Bruce Arians, Cardinals Primed for Super Bowl Run

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In 2013, a new regime started in Arizona when President Michael Bidwell fired general manager Rod Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt (who is currently the head coach of the Tennessee Titans). If you were an Arizona Cardinals fan during this time, you know what pain is and should be rewarded for your faithfulness. Before our very eyes, however, a gem from the football gods was in the same building for 14 years. This gem my friends goes by the name of Steve Keim. Yes, he is the one who wanted to take Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown, who which of course was taken by Graves and which was probably the worst mistake in franchise history. Promoted on January 8th, Cardinals fans knew what they were getting: a new age general manager with a vision to build a team by evaluating talent. He came in quickly, setting the standards high and his motivation for making this team great goes back a few years, “One is obviously the day that I stood on the field in 2008 when we won the NFC championship and all that confetti was sticking to my sweaty head. That thought drives me,” he said. “The other thought that drives me is when I was sitting at our game against Seattle this year and we lost 58-0 and making a pact with myself that that will never happen again.”

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Shortly after, Steve Keim did not hesitate to hire his man, or the 2012 Head Coach of the Year, Bruce Arians. They both meshed quickly and found chemistry between each other which is rare between a coach and general manager. That following offseason, Keim went to work and cleaned out the house and added some of his own players in free agency. The most notable are the release of Adrian Wilson and the trade for Carson Palmer.

The 2013 draft was nothing new to Keim, except this time, he called the shots. Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Minter, Tyrann Mathieu, Alex Okafor and Andre Ellington were all selected by Keim and will have a huge role in 2014.

As the offseason ended, the new regime was in full swing.

Entering the 2013 season, the Cardinals were just who everyone thought they were. A bad team with no place in the NFC West and inevitably an underdog every time they played another team. But that didn’t stop Bruce Arians from making his mark as the head coach here. The Cardinals started the season off with mediocrity especially with Carson Palmer under the center, Arians’ 5,000 play offense and going 4-4 to start the season. His 10-14 INT/TD ratio was absurd. But as they always say, the bye week could have not come at a better time.

The story here, however, is in the back half of the season for the Arizona Cardinals. Winning 6-2 of their last 8 games, the team was hot and things were starting to click on all cylinders. The offense was much improved with impressive wins against the Colts and the Rams, winning by more than 20 points each. Still, no one knew who the Cardinals were, apparently. That was until they played Seattle in Seattle. For the illiterate, the year before, the Seahawks beat the Cardinals 58-0. Yes, there is no typo there. All odds were against us. I even received some hate tweets from some Seahawk “fans” that day because I was saying that the Cardinals were going to win. It was a total gut feeling. To the worlds surprise? We won that game 17-10. The media didn’t give us a chance, except ESPN analyst Hoge, thanks man. From that point on, I knew what kind of team that we could be. I knew the type of coaches and front office we had and I was sold that Sunday. Talent was never an excuse and we were hot as we ended the year. The team started believing in each other and everything came into fruition.

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However, those 2 losses did come from 2 playoff teams, the Eagles and the 49ers, losing by a field goal each. The Cardinals missed the playoffs at 10-6 and still would have if they went 11-5. It still leaves a bad taste in our mouths. But that’s in the past now, and it is only motivation for everyone in this organization to get back and take what we had in our hands. Nothing less than a Super Bowl victory is a failure to this team and they are up for it.

Here are my five reasons why Bruce Arians and the Cardinals are primed for a Super Bowl run.

1. Carson Palmer’s Comfortability with the Offense 

If you followed the Cardinals last season, you witnessed a massive improvement in Carson Palmer’s game. More specifically a 14 to 8 TD/INT ratio. But it wasn’t just about his numbers, he was a more confidant man in the pocket. He knew what he was doing. Now that he has another offseason under his belt with the same system, he is ready to take this offense to another level.

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2.  Upgraded Secondary 

When Antonio Cromartie was released by the Jets, everyone went nuts. One of the better corners in the game was a free agent. His visit to Arizona was lengthy, but who other than Steve Keim to get someone like Cromartie in here at a cheap price. The man is a wizard. Oh, I forgot to mention our 2014 first rounder, Deone Bucannon, a strong safety from Washington State. Also known as a “head hunter” according to Steve Keim. The man lives up to that name. He is an absolute beast and has what it takes to be Adrian Wilson’s successor. Arizona has arguably the best secondary in a pass happy league.

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3. Andre Ellington

Who is Andre Ellington you ask? I don’t blame you. He was our sixth round pick in 2013. No one remembers 6th rounders unless their name is Tom Brady. But in my opinion, Ellington has what it takes to be remembered with late round picks like Tom Brady. Want to hear something even crazier? He WILL be a top 5 back in 2014. Mark my words. Bruce Arians noted that he will be the work horse tail back and that Arizona’s offense will focus on him. Steve Keim compared him to Jamaal Charles. I see the similarities. See for yourself.

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4. Receiving Corps 

Quietly, the Cardinals have one of the better if not the best receiving duo in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The rest of the receivers are amazing. The free agency signing of John Carlson and the drafting of Troy Niklas solidify the tight end position with young talent. Steve Keim brought in Ted Ginn Jr. from Carolina which brings the speed Bruce Arians wants. But here comes another crazy prediction… third rounder John Brown will be a candidate for offensive rookie of the year. The kid is a flash, and the real deal in my opinion. How Steve Keim managed to find a diamond in the rough like this in the 3rd round is beyond me. Can’t wait for you all to see this Pitt. State product. Oh, and here’s Michael Floyd just being a beast.

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5. Defense 

Defense wins championships. It’s that simple. And the Arizona Cardinals can play defense. Finishing off the season 7th in total defense and 1st in rush defense, this unit played at an elite level every game. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles put his guys in the best situations to be successful. His exotic blitz packages and creative ways of using the talent he has gives him an edge. He was so good he interviewed with a couple of teams for a head coaching gig. He and this unit will be elite once more and will be key into the Cardinals road to a Super Bowl.

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It’s crazy to think that the Cardinals are primed for a Super Bowl run. But it’s even crazier to think that they aren’t. This team has a chip on their shoulder and they want to prove what kind of team they can be. This team has what it takes. Just ask Bruce Arians. There’s a good vibe going around the Cardinals fan base this year. We believe that this is the year of the Cardinals and this is our year to win a Lombardi Trophy. We have high expectations all around. Talent is not an excuse. This is the year of the Arizona Cardinals.

An Absent God

Writing this blog has to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I mean, just take a look at the unorthodox title. This is something that I had to write, however, because I am not the only one in this position. I am not the only who feels like they have an absent God. Truthfully, only a handful have ever asked this burning question: “Oh my God, where are you?”

When I was a child, it was hard for me to comprehend the thought of God. The idea of this being who ruled the universe, but yet knew my name? I couldn’t fathom. It was fascinating to know that this God came down as a man (Jesus) and died for me on the cross for my sins. I grew up knowing this, that he hears my every prayer, that he truly loves me. However, it never crossed my mind that he would fade away from sight, to the point that I questioned his presence in my life.

He is silent.

I’m not going to sit here and type away everything that has happened to me. We all have been through something. A death in the family, losing someone you love dearly, financial hardship, sickness. All prime examples of hard times that come along in this life we live in.

And then there are the other things. The things that are unpredictable and hard to explain. Like when God decided to throw you in pit with no way out. When he took your faith, tore it up into pieces and made a puzzle out of it for you to figure out. The kind of torture and pain that can bring you down to valleys you never thought existed. The darkness that haunts the soul at night. The tears that stream down your face like a river because you held it all in all day. The crazy hope of God showing up and doing what needs to be done, but another week, month, year goes by. The silence of God.

Absent.

This time is a lonely time. All of a sudden, everyone leaves. They seem to be absent just like God. The ones who are there don’t seem to understand the true depths of what’s going on. It can eat you alive. I’ve been a victim and a committer of this.

All of this from obedience out of what God wants you to do. Shouldn’t you be blessed? You leave EVERYTHING behind with the hopes of something to come that is never really guaranteed. Your job, school, family and friends, your true love. All for what? To be torn to shreds even more?

There is a blatant lack of God with everything said above. How can you not question if he was there the whole time? How do you not wonder if he is really there to hear your prayer and catch every tear that you’ve cried?

Where you really there God?

It was on a regular Thursday night, I had no church to go to. With all the symptoms of an absent God, the unexplainable pain and loneliness that comes along with it, kneeled down and prayed. My heart crying out for my absent God to hear what I had to say. Asking if he could hear my voice again and again. Questioning if he was really there. My heart cried like I’ve never seen it before and I had stopped… My silent God was silent yet again.

Not a word. Not a sound. But an unexplainable peace that came into my heart. A strength of 1,000 warriors.

After all this, I was ashamed and embarrassed of my fussing and whining towards God. Bashful at the silliness of the arrogance of my humanity. I couldn’t believe what I had just done.

It was human arrogance at it’s finest.

I came to remember at the time of something amazing I heard and saw. The photo below is a picture of earth taken from Voyager in 1990. See the pale blue dot there? That’s earth. Everyone who has ever lived in the history of humanity lived on that speck of dust suspended in the universe.

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We are tiny worthless beings living on a piece of dust in the universe. The foolishness of our egotism. My egotism towards God, to even question his existence in my life.

I questioned the maker of the universe and the one who holds my world in the palm of his hands. The one who catches every tear that I’ve cried and the one who knows my prayers before I even pray them. The God that came down as a man and died for the sins of all of us on this pale blue dot. The God that saw to forgive me even when I fail him daily. The one who created it all! The heavens and the earth. The stars in the sky. The one who gave us meaning when we are meaningless beings.

I questioned him, and I could never repay him for healing my blindness towards his greatness that I will never come close to understanding.

So is God absent? When Moses saw the burning bush in Exodus, God tells him that he has heard the cry of his people. Then Moses asks God what he should tell people if they ask God’s name. God replies with a phrase, “ehyeh ʾašer ʾehyeh,” “I Am Who I Am,” or “I Will Be Who I Will Be.”

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God will be who he will be. Absent. Great. Silent. Awesome. The “I Am Who I Am” will be just that. I am no one to question the undisclosed mystery of God, as he also says in the book of Isaiah:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8, 9)

The beauty and the mystery. My God will be who he wants to be, even if that means being absent in my life and in my pain.

He is the great “I Will Be Who I Will Be.”

Mocking The Draft

Hey NFL fans, Draft Day is near! Free agency has finally slowed down and the draft process has been in full force. I am going to be the general manager for each team in the 1st round and make the decisions in this mock draft. Mock drafts are just that, mocking how the turn out in Radio City Music Hall will be. Evidently, all of us writers and football fanatics will have all our predictions wrong because Draft Day is incredibly unpredictable. It’s the only way we can fantasize the best possible scenarios and players for our teams. We get some sort of odd pleasure out of it, but it works. That’s why it’s the next best day to Christmas. Let’s get rolling!

1.  TRADE (via Houston Texans) Atlanta FalconsJadeveon Clowney DE South Carolina

Here’s my big surprise for this years draft. The Falcons have been high on Clowney through out the draft process. It’s hard to see Houston pass up on a J.J. Watt/Clowney duo, but this is what’s best for a team with a freshly hired Bill O’Brien in need of quarterback. Going back to the Julio Jones trade back in 2011, the Falcons moved up 21 spots to get him. They have no problem moving up 5 picks to get their guy.

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2.  St. Louis Rams – Jake Mathews OT Texas A&M

St. Louis scores here on the RGIII trade getting the 2nd over all pick. They go NFL royalty and get in my opinion the safest pick in the draft in Jake Matthews, although they really have to consider a Sammy Watkins here with a QB in Sam Bradford who has yet to save this franchise.

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3.  Jacksonville Jaguars – Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M

The Jaguars are on the verge of turning a lot of heads this year, and it starts with this pick. Johnny Manziel is just a playmaker, natural leader and just has the IT factor to turn things around. This is such a Gus Bradley kind of pick, whom I think is turning this team around in a hurry. Write it down folks, the Jags are the surprise team of 2014, and the Texans could have made a huge mistake by passing up on Johnny Football.

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4.  Cleveland Browns – Sammy Watkins WR Clemson

Let’s give around of applause to all the Browns fans out there, for they endure the most pain of us all, yet are the most loyal fans in the NFL. Once again, new coach and GM, and they go best player available in Watkins. Pairing him with Josh Gordon can make their rookie quarterback (who ever that will be) have an easier transition into the league and hopefully a better 2014 offense.

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5.  Oakland Raiders – Khalil Mack OLB Buffalo

What can you say? The Raiders are here every year, and they still manage to screw it up. It is rather embarrassing, wouldn’t you say Reggie McKenzie? I’ll give them a chance and pick this stud in Mack, who in my opinion is the next best player beside Clowney. I wouldn’t count on the Raiders getting it right again this year.

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6.  Houston Texans – Blake Bortles QB UCF

The Texans get their guy in Bortles who has ties to new head coach Bill O’Brien, and potentially acquire multiple 1st rounders in the future. It’s a win-win in their opinion here – although passing on Manziel could come back to haunt them.

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7.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans WR Texas A&M

Here’s my other sleeper team of 2014, not because of Lovie Smith, but because of new general manager, Jason Licht. The former VP of player personnel for the Arizona Cardinals has quietly made some amazing offseason moves, and this is the next one. In my opinion, Mike Evans will have a better NFL career than Watkins. He reminds me of another Megatron and is part of the Aggie big three. The Bucs get it right here.

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8.  Minnesota Vikings – C.J. Mosley LB Alabama

There’s been talk of a QB here, and they do need one desperately, but with new head coach Mike Zimmer in charge, he gets a very unappreciated C.J. Mosley. A lot can question the value of the pick here, but just look how Luke Kuechly panned out for the Panthers. They can grab a Teddy Bridgewater in round 2 if he’s there.

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9.  Buffalo Bills – Greg Robinson OT Auburn

I hate myself for letting Greg Robinson slipping this low, but who knows? Run blocking tackles seem to be extinct in the modern NFL age. Luckily, Robinson happens to be elite in pass and run blocking. The Bills get the best of both worlds and can make EJ Manuel a little more confidant in that knee.

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10. Detroit Lions – Eric Ebron TE North Carolina

Eric Ebron is special. I don’t think I have been this in love with a draft prospect since Patrick Peterson. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make it past the Lions. He can take a lot of heat off Megatron or take advantage of it. It’s a perfect fit for the next (and better) Vernon Davis.

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11.  Tennessee Titans – Kyle Fuller CB Virginia Tech

I’m really happy for coach Whiz who got another shot in Tennessee. He brought in Ray Horton, who surprisingly isn’t a HC yet, to be the defensive coordinator. Horton get’s a new toy in Fuller to turn this defense around. He replaces a lost Alterraun Verner.

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12.  New York Giants – Zack Martin OT Notre Dame

Martin is the most consistent player in the draft. Starting all his games for the Irish and playing at an elite level in all of them. He is worthy of being a top 15 selection. Besides he gives Eli more time to think behind that weird football IQ of his.

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13.  St. Louis Rams – Ha Ha (Ha’Sean) Clinton-Dix FS Alabama 

Perhaps the coolest name in this year’s draft, his game is nothing to laugh about. The Rams have been searching for a ball hawk that can run sideline to sideline. He can cover; tackle and his instincts are rather impressive. His weakness? Having a normal name. We are unusually alike, right Ha Ha?

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14.  Chicago Bears – Aaron Donald DT Pittsburg

Once the Bears signed Jared Allen, this was the perfect fit for Donald. His dynamic point of attack at the line of scrimmage gives him a lot of one on ones this year now that Allen is there. This guy is a stud.

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15.  Pittsburg Steelers – Darqueze Dennard CB Michigan State

I really don’t know how the Steelers manage to make their picks predictable every year, but they do. Darqueze can flat out ball. Is he a little aggressive in coverage? Yeah. But that’s Steeler football. The AFC north is quietly getting talented at the receiver position, and this is the right pick for the Steelers.

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16.  Dallas Cowboys – Anthony Barr OLB UCLA

Jerry Jones came out and said the other day, “Cowboys miss the playoffs, but we remain popular.” That shows you where their priorities are. As perfect as a fit Anthony Barr is for Dallas, he won’t see playoff contention anytime soon. He replaces a current Bronco, DeMarcus Ware.

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17.  Baltimore Ravens – Taylor Lewan OT Michigan

To me, Taylor Lewan is easily a top ten pick. His recent arrests in December however, are the reason I let him slip. The Ravens cannot pass up on a guy who can come in right away and play pro bowl caliber football. It also fills a need for Michael Oher who is now with the Titans.

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18.  New York Jets – Odell Beckham Jr. WR LSU

Geno Smith gets a new weapon in Beckham who is the most explosive player in this draft. Turn on the tape verses Mississippi State and see for yourself. It is time for Rex Ryan to invest on the offense if he wants to keep his job. The Jets get this one right and choose the LSU Tiger.

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19.  Miami Dolphins – Ryan Shazier LB Ohio State

The Dolphins probably made one of the worst decisions for the team and passed on Bucs general manager Jason Licht. Now, Dennis Hickey is in charge. As bad as they need an offensive tackle here, they take Shazier who can step in immediately and give some life to this defense. No tackle is worthy of this spot.

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20.  Arizona Cardinals – Calvin Pryor S Louisville

The Cardinals missed the playoffs at 10-6. That’s how tough the NFC West is right now. Steve Keim and Bruce Arians are fortunate that Pryor is at this spot. Just to imagine Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, Honey Badger and Calvin Pryor in the secondary all at once? Watch out. They will heavily consider Teddy Bridgewater at this spot however.

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21.  Green Bay Packers – Ra’Shede Hageman DT Minnesota

The Pack looses out on Shazier who was picked earlier by the Dolphins. They desperately need an inside linebacker but no one is worthy enough for pick 21. They go best player available and choose Hageman, who fits what Mike McCarthy wants to do in this defense.

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22.  Philadelphia Eagles – Justin Gilbert CB Oklahoma State

The Chipster lands his return man and his shutdown corner in one pick. Gilbert has slipped recently. They will consider Brandin Cooks to replace DeSean Jackson who signed with the Redskins. This pick could be a steal.

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23.  Kansas City Chiefs – Brandin Cooks WR Oregon State

The Chiefs’ defense was amazing to watch this season. The offense however was manageable in the passing game. Brandin Cooks can come in and compliment Dwayne Bowe right away. Recent reports say that Alex Smith talks are going nowhere, so do not rule out a quarterback here.

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24.  Cincinnati Bengals – Bradley Roby CB Ohio State

Roby claims that he was innocent to his recent arrest of driving while impaired, but it’s hard to trust him at this point. At pick 24, he may have slipped fair enough and maybe too good for the Bengals to pass on. They can use another corner for this Mike Zimmer ‘less’ defense.

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25.  San Diego Chargers – Jason Verrett CB TCU

Two corners in a row and San Diego lands a potential shut down guy in Verrett. The risk here is his durability. If he can get that straightened out, then this could be a steal for a team that has had mediocre corners lately.

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26.  Cleveland Browns – Derek Carr QB Fresno State

Jimmy Haslam has a love affair with Johnny Football and they missed out on him earlier in the draft. Next man up? Derek Carr. He gets together with Sammy Watkins, Josh Gordon, and Jordan Cameron and make this offense the way it’s supposed to be. Josh Gordon will have a huge say at whom they draft at QB here.

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27.  New Orleans Saints – Louis Nix III DT Notre Dame

Another linebacker needy team misses out on Shazier and C.J. Mosley. With Rob Ryan having a lot of say at what they do here, he gets Louis Nix, who is poetry in motion at the line of scrimmage. They will consider a corner here as well.

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28.  Carolina Panthers – Marqise Lee WR USC

With Jordan Gross retiring this year, the Panthers have a huge hole at left tackle. At this pick, I think Marqise Lee is too good to pass up on. Besides, they have essentially no one at the position now that Steve Smith, Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell left in free agency. I don’t know about you, but I’m taking anyone who caught passes from USC this season. Tackle will be considered here however.

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29.  New England Patriots – Jace Amaro TE Texas Tech

This pick is a gimme. Tom Brady and this offense need a tight end and Amaro fits what they do. With Gronk struggling to stay healthy, this could be their long-term solution at the position.

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30.  San Francisco 49ers – Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB Nebraska

The 49ers lost Carlos Rogers in free agency and have a sudden hole at the corner back position. Don’t count out Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke on trading up for a more talented corner, though Sean-Baptiste can play. They are loaded with picks this year.

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31.  Denver Broncos – Xavier Su’a-Filo OG UCLA

Easy pick here. The Broncos get the best player available in Su’a-Filo and protect Peyton Manning. He is durable and a complete beast in the run game. He’ll get the dirty work done.

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32.  Seattle Seahawks – Morgan Moses OT Virginia

The super bowl champs have quietly lost plenty of key players this offseason; part in due to the huge extensions for Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. Players like Brandon Browner, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Breno Giacomini, Golden Tate, and Walter Thurmond. All key guys. They upgrade Giacomini’s place with Moses.

 

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