I was going to write a post to this effect yesterday before the first round of the NFL draft, but (a) I didn’t get to it and (b) I didn’t think it would actually be relevant. But, now that it is totally relevant, I am shocked that I cannot find anyone else that has expressed this opinion. I believe the following to be true:
The Eagles and the Cardinals made an agreement (which is completely illegal in the current state of the NFL labor situation) to make the following trade: The Eagles would send Kevin Kolb and their 1st round pick (#23 – Danny Watkins) in exchange for the Cardinals 1st round pick (#5 – Patrick Peterson).
I was watching with cautious excitement for the Cardinals decision at #5, hoping that they would take Peterson because that would go further towards confirming my pre-draft suspicions of “something fishy.” But, I really didn’t expect it…and then it happened.
The Cardinals took him – Peterson, the cornerback from LSU.
The Cardinals were one of the worst teams in the NFL last year. But…there is one part of their roster that almost indisputably is pretty solid – the secondary. They have first-round pick and rising star, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, at one corner and an emerging young playmaker, Greg Toler, at the other. And, then they have maybe the most underrated (if not the best) set of safeties in the league in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. And, yet, they took a cornerback…
Which team had the worst quarterback situation – in maybe the shakiest quarterbacked season since Don Coryell’s offensive schemes reinvented the position – in the league last year? The Cardinals. Which team was on the clock with a plethora of first-round QB talent still on the board (only Newton was gone)? The Cardinals. And, yet, they take a player at the one position on either side of the ball where they don’t really need to upgrade? Interesting…
Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Who does need a cornerback desperately? The Eagles. Which team, almost above all others in the past 3-4 years, has gravitated towards speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball? The Eagles. Then…which team, with their own pick, passed on a very talented cornerback (Jimmy Smith) to take an offensive linemen, who seems like good value and isn’t exactly unneeded, but is not even close to the most pressing of needs? The Eagles. And, which front office has shown that they keep things very close to the vest and are not afraid of repercussions from the NFL league office? The Patriots. Okay, good point – Belichick is on his own level of indignation. But, among mere mortals at the trade, isn’t Andy Reid well up there on the ole “I don’t give a crap” meter?
Okay, so how is this more than random speculation from a guy who has absolutely, positively zero inside information? Well, it is not more than that – it is precisely that. But…you have to admit, it smells fishy, especially if you consider that were countless rumors – from very reputable sources, including Sal Paloantonio and Adam Schefter – that, if the lockout was lifted and players were able to be traded, the Cardinals would strongly consider giving the #5 pick to the Birds for Kolb.
So, why is no one talking about that now? Because it would be highly illegal, under the current league regulations, and no one with any information would be willing to “out” a team, or even attract attention to a team, for doing something that could result in significant penalties from Officer Goodell.
But, I’m not “in the know,” by any stretch, so I’ll throw it out there.
I predict that Patrick Peterson will be starting across from Asante Samuel next year for the Birds, and that Kevin Kolb will be starting at quarterback in the desert. I also predict a very strong reaction from the league office that will include a hefty fine on both sides and, possibly, the forfeiture of a future draft pick.
(Quick tangent: While we’re on the subject of predictions, I also expect the Birds to resign Jason Babin and reunite him with Jim Washburn, who turned him from a bit rotation guy here in Philly to a Pro Bowler in Tennessee.)
But, if you’re asking me – I’d take it. Peterson is a game-changer and a flat-out stud. Remember when the Eagles defenses were so good under the late, great Jim Johnson? Everyone says it was because Johnson was such a brilliant innovator of blitz schemes, and that is very true. But, I really believe that no matter how brilliant Johnson was, he could not have pulled off those elaborate, risky blitzes without complete confidence in his one-on-one coverage on both sides. First it was Vincent and Taylor and as soon as they showed signs of age, they transformed that combination into a younger version with Sheppard and Brown. Now, they have one piece in Samuel, but the other side was a disaster last year. With Peterson, they can go back to sending the house. I love it!
Let’s hope that this crazy hair-brained theory of mine that no one who actually knows anything thinks is even remotely possible does become reality. Not so that I can sit around come September and say “I told you so,” but so that all of us Eagles fans have a slim chance to sit around come February and say “We are the champions!”
Following a sweep in San Diego over the weekend, the Phils now have the best record in baseball, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of reason for concern. The hot-start from the offense over the first ten games has disappeared, and Jose Contreras landing on the DL leaves the bullpen very thin.
Position Players: The Phils haven’t scored more than four runs in a game since April 9th, more than two weeks and 14 games ago. Since our last Report Card, they’re averaging less than three runs a game. Really, it’s pretty amazing that they’ve been able to win 8 of 11 in that stretch. I noted in the last Report Card that 7 of the 8 starters were hitting over .300. Now, 7 of the 8 are UNDER .300, with Ibanez at .187.
The lone bright spot in the line-up has been the two table-setters at the top, Victorino and Polanco. Victorino’s OBP is .352 (up 25 points from last year), he’s scored 15 runs, and hit the game-winning homer against the Brewers last Wednesday. That game-winner was made possible by a 3-run shot from Polanco earlier in the game that tied it at 3. That was a crucial hit, as the Phillies had been shut out the day before and were working on a lengthy scoreless streak. Polanco is hitting .366 to easily lead the team.
All that good work at the top has largely been wasted because Rollins is just not producing anywhere close to what’s needed from the 3-hole. He’s slugging .305 and has just two RBI in 21 games, even with plenty of runners on in front of him and Howard’s big bat waiting on-deck. Charlie may be moving toward a platoon in left field, as John Mayberry has swung the bat well and Ibanez has been lost.
Starting Pitchers: The starters have given up two runs or less in 9 of the past 11 games, with the only poor outing coming from Halladay when he gave up 6 runs to Milwaukee. His two other starts were masterful though, with a complete game to beat Washington and a 14 strike-out performance to beat the Padres yesterday.
Roy Oswalt had to leave his start vs. the Marlins with a back injury, but he came back six days later and gave up one hit and no runs in 6 innings to beat the Padres. Hamels, as usual, dominated his hometown team with 8 shutout innings in San Diego. After a rough start to his season, Blanton looked really good against a tough Brewer line-up before also beating the Padres over the weekend.
All that being said, the best start was turned in by Clifton Lee, who posted a 3-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts against the Nationals. All in all, the starters posted a 2.25 ERA and averaged over 7 innings per start.
Bullpen: The pen and the team took a big hit when Contreras was put on the DL. It’s a scary initial diagnosis that sounds like it could be a significant injury, but hopefully not. Contreras has looked great in the closer role. He’d converted all five save opportunities and hadn’t surrendered a run in 8 innings total. It was really impressive to see the 39-year-old blow a fastball by Ryan Braun to end the game last Wednesday. Charlie had been using him a lot, which may have contributed to the injury.
Ryan Madson will take over the closer’s role, which is always scary, but he’s already converted his first two opportunities and has given up just one run in 9 innings of work. The even bigger problem is the options left to get outs in the 7th and 8th innings, especially with J.C. Romero also being placed on the DL last week. The main set-up men are now Danys Baez, Kyle Kendrick, and Antonio Bastardo, all of whom have pitched well this year, but it’s hard to have too much confidence in any of them with a 1-run lead in the 8th inning.
David Herndon has struggled and can’t be counted on for big outs right now. The two guys that have been called up to replace the injured are Mike Zagurski and Michael Stutes. Charlie will obviously do everything he can to keep them out of key spots, but there’s no doubt that Phillie fans will have some nervous moments late in games in the coming weeks.
Like we did last year, every week or two throughout the season we’ll check in on the Phils’ recent performance and give them a grade in three categories: Position Players, Starting Pitchers, and Bullpen. The grades will be based on how they’ve performed since the previous Report Card.
It’s definitely been a successful start to the season, as the Phils have won seven of their first ten games. It’s been somewhat surprising that the offense has been as much responsible for the wins as the pitching. On to the grades:
Position Players: The dirty little secret of this Phillies team right now is that, at least until Chase Utley returns (which hopefully happens at some point this season), this line-up is just not all that good. With Jayson Werth and Utley gone, it’s suddenly a free-swinging group that won’t take many pitches. Ryan Howard is the only power hitter, and he doesn’t have much protection. Basically, if Jimmy Rollins is your 3-hitter, you can expect to have some trouble putting runs on the board.
But if that’s the case, somebody forgot to tell the Phillie hitters at the start of the season. Through 10 games, they’ve scored 63 runs, which ranks them second in baseball in runs per game. Seven of their eight starters are hitting over .300 (only Ibanez isn’t). Shane Victorino is hitting a cool .366, largely thanks to a 9-13 tear in the big Atlanta series. Ryan Howard has 3 HR and 12 RBI, and looks ready to return to his normal 40+ HR season after last year’s dip. Ben Francisco’s numbers are good, but could be even better because he’s had a lot of hard-hit balls find opponent’s gloves. It looks like he’s already claimed the 5-spot in the line-up behind Howard, bumping Ibanez back to 6.
They’ve also had success in the field, with four errors so far tying them for the fewest in baseball. Francisco has looked a little uncomfortable in right field (dropped a ball on Opening Day and made another error), but he has the skill to be good out there.
Finally, even though the line-up may not look that great on paper, there are a bunch of guys in there that are just winners, as they’ve proven over the last four years. The best example was Polanco scoring from second on a ball that didn’t leave the infield against the Mets last Wednesday. The Mets had made a big comeback the previous inning to tie the game at 7, and the Phils responded with two runs in the bottom half. Plays like that by Polanco don’t show up in the statistics, but they’re absolutely the kind of plays that win baseball games, and the Phils have a lot of guys that make those plays on a regular basis.
Starting Pitchers: Though not spectacular, the starters were better than their stats indicate. Mainly a bad start each from Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have them with pretty ugly ERA’s at the moment, but both pitchers generally look good and there’s no reason to worry about those poor outings. Lee was roughed up by Atlanta and also gave up 3 runs to Houston, but he looked pretty dominant for most of that Houston start, finishing with 11 K’s. Hamels was bad against the Mets, but he was great against Atlanta, and his fastball has been hitting 95, which is always something to watch with him.
Doc Halladay was Doc Halladay, giving up one run in his 13 innings of work so far. And the somewhat forgotten man in my mind, Roy Oswalt, kicked off his season with two solid outings and two wins.
All that can be said about Joe Blanton’s two starts is that I’m sure they left Ruben Amaro wishing he had found a taker for his $9 million contract this year. Joe has looked really hittable in giving up 12 runs in 10.1 innings. He’ll get a lot of time to get things straightened out, but it’s worth noting that Kyle Kendrick has pitched well in three appearances out of the bullpen.
Bullpen: Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson have shut the door effortlessly so far, making the news of Brad Lidge missing three months easier to take, for now. In even better news, Danys Baez has pitched well in his six outings, which is something that absolutely could not be said about any six consecutive outings that he had in 2010. Also, Antonio Bastardo looks like he may have made a leap, with 9 K’s and just 2 hits allowed in 5 innings so far. J.C. Romero has also been solid. Good news all around here for the always slightly scary Phillie pen.
Time for my annual prediction of the top college basketball teams for NEXT year. All the talk this season was that there was no great teams, and that claim was pretty much verified with the wild tournament that saw no #1 or #2 seeds in the Final Four. Well, get ready to hear a similar refrain next year. As usual, I’ll do my best to project who will leave early for the draft, but I’m always wrong on a good number of them.
#1 Ohio State: They were the top overall seed in the tournament this year and fell short, but Thad Matta’s squad should have another shot at a title in 2012. I believe Jared Sullinger when he says he’ll return, and that gives the Buckeyes the early front-runner for National Player of the Year. They also have an excellent wing player in William Buford and a rock solid point guard, Aaron Craft. DeShaun Thomas should be ready to step into the starting line-up and make an impact at small forward. Matta favors a small rotation, and he has a couple talented returnees (Jordan Sibert, Lenzelle Smith) that didn’t play this year and two McDonald’s All-Americans (Amir Williams, Shannon Scott) coming in to compete for playing time.
#2 Kentucky: It’s the same old story for Calipari, with Brandon Knight and Terence Jones likely to be one-and-dones but a boatload of talent coming in to replace them. It’s a combination of the lack of great teams next year and the level of this particular class that puts the Wildcats this high in the rankings. First though, returnees Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, and Deandre Liggins have proven themselves to be very useful players that will head into next season with Final Four experience. Then there are the recruits. SF Michael Gilchrist is a freakish athlete who had 16 points/12 boards in the McDonald’s All-American game. PF Anthony Davis grew 7 inches over the last year and a half, to go from a 6-2 PG to arguably the best pro prospect in the entire 2011 class. Marquis Teague gives Calipari the top PG in the class for what seems like the 8th straight year. Kyle Wiltjer shares more than a first name and home state with Kyle Singler. He’s also 6-9 with plenty of skill. Those 4 recruits with the 3 key returnees could give Kentucky a pretty devastating top seven of the rotation. If Knight decides to stick around for another year, they might be the team to beat.
#3 North Carolina: Still hard to call the early entries here, but for now I’ll guess that Barnes and Henson leave, but Zeller returns for his senior year. The backcourt is pretty well set-up with Kendall Marshall, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock, who missed the last few weeks with an injury. Two blue-chip recruits will step in to replace Barnes and Henson. Swingman P.J. Hairston is a lights-out shooter, as he showed in the All-American game, and PF James McAdoo was co-MVP of that game. Like Kentucky with Knight, if Barnes comes back he could make his team the title favorite.
#4 Pittsburgh: I’m putting this team so high partly out of respect for the program and for Jamie Dixon. They probably don’t have as much talent as some of the teams listed below, but they have a very good chance to win the Big East regular season again. Can they do anything in the tournament? Who knows. They’ll have a hard time replacing all the things Brad Wanamker did for them, but Ashton Gibbs will be a pre-season All-American. Travon Woodall should have a breakout season at the point and Nasir Robinson could do the same at PF. They always have unknowns ready to step up and become key contributors (Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna are prime candidates), and they’re also bringing in a rare All-American recruit: center Khem Birch, who could replace Gary McGhee right away.
#5 Kansas: I’m assuming the Morris twins both head off to the League. This team could move up or down depending on a couple things. One, will they sign either of the two excellent recruits they’re currently fight for? Two, will Josh Selby come close to living up to the hype he had coming in to the season? Barring surprise NBA entries, Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor will be a great inside-outside combo. In fact, I’d probably peg Robinson as my pick for conference player of the year. Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey are returnees that could be put on the path to stardom at Allen Fieldhouse.
#6 Duke: Assuming Kyrie Irving leaves, Duke will be another team that’s hard to predict. The high school player of the year, Austin Rivers, will undoubtedly take a starting spot on the wing, which will be the team’s strength again with Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry also back. Point guard is a possible concern, but they could be strong there with sophomore Tyler Thornton and All-American recruit Quinn Cook competing for the spot. They’ll probably have three Plumlees (unless Mason makes an ill-advised early jump), but it remains to be seen how much of an asset that is. Ryan Kelly is another useful post player.
#7 Syracuse: They’ll be deep and talented, but there are still questions about the backcourt of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. How good are they, and is having them both back really that much of a positive? Either way, they’re at least experienced and capable, and leading scorer Kris Joseph is also back. This year’s freshmen Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair showed a lot, but how good will Fab Melo be? Joining all those guys are two top recruits: G Michael Carter-Williams and C Rakeem Christmas, who is yet another Philly kid heading to upstate New York.
#8 Connecticut: On the one hand, this is a national champion team that’s only losing one player, so you might think they’d be higher. On the other hand, that one player is Kemba Walker, and let’s not forget that this team went .500 in the Big East this year. Still, Jeremy Lamb looks ready to be a star, Shabazz Napier should be a solid PG, and Alex Oriakhi still has the potential to be a high-level post player. Role players like Roscoe Smith, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, and Tyler Olander will also help.
#9 Texas: Assuming here that Jordan Hamilton departs, but they would be in my Top 5 if he returns. Rick Barnes isn’t generally a 3-guard type coach, but he’ll have to consider it next year with Corey Joseph and J’Covan Brown returning, along with top recruit Myck Kabongo. With Tristan Thompson anchoring the post, that could be a great base for a team. Kabongo, another Canadian like Joseph and Thompson, is 6-2, really quick, and has some flash to his game.
#10 Louisville: They have to replace Preston Knowles, but the nucleus of Kyle Kuric, Peyton Siva, Terrence Jennings, and Rakeem Buckles will be joined by a pair of blue-chip recruits, PF Chane Behanan and G Wayne Blackshear.
#11 Florida: Their whole starting frontcourt is gone, but their two leading scorers, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are not. Those two will be joined by another standout guard, the second-rated 2-guard in the class, Brad Beal. Patric Young came in this year as a highly-touted center, and he showed flashes that he could be ready to reach that potential next year.
#12 Missouri: This is a real tough team to figure out right now. They only lose one senior (reserve Justin Safford), but the wheels seemed to really come off this year as they stumbled to an 11-seed. More importantly, coach Mike Anderson is gone, along with his unique pressing style. New coach Frank Haith is pretty unproven and will have to adapt to personnel that may not fit his usual style. Either way, assuming nobody transfers or heads to the NBA (not a safe assumption), they have a loaded backcourt of Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Michael Dixon, and Flip Pressey. Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe give them two capable interior guys to complement the perimeter talent.
#13 Xavier: After a disappointing non-conference performance this year, Xavier dominated the A-10. If Tu Holloway stays for his senior year, they’ll have their top three scorers back, with Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease also returning. They’ll add the top recruit in the league after beating out Georgetown and Tennessee for swingman Dezmine Wells.
#14 Temple: The Owls will be right there to battle Xavier for the A-10 crown. Lavoy Allen is a huge loss, but everyone else is back from a team that barely missed a Sweet 16 appearance, even with two of their starters hurt. Juan Fernandez will have to have a better year at the point. They’ll have plenty of perimeter scoring punch, with Fernandez, Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt, and Scootie Randall. The big question is whether or not they’ll get enough help in the frontcourt to go along with Michael Eric and Rahlir Jefferson. They’ll be hoping Anthony Lee, who missed his freshman year this year with an injury, is up to the task.
#15 Michigan: It was a matter of time before John Beilein got things going in Ann Arbor, and after nearly taking down Duke in the 2nd Round of this year’s tourney, next year could be the breakout year for the program. Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. will lead the way for a team that has everyone back and looks like it will be the 2nd-best team in a largely rebuilding Big Ten.
#16 UCLA: It looks like Ben Howland finally has things back on track, but the loss of Tyler Honeycutt to the draft will hurt. Still, returnees Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee, and Josh Smith will be joined by the Wear twins (transfers from UNC), and the Bruins could enter the season as Pac-10 favorites for the first time in a few years.
#17 Memphis: It was a somewhat disappointing season at Memphis, but maybe that’s not surprising considering they were relying so much on freshmen, with a young head coach at the helm. Those freshmen, led by Will Barton and Joe Jackson, will all be back, along with veteran Wesley Witherspoon. Josh Pastner has also added another All-American recruit with local product Adonis Thomas.
#18 Gonzaga: Steven Gray departs after a stellar career, but Marquise Carter came on strong at the end of the year, dropping 24 points on St. John’s in the tourney, and looks ready to replace Gray’s production. Robert Sacre and Elias Harris are two really nice pieces in the frontcourt, and Demetri Goodson has one last shot to live up to his potential at the point.
#19 Arizona: If Derrick Williams returns, this is clearly the best team out West, but I’m assuming he’ll end up in the draft. Everyone else will return though, led by Momo Jones and Kyle Fogg, with two excellent guards also coming in as freshmen: Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson.
#20 Marquette: Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder will lead the way, with Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan, and Chris Otule probably ready for expanded roles.
Well, the first ever BSB Baseball Suicide Pool was short, but rather sweet for one guy. J took down the 11-person field in a mere 4 days to start the season with a healthy winfall. 7 of the 11 entries went down in the very first day, as the Rays, Cubs, and Cardinals losses each eliminated a pair of competitors, and the Rockies ousted another. J nearly won it on Day Two, as he took his bye, Gross, Sr., lost with the A’s against Seattle, and Greeley and Dave needed a Pirates bullpen implosion to even survive to Sunday. Greeley took his bye on Sunday, but Dave wanted to get one more day so that he could use his on the short Monday schedule, and lost with the Red Sox. J rode Roy Oswalt to a Sunday win to take on Greeley in a mono e mono Monday battle.
Ironically, on Monday, J (possibly the biggest Yankee hater I know) picked the Yankees, who won, and Greeley (possibly the biggest Yankee FAN I know), lost with the Cards and was eliminated by his own team.
Round Two begins Wednesday with one big change. Instead of offering a bye, we are going with the three strikes and you’re out policy. So, it’s basically become a triple-elimination pool, so we are allowing for 2 losses before being eliminated. All other rules still apply. If anyone interested in Round Two, let me know.