2020 Aftermath NFL Mock Draft

Welcome to the annual 2020 Aftermath NFL mock draft. For the fifth year in a row, Jack Venezia, Brian Mandel and Matt Luppino joined me to run through the first round of the draft. This is always one of my favorite exercises of the year. We each take control of eight picks and then make our selections. I think this is always really interesting because we each have our own player preferences. For example, there are players that went in the first round here that I don’t have ranked on my top 100 big board. Multiple perspectives make it a bit more similar to the actual draft where different teams will have varying opinions on prospects.

For the first time though, we decided to allow some trades. There were definitely some group discussions because different people had picks for the same team. Overall though, it was a fun wrinkle to throw into the mix. These are the trades that went down. (I consulted Draft Tek’s trade value chart just to be sure these were fair.)

Miami sends 1.5, 1.26 and 2021 fourth rounder to Detroit for 1.3
Minnesota sends 1.22, 3.89 and 3.105 to Atlanta for 1.16 and 2021 5th rounder
New York sends 2.48 and 3.79 to San Francisco for 1.31
Los Angeles sends 2.37 and 4.112 to Kansas City for 1.32

Here is the result of year five of this mock draft.

Bengals Logo1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
I don’t think this one needs much explanation … next! – ML

Washington made up logo2. Washington – Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
There’s a reason everyone is making this pick: Chase Young had 16.5 sacks last season with Ohio State last year, is one of the best, if not the best, talent in this year’s draft, and he grew up in the literal same town where Washington’s home stadium resides (Hyattsville, Maryland). You’d be crazy not to make this pick. – JV

Dolphins logo3. Miami Dolphins via Detroit Lions – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
If I’m Miami, I am keeping my finger firmly on the pulse of trade offers for the Lions’ and Giants’ picks, and pouncing if need be. Giving up one of their three first round picks is a small price to pay to guarantee your quarterback of the future. If Tua really is healthy, he has both a higher floor AND ceiling than Herbert. Easy trade for me. – ML

Giants Logo4. New York Giants – Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
It was really tempting to grab Isaiah Simmons here. The Giants defense could undoubtedly use an injection of playmaking ability. However, when you spend a top-10 pick on a quarterback, you have to invest in keeping him upright. Wills is the best pass blocker of the top four tackles and has tons of experience playing in the SEC. I think he will transition well and can start at either tackle spot. – CM

Lions Logo5. Detroit Lions via Miami Dolphins – Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Once Chase Young, unsurprisingly, did not fall to the third pick, trading back two picks to gain an extra first was the most sensible option. I, like most of the football world, think that Okudah is the best pick for the Lions outside of Young, and I knew that I would still be able draft him with the 5th pick. Even before their offseason trade of Darius Slay, the Lions were in great need of a cornerback.  Okudah has all of the tools to become one of the next great shutdown corners in the NFL. Importantly, he churns out big plays without gamboling too much. I predict that Okudah will immediately impact a rebuilding Lions’ defense. – BM

Chargers logo6. Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Phillip Rivers is gone and the Chargers have Tyrod Taylor for now. I don’t hate Taylor, but he is a temporary solution at best. I think the Chargers either trade up or take whatever quarterback available at the sixth pick. In this draft, Herbert was still available, so I took him. – JV

Panthers logo7. Carolina Panthers – Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson
I was shocked to see Simmons still on the board when it was my pick as the Panthers’ general manager. When pundits talk about the type of player that is needed on defense for a modern NFL team, Simmons is the player that they are describing. He has the versatility to be able to stop the run, seamlessly transition to coverage, and blitz. Carolina is in need of a difference maker in multiple areas of their defense. The team will be able to feel good knowing that they are walking away from this draft with a building block. – BM

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)8. Arizona Cardinals – Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
I’ve got to be honest, I have no idea what the Cardinals will do on draft day. They feel like a likely candidate to move down. Offensive line is possible as well, but they just locked up D.J. Humphries. I didn’t get a good enough offer to justify passing on Kinlaw. He has enormous potential and a decent track record as a pass rusher. If you are going to invest a top-10 pick in a defensive lineman, he better be able to get after the quarterback. – CM

Jaguars logo9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
To say that the Jags defense has regressed since their last playoff appearance is an understatement. There are lots of holes to plug, but the one that sticks out most here along the defensive line for a team that gave up over five yards per carry last year. The best run stopper in the draft easily fits that need, with another first round pick to come. – ML

Browns logo10. Cleveland Browns – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
This has to be the most offensive line talent an NFL draft has had in years, and so many teams are desperate for quarterback protection. The Browns had mediocre pass protection and an inconsistent running game last year. Taking one of these lineman will fix that. Thomas also provides flexibility as he can play either tackle position and might just be the most pro-ready of the bunch. – JV

Jets logo11. New York Jets – Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
This was a tougher pick because there were still a lot of incredible receivers on the board, and the first tier of tackles was quickly disappearing. I decided that drafting an offensive tackle that has the opportunity to protect Sam Darnold for the foreseeable future should be given preference over a possible number one wideout, even if it is still a big need for the Jets. It would be hard for Darnold to continue his development if he still has no pass protection, and Becton should make Le’Veon Bell’s job a little easier too. Becton has the highest ceiling of any offensive tackle in this draft. However, he is extremely raw, and the Jets have their work cut out for them to develop a player with such immense physical gifts. – BM

Raiders logo12. Las Vegas Raiders – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Mike Mayock did a nice job restocking his front seven in last year’s draft. I think he is going to focus on retooling the receiving corps and secondary this year. Jeudy is the top remaining player on my draft board and fills a huge need. While there are tons of good receivers in this class, I think Jeudy is a cut above the rest and should have a major impact on the offense right away. – CM

49ers Logo13. San Francisco 49ers – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
After letting Emmanuel Sanders go, and seeing both CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs still available, this could very easily be a wide receiver here. But remember, this is a very deep receiver draft, and the Niners have another pick at 31 – so why pass up a chance at one of the four best tackles in the draft? Wirfs could be the left tackle of the future in San Francisco. Remember, Joe Staley is 35 and the only person who is undefeated against Father Time so far is Tom Brady. – ML

Buccaneers logo14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Josh Jones, OT, Houston
The Tom Brady Buccaneers need to protect their newly acquired 74-year-old (give or take 30 years) quarterback because who knows how many more sacks that septuagenarian can take before his bones become silly puddy. Josh Jones definitely isn’t their Prom Queen, but he was the best lineman available at the 14th pick. Don’t be shocked if they trade up, just to be safe. – JV

Denver_Broncos15. Denver Broncos – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Courtland Sutton is a great young receiver, but the position is still a major need for the Broncos coming into this draft. Fortunately, there is still a nice selection of prospects on the board. Although Henry Ruggs is physically more talented than CeeDee Lamb (you cannot teach speed as they say), I drafted the latter. It is not like Lamb does not have all of the physical tools be a number one option. He also has a knack for finding soft spots in coverage. A knock against him might be that the offensive environment of the Big 12 makes it hard to truly evaluate him. Overall, Lamb will come into the league as a complete wide receiver and will be a good injection of talent into the Broncos’ offense. – BM

Vikings logo16. Minnesota Vikings via Atlanta Falcons – Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama
The Falcons were looking for a trade partner and with multiple late first round picks, the Vikings were willing to jump up. After Stefon Diggs left Minnesota, the Vikings grabbed Tajae Sharpe, but will likely still be looking for a top receiver. As there was a run on wide receivers, Minnesota pounced. Ruggs and Diggs have very different skill sets, but Ruggs should add a new element to the offense with tons of potential. – JV

Cowboys logo17. Dallas Cowboys – K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
The Cowboys could head in a few different directions with this pick. After Byron Jones signed that monster deal with Miami, cornerback became a glaring hole on the Dallas defense. There are plenty of solid options to patch that on day two. One position that is lacking depth in this draft, however, is edge rusher. So the Cowboys do not let one of the best of the bunch get past. – ML

Dolphins logo18. Miami Dolphins – Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
At this point, the Dolphins already got their quarterback early and traded away the 26th pick to do so. Plus, all of the top offensive lineman are off the board. Therefore, the Dolphins decided to give their flimsy secondary a rock in Xavier McKinney, the best safety in this year’s draft. He, Byron Jones and Xavien Howard would make a talented, young trio for Miami to lean on. – JV

Raiders logo19. Las Vegas Raiders – CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
With their first pick in this draft, the Raiders drafted a great receiver for the starting quarterback of their team this year (I do not know if it will still Carr by the end of the year). Now they are able to select a player that helps alleviate their need for talent in the secondary. After Okudah, Henderson is the most complete corner in this draft, and is incredible in coverage. He might have issues with defending against the run at the professional level, and he also had a bit of down year this year after an electric 2018 season. Still, Henderson has the ability to be the number one cornerback that the Raiders are in dire need of. – BM

Jaguars logo20. Jacksonville Jaguars – Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
Matt opted for a defensive lineman with their first pick. I think adding a speedy linebacker with good coverage skills would be a nice way to continue rebuilding this defense. Speed on defense is an invaluable trait. Queen definitely rode LSU’s championship wave into first round consideration, but I think he will continue to develop a lot at the next level. – CM

Eagles Logo21. Philadelphia Eagles – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Patrick Queen would’ve been the only player I considered over a wideout here, so the question becomes which one? Plenty of options make sense for the Eagles, who had 40-year-old backup quarterback Josh McCown on the depth chart for receiver at one point last season, but I like the total package of Jefferson here. He has experience both in the slot and outside. – ML

Falcons logo22. Atlanta Falcons via Minnesota Vikings – Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
The Falcons slide back a few picks and land a corner that fits their system. Hall is not as highly touted as some of his peers because he went to Virginia and missed the second half of his senior year with an ankle injury. Before he got hurt though, he might have been the best corner in the ACC. He has the size, speed and ball skills to become a top-end starter. – CM

Patriots Logo23. New England Patriots – Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
The Patriots defense was incredible this year, but they lost some key contributors in free agency. Drafting Murray will be an important part in retooling the unit before the 2020 season. Murray is an explosive playmaker that is great at defending the run and getting to the quarterback. There are question marks about his coverage skill, however, and that is mostly because scouts have not seen him in coverage situations very often. He has the athleticism to develop them. Another trait of note, Murray is also known to miss tackles sometimes due to decision making. Ultimately, the Patriots will know how to use him effectively and I trust their player development personnel to develop him. – BM

Saints logo24. New Orleans Saints – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
I went back and forth on this for a long time. While the Saints putting a first-round tenure on Taysom Hill in restricted free agency would indicate they believe in him as a future starter, I don’t. I think Love has the physical tools to succeed, provided he is given the right coaching. Sean Payton has shown he get the best out of quarterbacks with both Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater. I think this is a perfect fit for Love to develop for a year or two before taking over the starting role. – CM

Vikings logo25. Minnesota Vikings – Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
With the Vikings getting their Stefon Diggs replacement in Ruggs earlier, they use this pick to replace their now bare cupboard of corners. Fulton has the size, speed, and pedigree combo that I don’t think others match here – but I am not biased to the national champs, even if four of my seven picks have been Tigers. – ML (Editor’s note: He was totally bias.)

Lions Logo

26. Detroit Lions via Miami Dolphins – Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State
With the pick the Lions received from trading with the Dolphins, I thought that shoring up the offensive line would be best course of action. I know I might be raising some eyebrows by drafting Cleveland so much earlier than he is projected to go, but I think if he is developed correctly, he can be a good tackle in the NFL for a long time. He is a steady blocker in pass protection, and has lots of physical gifts (a theme of mine in the draft this year). If the Lions want to continue with Matt Stafford at quarterback, then they have to make sure he is protected correctly. – BM

Seahawks logo27. Seattle Seahawks – A.J. Epenesa, DL, Iowa
The Seahawks have a clear hole along the defensive line whether or not Jadeveon Clowney is back on the team next season. Epenesa does not have the typical build or peripherals of an edge rusher, but I think he can be just as effective. His effectiveness comes from his incredible strength, which will probably see him playing more on the interior. In the end, what’s important for him is whether or not he can pressure the quarterback at the NFL level. I think Epenesa will do just that, just not in the prototypical way. – BM

Ravens logo28. Baltimore Ravens – Zach Baun, LB, Wisconsin
This Ravens linebacking corps has been depleted in recent years. C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwausor and Terrell Suggs are all gone. Matt Judon is on the franchise tag. Baun gives Baltimore a potential starter right out of the gate with some versatility to rush the passer and play as an off-ball backer. That versatility is valuable and Wisconsin has a history of sending tough, gritty football players to the NFL. That fits really well with how the Ravens do things. – CM

Titans logo29. Tennessee Titans – Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Like I have previously mentioned, this is a weaker draft for edge rushers, but Gross-Matos is the best left available before a fairly steep drop-off. Mike Vrabel sees a wonderful interchangeable piece with the newly signed Vic Beasley, Jr., and the consistent Harold Landry off the edge – a strong edge rush rotation. – ML

Packers logo30. Green Bay Packers – Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
With a deep receiver class, the Packers won’t have to move up in order to find Davante Adams’ partner in crime. Higgins is one of the most naturally gifted receivers in this class, but he needs to be coached up. Green Bay would be the perfect landing spot for him with Rodgers throwing him the ball and the aforementioned Adams showing him the ropes. – JV

Jets logo31. New York Jets via San Francisco 49ers – Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
The Jets will still be coming away from this draft with a new target for Darnold to throw to. New York trades back into the first round to nab a projectable, but still slightly raw, wide receiver.  Currently, their receiver group is full of possession receivers with varying degrees of talent (I am actually a big fan of Jamison Crowder). Mims is a big play option and adds a new dimension to the unit. Darnold will have a receiver that he can trust will come down with a jump ball even if Mims will have to work on his route running. – BM

Chargers logo32. Los Angeles Chargers via Kansas City Chiefs – Austin Jackson, OT, USC
With the final pick of the first round, the Chiefs move back a few spots to add to their five total draft picks. Picking up a fourth rounder is worth it here. For the Chargers, who already grabbed a potential franchise quarterback, grabbing a tackle to protect him. Jackson is definitely a bit raw, but he has the physical tools to become a great left tackle. He showed flashes of that during an uneven season at USC. Los Angeles can keep him local and build a solid offense line in front of Herbert. – CM


Matt Luppino’s NFL Mock Draft

by Matt Luppino

The draft is tonight, and as a Bucs fan (don’t ask), I am excited to see what the first overall pick brings. But what will happen after that pick? Here are my predictions for the first round, including a big trade that has major effects later in the draft.

#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Florida State
Simple enough: the Bucs need a franchise quarterback now, and Winston is the most NFL ready quarterback on the board. This pick is just about wrapped up.

#2 Tennessee Titans
Leonard Williams, Defensive End, USC
Some people could see Tennessee taking Mariota, but I think offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhut would prefer more of a pocket passer. With Zach Mettenberger getting his shot, the Titans take the top player in the draft.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars
Dante Fowler Jr., Pass Rusher, Florida
The Jags will be upset to see Williams off the board, but they can still get an effective pass rusher in Fowler, an explosive athlete off the edge.  Look for him to make an immediate impact.

#4 Cleveland Browns (From Oakland)
Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon
With Washington and the Jets upcoming with QB issues of their own, Cleveland pulls the trigger and trades their two first round picks for their chance to try out Mariota, who will compete with Johnny Manziel for the starting role, but has a safer track record for sure. The media circus that will ensue…

#5 Washington Redskins
Randy Gregory, Pass Rusher, Nebraska
Washington needs a pass rusher, and in spite of his marijuana possession a few weeks back, Gregory is the best fit at this spot.

#6 New York Jets
Vic Beasley, Pass Rusher, Clemson
New head coach Todd Bowles, like his predecessor Rex Ryan, loves to blitz. Another freak athlete in Beasley from the outside linebacker position could help free up Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson on the inside, and vice versa.

#7 Chicago Bears
Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama
Boy, would Chicago be ecstatic to see Cooper fall to them at 7. He would set in and immediately fill the role of the traded Brandon Marshall, opposite of rising star Alshon Jeffrey. This would be a perfect fit.

#8 Atlanta Falcons
Shane Ray, Defensive End, Missouri
Also recently arrested on marijuana possession, Ray’s stock has dropped a bit. But Atlanta’s hole in the pass rush is too deep to pass on a proven sack artist.

#9 New York Giants
Brandon Sherff, Guard, Iowa
With Scherff, the Giants line gets a lot stronger.  Keep Manning upright with weapons like Odell Bechkam and the returning Victor Cruz, and the Giants could be dangerous on offense.

#10 St. Louis Rams
Kevin White, Wide Receiver, West Virginia
Frankly, ever since the dynamic duo of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce all those years ago, the Rams have struggled at wide receiver. White gives them the chance to turn their fortunes around for newly acquired Nick Foles, who loves throwing the deep ball.

#11 Minnesota Vikings
Todd Gurley, Running Back, Georgia
Gurley’s stock has been rising quickly now that his surgically repaired knee has been cleared by doctors. He could go to Minnesota amidst rumors of Adrian Peterson being traded away. Gurley is a very similar runner, and could see success as a focal point in a young offense with second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

#12 Oakland Raiders (from Cleveland)
Danny Shelton, Defensive Tackle, Washington
With the two picks acquired from the trade I predicted with Cleveland, Oakland needs to add depth. With the wide receiver class particularly strong this season, I see them turning to the run stuffing Shelton to kick-start a rather weak defense.

#13 New Orleans Saints
DeVante Parker, Wide Receiver, Louisville
After trading away both TE Jimmy Graham and WR Kenny Stills, Drew Brees does not have many weapons around him. Receiver is a must for them this draft, and with many teams looking for receivers between now and their 31st pick from Seattle, the Saints pull the trigger now on Parker.

#14 Miami Dolphins
Marcus Peters, Cornerback, Washington
The first corner comes off the board in Peters at 14. When Tom Brady is in your division, you need a strong secondary, and Miami could desperately use the help.

#15 San Francisco 49ers
Arik Armstead, Defensive Lineman, Oregon
With Justin Smith considering retirement, the Niners are desperate for D-Line help. Whether or not that happens, Armstead will be an asset with his ability to play both inside and outside on the line.

#16 Houston Texans
Dorial Green-Beckham, Wide Receiver, Missouri
With Andre Johnson shipped off to Indy, Houston needs another receiver opposite DeAndre Hopkins. The tall and explosive Green-Beckham would fit nicely here, but the question is, will it be Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett throwing him the ball come fall?

#17 San Diego Chargers
Melvin Gordon, Running Back, Wisconsin
How to entice Philip Rivers to stay in San Diego? A rushing attack to keep defenses honest would be a good start, though an offensive line and pass rush are also huge needs for the Chargers. Either way, hard to scoff at Gordon’s resume, coming off one of the best rushing seasons in NCAA history.

#18 Kansas City Chiefs
Trae Waynes, Cornerback, Michigan State
Similar to Miami before, guarding Peyton Manning and potentially Philip Rivers takes some talented corners. But Waynes has big game experience from his Big Ten games at Michigan State, and has the skills to lock down top receivers.

#19 Oakland Raiders (from CLE from BUF)
Landon Collins, Strong Safety, Alabama
Could justify a receiver here as well, but adding Michael Crabtree can delay this pick to later rounds. Instead, with Charles Woodson not getting any younger, taking the top safety on the board will improve this defense mightily and immediately.

#20 Philadelphia Eagles
Jaelen Strong, Wide Receiver, Arizona State
Chip Kelly loves tall, athletic receivers, as well as Pac-12 players. Check and check, and Sam Bradford adds a new toy to throw to.

#21 Cincinatti Bengals
Alvin Dupree, Pass Rusher, Kentucky
His name has been as high as sixth on recent drafts, but should teams look past the marijuana charges on Ray and Gregory, this is where Dupree could end up. Not that Cincy will complain: they need rush help badly, and Dupree is the best available for a while.

#22 Pittsburgh Steelers
Shaq Thompson, Outside Linebacker, Washington
Another team that will need some help at linebacker is Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are getting an athlete. Not only is Thompson a great linebacker, but he also took snaps at running back for the Huskies.

#23 Detroit Lions
Malcom Brown, Defensive Tackle, Detroit
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gone, so with both of last year’s starters gone, this is probably a position where help is needed. Insert a 320-pund All-American. We are done here.

#24 Arizona Cardinals
Andrus Peat, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
If Peat gets past the Rams at 10, he could drop hard through the middle picks where skill positions and defenders are higher priorities. The Cardinals could use a running back, but reaching for Duke Johnson may not be wise here. Peat will be helpful on the line which struggled a bit last year, leading to Carson Palmer’s knee injury.

#25 Carolina Panthers
DJ Humphries, Offensive Tackle, Florida
Speaking of teams with O-line problems, just ask Cam Newton. For his sake, the Panthers need a lineman here.

#26 Baltimore Ravens
Phillip Dorsett, Wide Receiver, Miami
With Torrey Smith gone for San Fran and Steve Smith at 35 the best returning receiver, the deep field threat is needed one more. That is exactly what Dorsett can do for a team with 4.33 speed.

#27 Dallas Cowboys
Eddie Goldman, Defensive Tackle, Florida State
As good as the Cowboy offensive line is, the defensive line cannot say the same. Goldman played a large part in a dominating Seminole defense, so he would be a nice addition for the Cowboys late in the first round.

#28 Denver Broncos
La’el Collins, Offensive Tackle, LSU
Also with some trouble with the law right now, but Collins is the best lineman on the board for the Broncos at 28, and Peyton needs time in the pocket to be his typical surgeon self.

#29 Indianapolis Colts
Cameron Erving, Center, Florida State
Indy is young on offense and is already really good. Defensive line is another issue that needs to be addressed, but here, filling their only true hole at center is also a priority.

#30 Green Bay Packers
Byron Jones, Cornerback, Connecticut
Theme developing: you need corners to stop good passing teams. Green Bay has four games a year against Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler, so Jones, who hugely impressed with his combine performance, is a fit here.

#31 New Orleans Saints (from Seattle)
Eric Kendricks, Middle Linebacker, UCLA
Another big need for the Saints is in the middle of their defense. Enter Kendricks, the top MLB on the board. Not a bad takeaway from the Graham trade.

#32 New England Patriots
Ronald Darby, Cornerback, Florida State
New England won the Super Bowl thanks to their cornerbacks Hero Malcolm Butler may return, but Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib are gone, so the Pats need to deal with their absences now. Darby fills the need.

For other mock drafts, click here

2015 New York Yankees predictions

by Matt Luppino

Ah, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. No it’s not the holiday season, it’s not summer vacation, and it’s not even March Madness (technically it’s April Madness now).

That’s right.  It’s baseball season once again. A time when everything in a sport completely resets. A time when last place teams can win a championship a season later. And a time when Yankee fans once again revel in the past… wait, that’s every day.

This year’s 2015 Yankees face an uphill battle after what frankly the ball club will call an unsuccessful season last year. Finishing 84-78 while marred by injuries, the Bronx Bombers missed the playoffs for the second year in a row for the first time since the early 90s, and did not do much to improve. Yes, long time captain, fan favorite, and baseball icon Derek Jeter retired, going out in spectacular fashion in his last home game, but the losses of closer David Robertson, who signed with the Chicago White Sox, and starter Hiroki Kuroda, to the Japanese league, were also unexpected and could prove costly. And of course, after a year-long suspension filled with lawsuits and media hysteria, Alex Rodriguez returns to the diamond.

Here are my grades and predictions for the Yankees this season:

Starting Rotation: B-
Opening Day:
Masahiro Tanaka R
Michael Pineda R
CC Sabathia L
Nathan Eovaldi R
Adam Warren R

The entire Yankees team faces huge question marks, but this is one of their largest.  The rotation was largely affected by injuries last year, some of which are still not resolved.  Tanaka’s elbow, which shut him down after a masterful first half last season, appears healthy but not to full strength.  The same can be said about Sabathia’s knee, though the aging left-hander still needs to learn how to adjust to the lack of velocity in his pitches now, a fact that has haunted him the past few seasons. The addition of the young flamethrower Eovaldi is intriguing, but last season his control often escaped him.  This group has a lot of promise if they manage to pitch to their potential, but there is also a chance that Tanaka and Sabathia could reinjure themselves too.  The X-factor here: Ivan Nova is expected to return from Tommy John surgery in May or June, which would add another strong starter to this team and put Warren back in the bullpen, where he was very strong last year.  If he returns to form, Tanaka once again pitches like the ace we saw a glimpse of last year, and Eovaldi, and Pineda for that matter, find the strike zone, then this could be one of the stronger rotations in baseball.

Bullpen: A-
Opening Day:
Closer: Dellin Betances R
Set-Up: Andrew Miller L
David Carpenter R
Justin Wilson L
Esmil Rogers R
Chasen Shreve L

In spite of the loss of Robertson, one of the top closers in baseball, he could have just been replaced with someone even better.  Betances, an All-Star last season, struck out 135 batters in only 90.0 innings last season, a rate of 13.5 K/ 9 IP.  His ERA of 1.40 and WHIP of 0.78 were among the tops in baseball as well.  He has struggled this spring, but if the adrenaline of a regular season game kicks in, he should be a dominant pitcher once more.  Crafty lefty Andrew Miller offers a strong alternative, for he is equally strong against batters on both sides of the plate.  David Carpenter and Justin Wilson are hard throwers, righty and lefty-specialists respectively.  Plug Warren back into here, and this is one of the best pens in baseball.

Lineup: Ranging from C- to B+…let’s go with a B- for now
Opening Day:
Jacoby Ellsbury L
Brett Gardner L
Carlos Beltran S
Mark Teixeira S
Brian McCann L
Chase Headley S
Alex Rodriguez R/Garrett Jones L
Stephen Drew L
Didi Gregorius L

Why a range?  Because this lineup could be either really good or really bad.  On the good side, Ellsbury and Gardner can both be scary on the basepaths and will set up well for the heart of the lineup.  From the 1-7 spot in this lineup is homerun power, especially with the short porches at Yankee Stadium.  Plus, Gregorius, though not known for his bat, could still be an improvement over the groundball-specialist Jeter.  But, there are questions, mainly injuries.  Beltran, Teixiera, and McCann all suffered from injuries last year, and were rather ineffective when they were playing.  After a year of no baseball, we have no idea what kind of hitting shape A-Rod is in (though this spring has not been awful so far).  Ellsbury and Gregorius suffered minor injuries this spring, though appear to be healthy now.  And Stephen Drew frankly is not very good.  This lineup is very unpredictable, but has the tools in place to score some runs for certain.  If healthy, this is a Bronx Bombers-esque team.

Fielding: B-
Opening Day:
C: McCann
1B: Teixeira
2B: Drew
3B: Headley
SS: Gregorius
LF: Gardner
CF: Ellsbury
RF: Beltran
DH: Rodriguez/Jones
Bench: Chris Young, Brendan Ryan, John Ryan Murphy, Jose Pirela

There is a fairly glaring problem created by the return of Alex Rodriguez.  With two bad hips on a 39-year-old body, a year without baseball, and another 3rd baseman in Headley, Rodriguez is expected to spend most of his time at DH this season. Problem: Beltran and his two bad knees on a 37-year-old body are now forced to be an everyday right fielder.  This is not only a defensive liability, but is also a great plan to get Beltran injured.  Once he gets hurt, there is not a true backup. Garrett Jones is not much of an improvement, and while Chris Young could be, his lack of bat does not make up for it in the lineup. Otherwise, this is not an awful unit.  While Headley and Drew are not great, Teixeira is one of the best fielding first basemen in the game, and Gregorius is a huge upgrade over Jeter, who lacked range in his later years.  Gardner and Ellsbury can easily cover all of the extended left and center fields (and will probably need to cover most of right for Beltran) and are usually Gold Glove caliber fielders who make highlight reel players commonly. McCann is not a great fielder behind the plate, but he is adept at throwing out base stealers and is an excellent game caller.

Manager: A
Joe Girardi

Girardi has never had a losing record in the Bronx, even though the injuries suffered in each of the last two seasons easily warranted it.  He is excellent at resting his players to keep them fresh when needed.  He is also a very good bullpen manager.  Of the 78 losses the Yankees had last season, only 27 were lost by a reliever, about 1/3 of the total.  Girardi knows how to match up against opposing lineups well, and is good at managing innings to keep a pitcher ready for the next game.  With three lefties in his pen and a plethora of long relievers at his disposal, do not expect this to change anytime soon.  Girardi is one of the best.

Overall Prediction: 82-80
I don’t see many of the Yankees staying healthy all season.  If they do, they can contend for the playoffs.  But they are too old and fragile for my liking.  The pitching especially could be troublesome; younger starters from last season like Shane Greene and Vidal Nuno have moved on, leaving open voids should anything happen.  With a fairly weak farm system, the Yankees will struggle to fill the gaps.  This could be a good season, or a disastrous one. We will wait to see the results.

Coach K wins 1K with Klass

This is the first time I am featuring a guest writer on Second Look Sports. His name is Matt Luppino. He is a good friend of mine as well as a student athlete at Duke University. He wanted to weigh in on the greatness that Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has brought to the program and what it means for Coach K to earn win number 1000.

by Matt Luppino, Proud Cameron Crazie

Krzyzewski is pronounced Shĭ-SHĔSS-kī. If you do not know that at Duke, you will be properly taught how to say it, guaranteed. Because Mike Krzyzewski is the head coach of our perennial powerhouse men’s basketball team. But we just call him Coach K to make it easier on everyone.

Yesterday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Duke Blue Devils defeated the St. Johns Red Storm by a score of 77-68. With the victory, Coach K accumulated his 1,000th win as a head coach, the first men’s coach in NCAA history to accomplish the feat (Tennessee Lady Volunteers’ Pat Summitt holds the record with 1,098, though she is now retired due to her battle with Alzheimer’s disease). Through it all, Krzyzewski has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the history of the sport by setting himself apart.

Think of the best coaches in college basketball history and what they are known for. John Wooden was one of the first coaches to every play the zone press defense, and it led to unrivaled success at UCLA. Jim Valvano (most notably of NC State) and Bob Knight (most notably of Indiana) were known as intense competitors and motivators, with matching electric personalities. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse is renowned for his use of the 2-3 zone on defense. Louisville’s Rick Pitino employs the full court press. John Calipari is a master recruiter, bring the best recruits in the country to Kentucky, making them contenders, watching them leave for the NBA after a year, then do it all over again.

As for Coach K, well, he is not a devout disciple of any particular styles of basketball. However, it is the manner in which Coach K goes about his business that makes him special. Michael William Krzyzewski comes from humble beginnings in the Polish quarter of Chicago. He and his friends played basketball there. When no one at their school wanted to coach them, Mike became player/coach. He went on to play point guard at United States Military Academy in West Point from 1966-1969 under Bob Knight, whom he would eventually surpass as the winningest coach in men’s basketball history. Following a tour of service and a one-year stint as an assistant coach under Knight at Indiana, Krzyzewski officially became Coach K, ascending to the top spot at his alma mater in 1975. He coached there for five seasons before moving to Durham, NC, to coach the Blue Devils in 1980. He hasn’t left. Under his tutelage, Duke won their first national title and then 3 more in 13 Final Four appearances. He has piloted the program to 13 ACC Tournament championships as well.

Throughout his various points in life, however, he has always acted the same way—with a class all his own. It is what keeps players loyal to him throughout. Coach K does not just coach basketball here at Duke; he shapes young athletes into men, whether they continue their careers or not. Coach K has always been grounded, downplaying his superstar status; he expects his players to do the same. He emphasizes to his team that they are student-athletes, and being a student comes first; players maintain a full course load during all of their semesters on campus. He also wants them to enjoy their college experience and live the life of normal students when they are away from the bright lights of Cameron Indoor. They study, just like we do. They walk and eat across campus, just like we do. They go out, just like we do. Besides being freakishly tall and athletically gifted, they are still Duke students aspiring to bright futures, whether in the NBA or not, and care deeply about what they are learning and what they intend on doing with their educations.

The most recent players at Duke follow the same mantra that Coach K preaches. Last year’s freshman phenom, Jabari Parker, was the #2 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, but returned to the university in the summer as he works to complete his degree; Jahlil Okafor, this year’s star and anticipated #1 pick, intends to do the same. Marshall Plumlee is enrolled in Duke’s ROTC program, and contracted this past Friday to join the army following his graduation next year. Quinn Cook, this year’s captain, has already completed his degree in marketing and intends to pursue a career in entrepreneurship should he not enter the NBA after this season.

Coach K is also very ingrained with the university as a whole. Multiple times, he was offered positions in the NBA, most recently in 2011 with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but his heart is here in North Carolina. He assists the university in many ways, often speaking at events on campus. He recently helped to fund the building of a new academic center for the school’s student-athletes, acting as a study hall and counseling hub for athletes of every sport, not just his own, which is why the K Center is named in his honor.

The game yesterday was vintage Coach K. The team, for the first 30 minutes of play, was being outhustled by the sharpshooting Red Storm and struggled to find rhythm on the offensive end. With 8:15 remaining in the second half and the score 61-51, Coach K called a timeout. He was not screaming his head off like many coaches would have in this situation. Under the mounting pressure of the national media on his team for the pending milestone, there was the Hall of Fame coach, cool as a cucumber, patiently devising a way to get his team back on track. When all was said and done, the Blue Devils outscored St. Johns 26-7 over those 8 minutes.

In the middle of it all was Coach K, orchestrating his team through the tumult while visibly cheering them on and getting excited when the team turned the ship around. And once the final horn blared, a touch of relief exuded from him. But because he got the win, not because it was number 1000. That is the way Coach K is: it is all about his team winning. Doesn’t matter how, whether it’s a total drubbing or a missed buzzer beater, as long as Duke scored more points than the other guys. That is why the T-shirts celebrating Coach K say “1000 Wins And Counting…”, because he is not done yet.

It might not seem it, but Mike Krzyzewski is a unique basketball coach tailor-made to be successful. He knows how to coach his men on and off the court in order for them to succeed, and he cares just as much about this school as his team. He is gritty, unwavering and passionate, yet humble. He is probably one of the most unassuming basketball coaches out there, with his small stature and high eyebrows, but his brain and heart are stronger than anyone out there. He is classy, for sure, but he does it his way, and he’s good at what he does.

All in all, there is only one Coach K, and now he stands alone at 1K wins.

Congratulations, Coach. You’ve earned every single one of them.