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Thunderstruck

Kevin DurantLet’s play a little game. I’ll describe two scenarios, and you tell me which one is more messed up. Before we begin, let’s be clear on something: The NBA is fixed on many levels. They’re a multi-gazillion dollar business, and if you think they don’t have their best money interest in mind, then you’re either really naive, or you haven’t been paying close enough attention. The following list is just a few obvious examples of when the fix was in:

1985: The Knicks get the #1 pick in the draft, Patrick Ewing.

1992: The Magic get the #1 pick (Shaq) in the draft when there were questions and doubts about whether or not putting a team in Orlando was even a good idea.

1995: Michael Jordan gets suspended… errr… I mean leaves to play minor league baseball as a cover up for his gambling issues that were on the verge of getting him Pete Rosed right out of the game.

2000: The Lakers 37-16 free throw advantage against the Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals.

2002: The Lakers are gifted the playoff series over the Kings (video below), most notably in game 6, when they were awarded 40 free throws overall, 27 in the fourth quarter alone. A game in which referee Tim Donaghy later admitted to helping fix in 2007.

 

 

2003: The Cavs get the #1 pick (home town boy LeBron) in 2003, and then handed more #1 picks after he left.

2006: Dwyane Wade shoots 97 free throws in 6 games against Dallas. In game 5 alone, he shot 25 free throws, the same amount as the entire Dallas team.

2007: The Tim Donaghy (NBA Referee) gambling scandal that landed him in prison for 15 months. A scandal in which he also admitted helping to to fix the previously mentioned Lakers/Kings series by order of commissioner David Stern.

2008: The Bulls get the #1 pick (hometown boy Derrick Rose) despite only a 1.7% chance.

2012: The New Orleans Hornets get the first pick after the NBA nixed the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade.

2012: The ridiculous free throw advantages the Heat were given against the Knicks in the playoffs. The 28-5 advantage in the first half of game 1 alone and LeBron’s flopping was so blatantly obvious that multiple NBA players actually tweeted about it. Klay Thompson said he’d “never respect floppers.” Patrick Patterson wondered, “What kind of league are we becoming?” You know the game has turned into a joke when at halftime “and the Oscar goes to” is trending on Twitter.

2016: Dikembe Mutombo congratulates the 76ers for getting the first pick in a tweet 4 hours before the lottery.

These are just a few examples in a ridiculously long laundry list, and they always seem to coincidentally favor the bigger market or star power teams that would benefit the NBA, both prestigiously and financially. So make no mistakes, the NBA is rigged on some levels.

But let’s get back to the game. I’ll give you the following two scenarios, and you tell me which one is worse:

Scenario #1: A player gets drafted out of college to a REALLY bad NBA team. Nobody has any idea he’ll become one of the top 3 players in the league, but he works his ass off to become just that. In addition to becoming one of the top 3 players in the league, he also lifts that very franchise up from the dead and turns them into a legit title-caliber team, one in which the NBA conspired against to deny them a fair chance at a title. He exceeded all expectations by playing above and beyond what anyone could’ve ever expected of him coming out of college. When his contract was up, he did what every player not named Wade or Duncan do in this day and age of basketball, and accepted the best available job offer on the table.

Scenario #2: A kid in high school is hyped up as the best basketball player in the world. We were told he was going to take the NBA by storm and become the best player the sport has ever seen. Already ridiculous, and I haven’t even gotten started. The NBA, as they have repeatedly done, rigs the lottery draft so he can join his hometown team. He hasn’t even played an NBA game yet, and the NBA (and HIMSELF, I might add) are already declaring him God, and promising the league, the franchise, and the city all sorts of ridiculously presumptuous things. He then falls wayyyy short of what was expected of him. People even started to question his competitive fire. Even his biggest fans and supporters. He failed in nearly every aspect of what was expected of him. He then bails out on the very franchise, city, and fans he promised so much to in order to latch onto an established winning franchise just so he could ride coattails to a championship.

Now you tell me, which scenario is worse? The guy who exceeded expectations by a longshot and lifted a franchise and city out of the grave, despite having to combat a conspiring NBA on top of his opponents? Or the guy who has been catered to by the NBA his entire career, yet not only still fell incredibly short of expectations, but turned his back on the very city, franchise, and fans that he made so many promises to?

Media and fans alike are getting all over Kevin Durant for his decision to join the Golden State Warriors. The comparisons to what LeBron did when he left for Miami are flying all over the internet, our radios, and our televisions. The problem is, it’s not even close to the same thing. Durant exceeded expectations. He gave his heart, soul, bDurant & Currylood, sweat and tears to a franchise that was left for dead, and he lifted them up into a signifanct force only to be denied by the NBA. The big money was in a Warriors/Cavs finals this year, so the NBA did everything they could to make sure that happened. They let the Warriors get away with murder to mount that series comeback against OKC. Draymond Green should’ve been suspended, paving the way for OKC to advance, but he got a free pass for acting like a straight thug… but yet, all he did was call LeBron a pussy and he got suspended in the Cavs series. Why? Because it was in the best (money) interest of the NBA for the Warriors to advance past the Thunder. It was also in their best money interest (by way of publicity and buzz) for LeBron and the Cavs to beat the Warriors. It’s what they wanted YEARS ago when they fixed the draft for him to go to Cleveland in the first place, but LeBron failed to live up to expectations and deliver.

The NBA does what the NBA needs to do to keep itself thriving and as lucrative as possible. Even the mighty Jordan got his share of phantom calls and help from the refs to all but guarantee the best possible scenarios the NBA wanted and needed for sport popularity and financial gain. Make no mistakes, the NBA is a business, and businesses do what they have to do to succeed and make money, even if that means making teams like the Kings, Thunder, or various others their sacrificial lambs. So don’t hate the player, hate the game. Durant is not a villain. He did more than was ever expected of him for the unfortunate (for him) city and franchise he was drafted into. When his time was up, he took the best available job offered to him. Who can blame him? It’s not like he was appointed the King before he ever even stepped on an NBA court, had the NBA in his corner rigging things in his favor, then failed to deliver anything even close to what was expected of him before turning his back on the franchise and city that went all in on him. On the contrary, he over-achieved and turned a struggling franchise into a powerhouse. NBA and Thunder fans should appreciate that, not criticize it. When his time was up, he took the best available job offered to him… something any one of us would do.

~Jamie Capria

Jake the Transformer

Jake ArrietaA lot has been made about Jake Arrieta’s success with the Cubs, prompting baseball-clueless guys like Stephen A. Smith to allude to the possible use of performance enhancing drugs. Somewhere along the way, Smith decided that his knowledge of basketball somehow qualified him to speak feverishly on other sports in which he has very limited knowledge in, and ESPN loves putting him on your televisions because his antics draw ratings. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who once brilliantly pontificated on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters panel, that an NFL team should’ve attempted a FG on third down, that way if they missed they could try again on 4th down, so unless it’s about basketball, most educated viewers have learned not to take anything he says very seriously. I should give him a break though. I mean, after all, it was mighty noble of him to phrase it in a way that basically translated to “I’m not saying he might’ve used performance enhancing drugs, but I think he might’ve used performance enhancing drugs.” Slippery much, Stephen? This phrasing allowed him to implant PED use doubts in people’s minds, but also granted him the ability to claim he never said Jake used if his comments garnered any backlash. Putting Stephen A. Smith’s reckless ratings-driven comments aside, I decided to give a closer look into Jake’s transformation from thrower to pitcher.

Arrieta was basically just a fastball/sinker pitcher in Baltimore. It’s almost all he threw. Because of their movement, sinkers (and knucklers) rely heavily on weather conditions. It’s one of the primary reasons why sinkerballers and knuckleballers are so inconsistent. Some days they just can’t get it to drop as sharply. Additionally, Arrieta throws his sinker in the mid 90’s, so it’s very close to the speed of his fastball. Jake used that sinker/fastball combination in Baltimore over 60% of the time, so hitters were rarely off balance because the majority of the pitches they saw were coming at them close to the same speeds. Combine that with Camden Yards being a HR hitting stadium, and you’ve got a guy who threw primarily 2 pitches… a hard and straight fastball, and a similarly hard sinker that sometimes wouldn’t sink sharply in a HR hitting division and stadium. The result was 48 jacks allowed in just over 350 innings, and a rather unsightly ERA. If you’re not keeping guys guessing and off balance because you’re basically relying on two pitches with similar velocity, suddenly both pitches become very hittable for major league hitters.

PilatesFast forward to Chicago, where he backed off that mostly 2-pitch formula and gradually started heavily mixing in a slider, a changeup, a curve, and adding cut to his fastball, and suddenly you’ve got an entirely different guy on the mound. Now you’ve got a guy who can throw 5 good pitches, and uses them all regularly. Nasty slider, nasty cutter, nasty changeup, nasty sinker, nasty curve… all with good rotation, and only the change and the curve aren’t thrown in the 90’s, so the other 3 pitches look eerily similar coming out of his hand. As a result, hitters have a hard time gauging which pitch is coming at them. Hitters no longer have a 50/50 shot at dead red or the sinker anymore and aren’t able to gear their timing into one very small window of speeds. With a low 80’s curve, high 80’s changeup, 90 MPH slider, mid 90’s sinker, and an upper 90’s cut fastball… he’s now keeping guys guessing and off balance at all times. That small window of speeds has now become a canyon of speeds. Additionally, he’s been doing Pilates religiously for quite some time now, and that has his flexibility and balance on point, which results in incredible consistency in his mechanics. He rarely has a mistake pitch. When he does, he already has hitter’s so off balance he gets away with most of them rather than turning to watch them fly over the fences in Camden. Let us also not forget the obvious switch from the DH-laden American League to the pitcher-friendly National League.

I realize the Entirely Self-Promoting Network loves the attention Stephen A. Smith’s controversial statements bring them, but unless he can back up his verbal vomit with some sort of pertinent facts, or even just sound reasoning, he should really just stick to basketball.

~Jamie Capria

Footloose and Fancy Embiid

EmbiidFor those of you in NBA keeper leagues who have been eliminated from your playoffs, it’s the perfect time to grab Joel Embiid as your consolation prize. After a single season at Kansas, Embiid was drafted 3rd overall to the Philadelphia 76ers. 2 years worth of foot complications later and Joel has become somewhat of a forgotten man… at least if you’re lucky, anyway. Embiid has yet to play a single game in the NBA and in most leagues he’s been dropped and left for dead. However, Embiid recently returned from a second trip to the Aspetar facility, an orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital in Qatar, where he endured a very detailed and thorough rehabilitation program. According to coach Brett Brown via CSNPhilly.com, the visit had as much to do with lifestyle as it did basketball:

“It was sort of a smorgasbord of everything you would think,” Brown said. “From diet assessment, really planning and talking about food and his diet, the number of meals and portion sizes … things to do with his foot as far as bone density and massage therapy and expected soreness from time-to-time … education on his sleep habits, his sleep patterns. On-court work with skill development … forming a simple but skilled package environment on an actual court.”

“Leaving that and going into the weight room, continuing to develop his body. Doing things with just normal plyometrics and stretching so that the flexibility comes back in because he hasn’t done too much in a few years. It’s not like you’re dealing with a conditioned athlete — he hasn’t done a lot in the past few years so we’re responsible in how we deliver him to those movement aspects of playing basketball again. … It’s very holistic, very smorgasbord-like, all over the place, all designed to his health.”

The 7 footer returned looking very nimble, while also displaying a very sweet and accurate stroke. The video below shows Embiid during a 9 minute pregame workout just 12 days before his 22nd birthday on March 4th before the 76ers played the Miami Heat. If you want to skip ahead, I’ll save you the trouble and let you know that he sinks about 80 to 90% of his shots, including an overwhelming majority of his around-the-horn 3 point attempts. Of course there are no defenders in this workout, but it’s impressive to see the big man displaying mobility and such a soft touch nonetheless. Rumblings out of Philly are that Jahlil Okafor will be traded to open the door for Embiid now that he’s creeping his way back to full health. If he’s available on your keeper league waiver wire, it’s time to snatch him up as your consolation prize. If he looks this good now, imagine how he’ll look on your squad in October.

 

~Jamie Capria

The Yankee Empire Strikes Back

YankeesA lot of commotion has been made about the Yankees lack of moves over the past 2 off seasons. Yankee haters are loving what they surmise as their downfall, while Yankee die hards are wishing The Boss was still alive to throw his money around and rope in all the big name free agents. There’s a certain irony in Yankee haters trashing the Yankees for their years of free spending, and now trashing them for not spending. There’s also a certain irony in the Yankee faithful crying for the spending when the spending didn’t work. The Yankee revival tour that began in the mid 90’s and became the most memorable modern day dynasty in the sport wasn’t built on spending, it was built from within. The heart and soul of the team were homegrown names like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams. With that up and coming 5-man core, the Yankees didn’t have to go out and buy the biggest names on the market. They simply added less prestigious, yet quality pieces to the mix such as Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, and Scott Brosius. They also filled holes with role players like Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, David Justice and Jeff Nelson. This winning formula was put together by Gene Michael in the wake of George Steinbrenner’s suspension, and resulted in a World Series appearance in 6 out of 8 seasons between 1996 and 2003, peaking with 4 out of 5 championships between 1996 and 2000.

Clearly, none of it would’ve ever taken place without those 5 homegrowns… Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada and Bernie Williams. The Yankees spent years after that historically successful run trying to recapture their glory with high priced spending. There was only one problem… it didn’t work. In the 12 years that it’s been since their 8 year run ended in 2003, the Yankees have appeared in only 1 World Series. So why now? Why is everyone clamoring about their lack of spending now? Shouldn’t it be clear by now that building from within was the catalyst for their success, and that a return to free spending is what sent them spiraling out of control once again?

Let’s fast forward two decades from the time those 5 homegrowns who sparked the Yankee revival tour in the mid 90’s. Yes, that’s right folks, step right up and take a look at the 5 new homegrowns who have the potential to spark another Yankee revival.

SeverinoLuis Severino – SP: Don’t let his wiry 6 foot 195 pound frame fool you, this kid can hurl. Prior to 2015, MLB.com had him ranked as the 23rd overall prospect, and he easily could’ve been higher considering his stellar minor league numbers. In 320 minor league innings, he posted a 2.30 ERA, 1.026 WHIP and a 323/81 K/BB ratio. He made his Yankee debut in 2015 and didn’t disappoint with a 2.89 ERA while striking out 56 batters in 62 innings. Manager Joe Girardi even likened his poise to that of Greg Maddux. Wow, high praise.

 

BirdGreg Bird – 1B: Bird is a big lefty with a sweet swing. Think John Olerud with more power. In 1246 minor league at bats, he managed to hit .282 with 48 HRs and 192 RBIs. He also exhibited a great eye with 223 walks. Even more impressive than his minor league numbers were his results when called up to the Yankees in 2015 to replace the injured Mark Teixeira. He looked extremely comfortable at the plate, and banged out 11 HRs in only 157 at bats, a few of the heroic variety. A short right field home porch along with his calm demeanor at the plate is a recipe for a lot of future success in pinstripes. Unfortunately, a labrum tear will force him off the field for the remainder of 2016, but he’ll be a full go come 2017.

 

JudgeAaron Judge – OF: A beast of a physical specimen, Judge is listed at 6’7 275. Baseball Prospectus has him ranked 49th among all prospects. Judge projects to become a big power bat in the middle of the Yankee lineup. he finished low A ball in 2014 with a .308 batting average, along with 17 dingers and 78 ribs in 467 at bats. The following year, which was divided between AA and AAA, saw his batting average dip to .255 against better pitching, but he maintained his impressive power with 20 HRs and 72 RBIs in 478 at bats. He’s likely to spend 2016 fine tuning his swing in the minors, but he’s expected to be ready to start belting jacks on the big stage in 2017.

 

SanchezGary Sanchez – C: Sanchez is currently the front runner to back up Brian McCann in 2016. Baseball Prospectus has had him ranked as high as the 29th overall prospect, and at 6’2 230, his large frame has also shown impressive power in the minors. In 2157 minor league at bats, Sanchez blasted 89 home runs, and a whopping 378 RBIs while hitting .274. His 498/195 K/BB ratio needs some work, but the future looks bright behind the plate for the Yankees.

 

MateoJorge Mateo – SS: I feel the need for speed. Mateo is just 20 years old, but he’s already turning heads with his base running prowess. Mateo stole a ridiculous 82 bases in only 449 low A at bats in 2015. He’s managed an insane 146 steals in only 820 at bats so far in the minors. He’s still got some work to do on his plate discipline before he sees the majors, but he’s destined to be tearing up major league base paths, possibly as early as late 2017 or early 2018.

 

The new 5 homegrowns don’t look too shabby, do they? Maybe this explains why the Yankees refused to make a big splash on the trade market when many big name aging veterans were available. It would have come at the cost of these 5 coveted blue chippers, as nearly every team in the league has asked about one or all of them. The same way the Yankees wouldn’t have put together their dynasty without Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada, and Williams, they were also smart enough not to let go of Severino, Bird, Judge, Sanchez, and Mateo.

Just as the original core needed key pieces around them, this group will as well. So what do the Yankees have up their sleeve? Well, let’s start with what’s already in place. The Yankees have young players like Sterlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Hicks who all have an opportunity to develop into key cogs. The Yankees also have large expiring contracts which will result in a LOT of freed up money. CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner are all on large expiring contracts. So if you look at the 2017-2018 seasons in advance, you not only see a big group of blue chip homegrowns all hitting the scene at the same time, but they’ll also have a large boatload of extra money laying around to make the type of splash they need to build around them. Enter: Bryce Harper.

Bryce

The above photo was taken from Harper’s Instagram feed. Bryce spent his childhood days as a huge Yankee fan, and all signs point to him joining his beloved Yanks after the 2018 season. Everyone knows his agent Scott Boras is a shark, and Bryce is already projected to become the first 400 million dollar player once his free agency hits. As mentioned, they’ll certainly have the money to spend, along with a fine group of young talent to put around him. A lot can still change, but the Yankees current payroll obligations look something like this:

2015: 217 mil

2016: 183 mil

2017: 120 mil

2018: 93 mil

2019: 45 mil

So what does this tell us? It tells us that not only will the Yankees have a ridiculous amount of money to throw at Bryce Harper, quite possibly even challenging the 500 mil mark with a 10+ year contract… but also a ridiculous amount of money to throw at whatever other key players they’ll need to fill holes by then. Harper will only be 26 years old when he hits free agency, and he’d be surrounded by extremely young talent in New York. The stage would be set for another potential Yankee revival tour that could very well wind up producing another dynasty. Not convinced? Was it the potential dynasty part that was a little too much? Ok, well then how about we take a look at the top 30 international prospects:

International Prospects

A strange thing happens when I look at this list. I can’t help but notice that one third of all the top international prospects belong to the Yankees. That’s right, 10 out of the list of 30 are all Yankees. Ok, so I’ll concede that this is Baseball America’s 2014 list, so things can change a little from source to source, but I think you get the idea… the Yankees are STACKED with young talent. Of course, they’ll be paying some hefty fines for going over the spending limit on international players, but what’s a little fine money to unfairly stack the deck heavily in your favor? It’s not like we haven’t already established that they’ll have plenty of extra cash laying around, right? You see, all these cries about how the Yankees weren’t making any moves or spending any money were incomplete sentences. People forgot to add the “on the major league level” and “yet” to the end of their sentences. Money was being spent, it was just being spent on international players, fines, and future record contracts.

I regret to inform all the Yankee haters that news of their demise has been grossly exaggerated and premature. They’re currently filming a new picture that is due to hit the box office in 2019 entitled The Yankee Empire Strikes Back, and once it hits the big screen it’s expected to remain in theaters for at least another decade.

~Jamie Capria

The Good, The Bad, and The Incomplete

It has long been established that in order to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, you need a quality signal caller. Even when teams have been an exception to that rule and won with lesser talent under center while relying on their defense, they quickly faded out and returned to irrelevancy thereafter. Take, for example, Trent Dilfer and the Baltimore Ravens. He stepped in for an injured Tony Banks and went 7-1 to “guide” the Ravens to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. He then went 12 for 26 for 153 yards in the Super Bowl and proceeded to become the only quarterback in NFL history to “win” a Super Bowl and get immediately cut. It took the Ravens 12 years to get back to the Super Bowl, and those 12 years saw the likes of Elvis Grbac, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman, Anthony Wright, and Kyle Boller all stinking up the field and repeatedly undermining one of the best defenses in NFL history.

Year in and year out NFL team owners, GMs, coaches, and scouts scour the college ranks hoping to find their future quarterback. That elusive gem they can build their franchise around while watching him develop into a Super Bowl-caliber field general. It’s been said in recent years that the search is becoming more and more difficult, as if there’s a shortage of talent at the quarterback position. I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that we no longer develop quarterbacks on an NFL sideline, practice field, and film room, and rather choose to throw them directly into the frying pan and expect immediate results. It’s a win now league, so coaches don’t have the luxury of waiting for quarterbacks to develop anymore, otherwise they find themselves quickly unemployed.

With that being said, there are currently 8 relevant quarterbacks under the age of 25 in the NFL. This article takes a look at those 8 quarterbacks, youngest to oldest, and grades both their current progress, as well as their projected/potential progress.

Jameis Winston

Winston was drafted with the first overall pick of of the 2015 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has the distinction of being the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL, and the Buccaneers clearly think he has what it takes to eventually develop into a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

The Good: Winston plays with a high level of confidence, passion, fire, and determination. As a result, he’s not afraid to take chances downfield and has that elusive “play making” ability. Even with limited speed and mobility, he’s still a threat to extend plays and/or take off and gain positive yardage at any time. (As shown by his numerous plays out of the pocket and 4 rushing TDs already this season.) Doug Martin has helped his development by providing a solid ground game to take the pressure off him, and pass-catching back Charles Sims has given him dump down options when his initial reads are covered. He’s had good weapons to work with in Mike Evans and Vince Jackson, who are both big 6’5 targets with reliable hands downfield. His knock coming out of college was his propensity to turn the ball over, but aside from a disastrous 4 pick game at the hands of the undefeated Carolina Panthers defense, he’s surprised many with his ability to protect the football. (Only 4 games out of 10 with a pick, and only 2 with multiple picks… both within his first 4 career starts.) His surrounding cast is arguably the best amongst this list, and has put him in a great position to succeed, but his skill set has taken full advantage of the opportunities presented to him as he’s managed to average an impressive 240 yards per game, 7.7 yards per attempt, and an 86.5 passer rating.

The Bad: Winston’s accuracy still needs development as his completion percentage sits at a less-than-desirable 58%. He also holds onto the ball too long, as evidenced by his 17 sacks in 10 games. (Albeit 7 in his first two starts, so he’s shown progress in that regard too.) He’s also fumbled 5 times in 10 games, so although the picks are down, he still needs to work on protecting the ball.

Current Grade: B+ For his current NFL resume, Winston is a solid B+. He’s developed a lot quicker than expected, his questionable maturity hasn’t been an issue, he’s kept the interceptions in reasonable check, and he’s provided the Bucs with a much needed competitive spark.

Projected/Potential Grade: A With his skill set and competitive fire, Winston projects to be an eventual Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. Whether or not the Bucs can turn things around and provide him enough surrounding support to get him there is still in question, but Winston shouldn’t be the reason if they never reach the promised land during his tenure.

 

Marcus Mariota

Mariota, just 3 months older than Winston, was taken just behind him as the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 draft. Even with potential future-starter Zach Mettenberger on the roster, the Titans couldn’t pass on such a rare quarterback talent.

The Good: Mariota has the ultra-rare ability of being a pocket passer who is also very mobile and highly skilled at making plays out of the pocket, especially accurate throws on the run. With easily the worst surrounding cast on this list, Mariota has impressed with 253 yards per game, a list topping 7.8 yards per attempt, a list topping 65% completion percentage, and an impressive 96 passer rating. He’s also very good at protecting the football. In his senior season at Oregon, he tallied a remarkable 57 touchdowns (42 passing, 15 rushing) against only 4 interceptions. This was no fluke either, as in his previous two seasons he notched 40 combined tds to 4 picks, and 37 tds to 6 picks respectively. He’s got a cannon arm, pinpoint accuracy, and makes great decisions with the football, particularly when a play breaks down.

The Bad: Mariota played in a stretch offense throughout college, so he’s still adjusting to taking the ball under center as a drop back passer. This has actually resulted in more turnovers than usual in the early going, as he has 6 interceptions and 7 fumbles (4 lost). His quarterback IQ and long history of protecting the ball leans towards him picking up the speed of the NFL game and added pressure of a 3 and 5 step drop, and he’s already shown recent progress in protecting the ball better, but up until now there have been a few bumps in the road learning to be a drop back passer.

Current Grade: B+ Aside from the uncharacteristic ball control mishaps, which still aren’t all that bad for a rookie, Mariota has been superb on a VERY bad team. He’s done more with less than any quarterback on the short side of 25 in the league.

Projected/Potential Grade: A+ Mariota has the football intelligence and rare skill set to not only be a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, but to also be one of the elite quarterbacks of his generation. Unfortunately, the Titans are a VERY bad football team, so his career may suffer a Marino-like fate… at least for the foreseeable future.

 

Johnny Manziel

Boyziel (I refuse to call him a man) is a year older than Winston & Mariota and in his 2nd season after being drafted 22nd overall out of Texas A&M by the Cleveland Browns.

The Good: Boyziel has a strong arm, lively legs, and plays with a great deal of confidence, regardless of the results/outcome. Unfortunately, up until this point in his NFL career, there isn’t much more I can fill in the “good” section with.

The Bad: Well documented, Boyziel’s main Achilles’ heel is his lack of maturity and professionalism. Last year he looked completely lost under center as it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t paying much attention to the playbook or in the film room, if any at all. He repeatedly botched plays, even turning to the wrong side to hand off on simple running plays. Boyziel entered rehab and took on a more focused approach headed into this season, and even looked pretty good in spot duty filling in for McCown. One problem… he couldn’t stay away from the booze. He was let off the hook when they ruled an argument with his girlfriend didn’t violate the NFL Personal Conduct code, but he also admitted to police that he had been drinking before the altercation. Upon being named the starter so the Browns could see what they had in him during the bye week of a lost season, Boyziel was caught on tape drinking and partying, and was promptly demoted to third string. He couldn’t even lay off the drinking long enough to start 1 game after being named the starter. How many times opportunity will knock for this kid remains to be seen. With the recent demotion, the Browns could just be sending another message to their troubled investment, or this could easily be the beginning to the end of his career in Cleveland if they’ve finally grown tired of his antics. It’s worth mentioning that the Browns signed him to a 4-year 8.2 million dollar contract last year, in which 6.7 million of that was guaranteed. There’s not a lot of incentive to quit screwing around if you know your employer has to pay you no matter what… so the Browns deserve some of the blame in this ongoing circus. Even if Boyziel straightens out and the Browns give him yet another chance, Boyziel’s reliability will certainly be a concern moving forward, as will his lack of size. For every Doug Flutie and Russell Wilson, there are hundreds of undersized quarterbacks who aren’t capable of consistent NFL success.

Current Grade: I I’ll be generous and give him an incomplete grade, based on the fact that he hasn’t been on the field long enough to be given a fair playing grade. If I were to factor in that the main reason why he hasn’t seen the field is his own fault/immaturity, then obviously his grade would be an F. (And that’s only because there’s no such thing as a G, H, or I.)

Projected/Potential Grade: D- Boyziel has enough talent and confidence to become a serviceable quarterback, however, I doubt it will ever get to a point where his upside is worth the perpetual baggage that comes with it. We’re not talking about slam dunk talent here, so at some point the Browns and the rest of the league will realize that they’d be enduring an awful large and long lasting headache for a maybe. He’s already been given more chances than most maybes ever receive.

 
Teddy Bridgewater

Bridgewater is only a month older than Boyziel, and yet the difference in maturity spans galaxies. Teddy is in his 2nd season after being drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings.

The Good: Bridgewater is a solid game manager with excellent accuracy. Midway through his 2nd campaign he’s consistently matched his stellar 64% completion rate of his rookie season. With Adrian Peterson on the roster, he’s not asked to take a lot of chances, but when he does decide to put the ball in the air he makes good decisions. He averages a modest 210 yards per game, but it comes at a decent 7.2 yards per attempt. The emergence of rookie Stefon Diggs gives him a legitimate deep threat, but Bridgewater’s success lies in allowing Peterson to control the tempo of the game while using his heady play to keep the turnovers down. As a result he’s thrown only 8 tds in 10 games, but more importantly, he’s only thrown 6 picks over that span as well, resulting in a respectable 86 passer rating.

The Bad: Bridgewater holds the ball too long in the pocket. He’s been sacked a whopping 30 times in 10 games. The bright side is he doesn’t make ill-advised throws under pressure, but he still needs to learn to throw the ball away rather than taking the sack, as he’s lost over 200 yards in sacks in 10 games. (Three games of over 48 yards lost in sacks.)

Current Grade: B- Bridgewater gets a B- based on his ability to manage the game and team in front of him. He’s well aware that Peterson and the running game is the key to the Vikings success, so he doesn’t try to do too much and get himself into trouble. He extends plays with his decent footwork, but that also leads to far too many sacks as he needs to learn to throw the ball away more when there’s nothing there.

Projected/Potential Grade: B Bridgewater projects to be a capable quarterback. He’s not going to carry a team to a Super Bowl, but with the right surrounding cast, he’s not going to cost the Vikings a Super Bowl appearance either. If the Vikings are ever good enough on both sides of the ball to get them there, Bridgewater is a capable, albeit non-spectacular signal caller. The problem is, Peterson isn’t getting any younger and the Vikings D is anything but formidable, so the likelihood of the Vikings getting to the Super Bowl any time soon is a bit of a stretch.

 
Blake Bortles

Bortles comes in as the 5th youngest starting quarterback in the league after being drafted out of Central Florida with the 3rd overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014.

The Good: At 6’5 245, Bortles is built almost identically to Big Ben. Much like Ben, he’s also deceptively mobile for a quarterback of his size. The emergence of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns give him legit weapons downfield and he’s taken full advantage by topping this list with an average of 262 yards per game. He’s not afraid to take chances downfield, and he’s reaped the rewards by throwing 20 tds in 10 games.

The Bad: Accuracy and ball control leave a lot to be desired with Bortles. He’s currently sitting at a meager 56% completion percentage, and he has 18 combined picks/fumbles in 10 games. He’s only had 1 game all year where he didn’t throw the ball to the other team. He also suffers from the same Achilles’ heel as Bridgewater… he lacks an internal clock and holds the ball too long. Bortles has been sacked an astronomical 32 times in 10 games. Throw it away, Blake, throw it away. He’s fumbled in 5 of his 10 games, and only managed a 60% or higher completion percentage in 3 of 10.

Current Grade: C+ The yardage totals are nice, but Blake is living in Allentown (Hurns and Robinson), so yardage totals are to be expected. He’s thrown at least 1 TD in every game this year, but his lack of ball protection and propensity for getting sacked are drive killers.

Projected/Potential Grade: B- I’m going to give Blake a B- based on pure speculation. As a guy who has started only 24 NFL games, I’m going to assume that he develops into a quarterback who takes better care of the ball. With TJ Yeldon looking as though he’ll provide a nice complimentary rushing attack, Bortles might settle in and realize he doesn’t have to be spectacular on every play for the Jaguars to be successful. As a result, he may cut down on the turnovers and sacks, but even with that as a possibility, Blake and the Jaguars are still galaxies away from ever sniffing a Super Bowl.

 

Derek Carr

At age 24, Derek Carr is midway through his 2nd season after being drafted out of Fresno State by the Oakland Raiders in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft.

The Good: For anyone reading this who still claims that it’s not his lack of talent, but his strong faith that keeps Tim Tebow out of a starting job in the NFL… meet devout Christian, Derek Carr. Carr arguably has the best weapons to work with of any quarterback on this list with Michael Crabtree, rookie phenom Amari Cooper, and physical freak Latavius Murray. However, Carr isn’t short on talent himself. Carr averages a robust 256 yards per game, and if not for an opening day 61-yard clunker, he’d easily top this list in average yards per game. Carr has quietly performed at an extremely high level with 7.5 yards per attempt, a 63% completion rate, a 99 passer rating, and a 21/6 TD/INT ratio. You rarely hear his name mentioned with the likes of Winston, Mariota, Bridgewater and Bortles, yet statistically he has blown the quarterbacks on this list away this year. He’s not very mobile, yet he makes great decisions with the football, as evidenced by only 11 sacks in 10 games despite a less than stellar offensive line. In 5 of his 10 games this year, he’s topped 300 yards passing. Quite simply put, he’s the most underrated quarterback in the league.

The Bad: There isn’t a lot of bad to mention with Carr. In his rookie season he threw 12 picks and fumbled 10 times, losing 4 of them. However, he’s completely turned that deficiency around this year and protected the ball as well as most of the elite quarterbacks in the league. (Only 6 picks and 2 lost fumbles to date.) As mentioned, he’s not the most mobile guy, but that’s hard to label a bad thing when he’s producing the way he is out of the pocket while also not taking many sacks.

Current Grade: A Statistically, Carr’s sophomore season in the NFL ranks right up there with some of the best 2nd year stats of any quarterback the league has ever seen, and surpasses the 2nd year statistics of most of the all time greats. He’s quietly putting together one hell of a season and has the Raiders suddenly more relevant than they’ve been in 13 years since they lost Super Bowl XXXVII. Again, he has the luxury of the best weapons a young quarterback could ever hope for, but he still has to get them the ball, and he’s done a superb job of it.

Projected/Potential Grade: A With his ball protection, ability to throw it accurately downfield, and calmness in the pocket, it’s almost impossible not to take him seriously. If the Raiders can actually put an adequate defense on the field during his, Cooper, Crabtree and Murray’s tenure together… it’s not out of the realm that they’ll actually be making a run at the Lombardi some time within the next 5 years.

 

Brock Osweiler

Osweiler, who just turned 25, was chosen in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft shortly after the Peyton Manning signing. Despite rumors that Elway tried to trade him in the offseason, Elway adamantly refutes those rumors and sticks to his story that the plan all along was for him to become the heir apparent to the Peyton throne.

The Good: Well, we don’t exactly have much to go on here. In his junior year at Arizona State, the only year he started, Osweiler put up a ridiculous 4 thousand yards, 26 tds, 63% completion rate, and outstanding 140 passer rating. However, as the saying goes, that was on Saturdays. Upon replacing Peyton in spot duty, he’s performed admirably, but they also (wisely) dumbed down the offense for him. He hasn’t been asked to do much, and his appearances have mostly consisted of safe passes and dump offs, while allowing the Denver defense to control the game. With such a limited sample size, the jury is still out on his strengths and weaknesses.

The Bad: He’s listed anywhere between 6’7 and 6’8, and there’s a reason there haven’t been many tall quarterbacks in the league who have had any kind of sustained success. Long body = larger exposed rib cage area. Historically, tall quarterbacks don’t last very long because at that height it’s difficult to protect their bodies. One solid hit to the midsection and suddenly you’re laying in a hospital bed with cracked ribs. He’s also very inexperienced, yet he’s had plenty of time to compensate for that by developing on the sidelines, so again, the jury is still out on his strengths and weaknesses.

Current Grade: I Incomplete is a no-brainer here. We just haven’t seen enough of him at the NFL level to even know his strengths and weaknesses, no less grade his play fairly.

Projected/Potential Grade: ? If I were to try to make an accurate prediction on Osweiler, I might as well bend over (a la Jim Carrey) and move my butt cheeks while I’m talking. There just isn’t enough to go on, so what the future holds for Osweiler is nothing short of a crap shoot at this point. (Horrible pun intended.)

 

Geno Smith

Geno makes this list by default, considering he’s 25 and the Jets might be forced to let him try his hand again in 2016. He was drafted in the 2nd round out of West Virginia in 2013, and it’s already been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for him, to say the least.

The Good: This section is a little difficult with Geno, because there’s not really one thing he does particularly well. I mean, he has an arm and two legs, so that’s a plus… he just hasn’t done much with them up until this point. He has above average mobility, and somehow seems to maintain confidence in himself, but he’s yet to show any area of significant strength.

The Bad: He’s Geno Smith.

Current Grade: D He’s shown the occasional flashes of brilliance, but that’d be like saying a hurricane showed signs of usefulness because it blew all the unraked leaves out of your yard.

Projected/Potential Grade: F The Jets have a better chance of signing Tom Brady when his current contract expires than ever making it to the Super Bowl with Geno under center.

~Jamie Capria

Edit: It was brought to my attention that RG3 is a few months shy of his 26th birthday, however, he’s not included in this list because there are no signs that he’ll have any chance at starting in the near future, if ever again at all. Sadly, Geno Smith has a better chance of starting for the Jets in 2016 than RG3 has of starting anywhere, especially not in Washington where Jay Gruden would rather start a cardboard cutout than give in to RG3.

Remember This Titan

Falcons Titans FootballIn last week’s article I dug deep into the crystal ball to recommend Redskins TE Derek Carrier. Carrier seemed destined to make me look like a fantasy Nostradamus when he caught a touchdown pass midway through the first quarter. However, aside from a desperation 2 point conversion attempt and a late 4th quarter 20 yard scamper up the sideline, Cousins never looked in his direction again. This was due in large part to Cousins’ inability to get through his progressions. Carrier was actually open all afternoon, but Cousins wasn’t able to find him. Carrier was still able to put up a 10+ point fantasy day, and there are still good signs of a significant breakout coming. Unsurprisingly, Jordan Reed will miss yet another game, which will give Carrier another opportunity to put himself on the fantasy map. This time, however, it will come after a week of game film where the coaching staff will have no choice but to see how often he was shaking his defenders and getting open. Something tells me he’ll have a few plays designed for him this week rather than relying on Cousins to go through his progressions in order to find him. So if you you took a shot on him last week, be happy with the 10+ fantasy points he garnered you, as that not only put him in the top 10 at his position, but it also put him ahead of guys like Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, and Jimmy Graham. I would actually expect an improvement upon that this weekend, as he should get targeted a lot more often after the coaching staff analyzed the game film this week.

With this week’s sleeper selection, I could’ve easily gone with Chiefs running back Charcandrick West, as he should be an extremely usueful pickup after Jamaal Charles blew out his knee. However, unless you live in a cave or this is your first time ever playing fantasy football, you were already well aware of West’s sudden value. Andy Reid loves to get his RBs heavily involved, so look for West to put up solid fantasy points for the remainder of the season. If he stumbles along the way, Knile Davis will be waiting in the wings to vulture up carries or scores. Another sneaky-sleeper play for this weekend could be Buffalo Bills running back Dan Herron. Karlos Williams is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol and will sit out, and Shady McCoy’s status is still uncertain. All indications are he’ll miss another game, which would leave the Bills with only Boobie Dixon and Herron as options. Dixon looks like a turtle running through peanut butter, so if you’re in one of those 1 week fantasy leagues, or you’re just looking for a bye week fill in this wek, Herron might be worth taking a gamble on as I would expect him to lead the Bills in touches.

If you were hoping for more of a long term sleeper and missed the boat on Charcandrick West, have no fear… I may have your answer. A forgotten man, Titans running back David Cobb is eligible to return to practice next week after being placed on the IR with a calf injury on September 6th. Cobb had impressed the coaching staff this past preseason with strong and explosive running, to the point where GM Ruston Webster mentioned him as a player who stood out in training camp, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt was on the verge of placing him atop the depth chart after an impressive 2nd preseason game vs the Atlanta Falcons. In his time on the IR, Bishop Sankey has failed to impress, recently added Terrance West has looked cuttable, and rookie Antonio Andrews has struggled with only 3.1 yards per carry. RB/WR Dexter McCluster has played well, but at 5’8 170, he’s nothing more than a gadget/change of pace back. This leaves the door wide open for Cobb upon his return. Cobb was a workhorse BEAST in his senior year at Minnesota, carrying the ball over 300 times for a Golden Gopher record 1626 yards. He also hit pay dirt 13 times, so he has a nose for the end zone and at 5’11 230 he has no trouble muscling his way in when it’s within sniffing distance. The Titans are in desperate need of a bell cow who can handle big carry totals effectively, and Cobb is well suited to be that guy for them.

If you’re looking for immediate fantasy miracles, he’s not your guy. He won’t be eligible to return until November 8th vs the Saints, and may need a game or two to kick it into full gear… but if you’re confident that your team will still be in the hunt by then, or you’re in a keeper league, he’s a sneaky 3-week stash right now. Reports of him being eligible to return to practice are starting to surface, so if you’re in a very competitive league it won’t be long before the light bulb goes off in your opponent’s heads and they beat you to the free agent/waiver wire to scoop him up. If you have roster room, beat the rush and scoop him up now. He could very well wind up a valuable TD hog over the second half of the season for the Titans.

~Jamie Capria

Air-craft Carrier

CarrierThe 2015 NFL season is 4 games old, so it’s about time we revive Comedian for Cancer’s fantasy sleeper articles for all you die hard fantasy freaks. For those of you who didn’t follow the articles last year, I don’t waste your time with the fairly obvious “sleepers” that dozens of fantasy experts are rushing out to stick a flag in. It’s not exactly a major revelation if someone is tipping you off to a 2nd string running back who is suddenly thrust into a feature role when the guy who beat him out in camp blew out his knee the week before. You can find guys like that on just about any fantasy football site, and those types of recommendations are geared towards the casual or less-than savvy fantasy hobbyist. So, all apologies if you’re in a 6 to 10 team semi-competitive league and you’re looking for miracles, because these probably aren’t the articles for you. These articles are for the die hard fantasy freaks who are in deep leagues, ultra-competitive leagues, or keeper leagues where they’re perpetually looking for that diamond in the rough super-sleeper they can grab off the free agent list before the rest of their fantasy freak competition realizes their potential and beats them to the punch.

With that being said, we’re going to dig deep into the crystal ball for this year’s fantasy sleeper recommendation debut and tip you off to a guy who can potentially spark your team with solid production out of that pesky TE slot most fantasy teams have difficulty getting production from. Meet Derek Carrier, a converted WR on his 4th team in 3 years with virtually no success to date. See what I did there with the title of the article? Air-craft Carrier? ***Dodges 3 or 4 tomatoes and continues typing***

Carrier was signed by the Oakland Raiders in 2012 out of Beloit College (huh?) as an undrafted free agent, and ultimately waived before ever taking an NFL snap. The Philadelphia Eagles then scooped him up and put him on their practice squad for about a year before he was eventually cut once again. The 49ers immediately came calling and he got his first NFL break when he was added to their active roster in November of 2013. He made brief appearances in 11 games in 2014, starting one, and recorded 9 catches on 14 targets for 105 yards over the course of the season. So why am I recommending a TE who had only 9 catches and one start in his career prior to this year? Because he’s a freakish size/speed athlete who is finally in a great position to bust out of virtually nowhere onto the fantasy scene. Carrier shattered every Beloit College receiving record in his time there, but I know… it’s Beloit, so big deal, right? Ok, but it wasn’t just because he was at a less than prominent football school, his raw physical abilities had just as much to do with it. He was a multi-sport athlete who entered Beloit as a three year starter in basketball and baseball (center field) coming out of high school. He started 21 games for the Beloit basketball team, and even tried his hand at Beloit in track and field where he ran a 6.68 in the 55 meter, had a long jump of 21 feet 5 inches, and a triple jump of 43-4. Ok, ok, the overwhelming majority of even the most die hard fantasy football freaks have no idea what those numbers mean, so allow me to put it into a more fantasy football relevant perspective: He’s 6’4, 240 pounds, with soft hands, runs a 4.49 forty, and has a 40 inch vertical. Now I’m talking, huh? These are the sick physical abilities that had all 32 NFL teams requesting his game tapes before the 2012 draft.

So why now? After wallowing in obscurity for 3 years, why is he suddenly relevant? Because the Washington Redskins acquired him from the 49ers in August for a 5th round draft pick and he’s been slotted as the second stringer behind Jordan Reed. Yes, the same Jordan Reed who can’t seem to stay healthy, and shocker… he’s hurt AGAIN. This time it’s a concussion, sprained ankle, AND sprained knee. No clear word yet on how bad the sprains are, but he hasn’t passed the NFL’s concussion protocol, so the door is cracked open for Carrier nonetheless. It’s also worth noting that Carrier pulled a 3.87 in pre-med, and also tested ridiculously high on the Wonderlic intelligence test at the 2012 NFL combine, so it’s safe to say he should have no trouble picking up the Redskins playbook in a pinch. Additionally, he drew praise for his run and pass blocking as a 49er in 2014, so he’s not just a gadget player for passing downs, he’ll be an every down starter.

I’m not about to anoint him Rob Gronkowski, but he has the mind and the physical talent to succeed, and he suddenly finds himself in a good position to break out. Kirk Cousins isn’t exactly RG3 circa 2012, so his lack of mobility coupled with a shaky offensive line also leans heavily in a soft-handed TEs favor. At the very least, he’s got big time sleeper potential for this weekend, but with Jordan Reed’s propensity for injuries (he probably pulled an eye muscle just reading this article), there’s a very good chance we could be getting an extended look at Carrier. There’s also an outside chance that even if Reed’s injuries don’t persist, he could very well get Wally Pipped right out of a starting role by the freakishly talented Carrier. Those of you in daily leagues, weekly leagues in need of a sleeper or bye week fill in, and/or those of you in keeper or dynasty leagues should all take a long hard look at Carrier, he could very well be on the verge of serious relevance.

~Jamie Capria