Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kangaroo Court: The 2015 Offensive Linemen

When we did this last year, I really figured we would catch more grief over our admission that we rarely bother watching the offensive line prospects...ummm...actually play.  While I realize that there are some people who enjoy watching fat men jostle each other around (whatever floats your boat, man), the cruel calculations of our Banana 6000 Data Thresher are all I really care about here.  This may seem a bit unwise, but we just don't trust our lying eyes to make these sorts of judgments.  In the end, I figure if purchasing courting our Russian mail order bride could be done through simple data analysis, then I why not apply it to something more whimsical, like offensive linemen?

Of course, this process was a bit trickier with our darling Ludmilla.  All I really had to go on in that case were the numbers 38-44-38, and the many heartfelt poems she composed about peeling potatoes.  While her prose was moving, I do think it's possible that I might have misunderstood the meaning of those numbers.  I would have thought that at least one of them would have related to her vertical jump.  Good, hearty breeding stock is quite important to me, if I ever want my offspring to have a shot at NFL riches.  Maybe there was a mix up in converting the data from metric to standard.  I'm really not sure. Still, she is a rather sturdily constructed babushka, so perhaps we can still spawn some future nose tackles.  I swear though, if a single one of them turns out to be a long-snapper, I'm going to burn her green card.

While I've tried to encourage the company that brought Ludmilla and myself together to start some sort of combine-type program, to eliminate future misunderstandings, so far I have received little feedback.  As a televised event, I think watching Russian women running 3-cone drills in spandex could be quite compelling television viewing.  Maybe it's an idea that is just too far ahead of it's time.  Either way, history does seem to suggest that this can be done rather effectively with prospective NFL players, so I guess we'll stick with that for the time being.

As always, we'll be judging the players based on a few very basic criteria.  We will measure their Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power and explosiveness), and their Agility Score (based on their short shuttle and 3-Cone drills).  These scores are given in the form of how many standard deviations that the prospect is away from the average result for an offensive linemen.  If you are curious, you can take a look at Athleticism and the Offensive Line part I and part II, to get some sense as to how this relates to offensive tackles and guards.  For centers, we place more importance on their short shuttle times, as you can read about here.  We also played a little game with what we call the Lobotomy Line, to see what sort of results these limited bits of information could have theoretically produced in comparison to an actual NFL team.  There are, of course, other factors such as injuries, inability to elude the law, playing time, comically unnecessary punctuation in a player's name, and positional versatility that also somewhat weigh into our views on a prospect, as well as a few other more minor measurable athletic traits.

Speculating about a player's potential, based on their athletic traits, can obviously be a bit controversial.  People will often point to someone like Bruce Campbell as an individual with allegedly great athletic ability, who has amounted to very little, as a way of dismissing this approach.  So, let's take a look at Bruce Campbell.

     40 yard       Kangaroo              Agility
Bruce Campbell 4.75 0.411 0.487

While there are numerous positive things we could say about Campbell, and we could pick apart his numbers more thoroughly to reveal some other interesting and positive bits of data, his overall results weren't nearly as freakish as many claimed them to be.  He was a nice, moderately interesting prospect, and the computer would have given him some consideration as a mid-round pick, which is where he ended up being selected.  Still, he really didn't compare too favorably to Trent Williams, who went in the the 1st round of the same draft, and was the true physical freak.

     40 yard       Kangaroo              Agility
Trent Williams 4.81 1.644 0.528

Now, we're not trying to say that the more physically gifted player will always wind up performing better.  That would be ridiculous.  Instead, we're just suggesting that particular measurable traits do make us feel more comfortable with selecting players, at certain points in the draft.  The degree to which we place value on some of these traits can vary quite a bit, as we move along the different positions of the offensive line.  In the end, however, we're not really trying to suggest that a player is doomed to failure because of these scores.  Players who measured up poorly occasionally do rather well.  It's just that the outcomes for the truly exceptional prospects tend to turn out positively much more often than people seem to realize.

So, rather than attempting to foolishly say "this guys will succeed" and "this guy will fail", we really want to just narrow our focus to a very small handful of players, who perhaps have the balance of risk and reward more strongly tilted in their favor.  Inevitably, this will lead to passing over certain players who do quite well, but all we care about is identifying a very select few.  Last year, the computer suggested that Joel Bitonio and Corey Linsley were probably the best/safest players to pick at their respective positions, and so far things seem to be going well for them.  Hopefully, as things go on, a few other interesting nuggets will surface.

This list is still under construction, as we await the complete sets of data for individual draft prospects.  The list will continue to grow, and be updated with additional players.  Individual Agility Scores are unlikely to be changed, but based on the results from college pro-days, Kangaroo Scores may be adjusted.  The order the players are listed in will also periodically be adjusted to roughly coincide with the CBS' rankings.  Last Updated: N/A

Brandon Scherff, OT/OG, Iowa
Arm Length: 33.375"   Kangaroo Score: ?  Agility Score: ?
Still waiting for data from his Pro Day.  I have to give him some added respect for majoring in Leisure Studies, which sounds like something that would involve an X-Box and some Doritos.  I'm just not sure how you tell your parents that you are devoting your college education to the study of 'flip cup', but it probably requires balls of steel.  Maybe that courage carries over to the football field, I really can't say for sure.  I anxiously await the results from his drug test.

Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Arm Length: 34.375"   Kangaroo Score: 0.513  Agility Score: -0.102
The general consensus seems to be that Peat will be a rather high draft pick.  While I don't see anything that is necessarily wrong with Peat's physical traits, and wouldn't say that he is doomed to failure, I also don't see anything that would make me feel terribly comfortable with selecting him before the middle of the draft.  While our scores average out his results from a number of drills, and somewhat conceal some areas in which he did a bit better, I just think I would be way too nervous to take Peat where he is projected to be selected, especially when I think there will be better players available at the same position.  If he lands on the right team, I wouldn't be surprised if he does okay, but I wouldn't want to make any bets on this.

La'El Collins, OG, LSU
Arm Length: 33.25"   Kangaroo Score: -0.183  Agility Score: 0.421
I don't really see anything wrong with Collins results, but I also don't see anything that would make me feel comfortable with selecting him as highly as many people feel he is going to be taken.  In many ways, he is in a similar situation to the one Zach Martin was in last year, with very similar measurables.  I didn't have a problem with Martin either, but felt that Joel Bitonio's superior athleticism gave us more reasons to feel confident.  Still, you have to like a guy who's name seems to be 'the the'.  Maybe his parents were fans of the 1980's British rock group.

T.J. Clemmings, OT/OG, Pittsburgh
Arm Length: 35.125"   Kangaroo Score: 1.015  Agility Score: 0.677
Now, here we have a prospect that I find fairly interesting.  Athletically, he is quite impressive, and somebody I might have some interest in.  Beyond just his above average lower body power, and moderately nimbly-toed agility, Clemmings also has advantages when it comes to his arm length, which is exceptional, especially for someone of his height.  One of the big questions here is whether NFL teams will be able to see past his merely average height (a tad under 6'5"), or whether they will move him inside to the guard position.  Personally, I think height is a rather overrated trait for tackles, but many teams seem to be incredibly stubborn about this subject.  The bigger concern with Clemmings might be that he has only really played on the offensive line for 2 years, after switching over from the defense.  Considering that he will be turning 24 in Novermber, and he might still need some time to adjust to life on the offensive line, I could see some reasons to be slightly concerned about teaching a slightly older dog new tricks.  So, I probably wouldn't take Clemmings in the 1st round, but if he is still there in the 2nd, I could be tempted to take a shot at him.

Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
Arm Length: 34.5"   Kangaroo Score:?  Agility Score: ?
Still waiting for data.

Cameron Erving, OT/OG/C, Florida State
Arm Length: 34.125"   Kangaroo Score: 0.951  Agility Score: 0.811
The possibilities with Erving can be a bit ridiculous.  He started off in college as a defensive tackle, before becoming the team's left tackle in 2012, where he largely seemed to remain.  In 2014, he even spent 5 games at center.  While his relative lack of experience on the offensive line is similar to what we see with T.J. Clemmings, I think that Erving being almost 2 years younger gives him a bit of an edge to continue to improve with time.  Now, I have no real issue with him remaining at tackle, as his athletic ability appears to be perfectly suited to this, but there does appear to be a lot of flexibility to how he can be used.  When it comes to playing center, I am somewhat torn when it comes to Erving.  Since centers rarely exceed 6'5", and there are several sound possibilities as to why they rarely exceed this mark, Erving's height of just a hair under 6'5.5" might make him an unusual fit at this position.  There is also nothing I that excites me more than a freakishly quick short shuttle time, when considering a center prospect.  In Erving's case, his time of 4.63 seconds is really nothing shocking, and merely 0.571 standard deviations above average for an offensive lineman.  That's not a bad result at all, but compared to some of the league's best centers, it is rather pedestrian.  In Erving's case, I might be willing to make a huge exception to this rule though.  You see, normally, centers have the absolute worst Kangaroo Scores, often posting results that go into the negative range.  Cameron's result of 0.951, is absolutely shocking for a center, and quite similar to another historical oddball, Nick Hardwick.  What this says about Erving's lower body power, really excites me.  At the same time, his overall Agility Score was still quite good, so he doesn't appear to simply be a powerful stiff.  I suspect Erving could probably play any position along the offensive line, and probably do reasonably well, though I suspect his best chance of success will come somewhere along the interior of the offensive line, most likely at the guard position.  Either way, I think his positional flexibility is a huge bonus.  I am very interested in seeing what happens with him, and suspect he is probably worth a late 1st round pick.

Jake Fisher, Oregon, OT
Arm Length: 33.75"   Kangaroo Score: 0.957*  Agility Score: 1.953
Except for his slightly below average arm length, he really seems to be a nearly perfect physical specimen.  Now, I normally try not to fuss too much about arm length, but I do have some minor concerns about it when it comes to taller players.  So, in Fisher's case, his height of 6'6", might slightly decrease his already average reach.  In the end though, I'm not sure I really care.  So far, unless someone else emerges, he appears to be  the most physically superior offensive linemen in the entire draft.  That he is also one of the younger prospects, at just 21 years old, also weighs into our view of his significant upside.  While it would be nice to have data related to how often Fisher gave up a sack, this doesn't seem to be available.  Still, his QB Marcus Mariota, appeared to be kept relatively clean during the past 3 years.  While you might credit this to Mariota's athleticism, I kind of doubt that is the case.  Scrambling QBs, in general, actually tend to take a higher number of sacks than pocket passers, so Fisher's job was probably more challenging than you might expect.  The one thing we can say, is that in the 13 games Fisher played this year, Mariota was only sacked on 4.19% of his pass attempts, a rather excellent result.  In the 2 games that Fisher missed with a leg injury, Mariota was sacked on 17.3% of his pass attempts.  Admittedly, this is a ridiculously small sample size, but that is all we have to work with, and you can make of it whatever you wish.  Fisher's combined athletic traits put him on a tier where failure becomes relatively rare, probably occurring around 25-30% of the time (Winston Justice would be an example of where this didn't work out).  With those sorts of odds, I'd say he is worth a first round pick, though some people seem to suggest that he could still be available into the 2nd round.  I would be surprised if he lasted that long, since I expect at least one team will become as enamored of Fisher's measurables as I am.

A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina
Arm Length: 32.625"   Kangaroo Score:?  Agility Score: ?
Still waiting for data.

Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke
Arm Length: 33.675"   Kangaroo Score: 0.837  Agility Score: -0.998
Based on his tubby physique (323#), and the above measurables, he would appear to be a basic road grader type, though not necessarily an exceptional one.  He might do okay in that role, depending on which team selects him, but I have to admit that his rather poor agility largely negates the benefits of his somewhat above average power, at least in my eyes.  People seem to be suggesting that he will be taken somewhere around the 2nd round, but that strikes me as a very steep price to pay, especially considering some of the more interesting options that will be available at other positions.

D.J. Humphries, OT, Floida
Arm Length: 33.625"   Kangaroo Score: 0.202  Agility Score: -0.393
To quote Jay Cutler,"Don't caaaaarrreeeee....".  I seem to see projections for where Humphries will be taken that range from the 1st round to the 3rd round.  If he does fall somewhere in that area, it would strike me as quite a daring gamble.  While none of Humphries results are necessarily bad, they also wouldn't do anything to ease my concerns with selecting him this highly.

Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
Arm Length: 32.4"   Kangaroo Score: -0.527  Agility Score: -0.528
I'm only including Dismukes on this list because a number of  people seem to think that he will be selected in the first few rounds of the draft, and generally rate him as one of the better center prospects.  Honestly, I see nothing here that gets me the least bit excited.  One interesting fact about Dismukes, is that the only area in which he tested slightly above average at the combine was in the short shuttle drill.  As I've said before this is the one drill that centers really tend to dominate, though in Dismukes case, his time of 4.7 seconds was only 0.227 standard deviations above average for an offensive lineman, and nothing that would make me take him the least bit seriously.  While his Kangaroo Score might appear rather poor, it's actually relatively close to an an average result for a center, where power tends to be in somewhat short supply.

Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado St.
Arm Length: 33"   Kangaroo Score: -0.452  Agility Score: 0.827
While Sambrailo's results aren't terrible, they aren't what I want to see in a player who supposedly is going to cost a 2nd or 3rd round pick.  In the 5th round?  Hmmm...maybe.  By the third day of the draft we'll probably be quite hungover, and willing to lower our standards a bit.  While his Agility Score is respectable, I would really need to see more evidence of explosive lower body power to pick him this high in the draft.  As things stand, he has traits that I associate more with guards, and not a tackle.  Of course, I've probably just secured his hall of fame induction by expressing these doubts.

Tre Jackson, OG, Florida State
Arm Length: 32.625"   Kangaroo Score:-0.472  Agility Score: ?
Still waiting for more data.  While his Kangaroo Score isn't too promising, we generally aren't surprised when guards do poorly there.  Once we can get a glimpse of his Agility Score, the picture for Jackson might improve, though I have my doubts about this.  While people will tend to dismiss his horrific 40-yard time of 5.52 seconds, they probably shouldn't.  That is a spectacularly poor result, and even among the fatties of the O-line, it is unusual for people to succeed with a result like that.  I kind of get the feeling that Jackson might be a sinking ship (even if he looks like he should float), though we'll give him some more time.

Daryl Williams, OT, Oklahoma
Arm Length: 35"   Kangaroo Score: -0.340  Agility Score: -1.978
I still seem to see a number of people projecting that Williams could be taken somewhere around the 3rd round, and this really makes no sense to me.  He doesn't seem to have the explosiveness or power to play tackle, and so far, he appears to have the agility of a rock...a very tired rock.  I wouldn't select him at all, let alone in the first half of the draft.

Tyrus Thompson, OT, Oklahoma
Arm Length: 34.875"   Kangaroo Score: 0.026  Agility Score: -0.850*
I wasn't going to include Thompson on this list, but someone mentioned that the Draft Advisory Board had given him a 2nd round grade.  In other places, I see him being projected to go around the 4th round.  Personally, I have no more interest in him than I did in his teammate Daryl Williams.  While his Kangaroo Score falls in the tolerable/average sort of range, it isn't the sort of result I really want to see.  We can't really fully weigh his Agility Score, since we only have his short shuttle time at this point, but the initial results are less than promising.  The only thing we can really say for Thompson, is that he is a rather large guy (324#), with long arms.  That doesn't really cut it in my book.

Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
Arm Length: 31.125"   Kangaroo Score:?  Agility Score: ?
Still waiting for data.

Ali Marpet, OG, Hobart
Arm Length: 33.375"   Kangaroo Score: 0.416  Agility Score: 1.468
At some point, I suspect we're all going to get tired of the way that players from Hobart dominate the league.  Athletically, Marpet is pretty much the ideal model for what I expect from a guard.  While guards tend to have a bit less explosive power than tackles, Marpet's Kangaroo Score is actually surprisingly good, relative to his peers.  Perhaps more importantly, his agility score is exceptional, and precisely the sort of result I'm used to seeing among the league's more successful guards.  While his 40 time of 4.98 seconds was good, I was particularly pleased with his 10-yard split of 1.74 seconds.  I suppose the main concern here is the level of competition he faced in college, but there's isn't much we can do about that.  If he continues to be available as the 3rd round approaches, I could be quite tempted to take him, though I wouldn't be surprised if he goes a bit higher than many people expect.  At this point, we see him as one of the most intriguing offensive linemen in the entire draft.

Arie Kuandijo, G, Alabama
Arm Length: 34.125"   Kangaroo Score:?  Agility Score: ? 
Still waiting for data.

John Miller, OG, Louisville
Arm Length: 33.25"   Kangaroo Score: -0.545  Agility Score: -0.757
Hey, I know that name from somewhere.  Oh well, I must be thinking of someone else.  I really do appreciate it when a player's obvious shortcomings give me a chance to be brief.. Hmm, maybe this is the John Miller I know?

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
Arm Length: 35.875"   Kangaroo Score:?  Agility Score: ?
Still waiting for data.  Considering that he tore his ACL in the West Virginia game on December 29th, it is unlikely that we'll ever get any data here, or that we could put much stock in it.  It is really unfortunate that I can't find stats related to sacks allowed by college offensive linemen.  Still, I did find numerous people making an interesting note about Ogbuehi, and the horrific 3 game stretch in which he allowed 6 sacks this past year.  That is definitely way beyond just bad, and not something I ever expect to see from a supposed star player at the college level.  Without something to counterbalance this, I'd probably avoid him altogether.

Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State
Arm Length: 34.375"   Kangaroo Score: 1.988  Agility Score: -0.412
Am I concerned about a tackle with somewhat below average agility?  Yes.  Am I also incredibly curious what will happen when a player with this sort of Kangaroo Score is used as a run blocker?  Definitely.  Personally, I'd have a hard time selecting Smith in the vicinity of the 3rd round, which is where he seems to be projected to be taken, but I am still quite curious what he might become.  I definitely wouldn't want him to play left tackle, but on the right side, eh, he might be interesting.

Mitch Morse, OG, Missouri
Arm Length: 32.25"   Kangaroo Score: 0.696  Agility Score: 0.917
.. .----. .-.. .-.. / ... . -. -.. / .- -. / ... --- ... / - --- / - .... . / .-- --- .-. .-.. -.. .-.-.- / .. / .... --- .--. . / - .... .- - / ... --- -- . --- -. . / --. . - ... / -- -.-- / -- . ... ... .- --. . / .. -. / .- / -... --- - - .-.. . .-.-.-   If he continues to be seen as just a mid-round pick, I could see some potential value here.  While he played tackle the past 2 seasons, we'd really like to see him used as a guard or center.  When we factor in his somewhat short arms, along with his above average short shuttle time of 4.50 seconds, the center position is really calling his name, and a place we think he might do quite well.  Fortunately, he seems to have already played this role, at least for a short time back in 2012.  As a guard, we have slightly less interest, and as a tackle we might not want him at all.  Without knowing what position teams will have him play, I 'd be hesitant to place any bets here, but I do think he is an interesting mid-round prospect.  If I had confidence as to how he would be utilized, I might start to target him in the 4th or 5th round.  I look forward to seeing -- --- .-. ... . written on the back of a jersey.

Terry Poole, OG, San Diego State
Arm Length: 33.25"   Kangaroo Score: 0.851  Agility Score: -0.005
While he is generally listed as a tackle, I kind of doubt that teams will use him at that position.  His somewhat shorter arm length, and merely average height (a whisker over 6'4.5"), just don't seem likely to get him an opportunity there.  As a guard, I think he would be a more interesting prospect, and perhaps a reasonable gamble to take in the mid-to-late portion of the draft.  Based on his measurable traits, I would expect him to be more at home as a run blocker than a pass protector.  I wouldn't bet on him becoming a star, but he's got to be better than someone like the dreaded Oniell Cousins.  I probably wouldn't pursue him, but I'd be interested in following his progress.

Mark "Glo Worm" Glowinski, OG, West Virginia
Arm Length: 33.125"   Kangaroo Score: 0.627  Agility Score: 0.792
There is nothing terribly amazing about either of Glowinski's scores that are listed above.  In combination, however, I do think they could make him a fairly interesting prospect.  He generally seems to be projected to be a late round pick or undrafted free agent, but if given the opportunity, he does seem to possess some interesting upside potential.  With a 4.58 short shuttle time, I wouldn't even rule out moving to the center position.  Based on players who were similar to him, I'd say he has a slightly better than a 50/50 shot of turning out to at least be a respectable player, if he is given an opportunity, which is more than you can say for many of the players who are likely to be selected at a similar point in the draft.  I'd probably start giving him some consideration around the 5th round.

Jarvis Harrison, OG, Texas A&M
Arm Length: 33.5"   Kangaroo Score: 0.715  Agility Score: 0.782
I would find it incredibly amusing if Harrison ended up being seen as a better player than his former teammate Cedric Ogbuehi, despite (probably) being drafted much later.  He appears to have been a fairly successful 3 year starter at Texas A&M, though he missed some time in 2014 due to injuries.  Either way, Harrison is athletically quite similar to the previously mentioned Mark Glowinski, and seems to be garnering a similar lack of attention.  A fair bit of the criticism of Harrison seems to relate to his roly-poly physique (330#), which strikes me as a bit odd, since the NFL tends to be a group of chubby chasers.  Just like we said with Glowinski, if he is still floating around in the 5th round, I think he'd make an interesting target.

Laurence Gibson, OT, Virginia Tech
Arm Length: 35.125"   Kangaroo Score:1.139  Agility Score: 0.558
Overall, Gibson has the sort of athletic traits that I would find rather appealing for an offensive tackle.  While his Agility Score isn't amazing, it is still good enough to not give me much concern, particularly if he is started out as a right tackle, where his physical abilities might be better suited.  Of course, there is a reason why Gibson is typically ranked as a prospect who might not go until near the end of the draft.  He only started 18 games in his college career, and will already be turning 24 this upcoming March.  Is there something terribly wrong with him, that prevented him from getting significant playing time?  Or, were his coaches just idiots?  Who can really say?  I suspect some team will gamble on his athletic ability a bit sooner than many might expect, but if he is still sitting around in the 6th or 7th round, I really see no reason not to give him a shot. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 Free Agent Dumpster Diving

Unless someone unexpected gets released by their team, I'm not finding this year's group of free agents terribly exciting.  At least when we discussed free agency last year, we had Jared Veldheer to salivate over.  Sadly, the Ravens offered a somewhat more costly contract than Veldheer ended up receiving, to the typically mediocre Eugene Monroe, though that is water under the bridge at this point.

Regardless, Reilly and I decided to once again throw together a short and possibly idiotic list of the free agents that interest us for this year.  For the most part, we exclude players who will be seeking highly expensive contracts, because we don't see much upside in paying a player what he is probably worth.  We also tend to ignore players that are over 27 years old, since you are more likely to be paying for someone's gradual decline at that point.  That leaves us giving most of our attention to cheap bums, and individuals with possible untapped potential.  If the NFL Draft is like locking eyes with your one true love, from across a crowded room, then free agency must be picking up a prostitute on the side of the road.  I suppose that large signing bonuses, that you quickly regret, are sort of the equivalent of getting the clap, if we were to continue with this metaphor.  So, we would encourage teams to pursue the cheapest strumpets that they possibly can.

As always, we'll frequently make reference to a player's Kangaroo Score and Agility Score, which come from the combine results.  These scores are given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is away from the average results for a players at their position.

While his modest statistical production probably doesn't draw much attention, we still like Jaguars' wide receiver Cecil Shorts.  We even had him listed as one of the computer's top 5 wide receiver prospects from the 2011 NFL Draft.  With that being said, we still wouldn't claim that Shorts is a Julio Jones type of monster.  His 40-yard dash time of just 4.50 seconds is nothing exceptional.  At a whisker under six feet tall, and with a Kangaroo Score of just -0.447, he also isn't likely to be physically overpowering.  He is, however, extremely nimble, with an Agility Score of 1.560.  In his time at Mount Union, he performed at a very high level, even if it was against a fairly low level of competition.  Considering that he wasn't selected until the 4th round, has dealt with a number of injuries, and been receiving passes from the likes of Blake Bortles and Blaine Gabbert, we still think he has done reasonably well.  When catching passes from the more acceptably mediocre Chad Henne in 2012, he actually did a pretty good job.  If there's one thing that troubles us about him, it is probably the rate at which he has been dropping passes, which has consistently been slightly below average over the past few seasons.  Still, we remain hopeful that some of that might have to do with the poor circumstances he was forced to play in.  While I wouldn't want him to be a team's primary receiver, which he has often been forced to be with the Jaguars, I do like him as a 2nd or 3rd option for the QB to throw to.  Of course, this all depends on how cheaply he can be acquired.  I'd probably draw the line at $3-4 million/year, with the sort of signing bonus that allows a team to part ways if things don't work out.

I'm not going to say too much about this, but I still think someone should sign Mike "Not the fat one" Williams.  Yes, he is probably a bit of a moron.  Yes, I have periodically gotten in trouble for my affection for asshole wide receivers.  Still, I'm not really sure what this guy could have possibly done that would make him less deserving of a roster spot than Tavon Austin or Dexter McCluster.  Does anyone really believe that Williams (still only 27 years old) wouldn't be an improvement over most teams' 3rd or 4th wideout?   Considering that the Bills released him in December, and he went unclaimed, it's hard to see how he could possibly demand much more than the veteran minimum salary.  At that price, a free pass on whatever upcoming DWIs or domestic violence charges he might have planned for his future, would just be an expected part of his compensation.

We had Rams' wide receiver Kenny Britt on our free agent shopping list last year, and it seems that we can consider him once again.  Like the situation we find with Mike Williams, Britt's reputation for being an idiot has greatly affected his ability to get on the field in the past few years.  Despite that, when the Rams were eventually forced to give him more opportunities this past season, he seemed to perform quite well.  He was a prospect that the computer liked when he was drafted in 2009, and we still think he's a guy that's worth giving a shot to...especially now that the price he can demand is greatly diminished.

Among all the possible free agent offensive linemen that will be available, we're probably most interested in Byron Stingily, the Titans' right tackle.   Our minor infatuation with him is probably a bit unreasonable.  We liked him in 2011, when he was drafted in the 6th round, and we're still interested.  He's probably not going to get much attention, or cost very much, since his major accomplishment thus far was simply being less incompetent than Michael Oher.  Regardless, we think he has a reasonable amount of potential, based on his 0.347 Kangaroo Score, and 0.966 Agility Score.  While he could keep playing right tackle, we think the best move would be to turn him into a guard, a position which might better suits his physical abilities, and one where he might thrive.  If he ends up costing little more than $2 million/year, with a minimal signing bonus, I wouldn't really see any risk or downside to giving him a shot, though I think there could be some significant upside potential.

It seems highly likely that 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver is another person to add to our list of discount morons.  The more he is allowed to speak, the cheaper he may be to acquire.  His Agility Score of 0.373 isn't really ideal for a cornerback (though it's not bad), but when you factor in his 0.589 Kangaroo Score he does become a very interesting player to switch to the free safety position, which is what he played prior to his senior season at South Carolina.  While he seems to have generally done a fine job as a corner, we still think the safety position is where he would fit best.  If teams are scared away by his personal issues, I'd happily sign him to a cheap contract.  I wouldn't be surprised if he is given a reasonably significant contract, but as long as the signing bonus is kept rather low, the risks of being stuck with him shouldn't be too bad.

Cardinals' tight end Rob Housler is someone that probably should be much better than he has so far appeared to be, at least based the computer's data.  He's fast, he's agile, he's least on paper.  He also displayed excellent statistical production in his time at Florida Atlantic.  So far, it just hasn't really amounted to much at the NFL level.  While he seems to regularly haul in around 69% of the passes thrown his way, with very few drops, he simply has never become as big a part of the Cardinals' offense as we would expect him to be.  Is it because of injuries?  Does the Cardinals poor pass blocking require him to help out there, rather than running more pass routes?  I really have no idea.  Still, quality tight ends are fairly rare commodities, and we think there is a reasonable chance he could still have his best years ahead of him.  Maybe it would seem more sensible to pursue someone like Dolphins' tight end Charles Clay, who might also be allowed to enter free agency.  Unfortunately, in Clay's case, his production has already probably inflated his value to the point where he won't be a bargain anymore.  So, we might be willing to slightly overspend here, and take a gamble on the less established Housler.  We'd probably offer something in the $3 million/year range, purely based on his upside.

In general, we're sort of opposed to selecting nose tackles with high draft picks.  They rarely contribute much to the pass rush, and merely exist to tie up offensive linemen to slow down the running game.  Instead of drafting a fat man for the middle of the line, why not just pick one up on the cheap?  Our top target would probably be Kenrick Ellis.  His 1.776 Kangaroo Score is precisely the sort of lower body power we want to see in a nose tackle.  He was a productive player in college, and in his somewhat limited snaps in the NFL seems to be a perfectly adequate fat guy.  Our other, even cheaper alternative might be Ishmaa'ily Kitchen.  With a 1.177 Kangaroo Score, he's probably a bit less physically gifted than Ellis, and generally been less productive, though I still suspect he could be perfectly adequate.  I'd just offer a fairly small contract of maybe $2 million/year to each of them, along with all the donuts they can eat, and take whomever signs first, and for the least amount of money.

Prior to the 2014 season, Ravens' safety Jeromy Miles really didn't do much outside of playing on special teams.  In 6 seasons in the NFL, he has only been listed as a starter for 3 games.  Still, his 0.363 Agility Score and 1.245 Kangaroo Score do suggest significant physical potential that is ideal for a safety, and he was a rather productive player in his time at Massachusetts.   His 4.45 second 40-yard dash, with a 10-yard split of 1.53 seconds, is also highly encouraging for a player who is 6'2" and 211 pounds.  Despite his potential, it seems very possible that teams underestimate him because of the stigma of being an undrafted player from a lower level of competition.  I suspect he'll cost next to nothing to sign, so there's no real risk in seeing if he might have some upside.  I'm guessing that he will be signed for barely more than the veteran minimum, and almost no signing bonus at all.  At the very worst, he would provide depth, though he could prove to be more valuable than many might suspect.  I view him as a high priority, extremely low risk target.

I can't really make up my mind about Bills' safety Da'Norris Searcy.  His college resume was rather mediocre, but his 0.364 Agility Score and 1.339 Kangaroo Score suggests extremely good physical potential for his position.  In many ways, he is athletically similar to the previously mentioned Jeromy Miles (though Searcy is probably a tad less quick), with the benefit of having received more actual playing time.  This difference in playing time could entirely be a product Searcy being drafted in the 4th round, though it is difficult to say for sure.  During the past two seasons, he seems to have performed reasonably well, though it's possible he benefited a lot from the Bills' pass rush.  If he was available cheaply, for maybe about $2-3 million/year, with a very modest signing bonus, I could see picking him up, though I suspect he'll end up costing more than I would like to pay.

Titans' linebacker Colin McCarthy is a bit of an odd duck, who might get overlooked due to missing the 2014 season with a shoulder injury.  When he was drafted in the 4th round in 2011, Reilly and I had very mixed feelings about him.  The computer liked his athletic potential, with his -0.309 Kangaroo Score (which is better than it might sound), and 1.015 Agility Score.  He also had an impressive 4.59 second 40-yard time, with a 1.60 10-yard split.  Overall, his athletic ability was very similar to many of the players at his position who have gone on to become Pro Bowlers.  His statistical production at Miami was also quite solid, though it suggested his strengths probably leaned towards being more of a run defender, than someone who excelled in coverage.  Despite all of these positive signs, we just never felt too excited about him during the 2011 draft.  He just didn't blow our minds when we watched him play.  As a free agent who can probably be acquired cheaply, we might feel a bit differently.  He's still only 26 years old.  In his limited playing time, he has had his ups and downs, and probably been at least a passably average player.  I suspect he can be signed for under $1.5 million/year, with an insignificant signing bonus, and at the very least provide some depth to a team.

Chiefs' safety Kurt Coleman sort of falls into the "what do you have to lose?" category.  I can't imagine that he'll cost significantly more than the veteran minimum, so there shouldn't be much risk, but he still has some potential upside.  With a 0.309 Agility Score, and a 0.478 Kangaroo Score, he has reasonably good physical potential for a safety, though nothing amazing.  So far, he seems to have gotten minimal playing time, and produced extremely erratic results from year to year.  I'd probably offer him a ham sandwich and a bus ticket to Baltimore.

I get the feeling that there aren't many James Carpenter fans out there.  That's fair.  To some extent I think the biggest issue here might be the ridiculous expectations that people have of 1st round draft picks, which he clearly fell short of meeting.  Carpenter's 0.515 Kangaroo Score, and 0.375 Agility Score, while relatively good, are not the sorts of results that should have merited being selected as highly as he was taken.  While he performed rather poorly in his first 3 seasons in the NFL, I do think he improved significantly in 2014.  While he doesn't appear to be much of a run blocker, I do have to wonder about the extent to which his pass blocking struggles might relate to other issues in the Seahawks offense.  The team's receivers have largely been garbage, which probably requires him to hold a block for a longer period of time.  Russell Wilson is also obviously a bit of a scrambler, which also tends to result in many more sacks being credited to a team's offensive linemen.  Now, I'm not saying that Carpenter is actually good.  I'm just saying that he might be closer to average than some might suspect, and that his current deflated value might be more in line with that level of expected performance.  While I wouldn't strongly pursue Carpenter, I could see giving him a shot at redemption, if the price is right.  Let's say that a largely non-guaranteed contract that paid no more than $1.5 million/year might interest me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Heads Will Roll

Team Kangaroo is sort of the ultimate small market team.  Our attendance is extremely poor, leading to blackouts for all of our team's home games.  Sponsorship arrangements to endorse Viagra and Ford F-150s have been non-existent.  We can't even afford uniforms for our cheerleaders, and we're shamefully forced to send them onto the field naked.  It's also safe to say that our continued efforts to get tax payers to fund our $1.5 billion stadium plan have fallen on deaf ears.  This has forced us to make some radical adjustments, namely the selling of the team to an individual who better conforms to blueprint of the league's standard owner.  Hopefully, having the right figurehead can be our first step towards legitimacy. 

Long may he reign!

All hail our fearless leader!  May he live forever!

By acquiring a 51% stake in our fictional franchise (for the low, low price of $3.50), Boss Hogg has become our new leader, and representative at league meetings.  He promises to bring the swagger back to our humble organization, and should prove to be the equal of other cartoonish individuals such as Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones.  He has also made a pledge not to move the team to Los Angeles, though he keeps bringing up some place called Hazzard County, wherever the hell that is.  While I'm sure there might be some criticism about having the team run by a deranged and fictional character, portrayed by a now deceased actor, I do think Al Davis might have set a precedent here.

In death, members of Team Kangaroo have a name...

Normally, our primary focus is on trying to find interesting young prospects in the NFL Draft, but there is another side to this coin that is perhaps almost as vital.  Sometimes you need to know when to let go, and cut your losses.  Far too often, teams hold onto players for far too long, hoping that the light will eventually come on, and a previously incompetent player will begin to shine.  The longer that teams wait to cut ties with these disappointments, the fewer opportunities they have to discover if someone better might be out there.  We prefer to use maggot therapy, to eat away the dead flesh as soon as possible, so that the healthy areas remain uninfected.

We will now cast off those poor bastards who failed to set our world on fire, so that we can make room for new and future disappointment who will take their place.  While I've been meaning to do this for a while, I kept forgetting to make these decisions official.  Managing a non-existent team, and keeping up with the endless paper work, can be quite a burden.  Still, most of these cuts should have been rather obvious from the beginning.  We'll start things off with some of the selections from the 2013 Ozzie Newsome Challenge.

It's pretty clear that there is no longer any reason to hold out hope for our 7th round pick of offensive tackle Wade Jacobson, so onto the trash heap he goes.  Admittedly, we picked him despite never having seen him play.  That's just the sort of responsible scouting we do around here.  Nonetheless, his physical attributes are so shockingly unusual that the odds of him being completely incapable of landing a roster spot struck me as incredibly unlikely.  With a 1.788 Kangaroo Score and a 1.407 Agility Score, he was an absolute freak.  The failure rate for people with this sort of athleticism is really remarkably low.  Despite that, nobody seemed interested in giving him much of an opportunity, and yet the incomparably incompetent Oneil Cousins continues to be employed.  It's really quite confusing.  Oh well.

Likewise, we will also be discarding our 4th round pick of wide receiver Ryan Swope.  In this case, I have to admit that we had a bit of a brain-fart.  I knew that Swope had a serious history of concussions, but I must have been blocking this out when we chose him.  Regardless, he retired before his first season even began, so as to preserve the integrity of his precious brain.  Personally, I think he could have just rubbed some dirt on it, but that's not really my decision.

We also probably have to do something about Da'Rick Rogers.  The sensible part of me says it is time to move on.  On the other hand, I see that he has now been picked up by the Chiefs, a team that is clearly in need of some receiving talent.  Honestly, I think he could end up being the most talented receiver on their team, not that this will probably have much effect on his ability to get playing time.  It's really an odd situation.  His most likely less gifted former Tennessee teammates Justin Hunter and Cordarelle Patterson are still sort of limping along, producing relatively little.  Da'Rick, in his limited opportunities, has arguably provided more reasons for optimism than either of them, but without the draft status these other two carry, nobody seems too invested in seeing how far he can go, or how many DUIs he can acquire.

I've always thought Da'Rick had a lot in common with Mike "Not the fat one" Williams, who seems to be going through a similar spell of struggles related to his...umm...issues.  Of course, neither one of them appears to have entered the Josh Gordon Zone of truly exceptional stupidity.  I'm not sure when the NFL's concern with character became such a priority, but I find this new trend highly disturbing.  The league was built on highly athletic and productive players, who frequently tended to be morons!  It's almost as if nobody has any respect for tradition anymore.  For now, I think we'll let Da'Rick hang around a tiny bit longer, though we might revisit this question after the upcoming draft, if we need to make room for someone else.

Now, we're gradually going to transition from our 2013 draft class to our group from 2014.  There is a bit of overlap here when it comes to bad luck.  From the 2013 class, we have offensive guard Dave Quessenberry, who appeared to be doing quite well, before being diagnosed with cancer.  For the time being, we're going to hold onto him, and cross our fingers.  Our fictional team now has a fictional injured reserve, just for him.  Then in 2014, we selected offensive tackle Garrett Scott, who was promptly diagnosed with a previously unknown heart ailment, which forced his immediate retirement.  I almost have to wonder if we are causing these things to happen to people, merely by selecting them.  The odds of having two such extreme medical issues come up seems rather slim.  Either way, we clearly have to call it quits with Garrett Scott.

I suspect our problems with identifying health/injury risks are Reilly's fault.  When your expected lifespan is only 12 years (and you're already 12 years old!), your attitude towards long term risks can become quite warped.  The way things are going, we'll be the first team to draft a player with polio in over fifty years.

Plans for the future...

We're working on some new ideas that we want to explore for the upcoming draft.  We're kicking around some ideas about minimizing risks when selecting quarterbacks.  We're also giving some serious thought to how we view the statistical production of defensive linemen and linebackers.  Unfortunately, the results of some of these thoughts might not be entirely ready in time for this year's upcoming draft.

For the most part, the bulk of these new efforts will really focus on defensive players who line up in the front seven.  We're leaving defensive backs out, for the moment, because we still think their output is too heavily influenced by the individuals who are in front of them.  So far, it seems to be providing some interesting possible explanations for why some players who had exceptional athletic ability, and superficially good statistical production, have failed to succeed to the level that the computer might have expected.

While we're excited about some of these possibilities, it involves rebuilding some of our database of players from past drafts, and this will take some time.  We probably won't have this finished before the upcoming draft, though we'll test it out on a limited basis with some of the more interesting prospects.  Honestly, I have very mixed feelings about some of the ways that we are trying to reevaluate college statistics.  On the one hand, some of these efforts will probably push us in a more intelligent direction, and help to eliminate some potential errors.  On the other hand, I've rather enjoyed approaching the draft with no real intelligent thoughts in my head.  It's sort of been our raison d'etre, to see how far we can go, while making almost no effort.  It really would be a shame to give that up.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The People's Champions

Our main focus around here has been speculation about the criteria by which team's make their picks in the NFL Draft.  The goal is simply to find ways of identifying prospects that have a better chance of meeting a team's hopes and expectations, rather than ending up a disappointment.  It's a tricky business, and inevitably we will be wrong sometimes (at which point, I will place the blame squarely on Reilly's shoulders). 

Oddly, if there is one aspect of doing this blog (the bloooog) that makes me nervous, it is the possibility of shouting "Hey, we were right about this guy!".  Yes, we want our idiotic hunches to turn out well, but chest thumping bravado gives me the heebie jeebies.  The data is there.  We attempt to sort it, and extract some meaning from it.  We think it is the sensible thing to do.  Despite that, I really cringe when I see some of the gurus of the internet, and the self-congratulatory wanking they engage in.  Some enthusiasm is understandable, but preferably in moderation.  I generally think we should behave more like monks, or maybe the Amish.  So, with that in mind, we've decided to try to make it a policy to avoid reflecting on the times when things go according to plan.  We want to avoid doing unnecessary and tacky victory laps.

At the same time, there are going to be some prospects whom we strongly disapproved of, who go on to do quite well for themselves.  Whether they are genuine outliers, or there was insufficient data to project them correctly, or maybe we were just plain wrong; it all works out the same.  Sometimes we're just going to be way off the mark.  It may not change our feelings about whether such prospects were sensible gambles for a team to make, but we do think these slip-ups should be given some consideration.  Maybe there is something to be learned from such embarrassing accidents.

Based on these feelings, we decided to start doing an annual list of our potentially most egregious errors.  Rather than include all of our mistakes, we'll mainly focus on the players that we had the most damning criticisms of, who still managed to exceed our expectations.  As time goes on, these lists will undoubtedly grow.  Since these players are possible victories for the traditional scouting crowd, we'll just refer to them as The People's Champions.  Our cilice has been tightened, let the flagellation begin...

Kelvin Benjamin

I believe our exact words were something like, any team that drafts him "should probably check their GM for symptoms of dementia".  That might have been a bit harsh.  Of course, Benjamin went on to accumulate 1,008 yards, and 9 touchdowns in his rookie season.  It wasn't our finest moment.  The worst part is, I still don't have a great theory as to how this happened.

One issue that makes Kelvin Benjamin particularly difficult to reexamine, relates to his claims that he intentionally bombed the combine in order to drop in the draft, so that Carolina would be able to select him.  If this is true, then we clearly didn't have much of a chance to evaluate him correctly, since we base a fair bit of our hunches on a player's measurable attributes.  On the one hand, it is hard to believe that Benjamin is serious about any of this, since you would have to be a moron to intentionally make yourself look bad at the combine.  On the other hand, this is an individual who scored a 7 on the Wonderlic test, so he probably needs his coaches to help him tie his shoes. 

Will Benjamin flame out like Michael Clayton, who was a 2004 rookie phenom that similarly defied explanation?  I have no idea.  While I'd love to have order restored to my universe, I will try to refrain from constructing any voodoo dolls shaped like a Panthers' player to do so.  I wish him luck, and sincerely hope that someone in Carolina has child-proofed his house.

In the end, if we have to be wrong at some point, I'd always prefer that it  be about someone as comically peculiar as Kelvin Benjamin.

C.J. Mosley

It's particularly painful for me to acknowledge that we might have been wrong about C.J. Mosley, since the Ravens are not only my home team, but one of my favorite organizations to torment.  Still, despite my apprehensions regarding Mosley, I have to say that I do think he probably is performing quite a bit better than our numbers suggested he would.

While we never really outright claimed that Mosley would be a bust, we certainly leaned towards the possibility that he would be a mediocrity.  Whether it was his measured athletic ability, or his statistical production in college, there wasn't much that grabbed our attention, or made him appear to be in the same class as some of the 1st round MLBs that preceded him.  Still, off the top of my head, I can say that there were a handful of similar players such as Navorro Bowman, Curtis Lofton, and maybe Jon Beason that were also a bit unlikely to become successful NFL middle linebackers.  So, these things do happen from time to time..

Has Mosley performed better than I believed he would?  Yes, almost certianly.  Now, do I really believe that Mosley deserved to be selected for the Pro Bowl this year?  Ehh...hmm...maybe not.  The degree to which his draft status may have enhanced the likelihood of receiving this honor is a strong possibility.  At the same time, we should also probably take a look at the players who have surrounded Mosley in his rookie season.

While the Ravens' 2014 secondary play was clearly horrendous, that shouldn't really have too much impact on an inside linebacker.  The front seven of their defense, however, was actually rather good.  The outside pass rushing tandem of Suggs and Dumervil, accumulated 29 combined sacks, more than holding up their part of the equation.  The team's three primary down linemen, of Ngata, Williams and Canty, are a massive 992 pound wall (possibly the largest trio in the league, though I still have to check on that), and generally conform (to varying degrees) to the athletic and statistical profiles we hope to see in these types of players.  They probably kept Mosley relatively untouched.  Finally, there is the team's other inside linebacker, the veteran Daryl Smith, who despite his age, is still performing at a high enough level to take a lot of the pressure off of Mosley.  All things considered, Mosley wound up in a pretty good environment.

Will Mosley be able to maintain this head of steam, as the surrounding talent retires or moves to other teams?  I don't know, but I think it is an interesting question.  Haloti Ngata is easily the most physically gifted linemen on the team, but his current contract makes him a ripe target to cut.  With the exception of Brandon Williams, everyone else in the front seven is at least 30 years old, so the clock is ticking.  How this will impact Mosley is hard to say.

The most interesting question, at least to me, is whether Mosley's apparent success may actually end up hurting the team in a more roundabout way.  If Mosley continues to do well, despite being a prospect that on paper appeared to present some risks, doesn't this just encourage the team to continue pursuing their questionable approach to the draft?  Let's consider the team's top draft picks in the past few years.

In 2013, the team's top pick was Matt Elam, who so far has been a fairly well recognized failure at the safety position.  Due to an inability to calculate his Agility Score, we weren't able to give him much of an assessment last year.  With defensive backs, the Agility Score is obviously a bit more of a factor than it might be at other positions.  While his 40 time was fairly good (4.43 seconds), his statistical production and Kangaroo Score (0.284) were little more than just average.  Still, while we couldn't fully appraise Elam, we certainly wouldn't have been able to endorse selecting someone about whom there wasn't enough data, or where the available data was relatively weak, so the computer would have viewed this pick as an unnecessary and unwise risk.

In 2012, the team's top pick was Courtney Upshaw, who is someone we have criticized numerous times already.  Due to the fact that he has been listed as a starter in 36 out of a possible 48 games during his young career, many people still choose to defend this pick.  Of course, Reilly and I tend to think that the whopping 3 sacks he has produced in this time are a bit more meaningful.  The data was there to suggest he would likely struggle as a pass rusher, which we still feel is the primary role for a 3-4 OLB, particularly when one is selected with a relatively high pick.  So, again, caution was thrown to the wind, and the team went with their gut instinct, rather than with the statistical data.

In 2011, the team selected cornerback Jimmy Smith, and...we really don't have a huge issue with this pick.  While there were other prospects that the computer might have preferred, Smith was still fairly intriguing.  While his Agility Score (0.316) was only slightly above average, he was a much larger sort of corner, and his Kangaroo Score (0.963), suggested he did have some potential.  While people seem to feel he has done well so far, injuries appear to be his main obstacle.  This seems to be shaping up to have been a reasonably effective draft pick.

In 2010, the team's top pick was Sergio Kindle.  While we could skip past this selection, since he never really played due to injury, the data still suggests that the team was ignoring the glaring warning signs here, as they frequently appear to do.  It's a shame that Kindle couldn't get on the field and confirm whether or not the data was accurate, but we still have to accept that this was a bust.

In 2009, the Ravens' first pick was the infamous Michael Oher.  What would the computer make of an offensive tackle prospect with a 0.134 Agility Score, and a 0.194 Kangaroo Score?  Well, you could certainly do worse, but those are pretty much the definition of average and forgettable results.  They certainly aren't the kinds of results that would make us feel comfortable with selecting someone in the first round.   Nonetheless, that is precisely what the team did, and Oher has gone on to surrender a sack in about 53% of his games started, which is clearly a rather poor result.  Oddly, none of this appears to have greatly impacted his starting status, because high draft picks probably get more second chances than they sometimes deserve.  We tried to delve into why this foolishness happens before,, and I think that brings us back around to why we should be equally suspicious of why Courtney Upshaw continues to get starts.

In the area that these players were selected, you can generally figure on making a successful pick about 60-70% of the time.  It seems reasonable to me that you could say that the only arguable success in this group may have been Jimmy Smith (though it may still be a bit early to declare that).  Most likely, it isn't a complete coincidence that Smith was a rather decent fit for the athletic/statistical profile of an NFL cornerback. On the other hand, what can we say about these other picks that the Ravens made?  Pretty much without exception, they all seem to have been enormous gambles, even if the conventional wisdom at the time suggested they were reasonable picks.

Now, it may sound as if I am still being a bit reticent about giving C.J. Mosley the level of praise he perhaps deserves, but that isn't my goal.  While I wish Mosley continued good fortune, I still have some concerns about the thought process that went into his selection, regardless of how things actually turned out.  To some extent, the process used to select Mosley appears to be the same one used to make all of these other regrettable picks.  It feels as if the Ravens are playing a strange form of Russian roulette.  While the computer would have expected the Ravens to shoot themselves in the foot 5 times out of 6, it only actually happened on 4 of these occasions.  That the team's most recent pull of the trigger turned out to be significantly less painful than it was in past years, might lead them to believe that their process is worth pursuing in the future.  People tend to sweep the past under the rug, in light of more positive recent outcomes.  This would make me very nervous.

Okay.  Maybe I'm feeling just a tiny bit bitter about C.J. Mosley.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Perhaps A Lobotomy Would Help?

I've been a bit distracted the past two months, folding paper cranes and writing haikus about sheepdogs, but those are the sorts of things which pay the bills.  Regardless, I'm back for the moment for some more deranged ranting about the potential benefits of lobotomizing your favorite NFL team's general manager.

Okay, in the previous post we set the computer up to behave like a bit of an imbecile.  We asked it to pick one player per draft class (from 2004-2013), who was between 245 and 285 pounds, based on their known physical traits, and their number of tackles for a loss in college. We were strictly looking at how productive these players were as pass rushers, and chose to use this range of weights because that is where you typically find the majority of the league's 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends.  The computer also couldn't pick anyone who was selected before the 3rd round, or anyone who went undrafted.  In the area below, you will find a basic tally of the computer's results for its 10 selections.

  POTGP        GP        GS      Sacks  Sack/POTGP      % GP      % GS
Total 880 635 343 200 0.227 72.15 38.97

POTGP is simply the number of Potential Games Played for a given player.  For example, if a player was selected in the 2011 draft then, by the end of the 2013 season, they could have potentially played in 32 games.  GP is simply the number of games they actually played.  GS is the number of games where they were listed as a starter.  Sack/POTGP is their number of sacks per potential game played.  % GP is the percentage of 'potential games' in which they players appeared.  % GS is the percentage of 'potential games' in which the players were listed as a starter.

I should also mention that the actual average and median draft position of the computer's picks came at the 119th and 115th picks respectively.  Also, the computer's overall Sack/POTGP result of 0.227, would be the equivalent of its typical selection generating 3.632 sacks per 16 game season.

To make some comparisons a bit easier, I will list here the average and median results of the computer's selection, when it came to athletic ability, and the average number of tackles for a loss in a player's final two years in college.  The Kangaroo Score and Agility Score are given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is away from the average results for someone in their position group.

Computer    Avg. TFL    Kangaroo     Agility
AVG 17 1.067 0.482
MED 16.625 1.279 0.664

Now, we finally get to compare the computer's results to those of a handful of actual NFL teams.  To do this, we'll list every player that these teams selected over the same period of time (2004-2013), who fell into the 245-285 pound weight class.  We also have to remember that we are only examining how these players performed between the time they were drafted, and the end of the 2013 NFL season.  Players who went undrafted, regardless of how they ended up performing, will be left off of these lists.  I won't include all 32 teams here, though I will say that the results we are about to show appear to present a pretty typical picture of most NFL teams.  For the sake of brevity (Ha!), I will just show a handful of teams that I thought were particularly interesting.  If you're curious about some other team's results, feel free to ask, or you can simply do the calculations yourself, since it really isn't that complicated.

We'll start with my favorite team to torment, the Baltimore Ravens.

Player   POTGP        GP        GS      Sacks  Sack/POTGP      % GP      % GS
John Simon 16 7 0 0 0 43.75 0
Courtney Upshaw 32 32 22 3 0.093 100 68.75
Pernell McPhee 48 44 6 9.5 0.197 91.66 12.5
Sergio Kindle 64 3 0 0 0 4.68 0
Paul Kruger 80 67 23 22 0.275 83.75 28.75
Antwan Barnes 112 83 5 25.5 0.227 74.1 4.46
Ryan LaCasse 128 12 0 0 0 9.37 0
Dan Cody 144 2 0 0 0 1.38 0
Roderick Green 160 54 0 12 0.075 33.75 0

Total 784 304 56 72 0.091 38.77 7.14

The Ravens have selected 9 players over this period of time, which is just one player short of what the computer drafted.  The average and median draft position of the Ravens' picks would be the 109th and 129th pick.  So, the Ravens selected almost the same number of players as the computer did, at roughly a similar point in the draft.  Even if we ignore the insane difference in the Ravens' raw sack total compared to the computer, the computer still comes out well ahead in Sack/POTGP.  The Ravens' result of 0.091 would be the equivalent of a player producing 1.456 sacks per 16 game season, well below the computer's result of 3.632.  A total of 4 of the Ravens' picks (44.44%) came from the first two rounds of the draft, where the computer was barred from making a selection.

I suspect Ravens' fans will argue that including players like Dan Cody and Sergio Kindle in this list is a bit unfair, since injuries kept them from getting on the field.  All I can say to that is "Hey, that's life!".  Every team on this list faced an equal risk of this occurring, as did the computer.  I can also say that while both of these players were fairly productive in college, their measured athletic ability makes the likelihood of them becoming exceptional performers somewhat doubtful.  In Cody's case, his 0.187 Kangaroo Score and -0.289 Agility Score paint the picture of a fairly mediocre athlete.  With Kindle, we find he has a 0.203 Kangaroo Score and a -0.533 Agility Score, which again are extremely questionable results.  You can choose to ignore these factors if you wish to, much like the Ravens did, though the whole point of this exercise is to illustrate how that might be a mistake. 

While I have no real problem with the college level statistical production of this group, it seems obvious that actual athletic ability is something the Ravens don't place a lot of value in. Overall, the median athletic ability for their selections was a paltry 0.187 Kangaroo Score, and a -0.289 Agility Score.  This means that the team regularly bets on mediocre athletes, and they appear to get mediocre results.

I also seem to run across a lot of Ravens' fans who continue to express high hopes for Courtney Upshaw, despite his extremely limited contributions as a pass rusher.  We've discussed Upshaw in the past, so we'll cut to the chase.  The main defense that people present for Upshaw, is his supposed quality as a run stopper.  I have no interest in debating this, though I tend to view this argument as an attempt to see the silver lining in a bad situation.  So, here's a simple test, to see if you truly believe that being "good against the run" is as valuable as being a good pass rusher.  How quickly would you trade the one dimensional run stopper, Courtney Upshaw, for a younger but one dimensional pass rusher, like Dwight Freeney?

Now, let's take a look at the Steelers.

Player   POTGP        GP        GS      Sacks  Sack/POTGP      % GP      % GS
Jarvis Jones 16 14 8 1 0.062 87.5 50
Chris Carter 48 29 4 0 0 60.41 8.33
Jason Worilds 64 57 21 19 0.296 89.06 32.81
Bruce Davis 96 15 0 0 0 15.62 0
LaMarr Woodley 112 94 81 57 0.508 83.91 72.32
Shaun Nua 144 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nathaniel Adibi 160 0 0 0 0 0 0

Total 640 209 114 77 0.120 32.65 17.81

Compared to many of the other teams I looked at, the Steelers actually selected relatively few players in the weight class we are examining, just 7 in total.  While their combined 77 sacks is well short of the computer's 200, the Steelers actually do better than many teams on a per player basis, with a 0.120 Sack/POTGP.  That would give the typical Steelers' draft pick 1.92 sacks in a sixteen game season, which is better than many other team on this list (though well short the computer's average draft pick which produces 3.632 sacks per season).  The average and median draft positions of the Steelers picks would be the 105th and 88th pick respectively, which is about half a round higher than where the computer made its selections.  A total of 3 of these picks (42.85%) came from the first two rounds of the draft, where the computer was barred from making a pick.

I have no interest in criticizing the Steelers.  After all, they have produced better results than many of the NFL teams we'll be looking at, especially when you consider how few selections they made. Still, similar to the previously mentioned Ravens, they also have shown a relative lack of interest in quantifiable athletic ability.  The results for their median draft pick were a -0.144 Kangaroo Score and a -0.028 Agility Score, which is clearly very average.

It seems worth noting, however, that almost all of their sack production during this period of time came from two players, LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds, who were both taken in the 2nd round (James Harrison is excluded because he wasn't selected in the draft).  In case you don't remember, the computer was barred from selecting players who were drafted this highly, so the Steelers had a bit of an advantage in this area.  Despite that, I think we can safely say that the computer would have spotted these potential talents rather easily.  We've discussed Jason Worilds before, so we'll skip that topic, except to note his 0.604 Kangaroo Score and 0.727 Agility Score, as well as an average of 14.75 TFL in college.  As for LaMarr Woodley, his 1.195 Kangaroo Score along with a -0.075 Agility Score would have given him a combined 0.560 Total Score (according to the dumbed down methods the computer was using for this game).  When you factor in the 15.25 tackles for a loss that Woodley averaged in his last two years in college, this would have resulted in the computer giving him a 1st round grade, which is slightly higher than where Woodley was actually selected.  So, once again, exceptional athleticism, and a history of proven production seem to produce the best results.

Oh, and if you are still expecting Jarvis Jones to emerge as the next great Steeler's pass rusher, the computer would like to reiterate its strong doubts about that.

Now let's move on the the Patriots.

Player   POTGP        GP        GS      Sacks  Sack/POTGP      % GP      % GS
Jamie Collins  16 16 8 0 0 100 50
Michael Buchanan 16 15 0 2 0.125 93.75 0
Chandler Jones 32 30 29 17.5 0.546 93.75 90.62
Dont'a Hightower 32 30 27 5 0.156 93.75 84.37
Jake Bequette 32 8 0 0 0 25 0
Markell Carter 48 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jerm. Cunningham 64 38 14 3.5 0.054 59.37 21.87
Brandon Spikes 64 51 39 1 0.015 79.68 60.93
Shawn Crable 96 6 0 0.5 0.005 6.25 0
Justin Rogers 112 32 0 0 0 28.57 0
Jeremy Mincey 128 66 40 20 0.156 51.56 31.25
Ryan Claridge 144 0 0 0 0 0 0

Total 784 292 157 49.5 0.063 37.24 20.02

More than almost any team I have looked at so far, the Patriots have selected a lot of players in this weight class, with a total of 12.  Despite the abundance of picks that the Patriots have made, their total number of sacks is a horribly embarrassing 49.5.  Even if we look at a better measuring stick like Sack/POTGP, their result of 0.063, is still laughably bad.  That means their typical player would be producing just 1.008 sacks in a 16 game season.  The average and median draft position of these draft picks would come at the 111th pick and 84th pick respectively, which again, is slightly higher than where the computer made its selections.  A total of 5 of these picks (41.66%) came from the first 2 rounds of the draft, where the computer was prohibited from making a selection.

Now, unlike a number of the teams in this post, the Patriots' results get a bit skewed.  Their apparent preference for larger inside linebackers like Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower, means that some of these players weren't likely to get as many pass rushing opportunities.  Still, even if we were to excuse that, it's hard to say that this would radically improve their overall results.  The median results for their selections were a very slightly above average 0.335 Kangaroo Score and a 0.301 Agility Score.  While these are better results than what we saw from the Ravens and Steelers, it unfortunately coincides with a dip in their typical players number of TFLs in their final two years in college, to a median result of just 10.62 (compared to a more respectable 15.25 for the Ravens, and 15.5 for the Steelers and well below the 16.62 for Team Kangaroo).  Obviously, we prefer prospects with great athletic ability and proven performance..

Their player with the highest Sacks/POTGP result, is Chandler Jones.  With a result of 0.546, that works out to about 8.73 sacks per 16 game season.  When you consider Jones' 0.859 Kangaroo Score, along with a 0.247 Agility Score, you start to see someone with some intriguing athletic ability.  When examining his average number of tackles for a loss, during his final two college seasons, we get a result of 11.25 (though we had to adjust this some since he only played 7 games in his final year at Syracuse).  While the computer wouldn't have given Jones a 1st round grade, he clearly had some intriguing potential.

So, how has a team like the Patriots managed to survive with so many of their draft picks producing such poor results?  Well, they've largely gotten by with a regular supply of mercenary free agent pass rushers.  Let's take a look at some of the players they have brought in to fill the void, during this time period.

Player    Kangaroo       Agility Avg. TFL
Rob Ninkovich 0.267 1.013 13.25
Andre Carter 1.230 0.577 19.5
Mark Anderson 1.344 0.846 12.5
Derrick Burgess 1.802            N/A          N/A
Adalius Thomas 1.573 -0.306 18

Well, how about that!  They've largely been signing freakishly gifted athletes who were highly productive in college.  While some of these players may not have provided exceptional results to their new team, some decline in performance should probably be expected when you are signing players who are going into their 2nd and 3rd NFL contract.   Still, it's funny to consider that these players are the ones that drew the Patriots eye in free agency, since they largely fit our mold for successful NFL pass rushers.  The only real question is, why don't the Patriots just draft players like this in the first place?  If there is one bit of good news, I do think things could potentially turn out quite well for Jamie Collins.

Let's see what a fairly terrible Falcons' defense has done.

Player   POTGP        GP        GS      Sacks  Sack/POTGP      % GP      % GS
Malliciah Goodman 16 14 1 0 0 87.5 6.25
Stansly Maponga 16 12 0 0 0 75 0
Jon Massaquoi 32 24 4 4 0.125 75 12.5
Cliff Matthews 48 25 0 0 0 52.08 0
Lawrence Sidbury 80 48 0 5 0.062 60 0
Curtis Lofton 96 96 95 7 0.072 100 98.95
Kroy Biermann 96 82 22 16.5 0.171 85.41 22.91
Chauncey Davis 144 102 25 11 0.076 80.83 17.36

Total 528 403 147 43.5 0.082 76.32 27.84

Over this period of time, the Falcons have selected 8 players in this weight class.  The average and median draft position of these picks came at the 139th and 140th pick, which is noticeably lower than where the computer (or any other team on this list) made its selections.  By a fairly large margin, the Falcons selections have produced the lowest number of total sacks, though when we look at Sack/POTGP, they at least manage to rise above the Patriots.  Their result of 0.082 would mean their typical pick produces the equivalent of 1.312 sacks in a 16 game season.

Most of the teams we are examining here were chosen due to their on-the-field success, or reputation for having a good defense.  I chose to include the Falcons for the complete opposite reason.  This isn't to say that there aren't good things about the team, but drafting quality pass rushers hasn't been their strong point during this period of time. 

The combination of making slightly fewer picks than the other teams, as well as making them later in the draft, suggests the Falcons really haven't viewed finding a pass rusher as much of a priority.  I can also say that the selections they did make almost invariably lacked the combination of athletic ability and college production that would have made them intriguing targets, in the eye's of the computer.  The median results for these selections were a 0.041 Kangaroo Score a -0.472 Agility Score, which obviously isn't anything to get excited about.  When you also consider their typical players poor median result of just 10 TFLs in their final two college seasons, success seemed quite unlikely.  Hey, that's their choice, and none of my business.  All I can say is that any complaints people might have about a poor pass rush were probably entirely foreseeable.

As one final note, I realize that Falcons' fans might object to Curtis Lofton being included in this list, since he clearly wasn't intended to be a pass rusher.  In the end though, he fell into the weight class that we had selected, so we couldn't exclude him.  If it makes any difference, just be glad we didn't include the Falcons' incredibly disappointing selection of Jamaal Anderson, with the 8th overall pick in 2007.  Anderson weighed 288 pounds at the combine, which excluded him from this list, and actually slightly improved the overall picture for the Falcons.  In the end, I think that sort of balances out including Lofton.

Finally, let's take a look at the Seahawks' defense.

Player   POTGP        GP        GS      Sacks  Sack/POTGP      % GP      % GS
Ty Powell 16 5 0 0 0 31.25 0
Bruce Irvin 32 28 12 10 0.312 87.5 37.5
Greg Scruggs 32 11 0 2 0.062 34.37 0
K.J. Wright 48 44 40 4.5 0.093 91.66 83.33
Aaron Curry 80 48 39 5.5 0.068 60 48.75
Nick Reed 80 26 0 1 0.012 32.5 0
Lawrence Jackson 96 69 24 19.5 0.203 71.87 25
Baraka Atkins 112 21 0 2 0.017 18.75 0
Darryl Tapp 128 114 35 25 0.195 89.06 27.34
Jeb Huckeba 144 0 0 0 0 0 0

Total 768 366 150 69.5 0.090 47.65 19.53

During this period of time the Seahawks have selected a total of 10 players in the weight class we are examining, the same as the computer.  The average and median draft position of these picks came at the 119th and 109th picks respectively, which is roughly the same area as where the computer and most of these other teams made their selections.  Their Sack/POTGP result of 0.090 would suggest that their typical draft pick produces about 1.44 sacks per 16 game season.  A total of 4 of these selections (40%) were chosen in the first two rounds of the draft, where the computer was barred from making a pick.

Despite the solid reputation of the Seahawks defense, their ability to successfully draft pass rushers is rather average to slightly below average, compared to these other teams.  Lawrence Jackson, actually ends up being credited with 28.05% of the sacks produced by Seahawks draft picks, though for 2/3 of these sacks Jackson was on another team, as he was only a Seahawk for his first 2 seasons.  That leaves only the somewhat mediocre Darryl Tapp and Bruce Irvin as the most productive pass rushers to be selected by the team during this period of time.

Again, the reasons for this apparent failure seem a bit obvious.  The median results for these selections would be a -0.007 Kangaroo Score and a 0.172 Agility Score, along with 13.5 TFLs in their final two college seasons.  Those are rather uninspiring results, and not surprisingly they produced uninspiring outcomes.

To fill this pass rushing void, the Seahawks have had to look outside the draft, similar to the Patriots.  In free agency they acquired Cliff Avril (0.287 Kangaroo Score and a 0.215 Agility Score), who was probably just a slightly above average athlete, though he did average 15 tackles for a loss in his final two years in college, which is quite good.  They also managed to pick up Michael Bennett as an undrafted free agent in 2009, and while his average of 9 tackles for a loss in college was fairly pedestrian, his 0.837 Kangaroo Score suggested some reasonable athletic potential (we don't have the data to calculate his Agility Score, unfortunately).  They also traded the previously mentioned Darryl Tapp, for the enigmatic Chris Clemons, who's eventual successes I admittedly have no real explanation for. 

Let's wrap this up...

I realize that only listing the results for 5 different teams may seem like I have been cherry picking the data a bit.  On the other hand, I tend to be a bit long-winded, and I doubt anyone would make it through a post where I did this for every single team.  All I can really say is, these teams seemed to do a good job of illustrating my overall point, and really appeared to capture the general problems most teams have in selecting pass rushers.  These teams, for the most part, are the norm.

That isn't to say that there aren't teams who have done significantly better.  There are.  The Giants, the Rams, the Titans, and a few others have done quite a bit better at selecting these sorts of players, though still quite a bit short of the computer's theoretical results.  Unfortunately, examining the methods to their success aren't that interesting, as their "hits" typically seem to be the very sort of players that the computer would approve of, the highly athletic freak who was productive in college.

Perhaps the most interesting team I looked at was the Kansas City Chiefs, which was the only team to slightly surpass the computer's results.  The combination of selections like Jared Allen, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston makes up for a rather intimidating group of pass rushers.  Still, with the possible exception of Tamba Hali, these players also fit the computer's mold for successful players, so I really don't see much for us to learn here, beyond what we already suspected.  The Chiefs have simply done a good job.

I'm sure some other people will criticize the amount of attention that I give to a player's ability to generate sacks.  To some extent, I suppose that is fair.  Almost any statistical category can be a bit overrated.  Despite that, I think it is interesting that even if we look beyond sack production, the computer's imaginary picks are still crushing pretty much everyone when it come to %GP and % GS.  So, when we simply consider a player's ability to get on the field and play, the computer is doing a much better job there as well.

While some might suspect that the computer had the advantage of hindsight, which is always 20/20, you have to remember that the computer made its selections based only on very basic pieces of data that would have been freely available at the time, so it really had no advantage in this sense.  You also have to remember the huge advantage that these NFL teams had, simply by being permitted to select players in the first two rounds of the draft, while the computer was prohibited from doing the same.  How much more lopsided do you suspect the computer's results would have been if this restriction had been lifted?

In the end, you can never really eliminate the risk that a player will be a failure.  Making any sort of guarantee about how following the path I proposed will assure success would be incredibly stupid.  The only real point that I am trying to convey is that, perhaps, if general managers resigned themselves to the likelihood that their instincts for identifying talented players were largely nonsensical beliefs manufactured by their egos, and instead based their decisions of measurable data, they probably couldn't do any worse, and quite possibly would actually improve (I suspect significantly).  When you really consider their histories of repeated failures, what is the real risk?