Happy Thursday, folks! We have an outstanding Thursday Night Football matchup tonight and a ton of National Signing Day news to recap from yesterday.
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...
DEION SANDERS AND THE JACKSON STATE TIGERS
First there were whispers. Then rumors. Then reports. And then it was official:
The No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022, cornerback Travis Hunter, flipped his commitment from Florida State to Jackson State on National Signing Day. Jackson State, of course, is coached by former Florida State legend and 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Deion Sanders.
It's being hailed as "the biggest signing day moment in the history of college football" by Steve Wiltfong, the director of national recruiting for 247Sports. The decision sent reverberations around all of college football, writes our college sports expert David Cobb:
- Cobb: "Hunter's pledge to Jackson State unquestionably serves as the most important signing by an HBCU in the modern recruiting era. As such, it could drastically change how HBCUs and FCS programs see themselves in the landscape of the sport. If snagging the No. 1 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite is possible for Jackson State, why can't Tennessee State sign two top 100 players? Why can't HBCU football get the attention and television rights deals it has long deserved?"
Sanders proved himself as much more than just a big name hire for the Tigers in 2021. In his first year at the helm, he won not only SWAC Coach of the Year but FCS Coach of the Year as well. Jackson State finished the regular season 11-1, won the SWAC and will play in the Celebration Bowl on Saturday against South Carolina State.
Now he's also proving himself as quite the recruiting force and potentially opening up a new era of recruiting altogether.
- It may have involved two of the worst teams in the NBA, but Pelicans-Thunder undoubtedly gave us the best ending of any game this season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a shot from near the logo to tie things with 1.4 seconds left and then Devonte' Graham banked in 3/4-court heave to win it for the Pelicans. You have to see it to believe it.
- Also under "Unlikely Game-Winners," check out Austin Reaves nailing the go-ahead three for the Lakers with under a second left in OT against the Mavericks.
- Take a bow, Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals superstar scored his 274th career power play goal, tying Dave Andreychuk for most in NHL history. The Capitals lost the game, 5-4, to the Blackhawks, but details, shmetails.
- Shoutout to Isaiah Thomas, who is showing that persistence pays off. The former All-Star has been in and out of the league the past few years, but on Wednesday he scored 42 points in his debut for the Grand Rapids Gold -- the Nuggets' G-League affiliate.
And not such a good morning for...
Urban Meyer is out as head coach of the 2-11 Jacksonville Jaguars. He was fired a little after midnight, hours after former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo told the Tampa Bay Times that Meyer kicked him during warmups in a preseason practice. But Lambo's accusation is far from the first alleged incident involving Meyer, whose time with Jacksonville lasted less than a calendar year.
Ahead of the Jaguars' 20-0 loss to the Titans on Sunday, details of several recent alleged team issues were leaked, including:
- Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. leaving the facility due to Meyer's criticism, only to return and get in a "heated argument" with Meyer
- Meyer calling his assistant coaches "losers" and forcing them to defend their coaching resumes
- Meyer benching James Robinson, one of the team's top players (a move that did not sit well with QB Trevor Lawrence).
In October, Meyer was caught on camera getting friendly with a woman (not his wife) at a restaurant in Ohio. Meyer had stayed in the area after the Jaguars' Thursday night loss to the Bengals and he apologized to the team for the distraction. Shortly thereafter, one player said Meyer had "zero credibility" with the team.
There are too many other incidents and simply strange moves to count. Remember when Lawrence and Gardner Minshew were splitting first-team reps, only for Minshew to be traded before the season started? Or when Meyer hired Chris Doyle, a former strength and conditioning coach at Iowa who was put on administrative leave after multiple Black players alleged he treated them poorly because of their race? Doyle resigned just hours after the hiring. And of course, let's not forget Meyer trying to get Tim Tebow to play tight end for the Jags.
What an eventful few months.
Not so honorable mentions:
- The Cardinals will be without DeAndre Hopkins for the rest of the regular season after the star wide receiver suffered a knee injury in Monday's loss to the Rams. While the Cardinals are in good shape for a playoff spot -- and Hopkins should return for the postseason -- the quest to get the coveted No. 1 seed and first-round bye just got harder.
Everything you need to know from a wild National Signing Day 🏈
Missed a busy National Signing Day? We have you covered and then some.
Let's start with 247Sports's 2022 class rankings:
- Texas A&M (previous: 3)
- Alabama (previous: 2)
- Georgia (previous: 1)
- Ohio State (previous: 6)
- Texas (previous: 7)
As for the biggest winners of the day, behind Sanders and Jackson State and the top three teams above, Michigan quietly had a strong day, writes recruiting guru Brandon Huffman.
- Huffman: "Whether it was flipping WR Amorion Walker from Notre Dame to start the day, rallying late to grab the No. 1 prospect in Oregon, four-star WR Darrius Clemons, away from the Ducks, pulling in four-star safety Keon Sabb (a longtime Clemson commit) or getting four-star DL Derrick Moore (a former Oklahoma pledge), it's been the season of Jim Harbaugh and the Big Ten champions, who will be playing in the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines kept their on-field momentum and transitioned it off the field on the first day of the early signing period."
The Wolverines entered the day with the 17th-ranked class and ended the day ninth.
Is it time for the NFL to change its COVID-19 protocols? 😷
Throughout the NFL season, different teams have been impacted by COVID-19 in various ways. At first it was mostly a player or two missing a game here or there.
That's not the case any more.
There are currently nearly 100 NFL players on the league's reserve/COVID-19 list, nearly all because of a positive test. Major outbreaks have caused roster shuffling and reshuffling every day this week, and three teams -- the Rams, the Browns and Washington -- have a double-digit amount of players on the list.
It's time for the league to change its approach to COVID-19 before it's too late, writes our NFL insider Jason La Canfora:
- La Canfora: "These are desperate times. Teams could feel cracks in the system growing. ... And that was before 75 players ended up placed on the COVID list on Monday and Tuesday alone. That was before the league's decision makers had gathered in Dallas for league meetings. That was before several more teams found themselves scurrying to find free agents to fill out their rosters or practice squads with entire position groups being compromised by COVID, again. And, many of them fear that the situation in the final weeks could threaten to derail games, and seasons, far more even than this virus did a year ago, because of the lack of more stringent protocols in place."
There's support to adapt similar common-sense steps in the NFL, La Canfora writes, including...
- Move back to last year's protocols and test everyone who enters an NFL facility on a daily basis
- Enforce mandatory mask wearing
- Move more meetings and work interactions to a virtual format
The numbers are staggering, and, as one team executive told La Canfora, "it will probably get worse for us before it gets better, if it gets better."
Projecting the NFL playoff picture, plus fantasy advice for Week 15 👀
With just four weeks left in the regular season, the NFL playoff picture remains wide open. How wide open, you ask?
There are 26 teams within one game of a playoff spot.
Trying to project what the postseason may look like could cause headaches unlike any other. Luckily, we can turn to Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com and his computer to crunch the numbers. A few headlines stand out, including a new projected top seed in the AFC, writes our NFL expert John Breech:
- Breech: "Projected AFC 1 seed: Patriots -- It's the Super Bowl everyone wants and now, the computer is willing it into existence. For the first time all year, the computer is projecting a Buccaneers-Patriots Super Bowl. The Patriots currently have a 29.54% chance of winning the AFC, which is the highest in the conference by far."
As for your fantasy playoffs, if they're starting this week, you need to be locked in. Our fantasy expert Jamey Eisenberg has Start 'Em & Sit 'Em advice for every position.