Will Jon Gruden Be Successful In This Stint in Oakland??

It’s a question that begs to be asked seeing Gruden has been away from an NFL sideline since the end of the 2008 season. Most people amid the hoopla of his rehiring in Oakland forget he was let go after a 4 game losing streak knocked his Buccaneer team from the playoffs.

Now it has to be acknowledged Gruden was successful in his 1st tenure in Oakland. The Silver & Black posted a 40-28 record from 1998-2001 where they made the playoffs in the last two seasons. His Raiders built on the momentum of a 41-38 defeat of the Chiefs in an overtime season finale that knocked KC from the playoffs.

Over the next two years he built upon signing veterans who played in the West Coast system in RB Charlie Garner and WR Jerry Rice. Gruden and journeyman QB Rich Gannon had fashioned a short to intermediate passing game which pushed Gannon into the upper echelon of signal callers as the new decade dawned.

Although the Raiders made the postseason for the first time since 1990, then owner Al Davis struggled with Gruden over the offensive philosophy of the team. Davis still wanted the downfield passing approach he had helped pioneer with the Raiders since the 60’s. The problem was he didn’t have “The Greatest Show on Turf” Rams receivers nor Mike Martz passing attack he fancied. Davis watched as over in the NFC the Rams and Vikings 1998-2000 were setting league records throwing it deep and making it to Super Bowls.

Everyone had been telling Davis for years the game had passed him by and his system of football was dead. Yet he kept seeing Tory Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Randy Moss and kept envisioning Cliff Branch going deep and wanted it. So the inner struggle within the organization began.

Another struggle that started to surface in the 2001 season was tension between Gruden and some of his veteran players. His “Chucky” act was seeming to wear thin in a veteran laden locker room. That pushy constant grimmacing play to the camera demeanor and personality was coming off phony. To casual fans it wasn’t but long time football observers knew what they were watching. Go back and check the press clippings as the ’01 Raiders limped to the finish with a 3 game losing streak and lost the chance at homefield advantage as they had in 2000. Their reward?? You guessed it… a fateful trip to snowy Foxboro, Massachusetts. “The Tuck Rule” a playoff loss and Gruden became the first coach in modern history to be traded.

All of this was masked when the Buccaneers went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden inherited a defense that turned in one of history’s finest performances allowing just 196 points and scoring 9 defensive touchdowns. With all that accidental scoring Gruden’s 2002 Bucs (346 points) barely outscored Tony Dungy’s 2001 Bucs with 324. They did have better play calls in the playoffs but Tampa had grown up and matured and it was just their time.

Ironically for Gruden’s ego and “Chucky” persona he has struggled with strong personalities over extended periods of time. Once the euphoria of the Super Bowl in Tampa  faded they were a struggling 4-6 team the following season when this happened.

Remember a few other run ins with DE Simeon Rice along with finally deactivating Johnson? Now we fast forward with a Gruden 15 years older and he is going to get along with and manage millenials who have their own voice through social media?? Yeah right. Ask middle management America how that is going all across the country. Its the only reason we saw Gruden release P Marquette King when all accounts considered it a surprising release in the middle of June. Has he met outspoken DE/LB Bruce Irvin yet?? He was the first Seattle defender who openly questioned Pete Carroll’s goal line decision after Super Bowl XLIX.

For all his QB guru persona while on ESPN what is lost is how poorly his quarterbacks performed after Rich Gannon. Brian Griese, Tim Rattay, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, Luke McCown, then a retread Jeff Garcia and Brad Johnson. Yes he won the Super Bowl with a steady but unspectacular performance not turning the ball over. Yet Johnson was gone within 3 years. Somehow he is thought of as this great QB whisperer. He has one in Derek Carr and hopefully he can help him reach his full potential. Gruden doesn’t do well with young signal callers. Check his record.

Raider fans are praying this is going to work but we’ll see how long this “Chucky” scenario will last. Retread coaches rarely see success in their second tenures to the level of their first stop. Time will tell but The Chancellor of Football doesn’t see it happening.

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Todd Christensen Belongs in The Hall of Fame

When Shannon Sharpe was inducted into “The Hall” back in 2011, pundits began to voice which of the new breed would be the next TE to get into Canton. Would it be Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, or Antonio Gates?? There is even outside talk of former Patriot Ben Coates as these were the dominant men at the position over the last 25 years. Uhhh… wait a minute… How did we get this far without mention of former  Oakland/L.A. Raider Todd Christensen??

A man once cut by the Dallas Cowboys found a home in Oakland and became one of the main targets in the heyday of the AFC West. The question that arises is how did we forget Christensen?? Was it the fact he was a specials teams player who didn’t start until his 4th year?? Or is this more bias against the late Al Davis’ Raiders??

In 1980 the NFL was marveling at the performance of future Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow in San Diego. When he burst onto the scene with 89 receptions, a record for Tight Ends at the time, for 1,290 and 9TDs. He became the measuring stick for all who would play his position especially with this only his 2nd season.

When he completed the ’81 season with 88 receptions only future Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome was anywhere near Winslow on the marquee. Or so pundits thought.

In 1981 after becoming the 1st defending Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record (7-9) the following season, the Raiders had to make changes. The 1st is they moved to L.A. then drafted super back Marcus Allen then following an old Raider tradition, converted a former running back into a Tight End…. Todd Christensen. If you went back 2 decades before, the Raiders converted former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon from RB to TE and sparked their run to Super Bowl II.

The ’82 Raiders had the NFL’s best record in a strike shortened season at 8-1, and Christensen finished 5th in receiving among TEs with 42 receptions for 510 yds and 4 TDs. Although the Raiders were upset 17-14 by the NY Jets in the AFC playoffs, a star was born.  The next year saw the Raiders cement the notion they had supplanted the Air Coryell Chargers as the best of the AFC West.

Every great player needs a signature game and in the 14th week of 1983 the Chargers were hosting the Raiders in a special Thursday Night telecast. To add to the excitement both Christensen and Winslow were on pace to tie or break Kellen’s TE record of ’89 receptions set in 1980. In front of a nationwide audience Todd proved his worth.

 

 

Buoyed by this great performance the Raiders propelled themselves to the AFC’s best record at 12-4. Not only did the Raiders go on to win Super Bowl XVIII, Christensen unseated Winslow as the game’s premiere tight end as the loss also ended the reign of “Air Coryell”. His 8 receptions 140 yards and 3 TDs completely outshone his Charger counterpart’s 4 catches for 30 yards. This was the difference between Todd’s record of 92 receptions to Winslow’s 88 to conclude ’83.

Los Angeles Raiders tight end Todd Christensen (46) blocks New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (58) during a 14-9 Giants victory on September 21, 1986, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

As injuries slowed Winslow it was Christensen who went on to maintain Pro Bowl level of play through 1987 when he went to his 5th straight. One aspect of a Tight End is to remember the primary role is to be a blocker. In the ’85 campaign he helped pave the way for NFL rushing champion Marcus Allen who ran for 1,759 yards. The following season he broke his previous NFL record for TEs as he nabbed 95 balls for 1,153 yards and 8 scores.

He led the NFL in receptions in 1983 and 1986 for all receivers not just Tight Ends.

In an era with 2 other Hall of Fame TEs Christensen had the best peak years.

  • Christensen ’83-’86: 349 rec. 4,394 yards 33 TDs *5 Pro Bowls*
  • Winslow ’80-’83: 319 rec. 4,258 yards 33 TDs *4 Pro Bowls*
  • Ozzie Newsome ’81-’84: 296 rec. 3,626 yards 20 TDs *3 Pro Bowls*
  • *Career Pro Bowls listed*

Now to be fair, Winslow and Newsome’s years include the strike shortened ’82 stanza which only had 9 regular season games. However keep in mind Todd was on special teams as a long snapper, set 2 receiving records at TE and blocked for 1985’s MVP and rushing champion Marcus Allen. Then don’t forget one of those record setting season was for a world champion when they won Super Bowl XVIII 38-9 over Washington.

Keep in mind his record for receptions in a season at TE was broken in 1994 by Ben Coates by 1 reception (96). Tony Gonzalez broke it in 2004 with 102 receptions, however Todd is the only one to have set the all time receptions record for a TE twice.

This isn’t to take away from the 2 gentlemen in “The Hall” from the same position, but how can Winslow (inducted in 1995) and Newsome (inducted in 1999) be in and we don’t even hear Christensen mentioned?? Is it because he was a late bloomer who went on to star on the 3rd team he played for?? Is this more of the media bias against Al Davis’ Raiders who seem to come up on the short end when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration??

A part of this has to do with the Raiders moving from Oakland to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland in 1995. Those Los Angeles sportswriters didn’t honor the team and campaign for those players once the team went back up north. Many sportswriters campaign for players whom they lobbied for their team to draft originally and usually in the 1st round. His rocky path to Oakland through Dallas and New York is why he didn’t have that.

Yet they have/had a responsibility and shouldn’t have taken it out on those player’s legacies. I see Bill Plaschke and J.A. Adande all the time on talk shows over on ESPN when they have an obligation as history’s gatekeepers with their fellow writers and they have failed. They are why Todd, Head Coach Tom FloresLester Hayes, and Cliff Branch are on the outside looking in. It’s time to right these injustices.

Christensen deserves to be enshrined in Canton. Although we lost Todd, who passed in 2013, his family and Raider teammates should be able to share in that final honor.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Todd Christensen.

Dedicated in his memory: Todd Christensen (August 3, 1956 – November 13, 2013)

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2017 AFC Predictions

Well we’re off and another NFL season is under way where we have to place predictions and previews into what Taylor Blitz Times crystal ball offers. For the most part the 2017 season has shaped up based upon watching players grow into their roles and there are a few draft picks that will make an impact.

As the season concluded last February, the world was treated to the 1st overtime in Super Bowl history. However it placed salve over an open wound as the Raiders had to enter the playoffs without Derek Carr, and the Titans losing their last 3 without Marcus Mariota. It gave a feeling of inevitability to the Steelers and Patriots meeting for the right to go to Super Bowl LI.

2017 AFC Predictions:

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 12-4**

AFC West Champs: Oakland Raiders 12-4

AFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 9-7

Widcards: Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens

AFC Champions: The Oakland Raiders

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One of the biggest acquisitions this year was the signing of Marshawn Lynch to ignite the offense and bring toughness to the team. His punishing running style and spirit will merge with reigning TBT Offensive Player of the Year David Carr to carry the Raiders through the west and beyond. Last year the Raiders were 6-1 on the road with David Carr with 4th quarter comebacks in 4 of those games. Had Carr been healthy for the playoffs they could have won in New England.

 

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Offensive MVP: Derek Carr

One of the reasons the NFL playoffs lacked any real sizzle was the loss of Derek Carr and the anemic way the Raiders season drew to a close. Arguably the best team in the AFC lost their chance when a Trent Cole sack rendered Carr’s leg broken in the 4th quarter of the 15th game. Did you know the Raiders were averaging 27 points per game before the injury yet could only score 20 in the last 2 games combined?? Not only could the Raiders not gain a 1st down the rest of the Colts game but the ability to convert dropped from 21.4 per game down to 13.

Carr's play was transcendent in 2016.

Carr’s play was transcendent in 2016.

In 2016 Carr channeled his inner George Blanda as he led eight come from behind wins in the 4th quarter or overtime. Eight! They were 6-1 on the road with him as he tossed game winning passes in 4 of the 1st 5 to begin 5-0 away from the Coliseum. The Raiders were in line to achieve home field advantage and had the most daring performer of the season taken from them.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr completed 63.8 % of his passes (357 of 560) for 3,937 yards 28TDs with just 6 interceptions. This was on the heels of achieving Pro Bowl status in 2015 when he had gone 350 of 573 for 3,987 yards 32 TDs yet threw 13 picks.

Here at Taylor Blitz Times we have charted his growth and this is one of the future faces of the NFL. His injury not only cast a pall over the playoffs but was the only reason we heard Aaron Rodgers heroics at the end of the year. Rodgers had a 6 game winning streak of stellar play where Carr dominated all year long. Had Carr avoided that injury odds are they would have won the finale in Denver and finished 7-1 on the road. If the Patriots would have won home-field based off tie breaker scenarios, who would have been better equipped to go into New England than Carr with all his 4th quarter road wins??

The winner of the 2nd Taylor Blitz Times Offensive Player of the Year is David’s younger brother…. Derek Carr.

Honoarable Mention: Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are the NFC odds on favorite for Super Bowl LII.

How could you not have the 2 super rookies who infused Jerry World with a glimpse of their future?? While it’s true the heart of the Cowboys is The Great Wall II offensive line we first told you about back in 2014, Elliott and Prescott played within themselves and stretched what can be expected of rookies moving forward.

Where most rookie runners hit the rookie wall right before Thanksgiving,”Zeke” never did. He faced tough defenses in New York, Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington who were all playing for their playoff lives. They kept him from breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. However his 1,631 yards allowed Elliott to become the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing since Edgerrin James in 1999.

His vision patience and timing have combined with the front wall to give the Cowboys a flashback to the Emmitt Smith and original Great Wall of 1990’s fame. His low center of gravity allow him to plow through most tacklers and fall forward. An effective tactic to keep the chains moving. He helped the Cowboys chew up the clock and keep opposing teams off the field, which protected Dallas’ defense. His future looks bright with several years in front of him.

The truth of the matter is Elliott was able to share the pressure heaped upon he and Prescott. All Dak did was complete 67% of his passes for 3,667 yards 23TDs with only 4 interceptions. Where the running game kept down and distance manageable, he was able to fire upon defenses selling out to stop the run. However he came of age in the 34-31 playoff loss at home to the Packers. He brought the Cowboys back twice in that game when Green Bay was geared to stop the pass. Down 21-3 he calmly fired 2 shots to get them back in the game 21-10… the last pass a 40 yard scoring play to Dez Bryant.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

Amid the pressure of being down to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers he brought them back from a 28-13 deficit… scoring 3 times to tie it 31-31. The came Rodgers miracle throw. However when the pressure was on Prescott to perform without the comfort of having the lead and leaning on his running game, he showed the NFL playoffs weren’t too big for him. Pundits and Cowboy haters waited for the cool veneer to wear off and waited for rookie mistakes to emerge. When they didn’t in the playoff loss to Green Bay, Cowboy haters better brace themselves for Elliott & Prescott are poised for a 5-7 year run in Dallas. They truly helped shape the season.

So there you have it… the first recipient of our Offensive MVP was Cam Newton in 2015 followed by Derek Carr in 2016. Along with the 2 headed monster in Dallas…these are the future faces of the NFL.

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack

As the end of the NFL season draws near its time to talk about the awards for the 2016 campaign. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we’re about defense and it’s the most prestigious award The Chancellor doles out. Its been a banner year as we have recognized two defensive giants who made 2 different Hall of Fames. Our words were read to introduce Robert Brazile into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in June, then our invite to Kevin Greene’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. So this 6th time offering the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year will be a special one. Especially now that alumnus from here have made their way to football immortality.

Before we get started on this year’s Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year, lets take a look back at past winners:

  1. D'Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    D’Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    2011 -D’Qwell Jackson: Cleveland Browns – Recorded 158 total tackles (115 solo) 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble with 2 recoveries and garnered 1 interception as the only light on a 4-12 team. The Browns were in the top ten defensively all year and finished 10th.

  2. 2012 –Navorro Bowman: San Francisco 49ers – Garnered 148 total tackles (98 solo) 2 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception with a fumble forced. Was an All Pro force who outperformed his more celebrated All Pro teammate Patrick Willis. Starred on the NFL’s #3 defense and made the play of the year knocking down a 4th down pass to Roddy White on the last play of the NFC Championship Game. Sent the Niners to the Super Bowl.
  3. 2013 – Richard Sherman: Seattle Seahawks – He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and a week 4 TD against Houston that turned their season around. He also had 48 tackles, defensed 17 passes, recovered 2 fumbles and tipped Colin Kaepernick’s desperation throw into the game clinching interception in the NFC Championship Game.
  4. watt2014 – J.J. Watt: Houston Texans – One of the greatest defensive performances ever with 78 tackles, led the league with 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries returning 1 for a touchdown. Then had 1 interception returned 80 yards for his 2nd defensive touchdown. He drug a rebuilding Texan team to within a game of making the  playoffs with a 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s rookie season. May have been the greatest season by a defender in NFL history.
  5. 2015 – Thomas Davis: Carolina Panthers – The 6th best defense in 2015 & made it to Super Bowl L where Davis played with a plate in his broken arm just 2 weeks after the original injury. Toughness aside he garnered 105 total tackles (75 solo) 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Although his teammate Luke Kuechly garnered national media attention, the 4 additional sacks and 2 more forced fumble won Davis the last Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Award.

When gauging a defender’s impact the first thing you have to remember is at what point of the game does the defender make plays. When it comes to Khalil Mack he just had an 8 game streak snapped where he garnered at least 1 sack. The longest streak in the NFL in the last 7 years.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

However a closer look and you’ll see his forcing a fumble in overtime to short-circuit a Tampa drive in a 30-24 win in week 8. Another flash came late in the 4th quarter in week 13 when a gassed Raider defense was hanging on by a thread as Buffalo drove to the Oakland 17. A touchdown seemed imminent as momentum was teetering in the Bills direction. Well until this generation’s Derrick Thomas dipped his shoulder, came around the corner sacking Tyrod Taylor forcing and recovering the fumble preserving a 38-24 win.

Not bad until you realize the week before saw the Raiders clinging to a 35-32 lead with 1:00 to go and the NFL’s reigning MVP Cam Newton had the Panthers in Oakland territory at the 44. One more completion and Carolina, clinging to fading playoff hopes, could attempt a game winning field goal. On cue Mack burst into the backfield steamrolling Newton for a sack forcing a fumble and recovering it preserving another victory. These points are the difference between an 11-3 Raider team in line for homefield advantage, and Tampa 1 game out of the NFC wildcard, Carolina & Buffalo 1 loss from playoff elimination.

Mack forcing the game winning fumble. All but eliminating the defending NFC Champions from postseason play in 2016.

Mack’s season has been transcendent as he has collected 55 tackles (46 solo) 11 sacks with 5 forced fumbles. He’s recovered 3, returning 1 for a touchdown before we remind you he has 1 pick for another touchdown that also came in the win over Carolina. These are huge impact plays that decide contests not innocuous stats in the middle of a game without meaning or context. In the last 2 seasons he has 14 sacks that have come in the 3rd & 4th quarter of games. What happens if he carries that type of presence into the postseason??

Sure there are 2 games left in the season but no defender has meant more or produced more during the 2016 campaign.  Khalil Mack is the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times MVP Preview: Derek Carr Leads The Charge

The mid-point of the season is a large enough sample size for us to assess what is taking place. Youth has not only served this season its starred. You’d have to go all the way back to the quarterback class of 1983 and the arrival of Eric Dickerson to find another where young players had this type of league wide impact. As twilight descended on the career of Peyton Manning and soon will for Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the emergence of the next generation of stars is upon us.

Carr & Mack have a lot to celebrate so far in 2016.

Carr & Mack have a lot to celebrate so far in 2016.

Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders: Easily the leading candidate for NFL MVP. No player has put a stamp on the 2016 season as the signal caller out in Oakland. Today he frosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense for a team record 513 yards and 4 touchdowns on 40 of 59 passing. The team is 5-0 on the road where Carr threw a game winning touchdown in every one of them.

Carr is on pace to complete 66% of his passes for 5,305 yards 39TDs and just 7 interceptions.  Last year’s performance (350 of 573  3,987 yds 32 TDs / 13 ints) marked him as an up and coming superstar and he is growing by leaps and bounds every week. He only faces 3 top 10 defenses in his final 8 games and 3 of them are 24th, 30th, and 31st against the pass. Today he overcame his team setting a league record with 23 penalties and kept on firing. This is not a fluke… Carr is growing  and could be Taylor Blitz Times MVP for 2016.

Brady’s suspension has him on a tear to start his 2016.

Tom Brady – New England Patriots: How can one player come back from suspension and instill fear in the rest of the NFL?? Well look no further as the Patriots drew and quartered the Buffalo Bills 41-25 to avenge an earlier loss to their division rival. On a game circled on the schedule after the Bills won 16-0 four weeks ago. With the chance to sweep New England and cast doubt the Patriots are still the leaders of this division….well… Brady led Belichick’s bunch on scoring drives on 5 straight possessions and goodbye.

The team is 7-1 and on a 4 game winning streak and headed into their bye week where Brady can hone his skills even more. In the 4 weeks since his return from suspension Brady has thrown 12 TDs and 0 interceptions. He has already gunned down Pittsburgh and aside from a game against Seattle, they’ll face Denver in week 16 in a game what could decide home field advantage. He is going for history as he wants to tie Bart Starr with the most rings for a starting QB with 5. Only Father Time, who is due to arrive at any moment, looks to be the only defense Brady can’t outrun. Until then… Brady is an MVP candidate.

Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys: With the Philadelphia Eagles vanquished in primetime 29-23, it propelled the Cowboys into the NFC East lead with a 6-1 record. A sixth straight win and 2 game lead in the division has signaled the end of the Tony Romo era.

Prescott has shown leadership while knocking off a 3rd straight team that figures prominently in the upcoming playoffs. The rookie is currently ranked 7th of all starting quarterbacks with a 99.6 rating. He’s thrown for 1,773 yards 9 TDs with only 2 interceptions.  He broke Tom Brady’s record for most attempts to start a career without an interception extending it to 176.  All while breathing confidence in the offense with the aid of running mate Elliott.

The NFL’s leading rusher with 799 yards is still on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. His physical style along with The Great Wall 2  offensive line establishes dominance and an attitude that permeates the entire team. The synergy between Elliott & Prescott has allowed each to take the pressure off the other. It’s even picked up the defense which ranks 11th where last year with similar personnel ranked 17th. Now that we’ve made it to the halfway point of the season its time to assess things for what they are regardless of rookie status. Which is why these two have to be considered as Co-MVPs at this point of the season.

These are the men who have made the first half of the 2016 season. Thanks for reading and please share the article.