Friday, April 29, 2016

Taylor Decker is a Beautifully Boring First Round Pick, Reset for Day 2



In the Draft, boring is good. Boring is dependable. Boring means you DIDN'T take a WR in the first round in three straight years. Historically, the Lions haven't been boring in the draft, and that's not a good thing. Excitement in the draft comes when your team trades up to get somebody, or reaches past team needs to get a perceived top pick talent who's been sliding due to some red flags. The Lions have been guilty of being too exciting in the draft, and it's come back to bite them almost every time.


First, this was a really weird draft. The top 2 picks had been traded, which almost never happens, and a whole bunch of red flags started popping up on players who had been projected to go in the top 10 picks. Going into the draft, I was hoping a chain of events would cause Jack Conklin to slide from his expected draft position at #10 to get to the Lions at #16. Failing that, I was fully ready to take the best edge rusher available or Taylor Decker. Something that screwed this up, I think, was OT Laremy Tunsil, the projected #3 pick's twitter getting hacked and a video of him hitting a bong while wearing a gas mask getting posted. Tunsil went into draft free-fall, which pushed the other OTs in the draft, Stanley and Conklin, to get taken earlier than expected.


I was legitimately considering the prospect of the Lions taking Tunsil when Miami took him off the board with the 13th pick. To tell the truth, I was relieved. Taking Tunsil would've been classic Lions, and those types of risks have NEVER panned out for us. Nick Fairley had conditioning concerns, Titus Young had character concerns, Mike Williams had talent concerns, Jahvid Best had concussion concerns... The Lions drafted them anyway and found those concerns to be well-founded.

When the Lions' pick was in, I figured Goodell would say one of three names - Taylor Decker, Shaq Lawson, or Ryan Kelly. I had begun to be concerned about Lawson's numbers being inflated and his talent overrated. It also seemed a bit early to be taking a center, but I'd talked myself into Kelly as he might've improved all three positions on the interior O-line. Still, Decker was the pick I was most comfortable with, and that's who the Lions took.





I covered him earlier in the Draft Preview, so I'll just recap in broad strokes. Taylor Decker profiles as a day one starter at right tackle, with the potential to switch to the blind side. He's solid in pass protect but known more as a road grader in the running game. He fits a need, he does it well, and he could develop into even more. Plus, I like his temperament as a lineman. He's got a mean streak, and you've got to have that. Anyway, most draft graders gave Bob Quinn a B for his first pick, but I give him a B+, because doing the safe, smart thing is SO underrated. And in Detroit, it's been SO rare.

***

Tomorrow is Day 2 of the draft, covering rounds 2 and 3. The Lions have the 15th pick in round 2 (46th overall), and a compensatory 3rd round pick for losing Suh, 32nd in the round and 95th overall. When I previewed the draft back in March, my wish list of potential Lions was based on the ESPN grades of who might be available at those picks. Keanu Neal actually went 17th, right after the Lions' FIRST round pick. Karl Joseph went two picks BEFORE. And the last player I'd identified, Kenny Clark, was scooped up before the end of the first round as well. So all my round two options went earlier than I expected, but several quality players dropped.



The top guy currently available, talent-wise, is LB Myles Jack. He's a top ten talent, he's at a position of need for the Lions, but... I don't want them taking him in round 2. Maybe round 3, if he's there. But the knee injury scares me, and he's done if he needs micro-fracture surgery. Either of the Alabama DTs would be a good pick, but I expect them both to go before the Lions pick is up. Reggie Ragland would be great too, but he's probably gone as well. Kevin Dodd, a guy some people had the Lions reaching for in the 1st round, is available as well, but like the others, I think he'll be gone when the Lions' pick rolls around. So who does that leave?


If none of the guys who slid out of round one are available when the Lions are up, Kendall Fuller is a possibility. He missed all but the first 3 games last year when he had knee surgery, so he's a bit of a risk, but not as much as Myles Jack seems to be. Fuller could play corner or switch to safety in a pinch, both areas of need.




Another option in round 2 is Emmanuel Ogbah, and to be honest, this is the guy I hope the Lions get (if no one drops to them). Ogbah is a pure pass rushing DE. He's weak against the run, which isn't ideal, but you aren't going to find a perfect DE (a premium position) outside of the first round (if even then). Ogbah recorded double-digit sacks in each of his last 2 seasons, he knocks down passes and forces fumbles. He needs to work on his effort on an every down basis, and his instincts covering the run aren't all that good, but he looks everything like a disruptive force rushing the passer. I'll take that in round 2.




For round 3, the Lions don't pick until the end, 95th overall. This might be where you take Myles Jack or Jaylon Smith, both high-quality guys with injury concerns. Other options at this level are S Justin Simmons from Boston College, OLB Joe Schobert from Wisconsin, and CB Will Redmond from Miss. State. All three would struggle to start on day 1, but I would expect they would at least be part-timers, and work into a starting role after a year or two.


I like Schobert best of that group. He's a converted safety, so he's still adding bulk, but he rushes the passer well and covers well. He walked on at Wisconsin and was eventually made a captain. He finished his senior season with 76 tackles, 20 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, 1 pick, 2 passes defensed, 2 fumble recoveries and 4 forced fumbles. He's still a work in progress, which is kind of scary, considering how good his production has been. The knocks on him are his size and lack of elite athleticism, but his size will be less of a problem playing in a 4-3 system.


So there are my day 2 wishes - if none of the big names drop to the Lions, Ogbah in round 2 and Schobert in round 3. So far, I think Quinn is off to a nice start.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NFL Draft: Lions-related Mocks and Rumors



The NFL Draft is Thursday... that is to say, round 1 of the NFL Draft is Thursday, rounds 2 & 3 are Friday, and the rest of the thing is Saturday, because you know they're about milking as much money out of this as possible. Anyway. With the draft imminent, upcoming, looming, and whatever other synonym for "approaching" you can think of, I'd like to take a fresh look at the mocks and any hot rumors regarding the Lions.


First, the mocks. NFL.com currently has 4 different mocks out, dated this week. All 4 have the Lions taking a defensive player - either DE Shaq Lawson, DT Jarran Reed, DE Kevin Dodd, or CB William Jackson III. Any of those would be a good pick, depending on whether or not you believe in Lawson. ESPN's Todd McShay put out his 5th mock last week Thursday, and he also had the Lions taking a defensive player - DT A'Shawn Robinson. Mel Kiper released his A-Grade mock last week, prior to the Eagles trading up to #2, and he had the Lions also taking Lawson.


It's interesting that no one from the two main networks covering the draft have the Lions taking an offensive player, especially considering the offensive line was such a weak point last year. And this brings us to the hot rumor concerning the Lions. A number of sources, most notably Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, have tabbed Alabama Center Ryan Kelly as the Lions' pick at #16. There's a lot there to unpack.
  • First, the Lions already have a C, Travis Swanson, who they took in round 3 a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, he was really, REALLY bad last year, to the point where he may have been mainly responsible for Larry Warford and Laken Tomlinson's bad performances last year
  • Second, the 16th pick is really high to take an interior offensive lineman. There's a bit of buzz around Kelly right now, so Quinn may be looking to just pick him at 16, he may be looking to trade back, or...
  • He might be trying to psych out the Colts, who reportedly are really interested in Ryan Kelly. If the Colts are so enamored with Kelly that they'll trade up to pick him in front of Detroit, that might push back a player that the Lions are more interested in. If that's the case, that is some Belichick-level deviousness right there
It's very possible that Bob Quinn is interested in drafting Kelly, no matter what, and relegating Swanson to the bench. If Ryan Kelly is good enough to boost the play of 3 different positions on the line, I'm all for it. Draft him at 16, trade back, whatever. This is probably the likeliest scenario, since the Lions have supposedly interviewed everyone who ever knew Kelly several times. If it IS in fact a red herring (which I doubt, since so few people are that devious in real life), Quinn COULD be pushing a guy like OT Jack Conklin (who Mike Mayock said the Lions should SPRINT to the podium to pick if available), CB Vernon Hargreaves, or DT Sheldon Rankins back to the 16th pick, where the Lions could scoop him up.

Mike Mayock's mock draft hasn't come out yet, but normally it comes out the day before the draft (which is today, soooo... what's the holdup?). He seems to be in every team's draft room and is rarely surprised by a pick. I place a lot of weight on whoever he has the Lions taking, so I'm a bit disappointed that hasn't shown up yet. To recap, I had the Lions' top 3 options for round 1 (in order) as OT Jack Conklin (less likely a possibility now, as his stock has risen), DE Shaq Lawson (at least possible, if not likely), and OT Tyler Decker (relegated to consolation prize status). Round 1 is tomorrow, and I'll be covering round 1 and previewing round 2 on Friday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pistons Playoff Recap and Outlook


My dad and I last went to a Pistons playoff game on April 24, 2009. Dumars had traded Billups for Allen Iverson earlier that season, Ben Wallace was long gone, and the head coach had devolved from Larry Brown to Flip to Michael Curry. In short, the Pistons were staring at the end of a streak of 6 straight conference finals appearances, and they knew it.

That game remains to this day the WORST Pistons game I've ever attended.
They only lost by 11 points, but the effort from the Pistons' vets was so pathetic that the outcome of the game was never in doubt. After the game, we were pretty despondent because we knew an era had ended. THIS game 3, played almost exactly on the 7 yr anniversary of the previous one, was in many ways a mirror image of the earlier game. The Pistons lost by double digits, the Cavs were the opponent, LeBron James figured prominently, Detroit was eventually swept... But the outlook of the team is TOTALLY different from the '09 squad.

First, the game experience was pretty good. My dad sprung for the seats, so we were in a really good spot. Not at center court, but one section over from the middle, and in the upper third of the lower bowl. It was a good playoff crowd, very locked in and rooting hard for the Pistons (instead of just showing up to watch LeBron). I had a few quibbles - the Palace might be the worst arena in the league when it comes to showing the fans replays, many of the graphics were seizure-inducing, and blocking out a section of seats for a stage so KISS could play 2 songs was a TERRIBLE idea, both on the fan experience side and because it kept fans out of the building. Oh, and they need about twice as many bathrooms as they've got.



Other than those quibbles, the Palace is a pretty good place to watch a game. They have pretty good concessions (my dad and I got Halo Burger), microbrews are available all over the place, HUGE video boards, etc. I wish they'd move the thing downtown, but that's another conversation entirely. The game itself was tight, and the Pistons were basically in lockstep until 2 minutes to go. The 4th quarter has been their downfall these playoffs.


The sweep was completed Sunday night, another close game (Reggie Jackson jacked up a wild shot at the end that would've won it, if the shot had a prayer of going in). What's clear going forward is that a) the Pistons are one or 2 starters short of being really good, b) the bench is REALLY weak, and c) as a team, they lack the playoff mettle. Problem c) kind of takes care of itself, or it doesn't. Problems a) and b) require personnel moves. I don't want to speculate on trades or who the Pistons might be drafting just yet, so lets look at potential fits via free agency...

The biggest need is backup PG. It's weird to consider a bench position as the #1 need, but the reality is they only need marginal upgrades at a couple of their starting positions but a HUGE upgrade over Steve Blake. Jennings did a capable job of running the 2nd team offense, but I don't think he'd come back and I'd also just rather get someone else.

  • Jerryd Bayless, PG - 27 yrs, 10.4 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 tov,  .423/.437/.778
    Bayless is coming off a $3M/yr contract. It's tough to guess what that translates to under the new cap, but he's the ideal guy to back up Reggie.
  • Norris Cole, PG - 27 yrs, 10.6 ppg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 tov, .405/.324/.741 Cole is probably a slightly cheaper version of Bayless. He's not NEARLY as good a shooter, slightly better as a defender, and has a bit more playoff experience.
  • Jordan Clarkson, PG - 23 yrs, 15.5 ppg, 2.4 apg, 1.7 tov, .437/.347/.804 Clarkson might be a bit of a pipe dream. He's young and good enough to start, but LA drafted their PG of the future last year. I'd love to get him, but he probably goes someplace where he can start.
  • Ish Smith and Ramon Sessions would be decent upgrades over Steve Blake as well.
After backup PG, I'd like to get either a starting caliber SG, PF, or a backup SG. KCP is really only half a player, so I'd rather he come off the bench. Tobias Harris is a quality player, but he might be better served coming off the bench as well, as a 6th man.
  • Courtney Lee, SG - 30 yrs, 9.6 ppg, 1.7 apg, 1.1 stl, .454/.378/.839Lee's still got something left in the tank. He'd start over KCP at this point, but in another year or two, I could see that flipping.
  • Jared Dudley, G/F - 30 yrs, 7.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, .478/.420/.735Dudley is a lot like Lee. Solid defender at 2 spots, good shooter, getting a little long in the tooth. Dudley might be a little more approachable...
  • Kent Bazemore, SG - 26 yrs, 11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, .441/.357/.815
    I don't like paying for a breakout season, but this was one I could see coming. It feels repeatable, is what I mean. He'll be pricey though, and Stan might not want to foot the bill.
  • It might be worth making Evan Fournier an offer, or taking a flyer on a guy like PJ Hairston or Garrett Temple, although you might be better served by sticking with Bullock in the latter 2 cases.
  • Al Horford, C/PF - 30 yrs, 15.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, .505/.344/.798Horford would be a GREAT get, but he'd be really expensive - in the $20M/yr range. Stan might have to work out a trade or a S&T to squeeze him under the payroll and add everything else he needs to add, but Horford would offer amazing roster flexibility. He could play next to Drummond and he could play C in place of Drummond. He does everything you want a basketball player to do, and he does it well.
  • Ryan Anderson, PF - 28 yrs, 17 ppg, 6 rpg, 1.1 apg, .427/.366/.873He's been the most-rumored guy attached to the Pistons, mainly because he flourished under SVG in Orlando and is the prototypical stretch 4. He'd be expensive though, and I don't think he does enough of the other things I want out of our starting PF to be worth what he'll cost.
  • Marvin Williams, PF - 30 yrs, 11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 apg, .452/.402/.833Williams has been this guy for several years now, but the league is finally moving toward valuing his skill set. He's a combo forward, plays good D and shoots the 3.
  • Mirza Teletovich, PF - 30 yrs, 12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, .427/.393/.774Basically a knockoff version of Ryan Anderson. He doesn't do much except knock down threes. If you'd rather get Ersan Ilyasova, they're essentially the same guy.
  • Other options, from safest to most risky, are Jon Leuer, Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger, and Ryan Kelly.
We'll have to see how the draft goes. I hope Valentine falls to us, or at least Sabonis. We don't have a ton of space under the cap, and we need to sign Drummond to his max deal after everything else. They might be able to add a player like Horford with some finagling, but they'd have little-to-no room for anything else. Ideally, they get Bayless, one of Dudley or Fournier, and Jon Leuer in free agency and draft Valentine or Sabonis.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

NFL Draft Preview

We're a month away from the NFL Draft. The Lions blew a shot at getting one of the top picks by winning 6 of their last 8 games, so they're stuck hoping to get lucky with the 16th overall pick. They lost Calvin Johnson to retirement in the offseason, and they didn't make much of a splash in free agency. Their signings were headlined by WR Marvin Jones, a solid receiver who will share the responsibility of replacing CJ's production with Golden Tate. After Jones, Detroit didn't do much. They flirted with LT Russell Okung (the guy I REALLY wanted them to sign), but they didn't wow him with an offer and Okung ended up in Denver. They got safety and DB depth, and they re-signed a bunch of people (Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, Crezdon Butler, Mulbach, Whitehead, Orlovsky, etc.), but they're still left with some major holes on the team.

As disappointed as I am with Detroit's offseason, I don't mind the strategy as much as I mind what it indicates. If Detroit had gone out and thrown money at Okung or one of the other big names on the market, new GM Bob Quinn would have been saying "I think we're only a couple of players away from contending." By primarily adding depth instead of making a splash, Quinn is essentially saying "I know what a championship roster looks like, and this is nowhere close." Years of bad drafting by Millen, followed by years of bad drafting under Mayhew, left the Lions like a house built on a Styrofoam foundation. The Lions might as well not even have shown up for the 2010 & 2011 drafts, since no player from either draft is still on their roster. Only 2 players remain from the 2012 draft, and the 2014 draft also looks to be a bust. Quinn has used this free agency period to try to rebuild the depth that should've come from the last 6 drafts.

With depth issues somewhat addressed by free agency (their DT signings/re-signings enabled the Lions to put off addressing that position in this year's draft), what does that leave? The Lions have some holes in their roster, and there's also certain positions that you constantly need to re-up every few years. For example, I'm of the opinion that you should be taking either an OL or a DL in the first round in 1 out of every 2 drafts (45% of the 22 guys you put on the field is a lineman of some stripe). Anyway, take a look at the list of needs the Lions have, as I see it:

  1. Offensive Tackle. They essentially passed on the chance to get Okung in free agency, and they had one of the worst O-lines in the NFL last year. They couldn't pass-block, and they DEFINITELY couldn't run-block. Riley Reiff projects as a better RT than LT, so they could shore up both tackle positions by taking a solid LT. The #16 pick is a little low to get a guy who can start at LT his rookie season though, so they may end up drafting a prototypical RT. That wouldn't be the worst thing either, since the run-blocking needs so much help.
  2. Defensive End. After Ansah, the Lions don't really have a guy that puts the heat on opposing QBs. Jason Jones hasn't been re-signed yet, and he's only a mid-level talent at best anyway.
  3. Linebacker. Normally I'd differentiate between OLB & ILB, but the LBs they have are flexible enough that the Lions could take either an outside guy or an inside guy and be ok. Last year's ILB, Stephen Tulloch, is supposed to be released from the team, but for some reason that hasn't happened yet. DeAndre Levy is still recovering from last year's injury, which is a major concern. Right now, it looks like the LB corps would be Levy & Bynes on the outsides and Whitehead in the middle. Kyle Van Noy is their backup, and he's playing entirely out of scheme (Van Noy is a classic 3-4 OLB, which is not the defense the Lions run. Again, that one is on Mayhew for drafting him). Ideally, they'd draft an LB that would allow Bynes to slide out of a starting role, and then they'd trade Van Noy to a team that would actually use him correctly.
  4. CB/Safety. We always need a CB. Slay looked REALLY good in spots last year, and he could be turning into a top cover corner. Quandry Diggs was ok, but you need more than 1 good corner these days. I'd feel a lot better with another guy at Slay's level or better, which would allow Diggs to play as a slot corner. Safety is also a need. Ihedigbo was mostly bad last year, so the Lions will let him go elsewhere. They let Isa Abdul-Qudus sign with someone else, which was a mistake. Qudus looked like a player. The Lions signed a safety in free agency, but that was a depth move. They need to draft one.
  5. WR/QB/TE. I put these three positions in the same category. WR is a need because they really only have 2, and you need 4 who can make plays. I'd have rated QB #1 if the Lions had a higher pick, but with the 16th pick, you're looking to draft a backup. TE makes the list because Pettigrew can't catch & can barely block, and Ebron can barely catch & can't block. They need someone who can do both. I'd really like to see them draft a sure-handed TE who mainly blocks, but sometimes steps out and catches the little TE pop pass. I don't need him to be Tony Gonzalez or Mark Whitten.
So who would I like to see the Lions draft? With the 16th pick in the 1st round, they're not going to get a TOP top guy, but they can still do pretty good. They've also got the 15th pick in the 2nd round (46th overall), and a compensatory 3rd round pick for losing Suh that would translate to the 33rd pick in that round (95th overall). They've got a bunch of later-round picks too (1 in the 4th, 2 in the 5th, 3 in the 6th, and 1 in the 7th), which shouldn't be discounted, but I'm just going to speculate on their top 3 picks, since I don't have all day to evaluate prospects.


Three Options for 1st round, pick #16:


Jack Conklin - OT Michigan State
6'6", 308#
40  time: 5.00 sec

Bench: 25 reps



I picked the OSU game because it's probably the best example of what Conklin can do when facing top talent. He's not an elite pass-blocker, but he could step in and start on the right side of the Lions' O-line on day one.



Shaq Lawson - DE, Clemson
6'3", 269#
40 time: 4.70 sec
Bench: --

2015 tats: 59 tackles, 24.5 for loss, 12.5 sacks




Lawson ran one of the better 40-times for a DE at this combine, although it's not reflective of what an elite edge rusher would run. He finished 2015 with 95 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and an amazing 25.5 tackles for loss, which led the nation. That's not a TON of sacks, but it's not bad. He's a great run defender and a decent pass defender, and with some improvement on his technique, he could be great at both.


Taylor Decker - OT, Ohio State
6'7", 310#
40 time: 5.23 sec
Bench: 20 reps






Decker is a lot like Conklin. He's a great run-blocker and an adequate pass-blocker. He'd likely start as a RT, with the potential to move over to LT at some point. He matched up pretty well against Shilique Calhoun, an NFL-level prospect. He got beat on a couple of plays, getting too upright in his stance, but for the most part he was pretty good.


ILB Reggie Ragland of Alabama wouldn't be a bad pick here as well. Although DT is now more of a luxury pick than an immediate need, I wouldn't be mad if Quinn opted for one of the DTs who might be available in this range, like Alabama's Jarran Reed or Louisville's Sheldon Rankins.


Three options for 2nd round, pick #46:


Keanu Neal - S, Florida
6'0.5", 211#
40 time: 4.62 sec
Bench: 17 reps
2015 stats: 84 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 int, 1 PD






Neal is a classic big-hitting, ball-hawking safety. None of the big hits in his highlight reel would be penalties in the next level, and he's doing it to players of all sizes - WRs, RBs, and TEs. His 40 time is a bit of a concern, but he's run it much faster at about 4.53 sec, so he may have just had a bad combine. He'd be the ideal type of guy to replace Ihedigbo.


Kenny Clark - DT, UCLA
6'3", 314#
40 time: 5.06 sec
Bench: 29 reps
2015 stats: 73 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks, 5 PD






I know DT isn't on my list of needs, but I think the Suh situation last year showed that you can't always put things off. Ngata is old, Walker spend a good deal of last season injured, and no one else looks talented enough to step up. Enter Kenny Clark. He's like a poor man's Suh, at least as a prospect. He's good against the run, and he has potential to be good against the pass.


Karl Joseph - S, West Virginia
5'9.5", 205#
40 time: 4.55 sec
Bench: --
2015 stats (4 games): 20 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INTs, 1 PD 

2014 stats: 82 tackles, 4 for loss, 1INT, 3 PD 






Karl Joseph is like Neal, only with better hitting & tackling, and with worse coverage. I'm kinda ok with that. The Lions suck at stuffing the run, and a big-hitting, hole-stuffing safety would be just what the doctor ordered.


Three options for 3rd round, pick #111


Kendall Fuller - CB, Virginia Tech
5'11.5", 187#
40 time: 4.49 sec
Bench: 15 reps
2015 stats (3 games): 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD
2014 stats: 54 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 13 PD






Fuller is really a 1st or 2nd round-level talent, but injury concerns push down his value. He missed all but 3 games in 2015 to a knee injury, and apparently his medical review at the combine didn't go well. On the plus, he's got great cover skills, and he racked up a bunch of interceptions in his previous 2 college seasons. He has 2 brothers already in the NFL, Bears CB Kyle Fuller and Lions WR Corey Fuller. ESPN has a 2nd round grade on him, but it sounds like the injury concerns will push him into the 3rd or 4th round.


BJ Goodson - ILB, Clemson
6'0.5", 242#
40 time: 4.69 sec
Bench: 30 reps
2015 stats: 108 tackles, 14 for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 PD


Goodson doesn't have top end speed, but he's STRONG, and that's more important for a Mike linebacker. He probably wouldn't start in year 1, but could develop into a defensive centerpiece in the future.


Kenny Lawler - WR, Cal
6'2.5", 203#
40 time: 4.64 sec
Bench: --
2015 stats: 52 rec, 658 yds, 13 TDs, 0 fum






The counting stats (other than TDs) don't wow you and that 40 time looks weak, but Lawler's non-Combine 40 time was a full tenth faster, and Cal REALLY spread the ball around on offense (5 guys with over 500 yards, and 6 guys with at least 40 catches). Lawler's got good hands, pretty good route running, and excellent body control. He's the guy Cal had running comeback routes and bubble screens, and he led the team in catches and TDs. The Lions need more of this type of WR, the possession receiver, less of the guy who is just going to try to blow by his coverage. Those guys take forever to get open, and Stafford doesn't have the time.

I don't do this for a living, and I don't watch a ton of college football, so there may be better guys out there that I'm not aware of. This was a best guess at who would be available at each pick, based on ESPN's prospect rankings, and addressing need and positional value with each pick. Having watched tape on everybody (with the exception of Goodson, who weirdly didn't have a highlight reel), the round 1 & 2 guys look like they have the potential to start on day 1. The round 3 guys would at least be solid bench contributors in their rookie season, with the exception of Fuller, who could start if he's healthy. That should be a baseline goal from your draft - get starters in rounds 1 & 2.



This is the first Lions draft since 2000 that isn't being managed by either Matt Millen or someone from his "tree". In that time, they've had 3 good drafts, 2 so-so drafts, and 10 bad ones (subjectively, as opinions vary what constitutes a "good" draft). I've got high hopes. Quinn has a good pedigree, and he hasn't been poisoned by the organization (yet). Will he continue to exercise patience and build the team the right way, or will he jump the gun and go for a QB or WR in the first round?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Good bye, Calvin

If you've been living in a cave for the past 3 months, you probably still know that Calvin Johnson announced his retirement from the NFL this week. A lot of people are drawing comparisons between Calvin and Barry Sanders, and that's pretty natural.
  • Both players were career Lions
  • Both guys were EXTREMELY mild-mannered players who let their play on the field do the talking
  • Both players retired with something left in the tank (Barry especially, still in his prime and just 1 season away from his best ever)
  • Both players are in the conversation for best ever at their respective positions - Barry in the mix at RB with Walter Payton and Jim Brown, Calvin in the mix with Jerry Rice and Randy Moss
  • And neither player had much (or any) post season success
That last point (combined with the 2nd point) leads many to conclude that playing for the Lions killed both players' desire to play professional football. I think that's likely the case with Barry, but not so much with Calvin. Barry had a bit more of a competitive edge and stronger leadership qualities. Calvin famously never made team speeches. After his historic 329-yd game against Dallas in 2013, Schwartz handed him the game ball and all the players chanted "SPEECH" as a joke. Calvin said something like "why start now" or "thanks", and that was that.

Anyway, I always got the impression that Barry took losing a little more personally than Calvin did. When the Lions lost to the Bucs in the 1998 playoffs, Barry said he cried for 3 months. Calvin seems to be more of a "punch the clock" type of guy, not taking the losses home with him. The biggest difference between the two players, however, is HOW each left the team. Barry announced his retirement by a fax to his hometown newspaper in late July of '99. It was a shock, and it left the team with absolutely no opportunity to replace him. Calvin, on the other hand, gave the Lions plenty of forewarning that his retirement was imminent, and retired prior to the opening of NFL free agency. The Lions got his presumptive replacement on day 1.



It would be very "Lions" to lose 2 of the greatest football players ever due to "Lionization" (the cumulative effect of losing and incompetence crushing your spirit), but that's not entirely the case. It is with Barry, and that story is one of the great career tragedies in football that doesn't involve an injury. But with Calvin, he just wanted to hang up the cleats while he still has all his fingers and can remember his own name. He might've wanted to stick it out if the Lions were building a contender, but he might have retired anyway. Calvin is just a different sort of dude.

Anyway, regardless of what the Lions were doing, you had to appreciate Calvin.




Calvin had more straight-line speed than jukes, but he could do some damage in the open field because he was built like a TE, but he could run past your #1 corner. He also came up with more jump balls in triple coverage than anyone I can remember. In fact, the Lions saw some pretty weird defenses that were designed purely to keep the ball out of his hands. I wish they had used him better, I wish he'd had better QBs, and I wish the Lions could've done a better job of keeping defenses honest by running it more effectively. Calvin managed to overcome all that to accomplish a lot of individual success.

***



Now that Calvin is out the door, it does leave a rather large hole to fill on offense, but less of a hole than you might think. Calvin BARELY made the Pro Bowl this year, and I think that was largely based off of reputation, since there were between 2 and 4 other WRs that were better but didn't make the initial cut. A couple of injury-riddled seasons took their toll, and CJ went from a Jerry Rice-type season in 2012 to playing more like latter day Cris Carter the last 3 years, that is to say he was an exceptional possession receiver.


The Lions are replacing Calvin with former Bengals WR Marvin Jones. He was probably the best guy available once Alshon Jeffrey was franchise tagged by Chicago, and he's relatively affordable at $8M/yr. Jones has burner speed (along with some of that Golden Tate-like shiftiness), good hands, and has a reputation for making tough catches through the hits. He's also never fumbled in his NFL career. He turns 26 tomorrow (happy birthday!), so he should be just entering the prime years of his career.






The Lions also acquired a few solid depth guys looking to compete for PT - former NE S Tavon Wilson, special teams ace CB Johnson Bademosi, and DT Stefan Charles. None of these guys are world-beaters (although a good ST specialist can make a huge difference), but this is the kind of thing you need to do when the previous regime sucked at drafting. Like the post-Millen Lions, this team is depth deficient and needs to rebuild.

Detroit could still be looking to make a splash though. OT Russell Okung is in town today, and he's easily the biggest name on the market if you're looking to boost your line. He's been plagued by injuries throughout his career, so he would be a bit of a risk, but that should drive the price down as well. If Okung ends up elsewhere, I still expect the Lions to find a tackle, but probably not one who will be good enough to swing Reiff to the right side of the line.


***

I'll get into the draft in a week or two. I missed the combine coverage because my son was born! Good reason, I know. His name is Cirdan (pronounced KEER-den... it's a Tolkien thing, because I'm a nerd) and he's a big dude so far - 10lbs 0.8oz, 21.65" at birth, currently 10lbs 6oz, 22". I don't know what his 40 time is yet, but I'll let you know once he becomes mobile. My daughter's  might not be terrible, if she could run that far without stopping to investigate some rocks or dirt or something.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Pistons Deadline Buyers

The NBA trade deadline expired yesterday afternoon, and the Pistons were buyers. Stan Van Gundy architected... orchestrated... whatever... 1 good move and 1 bad (and very puzzling) move.

New Piston #1: Tobias Harris PF/SF

The trade was backup PG Brandon Jennings (on an $8M expiring deal) and starting PF Ersan Ilyasova (2 yrs left at $8M/yr, roughly speaking) for Harris (3 yrs left at $16M/yr).
The Good: Harris is pretty young at 23, the best player in the deal, and is on a relatively team-friendly contract with a lot of upside
The Bad: the Pistons don't have a suitable backup PG to replace Jennings, and they lose 3pt shooting, and important factor in Van Gundy's offense
Overall: it's a good deal for the Pistons & should pay off down the road



Harris' game is a lot like Marcus Morris' game (part 2 of the highlight vid is here, btw). He shoots the 3 okay but not great, he can score from mid-range or by posting up, and he's decent at scoring off the dribble in iso. He'll be a bit of a defensive upgrade over Ilyasova, although he won't draw NEARLY as many charges. He finishes at the rim better and is FAR more athletic. His 3pt shooting took a dip this year, but I'm hoping it bounces back under Van Gundy. Harris runs the court really well, so I expect to see our starting offense pick up the pace.

New Pistons #2 & #3: Donatas Motiejunas PF/C, Marcus Thornton SG/SF

SVG sent 3rd-string C Joel Anthony and a protected 1st-round pick to Houston for Montiejunas (who turns into a RFA this summer) and Thornton (vet minimum contract that expires this summer).
The Good: Montiejunas is EXACTLY what you want in the current NBA - a passing big who can shoot the 3 - and a perfect fit for SVG's offense
The Bad: A 1st-round pick, even a protected pick, is too much to give up for essentially 2 months of Donatas and the rights to match any offer for him this summer. He's only played 14 games all season and is just coming off the injury list, so it's not certain what level of production he'll provide. We JUST traded for a young PF, so it's unclear what the strategy is here. Does Motiejunas start, or Harris? Finally, Thornton provides depth, but not NEEDED depth. The Pistons desperately need a backup PG, so not getting something they actually need in this deal isn't good
Overall: Donatas is a good player, or should be if he's healthy, but a 1st-rounder was too much to give up, considering he hits the market as a restricted FA this summer. Not addressing the hole at PG is a HUGE negative in this deal as well



I'm not going to bother showing Thornton's highlights (if they even exist), but Motiejunas (pronounced moe-tee-YOU-nus) is worth a look (part 2 is here). He really broke out last year, his 3rd year in the league. The first thing you notice with Motiejunas is his passing is REALLY, really good. Like, Chris Webber good. Secondly, he can use that passing ability to create open looks for himself in the post. He's got a number of tricky moves, including a wicked up & under, and I think it will be great for Drummond to see a regular diet of this guy in practice. Thirdly, he's hit his threes at a .373% rate over the past two seasons and averages taking 3 per game. That number should go up under Van Gundy, since Motiejunas will be playing the 4 much more than the 3.

On the down side, I don't see much versatility in his scoring. I'd like to see more face-up game from a 4 in this offense. Motiejunas scores off of cuts, post-ups, and spot-up threes. He did work effectively with Dwight Howard, who is similar in style of play to Drummond, so that's promising. But he's probably not starting, given that we just got Tobias Harris, so...

On the plus side, we've got a lot of interesting players to check out now. On the negative, I don't like what we gave up (that 1st-rounder), and I'm not sure how they're all going to fit. We're back to either Steve Blake or Darrun Hilliard running our 2nd-team offense, so that ought to be interesting (not in a good way).

***

I watched all of maybe 8 min of the NBA All Star game. Maybe I'm getting crotchety in my middle-30s, but I have no interest in watching a game where everyone jogs around, jacking up shots against nominal-to-no defense. I get that it's an exhibition, but the effort level needs to be higher than 20% if it's going to draw my interest. It was a bit of a mess, since the starting frontcourt for both the East and the West were all small forwards. Anyway, I've got no comment on the game because it was total garbage.

All Star Saturday was MUCH better. The skills competition was interesting, because they pitted 4 bigs (Draymond Green, KAT, Cousins, and Unibrow) against 4 smalls (Clarkson, Isaiah Thomas, McCollum, and Mudiay), with the winner of the smalls facing the winner of the bigs. Isaiah Thomas looked to be the class of the group, but KAT won it because it turned into a 3-pt contest at the end, and he hit his shot first. I didn't like that aspect of the contest. I think it would've worked better if they had switched the layup and the three, and given everyone 4 tries at the 3 before they had to take a ball out at the other end and hit their layup.

The three-point competition was really good, with Devin Booker, Klay Thompson and teammate (and last year's winner) Steph Curry as the 3 finalists. It was REALLY close between Curry & Thompson, but Thompson ended up taking it.

I was most excited to see the dunk competition, since Drummond was participating. That part was disappointing, actually, because Drummond either didn't practice his dunks or just picked dunks that weren't in his wheelhouse. His first dunk would've been nice if he could've landed it, but there were too many moving parts. His 2nd dunk (an alley-oop off of Steve Nash's feet) was just a bad idea, since they clearly didn't practice it. He should've tried to do dunks that only he, as a big, could do. Like palm 2 basketballs, dunk one, put the other between the legs & dunk that. Or balance a ball on the top of the backboard, against the shot clock, go up & get it, then throw it down hard. Something that only a really big guy can do.

The finals of the dunk competition were on another level though. I thought several of the dunks Gordon & Zach Levine came up with were among the best I'd ever seen. I think it probably should've been a tie, but Levine ended up getting the trophy again. I'm sure the dunk competition was way more exciting than anything that happened in the actual AS Game.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Force Awakens Re-Review

As promised, I'm going back over my original post on Star Wars: The Force Awakens since re-watching it a couple of weeks ago. I'm also going to go over some newly developed theories I've developed or seen online. If you're not into spoilers or speculation, you might want to check out at this point, because some of these seem pretty solid.

First, to whet your appetite, here are some theories I've developed based on Episode 7's use of some of
Ralph McQuarrie's original Star Wars unused concept art. I think in some cases McQuarrie's stuff was used to bring back the feel of the Original Trilogy, but also to draw connections from the OT to the New Trilogy. 

  • Jabba's Palace Gate. This concept was repurposed to be the entrance to the junker village on Jakku. Since Jakku and Tatooine are similar planets, it doesn't look out of place, but my further speculation is that the Hutts have an interest in the junking operation on Jakku.
  • Rey's Goggles & Speeder Bike. They were the original design for what Luke Starkiller's gear in Lucas's original screenplay (Starkiller became Skywalker). Again, it makes sense to use because the topography & climate of Jakku and Tatooine are basically identical, but it's a further connection between Luke and Rey, adding fuel to the theory that she's Luke's daughter.
Ok, now to the meat & potatoes. A second viewing all but confirmed Rey as Luke's daughter for me. The primary scene to break down is when Rey is called by, then receives a vision from, Anakin's/Luke's lightsaber. She first hears a baby crying, which is what draws her to the lightsaber originally. The baby is probably Rey on the day of her birth. Then she reaches for the lightsaber and has a vision. The first scene is the setting of Bespin, where Luke and Vader first fought, and where Luke was separated from this very lightsaber (Luke & Vader's fight prefigures Rey's first fight with Kylo Ren, btw). The next scene is the Knights of Ren attacking the new Jedi temple and wiping out all (or seemingly all) of Luke's apprentices. Finally, you see a much younger Rey, maybe 10-12 years younger, left on Jakku in the hands of Unkar Plutt, an unsavory character with connections to the First Order. Finally you see a scene from the future of Kylo Ren hunting for Rey & Finn in the forest on Starkiller Base.All of these things are important - the baby crying, Luke's first fight with Vader, the attack on the new Jedi temple, Rey's abandonment, and Rey's first fight with Kylo Ren. This seems to indicate a connection between Luke and Rey, going back to the day of her birth. There are other hints in the movie to this connection, but the vision from the lightsaber is the strongest.

Now, about getting left on Jakku, and especially getting left with a guy like Plutt... Here's a theory I saw on YouTube that might resolve that, and adds some intrigue for Episode 8 - Kylo Ren was the one who took Rey to Jakku:






The idea that Rey might be Luke's daughter raises further questions, but this theory solves most or all of them. First, I should mention that the theory is in large part based off of a fallacy - that the vision actually shows Rey at the Jedi temple when the Knights of Ren showed up. You don't actually see that. What you see is present-day Rey standing in the middle of the vision and reacting to things. That said, there is still too much there to ignore.

If Rey WAS trained at the new Jedi temple, it would explain how she quickly went from no knowledge of her own force powers to doing harder stuff like using the Jedi mind trick on the stormtrooper, snatching the lightsaber from Kylo in mid-air, and soundly beating a trained Master of the Knights of Ren in a lightsaber battle. If she WAS Ben Solo's cousin, it would explain his wavering in their fight & reluctance to use deadly force - again, their lightsaber battle was prefigured by Luke & Vader's fight on Bespin, including Vader's call for Luke to join him. I can't stress enough how connected Rey & Kylo's battle is with Luke & Vader's. After the vision scene, it's probably the most important scene pointing the way for the rest of the trilogy. Anyway.

If Rey WAS in fact saved by Kylo Ren and left on Jakku, unbeknownst to Luke & the Resistance, as well as Supreme Leader Snoke & the Knights of Ren, it would explain why she was left with Unkar Plutt (a First Order sympathizer). It would also explain Ren's reaction when he learns how BB-8 escaped from Jakku. You know the scene. He's throwing a tantrum, and each new revelation throws him off even more. BB-8 escapes. Finn's "traitorous" involvement. But when the messenger mentions a scavenger girl's role in the escape, Kylo Ren looks like he's about to literally "kill the messenger" and starts to interrogate him about the girl. Ren is pissed, but he's also extremely frightened, because he crossed Snoke by not killing Rey all those years ago and is in danger of being found out. Finally, Kylo Ren's involvement explains why her memory is so fuzzy about where she comes from. She looks at least 6 when she's left on Jakku. That's old enough to have some memories of where you come from and who your parents are. She doesn't seem to know, she just knows she's supposed to wait until they come for her. That suggests her memory was tampered with, which suggests Kylo Ren, who happens to be gifted in that area.

The fact that this theory is based on something you don't actually see doesn't bother me so much. When Rey sees Kylo Ren hunting her in the forest, her viewpoint is aligned with where her future-self will be, so it follows that the same is true of the part of the vision that occurs in her past. Plus, all the other pieces fit so well, so it doesn't bother me that the poster of the video slightly misinterpreted the scene. The explanation fits.

None of this answers the question of Rey's mother, and I don't have much to give you in that regard.
Urban Acolyte TV has a theory about that which explains Rey's accent, as well as some of her qualities that are a bit different from Luke, like her exceptional mechanical ability. I mean, Luke is no slouch in the garage and Anakin could fix just about anything, but this girl had the Falcon running better than Han ever did, and that's after it was basically sitting on blocks in a junkyard for years. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is slated to come out this December, so that might shed more light on this.

I've got nothing more to add regarding Finn's parentage, but I've got a bit more on his ability to break stormtrooper conditioning and possible force sensitivity. Finn could just be a regular guy, and I'd be fine with that, but I like the idea of him joining Rey & Luke against the Knights of Ren.

First, I noticed right off the bat that Kylo Ren looked right at FN-2187 as his conditioning was breaking down. That implies that either the conditioning was created by the force, that breaking the conditioning require some (probably subconscious) use of the force, or a combination of those 2 things. FN-2187/Finn doesn't overtly use the force in the movie like Rey does, and there aren't any overt implications that he's connected to the force, as Leia is when she senses Han's death. But there are more than a couple hints in the movie, EU/Star Wars Legends books, and elsewhere that point to this possibility (again, most of the credit goes to Urban Acolyte for doing the research on this, and I've attached the video at the time he mentions each supporting point):

  • Finn's stormtrooper abilities are exceptionally high. This is something you learn from novelization prequels to Force Awakens, so it's canon but not in the movie. He might just be a really good fighter and shot, but it could also be him subconsciously using the force to shoot better (Like Luke hitting that exhaust port to knock out Deathstar I)
  • Connection to characters in EU/Legends. Finn seems to be a sort of combination of 2 characters from the EU books that both became Jedi. Also, the name FN-2187 has a connection to the movie that inspired George Lucas to come up with the idea of "the force". That's going deeper into Star Wars lore than my knowledge went, but there are a lot of connections in the new movie to Star Wars' past, and while the new trilogy is rewriting the EU and designating it non-canon, it still is mining the EU for ideas and easter eggs for fanboys to jump on
  • Does Finn sense the destruction of the Hosnian System before it happens? This isn't something I noticed during either viewing of Force Awakens, but apparently a number of others DID. I'll have to wait for the blu ray to come out. This would be mostly like Obi Wan sensing the destruction of Alderaan, but it's also similar to Leia sensing Luke calling out to her through the force at the end of Empire Strikes Back
  • John Boyega appears to be going through lightsaber training. Boyega posted an Instagram of himself wearing some kendo/fencing gear. Kendo is the real-world model for the forms of lightsaber dueling. It's fair to say that we'll see Finn in a lightsaber duel down the road, and probably doing better a lot better than he did in Episode 7. I don't see much point in doing lightsaber training if he's not going to be a force wielder. It would basically be bringing a knife to a gun fight. So if Boyega is in fact working on his lightsaber skills, he's going to be a Jedi in training
Ok, the third and final BIG question I'm going to address is WHO IS SNOKE? This question has some of the wildest and most varied theories, some of which are ridiculous, and some which have a little merit, but not many that actually seem to bite. Probably the craziest theory is that Leia is Snoke, which is flat-out stupid. First of all, it would be an enormous betrayal of the character. Secondly, it doesn't explain her reactions to seeing Han, sensing the destruction of the Hosnian system, and sensing Han's death. This behavior doesn't match up with the front Palpatine put up. Thirdly, it doesn't explain her actions in trying to locate Luke. If she were really Snoke, why wouldn't she just tip off Kylo Ren to the whereabouts of the map instead of sending her best pilot to retrieve it? And once she found Luke's location, why wouldn't she just go herself, along with Kylo and the other Knights of Ren, to finish the job? Finally, why would Leia duck the opportunity to gain political power if her ultimate goal is to be another emperor? She was a princess and a senator, but she threw that all aside to general the resistance. It seems like she'd be in a better position to pull strings if she were a powerful figure in the Senate.

Another theory about Snoke is that
he's an older version of Ben Solo who traveled back in time to train his younger self. The support for this is that Kylo Ren has a wound on his face after fighting Rey that matches an ugly scar on Snoke, that Rian Johnson is the director of Episode 8, whose previous films include Looper, a time travel flick, and finally, a quote from Rian Johnson that we'd see something in Episode 8 that we've never seen in a Star Wars movie before, and time travel certainly hasn't been shown to be possible in the Star Wars universe yet. I absolutely HATE this theory, although not quite as much as the Leia theory. A major, major problem with it is that Ben Solo creating himself as Kylo Ren is a perfect example of the bootstrap paradox. It's a causality loop. How can Ben Solo teach himself new things? If he's teaching himself, his education has no origin, and neither does the alteration of his path from Jedi to Knight of Ren. I believe the new thing that Rian Johnson mentions is dark side training. As far as the matching scars go, they don't actually match. Snoke's scar starts at the crown of his head, fades out when it passes the bridge of his nose, and is pretty deep for a head wound. Kylo Ren's scar isn't very deep, and it appears to start considerably lower on his forehead, running mainly down his cheek. I'm feeling pretty good about this one being bogus.

Other theories about Snoke are he's either Vader (definitely dead, we see his force ghost in Return of the Jedi), Grand Moff Tarkin (probably dead, definitely not a force user), "Darth Jar Jar" (seriously), or Darth Bane (almost assuredly dead, reportedly killed by Jedi and would be over 1,000 years old if he wasn't). Of these, the Darth Bane theory has the fewest holes, but I don't really buy any of them.



The theory that has the most juice is that Snoke is Darth Plagueis, the teacher of Palpatine/Sidious who was killed by supposedly killed by Sidious and then mentioned by Palpatine to Anakin as a way to entice him to seek power he can't learn from the Jedi. It's an interesting theory, so let me go over the main points supporting it from the video:
  • Musical cues. The theme music for Snoke is almost exactly the same music that was playing during the scene in Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine mentions Plagueis. The source of the music in the scene is a Mon Calamari ballet called "Squid Lake" (the title Squid lake is one of the more ridiculous things in the prequels, which is saying something). It could be a cue connecting Plagueis and Snoke, or it could be John Williams using similar music (Tibetan monk chanting, in this case) to portray a powerful dark side user. When the Emperor appears in the original trilogy, similar super-low vocal humming/chanting can be heard in the scenes with the Emperor
  • Kylo Ren calls Supreme Leader Snoke "wise", as in Darth Plagueis the Wise. This is a bit looser than the musical cue, but it's something
  • What about Plagueis' status as a Muun? The EU books cover Plagueis' backstory as a Muun of one of the powerful banking clan families (among other things, Muuns don't have noses, Snoke does.. kind of). Since the new trilogy made the EU books non-canon, that threw everything in flux. The only things we know for certain about Plagueis are that he was a male Sith Lord, he could create life from the force somehow, and that he was killed in his sleep by his apprentice, Darth Sidious. Everything else is up in the air. Maybe he used his unique power to bring himself back to life
  • Snoke mentions in the novelization of the Force Awakens that he witnessed the rise & fall of the Galactic Empire. This doesn't necessarily prove that he's Plagueis, but he certainly can't be Leia or Future Ben Solo if that's true. Snoke would have to be at least 100 years old to have witnessed that, and probably older.
  • Another Snoke quote from the novelization, speaking to Kylo Ren: "I never had an apprentice with such promise - before you." That implies that Snoke had at least 1 apprentice prior to Kylo Ren. Now there are other Knights of Ren to whom that might apply, but Kylo is their master and probably Snoke's longest-tenured apprentice of that group. I find it hard to believe that Plagueis would actually consider Ben Solo better material than Sheev Palpatine, but this might just be flattery on Snoke's part, trying to build Kylo Ren up.
Now, Andy Serkis has come out and said that Supreme Leader Snoke is a new character, which could be true or could be misdirection. Not every character has to be tied to someone in the OT, Prequels, or EU/Legends. Personally, I'm inclined to believe Serkis. Snoke is most likely someone we've never seen before who was sitting back and running his super secret dark side cult from the shadows while the Sith schemed against the Jedi. The Knights of Ren were likely even at odds with the Sith, possibly a result of a dark side schism dating back to before Darth Bane's Rule of Two. A serious downside (for the Sith, anyway) of the Rule of Two is that a lot of knowledge is lost when the apprentice kills his master, especially before the master is able to pass on all his knowledge. It's probable that knowledge of the Knights of Ren was lost in one of these transitions of power.

I expect Episode 8 to delve more into the Knights of Ren, especially if it's as dark as it's purported to be. Kylo Ren has training to undergo, a new helmet to forge, and a new lightsaber to construct. I originally thought they wouldn't show much or any dark side training because a) that wasn't something we'd seen in Star Wars before, and b) the more secretive something is, the scarier it is. In other words, showing Knights of Ren in training makes them less scary. Well, the director's comment about "something we've never seen before" changed my mind about that. Plus, Snoke mentions further training for Kylo, and usually stuff like that is a teaser for the next move.

An interesting theory about Episode 8 is that the new baddie, played by Benicio Del Toro, is a grown up Ezra from the Star Wars Rebels TV show, now turned dark. Since the new trilogy IS tying in with newer novels, TV shows, and possibly video games, I find this VERY likely. Right now Del Toro's character's name is unknown, and they don't keep these things secret for no reason. Also of note, Episode 8's release has been postponed from May 26th of 2017 to December 15th of 2017. The next Star Wars title to come out will be Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is currently scheduled for release on December 16th of this year. Rogue One is the first of the Star Wars Anthology movies to be release, that it, non-episodic. It tells the story of how the plans to Deathstar I were stolen (not the "many Bothans died" that Mon Motha talked about in Jedi), and possibly gives backstory, if you believe that theory, to Rey's mother.

That's it for geek-talk for a while. There's possible Lions news, Pistons, NBA All Star stuff, etc. that I'll want to get to in the coming weeks. If I have time, that is, since baby #2 is imminently approaching (not as ominously as that sounds, though).