by Gus Griffin
Upon reflection, my very first exposure to the NFL aka “American Football” had to be in the 80’s when the Super Bowl became big ticket events in Nigeria because of the halftime performances. I remember at a very early age not understanding the game and also trying to compare it to Rugby. The one thing that stood out was the sheer physical nature of the game and how hard those tackles were. I remember my mother saying “I hope you never plan to play this dangerous sport”.
Fast forward 30 years and sports analysts and NFL enthusiasts are now engrossed in a medical term known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which according to PR newswire is a form of encephalopathy that is a progressive degenerative disease, which can currently only be definitively diagnosed postmortem. In March 2014, researchers announced the discovery of an exosome particle created by the brain which has been shown to contain trace proteins indicating the presence of the disease. The disease was previously called dementia pugilistica (DP), i.e. “punch-drunk”, as it was initially found in those with a history of boxing. CTE has been most commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football, Association football, ice hockey, professional wrestling, and other contact sports who have experienced repetitive brain trauma. It has also been found in soldiers exposed to a blast or a concussive injury.
One of the pioneers of the research that discovered and named this degenerative disease is Dr. Bennett Omalu, a forensic pathologist who is the Chief Medical Officer of San Joaquin County in California and a Professor in the University of California Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Dr. Omalu is of Nigerian origin but has resided in the US for over 30 years. Through his research he discovered this disease and was able to link it to the death of certain NFL athletes such as Mike Webster, after CTE was found in his brain during an autopsy. He wrote a book called “Play Hard, Die Young”. His story is being adapted into a major motion picture called “Concussion”, and Hollywood Blockbuster icon Will Smith will play the character of Dr. Omalu.
We all know Will Smith. In 2007, Newsweek referred to him as “The most powerful actor in Hollywood”. You ask why? Well, over the last 20 years, where he has done 21 films in a leading role, those movies have earned $6.6 billion. Basically, if you are looking for a big actor to portray your story, there is no actor bigger than Will Smith. The movie Concussion will come out on Christmas day 2015.
Ever since the trailer for the movie came out, there have been a few social media discussions about how authentic Will Smith’s accent was, given that he is playing a Nigerian. Nigerians from all walks of life have made their displeasure known about how the accent sounded more Southern African (Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa) than anything close to West African, and more specifically Nigerian. Such questions as to why a “Nigerian” couldn’t play the role or why Will Smith couldn’t learn a proper Nigerian accent have been circulating all over the place.
The challenge with such perspectives is that it deviates from the purpose of what Will Smith is trying to accomplish. This story is about one of the most profound developments in sports in the last 30 years as it has fundamentally changed the regulations around hitting in the NFL. In addition to that, the NFL on August 30, 2013 reached a $765 million settlement with former NFL players over their head injuries. The settlement created a $675 million compensation fund from which former NFL players can collect depending on the extent of their conditions. Frankly speaking, this was astonishing given that the NFL is behemoth institution that nobody takes on and wins. So why on earth should it matter if “the most powerful actor in Hollywood” gets the accent right or not when there is a bigger mission at hand of letting the word know of this disease and the impact it has on life after sports for several NFL players?
Hollywood has a history of regionalizing accents and they get it wrong a good percentage of the time. Call it creative license or sheer standardization to culturally identify but at the same time ensure that the primary audience (USA) can understand what is being said.
Dr. Omalu is a remarkable human being who has probably saved the lives of hundreds of athletes. He achieved this feat practicing medicine in America and pushing this agenda in a very American game. He just happens to be Nigerian.
In a situation like this, the story is more important than an accent and that story is being told by one of the world’s biggest story tellers.
As a Nigerian, I am extremely proud of Dr. Omalu and I am so excited at the fact that a Hollywood Star such as Will Smith is about to play this role.
Credit to everyone involved in this project and may the lives of NFL athletes be spared as a result of this.
Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor. Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective. He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.
The 2015 draft has come and gone, and the dust is beginning to settle for the Eagles and teams around the NFL. How did Chip Kelly do in this draft, the first where he had full control of the process?
Despite the incredible speculation and trade scenarios leading up to the event, the draft was decidedly without drama for the Eagles. They didn’t land Marcus Mariota, and they didn’t draft any offensive linemen. But they did load up on defensive backs, an area of need for many years.
The draft grades are pouring in, and there seems to be consensus about the Eagles’ performance: no one was wowed, but it wasn’t a miss. Better than average – every grade I’ve seen has been in the “B” range.
Heading into the draft, the team needed to find a dynamic wideout to replace Maclin, and they did that nicely with the first-round selection of Nelson Agholor. They needed to find a likely starter at corner, and they now have some options there, with the pickup of the versatile Eric Rowe. The Jordan Hicks pick was too high, given his injury history. They needed help at safety and picked up a few options for that position. Philadelphia needed to address holes in the offensive line left by the departure of Todd Herremans and the likely exit at any moment by Evan Mathis (what WAS that this weekend?!).
Draft expert or casual fan, no one truly knows the success or failure of this draft until we see how the six drafted players perform for the team in the next few years. As the Daily News’ Paul Domowitch said in an article today, “There is no right or wrong with respect to the 2015 NFL draft right now. There are only opinions.”
A few other perspectives on the Eagles’ 2015 draft performance:
A roundup of draft grades from national media, including a B+ from Mel Kiper, Jr.:
“He has put a premium on guys that will buy in, and I think he got those types and hit a couple home runs in the process. Nelson Agholor to me just screams ‘high floor’. He’s a great route runner, plucks the ball out away from his body, has the proven toughness of a return man – you should hear Polian talk about that – and is sneaky explosive. He can get behind defenses. I also think Eric Rowe at No. 47 overall was a steal. He is a great kid and offers up versatility (CB or S), and I thought he’d be a good value as early as the end of Round 1.” –Birds 24/7
An NFC East personnel exec weighs in on the Eagles draft:
“He loved the selections of first-round wide receiver Nelson Agholor and second-round defensive back Eric Rowe, really, really loved them. But he hated the third-round selection of linebacker Jordan Hicks (way too high).” – Philadelphia Daily News
A B+ for the Birds from Brandon Gowton, an extensive round-up of grades from other outlets:
“My first impression of the Eagles draft class is that it looks solid. There aren’t really any picks that make no sense at all to me. The team did a nice job of addressing needs by selecting players who fit their scheme and culture.” – Bleeding Green Nation
The Eagles signed 15 undrafted free agents on Saturday. The biggest group taken was offensive linemen (four). This will not be enough to address the Eagles needs at the line – especially if the perpetually injured Sam Bradford is indeed the team’s starting quarterback this fall – but we’ll see what happens. There are usually at least a few diamonds in the rough among the UDFAs.
I’ll highlight the offensive linemen first:
G Brett Boyko (6-7, 301) UNLV: From Lance Zierlein, NFL.com:
“Lacks the athleticism teams want from tackles and the strength they are looking for at guard, but his savvy should get him into a camp. His best position may end up at center.”
G Malcom Bunche (6-6, 320), UCLA: Bunche played at the University of Miami for four years, then transferred to UCLA for graduate work. A Newark, DE native, this what the LA Times had to say about him:
“He opened the season at tackle, then moved to guard, where he was more effective….He’s got a nice body, and he’s a decent athlete. He’s got a ways to go technique-wise. His feet aren’t as good as you would like.”
“While he was not invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, the 6-3, 302 pound center ran a 5.21 40-yard dash, had a 30 1/2-inch vertical along with an 8-7 broad jump at UNH’s pro day. Coccia ran the short shuttle in 4.78 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.75 seconds. He also put up 27 reps on the bench press.”
G Cole Manhart (6-4, 298), Nebraska-Kearney: An AFC South scout had this to say about Manhart, per NFL.com:
“He has to move to guard to have a shot, but he’s not a bad football player. I just don’t know if he’s going to be strong enough to play in the league.”
NFL.com’s overall assessment of Manhart was as follows:
“As an NFL guard, Manhart would be athletic enough for a zone scheme, but NFL scouts have grave concerns about his ability to drop anchor and handle power from the inside.”
The other signed UDFAs are:
More on each player can be found here.
The 2015 draft is now in the books and the Eagles continued to load up on help in the defensive backfield, an area of need the past several drafts. While other pressing needs went unaddressed, namely on the offensive line, attention to the troubled secondary was long overdue.
Much more will be said about what the Eagles got and what they didn’t this draft in the coming days. For now, here’s a look at the three players the Eagles took in the final day of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Round 6, Pick 15 (191): CB JaCorey Shepherd (5’11”, 199), Kansas
Kelly said that he didn’t think that Shepherd would still be there and was obviously excited that he was.
“Shepherd comes with some tightness in off-man coverage but possesses fast eyes and is always aware in coverage. He also flashes the ability to anticipate and jump routes and has one of the best sets of ball skills we’ve evaluated in the 2015 cornerback class.”
Round 6, Pick 20 (196): CB Randall Evans (6’0″, 190), Kansas St.
“You know, the unique thing about him is he’s played safety, he’s played nickel, he’s played corner. He’s a physical player. He’s an outstanding special teams player. He’s a guy that we’ve had our eye on for a while just because of his — not only his athletic ability but his position versatility, so he’s a guy that we were excited that he was still there.”
“Evans has exceptional size and length and brings above-average range. He has some tightness in off man coverage and is at his best in press, where he can utilize his length to turn and run with receivers. Evans also has the size to compete with bigger receivers in contested situations.”
Round 7, Pick 20 (237): DE Brian Mihalik (6’9″, 295), Boston College
“I think Brian has got a skill se… height/weight/speed off the charts. He has a 34-inch vertical jump. He ran 4.88 [in the 40] and he’s a productive player. He just played wide defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He hasn’t been a two-gap player, but we feel with the physical skill set that he has, that we can covert him to a four technique.”
“Mihalik intrigues coaches with his size and length. He has some traits of a 5-technique but he’s a limited athlete who will have trouble sticking on this roster.”
The Eagles also added fifteen undrafted rookies to their ranks Saturday evening, which you can read more about here.
Have your say: Are you satisfied with the Eagles selections this year?
Day 2 of the 2015 NFL draft saw the Eagles move up to get a versatile defensive back in Utah’s Eric Rowe with their second-round selection, and add some needed depth at linebacker with Texas’ Jordan Hicks in the third round.
Philadelphia moved up from 52 to the 47th pick overall, trading with the Dolphins, to get Rowe (6’1″, 205). He has played both safety and corner, and what do you know-the Eagles need help at both.
His versatility is a big part of what made him worth giving up a pick to get him, said Chip Kelly.
“We think he can do a lot of things. That was the thing about him. He’s got 45 career starts, I think nine at corner and 36 at safety…Versatility is one of the things that you look at and then from a height-weight-speed parameter, he’s off the charts in terms of what he can do from a physical standpoint.”
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock was also high on Rowe.
“This is one of my favorite players in the draft. He played free safety for three years before kicking over to corner this year. He’s a top-50 pick all day long. Rowe can match up on the outside with the big receivers in the NFL.”
While he has successfully played both positions, Rowe said that his preference would be to play corner, as he feels he has room to grow in that role. When asked to describe his style of play, Rowe revealed a DB this town may love.
“A physical, press competitor. I love to hit, I love to come on the blitz and tackle. On the press man, I love to take charges on the line of scrimmage. I would say I’m an aggressive corner.”
Rowe played in 47 games (45 starts) at Utah and accumulated 261 tackles, three INTs and 34 passes defensed in his career. His 34 career pass breakups are the fourth-highest total in Ute’s annals, and his 13 pass breakups as a senior in 2014 tied for the fifth-highest single-season mark in school history.
In the third round, with the 84th overall selection, the Eagles picked Texas LB Jordan Hicks (6’1″, 236).
One thing Philadelphia already had with Hicks was an element of familiarity, said Kelly.
“Jordan was, I think, the individual we saw the most this offseason, whether it was exposure at the Senior Bowl to him, his pro day, individual workouts, top-30 visits, all those other things… He’s a three-down linebacker, can cover and is an outstanding special teams player.”
There is little doubt about his talent, but there are concerns about his extensive injury history, though Hicks was healthy all of last season. Mayock’s reaction to the pick reflected these concerns.
””I think a lot of people like his physical traits, but people worry about his durability.”
Concerns about this health aside, Hicks feels his greatest asset is his proven ability to be thrown into any system and thrive.
“I think, number one, the fact that I’m a smart football player. I can get people lined up on the field and I have a great understanding of football and schemes and what it takes to call a play and check plays. I think also the versatility that I’ve been in. I’ve seen four different linebacker coaches, four different [defensive] coordinators in five years at the University of Texas. I’ve played in 3-4 defenses, 4-3 defenses. I’ve been in spot drops, man drops, zone pressure schemes, man pressure schemes. You name it, I’ve probably learned it. I think the ability to convert and take what I’ve learned and translate it over to this next level is probably the big thing.”
Hicks appeared in 45 career games at Texas, with 28 starts, amassing 299 tackles, including 24 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two INTs, seven pass breakups, 12 special teams tackles and one fumble recovery. His 147 tackles as a senior were tied for the seventh-highest total in Texas history. In 2014, Hicks was named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive player.
Here’s some footage of Rowe at this year’s combine to get your excitement flowing:
And take a closer look at Hicks with highlights from 2014:
In the end, the anticipated drama, intrigue, and complex trade scenarios did not come to pass for the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite reports of late inquiries with the Buccaneers and the Titans regarding the top two spots to get Marcus Mariota, Chip Kelly stayed with the 20th overall spot and selected WR Nelson Agholor from USC for their first round pick in the 2015 draft.
Wild trade offers from Kelly were reported through the start of the draft, supposedly offering first round picks as well as just about every star of the Eagles defense. Not surprisingly, he denied the reports, comparing his actions to looking at swanky houses you know you can’t afford.
“We didn’t offer any players to anybody. It was just a really steep price. It was like driving into a nice neighborhood and looking at a house, and they tell you the price and you walk away. We didn’t walk in the front door and take a look around. Part of our plan, as we’ve said all along is we’re going to build this team. We still think there is a lot of value in this draft and in future drafts.”
Agholor (6’1, 190) has drawn comparisons to former Eagle (sniffle) Jeremy Maclin. Kelly said of the pick, “He’s a great fit for what we’re doing.” Agholor has drawn praise for his athleticism, versatility, and high football IQ. Kelly continued,
“He’s got excellent speed, outstanding hands, catches the ball away from his body. Outstanding route runner, real student of the game. We were really excited, and he was kind of what our model is. He was the best player that was available for us that fit our system.”
Kelly’s praise continued, comparing his newest player to one of his 2014 selections at receiver, Jordan Matthews.
“I guess the best way to say it is he’s just dialed in as a football player. He’s in the Jordan Matthews category in terms of his approach to the game. Always striving to be better. I think the great thing about Nelson is he has a growth mind-set, and not a fixed mindset. He’s always trying to get better.”
Mike Mayock was high on the pick for the Eagles.
“Agholor is a precise route runner. He has added value as a great returner. He reminds you of Jeremy Maclin, the guy he’s replacing. Agholor can play anywhere, outside and in the slot. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to love him.”
Agholor finished his career at USC with 179 catches for 2,571 yards and 20 TDs in 30 games, becoming just the 12th Trojan to notch 2,000 receiving yards in a career. Additionally, he had 540 yards on 37 punt returns (14.6 average) and set a school record with four punt return touchdowns. Agholor recorded 24 kickoff returns for 443 yards (18.5 average). In 2014, he started all 13 games and led the team with 104 receptions and 1,313 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. His 104 receptions in 2014 rank third on USC’s all-time single-season list and sixth in the Pac-12.
Check out some of Agholor’s highlights from the 2014 season:
Follow Agholor on Twitter at @nelsonagholor . Welcome to Philadelphia, Nelson. Looking forward to seeing you on the field.
Do you like the pick, Eagles fans?
The day has finally arrived. The NFL draft starts tonight and finally, we will have answers. Eagles fans will find out how much more–or less–they understand the enigma that is Chip Kelly.
In the lead-up to the main event, there is an intense scramble of rumors and goings-on behind the scenes, as is always the case. Here’s a roundup of the latest rumors as they relate to Philadelphia:
The Mariota Madness will not end until he is drafted by one of the many teams in the league speculated to be after him. Chief among them are the Eagles, who reportedly are doing “all they can” to get him. –ProFootballTalk
In Mike Mayock’s lone mock draft, he has safety Damarious Randall headed to the Eagles, saying, “Randall is probably the fastest-rising prospect in this draft class. He has coverage skills and great range on the back end. This kid is today’s NFL safety; he has great range but you give up some physicality.” – NFL.com
Part of the draft mix is trade talk, and the Birds reportedly have Brandon Boykin and Mychal Kendricks on the trading block. – Inquirer
Oh yeah, those Kendricks rumors? The Eagles reportedly want a second-round pick for him. And teams aren’t the league aren’t having it, apparently. – CSNPhilly
Wondering what kind of wideouts Philadelphia plans to target? In this case size is much of what matters. – Daily News
An overview of the Eagles’ needs this draft. Shocker: there are many. – Inquirer
Wondering what the draft process is like for the families of soon-to-be NFL rookies? Some NFL moms, including Mama McNabb, talk about the big day. –NFL Player Engagement
Who will go first, Mariota or Jameis Winston? And who will be the better pro-quarterback? Fivethirtyeight answers the question by building a model, as they do. – fivethirtyeight
You excited yet? Get in the mood until the official start tonight with this clip from the movie Draft Day. Pretty sure that with this draft, real life will be even better than the movies.