What to watch for in the NFL draft

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What to watch for in the NFL draft

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL draft begins Thursday night with the first round, continues Friday night with the second and third rounds, and runs through Saturday, when the final four rounds will be held at Radio City Music Hall. The Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams both went 2-14 last season and had the top two picks, but the Rams traded the second spot to Washington.Some things to look for in this year's draft:------AT THE TOPThe first two picks will be quarterbacks: Andrew Luck of Stanford, who will go to the Colts, followed by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor, who is headed to the Redskins.Luck is considered the most NFL-ready quarterback since Peyton Manning left Tennessee in 1998 for the Colts. Oddly, he will wind up as Manning's replacement in Indy after the four-time MVP was released by the Colts and signed with Denver. Rarely do college quarterbacks call their own plays or have total freedom behind center. Luck did.RGIII is more of a running threat than Luck and has a stronger arm. He did not play in a prostyle offense the way Luck did in college, but Griffin's skill set and intelligence make him just as attractive as Luck.------A CRIMSON FIRST ROUNDFrom national champions to first-round draft picks.Five members of the Alabama Crimson Tide could have their names called Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, four from the outstanding defense.Safety Mark Barron and linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and running back Trent Richardson all are highly touted. Richardson is expected to go in the first six picks."We want to help them develop as a football player, which means have a great career here, win a championship and see if you can play at the next level," Tide coach Nick Saban said.Alabama has eight players likely to be drafted. The others are nose tackle Josh Chapman, cornerback DeQuan Menzie and wide receiverkick returner Marquis Maze.Roll Tide.------TOP JUNIORSThe first round will be packed with players who had eligibility remaining, including top choices Luck and Griffin. Richardson, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, all projected to go in top 10, are underclassmen.A total of 65 underclassmen, the most ever, applied for the draft. Not all of them will get picked, but some will earn big bucks. Look for other non-seniors to go in the first round, such as Alabama's Hightower and Kirkpatrick, linebackers Luke Kuechly of Boston College and Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, defensive linemen Nick Perry of Southern California and Michael Brockers of LSU, and guard David DeCastro of Stanford.------STRONGEST POSITIONQuarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive ends who pile up sacks are the glamour positions. They are not always the deepest positions in the draft.This year, only three quarterbacks are expected to go in the opening round: Luck, Griffin and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M. The strength in this grab bag of a draft is at cornerback and on the defensive line.It's possible that four cornerbacks will come off the board in the first 32 picks, beginning with Claiborne. Others to watch for at that position are Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina, Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jackson of North Alabama. Crimson Tide safety Mark Barron is another defensive back almost certain to go early.Defensive lineman likely destined to disappear in the first round are Perry, Brockers, Cox, Quinton Coples of North Carolina, Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, Kendell Reyes of Connecticut, Jerel Worthy of Michigan State, Devon Still of Penn State, and Upshaw, who can play linebacker or end.------SLEEPERSFive players who could sneak into the first round:Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis -- At 6-foot-4, 346 pounds, he can clog the middle by himself, but he is incredibly streaky. His workouts showed more talent than his game tapes.Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor -- Experienced receiver with lots of speed and the moves to be a factor from the slot. Excels after the catch.Cordy Glenn, OT-G, Georgia -- Started as a freshman in the SEC, which is impressive. Versatile and durable, outstanding in the run game.Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State -- A 28-year-old who played minor league baseball before college football. Brings maturity, accuracy and NFL-caliber arm strength and size.Shea McClellin, LB, Boise State -- Has the size to play inside or outside, and he never backs down. Could also be a factor on special teams.

The Kyle Schwarber reboot begins Monday in Iowa

The Kyle Schwarber reboot begins Monday in Iowa

MIAMI – This isn’t a Tommy La Stella situation. The Cubs purposely told Kyle Schwarber to take a few days off to decompress before reporting to Triple-A Iowa. The reboot will begin Monday in Des Moines.

“We’re doing it to hopefully reset him, get him back up with a fresh start,” manager Joe Maddon said. “As you would expect, he was very professional about it, understood it entirely.

“There’s no actual timetable. I don’t anticipate it to be long. But we’ll see how it plays out, give him a little bit of room to get things right and then move it forward from there.”

The Cubs broke the news to Schwarber after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field, where the entire lineup went 1-for-27 outside of rookie Ian Happ’s two-run homer. It left Schwarber hitting .171 with a .673 OPS, not enough to justify his 12 home runs and suspect outfield defense. The Iowa Cubs are in the middle of a four-game series this weekend in Round Rock, Texas.

The Cubs hope Schwarber can regain his confidence and almost become a trade-deadline addition, reenergizing the team the way he did in 2015, when he blasted 16 homers in 69 games and five more in the playoffs.

Under entirely different circumstances in 2012, future All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo used 70 games with Iowa to rework his swing and make adjustments after bombing his audition with the Padres.

“He’s going to go down and be able to exhale a little bit,” Rizzo said. “Hopefully, he can smooth things out. We’re all confident he will. Just do the best down there to get back up here and to be the Kyle Schwarber that we all know and love.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”