My Circle of Life: Edition I

NFL predictions, and reviewing new projects from Young Thug and Travis Scott.

Welcome to my first ever column, which you will now see every Thursday. First off, let me introduce myself.

My name is Dylan Hughes. I am an 18-year-old college student living in Fishers, Indiana. I am currently attending Ivy Tech Community College in Anderson, IN, with the hopes of transferring and majoring in sports journalism at IUPUI in downtown Indianapolis.

I have been writing for about four years now, and have had my work published on sites like Rant Sports, FanSided, 8 Points, 9 Seconds, Sir Charles In Charge, etc. I was also on my high school newspaper for two years, and was sports editor my senior year.

This column will hopefully be the first of what I do for the rest of my life. I have recently discovered this column is my dream job. I want to have the freedom to write about my favorite things in life, which includes sports, music, and anything else that is particularly on my mind.

It will be modeled after Peter King’s MMQB, a structured, long-form column organized into sub-categories of different topics.

The difference between this column and King’s will be the content. The MMQB is mostly football, followed by other things King is interested in, including coffee, beer, notes from his week of travel, all topped off by a haiku poem.

You will never see notes on beer or a single line of poetry, but I won’t count out coffee nerdness and whenever I do travel, maybe you will see something on that.

But I want this column to be dominated by sports — probably whatever is in season, so it will be a lot of football for the next few months — and music. I hope you like rap!

The thing I love about King’s MMQB is that you can pick and choose what you read. You have to be a football fan to read his column, but you can scroll through to see which stories you like.

For My Circle of Life, you will be able to scroll through and read about whichever sports you enjoy that I may have written about. Or, if you love music, skip sports and go straight there.

Enough rambling. Let’s get into the good stuff.

Trevor Siemian is more than enough for the Denver Broncos

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Trevor Siemian with former teammate Peyton Manning (USA TODAY Sports)

The biggest overreaction of the preseason goes to anyone and everyone writing Trevor Siemian off before he even attempts a pass.

Oh, that’s right, Siemian hasn’t attempted a pass in an NFL regular season game yet.

For a reigning Super Bowl team to start a second-year, former seventh round pick that has never thrown a pass in a real NFL game, it takes some damn moxie. It’s never been done before. But having the balls to do something like this is not out of the ordinary for an organization run by John Elway.

(The Ringer did a great job outlining some of Elway’s crazy bold decisions that just happened to work out.)

Gary Kubiak — who has been around Elway long enough to inherit some of his insanity — is the guy who made the final call on naming Siemian the starter.

And, funny thing is, it was a very sane decision.

Siemian is the only quarterback still on the roster that played under Peyton Manning after Brock Osweiler left for Houston. Even if it was just one season, Kubiak recently praised Siemian’s preparedness and poise. If you were asked to describe Manning’s career in two words, those two words might do it better than any others.

Siemian’s calm and ability to control what’s going on were also things Kubiak praised.

Mark Sanchez was not getting the job. I don’t know what happened to the guy, who played in two straight AFC Championship games to start off his NFL career with the Jets. And he played well, too. But this is not the same guy. He’s not a starter anymore.

Paxton Lynch, the team’s first round pick this year, is fun and exciting. He’s raw, like all the other rookie QB’s this year, and not ready to start.

Siemian, however, is there. He’s ready.

All we have is preseason footage on the guy, but what he showed was more than enough to be named the team’s starter. What some may see from him is an average arm, an average athlete, and just, an average quarterback.

What I see is a young, confident game-manager (yes, I hate the term, too, but sometimes you’ve gotta use it) who can go through all his reads quickly, calmly, and confidently. He won’t stare down a receiver, won’t rush through his reads, and won’t get scared.

Siemian hangs in there and makes the best throw possible, in the shortest amount of time possible.

He’s smart and mature. He makes the right plays. He runs the offense efficiently. And that’s all the Broncos need.

Denver’s quarterback play last season was laughably bad. Peyton Manning was a beaten up old muscle car with 300,000 miles under the hood. Osweiler was good for the circumstances, but he wasn’t anything special.

Combined, Manning and Osweiler tossed for 4,216 yards, 19 touchdowns and 23 interceptions during the regular season. Those 19 touchdowns ranked fourth worst in the league; the 23 interceptions ranked as the worst.

Denver’s offense as a whole was middle of the pack in yards gained, and were middle of the pack in points scored.

This team won a Super Bowl with that offense. Aside from losing Malik Jackson to the Jaguars, the defense that won them the big game remains mostly intact.

How does starting Siemian make them a worse team?

Siemian doesn’t have to do much to improve upon last season’s passing numbers put up by Manning and Osweiler. His job is to get the ball down the field — even if it takes more plays and shorter throws — and not turn the ball over.

He has an excellent receiver group in Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood and Cody Latimer. All five of those guys are capable of making plays with the ball, and as long as Siemian gets them the ball enough, the offense will be fine.

Assuming everyone stays healthy, Siemian will be more than enough to keep the offense’s head above water so that the defense doesn’t have too much to worry about.

Dallas’s rookie backfield and a couple Sooners in Minnesota

The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings were both dealt tough blows this preseason: they lost their quarterback.

Both situations were very different, however. Tony Romo will be able to return to the field sometime mid-season. But Bridgewater, well, he won’t be playing this season, and there’s no guarantee he plays for the Vikings ever again.

In Dallas, they aren’t happy that Romo will be sidelined for half the season, but their situation isn’t too bad, either.

Fourth round selection in this year’s draft, Dak Prescott, will be taking the reigns. Prescott got a lot of hype in the preseason with his surprisingly good play. In fact, he looked so good that Twitter was filled with people calling for Romo’s job before he got hurt.

Let’s look at some video to see if he was really that good during the preseason.

First off, quick shoutout to the NFL for compiling every play not only Prescott was involved in, but other players on other teams throughout the preseason. It is good to have video that is not just highlights, so you can see the good and bad.

For Prescott, it was a lot of good and not much bad. I mean, it was the preseason, but the tools he showed makes me think he’s the most NFL ready quarterback that was drafted this year.

When looking at video to examine a QB, I look at a few things. First, how comfortable they look in the pocket. Do they stick it out even though the pass rush is closing in, or do they use their legs — if they have any, which Prescott does — to flee.

Prescott does a great job escaping the pocket to extend plays, but he only does that when there is no possible way he could stay in the pocket without getting sacked. Multiple times in the videos above you can see the pressure closing in on Prescott, but he doesn’t leave the pocket until a defender is right on him.

Second, I look at the types of throws they attempt. Are they trying to hit throws in all three levels of the field, or are they just dumping the ball off on their running backs and/or making short, quick passes?

Prescott utilized the entire field. He will throw screen passes to his RB’s, throw a quick, short slant or screen pass into the flat, make an intermediate throw, or heave it down the field.

In all of those phases, Prescott found success during the preseason. The biggest reason for this is his ability to place the ball exactly where it needs to be. That seems to be his biggest strength right now.

Third, I look at how often they convert third downs. I don’t have numbers, but that seemed to be the area Prescott struggled in the most during the preseason. He would either be overwhelmed with a blitz, or throw a short pass that gave the receiver no chance of converting.

Prescott shows to be a very mature quarterback despite his age, but here, he certainly needs work.

It has been talked about a lot whether Romo should re-assume the starting job once returning from injury — and we obviously have to see Prescott play for real first — but right now I’m not so certain. Prescott has the talent to have a RGIII-like rookie season where he just bursts onto the scene without hiccup.

If that were to happen, it may be tough for Romo to get his job back.

But right now, this team doesn’t look to be the Super Bowl contender it usually is considered to be with Romo under center. The defense will struggle, even though the offense could be explosive.

Fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliot will be in that backfield with Prescott, giving Dallas their first rookie backfield to start a season since 1969 (Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill).

Behind that line, Prescott and Elliot will have plenty of opportunity — and time — to score a lot of points. We’ll see whether they can do that or not, starting with the New York Giants in Week 1.

This is the injury that I really don’t want to talk about. Teddy Bridgewater — a favorite of mine — completely shredded his knee during practice and will miss this season in its entirety.

In two seasons with the Vikings, Bridgewater was never a top-tier quarterback. But you saw the potential, and he perfectly complimented the dominant running game led by Adrian Peterson. He had the best completion percentage of any QB in NFL history under the age of 25, per Adam Schefter.

He helped get his team to the playoffs last season, and they were surely headed that way again this year.

This injury is a morale-crusher for the Vikings, but it is not a hope-crusher. They still have a ton of talent that is hungry after the slim 10–9 wildcard loss to Seattle last year.

And, they have a new quarterback.

The Vikings made it seem as if they were content starting veteran Shaun Hill for the season, as all their offense needs is a game-manager who hands the ball off to Peterson enough.

Believe it or not, I think that would have worked out fine, as long as Hill’s old, brittle bones (36 years old = elderly man in the NFL) could survive the season.

GM Rick Spielman didn’t feel comfortable with that, so he looked around the league for another option (as Peter King outlined here).

After rummaging through the trade market, he dialed up longtime friend Howie Roseman with the Philadelphia Eagles. Roseman agreed to send Sam Bradford to Minnesota in exchange for their 2017 first and fourth round picks.

That fourth round pick could become a second or third depending on how far the Vikings’ season goes.

You could say Minnesota gave up a lot in this trade. For a quarterback that has won just 39.6 percent of his games, and has had a tough time staying healthy in his five seasons in the NFL. He hasn’t been particularly good, either, with his best season coming in 2012 with the Rams. His numbers that year: 3,702 yards, 21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions a 49.5 QBR, 82.6 quarterback rating.

And, most importantly, 16 games played. He’s done that only two times.

What Bradford has proven over the years is that he won’t give you anything above average, really. He’ll have flashes of really good, combated either by an injury or a stretch of bad play. You just don’t know what you are getting from him on a consistent basis.

But, he also hasn’t necessarily played on the best teams.

Once he suits up for the Vikings, that will have been the best team he’s played on, with the best weapons around him. St. Louis and Philadelphia were never good fits for him, because instead of him being the proper compliment to a sound offense, he’s had to try and do too much. More than he’s capable of.

Now, in Minnesota, he can be exactly what he is best suited to be in this league.

Whether that’s good enough for a Super Bowl or not, he should statistical give Minnesota more than what Bridgewater was probably going to give you.

The guy he will be sharing the backfield with — fellow Oklahoma alum, Adrian Peterson — could have a big role in Bradford’s success. As long as Peterson does his thing, defenses won’t focus much on Bradford. He may have a lot more time to make plays than he’s used to.

It doesn’t seem likely, but if Bradford has a really good season, could Minnesota keep him around next season as Bridgewater insurance? Or if they think he is a better long-term option?

Assuming Bridgewater has a full recovery, I don’t see Bradford having a good enough season to earn a role past this season. But anything is possible.

Bears’ new offensive lineman should make Jeremy Langford very happy

In a money-saving move, the Green Bay Packers decided to part ways with All-Pro guard Josh Sitton. He will now be the starting left guard for the division-rival Chicago Bears.

After signing Sitton and extending right guard Kyle Long, the Bears’ interior seems awful secure. Previous left guard — rookie Cody Whitehair — will now move to center. He has been the team’s left guard all offseason, but head coach John Fox said center was his best position and that he has had some reps there.

Jeremy Langford has a lot on his shoulders coming into the season, having to replace a running back and all-around playmaker like Matt Forte. But the addition of Sitton should make his job at least a little bit easier.

2016 NFL season and Week 1 predictions

I’m going to be short on these. Here’s my predictions on end-of-season award winners first.

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin

Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers

Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Vernon Hargreaves

Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson

AFC North: Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Browns

AFC South: Texans, Jaguars, Colts, Titans

AFC East: Patriots, Bills, Jets, Dolphins

AFC West: Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers

NFC North: Packers, Vikings, Lions, Bears

NFC South: Panthers, Buccaneers, Falcons, Saints

NFC East: Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, Eagles

NFC West: Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams, 49ers

Playoffs:

AFC — Steelers, Patriots, Broncos, Texans

Wild cards — Raiders, Ravens

NFC — Cardinals, Packers, Panthers, Giants

Wild cards — Seahawks, Vikings

Super Bowl: Panthers over Steelers

Week 1:

Broncos over Panthers

Browns over Eagles

Texans over Bears

Raiders over Saints

Bengals over Jets

Ravens over Bills

Buccaneers over Falcons

Vikings over Titans

Chiefs over Chargers

Packers over Jaguars

Seahawks over Dolphins

Colts over Lions

Giants over Cowboys

Cardinals over Patriots

Steelers over Redskins

Rams over 49ers

Young Thug, Travis Scott drop new albums

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Album cover for Young Thug’s Jeffery

Young Thug and Travis Scott — two of my favorite artists — both dropped their new albums recently. Thugger with Jeffery and Travis Scott with Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight.

Both albums really grab your attention with their front covers. For Jeffery, Young Thug poses in this periwinkle, gender-free dress. And, if you are a fan of Thugger or at least familiar with his work, this is not very surprising. Any other artist doing this would drop jaws, but Thug is, well, a weirdo. That’s his style, and it’s part of the reason we love him.

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Scott’s cover art is a little less head-scratching, but nonetheless out of the ordinary.

Travis almost looks to be a demonic figure, with black (raven or crow?) wings perked up behind him while he smokes a blunt. The scene is almost as confusing as the album’s title.

Jeffery — believe it or not — was Thug’s third project released this year after I’m Up and Slime Season 3. Being a Thug fan boy and the leader of his fan club, I enjoyed both those projects even though they weren’t received as well by other listeners.

The album has nine songs, all based on some of Thugger’s inspirations. It starts off with “Wyclef Jean,” one of the more average tracks on the project. You get the usual weak lyrics from Young Thug, but once you get past that and appreciate the sound of the music, the song is a fun listen.

I mean, if you are fixated on lyrics, don’t listen to Young Thug. He will never be Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole with a pen. What makes him special is his unique sound, which goes unmatched in today’s rap game.

Track 2 is “Floyd Mayweather,” which includes features from Travis Scott, Gucci Mane and Gunna. In order from best to worst, I’d say it goes Gucci, Gunna, Travis. I enjoy Travis more than the other two artists, but his feature here is honestly just awful. It majorly lacks substance. See for yourself.

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It’s another OK song. Not bad, but not memorable.

The next track is “RiRi,” and this is where it starts to get good. “RiRi” is a really good track, honored after Rihanna. A lot of these songs are titled after an artist, but don’t actually include any reference to them whatsoever in the song. This song seems to go against that, where he says “Ah-ah-ah, work, do the work baby do the work” in his hook, alluding to Rihanna’s song “Work” with Drake.

“Guwop,” track no. 6, is by far my favorite on the album. I tend to find Young Thug’s slower songs to be his best, and this one is almost perfect all the way around. Here, Thugger is talking about his girl, and it rides on a nice, fun-but-slow beat throughout the track. He then brings in Quavo and Offset from Migos, followed by Young Scooter, as features.

All three verses are great, but I am just in love with Quavo’s.

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The subtle pause in the music after the second line of his verse is just the perfect interaction, and for some reason, the line “I am the plug, cordless” is just so catchy to me. I often find myself randomly saying it throughout the day.

Thug could put together an entire album made up of songs that sound similar to this one and I would never stop listening.

Then comes the song named after everybody’s favorite gorilla, Harambe.

Like “RiRi,” this track might also have a reference to its inspiration. Instead of in lyric form, though, this is Thugger’s most aggressive song on the entire album. He is yelling throughout the entire song, and I can just imagine him drooling all over his microphone in the studio while recording it.

Perhaps he was getting in touch with his inner gorilla so he could properly pay tribute to Harambe.

Just thinking about the title gets me to laugh, because it is such a Young Thug thing to do. But the song itself is very good. It’s an upbeat track and Thug’s aggressive approach on it really makes it a fun listen.

“Webbie” is up next, and it’s also quite a good listen. The hook, “They politickin’ ‘bout these cases, I told her roll me up a blunt and I’ma face it,” might not make much sense, but it is very catchy and hard to not sing along to.

You could say the whole track is like that, really, like plenty of other Young Thug songs: you don’t what the hell is going on, but you still like it!

Jeffery closes out with “Kanye West,” which includes a feature from Wyclef Jean.

This song is just OK, like the opening track. Thug repeats the album’s name plenty throughout the beginning and other parts of the song, which gets a little repetitive after a lot of listens.

Wyclef Jean has a pretty nice verse, though.

Oh yeah, I left out two songs. Let me just say this about “Swizz Beatz” and “Future Swagg”: I deleted them so they didn’t kill my vibe whenever they came on.

Overall, this album has a lot of good songs, but it is not a complete product. To compare to Thug’s other two projects this year, I’d say Jeffery ranks second behind Slime Season 3, just ahead of I’m Up.

Unlike Young Thug, Travis Scott’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight was just his first release of the year. It came exactly one year after his debut album, Rodeo, which was a smashing hit.

This album was incredibly strong, in my opinion. I didn’t have to delete any songs, which should say enough.

Travis decided to put the best song on the album — yes, I said it — first. It is called “The Ends,” and it is fantastic.

It has a great, kind of deep and dark intro, to really get the album kickstarted. After that, the song jumps around a bit, with slow and fast tempos interchanging. “The Ends” also features a great verse from Andre 3000, so you know it’s a winner.

Next is “Way Back,” which was a strong contender for the album’s best song. To me, at least.

One of the things I love about Travis’s voice is that he can sometimes get it to a point where he sounds like Kanye West. At points in Rodeo, and on this track, when he says “We in the house,” I could swear it was Kanye.

Anyways, I also love this song because it is another 2-in-1 that Scott has done in the past. He did this on Rodeo with songs like “Oh My Dis Side” and “Ok Alright.” In the first half of the song, you get a certain sound than you get in the second half. If you split the two halves up and listened to them separately, they could easily pass as their own songs.

Unfortunately, this was the only one of those songs on the album, but of course, it’s one of the best.

Moving on, “Coordinate” is next on the track list. This is also a very good song, no matter how strange the intro with Blac Youngsta may be.

This song just has a very cool sound. Travis does a good job matching his voice to the beat. He can sometimes do that physically, or like on this track, electronically. Either way, it’s a cool, deep sound.

Kid Cudi was a surprising feature on the album, with a solid verse on “Through the Late Night.”

Here, Scott really shows off his talent. He does an excellent job matching the sound of his song to fit his feature’s sound. Some may say this is a mistake as it opens the doors to lose his song to his feature, but I don’t think he cares about that. He wants to make the song sound cool, and for the feature to feel at home.

The beat on “Through the Late Night” just matches Cudi perfectly and makes the song sound really good, especially for the OG Cudi listeners out there.

I’ll be short on this, but who doesn’t love a good interlude? “SDP Interlude” was a nice little listen, with Travis and Cassie repeating “Smoke some, drink some, pop one” throughout the song.

“Sweet Sweet,” which Travis said to be his favorite song on the album while being interviewed on Hot 97’s Ebro In The Morning, is an interesting track for sure. It’s not my favorite track on the album, but it’s got a unique sound to it. This song probably sounds really good to the common druggie, and that’s no diss. It’s just that the beat and sound is kind of jumpy, and may sound better if your brain is just a little…spacey.

“Outside” is my second favorite track on Birds, and could very well become first after more listens. It is just such a complete song, and really reminds me of the better songs on Rodeo. It is classic Travis, if you will.

“Goosebumps,” which features a verse from Kendrick Lamar, is another song where Travis just makes the song fit his feature perfectly. When listening, it’s hard to tell whether you are listening to a song off of a Travis Scott album or a Kendrick Lamar album. They both have dominant sections of the song, and the interaction is just fantastic. Tracks like these are where Travis Scott shows off his genius. He doesn’t just have a great sound, he has a great ear and can produce the hell out of a good song.

“Pick Up The Phone,” which I’m sure everybody has heard now, earned a spot on Birds. I won’t say anything else about it, because it’s been out there long enough. And same for “Wonderful.” It’s old. And if any old song was going to be on this album, it should have been “A-Team.”

“Lose” is another favorite of mine. Instead of just some catchy lyrics, Travis is telling a personal story here, about how successful he is now and how he has “shit to lose.” Solid beat, solid sound, solid song all around.

And, to end it off, “Guidance.” This song has some major Caribbean influence on it, which I’m sure some people appreciate, but I didn’t really like it. I don’t think it suits Travis’s style very well. It is nice to see him stepping out of his comfort zone a bit and taking some risks, but he should stay away from this sound.

Overall, the album is incredible. Like I said earlier, Travis Scott is a genius and he showed that on Birds. I already can’t wait for his next project.

That is all for Edition I of My Circle of Life. Whether you read one sentence, paragraph, story, or the whole damn thing, I appreciate it nonetheless.

Enjoy football this weekend, and I’ll see you next Thursday.

Written by

Sports Journalism Graduate, IUPUI. Writing about money, business, electric vehicles, and more.

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