Weekend Update - Plus NFL Draft: The Cornerbacks

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By Jim Hurley:

So, you think this has been a topsy-turvy start to the 2011 Major-League Baseball Season ...hey, you ain't alone!

Who would have thought that heading into the second weekend of the here-and-now campaign that the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays would be a combined 0-and-12?

Okay, so that combined record was "upgraded" to 2-12 following the Friday results that included the Red Sox nailing down a wild 9-6 win in their Fenway Park opener against the hated New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays' come-from-behind 9-7 win at the Chicago White Sox.

Note that last season the Rays roared their way to an American League East crown with 96 wins while the oft-injured Red Sox still wound up with 89 victories and right now anyone holding "laundry tickets" to go over with either or both teams cannot be feeling very good. Right?

Maybe the wackiest thing to the start of this season for Tampa Bay is that - while the offense pitters along with the injured 3B Evan Longoria (and missing some key pieces from a year ago such as LF Carl Crawford and 1B Carlos Pena) there's uber-talented lefthander David Price sitting at 0-2 with a bloated 4.85 ERA after suffering through a 4-1 loss to Baltimore back on April 1st and then Thursday's 5-1 loss at the Chicago White Sox.

Okay, so we tabbed Price as our 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner - and we're not giving up the ship just yet here at Jim Sez - but it's tough to win when your team scores a run-a-game - and did you know that Tampa Bay had registered a grand total of 8 runs and 27 hits through the first six games and now Joe Maddon's club has to go the rest of this weekend in Chicago without Price on the hill.

Speaking of Price - who cranked out a 19-6 record last year with a tidy 2.72 ERA - he blurted out the following response after that Thursday matinee loss: "Nobody cares about how much money you make (in response to the fact Tampa Bay's payroll is way, way down from a year ago). If you lose, you're not having fun." Price added, "This isn't fun for us right now. It's terrible."

Meanwhile, there were the Red Sox heading into their home Opening Day without a single win after getting swept three in a row in both Texas and Cleveland. Terry Francona's squad - slated to win 95 games this year (or so says the experts in Las Vegas) - off to their worst single-season start since 1945 when that Bosox team dropped its first eight games in a row right out of the starting gate.

This Boston team can't hit a lick as evidenced by the fact the Red Sox scored 16 runs in their first six games and top-of-the-order guys CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.167), the new and aforementioned LF Crawford (.174) and 2B Dustin Pedroia (.227) simply are not getting on base - and wasn't it a tad strange that Francona moved the veteran Crawford down to seventh in the batting order on opening weekend in Arlington? Hmmm.

The Friday matinee win did include a dozen hits for the Bosox including Pedroia's first home run of the season and so maybe things will take a swing in the other direction - but let's not hold any parades through Beantown just yet.

Okay, so even the world's biggest pessimist would tell you things are bound to get better for both Boston and Tampa Bay - right, they can't get any worse! - but the fact of the matter is the Red Sox own one of baseball's best starting rotations powered by hard-luck lefty Jon Lester (no runs, three hits in seven innings against Cleveland in that 1-0 loss suffered by reliever Daniel Bard) while the Rays have enough solid starting pitching to go along with Price to make things right before too long.

***JIM HURLEY IS SET WITH ALL-DAY TV ACTION ON SUNDAY...Click here to get Bulls-Magic, Celtics-Heat and Red Sox-Yankees, for a day and night of watching and winning!***

Hey, we won't even "pick on" the St. Louis Cardinals here (see 2-5 start following Friday's 5-4 extra-innings loss in San Francisco) just for fear of how ornery manager Tony LaRussa might deal with us ...wow, now that was a great little piece of LaRussa video the other day and good thing he doesn't have to deal with the media hordes in Boston or New York!

We'll get to our Jim Sez NFL Draft analyses in just a moment but first let's get to this very important business reminder:

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Editor's Note: We will have complete and daily Position-by-Position coverage of the upcoming NFL Draft that takes place Thursday, April 28th thru Saturday April 30th. Note that it's all capped off by our annual Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft to be posted right here on Wednesday, April 27th. Now, let's get to the top Cornerbacks (CBs) on the rookie market this season:

PATRICK PETERSON, CB, LSU - This Pompano Beach (FL) native piled up the hardware last season as a 20-year-old as the Bayou Bengals best player won the Bednarik Award as the nation's best defender, the Thorpe Award as the country's top defensive back plus he nabbed the SEC's Defensive and Special Teams MVPs and rarely was he challenged by opposing passing games. Peterson picked off four passes last year in his junior season and he averaged a dazzling 16.1 yards a pop on punt returns and so no wonder NFL teams have salivated about this natural athlete that could well be plucked somewhere in the first 8 or 9 picks. Note that many mock drafts have Peterson going to the San Francisco 49ers at the #7 overall pick - and who are we to argue?

PRINCE AMUKAMARA, CB, Nebraska - This 6-foot, 205-pounder figures to be gobbled up in the draft's first dozen-or-so picks as he sports great athleticism and is considered a hard-hitting defender but there are questions about his hands (note Amukamara intercepted only five passes in his college career and all of 'em occurred his junior seasons). The Cornhuskers converted him from a high school running back to an elite college corner and the Glendale (AZ) native has major "quicks" as evidenced by his 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash. Both Tennessee at #8 and Houston at #10 could be interested.

AARON WILLIAMS, CB, Texas - Most draft boards project this 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Round Rock (TX) to be a late first-round selection but he's performed extremely well in personal workouts and the fact he reminds many NFL scouts of former Texas corners Cedric Griffin and Aaron Ross likely has elevated his stock and so don't be at all surprised if Williams gets nabbed on/around the 20th overall pick. P.S., one particular item that Williams thrives in is when defending the bubble screen pass that so many NFL teams run these days. Note that Williams - who exited college following his junior season - started 23 of his final 26 games for the Big 12 team.

JIMMY SMITH, CB, Colorado - This 6-foot-2, 212-pounder has answered all the questions when it comes to his playing ability as the self-proclaimed "shutdown corner" has size, speed and good tackling techniques but it's his off-the-field issues that could knock 'em down in the first round of this year's draft. Smith has been twice arrested in Boulder plus he failed a 2007 drug test but the 22-year-old California native claims he has "matured" and promises NFL teams that his problems are a thing of the past. Most draft boards have him getting selected somewhere in the #21-thru-#26 range and the Seattle Seahawks (at #25) could be his eventual destination.

BRANDON HARRIS, CB, Miami - This three-year performer was a workout whiz at the NFL Combine (note that he posted a 34 ½-inch vertical jump) and last year he finished second nationally in passes defended with a 15 but he finished with just one interception for the 2010 campaign. Most draftniks believe Harris is a second-round pick but he could get in under the first-round wire and might even wind up with the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers with the #31 overall selection. Note that all reports claim he's a better man-defense corner than when his club sits in a zone.

CURTIS BROWN, CB, Texas - This six-foot, 180-pounder from Gilmer (TX) figures to fall into the mid-portion of Round II but some great workout numbers has many in-the-know folks believing that a "run on cornerbacks" could improve his draft position and so don't necessarily be shocked if he gets picked somewhere in the top 37-or-38 picks.

NOTE: Get more NFL Draft analysis plus MLB and NBA action in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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