Sad But True: Eagles may not have been able to do much better in fourth round than Matt Barkley

Sad But True: Eagles may not have been able to do much better in fourth round than Matt Barkley

It's safe to say Matt Barkley's NFL debut was... underwhelming. Three of his first 20 passes, all thrown after Nick Foles was knocked out of the Eagles 17-3 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday with what's since been diagnosed as a concussion, were intercepted. A fourth was negated by a penalty. Poor decisions. Poor accuracy. Poor arm strength. Poor vision. Barkley's struggles, it seemed, had no bounds.

Not surprisingly, some all (?) fans went as far as to question on local talk radio drafting Barkley with the first pick of the fourth round this past April. Only problem: there wasn't much else there.

The alternatives available to Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman that morning:

Rnd Pick Tm Pos Age College/Univ
4 98 PHI Matt Barkley QB 23 USC
4 99 KAN Nico Johnson ILB 23 Alabama
4 100 TAM Akeem Spence DT 21 Illinois
4 101 JAX Ace Sanders WR 21 South Carolina
4 102 NWE Josh Boyce WR 22 TCU
4 103 ARI Alex Okafor DE 22 Texas
4 104 MIA Jelani Jenkins OLB 21 Florida
4 105 BUF Duke Williams FS 22 Nevada-Reno
4 106 MIA Dion Sims TE 22 Michigan St.
4 107 TEN Brian Schwenke C 22 California
4 108 CAR Edmund Kugbila G 23 Valdosta St.
4 109 GNB David Bakhtiari T 22 Colorado
4 110 NYG Ryan Nassib QB 23 Syracuse
4 111 PIT Shamarko Thomas SS 22 Syracuse
4 112 OAK Tyler Wilson QB 24 Arkansas
4 113 STL Barrett Jones G 23 Alabama
4 114 DAL B.W. Webb CB 23 William & Mary
4 115 PIT Landry Jones QB 24 Oklahoma
4 116 ARI Earl Watford G 23 James Madison
4 117 CHI Khaseem Greene OLB 24 Rutgers
4 118 CIN Sean Porter OLB 22 Texas A&M
4 119 WAS Phillip Thomas SS 24 Fresno St.
4 120 MIN Gerald Hodges OLB 22 Penn St.
4 121 IND Khaled Holmes C 23 USC
4 122 GNB J.C. Tretter T 22 Cornell
4 123 SEA Chris Harper WR 24 Kansas St.
4 124 HOU Trevardo Williams DE 22 Connecticut
4 125 GNB Johnathan Franklin RB 23 UCLA
4 126 TAM William Gholston DE 22 Michigan St.
4 127 ATL Malliciah Goodman DE 23 Clemson
4 128 SFO Quinton Patton WR 23 Louisiana Tech
4 129 BAL John Simon DE 23 Ohio St.
4 130 BAL Kyle Juszczyk FB 22 Harvard
4 131 SFO Marcus Lattimore RB 21 South Carolina
4 132 DET Devin Taylor DE 23 South Carolina
4 133 ATL Levine Toilolo TE 22 Stanford

Slim pickings, indeed.

You could argue the Eagles could've gone with a different QB -- most would say Nassib, I'd counter with Jones. But remember, one of the main reasons Kelly went QB there, he's said, was the perceived value of getting a guy once thought to be a No. 1 overall prospect with a third-day pick.

Lattimore was coming off, well, this and wasn't expected to play this season. (Nor has he.) The Eagles didn't need a running back anyway -- really? who saw 2013 Bryce Brown coming? -- so Jonathan Franklin, UCLA's all-time rushing leader now with Green Bay, wouldn't have made much sense either.

You can never have enough interior offensive linemen, especially with two returners (Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis) coming off injury and the guy who shoved A.J. McCarron in the BCS National Championship still available. But Jones, too, was on the mend then from a Lisfranc injury.

Ultimately: if you're going to bash a draft pick, you have to offer an alternative. And while it looks like the Eagles may have taken a real Brandon Graham here, it wasn't 2010. There wasn't an Earl Thomas or Jason Pierre-Paul plainly behind him. (Nor was this the first round. It was the fourth, where you tend to roll the dice like you're Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up," hoping to score Katherine Heigl. Or something.)

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MKH973 Catch him every Saturday from 12-2 on 97.3 ESPN-FM.

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.