams play a similar style, controlling the puck, hard hitting, low scoring games, of course this is the game for the advance stats crowd where the two teams are in the top 5 in most of the categories. Goaltending could very well decide this series with Quick and Neimi going head to head as they did last year. I would give the edge to Quick, who after getting injured earlier in the season has returned into better form recently not much difference between their save% .916 for Quick and .912 Niemi.

Both teams have a lot of scorers in their team with the Sharks having 19 players in double digits, with 8 players over 30 points including two defencemen, Joe Pavelski who leading the team in points with 4 hat tricks this season, whilst the Kings have 16 players in double digit points with 7 players over 30 points, including Doughty who was one of the best players at the Olympics, Kopitar leads the team with 70 points one of the best two way forwards in the league.

Kings in 7

Colorado v Minnesota

From the #1 pick in the draft to winning the Central Division, going 52-20-8 accumulating 112 points, an impressive campaign for Patrick Roy who has done wonders for them including turning Varlamov into a Vezina candidate racking up 41 wins with a .927 sv%. Coming into the season they were concerned about their blue line but have been impressive infront of Varlamov. Nathan MacKinnon the favourite for the Calder trophy after 65 point season as a rookie. The concern for the Avs will be Matt Duchene who been out with an knee injury, seems likely he will miss round one of the playoffs but even then may not be 100%. Avs have plenty of offensive power, the key will be the blue line.

Unlike the Avs, the Wild have big issues in goal with Harding, Backstrom going down with injury, rookie Kuemper starting last half of the season and playing superbly at the trade deadline they brought in Bryzgalov from the Oilers who has carried his form from the Oilers winning 7 games including 3 shutouts. Experience playing in the playoffs last year should be benefit for the Wild after getting knocked out in 5 in last year. Ryan Suter will be the key guy on the blueline with him regularly playing 25+ minutes a night, expecting him to play possibly 30+ minutes a night if games go into OT, after a stellar Olympics Mikael Granlund has carried his form for Minnesota finishing the regular season with 41 points.

This is a interesting matchup with the goaltending being the key battle between the two teams, the Avs are high octane, fast pace team who like to pressure the team more up the ice, where the Wild are a team who like to dictate the game to their style where its more dump and chase but have enough talent offensively to score goals, all but likely it will be Varlamov v Bryzgalov as the goaltenders during this series.

Avs in 6

Dallas Stars v Anaheim Ducks

One last hurrah for the Finnish legend Teemu Selanne after he announced at the beginning of the season this would be his final season before he hangs up his skates. The Ducks have been one of the most dominate teams in the league this year, missing out on the president trophy lossing it by a point to the Bruins, finishing the season with a record of 58-20-8 (117 points), dominating at with a 29-8-4 record. The Ducks have one of the deepest rosters coming into the playoffs, they have 21 players in double digit points including 9 players over 30 points, their two bests players Getzlaf and Perry finish the regular season with 80+ points. They aren’t lacking in scoring, defensively they are pretty sound and play similar style to Colorado, forcing teams into mistakes, bringing the puck out their own zone and making nifty passes but the biggest question mark is goaltending, Jonas Hiller has been the clear #1 for most of the season, but since the Olympic break he has really struggled with Anderson playing much better and with best goalie prospect Gibson looking sharp in the games he played, Hiller could be benched quickly in this series if things go wrong.

The Dallas Stars clinched the final playoff spot during the final week of the regular season but have been playing playoff hockey for the last month or so with the Coyotes on their backs. Jim Nill and Lindy Ruff have done a fantastic job turning the ship around so quickly, after a early struggles in the season, with Ruff figuring his best line combinations they have been playing good hockey, it starts with Tyler Seguin after coming over in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Bruins, who has been electric since he has joined the team finishing the season with 84 points including 37 points, his linemate Jamie Benn has 79 points. 18 players with double digits, 9 over 30 points 2 defenceman. Rookie Valeri Nichushkin who really struggled in the first few months, with him playing 3rd/4th line minutes but since being bumped up to the top line he been a different player with him being called up to Russian Olympic team.

The Ducks have 4 really good lines and so much depth that they should win this series, with the Stars relying on their top 3 lines and haven’t got the same amount of depth as Anaheim but in saying that like the Avs series goaltending could play a major role with Hiller looking really shaky and Kari Lehtonen playing his first playoffs it will be interesting how they both play early in the series, with both teams having capable backups in Anderson and Tim Thomas.

Ducks in 5.

St Louis v Chicago

Central rivals go head to head which should be a fantastic series between the two teams, with St Louis hoping to bounce back from a disappointing few weeks losing 6 games in a row, even with those 6 losses the Blues have had an impressive season with a 52-23-7 (111 points) record, at the trade deadline they got better adding goaltender Ryan Miller from the Sabres as well as Steve Ott to add to the offence, Miller hasn’t missed a step since joining the team at the deadline. The Blues have 7 players over 40 points, including 4 over 50 points including Alexander Steen who finished the year with a career high of 33 goals. The Blues will have to overcome a number of injuries to key guys including Backes, Oshie, Berglund, Sobotka and Morrow as well as Tarensko who missed the final 15 games to a broken thumb, who all could miss beginning of the series.

Like the Blues, Chicago have struggled of late going 5-5-0 in their last 10 games of the season, they have their own injury issues including Toews and Kane missing last few weeks of the season, they should be fully healthy for game one of the series. Chicago finished 3rd in the Central division behind the Blues and Avalanche with a 46-21-15 (107 points) record. The Blackhawks have 5 players with over 60 points including Duncan Keith with 61 points who likely be a candidate for the Norris Trophy.

Both teams know each other quite well, their will be nothing of secret when these two teams but injuries to the Blues could play a huge impact on how this series plans out and could be on the shoulder of Miller who was brought in for occasions like this. Crawford will have to stand up again they have a capable backup in Raanta who could come in as relief for Crawford.

Blues in 7.

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Out of the Park 14 – Review http://1amsports.com/features/out-of-the-park-14-review http://1amsports.com/features/out-of-the-park-14-review#comments Sat, 08 Feb 2014 20:21:30 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5321 I’ll make a bet with you right now… that you have never heard of the Out of the Park series before reading the title of this article 30 seconds ago. I accept that this is a bet I will lose to the odd person but I can guarantee that I will win more than I lose. To those of you who this is the first time seeing the name then you are in exactly the same position I was a year ago when a member of my fantasy baseball league mentioned the game in a throw away comment on twitter. Within minutes I had found the game online and became obsessed with trying it. There was just one small problem I was in the final year of my degree and I really did not have time to become hooked on a game but did that stop me downloading? No it didn’t and what I found not only amazed me but has given hours of enjoyment.

Getting Started

You won’t find OOTP in shops but getting hold of it is extremely easy as it can be downloaded straight to either your PC or Mac within 30 minutes from http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/out-of-the-park-baseball/index.php . When you install the game and load it up for the first time you have a number of options presented in front of you including jumping straight into the start of the 2013 MLB season, creating your own custom game or starting a historical game from any year dating back to 1871. I will discuss the custom feature later in the article but for now I will focus on the part where many of you will be drawn to starting a major league game. Once you click that option all that is left to do is make your profile and select your team and you can be on your way. You can then decide to choose your level of participation from actively managing your team to being the commissioner of the league with each level having its own challenges and enjoyment. As commissioner you have the right to force through trades and edit player’s stats in season while as a team manager you have less control over the league in general, you can control every little aspect of your team including positions, batting order, rotation, trades and contracts.

Once you select your team and proceed into the game you are faced with the home screen which throughout the season will alert you to pressing matters with your team advise you about interesting players on waivers or the trade block and will inform you about your owner’s mood and where he feels the team could improve. Throughout the game this screen is vitally important and it’s a shame that occasionally the game itself doesn’t automatically revert you too this screen as it can often get forgotten in season. My first instinct when I started the game for the first time was I just want to play a game and fortunately it drops you right in on opening day so you can get straight into the action.

Managing Your Team

In either GM mode or manager mode you have full control of the team outside of games and this includes setting your starting line ups/rotation and managing your farm system. If you’re relatively new to the sport or are just not interested in the general managing of the farm system the game does present an option where you can ask the computer to sort these aspects out.

Players are rated on the game from one to twenty in all aspects but a general overview can be garnered from the convenient star rating with players having both a current rating and a potential rating to give you a quick overview of that players value short and long term. Add in that each player is ranked on just a few aspects for batting/pitching and the evaluating of players becomes an efficient and reasonable easy process where as in other games there can be loads of different attributes that take an age to compare and digest for each player.

The most fun part of any management sim is always the acquisition of players and on OOTP trading is the best way to do this but this is where problems with the game arise. Initially trading is very heavily weighted in your favour so you can pull off extremely unrealistic trades such as acquiring Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in return for Beltre. In addition, the game appears to struggle when prospects are involved and it is very easy just to throw in a prospect with a high potential and balance it with a couple of lower potential prospects. However, the unrealism of trading is something that can be adjusted in the game but it is not an obvious option to change and I would look to add it to the initial set up screen in the future. Another issue with trades is that the setup is team based so you cannot simply scroll through players of your position of need and this makes the whole process a lot slower especially as the game progresses and players aren’t where you expect them to be. The team set up does have its advantages as it allows you to look at the overall picture of the team your trading with and decide which players you want to throw into the mix. A really good aspect of making trades is that if you propose a trade that isn’t to the liking of the other manager you can press one box and it will evaluate the trade and offer you a range of options to throw in to balance the trade. This really streamlines the process as saves you keep adding and removing players to see how it affects things.

Free agency and contract extensions are a real credit to the game as you enter the negotiation screen where the player puts forward his wishes and you can either match it or try to negotiate down. During negotiations you can see the mood of the player and the counter offers they propose are heavily dependent on the move. Once you make an offer to a free agent the player takes time to think about it and will either come back to you saying he’s taken the deal, let you know you’re still his primary option or tell you that another team have offered more and that you need to up your game. This back and forward adds a real fun element during the offseason and gives you a real feel of what front offices must face in the offseason.

Another fantastic aspect of the game in team management is the salary commitment screen where you can see who earns what for the next 10 years and how your total salary looks. This gives you full control over who you can afford to go after in free agency and who you can try to trade in order to free up salary in order to extend a player or sign that wanted free agent.

In Game

field view

The control you have over an individual game is varied and when you first select to play you are presented with a screen showing you your line-up and starting pitcher (one of the tabs at the top of the screen gives you the chance to make the necessary tweaks) and on the left hand side is bar with numerous options that you can choose to control yourself or have one of your coaches deal with. Once you have it set up to your preference then you can get started with the game itself and here you have two main options: do you want to view the game pitch by pitch or go for the much quicker option of one pitch play (allowing you to simulate to the pitch where the action of the at bat happens). You control the game using either your mouse or your number pad where you can control all aspect of offence (steals and bunts) and defence (fielding shifts and whether to hit/walk a batter).

The commentary aspect of the game is fantastic with little things making it an overall picture that really enhances the game and the speed of this can be controlled to make the game as detailed or as quick as you want. The left hand side of the screen displays the score, the batting teams line up and the current pitcher so you can quickly see who you or your opponents have coming up in the order and how the pitcher is fairing. In game you can choose when to warm your bull pen up or when to bring in that pinch hitter/runner to enhance your team and it all adds to the fun of the game.

Long Term Prospects

I have played numerous years in both OOTP 14 and 13 and if you can strike that balance between winning and keeping your team out of contract trouble then you can go years without having to rebuild. This keeps the game fun and means you are always challenging but the well-built aspect of unpredictability in how players will perform year to year means eventually you will hamper your team by signing players to poor contracts. However, while re-building is not a huge chore if you have been successful you can occasionally get trigger happy owners and all your hard work can be ruined.

The biggest issue with any management game over long term is the move from household names to complete unknowns and initially these new find make you smile and consider yourself a genius. The trouble was I just could not connect with these players the way I did with the household names and I soon lost interest in that game and started fresh with another team.

Custom Feature

The ability to start a game where you select the makeup of the entire game is a really fun aspect and is something I couldn’t wait to try. I set up a world league where I gave cities around the world a team and I was excited at the chance to draft Mike Trout for my London franchise but alas with custom mode comes custom players and that ruined the experience for me a little for the same reason as described above with the long term aspect of the game.

Conclusion

As with any game OOTP 14 has its niggles but overall the game was thoroughly enjoyable and in my opinion well worth its $39.99 (approximately £24.37) initial price tag. Now that you can pick the game up for $19.99 (£12.18) it is something that baseball fans who are excited for the new season should definitely do and for non-baseball fans it is a game that even with little knowledge of the sport you can enjoy while learning some really detailed aspects of the sport and grow into it so while it is so cheap why not?

For knowledgeable baseball fans the detail in the contracts and aspects (such as the rule 5 draft) will not only give you a real taste of what a baseball manager deals with but may also teach you something that you just weren’t able to take it for years through just watching and following the sport.

The game is highly addicting and perhaps the best review I can give this game is that after only a year of watching the sport this game gripped me so tightly my flatmates had to uninstall the game to prevent it from ruining my degree it was that good!

Overview

Rating: 90/100

Pros:

  • Free Agency
  • Player evaluations
  • Ability to control as much or a little as you want
  • Depth of the game but yet relative simplicity of each aspect
  • Superb scouting
  • International and custom leagues
  • Unpredictability (players get injured, owners die, rules get changed are just a few examples)

Cons:

  • Default trade engine
  • Random players on custom mode
  • Lack of some stats that real deep baseball fans will miss
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Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville – Scouting Report http://1amsports.com/nfl/teddy-bridgewater-qb-louisville-scouting-report http://1amsports.com/nfl/teddy-bridgewater-qb-louisville-scouting-report#comments Mon, 13 Jan 2014 10:11:37 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5311 When I began putting this together I really wanted to be controversial and declare Bridgewater as not worthy of top five status. I really wanted to but alas it is impossible. Like it or not, Teddy Bridgewater is destined for a top two pick. The only reason I say top two and not number one is that quite easily Johnny Manziel (declaration assumed) could intrigue the Houston Texans enough with his undeniable talents to warrant selection (and the Texas connection may swing it). If Manziel does go first and the St Louis still have that number two selection untraded, there will be an almighty scramble to ascertain it from them. Bridgewater is just that talented.

Let’s start with his arm. Teddy can make all the throws with relative ease. He can get that zip required to squeeze balls through tight windows as well as executing the touch needed to drop balls in a bucket. His arm strength on deeper balls is slightly less than ideal and under-throwing deep balls in the NFL is asking for trouble.  He doesn’t always incorporate his lower body is deeper throws, so undoubtedly the additional arm strength will come as he progresses.

His mechanics are great. He is smooth and fluid with his hips. He opens his shoulders up perfectly when rolling to his left and throwing. He can throw on the run to his right with great accuracy. His footwork is borderline exquisite and his release is polished. These all feed through to his accuracy, which is impressive. After throwing 64.5% as a freshman, he threw 68.5% and 71.0% in his sophomore and junior years respectively. 

Bridgewater is athletic. His 40 time won’t blow you away but he has more than enough to escape when needed and get those yards. He doesn’t tend to do that though and really is the classic pocket passer. He stands tall in the pocket and doesn’t get happy feet. He knows when has to take a hit to get that completion. He is quick enough to identify the hot receiver on blitz plays and doesn’t panic in the slightest.

This sort of leads me on nicely to perhaps his best talent, his intangibles. He is a leader, elevating those around him, and is as competitive as they come. However his pure football intelligence is something else. He took over the calling of audibles and killing plays in his sophomore year. It was up to him to read defenses and make calls. He leaves the Cardinals absolutely pro-ready and able to start day one. It is fair to say that teams will love him once they start talking to him. Bridgewater wants perfection and will work until he gets it.

The major slight on Bridgewater this year was the schedule he faced, which is in no way his fault. He can only play against the eleven men standing opposite him. Let’s have a look at the passing defenses of the teams he played against:

Team FBS Rank Passing Yds/Game TB Yds vs Team Differential
Ohio 43rd 217.9 355 +137.1
E Kentucky N/A 244.8 397 +152.2
Kentucky 64th 229.8 250 +20.2
FIU 54th 224.3 212 -12.3
Temple 119th 298.6 348 +49.4
Rutgers 120th 312.0 310 -2.0
UCF 76th 239.5 341 +101.5
South Florida 26th 211.0 344 +133.0
Connecticut 87th 249.2 288 +38.8
Houston 108th 267.2 203 -64.2 
Memphis 97th 254.3 220 -34.3
Cincinnati 29th 211.2 255 +43.8
Miami (FL) 90th 249.8 447 +197.2

As is evident, the best passing defense he played against was South Florida who were ranked 26th and only three teams were ranked in the top 50. The differential numbers can be misleading but for me the important ones are the games against UCF, USF and Miami. 

The UCF game was Louisville’s only loss of the season and that was by only three points. Bridgewater stacked up the yards in a game where he had to be at his best as UCF’s own first round QB prospect stepped up. The game in Tampa against USF was the next test and facing the best passing defense on their schedule, Teddy delivered again and led the Cardinals to victory. In his final college game he led Louisville to bowl game victory with a fantastic 447 yards against a team that only allowed 233.4 per game before then. That game was his sign off as he headed for the NFL and he delivered big time. 

Despite notable performances in key games this season, it is still impossible to overlook the weak schedule he faced. The defenses he will face next season will be incomparably better and demand a lot more of him. Another negative thrown about is his frame and therefore his durability at the next level. He is listed at 6’3 and 205 pounds. Aaron Rodgers was listed at 6’2 and the same weight in his final year at Cal so you can see the wonder of NFL weight rooms. The only difference is that Rodgers sat for three years pumping iron whereby Bridgewater will probably be starting this September.

All things considered, with several teams in the market for a new QB in May, Bridgewater has talent you just cannot deny and will go early in round one. For me it’s top two but if the Rams sit at two to select Jadeveon Clowney or Sammy Watkins, then he could fall to the Jaguars at three (who would make that pick in one second). Teddy is destined for great things.

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Buffalo Bills – Draft Needs for 2014 http://1amsports.com/nfl/buffalo-bills-draft-needs-for-2014 http://1amsports.com/nfl/buffalo-bills-draft-needs-for-2014#comments Wed, 08 Jan 2014 12:43:48 +0000 http://1amsports.com/?p=5307 After another 6-10 season, the quest for their first winning season since 2004 continues for the Bills. The 2013 season was hit and miss on both sides of the ball. Offensively Buffalo ran the ball well finishing 2nd in the NFL but ended the year 28th in passing with under 200 yards a game. EJ Manuel had an injury-hit season where he never really got into a groove. After going 2-2 in his first four starts (including a game winning two minute drive at home to Carolina), he was injured in the eventual loss at Cleveland and missed the next four games. He also missed the last two games of the season with a sprained knee. Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller were solid on the ground and the young receiving corps was consistent all year. Second round pick Robert Woods had 587 yards in his rookie season, which was only ten yards behind #1 receiver Stevie Johnson.

The defense really stepped up this year under Mike Pettine. They finished 2nd in interceptions, 2nd in sacks and 4th in passing yards allowed. The improvement in the pass rush was evident. Mario Williams bettered his first season in Buffalo with a team-leading 13 sacks but the remainder of the starting defensive line really came alive. Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus improved from a combined 14.5 sacks in 2012 to 28 in 2013. The increased pressure here translated nicely into interceptions with 23 in the year (up 13 on last season). The massive issue was stopping the run with the Bills finishing 28th in rushing yards allowed.

Buffalo are a young team, especially on offense but there are some key needs in the draft in May.

Quarterback

EJ Manuel finished the season with 180 completions on 306 attempts (58.8%), 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Manuel was a surprise first round selection and has proven to be okay in his rookie season but when he was bad, boy he was bad. Against Tampa Bay he threw four interceptions, no touchdowns and finished the game with a QBR of just 3.8. There is enough there to suggest EJ Manuel can become the player he was drafted to become and there is little question he will be the starter in 2014.

Thad Lewis has proven to be a more than capable backup and went 2-3 as a starter (Manuel going 4-7). He actually had a better statistical year than Manuel but the former Florida State quarterback clearly has more upside. Jeff Tuel is the current third quarterback but is easily replaceable. There will be some talented guys in the deeper rounds so picking one up would make sense. Kevin Kolb spent the year on injured reserve and it is unknown if he will continue playing at all.

Running back

Spiller

CJ Spiller was expected to have a monster season but unfortunately this did not materialise. His yards per carry fell to 4.6 from 6.0 in 2012. He led the team in yards with 927 but that was good for only 15th in the NFL. He knocked in just two touchdowns all year with Fred Jackson getting nine. Jackson had another solid year and although he will be entering his eighth year in the NFL in 2014, he still has a lot to offer to the Bills. This may be the draft to look at picking up a young back on the third day especially as the third back role is realistically up for grabs. Tashard Choice began the season in that role but was released in December. Ronnie Wingo was called up from the practice squad but only made one rushing attempt for four yards.

Offensive line

Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears played every single snap at left and right tackle respectively. Glenn was projected inside coming into the NFL but has proven his doubters wrong with two very solid seasons protecting the blindside. Pears played well but is replaceable at 31 years old. Eric Woods was average but dependable at center with the remainder of the inside really needing an upgrade.

As the season progressed it became evident that the Bills were not even close to replacing Andy Levitre whom departed for the Titans last offseason. Both Doug Legursky and Kraig Urbik can easily be improved on and the depth at guard is even worse. This may be an issue addressed in free agency but bringing in some talent in the draft makes sense too. Glenn can be slid to right tackle and the first round selection can be used on that franchise left tackle that will mean the offensive line is bookended by two quality players for the next decade. The deeper rounds will be perfect to find a solid guard prospect.

Tight end

Scott Chandler finished the season as the Bills leading receiver with 655 yards on 53 completions. He’s a solid player but isn’t much more than a size mismatch at 6’7”. He doesn’t have the pace to stretch the field and despite his size, just isn’t the red zone threat the Bills need him to be. He finished the season with two touchdowns whereas a comparable player with similar issues at quarterback in Jordan Cameron with the Browns had seven scores.

The other four tight ends on the roster combined for just 10 receptions all year. None of these players have shown any likelihood of becoming a starter. Buffalo need a true threat and with Chandler due to become a free agent in the offseason, tight end is key need for the draft in May. There are two obvious options but only one arguably worth their first round selection. Eric Ebron had a great year at North Carolina while Austin Seferian-Jenkins has all the ability but a couple of red flags that may force drop him to the second round.

Wide receiver

The Bills drafted Robert Woods out of USC last year to be that number two guy to help out Stevie Johnson and the rookie delivered. He finished the year with 40 receptions for 587 yards and three touchdowns. Stevie Johnson had a poor year by his standards with only 597 yards whilst missing four games through injury and the unfortunate death of his mother. The unsettled quarterback play did not help his cause as he sought a fourth straight 1,000 yard season. Johnson remains one of the top route-runners in the NFL but he and Woods offer very much the same thing.

Marquise Goodwin and TJ Graham offer the speed option and can burn almost any cornerback in the league. Chris Hogan, an upcoming exclusive rights free agent, offers a bit more physicality and good hands but he will not ever be any more than the #3/#4 receiver. The Bills have players who can create mismatches but what they do not have is a big, physical receiver who knows how to get open. If the Bills are to invest in EJ Manuel, and at this stage there is nothing to say they shouldn’t, they need to get him that true number one receiver. Mike Evans out of Texas A&M would be a very interesting pick for the Bills.

Defensive end

Mario Williams

As mentioned earlier, 2013 was a franchise year for the Bills defense and the play of the four guys up front was the main cause of this. The defense set a franchise record of 57 sacks last season and this group accounted for 43 of those. Right defensive end Mario Williams had a lot of expectation placed upon him after the big free agent deal that brought him to Buffalo in 2012. He first season ended up being rather disappointing but this year he bounced back with a Pro Bowl campaign setting the Bills single game sack record with 4.5 sacks at home to Carolina in week two.

Opposite Mario, Alan Branch isn’t the same pass-rushing threat (finishing the year with no sacks) but is strong against the run and has the ability to occupy one or more offensive linemen. He was an impending free agent but the Bills acted quickly to sign him to a new three year deal. Jerry Hughes had a productive season with ten sacks and 42 tackles. Hughes had just five sacks in his first three years in the league with the Colts and was generally impressive with his pass rush. Unfortunately he was a liability in coverage.

Going into next year, the defensive end positions are locked down with Williams and Hughes. Branch, as well as Corbin Bryant, will provide backup while Alex Carrington (an upcoming free agent who spent last year on injured reserve) is likely to not be re-signed. The Bills may look to add end some depth later in the draft.

Defensive tackle

Kyle Williams was arguably the best defensive player for the Bills in 2013 despite the emergence of Kiko Alonso. He was consistently good all year constantly breaking through offensive lines pressuring and disrupting opposition quarterbacks. He had double digit sacks for the first time in his career and will be in Hawaii for the third year in a row.

Next to him Marcell Dareus had the best of his three years in the NFL recording 71 tackles, 7.5 sacks and his first forced fumble. Dareus’ talents have never been in question since his first round selection out of Alabama. Unfortunately towards the end of 2013 some question marks crept in. He was suspended for each of the final games of the season due to lateness to team meetings. Dareus has the potential to be a top defensive tackle in the NFL but it is key that he eradicates these sorts of errors. He is also prone to the numbskull mistake on the field like jumping offside on a field goal attempt during the week 17 game at New England that then led to a touchdown.

Like defensive end, the only need for the tackle position in the draft is depth. Rookie Stefan Charles did okay when called upon but another young player to provide backup behind Williams and Dareus would be ideal.

Linebacker

The biggest frustration with the linebacker corps and the front seven as a group is that they can pass rush really well, but struggle so much against the run. Kiko Alonso had a rookie year to remember. He played every single snap, finished third in the NFL with 159 tackles and also notched four interceptions, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Already a huge fan favourite, Kiko has secured that MLB position for years to come. Manny Lawson, acquired in free agency prior to 2013, had his best season since entering the league and at 29 years old has enough left in the tank to return next campaign with the same tenacity.

The other two linebackers in the group, Arthur Moats and Nigel Bradham, have never looked like full-time players at outside linebackers and will always be backups at best. Clearly there is a gap in this group for a young OLB and with three talented options available for their first round selection in Khalil Mack (Buffalo), CJ Mosley (Alabama) and Anthony Barr (UCLA), this pick may make itself.

Cornerback

2012 first round selection Stephon Gilmore was disappointing this season after a good rookie campaign. To be fair he broke his left wrist in preseason and missed the first five games. It was obvious he was playing catch up both in learning Pettine’s defensive schemes and obviously physically. There were a lot of things expected of him in 2013 and next year even more will be expected. Gilmore is a very talented cornerback and will be the #1 in 2014.

Across the turf from Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin had one hell of a resurgence last season. Leodis struggled in his first five years in the league at cornerback and when his rookie deal finished bringing him back did not seem worth considering. However, the Bills did and it proved to be a good decision. McKelvin was quite easily Buffalo’s best cornerback all season. He finished the year with 72 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.

Backups Ron Brooks and rookie Nickell Robey had average and good seasons respectively. Brooks had just nine tackles in the 11 games in featured in. Robey, an undrafted rookie out of USC, was the starting nickel cornerback and played in all 16 games (as well as over half the defensive snaps). He had 39 tackles, three sacks, ten passes defended, one forced fumble and a pick-six interception.

Going into 2014, the three starters in Gilmore, McKelvin and Robey are set but again it’s quality in depth that the Bills need.

Safety

Free safety is either a massive draft need or nothing to worry about at all. This all depends on if the Bills decide to give Jairus Byrd the big contract he deserves. Byrd held out in training camp last season and eventually was franchise tagged. The Bills may choose to tag him again at a cost of around $8.3m but really they need to make a statement of intent and sign Jairus long-term. Despite only playing 11 games due to injury Byrd still proved he is one of the best free safeties in the league. He finished the season with 48 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, four interceptions and a Pro Bowl invitation.

Aaron Williams made the transition from cornerback to strong safety prior to the 2013 season and played very well in his new role. He was still able to cover cornerback when injuries required it with Jim Leonhard coming into cover him, which gave Pettine versatility in the secondary. Williams finished the year with 82 tackles, 11 passes defended and four interceptions. This was despite missing the final two games of the season with a rib injury.

Leonhard was picked up on a one year deal before the season after being released by the Saints. His return to Buffalo, where he started his career, was good. He ended up playing over half of Buffalo’s defensive snaps covering injuries to Williams and Byrd finishing with 37 tackles and four interceptions. He played in every game and did more than enough to earn another year. Da’Norris Searcy, a 4th round pick in 2011, started the year in speculator fashion with a fumble recovery for a touchdown at home to the Patriots and then went on to have a solid season with 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a pick-six. He established himself as the Bills’ third safety.

The Bills drafted two safeties last year in Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks in anticipation of replacing Byrd. Neither player saw a lot of playing time in 2013 but do add depth to the class. Obviously the decision to tie Byrd up with a long term deal is going to immediately impact the Bills draft day decisions. If he goes, then the Bills may look to free agency for a replacement or to the draft for a guy who can come straight in such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama.

Special teams

Buffalo drafted talented kicker Dustin Hopkins out of Florida State last year but after he went down with a groin injury they looked to Dan Carpenter. He went on to have a fantastic year with 33 field goals on 36 attempts including four of six from beyond 50 yards. He is an impending free agent but it would be madness of the Bills to let him walk. Brian Moorman had a solid year at punter but is also a free agent soon. He may or may not be re-signed but the Bills won’t be looking for a punter in the draft regardless.

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