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THE 2016 NFL DRAFT. Let’s just say picking in the first round of an NFL draft is like eating a bratwurst: It might give you heartburn and regrets, but there’s a decent chance things will work out. That’s a normal draft. This year? It’s more like eating a giant tray of stadium nachos topped with cheese that’s significantly past its expiration date. Could go either way! To wit: Carson Wentz might be an out-of-nowhere future Hall of Famer … or just the next former Browns quarterback. Robert Nkemdiche could be a pass-rushing machine … or a “character questions” cautionary tale. Myles Jack? Coming off knee surgery, but NFL analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay still have him going fifth. We’ve never seen a draft so full of not-a-sure-things. But you know what they say: With great risk comes greater drama. And what’s at stake beginning April 28 are huge potential rewards. So welcome to the 2016 draft. It’s time to dig in.
ON THE COVER: In “The Great Unknown” senior writer Kevin Van Valkenburg goes deep with Carson Wentz. He has risen up draft boards yet remains a relative unknown—the QB from North Dakota State who didn’t play quarterback until his senior year of high school and missed eight games last season with a broken wrist. Yet he’s a pro-style quarterback who takes most of his snaps from center, and rumor has it he could even go before Cal’s Jared Goff.
EXCLUSIVE: Senior writer Tim Keown speaks with Adam LaRoche after he retired abruptly in response to the White Sox telling him he needed to reduce the amount of time his son Drake spent in the clubhouse. The retirement started a firestorm in the White Sox organization, with players largely coming out in support of LaRoche. Keown spoke with LaRoche with unfettered access and offers exclusive insight into the many layers of the story.
Issue highlights and features:
The Nkemdiche Prophecy
Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche has a spotty reputation at best—Sugar Bowl suspension, hotel window fall, possession charge, and more. In a draft class that has more question marks than ever, he’s the face of the storyline. By Seth Wickersham
When Myles Jack suffered a serious knee injury three games into his junior season at UCLA, everyone assumed he would take the year to rehab and then return to the Bruins for his senior year. Instead, he announced that he’d “done enough” in LA and would begin rehabbing and training for the NFL draft. His coach questioned the decision, wondering whether teams would now doubt his character—but so far, it doesn’t seem so: Jack is still projected as a top-10 pick. We’ll examine Jack’s decision to leave and what it’s been like to prep for the draft without a team. By Jordan Ritter Conn
Moneyball pioneer Paul DePodesta left baseball to transform the way NFL teams scout, draft and deploy players. But will time be on his side in Cleveland? Once again, the Browns will be looking for a quarterback, and now they’ve got a new “magic” hire in DePodesta to help. The story of the Browns’ draft woes is told through him—the Harvard grad, Mets sabermetrics guru, assistant professor of bioinformatics, Sears board of directors member, who always wanted to be a football coach. It’s a front office that looks like no other place in the league (DePodesta, Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson), with a terrible, terrible track record. By David Fleming
Fourteen (14!) Ohio State football players headed to the NFL combine, and even more worked out at Ohio State’s pro day in early March. We captured the scene of a not-so-average NFL audition. By Coley Harvey
The latest version of Todd McShay and Mel Kiper’s mock draft. By Hallie Grossman
The Walk-Off: Columnist Bill Barnwell examines the risk/reward gamble of the NFL draft. Trusting your instincts is a gamble. There’s a lot of evidence that the draft is basically a crapshoot and that the best way to approach it is just to get as many draft picks as possible. So, especially in a draft like this, which is deep yet has no obvious top player, the gamble is to trust that you’re not going to outthink the market and just try to acquire as many picks as possible.
Also in this issue:
NBA: Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker discusses iconic step-back J’s and his Hornets’ hot second half with NBA Insider Brian Windhorst.
NBA: Peter Keating’s column looks at new research on injuries in the NBA, which uses machine learning to sort out the factors that lead to in-game injuries, with some fascinating results—namely, that overall games and minutes played are much more important risk factors than playing back-to-back games. Risk factors are clustered in the riskiest players, not scattered randomly, so cutting overall risk by 20 percent could lead to something like a 60 percent reduction in injuries.
MLB: The Padres selected Matt Bush with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. But because of injuries and legal problems, Bush never made it past Double-A. He started drinking and eventually, in 2012, was sentenced to four years and three months in jail after he ran over a 72-year-old motorcyclist and fled the scene. When he got out last year, after copious interviews and scouting sessions, the Rangers signed him to a minor league deal. Texas, of course, had a lot of success rehabilitating Josh Hamilton, and it’ll try to do the same thing with Bush, who says he’s sober and ready to play. He was expected to start the season at Double-A Frisco. Eli Saslow reports.
NHL: The Mag’s Ben Arledge runs down the favorites in this year’s NHL playoffs, using our own own formula, which looks at save percentage, roster experience, penalty killing and shot attempts in close games. While no single team beat all our benchmarks to stand as the clear favorite to win the Stanley Cup, four teams stood above the rest: the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and LA Kings. Of that group, the Kings appear to be the strongest contender and most likely, according to our data, to win the Cup.
Voices: The Mag’s Allison Glock digs deeper into the pay disparity in women’s sports and how the USWNT has made a huge play for equal pay.
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