May 18, 2011

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NBA Draft Predictions

By: Rick Jarrell

Last night was the NBA Draft Lottery. Finallysomething to distract us from the incredible postseason basketball we’ve been subjected to so far (kidding). Pre-draft coverage is often over hyped, and the draft lottery is a great example. It’s not the actual drafting of players that may or may not (probably won’t) be superstars, but a random drawing of ping pong balls to decide who gets to gamble on the most recent highly touted players in hopes they can turn around a franchise. ESPN managed to drag a process that should have taken five minutes into a thirty minute “extravaganza.” But hey, it’s not as demoralizing as “The Decision,” and for those fans currently outside of the playoffs, it provides a small shred of hope.

With that in mind, rather than perform a mock draft, as most media outlets will do in an astonishingly redundant fashion, let’s take a look at different types of draft strategy and which lottery teams are likely to employ each one.

Draft for Potential

This strategy is nearly mandatory for those fortunate enough to win one of the top picks, especially when it comes to this year’s widely agreed upon weak draft. Most years, there seems to be a few players clearly above the rest, if not a single player perceived as the hands down top pick. For this year’s draft, that player is Kyrie Irving. Despite playing only a small portion of his freshman season at Duke, Irving is seen as the only sure NBA talent with potential to become a superstar. Expect the Cleveland Cavaliers, who those around the league say love Irving, to take him first.

After Irving, the draft becomes more of a mystery. And with such a shallow talent pool, I fully endorse any team taking a huge risk on an unknown like Bismack Biyombo. The likely best case scenario for a lot of these players is a strong rotational player, maybe a starter on a decent-good team. The odds are against any of this draft class leading a team to a championship, so why not take a risk? If you’re wrong, you get another high pick next year, with hopefully a better selection.

Draft Best Available

Selecting the best available in the draft is usually a strategy most commonly used by teams who need to improve in a lot of areas. Typically that includes the majority of the top end of the draft, and this year is no different. The Cavs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards all have multiple areas of glaring weakness. Where they’re slotted in the draft now, taking the most talented player is logical.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this strategy, whether or not the best available player would be redundant on the team. You can find time to play two players, even if they play identical positions. And you can’t count on one player staying with the team their entire career. They’ll either be traded or leave via free agency. So you can also use the “redundant” player as a trade asset. But with this draft, the best available is unremarkable, and this strategy may not be as strong as it would be in most years.

Draft for Need

Traditionally, you’d see teams that seem to be one piece away from a playoff appearance, or a playoff team who acquired a lottery team’s draft pick, in this position. But the team that would have fit this mold the best, the Los Angeles Clippers, traded their pick to the Cavs (a pick that defied the 2.8% odds to gain #1). The Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and the Houston Rockets could enact this strategy, but with the 11th, 13th, and 14th picks, respectively, in a poor draft doesn’t leave them with much option. The rest of the high lottery teams are in such disarray, they are likely to select either based on talent or best available. 

The one team that may use need-based drafting that could shake things up is the Utah Jazz. A playoff team a year ago, the team was uprooted midseason as they sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Netsand longtime head coach Jerry Sloan resigned shortly afterwards. Williams is a great player, but he wasn’t the entire team. There’s still talent on the team. But the front court is currently crowded with Paul Milsap, Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, and Derek Favors, who they received from the Nets. So despite having the third pick and the ability to select Williams or Kanter, the Jazz may go for a need and select a guard to pair with Devin Harris, such as Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

Every year, there are a few draft day trades – either before a player is drafted, or right after the player is drafted. In general, the NBA is a constantly evolving mechanism. But with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire this summer, it’s going to be difficult for a team to makes any serious moves without knowing what the future holds. Also, with the lack of talent in the draft (have I said that already?), teams are even less likely to take a risk. If any of the teams with higher draft picks this year is offered a future draft pick, I think they’ll strongly consider. Having said that, the Rockets are a team that is always looking to make a move, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that holds true next month. The Wizards, looking for a sidekick to team with John Wall, may have fallen just short of being able to select a talented front court player, and may be open to a trade.

The NBA Draft is June 23rd. Until then, PLAYOFFS! It’s only getting better…

May 3, 2011

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NFL Draft Winners and Losers

By: Joe Williams

The NFL Draft is now a couple days old. Now is as good a time as any to decide who did well and who didn’t. Teams have not been able to sign free agents because of the lockout so there is still opportunity for rosters to be upgraded, but nobody knows when that will happen. I’m sure the teams that didn’t fill needs in the draft have a free agency or trade plan set but my deadline won’t wait for the legal stuff to be sorted out.

WINNERS

Washington– Does anybody know who is going to play quarterback for the Redskins? They need a quarterback. They had the opportunity to get one and opted to trade down. Instead of making a panic move for a quarterback they didn’t want, Washington rebuilt its defensive line and added talented receiver.

Detroit – Adding Nick Fairley to Ndamukong Suhshould give the Lions one of the top defensive lines in the league. Wide receiver Titus Young and running back Mikel Leshoure will reinforce an offense already full of weapons.

Cincinnati – The Bengals have a mess on their hands with the Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco situations. Picking A.J. Green and Andy Dalton is a good sign for Bengal fans that Cincinnati is looking to the future. The offense has a lot of weapons for Dalton if he can earn the job.

ClevelandColt McCoy probably would have been thrilled to get Julio Jones with the sixth pick. The Browns did even better by trading the pick to Atlanta and getting five picks in return. They will have two picks in the first round next year and added a couple solid players to the defensive line.

Houston – The Texans can score. Now they may be able to stop the other team. Wade Phillips was hired to fix the defense and he just got 3-5 new starters.

Peyton Manning – I could say Indianapolis, but let’s face it – Manning is the Colts. Now he has an improved offensive line to protect him with Castonzo and Ijalana on board.

Denver– After the Josh McDaniels era, the bar was set pretty low for Elwayand company. They couldn’t trade Kyle Orton so they won’t be forced to play Tim Tebow and the draft was all about defense. Von Miller is as good as there is in this class and Moore and Franklin could be starters as well.

TIME WILL TELL

CarolinaCam Newton. The Panthers are in his hands now. If he is as great as he could be, Carolina is on the way back to respectability.

Atlanta – The Falcons pretty much gave up their whole draft for Julio Jones. If he becomes a big-time weapon for Matt Ryan, Atlanta will contend for a Super Bowl.

LOSERS

Chicago– The Bears agreed to a trade with Baltimore and somehow screwed it up. They still got the offensive lineman they needed to keep Cutler off the ground and kept the fourth round pick, but when everyone is ripping you for a trade debacle, you are not winning.

Minnesota – The Vikings shocked everyone by taking quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th pick. Five years down the road, it may prove to be a great pick, but taking Ponder that high has people scratching their heads.

Oakland– The Raiders didn’t have a first round pick and used most of their picks on speedy players who probably were picked too early.

Roger Goodell – When you are the commissioner and you are booed by the fans, it is not a good sign. He wants the lockout to be resolved more than anybody.

Undrafted free agents – Normally teams would have signed a bunch of these players by now. They can’t even talk to them at this point.

May 2, 2011

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Late-Round NFL Draft Pick Steals

By: Anson Whaley

With all due respect to the NBA and NHL playoffs, the NFL Draft was the premiere sporting event of the weekend. It’s a chance for teams to not only build for the future, but in some cases, find players capable of stepping in to contribute immediately. The most attention is paid to the early rounds of the event, but there are always some diamonds in the rough found late in the draft.

Here’s a look at the top ten steals (selected in the fifth round or later) over the past twenty years:

Honorable Mention – WR Joe Horn (1996 5th Round Pick)

As one of the premier wide receivers in the early part of this decade, Horn racked up more than 6,000 yards from 2000-2004 with the New Orleans Saints. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and ended his career with 58 touchdowns.

10. QB Matt Cassel (2005 7th Round Pick)

Cassel wasn’t given a chance to play immediately, backing up some guy named Tom Bradyin New England. But with Brady’s injury, Casselshowed he learned plenty with the Patriots. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and was a Pro Bowler last season. With wide receivers Dwayne Boweand the recently-drafted Jon Baldwin, Cassel could have another big year in 2011.

9. QB Marc Bulger (2000 6th Round Pick)

After 2006, Bulgerwas developing into one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, coming off of a 4,000-yard Pro Bowl season with the St. Louis Rams. But a lack of production since then caused the team to look elsewhere, drafting rookie Sam Bradfordlast season. Bradford has now become the starter while Bulgeris looking for another job. He could resurface this year with the Arizona Cardinals or another team in need of a veteran.

8. WR Keenan McCardell (1991 12th Round Pick)

McCardell is one of the more underrated receivers in recent memory. His 11,373 yards are good for 24th all-time among receivers. Part of that is due to his longevity, playing 16 seasons, but McCardell was legitimately a very good receiver, hitting the 1,000-yard mark five times over his career.

7. WR Marques Colston (2006 7th Round Pick)

Colston accumulated more than 1,000 yards in four of his first five seasons and is one of the best young receivers in the NFL. He already has 40 receiving touchdowns and playing alongside quarterback Drew Brees, will put up big time numbers by the end of his career.

6. RB Michael Turner (2004 6th Round Pick)

An argument can be made that Turner should be higher on this list since he’s one of the best running backs in the game. But I don’t expect him to keep up the kind of monster production he’s had in the past three seasons, when he rushed for nearly 4,000 yards. Still, he’s another example of why teams wait to select running backs in later rounds.

5. (tie) QB Marc Brunell (1993 5th Round Pick)

In case you hadn’t noticed, Brunell is still playing at the age of 40. Seems like he’s been in the league forever … mostly because he has. All jokes aside, even though he’s now a clipboard holder for the most part rarely seeing any game action, Brunell was an excellent starting quarterback for many years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s amassed over 32,000 passing yards in his career, good for 30th in NFL history, and is a three-time Pro Bowler.

5. (tie) QB Matt Hasselbeck (1998 6th Round Pick)

Hasselbeckis still enjoying a great NFL career and has been a three-time Pro Bowler. His 29,000+ passing yards are good for ninth on the all-time active quarterback list and at 35, he still has time to add to those impressive numbers. Hasselbeck’s play has deteriorated a bit (as evidenced by the 34 interceptions he’s thrown the past two seasons), but he is still a very capable starting signal caller.

3. LB Zach Thomas (1996 5th Round Pick)

I know, I know – he’s the only defensive player on this list. The fact is that there have simply been far more offensive gems in later rounds. Still, the Miami Dolphins found a good one in linebacker Zach Thomas. He established himself as one of the most dominant middle linebackers of his era with more than 1,100 tackles. He even threw in 20 ½ sacks and 17 interceptions for good measure in his 12-year career.

2. Terrell Davis (1995 6th Round Pick)

Davis’ seven-year career was uncharacteristically short due to injuries, but he had three consecutive 1,500-yard seasons, including 1998 when he rushed for 2,008 yards. Davis was also a two-time AP Offensive Player of the Year and is an annual finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh yeah … and helping John Elwaywin two Super Bowls doesn’t hurt, either.

1. Tom Brady (2000 6th Round Pick)

If you look up late-round NFL Draft steal in the dictionary, Brady’s mug would undoubtedly show up – and for good reason. He is a two-time league Most Valuable Player, six-time Pro Bowler, and most importantly, has led the New England Patriots to three Super Bowls. Case closed.

April 27, 2011

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NFL Mock Draft

By: Joe Williams

The NFL Draft is just a couple days away. It seems like everyone is doing mock drafts these days so I decided to join the party. I’ve made sure to include some trades to ensure that I don’t go 32 for 32. I’d feel bad if all these picks are correct. I’m not doing this to take Mel Kiper’s job.

1. Carolina Panthers

Marcell Dareus – DT – Alabama  

The Panthers have a ton of holes to fill. They cannot afford to miss on this pick so they go with a safe pick in Dareus to be an anchor for the defense. This gives Jimmy Clausen one more year to develop and if he doesn’t, Carolina could get “Lucky” in 2012.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Cam Newton – QB – Auburn

Things are uglier than usual in Cincinnati. Carson Palmer says he will not play in a Bengal uniform again. The Bengals say they aren’t trading him. Someone has to play quarterback and Newton’s controversial history seems to fit the Cincinnati mold. When the Panthers pass on Newton, the Bengals trade up two spots to grab him.

3. Buffalo Bills

Blaine Gabbert – QB – Missouri

Some say Gabbert is the best quarterback in the draft. The Bills are going to have to find a great quarterback to compete with the Patriots and Jets. They hope Gabbert is their guy.

4. Denver Broncos

Von Miller – OLB – Texas A&M

Miller could be the best player in the draft. The return of Elvis Dumerville and the addition of Miller will go a long way toward fixing the Denver defense. They move back two spots to pick up an extra pick from the Bengals.

5. Arizona Cardinals

A.J. Green – WR Georgia

Arizona nearly won the Super Bowl with a high-flying passing attack. If the Cardinals can pull off a trade for Kevin Kolb and pair A.J. Green with Larry Fitzgerald they can be dangerous in the weak NFC West.

6. Cleveland Browns

Robert Quinn – DE – North Carolina

Cleveland needs to rebuild its defense. Dick Jauron is taking over the defense and could use a pass-rushing end. 

7. San Fransisco 49ers

Patrick Peterson – CB – LSU

Peterson has been compared to Champ Bailey and Deion Sanders. The 49ers are thrilled he is still on the board.

8. Tennessee Titans

Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn

Tennessee needs a quarterback but Newton and Gabbert are off the board so the Titans go after their next Albert Haynesworth.

9. Dallas Cowboys

Tyron Smith – OT – USC

The Cowboys have to protect Tony Romo. Smith will help them do that.

10. Washington Redskins

Julio Jones – WR – Alabama

Whoever ends up playing quarterback for the Redskins in 2011 is going to need someone to throw to. Jones would give him a big, physical target.

11. Houston Texans

Prince Amukamara – CB – Nebraska

The Texans have the offense to keep up with Peyton Manning but they don’t have the defense to slow him down. Adding a Prince to the secondary should give Houston a better shot at taking down the king of the AFC South.

12. Minnesota Vikings

Jake Locker – QB – Washington

Minnesota can finally move on from the Brett Frave era. The Vikings hope Locker will be their quarterback of the future.

13. Detroit Lions

Anthony Castonzo – OT – Boston College

Detroit’s future is riding on Matthew Stafford. The top priority is to keep Stafford on the field.

14. New England Patriots

Mike Pouncey – OL – Florida

New England usually trades down for more picks. This time the Patriots move up to add some youth to the aging offensive line.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

J.J. Watt – DE – Wisconsin

The Buccaneers move up to get the pass-rushing defensive end before San Diego can.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars

Ryan Kerrigan – DE – Purdue

Aaron Kampman has been injury-prone. Kerrigan could be his replacement.

17. St. Louis Rams

Kyle Rudolf – TE – Notre Dame

St. Louis has the foundation in place. It’s time to give Sam Bradford some weapons.

18. San Diego Chargers

Cameron Jordan – DE – Cal

The Chargers add one of the top pass rushers in the draft.

19. New York Giants

Gabe Carimi – OT – Wisconsin

Carimi is a solid tackle that fills the Giants biggest need.

20. Miami Dolphins

Andy Dalton – QB – TCU

Miami has not gotten good enough play at the most important position on the field so they take a shot on Dalton.

21. Kansas City Chiefs

Corey Liuget – DT – Illinois

Liuget will be a big, physical presence in the middle of the Kansas City defense.

22. Indianapolis Colts

Nate Solder – OT – Colorado

The Colts take the best offensive lineman left on the board.

23. Philadelphia Eagles

Jimmy Smith – CB- Colorado

The Eagles need a solid corner to play opposite Asante Samuel.

24. New Orleans Saints

Da’Quan Bowers – DE – Clemson

The Saints get one of the better players in the draft, but he comes with injury concerns.

25. Seattle Seahawks

Danny Watkins – OL – Baylor

Seattle will try to upgrade its interior offensive line.

26. Baltimore Ravens

Torrey Smith – WR – Maryland

The Ravens could use another speedy receiver.

27. Atlanta Falcons

Aldon Smith – DE – Missouri

Atlanta scores a pass-rusher to pair with John Abraham.

28. New England Patriots

Akeem Ayers – OLB – UCLA

The Patriots would like another outside pass-rusher.

29. Chicago Bears

Derek Sherrod – OT – Mississippi

Jay Cutler was hit a lot in 2010. The Bears need to find someone to prevent some of those hits.

30. New York Jets

Cameron Heyward – DE – Ohio State

Rex Ryan loves his defense. He loves it even more when Heyward is still on the board.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers

Brandon Harris – CB – Miami

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers exploited the Steelers’ secondary in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh gets some reinforcements in Harris.

32. Green Bay Packers

Mark Ingram – RB – Alabama

The Super Bowl champions have a lot of help returning from injury so they make a luxury pick.

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