Jacksonville’s Promising Future

Standard

By Jared Peterman

Two days and three rounds into the 2016 NFL Draft and the Jacksonville Jaguars look like they’re putting a red ribbon on an outstanding offseason.  Owning an offense with no glaring weakness, the Jacksonville brass focused on handing their defensive minded head coach Gus Bradley playmakers on his side of the ball, and that’s exactly what they did.  At the fifth pick overall, Jacksonville debated CB/S Jalen Ramsey from Florida State and OLB Myles Jack from UCLA, but eventually ended up with both on their roster after two rounds.  Ramsey was the fifth overall selection, but Jack would have to wait to join Ramsey in Duval County.

Thursday night’s first round ended and Jack remained on the board due to teams wary of his knee injury puncturing the possibility of an impactful, long-term career in the NFL.  Jack responded by posting a video of himself dunking a basketball off two feet to Twitter Friday morning, captioning it with a sleepy face emoji.  Though Twitter hasn’t been the friendliest to draft prospects lately (Laremy Tunsil), this was promoting the health of his knee at the moment.  Jack didn’t have to wait long into the second round of the draft as Jacksonville traded up from pick 38 to 36 with the Baltimore Ravens and selected the other half of their debate at pick five in the first round.

https://twitter.com/MylesJack/status/726113668602036224

This would have seemed impossible at the start of the draft process, let alone a week ago.  Concerns of Jack needing micro fracture surgery on his knee eventually was enough to scare teams off and allow Jacksonville to hit the “Jack Pot.”

Ramsey and Jack boost the defense immediately, but they aren’t alone as Jacksonville aggressively attacked free agency by signing possibly the biggest name on the market: DE Malik Jackson.  The 26 year old DE cashed in on his second contract in the NFL after winning a Super Bowl with Denver the previous season, by signing a six-year, $90 million deal with the Jaguars.  The spending didn’t stop, as they also signed FS Tashaun Gipson (25 years old), CB Prince Amukamara (26 years old), LT Kelvin Beachum (26 years old), and RB Chris Ivory (28 years old).  Besides Ivory, every player signed in the offseason is in their prime years as NFL players.  Jacksonville also has the additions of 2015 third overall selection, DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr. and DL Sen’Derrick Marks coming back from injuries.

The offseason showed how committed the front office is to making this team not only be competitive, but make the playoffs in the near future.  Blake Bortles should take the offense to yet another level in his third season with outstanding weapons on the outside of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas while adding a power run game facet with Chris Ivory sharing carries with second year RB TJ Yeldon.  Ramsey and Jack will contribute immediately on defense along with the aforementioned additions, giving Bradley similar pieces he needs to recreate the Seattle defense he ran during their dominance a few years ago.  The Jaguars showed growth last season and should continue to get over the growing pains this season with a revamped defense helping take pressure off Bortles and the offense.  The Jags are ready to compete in the weakest division in the AFC and finally stop selecting in the top 10 every April.

Advertisements

Tennessee Titans: Don’t Overthink the Draft

Standard

By Jared Peterman

            The Titans created a foundation in the 2015 NFL Draft by selecting quarterback Marcus Mariota and a potential star in the making wide receiver to throw to in Dorial Green-Beckham.  Every move in the offseason has been focused on improving the talent around Mariota to take a big step forward in his second season.  The icing on the cake would be for the new regime of General Manager Jon Robinson and Coach Mike Mularkey to knock out the 2016 draft, and that starts with the number one overall pick.  First, let’s recap some important offseason transactions.

Two free agent signings and one bold trade revamped the offense that Mariota will lead the huddle with in his second season.  The Titans signed a new possession receiver from Miami in Rishard Matthews, who the New England Patriots coveted in the offseason as well.  He adds to the already talented pass catching corps surround Mariota including: Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker and the aforementioned Green-Beckham.  Another playmaker was added via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, acquiring running back, DeMarco Murray, after just one season with the Eagles.  This should obviously improve a Tennessee run game that relied on David Cobb and Antonio Andrews last season.  The biggest offseason addition? Signing center Ben Jones to provide a leader and the staple to an offensive line protecting the savior of the franchise.

This puts Tennessee on the clock with a player on the board to make this offseason an absolute step forward in the right direction.  That player proves to be left tackle Laremy Tunsil from the University of Mississippi.  This pick would not only protect Mariota’s blindside, but solidify the offensive line as an entire unit.  This move would have 2014 first round pick, Taylor Lewan, move to right tackle alongside 2013 first round pick, Chance Warmack, the starting right guard.  Scouts and analysts believe Tunsil is an absolute stud who will have a long, tremendous career.  If the consensus becomes true, and the Titans select Tunsil, Mariota shouldn’t have to panic in the pocket as he did in 2015.  Mariota was sacked 38 times in his 12 games as a rookie.  The offense would be complete in almost every facet, allowing Robinson to focus on the defense for the majority of draft and the rest of the offseason.  It’s not the sexiest selection, but it is the smartest.  Don’t overthink it, Tennessee.

2015 NBA Draft: Top 5 Prospects

Standard

By Jared Peterman

As the NBA season ended with a parade in the Bay Area, the full focus turns to the 2015 NBA Draft.  This year’s draft class provides great talent throughout the entire draft, but I’ll only be breaking down my top five prospects.  I didn’t include the highly touted foreign prospects, Kristaps Porzingis or Mario Hezonja due to not watching them or being extremely familiar with them.  Let’s dig in and see who I’m raving over.

  1. PF/C Karl-Anthony Towns (University of Kentucky)

Karl-Anthony Towns’ skill set perfectly fits what NBA teams are asking of their big men.  He shoots exceptionally well from mid-range and can even step out and shoot threes if necessary while running the floor in transition.  Defensively, he could struggle guarding stretch fours, but should provide above-average defense in the post as he averaged 2.3 blocks per game at the University of Kentucky.  Towns noticeably progressed throughout the year and stood out while watching the star-studded UK team despite only averaging 21.1 minutes a game.  The two-way post player with mobility provides in my opinion, an easy choice for the Minnesota Timberwolves at the first overall pick as he’s just scratching his potential.

Current NBA Comparison: LaMarcus Aldridge/Paul Millsap

  1. PG D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State University)

D’Angelo Russell often had viewers in disbelief during his college season at Ohio State as it looked unfair at times that he was playing college basketball.  The point guard made a mediocre team competitive while averaging 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists.  Russell shoots the ball very well from the perimeter and excels in the pick and roll offense, which proves to be an essential asset in the NBA.  What makes Russell so great in the pick and roll proves to be his passing ability as he has great vision for the whole court and not just the player rolling to the basket.  The well-rounded guard will cause heated debates in the war room during Thursday night’s draft as Russell should hear his name called no later than the fourth overall pick.

Current NBA Comparison: Jeff Teague (With better shooting)

  1. SF Justise Winslow (Duke University)

Justise Winslow played his way into top five pick consideration after a glorious NCAA Tournament performance, but showed promise as a budding star throughout the season as a two-way wing player.  Hidden behind college stars for the better half of the year, Winslow shined in the tournament as his defense stood out as a true strength.  The classic, “3 and D” prototype prospect as Winslow shot 41.8% from behind the arc at Duke and looks to be just scratching the surface of his true potential.  Wing players have become essential in today’s NBA for success and Winslow leads the new wave of talent.  I seem a little higher on him than others, as he’s projected to get drafted in the 4-7 overall range.

Current NBA Comparison: Jimmy Butler/DeMar DeRozan (With Better Shooting)

  1. C Jahlil Okafor (Duke University)

If Jahlil Okafor would have entered the draft ten years ago, he’s without a doubt the number one overall pick.  If the draft took place at the beginning of the collegiate season, Okafor would have been taken first overall as well, but now he faces a projection of being selected 2-4 overall.  Not a bad drop off by any means, but the evolution of the NBA has devalued one of the most talented post scorers to enter the NBA in the last decade.  Okafor’s glaring weaknesses include free throw shooting and defense at the rim, two things NBA centers must provide to stay on the court in the fourth quarter.  With all this being said, Okafor demands a double team when in the low post while flashing a mid-range jump shot and can immediately score fifteen points a game in the NBA.  Teams are starting to go smaller and play the hack-a-whoever in the NBA, which can force a coach to bench Okafor immediately.  Improving his foul shooting will cement his offensive dominance in the association.

Current NBA Comparison: Brook Lopez

  1. C Willie Cauley-Stein (University of Kentucky)

While chasing a perfect season at Kentucky, Cauley-Stein’s finally flourished in his third season as a Wildcat creating real NBA draft stock.  The 7’0” center provides length and defense that proves extremely valuable to NBA teams as he can guard every position on the floor.  I’ve never witnessed a big man play on-ball defense better than Cauley-Stein did this past year at Kentucky while also being a true rim protector which is becoming a main focus for NBA teams to find.  Defense alone gets him in the lottery selection.  The weakness to WCS is obvious, as his offense lacks light years behind his defense where he likely won’t see too many plays drawn up for him besides lobs at the rim.  He’s athletic enough to improve offensively, but it will take time.  I can see teams trying to bulk Cauley-Stein up a little bit to improve positioning in the post and rebounding.  Cauley-Stein could go anywhere from 4-16 overall.

Current NBA Comparison: DeAndre Jordan (Better Defensively)

ALCS Preview: Kansas City Royals vs Baltimore Orioles

Standard

ALCS Preview: Kansas City Royals vs Baltimore Orioles

By Jared Peterman

The Baltimore Orioles host the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) after each team swept their opponents in the divisional series round.  Baltimore’s offense showed up in their sweep of the Detroit Tigers as they scored 21 runs, as well as their pitching staff, allowing 11 runs over the three games.  Kansas City’s late season heroics continued during the ALDS vs the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as they won their first two games in extra innings before capping off the series with their first nine inning regulation win.  Baltimore reaches the ALCS for the first time since 1997, while KC enters the series for the first time since 1985.  The two playoff drought franchises will find themselves in unfamiliar territory together, but each team has veterans with postseason success.  Nelson Cruz has flexed his muscles in October, swatting 16HR over his postseason career, tied for ninth all-time on the postseason home run leaders.  Cruz surpassed Babe Ruth on the all-time list with his two home runs against Detroit in the ALDS.  James Shields, who will pitch Game 1 of the ALCS, pitched Kansas City to victory in Game 3 of the ALDS by going six innings, allowing two earned runs, and striking out six.  This was a much better showing for the Kansas City ace as he also pitched in the Wild Card game where he didn’t have much success through five innings.  Look for these two players to have a major impact on their team’s success.  Despite not having postseason experience, each team hasn’t faltered for a second as they dominated their respective series.  Orioles starting pitching went toe-to-toe with Detroit’s rotation of aces, including a stellar start by SP Bud Norris in the final game of the series.  It’s unknown how manager, Buck Showalter, will handle Baltimore’s rotation through the ALCS, but I have major issues with starting Miguel Gonzalez in a potential Game 3 or Game 4.  The bats of Kansas City have awaken for the month of October, especially 1B Eric Hosmer, but the top of the order consisting of Alcides Escobar and Nori Aoki will need to make their presence felt in the series to keep the bats hot.  Escobar and Aoki leadoff and hit second for the Royals and failed to produce against the Angels, but must find ways on base for success in the ALCS.  Meanwhile, the Royals have shown excellence in the fundamentals of the game by some great defense and base running led by OF Lorenzo Cain making spectacular grabs and OF Jarrod Dyson swiping bags.  Managing the bullpen has seem to become an Achilles heel throughout this postseason for managers and both managers have lockdown, back of the end bullpens at their display to play with.  Orioles’ slugger, Chris Davis will still sit out the ALCS due to his suspension for amphetamines, but the offense hasn’t lacked in any way in the absence of Davis.  Baltimore has adjusted seamlessly all season to any adversity as they ran away with the AL East without C Matt Wieters and 3B Manny Machado for most of the season.  Kansas City’s pitching is favored to Baltimore’s, but as they Orioles have shown, their bats are hard to tame.  Expect a live series that goes to six games in the favor of Baltimore.

American League Divisional Series Preview

Standard

American League Divisional Series (ALDS) Preview

By Jared Peterman

Detroit Tigers vs Baltimore Orioles

The Tigers won their fourth straight AL Central crown to find themselves in the ALDS vs the Baltimore Orioles who ran away with the AL East division, winning their first division title since 1997.  Both teams feature a high powered offense and their offseason additions to bolster the bats have paid off.  Orioles’ OF, Nelson Cruz, signed in the offseason, led baseball with 40HRs, which powered Baltimore to lead the MLB in HRs as a team with 211.  OF Nick Markakis makes his postseason debut in year nine of his career, batting leadoff for the Orioles will have to be a main contributor to their success as well as superstar, Adam Jones.  Detroit gambled in the offseason by trading slugging 1B Prince Fielder for 2B Ian Kinsler, and the dividends have paid off as Kinsler has provided stability at the top of the lineup, hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.  Martinez has been the MVP of the offense in 2014 as he hit .335AVG with 32HR and 103RBI while only striking out 42 times.

Baltimore’s Achilles heel entering the postseason seems to be the starting pitching as they have no “ace,” but the staff posted top of the line numbers since the All-star break, providing encouragement entering the series.  Chris Tillman will take the ball in Game 1, with the order of the rest of the rotation unknown, but you can expect to see Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez.  Meanwhile, Detroit faces no issue in the starting pitching rotation as they will line Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, trade deadline addition David Price, and Rick Porcello throughout the postseason.  The aces are aligned for Detroit, but the bullpen has been a major issue all season as they were worst in the MLB with a .270BAA and 27th in ERA at 4.29.  Baltimore made a key addition at the trade deadline to bolster the already impressive bullpen when acquiring left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller from the Boston Red Sox.  Expect Miller, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton to shut opponents down in the later innings.  With Baltimore’s starting pitching being unpredictable, I expect Detroit to advance to the ALCS in the maximum five games.

Prediction: Detroit in 5 Games

Kansas City Royals vs Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won their first AL West division title since 2009 and ran away with the best record in baseball at a 98-64 mark.  The Angels, top seed in the AL, had the luxury of watching their opponent in the wild card game on Monday night, as they saw the Kansas City Royals come back and win an extra inning affair to vault into the ALDS showdown.  Los Angeles features the highest scoring offense in baseball this season, simply powered by MVP candidate, Mike Trout along with legendary 1B Albert Pujols.  The offense didn’t only lead baseball in scoring but it also ranked top ten in H, HRs, RBI, AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS, a pretty impressive resume for the best team in the 2014 season.  Kansas City will have an uphill battle to take down the Angels as their offense finished last in HRs in the MLB, though the offense showed it can score runs in the wild card game as they defeated Oakland, 9-8 in extra innings.  1B Eric Hosmer had an encouraging postseason debut, as he will be relied on to produce runs for the Royals as well as OF Alex Gordon.  Base running played a major role in the wild card game for Kansas City and they will probably look to continue that trend against the Angels for an advantage.

The Angels bats made the noise this season while the pitching staff flew under the radar and posted a 3.62ERA as starters with the fourth best BAA (.239) in baseball.  Los Angeles may have lost their ace, Garrett Richards, but found clarity to fill the rotation with Matt Shoemaker who will take the ball in Game 2.  Veterans Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson will round out the rotation for the Angels in the ALDS as Weaver had a stellar season and Wilson is known for great postseason performances during his tenure in Texas.  The Royals also had a solid pitching rotation this season as they posted a 3.60ERA as a staff behind ace James Shields and rookie sensation, Yordano Ventura.  Ventura and Shields will pitch in Game 2 and 3, while former Angel, Jason Vargas, will start Game 1 for Kansas City, with Jeremy Guthrie in line for Game 4.   The Angels in-season moves to rebuild the bullpen paid off in the second half of the season as they acquired Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher, and closer Huston Street.  Kansas City’s bullpen has been headlined by Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, all relievers sporting ERAs under 1.50.  The Angel’s complete team dynamic provides too much support to pick against them facing an unexperienced Royals team with power problems.

Prediction: Angels in 4 Games

National League Wild Card Preview

Standard

National League Wild Card Preview

By Jared Peterman

PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, hosts the second straight NL one game wild card game.  This year the Pirates will face off with the San Francisco Giants, with the winner taking on the Washington Nationals in the NLDS.  The Giants send ace starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner to the bump, while Pirates fans will watch Edison Volquez try to hurl Pittsburgh to their second straight postseason series.

Volquez, acquired via free agency in the offseason, has been the Pirates’ newest reclamation project as he sported a 5.71ERA in 2013, almost cutting that number in half during this season as he enters the game with a 3.04ERA.  To add to Volquez’s success, he’s currently riding a hot streak throughout the month of September with a 2-0 record and a 1.08ERA through 33.1IP. Squaring off against Volquez, is no slouch either, as Bumgarner has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the past three seasons.  Bumgarner has never had an ERA over 3.40 while throwing 200+ IP in each season.  The southpaw will look to continue his success to push the Giants into the NLDS.

Pittsburgh’s offense is led by superstar sensation, Andrew McCutchen, but will need production from SS Jordy Mercer, who hits in front of McCutchen tonight.  Mercer has crushed lefties all season and the Pirates will need him to do so tonight to create run production opportunities for McCutchen and the heart of the order.  San Francisco’s offense is led by postseason heroes from the past as Buster Posey and Hunter Pence look to continue the success they have seen in previous high pressured playoff games.  2B Joe Panik makes his postseason debut, hitting second, ahead of Posey, where similar to Mercer, he must find a way to get on base.

The Pirates have the experience in the wild card format, where the Giants have the postseason experience.  The Pittsburgh atmosphere should play a factor, but I can’t pick against Bumgarner.  I’m expecting a very intriguing game as I pick the Giants defeat the Pirates, 5-2.

American League Wild Card Preview

Standard

American Wild Card Preview

By Jared Peterman

The American League (AL) wildcard game presents the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals playing to advance to the American League Divisional Series vs the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Three or four years ago, you wouldn’t have believed the Athletics and Royals were playing in October, but the Royals have ended their 29 year playoff drought, while the Athletics have revived their franchise over the past three seasons.  The two franchises square off at Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Royals.

The match up couldn’t be set any better as both teams have their aces on the hill in the one game playoff.  James Shields will face off with Jon Lester, giving this game an AL East type feel to it from a few years ago as Shields pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays and Lester pitched for the Boston Red Sox.  Shields was acquired prior to last season along with RP Wade Davis for blue-chip prospect Wil Myers and others, while Lester was acquired at the trade deadline this season along with OF Jonny Gomes for slugging sensation, OF Yoenis Cespedes.  Shields has hurled five postseason games from 2008-2011, going 2-3 and losing his last three appearances.  Lester is known for his postseason dominance throughout his Red Sox career, starting ten games and posting a 2.11ERA over his postseason career.

The Royals surged into the playoffs with an extraordinary month of September, while Oakland has had a losing record since the All-Star break.  Kansas City led the AL in team batting average, but failed to hit 100 home runs throughout the season, the worst in the AL.  Oakland’s offense has been abysmal since trading Cespedes, but the absence of him isn’t the only issue with Oakland as Stephen Vogt and Brandon Moss have drastically regressed over the second half of the season.

Expect a pitcher’s duel in Kauffman Stadium between old AL East foes, Shields and Lester, as Kansas City looks for their first postseason series in 29 years and Oakland tries to make their third straight postseason series. I have a hard time picking against Lester in the postseason as I pick the Athletics to beat the Royals 3-2.