College Football – In May No Less…

I know it is May but I want to talk about college football today. I know that I am going to make some derogatory remarks in the upcoming paragraphs so let me begin by saying that I love college football and I watch a whole lot of it. Nevertheless, I am not thrilled in the least by my new opportunity to watch even more college football.

Starting this winter, the number of bowl games will expand by 3 to total 42 bowl games. That means 82 teams will be playing in bowl games in December and January. [Remember, two of the four teams in the College Football Playoff will play twice.] There are 128 schools playing Division 1-A football at the moment meaning 64.1% of those teams will make it to a bowl game. So, on average a 12-team conference might be sending 7 or 8 teams to various bowl games.

    Now if that means that I can anticipate watching the seventh place team in the American Athletic Conference take on the eighth place team from the Sun Belt Conference, you will have to pardon me when I do not jump up from my chair and do a happy dance all around Curmudgeon Central.

The three new games for this year will happen in Austin, TX, Orlando, FL and Tucson, AZ. There will be 6 teams participating in those games meaning about 400 student athletes and 50 student team managers/staff will spend at least an extra 3 weeks preparing for the games and then traveling to the games to make them happen. If those footballers and managers put in only 2 hours per day for those extra 3 weeks (that is a generously low estimate), that represents 18,900 “man-hours” devoted to football and not to “school”.

I know that number is low but juxtapose it with this statement from the NCAA website regarding the interweaving of athletics and “school”:

“The NCAA membership has adopted amateurism rules to ensure the students’ priority remains on obtaining a quality educational experience and that all of student-athletes are competing equitably.”

    Memo to the NCAA: “Obtaining a quality educational experience” will be enhanced if these people have those 18,900 “man-hours” available to them for classroom pursuits. These three new bowl games mean more student-athletes will miss more class time and one thing is for sure:

      A “quality education” involves students spending time in class and in scholarly pursuits.

    Oh, and do not get me started on how “obtaining a quality educational experience” plays with the academic frauds perpetrated at UNC and Syracuse…

On a more analytical note, there has always been a significant difference between college football and the NFL. Much of that difference has always been – and will continue to be – the athletic skill level differences in the two games plus the immutable fact that almost everyone in the NFL is older than just about everyone in college football. While indeed those differences will continue to obtain, I think that college football is evolving in a different direction from the NFL. I am not making a value-judgement here; this is not a good thing nor a bad thing; it just is.

The majority of college football today can be summed up in 3 words:

    Spread the field…

Many college QBs do not call any plays; the whole team looks to the sidelines for signals that align the players and get them all going in one direction at the snap and after that there are a series of options for all the skill players. In the past, teams put their best athletes and their fastest players on defense; not so anymore.

Yes, some teams in the NFL use the spread formation and a hurry-up offense some of the time but not to the extent that it happens at the college level. So, the impact on the NFL can be seen in several dimensions:

    Fewer college QBs are field generals and many have difficulty adapting to the “play in the pocket” style that will keep QBs vertical in the NFL.

    Running backs are now going against smaller defenders because the defenders have to be quick – and hopefully fast too – in order to keep up with the spread offenses. When running backs get to the NFL, they are no longer running against “little guys” and for many the difference is quite apparent.

    The flip side here is that big defensive linemen who can stop the run and put a little pressure on the QB are becoming harder to find. The big run-stuffer can easily be avoided with spread offenses that run outside almost to the exclusion or running between the tackles.

As I said, I am not putting a value-judgment on this. I do think the two US versions of football are evolving along different paths and it will be interesting to see if the current divergence continues over the next decade.

Finally, here is an NFL note from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Fins had free agent running back Stevan Ridley in for a look. Stevan is best known for wishing his parents had spell-check.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Strange Doin’s In NYC…

Isiah Thomas is now the President and a part owner of the NY Liberty in the WNBA. The major owner of the Liberty is MSG Inc which in turn is controlled by James Dolan who also owns the Knicks. The “bromance” between Thomas and Dolan has been a story for a while and some folks have taken this as simply the latest chapter in that story. I think there is a more interesting angle here.

When Thomas ran the Knicks, one of the events that led to his departure from the team was a lawsuit bright against him and MSG by a female employee of the Knicks. She claimed that she was sexually harassed on the job and sued for something around $10M. Moreover, she won the case. Now, not only does Thomas return to professional basketball in NYC, he does it with the women’s team in NYC. In making this announcement, here is something James Dolan said about Thomas:

“He’s an excellent judge of talent and I’m confident that he will put all of his energy [into making the Liberty competitive].”

I might be willing to give dolan the benefit of the doubt here if Thomas had been a success somewhere as a GM or a coach or a team president. If such success – worthy of being labeled an excellent judge of talent – exists, I did not find it.

That move was surprising but other news out of NYC this week is much less of a surprise. Alex Rodriguez tied Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and that should trigger a $6M payment from the Yankees. The team said back in Spring Training that they would not honor that part of the contract because – they claim – that the $6M is payment for them to market the achievement. However, they say that A-Rod’s suspension last year for PED use makes such marketing impossible; and therefore, they do not owe him anything. Their position is that since this is a marketing deal, they have the option to market or not to market and they now choose not to market.

Frankly, that sounds pretty flimsy to me. The Yankees would not want me on a jury that would be charged to decide this matter. I will give the Yankees credit for something here:

    With this action, the Yankees have managed to make Alex Rodriguez look like the “good guy in the white hat”. Anyone who has tracked A-Rod’s behaviors off the field for the last decade or so would have to admit that is no easy feat.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this comment recently regarding the Angels and Josh Hamilton. Given the ongoing circumstances between the Yankees and A-Rod, it seems equally applicable there too:

“Idle thought: Why stop at drug testing Josh Hamilton? Baseball should be administering urine tests to the Angels executives who signed Hamilton to a $125 million deal.”

Last weekend, Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a column about the idea of putting the DH in the National League. Here is a link so you can read it in its entirety. One of the arguments advanced to support putting the DH in the National League is that 2 pitchers have been injured while batting recently and that is not a good thing for baseball. Here is one paragraph from Professor Collier’s exposition last weekend:

“The fact is, pitchers really shouldn’t do anything, especially pitch. You can’t keep them healthy no matter what you do; 110 pitchers were on the disabled list Friday of this week. Most had cranky shoulders and ouchy elbows awaiting a clinical go-or-no on Tommy John surgery, a procedure so common that it’ll soon be available at the drive-thru at Walgreen’s.”

I have never been enamored of the DH. If I were King of the World (H/T to Bill Conlin), I would resolve the issue of two different sets of rules for the two baseball leagues very simply. I would get rid of the DH in the American League. I doubt that is going to happen anytime soon but that is only because I am not about to ascend to the role of King of the World.

Steven Gerrard is a midfield player for Liverpool in the English Premier League and he is the captain of the team. He has spent his entire career with the Liverpool club and recently started his 500th game in the EPL; only 11 other players in history have played in that many EPL games. Gerrard holds one other distinction. He is the only player ever to score a goal in an EPL Final Game, an FA Cup Final Game, a UEFA Cup Final Game and a Champions League Final Game. Reports are that Gerrard will leave Liverpool at the end of this season and will come to the US to play for the LA Galaxy in MLS. Steven Gerrard may not be as famous or as recognizable as Pele or Messi or Ronaldo, but he will raise the level of play in MLS with his presence.

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald put the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight into perspective earlier this week:

“Pacquiao-Mayweather sold out in seconds. For Nebraska football, that’s called ‘the South Alabama game’.”

Finally, a soccer note from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ghanaian soccer official Kofi Manu says his team got knocked out of the CAF Champions League because players were sleep-deprived from watching too much pornography.

“As for the players, they’re withholding comment until they’ve seen the films again.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Unbridled Euphoria…

Well, at least it was not a phantom injury. Reports this morning say that Manny Pacquiao will undergo surgery for a “significant tear” in his right rotator cuff and will not be able to train for about 9 months. All too often the use of an injury to explain a defeat or a failing sort of rings hollow. However, if someone says he was injured during a competition and then goes under the knife to repair an injury that indeed would affect athletic abilities, one had to acknowledge that the injury was there during the event.

Nevertheless, given the lackluster reviews and commentaries subsequent to the “Fight of the Century”, I am not sure there will be any sort of clamor for a rematch from the public. I will not be surprised if the two camps try to figure a way to put together a rematch in a year or two simply because of the revenue the first fight generated, but I think they will have to sell the rematch whereas the original fight sold itself.

More than a couple of folks have said that American Pharoah’s win in the Kentucky Derby – along with his previous racing credentials – makes him a serious contender to “break the streak” and win the first Triple Crown since Affirmed won it in 1978. A subset of those folks who are on American Pharoah’s bandwagon thinks that this crop of 3-year olds is a strong one and that would make American Pharoah a worthy addition to the list of Triple Crown winners.

I have exactly no idea at the moment if American Pharoah is going to win the Triple Crown nor am I ready to pronounce this year’s 3-year old crop a top shelf commodity. However, one of the outputs from Curmudgeon Central is a dose of reality when faced with unbridled euphoria. Therefore, please consider:

    1. American Pharoah got an easy trip in the Derby settling nicely in third and fourth place just off the pace. He had to navigate exactly no traffic jams in that race.

    2. American Pharoah ran the mile-and-a-quarter in 2:03 on a fast track. Secretariat ran the Derby in 1:59 2/5. Using handicappers’ metrics, that means American Pharoah would have been 18 lengths behind Secretariat.

    3. American Pharoah ran the final quarter mile of that race in 26 2/5 seconds. Handicappers look at horse workouts and gauge a good workout by the mnemonic “eighths in twelve” meaning a good workout is 12 seconds for each eighth of a mile in the workout. American Pharoah’s final quarter for the Derby was more than 2 seconds slower that a good workout time.

    4. The fact that a whole bunch of other 3-year olds finished behind American Pharoah means to me that this year’s crop of 3-year olds has a lot to show in the next 7 months before I would anoint it as “great”.

Another area of unbridled euphoria that is out and about in the land has to do with the NFL Draft. In the few days subsequent to the Draft, it is commonplace to read analysts’ grades for the Draft team by team. Since there is no real way to know how all of those players will transition to the NFL about now – and it will be at least 2 years and probably 3 until we do know – these commentaries are a tad silly. However, they are made sillier by the unbridled euphoria that infuses them.

I am going to pick on Mark Maske of the Washington Post here but he is NOT alone. Mark Maske covers the NFL at large for the Post and I think he does a good job at it. However, when it comes to grading the teams after this year’s draft, the worst grade he assigned was a “C-“to two teams. Every other team was “C” or better. Now you can call that unbridled euphoria if you want because certainly a couple of teams are going to come out of this draft with next to nothing to show for their efforts – or – you can attribute this to the Lake Woebegone effect where all the children are slightly above average. Whatever…

Oh, I said that grading drafts two days after the fact is a tad silly. Let me put that on a spectrum for you. It is not nearly as silly creating the “Big Board” for the 2016 NFL Draft right about now. If you go to Google and search for “NFL Draft 2016 mock” you will find more than a couple of pages worth of links to articles available online on the subject. Get a grip…

Former NY Yankee centerfielder, Bernie Williams announced his retirement about a week ago. According to the stats I could find, his last game in MLB was in 2006. I do not know about you, but I sort of figured that he had already retired from the game and took up a musical career with guitar stylings. However, I learned that one does not retire from MLB simply by not playing for almost a decade; one has to make an affirmative declaration of retirement for one to move to that status. So, now it is official…

Here is an item I ran across in Greg Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note/Keeping Score:

“Molly Schuyler, a competitive eater, took all of 20 minutes to down three 72-ounce steaks, three baked potatoes, three shrimp cocktails, three salads and three dinner rolls. . . . ‘Or as they call it in Texas,’ said NBC-TV’s Seth Meyers, ‘a kids meal.’ . . . Did we mention that Schuyler weighs in at 120 pounds? With an appetite like that, I can’t imagine her being a cheap date.”

Finally, having mentioned Bernie Williams’ retirement above, here is a relevant comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The Yankees announced they would retire the numbers of Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. Hmm. Who else remembers when only all-time greats got their numbers retired?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Star Wars Day…

In case you had not heard, today is Star Wars Day. So what is a Star Wars junkie to do today in order to solemnly celebrate the day? Well, one suggestion I might have would be to get a tent and some rations and go line up to buy tix to see the new episode that will be coming out soon – – at least if you consider “soon” to be measured in months. You realize that the folks who started this “tradition” could have picked any day on the calendar as Star Wars Day but they chose May 4th. I suggest:

    They had no real choice in selecting the date because The Fourth – er, The Force – selected it for them.

    May The Force – and the fourth – be with us all…

Everyone has met or worked with someone who is “difficult to get along with”. More than a few people would hang that label on me with plenty of justification. I would suggest, however, that there is a spectrum of “difficult to get along with” that ranges from:

    Irritating … to …Pain in the Ass … to … Abject Annoyance … to … Intolerable A$$hole

Now on that spectrum where might you seek to place Rajon Rondo this week? Rondo was acquired by the Dallas Mavericks to fuel a playoff push for the team and hopefully to be part of a deep playoff run this year. Well, the Mavs indeed made the playoffs and Rondo was a starter for the team throughout the regular season and in the early games of the playoffs. And when the Mavs were summarily dismissed from the first round by the Rockets – with Rondo on the bench with what many consider a phantom injury – the team reportedly voted not to give him a playoff share. He played out the season with the team as a starter and he was a starter early in the Houston playoff series – and his teammates voted to stiff him his playoff money. I am thinking that he has to be well into the “Intolerable A$$hole” region of that spectrum…

Javaris Crittenton played basketball for Georgia Tech and had an NBA “career” that had him on the roster for the Lakers, Grizzlies and Wizards. His on-court exploits were not of a scale that most folks could recall any of them but he was the “other guy” involved in the locker-room contretemps with Gilbert Arenas in Washington that culminated in handguns being brought into the team locker room. The details of what happened were never established in a court of law but supposedly Arenas owed Crittenton some money from a card game and did not pay up. Crittenton threatened to bring his gun to the locker room to collect and Arenas’ response was to bring his gun to establish his “alpha-dominance”.

Whatever happened or did not happen led to the career demise for both players. Arenas was deemed to be “over-the-hill” and too injured to continue to play at a high enough level to justify his “issues”; Crittenton never approached a level of play where a team would have even considered “working with him” on these kinds of issues.

In any event, I bring this up today because last week, Javaris Crittenton was sentenced to 23 years in prison for manslaughter. Reports say that he fired a gun at a person who had robbed him a few days prior to the shooting incident but he missed the “robber” and happened to shoot and kill a mother of four children. As he begins his sentence, might I direct your attention to that spectrum I posited above and suggest that you come to your own conclusion as to where Javaris Crittenton might fit into it.

The first round playoff series between the Bulls and the Bucks went 6 games. In the final game, the Bulls “eked out” a win by 54 points. The final score was 120-66. To put that in perspective, only twice in NBA history has a playoff game been decided by more than 54 points.

    Minneapolis Lakers beat St. Louis Hawks by 58 points in 1956
    Denver Nuggets beat New Orleans Hornets by 58 points in 2009

That’s it; that’s the list.

Once the NFL Draft is completed, teams scramble to sign Undrafted Free Agents most of whom are cannon fodder for training camps and most of whom you will never hear about unless you read the agate type in your local paper on the day after the Undrafted Free Agents are released. Having said that, there was a signing this weekend after the Draft that attracted attention. Nate Boyer was the long-snapper for Texas last year and he got a call from the Seattle Seahawks with the opportunity to go to their training camp to try to make the Seahawks’ roster. Why is Nate Boyer notable?

    First of all, he is 34 years old. That is just a tad older than your typical guy coming out of college seeking to play in the NFL

    The reason he is “a tad older” is that Boyer was a Green Beret who served in Iraq and in Afghanistan before matriculating at Texas at age 29.

The odds are that he will not make the team but his path to a first-time chance to make an NFL roster is sufficiently out of the ordinary that it is worth noting here. Oh, and as a former Green Beret, he knows something about the concept of “cannon fodder”…

The Mountain West Conference is certainly not the top-dog of football conferences. However, the MWC will consider a conference change at their Spring Conference Meeting this year that might put them in a leadership role. The MWC will consider having their football conference championship game be between the two best teams in the conference and not necessarily between the champion of Division 1 and the champion of Division 2. Slow down, Charlie Brown; that is a lot better than “not a bad idea”. Yes, it could create controversy – albeit controversy related to the MWC is hardly a big deal – but it is an idea that the Big Boy Conferences might want to have in their bylaws as a contingency for certain years.

Kudos to the Mountain West Conference for innovative thinking…

Finally, I have been called to jury duty twice and have been empaneled on three different juries to hear cases. From that perspective, I agree completely with this assessment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“A jury I don’t want to be on, if the case ever goes to trial: No charges filed so far, but a woman has accused former 49er Ray McDonald of possible sexual assault. His attorney says McDonald has ‘video evidence of consensual sex over a two-day period of time.’ “

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Some Of This And Some Of That…

Well, that fell somewhere between anticlimactic and lame. After months of hype and analysis predicting big trades for teams to move up to the top of the draft, exactly nothing of that nature happened. I am sure you can find someone somewhere who has issued grades for the first round picks; you will not find that here because putting a grade on a selection often takes a couple of years. I will point to a couple of the selections that I think were interesting:

    At #4, the Raiders took Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. Please recall from my pre-draft analysis that I said I thought only injury would prevent Cooper from succeeding in the NFL. I still believe that. Moreover, I also recognize that the Raiders need help at WR. However, the Raiders have a bigger need for an upgrade and that bigger need is their OL. Amari Cooper will not catch passes from a QB who is not vertical.

    At #7, the Bears took Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The Bears absolutely had to get a WR to pair with Alshon Jeffrey and they got a good one here. Jay Cutler has to be a happy camper this morning.

    At #10, the Rams took Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Obviously, the team doctors in St. Louis pronounced his knee ready to go.

    At #32, the Patriots took Malcom Brown, DT, Texas. In my pre-draft analysis, I said he reminded me of Vince Wilfork. Well, Wilfork signed with the Texans as a free agent in the offseason, so this might be an extremely fortuitous pick by the Pats.

The following “fact-not-worth-remembering” comes from a report on the draft on CBSSports.com this morning:

“Detroit grabbed guard Laken Tomlinson with the No. 28 pick, making him the first Blue Devils player to get selected in the first 32 choices since linebacker Mike Junkin went No. 5 overall to Cleveland nearly three decades years ago.”

Many people think that a Game 7 in a Stanley Cup playoff series is one of the most exciting events in sports. Two nights ago, the Red Wings were in Tampa to play the Lightening in a seventh game and things got hot – so to speak. Just before the game began, fans in Tampa were passing a large team flag around the arena and a woman from Detroit took offense. She tried to set the flag on fire – and succeeded in producing a “small burn” to the flag. She was arrested and charged with “first degree arson of an occupied structure”. I am not going to pretend to know Florida’s criminal laws, but that sounds extremely serious to me.

Billy Donovan apparently is heading west to take over as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I say “apparently” because about 10 years ago, Donovan signed on to be the head coach of the Orlando Magic and less than 48 hours later told the team he changed his mind and returned to the University of Florida. Donovan has been at Florida for 19 years – not counting that 24-hour defection – and has been very successful there winning two national championships. His program has produced some fine NBA players including Joaquim Noah and Al Horford.

I believe it was Hubie Brown who defined the challenge for Donovan as he takes over the OKC roster headed by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook:

    Your two best players have to agree to be coached by you. [That is a paraphrase not a quote].

Yesterday, I mentioned some of the horses running in tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby. This is a two minute event – give or take a couple of seconds – but the TV mavens at NBC who have the rights to the Derby are going to put on 15.5 hours of coverage. I am not making this up and just to give you an idea of how big a reach it is to find 15.5 hours of things to yak about relative to a 2-minute horse race, consider this:

    On the Today Show, Al Roker will interview a milliner on the subject of Kentucky Derby hat fashions. But that is not all… Roker will be joined in the enterprise by NBC’s “fashion and lifestyle experts”, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir. Much as I complain about the 6-hour pre-game nonsense leading up to the Super Bowl, I do have to admit that they have not sunk to the depths of using “fashion and lifestyle” correspondents – – yet.

    The Weather Channel (owned by NBC) will of course focus coverage on the weather forecast for Louisville for the next two days.

      Memo for Weather Channel Folks: If your forecast is accurate, you can report it once in about 45 seconds and then run it as a crawl on the bottom of the screen for the next two days. After you make a forecast, the only interesting news is if you change the forecast – meaning your first one was wrong.

    MSNBC will provide live interview segments on its various programs. I cannot wait to hear Rev. Al Sharpton’s insightful questions regarding the race. After all, he is an expert on all matters involving “race”. Right?

And the list of irrelevant interviews and picks by NBC hosts/celebrities goes on and on…

Here is my advice:

    Post Time for the race is 6:24 PM according to the Washington Post.

    The race will NOT start before Post Time so you can tune in at 6:15, settle into a comfortable seat with a clear view of the TV screen and watch ”the most exciting two minutes in sports” without having to endure 15.5 hours of nonsensical and irrelevant coverage.

Finally, speaking of television coverage, here is an observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“The World Chess Championship was televised in a number of countries. Who’s this for? People who find watching curling too nerve-racking?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

A Bad Omen For Marcus Mariota

Last night, ESPN reported that the Cleveland Browns had made an offer to the Tennessee Titans in order for the Browns to acquire the overall #2 pick in the draft tonight. There is nothing particularly notable in that; plenty of teams might be angling to get that pick. However, what ESPN reported was that if the Browns got the overall #2 pick, they were going to draft Marcus Mariota. When I heard that, I thought that Mariota must have gone into a blue funk hearing the news. Here’s why…

Consider that the Cleveland Browns as we know them today began in 1999. Since they had the overall #1 pick in the draft that year as an expansion franchise, the Browns have taken a bunch of QBs in the draft and none of them have turned out to be anything more than journeymen. In fact, a large number of the QBs that the Browns took cannot play dead in a John Wayne movie. I may have missed a selection; my “research” here was done hastily, but here is the list I compiled:

    1999 Tim Couch — First round — Overall #1
    2000 Spergon Wynn — Sixth round — Overall #183
    2004 Luke McCown — Fourth round — Overall #106
    2005 Charlie Frye — Third round — Overall #67
    2007 Brady Quinn — First round — Overall #22
    2010 Colt McCoy – – Third round – Overall #85
    2012 Brandon Weeden – – First Round – – Overall #22
    2014 Johnny Manziel – – First Round – – Overall #22

Since 1999, there have been 16 NFL Drafts. In those drafts, the Browns have taken a QB eight times; of those eight selections, four have been first round picks. If Marcus Mariota looks at that history and realizes that he might have his name entered onto that list, it ought to give him night sweats.

Three years ago at draft time, the Miami Dolphins traded up to the #3 slot in the draft to select DE/OLB Dion Jordan. Earlier this week, we learned that Jordan will be suspended for the entire 2015 season for running afoul of the substance abuse policy. I believe we can make it official now; Dion Jordan was not worth trading up for.

    In 2 seasons, Jordan has 3 sacks and 2 drug suspensions. That is an ominous start to an NFL career – if in fact it is not the sum total of his entire NFL career.

There seems to be about as much hype and hoopla surrounding the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight as there is for some pro ‘rassling extravaganza. About a week ago, Mayweather proclaimed that he is the greatest fighter in history specifically saying, “I am greater than Ali.” For some reason that I do not understand, George Foreman chimed in saying “I agree with Mayweather.” Of course, Ali simply said, “I’m the greatest.”

None of that amounts to a scintilla of squirrel stool but I would like to point out to all of those fighters a simple fact:

    Rocky Marciano retired as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world beating all 49 men who stood in front of him.

Rocky is on the other side of the grass at the moment so he cannot offer his opinion on this matter directly…

The Nevada State Gaming Control Board released figures for March indicating that sportsbooks in Nevada handled $375.5M in wagers on basketball. That number is up from last year’s $343.5M and represents a 9.3% increase. If you assume that the handle for NBA games in March of each year is relatively constant, the difference would have to be wagering on March Madness. People who follow the gaming industry say that 70% of the wagering on basketball in Nevada goes to NCAA Tournament games; if they are correct, that would mean that almost $263M went through the windows in March on college basketball games. And please recall that the Final Four games did not happen until April…

This increase in wagering happens to coincide with record breaking TV ratings for the tournament games this year. Adam Silver seems to recognize that there is some causation here and so does Rob Manfred; Mark Emmert continues to do his Marcel Marceau imitation on this matter.

For the final game, the ratings say it was the most watched game since 1997 (Kentucky vs. Arizona). The total viewing audience was 28.26 million folks.

Saturday will see the Kentucky Derby happen. As usual there will be 20 horses in the field which is about 6 too many. More than about any other US race, the outcome of the Derby is often decided by which horse best avoids traffic congestion. Horses to watch include:

    Carpe Diem. Post position 2. Morning Line 8-1. He has 4 wins in 5 starts and has the best trainer/jockey combination in racing going for him.

    Dortmund. Post position 8. Morning Line 3-1. He has never lost and he ran a huge race in the Santa Anita Derby.

    International Star. Post position 12. Morning Line 20-1. If you like your horse to close ground late, he is one to consider.

    Frosted. Post Position 15. Morning Line 15-1. Ran a very good race in the Wood Memorial.

    American Pharaoh. Post 18. Morning Line 5-2. He has 4 straight wins but I am leery of a favorite from the 18 post in a field like this.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this note in the Seattle Times recently:

The 76,976 fans at WrestleMania XXXI in San Francisco broke the Levi’s Stadium record for WiFi usage — 4.5 terabytes of data.

“On the downside, local doctors report a sudden rash of cauliflower-thumb complaints.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Josh Hamilton Back In Texas

The Los Angeles Angels basically gave Josh Hamilton back to the Rangers to get him out of town. The Angels will pay the vast majority of the salary remaining on Hamilton’s $125M contract and might get the infamous “player who already has a name but who will be identified later”. This transaction has engendered a huge reaction among commentators – some of which has been way over the top to the point where one columnist said something along the lines that when – not if – Hamilton ever killed himself in a drug-involved incident, the columnist hoped he would die alone and not take anyone else with him. Sorry, folks; that is way out of bounds…

I would observe, however, that this is probably a good time to be a columnist in Dallas or Fort Worth. There is plenty of room for multiple columnists to discuss the Hamilton situation with the Rangers from several vantage points. But the fun only starts there:

    The Greg Hardy suspension for 10 games provides the opportunity to comment on his presence with the Cowboys from a football perspective, from the perspective of the NFL’s evolving position on domestic violence and from the perspective of rehabilitation and atonement of an athlete. There is mileage to be had there.

    Up to the point where it becomes impossible for the Cowboys to trade for Adrian Peterson, he can be the focus of the same kinds of perspective columns that Hardy provides. Only the names need be changed to protect the innocent… [/Dragnet].

In anticipation of Hamilton’s return to North Texas, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News compiled stats that say history is not on Hamilton’s side when it comes to regaining the glory he had in his first stay in Texas. Fraley looked at 8 baseball stars who went back to where they had prior glory late in their careers and found that most did not come close to rekindling it. Fraley’s list was:

    Bert Blyleven’s return to the Twins
    Gary Carter’s return to the Expos
    Roger Clemens return to the Yankees
    Rickey Henderson’s return to Oakland
    Reggie Jackson’s return to Oakland
    Andy Pettite’s return to the Yankees
    Pete Rose’s return to the Reds
    Tom Seaver’s return to the Mets

Blyleven was a success with the Twins and Pettite pitched well for the Yankees in return engagements; for the other players – all of them great players – they performed very poorly going “back to where it all began.” Granted, Hamilton is younger than the players on that list; but on the other hand, he is bearing burden they did not.

Oh, since I mentioned the possibility of Adrian Peterson going to the Cowboys above, I ran across a little note that said Herschel Walker thinks that the Vikings ought to trade Peterson and that the Cowboys were the most logical place for the team to make a deal. Obviously, Walker is entitled to his opinion. However consider the history here:

    If there is anyone on the planet who ought not to be offering “trade advice” to the Vikings involving a running back and the Dallas Cowboys, it would have to be Herschel Walker.

Sometimes it is difficult to find the right adjective to describe a certain event. I am sitting here in Curmudgeon Central trying to come up with something that goes beyond “inconsequential” or “trivial” or “immaterial” or “exiguous”. I am looking for a word that will describe the NFL’s sanction of the NY Jets after the league decided that the Jets – in the person of owner, Woody Johnson – did in fact tamper with Darrelle Revis while Revis was under contract with the Patriots. The penalty for the Jets is:

    A fine of $100K.

Let me be clear; what Woody Johnson did was minimal. Nevertheless, the NFL investigated and found that Johnson’s minimal action indeed violated whatever the league has defined for itself to be “tampering”. Presumably, the NFL did not put that rule in place just for the Hell of it. Ergo, when a team – or a coach or an owner – violates the rule, there needs to be a penalty associated with it that will make someone else think twice before violating the rule in the future. That is why there are penalties in the first place.

The Jets committed – potentially – $70M to Revis over the next 5 seasons. Woody Johnson is part of the Johnson family who people know as Johnson & Johnson – the pharmaceutical firm. Estimates of the family fortune are in the range of $13B; I have no idea what Woody Johnson’s share of that $13B might be, but I am confident in making this statement:

    $100K is a trifling amount of money to him – as it would be to every other NFL owner.

I am not sufficiently facile with English to find the right descriptor here but the message the NFL sent is loud and clear. We have a tampering rule but if you violate it, nothing bad is going to happen to you.

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News found something positive to say about Reds’ manager, Bryan Price, and his 5-minute profanity-laced tirade:

“Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price used the same vulgarity 77 times during a 5 ½-minute rant at the media.

“On the bright side, not once did he use the equally obnoxious phrase ‘moving forward.’ ”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Looking For A Hall-Of-Fame QB?

With the NFL Draft careening towards us with all of the speculation on who will take which of the top 2 QBs in the first round, there is something you need to go and read in its entirety. Dan Daly, formerly with the Washington Times, has done some extensive research on where QBs who ultimately wound up in the Hall of Fame went in the draft. Here is something that might scare the bejeebers out of the guys in Tampa and Tennessee and other teams with really high draft picks:

    More than 80% of the QBs who proved to be Hall of Fame quality were not the first QB taken in the draft in the year they were eligible.

I cannot do a synopsis here that does justice to Daly’s research and presentation and so I will urge you to follow this link and read this entry in its entirety at ProFootballDaly.com.

Since I mentioned the upcoming draft and the eligible QBs this year, you probably read or saw that Jameis Winston told Jim Harbaugh on the ESPN feature, Draft Academy, a new story about the infamous crab legs incident. Basically, Winston said that he did not shoplift the crab legs as one might conclude from watching the security videos in the store because the crab legs were given to him by a store employee as a “hook-up”. Translated into English, Winston got some free crab legs from the supermarket because he was the star QB on the defending national champion football team in town. It was no big deal; that is why he took no action to conceal the fact that he was walking out of the door with the crab legs bypassing the cash register.

This was treated as a revelation for about a day or so and then it seems to have faded into oblivion. Naturally, I look at this differently than most other commentators.

    1. Only about 2 weeks to go before the draft and Jameis Winston changes his story about what happened that night? And that is supposed to make me feel confident that his “off-the-field-issues” are nothing more than “growing up pains”? Here is what this “new story” demonstrates rather clearly:

      Either he is lying now or he was lying before regarding the crab legs incident.

    2. If the current story is the truth, where are the NCAA enforcement hounds? Jameis Winston just declared that he got free foodstuffs from a local supermarket and that it was no big deal that it happened. That is the seafood equivalent of a booster handing him money under the table. One would think that the NCAA would be swarming all over this matter; an athlete just admitted getting benefits that are not available to the student body at large.

      How long has this been going on?

      Are similar “bennies” available to other athletes?

      How come none of the coaches know about this?

      What did everyone tell the Florida State ‘investigators” about this matter back when it first surfaced?

Bob Molinaro took this matter in a totally different direction in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Good eats: I’m not sure what position to take on the latest twist in the Jameis Winston crab legs saga, except to surmise that it’s created more free advertising for crab legs.”

With all of the focus on the Mayweather/Pacquaio fight next weekend, one might surmise that boxing might be making a comeback. I think not. The moribund state of the sport was on display last weekend when the heavyweight champion of the world, Wladimir Klitschko, defended his title against an undefeated challenger named Bryant Jennings in Madison Square Garden. There was a time when such a happening would have been the single focal point for the sports world; I will suggest here that less than 5% of the people you might encounter on the street this week are even aware that the fight happened let alone who participated, where it happened and what was the outcome.

People today may not realize that at one time the three top assignments for sportswriters working at newspapers were – in alphabetical order:

    Baseball
    Boxing
    Horseracing

Some truly great writers covered boxing including Ring Lardner, AJ Liebling (my personal favorite), Stan Hochman, Bert Sugar, Dave Anderson, William Gildea and Jimmy Breslin. Not intending to disparage current boxing coverage, the great writers of today gravitate to different beats and to different issues than the world of boxing. And that is why you can have a heavyweight championship fight in Madison Square Garden in an environment where the vast majority of sports fans just do not care. Sad…

According to Forbes, total attendance at MLB games in 2014 was 73.7M fans. Barring some kind of catastrophe, total attendance in 2015 will be very close to this number. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council – yes, there is such a thing; Google is your friend – fans this year will consume 23M hot dogs and sausages at ballparks this year. Given the way MLB parks have added dining options to include pizza and burgers and sushi and nachos, I am surprised to see that teams can expect to sell a hot dog/sausage to about one in three fans.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had a comment regarding the current WBC heavyweight champion of the world:

“Deontay Wilder, who won the WBC heavyweight boxing title by unanimous decision, is a former waiter at IHOP.

“No wonder the judges didn’t waffle.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Looking For A Sinecure?

I remember studying vocabulary lists in preparation for the SATs many years ago and running across the word, sinecure. A sinecure is a job that provides earnings but requires little or no work or effort. I recall thinking in my youth that a sinecure would be a great career because it would put food on the table and still allow time to do fun things like go to see baseball games several times a week. I had a great career – but not because it was a sinecure. In fact, I now think I would have been bored to tears with a sinecure.

Nonetheless, if one were to go looking today for a position of that ilk, might I suggest that one seek to be on a baseball Blue Ribbon Committee or alternatively, to be assigned to do an investigation on behalf of the NFL. There may be some work involved there, but the “pace” of the job is extraordinarily leisurely.

    MLB set up a Blue Ribbon Committee to figure out how to get the Oakland A’s a new stadium while not having the SF Giants get their knickers in a knot. I do not have the exact date for the committee’s formation, but I will say it was about 5 years ago and there have still been no recommendations – let alone actions. This is not an easy problem to resolve; I will stipulate that. However, in 5 years one might think that there could be some kind of movement toward a resolution.

    MLB also set up a special investigation to determine if the Chicago Cubs tampered with Joe Maddon while he was still under contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. My recollection of this investigative endeavor is that it began before Thanksgiving of last year meaning it has been ongoing for at least 5 months now. Resolving territorial issues between teams while simultaneously considering the locale for a new stadium is a thorny issue; determining “tampering” vs. “non-tampering” vs. “not enough evidence to make either determination” is not nearly so thorny.

    Everyone must recall “Deflategate” because it was the biggest story of the NFL playoffs running up to the Super Bowl. You may or may not recall that the NFL assigned Ted Wells to do an investigation to determine why the footballs used in the Colts/Pats playoff game had an internal pressure that was outside the limits prescribed by the rules. The important distinction that has to be made is this one:

      Were the balls “underinflated” or were they “deflated”? Underinflated can happen simply because of human error; deflated involves a conscious and determined act.

    Well, that investigation is still ongoing 3 months later and Colts’ owner Jim Irsay says he is not surprised at the time this has taken and that he fully expects the investigation to go on for several more weeks.

In my retirement, I could always use a gig that will shore up my IRA but I would really like to still have the time to watch games and write these rants. Therefore, I will announce here that I am available at an amazingly low rate of pay to participate on any Blue Ribbon Committee or investigation of alleged wrongdoing in one of the pro sports leagues so long as the pace of my committee/investigation parallels the ones described here. At the rate they are going, someone will find out what happened to Judge Crater before all the work is done here.

Brittney Griner, the star center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was arrested over the weekend in Arizona. According to reports Griner and another WNBA player, Glory Johnson of the Tulsa Shock were arrested based on an incident involving assault and disorderly conduct. As I skimmed the lead paragraph of the article, my first thought was that this was indeed unladylike and that I should make a comment about how Miss Manners might be extremely miffed at such behavior. However, I also noticed in the midst of a paragraph that Glory Johnson was identified as Brittney Griner’s fiancée. Well, that changes things a bit…

If these two ladies can manage to put this incident behind them and resume their relationship and ultimately marry one another, it will have to be the first time that a married couple will be playing in the same professional team sports league in the US. Now, allow me to offer up these words of wisdom to this young couple with the intention that they may indeed let this incident be a mere speed bump on the road of life. Here is what comedienne, Rita Rudner had to say about marriage:

“I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

The MLB All-Star Game will be in Cincy this summer and Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that Pete Rose will be part of the ceremonies surrounding the game. The Reds’ president/CEO, Bob Castellini, will work with the Commish to figure out just how Rose will be involved in the event. Allow me to suggest to Messrs. Manfred and Castellini one of the first things they need to do as they set out to determine how Pete Rose might be part of the All-star Game:

    Do not give Jim Gray a press credential. Do not let him get near Pete Rose with a camera and a microphone.

    Just don’t…

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this observation over the weekend:

“This week, Pete Rose returned to baseball and Tim Tebow returned to football. You just know Brett Favre is sitting by the phone.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The NFL Pre – Draft Analysis – 2015

Let me do a quick reset here for new readers. I watch a lot of college football on TV in the Fall for one simple reason:

    I like college football.

One of the things I like to do is to watch for players who I think can play at the NFL level and so I keep a notepad beside me and jot down things I see. With the NFL Draft upon me, I then go back and cut up the pieces of paper with the commentary on players and arrange them by position in order to create this feature.

That is really all there is to this. I am not a scout; I do not have access to inside information; I do my observing from the comfort of my living room; no NFL GM or personnel guy would waste even a nanosecond considering any of my commentary here. Importantly, my data source is my cable TV provider combined with my personal/family schedule regarding when I am free to sit down and watch a game or two. That means:

    Living in the DC area, I am going to see East Coast teams more frequently than West Coast teams. I have no rooting interest that creates an East Coast bias but the time zone where I live creates a de facto bias of that type.

    I am more likely to tune in to watch “major” schools play each other as opposed to “minor” schools. Villanova versus Syracuse might be an enticing game to see if the game is basketball; for football, not so much. Moreover, my cable provider tends to show lots more games involving “major” schools than “minor” schools. Hey, I am not a programming director.

    Often, I only see a team play one time in a season. A really good player may have had his worst game of his career on that day or missed that game with an injury and so I never noticed him as a “draft prospect”. If I ignored him, it is not due to any bias on my part.

The most logical way to do this is to go position-by-position and so I shall start with quarterbacks. Obviously, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be drafted early; they were the two best QBs I saw last year but that is not to say they are mortal locks for stardom in the NFL.

    Jameis Winston has a great arm; he made a couple of deep throws last year that made me say “Wow!” He is big and strong and knows how to play in the pocket. He is not, however, a scrambler; when forced to move and under pressure, he makes some throws that look like a high school QB on the run. He has plenty of “upside” and he also seems to bring plenty of off-field “baggage” to the party.

    Marcus Mariota is more accurate than Winston but cannot throw the deep ball nearly as deep. On the run, he is much more composed and accurate with his throws than Winston and he is faster. If he is going to be an early success in the NFL, he needs to go to a program that will allow him to continue to play the wide-open option offense that he knows. If he goes to a straight “drop-back passing offense”, it might take him a few years to blossom.

      If I were the Bucs with the first pick and with Lovie Smith as the coach, I would take Winston over Mariota because Lovie Smith is more likely to run a standard pro offense than an option-pistol offense.

    Brett Hundley (UCLA): This is the summary of my notes on Hundley: He is really fast; “if he had good hands he would have been a WR”; he locks in on his receiver awfully quick; not as accurate as he should be. I think he might be a good pick in Round 3.

    Bryce Petty (Baylor): He has a big arm that can throw darts and he can put air under a ball when that is needed. He is not as good under pressure and reports say he never had to call plays or memorize a play book playing in the spread offense at Baylor. Given the way that has hampered RG3, that would give me pause – except for that big-time arm. My note says “Round 3 or 4”.

    Sean Mannion (Oregon St.): “Tall and immobile” summarizes what I saw here. He is an accurate passer unless protection breaks down and then he is nothing special at all. “Late round pick” is what I have.

    Blake Simms (Alabama): Here is my note on him: “Does he look good because he has Amari Cooper to throw to?” That situation has obtained in the past and it could well be the case here. I doubt he is worth taking before Round 7 and maybe he goes somewhere as an undrafted free agent.

    Shane Carden (E. Carolina): He has a “better than average arm” and is “OK throwing on the run”. One question mark was “big enough???” One more note I had was that he might need to “cut down on the caffeine” a bit; he sometimes plays “out of control”. I think he will go very late in the draft or possibly be an undrafted free agent.

Staying in the backfield, here are my notes on running backs:

    Todd Gurley (Georgia): I did not see Gurley play last year due to his suspension and subsequent injury. I did see him a year ago and remember that I was impressed. However, how teams will weigh his injury history is a mystery to me. If he is fully ready to play the way he did in 2013, he should be a first round pick; otherwise …

    Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin): “Hits the hole quickly” and if he “gets through clean = BIG gain.” Looks “big enough” to take the abuse a RB gets in the NFL. Here is a note I have that might be important: “They do not ask him to do much pass blocking. Is that because he can’t?” He will go in the first round of the draft.

    Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska): Here is the dichotomy represented by my notes. “Really fast, very elusive” and “Looks awfully small”. My guess is second or third round.

    David Cobb (Minnesota): He is “built like a bowling ball and runs like one.” He showed “plenty of power/not much speed”. For the right team, he could be a valuable asset worth a third round pick; in a more general sense, he is more likely to go fifth or sixth round.

    Duke Johnson (Miami): He has “plenty of speed” but “not much of a power runner”. I also said “looks too small to be more than a 3rd down back”. I could see him going in the third or fourth round.

    Jawan Edwards (Ball State): He is “built low to the road” and is a “strong runner between tackles.” MAC defenses are a far cry from NFL defenses so he is likely to be taken very late in the draft if at all.

I only saw two fullbacks that caught my attention sufficiently to make me take pen in hand and both of them played in the SEC:

    Connor Neighbors (LSU): “Good lead blocker” and “good pass blocker” are things you want to see on your notes for a potential fullback. I have no mention here of his running ability or pass-catching ability so that must mean his real value is as a blocker. Where he might go in the draft really depends on how many teams are looking for blocking fullbacks this year.

    Jalston Fowler (Alabama): “Good pass blocker” and “power runner” are my two notes as to his football skills. My other note about him says “big bruiser” which is good for a potential fullback. As with Connor Neighbors above, where he goes in the draft depends on how many teams are shopping for fullbacks this year.

I shall now move along to the wide receivers where I have plenty of notes about players coming out this year. Before getting to the listing here, I realize that lots of folks have Devante Parker and Rashad Greene listed among the elite WRs. I saw Louisville play but made no notes about Parker; I saw Florida State play several times and made no notes about Greene. Make of that what you will… Nonetheless, I do have comments about 8 WRs in this year’s draft.

    Amari Cooper (Alabama): I have lots of notes about his play and his abilities but there is one note that sort of summarizes it all:

      “Only injury can stop this guy.”

      He definitely goes in the Top Ten picks.

    Devin Funchess (Michigan): He is “very big for a WR” and he has the speed and hands to play the position. He will be a good “possession receiver”. I would put him in the second round.

    Kevin White (WVU): “Tall and very fast” with “great hands” means he ought to be a first round pick.

    Tyler Lockett (K-State): “Undersized” but “finds ways to get open” and “good hands” means he is worth a look as a WR. He also played on return teams for K-state. Third or fourth round seems right to me.

    Dres Anderson (Utah): The announcers said he was Flipper Anderson’s son and so I paid attention to him. He has “good speed” but he “missed a couple of passes he got both hands on”. If you like football bloodlines, you might take this guy late in the draft but not much before that.

    Davaris Daniels (Notre Dame): Announcers said he was Phillip Daniels’ son and so I paid attention to see how the son of a defensive lineman played WR. My only note was “good hands”. Once again, if you like football bloodlines…

    Devin Smith (Ohio State): “Makes big plays when team needs it”. That is sort of what you would want a WR to do, right? He is “not as big as other WRs” but he can play. Probably a good bargain in the third round…

    Keith Mumphrey (Mich St.): “Good blocker on run plays to his side” and “good run after catch” are the positives. “Not very big” is the negative. That sounds like a late round pick to me…

Readers who have been around these analyses for several years might notice a glaring absence this year. Normally, I have e-mail notes from folks who have seen players at small schools in their area – or at their old alma mater – telling me about players I never get a chance to see. Indeed, I had about a half dozen of them but they went to the great bit-box in the sky when my previous computer went paws up. Therefore, to the folks who sent me those e-mails, I am not ignoring your comments nor am I “dissing’ your astute observations; your observations are not here because I lost them.

      [Aside: It is a good thing I create my notes with paper and pencil or I would have lost an entire season’s worth of notes with the demise of my computer. Then again, you would have been spared one of these draft analyses if that had that happened. You can decide among yourselves if you came out ahead in that calculus…]

Moving along to the tight ends…

    Jesse James (Penn State): Seriously, how can you not pay attention to a player named Jesse James? Too bad Penn State does not run the pistol offense… My notes say “made a nice catch” and “mediocre blocker on run plays”. That sounds like a low round pick to me if he gets picked at all.

    Blake Bell (Oklahoma): He is a “very large man” who “blocks very well” but who “looks awfully slow”. I would put him as a mid-to-late round pick.

    Max Williams (Minnesota): “Pass catching TE” who gains “lots of RAC”. “Seems not too interested in blocking” but “gets in defenders way”. With the emphasis on tight ends who can catch the ball down the seams these days, he will probably go by the end of the second round.

I do not try to make distinctions between guards and tackles on the offensive line because I have seen plenty of players move from one position to another going from college to the NFL. I do tend to think about centers as a unique position but I will lump them in here with offensive lineman:

    Brandon Scherff (Iowa): Most of the draft mavens think he will be the first offensive lineman taken this year. My notes may not reflect that same enthusiasm. I noted that he is “very big and very strong” and that he “leads runners 10 yards downfield” when the play is blocked correctly. However, I also noted “outside pass rushers give him problems”. If you are going to be a successful offensive tackle (his college position) in the NFL, you have to be able to handle the outside pass rushers. Everyone else thinks he is a sure-thing prospect; I think he needs more coaching to be a quality NFL player.

    La’el Collins (LSU): “Power blocker” and “big guy” are the plusses. “Not real good with the blitz” is the negative. Probably a late first round pick.

    Corey Robinson (S. Carolina): He is “a huge man” who is a “good pass blocker”. However, he is “rarely out in front on a wide run to his side”. Probably a good pick in the third round.

    Jake Fischer (Oregon): He is “very big and very fast”. He blocks his man and then races to find someone else to block and after a big gain he is “first OL to the new line of scrimmage.” Chip Kelly ought to be highly attracted to this guy. My guess is that he will be taken in the second or third round.

    Tyrus Thompson (Oklahoma): “Good run blocker” and “not so good pass blocker” makes him seem like project to me. However, he is a big guy from a big time program so he may be worth taking late in the draft for developmental purposes.

    Shaq Mason (Ga Tech): “Very good drive blocker” and “quick enough to lead outside run plays” from center position are very positive things. The issue with just about any lineman from Ga Tech is that the Yellow Jackets rarely throw the football except when they absolutely have to. Ergo, “can he pass block at all”?

    Leon Brown (Alabama): He is a “good run blocker” who “pushes his man backward most of the time”. However, “not much speed to lead outside runs”. He should be a mid-to-late round pick.

    Trenton Brown (Florida): A “HUGE man – screen graphic says 6’ 8” tall”. “Very strong and very stationary”. “Not much speed” so this guy would be a real project for a team. But he is big and strong… Probably sixth or seventh round if he is drafted at all.

Before moving on to the defense, let me say that I have no notes regarding any punters in this year’s draft and only two notes on placekickers neither of which indicates to me that you will hear their names called from the podium until late on the last day of the draft:

    Sam Ficken (Penn State): “Got good depth on kickoffs in not great weather conditions”

    Kyle Brindiza (Notre Dame): “Big man/big leg”.

Now, for the defense, let me start with the defensive linemen and say unequivocally that Leonard Williams (USC) is going to be an impact player in the NFL unless he has a limb amputated. He is not only big and strong and a form tackler, he is also too fast to be a 300-lb man. He reminds me of a younger and faster version of Richard Seymour – and that is high praise for a guy who has never played a down in the NFL. If he does not go in the Top Five in the draft, there is some dark information out there related to Leonard Williams.

    Michael Bennett (Ohio State): “Very quick” and “plays to the whistle” on every play. My notes say “should be first-rounder”.

    Malcom Brown (Texas): I have two notes: “Big man to stop the run” and “reminds me of Vince Wilfork”. That sounds like a first-round pick to me…

    Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma): “Really big guy – screen graphic said 325 lbs”. Maybe that was before breakfast? He was “born to stuff the run”. Probably gone by the third round.

    Shane Ray (Mizzou): “Really good pass rusher” but “does not seem like he has run play responsibility”. If he is as one-dimensional as he looked to me, he could last until the third or fourth round.

Here are my notes on linebackers:

    Dante Fowler (Florida): “Super quick at the snap” and “hustles every play” combined with “sure tackler” makes him a candidate to go in the Top Ten in the draft.

    Bernardrick McKinney (Miss St.): “Meets runners head-on” and he is a “real bruiser”. A team needing an inside linebacker for a 3-4 defense can use him right away. Probably second or third round…

    Denzel Perryman (Miami): “Sure tackler – when he gets more than a finger on ball carrier it’s all over”. However, he is “not great in pass coverage” and “maybe too small?” I think he goes somewhere around the third round.

    Ramik Wilson (Georgia): He has “good size” and “good speed for a guy his size”. He “tackles well” but “struggles to defend passes”. I think he too goes somewhere around the third round.

    Taiwan Jones (Michigan St.): “Good against the run” and “already has NFL size” means he might be ready to play from the get-go. However, he “cannot cover receivers”. Probably another “thirdish rounder”.

    Marcus Rush (Michigan St.): What a great name for an outside linebacker…! He “needs to add some weight” but he is “very fast” which lets him cover backs out of the backfield. Probably a project so put him in the sixth or seventh round.

I have left two linebackers off the list above because I want to say something about each of them that goes beyond my notes. Randy Gregory (Nebraska) is a top-shelf NFL prospect. He went to the Combine and tested positive for drugs; reports say it was marijuana. I am not going to all moralistic on you here, but Gregory knew he would be tested and knew he would be tested for marijuana at the Combine in February. And he still got caught. That would lead me to wonder:

    Can he stay off the stuff enough in the future to avoid further positive tests when those tests are random? A suspended player is of little value to a team.

    Does he care enough about football to stay eligible?

    Is he so entitled that he does not care about the rules because they just do not matter to him?

    Is he dumber than a garden hose?

If Randy Gregory simply made a “youthful error” – as opposed to being an Olympic-class moron – he ought to be taken in the Top Ten in this draft. He is that good. However…

The other linebacker that really intrigued me was Shaq Thompson (Washington). Thompson has played linebacker, safety and running back at Washington and has been accomplished at all three positions. The screen graphic said he weighed 218 lbs which is generally too small to play linebacker at the PAC-12 level – but he not only played linebacker there, he played linebacker really well. I am skeptical that he can add enough weight to play linebacker in the NFL for very long but he is so athletic that he might actually be able to carry more weight effectively. And he can also be a safety of a running back too. They do not generally have slots on NFL teams for “utility player” as they do in baseball, but that is what Thompson seems to be. I have no idea how teams are going to view this kind of multi-dimensional player so I have no idea where he might go in the draft.

However, it would not surprise me even a little bit if Bill Belichick took Shaq Thompson somewhere along the line with the idea of making him into multi-dimensional player. If that were to happen, it would be interesting to watch and see how the Pats might use him.

I saved the defensive backs for last for a simple reason. If my notes are any guide, this is going to be a good year for teams to rebuild or add depth to their secondaries. Here are my notes on 14 defensive backs.

    Jalen Collins (LSU): “Big, strong and fast”, “plays the run well”, ‘good tackler”. First or second round pick.

    Landon Collins (Alabama): “Hits like a train”, aggressive in run defense”. Should go in the first or second round.

    Cody Prewett (Ole Miss): “Big hitter”, “covers back out of backfield”, “speed?” Second or third round pick.

    Cody Riggs (Notre Dame): “Good in coverage” “looks awfully small to play in NFL”. Probably a late round pick.

    Gerod Holliman (Louisville): “Big and fast”, “playing safety instead of corner, why?” I think he should go around the third round because he has versatility.

    Trae Waynes (Michigan St.): “Play’s press coverage most of the time”, “can also play off his man”, “did not see him in a zone defense”, “sure tackler”. Probably a first round pick.

    Doran Grant (Ohio State): “Sure tackler”, “good in man coverage”. Gone in the second round.

    Kyshoen Jarett (Va Tech): “Not very big but hits hard”; “covers backs and TEs – a safety in NFL”. Possibly third or fourth round.

    Eric Rowe (Utah): “Aggressive in man coverage”; “sure tackler”, “closes on ball”. Maybe first or second round?

    Erik Dargan (Oregon): “Strong against the run”, “good size/decent speed”. Should go in third or fourth round.

    Julian Wilson (Oklahoma): “Big CB good tackler”; “good in coverage”. Maybe second round?

    PJ Williams (Florida State): “Good size and good instincts”. Should go in second round.

    Ronald Darby (Florida State): “Looks like [PJ] Williams’ twin brother”, “aggressive in man coverage”. Should go in second round.

    Adrian Amos (Penn State): “Big kid who hits hard”, “good in coverage”, not super-fast”. Perhaps third of fourth round.

So now you are prepared to watch as much – or as little – of the NFL Draft as you want on TV. I am sure that the guys covering the Draft for ESPN and NFL Network will have volumes more to say about each player that I named here plus the 200 other guys who will have their names called. Trust me, I am not angling for a spot on those telecasts. Actually, I admire ESPN for taking the Draft and making it into a benchmark sports TV event every year; in reality, I think the NFL Draft itself is very close to the way Howard Cosell described it about 30 years ago:

“…the most overrated, over-propagandized annual event in American sport.”

Nevertheless, ESPN and the relentless NFL promotional machine have turned it into something that draws the attention of millions of fans. So who am I to fight against that juggernaut…?

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………