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Friday, June 27, 2008

Top 50: Chill, New England, there's no denying Brady now

I finally gave in, and some will say I had no choice. Not this year.

Tom Brady is the top-ranked player in the NFL. He earned it in 2007.

Tom Brady is not only dreamy, but a heck of a quarterback in New England. (Getty Images)
Tom Brady is not only dreamy, but a heck of a quarterback in New England. (Getty Images)
After balking at putting Brady there the past few years, infuriating the New England region by making Peyton Manning the top-rated player, helping to land me on the list of the least-liked people in Chowder-head country, I have finally done what many of those angry people have waited a few years to see.

Brady, glamour-boy quarterback of the New England Patriots, has edged past Manning in my rankings of the top 50 players in the NFL.

It's close, but coming off Brady's sensational, record-setting season, coupled with Manning being forced to play without his top receiver for most of last year, Brady has to take over as king of the NFL.

Brady broke Manning's single-season record for touchdown passes with 50 in 2007. Fifty. Brady also threw for a league-leading 4,806 yards and topped the NFL in completion percentage (68.9) and passer rating (117.2).

It was a magical season, comparable to the one Manning had in 2004. That year Manning threw 49 touchdown passes, had a completion-percentage of 67.6, threw for 4,557 yards and had a passer rating of 121.1.

Manning had an off year, by number standards, in 2007. All he did was go over 4,000 yards passing for the eighth time in his career, throw 31 touchdowns and complete 65.5 percent of his passes, much of that without receiver Marvin Harrison on the field.

Most quarterbacks would kill for those numbers.

The great thing is we expect Manning and Brady to do it again in 2008. Why not? Brady has his entire offense back, a coach who lets him throw it around at will, and another year's experience on his résumé. Manning expects to have Harrison back, and third receiver Anthony Gonzalez isn't a rookie anymore.

The first man to 40 touchdown passes wins.

Manning and Brady remain 1-2 in my rankings, only this time they are flip-flopped.

Tom Brady earned it.

It's about time, some will say. Right, New England?

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: Can he do any more than he did last season? The scary thing for the rest of the league is, yes he can.

2. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts: Even Manning's down seasons are sensational. If Marvin Harrison is back this year, watch out.

3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers: His failure to play in the AFC Championship Game hurts his rep some, but he's still the best runner in the game.

4. Randy Moss, WR, New England Patriots: Talk about resurrecting a reputation. He wasn't on many top 50 lists a year ago. Now he's a top 10 player.

There is nobody better at cover corner than Champ Bailey. (Getty Images)
There is nobody better at cover corner than Champ Bailey. (Getty Images)
5. Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos: It's chic to pick his game apart. That's foolish. Bailey is still the best cover corner in the game.

6. Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans: Williams is making the Texans proud for passing on Reggie Bush and Vince Young to take this pass rusher. He might have been the league's best defensive player in the final eight weeks of 2007.

7. Bob Sanders, S, Indianapolis Colts: The only thing holding him back is the injury issues. When he's on the field, the Colts have a different defense.

8. Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: After Brady and Manning he's the third-best quarterback. The Bengals need to run it a little better to take the heat off him.

9. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys: He was given more freedom in Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4 and played better in 2007. Ware is a speed rusher who has his best football still in front of him.

10. Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings: He is a powerful inside player who teams with Pat Williams to form the best tackle tandem in the league. He is good against the run, yet quick enough to get pass-rush penetration.

11. Shawne Merriman, LB, San Diego Chargers: Merriman is a pass-rush force off the edge. His quickness and power are the perfect combination for the Chargers' 3-4 system. You have to account for him on every pass play.

12. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings: He led the league in sacks last season with the Chiefs. The Vikings added him to give them the best defensive line in the league. Allen plays hard all the time.

13. Terrell Owens, WR, Dallas Cowboys: Forget all the theatrics. He's a star player. He bounced back from his off 2006 season to be one of the best last season. I'd take him on my team any day.

14. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tennessee Titans: Before he got hurt midway through last season, he was on his way to a potential Defensive Player of the Year award. When motivated, he is as good as anybody inside.

15. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson was special as a rookie and should be even better this time around. He is a big, strong and fast and can rip off the big runs with an Eric Dickerson-like ease.

16. Walter Jones, T, Seattle Seahawks: Jones is a rock on the left side of the Seattle line. He is a great pass protector who has improved as a run blocker.

17. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: At 26, he's entering his prime. Roethlisberger has developed into a quality passer. Playing behind a bad line last year, he hung in tough and led the Steelers to a division title.

18. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers: Ask Packers insiders who was better last season, Woodson or Pro Bowl player Al Harris. The answer is Woodson. After Bailey, I'd take him over all other corners.

19. Steve Hutchinson, G, Minnesota Vikings: He wasn't his usual self in his first season with the Vikings in 2006, but bounced back to his dominating form last year.

20. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: It's scary to think what the Eagles offense would be like without him. He's a better runner inside the tackles than many expected and he's good in the passing game. He's a versatile weapon.

21. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers: He was hurt last season when Jake Delhomme went down. It doesn't help that Smith has little help on the other side. Defenses all double him.

22. Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts: When Marvin Harrison was out last season, Wayne emerged as the team's go-to receiver. The guess here is that is that it stays that way. He's a true star now.

23. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens: He is the prototype modern safety: rangy and can still tackle. He is what safeties like Roy Williams wish they could be.

Antonio Gates is so dangerous that double coverage can't stop him. (Getty Images)
Antonio Gates is so dangerous that double coverage can't stop him. (Getty Images)
24. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers: When the Chargers need a first down through the air, Gates is that guy. And he does it facing constant double-coverage.

25. Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis Colts: He's coming off a serious foot injury, which is a concern. It's why his ranking is down. When he's truly healthy, he's a top 15 player.

26. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Injuries limited him last season, but Johnson is one of the best when he's on the field. The Texans were a different team without him last season.

27. Jason Peters, T, Buffalo Bills: I love young, rising players like Peters. He plays with a mean streak. Watching him play is like watching a defensive player go at it.

28. Chad Johnson, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: He isn't nearly as good as he thinks he is. But he's still pretty damn good. He does have a tendency to disappear in big games.

29. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders: DeAngelo Hall might get more attention on the other side this season, but Asomugha is a better player. He's been overlooked for the past two seasons.

30. Richard Seymour, DE, New England Patriots: He played hurt last season and wasn't the same player as in years past. But he's still one of the best when he's healthy.

31. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals gave him a new contract in March because he's their go-to guy. He teams with Anquan Boldin to form one of the top receiving duos.

32. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears: A few years back he was overrated. He's not anymore. Urlacher excels in the middle of the Chicago defense.

33. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams: The offensive line woes of the Rams really hurt Jackson last season. That line will be better this season and his numbers will go up.

34. Braylon Edwards, WR, Cleveland Browns: Edwards was second to Moss with 16 receiving touchdowns in his third season in the league. He averaged 16.1 per catch and will only get better as he hits his prime.

35. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: For the second consecutive season, Brees put up huge numbers in the Saints offense. He might not be the biggest or have the strongest arm, but Brees knows how to throw the football.

36. Tommie Harris, DT, Chicago Bears: Harris is strong and quick. He had eight sacks last season, showing off his quickness. He can still hold the point against the run.

37. Asante Samuel, CB, Philadelphia Eagles: He had a big season at the right time, cashing in on a huge deal with the Eagles. He's great at playing the ball in the air, but some scouts think he freelances too much.

38. Shawn Andrews, G, Philadelphia Eagles: He's a huge guard at 6-4, 345 pounds and he shows off that power when blocking for the run. He improved in pass protection in 2007, although the Eagles line regressed as a whole.

39. Ernie Sims, LB, Detroit Lions: It's too bad more people don't get to watch him play. He's a fast linebacker who always seems to find his way to the football. He's a younger Derrick Brooks.

40. Lofa Tatupu, LB, Seattle Seahawks: He's a fierce tackler in the middle of that Seattle defense. He's not big at 6-feet tall, but he plays big. You can tell he loves the game.

41. Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots: He was the best front-seven player on the Pats defense last season. He's a load in the middle. Moving him off the ball is tough for any center.

The Giants are minus Strahan, so Osi Umenyiora's role just got bigger. (Getty Images)
The Giants are minus Strahan, so Osi Umenyiora's role just got bigger. (Getty Images)
42. Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants: His speed off the right side is a huge plus for the New York defense. Without Mike Strahan playing on the other side this season, it will be interesting to see how Umenyiora does now.

43. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers: It didn't take him long to establish himself as a top middle linebacker. He is fast, active and packs a punch. In a year or so, he might be the best insider linebacker in the game.

44. Kellen Winslow, TE, Cleveland Browns: He has emerged as one of the rising stars for a rising team. His ability to stretch the defense is vital to the Cleveland offense.

45. Aaron Kampman, DE, Green Bay Packers: He plays all out all the time. Despite being light at 265 pounds, he holds up against the run at left end quite well. He has speed and strength as a pass rusher.

46. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Kansas City Chiefs: He's one of those guys who doesn't seem to ever slow down. He had 99 catches last year in a bad offense.

47. Marcus Trufant, CB, Seattle Seahawks: He led all NFC corners with seven interceptions. He also got credit for 22 passes defensed. He has emerged as a top-tier corner.

48. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots: Yes, he belongs on this list. He had an amazing season as a slot receiver in 2007. Even when teams knew he was getting the football, he made plays.

49. Fred Taylor, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Taylor finally got his due last season with his first Pro Bowl appearance. At 32, he remains one of the biggest home-run threats in the league. His 5.4 per-carry average was second best among the league's best rushers to Peterson (5.6).

50. Devin Hester, KR, Chicago Bears: I don't normally put return men on these lists, but this guy has earned it. It will be interesting to see how long he can maintain it.

Just missed: Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers; Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs; Patrick Kerney, DE, Seattle Seahawks; Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers; Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona Cardinals; Antonio Cromartie, CB, San Diego Chargers' Terence Newman, CB, Dallas Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, LB, Houston Texans; Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys.

Lowest seed ever to win a NCAA tournament title

OMAHA, Neb. — Long before the final pitch of Fresno State's amazing win over Georgia was thrown, Mike Batesole knew it was coming.

No, it wasn't Gordon Beckham heroics or some crazy late-inning rally by Georgia. It was one look into the eyes of starting pitcher Justin Wilson before the game that convinced him Fresno State was about to win its first baseball national title.

And they did.

"I knew the game was over when I looked into Justin Wilson's eyes before the game," Batesole said. "At that point I knew he was going to do what he had to do to bring the title home."

Fresno State junior left-hander Justin Wilson was outstanding in the CWS finale.
And Wilson did that, too.

Yes, the same Wilson that entered Wednesday's game on just three days rest after already making two starts in the College World Series.

In a large sense, the junior left-hander typified what this Fresno State team has been all about since the start of the NCAA tournament. It was only fitting that he was the one who struck out nine batters and allowed just one run on five hits in eight innings of work.

With his sister Jil in tears and hugging him after the game, Wilson almost couldn't put his performance and the national title into words.

"This was just awesome … It doesn't get any better than this. Just unreal," Wilson said. "It was go time tonight, and it was the last game of our season, win or lose."

Fresno State's magical run was truly unreal to everyone from the national media to casual fans.

Fresno State began the 2008 season as a team expected to make a splash. But halfway through the regular season, they appeared to be anything but a national title contender.

Good thing the Bulldogs won the WAC Tournament in Ruston, La., because life has been amazing since that point.

The magical run started at the Long Beach Regional as the four seed.

In the Regional opener against host Long Beach State and Rivals.com All-American pitcher Andrew Liebel, few gave the Bulldogs a chance. The players, however, believed. In that game, Wilson out dueled Liebel and allowed just two runs on three hits in seven innings. The offense, meanwhile, touched up Liebel for seven runs in 7 2/3 innings.

The win over Long Beach State turned everything around. The seniors were no longer worried about where they were going to get drafted, while the young players bought in to the concept of team unity and hard work.

For the first time in 2008, Fresno State was thinking about Omaha when warranted.

"We were talking about Omaha in March when we should've been talking about March in March," Batesole said. "But I knew this was a good baseball team when we beat Long Beach State in the Long Beach Regional."

Steve Detwiler hit two home runs and drove in all six runs for Fresno State
With how the season transpired to that point, Batesole would've been perfectly pleased with ending the season with the win over the Dirtbags.

"We could have ended the season there, that was good enough for me," he said. "As a coaching staff, we got out of the way, and the eight seniors took charge. They decided to do things right both on and off the field."

Because of the eight seniors, Batesole is now satisfied with becoming the first coach to win the national title in his first College World Series appearance since Andy Lopez accomplished the feat in 1992 at Pepperdine.

"It's a long time coming for this program," he said. "I just love to see our players dogpile. This is what college baseball is all about."

More than anything else, Fresno State has shown the college baseball world anything is possible.

Ironically enough, the Bulldogs join company with 2007 champion Oregon State. The Beavers essentially were the last team in the field of 64 last season. Yet they hoisted the trophy over their heads just like Fresno State did Wednesday night.

Oregon State initiated the thought that anybody can do it, but Fresno State cemented the thought into everyone's mind with a magical run.

It's a new era in college baseball.

"I certainly hope what we did does a lot of good for college baseball," Batesole said. "It shows the country that anyone can win the national title doing it the right way. Maybe not only going to school for three years and only thinking about yourself."

Fittingly, senior left fielder Steve Susdorf echoed Batesole's sentiments.

"This is a great thing for college baseball," he said without hesitation. "It shows you don't need a No. 1 draft pick to win the national title. You just need everyone working together."

As the curtain closes on Fresno State's magical run and another amazing college baseball season, one must only look at Fresno closer Brandon Burke for future guidance.

Besides his team's trip to Omaha, Burke will always remember a sign he saw outside Arizona State's locker room during the Tempe Super Regional.

"Amazing what a group of guys can accomplish when you work together," the sign said.

The rest of the country should take note.

Original here

Shawn Chacon's Guide To Punching Your Boss In The Face

You know what baseball needs more of? Physical fistfights between general managers and players. Imagine the fisticuffs that would ensue between Jon Daniels and Milton Bradley. Jim Bowden and Elijah Dukes. Heavens, Theo Epstein and David Ortiz. We might buy a pay-per-view of that.

We had the closest thing to it when Astros soon-to-be-ex-pitcher Shawn Chacon attacked Houston general manager Ed Wade. The dispute seemed to be over a meeting that Chacon refused to attend in manager Cecil Cooper's office. Chacon was rather upfront about the "exchange."

"He started yelling and cussing," Chacon said of Wade. "I'm sitting there and I said to him very calmly, 'Ed, you need to stop yelling me. Then I stood up and said 'you better stop yelling at me.' I stood up. He continued and was basically yelling and stuff and was like, 'You need to (expletive) look in the mirror.' So at that point I lost my cool and I grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. I jumped on top of him because at that point I wanted to beat his (butt). Words were exchanged."

Nice. You likely won't be seeing Chacon in an Astros jersey again, which seems odd; sure, if we punched our boss, we'd be out of a job ... but then again, Gawker Media doesn't have the pitching problems the Astros do.

A reader helpfully sends in Chacon's new baseball card.