Friday, June 16, 2017

Why the Tigers MUST trade JD Martinez

The Tigers are in bad shape. It might not look so bad on the surface, if you haven't been paying attention. They're only 3 games below .500 and 4 games behind the Division-leading Twins, who can't POSSIBLY be for real (right? RIGHT???). Plus, the Tigers have an inordinate number of key players who are starting slow or slumping right now, so we should have every expectation that they'll turn this thing around...

Except it's June. It's no longer "getting the kinks out". The season is nearly a third of the way over, and guys like Cabrera are playing WELL below expectations. In fact, let's look at the main culprits:

Something worth pointing out about Victor Martinez - he's on pace to strike out over 100 times, something he's never done in his career

These are 4 of your 5 highest-paid Tigers. The other is Justin Upton, who is actually having a pretty good year (on pace for 40+ HR). Going into this year, we had a few assumptions - Cabrera and Victor would hit (they aren't), Verlander would be at least "good", if not "great" (more like "mediocre"), Zimmerman would be better than last year (he's worse), the starting pitching would be a strength (it's kinda not, at 13th out of 30 teams), and the bullpen would struggle (ok, nailed that one).  It's looking like the Tigers' aging core has started to fall off the cliff. 

*** To be fair to Cabrera, we recently discovered he's been playing through a litany of injuries since the World Baseball Classic, so it's safe to say his game hasn't deteriorated THIS much. At the same time, he's on the wrong side of 30, so I expect injuries to be more of a factor down the road.

But wait! It gets worse! Check out the salary situation going down the road:

That's right, we are shelling out $30M/yr to Cabrera through the end of the chart. In actuality, that number increases to $32M for each of 2022 and 2023, and there are 2 conditional $30M years on the contract after THAT. It's not very likely Miguel will meet the conditions (must finish in top 10 of MVP voting in 2024 & 2025), but the earliest he's going to come off the payroll is after 2023, at the age of 40.

Victor Martinez looks like a bargain by comparison, since we only owe him $18M for one more year. Still, he's getting paid to be an All Star, and his OPS is 35 points below the AL average. As a DH who can't run anymore (I honestly don't think there is a slower player in all of baseball), his only value is as a hitter, and he's not hitting. Additionally, he's slotted in the clean-up spot for some reason... This insanity deserves its own paragraph, so hold that thought.

One year removed from being the top pitcher according to Wins Above Replacement, Verlander now ranks 81st (56th among starters). He might not be this bad, but I seriously doubt he'll be in the Cy Young conversation again.

As bad as all those other contracts are, Zimmerman's is far, FAR worse. He currently ranks 114th among starting pitchers, according to WAR (and 334 overall). Yet for the next 3 years, he'll be getting money that usually goes to a top 10 starter. For perspective, we're paying him more next year than Max Scherzer is getting (although Scherzer's salary jumps SIGNIFICANTLY the 3 years after that). Zimmerman has managed to string together 3 good starts in a row, but his best days seem to be behind him.

Just to underscore the intractability of the situation, here are some of the guys that are getting paid not to play for us. Additionally, Anibal Sanchez is getting $16M to play minor league ball. Sanchez, Pelfrey, and Lowe's money will come off the books after this season, but we're still paying Prince Fielder (now retired) $6M of dead money through 2020.

If you add up the dead money, the guys under contract next year, and then figure Upton & Kinsler come back, that's $140M dedicated to 2 position players, a DH, 2 starting pitchers, and 2 guys who won't be on the team. The luxury tax threshold will be $197M next year, which leaves $57M to fill out the roster. That's about an average of $3M per player, assuming only a 25-man roster (it'll be more than that). 

The rumor is that JD Martinez could be traded for multiple top prospects... Not the #1 guy, but maybe the #2 guy and a couple other higher prospects in a given system. Given the cap situation, the degrading core, and the state of the Tigers' farm system, this has to be a no brainer.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Stan Van Gundy on 97.1 The Ticket

Stan Van Gundy is without question one of the best interviews in all of the current coaches in professional sports. At least out of the big 4 (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey). He's intelligent, honest, and not afraid to say things. Most coaches don't say things. They spend a lot of time talking, but they obscure, mislead, or flat out refuse to answer some pretty straightforward questions. For example, Lions coach Jim Caldwell was weirdly evasive about DeAndre Levy's status all year, treating his meniscus surgery like it was the nuclear launch codes. SVG is NOT like Caldwell.

Additionally, Mike Valenti can be pretty combative. He doesn't pull punches, he holds everybody to a pretty high standard, and he asks questions that sound like a critique on the way out of his mouth. The Lions dropped 97.1 as their broadcast home because The Ticket refused to fire Valenti based on his on-air criticisms of the team. That should give you an idea of the environment SVG was walking into when he agreed to an in-studio interview on The Valenti Show.

It was fascinating radio, and well worth a listen if you have time. If you don't, here are some highlights:

  • 4:51 - Talking about Drummond's post-up game. The post-up game took a step back this year, and SVG thinks that's due to Andre being afraid of getting fouled. Drummond's a beast in the post in practice, but it doesn't translate in games because they just put him on the line.
  • 8:57 - Valenti asks about off-season moves. Based on Stan's response, they are actively looking to make a trade, but they're having problems finding a partner. The approximate quote is "I like our core of guys, but no one is untouchable." 
  • 11:30 - Stan's approve vs. Sam Hinkie's "Process". SVG disagrees with the viability of The Process as a multi-year tanking strategy. He makes great points that a ton of cap space doesn't do the Pistons much good because we aren't a free agent "destination", and that your building strategy has to fit with what the fans & ownership are prepared to face.
I've never been a fan of The Process, and I think the Sixers fans are nuts for lionizing it as much as they have, considering it hasn't won them anything yet (they essentially raised a banner to losing earlier this month). But I do think limited scale tanking can be effective and even necessary. For example, when Reggie Jackson went down with tendinitis, the Pistons' season was basically over. It wasn't super obvious until towards the end of January, but the right move would've been to shut Reggie down for the rest of the season, try to dump somebody at the deadline for picks or players on their rookie deal (KCP, Drummond, or Tobias Harris would've been the best bets), and tank for the remaining third of the season.

A one year tanking strategy can work too, and Stan Van Gundy did acknowledge that it has worked in the past. I totally disagreed with his stance that the team/fan-base wouldn't have supported a teardown when he came on as GM/Head Coach. Yes, the Pistons had been losing since 2009, but they never bottomed out. They had 5 straight seasons of 25-30 wins, which was never bad enough to net a top 3 pick. Based on Stan's first season of 32 wins, we could've easily done a teardown and built from the ground up, instead of trying to build a contender on a crumbling foundation. Had Stan cleaned house, Gores might not have been thrilled, but I think most of the fans would've accepted it.

Every year from 2009 on, Dumars was trying to make the playoffs, which was like charging the enemy lines with a gun full of blanks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Big Surprise, Pistons Drafting 12th

The Pistons entered the lottery with the 12th best odds of ending up with the 1st pick, and no surprise, they ended up with the 12th pick. The odds of landing anywhere between 1 and 3 were 2.5%, and there was a 3.9% chance that they'd move back . So I suppose we can be thankful that at least we're picking 12th and not 13th. But based on how the 2016-'17 season went, a couple of things became very clear :

  1. The Pistons will not contend for a title with this roster
  2. The Pistons have a lot of money invested in Drummond and Reggie Jackson, who will never be the best or 2nd best player on a contending team
Keith Langlois tweeted the last 7 #12 picks, and it's not particularly encouraging:
Saric looks like he might be ok, and Adams is a decent player, but basically you're looking to get a role player at 12, MAYBE a starter, but probably not. If you're looking for encouragement though, maybe we should just look at good players taken in the first round with pick 12 or later. Let's start with 2014, since we can't really be sure how good anyone in the last couple of drafts will be...

2014: 12 - Saric, 13 - Zach Levine, 19 - Gary Harris, 23 - Rodney Hood, 25 - Clint Capela
2013: 12 - Stephen Adams, 13 - Kelly Olynyk, 15 - Giannis Antetokounmpo, 21 - Gorgui Deng, 22 - Mason Plumlee, 27 - Rudy Gobert

2012: 21 - Jared Sullinger (Jae Crowder and Draymond Green were taken in rd 2)
2011: 13 - Markieff Morris, 14 - Marcus Morris, 15 - Kawhi Leonard, 16 - Nicola Vucevic, 19 - Tobias Harris, 22 - Kenneth Faried, 24 - Reggie Jackson, 30 - Jimmy Butler
2010: 13 - Ed Davis, 14 - Patrick Patterson, 18 Eric Bledsoe, 23 - Trevor Booker

Of that group you've got Giannis, Gobert, Kawhi, and Butler who are all franchise players taken 12th or later in that 5-yr period. Adding Green, although he was a longshot at the time, makes it 1 guy per year. The trick is to get lucky/good enough to take him. So who is it in THIS draft?

Well, if I knew that I would be in a different profession than I am now (and making a lot more money). At some point before the draft, I'll go over who I'd like to see the Pistons take. But for now, let's look at what they could do to turn the franchise around...

To me, this is crucial. The Pistons HAVE to get shut of Andre Drummond's contract, and it would be preferable to dump Reggie's deal as well. Interestingly, there are two potential trade partners at the top of the draft who are in need of some interior help. Boston really needs to move Horford to the 4 and get a 5 who can protect the rim and rebound. Drummond fits the rebounding bill to a T, and while he isn't the best shot blocker, he's better than anyone the Celtics currently have, and I think he'll do better if he focuses more on that end of the floor. Boston is pretty loaded at the guard position, so they might find it preferable to trade the pick for a big who is ready to go NOW so they can make their run at a title.

The other option is LA, and I think they'd do this. The Lakers have the #2 pick, and they've made no secret that they're in love with Lonzo Ball (and the feeling is mutual). But LA just spent a #2 pick on another PG, Russell, 2 years ago so... why not trade him? I believe I recommended some version of THIS TRADE a little before the deadline, and it makes even more sense now. The Lakers get something for Russell, they offload Timofey Mozgov's ridiculous contract, and they get a GOOD center in return. From the Pistons' perspective, they add a young PG on the rise, Ingram was the #2 pick last year, and the Pistons should also get a pick or two as well (the Lakers own Houston's 1st this year, pick #28, but none next year).

BOOM or BUST Candidates
If the Pistons can't swing a trade, they could play it safe and draft a player who fits their needs and is next up on their draft board (Chad Ford has them taking Kennard, which would be the epitome of this strategy). The other possibility is to go for a high-risk/high-reward candidate that could be that diamond-in-the-rough franchise guy, like Kawhi, Giannis, Gobert, Butler, and Green all were. What you need is a player who looks like he could be really good, but has some question marks that cause him to drop (think Thon Maker in last year's draft, only he didn't drop enough).

Harry Giles PF/C, Duke: Giles is actually the guy on the board at #12 (per the ESPN100 rankings), but he's also a big boom-or-bust candidate. He's had a couple of ACL injuries and wasn't 100% when he played with Duke last year, so we didn't get a real good look at him. Based on his DraftExpress scouting report, he has similar strengths and weaknesses to Drummond, except he's a little better from the stripe and he needs to add muscle. If he could develop a jumper and become a better passer, he could be an improvement over Drummond, but cheaper.

Justin Jackson SF, UNC: Jackson will be a good player. Or at least an okay player. In that respect, he's not that risky. I look at him in much the same way that I saw Denzel Valentine last year. Now Valentine was a much more established shooter and passer than Jackson is, but both players were old for their draft class and very limited athletes. Jackson still isn't an elite shooter, but his shot has already improved significantly and could continue to do so.

OG Anunoby SF, Indiana: If the Pistons make this pick, they're likely tanking the 2017-'18 season because Anunoby is expected to miss the entire year recovering from an ACL tear. If he comes back healthy with the same bounce (or near enough), he could be a steal at 12. His shot is quite uneven, but he has shown the ability to hit 3s at a high rate (although the FT% concerns me). He has the potential to be a top defender in the league.

Hamidou Diallo SG, Kentucky*: This would be a true boom-or-bust move. While Diallo officially is coming from Kentucky, he never actually played a game for them. He stayed in HS for a graduate year, then did a spring semester with UK and practiced with the team but never played. He's an other-worldly athlete, with the top vertical in the combine and some of the better sprint & agility times as well. The problem - his shooting SUCKS. Dwyane Wade was able to be a pretty good SG without ever developing much of a 3pt shot, but this is a different league than the one Wade entered 14 years ago. Diallo shot a .176 3P% last year at Putnam Science Academy. He'll need to double that, if he's going to be an effective scorer in the NBA. Also, Diallo would be a huge reach at #12 for the Pistons.

Caleb Swanigan PF, Purdue: Speaking of a huge reach, here's the Draymond Green of this draft. Swanigan isn't an elite athlete and he'll need to continue to improve his conditioning, but he did make some strides after a poor combine showing last year. He's a phenomenal rebounder, defender, he's good with his back to the basket, and he featured a .447 3P% that wasn't there last year. He might not even get picked in round 1, but he's a guy that has the potential to be one of the 5 best players of his draft class.

Jordan Bell - the PF out of Oregon - is another guy I like a lot, but I don't see him as a potential "boom" candidate. I just like his skill set. He blocks, rebounds, has an ok shot, and he can get up & down the court. He'd be an ideal small-ball 5, or somebody to play next to Ellenson and add a rim protecting presence. If we do the trade with LA and end up with the 28th pick as well as our own 12th, we could go with either him or Swanigan there and it wouldn't be a huge reach.

As far as the 2nd round goes, I'd LOVE to get Frank Mason, the PG out of Kansas. He was Kansas's best scorer, and he can really shoot (.490/.471/.794 shooting %s). Any small guard will get Isaiah Thomas/Nate Robinson comparisons, but they might actually be apt in this case. I think he ends up as a quality backup PG, and he has the potential to be a starter on a good team.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lions Draft Grade: C+

The 2017 NFL Draft is in the books, and I have to say, while I don't see any of the glaring mistakes you might see in a Mayhew or Millen draft, I don't see much to get excited about either. Davis was a good pick I thought, but Foster was available at the time and will likely be a better player. Maybe. We missed out on Mixon and then took a CB that seems to have pretty limited upside. We traded back in round 3 and missed on some guys I thought could've been day 1 starters...

I haven't scouted these players personally, I'm relying on their measurables, their game tape & stats, and what others have written about them. So any draft critique has to come with this caveat - the Lions front office knows these players WAY better than I do. That said, I don't need to have personal scouting knowledge of every player to question draft strategy. Also, if questions about a player's abilities are being asked by writers who DO have firsthand scouting knowledge, it's legit for me to bring those up as well.

I already covered the Jarrad Davis pick, so I won't go in depth here. It did remind me a little of the 2010 Draft though, when we took Suh over McCoy. If you hop in the wayback machine, the debate at the time of the 2010 draft was whether Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy would be the better prospect at DT. It was generally accepted that Suh was the better player, but McCoy was supposed to be a better pass rushing DT and maybe less of a headache. When Suh eventually left the Lions in free agency for more money, I thought at the time that while he was the better player, the Lions would have been better off had they drafted McCoy instead. So with that in mind, I'm ok with the Davis pick over Foster. Davis might be not quite as good a player as Foster (on the other hand, he might turn out better), but I think he'll be less of a headache.

With that out of the way, let's look at the rest of the Lions' draft. You should be able to spot a common theme in my evaluations. 

Round 2, pick #53
Teez Tabor - CB, Florida
6'1", 199 lbs, 4.62 40-yd dash

That 40-time is glacially slow for a 2nd round corner, but it's possible that a nagging hamstring injury slowed him down a little. Even assuming the best, he's still a slower CB and would get burned if we put him on the island outside. Tabor is pretty good in coverage though, and has a lot of INTs and pass breakups to show for it. He's projected as a zone CB, which is pretty useful in our defense, but he's not a great tackler. Here's what I thought when we took Tabor - "WHY DIDN'T WE TAKE JOURDAN LEWIS???" I know Lewis has a domestic case and that's definitely a concern, but Lewis could be an outside corner. He's got elite speed and coverage ability. He's a little smaller, but he's a much better player than Tabor. And while Tabor doesn't currently have a case, he's got history (suspensions for failed drug tests and an altercation with a teammate). I would love to have gotten  either Mixon or DeMarcus Walker here, but they had just been picked. It was weird to me to see Quinn go for a guy who's probably never going to be higher than a #3 CB.

Round 3, pick #96 (traded back with NE)
Kenny Golladay - WR, Northern Illinois
6'4",  218 lbs, 4.50 40-yd dash

Golladay is a big dude who isn't slow, but he isn't going to run away from anyone either (in the video from the OSU game, he's pretty well covered most of the time). A problem the Lions receivers had last year was getting separation, and I don't see how this guy will fix that. So while WR was a need, I'm against picking a WR here, and I'm not crazy about trading back either. The trade gave us New England's 4th & 6th round picks, which is a decent haul for moving back 11 picks in round 3. But look at who was available that we missed out on - RB Kareem Hunt, RB D'Onta Foreman, CB Jourdan Lewis (who we probably weren't drafting after taking a CB in round 2, but still), S John Johnson, and DT Montravius Adams. We may be fine with Golladay, but I think we could've done better if we'd stayed put and gotten one of the 2 RBs or a defensive player.

Round 4, pick #124 (from NE)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin - LB, Tennessee
6'0", 230 lbs, 4.66 40-yd dash

I've got no issues with this one. LB was still a need, even after taking Davis in round 1. He's also our 2nd "Jalen", since Teez Tabor's first name is Jalen. Anyway, JRM missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, but the year before was a pretty good one. He's fast, can cover, and he's a good tackler. He needs to add about 10 lbs of muscle and probably won't start right away, but I like the pick.

Round 4, pick #128
Michael Roberts - TE, Toledo
6'4", 270 lbs, 4.86 40-yd dash

This. This is how you draft a tight end. I love everything about this pick - who we got, the potential of the player, the skill set he already has, and especially WHERE we got him. This is why you don't spend your top pick on a TE. The guy can catch, he's big, and he projects as a quality blocking TE in the NFL. He isn't going to run away from anybody, but his size is perfect for red zone and short yardage situations. He'll go up and get it for you. Jake Butt was available, but he's supposed to miss all of the upcoming season with his ACL injury. I have no issues with picking Roberts over Jake Butt here.

Round 5, pick #165

Jamal Agnew - CB, San Diego
5'10", 185 lbs, 4.32 40-yd dash

Not a bad 5th round pick. He's got elite speed and can return punts, so that may be where he starts out. He'll need to add some muscle to play slot corner.

Round 6, pick #205
Jeremiah Ledbetter - DE, Arkansas
6'3", 280 lbs, 4.84 40-yd dash

Not especially quick or disruptive in the passing game, getting only 5.5 sacks last year and 7.5 TFL. I wish they'd addressed the edge rush earlier in the draft, although it's not like the other picks were taken in spite of need. DeMarcus Walker would've been a great pick in rd 2, but he went 2 picks ahead of the Lions. We passed on a 6'7" DE from Villanova, who looks promising, and Jordan Willis out of K State probably would have started for us out of the gate (Teez Tabor will be the #3 CB at best). So, Ledbetter isn't a bad pick for the 6th round, but I wish we'd addressed the edge rush earlier.

Round 6, pick #215 (from NE)
Brad Kaaya - QB, Miami

6'4", 214 lbs, 4.90 40-yd dash

At this point in the draft, you're looking for good players regardless of need. Did we NEED a QB? No, we're presumably reupping with Stafford and Ruddock is now our #2. But Kaaya, while limited, was a steal here and should develop into a quality backup. These are the types of guys you can develop and then trade if the opportunity presents itself.

Round 7, pick #250

Pat O'Connor - DE, Eastern Michigan
6'4", 277 lbs, 4.81 40-yd dash

Decent 7th rounder, what can I say? I know next to nothing about the guy. His stats are ok, not great, he has short arms and isn't super strong or athletic... Fine I guess?

And here's your UDFA tracker from Pride of Detroit, in case you're a total degenerate, like myself.

Overall, I can't say I know enough about these players to excoriate Quinn for this draft, nor can I praise his drafting acumen. Early on in the draft I thought he passed on some players with higher upside (in a couple cases, MUCH higher), but they would have come with some headaches. I'm okay with the 1st round pick, less than thrilled with the 2nd & 3rd round moves, I love what he did in round 4, and I'm fine with rounds 5-7.

If you're comparing it to the 2016 draft, they're similar in that he addressed needs without overreaching, but I don't think he drafted as many potential starters as he did last year.  I'd guess only 2 of the 6 defensive players we drafted will be full-time starters, and offensively I'd say the TE has really the only shot. I'd give this draft a C+. Quinn addressed needs, but I don't think he took enough risks. At some point, he'll need to do that.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Round 1 is in!

The first round of the NFL draft was pretty crazy, with three trades that netted 3 QBs way before anyone thought they'd go. The Lions, like last year, were boringly predictable. That's actually a good thing. A GM will often want to appear like the smartest guy in the room and grab a risky pick, or someone off the board. Sometimes that works out, but usually the best player to take is pretty obvious. Last year, the obvious pick was the tackle out of OSU, Taylor Decker. That has worked out pretty well so far.

Based on the nature of the draft, you tend to see a highly rated prospect falling for some reason and hope he's still there when your team picks. Johnathan Allen dropped some, but I had no expectation that he'd still be available when the Lions picked at 21, and sure enough, Allen went off the board at #17. But Reuben Foster, the LB out of Alabama, was in a free fall due to some character concerns at the Combine. Linebacker was probably the Lions' most dire need... did they make the right choice?

Jarrad Davis, LB Florida                                     Reuben Foster, LB Alabama
6'1", 238 lbs, 4.61 40-yd dash                                     6'0", 229 lbs, 4.64 40-yd dash
2016: 9 gm, 60 tkl, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 PD                 2016: 15 gm, 115 tkl, 13 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 PD
2015: 14 gm, 94 tkl, 11 TFL, 3.5 sacks,                     2015: 15 gm, 73 tkl, 8 TFL, 1 sack, 7 PD
1 INT, 4 PD, 1 FF

Davis - Pros: So, right off you should notice that Davis only played in 9 games last season, and we'll get to that. He can tackle, he can get to the QB, he's fast, and he's not bad in coverage. Everyone loves his character and he's a leader on the defense, which should not be understated. And he can either play either the MIKE (middle LB) or WILL (weakside LB) positions in the Lions' defense.
Foster - Pros: He won the Bednarik Award for best LB in college football, so Foster is pretty good. He's fast, he's a big hitter, and he's got that Alabama pedigree. He's also great in coverage, which the Lions really need at the LB position.

Davis - Cons: The injuries. Davis missed the end of his 2014 season with an MCL tear, and then this past year he missed several games and then tried to play through an ankle injury. Ankle sprains can become a chronic issue, but they aren't as catastrophic to a player's career as a knee injury can be. Still, Davis has missed a lot of games over the past 3 years. Football-wise, he's not terrific in coverage, but it's not a huge area of concern.
Foster - Cons: The issue with Foster, and the reason he wasn't taken in the top 15 or so, was character concerns. He tested positive for a "diluted sample" during his drug test, which could just be over-hydrating, or it could be a cause for concern. The problem is that he's now on level 1 of the NFL's drug discipline, meaning another positive test would be a 4-game suspension. He also had a "heated exchange" with hospital staff at the Combine, causing him to get kicked out. Aside from the character concerns, Foster has had some stinger issues due to poor tackling technique, and he had rotator cuff surgery this offseason.

The Verdict: Reuben Foster is probably maybe the better football player. Possibly. But he has a tendency to just drop his shoulder and go for the big hit instead of wrapping up. He's a really good player, but he's not flawless, and the stuff at the combine raised some eyebrows. I'd prefer the Lions had drafted him, because I think he's a bit better than Jarrad Davis, but...

Jarrad Davis is really good. He might actually be a better fit for the Lions than Foster, given that he projects as a middle linebacker (the Lions' current MLB, Tahir Whitehead, graded out as the 2nd-worst starting LB in football by PFF) and has leadership qualities that Foster does not possess. He didn't grade out as quite the coverage guy that Foster is, but Davis made some pretty nice plays in downfield coverage. If he can find the ball in the air like that on a consistent basis, he's going to be just fine in coverage.


Moving on, the Lions have the 53rd and 85th picks today, which correspond to the 21st pick in the 3rd & 4th rounds, respectively. They still have needs on defense - a DE who can get to the QB, a CB who can cover, S, and DT. They also have needs on offense - RB, a downfield threat at WR, and possibly TE as well. So, who's out there?
2nd - Joe Mixon - RB, Oklahoma: This is the name a lot of fans are saying. In fact, many wanted us to take him in the first round. By all accounts, he's the best RB in the entire draft. He can split out as a receiver (538 receiving yards) or do damage on the ground (1,274 yds rushing). He's a perfect RB for this era, except for his anger issues, which might end up getting him suspended for life at some point.

2nd - Malik McDowell - DT, Michigan State: He didn't have the greatest year, but much of that can be attributed to how poorly MSU played. He was playing great until the Ls started to stack up, and then he apparently lost interest and his play declined. That doesn't bode well if that attitude continues, but if you can fix it, he might be the best DT in the draft.
2nd - Jourdan Lewis - CB, Michigan: He doesn't have elite size or speed, but he's one of the best coverage corners in the draft. He does have a pending domestic issue with his girlfriend that hasn't been resolved yet, which bears watching.
2nd - Obi Meliwonfu - S, UConn: Obi is the most physically imposing safety I've ever seen. He's HUGE for the position at 6'4", 224 lbs, and tremendously gifted athletically (4.40 40-yd dash, 44" vertical). He's not as good in coverage as you might like, but the Lions can afford to develop him for a year. I think he can play.
2nd/3rd - DeMarcus Walker - DE, Florida State: It would be a stretch to expect him to be waiting for the Lions to pick him up with the 85th pick, but it's a big of an over reach to grab him with the 53rd pick. Walker had some gaudy sack totals, but he doesn't possess elite speed off the edge. He might be more of a 3-4 DE, which is why I'd hesitate to take him in round 2 but not round 3.
3rd - Samaje Perine - RB, Oklahoma State: If the Lions go defense again in round 2, they could get a nice short-yardage back in Perine in round 3, if he's there. Sam Perine doesn't have much top end speed, but he's quick enough between the tackles, and man does he move the pile. Check the tape.

3rd - Jordan Leggett - TE, Clemson: Leggett was one of the top TEs in college football last year. He's big and athletic, and would be a nice target for Stafford, but he needs work in both the receiving and blocking facets of the game.

3rd - Ahkello Witherspoon - CB, Colorado: He's got elite size and near-elite speed, but the production isn't quite there. At least not with tackles and INTs. His 19 knockdowns is a massively impressive stat, but he needs to add muscle and be a more willing tackler. By round 3 though, you aren't getting a complete product.

We'll see what direction Bob Quinn takes, but the Lions should end up with 1 or 2 more starters by the end of the night.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mocks Galore!

The NFL Draft is just over a couple of weeks away, and there are a lot of mock drafts out there. A LOT. So, I thought I'd do a Lions-centric mock draft roundup! Yay!

First, has a number of different guys that do mocks. The best is Mike Mayock, but he doesn't do his until the day of or the day before the draft. The latest is Bucky Brooks, who mocked Florida LB Jarrad Davis to the Lions on April 11th. 

On the other hand, Daniel Jeremiah mocked yet another non-blocking TE (Miami's David Njoku) with less than great hands on 4/4. This would be my nightmare scenario. Willis is an OLB who would probably convert to DE in our system, and Harris is a perfect fit. I'd be fine with either of them.

CBS Sports has a TON of mocks, so let's get cracking.

Both Rob Rang and Ryan Wilson mocked Temple OLB Haason Reddick to Detroit, so we'll look at him first. He's an incredible athlete, although a bit undersized. I think he played more of a 3-4 pass rushing OLB at Temple, but he can cover as well and his frame isn't really big enough to do that on an NFL level. He'd be better suited to run as an OLB in Detroit's 4-3 system. Not an ideal fit, but not bad either.

Dan Brugler mocked us TJ Watt and I LOVE this pick. Watt is the younger brother of current NFL great JJ Watt, who is easily the best defensive player in the league. TJ is no slouch either, having notched 11.5 sacks, a pick-6, and wreaked havoc last season. He'd play DE in our system and be GOOD at it.

Pete Prisco picked Charles Harris, who I mentioned before but is worth going into further. He's close to ideal size. Not a terrific athlete, but not bad either, and his production last year was pretty good. I've brought him up before as a possibility for the Lions.

I'm not a fan of Will Brinson's Jabrill Peppers pick, and I'll tell you why. Peppers isn't great in coverage. He's more like an LB, but he would need to add 30 lbs of muscle, and that's not happening. He'd make an instant impact in the return game and could be a multi-purpose back out of the backfield on offense, but that's not a player I'm taking in round 1. I'm much more a fan of Jared Dubin's Taco Charlton pick. Charlton is a DE, a bigtime need, and a good one. I didn't include him in my Draft preview earlier because he was slotted a lot higher than he is now. The draft is weird this way, that a guy can move up & down in a couple of months without anything actually happening. Anyway, Taco possesses ideal size for a DE and had great production last season. Get him.

The Ringer mocked my ideal pick, or near enough. I'd pretty much be in favor of any defensive player, if he's a fit. But I've had my eye on Marlon Humphrey for a while.

Humphrey has ideal size and speed for an NFL CB. He hits RBs and has solid coverage skills. He's shown susceptibility to getting beaten on the long ball, so it might be better to run more zone with him, or help him out with a safety over the top if he's covering a burner. I'm not crazy about the long-ball issues, but you can't get a perfect CB with the 21st pick. He's as close as we're gonna get. Unless one of the big names drops to us for some weird reason, Humphrey is at the top of my list.

SI's Chris Burke also likes Haason Reddick for the Lions, which makes 3 mock drafters on 2 different sites and leads me to believe that maybe they know something the rest of us don't. Fox Sports picked Humphrey for us, which obviously I like. At this point we're getting a lot of repeats, so I'll move on to something we haven't heard before.

Todd McShay does so many mocks that he could legitimately have mocked half the players in the first round to a particular team. He and Kiper did a back & forth mock in which Kiper tabbed Charles Harris to the Lions and Kiper picked Takkarist McKinley. McKinley and Harris are similar in a lot of ways. Both are borderline 3-4 OLB/4-3 DEs. Both had pretty good numbers last year, with McKinley getting 18 TFL and 10 sacks, Harris getting 12 TFL and 9 sacks. But McKinley grades out as a slightly better athlete (4.59 40-yd dash to Harris' 4.82), and McKinley had SLIGHTLY better numbers last year. Some scouts think Harris' drop in production from 18.5 TFL his sophomore year to 12 last year was due to scheme & coaching. Personally, I like Harris a little better. He's a year younger, and his production is a little more convincing - 2 yrs of quality production as a soph & junior vs. McKinley's 1 yr as a senior. But McKinley wouldn't be a horrible pick.

A semi-useful article from SB Nation did a poll of the existing mocks and made pie charts for each team and which players are being mocked to them. Essentially, it's a compilation of all the mocks out there.

I say "semi-useful" because the largest section of the pie is the "Others" category, which doesn't help a whole lot. But going by the names listed, DE Taco Charlton comes in 1st with 18.3% of the mocks. DE Charles Harris is 2nd with 16.9%, and Takkarist McKinley is 3rd with 9.9%. LBs Haason Reddick & TJ Watt, TE David Njoku, and DE Derek Barnett (who most mocks have going in the top 10-15 picks).

For what it's worth, Fox Sports had the Lions taking Michigan DT Chris Wormley in the 2nd round, and McShay had them taking Chris Goodwin, a WR from Penn State in the 2nd, and Bucky Hodges, a TE from Va Tech in the 3rd. The McShay picks aren't based on what he thinks the Lions are likely to do, but on what HE would do if McShay were the GM. Which is good because I can't imagine them taking 2 offensive players with their first 3 picks. McShay, for all his knowledge and stuff, seems to be the kind of guy who just throws stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

Anyway, of the players being mocked to the Lions, here are my preferences:

The "I'm ecstatic this guy dropped to us" Tier -
1. Derek Barnett, DE Tennessee (5.6% in mocks, per SB Nation). I consider this a long shot, but I previewed him a couple of months ago as a possibility. He had 3 straight years of great production in the SEC, averaging 17.3 TFL and 10.7 sacks per season. He was great last year, but even as a freshman he was pretty good.

The "I'm not ecstatic but still pretty thrilled" Tier -

2. Taco Charlton, DE Michigan (18.3%). Charlton doesn't have the upside and isn't as finished a product as Barnett, but he's physically much more aligned with what the Lions look for in a DE - tall and long-limbed.
3. Marlon Humphrey, CB Alabama (?%). At least 2 websites mocked him to the Lions (The Ringer and Fox Sports), but Humphrey has been sliding down a lot of the draft boards due to his susceptibility to the big play. That is worrisome, but I think correctable. The Lions could play him in the slot right away, and in zone packages, and as he corrects his weaknesses with the long ball, he'll move to the other corner spot opposite Slay.

4. Charles Harris, DE Missouri (16.9%). Sort of a lesser version of Barnett. Solid, not great, but I'd be happy with him.

The "I'd rather have one of the other guys, but this guy will do" Tier - 5. TJ Watt, DE Wisconsin (5.6%). I think Watt has the frame to pack on the muscle and convert from a college OLB to an NFL DE. He reminds me a bit of Clay Matthews - good pedigree, good stats at a good football school, and probably will outplay his draft position.
6. Haason Reddick, LB Temple (5.6%). Reddick isn't an ideal fit for the Lions' defensive scheme, and that's the main problem here. He's a solid athlete, but he'll need to pack on some muscle to play in the NFL, and the Lions would likely have him play as an OLB instead of trying to convert him to DE. He looks adequate in coverage, so I expect them to have more luck with him than they did with Kyle Van Noy.
7. Takkarist McKinley, DE UCLA (9.9%). McShay likes him for the Lions, and apparently a few others do as well. I'm not as sold on him as a 4-3 DE. But, he's got a good motor and is a pretty good athlete.
8. Jarrad Davis, LB Florida (?%). He had pretty solid production his JR year, and played pretty well, considering his injuries, his SR year. Decent athlete, needs to work on a few things like coverage and recognition.

9. Jordan Willis, DE Kansas State (?%). He's another guy who's OLB-sized who will need to gain weight to convert. I'm even less convinced by him than I am by McKinley, and unlike McKinley, I don't think he'd start in year 1.

The "I would be pretty disappointed by this pick" Tier - 10. Jabrill Peppers, SS Michigan (?%). I loved Peppers as a Michigan fan, but I also was frustrated by him. I didn't think he was used properly on offense, and on defense he was basically a linebacker in a defensive back's body. Great return guy though. Anyway, he's not great in coverage, so you can't put him at safety. I think his ideal role in the NFL is as an all-purpose back/kick returner, but there isn't enough film on him as a RB (Michigan made the huge mistake of lining him up as a wildcat QB instead) to justify a 1st round pick.

The "equivalent of the Ebron pick face-palm" Tier -
11. David Njoku, TE Miami (5.6%). It's disconcerting how many mocks have the Lions taking Njoku. Personal story time - I watched the 2014 NFL Draft at the TAP Room in the MGM Detroit. At the time, the Lions had a lot of defensive needs, needs on the OL, and at RB. OT Taylor Lewan was in play, as well as WR Odell Beckham Jr, and DT Aaron Donald. The guy I had been hoping for was CB Justin Gilbert, who went two picks earlier (thank god, as it turns out). Instead, the Lions opted to get themselves a "matchup nightmare" in Ebron, a TE who looked great in the receiving game, except for some drops, and wasn't a very good blocker. Upon hearing the Lions call his name with the 10th pick (THE 10th OVERALL PICK! ON A TIGHT END???), I banged my head against the bar in frustration.

Now, look at the scouting of Ebron and compare it to what they say about Njoku. Tall, good athlete, great catch radius, has some issues with drops, needs to add bulk and get better at blocking. They could be the same guy. The only thing that would be worse about the Njoku pick is the fact that they'd be duplicating the Ebron mistake of 3 years ago WHILE EBRON IS STILL ON THE TEAM. I give Bob Quinn a lot more credit than that, but apparently a number of mock drafters either don't know the recent history, or they're lumping Quinn in with the hapless Lions GMs of the past.

Unless something crazy happens (like what happened with Laremy Tunsil last year) and a guy like Fournette or one of the top 2 WRs drops in our lap, I'm not going to be a fan of taking any offensive player in round 1 this year. OJ Howard, the TE from Alabama, is really good and would probably be a good option if he dropped as well, but I can't get over the TE thing. We took Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th pick in 2009, and some of us were shaking our heads over taking a TE more known for his blocking so high. Then the Ebron pick happened. Taking another TE in the first round would be like back in the '80s and early '90s when the Jets would blow their top picks on FBs and TEs...

Friday, April 7, 2017

What to do with the Pistons

I've waffled a bit on what to do with this team. I always thought Ish Smith was the wrong guy to back up Reggie (due to Ish's lack of shooting), and that's been validated through the course of the season. But when Reggie went down, I figured it would just be a matter of an awful month or 2 and then we'd get back to the playoffs. When the Pistons struggled after Reggie returned, Reggie being clearly the culprit, and it was pretty evident that there was a lot of disunity on the team, I was all for getting rid of RJ and possibly Drummond as well. Then I read a Zach Lowe piece on the Pistons' struggles, which actually gave me some hope, despite its dismal tone. I had been talked off the ledge.

February was a pretty good month for the Pistons. They went 8-4 in the month, with impressive wins over Toronto, Charlotte, and Portland. The hot streak continued into March, the highlight being a win over Cleveland, and they finally reached .500 after beating the Knicks. Then the wheels fell off. Pathetic loss after pathetic loss, SVG finally shut Reggie Jackson down for the season, something Van Gundy freely admitted he should've done earlier. Almost exactly a month ago, the Pistons were riding high and looking pretty good to make the playoffs as a 6 or 7 seed. Now they're in the lottery, and we're left dealing with the "what now?" question.


1. SVG needs to step down as Head Coach.
It became clear to me that Van Gundy can't make the right decisions for the team as a GM if he's coaching them at the same time. He's too competitive, he wants to win NOW, and he doesn't always make the right call in the heat of the moment. He also seems to struggle to reach some of his players. I'd like to see SVG step down and hire a young hotshot out of the college ranks or one of the top assistants in the league. It's time to give someone else a shot.

2. Drummond and Reggie need to GO.
Andre Drummond is not the future of this franchise, unfortunately. He hasn't developed a post game, a FT shot, or anything resembling rim protection in his 5 years with the team. His motor runs hot & cold, and lately it's been more cold. Oh, and he can't play during the last 5 min of any close game because he's too big of a liability at the charity stripe. Drummond is getting paid WAY too much for this. Reggie has a chance of earning his contract, but I'm not optimistic. He relies too much on athleticism for a guy with asthma and tendonitis of the knee. If it weren't for the health concerns, I'd say stick with him and hope for the best, but... these two players and their contracts will prove to be the albatross around the neck of this franchise if they aren't shipped out and SOON.

3. Build around some of the youngsters and tinker.
I think the best move is to make this KCP's team. He's been very inconsistent as a scorer. I think he's at the stage in his career where you can put some low-level pressure on him. Can he be The MAN for a team not trying to make the playoffs for a couple of years? I think so, and I think the effort in trying to fill that role will be great for his game. Give Stanley Johnson freedom to work in the starting SF role, maybe. Henry Ellenson needs some reps, as will whoever we draft this summer. So cut lose some of the dead weight and let the young guys play. Let the new coach figure some things out without the pressure of playoff expectations.

4. Draftpickdraftpicksdraftpicks.
Whenever we make a trade, we need to be getting a 1st round pick in the mix. This year, next year, 3 years in the future... The Pistons need to draft The Next Big Thing. We've tried rebuilding several different ways without doing a total tear-down, and none of them have worked. We need to cut the fat, get picks, and work on the young talent we have. KCP is a guy I'd like to keep around, since 2-way players of his caliber don't grow on trees. But there are no "sacred cows", as Joe D once said, and if KCP can bring us a top 3 pick in trade, do it.

I'm not advocating for a full-Hinkie. Do a full tear-down, tank or whatever you want to call it for a year. Then in the summer of 2018, start rebuilding.

Right now the Pistons are in a horrible no-man's land. They have a lot of salary wrapped up in players that you can't build around. I'm afraid the ceiling for this team is bottom-tier playoff team. SVG needs to hit the reset button and go for the pick. If he doesn't, Detroit basketball is going to be mired in many more years of mediocrity.