Vegas Golden Knights Joust Their Way To A Succesful Expansion Draft

This past Wednesday night, the Las Vegas Golden Nights took part in an NHL Expansion Draft, making them the 31st team to enter the NHL. This draft was full of twists and turns, as well as a plethora of surprises, including a number of trades on draft night. Let’s take a statistical look at their very successful draft:

 

James Neal, LW via Nashville Predators

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

In an expansion draft in which teams could either protect 7 forwards and 3 defensemen or 8 skaters, teams were quick to lock up their top-scorers, leaving little options for Vegas’s offense. However, Vegas drafted an absolute stud in James Neal, who is one of the NHL’s top sharp-shooters and most potent offensive scoring threats. Neal has tallied at least 20 goals along with a shooting percentage of at least 10% in each of his 9 seasons in the league, which should provide substance to Vegas’s offense from Day 1.

Neal is a very durable player as well, as he logged over 1000 minutes of ice time in 8 of his 9 seasons thus far. Unlike some other sharp-shooters, Neal is anything but a liability when he is on the ice, as his relative Fenwick % (% team differences in shots+misses when on ice) and relative Corsi % (Fenwick % with blocks as well) have been positive for each of the last 7 seasons. Neal, one of the premiere scorers in the league, is also responsible for 58.5 point shares, which averages out to an impressive 6.5 point shares per season.

 

Marc Methot, D via Ottawa Senators

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo Credits: NHL.com

While high-scoring forwards are a very protected asset in an expansion draft, potential first-pair defenders are too, which makes it surprising that Methot was on the chopping block for Ottawa. Methot has consistently proven himself to be a lockdown, first pair defender who is capable of shutting down some of the league’s most prolific scoring threats, just ask Sidney Crosby.

Methot is an absolute tank, as he has logged at least 920 minutes of ice time in each of his 9 seasons in the league, and has recorded at least 90 hits in 8 of the 9 as well. Over the past 3 seasons, Methot hasn’t tallied a plus-minus less than +12, showing that he is very positively contributing to his team while on the ice, despite oftentimes facing the opponents’ top line. Methot is also responsible for 29 point shares, which is somewhat impressive for a defenseman who doesn’t produce offensively.

 

Marc-André Fleury, G via Pittsburgh Penguins

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

In possibly the most anticipated move regarding the Vegas Golden Knights this off-season, the Knights selected Fleury just days after winning his 3rd Stanley Cup. Despite losing his job to Matt Murray earlier this season, Fleury fought hard to gain his job back and was instrumental in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run, showcasing the amazing goalkeeping talents he still has.

Over his 13 season career, Fleury has a .912 Save % and 2.58 GAA, which easily put him among the league’s top tier of goaltenders. Admittedly, Fleury has aged a bit and is likely more of a middle tier goaltender going forward. However, with Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knight will be getting a seasoned veteran with extensive playoff experience and multiple Stanley Cups under his belt. Fleury is also responsible for 120.3 point shares, which is the good for the 89th most in the history of the league.

 

David Perron, LW via St. Louis Blues

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David Perron, Vegas’s pick from St. Louis, is simply a grinder and embodies the tough-as-nails style of play that Vegas is going to play with. Perron has recorded at least 1000 minutes of ice time in the last 5 of 6 seasons, which is seriously impressive given his aggressive style of play. Over the past 4 years, Perron has made his presence felt by averaging 129 hits per season, which is practically unheard of for a forward.

With that being said, Perron can also produce on the offensive side of the ice as well. In the past 10 seasons, Perron has finished with at least 36 points in 7 of them. Additionally, Perron has a 12% shooting % over the course of his career, which makes him a legitimate scoring threat if he shoots more. As “irrelevant” as some might think he is, Perron is responsible for a solid 42.4 point shares in his career.

 

Alexei Emelin, D via Montreal Canadiens

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

Alexei Emelin, Vegas’s pick from the Montreal Canadiens, bears striking resemblances to David Perron in his style of play. Just as Perron, Emelin is a very physical player, who embodies that grinder and tough-as-nails style on the blueline. Emelin is a very solid, yet physical defender and has recorded 189 hits or more in 5 of the past 6 seasons. What is the lone exception you might ask? It was the 2012-13 season where he only played in 38 games.

Emelin is a trooper as he has recorded 1130 minutes of ice time in 5 of the past 6 seasons, with one again, the lone exception being in 2012-13. Emelin has proven in the past that he can be a lock-down defender with a very physical edge, and should be a valuable edition to the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster. Emelin has recorded 14.5 point shares over the past 5 seasons, which is impressive for a non-producing (offensively speaking) defenseman.

 

Jonathan Marchessault, C via Florida Panthers

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

The Florida Panthers’ logic going into this expansion draft was quite questionable, as they left an absolute young stud in Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault is a young, rising star with serious goal-scoring potential and should provide an immediate offensive boost for Vegas.

Marchessault recorded 51 points last season via 30 goals and 21 assists, which is a seriously impressive mark for such a young player. Marchessault is also a power play threat, as he tallied 18 power play points via 8 goals and 10 assists. He played 1268 minutes last season, which is quite a large amount for a young player as well, and shows that he can be heavily utilized in Vegas. Marchessault was responsible for 6.2 point shares last season, which is quite notable also.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Hockey Reference, NHL.com, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: NHL.com

 

NFL Draft Analysis

Winner: New Orleans Saints (2016 Record: 7-9)

Notable Picks: Marshon Lattimore (CB – #11 Overall), Ryan Ramczyk (OT – #32 Overall), Marcus Williams (S – #42 Overall), Alvin Kamara, (RB – #67 Overall), Alex Anzalone (LB – #76 Overall), Trey Hendrickson (DE – #103 Overall)

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Despite having a number of questionable picks in the early rounds in the draft, as they drafted 2 offensive players in the first 3 rounds although they had the worst defense in NFL history just one year ago, the Saints had a very effective draft this year.

At pick #11, the Saints took Marshon Lattimore (a cornerback out of Ohio State) which was a no-brainer, as he is easily the best cover-man in the draft. Lattimore was rated as one of the best players in the draft (top 3 to 5 in nearly every big board), which means he is a great value pick at the 11 spot, and has the ability to vastly improve the worst coverage defense in football. Marcus Williams (a safety out of Utah), the Saints’ selection at #42, only furthered bolstered the defense by adding an athletic, hard-hitting safety who is capable of playing a “center-field” type of role for the defense. Williams, a slightly worse version of Malik Hooker, an all-around, ball-hawk safety out of Ohio State, and Lattimore, the best cover-man in the draft, both make for great value picks that will surely improve the Saints’ defense.

Although it was quite questionable that the Saints spent 2 out of their first 4 picks on players on the offensive side of the ball, it is quite difficult to argue with either of their selections. Ryan Ramczyk (an offensive tackle out of Wisconsin), the Saints’ 2nd first round selection at pick #32, has a very legitimate chance to be a long-term starter in the NFL and was likely the best lineman in this year’s draft, which makes him a good pick as well. Alvin Kamara (a running back out of Tennessee), the Saints’ 3rd round selection at pick #67), provides the Saints with yet another offensive threat, who will manage to contibute both through the air and on the ground, despite a crowded backfield.

 

Winner: Cleveland Browns (2016 Record: 1-15)

Notable Picks: Myles Garrett (DE – #1 Overall), Jabrill Peppers (S – #25 Overall), David Njoku (TE – #29 Overall), DeShone Kizer (QB – #52 Overall), Larry Ogunjobi (DT – #65 Overall)

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

After a number of wise trades that provided the Browns with a plethora of picks in future drafts (which data suggested was smart since more picks are on average more valuable than higher picks), the Browns finally cashed in this year with a very strong draft class.

With the #1 overall pick, the Cleveland Browns took Myles Garrett, a defensive end out of Texas A&M, who was the consensus #1 pick in nearly every mock draft created. Myles Garrett is an athletic beast with game-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball, as he has the ability to single-handedly shut down opposing offenses. Jabrill Peppers, a safety out of Michigan, was the Browns’ 2nd first round pick and is easily one of the most athletic players in the draft, which will allow him to continue his versatile role that he previously played with Michigan. Peppers will be able to handle both the nickle and the safety, which makes him a valuable defensive chess piece for the Browns to play with.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Cleveland Browns reeled in some serious talent by drafting David Njoku with 29th overall pick and DeShone Kizer with the 52nd overall pick. Njoku, a tight end out of Miami, is a very athletic and has a rare combo of size and speed for a tight end. Njoku will be a playmaker for the offense, and will give Kizer, as well as receivers, a much greater chance to shine as he will likely attract double coverage. DeShone Kizer at #52 was easily my favorite pick of the draft, as I thought he should have been the first quarterback off of the board (there were 3 taken before him: Trubisky, Mahomes, Watson). Kizer is a huge quarterback with an even bigger arm, which allows him to crank throws down the field and (successfully) challenge safeties with deep, over-the-top throws. Kizer has elite throwing power and above average accuracy, as well as dual-threat capabilities in the red-zone, which will make him a lethal threat in the NFL in a couple of years from now.

 

Winner: Washington Redskins (2016 Record: 8-7-1)

Notable Picks: Jonathan Allen (DT – #17 Overall), Ryan Anderson (LB – #49 Overall), Fabian Moreau (CB  -#81 Overall), Samaje Perine (RB – #114 Overall)

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Photo Credits: SI

After swinging and missing on a number of supposedly “big-time” prospects over the past couple of years (RG3, David Amerson, Josh Doctson, among more), the Redskins finally seemed to get it right this year, reeling in serious talent over their 4 picks in the draft.

The Redskins went all-in on defense in the early rounds of the draft, picking 3 defensive players with their first 3 picks in the draft. Prior to the draft, it was unimaginable that Jonathan Allen would slip out of the top 7, much less the top 15, but he fell all the way to the Redskins at #17. Allen, a defensive end out of Alabama, is arguably one of the most talented and athletically gifted players in this draft, and was quite possible the best value pick in the draft. Allen’s presence will help to solidify a porous run defense and improve the pass rush as well. The Redskins went back to drafting Alabama alumns in round 2 as well, picking Ryan Anderson, an ex-Alabama linebacker, with pick #49. Although Anderson has limited upside potential as a pass rusher on the NFL level, he is well rounded and solid across the board.

The Redskins further improved their draft class in Rounds 3 and 4, getting amazing value picks on Fabian Moreau, a cornerback out of UCLA, and Samaje Perine, a running back out of Oklahoma. Both had Round 1 potential up until the ends of the junior seasons (Moreau tore his pectoral and Perine had to split carries with Mixon), and likely still possess that Round 1 talent scouts believed they had just a couple of months ago. Moreau is an aggressive playmaker on the outside, who likely would have been an mid to late 1st round pick had he not hurt himself at UCLA’s pro day. Perine is powerful runner out of the backfield, with capabilities both running and catching the ball. Perine is a lethal threat on 3rd down as a power running back with the ability to cut and break away from defenders with speed, and has the ability to be Washington’s starting running back from day 1.

 

Loser: Chicago Bears (2016 Record: 3-13)

Notable Picks: Mitch Trubisky (QB – #2 Overall), Adam Shaheen (TE – #45 Overall)

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Just as they always do, the Chicago Bears managed to amaze everyone, with yet another silly move that will hurt the future prospects of the team. Analytics would suggest that the Bears had the worst draft of any team (and it’s not even close), which only adds onto the woes that already exist in Chicago.

In the biggest surprise of the night, the Chicago Bears sent picks #3, #67, #111, and a 3rd Round pick in 2018 to the 49ers to move up one spot in the first round (moved from #3 to #2). With the 2nd overall pick, the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback out of North Carolina, who was not on anyone’s draft radar just one year ago. Although Trubisky is a very skilled player, he has just 13 starts and isn’t a sure-fire NFL starter, which makes him a risky pick at #2. Although he might have been gone by pick #3 (via a trade), Trubisky was nowhere near worth the price, given that the Bears just signed Mike Glennon to a huge contract this off-season.

Adam who??? That was pretty much everyone’s reaction after the Bears pulled their second surprising letdown move of the night by drafting Adam Shaheen, a tight end out of Ashland, with the 45th pick. While Shaheen is actually a solid pass-catching target, he is a terrible blocker, which will take him off of the field in most running situations. Shaheen is simply an average tight end and is no where near a deserving 2nd round pick (at earliest Round 3), despite the run on tight ends in the 1st round as well as the Bears’ need for one. The Bears likely could have waited 30-40 picks and still could have been confident that Shaheen would be on the board, thus making this a foolish pick.

 

Loser: New York Giants (2016 Record: 11-5)

Notable Picks: Evan Engram (TE – #23 Overall), Dalvin Tomlinson (DT – #55 Overall), Davis Webb (QB – #87 Overall)

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

Statistically speaking, the Giants really did nothing wrong this draft, they just happened not to do anything right either, despite a number of chances to capitalize on team weaknesses based on the available players at their spots.

In Round 1, the Giants swung for the fences (and brutally missed) by picking Evan Engram, a tight end out of Ole Miss, with the 23rd pick in the draft amid an unprecedented 1st round run on tight ends. Engram is a versatile tight end, who is actually a legitimate receiving threat, but lacks the ability to block well, which will limit his on-field time. Although Engram isn’t that atrocious of a pick by itself (albeit a bad one), it is absolutely horrendous given who was on the board at the time of the Giants pick and how well they filled their needs. If the Giants wanted to pick a tight end, they should have gone with Njoku, who is a more complete player with much higher potential. If the Giants were wise (which they obviously are not), they would have gone with either a linebacker, as Foster, Cunningham, and McMillan were still on the board, or an offensive lineman, as Ramczyk, Robinson, and Lamp were all on the board as well.

The Giants did much the same in Rounds 2 and 3 where they picked Dalvin Tomlinson, a defensive tackle out of Alabama, with the 55th pick and Davis Webb, a quarterback out of Cal, with the 87th pick. Although the Giants needed a defensive tackle, picking Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round was not the right pick for the team, given his limited potential and lack of actual output on the field. Zach Cunningham, a future superstar linebacker out of Vanderbilt, as well as Alvin Kamara, a versatile running back out of Tennessee would have both been much better picks for the Giants given those two’s talents the Giants’ pressing needs at linebacker and running back. You would think that the Giants would have learned their lesson in Rounds 1 and 2 given their massive blunders, but unfortunately for all Giants fans out there you would be wrong. The Giants picked Davis Webb with their 3rd Round pick, which is not a terrible pick by itself, as Webb was in contention for the first overall pick at the end of last season’s mock drafts (for the 2017 draft). However, Nathan Peterman, a very talented and developed quarterback out of Pittsburgh, and Brad Kaaya, the consensus #1 pick until a god awful senior season, were both on the board at the time, and would have been much better picks.

 

Admittedly, the Giants did get a steal in Round 4 when the picked Wayne Gallman, a speedy and versatile running back out of Clemson, with the 140th pick in the draft. Gallman has huge potential and, when it’s all over, might be actually be the best running back in this year’s class, which makes this an amazing value pick.

 

Favorite Picks By Round (1-3):

Round 1: Jamal Adams – S, LSU (Round 1, Pick 6), Malik Hooker – S, OSU (Round 1, Pick 15)

Round 2: DeShone Kizer – QB, Notre Dame (Round 2, Pick 52), Dalvin Cook – RB, Florida State (Round 2, Pick 41)

Round 3: D’Onta Foreman – RB, Texas (Round 3, Pick 89), Fabian Moreau – CB, UCLA (Round 3, Pick 81)

 

Least Favorite Picks By Round (1-3): 

Round 1: Mitch Trubisky – QB, North Carolina (Round 1, Pick 2), Evan Engram – TE, Ole Miss (Round 1, Pick 23)

Round 2: Gerald Everett – TE, Ashland (Round 2, Pick 44), Adam Shaheen – TE, South Alabama (Round 2, Pick 45)

Round 3: ArDarius Stewart – WR, Alabama (Round 3, Pick 79), CJ Beathard – QB, Iowa (Round 3, Pick 104)

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Football Reference, and NFL.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

A Guide To March: Under-The-Radar Favorites and Upset Picks

As the name would suggest, March Madness is the most chaotic event in sports. Whether it be Kris Jenkins’ game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in the National Championship game or Middle Tennessee’s shocking win in the opening round over Michigan State, the month of March (for college basketball at least) is simply filled with madness. Nothing that happened during the regular season matters anymore, as the only thing that counts is that you are in the tournament right now. Although March Madness seems like it is just a flurry of luck, momentum, and chance (which to a great extent it is), taking a structured, statistical based approach to evaluating match-ups will allow March to make much more sense. Additionally, filling out your brackets in this statistical-backed approach will dramatically increase your odds of winning your pool, so read these helpful tips to feel a little less “mad” this March when your brackets aren’t busted after Day 1.

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Photo Credits: Sporting News

Under-The-Radar Favorites:

Look for these characteristics when picking teams to go far:

  • Good on both ends of the court
    • Both offensively and defensively efficient
  • Have one “unstoppable” aspect
    • Ex: West Virginia’s press or UCLA’s shooting
  • Make the most out of their possessions
    • High Floor % (% of possessions ended with points)
  • Don’t turn the ball over
    • Low turnover %

Unexpected Teams Poised To Make Big Runs: Southern Methodist (SMU), Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa State

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Southern Methodist: Winners of 15 straight and 24 of their last 25, SMU comes into the tournament as possibly the hottest team in the field. Although they pack one of the least deep rosters in the country, SMU’s athletic starting 5 more than make up for that through their ability to score and rebound. SMU has great shooting ability, especially from deep, as they shoot 40.6% from beyond the arc, which is the 5th best mark in Division I. Their shooting ability from deep, paired with big men who grab an offensive rebound on 36.8% of their shots (6th in the country), makes a combo that will be awfully hard to stop. Additionally, SMU plays at the 4th slowest pace in the country, averaging only 65.2 possessions per game, which allows for great volatility in the outcomes of their games. Pair this with their efficient play on both sides of the ball (6th in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency), and you have a team that could readily take down major contenders such as Baylor, Duke, and Villanova, Florida, or Virginia. On top of that, advanced metrics show that SMU is very underrated as a 6 seed, as they are ranked #11 by Kenpom, which is ahead of every team in their region besides Villanova, Florida, and Virginia.

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

Michigan: Coming off upset wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue to win the Big 10 championship, Michigan is riding a huge wave of momentum that should carry over into the tournament. After a rough start to the season, Michigan has turned it around as of recently, and this version of the Michigan basketball team is a force to be reckoned with. With a defense that is just alright, even below average by advanced metrics such as defensive efficiency, Michigan’s offense is what has carried them so far. Michigan possesses a lethal combo of slow pace and efficiency, which allows them to capitalize on the few possessions that they have. Averaging just 65.5 possessions per game, Michigan has the 5th slowest pace in all of college basketball, which (just like SMU) gives greater volatility in the outcome of their games. As mentioned above, Michigan’s offense is quite effective and efficient as well, as they are 6th in offensive efficiency and 8th in effective field goal %. Michigan’s patient, efficient style of play, along with their great ability to hold onto the ball (6th lowest turnover %), is quite taxing on opposing defenses, which has led to diminished offensive production for opponents as well. If Michigan can defend the deep ball better than they have recently, don’t be surprised if you see them take down powerhouses such as Louisville, Oregon, and Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue.

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Notre Dame: Unlike SMU or Michigan, Notre Dame does not come into the tournament red-hot, as they have only won 8 of their last 12 and are fresh off a devastating loss to Duke in the ACC Championship game. Notre Dame boasts a potent offense, the 15th most efficient in the country, that is extremely hard to stop when Bonzie Colson is at his best. Unfortunately for everyone else in the tournament, Colson has been doing exactly that as of recently; in his past 10 games, he has scored at least 20 points in all but 2 of them, and has posted 5 double-doubles over that span as well. On top of that, Notre Dame shoots 38.6% from behind the arc (32nd in the country), but more importantly, their 4 main players (Colson, Vasturia, Beachum, Farrell) all are legitimate 3-point shooting threats, as they all shoot at least 36.1% from deep. One of Notre Dame’s most lethal qualities is that they are not going to beat themselves up; Notre Dame shoots 79.9% from the free-throw line and commit turnovers on only 13.6% of possessions, both of which are tops in the country. On top of that, Notre Dame’s match-ups after the first round (likely West Virginia then Gonzaga) are good fits for them. West Virginia’s full-court press was rendered useless against other teams that didn’t turn the ball over (Iowa State), and that should be no different against Notre Dame. Against Gonzaga, Beachum and Vasturia should be able to handle Karnowski, and Colson will give him plenty of trouble on the defensive end. In conclusion, Notre Dame has an experienced, disciplined roster that matches up well with potential opponents and should last well into March.

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

Iowa State: Although they are not quite as hot as Michigan or SMU, Iowa State has also been on a tear recently, coming fresh off a win over ‘Press Virginia’ to win the Big 12 Championship. In most regards, Iowa State is a very similar team to Notre Dame; both are offensively oriented, live off of the deep ball, hardly turn the ball over, and sport experienced rosters. Iowa State thrives off of how they shoot from beyond the arc, as they shoot 24.8 of them per game, which is the 36th most in the country. Fortunately for Iowa State, they are pretty good at doing so, as they make 40.2% from beyond the arc, which is the 11th best mark in the country, and average 10 made 3-pointers per game, which comes out to 8th. Iowa State’s stay in the tournament will be completely dependent on how they shoot the 3 ball. With that being said, Iowa State does have a number of other attractive characteristics as well. Iowa State’s potent offense, which averages 80.9 points per game (24th in the country), is also among the most efficient, as they rank 25th in offensive efficiency. Iowa State can also handle the ball well, as they turn the ball over on only 13.8% of possessions, which is the 2nd lowest rate in the country. Good match-ups against Purdue (big roster is to slow to keep up with quick Iowa State guards) and Kansas (who Iowa State has beaten in Lawrence), as well as an experienced starting roster made up of 4 seniors, give Iowa State the potential to make a huge run in the tourney this year.

 

 

Sleepers:

Characteristics of teams that pull off upsets:

  • Forces lots of turnovers
    • High opponent turnover %
  • Strong offensive rebounding
    • High offensive rebounding %
  • Good all-around shooting
    • High effective shooting %
  • Slow pace
    • Low number of possessions per game
  • Very strong offensively or defensively
    • Either offensively of defensively efficient

Sleepers: St. Mary’s, UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Vermont

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

St. Mary’s: After losing to Gonzaga for the 3rd time in the West Coast Conference championship, St. Mary’s dropped off of almost everyone’s radar, but advanced metrics show us that is not a wise move. St. Mary’s is ranked #14 on Kenpom and are actually 6 spots ahead of Arizona (#20), meaning that advanced metrics favor St. Mary’s over Arizona in a potential Round of 32 match-up. St. Mary’s only averages 62 possessions per game, which is the slowest pace in the country, and as we talked about earlier, this low number of possessions allows for greater volatility, thus dramatically increasing the chances of an upset. St. Mary’s also has one of the most potent, efficient offenses in the country, as they rank 3rd in offensive efficiency and rebound 31.8% of their own shots (51st in the country). St. Mary’s also is a very good shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 57.9%, which ranks 5th in the country, and shoot 39.9% from beyond the arc, which ranks 14th. On top of that, St. Mary’s has a very stingy defense that only gives up 56.5 points per game and ranks 10th in defensive efficiency, and commits the 3rd least fouls per game in the country. This lethal combo of an slow, efficient offense that has elite shooting paired with a stingy and efficient defense has upset spelled all over it.

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks return a number of their starters that gave Duke quite the scare last year where them took them down to the very end last year, nearly pulling off a highly improbable upset. This alone justifies UNC Wilmington as a very legitimate upset contender, they also have a number of other credentials that make them a quality upset pick for this year’s tournament. Although their defense can at best be described as average, their offense more than makes up for this lack of star power on the defensive end. UNC Wilmington has one of the most potent offenses in the country that exhibits lots of variety, which makes them particularly hard to stop. The Seahawks’ offense is quite efficient, as the rank 5th in offensive efficiency, just behind the likes of UCLA, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and Villanova, all of whom are considered quite legitimate threats in the tournament. UNC Wilmington’s ability to shoot from deep (they make 9.5 from beyond the arc per game, which is 20th in the country) makes them a serious threat to dethrone higher seeds. Their offense also has an effective field goal percentage of 55.2% (25th in the country), which showcases their elite shooting talent as well. UNC Wilmington’s high powered, potent offense has the ability to potentially take them deep into March.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Princeton: The Tigers, fresh off an Ivy League championship, come into the tournament as possibly the hottest team, as they have won their past 19 straight and haven’t lost in almost 3 full calendar months. Princeton is quite talented on both sides of the ball, and their unique credentials give them a legitimate chance of pulling off an upset in the Round of 64 (Bonzie Colson and the Irish might think otherwise). Princeton runs one of the slowest offenses in the country, as they only average 66.2 possessions per game, which is the 11th slowest pace in Division I. As we talked about earlier, this slower pace allows for greater volatility in the outcome of their games, which essentially increases their chances of pulling off an upset. Princeton’s offense also has a number of other dynamic elements, as they can shoot quite well (46th in effective shooting %), especially from beyond the arc, where they average 9.9 3-pointers made per game (15th in country). On top of that, Princeton’s offense hardly ever turns the ball over on 14.9% of their possessions, which is the 11th lowest rate in the country. Princeton also has quite a solid defense that has given their opponents trouble so far this season. The Tigers’ defense is quite efficient (29th in defensive efficiency), which is especially important given their slow pace (meaning that they need to capitalize on all possessions since there are so few). They also force a turnover on 20.2% of opponent possessions (50th in country) and don’t foul very much either (29th least fouls per game in country), which makes them a formidable opponent. Their combination of slow pace and efficient play will make them hard to stop this March.

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Photo Credits: Burlington Press

Vermont: If the Tigers are hot, then the Vermont Catamounts are on fire, as they are fresh off of an American East Championship and hold the longest current win streak in the country at 21 games. While Vermont is nowhere near a household team, their name might be coming up a lot more in conversation over the next couple of days if they pull off some upsets that they are potentially capable of doing (over Purdue and Iowa State). Vermont thrives off of an efficient, yet slow offense, which is a lethal combo that we have already discussed earlier (with Princeton, St. Mary’s, and Michigan) that makes their opponents susceptible to upsets. Vermont plays at a very slow pace, averaging only 66.6 possessions per game (15th slowest pace in the country) and boasts the 24th most efficient offense in Division I. Vermont is also a very talented shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 55.4%, which is 16th in the country. Additionally, Vermont ranks very high in floor percentage (which measures the percentage of possessions that end in points) as Vermont scores on 52.8%, which is 14th in the country. On top of that, Vermont has a stellar defense that is very capable of shutting down higher octane offenses they might face in potential opponents. Vermont has the 38th most efficient defense in the country, which is quite lethal when paired with their slow pace. In addition, Vermont is not gonna do the opposing team any favors, as they commit only 16.1 fouls per game, which is the 21st lowest rate in the country. Vermont’s combination of slow pace and efficient play both on offense and defense make them a legitimate upset threat.

 

 

Why the Top 8 Seeds won’t win the tournament:

Villanova: On top of not even being the favorite in their own region (Duke), Nova faces stiff potential competition against SMU, Duke, Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin, all of whom rank well by advanced metrics. Also, Nova plays at an extremely slow pace (23rd slowest in country at 67.2 possessions per game), which makes them vulnerable to an upset.

Kansas: Advanced metrics show that Kansas is highly overrated, coming in at 10th on the Kenpom scale, despite being a 1 seed, which highlights potential weakness. Kansas has not performed well in the tournament in year’s past, and face stiff potential competition from red-hot opponents, such as Iowa State (who beat Kansas in Lawrence), Michigan, Purdue, and Louisville.

North Carolina: Lacking backcourt depth, North Carolina lives or dies off the success of Joel Berry II, which is awfully risky for a long tournament. North Carolina has been somewhat inconsistent at times, and is easily the least hot team coming into the tournament as a top seed. Potent talent on the other side of the bracket (UCLA, Kentucky, Wichita State) might also prevent North Carolina from returning to the Final 4.

Gonzaga: Despite being the top dog on the Kenpom scale, the ‘Zags have yet to play enough serious competition for them to be considered legitimate. They have played underwhelmingly bad in the tournament in years past. Elite talent and unique playing styles from West Virginia (full court press) and Notre Dame (Bonzie Colson and ability to guard Karnowski) might force the ‘Zags to change up their style and be overmatched.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Arizona: While stats don’t mean everything, advanced metrics such as Kenpom are not too high on Arizona, who sits at #20 in their rankings, even though they are a #2 seed. Additionally, they face legitimate competition from pretty early on, facing St. Mary’s (who is wildly underrated according to Kenpom), Florida State (who’s big men might be too much to handle), and Gonzaga, West Virginia, or Notre Dame.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are one of, if not the most inexperienced team in the country, which is something that will largely work to their detriment in the tourney. Additionally, Kentucky got by far the worst draw of any 2 seed, as they are lined up to play the #10 seed Wichita State (who is ranked #8 on Kenpom!) and UCLA, who easily has the most potent offense in the country.

Louisville: The Cards received one of the toughest draws in the tournament, facing either Michigan or Oklahoma State in the second round, both of whom are red-hot. Their fantastic reward for beating Michigan or Oklahoma State: playing Oregon next and then either Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue. Also, although it hasn’t been an issue yet, Louisville is atrocious at shooting free throws (236th in country), which might catch up to them.

Duke: Although Duke has a number of skilled big men, they lack an interior presence on the defensive end, which could come back to haunt them later in the tournament, where they might play bigger teams such as Baylor. Duke is either going to play South Carolina (stingy defense) or Marquette (best 3-point % in country) in the second round, which is much harder than the average 7 or 10 seed they could have drawn.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, TeamRankings, Kenpom, and Basketball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

‘King Henrik’: A Generational Talent Gone To Waste

Most hockey fans would have no difficulty saying that Henrik Lundqvist is a great goalie, probably even the best of the post-lockout era (2005-present). However, when the conversation arises about Lundqvist being elite, people are generally a lot more hesitant to throw him into that “club”. Although I am likely a bit biased as a Rangers’ fan, I have some difficulty seeing where they are coming from. Hear me out here, I am going to list some of his remarkable achievements, and it is going to be shocking to that he is not considered an elite goalie.

  • Fastest goalie in NHL history to 400 wins
  • 1st goalie in NHL history to have 20 wins in each of his 1st 12 seasons
  • 1st goalie in NHL history to finish top-6 in Vezina voting in each of his 1st 10 seasons
  • Most wins by a European-born goalie

Pretty remarkable, right? However, it was just 2 short months ago that every Rangers’ fan was wondering whether Henrik Lundqvist, New York’s undisputed sports hero, still had a spot in New York after a series of poor performances. Antti Raanta, New York’s talented back-up goaltender, had made number of impressive starts while filling in during Lundqvist’s drought, and some questions started to arise about Lundqvist’s future in New York.

Well, let’s just say that Henrik Lundqvist did what Henrik Lundqvist does best: prove all the haters wrong. After a string of weak starts, ‘The King’ bounced back better than ever, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is the best goalie in New York, and probably even the NHL. Over the 14-game stretch following his drought, the Rangers’ went 10-3-1, led by a stellar performance in net by Lundqvist, in which he allowed 2 goals or less in 10 of the 14 games. Additionally, he did not allow more than 3 goals in any game during that stretch, guiding the Rangers’ back towards the top of the Metropolitan division. While just 15 games ago his future in New York was unknown, Lundqvist has reasserted himself as the undisputed ‘King’ both of New York, but also this generation of hockey.

Before we move on further, let’s just make something clear: Henrik Lundqvist is the undisputed best goalie of this generation (post-lockout) and belongs in the conversation for one of the best goalies to ever play the game. If you don’t believe me (which most non-Rangers fans likely won’t), let’s take a look at his numbers against Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, and Dominik Hasek, arguably the 3 best goalies in NHL history.

Record Points per 82 Games GAA Save %

Lundqvist

402-244-74 100.0 2.31

0.920

Brodeur

691-397-105 102.2 2.24

0.912

Roy

551-315-131 101.4 2.54

n/a

Hasek 389-223-82 101.6 2.20

0.922

In the chart shown above, Lundqvist, Brodeur, Roy, and Hasek all appear to be in a very similar class, as their numbers are virtually identical. Admittedly, Lundqvist only has one Stanley Cup appearance (compared to Brodeur’s 3, Hasek’s 4, and Roy’s 5) and is a bit weaker in the points per 82 games category, in which he averaged 1.4 less points per season than his next closest competitor. However, these can both be explained by Lunqdvist’s somewhat weak teams where he has lacked a championship-caliber supporting cast, as Brodeur, Hasek, and Roy all benefitted from being on much better teams, both offensively and defensively.

In New Jersey, Brodeur had the luxury of playing behind Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer for 11 years, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame now, and surely boosted Brodeur’s stats. Even adjusted for age, Brodeur’s stats dropped off the cliff after he lost these two stud defensemen.

In Colorado, Roy had Chelios, Robinson, Borque, and Blake all at the same time, which proved to be a lethal offensive and defensive combination. On top of that, Roy played behind some of the best teams in recent history in Colorado, which surely inflated his goaltending statistics.

In Detroit, Hasek had possibly one of the best teams in NHL history, as he played behind Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Pavel Datsyuk, and Chris Chelios all at the same time, which undoubtedly had to make Hasek’s job one of the easiest in the NHL.

On the other hand, Lundqvist’s teams have severely lacked starpower, especially for scoring goals up front, as the Rangers consistently have had problems scoring ever since Lundqvist came along. While the other 3 goalies have benefitted by playing with Hall of Famers in their prime, New York has time and time again brought in out-of-prime players who used to be really good, but are no longer productive. Additionally, during his time in New York, Lundqvist’s 2 best defenseman have been Girardi and McDonough, both of whom are barely considered elite in today’s league, not to mention NHL history.

Unlike the other 3 goalies who were on teams that likely would have been quite good without them, Lundqvist has single-handedly made alright Rangers teams into very competitive ones. Additionally, Lundqvist’s historically clutch performances in Game 7’s have advanced the Rangers much further than they should have gone in the playoffs in recent years, yet another thing that gives him a slight edge over Brodeur, Roy, and Hasek. In any case, the Rangers are wasting his finite talent, and better get a move on it before it all goes to waste. Let’s look at their current situation:

There is no point in pretending that the Rangers have a realistic chance winning the cup this year without making some major changes. The only way the Rangers can fix their path to ultimate destruction in the future is by taking a more futuristic approach that still has a win-now mentality. Let’s be real here … although he appears like an immortal at some times, Lundqvist is NOT going to last forever. At best, Lundqvist has 3 to 5 years left in his prime, and likely has about 7 to 9 productive years left in his career, and if the Rangers have any chance of winning the cup in the near future, it’s going to be when Lundqvist is still in town.

So you might ask how the Rangers would go about this approach? The Rangers need to transition from a line-up of players who are old and out of their prime (ex: Rick Nash) to a line-up of young, dynamic players (ex: Chris Kreider), and if they want any chance of winning soon, they need to do it fast. Dumping cap space by cutting players such as Rick Nash, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi, and resigning players such as Mika Zibanejad, is imperative to the Rangers’ success in the future. Targeting young free agents, such as Kevin Shattenkirk, in the off-season, and not making other poor decisions (Duclair/Yandle trade, St. Louis/Callahan trade, Stralman non-signing, Hagelin trade, Talbot trade) is key to the Rangers’ success in the future.

While things and people can always change, in all honesty, this situation is not going to (or at least without shocking the world). Lundqvist is a once-in-a-generation player and unfortunately his talents are likely going to go to waste, as if nothing major changes in the next couple of years, he is going to retire without winning a Cup.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, NHL.com, Hockey Reference, thehockeynews.com, and theglobeandmail.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images

NFL Postseason Awards

In this article, there is an evaluation of the candidates for each major NFL postseason award (MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year), evaluating the legitimacy of each candidate’s resume. In these evaluations, we will be looking at both who should win the award and who will win the award, which is quite different in some, or even most, cases. Let’s take a look at each award below:

 

Who Should Win MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Who Will Win MVP: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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The MVP award is given out to the most valuable player, not necessarily the best player, but the one who adds the most value to his team. However, in Aaron Rodgers’s case, he happens to be both. Unfortunately, Rodgers will likely not win the award due to a stellar season on Matt Ryan’s part, but more importantly, a disappointing playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship this past weekend, which will likely sway voters towards voting for “Matty Ice”.

Rodgers has been fueling the Packers’ recent tear, in which they won 8 straight games before losing this past weekend in Atlanta. Over this win streak, Rodgers has posted a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio (24 to 2), 2,671 passing yards, and an average QBR of 82.3, all of which are league bests over the past 9 games. Rodgers’ phenomenal play has been instrumental to the Packers’ success, as his stats have improved significantly from the first 9 games; his QBR and touchdown to interception ratio are severely inflated on the back half of the season (3.14 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio and 77.8 QBR through the first 9 games). Rodgers led the league this year with 40 passing touchdowns, and was actually so phenomenal over the last 9 games of the season that he threw 24 touchdowns, which is more than all but 13 quarterbacks did over the course of the entire regular season (16 games).

Although Rodgers is much more deserving of the MVP award, Ryan will likely come away with the award next Saturday night because of his phenomenal play throughout the season as well as their huge win over the Packers that earned them a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI. With that being said, Ryan was incredible this season, and many advanced metrics point towards that he should win the award, not Rodgers. Ryan was 2nd in passing yards and passing touchdowns this season, behind only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in those respective categories. Additionally, Ryan led the league in QBR (83.3), as well as in DYAR, (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement), which shows that Ryan excelled against stronger defenses, more so than his stats would suggest. Ryan also led the league in DVOA (Defense-Adjustive Value Over Average) with 40.2%, suggesting that he is 40.2% better than the average QB against an average defense, which is more than 6% better than his next closest competitor, Aaron Rodgers. However, I believe that Rodgers is more deserving of the award even though Ryan might have been better offensively, as Rodgers was much more influential and crucial to the Packers’ success than Ryan was to the Falcons’, as Rodgers had to deal with injury upon injury as well as a bad defense, while the Falcons were generally in good health and had a great defense.

Tom Brady should also be in the MVP conversation as he has posted a 13-1 record since returning from his 4-game suspension because of Deflategate. Additionally, Brady had a touchdown to interception ratio 12 to 1 over the course of the entire season, which is an NFL record. Brady also has a QBR of 83.0, which is second in the league, only behind that of Matt Ryan.

 

Who Should Win Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

Who Will Win Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

NFL: New York Jets at Green Bay Packers

In recent years, the Comeback Player of the Year award has become one of the most coveted, especially since Eric Berry won last year after missing the entire 2014 season due to his (successful) battle with Leukemia. The Comeback Player of the Year award has always been very difficult to predict, due to the great diversity in the candidates for the award; the two stereotypes for this award are typically someone who is coming off of a catastrophic injury (usual ACL tear) and returning back to their stellar play (example: Adrian Peterson in 2012) or someone who is coming off of a very poor year of play only to return to their normal form (example: Philip Rivers in 2013).

After missing the entire 2015 due to a torn ACL, Jordy Nelson was absolutely spectacular during the 2016 season, which has made him the front-runner and nearly shoe-in candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Despite being neutralized in a couple of games this season (he had 5 games with under 45 receiving yards), likely due to undisclosed injuries, Nelson absolutely tore up opposing defenses this season, forcing defenses, most notably Minnesota and Chicago, to change their game plans mid-game to hamper his production. Nelson often drew double-coverage and extra attention from the secondary, which allowed other members of the receiving corps, usually Randall Cobb or Davante Adams, to get open and terrorize opposing defenses. In fact, in the 5 games in which he had less than 45 receiving yards, either Cobb or Adams had at least 80 receiving yards, and in most cases, more than 100 (the lone exception being against Jacksonville all the way back in Week 1). Nelson was absolutely crucial in Rodgers’ path to having a MVP-caliber season, as demonstrated by the stats above, as well as the huge increases in Rodgers’ production compared to the prior season; in 2016, Rodgers threw for 600 more passing yards and 9 more passing touchdowns, and had a QBR 14 points higher than he had in 2015. With all of this being said, Nelson looks to be the sure favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year, as his production, 1,257 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns, was amongst the best in the league.

DeMarco Murray also has a convincing, yet unconventional case to win the Comeback Player of the Year award. After rushing for over 1,800 yards, recording 13 total touchdowns, and tallying more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his 2013 campaign in Dallas, Murray decided to test free agency, and eventually ended up in Philly. It’s safe to say his campaign in Philly was disastrous; after being an MVP candidate in 2014, Murray barely recorded 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2015, and only scored 7 total touchdowns. However, after getting traded to Tennessee for a swap of 4th-round picks, Murray completely revived his career, returning to near original form. In 2016, Murray recorded over 1,600 yards from scrimmage as well as 12 total touchdowns, both of which were the second best marks in his career, only falling short of his numbers during his 2014 campaign. Murray did not score so well on advanced metrics such as DVOA and DYAR, overall had quite a solid season. This dramatic revitalization of Murray’s career makes him a very deserving, but not the most deserving, candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award.

 

Who Should Win Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys

Who Will Win Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys

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Ezekiel Elliot was an absolute stud this season, compiling one of the best rookie campaigns in NFL history. The only recent rookie campaign that even pales in comparison is that of Odell Beckham, Jr. back in 2015, and even so, that one was nowhere near as impressive as Elliot’s this past season. Elliot was so dominant that he only failed to rush for 80 yards in a game once this season, and that was against the Giants in his first career game. Additionally, Elliot averaged 3.9 yards per rush in every single game this season, except for that same game against the Giants, which is a highly impressive feat. Over the course of this season, Elliot compiled nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage, which is easily the most by a rookie in recent history, as well as an incredible 16 total touchdowns (15 rushing, 1 receiving). Elliot nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s long-time rookie rushing record, but fell a bit short, likely due to rest he had at the end of the season after the Cowboys clinched home field advantage. Elliot provided much needed help to his fellow rookie Dak Prescott, and was instrumental to the Cowboys’ success and 13-3 regular season record.

While his campaign was not nearly as impressive as his fellow teammate Ezekiel Elliot’s, Dak Prescott put up a phenomenal rookie campaign that should be lauded. Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 regular season record, which is tied for the best season by a rookie in NFL history (Ben Roethlisbeger is the other). 13 wins is extremely impressive for an established, elite quarterback, such as Rodgers or Brady, but for a rookie quarterback, this is practically unheard of. Prescott posted an average QBR of 82.6, which was lightyears ahead of his fellow rookie quarterbacks (Wentz and Goff), and was good enough for 3rd in the NFL. Additionally, Prescott recorded almost 4,000 yards from scrimmage, as well as 30 total touchdowns, both of which are impressive feats for a rookie.

Although he’s no Elliot or Prescott in terms of his value to his team, Tyreek Hill is a rising young star, who had a stellar rookie campaign, which definitely should at least bring his name up in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. After a fairly slow start through the first 5 or so weeks of the season, Hill went full beast mode for the rest of the season. Hill compiled nearly 1,000 return yards and 3 return touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns, where he quickly established himself as one of the best returners in the league. Additionally, Hill also racked up more than 900 yards from scrimmage and 9 offensive touchdowns. By the end of the season, Hill established himself as a game-changing playmaker with elite speed, as well as one of the most promising young prospects in the NFL.

 

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers

Who Will Win Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers

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While some of the other races for postseason awards might be hotly contested, the MVP race for example, the Defensive Rookie of the Year award should not even be close. Joey Bosa has demonstrated that he is by far the best defensive rookie in the 2015 draft class, and possibly one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. After a contract dispute that left him sidelined for the first 4 weeks of the regular season and deeply angered the Chargers organization, Bosa ended negotiations in late August and turned out to be well worth it once he got onto the field. Despite missing the first 4 games of the season as well as being a rookie who need to learn the Chargers’ playbook, Bosa finished the season with 10.5 sacks, which easily led all rookies. Bosa finished tied for 13th in the NFL with his 10.5 sacks, which gave him the same number of sacks as Brian Orakpo, and just 0.5 sacks behind feared, veteran pass rushers, such as Khalil Mack, Ryan Kerrigan, and Chandler Jones. What’s even more incredible is that Bosa might not have even been playing his very best for the entire year; Bosa recorded at least one sack in the final 5 games of the regular season, tallying 6 over that 5 game span. He played so well over that span that his name has already come up in conversation for most feared pass rusher for the 2017 NFL season.

Although a couple of other defensive players had good rookie campaigns this past season, no one came even close to what Joey Bosa did. Jalen Ramsey also lived up to expectations in Jacksonville, embracing his role as the #1, lockdown cornerback for the horrific Jaguars defense. Ramsey’s stats don’t tell the full story, as quarterbacks often avoided his side of the field in the passing game due to his late season dominance. Ramsey forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble) in the last 3 games of the season, just a glimpse at his immense potential. Although Jacksonville’s defense was downright horrific for the majority of the season, Ramsey actually led a stout passive defense for Jacksonville that surprisingly finished 5th in the NFL in passing yards per game.

Leonard Floyd also had a stellar rookie campaign out in Chicago, putting together an impressive resume as an pass rusher. Chicago wanted Floyd so badly that they traded up in the draft to get the pick before the New York Giants, who likely would have picked him due to their need for a pass rusher, and their bet appears to have worked out for them. Since being drafted by Chicago, Floyd has made his presence as an edge rusher felt, and although he is not as feared as Bosa, he definitely provides quite a bit of trouble for opposing defenses. Floyd recorded 7 sacks this season, which is second to only Bosa, but his stats don’t necessarily tell the whole story, as his presence was felt much more greatly than the 7 sacks would suggest. Keanu Neal, Eli Apple, DeForest Buckner, and Vonn Bell all had respectable seasons as well, but were not quite on the same level as Ramsey and Floyd, not to mention even in the same universe as Bosa.

 

 

 

Who Should Win Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Who Will Win Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

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I know that you are all probably thinking that I am crazy right now, as I am picking Bill Belichick as the most deserving candidate to win Coach of the Year. But before you start, I want to establish that I agree that Jason Garrett likely will win the award, as he is a very deserving candidate and completed a wild transformation down in Dallas. Let’s just establish something first: Coach of the Year is given to the best coach in the NFL, the one who makes the most happen with what he has on his roster, not necessarily the coach of the team that is most improved. With keeping that in mind, let’s look at the cases for both Belichick and Garrett, but more specifically, how Belichick was able to make the most out of his limited personnel.

Not that the Coach of the Year award should be always be awarded to the coach of the team with the best record, but I think it is well worth mentioning that Belichick’s Patriots had a league-best regular season record of 14-2. As I mentioned earlier, Coach of the Year should be awarded to the coach who makes the most happen with what he has on his roster, and I think Belichick truly embraced that on his path to his 7th super bowl in the Brady era. It is quite important to note that the Patriots were far from healthy this season, which made Belichick’s job much more difficult. Rob Gronkowski, undoubtedly the best tight end in football and a premiere red-zone target for the Patriots, only appeared in 8 games this season due to various injuries, and forced Tom Brady to look elsewhere besides his favorite target. Dion Lewis, a crafty back with elite playmaking skill both on offense and special teams, missed 9 games as well due to complications with his ACL tear in the prior season. On top of that, Tom Brady, quite possibly the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, missed 4 games due to suspension (Deflategate), forcing the Patriots to start 3 different quarterbacks over the first 5 games. In fact, Belichick is the first coach ever to have 3 different starting quarterbacks (Garoppolo – filling in for Brady during suspension, Brissett – filling in for Garoppolo while he was hurt during Brady’s suspension, and Brady – the starter) and finish with a record of 14-2 or better. During the middle of the season, the Patriots also traded Jamie Collins to the Browns for future draft picks, which did not make his job any easier as well. However, what I think truly speaks volumes about how great of a coach Belichick is that the Patriots still managed to go 3-1 and be extremely dominant without Tom Brady, the undoubted leader of their offense.

Let’s just establish something first: Jason Garrett had an absolutely phenomenal year, coaching the Dallas Cowboys to one of their best finishes in recent history. Just as Belichick had to do with his Patriots, Garrett had to overcome tragedy quite early in the season, also in the form of injury. Tony Romo went down with a back injury during a preseason game in Seattle that turned out to be devastating, ruling him out for at least 6-8 weeks. Little did the Cowboys know that this was a blessing in disguise … In stepped Dak Prescott, a rookie out of Mississippi State, now the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did Garrett have a starting rookie running back (Elliot), but also a starting rookie quarterback (Prescott), which is quite a handful. And what did Garrett do with it? Absolutely amazing things. The Cowboys were super dominant this year, finishing with a regular season record of 13-3, which was second in the NFL only to the New England Patriots, before losing in a thriller versus the Packers in the divisional round. The only, and I mean only, reason that Garrett should not win Coach of the Year is that the Cowboys had a lot more talent to work with than the Patriots did. Arguably, the only two “stars” on the Patriots team are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who missed 4 and 8 games respectively. On the other hand, the Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in football to work with, as Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin all made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters, as well as 2 huge playmakers in Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliot.

 

Who Should Win Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Who Will Win Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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Although the terms MVP and Offensive Player of the Year have become synonymous in recent years, these awards are quite different and should be awarded accordingly. While MVP refers to the player who was most crucial to the their team’s success, Offensive Player of the Year refers to the best offensive player, not necessarily the most valuable. This might be a tad bit confusing, as in most recent years, the most valuable player has happened to also be the most valuable one (despite the trend to not give both awards to the same player), as you might have seen through the play of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, LaDanian Tomlinson, etc.

As mentioned in the MVP award section, many advanced metrics would point towards that Matt Ryan was the best quarterback in the NFL this season, and probably the best player in the NFL as well. Both DYAR, defense-adjusted yards above replacement, and DVOA, defense-adjusted value over average, show that Matt Ryan was far and away the best quarterback in the NFL, as he is significantly in first place in both stats. These metrics adjust the quarterbacks’ stats to account for better or worse competition, and show that Matt Ryan would have a leg up on everyone against an average NFL defense. If you’re not convinced that these two stats accurately represent his performance, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees are (or were) consistently in the top 7 for these two stats every single year.

It is hard to argue that Matt Ryan is not the best offensive player in the NFL due to his array of amazing stats (see MVP section), but it is much more difficult to defend his case for MVP. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan had an absolutely phenomenal year, but received great help on both sides of the ball, which would hamper his case for MVP, but not Offensive Player of the Year. The Falcons were the only team in the NFL to have all 80 starts for their offensive line, meaning that each of their 5 lineman started each of their 16 games, which is quite an impressive feat. Ryan enjoyed this luxury, which likely played into his success, but nonetheless can’t really be used against him for his case for Offensive Player of the Year. The Falcons also enjoyed a stellar defense led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Vic Beasley, as well as an arsenal of playmakers on the offense, in Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman, which certainly made his job easier.Fortunately for Ryan, this award is given to the best offensive player (regardless of the help around him; MVP is for the opposite), and in my opinion, should certainly be given to Matt Ryan.

Except for a couple of exceptions in recent years, historically, the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards have gone to separate players, pointing towards that the winner will either be Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers, depending on which one does not win MVP. However, there has been 3 exceptions in the past 4 years, as Cam Newton (2015), Peyton Manning (2013), and Adrian Peterson (2012) all won both the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards, so we might be in for a surprise this year.

 

Who Should Win Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta Falcons

Who Will Win Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, Denver Broncos

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Out of all of the awards given out, this one has certainly given me the most trouble on deciding both who will win and who should win. Although there were many amazing defensive performances by a variety of different players with different styles at different positions, there was just an overall lack of star power and an obvious candidate for the award. Many of the front runners for the award, including Patrick Peterson, JJ Watt, Khalil Mack, Tyrann Mathieu, and Aaron Donald, either got injured or played at or below their expected levels, not what is expected from the Defensive Player of the Year. In my mind, 3 guys in particular stood out: Vic Beasley Jr., Von Miller, and Landon Collins.

Vic Beasley Jr. was absolutely phenomenal this season, improving leaps and bounds from his disappointing rookie campaign, and in my opinion, is the most deserving candidate for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Beasley led the league this year in sacks with 15.5, leading his next closest competitor (Von Miller) by 2.0 sacks. What’s even more incredible is that Beasley only had 1 sack through the first 4 games of the season, meaning that he recording an astounding 13.5 sacks over the last 12 games of the season. In fact, the only player to match his incredible sack streak was Von Miller, who achieved the exact same feat, but over the first 12 games of the season. Additionally, Beasley was tied with Bruce Irvin for the league lead with 6 forced fumbles, yet another stat that represents his dominance as a perimeter.

Von Miller also had quite a stellar season, as I briefly described above, but was not quite as good as Beasley in most aspects of his game. Unlike Beasley, Miller started off the season red-hot, recording 13.5 sacks in the first 12 games of the season. However, once again unlike Beasley, Miller’s production dropped off the cliff late in the season, as Miller failed to record a sack in his final 4 games of the season. While Miller also recorded 3 forced fumbles, they were pale in comparison to Beasley’s 6.

Landon Collins also put together an impressive season, building on a solid rookie campaign from the season before. Collins had 125 tackles this season, which was the second most for a non-linebacker, only behind Johnathan Cyprien, who was on the field a ridiculous amount of the time because of Jacksonville’s disaster of an offense. Collins went on a midseason tear, recording 5 interceptions over a 4 game span, which started to draw attention to him. Collins really came onto everyone’s radar after winning the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in consecutive weeks, a feat that puts him in elite company. He is the first New York Giant to ever do this, and the first since Charles Tillman did it back in 2012.

 

 

Extras:

Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year – Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys

Walter Payton Man of the Year – Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs (punt return TD versus Denver Broncos)

Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 – Brian Dawkins, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner, Terrell Davis, Isaiah Bruce, Terrell Owens, and Ty Law

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, NFL.com, CBS Sports, Football Outsiders, and Yahoo Sports!. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Home Sweet Home

Oh how sweet is to be at home … in every playoff matchup this week, the home team won quite comfortably.

The Raiders get smoked in Houston: Oakland Raiders 14, Houston Texans 27

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The Houston Texans were not kind to Connor Cook in his first NFL start. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Before I start, my condolences go out to all Oakland Raiders fans. After not making the playoffs for 14 straight years, the Raiders finally clinched their playoff birth late in the 2016 NFL season. As luck would have it, Derek Carr, the Raiders’ quarterback who was a MVP candidate for the majority of the season, broke his leg in Week 16, leaving Matt McGloin to be the Raiders quarterback. If being a Raiders fan wasn’t hard enough already, Matt McGloin got injured late in the season as well, leaving Connor Cook, a rookie, to be the Raiders’ starter.

As you can imagine, this situation was obviously not ideal for the Raiders. In fact, Connor Cook, a rookie out of Michigan State, became the first rookie ever to start his first NFL game in the playoffs. And boy did it show … Connor Cook finished the game with just 161 passing yards, a cringeworthy 3 interceptions, and a downright pathetic quarterback rating of 5.5. Houston’s offense was quite stagnant as well, only finishing with 291 yards of total offense. The decisive statistic in the game that really showed why Oakland lost had to have been turnovers, as they had 3 (all Connor Cook interceptions) compared to Houston’s 0.

 

Seattle routs in another home win: Detroit Lions 6, Seattle Seahawks 26

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Seattle dominated this game, just as they usually do during their home games. Photo Credits: AP Photo

To all the haters who believe that the 12th man does not influence the game, you are just flat out wrong. Since 2012 (the year Russell Wilson was drafted), the Seahawks have had a league-best record of 39-6 at home, compared to their slightly above average record of 24-19-1 on the road. After beating the Lions at home this past weekend, the Seahawks won their 10th game in a row at home, which is quite an impressive feat. The 12th man is simply a force of nature, recording 137.6 decibels back in 2014, which broke the world record at the time. All I’m saying is that Seattle’s success at home is not coincidental, and was a major force in this rout.

Detroit was looking to come into the game to shed its 26-year playoff winless streak, but unfortunately they didn’t come anywhere even close. Based on the statline, it should come as no surprise that Seahawks completely controlled this game; Seattle had 150 more yards of total offense, 13 more minutes on offense, and 15 more first downs. All of these point to that Seattle dominated this game, and if you watched this game, you could see that they mostly definitely did.

 

 

The ‘Fins come up short yet again: Miami Dolphins 12, Pittsburgh Steelers 30

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Bud Dupree absolutely crushed Matt Moore on this hit during their Wildcard Playoff Game. Photo Credits: AP Photo

Although their playoff winless streak is not quite as long as the Lions, the Miami Dolphins’ fanbase has experienced their fairshare of torture as well, since the Lions have not won a playoff game in 16 years. And today was no exception, as the Steelers absolutely steamed-rolled the Dolphins in a blowout. Antonio Brown and Leveon Bell led the way for the Steelers today, racking up 167 yards and 124 yards, as well as 2 touchdowns each. On the stat-sheet, the Steelers’ win didn’t seem that dominant, as they only slightly edged out the Dolphins in most of the important categories, such as 3rd-down efficiency, total offense, the turnover battle, etc. However, if you watched in person, this was hardly the case, as the Steelers completely controlled the game in this blowout.

On a side note, Roethlisberger injured his ankle late in the 4th quarter and is currently in a walking boot. However, in a press conference after the game, he said he should be fine to play next week.

 

Pack Attack: New York Giants 13, Green Bay Packers 38

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Rodgers completely decimated the Giants’ defense earlier this evening. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Well, we discovered 3 important things in this game. The most obvious one has to be that the Giants’ defense is not elite, they are above average at best. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense absolutely tore up the Giants’ defense this week, not a trait that I would usually describe as “elite”. And by consequence, the Cowboys’ offense is not elite either, as they were shut down multiple times by the Giants’ defense. Lastly, but certainly the most important, Aaron Rodgers, with the exception of Tom Brady, is the GOAT (greatest of all time), as he has thrown 22 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the past 8 games.

Rodgers and the Packers’ offense was just too much too handle, despite having a slow start in the first half. After that, the Giants’ defense was history, as Rodgers had his way with them, as Adams, Cobb, and Cook were open on virtually every single route. Late in the 4th quarter, Packers fans starting chanting “M-V-P, M-V-P”after Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, which basically sealed the Packers win. In conclusion, Aaron Rodgers has been completely unstoppable over the past 8 weeks, and any team that is facing him should be downright scared.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Football Reference, and Football Data. Thank you for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Heisman Trophy Analysis

Let’s take a look at this year’s Heisman finalists, and analyze how deserving the candidates were of their respective positions.

 

Lamar Jackson, QB – Louisville Cardinals (1st place – 2,144 votes)

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Lamar Jackson, the clear front-runner to win the Heisman for the majority of the season, capped off a spectacular season with the highest award. Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

This past Saturday, Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded to college football’s most outstanding player. Jackson, only 19 years and 337 days old, not only became the youngest winner of the Heisman Trophy, but also won by 620 votes, which was the sixth largest margin of victory in the history of the trophy. Jackson compiled a number of very impressive achievements this season, and was certainly a very deserving recipient of the ticket into college football’s most elite club.

Jackson epitome of a dual-threat quarterback, racking up 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air, as well as 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Jackson was the 2nd player in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 yards, and was the first player in a Power 5 conference to do so. Jackson also became the 3rd player in FBS history to pass for 30 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns, and the previous two, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, won the Heisman in landslides as well. Jackson also broke Deshaun Watson’s ACC single-season touchdown record with 51 total touchdowns this season. With all of that being said, Jackson greatly deserves the Heisman.

 

Deshaun Watson, QB – Clemson Tigers (2nd place – 1,524 votes)

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Deshaun Watson, a pre-season Heisman favorite, came up just short in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting. Photo Credits: Getty Images

While most people might lump Watson and Jackson into the same group, as both are quarterbacks who can pass the ball well with elite running talent, they are by no means the same player. While Jackson is accurately regarded as a dual-threat quarterback, Watson is much more of a pocket passer, despite possessing great athleticism and speed. Watson finished 2nd in the Heisman voting this year, a mild improvement over his 3rd place finish last season, which are the 2 highest finishes in Clemson football history.

Watson was an elite pocket passer this year, recording 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns in the air, but also 529 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. Although other teams have made it to the playoff multiple times, Watson is the only quarterback in FBS history to lead his team to 2 College Football Playoffs. This past Thursday, Watson won the Davey O’Brien award for the second time, only the fourth player in FBS history to do so, and each of the previous 3 eventually went on to win the Heisman. As we know now, Watson was not quite as lucky, but this alone makes him deserving of his 2nd place finish.

 

Baker Mayfield, QB (3rd place – 361 votes) and Dede Westbrook, WR (4th place – 209 votes)

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Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook finished 3rd and 4th in this year’s Heisman voting despite low expectations after a slow start. Photo Credits: AP Photo

Let’s get something straight: both Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook were absolutely fabulous this season, however, they unfairly did not get the national media coverage they deserved. A combination of the excellence of Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Alabama, as well as 2 early losses to Houston and Ohio State drew media coverage away from Mayfield and Westbrook, which severely hurt their Heisman campaigns. Additionally, many people did what I did in this article, which hurt their campaigns as well: clump Mayfield and Westbrook together because they both played for the Oklahoma Sooners.

Mayfield was an extremely efficient passer this season, throwing for 3,669 yards and 38 touchdowns. Entering the bowl season, Mayfield leads the FBS in Total QBR (91.6), yards per attempt (11.1), and completion percentage (71.2%), the first player to do so since Russell Wilson achieved this feat back in 2011. Mayfield finished 4th in Heisman voting last year, and substantially increased his products in all facets of his game, which would justify his 3rd place finish. Despite being a fabulous player, Jackson and Watson were simply in another class, something that Mayfield maybe can achieve next year, as he stated that he was interested in returning to Norman for his senior year.

Westbrook was fantastic this past season, most likely being the best receiver in all of college football. Westbrook and Mayfield really fed off each other’s success, and some of Mayfield’s improvement from last year to this year can definitely be attributed to Westbrook’s brilliance. Westbrook was possibly the most dynamic player in college football, tallying 16 receiving touchdowns as well as leading Power 5 receivers in 20-yard receptions with 26 and in 100-yard receiving games with 8.This past week, Westbrook deservingly won the Biletnikoff Award, awarded to college football’s best receiver, and finished 4th in Heisman voting for his dynamic play.

 

Jabrill Peppers, Athlete – Michigan Wolverines (5th place – 208 votes)

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Jabrill Peppers lived up to the hype this season, putting together an impressive campaign, in which he finished 5th in Heisman voting this season. Photo Credits: AP Photo

An argument can be made that Jabrill Peppers was the best all-around player in the FBS this season. While I agree with this statement, unfortunately for Peppers, the Heisman historically has not been given to the best all-around player, it’s been given to the best offensive player. It is quite impressive that Peppers managed to stay in the Heisman race despite having such a minimal offensive role, and I think that this really speaks volumes about the impact he makes on all sides of the ball.

Peppers was easily the most versatile player in the country, being an impact player at a number of different positions on defense (linebacker, safety, defensive back), offense (running back, wide receiver, wildcat quarterback), and special teams (punt returner, kick returner). Peppers racked up 72 tackles and 4 touchdowns this year, a fairly impressive stat-line for a player who splits his stats among a number of positions. Peppers is the first non-offensive player to be invited to the Heisman cermony since Manti Te’o, and was more than deserving of his 5th place finish.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, CBS Sports, and NCAA.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo