Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bengals: A Post Draft Look

First things first, Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers looking for Bengals draft analysis and instead, ended up here. There's not even time in the world to name you all individually, but you are appreciated.

Second, I went over the Bengals draft needs here and am going to give my take on each pick, as I see fit. The needs I had listed are as follows:

1. DE
2. CB
3. QB
4. DT
5. RB

1st round, Darqueze Dennard CB: I like this pick. Dennard was probably a top 15 talent that fell to #24, and he happened to fit a need of ours. He was the best player on a great MSU team last year, won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best CB in the country and he had a historically great 2013 campaign. From,

Dennard had 111 passes targeted to his area last season, and only 17 were completed (15.32 percent) for 91 yards. He defended 14 passes, with four interceptions and 10 deflections. On 55.86 percent of those passes, Dennard re-routed or jammed his man away from the ball.

Receivers averaged 5.35 yards per reception against Dennard, the lowest figure by any defensive back since the BCS era begin in 1998.

The 0.8198 yards per pass attempt is the lowest since The NFL Draft Report began compiling in-depth statistics in 1968. For some perspective on that, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Deion Sanders held teams to 0.935 yards per attempt in 1988 at Florida State.
Not too shabby. At the same time, Teddy Bridgewater was right there at #24. Neither he or Dennard will see much field, ideally, in 2014 so you're looking at down the line. And down the line, I feel like Bridgewater will pay dividends more so than Dennard. Dennard is blocked by Leon Hall, Terrence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. Not a shut down corner in that group, but a very solid bunch when healthy. Bridgewater would be blocked by Andy Dalton, who is going into the last year of his deal. I won't rehash my issues with Dalton here, but I would have went Bridgewater here and been more than pleased to do so.

2nd round, Jeremy Hill RB: Again, Hill is a solid pick. He rushed for 1,400 yards on nearly 7 YPC in the SEC last season and more importantly, he's not Benjarvus Green-Ellis. But again, I feel like there was better talent on the board. Kony Ealy had a first round grade, was sitting there in the second round and would have fit our biggest need, in my eyes. Hill comes with some off field baggage, and at a position where value could be found later, especially since Gio Bernard seems to be set as the starter and we only need someone to spell him. This made me feel a bit better about the pick.

3rd round, Will Clarke DE: Finally, we get our DE. Clarke fits the Bengals preference for tall DE's (Clarke, Dunlap, Hunt and the departed Michael Johnson are all 6'6 or above) and using him in a rotation should help maximize his productivity. At that spot, I would have preferred Florida CB Jaylen Watkins, because we would have nabbed Ealy in round 2. He played some CB/S at UF and I thought DC Paul Guenther would like to have a guy of his versatility on the squad. Like Dennard, there would be no pressure to play right away so he could learn at his own pace.

4th round, Russell Bodine C/G: I got no beef with this pick. It was considered a reach by some, and we traded up to get him, but we need interior linemen. We cut starting center Kyle Cook, and I imagine Mike Pollak will win the starting job but Bodine should push him for it and at the very least provide depth at center and guard, where he played in college. This and the Hill pick show me that OC Hue Jackson is serious about shaping up a running game that finished 28th in the league in YPC. Doesn't hurt that he has some experience blocking for Gio Bernard from their days together at UNC.

5th round, AJ McCarron QB: Before you read the following, just understand that I know how ridiculous it is to criticize a fifth round selection. I get it, I get it. We've had some recent success with 5th round picks. Tanner Hawkinson was active for five games last year, and will stick around on the team this season (no easy feat for a 5th rounder on a playoff team). The season before we struck gold with Marvin Jones and George Illoka in the fifth round, both of whom started all 16 games for us a year ago. We had the chance to nab another nice player here, but instead chose AJ McCarron.

I would have ran to the podium with Zach Mettenberger's name on the card. McCarron is the college winner that showed up in big games and has intangibles on intangibles to makeup for the lack of physical skills he has. We already have a red headed QB that fits all of that, so why McCarron? Mettenberger has legit arm talent and made some phenomenal throws last season. He's coming off of an ACL tear and a failed drug test at the combine, neither of which bother me. 1, he's not playing this year anyway. Andy Dalton will be the starting quarterback this season and Jason Campbell will back him up. Mettenberger is third string as he recovers from the ACL and learns the playbook. 2, he's a fifth rounder at this point. If the drug test proves to be foreshadowing of future bad decisions, you cut bait with zero consequences. Mettenberger has the arm to make every throw a QB needs to make and thus a higher ceiling than McCarron. I've seen Bledsoe comparisons and I don't think they're terribly off the mark, if everything breaks right. Consider that 51% of Mettenberger's throws were 11+ yards downfield (15-20% points higher than Bridgewater, Bortles, Manziel, McCarron, whoever) and he still finished the season at 65% accuracy. I imagine that kind of arm talent, a year learning the system with no pressure and the type of weapons he have around him and think about what could have been. Instead, we went with a safe QB at a point in the draft where you can take the chance that your lottery ticket turns into the $100 million dollar winner. Instead, we went with Dalton 2.0.

In the 6th and 7th rounds we took a OLB, a WR and a CB that I won't pretend to know anything about. Talented guys like Seantrel Henderson, Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Isaiah Crowell are all talented guys that went undrafted. Maybe you take a flyer on them in the 6th or 7th round, but I got no gripe if you dont. As of now, Purifoy and Roberson are still available so we might be able to strike gold again in a Vontaze Burfict type of redemption story. We might not though.

In the end, we hit four of the five draft needs I identified and our recent success in the draft leaves me with more faith than I once had in our coaches/scouting staff. That Mettenberger pick though man...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Round 2 Predictions

Western Conference

1. San Antonio Spurs vs. 5. Portland Trail Blazers

The Spurs were pushed to a surprising Game 7 against Dallas, and I can't see that happening to them two times in a row. The likes of Tim Duncan/Tiago Splitter will ensure/insure/assure (English really is a trash language) that LaMarcus Aldridge doesn't go crazy like he did against Houston. They have the length to make sure those midrange jumpers are contested and are strong enough to make sure that LMA won't back them down at will like he did to Terrence Jones. Splitter had a very nice series against Dallas and I imagine he gets the start defending Aldridge, to keep Duncan close to the rim for those Lillard drives.

Speaking of Lillard, he had a beast of a series against Houston. Mainly because the Rockets had one person that could defend him, Patrick Beverley, and he was battling a a torn meniscus. He had his way against the rest of Houston's perimeter defenders. The Spurs will be able to throw a number of bodies at him including Tony Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. More importantly, I think the Spurs will make Lillard work on both ends of the court. Lillard will either have to chase around Tony Parker, and fight around screens if they try to hide him on a Danny Green/Marco Bellinelli/Patty Mills. Lillard is not a good defender by any means and I wonder if Coach Popp makes it a point to go at him defensively in order to tire him out offensively. I think this is a short series, but I've been wrong before (Once. In '94 for those counting).

Spurs in 5.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 3 Los Angeles Clippers

This is a series I've been wanting to see all season long. I've said it before and will go into more depth here, but I think the Clippers will beat the Thunder. Each team is coming off of a tough seven game series, and they split four regular season games so I think it comes down to the wire, but I'm taking LAC. Kevin Durant is the best player in this series and the Clippers don't have a soul that can guard him. I will go ahead and get that out of the way. After that? I like the way things break for LA. Chris Paul has outplayed Russell Westbrook historically, and this season has been no different. Westbrook blows by him with ease a couple of times and dunks from a step inside the free throw line, but at the end of the game Paul has more points, assists, steals, less turnovers and has shot better from just about everywhere. Blake has more than held his own against Ibaka, and Deandre Jordan is playing the best ball of his life. Of course, grabbing rebounds and getting putback dunks will be a bit tougher over Kendrick Perkins/Steven Adams, than it was over David Lee/Marreese Speights, but he's been fantastic.

I'd also have to say I like the Clippers "other guys" more than the Thunders. I'll take the likes of Barnes/Redick/Crawford/Collison over the Jackson/Butler/Collison/Fisher group. I'll also take Doc Rivers coaching over that of Scott Brooks. Rivers isn't without his flaws, but Scott Brooks may have been a Game 7 loss against the Grizzlies from unemployment. I trust that Rivers learned enough from the Memphis series to know that your best hope is to completely abandon anyone not named Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka and force their other guys to make shots. I don't think they can do it.

Of course, this is all moot if Kevin Durant averages 39 a game against the likes of Matt Barnes/Danny Granger/the corpse of Jared Dudley. And he very well may. Still...

Clippers in 6.

Eastern Conference

1. Indiana Pacers vs. #5 Washington Wizards.

The Wizards just handled a Bulls team with a great defense (1st in points allowed) and terrible offense (30th in points scored) in five games. The Pacers team they're about to face was 2nd in points allowed and 24th in points scored. Roy Hibbert is a better rim protector than Joakim Noah, but the latter is more versatile defensively and the Wizards handled him just fine. Marcin Gortat doesn't have the range of a Pero Antic (in theory, at least. Antic shot 12% from 3P against Indiana after shooting 33% during the regular season), but he can hit a 15 footer. The Hawks ability to put the threat of three pointshooting/ball handling at all five positions really gave the Pacers trouble. I likened it to a mid major team that runs five 6'6 guys out there that can all hit the three and daring you to adapt. Gortat/Nene don't have three point range, but they're better overall than the big men of the Hawks. Not to mention that Wall/Beal/Ariza>Teague/Korver/Carroll.

The Pacers could always "turn it on", get back to early season form and end this relatively quickly but I don't see it. It took a Hawks team shooting 37% as a team from three the first six games to go ice cold (11/44) from beyond the arc for the Pacers to escape in Game 7. Hibbert finally scored double digits in one game, but I'm not ready to say he's back just yet. I'm going with the Wiz here.

Wizards in 6.

2. Miami Heat vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets.

There's been plenty made of the Nets beating the Heat four times in the regular season, but three were by one point, Wade missed two of those games and another went to double OT. The wins still count but it's hardly domination or anything I think the Heat have to worry about. You know KG and Pierce are licking their chops to play against LeBron one more time, but I don't think it will matter much. This is going to come down to whether Deron Williams wants to stop stinking or not. And at this point, I'm not even sure it's him stinking. It may just be who he is now.

The Nets play their best ball when they go small with either KG/Plumlee at center and Paul Pierce at PF. Somehow I doubt that worries the Heat who can go Bosh/LeBron in the frontcourt if the Nets want to go small. Joe Johnson could go off here, and he had a great first round, but I think the Heat live with that. Andray Blatche and Shaun Livingston have favorable matchups, but I dont think they can exploit them enough to make the Heat change any plans they had. I think Deron Williams could make the difference here but I'm certainly not counting on it.

Heat in 5. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs Has Ceased

Ok yeah, it's been a few wee....months since I've put something down here. Life happens.

The first round of the playoffs have been fantastic. I just saw a graphic that said the five Game 7's were the most for a round ever, there have been eight OT games (the postseason record is 10!) and 13 games were decided by three points or less. Just a few quick first round thoughts before I get into my round two predictions.

1. We had some scrappy teams push it to the limits but I feel like everything that should happen did happen. Pacers survived. Miami cruised. The experienced, and hot, Nets prevailed. The Wizards was probably the "shock" of the East, and even then that was a 4/5 seed, so either team winning wasn't out of the ordinary. Out West, SA is currently whooping Dallas. OKC prevented the internet from collapsing onto Kevin Durant and subjecting us to a summer of searing sports takes. Clippers overcame adversity or whatever. Blazers closed out the Rockets in spectacular fashion, but again it was the 4/5 seed. We've still got our best teams (best five regular season records survived), our old hat stars (LeBron/Wade, KD/Westbrook, CP3/Blake) and some new guys making waves (Lillard, Wall/Beal). Can't ask for a lot more.

2. I think the rumors of coaching change for playoff teams are very real. Mark Jackson's name has been on the hot seat for some time and I'm sure a first round exit doesn't help. The number of assistants randomly quitting/being re-assigned under Jackson this season is probably more concerning than losing to a higher seeded team. This team, more or less, has their hands tied with this roster. The main guys are all locked into multi year deals and they owe Utah four picks over the next three years due to a preseason trade. If they don't think Jackson is the man for this roster, now may be the time they choose to cut bait.

Another coach in a potentially warm seat is Kevin McHale. That Rockets roster is far from perfect, but I'm not sure McHale did them any favors. Abandoning the Howard/Asik experiment so early in the season left them ill prepared for, you know, actually needing to use it after LaMarcus Aldridge skinned Terrence Jones alive. I also seem to remember Francisco Garcia being surprisingly useful last postseason, and he barely got off the bench here. It just seems that the Rockets didn't have much of a plan for the game slowing down. Dwight did work in the post, but Harden drives weren't cutting it and McHale didn't seem to do much adjusting. I think he gets another year, and rightfully so, but it bears keeping an eye on.

(Houston related sidebar: It appears Dwight Howard is back. He averaged a 26/14/3 on 55% FG shooting had a number of "Wow!" moments on both ends of the court. I hated Dwight for a good season but we won the trade, he left LA with nothing and he appears to be legitimately loathed by a good number of the American population. Everything is square between he and I, and I'm glad he's back to his old self. He's a top 10 player in the league and I think the NBA is a better place when he's healthy.)

3. The hell is going on with four point plays? Unofficially, I've read that there have been 16 in the first round. Is it guys closing out that much harder to run guys off the 3P line and into a less efficient midrange shot? Excessive flopping by the shooter? Bad decisions by the defender? Awful officiating by the refs? I think its some of all of the above, but sheesh.

I was going to get into my predictions here, but I'll wait out of respect for the first round and me being exhausted. Predictions for the second round will be up tomorrow.