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B1G In The Big League, NFL Week 3

NFL: Baltimore Ravens-Training Camp
See? Something positive came of the Beckman administration
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Week 3, without preamble:

Allen Robinson (Penn State) Bears WR: Every time I watch Allen Robinson making contested catch after contested catch, I wonder what his career would look like to this point if he hadn’t clearly wronged a traveling fortune-teller on some misty central Pennsylvania road during his days in Happy Valley.

Upon being drafted by the Jaguars in 2014, Robinson settled in to catch passes from...Chad Henne, who made it into Week 3 before being sidelined for Robinson’s rookie classmate, Blake Bortles. Remember that guy?

Once his rookie deal with Jacksonville was up in 2018, Robinson, free to spread his wings and fly to greener pastures, landed in...Chicago! In doing so, he linked up with Mitchell Trubisky, who the Bears wisely drafted over such duds as Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson.

Despite Trubisky’s Trubiskiness, Robinson continued to flourish, and cracked 1,100 receiving yards in 2019. This week, Chicago’s coaching staff, perhaps hearing the clock ticking on their own tenures alongside Lake Michigan, exiled Trubisky to the bench and inserted Nick Foles.

Robinson’s final line was nice - 10/127/1 on 13 targets - but he did also have a long touchdown ripped away from him by Falcons CB Darqueze Dennard. One can’t help but think even better things are in store for Robinson with the QB change in Chicago.

Tyler Kroft (Rutgers) Bills TE: Kroft, one of the few recent-ish offensive players to make it from Piscataway to the NFL, made his first team change in the offseason, leaving the Bengals after four seasons to join up with the Bills. Ascending QB Josh Allen looked his way in the redzone today, connecting for 4/24/2 on 5 targets.

Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland) Vikings DE: A big offseason acquisition for Minnesota, Ngakoue’s projected impact has been muted a bit by the preseason injury to his formidable bookend, DE Danielle Hunter. Today, Vikings’ back-and-forth loss to the Titans, Ngakoue made a huge momentum-swinging sack-fumble shortly after a Kirk Cousins interception, which let the Vikings get off the mat and retake a lead.

Rex Burkhead (Nebraska) Patriots RB: Talk about a stroll down memory lane. After a collegiate career in which he tallied 695 touches, over 3,800 scrimmage yards, and 35 TDs for the Cornhuskers, Burkhead seemed destined for a middling pro career as a 6th round choice of the Bengals in 2013. He barely played as a rookie, got mostly special teams time initially, but forced his way into a bigger and bigger role until he finally scratched out a start in 2016.

Then he signed with the Patriots.

As they are wont to do, Belichick’s operation took a decent player and have identified all the ways to get maximum production out of him. Burkhead’s role morphs from week to week, but in a timeshare with (former Badger) James White and Sony Michel, New England has developed an effective running game that also makes use of its tailback’s receiving abilities.

In New England’s new multi-dimensional running attack queued by Cam Newton, Burkhead had himself a day - 6/49/2 on the ground, and 7/49/1 through the air on 10 targets.

Brandon Graham (Michigan) Eagles DE: Graham is one of the first players I tend to think of when thinking back to the disastrous Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan. This, of course, is counterintuitive, because Graham has been a fine pro player for a decade now, and was an impact player in college as well, but Rodriguez’s tenure is mostly remembered for its disastrously bad defenses. That failure is just thrown into even sharper relief when you remember that Lloyd Carr didn’t exactly leave Rich Rod an empty cupboard, as he inherited guys like Graham.

Anyway, even a full decade into his career, Graham doesn’t really show any signs of slowing down, as he bagged Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow for two sacks en route to four total tackles in a 23-23 tie.

As a footnote, these are the same teams that tied back in 2008, when it transpired that many players, including Eagles star QB Donovan McNabb, didn’t know that a game could end in a tie. Themoreyouknow.gif

Anthony McFarland Jr. (Maryland) Steelers RB: Even in a tight game with workhorse RB James Conner healthy and promising backup Benny Snell Jr. figuring into the gameplan, the Steelers still made a point of getting their rookie Terrapin involved. In his first significant game action, McFarland picked up 42 yards on 6 carries and caught a pass for 7 more yards.

Khari Willis (Michigan State) Colts S & Anthony Walker (Northwestern) Colts LB: The big name on this defense is rightfully Darius Leonard, but Willis and Walker played large roles in smothering the Jets’ attempted run-based gameplan with 8 and 6 tackles, respectively.

Monday Night

Whoa nelly, have we got a good one here: The defending professional league champion (ain’t shelling out for that license) Kansas City Chiefs travel to Baltimore to face MVP Lamar Jackson and a Ravens squad loaded for bear that looks, so far, like the #1 contender for the Chiefs’ throne. So, who are we pulling for here?

Baltimore’s running backs room, as we’ve noted before, has a couple familiar names - former Rutgers transfer acquisition Gus Edwards and Ohio State rookie J.K. Dobbins. These guys are still in complementary roles to Jackson and veteran Mark Ingram Jr. in the pecking order, but Ingram isn’t going to play forever. Baltimore also picked up former Wolverine OL Ben Bredeson in the draft, but he’s far down the depth chart for the moment. Defensively, the Ravens have a few reserves from B1G country in Illinois’ Jihad Ward, OSU’s Malik Harrison, and Iowa’s Geno Stone. Finally, longtime punter Sam Koch gives Nebraska a presence here too.

On the other sideline, luminary QB Patrick Mahomes’ backup is former Michigan QB Chad Henne, still drawing a backup’s salary with a grand total of 5 passes thrown in the last 5 seasons (good gig if you can get it). There’s a sizable Michigan contingent here, as the defensive line features standout DEs Frank Clark, Taco Charlton, and Mike Danna. Beyond those guys, ex-Illini OG Nick Allegretti, Gopher LB Damien Wilson, and Hawkeye LBs Ben Niemann and Anthony Hitchens round out the B1G contingent.

By number and diversity, it’s a close call, but the Big Ten players with the Chiefs are making more of an impact - Clark, Wilson and Hitchens are prominent pieces of this defense.


Who would you rather play a game of Madden against?

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    The Accomplished, Sane Harbaugh Brother
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