Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft

After reading plenty of mock drafts, my best guesses here as to how tomorrow night's first round unfolds.

1.     Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett – DE, Texas A&M: Don’t Browns this, Browns. He’s the best player in the draft.

2.     San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas – DL, Stanford: The 49ers have selected defensive linemen in the first round of the previous two drafts, but are in full rebuild mode and certainly won’t draft for need here.

3.     Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams – S, LSU: Adams flew up boards after the combine and his pro day. He’s the best player available here and fills a big hole for the Bears.

4.     Jacksonville Jaguars: O.J. Howard– TE, Alabama: Hard to think of the last tight end prospect was hyped up as much as Howard has been this year. But, most of it’s justified. Jacksonville spent money on defense in free agency and now will add a weapon down the middle of the field on offense.   

5.     Tennessee Titans (via LA Rams): Marshon Lattimore – CB, Ohio State: In what’s considered a very deep corner draft, the Titans grab the best one here. This is an interesting spot for a trade though as multiple reports are have circulated that the Titans are looking to trade out.

6.     New York Jets: Leonard Fournette – RB, LSU: If Lattimore’s still on the board, it’s hard to think the Jets would pass. But Fournette is a good best player available option for a team with tons of holes.

7.     Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker – S, Ohio State: Admittedly, I typed San Diego first before remembering they’re in LA now. GM Tom Telesco swoops in for a centerfielder for new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

8.     Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey – RB, Stanford: There’s been a ton of buzz about McCaffrey recently and Carolina is in dire need of a playmaker out of the backfield.

9.     Cincinnati Bengals: Jonathan Allen – DL, Alabama: Cincinnati beefs up its defensive line here with a prospect that many experts pegged as a top five pick not too long ago.

10.  Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams – WR, Clemson: Sean McDermott, Doug Whaley and the rest of Buffalo’s brain trust got Tyrod Taylor to restructure his contract back in March. Now it’s time to get Taylor some more weapons other than oft-injured wide receiver Sammy Watkins.  Hard to think of a better option than another Clemson Tiger.

11.  New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett – DE, Tennessee: The Saints need all sorts of help on defense and adding the best pass rusher in the draft not named Myles Garrett is a good place to start.

12.  Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia Eagles): Mitchell Trubisky – QB, North Carolina: Perhaps the worst-kept secret is Cleveland’s desire to move up from this spot for Trubisky. In this situation they don’t have to but either way it’s expected Cleveland will do everything it can to leave the first round with Garrett and Trubisky.

13.  Arizona Cardinals: Reuben Foster – ILB, Alabama: There’s some off-the-field baggage here, but not enough for a team that could use an upgrade to its linebackers to pass on Foster. Quarterback may be tempting, but in this scenario the Cardinals take the best player available

14.  Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota Vikings): Charles Harris – DE, Missouri: Many mock drafts had Gareon Conley going to the Eagles here before the sexual assault allegation came out against the Ohio State cornerback. Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas both acknowledged lots of depth in this draft at running back and cornerback. Mock drafts are a guessing game and that could mean the Eagles wait on a back and a corner and go for the pass rusher from Missouri.

15.  Indianapolis Colts: Haason Reddick – LB, Temple: Much like New Orleans, Indianapolis needs loads of help on defense. Reddick’s speed and versatility to play inside or outside linebacker should be appealing to a team like Indianapolis with lots of holes on the defensive side of the ball.

16.  Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis – WR, Western Michigan: Baltimore must get some more playmakers on offense. Deciding between Mike Williams and Corey Davis is tough, but a decision the Ravens won’t have to make here with Williams already off the board.

17.  Washington Redskins: Dalvin Cook – RB, Florida State: Washington is certainly in the market for a linebacker and Reddick would make a lot of sense here if he is available. However, a three-down back like Cook would add another dimension to an offense that still has lots of weapons in the passing game despite losing Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency.

18.  Tennessee Titans: John Ross – WR, Washington: Adding a burner like Ross will aid young quarterback Marcus Mariota in a big way. Given how successful Tennessee was running the football last season, a vertical threat like Ross would take the its offense to the next level.

19.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tre’Davious White – CB, LSU: Cook seems like an easy pick for Tampa Bay if he slides past Washington. But if not, the Buccaneers could use some more help in the secondary and find it here in White.

20.  Denver Broncos: Cam Robinson – OT, Alabama: It’s not the best offensive line class, but considering Denver could very well have its choice of any offensive lineman in the draft, it will likely take one and Robinson would be my best guess.

21.  Detroit Lions: Jarrad Davis – ILB, Florida : Lions’ GM Bob Quinn gets a plug and play instinctual linebacker with their first round pick.

22.  Miami Dolphins : David Njoku – TE, Miami : Davis and Reddick would both fit well for the Dolphins, but with both gone, Njoku gets to stay in Miami and join the Dolphins.

23.  New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk – OT, Wisconsin: There are a couple of ways the Giants could go at 23. Any of the tight ends in what’s considered a good tight end class could be in play, as well as a linebacker. But there’s no doubt the Giants’ offensive line struggled last year and Ramczyk comes in to bolster things.

24.  Oakland Raiders: Zach Cunningham – ILB, Vanderbilt: Earlier today the Raiders filled their biggest hole on offense bringing Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. In the first round they address their biggest hole on defense by selecting Cunningham.

25.  Houston Texans: Patrick Mahomes – QB, Texas Tech: General Manager Rick Smith has made it clear he feels no pressure to take a quarterback early in the draft, but with Mahomes sitting here after Arizona passes, the Texans bite on the Texas Tech signal caller.

26.  Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King – CB, Washington: King stays in the state of Washington and should step in and play early opposite Richard Sherman for the Seahawks.

27.  Kansas City Chiefs: DeShaun Watson – QB, Clemson: I’m not sure there’s a better spot for Watson to land. All he did was win in college and Andy Reid has won a ton of games in the NFL and won a lot with mobile quarterbacks in Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb early in his career and Michael Vick in 2010.

28.  Dallas Cowboys: Gareon Conley – CB, Ohio State: Edge rushers like Takkarist McKinley, Jordan Willis and Taco Charlton would certainly be in play here for Dallas, but the Cowboys don’t have many players they can rely on in the secondary. Jerry Jones has not backed away from players with off-the-field concerns before and won’t do so here either. It’s almost impossible to peg Conley anywhere right now, but if he is going to go in the first round, the Cowboys are the most likely landing spot.

29.  Green Bay Packers: Takkarist McKinley – OLB, UCLA: The Packers don’t often draft bad football players and this ends up being a steal as McKinley falls into Ted Thompson’s lap at 29.

30.  Pittsburgh Steelers: Jordan Willis – OLB, Kansas State: The Steelers need to improve their pass rush and their secondary. It’s a coin flip here between Willis and Marlon Humphrey, but I’ll go with the pass rusher.

31.  Atlanta Falcons: Malik McDowell – DT, Michigan State: The interior of the defensive line was a weak spot for the NFC champions last year and after signing Dontari Poe, they solidify the trenches on the defensive side of the ball with McDowell.

32.  New Orleans Saints (via New England Patriots): Marlon Humphrey – CB, Alabama: The Saints select their second defensive player in the first round with the pick they acquired from the Patriots in the Brandin Cooks trade. For weeks the Saints had been rumored to be looking into a trade for Malcolm Butler, but they find a corner with the last pick of the first round instead.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Evaluating the Flyers two years into the Dave Hakstol era

While the Flyers still have two games left in their season, after being eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday night following a 4-3 loss at Madison Square Garden to the New York Rangers, the team has already turned the page to 2017-18. Defenseman Samuel Morin and center Mike Vecchione made their NHL debuts last night in a 1-0 overtime loss in Newark against the New Jersey Devils.  The offseason will start early for the Flyers and their head coach Dave Hakstol who will finish his second season behind the bench on Sunday at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. So what went wrong?

For starters, this season was nothing short of a disappointment. The goaltending was inconsistent all year long whether it was Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth between the pipes. There would be times when Mason looked like the goalie the Flyers rode into the playoffs down the stretch last year and occasionally Neuvirth showed flashes of how well he played in the postseason against the Washington Capitals in 2016. But these times were few and far between and there were several nights in which the Flyers played better than the score indicated thanks in large part to a couple of soft goals allowed. The defense was consistently bad for the most part. The Flyers allowed close to three goals per game this season and certainly not all of that can be traced back to the goalies. Offensively, the team was very hot and cold but ultimately not hot enough as indicated by the team’s current -18 goal differential with two games to go. In a division with four teams finishing with at least 100 points, the lack of consistency night in and night out plagued the Flyers and left them on the outside looking in.

                                                                    Yong Kim/
There’s no doubt that this is a step backwards for the organization and that the Flyers underachieved for most of this season. At best, the team will finish with 89 points this year after its 96-point season one year ago was good enough to get them into the playoffs. But the bigger question is how much has this season altered the long-term trajectory of the franchise? When Hakstol was hired, it was probably realistic to think the team would make the playoffs in one of his first two seasons given they had missed the playoffs in 2014-15, which led to the dismissal of Craig Berube. In 2014-15, the Flyers finished with 84 points. If this season’s point total in the upper 80s had been last season’s point total and last season’s 96 points and a playoff berth were what the Flyers finished with this year, many fans likely would have felt at ease with the team’s direction. But of course, that’s not what happened.

While the team took a step back, this season is not one worth overreacting to. The roster almost mirrored last year’s roster and last year’s team waited until its 81st game to clinch a playoff berth. Expectations were that they would likely sneak in as one of the Eastern Conference wild cards again. There were some obvious red flags that contributed to the regression beginning with what was largely considered a sophomore slump season for defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Although Gostisbehere appears to be ending the year strong, he was invisible for a good chunk of the year and certainly did not give the Flyers the spark he provided in his rookie season last year. The captain Claude Giroux saw his numbers dip as well and will finish with his lowest point total in an 82-game season since the 2009-10 campaign. With two games left, Giroux’s plus/minus is currently -15 which would stand to be a career low. Hakstol also made some head-scratching lineup decisions this year. Rather than letting Gostisbehere play through his slump, Hakstol opted to make “Ghost” a healthy scratch on numerous occasions this year. While Gostisbehere did not have a good season, he was certainly a better lineup option than most of the defenseman Hakstol had at his disposal. Rookie forward Travis Konecny was also healthy scratched multiple times this season. As a result, Hakstol continued to roll out subpar players like Chris VandeVelde, Nick Schultz and Andrew MacDonald on a nightly basis.

But it wasn’t all bad for the Flyers this season. After all, they’ll still finish over .500. Wayne Simmonds was one of the bright spots as the right winger posted his second consecutive 30-goal season. Simmonds and Brayden Schenn will both finish the season in the NHL’s top five in power play goals. Jakub Voracek posted his third 60-point season of his career. Valtteri Filppula has five goals in 18 games since being traded to the Flyers from Tampa Bay where he had just seven goals in the 59 games. Despite being just 20 years old, Ivan Provorov was the team’s best defenseman. Konecny showed flashes of the electric playmaker he can be for the team in the future and 24-year-old forward Jordan Weal came on strong in the second half. General manager Ron Hextall has stressed patience to fans and the media as he collects prospects. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are on the brink of their first playoff berth since 2009 and several of the team’s prospects that are not AHL eligible have had good seasons with their junior hockey clubs.

While it’s obvious and understandable to be upset with the way this season unfolded, the Flyers are still on the right path. Chances are Gostisbehere is somewhere in between what he was last year and what he was this year. Giroux had a bad year but to say he’s finished at age 29 seems premature. Questions about whether Hakstol is the right man to stand behind the bench moving forward are fair to ask, but he’s not on the hot seat. Hextall made a bold move in hiring Hakstol from the University of North Dakota in 2015 and it’s simply too early to cut the cord. The Flyers should improve next year as more of their prospects filter up to the NHL. If they don’t, then conversations about Hakstol and the team’s trajectory become much more concerning. But given the way things have gone for all of Philadelphia’s professional teams recently, one more year of patience for the team that most recently made the playoffs can’t hurt, right?