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

964339.png

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.

John Mullin: 2013 draft could see 5 OTs taken in first round

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.

Blackhawks ink Anton Forsberg, Tomas Jurco

Blackhawks ink Anton Forsberg, Tomas Jurco

When the Blackhawks traded to get Brandon Saad back, they also acquired Anton Forsberg, who they believe is ready to be their latest backup goaltender. On Monday they signed him to a two-year deal.

The Blackhawks inked two players on Monday, Forsberg, whose contract runs through the 2018-19 season, and Tomas Jurco, who agreed to a one-year contract extension.

Forsberg joins the Blackhawks having very little NHL experience – he’s played 10 career games at this level, going 1-8-0. But the Blackhawks’ previous two backup goaltenders, Antti Raanta and Scott Darling, hadn’t made an NHL appearance before joining the Blackhawks. Forsberg led the Cleveland Monsters, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ AHL-affiliate team, to a Calder Cup title in 2016; during that run he went 9-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .949 save percentage.

On Friday, when the Blackhawks acquired Saad and Forsberg from Columbus for Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte, general manager Stan Bowman said the team is, “optimistic about Anton’s potential.”

“We like his profile as a goalie,” he said. “He’s a big guy, takes up a lot of net, has that mobility and makes good positional saves as well as athletic saves. A year ago, led his team to the [Calder] Cup championships, so he knows what it’s like to put a team on his back. It was the AHL but he’s had a lot of success there. He’s earned the right to be an NHL goalie.”

Jurco, acquired by the Blackhawks from Detroit in February, played 13 games with them down the regular-season stretch. Bowman said shortly after the trade that Jurco would get a chance here.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” he said. “I think a lot of ways, sometimes guys need different opportunities. It doesn’t work out in every place. A fresh start will be great for Tomas.”

Cubs down to only one All-Star starter in voting update

Cubs down to only one All-Star starter in voting update

The Cubs are down to only one starter in next month's All-Star Game in Miami: reigning MVP Kris Bryant.

Jason Heyward lost his grip on the final starting outfielder spot to Marlins star Marcell Ozuna in the latest All-Star balloting update released by the MLB:

That may be for the best, as the Cubs are currently banged up (Heyward. Ben Zobrist and Kyle Hendricks are on the disabled list) and slogging through a season where they've hovered around .500. So maybe four days off in a row would be beneficial for the defending champs.

Heyward is 29,270 votes behind Ozuna and Zobrist is 118,248 votes behind Heyward. It appears as if Washington's Bryce Harper and Colorado's Charlie Blackmon are sure things for the top two outfielder spots in the NL.

Bryant is only 58,082 votes ahead of Nolan Arenado at third base. Anthony Rizzo trails Ryan Zimmerman at first base, Javy Baez comes in well behind Daniel Murphy at second base and Buster Posey has more than twice as many votes as runner-up Willson Contreras at catcher.

Addison Russell is third among shortstops. Kyle Schwarber — despite being demoted to the minors last week — is eighth among NL outfielders.

It's a far cry from 2016, when the Cubs made up all four infield spots in the NL starting lineup.

Voting ends in four days. Fans can head to MLB.com to vote.