Thursday, April 17, 2014

How to Solve a Problem like Barca?

Many times during their Copa Del Rey loss to Real Madrid, ESPN announcers Ian Darke and Steve McManaman (and get used to them - they're the lead World Cup team in the US) posited that this was the end of an era for Barcelona. It may be, it may not be, but the era ended a long time ago. The era ended many times actually, this is just the final product. FC Barcelona is no longer the best team in the world, in fact, it is quite literally the 3rd best team in their own country. What happened? Why did it happen? and How do they fix it? Those are all interesting questions to ask for a team that used to pride itself in being 'more than a team'.

In truth, just two years ago Barcelona went through a week about this harrowing. That week went from a Wednesday through the next Tuesday in April. The bookends were a 0-1 loss at Stamford Bridge and a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou in the return to end their chances at a 2nd straight Champions League crown, and then a 1-2 loss at the Camp Nou to Real Madrid to cede the 2011-12 La Liga title to Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. Barca had three games in 7 days, two at home, and didn't win any of them, crashing out of the Champions League and losing the La Liga race.

They responded by having a dominant 2012-13 domestic campaign, going 32-4-2 (W-L-D), scoring 115 goals and tying the record (set by Real Madrid the previous season) with 100 points. But behind that dominance lied some interesting results that already signaled the end of Barca was near. First, was their over-reliance on Messi, as the goals scored by Messi compared to the rest of the team rose to absurd levels. Messi scored 60 goals for Barcelona in all competitions in the 2012-13 season. That's incredible. The next highest scorer? Pedro... at 13. That's also incredible. There was never that discrepancy. La Liga defenses aren't that good, so Messi tore those up (46 goals in 33 games), but international competition proved tougher. They played 6 knockout games in the Champions League and won exactly one of them, a 'last-moment-of-brilliance' 4-0 win over AC Milan to advance to the Quarterfinals (a big result since they lost 0-2 in the San Siro). What followed were two draws against PSG, winning the tie on away goals as they drew 2-2 in Paris and 1-1 at home, and then the true nadir, the 0-7 aggregate waxing Bayern Munich put on them. That was the beginning.

This bad run of play isn't new. Sure, three straight losses hasn't happened for Barcelona since Lionel Messi was 16, but this bad run of play for Barcelona has basically been the norm since Jan 1st. On the start of 2014, Barcelona were 15-1-1 in La Liga. Since, they are just 10-2-4, netting just 30 out of a possible 48 points. That is really not very good. Some of the losses were just ridiculous, like losses to regulation contending teams like Real Valladolid and Grenada. These are bad results. This is what happens when a team that prides itself on being the 'purest' form of football runs terribly afoul at the highest level.

Lost in Barcelona's early success in the 2013-14 campaign was the sudden resignation of Team President Sandro Rossell. He resigned over the investigation into the true nature of the transfer fee paid out to get Neymar. They claimed the fee was one thing, but it ended up being far, far more, forcing the President out of a job and the club to pay tax dollars they tried to evade. And that even doesn't count how shady the transfer fee looks when more than half of the money is paid to a corporation owned by Neymar's father.

Then two weeks ago came the news that Barcelona has been slapped with a transfer ban for two transfer windows (essentially through the 2014-15 Europe Club Season), because of some nefarious methods Barcelona used to acquire international youth players for their youth academy. 'La Masia' as it is refered to, was the long-standing pride of Barcelona, so much that Barca higher-ups would never forego a chance to expound the values of La Masia and how they build their stars while 'the others', namely Real Madrid, buy them. Well, now La Masia came under fire, and Barcelona may not be able to fix the problems that are currently messing up the club.

The final piece of internal strife is over the manager position. Gerardo 'Tata' Martino is coming under fire for Barcelona's poor performance, and for good reason. This is going to be Barcelona's worst campaign since 2007-08, the first year of Pep Guardialo's run before Messi was Messi. His hiring was strange, as he was plucked from Newell's Old Boys, a club in Argentina. He had no European coaching experience, and was seemingly hand-picked by Leo Messi himself, in a sign that his influence in the club was growing exponentially. Now Tata is failing to do anything new with the club, as his adjustments have just made them worse.

It isn't like Barcelona is suddenly a bad team. They still have a ton of skilled players. Their larger issue is they have no depth, and while the club has extolled its purist virtues, trying to make splashy, uneccesary signings and overlooking the true problems have killed the team. For years, people have said that Barcelona needs better fullbacks. This wasn't said at the height of the Guardiola days. Those days are interesting, since Barcelona's defenses were impeccable in those days. With Puyol and Pique healthy, in their prime, and Erik Abidal (or Maxwell) on the outside, and Toure Yaya playing the Busquets role, they were great defenses. In Guardiola's last three seasons, they gave up 24-21-29 goals in La Liga. They gave up 40 last year.

Over the years, Puyol started becomingly constantly hurt, while Pique has gotten older. What was the brilliant idea that Barcelona came up with? Move Javier Mascherona, a career defensive midfielder, to fullback. He's been out of position for three years and a liability from the beginning. Intsead of going outside to get someone, they've relied on untested La Masia players (in fairness, Marc Bartra - ability to get burned by Bale aside - is becoming a decent fullback) or moving other guys back. They desperately need both depth and youth in their back line, a problem that isn't easily solvable considering they can't make transfers for a year.

But then there's the offense. For all their defensive woes, the first two of their three losses were 0-1 (although Atletico Madrid should have had at least three). They seemingly have been found out by any competent defensive team. When was the last time they just scorched a good team, like they did to Real back in 2010, or Aresenal in the Champions League? When was the last time they made a good team look foolish. Back in the day when Chelsea first did it in 2009, parking the bus and playing all out defense and trying to pick one or two up on the counter, Barcelona players, management and supporters decried their opponents of playing 'negative football'. See for Barca, it wasn't about just winning, but winning beautifully. Now, they aren't doing either.

Tiki-Taka style football worked in the Pep days for two reasons: his back four was good enough to allow his front six to all-out press knowing if their opponent breaks the press the back line is good enough to stop them, and because Xavi and Iniesta were better players then than they are now. Those two can still come up with brilliant moments, but their passing isn't as sharp, their movement isn't as good, and that beautiful inventiveness is kind of gone, at least against good competition.

They need a plan B, but Barcelona, and this is a criticism even in the Pep era, has never been able to develop a Plan B. They've tried bringing in Real #9 type players to go up top like they had with Eto'o back in 2008-09, but they've all failed, from Ibrahimovic to David Villa, to even Neymar now. They've brought in Cesc Fabregas, but never had the space for him to play like he did at Arsenal, moving him to unconventional places with average results. The only forwards that worked were La Masia products like Pedro and Alexis. Now, with depth and age concerns sprucing up, Barcelona is basically trying to play exactly like Barcelona from 2010, but with worse or older players.

In Tata Martino's defense, he is trying to put in place a Plan B, like trying to play more directly, trying to play with more verticality, trying more conventional routes to scoring like more and more high crosses, but they don't have the players to do that. They have the players to play tiki-taka, but teams know how to defend Tiki-Taka. 

The biggest problem Barcelona is facing is that there is no easy way out. Assuming the transfer ban does not get overturned (and since the ban is coming from FIFA and not UEFA, overturning it seems unlikely) they have no way of going out and getting good defenders that they desperately need. They can't stop the aging process from making Xavi worse, or Iniesta, or Messi himself. There are problems facing Barcelona on the field and off it, and the one's off it are more systemic and possibly larger. The group running Barcelona hasn't really done much good since Sandro Rossell replaced Joan Laporta. It was the Rossell regime that brought in Fabregas for no reason, with no natural place to play him, just because they wanted the La Masia product to return home. It was his regime that brought in Neymar with similar concerns under shady tactics. He's gone, but the infighting remains.

In the end, Barcelona's off the field issues will probably impact the on the field issues, which is sad since the on the field issues aren't that great. 0-7 loss to Bayern aside, this isn't a team that lost any of these games badly. They're still very good. They still have one of the two best players in the world in what should be his prime. They still have a player in Neymar who was doing well when Messi went through myriad injury issues in October-January. They still have loads of money to buy players. But the buying players part is where the off the field comes in, in that they can't for now. Who is going to replace Martino when he is eventually fired? Is Messi going to handpick another coach? Are there going to be any shady hirings and signings?

What really hurts Barcelona is that they have massive competition in Spain right now. Madrid's already won a trophy, is alive in the Champions League and ahead of them in La Liga. Atletico Madrid can say the same for the second two things. Both of those two teams have managers who's identity is all over their teams, with Diego Simeone doing with Atletica what Jurgen Klopp has done with Dortmund, and Carlo Ancelotti has done wonders in his first seasons at Real Madrid. Both teams are in great shape, and Madrid has the resources to hang onto their players. We shall see how Barca reacts. For years they thought of themselves as 'more than a club', and now they aren't, they are just that, a club, and have to do what any club does: rebuild and reload. The quicker they can remember they aren't more than a club, the quicker they can go back to being one.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Can Zizou be a good Coach?

Zinedine Zidane will be a major club manager soon. It might be for the 2014-15 season, if not the 2015-16 season, but the man known as Zizou will get a job, a major club one. Nothing will matter until he gets that job, and then he will be judged on how he does in that job. Whenever he gets it, it will be one of the underrated stories of the European Club Season that year. Zidane's made his expectations known. He wants a major club job, and his name and his skill and legend as a player deserves it. But he doesn't want to be the next Diego Maradona, the brilliant player but forgotten, oft-criticized Argentina National Team Manager No, Zidane wants to be a good manager, and that might be the best part of all.

Right now, Zidane is the right-hand man of Carlo Ancelottia at Real Madrid. His claim to fame in his coaching career at Madrid is working with youth players, and convincing The Madridistas to keep guys like Jese and Isco. In the past year, as he's graduated from a nominal title at Real Madrid to a real Assistant Manager Job, seated right beside two-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, Zidane has made it known that he wants a manager job. In a way, there is an interesting race to who will get him, but more than that, how good will he be.

Wayne Gretzky was the Coach of the Phoenix Coyotes for a few years. He's a pretty good comp to Zidane. Like Gretzky, Zidane scored some outrageous goals, especially in big matches. Like Gretzky, despite the big goals he scored, Zidane's best characterstic was his playmaking, his passing, his ability as Juventus's, Real Madrid's, and France's nucleus. Gretzky failed as a coach. Will Zidane?

Great Players have rarely succeeded as coaches. A lot of people look to the 'Bacteria of Brilliance' that has inflicted these great players. Gretzky could see things the normal hockey player could not. That is how you end up with more assits than anyone else has goals plus assists (other than Messier, who had to play to roughly 47 to break that mark). Gretzky saw things the normal hockey player couldn't, so when he was coaching mere mortals, he probably wondered why they couldn't see those things. They couldn't because they were human. Gretzky wasn't.

Zidane wasn't either. So it will be interesting to see if the same thing happens. That said, there are numerous signs the same won't happen. First, Zidane seems to want to be a coach, and to want to go through the steps necessary. Zidane could have taken the Maradona approach to coaching, which is to do nothing but be good, and then gifted a managerial job. Instead, despite being gifted a nominal position at Real Madrid that required no real work but came with a damn good paycheck, Zidane checked himself into Managerial School, he allowed himself to be an assistant coach. He allowed himself to be coached in the art of coaching. That is uncommon acceptance and realism for a potential coach, especially one of Zidane's brainpower.

The simple fact that Zidane has taken the normal approach to coaching, and is willingly accepting an assistant managerial position at Real Madrid is quite shocking. Here is one of the 10 Greatest Players of All Time, sitting on the bench as the #2 coach, willingly subjicating himself to Carlo Ancellotti. Zidane seems to want to learn how to be a good manager. He is going to slow route, and that works for him.

Let's be honest, to those that don't follow the sport, Zidane will always be synonymous with the headbutt. It is one of the most infamous sporting images of the 21st Century. Behind that lies an extremely smart player, beyond being an extremely brilliant one. Zidane was one of the last true Central Attacking Midfielders that could do it all. He played the perfect position that would make a good coach, and he is trying to make that come true.

Zidane, through his people, has made it obvious that he would love the Real Madrid job. Despite arguably his best years coming at Juventus, his most famous club years (including "That Goal") came at Madrid. He was bought by Madrid. He owes a lot to Madrid, and he wants to coach Madrid. The results of the last 10 days withstanding, Carlo Ancelotti has done too good a job to exclude Zidane from that job in the next few years. Likely, Zidane's first major managerial job will be outiside the Bernabeau, and without Cristiano Ronaldo or those type of players.

There is a short list of players who were of the all-time variety to do anything of note as coaches or executives. Most have failed. Gretzky failed. Michael Jordan faield. Can Zidane sicceed? Who knows. The only evidence that he could comes from Zidane actually preparing to be a manager, taking the requisite coaching exams, being an assistant manager at a major program. It will remain to be seen if any of these means anything, but Zidane's taken the necessary steps.

Zidane was the center of a France team that came close to dominating the last old-school major competition. Since the 2006 World Cup, Spain has dominated, winning the Euro in 2008 and 2012, as well as the 2010 World Cup, playing a variant of Barca's toiki-taka style. Of course, who beat them in 2006? France, with Zizou assisting on the game-wining goal and scoring the capper himself in the 92nd minute. He was the talisman of  the last team to beat Spain in a major International Knock-Out Competition. To me, that helps his cause.

Honestly., it is rare that people as historically good as Zinedine Zidane even want to coach. Most of the people that that level are content with their playing career, or take up Executive Positions with the Sports' Governing Body (see; Franz Beckebauer's current role in UEFA). Zidane, ever a traditionalist as seen by his Algerian roots, doesn't want that, at now at least.

Zidane has worked under some of the most impeccable managerial minds of the last 20 years or so. Obviously, now he is working as Carlo Ancelotti's right-hand man, who he also played under from 1999 to 2001 at Juventus. Ancelotti replaced Marcello Lippi at Juve. Lippi himsefl is arguably the Greatest Manager who Zidane has played for. Zizou played under Lippi at Juventus from 1995-1998, a period that included two trips to the UEFA Champions League Final. Zidane also lost to Lippi's men in the 2006 World Cup Final. Zidane has experienced the Great Minds of the last 25 years, which considering he, along with Lionel Messi, is the Greatest Player of the last two decades, is a pretty good trail-by-fire for his managerial career.

The Curse of Brilliance is rarely defeated, though. I don't know if Zidane can. I don't know what his footballing philosophy outside of how he viewed his position. Carlo Ancelotti has already said he believed his former player will find success, that he has already earned the respect of the Real Madrid players as a coach, and not just an icon. All that will help, as will where he goes. I hope it works. It will be interesting to watch one of the Great Footballers of All Time try to manage and do the daily grind once again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Grading the 2004 NFL Draft

1.) New York Giants select Eli Manning (QB, Mississippi) - Grade: A

Yes, I realize the Chargers actually made this pick, and then got a bounty from the Giants (including picks that turned into Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding), but I'm grading the team who got their guy. Eli Manning wasn't great in the beginning, and he's been, on his overall play lone, the worst of the three main QBs picked in the draft, but they don't win two Super Bowls without Eli, certainly not the 2nd one, in Manning's one true HOF-worthy season.

2.) Oakland Raiders select Robert Gallery (OT, Iowa) - Grade: C

If the Raiders drafted Robert Gallery at #12 to play guard and paid him like a #12 pick that played guard, then this pick would probably be a B+, but they didn’t. I can’t fault the Raiders too much. Out of all their Top-10 picks in these years, this was the one where they picked a guy that was the consensus top prospect, but he never worked out at tackle.

3.) Arizona Cardinals select Larry Fitzgerald (WR, Pittsburgh) - Grade: A+

I started this in the 2003 redraft, but when you pick a Hall of Famer, no matter where, you get an A+. Larry Fitzgerald didn’t have the greatest rookie season (WRs rarely do), but he had a great 2005 season (100+ catches), and took off from there. Apart from one season where he was saddled with really putrid QBs (2012), he has been putting up massive seasons year-after-year-after-year.

4.) San Diego Chargers select Philip Rivers (QB, NC State) - Grade: A

We can debate the Chargers ultimately choosing Rivers over Brees after Brees suffered his torn labrum at the end of 2005, but in the end Philip Rivers has more than played up to what you should expect from a #4 pick QB. He continued to play well as the talent drained off that team from 2006-2010, and then rebounded in his 10th season to play some of the best, most contained, smartest football of his career last season.

5.) Washington Redskins select Sean Taylor (S, Miami) - Grade: INC

I thought about actually giving this a grade, but it’s really impossible. Sean Taylor probably wasn’t as good as people remember him being, but he did have a whole host of highlight-reel plays, my personal favorite being his really ballsy scoop and score for a TD in the 2005 Wild Card Game against the Buccaneers. His death is something a lot of football fans will never get over, but like shows that end after one or two seasons, his overall legacy was, sadly, probably raised in the eyes of many.

6.) Cleveland Browns select Kellen Winslow Jr. (TE, Miami) - Grade: B-

It’s hard to remember how terribly his career started, breaking his leg in his 3rd game to end his 2004 season, and then breaking it again in a motorcycle accident to end his 2005 season before it started. Thinking of that start, it is very surprising how well he rebounded. Winslow had really solid seasons in 2006 and 2007 for the Browns. I can’t fault the Browns as much as Winslow himself for the missed 2005 season, and he did provide good value. I also never realized how sneakily good his three year run in Tampa was.

7.) Detroit Lions select Roy Williams (WR, Texas) - Grade: C

Well, he was the best WR the Lions picked in their three year run of picking WRs in the 1st round. His largest problem was an inability to stay healthy, as the one season he was healthy for 16 games he put up a slash line of 82/1310/7, and that was in 2006, the year before Calvin was drafted. The Lions also, amazingly, swindled the Cowboys out of a 1st round pick in trading him during the 2008 season. But aside from the 2006 season, he never even had one good season.

8.) Atlanta Falcons select DeAngelo Hall (CB, Virginia Tech) - Grade: B

Since leaving Atlanta before the 2008 season to join the Raiders, DeAngelo Hall has become something of a lightning rod. The stats community hates him, as does a lot of the public who dislikes his brashness, but he manages to game his way to 4-5 picks a year and played well in some high profile games. That all said, in his Atlanta days, he was a solid cornerback, arguably deservedly pro-bowl caliber in 2005 and 2006, someone capable of covering and tackling in run support.

9.) Jacksonville Jaguars select Reggie Williams (WR, Washington) - Grade: D

I have pretty low standards for picks, some would say more realistic standards. Reggie Williams was not good, not even close to Top-10 pick worthy, but he provided some value. Look, no one was going to put up big volume numbers on those run-and-defense Jags teams from 2004-2008, and while Williams did not, he at least played every game for five years. He even had a 10 TD season in 2007 (albeit on only 38 receptions). That all said, he was not good, and was out of the NFL two years after that 10 TD season. Not a good pick, not even close.

10.) Houston Texans select Dunta Robinson (CB, South Carolina) - Grade: C+

Dunta Robinson had a really good rookie season, with 6 picks and 3 sacks, with 74 tackles for a bad team. He never approached that again in his following four seasons in Houston, leaving right before the team got good. Robinson made a boatload of money just off that rookie season, because I don’t know what else the Falcons gave him 22.5MM guaranteed for. Anyway, Robinson was not a bad player, but a disappointing one who never got better off a very good rookie season.

11.) Pittsburgh Steelers select Ben Roethlisberger (QB, Miami OH) - Grade: A+

I believe that Ben Roethlisberger will be a Hall of Famer, thus the A+ pick. I believe the Roethlisberger is the best of the three QBs, the only thing keeping the Steelers from being a 4-12 team right now, and they got him at #11. The Steelers were built to win when Ben got there, but as the team got older, Ben got better and proved he could put up huge numbers when asked to throw 500 times, like he did in 2009 or this past season.

12.) New York Jets select Jonathan Vilma (MLB, Miami) - Grade: B-

Jonathan Vilma had some really nice seasons, and was well above average for most of his Jets career, including a monster season in 2005 around a terrible Jets team. Vilma was able to flex right into a 3-4 later in his career, but that was after he left the Jets. They probably expected a little more from Vilma, but there is a lot of value in a good player who plays a lot of games at only a good level.

13.) Buffalo Bills select Lee Evans (WR, Wisconsin) - Grade: B

Surprised? Lee Evans is probably most famous for his drop in the end zone as a Raven in the 2011 AFC Championship Game, but before that he had a surprisingly good 7 year career in Buffalo. Evans was extremely durable, missing just four games over that 7 year career. Also add in that he had about 70 QBs throw to him in that period, and his 16-gm average of 59/880/6.4, which isn’t that bad.

14.) Chicago Bears select Tommie Harris (DT, Oklahoma) - Grade: B+

Tommie Harris was on the path towards this being an easy A when he tore his Achilles late in the 2006 season. Tommie Harris was arguably the most disruptive DT in the NFL in 2005, and was having a similarly good season in 2006. He actually came back to have a nice couple years in Chicago, including an 8 sack campaign in 2007, but he was never nearly as good against the run or as consistent, but he has that three season run of really great play.

15.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Michael Clayton (WR, LSU) - Grade: C

Has anyone ever had a great rookie season and still ended up a bust, not including players who left the league because of injury/suspension/etc.? Michael Clayton put up a 80/1193/7 season as a rookie. That is not a misprint. He had an all-time good rookie season. In his next three seasons he had a combined 87/1029/1. Yup, one TD. And he played 40 of 48 games in that span. That rookie season keeps this from being a D, but it is almost funny how bad he became.

16.) Philadelphia Eagles select Shawn Andrews (G, Arkansas) - Grade: B

Shawn Andrews, much like Tommie Harris, had a really nice career at times, but also was a nothing at times. Unlike Harris, it wasn’t totally injury based but just weird stuff like a mysterious ‘back injury’ that ended his career in Philly. In between his injury-marred ’04 and ’08 seasons, he had three really good seasons for the Eagles from ’05-’07, including an All-Pro season in 2006.

17.) Denver Broncos select DJ Williams (LB, Miami) - Grade: B

DJ Williams was the opposing of Andrews and Harris, providing less peak value, but far more sustained value. DJ Williams only once got hurt until the tail end of his career, and was consistently good. He was first one of the main players of very good defenses from ’05-’07, and then a stat-muncher on bad defenses, before getting phased out as the Broncos went from terrible to really good. Not a memorable career, but one that was rarely anything less than good.

18.) New Orleans Saints select Will Smith (DE, Ohio St.) - Grade: A-

Getting a player this consistently durable and productive this late in the 1st round is very good use of resources. Until this year’s preseason trip to IR, Will Smith never got hurt (missed five games through 9 seasons), averaging 7.5 sacks a season in that time period including two very good campaigns in the Saints two most memorable seasons (’06 & ’09). Anyway, Smith’s productive career is likely over, but the Saints got great return.

19.) Miami Dolphins select Vernon Carey (OT, Miami) - Grade: B

Vernon Carey was essentially the Dolphins version of DJ Williams, a good player for a long period of time, but someone who was never pro-bowl worthy (I guess Williams did make a pro-bowl, but the comparison still holds). He rarely missed games, and was always above average. Not a terrible legacy, and for the Dolphins good value for the 19th pick.

20.) Minnesota Vikings select Kenechi Udeze (DE, USC) - Grade: INC

If I’m going to give the Redskins an Incomplete for the Taylor pick, it is only fair to give the Vikings an INC for this pick, as Udeze had to retire after the 2007 season, right before the two best years the Vikings had since his being drafted, after being diagnosed with Leukemia. Udeze had a nice 2007 season and looked to be coming close to fulfilling all the promise he had, but then cancer does what it does.

21.) New England Patriots select Vince Wilfork (DT, Miami) - Grade: A

Chances are when you are 32 coming off of a serious injury, the best days of your career are likely over, especially when arm strength is really important and that injury was a triceps injury. That said, Wilfork has done enough and given the Patriots enough value before 2013 to already make this a great pick. Wilfork is the only defensive player on the Patriots to have won a Super Bowl with them, being a consistent starter at the nose since he was drafted. Great player and a great pick by the Pats.

22.) Buffalo Bills select JP Losman (QB, Tulane) - Grade: C-

QBs are, rightfully, held to a higher standard in the 1st round as they really do bust less than other positions (as a point, just look at the ’04 QB group), but by any position standard this was not a good pick. Losman went from inaccurate to strangely accurate very quickly (under 50% in ’05 to above 62% in ’06-’07), but threw like no touchdowns and all of the interceptions, apart from the 2006 season that saves this from being a D. By ’07 he had been passed by Trent Edwards, and that was basically it for him.

23.) Seattle Seahawks select Marcus Tubbs (DT, Texas) - Grade: C+

The beginning of the end of the Ruskell era in Seattle was this, wasting a 1st round pick on an injury-prone player who was never that good except for being fat. I always liked him since his name was ‘Tubbs’, a great nickname for a fat guy. Tubbs had a nice season in the Seahawks Super Bowl season, but got injured early in 2006 and never played again, which is a little surprising. The only reason he’s not worse than a C was the minimum expected duration of value for a 1st round pick is 4 years (a normal rookie contract), and he gave the Seahawks three, including one good one.

24.) St. Louis Rams select Steven Jackson (RB, Oregon St.) - Grade: A

If you are going to pick a RB in the first round and you are not getting Adrian Peterson, than this is about as good as you are going to do. Steven Jackson was the backup on a team that made the playoffs in his rookie season, then took over for Faulk and played really well for another 8 seasons in St. Louis. He had a 16/gm average of 292/1238/6.8, which is really good production for a running back over the long term. Very good pick for a team that missed on everything for the next five seasons.

25.) Green Bay Packers select Ahmad Carroll (CB, Arkansas) - Grade: C-

Yeah, this was a waste. I guess he played a lot of games in 2004 and 2005, but the second they could get some other people to play corner, they did. The Packers never rued this pick as they hit on most from 2005 onwards, this was an awful pick. Carroll did come on to an aging team in need of an overhaul, but the Packers could have used this pick in that overhaul.

26.) Cincinnati Bengals select Chris Perry (RB, Michigan) - Grade: F

I don’t like giving F’s. In fact, I’ve given just three over 89 picks through 2002 on. This is my first for 2004, and it was really hard to not do this. The pick was made just before Rudi Johnson became a good player, so maybe Perry didn’t get the opportunities, but whatever opportunities he did get he failed so badly. He actually had a useful season receiving in 2005, but his overall rushing numbers are just so bad, a career 606 yards on 177 receptions, with just 2 TDs, pathetic return for a 1st round investment.

27.) Houston Texans select Jason Babin (DE, West. Michigan) - Grade: C+

Jason Babin has had sack totals of 12.5-18.0-7.0-7.5 in the last four seasons. Too bad those weren’t on the Texans. On the Texans he had just three seasons before he was traded to Seattle for Michael Boulware, a nice double-dump trade. In those three seasons he had just 13 sacks, becoming a pure situational pass rusher before he left. Babin had a decent rookie season and then turned into nothing.

28.) Carolina Panthers select Chris Gamble (CB, Ohio St.) - Grade: B

Gamble is the Carolina what DJ Williams was to Denver and Vernon Carey was to Miami, a good player who played consistently for a long time. Gamble retired after 2012, and before that season he was a consistent 4-6 picks, 50-70 tackles each year for eight seasons. Gamble played on some good teams and gave very good return to the Panthers.

29.) Atlanta Falcons select Michael Jenkins (WR, Ohio St.) - Grade: C

Michael Jenkins provided comically little value in his rookie season (7 catches for 119 yards), but then was a consistently average player, with seasons like 36/508/3, and 53/532/4, and then his career best in Matt Ryan’s rookie season, 50/777/3. Not exactly great stuff, but not awful either. It probably also hurt his development that he was playing with Michael Vick in his first three seasons.

30.) Detroit Lions select Kevin Jones (RB, Virginia Tech) - Grade: C-

Kevin Jones had a very nice rookie season, putting up a 241/1133/5 for a bad Lions team. Sadly, he never came close to that again on other similarly bad Lions teams. Going to a Mike Martz, pass-happy offense helped his receiving numbers (61 catches in 2006), but he never got any better as a runner. Jones flamed out as his Lions career ended, giving far less return than a 1st round RB should.

31.) San Francisco 49ers select Reshaun Woods (WR, Oklahoma St.) - Grade: F

My God was the back-quarter of the 1st round bad. Rashaun Woods had 7 catches for 160 yards in his rookie season (hey, slightly better than Michael Jenkins) and then never played a game again. He spent ’05 on IR, was traded to San Diego for not-quite-a-bust Sammy Davis in 2006, along with a pick, never played there and then went to Europe and Canada. And you wonder why the 49ers went 6-26 in 2004 & 2005.

32.) New England Patriots select Benjamin Watson (TE, Georgia) - Grade: C+

Benjamin Watson’s most famous moment was running down Champ Bailey on his INT-return in the 2005 Divisional Round. That’s probably not what Bill Belichick envisioned when he made this pick, especially considering it took all of one play for the Broncos to score a TD right after. The Patriots never threw to Watson much, but that’s because he dropped everything and until Gronk showed up the Patriots didn’t realize TEs existed, despite drafting two of them in the 1st round.

Best Picks from the Later Rounds

2nd.) New York Giants select Chris Snee with the 34th pick.
2nd.) Indianapolis Colts select Bob Sanders with the 44th pick.

It's probably homerism to put Sanders up with Snee, a stalwart on two Super Bowl winning lines, but Sanders' peak value was every bit as good as Troy Polamalu. Sanders was healthy for most of '04 and '05, '07 playing well (hey, guess what, that's his rookie deal), and his return in '06 coincided with a Super Bowl run. Of course, after the Colts gave him an extension it all went to hell. As for Snee, he proved nepotism can work, as he was dating/engaged to Tom Coughlin's daughter at the time. 

3rd.) Arizona Cardinals select Darnell Dockett with the 64th pick.

It's hard to believe Dockett has already played 10 seasons, all with Arizona, but he has, and been very good all time. He's missed a grand total of two games in those 10 years as well. Tons of sacks all over the place, including tying a Super Bowl record with 3 in Super Bowl XLIII. A pretty good pick right there. 

4th.) Kansas City Chiefs select Jared Allen with the 126th pick

Jared Allen gave the Chiefs four years of really good play, then two 2nd round picks in a trade to the Vikings. Allen was in his Chiefs career pretty much the only consistent part of those defenses that weren't always terrible, and then gave the Chiefs over half their sacks in his final season there. Not too shabby for the 126th pick.

5th.) Indianapolis Colts select Jake Scott with the 141st pick.

Sure, this may seem a little homeristic, but if you look at who was picked in that 1st round, there's no competition. The only two active players from the 5th round are Antonio Smith and Josh Scobee. The only other players to have any type of career were Erik Coleman, Michael Turner and DJ Hackett. Jake Scott was a consistently good player for the Colts for four seasons, and then had an All-Pro caliber season in 2008 for Tennessee.

6th.) Green Bay Packers select Corey Williams with the 179th pick.

God, the bottom part of this draft was a washout. Corey Williams wasn't even that good, but at least had a solid career and played through his rookie deal with the Packers. He then had a couple nice seasons in Detroit before leaving football. The Packers got rid of Williams when they could under Thompson, but until then he was a nice bridge between the Barnett/Harris/Kampman defense and the Matthews/Woodson/Collins era.

7th.) Green Bay Packers select Scott Wells with the 251st pick.

It was very close between Wells and Shane Olivea, who had a nice little career in San Diego before abruptly retiring. Wells had a long, slightly injury-prone career in Green Bay before leaving to have a even more injury-prone career in St. Louis. Still, getting the value the Packers got from the 251st pick is a little absurd on the whole.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Grading the 2003 NFL Draft

1.) Cincinnati Bengals select Carson Palmer (QB, USC) - Grade: B

Hard to fault the Bengals for picking Palmer, the consensus #1 QB coming into the draft, and he certainly began the Cincinnati rennaissance. Palmer took over in 2004, had a brilliant 2005 season right up until Kimo von Ollhoffen tore up his knee. Palmer was never really the same, but apart from an injury-filled 2008 season, teh Bengals were never bad with Palmer at QB. His Cincinnati marraige ended badly, but he definitely helped make Cincinnati relevant.

2.) Detroit Lions select Charles Rogers (WR, Michigan St.) - Grade: D

Obviously, it is one of the bigger busts in recent memory (non-QB division) and the benchmark for everything wrong about the Matt Millen era, but there were factors outside of Rogers' control. He was actually on pace for a 70/777/10 season in 2003 before he broke his clavicle in Week 5. He then broke his clavicle in Week 1 in 2004, and then got suspended for four games in 2005 and was never heard from again. It's only not an F because before the original injury, he was having a decent season for a rookie WR.

3.) Houston Texans select Andre Johnson (WR, Miami) - Grade: A+

Andre Johnson is one of the most voluminous WRs in NFL history. He has volume numbers and consistency few ever have had, including five seasons with over 90 yards-per-game, the most in NFL history. He's been more durable than people think (an injury marred 2011 season changed a lot of people's thinking of him), and hasn't really slowed down as his career went on. About as good a WR pick as you can make. And to think the Lions passed him for a one-year college wonder.

4.) New York Jets select Dwyane Robertson (DT, Kentucky) - Grade: C+

It's odd that Robertson has a five year career with the Jets to average results, left for Denver in Free Agency, and then never played again after one season in Denver. For the 4th pick in the draft, his production was not very good, but he stayed on the team, played all but three games and provided a constant presence on the interior of the Jets. The pick could have been a lot better, but in a weak middle of the Top-10, it's not as bad as it may seem.

5.) Dallas Cowboys select Terrence Newman (CB, Kansas St.) - Grade: B

Terrence Newman was never one of the five best corners in the NFL, but he's been often one of the 15 best, and been that for 11 seasons now (the first nine in Dallas). The Cowboys missed on a lot of draft picks, but this most certainly was not one of them. He never reached the potential the Cowboys would have wanted from the #5 pick, but he was a solid player who rarely missed games for 9 seasons. The Cowboys secondary has been worse off since letting him go.

6.) New Orleans Saints select Johnathan Sullivan (DT, Georgia) - Grade: F

The reason that I give so much leeway for the Robertson pick at #4 is because this happened at #6. Sullivan basically did nothing in his three seasons, picking up 1.5 sacks, and losing his spot in the starting lineup by 2005. Just a terrible pick for a team that came close to making the playoffs in 2003 and 2004 and could have used just a little more production to get there. Random note, the Patriots traded for him in 2006 for Bethel Johnson, a far more valuable player as a returner/depth deep-ball WR. So even back in the pre-2007 days, the Patriots didn't always turn around failed-players.

7.) Jacksonville Jaguars select Byron Leftwich (QB, Marshall) - Grade: C

Look, Byron Leftwich isn't a bad player, and he's still in the league 11 seasons later, including starting a game as recently as the 2012 season. Still, there were major flags on him coming out of college, namely that ridiculously long throwing motion. I don't know if the Jags thought they could undo it or not, but they did not. Leftwich was the 'starter' on a totally forgettable 12-4 team in 2005, but the Jags best season in his tenure came after he was unceremoniously cut before the season.

8.) Carolina Panthers select Jordan Gross (T, Utah) - Grade: A

Very good pick. It's no surprise that the Panthers have never really been bad at running the ball since Gross entered the league and was immediately put on the starting o-line. He started as a RT for a team that made the Super Bowl, and (surprisingly) retired as a pro-bowl LT for a team that went 12-4. To get 11 years of very high quality production from a tackle at #8 in the draft is a pretty great return.

9.) Minnesota Vikings select Kevin Williams (DT, Oklahoma St.) - Grade: A+

Any time you can draft a guy who has a strong HOF case (really, it is pretty strong) at #9 in the draft, you get an A Honestly, wherever you draft someone as good as Kevin Williams you get an A. Kevin Williams came in, joined hands with the larger Williams and created a big Wall that would almost immediately make the VIkings into the best run defense in the NFL, including a historic 2006 performance. Looking past the 60 sacks, the guy has only missed three games in the NFL career.

10.) Baltimore Ravens select Terrell Suggs (DE, Arizona St.) - Grade: A

Basically everything I wrote about Kevin Williams applies here to Terrell Suggs. Suggs is also a guy with a pretty strong HOF case, especially if he can pick up another 30 sacks or so over the next three to four years of his productive period. Suggs has also been excellent against the run, and the next in the string of the Lewis-Reed-progression. The Ravens have paired a ton of OLBs opposite Suggs and he's made them all better, from Adalius Thomas, to Jarrett Johnson to Paul Kruger. Suggs makes it all work.

11.) Seattle Seahawks select Marcus Trufant (CB, Washington St.) - Grade: B-

Marcus Trufant played 10 seasons, all for the Seahawks, and was a quality player with a low ceiling, but a low floor. He was never a Top-15 CB, never really reaching the level of Terrance Newman, but was never too far off. Trufant was surprisingly durable early in his career considering how un-durable everyone else on teh Seahawks was in their Holmgren hey-day, but he finally broke down just as the defense was building itself up.

12.) St. Louis Rams select Jimmy Kennedy (DT, Penn St.) - Grade: C

Jimmy Kennedy had a 9-year career, but only four of those came with St. Louis, a period where teh Rams fell from 12-4 in his rookie season to the worst 5-year stretch in NFL history right after he left. He was the first in a long line of bad Rams draft picks, the first bad pick that signalled the end of the Greatest Show on Turf era.

13.) New England Patriots select Ty Warren (DE, Texas A&M) - Grade: B-

It's odd that the Patriots didn't trade out of this pick, and while Ty Warren was a good player for a long time with the Patriots, it was also a pick that never reached its full potential. Warren was the forgotten man in the Pats 3-man front with Seymour and Wilfork (deservedly) overshadowing him, but Wilfork was a steady contributor. It would be great production for a 2nd round pick even, but being on of just two Top-15 picks for the Pats since 2002, it's not a great one.

14.) Chicago Bears select Michael Haynes (DE, Penn St.) - Grade: D

The 2003 draft for the Bears changed their entire outlook and helped them to having great defenses for years and years and years. And they did this despite picking an absolute bust here. Michael Haynes did essentially nothing for the Bears, picking up just 5 sacks in his three-season career. Haynes's career highlight was a pick-6 in 2004, but I bet the Bears would have traded that pick for another 30 sacks or so.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles select Jerome McDougle (DE, Miami) - Grade: D

Jerome McDougle was essentially to the Eagles what Haynes was to the Bears. He actually had just three sacks, and no pick-6 for a lasting highlight. He had just 30 tackles for his career. He was basically a nothing, a terrible pick by a team that drafted really well in this time period overall. Jim Johnson was able to scheme his way to good defenses from 2003-2008, but it could've been easier if they picked the guy coming up.

16.) Pittsburgh Steelers select Troy Polamalu (S, USC) - Grade: A+

Anytime you pick a Top-10 player All Time of his position, a 1st-Team All-Decade player, you get an A+ even if it was 1st overall. Well, the Steelers picked him 16th. Polamalu is definitely a lesser player now than he was even two years ago, but he's still a good safety. Then again, the Steelers earned an A+ for what Polamalu was from 2003-2008. Everything after that was just gravy, really good, tasty gravy.

17.) Arizona Cardinals select Bryant Johnson (WR, Penn St.) - Grade: C-

Bryant Jonson played for the Cardinals for four seasons, averaging 41/535/2 for those teams. That's not very good, but let's remember he was fighting for passes with Anquan Boldin and then Larry Fitzgerald as well. That doesn't make this a good pick, but not a terrible one. They basically got 2nd-3rd round WR value at #17 overall.

18.) Arizona Cardinals select Calvin Pace (DE, Wake Forest) - Grade: C

First off, it's funny the Cardinals had back-to-back picks, and didn't really hit either. Calvin Pace is a good player, but he became a far better player, and produced most of his value, after leaving the Cardinals and going to the Jets before 2008. Pace had really one and a half good years with Arizona, driving up his value with a good season in the first real competitive Cardinals team in a decade in 2007. This doesn't count for his value, but Pace had a career-high 10 sacks in 2013.

19.) Baltimore Ravens select Kyle Boller (QB, California) - Grade: D

The Ravens gave up their 1st rounder in 2004 (which ended up lower in the draft than 19th) and their 2nd round pick for this one. If Boller was good, that would be a great deal. Sadly, Boller was not good. There were major red flags, like only one season of even good production at Cal, and a career completion percentage under 50% in college. Those accuracy issues were never fixed. If the Ravens were able to win their Week 13 game against hte Pats in 2007 I might make this a 'B' just for that, but alas they didn't, partly because Boller threw an awful pick near field goal range with the Ravens up 20-17.

20.) Denver Broncos select George Foster (OT, Georgia) - Grade: B

Despite never really being bad, Foster had a short career ending in 2008 and never played for any other team. Foster was not a pro-bowl caliber player, and was probably carried by the Nalen's and Clady's of the world, he was a servicable starter for his whole career with Foster. His best years came early, as by the end of 2005 this was looking like a great pick, but as the Shanahan regime crashed from 2006-2008, so did Foster's career.

21.) Cleveland Browns select Jeff Faine (C, Notre Dame) - Grade: C

Jeff Faine only started three seasons for the Browns before a draft-day trade for pretty much nothing in 2006 sent him to the Saints (where he started for the Cinderella 2006 team before crashing after that). In three seasons, Faine was good, I guess, but he never made the pro bowl and never really came close.

22.) Chicago Bears select Rex Grossman (QB, Florida) - Grade: C-

After you stop laughing at the name Rex Grossman, hear me out. He was not very good, he got injured all the time from 2003-2005, only started one full season for the Bears in 2006. Still, that one season he was the QB for a team that made the Super Bowl. He was not very good in that season, but he also was up and down. He had some terrible games, but also tied for the league lead in games with a passer rating above 100. He also was very good in their OT win over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round. OK, now you can go back to laughing. Still, he definitely gave the Bears more than Boller gave the Ravens.

23.) Buffalo Bills select Willis McGahee (RB, Florida) - Grade: B

Willis McGahee gave the Bills four seasons of good play, including two 1,200 yard seasons, paying back the Bills trust in drafting someone who didn't play a down in 2003 after rehabbing his terribly torn knee that he suffered in the 2002 BCS National Championship. The Bills then got two 3rd round picks in trading him to Baltimore. McGahee's a solid RB pick in the 1st round, providing good consistent value for the life of his contract.

24.) Indianapolis Colts select Dallas Clark (TE, Iowa) - Grade: B

It seems odd to give Clark a 'B', especially when he played for my favorite team, but Clark was nowhere near as consistently good as people believe. THe first time he played 16 games was in 2009. The first time he caught more than 30 passes was in 2007. He was signed to a 2nd contract mostly on speculation that he would be good. Now, he became very good, but his immediate return was far less than people remember.

25.) New York Giants select William Joseph (DT, Miami) - Grade: C

Joseph just ended up getting pushed out by better players, but that wouldn't have happened if he was just better. 6 sacks in four seasons is not good production for a 1st round pick, neither is just 17 starts. Joseph was on loaded D-Lines, facing single blocks whenever out there and couldn't do enough.

26.) San Francisco 49ers select Kwame Harris (OT, Stanford) - Grade: C+

Kwame Harris played in a lot of games for the 49ers, starting in most of them, including all 16 games in 2005 and 2006. Of course, that doesn't mean he was good. Kwame Harris was mostly awful in those starts for bad 49ers' offenses. The 49ers never replaced him because they were just plain awful at drafting offense from 2002-2007.

27.) Kansas City Chiefs select Larry Johnson (RB, Penn St.) - Grade: B+

The Chiefs ran Larry Johnson into the ground, but that doesn't sound as bad when considering he ran well into that ground. Back to Back 1,700 yard seasons in 2005 and 2006 were about all that was good with the Chiefs in those years outside of Tony Gonzalez and Jared Allen (the Chiefs were 19-13 in those two years). Johnson was never healthy or good after his 418 carry 2006 season, but he had already given good return for the 27th pick by then.

28.) Tennessee Titans select Andre Woolfolk (CB, Oklahoma) - Grade: D

Through good drafting, the Titans built a defense that became very good from 2005-2009. Andre Woolfolk was not one of those good draft picks. He was one of the worst. He gave decent production in 2005, but little else in his other three seasons in Tennessee. Woolfolk ended up getting replaced by far better players, and hte Titans were better for it.

29.) Green Bay Packers select Nick Barnett (LB - Oregon St.) - Grade: B+

Nick Barnett never made a pro bowl, which keeps this from getting an A, but it is hard to ask for better production from the 29th pick without getting lucky. Nick Barnett was a Packer for 8 years, only twice having any injury issues, first in 2008 in the Favre-to-Rodgers transition year (6-10), and then in the Super Bowl season. Around and in between, Barnett was just really solid for years and years and years. Barnett could do everything picking up 9 picks and 16 sacks in his Packers career.

30.) San Diego Chargers select Sammy Davis (CB - Texas A&M) - Grade: C-

The Chargers drafting led them to being 'the most talented team in teh NFL' from 2006-2009. Sammy Davis wasn't one of those people. He started all 16 games on a 4-12 team in 2003. He started just 16 games the rest of his career for teams that were a lot better than 4-12. Sammy Davis was a decent depth corner, I guess, but those guys are plentiful in later rounds. Considering who was selected at the same position with the next pick, it looks really bad.

31.) Oakland Raiders select Nnamdi Asomugha (CB - Califormia) - Grade: A+

From 2006-2009, Nnamdi Asomugha was the 1st or 2nd best corner in the NFL. This from a 31st pick who was thought of as another Al Davis overdraft. Nnamdi broke out in 2006 after three good but not great seasons with 8 picks. Teams just stopped throwing at him after that, the ultimate sign of respect. The Raiders had so many bad picks from 2002-2007 it is almost laughable, but this one was great.

32.) Oakland Raiders select Tyler Brayton (DE - Colorado) - Grade: C-

He played five seasons for the Raiders, never missing a game, but it was a waste of resources as this was one of the picks the Raiders got in the Gruden trade. Brayton is most known for kicking a Seahawk in the nuts in an unwatchable MNF game in 2006 (the game is also known for Christian Slater's odd cameo in the booth). Brayton was an active player, but was just nowhere near good enough to be a good pick.

Best Picks in Later Rounds

2nd.) Chicago Bears select Charles Tillman with the 35th pick.
2nd.) New York Giants select Osi Umenyiora with the 56th pick.

Honestly, the 2nd round in 2003 was really good. Anquan Boldin (54th) was also picked here, as were Rashean Mathis (39th) and a stable of solid players, but these two stand out. Tillman might make the Hall of Fame as the best Cover-2 corner of his era, and a guy who has a sick ability to force fumbles. Osi will probably not make the Hall of Fame, but he was the real key of that Giants D-Line, and always played huge in the playoffs, especially in the 2011 title run. Two great players picked in the 2nd round.

3rd.) Chicago Bears select Lance Briggs with the 68th pick.
3rd.) Dallas Cowboys select Jason Witten with the 69th pick.

I alluded to the Bears brilliant draft when contrasting that with the bust pick of Michael Haynes. This is why. 33 picks after choosing Charles Tillman, they got Lance Briggs, a guy with a stronger HOF case, and a guy still on the team 11 years later. He was the best linebacker in football for a brief period of time. As for Witten, a rare good mid-round pick by Jerry Jones. There's not much to say about a future Hall of Famer other than saying he's a future Hall of Famer.

4th.) New England Patriots select Asante Samuel with the 120th pick.
4th.) Pittsburgh Steelers select Ike Taylor with the 125th pick.

Honestly, there were some gems in the mid rounds in 2003. Both of these corners became lightning rods at different times, as Samuel and Taylor were both hyper-critiqued despite being consistently good to really good (and in Samuel's case, great). Great picks by two defensive minds and organizations at the height of their brilliance.

5th.) Indianapolis Colts select Robert Mathis with the 138th pick.

It is hard to believe that Robert Mathis, in his 11th season, led the NFL in sacks. He now has more sacks than Dwight Freeney. Sure, he was probably getting more single teams than Freeney did back in their tandem days, but his production since Freeney left speaks for itself. Just an awesome pick by Bill Polian.

6th.) Indianapolis Colts select Cato June with the 198th pick.

Hey, what do you know? Another great Bill Polian late round pick. Cato June was an extremely productive linebacker for the Colts from 2004-2006 (he didn't really play in 2003), becoming the best linebacker on the Champion 2006 Colts. He then left for money to Tampa and was never the same, but even one season of good production for the 198th pick is good return, let alone three.

7th.) New England Patriots select Tully Banta-Cain with the 239th pick.

Honestly, there's no clear winner here. Only two players are still active: Josh Brown and Kevin Walter. I guess you can make a case for either, but I tried to avoid kickers wherever necessary, and Kevin Walter was never anything more than a depth receiver moonlighting for way too long as the Texans #2 receiver. Banta-Cain was a valuable depth edge rusher for the Patriots for a long time.

Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 MLB Predictions

My Top 25 Favorite TV Shows

So, I'm fully entrenched in True Detective right now. Not to the level of people who are dissecting screenshots to see connections to 'The King In Yellow'. I wish I was at that level. This could end up being the best show I've ever watched live from the beginning (Breaking Bad I started live in Season 3), and I wish I could be more involved in the actual discourse. Anyway, True Detective has started so well, so incredilbly, it got me thinking where it plays in my Favorite shows of All Time (that I've watched). My final opinion: It's damn good, but too early to judge. Especially since this show will be done in Anthology style, so Matthew McCaughnahey (which I almost assuredly spelled wrong) and Woody Harrelson are out after the first season. Who knows if the leads of next season can be as good. I'm reserving judgement until then.

Anyway, here's another few shows that I'm holding out judging for at least another year or two:
  • Veep - probably the toughest cut. It's been pretty spectacular in its first two seasons. I have some reservations if it can continue as the plot advances to where Selina is possibly running for President, but it has created an incredibly cutting style that is unmatched with anything else on the air.
  • Orange is the New Black - probably the best of Netflix's Original Series, it was far less dark than I imagined (I was picturing a female Oz), and far more introspective than I pictured. The amount of interesting characters they explored in just 12 episodes is pretty stunning.

25.) The Larry Sanders Show

I haven't finished the entire show, but from what I have seen, it does 'Behind-the-Scenes of Show Business' better than any show I've seen. It isn't the absurdist show that 30 Rock is, but had a great cast of characters, and used guest stars, which it had basically every episode, quite well. It just wasn't always funny all the time.

24.) Shameless

Shameless is now on its 4th Season, and it is going through some large changes making it very different from what the show used to be. Jimmy(Steve) is no longer a character, Fiona is in a steady job (for now), Lip is in college, and, of course, Frank can't drink, but the lifeblood of the show remains. Shameless showed a really unique side of America, the lower-class white community, that hadn't really been shown before. It wasn't always shown well (almost anything involving Sheila in Seasons 1-3 didn't work for me), but it was unendingly entertaining.

23.) Oz

Just like The Larry Sanders Show, I haven't seen all of Oz, but I've seen enough to get a good idea of what it is all about. Oz was the first real HBO drama to be critically acclaimed, coming a good three years before The Sopranos and five years before The Wire. Telling the story of an experimental unit of a prison, Oz was able to combine the exploration of different themes and thoughts with drama and prison intrigue. It was always informative, but a little slow at times.

22.) Archer

I've backlogged Archer Vice right now, but through four seasons, Archer has become one of my favorite wasting-time shows that I put on in the background. I can't get enough of the fast-paced dialogue, the ridiculousness of Sterling, the brilliance of what is essentially Lucille Bluth, and everything else that makes Archer so damn funny. My only quibble is I'm not always a fan of the HR people back at the office like Pam and Cheryl.

21.) Everybody Loves Raymond

The best traditional sitcom I have seen still gets high praise for me. Everybody Loves Raymond was more like a series of little plays, using a few characters and even fewer sets. Everyone's role was well-defined and consistent. There was little character growth but there never needed to be. Instead of put the family in funny situations, they made the family respond to normal situations in the funniest of ways. A consistently good traditional family sitcom should not work in this environment, but Raymond not only worked, but got better as it went on.

Some Really Very Good, Underrated Shows (Plus one early-2000's love affair)

20.) Happy Endings

Man, if only Happy Endings was on NBC, it would have been easily entering its 4th season right now. I've never seen a show start out aimless but find itself so quickly and so effectively. The show started out as a romantic comedy of a group of six friends reacting to one of them leaving another at the alter. That version ended in about 4 episodes. After that, it became a brilliant, pop-culture, caustic joke-machine. I've never seen a show mine so much comedy out of friends being mean to each other. They also quickly defined each character into solid, separate roles that all worked. It's extremely rewatchable, as you pick up little nuances in the performances that make it so damn joyful. It would be higher if it lasted more seasons, and if the first eighth of the show didn't suck. In retrospect, it would have been amazing to see how long they could have kept the pace up,. Even at times in third season it slowed down, but just for an episode or two. After that, they would return to being the most rapid-fire joke show in the last 10 years.

19.) Party Down

It's odd to hold a show back for only lasting three seasons only to extol the virtues of a show that lasted just two, but Party Down was really, really good. It's a pretty novel idea created initially by Paul Rudd, and then by his friends Rob Thomas (not the singer) and Dan Etheridge. They, combined with one of the most talented casts you will see, created a really good show that did not ever have a bad episode. They took eight people that were extremely talented, gave them good material, and let the talent do what talent will do. What killed the show, ironically, was that incredible cast, as they couldn't hold such talent forever on a show on Starz that no one watched live. First, it was Jane Lynch getting called for Glee, but what ended the show effectively was losing Adam Scott to Parks and Recreation. They did leave behind 20 episodes of pure gold, detailing the lives of cater-waiters just trying to have fun in whatever ridiculous situation their job puts them in.

18.) Whose Line is it Anyway

It's a show that still works better in Youtube form when you can pick and choose your favorite sketches (or just watch loops of Colin and Ryan bantering in the intros to various sketches), but the show was ahead of its time. It was when UCB and the alt. comedy/improve was just becoming mainstream in clubs, but far before the same was true on air. Still, Whose Line left us with tons of episode of laughs upon laughs. Sure, it wasn't totally improv (the cast members knew what games were being played, and the show was edited), but it was pretty much improv, and showcased a bunch of talented people. Apart from Wayne Brady, and to a point, Greg Proops, none of them have found lasting success outside the show, but my God they were gold on the show. Whose Line should have been more successful, but it was always a cult hit with tweens (I was among that group when the show was on the air), and found a lasting presence online.

17.) Parenthood

There shouldn't be a place for family dramas in the current TV landscape, but Parenthood continues to work. Sure, they've had their missteps over the years (let's just pretend Kristina never ran for mayor of Berkeley), but they've also had some incredible shining moments. All the early material with Max's asperbergers was brilliant, grounded a show that took a while to flesh out its other characters. Like most shows on this list, the acting was brilliant from the beginning. Every character was well cast, even Ann-hog/Beal/Plant/Annabeal Veal herself, Mrs. Mae Whitman. All the stuff with the Siblings Braverman has been awesome from the beginning, including every scene when the four of them are together. They've touched upon basically ever family conflict (divorce, affairs, adoption, child rearing, illness, cancer, money, moving) and done almost all of them well. The show will probably end soon, and just in time to finish off that Bingo! of Family Drama topics with a perfect A- average.

16.) Men of a Certain Age 

Just like the show at #19, Men of a Certain Age lasted just two seasons on the air, before it could make a real lasting impact and totally figure itself out. But whatever it did, it worked incredibly well. Ray Romano was always underrated in his acting on ELR, but he proved just how good an actor he was on this show. Of course, it was hard him to even stand out next to Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher, all getting good material and playing the hell out of it. This show probably had the lightest stakes of any drama, but those light stakes just made it realistic, really, incredibly, realistic. Romano gave each of the main three characters some interesting beats to play, but the overarching tone was to get over disappointment and enjoy whatever you can about that 'Certain Age'. What I really loved about the show was the small set of recurring characters it had, but how well placed they all were inside that shows ecosystem. A great blend of overarching darkness and small moments of joy.

15&14.) Veronica Mars & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I'll admit, I've seen every episode of these shows. They're hard to really place apart from each other, as they follow similar constructs: a strong, beautiful female high-school girl who has a special talent but lives as an outcast. She befriends some other strange people, has an older male guide, and solves everyone's problems. There are major differences. Veronica Mars was far more grounded. It did a lot better actually showing the dynamics of a high-school environemnt. Buffy added fantasy to the mix, but also did better in romantic storytelling. They're both excellent shows. Buffy probably reaches higher peaks, but Buffy also lasted past its expiration date and suffered with lackluster Seasons 5 and 6. Veronica Mars, coming a good seven years after Buffy premiered, never got the chance to last that long, but that allowed it to leave before it got dated. Both the lead actresses were wonderful in their roles. Buffy had a stronger core group of supporting characters (Xander, Willow, Giles, Angel for a period, Spike for  period), but Veronica Mars had a deeper stable of dependable, if not true supporting, characters. Buffy kind of perfected the 'Big Bad' style of storytelling, while Veronica Mars did as good a job of playing out a murder mystery as anything you will see on a more adult show. Two great shows, and I'm not even close to joking.

Some Really Great Shows

13.) Parks and Recreation

Like many shows that lasted over four seasons, Parks and Recreation settled into a nice little groove, consistently churning out B episodes. They're still doing it too. What's nice about Parks is there has actually been character development that seemed really natural. Ron's now married. Tom's a semi-successful entrepreneur. Leslie's achieved her dream and now lost it. Beyond all this plot development laid an extremely funny show. Parks and Recreation did a far better job satirizing politics than people gave it credit for, but more notable was just how well they wrote that world. Nothing seemed more funny and eccentric than the town of Pawnee. They also were smart enough to limit the use of Ron Swanson, an unending pot of comedy Gold. Like HIMYM, Parks and Recreation is nowhere near as good of a show post Season 4, but unlike HIMYM, it is still a good show, and good enough to basically hold this ranking going forward.

12.) Curb Your Enthusiasm

There is a non-trivial chance that Curb never returns. Of course this will be a sad-thing, but Larry David has generally said that he'll stop when he no longer has ideas, so it's probably better for him to stop off a solid season. Curb probably isn't as consistent as many of these shows, but few reached the heights it did. Few were able to feature such well-to-do characters and still make them grounded. Making Larry single kicked the show in the ass after some less than stellar seasons in Season 5 and 6, and returned the show to its old glory (reuniting Seinfield did that as well). It's stunning that the show is mostly improvised, as the jokes are so sharp, so witty. Also, no show has used guest stars better. Sure, Curb gets to use recurring characters playing themself, but they've made those characters almost always seem more than just stunt-casting. Curb's left a lasting impression on the comedy world for a lot of other shows to copy. Hopefully just one of them can come to close to matching it.

11.) Game of Thrones

Full disclosure, I haven't ready any of the books, and apart from one spoiler I know nothing of what is coming forward. Anyway, the show rebounded from a slightly (relatively) disappointing 2nd season with a great 3rd season and a real hope for a great future of the show. There's a couple things this show does better than any I have scene: shoot the show in incredibly beautiful locations, and create lovable, hateable characters. They force people to accept the bad guy, but they make the bad guys so damn good. Game of Thrones has a large cast but they've done a great job of casting the show. There are few weak links in that cast, which matters a lot when they're given odd literary material to play with. This is one of the few film projects based off a book series that will probably be better in live-action form.

10.) The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report will never be better or worse than it is right now and what it was five years ago. It hasn't really ever changed apart from some segments replacing others. It's about Stephen, it is about him being incredibly talented and great in character, and challenging people to know how to enjoy satire. The writers are brilliant in being able to have genius takes on obscure news stories, but the researchers are the key. It is a lot easier to satirize a story and make the host the start when you are talking about asininely ridiculous things as they do. Anyway, The Colbert Report also found its foothold in giving us some of the most interesting interviews you can see anywhere. Colbert does use an unfair tactic about defending his position in character (see: ridiculous), but prosecuting his interviewee's position out of character (see: realist), but that just leads to some awesome, awkward, hilarious interviews. Because of Jon Stewart's summer hiatus, The Colbert Report finally won the 'best variety show' Emmy last year, and better late than never, as it definitely has deserved more than just one over its almost nine-year run.

9.) Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn

The Colbert Report essentially replaced Tough Crowd after two seasons, and thankfully they kicked Tough Crowd off the air for something worthy. A while ago I wrote that Tough Crowd would do much better today when standups are more notable in the public. I'm not so sure that is true. These were mainly the East Coast comics, the one's that burnt each other all the time, that responded with completely politically incorrect insults. It wasn't the West Coast let's-all-be-happy comedian group that kind of dominates today. Also, it featured conservatives. Big conservatives. But that's what made Tough Crowd so great. It didn't only have liberals, it didn't stick to any talking points. In fact, Colin Quinn quit the show than accept Comedy Central's directions to focus more on pop culture and less on politics and race. The show debated some interesting topics, but the real joy of watching the show was it shined a light on the famous back-room table discussions at The Comedy Cellar. It showed comedians just riffing on each other, pounding the comedian who told a bad, pandering joke, making fun of each other all the time. Sometimes the discussions went off the rails, but there was alwaays some jokes to be found. Colin Quinn cut as little as possible to show the jokes that bombed, showed the negative reactions, but also show just how much great comedians made each other laugh, and they made us laugh too.

8.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I said two years ago during my Comedy Power Rankings that It's Always Sunny was the best cable sitcom of all time. I still believe that to be true, and the two seasons that have happened since then only strengthened its position. It's Always Sunny, despite becoming more and more mature, has still been able to tie itself to its amazingly raw beginnings. Always Sunny has been able to satirize everything quite brilliantly and still show itself to be the raw, fast-paced dialogue based show it was in the beginning. They incorporated Danny DeVito brilliantly. Always Sunny has proven itself to be far smarter than anyone could have imagined. Rob McElhenny, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton have shown themselves to be as adept as writers and show-runners as they are as actors. It may mask itself as a show about five doofuses 'running a bar' while coming up with crazy schemes of the week, but the show is showing the idiocy in everything in the world.

7.) Boardwalk Empire

Full disclosure, I've only finished watching the first two seasons and two episodes of Season 3, but I think it's time I can judge what I have seen. I'm fascinated by this world, by the show, by the deliberate pacing, the touches of the 20's. Boardwalk Empire is to me what Mad Men is to so many: a brilliant period piece showing a fascinating time in American History. It is slow, but so many of the greatest crime and mafia works of art in US history have been slow (The Godfather, Pt. 1 and 2). The show is tremendously well acted, and well paced. I would never have imagined Steve Buscemi being so good as such a tough man but it works brilliantly. It's one of the rare shows were I have really no complaints with anything they've done. It was pretty much all 'A-minus' work, and that is really hard to do so consistently. I also love how they've worked in real life event and people (Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, and so much more). The show has woven a deep, timeless tapestry of life in The Prohibition Era.

The Pantheon

6.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

In one sense, The Daily Show isn't long for this world. Hints have been dropped that Stewart is far closer to leaving than staying. There's rumors that he will replace Dave Letterman as the Late Show host whenever he decides to retire, or maybe leave to produce movies. Still, as long as he's on The Daily Show, Stewart gives it the commanding presence it deserves and has always maintained since he took over 15 years ago. The show's definitely changed to a more overt criticism of news media and not just news, but remains the standard for political comedy discourse. His stable of correspondents have gone on to have success much the same way SNL players used to, and Stewart always used them well when they were on the show. The Daily Show has somehow kept its sense of purpose and Stewart has kept his enjoyment for all 15 years, which is an amazing feat given the amount of political turmoil the country has been through since he was hired. The show likely will carry on after Stewart leaves, and likely won't be as good, but The Daily Show, under Stewart's reign, has already made its mark on American TV history.

5.) Chappelle's Show

Chappelle's Show has fewer episodes of any show in this Top-10, but it didn't need to make any more to establish itself as one of the great shows of the 2000s, and one of the lasting culturally important comedy shows ever. Obviously, the part people remember about te show is the way it challenged race perceptions in the US, but that really is missing the forest for the trees. The show really excelled at just pointing out how different Black and White America was, and mining and incredible amount of comedy from just juxtaposing those cultures. Of course, when it just decided to focus on something random, not really pointedly connected to race, the show remained incredibly funny still. The amount of famous sketches are there, but they are backed up by a host of forgotten sketches that were just as funny. Chappelle left quietly under the night sky to Africa instead of doing a Season 3, and maybe just in time, as he left 24 great episodes, hours upon hours of great, rewatchable sketches, and a lasting comedic memory that will never leave.

4.) Seinfeld

For years I never watched Seinfield, never understood its appeal. Of course, the fact that I hadn't watched it made that second fact a little obvious. Then I started watching it. I started watching all the episodes. I started understanding its appeal, understanding what made it one of the best shows ever. I finally reached the point where I kind of figured it out. Seinfield was the best traditional sitcom because it found comedy in the most un-traditional of ways. It made its comedy in dialogue, in characters, in oddities, not in situations, not in romance, not in plot. It also got together four absolutely brilliant comedic actors/minds. Jason Alexander was amazing. Michael Richards was amazing. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was (and still is) amazing. Jerry and Larry co-wrote the thing. What do you get when you combine the creator or Curb Your Enthusiasm with another brilliant comedic mind of their generation? You get Seinfield, a show immensely rewatchable, a show that stayed funny over 150 episodes, over 10 years. No show on this list apart from The Daily Show ran longer, and few were better.

3.) Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad's incredible success commercially in its final season was odd to see as someone who had watched the show far earlier. It went from being a solidly watched show for cable (about 2 million) to being the most watched thing not on a network just like that. There's no show you can point to social media and Internet 2.0 being the catalyst of its success like Breaking Bad,. Of course, it helps that it was absolutely amazing. There may never have been a character short of Tony Soprano (a show I have yet to see) that was so well constructed, let alone well acted, as Walther H. White. The rest of the show had a nice, small, but well constructed cast, but it comes down to Walter White. In its totality, it is a perfect character piece, a great look at what really drives man, greed, love or desire. The meth (the science) went from the forefront to the background as the show went on, but what replaced it was more drama, more intensity, and more incredibly acted scenes. So much of what Breaking Bad was an exercise in the science of a TV show, in the creation of great moments, like the brilliant photography, the one-on-one dialogue, the interesting locations. Breaking Bad was a perfect showcase for what the medium can be.

2.) Arrested Development

I've written a lot about Arrested Development, and deservedly so. The show was that good at times, just a perfect show that encompassed everything you could ask from a comedy program. They could wear any hat, do any type of comedy. But the real differentiating factor was the show's tone, that it found almost immediately. It was that tone, that life, that allowed the show to portray what was seemingly a believable family made up of absolute narcissistic idiots. They were able to have absurdist ideas and dialogues and ground it in a relatble way. They did something impossible: essentially be a plot driven and joke driven show at the same time. They wrapped reference upon reference in the show, hid jokes behind jokes. I still find new jokes each time I watch episodes. The show was just so well written, so amazingly cast, and so well put together. It really comes back to that tone. Put on any random episode of Arrested Development and within five minutes you get that tone, you get the feeling you are watching a show unlike any other. 30 Rock tried to be that way, but it never got as grounded (or as funny). Arrested Development was pretty damn perfect. I highly doubt I'll ever watch any comedy that is simply just that good.

1.) The Wire

I've written way too much about The Wire, especially with a certain 50 Top Characters ranking back in the February-March of 2012, but I could probably pump out 10,000 more words. Here's the best thing about The Wire: It has essentially ruined shows for me forever. Nothing will really live up to the standarad that The Wire set about how good the TV Mdium can be. Nothing will match it's character complexity, it's plot complexity, it's mix of dialogue and style. Nothing will match it. Stuff comes close. Breaking Bad came about as close as I can imagine a drama coming. I will never give up hope for a show to match The Wire, but it's pretty damn unlikely.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.