Legalized Sports Betting – The Time Has Come

If you have been a reader here for more than a month or so, you surely realize that I am a proponent of legalized betting on all sporting events. My advocacy on this issue is based on two realities:

    1. Having sports betting in an “illegal status” does not mean that it does not happen – as I will try to demonstrate later in this rant.

    2. Legalizing it – and regulating it – will create a new source of tax revenue for governments at various levels of our society. These new tax revenues would not be imposed on anyone against their will; people who do not bet on baseball or football games would not be paying any of the new taxes that would flow to the coffers of governments. It would be a consumption tax.

I would like to welcome a former opponent of sports betting to my side of the aisle. David Stern – as the NBA Commissioner – did not think that betting on NBA games was a good idea and surely did not embrace the good folks in Las Vegas who set lines on all of his games. However, he recently spoke to a convocation called the Global Gaming Expo held in Las Vegas where he addressed the benefits of legalized sports betting and – more importantly – how legalized sports betting would ultimately become a protector of the integrity of the games themselves.

    Mr. Former Commissioner, welcome aboard the Wagering Wagon…

In his remarks, Stern said, inter alia:

“The belief that gambling will lead to bad things is an outdated notion.”

And ,,,

“Let’s not talk about the ‘evils’ of gambling when it comes to sports. The industry has come to accept that a properly run gaming association will be protective toward sports.”

The Global Gaming Expo is an event sponsored by and hosted by the American Gaming Association (AGA). This is a trade organization; it is made up of people and entities directly involved in the casino industry; it cannot possibly be seen as a neutral observer when it comes to opinions and positions with regard to gambling issues. Nevertheless, it is not a criminal entity either; it does not exist to destroy the fabric of Western Civilization. In early September of this year, the AGA released a report that had the following estimate in it:

    For the second year in a row, betting on football games (NCAA games and NFL games combined) Americans would wager something slightly north of $90 billion dollars. That is billion with a “b”.

The legalized sports betting industry would handle about $2B this year and the rest of the betting would be done illegally. Approximately 97% of all that money wagered only on football games this year will happen in an underground economy that is illegal, unregulated and untaxed. So much for the idea that passing a law to make gambling illegal will stamp it out…

    I have said before and I will repeat it here. The various pieces of legislation at the Federal, State and Local levels that make sports betting illegal should be called the Local Bookies’ Full Employment Acts.

I am sure that someone else can point to another study where the amount of illegal wagering is not nearly as high as what the AGA has put out there. However, if you read a study that says it is only a trivial amount of money or that this entire issue is under control by the authorities, you can surely dismiss that report as fanciful – even if that is your fondest desire.

I recall reading a report about a year ago that said that the FBI estimated that almost $4B had been wagered illegally on the Super Bowl that year. Like the AGA, you might argue that the FBI might inflate that figure a tad to justify some sort of budget submission to the Congress. On the other hand, they would not have a figure to inflate if in fact the “problem” of sports betting was under control…

One of the major Impediments with regard to legalizing, regulating and taxing sports betting is Federal legislation that does not allow States to decide individually if they want to allow sports betting or not. In plenty of States, it is currently illegal to bet on the Jets +3.5 points against the Patriots but it is not only legal people are encouraged to play the State run lottery games. That fact alone denies a moral stance against sports betting. The most offending Federal legislation here is something known as PASPA – the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. While well-intentioned, this needs to be repealed and then replaced with something far more rational. PASPA demonstrates clearly the kernel of truth in the old aphorism:

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

The State of New Jersey has – so far unsuccessfully – tried to initiate sports betting there. The US Conference of Mayors has joined with the AGA in calling for a “national discussion” to change the ways that sports betting is regulated. Legislators in Pennsylvania have passed a resolution calling on the US Congress to repeal PASPA. I mention these actions here not because they have changed the way things are but to demonstrate that I am not alone in thinking that the time has come for a major change here.

Finally, since all of this is about legalizing a form of gambling, let me close with a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald related to another form of gambling that has been legalized:

“World Series of Poker final table getting close, the annual popular gathering spot for egomaniacs wearing sunglasses indoors.”

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

Predicting The 2016 NFL Season

The calendar has turned the page 12 times since last I set out to embarrass myself in public. Once again, it is time for me to do a team-by-team prediction for the NFL season that will start later this week. The outcome here will be my sense of the final record for all 32 teams come January 2017. This is not something that will mysteriously disappear from the website; I know from history – and just plain common sense – that there are going to be huge errors in these predictions. I will make then nonetheless; I will leave them here so people can mock me later on and I will even do a post-mortem sometime in January of February of next year and grade myself on what follows here.

Sometime during the season – or at the end – someone will stumble across these predictions and latch on to one of my glaring errors wherein I thought a team would go 4-12 and they actually went 10-6. Often, the fanboy who discovers such an error will accuse me of being a hater and will demand an apology from me on behalf of the team and all of its fans. I will not issue such an apology and one is not merited because:

    I do not “hate” – nor do I “love” – any NFL team. These predictions – call them guesses if that makes you feel better – come from a look at the team schedules and rosters and not much more than that. I do not engage in wishful thinking about any team in either a positive or negative sense.

    Apologies are associated with acts that are malicious in their intent or in their execution. There is no malice contained here and certainly no damage will be done to any team or fan by any prediction I make. Ergo, an apology would be irrelevant and out-of-place.

    What I do owe anyone and everyone who reads this stuff is an admission at the end of the season that some – many – of these predictions were downright wrong and that I was a dunderhead to have thought what I did before the season began. Read the post-mortem in early 2017; you will plenty of such admission(s).

Before I get to the teams and their projected records, let me identify 8 coaches who I believe are on a hot seat for the 2016 season. I am not hoping that these coaches get fired; I just think their employment situations are less stable than their peers. I will list them alphabetically lest someone think I have some preferential order in mind here:

    Gus Bradley (Jags): I had him on this list last year but the Jags showed definite improvement in 2015. I think that the Jags are a team on the rise and that Bradley will in fact be back next year. However, if I am dead wrong on that and the Jags regress to something like a 3-13 record, he will be toast. So, I put him on the list for the sake of completeness.

    Jim Caldwell (Lions): Last year, the team rallied to win 6 games in the second half of the season to finish 7-9. If you do the math there, that means the Lions were 1-7 in the first half of the season. Presumably, the Front Office saw the second half surge as a harbinger of good things for 2016. If that is the case and if the Lions do not build on that surge, I suspect that Jim Caldwell will be moving on at the end of the 2016 season.

    Jeff Fisher (Rams): The Rams underachieved last year and I thought that the Rams had not been “playoff relevant” for a while now, so I went and looked up Fisher’s record there. It is not pretty:

      He has been with the Rams for 4 seasons. The combined record is 27-36-1 and there have been no playoff appearances for the Rams.

      Moreover, his last winning season (with the Titans) was all the way back in 2008.

    Fisher signed a 5-year contract in 2012; this is his “contract year”. The Rams now play in LA where teams that contend for titles draw plenty of attention and adulation and where bad/mediocre teams fade into obscurity very quickly. Fisher and the Rams had better win this year.

    Jason Garrett (Cowboys): In no way would he be responsible for a bad year by the Cowboys. In fact, you might argue that he enters the season in the situation where he has brought a knife to a gunfight. But expectations were really high for the Cowboys this year; Jerry Jones has been hyping the 2016 season ever since the 2015 season ended. So, if the Cowboys really tank this year, Jerry Jones may need to do something symbolic to show his fanbase that he is doing more about “winning” than talking about “winning”. So, put Garrett on a hot seat even if he does not deserve to be there.

    Marvin Lewis (Bengals): I believe that Lewis is the coach – not named Belichick – with the longest tenure with his team in all of the NFL. Granted, he took over a dysfunctional team in a dysfunctional franchise and got everything headed in a positive direction. The Bengals owe him a lot for that.

      Some perspective here. Lewis has had the Bengals in the playoffs 7 times in 13 seasons. Prior to his arrival in Cincy, the Bengals had been in the playoffs a total of 7 times in 37 seasons.

      Before Lewis arrived, the team was not-so-affectionately known as “The Bungles” and they earned every morsel of that moniker.

    Here is the problem; the Bengals have not won a playoff game in the 13 years that Marvin Lewis has been the coach there. The team is 0-7 in playoff games and have lost in the opening round in each of the last 5 seasons. Last year’s loss was due to a total loss of focus/control/discipline on the part of two defensive players. That sort of “loss” falls under the heading of “coaching”. I think Marvin Lewis needs a playoff win this year…

    Mike McCoy (Chargers): This is his 4th season in San Diego. In his first year, the team went 9-7 and made the playoffs (and won a playoff game too). In his second year, the team went 9-7 again but missed out on the playoffs. Last year – under a blizzard of injuries – the Chargers were 4-12. McCoy is on a hot seat if the team goes 4-12 again. He does not have to win his division – I do not think the Chargers can do that – but they have to be better than getting the overall #3 pick in the draft once again.

    Mike Mularkey (Titans): He took over in mid-season last year and went 2-7 in his 9 games then. Management gave him a shot to move things forward this year but his coaching record is not one that inspires a lot of confidence. He has been a head coach for 3.5 seasons. Back in 2004 (with the Bills) he had a 9-7 record. Since then, his cumulative record is 9-32. Add to that negativity the fact that the Titans’ roster is “talent-challenged”. I think this hot seat will be ”Habanero Hot” come January 2017.

    Rex Ryan (Bills): Like Jason Garrett above, he may be looking at a season where a sterling record is highly improbable. Nonetheless, given the braggadocio and the setting of ultra-high expectations that is the hallmark of any Rex Ryan press conference, he might be out of a job come January if the team falls below .500. For the record, Ryan has an overall losing record as a head coach (54-58-0) and his last winning season was back in 2010.

I should point out that last year I listed 7 coaches who I thought were on a hot seat – whether or not I agreed that they should be there. At the end of the 2015 season 5 of those 7 coaches were out of work; 2 of the 5 did not make it to the end of the season with their teams. So there…

Now that the appetizer course has been consumed and the dishes cleared, it is time to get down to business. I shall begin in the AFC…

AFC East: I predict a total of 31 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC East the 5th strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Patriots: I think they will win 11 games and win the division for the 8th consecutive season and do so comfortably. The schedule maker was not overly kind to the Pats; they open the season on the road in Arizona with Jimmy Garropolo at QB. The next 3 games are not nearly as fearsome since all of them are at home in Foxboro. I suspect Tom Brady will return to a team in Week 5 that is sitting on a 2-2 record. If – I said IF – the Pats are 4-0 at the end of 4 games, be prepared for Bill Belichick to extort an unusual price from some QB-hungry GM in the off-season. Here is an example of what I mean:

      When the Pats sent Chandler Jones to the Cards last offseason – see below – they got an offensive guard named Jonathon Cooper almost as a sweetener in the deal. Cooper was once a high first-round pick and as of this morning he is listed first on the depth chart for the Pats at right guard.

    Jets: I think they will win 8 games and that they will – once again – win those games thanks to their defense. If Ryan Fitzpatrick improves markedly over his performance last year, he will be the ultimate “late bloomer”. If he regresses to the mean, the Jets will finish 8-8. If last year was a fluke in the positive direction and the football gods decide to give him a fluke in the negative direction, the Jets are in real trouble. The schedule for the Jets from Week 1 through Week 7 is hardly a pushover:

      Vs Bengals
      At Bills
      At Chiefs
      Vs Seahawks
      At Steelers
      At Cardinals
      Vs Ravens

    Dolphins: I think they will win 6 games this year. Last year was supposed to be the year that Ryan Tannehill “took a big step forward” as a QB. That did not happen; the coach got fired and the team brought in a new regime where the head coach – Adam Gase – is a “Certified Quarterback Whisperer”. I think the past is prologue; Tannehill will continue to be mediocre; the Dolphins’ OL will do him no favors. The schedule in September is also daunting:

      At Seahawks
      At Patriots
      Vs Browns
      At Bengals

    In the off-season, it appears to me that the Dolphins let young free agents walk and then they signed older free agents. Usually teams that do that have the idea that this is the season to make a push for a deep playoff run. I just do not see that happening in Miami. For example, the Dolphins traded to acquire Byron Maxwell from the Eagles in the off-season. Maxwell played really well for the Seahawks two years ago; last year he stunk it out with the Eagles. The Dolphins inherited an expensive contract in this exchange (6 years and $63M in total) and they really need Maxwell to be the player he was in Seattle and not the player he was in Philly.

    Bills: I think they will win 6 games this year and that Rex Ryan will be collecting the rest of his contract money without having to freeze his butt off on the sidelines in Buffalo next December. There are myriad injuries on the defensive side of the ball – and Marcel Dareus will serve a suspension for missing a drug test. Rex’ brother, Rob, is the defensive coordinator this year; and to be polite, Rob’s defenses have not been good at all for the last several seasons. The Bills have a tough patch in the middle of their schedule. Between 2 October and 20 November, the Bills play seven games (and have their Bye Week); five of those seven games are on the road and three of those road opponents are the Pats, Seahawks and Bengals. Ouch…

AFC North: I predict a total of 32 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC North tied for 3rd as the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Steelers: I think they will win 11 games and win the division on the strength of their offense. Normally, one thinks of the Steelers as a defensive squad; not last year and not this year either. Look for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Bryant and LeVeon Bell – when he gets back from suspension – to light up the scoreboard. If their defense is as porous as I suspect it will be, there may be plenty of chances to “Bet the OVER” in Steelers’ games this year.

    Bengals: I think they will 10 games this year and will be one of the two AFC Wild Card teams. If they do win 10 games, that will be the fifth year in a row that the Bengals have collected double-digit wins. As mentioned above, the Bengals may then need to win their first-round playoff game for Marvin Lewis to keep his job. The Bengals open the season with 4 of their first 6 games on the road. Adding a veteran like Karlos Dansby who is still productive to their defense may be what that defense needs in terms of “maintaining its composure”.

    Ravens: I think they will win 8 games and miss the playoffs again. Last year was an anomaly; the Ravens looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than an NFL team by the end of the season. Joe Flacco – even when he was completely healthy – had a horrible season last year; he is a better QB than he showed then. The Ravens are starting to show some age. Steve Smith Sr. is back; so is Terrell Suggs; both are still fine players and both of them are long-in-the-tooth.

    Browns: I think they will win 3 games but they will not have the overall #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. RG3 will show marked improvement playing for an offensive minded coach who has not yet made up his mind that Griffin simply cannot be an NFL QB. That was his status in Washington. There just is not sufficient talent on the squad for the team to resemble – even faintly – a .500 team in the NFL. Circle 16 October on your calendar.

      On that day, the Browns will travel about 500 miles to the southwest to play the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

      That appears now to be the “Dog-Breath Game of the Year” on the 2016 NFL schedule.

AFC South: I predict a total of 29 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC South the 7th strongest division in terms of total wins. Or you could call it the 2nd weakest division if you prefer… Here is the breakdown:

    Jaguars: I think they will win 10 games and win the division. If they do that, you can surely take Gus Bradley off the coaching hot seat I described above and if they do that it will be the first winning season in Jax since 2007. The division title could well come down to the final game on New Year’s Day between the Jags and the Colts in Indy. Blake Bortles improved a lot last year; he needs to continue on that performance arc; a healthy Julius Thomas at TE and a returning Allen Robinson at WR will help him achieve that goal. TJ Yeldon was a good RB last year and this year he will get a breather now and then with Chris Ivory on the roster. The Jags’ defense is the question mark …

    Colts: I think they will 9 games and not make the playoffs. I understand that Andrew Luck is back and healthy and I know for sure that Andrew Luck is a really good QB. My issue with the Colts is that two of their weaknesses (mediocre OL and sub-standard defense) were on display all of last year and neither of them seems to be in a significantly different place this year.

    Texans: I think they will win 8 games this year. The Texans signed Brock Osweiler away from the Broncos in the off season and set up this circumstance:

      Brock Osweiler will take home $21M this year and that is more than Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Cam Newton will make. Seriously …

    The Texans have a top-shelf WR in DeAndre Hopkins; that will help Osweiler to show as a good – and hopefully for the Texans’ fans ‘better than average” – QB this season. Actually, the bigger question mark for the Texans involves JJ Watt who is the best defensive lineman in the game right now. He missed all of the exhibition games and was just cleared medically for practice. The team says he will play in Game 1; his performance level under those circumstances has to be in question. The Texans need him to be himself when he does play if they are going to get significant business done on defense.

    Titans: I think they will win 2 games this year and be on the clock with the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft as of 2 January 2017. By the way, winning only 2 games is not something that ought to stun the fanbase in Tennessee; this team has only won 5 games in the last two seasons combined. Marcus Mariotta showed promise as a developing QB talent last year; the team has DeMarco Murray and high draft pick Derrick Henry to run the football. The problem is that they have Manny, Moe and Jack to play WR. They signed Andre Johnson in the off-season; Johnson has been a really good WR in the past but he is running on fumes in terms of career and productivity in 2016.

AFC West: I predict a total of 36 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC West the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Raiders: I think they will win 11 games this year and win the division. If they do that it will be their first winning season since the team went 11-5 in 2002; that team went to the Super Bowl. The schedule sets up the Raiders for a fast start. Between September 11 and October 30, the Raiders play 8 games but only 1 of those opponents made the playoffs last year. Immediately after that opening half of the season, the Raiders have 4 consecutive home games on the schedule plus a Bye Week thrown in. That gets them all the way to the first week of December! Over the past several years, a serious shortcoming for the Raiders has been their OL. That unit showed improvement last year and if that continues, this team will be a tough out for anyone. Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are for real…

    Chiefs: I think they will win 10 games this year and make the playoffs as one of the AFC Wild Card teams. Last year, the Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles to injury and never missed a beat; in fact, they won 11 straight games after he went down. Make no mistake, if Charles is back at 90% of what he was prior to that injury, he will be a big plus to the Chiefs offensive flexibility. LB, Justin Houston, is on the PUP List meaning he cannot play for at least the first 6 games – and he may be out for the year. That will not help the Chiefs defense at all; Houston is a player. Two road games – at Pittsburgh and at Carolina – will be challenging for the Chiefs.

    Broncos: I think they will win 8 games this year and miss the playoffs. I understand that they won the Super Bowl on the strength of their defense last year and not because their offense was any good. However, that offense now lacks the cerebral/leadership aspects that the aging Peyton Manning brought to the huddle and that defense is missing a couple of good players (Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan) who decided to go elsewhere and “get paid”. The Broncos are not going to crater and join the Browns and Titans at the bottom rungs of the AFC, but they are not a playoff team in 2016.

    Chargers: I think they will win 7 games this year and miss the playoffs and that they will be in the market for a new coach in January 2017. [Aside: For the record, I do not think the team will win the referendum in November to get the needed public funding for their new stadium in San Diego either.] The team will not be as bad as they were last year but the porous OL and the lack of a sound running game does not auger well in this very tough division. Of course, last year’s first-round pick, RB Melvyn Gordon, might help out that anemic running game if he shows the form he did in college. Gordon’s rookie year was a borderline disaster; he carried the ball 185 times for a little less than 650 yards and zero TDS. To make that worse, he coughed the ball up 6 times…

So, let me summarize the AFC here. Their playoff bracket will be:

    #1 Seed: Steelers via tiebreakers
    #2 Seed: Pats via tiebreakers
    #3 Seed: Raiders via tiebreakers
    #4 Seed: Jags as “the other” division winner
    #5 Seed: Bengals via tiebreakers
    #6 Seed: Chiefs via tiebreakers

I have to admit that I took a short break here and indulged in an adult beverage in order to get set to move to the second half of this magnum opus. I shall now move on to the NFC…

NFC East: I predict a total of 28 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC East the weakest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Skins: I think they will win 9 games this year and that will be sufficient to win this sorry-assed division. People say that Kirk Cousins needs to show that he can improve from last season. Excuse me; but he set a franchise record for passing yards last year and the franchise has been around since 1932. Kirk Cousins is playing for a long-term contract and it means a lot to him. He is playing under the “franchise tag” this year taking down a cool $19.2M. If he has another year similar to last year, his agent will use that number as the basis for opening the negotiations. It will not be a huge surprise if Cousins has some great stats because the Skins’ running game may not be nearly as good as it has been in recent years. The team let Alfred Morris walk; Matt Jones is a talented runner but he was hurt last year and got hurt again in the exhibition season. On defense, the question mark(s) are at safety where there are some good tacklers on the roster but none of them are “cover guys”.

    Cowboys: I think they will win 7 games this year. Before Tony Romo got hurt such that he will miss at least half of the season, I thought that the Cowboys had put together a balanced offense that would score enough points to overcome the porous Cowboys’ defense. Look, Dak Prescott may be this year’s version of Ben Roethlisberger as a rookie; it could happen. However, if he is something significantly below that, the Cowboys may be reduced to running an offense akin to the wishbone with Ezekiel Elliot and Alfred Morris carrying the ball because behind Prescott sits Mark Sanchez. Recognize that the Broncos cut Sanchez last week and handed the QB job to a guy who has never thrown a pass in a real NFL game. Oh, and as I mentioned, the Cowboys’ defense is not all that good…

    Giants: I think they will win 7 games this year. The reason the Giants faded last year – and cost Tom Coughlin his job – was that the defense just plain stunk. The team went out and spent money on defenders; but when I look at what they got, I just shrug my shoulders. Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon are nice players but that’s all they are. The return of a healthy Victor Cruz would be a nice addition for Eli Manning; Cruz has not been healthy enough to see the field since the early part of the 2014 season. Is he ready yet?

    Eagles: I think they will win 5 games this year as they start to clean out the mess that the Chip Kelly regime left behind. I do not know what caused Kelly to jettison the talented players that he did nor do I know why he acquired some of the marginal players that he did. What that roster needed – and still needs to some extent – is a thorough housecleaning. Trading Sam Bradford makes sense in the long term and I think it demonstrates that no one in the Eagles’ braintrust thinks this team is going anywhere this year. Fans will clamor to see Carson Wentz on the field; if the adults in charge of the team can put in some earplugs and not listen to the fans, Wentz will spend the year learning his craft on the sidelines and in the classroom and Chase Daniel will be the starting QB.

NFC North: I predict a total of 32 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC North tied for 3rd place as the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Packers: I think they will win 12 games this year and win their division handily. The return of Jordy Nelson from the DL and the presence of an Eddie Lacy who is no longer trying to emulate the body type of William “The Refrigerator” Perry assures that the Packers will have the dominant offense in the division. The defense played well last year and there is no reason to suspect that they will forget how to play this year. The Packers open with two games on the road and then 4 consecutive games at home in Lambeau Field. Strange scheduling …

    Vikings: I think they will win 10 games this year and will be an NFC Wild Card team. I had them winning 11 games before Teddy Bridgewater’s non-contact injury last week. With Shaun King – or eventually the recently acquired Sam Bradford – at QB, the presence of Adrian Peterson becomes even more important than normal. The problem for the Vikes’ offense is pretty simple; they have to have someone – anyone – at QB who can make the passing game into something more than a desperation move when they face 3rd and 13. Unless they do that, Peterson will look at 8-man fronts on 75% of the snaps. And remember, Peterson is 31 years old and has run the ball in the NFL 2,381 times in real games. He is an amazing physical specimen, but that sort of work history has to mean there is wear and tear on those tires… Mike Zimmer got the coaching job in Minnesota because of his defensive prowess. He will need that unit to play well for the team to contend this year.

    Lions: I think they will win 5 games this year and I think they will be shopping for a new coach come January. The departure of Calvin Johnson is hugely significant for a team that does not run the ball very well at all. Golden Tate has been a good #2 receiver for his career; now we shall see how he fares when “the guy on the other side of the field” does not draw most of the attention on 90% of the plays.

    Bears: I think they will win 5 games this year. I know that, historically, John Fox’s teams improve significantly in the second year of his tenure. I just do not think he has the roster to make that happen. Jay Cutler played with lots less drama than usual last year; can he continue to do that with a team that has a truly mediocre OL in front of him and a dearth of running backs behind him? I like John Fox as a coach; I think this rebuilding process in Chicago is going to take him a bit longer than previous ones took.

NFC South: I predict a total of 34 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC South tied for 2nd place as the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Panthers: I think they will win 13 games this year and win their division by a mile. That assessment takes into account the “hangover” that most teams that lose the Super Bowl face in the following season. The Panthers won 15 games last year without Kelvin Benjamin who is a really good WR and who is back this year. Back in 2014 before his injury, Benjamin caught 79 passes for 1005 yards. The schedule sets up nicely for the Panthers given that they should dominate their division opponents in those divisional games. For the final quarter of the season this is the lineup:

      Vs Chargers
      At Skins
      Vs Falcons
      At Bucs

    Bucs: I think they will win 7 games this year. Jameis Winston played very well last year and seemingly set aside any serious concerns people may have had about his maturity and his dedication to his craft. The Bucs lost 4 in a row at the end of last year and that is probably why there is a new coaching regime in Tampa. Lovie Smith was a “defense guy”; Dirk Koetter is an “offense guy”. Hey, it’s a change; sometimes change is good and necessary; sometimes change is merely … change.

    Falcons: I think they will win 7 games this. I like their signing of Mohamed Sanu to play WR on the side away from Julio Jones. Teams were totally focused on Jones on every play last year; he is a great receiver, but he needs a little breathing room. A healthy and productive Devonta Freeman at RB helps with that too. What the Falcons really need is some improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Dan Quinn is a “defense guy”; he and his staff need to make that happen…

    Saints: I think they will win 7 games this year. I know that Drew Brees is still there and that he and Sean Payton have a Vulcan mind-meld when it comes to offensive football. He is coming to the end of his career and I will not be surprised to see him put out a great statistical season. The problem here is the same as it has been in New Orleans for the past several years; the defense just plain stinks.

NFC West: I predict a total of 34 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC West tied for 2nd strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Seahawks: I think they will win 11 games this year and will win the division in a tiebreaker with the Cardinals. The Seahawks have ridden their defense to 4 straight playoff appearances and it would surely seem as if they can do that one more time this year. Last year, the team had to deal with the “distractions” provided by Kam Chancellor and Marshawn Lynch. Chancellor is not holding out this year and Lynch is in retirement. I really enjoy watching Russell Wilson play QB. There are some real issues with the team:

      Russell Okung was their best OL – despite a history of injuries that made him miss games. He is now gone and playing for the Broncos.

      Jimmy Graham suffered a torn patella tendon last season. His return to the field is still up in the air as is his ability to recover his previous form once he is there. A torn patella tendon has basically shelved Victor Cruz for almost 2 years; some people never come back from that surgery.

    Cardinals: I think they will also win 11 games this year and they will be the first NFC Wild Card team in the playoffs. The Cards will score points this year; they may be the 2016 version of “The Greatest Show on Turf” – – so long as Carson Palmer stays healthy. [Aside: Also so long as Palmer forgets his last “real” NFL game where he threw 4 INTs and lost 2 fumbles in the playoffs against the Panthers last year.] Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown at WR present formidable challenges to any defense in the league. Jermaine Gresham is not exactly chopped liver as a TE. Can the Cards’ defense hold up its end of the bargain? The acquisition of Chandler Jones from the Pats is supposed to make that happen. One other question about the Cards has no simple answer:

      Is the door closing on this team for a major run in the playoffs/Super Bowl? Carson Palmer is 37 years old; if some intern in the Front Office there is drafting a 5-year plan for the team, he would be wise not to include Carson Palmer in there as the starting QB for all of the 2020 season. The window is not shut – – but it is not opening any wider either.

    Palmer is not a one-man team by any stretch of the imagination. However, recognize that the QBs behind him on the Cards’ depth chart as of this morning are Drew Stanton and Matt Barkley. If you were an opposing defensive coordinator, would either of those guys keep you awake at night to the same extent as Carson Palmer?

    Rams: I think they will 6 games this year, miss the playoffs and start hunting for a new coach in January 2017. This is a tough division to play in with a rookie QB – even a rookie taken with the overall #1 pick. When the Rams do win, it will usually be because their excellent defensive unit controlled the game.

    Niners: I think they will win 6 games this year, miss the playoffs and continue to have turmoil among the coaching staff, the GM and the owners’ suite. Look, I think Chip Kelly is a smart guy whose offensive system can work in the NFL. I also think he is stubborn to a fault. Meanwhile, the decision making tandem of Jed York and Trent Baalke has not shown itself to be anything more than marginally competent ever since they got into an ego-based showdown with Jim Harbaugh two years ago. The problem with the Niners is a talent deficiency and that will show itself more than a few times in the upcoming season.

So, let me summarize the NFC here. Their playoff bracket will be:

    #1 Seed: Panthers – in a walk
    #2 Seed: Packers – in a walk
    #3 Seed: Seahawks – via tiebreaker with Cards
    #4 Seed: Skins – the “other” division winner
    #5 Seed: Cards – via tiebreaker with the Seahawks
    #6 Seed: Vikings

Please note that my projected first round NFC Playoff pairings give us a rematch between the Vikings and the Seahawks from last year. You will recall that the Vikings lost that game when a chip shot field goal sailed about a mile to the left of the goal posts. That game was in Minnesota; this year’s game would be in Seattle. It might be interesting…

So let it be written; so let it be done.

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

The Big 12 Expansion

The Big 12 Conference is looking to expand. Actually, the Big 12 Conference is trying to live up to its name because at the moment the Big 12 Conference consists of only 10 teams. If they add two more, they will hit some sort of magical threshold set by the overseers of collegiate athletics and will be allowed to stage a Big 12 Conference Championship Football Game. Strip away every other motivation you may hear or read; that is the basis for this endeavor at its foundation.

Reportedly, the search began with 20 possible schools that might be invited to join and there is a perspective that needs to be placed on that original list of 20 schools. The Big 12 Conference is the scion of the Big 8 Conference which was spawned by the old Southwest Conference. The Southwest Conference was at one time a big deal; Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Arkansas and sometimes TCU were prominently displayed in the “Top Ten” in the country. I do not want to portray today’s Big 12 as something akin to the Sun Belt Conference or Conference-USA, but today’s Big 12 has lost a lot of the luster that was associated with its previous incarnations. So, when I saw the “original list” of 20 possible invitees, I wondered if any of the “conference historians” had chimed in.

Yesterday, reports began to emerge that the list had been cut from 20 to 13. Here are the 7 schools that supposedly will not be invited to the Big 12 party:

    Arkansas State
    Boise State
    East Carolina
    New Mexico
    Northern Illinois
    San Diego State
    UNLV

Meaning not a shred of disrespect to any of those schools or any folks associated with any of those schools, there is no “football royalty” in any of those bloodlines. If indeed the Big 12 Search Committee – or whatever it may call itself – spent more than an hour-and-a-half considering that entire list of 7 schools, then it has far too much time on its hands.

The 13 schools that remain on the list are:

    Air Force
    BYU
    Cincinnati
    Colorado State
    Houston
    Memphis
    Rice
    South Florida
    SMU
    Temple
    Tulane
    UCF
    UConn

To me, the choice is pretty simple if that is the list. I would add BYU and Houston for these reasons:

    BYU has a consistently good football program that will add to the conference strength of schedule for the teams there. Moreover, it is geographically close to other Big 12 schools and it is not a school where scandals and probations from the NCAA abound.

    Houston is right in the heart of “Big 12 Country” and the school happens to be in a city of more than 2 million people – that is a big market for the conference to tap into.

Please notice that Temple and UConn are still on the list. I suspect – but do not know for sure – that they are there for the same reason that the Big 10 Conference added Maryland and Rutgers a couple of years ago. The thinking is that having “representation” there will make Big 12 football more interesting in the heavily populated Northeast market. I think that is searching for Fool’s Gold.

I have lived all of my life in the Northeast Megalopolis. One of the things that is clear to me as a denizen is that college football is just not that big a deal with the vast majority of the sports fans here. Picture the “football map” of 30 years ago where the Big 10 never got east of Ohio State/Michigan/Michigan State and the ACC never got north of Maryland. Think about those northeastern states of New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and all of New England. Ask yourself now:

    Where are the “big time football schools” where the teams are consistently good and the crowds are big and rabid?

Well, here is the list:

    Penn State

If you want to embellish a bit:

    Boston College fields good teams most of the time but never fields a great team. Let me just say that tickets for BC football are not “hot commodities” in the Boston area where tickets to the Red Sox and/or the Patriots set the standard for “hot commodities”.

    Syracuse used to be consistently good and has drawn some good crowds in the past but today Syracuse is far more of a basketball school than a football school and it has been that way for about 20 years.

Different parts of the country embrace different sports to a different degree. It is just the way things are. In the northeast, people care about baseball far more than do people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. There is no value judgment in that statement; it is just a fact. If the Big 12 seeks to market its product in the northeast, it is going to be met with a lot of yawning and passive resistance; people there would not even care enough about it to engage in active resistance.

The Big 12 is in the business of marketing college football. They really need to do a market analysis not of their product – which of course they will see as pure and wonderful and virtually irresistible – but of their target audience. Let me give an example here:

    The American Vegan Society will put on a Gala Dinner with dancing and entertainment in Vineland, NJ later this month.

    It would make no sense at all for the National Pork Board to hand out coupons for ham steaks and other promotional materials at this event.

I am not saying that the Big 12 is considering something as abjectly stupid as my example here but it is close.

Finally, let me close with a comment about college football from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald. It relates to a part of the country where college football is indeed a really big deal:

“A four-star recruit announced his commitment to Florida State by pulling up in a Lamborghini adorned with Seminoles logos. Here’s the scary thing: What are the five-star recruits driving?”

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

The Tail Wags The Dog

In far too many circumstances, we see examples of the tail (big time athletics particularly football) wagging the dog (a university nominally in place to provide educational opportunities). The late Dr. Myles Brand for whom I had little regard as the head of the NCAA said that it was time for the university presidents to reclaim authority at their institutions from athletic directors and coaches. Let me just say that has not happened yet.

Yesterday, CBSSports.com reported that the University of Tennessee has cancelled classes and will close most of the campus offices on Thursday September 1 because that is the date of the opening football game of the season against Appalachian State. According to an e-mail from the school, they will add a day to the end of the semester to “keep the number of days in the academic calendar consistent”. They did not say “consistent” with whatever but I will assume they mean consistent with however long a semester has been at Tennessee recently.

Of course, the reason given is that there will be traffic congestion and parking issues on campus for that weeknight game and canceling classes will somehow make it easier for people to get in and out of the parking lot at the football venue in mid-day to begin their “preparations” for the game. For the record, I found 11 college football games that will be played on Thursday 1 September all of which will start between 7:00PM and 9:00 PM and none of the home teams decided they needed to cancel classes to ease traffic congestion on that day. Here is a link to that list. Oh by the way, there are lots of games scheduled on weeknights on plenty of campuses around the country this year. What is the OVER/UNDER on the number of schools that will cancel classes and close the campus offices on the day of the game for traffic reasons?

In the wake of the Baylor football mess – and that story is not yet concluded as there are now reports that some high rollers at Baylor want Coach Art Briles back next year after serving only a 1-year suspension – many folks have called for reforms to athletics and athletic departments. Only a fool would try to argue that the status quo is the best that it could possibly be. Some folks have called for a “College Football Czar” or College Football Commissioner” to set things right. Really? Let me toss out the names Roger Goodell, Bud Selig, David Stern etc. Are you trying to tell me that those men have handled disciplinary matters and scandalous behaviors in a model fashion? The existence of a “Commish” is not a panacea.

What we really need is an outbreak of common sense and common decency. In 2016, that is about as likely as finding a unicorn but that is what we need. Let me give you one example:

    The SEC – and the PAC-12 – to their credit have rules in place that forbid an athlete to transfer into any school there if that athlete left behind “serious misconduct issues” at his/her previous school. That is a positive step; there is no doubt about that. I will assume that as time progresses, there will be constantly improving levels of reporting of such incidents and more vigilant investigations by member schools to uncover any such incidents of “serious misconduct.” Kudos to the SEC and the PAC-12 here. Except …

      Mississippi State – an SEC school – just admitted as a freshman a top-shelf football recruit who punched a woman sometime before he enrolled. That was OK with the school and with the conference because he was not a transfer student and therefore was not covered under the existing rule. Puhleeez …

That is what I like to call a distinction without a difference. A football athlete who punches a woman has been involved in something akin to “serious misconduct”. If that “serious misconduct” happens at another college, then the perp cannot transfer to Mississippi State; if that “serious misconduct” happens at Mississippi State, the school will part company with him; however, if it happens while the perp is a “free agent” then – – – it’s all good.

If we had an outbreak of common sense and/or common decency, however…

One step in the right direction would be to institute the following restriction at every college in the country that participates in intercollegiate athletics at any level:

    No assistant coach, coach, factotum in the athletic department or athletic director should ever be part of the process that investigates allegations of player misconduct nor should any of those folks be any part of the decision process to mete out discipline to an athlete when an investigation turns up evidence of misconduct. Period. No exceptions.

If any of those folks are involved in any of these processes, you have built in a conflict of interest situation that cannot help the process come to a fair, reasonable and logical conclusion. If the NCAA had the ability to do anything akin to organizational introspection, they might come to realize that they have a principle that underlies many of the eligibility rules in their tome of a rule book. That principle is:

    No athlete should have access to benefits or privileges that are not available to all students at a member institution. This is a foundation element to the ideal of the “student-athlete”.

Well, that ought to mean that an athlete ought not have access to the benefit of an athletic director or a coach of his being part of any disciplinary processes that involve him when that benefit would not be available to any random student on campus.

The late Dr. Myles Brand was a university president before he took over as NCAA major domo. He wanted the university presidents to assert their authorities over coaches and athletic directors. It did not happen then and it surely is not happening now. In 2016, university presidents agree that it is OK to cancel classes because football season is about to begin. The tail continues to wag the dog.

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

Why Continue The Olympics…?

I recall an adage that says we should always celebrate things that come to an end because that gives us the opportunity to start things anew. Well, I am back from our journeys and ready to resume ranting here – at least until our next scheduled travel adventures. Moreover, I return to the keyboard with a sense of affirmation and I shall bask in that feeling for today.

Back in March 2007, I wrote that it was time to “shut down the Olympics”. Here is how I began that rant:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to shut down the Olympics. I’m not talking about anything that is partial or temporizing. I mean it is time to cancel, negate, nullify, stop, cease and desist any, all, each and every activity that has to do with the Olympics. And the time to do it is now.

“They were shut down for a couple thousand years and civilization managed to march forward somehow. Then the Olympics were resuscitated and civilization continued to move forward. No big difference here. Therefore, since the Olympics have become nothing more than a scandal ridden set of events run by a bunch of preening snobs whose only interest is self-interest, I say it is time to call another halt in the Olympics for another 2000 years.”

Then, in April 2008, I wrote that it was time for the Olympics simply to go away. Here is how I concluded that rant:

“So let me get to the bottom line here. The games have been turned into a medley of events where most of the events don’t belong there in the first place; the athletes are merely a bunch of self-indulgent employees of some sponsor; the people organizing the games are about as noble as gun-runners; the television coverage is overdone and cloyingly sweet and pseudo-poignant. And they wonder why the TV ratings were lower this year when these events were on an 18-hour tape delay than they were in Atlanta when they were live. If you can’t see why, then you are suffering from rectal blindness.”

I have also suggested on more than a few occasions that the purported economic “benefits” of hosting Olympic games are more a mirage than reality. As much as I like sports, the Olympics make no sense in the world of 2016. So, how does this provide me with a glow of affirmation?

As I was on hiatus, the Washington Post published two columns by very responsible regular contributors to their Op-Ed page saying that my suggestions from 8 or 9 years ago are not so outrageous – and in fact ought to be given serious consideration.

Charles Lane’s column minces no words; it follows a headline that reads:

    “Stop the Olympics”

If you compare Mr Lane’s objections to the Olympics to my commentary from before, you will find that we agree on most points and that he has added more reasons to halt the games that occurred in the years between 2007/08 and the present. He points out specifically that prosecutors in France are currently investigating allegations that the IOC awarding of the 2020 Summer Games to Tokyo involved “payoffs” – or as we called them in the neighborhood where I grew up. “bribes” and/or “extortion”.

With regard to the impending Summer Games in Rio about 2 months hence, here is what he has to say:

“In Brazil, where the 2016 Summer Olympics are supposed to begin Aug. 5, police and prosecutors have found evidence that Olympics-related infrastructure development became a font of payoffs and kickbacks. Potentially involved are some of the politicians implicated in the wider corruption scandal that has destabilized the Brazilian government, at precisely the moment it should have been devoting full attention to the security and efficiency of the Games.

“In response, IOC officials spout indignant rhetoric and issue earnest threats against wrongdoers, just as they have on what seem like a million previous occasions.”

Basically, the Olympics have become a haven for despotic governments, doped athletes and bribery/extortion all of which are supported on the backs of taxpayers in host countries.

Oh, but it gets even worse…

Robert Samuelson regularly writes for the Post’s Op-Ed page on economic matters. He wrote recently a scathing piece that obliterates any of the arm-waving inspirational pleadings regarding how the Olympics provide huge economic benefits for the host city/country. Let me give you just a flavor of some of the data he cites in his piece:

    2008 Beijing Summer Games Costs = $45B

    2010 Vancouver Winter Games Costs = $7.56B Revenues – $1.58B

    2012 London Summer Games Costs = $11.4B Revenues = $3.27B

    2014 Sochi Winter Games Costs = $51B

    2016 Rio Summer Games Costs sure to exceed $10B

Moreover, he cites research that says the Olympics can cost a host city/country tourism dollars. He points out that in 2012, Great Britain suffered a 6% drop in tourism in the year that they hosted the Olympic Games. The fact is that lots of people go elsewhere to avoid crowds.

Now, if you take one item from Robert Samuelson’s piece and juxtapose it with one item from Charles Lane’s piece you get the following:

[From Samuelson] “After 9/11, security costs also soared. In 2000, they were $250 million for the summer Sydney Games; by the 2004 Athens Games, they had climbed to $1.6 billion and have stayed near that figure.”

[From Lane] “In the words of the Olympic Charter:

    ‘The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.’”

So, how successful can the Olympics be in promoting a harmonious development of humankind and in promoting a peaceful society if folks have to spend $1.6B every 4 years just to try to keep the games from blowing up like a Roman candle?

It is time for the Olympics – Summer Games and Winter Games – to go on hiatus as I just was. The difference is that I was gone for about 3 weeks; the Olympics need to be gone for something around 3 centuries.

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

First Round Quarterbacks – Chapter Two

Now that your eyeballs have stopped spinning in their sockets from yesterday’s lengthy – and often turgid – offering, let me get back to business. [Aside: I promise this will not be nearly as long as yesterday.] I recognize that folks will differ on some of the judgment calls I made yesterday regarding individual players. I also recognize that some folks would prefer to use something other than a 4-point scale to categorize the individual players. I have no intention – or interest – in trying to convince anyone that my way is the only way to do this or even the best way out of many ways to do this.

Having said that, the categorizations I proposed and populated yesterday represent the way I think about this issue. Now, if I am going to try to expand on the outcomes of taking QBs in the first round of the NFL Draft, I will certainly be in the best position to do so if I start from my own way of thinking about the subject. As they say on the car ads on TV:

“Your mileage may vary…”

Based on yesterday’s data dump, there have been 80 quarterbacks selected in the first rounds of the NFL Drafts since 1980 – not counting the 2016 draft that happened last week. In case you did not do the counting – and assuming that I counted correctly – here is the distribution of QBs in my 4 categories:

    There were 18 Franchise Players
    There were 15 Good Players
    There were 16 Straphangers
    There were 31 Busts.

The first thing that I notice about those statements above is that they do not represent anything resembling a “normal distribution”. There are about as many Busts as there are entries in the “Top 2” categories. If I were to collapse the categories to a 3-point scale and combine the Franchise Players and the Good Players into one category – let me call it Worthwhile Selections – the distribution would look like this:

    There were 33 Worthwhile Selections
    There were 16 Straphangers
    There were 31 Busts.

To use a baseball analogy, that looks like a “Dave Kingman Distribution”. Teams either hit a home run with a first round pick or they strike out. However, with all of the scouting and scrutiny and analysis that goes into these sorts of selections, it is not intuitively obvious to me how that is the outcome. However, I have a hypothesis here …

First, I am not trying to take sides in the ongoing argument about whether “modern analytics” is superior to the “old eyeball test”. I believe that both schools of thought have merit and have limitations. My suggested explanation for this “boom-or-bust” distribution of draft outcomes takes into account teams that may favor either methodology in terms of building their draft board.

Here is the basis of my hypothesis:

    College football is fundamentally a different game situation from NFL football.

The game itself is basically the same in terms of the size of the field and the length of the game and the majority of the rules that govern the game. However, the on-field aspects of college football and NFL football are quite different in much the same way that college football is different from high school football or Pop Warner football. Today, I just want to consider differences between college and pro football because that is where I believe the vagaries of the selection process reside.

I believe that the enormous difference in the overall talent level between college games and NFL games creates a distortion that is difficult to compensate for whether a team is using advanced analytics or grizzled veteran scouting reports. Focusing only on the quarterback position here, a college quarterback will sometimes face a defense that has no one on the field with sufficient athletic ability ever to play in the NFL. If that quarterback is from Lake Woebegone High School – and therefore above average like every other kid in that school system – he ought to look pretty good. He should have a nice stat sheet for the advanced analytics folks to feed to their algorithms and he should look “poised” “dominant” and “in command” to the veteran scout up there in the booth.

Sure, there are a few teams every year that can field a defense with 5 NFL quality athletes but none of them puts 11 defenders of that caliber on the field. So, a young QB who was a standout in college still has never seen or had to deal with opposition that is nearly as competent as the ones he will face in the NFL. The performance of many college QBs “looks better than it is” to the eyes of a scout and the stat lines gathered up by many college QBs “produce numbers that will never be close to duplicated” when faced with NFL defenses. My point here is that the evaluation process is inherently flawed no matter which approach a team chooses. The basis of that inherent flaw is the fundamental difference between college football and NFL football.

    [Aside: I believe this is the same “problem” that faces the “analysts” who assign five-star ratings to high school players as they graduate to college football and why so many five-star recruits turn out to be something less than that.]

If my hypothesis is correct, that would explain to some degree why teams drafting QBs in the first round have a roughly equal chance of making a Worthwhile Selection (41.25%) as they do in drafting a Bust (38.75%). The reason you are not likely to read many reports that champion this hypothesis is that the logical consequence of this hypothesis being correct has significant economic consequences – none of them positive – for segments of the sporting world:

    All the folks who spend months trumpeting their “draft boards” on radio and TV leading from the kickoff of the college season to late April would lose stature – – and income.

    All the folks who produce Mock Drafts – there is at least one out already for the 2017 NFL Draft! – would have to do so in sotto voce.

    All the folks who earn their livings traveling to college campuses to watch practices and then college games and talking to coaches might see their expense accounts curtailed.

There is little reason for lots of people even to think along the lines presented here. That does not mean they are right any more than it means I am right. I said what I put forth is a hypothesis not a law.

Another aspect of the drafting of first round QBs that is interesting based on the data from yesterday is that there are good years for QBs and there are bad years for QBs. However, the “bad years for QBs” break down into two categories:

    Bad Year Alpha: No QBs taken in the first round at all indicates that whatever methods of analysis were used to evaluate the crop of eligible QBs in that year found all of them “wanting”.

    Bad Year Beta: Teams that took a QB in the first round got a bust – no matter where they took their QB in the first round.

There were 4 Bad Year Alphas:

    1984: Despite the fact that no QBs went in the first round, there were 3 QBs taken in later rounds who had significant success:

      Boomer Esiason (Round 2) and Jeff Hostetler (Round 3) both took teams to the Super Bowl game.

      Jay Schroeder (Round 3) took a team to the AFC Championship game.

    1985: The best NFL QBs from this crop were Randall Cunningham (Round 2) and Doug Flutie (Round 11).

    1988: Stan Humphries (Round 6) led the Chargers to the Super Bowl once.

    1996: In retrospect, there is a good reason no team took a QB in the first round this year. When you have to debate “Who was the best QB taken this year?” and your choices are Danny Kannel and Tony Banks …

Call those “Bad Year Alphas” bleak all you want, the six Bad Year Betas listed below are much worse because in those years, teams that needed QB help spent a valuable asset – a first round pick – and no matter who they chose, they came up dry.

    1981: The Packers used the #6 overall pick on Rich Campbell. I must confess that I had forgotten the name “Rich Campbell” in the context of “football player” at either the college or NFL level until I did the research to write yesterday’s data compilation.

    1991: The Seahawks took Dan McGwire at #16 and the Raiders took Todd Marinovich at #24. Not only did both of them miss badly with those picks, they managed to pass on Brett Favre who was drafted in Round 2.

    1992: The Bengals took David Klingler at #6 and the Broncos took Tommy Maddox at # 25. Neither team got much of a return on their investment here…

    1997: The Niners took Jim Druckenmiller at #26. If he was the answer for the Niners, I do not know what the question was…

    2002: Talk about a Bad Year Beta for first round QBs… I doubt that anyone unrelated by blood to these three draftees would suggest that they had laudable NFL careers:

      David Carr #1 to the Texans
      Joey Harrington #3 to the Lions
      Patrick Ramsey #32 to the Skins

    2007: The Raiders spent the overall #1 pick on JaMarcus Russell and the Browns used the #22 pick to take Brady Quinn. That is simply depressing…

Before I wrap this up, allow me to let a bit of sunshine into the discussion here. There were banner years/vintage crops of NFL QBs in 3 of the drafts over the last 35 years. The first round in those years was highly productive:

    1983: John Elway, Jim Kelly, Ken O’Brien and Dan Marino

    1995: Steve McNair and Kerry Collins

    2004: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.

The data suggest that taking a QB in the first round of the NFL Draft is a gamble. Sometimes it hits and the return on “investment” is huge; other times you go home with a hole in your pocket. Therefore, it seems appropriate at this point to offer up a few observations that folks have made with regard to the subject of gambling:

“In gambling the many must lose in order that the few may win.” (George Bernard Shaw)

And …

“Luck, bad if not good, will always be with us. But it has a way of favoring the intelligent and showing its back to the stupid.” (John Dewey)

And …

“Luck never gives; it only lends.” (Swedish Proverb)

And …

“A gambler never makes the same mistake twice. It’s usually three or more times.” (Unknown) [Aside: the Browns have drafted a QB in the first round of the draft 4 times since 1999 and all of them have been Busts.]

Finally, I hope these last two Topical Rants have been satisfactory to “david” whose comment 6 weeks ago got me started. I enjoyed the data compilation and the fact that the data got me thinking about why only about 40% of first round QBs turn out to be Good Players or Franchise Players was a plus. So, let me say that if any other readers have thoughts about what might be interesting topics in the future, I remain happy to entertain them.

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

First Round Quarterbacks – Chapter One

Back on 16 March 2016, a reader signed in as “david” suggested – in a comment – that I do a review of quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft who did little or nothing for the team that took them. Here is his comment in full:

“You should do a piece on first round qb’s that have bombed out after confuting little or nothing to the team that drafted them. It would be an interesting trip down memory lane!”

That sounded like a good idea – and a lot of research work. So, I thought about how to do something meaningful along those lines while committing myself to a reasonable expenditure of effort. I knew from the outset that I was not going to go back to the mid-1930s and look at every NFL Draft in history. I will leave that sort of thing to the team of Mel Kiper, Sr. and Mel Kiper, Jr.

Here is what I decided to try to do. I would look at all of the NFL Drafts back to 1980 and specifically look at each QB taken in the first round year by year. I will categorize those quarterbacks in 4 groupings:

    Franchise Player
    Good Player
    Straphanger
    Bust

I would then try to point out QBs who went below Round 1 who turned out – possibly – to fit in either of the top two categories here and I will look to see if any great players at other positions were taken a pick or two below any of the Round 1 QBs who were a Bust. The reason for that sort of “piling on” is to demonstrate what benefit may have accrued to the team making the bad selection.

So, with those ground rules, let me begin this trip down Memory Lane in 1980:

    Overall #15: Marc Wilson – Oakland Raiders: He was with the Raiders for 8 years and then the Pats for another 2 years. The fact that he lasted 10 years in the league means he could not have been a Bust but he was nothing more than a Straphanger. Over his career he threw 86 TDs and 102 INTs. Meh!

    Overall #28: Mark Malone – Pittsburgh Steelers: He lasted 7 years with the Steelers and then 1 year each with the Chargers and the Jets. Like Wilson, he was a Straphanger based on longevity in the league. For his career, he threw 60 TDs and 81 INTs.

    Probably the best QB taken that year below the first round was Eric Hipple in the 4th round by the Detroit Lions.

In 1981:

    Overall #6: Rich Campbell – Green Bay Packers: He was with the Packers for 4 seasons starting 0 games and appearing in only 7 games. I think you would have to say he was a Bust taken with the #6 pick in the first round.

      Two picks later, the Niners took Ronnie Lott who managed to go on to a Hall of Fame career…

    In later rounds in that draft, Neil Lomax went in the 2nd round and Wade Wilson went in the 8th round. They were probably the cream of the QB crop that year.

Moving ahead to 1982:

    Overall #4: Art Schlichter – Baltimore Colts: If I have to justify to you why I put Schlichter in the “Bust” category, you probably should not read on much further.

      Just 4 picks later, the Houston Oilers took Mike Munchak who was a Hall of Fame quality OL for 12 years and just 6 picks later the LA Raiders took Marcus Allen who too went on to a Hall of Fame career.

    Overall #5: Jim McMahon – Chicago Bears: He won a Super Bowl with “Da Bears” and was in the NFL for 15 seasons with 6 different teams. He was certainly a Good Player.

    In the later rounds of that draft, there were no good QBs taken; perhaps the best of that lot was Mike Pagel – also taken by the Colts in Round 4.

Let me just say that the 1983 NFL Draft was a vintage year for QBs:

    Overall #1: John Elway – Baltimore Colts traded to Denver Broncos: Clearly a Franchise Player and a Hall of Fame inductee, John Elway is certainly one of the Top Ten QBs ever to play in the NFL – and maybe one of the Top Three.

    Overall #7: Todd Blackledge – KC Chiefs: I would have to put Blackledge in the “Bust Category” given where he was taken and which other QBs were still on the board when the Chiefs took him. He hung around for 7 seasons but only appeared in 46 games. For his career, his completion percentage was only 48.1%

      Just 2 picks later, the Houston Oilers took Bruce Matthews who merely spent the next 19 seasons as an anchor of the Oilers’/Titans’ offensive lines and made it to the Hall of Fame.

    Overall #14: Jim Kelly – Buffalo Bills: He may never have won a Super Bowl but he was the QB of a team that went there 4 years in a row and he is in the Hall of Fame. Obviously, he is a Franchise Player.

    Overall #15: Tony Eason – New England Patriots: He had an 8-year career and was the starting QB for the Pats in the Super Bowl against the Bears – which did not end well for the Pats. Nonetheless, I would have to categorize him as a Straphanger.

    Overall #24: Ken O’Brien – NY Jets: He had a 10-year career, 9 of which were with the Jets. He threw 128 TDs in his career against 98 INTs. I would put him on the list of Good Players.

    Overall #27: Dan Marino – Miami Dolphins: He is very deservedly in the Hall of Fame and therefore fits in here as a Franchise Player.

    In the later rounds of the 1983 NFL Draft, the next QB taken was not until the 5th round. Babe Laufenberg was taken in Round 6 and became “famous” in DC as an “Exhibition Game Wonderboy” and Gary Kubiak was taken in Round 8 and went on to a long backup-QB career and now a Super Bowl winning coach.

After the bonanza of QBs the year before, here is what happened in 1984:

    There were no QBs taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.

    The first QB taken was in the 2nd round with the 38th pick; it was Boomer Esiason by the Cincy Bengals. Jeff Hostetler and Jay Schroeder were both taken in Round 3 that year.

In 1985:

    There were no QBs taken in the first round of the NFL Draft once again.

    The first QB taken was in the 2nd round with the 37th pick; it was Randall Cunningham by the Philly Eagles.

    Way down in Round 11 with the 285th overall pick, the LA Rams took Doug Flutie…

Now on to 1986:

Overall #3: Jim Everett – Houston Oilers: Everett spent most of his 11-year career with the LA Rams. He was a Good Player; for his career he threw 203 TDs to 175 INTs and completed 57.7% of his passes for his career.

Overall #12: Chuck Long – Detroit Lions: He was in the NFL 6 years but only appeared in 26 games. He started 21 games and the team record in those games was 4-17. His stats are underwhelming and even giving him some leeway because he played for the Lions, I have to categorize him as a Bust.

    Surprisingly, since the Lions are as hexed a franchise as there is, they did not miss out on any Hall of Fame quality players near their pick of Chuck Long in the 1986 draft. John Williams was available; he went to the Seahawks where he had a 10-year career with 2 Pro Bowl years.

In the later rounds of the 1986 draft, Bubby Brister went in the 3rd round to the Steelers. Mark Rypien went in the 6th round to the Skins; he had one GREAT year and won a Super Bowl with the Skins.

In 1987:

    Overall #1: Vinny Testaverde – Tampa Bay Bucs: Simply based on the fact that he played NFL football for 21 years – he started 6 games for the Panthers in 2007 at age 44 – I have to categorize him as a Good Player.

    Overall #6: Kelly Stouffer – St. Louis Cardinals: He played parts of 4 seasons for the Seahawks and for his career he threw 7 TDs and 19 INTs. I think you have to call him a Bust.

      Three picks after Stouffer, the Eagles picked Jerome Brown who had an excellent career cut short by a fatal traffic incident and four picks after Stouffer the Steelers took Hall of Famer, Rod Woodson.

    Overall #13: Chris Miller – Atlanta Falcons: He was in the NFL for 10 seasons – 7 of which were with the Falcons. He threw 123 TDs and only 102 INTs but unless you are one of the Falcon Faithful, I suspect you cannot recall any critical moment in his career. He was a Straphanger.

    Overall #26: Jim Harbaugh – Chicago Bears: He was in the NFL for 14 years started in 5 playoff games; threw more TDs than INTs and completed 58.8% of his throws. He was a Good Player.

    In the later rounds of the 1987 draft, the New England Patriots took Rich Gannon in Round 4. He was a 4-time Pro Bowl selection and was All Pro 3 times in his career and he was the QB for the Raiders in the Super Bowl. In Round 10, the Green Bay Packers took Don Majkowski whose “claim to fame” is that when he was injured, the guy who took over his job was someone named Bret Favre…

Moving ahead to 1988:

    There were no QBs taken in Round 1 in 1988. In fact, there were no QBs taken in Round 2 that year either.

    The first QB taken was in Round 3; it was Tom Tupa taken by the Phoenix Cardinals. Tupa would have a much longer career as a punter in the NFL than as a QB.

    Perhaps the best QB in this draft was Stan Humphries taken in Round 6 by the Skins. Humphries was the QB of the Chargers’ team that was the AFC Champion in 1994.

The 1989 NFL Draft was a good one overall if not rich in QBs:

    Overall #1: Troy Aikman – Dallas Cowboys: He is a multiple Super Bowl winner and a member of the Hall of Fame. Clearly, he is a Franchise Player.

      The pick after Aikman was monumental bust, Tony Mandarich.

      However, after Manderich, the next 3 players taken all wound up in the Hall of Fame – Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders.

    In the later rounds, the QB who had the “best” NFL career was Rodney Peete.

In 1990:

    Overall #1: Jeff George – Indiana Colts: From his right shoulder to the fingertips on his right hand, Jeff George was a great QB. His problem is that he wore out his welcome on 5 teams between 1990 and 2001. His physical skills are too great to call him a Bust but his behavior demands that he be nothing more than a Straphanger.

    Overall #7: Andre Ware – Detroit Lions: He was on the Lions’ roster for 4 seasons. In that time, he started 6 games and produced no stats that made anyone sit up and take notice. He was a Bust.

      10 picks later in the 1990 NFL Draft, the Cowboys took Emmitt Smith who had more than an excellent career in the NFL.

    In the later rounds, Neil O’Donnell went to the Steelers in Round 3. Scott Mitchell went to the Dolphins in Round 4. John Friez went to the Chargers in Round 6.

If the 1990 draft looked like slim pickings at QB, just wait until you see 1991:

    Overall #16: Dan McGwire – Seattle Seahawks: One of his claims to fame is that he is Mark McGwire’s brother. He was on the Seahawks’ roster for 4 years and then he played 1 game for the Dolphins. He appeared in 13 games and started 5. I cannot convince myself that he was anything other than a Bust.

      Two picks later, the Cincy Bengals took DE, Alfred Williams who registered 59.5 sacks over his career.

    Overall #24: Todd Marinovich – LA Raiders: He was on the Raiders’ roster for 2 years and did nothing notable on the field. Off the field, he had more than a few substance abuse issues. He was clearly a Bust.

      One pick after Marinovich was taken, the Niners took DL Ted Washington who was an anchor at that position for years.

    In the later rounds of the 1991 draft, the Atlanta Falcons took Brett Favre in the 2nd round and then traded him away to Green Bay a year later.

The QB drought continued into 1992:

    Overall #6: David Klingler – Cincy Bengals: In six years in the NFL, Klingler started 24 games and his record in those games was 4-20. Need I say more…? He was a Bust.

      Two picks later the Atlanta Falcons selected Bob Whitfield who was an excellent OT over a career that spanned 220 games.

    Overall #25: Tommy Maddox – Denver Broncos: He did nothing for the Broncos, the Rams or the Giants before being ushered out of the NFL for about 5 years. He was a star QB in the XFL and then played for the Steelers for a couple of years. His best season was in 2002 when he started 11 games and led the Steelers to a 7-3-1 record in those games. Overall, I would call him a Bust as a first round pick.

      Six picks later, the Bengals took Carl Pickens who was a stalwart WR over a 129 game NFL career.

    In the later rounds of the 1992 draft, the QBs who had the “best careers” were probably Craig Ericson and/or Jeff Blake. See what I mean about a QB drought…?

Moving on to 1993:

    Overall #1: Drew Bledsoe – New England Patriots: Over a 14-year NFL career, Bledsoe averaged 230 yards per game passing and threw 251 TDs as opposed to 206 INTs. He once threw for 4555 yards in a single season. He led the Pats to the Super Bowl against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. I would say he was a Franchise Player.

    Overall #2: Rick Mirer – Seattle Seahawks: He spent 4 years with the Seahawks and one year with the Bears before bouncing around to several other teams. His 50 TDs compared to 76 INTs is not very good; his 24-44 record in games that he started at QB is not very good either. Had he played a bit longer, I would have called him a Straphanger but with his short career and his being the overall #2 pick, I have to label him a Bust.

      Six picks after the Seahawks took Mirer, the New Orleans Saints selected OT Willie Roaf who was a dominant OT for 189 games and is now a member of the Hall of Fame.

    In the later rounds of the 1993 draft, the Packers took Mark Brunell in the 5th round; that was a “value pick”. In the 8th round, the Chargers took Trent Green.

Turning the page to 1994:

    Overall #3: Washington Skins – Heath Shuler: He was a Bust – plain and simple as that. Too add insult to injury, several years after the NFL bid him goodbye, Shuler returned to DC as a member of the US Congress whereupon he reprised his non-performing behavior.

      With the next pick after Heath Shuler, the New England Patriots took Willie McGinnest. He was anything but a Bust…

    Overall #6: Trent Dilfer – Tampa Bay Bucs: He was neither great nor awful for the Bucs over the first 6 years of his career. In 2000 he stepped in for an injured Tony Banks at QB and the Ravens went on to win Super Bowl XXXV. He was a backup in Seattle for 4 seasons and then was the starter for Cleveland for most of 2006. Overall, I would label him a Straphanger.

    In the later rounds that year, the next QB taken went in the 4th round. His name was Perry Klein and he went to the Falcons. If his name rings no bells for you, that might be because he never completed a pass in an NFL game. Probably the most accomplished QB in the late rounds of the 1994 draft was Gus Frerotte taken by the Skins in the 7th round. This was not a good year to find a QB in the draft…

In 1995:

    Overall #3: Steve McNair – Houston Oilers: Over his long career, he threw 174 TDs and only 119 INTs. He was a Franchise Player.

    Overall #5: Kerry Collins – Carolina: He had an 18-year career in the NFL with 6 teams. He led the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game and the Giants to the Super Bowl game against the Ravens. I would call him a Franchise Player. If you were to argue vehemently that he should be “downgraded” to a Good Player, I would offer token resistance.

    In the later rounds of the 1995 draft, Todd Collins went to the Bills in the 2nd round and Kordell Stewart went to the Steelers in the 2nd round.

Moving on to 1996:

    There were no QBs taken in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft.

    In the later rounds, Tony Banks was the first QB taken; he went in the 2nd round to the St. Louis Rams. Banks was the most accomplished QB in this year’s draft. Probably the second most accomplished QB was Danny Kannel who went in the 4th round to the Giants. Once again, this was not a good year to find a QB in the draft…

In 1997:

    Overall #26: Jim Druckenmiller – SF 49ers: He appeared in all of 6 games in his career throwing 1 TD and 4 INTs. I think he is a Bust.

      About 10 picks later, the NY Giants selected Tiki Barber who had a more than adequate NFL career before going on to have a less than adequate broadcasting career.

    In the later rounds, the Arizona Cardinals took Jake Plummer in the 2nd round. Plummer was probably the only QB in this draft of any consequence – unless you count Koy Detmar who as a 7th round pick appeared in 104 NFL games.

QBs were at the top of the draft list in 1998:

    Overall #1: Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts: He is a Franchise Player; there is no need to discuss that further.

    Overall #2: Ryan Leaf – San Diego Chargers: He is a Bust; there is no need to discuss that further.

      Two picks after Ryan Leaf, the Oakland Raiders selected Charles Woodson who is not yet in the Hall of Fame but will be soon enough.

    In the later rounds, the Lions took Charlie Batch in the 2nd round and the Broncos took Brian Griese in the 3rd round. However, the biggest “value pick” that year was the Packers selection of Matt Hasselbeck late in the 6th round.

QBs were once again at the top of the draft list in 1999:

    Overall #1: Tim Couch – Cleveland Browns: He started 59 games for the Browns over 5 seasons and his record in those games was 22-37. Even factoring in that he was taken by an expansion franchise, he was a Bust.

    Overall #2: Donovan McNabb – Philly Eagles: He led the Eagles to the playoffs 7 times and to the Super Bowl once. He was a Franchise Player.

    Overall #3: Akili Smith – Cincy Bengals: He started 17 games over 4 seasons with the Bengals. His record in those games was 3-14. He was a stone-cold Bust.

      Two of the three QBs taken here were Busts so let us look at what was available soon after these three picks. Well, the next 4 picks in this draft were:

        Edgerrin James
        Ricky Williams
        Tory Holt
        Champ Bailey

      ‘Nuff said…

    Overall #11: Duante Culpepper – Minnesota Vikings: He was a Good Player until he encountered a horrific knee injury.

    Overall #12: Cade McNown – Chicago Bears: He lasted 2 years with the Bears and started 15 games with a record of 3-12. He was a Bust.

      Three picks after McNown, Booger McFarland went to the Bucs and the pick after that was Jevon Kearse who went to the Titans.

    In the later rounds this year, Shaun King was taken in the 2nd round by the Bucs and Aaron Brooks was taken in the 4th round by the Saints. They had the best careers of any other late round QBs in this draft. While neither King nor Brooks had good careers, they were more valuable than Couch, Smith and McNown who were in that first round tsunami of QBs.

Only 1 QB went in the first round in 2000:

Overall #18: Chad Pennington – NY Jets: He had an 11-year career with the Jets and Dolphins. Overall as a starter, he was 44-37. He was a Good Player.

In the later rounds this year, Tom Brady famously went to the Patriots in the 6th round with the 199th overall pick. The only other late-round QB who had any sort of career other than stop-gap was Marc Bulger taken in the 3rd round.

Only 1 QB went in the first round in 2001: (Is there an echo here?)

    Overall #1: Michael Vick – Atlanta: Before his conviction involving the dogfighting business, which cost him two years for “violation of the league personal conduct policy” because he was in jail, Vick had 6 productive seasons with the Falcons. Overall, he was a Good Player even though for part of his career he was not a “Good Person”.

    In the later rounds, the Chargers took Drew Brees with the first pick of the 2nd round and Brees continues to have an excellent career through today. Of the other QBs taken, AJ Feeley – taken in the 5th round by the Eagles – probably had the best career.

In 2002:

    Overall #1: David Carr – Houston Texans: He did not have a long or a distinguished career but part of that “failure” has to be attributed to the fact that he played behind a terrible expansion-team offensive line. In his first 4 seasons with the Texans, he was the most-sacked QB in the league for 3 of those seasons; in 2002, he was sacked 76 times in 16 games. As an overall #1 pick, I have to categorize him as a Bust.

      The player taken immediately after David Carr was Julius Peppers by the Carolina Panthers.

    Overall #3: Joey Harrington – Detroit Lions: Clearly, he was a Bust. What surprised me in checking his stats is that he started 76 games in the NFL. If I had guessed prior to peeking at the stats, I would have guessed 30.

      Two picks later, the Chargers selected Quentin Jammer who was a good DB for about 10 years.

    Overall # 32: Patrick Ramsey – Washington Skins: He played on some bad teams; but, importantly, he did not make them much better. He was a Bust.

      The Skins had the rest of the draft to select from instead of Ramsey but did not because – according to Danny Boy Snyder – he had “found” Ramsey at Tulane so the Skins traded up into the first round to get him for the “Owner/Scout”.

    In the later rounds of the 2002 draft, the QB pickings were slim. Josh McCown went in Round 3 to the Arizona Cardinals; while he is not any sort of “difference-maker”, he has had a longer and significantly better career than any of the first-round QBs from this year. David Garrard was taken by the Jags in Round 4; he was the only other QB in this draft of note.

After the bleak results of 2002, things improved – sort of – in 2003:

    Overall #1: Carson Palmer – Cincy Bengals: He is still going strong with the Cardinals; when I look at his career as a whole, I would call him a Franchise Player.

    Overall #7: Byron Leftwich – Jax Jaguars: He was in the NFL through 2012; however, in his 10-year career, he only played in 60 games. He threw 58 TDs and only 42 INTs in his career. He was a Straphanger.

    Overall #19: Kyle Boller – Baltimore Ravens: I remember one of the talking heads saying that Boller could throw a football through the uprights from 50 yards away with one knee on the ground. Wonderful – – except QBs never do anything like that. He was Bust.

      Two picks later, the Browns took Jeff Faine who was one of the best centers in the league for about 10 years.

    Overall #22: Rex Grossman – Chicago Bears: I read recently that Grossman is technically not yet retired even though he has not been on an NFL team since 2013. In his 11 seasons, he has led a team to a Super Bowl game (Bears in 2006) but he has only appeared in a total of 54 games in his entire career. I will categorize him as a Straphanger because of that one season in Chicago, but if you want to call him a Bust, be my guest.

    In the later rounds, Seneca Wallace taken by the Seahawks in Round 4 had the most distinguished career.

Things improved significantly for QBs in 2004:

    Overall #1: Eli Manning – San Diego Chargers traded to the NY Giants: He has won 2 Super Bowls; he has thrown 294 TDs and only 199 INTs and is still playing well. He is a Franchise Player.

    Overall #4: Philip Rivers – NY Giants traded to the San Diego Chargers: He has thrown 281 TDs and only 135 INTs and is still playing well. He is a Franchise Player.

    Overall #11: Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers: Come on now, of course he is a Franchise Player.

    Overall #22: JP Losman – Buffalo Bills: He only played in 45 games in the NFL and in my less-than-kinder moments I sometimes referred to him as “JP Loser-man”. He was a Bust.

      Two picks later, the St. Louis Rams took RB, Steven Jackson, who has gained a total of 11,438 yards to date.

    In the later rounds in 2004, the Falcons took Matt Schaub in the 3rd round. He was the only QB in the later rounds who did anything of note in the NFL.

In 2005:

    Overall #1: Alex Smith – SF 49ers: He is the Rodney Dangerfield of QBs; he is a lot better than his critics make him out to be. As a starter, he is 68-52-1; he has thrown 142 TDs with only 83 INTs. I think he is a Franchise Player. If you think he is a Good Player, I will argue that he is a Very Good Player…

    Overall #24: Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers: Without question, he is a Franchise Player.

    Overall #25: Jason Campbell – Washington Skins: The Skins traded up to get him and all they got was a Straphanger.

    In the later rounds, Kyle Orton went in the 4th round to the Bears, Derek Anderson went in the 6th round to the Ravens and Matt Cassel went in the 7th round to the Pats. Of the late round selections this year, Ryan Fitzpatrick went in the 7th round to the Rams and I was surprised to see that he has thrown for more than 23,000 yards in his career.

After two productive years, things were a bit lean in 2006:

    Overall #3: Vince Young – Tennessee Titans: He only played in 60 games and threw more INTs than TDs. He was a Bust.

      The next pick in this draft was D’Brickashaw Ferguson by the Jets. Ferguson has been a bellwether left tackle through last season.

    Overall #10 Matt Leinart – Arizona Cardinals: Plain and simple, he was a Bust.

    Overall #11 Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears: I was never a Cutler fan coming out of college. The player he reminds me of the most is Jeff George; Cutler has an outstanding arm and for some reason the rest of his being falls short. I will temporize here and declare him a Good Player – and I do not wish to argue about that.

      The Cardinals taking a Bust at #10 missed out on Hlati Ngota taken at #12. Ngota went to the Pro Bowl as a DT 5 times in 10 seasons.

    In the later rounds, Kellen Clemens went to the Jets in Round 2; Tarvaris Jackson went to the Vikes at the end of Round 2; Charlie Whitehurst went to the Chargers in Round 3 and Bruce Gradkowski went to the Bucs in Round 6.

QB pickings did not get much better in 2007:

Overall #1: JaMarcus Russell – Oakland Raiders: I have referred to him as JaCarcass Russell. He was a mortal-lock Bust.

    The next two players taken after Russell were Calvin Johnson (by the Lions) and Joe Thomas (by the Browns). Johnson will go to the Hall of Fame; Thomas is way under-appreciated because he has played for bad teams.

Overall #22: Brady Quinn – Cleveland Browns: He only played in 24 games in a career that lasted until 2012. He was a Bust.

    Six picks later, the Niners took OT Joe Staley who was a critical player on a solid OL and is still a good player.

In the later rounds, you tell me who was the pick of this litter:

    Kevin Kolb – Round 2 to the Eagles
    Drew Stanton – Round 2 to the Lions
    Trent Edwards – Round 3 to the Bills
    Troy Smith – Round 5 to the Ravens
    Tyler Thigpen – Round 7 to the Vikes.

Things got slightly better in 2008:

    Overall #3: Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons: I think he is a Good Player but I realize that many folks think he is a Franchise Player.

    Overall #18: Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens: He has a Super Bowl ring and he earned it. He is another guy I could put in the Franchise Player category or the Good Player category. I lean toward Good Player.

    In the later rounds in 2008, only Chad Henne (Round 2 to the Dolphins) and Matt Flynn (Round 7 to the Packers) ever did much of anything in the NFL.

In 2009:

    Overall #1: Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions: Playing for the Lions is the NFL version of the Sisyphus Myth. Every season, they start to roll the rock up the hill only to have it roll down and crush them by December – at the latest. Stafford has played very well for very bad teams. He has thrown 163 TDs and only 98 INTs. I think he is a Franchise Player.

    Overall #5: Mark Sanchez – NY Jets: He was the QB for a defense-led team that made it to the AFC Championship Game two years in a row. He was also the author/creator of the “butt-fumble”. He is not a Bust but he is surely no better than a Straphanger.

    Overall #17: Josh Freeman – Tampa Bay Bucs: Sorry, I think he was a Bust.

      Two picks later, the Eagles took WR Jeremy Maclin and 4 picks later the Browns took Alex Mack. ‘Nuff said…

    In the later rounds, Keith Null (Round 6 to the Rams) has probably been the most productive QB taken. Yowza!

In 2010:

Overall #1: Sam Bradford – St. Louis Rams: He has a good TD/INT record with 78 TDs to only 52 INTs. He seems “injury-prone” and for an overall #1 pick he has been a disappointment. I think he is a Straphanger.

Overall # 22 Tim Tebow – Denver Broncos: To my mind, Tim Tebow is a better running version of Mark Sanchez but a poorer throwing version of Mark Sanchez. The NFL is a passing league and Tebow is not a passer. He made the most of his opportunities but he just does not have the “skill-set” that the NFL of today demands. I will call him a Straphanger knowing full well that many will argue that he is a Bust.

In the later rounds of the 2010 draft, Jimmy Claussen went to the Panthers in the 2nd round; Colt McCoy went to the Browns in the 3rd round and John Skelton went to the Cardinals in the 5th round. Pickings were slim for QBs in 2010.

At this point it starts to get more difficult to assign categories to players other than ones who have already shown that they cannot play dead in a Western movie. Players taken from 2011 through 2015 are still adding to their bodies of work. I will continue to make category assignments, but I reserve the right to change them in a few years after more precincts report in. With that as preamble …

In 2011:

    Overall #1: Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers: I think he is a Franchise Player and could be on a career trajectory aimed at Canton, Ohio.

    Overall #8: Jake Locker – Tennessee Titans: Perhaps due to injury or perhaps due to insufficient talent, he is a Bust.

      The next player taken in this draft was Tyron Smith who has been an All-Pro selection and a 3-time Pro Bowl selection at OT for the Cowboys.

    Overall #10: Blaine Gabbert – Jax Jaguars: He was on some horrid teams in Jax behind some porous OLs. I will be generous and label him a Straphanger.

    Overall #12: Christian Ponder – Minnesota Vikes: He did not play in 2015 but I was surprised to learn that he is not yet retired. In any case, he is a Bust.

      Two picks later, the Rams took DE, Robert Quinn who has been to the Pro Bowl twice already.

    In the later rounds, Andy Dalton went to the Bengals in the 2nd round and Colin Kaepernick went to the Niners in the 2nd round. Neither Dalton nor Kaepernick compare to Cam Newton, but each is better than the other guys taken in the first round. Tyrod Taylor went to the Ravens in Round 6 and may have found a home in Buffalo as a starting QB.

In 2012:

    Overall #1: Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts: I think Luck is a Franchise Player who needs the “luxury” of playing with a competent OL and even a half-decent running game.

    Overall #2: Robert Griffin III – Washington Skins: He was great as a rookie and suffered an injury in a playoff game. Since that moment, he has stunk; there is no polite way to say that. The film from that great rookie year will keep giving him opportunities in the NFL – barring another catastrophic injury – and I think he is destined to be a Straphanger. [Aside: He will play behind a horrid OL in Cleveland this year so my mention of “catastrophic injury” here is not something that is out of the question.]

    Overall #8: Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins: I think he is on the cusp between a Straphanger and a Good Player. For now, I lean toward Straphanger but I can be convinced to change my mind here.

    Overall #22: Brandon Weeden – Cleveland Browns: Someday, he may rise up and qualify as a Straphanger; as of now, I think he is a Bust.

      Two picks later, the Steelers took OG, David DeCastro who has already been an All-Pro selection.

    In the later rounds, the Broncos took Brock Osweiler in Round 2; the jury is still out on him. The Seahawks took Russel Wilson in Round 3; he looks like a Franchise Player. The Eagles took Nick Foles in Round 3 and the Skins took Kirk Cousins in Round 4. Overall, 2012 was a good year for QBs…

In 2013:

    Overall #16: EJ Manuel – Buffalo Bills: He has thrown more TDs than INTs but his average passing yards per game is down around 150 yards per game. Maybe I am getting soft in my advanced age, but I will call him a Straphanger for now but can easily see him descending to Bust one of these days.

    In the later rounds, the Jets took Geno Smith in Round 2. The Bucs took Mike Glennon in Round 3; believe it or not, he has thrown 29 TDs against only 15 INTs; when his rookie contract is up, he can leave Tampa and the shadow of Jameis Winston and get a job somewhere else.

In 2014:

Overall #3: Blake Bortles – Jax Jaguars: He needs an OL in front of him; he has been sacked 106 times in his two years in the NFL. I think he is a Good Player.

Overall #22: Johnny Manziel – Cleveland Browns: This guy’s life is a mess; he is as big a Bust as the one on Dolly Parton.

    The Browns traded up to get Manziel; they could have taken Kelvin Benjamin with that pick and done a lot better.

Overall #32: Teddy Bridgewater – Minnesota Vikes: I think he will become a Good Player over the course of his career.

In the later rounds of the 2014 draft, the Raiders took Derek Carr in the 2nd round; the Patriots took Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2nd round and we may well get to see what he has in his arsenal in the first 4 games of the 2016 season if Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension stands. The Bengals took AJ McCarron in the 5th round and he played well when Andy Dalton got hurt last season.

And finally, in 2015:

    Overall #1: Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay Bucs: He is a Good Player and he may advance from that status in the future.

    Overall #2: Marcus Mariotta – Tennessee Titans: He is a Good Player and he may advance from that status in the future.

    None of the other QBs taken in the 2015 draft have played sufficiently in the league to draw any conclusions.

So, these are the fruits of my labor in response to reader “david”. However, it would not be satisfying to leave it here. After all, this just represents a counting exercise with a tad of judgment added on top to give a breakdown. I think there is more to think about here – and I know that this is already longer than most folks would have wished for.

Therefore, there shall be a “Chapter Two” to follow this essay where I make some comments regarding first-round QBs and why – perhaps- we see the data distribution that we see here. Come back tomorrow…

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

NFL Pre-Draft Analysis 2016

For new readers who have joined the parade here in the last 12 months, this is an annual feature. During the Fall, I watch a lot of college football games on TV because I like college football and I am retired. The essence of a “happy retirement” is doing things you like to do. Ergo

While I am watching the college games, I like to look for players who might make it in the NFL as a means of earning a living. I keep a notepad next to the TV while I am watching and make notes on those players. Now, I gather them together for the purpose of deciphering them and compiling a list of players I saw who should be part of the upcoming NFL Draft.

That tells you what this feature is. Now let me tell you what it is not:

    These are my opinions based on my watching games on TV. I do not travel to games; I do not go to watch practices; I do not talk to players or coaches; I am not part of any organized cadre of folks who share information.

    This is most definitely NOT a mock draft.

Given that method of “data collection” there are obvious shortcomings to the system here:

    1. I live on the East Coast and therefore, it is more convenient for me to watch games played in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Over the course of a season, I see more teams in that part of the country than I do teams in the West.

    2. Even though there are tons of college football games on every weekend, I tend to focus on ones involving bigger schools and major conferences. That means there will be lots of players from smaller schools that I will have never seen. Thus, I will have nothing to say about them here – unless –

    2a. Several folks have come to realize that I do this sort of thing every year and they know that I will not see small schools often. If they see a player at their school or a school local to their area that they think should be mentioned here, they send me an e-mail and I include it here with the notation that this comes from someone other than me.

    3. Since I do not see any team play every game on their schedule – and often see a team only once or twice during a season – I can easily miss an outstanding player who winds up going in the first round of the draft.

What makes sense is to go position by position and for me to try to collate my notes around that. So, let me start with the Quarterbacks and that leads me to demonstrate the limitations of this essay right away.

    Carson Wentz (N. Dak. St): When the Rams traded up to acquire the first pick in the draft, Sam Farmer of the LA Times said that they did so to draft Wentz. The very fact that a respected reporter would make such a statement has to mean that some folks in the NFL think Carson Wentz is a really good prospect. Here is my problem; I never saw him play. Wentz’ detractors say he played against inferior competition in college. To those people I would say:

      Joe Flacco (Delaware)
      Rich Gannon (Delaware)
      Steve McNair (Alcorn St.)
      Tony Romo (E. Illinois)
      Kurt Warner (N. Iowa)
      Doug Williams (Grambling) … you get the point.

    I do not mean to minimize the importance of top flight college competition, but there are sufficient examples of players “making the jump from Division 1-AA football to the NFL” with significant success in the NFL.

    Jared Goff (Cal): My notes say that he is “very accurate” and “hits receivers in stride”. To be sure, the fact that he played in a spread offense made some of those throws a tad easier than ones he will have to make in the NFL, but the tools are there. Reports say he is highly coveted by NFL scouts; I agree he could be a good first round pick.

    Paxton Lynch (Memphis): He is big; a screen graphic said he was 6’ 7” and 245 lbs. However, he is also mobile and fast. Importantly my notes say “throws accurately on the run”. That might be an important asset for him at the NFL level. I think he will go in the late first round; if he is still available at the end of the second round, a team will be getting a bargain.

    Cardale Jones (Ohio St.): Even after winning the College Football Championship Game two years ago, I was not sold on Jones. He is big and strong and there is no denying his arm strength, but I do not think he delivers the ball quickly or with impact. Here are my notes: “big and strong”, “fast enough on the run”, decent accuracy” “happy feet – seems to want to run rather than throw”. I would take him somewhere in the 4th or 5th round.

    Connor Cook (Mich St.): I think he is the latter-day Kirk Cousins. He is not flashy; he has a good enough arm but not a great one; he can move around a bit but he is not a mobile/running QB; he is neither very big nor very slight. What he does is play solid error-free football. Here are my notes: “good accuracy” “very good on sideline passes” “big enough to take hits in NFL”. I think he is a sleeper in this draft; many reports say he will go in the third round. I think he is good value pick if he is still there in the third round.

    Christian Hackenberg (Penn St.): Here are my notes: “plenty big enough” “limited mobility” “strong arm but questionable accuracy” “can throw the ball a mile”. I think he is a project for an NFL team but has the physical makeup to be worth the effort. Maybe he goes in the 4th or 5th round…?

    Jacoby Brisset (NC St.): Here are my notes: “big and quick” “accurate short passes but misses lots of downfield throws” “ball sailed on him 3 or 4 times today”. Like Hackenberg, I think Brisset is a project for an NFL team but he has the physical makeup to be worth the effort. Maybe he goes in the 4th or 5th round just after – or just before – Christian Hackenberg?

    Blake Frohnapfel (UMass): Here is the first of four contributions from a reader via e-mail. The writer is a UMass alum; I note that here in the spirit of full disclosure:

    “The NFL likes big QBs (Manning, Roethlisberger, Osweiler) and [Blake] Frohnapfel is 6’6” and 235 lbs. He throws deep better than other QBs in the conference [the MAC] … he is more mobile than 235 lbs ought to be. He is definitely a project for the NFL but I bet a team will sign him as a free agent after the draft.”

Let me move on to the Running Backs; there appear to be more than a couple of capable folks here even though the position of running back in the NFL seems to have been devalued over the past couple of years.

    Derrick Henry (Alabama): If he does not make it as a running back for some reason, a team could move him to offensive guard. This man is very large; a screen graphic said he was 247 lbs; I think he is bigger than that. Henry “runs with authority” and “punishes tacklers – who are smaller than him usually”. He is not a breakaway threat at the NFL level, but he is a valuable asset and should go in the first round or the early second round.

    Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio St.): If you want a running back a tad faster than Derrick Henry but not nearly as big, then this is your guy. I particularly liked his ability to “change direction and accelerate immediately”. He too will be taken in the first or early second round.

    Jordan Howard (Indiana): Dean Wormer told one of the Delts in Animal House that “fat drunk and stupid was no way to go through life”. Well, Howard is “big, strong and fast” and if you are a running back, that is indeed a good way to go through life. He did not get the attention that Elliot got simply because Elliot played on a very good team and Howard played on a mediocre team. But Howard can play and if he drops into the top of the 3rd round, some team will get themselves a bargain.

    Alex Collins (Arkansas): “Plays in a pro-style offense that features power running” “good straight ahead runner” “quick enough to an outside hole”. I think he is well-prepared to play in the NFL and should go by the end of the 3rd round.

    CJ Prosise (Notre Dame): “Converted to RB due to team injuries” just last year. It sure looked to me like he had been doing this all his life. “Catches the ball well” is another plus. Here is a minus, “needs to get a lot better pass blocking”. I think he is 4th round pick.

    Wendell Smallwood (West Virginia): He is not very big but he is quick and shifty when he gets the ball. He “catches well”. Here is my note that says some team needs to spend a pick on him late in the draft, “reminds me of Darren Sproles”.

    Soma Vainuku (USC): He is a fullback so there are a bunch of NFL teams that will not even consider him. However, if you need a fullback, this guy is “built low to the road” and “an excellent blocker”. He has “decent speed” but “not gonna break any 60-yard runs in the NFL”. He is listed at 5’11” and 246 lbs. I am not sure he is that tall… He should go in the fourth or fifth round to a team that uses a fullback.

    Troymaine Pope (Jacksonville St.): Here is a second information dump via e-mail from a reader. I never saw Jacksonville St play and would not know Troymaine Pope from Alexander Pope, Pope Francis or Helen of Troy. The e-mail came to me after Jax St. hammered Charleston Southern in the Division 1-AA tournament last year.

    “I watched [Troymaine Pope] run over, around and through [Charleston] Southern’s defense like it wasn’t there. [Pope] is very fast in the open field and can make tacklers miss with sharp cutting. You won’t see him on TV but I’m sure NFL scouts have already seen him.”

    [Aside: For the record, I looked up stats for the Jax St/Charleston Southern game and Troymaine Pope gained 250 yards rushing and scored 3 TDs in that game.]

Next up, let consider the Wide Receivers coming out of college this year.

    Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma): “Good speed” and “sharp cuts on pass routes” is a good way to start when talking about Shepard. Then add “soft hands/catches about everything” and you have a good prospect. I think he goes in the late first round.

    Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss): He suffered a grotesque leg and ankle injury in 2014 but sure looked like he fully recovered when I saw him in 2015. He is “big and strong” and “fast enough”. He has “long arms and soft hands”. I think he goes in the first round too.

    Will Fuller (Notre Dame): I liked his “straightaway speed” and that he “gets open deep”. My concern was “not very big”. I think he could go in the 3rd or 4th round.

    Charone Peake (Clemson): “Perfect size and build for NFL” and “willing and able blocker on run plays” says that he should get a shot to play for pay next year. I think he is a 3rd round pick.

    De’Runya Wilson (Miss St): He is “very big”. “Screen graphic said he was 6’ 5” and 230 lbs and he looks it”. He “catches the ball well” but he is “not real fast”. Given the size, a team should take a chance on him in the late rounds.

    Kenny Lawler (Cal): He “gets open and [Jared] Goff throws him the ball”. Then he catches the ball and Cal moves downfield. Lawler is “big enough” and “catches well” but is “not real fast”. He “could be a good possession receiver” so I guess he goes in the late rounds.

    Corey Coleman (Baylor): Coleman was a terror in the Baylor offensive system last year. However, the important words here are “in the Baylor offensive system”. He is fast and he has good hands and he runs decent routes. He is not very big. Some reports have him rated as the top WR coming out of college this year but I have seen far too many Baylor speedsters come to the NFL with little or no impact to take him in the early first round. Here are my notes: “blazing speed” and “shifty runner after a catch”. “Good hands” but “not very big”. He may be a star someday – – or not. If he were still on the board in the 3rd or 4th round, I would take him. But early in the first round …?

Next up should be the Tight Ends. However, as I have collated my notes from last season, I do not have any players identified with the Tight End position. So, this is the simplest section imaginable. Let me move on…

Moving on to the Offensive Linemen, I have a robust list here.

    Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss): Lots of folks touted him as the overall #1 pick until the Rams/Titans trade went down. My notes suggest that might be a fair place for him to be taken. Here are three comments: “absolutely dominates on drive blocks” “pass blocking is excellent” “the man is a monster”.

    Jack Conklin (Mich St.): I thought he was a “dominant drive blocker” and a “good enough pass blocker”. He seemed “a bit slow” which is not great for leading runs outside. He should go in the first two rounds.

    Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame): He is “quick on his feet” and a “dominant pass blocker”. He too should go in the first two rounds.

    Taylor Decker (Ohio State): Looking at my notes, he looks like Jack Conklin’s twin brother: “powerful run blocker” and “OK at pass protection”. Here is another guy who should go in the first two rounds.

    Kyle Murphy (Stanford): He “does everything well except block downfield” because he is “not fleet afoot”. He should also go in the first two rounds.

    Joshua Garnett (Stanford): He “controls his space” along the line and “opened some nice holes for Christian McCaffrey”. My notes say that I “would take [Kyle]Murphy first but take this guy next”. That means Garnett should go by the end of the second round.

    Ryan Kelly (Alabama): He played center for the Crimson Tide and “dominated the interior line play”. Obviously, coming from a Nick Saban coached team he has sound fundamentals. He should go in the second or third round.

    Sebastian Tretola (Arkansas): This team loved to run the ball inside and Tretola is “a bulldozer blocking straight ahead”. His pass blocking is “good but not great” and he does not “pick up blitzes well”. He will likely be taken in the later rounds.

    Denver Kirkland (Arkansas): He is another “very large man” on the OL for a team that loves power running. He is “not as powerful as [his teammate], Tretola, but I think he is “a better pass blocker”. He will go somewhere near where Tretola goes in the draft.

    Vadal Alexander (LSU): “This man is huge” but at the same time “he can lead run plays”. The best thing about him is his “drive blocking on inside runs”. I would guess he is gone by the end of the third round.

    Caleb Benenock (UCLA): I liked his “good quickness and agility” and the fact that he was an “effective pass blocker”. He should go in the middle rounds of the draft.

    Austin Blythe (Iowa): He was the center on an offensive line that led Iowa to a Top Ten ranking last year. I thought he was “excellent in pass protection”, “quick enough to get a block on the OLB on sweeps” and “agile for such a large man”. I think he can go in the middle rounds this year.

    Siaosi Aiono (Utah): Frankly, I do not recall seeing Utah play last year but according to my notes, Aiono is “a fireplug” that can “block and move with agility”. If accurate, those sorts of notes suggest a late round pick.

Moving over to defense, let me start with the Defensive Line. I did not realize as I was making my notes that there would be a very distinctive SEC flavor to my listing – but that is how it turned out.

Before getting to my list, there are plenty of draft reports/analyses that have Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) and Vernon Butler (La Tech) as top-shelf defensive linemen. I did not see La Tech play last year so I have nothing on Butler; I did see Louisville play but have nothing in my notes on Rankins. That does not mean he is not a good prospect; what it means is that I did not make any note of his play in the particular game(s) I saw.

    Jarran Reed (Alabama): He is a “run-stuffer” who “is not pushed around even by a double-team”. He can generate “middle pressure against the pass” but he is “no so good on stunts where he goes outside”. I think he is a first round pick.

    A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama): He is also a “run-stuffer” who “dominates inside”. I read some pre-draft reports that say Robinson does not play hard all the time and often just mails it in. If that is indeed the case, then any coach who can motivate him to play hard all the time will have a gem on his hand. If what I saw was nonchalant play, I wonder what he would be like if he were driven… I think he also goes in the first round.

    Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): He “generates inside pass pressure all the time” and is fast enough so that he “gets in on run plays to the outside”. I also wrote “natural athlete”. The downside here is that Nkemdiche has had some off-field issues one of which involved the gendarmes and marijuana. Based on football, he should go in the first round. Based on his potential for meatheadedness, …

    Joey Bosa (Ohio St.): He was double-teamed about half the time because “he explodes off the snap” and “can push OTs around”. Lots of folks think he will go in the top 5 picks; I would not argue with that.

    Shaq Lawson (Clemson): He “plays the run very well” and “can rush the passer inside or outside”. He is a DE and not an OLB because I never saw him have any pass coverage responsibilities. For a team willing to play him at DE only, this is a first round pick.

    Kevin Dodd (Clemson): He is “strong and quick” and “gets good pressure on the QB”. Question:

      Is he good because teams are focused on double teaming Shaq Lawson on the other side of the formation? I think he goes behind Lawson in the draft – – but not more than one round behind.

    DeForest Buckner (Oregon): “Biggest college DE I can recall” and “really long arms” gives you an idea that he has the physical tools to be a DE in the NFL. He “rushes the passer well” and is “strong on runs to his side”. I do not think he can be an OLB because he is “not very fast” so he would probably have difficulty in pass coverage. I think Joey Bosa will be the first DE taken; after that, either Buckner or Shaq Lawson will be the next.

    Chris Jones (Miss St.): He is “big and very strong” and “quick in pursuit of outside run plays”. I also noted “hustles on every play”. He looks like a guy to go in the first two rounds somewhere.

    Carl Nassib (Penn St.): “Generates pressure on every pass play except when they drop him into coverage”. Another positive note was “hustles every play for the whole play”. This guy is a DE who might be able to convert to an OLB or a pass rush specialist. I think he goes in the 3rd or 4th round.

    Chris Mayes (Georgia): A screen graphic said he was 6’ 4” and 335 lbs. My comment was “Is that all?” Mayes is very large and not very mobile. He “does not rush passer well” but “he can be a nose tackle in the NFL”. I see him going in the middle rounds this year.

    DJ Reader (Clemson): “Nose-tackle prospect for any 3-4 team in the NFL” gives you an idea what I thought of this guy. He will go in the middle rounds.

    Sheldon Day (Notre Dame): He is “built like a bowling ball” and is “really quick for a D-lineman”. He is “not gonna knock down any passes on the inside” but he “will generate pass pressure”. He looks like a middle round pick to me.

    Travis Britz (Kansas St.): He “plays the run well” and he has “enough speed to generate pass pressure”. Also, “plenty of hustle”. He is a late round guy…

Next up are the Linebackers. In many years, I have more players on this list than any other position; that is not the case this year.

Let me note that lots of folks think Myles Jack – late of UCLA – is the top linebacker in the draft this year. I did not see him play because he was injured for the entire 2015 season. So with those introductory remarks, here is my list.

    Reggie Ragland (Alabama): He played ILB for ‘Bama with two top defensive linemen in front of him. No wonder Alabama’s defense was so good. Ragland has “good size and strength” and “he tackles with authority”. The only negative comment I have is “not a lot of speed” but ILBs usually do not have that. Another first round pick off the Alabama defense here…

    Joshua Perry (Ohio St.): He “gives 100% on every play” and is a “sure tackler”. On run plays he “forces everything inside because of his strength”. I would guess he goes in the late first round.

    Deion Jones (LSU): He “looks like he should be at safety” but he “is very strong and defeats blocks by bigger offensive players”. His “pass coverage was good” too. He will go somewhere in the second round.

    Joe Schobert (Wisconsin): He “plays the run well” and makes “form tackles”. However, he “gets beat in pass coverage situations”. He is probably a 3rd or 4th round pick.

    Cassanova McKinzy (Auburn): “Good speed” and “strong against the run” are his calling cards on draft day. I have no notes regarding his pass rushing abilities or his pass coverage abilities. Just a guess, but I’ll put him in the 4th round somewhere.

    Blake Martinez (Stanford): “Plays the run very well” is good news for a guy who plays ILB. “Disappears on pass plays” is not good news for any defender aspiring to play in the pass-happy NFL. I think he goes in the late rounds.

    DeVondre Campbell (Minnesota): “Athletic” “quick” “good tackler” “lots of hustle” and “decent speed” would tend to describe someone who will go in the top 10 overall. The problem here is that Campbell “plays out of control” and “takes himself out of plays”. He has the physical requisites to be an NFL linebacker but he needs coaching. I think a team that can afford to spend a year developing him as a linebacker will take him in the late rounds.

Next come the Defensive Backs. Because NFL teams like to move secondary players around, I will lump together the CBs and the safeties here.

    Mackensie Alexander (Clemson): has a lot of positive reviews from people who track the NFL Draft. I obviously saw Clemson play last year given my notes on other Clemson players but I have nothing on Mackensie Alexander.

    Jalen Ramsey (Florida St.): What’s not to like? Ramsey is “big and strong”; he is “fast/covers lots of ground”; he “covers receivers well”; he is “good against the run”. He will go in the Top 10 picks…

    Eli Apple (Ohio State): He is “super-fast” and “big for a CB”. He also “plays the run aggressively”. A negative comment was “not a tackler/drags people to the ground”. He will be drafted in the first two rounds this year.

    Vonn Bell (Ohio St.): “Solid against the run” and “good pass coverage” are the plus comments. “Not very big” is the minus comment. I think the plus outweighs the minus here and I think he will be taken by the end of the third round.

    Jayron Kearse (Clemson): He is “very big and strong” and has “the kind of physique an NFL team likes”. He is listed at 6’4” and 216 lbs. He played safety for Clemson and he “covered lots of ground in the secondary”. I think he too will be taken by the end of the third round.

    Xavien Howard (Baylor): “Good size” and “good in man coverage” are strong points here. The weak point is he is “not as fast as other DBs”. I think he will be a mid-round pick.

    Jalen Mills (LSU): He is “fast” and “very good in coverage”. He “needs to add strength” to play the run in the NFL. He should go in the third or fourth round.

    Trae Elston (Ole Miss): He is a “big hitter” and “strong against the run”. However, he is also “awfully small”. I think he is a late round pick.

    Jonathan Jones (Auburn): He is a good news/bad news player. Good news is “top-shelf speed” and “good tight coverage”. Bad news is “awfully small” and “could be overmatched physically” in the NFL. I think a team takes a chance on him in the later rounds.

    Richard Leonard (Florida International): This e-mailed assessment comes from a former colleague who has retired to Delray Beach in Florida. Over the years, she has taken exception to my “picking on” FIU’s football program – a charge I deny because I think that in prior years FIU’s football program was severely bad. Nonetheless, here is what she had to say to me:

    “[Richard] Leonard returns kicks and punts for the Panthers and he is their best cornerback. He is very fast …he is tough. If he can’t make the NFL at cornerback, he can make it as a special teams’ player.”

My former colleague has ample reason to take umbrage at my previous negativity with regard to the FIU football program. However, all of those disparaging comments are in the past. What she must be really upset with is this sort of commentary from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald just last weekend. Please note as you read this comment that Florida International University is located in Miami, FL and not in WhotheHellcares, Antarctica…

“FIU’s spring football game was canceled by bad weather. No, seriously.”

Now, isn’t that note from my former colleague the perfect segue to the final stage of this NFL Pre-Draft Analysis – the Special Teams Players?

    Kaimi Fairburn (UCLA): He is a placekicker. His kicks were “accurate” when I saw him. The note I have here says “kickoffs go into the end zone” which is not all that commonplace for college football these days. Most teams do not draft kickers but someone ought to sign him for a tryout in training camp as a free agent after the draft.

    Will Monday (Duke): He is a punter. His punts were “long” with “plenty of hang-time”. I also noted that he had a “pooch-punt 35 yards downed inside the 5 [yardline]”. Once again, teams rarely draft punters but I think he too ought to be signed and given a tryout as a free agent after the draft.

    Pokey Harris (Murray State): I will close with the fourth and final e-mail note from a reader whose daughter goes to Murray State or has recently graduated from Murray State.

    “[Pokey Harris is] a little guy who returns kicks for the Racers. The program says he weighs 175 lbs but he looks smaller than that … He is definitely not “pokey” and he can change directions at full speed to escape tacklers.”

There you have it. When I watch the NFL Draft – and I will not watch all of it to be sure – I will be looking to see how well my notes match up with the draft boards that NFL teams assemble. I will particularly look to see how well my e-mail correspondents did with their assessments of Blake Frohnapfel, Troymaine Pope, Richard Leonard and Pokey Harris.

Finally, since I used a Greg Cote comment from the Miami Herald above, let me close with another one from him that speaks to something that I consider immensely important with regard to the NFL Draft:

“I can’t wait for the draft … mainly because it puts a merciful end to the endless speculation of national mocks drafts and local flat-out guessing on what Miami might do.”

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

Whither The Oakland Raiders?

News seems to be heating up with regard to the possibility that the Oakland Raiders might move to Las Vegas. A recent report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said that Raiders’ owner, Mark Davis, would be in Las Vegas at the end of April to meet with the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee regarding the potential for an NFL caliber stadium in Las Vegas. Let me be clear about this:

    I have no idea whatsoever with regard to the stature and/or the importance of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee so I have no idea if this meeting is completely pro forma or if this is critically important.

According to the report in the Review-Journal linked above, whatever recommendations this Committee makes this summer will not be binding on anyone but I assume that its recommendations will carry some sort of weight. If not, then one needs to question why the Committee exists in the first place and why any NFL owner would take the time to meet with its members.

Las Vegas developers would propose to build a 65,000 seat stadium at a site near McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas near the top end of The Strip. I am surely not any kind of “real estate mogul” with any kind of useful insight into the Las Vegas market, but I can offer this observation:

    From my visits to Las Vegas and traveling to and from the airport there, I think there is ample room to put a stadium where these folks say they want to put it.

    By the way, I believe the proposed site for the stadium would be within walking distance of the Pinball Hall of Fame. That should be a positive consideration for this Committee…

The Raiders do need a new venue; the Coliseum in Oakland is a dump – and I say that knowing that some dumps around the world might take offense at being lumped into the same category as the Oakland Coliseum. Moreover, the Raiders’ lease with the city to use the Coliseum ran out at the end of last season; and in order to play there again this year, the lease costs for the team went up by $925K. That may not be a “killer amount” for an NFL team, but any increase in rent for a facility that suffers from random sewage backups into the locker room areas is problematic. The lease extension signed by the Raiders gives them two 1-year options to extend the lease for the 2017 and/or the 2018 seasons if they have to.

The NFL has seemingly kept an “open mind” with regard to Mark Davis’ interactions and meetings with Las Vegas movers and shakers. You could look at that in two ways:

    1. The NFL has quietly come to grips with the reality that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas is no more a threat to the “integrity of the game” than is the presence of illegal gambling in every other NFL city.

    2. The NFL is allowing Davis to do this to keep the pressure on the folks in San Diego to find a way to build a new stadium for the Chargers there. After all, if the Raiders can move to a city that was not on the radar at the previous owners’ meetings, surely the Chargers can pick up and go to LA where they can be part of the Stan Kroenke real estate development extravaganza.

With regard to his current thinking on those sportsbooks – those dens of iniquity – that the NFL has sought to avoid in the past at all costs, here is Roger Goodell’s more recent commentary:

“[The sportsbooks] are things we’d have to deal with. We would have to understand the impact on us. Each owner would have a vote; it would be a factor many owners would have to balance; the league would have to balance.”

And …

“Relocations are always, as you know and we experienced it this January, one, painful, but two, subject to 32 teams’ view about it. They each make their own decision on that. That would be a factor that I think many owners would have to balance, the league would have to balance, but until we got a hard proposal that really put that in front of us, we’d have to understand what the ramifications of that are.”

A “relocation” for the Raiders might be more “painful” than it was for the Rams or potentially for the Chargers. The Rams paid the NFL more than $600M for the privilege of picking up and moving from St. Louis to LA. Stan Kroenke could handle that because his net worth is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $7B and his wife is the niece of the late Sam Walton who founded a company you may have heard of – – Wal Mart. Let’s just say she does not need to count pennies…

Raiders’ owner Mark Davis has no such access to those sorts of funds. If estimates of his net worth are accurate, he could not pony up $600M because he does not have it. And that presents a hurdle for Davis and for the other owners in the NFL. They will surely want their relocation fee paid; Davis will not get a free ride here. However, they may be leery of him taking on a partner with deep pockets if that partner happened to be a casino owner/operator. The league as an entity and the owners individually may be coming to a point where legalized gambling is not seen as the demon it once was but I really wonder if they are ready to have a casino owner as part of their exclusive club.

The Raiders’ fans in Oakland are caught in most uncompromising position. Their team plays in a venue that needs a $400M upgrade just to be classified as “woefully sub-standard”. At the same time, the city is in no financial state that would allow even a reckless custodian of the public coffers to spend something north of a billion dollars to build a new stadium for the Raiders. In San Diego, people talk about the absence of “political will” to spend tax revenue on a stadium for the Chargers. In Oakland, it is simpler than that; the tax revenue base simply is not there. Absent a “manna from Heaven” situation, the Raiders need to move out of Oakland. Maybe that is in the very near term; maybe it is in the intermediate term. But the team needs to move and the fans in Oakland need to deal with that reality.

Here is another comment from The Commish that adds some gravitas to Mark Davis’ flirtations with cities other than Las Vegas:

“There are several cities that have a tremendous interest in the Raiders. I’m hopeful also that Oakland will be one of those and that we can avoid any relocation to start with. Those are ultimately decisions about where they go and the impact that the potential gambling that we’d have to deal with. We’d have to understand it, we’d have to understand what the impact is on us and ultimately each owner would have a vote on that.”

Translation: You folks in St. Louis/San Antonio/Tidewater, VA/Birmingham who might want an NFL team in your area can start to dig deep into your pockets. If you do, we will keep your phone numbers on our speed-dial list.

Obviously, nothing has been decided yet and the NFL has not yet begun to put the squeeze on the cities that might want to have the Raiders as their own in the future. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that the Raiders are a franchise that is “in play” for any city that Is willing to spend the money to bring the team to its area. Most importantly, the reason that the Raiders are ‘in play” is that the cost of maintaining an NFL franchise is not an insignificant sum for a city these days. And Oakland is not a city with anywhere near the financial reserves to be able to afford such “team maintenance costs” without having to do some painful “other things” like close libraries, curtail transportation costs, keep police and fire departments funded at appropriate levels, … you get the idea.

Now if you think that the Raiders’ situation is complicated enough as it is and that there are too many balls in the air for now, just consider that the NFL could someday decide to expand to 36 teams. If that is the case, then international venues come into play and all sorts of other manipulative factors will become paramount. The fat lady has not yet sung; in fact, the fat lady may not be in the building yet warming up her pipes for her song.

Stay tuned…

Finally, in a previous incarnation, the Raiders took pride in populating the roster with some players who had a few anti-social tendencies. However, Al Davis is no longer among us orchestrating that sort of roster-mix. But if he were, he might take a close look at the person described here by Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Kentucky fullback William Collins faces charges after police caught him and another guy walking down the street carrying a parking meter. He was actually preparing for another weird NFL combine event — the two-man parking meter shuttle.”

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

Predicting the MLB Season – 2016

Here in Northern Virginia, the signs of Spring are all around. Birds are building nests; trees have leaf buds; crocuses are in bloom; the sun is in the sky more than 12 hours a day. However, here in the confines of Curmudgeon Central, Spring awaits one more thing before it can officially announce itself. And that would be:

      Opening Day for MLB

If I had a countdown clock running – which I do not – there would be less than 100 hours remaining until the first pitch of the first game on Sunday afternoon when the Pirates host the Cardinals at 1:05 PM EDT. Therefore, I guess it is time for me to make my predictions for the upcoming season.

AL West:

    I like the Astros to win the division. They say a team needs to be “strong up the middle” in baseball and the Astros have a solid catcher, good pitching (the addition of Doug Fister will not hurt them at all), outstanding young players at second base and shortstop and a good centerfielder who was injured last year and should return to form this year. If you think there is a better SS/2B combination than Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, you will have to convince me.

    The Rangers will challenge the Astros and finish second. If Yu Darvish finishes his rehab on schedule and is the pitcher he was prior to surgery, they could make the AL West race interesting.

    The Mariners should finish third. They have 3 solid starters in Hernandez, Iwakuma and Walker. Kyle Seager is a really good third baseman but he may be only the second best player in the Seager family. (See below…)

    The Angels have Mike Trout (perhaps the best all-around player in MLB) and an aging Albert Pujols and decent starting pitching, but they do not have enough to be serious contenders this year.

    The A’s do not have anywhere near enough pitching to keep up.

AL Central:

    Naturally, I like the Royals to win the AL Central. They have won it the last two years and basically have the same team this year. What’s not to like?

    I will take the Tigers to finish a distant second here on the assumption that their starting pitching holds together. The Tigers should score runs with the likes of Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler in the lineup. The starters have good pedigrees but recent performances have been less than expected…

    I guess I like the Indians to finish third in the division. They are sort of the mirror image of the Tigers – solid pitching but should struggle to score runs. Michael Brantley opens the season on the DL; the Indians need him back in the outfield ASAP.

    In a coin flip, I’ll take the Twins to finish fourth here. There is just not all that much to like about the Twins.

    Losing the coin flip puts the White Sox last in the AL Central. Chris Sale is a top-shelf starting pitcher; after him, the Sox have nothing but question marks. Offensively, the White Sox have Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and a bunch of other guys.

AL East:

    The Blue Jays should win the AL East on pure offense. They scored 891 runs last year; that is 5.5 runs per game; everybody is back including Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnation in the middle of the lineup. Having Drew Storen in the bullpen to close games is a plus; the Jays should be taking leads into the ninth inning more than once in a while.

    I’ll take the Red Sox to finish second in the division by a nose over the third place Rays. The Red Sox should score runs and the addition of David Price to the starting rotation cannot hurt. Nevertheless, the rest of the Sox rotation is not much more than ordinary and they have huge question marks at the corner infield positions. Pablo Sandoval at third base and Hanley Ramirez at first base could make infield plays more exciting than they need to be.

    I’ll put the Rays in third place as a mirror image of the Red Sox. I like the Rays pitching but they might struggle to score much.

    The Yankees will finish fourth in the AL East because I think that Father Time is going to pay a very unwelcome visit to the Yankees’ clubhouse. A-Rod is 41; CC Sabathia has his own issues; Mark Teixiera is not nearly the player he was. The starting pitching is OK but nothing more than that. The Yankees’ bullpen is very good with Aroldis Chapman and Dellen Betances.

    The Orioles will trail the field here. I love Adam Jones in centerfield and Manny Machado at third base. The bullpen is very good too. Other than that…

NL West:

    I’ll take the Giants to win this division because I like the Giants pitching more than the Dodgers’ pitching and I like the Giants offense better than the D-Backs offense. Those 3 teams sit atop this division. The keys to the Giants’ winning are solid years from Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto and a healthy Hunter Pence.

    I like the D-Backs to finish second in the division because they have Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to head their starting rotation and Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of their lineup.

    I have the Dodgers finishing third here. The Dodgers’ starting pitching was great last year; this year it is Clayton Kershaw and a bunch of guys. I am not a Scott Kazmir believer… Corey Seager at shortstop is even better than his brother on the Mariners and that says a lot. Yasiel Puig is a head case; if he figures out how to play the game consistently, he can be a star.

    I like the Padres to finish a distant fourth in the division. If both Wil Meyers and John Jay bounce back from bad years in 2015, the Padres’ offense might be half-decent; otherwise… Oh, and their pitching staff is nothing to write home about either.

    I’ll take the Rockies to finish just a hair behind the Padres here. I just do not think the Rockies can score enough runs to keep pace with the number the pitching staff will give up.

NL Central:

    I like the Cubs to win the best division in MLB. Any lineup that projects Javier Baez and Jorge Soler as “bench guys” has to be taken seriously. The Cubs’ starting pitching is very good and deep. If they have a weakness, it might be in the bullpen. Remember, I said “if” …

    I like the Pirates to chase the Cubs in the NL Central. If Gregory Polanco plays up to his hype, the Pirates will have an outfield that matches any in the game. Their pitching is solid. Their biggest problem is that they are in the same division as the Cubs.

    I’ll take the Cardinals to finish third here. If you want an example of a deep starting rotation, look at the Cards. This is the Lake Woebegone of starting pitching; they are all above average. I think the Cards will not score enough to win enough to match the Cubs or the Pirates.

    The Reds will finish fourth in the NL Central simply because they have Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips at the top of their lineup. That is not nearly enough to make them contenders but it is enough to keep them out of last place.

    The Brewers will finish last in the NL Central.

NL East:

    I like the Mets to win the division simply because of their pitching. They have 4 really good young starters and Bartolo Colon who continues to find ways to get guys out. Oh, and their bullpen ain’t bad either. If David Wright’s health can let him play 120 games, the Mets will do just fine. The schedule is really nice to the Mets; their last 16 games of the season are against the Twins (3), Braves (3), Marlins (3) and Phillies (7).

    I like the Nationals to finish second in the NL East. The Nats need a big year from Jayson Werth who is 37 years old and they need the injury bug to stay away from Anthony Rendon. Bryce Harper will put up big numbers but he needs help. The Nats starting rotation needs Stephen Strasbourg to pitch to his reputation consistently and for Gio Gonzalez to pitch better than he did in 2015. Jonathan Papelbon is a very good closer – but I wonder what might happen if he takes a loss because Bryce Harper makes an error in the outfield…

    I’ll take the Marlins to finish third in the NL East for a very simple reason. They are not nearly as good as the Mets or the Nats and they are not nearly as bad as the Phillies or the Braves.

    I’ll take the Phillies to finish fourth in the NL East because I think they are a year ahead of the Braves in the “teardown/rebuild” process. The Phillies’ future is still in the minor leagues but at least they have a couple of their young guys on the main squad getting experience like Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Nola.

    I think the Braves will finish last in the NL East and may lose 100+ games this year. They have recognizable names in the lineup – but the players attached to those names are on the downside of their careers like Erick Aybar, Nick Markakis and AJ Pierzynski. The Braves are a work-in-progress.

Play Ball!

Finally, in keeping with the theme of the day, here is a baseball item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Savannah, Ga., Bananas will become the 16th team in the Coastal Plain League, a summer circuit for college baseball players. So obviously the team MVP award will be known as the Top . . . nah, too easy.”

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