NFL Combine Revelations
Matthew Stafford: Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Over the next 60 days, you'll hear approximately 24,483 reasons from those-in-the-know as to why the Detroit Lions should not grab Matthew Stafford at No. 1 overall in April's draft. But I only need five reasons to justify why Detroit must take the Georgia quarterback at the top spot -- despite fielding a college-level defense in '08 and still feeling shellshocked from that infamous 0-16 season.
1. Stafford's experience: Yes, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were polished seniors when entering the 2008 draft and displayed an uncommon poise in their respective rookie seasons. But Stafford, by my count, started 33 games in three years at Georgia -- whereas Ryan started only 32 games for Boston College, and Flacco started 26 for Delaware. In other words, who cares that Stafford left school early?
2. The truth goes deeper than Vince Young: Jim Schwartz was the Titans' longtime defensive coordinator before finally earning his stripes as an NFL head coach with the Lions. So Schwartz, obviously, had a first-hand look at the rise and sudden fall of Vince Young's career in Tennessee -- reaching the Pro Bowl as a rookie ... and then tumbling off the proverbial map just two seasons later; and that ordeal probably soured Schwartz on wanting a high-profile bonus baby at QB again, right? Wrong! (more on that later)
Going back to the 2005 college season, before the amazing BCS title game between Texas and USC at the Rose Bowl, Young was probably a 2nd- or 3rd-round prospect at the pro level. But then -- out of the blue -- he provided a monster effort against a suspect Trojans defense (267 yards passing, 200 rushing, 3 TDs) -- thus forcing every NFL team to ignore two years of scouting data and rocket VY up the charts (even ahead of Jay Cutler and Matt Leinart) ... fearing they'd be missing out on the Next Great Thing.
Sure, Stafford never led the Bulldogs to a national title, and he most certainly never ran for 200 yards and three scores against any college team. But NFL scouts have had a three-year book on a rocket-armed, well-spoken individual who was destined for pro greatness long before his first college snap (see, Mel Kiper Jr.).
3. Always be closing: Yes, the Lions have committed numerous draft-day blunders in the last four decades with quarterbacks, receivers, offensive tackles, linebackers and cornerbacks. But even the current brain trust of Schwartz, GM Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand knows that, in this business, you can never be afraid to make a mistake ... and you certainly don't compound one or a thousand gaffes with one more dullard move -- especially if the closest thing to John Elway in the last 26 years should fall squarely into your lap.
4. The perils of coachspeak: At the combine last week, Schwartz made some cryptic comments about how he wanted to build an "outdoor" team in Detroit -- and not one that's necessarily tailor-made for the cozy confines of Ford Field. Well, a handful of writers covering the event took that open-ended statement as an endorsement for the Lions plucking an offensive tackle at No. 1 -- like Virginia's Eugene Monroe, Baylor's Jason Smith or even Alabama's Andre Smith. But instead of taking Schwartz at face value -- at a time when coaches are notorious for not tipping their draft hand -- I'd rather focus on Schwartz's comments to the Detroit media on Jan. 12, just prior to accepting the Lions' gig: "Obviously there?s a lot of needs. I think obviously the most important position on the team is quarterback. It?s probably time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne."
5. The eye test: This one is really simple. Just take a look at this video and tell me Stafford doesn't have a Super Bowl victory (and multiple Pro Bowl berths) in his not-too-distant future. And since this is a fantasy column ... I confidently predict he'll be an established top-5 QB in fantasyland by 2012.
One last thing: As badly as Detroit needs to break its string of 38 consecutive seasons without a Pro Bowl quarterback ... I would understand if the franchise pulled the trigger on a pre-draft blockbuster trade. After all, the No. 1 slot holds tremendous value (even in a sluggish economy) and the Lions would be crazy not to consider a king's ransom for a chance to quickly plug gaping holes on defense and the offensive line. However, there is absolutely no way anyone could justify taking someone other than Stafford at No. 1. It's the golden rule, the time-tested code of never turning down a potential All-Pro QB in the draft -- unless Peyton Manning's already on your roster.
Does Speed Really Kill? (Part I)
In case you missed it, here are the wide receivers (who posted sub-4.45 40s) and running backs (with sub-4.5 40s) at the 2009 NFL Combine:
1. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland -- 4.30
2. Mike Wallace, Mississippi -- 4.33
3. Johnny Knox, Abilene Christian -- 4.34
4. Deon Butler, Penn State -- 4.38
5. Mike Thomas, Arizona -- 4.40
6. Tiquan Underwood, Rutgers -- 4.41
7. Demetrius Byrd, LSU -- 4.42
8. Louis Murphy, Florida -- 4.43
9. Kenny McKinley, South Carolina -- 4.44
10. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri -- 4.45
11. Kevin Ogletree, Virginia -- 4.45
1. Cedric Peerman, Virginia -- 4.45
2. Ian Johnson, Boise State -- 4.46
3. Kory Sheets, Purdue -- 4.47
4. Andre Brown, North Carolina State -- 4.49
Does Speed Really Kill? (Part II)
... And here are some of the NFL combine's fastest WR/RB 40 times since 1999:
1. Rondel Melendez, Eastern Kentucky -- 4.24 (1999)
2. Jerome Mathis, Hampton -- 4.28 (2005)
3. Yamon Figurs, Kansas State -- 4.30 (2007)
4. Aaron Lockett, Kansas State -- 4.31 (2002)
5. Santana Moss, Miami -- 4.31 (2001)
6. Troy Williamson, South Carolina -- 4.32 (2005)
7. Chad Jackson, Florida -- 4.32 (2006)
8. Jason Hill, Washington State -- 4.32 (2007)
9. Carlos Francis, Texas Tech -- 4.33 (2004)
10. Karsten Bailey, Auburn -- 4.33 (1999)
11. Chris Chambers, Wisconsin -- 4.33 (2001)
12. Tyrone Calico, Middle Tennessee State -- 4.34 (2003)
1. Chris Johnson, East Carolina -- 4.24 (2008)
2. Jay Hinton, Morgan State -- 4.29 (1999)
3. Darren McFadden, Arkansas -- 4.33 (2008)
4. Chris Henry, Arizona -- 4.40 (2007)
4. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma -- 4.40 (2007)
Verdict: Outside of Santana Moss and Chris Chambers, is there anyone else on the WR list even worth mentioning now? At least the running backs have a better than 50-percent shot of great NFL success. I wonder if that'll be the same for the '09 class?
Some Sage Advice
Strange but true: I actually had not one, but two separate discussions with media friends Monday about the fantasy viability of QB Sage Rosenfels -- should the Vikings land the veteran, via trade, for a 4th-round pick in this year's draft. Here it is, mid-February, with the NFL combine on the brain ... and we're talking about Sage Rosenfels. As silly as that sounds, nevertheless, I have an opinion on the matter:
All told, Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson threw for 3,217 yards and 21 TDs last season with Minnesota; and in six appearances with Houston last year, Rosenfels amassed 1,431 yards and 6 TDs, while completing 66.7 percent of his passes. This leads me to believe that Rosenfels would be a virtual lock to repeat the combined success of Frerotte/Jackson from '08; he's even a bigger lock for a passing-efficiency rate above 65 percent in the Vikings' West Coast offense (for which he seems perfect for). In terms of projections (16 starts) ... I'd say 3,800 yards (including rushing totals), 24 TDs ... and you'd get all this fantasy goodness somewhere in Round 11 of standard 10- or 12-team drafts.
Top 10 -- 2009 Rookies
Here are my revised projections for fantasyland's Top 10 Impact Rookies (obviously, this list may change in April):
1. WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (injury aside, the closest thing to Andre Johnson)
2. RB Shonn Greene, Iowa (may be a better pound-for-pound runner than the No. 3 guy)
3. RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (an amazing athlete, built for long-term NFL success)
4. RB Percy Harvin, Florida (the perfect PPR back, in the mold of Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles)
5. QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia (he should log 80 percent of the Lions' snaps next year)
6. WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (could be the NFL's best return man in '08)
7. RB Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State (I would expect Jonathan Stewart-like production in '08)
8. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (that athleticism has to count for something, right?)
9. QB Mark Sanchez, USC (assuming he goes to a QB-needy NFL team)
10. WR Austin Collie, BYU (he'll wow you with his deceptive speed, great hands and peerless route-running)
Wanna Join Our Baseball League?
Speaking of the SI.com & Friends baseball league, we've decided to avail our membership this season to one lucky Clicks reader (or unlucky -- depending on how you draft). Up until March 20, we'll be accepting short-essay submissions (limit 1-2 paragaphs, please) for the 14th slot in our small, but prestigious fantasy league (kind of like George Costanza). The requirements are simple: You need to be a passionate fantasy player (as demonstrated in the short essay), you need to have a computer (for the live draft sometime in late March or early April), you should enjoy posting humorous retorts on our league message board ... and, perhaps above all, you must be comfortable with accepting or declining blockbuster trade proposals during the graveyard-shift period of 2-6 a.m. -- the bewitching hours for all the Atlanta-based SI.com employees. (Note: I have already received approximately 25 submissions from Clicks readers ... one from a guy in Michigan who just celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary -- congrats, Mike B. -- and another who apparently hates everything we stand for, and yet wants to join our humble league -- thanks Dennis. B. Keep 'em coming!)
Monday Night Hoops Revelations
Deron Williams: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
It's not my nature to write an NFL-style Revelations for one NBA game ... but since I had five studs going in the Hawks-Jazz game (Josh smith, Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer) ... AND Boozer was making his much-ballyhooed return to the Utah lineup, I figured I'd class the joint up.
What I Liked: Williams has spoiled me something awful with his recent play -- rolling opponents for 30-plus points one night ... and then registering a double-double the other. Against Atlanta's less-than-stellar defense, D-Will tallied a healthy 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals.
What I Kinda Liked: I've learned the key to owning Josh Smith is to free your mind of nightly stats expectations. Just hope that he kills fantasy opponents, steal by steal, block by block, with across-the-board goodness. On Monday, he finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal. I can live his "off" night.
What I Loathed: In a free-flowing game like this one, there is no plausible excuse for Marvin Williams racking up only 7 points and 6 rebounds. And yet, that's exactly what happened. Thank heaven for the one block.
What Made Me Laugh: Just seconds before tipoff, Boozer sidled up to a referee to apparently get a feel of the official game ball. (Interestingly, he held it for less than one second -- without spinning the ball or executing an obligatory test-dribble.) It goes without saying ... that was my first clue Boozer would need ample time to get back into the swing of things.
What Made Me Cry: Bibby's stat line for the evening: 0 points (0-3 shooting), 1 assist, 1 steal in 15 minutes.
What Made Me Cry, Part II: Boozer finished with 2 points (1-5 shooting), 2 assists, 2 steals and 5 rebounds in only 21 minutes. At least I expected this kind of sluggish output, from a guy who missed the previous 44 games. (I expect a sizable bump in production Wednesday against Minnesota.)
What I'm Going To Remember On Fantasy Trade Deadline Day: I almost pulled the trigger on a monster 3-for-3 trade with SI.com friend and colleague Jeff Ritter, just minutes before the Week 18 lineups deadline. I would've shipped Boozer, Bibby and Wizards center Andray Blatche to Ritter's team, Laimbeer For Life, in exchange for Shawn Marion, Rafer Alston and Nuggets sharpshooter J.R. Smith. Now, I'm not looking to part with Boozer and Bibby before Friday's trade deadline, per se ... but I do have a glut of power forwards and centers and a noticeable dearth at shooting guard and small forward. For some inexplicable reason, Marvin Williams and Bobby Jackson just ain't getting it done!
Permission To Talk Fantasy Hoops ...
Switching gears to the NBA's regular season product ... here are three substantial rotisserie lists for fans of NBA fantasy cross-pollination -- dating back to Jan. 23:
15.5 points per game, 5.1 assists
Chris Paul, Hornets
Deron Williams, Jazz
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Dwyane Wade, Heat
Joe Johnson, Hawks
Tony Parker, Spurs
Andre Iguodala, 76ers
Stephen Jackson, Warriors
Devin Harris, Nets
Derrick Rose, Bulls
Brandon Roy, Blazers
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Hedo Turkoglu, Magic
T.J. Ford, Pacers
Ramon Sessions, Bucks
Vince Carter, Nets
Nate Robinson, Knicks
Andre Miller, 76ers
5.6 Rebounds/1.2 steals per game
Jason Kidd, Mavericks
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Manu Ginobili, Spurs
Luol Deng, Bulls
Al Harrington, Knicks
Stephen Jackson, Warriors
Andre Iguodala, 76ers
Kevin Durant, Thunder
Al Horford, Hawks
Rudy Gay, Grizzlies
Luis Scola, Rockets
Josh Smith, Hawks
Caron Butler, Wizards
Nene Hilario, Nuggets
Rasheed Wallace, Pistons
Andrew Bogut, Bucks
Gerald Wallace, Bobcats
Kenyon Martin, Nuggets
Rajon Rondo, Celtics
Tyrus Thomas, Bulls
Francisco Elson, Bucks
Jeff Green, Thunder
1.8 3-pointers made/84% Free Throws
D.J. Augustin, Bobcats
Mo Williams, Cavaliers
Ben Gordon, Bulls
Chauncey Billups, Nuggets
Roger Mason, Jr., Spurs
Peja Stojakovic, Hornets
Jason Terry, Mavericks
Jameer Nelson, Magic
Ray Allen, Celtics
Danny Granger, Pacers
Wally Szczerbiak, Cavaliers
Ryan Gomes, Timberwolves
John Salmons, Bulls
Charlie Villanueva, Bucks
Leandro Barbosa, Suns
Eric Gordon, Clippers
Stephen Jackson, Warriors
O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Delonte West, Cavaliers
Troy Murphy, Pacers
Five Guys I'd Consider Picking Up ASAP
I would highly recommend grabbing these specialists in deeper fantasy leagues:
1. Wally Szczerbiak, Cavs (finally starting to shed his one-trick-pony act)
2. Javaris Crittenton, Wizards (has the capacity for 7 assists per night)
3. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers (the most confounding rookie of 'em all -- runs extremely hot/cold)
4. Anthony Randolph, Warriors (a reliable double-double threat -- when he gets 25-plus minutes)
5. Matt Bonner, Spurs (with Ginobili out, he'll be needed even more off the pick & roll)
Five Guys I'd Consider Dropping ASAP
1. Quentin Richardson, Knicks (what's the sucking noise coming from the Big Apple?)
2. Ricky Davis, Clippers (he needs more rebounds like this to color me impressed)
3. Javale McGee, Wizards (scroll down to next sector, please)
4. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Bucks (nice rebounder -- but does little else well)
5. Chris Wilcox, Thunder (fantasy dead weight, no matter which NBA city he calls home)
Just Me And Javale McGee
And now for the sad, sad tale of Wizards backup center Javale McGee. In a six-game span from Jan. 31 to Feb. 10, while subbing for Andray Blatche, McGee tallied 73 points (12.0 average), 41 points (6.9 average) and 6 blocks -- prompting me to grab him from the waiver wire on Feb. 16. At the time of the signing, I figured McGee would keep getting extended minutes -- for a few weeks, anyway -- while Blatche recovered from a knee injury. Well, unbeknownst to me (and the update wizards of ESPN.com), Blatche was fit and ready to return to Washington's lineup on Feb. 17 ... to the tune of 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals in his comeback special. By the time I had figured this out, though, my weekly lineup was locked on McGee ... and he rewarded my "loyalty" with 11 points and 5 boards for the week. D'oh!
It just goes to show you, folks: You just can't win in fantasy hoops with your head in the sand.
The SI.com & Friends league is a head-to-head weekly, where owners carefully choose their starters every Monday and live with the results -- good or bad -- all the way to Sunday night. So, in the spirit of economizing/maximizing starter picks, here is my dream team (1 PG, 1 SG, 1 G, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 F, 2 C) of Week 18 stars, all of whom have the maximum four games from Monday-Sunday (Feb. 23-29):
PG -- Deron Williams, Jazz
SG -- Dwyane Wade, Heat
G -- Brandon Roy, Blazers
SF -- LeBron James, Cavaliers
PF -- Antawn Jamison, Wizards
F -- Kevin Durant, Thunder
C -- Dwight Howard, Magic
C -- Tim Duncan, Spurs
On the flip side ... here is my list of eight stars (1 PG, 1 SG, 1 G, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 F, 2 C) with only two games for Week 18: (None of these guys, outside of Kobe, Gasol and maybe the emerging Thompson, should be in your lineup this week ... it's too risky)
PG -- Beno Udrih, Kings
SG -- Kobe Bryant, Lakers
G -- Kevin Martin, Kings
SF -- Lamar Odom, Lakers
PF -- Jason Thompson, Kings
F -- Andres Nocioni, Kings
C -- Pau Gasol, Lakers
C -- Spencer Hawes, Kings
This Is The End
In November 1992, around the same time Bill Clinton trumped George H.W. Bush in the presidential election and a little TV show called Seinfeld was catching on like wildfire, I vividly recall watching a Bulls-Pistons game on TV -- while studying for a biology exam at Michigan State University (I did OK, for the record). Anyway ... in the waning moments of a game where the aging-before-my-eyes Pistons had matched the Bulls step-for-step, shot-for-shot, I briefly talked myself into a Detroit victory -- even though Michael Jordan would have the ball in his hands for the last shot, with Chicago down two points.
Well, true to form, Jordan got off a clean three-pointer, nailed it and danced around as if the Bulls had just won a third straight championship. And it was right then, I realized Jordan (who had suffered the indignity of three straight playoff exits, at the hands of the Pistons from 1988-90) was dead-set on never losing to Detroit again -- even during some random game in November. At the same time, I finally realized the Pistons' run of championship contention had come to an abrupt end. Their proverbial "title window" had officially closed shut. Que sera, sera.
Why am I telling this story? Well, fast forward to Sunday night, 16 NBA seasons later, when the current Pistons' championship window officially closed, just seconds after their humiliating 99-78 loss to the Cavaliers (don't let the close final score fool ya) ... which dropped Detroit to 27-27 and signaled the franchise's descent into mediocrity. And you know what? I'm OK with this. The veteran nucleus of Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Tayshaun Prince (along with Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace) claimed one championship, came excruciatingly close to a second one (2005 NBA Finals) and reached the Eastern finals seven straight seasons (2002-08). It was one heckuva run, guys ... but all good things must pass (thanks, George Harrison).
Individually, every one of the aforementioned Pistons (even Allen Iverson, despite being the NBA's worst on-the-ball, in-the-paint defender) has plenty of gas in their career tanks; but collectively, they have lost that "It" quality as teammates, as a championship core, and thus, should move on to other pastures.
The moral to the story: In team sports and fantasyland athletics, don't ever be afraid to cut the cord. You'll thank yourself in the long run.
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