Elite 8 as Sonic Characters: Part One

Elite 8

The Elite 8 tips off tonight at 6:09 PM EST, and the madness has been constant. Hopefully, it will continue. Most previews are offering insight into matchups, who they think will win, what bets to make, etc. But here, we aren’t doing any of that. It’s time to have some fun and compare some teams to some Sonic the Hedgehog characters in a completely meaningless way.

FAU vs Kansas St (6:09PM EST)

Sticks and Sonic from the show Sonic: Boom.
Sticks (FAU):
Florida Atlantic v Tennessee
Photo by Al Bello via Getty Images

Florida Atlantic. Primal. Weird. Energetic. A bit paranoid.  Frantic but effective, the FAU Owls boast both a top-30 offense and defense according to KenPom. The Owls shoot 36.5% from 3-point range, which is good for 45th in the country. The Owls went from never winning a tournament game to now being in the Elite 8. And just like Sticks, they would surely love a shiny trophy.

To do so, they will need more big games out of sophomore guard Johnell Davis, who has been fantastic this entire tournament. He is averaging 18.6 points per game in the tournament.

Sonic (Kansas State):
Michigan State v Kansas State
Photo by Elsa via Getty Images

This choice might be surprising at first glance. However, they’re a team with extreme confidence in their ability. An undersized point guard running the show that has America in love with passing once again.

One of the fastest teams remaining in the tournament, Kansas State is the Sonic the Hedgehog of the Elite 8. Kansas St is 43rd in KenPom’s adjusted tempo at 69.9, good for second in the tournament. They are 41st in possessions per game at 73.3, which is the top mark remaining in the Elite 8.

They are not the most highly regarded team, ranking just 20th in KenPom and 23rd in T-rank, but the combination of elite guard play from Markquis Nowell and fantastic wing play from Keyontae Johnson might be enough to get this team that finished second-to-last in their conference last year to pull off a miracle and perhaps make it to a National Championship game.

UCONN vs Gonzaga (8:49PM EST)

Knuckles (UCONN):

A bit (a lot) slower than Gonzaga and Kansas State, UCONN will rely on their strength and skill to win this game. Connecticut is not the best defense remaining, but they hold their own on that end. They rank 14th in KenPom’s adjusted defense. The Huskies are an elite offense, ranking third in KenPom on that end. UCONN is 1st in KenPom and second in T-Rank overall.

They are led by physical big man Adama Sanogo, but guards Tristen Newton and Jordan Hawkins will be their keys to success. They face an extremely difficult test in Gonzaga, but they definitely have enough to be able to win it all. 

Shadow (Gonzaga):

Gonzaga is one of the fastest teams remaining in the tournament. The Bulldogs are 44th in the country, averaging 73.3 possessions per game, the second-best among the remaining teams. Gonzaga has the highest KenPom adjusted tempo of any remaining teams, at 70.2, which is good for 39th in the country. They have a difficult test in UCONN, the top team in KenPom, and 2nd in Bart Torvik’s T-Rank.

The Bulldogs are a team that some people dislike because of their recent success and their failure to win it all. However, despite many people’s dislike for the program, they are a team, like Shadow, that can be fun to root for, even if they are the “villain”. If Drew Timme can have another monster performance, they might just have a chance.

New Look Alabama: Tommy Rees, Run the Damn Ball

Photo Credit: Getty Images

It is no secret that with Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Bryce Young, the Alabama Crimson Tide got away from running the ball. You can afford to get away from the run when you have NFL quarterbacks who consistently make good reads. However, Bryce Young is gone, and Nick Saban is getting back to his roots with Tommy Rees: running the damn ball.

Meet Tommy Rees:

For those who don’t know much about college football but know a lot about the NFL, remember Ian Book? Yeah, well Tommy Rees brought that guy to the college football playoffs. Why is Rees so interesting? Well, he is a career QB and QB coach whose play-calling specialty is running the rock. His run schemes are some of the best in the country.

Saban brought in a recruiting class that features the number 1 offensive lineman in the country and the number 2 running back. With this class and the current team, Rees can change the game for Alabama.

The Tommy Rees Offense:

If you can’t tell by the title and introduction, Tommy Rees likes to “Run the Damn Ball” — something it feels like Alabama hasn’t done in forever. The Alabama backfield is loaded this year, and depending on who the quarterback is, Alabama could have the most dominant run game in all of college football.

Jalen Milroe, who was Bryce Young’s backup all year, is probably the best-rushing quarterback in college football. However, there are questions about him as a thrower. The other option is Ty Simpson, Alabama’s younger 5-star QB. He is a much more pure thrower of the football. Simpson isn’t the runner that Milroe is, but he can get on his horse.

Tommy Rees had just brought QB Sam Hartman over from Wake Forrest to Notre Dame. Simpson is definitely more in that style of quarterback. I think Rees will hold a legit QB competition at Alabama this spring.

Who Can Rees Unlock?

I personally think the big one is Justice Haynes. The freshman running back came in for bowl practices, and Will Anderson spoke highly of him. Haynes should dominate quickly in a very downhill, creative running offense.

I would really like to see something out of tight ends this year. Alabama got basically 500 yards from tight ends in total. They added C.J. Dippre and Ty Lockwood. The Maryland transfer, Dippre, is going to HAVE to be Rees’ guy.

If you have watched any Notre Dame, you know they love tight ends. Rees definitely shows it.

Will Tommy Rees Succeed?

Personally, I think so. It might take a year for him to be the best version of his offense. However, Rees will be a breath of fresh air for Alabama fans. So Bama fans… please cut this dude some slack and be ready for big changes on offense.

Senior Bowl Day Three Risers and Fallers: American Team

It’s the third and final day of practices at the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl for the American Team down in Mobile, Alabama. Which means another day of covering the risers and fallers from each Senior Bowl squad.

There were plenty of guys who rode the momentum from their first two days of practice. There were also those that turned it on after the rust of inactivity from the end of their college seasons finally dissipated.

Lastly, and unfortunately, we do have those who either didn’t live up to the billing or, worse, fell even further with their subpar performance on the final day of practice. 

Senior Bowl Risers: Day Three

Photo Credit: Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

Jammie Robinson, Florida State

Robinson had another great day of coverage today. He was constantly around the football in team and red-zone drills. There was a play where he ranged from the middle of the field to the hash and almost intercepted the football (Darius Rush ended up with the interception) and it was telling about his improvement as a center field safety.

He showed a lot better range and man-coverage ability than he did at Florida State. Look for him to make a play or two on Saturday during the 2023 Senior Bowl game for the American team.

Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State

Well, it happened. As soon as Hutchinson’s play was in question, he proceeded to show up and show out in day three. He was making contested catches and creating easy separation against everyone. Any rust that he had from the first two days has been completely knocked off, and I can’t wait to see how he performs in the game Saturday

Darius Rush, South Carolina

Rush had a couple of flashes the first two days but it all culminated on day three. He was sticky in both one-on-ones and team reps. He was physical at the top of routes and repeatedly beat receivers to the spot. That led to two interceptions and multiple pass deflections. Rush has been an up-and-down guy, but today he put it all together and left a great impression.

Don’Tayvion Wicks, Virginia

Wicks has been a solid guy all week, but he really put it together today. He repeatedly was getting early separation and showcased a really diverse package of releases. From step-back releases to two- and three-step releases, he kept defensive backs guessing from the snap of the ball to the top of the break. He did a great job giving his quarterbacks an easy target. 

John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before: John Michael Schmitz has completely dominated the Senior Bowl. He’s shown unreal anchoring ability and fantastic play strength at the center position. He simply has been the best offensive lineman at the 2023 Senior Bowl this season.

Aubrey Miller, Jr., Jackson State

Miller, Jr. has shown so much physicality throughout this week, but he hadn’t put it all together yet. Today, he continuously brought the energy in every one of his reps. He impressed with his motor while coming downhill and his ability to get into the backfield in the run game.

Tyjae Spears, Tulane

I refuse to go three days without saying how much Tyjae Spears has shown his explosiveness and raised his stock. He has been one of the more consistent running backs in the fact that he is a threat to score whenever he touches the football.

He still has some struggles with pass blocking but you can see the strides he’s taking as a receiver. He is constantly improving and I do hope to see even more improvement at the game on Saturday.

Senior Bowl Fallers: Day Three

Photo Credit: Associated Press/LM Otero

Max Duggan, TCU

Please do not be fooled by whatever may be talked about, Max Duggan has not been good throughout this week. Duggan has looked shaky this entire week and it has looked no better today. He repeatedly overthrew receivers and missed layup throws that, yet again, he was expected to hit throughout the week. I hope that on Saturday he shows more in front of the scouts, but he did not do well throughout this week. At all.

Anthony Johnson, Jr., Virginia

After having a really good day yesterday, Johnson, Jr. really had an off day today. He was far too handsy throughout the day and was getting beat at the top of routes too easily. Johnson didn’t win many of his reps in one-on-ones and struggled keeping up with receivers in both team and red-zone today. 

Isaiah Land, Florida A&M

The coaching staff for the American team seemed to not like Land at EDGE and had him playing in off-ball linebacker all day. While this may not be an omen for his NFL projection, it is something to watch as he goes through the draft process.

He clearly looked uncomfortable at the position but, in his defense, it was a snap decision and a new experience for the Florida A&M product. It will be interesting to see if NFL teams are going to want to do the same throughout his process. 

Honorable Mentions

Here are some final notable names for the American team here at the 2023 Senior Bowl. Zacch Pickens had another really good day in team drills and got good penetration in the middle of the line. Byron Young (Tennessee) was another guy who dominated in team drills as he beat guys to the spot very easily. Derick Hall had another day where he showed his strength and that coveted long arm in team drills.

Senior Bowl Quotes: Players Share Their Experience

The 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl is officially underway in Mobile, Alabama and the Around The Block Network crew has you covered with practice highlights and player interviews. Day one of practices concluded at 4:00 PM Tuesday afternoon, and the ATB team was able to interact with quite a few prospects. We’ll update this article as we go with more interviews and quotes as the Senior Bowl practices progress! Keep it locked on Around The Block!

Senior Bowl Quotes: Day One

Photo Credit: John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Appalachian State running back Camerun Peeples

Question: After your first Senior Bowl practice, how does it feel to be coached by a variety of NFL coaches from different systems?

Honestly, it’s pretty amazing. Just kind of picking up all the knowledge that these guys know. Coming from different coaching staffs at college, I’m kind of used to that. Just getting to know different people, getting to mix with different personalities and see who works with you well… See what works and how it works at the next level, it’s a very humbling experience to say the least.

Iowa State wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson

Question: First day of Senior Bowl practice, how did if feel to be with a bunch of different coaches from a variety of NFL staffs?

Honestly, it’s been great. Just learning new things every day in these last two days. I’ve got a lot of learning to do, but I’m just very excited to see where this learning will take me in these next two days.

Florida A&M EDGE Isaiah Land

Question: How has it been being coached by a variety of NFL coaches from a variety of staffs and their different philosophies?

It was an honor to be a part of the Senior Bowl. To be at this level of football, to experience this, to gain so much knowledge… I feel like I’m learning a lot every day I’m here. It’s just a real honor to be here.

Question: People have been saying you play very wide. Some call you the “wide-12 technique”. How do you feel about that edge and how is it a benefit to you being that wide?

I just gotta make the offensive lineman uncomfortable, just getting wide and make him make a move on me. I like to make him come to my domain in space where I can use my speed, instead of just power, because that’s what I’m better at doing.

Oklahoma running back Eric Gray

Question: First day of practice, how was it to get to learn from so many NFL minds from different teams at once?

You know, it was a dream come true. I’ve been wanting this my whole life, you know? To get an NFL playbook and really see that this is something you’ve watched on TV your whole life is just a dream come true. I loved it, I loved being out here. I haven’t been out on the field since November after our last game. Getting out on the turf just felt really good.

Question: What are you looking forward to most going into the next day?

Just going out there and being consistent. It was a lot of fun to be back out on the turf in competition. So I just want to get out there and have another big day, and be consistent.

Question: Something that you really showed off yesterday was your route running. Is that something that you’ve worked on for years or something that comes natural?

It definitely comes natural but I’ve also honed in on skills. I’ve had some great coaches that have taught me a lot about route running so it’s definitely a little of both.

Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo

Question: How does it feel to be competing out here?

It feels great going against some of the best players in the country. Trying to compete everyday and show myself to NFL teams.

Question: So far, how do you feel you’ve done? Think you had a good practice today?

I feel like I had a decent practice. Just trying to get better, trying to get back in the groove of football, you know. It’s been a while since we’ve had some good competition so you just need to come out and compete to get better every day.

Question: Who do you feel you matched up well against today?

I liked going against all the DBs. Everybody is out here for a reason and I feel like every single match up is a good one.

Question: Yesterday, during one-on-ones, Giants general manager Joe Schoen seemed to have his eye on you. What’s it mean to have a GM watching you?

It’s a blessing to have someone look at me, trying to see I’m a good player. I’m trying to prove to all the scouts that I’m a complete receiver, and I can do everything they need me to do.

Florida State defensive back Jammie Robinson

Question: Being someone who is position flexible, how does it feel working with this mixed NFL staff and seeing where they put you?

Oh yea, I’m at free safety this week, so it’s about being a ball hawk, to cover in the slot. But my whole thing is to enjoy this experience. To learn technique and adapt to the coaching styles of these variety of coaches.

Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave

Question: You get to work with so many NFL coaching talents. How is it working with a variety of NFL minds at one time, on one field?

It’s great. We got a lot of different guys working on the same offense. We have a great position coach, a great OC, and a great special teams coach. They all have their own thing going and it’s just amazing since they’re truly all great coaches.

2023 NFL Draft: Baltimore Ravens Mock Draft

For non-playoff teams, the 2023 NFL draft looms large. Despite not taking place until late April, the NFL’s yearly selection draft offers all teams an opportunity to improve. Front offices are investing their time in all-star games and player interviews while prepping for the NFL combine. 

As for those of us in the media, it’s mock draft season. Although teams do their own simulations, the most notable works are produced by sportswriters. Most are for the general draft, while many others, including this one, are more team-centric. 

The Baltimore Ravens are currently hunting for their next offensive play-caller while also evaluating this year’s new crop of college prospects. Baltimore’s process this year might be their most important in recent memory. With potential question marks at quarterback, while only possessing five draft picks, the onus is on the Baltimore Ravens scouting staff to nail their picks this year. 

Sidenote: The following Ravens mock draft was made via the Pro Football Focus Mock Draft Simulator

Photo Credit: Jon Durr/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens Mock Draft

Round Two: Pick 33 – Kelee Ringo – Cornerback – Alabama 


Baltimore Gets: 2023 second round pick (33), 2023 third round pick (65)

Houston Gets: 2023 first round pick (22) 

With Marcus Peters entering his age-30 season and a current free agent, the Baltimore Ravens face a massive need at outside cornerback. Marlon Humphrey is one of the NFL’s premier corners, however he cannot be asked to face the AFC North’s receivers alone. 

Kelee Ringo is a somewhat boom-or-bust prospect given some technical rawness. However, given his ceiling, he’s worth the risk at this spot. Ringo could see plenty of early reps given those athletic traits, which should hopefully speed up his development. 

Round Three: Pick 65 (from Houston) Marvin Mims – Wide Receiver – Oklahoma 

After the hypothetical trade, the Baltimore Ravens also picked up another third round pick which they use on their second biggest need. With Rashod Bateman’s rash of injuries and a lack of talent outside of him, Marvin Mims will be asked to contribute immediately. Mims is a quality separator with great concentration skills and can give the Baltimore Ravens a quality deep threat. 

Round Three: Pick 86 – Noah Sewell – Linebacker – Oregon 

This is by far the best pick for the Ravens in this mock draft in terms of value. Noah Sewell was once billed as a top-ten prospect who’s seen his stock drop over the course of the season. Despite this, he’s a versatile defender who can fill the hybrid backer role for Baltimore. He’s got the weight and length to play the edge while possessing the IQ to cover space. 

Round Four: Pick 125 – Jaelyn Duncan – Offensive Lineman – Maryland 

Yet again, another value pick for the Ravens here in this mock draft. Jaelyn Duncan is a highly-touted offensive tackle prospect who has plenty of great athleticism, but is viewed as a developmental prospect at this point. Luckily, the Baltimore Ravens are in a position to draft, and stash, a player like Duncan with both Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses already on the roster. 

Round Five: Pick 159 – Rakim Jarrett – Wide Receiver – Maryland 

Back-to-back Maryland picks here for the Baltimore Ravens. Rakim Jarrett had a disappointing 2022 season and has fallen in this simulation to the fifth round. Even so, Jarrett could get plenty of early snaps given the Baltimore Ravens needs at the position. Jarrett has solid ball skills and could grow into a potent slot weapon for whichever offensive coordinator Baltimore adds. 

Round Six: Pick 200 – Jaren Hall – Quarterback – BYU

Best player available is the strategy with the Ravens final selection of this mock draft. With Lamar Jackson’s contract currently in dispute, quarterback could become a much bigger need if things do not progress positively. If Jackson is gone, Tyler Huntley could be looked at as the stop-gap quarterback while they search for a permanent option. Jaren Hall is an older prospect, but has plenty of tools at his disposal that could make him some money as a backup.