Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grading the Eagles' Draft

The NFL draft has come and gone, and now fans and "experts" get to sift through the picks and share their opinions and debate. It's part of what makes being a sports fan great. "Such and such a player was a stretch at that spot in the draft" or "Such and such a team got great value with this or that pick" are things you will commonly hear as fans now know what incoming crop of players will be joining their respective teams. And so now I'd like to take a few moments to share my humble opinions on how the Philadelphia Eagles did in their first draft of the Chip Kelly era.

I have seen and heard incredibly varying opinions on the Eagles' 2013 draft. One popular way of judging a team's draft is to issue grades, and I have seen the Eagles receive an A all the way to an F. It's pretty amazing that you would find that much variation in opinion, but again that is part of what makes being a sports fan fun.

While it's kind of silly to give a team a draft grade mere days after the draft is complete, as we won't really know how a team did until two or three years down the road, it's become commonplace. Personally, I think the Eagles did a pretty decent job in this draft and give them an early grade of B+. Let's work through the picks.

Round 1, 4th overall.
Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Oklahoma

It's pretty hard to screw up a top-five pick, but teams in Philadelphia have shown it's not impossible. You have to like the pick here. The offensive line was one of the weakest units on an all-around weak Eagles team last year. Some of that was due to injury, but if you use that excuse then you have to admit concern when injuries become recurring, especially when you are talking about men as big as offensive linemen are.

I generally like his size at 6'6", 303 lbs. All indications are that the kid is athletic, which should work well with what is expected to be an up-tempo Chip Kelly offense. I also like the fact that he has played multiple positions. While that fact may leave him a little rough around the edges, it also gives him perspective and an ability to evaluate what defenses are trying to do. Assuming he jumps right in to the Eagles' starting line, he also allows Todd Herremans to move back to guard, his usual position. A sound, solid pick by the Eagles who can hopefully become the anchor of the line for years to come.

Round 2
Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

Another pick I really like. Some have grumbled that the pick doesn't make sense with incumbent tight end Brent Celek still on the roster and the addition of James Casey from the Texans. I am of the school of thought that "drafting for need" is way overrated. You take the player that you feel is the best available, and if he ends up not being able to help your team, you trade him to a team that can use him and get as much value in return as possible.

Kelly has coached against Ertz, so he knows him well. All indications are that this kid can be a match-up nightmare, and again that should work well with the offense Kelly is trying to implement. I can't argue with you if you felt the Eagles should have gone with a defensive player here, but I still think they did well with the pick.

Round 3
Bennie Logan, DT, LSU

Honestly, I don't know much about this kid. The one thing that did stand out to me was his size. He is 6'2" and 310 lbs. For what seems like forever, the Eagles have had an undersized defensive line, so I like this pick if for no other reason than it adds some bulk to the trenches.

Round 4
Matt Barkley, QB, USC

This was the stunner. I don't think anyone saw this coming. The Eagles' quarterback stable was already pretty crowded, and many thought that if they were going to go the QB route, they would have went with Geno Smith. Personally, I'm glad they avoided Smith.

I think there was a bit of a message being delivered here by coach Kelly. All the talk is about how he needs a running quarterback to run his system. I think he is showing that he isn't a one-trick pony and that what we saw at Oregon won't necessarily be what we see with the Eagles.

It will be fun to see how the quarterback situation shakes out, and it will be fun to see what the offense looks like. While I was not the biggest Chip Kelly supporter when he was hired, he has been slowly winning me over, first with his press conferences and now with this draft. I think Kelly is a very bright guy, and I am confident that he will run a system to put his players in a position to succeed and highlights their strengths, something that the former Eagles coach struggled with. Seeing as Barkley was a year removed from being projected as the number 1 overall pick, you have to like the value here. Also another guy Chip Kelly is familiar with from his Oregon days. Low risk, high reward.

I really don't know anything about the rest of the players the Eagles drafted, so I won't go into to detail about them. They were safety Earl Wolff, DE Joe Kruger, CB Jordan Poyer and DT David King. I will say that I'm glad they addressed defense here. Kruger has some decent size, which I mentioned earlier that I liked for the D-line. I think Poyer has some potential too. Some people had him projected as a 2nd- or 3rd-round pick, but he struggled at the combine. Again, solid pick in a low-risk, high-reward situation.

All in all I think it was a very solid draft for the Eagles. They didn't get too hung up on drafting for need, and they didn't try to outsmart everybody, which was a recurring problem under the previous regime. Chip Kelly continues to impress, and I think the team is going in the right direction. Now we just have to wait until we can see these guys on the field playing some football.

Friday, April 26, 2013

It's Friday, Time to Dance

In case you missed it — actually I did because I had a softball game at 8 last night — the Philadelphia Eagles' first NFL draft pick of the Chip Kelly era was Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick. Apparently, Johnson wrestles bears.

Seeing as I was a huge Davy Crockett fan as a kid, reading several Davy Crockett stories and writing essays for school on him, it makes me wondered if Johnson has ever killed a bear. Also I loved that Ballad of Davy Crockett song and Johnny Cash once sang that thing.

Man, Philadelphia sports really suck right now.

Monday, April 22, 2013

76ers Going Forward: Patience is the Key

Last week, the Sixers' season mercifully came to an end. A season that started with high excitement and great anticipation ended with far more questions than answers. Andrew Bynum, the team's prize acquisition, never played a game. Jason Richardson missed the majority of the season. Evan Turner was wildly inconsistent. And the team parted ways with its coach. Now we are left to wonder, "Where do we go from here?" and "How do we get there?"

Of the four major professional sports, the NBA is the one in which it's hardest to recover from mistakes. And the Sixers have made plenty of those over the years. They've done a poor job of evaluating players and an even poorer job of handing out contracts (Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert, Spencer Hawes). Despite the terrible season and the disappointment of never getting to see what this team looked like with Bynum anchoring the middle, the Sixers finally have themselves in a position where they have a little flexibility, and they absolutely must avoid making the same mistakes of the past.

Despite the fact that Bynum never played and the season turned into a disaster, the Sixers were correct in making the move. You could argue that it was a mistake to trade away Nic Vucevic, as he had a solid season in Orlando where he was finally afforded the opportunity of steady minutes, but I'll get back to that later. Before the trade, the Sixers were mired in the pack of borderline playoff teams, and that is the absolute worst place you can be in the NBA. You make the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, are quickly dismissed by a far superior team, and then you receive a middle-of-the-pack draft pick where you get more of a project type player than the impact player you need. This cycle continues to repeat itself, and your team finds itself stuck in irrelevancy.

The Sixers recognized this and made a bold move in hopes of breaking this cycle. Obviously the hope was that Bynum would be healthy, the team would thrive and become a top-four seed, only a piece or two away from becoming a serious contender.

We all know it didn't work out like that, but the team is still better off than they were as a perennial 8 seed. Bynum's contract is off the books. I am of the opinion that you shouldn't re-sign him, but that isn't my job to decide, so we will see.

If you decide to not re-sign him, you have a decent amount of money available. And this is where make-or-break decisions lie for the Sixers, and where my argument for patience comes into play. The upcoming free agent class doesn't have the cornerstone, immediate turnaround type player you are looking for. A list of free agents is available here. The 2014 free agents are also listed there, and you may not find the player you need there either.

And so you may have to wait until 2015 or even 2016 to find that player. And if you are the Sixers, you cannot be afraid to exercise that patience. You cannot be afraid to stink, or at least struggle, over the next few seasons. Do not sign a player just for the sake of signing a player. Do not sign a player just because you felt pressure to make a move.

If you play your cards right, you may even have the ability to bring in two impact free agents from one of those later classes. You should have been able to add a few solid players from what should be pretty decent draft position over the next 3 or so drafts. And you should still have your franchise point guard in place, Jrue Holiday, the lone bright spot from this lost season. And at that point you could finally be in a position to become a legitimate contender again.

The other part of this equation is the hiring of a new coach, and what to do with the front office. I won't throw out any names for the coaching vacancy, but I would like to see a young, energetic, hungry guy get the job. Whoever gets the job should get a vote of confidence from management that he will be given the opportunity so see this process through. That way he can navigate the next few seasons without constantly looking over his shoulder, and can have the confidence to adequately look at his young players during game action. Doug Collins seemed to outright refuse to give his young players a look in game situations, and that may have come back to bite the Sixers in the Vucevic situation.

And to go along with my new young, energetic coach, I would like a few great, pure basketball minds added to the front office. Joshua Harris and Adam Aron seem to be pretty bright businessmen, so let them handle the business stuff. Get some guys in the front office that know basketball, know basketball players, and know how to evaluate talent. This would improve the Sixers' drafting abilities as well as help them avoid handing out the crippling contracts that have handcuffed them in the past.

I know this is a tall order. I know it will be tough to sell the fan base on a "take two steps back to take three forward" type plan. I know that people who make it to the NBA level, whether they be players, coaches or front office personnel, get there by being ultra-competitive, and that seemingly accepting mediocrity or losing for two or three years won't sit well. But there are no quick fixes in the NBA, and this may be the Sixers best opportunity to return to relevancy.

And it wouldn't hurt to nab a player the caliber of Allen Iverson, like they did way back in the '90s. (Still miss you, A.I.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Friday, Time to Sing

Well, there's really only one thing I can possibly put in this space this Friday. The home of the brave.

Friday, April 5, 2013

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Tomorrow, I head to San Diego for work purposes, and it's the first time I'll be on the West Coast in my entire life. Only took me 29 years. So here are a few California songs to get a jumpstart on my trip.