A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
THE FALCONS GET THEIR GUY; TONEY TO THE NEW YORK GIANTS
For the two days prior to the draft there were reports that the Atlanta Falcons were shopping the fourth pick in the NFL Draft but either the reports were factual or a smokescreen we’ll never know because the Falcons used that fourth pick to get their guy, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. Pitts is the highest drafted tight end in history.
In the two weeks prior to the draft, it seemed NFL people were falling out of love with Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney. One mock draft had him falling all the way down to the third round but at least half of them had him going in the second round. Obviously, the New York Giants weren’t paying attention to the keyboard cowboys who do these mock drafts or the so-called reports that Toney had slipped out of the first round. Not only did the Giants take Toney in the first round, but they took him at No. 20, which is about five spots earlier than nearly anyone projected.
By adding Pitts to their roster, the Falcons might have the most dangerous passing attack in the National Football League with perennial All-Pro Julio Jones (848 receptions for 12,896 yards, 60 touchdowns) and explosive Calvin Ridley (216 catches for 3,061 yards) 26 TDs on the outside and 4-time Pro Bowl QB Matt Ryan (55,767 passing yards, 347 TDPs).
Toney goes to a team that desperately needs playmakers at wide receiver. The Giants threw only 12 touchdown passes and averaged only 6.5 yards per pass attempt and 10.4 per catch last year. Prior to Toney, the last time a Florida wide receiver was selected in the first round was 2009 when Percy Harvin was chosen 22nd by the Minnesota Vikings.
WILL TEBOW TRY A FOOTBALL COMEBACK AS A TIGHT END?
Reports surfaced Thursday that former Florida QB and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow worked out as a tight end with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Naturally, that caused quite a stir on social media, which, for the most part, hasn’t been kind about Tebow’s post-Florida football career.
Tebow is 33 years old and hasn’t played football since the 2012 season in which he completed 6-8 passes for 39 yards and ran for 102 with the New York Jets. He spent the two previous seasons with the Denver Broncos where he completed 173-361 passes (47.9 percent) for 2,383 yards and 17 touchdowns (9 interceptions) while running for 887 yards and 12 more TDs.
His NFL career ended because he wasn’t a very accurate passer nor did he do a particularly good job of reading defenses. From 2016-19 he played minor league baseball in the New York Mets organization, rising as high as AAA. His career batting average was .223 with 18 homers and 107 RBI.
As great a story Tebow making an NFL comeback as a tight end would be, I believe the game has passed him by. He had a chance to make the switch to tight end in the year after that disastrous season with the Jets but he wanted to play quarterback so his career flamed out. Baseball people who saw him in the minors say he probably could have had a good major league career had he played college baseball. Their consensus was he spent too many years away from the game to be successful.
That’s the exact reason why I think football has passed him by. He’s never run pass routes or caught passes in tight coverage nor has he ever lined up with his hand on the ground, expected to block somebody. I agree with former Florida All-America tight end Ben Troupe that tight end isn’t a position you acquire this late in life, particularly when you haven’t played football since the 2013 training camp. I am of the opinion Tebow would have been given a fair shot at making the conversion to tight end years ago, but I don’t think it’s going to happen now.
Again, I think it would be a great story if Tebow were to make a comeback this late in life at a position he’s never played before, but the time to convert to tight end was a long, long time ago.
THE GATORS HAVE A THREE-FOLD PROBLEM WITH VANDERBILT It might an upset for anyone other than Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter to be selected in the first two picks of the Major League Baseball Draft in June. Rocker is 9-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 64 innings this year. Leiter leads the nation in strikeouts with 102 in 60-1/3 innings. He’s 7-1 with a 1.49 ERA. Rocker is the Friday night starter for No. 2 Vanderbilt (31-7, 13-5 SEC East) while Leiter goes Saturday night.
Those two righthanders are a formidable obstacle for the 9th-ranked Gators (28-12, 11-7 SEC East), who will be trying to make up a couple of games in the standings when the Commodores come to town for a three-game set beginning tonight. As good as Rocker and Leiter are, however, the player who might be keeping Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan up at night isn’t a pitcher. It’s right fielder Enrique Bradfield, who drives opposing pitchers nuts when he gets on base. Bradfield, who is hitting .331, leads the nation in stolen bases with 30 and he’s only been caught twice. He gets big leads and forces pitchers to lose focus throwing over to first to keep him close. Last week Mississippi State’s Logan Tanner, thought to have the best arm and quickest release of any catcher in the college game, posed no problem. Bradfield was 4-4 on the basepaths against the Bulldogs, contributing mightily to Vanderbilt taking the series with two wins.
The Gators will need to keep Bradfield off the basepaths because they don’t figure to score many runs against Rocker and Leiter. As a team, the Gators are hitting .285 but they have struck out 325 times in 40 games. Also, going against pitchers like that, the Gators can’t afford to give Vanderbilt extra outs, something that’s been a problem all year. Florida ranks dead last in the SEC in fielding, having committed 45 errors.
Florida will be going with Franco Aleman (1-1, 3.50 ERA) tonight with Tommy Mace (4-0, 4.00 ERA) Saturday and Hunter Barco (6-2, 4.50 ERA) Sunday.
Gator to watch: Jud Fabian has broken out of his slump in the last seven games, during which he has hit three homers, four doubles and driven in six runs while raising his batting average to .261. Fabian ranks second in the SEC with 14 home runs.
CAN THE GATORS KEEP MIZZOU’S BIG BOPPERS IN THE YARD?
It’s a critical weekend for Florida softball as the 3rd-ranked Gators (35-7, 14-4 SEC) travel to Missouri (34-10, 12-6 SEC) for a three-game series with the 15th-ranked Tigers. The Gators come into the weekend in second place in the SEC behind league leader Arkansas (38-7, 17-4 SEC). Arkansas finishes up the SEC portion of the schedule this weekend at LSU but the Gators still have a three-game series against Texas A&M in Gainesville.
The key for the Gators will be to neutralize Missouri’s powerful offense. The Tigers lead the league in hitting (.337) and rank second in home runs (68). Especially important for Florida will be to keep Missouri’s big boppers Kim Wert and Hatti Moore in the yard. Wert (.336 batting average, 45 RBI) has left the yard 15 times while Moore (.305, 38 RBI) has hit 13 homers.
The Gators don’t have the kind of offense to get into a slugfest with Mizzou. Florida is hitting .288 with only 38 homers all year. For Florida to win the series, the Gators have to get solid pitching and defense. The Gators lead the SEC with a 1.49 ERA and they’re the best fielding team in the league with only 21 errors all season. The Gators rank eighth in the country in ERA and fifth in fielding.
Florida will go with Elizabeth Hightower (15-4, 1.38 ERA) and Natalie Lugo (13-1, 1.30 ERA) in the three games.
Player to watch: Third baseman Charla Echols is hitting .362 while leading the Gators with 11 homers and 44 RBI. The most impressive stat, however, is she has struck out only twice in 116 official at bats.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC
Alabama: Alabama tied an NFL Draft record with six players taken in the first round – 6. Jaylen Waddle, Miami; 9. Patrick Surtain II, Denver; 10. Devonta Smith, Philadelphia; 15. Mac Jones, New England; 17. Alex Leatherwood, Las Vegas; 24. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh.
Georgia: Corner Eric Stokes was the only Georgia player take in the first round, going 29th to the Green Bay Packers.
Kentucky: Linebacker Jamin Davis was taken 19th in the first round of the draft by Washington … Kentucky expects small forward Keon Brooks Jr. (6-7, 205, SO) to announce he will be returning to school for the 2021-22 season.
LSU: Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was the only LSU player taken in the first round, going fifth to the Cincinnati Bengals where he will reunite with former LSU QB and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. South Carolina: Corner Jaycee Horn was taken eighth in the first round by the Carolina Panthers.
Tennessee: Former Southern Cal defensive lineman Caleb Tremblay has transferred to Tennessee.
Texas A&M: Former Aggie small forward Emanuel Miller (6-7, 220, SO) is transferring to TCU.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: It’s always amusing to compare some of the mock drafts with what actually happened in the first round. Mel Kiper, who correctly predicted 26 of the first rounders, only nailed five of them and two of them – quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence to Jacksonville and Zach Wilson to the New York Jets – were mortal locks to go 1-2 for the past month. Todd McShay, ESPN’s other draft guru, fared a little bit better. He also correctly predicted 26 of the 32 first rounders, but he nailed the first seven picks, nine altogether. McShay had the San Francisco 49ers taking quarterback Trey Lance (North Dakota State) at No. 3 with the New England Patriots taking quarterback Mac Jones (Alabama). Kiper had Jones going third to San Francisco and had the Patriots trading up to take Lance at No. 7. Over at CBSSports.com, while nearly every one had 24-26 correct first rounders, not a single mock draft had Kadarius Toney going in the first round. He was taken 20th by the New York Giants. Some of the more interesting first rounders in the CBS mock drafts were DE Azeez Ojulari and CB Tyson Campbell (both from Georgia), EDGE Carlos Basham (Wake Forest), QB Davis Mills (Stanford), OL Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State) and OL Tevin Jenkins (Oklahoma State). By the time we get within a week or so of the draft, there are a number of prospects that are certain to go in the first round. Picking where they’re going to go requires a bit more skill and better connections.