An Overly Analytical Look at the Eagles Schedule

 ORIGINAL ANALYSIS:  11.0 wins
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?”

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!

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…

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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.

DEFENSE

D-Linemen

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.”

Linebackers

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.

Cornerbacks

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.

Safeties

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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…

BSB’s 2014 NFL Preview

For those of you unfamiliar with the preview, instead of the typical, been-done-again-and-again season previews, we like to make a game out of our previews, along with being informative. What we do is kind of a draft process, where we try and decide whether we think a team will get better or worse from last year’s record. Then, at the end of the year, we see who did a better job of predicting. It’s interesting to see just how different the seasons of some teams turn out, in retrospect. Check out our past previews to see what I’m talking about. Doogan took our first one in 2008, 17-15, but Bry responded with a come-from-behind 17-15 win in the 2009 version. In 2010, Doogan won by the familiar 17-15 score and followed that up in 2011, with a dominating 19-13 victory to become the first back-to-back winner of the NFL preview. Having not won since 2009, Bry came back with a vengeance in 2012, winning 21-11.  However, Doogan took the title right back in 2013 with a pretty easy 18-14 win (post reposted just below this one updated with last year’s results).  This is now the seventh NFL preview we’ve done (which is HARD to believe) with Doogan holding a 4-2 all-time lead.  Bry needs this one and, fortunately for him, will get the #1 pick to try and do it.

1). BRY – Houston Texans – OVER 2 wins: It seems general practice in these things that the #1 pick is almost always the Over on one of the worst teams in the NFL the previous year.  I will not buck that trend, as there seems no way that the Texans can’t pick up 3 freaking wins.  I mean they have 5 games on their schedule that are against either the Jags, the Titans, or the Raiders.  Even if they go 2-3 in those 5, they only need to find one more win in the other 11 games.  With the addition of JaDaveon Clowney and the subtraction of Matt Schaub, this team HAS to be better than 2-14.

2). DOOGAN – Washington Redskins – OVER 3 wins: I’ll stay right there with you on a the bottom-feeders.  The defense looks like it will suck again, but there’s definitely reason to think the offense will be improved.  Our old friend D-Jax is a massive upgrade over the receivers they had opposite Pierre Garcon last year.  It’s a nice collection of weapons on offense, and a new coaching regime should be able to improve on what they produced last year.  I know there’s some hand-wringing going on over RGIII but he’ll probably be fine.

3). DOOGAN – Atlanta Falcons- OVER 4 wins: I don’t think I’m as bullish on the Falcons as many (I don’t think they’re a playoff team), but there’s no reason to think they aren’t better than a 4-win team.  They had injuries all over their offense last season, and with Julio Jones and Roddy White healthy, and with some new additions to the O-Line, they should be back to where they were in 2012, which means about 70 more points scored over the course of the season.  But the underrated story was the decline of their defense last year.  They’ve made some veteran additions there, but I’m not sure they’re good enough to turn it around.  They’ll hover around .500.

4). BRY – Carolina Panthers – UNDER 12 wins: Well, you took my next two picks.  Is it a bad sign that I already think this is getting tough?  I’m usually bullish on the Panthers, but not this year.  Their receiving corps is dreadful, unless you think the rookie Kelvin Benjamin can have a big year (and, if you know anything about rookie WRs, you don’t think that).  And, Cam is starting the season banged up.  Throw in the fact that every other team in this division looks markedly improved and you’ve got too much against this team for a really good defense to carry them anywhere near 12 wins again this year.  I think they’ll be lucky to hit 9 or 10, but more likely in the 7 or 8 area.

5).  DOOGAN – Kansas City Chiefs – UNDER 11 wins: There were five that stood out to me as “easy” calls, this being the 5th.  We’ll see how many actually turn out to be that easy.  This is a situation where the Chiefs were obviously not as good as the 11 wins indicates.  Not only did they finish the regular season 2-5 after the 9-0 start, but of all those 11 wins they beat exactly one playoff team (the Eagles way back in Week 3).  They won’t get the favors from the schedule this year, especially matching up with the NFC West.  That’s bad news for the offense, who lost a couple offensive line starters and versatile playmaker Dexter McCluster and replaced them with…basically nothing.  A strong (if maybe overrated) defense and a very pedestrian offense against a tough schedule.  They’ll be under .500.

6). BRY – Green Bay Packers – OVER 8 wins: There are few organizations in sports (and maybe none in the NFL) as well-run as the Green Bay Packers.  They have the history coupled with constant relevance.  They have a rabid fanbase that is pure, loyal, and local.  And, most importantly, they have – in my opinion – the single best football player on the planet.  They missed that player for 9 games last year and still won the division.  I’m not sold on the Lions or Bears and the Vikings are most likely not going to play a role in the division race, so I don’t see much chance that this division is not won by the guys from Green Bay.  Put me down for 10 or 11 wins, a division title, and quite possibly a surprise trip to the Super Bowl.

7). DOOGAN – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OVER 4 wins: Felt a lot better about this one when I remembered the massive upgrade they made at head coach, going from Greg Schiano to Lovie Smith.  Smith is a proven defensive coach, so I’m not too worried about the loss of Darrelle Revis.  On offense, Josh McCown takes over at QB after playing really well in place of Jay Cutler in Chicago last year.  Granted, McCown won’t have the weapons he had with the Bears, but the cupboard isn’t bare with Vincent Jackson and 1st-Round pick Mike Evans in the receiving corps.  They also made some solid improvements on the O-line with two free agent additions and the big trade yesterday that netted them All-Pro guard Logan Mankins from New England.  They can definitely get to 8 wins.

8). BRY – Cleveland Browns – OVER 4 wins: I think this is the third straight year that I have taken the Browns and the Over.  And, this will probably be the third straight year that I get it wrong.  You know how hard it is to get worse in the NFL 3 straight years?  Well, this year I’m taking them not because of Johnny f’ing Football (that guy sucks), but because I think they might have a Top 5 defense.  Yes, top 5.  They did lose the underrated D’Qwell Jackson, but that might be a bigger deal for the Jackson Greys than the Cleveland Browns.  Joe Haden is an ELITE corner.  Justin Gilbert – their first-round pick – could walk right in and be adequate on the other side.  Barkavious Mingo is in his second year and a possible stud in the making.  And, they added some attitude with Donte Hitner (formerly Whitner, but officially changed his legal name because he “hits” so hard).  And, I think with what they lack in offensive weapons, they can negate some of that with their elite offensive line, including Joe Thomas – maybe the best O-lineman in football.  I’ll be realistic and only ask for 6 wins, but that’s more than 4.

9). DOOGAN – San Francisco 49ers – UNDER 12 wins: Not my usual move to go Under this early on a really good team, but I see red flags all over the place with this team.  First, the more concrete problems.  Three of their four starters in the secondary have left in free agency and the replacements are a mix of unproven and past their prime (Antoine Bethea).  At linebacker, Aldon Smith is a disaster off the field and we’ll see if he even plays the 11 games he did last year.  All-Pro freak Navorro Bowman (PSU alum, I must add) is out for at least half the year and will not be 100% when he does come back after blowing out his knee.  So, all of a sudden, this great defense has some real concerns.  I don’t like the Kaepernick off-the-field distractions.  Not good from your quarterback.  And, finally, there’s been so many rumors about Harbaugh wanting out and trying to get to a new team.  Who knows, but where there’s smoke there’s fire and it’s a distraction and also maybe says something about how Harbaugh views this team moving forward.  OK, that’s my long-winded way of saying the Niners are dropping from 12 wins to 10 this year.

10). BRY – Cincinnati Bengals – UNDER 11 wins: Doogan, I think you’ve literally taken my next pick every single time.  But, anyway, let’s continue my recent trend of duplicating wrong picks I made last year.  I took the Bengals Under-10 last year, and they won 11.  So, I’m doubling-down here this year.  They might still win this division (though, I would definitely take the field), but I think that Mike Zimmer made more of a difference than people may realize on the defensive side.  I think that they take a slight step back defensively and nothing forward offensively.  Plus, 11 is a pretty big number in a relatively tough division.  10, tops, for this Bengals team.

11). DOOGAN – Denver Broncos – UNDER 13 wins: I don’t feel great about this at all, and they burned me last year, but I’ll go for it again.  Peyton threw a ridiculous 55 touchdowns last year.  Can the offense keep up that sort of production?  Every historical precedent says no.  Peyton’s a year older, Eric Decker is gone, Welker already has another concussion this year, there are legit questions with the running backs.  I know, Manning is not like other mere mortals and even at 38 he can probably take guys like Emmanuel Sanders and Monte Ball and make them stars.  But the schedule will get tougher this year as they matchup with the NFC West.  Logic says they’ll step back to 11-5.

12). BRY – Arizona Cardinals – UNDER 10 wins: I really don’t know what to think about the Cardinals.  Their defense seems terrific, but they lost Daryl Washington for the season due to a drug suspension, and I think they may have overachieved a little bit last year.  But, even if they’re the ’85 Bears or ’91 Eagles, they play in the best division in football with Carson Palmer at QB.  10 seems like an awfully big number to me.

13). DOOGAN – Detroit Lions – OVER 7 wins: They have a basically league-average defense in Detroit with just about all the same guys back from last year.  A great front led by Suh and Ziggy Ansah, with some shaky secondary play.  On offense, you think of them as really good but they somehow ranked just 13th in the league in points last year.  Put those things together and 7 wins makes sense.  I’ll bet on the offense improving.  I’m not totally sold on Stafford and maybe he’s the problem, but they have the best receiver in the league, two nice running backs, and they’ve added solid Golden Tate opposite Megatron and 10th overall pick Eric Ebron at tight end.  They look more like a 9-10 win team.

14). BRY – Seattle Seahawks – UNDER 13 wins: The defending Super Bowl champs look fantastic in the preseason and are the odds-on favorites to win again this year.  And, I think that if you gave me the same odds on every team to win the Super Bowl, I would probably take Seattle.  But, winning the Super Bowl and winning 13 regular season games are two very different things.  13 is just a huge number.  And, the past decade or so hasn’t been too kind to teams coming off Super Bowl appearances.  I think they still win the NFC West rather handily and probably even homefield advantage.  But, I think there’s a better chance of 12-4 or worse than another 13-3 season.

15). DOOGAN – Indianapolis Colts – UNDER 11 wins: The Colts have two big things going for them:  Andrew Luck and playing in a really weak division.  But what else do they really have?  They made no significant improvements to their roster in the offseason, apparently operating under the assumption that their young core will just get better and they already won 11 games, so why worry?  That’s just not really how it works in the NFL.  Especially when you have Reggie Wayne trying to come back from a blown knee at age 35 and Robert Mathis coming off a monster season, but one in which he was suspended late for performance-enhancing drugs.  Throw in the fact that Houston figures to be much better as a divisonal foe, and it’s easy to see these guys dropping to 9-7.

16). BRY – Minnesota Vikings – OVER 5 wins: I don’t think the Vikes are all that good, and I don’t think they’re a playoff team.  But, I do think that they have a relatively workable schedule, one of the best players of our generation, and a pretty low bar of 5 wins.  Plus, we don’t know how much this new outdoors Minneapolis homefield is going to treat them in November and December.  The Vikes won’t be all that relevant, but I think 5 wins is probably the low-end of their possibilities.  Put me down for a 6-10 or 7-9 Vikings team.

17). DOOGAN – New York Jets – UNDER 8 wins: There’s some talk around the Jets this season that goes something like:  Hey, Geno Smith looked good in the preseason.  And he has Chris Johnson and Eric Decker as new weapons to use.  And the defense is always good.  So…they should be pretty good, right?  Admittedly, not a ton of people are buying into that talk, and I’m not one of them.  I’ll believe it when I see it with this offense, and the defense was actually NOT all that good last year (19th in points allowed), and they’ve made no improvements to that side of the ball.  I’ve never been a big Rex Ryan believer, and I think this is his final go-round at the Meadowlands.

18). BRY – Pittsburgh Steelers – OVER 8 wins: If you’ve focused predominantly on the Eagles this preseason, then (a) I don’t blame you, they look great and (b) you might have a warped sense of who the Steelers are this year.  They looked really bad in the all-important 3rd preseason game against the Eagles.  So bad, in fact, that they kept their first teams out there well into the second half against all the Eagles #2s – and still couldn’t get anything done.  But, I think that that game was an anomaly, and I actually might declare the Steelers as my pick to win what should be a pretty intense 3-team race in the AFC North.  I think Roethlisberger is an underappreciated star (and world-class human being, obviously), and the team looked really good down the stretch last year.  They lost Emmanuel Sanders to Denver, but he wasn’t that important.  And, the under-the-radar aspect of their 8-8 2013 season is that they had NO running game.  But, this year Laveon Bell could make the leap, and they added a nice complement in LaGarrette Blount (all blunt jokes aside).  And, maybe the biggest upgrade should be on a defense that started to look old last year, but added some key pieces, including first-round pick, Ryan Shazier, who, by all accounts looks like a star from the jump.  And, they have the best d-coordinator to ever live still running that side of the ball.  I think they win the division, which means at least 9 wins.

19).  DOOGAN – Dallas Cowboys – UNDER 8 wins: Can Dallas go 8-8 for the fourth straight year?  Fortunately, I don’t think so.  I can’t deny that they have a decent enough offense, even if Romo is the biggest choke artist in sports at the moment.  But this defense might be worst in football, and that’s just not gonna get you a winning record.  I used to really hate Jerry Jones, but I’ve come around on him.  In fact, I hope he keeps owning (and making football decisions for) the Cowboys for a long, long time.

20). BRY – Jacksonville Jaguars – OVER 4 wins: This is not a good team…at all.  But, 5 wins are not that many in a league of parity.  And, they looked pretty solid at the end of the year last season – when they actually had legitimate NFL quarterback play.  This year they will start with the serviceable Chad Henne and probably enter the incredibly promising rookie, Blake Bortles (who has been excellent in the preseason).  I also think that – gasp – Toby Gerhart might actually be an upgrade to the aging MJD.  The defense is still a work in progress, but coming along – particularly on the defensive line, where they have a stable of excellent “big uglies” to rotate in.  Put me down for 6 wins down in Jacksonville this year.  Fortunately, one of them will NOT be Week One.

21).  DOOGAN – New England Patriots – UNDER 12 wins: Damn you, Bry.  I really tried not to end up betting against the Pats.  I looked hard at every other team still on the board here, but I just couldn’t leave this big number out there anymore.  You waited me out on this one.  It’s Belichick.  It’s Brady.  There’s no reason to think they can’t win 12 games.  But most of the numbers left on the board are just so hard to call one way or the other.

22). BRY – St. Louis Rams – UNDER 7 wins: Yep, I waited just long enough (I had them next up, too).  Instead, I’ll bet on double-digit losses from the worst team in a division before they lost their starting QB for the season.  Granted, Sam Bradford isn’t exactly an extreme difference-maker, but he is better than Shaun Hill, and the margin for error for this Rams team isn’t much in this division.  Their defense is terrific, but I still see 6-10 for this team.

23).  DOOGAN – Baltimore Ravens – OVER 8 wins: This division is very hard to predict, and it won’t be at all surprising if only one team ends up above .500.  If we’re just looking at franchise pedigree, it’s fair to bet against the Bengals being that team for the second straight year.  That leaves us with the Ravens and Steelers.  Bry has already hitched his wagon in this division with the Steel.  I’ll go with the Ravens to recover (somewhat) from their Super Bowl hangover of a year ago and scrap their way back atop the AFC North.

24). BRY – Chicago Bears – OVER 8 wins: I already have the Overs on the Packers and Vikings, and Doogan has the Over on the Lions, so I guess it’s fair to say that we think the NFC North will be vastly improved.  I do not like this defense all that much, as the worst defense in Bears history lost Julius Peppers.  But, the offense could be sensational.  The weapons around a healthy Jay Cutler are tremendous with top-5 RB Matt Forte and two elite wideouts in Marshall and Jeffrey.  Throw in a solid (but lazy) TE in Martellus Bennett and a lottery card in Santonio Holmes, and I think this offense could be one of the best in football.  Does that mean a division title or a dozen wins?  Probably not.  But, I could see 9+ as more likely than .500 or below.

25). DOOGAN – Miami Dolphins – OVER 8 wins: Part of my plan for this pick (and my Pats Under pick) is to have the Dolphins knock off the Pats at home this Sunday.  There’s obviously an opening for somebody to be the second-best team in this division, and while there’s obviously no guarantee that that second place team will have a winning record, I’ll say Miami pulls it off.  A pretty decent defense combined with a young quarterback who now has two full years of starting experience, minus the circus sideshow of whatever happened with that Martin/Incognito thing last year.  A lot of easy wins on the slate (Bills and Jets twice, Raiders, Jags, Vikings).  9-7 season for the Fins.

26). BRY – Oakland Raiders – OVER 4 wins: This is probably the worst team in football, and they were not made any better in the short-term when they named rookie 2nd-round pick Derrick Carr as the starter Week One against the Jets.  They are an old, cap-strapped team that doesn’t have any talent or any real hope for the future.  BUT…the NFL is a league with a very strong pull towards mediocrity, so I will just pray that this team somehow scrapes out 5 wins in the process of being the worst team – on paper – in the league.

27). DOOGAN – Philadelphia Eagles – UNDER 10 wins: We’ve reached the point where if you asked me to throw out my best guess for how many games any of the teams left will win, I’m pretty sure I would say the exact number that they won last year.  I wouldn’t say I’m “down” on the Birds (like I was last year), because I think they’ll win 10 games and the division and be a tough out in January.  BUT, I look at this schedule, and I just think 9 wins is more likely than 11.  You can talk about the division being easy, but NFC East games are usually pretty tough, and there may be no total pushovers in the bunch.  Throw in four games against the NFC West and road games at Green Bay and Indy, and you can find a lot of losses out there if you’re looking for them.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the defense makes a big improvement, but I don’t have a ton of reason to think that’s coming.

28). San Diego Chargers – OVER 9 wins: I got talked into this one by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders.  Apparently, the arrows are all pointing in the right direction for the Chargers and he said “It wouldn’t shock me if they were 13-3.”  Huh?!?!?!?  But, I will take his word for it because I agree with Doogan in that every pick left of the board looks like it will hit the number.  But, the Chiefs are falling back and the Raiders stink, so the Chargers are clearly the 2nd-best team in the division.  Yes, they get the NFC West, but this is a relatively young team with a potential star coach in Mike McCoy (who should have been coach of the year last year, in my opinion), so I guess I’ll take the Chargers for double-digit wins…cringe.  PS…Doogan, I would have gone OVER on the Birds, so thanks for keeping the site relatively objective.

29). DOOGAN – New Orleans Saints – UNDER 11 wins: Starting in ’09 and skipping the season where Sean Payton was suspended and everything went crazy for them, the Saints win totals have gone 13, 11, 13, 11.  So, does that mean they’re headed for 13 wins this year?  Very possibly!  Are those numbers a good reason to go Under here on 11?  No!  But whatever, when you think the number is right it makes sense to go below on a big number.  Can the Saints defense match the solid year they had last year?  Maybe, but they were the worst defense in the league two years ago, so we’ll see.

30). BRY – Tennessee Titans – OVER 7 wins: We’re just throwing darts here, right?  I like Jake Locker (and, I might be the only one…), and I think the AFC South is the worst division in football.  4 games with Jacksonville and Houston will help, and I don’t think Indy is unbeatable.  Plus, they get to play the second-worst division in the league, the NFC East, as well.  I think 8 wins is more likely than 6 wins, so I’ll take the Over on 7.

31). DOOGAN – New York Giants – UNDER 7 wins: I actually feel pretty good about my last pick here, and not just because of Under on the G-Men.  It would be hard to argue that this team is really any good, so Under on a mid-range number seems pretty clear.  The O-Line was a disaster last year and they’ve brought in new people, but that doesn’t mean it’s fixed.  They have nobody at running back and a rookie starting at wide-out opposite Victor Cruz.  I don’t see a mid-30’s Eli being able to do much with this group around him.  They lost Linval Joseph and a still-decent Justin Tuck from a defense that was already pretty poor.  Probably the farewell tour for Tom Coughlin at the Meadowlands.

32). BRY – Buffalo Bills – UNDER 6 wins: Yeah, I have been weighing the Giants Under for about 10 picks now, but just couldn’t do it because I feel like I make that pick every year, and every year I look like a Giants hater (which is totally true).  But, as I am stuck here with the last pick, I would love to call a push here, as 6-10 sounds exactly right.  But, honestly, for a 32nd pick, this isn’t terrible because there is no way this team wins 7+, so I just have to dodge 6-10 to get a point here, which is probably a coin flip.  E.J. Manual stinks – as evidenced by their signing of Kyle Orton out of retirement.  But, the defense is probably good enough to make me sweat this out.

BSB’s 2013 NFL Preview

For those of you unfamiliar with the preview, instead of the typical, been-done-again-and-again season previews, we like to make a game out of our previews, along with being informative. What we do is kind of a draft process, where we try and decide whether we think a team will get better or worse from last year’s record. Then, at the end of the year, we see who did a better job of predicting. It’s interesting to see just how different the seasons of some teams turn out, in retrospect. Check out our past previews to see what I’m talking about. Doogan took our first one in 2008, 17-15, but Bry responded with a come-from-behind 17-15 win in the 2009 version. In 2010, Doogan won by the familiar 17-15 score and followed that up in 2012, with a dominating 19-13 victory to become the first back-to-back winner of the NFL preview. Having not won since 2009, Bry came back with a vengeance, taking last year’s contest, 21-11. Doogan will try to rebound here in 2013, as he gets the first pick this year.

1) DOOGAN – Kansas City Chiefs – OVER 2 wins: Big Red lives! Everyone’s acting like Alex Smith is a Hall of Fame quarterback just because he’s replacing guys that were a disaster. I’m not sure he’ll be all that good but, despite what we saw in Philly a year ago, Andy knows how to coach an offense. And the defense is fairly loaded, led by one of my favorite non-Eagles in the league, Tamba Hali. Some are saying they could go from the bottom of the league to a playoff berth. Let’s just call it 6-10, though.

FINAL RECORD: 11-5
DOOGAN 1 – BRY 0
Doogan takes an easy point here, as the Coach Reid coaches ‘em up to 11 wins and a playoff berth.  Doogan even undershot this first pick.

2). BRY – Philadelphia Eagles – OVER 4 wins: It is not interesting to most that I would take the home team here because I always seem overly bullish on the Eagles. But, it is interesting to me because I seem like a bit of a wet blanket when talking about the Birds this year. I think they are still a ways away from serious contention (though, this division is just bad enough to change our definition of “contention”). That being said, I think that this team had WAY more than 4-win talent last year, and I think they have WAY more than 4-win talent this year. They may even have a playoff-caliber offense. The defense is quite suspect, but the schedule is really soft. Put me down for 6 or 7 wins for the Birds with the needle firmly pointed upwards.

FINAL RECORD: 10-6
BRY 1 – DOOGAN 1
Bry also picks up an easy point with his first pick – undershooting this one, as well.  The one and only Coach Kelly turned a 4-win team into a division champ.  Fly, Eagles, Fly!

Continue reading “BSB’s 2013 NFL Preview”

Ranking the First Round Picks

I will hold off on a full assessment of the Birds until after the whole draft plays out, but, as you will be able to tell from where I ranked their performance last night, I am not exactly thrilled with the situation of last night.  In short, I think a “reach” in the first round almost always equates to “bad pick.”  And, I think this for the simplest of reasons.  If you “reached,” that means that, by definition, that player would not have gone anywhere near that pick.  So, why not either (a) take another player and pick the “reach” with your next pick or (b) if you are that scared of losing him, trade down a couple spots, pick up an additional pick, and still get the guy.  Both seemed like options for the Birds last night, as it did not seem like teams were breaking down the doors to draft Marcus Smith, so they may have gotten him at #59.  BUT…at the very least, there are multiple reports that the Vikings wanted to do what the Browns did and trade up to #22.  That would have included the 40th pick, which is still probably safe for Smith there.  And, you could have netted at least another 2nd from Minnesota.  Anyway, like I said, I will wait until after the draft is complete to go in-depth with what Chip and Company have done, but they aren’t off to a blistering start, in my opinion…EVEN if Smith turns out to be very good.

But, that is not what this post is about.  I want to rank the First Round picks from last night based on the value they seem to have gotten from their spot.  Obviously, Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in this draft, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he was the best value.  If we were ranking the best players, we could just look at the draft order.  But, I wanted to capture the return on whatever it cost the team to get the player – basically the difference between what you possessed yesterday and what you possess today.  For instance, the Texans had the #1 pick yesterday, and today they have Clowney.  The Bills had the #9 pick, got Sammy Watkins, but lost a 5th and next year’s #1.  And, so on…  So, here is where I rank the “value gained” with each pick yesterday.

Elite Value

1. OAKLAND (5) – OLB Khalil Mack
The Oakland Raiders made the best draft pick of the night.  That is as surprising for me to write as it probably is for you to read, but I really believe it is true – and, it may not be close.  To get a guy with the ability of Mack at #5 is absolutely supreme value

2. HOUSTON (1) – DE Jadeveon Clowney
Trust me, I weighed the fact that it cost them the #1 overall pick to acquire Mr. Clowney.  But, I really think that this guy is a once-in-a-decade kind of a talent at a HIGH-impact position.

3. CLEVELAND (8) – CB Justin Gilbert
I actually thought Gilbert was taken a little too high (and, I have NO idea why they felt they had to swap with Minnesota – sounds like they got sold a bill of goods from the Vikes claiming that another team wanted to trade with them for Gilbert).  BUT…in the way we are judging it is what they had before and what they have now.  And, they invested the #4 pick for the return of a starting CB, a 5th-round pick, AND next year’s #1 pick from Buffalo (which could EASILY be another top 10 pick).  The Gilbert pick, alone, would have been middle of the pack – at best – but adding a potential Top-10 pick in 2015 is spectacular.

4. ST LOUIS (13) – DT Aaron Donald
I really thought Donald was a top-7 talent in this draft, so for the Rams to get him at #13 is pretty great.  They have a pretty spectacular D-line right now.  The best division in football got even better Thursday night.

5. GREEN BAY (21) – S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
My best-case Eagles scenario was one pick from becoming reality, when the Packers swooped in and – as they always do – maximized the value of their draft position.  There are certain teams that crush this process every single year.  If Green Bay isn’t the best drafting team in the league they are second to…

6. BALTIMORE (17) – ILB C.J. Mosely
Ho-hum, another Ravens draft, another stud at a need position falls into their laps.  This is getting old fast…

7. CINCINNATI (24) – CB Darqueze Dennard
How about sitting at #24 and getting potentially the best player at your top position of need?  That’s what the Bengals did – much to the dismay of this Eagles fan.

8. TAMPA BAY (7) – WR Mike Evans
This pick was set up from the beginning, and it could not have gone better for the Bucs.  They add a potential superstar at a need position without moving.  Defensive coordinators are getting heartburn having to deal with the sheer size of the two wideouts in Tampa right now.  And, Josh McCown is well-versed in having two huge receivers to throw to.

9. ATLANTA (6) – OL Jake Matthews
The Falcons stayed put and used their #6 pick on an O-tackle that will anchor that line for a dozen years.

10. ST LOUIS (2) – OL Greg Robinson
The second Rams pick that made my “elite” status.  I like Robinson better and think they made the right pick, but they are slightly behind the Falcons pick just because of the difference in pick value.

Good Value

11. NEW ORLEANS (20) – WR Brandin Cooks
The only reason this falls into the next category is because WR is so incredibly deep.  But, Cooks is a great fit in New Orleans and might be the front-runner for 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

12. MINNESOTA (32) – QB Teddy Bridgewater
You’ll notice that this is the first QB pick that I have on this list.  And, I am actually surprised that I have it this high.  But, I really think that Minnesota did a great job jumping back into the 1st to get someone who very well could be the best QB in the past two drafts.  As of two months ago, it would have been laughable to suggest that Bridgewater might not be in the Top 5.  Now, Minnesota gets him at #32 – which, not unimportantly, is the last pick of the draft that comes with a 5th-year option – a perk that could pay offer massively if Bridgewater become a viable starting quarterback.

13. CLEVELAND (22) – QB Johnny Manziel
Even if this is a lottery ticket, the chance of hitting the jackpot on a quarterback at #22 gives this pick a lot of value…and, I don’t even think he’s gonna be good.  Still really nice spot to take a flyer on a potential superstar – in multiple ways.

14. NEW YORK JETS (18) – S Calvin Pryor
The Jets stood pat at #18 and got a big-hitting safety that plays the run awfully well.  His coverage skills may be lacking, but in Ryan’s blitz-heavy defense, he has the potential to be an incredible havoc-creating boomer.

15. NEW YORK GIANTS (12) – WR Odell Beckham, Jr.
I have heard people not liking this pick.  While it is the second-best pick in the city, I actually think it’s a good one.  What else should they have done here?  I probably would have gone Aaron Donald, but Stri convinced me that he wasn’t a scheme fit for the Giants D.  What about Zack Martin?  Definitely would have been okay because he will be productive and versatile, but he’s not going to be a star.  I think Beckham could be.  He also seems like the perfect fit for the personal demands of a Coughlin-coached team.  I think five years from now, people might look back on this pick with reverance.  The only knock against it is the same thing against Cooks – this was a pretty high price for a WR in a draft with so many of them.

16. DALLAS (16) – OL Zack Martin
I am not as high on Martin as others because he doesn’t seem to have the Pro Bowl upside.  He’s versatile and durable, though, and I applaud Jerry Jones for a second straight year with a boringly logical first round performance.

17. PITTSBURGH (15) – OLB Ryan Shazier
I hadn’t heard much about Shazier coming into the draft, but all the reviews seem to say that he’s the perfect fit in Dick LeBeau’s system.  And, if anyone can pick LBs and make them stars it’s that Hall of Fame coordinator.

Some Value

18. TENNESSEE (11) – OL Taylor Lewan
Maybe the least “sexy” pick of the draft could return solid value if Lewan has a long, solid career on an O-line that needs stability.

19. BUFFALO (4) – WR Sammy Watkins
The Bills may have drafted the best player in the draft…but it sure as hell cost them.  A 5th-rounder this year and next year’s #1?!?  That is a big gamble on a guy at a position they aren’t exactly desperate to fill (they might end up cutting Stevie Johnson because of this pick).  This should probably be lower, but they did add Sammy Watkins…

20. CHICAGO (14) – CB Kyle Fuller
It is strange for me to rank this pick so low because I really like Fuller and really wanted him for the Eagles at #22.  But, I just think that he screams the quintessential “guy that was underrated for so long that he has now become overrated.”  That being said, I think the Bears will be very happy with Fuller.

21. DENVER (31) – CB Bradley Roby
If you can add an athlete the caliber of Roby with the 31st pick, you have to be happy.  This may actually be low for this pick, I just think there’s a big downside here.

22. NEW ENGLAND (29) – DT Dominique Easley
I hear people not liking this pick, but I’m not sure what you expect to get at #29.  Easley – if healthy – might be the best interior lineman in the draft.  I think the Pats did pretty well here to take a chance on potential stud at the end of the first round.  But, then again, if anyone has experience picking at the end of the first round, it’s the mighty Pats.

23. KANSAS CITY (23) – DE Dee Ford
I don’t mind the Ford pick, though I probably would have gone WR here.  But, as I have been saying the whole time, WR is really deep, so if I’m holding that against teams that did take a WR, I guess I can’t hold it against teams that don’t.

24. SAN DIEGO (25) – CB Jason Verrett
A bit undersized in a division with a lot of big WRs, Verrett may only be a nickle-corner his whole career.  A fact that, 5-10 years ago, would have made this pick an incredible reach, isn’t such a bad thing anymore.  We may have arrived at a time where a really good nickle corner may actually be worth a first-round pick…which is shocking to even think.

25. ARIZONA (27) – S Deone Bucannon
Not sure why everyone said that safety was such a huge need for the Cards.  From an outside perspective, I would think that they could really use help on the offensive side more than a very good defensive unit.  And, didn’t they just lose Andre Roberts, too?  I guess I’m probably wrong here because everyone seems to applaud this pick, but if it were me, why not a WR here?  It’s not like Larry Fitzgerald is on the right side of that career mountain.  Whatever…

26. SAN FRANCISCO (30) – S Jimmie Ward
I guess I’m an easy grader because 26 of the 32 teams I felt got at least adequate value for their first-round investments.  I think San Fran got some depth here in their secondary, which is not a bad thing for a 30th pick.

Poor Value

27. MINNESOTA (9) – OLB Anthony Barr
I love taking a chance on a superstar in the late First Round.  I HATE it in the early First Round.  And, that’s what Minnesota did.  They took a chance on Barr being a stud when it is somewhat feasible to see him out of the league in 3-4 years.  Their only saving grace is that they picked up a 5th by moving down a spot.

28. MIAMI (19) – OL Ju’wain James
Hey, they took the best guy left at a position of dire need.  And, that is the price you pay for a poorly-run organization.  But, that doesn’t mean we should give them a pass and ignore the fact that they took a guy at #19 that probably should have been no higher than a mid-30’s pick…at BEST.

29. CAROLINA (28) – WR Calvin Benjamin
Everything I said about the Miami pick can also apply to Carolina here, except that they may not have even gotten the best player left at a position of dire need.  I guess the saving grace is that they really needed a WR and got one.  The lesson here – it doesn’t pay to go into the draft “really needing” anything.  It leads to really poor draft choices.

30. JACKSONVILLE (3) – QB Blake Bortles
I want to absolutely CRUSH them for this pick, but I can’t totally go that far because the only way to win in this league is by having a QB, and they don’t.  So, it’s hard to fault them too much for taking the guy they thought was best, who almost certainly wouldn’t have been there at #35.  That being said, I don’t think I’d have the stones to pull the trigger on a shaky QB prospect with Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins sitting on the board.  I think their biggest mistake is not finding a trade partner to come up and get Watkins.  It seems to me that is something they could have done.  I mean even if they took the EXACT same offer that Buffalo gave Cleveland to go to #4, I would be praising them for grabbing next year’s #1.  And, they still probably would have had Bortles.  Actually, the more I think about it – why didn’t they do that?!?!?

Awful Value

31. PHILADELPHIA (26) – DE Marcus Smith
I’ll be brief here, but what I don’t understand is how they could take a player with a 3rd- or 4th-round grade at #26.  At the very least, trade down.  And, we KNOW that they could have.  They took Cleveland’s offer to come up and get Manziel and not Minnesota’s (which obviously would have been more and still would have netted them Smith).  Is it because they thought Dennard would still be there?  I hope not because I know nothing and knew that he wouldn’t get past Cincy at #24.  This is frustrating…even if he’s good.  In Chip We Trust…hey, at least it wasn’t the dumbest pick of the night.

32. DETROIT (10) – TE Eric Ebron
The new Lions…same as the old Lions.  As good as the Ravens and Packers are on draft day – that’s how bad the Jags and Lions are.  And, it’s not coincidence that the former win titles and the latter keep getting high picks to screw up.  This one made absolutely no sense for a million reasons, most notably that the player isn’t that good, they don’t exactly need more guys running patterns, and that they had solid fits at need positions like Taylor Lewan, Kyle Fuller, and Calvin Pryor still on the board.  Just a god-awful pick all-around.  Nice work, Lions, nice work.

Quick Notes on the Draft Tonight

As usual, I had higher ambitions.  I wanted to do a better write-up leading into one of the more interesting first rounds in a while, but things got in the way.  But, I do have some Eagle-centric thoughts entering tonight’s draft.

  • Under the assumption that Evans doesn’t fall past #7 (which is almost a given), no one in this draft is worth what it would take to move up to get them
      
  • I like Beckham, but is he really all that much better than Cooks or Lee – one of whom will be there at #22? 
     
  • They better not waste a pick on Johnny Football (which they won’t)  
     
  • I would have NO problem trading down – even out of the 1st.  I would JUMP at a swap of #22 for #33 from Houston.  I actually looked at the “draft pick value” chart for Houston to come in to grab #22 to get a QB that they will pass on with Clowney, and they would need to give their 2nd, 4th, and 5th (and it still wouldn’t be enough) – according to the chart.  OR (more likely)…they give #33 and next year’s 3rd.  Unless Clinton-Dix was on the board, i would JUMP at that.  Speaking of Ha-Ha… 
     
  • Here’s how I would rank the guys for the Eagles who are likely to be available at #22:
    A). Clinton-Dix
    B). One of the three 2nd-tier WRs (Beckham, Cooks, Lee – i think in that order, but it sounds very close
    C). Fuller
    D). Barr (though, i’m REALLY uncomfortable.  he seems VERY boom or bust, but he does potentially fill a real need)
    E). Trade down with whatever you can get (I don’t like anyone else enough to spend this pick on them – especially because there might only be 1 QB off the board at this point, so teams could be trading back in)  
     
  • DO NOT TRADE NEXT YEAR’S #1 FOR ANYONE!!!  (With three exceptions – Clowney, Mack, Watkins – all of whom would probably cost #1’s until 2020.) 
     
  • Let’s see if we can’t rekindle those Dion Jordan talks.  Brandon Graham and a 2nd-round pick?  Yes, please!

And, a couple overall draft thoughts:

  • Do not pay ANY attention to media reports…including those “mock drafts.”  These teams are in the business of misinformation because, well, THEY BENEFIT FROM IT!  It is really not that complicated.  Reports are that Cleveland doesn’t like Manziel.  Well, who controls the release of that information?  The Cleveland Browns.  And, who would benefit the most from people thinking the exact opposite?  The Cleveland Browns.  I am not saying they are going to take Johnny Football, but every time I hear that they are not interested makes me believe more that they ARE interested.  Same goes for everything else you hear.
     
  • Jadeveon Clowney will be the #1 pick.  Talent like that comes once a decade.  He will go #1.  Will Houston trade out for a king’s ransom?  Maybe.  But, Clowney will be the first player off the board.  Period.
     
  • I don’t think there is any way that any of these seven – Clowney, Mack, Watkins, Robinson, Matthews, Evans, and Donald – get out of the top 9.  Manziel and Lewan might sneak in, but that is pretty much the top tier.  There are 7 STARS in this draft and they won’t be around when Detroit picks at #10.