The Wolverine

August 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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48 THE WOLVERINE AUGUST 2018 83 he had the season before," the website noted. "He backed up his overall PFF grade of 93.9 in 2016 with one of 91.6 last season en route to a Super Bowl win." 5. TIM HARDAWAY JR., WING NEW YORK KNICKS (NBA) Throughout his first three years in the NBA (2013-15 in New York, 2015- 16 in Atlanta), Hardaway was never more than a role player. That narrative changed a bit during the 2016-17 season in Atlanta, when the former U-M guard averaged then- career highs in points (14.5), rebounds (2.8) and assists (2.3). A four-year, $71-million deal brought him back to New York for the 2017-18 campaign, and Hardaway blossomed into a star during his second stint with the Knicks. He put together by far the best NBA season of any former U-M player last year, establishing new career highs in nearly every major statistical category. Hardaway tallied 17.5 points (second most on the team), 3.9 boards, 2.7 as- sists and 1.1 steals per contest while starting 54 of the 57 affairs he played in. He also led New York in minutes per showdown, with an average of 33.1. One of the few negatives for the 26-year-old in 2017-18 was a leg injury that kept him out of action from Dec. 3 to Jan. 10. 6. DEVIN FUNCHESS, WR CAROLINA PANTHERS (NFL) Funchess' 63 receptions, 840 re- ceiving yards and eight touchdown catches in 2017 were all the best marks of his three-year professional tenure, in a season that saw him turn into Caro- lina's top receiving threat. His regular- season touchdown catch total tied for eighth in the NFL. PFF gave the 6-4, 225-pounder a 75.7 overall grade for the year, and was es- pecially impressed with his "contested catch ability" and his success on "in routes." The website explained that he caught 48.4 percent (10th best in the NFL) of the "contested" passes thrown his way, while giving him a 111.9 rat- ing (fourth best) on "in routes." The Panthers' season came to an end against the Saints in the wild card round of the playoffs, despite Funch- ess' four-catch, 79-yard performance. The 24-year-old spoke on The Jim Rome Show in June about how much that loss has motivated the team. "The Super Bowl is the goal [for the 2018 season]," he confirmed. "That's what Coach [Ron] Rivera preaches ev- ery day. "You have to have the mentality to get better and remember what the goal is at the end of the season." 7. KYLE CONNOR, LW WINNIPEG JETS (NHL) During his rookie campaign in 2016-17, Connor made a minimal im- pact — 20 games, two goals and three assists for five points and a minus- seven tally — with the Jets, but he ex- ploded in a big way this past year, in which he was still considered a rookie because he played so little last year. The former first-round pick became one of the Western Conference's bet- ter players, finishing second on the team with 31 goals while also tallying 26 assists and 57 points, ending the year with a plus-eight rating. Before this year, the 30-goal mark had been eclipsed just seven times by a rookie in the past 10 full seasons according to No rookie tallied more goals or game-winners (seven, tied for 11th overall) in the regular season, while his point total ranked fourth among first-year pros. Connor 's offensive firepower helped lead the Jets to a 52-20-10 re- cord and an appearance in the West- ern Conference Finals, where they fell to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in five games. "If not for the explosive campaign of the Islanders' Mathew Barzal (85 points), Connor would certainly be in contention for the Calder Trophy for outstanding rookie this year," CBS Sports noted in late May, just days after the team's season came to an end. "On top of his regular-season contributions, the Michigan native also added 10 playoff points during the Jets' run. "As long as he continues to play on Winnipeg's top line with Mark Scheif- ele and Blake Wheeler — a role he has firmly cemented himself in — the winger is quite capable of challenging for new career highs next year." 8. FRANK CLARK, DE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (NFL) Clark had a respectable 2015 rookie campaign with the Seahawks, accu- mulating 16 tackles and three sacks in 15 contests. He then exploded during the 2016 season, racking up 10 quarterback takedowns, 47 tackles and two forced fumbles as a five-game starter. The 6-3, 265-pounder nearly dupli- cated that performance this past year by compiling nine sacks, which was good for 12th in the NFC. He also once again forced two fumbles, result- Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham tallied a career-high 9.5 regular-season sacks, which ranked 19th in the league, and clinched the victory in the Super Bowl with a strip-sack of Brady. PHOTO COURTESY PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

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