Kiper has Te'o, Eifert projected as first-round picks

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Kiper has Te'o, Eifert projected as first-round picks

In the sense of competing for a National Championship, getting their degrees and being captains on the team that brought Notre Dame back, the decisions of Manti Teo and Tyler Eifert to return to South Bend for their senior seasons look like pretty good ones.

Id be kicking myself if I couldnt be a part of this team, Eifert said in November.

But for the pairs next step, the move to return certainly improved each players draft stock.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., has Teo ranked No. 2 on his early big board and Eifert as the best tight end in Aprils NFL Draft, although theres obviously plenty of potential for movement over the next four months.

For Eifert, Kipers comments were essentially what coach Brian Kelly has been getting at all year -- the seniors production may be down, but hes a much better tight end than he was a year ago. With one game left, Eifert has 19 fewer catches and 179 fewer yards than he did in 2011, when he led all FBS tight ends in receptions and yards.

But Eifert won the Mackey Award -- given to the nations top tight end -- in 2012, signaling there are plenty outside South Bend who see him as more than just a pass-catcher.

He has great ability to adjust, he has great ball skills, go up and get it, Kiper explained. And his blocking has significantly improved. He's a complete tight end. blocking was the big thing he answered very positively and definitively this year.

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Eiferts a guy who some Bears fans have keyed on as the solution for the teams tight end woes, understandable given his success and Kellen Davis shortcomings. Others have looked to Teo as Brian Urlachers successor, although having No. 5 suit up for Chicago is far more of a pipe dream.

Kiper expects Teo to be selected in the first five picks, a rarity for an inside linebacker. But he explained Teo made strides in his pass-coverage ability, helping ease concerns about his ability to be a three-down linebacker.

But with such a high projection comes added scrutiny -- and despite Teos seven interceptions (most by an FBS linebacker since 2000) there are questions about his ability to be a three-down linebacker.

There's still going to be some concern about (pass coverage), because at the pro level there's a little different from playing at Notre Dame and the kind of opponents, college players you're seeing, Kiper explained. There still are concerns, what his 40 time ends up being, there are people that will say what's his 40 time going to be, how fast will he prove out to be?

In a normal year, Kiper would project Teo somewhere in the No. 10-12 pick range, but without an elite skill player entering the 2013 draft hes likely to be among the first few to come off the board.

Wake-up Call: Miggy gets the boot; Rodon's rocky debut; More bad news for Cubs?

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”