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Eric Ebron is the best tight end in the 2014 draft. That’s not an adventurous statement, or a particularly bold one. At this point, it’s been accepted as fact.

Ebron has all the numbers and measurables we typically associate with the modern day behemoth tight end, standing 6’4″ and weighing 245 pounds. Like the Jimmy Grahams and Rob Gronkowskis of the league, he’s also versatile. When speaking to reporters at the scouting combine Ebron said he lined up away from the line of scrimmage roughly 40-percent of the time during his final year at the University of North Carolina, and he sometimes shifted into the backfield as an H-back too.

All that resulted in 62 catches for 973 yards. Or visually, this…

But here’s the next question we’re set to wrestle with: is he really, honestly on the same level as Vernon Davis, or Jeremy Shockey in his Giants prime? Because that’s the draft territory Ebron could be preparing to enter.

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros

There is no room for moral ambiguity when you’re the general manager of a Major League Baseball club. Your job is to improve the team, improve the product, and ostensibly build the bottom line by improving your club’s chances of winning.

Winning solves all ills, even though sometimes it takes a lot lot of losing to create an environment conducive to winning. When Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager of the Houston Astros, he inherited a club in transition.

After all the losing and the contract off-loading, the Astros just might be a team on the upswing. The goals in Houston have certainly changed. Luhnow has a different focus for his big league club — the youngest in baseball while also claiming one of the “most modest” payrolls — in 2014, compared to his first two years on the job.  The goal is simple – demonstrate improvement at the big league level and get fans excited for the future.

We’re realistic – we have the youngest team in baseball and a modest payroll. I do think that at the end of the season this team will be significantly better than the team we had out there last year and the fans will excited about what’s coming.”

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Sidney Crosby

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This is my second full year as a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, which means I’m one of the folks who has the privilege of voting on the annual NHL awards. I’m once again taking the responsibility seriously, as the awards can actually affect the lives of players (particularly in a financial way), and they most certainly affect the historical record of our game.

The goal of voting is simply to award trophies to players who legitimately earned them during the given season. That means where there are obvious answers, you give them, and don’t try to get too cute about it. And, of course, having stats to back up your opinions is pretty key.

Aside from my own viewing and opinions, I largely used NHL.comExtra Skater, and HockeyDB for research.

(My 2013 ballot can be read here.)



(1) NHL Trophies

HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections

I choose to vote for the Hart Trophy a very specific way, which I’ve laid out in full here. The short form of that piece is basically this commentary by Tyler Delow:

“’Player adjudged most valuable to his team’ can mean two things. The lunatic interpretation is ‘Player whose share of the total value of his team is greatest.’ This is the one people are adopting. The sane people interpretation is ‘Player who provides the most value to his team’ with “value” being simply a raw counting number, not factoring in how much total value his team has. I mean, on the criteria these people are explicitly adopting, Zack Stortini could win the Hart, if you put him on a team with 19 mes. “Well, that team was the worst team in NHL history, but Stortini is undeniably miles ahead of all those Dellows.”

And this quick add-on from myself in that piece:

So my point is, after that long walk, let’s say the Hart was for “value provided to team,” literally. What would be the point of that? What are we trying to identify? The worst team who had the most disproportionately great player? That’s just a luck award for one of the league’s best players. It would be pointless.

That’s just my personal take on it. Just thought I’d let you in on how I choose to vote.

Anyway, on to the actual votes! Read the rest of this entry »

Juventus' Pepe and Bologna's Gillet and Casarini lay on the ground after colliding during their Italian Serie A soccer match at the Juventus Stadium in Turin

Right now, the Daily Mail is leading with four stories on today’s Copa Del Rey final between Real Madrid and Barcelona. This is how we know it’s a big deal. Real Madrid face a Barcelona in canned crisis, while Carlo Ancelotti are without Cristiano Ronaldo, opening up the requisite British angle with the heart-shaping Welsh anime character Gareth Bale.

This means a lot of English journalists and fans will witness Pepe and Busquets attempting to lessen our collective faith in humanity in their quest to win a football match. There will be Tweets about “rolling around on the carpet,” and about simulation and Spanish football and staying on your feet and the same, stale debate which continues to permeate football, and define it outside its confines, particularly in America.

It seems Gary Neville is tired of this moralism. Last night on Sky, the former Manchester United defender railed on West Ham’s Matt Jarvis for failing to fall on the ground when challenged in the box against Arsenal.

The video has been taken down, but 101GG has the transcript:

He should have gone down. Well done, your team haven’t won a game.

You can either be an angel and do what Matt Jarvis did and get a pat on the back off his Nan when he goes home tonight, or he can win his team a penalty.

The referee won’t give it if you don’t go down. Sam [Allardyce] said it, if you don’t go down you don’t get a penalty. It’s a foul.

I suppose in some ways people can say ‘It’s disappointing to hear you say that Gary’ – well then, be disappointed because ultimately that’s the game.

What can one write about diving that hasn’t already been written? Disregard that: h
ere’s a quick lesson about football:

1. It is very low scoring compared to other “team invasion” sports.

2. Clear cut chances, like that of a player taking a spot kick, come at a premium even in the best of times.

3. Referees are naturally reticent to award fouls in the box, because penalties convert at around 70%, and goals completely change games.

4. This means that even if a player is technically impeded in the 18, chances are if they doesn’t go to ground they’re not going to get a call (Allardyce was right!)

5. “Real vs simulated fouls” is not a real binary. Embellishment might mean something as simple as an extra roll on the floor after a legit foul.

6. What constitutes a “true” foul is in many ways subjective, despite deep post-match TV hermeneutics.

6. Players who are obvious divers are also bad divers. The point is not to get caught.

7. Defenders also “simulate,” particularly when it comes to disguising shirt pulling, raising their hand when an opposing player is onside, calling a goal kick even when the ball clearly last came off a defender, elbowing, hair pulling, you name it.

8. In fact, deception and subterfuge are all built into the sport in any number of ways.

So, there are two ways of looking at diving. One is to see it as a “moral issue”, and that doesn’t just mean the view that players who do it are bad and players who don’t do it are good. Neville’s take for example is also on the moral spectrum: players are morally obligated to dive because “winning is everything.”

There is another way to see simulation, however: the inevitable result of football simply being the sport that it is. Diving, rather than a moral choice, is a heuristic response to the circumstances of any given football match. You can try to resist it, but there will always be a tendency to go to ground with goals as valuable as they are. Diving for pens is just the extreme end of a spectrum of deceit which also includes moving the ball in free kicks and falsely claiming throw-ins.

I prefer the latter view (in case there was any doubt), simply because anything that gets this tired “debate” out of the headlines is a good thing.

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It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which losing six games in a row could be positive, but with the Toronto Maple Leafs currently stuck in a four-way tie for the two Wild Card playoff entries, the half dozen straight defeats that led the team to this point seem especially horrific.

On Tuesday night, Toronto suffered its most recent failure, losing 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues. Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf struggled mightily throughout the game, not unfairly tagged as a primary accomplice to his team being outshot 49-25.

It was a bad day at the office, and as a result, the defenseman opted out of his obligation to speak to the media following the loss. This, to the many pundits who weighed in following Phaneuf’s no-show, represented an atrocious lack of leadership, and partly explained Toronto’s recent struggles.

Things came to a head on Wednesday when Phaneuf phoned in to a local sports talk radio show to explain himself, after one of the hosts ranted about the player’s notable absence following his poor performance.

To be completely honest with you, I was emotional about the game. I didn’t want to let my emotions get the best of me. I feel bad about not being available. At that point in time, I was disappointed in the way that I played and I was emotional after the game. That’s why I did not talk.

As sports fans, we grow to accept the flawed “conventional wisdom” force fed to us by years of following our favorite players and teams through newspapers, television and radio.

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As some of you may be aware, I recently started a new gig here at theScore that sees me write/talk about the NBA as a whole on a full-time basis, so while I won’t be able to provide RaptorBlog posts and general Raptors commentary with nearly the same regularity, I hope you’ll continue to read/listen along with me this season (You can read my season preview here and my predictions here).

As for the Raptors, what I’m going to try to do is take some time every weekend to post my wide ranging thoughts on the week that was in Raps Land, in a similar fashion to how I usually wrote my “Thoughts On the Game” posts. Again, I’m hoping you’ll stop by on weekends to get the little bit of Raptors ranting I’m still able to do on a regular basis.

Other than, most of my Raptors thoughts and observations can be found through twitter, where I’m prone to my fair share of passionate Raps-related tirades.

As for the coming season, I’m predicting a 40-42 season for Toronto that results in a No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, though if Cathal Kelly’s Toronto Star report proves correct, Masai Ujiri and MLSE may blow things up before such a mediocre finish is allowed to fully take rot.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s source indicates a 45-day deadline for the Raptors, which would take us to December 13. The Raps play Philadelphia in the 21st game of the season that night, and I’ve got them as a 10-11 (7-14 worst case scenario, 12-9 best case scenario) team at that point, so the question is really what will Ujiri find acceptable to continue with, and what’s his line in the sand of ‘we can’t go on like this’?

I also feel like with the Honeymoon period that exists between Raptors fans and Ujiri, he wouldn’t have lost any support had he decided to blow things up as soon as he got here to put this team in a better position to properly take a strategic step backwards this season, so I don’t quite understand the point of now reportedly setting a hard deadline on whether to tank or not if that’s they’ve wanted all along.

In any event, a Raptors season opener wouldn’t feel quite right without at least a little drama (last year it was DeRozan’s extension), so let’s get this intriguing season of questions under way, shall we?

I know Stripes and Drake are ready…are you?

ufc_rouseytate

For the first time ever in a UFC video game, EA Sports’ upcoming UFC title will feature playable female characters, headlined by UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and top bantamweight contender Miesha Tate.

“This is a great moment for videogames and for Mixed Martial Arts,” said Dean Richards, General Manager, EA SPORTS UFC. “In our commitment to delivering the most realistic fighting experience ever achieved, we wanted to represent the full spectrum of talent and diversity of all the fighters in the sport, including women who have become an undeniable force to be reckoned with.”

Programming note: Fin.

brad-miller-last-game

I’m not one for long goodbyes, but as previously mentioned in our last show, TBJ and theScore are going in separate directions, meaning this post marks the end of our tenure here.

Thank you to theScore for the opportunity to make something that shows just how much fun the NBA can be. And thank you most of all to anyone who’s listened, watched, read, commented, emailed or in any other way been even a small part of TBJ over the past three years. It has been awesome.

Please follow all of our Twitter accounts to see what the future holds. We’re very excited for our next step, you will be too and the season starts soon, so don’t worry too much.

Bye for now.