Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Mike Adams a fit for the Jets?

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With Wayne Hunter being one of the major disappointments for the Jets this season, the team is likely to search for his replacement in the offseason through the draft or free agency. A name that is gaining momentum at Senior Bowl practices is Ohio State tackle Mike Adams.

At 6-7, 323 pounds, Adams has the size to be an NFL right tackle and while his height creates some issues with footwork and bending at the waist much like Nate Solder last season, Solder had a productive rookie year with the Patriots filling in for Sebastian Vollmer.

Adams has been impressive so far this offseason, as seen in the following reports by Draft Insider's Tony Pauline from Senior Bowl practices Monday and Tuesday:

Mon: Wow….Wow….Wow…. Adams was slow at the start but once he got his feet underneath him he was completely dominant. There’s so much to like about his game; he’s big, strong, fluid and moves incredibly well. For the most part once he got his hands on the defender it was game over.

Tues: Overall not as good as yesterday but still a solid performance from Adams. He looked real good moving on his feet and showed the ability to quickly and easily get out to the second level and control linebackers when asked to block in motion.
Adams is playing himself into the first round and could make an instant impact along a Jets offensive line that regressed in both run and pass blocking this season. Mark Sanchez needs all the help he can get in a make-or-break season and Adams could give help give him more confidence in an offensive line that he seemed not to trust as the season wore on.

The need for a pass rusher may be first on the list for the Jets but with Courtney Upshaw being rumored to go in the top 15 or even the top 10, there isn't another 3-4 outside linebacker without some serious bust potential that early in round one. If Upshaw isn't on the board, Adams could become a serious consideration for the Jets by the time April rolls around.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jorge Posada: Hall of Famer?

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With the official retirement of great Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, questions have been swirling about whether he's a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame. While Posada's credentials are far from first-ballot worthy, there really is no reason he shouldn't be a Hall of Famer.

Baseball is a game of statistics. Always has been, always will be. There are 13 catchers currently in the Hall of Fame and if Posada was to be enshrined, here's how his career stats would stack up against the others.

.273 batting average (10th out of 14)
.374 on-base percentage (5th)
.474 slugging percentage (7th)
1,664 hits (8th)
275 home runs (5th)
1,065 runs batted in (7th)
900 runs (8th)

Those numbers don't even count the most important one: World Series rings. Posada has five, regardless of how little a part he played in the 1996 championship team. Only Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey, fellow great Yankee catchers, have more.

Posada's numbers compare very favorably with the rest of the Hall of Fame catching crowd, but some may say that those numbers are skewed because he played in the "Steroid Era." Meanwhile, Posada has never been linked to any performance-enhancing drugs. Not once. Even with a .338 average, 20 home runs and 90 RBI in his age-36 season.

Since Posada played on loaded teams as a Yankee and in a time marred by performing-enhancing drugs, many will look to those facts as reason to exclude Posada from the Hall of Fame. But when you look at all of the reasons to induct him, you see a much more convincing argument than any against his legacy.

Posada deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I just wonder if he'll ever actually make it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Revisiting Last Year's Knicks-Nuggets Trade

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Tonight's game between New York and Denver will be a tale of two teams trending in very different directions right now. The Knicks have lost five straight games to drop to 6-9 and sadly still hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, have won three straight and five of six on their way to the second-best record in the Western Conference; and they're doing it with a former Knick as one of their key players.

Danilo Gallinari was the major piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York in early 2011 and anybody who knows me knows I was a huge Gallinari fan. I saw a future All-Star and, sure enough, the Italian is tenth among Western forwards in All-Star voting.

It can be argued that he's better than multiple players ahead of him (Odom, World Peace and Duncan) which places him squarely in the running for a spot on the team based on his performance this season. He may not make it, but there could also be more growth in his game in the years to come.

The Knicks also traded Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov in the deal while receiving Chauncey Billups and Corey Brewer in return, but only Mozgov hasn't changed addresses since the trade. The important piece is Felton, who left Denver for Portland after battling Ty Lawson for minutes.

The Knicks are 20-22 since trading for Anthony, while the Nuggets are 28-12 after ridding themselves of a player many view as selfish. Part of the Knicks struggles have come from their lack of a true point guard, as Billups was amnestied to make room for Tyson Chandler. This is where Felton comes in.

While Chandler has helped the team improve their defense, a simple task considering how bad it was last season, the loss of Billups has destroyed the Knicks' offensive efficiency (they're currently ranked 24th despite having two big-time scorers). Would the Knicks be better off with Felton and Gallinari than they would with Anthony?

The short-term answer is absolutely yes. That answer, however, assumes Chandler still would have come to New York if Anthony wasn't on the team. That can't be assured, as part of the reason to team up Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in New York was to attract free agents to the Big Apple.

The long-term answer depends on Gallinari's continued development. While he may never be on the same level as Anthony as a scorer, Gallinari competes harder on defense and doesn't rely on isolation to create scoring opportunities like Anthony, which destroys the Knicks' offensive rhythm.

If Gallinari becomes close to the player Anthony is, which I believe is entirely possible, the Knicks will have lost this trade in both the short and long run. They would have cost themselves depth and point guard play during Anthony's prime and a player more than four years younger than him for the long haul.

It's still way too early to judge the Knicks' 2011 roster purge and there are too many variables to make a truly educated guess on what the team would look like with Felton and Gallinari instead of Anthony. However, it's painstakingly obvious to all Knicks fans that they miss both Felton and Billups and, with all apologies to Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert, an answer doesn't seem to be coming soon.

I like Shumpert but he will never be a true point guard; once he becomes more consistent with his jump shot, he can be an ideal two-guard. Davis is old and has issues with motivation; considering the Knicks' current struggles, he may not be interested in playing particularly hard upon his return.

Knicks fans may still wish they had Felton and Gallinari rather than Anthony but assuming Chandler wouldn't have signed without Anthony on board, it's still a tough sell that the trade wasn't the right move (unless you think Anthony would have signed as a free agent). Regardless of right or wrong, this team is extremely difficult to watch right now and I'm not sure I see that changing until Steve Nash becomes a Knick, if he does.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who is the Real Key to the Knicks' Defensive Turnaround?

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When Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert returned last Wednesday against the Bobcats, the Knicks thought their early-season problems on both offense and defense would be solved. After all, Stoudemire was sixth in the NBA in scoring last season and Shumpert's 6-10 wingspan makes him a defensive nightmare.

A home loss and 118 points allowed later, Knicks fans were left wondering how good their team really was on the defensive end. Shumpert and Stoudemire helped the Knicks score 110 points on offense but after allowing one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league to easily top 100 points, there were questions galore.

The Knicks were 2-4 and coming off consecutive home losses to Toronto and Charlotte. They have since turned the young season around with four straight victories including an impressive 85-79 victory last night against Philadelphia, the best team in the NBA so far according to power rankings from ESPN's John Hollinger.

While nobody believes the 76ers are THAT good or the Knicks are THAT bad (24th in those rankings before Wednesday, 19th after), it was still a good sign to see New York shut down one of the league's best two-way teams with a great mix of veterans like Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand and youth like Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.

Skeptics will say that Philadelphia was playing their final game of a back-to-back-to-back and was tired, but the 76ers were playing with great energy down the stretch and seemed to have their legs. The one thing they didn't have was starting center Spencer Hawes, which likely contributed more to the loss than the third game in a row.

The Knicks allowed 99.2 points per game in their first six games compared to just 85.5 in their past four. Tyson Chandler was brought in to help this team's defense but he has played in every game this season and the team has had mixed results. The real key to this team's defensive success is Shumpert.

Since the rookie guard was elevated to the starting lineup in place of Toney Douglas, the Knicks have allowed just 82 points per game in three wins. While Chandler is great at protecting the basket, Douglas' struggles containing opposing point guards early led to serious issues with help defense and rotations, something Chandler himself can't overcome as one player.

With Shumpert now defending the point, opposing point guards haven't been able to penetrate the interior of the Knicks' defense anywhere near as well. Chandler hasn't been forced to help as often and as a result, New York's defensive rotations have been much smoother and teams have had less success around the basket.

The Knicks still switch on a few too many screens which can lead to serious mismatches, but Shumpert's height and length allows him to get a hand in the face of taller shooters and hold his own in post defense when forced to switch. His lightning-quick hands present a mismatch of their own against taller players less accustomed to handling the ball.

The combination of Shumpert's perimeter defense and and Chandler's ability to protect the paint has been the biggest boon to the Knicks defensively and with both now starting, the Knicks are tougher defensively from the outset. Shumpert would ranked third in the NBA with 2.2 steals per game if he hadn't missed four games and Chandler is 13th in blocked shots.

For all the heat the Knicks' brass took for taking the relatively unknown Shumpert in the draft and signing Chandler at the expense of Chauncey Billups (and potentially Chris Paul), these two have infused defensive life into a team that previously had none.

With two new defensive stalwarts, a weak Atlantic Division and two of the league's best scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks all of a sudden look like a legitimate threat for the third seed in the Eastern Conference after many speculated they could struggle to make the playoffs after starting 2-4. What a difference a week makes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jets in Disarray: What's the Next Step?

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Nobody questioned Greg McElroy's comments last week about the "corrupt mindset" and "selfish individuals" within the New York Jets locker room. The only thing that was in question was whether he had the right to say it.

Right or wrong, McElroy hit the nail on the head and Manish Mehta's article in the New York Daily News proves it. The Jets who criticized Mark Sanchez under the cloak of anonymity are the definition of selfish.

Some of the things said in the article may be true, such as, "'We have to bring in another quarterback that will make him work at practice,' said one player. 'He’s lazy and content because he knows he’s not going to be benched.'”

Without a credential for Jets practices, I know nothing of Sanchez's work ethic. However, it's hard to disagree that the team needs to bring in a quarterback that is actually a threat to Sanchez's job; something Mark Brunell never was. It will only be a positive for Sanchez's development.

What's easy to disagree with is the way some of Sanchez's teammates went about criticizing him. If you have something to say, so be it, but don't hide behind your comments. That's gutless and cowardly, as Nick Mangold tweeted this morning:
"@nickmangold: This (story) by @TheJetsStream is false. If "unnamed sources" want to attack Mark, man up and put your name to it #JETS"
Right on, Nick, right on. If people want to talk about a lack of leadership on the Jets, maybe they should look again at the team's All-Pro center. He's more deserving of the captaincy than either Sanchez or Santonio Holmes were this season.

An unnamed source in Mehta's report also said the organization coddles Sanchez and that his "lack of mental toughness" is apparent because he unfollowed all the Jets beat writers on Twitter. Really? What kind of a joke is that?

If I was quarterbacking the Jets, I wouldn't want to log onto my Twitter account and see nothing but people screaming for my job. It's hard to blame Sanchez for unfollowing the writers but hey, cowards will look for any way to legitimize the hypocrisy of anonymously bashing their quarterback in the media.

It's obvious that this Jets team has a lot of issues and frankly, I'm not sure how they're going to get past them. For Sanchez to come under fire from the media is one thing but when your teammates attack you as well, there are big-time issues.

There is a three-step solution to this problem. The first thing that needs to happen is Rex Ryan holding a public press conference to say that this anonymous finger-pointing won't be tolerated. Ryan has always been a talker but now that's seeping through to this team; he needs to set a standard that only he gets to speak out.

Ryan has also had his name attached to each and every one of his brash comments and he puts the blame on himself when the Jets lose. This self-accountability is what the Jets players should emulate in Ryan, not his unabashed talk. Ryan may need to tone it down a bit as well; his words aren't helping the team fly under the radar like they did in his first two seasons.

Secondly, the Jets need to bring in a competent veteran that can still play, but also work with Sanchez like Mark Brunell attempted to do. Competition fuels desire and success and without it, Sanchez may be doomed to repeat his mistakes of the past few seasons. A full offseason may also benefit the young quarterback, a luxury he was not afforded in preparing for 2011 after the lockout.

The third and final step? Sanchez himself needs to step up next season and put all these issues to rest with his play on the field. He claimed recently that the recent criticism didn't bother him, but that was when it was the media talking. How will he handle his own teammates doubting him?

Sanchez will come into next season with a new coaching staff and a proverbial fresh start from the handcuffing ways of Brian Schottenheimer. If he can't quiet the media critics and selfish locker-room cowards, their doubts will be legitimized and this team will crumble on his and Ryan's watch.

Maybe this motivation is just what Sanchez needs to get his up-and-down career back on track. Or maybe it will be his eventual downfall as an NFL starter. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: New York Jets First-Round Wish List

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The Jets have many needs to address heading into next season. Their three major areas of needs are an upgrade to their pass rush, a safety adept at man coverage and help for Mark Sanchez on the offensive side of the football.

With bowl season concluding after Alabama's 21-0 domination of previously unbeaten LSU, it's time to take at look at some of the players the Jets should target with the 16th overall pick in April. (Hint: I waited until after the BCS Championship for a reason)

1. Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB - Alabama)

The defensive MVP of last night's title game, Upshaw was an absolute beast in all facets of the game. He played well against the run and put pressure on LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, showing off the complete NFL skill set that makes him a first-round prospect.

Upshaw is strong at the point in run support, fast up the field and disciplined enough not to overpursue plays moving away from him. At 6-2, 265 pounds, Upshaw would be a perfect fit at outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4 and instantly become the team's best pass rusher. This is the perfect storm of when talent meets a need.

2. Mark Barron (S - Alabama)

This would be more of a need pick for the Jets than anything, as their safeties were terrible in coverage this season. There will be better players on the board at 16 and usually I'm a proponent of drafting the best available player that also fills a need, but there are a few reasons to take Barron.

The Alabama safety is tough against the run, but needs to work on his pursuit angles and has a tendency to overrun plays at times. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Barron would be the Jets biggest safety and would provide immediate help against opposing tight ends, New York's only real weakness in coverage this season.

He would also make Jim Leonhard exponentially more effective, as Leonhard's best days with the Ravens came alongside future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. The Jets' veteran safety is coming off two season-ending injuries and should come at a nice discount; pairing him with Barron would essentially represent an upgrade at two positions with just one pick.

3. Trent Richardson (RB - Alabama)

Three straight players from the Crimson Tide? I must be an Alabama fan. The truth is that I'm not but the SEC is the closest conference to the NFL that you're going to find; most of the talent coming out of the SEC translates well to the professional level.

The first two players on this list address two of the Jets' three needs, while Richardson would provide Mark Sanchez with major help in the running game. Shonn Greene is serviceable but will never be better than average; he lost a step this past season and won't get it back anytime soon.

I honestly don't believe Richardson will be available at this point, as he's the best running back prospect since Darren McFadden in 2008 and deserves to be a top-10 pick (C.J. Spiller was, after all). If he falls past Cleveland and Tampa Bay in the top five, however, there are no other teams in the top 15 who need a running back unless Seattle doesn't resign Marshawn Lynch.

A competitive team that needs a running back like the Packers or Patriots could move into the top 15 to take Richardson but if he's on the board when the Jets draft, they need to at least take a look at him. They have plenty of holes and can get by with Greene, but Richardson would definitely be the best player available and take a lot of pressure off Sanchez in a make-or-break season.

4. Alshon Jeffery (WR - South Carolina)

It seem unlikely the Jets will get their hands on one of the top three tackles available in the draft and all the others seem like reaches at 16. Since helping Mark Sanchez is the goal if their defensive targets are off the board, how about a 6-4 wide receiver to replace the 6-5 Plaxico Burress and haul in the high passes that have become a staple of Sanchez's early seasons.

Notre Dame's Michael Floyd could also be on the board for the Jets but I like Jeffery more, as he was able to put up decent numbers this season despite issues at quarterback, a la Larry Fitzgerald. Neither Jeffery or Floyd can be as good as Fitzgerald, but the Jets need a downfield target and Jeffery's yards per catch for this three-year career stands at 16.6 despite lacking sprinter speed, compared to 13.6 for Floyd.

New York may shy away from Jeffery after his ejection from South Carolina's bowl game against Nebraska a few weeks ago since they already have one receiver with character issues. Floyd has had off-the-field issues in the past as well and while the Jets will likely address the receiver position in free agency or after round one, Jeffery is a solid pick if the three guys ahead of him are gone.

5. Dont'a Hightower (ILB - Alabama)

Back to Nick Saban's team we go and rightfully so; that Crimson Tide defense could go down as one of the best ever in college football and produce four or five first-round picks in April's draft. Unlike Arizona State underclassman Vontaze Burfict, Hightower has not yet declared but seems likely to after winning the national title.

Both linebackers have the potential to dominate against the run, but Burfict comes with a few character issues that Hightower doesn't. In a Jets locker room that was called "selfish" by third-string quarterback Greg McElroy (also an Alabama product), that could break any ties between Burfict and Hightower.

Hightower would add needed speed to the Jets defense and replace Bart Scott, who seems all but gone after slowing down significantly this season and flipping off reporters the day after New York lost their season finale to Miami. Come draft time, it seems likely the Jets will be saying, "Roll Tide!"

Honorable Mention: Whitney Mercilus (DE/OLB - Illinois), Melvin Ingram (DE/OLB - South Carolina), Vontaze Burfict (ILB - Arizona State), Michael Floyd (WR - Notre Dame), Vinny Curry (DE/OLB - Marshall)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Knicks need Stoudemire, Shumpert to return to lineup

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After scoring 106 points in their season-opening win against the Celtics, the Knicks have scored 85 points or less in three of their last four games. They played each of these games without rookie Iman Shumpert and the last two without Amar'e Stoudemire.

With the exception of their 114-point outburst against the Kings, who are always allergic to defense, the Knicks have been unable to find a consistent scorer alongside Carmelo Anthony, the only member of the team to score in double digits more than three times so far this season.

Both Stoudemire and Shumpert practiced fully on Tuesday and look primed to return tonight against the Bobcats. The Knicks desperately need Stoudemire's presence as a second scorer and as the team's primary option when Anthony needs a breather.

Shumpert's return may get less publicity than Stoudemire's but it's just as important, as the Knicks need a guard with the ability to create his own shot. If there's anything they've learned about Toney Douglas and Landry Fields through five games this season, it's that they can't.

Shumpert has come a long way from draft night, when countless Knicks fans (myself included) said, "Who?" when his name was called. Those same fans, like myself, likely fell in love with Shumpert's aggressive, fearless nature during the preseason and if they didn't then, they did against Boston.

Getting both players back will do wonders for the Knicks offense as they are arguably the team's second and third-best scorers, but their defense should improve as well with Shumpert's long arms spanning the perimeter. Douglas, a player known for his defense in the past, has struggled on both ends of the court this season.

Stoudemire may not be much more than below-average as an on-ball defender and average in help defense, but his presence will allow impressive second-round rookie Josh Harrellson to move back to the bench and push Jerome Jordan out of the rotation. Harrellson's ability to defend without fouling has been impressive, but he's not a starter.

As much as the Knicks have struggled this season, we've only seen them play once at full strength. That was on Christmas Day, when the off-season excitement carried over in a nice victory over the Celtics, whether Paul Pierce played or not.

With the returns of Stoudemire and Shumpert on the horizon, the Knicks should once again be able to score in bunches and bring back the excitement many fans had for this team just a few weeks ago.