Climbing the rungs with reckless abandon

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 

Gregg Rosenthal, editor of “Around The NFL” at NFL.com, has compiled a re-rank of the running backs taken in the 2015 NFL Draft, based on performance the past two seasons.  Former Georgia star Todd Gurley was supposed to be the next-big-thing with the Rams as the No. 10 overall pick and the top back taken, but he had just two runs of more than 20 yards on 278 carries last season and averaged 3.2 yards per attempt.  Rosenthal still has him as the third-best back in the 2015 draft (tops is third-rounder David Johnson of the Cardinals).

The guy who made a quantum leap in the eyes of Rosenthal is Jay Ajayi.  The former Boise State star is ranked fourth among running backs in this re-rank of 2015.  “They don't have an NFL Scouting Combine test for running hard,” writes Rosenthal.  “Perhaps that's how teams let Ajayi slip to the fifth round despite his being a favorite of the draftnik community.  Ajayi's runs look like car crashes, yet he always attacks the next snap like he's fresh off the lot.”  Here’s the good stuff from Pro Football Focus: Ajayi was ranked No. 1 last season by a wide margin in PFF’s “elusive” rating, on the strength of forcing 58 missed tackles, 11 more than the next-closest back.  And only Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy had more runs of 20-plus yards.

“So why isn't he ranked higher?” writes Rosenthal.  “I want to see Ajayi's follow-up season. His running style could invite injuries and be tough to duplicate year after year.  More importantly, he's not yet an asset on passing downs, coming in dead last in yards-per-route among running backs who played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps.  That slightly lowers Ajayi's ceiling, but he could make this ranking look as silly as a 175-pound cornerback trying to tackle him.  After making his first Pro Bowl, anything less than a long run as a quality starter would be a disappointment.”  Ajayi’s player ranking, in this case, anyway, is back where it should have been going into the 2015 draft. 

Hugh Thornton, who began his high school football career at Mountain View High, finished it in Oberlin, Ohio, went on to the University of Illinois, and ended up in the NFL, has retired from football at the age of 25.  Thornton was drafted in the third round by Indianapolis in 2013 but had an injury-plagued run with the Colts.  An ankle injury sidelined him all of last season, and he joined the Atlanta Falcons this winter as a free agent.  The Falcons had expected Thornton to compete for a starting job on the offensive line. 

Thornton was born in Boise but moved to Jamaica at the age of four when his parents divorced.  And what a journey it has been since.  His mother and sister were murdered in his home in Jamaica, and he moved back to the Treasure Valley as an understandably troubled 12-year-old kid to live with his dad, Mark, who was a Boise State player in the 1980’s.  Hugh and his father had a falling out before his senior year at Mountain View, and he headed to Ohio to live with an aunt.  The two have since reconciled. 

It was a month ago today that Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison declared for the NBA Draft.  Since then, Hutchison has worked out for at least two teams, the L.A. Clippers and the Boston Celtics, according to the Statesman.  But there’s one asterisk here: the Clippers don’t have any selections in the 2017 NBA Draft.  Keep in mind that while making an NFL club as an undrafted free agent can indeed happen, it’s more of a shock when it occurs in the NBA.  Hutchison can roll the dice and not return to the Broncos by May 24 (as is allowed when you don’t hire an agent), but unless he just doesn’t want to go to school anymore—and it doesn’t seem he’s like that—it’s draft of bust.  Others disagree, claiming Chandler’s not comin’ back.

Cullen Neal, who for three years was a polarizing figure on the New Mexico basketball team, is going to finish his career at Saint Mary’s.  Neal signed with the Gaels out of high school in 2013 but got a release when his dad, Craig, was promoted to Lobos head coach.  Cullen, amidst some tumult in the New Mexico program, transferred to Ole Miss after the 2015-16 campaign and averaged 9.4 points and 2.2 assists for the Rebels last season.  He’ll be a graduate transfer at Saint Mary’s.

What a way to make your season debut in the NHL.  Former Idaho Steelhead Sam Carrick is poised to do that in Game 7 tonight between the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers to decide a spot in the Western Conference Finals.  Carrick was called up by the Ducks yesterday from their AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, where he’s played since being traded from the Chicago Blackhawks organization two months ago.  Carrick had spent the rest of this season with Chicago’s AHL affiliate.  He had a cup of coffee in the Show with the Toronto Maple Leafs in each of the past two years.  He was a mainstay of the 2012-13 Steelheads, scoring 37 points in 50 games.

At 23-27, Northwest Nazarene’s baseball record this season is almost a mirror image of College of Idaho’s.  But just as the Coyotes have momentum going into the NAIA Championships Opening Round next Monday, the Crusaders have some energy going into defense of their Great Northwest Athletic Conference title.  For the second straight season, NNU boasts the GNAC Player of the Year, as senior Billy King was named to the honor yesterday.  King, an outfielder who transferred from Oregon State, led the conference with 14 home runs this season, helping the Crusaders set a new school record with 62 homers as a team.  King also hit .319 in 49 games and knocked in 37 runs.

This Day In Sports…May 10, 1957:

A twin birthday, as Phil and Steve Mahre are born in Yakima, WA.  The brothers grew up at the White Pass ski area and developed into two of America’s most accomplished ski racers in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Phil was World Cup overall champion from 1981-83—then won the gold medal in the slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics while Steve took silver.  The twins retired shortly after the Sarajevo Games.  Phil’s 27 victories in World Cup races are third all-time among Americans, behind only Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller.  Phil and Steve Mahre…60 years old today.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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