Tuesday, March 29, 2016

potential first rounders, draft busts, and other random NFL thoughts

Most years, I am consumed by the NFL draft at this time of year.  I read reviews.  I watch a little prospect video and usually I put together what I hope will be an all-inclusive list of potential first rounders.

Here's what I see this year.  (I was being a little lazy with LBs this year. There are probably a could 2-3rd round grade LBs who are not on this list who a team's coaching staff could fall in love with and take at the end of the first round.)  Hopefully this will be useful to people doing mock drafts.

As I said in my last post, this is a weak draft at the top, but upon refection, there is a fair amount of starting capable players on both lines. 

I think you might have 4 NFL starting QBs in this draft with Goff, Wentz, Lynch, and Jones all looking like good prospects for any team willing to bring them around slowly or likely busts for any team throwing them into the fire.

None of the backs in this draft hit me as the complete package.  You have good runners Booker, Dixon, Howard, Prorise, and Collins, but they each have glaring flaws.  It just depends what flaw you can deal with.  Henry and Elliot are very talented, but will they be any more than marginal if their OL's are not up to task?  I find it odd that I am questioning the running ability of the two most highly decorated runners in a draft.  But I am.

Just not terribly excited about this draft...

There are about 20 guys who will be first rounders and about 20 more who have fairly good odds of making it.  Really after you hit about 20, teams start thinking about the value of the additional year on first rounder contracts.  Sometimes they reach even beyond that next tier as a staff falls for a player.

I have tried to list guys who sound like they have a shot to be starters in the right situations and who have attributes a team might fall in love with, leading the team to take the player in the 1(21) to 1 (29) range.

The list

Player Pos Ht Class Wt College Grade/DraftRange
Jared Goff QB Jr 6'4" 215 California   1
Carson Wentz QB Sr 6'5" 237 North Dakota St.  1
Paxton Lynch QB rJr 6'7" 244 Memphis   1-2
Connor Cook QB rSr 6'4" 217 Michigan St.  1-3
Christian HackenbergQB Jr 6'4" 223 Penn St.   1-4
Cardale Jones QB rJr 6'5" 253 Ohio State  1-5
Ezekiel Elliott RB Jr 6'0" 225 Ohio St.   1
Derrick Henry RB Jr 6'3" 247 Alabama   1-2
Jordan Howard RB Jr 6'0" 230 Indiana   1-3
Devontae Booker RB rSr 5'11" 219 Utah   2
Kenneth Dixon RB Sr 5'10" 215 Louisiana Tech  2
Paul Perkins RB rJr 5'10" 208 UCLA   2-4
Alex Collins RB Jr 5'10" 217 Arkansas   3-4
C.J. Prosise RB rJr 6'0" 220 Notre Dame  2-4
Laremy Tunsil LT Jr 6'5" 310 Mississippi  1
Ronnie Stanley LT rJr 6'6" 312 Notre Dame  1
Jack Conklin LT rJr 6'6" 308 Michigan St.  1
Taylor Decker OT Sr 6'7" 310 Ohio St.   1
Le'Raven Clark LT rSr 6'5" 316 Texas Tech  1-2
Jason Spriggs LT Sr 6'6" 301 Indiana   1-2
Shon Coleman RT rJr 6'5" 307 Auburn   2
Willie Beavers LT Sr 6'4" 324 Western Michigan  2-5
Cody Whitehair OG rSr 6'4" 301 Kansas St.   1-2
Germain Ifedi OG rJr 6'6" 324 Texas A&M  1-2
Joshua Garnett OG Sr 6'4" 312 Stanford   2
Christian Westerman OG rSr 6'3" 298 Arizona State  2-3
Landon Turner OG rSr 6'4" 330 North Carolina  3
Joe Dahl OG Sr 6'4" 304 Washington St.  3-6
Ryan Kelly C rSr 6'4" 311 Alabama   1-2
Nick Martin C rSr 6'4" 299 Notre Dame  2-3
Max Tuerk C Sr 6'5" 298 USC   3-5
Hunter Henry TE Jr 6'5" 250 Arkansas   1-2
Austin Hooper TE rSo 6'4" 254 Stanford   2-3
Nick Vannett TE rSr 6'6" 257 Ohio St.   2-3
Tyler Higbee TE rSr 6'6" 249 Western Kentucky  3-4
Will Fuller WR Jr 6'0" 186 Notre Dame  1-2
Laquon Treadwell WR Jr 6'2" 221 Mississippi  1
Corey Coleman WR rJr 5'11" 194 Baylor   1-2
Tyler Boyd WR Jr 6'1" 197 Pittsburgh   1-2
Josh Doctson WR rSr 6'2" 202 TCU   1-2
Sterling Shepard WR Sr 5'10" 194 Oklahoma   1-3
Charone Peake WR rSr 6'2" 209 Clemson   2-5
Michael Thomas WR rJr 6'3" 212 Ohio St.   1-2
Pharoh Cooper WR Jr 5'11" 203 South Carolina  2-3
Braxton Miller WR rSr 6'1" 201 Ohio St.   1-3

Player Pos Ht Class Wt College Grade
DeForest Buckner 3-4DE Sr 6'7" 291 Oregon   1
Joey Bosa 4-3DE Jr 6'5" 269 Ohio St.   1
Kevin Dodd 4-3DE rJr 6'5" 277 Clemson   1-2
Shaq Lawson 4-3DE rJr 6'3" 269 Clemson   1-2
Emmanuel Ogbah 4-3DE rJr 6'4" 273 Oklahoma St.  1-2
Noah Spence 3-4OLB rJr 6'2" 251 Eastern Kentucky  1-2
Shilique Calhoun 3-4OLB rSr 6'4" 251 Michigan St.  2
Carl Nassib 4-3DE rSr 6'7" 277 Penn St.   3
Shawn Oakman 3-4DE rSr 6'8" 287 Baylor   3
Ronald Blair 4-3DE Sr 6'2" 284 Appalachian St.  4
A'Shawn Robinson DT Jr 6'4" 307 Alabama   1
Sheldon Rankins DT Sr 6'1" 299 Louisville   1
Robert Nkemdiche DT Jr 6'3" 294 Mississippi  1-2
Vernon Butler NT Sr 6'4" 323 Louisiana Tech  1-2
Jarran Reed DT Sr 6'3" 307 Alabama   1-2
Jonathan Bullard DT Sr 6'3" 285 Florida   1-2
Chris Jones DT Jr 6'6" 310 Mississippi St.  1-3
Hassan Ridgeway DT rJr 6'3" 303 Texas   1-5
Willie Henry DT Jr 6'3" 303 Michigan   1-5
Adolphus WashingtonDT Sr 6'3" 301 Ohio St.   2-3
Andrew Billings NT Jr 6'1" 311 Baylor   1-2
Kenny Clark NT Jr 6'3" 314 UCLA   1-2
Austin Johnson NT rJr 6'4" 314 Penn St.   1-2
Reggie Ragland ILB Sr 6'1" 247 Alabama   1
Kentrell Brothers MLB rSr 6'0" 245 Missouri   2-4
Scooby Wright, III MLB Jr 6'0" 239 Arizona   2-5
Myles Jack OLB Jr 6'1" 245 UCLA   1
Leonard Floyd OLB rJr 6'6" 244 Georgia   1-2
Jaylon Smith OLB Jr 6'2" 223 Notre Dame  1-2
Darron Lee OLB rSo 6'1" 232 Ohio St.   1-2
Su'a Cravens OLB Jr 6'1" 226 USC   1-2
Kyler Fackrell OLB rSr 6'5" 245 Utah St.   2-3
Jordan Jenkins OLB Sr 6'3" 259 Georgia   2-4
Jalen Ramsey CB Jr 6'1" 209 Florida St.  1
Vernon Hargreaves,IIICB Jr 5'10" 204 Florida   1
Eli Apple CB rSo 6'1" 199 Ohio St.   1-2
Mackensie AlexanderCB rSo 5'10" 190 Clemson   1-2
William Jackson,III CB Sr 6'0" 189 Houston   1-2
Ronald Zamort CB Sr 5'10" 174 Western Michigan  1-2
Artie Burns CB Jr 6'0" 193 Miami   2
Kendall Fuller CB Jr 5'11" 187 Virginia Tech  2-3
Xavien Howard CB rJr 6'0" 201 Baylor   2-3
Vonn Bell  FS Jr 5'11" 199 Ohio St.   1-3
T.J. Green FS Jr 6'2" 209 Clemson   3-4
Karl Joseph FS Sr 5'10" 205 West Virginia  2-3
Thompson, Darian FS Sr 6'2" 208 Boise St.   4
Neal, Keanu SS Jr 6'0" 211 Florida   2-FA
Jeremy Cash SS rSr 6'0" 212 Duke   2-3
Miles Killebrew SS Sr 6'2" 217 Southern Utah  3-4

As I was looking at this year's draft I took a look back at last year's draft ---specifically the RBs --- and I saw two players fans consider busts:

San Diego RB  Melvin Gordon
Atlanta RB Tevin Coleman

and a back considered a hit last year

Cleveland RB Duke Johnson


This kind of thinking drives me nuts.

I firmly believe 90% of players taken in the top 100 of the NFL draft can play in the NFL.  The question is almost exclusively, "Will they land in a situation that allows them to succeed?"

Are they 4-3 DEs drafted by a 3-4 team?  Are they 3-4 OLBs drafted by a 4-3 team?  Are they 3rd down backs, deadly in the passing game, drafted by teams needing a back who can pick up short yardage and move the chains? Are they QBs who need 2-3 years on the bench refining their mechanics and getting used to the speed of the NFL who are drafted by a team without a legit NFL QB on the roster?  Does their position coach believe in them as a prospect or will they give PT to others?

In general "the NFL system" fucks up most of the talent entering the league.

They do far too much projecting.  "I like how this guy did this on this one play.  I bet if our coaches/strength staff worked with him, he could develop into a guy who can do this all the time."

How about just drafting the guy who does it most of the time already?

San Diego has an atrocious OL. So how do they address that?   They draft a RB who played his entire career behind and exceptional collegiate line.  They draft a guy who rarely ever saw a DL behind the line of scrimmage.  How is that guy going to function behind the Charger's line?

He's a bust? 

I like the Charger's GM, but that is a bust pick, not a bust player.  That is putting a talent into a bad fit.

San Diego sure better pick up some linemen if they want to get anything out of that pick last year.

Coleman is another guy a team is "trying to develop" into the kind of player they wanted.  He is also sitting behind a workhorse RB Devonte Freeman. Now I get it that Freeman hadn't lit the world on fire before the Falcolns drafted Coleman, but does that make Coleman a bust because another player had a breakout year---taking all the carries?


I like Duke Johnson as a player, but it isn't like he immediately forced the fairly marginal Isaiah Crowell to the bench!

The whole thing about draft "hits" and "busts" are so arbitrary.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What I would like to see out of Dallas in this year's NFL draft.

It's time for my annual wish list for the Cowboys on draft day.

As I have looked at this year's draft I have reached some conclusions ---This was a horrible year to be horrible.

This draft sucks.

The only positive I can see is that this draft has like 50 second round caliber DTs.  Unfortunately that is a position Dallas puts a very low draft value priority on.

To understand why I say that, you have to understand what a regular draft looks like.

General draft concepts

Ordinarily a draft will have about 8 to a dozen nice talents who can step in and immediately make an impact.  Positional players who can be pro bowlers from day 1, a few franchise type QBs with minor flaws, and guys who will almost certainly be plus starters in the NFL.

Then there are another 15 or so guys who are likely solid starters.  Reaches may push some of them into the second.

Then there is a tier of 30 or so better "hit or miss guys" who could step into a starting role on day 1 and not embarrass you.  Teams reaching will usually push about 10-15 of those guys well into the third. 

And then you are playing the lottery.

Three rounds are 96  or so picks. This is the top 100 thinking that smart GMs and smart draft followers understand.

If you understand who the top 100 are and land one in each of the 3 first rounds, your odds of pulling 3 starters every year is high.

Dallas doesn't do that

Historically under Jerry Jones Dallas manages to lose their third rounder and come out with 2 guys out of that top 100.  (Reporters have tracked it out over the last few years, but I am too lazy to hunt down the link.)  Dallas over the last decade or so was one of the teams with the fewest top 100 players drafted in that timeframe.

Dallas likes to chase specific players rather than letting the draft come to them.

If it costs you picks in the top 100, it's bad strategy.

Getting back to this year's draft

Goff and Carson Wentz would both be first round picks in any draft, but both have fairly compelling red flags.

Goff to me is like the second coming of Aaron Rodgers and I don't mean that in a good way.  Remember Rodgers came out a year early and was a little under-developed.  In a normal draft he slid into the middle of the first round.

Rodgers got lucky being able to develop as a athlete and grow up as a person with no pressure on him at all in Green Bay.  He got to adjust to the speed of the NFL and refine his techniques without getting the crap beat out of him.  Landing in Green Bay likely saved his career.

I think Goff blew his Cleveland interview while Wentz aced his.  That mixed with  Goff's small hands (Cleveland's head coach doesn't like small handed QBs) appears to have allowed Goff to escape Cleveland.  He should sacrifice a cow to the football gods.   His odds of success in the NFL at least doubled.

Goff is a well coached, spread QB.  He has solid arm and an advanced understanding of passing concepts.  He kills teams when he is on and struggles when he is under pressure.  He's a skinny dude and those guys are always at risk to start hearing footsteps when they start getting hit by NFL linemen.

Some QBs have tendencies that allow them to be baited into throwing interceptions.  At this point he is in that crowd.  He is going to have to work on taking snaps under center and more ---adjust to a much less dynamic passing scheme.

He's a risky pick.  He'll probably be OK if Dallas, San Diego, or LA takes him.  He's screwed if Cleveland or San Francisco takes him.

He has recently been compared to Jay Cutler --- an NFL QB with a lot of talent who has big games against dog teams and struggles vs. anyone decent.  That is a sign that his stock is slipping.

Wentz is a workout warrior who impresses all the NFL teams with his demeanor.  He lead NDSU to two straight FCS titles as a starter.

He is big and has all the tools, but coming from the FCS ranks means you have to add another year onto his development curve.

I think he will have a Kenny O'Brien caliber career in Cleveland.

He has been compared to Oliver Luck ---crazy --- and to Blake Bortles.  I think the Bortles comparison is a good one.  Call him Bortles-lite.

Neither of these guys is a slam dunk for what you would usually have in that top tier, but they could go 2&3 in this draft.

That tells you everything you need to know about this draft.

There is no elite tier in this draft.   You start right at the second tier. 

It is the kind of draft you could easily come out of with nothing.

My guide to leveraging Dallas's picks into a winning yield

Here are the assets Dallas enters this draft holding.

4th 1(4)
34th 2(3)
67th 3(4)
101st 4(3)
135th 4(37 -compensatory)
189th 6(14)
212th 6(37- compensatory)
216th 6(41- compensatory)
217th 6(42- compensatory)

If they draft well, they should be able to land 4 starters.  They won't, but they should.

I think step one is to figure out if you believe in either of the top 2 QBs.

Dallas runs a tweaked up variant of Norv Turner's simplified version of the Air Coryell offense.   Norv Turner's offense is EXTREMELY QB friendly.   You need a dude who can throw a slant.   Almost every QB can do that.

Dallas was able to hang around in every game last year that Brandon Weeden, a 3rd string caliber QB with no confidence in his ability to play at the NFL level, played in having that guy check down on every play.

That is a sign that you have a pretty good offensive scheme.

There is a thought that Dallas should take a QB because we won't pick this high again.   The trouble is these are 10-15 level QBs.  If Dallas doesn't pick a QB and Romo goes down or retires, they will be picking in the top 10 again.  That thinking is unsupported.

So the question really becomes "Do you want to hitch your franchise to Goff?" (Cleveland appears sold on Wentz so the option available would be Goff.)

IF you like him, draft him without a second thought.  I am inclined to think the answer would likely be no. 

And given the view of scouts, it makes sense.  If Romo goes down and Goff has to play immediately, there is a good chance Goff gets rattled and his development is permanently derailed.  Then you have blown another top 5 pick.  You cannot afford that.

You have to hit on a top 5 pick with top 5 value.

What if you have questions about Goff in this scenario?

If you do, you need to be looking at dangling the pick to one of the next suitors for Goff --- San Francisco or LA --- to try to get a bidding war going.

The difference between Goff and Lynch as prospects is a chasm.  Goff looks like a good starting QB on the right team.  Lynch is still a very raw talent.   He needs a good situation with good coaching and he probably needs a little time sitting.  He may or may not ever develop.

That's your selling point to both teams.  Both are in a hurry to win. And both can make strong offers.

What I would want from San Franscisco...

I would take a long hard look at Collin Kaepernick.  Again, Dallas has a very QB friendly system.  Kaepernick can throw a slant. Kapernick can take a hit, he can buy time with his legs, and he has the arm to fully utilize our #2 WR's best attributes ---finding the gaps deep on broken plays.

I think Kaepernick and #7 for #4 for Goff is a hell of a haul.  Dallas likely gets the same caliber player at 7 they would at 4 and they get a dramatic upgrade at the backup QB spot with a guy who could easily be the QB of the future.

He wants out.  They could get him to restructure his deal to make it work.   Add a year that would be this year where he is paid like a backup.  He would take that.

Dallas could likely get Shaq Lawson at 7.  I see no qualitative difference between Lawson and Joey Bosa who Dallas is rumored to be targeting at #4.  To me Bosa is another Greg Ellis. Solid NFL DE who might make a couple pro bowls, but kind of a meh return on a #4 pick.

(I think there is a compelling argument that the value in this draft will be in the low 20's where you could get two DE's of that caliber rather than paying for a "brand name" like Lawson or Bosa, but I don't know that teams will want to trade up in this draft and I don't want to complicate this too much.)

Or you could take LA's offer.

I would want DT Aaron Donald straight up for the #4 pick.

I think the Rams would take the deal.   Remember this draft is loaded with DTs and the Rams' own pick would give them the ability to take one of the best of this year's crop to replace Donald.

So the deal is really the most ready QB in this draft for a reasonable downgrade at DT.

I think they would bite.   They need a QB to take the next step and to excite LA fans. There are few options.

Donald would be the unanimous #1 overall pick if he was coming out in this draft.  He's only 24 and fits the key spot on this defense.  He is a two-time pro bowler in 2 seasons.  

He may be the best penetrating DT in this league.   Dallas' scheme is about rushing on every down. He is perfect for this defense.  We have a handful of DL who can occasionally generate pressures but few sacks.  Donald can drive QBs into their grasps.

This is the deal I want.  You can't ask for more out of a top 5 pick than a 24 year old two time pro bowler who is literally the prototype for the most important spot on your defense.

But really either play would amount to maximizing 1(4).

I would fill out the rest of the picks in this manner.

34th 2(3) trade into first for Cody Whitehair

I would advocate trading into the first round here if the right player is available.   Doing so would add one more year onto a player's initial contract.  4(135) would likely allow Dallas to move up  a couple spots to 1(31).   My thinking is that in this draft in particular, Dallas has to hit with picks in the first 100 or so picks --- I don't give a crap about the 6th round picks as Dallas already has a lot of quality people on the roster and adding similar guys seems less of a priority if you consider your team a contender.  You need starter caliber players.  Preferrably four.

If something weird should happen and Paxton Lynch is passed over by a few teams including the Jets at 20,  I'd secure a conditional move into the early to mid 20's.  (Washington at #21 would be a good call.  Their GM believes in avoiding injuries through having a very young team and as such is eager to increase the total number of picks he has each year. He likes to flood his camp with What Jason Garrett refers to as "the right kind of guys" to improve the team culture -- even if he takes a slight talent hit to do it.  He seems like an ideal trading partner for Dallas.  Given that the talent in this draft is off, even though 2(34), 4(135), 6(189), 6(212), 6(216), and 6(217)  only equates to a pick value of 727 vs. his 1(21) pick's value of 800,  he may be more than content to have a lesser pick in a future draft thrown in to "make up" the value.  Maybe even as little as a future 6th when you consider Dallas could call anyone prior to Kansas City - picks valued from 760 to 680 - and make a cheaper deal.  It is sensible for Washington to concede a little to get the bounty of picks they want.)

I think Lynch is a good fit in Dallas (Dallas offers a QB friendly scheme, conservative coaching staff who will protect him.  In the instance the now brittle Romo goes down, should Lynch take some hits due to failures on the line or by our RBs, he would able to take them without it derailing his long term development.)  I think Lynch will simply take a while to learn everything he needs to know. He likely isn't going to start a full season from Day 1, so I do not think there is a danger of a little emergency early PT derailing his development.  Lynch still being available at 1(21) is unlikely though. 

Looking at more likely players to be available late in the first...Of guys who could fall, I have a feeling DE Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd will be off the board by the early to mid 20's in the first round.  That's OK.  I only like them if they fall.  I like Whitehair optimally of that trio and I think he could be had at the end of the first.

Whitehair is a polished prospect lacking a little height for being a LT prospect.  He projects as a Zach Martin-lite guard.  We did OK with real Zach Martin, so why not?  He projects as a starting caliber guard who can also offer solid pass protection at left tackle in a pinch. He'll be a cheap, OK starter from day 1 with a chance to become a good one as he gets stronger over the years.  He is not the kind of guy who will get paid a bunch and that has value in itself.   I would love a little pass blocking insurance on the OL given Romo's health lately.

I would also be thrilled with Baylor CB Xavien Howard here.  He is a big physical, ball-hawking #1 CB prospect.  He is occasionally over-aggressive and will get beat from time to time, but has all the talent you want and makes plays too.  Right now we get beat from time to time, don't have anyone who can match big physical receivers, and our CBs don't make plays.  I would be totally content with a starting CB duo of Howard covering the opponents' possession receiver and Mo Claiborne covering their speed receiver in a couple years.

If none of those guys are there, I also would not be opposed to drafting Ohio State QB Cardale Jones at and end of first round spot either and securing him for 5 years.   Now that would be considered a reach by most (and in a vacuum it is).  He is rated as a 4th round prospect who needs a lot of work who some team might take as early as the end of the second because his talent level is elite.  He is basically the second coming of JaMarcus Russell talent-wise (but thankfully there are no indications he is as lazy as Russell).

Jones didn't play much in college (...although he never lost a game) and that is a huge red flag as far as QBs go  (Ideally you want a 3+ year starter so they have to deal with adversity), but he can take a hit and the arm talent of the player knick-named "12 gauge" is obvious.

I think there is a compelling argument that if Ohio State didn't lose their Offensive Coordinator to Houston, Jones might have maintained the level of play he showed in the championship run. (He was still decent this year.) If that had happened he might be at the top of this draft's QB list.

I think he dealt with adversity in college so I am OK with rolling the dice on his talent --- rolled out slowly in our scheme.

Mix that with the fact that Dallas doesn't ask a lot of it's QBs and burning essentially a second in a weak draft to have the Jones project under contract for 5 years actually looks sensible.  (Think 2 years of no pressure sitting behind Romo, learning the game, and adjusting to the speed.  Then Dallas will have 3 years seeing if he is the guy before they have to commit. Jones will be able to step on the field behind a solid OL..That is not a bad return on a second in QB terms and it works well for Dallas' position...)

67th 3(4) RB Jordan Howard Indiana

This is more of a double than a home run pick.  Howard lacks the game speed that other similar grade, promising backs in this draft like Arkansas's Alex Collins and LSU's Kenneth Dixon possess, but he is a 230 lb cannonball who seems to protect the ball a little better than his peers.  Additionally, where guys like Utah's Devontae Booker have a long way to go as pass blockers, Howard's a solid pass blocker.

I think the scouts have him rated about right.   He's a solid NFL back although there is something off fundamentally in his style that will likely keep him from being a long term feature back.  He is such a tough guy that he really hasn't chosen to develop the ability to avoid unnecessary hits. He initiates and invites contact.  You watch his highlights and every run ends with him volunteering for a collision.  You can see the damage piling up. He's either going to be a 3 year NFL feature back or a 8 year NFL short yardage back.   Ideally he would be a short yardage back.  Dallas doesn't have anyone like this and could definitely use this kind of physical chain mover on short yardage plays.

This would also be a good spot for Jones, although you don't get the extra cap help year.

101st 4(3) CB Ken Crawley  Colorado

I'd like tall CB or a FS here.  Crawley is an experienced,  functional 6'0 tall, skinny press CB who can handle speed receivers.  He'd work, but I'd be OK with one of several guys.

Texas Tech's RB DeAndre Washington is a very underrated prospect I would consider at this spot or at 4(135) if we still have it.   He is sound in every way, just slightly undersized.

This video is not the greatest --- I apologize --- It is a "highlight video" nonsense production where you get a ton of useless field level, limited visability shots.  Still every 20 seconds or so you get to see the whole field from overhead and you see all the little things Washington does on every run.  In those instances his ability pops into focus.   The first thing you will see is that his feet are a blur.  He is both tough to get a good shot on and he is constantly shifting his weight and balance.  This is great trait for a long career. He can make a guy miss or elude a big hit.  While at his size he should not have the power to break arm tackles, his explosiveness and elusiveness allows him to "emulate" having tackle breaking-power. He slides right out of a lot of arm tackles.  He has elite vision and quickness and good long speed. And he does all the little things when not carrying the ball. He is a guy who could be one of those rare undersized 1000 yard rushers.

Houston RB Kenneth Farrow II is a vastly under-appreciated prospect.  At 5-10 220 he has what I would consider the ideal build for a feature back.  He is big enough to have power and small enough to be able to redirect his momentum to good affect and not suffer joint injuries.  He combines this good build with very good RB mechanics.  He hits the holes quickly with good body lean to finish his runs.  He compresses down instinctively when going through the line to limit fumbles.  He protects the ball. I am gobsmacked that he is rated as a free agent level prospect.  He will make someone's roster.

There is game footage where his OL is overmatched and he still produces.  He doesn't run tentatively.  He doesn't dance in the backfield.  He picks up positive yards.  That is a HUGE sign he will be able to produce in the NFL.

The worst thing I can say about him is that he goes down to arm tackles a little more that you'd like, but most backs do. It isn't glaring in Farrow's case. Scouts are sleeping on him.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

The national media are also catching up to the idea that Big 12 expansion is likely coming.

I try to trace/track the heartbeat of realignment here.

Everyone who writes about realignment sees a role to what they do.

I don't have any secret sources anymore.

I am not a guy driven to break stories.  I am someone who finds realignment stories that ring true.

I like to try to expand on the ideas in those articles.  Or debunk them.

What I do bring to the table is a general knowledge of both the driving factors of realignment and the historically what realignment behavior looks like. 

I've been tracking realignment since the breakup of the Southwest Conference.  I know the trends. I know the behavior.

I try to use that to identifiy when I see it coming.

So what am I seeing through my perspective?

I see a lot of articles from a lot of different sources that appear to confirm what the much maligned West Virginia leak guys have been saying.

When various sources who aren't generally realignment writers all start saying it looks very possible is generally a strong confirmation that the ball has started rolling. 

It doesn't mean that anything will ultimately happen --- one powerful vote can totally shut down expansion in a conference overnight, and the Big 12 definitely has one very powerful voice in UT --- but it does mean it is a ton more likely to occur.

Especially when the finances support it.  (Per Mr. Lambert the early return back from the Big 12's research firm BHV are extremely favorable.)

Here's what's out there now.


Dennis Dodd is one of my favorite sports writers.  He dips into realignment from time to time.  When he does so, it is a sign that things may be immenent.  His voice on these things is quite impactful.

In this article he pulls back the curtain on the mechanics of a Big 12 network and he gets the first acknowledgment out of the Big 12 commissioner that something has to be done that anyone I have read has put up.


This was a very interesting interview with a Big 12 sports announcer.  Here are some of his highlights.

The presidents will get together in May, his informal canvassing of his peers lead him to volunteer that all the Big 12 announcers think expansion is going to happen.

There is some thought ESPN doesn't want to push for a second conference network onto cable providers in SEC territory, especially Georgia and Florida.

The implication is that ESPN might steer the Big 12 away from the SEC territory. And that kind of matches up to the rumors out there that ESPN wants the Big 12 and SEC to peacefully coexist and not raid each other.

(The whole desire by ESPN to not push another network in SEC territory is kind of interesting to me...I think it is potentially the source of a huge, impactful, ripple effect to the emerging tapestry of the mega conferences. I will address this realignment pebble in a future article.)


Is a piece by another Berry Tramel fan that points at the obvious value of a BYU inclusion.  Tramel likely greenlit publication of this because 1) it is a strong case and 2) because OU keeps talking up BYU and UT is reportedly on board with BYU.

And finally there is a dissenting voice.  What would the Sports Minority Report be without one?


The Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger had an article in his blog that reads as a bit of a hatchet job on OU president David Boren.

His argument seems to be that Boren and OU are pushing expansion based on feelings of insecurity rather than the plain reality that OU is not getting supplemental out of state recruiting anymore. He ignores the reality that OU is no longer among the recruiting haves in football.

He argues that if Boren had just kept his mouth shut on expansion better options would have presented themselves and the Big 12's underlying financial problem would have magically fixed itself.

I don't know how anyone can make that argument.

Perhaps Boren's behavior offends Mellinger's sensibilities.

To me his article reads like a reporter currying favor with a source in the hopes of landing more inside info.

Realignment tracking is fairly simple.  It is clear that the Big 12 hasn't expanded in part because UT has been against it --- they get everything they could want in the current Big 12 --- (UT has Tech's realignment vote and may have TCU's) and because schools like Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas have been cool to the idea.

With no pressure on UT, UT has no reason to change their position.  OU leaving is about the only thing that would put pressure on UT.

Boren dragging the financial reality of this conference into the light not only puts pressure on UT, it also exposes the limited thinking of the 3 northern Big 8 schools, and more specifically the Kansas schools for not supporting OU's position.  

If this report comes back and says "Oh hell yeah you should expand...You should have expanded 3 years ago!" That is going to be something that calls the decision making and insight of the leaders at the Kansas schools into question with their boosters.  They are on a collision course with that reality now due to the insistence of Boren.

 I can totally understand why they would want to slam Boren in the press.

I think this action by the leaders at one or both of the Kansas universities suggests they have seen the initial numbers and are at the anger stage of the acceptance progression.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

What's wrong with the OKC Thunder?

They have two of the league's 10 best players and 3 of the league's 20...and this year they look entirely flawed and vulnerable.

I have some thoughts on how I would try to fix what ails OKC in short order (before the playoffs).

I have a ton of respect for OKC's front office.  They run things like I would.  Whenever they see a top 5 draft pick with some potential to fit on their team having issues some place else they pull them in.

With two of the 10 best players in the league, your other 3 can have flaws as long as each merely brings something to the table.

This is kind of the anti-Maverick philosophy.  You aren't worried about whether your coach's ego can take a player.  You are a talent driven team, not a coach driven team. You just look at if a player has the talent to contribute and keep piling up first round talents.

I think the adherence to that philosophy is generally brilliant, but has gotten them into trouble here.  They added Dion Waiters and Randy Foye and have young developing two guard Andre Roberson and that has cut the PT to one of their best 3 point shooters, the very limited Anthony Morrow.  They now have a logjam of 2 guard types, but no real bombers there.

In a league with the Warriors ascending, OKC is trading 2's vs. their opponent's 3's due to those acquisitions.

As the trading deadline has passed, you can't just say I'll trade these guys for 3 point shooters.

No, if you are going to do anything about it, you probably need to think about cutting these guys to free roster slots and PT.  And you need to scrape the barrel ---CBA etc. to find replacements.

It runs very contrary to the mentality of this management, but I would argue cutting at least one of these two guards to open slot and PT for an unabashed bomber ---even if the guy is really just a 5th starter guy at best talent wise ---makes sense.

Steve Kerr was a joke among NBA fans until the Bulls realized he fit what they needed. OKC needs their Steve Kerr.  They need a glue guy who can provide some stability.

If you ask me what OKC is missing and desperately needs, it is a guy who can go for 40 one night draining a crapload of threes.  Someone who when the offense is imploding can provide a little leadership and direction ...or just start canning threes. Not just a shooter.  A bomb-crazy gunner.

And he has to be available, which means not a talent anyone in the NBA believes in.

I have got the guy in mind. Jimmer Fredette.

Fredette hasn't done a damn thing in his time in the NBA, but no one questions the fact that he can shoot with range.  And really what has worked against him in his NBA career is exactly what OKC needs --- a willingness to lock and load threes all game long if needed.

Fredette has struggled to diversify and modify his game to fit in with his NBA teams.  That's not really a problem in OKC.  The Thunder need green light college Jimmer.

It's a good play.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Big 12 Expansion: "The Big 12 Network Presented by Longhorn Sports"

So I saw some tweets from MHver3 that caught my eye.

MHver3 is a West Virginia Mountaineer fan who is a long-time realignment poster.   He claims to have insider connections.  He is reviled by some who firmly call him a liar who paints himself as more plugged in than he actually is....But everyone who follows realignment reads him. 

Even if they think he is full of it, or at least irresponsible in what he posts. (The worst part of being a critic of someone's integrity is having to eat crow when they get it right, so they have to keep reading...)

I read MHver3 as basically very unfiltered content. If people know you will publish what they tell you and they want certain things out for public consumption in order to drive behavior, they will tell you things.  Some of it 100% true. Some of it to drive behavior.  I have experienced it firsthand.

It seems for the most part, if he hears it, he posts it and that keeps the spigot(s?) open. (Some might go as far as to say, "Perhaps regardless of how likely it is to happen?")

He claims that UT has laid down some concessions they want before they will agree to convert the Longhorn Network into the Big 12 Network.  I think that these conditions are worth discussing.


1) They want to have a mixture of current LHN content and new Big 12 content.

2) They want it still called the "Longhorn Network" in Texas.  In Waco, Lubbock and DFW it could be called "The Big 12 Network Presented by Longhorn Sports".

3) They want to retain majority ownership of the network indefinitely.

4) They want the Big 12 teams to buy their way into the network.

5) and they want an annual share that is 25% bigger than the other members'.

...You always ask for a lot more than you think you can get, but a real deal maker knows the value of their hand and doesn't insult the people they are trying to cut a deal with.

If this is really representative of what UT put out there, I cannot imagine OU president David Boren was anything but livid reading the conditions.

Now maybe he calmed down after thinking through the list a bit.  There are things on this list that are totally viable and reasonable requests.

A Big 12 Network needs UT fans to buy in.  That is the entire point of trying to convert the LHN.  Without UT fans, the Big 12 cannot get a network off the ground.

Keeping a lot of LHN shows (or more likely keeping those shows with heavy UT content) just makes sense. And mixing in more Big 12 content will make it a network the majority of UT and Big 12 fans will want. It is win-win with the right balance. #1 is within the realm of reasonable.

Having the Big 12 members "buy in" is a very reasonable demand.  UT is owed money by ESPN.  They should keep that.  Other Big 12 schools should have to buy back their tier 3 rights for the network.  UT owns half of the LHN, UT SHOULD be compensated to convert it.  #4 is ok too.

Having UT make a larger share than other members bugged the hell out of me when I read it the first time (My gut reaction was "Didn't UT's leadership see what happened the last 6 years?!!"), but then I thought about it with no pre-conceptions as a fresh deal.

Right now UT makes what? A guaranteed minimum of $15 Million annually from their tier 3 rights via the LHN?  How much does Tech make on their tier 3 rights?  $1M? $3 M?  How much does TCU?  In this scenario if UT made $12.5 M from their tier 3 rights share from the Big 12 Network, Tech and TCU would make $10 M each.

It isn't equality, but it is a pretty reasonable response when you look at it from that perspective.

There are "Kings" of college athletics and then there are "Kings of Kings" of college athletics

UT is one of  seven "Kings of Kings" along with Notre Dame, USC, Michigan, Penn State, Florida, and Ohio State ---Huge, rich schools with dominant followings, great academics, and elite football tradition.

Remove UT from the Big 12 and only Kansas and Oklahoma would likely be guaranteed a home in the power 5 conferences.  (TCU, West Virginia, and Baylor would still have a shot, but would be no sure thing.)

This is why these schools have made their bed with UT in the first place, right?  This is why these schools have tolerated UT making more on their tier 3 rights.

It begs asking, why should UT NOT get a little more?  Is equality in payouts unsupported "wrong thinking" when applied to a King of Kings?

There are not any more Kings of Kings in play. If UT gets a little more and expansion plays out properly, no other school will have the juice to demand more than their 100%, so in that regard, making that concession would not have further implications.

You have to remember, UT is already equally sharing tier 1 & 2 payouts.  So lets say that in a few years a tier 1&2 payout is $35M and Big 12 Network payout for UT is $12.5M.  UT will make $47.5M from TV.

And Tech, TCU, and every other Big 12 school will make $45M each.

Is that difference worth fighting over?  No, I don't think so.

Would a target school like Florida State balk over that?  I think they would have the same initial anger, but on reflection, I am sure they would look at it like OU has --- "Faced with potentially a losing hand as our other option, we can live with very, very lucrative 'near equity'."

You have to understand that UT Boosters think there is no reason for UT to be a peer to Kansas State. 

To keep the UT Boosters happy, UT has to be in the catbird seat... even if that doesn't truly amount to much. Unless you are planning on kicking out "the conference riff raff" (not currently possible), that very well may be the cost of doing business with UT.

With that in mind, #5 is reasonable.

Then we get to the ones that are really insultingly a step too far.

UT wants to be the majority owner of the network indefinitely.  This reads to be an incredibly shitty, poisonous position.

This may or may not be a reasonable position.

If you think about the motivations behind it, UT probably wants to be able to bolt on the conference and take the network and the best schools with them at some point if the new Big 12 it currently carrying too much dead weight in media terms and the end result conference doesn't financially work out.  And if you think about it, that is a reasonable position. It's their network.

Imagine what a better position the ACC would be in today in terms of survival if FSU, UNC, and Duke could easily pull a MWC and cherry pick the ACC to form a new conference because they jointly owned their own network...

While turning this into a Big 12 Network will allow the conference to survive and be upgraded with better candidates than are available today, there is no question the other schools will profit from this more than UT. 

In some ways UT is having to concede to the benefit of others.

I believe the LHN is jointly owned by UT and ESPN.   I think you could leave ownership of that half of the network in UT's hands as long as it was laid out right.

Lets be clear here.  This is only being considered because OU (and to a lesser degree West Virginia) are pondering leaving if it doesn't happen.

Everyone hopes this conversion will lead to one of the optimal expansion scenarios and that payouts will reach near SEC/Big 10 levels and stability long term will be the result.

Lets say this idealized expansion happens then 15 years from now Baylor, KSU, ISU, and OSU are all terrible with horrible attendance and viewership.

It could make a world of sense for the haves of the conference to have an exit strategy where they can have UT carry them AND THE CONFERENCE NETWORK out Mountain West Conference-style.

Putting all that power in the hands of a school beholden to no one which is perfectly happy to eliminate schools from the mix offers UT Boosters the power fix they need and gives schools like OU and KU plausible deniability down the road if tough decisions are made.

Pair that with a more focused next GOR deal that only requires the haves (UT, KU, OU, WVU,and maybe TCU and/or Tech) to commit their rights and the foundation is laid for such a scenario ---if needed.

Realistically, down the road, you might be talking about splitting 95% of the same pie between 4 fewer mouths.

If the conference at that point is again looking at being picked apart, that kind of flexibility to allow a 19% raise in TV payouts to surviving member schools could save it long term.  (Such a move could turn $45M TV checks into $53M checks. Very much blunting potential encroachment from the Big Ten or SEC.)

It's a reasonable position for "the haves" to embrace and frankly "the have nots" don't have the juice to challenge it.

(And really as long as the have nots stay around .500 most years via smart scheduling, they aren't going anywhere anyway.)

I think you can concede all of UT's ownership if structured properly.  What you cannot concede to UT is ownership in terms of management or profit sharing. 

UT cannot be allowed to call the shots on all kinds of network minutia directly.  The conference needs to call the shots.  UT can still have a very loud voice in the conference, but that needs to be the line.  It needs to be difficult for UT to force changes through the conference in order for the network to be as effective, independent, and profitable as it can be.

All revenue that is not taken by the Network partners needs to be in the pool the Big 12 splits between their members in nearly equitable terms.

As offensive as #3 reads on paper, in the right scenario, it could be a real positive in landing other haves like FSU, Clemson, Miami, and BYU, by suggesting that if schools do not carry their weight they can be exorcised down the road, offering an added level of protection for the whole.  Slightly restructured, it could be reasonable.

Now the most offensive one is that the Big 12 Network would continue to be called the "Longhorn Network" in Texas.

This is to some degree understandable if you view this as an effort to protect their branding in case this doesn't work out --- as just another part of an escape plan if things don't work out.

But I doubt Boosters in Waco, Lubbock, or Fort Worth see that.

I think UT should let this one go.  And usually when you are laying out demands, you include a couple you might concede to get the ones you don't want to concede.

This one doesn't really even make sense for UT.  You have to present the look of teamwork and peer status for the raids of schools like FSU and Clemson (or Arizona State and Colorado) to be viable in a scenario where UNC and Duke want to stay in the ACC.

The LHN has come to be synonymous with the idea that UT is a spoiled brat of a conference mate.

The LHN argument is an embarrassment to a lot of UT alums, even if they like having more UT content.  It's time to let it go.

It's funny, taken in the harshest context terms like these seem poisonous, but if you can get to the heart of them with an equitable mindset, a lot of these could be reasonable.

Here's hoping the schools can work a deal.

The lack of an alternative pro football league, the immobilization of the USFL brand, and why I hate Donald Trump for non-political reasons.

I was a huge fan of the USFL.

As such,  I have hated Donald Trump for years.

The USFL allowed a young Donald Trump, who had passed on the USFL in their initial season, to buy the New Jersey Generals prior to their second year.

Trump was a rich guy's rockstar.

Trump, much like he is doing today, convinced a group of folks in an unhappy state to prop up his efforts to achieve one of his personal goals.  He convinced the comparatively poor USFL owners to move to a fall schedule and sue the NFL in the hopes of the NFL converting their debt-ridden franchises into much more valuable NFL franchises.

There was talk the NFL might take a couple of teams if it came to that.

You see Trump had been turned down by the NFL and hoped to force his Generals in.

His plan failed.

That is why there is no USFL today.

Every year since then I have hoped someone would do their freaking homework and get the formula right for a spring professional football league.  I have always believed if you could give me 6 to 8 rich guys (or ownership groups) in their late 40's or older dedicated to spring pro football who understood the role Trump played in destroying the USFL, you could compete with the NFL with a surprisingly low outlay (well...vs. NFL money anyway).

The NFL is vulnerable. They have been for decades, even with their finances escalating to ridiculous highs...Especially because of that. 

A Spring pro (not semi-pro) league could make it if they just attack the problem from the right position.

Some got close.  (For my money Jim McMahon's XFL was a very strong effort that failed because McMahon was too much of a wrestling guy.  NFL fans are usually not wrestling fans.  His tactics hurt the perceived credibility of the league with football fans. The XFL was McMahon.  Because of that/In spite of that it drew fairly well. As a business, it was well run.  If McMahon had made a few different decisions it totally could have made it.)

Some weren't close at all.  (The best known of the rest, the UFL, had no shot at all.  Even if they had stuck with the original plan of $20 Million rosters and Mark Cuban had followed through as an owner, they'd have failed.  Without all that, it was a painful exercise to track so much of their owners' good money being lit on fire by incompetent management.)

Sadly a new USFL competing with the NFL isn't going to happen.  The USFL brand is owned by some NFL guys who have spent years "allegedly" trying to build a minor league product.  I wouldn't be shocked to find that that NFL dollars are footing the bill on that clusterfuck to keep the potentially valuable USFL brand out of circulation.

But what if there were a half dozen people with cash and balls who after a few beers said, "Fuck it, lets make our own NFL!"...


Competing with the NFL isn't about landing a lot of the best talent like the original USFL did.  It is about targeting the right players.

You need to pay for QBs and, in some cases, coaches to maximize those QBs.  Everyone else can start at the league minimum salary.

It isn't about finding promising virgin markets like the UFL foolishly tried.   It is about going after big markets like the USFL did in year 1.

The coming of the NFL draft is always a difficult time for me as I look at the players coming out and can't help but think of how some of them might fit in a competitive pro league.

Sometimes the QB crop doesn't project well onto a new league.  Last year's crop was like that. This year's crop is  hard to dismiss.

The NFL's Cleveland Quarterback Eaters have the #2 pick in the draft with 2 very talented, but flawed QBs available. 

Carson Wentz only started 2 years at the FCS level and will have to get used to the speed of the NFL.  He may not have enough college experience to make it. 

Jared Goff  is skinny and played in the Air Raid offense and as such is used to looking to the sideline for calls.

These are pretty good NFL QB prospects, but you throw them into Cleveland where the commitment to having a decent offensive line, a competent running game, or a good set of receivers is rarely there, and it seems likely Cleveland will destroy one of these guy's careers.

Imagine the leverage that would create for a spring football league looking to start in 2017 or maybe play a summer season in 2016 before moving to spring the following year.

The league could walk up to Jared Goff and say, "Hey.  You know if Cleveland picks you, the odds are you will be David Carr-ed out of the NFL.  If you sign a 4 year deal with us before the draft, the odds are a pretty good NFL team will draft you in say the 4th or 5th round to get your rights. If our league makes it, we will pay you to stay and you may be the face of the league. If not, your 4 years are paid up front, with a buyback option on that if you decide it isn't for you and want out early.  Then you go to the NFL and you won't have to deal with Cleveland!  It's win-win.  It's what Jim Kelly and Steve Young did on the way to Hall of Fame careers.  Plus we will put you on our Bay team so you can stay home and will try to  hire Tony Franklin as your head coach or someone who uses his system."

How do you pass that up for Cleveland?

Then you go to Carson Wentz and say, "Wow.  Looks like you are going to Cleveland. Want to come be the starting QB of our Chicago Franchise?  We are prepared to offer your college coach, Chris Klieman, our head coaching job if you sign."

It would cost about $5 Million a year for each of those QBs  (although they might take $4M to avoid the Browns).  Consider it the league's promotional budget.  Just the cost of doing business.

Paxton Lynch is very raw, but might do just as well as either of those guys in Cleveland. Connor Cook looks like a marginal NFL backup to me. Christian Hackenberg has a shot to be OK, but may have already had the game beaten out of him in college.  Leave those guys for the NFL.

The other prospects at QB are third round grades at best projecting into the NFL's clunky offenses.  That would mean $700K a year would outpay an NFL draft slot.  You could probably offer 4 years at $500K per season and get anyone from this next lot.

I would sign Cardale Jones to play for his former Ohio State Coordinator Tom Herman.  The NFL is thinking about trying Jones out at other positions like TE...Crazy.  That duo could do a lot in a football crazy city trained to have low expectations like Memphis.

Dak Prescott hits me as a poor man's Tim Tebow.  Maybe not great in an NFL offense, but still effective in the right scheme. You could bring in Brian Johnson as his OC or even head coach in a city like Birmingham.

Kevin Hogan is downgraded for his mechanics, but he is an experienced, accurate, smart, tough leader who would fit right in as the QB in a big market.  His QB coach Tativa Prtichard might not be ready for a head coaching job yet, but he seems like an up and coming coach.  Put them in Hogan's hometown of DC and they'd do alright.

Brandon Doughty is a guy who would fit well in a non-NFL league.  Hire his college head coach Jeff Brohm to serve as his offensive coordinator for one year under Tom Coughlin in New Jersey and the tickets would sell themselves. Brohm would take over as head coach the following year, leveraging the value of the retirement age Coughlin.  Doughty would probably light up the league from day 1.

Vernon Adams is an undersized guy the NFL would want to play at WR, but he was absolutely deadly in Oregon's offense. Maybe hire Matt Lubrick (Sonny's son) to coach.  Put that show in LA and you'd have a hit.

Leave Trevon Boykin in DFW coached by TCU co-coordinator Sonny Cumbie.

Add in winning NFL QBs who the league pronounced too lacking in passing talent to start --- Tim Tebow in Orlando ($700K), Matt McGloin in Philly ($700k), Case Keenum ($700K) in Houston, and the potential of RG3 (say $1.3M) in San Antonio playing for Kendal Briles and you've got something there.

Roll that out that league with collegiate schemes and that is an exciting league with a starting QB cost of about $18M per year.  Divide that by 12 teams and your starting QB costs are about $1.5 M each team.  That is manageable.

LA - Vernon Adams
SF/Oakland - Jared Goff
Chicago - Carson Wentz

Dallas - Trevon Boykin
San Antonio - RG3
Houston - Chase Keenum

DC- Kevin Hogan
NJ - Brandon Doughty
Philly - Matt McGloin

Orlando - Tim Tebow
Birmingham - Dak Prescott
Memphis - Cardale Jones

Maybe budget for one more $500-$700K rookie on each team at WR or RB and this league is ready to roll.


Maybe one day.