Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen finds himself with a tremendous opportunity to rise up NFL draft boards this season.
The running back position has never seen worse value than right now. The NFL has been telling the world, time and time again, that they no longer value the position. Whether it be the franchise tag ordeals of Josh Jacobs and Saquan Barkley, or the ongoing Jonathan Taylor controversy in Indianapolis; running backs are seeing teams draft their replacements before paying the star.
With the way the game is going, teams are going to be looking for the next cheap running back. The 2023 NFL draft saw a running back picked in the top ten, with Texas Star Bijan Robinson going to the Atlanta Falcons. That simply will not be the case this year. There are a handful of guys battling for the coveted “RB1” crown, but the biggest name to watch resides in Madison, Wisconsin. Braelon Allen has the opportunity to fully cement himself as the top runner in the 2024 NFL draft class.
Strengths on tape
Allen is the definition of a meat-and-potatoes runner. He finds the hole, bursts through, and keeps his legs moving to gain additional yardage. Allen pairs a strong and physical running style with nice vision and an ability to make cuts and find running room. He is also a patient runner who does a good job to allow his blocks to develop. Allen routinely breaks through arm tackles and does a great job to fall forward and pick up extra yards.
In the pass game, Allen can be an interesting option on screens and swing passes because of his ability to break tackles and follow blocks. And of course, the often-forgotten trait for running backs is pass protection. Allen brings the violence and had some beautiful blocks last season.
Areas of concern
Allen probably won’t win too many foot races in the NFL. His long speed is modest, but nothing to be incredibly concerned about. Allen sometimes struggles to beat people to the corner when trying to bounce it outside. Quickness is easily his biggest weakness. While fast, Allen is not a twitchy mover. He is an explosive runner, but not a shifty one. He does not provide much in terms of route running or lining up in the slot or out wide.
Verdict: Is Braelon Allen the RB1 for the 2024 NFL Draft?
Allen has a tremendous chance to be the first running back taken in April. A rare combination of size and speed make him a threat to hit a homerun at all times. Allen certainly has some competition for the spot, though. Players like Michigan’s Blake Corum and Arkansas’ Raheim Sanders are also names to watch for the top spot.
Gambling has taken the sports world by storm. Sports fans having the ability to have a financial investment in the game has helped certain leagues surge, with the NFL being no exception. With training camp around the corner, teams are laying the foundation for what they hope is a successful 2023 campaign.
Who are some teams and players that you can feel comfortable hitching your wagon (and hard-earned money) to in 2023? Here are some of the best NFL futures bets of the season, brought to you by DraftKings Sportsbook.
NFL Futures Bet #1
Chicago Bears to make the playoffs: +160
Worst record in the league to the playoffs in just a year? The idea is far fetched, to say the least, but is something worth considering. A bet on the Bears is a bet on Justin Fields. The former first round pick quarterback is one of the biggest question marks in football this season.
Fields flashed some unbelievable playmaking potential in 2022, making countless dazzling plays with his legs. He also put that feathery downfield touch on display with several basket-drops for chunk plays. However, turnovers and efficiency as a passer limited what he could do. The supporting cast around him was also worse than any of his fellow 2021 draftees have had to suffer through. The Bears took some steps towards remedying that ahead of the 2023 season.
The 2022 Chicago Bears had an abysmal offensive line. Turnstiles in front of him, coupled with lackluster receiving options, led to Fields using his legs more often than he or the Bears would have preferred. That can all change in 2023. Chicago took steps towards improving the offensive line with the additions of Nate Davis in free agency and Darnell Wright with their first round selection.
Mid-season addition Chase Claypool will now have a complete off-season and training camp with Fields. The Bears also acquired DJ Moore, one of the bright young receivers in the NFL. Fields will have a drastically better supporting cast in 2023, despite this unit still being substantially worse than most of the league.
How this translates into wins will all be dependent on Fields. Defensively, the Bears still have a ways to go. If Fields takes the leap that many are expecting, the Bears have the ability to steal some games in a lackluster NFC. It may only take nine wins to see the Bears in the Wild Card round. Would we put our house on the Bears playoff hopes? Unlikely; but betting on a Justin Fields leap might be one of the better high-reward bets this season.
NFL Futures Bet #2
Los Angeles Rams to have a winning record: +300
The Rams have a disaster of a roster. Los Angeles will open training camp later this month with 36 rookies. They also had one of the worst records in football last season. Matthew Stafford was a shell of himself when he was on the field, and Sean McVay is fighting rumors of a departure to television every off-season. Why on Earth should anyone put their money on LA this season? Talent
Think about it this way. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald. Sean McVay is still the coach. If those three players stay healthy and perform like they normally do, the Rams could easily limp their way to 9-8. The NFC has never been worse, and Los Angeles gets two games against the Arizona Cardinals.
The team isn’t anything to write home about, but who better to trust with your money than a few Hall of Famers who were hoisting a Lombardi trophy just under 17 months ago?
NFL Futures Bet #3
Odell Beckham Jr 575.5 receiving yards: -110
Once a record breaking youngster, the career of Odell Beckham Jr took a disastrous turn upon his 2019 trade to the Cleveland Browns. Two ACL tears and a Super Bowl later, Beckham is back on an NFL team and ready to go. The 30-year-old has teamed up with former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson with the Baltimore Ravens.
There is no player better to buy low on than the former Rookie of the Year. This line is absurdly low. There is no bigger “This is free money” bet on the DraftKings Sportsbook right now.
It is incredibly important to acknowledge that Beckham has now torn his ACL twice, is on the wrong side of 30, and has not played since February of 2022. All of that matters. However, looking at this total from a numbers perspective just makes too much sense.
If he plays 17 games, Beckham would only need to average 34 yards per game. That is two catches and a broken tackle. For the injury skeptics, taking his total down to 12 games changes that number to just under 50 yards per game. It is also important to remember that the Ravens have hired notorious vertical-route lover Todd Monken as their new offensive coordinator.
The 1979 Seattle Supersonics hold the crown as the last Western Conference team outside of Texas or California to win an NBA championship. While it’s important to note that those two states make up nearly half of the conference, this is still a staggering statistic.
The Denver Nuggets, who can claim their very first NBA championship with just a few more wins, are looking to buck that trend. To examine how this absurd trend occurred in the first place, let’s take a deep dive into just how and why so many of these Western Conference teams find themselves without championships in the last 43 years.
The Nuggets, on the brink of ending the streak, have not had many opportunities to win their first ever NBA championship. Denver spent the better part of the 80’s being good, but not great. Fat Lever and Alex English led some interesting teams that were always a threat in the West, but never truly contenders, making one Western conference final in 1985.
The 90’s and early 2000’s were even worse, with just two playoff appearances in the 13 years between 1990 and 2003. Dikembe Mutombo was the face of the franchise for a short period, but was not even close to being the best player at his position in the conference.
However, 2003 brought Carmelo Anthony. The next decade would result in ten consecutive playoff appearances led by Anthony (and the players they got for trading him in 2011). Unfortunately for those in the Mile High, those ten runs ended in the first round nine times. In 2009, the Nuggets battled all the way to the conference finals, but ran into Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and were promptly sent home.
So, what happened to the Nuggets? The answer is relatively simple. The franchise did not have a bonafide superstar until 2003. Even when they got that superstar, it was during a period of time in the West where every team had a superstar (or two). Carmelo Anthony’s time in Denver came while he was sharing a conference with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitztki and at least a dozen other phenomenal players.
However, these are not your father’s Denver Nuggets. The current Nuggets team has made the playoffs five straight times and can finally cap off an NBA title because they have a superstar of their own in two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.
Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s been so long since one of these teams won a championship that the last one to do it moved cities. Since winning that championship in 1979, the Supersonics and Thunder have been a perennial playoff team. They were nothing special in the 80’s, with some pretty lackluster teams going on runs in a Western Conference that was essentially the Los Angeles Lakers Invitational. The 90’s however, breathed new life into the franchise.
Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp gave the city of Seattle something to cheer for every single night. Payton’s hounding defense very frequently led to some thunderous Shawn Kemp transition dunks. When George Karl took the helm in 1993 everything changed. The Supersonics became an immediate force in the West and made the NBA Finals in 1996. Payton and Kemp went into battle with the 72-10 and Bulls and fought valiantly, but were ultimately sent home in six games.
The Supersonics of the early 2000’s were routinely humbled in the loaded Western conference, but everything changed in 2007. The Portland Trail Blazers selected Greg Oden first overall, meaning Seattle could pick a rail-thin 19-year old scoring machine out of Texas named Kevin Durant.
After moving to Oklahoma City the Thunder continued making stellar picks, bringing in Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. And thus, the stage was set for a dynasty of epic proportions.
The Thunder picked three consecutive MVPs and won…nothing. The 2010 and 2011 Thunder found themselves getting bounced by the eventual NBA champions in consecutive years. However, it all came together for the Thunder in 2012 as they would storm through the West and face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. After taking game one at home, Kevin Durant and company were ready to assert themselves as the next NBA powerhouse.
But it never happened. The Thunder would lose four straight games and watch LeBron James win his first NBA championship. The next seven seasons of Thunder basketball were nothing but bitter playoff losses and the departures of stars. By the summer of 2019, none of their three MVP draft picks were wearing blue.
The Memphis Grizzlies, formerly of Vancouver, have not been in the NBA very long and do not have much of a storied history. Outside of a few brief first round exits with Pau Gasol in the early 2000’s, the Grizzlies were no serious threat to make noise until the 2011 NBA playoffs. The eighth seed Grizzlies shocked the world and upset the mighty San Antonio Spurs. This run would reach its apex in 2013 with a Western Conference Finals berth.
That series would see the Grizzlies swept in four games. The overarching question of “why didn’t these teams win it all?” is quite simple in all actuality. They weren’t that good. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were a great frontcourt duo, but it was just never enough in the West.
The modern day Grizzlies are the franchise’s best shot at an NBA championship. But are they? Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson have formed an elite, but unreliable, duo. With a lengthy Morant suspension looming, the Grizzlies are starting to lose traction in the West.
The conference is filled with stars who have already proven capable of winning a championship. Then there’s the Grizzlies, who are much better at acting like they’ve won something than actually doing it.
New Orleans Hornets/New Orleans Pelicans
The NBA franchise in New Orleans has only existed since 2002 and is one of the two remaining teams to never reach the conference finals. The Pelicans have not been very good for most of their tenure in the NBA, but have managed to draft two first-ballot Hall of Fame caliber players.
In 2005, Chris Paul re-energized the franchise and led some incredibly talented Hornets teams to the playoffs. Their best chance at a title was in 2007 when they took the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to a game seven.
In 2012, the Hornets won the lottery, which afforded them the opportunity to select Anthony Davis. Davis enjoyed little success in the postseason as well, but had a small glimmer of hope when the Pelicans traded for DeMarcus Cousins to form the best big man duo the league had seen in quite some time.
A ruptured Achilles tendon would rob them of any opportunity of seeing the postseason together. The Pelicans have never come close to a title and their two best attempts came directly in the middle of the Spurs and Warriors respective dynasties.
The Phoenix Suns have come so close to a championship multiple times during this span. The Suns spent much of the 80’s and early 90’s being a playoff punching bag for the Lakers and Trailblazers en-route to the NBA Finals. However, it all changed in 1993.
Charles Barkley, potentially the best non-Chicago Bull in the NBA at the time, was traded to Phoenix. The Suns battled through the West and found themselves face-to-face with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Suns had an NBA championship in their grasp.
Every game the Suns lost was by less than nine points. The Suns’ four losses in this series came by a total of 18 points. Just seconds away from forcing a game seven on their home floor, the Suns watched John Paxson bury a jumper to end their season. Those Suns would never get back to the mountain top.
There was another chapter of elite Suns basketball just about a decade later. Mike D’Antoni came to the desert and implemented a revolutionary approach to offense that took the NBA by storm. Leading the charge was one of the best rosters in basketball. Unfortunately for the Suns, they ran into the Spurs.
From 2003 to 2008, the Suns were sent home by San Antonio four separate times. Like many teams on our list, the Suns suffer from being in their championship window right in the middle of another team’s dynasty. The Devin Booker-led Suns would reach the NBA Finals in 2021 and have the potential to bring one to the Valley soon — but not just yet.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers, the second most recent Western Conference team to win a championship outside of Texas and California, could have their very own article detailing why they find themselves on this list. Let’s take a moment to address the Oregon-sized elephant in the room. Yes, Portland passed on Michael Jeffrey Jordan himself in 1984. Because of that, they couldn’t even get out of the West until 1990.
This era, however, was far from a time period of cellar-dwelling Blazers teams. From 1983 to 2003, the Trail Blazers never missed the playoffs. The apex of this run came in the three year period of 1990 to 1992. Portland won 179 and made the Western Conference Finals three times, winning the West twice. The Bad Boys sent Clyde Drexler home in five games and then in 1992 they were matched up with who else but Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
After a plethora of first round exits, the Trail Blazers made consecutive Western Conference Finals in 1999 and 2000. In a tale as old as time, first it was the Spurs and then it was Kobe and Shaq. The 2000 NBA Finals was right in their grasp in game seven against Los Angeles. Portland was nursing a double-digit lead heading into a fourth quarter where they were outscored 31-13.
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, they did it again. The 2006 NBA draft gave Portland two future All-Stars in Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. In 2007, they won the lottery and were given the opportunity to select between Ohio State center Greg Oden and first ballot Hall of Famer Kevin Durant.
Guess who they took? Oden’s body betrayed him and he was never able to live up to his potential. Five years later, Portland made a great selection in Damian Lillard, but he has been going into battle by himself against the Spurs and Warriors respective dynasties.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been the laughing stock of the NBA for almost their entire existence. They have had their share of stars, with essentially two decades of All-Star forward play between Kevin Garnett and then Kevin Love. Unfortunately, those stars were going into battle alone. Kevin Garnett was able to take the 2004 Wolves all the way to Western Conference Finals.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before — Kobe and Shaq sent them home. That remains the lone time in their entire history that they have advanced farther than the first round.
The Wolves are in a class all their own when it comes to this discussion. Most of these teams have multiple instances where they came up just short, or ran into an ongoing dynasty. The Timberwolves do not have that problem. Only once have they even put together a team that could remotely consider a championship as a realistic expectation.
The Timberwolves have time and time again failed to construct a playoff-caliber NBA roster. They have been the Western Conference punching bags alongside Sacramento for nearly two decades.
The Jazz have known nothing but playoff failure during this time. Utah drafted John Stockton in 1984 and then made the playoffs every single year of his career. Stockton and Karl Malone played 18 Hall of Fame seasons together. Dissimilarly from everyone else, the Jazz were not feasted on by the Showtime Lakers in the 80’s.
They only faced them once during Magic Johnson’s Western Conference reign of terror. That’s the most disappointing part. They never even got the chance to face the Lakers outside of 1988, when they took them to seven games. Utah was losing to the likes of Denver, Seattle, Phoenix, and Golden State.
It took the Jazz until 1992 to even reach the Western Conference Finals. They were bounced on the precipice of the Finals three times in five years before breaking through in 1997. Their Finals opponent?
You gotta be kidding me, it’s Michael Jordan. His Airness took down the Jazz in six games twice. This included a game winning dagger in game six of 1998 in front of a gut-punched Salt Lake City crowd.
Stockton and Malone would never get back to the conference finals together. The Jazz have had little playoff success since then. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer led some fun teams, still coached by the legendary Jerry Sloan, but they just served as runways for the Lakers and Spurs. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert tried their darndest to get Utah back to the conference Finals, to no avail. Now, Utah is once again in rebuild mode.
The reasoning behind this Western Conference dominance is simple. Texas and California are always going to dominate because they have bigger markets and that is just how the NBA operates. However, to be this skewed is astounding. If it wasn’t the Showtime Lakers taking these teams down it was Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Did the turn of the century bring more hope? No.
The Spurs built a nearly 20 year dynasty and the Lakers won five championships from 2000 to 2010. Just as Kobe Bryant was starting decline and the Lakers were no longer a threat; a new dynasty formed in the Bay Area led by Steph Curry. Being a small market in West has meant nothing but pain since 1979.
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The transfer portal has completely taken over college football. Teams like TCU have essentially built the core of their roster through the portal. It has essentially become free agency in the college football world. Every year, countless players rise through the draft rankings at their new schools. In the PAC-12, there are some transfers at new schools who could find themselves surging up 2023 NFL draft rankings. Here are three guys to watch on the West Coast in 2023.
Ajani Cornelius, Oregon Ducks (Via Rhode Island), OT
Dan Lanning has made it a point to upgrade the trenches ever since he took over after the 2021 season. Ajani Cornelius is sure to help in that department. Standing at a massive 6-4 and 315 pounds, Cornelius has the requisite size and strength to hold up at the next level. Cornelius was one of the most sought after transfers this off-season, and Oregon was able to win him over despite countless schools coming after him extremely hard.
A little-known prospect, he is sure to see an uptick in NFL draft stock with the transfer to Oregon and the PAC-12. The Ducks have fostered a great offensive line culture in recent years and Cornelius appears to be the next Oregon offensive lineman to find themselves playing on Sundays.
MarShawn Lloyd, USC Trojans (Via South Carolina), RB
Lincoln Riley has built a reputation as one of the best run designers in the country. Adding a player of MarShawn Lloyd’s caliber to his backfield should make for some impressive numbers in 2023. Lloyd is one of the countless players to depart from the Gamecocks this off-season.
This was a player who contributed for the Gamecocks despite not touching the ball as much as he would have liked. Lloyd only had 129 touches during the entire 2022 campaign and still managed over five yards per carry. Adding a threat like this to Lincoln Riley’s offense is sure to raise his draft stock quite a bit.
Patrick McMorris, Cal Golden Bears (Via San Diego State), SAF
The California Golden Bears have built a reputation within the PAC-12 of having one of the better defenses. This off-season, they added a notable transfer in cornerback Patrick McMorris. McMorris is a 6-0, 210 pound safety who is transferring in from San Diego State.
McMorris is sure to get more attention from the NFL now that he is playing on Cal’s defense. In the Mountain West Conference, McMorris was the 2022 Co- Defensive Player of the Year. Had he declared for the draft in 2023, he likely would have been invited to All-Star events such as the Senior Bowl and Shrine Game.
The Senior Bowl is an event like no other. The entire NFL gathers in South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney stadium, which is decked out in bright orange, for the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Countless teams head to Mobile are looking for players to lead their franchise to wins. Most importantly, those wins start in the trenches. The offensive and defensive lines are surrounded by countless coaches and scouts for the entirety of practice. Which monsters in the trenches helped or hurt their stock at the Senior Bowl this week?
Senior Bowl Trenches: Stock Up, Stock Down
Hurt: Andre Carter, EDGE, Army
Andre Carter is a name that has seen some considerable buzz throughout this draft cycle. He has been mocked in the first round for months, but hit some bumps in the road. Prior to the season ending, legislation passed that would have prohibited Carter from declaring for the NFL draft prior to completing his military service.
Fortunately for Carter, a new bill allowed him to be grandfathered in and will allow him to play under the conditions that were in place when he signed in 2019.
In Mobile, Carter struggled mightily. Upon seeing him in person, Carter looked noticeably thin. His frame is massive, and there is certainly room to add mass, but he looked incredibly lean. He is certainly quick, and he used his length well to win on a handful of reps.
However, when people were able to get their hands on him, primarily Dawand Jones and Cody Mauch, he was put on a highlight tape. Jones drove him right out of bounds in a run drill, and Mauch put him on the ground the next day.
Helped: Cody Mauch, OL, North Dakota State
North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch did a good bit to help his draft stock this week. To start off, Mauch was voted Offensive Line Practice Player of the Week by the defensive line and linebackers. Mauch is a tweener, with not enough length to play tackle and possibly not enough weight to play guard. His best position still projects as guard, but he did take several reps at center, as well.
Mauch was far from perfect, and certainly had some reps he wanted back, but there was overwhelmingly more good than bad. His versatility makes him an incredibly intriguing prospect. There were some incredible reps in one-on-ones at left guard, including a pancake against the aforementioned Andre Carter.
Helped: John Michael Schmitz, OC, Minnesota
John Michael Schmitz could have his own article about his Senior Bowl week. For lack of a better word, he was fantastic; simple as that. Schmitz came in and measured at over 6’3”, 306 pounds. There is also some thought out there that Schmitz can also play guard. He would likely be great at that spot as well. Schmitz rarely lost a rep in Mobile. He won in one-on-ones, he won on stunt drills, and he won in team drills.
He also showed his nasty streak in finishing countless reps. His personality also started to show quite a bit. Schmitz was a vocal leader on the field all week, and after successful plays, was seen bringing energy and high-fiving the rest of the offensive line.
For example, on a screen pass, he decleated a linebacker and then, when going to finish the block, was heard yelling all the way from the media bleachers. The center is the de-facto leader of the offensive line and Schmitz is the personality that has the ability to step into an offensive line room as a rookie and quickly become an alpha.