Early MLB Trade Candidates

Scott Kazmir-Starting Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

After winning 88 games last season, things haven’t got started on the right foot this season for the Oakland Athletics who currently have the worst in Major League Baseball. The Athletics could be ready to wave the white flag and with that it might be time for them to make some deals.

A’s starting pitcher Scott Kazmir had a strong 2014 MLB season as he won 15 games for the first time in his career. In 8 starts this season, Kazmir is 2-2 with an earned run average of 3.08. Kazmir provides a quality left-handed arm and if the Athletics would be willing to trade him, he would just be a rental as he is set to become a free agent after the season.

Tyler Clippard-Relief Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics acquired relief pitcher Tyler Clippard from the Washington Nationals this past off-season in the hopes of having him close out games in the ninth inning for them. But being that the Athletics currently have the worst record in Major League Baseball, Clippard hasn’t had that many chances to save ball games. And when teams are pushing for a postseason spot, you can never have enough quality arms coming out of the bullpen. Clippard is a two-time MLB All-Star that is versatile as he can be a long reliever, setup guy, and a closer coming out of the bullpen.

Martin Prado-Utility Man-Miami Marlins

Earlier this week the Miami Marlins parted ways with manager Mike Redmond and he was replaced by general manager Dan Jennings. The Marlins have lost their last eight games and they are in last place in the National League East. Martin Prado primarily plays third base for the Marlins, but he can play second base and first base along with both corner outfield positions. So far this season at the plate, Prado is batting .267 with a pair of home runs and 15 runs batted in and he could provide tremendous depth to team that is in contention.

Francisco Rodriguez-Relief Pitcher-Milwaukee Brewers

Relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez saved 44 games in 2014 for the Milwaukee Brewers. But with the Brewers currently being in the basement of the National League Central, Rodriguez might not have as many chances to close ball games in 2015. Rodriguez is under contract through 2016 with a $6 million team option for 2017. And just like I mentioned with Clippard, you can never have enough arms coming out of the bullpen.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

 

The Agony Of The NBA’s Draft Lottery

In 1985, the NBA developed a “lottery” system for their draft. The lottery system was developed to deter teams from “tanking” the regular season in order to improve their chances of obtaining the first overall pick. But since the system has been in place, has it done more bad than good? Since 1985, only five teams that finished the season with the worst record in the NBA have actually gotten the first overall pick in the draft. The Minnesota Timberwolves finished this season with the worst record in the NBA and for the first time in franchise history, they will have the top pick in the draft. Former Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn had been critical of the draft process due to the fact that his organization had never received the first overall pick in the NBA Draft in spite of the fact that they have a lifetime winning percentage of just .393. And with that, all the NBA Draft Lottery has been as good for its heartache as opposed to help.

(l-r) David Stern, Patrick Ewing, Dave DeBusschere

In 1985, the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers finished tied for the worst record in the NBA. But it would be the New York Knicks who had the third worst record in the league that earned the first overall pick in the NBA Draft and the controversy began. The Knicks play in the biggest media market in the NBA and they were in need of a franchise player when they made center Patrick Ewing the first overall pick of the draft. In 1986, the Los Angeles Clippers would win the NBA Draft Lottery in spite of finishing the season with the seventh worst record in the league. The top pick would ultimately go to the Cleveland Cavaliers who would select center Brad Daugherty. In 1992, the Orland Magic finished with the second worst record in the NBA, but they beat out the Timberwolves who had the worst record in the league for the top pick. The Magic would take center Shaquille O’Neal who would completely change their franchise while the Timberwolves had to settle to for the third overall pick and they used it on power forward Christian Laettner. Led by O’Neal, the Magic would see a 20-win improvement in the following season and they missed out on the NBA Playoffs by one game. And in spite of having the lowest odds entering the NBA Draft Lottery in 1993, the Magic were once again awarded the first overall pick. The Magic would select power forward Chris Webber and immediately trade him to the Warriors for guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and the combination of him and O’Neal would lead Orlando to its first Eastern Conference Championship in 1995. The 1996-1997 NBA season would see the Boston Celtics win 15 games while the Vancouver Grizzlies only managed to win 14 games. Both teams were confident going into the NBA Draft about their chances to obtain the first overall pick. But it was the San Antonio Spurs that earned the top spot and they selected power forward Tim Duncan which has changed their franchise forever as they’ve won five NBA Championships with him and counting.

Elton Brand

After shooting guard Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls in 1998, the team was completely dismantled and finished the following season with a record of 13-37 which was the third worst in the league. The Bulls would go on to beat out the Grizzlies and the Clippers and win the NBA’s Draft Lottery as they selected power forward Elton Brand. In 2000, the New Jersey Nets had the seventh worst record in the league, but they came out of nowhere to have the ping-pong balls bounce in their favor and earn the top choice in the NBA Draft which they used on power forward Kenyon Martin. In 2002, the Houston Rockets were able to leapfrog four teams at the NBA Draft Lottery for the top spot which they used on center Yao Ming.

The NBA didn’t help itself as far as dimishing the theory of a rigged lottery process in 2003 when the Cavaliers earned the spot in the NBA Draft. The Cavaliers did finish tied with the Denver Nuggets for the worst record in the NBA that season, but it was Cleveland that got the top pick which they used on small forward LeBron James from nearby Akron, Ohio.

Heading into the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery, the Celtics had the second worst record in the league and they liked their chances to select either small forward Kevin Durant or center Greg Oden. But the Celtics earned the fifth overall selection as it was the Portland Trailblazers that got the top spot. In 2008, eight teams finished with worse records that the Bulls, but Chicago jumped in front of those teams to get the first overall pick which they used on point guard Derrick Rose who is a native of Chicago. In 2010, the Nets only won 12 games, but they had to settle for third overall pick as they lost out to the Washington Wizards. And in the four years that James wasn’t with the Cavs as he was a member of the Heat, Cleveland “earned” the top spot in the NBA Draft three times.

After 31 years it is clear to see that the NBA’s lottery system doesn’t work and it should be abolished. The NBA implemented this system to discourage tanking, but it is still a part of the game. Teams should be slotted at the NBA Draft based off of their regular season record. And as the league is worried about competitive balance; fear not because it is typically the same teams that select early on at the NBA Draft because they are clueless as far as what it takes to develop a contender.

In 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers were four victories shy of making the NBA Playoffs. Since then the Sixers have taken huge steps backwards as they traded point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans. The 76ers would replace Holiday with point guard Michael Carter-Williams who would go on to be the named as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2014. But Carter-Williams was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks this past season. The 76ers have used early lottery picks the past two years on players (center Nerlens Noel and center Joel Embiid) who were injured when they were drafted and couldn’t contribute in Philadelphia as rookies. For the first time in franchise history, the 76ers are coming off of consecutive seasons in which they lost at least 60 games while Holiday and Carter-Williams were each able to help their new teams make the postseason.

Instead of having the draft lottery, the NBA should make sure that front office personnel around the league is better equipped to analyze talent and ultimately develop players. For so long the Clippers organization was the poster child of drafting futility as they have had several first overall picks which didn’t go anywhere. The Clippers didn’t become a consistent playoff team until former NBA commissioner David Stern intervened on a trade that was going to send point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers. Stern stepped in nixing the deal and Paul was ultimately shipped to the Clippers. After Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was overly critical of losing James to the Heat in 2010, it almost appears as if he were “rewarded” by the NBA with an unprecedented three first overall picks in a four year span (although in 2011, the Cavs first overall pick was the result of a trade with the Clippers).

Major League Baseball doesn’t use a lottery system and neither does the National Football League. And both leagues remain immensely popular and competitive. Whereas the NBA Draft Lottery has become an event in itself, it merely provides a platform to display the backdoor politics of the league. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is out to take the league to new heights after 30 years under Stern. And it is time for Silver to eliminate a ridiculous system that Stern implemented 31 years ago which is something straight out of “Let’s Make A Deal” minus Wink Martindale.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

A No-Win Situation For The NFL

Roger Goodell

By now we’ve all heard the reported ins and outs in regards to Deflategate as the National Football League has dropped the hammer down on the New England Patriots for reportedly using under inflated footballs during last season’s AFC Championship Game victory over the Indianapolis Colts. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell summoned Ted Wells to do an “independent” investigation on the matter in regards to the Patriots and their starting quarterback Tom Brady. Wells recently released his report and in his findings he found that Brady “probably” was aware of what was going on in regards to the football being doctored by someone on the Patriots staff. Goodell was okay with Wells’ finding and in turn suspended Brady for the first four games of the upcoming NFL season along with fining the Patriots organization $1 million and stripping them of two draft picks. Brady is vehemently denying and fighting the findings from Wells which has produced a situation where there will absolutely be no winners.

Tom Brady

Through the National Football League Players Association, Brady has appealed the suspension that was handed down by Goodell. Goodell in turn has decided to name himself as the “independent” arbitrator on the suspension which is something straight out of kangaroo court. The NFLPA wants Goodell to remove himself from the case due to the fact that they want him to testify in the matter as they are looking to grill him on what grounds that he has to suspend Brady for as long as he did. Publicly, Goodell will make it appear that he came down on the Patriots for the integrity of the NFL. But anyone who has followed the NFL will know that integrity was lost by this league a long time ago.

Goodell has been on the job as NFL commissioner since 2006 and the one thing that he has been since taking over as far as reprimanding league personnel is “consistently inconsistent”. Goodell took over a league where player misconduct was out of control and in 2007, he suspended cornberback Adam “Pacman” Jones for the entire season after his numerous run-ins with the law. In 2007, quarterback Michael Vick was convicted in a federal court for dog fighting and he spent two years in prison. Vick missed two years away from the NFL and when he was released from prison in 2009, Goodell decided to still suspend him for two games. But in 2010, Goodell suspended Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for six games for his off-the-field conduct which was ultimately reduced to four games and it drew the ire of many critics. Last July, Goodell suspended running back Ray Rice for the first two games of the season following his arrest for a domestic violence incident. Rice met with Goodell and gave the commissioner a detailed description of the incident. But Goodell didn’t decide to lay the hammer down on Rice until TMZ released detailed footage of the incident. In a move to clearly save face, Goodell then suspended Rice indefinitely after public backlash. The NFL players have always been critical of how Goodell treats them as opposed to the team owners as they believe that the owners should be held to an even higher standard. And when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay pleaded guilty last September to OWI, Goodell missed a chance to gain some cool points with the NFL players as he suspended Irsay for six games and fined him $500k which is a drop in the bucket to a billionaire like Irsay. But when Goodell recently disciplined the Patriots, was the punishment too severe for the crime or was it that the media took the story and ran with it?

Ted Wells

When the reports began to surface about Deflategate, there were those that wanted Brady suspended for the Super Bowl. And then when Wells released his findings, some folks wanted Brady suspended for a full season. And for what? The footballs didn’t have any outcome in last season’s AFC Championship Game, and when the world waited to see Brady fall flat on his face in the Super Bowl this past February, it was his right arm that beat the Seattle Seahawks who possessed the best secondary in football. This is the same public outcry that has forced Goodell’s hand in the past and as a result things have generally blown up in his face.

In 2012, the New Orleans Saints were punished by the NFL and Goodell for running an illegal bounty program where former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was found to have been paying players for injuring players on opposing teams. The NFL will not come out and directly say it, but bounties have been around the game for years. But when the public got a hold of it; especially in the wake of the heigthened awareness around head injuries and overall player safety, the NFL and Goodell came down hard on the Saints organization. Goodell would strip the Saints of multiple draft picks while also suspending several Saints personnel including head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 NFL season and Williams indefinitely. Goodell also handed down suspensions to Saints players, Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita. Unlike the coaches, the players, under the representation of the NFLPA took the NFL to federal court where they had their suspensions overturned as just like the current case with the Patriots, Goodell was reprimanding people on hearsay instead of cold hard facts.

The under inflated footballs that the Patriots used were only in the first half of the AFC Championship as they took a 17-7 lead to the locker room at halftime. But the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 in the second half as they beat the brakes off of them. And in the findings of Wells, he only claimed that Brady “probably” knew about it which in a court of law doesn’t carry that much water.

Robert Kraft

The Pats and Kraft have accepted Goodell’s ruling after clearing the air on the matter. And if Goodell had gone back on what he has handed down, he once again looks soft, and if he upholds the suspension, he’ll look like a guy that simply overreacted.

As long as Goodell is the commissioner of the National Football League, he will never have the full support of the players as they feel that he is unfair. And for those who will read this and say that life is unfair should harken back to any job that they’ve had where their employer treated another employee different and better from them. Goodell’s job is not to protect the players and keep them happy as it is all about pleasing the owners because they are the ones that he works for. In his ruling, Goodell appeared to have lost the support of one of the most powerful NFL owners in Patriots owner Robert Kraft who is one of the longest tenured owners in the league. More than any other commissioner in the history of the NFL, Goodell has found himself front and center with pressing issues like never before as his job appears to be as stressful as that of the President of the United States. The more money that you make generally comes with more problems and as the NFL is currently sitting on a pile of money that would make the folks at Fort Knox jealous, they are dealing with public relations issues that couldn’t fit into all of the 31 stadiums combined.

Where the Patriots organization decided to throw in the towel, Brady will still fight this matter and being that the NFLPA is one of the strongest unions in America, he has a puncher’s chance as it will be very hard for Goodell to convince a federal judge that Brady should be reprimanded in the same fashion as those players who have had run-ins with the law for a matter that was ticky-tack as best. The NFL continuously wants to change its image, but they appear to be stuck in the Bermuda Triangle of a public relations mess.

The “Smashing” Success Of Giancarlo Stanton

Major League Baseball currently has several young players that are doing some remarkable things in their respective careers. And one player that is in that mix is Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. After being drafted by the Marlins in 2007, Stanton made his MLB debut in 2010 and he has quickly developed into one of the fiercest power hitters in the game. In 100 games as a rookie, Stanton hit 22 homers. In 2011, Stanton went yard 34 times as he was building his reputation around the league. Last season Stanton was on pace to become the Marlins single-season leader for home runs and he was also in the running to become the first player in franchise history to be named as the National League’s Most Valuabe Player. But last September, Stanton was struck in the face by a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers which abruptly ended his season.

Stanton began this season by wearing a face guard when he was batting. It took Stanton a little bit of time to get adjusted to wearing the face guard as well as mentally getting comfortable once more while batting after the accident, but he still managed to finish the month of April with 6 homers and 21 runs batted in. And like most power hitters, Stanton knows how to hit home runs in bunches.

http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/135/files/2014/04/giancarlo-stanton-mlb-miami-marlins-atlanta-braves.jpg

Giancarlo Stanton

So far for this month, Stanton has five home runs to his credit and more could be on the way. It’s not just the homers that Stanton hits, but it is also the force, distance, and overall ferocity that he hits them with. Stanton has already damaged a scoreboard at Marlins Park in Miami and last week he hit a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium. Some of the rockets that Stanton has launched should have an in-flight movie with them.

In the post-steroid era in Major League Baseball that has been dominated by starting pitching, Stanton provides a breath of fresh air to the folks that still love to see the long ball hit. Stanton is worth the price of admission and then some which is why the Marlins signed him to a 13-year, $325 million contract last off-season. And aside from the actual game, Stanton has once again made batting practice a must see event as fans, teammates, and opponents alike can revel at what he is capable of doing with a wooden bat in his hands.

Stanton already has 165 career home runs under his belt and by the time that this season finishes, he should in the range of 200.

Fear is a word that is the best way to describe what Stanton puts into an opponent. Like most power hitters, Stanton has his fair share of strikeouts as he has done it 792 for his career. But if you’re the Marlins you can happily trade the strikeouts for what Stanton is able to do when he his able to make contact with the baseball. Stanton’s ability at the plate wasn’t enough to save the job of Marlins manager Mike Redmond as he was fired today, but he does give Miami something that they have never had which is a franchise player. When it’s all said and done, Stanton will completely re-write the Marlins franchise record book for offense as this has been a team that is notorious of trading their young talent, but they appear to be on board with the Stanton. And just like the baseballs that he crushes, the folks in Miami and around baseball should just hold on and enjoy the ride.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Grizzlies Are At The Crossroads

When the Memphis Grizzlies entered the NBA, they were a laughing stock. The Grizzlies joined the NBA as an expansion team and they were based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Grizzlies were never close to fielding a winning team while they were in Vancouver and being that it is a hockey town, basketball there was the equivalent to mixing oil and water. In 2001, the Grizzlies decided to pack up and leave Vancouver in favor of Memphis, Tennessee where they’ve been based out of ever sense. And by their third season in Memphis, the Grizzlies secured their first winning season along with their first trip to the NBA Playoffs. The past five years have seen the Grizzlies make the postseason and in the process become a thorn in the side of the top teams in the Western Conference. In 2011, the Grizzlies upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a grueling seven-game series in the Western Conference Semifinals. In 2013, the Grizzlies made their first and only trip to the Western Conference Finals in franchise history, but there the Spurs were too strong and thus denied them a spot in the NBA Finals. Not even a coaching change slowed the Grizzlies down as head coach Lionel Hollins was replaced by Dave Joerger in 2013. But when the Grizzlies were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs last night at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, it could mark the end of an era in Memphis.

http://www3.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Marc+Gasol+Memphis+Grizzlies+v+Oklahoma+City+sVyY0F_GS4Ul.jpg

Marc Gasol

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and the basketball world is wondering which NBA city that he will call home next season. Gasol is a native of Spain and he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft. Gasol never played for the Lakers as he remained in Europe. But the Lakers maintained Gasol’s draft rights and traded him to the Grizzlies in 2008 in a move that saw his older brother Pau sent to Los Angeles from Memphis in the trade. The younger Gasol has spent his entire NBA career with the Grizzlies as he has morphed into one the league’s better big men. Gasol is a two-time NBA All-Star who has averaged 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in the league. Gasol has that European-type game as he is a scorer and a facilitator. Gasol along with power forward Zach Randolph have made the Grizzlies a formidable team in the Western Conference as Memphis has two quality big men who both possess different offensive skills sets. Where Gasol can pass, post up down low, and hit the mid-range jump shot, Randolph is a back-to-the-basket guy that loves to bang down low in the post and the combination of these two is very tough to defend.

NBA teams will be lining up this summer as they will covet Gasol and his skill set. But with the NBA’s salary cap expected to be around $66 million next season before it explodes to around $80 million in 2017 with the league’s new television contract, the Grizzlies could be in line to offer Gasol a maximum contract. With nearly $50 million committed to player’s salaries next season, the Grizzlies could simply deal with the luxury tax for the upcoming season or back load the money on a potential Gasol contract.

Along with Randolph and point guard Mike Conley Jr., Gasol has been a part of the Grizzlies core that has made them one of the better teams in the Western Conference. And losing Gasol would be a huge blow for the Grizzlies as they are only a few players away from being a championship team. As good as Gasol and Randolph have been for the Grizzlies, the team is still missing that player that can put the squad on his back for those crucial, final four or five minutes of the game which was evident as they were done in by Warriors guard Steph Curry in the Western Conference Semifinals this year. The Grizzlies continue to be one of the top defensive teams in the NBA as they were second in the league in points allowed during the regular season as Gasol’s length and ability to block shots makes it tough for opponents to score on the interior.

In Memphis, Gasol knows what he has which could entice him to stay there, but it will also be important for Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace this summer to show Gasol that he is capable of putting the players around Gasol that will allow this team to potentially win an NBA Championship. The next two-three months will go a long way in determining Gasol’s legacy as well as what we can expect from the Grizzlies franchise for the next five years.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

The Lightning’s Power Surge

This spring has shaped up to be totally different than last spring for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last season was just the third time in the franchise history of the Lightning that they tallied more than 100 points. But in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in spite of the fact that they had home-ice advantage. The Lightning would once again enjoy a strong regular season this time around as they tallied a franchise best 108 points. The Lightning would once again qualify for the postseason and in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they met the always tough Detroit Red Wings who were making their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.

The Lightning dropped Game 1 at home by the score of 3-2 and it appeared to be deja vu in Tampa. But the Lightning rebounded in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1. After swapping victories in Detroit, the Lightning would return home for Game 5 where they were shutout 4-0 and booed off of the ice by their fans. The Lightning would then pull off the impossible as they went to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for Game 6 where they won 5-2. The Lightning would return home for Game 7 where they would shutout the Wings 2-0 and advance to the second round where they would meet the same Canadiens who swept them out of the playoffs last season.

The Lightning were able to go to the Bell Centre in Montreal and outscore the Canadiens 8-2 in the first two games to take a 2-0 series lead. The Lightning would hold off the Canadiens to win in six games and they are heading to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2011.

As always there are plenty of eyes on Lightning center Steven Stamkos who is the team’s biggest scoring threat. Only two players have scored more goals than Stamkos while wearing a Lightning uniform as he is always a threat to light the lamp. But so far during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it has been the passing of Stamkos that is propelling the Lightning. In 13 playoff games this spring, Stamkos has only scored 3 goals, but he is leading the club with 7 assists. Center Tyler Johnson has been the Lightning’s top goal scorer in the postseason as he scored 7 of his 8 postseason goals in the Lightning’s first round series victory over the Red Wings. And if you’re going to advance in the postseason like the Lightning have, you’ll need to have a strong net minder.

Ben Bishop

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has risen to the occasion when the chips have been pushed to the middle of the table. After surrendering 3 goals in the Lightning’s Game 5 loss to the Red Wings, Bishop only gave up a pair of goals over the final two games of the series; including a shutout in Game 7. In the series clinching victory over Montreal, only one goal slipped by Bishop as he is playing his best hockey of the year.

For Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, his club is clicking at the right time as they haven’t slowed down after a very strong regular season. And as the Lightning are preparing to face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, they know that they’ll meet a team with a workman like approach. The Lightning will also have a star goalie to contend with in Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers will be third straight team that the Lightning will face this postseason that is an Original Six club with a long and storied history. And as the Lightning have been knocking off traditional National Hockey League powers, they are out to write their own history. The Lightning became a team of destiny when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and they want to bring it to West Florida once more as they’re out to make Tampa a hockey town.

2015 NFC South Draft Grades

Carolina Panthers

Grade: B-

Best Pick: Round Two-Devin Funchess-Wide Receiver-Michigan

The Carolina Panthers only had five picks in the 2015 National Football League Draft as they’ll look to win the NFC South for a third consecutive year. The Panthers already have one of the best linebacking units in the NFL and they added to that in the first round when then they selected outside linebacker Shaq Thompson. In the second round, the Panthers selected wide receiver Devin Funchess. Funchess is a classic tweener as he is could be categorized as a slow wide receiver or as a smaller tight end and it will be up to Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula to create packages in order to maximize his ability.

Devin Funchess

The Panthers love to run the football and they got another talented running back in the fifth round when they selected Cameron Artis-Payne who will be a change of pace back as he’ll compliment running back Johnathan Stewart.

For Carolina, it’s all about putting the pieces around quarterback Cam Newton as they look to take that next step and become a championship team.

Atlanta Falcons

Grade: B+

Best Pick: Round Three-Tevin Coleman-Running Back-Indiana

Vic Beasley

Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons have a quality offense, but their problem has been on defense where they were last in the NFL last season in total defense. Atlanta failed to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks which new Falcons head coach Dan Quinn addressed early on in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Falcons could not have gone wrong with their first round selection as long as it was used on a defensive player due to the fact that they needed help at every level of the defense. The Falcons decided to go with a pass rusher as they selected outside linebacker Vic Beasley. Beasley is an outside linebacker by trade, but his specialty is rushing the quarterback which is an area where the Falcons struggled in last season. The Falcons kept the defensive theme going in the second round when they drafted cornerback Jalen Collins who will add some athleticism along with coverage ability to Atlanta’s secondary.

The Falcons added running back Tevin Coleman in the third round as he is a player that can help Ryan and the passing game in Atlanta as they were 24th in rushing last season.

Quinn is attempting to change the overall attitude in Atlanta and it has begun as he is bringing in more play makers.

New Orleans Saints

Grade:C

Best Pick: Round One-Andrus Peat-Offensive Tackle-Stanford

The New Orleans Saints entered the 2015 NFL Draft with two first round picks along with numerous holes on their team that had to be filled and they missed some chances to improve their squad. The Saints need protection around quarterback Drew Brees and they got some in the first round by selecting offensive tackle Andrus Peat. But the Saints missed opportunities to draft a quality wide receiver, a dominant edge rusher, and a tight end after they traded Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks this off-season. Brees is only one guy and he cannot do everything by himself in New Orleans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Grade: B

Best Pick: Round One-Jameis Winston-Quarterback-Florida State

Jameis Winston

It would have been real difficult for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to mess things up with the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. The Bucs needed a franchise quarterback and Jameis Winston was the best one available. The Buccaneers would use their next two picks on protecting Winston as it they selected offensive tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet as they hope that this will be the building block to get them back into contention in the NFC South.

2015 AFC South Grades

Jacksonville Jaguars

Grade: B

Best Pick: Round One-Dante Fowler Jr.-Outside Linebacker-Florida*

Dante Fowler Jr.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a snake bitten franchise lately which was evident by the 2015 National Football League Draft. The Jaguars used the third overall pick of the NFL Draft on outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. who was expected to be a huge part of their defense. But at Fowler’s first practice as Jaguars rookie camp, he suffered a torn ACL which will sideline him for the upcoming season.

The Jaguars selected running back T.J. Yeldon who should bring some explosion to their running game while their third round pick, guard A.J. Cann is a big ugly that will help Jacksonville get tougher in the trenches.

I still have Fowler as the best pick of this draft by the Jaguars due to his play making ability: we’ll just have to wait a little bit longer before we can see what he can do at the NFL level.

Houston Texans

Grade: A+

Best Pick: Round Three-Jaelen Strong-Wide Receiver-Arizona State

From the very outset of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans aced it. The Texans have a strong defense and they were able to add to it with their first round selection of cornerback Kevin Johnson who should be able to contribute immediately in their secondary. The Texans selected inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney in the second round and he’ll tackle anything that moves. The Texans got a huge steal in the third round when they selected wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Strong should have been selected in the first round, but he fell to the third round which will add fuel to his fire as he now pursues his NFL career. Aside from Strong, the Texans got another steal in the seventh round when they selected running back Kenny Hilliard who should make this team out of training camp and provide some more depth in Houston’s backfield.

This strong draft by the Texans should help them on their drive for a playoff berth in the upcoming season.

Indianapolis Colts

Grade: B-

Best Pick: Round One-Phillip Dorsett-Wide Receiver-Miami

Phillip Dorsett

Fresh off of an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the Indianapolis Colts came to the 2015 NFL Draft looking to find the players that would be able to help them take that next step in their pursuit of a Super Bowl Title. Speed is the name of the game and the Colts found some more in the first round when they selected wide receiver Philip Dorsett. Dorsett ran the fastest time at the NFL Combine this year which allowed him shoot up draft boards. Now Dorsett will team with another burner at wide receiver in Indianapolis by the name of T.Y. Hilton.

The Colts waited to the sixth round to address the running back position when they selected Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson who can be very shifty coming out of the backfield. Running backs began to come off of the board in the third and fourth rounds at a fast and furious pace, but the Colts failed to address their running back situation sooner which could come back to haunt them.

Tennessee Titans

Grade: B+

Best Pick: Round Two-Dorial Green-Beckham-Wide Receiver-Oklahoma

Marcus Mariota

It would have been very hard for the Tennessee Titans to mess up their time at the 2015 NFL Draft and fortunately for the folks in Nashville, they didn’t. With the Titans owning the second overall pick of the draft, they went with quarterback Marcus Mariota as most people expected them to. Mariota played in the spread offense in college at the University of Oregon and now he must adjust to playing in more of a pro-style offense with the Titans.

The Titans got Mariota some help in the second round of the draft when they drafted wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham began his collegiate career at the University of Missouri before he was dismissed after several off-the-field issues. Green-Beckham then transferred to the University of Oklahoma where he sat out a year before deciding to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft. At 6’6″, 225 lbs., Green-Beckham has that rare combination of speed, strength, and pass catching ability which if he comes in focused, he can very quickly become a dominant player for the Titans.

The Titans would then select offensive tackle Jeremiah Poutasi in the third round who’ll be charged with protecting Mariota’s blindside. The Titans then selected running back David Cobb in the fifth round who could be a huge draft steal for them as he is workhorse as far as carrying the football. And if the Titans are once again going to become relevant in the AFC South, this draft could be a step in the right direction towards that.