Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hidden Gems in the NFL Draft

By Travis Stahl

Now that the dust has settled on a wild weekend we can sit down and look over the NFL draft.  I'm not a big fan of draft grades, it usually takes two or three years to get an accurate picture of how well the players a team drafted are going to turn out.  And, since most teams have finally figured out how to draft there aren't too many teams that walk away from the selection process anymore as "losers."  Instead I thought we would highlight some picks that might have gone overlooked that good turn out to pay big dividends in the years to come.

Devin Funchess, Wide Receiver, Pick No. 49, Carolina Panthers - Funchess will be a match-up nightmare for opposing defense and adds another big receiver to the Carolina offense.

Jake Fisher, Offensive Tackle, Pick No. 53, Cincinnati Bengals - Cincy drafted a tackle in the first round and still got the guy they wanted in the second round when Fisher was still there.

Jalen Strong, Wide Receiver, Pick No. 70, Houston Texans - Houston needed another wide receiver to play opposite DeAndre Hopkins.  Strong, some would argue, was the best receiver in the draft.

Tevin Coleman, Running Back, Pick No. 73, Atlanta Falcons -
The Falcons haven't had a credible running game in four years.  Enter Coleman who could surprise a lot of people and earn the starting role coming out of camp.

David Johnson, Running Back, Pick No. 86, Arizona Cardinals - This team needs a back who can play every down.  Johnson reminds people of Matt Forte.

Bryce Petty, Quarterback, Pick No. 103, New York Jets - You know how people are always talking about how Tom Brady was a late-round steal?  That is what they will say about Petty in two years.

Adrian Amos, Safety, Pick No. 142, Chicago Bears - Is there a team in the draft that needed more help on defense than the Bears?  Amos is big enough and smart enough to sneak right into the line-up early in his career.

If you want to win in the NFL these are the kind of guys you have to find.  These are the building blocks.  First-round superstars are great but they aren't always what wins you Super Bowls.  Successful teams find guys like these and coach them up into great players.  Some guys, like Coleman and Petty, got drafted onto teams with very little competition standing between them and a starting spot.  Teams draft so much smarter now than they used to it makes finding guys like these a little bit easier.  The great teams make sure they find a way to use this kind of talent.

Monday, May 4, 2015

We Should Have Seen This Fight Coming

By Travis Stahl

We just completed one of the most exciting sports weekends in recent memory.  There was the NBA playoffs, the NFL draft, the NHL playoffs, the Kentucky Derby and of course the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight.  As sports fans, how could we possibly lose?  The answer, by buying into the hype of that stupid fight.  Mayweather/Pacquiao was everything we should have known it would be but couldn't get past the glitter.  That is exactly the reason the fight was a huge disappointment to fans.

Mayweather is an exceptional defensive fighter.  Probably one of the top five ever.  Pacquiao is not a skilled boxing techtician capable of over powering an opponent.  That isn't exactly a recipe for an exciting fight but we were so overwhelmed with the idea that this match was finally taking place we missed those small details.  The result should not have surprised us.  Pacquaio chased Mayweather around the ring for 12 rounds.  He didn't throw enough punches to score and he failed to change his strategy.  When he couldn't hit Floyd by going right at him Pacquaio had not other options.

That was perfect for Mayweather, who had to know going in all he had to do was run for 12 rounds.  Floyd would pop a jab in here or there and occasionally would throw his hands as Pacquiao was on his way out.  If Pacquiao did get too close for Floyd to run than Mayweather would just throw a bear hug on Manny and wait for the referee to separate them.  It was a perfect strategy to win a fight for Mayweather and it was poor preparation on the part of Pacquiao.  That is why fans booed when the fight ended and the winner was announced.  Mayweather never went in with the intention of trying to win, his plan was not to lose.  Pacquiao had only one plan to win and no other back-up plan.

This was supposed to be in the minds of many the fight that saved boxing.  Instead, it may have done more damage than good.  It showed fans two things.  First, we may have been thinking too highly of Pacquiao for all these years.  Maybe he could have been Floyd five years ago, but this Pacquiao had no shot at accomplishing that.  The second thing the fight showed us is that as loud as Mayweather wants to proclaim himself the greats of all time, he is nowhere close to that.  Yes, he is 48-0 but that is mostly against hand picked competition using the referee he chooses, with the gloves he chooses and any other weird stipulations he can add in.  That doesn't make him a great fighter.

This fight, more than anything, cemented Floyd's legacy as a top-20 fighter.  He is the greatest of his generation but that isn't exactly a glowing endorsement.  The best defensive player in NBA history is thought to be Bill Russell.  You would have a hard time finding anybody to believe Russell is the greatest basketball player of all time.  Mayweather is the greatest defensive fighter of all time but he is severely limited offensively and we have no idea how he would do in the ring with another exceptional fighter.

Because this fight was so "blah" how much of an impact will it have on future pay-per view events?  Instead, this could serve as further proof that boxing needs to skip the payment plan and start showing some legitimate big-time fights for free.  Boxing, as we said the other day, needs some help.  This could have served as that spring board for help.  Instead, this fight probably exposed boxing for what it has become.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Looking Back on Round One

By Travis Stahl

Well, there you go, the first round of the NFL draft is in the books.  It was unpredictable as we thought it would be but it wasn't the lawless jail break with a bunch of trades that we forecasted either.  Still, it was fun and a lot of teams made really smart moves.  Some teams, of course, made some really poor decisions.  Here is a recap of the best and worst of round one.

Best Pick of Round One - How about the New York Jets grabbing defensive tackle Leonard Williams with pick No. 6.  That's scary.  Williams was the highest rated non-quarterback in the draft and to fall to the Jets was unthinkable.  Adding Williams gives the Jets arguably the best defensive line in the NFL right now not to mention Darrell Revis in the secondary.

Worst Pick of Round One - I know the Chicago Bears needed another wide receiver but I'm not sold on Kevin White at No. 7.  I would never draft a guy who only had one good year in college, just my opinion.  The runner-up in this column is another wide receiver, Breshard Perriman, who got drafted by Baltimore.  The report on Perriman is that he drops a lot of passes and sometimes doesn't run great routes.  Not exactly the traits you look for in a wide receiver.

That Fits - Sometimes teams draft guys and you think to yourself "that just makes sense."  The Pittsburgh Steelers always have scary good pass rushers to drafting Bud Dupree just makes sense.  The same goes for the Carolina Panthers.  The Panthers always have great linebackers, look at Luke Kuechly.  So Carolina adding Shaq Thompson in the first round just goes along with what the team does well.

How Did That Happen - There must be something we all don't know about safety Landon Collins.  There were some people who had Collins getting drafted as high as Chicago and instead he wasn't taken in the first round at all.  Maybe we all thought a little too highly of Collins and his cover skills aren't as good as teams would like them to be.

Mariota Was a Surprise - We all thought Mariota would go at pick No. 2 we just didn't think it would still be the Titans making the pick.  But Tennessee had to add the Oregon quarterback.  Had to.  The Titans are in a division with Andrew Luck and the Colts so if you want any shot at making the playoffs in the next 10 years you better find somebody who can compete with that.  Can Titan fans really feel that great about their chances with Zack Mettenberger?  This team needed a guy to come in and energize the franchise.

There are still a lot of really good players on the board and it would not surprise me to see teams try to trade up to the beginning of the second round today.  We might even see somebody jump up to grab Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty.  The first round of the draft is all about style, the rest of the draft is about substance.  This is where teams start to fill in with players who are the backbone of the roster.  Teams can't afford to rest now, there is still a lot of important drafting to be done.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Final Pre-Draft Thoughts

By Travis Stahl

What day is it?  No ... that was yesterday.  Today is D-Day.  Draft Day.  NFL draft day to be specific.  Yesterday I told you all some funny things I'm hoping to see unfold tonight at the draft.  As I said, this draft is fairly unpredictable so we can't be too sure what we are even going to see.  Today will be more realistic.  Here are a few things that might actually happen tonight at the draft so keep your eyes open.

Adrian Peterson trade - If Peterson is going to get traded by the Minnesota Vikings it happens tonight.  I don't know if a team is willing to part ways with a first-round pick to acquire the running back or not but if they are the Vikings might be smart to take what they can get.  Maybe Arizona or Cleveland makes this trade.

Cleveland trades up to No. 2 - Speaking of the Browns they have apparently offered the Tennessee Titans two first-round picks to move up to the No. 2 spot to draft quarterback Marcus Mariota.  I'm not making this up.  This kind of stuff right here is why the Browns are a garbage fire every season.

Patriots trade out of the first round - New England has the last pick in the first round, No. 32.  I'm guessing the team will trade that pick away for a boat-load of assets to some team who wants to get back in to the first round.  I could see Houston trying to acquire this pick, maybe for quarterback Bryce Petty.

The Eagles will stay put - I think Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is done wheeling and dealing.  All the moves Philly made in the off season were about adding much needed pieces on defense.  Kelly probably loves all the rumors swirling around what the team will do tonight.  He will have a big smile on his face when the answer to that question is to stay put where they are on the board and just make a pick.

Somebody will blow it - At least one team tonight is really going to stink the place up.  Some team is going to make a pick that leaves the rest of us scratching our heads and trying to figure out what they are doing.  I like the New York Jets or the Browns in this situation.

It will be so much fun to see how it all turns out.  Not a lot of people get as excited as I do about the draft.  And keep in mind this is a down year for talent in the draft, when there are really good players available the excitement gets ratcheted up.  Should be an interesting and fun night.  Tomorrow we can discuss how it all unfolds.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Things I Want to See at the Draft

By Travis Stahl

The NFL draft is tomorrow night.  I repeat, we are now in full-out draft excitement mode.  More than any other NFL draft that I can remember the theme of this year's selection process is "Anything Goes."  We literally have no idea what is going to happen from any team in the first round.  Most people think Jameis Winston is a lock to go No. 1 to Tampa Bay but I don't think it is that certain of a selection.  Because we don't know which direction most teams will go I have been playing over different scenarios in my head.  Here are some things I am hoping to see in the draft tomorrow night.

Tampa trades the first pick - Wouldn't this shock the world?  If I'm the Bucannears this isn't the worst option.  It's not like this team has had good luck drafting quarterbacks.  Trade down, get some extra picks and take a guy like Leonard Williams instead of Winston.

Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay get into a fist fight - The old dog versus the new pup throwing hands at each other.  Kiper has to be just a little put off that McShay has muscled into his turf.  The tension finally reaches it's boiling point when the two disagree over the appropriate amount of love to shower on Patriots coach Bill Belichick.  Speaking of Belichick ...

The Patriots win the draft - Every year the New England Patriots win the draft.  Every year.  I guess that's why they win Super Bowls.  Belichick knows exactly which dumb team he can work a trade with to collect even more good players than he already has.  It will probably happen again this year.

The Browns trade Johnny Manziel - One year after selecting the "quarterback of the future" Cleveland throws Manziel into a trade so it can get back into the end of the first round and draft quarterback Bryce Petty.  Manziel immediately returns to rehab.

The Philadelphia Eagles draft a player from Oregon - Oh wait ... this wouldn't be surprising at all.

Bears fans boo their No. 1 pick - In the long standing tradition of New York Jets fans the fans in Chicago take issue with the Bears first round pick and boo when commissioner Roger Goodell announces that the team has selected linebacker Booby Booshay from South Central Louisiana State University.

Hey, stranger things have happened.  Just keep your fingers crossed and maybe three or four of these things will play itself out live on ESPN.  Like I said, this year is completely unpredictable.  And, we never know between now and tomorrow night how many more draft prospects will get popped with a marijuana arrest.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Boxing Isn't Broke But Atlas Could Fix It

By Travis Stahl

Unless you live under a rock you know this Saturday is the biggest fight boxing has been able to come up with since Mike Tyson took on Lennox Lewis.  Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will finally step into the right with each other as part of boxing match that took nearly five years to come to fruition.  Pacquiao and Mayweather are probably the two best fighters in boxing right now and many people are wondering if a fight this big can fix the sport.  The answer is no.  But there is one guy out there who could fix the sport if given the chance, Teddy Atlas.

The problem with boxing isn't mixed martial arts or head trauma or pay per view.  Those are all small ingredients in the big pot of what boxing has unfortunately been judged upon.  What boxing is truly missing is organization.  The WBC, WBA, IBF and any other initials you can string together who become a sanctioning body don't count for squat.  Those are just organizations who present fighters with a title, they are not rule-making entities.  There is no NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL for boxing and it's about time there is one.

This is where Atlas comes in.  Can you think of a guy more suited to be the first commissioner of boxing?  Form a league, put Atlas in charge and get rid of all the pointless titles.  Once the sport becomes organized with a central governing body it can become a part of mainstream culture again.  The first step towards regaining some credibility has already taken place as NBC and CBS have put fights on regular TV for free recently.  If you want people to watch, understand and follow the personalities in your sport you have to give it to them for free.  Atlas can lead the charge to get all this accomplished as he is easily the most polarizing and influential person still in the sport.  Ask Tyson how great the guy is.

Atlas was Tyson's manager coming up through the heavyweight ranks.  When Atlas left Tyson Iron Mike's career fell apart.  Today Atlas is a treasured adviser to many fighters and also does commentary on a lot of bigger matches.  The guy knows the sport and knows what it could be.

The Pacquiao-Mayweather fight is going to draw huge viewers this weekend at $90 per purchase.  If this fight was on national television the audience would triple easily.  Look at how many people watch the Super Bowl.  The NFL is smart enough to know if it wants fans to watch its sport and love its players it has to give up the games for free.  With Atlas leading the way he could clean up the sport, make it more popular in the US and make the sports stars more recognizable to the common man.  Honestly, how many people know right now the Klitschko brothers are the heavyweight champions of the world?  And, follow up question, how many people know which Klitschko is which?  I don't.

If boxing was on regular TV and had a central organization promoting and managing fights I would watch all the time.  It's still a great sport and is really one of the greatest tests of individual skill.  All it would take to pull this off is for boxers to realize how much they are currently losing out on.  Boxers are individuals who have to look out for themselves and have a short window in which to earn a living.  An organized boxing league could change all of that and provide long-term retirement benefits after a career ends.

Monday, April 27, 2015

2015 NFL Fan Mock Draft

By Travis Stahl

Last year we decided to do something a little bit different than just write our own mock draft.  Instead of just writing down we we predicted would be chosen in the NFL draft we decided to reach out to as many fans as we could find for each NFL team.  Typically, if you look at most mock drafts, they are lucky to get three or four picks correct in the first round.  Our fan mock draft last year got 10 picks correct which was pretty impressive.  Loyal readers Rob Schuman and Christian Heritier were kind enough to help us out and make multiple picks.  Let’s see if we can break that record this year.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, pick by Cody Davis - Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Florida State – You have to take the franchise quarterback when you have the chance.
2. Tennessee Titans, pick by Lucas Davis – Leonard Williams, Defensive Tackle, USC – Williams is easily the most talented player in the draft.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars, pick by Christian Heritier – Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama – It’s time to give quarterback Blake Bortles some weapons.
4. Oakland Raiders, pick by Trent Lawrence - Kevin White, Wide Receiver, West Virginia – This just feels like a Raiders pick.
5. Washington Redskins, pick by Steve Warnick – Brandon Sherff, Guard, Iowa – Whoever plays quarterback in Washington will end up being happy with this pick.
6. New York Jets, pick by Matt Bunyan – Brett Hundley, Quarterback, UCLA – The first big surprise of the draft.
7. Chicago Bears, pick by Chad Litherland – Vic Beasley, Linebacker, Clemson – The first step in rebuilding a bad defense.
8. Atlanta Falcons, pick by Rob Schuman – Dexter Fowler, Defensive End, Florida – It seems like every draft the Falcons are looking for somebody to rush the passer.
9. New York Giants, pick by Chad Moore – Randy Gregory, Linebacker, Nebraska – The Giants add another guy who can wreak havoc on the opposing passing game.
10. St. Louis Rams, pick by Rob Schuman – Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon – Can’t believe he is still on the board at this point.
11. Minnesota Vikings, pick by Tyler Wolfe – Marcus Peters, Cornerback, Washington – If his head is on straight he is a superstar.
12. Cleveland Browns, pick by Travis Turk - Davonte Parker, Wide Receiver, Louisville – He’s an automatic starter for the Browns.
13. New Orleans Saints, pick by Scott Boles – Shane Ray, Defensive End, Missouri – The thought of Ray coming off the edge with the noise of the Superdome to help him get a jump is scary.
14. Miami Dolphins, pick by Travis Crowe – Trae Waynes, Cornerback, Michigan State – Waynes will step in as a starter for a great defense.
15. San Francisco 49ers, pick by Travis Ray – Mike Davis, Running Back, USC – This surprise pick would certainly fill the hole left by Frank Gore.
16. Houston Texans, pick by Rob Schuman – Errek Flowers, Offensive Tackle, Miami – Houston always knows the value of building along the lines.
17. San Diego Chargers, pick by Christian Heritier – Todd Gurley, Running Back, Georgia– With or without Philip Rivers this is the dynamic player the Chargers offense needs.
18. Kansas City Chiefs, pick by Trent Lawrence – Nelson Agholor, Wide Receiver, USC – The fastest rising player in the draft is also a heck of a receiver.
19. Cleveland Browns, pick by Travis Turk – Arick Armstead, Defensive End, Oregon – Armstead brings intensity like few players in the draft.
20. Philadelphia Eagles, pick by Ryan Morrison – Landon Collins, Safety, Alabama – The rebuilding project for the Philly defense adds a pretty significant piece.
21. Cincinnati Bengals, pick by Jim Duff – Andrus Peat, Offensive Tackle, Stanford – Cincinnati needs to replenish the offensive line talent if it wants to keep pounding the ball.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers, pick by Jason Sprunger – Jeron Collins, Corner Back, LSU – The biggest need for the Steel Curtain is in the defensive backfield.
23. Detroit Lions, pick by Nick Harrison – Danny Shelton, Defensive Tackle, Washington – Replacing Ndomakong Suh with Shelton isn’t a bad deal.
24. Arizona Cardinals, pick by Travis Stahl – La’El Collins, Offensive Tackle, LSU – Arizona wants to run the ball better.  Collins should help that in a hurry.
25. Carolina Panthers, pick by Christian Heritier – DJ Humphries, Offensive Tackle, Florida– This would certainly give Cam Newton some extra time in the pocket.
26. Baltimore Ravens, pick by Rob Schuman – Melvin Gordon, Running Back, Wisconsin – Justin Forsett isn’t bad … Melvin Godon is just better.
27. Dallas Cowboys, pick by Travis Stahl – Bud Dupree, Defensive End, Kentucky – Something has to change when your middle linebacker leads the team in sacks.
28. Denver Broncos, pick by Jeremy Erne – Shaq Thompson, Linebacker, Washington – Thompson is a wrecking ball on defense.
29. Indianapolis Colts, pick by Ryne Winger – TJ Cummings, Offensive Tackle, Pitt – You have to protect the team’s most important asset.
30. Green Bay Packers, pick by Toby Harrison – Eric Kendricks, Linebacker, UCLA – The Packers are at their best when they have dynamic linebackers.
New Orleans Saints, pick by Scott Boles – Dorian Beckham Green, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma – If Green’s head is on right this vastly improves the Saints offense.
32. New England Patriots, pick by Trent Lawrence – Byron Jones, Corner Back, UConn – It seems like the Patriots are always looking for corners.