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Why Vegas Is Wrong about the Texans

In recent weeks we’ve heard a lot about Bill O’Brien’s impressive record of 30-1 when his Texans team have a lead at the half. Taking this stat only on the surface, I was blown away. Maybe Bill O’Brien’s conservative way of winning by as close as humanly possible wasn’t a flaw after all.

Why Vegas Doesn’t Trust the Texans

Vegas, known for their use of analytics, has been well aware of this stat, I’m sure. They make their business knowing every variable in each game. So when I looked recently at the general consensus of Vegas rankings, I was surprised by the lack of respect given to the Texans.

They knew about 30-1, right? They knew that Lamar Miller is second in the AFC in rushing yards this season? They were the first team ever to start 0-3 and then go on to win nine straight! Why isn’t Vegas higher on the Texans’ Super Bowl odds?

Eye-popping stats come out from time to time, and they are impressive enough to sway our opinion. Vegas and the gambling insiders that research all data for each NFL line, had been tracking this stat since it was 1-0. We hear it and take it at face value and run with a new narrative.

The reason Vegas hasn’t overreacted to the 30-1 record and the nine-game winning streak that came to an end this past weekend is because they know all the other numbers. The simple numbers like: If he has 30 wins and only one loss when leading at halftime, then what is his record in all other games? The answer to that is….10 wins and 36 losses. Now that’s eye-popping. That’s not the only stat that concerns Vegas with the Texans.

The first stat that I look at to evaluate teams around playoff time is each team’s record against opponents with a winning record. I do the same thing at the end of the season to gauge what a team was. Unlike its counterparts in the MLB and NBA, there aren’t 162 or even 82 regular season games. There are only 16 games each season, and they usually come around once a week. This makes the NFL the most reactionary sport of all of the major three; it takes an entire week for new storylines or players to change the going narrative.

Over the last few years I’ve earned a reputation of being hard on Bill O’Brien. I believe this to be unfair, as I give credit where it’s due but also hold him accountable for poor decisions. I also base a lot of my opinions on O’Brien around the simple criteria that I mentioned previously. How are his teams against winning teams? Does he just beat up on a poor division?

Here’s some concerning records for Bill O’Brien as the Head Coach of the Houston Texans (current thru NFL week 14 - 2018):

Vegas Texans table 1.png

At first glance, it looks as if a Bill O’Brien’s team has finally turned the corner with a winning record vs teams that are above .500. But when you look deeper you’ll see that with three weeks to go in the season, that three of those four wins are against 7-6 teams (Colts / Titans / Dolphins). The Texans signature win this season is against an 8-5 Cowboys team that they caught at the right time. Dallas started this season 3-5 before winning their last five games in a row.

There’s nothing for Vegas to latch on to with this Texans team. The only good team that Houston has played all season was the Patriots in week one. They aren’t tested enough for Vegas. They look at the Texans nine-straight wins against mediocre competition and fail to see an elite team. What’s the impressive win:

Texans’ Nine Wins

  1. By 3 in Indy thanks to the Frank Reich call going sour
  2. By 3 vs the Amari Cooper-less Cowboys
  3. By 7 at home over the Bills thanks to Nathan Peterman
  4. By 13 in Jacksonville. Enough said
  5. By 19 in win over the Osweiler-led Dolphins
  6. By 2 in the Mile High City vs Keenum & Co.
  7. By 2 in D.C. over Alex Smith & Colt McCoy
  8. By 17 on MNF after the passing of Bob McNair
  9. By 16 over the Browns with Baker cooking up 3 INTs

The Texans play Saturday against the (4-9) Jets and their rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold. That game is followed over the next couple of weeks by a trip to Philly to take on the (6-7) Eagles and then a home game against the (4-9) Jaguars.

Darnold, Foles, Kessler…

What Vegas Is Missing

I could see the gamblers being leery of the Texans’ potential. But Vegas has a blind spot. Most of the time we look at recent history and trends to predict outcomes. There’s an uncontrollable variable that I believe Vegas, gamblers, the national media and most of us are overlooking.

The Deshaun Watson Factor

Full disclosure: I grew up in Florence, South Carolina and have been a lifelong Clemson fan. I watched Deshaun Watson coming out of Georgia and studied every snap of Deshaun Watson’s college and pro career.

I’ll be 40 years old on Christmas day. I was three years old on January 1st, 1982, the day the Clemson Tigers won their first ever national title in college football. I lived through Terry Allen, Rod Gardner, The Fridge, Levon Kirkland, Woody Dantzler, the Bamberg Bookends and a whole lot of “Clemsoning.” I didn’t get to partake in the joy of that first national title, and honestly, after all of the heartbreak, I never thought I would see one in my lifetime.

That was a lifetime ago, though. All of that was during the B.D. era (Before Deshaun). When Deshaun Watson enters a program, school, team, etc., he elevates the entire organization. He’s a unicorn. I’ve never seen anything like him. I’ve studied college prospects for over a decade and have never seen any quarterback develop as quick, week-over-week, as I did with Watson during his short-lived rookie season. Deshaun Watson is the offense, he is the offensive line, he’s the engine. He always has been.

Although I studied all of young Watson, I still believed there to be rhetorical excess in the words spoken by his former college coach, Dabo Swinney. Swinney said passing on Watson in the NFL Draft would be like passing on Michael Jordan. Maybe we can meet in the middle, Dabo, and call him Kobe? Watson went 12th overall and Kobe Bryant went 13th overall in their respective drafts. At least the Browns didn’t take Vlade Divac in the trade.

I’ve falsely labeled a lot of information surrounding Watson as rhetoric during his entry process to the NFL. It was at his introductory press conference with the Houston Texans that I asked him about a report that I once read. I believed it to be hyperbole. As the story went, when Deshaun Watson tore his anterior cruciate ligament at Clemson, he returned to play on it against the Tigers’ rival, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

When posed with the question, Watson flashed his million-dollar smile and added to the story. He said he promised his coach at Clemson when he signed there that he would beat South Carolina each year he was there. Watson on the torn ACL went 14-19 (74%) for 269 yards 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and he also chipped in five rushes for 13 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. Oh, and Deshaun Watson never lost to the Gamecocks during his entire Clemson career.

Deshaun Watson’s career vs the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0)

2014: 14-19 (74%) 269 passing yards 2 TDs 0 INTs - 5 rushes 13 yards 2 TDs
2015: 20-27 (74%) 279 passing yards 1 TD 0 INTs - 21 rushes 114 yards 3 TDs
2016: 27-33 (82%) 347 passing yards 6 TDs 1 INT - 5 rushes 19 yards 0 TDs

Most men aren’t built to perform their best against the toughest of conditions. But Deshaun Watson isn’t most men, proven by what he did in back-to-back title games against Alabama.

Watson in Title Games vs Alabama

January 2016
30-47 (64%) for 405 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
20 rushes for 73 yards, 0 TDs
Alabama 45 - Clemson 40

January 2017
36-56 (64%) for 420 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
21 rushes for 43 yards, 1 TD
Clemson 35 - Alabama 31

Watson has won everywhere he’s gone. He brought a state championship to his high school. He brought a title back to Clemson.

Before the season began, I made a prediction that I had never made before. I said the Texans would win the Super Bowl this season (full disclosure: picked them to beat the Giants).

Bill O’Brien puts limitations on his quarterbacks. The conservative plan works to get you to 9-7 and maybe even victory over Connor Cook in the playoffs. But O’Brien’s philosophy doesn’t correlate to big games. Watson’s DNA will take over. He has shown repeatedly throughout his collegiate and professional career that he’s a chameleon. He can change who he is as a quarterback from game-to-game.

The Deshaun Watson that is restricted by Bill O’Brien is the regular-season Deshaun Watson. What Vegas and gamblers need to quickly realize is that Watson will change his stripes in the playoffs. He will take his team on his back. The Texans also have key vocal defenders that can take over and play up to big moments. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus all have had big moments in the Texans playoffs. If the trio of pass rushers all get hot, then Houston will have an unstoppable formula.

The AFC is filled with parity. People are still scared of the Patriots because of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Chiefs always fold. Philip Rivers is a great story, but he’s always the bridesmaid. Big Ben will self-destruct the Steelers and then mumble all offseason about possibly retiring.

The biggest myth in the NFL is the talk of the proverbial window being open. The window is only open now! That’s always the case in the NFL. Injuries happen, free agency, etc. If you have a franchise quarterback, quality defense, top rushing attack and an elite receiver, then your window is open.

I don’t like any of the teams I mentioned to beat the Texans led by Deshaun Watson in an elimination game. Watson is already leading one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL. He’s also passed for 375 or more yards in three consecutive games. He’s done all of this with the worst combination of bookend tackles in the NFL.

More Weapons

Vegas, fans and the media have seen the best that the rest of the AFC has to offer. We’ve only seen Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense with the governor off a few times this season. True, Will Fuller is no longer active this season and the surge in passing numbers came with him on the field. I still personally believe the Texans have a multitude of attacks with their current blend of rookies and veteran weapons. The Texans have wrinkles that they are purposely not showing.

The Texans running game this season has been successful even without second year running back D’Onta Foreman. Foreman is coming back from an Achilles injury and we can only speculate on when he’ll see his first action. I mention Foreman because we all just watched Damien Williams, Justin Jackson, Darrel Williams and Detrez Newsome run through, over and into defenders on Thursday Night Football. These four guys aren’t hidden gems that coincidentally looked faster, more powerful and more explosive than more highly-touted defenders. They are guys that haven’t taken a beating all season, going against guys with 500+ snaps on their body. Fresh legs are king this time of year.

If Foreman is even 70% of himself when the playoffs start, he’ll be an unstoppable beast for a team that already boasts the number three rushing attack in the NFL.

Foreman was attractive to the Texans because he was a freakish 250-pound running back that could run 4.5 speed. Foreman gets better as games go on, wearing down defenses in the fourth quarter a la Steven Jackson.

Foreman, if ready, can now be a sledgehammer in the fourth quarter with fresh legs against playoff defenses that are already beaten up after a 16-game regular season.

I’d expect Jordan Thomas to become a consistent red zone weapon. His growth with the addition of Foreman for the playoffs, along with Demaryius Thomas, could drastically improve the Texans red zone offense.

Standing By My Prediction

Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel aren’t likely to show all of their cards over the last three weeks against bad teams. Expect to see the Deshaun Watson that plays on torn ACLs, wins championships and walks on water when the games become win or go home.

The Houston Texans will be Super Bowl LIII champs.

Ja-PAY-veon Clowney?

“With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select: Jadeveon Clowney.”

I was onboard with the uttering of those words. It may have come as a surprise to some, seeing how the months leading up to that selection were marred by rumors. We all remember Peter King’s “F.O.R.S.” (Friends of Rick Smith) statement in which he said that the former Texans General Manager loved Khalil Mack and that Mack would be the selection.

Others turned their attention to a multitude of quarterbacks, whether it was young-gun, local-Texan phenomenon and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, or the new and flashy Carr. After the Texans selected David Carr with their first ever NFL Draft selection in franchise history, they had the opportunity to select his younger brother, Derek. This was never going to happen. The Carr's wanted to take a different path, while the Texans seemed fearful of purchasing another lemon.

The Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewaters and Jimmy Garoppolos of the world received a lot of run as well. The fact of the matter was that Rick Smith knew all along that the pick was going to be Jadeveon Clowney if he didn’t receive a king’s ransom for the number one pick overall. Smith had already put the plan in place at the NFL Draft Combine to try and build as much value in the number one pick, in hopes of landing a “Ricky Williams-type draft day trade package.”

Who could blame Rick Smith and the Texans? I had spent the four previous months enamored with the freak that was Jadeveon Clowney. Being from the Palmetto State myself, I started following Clowney’s high school career early on. He was unlike anything that I had ever seen, truly a freak of nature. His high school film, which has since become legendary, made my heart race and my mind run. Who was this giant playing offense and flying around on defense?! He quickly rose to the #1 high school prospect and signed with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Clowney was a force in college but there were rumors of a questionable motor. We all remember Clowney flying behind the back of Taylor Lewan of Michigan and destroying a poor child by launching airborne like something out of Dragonball Z, planting the kid six feet under with his helmet.

Texans fans and even we in the media got excited about the possibility of Jadeveon Clowney playing with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Who could stop this pass rush? I thought at the time that Khalil Mack was great but that Clowney could be the best ever. I shrugged off concerns about maturity and motor. In my mind, the Texans made the right selection.

The NFL Draft will humble everyone. We each study and try to get an understanding of a player’s skill set and how it transitions to the next level. What kind of guy is the young man? Does he love the game of football? Is he a student of the game? Does he want to be great?

These are all questions that you hear thrown around routinely at draft time. Everyone knows these questions but it’s difficult to find the answers. Sometimes a kid turns out to be exactly who you think he can become. Other times, injuries, passion, scheme, coaching, front office, family and/or friends can knock a prospect off the straight and narrow path to greatness.

As much as I loved Clowney coming out and I believed in his potential, I always reassess to see if I missed or hit on a prospect in the hope of continuing to develop as an evaluator. I’ve had to eat crow so often with misses on prospects that I’m thinking of becoming vegan.

The Houston Texans need to reassess who Jadeveon Clowney is now, as his fifth season with the franchise that drafted him winds down. Clowney signed a four-year contract worth $22.2 million when he signed with the Texans in 2014. When the last collective bargaining agreement was put into place, the NFL had fifth-year options added to the contracts of first-round picks—meaning that any player that was drafted in the first round could have a fifth year extended if the team decided to pick up the option.

Since the new CBA was put into play, none of the first three players to go first overall saw their fifth-year option. Each of them received a new contract either before the fourth or fifth year.

2011 - Cam Newton - Extended before 5th year

2012 - Andrew Luck - Extended before 5th year

2013 - Eric Fisher - Extended before 4th year

2014 - Jadeveon Clowney - Playing out 5th year option

Players drafted after Jadeveon Clowney in the first round that have been given lengthy contracts instead of the fifth-year option:

3rd overall - Blake Bortles

5th overall - Khalil Mack

6th overall - Jake Matthews

7th overall - Mike Evans

11th overall - Taylor Lewan

12th overall - Odell Beckham Jr.

13th overall - Aaron Donald

16th overall - Zack Martin

20th overall - Brandin Cooks

(Sammy Watkins signed in free agency and did not have his fifth-year option picked up)

Some fans have been puzzled by Clowney not receiving the extension. I for one am grateful to see the Texans possibly correcting an issue that has plagued them throughout their existence. The Texans have loved to extend “injury-prone” players or have refused to move them when they could see the decline coming. The NFL is just like the stock market in some ways. Or, for the lesser dignified like myself, it’s like the old Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler”....sing with me now: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

The Texans have chosen to “hold ‘em” in the past, or even worse, go all-in despite seeing the decline. Matt Schaub, Brian Cushing, etc., etc., etc.

The dilemma for the Texans to pay Jadeveon Clowney or not has multiple layers. It’s not as simple as “he’s trash, don’t pay him” or “he’s a freak, you have to pay him.” He’s a unique individual, personally and professionally. There’s a case to be made that Clowney can flourish in the NFL as a pass rusher, but after five years in Houston, I don’t believe it’s with the Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel regime.

Over the last year I’ve expressed my views on why I would not sign Clowney long-term in Houston and how they can stretch this out to their benefit, but first the Texans need to figure out if he’s more valuable to them on the team or as an asset to acquire other talent and/or draft picks.

Clowney is a big kid. His bubbly personality is contagious. He’s easygoing and seems to just wants to have fun and be relaxed. Bill O’Brien is more of the hush-hush type, preferring not to let anything out as it could benefit the enemy. Even today, I saw a comment from the Texans’ press release in which Clowney made a carefree response to a reporter’s question asking for the keys to defending a mobile quarterback:

Clowney said: “Everybody rush to the level of the quarterback and try to press the pocket. No fly-bys, no opening up of lanes up the middle. Just try to push the pocket and not run him out and make him throw from the well. That’s what we’re going to try to do this week.”

Again, nothing unusual, we’ve heard it all before; but this is the type of minor comment that O’Brien has come down on Clowney for in the past. You get the feeling that anytime someone walks into O’Brien’s office and starts a sentence with “Jadeveon” or “Clowney,” sitcom music starts, and OB asks, “What did he do now?”

The Texans were so worried about the maturity and development of Clowney that they cut ties with DJ Swearinger. Yes, I realize Swearinger could never cover outside the box, but they invested a second-round pick in him and he plays his role well. Swearinger is also among the top five in active consecutive starts and games played for safeties in the NFL.

It was the comments and the off-field bumps and bruises that got Swearinger escorted out. Remember Swearinger’s pit bull biting Clowney’s arm and breaking the skin a few years back? Remember Swearinger talking about the crappy turf at NRG, and that being the reason Clowney got injured, early in his career with the Texans?

They removed Swearinger, and another former Gamecock, Johnathan Joseph, became the new big brother, guidance counselor if you will, for young JD. Joseph is great for Clowney, but no one can pull out Clowney’s greatness except Clowney, and I’m afraid he doesn’t want it. It was a similar question that was asked of Mario Williams after his rookie contract expired and he signed for a huge payday in Buffalo.

Jadeveon Clowney has still yet to receive a double-digit sack season, and he’s in year five. At first the issue was that JJ Watt was healthy but Clowney wasn’t. Then Clowney was healthy and Watt wasn’t. But what’s the excuse for this season? Watt is back to getting double-teamed, and Clowney still only has seven sacks on the season with three games to go.

Even Mario Williams had 14-sack and 12-sack seasons in Houston before his 6-year rookie deal ran out. Mario suffered health issues at the end of his run in Houston, and the Texans were wise enough to not pony up the major money needed to keep him in town.

In year five of the Clowney experiment, does he look like a $20 million pass rusher? Does he play to Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald’s level? The answer is a simple no.

The Houston Texans have had the number one overall pick three times in franchise history. In each of those drafts (2002 - 2006 - 2014) there was a choice between the freakish pass rusher from the Carolina college or another talent. With their three number one overall picks, the Texans passed on the wrong Carolina kid and selected two guys that didn’t have the elite motor.

2002:

#1 Overall - David Carr (Houston Texans)

Passed on Julius Peppers out of North Carolina (4th on all-time sack list - 158.5 career sacks)

2006:

#1 Overall - Mario Williams (Houston Texans) -- From North Carolina State

2014:

#1 Overall - Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) -- From South Carolina

Who is Clowney as a defender for the Texans?

I’ve said over the last few years that Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most dominant run defenders. For this article I took a look at Pro Football Focus to see how they had Clowney graded as a run defender. He ranked 10th overall per their evaluations. What’s more, here’s the company he keeps among the top run defenders are big nose tackles, defensive tackles and traditional 3-4 defensive ends:

  1. Damon “Snacks” Harrison
  2. Akiem Hicks
  3. Aaron Donald
  4. Calais Campbell
  5. Jurrell Casey
  6. Michael Pierce
  7. A’Shawn Robinson
  8. Lawrence Guy
  9. Kenny Clark
  10. Jadeveon Clowney
  11. Stephon Tuitt
  12. Eddie Goldman
  13. Davon Godchaux
  14. Arik Armstead
  15. Mike Pennel

Pro Football Focus goes on to rate Clowney at 69.7 as a pass rusher. For comparison purposes, Dee Ford who made news at his and Clowney’s combine by comparing Clowney to a “blind dog in a meat market,” has the 2nd highest grade as a pass rusher at 91.7, behind only Aaron Donald’s 94.1.

As is the case with Clowney, Dee Ford is playing under his fifth-year option. Both players are attempting to put their best foot forward in a contract year to secure that next major pay day. Here’s how their stats compare this season:

Clowney table 1.png

Clowney’s Career

Jadeveon Clowney surprised a lot of people by coming back from microfracture surgery and having the type of career he has had to this point, while dealing with nagging injuries.

2014 - His rookie season was limited to four games

7 tackles 3 TFLs 0 QB Hits 0 Sacks

2015 - Clowney was able to play in 13 games

40 tackles 8 TFLs 8 QB Hits 4.5 sacks 6 PDs 1 FF

2016 - Clowney played in 14 games that season

52 tackles 16 TFLs 17 QB Hits 6.0 sacks 2 PDs 1 FF

2017 - Clowney played in all 16 games last season

59 tackles 21 TFLs 21 QB Hits 9.5 sacks 2 PDs 2 FFs 2 FRs 1 TD

2018 - Clowney has played in 12 games this season

34 tackles 12 TFLs 15 QB Hits 7.0 sacks 2 FRs 1 TD

How the Texans use Jadeveon Clowney

When Mike Vrabel was the Texans’ linebacker coach, he gave exceptional one-on-one coaching to Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney started to play with leverage and technique and was developing. After 2016, Clowney started regressing as a technical pass rusher and has since reverted back to his flaw of depending on pure athleticism, strength and explosion. Mercilus took Vrabel’s teachings and flourished, until he had the setback with the torn pec last season.

In 2015 and 2016 (Vrabel LB Coach 2014-2016) Whitney Mercilus combined to have 19.5 sacks and 27 TFLs. In his other 5 NFL seasons combined, he only has 22.5 sacks & 27 TFLs.

The Texans now seem to play to Clowney’s athleticism, and don’t look to utilize him as a pure pass rusher, as he’s lacking. The Texans like to move Clowney as a chess piece. He can line up at inside linebacker, bounce around and then shoot the A-Gap against less mobile centers and guards with shorter arms. This causes instant pressure up the gut and everyone clamors, “DID YOU SEE CLOWNEY!” But it’s fluff, and not a sustainable attack.

We often hear analysts compliment the ability to move Clowney, but more recently it has appeared as a strategy to hide Clowney from attacks to his edge. If you go back to the most recent Texans-Titans game, you’ll notice Mike Vrabel attacking Clowney’s side. He does this for the same reason the Texans don’t line Clowney and Watt on the same side often. They play what some NFLers call “hero ball”. As great as JJ Watt is and as dynamic as Jadeveon Clowney is, they both like to attack without regard to the holes they leave behind them. This brings a further issue to light with Clowney, as teams know that he will get out of position and leave a huge void. Even if he gets thru, they realize he’s a poor tackler that will routinely not finish.

Clowney is an exciting, flashy player that will show up weekly on highlights. He’s one of the most talented run defenders, especially for his unique size, weight and flexibility. The problem is, you don’t pay top run defenders $20 million a year in the NFL.

I heard someone say the other day that NFL teams should have had buyers beware with Kirk Cousins because they franchised him, dated him, sweet-talked him, but never put the ring on his finger. Minnesota is finding out now what Washington already knew. Cousins is Matt Schaub. He can put up stats but when the pressure comes and elite teams attack, he’ll fold, every time.

The smart move for the Texans is to try and franchise Clowney out the next two years or franchise him and trade him this offseason. Other NFL teams should learn the lesson from the kissing Cousins in Washington: they’re cute enough to trot around the family for a few years, but they have flaws that prevent you from making the ultimate commitment.

If the Texans went the method of franchising Clowney for two more years, they would then get a freakish pass rusher for the first seven years of his career, either under the rookie pay, fifth-year option or year-to-year franchise freedom. If this is Clowney at his best with the Texans in a contract year with JJ Watt doing JJ Watt things, then what will he be after he gets paid? What will he be after another injury? The ghosts of failed contracts past are crying out to Brian Gaine this Christmas season...ewww, remember Brian Cushing….ewww, remember Matt Schaub. Don’t do it, Brian, scrooge him!

Even if the injuries, lack of production, etc., make you think that Clowney is worth $20 million a year, take a gander at the penalties:

Julie’n Davenport leads the Texans with 14 penalties this year.

Clowney is second with 10 penalties.

No other Texans player has more than five. In fact, the next six Texans players with the most penalties this year still only equal 23 penalties combined. Clowney and Davenport combine for 24. Davenport is a developmental mid-round draft pick. Clowney is the former #1 pick overall that wants Khalil Mack money. Clowney has four neutral zone infractions, three defensive offsides and encroachment to go with his taunting and defensive offsides this season. It’s probably not a big deal, unless the game comes down to getting a stop and getting the offense the ball back, and Clowney draws a neutral zone infraction...d’oh, too soon?

What Clowney could be

While Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t seem to want to reach his max potential and be one of the greatest ever, his lack of production isn’t all his fault. The Texans have had this 6’5”, 290-pound monster with an unusual blend of explosion, agility and power, and they’ve never played him to his strengths. For five seasons the Texans have tried to make Jadeveon Clowney every different thing under the moon, besides what he was always meant to be.

Does anyone remember Jevon Kearse firing out the wide-nine? There’ve been changes to the wide-nine through the years designed to not leave as much of a void behind the ends and asking your linebackers and safeties to completely fill B and C gaps, leaving them more vulnerable over the top. This is Jadeveon Clowney’s home. This is where Clowney should have been his entire career.

The crazy thing is that the Texans have the perfect personnel to execute to Clowney’s strengths. Some of the weaknesses to the wide-nine are already weaknesses to Clowney’s playside. The Texans do allow Clowney to fire out of the wide-nine occasionally, but Clowney is a 12-15 sacks per year defensive end in the wide-nine if that was his every-down role.

Clowney table 2.png

Zach Cunningham and Tyrann Mathieu fill behind Clowney with Kareem Jackson as a safety valve outside of Clowney.

Dylan Cole and Justin Reid backup Mercilus inside with McKinney filling behind Watt / Reader with overflow to B-Gaps.

Texans are deep on the defensive line with Christian Covington and Angelo Blackson. Carlos Watkins was always a three-year project. Next year is big for him. Joel Heath is quality, deep depth. Brandon Dunn can spell Reader.

If the Texans aren’t going to utilize him to his strengths, why not trade him to a team that sees exactly how to execute with him. They would then also take on all of the health risks, concerns about drive and giving away O’Brien’s trusted secrets to the media.

Ja-TRADE-veon Clowney.

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Astros Day 2-4 recaps of the Winter Meetings

Day 2

With the Houston Astros not even being in town on Day 1, we will jump ahead to Day 2 of the Winter Meetings. The Houston Astros executives flew into Las Vegas on Monday with the hopes of filling in the gaps from the 2018 season.

With the Astros looking for a starting pitcher, a DH/1B and even a relief pitcher or two and an outfielder, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has his work cut out for him this year in Vegas.

No deals were made, no signings, no trades: some more talk about Astros being in contention for certain players like JA Happ and JT Realmuto, but nothing was done.

Result: No new additions &/or subtractions

Day 3

Besides the continuation of hearing that Realmuto is on the verge of being traded in a supposed three-team trade with the Marlins, Yankees, and Mets, nothing was happening as much for the Astros and the names that they are involved. Dallas Keuchel has continued to be mentioned as “top of the list” guy for multiple teams, as well as Marwin Gonzales. Other than that, nothing new came from Charlie Morton, except now other teams are interested in his services.

J.A. Happ continued to be mentioned as a possible candidate for the Astros and other teams as well. The 36-year old was looking for a 3-year deal that could send him into retirement after the end of the contract.

Andrew McCutchen, while not a top target for the Astros still someone that could be considered if the need fit, signed with the Phillies for a 3-year, $50M deal. Now, besides Bryce Harper, the outfield list is starting to wind down a little bit possibly. Rumors that the Dodgers are shopping Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp emerged late Tuesday night, but nothing has happened since.

Another name that has escaped the hands of the Astros is Nelson Cruz, who was in talks with the ballclub and even was one of the top considerations, has now moved on to make his decision between either the Twins or the Rays. So, that’s another player that the ‘Stros have failed to close a deal on.

Kluber and Bauer are still with the Indians and have not been moved yet. At this point, a move will most likely not occur during the winter meetings for either one of those players most likely. The only thing the Astros announced today was Jim Crane saying that if the circumstance is correct, they will increase the payroll.

Result: No new additions &/or subtractions

Day 4

Waking up on Day 4 of the Winter Meetings in Vegas, the rumors now speculate that the Mets are now backing away from JT Realmuto and looking for a more defensive catcher possibly (that rumor coming from Jon Heyman).

The Dodgers have been a name connected to him, but according to Jon Heyman, the deal could have been done already between LA and the Marlins. However, the Dodgers are not willing to get rid of Cody Bellinger in the deal, which has stalled talks in trade for Realmuto, reopening the door for the Astros to swoop in if they want to. However, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has stated that he is good with the group of catchers they have right now in Chirinos and Stassi.

Reports about J.A. Happ re-signing with the Yankees has been reversed as it looked like no agreement had officially been put in place when Ken Rosenthal first reported it.

Madison Bumgarner is still on the market by the San Francisco Giants. No move has been made yet for him, though the Astros at this point are still a team that are interested in his services with the potential loss of Dallas Keuchel.

Today was the day that pitcher Charlie Morton decided to leave the city of Houston and sign with the Tampa Bay Rays for a 2-year, $30M contract. With that, the Astros look at their starting rotation now with a gaping hole that is left, which now most likely has to be filled with a re-signed Dallas Keuchel, if they can pull it off.

Result: Big subtraction in Charlie Morton, No additions

Day 5

Heading into the final day of the Winter Meetings, the Houston Astros and their fans were still in a somber mood with the departure of Morton to the Rays. Besides that, no signings or trades occurred for the Astros as they quietly ended the Winter Meetings with no additions and one big subtraction in Morton the day before.

Result: No new additions &/or subtractions

An overall recap of the Winter Meetings for the Astros:

Despite previous years where the Astros were somewhat active to fairly active during the Winter Meetings, not much- if any- action was taken by the Astros these past five days. With that being said, the blue and orange are still looking to add an arm and a big bat from now until the start of spring training in February. Marwin Gonzales and Dallas Keuchel remain unsigned, while Charlie Morton heads for Tampa Bay. It’s been somewhat of a ho-hum December so far for Houston. However, signing Chirinos before the meetings at least helps with the catcher situation. Although, don’t be surprised if the ‘Stros go and sign another catcher.

Overall grade: D

Why Vegas Is Wrong about the Texans

In recent weeks we’ve heard a lot about Bill O’Brien’s impressive record of 30-1 when his Texans team have a lead at the half. Taking this stat only on the surface, I was blown away. Maybe Bill O’Brien’s conservative way of winning by as close as humanly possible wasn’t a flaw after all.

Why Vegas Doesn’t Trust the Texans

Vegas, known for their use of analytics, has been well aware of this stat, I’m sure. They make their business knowing every variable in each game. So when I looked recently at the general consensus of Vegas rankings, I was surprised by the lack of respect given to the Texans.

They knew about 30-1, right? They knew that Lamar Miller is second in the AFC in rushing yards this season? They were the first team ever to start 0-3 and then go on to win nine straight! Why isn’t Vegas higher on the Texans’ Super Bowl odds?

Eye-popping stats come out from time to time, and they are impressive enough to sway our opinion. Vegas and the gambling insiders that research all data for each NFL line, had been tracking this stat since it was 1-0. We hear it and take it at face value and run with a new narrative.

The reason Vegas hasn’t overreacted to the 30-1 record and the nine-game winning streak that came to an end this past weekend is because they know all the other numbers. The simple numbers like: If he has 30 wins and only one loss when leading at halftime, then what is his record in all other games? The answer to that is….10 wins and 36 losses. Now that’s eye-popping. That’s not the only stat that concerns Vegas with the Texans.

The first stat that I look at to evaluate teams around playoff time is each team’s record against opponents with a winning record. I do the same thing at the end of the season to gauge what a team was. Unlike its counterparts in the MLB and NBA, there aren’t 162 or even 82 regular season games. There are only 16 games each season, and they usually come around once a week. This makes the NFL the most reactionary sport of all of the major three; it takes an entire week for new storylines or players to change the going narrative.

Over the last few years I’ve earned a reputation of being hard on Bill O’Brien. I believe this to be unfair, as I give credit where it’s due but also hold him accountable for poor decisions. I also base a lot of my opinions on O’Brien around the simple criteria that I mentioned previously. How are his teams against winning teams? Does he just beat up on a poor division?

Here’s some concerning records for Bill O’Brien as the Head Coach of the Houston Texans (current thru NFL week 14 - 2018):

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At first glance, it looks as if a Bill O’Brien’s team has finally turned the corner with a winning record vs teams that are above .500. But when you look deeper you’ll see that with three weeks to go in the season, that three of those four wins are against 7-6 teams (Colts / Titans / Dolphins). The Texans signature win this season is against an 8-5 Cowboys team that they caught at the right time. Dallas started this season 3-5 before winning their last five games in a row.

There’s nothing for Vegas to latch on to with this Texans team. The only good team that Houston has played all season was the Patriots in week one. They aren’t tested enough for Vegas. They look at the Texans nine-straight wins against mediocre competition and fail to see an elite team. What’s the impressive win:

Texans’ Nine Wins

  1. By 3 in Indy thanks to the Frank Reich call going sour
  2. By 3 vs the Amari Cooper-less Cowboys
  3. By 7 at home over the Bills thanks to Nathan Peterman
  4. By 13 in Jacksonville. Enough said
  5. By 19 in win over the Osweiler-led Dolphins
  6. By 2 in the Mile High City vs Keenum & Co.
  7. By 2 in D.C. over Alex Smith & Colt McCoy
  8. By 17 on MNF after the passing of Bob McNair
  9. By 16 over the Browns with Baker cooking up 3 INTs

The Texans play Saturday against the (4-9) Jets and their rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold. That game is followed over the next couple of weeks by a trip to Philly to take on the (6-7) Eagles and then a home game against the (4-9) Jaguars.

Darnold, Foles, Kessler…

What Vegas Is Missing

I could see the gamblers being leery of the Texans’ potential. But Vegas has a blind spot. Most of the time we look at recent history and trends to predict outcomes. There’s an uncontrollable variable that I believe Vegas, gamblers, the national media and most of us are overlooking.

The Deshaun Watson Factor

Full disclosure: I grew up in Florence, South Carolina and have been a lifelong Clemson fan. I watched Deshaun Watson coming out of Georgia and studied every snap of Deshaun Watson’s college and pro career.

I’ll be 40 years old on Christmas day. I was three years old on January 1st, 1982, the day the Clemson Tigers won their first ever national title in college football. I lived through Terry Allen, Rod Gardner, The Fridge, Levon Kirkland, Woody Dantzler, the Bamberg Bookends and a whole lot of “Clemsoning.” I didn’t get to partake in the joy of that first national title, and honestly, after all of the heartbreak, I never thought I would see one in my lifetime.

That was a lifetime ago, though. All of that was during the B.D. era (Before Deshaun). When Deshaun Watson enters a program, school, team, etc., he elevates the entire organization. He’s a unicorn. I’ve never seen anything like him. I’ve studied college prospects for over a decade and have never seen any quarterback develop as quick, week-over-week, as I did with Watson during his short-lived rookie season. Deshaun Watson is the offense, he is the offensive line, he’s the engine. He always has been.

Although I studied all of young Watson, I still believed there to be rhetorical excess in the words spoken by his former college coach, Dabo Swinney. Swinney said passing on Watson in the NFL Draft would be like passing on Michael Jordan. Maybe we can meet in the middle, Dabo, and call him Kobe? Watson went 12th overall and Kobe Bryant went 13th overall in their respective drafts. At least the Browns didn’t take Vlade Divac in the trade.

I’ve falsely labeled a lot of information surrounding Watson as rhetoric during his entry process to the NFL. It was at his introductory press conference with the Houston Texans that I asked him about a report that I once read. I believed it to be hyperbole. As the story went, when Deshaun Watson tore his anterior cruciate ligament at Clemson, he returned to play on it against the Tigers’ rival, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

When posed with the question, Watson flashed his million-dollar smile and added to the story. He said he promised his coach at Clemson when he signed there that he would beat South Carolina each year he was there. Watson on the torn ACL went 14-19 (74%) for 269 yards 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and he also chipped in five rushes for 13 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. Oh, and Deshaun Watson never lost to the Gamecocks during his entire Clemson career.

Deshaun Watson’s career vs the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0)

2014: 14-19 (74%) 269 passing yards 2 TDs 0 INTs - 5 rushes 13 yards 2 TDs
2015: 20-27 (74%) 279 passing yards 1 TD 0 INTs - 21 rushes 114 yards 3 TDs
2016: 27-33 (82%) 347 passing yards 6 TDs 1 INT - 5 rushes 19 yards 0 TDs

Most men aren’t built to perform their best against the toughest of conditions. But Deshaun Watson isn’t most men, proven by what he did in back-to-back title games against Alabama.

Watson in Title Games vs Alabama

January 2016
30-47 (64%) for 405 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
20 rushes for 73 yards, 0 TDs
Alabama 45 - Clemson 40

January 2017
36-56 (64%) for 420 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
21 rushes for 43 yards, 1 TD
Clemson 35 - Alabama 31

Watson has won everywhere he’s gone. He brought a state championship to his high school. He brought a title back to Clemson.

Before the season began, I made a prediction that I had never made before. I said the Texans would win the Super Bowl this season (full disclosure: picked them to beat the Giants).

Bill O’Brien puts limitations on his quarterbacks. The conservative plan works to get you to 9-7 and maybe even victory over Connor Cook in the playoffs. But O’Brien’s philosophy doesn’t correlate to big games. Watson’s DNA will take over. He has shown repeatedly throughout his collegiate and professional career that he’s a chameleon. He can change who he is as a quarterback from game-to-game.

The Deshaun Watson that is restricted by Bill O’Brien is the regular-season Deshaun Watson. What Vegas and gamblers need to quickly realize is that Watson will change his stripes in the playoffs. He will take his team on his back. The Texans also have key vocal defenders that can take over and play up to big moments. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus all have had big moments in the Texans playoffs. If the trio of pass rushers all get hot, then Houston will have an unstoppable formula.

The AFC is filled with parity. People are still scared of the Patriots because of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Chiefs always fold. Philip Rivers is a great story, but he’s always the bridesmaid. Big Ben will self-destruct the Steelers and then mumble all offseason about possibly retiring.

The biggest myth in the NFL is the talk of the proverbial window being open. The window is only open now! That’s always the case in the NFL. Injuries happen, free agency, etc. If you have a franchise quarterback, quality defense, top rushing attack and an elite receiver, then your window is open.

I don’t like any of the teams I mentioned to beat the Texans led by Deshaun Watson in an elimination game. Watson is already leading one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL. He’s also passed for 375 or more yards in three consecutive games. He’s done all of this with the worst combination of bookend tackles in the NFL.

More Weapons

Vegas, fans and the media have seen the best that the rest of the AFC has to offer. We’ve only seen Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense with the governor off a few times this season. True, Will Fuller is no longer active this season and the surge in passing numbers came with him on the field. I still personally believe the Texans have a multitude of attacks with their current blend of rookies and veteran weapons. The Texans have wrinkles that they are purposely not showing.

The Texans running game this season has been successful even without second year running back D’Onta Foreman. Foreman is coming back from an Achilles injury and we can only speculate on when he’ll see his first action. I mention Foreman because we all just watched Damien Williams, Justin Jackson, Darrel Williams and Detrez Newsome run through, over and into defenders on Thursday Night Football. These four guys aren’t hidden gems that coincidentally looked faster, more powerful and more explosive than more highly-touted defenders. They are guys that haven’t taken a beating all season, going against guys with 500+ snaps on their body. Fresh legs are king this time of year.

If Foreman is even 70% of himself when the playoffs start, he’ll be an unstoppable beast for a team that already boasts the number three rushing attack in the NFL.

Foreman was attractive to the Texans because he was a freakish 250-pound running back that could run 4.5 speed. Foreman gets better as games go on, wearing down defenses in the fourth quarter a la Steven Jackson.

Foreman, if ready, can now be a sledgehammer in the fourth quarter with fresh legs against playoff defenses that are already beaten up after a 16-game regular season.

I’d expect Jordan Thomas to become a consistent red zone weapon. His growth with the addition of Foreman for the playoffs, along with Demaryius Thomas, could drastically improve the Texans red zone offense.

Standing By My Prediction

Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel aren’t likely to show all of their cards over the last three weeks against bad teams. Expect to see the Deshaun Watson that plays on torn ACLs, wins championships and walks on water when the games become win or go home.

The Houston Texans will be Super Bowl LIII champs.

I Watched... Blindspotting

“You monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town!”

As I anxiously await Aquaman and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, I thought it was a good time to find some of those hidden gems that I have missed so far this year. I chose Blindspotting this week, a film that received some buzz early and had some nominations in the smaller award circuit.

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Blindspotting follows the last 3 days of probation for Collin, played by Daveed Diggs, best known for his work in Hamilton. Diggs brings his unique hip-hop style to this role, incorporating his Clipping style in every day events, seamlessly going from rap to regular cadence throughout the film. Three days before he is released from probation, Collin witnesses a murder performed by an officer chasing a suspect. It shakes him, not knowing what to do; should he report what he saw, or let the media keep believing what the officers are saying about the incident? This part of the story will be resolved later in the film, but let’s leave that to you to figure out.

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The real story of Collin is his friendship with Miles, his tough-exterior white male friend from the slums of Oakland, where our story takes place. Miles is played by the writer and producer of the film, Rafael Casal, who steals every scene he is in, including a hilarious exchange with Mama Liz, a hair salon owner played by Tisha Campbell-Martin. Collin and Miles have been friends since elementary school. For those that still have a connection or friendship going back that far, it connects to pretty much every part of their lives. I am lucky enough to still talk to my friend from 3rd grade every day. Our friendship has withstood 35 years, and this is where I connected with the film.

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We know Collin is on probation, and the details at the beginning of the film are a bit foggy on why. We later discover through a co-worker, Val, played by the Shiva herself, Janina Gavankar, that Miles is directly involved in the reason Collin went to jail. The film begins to play both sides and lets us decide which is better: to give up on your friendship if it is poisoning you, or stick with it because he is always there for you. This, too, comes to a boil near the end of the film.

The third major character of the film is Oakland, a city that always seems to be on the brink of destruction, yet now on the brink of a rebirth. As San Francisco overflows, people must emigrate. It helps that the Golden State Warriors have become the “it” team in the NBA and picked up a ton of people on their bandwagon. With that popularity comes more people to the city, and Oakland is turning into an Austin West. It is perfectly shown throughout the film with random hipsters, on gigantic bikes, with incredible mustaches and beards, and arms full of Whole Foods bags.

One scene shows the Oakland Fox theater. On the marquee is Oakland legend Too Short, and below him is Third Eye Blind. This shows the changes happening in Oakland these days. Later in the film, the hardcore Oakland native Miles comes across a new transplant from Portland. They have the same tattoo, an outline of the state of California on the neck with a star in Oakland.

At the end of the film, I sat back to digest what I had seen. The movie was beautifully filmed with colors and scene changes that illustrate the good and the bad of Oakland. An incredible scene was presented at the very end of the film to tie a bow on it all. The message of the film fully comes through: race, friendship, and community all play a part of our lives, and ignoring any part of it is a disservice to yourself. If you ignore what you see, how are you ever going to understand what you are seeing? What do you even see? I highly recommend seeing it for yourself. And look for a complete scene-stealing moment by Utkarsh Ambudkar that reveals the reason Collin in on probation. Try to find a way to watch this film; every person should see it.

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Jaxwing Scale – 8/10

Worthy

2019 Supercross Season

The 2019 Monster Energy Supercross season is only 23 days away. The stacked 250SX and 450SX classes hit the starting gate on January 5th at Angel Stadium and ends May 4 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The series is 17 races in 18 weeks. You can see the full schedule at Supercrosslive.com.

Let’s start with the 250SX class. It will be broken up into two different series: east coast and west coast. There will be eight west coast races, seven east coast races, and two east/west showdowns. The east/west showdowns will be held in Atlanta on March 2nd and the second is in Las Vegas on May 4th. Each series features different riders competing for the 250SX championship.

The east/west showdowns give the riders a chance to compete against riders from the other series. Be on the lookout for Adam Cianciarulo, Jeremy Martin, Dylan Ferrandis, Austin Forkner, Shane McElrath and Jordon Smith to all be title contenders in this class. As I said, this division is stacked.


On to the big boys. The 450SX class is loaded as well. These riders will race all 17 stops in the series. They will continue with the 3 Triple Crown Races. The Triple Crown format is different from a normal Supercross race. The normal race format is 2 Heat races with the top 4 riders advancing to the main event, then 2 Semi Final races with the top 5 going onto the main event from each race. Then the Last Chance Qualifier with the top 4 making it to the main. Then the top 22 compete for the win.

The Triple Crown is 3 Main Events with each getting longer as the night goes on. The riders that are in the Main Events are based off qualifying before the night show begins. The overall win for the night is based off who gets the lowest combined score from the three Main Events. For example, if a rider finishes 1st -1st -1st he scores 3 points and would win the overall. The three triple crown events will be in Anaheim on January 19th, Detroit on February 23rd and then in our great city of Houston, at NRG Stadium, on March 30th.


Let’s talk about the 450SX riders competing for the title: Jason Anderson, the defending champion. Last season, Anderson took the points lead at around 2 in Houston and never looked back. He was consistently in the top 10 and is one of the best-trained riders in the series. Marvin Musquin, the French-born rider won the opening round last year in Anaheim, crashed hard in Houston and was forced to miss the next race. Even with this setback, Musquin ended up finishing second in points last year.

Without the fall in Houston, he might be the defending champion. Eli Tomac is routinely the fastest guy on the track and whom I consider being the favorite to win it all. Ken Roczen is a series wildcard and had some of the worst luck with injuries in 2017. Roczen suffered a nasty broken arm that required multiple surgeries. He came back last season and rode well before suffering another broken bone in a crash where his hand got caught in between another rider’s swingarm and rear tire. The last guy I consider a contender is Justin Barcia. Last season Barcia was brought to Yamaha as a fill-in rider but rode so well that he earned a multi-year contract. He’s always one of the most aggressive riders on the track and can be a consistent top 5 or 10 guy every race.


I’m really looking forward to this season. Both classes should come down to the final races of the season due to each field being so deep. I’ll be doing weekly write-ups on the races as well as weekly podcasts to recap the races on Saturdays. If you have any questions about the sport, reach out to me on Twitter @ryanhorton209.

Houston, We Have a Malfunction

By now we have all seen the horrid start the Rockets have gotten off to. Even with the win against the Blazers, the fans have been calling for the burning of the gates after every Rockets loss. The question has now turned to if and how the Rockets turn this season around before 41-41 becomes the glaring end to a season that started with a perceived chance of a championship.

With Ennis and Tucker followed by Clark and House, and with the eventual trade or release of Carmelo, the Rockets’ wing depth has fallen to the worst in the NBA. A replacement for the injured Ennis now becomes crucial for this team. Pressure is on Rockets GM Daryl Morey to pursue better role players to fit around James Harden and CP3.

Even with a trade imminent, the Rockets have to rely on rookies and underachieving free agents for at least one, possibly two games to help avoid sliding any further down the Western Conference ladder.

With so many trade rumors swirling, most of us want the big names. But with few assets to offer besides draft picks, Morey has to become creative. Look for deals that have a draft pick or an expiring contract attached to help them go through smoothly.

Some potential deals to keep in mind this upcoming weekend and leading into next week:

  • Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight for Kent Bazemore
  • Chriss, Knight and Nene for Evan Fournier and DJ Augustine
  • Knight and Chriss for James Johnson

Most likely, a few small moves will be made. But with Jimmy Butler off the board and the Washington Wizards unlikely to trade Bradley Beal or Otto Porter, it may be necessary to adjust our expectations with respect to what the Rockets can gain, when it comes to in-season trading. We would all love Anthony Davis to become available; sadly, even if this were to happen, it’s unlikely that the Rockets would be able to afford the price the New Orleans Pelicans would want for him.

This Rockets season has a chance at being the worst in their franchise history. Given the Rockets’ history and the expectations put on this season, I originally felt led as a reporter to assume it was championship or bust. Now it’s just a question of whether or not this season can be saved before it’s too late.

Rockets Lean on Another Historic James Harden Performance to Beat Lebron’s Lakers

Everyone knew this would be a physical game, seeing that the last game between these two ended up in fisticuffs between a few players. This game lived up to the hype that surrounded it and then some. It was a physical game for all 48 minutes. There were four technical fouls, and the referees’ whistles got plenty of use. But the game came to down to a James vs. James battle, and the James that wore the snake print suit to the game had a historic night.

Guard James Harden had a night to remember. His stat line is mind-boggling to say the least. 50 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, two steals, 54% shooting from the field and 18-for-19 from the free throw line. Just about every adjective you can think of can explain how amazing Harden was in this game. Without him, they do not have a chance at winning this.

Harden had support from the bench as newly re-signed two-way player Danuel House Jr. had a big night with 15 points off the bench. It’s encouraging to see, as he wasn’t even on the roster on opening night, but he is now giving this team nearly 30 minutes a game and performing well in critical moments. The Rockets are desperate for depth at the wing position; luckily, they may have found a diamond in the rough with House to provide a spark and a scoring punch off the bench.

What remains worrisome for the Rockets is the way point guard Chris Paul is shooting the ball; it’s a problem that has haunted this team for most of the season. In last night’s game, he was 3-for-10 from the field and 0-for-6 from inside the 3-point line. When the Rockets traded for Paul, everyone mentioned how he was one of the deadliest mid-range shooters in the NBA. The Rockets will need him to return to last year’s form if they want a chance to return to prominence in the playoffs this year.

It was also exciting to see Brandon Knight’s first action since February 2017. Nearly two years after his injury, Knight made his return to the court tonight. While he only played three minutes in the contest, it is still a positive sign for the Rockets, who can use an infusion of talent from any position it can get.

The Rockets’ next game against the Memphis Grizzlies tips off at 7 p.m. on Saturday. We’ll see if this momentum can continue for the Rockets, and whether they can get back to .500 for the season.

All stats courtesy of NBA Advanced Stats

WWE Top Five for the Week of Dec. 3-9

Another week of WWE programming has passed, and there are quite a few standout performers. Let’s dig into the list.

Just Missing the Cut

Dolph Ziggler: He hasn’t really had much to do, and with Drew McIntyre having a huge part in the GM storyline, he fell to the wayside. This week, he came out to confront McIntyre and even gave Drew his first singles loss (with the assist from Balor). If he’d won without help, Ziggler would’ve cracked the list.

Matt Riddle: NXT’s newest sensation is the last of the honorable mentions this week. He took on the debuting Punishment Martinez and beat him in a competitive match. Riddle is taking the WWE universe by storm, and his upcoming feud with Kassius Ohno is sure to be hard hitting, so expect to see Riddle on this list in the coming weeks.

Top Five

#5. Sonya Deville: A pinfall on Charlotte Flair will get you a spot on this list the majority of the time. Yes, it came off a kick from Asuka, but a victory over Charlotte shows how much confidence the company has in her. She and Mandy Rose got the win, so it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here.

#4. Finn Balor: The leader of Balor Club gets the fourth spot on this list for his role in upstaging Corbin and his crew on Monday night. With McIntyre going after Balor leading up to TLC, will Balor continue to get one up on the group of heels?

3#. Dean Ambrose: The Lunatic Fringe comes in at number three for the promo he put out. I’m still not 100% sold on the germaphobe gimmick, but so far it has worked. The gas mask and the idea of Rollins needing to pay for his sins has me intrigued. At this moment, I’m not entirely sure who will be walking out of TLC with the Intercontinental Championship.

#2. Aleister Black: Coming in at number two is the former NXT champion, Aleister Black. He came out to confront current NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa and challenge him. The segment ended with a future cage match between Aleister and Johnny Gargano. To put an exclamation mark on the promo, Black hit Ciampa with a Black Mass, knocking him out. Black is on a mission and he is not going to let anyone stand in his way.

#1. Daniel Bryan: The brand new WWE champion gets the number 1 spot. His mic skills and the brutal beat down on AJ Styles after his match with The Miz have Daniel Bryan starting his reign on a great note. He made his reasons 100% clear, and he came off great as the douchebag vegan. If he continues like this, it’ll be hard to dethrone him from the top spot.

That’s my top five for the week of Dec. 3-9. Check back next week to see who makes the cut and who fell out the top spots.

Ja-PAY-veon Clowney?

“With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select: Jadeveon Clowney.”

I was onboard with the uttering of those words. It may have come as a surprise to some, seeing how the months leading up to that selection were marred by rumors. We all remember Peter King’s “F.O.R.S.” (Friends of Rick Smith) statement in which he said that the former Texans General Manager loved Khalil Mack and that Mack would be the selection.

Others turned their attention to a multitude of quarterbacks, whether it was young-gun, local-Texan phenomenon and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, or the new and flashy Carr. After the Texans selected David Carr with their first ever NFL Draft selection in franchise history, they had the opportunity to select his younger brother, Derek. This was never going to happen. The Carr's wanted to take a different path, while the Texans seemed fearful of purchasing another lemon.

The Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewaters and Jimmy Garoppolos of the world received a lot of run as well. The fact of the matter was that Rick Smith knew all along that the pick was going to be Jadeveon Clowney if he didn’t receive a king’s ransom for the number one pick overall. Smith had already put the plan in place at the NFL Draft Combine to try and build as much value in the number one pick, in hopes of landing a “Ricky Williams-type draft day trade package.”

Who could blame Rick Smith and the Texans? I had spent the four previous months enamored with the freak that was Jadeveon Clowney. Being from the Palmetto State myself, I started following Clowney’s high school career early on. He was unlike anything that I had ever seen, truly a freak of nature. His high school film, which has since become legendary, made my heart race and my mind run. Who was this giant playing offense and flying around on defense?! He quickly rose to the #1 high school prospect and signed with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Clowney was a force in college but there were rumors of a questionable motor. We all remember Clowney flying behind the back of Taylor Lewan of Michigan and destroying a poor child by launching airborne like something out of Dragonball Z, planting the kid six feet under with his helmet.

Texans fans and even we in the media got excited about the possibility of Jadeveon Clowney playing with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Who could stop this pass rush? I thought at the time that Khalil Mack was great but that Clowney could be the best ever. I shrugged off concerns about maturity and motor. In my mind, the Texans made the right selection.

The NFL Draft will humble everyone. We each study and try to get an understanding of a player’s skill set and how it transitions to the next level. What kind of guy is the young man? Does he love the game of football? Is he a student of the game? Does he want to be great?

These are all questions that you hear thrown around routinely at draft time. Everyone knows these questions but it’s difficult to find the answers. Sometimes a kid turns out to be exactly who you think he can become. Other times, injuries, passion, scheme, coaching, front office, family and/or friends can knock a prospect off the straight and narrow path to greatness.

As much as I loved Clowney coming out and I believed in his potential, I always reassess to see if I missed or hit on a prospect in the hope of continuing to develop as an evaluator. I’ve had to eat crow so often with misses on prospects that I’m thinking of becoming vegan.

The Houston Texans need to reassess who Jadeveon Clowney is now, as his fifth season with the franchise that drafted him winds down. Clowney signed a four-year contract worth $22.2 million when he signed with the Texans in 2014. When the last collective bargaining agreement was put into place, the NFL had fifth-year options added to the contracts of first-round picks—meaning that any player that was drafted in the first round could have a fifth year extended if the team decided to pick up the option.

Since the new CBA was put into play, none of the first three players to go first overall saw their fifth-year option. Each of them received a new contract either before the fourth or fifth year.

2011 - Cam Newton - Extended before 5th year

2012 - Andrew Luck - Extended before 5th year

2013 - Eric Fisher - Extended before 4th year

2014 - Jadeveon Clowney - Playing out 5th year option

Players drafted after Jadeveon Clowney in the first round that have been given lengthy contracts instead of the fifth-year option:

3rd overall - Blake Bortles

5th overall - Khalil Mack

6th overall - Jake Matthews

7th overall - Mike Evans

11th overall - Taylor Lewan

12th overall - Odell Beckham Jr.

13th overall - Aaron Donald

16th overall - Zack Martin

20th overall - Brandin Cooks

(Sammy Watkins signed in free agency and did not have his fifth-year option picked up)

Some fans have been puzzled by Clowney not receiving the extension. I for one am grateful to see the Texans possibly correcting an issue that has plagued them throughout their existence. The Texans have loved to extend “injury-prone” players or have refused to move them when they could see the decline coming. The NFL is just like the stock market in some ways. Or, for the lesser dignified like myself, it’s like the old Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler”....sing with me now: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

The Texans have chosen to “hold ‘em” in the past, or even worse, go all-in despite seeing the decline. Matt Schaub, Brian Cushing, etc., etc., etc.

The dilemma for the Texans to pay Jadeveon Clowney or not has multiple layers. It’s not as simple as “he’s trash, don’t pay him” or “he’s a freak, you have to pay him.” He’s a unique individual, personally and professionally. There’s a case to be made that Clowney can flourish in the NFL as a pass rusher, but after five years in Houston, I don’t believe it’s with the Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel regime.

Over the last year I’ve expressed my views on why I would not sign Clowney long-term in Houston and how they can stretch this out to their benefit, but first the Texans need to figure out if he’s more valuable to them on the team or as an asset to acquire other talent and/or draft picks.

Clowney is a big kid. His bubbly personality is contagious. He’s easygoing and seems to just wants to have fun and be relaxed. Bill O’Brien is more of the hush-hush type, preferring not to let anything out as it could benefit the enemy. Even today, I saw a comment from the Texans’ press release in which Clowney made a carefree response to a reporter’s question asking for the keys to defending a mobile quarterback:

Clowney said: “Everybody rush to the level of the quarterback and try to press the pocket. No fly-bys, no opening up of lanes up the middle. Just try to push the pocket and not run him out and make him throw from the well. That’s what we’re going to try to do this week.”

Again, nothing unusual, we’ve heard it all before; but this is the type of minor comment that O’Brien has come down on Clowney for in the past. You get the feeling that anytime someone walks into O’Brien’s office and starts a sentence with “Jadeveon” or “Clowney,” sitcom music starts, and OB asks, “What did he do now?”

The Texans were so worried about the maturity and development of Clowney that they cut ties with DJ Swearinger. Yes, I realize Swearinger could never cover outside the box, but they invested a second-round pick in him and he plays his role well. Swearinger is also among the top five in active consecutive starts and games played for safeties in the NFL.

It was the comments and the off-field bumps and bruises that got Swearinger escorted out. Remember Swearinger’s pit bull biting Clowney’s arm and breaking the skin a few years back? Remember Swearinger talking about the crappy turf at NRG, and that being the reason Clowney got injured, early in his career with the Texans?

They removed Swearinger, and another former Gamecock, Johnathan Joseph, became the new big brother, guidance counselor if you will, for young JD. Joseph is great for Clowney, but no one can pull out Clowney’s greatness except Clowney, and I’m afraid he doesn’t want it. It was a similar question that was asked of Mario Williams after his rookie contract expired and he signed for a huge payday in Buffalo.

Jadeveon Clowney has still yet to receive a double-digit sack season, and he’s in year five. At first the issue was that JJ Watt was healthy but Clowney wasn’t. Then Clowney was healthy and Watt wasn’t. But what’s the excuse for this season? Watt is back to getting double-teamed, and Clowney still only has seven sacks on the season with three games to go.

Even Mario Williams had 14-sack and 12-sack seasons in Houston before his 6-year rookie deal ran out. Mario suffered health issues at the end of his run in Houston, and the Texans were wise enough to not pony up the major money needed to keep him in town.

In year five of the Clowney experiment, does he look like a $20 million pass rusher? Does he play to Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald’s level? The answer is a simple no.

The Houston Texans have had the number one overall pick three times in franchise history. In each of those drafts (2002 - 2006 - 2014) there was a choice between the freakish pass rusher from the Carolina college or another talent. With their three number one overall picks, the Texans passed on the wrong Carolina kid and selected two guys that didn’t have the elite motor.

2002:

#1 Overall - David Carr (Houston Texans)

Passed on Julius Peppers out of North Carolina (4th on all-time sack list - 158.5 career sacks)

2006:

#1 Overall - Mario Williams (Houston Texans) -- From North Carolina State

2014:

#1 Overall - Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) -- From South Carolina

Who is Clowney as a defender for the Texans?

I’ve said over the last few years that Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most dominant run defenders. For this article I took a look at Pro Football Focus to see how they had Clowney graded as a run defender. He ranked 10th overall per their evaluations. What’s more, here’s the company he keeps among the top run defenders are big nose tackles, defensive tackles and traditional 3-4 defensive ends:

  1. Damon “Snacks” Harrison
  2. Akiem Hicks
  3. Aaron Donald
  4. Calais Campbell
  5. Jurrell Casey
  6. Michael Pierce
  7. A’Shawn Robinson
  8. Lawrence Guy
  9. Kenny Clark
  10. Jadeveon Clowney
  11. Stephon Tuitt
  12. Eddie Goldman
  13. Davon Godchaux
  14. Arik Armstead
  15. Mike Pennel

Pro Football Focus goes on to rate Clowney at 69.7 as a pass rusher. For comparison purposes, Dee Ford who made news at his and Clowney’s combine by comparing Clowney to a “blind dog in a meat market,” has the 2nd highest grade as a pass rusher at 91.7, behind only Aaron Donald’s 94.1.

As is the case with Clowney, Dee Ford is playing under his fifth-year option. Both players are attempting to put their best foot forward in a contract year to secure that next major pay day. Here’s how their stats compare this season:

Clowney table 1.png

Clowney’s Career

Jadeveon Clowney surprised a lot of people by coming back from microfracture surgery and having the type of career he has had to this point, while dealing with nagging injuries.

2014 - His rookie season was limited to four games

7 tackles 3 TFLs 0 QB Hits 0 Sacks

2015 - Clowney was able to play in 13 games

40 tackles 8 TFLs 8 QB Hits 4.5 sacks 6 PDs 1 FF

2016 - Clowney played in 14 games that season

52 tackles 16 TFLs 17 QB Hits 6.0 sacks 2 PDs 1 FF

2017 - Clowney played in all 16 games last season

59 tackles 21 TFLs 21 QB Hits 9.5 sacks 2 PDs 2 FFs 2 FRs 1 TD

2018 - Clowney has played in 12 games this season

34 tackles 12 TFLs 15 QB Hits 7.0 sacks 2 FRs 1 TD

How the Texans use Jadeveon Clowney

When Mike Vrabel was the Texans’ linebacker coach, he gave exceptional one-on-one coaching to Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney started to play with leverage and technique and was developing. After 2016, Clowney started regressing as a technical pass rusher and has since reverted back to his flaw of depending on pure athleticism, strength and explosion. Mercilus took Vrabel’s teachings and flourished, until he had the setback with the torn pec last season.

In 2015 and 2016 (Vrabel LB Coach 2014-2016) Whitney Mercilus combined to have 19.5 sacks and 27 TFLs. In his other 5 NFL seasons combined, he only has 22.5 sacks & 27 TFLs.

The Texans now seem to play to Clowney’s athleticism, and don’t look to utilize him as a pure pass rusher, as he’s lacking. The Texans like to move Clowney as a chess piece. He can line up at inside linebacker, bounce around and then shoot the A-Gap against less mobile centers and guards with shorter arms. This causes instant pressure up the gut and everyone clamors, “DID YOU SEE CLOWNEY!” But it’s fluff, and not a sustainable attack.

We often hear analysts compliment the ability to move Clowney, but more recently it has appeared as a strategy to hide Clowney from attacks to his edge. If you go back to the most recent Texans-Titans game, you’ll notice Mike Vrabel attacking Clowney’s side. He does this for the same reason the Texans don’t line Clowney and Watt on the same side often. They play what some NFLers call “hero ball”. As great as JJ Watt is and as dynamic as Jadeveon Clowney is, they both like to attack without regard to the holes they leave behind them. This brings a further issue to light with Clowney, as teams know that he will get out of position and leave a huge void. Even if he gets thru, they realize he’s a poor tackler that will routinely not finish.

Clowney is an exciting, flashy player that will show up weekly on highlights. He’s one of the most talented run defenders, especially for his unique size, weight and flexibility. The problem is, you don’t pay top run defenders $20 million a year in the NFL.

I heard someone say the other day that NFL teams should have had buyers beware with Kirk Cousins because they franchised him, dated him, sweet-talked him, but never put the ring on his finger. Minnesota is finding out now what Washington already knew. Cousins is Matt Schaub. He can put up stats but when the pressure comes and elite teams attack, he’ll fold, every time.

The smart move for the Texans is to try and franchise Clowney out the next two years or franchise him and trade him this offseason. Other NFL teams should learn the lesson from the kissing Cousins in Washington: they’re cute enough to trot around the family for a few years, but they have flaws that prevent you from making the ultimate commitment.

If the Texans went the method of franchising Clowney for two more years, they would then get a freakish pass rusher for the first seven years of his career, either under the rookie pay, fifth-year option or year-to-year franchise freedom. If this is Clowney at his best with the Texans in a contract year with JJ Watt doing JJ Watt things, then what will he be after he gets paid? What will he be after another injury? The ghosts of failed contracts past are crying out to Brian Gaine this Christmas season...ewww, remember Brian Cushing….ewww, remember Matt Schaub. Don’t do it, Brian, scrooge him!

Even if the injuries, lack of production, etc., make you think that Clowney is worth $20 million a year, take a gander at the penalties:

Julie’n Davenport leads the Texans with 14 penalties this year.

Clowney is second with 10 penalties.

No other Texans player has more than five. In fact, the next six Texans players with the most penalties this year still only equal 23 penalties combined. Clowney and Davenport combine for 24. Davenport is a developmental mid-round draft pick. Clowney is the former #1 pick overall that wants Khalil Mack money. Clowney has four neutral zone infractions, three defensive offsides and encroachment to go with his taunting and defensive offsides this season. It’s probably not a big deal, unless the game comes down to getting a stop and getting the offense the ball back, and Clowney draws a neutral zone infraction...d’oh, too soon?

What Clowney could be

While Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t seem to want to reach his max potential and be one of the greatest ever, his lack of production isn’t all his fault. The Texans have had this 6’5”, 290-pound monster with an unusual blend of explosion, agility and power, and they’ve never played him to his strengths. For five seasons the Texans have tried to make Jadeveon Clowney every different thing under the moon, besides what he was always meant to be.

Does anyone remember Jevon Kearse firing out the wide-nine? There’ve been changes to the wide-nine through the years designed to not leave as much of a void behind the ends and asking your linebackers and safeties to completely fill B and C gaps, leaving them more vulnerable over the top. This is Jadeveon Clowney’s home. This is where Clowney should have been his entire career.

The crazy thing is that the Texans have the perfect personnel to execute to Clowney’s strengths. Some of the weaknesses to the wide-nine are already weaknesses to Clowney’s playside. The Texans do allow Clowney to fire out of the wide-nine occasionally, but Clowney is a 12-15 sacks per year defensive end in the wide-nine if that was his every-down role.

Clowney table 2.png

Zach Cunningham and Tyrann Mathieu fill behind Clowney with Kareem Jackson as a safety valve outside of Clowney.

Dylan Cole and Justin Reid backup Mercilus inside with McKinney filling behind Watt / Reader with overflow to B-Gaps.

Texans are deep on the defensive line with Christian Covington and Angelo Blackson. Carlos Watkins was always a three-year project. Next year is big for him. Joel Heath is quality, deep depth. Brandon Dunn can spell Reader.

If the Texans aren’t going to utilize him to his strengths, why not trade him to a team that sees exactly how to execute with him. They would then also take on all of the health risks, concerns about drive and giving away O’Brien’s trusted secrets to the media.

Ja-TRADE-veon Clowney.

Rockets could be third team in trade with Lakers and Suns, The Athletic reports

The Rockets are looking to bolster a roster that was one game from the NBA Finals in the 2017-2018 season. A lackluster start has forced the Rockets’ hand in desperation. They are looking for wing depth since Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah A Moute have departed for greener pastures. According to The Athletic, the​ Houston​ Rockets​ are emerging as​ a suitor​ for Los​ Angeles​ Lakers​ guard Kentavious​ Caldwell-Pope​ in two multi-team trade​ scenarios. There are positives and negatives in every trade scenario. So, let’s take a look at both.

The Good

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has some length, which is what the Rockets have been lacking this season. Averaging just a little over one steal a game, Caldwell-Pope can play in the passing lanes and match the mode of Ariza. He is also shooting 35% from the three-point line, which the Rockets desire.

Another positive the Rockets can look at is the contract situation. Looking through that microscope, it appears likely that the Rockets would rid themselves of Brandon Knight and his 30-million-dollar contract for the next two years. They would exchange a two-year contract for a one-year contract. And we don’t know what Knight is going to look like when he returns to action, as he hasn’t played in an NBA game since February 2017.

The Bad

The Rockets missed the boat when they failed to get Jimmy Butler, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is no Butler. Kentavious can be viewed as very similar to Eric Gordon: both are scorers who have the capability to defend. But the Rockets will also lose any Bird rights for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as he only signed a one-year contract with the Lakers this summer. Losing the Bird rights means the Rockets cannot go over the cap to sign him as a free agent. They will have to use any available cap space to re-sign him if they want him to return.

The Verdict

The Rockets should pull the trigger on this deal, as long as they don’t give up any future draft collateral. The Rockets don’t need to break the bank to trade for a player like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and he can help this team on both sides of the ball. When you’re in the Rockets’ boat, you cannot give up a first round pick for someone that you can’t even guarantee will be back next year. If the Rockets can find a way to only give up Brandon Knight in this deal, then this should be a win for them.

Way Too Early Top-30 Astros Prospects

With the MLB Winter Meetings wrapping up, many organizations have already begun the process of trading prospects to upgrade their clubs. The Astros and Jeff Luhnow have been quiet so far, but, that is very likely to change.

The Astros organization is loaded with talent and is a consensus top-10, if not top-5, system. The talent isn’t just top heavy either, as the system has evolved into the pipeline that Luhnow said he envisioned and would bring to the Astros organization. The lower levels of the organization are beginning to crank out legitimate prospects to pair with those in double and triple-A.

However, their remains a “good problem,” that is, the organization is perhaps too deep, and MLB ready, or near ready players are beginning to create logjams, leaving many Astros farmhands toiling away on buses in the minors rather than on jets in the majors.

As such, the Astros organizational depth allows Luhnow to use prospects as capital to improve the big club. We will, I suspect, see several of the prospects listed below be mentioned in trade talks and/or be with a different organization by the end of January.

I keep monthly rankings during the season, combining traditional scouting grades with actual performance on the field to determine my rankings. I also use my gut, even though the statistics may not back up my belief in a player’s potential. However, as the adage clearly states, “scout the player, not the player’s stats.”

That said, here are my Winter rankings of the top-30 Astros prospects heading into the Winter Meetings and into 2019, with a quick blurb, and my empirically (not really) researched guess on whether or not they are potential trade pieces.

30. Deury Carrasco, SS: A switch-hitter, he has very little pop but has a stroke from the right side that could develop fringe power. His left-handed swing is all over the place, and he may soon become a right-handed hitter strictly. Carrasco also has plenty of speed and can be disruptive on the base paths. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low.

29. Drew Ferguson, OF: Ferguson has adequate arm strength to play all three outfield positions but is best suited for center field, where his speed, routes, and arm all play up. I still think he’s undervalued. Ferguson gets raves for his baseball IQ and makeup. However, there’s a chance he may not make it out of the Rule 5 draft, as the Astros couldn’t find a spot for him on the 40-man roster. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

28. Andy Pineda, OF: I’m much higher on him than most. Well, pretty much everyone. He falls under that whole “go with my gut” thing mentioned above, which tells me Pineda is a late bloomer. A lot to work with here and at times he flashes plus tools across the board. However, still very raw. Pineda, like Ferguson, will be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft but is not likely to be selected. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low

27. Peter Solomon, SP: Had a breakout 2018, going 9-1 with a 2.32 ERA across two levels. Low ceiling but high floor if he’s able to prove last year was no fluke. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

26. Bryan Abreu, SP: I wrote about him already. You can read it here. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate.

25. JJ Matijevic, 1B: Matijevic was the 75th overall pick in the 2017 draft, a pick originally slotted to the St. Louis Cardinals. However, we all know what happened there. He has a knack for driving in runs and could develop into an above average MLB hitter. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

24. Alex McKenna, OF: Finished his professional debut with a .906 OPS across two levels, showing a toolsy skill set and getting raves for his baseball IQ and work ethic. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low

23. Rogelio Armenteros, SP: Armenteros is heavily reliant on control and command to be at his best, which happened more often than not in 2017, but regressed some in 2018. He’s a pitcher that is honing the art and could be a sleeper candidate to help the big club in a major way in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

22. Garrett Stubbs, C: Stubb’s best tool is his defense, which when coupled with his quick feet and athleticism, plays up as a plus. Stubbs also brings rare speed to the position and could steal double-digits given enough at-bats. His hit tool is slightly above average, but there’s little to no power to be tapped in to. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low to Moderate

21. Framber Valdez, SP/RP: I like Valdez more as a reliever due to his ability to add velocity, as his two-seamer jumps up to 95-96. He made good hitters look foolish in his MLB debut last year and appears to be set for an important role with Astros in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very Low

20. Tyler Ivey, SP: A sneaky quick heater with a deep and fairly refined repertoire? Ok then, Mr. Ivey, you have my attention, and I’m now on board after not being too thrilled with your selection. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

19. Ryan Hartman, SP: Won the pitching Triple Crown in the Texas League with a 2.69 ERA, 143 strikeouts, and 11 wins. That’s good. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

18. Joe Perez, 3B: Purely based on his high school numbers. Has yet to get any significant at-bats in his pro career. A likely breakout candidate in 2019 with immense raw talent. Will one day be a strong trade chip. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low

17. Abraham Toro, 3B: Truthfully, he’s developing faster than I thought he would. More than held his own in the Arizona Fall League. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

16. Brett Adcock, SP: I think he can stick as a starter. If for whatever reason Adcock flames out as a starter, he could find success as a very good lefty out of the bullpen, where his slider and curve could be extremely effective. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low to moderate

15. Jayson Schroeder, SP: I loved this pick last year. Astros paid over-slot money, and the kid responded with an abbreviated but successful pro debut, finishing with 18K in 18 innings with a 1.50 ERA in seven outings. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low to Moderate

14. Myles Straw, OF: Straw’s offensive value, lies in his ability to get on base and turn walks and singles into doubles via the stolen base. His offensive skill set is enough to earn him at least a 4th outfielder role. Defensively, Straw has the speed to cover much ground, and he takes efficient routes, which when paired with an above average arm, has Straw projected as a steady defender at every outfield position. Likely the replacement for Marisnick should Jake get hurt or traded. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

13. Dean Deetz, RP: Made his big league debut after fanning 63 in 40.2 innings across three levels. He can get very wild at times but seemed to harness his stuff toward the end of 2018. He has a chance to make an impact in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

12. Jairo Solis, SP: Solis has many of the same attributes that made Franklin Perez such an intriguing prospect and the central piece in the Justin Verlander deal last August 2017. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to High

11. Cristian Javier, SP: Javier has been able to get by against lower minors hitters. This year comes with it a chance to separate himself from the organization’s plethora of mid-tier pitching prospects. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: High

10. Brandon Bielak, SP: One of my preseason breakout candidates going into the 2018! season, Bielak did not disappoint, striking out 131 batters in 117 innings with a 2.23 ERA across two levels. He could begin to move quickly with an outside shot at his big league debut in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

9. Corbin Martin, RP/SP: The organization will allow Martin to develop as a starter, knowing that he has closer upside should that fail. As a starter, Martin has the repertoire and competitive fire to be a solid MOR starter. His breakout campaign in 2018 has boosted his value tremendously. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to high

8. Freudis Nova, SS: Nova projects as an above-average hitter with power and speed. His size, at 6’1” and 180, still has room to fill out and his natural lift in his swing could mean an annual 20-25 home run season. Defensively, he projects as a plus defender with a strong arm and strong game aptitude. The organization is very excited about Nova and for a good reason. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low, but check back in July 2019.

7. Cionel Perez, SP/RP: Perez is still young and acclimating to America after spending his life in Cuba. He made his big league debut in 2018, but 2019 could be the year Perez develops into the pitcher that the club originally believed was worth the $5M bonus. Others are somewhat higher on him than I am, but there’s no doubting the pure arm talent. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: High

6. Seth Beer, 1B/OF/DH: Don’t scout statistics! By the end of 2018, the rigors of the college baseball season and subsequent three months of professional baseball took a toll, and he ended up scuffling. He’s a legit hitter, however, with ample power now and perhaps much more to come. Can’t wait to see what he does in 2019. At the MLB level, he’s purely a DH, however, which lessens his trade value. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

5. JB Bukauskas, SP: Really came on strong at the end of 2018 after finally getting healthy. He then followed that up with a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. He is arguably the most likely to be traded of all of the prospects on this list. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very high

4. Josh James, SP: At this time last year he was a minor league roster filler and maybe a top-100 player in the organization. Today, he’s a legit top-100 prospect in all of baseball. Practice good sleep hygiene, kiddos! TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to high.

3. Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF: How much the organization believes in his ability to play the OF will determine if #2 gets dealt. For the record, I like his offensive upside more than anyone on this list. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: High

2. Kyle Tucker, OF: An absolutely torrid last three months of the 2018 season resulted in video game stays. Yes, he’s a legit future star. Just no longer convinced it will be in an Astros uniform. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to high

1 . Forrest Whitley, SP: Best pitching prospect in the game. Potential to have four—-FOUR!—-plus to plus-plus pitches in his arsenal. He also has the command, control, and work ethic to be an ace. He is an untouchable commodity. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very, Very Low. As in, ain’t happening.

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Chance Cox’s Week 2 NBA Power Rankings

The NBA Power Rankings are here! See where your team ranks against the entire NBA.

Come back every Monday to see how the powers shift throughout the season. Below I list for you my rankings. Feel free to comment your thoughts on my list as I go through team of the week, player of the week, biggest jump/fall in my rankings, and who will make the biggest jump/fall leading into next week's rankings.

EAST Team of Week: Toronto Raptors (4-0)

WEST Team of Week: Denver Nuggets (3-0)

Player of the Week: Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets): Averaging 26.3ppg, 10.3rpg, 7.3apg, 1.7spg, and 1.0bpg, while helping the Denver Nuggets start the season 3-0. It is their first perfect start in as many games since the 2009-2010 NBA season. He shot .632 from the field and .500 from 3-point. land this week. He became the first player EVER to record a 30 point triple double on 11 or fewer field goal attempts. Jokic joins the great Wilt Chamberlain as the only two players in NBA history to post a 30 point triple double while going perfect from the field. Wow! How could I not choose “The Joker Jokic” for Player of the Week honors? I mean, he has lead his team to a very early 1st place spot in an extremely stout Western conference.

Biggest Jump This Week: New Orleans Pelicans (+14)

Biggest Fall This Week: Oklahoma City Thunder (-11)

Team to Make Biggest Jump in Week 3: Los Angeles Lakers (@PHX, vs. DEN, @SAS)

Team to Take Biggest Fall in Week 3: Portland Trail Blazers (vs. WAS, @ORL, @MIA)

30. Sacramento Kings (Preseason 29)

Current record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 13th

Team Player of the Week: De’Aaron Fox- 20.3ppg, 7.7apg, 5.0rpg, 1.3 spg

29. Chicago Bulls (Preseason 27)

Current Record: 0-3

Standing in Conference: 15th

Team Player of the Week: Zach Lavine- 32.3ppg, 2.7apg, 3.7rpg, 1.3bpg

28. Atlanta Hawks (Preseason 30)

Current Record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 11th

Team Player of the Week: Trae Young- 23.0ppg, 8.3apg, 3.3rpg

27. New York Knicks (Preseason 24)

Current Record: 1-3

Standing in Conference: 13th

Team Player of the Week: Tim Hardaway Jr.- 27.0ppg, 2.8apg, 3.3rpg, 1.5 spg

26. Cleveland Cavaliers (Preseason 21)

Current Record: 0-3

Standing in Conference: 14th

Team Player of the Week: Kevin Love- 20.7ppg, 4.0apg, 14.3rpg

25. Orlando Magic (Preseason 28)

Current Record: 2-2

Standing in Conference: 6th

Team Player of the Week: Nikola Vucevic- 18.8ppg, 5.3apg, 10.3rpg, 1.5spg, 1.0bpg

24. Phoenix Suns (Preseason 26)

Current Record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 11th

Team Player of the Week: Devin Booker- 29.3ppg, 6.7apg, 3.7rpg, 1.0spg

23. Memphis Grizzlies (Preseason 25)

Current Record: 2-1

Standing in Conference: 5th

Team Player of the Week: Mike Conley- 16.7ppg, 6.0apg, 4.3rpg, 1.3spg

22. Dallas Mavericks (Preseason 23)

Current Record: 2-1

Standing in Conference: 7th

Team Player of the Week: Luka Doncic- 18.3ppg, 4.3apg, 5.7rpg, 1.0spg

21. Brooklyn Nets (Preseason 22)

Current Record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 10th

Team Player of the Week: Caris LeVert- 24.7ppg, 4.0apg, 4.7rpg, 1.0spg

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (Preseason 14)

Current Record: 2-2

Standing in Conference: 9th

Team Player of the Week: Jimmy Butler- 25.3ppg, 3.0apg, 5.7rpg, 3.0spg, 1.3bpg

  1. Detroit Pistons (Preseason 20)

Current Record: 2-0

Standing in Conference: 3rd

Team Player of the Week: Blake Griffin- 29.5ppg, 5.5apg, 10.0rpg,

  1. Washington Wizards (Preseason 15)

Current Record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 12th

Team Player of the Week: John Wall- 22.3ppg, 8.0apg, 3.7rpg, 2.0spg, 1.7bpg

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder (Preseason 6)

Current Record: 0-3

Standing in Conference: 15th

Team Player of the Week: Paul George- 25.3ppg, 3.7apg, 5.3rpg, 3.0spg

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (Preseason 8)

Current record: 0-3

Standing in Conference: 14th

Team Player of the Week: LeBron James- 27.3ppg, 8.3apg, 8.3rpg, 1.3spg

  1. Miami Heat (Preseason 16)

Current Record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 9th

Team Player of the Week: Rodney McGruder- 15.7ppg, 3.7apg, 7.0rpg, 1.0bpg

  1. Charlotte Hornets (Preseason 17)

Current Record: 2-2

Standing in Conference: 5th

Team Player of the Week: Kemba Walker- 33.0ppg, 5.3apg, 3.5rpg, 1.0spg

  1. Los Angeles Clippers (Preseason 18)

Current Record: 2-1

Standing in Conference: 6th

Team Player of the Week: Tobias Harris- 22.7ppg, 2.0apg, 8.0rpg, 1.3bpg

  1. San Antonio Spurs (Preseason 9)

Current Record: 2-1

Standing in Conference: 8th

Team Player of the Week: DeMar DeRozan- 29.3ppg, 9.0apg, 5.0rpg, 1.0spg

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (Preseason 12)

Current Record: 2-1

Standing in Conference: 4th

Team Player of the Week: Damian Lillard- 28.7ppg, 7.0apg, 5.3rpg

  1. Indiana Pacers (Preseason 13)

Current Record: 2-2

Standing in Conference: 7th

Team Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo- 21.5ppg, 3.0apg, 6.0rpg, 1.0spg

  1. Houston Rockets (Preseason 2)

Current Record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 12th

Team Player of the Week: James Harden- 28.3ppg, 9.7apg, 6.7rpg, 2.3spg

  1. Utah Jazz (Preseason 7)

Current Record: 1-2

Standing in Conference: 10th

Team Player of the Week: Joe Ingles- 19.3ppg, 5.0apg, 4.3rpg, 2.7spg

  1. Philadelphia 76ers (Preseason 5)

Current Record: 2-1

Standing in Conference: 4th

Team Player of the Week: Joel Embiid- 28.3ppg, 2.7apg, 10.7rpg, 2.0bpg

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (Preseason 11)

Current Record: 3-0

Standing in Conference: 2nd

Team Player of the Week: Giannis Antetokounmpo- 27.3ppg, 5.7apg, 16.0rpg, 1.3bpg

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (Preseason 19)

Current Record: 2-0

Standing in Conference: 2nd

Team Player of the Week: Anthony Davis- 28.5ppg, 7.0apg, 13.0rpg, 2.5spg, 2.5bpg

  1. Denver Nuggets (Preseason 10)

Current Record: 3-0

Standing in Conference: 1st

Team Player of the Week: Nikola Jokic- 26.3ppg, 7.3apg, 10.3rpg, 1.7spg

  1. Boston Celtics (Preseason 3)

Current Record: 2-2

Standing in Conference: 8th

Team Player of the Week: Jayson Tatum- 17.5ppg, 2.3apg, 10.5rpg, 1.0spg

  1. Toronto Raptors (Preseason 4)

Current Record: 4-0

Standing in Conference: 1st

Team Player of the Week: Kyle Lowry- 21.5ppg, 10.0apg, 3.0rpg, 1.0spg

  1. Golden State Warriors (Preseason 1)

Current Record: 3-1

Standing in Conference: 3rd

Team Player of the Week: Stephen Curry- 30.5ppg, 7.8apg, 5.0rpg, 1.2spg

NBA Power Rankings will be released every Monday during this season. If you have a problem with the rankings, or have a question or comment for Chance Cox, please send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

Email: chancecox98@yahoo.com

@ChanceCoxHP on Twitter

*All statistics from theScore app

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