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Archive for April, 2012

The NFL Draft has come and gone and this week is kind of like the week following Christmas. Fans take time to research all the players their teams drafted and analyze the draft a little deeper than first glance. At Christmas, you get all your presents and are all excited about all of them but can’t play with them all at once so you take the entire next week to play with each one.

Plus, the following week is when you realize you got all these cool things, but you need batteries or something else to make them work. This is akin to NFL teams signing undrafted Free Agents following the draft…the picks they got in the draft aren’t quite enough to fill out the roster so they need to add a few more players to the roster to make it complete.

This brings us to my final grade for the Cleveland Browns 2012 NFL Draft. Consider this as you read through my grading and rationale behind this. If you look at teams’ drafts from year to year if a team ends up with two or three solid starters from a draft that would be deemed a good draft. Sound low??? Go to nfl.com and look back at draft classes from 2009-2011 and see how many teams got more than two or three starters in those drafts. However, the Browns need to be held to a slightly higher standard this year as they had two first-round picks and two fourth-round picks thanks to the Julio Jones trade last season.

Overall, I’m going to give the Browns a “B-” grade on this draft strictly because I think they drafted a couple guys a little earlier than they needed to and I would have love to see them trade a pick or two in this year’s draft for a higher pick in next year’s draft to keep stockpiling draft picks.

Moving up one spot to take Trent Richardson was fine by me as we hardly gave up anything of huge value to move up and with 13 total picks we had plenty of ammunition to swing this deal. Plus, the Browns ended up getting one additional pick back by trading down in the third round. Richardson is a safe pick and will be a starter from day one. I think their only other option at #3 or #4 would have been Justin Blackmon and he seems like a risky pick to me and the Browns aren’t in a position to be rolling the dice on draft picks.

I would have been much happier with the Brandon Weeden pick at #22 had we turned around and taken WR Stephen Hill or Ruben Randall in the second round at pick #37. Instead we used that pick on a RT, Mitchell Schwartz. I said it before, I like Weeden and there’s no question in my mind he’s an immediate upgrade over Colt McCoy. The draft is about getting better and if he makes our team better at the most important position in the NFL then I’m ok with the pick.

With Mitchell Schwartz he seems like another safe pick who should come in and be a starter immediately. He’s big, strong and has lots of experience at the college level. If he can’t beat out Oniel Cousins at RT in training camp then the grade for this draft immediately drops. I’m ok with safe picks in the second round as the Browns have rolled the dice on some classic picks like Chaun Thompson and David Veikune in the past and how did those work out for the team?

The biggest question mark for me in the entire draft was the third round for the Browns. First, they trade down 20 spots when some quality players were still on the board. At this point they still hadn’t taken a receiver and guys like Mohamad Sanu from Rutgers and Chris Givens from Wake Forest were still on the board. Then, to top it off, they take a DT from Cincinnati, John Hughes, who isn’t well known by anyone and is going to be a rotational player at best. The only reason I’m not killing them on this pick is they have no depth at DT behind Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor so if this guy can play at all then it’s another upgrade over what is currently on the roster.

The fourth round is where it began to get interesting for the Browns and others in this draft. Before the round began I told numerous people the Browns needed to come out of the round with a receiver and a linebacker. Well, the Brownies delivered and they got a LB I really liked going into the draft, James-Michael Johnson and a WR who not many people knew much about, Travis Benjamin, from Miami, FL. Johnson can play any of the four LB positions and I think he may take over for Scott Fujita as a starter before the season is over. Plus, this is another area where the team had zero depth. In Benjamin the Browns got a fast, deep-threat kind of receiver but he’s not a tall guy so hopefully he can do the job of stretching the field to keep teams honest. Something no team did last year with McCoy at the helm and the rag-tag bunch of receivers we rolled out there from week to week.

Finally, in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds teams are usually looking for bottom of the roster guys or special-teamers. The Browns took a ginormous OL in Ryan Miller (6’7″ and 321) who played guard at Colorado but can also play tackle in the fifth round. He can compete with Schwartz at RT and hopefully be a swing tackle in case something would happen to either starter. We saw what happened last season with Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins at RT so this guy can’t be any worse than those two. In the sixth the Browns took two guys I actually really like – Emmanuel Acho, a LB from Texas, and Billy Wynn, a DT from Boise State. A draft expert I trust more than any other, Gil Brandt, the GM of the Cowboys in the 70’s and 80’s, had Wynn ranked #63 on his top 100 players. Again, these guys can be special teams guys and add depth to two areas we desperately needed it. Acho put up big numbers in college but was considered a little undersized for the NFL. Wynn put up good numbers but was knocked because of his effort in college. Hopefully one of the two pans out and we can get some help and depth from them moving forward. Lastly, the seventh round is usually a throw-away round where no-name guys from no-name schools get drafted and rarely make an impact. In 2011 the Browns took Eric Hagg, a safety from Nebraska, who was hurt most of the season but came in and played some quality football for the Browns at the end of the season. This year they take CB Trevin Wade from Arizona and FB/H-Back Brad Smelley from Alabama. Wade was projected to go much higher in the draft but had consistency issues in college. He has the speed and skills to be successful, so hopefully a little NFL coaching can get the best out of him. Smelley was Richardson’s blocker at Alabama and may be able to compete with Owen Marecic for the FB spot or possibly even Alex Smith or Jordan Cameron for the final TE spot on the roster.

This seems to be the third solid draft for Tom Heckert and the Browns so hopefully it’ll translate to success on the field. Ultimately it’s going to come down to Brandon Weeden more than anything else, so if he’s a success then everything else the Browns did or didn’t do this off-season will be water under the bridge. I’ll leave you with one last thing. In looking at the picks the Browns had and who was on the board at the time, here’s what I would have done if I were turning in the index cards at Radio City Music Hall in NYC…

Round 1, Pick 3 – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama
Round 1, Pick 22 – Stephen Hill – WR – Georgia Tech
Round 2, Pick 37 – Brandon Weeden – QB – Oklahoma State
Round 3, Pick 87 -Bobbie Massie – T – Mississippi
Round 4, Pick 100 – Ronnell Lewis – OLB – Oklahoma
Round 4, Pick 120 – Brandon Boykin – CB – Georgia
Round 5, Pick 160 – George Iloka – S – Boise State
Round 6, Pick 204 – Billy Wynn – DT – Boise State
Round 6, Pick 205 – Chase Minnifield – CB – Virginia
Round 7, Pick 245 – Eric Page – WR – Toledo
Round 7, Pick 247 – James Brown – G – Troy

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The Browns second and third round draft picks didn’t do anything to excite the fan base here in Cleveland. In the second round they took Mitchell Schwartz a Tackle from California. I was on a radio show here in NE Ohio on Friday, The Sports Report on ESPN 970, and actually mentioned Schwartz as a guy to keep your eye on in the third round for the Browns. This fills a giant hole the Browns had during the 2011 season at RT, but there’s a good chance they could have gotten him or another serviceable T in the third or fourth round. For example, Tackle Bobbie Massie from Mississippi State who is still on the board at the start of round 4.

Then, the big head-scratcher came when they traded down 20 picks in the 4th round with the Broncos. The Browns had a chance to take a solid receiver who was still on the board, Mohamad Sanu from Rutgers, or a Safety like Brandon Taylor from LSU who could play next to TJ Ward. Instead they draft a guy I had never heard of and several NFL Network announcers had never heard of either – John Hughes a DT from Cincinnati. He had decent state at UC, 5.5 sacks as a senior, but was never dominant. The one thing I’ve read about him that I like is he is a high-motor guy and I think that’s one of the most important qualities for a defensive lineman.

Here is a list of guys the Browns may take a look at today in the 4th-7th rounds of the draft:

Terrell Manning – LB – NC State
Michael James-Johnson – LB – Nevada
Tank Carder – LB – TCU
Cam Johnson – DE – Virginia
Ladarius Green – TE – Louisiana Lafayette
Chase Minnifield – CB – Virginia
George Iloka – S – Boise State
Keshawn Martin – WR – Michigan State
Juron Criner – WR – Arizona
Nick Toon – WR – Wisconsin
Eric Page – WR – Toledo
Brian Stahovich – P – San Diego State

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Well, tonight is like Christmas night (or Rosh Hashanah for my Jewish friends) for many NFL fans and especially those of us Browns fans. The Browns had two first round picks in the NFL draft and a huge opportunity to improve the team which has struggled since coming back to Cleveland in 1999. So, with the picks of RB Trent Richardson from Alabama and QB Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State how did the Browns do improving their team?

First, let’s discuss the Browns trading up to take Trent Richardson at #3 instead of #4. When I first heard about the trade the first thing I heard was that they gave up three picks to move up one spot. When I heard that I squirmed for a minute but said “As long as it isn’t a 2nd or 3rd round pick I’m ok with it.” It ended up being the second of two 4th round picks, a 5th and a 7th. When I found that out I was ok because we were getting our guy for sure and weren’t going to let Tampa or St. Louis move up to snatch him away from us. Also, the next thing I looked at was what “value” did we give up to move up one spot. Using the Trade Value Chart moving from three to four should cost 400  additional points. The value of the picks we gave was only about 115 points so in theory we got a bargain! Plus, the Browns still have 10 picks in the draft – plenty of picks to improve the team.

Next, Richardson fills a HUGE hole on the Browns. Do Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty or Chris Ogbonnaya scare any defenses? Hell no. Does Richardson – absolutely. He’s going to be an immediate starter for the Browns and a top five or ten RB in his first season.

Now on to the much more controversial pick of Brandon Weeden at #22. First, let me say I like Weeden as a potential NFL QB. As a Minor League pitcher he threw in the upper 90’s so he has a great arm. He made tons of throws at Oklahoma State so has plenty of passes under his belt.  However, think about this…

Brandon Weeden is 28 and will be 29 during this season so any NFL team who would want to maximize his value would want him to play right away in the hopes of getting 8-10 years out of the guy. If you look at every team before the draft started how many teams fit the criteria of needing a starting QB for the 2012 season? The Dolphins could have been one of them but they took Ryan Tannehill at #8. The other team who was considered to be looking for a QB was Kansas City but they have a starter and wouldn’t have chosen until after the Browns in the 2nd round. Any other teams come to mind? No. So why would the Browns think they’d need to take him at #22? I’d almost argue that Weeden may have slipped to the 3rd round if the Browns didn’t take him in the 2nd round!!! Again, I like Weeden and will be rooting for him to be a success…sooner rather than later.

Had the Browns passed on Weeden they could have taken the second best tackle in the draft, Riley Reiff, the best guard in the draft, David DeCastro, or the best WR left on their board (who knows who this is but maybe Stephen Hill, Ruben Randle or even Alshon Jeffery). If the Browns can get Hill, Randle or Jeffery in Round 2 then I think the pick if Weeden looks a lot better. The other direction the Browns may look in the 2nd round may be RT with both Cordy Glenn and Jonathan Martin still on the board.

Overall, I’m happy with the 1st round of the draft for the Browns and am almost as excited for the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft tomorrow!

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I’ve tried to keep my posts topical and have really tried to stay away from just discussing current events in sports. This is an exception…as many of you know, I’m a huge NFL fan and my favorite part of the season is the NFL Draft. This season’s draft will be upon us this Thursday and I’ve made my final mock draft of the year. You can check out my full two-round mock draft with insight on potential first round picks at www.neilstein.com or if you just want to see my first round projection I’ve listed it below. Enjoy and feel free to give me your feedback and tell me where I’m wrong in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

1. Colts – Andrew Luck – QB – Stanford
2. Redskins – Robert Griffin III – QB – Baylor
3. Minnesota – Matt Kalil – T – USC
4. Cleveland – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama
5. Tampa Bay –  Morris Claiborne – CB – LSU
6. St. Louis – Justin Blackmon – WR – Oklahoma State
7. Jacksonville – Mark Barron – S – Alabama
8. Miami – Michael Floyd – WR – Notre Dame
9. Carolina – Fletcher Cox – DT – Mississippi State
10. Buffalo – Riley Reiff – T – Iowa
11. Kansas City – Ryan Tannehill – QB – Texas A&M
12. Seattle – Chandler Jones – DE – Syracuse
13. Arizona – Luke Kuechly – LB – Boston College
14. Dallas – David DeCastro – G – Stanford
15. Philadelphia – Dontari Poe – DT – Memphis
16. NY Jets – Michael Brockers – DT – LSU
17. Cincinnati – Stephon Gilmore – CB – South Carolina
18. San Diego – Melvin Ingram – DE/LB – South Carolina
19. Chicago – Quinton Coples – DE – North Carolina
20. Tennessee – Dont’a Hightower – LB – Alabama
21. Cincinnati – Kendall Reyes – DT – Connecticut
22. Cleveland – Stephen Hill – WR – Georgia Tech
23. Detroit – Dre Kirkpatrick – CB – Alabama
24. Pittsburgh – Courtney Upshaw – DE/LB – Alabama
25. Denver – Jerel Worthy – DT – Michigan State
26. Houston – Kendall Wright – WR – Baylor
27. New England – Harrison Smith – S – Notre Dame
28. Green Bay – Doug Martin – RB – Boise State
29. Baltimore – Shea McClellin – LB – Boise State
30. San Francisco – Janoris Jenkins – CB – N. Alabama
31. New England – Alameda Ta’amu – DT – Washington
32. NY Giants – David Wilson – RB – Virginia Tech

Click here to go to my second round… 

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This may be my first and last post about hockey, but I was watching a few minutes of the NHL playoffs the other day and started thinking about how many fights and penalties there are in hockey. It seems like every 10 minutes or so there’s a mini-fight because someone happened to skate a little too close to the goalie or because someone got checked into the boards too hard. I understand fighting has been a part of hockey forever, but in this day and age with all of the emphasis on stats and figures in MLB and even the NFL why hasn’t anyone taken a long hard look at the impact of these penalties on wins and losses in hockey?

I don’t have the time to dig intensely deep into the stats related to Power Plays and penalties in hockey but I did look up a handful of numbers to use as an example for people to start thinking about. Depending on the year, anywhere from about 20% to 30% of ALL goals scored in an NHL season come on Power Plays.  That’s anywhere from 1/5 to 1/3 of ALL goals scored because one team committed a penalty.

Consider those numbers relative to a sport like football which we all know and love. If an NFL team gave up 1/4 of their total points during the season because they did something like commit multiple holding penalties, or pass interference penalties or false starts I would go out on a limb and guess that the coaches would do everything in their power to eliminate or cut down on those penalties in the future. It’s a little something called statistical analysis – or as I tell my children “Learn from your Mistakes.”

I’m realistic enough to know that not ALL penalties in hockey can be eliminated as there are going to be tripping or high-sticking penalties during the normal course of play. However, if teams really wanted to cut down on their penalty minutes and creating Power Plays for their opponents they could easily do so by stopping their players from dropping their gloves and fighting every chance they get.

Initially there would be an adjustment period and everyone else in the NHL would look at that team and call them “soft”, but the same thing happened in MLB when the Oakland A’s began their transformation from traditional player analysis to statistical analysis. Not long after the wins started piling up for the A’s did many other teams jump on the same bandwagon.

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The Lake County Captains will begin their 10th season of baseball in NE Ohio this Thursday, April 12 at 6:30 PM. The front-office staff has been gearing up for this day since last Labor Day and it’s nearly upon us. When explaining the process of getting ready f0r Opening Day for the Captains I tell people it’s like planning a wedding. There are hundreds of things that go into getting ready for another baseball season and, for the most par,t the only people who’ll know what we get done and what we don’t get done are the 14 full-time staff members of the Captains.

The most important thing we do to get ready for the season is sell. If the staff doesn’t sell tickets and advertising then nothing else matters. This week will consist of putting together any last minute touches on sponsorship agreements, finalizing a couple outstanding contracts, and double checking to make sure everything that has been sold will be in place by Thursday. On the ticket side of things we’ll all make sure our season ticket holders have their tickets and parking passes and if anyone needs anything last minute before Thursday we’ll take care of it.

The most important thing fans will see this week is the ballpark itself. In ten years a stadium sees quite a bit of wear and tear and the needs and wants of the fans from year one to year ten change as well. This week the ballpark will get a final deep cleaning (it’s been getting cleaned over the past two to three weeks) from the restrooms to the concession stands to the stadium seats. Also, a couple final touches and improvements for the 2012 season will be finished this week. These include a brand new high-top table seating area located behind home plate, new signage throughout the ballpark and concession stands and even brand new stadium banners commemorating the ten seasons of baseball at Classic Park. Plus, a brand new state-of-the-art camera for the video board will help fans enjoy their ballpark experience even more!

Lastly, the front office and part-time staff members need to mentally prepare for the season as well. This may not sound like a big deal, especially for those of us who’ve been around for a few seasons, but there are new things every season that we need to be reminded of so we can speak intelligently when fans ask us questions. From the new Moby Dick fish sandwich to the new seating area to a new location for the plaques commemorating Captains who have made the Majors there are plenty of things new at Classic Park in 2012.

Hopefully baseball fans, families and folks just looking for a good night out will all come to the ballpark to see what’s going on with the Captains this season. There’s something for everyone at the ballpark and we hope people will enjoy the changes we’ve made for the upcoming season. See you at the ballpark!

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On Thursday, April 12th I will be starting my 14th season working in Minor League Baseball and my fifth year with the Lake County Captains. Opening Day is always one of the highlights of the year even if the weather is cold and uncooperative most of the time! However, an equally exciting Opening Day for me is also approaching…my 5-year old son’s first T-ball game of the year. This year will be a little different as I’ve decided to coach his team this season.

This isn’t my first time coaching as I coached my daughter’s t-ball teams for two years and I’ve also coached the other end of the spectrum where I coached high school kids playing competitive fall baseball for two years. Coaching four and five-year old kids may not sound too difficult, but I can assure you it has as many, if not more, challenges as coaching high school kids.

The most important thing for these kids is that they have fun playing baseball. That is all too often forgotten by youth coaches. My son played t-ball last year too and not one time did his coach utter the word “fun” to the 10 kids on that team. I’m not saying the kids didn’t have any fun, but it clearly wasn’t the focus during the season. My goal heading in to the season is, first and foremost, that the kids have fun learning to play baseball and playing with their new friends. Next, if at the end of the year the kids have figured out how to swing the bat a little bit, throw with the correct hand, and know which way to run to first base then the season will be a huge success.

I’ll be writing more about this as the season approaches, but in the meantime if anyone has any suggestions on how to keep little boys from playing in the dirt and rocks at a baseball field please let me know!

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