The NFL Draft Is Upon Us

The NFL Draft Is Upon Us

The Sixers are done
(mercifully), the Flyers are playing out the string, and the Phillies are just
plain hard to watch at the moment. Now who’s ready to watch Roger Goodell read some
names off of index cards?

The NFL Draft is always an
event of tremendous intrigue, but even more so than usual when the Eagles are
picking as high as fourth overall. Assuming they stay in that spot, that’s a
player who should define the franchise for years to come – for better or for
worse.

Case in point: the last time
the Birds were up this high in the order, they wound up taking Donovan McNabb
with the second pick in 1999. Is there any one individual player who better
personified the Andy Reid era than his quarterback of 11 seasons?

Coincidentally or not, that
was Reid’s first draft, the same as this is Chip Kelly’s first draft. Whatever
the Eagles decide to do with the pick, it will be somebody who could ultimately
become synonymous with the future successes or failures of this head coaching
regime.

If they stay at No. 4:

Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel will
be off the board. If the Raiders stay at three, their pick should be Sharrif
Floyd. I believe at this point we can narrow the selection down to three
players: Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson, Utah DT Star Lotulelei, or Oregon OLB Dion
Jordan.

Jordan is a freak athlete, and
has the obvious ties to Chip, but I’m not sure they’ll have him ranked as the
best player available for this spot. Lotulelei fills a bigger need for the
defense, and seems to be the more NFL ready of the two, so he should be higher
up on the board. If Johnson is legitimately the best player available though,
and they can’t reach a suitable trade, it would make sense to bolster the
offensive line, which also happens to be the safest decision.

If they trade down:

Don’t expect it to be a big
move. The teams that are interested in trading up will likely be targeting Johnson,
as the Lions (No. 5), Cardinals (No. 7), and Chargers (No. 11) all need help at
tackle. Detroit would probably try to jump ahead of the Eagles to play it safe,
or simply stay put and hope for the best. The Eagles may not be willing to drop
all the way to 11, and almost certainly not without San Diego’s second rounder
(No. 45) as part of the package.

Arizona seems to be the
logical partner. It keeps Philly within striking distance of the top of the
draft, where it’s possible somebody like a Lotulelei or BYU DE Ziggy Ansah
could still be available. That’s who I would expect them to target there,
unless Dion Jordan falls, or the buzz over Geno Smith is real. It’s worth
noting the Cards’ pick is one spot ahead of Buffalo, who might also take a hard
look at a quarterback there.

My pick:

I would be happy with Johnson
or Ansah, less so with Jordan or Smith. If I was pulling the levers though, I
would select Lotulelei. The Eagles need a big body with scheme versatility,
whether it’s for a 3-4, a 4-3 under, or whatever defense you can dream up. He
fills a definite, immediate hole, and may very well be the best player
available.

I like the idea of trading
down a few spots with Arizona and seeing if they can steal Lotulelei at No. 7,
with Ansah being the backup plan. Neither the Lions nor the Browns need another
defensive tackle, so Star should slide. However, I would be just as happy with
Lotulelei at four overall.

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Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).