Friday, August 28, 2015

Darryl Dawkins: His Impact & Lasting Legacy on the NBA

Darryl Dawkins passed away Thursday, August 27th from a heart attack.  Darryl, known to many for his prolific and powerful dunks was a unique player on and off the court.  He has a legacy that gets overlooked by history due to him never meeting the expectations of his 5th overall selection in the 1975 NBA Draft.  Darryl Dawkins changed the game of Professional Basketball and a generation of future players had the road paved by him:

1. Dawkins’ Dunks forced the NBA and other leagues to install new backboards
Darryl Dawkins famously (or infamously if you had to be a part of the cleanup crew) broke numerous backboards during his career, shattering glass with the strength of his dunks.  While he was not the first powerful dunker in the NBA, many of the big men of the 1960’s and 1970’s had to hone their skills without dunking.  This was because of Wilt Chamberlain. While at University of Kansas Wilt was so dominant that the NCAA made it illegal to dunk in an effort to neutralize Wilt’s dominance.  But Darryl Dawkins never went to college, so he never learned at a young age how to combine finesse with power like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, and Elvin Hayes did.
Today we have breakaway rims and the backboards are no longer made of pure glass, instead are shatter-resistant.  Both of these changes can be directly traced back to Darryl Dawkins breaking backboards during his playing days.

2. Dawkins was the First Player to be drafted straight out of High School by the NBA
In 1975, Darryl Dawkins forfeited his amateur status and applied to be eligible for the 1975 NBA Draft under the Hardship Clause.  Following in the footsteps of Moses Malone (who did the same and was drafted by the rival Pro Basketball organization, the ABA), the NBA accepted the application.  When the Philadelphia 76ers selected Darryl, he was anointed by many as “The Next Wilt Chamberlain”.  These high expectations led to him having an inflated ego; still a young adult who was not even 20 years old yet playing in a league of men.  Darryl opened the doors for future high school athletes to believe forgoing college was a viable option.  Yet the NBA and its teams would cautious moving forward about selecting high school players due to his immaturity and inconsistent ability to handle life as a professional ball player.

3. Dawkins’ personality paved the way for future NBA Stars
During his playing career, Darryl Dawkins was known to be eccentric and let his personality come through everything he did.  He would have nicknames for his dunks, he would not be reserved during interviews and would have fun with reporters.  In fact, his nickname “Chocolate Thunder” was given to him by Stevie Wonder, a man who never saw him play!  This style of personality expressed on and off the court allowed for future big men to be less reserved and more personality driven.  Without Darryl Dawkins paving the way, it’s hard to know if the NBA as a whole would have been so accepting of talented characters such as Shaquille O’Neal and John Salley.  From now on, because of Darryl, it was acceptable for players to have more than great talent. Having personality became fun and cool.

Darryl Dawkins is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but his impact on the game goes far beyond wins and statistics.  He changed how fans and the media view athletes. He changed how NBA team management evaluated players, and how going from high school directly to the pro game could work.  We tend to forget that Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James all never played college basketball; these superstars of the NBA all went straight to the pro game from High School thanks to Darryl Dawkins being a pioneer of what is possible. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Evaluating College Quarterbacks to the NFL: The Eagles Quandry

I heard it said numerous times over the last 20 years: “Projecting College Quarterbacks to the NFL is an inexact science”.  This mantra has been repeated by many scouts, coaches, and TV analysts.  Some say it as a cover for incorrect prognostications, some say it because they are just not sure about a specific prospect, and others say it because they heard others say it so they repeat it.  The truth is that there are some objective factors to consider when projecting from college to the professional arena for Quarterbacks.  The real problem is the coaches and environment those players come from then go to after they leave college.

What tends to be overlooked when evaluating the Quarterback position is the commonalities versus the difference between Professional and Collegiate American Football.  The first major similarity between both levels are the Quarterback must be accurate, keeping the opportunities for the opposing defense to force turnovers down to a minimum.  Accuracy is more than just about throwing the ball to the right spot or the open player, it’s also about communicating to the team about what the QB needs to execute the play on hand.  The second element is arm strength, since the man throwing the ball needs enough juice behind the throw to get it to his receivers.  If the Quarterback does not have enough arm strength he runs into two major problems: giving defenders more time to attempt to break up the pass attempt and forces the receiver of the pass to wait on the ball, potentially putting them in the position to have to change their planned route on that play in order to adapt to the throw.

The major difference between the two levels of play come down to what, in any area of life, separates the good from the great: the mental aspect.  In college, players who are talented can be great because the talent they play against is diluted compared to the Pro game.  As a result, if that player happens to be the best athlete on the field, then success is more of a sure thing for that player and his team.  But on the Professional level, having talent is never enough because everyone at that level is talented.  In the National Football League (NFL) are the best of the best Football players whose jobs depend on them perfecting their skills.  So for the Pro QB, the cerebral aspect of the game is more important since they have to spend hours upon hours preparing to execute on game day and deal with numerous obstacles on and off the field.  The great Quarterbacks have to outthink their opposition, out work them, and have the competitive fire to push through adversity.

Evaluating how a player projects to the next level is layered; while it is not an exact science, there are elements about who the player is and knowing what they can and can’t do that transcend everything else.   This is where the rubber meets the road for many coaches, scouts, and TV analysts.  This issue with projecting Quarterbacks from college to the Professional ranks is embodied in the Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback situation.  This past offseason the Eagles traded away starting QB Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford.  A couple months later they signed former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow to compete for one of the backup Quarterback positions, with the assumption Sam Bradford would be the starter in 2015.

With the Eagles QB Depth Chart four players deep (most teams usually have 2-3 Quarterbacks during the season on the roster), all of these players have unique backgrounds and attributes.  Three of the four are former 1st round Draft Picks (Bradford, Sanchez, and Tebow) while three of the four passed for over 8,000 yards in their careers and threw for over 80 career Touchdowns (Bradford, Barkley, and Tebow). 

Let’s quickly profile each player:

-Sam Bradford (University of Oklahoma: 2007-2009; #1 Overall Pick in 2010 NFL Draft by St. Louis Rams)
Positives: Sam Bradford is one of the most awarded and talented college Quarterbacks of the last 20 years of college football.  In the year Sam won the Heisman Trophy (2008), he threw for 4,720 yards and 50 Touchdowns.  An accurate QB in college, Sam Bradford only threw 16 interceptions and had a completion percentage of 67.6 percent for his college career.  He has a great throwing arm and excellent work ethic to match his talents.  Bradford was able to maximize his abilities with his high Football IQ and commitment to helping his team win games.
Negatives:  Since college, Sam Bradford has had health issues including Shoulder, ankle and knee injuries that have taken him off the field numerous times.  Of his four seasons coming into 2015 NFL campaign, He has only been healthy enough to play through two of them.  When Sam has been healthy, he has put up solid statistics, but his completion percentage is a bit of a disappointment compared to his college numbers.  In the NFL, Bradford has a career average 58.6 completion percentage; that is almost a ten percent drop from college.

-Mark Sanchez (University of Southern California 2006-2008; #5 Overall Pick in 2009 NFL Draft by New York Jets)
Positives: Mark Sanchez capped a top tier season in 2008 at USC in which he was the top Quarterback in the PAC-10 Conference with becoming the Jets 1st round pick and quickly being appointed the starting job.  With above average arm strength, what was considered Mark’s real strength for playing the QB position is his high Football IQ and work ethic on/off the field. 
Negatives: Mark Sanchez only had one season as a starting quarterback at USC, a lack of playing experience that hurt him when he got to the NFL.  Never the most accurate quarterback in college, those issues multiplied at the NFL level where with the Jets he finished two seasons with more interceptions than touchdowns (2009 & 2012).  Mark’s only above average arm talent has also held him back with his inability to squeeze passes into tight openings for his receivers consistently or throw the deep pass with accuracy.

-Matt Barkley (University of Southern California: 2009-2012; 98th Overall Pick in 2013 Draft by Philadelphia Eagles)
Positives: At USC Matt Barkley had a stellar career with three straight seasons with a completion percentage over 62 percent and a minimum of 26 passing touchdowns.  He showed the pocket presence in college that is necessary at the NFL level; his ability to read defenses and be poised under pressure was evident.  With good arm strength, above average accuracy, and a high Football IQ, Matt Barkley looked ready made to be a solid NFL QB.
Negatives: Matt Barkley was drafted by a team (Philadelphia Eagles) who were not looking to develop him to be the Quarterback of the future; they selected him because his skill set was expected to work well within Head Coach Chip Kelly’s offense.  Barkley has looked inconsistent during preseason and regular season games.  At times he has shown he can execute a team’s offensive game plan with precision, other times he has looked flustered under heavy defensive pressure.  The reality is that unless Matt Barkley is on a team that believes they can develop him to be their future starter, he will never get the number of opportunities on the field he needs to grow into a successful QB in the NFL.

-Tim Tebow (University of Florida: 2006-2009; 25th Overall Pick in 2010 Draft by Denver Broncos)
Positives: While at Florida Tim Tebow had a career that places himself as one of the greatest college players of all time.  Aside from winning two national titles and a Heisman Trophy, Tim also threw 88 career passing touchdowns and ran for 57 career rushing touchdowns.  Tebow has a strong throwing arm that he displayed at both the college and pro levels when throwing the deep ball.  Also, he is a very good athlete and ultra-competitor willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
Negatives: Tim Tebow has two major issues as a Quarterback that he has yet to overcome.  The first is his inconsistency on short and intermediate passing plays.  Either he has trouble making the throw accurately or, takes too long to pull the trigger on the throw in a timely manner.  Secondly, Tim has never been truly coached to be a Quarterback in the style of the NFL’s game.  Tim was in a triple-option, run first offense at Florida in which he was not asked to read defenses or make quick decision throws.  In the NFL teams have tried to build washed down offensive game plans to work around his short comings.  Up to this point I have not seen any coaches instructing or working with Tebow on how to read defenses and work through the progression of different options during a called offensive play.

So with each of these Quarterbacks on the Eagles roster, there are reasons why they have not had major success at the NFL level and also reasons why they could be successful at the NFL level.  Whether it is injuries (Sam Bradford), inconsistent play (Mark Sanchez), not being put in a position to be successful (Matt Barkley) or lack of coaching and instruction (Tim Tebow), there is always an explanation for why a player’s career has gone as it has over time. 

Now no one could have predicted Bradford would sustain ankle and knee injuries in the NFL but the Rams could have put a better constructed offensive line in front of the rookie Quarterback in order to allow him more protection.

 We knew that Sanchez only played one full season as a starter in college, so it’s not an unrealistic stretch to think he probably needed time to develop before being “thrown to the wolves” in the NFL.  The Jets could have signed a veteran Quarterback to start at the beginning of Sanchez’s career, allowing Mark to learn how to be a pro and buy time for him to further develop his craft.

What if Matt Barkley would’ve been drafted by the Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, or Houston Texans instead of the Eagles?  He would’ve been drafted to teams that are influx at the starting Quarterback position with offensive minded Head Coaches who would look to develop Barkley, giving him ample opportunities to show what he can do at the NFL level.

Tim Tebow is a hardworking, ultra-competitive athlete who wants to help his team win.  Instead of building an offensive game plan to mask his below average throwing mechanics and underdeveloped cerebral Quarterback skills, coaches should have worked with him to improve those weak areas.  Tim has been stereotyped and quantified instead of developed and properly coached. 

In summary, an individual with enough football knowledge watching a Quarterback in college can make honest assessments about a player’s strengths and weakness along with how those positives and negatives would translate against higher level competition.  Too many times teams and coaching staffs attempt to force a player to fit their system instead of giving that player the tools needed to be successful.  Quarterbacks need receivers to throw to, an offensive line to block for him, and coaches who will develop a game plan to help him to fully utilize his skills while improving his weak areas. 

Often in the NFL Quarterbacks are burdened with “saving” or “resurrecting” a franchises, the hopes and dreams of a team and fan base are put on that players shoulders.  Instead of building a team that can execute the coach’s winning formula, too much is invested in one player.  That one player needs others around him to be able to execute on each play in order for the Quarterback to have the chance to move the offense in a positive direction in order to score.

Look at all the great Hall of Fame Quarterbacks:
-Bart Starr played for one of the greatest coaches of all-time (Vince Lombardi) and on one of the most talented teams in NFL history (1960’s Green Bay Packers).
-Terry Bradshaw had the luxury of throwing the ball to two future Hall of Fame Wide Receivers (Lynn Swann and John Stallworth) and was coached by a Hall of Fame Head Coach (Chuck Noll).
-Joe Montana was drafted and coached by one of the greatest offensive minds in NFL history (Bill Walsh) who built a team for Montana to win with (1980’s San Francisco 49ers).
-John Elway lost numerous Super Bowls before he had a 2,000 yard rusher at Running Back (Terrell Davis) and a future Hall of Famer at Tight End (Shannon Sharpe); only then did he win two titles with the Denver Broncos

Of those four QBs I listed above, Elway had the most pure talent, Bradshaw had the best deep throw ability, Montana had the highest football IQ, and Starr was an ultra-competitive leader.  Yet none of those superlatives meant nothing without being in the right situation to allow them to be successful.  Whether the Eagles start Bradford, Sanchez, Barkley or Tebow this season there is a constant variable: it is up to the coaches to put them in a position to be successful in order for those players to overcome their weakness and best utilize their strengths.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ronda Rousey: Making Sense Of An Enigma

UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey will be facing Former WBF Boxing Champion Holly Holm, January 2, 2016, at UFC 195 in Las Vegas.  This announcement comes as a surprise since UFC President Dana White had stated weeks ago that Rousey’s next opponent would be former Strikeforce Women’s Champion Miesha Tate.  Tate, who is on a four fight winning streak, has faced Rousey twice before and is the only woman to take a fight last beyond the first round (UFC 168) versus Ronda.

Rousey will be defending her title for the eighth time at UFC 195 and she had dominated her competition over that time.  With a career record of 12 wins and 0 losses, many claim Ronda Rousey is the greatest Women’s MMA fighter on the planet.  This claim is disputed though, by Christine “Cyborg” Santos-Justino, the current Invicta FC Women’s Featherweight Champion.  “Cyborg” has not lost a fight since 2005 and has talked publicly about fighting Rousey in the UFC.  Since UFC parent company, Zuffa, also owns Invicta FC, there is nothing legally or contractually holding this match up from happening.

What is holding the fight back is the lack of agreement on the when and how to make the matchup happen.  “Cyborg” has fought at 145 lbs for most of her career and UFC President Dana White has said that she needs to cut down to 135 lbs to fight Rousey.  This issue has put the potential women’s “Superfight” on the back burner. It doesn’t help that Rousey has no willingness to make an attempt at compromise, saying the fight “should” happen at 135lbs.

While Rousey is a great fighter, the “Dog and Pony Show” from her and the UFC is getting old.  Almost every opponent for Rousey is billed as “the most dangerous opponent yet” and Rousey typically talks about how hard she is preparing for the fight knowing how she must be ready for anything.  Then fight night comes along and she dominates, walking away with her title again and again.  This is by no means a disparagement of her opponents, who all are talented in their own right.  Top tier MMA fighters such as Cat Zingano, Miesha Tate, Liz Carmouche, and Sara McMann all presented unique challenges for Rousey, but no one has yet to figure out the enigma that is Rousey in the octagon.

While it is true Holly Holm is a dangerous fighter, what makes her such an underdog against Rousey is the same as most of Rousey’s opponents over the years: Rousey is a former Olympic Silver Medalist, Holm is not.  Yes, Holly Holm has won six different boxing championships during her pro career as a fighter, but she has never faced a fighter of Rousey’s pedigree.  The truth is, very few women’s MMA fighters ever have seen anyone like Rousey until now.

What makes Rousey great isn’t her undefeated record; instead it is how she got to this point and what sustains her.  She is not motivated like most athletes, because most athletes could never compete in the Olympics.  In order to be an Olympic athlete, that individual must work their way up the ladder of competition for years, preparing for the chance to be able to go to Olympic Trials.  At the Olympic Trials the athlete must compete for the chance to represent their country at an elite competition that is hosted every four years.  Once chosen, that athlete then goes to the Olympics and has to compete against the best every nation has to offer, all who have spent many years preparing themselves for that moment.  In that moment, all those years of preparation can either prepare that athlete for victory, or compromise them, leading to defeat.

Rousey won the Bronze Medal in Judo at the 2008 Olympics. Judo is a Martial Art discipline that is equally a demonstration of mental chess match as executing physical technique. Most of the women who comprise the professional MMA landscape have Wrestling, Boxing, Muay Thai or Kickboxing as their fight game foundation.  These four fighting disciplines test mental toughness while requiring physical endurance and fluid execution of technique.  Fighters with years practicing these disciplines faced issues decades ago when Royce Gracie won 11 straight fights utilizing a Martial Art discipline similar to Judo: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  Like Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is as much of a mental competition because both involve the manipulation of the opponents’ momentum, joints, and offensive mentality.  Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are counter-offensive disciplines based in strategic defense.  When you have a fighter who has been trained for years to take advantage of opponent’s aggression and weaknesses, that fighter has a built in advantage in competition against fighters are not trained with the same mentality.

Like Ronda Rousey, Royce Gracie seemed invincible early on, even when he was in trouble in a fight, he would find a way to walk away with a victory.  But will history view Rousey as they do Royce Gracie twenty-two years later, as a legendary pioneer yet as a fighter who was outpaced by competition that evolved their game plans?  The greatest difference between Ronda and Royce is that she has worked tirelessly to improve the weak areas in her fight game instead of being overly dependent on her strengths. Rousey on many occasions said her goal is to finish her career undefeated, whether that happens or not only time will reveal.

Is Holly Holm the most dangerous opponent Rousey has ever faced?  The argument can be made since Holm has competed as a professional fighter for 10-plus years and has won multiple titles.  This championship fight at UFC 195 is the classic “Striker versus Grappler” matchup, but both fighters are working with coaches who are skilled at the all-around Mixed Martial Arts game plan.  The fighter who comes into the matchup most prepared to handle their opponent’s strengths and can execute properly, that fighter will walk away with the UFC belt.  Rousey’s “legend” only grows with each win, but it is her background as an Olympic Judo fighter that has laid the foundation for her excellence in the UFC Octagon.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Top 12 Players NOT in the Baseball Hall Of Fame

Both Chase Utley and David Ortiz have been in the news over the last few days, for different reasons; but what both men have in common is that they are considered “potential Hall of Famers”.  This connotation gets thrown around more often the actual baseball on the field. Who should or shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame is a debate that fans, baseball writers, players and former player spend hours talking about 365 days a year!

So I decided to make my list of my top baseball players NOT in the Baseball Hall of Fame. 
In order to make my list, these players have to meet certain criteria:
-During their era, they were considered one of the best.
-Their statistics rival those in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
-Baseball Historians cannot tell the history of the game without them.

Now we also need to lay some ground rules:
-Player must have retired after 2008. As a result this list excludes  Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Jeff Kent, Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Andy Pettitte, and Lance Berkman to name a few.

-This list does not include any players implicated of using steroids (examples include Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, Manny Ramirez); I will be making another list of players who have used steroids and others “banned by Major League Baseball” who I think should be in the Hall of Fame.

-This list does not factor in a player’s impact on a franchise or where they individually rank in that franchise history of great players.  Instead I factor in the players impact on Major League Baseball overall and how great they were during their playing career.  I also do not include players who were great for a few years.  As a result of these exclusions I did not include players such as Don Mattingly, Fred Lynn, Ron Guidry, Jim Fregosi, Curt Flood, Deion Sanders, and JR Richards.

So here is my list, the top 12 Baseball players not in the Hall of Fame:

1. Curt Schilling (1988-2007: Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox)
Statistical Highlights: 3,116 career strikeouts, 3,261 Innings Pitched, 11 Postseason wins.
Career Highlights: 8 seasons with at least 15 wins; 6-time All Star Selection; led league in complete games 4 times; 2001 World Series MVP; Career Postseason 2.23 ERA.
Reasoning: Curt Schilling is one of the top ten postseason pitchers in baseball history and one of the top ten strikeout pitchers of the last 25 years.  He had eight consecutive seasons (1996-2003) in which he threw a shutout each season as well as five different seasons he tallied a minimum 200 strikeouts.  He also led the league in complete games four different seasons and won a minimum of 50 games with three different franchises (Phillies, Diamondbacks, Red Sox).  And there’s the postseason stats: 11 wins in 19 starts, 2.23 ERA, 120 strikeouts over 133 innings pitched, along with two shutouts.

2. Jack Morris (1977-1994: Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians)
Statistical Highlights: 254 career wins, 3,824 Innings Pitched, 175 Complete Games
Career Highlights: Twelve seasons with at least 15 wins; 5-time All-star selection; Won 3 World Series titles as front of the rotation starting pitcher; 1991 World Series MVP
Reasoning: During his 18 year career, for twelve of those seasons he was considered one of the top starting pitchers in all of baseball.  While he never won a Cy Young award, Morris was a workhorse who would step up in big situations for his teams, especially in the postseason.  His career ERA (3.90) is actually higher than his postseason ERA (3.80); but it is those same statistics that have many voters keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.  Morris was one of the last pitchers who would stay on the mound for seven plus innings.  If he would have pitched in 2015 he would have a lower career ERA because he would not have been out there as many innings which would leave him less likely to be scored on in the later innings.  Morris should be judge on who he was in comparison to other pitchers during his playing career, not those who pitched decades before or after him.

3. Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005: Houston Astros)
Statistical Highlights: 449 Career Home Runs; 1,529 Career RBIs; Career .297 Batting Average.
Career Highlights: 10 seasons with at least 25 Home Runs; 4-time All Star selection; 1991 NL Rookie of the Year; 1994 NL MVP Award; 14 seasons with at least 80 RBIs .
Reasoning: During the “Steroid Era” in baseball, Bagwell was one of the overlooked power hitters who also hit for average.  The infamy of being the MVP of the 1994 strike shortened season aside, for an 11 year period Bagwell was one of baseball’s most feared hitters.  He had a minimum batting average of .300 during six of those seasons and had a minimum 100 RBIs during eight of those prime years.  Furthermore, Bagwell was also a guy who got on base and scored runs, leading the NL in runs scored three times (1994, 1999, and 2000).  The only explanation I have read or heard why Bagwell is not in the Hall of Fame is that some voters question if he used Performance Enhancing Drugs or not in his career. The fact that people do not vote for a player just because they suspect him without any proof is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

4. Edgar Martinez (1987-2004: Seattle Mariners)
Statistical Highlights: Career .312 Batting Average; 309 Career Home Runs; Career .418 On-base percentage.
Career Highlights: 8 seasons with at least 80 RBIs; 7-time All Star selection; 11 seasons with at least 140 base hits; Won AL Batting Title twice (1992, 1995).
Reasoning: Considered by many to be the great Designated Hitter in baseball history, it is because of Martinez’s lack of playing time in the field that has hindered many voters from putting him of their ballots each year.  The facts should not be ignored: aside from his impressive career statistics. For a seven year period Martinez was one of the top hitters in the American League (1995-2001).  In an era of gaudy power numbers, Martinez was a stalwart of consistency. A two time AL batting champion (1992, 1995), Edgar Martinez also lead the league in On base Percentage three times (1995, 1998, and 1999). He also had a minimum of 100 RBIs six times in his career.  Edgar Martinez is the ultimate definition of a “Professional Hitter”. He revolutionized how baseball executives and fans viewed the Designated Hitter, going from being a cover up for pitchers hitting to being a prime hitter position in the lineup.  

5. Mike Piazza (1992-2007: Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Oakland A’s)
Statistical Highlights: 427 Career Home Runs; Career .308 Batting Average; Career .545 Slugging Percentage.
Career Highlights: 10 seasons with at least 80 RBIs; 12-time All Star Selection; 9 seasons with at least 25 Home Runs; 8 seasons with at least 140 base hits.
Reasoning: Arguable the best all-around hitting catcher in baseball history, Piazza was a force in the National League for a 10 year period (1993-2002).  During that time he had six seasons with 100 plus RBIs, nine seasons with 30 plus home runs, and had a .300 or better batting average nine times.  Also for his career he hit 175 home runs and 560 RBIs with two different franchises (Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets).  Why is he not in the Hall of Fame already?  Just like Jeff Bagwell, there is “suspicion” of PED usage, but no evidence. 

6. Larry Walker (1989-2005: Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals)
Statistical Highlights: 383 Career Home Runs; Career .313 Batting Average; Career .565 Slugging Percentage.
Career Highlights: 9 seasons with at least 80 RBIs; 5-time All Star Selection; 1997 NL MVP; Won 3 NL Batting Titles (1998, 1999, 2001); 8 seasons with at least 140 base hits; 7-time Gold Glove Award recipient .
Reasoning: Larry Walker is one of the most talented and athletic ball players of the last 30 years.  Walker was a great all-around player who put together five seasons in which he hit at least 25 Home Runs, 100 Runs Batted In, and a .300 batting average.  More than a great hitter, Walker was a great fielder and base runner; before age and injuries caught up to him, he compiled five seasons in which he had at least 15 stolen bases and 30 doubles.  Considered one of the most feared left-handed hitters of his era, Walker did not need the altitude of Coors Field in Denver, Colorado to be a great hitter. This is the major reason why many do not vote for him, thinking his statistics were “inflated”.  Any honest person who watched Walker play knows he did not need any help to have a great plate discipline and be a great baseball talent.

7. Dale Murphy (1976-1993: Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies)
Statistical Highlights: 398 Career Home Runs; Intentional Base on Balls 159 times.
Career Highlights: 10 seasons with at least 80 RBIs; 6-time All Star Selection; 1982 & 1983 NL MVP; 7 seasons with at least 25 Home Runs; 5-Time Golden Glove Award recipient .
Reasoning: During the 1980’s Dale Murphy was one of the best all-around players in all of baseball.  Aside from winning two MVP awards and five Gold Glove awards, from 1980 through 1990 he was a force to be reckoned with.  During that stretch he averaged 34 home runs, 92 RBIs, and led the league in those categories two different seasons.  During the 1980’s Murphy led the National League in in games played, at bats, runs scored, base hits, extra base hits, Runs Batted In, runs created, total bases, and plate appearances.  Statistically, he is one of the best players in the history of baseball not in the Hall of Fame.

8. Mike Mussina (1991-2008: Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees)
Statistical Highlights: 270 Career Wins; 3,562 Career Innings Pitched; 2,813 Career Strikeouts
Career Highlights: Eleven seasons with at least 15 wins; 5-time All Star selection; Eleven seasons with at least 200 innings pitched; 7-time Golden Glove Award recipient
Reasoning: Mike Mussina is one of the most undervalued, overlooked pitchers of the last 30 years and yet he was one of the most consistent pitchers for a career that spanned two decades.  Mussina’s first full season as a starting pitcher (1992) was almost the same statistically as his final season (2008): both seasons he pitched over 200 innings, had at least 18 wins, and finished in the top ten in ERA in the American League.  Mussina was one of the top fielding pitchers during his playing career and won over 120 games for two different franchises (Orioles and Yankees).  While he was never the most feared or dominant pitcher, he was the model of consistency and there are plenty of guys in the Hall of Fame with similar careers.

9. Harold Baines (1980-2001: Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians)
Statistical Highlights: 2,866 career base hits; 384 career Home Runs; 1,628 Career RBIs.
Career Highlights: 10 seasons with at least 80 RBIs; 6 time All Star selection; 10 seasons with at least 140 base hits.
Reasoning: As a sports geek, Harold Baines is one of those answers to sports trivia answers I always can lean back on.  In order to play in the major leagues for 22 years, you have to have the talent to be allowed to play for so long a time.  A career that touched three decades, Baines was an All Star during his 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Thanks to the Designated Hitter position, Baines talents were allowed to be used for many years past his prime athletic years.  Baines hit at least 25 Home Runs and 100 RBIs in the same season at ages 25 and 40. Also he had minimum batting average of .300 eight times in his long career.  Coming up short of the 3,000 Hits Club by 134 base hits is nothing to sneeze at and Baines is ranked in top 45 in baseball history in the career hits category.

10. Albert Belle (1989-2000: Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles)
Statistical Highlights: 381 Career Home Runs; Career .295 Batting Average; Career .564 Slugging Percentage.
Career Highlights: 10 seasons with at least 80 RBIs; 5-time All Star selection; 9 seasons with at least 140 base hits; 9 seasons with at least 25 Home Runs.
Reasoning: While Belle’s career is the shortest of all the players on this list, he had a major impact when he did play.  One of the top hitters in the American League during the 1990’s, he led the league in Runs Batted In three times (1993, 1995, 1996) and drove in a minimum of 100 RBIs nine straight seasons (1992-2000).  Belle also finished his career with one of the highest slugging percentages in baseball history (.564, ranked 14th all time) and when he led the AL in slugging percentage (1995, 1998) he also had a batting average over .315 both seasons.  Belle was one of the top hitters of the 1990’s but is overlooked by many because he retired in his early 30’s; no one knows what numbers he would have accumulated if he had played another few years.

11. Kevin Brown (1986-2005: Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, new York Yankees)
Statistical Highlights: 211 Career Wins; 3.28 Career ERA; 3,256 Career Innings Pitched.
Career Highlights: 6-time All Star Selection, 6 seasons with at least 15 wins, 6 seasons with an ERA less than 3.00, and 9 seasons with at least 200 innings pitched.
Reasoning: Kevin Brown is one of the few pitchers in baseball history who had his best years after the age of 29.  From the age 30 through 38 Brown was one of the most dynamic pitchers in baseball and led the National League twice in ERA (1996, 2000).  During his 20’s, Brown was known as a pitcher with a lot of talent but lacked the consistency to put great seasons back to back.  From 1996 to 2003 Brown dominated the National League while pitching for three different teams (Marlins, Dodgers, and Padres) with consecutive seasons and with at least 200 strikeouts, and 6 straight seasons with an ERA 3.00 or less.  Brown probably will not make it to the Hall of Fame due to the sporadic nature of his career, but any hitter who had to face him can attest to how difficult he was to face and how talented he was.

12. Tim Raines (1979-2002: Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins)
Statistical Highlights: 808 Stolen Bases; 2,605 Career Hits; 1,571 Runs Scored.
Career Highlights: 10 seasons with at least 140 base hits; 7-time All Star Selection; 8 seasons with at least 50 stolen bases.
Reasoning: During the 1980’s and early 1990’s Rickey Henderson was the dominant leadoff hitter in baseball.  Tim Raines is overlooked because he was the 2nd best leadoff hitter. From 1981 through 1992 he stole a minimum of 40 bases 11 times and 9 times had at least 140 base hits.  Also Raines scored a minimum of 100 runs six times.  As age caught up to Raines in the 1990’s he became a more disciplined hitter, having at least a .290 batting average four times while reaching base on balls an average of 50 times per season.

Honorable Mentions:  Fred McGriff, Joe Carter, Gil Hodges, Orel Hershiser, David Cone, Andreas Galarraga, and Dennis Martinez

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Contrasting Football Philosophy on Quarterbacks: Rex Ryan vs. Andy Reid

In football there are some generic, objective truths like you need to score more points than the other team in order to win games, and turnovers are a negative on the team’s potential to win.  The wildest debates though, surround the subjective elements of the game, namely the reasoning behind different coaching philosophy.  The overwhelming reality is that any particular offensive or defensive scheme is not better than another. It is the execution by the team of the plays the coaches draw up that determine whether that strategy will actually work.  Some of the best football minds have never won a Super Bowl Championship as Head Coaches (Marv Levy, Bud Grant, Mike Martz) so Football intellect or philosophy does not equal championships.

For the sake of this discussion, I choose two head coaches who have had some playoff success, but never won a Super Bowl.  This way there is no ambiguity about who has the “best perspective”.  This discussion, again, is factoring in subjective viewpoints of a game that is dependent on eleven guys on a singular play executing their roles in order to gain any positive yards per snap of the football.  If the players cannot execute the game plan, it doesn’t matter how “smart” a coach may be.  Also, having a high Football IQ does not equal great communication skills; some coaches are great analysts on TV but they cannot translate that into sustained coaching success on the field.

Let’s first profile out two head coaches.

-Rex Ryan is a defensive minded Head Coach with a background as Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator before being hired to be New York Jets Head Coach.  While in New York, he captained the ship of teams that went to two AFC Championship games, twice was 30 minutes away from a trip to the Super Bowl.   Now the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, Ryan has shown the ability to be a great defensive talent evaluator and has overseen teams with some of the top 15 Overall Defense and Running Offenses over his tenure as Head Coach.

-Andy Reid is an offensive minded Head Coach with a background as a former collegiate offensive lineman and Green Bay Packers Quarterbacks Coach before being hired by the Philadelphia Eagles to be Head Coach.  As Eagles Head Coach he oversaw his teams reach five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance.  Now the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Reid has shown the ability to maximize the abilities of his Quarterbacks and utilize multi-dimensional running backs to orchestrate his offenses.

We start with Rex Ryan’s QB philosophy because of how much his Bills’ starting Quarterback position battle has been publicized.  Over the years, Ryan has shown deference towards having a mobile Quarterback starting for his team.  His reasoning is twofold:

1. Ryan claims it is more difficult from a defensive coordinator’s perspective to prepare for a mobile Quarterback who has designed running and scrambling plays than for a QB who is less mobile and a stationary passer.  Ryan, a former Defensive Coordinator, has said numerous times he hated game planning for running Quarterbacks and that the unpredictability drove him “nuts” during the week leading up to the game.

2. Ryan also believes mobile Quarterbacks combined with an above average running attack puts the opposing defense in a precarious position because they over plan for the running game, leaving holes open for the passing offense.

Rex Ryan has already announced that Tyrod Taylor will get the start at Quarterback for the Bills’ next preseason game.  Taylor, a mobile QB with a solid throwing arm, is being giving the opportunity to take the starting job if he performs well over next couple preseason games.

Now let’s review Andy Reid’s QB philosophy.  Reid in his time as Head Coach in the NFL has only had one preseason in which he had players competing for the starting Quarterback position.  His starting QB in Kansas City is Alex Smith.  Reid’s philosophy is as follows:

1. Reid runs what is known as the “West Coast Offense”, original modern design from NFL Hall of Famer Bill Walsh. Reid’s version is using the passing attack to set up opportunities for his multi-dimensional running back.  He leans heavily on his Quarterback to read the opposing defense to find the open receiver; unlike other offenses that typically have a “Go-To” receiver on each play. His offense is designed with multiple safety valves for the Quarterback to throw to if his Wide Receivers are not immediately open.

2. Reid wants his Quarterbacks to operate from the pocket; if the QB does scramble Reid wants it to be for positive yards instead of scrambling around aimlessly.  In the past, Reid has preferred mobile Quarterbacks as his starters, but he wants to them operate from the traditional “pocket” behind the offensive line and only run as a last resort.  Also, the QB staying in behind the offensive line gives the running back a chance to slip out from behind the line of scrimmage and become a second safety valve for the quarterback in case no other receivers are open.  The longer the Quarterback stays set looking to pass, the more time the called play has to materialize.

Of Reid’s starting Quarterbacks in Philadelphia and Kansas City, five have been mobile (Donovan McNabb, Mike McMahon, Jeff Garcia, Michael Vick, and Alex Smith) so history shows Reid is not against having a mobile quarterback.  But instead of the QB functioning as an offensive weapon, Reid wants his starting Quarterback to be the Captain of the offense and orchestrate the plays as they are called on each down.

Two coaches with different backgrounds and philosophies that utilize the same type of Quarterbacks, both have made playoff runs, both have been fired from their previous jobs, both have changed the culture of the organization at both coaching stops.  So is one of them better than the other? No because both have flaws in their way of thinking, both have been inflexible and adversarial to changing their ways.

The reality is that while Ryan’s offensive philosophy makes a lot of Football sense, he lacks the discernment when judging offensive talent to properly construct the roster needed to execute that type of game plan on a consistent basis.   He also lacks the foresight to realize that certain players may not fit within a certain system or game plan.  Instead he tries to “fit square pegs into round holes” to use an old saying.

The biggest problem with Reid is that he is so committed to his offensive system, that even when he has a very talented running back, he still will pass the ball in situations when running the ball would have better odds of success.  Also, Reid is infamous for his overvaluing players with average or above average skills.  During his time in Philadelphia, he was always drafting and signing players who were specialists but lacked other skills to make them well rounded contributors to the team as a whole.  Or he would draft or sign free agents with above average all-around skills but lacked any special skills that allows the player an edge over opponents.

Lastly, both coaches are below average talent evaluators for players who play positions that are not the coach’s forte.  Reid has a history of passing over more talented players on draft day for those with specialized skill sets on defense; over time almost all of those picks came back to hurt the Eagles roster depth.  Meanwhile Ryan’s eye for offensive talent leaves something to be desired with the game plans his Jets put in place in comparison to those players drafted leaving many people questioning his long term goals.

In the long run, having a mobile Quarterback is not a “good” or “bad” idea; what is problematic is if that player is not utilized properly according to his skill set.  Rex Ryan wanted Tim Tebow to run the Wildcat Offense on random downs when Tebow excelled as a Triple-Threat Option Offense QB.  Andy Reid wanted Michael Vick to use the Passing Game to set up the running attack in Philadelphia when previously Vick had not been successful at reading defenses quickly. 

Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden once stated “Great coaches build the system around their players; average coaches force players into their system.”  Reid and Ryan have garnered success in the NFL, but their stubbornness over the years has led to them to being fired from their previous jobs.  The mobile Quarterback is a great weapon in the NFL and has a history of winning Super Bowl titles (see Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Steve Young, and Roger Staubach as examples). But it still takes having the right talent around that QB, execution of the game plan, and the system in place bringing out the best in the leader of the offense in order to win in the NFL.  So whatever your offensive philosophical preferences, there are many more variables involved to having successful in the NFL than just if your Quarterback likes to run then throw or stay stationary then fire away.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Rise of the Toronto Blue Jays

Twenty-two years ago the Toronto Blue Jays were coming off a dramatic World Series victory thanks to a walk off home run by Outfielder Joe Carter.  This team was the talk of baseball, a balanced unit of veterans and young stars hitting their prime.  Winning back to back World Series titles was causing some people to talk about a potential dynasty in the making.  But then, the 1994 Baseball Strike took out those hopes and put the franchise into a tailspin that has lasted over two decades without any playoff baseball in Toronto.

The Toronto Blue Jays is a franchise that has seen many talented players wear their uniform since that 1993 season. Cy Young Award winners such as Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens, and Roy Halladay; also all-star sluggers Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Bautista to name a few.  Yet they have not found a winning formula to get them back to the postseason until 2015. 

As of August 15th, the Blue Jays are a half game back of the division lead in the American League East and have the third best record in the AL. The opportunity of making it to the postseason is very promising.  The team roster has been going through an evolution for a few years, with the additions of Pitcher Mark Buehrle and Third baseman Josh Donaldson through trades, along with signing Catcher Russell Martin via free agency.  The Blue Jays did not stop there as they acquired all stars before the trade deadline, Pitcher David Price from Detroit and Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from Colorado, signaling to the rest of the league that they are serious about their push towards sealing their spot in the 2015 playoffs.

A lot has changed in the Baseball landscape since the Blue Jays last playoff appearance in 1993:

-Six teams won World Series Championships after two plus decades droughts (Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Philadelphia Phillies)

-Two expansion franchises won a World Series in their first appearance on the big stage (1997 – Florida Marlins and 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks)

-Single season record for home runs was broken twice (1998 - Mark McGwire 70, Sammy Sosa 66; 2001 – Barry Bonds 73)

-Ten new members of the 3,000 Hits Club (Derek Jeter, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr, Tony Gwynn, Craig Biggio, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Wade Boggs, Alex Rodriguez)

-Six new members of 3,000 career Strikeouts Club (Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz)

-Back in 1993 there was no interleague play; in 2015 there is interleague games almost every day of the season

The journey back to the postseason has been a long one for the Blue Jays who have fielded teams with promise but they always seemed to be lacking something.  In years since 1993 the Blue Jays have had Cy Young Award winners (Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, and Roy Halladay), Rookie of the Year award winner (Erik Hinske), and players with 40 plus Home Run seasons (Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Bautista).  But not until this year has all the piece been able to match up in order for them to make a playoff run.

The Toronto Blue Jays making the postseason is also good for baseball being the only team in Canada after the Expos left Montreal over a decade ago.  Toronto is a major media market with a fan base in desperate need of a winning ball club.  The home of the NHL’s Maple Leafs and NBA’s Raptors, Toronto has not seen much success in reaching the playoffs from their teams.  The Raptors have never reached the NBA Championship Finals and the Maple Leafs have not won the NHL coveted championship, the Stanley Cup, since 1967.

Many people forget that the Blue Jays have launched the careers of many talented ball players over the years, All-Star Hitters such as Tony Fernadez, Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Vernon Wells, John Olerud, and George Bell.  Also don’t forget about All-Star pitchers such as Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Pat Hentgen, and Roy Halladay getting their careers started in the Toronto Blue Jays Blue and White uniforms. 

Toronto has a long standing baseball history and it is exciting to see them on the path back to the postseason.  I say good for the franchise, good for their fans, and getting playoff baseball back in one of North America’s top TV Markets is also not a bad deal for Major League Baseball.  It’s an all-around win-win!

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Truth About Health & Fitness: What "Experts" are not telling you

“Fat Loss”
“Tone Up”
“Loose Weight”
“Be Stronger”
“Be more Fit”

These are terms personal trainers hear at the gym daily.  Most people do not join the gym because they are already in shape, they join because they have a desired goal and have not been able to accomplish it on their own.  Furthermore, many of these new folks at the gym lack the working knowledge on what certain equipment is used for, how to reach their goals, how long it will take, and the relationship between nutrition and exercise.

I am not saying this to be demeaning, I am saying this because this is what I work with every day. People come to the gym who do not know what to do, and I am here to help them along the way.  The truth is that what most people think and believe is true about health and fitness is actually based on false advertising.  This is especially true about how fat and muscle relate to each other.  People see a number on a scale and have a built in reaction, without a full understanding of what that really means in terms of their health and fitness.

So many people come to the gym wanting to “tone up” and “lose weight” go to a group cardio exercise class or jump on the cardio equipment for long periods of time followed by exercises with equipment that targets their “trouble areas”.  Then after a couple weeks they step on the scale and find out not much has changed.  Sound familiar?

Here are a few things you or someone you may know is missing out on when it comes to attaining your health and fitness goals:

-The weight scale is a farce
The truth about the scale is that it is basically a measurement of how much gravity is pulling on your frame.  I have seen numerous times two people who weigh the same on the scale with very different physiologies.  What is forgotten is that Muscle weighs more than Fat on the human frame; skeletal muscle is denser than fat stores.  Muscle is the reason for that “toned” and “shredded” look so many people strive for in today’s world, so in order to look like that one has to forget about the scale and focus more on their Body Fat Percentage number.  This measure estimates the amount of your body that is just fat, while the rest of the body is comprised of muscles, organs, skeletal bones, and water retained.

 Using the scale as a measuring stick of your fitness progress is misguided and has led to many people quitting while they are making progress, so stay away from the scale as much as possible. 

-Cardio is not the key to fat loss
Cardio is a short for Cardiovascular Exercise.  Cardio exercise initializes a caloric burn in the body when done for a long enough period of time or a high enough intensity to spike heart rate.  The dark secret about cardio is that sustained cardio will also burn off muscle from the body; this happens because those muscles are not being maintained through exercise or physical activity so as a result, the body harvests energy and nutrients from wherever it has been programmed to think is not in need of nutrients or use.  That phrase “you lose it if you don’t use it” is very true for your health. 

The reality that is unknown to many people who are at the gym is that anyone can garner the same caloric burn from lifting weights as does cardio if done at the proper intensity.  This way a person can reprogram their body to not burn off muscle while instead using fat storage for the burn off.  Performing functional strength exercises will do two things biologically that improve your health better than cardio exercise: 
1. Prolonging the protein synthesis process, which causes the body to better utilize nutrients and slow down the process of fat storage; 
2. With strength training, the building and maintenance of muscle will burn more calories at rest, which increases the metabolic rate and works to reduce fat retention.

-Nutrition is more important than exercise
It does not matter how many hours you spend at the gym each day or how sweaty you are when you leave; if you do not put the right types of foods in your body each day than you are just fighting an uphill battle.  The human body is a complex machine of numerous biological processes that depends on the intake of Macro (Fats, carbohydrates, Protein) and Micro (Vitamins, Minerals, Amino Acids) Nutrients in order to function properly.  When we go hard at the gym and then do not put the proper nutrients in the body, these biological processes do not operate optimally and problems occur such as injuries, cramping, headaches and sometimes more severe side effects.

What you put in your body is almost more important to your health and fitness than what you do with your body on a daily basis.  Without the proper balance of Protein, Carbs and Fats then all those hours at the gym is just another activity in your day.  Your body needs a certain amount of fats for hormonal and organ function, a certain amount of carbohydrates for glycogen production that is used for energy in the body, and a certain amount of protein for the maintenance of skeletal muscle as well as organ function.

-You need to speak with a Health and Fitness professional
This may be the most controversial point I make on this list. Every day in the gym I see people using bad form with exercises, ask me questions that have origins in misinformation, and too many people doing the same exercises every day with no variety.  No one has it all figured out, we all have things to learn in life. If your health and fitness are important to you then the same applies for those areas also.  Most certified personal trainers and certified nutritionists are people who want to help others and will not be condescending or judgmental towards those who come looking for help.  Even if you work with a trainer or nutritionist for a few months, it is still time well spent learning how to correctly do different exercises, learn how to eat according to your body’s needs, and build good fitness habits so you can live a better life.

Also, do not be fooled by so proclaimed “Fitness Experts”, check the credentials of everyone giving you advice and find out from them the source of their knowledge and information they attempt to give you.  Too many of these self-proclaimed Experts do not have the time spent in the classroom, gym, and kitchen to support many of the claims they make; instead these people propagate information based on subjective knowledge or based on marketing a specific program or product they insist that you buy because their way is the “only way” to get “results.

Do not let any excuses, whether ego or fiscal, stand in your way of getting the help you need to better your life.  Health and Fitness is something all of us should invest our time in, improving our physical, mental and emotional well-being.   Today is the day to take the step away from the fads and misinformation of yesterday, take the steps forward to change your lifestyle and create new habits that will sustain you for the rest of your life.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Steve Smith: One of the last of his kind

This week, Baltimore Ravens Wide Receiver Steve Smith Sr. announced that 2015 will be his last year playing in the NFL and he would retire at season’s end.  Smith’s announcement is more than just another talented player saying his career is ending, he is one of the last of his breed of Wide Receivers.  While many of today’s big name route runners are known best for their speed, hands, or after catch talents, Smith is more than just another talented receiver: he is a competitor.

The truth is that many of today’s “Diva Stars” who play as an NFL Wide Receiver get by on talent and hard work but lack the competitive edge of men like Steve Smith.  Thirty years ago the star skill position on offense was Running Back.  Hall of Famers such as Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Walter Payton dominated on the NFL gridiron.  Meanwhile the next group of superstars were making themselves known to college coaches, Guys such as Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Emmitt Smith and Jerome Bettis.  But the 1990s brought us a new breed of Wide Receiver; guys with talent whose competitive edge made them elite players.  Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Andre Reed, and Isaac Bruce did more than just put of big numbers, they earned that respect by the way they prepared for each game and competed each week.

Steve Smith Sr. worked his way from Santa Monica College to transfer to Division 1 University of Utah then later impressed NFL scouts leading up to the 2001 NFL Draft.  One NFL scout described Smith in 2001 as “just another short, speedster who is too small to play Running Back”; but this was just the tip of the iceberg of who Smith is.  What made Smith into a 5-time Pro Bowler who eight times in his 13 year career totaled a minimum of 1,000 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns is his competitive spirit.  This is a player who doesn’t play football for the fame and money but plays because he thrives off proving the doubters wrong. He fights for every yard and gives his all to his teammates.  There’s a good reason why former teammate Carolina Panthers Defensive End Charles Johnson said, “He is one of the most competitive people I have ever been around.”

This competitive spirit and relentless work ethic is what sets Smith apart from many of his younger contemporaries.  So many of today’s “superstar” NFL Wide Receivers lack the competitive drive of players of yesteryear.  Many of today’s players think they are stars and want to be treated as such; these guys know they are talented and are unabashed in talking about how special they are.  Many of today’s NFL Wide Receivers saw and read parts of Keyshawn Johnson’s book “Just Give Me The Damn Ball” thinking or believing that, “I can be as good as Keyshawn. That’s right, give me the ball!” without knowing how hard Johnson worked making a name for himself in college and the NFL.

Similar to Pros such as Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith Sr. knows that having talent is not enough to be successful in the NFL.  While Smith was not a “model citizen” in his early years, with age came maturity and he learned how to channel his passion into success on the football field.   Young athletes need to stop looking up to the flamboyant “superstars” who get by on talent and attitude for their success.  Smith is a throwback whose work ethic on and off the field made him into the player he is today.  Entering 2015 Smith is ranked top 20 All-Time in Receiving Yards (13,262), Receptions (915), and All-Purpose Yards (17,679).  On top of that, he is ten receiving touchdowns away from ending his career in the top 20 ranked in that statistical category as well.

For me, I will be sure to enjoy Smith’s final season, just like I did Ray Lewis’ final run, because players with Smith’s competitive nature and love of the game of football are uncommon in today’s world of the “Superstar” Pro Athlete.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Geno Smith's Injury May Best for New York Jets

On Tuesday, New York Jets Quarterback Geno Smith got into an altercation in the locker room and suffered a broken jaw at the hands of now released IK Enemkpali.  Whatever the reasoning was behind the altercation, many Jets fans are panicking, to which I say, why?  Yes this is the third draft pick from 2013 to miss time this season (along with Defensive Lineman Sheldon Richardson and Cornerback Dee Milliner) but this is by no means a “loss” for the Jets franchise.  Note I used the term “franchise” and not “team”; I did that because this may be the best thing that could happen for the New York Jets.

While I feel some empathy for Geno Smith, the reality is that he has been a below average Quarterback in his time in the NFL and has not lived up to the hype given him coming out of the University of West Virginia.  In my eyes, I never understood the hype for a guy with average arm talent, above average athleticism and average Football IQ.  Furthermore, the Jets organization has not shown real faith in Smith’s abilities to be the starting QB when they brought in Michael Vick to compete for the starting job last season and then in the 2015 NFL Draft selecting University of Baylor QB Bryce Petty.  Smith has not shown the ability on or off the field to validate his standing as the Jets starting Quarterback.

Let’s go even deeper by highlighting why this is good for the New York Jets that Smith will miss 6-10 weeks with this injury:

1. Your Starting Quarterback is now Ryan Fitzpatrick
Some Jets fan may forget who Ryan Fitzpatrick is and I understand that, since Fitzpatrick is not a household name among many sports fans.  Fitzpatrick has started 89 games from 2005 through 2014 in the NFL, amassing 19,273 passing yards, 123 passing Touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 60.2%.  On top of that, for his career against the Jets (most of these stats he compiled as starter for Buffalo Bills) he has thrown for 1,477 yards along with 12 Touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  In comparison, Geno Smith in two seasons has a career completion percentage of 57.5% and thrown 25 touchdowns versus 34 interceptions.  If we go solely by the numbers, one would choose Fitzpatrick over Smith to start at Quarterback.

If we dig even deeper, one will find that Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Harvard University and scored one of the highest scores in the NFL Combine IQ Exam, The Wonderlic Test.  Fitzpatrick is more than capable of being a starting NFL Quarterback and is better suited for the role than Smith.

2. Your Quarterback of the future is Bryce Petty, not Geno Smith
Petty, who was drafted by the Jets this year, has a higher potential ceiling than Smith.  Petty who played at Baylor University, has a great arm, good Football IQ, and is an above average athlete.  Yes he comes from a spread offense and still needs time to learn how to read NFL style defenses, but it is better he learn this while watching Fitzpatrick play than Smith stumble along.  Petty has garnered comparisons by scouts to Tommy Maddox; many people forget how talented Maddox was before injuries derailed his career.  If that scout’s analogy lays true then Petty has a bright future in the NFL and that is good news for the New York Jets and their fans.

3. Allows the Jets an out to not bring back Smith after 2015
The New York Jets have a Déjà vu situation on their hands with Smith missing at least half the season with this injury.  In 2013 when Mark Sanchez was out for the season due to a shoulder injury, the Jets were able to give newly drafted Geno Smith extended playing time, opening the door for them to have an excuse to not bring back Sanchez and move forward with their new future Quarterback, who at that time was Smith.  Sanchez was able to exit New York and landed in Philadelphia, allowing the Jets to fully invest in Smith as the future of the franchise without the previous first round draft pick Sanchez lurking in the wings.

Fast forward to 2015, with Smith’s mediocre two seasons in a Jets uniform as indication of a probable failed investment, this latest incident gives the Jets opportunity to move forward without the burden of another season with the cloud of Geno Smith’s unreached potential hanging over the organization.  Smith has not been the Quarterback on the field or leader of the field the Jets need and there is no better time than the present for them to start planning for a future without him on their roster.