Documentation of the All-Time Greatest Edition of Our Nation’s Greatest Sporting Event

Like Puccinelli before me and Herodotus before him, I am but a humble scribe simply tasked with the documentation of the historical events unfolding before my eyes.  This year’s NCAA Tournament is only 1/3 of the way to crowning a champion, but it is already the best edition of this legendary sporting event.  So, let’s go through all of the MADNESS of what just happened, pod by pod, shall we?  I’ll indicate the pod by the team that survived.

The overall #1-seeded Jayhawks are through in one of the less interesting pods of the weekend.  Led by Perry Ellis and a host of other good “college players,” KU romped 16-seeded Austin Peay and then handled a game UConn team.  Freshmen Chieck Diallo and Carlton Bragg barely got off the bench for a deep, veteran-laden KU team.  We did get drama in the 8/9 game, as Josh Scott and Colorado led most of the way, only to see UConn – and the ridiculous free-throw shooting of Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs – come all the way back to win.

The Terps took a big lead against #12 South Dakota State only to see it slowly slip away and slip away, but they held on.  The other first-round game gave us some MADNESS as #13 Hawai’i – with a slew of skilled athletes like Roderick Bobbitt and Stefan Jonkovic – pretty much handled a 4th-seeded Cal team that was red-hot and featured several future first-round NBA draft picks, including Jaylen Brown. who is likely to be a household name at some point, and Ivan Rabb.  The kicker here is that their leading scorer, Tyrone Wallace, broke his arm in practice the day before the game.  Then, in the Second Round, this fun Hawai’i team led for about 30 minutes before Maryland turned on the jets.  Now, the Terps, who I still believe have the best five starting players (not the best lineup because they don’t really fit) in the country in Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter, and Diamond Stone, are moving on to the Sweet 16.

Sheldon McClellan barely led the 3rd-seeded Hurricanes past a pretty gritty Buffalo team, who was making their second straight tournament appearance despite losing Coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State last season in the First Round, but that was the least interesting game of a great pod.  The other First Round game saw Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet continue their incredible careers by upsetting #6 Arizona just two days after dismantling Wade Baldwin, Damion Jones, and Vandy in the First Four in Dayton.  Two days after that, the Shockers were given a noon tip against Miami and fell down by 25 early.  But, Baker and Van Vleet still had a little magic in them, as they stormed back and took the lead, only to see Angel Rodriguez just throw daggers at them to close out the game and two insanely historic careers in Wichita.  Think about this – Baker and Van Vleet both arrived on campus four years ago to a school that was a good mid-major program, but nothing remarkable.  But, four years later, the two of them graduate with a Final Four, an undefeated regular season, and 4 years where the only year that they did not win MULTIPLE TOURNAMENT GAMES was when they ended their season with only one loss all year – to the eventual national runners-up.  Wow!

Jay Wright’s ‘Cats get the monkey off their backs of 6 years of total disappointment in this tournament.  Freshman Jalen Brunson and senior Ryan Arcidiacono led the way, along with unsung superstar, Josh Hart, as #2 ‘Nova romped UNC-Asheville in the First Round and absolutely destroyed #7 Iowa in the Second Round.  Pretty lackluster madness, right?  Nope!  The other game in this pod was Iowa versus #10 Temple.  The Hawkeyes – led by the sharp-shooting of Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff – were up most of the way, but the Owls made a furious comeback and actually sent the game to overtime on three INCREDIBLY clutch free throws by senior star, Quentin DeCosey.  Then, the overtime went back and forth until all-around d-bag, Adam Woodbury hit the winning putback at the buzzer thanks to a blatant two-handed shove in the back that wasn’t called.  Had that been called, there would have been free throws for Obi Enechionya on the other end, and we would have all been treated to an NCAA Tournament game between two BIG FIVE TEAMS!  We were robbed by the MADNESS.

North Carolina
The MADNESS here came in the First Round.  There was a hint of some MADNESS even in the First Round game for top-seeded UNC.  #16 Florida Gulf Coast (not exactly strangers to MADNESS, themselves) played toe-to-toe with the big, bad Tar Heels for the entire first half and entered the locker room down just 1 at 41-40.  The Heels came out and flexed their muscles in the second half, but it was fun for 20 minutes.  The other First Round game was fun for all 40.  Providence and USC went up and down and back and forth all night before Kris Dunn hit a couple ENORMOUS shots down the stretch to erase a pretty sizeable USC lead that was built by their relatively unknown stars, Julian Jacobs, Jordan McLaughlin, and Bennie “Buckets” Boatwright.  And, then it happened – MADNESS!!!  USC, up 1 with :01.5 seconds left was so focused on stopping either Dunn – the two-time Big East Player of the Year – or Ben Bentil – the 2016 Big East scoring champ – that they forgot to cover little ole Rodney Bullock, who took the inbounds pass and scored a wide-open layup to win it.  Wow!!!  The Friars moved on to the Second Round and got pummeled by Carolina, but they had already contributed to the MADNESS.

Maybe not true MADNESS, but probably the best actual basketball game of the tournament so far came from this pod.  When Indiana rolled Chattanooga and Kentucky rolled Stony Brook in the First Round, we were guaranteed this great matchup between two ultimate college hoops heavyweights who were the respective champs of the Big Ten and SEC.  Star PG Tyler Ulis versus star PG Yogi Ferrell.  Everyone’s favorite one-and-done, Jamal Murray, versus the completely unknown future star, O.G. Anunoby.  In what was just a terrific basketball game that was no befitting the Second Round, the Hoosiers eliminated Calipari’s ‘Cats and sent Ulis, Murray, and Skal Labissiere to their next stops in the Association.

Notre Dame
MADNESS lives and his name is Austin, Stephen F. Austin.  The 14th-seeded Lumberjacks simply dominated #3-seed and sleeper Final Four pick, West Virginia, in the First Round winning by 14 in a game that wasn’t even that close.  The other First Round game saw Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste come back from a huge deficit to lead #6 Notre Dame past #11 Michigan.  That set up some MADNESS.  Stephen F. Austin, who best player, Thomas Walkup, actually might be a lumberjack, outplayed Notre Dame, but the Irish took every punch and eventually got the game-winning tip-in at the buzzer turning a one-point loss into a one-point win.  And, who scored that monumental basket?  But, of course – Rex Pflueger.  I mean that makes sense, considering he hadn’t scored since March 5th, and only scored more than 2 points in SEVEN of ND’s 34 games.  MADNESS!!!

On January 12th, the Badgers were 9-9 and 1-4 in Big Ten play.  They had lost to Western Illinois, Milwaukee, and Marquette at home.  They had lost their Hall of Fame head coach.  So, why wouldn’t they be in the Sweet 16?!?  They won a First Round game that was the lowest-scoring game in Tournament history, 47-43 against Pitt, and then took on #2 Xavier, led by Jalen Reynolds, Trevon Blueitt, Myles Davis, and freshman star Edmond Sumner.  This is the best Xavier team ever assembled and a legit championship contender.  Then Bronson Koenig happened.  The junior hit a 26-footer with :15 seconds left to tie the game at 60.  Then Sumner committed a charge on the other end with :05 seconds left, setting up Koenig’s heroics, as he took an inbounds pass in the corner and calmly DRILLED a ridiculous game-winner.  MADNESS!!!

Let’s start in the First Round with some MADNESS.  #8 St. Joe’s took on #9 Cincy in a true East Coast style brawl out in Spokane.  Isaiah Miles hit a 3 with :20 seconds left to put St. Joe’s up 78-76.  Cincy comes down, Troy Caupain drives the lane, draws about 4 Hawks defenders, lets go of an incredible wrap-around pass to Octavius Ellis, who does exactly what you’re supposed to do and DUNKS THE BALL.  The problem?  When the red light goes on, the ball is through the basket, but he is still touching it.  Basket waved off, St. Joe’s survives, MADNESS wins…as always.  The Hawks and superstar, DeAndre Bembry, then move on to face #1 Oregon, who dispatched Bill Carmody’s 14-19 Holy Cross team that won their first 4 road games of the year in the Patriot League Tournament to win the thing.  Oregon, led by Pac-12 POY Dillon Brooks and Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year Chris Boucher, actually struggled most of the way against the Hawks, but hit some monster shots down the stretch to squeak out a victory.

MADNESS!!!  #5 Baylor got manhandled by #12 Yale in the First Round.  Yep, you read that right.  Yale manhandled Baylor.  They outrebounded Baylor.  How do a bunch of Ivy League kids outrebound big, bad Baylor?  Well, some awful reporter asked Taurean Prince that question in an even more ignorant, condescending way than I just did.  And, Prince’s deadpan answer was phenomenal:  You see when someone takes a shot and misses, anyone on the court can go up and grab the ball with two hands.  When that happens, it’s called a “rebound.”  Ya, they got more of those.  But, anyway, MADNESS struck with a little white guy named Makai Mason dropping 31 on Baylor and eliminating a sleeper Final Four pick before the sun went down on Thursday.  The first game of the tournament had the potential for Madness, but Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, and the last Plumlee put the Dookies on their backs and carried them past a good UNC-Wilmington team.  Then, Duke ambushed Yale from the start in the Second Round, but Yale came storming back, cutting a 27-point lead to just 3, but couldn’t finish the job, and Duke and their 6 useable players move on to the Sweet 16.

Texas A&M
Obviously, there were a lot of pods with a LOT OF MADNESS.  But, nothing can top the MADNESS that ensued in this little pod.  Let’s get this out of the way first – #3 Texas A&M ran over #14 Green Bay in an easy First Round win.  Jalen Jones, Danuel House, College Station’s own Alex Caruso all were too much for the Phoenix.  But, that is where the non-MADNESS ends in this pod.  First Round, late Friday night:  11th-seeded Northern Iowa (who got into the Dance on a crazy buzzer-beater by Wes Washpun to beat Evansville in the MVC final) led #6 Texas almost the whole way, but the ‘Horns made a great comeback and tied it on an Isaiah Taylor runner with :02 seconds left.  Overtime, right?  Nope…MADNESS!  The incredibly well-coached Panthers had an inbounds play ready to go without even using a timeout.  They threw the ball to Paul Jesperson, who took two dribble and shot a one-footed shot from half-court.  GOOOOOOOOODDDDD!!!!!  You gotta be kidding me.  One of the best moments that’s ever happened to this program (at least from a guy not named Faroukmanesh), right?  Well, yes…and no.  It sent the Panthers to the second round, which is great, right?  Well, yes…and no.  In an evil twist of fate, the greatest buzzer-beater in NCAA Tournament history enabled the worst collapse in COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY.  I still don’t believe that this happened, but UNI had a TWELVE-POINT LEAD WITH :44 SECONDS LEFT.  WHAT?!?!?!?!?  But, they didn’t have their “designated inbounds passer,” who was struggling with cramps.  What?  Not having an inbounder costs you 12 freaking points in :44 seconds???  Good grief…  Yes, A&M went on to win in double-OT.  Absolute incredible and total MADNESS – no other word for it.

The MADNESS here is pretty much confined to how freaking awesome one dude is.  The guy known simply as “Buddy” was an absolute force in two games so far, scoring 53 points in a pair of OU wins to reach the Sweet 16.  The games weren’t without their fun, though, as the 2nd-seeded Sooners were pushed by both #15 CS-Bakersfield (with Dewayne Durham) and #10 VCU, but survived in both of them.  The other game in this pod was a decent game where VCU’s Melvin Johnson outdueled Gary Payton III and Oregon State, who was playing without their second-best player, Tres Tinkle.

UVA looked pretty good in validating their #1 seed, as future U.S. Senator, Malcolm Brogdon and, especially, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes, rolled over Hampton and then survived a REALLY tough test from Kellen Dunham, the immortal Rosie Jones, and the rest of the Butler Bulldogs, who looked very upset-ready.  The ‘Dogs had knocked out Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech Red Raiders in the 8/9 game in the First Round.

Iowa State
The MADNESS in this pod came from two teams that are no longer around.  #5 Purdue, with the ridiculous frontline of AJ Hammonds, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan, were cruising past a 29-win AR-Little Rock team, up 13 at the under-4 timeout.  But, then their glaring hole at point guard reared its ugly head and Little Rock came storming back including an INSANE 3 to force overtime by Josh Hagins.  The Trojans finished the job in double OT, knocking out yet another sleeper Final Four pick before their tournament even got started.  The Cyclones of Iowa State, led by 56 points in two games by Georges Niang, ran away from AJ English and Iona and then took care of Little Rock to reach the Sweet 16.

MADNESS!!!  An 11-seed in the Sweet 16 is always crazy, but it’s starting to be less so with the ‘Zags.  They have now made – get this – FOUR Sweet 16s as a double-digit seed.  No other program has ever done that more than twice.  Cinderella stops being Cinderella when it’s always the same team.  But, the ‘Zags, who were a 2-seed last year and a 1-seed the year before that, looked very much like the best team in this pod, as they crushed #6 Seton Hall and an exhausted Isaiah Whitehead in the First Round and then absolutely pummeled Jakob Poeltl and #3 Utah in the Second Round.  Utah had nearly blown a lead to Marvelle Harris and #14 Fresno State in the First Round, but survived.

And, after all of this, we STILL haven’t mentioned the craziest thing that happened.  THE BIGGEST UPSET IN NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY.  Ya, that happened, too.  There are good arguments about whether or not the Middle Tennessee upset of #2 Michigan State really was the biggest upset ever, they are all based in the fact that MTSU isn’t all that bad and were criminally underseeded as a 15-seed.  But, NO ONE is arguing that this Michigan State team is the best team in the history of the tournament to lose in the First Round.  They were – along with Kansas – the Vegas favorites to WIN THE WHOLE F’ING THING.  The other 2-seeds to lose to 15-seeds were very vulnerable and overrated 2-seeds like Missouri, South Carolina, and Georgetown.  Or, they happened in years with prohibitive favorites, like ’91 Syracuse in a year when UNLV and Duke were LOADED, ’93 Arizona when the Fab Five were all back as sophomores and UNC was loaded.  Or, 2001 Iowa State, in a year with a 1-loss Stanford team and a Duke team that had an NBA starting lineup of Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier, and Carlos Boozer.  But, this Michigan State team was one of two odds-on favorites to win the whole thing, had one of the two best players in the country, and a coach that is going to be elected into the Hall of Fame this year.  You’ve got to be kidding.  Giddy Potts just hit ANOTHER THREE.  And, in under-the-radar MADNESS, 10th-seeded Syracuse, who shouldn’t have even been in the tournament, cruised past Dayton and Middle Tennessee for a spot in the Sweet 16, where they will wear home whites as the higher-seeded team against #11 Gonzaga.  Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinijie are laughing all the way to Chicago.

An Overly Analytical Look at the Eagles Schedule

WEEK ONE UPDATE:  Loss at Atlanta…10.35 wins
WEEK TWO UPDATE:  Loss vs Dallas…9.75 wins
WEEK THREE UPDATE:  Win at Jets…10.05 wins
WEEK FOUR UPDATE:  Loss at Washington…9.30 wins
WEEK FIVE UPDATE:  Win vs New Orleans…9.50 wins
WEEK SIX UPDATE:  Win vs Giants…9.70 wins
WEEK SEVEN UPDATE:  Loss at Carolina…9.15 wins
WEEK EIGHT UPDATE:  Bye…9.15 wins
WEEK NINE UPDATE:  Win at Dallas…9.55 wins
WEEK TEN UPDATE:  Loss vs Miami…8.85 wins

Because of the brevity of the NFL season and, therefore, the intense pressure placed on each and every game, no other sport places such an importance on the schedule.  Think about the difference between 10-6 and 8-8 – that is just two games, in actuality, but an effective mountain of difference between how a season turns out.  But, we all know this, which is why we love to talk about “can the Eagles win 10 games or are they just an 8- or 9-win team?”  Which leads to the inevitable prediction machine.

One of the best parts of sports is forecasting.  Trying to figure out just how good your team is.  And, these predictions have steadily gotten more and more refined.  It started with simple questions like “who’s going to win the Super Bowl?”  Then, it became “Who are your 12 playoff teams?”  Eventually, people got ambitious and started picking win totals for every team (which drove me nuts because the aggregate of these win totals would inevitably be higher than the assumed losses, so the league, in total, would have like 280 wins and 232 losses, even though they were all playing each other).  Then, people figured out that there were 256 NFL games each year, so your aggregate win totals had to sum to 256.

Finally, dorks with far too much time on their hands (like me, before the kids took all my “free” time away) started looking at the schedule and picking every game and Continue reading “An Overly Analytical Look at the Eagles Schedule”

The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles – New and Improved?

I honestly (and only partially tongue-in-cheek) can’t wait for the inevitable 30 for 30 documentary on the 2015 Eagles offseason.  To be honest, if the Birds had traded up for Marcus Mariota in the draft, you could make a really good case for it being docu-worthy. But, in the end, we had just a run-of-the-mill offseason that consisted of a front office coup d’etat, a complete roster shake-up, racist-accusation-eliciting trades, standing ovations for a Our Lord and Savior disguised as a 4th-string H-back…I mean, quarterback…, and a couple of head-turning preseason performances. Are you ready for some football?!?

So, let us try and leave all the noise of the offseason behind us and focus on what we have on our football team right now. And, with the bottom line simply being wins and losses – what can we expect from this team this year?  I think one of the best references is to look at what they had last year and the circumstances surrounding that season and compare it to what they have right now.  Last year’s team was a 10-win team, so an improved roster/circumstances would lend one to think that 10 wins is the floor. Right?  So, I wanted to analyze each position group as they compare to last year’s and how deep they are.  But I also wanted to throw in an “upside” factor. In other words, I (like Chip and Sam Hinkie) believe that if you ain’t winning championships, you ain’t winning anything.  So, I want to look at this team in that light – the championship or bust mentality. Let’s call it an elite factor.

So, here we go – position by position.  The differences will be analyzed Continue reading “The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles – New and Improved?”

BSB’s 2015 Sixers Draft Guide

I started this last year with a list of the players I liked or didn’t like in the draft, and it seemed to turn out pretty well. But, I must give the caveat that I am a MUCH bigger fan of the college game than the pro game, and the two games are very different. So, all of these opinions are based upon what I saw in college and what I have read since. So, all of these takes will be seen through the prism of the college game (or what I have heard in the case of the international players). While I cannot claim an extensive track record on predicting who can make the jump, I did pretty well last year – picking out sleepers like K.J. McDaniels and Jordan Clarkson and calling for the struggles of Doug McDermott, Gary Harris, and Tyler Ennis. And, since the Sixers own basically the entire second round, it should be really interesting to see how they play it. Anyway, here goes my takes on the potential draft choices tonight.


Karl-Anthony Towns
I have to admit, I was an Okafor guy for a very long time. I thought that Towns was terrific, but Okafor was better. I was WRONG. Towns is a TOTAL stud and well worth the #1 pick – which he will be tonight. He can do everything you need. He has no weaknesses and plenty of strengths. All that said, I do not see him being a top-10 NBA player, but he is well worth the #1 pick because he is 6’11” with a good handle, a great shooting touch (including almost 80% from the line), excellent passing ability, and elite rebounding and shotblocking instincts. Just writing this paragraph makes me depressed that the Sixers didn’t get the #1 pick. He’s that good.

Jahlil Okafor
People have really soured on Okafor recently, and I get it. He is not a great rebounder; he is pretty bad from the free throw line; and, he could be scary bad defensively at times. But, is all of that enough to completely discount the fact that this is – arguably – the best low-post scorer to enter the league, maybe since Hakeem? He is agile and quick. He has terrific hands and a very soft touch around the basket. And, at 19 years old, he already has a full arsenal of low-post moves. He is also an excellent passer, a smart player, and seemingly a really good guy. Yes, there are some things to be scared of about him, but I would take the over on 22 for his career scoring average. And, the other argument about how the NBA is going small and quick may have some validity, but let’s pump the brakes on that for a second. People say that Golden State forced Cleveland to “go small.” What does that mean – they were forced to take Timofey Mozgov off the floor? Wow – really forced their hands on that one. If Cleveland had Okafor, the narrative would have been about how the Cavs “forced Golden State to go big.”

D’Angelo Russell
I have to be honest here – I watched a TON of D’Angelo Russell at Ohio State, and I have question marks about his game translating to quite the level some think it might. That does not mean that I do not want him in a Sixers uniform (if Towns isn’t there, I think he’s the one I want them to draft). And, it does not mean that I do not think he has a chance to really, really good. I am just saying that everyone out there who is saying that Russell is a sure-fire superstar at the next level is choosing to ignore some of the legitimate question marks about his game. First and foremost, he is not – by any stretch – an elite athlete. Now, that is clearly not a deal-breaker, and I usually hate when that torpedos someone’s draft stock because we have recently seen several examples of marginal athletes becoming superstars on the wing (James Harden, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, etc.), but lacking elite athleticism certainly lowers your floor. Guys like Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and Derrick Rose have a lot more margin for error and can still be great despite lacking some seemingly requisite skills. I also – and this is partially-related to a lack of elite athleticism – have always had some serious question marks about Russell’s ability on the defensive end, and I think this is being overlooked at every turn (and why I believe the reports that Hinkie is not sold on Russell at #3). And, one more question mark – as good as he was at Ohio State (and he was AWESOME), he never seemed to have that “killer instinct” to me. And, maybe I am just looking at his smoothness and relatively quiet demeanor as an indication of inconsistency (which is what I hated that people did to Wiggins last year), and if so, then forgive me. Now, on to the good things (I guess this has to be the longest paragraph, since he’s most likely going to be our new favorite Sixer). Only a freshman (and a relatively lightly-recruited one at that) and yet this dude had some of the best court vision, poise, and on-court leadership that I have seen in all my years of basketball fandom. It honestly looked, at times, like the game was in slow motion for Russell. He saw plays happening before anyone else on the court and, combined with a natural passing ability, was an incredible playmaker. He also has a really good jumpshot. I have heard several people, including the great Fran Fraschilla, compare his jumper to that of Steph Curry. That seems like a ridiculous comparison to me, but Franny has forgotten more basketball than I will ever know, so maybe it is true. Either way, the dude can shoot. And, that isn’t his only way to score the ball. He is an excellent driver with a solid mid-range game of runners and floaters. He is also a willing and able rebounder with good size. People say he might translate as a 2-guard at the NBA, but I completely disagree. I think he is a point guard through and through, and I would love to hitch my wagon to his offensive game. I just worry about the other end of the floor a little bit. Alright, now I know I have to shorten the rest of these…sorry, folks.

Emmanuel Mudiay
The point guard battle at the top of this draft is fascinating because they are both so incredibly different (caveat: I have not seen a lot of Mudiay, as he went overseas to play this year, but I have seen him some and have a pretty good sense of who he is). Also at 6’5″, think of Mudiay as the polar opposite of Russell in just about every other way. While Russell is a bit slight and not remarkably athletic, Mudiay is big, strong, and insanely athletic. Russell may struggle to guard on the perimeter, but Mudiay will get up in people’s faces and lock them down. Both are decent in the open court, but Russell as more of a heady playmaker, while Mudiay is a jet. He goes to the basket hard, jumps through the roof, and finishes well around the hoop. However, he is nowhere near the shooter Russell is and is nowhere near as secure with the ball. That said, he is, by all accounts, a terrific kid with a strong work ethic. Both are good rebounders, but for different reasons. Russell seems to know where to be, while Mudiay just seems to go up and over people. If Russell has the ceiling of James Harden, Mudiay has the ceiling of Russell Westbrook. I think I have come around in the Russell vs. Mudiay debate to actually favor Russell for the Sixers at this point, I am still holding firm to my love of Mudiay and think he is going to be very good in the Association.

Kristaps Porzingis
Man, I wish the Sixers were able to get that #6 pick in this draft because I am salivating over what they could have done with two top-6 picks this year. Oh well, I guess we have to settle for #3 this year and FOUR first-rounders next year. Anyway, the Porzingis rumors are coming hot and heavy, and for good reason. The upside on this guy is incredible. They just don’t make humans like Kristaps Porzingis very often. He is quick and agile with a good handle and jumpshot. Oh, and by the way, he is 7’2″. Yep…SEVEN-TWO. He blocks shots on one end and hits threes on the other. I have never seen the dude play, but the scouting reports are absolutely sensational. On offense, he is great in transition and off the dribble with the potential to be an elite outside shooter. And, on defense, he can guard multiple positions with the potential to be an elite shotblocker. Really the only question is – can we really believe any of this?!? And, then the additional question for the Sixers is – do you believe that he does not want to play in Philly? And, if not, to what lengths is he willing to go to avoid it? Will he simply stay overseas if the Sixers draft him? That is quite a risk…

Mario Hezonja
I think it is incredibly unlikely – even for the unpredictable Hinkie – that he reaches for Hezonja, but he does have an affinity for internationals, so there is a chance. I know very little about Hezonja, but he sounds like he could be really good. Apparently, he’s a very good athlete with legitmate range on his jumpshot. He also sounds like he is insanely cocky and just a bad dude. I hope they don’t get cute and take him.

Justise Winslow
Like Hezonja, it is hard to imagine Hinkie reaching for Winslow at #3, but I do think there is a very outside chance that he is in play here. No one else is in play at all. Winslow is a do-it-all kind of player, who is going to make some NBA fanbase VERY happy. And, even though his stock is skyrocketing right now, I might still be higher on him than most. People talk about Okafor and Tyus Jones (for good reason) as carrying Duke to the title, but Winslow had just as much an impact on that team – if not more – than either of the other two more celebrated freshmen. His jumper is a little shaky, but still solid, and he can get to the basket. He also is a willing passer and a strong rebounder. But, his real strength is on the defensive end. If you forced me to pick who, from this draft, would be the NBA defender in five years not named Willie Cauley-Stein, I would say Justise Winslow.


Stanley Johnson
I am shocked that Stanley Johnson is not in play for the Sixers, but it is pretty clear that Johnson may be slipping out of the Top 10. Now, to be fair, there is no way that he is one of the three best players in the draft, so he should not be in play for the Sixers at #3, but I really don’t understand all the criticism of Johnson. Everything I saw from him at Arizona tells me that he will be a really solid player at the next level. He plays incredibly hard and is easily one of the best all-around defenders in this draft. He isn’t a great athlete, but all the criticisms of his athleticism seem to go way overboard to me. He looked like a pretty good athlete to me in the Pac-12. He is not a great shooter, but not a terrible one either. He will likely never be an NBA All-Star, but it would not surprise me in the least to see Johnson as a major contributor to a very good NBA team. Someone will be happy with this pick tonight.

Myles Turner
The NBA is littered with the carcasses of the careers of guys like Myles Turner. He has such tantalizing size and skills that it is hard for anyone to look at him and not see a superstar. But, then you look at his production and, other than the 2.6 blocks per game, nothing jumps off the page. And, even further, you look and you see injury concerns. I think this guy could be special, but doubts about heart or health should raise serious concerns, and I have doubts about both of them for Turner.

Willie Cauley-Stein
I love Cauley-Stein and think he is going to make a pretty solid pro. He’s a weird dude with almost no offensive game, but he might be, literally, the best defensive player I have ever seen on the college level. Literally. He is an elite shotblocker right now, and he can go out and guard the perimeter or run the floor. He is fun to watch, and I am gonna miss him at the college level.

Devin Booker
Talk about a quick-riser up the charts, Devin Booker arrived in the NBA draft at the perfect time. Watching the Warriors shoot their way to 67 wins and an NBA title did wonders for guys like Booker, who are basically pure jumpshooters. He is also a smart player (son of one of my all-time favorite college players, Melvin Booker from Missouri), who is a pretty solid defender. As the best shooter in the draft, he only needed to show adequate athleticism to be considered a mid-first rounder, but he tested a lot better than you would think in watching him, so I think he’s a bonafied lottery pick. I am rooting for him – he is a fun player to watch.

Trey Lyles
Might as well continue with that RIDICULOUS Kentucky team that, somehow, did not win the national championship. And, what is interesting is that I knew I was a fan of that UK team (normally, I am NOT), but I didn’t know why. Now, in looking at each individual player, I realize why. They had a bunch of likeable guys, who were really fun to watch. Lyles is another one. All year, as I watched that team, I kept thinking that Lyles was the one whose “stock” was most affected by the lack of playing time and exposure. If Lyles had gone to Louisville (his second choice) or Indiana (his home school), he would have been a featured part of the team – possibly either team’s best player – and could be looking at some sort of national awards or top-5 lottery status. Maybe not, but he certainly has that ability. He is 6’10” with really strong perimeter skills, including a solid jumpshot, smart passing skills, and good handle. I think he has the ability to really guard on the other end, though the scouts seem to disagree with that assessment. I like Lyles a lot and think he’s a bit of a sleeper (if that’s possible for the lottery pick).

Kelly Oubre
I am not in love with Oubre, but if he falls to the mid-teens, he should be scooped up pretty quickly and that team should be happy with the upside that he has. He is a scorer, who is a capable defender, though could use a few more pounds on his frame. The only real concern – and it’s a big one – is just how INCREDIBLY bad he was for about a month or so at Kansas. Like, really, really bad. Like couldn’t-stay-on-the-court bad. That makes me very concerned about him between the ears, but the physical ability it there.

Sam Dekker
I feel like I am liking a lot more guys than I did last year, but I think that just goes to the depth of this draft. Well, here is someone that I do NOT love, at all. Everyone seems to be falling in love with Dekker, and I have no idea why. I have watched a LOT of Dekker over the past three years, and I just don’t see why everyone is in love with this kid. Yes, he is incredibly athletic and plays hard, but was somehow still a pretty poor defender both on the perimeter and on the block and a below-average rebounder. How is that possible when a guy with elite athleticism plays hard? I also think that people saw him hit like 87 threes against Kentucky and think that he was this great shooter. Well, that is not true. He was a streaky shooter – at best. While he has decent ball skills, he is not all that great of a passer. And, then there is the issue of position – what is he? A three, I guess, but is he guarding threes in the NBA? Is he scoring on threes in the NBA? I am just at a loss as to what Dekker actually can do.

Frank Kaminsky
As much as I dislike Dekker, I do not feel at all the same about his Badger teammate, Frank Kaminsky. I think Kaminsky does have transferrable skills to the next level, and I think he will make a decent NBA player. First of all, he is 7 feet tall. Second of all, he is a decent outside shooter who can also create his own shot off the dribble. And, everyone just thinks he was this 7-foot shooter. That is so untrue. He lived in the paint and developed a wide array of post moves that are highly successful (and transferrable) because of his great footwork and soft touch. He will really struggle to guard in the NBA, which might limit his playing time (and career longevity), but he can score at any level of basketball.

The Sixers actually have 5 second-round picks – 1/6 of the entire round. They are #35, 37, 47, 58, and 60. I can’t imagine that they will bring in 6 players to the roster this year. Some of these second-rounders could be trade chips or international stashes. But, there is some talent down here in the second round

Cameron Payne
My biggest sleeper in this draft is not really a sleeper any more because the word is getting out that Cam Payne can flat-out play. A couple months ago, I actually advocated that my perfect situation would be for the Sixers to take the best player available in the first even if it was a big man and then grab Payne in the second. But, that dream is over because (a) the Sixers have the 3rd pick and the two bigs will likely be gone and (b) the league has found out about Payne. But, this skinny, baby-faced point guard from the Ohio Valley Conference can do it all. And, my favorite part is that he combines an incredible basketball intelligence with the heart of a lion. He is my favorite player in this draft, and it’s a shame that he won’t be a Sixer.

Montrezl Harrell
While the stock of Payne and Portis are is rising, Harrell’s is slipping a bit. Earlier, I would have said that there is no way he slips into the second round, but his lack of size for a big and skill for a wing seems to be turning NBA GMs away. I still think he has a lot to offer. He is built like a tank with incredible athletic ability, and he plays insanely hard on every possession, but there are legitimate questions as to where he fits at the next level. 6’8″ power forwards without much of a perimeter game are an endangered species these days.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
It is hard for me to judge RHJ objectively because he spurned Temple in recruiting, but it is hard to fault him for going to Arizona. He is a sensational athlete, who could be an elite defender at the next leve. He won’t be a go-to scorer at any point, but the Sixers should run, not walk, to the podium if he is still there at 35 (which is HIGHLY unlikely).


Bobby Portis
Maybe my second-favorite player in this draft, after Cam Payne, Portis was sensational at Arkansas. He is fun to watch with his size and skill and absolutely incredible energy with which he plays. If you believe in college play having any translation, then you believe that Bobby Portis is going to be a solid NBA rotation player. I don’t think he’s going to slip, but if the Sixers could somehow grab him for a relatively affordable price, I would be a very, VERY happy man.

Terry Rozier
No thanks. I know that he is an elite athlete and a solid defender, but I don’t like guards who aren’t “smart.” The same reason I didn’t like Elfrid Payton last year (though, I look wrong about that, so take it for what it’s worth) is why I don’t like Rozier this year. He turns the ball over a LOT and commits silly fouls on the defensive end. He is just not the kind of guy I want on my team.

R.J. Hunter
Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE mid- and low-major college basketball, so you would think that I would be in love Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter. And, I do like him, but I don’t love him. People will just look at his numbers and see him in the NCAA Tournament (he had “The Shot” of the tournament this year when his dad fell off his stool) and think he’s a total stud. Then they will see that he’s 6’6″ with a 6″11″ wingspan and think that he can totally translate to the next level like another small-school shooter that happened to win the NBA MVP this year. But, as someone who actually watched some of his regular season Sun Belt games over the past three years, let me tell you that I am not sure about him. He was pretty much everything for GA State, but also disappeared at times. He didn’t look like a guy who was just so much better than everyone else in that league. He looked like a guy how took a LOT OF SHOTS. I mean he is 6’6″ and plays on the perimeter. Do you know how many Sun Belt guards are even bigger than 6’2″? Not many. Which means he was facing a smaller guy every single night and still shot 39% from the floor and 30% from three-point range. He also committed 77 turnovers this year and was not the primary ballhandler (the point position was held down by former Kentucky starter Ryan Harrow and former Louisville 6th-man, Kevin Ware). So, while I think Hunter may be a decent shooter, I saw a lot more of his warts than the people who just look at the numbers and watched the NCAA Tournament. He was a bit of an underwhelming superstar.

Tyus Jones
You should probably just skip my evaluation of Tyus Jones because I am a college hoops junkie, and this guy was the perfect college point guard. He was smart and poised. He always made the right pass and would drain jumpers if left alone. He was lights-out from the free throw line and completely bought-in on defense. And, he is that proverbial “winner,” which has become a cliche, but I don’t care, I still think it is a good way to describe someone when it applies. I really hope that there is a place for a guy that in the NBA, but he also appears to be the exact spot where the divide between the college game and NBA game hits the hardest, so I will withhold any more praise for a great college point guard.

Jerian Grant
I am not a huge fan of Grant’s potential at the next level. If the Sixers land a PG at #3, then I would look elsewhere from Grant even if he happens to slip all the way to #35. As the older brother of the Sixers Jerami Grant, Jerian is essentially a finished product – and that product looks like a borderline NBA player, at best.

Delon Wright
Grant and Wright are pretty much connected in a lot of ways. They both have NBA bloodlines. They are both seniors (though Wright played two years at a Junior College) and fully-developed 23-year olds. They both were the heart and souls of really good college teams this year. But, to me, I like one a LOT better than the other. As you can read above, I am only lukewarm on Grant, but I LOVE Delon Wright’s game. He is a pretty poor shooter and only a so-so athlete, which will probably make my praise for him look silly in a couple years, but anyone who has played the game or just enjoys the nuances of basketball, will love the way he goes about his business. He is quick, smart, and has incredible court awareness. While he did look to score at Utah (and succeed), he is an incredible passer. And, what I love about his offensive game is that he draws a TON of fouls and makes his free throws. He made 303 free throws in two years at Utah. That is incredible. He is also a really solid and aggressive defender who loves to pressure the ball. I know the NBA needs shooters – and Wright isn’t one – but I do love the rest of his game.

Kevon Looney
I see the NBA’s fascination with the very raw big man from UCLA, but I have some serious questions. The talent is there, for sure, but he is so raw and appeared to me to be rather meek at UCLA. Apparently, he has been showing scouts a really versatile game in workouts (outside shooting, ballhandling, and passing), but to be honest, I saw him play quite a bit in college and never really saw any of that. It’s certainly possible that I missed it, and if so, he’s a better prospect than I give him credit for, but I can only say what I saw. I did see a VERY instictual rebounder with clear physical traits. Another year in college probably would have done wonders for his readiness for the next level, but right now, he seems to me to be a rather risky gamble for only moderate reward potential. In other words, there is a greater chance of him being out of the league in five years than ever making an All-Star team.

Rashad Vaughn
Like Looney, Vaughn is another freshman who could have VERY MUCH benefitted from another year in school. And, like Looney, he is immensely gifted from a physical standpoint. But, again like Looney, he is a pretty big gamble, from what I can tell. But, completely unlike Looney, no one has probably ever described Vaughn as “meek.” The dude is a flat-out volume scorer. He is quick and aggressive and fearless. And, at 6’5″ with elite quickness and athleticism, he is a handful to guard. The problem is that I saw a TON of turnovers, poor defensive effort, and not exactly those intangible “leadership” qualities. He was on a UNLV team that wasn’t supposed to be that bad, but were terrible, and he didn’t seem to care all that much. Personally, I would pass on Vaughn unless he slipped to the Sixers and a lot of these other nice pieces were off the board.

Justin Anderson
I like Anderson and think that he has pretty much everything you might want in a basketball player. He has size, strength, leaping ability, and is a really smart dude who knows the game. He also has a decent jumpshot (when open) and good footwork in the paint. He is a strong rebounder and defender. He’s quicker than he looks, which isn’t saying much because he doesn’t look quick at all. But, for some reason he never really “popped” at UVA. Maybe it was the slowwwwww offensive pace. Maybe it was the total focus on defense. Maybe it was his constant array of injuries (which is a concern, by the way). But, Anderson just never seemed like a star in college, and while you aren’t looking for an NBA star in the late-first, early-second, I am a little concerned about him even producing all that much. That said, he certainly has a TON of ability and could be really good, so it wouldn’t be the worst roll of the dice.

Chris McCullough
McCullough SCREAMS Sam Hinkie. Not only has our man taken Syracuse players in each of his first two drafts (MCW two years ago and Jerami Grant last year), but he also is not afraid at all of risking a total waste of a pick (particularly those with injury concerns) for a potential franchise-changer. And, we ALL know that he is not clearly not afraid of picking a guy who might miss a whole year due to injury. Well, that is the likely story with McCullough. He tore his ACL in January is likely won’t play at all this year. BUT…he has lottery talent, for sure. I have serious concerns about his “want-to,” but I have absolutely NO concerns about his “can.” The dude is a flat-out stud. He moves like a guard, but is comfortable in the post on either end of the floor. He stands at 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan and is incredibly athletic. From what we saw in 3 months of college ball, he looked like an incredible shotblocker from the PF position as well as a plus-rebounder. I would LOVE it if the Sixers were able to nab him at some point tonight because there’s a chance he is a total bust, but a chance that he is a legit starting PF in the NBA. And, you rarely get those as late as he is going to go.

Joseph Young
Young is one of those already-finished-products. He was the Player of the Year in the Pac-12 last year and completely deserved it. While I have some questions about his ability on the defensive end, there is no question that the dude can flat-out score. He has decent size (listed at 6’2″, but I swear he seems to play bigger than that) and a lights-out shooting stroke. He can also beat you off the dribble. I am not sure he will ever do enough other things to warrant starter’s minutes in the NBA, but there’s no doubt that he can be a double-digit scorer tomorrow.

Jarell Martin
Stay in school, big boy. I am not going to pretend to know everyone’s personal situations and the reasons for which they make these major life decisions, but simply in a basketball sense, Jarell Martin would have been MUCH better suited with another year in the SEC. He is a beast on the defensive end and on the glass, but he is so incredibly raw offensively (with a TON of potential) that could have been refined at the college level. Now, he’s probably destined to be a bit of a liability offensively for his career because why would anyone give him chances to score in the NBA. He could have been a go-to guy at LSU again this year (even with a strong returning frontcourt and next year’s #1 pick coming in). He has the ability to be a good inside/outside offensive player, but he needs to work at it. But, in the end, he will be paid by some NBA team next year because he is a ridiculous athlete who is really fun to watch and salivating from a development standpoint. I doubt he’ll slip to the Sixers in the second round, and I’m not sure I would trade up for him, but if he’s still sitting there at #35, I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at all on him. He does have serious upside.

Anthony Brown
I’m gonna be honest here, I’m not gonna say I watched a ton of Stanford this year, but I did see them maybe a half-dozen times, and I know I watched them a lot over the past 4 years. And, yet, I am not sure I ever remember thinking – man, that Anthony Brown is good. I sure remember Chasson Randle, who was CLEARLY the best player on that team, but apparently, he’s nowhere to be found in any of these mock drafts. So, I don’t really know what to say about Anthony Brown here. If the scouts like him, then maybe he was just overshadowed. But, I can tell you, as a college hoops fan, there is only one player on Stanford that I would even think had a shot at the NBA, and it ain’t Brown.

Christian Wood
I have seen mock drafts with him in the mid-first round, and I have NO IDEA why. I mean he is a ridiculously good shotblocker, but is that all we need to be to make an NBA roster any more? The answer is probably yes, and if the Sixers get him at #35 or later, I guess it’s a good pick, but coming from a fan of the college game, this guy was not really a very good college player.


Olivier Hanlon
Now, he WAS a very good college player. I was surprised when he declared for the draft, but he was pretty awesome for 3 years at BC. He doesn’t seem like he would have a very translatable game (and a pretty poor defender), but the dude can FLAT-OUT score.

Dakari Johnson
Who knows? We didn’t get to see all that much of Johnson against first-line opponents or for extended periods because of the limited minutes of the Kentucky roster. But, he’s pretty talented and a complete LOAD in the middle at both ends. He’s a solid defender and decent rebounder with agile feet and good hands. Sounds like an NBA player to me, but what do I know?

Rakeem Christmas
Another Syracuse player, so Hinkie might be eyeing him up. He’s got great size and athletic ability. He’s a very good low-post defender, so there’s probably a place for him in the NBA. But, honestly, as a fan of the college game, he was remarkably unremarkable at the ‘Cuse, so I don’t know…

Cliff Alexander
A total bust at Kansas, as he was supposed to do for Kansas what Okafor and Towns did at Duke and Kentucky this year. But, he just never got it going and was then shutdown due to eligibility issues. He may have stayed at Kansas another year if everything was on the up and up (which could have REALLY helped him), but now he’s just a huge, stud athlete with a very raw game (and seemingly very little desire to get better). This situation kind of reminds me of when they first started opening the floodgates for high schoolers to enter the draft and teams had to draft the Kwame Browns just in case they were passing on Dwight Howard. But, while Kwame Brown at #1 is terrible, Dwight Howard at #37 isn’t. So, I guess he’s worth a shot in the second, right?

J.P. Tokoto
I am very surprised that he left early because he never seemed all that good at UNC. But, he certainly has some transferrable traits – particularly, the ability to guard multiple positions at a very high level. But, his offensive game wasn’t even good in the ACC, so he’s going to be a career liability on the offensive end.

The Harrison Twins
They suck.


Vince Hunter
Chad Ford has Hunter going to the Sixers at #37, which made me incredibly excited. This dude was a total STUD at UTEP. He’s one of those guys that is going to leave me scratching my head when he never makes it. I know he’s probably simply too small to play PF in the NBA and not skilled enough to play SF. I get that, but seriously, this dude was incredible in Conference USA. I guess it just shows how big of a jump it really is.

Jordan Mickey
Another guy whom I just LOVED at the college level. This dude was so dominant that it is hard to understand how he’s a second-round draft prospect. Again, I get it. I know that all these dudes that shock me are the same – they are just too small to dominant underneath like they did in college, but this was the SEC! He is an absolute animal on the glass and as a shotblocker. He’s not a great offensive player, but he’s not terrible either. He’s just a monster around the rim – and those guys are fun to watch.

Norman Powell
Looked like a professional basketball player at UCLA. Did all the little things, stepped up when you needed a basket, defended whomever you needed him to defend. A real “glue guy” and I think he can be that at the next level, too. The problem is that he’s not really all that good at anything in particular, so he might not be long for the league if he can’t develop something to hang his hat on.

Tyler Harvey
When you lead the nation in scoring, you’re doing something right. Yes, that Eastern Washington team ran a ridiculously fast (and fun) tempo, but Harvey was a lights-out bomber who runs the floor really well. I honestly don’t see his game translating (he plays no defense, doesn’t rebound at all, and is a mediocre passer, at best). But, I hope he makes it because he’s fun to watch.

A Defense of Ruben Amaro, Jr.

albeit maybe a pretty back-handed one…

First of all, let us get two things straight before I embark on a potentially ill-fated defense of our embattled GM.  One, I think Ruben seems like a pretty good guy, and I have a lot of respect for him, personally.  Two, I think Ruben is – and always has been – a pretty terrible GM.  I think it is long past the time when we should be finding a replacement, and the fact that he is still guiding this ship is terrifying to me.  HOWEVER…

I think that the current accusations and frustrations with Ruben are totally off-base and inconsistent.  And, it is the second part that bothers me the most.  Because the same people that seem to question Sam Hinkie and Chip Kelly are ripping Ruben.  It seems to me that the most often-cited wishes of the Hinkie/Kelly regimes are exactly how Ruben has been operating for years.  Let me explain…

COMPLAINT:  Sam Hinkie and Chip Kelly Do Not Talk Enough to the Fans
Ruben is always available.  He has a weekly spot on Angelo’s morning show.  He is on with Gargano and even Missinelli (who has absolutely no qualms about ripping him up cross-examination style).  He gives written journalists pretty extensive access and candid remarks.  In fact, the most recent remarks about the “fans not getting it” is probably the exact reason why Hinkie and Kelly avoid the media.  Because sometimes you are forced to tell the truth (and, let’s be honest – anyone who thinks that Ruben is dumb for leaving Aaron Nola in the minors after 20 starts really doesn’t “get it,” so Ruben is right), and telling the truth sometimes is the worst thing you can do.

COMPLAINT:  Hinkie and Kelly Are Too Quick to Unload Home-Grown Stars
What do we keep hearing over and over about why people are sour on Hinkie and Kelly?  It always comes back to Michael Carter-Williams, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy.  Hinkie thought MCW’s upside was limited, and Kelly thought that Jackson and McCoy were overpaid and not “on board.”  If you think they’re crazy, then obviously you love the fact that RAJ decided to keep Howard, Utley, and Rollins around for so long, right?  I mean we have to keep our stars, right?

So, if you don’t like what Hinkie and Kelly are doing, then you are intellectually dishonest with yourself if you don’t, at least, respect the job Ruben is doing.

And, then there are the unfair complaints about Ruben himself.

COMPLAINT:  Why Hasn’t Ruben Traded Cole Hamels Yet?
Ruben is out there, looking for offers.  Now, this isn’t a Marlon Byrd situation at last year’s trade deadline, which was a total debacle.  This is an ELITE pitcher in his prime with an expensive, but not outlandish and controllable contract.  I am happy that Ruben is waiting to get the best return.  What he is risking is a potential injury, but that risk, in my opinion, WELL worth taking if the alternative is getting 60 cents on the dollar.  Remember the Cliff Lee trade?  That was probably Ruben’s second-biggest blunder (slightly behind the Ryan Howard contract extension and well ahead of the Hunter Pence trade and Jonathan Papelbon signing).  Ruben traded away an elite left-handed pitcher in his prime for a pile of nothing.  If that happens with Hamels, then this rebuilding won’t be a phase, it could be an era.  This whole rebuild is counting on maximizing the value of a guy like Hamels.  He has to hold out.

COMPLAINT:  Why Isn’t Ruben Bringing Up Guys Like Nola?
This is the most recent one – and, frankly, I don’t get it.  What the hell is the point in bringing up a guy who was pitching for LSU this time LAST YEAR.  He has 20 – yes, TWENTY – professional starts.  Why in the world should he be up in the majors for a team that’s going to lose 90+ games.  If the argument is that the team is going nowhere this year, then they should ABSOLUTELY NOT bring him up.  If you told me that they were a mid-rotation starter away from contending, then maybe you take the chance.  But, why chance stunting the growth (and add service time) to your most promising pitching prospect just because “the fans want to see him pitch.”  Buy an f’ing Reading ticket, then, people – come on!  If you are one of the people that want Nola up here now, then Ruben was talking about you when he said “you don’t get it.”  And, he was right.

COMPLAINT:  How Did Ruben Lead a Fall This Far This Fast?
This one is fair and relevant.  Amaro took the reins of a franchise that was in the incredible position of having great home-grown talent, a rabid fanbase that was selling out every night, and owners who were making money hand-over-fist and willing to spend it to stay at the top.  He had a core of position players that had already won and built a pitching staff that could rival any in the history of the game.  How did he screw this up so bad?  Now, again, I think a lot of it was his fault (giving Howard the HUGE extension 2.5 years before he had to…trading Cliff Lee for next to nothing…COMPLETELY ignoring any analytics – this is my biggest gripe, actually), but a lot of it was not his fault.  First of all, they had the best team in baseball – and the best team in franchise history – in 2011.  They could have – and maybe should have – won the World Series in any of 2009, 2010, or 2011.  They built a team around relatively young and durable starting pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, who got old very fast and missed a lot more time than their track records would have indicated.  In fact, look at the core of those teams and how unpredictable the falls were.  Who would have thought that Brad Lidge would go from perfect closer in 2008 to a 7.21 ERA in 2009 to out of baseball in 2012?  Who would have thought that Ryan Howard would go from 6 straight years of top-10 MVP finishes, averaging 44 HRs per season, including 58 in a single season.  To hitting a TOTAL of 48 HRs from 2012 through 2014?  Who would have known that, in order to keep former platoon OF, Jayson Werth, the Phillies would have had to top a $123 M contract offer from the Nationals?  Who have known that the #2 pitcher on the 2008 championship team (who was actually the ace before the Cole Hamels breakout postseason) would only win 4 more games for the Phils after that and be working on his budding country music career before his 33rd birthday?

Now, to be fair, Ruben did not exactly help the cause, but there were a lot of occurrences – out of his control – that led to this historic fall.  Again, I do not think that Ruben is a good GM – in fact, I think he is pretty bad and should not be the Phillies GM for one more day.  But, I also got bothered by what gets thrown at him.  If you hate Hinkie for never talking or Chip for jettisoning not only D-Jax and Shady, but the Trent Coles and Todd Herremans of the world, then you can’t also rip Ruben for keeping Chase Utley or Ryan Howard too long.  If you hate Ruben’s awful haul when he traded away Cliff Lee (which I do), then you can’t fault him for waiting out a better deal for Hamels.  And, if you are one of these people who think that the Phils should call up their AA starter after 20 professional starts just because you “want to see him pitch” then, as the eloquent Ruben Amaro, Jr., so aptly put it yesterday, “you just don’t get it.”

The Mariota What-Ifs

No matter how good Nelson Agholor and Eric Rowe turn out to be, the Eagles 2015 draft will always be the “didn’t get Mariota draft.” Now, I am not saying that – historically-speaking – that will always be a bad thing. In fact, we may look back and think, “whew, did we dodge a bullet.” The reported insane package of multiple #1s plus elite-caliber players like Mychal Kendricks and, particularly, Fletcher Cox, that never happened may haunt Tennessee fans down the road a whole lot more than the ghost of Mariota haunts us. However, whether the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner is a boom or bust in Tennessee, we will absolutely never know just what the Chip Kelly-Marcus Mariota marriage would have turned out to be in the NFL. And, by all accounts, we were very close to finding out.

Ahh…what could have been

This happens in sports all the time – particularly in drafts. What if the Phillies took Frank Thomas over Jeff Jackson? What if the Sixers took Paul Pierce over Larry Hughes? What if the Eagles took Earl Thomas instead of Brandon Graham, like everyone thought they were going to? And, while the draft is the most obvious place for this, there are a million others every day in sports. Injuries, play calls, referee decisions, etc. are all easy examples of small occurrences that may lead to monumental events in the sporting world.

But, there is something really interesting about this Mariota-Kelly “what-if” that seems different. Because it was so obvious and because of the potentially historic ramifications, I feel a little robbed, if nothing else, of the immense intrigue that this combination would provide. So, what turned the tide? How did this not happen? There are many factors – obviously – some of which have been talked about ad nauseum, some of which have barely been mentioned, if at all. But, since this seems like an important flagpost moment in Philadelphia sports, I wanted to try and document some of the butterfly wing-flappings that resulted in the hurricane of Mariota ending up a Titan.

Mariota’s Pre-Draft Performance

The bottom line is that, come draft day, the Birds had no chance because the Titans, with the #2-pick, decided that they wanted Mariota to be their quarterback. Whether it was a football decision or an ownership decision (more on that below), they clearly came to that decision late in the process and was almost certainly a result of the pretty incredible performance that Mariota put on – both on the field and in interviews – in the pre-draft process. Teams fell in love with Marcus, himself, and they seemed to see enough about his physical abilities to override the concerns about never taking a ball from center or ever calling a single play in a huddle. When the college football season ended (and meaningful GAMES were finished being played), the experts were united about the football acumen of the two top QBs – Winston was far and away a better on-the-field prospect than Mariota (off-field concerns notwithstanding). But, by the time the draft rolled around, despite no gamefilm being added to either resume, Mariota had earned himself a large portion of the experts’ opinions of who was the best QB on the field. That didn’t exactly help the Eagles chances of either Mariota dropping or Tennessee accepting any deal for him.

Nor did Chip’s incredibly open pining for the guy…

The “Publicness” of the Chase

Personally, I think this is where Chip and the Eagles missed the boat the most. Now, it’s probably unfair to blame Chip for this since the media saw the obvious marriage and would probably have run with it anyway, but I definitely believe that the Eagles could have done a MUCH better job hiding their intentions. Despite never saying anything to the media (which I have no problem with, by the way, but that’s a topic for another post), there was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Eagles were going all-in for Mariota. They flat-out lost the poker game to Ruston Webster and the Titans front office. While I do believe that all teams do a good job making up their minds in a vacuum, but comments like “this guy’s going to win multiple Super Bowls” probably didn’t hurt the opinion of him in front offices around the league. And, I also think the Eagles refusal to downplay their interest in Mariota also added to the “publicness” of the Bradford camp that they will not sign an extension anywhere else.

So, would you make the case that we should have held on to Mr. Foles?  Many have…

The Nick Foles Trade

This is probably the one that is most cited as a potential factor. Would the Eagles have been able to “sell” Nick Foles to Tennessee or someone else in order to get Tennessee value in return for Mariota? It is at least worth a discussion on whether or not Foles was actually more valuable than Bradford on the open market, even though the Foles for Bradford trade actually required the Eagles ponying up a second-round pick in 2016. But, the clear indication of the Bradford camp that he will not be signing an extension with anyone other than the Eagles potentially made him actually harder to move than Foles would have been. Oh, ya, that and the whole $12.5 million MORE owed to Bradford than Foles. I am not saying that Chip was wrong in making the Foles-for-Bradford trade because I think, given the current situation, I think I am happier having Bradford than Foles right now. What I am saying is that there is a good chance that the trade actually negatively affected the Eagles chances of landing Chip’s dream QB.

Bradford > Foles? On the field – yes. In trade talks – probably not.

Then again, maybe Tennessee just wasn’t willing to fall all the way to #20, and the Eagles had no way to getting anything higher…

Eagles-Giants, Week 17

But, what if they had played Matt Barkley and, inevitably, lost that Week 17 against the hated Giants instead of winning a meaningless game? What if they were 9-7 instead of 10-6? They would have been about four spots higher and picking at #16. It is unlikely that #16 would have carried much more weight than #20 with Tennessee, but what about other teams in the top 10? It was widely reported that many GMs (including Tennessee’s Ruston Webster, who flat-out said it) thought there were only about 15 or 16 players with “first round talent” in this year’s draft. So, going to #20 was seen as a move to the second round, by some. But, #16 would have been a first round pick. Who knows how that would have changed things?

Then again, it’s not like any pick is a sure thing. Just ask the Titans about the last QB they took in the first round…

Jake Locker

Jake freaking Locker may have cost the city of Philadelphia Marcus Mariota. Who would have guessed that? But, if Locker was anywhere near what he was supposed to be, the Titans wouldn’t have any need for a QB (and, realistically, probably wouldn’t have been picking #2 in the draft, either, but that’s another discussion). But, Locker stunk…and then “retired”…even after going 8th in the draft just four years ago. You could even argue that Locker showed just enough potential that the Titans passed on other QBs in more recent drafts because they still thought there was hope for Locker. Admittedly, this argument kind of falls a little short when you examine those drafts. They picked Locker at #8 in 2011. The next two QBs off the board were Blaine Gabbert at #10 and Christian Ponder at #12, so it’s not like they missed the boat in that draft. Then, in 2012 the Titans first pick was WR Kendall Wright at #20. The next QB off the board?  Brandon Weeden. In 2013, they used their first pick on G Chance Warmack.  The next QB that they “missed out on” was E.J. Manuel. And, then last year, the Titans took OT Laylor Lewan at #11. Thirteen picks later was the next QB taken, and his name was Johnny Football, or something like that. So, the argument that Tennessee could have drafted someone else to fill the franchise QB role falls a little flat, but we can still blame Jake freaking Locker’s awfulness for us not having Mariota right now. And, in the end, the Titans entered this year with the #2 pick in a 2-QB draft with Zach Mettenberger at the top of their depth chart.

How did this guy have anything to do with MY football team?

And, possibly, for other non-football reasons, that was a big concern…

Bud Adams’ Health/Succession Planning

While this angle has been incredibly underreported, I am of the firm belief that this is the main reason why the Eagles pro shops are not selling #8 Mariota jerseys right now. I believe that it was a management decision in Nashville to draft a franchise quarterback because they are planning on putting the team up for sale in the next year or so. Bud Adams passed away in 2013 just two months shy of his 91st birthday. Adams, a co-founder of the old AFL, and the longest-tenured NFL owner at the time of his death, left rather sparse directions on who would assume ownership of the Titans, leading to a lot of in-fighting and eventually a consortium being created that consisted of Adams’ two living daughters and the only son of his deceased son. It is one of the more precarious ownership situations in the NFL and will almost certainly lead to some sort of sale or buy-out or legal rangling in the coming years, or even months. And, prior to Thursday night, what could a potential buyer see in this franchise that is of any value? Nothing. It is – almost inarguably – the most boring team in the league in a second-rate media market. While Leonard Williams or Dante Fowler may have made the Titans a better football team in the long-run, they sure as hell were not increasing an asking price in the short-term. Nor was Sam Bradford or Fletcher Cox or Mychal Kendricks or the Eagles 2017 first-round pick. BUT…if they had a young, exciting franchise QB right now, then maybe the value of this team goes up. So, the bottom line is that I think that the management overruled the “football” people and told them to take a QB – period. And, because of that, once it was clear that the Bucs and Titans would be the two teams picking at the top of the draft this year, the fate was sealed.

But, what if that wasn’t the ultimate 2015 draft order…?

The Tiebreaker

Tennessee lost the tiebreaker (strength of schedule) to the Bucs for the #1 pick, and it was awfully close. If a few of those hundreds of other games went the other way, then Tennessee could have taken their franchise QB (Jameis Winston) at #1, and the Eagles could have been dealing with the Bucs instead. Presumably, the Bucs would have just taken Mariota at #2 like the Titans did, but they have a stable ownership group and a coach who has made the Super Bowl with Rex freaking Grossman, so who knows? But, they were both only one game “ahead” of both the Jags and Raiders, who are more than content with their QB situations and clearly would have passed on Mariota at #1 or #2 – or, more likely, taken the king’s ransom that the Eagles were offering.

So, there are any number of games that could have decided this fate – many of which took place in one fateful weekend in December…

Week 16 and The Curse of Jordan Todman

DECEMBER 20, 2014 – The Eagles lost that stomach-punch game against Washington on Saturday night. Not only did it eliminate the Birds from the playoffs, but it gave the Skins (another team who may have passed on Mariota) another W and moved them out of contention for a top-2 pick. But, in the long run, while it cost the Eagles a shot at a 2015 playoff berth, it may not have been the most impactful game that week on the future of our Birds.

DECEMBER 21, 2015 – The Raiders, a team with a decent young QB in place in Derek Carr, beat the Bills for their 3rd win in the past five weeks. They finished the season 3-13 and earned the #4 pick in the draft. But, this team started 0-10. How are they only picking 4th? I firmly believe that if the Raiders held picks #1 or #2, that Marcus Mariota would be an Eagle today. And, this still was not even the most important game of the day for the Eagles future.

DECEMBER 21, 2015 – The Jacksonville Jaguars – the doormat of the league – actually have a QB. #3 overall pick in 2014, Blake Bortles. They have their wagon hitched to Bortles. They have a TON of needs and would be dying for a bowl-them-over package to move down. Well, they had a shot at that in Week 16 last year. Entering the game at 2-12, the Jags got a late incredible TD from Jordan Todman to beat the also 2-12 Tennessee Titans. That “win” by the Jags meant that the Titans would have a top-2 pick and Jacksonville would be picking 3rd. It meant that the 2015 NFL draft would net the Titans Marcus Mariota and the Eagles Nelson Agholor.

How a backup RB ruined my life…

And, it meant that there was no chance for Chip to reunite with his star pupil…in 2015……

Mariota Staying in School

Finally, I have to mention one other thing that is often forgotten in this whole process. Mariota entered the draft this year as a redshirt junior, which means he was eligible for the draft in 2014. And, he actually strongly considered coming out. Now, at the time, it didn’t really hit the radar of the Eagles because their QB had just finished the BEST QUARTERBACK SEASON IN NFL HISTORY, and Mariota had yet to win any Heismans or anything. In fact, before deciding to return to school, Mel Kiper had Mariota at #33 on his “Big Board.” But, do you really think that, even with Foles’ incredible season, that Chip would have passed on a chance to draft Mariota? I sure don’t. So, the Eagles could have just sat at #22, kept their mouths shut, and taken Mariota with their own first round pick last year. And, all it would have cost them was all the air time they will inevitably have to spend explaining the inexplicable Marcus Smith pick. Actually, I wish I had never brought this up…now, I’m depressed again.

…But, It Ain’t Over

In the end, the marriage of Chip and Marcus wasn’t meant to be…yet. Call me crazy, but I still believe that this dream isn’t over quite yet. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this year or next. But, unless Mariota lights the world on fire in Tennessee, he may be available down the road. And, it’s not like we’re tied to anyone under center…ugh.  In Chip We Trust!

2014 MLB Awards

NOTE:  This was written and intended to be published at the end of the 2014 MLB regular season, but due to technical difficulties, we couldn’t get it up until now.  But, with the 2015 season upon us, it seems like a good time.


To get us warmed up, the BBWA has just announced their 2014 MLB Postseason Awards.  And, that’s cute and all, but let us get to the real awards:  the 2014 BSB MLB Awards.  We had an esteemed panel of 7 voters this year, who are very astute and knowledgeable baseball men, vote on 18 different awards.  So, without further ado, let us reveal this year’s winners.


In one of the closest votes we have ever had here for the BSB Awards, Giancarlo Stanton edged out Pirates centerfielder, Andrew McCutcheon, by just 2 points.  Those two were the only two that were on all seven ballots, and both received three first-place votes.  In fact, these two were 1-2 on six of the seven ballots.  The only difference was the one ballot that didn’t have them 1-2 had Stanton #2 and McCutcheon #4.  Even though the voting occurred before the postseason started, Buster Posey came in at #3, with the BBWA choice, Clayton Kershaw, finishing 4th (though, he did garner the only 1st-place vote not for one of the top two).

Mike Stanton was pretty good, but Giancarlo is incredible

My ballot had McCutcheon #1 and Stanton #2.  I followed that with a pair of catchers at #3 and #4– Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey.  Nationals breakout star, Anthony Rendon, was my #5.  And, I had to add Andrelton Simmons at #6 because he might be the only shortstop that I have ever seen that I would even mention in the same breath as Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith, defensively.  I left off Clayton Kershaw because I feel strongly that you have to play more than one-fifth of your team’s games to be considered the “most valuable player in the league.”  Period.  I wasn’t alone on that, as two others also left Kershaw off completely.

  1. Giancarlo Stanton (3) – 66 (7)
  2. Andrew McCutcheon (3) – 64 (7)
  3. Buster Posey – 43 (6)
  4. Clayton Kershaw (1) – 34 (4)
  5. Anthony Rendon – 27 (4)
  6. Jonathan Lucroy – 21 (3)
  7. Yasiel Puig – 7 (1)
  8. Todd Frazier – 6 (1)
  9. Josh Harrison – 6 (1)
  10. Anthony Rizzo – 6 (1)
  11. Andrelton Simmons – 5 (1)


The best player on the planet fell one point short of a unanimous selection, garnering six 1st-place votes and one 2nd-place vote.  Victor Martinez was a distant 2nd in the voting.  Nelson Cruz finished 4th, but received the only non-Trout 1st-place vote, even though he only appeared on three of the seven ballots.  There were a whole lot of entries here, as 15 different players appeared on at least one ballot, only two of whom made it on more than four.  Yeonis Cespedes received a 5th-place vote for the sheer fact that the A’s were the best team in the league with him and the worst team in the league without him – maybe he is the “most valuable” player.

The pride of Millville, NJ

Trout was, obviously, my pick for this award.  I agree with the final results for 2nd and 3rd, as well, as I had Martinez at #2 and Brantley at #3.  I swayed from the voters after that, going with the always-overlooked, Jose Bautista, at #4, the rookie sensation, Jose Abreu, at #5, followed by the breakout star (offensively and defensively), Josh Donaldson, at #6, and Robinson Cano at #7.

  1. Mike Trout (6) – 69 (7)
  2. Victor Martinez – 52 (6)
  3. Michael Brantley – 31 (4)
  4. Nelson Cruz (1) – 24 (3)
  5. Jose Abreu – 24 (3)
  6. Robinson Cano – 23 (3)
  7. Josh Donaldson – 18 (3)
  8. Felix Hernandez – 11 (2)
  9. Alex Gordon – 8 (1)
  10. Jose Altuve – 7 (1)
  11. Jose Bautista – 7 (1)
  12. Adam Jones – 7 (1)
  13. Nelson Cruz’s Doctors – 7 (1)
  14. Miguel Cabrera – 6 (1)
  15. Yeonis Cespedes – 6 (1)

NL CY YOUNG:  Clayton Kershaw

In a completely unanimous vote, Clayton Kershaw walks away with another Cy Young.  Johnny Cueto, who was the only other pitcher to even appear on every ballot, finished 2nd.  Adam Wainwright was 3rd in a race that was clearly only down to three guys.  In fact, this was the most clear-cut race of all, as the top 5 guys were all on more than half the ballots, and only eight pitchers even received a vote.

The current totle holder of “Best Pitcher on the Planet”

I agree with the top 3, as I went Kershaw, Cueto, Wainwright as #1,2,3.  I considered bumping Wainwright ahead of Cueto, but in the end, Cueto just had a better season.  Madison Bumgarner (for his regular season performance) was 4th for me, as I value innings pitched immensely.  Jordan Zimmermann and Cole Hamels rounded out my ballot.

  1. Clayton Kershaw (7) – 70 (7)
  2. Johnny Cueto – 60 (7)
  3. Adam Wainwright – 51 (6)
  4. Jordan Zimmermann – 30 (5)
  5. Madison Bumgarner – 28 (4)
  6. Zach Greinke – 20 (3)
  7. Cole Hamels – 12 (2)
  8. Doug Fister – 7 (1)

AL CY YOUNG:  Felix Hernandez

BSB disagrees with the BBWA on this one, as King Felix takes home our Cy Young Award in a race that wasn’t really all that close.  The King got five of the seven 1st-place votes and the other two votes were 2nd-place votes.  In fact, BBWA choice, Cory Kluber, barely held off Chris Sale for 2nd place in our vote.  Not that we didn’t recognize the greatness of Kluber, as he, Felix and Sale were all on all seven ballots.  Those three constituted, in some order, the three top spots on all seven ballots.  Down the list, you can see the Bawlmer homerism, as Chris Tillman and Zack Britton both appear on Cy Young ballots.

This guy is either “muscle” for Gus Fring or a future Hall of Famer…hard to tell

Personally, I wanted to vote for Kluber because I really like him and love his stuff, but the season that King Felix put together was just way too good to vote for anyone else.  I tried to talk myself into Kluber, but couldn’t.  I did have Kluber 2nd, ahead of Sale, because of innings pitched.  The top three were obvious.  After that, I had Jon Lester at #4 and the 5’11” Sonny Gray at #5.  I also gave David Price (underrated season) a 6th-place vote and threw a bone to Phil Hughes at #7 for an incredibly under-the-radar season.

  1. Felix Hernandez (5) – 68 (7)
  2. Cory Kluber (1) – 61 (7)
  3. Chris Sale (1) – 60 (7)
  4. Jon Lester – 27 (4)
  5.  Garrett Richards – 20 (3)
  6. Sonny Gray – 13 (2)
  7. Max Scherzer – 12 (2)
  8. Chris Tillman – 6 (1)
  9. Zack Britton – 5 (1)
  10. David Price – 5 (1)
  11. Phil Hughes – 4 (1)


The Mets rookie sensation, Jacob de Grom, burst on the scene this year and takes with him the coveted BSB NL Rookie of the Year award.  de Grom received six of the seven first-place votes.  Billy Hamilton was the only one even close, but he did not get a single first-place vote, as the one ballot on which de Grom was 2nd, he lost out to a rookie broadcaster.  Nice to see Chris Zanzarella – a rookie BSB participant – get a vote, as well as Yours Truly.

This guy? Seriously?

I voted for de Grom at #1, but actually had future Phils closer, Ken Giles, at #2.  I then went with Kyle Hendricks, who may have only started 13 games for the Cubbies, but he was dominant in those 13.  Billy Hamilton and his sub-.300 OBP was 4th, followed by Kolten Wong and Ender Inciarte.

  1. Jacob de Grom (6) – 69 (7)
  2. Billy Hamilton – 60 (6)
  3. Ken Giles – 31 (4)
  4. Kolten Wong – 21 (3)
  5. Kyle Hendricks – 16 (2)
  6. Gregory Polanco – 16 (2)
  7. Ender Inciarte – 11 (2)
  8. Steve Berthiaume (1) – 10 (1)
  9. Chris Zanzarella – 7 (1)
  10. David Buchanan – 6 (1)
  11. Bryan Cimorelli – 6 (1)
  12. Jorge Soler – 6 (1)


In the only unanimous vote other than Kershaw, Jose Abreu walks away with the AL Rookie of the Year award without contest.  In fact, his 19-point margin over 2nd-place Masahiro Tanaka was the 2nd-largest margin of victory in any award this year behind only AL Manager of the Year.  After Abreu, it was a slew of hurlers, as 2nd through 6th place were all pitchers.  Tanaka was the only other player to make it to all seven ballots.  Yordani Ventura fell one short, landing on six of the seven.  This was actually a pretty clean election, as there were only 8 players that received votes, seven of whom showing up on at least three ballots.

I’d say he had an “okay” rookie year…

Abreu led my 7-person ballot.  I actually considered going Matt Shoemaker ahead of Abreu, considering he was the ace of the best team in baseball, but Abreu’s numbers were insane.  Shoemaker was my #2 followed by future Astros ace, Colin McHugh, current Yankees ace, Masahiro Tanaka, future Royals ace, Yordani Ventura (who is definitely my favorite rookie to watch), and future Yanks closer, Dellin Betances.  The Twins’ .313-hitter, Danny Santana, rounded out my ballot.

  1. Jose Abreu (7) – 70 (7)
  2. Masahiro Tanaka – 52 (7)
  3. Yordani Ventura – 45 (6)
  4. Colin McHugh – 31 (4)
  5. Dellin Betances – 28 (4)
  6. Matt Shoemaker – 21 (3)
  7. Danny Santana – 17 (3)
  8. George Springer – 8 (1)


A pretty hotly contested Manager of the Year race here in the NL ends with Clint Hurdle of the Pirates winning the award thanks to being on five of the seven ballots with three first-place votes (both highs for anyone).  World Champion, Bruce Bochy, finishes second, though Boot made a good point in his ballot as to why he was voting for Bochy (and, this was before the postseason run):  “In 15 years, we will look back at the Giants’ rosters and say Posey is a HOF’er, and that may be it…”  Rookie manager, Matt Williams, finished 3rd followed by Cards 2nd-year man, Mike Matheny.  Interestingly, though there were only 15 NL managers from which to choose, the seven ballots still tabbed four different managers as their top choice.  We also had “negative” votes for Don Mattingly and Kirk Gibson – apparently, they should be 14th and 15th, respectively, in the NL manager pecking order.

I did vote for Hurdle as my #1, but I went Matheny #2.  I originally had Ron Roenicke at #3, but Boot’s comment above swayed me to throw my 3rd-place vote to Bochy.

  1. Clint Hurdle (3) – 23 (5)
  2. Bruce Bochy (2) – 19 (5)
  3. Matt Williams (1) – 16 (4)
  4. Mike Matheny (1) – 12 (3)
  5. Terry Collins – 4 (1)
  6. Don Mattingly – 3 (1)


BSB agrees with the BBWA here, as Uncle Buck wins this award in a landslide.  Garnering six of the seven 1st-place votes, with the only non-1st as a 2nd-place vote, Buck had, by far, the largest margin of victory here, as his 21-point victory came in an award that only granted 5 points for 1st instead of the usual 10.  Terry Francona finished a distant 2nd with Ned Yost coming in 3rd with the only other 1st-place vote.

Uncle Buck

I went with Buck at #1 and Yost at #2 (even though I don’t really support Neddy’s managing style, you have to hand it to him in accomplishing that much with such sparse resources).  My 3rd choice was Lloyd McClendon, who did a great job out in Seattle this year.  I strongly considered Terry Francona, but I think McClendon had a harder time turning around that franchise, but it is close.

  1. Buck Showalter (6) – 34 (7)
  2. Terry Francona – 13 (4)
  3. Ned Yost (1) – 13 (3)
  4. Lloyd McClendon – 7 (2)
  5. Joe Girardi – 6 (2)
  6. Mike Scioscia – 4 (1)


A BSB category here, as we all voted on who we thought were the biggest surprises of the year in the Senior Circuit.  There are always some interesting answers to this one, and a lot of different choices.  There is no real stated criteria, which makes it fun and interesting.  The Pirates’ Josh Harrison and Nats’ Anthony Rendon both appeared on five of the seven ballots and finished 1-2 here in our voting.  Harrison was the only player to get multiple 1st-place votes, as he received three of them.  Rendon did not have any.  Four others received one 1st-place vote each, including Ryan Howard, who got one for not being “completely finished.”  Doogan pegged Justin Turner in the 5-spot, which forced me to look up his numbers only to learn the kid hit .340 this year with a .404 OBP.  Wow…who knew?!?

The Josh of All Trades

I was the one who voted Jonathan Lucroy at #1, as he became a total star, and I never saw that coming.  Rendon and Harrison followed at #2 and #3 for me.  Corey Dickerson, #4 for me, had a .931 OPS over nearly 500 PAs and seems to be completely anonymous (maybe it’s the Coors factor).  The Mets’ shortstop, Juan Lagares, who came out of nowhere to flash as one of the best defensive SSs in the game (and had a OBP 30 points higher than the esteemed Billy Hamilton), was #5 for me.  Anthony Rizzo, who finally showed his real potential was #6, while Phils surprise, Marlon Byrd, cracked my list at #7.

  1. Josh Harrison (3) – 47 (5)
  2. Anthony Rendon – 41 (5)
  3. Jonathan Lucroy (1) – 31 (4)
  4. Anthony Rizzo (1) – 22 (3)
  5. Devin Mesoraco – 14 (2)
  6. Juan Lagares – 12 (2)
  7. Johnny Cueto (1) – 10 (1)
  8. Ryan Howard (1) – 10 (1)
  9. Marlon Byrd – 9 (2)
  10. Charlie Blackmon – 9 (1)
  11. Lucas Duda – 9 (1)
  12. Matt Kemp – 8 (1)
  13. Ben Revere – 8 (1)
  14. Corey Dickerson – 7 (1)
  15. Tim Hudson – 7 (1)
  16. Tanner Roark – 7 (1)
  17. Denard Span – 7 (1)
  18. Justin Turner – 6 (1)


Do you know that, with 186 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 2014, Phil Hughes set the all-time Major League record for K:BB ratio in a single season?  Ya, me neither.  Well, that sure constitutes a “surprise,” and he won the AL’s Biggest Surprise award here in 2014, grabbing two 1st-place votes and appearing on five ballots.  Cory Kluber (one 1st-place vote) was also on five ballots, while Jose Altuve also garnered a pair of 1st-place votes.  Michael Brantley and Albert Pujols received the other 1st-place votes.

Weird there was a failed Yankees prospect that looked just like him…

Phil Hughes was my runaway pick for this, as I always thought he was terrible, so this year was quite the shock for me.  JD Martinez was my #2 for the importance he provided – out of nowhere – for the Tigers.  A couple of MVP candidates followed with Michael Brantley at #3, Jose Abreu at #4, and Jose Altuve at #5.  Brandon McCarthy was #6 because he looked finished before going to the Yanks.  And, finally, I had Cory Kluber at #7.  He was only so low because I am not that surprised he is this good, I am just surprised he is this good this soon.

  1. Phil Hughes (2) – 39 (5)
  2. Cory Kluber (1) – 36 (5)
  3. Jose Altuve (2) – 32 (4)
  4. Nelson Cruz – 27 (3)
  5. Michael Brantley (1) – 26 (3)
  6. JD Martinez – 22 (3)
  7. Steve Pearce – 17 (2)
  8. Jose Abreu – 15 (2)
  9. Albert Pujols (1) – 10 (1)
  10. Brock Holt – 9 (1)
  11. Matt Shoemaker – 9 (1)
  12. Miguel Cabrera – 8 (1)
  13. Chris Carter – 8 (1)
  14. Derek Jeter – 7 (1)
  15. Carlos Carrasco – 6 (1)
  16. Chris Young – 6 (1)
  17. Brandon McCarthy – 5 (1)


In the closest race of all, BJ Upton edges division rival, Dom Brown, for the NL’s biggest disappointment.  It is hard to argue with either, as they were both absolutely dreadful.  The top two were the only two to appear on more than half the ballots, with Upton pacing the field with three 1st-place votes.  Pedro Alvarez edged Jay Bruce for 3rd.  “Beards” got a write-in vote for this category, as Boot feels very disappointed with the abundance of facial hair in the National League these days.  Surprisingly, Ryan Howard was only on one ballot, in 3rd place.  I guess the expectations for him are pretty low these days.  After the top 4, Joey Votto was the only other player to receive a first-place vote.  Interestingly, one of my MVP votes, Andrelton Simmons, received a 3rd-place vote here.  Thoughtful minds really can disagree, though I totally understand the rationale.  Obviously, someone is either a huge Tony Cingrani fan or had him on their fantasy team and felt very let-down.

An all-too-common sight for Braves fans

With a 1-point difference, every ballot with Upton over Brown was the deciding factor, but I definitely played a part here, as I had Upton #1 and Brown #2.  I followed the voters and went Alvarez #3.  I had David Wright #4 because why isn’t this guy a star?  Jonathan Papelbon – for many, many, many reasons – got my 5th-place vote.

  1. BJ Upton (3) – 36 (4)
  2. Dom Brown (1) – 35 (4)
  3. Pedro Alvarez (1) – 27 (3)
  4. Jay Bruce (1) – 26 (3)
  5. Allen Craig – 16 (2)
  6. Curtis Granderson – 14 (2)
  7. David Wright – 14 (2)
  8. Joey Votto (1) – 10 (1)
  9. beards – 9 (1)
  10. Justin Masterson – 9 (1)
  11. Jean Segura – 9 (1)
  12. Ryan Howard – 8 (1)
  13. Andrelton Simmons – 8 (1)
  14. Tony Cingrani – 7 (1)
  15. AJ Burnett – 6 (1)
  16. Shelby Miller – 6 (1)
  17. Jonathan Papelbon – 6 (1)


I guess a guy who hits 50 HRs one year and then has a sub-.200 average the next can be seen as a bit of a disappointment.  Davis and Myers were the the only two to appear on more than half the ballots, though he they received one first-place vote between them.  Clay Bucholz, who was only on two ballots, got two first-place votes.  Justin Verlander was 3rd on this list.  “Beards” were also a problem in the AL, but only for a 3rd-place vote from Boot.  Instead, the “media” received the 2nd-place vote for endlessly covering the swan song of Derek Jeter, but COMPLETELY ignoring the final year of Paul Konerko’s career (which, by the way, is a FANTASTIC point – Konerko might be the most underappreciated player of our generation).  Justin Masterson – impressively – showed up on the disappointment lists in both leagues.

Are we now expecting our stars to hit at least .200 EVERY year? Seems a bit unreasonable

I was the only one to vote for Evan Longoria, but I had him #1.  What a mediocre year for a guy who should be anything but mediocre.  Verlander was 2nd for me, followed by Xander Boegarts, Wil Myers, and Justin Masterson (who I thought was more disappointing for Cleveland than St. Louis) was 5th.

  1. Chris Davis (1) – 32 (4)
  2. Wil Myers – 30 (4)
  3. Justin Verlander (1) – 28 (3)
  4. Clay Bucholz (2) – 20 (2)
  5. Brian McCann (1) – 19 (2)
  6. Xander Boegarts – 17 (2)
  7. Prince Fielder (1) – 16 (2)
  8. Jim Johnson – 15 (2)
  9. CC Sabathia – 14 (2)
  10. Evan Longoria (1) – 10 (1)
  11. Josh Hamilton – 9 (1)
  12. the media – 9 (1)
  13. beards – 8 (1)
  14. Joe Nathan – 8 (1)
  15. Sin-Soo Choo – 7 (1)
  16. Jason Kipnis – 7 (1)
  17. Justin Masterson – 6 (1)
  18. Mark Teixeira – 6 (1)

NL BIGGEST SURPRISE (team):  Miami Marlins

The Marlins were supposed to be dreadful.  They weren’t.  That was surprising.  They have a stable of young fireballers, so they might be a real handful in the NL East for years to come.  Those pesky Pirates finished right behind the Marlins, followed by the Brewers – all of whom were on 4 ballots.  No other team even cracked more than one ballot.  Apparently, one of our voters is still stuck in 2012, as the Astros received a vote here in the NL. The Giants got a 15th-place “not surprised at all vote” because “they are always good every other year.”

Those 800 fans must be pretty excited

Personally, I thought the Brewers were the most surprising team.  They had a really bad last month and a half, but were the NL’s best team for a long stretch with basically no one.  Not sure if I believe in them going forward, but they had a solid 2014, in my opinion.  I put the Pirates 2nd, as I was impressed by their follow-up season after prosperity.  The Marlins were 3rd for me.  Maybe I just had heard of all these arms and wasn’t shocked by their slightly ahead-of-schedule arrival.  Still a scary team, though.

  1. Marlins (3) – 22 (4)
  2. Pirates (1) – 20 (4)
  3. Brewers (2) – 16 (4)
  4. Astros (1) – 5 (1)
  5. Padres (1) – 5 (1)
  6. Giants – 4 (1)
  7. Nationals – 4 (1)
  8. Rockies – 4 (1)
  9. Mets – 3 (1)
  10. Giants – negative 5 (1)

AL BIGGEST SURPRISE (team):  Kansas City Royals

Even before the thrilling playoff run (as these ballots were cast before the playoffs started), the Royals were the runaway choice for this award, appearing on all seven ballots with five first-place votes.  The Orioles were on six ballots and got the other two 1st-place votes as no other team was even close to these two.

Wait, the Royals did what?!?

I was a part of this belief, as I had the Royals at #1 and the O’s at #2.  My 3rd choice was the Mariners because I just found their contention in a really tough division a little more surprising than some of the other teams around the Junior Circuit.

  1. Royals (5) – 33 (7)
  2. Orioles (2) – 23 (6)
  3. Yankees – 8 (2)
  4. Indians – 7 (2)
  5. Angels – 4 (1)
  6. Mariners – 3 (1)
  7. Red Sox – 3 (1)


Picked by many to win the East and most to make the playoffs, the Braves were barely even competitive.  They have a ton of talent, but couldn’t put it together.  It was a bad year in Hotlanta, and I loved it.  They appeared on six of the seven ballots and got two 1st-place votes here.  The Reds actually got three 1st-place votes, but were only on five ballots and finished 2nd.  The Phillies were a distant 3rd (surprisingly, without a single 1st-place vote – kind of shows the lack of expectations for this last-place bunch).  The two other 1st-place votes actually went to my “biggest surprise,” the Brewers, and my pick in this category, the D’backs.

Surprising that the Upton brothers couldn’t pull the team together…

As much as I hate the Braves and love that they won this, I think the absolutely terribleness of the D’backs (a team that some thought might compete) was my biggest disappointment.  I mean, the Braves were at least around .500.  The D’backs were AWFUL.  The Braves got my #2 vote and my Phillies were my #3.

  1. Braves (2) – 26 (6)
  2. Reds (3) – 22 (5)
  3. Phillies – 10 (3)
  4. Brewers (1) – 8 (2)
  5. D’backs (1) – 8 (2)


I guess it’s pretty hard to argue when a team wins the World Series one year and is among the worst teams in all of baseball the next that they are the biggest disappointment.  So, it seems like the BSB voters got this one right.  The Sox were on six of the seven ballots with five 1st-place votes.  The Rangers and A’s got the other two 1st-place votes, while the Rays and Yankees were both on more than half of the ballots.  Interestingly, the Yankees were on four ballots for most disappointing and two ballots for biggest surprise.  There is nothing in between when it comes to people’s opinions of the Bombers.

One-Year Grace Period…right, Beantown?

I actually went Rangers here because they were so bad, so fast, that a very promising season was done by May.  The Red Sox were quite disappointing, for sure, and got my 2nd-place vote, though I strongly considered the Rays (my 3rd-place vote) as even more disappointing, for some reason.  It was a strong field for this award this year.

  1. Red Sox (5) – 29 (6)
  2. Rangers (1) – 19 (5)
  3. Rays – 13 (4)
  4. A’s (1) – 8 (2)
  5. Yankees – 4 (4)
  6. Blue Jays – 4 (1)

MLB BRIGHTEST FUTURE:  Los Angeles Dodgers

This category was defined as the team that will have the most WS titles between 2015 and 2035.  The Dodgers barely edged the terrible 2014 Red Sox.  The terrible 2014 Cubs finished 3rd..  The Cardinals were the only team to get more than one 1st-place vote, as they appeared on two ballots, but were #1 on both of them.  In general, the voting was all over the place here.  This was a very interesting category.  And, despite the polarized feeling about the Yankees, they were only on one ballot and were 4th place on that ballot.

Money can’t buy you…ah, never mind

I was one of the two people to vote for the Cardinals.  They are the best-run franchise in baseball (and maybe all of sports).  They build from within, know when to walk away, but aren’t afraid of paying what it takes to keep/acquire the right player.  They just do it right, and I don’t see why that would change, particularly as they play in a division without a lot of big-spenders or well-run organizations.  I had to go with the Dodgers 2nd just because of the enormous bankroll they seem to have.  The Angels were my 3rd pick because of the money they throw around.  The Giants – the 2nd-best run organization in the sport – got my 4th-place vote.  I did throw in the Red Sox and Cubs at the end of my ballot because they both have a ton of money and ELITE farm systems.

  1. Dodgers (1) – 32 (4)
  2. Red Sox (1) – 31 (4)
  3. Cubs – 27 (4)
  4. Nationals (1) – 25 (3)
  5. Cardinals (2) – 20 (2)
  6. Royals – 17 (2)
  7. Astros (1) – 16 (2)
  8. Angels – 16 (2)
  9. Giants – 14 (2)
  10. Orioles (1) – 10 (1)
  11. Indians – 8 (1)
  12. Twins – 8 (1)
  13. Mariners – 7 (1)
  14. Yankees – 7 (1)
  15. Mets – 6 (1)
  16. White Sox – 6 (1)

MLB BIGGEST REBUILD:  Arizona Diamondbacks

The final category was defined as “the team that will go the longest without its next World Series title.”  This was also a very interesting category.  It drew a lot fewer responses than the brightest future and the top was more closely packed together.  In fact, the D’backs edged the Phillies by a single point, even though the Phightins were the only team with more than one 1st-place vote.  The Twins, White Sox, and Yankees were the only three teams to appear on both lists.

It might be a long, hard climb, Boot

My ballot here started with the Rays.  I think they had their shot and now they will drift back into being the worst franchise in baseball.  They have no money, and they lost their front office braintrust.  It was fun, but it’s over.  The Rockies were my second choice because I do not think they are bright enough to overcome the challenge of building a winner in that cartoon ballpark.  The Padres won’t win because they’re cheap, so they got my 3rd-place vote.  The Brewers are also somewhat cheap and poorly run, so they were 4th for me.  And, the D’backs got my 5th-place vote because I just don’t see their plan.

  1. D’backs (1) – 30 (5)
  2. Phillies (2) – 29 (3)
  3. White Sox – 27 (4)
  4. Padres (1) – 27 (3)
  5. Twins – 23 (3)
  6. Blue Jays – 22 (3)
  7. Brewers – 22 (3)
  8. Yankees (1) – 19 (2)
  9. Rangers (1) – 16 (2)
  10. Rays (1) – 16 (2)
  11. Rockies – 9 (1)

Eagles First Quarter Grades

Well, we are ¼ of the way through the Eagles season with the Birds sitting at 3-1.  Honestly, if you offered me 3-1 through these 4 games, I would have signed for it rather readily.  But, I certainly would not have anticipated the route they have traveled to arrive there.  And, there has to be a part of every Eagles fan that knows that 4-0 was 54 inches away.  All that said, there have been some very good performances so far (and some not so good ones).  So, at the quarterpole, it’s time to give out the First Quarter Grades for each of our guys in green.

Most of the grade is based strictly on my opinion of each player’s performance to date, but there is probably a subconscious “curve” going on here, as I am sure my opinion is at least partially affected by my expectations and what is asked of each player.  For instance, Brad Smith is going to get a higher grade than Riley Cooper, but that does not at all mean that I think Smith should be ahead of Cooper on the depth chart.  I just believe that based on what was expected and what is asked of each player, Smith has delivered more than Cooper.  If their expectations and roles were switched, the grades would be very different.

Anyway, on to the grades…



Nick Foles – C+
The first grade handed out was one of the hardest to give.  What can you say about a guy that has thrown for a ton of yards and leads an offense that has scored the 3rd most points in the league through 4 weeks.  However, he has looked shaky – including a clunker in San Fran.  Now, some of that has to do with the makeshift O-line, so I gave him a bit of a break there, but a completion percentage below 60% is not good and some of the misses have been big misses.  In the end, the guy has still led 3 late comeback wins and was 54 inches from 4-for-4 on Sunday.  We are going to need much better QB play, for sure, but Foles hasn’t been as terrible as our favorite Chicken Littles may want you to believe.

Running Backs

LeSean McCoy – D
The O-line can only go so far as an excuse for flat-out POOR play from the “best RB on the planet.”  To me, he looks hurt.  He was always so good at making the first guy miss, so the bad offensive line shouldn’t be hurting him as much as it would some other backs.  Also, he has really struggled in pass protection, which has always been a real strength of his game.  My big fear:  Shady has always been great about understanding when to get out of bounds and not chance another hit.  But, with his immense frustration right now could cause him to take push for extra yardage and get himself hurt.  For better or worse, the Birds will be riding Shady as far as he can take them, and he must be healthy for any of these high aspirations to see the light of day.

Darren Sproles – A+
For the past 5-6 years, my favorite non-Eagle has been Darren Sproles.  Now, he’s an Eagle, and he has been everything I dreamed he could be.  The only knock against him is that he has disappeared a bit on offense the past two weeks, but I blame the o-line and gameplan for that more than Sproles himself.  And, in San Fran, he showed that you don’t have gameplan him in to get impact, as he took a punt return to the house.  This guy is amazing.

Chris Polk – C-
“The most important ability is availability.”  Or, as Doogan always says, “health is a skill.”  Polk needs to be healthy.  We could use his change of pace going forward.  But, he has been banged up and unready to play.  His grade is only saved by that huge kick return against Washington.  Other than that, I have been very disappointed that he has not put himself in position to contribute more.

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Maclin – A-
After two games, I was very concerned about the wideouts in general.  But, the past two weeks completely eliminated my concern about our #1.  Maclin seems to be getting comfortable on his knee and is poised to potentially become an elite receiver in this league.  He has been making tough catches and shown that he can take the top off of the defense the way DeSean used to do.  He’s currently 5th in the NFL in receiving yards and poor deep throws by his QB has cost him at least 2 or 3 more big plays or he might be #1.

Riley Cooper – F
As good as Maclin has been, Cooper has been worse.  Honestly, there is no one on this roster in whom I have been more disappointed than Mr. Cooper.  And, I am not trying to pile on here or play hyperbole.  He has been dreadful.  There have been two touchdowns – including on in the Niners game that could have completely changed that game – that were flat-out dropped.  He is not getting open, and he is not making plays.  Remind me again why we think he’s good?  He has been a borderline #4 wideout for all but 10 game s in his career – those 10 games just happened to be the last 10 of 2013.  But, shouldn’t we think that that was the fluke and not the entire rest of his career?  I am very concerned about the #2 wideout position right now.

Jordan Matthews – B+
Matthews has been very good in the slot.  He is still making his way as a rookie WR.  This grade is definitely on a curve because I do not think he has made all that much of an impact, but that is more because (a) he hasn’t gotten the chances (I am hoping that will change going forward) and (b) he is a rookie WR.  Rookie WRs rarely produce right away, but Matthews looks like the exception so far.  I am not ready to say he can be a productive outside receiver yet, but with the struggles of Cooper, we may find out sooner than we otherwise should.

Brad Smith – C+
He hasn’t been asked to do much, but he has been okay when in there.  I still like his versatility and think he is a lot more valuable to this team than he may appear on the surface (not to mention his special teams contributions).

Jeff Maehl – D-
I have no idea why he continues to make this roster.  Is there no one out there that would be an upgrade here?  Honestly…

Tight Ends

Zach Ertz – A-
I know he had a rough homecoming in San Fran, but I am not letting that overshadow what he has meant to this offense in their 3 wins.  There is a real chance that Ertz becomes the backbone of the passing attack for years to come.  He is a special player, who is just about to break out.  His pass-catching ability and perfect fit for this offense even allows me to overlook the fact that he is not a very good blocker at this point in his career.  He is improving in that area, though, and is good enough to keep the defense honest.  This guy is a budding superstar.

Brent Celek – B+
A B+ for a guy with 3 catches in 4 games?  Yes.  First of all, Celek has turned himself into an outstanding blocking tight end.  And, regardless of the numbers, he still has to be respected as a pass-catcher by the defense, which makes him invaluable.  He is not just a blocker when in the game – and, like Maclin, his numbers could look a lot better if the QB had connected on a couple of deep balls.  Celek is still an important piece to this offense and, given the o-line struggles, has done all he can this year to lend a hand.

James Casey – D+
The first Chip Kelly free agent signing has been really disappointing for a year and a half now.  I know he made a huge catch to seal the game against Washington, but that is his only catch this year, and he has shown to not be the blocker we thought he was.  The guy we thought we were getting would fit rather nicely in this offense.  Unfortunately, we never got that guy.  I hope you all enjoyed the James Casey Era because it’s just about over in Philly.

Offensive Line

Jason Peters – A-
There are some “experts” who believe that Peters looks like he has taken a step backwards this year.  I am not sure I agree.  Yes, there haven’t been a ton of those plays where you watch and say “how does a guy that big do THAT?!?”  But, I think that is more because end-runs by McCoy and the bubble screens by the WRs haven’t been as prevalent this year.  To be honest, for a guy like Peters, who has always jumped off the screen because of his incredible plays, to be the steady, consistent guiding force of a beat-up, inexperienced offensive line shows a real maturity and progression to his game.  It is hard to fault the one guy in his rightful position that is seemingly holding this o-line together.

Todd Herremans – B
The point about Peters being the steady force guiding this makeshift line is the reason I gave Herremans such a high grade.  He has not exactly been that great this year, but he has been at least adequate at multiple positions with changing guys all around him.  O-lines crave consistency and familiarity, so for Herremans to play different positions with different guys just about every week and still be rather effective is an indication of how much of a pro he is.

Jason Kelce – B
Before he got hurt, Kelce had an A+. I think he had become the best center in the NFL – and BY FAR the best center for this offense.  Unfortunately, he’s on the shelf.  This offense NEEDS its center.

All Other O-Linemen – C-
I was going to go through them individually, but it is just not worth it because of the lack of time and such.  Andrew Gardner has seen the most action of the “second stringers” and has not been terrible.  David Molk was barely serviceable (and that’s actually generous) as Kelce’s replacement in San Fran.  Dennis Kelly has been okay, but has clearly shown why he is a 6th lineman in this league.  Allen Barbre barely saw the field before being placed on IR.  Same for Evan Mathis, though he’s due back (thank god – because he’s irreplaceable).  And, then there’s Matt Tobin.  The coaching staff loves this guy, and he has all the tools to really make an impact in this offense.  But, he was absolutely DREADFUL in San Fran on Sunday.  Just awful.  It looks like he is going to get another chance even with Lane Johnson coming back, but he can’t give the same performance this week or he might not ever get a third chance.



Fletcher Cox – A-
I have been driving the Fletcher Cox bandwagon since he was drafted and have finally been vindicated this year.  Cox has been sensational.  The only reason the grade isn’t higher is because I want to see more sacks on the stat sheet.  But, he has brought some pressure and, more importantly, has been incredible against the run.  He is playing at a borderline All-Pro level and is going to be a stalwart on this defense for years to come.

Cedric Thornton – A
The higher grade does not mean he has outplayed Cox – it’s just been that, compared to expectations, the undrafted free agent, Thornton, may be the most underrated player on this Eagles roster.  Week in and week out, he just puts out stellar performances – taking on blockers, setting an edge, and creating havoc in the middle of the o-lines.  This defense is still built around strength up front, which makes Thornton one of the most important players in green every single week.

Bennie Logan – B
I am going more with what I read and hear than what I see on Logan.  People that know more than me seem to think he has been playing outstanding football in the middle.  Personally, I haven’t seen a lot that has jumped out at me.  But, having only closely watched a 3-4 defense for 21 games now, I fully admit that I might not fully understand the nuances of nose tackle.  Either way, there is no doubt that Logan has filled a very important need in this defense, as he appears to be a certifiable NFL nose – and those are hard to come by.

Vinny Curry – D+
This might be unfair because I am tired of the hype around a guy that is clearly lost against the run.  I was always able to put up with the lack of run stopping ability when he was getting to the QB, but he hasn’t really been doing that either this year.  I love the hometown kid, who grew up dreaming of playing for the Eagles, but I won’t be heartbroken when he’s let go this offseason.  (That said, it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he is the next Derek Burgess and has 17 sacks in Oakland next year or something like that).

Beau Allen – C-
He doesn’t seem to cause much havoc when he’s in there – and it’s hard to miss him with that ridiculous hair.

Brandon Bair – C+
I would be lying if I said that I have noticed all that much of Bair either way.  He seems to be decent on special teams, despite not being the type of guy who plays much “teams.”


DeMeco Ryans – A
It is not necessarily the overall playmaking of Ryans that got him an A in the first quarter.  It is the fact that he is the undisputed leader of this defense and, at 30 years old, has played every single snap (at a grueling position) for a team that leads the league in defensive snaps.  And, this will be the second straight year that he leads the league in snaps played on defense.  If you value “steady’ (which I value VERY HIGHLY), then you love DeMeco Ryans.

Connor Barwin – A-
Am I too high on a defense that has stuggled at times this year?  Just wait…  Anyway, Connor Barwin has been outstanding all year.  I wish he would start putting sacks up on the board, but he is so good at deflecting passes and sniffing out play calls, that it is hard to hold that against him right now.  This has been a very underrated signing for this team, as Barwin comes to play every week – no bells, no whistles – just hard-nosed linebacking.  I love that.

Trent Cole – C-
I hate to pour dirt on one of the best Eagles in a generation, but we need to be honest here.  If Cole isn’t putting up monster sack numbers at OLB, then he is probably really hurting your defense.  He will always be a liability in coverage (through no real fault of his own, considering he lived on this Earth for 30 years without EVER being asked to cover anyone), but so are Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware.  Well, Trent Cole is not causing nearly enough pressure to make up for his lack of coverage skills.  They are stuck with him now because Marcus Smith clearly isn’t ready and Brandon Graham is just a younger, not as good version of Cole (more on these two in a minute), but one of my favorite all-time Eagles is a real liability for the 2014 team.  Shh – let’s keep that rather quiet, though, out of respect for an all-time great.

Brandon Graham – B-
I don’t think Graham will ever be an upgrade to Cole, but at least, when given the chance, he is getting to the QB.  There is no doubt the guy is a bust for where they took him, but at this point in his career, I think he is valuable, and I am glad that no one panicked and cut him loose this offseason.  We will see if he earned himself another contract (probably not), but for now, I am glad to have him.

Mychal Kendricks – A-
This would have been an A+ if he were healthy.  But, he is not.  That said, if Kendricks can at all replicate the first 2.5 games he was out there in the final 12, this defense might actually be one day considered rather good.  It is nice to see a young LB turning in to a star right before our eyes, though.  Get back on the field, Mychal.

Emmanuel Acho – C
I wish he didn’t have to play at all…ever.  But, he hasn’t been terrible.  The Najeh Goode injury looks really big now, as Goode would have been a nice fill-in for Kendricks.  Acho has shown something on special teams, as well, so he has been okay.  It is just a shame that it is such a huge step down from Kendricks to the Acho/Matthews combination.

Casey Matthews – D-
He stinks.  I just hope that this Casey Matthews Experiment ends this year.  Please…

Marcus Smith – D+
He hasn’t gotten a chance to play, but that doesn’t mean that that isn’t his fault.  And, just because the team reached for him as a first-round pick doesn’t excuse the fact that he can’t get on the field.  Someone else would have taken him in the 1st or early 2nd.  I know that he is a bit of a project, and we should wait to fully evaluate the Smith selection, but it is really tough to swallow when your 1st-round pick can’t get on the field (I can’t tell you my reaction every time I see Darqueze Denard make another play for Cincinnati).  All in all, though, I like the fact that he was able to move to ILB in one week and not look totally lost – a little anxious, maybe, but not lost.  Oh well, I guess we should just look at Jordan Matthews as the #1 and Smith as a work-in-process #2.


Cary Williams – C-
I have always been a Williams defender.  I actually like his attitude.  I think the “F you” attitude is needed in today’s NFL – particularly at CB.  However, when the “F you” is turned inside (more specifically, at the coach) then you’ve lost me.  But, beside the stupid comment about practice tiring him out (even though he missed that whole week of practice), Williams has not been very good on the field.  In his defense, he is not really a #1 corner.  In NOT his defense, he is paid like one.  I may have actually been kind with this grade.

Bradley Fletcher – D
This season has been a nightmare for Fletcher in coverage.  I considered a flat-out F, but I do like his tackling ability.  And, after years of Asante Samuel and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, I do have a soft spot for corners that are willing to tackle.  Unfortunately, he is paid to cover receivers, and he just can’t do that right now.

Brandon Boykin – B+
I am not jumping on this “Boykin needs to play outside right now” bandwagon.  BUT…I am DEFINITELY on the “Boykin needs to play more snaps” bandwagon.  I don’t care how you get him in the game, but this guy needs to be on the field.  I am not sure he’s a superstar in the making, but I am sure that he has done just about everything he can in his limited action.

Nolan Carroll III – C+
Carroll hasn’t seen much of the field, either, but I kind of put some of that blame on him.  The coaching staff has never said that Carroll isn’t an outside CB, so if they saw anything in practice, they might replace Fletcher on the outside.  So, while the limited action I have seen has been positive with Carroll, I have to believe that he has been less than impressive in practice or he would be on the outside.  Or…maybe that change is coming.


Malcolm Jenkins – A
Hard to say anything negative about Malcolm Jenkins.  He has been everything we could have hoped for.  He has come up with timely interceptions (including that return TD for an offense that probably wouldn’t have scored there based on how they were moving the ball).  He has done exactly what they said he would do when they signed him – bring versatility.  He can cover man-to-man, play the single high, or come into the box in run defense.  In fact, that last point is the one that has been most impressive to me.  I didn’t realize he was such a sound tackler.  Jenkins has been terrific.

Nate Allen – D+
I have held out on saying this because I still thought there was hope for Nate Allen.  But, you know what?  I am officially DONE with Allen.  He blows coverages (and not just the obvious one against D-Jax) and gets manhandled at the line of scrimmage.  And, for a free safety, he takes the worst angles I have ever seen.  It is like he thinks he like 10% faster than he actually is…and, bad angles is not exactly a good trait for the last line of defense.  I’m ready to move on.

Earl Wolff – C
I like Wolff.  I know that he is a bit undisciplined, but he hits people, and he is really aggressive going for the ball in the air.  I don’t think he’s ready to replace Allen midseason, but if I were planning the personnel, I would be looking for Wolff to be the starting FS in 2015.


Bryan Braman/Chris Maragos – A+
The biggest improvement for the Eagles from Chip Kelly, Year 1 to Chip Kelly, Year 2 has been – without a doubt – the kick coverage teams.  A lot has to do with the kicker and punter (more on that below), but I think the complete overhaul, which was led by the free agent signings of Braman and Maragos – among others.

Cody Parkey – A
I could have knocked him for the short miss in the Indy game, but he came back and made the game-winner.  And, while the two 51-yarders are nice, the reason I gave Parkey an A is because the Eagles touchback percentage has gone from 40% in 2013 to 60% in 2014.  That 60% is 15th in the league, but doesn’t take into account the fact that 3 of the 4 games were at the Linc or San Fran – two difficult places to kick for distance.  Parkey is booming the ball – and that is a welcome change.

Donnie Jones – B+
This might be a little unfair because he has been really good again this year (particularly in hangtime and placement).  I guess I just downgraded him a bit because he hasn’t been quite as incredible as he was last year (when he was sensational).  Still it is such a luxury to have such a steady, solid, smart punter.

8 Biggest Takeaways of the Birds 2-0 Start

So, here we are through two rather interesting games of the Eagles season, and the Birds sit at 2-0, including a shaky home win against a really bad team and an impressive road win over a pretty good team.  It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there, but let’s take a look at what we have seen so far in these 120 minutes of game action.  Here are my biggest takeaways through the first two games:

1). Nick Foles looks shaky
I know, it is strange for the #1 takeaway for a 2-0 team to be a negative one.  It is even stranger for that negative to be about the QB who is 2nd in the league in passing yards and is in charge of the league’s highest scoring offense.  I have come around and am officially a “Foles guy” now, but we have to be honest – he looks a bit shaky.  The first half against Jacksonville was abysmal, and the first half against Indy wasn’t all that much better.  He has missed open receivers and has misthrown several short passes and bubble screens.  While he did rally both times and showed some real resiliency, he does not seem to have the same poise and accuracy that he had last year.  But, let’s remember, it’s early.  They’re 2-0.  And, they lead the league in points scored, so we will take 19 of those “shaky” games if they turn out the same result.  I am actually encouraged by the fact that both Foles and McCoy have been relatively quiet and they have 64 points and 2 wins in two games.

2). The two guys picked ahead of Foles look FANTASTIC
Foles – the 3rd-round pick – may be the most nationally well-known Eagle drafted in the 2012 draft, but the two guys the Eagles drafted before their franchise QB have are on the brink of legit stardom – and they are both on the other side of the ball.  Mychal Kendricks has shown flashes of brilliance in each of his first two seasons in the NFL, but he was annoyingly (at least to me) inconsistent.  This year, he looks like a total stud across the board.  Now, we don’t really know the extent of the calf injury he suffered Monday night, but before he left, he had put in 7 incredible quarters of football in 2014 – making plays all over the field.  He can cover tight ends and even some slot receivers when needed, but he can also get to the QB and is a killer against the run.  Now, I haven’t been as high on him as most in his first 2 years, but right now, he looks like the centerpiece of a potentially outstanding defense for the next decade.

The other budding superstar is a guy that I have actually been higher on than most since being drafted #11 overall in 2012 – Fletcher Cox.  I know that he didn’t exactly “pop” in either of his first two years, but it is happening now right before our eyes.  He still leaves a little to be desired in his ability to get to the QB (which is always going to make the casual observer mark him down a peg), but his ability to set the edge in the run game and pursue ballcarries (or scrambling QBs) is incredible.  And, I think that his lack of consistent QB pressure has more to do with the fact that he is still learning the ins and outs of the 3-4 (he is much more natural in the 4-3).  This year, however, he is starting to eat up multiple blockers in the pass game, which will, hopefully, lead to more QB pressure across the defense.  Either way, Fletcher Cox is becoming a real star in this league and, along with Kendricks, the ridiculously underrated Connor Barwin and the ever-steady Demeco Ryans, could be the centerpiece of a defense that has actually looked very, very good through two games.

3).They do miss D-Jax…schematically…but are a significantly better football team without him
This is no real surprise, as he is a dynamic playmaker who makes a lot of things happen even when he doesn’t get the ball.   All his big plays aside, maybe the true value of DeSean Jackson on the field was the impact he had on everyone else in the passing game.  Countless D-coordinators have said, flat-out, that they used to completely tailor their defensive gameplans around containing DeSean.  Safeties would always have to cheat his way, and the #1 corners that “travelled” would always find their way to his side.  Without him out there, the safeties are more free to roam in pass coverage and help in the run game.

HOWEVER…while Chip & Co. are too classy to come out and say it, I think that the team is much better because he is gone.  If you ever get a chance to hear guys like Adam Caplan talk about it (and, very few know more about the inner workings of the Eagles than Caplan), the real problem with Jackson came down to attitude.  Now, that seems like an obvious comment, but Caplan puts a different spin on it and provides stark examples.  Caplan talks about how Chip Kelly had decided midway through last season that they were going to move on without Jackson because he was holding back a lot of what they wanted to do around there.  It wasn’t the gang ties; it wasn’t the cursing out of the coaching staff; it wasn’t even his stark refusal to buy-in to the smoothies and sleep monitors.  It was simple – the thing that Kelly’s offense gets the most press for is its tempo.  And, Jackson was slowing them down.  That tempo doesn’t just come from “hurrying up” on Sunday afternoon when you have the ball.  That tempo comes from intricate practice schemes, where the players practice over and over getting tackled, jumping up, throwing the ball to the ref, and running back to the line.  Jackson never wanted to do that – particularly in practice.  Kelly believes (according to Caplan) that Jackson’s refusal to take this uptempo style at practices (and oftentimes games) seriously enough slowed the whole team down.  So, he cut him.  And, the tempo is soaring through two games and is possibly the reason that this team is the only team in NFL history to be 2-0 after trailing both games by 14+ points in the second half.

4). Practice matters
With today’s CBA, practice times have been slashed.  Coaches have less ability to mold their players the way they want.  But, the Eagles and Genius Kelly have found a way to combat this.  While practice “time” is regulated, there is no restriction, obviously, on practice “reps.”  And, by all accounts, Chip Kelly’s practices are the most efficient practices this sport has ever seen.  Dick Vermeil estimated that Kelly gets 3x as many reps in any given 2-hour practice than Vermeil’s teams ever did.  And, what does this do?  Well, for one, it allows Chip’s teams to get more work on their gameplans than anyone else in the league, but, secondly – and maybe more telling so far – is that it makes the Eagles the most well-conditioned team in the league.  You look around the league in these two weeks, and you will see an avalanche of games that turned drastically in the second halves.  Both Eagles wins, the Bears on Sunday night, the Patriots loss in Week One, the Browns nearly winning two games after bad first halves, etc., etc., etc.  Early in the season, conditioning matters at the end of games, particularly in the heat.  Late in the season, it matters in keeping guys healthy (the Eagles were the healthiest team in the league in Chip’s first year).  This stuff matters – and that is why this coach makes more of a difference on his team than any coach I have ever followed closely.

5). These WRs are not very good
I know we are only two games into his shiny new contract, but Riley Cooper looks like he is straight stealing $25 million out there.  He is not getting open and not making plays.  He looks like the lost, mediocre receiver that he was his entire career other than the second half of 2013.  Why do we think that he “figured something out” again?

Jeremy Maclin looks a little better, but he does not look anything close to a #1 receiver right now – nor does it look like he ever will be, to be honest.  He has good speed, but nothing game-changing, and he has a willingness to go get the tough catch, but I am not sure he has the ability.  I said it all offseason, they should have given Houston a 2nd-rounder for Andre Johnson – and, I really value high draft picks and do not value WRs on the wrong side of 30 – I just think that was the last piece of this offensive puzzle.  But, again, this is the top-scoring team in the NFL, so who’s complaining.

6). That “silent killer” is gone this year
People talk about return and coverage production as “hidden yardage.”  Well, does anyone notice how much better the special teams’ coverage is this year than last?  The front office made significant free agent investments in Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos as well as personnel decisions seemingly driven completely by coverage ability.  And, through two games, it seems to have paid off.  And, by “paid off” I mean that I have not noticed the coverage teams…at all.  Coverage teams are like referees or offensive linemen – typically, the more you notice them, the worse they are.  Just think back to last year and just how hair-pullingly frustrating the coverage teams (and lack of touchbacks, by the way) were.  You don’t have that same feeling this year, do you?  Ya, me neither…and, I like it.

7). How can we go this far without mentioning…?
Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz!  No, seriously, how amazingly do these two fit into this offense?  The personnel matchups are so hard to defend.  Such versatility combined with brilliant play design means that, short of playing nickel or dime packages, it is almost impossible to avoid having LBs covering either Ertz or Sproles or both – and that is the perfect recipe for big play after big play.  And, the more that Ertz and Sproles dominate games this way, the more teams will have to go into sub-packages meaning LeSean McCoy may be running into nickel and dime packages…yes, please.  This offesnse is just going to get harder and harder to defend as it goes.

8). And, the heartbeat of this offense continues
All of these great matchups and brilliant play design is great and all, but this offense (and most offenses) begins and ends up front.  Jason Peters continues to be one of the best tackles of this generation, and certainly the best left tackle in football right now.  Now, I am no expert on O-line play, but I believe you would be hard-pressed to find a center better in the league than Jason Kelce.  And, there are a lot of people who believe that Evan Mathis is the best guard in the league.  That means that when (if) Mathis comes back, 3/5 of this line will be the best in the league at their position.  Throw in the solid veteran of Herremans and an athletic Top-4 pick in Lane Johnson (who will be back Week 5), and you have an ELITE offensive line – probably the best in the game – which is enabling all of that magic to happen around them.  And, I can’t wait for the next act…