Monday, May 30, 2016

Recognizing the Big 12's tradition of outstanding tiny persons

While writing up a post recently about Kavontae Turpin and the role he'll play in the TCU offense next year, I decided to track the Big 12's history of fantastically productive little guys.

There have been so many, that it seemed about time that we made up a trophy to recognize them all. With a hat tip to my pal @drryanpepper who came up with the name, I present to you the "Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person."

To be eligible for the award a player needs to play offense, fit the size requirements*, and be an absolute terror in space.

I present to you, the most outstanding tiny persons of the Big 12 dating back to the year 2000.

Winners of the Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person

2000: Hodges Mitchell, Texas

Hodges had the unenviable task of replacing Ricky Williams at Texas but he did admirably well with consecutive 1500 yard seasons, including this one which makes him our first recognized "most outstanding tiny person."

Runner-up: Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma

Quentin Griffin was Darren Sproles before Darren Sproles was in school yet. There can be little doubt that Oklahoma's Air Raid attack in 2000 and championship season was largely enabled by Griffin's ability to be a worthy back but also a dynamic weapon in the passing game.

2001: Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma

Griffin helped the Oklahoma machine keep going sans Josh Heupel but didn't have as many opportunities as a part of a weaker offense. However, he also didn't have to compete with Hodges Mitchell.

Runner-up: Ricky Williams, Texas Tech

Way back in 2001 it wasn't yet common knowledge that Mike Leach had brought a system to Texas Tech that was going to make monsters out of every crafty, hard working offensive player that he brought to Lubbock. It also wasn't yet common knowledge that Wes Welker would transcend beyond the system and be one of the greatest slot receivers of his time in both college and the NFL. Welker's 2001 season was his first good one, but Tech was still relying heavily on this scat back who had 142 rushing attempts AND 92 receptions.

2002: Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma

It's remarkable that this little guy saved his best year for his senior season when he'd already endured several seasons of pounding. Getting 322 touches is crazy but when a guy is averaging 6.7 per play you keep giving him the ball.

Runner-up: Darren Sproles, Kansas State

Year one for the namesake, but Sproles wasn't quite ready to seize the honors with Quentin Griffin playing like this. Considering that Wes Welker put up his first 1k yard season this was THE YEAR of the tiny person in the Big 12. Any one of the three would have won the award going away in most other years.

2003: Darren Sproles, Kansas State

Quentin Griffin moved on to the NFL and it was down to Sproles vs Welker...there was no denying the namesake. With Quentin Griffin gone there was also no tiny person around to protect Oklahoma from the 35-7 thrashing that Sproles and co. administered to the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game. This was his finest season at K-State.

Runner-up: Wes Welker, Texas Tech

Wes Welker had a phenomenal three-year stretch but just couldn't break through and win the distinction as the pre-eminent little man with Quentin Griffin and/or the trophy's namesake always around. However, he did help create the potential for breakthrough for future tiny persons at WR.

2004: Darren Sproles, Kansas State

Sproles' numbers slipped a bit and he had to play off Dylan Meier and serve as the main punch of the Wildcat attack with Ell Roberson gone. He was up for it.

Runner-up: Cory Ross, Nebraska

Another explosive little guy who thrived taking the pitch in an option offense, this time at Nebraska, Cory Ross came on the scene strong in 2004 and set himself up to take over for the future.

2005: Cory Ross, Nebraska

Ross narrowly took advantage of the namesake finally moving on to the NFL and held off a tiny challenger despite a slip in production.

Runner-up: Hugh Charles, Colorado

2005 was the year of 6'5" super-freak Vince Young, there were no little men around to deny him from getting all the attention.

2006: Tony Temple, Missouri

The mid to late 00s in the Big 12 were filled with scat back sized RBs that rarely dominated games but were always a threat to take advantage of the increasing amounts of space that spread systems would put them in.

Runner-up: Dantrell Savage, Oklahoma State

Savage initiated a nearly-uninterrupted run of five years in which Oklahoma State put little guys on the field at RB where they did serious damage running behind very good Joe Wickline offensive lines.

2007: Dantrell Savage, Oklahoma State

Savage took over the full load of the Oklahoma State offense in 2007 and did quality work with his quick bursts.

Runner-up: Eric Morris, Texas Tech

Tony Temple had another solid season but 1/5 of his yardage came in their bowl game and it seemed more fitting to reward Eric Morris and the Texas Tech tradition that will prove to have a strong presence on this list.

Morris wasn't utterly horrifying unless it was 4th and 3, your defense was gassed, and you knew that another Texas Tech 1st down was going to be the end of your DL's legs. In that scenario, he was pretty scary.

2008: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State

Hunter picked up where Dantrell Savage left off and did serious damage in 2008, which was probably one of the strongest offensive years the Big 12 has ever seen. The Cowboys had a devastating attack triggered by Zac Robinson with Russell Okung and Brandon Pettigrew mauling the edges at LT and TE and Dez Bryant running routes downfield.

Runner-up: Quan Cosby, Texas

Cosby's listed size at Texas made him borderline but in reality he was probably just within the parameters. In 2008 he was actually the no. 1 target at Texas (Shipley wouldn't take that mantle until 2009 although he was also brilliant in 2008) in one of the all-time greatest quick passing attacks that has ever existed. Again, 2008 was nuts. You also had an insanely loaded Oklahoma offense and a Tech offense that nearly put five guys at or over 1k yards from the line of scrimmage (Michael Crabtree 1166, Baron Batch 1207, Shannon Woods 1113, Detron Lewis 913, Eric Morris 805).

2009: Rodney Stewart, Colorado

2009 was a down year for little men because Quan Cosby graduated and Kendall Hunter sat the year out with an injury. Stewart filled the vacuum with a solid year on a pretty weak Buffalo team.

Runner-up: Alexander Robinson, Iowa State

Robinson's 2009 season was an early positive mark on the resume of modern day spread guru Tom Herman, who was the OC at Iowa State at this time. Playing with Austen Arnaud, Robinson was able to do a reasonable amount of damage.

2010: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State

Hunter was back from injury in 2010 and tearing through defenses again as a part of the Holgo-Raid Cowboy offense that changed the league by helping to reintroduce play-action passing, now from spread sets. He was lethal this year in their innovative diamond and spread-I sets though certainly helped by the Weeden to Blackmon and Weeden to Cooper connections that created space for him to run.

Runner-up: Rodney Stewart, Colorado

Stewart put in an impressive year as the workhorse for a poor Colorado team, any time a guy that's only 175 pounds touches the ball 319 times from the line of scrimmage you have to tip your hat.

2011: Tevin Reese, Baylor

Tevin Reese took over the water bug trophy with his breakout 2011 as part of one of the most all-time explosive Big 12 offenses in history.

Runner-up: John Hubert, Kansas State

This was year one of Hubert's remarkably steady run at K-State. Back in 2011 he was pretty nasty catching option pitches on the perimeter from Collin Klein but obviously he didn't get too many TDs thank to Optimus taking on the role as power back.

2012: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

The one year when Tavon Austin was eligible for this award, this is one of the all-time great water bug seasons in Big 12 history. Tavon Austin left ruin in his wake.

Runner-up: Tevin Reese, Baylor

Tevin Reese fell short of reclaiming the award with Tavon Austin introduced to the league. Hubert had another season much like his 2011 (and his 2013) but missed out thanks to the presence of these two mini-titans.

2013: John Hubert, Kansas State

Hubert had three consecutive seasons that were all about the same but in 2013 we have to finally give him his due.

Runner-up: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

This was year one of the Jakeem Grant experience, where he quickly asserted himself as the most terrifying water bug in the Big 12 despite not yet playing as large a role in the Tech offense as he later would.

2014: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

With Hubert moving on and Grant slowly evolving his game beyond "constraint in Kingsbury's Air Raid," Jakeem assumed control. Interestingly, Grant is the only Tech player to actually win the award though many Raiders appear all over the list.

Runner-up: Tyreek Hill

Hill always gave the greater appearance of danger then actual production. Despite getting 133 touches from the line of scrimmage he only reached the end zone twice. He was good, to be sure, but he had as many runs go nowhere as he did explosive plays for the Cowboys. Then he committed a heinous crime off the field and that was it for his shot at the illustrious prize.

2015: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

Grant finished up a strong run as the league's most lethal water bug with a brilliant senior campaign. The torch must now be passed.

Runner-up: Kavontae Turpin, TCU

Turpin is well set up as the heir apparent to Grant and may even prove to be the finest tiny guy the league has produced. Of course, there's a chance Dalvin Warmack of K-State could challenge for this prize at some point over the next few years.

So, who was the greatest? What was the best season by a "Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person" recipient? Who's got next?

*The size requirements

A 5'10" player must be 180 or lighter.
A 5'9" player must be 190 or lighter.
A 5'8" player must be 200 or lighter.
At 5'7" a player can weigh any amount and be eligible.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The most irreplaceable players in college football?

Over at CBS sports, Ben Kercheval wrote a fun offseason piece on "the 16 most irreplaceable players in college football" for 2016. I don't know how or why he settled on the number 16 but whatever, one more interesting bit of content to think through than 15 I guess.

As it happens, I was so struck by number 16 and the whole idea of the piece that I decided to post some thoughts on it here.

To begin with, Kercheval is framing this every bit as much as a "how screwed would these guys' teams be if they got hurt, huh?" list as he is acknowledging unique players across the league. That's interesting, but it's not quite the same as making a list of players that are just really unique and interesting because of their own skill sets.

For instance, last year Dante Barnett was clearly one of the most irreplaceable guys in the league because Kansas State totally failed to replace him. Was he even a 1st team All-B12 player though? Maybe, maybe not.

Nothing wrong with that, just a different way of doing the list that I think skews overly towards picking QBs.

Anyways here's some notables from the list:

16. De'Veon Smith, Michigan RB

Having seen my share of Michigan games and been to some of their open practices, scrimmages, I think this is total rubbish. Smith is a solid back who can lower his shoulders and get what's there but little more. They have at least two other who are like him or better.

14. Dakota Prukop, Oregon QB

The idea here is basically that Jeff Lockie is terrible, therefore Prukop is essential to Oregon's success. That might be true, though I think Lockie gets a bad rap. Dude started almost every play against TCU trying to catch footballs rifled at his ankles. Since much of their offense next year will be about throwing swing passes to Charles Nelson I'm not sure how big a deal this will really be. It may be that Prukop is really good though, in which case he might even need to go higher.

13. Malik Jefferson, Texas LB

Should be higher.

10. Calvin Ridley, Alabama WR

Good pull here as Kercheval notes that Kiffin is absolutely going to make Ridley a big part of the Bama offense and a go-to weapon on his "TD plays." Kiffin really does have TD plays that he's set up and prepared to catch the defense and get points and they often involve his best players.

You can probably pencil Ridley in for at least 1k receiving yards next year.

7. Desmond King, Iowa CB

Another good pull, King was awesome last year and a big part of a very good Iowa defense. I tend to think the Hawkeyes are going to surprise this year. They were legitimately good (if not great) last year and now return most all of their best players. Everyone wants to count them out and say that now that they have a good schedule they'll fold, me I'm not so sure. There are some NFL talents on this team including King and the QB.

6. Greg Ward Jr, Houston QB

Interesting choice. I don't know if I'd go this high for Ward but he's got some juice to make stuff happen when things break down and he's skilled both in their passing game and running game. When a QB is solid at a lot of things it opens up a lot of possibilities for your offense.

5. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB

I'm assuming the tOSU offensive identity will be largely based on what Barrett brings to the table, but that said I think they had a higher ceiling with Cardale Jones and it's possible RFR Joe Burrow will be better down the line. To me if you have Barrett top 5 you're basically saying that tOSU is a potential playoff team with him and not without him.

I don't know if I have enough faith in Urban Meyer to make the playoffs out of the B1G this year with a totally rebuilt team. Maybe I should. I'd better list the rest of the top 5 now.

4. Leonard Fournette, LSU RB

I think Fournette is as special a back as you'll find in college football but LSU is going to pound people with the running game whether he plays a down or not. The SEC doesn't really have irreplaceable backs, each year there are a handful of freakish athletes entering the league at that position and LSU usually has at least one of them.

3. Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB

No doubt. He should probably be no. 1 or 2.

2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB

Understandable for all the good reasons Kercheval gives, Mayfield bring a ton to the table and the depth chart behind him doesn't look very good right now. Spare me the excitement about Kendall Austin and his 8-17 for 52 yards spring game. I'm pretty sure articles like this were already written before that scrimmage took place.

Down the line I think OU will be fine with either Austin, Murray, or someone else, but in 2016 they need another big year from Mayfield.

1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford RB

McCaffrey is the rare RB that's actually very unique and hard to replace because of his skills as a receiver. He brings enough to the table that I'm pretty confident Stanford is going to be good on offense again next year despite losing several key seniors and then I'm hoping and praying that McCaffrey ends up in New England to start his NFL career.

Notable omissions

Kercheval ended up rolling with a ton of QBs that are returning starters (too easy Ben, come on!) and not as many unique players that have truly difficult to replace skill sets. Some guys I probably would have mentioned:

Jake Butt, Michigan TE

Michigan has tons of backs that can do good work for them if they get good blocking this year, but Butt is a match-up nightmare in the middle of the field and essential to much of Harbaugh's passing game.

Jordan Leggett, Clemson TE

Reasonably good blocker, excellent WR, big part of the Clemson formula and their link to dancing back and forth between a wide open spread-option attack and a more smashmouth-spread approach.

Kavontae Turpin, TCU RB/WR

This dude is all kinds of explosive and versatile. He's like Jakeem Grant, Tavon Austin, or the legend himself, Percy Harvin. Turpin can go deep and beat teams down the field, he can execute the quick passing game, he's a nightmare on screens, and he can run the ball some as well.

Guys who play defense

Derwin James, Jamal Adams, Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen, there are tons of guys on defense that will be pretty essential for their teams next year.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Derwin James takes the torch at Florida State

I didn't really know anything about this kid until the ProFootball Focus article about him, then I looked a bit deeper for myself. He's quite the player.

I broke down his singularly unique role for the FSU defense in playing as a deep defender on standard downs and a pass-rushing weapon on passing downs.

Truly a special player, probably a top 10 pick in a 2018 draft that's going to be loaded with freakish defensive talents.

2016 Offseason Twitter-bag

Alright twitter-bags! Let's do some offseason Q&A,
There's simply not much sense in the Big 12 expanding. They'd have to add teams that can improve the TV market share of the league (of which there are no great, established options) and who can do so well enough to justify sharing the revenue 12-ways rather than 10.

For that reason, any additions would have to be schools that have the potential to really add something and grow into legit programs. They'd also have to be schools that can do it reasonably soon because the Big 12 doesn't have forever.

It also makes sense to go eastern time zone since that's where WV is, which points to how short-sighted and erroneous it was to replace the Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas A&M exodus with just TCU and West Virginia. That was a play for keeping the Big 12 exciting without really adding major TV markets save for through a good product. While the excitement came, the markets have not. College football isn't just a generic product you can sell anywhere, regional interests are real.

There's also recruiting to consider, ideally they'd add teams that bring good recruiting turf rather than additional programs to leech off the state of Texas. So with all that in mind I suggest:

Cincinnati and the University of Central Florida.

I'm not sure that UCF is much better an option than USF but they currently have Oregon's Scott Frost as HC and a nice stadium. Tulane would be another option, located in talent-rich Louisiana which much of the Big 12 is already trying to mine.

Cincinnati is a clear choice because the state of Ohio is loaded with good football players and people that really care about football. Including boosters, which is key. The whole strategy at Iowa State right now is to recruit Ohio and unleash it on the more finesse-oriented teams in the league.

I need someone to explain to me why the Big 12 would benefit from adding UCONN.
This is sadly at least as likely as the Big 12 doing some investment in the cities of Cincinnati and Orlando. The two most likely scenarios would seem to be Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and maybe OSU going to the ACC OR Texas, OU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and maybe some of the other southern schools ending up in the Pac-12.

The rest would largely be pillaged by the AAC. Just my guess.
Definitely Iowa State's offense, which will now be guided by a clear identity and atypical (for them) competence. Granted Mark Mangino had them playing at a pretty solid level before he left in a huff but things are really going to be different now.

Their D will look like it did in the better Paul Rhoads days, or better.
I think they'll be surprisingly good to most of the people covering the league. They know exactly what they're doing on offense with Warren, Lanning, and Lazard and they'll be doing some stuff that's a bit new for the rest of the league. Campbell is quietly inheriting a better collection of players than many might realize and they get a lot of teams at home next year.
Dana Holgorsen and Charlie Strong. Neither would survive that kind of season. I suppose Gundy or Stoops could be in some trouble if that happened. Art Briles is probably in trouble regardless.
Oklahoma State, Texas, and Kansas State in that order. Oklahoma State has one of the leagues' more elite attributes in their passing game with Mason Rudolph and James Washington. They're also returning some good DTs and a very veteran interior five in the defensive backfield.

Texas is probably the most talented team in the conference by a safe margin, the only problem is that most of that talent is concentrated in Strong's freshman and sophomore classes. High beta with this team.

Kansas State is going to be considerably better this year assuming they don't lose their QB and their QB on defense (Dante Barnett) in the first game of the year again. I'm not sure if they have the overall depth and quality on D or not nor how the O will come together or who will even be the QB.

However, they have a lot of good players and a chance to put it all together and shock people again. Maybe Texas Tech can make some noise if they make a dramatic leap on defense...possible but I'd bet on those other three teams first.
What a delightful question!

I think a few different factors have gone into why Texas now enters this game like OU used to (spitting fire) and Oklahoma now enters the game like a 00's Mack Brown Texas team.

In 2013 Mack had REALLY drilled into his players' heads the importance of that game and guys like Steve Edmond, Adrian Phillips, the OL, and Case McCoy went into it with a "return with your shield or on it!" kind of mindset. OU had also already played tough games against Notre Dame and TCU and were surely beat up and easily forgiven for overlooking Texas.

Charlie Strong knows how rivalry games work and he's always going to have Texas up for this one. I think year one Strong-Texas shocked OU with their physicality and competence.

I recently re-watched last year's game, where you would have thunk that with guys like Dede Westbrook and Baker Mayfield on the field that OU would have been ready to match the intensity. Guess what? Those guys did.

Go watch that game and you'll see Mayfield execute tons of really tough runs while Westbrook is delivering savage blocks all over the field on every snap. Quite surprising for such small dudes, those guys have IT.

What seems to have happened is that the Oklahoma defense wasn't prepared for the competence and confidence of the Texas run game. Perhaps they thought that after the whipping TCU had administered that the Longhorns would come into the game without much fight. I had thought that Stoops just didn't have the juice any longer to get his team up for big games but that seems a little bit harder to accept in the wake of Oklahoma's nice run at the end of the year (injury luck notwithstanding).

If I'm right, Oklahoma should come into this game with a more focused team and a sharp game plan and match the intensity that you can be sure Strong's bunch will bring. Even if that happens though I'd still expect a tough, hard-fought battle.

That's all for this week!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

If Baylor has to replace Briles here's how they should do it

Losing Art Briles would be a grievous blow to Waco, Baylor, and really the entire Big 12. The worst of it would be that if Baylor determines they have to dismiss Briles it'll be because he utterly failed in the department of basic moral decency.

I'm not interested in talking about all that, much of it is still speculation and there are plenty of articles being written about the moral issues, some from Mt Pious and others from more humble locales. All of the opinion takes are fairly obvious and each will likely say more about the author than the actual situation.

To me the much more interesting thought is what Baylor will do with their head coaching vacancy if they have to dismiss Briles for some level of moral failure.

Assumption 1: They can't go back to the Briles tree

It stings for Baylor, but it's true. You can't maintain most of the same staff and go back to this well and then pretend like you've really addressed the issues, even if Phil Montgomery or Dino Babers can be completely trusted to run programs with the utmost integrity.

If things at Baylor are bad enough that Briles would have to go then the next hire has to take a lot of optics into account. Hurrying up the Briles succession plan and handing the kingdom to one of his assistants will NOT satiate the public cries for justice.

Assumption 2: They need to stick with the spread

It's hard to win in the Big 12, especially at a smaller Texas program, if you aren't going to capitalize on the state's knack for producing great players who've been raised up in the spread.

The powerhouse high school programs across the state are known for using the middle school feeders to train all of their players in the same system. By the time the players are upperclassmen in high school they deeply understand the system and the techniques and are consequently much better than players new to the deal.

It's like the Spartiate class of elites in ancient Greece who grew up trained for hoplite warfare going up against the tradesmen/peasant-hoplite armies of their city-state rivals. This is a huge advantage to pass on unless you know you can get the right fits for your non-spread system and you are dang good at teaching it.

All that to say, there are major advantages to be had from running the spread offense when your base of talent is Texas high schoolers. If you install any other system you're basically running uphill, to say nothing of then struggling to make the most of the currently assembled talent.

Assumption 3: A new coach would be working at a disadvantage

If Baylor feels like they have to remove Briles as part of an attempt to clean up the program then you can count on the new coach having little to no leeway in terms of the players he can bring in or the behavior he can tolerate.

Also he'll be replacing a legend who is almost single-handedly responsible for the greatest run in Baylor football history and is one of the most brilliant offensive coaches in the history of the game.

That's a tough job. You want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaces THE GUY. If Baylor has to replace Briles I think they'll have a tougher job bringing in coaching talent than one might assume given the momentum Briles has built up with recruiting and a new stadium.

The next hire would essentially be a caretaker both of the house Briles built AND the attempt to clean up the image. Tough gig, very political situation. A win here would be hiring someone who can keep the program from burning to the ground while the program regroups.

Suggestion 1: Hire a defensive coach

It'd need to be someone with a proven track record of defensing spread offenses and ideally either someone who was a defensive head coach who hired spread OCs or a DC who worked alongside spread O coaches.

Why? Because for the reasons I mention above it's not rocket science to build an effective spread offense at a Texas program with the resources of Baylor. Any half-decent spread O college coach should be able to field a solid offense with what Briles would theoretically be leaving behind and what the Bears could expect to bring aboard in the future.

With Art at the helm Baylor could count on running the best spread offense in the conference, if he's gone they should try to find another angle where they can be at advantage because that one is gone. For instance, being the team that has as good an offense as most anyone else but can also play defense. That's a nice niche to try and fill and Baylor's most successful teams under Briles have been the ones that could play a little defense.

Defensive coaches are also often known for building a tough, disciplined culture and Baylor could sure benefit from a bunch of spring narratives (I'd assume they'd go interim in 2016 and make a hire for 2017) about increased accountability, toughness, and "now we play defense" quotes.

Suggestion 2: Stick with the 3-4 defense

There's an advantage to be had by playing a style of defense that's somewhat unique and, as Art is now finding, it's much easier to find pieces up front to staff a 3-4 squad than to run a 4-3 that's dependent on good pass-rushing DEs. Granted TCU and K-State find a way, and if you can hire a coach that's great at developing 4-3 DL then go for it, but the 3-4 makes for an easier path to moving players around and thwarting spread Os.

If Briles is removed it'll be partly due to the sins of players he brought aboard out of an attempt to find the elusive defensive superstar. His system could always be counted on to create superstars on offense but on defense they had too little margin.

Some names that are probably unlikely but you'll hear mentioned anyways

Chad Morris and Tom Herman aren't walking through that door. Both of them have eyes on the bigger prizes, Texas and A&M, and Herman has a good shot at landing another top 10 gig if Strong manages to survive in Austin. Morris is currently at about the level that Baylor could expect to hire from and is struggling through the fact that he inherited a tough situation, he walked out at Clemson RIGHT before Deshaun Watson was ready to dominate, and there are other up and coming coaches within his own conference.

However, there's a chance A&M falls apart this year and Chad Morris would certainly be in contention for that gig. Either way, if he's willing to be patient he can probably do better than having to replace Briles in a sticky situation at Baylor.

If the Bears can get him, they should.

Some names to consider...

I'm not going to abide by both of my above suggestions about the defense here I just wanted to throw those out there as possible advantages for Baylor to explore.

Bob Stitt, Montana
It's only a matter of time, right? Stitt is one of the most clever Air Raid coaches around and he's been running the offense at schools that don't have access to anywhere near the level of talent that is common to Baylor. He's used to working with players that you wouldn't worry about coming with a rap sheet. He also had a pretty solid defense this year at Montana (a 4-2-5) and just might be a guy capable of also overseeing a strong unit on that side of the ball.

Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie
Two more very good Air Raid coaches, plus you'd deal a damaging blow to Gary Patterson and that would be at least bittersweet, right? I don't know if either would come or not but it seems reasonable to at least go for it.

David Bailiff, Rice
Bailiff runs a physical brand of spread combined with a Patterson-esque 4-2-5 defense and he does it all with players that have to be able to get into Rice. I don't know what a Bailiff-Baylor program's ceiling is, probably higher than you might guess, but he'd be the perfect optics hire and at 57 perhaps he can just play the role of caretaker for a reasonable period of time before retiring. Then you make a splashier hire.

Todd Orlando, Houston
It'd be nice to see what he does with the Cougar defense now that they won't have an NFL cornerback anchoring things (unless they have another of those on the roster now that Will Jackson's gone) but Orlando has a pretty nice track record of building great defenses from parts of the sort that are definitely accessible at Baylor.

Willie Fritz, Tulane
This suggestion came from @BearsTruthS11, a 247 writer for the Baylor site.

Fritz is a defensive minded guy who's had success at multiple stops, including Sam Houston State. When Tom Herman was looking for an OL coach to bring physicality to his smashmouth spread at Houston he went to SH St to poach their assistant. I haven't watched his teams play but he checks most all my boxes.

There are probably some really solid D2 options out there that I'd explore were I put in charge of this process, I'd also look to pillage the Texas HS ranks for some assistants were I the new head man. Especially if I came from a non-Texas background.

Anyways perhaps this is all just a mental exercise and Briles will be exonerated or otherwise protected and the Bear machine can keep chugging along. If not, those are some of the factors that I'd look at in evaluating the hire.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How Deshaun Watson and the Clemson O can reach another level

Over at SB Nation I talk about Clemson's absurdly loaded spread attack, which has two plus slot receivers and now adds a deep threat in Mike Williams.

When you return your superstar QB, his best quick game weapons, and a vertical WR along with 3/5 of your OL (including the LT)...well you're cooking with gasoline at that point.

Assuming Brent Venables can piece together another quality D despite losing half their players (probable) Clemson should be dang good next year.

With Cam Robinson's availability now in question for Alabama, this might make Clemson my new preseason #1.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Jerry Kill solves K-State's Bill Snyder problem

To be clear, Bill Snyder is not the problem at Kansas State. If anything, Bill Snyder IS Kansas State. While meaning no disrespect to the countless EMAW alumni and players over the years, without Snyder's leadership and strategies that program had absolutely nothing going for it.

Now that he's 76 years old and due to retire whenever he feels his juice is gone, the Wildcat program is in a difficult predicament. There should be no hurry to push him out as he's the only person who's demonstrated the ability to make a Manhattan-based program into a legitimate major conference contender. It seems remarkably unlikely that K-State could ever replace him with someone as capable as maximizing this program.

On the other hand, he does have to be replaced at some point and the program is losing out in recruiting and in positioning for conference realignment every year that his Wildcats slip and fail to have a strong succession plan.

Before today I would have said that the most likely outcome of all of this is that Snyder's program slowly slipped, he gave up and retired, there was a nasty battle over his succession, and K-State never recovered their peak-Snyder glory.

Then they hired Jerry Kill as Associate Athletic Director.

This sets up two potential options for K-State down the line, the latter of which I think is actually more important than many pundits realize.

Option 1: Jerry Kill's health improves and allows him to take the sideline for K-State and replace Bill Snyder.

Option 2: Jerry Kill brings authority, know-how, and mentorship to Bill Snyder's replacement.

Most people are whispering about option 1 right now, although Kill says his days as a coach are over. You never know, and I wouldn't rule it out personally, but I don't think it really matters. Barry Alvarez has a profound influence on Wisconsin (for better or worse, usually for better) and he is able to do that without coaching. I think Kill can do the same.

The importance of this hire is that Jerry Kill knows how to build a strong program that leverages the strengths of a non-elite program.

What's more, Kill knows how to leverage the kinds of strengths that Kansas State has a program thanks to his successes in the past at Minnesota and both Southern and Northern Illinois.

Kill-ing it at Minnesota

The state of Minnesota has a population of about six million people, which makes it roughly the size of DFW and a somewhat underrated state for producing football talent. More importantly, of those six million people about 70% are of either German or Nordic descent. So there are about 4.2 million people in the state who have primarily Northern European genetics.

The reason that's important is that those gene pools tend to produce big, late-blooming young men of the sort that can be developed into brawny, powerful football players in between the years of 18 and 23.

Sure enough, Jerry Kill brought two major changes from Tim Brewster when he took over the job of guiding Gopher football. First, he emphasized defense, special teams, and power football on offense. Guess who wasn't excited when Kill took over at Minnesota? That's right, the North Dakota football staff who'd been building a dynasty with under-regarded Minnesota kids that Brewster had overlooked while trying to recruit Floridian athletes to Minneapolis.

When you've got local talent that has a higher ceiling than national programs might suppose and has a knack for executing physical, smashmouth football you've got to milk that for all it's worth. Jerry Kill was doing that at Minnesota and doing it well before his illness forced him to retire.

The formula at K-State

Despite the protestations of many of their fans, Kansas State does not have many recruiting advantages going up against other programs. Manhattan doesn't have much going on and there aren't a ton of loaded, metro areas around to pluck players from. Kansas City, MO is the top option there at two hours away but both Kansas University and the University of Missouri are equally close.

No one is regularly bringing top ranked classes to Manhattan.

The state itself has a population of three million people, around 40% or so (1.2 million people) of which have the valuable northern European bloodlines that can produce big players. Like with Minnesota, there aren't a high number of fast-twitch African-Americans around to stock the program with athleticism. Less even than in Minnesota.

There are two advantages K-State does have that Snyder has leveraged for all their worth. The first is the presence of a very strong JUCO system which draws in talent from around the country. The Wildcats have had less success recently plucking the top in-state JUCO players for their own program but their connections to the local staff has undoubtedly been valuable and could remain valuable in the future for getting access to that talent.

The second is a walk-on program that actually tends to draw a ton of players from said JUCO system. Lots of Kansas or other local kids that are not developed or clearly talented enough to draw D1 scholarships end up at those JUCO programs (or K-State itself) and getting some nice development before graduating or leaving and then walking on at K-State. Since the Wildcats are known for giving walk-ons opportunities, they regularly get a ton of self-motivated kids that bring a fantastic culture and often some real talent.

For instance, K-State has featured good DL play for virtually the entirety of the Bill Snyder era and it's because they regularly get walk-on kids or overlooked locals like Ryan Mueller, Will Geary, or Travis Britz (note that two of those are German names) who end up having some real upside after getting developed in Snyder's culture.

For the last several years Snyder has combined a few great athletes here and there with a culture and squad full of over-achievers and hard-workers who rely on fundamentals, precision, and diverse offensive tactics to scheme advantages and win games.

Winning without Snyder is necessarily going to require hiring a coach who knows how to get the most out of those kinds of demographics and foster a culture that will draw over-achievers to sign or walk-on. That's more or less exactly what Jerry Kill did at Minnesota.

So where is this going?

The cynic would suppose that K-State is lining up Jerry Kill to replace Bill Snyder pending improvement in his health. Again, I think that's possible but that doesn't have to be the story here for there to be upside for the Wildcats.

What K-State really needs is a way to facilitate a transition from Snyder to another coach that knows how to win with the Wildcats' resources. Yes Jerry Kill could be that coach, but more importantly Jerry Kill knows what that takes and could help guide that transition whether he's directly in charge of the football team himself or exercising authority and providing guidance from the AD office.

His track record and local roots provide Kill with immediate credibility and authority to speak and wield influence that can protect the program from Bill Snyder trying to put his own son Sean Snyder on the throne or the program otherwise having no idea how to replace a legend.

Bill Snyder is going to retire eventually and when he wants to put Sean in his place K-State will now have someone above him with enough communal authority to say no or enough expertise to help him.

Big win for Wildcat athletics.

Monday, May 16, 2016

How will OU replace Eric Striker?

Earlier on Twitter I asked this question:
Which was met with some confusion. Technically, Will Johnson is sliding into Eric Striker's space-backer role as OU transitions to more of a 3-3-5 defense. So in that sense isn't OU replacing Striker with Johnson and Bond with Obo?

However, in terms of function within the defense what I described is essentially what's going to happen. Allow me to explain...

Because they only play three down linemen, the Sooners can bring a fairly wide variety of different fronts and rotations, but their main defense last year was to do this:

They'd bring Striker off the field edge and drop strong safety Steven Parker over the slot receiver. On the weakside they'd drop Devante Bond into the flat, the boundary corner deep, and rotate Ahmad Thomas deep.

They'd also bring some blitzes but they tended to make a lotta use out of Parker's ability to match-up with slot receivers while shielding Thomas from doing more than patrolling deep or occasionally dropping into the box.

Eric Striker = Primary edge-rusher
Devante Bond = +1 defender near the box

Here's what their main defense in 2016 is probably going to look like:
Now I'm sure OU will find ways to be creative and use Parker in a few different roles but this is probably the kind of rotation Stoops will tend to rely on in 2016.

So now,
Obo Okoronkwo = Primary edge-rusher
Ahmad Thomas = +1 defender near the box

To answer my own question, I think going from Striker to Okoronkwo is likely to result in a net negative pass rush. We haven't seen Obo yet and the Sooners have some other options that could supplant him in the fall, including any of several incoming options, but that's my sense of it. Striker was a special player.

However I suspect Ahmad Thomas will prove to be a more useful guy hanging around the box than was Devante Bond. No he's probably not going to be as good a pass-rusher but he will likely be better both in coverage and against the run than was Bond.

Additionally, going from having Thomas playing deep in the middle to putting the more rangy Parker back there will also have some benefits for OU.

This line-up would be interesting in some cover 4 configurations but with Will Johnson in the nickel there's not as much value to having a great cover safety over the slot like Parker, who was born to protect other guys with his coverage abilities.

What's more likely is that Parker and Thomas will do an Earl Thomas/Kam Chancellor impersonation with the Sooners relying on the pair of them with Johnson covering up the middle of the field and allowing them to be more aggressive in blitzing all three of their linebackers in the 3-3-5.

They'll need Obo, Jordan Evans, and whoever wins that other job (Tay Evans, I guess) to have some impact on the blitz in order to replace Striker and allow the positives of using Thomas as the +1 defender to outweigh the negatives of replacing Striker.

It could work and the coverage in the middle of the field is likely to be better, which is essential for buying time for the pass-rush to get home.

Now about replacing Zach Sanchez and Sterling Shephard...we'll see.

3 observations on the Big 12 S&P projections

My man Bill Connelly has released his S&P projections for 2016 which are fascinating as always. His projections have done quite well in the playoff era, nailing most of the 2014 field and then misfiring on some of the 2015 field but getting the champ right.

It's VERY hard to do stat projections on 128 teams that can account for all the varying factors and get it all right, it's even harder to do projections without a statistical formula and Bill's got the best one I know about.

He's got Alabama no. 1 again this year, which I frankly think is the really safe move at this point. I've been critical of just picking Alabama every year as the default and caused a bit of a stir in 2014 when I guaranteed they wouldn't win the championship. This year, I don't see any other way around it currently and wrote recently on how absurdly loaded they are along both lines. Do your thing, Bill, do your thing, Saban.

Here's how Billy's got the B12 projected currently:

1. Oklahoma (4th)
2. Baylor (13th)
3. Oklahoma State (23rd)
4. TCU (31st)
5. West Virginia (33rd)
6. Texas (34th)
7. Texas Tech (43rd)
8. Kansas State (67th)
9. Iowa State (71st)
10. Kansas (112th)

Observation 1: Not that strong at the top

The league doesn't really look all that tough at the top in 2016. First you have Oklahoma, who was very formidable on paper last year but also enjoyed a major stat boost from virtually never facing a healthy, no. 1 QB until they met Deshaun Watson in the playoffs and were summarily destroyed.

Then Baylor, who loses two NFL-level athletes from their defense (which isn't overflowing with spare NFL athletes) at two key positions (nose tackle, boundary corner) a year early. They also have the massive offseason distraction of the sexual assault scandals which doesn't seem likely to have a positive impact on their season.

I foresee a "rebuilding" year for Baylor in which they are competitive but a notch below being able to win the conference.

Then you have to go down to OSU and TCU, the former of whom is very good and experienced everywhere on their roster except at three of the four positions that can most easily control a B12 game. Those positions are QB, DE, CB, and OL. They have the QB, but I'm not sure they have a good edge-rusher, lockdown corner, or even a half-decent OL.

TCU is becoming my dark horse to win the league but they haven't settled on a starting QB yet and have some other issues to sort out as well.

Observation 2: A few S&P misfires?

I think S&P badly missed on West Virginia, Kansas State, and maybe TCU.

I'll write in greater detail before the season starts about each one but to go over just a few points:

TCU is bringing back a lot of really good young players on defense that were starting to fit together quite nicely and they also get Ranthony Texada back at corner, whom they badly missed last year. Everyone seems to be glossing over the fact that TCU was uncharacteristically not-great on defense last year and that's not likely to be the case in 2016. Projecting their 2016 season you should assume a rebound on defense to top 20 quality or better.

On offense, people seem to be expecting a precipitous collapse with the QB, top WR, LT, and RB all departing. On the the surface that seems more than reasonable.

However, TCU is bringing back a dozen good young WRs, several of whom might be ISO-caliber players. The Frogs also bring back a pair of solid, experienced OTs and some interior OL that were forced into duty in 2015 thanks to injury and were blooded against the likes of OU and Oregon.

Most importantly, they're bringing Kavontae Turpin back and he might be one of the very best offensive players in the entire league next season. They'll find a QB that can figure out how to get that guy the ball and they won't drop too far.

West Virginia is losing ERRBODY on defense. Their hopes for being even half-good in 2016 depend on their DL all making real leaps in terms of skill and consistency AND for several young DBs and LBs who have hardly played at all to end up being really good immediately.

There was a report from their spring game where DC Tony Gibson was concerned that they wouldn't be able to play man coverage in 2016 because they were getting roasted so badly.

Losing CB Daryl Worley to the NFL really hurt them. I think it's safe to assume they will take a big step back on that side of the ball.

As for their offense, well they might be very good depending on how much faith you have in Skyler Howard. But to get them to eight or nine wins you have to foresee the offense making enough of a jump to overcome a collapse on defense.

They do at least have a favorable schedule.

Kansas State is generally always going to be underrated by S&P because those projections rely on recruiting rankings to fill in holes and the Wildcats stunningly always fill at least one hole every year with a walk-on that no one had ever heard of before.

If your model can't account for a Jordy Nelson, Randall Evans, BJ Finney, Ryan Mueller, Jonathan Truman, Kody Cook, or Will Geary...well it's going to struggle.

Last year I figured LB Trent Tanking and NT Will Geary might have some surprises for the B12, I was only half-right. This year my money is on DE Davis Clark (two sacks in the spring game) and RB Justin Silmon. Sorry K-State fans, I'm just not buying Johnny Durham as a solution at cornerback.

Another crucial part of the S&P projections is "returning production" which will have a tendency to miss on teams that lost their best players to injury the prior year but then bring them back. This model would seem to have no way to account for Jesse Ertz or Alex Delton starting at QB instead of Joe Hubener or for Dante Barnett coming back from injury. Either of those could have a major impact on the Wildcats' ceiling.

Looking at the Wildcats I see a team that is going to be very good in run defense, has several pieces on offense that could conceivably come together to form a versatile and difficult to defend unit, and just needs better luck with injuries and one half-decent corner.

Observation 3: 4th best league?

Connelly has the conferences ranked as:

1. SEC
2. ACC
3. Pac-12
4. Big-12
5. Big-10
6. AAC
7. MWC
8. MAC
9. Sun Belt
10. Conference USA

That feels about right to me, although I think the cream of the Big 10 will end up being better than the top Big 12 teams. Michigan and Ohio State both have the potential to be better than Oklahoma and certainly any other Big 12 team.

The ACC is definitely on the rise and the league made several big coaching hires this offseason like Dino Babers, Bronco Mendenhall, and Justin Fuente that could raise the profile of the league. Plus Florida State and Clemson are both looking like national contenders.

I'm not sure if the Pac-12 will have a heavyweight team but I suspect Stanford will over-perform to expectations, Oregon might rebound, and you never know with USC.

There's a reason the Big 12 is the target of expansion or disintegration talks every offseason. The league totally lacks the population base to compete with these other conferences, the possible expansion options, and one of their two top dogs (Texas) has been languishing in mediocrity for six years.

The Big 10 might be down this year (though 5th seems really down) but long-term they are in great shape as a conference. The ACC is on the rise, the SEC is set, the Pac-12 is in good shape and on the up and up, but the Big 12 has been left behind.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What's next for the Spurs?

The OKC Thunder have been a foil for the Spurs for several years now, despite only getting the better of them prior to 2016 back in 2012 when they came back from being down 2-0 to win four straight and advance to the NBA Finals.

Since then the Thunder have languished, trading Harden away and then struggling for years to find role players that could allow them to maximize the tremendous advantage of having two of the league's top players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

But despite those struggles, the Thunder have always caused problems for the Spurs with their athleticism and defense and in this series they had the better bench as well. Surprisingly, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Andre Roberson got the best of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan.

It was already very clear from a minutes breakdown that the old "big three" of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were no longer a major part of the formula. However, this series revealed that they are not only no longer main cogs but they are also no longer strong enough role players to anchor a championship team.

Here's a minutes breakdown of the 2015/16 Spurs with WP48 numbers courtesy of box score geeks:
*WP48 seeks to measure how many wins a player produces for his team per 48 minutes of play. It's basically a way of measuring which stats determine victories and which players produce those stats. Anything over .100 is good, over .150 is a top player.

Let's assume that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire this offseason. Quite frankly, even if they don't it hardly matters because neither seem capable of playing at a high level any longer. They both played well in limited minutes during the season but both were largely ineffective against the Thunder and at 40 and 38 years old respectively, it seems unlikely that their effectiveness will do anything but go down.

So what's next for the Spurs?

The Kawhi-Aldridge foundation

The Spurs most productive players and top two is very clear moving forward. Kawhi is on contract through 2020 and Aldridge is locked up through 2019.

What they're getting from these two is quite a lot to build a team around. Defensively, LMA doesn't offer a ton of rim protection but he's very good at making rotations on the perimeter which is arguably becoming every bit as essential for modern NBA big men. Kawhi is one of the very best perimeter defenders in the game and can defend opposing wings and lead guards at an extremely high level.

LMA doesn't offer exceptional rebounding for a big man (not terrible either) but Kawhi is a well above average rebounder and a menace on the offensive glass.

Overall these two offer a good deal offensively as well. LMA is a brilliant partner for any ball handler on high screens thanks to his potency on long mid-range jumpers and he's also effective in the post. Kawhi has grown into a really strong driver working off Iso's or with screens. Both are also effective off the ball because LMA is a great shooter and Kawhi is brilliant both in the catch and shoot game (44.3% from 3 this year) and as an offensive rebounder.

So the Spurs are in good shape moving forward as they look to continue to rebuild their team around a new nucleus and slowly lay Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan down to rest. With these two guys as the core they're assured of having easy paths to building a strong defensive identity as a team that's exceptional defending the high screen/perimeter attacks of the modern NBA and an offensive identity as a team that can create space with high screens and shooting.

What's the missing component?

From glancing at the stats above, or observing their failure against OKC last night, there are two glaring holes for the Spurs to fill in order to be a championship team again.

The first is the lack of really strong guard play, which was the hallmark of the Spurs 2nd run of brilliance after Duncan's decline from "annual MVP power forward" to "really good center who plays controlled minutes."

Neither Kawhi nor LMA are natural lead guards or facilitators, although they can both make life easy for one, and although Kawhi has gotten much better at leading the offense his 2.8 assists per game speak to a player who's not a natural point-player.

Tony Parker will probably be around next year, as will Patty Mills, but Mills is a bit player that's often played off Manu on the 2nd unit while Parker is 33 years old.

The other hole, beyond that of a 1st team lead guard/facilitator, is on the 2nd unit. For years and years the Spurs' secret weapon was the fact that they could bring Manu off the bench to lead their 2nd unit and guarantee that the Spurs were able to get good shots when Parker and Duncan were on the bench getting rest.

It's hard to overstate how valuable this was but you can get a glimpse of what things look like without it from the fact that when the Spurs pulled their starters in the first quarter last night for some rest they basically lost the game within a span of a five minutes or so.

The Spurs will be spending about 20 million apiece on Kawhi/LMA for the next three years which still leaves a decent amount of cap room for adding additional pieces. They could add another max player or they could spread the money around more on role players.

How can the Spurs fill out their future roster?

The argument for signing a max player in the offseason would be that the Spurs could build a new "big three" nucleus, find a point-player to facilitate the offense, and then rely on their system and success picking up useful pieces from the 2nd round or FA scrap heap to fill out the rest of the roster.

The only problem is the question of whether the Spurs could successfully convince a big money free agent to come to San Antonio. Yes they were able to sign Aldridge, but we're talking about a guy who left Twitter after a bad game. His distaste for the media spotlight and eagerness to play on a team-focused roster under Duncan and Pop's guidance in a smaller market is fairly unique.

The big talk had been that the Spurs were going to make a big play for Kevin Durant but I see two problems with that idea. The first is that Durant is yet another off the ball type player. There's no one better at getting their own shot in the league and a frontcourt of Kawhi-Durant-LMA would be horrifying for the rest of the league.

But who's setting the table for them? Are there enough shots to go around for each of them? A better fit would be a player that can excel running off LMA screens and getting these guys the ball in their sweet spots. Maybe you can find one of those for cheap after maxing KD, God knows it wouldn't be too hard a role with those three on the floor, but it's not a easy fit.

Perhaps the bigger problem is that it's hard to believe Durant would sign with the Spurs over signing with Miami, Washington, Golden State, or the current favorites: Oklahoma City.

If I were the Spurs GM I'd be looking at Mike Conley, who's 28 years old but is a really strong point guard that might do amazing things playing off LMA and Kawhi rather than in the confined spaces he's found playing off ZBo and Gasol in Memphis.

The argument for snatching up role players is that the Spurs already have a strong nucleus with Kawhi and LMA and might be able to find the other big piece either with the draft or by signing an overlooked player that would fit the system like a glove.

Because Kawhi can defend any position 1-4 the Spurs could play a facilitating passer like Kyle Anderson (if he proves worthy) in lieu of a point guard and use a big lineup like what the Warriors did when Curry was out. There's so much flexibility here in how the Spurs want to build the roster moving forward.

The only limiting factor is that they want to keep winning big, which makes it hard to draft and develop, and LMA is already 30 years old so they don't have the biggest window here with the current foundation.

I'm sure they'll be fine, but it's still pretty strange to be looking at the Spurs future and not see Parker, Duncan, or Ginobili playing major roles. If they pull this off, they'll cement their status as the best-run organization in pro sports.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Building the Texas D around the Predator

At Inside Texas I broke down how Texas is going to build around their Kam Chancellor/Von Miller hybrid (Malik Jefferson) in 2016.

Alabama could be truly elite on both lines next year

Thanks to the return of their three best pass-rushers from a year ago, when they had their best pass-rush of the Saban era, and the return of their LT Alabama is looking good in the trenches for next year.

I wrote it up over at SB Nation, mainly profiling LT Cam Robinson and pass-rushers Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, and Ryan Anderson.

Having observed the Alabama spring game I'm not sure what they're going to do at QB next year but they'll probably be very good on offense just going with the eldest guy who's best at protecting the football, like they always do.

They're moving guard Ross Pierschbacher inside to center, which is important in their inside zone schemes because a big, powerful center allows them to loose the guards to go downhill and pick off LBs. If he can lock that position down the Tide are going to make a 1k yard rusher out of at least one of Derrick Henry's replacements.

Add that up with a good looking secondary and you have a team that has to be considered favorites to make the playoffs next year.

The evolution of 4-3 Ds to stop the smashmouth spread

Over at Football Study Hall I broke down an evolving tactic from Over-Quarters defenses. Teams are mixing man and zone coverage and DE contain to allow them to handle the RPOs and play-action concepts that two-back spread teams can throw at them.

You see this some in the Big 12 from Oklahoma State and probably increasingly more from other teams as well. It's all about getting that +1 run defender close to the action in a way that fits a given secondary and the more schemes defenses have for doing so the better.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Will the Irish make the playoffs next year?

I debated that topic with Keegan of lodgesports, check it out here.

Shane Buechele vs the blitz

Big 12 teams are going to be gunning for Texas this year with aggressive defensive game plans. That's what happens when you start true freshman at QB and center.

Over at Inside Texas I detailed how Big 12 defenses will try to attack Buechele and what he'll need to be able to do in order to survive.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How Jim Chaney will look to unleash Nick Chubb at Georgia next year

It's embarrassing now that I had Georgia pegged as my national championship pick last year, though in my defense none of the elite teams looked to be in great shape at QB. Shoulda known that meant Bama would take it.

Anyways, Greyson Lambert was horrible and I highly doubt he's QB in Athens next year, but whoever is QB will be spending a lot of time turning and handing off to Sony Michel or Nick Chubb. Here's a primer on how their run game might look next year.

Teaser, their best OL is a 6'2" 280 pound dude they're playing at left tackle so...that should be interesting.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Cowboys 2016 Draft

I'm not a Cowboys fan, personally. I flirted with Dallas fandom as a young boy when my family moved back to Texas from Connecticut and it was easy enough to get on board with a team featuring Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jay Novachek, Moose Johnston, and Larry Allen. I didn't know enough to hate them for being led by Barry Switzer.

My parents weren't sports fans of any kind though so I had no familial pressure to tether me to Dallas. That season (1995) I read a history book on the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise and when they met the Cowboys in the Super Bowl I promptly switched sides and rooted for the Steel Curtain. That decision cost me in that one but paid off 15 years later when I'd marry into a die-hard Steelers family. I never regretted holding back my heart from the Cowboys.

But I figure a lot of you suckers are Dallas fans so I thought I'd give some thoughts on their draft picks based on what I saw from them in college.

Round 1: Ezekiel Elliot

Aside from the concern that he might be a wild partier moving to a party town, I think Zeke was the NFL RB prospect in college football last year, at least the best one I've personally watched.

He's got it all, he's powerful in his cuts, he has great vision, and he can execute jump steps or bounce outside so he's capable of threatening multiple running lanes in a given scheme. Like I wrote the other day, I think this move is indicative of a "double down on our offense and ensure we have an over-powering feature" which I've argued is probably the best way to win in the NFL.

So yes, the Cowboys made the short-sighted, "excite the fans with a sexy choice" selection here, but there's an argument to be made that they got a 1st round-caliber player that can help them win immediately and fits a legitimate strategy.

Round 2: Jaylon Smith

I'd be willing to bet that tons of teams were hoping to draft Jaylon Smith in the 2nd round and then pat themselves on the back for having made a brilliant, long-term investment.

Jaylon Smith could be great for all the reasons Myles Jack could be great, he's a freak athlete who's good in coverage and makes it very difficult for opponents to find weak spots in the middle of the field with their drop-back passing game. Since the NFL is largely driven by drop-back passing, that's a really nice piece to add to your team.

Like Jack, Smith's athleticism doesn't really translate to him being a great pass-rusher but he's good against the run, playing the edge, or covering ground on pass drops.

Round 3: Maliek Collins

Now I don't know a ton about the Cowboys current roster, but here's where I start to second guess them a little bit because I do know that their QB depth chart goes:

QB1: Dude who keeps breaking the same bone over and over again and is approaching 40.
QB2: Dude who played his college ball at Boise State...just saying, that system made a lot of guys look really good.
QB3: Dude I've never heard of in my life.

I would have been looking to grab a guy that could sit at Romo's feet and learn/develop for a few years and I'd be trying to make that a priority. This draft had a few guys that were worth taking a flier on in the 2nd to 4th rounds such as Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook, and Christian Hackenberg.

Lynch is a fantastic athlete with all the right skills, question is just how he handles NFL progressions. There's no question of whether Cook can handle an NFL playbook or beat NFL man coverage, only whether he'll try to do so at inopportune times. Hackenberg looked like a future NFL star until James Franklin brought his wretched offense to State College and nearly killed him.

I don't know a ton about Maliek Collins save for the fact that he has great size and he was pretty effective both as a 2-gapper for Pellini and as a single-gap guy for Banks last year. Seems like a good player taken at a good time, I'd just have prioritized QB.

Round 4: Charles Tapper

Good for Tapper that he ended up getting a good draft placement after the Sooners bulked him up and converted him from a 4-3 DE (where he might have been great) into a 4i-technique 3-4 DE where his utility was blunted somewhat.

Tapper nevertheless managed seven sacks last year (often playing with Striker coming off his hip) at something like 280 and then was finally able to slim back down to a more appropriate 260 for the combine where ran a 4.59 40 and posted a 34" vertical.

That's explosiveness coming off the edge and from a dude that's proven he can handle trench warfare inside, Tapper in the 4th round may prove to have been a brilliant choice in the long-term.

Round 5: Dak Prescott

AKA the only QB left at this point in the draft. Here's my concern with Dak, he has a combination of skills that are very difficult to defend in college football but don't necessarily translate to the next level. He's a solid inside runner with enough speed (4.79) to do some damage and be able to get loose. He's also a solid passer that can do some stuff in the quick game or throwing off play-action.

This was true of Tim Tebow as well and he dominated in college before struggling in the NFL because it's not enough in a drop-back league to be "solid" throwing the ball. You need to at least be "good" if not "great."

Some of the few times that Dak handled a team that could handle the stress of defensing a spread with a good inside runner at QB who could also throw was when he played Alabama. Now, throw out the 2015 game because that Miss St OL couldn't block Alabama's front four AT ALL and I'm not going to ding a QB for failing to take down a defense that's sitting in cover 2 all day behind a blistering pass-rush.

When Dak was facing reasonable odds he actually showed the ability to see the whole field and throw with some anticipation. He's ultra-raw, but a glimpse at his 2015 season cut-ups reveals a much better passing prospect than I expected. He'll need a lot of time to cook in the oven but it's possible that he's a better take here than I initially thought after the Cowboys made it. No doubt he'll be working behind a better OL and with better WRs in Dallas (comparative to the competition) than he did in Starksville.

Round 6: Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson, and Rico Gathers

I have no idea who this guy is and I'm pretty sure I've never watched an entire Purdue football game at any point in my life. I forget they even play in the Big 10. Best of luck to him.

I believe I caught Frazier against Oklahoma State last year in the season opener but he didn't leave any major impression on me. The Chippewas did a solid job containing Mason Rudolph and the OSU passing game, which is legit, but his role in that game was as a box safety.

He was good in that role and at 218 he's big enough to do it in the NFL, but it's hard to see him upgrading the play of the Dallas secondary.

I'm planning on moving to Ypsilanti where Darius Jackson played his college ball but I've not seen him at all. It's funny that the Cowboys would use another draft pick on a RB though after already dropping their 1st rounder on a position they could probably fill with bums off the street with this OL.

Drafting Rico Gathers in the 6th is like dropping a bucket of quarters on a slot machine. It's a little more expensive than you realize and there's a slim chance it will pay out in a major way. I'm not sure I believe he'll prove to be a TE, his shuttle time isn't great which is important at a position that needs to make quick, lateral cuts against linebackers that are increasingly athletic.

If he added some poundage maybe he could end up at tackle but it's a far cry to go from playing basketball to mastering running schemes and protections against the likes of Von Miller.

Overall the Cowboys seemed to do alright. The choice of Zeke is defensible, their defensive selections are all guys who can play and project well, and their QB of the future is a little better than I initially thought after reflecting on what I saw from him in 2014. The mix of long-term and short-term choices here was solidly done and thanks to past drafting decisions they're building on a strong foundation.