Monday, October 5, 2015


In general, Reilly and I don't have any great expectation that the subjects which interest us will be seen as particularly fascinating to other people.  For this reason, we tend to be cautious about what topics we bring up, even if it frustrates us a bit.  No, we probably shouldn't discus our collection of ear wax.  Likewise, our fears about the Nazis who live on the dark side of the moon, is something we tend to keep to ourselves.  We could also discuss our belief that slugs are at the top of the food chain (go ahead, name one person who has survived a slug attack), but we don't mention this very often.  Sometimes, we just suspect that the issues we want to explore might cross certain lines, and we'd prefer to avoid stirring up a kerfuffle.  Today, perhaps foolishly, we decided to pursue one of those unfortunate subjects that draws our interest.

The topic we want to examine this time is PFF (Pro Football Focus).  Now, to be perfectly clear, we generally like PFF (sort of), and appreciate the statistical data they provide to the football geeks of the world.  Being critical of what they do makes us feel a bit uncomfortable, particularly since they are a well established site ($$$), while we rely on the prognostications of a dog (-$$$).  Even if we don't always agree with PFF, at least they're trying to apply clearly stated and measurable standards to their analysis of football, and this matters to us.  Geek on geek crime is not something we want to engage in, particularly since analysis of the NFL still hasn't really emerged as something that the football world has strongly embraced yet.  Still, despite some wariness, there are some concerns we have with PFF, that we felt we should discuss.

For those amongst you who aren't familiar with PFF, they run a site that accumulates data from NFL games, and attempt to analyze what all this raw information supposedly means.  It is an attempt to give us a better understanding of the game, something we feel is rather important, or at least interesting.  Reilly and I frequently agree with their assessments of particular players, and often make references to them.  Admittedly, we are more likely to quote PFF when they agree with us, and ignore them when they don't.  That's just the sort of unreliable assholes we are.  Regardless, the information they compile is greatly appreciated by many of the NFL numbers geeks of the world, as it is a challenging task to assemble such quantities of data, and is beyond the means of individuals such as ourselves.

Where we sometimes run into problems with PFF, is in their analysis of these mountains of data.  Different positions require different sorts of examinations, since productivity for a defensive lineman is obviously different than it would be for a wide receiver.  So, based on these different sets of criteria, PFF assigns "grades" in the areas they feel are relevant to the position in question.  The grades themselves are fairly meaningless on their own, and merely a tool for directly comparing players within a given position group.  These numerical grades, either positive or negative, are also highlighted in either green (good!), or red (FIRE BAD!), to give the casual observer a sense as to whether a particular player is performing at an above average level (or not).  This leads to an incredibly simple way of appraising players, though we suspect it is probably a bit too simple...and frequently a bit idiotic.

These grades, and this sort of analysis, is extremely results oriented.  Getting a sack, is better than not getting a sack.  Catching the ball, is better than not catching the ball.  This is all fairly obvious.  While Reilly and I certainly don't want to downplay the importance of actual results, sometimes things get lost in these sorts of examinations.  Sometimes the results fail to convey why a player was able to perform well.  Sometimes we miss out on the context, which might better explain what is really happening. 

I suppose our primary question/criticism is very simple, though its validity depends on what you believe should be the main goal of people who analyze the NFL.  Do we want to know who produced the best numbers?  Or, do we want to know who the best player is, even if their environment isn't exactly helping them out?  PFF might be able to answer the first question, at least to some degree.  The second question is vastly more complicated, and is the topic we want to take a look at today.

Flip a coin: Mediocrity or Star

Let's consider the subject of offensive lineman.  We ramble a lot about offensive linemen around here, and I think that our fascination stems from how boring a subject this probably is to most people.  Plus, fat guys in tight outfits are kind of funny.

When examining the performance of offensive lineman, PFF's criteria is fairly simple and easy to understand.  The method for grading these players comes mainly from two separate areas, their run blocking grade and their pass blocking grade.  For now, to keep things simple, we're just going to discuss how the pass blocking grade works...or doesn't.

Essentially, PFF simply tallies up the number of total pass attempts that a lineman was on the field for, and calculates what percentage of the time this lineman managed to keep their quarterback from being sacked.  This percentage is referred to as the player's Pass Blocking Efficiency, and superficially it seems to make some sort of sense.  Dead quarterback = bad.  Living quarterback = good.  Refer to PFF's handy red or green color code if you still need further clarification.

Now, let's talk about truth with a capital "T".  While Reilly and I are inclined to believe in the merits of examining NFL players based on their measured athletic ability, and statistical production, there are limitations to how much you want to trust such things.  Very simple statistics can suggest that there is an argument to be made that a player might be pretty good.  They don't necessarily always reveal the complete truth though, and sometimes you need to dig a bit deeper.  Do I really believe that the player who allowed the fewest sacks, is in fact the best pass blocker?  Or, do I think these outcomes can be influenced by numerous complicated factors?

Let's use two players, Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin, to provide an example of how the value of this sort of data can become a bit murky.

In 2011, Ryan Clady was rated as PFF's 40th ranked offensive tackle (among tackles who played for 50% of their team's total snaps), when it came to pass blocking.  Since there are 32 teams, each with 2 starting tackles per team (for a total of 64...yes, we know you could do the math), that would mean Clady was viewed by PFF as being a somewhat below average tackle in 2011.  Then, in 2012, Ryan Clady was strangely ranked as the league's 4th best tackle (again, when compared to tackles who played for 50% of their team's total snaps), when it came to pass blocking.  That's a fairly remarkable rise in the rankings, going from the 40th slot, to the 4th, in just a year's time.  What exactly happened here?

Now, let's look at Orlando Franklin, who played at the opposite tackle position from Clady, for the Denver Broncos.  In 2011, Franklin's pass blocking had him ranked as PFF's 41st rated offensive tackle, just one slot shy of where we found his teammate Ryan Clady in that year.  Just like with Ryan Clady, this rating would seem to suggest that Franklin performed like a somewhat below average tackle in 2011.  Then, in the following year, 2012, Franklin's pass blocking performance had him ranked as PFF's 8th rated offensive tackle.  Again, Franklin's rating for this year was just a tad behind where we found Ryan Clady had surged to, and near the top of the league.  That all seems a bit peculiar, doesn't it? 

Though some people may disagree, Reilly and I tend to think that a player is what he is.  The "talent" of a player should be somewhat fixed.  Though experience may lead to improvement, and injury can make one decline, it seems unlikely that what a player is doing from year to year would radically change, even if the outcome from his efforts might vary significantly.  Yet, PFF seems to be suggesting that both of these tackles, playing on the same team at the same time, went from performing at a below average level to suddenly being among the top players at their position, at the same time, over the course of just one year.

What exactly is PFF telling us about these players, and is there any way to figure out why there opinion changed so radically?  Is PFF telling us anything about the quality of these players, or merely pointing towards the circumstances they might have struggled with? 

The sleeper must awaken!

Of course, there is a pretty obvious answer as to why PFF's opinion of these players shifted so dramatically in just one year.  Something very significant happened in 2012 for the Denver Broncos, which likely benefited every player on the team's offense.  This was the arrival of that scrappy, unknown quarterback Peyton Manning, who came to replace the heaven-sent Tim Tebow.  Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin probably didn't change what they were doing at all, from 2011 to 2012.  It seems more likely that it was the perception of their performance that changed, now that they were protecting a competent different quarterback.

Let's consider what the sack rate has been for quarterbacks in Denver, both before and after Manning's arrival.  Below, we will list these sack rates (the percentage of passing plays by the team that resulted in a sack), along with the name of the team's primary quarterback in each year.  We're also including the rate at which the team's quarterback was hurried, even though we personally place much less value on this, and think it is a statistic of questionable worth.


        Year       Sack %      Hurry %            Primary QB
2007 5.15 21.74                     J.Cutler
2008 2.05 21.77                     J.Cutler
2009 5.58 23.11                   K.Orton
2010 5.69 25.68                   K.Orton
2011 7.14 34.96                  T. Tebow
2012 3.13 11.39                P. Manning
2013 2.31 17.18                P. Manning
2014 2.09 14.82                P. Manning

So, in the years from 2007 to 2011, Broncos' quarterbacks were getting sacked on average about 5.12% of the time.  Those would arguably be fairly average results for an NFL team.  Only Jay Cutler's 2008 season was a significant improvement in this area (2.05%), and this fluky season probably contributed a great deal towards people's inflated opinion of him, and fed into to the Bears' eagerness to trade for Cutler.  Tebow's 2011 season, was clearly fairly horrible, with a 7.14% sack rate.  From 2012 through the 2014 season, the Manning led Broncos had a sack rate that averaged 2.51%, or about half the average rate of sacks prior to his arrival, or 2.84 times better than it was in Tebow's 2011 season.

That sort of shift could clearly influence people's opinion of how the Broncos offensive line was performing, but how likely is it that a quarterback can really have that sort of effect on a team's sack rate?  Well, let's take a look at what happened to the Indianapolis Colts, both before and after Manning's departure.


        Year       Sack %      Hurry %            Primary QB
2007 2.99 29.76                P. Manning
2008 2.33 25.29                P. Manning
2009 1.79 19.46                P. Manning
2010 2.16 22.09                P. Manning
2011 5.82 21.16       Painter/Orlovsky
2012 5.13 29.93                    A. Luck
2013 5.05 25.25                    A. Luck
2014 3.36 22.69                    A. Luck

In the years from 2007 to 2010, the chart above shows that the Manning led Colts averaged a sack on 2.31% of their passing plays.  That's roughly the same sack rate that we saw for Manning in Denver, and a fairly ridiculous result.  In the years from 2011 through 2014, after Manning's departure, the Colts have averaged a sack on 4.84% of their passing plays, which again is about twice the rate of the Manning led years.  That's not a terrible result, but it is also quite similar to how the pre-Manning era in Broncos performed.  While Andrew Luck may be improving in this area, based on his 2014 sack rate of 3.36%, it is difficult to say whether his results will ever reach Manning's level in this area.

Admittedly, having Manning change teams gave us a somewhat rare opportunity to examine the degree to which these sorts of peculiar and positive effects are transferable, from one team to another.  Great players often spend the majority of their career in one city, which makes dissecting their real impact complicated.  Dropping them into a different environment, is often the closest we can really get to having a control group.  The only other way we get to test these sorts of things is when someone is injured.

That brings us to Tom Brady, and the time he missed the 2008 season due to a leg injury, and we witnessed the emergence of Matt Cassel.  We'll leave out the 'hurry' statistics this time.


           Year        Sack %            Primary QB
2007 2.81                   T. Brady
2008 7.93                 M. Cassel
2009 2.95                   T. Brady

Now, I suspect everyone will recall the 2008 Patriots season, and I suspect everyone will also recall the degree to which people scrutinized the way Matt Cassel filled in for the injured Tom Brady.  For the most part, people seemed to feel that Cassel filled in somewhat admirably for Brady, and in this atmosphere of deranged optimism the Chiefs traded Mike Vrabel and a high 2nd round draft pick to acquire Cassel.  They would also quickly give Cassel a $62 million contract extension.  What was overlooked in all of this lunacy was the precipitous drop in sack rate that occurred during Cassel's time under center for the Patriots.  The Patriots were getting their QB sacked 2.82 times as often in 2008, while Cassel was under center, as they were in 2007.  When Brady would return in 2009, the sack rate would magically go back to very much the same place it was prior to his injury.  There was clearly something missing with Cassel, that Brady seemed to possess.

The real question here is, do you think the Patriots offensive line was performing exceptionally in 2007, suddenly decided to tank in 2008, and then miraculously got their shit together in 2009?

Now, admittedly, using Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as an example of how a quarterback can influence a team's sack rate, can cause people to jump to some weird conclusions.  These guys are clearly rather peculiar players, and their influence over this aspect of the game is a bit unusual.  We're obviously not trying to suggest that all 'elite' (uggh, the "e" word) quarterbacks have this sort of effect on the results of their offensive line.  They don't.  From quarterback to quarterback, the ability to influence a team's sack rate can be wildly different.  For instance, we suspect that Alex Smith kind of makes offensive linemen look terrible, whether in San Francisco or in Kansas City, though that might be a subject for another day..  Without putting each player into a different environment, or having a method of establishing a control group, it's difficult to really pin down the precise degree to which one player influences the outcome of another.

Still, we do know that that this sort of influence from the QB position happens, even if we can't always perfectly measure it.

So, does it seem as if the person playing quarterback might have a fairly stunning influence on the public's perception of how the offensive line is performing?  Does it seem likely that transitioning from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning, was probably the key factor in how the performance of these Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin was perceived by PFF?  It certainly seems that way to us.  It really makes us wonder to what extent we should take PFF's grades for many of these things seriously, when their evaluation of a player seems like it could shift with the wind.  

Context is a bitch.

In this particular case, we were only discussing how an offensive lineman's pass blocking efficiency can be influenced by the person he is protecting.  The context of the situation does appear to matter, and this is something PFF frequently glosses over, or outright ignores.  Unfortunately, this lack of context is an issue that arises at nearly every position one can discuss.

When examining pass rushers, PFF brings out their Pass Rushing Efficiency grades, which are effectively the same thing as the Pass Blocking Efficiency grades, only turned on their head.  It becomes a simple calculation of how often a player was sent after the QB, and what percentage of the time this resulted in a sack (or a hurry).  Now, should a lone pass rusher be evaluated solely on the rate at which he gets to the quarterback, with no consideration given to how his teammates might affect his results?  Maybe a defensive end who gets 8 sacks, on a team that only produced 30 sacks in total, is more impressive than a similar player who produced twelve on a team that had 39 total sacks?  Maybe these two players are effectively the same?  Maybe it's not simply the rate at which sacks are produced by a player, but the degree to which a team's pass rush can come from multiple players, versus one isolated and therefore easily blocked individual? 

Is a wide receiver going to perform better when playing with one of the league's top quarterbacks?  Could having a viable receiving threat on the other side of the field influence a receivers' ability to perform?

Context...context...context.  It always matters, and yet frequently gets ignored by PFF, because it is probably the most difficult part of examining the NFL, and also perhaps the most meaningful question that needs to be solved.  Identifying how and why a player produces results, should get us closer to understanding who is actually contributing the most, rather than who is merely producing numbers.

If Player X performs to the PFF standard one day, they will be graded well.  If Player X perform poorly in the next game out, they will get a poor grade.   If Player X has a bunch of lovely green grades, with positive numbers, will that trend continue when he is placed on another team?  PFF can't/won't say, because their goal clearly isn't to predict the future.  PFF are basically like weathermen, who can only tell you if it rained yesterday.  Of course this approach doesn't really answer our real question, what is the true nature of Player X?  Is he essentially good, or a bum?  

Interestingly, we think PFF has placed themselves in a position where they will never have to admit that they are wrong.  The complex soup of the NFL, and the way teams assemble their rosters, can make pursuing the answers to particular questions very difficult.  That may be where the true genius of PFF really lies.  Rarely, if ever, do I see them say "according the this statistic, we feel that this player is the best at their position".  Instead, they frequently just list players in order, according to their grades in a particular area, and let you come to the conclusion "Hey, this guy must be the best!".  PFF's pretty numbers may nudge you in a particular direction, but you wind up at this conclusion all on your own.

Maybe PFF is misleading.  I don't know, and I'm not sure I would really want to say anything about that.  All I can say is that the degree to which PFF's statistics are being taken for gospel (at least by some people), might be a bit premature, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable.  It's particularly worrisome when I see some fans, reporters and game day announcers, discussing PFF grades without really digging into the subject itself, or questioning what the numbers are based upon.  Don't get me wrong.  PFF does have valuable information buried in their numbers, but people need to really analyze them, and question what the data means, rather than blindly trusting PFF's interpretation of the facts.

There's also a certain utility in these statistics, which can be destructive.  Even when the numbers are possibly flawed, or being applied incorrectly, they can be used to intimidate others, and end debates.  The analysis of what is really going on in football is still so clearly in its infancy, that silencing discussion would seem to be unfortunate, and counterproductive to our real goals. 

I suppose Reilly and I were also motivated to broach this subject because of a recent announcement made by PFF, about how they will be conducting their business in the future. Going forward, it appears PFF will no longer provide access to their raw data (a useful tool to many of us geeks), and instead only deliver their processed and pasteurized grades for players (pretty much worthless).  So, they will continue to provide their analysis of the data, while removing access to the data upon which their judgment is based from the eyes of the public.  As a friend pointed out upon hearing this announcement, they will effectively be charging people for the sort of "Overall Grades" that you find in the Madden video games.  Added context, or second guessing their interpretation of the data, clearly aren't something PFF is interested in.

As they also mention in this announcement, this new (inferior) form of data they will be providing, will be the same as the data that they provide to 19 NFL teams.  If it doesn't worry you that NFL teams could potentially be making decisions based on the grades that PFF has been providing, well, welcome to the new NFL.  Personally, I'm a bit annoyed about where this is all leading.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Jackson Jeffcoat vs. Trent Murphy

This might be a subject that is only interesting to me and Reilly.  That's probably pretty typical of the stuff we write about around here.  Nevertheless, we're really fascinated by the competition that is quietly occurring between Redskins' outside linebackers Jackson Jeffcoat and Trent Murphy.

Part of what draws our attention to this subject goes back to the 2014 NFL Draft.  As always, we plugged each player's available data into the computer, and it gave us our projected draft grades for where we would have been willing to select each of them.  We ended up assigning 3rd round draft grades to both of Murphy and Jeffcoat, and actually found that we had to parse the data a bit more thoroughly to really distinguish one player from the other.

Athletically, they both measured up as remarkably similar players.  They both fell into our category of High Agility Pass Rushers, which is a group that tends to be a bit less likely to achieve stardom, but a group that you still can't ignore completely.  Weird and wonderful outcomes do occasionally show up with these sorts of players.  Perhaps even more interesting, at least for this comparison, this is also a category of pass rushers that Junior Galette also falls into, and he is the player whom they would both be competing to fill in for.  When it came to their statistical production in college, Muprhy and Jeffcoat also fell into somewhat similar categories, once we adjusted the results for college games missed due to injuries.  It still remained a bit difficult to predict who was likely to have a better NFL career.

In the end, we ended up examining their collegiate statistical production even more thoroughly.  We tried to factor in their age, the degree to which their respective teams might be relying on them, and the advantages they might have had when it came to their team playing with a lead.  We also compared these factors to many of the players from the past, who have gone on the become obvious successes in the NFL.  This added approach became something that interested us, and is something we've started to quietly apply to other players, though it's still something we are fiddling with.

We came to the conclusion that if we had to bet on one of these players, we would have to put our money down on Jackson Jeffcoat.  We also started to feel just a tad nervous about the quality of the 3rd round grade we had for Trent Murphy.

Where their paths sadly diverged.

Trent Murphy would go on to be selected in the 2nd round (47th overall pick), by the Washington Redskins, just a bit higher than where the computer suggested that he should be considered.  Jackson Jeffcoat, to many people's surprise, would wind up not being selected at all.

It's still not entirely clear why nobody selected Jeffcoat, as he was generally discussed as a fairly popular prospect.  I don't really recall any discussion of unfortunate 'off the field issues', that often explain these kinds of occurrences.  The only possible explanation I have heard is that Jeffcoat had dealt with some injury issues in college.  The severity and long term impact of these injuries was difficult to judge.  Still, even if that was the issue, we would have expected someone to select him with a late round pick.  It was all a bit of a mystery.

Regardless, after being picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Seahawks, we kept our eye on Jeffcoat, but is was all for nothing.  The team released him after the 2014 preseason, which wasn't encouraging.  Shortly thereafter, the Redskins would pick him up, assigning Jeffcoat to their practice squad.  That's when things became very interesting to us.

Suddenly, we had these two peculiar prospects, whom we had previously directly compared to each other, playing on the same team, and competing at the same position.  It was truly a moment of dork-tastic joy for us.

So, what happened?

Well, not much.

As you would expect, the player whom the Redskins had invested a high draft pick in (Murphy), had a clear advantage, and saw actual playing time much earlier in the 2014 season.  Until week 16, Jeffcoat would only be on the field for 1 single snap.  For week 16 and 17, however, we got to see a very brief glimpse of what Jeffcoat might be capable of doing, if given a chance.

Despite the advantages or disadvantages that each player might have possessed, I though we would put up their statistical production from 2014, including their number of games played/started, as well as their total snaps played.

2014 Season

Player         GP       GS      Snaps   Tackles      Sacks    PDef     Int.      FF
T. Murphy 16 8 595 32 2.5 1 0 2
J. Jeffcoat 3 1 118 5 1 1 1 0

Now, it is admittedly a bit difficult to really compare the performance of these two players based solely on this limited snapshot of their results.  Murphy started 8 times as many games, and was on the field for about 5 times as many snaps as Jeffcoat.  Even attempting to compare a player based solely on their stat sheets is something that would likely just lead to arguments, though I think most of us would agree that we prefer to see players producing measurable results.

I also have no interest in condemning or criticizing Trent Murphy.  That's not our goal here.  Based solely on his statistical production, I would say that Murphy produced respectable/tolerable enough results for a rookie outside linebacker, even if I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that he set the world on fire with his play.

What does interest me, is what happens if we try to extrapolate Jackson Jeffcoat's results over a full 16 game season, and compare this to Trent Murphy"s results.  This would also be a highly questionable thing to do, since the sample size for Jeffcoat in 2014 was very small, and could lead to some extremely debatable conclusions.  Despite all of that, I am intrigued by an undrafted player who can come off the bench, and produce a sack and an interception, even in very limited playing time.  There are generally good reasons to be doubtful about the prospects of most undrafted players, or players who have fallen into a backup role.  Yet when Jeffcoat was finally allowed on the field, he did seem to make his presence known, at least to some extent.

Of course, sacks and interceptions tend to be flashy plays, that frequently have too much emphasis placed on them, especially in the confines of the small sample size we are looking at here.  So, we'll try not to get carried away with our irrational optimism.

Looking towards the 2015 season.

That leads us to what happened in the 2015 NFL preseason, that brief window in which we get to see some of the less talked about players, as they compete to be noticed.  Once again, Reilly and I found ourselves drawn to what might be happening between Murphy and Jeffcoat, and we were encouraged by what we saw.

Let's take a look at the results for each of these two players through 4 preseason games.  This time we'll leave out the games started/played stat, since it is a bit meaningless in the preseason.

2015 Preseason

Player Snaps   Tackles      Sacks    PDef     Int.      FF
T. Murphy    84 3      0    1   0
J. Jeffcoat    89 7      4    1   1

When given an opportunity to play in an almost identical number of snaps, Jeffcoat really made a rather good impression.  The number of high impact plays he was involved in actually strikes me as fairly stunning, particularly since this wasn't just the product of merely one good game.  In every single preseason game, Jeffcoat managed to get to the quarterback for a sack, which we still feel is the primary purpose for this type of outside linebacker.  The additional interception and forced fumble, are just nice added bonuses.

We could also talk about their tackle numbers, though most people don't seem to be interested in the statistical geekery that surrounds that subject.  This is where we get into the discussion of "stops", which relates to where a tackle was made on the field, which determines whether it was a true victory for the defense, as opposed to a more meaningless down the field type of tackle.  Of Jackson's 7 credited tackles, 6 were considered to be stops by PFF, which works out to 85.7%.  In Trent Murphy's 3 credited tackles, PFF only viewed 1 to be a successful stop, which is just 33.3%.

Again, none of this is meant to be a judgment of Murphy.  There's plenty of room to debate how these results come about in preseason games, especially with how these players are rotated onto the field.  The degree to which they faced comparable levels of talent from their opposition, based on this rotation, is hard to say.  We're really just interested in the differences in how these two player's are currently being perceived by the public, and by their own team.

We don't believe in hope.

I suppose the reason we really find this comparison interesting stems from the way we hear people discussing these two players.  Through the preseason, it was largely assumed that Trent Murphy's starting role with the team was secure.  Jackson Jeffcoat, on the other hand, was being mentioned in numerous articles that discussed whether he was "on the bubble", and someone who might not even make the team's roster at all (though he eventually did make the team).  I have to admit that I find this to be incredibly bizarre.  Is there any explanation for this, beyond the favoritism that is shown towards players with a higher draft status?  I really don't know, though I have my suspicions. 

In the limited time that these two players had to demonstrate their skills and potential impact, it would seem to me that one of them (Jeffcoat) made the debate very interesting.  Murphy, on the other hand, seems to be getting a lot of goodwill faith placed in him, despite making a relatively unexceptional impact, at least so far.  I realize that some people will say that what went on in the team's practices probably played just as important a role in how the Redskins viewed these players.  Unfortunately, that sort of falls into the realm of "coaches have an eye for talent", which makes me a tad nervous.  After all, I come from a magical place where people once heralded Kyle Boller as a potential savior.  Basing decisions off of measurable results just makes me more comfortable.  In that area, Jeffcoat is, at the very least, very intriguing.

While I wouldn't consider myself an advocate for making Jeffcoat an immediate starter, based merely off of these relatively small samples, the idea that the team could have potentially cut him in favor of Murphy strikes me as a bit peculiar.  At the very least, you would think rotating both of these players onto the field, until a clear victor emerges might be the sensible thing to do.  I also don't really see it as presenting much real risk to the team.  Still, I sort of doubt that this will happen.  Teams seem to have a strong belief in the hierarchy and value of draft status, and shaking off labels such as 'starter" or 'backup' is only done with much difficulty.  It is unfortunate.

While I can't say that we are optimistic about the possibility of a true, honest and open competition ever occurring between these players, we are curious as to how it will all play out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Was Bored: The Amp & Preamp

I've been feeling very, very bored.  It hasn't helped, that Reilly has been a bit grumpy with me lately, and hasn't seen fit to discuss his thoughts on the steroid fueled sociopaths which normally are the topics of our mindless prattling.  Reilly's silence has left a bit of a void in my life.  So, I thought I would briefly branch off into a different subject that interests me.

Over the years, I've gradually had to accept the idea that most of the subjects that draw my attention are rather tedious, pointless, and perhaps less than ideal for maintaining my mental stability.  My OCD tends to steer me in directions that probably serve no practical or useful purpose, yet I can spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to better understand the subjects that pique my curiosity.  I have an unfortunately large number of these sorts of hobbies, and while they are all superficially quite different, I think they are all united by an underlying need to drive myself crazy.

One of these areas of obsessiveness is the subject of somewhat exotic home stereo equipment.  I think this fascination all started when I was a wee lad, and a friend of mine dragged me around to some of the more bizarre shops in my town, exposing me to the dreaded realm of the audiofools.  It's a strange world, that is heavily driven by outrageous marketing, targeted at fart-sniffing jazz aficionados who think that Citroen makes respectable automobiles.  Almost certainly, 90% of it is pure bullshit, but the remaining 10% can be quite nifty.  Like many of the things that interest me, there are frequent uses of the saying "it is more of an art, than a science", when describing why one piece of equipment was supposedly better than another.  That's an attitude that always irritates me, and probably launched me in a rather questionable direction, trying to better understand how these gadgets actually work.

After building an impractical number of speakers, fiddling with the design of crossovers, and discovering an irrational love of soldering, it seemed like it was time to add some new and unnecessary complications to my life.  I thought I would start mucking about with amplifiers.  In retrospect, this all seems a bit foolish, since I only own one CD, which is just a collection of Hawaiian crooner Don Ho's greatest hits, but sometimes you really need Tiny Bubbles to sound its absolute best.  Yes, this song is constantly playing on repeat at my house.  It is absolute perfection.

For one of my more recent projects, I was really feeling drawn to the idea of building an amplifier that used lateral MOSFETs in the output stage.  Santa Claus probably finds himself perpetually bombarded with children expressing their passion and desire for lateral MOSFET transistors.  They really make an ideal stocking stuffer.  While these output devices have their strengths and weaknesses, I have to admit that my main reason for going in this direction was that the available supply of these types of transistors is gradually becoming more and more difficult to get a hold of, so there was no time like the present to build something that utilized them.  When hospitals stop administering electro-shock therapy, I'll probably be the first in line to experience that too, before the opportunity is gone.  That's just how I operate.

Since Rod Elliott (ESP) offers PCBs for his P101, which is designed around a lateral MOSFET output stage, this simplified things quite a bit.  After fiddling with his design in SPICE, the design of his boards seemed to be capable of providing good results, and appeared to offer the ability to make additional modifications further down the road.  So, another adventure began, to build a simple class AB two channel amplifier.  (Sorry for the quality of the pictures, but photography isn't one of my skills).

Okey-dokey, let's talk about some of the technical nonsense that will probably only interest maybe 3 people (that's probably optimistic).  The power supply in this amp consists of an 800 VA toroidal transformer, with 40 volt AC secondaries.  This gets fed through dual rectifiers, followed by a capacitor bank that has 27,200 μF of capacitance per rail, after which it is putting out about 57 volts +/- DC.  Some people like to get excited about truly obscene amounts of capacitance in their power supplies, but I haven't been convinced of the benefits of this so far, and feel the amount of capacitance here is already more than adequate.  It's biased to about 30 mA, though I occasionally screw with this for no apparent reason.  The DC offset on each channel is about 4-8 mV.

As things currently stand, it should be putting out about 130 watts/channel into an 8 ohm speaker, with a fair bit more available into 4 ohm speakers, somewhat depending on the amp's ability to remain cool.  So far, overheating has never been an issue, and it has only gotten slightly warm even after a fair bit of abuse.  That amount of wattage may not sound like much after browsing the aisles at Best Buy, but I can comfortably say that the typical Marantz, Sony, Denon or Yamaha receiver that claims to put out 100 watts per channel is in fact probably only putting out about 1/3 to 1/2 of their claimed power in reality.  Plus, this amp has the advantage of being heavy enough to be used as a rather deadly projectile, if that is ever required.

Actually, if we are going to talk about overkill, the transformer in this amp is way more powerful than is really necessary.  The only reason why I did this is because I plan to eventually add more output transistors, for more current carrying capability.  At this point, there are four Exicon lateral MOSFETS per channel. but I'm contemplating doubling that in the near future.  It won't have a significant effect on total output power into 8 ohms, but it will increase the amps ability to deal with extremely low impedance speakers, not that it currently has run into any problems in this area.  These plans for possible, and largely unnecessary upgrades, are also why the heat sinks are a bit larger than they probably need to be.  Because of the size of this transformer, the amplifier also requires a soft start circuit (also from ESP), which is powered by a separate 10 VA transformer which is tucked away in the corner, in order to avoid tripping the circuit breaker in the basement.  There is also a separate circuit for protecting the speakers from any accidental 'Oopsies!', that is mounted on the rear wall of the case.

While there is a passive volume control built into the amp (which was ripped out of an old Marantz receiver which I brilliantly blew up while doing some tinkering), this can be bypassed by a couple of toggle switches (because toggle switches are cool!).  This allows me to have the option of controlling the amp with a separate preamp, which leads us to....

There really isn't much to say about the preamp.  It's an extremely simple P-88 (again, a design of Mr. Elliott's), that revolves around two Texas Instruments OPA2134 op-amps, with DIP switches to adjust the level of gain that the devices produce.  The preamp will also adjust balance, and switch between 4 different pairs of RCA inputs, though I put these in with the intention that they can be reassigned for other purposes later down the road.

The power supply is a simple 30 VA transformer, with 9,400 μF per rail, and held to a steady 15 volts DC +/- by LM317/337 voltage regulators (mounted on adorably tiny heat sinks).  Again, it's very simple, while simultaneously being significantly more than is required in almost every conceivable way.  While there's a fair bit of space left inside of the case, some of that should eventually get filed with additional pointless gadgetry, most likely a tuner.  Yes, I set this space aside for future bouts of boredom.

The volume control is a 10k logarithmic dual gang potentiometer made by PEC.  Most people will say that dual gang logarithmic pots can be troublesome, because of potential matching errors between the two channels.  I can't really disagree with this, because it did have some annoying irregularities when I first tested it.  Still, after a fair bit of tinkering, I managed to get the output of the left and right channel matched to within 3%, which is about as good as I think I could realistically hope for, at least without building a stepped attenuator.

With both the amplifier and the preamplifer, the main body of their cases are made of ipe wood, which was left over from work on my father's deck.  If you have never worked with this type of wood, it is just about one of the hardest woods you are likely to encounter, and is nearly indestructible.  One of the advantages of this is that I didn't need to seal the wood in any way, in order to protect it.  Compared to the amp, I probably gave slightly more thought to the woodworking in the preamp, and joined that together with 3/32" finger joints.  Honestly, the cases took significantly more time to construct than the actual electronics, even without any serious attempt at making them particularly attractive (though I do like their appearance).  Some of the other odds and ends, such as the knobs, were made from random bits of oak, walnut, or cherry.  If a random bit of wood was lying around from an old project, I tossed it in there.

The lids for both cases were made of 0.220" thick polycarbonate sheets, primarily because I thought it would be a shame to hide the guts away from view.  While drilling the holes in this, in order to provide some ventilation, I quickly discovered what an exciting material this really is, particularly when it explodes, sending dense pieces of high velocity shrapnel flying in unpredictable directions.  You live and learn...hopefully.

I can also say that my local community contributed something to these projects, even if they are currently unaware of having done so....

Yes, the aluminum sheeting used for the base in the amp and preamp came from a nearby roadwork sign that read "Speed Hump Ahead".  I ran across it one night while walking Reilly, and thought that the thickness of the metal was perfectly suited for the project, promptly liberated it, and cut it down into smaller pieces.  So, some of your tax dollars may have gone into something that actually works, which I think is probably a more positive outcome than you can normally expect.

Was it all worth the effort?  Hmm, that's a bit debatable.  None of this is a particularly sensible way to spend your time when you really think about it.  On the other hand, these sorts of projects tend to be surprisingly inexpensive, and the real cost tends to come in the number of hours you spend trapped in your basement/torture chamber.  Since I tend to spend a lot of time down there anyway, that wasn't a huge inconvenience.

How well do they perform?  I'd say that I am quite happy with them, not that this will stop me from tampering with them in the future.  The preamp performs flawlessly, though that's not surprising since it's job isn't terribly challenging.  As for the amp, it reminds me somewhat of my old Hafler DH-200 (which I also blew up in the past year, through an act of s̶t̶u̶p̶i̶d̶i̶t̶y̶  bold exploration, and then had to rebuild).  The new amp is more powerful than the Hafler, perhaps a bit cleaner sounding, and maybe has a few more bells and whistles, but I wouldn't say that the differences are particularly shocking.  I guess, in the end, I don't really subscribe to the idea that amplifiers are capable of performing magical feats of wonder, though I do think some speakers do benefit from certain types of amps.  They're simply devices for providing increased levels of voltage and current, hopefully without introducing noise (they aren't made with unicorn blood).  This amplifier does that rather well.

At this point, one of the next projects is probably going to be to throw together another two channel amp based on the Texas Instruments LM4780.  That should end up putting out about 120 watts/channel into a 4 ohm speaker, and about half of that into an 8 ohm speaker.  That would be quite a bit less power than my other amps, but still perfectly reasonable for most purposes.  I'm not sure why I would need to construct this, but I suppose I've interpreted my current failure to electrocute myself as a sign from above that I need to try harder.

While I'd say that these kinds of projects can probably outperform much of the equipment that can be found on store shelves, the extent to which that would matter to most people is probably miniscule.  Still, as hobbies go, it's not a bad way to distract yourself.  If there is a real benefit to doing these sorts of things, it probably lies in one of two areas.  For one, if my house is ever burglarized, none of my electronics will probably be deemed to be worth stealing.  Secondly, there is a reasonable possibility that something I constructed could live on after I have died, and eventually burn down some stranger's home, which is a thought that I find oddly amusing.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The 2015 Ozzie Newsome Challenge

Because of some annoying distractions at home, and the unpleasant realities of everyday life, Reilly and I have been a bit slow updating the bloooooog after the draft.  I also have to admit that this year's draft struck us as one of the most boring ones in recent memory, which somewhat diminished our enthusiasm.  There just weren't many prospects, or much wildly unexpected bits of drama, that caused us to feel overly excited this year.  All of this combined to make us want to spend the past couple weeks taking a long nap.

Still, it is time to post the results from this year's Ozzie Newsome Challenge, just like we have done in the past.  This is where we set ourselves up for failure and ridicule, and reveal the degree to which Reilly and I might actually be idiots.  I have to admit that I have rather strong doubts about whether our picks for this year will produce the sort of immediate results that Ozzie's early selections will probably offer.  This year's crop of Kangaroos might just require a little more patience.  This also might have been a good year to switch the title of this post to the Doug Whaley Challenge, or perhaps the David Gettleman Challenge.  Regardless, with a little luck, I suspect our players will end up performing rather well, if they are given an opportunity, though some of the teams our players landed with were possibly less than ideal.

Reilly and I are feeling slightly intimidated by the selections that the Ravens made with their first 3 picks.  The path to early playing time is much clearer for some of Ozzie's early selections, which should give him a bit of an advantage.  While we have some concerns about these prospects individually, what they might offer in combination could be more interesting than the sum of their parts.  We can't be too critical of the Breshad Perriman pick, because the computer did think he presented a reasonable likelihood of becoming at least an average wide receiver.  While we still think he has some potentially significant flaws which would have worried us, as an immediate drop in replacement for the departed Torrey Smith he should do fine.  The Ravens' use of the Pass Interference Offense seems likely to continue.  Whether Perriman will end up justifying his selection in the 1st round, and whether he will become the sort of receiver that makes the team want to commit to him when it is time for a 2nd contract, is a very different question. 

With Maxx Williams, we had very different concerns.  Athletically he was a very average/unimpressive prospect, which isn't something we generally like to bet on.  On the other hand, his production in college was reasonably impressive, and he does appear to possess some reliable hands.  In the end though, he just didn't check off enough boxes to make us feel incredibly confident of an exceptional outcome.  We do think Williams should benefit from the Ravens sending Perriman deep, leaving a fairly wide open area underneath, where he should be able to produce respectable results, even if we wouldn't bet on him being spectacular.  Our main gripe with Williams related to the question of whether he was likely to outperform some of the TEs that could have been acquired in free agency, as well as the question of how high of a ceiling he might possess.  When we looked at tight end production in 2014 (adjusting the data a bit to account for missed games), the average starting tight end produced about  586 receiving yards and 4.4 TDs.  Even the rather affordable former Ravens' tight end, Owen Daniels, was on pace for 562 yards and 4.2 TDs, if we adjust things for the one game he missed.  In 2005, only 9 tight ends appeared to reach or surpass that yardage mark, while in 2014 there could have been as many as 16 (again, when adjusted for missed games).  It seems to be easier than ever for players at this position to put up seemingly impressive numbers.  Unfortunately, I think this all sort of devalues what would have been seen as a rather good year for a tight end a decade ago, and raises the standards for what we should expect from such a relatively high pick like Maxx Williams.  So, yes, we wouldn't be shocked if Williams is productive, but will he be exceptional, or able to justify a 2nd round pick?  It seems debatable, though we certainly wouldn't expect him to become a bust.

The interesting thing with these first two picks, is that it largely tosses the Ravens' repeated claims of taking the 'best player available' into the garbage bin, though these sorts of claims are almost always nonsense.  These were clearly selections based on need.

Then we come to the selection of Carl Davis, whom we also selected for Team Kangaroo.  When we were discussing defensive tackles, we said that if he fell to the 3rd round we would probably be interested in selecting him, though we were somewhat surprised that it actually worked out this way.  We think the Ravens probably made a rather solid pick here.  Unfortunately, from the 4th round onwards, the rest of the team's selections struck us as highly questionable, except for some minor interest we might have in Javorius Allen.  The rest of their late round picks seem destined to become forgettable bozos, though most people don't seem to care about squandering late round selections as much as we probably do.  With almost all of these late round picks there was no clear argument for why the team would have desired these players at all.  If given a chance to compete, I'd probably have to bet on their undrafted free agent acquisition DeAndre Carter to outperform all of the Ravens' picks from the 4th round or later, though the obstacles to this outcome are significant. because of biases related to draft status.

If we were only concerned with making this a silly game of one-upping the Ravens, we could have simply chosen to mirror their selections for the first 3 rounds.  It would have pretty much eliminated the bulk of the risk for us, as those were the only picks they made that the computer felt had a reasonable chance of performing to a respectable level.  That tactic struck us as a bit boring and cowardly.  It also would have reduced the fun of presenting more of an entertaining 'What if....." scenario, even if this increased our chances of looking stupid.  Maybe things will work out for us, or maybe they won't.  Like I said, I do expect the Ravens have a reasonably good shot at getting some immediate results from some of their top picks.  So, perhaps this year we should set our sights on hopefully just doing better than some of the other NFL teams.  It shouldn't be that hard, since there were certainly some very questionable decisions being made in this year's draft.

Now, on to our results for this year.

Team Kangaroo Team Ozzie
Round 1

Pick #26 Jake Fisher, OT Breshad Perriman, WR

Round 2

Pick #55 We Don't Trade Up Maxx Williams, TE

Pick #58 Trey Flowers, DE Ravens Traded Up

Round 3

Pick #90 Carl Davis, DT Carl Davis, DT

Round 4

Pick#122 Tre McBride, WR Za'Darius Smith, DE

Pick #125 Mark Glowinski, OG Javorius Allen, RB

Pick #136 Cedric Thompson, FS/SS Tray Walker, CB

Round 5

Pick #158 Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT Ravens Traded Up

Pick #171 Darryl Roberts, CB Nick Boyle, TE

Pick #176 Quayshawne Buckley, DT Robert Myers, OG

Round 6
Pick #204 Austin Reiter, C Darren Waller, WR

The computer felt that this year's crop of defensive tackles and offensive linemen was rather interesting, so we sort of loaded up on these positions.  We still think Jake Fisher has a rather strong likelihood of eventually outperforming several of the offensive tackles that were chosen ahead of him, including Cedric Ogbuehi who was also chosen by the Bengals with their 1st round pick, but we might need to wait a bit before we see him get an opportunity to play.  Rakeem Nunez-Roches was a defensive tackle that we liked a fair bit, though landing in Kansas City's 3-4 defense was a bit of an unfortunate surprise.  We really thought he was destined for a team that used a 4-3.  Regardless, it was actually Quayshawne Buckley who was one of our favorite defensive tackle prospects, though he went undrafted before being picked up by the Buccaneers.  It will be very interesting to see whether he can overcome the challenges that this presents, but we think he should do well if given a chance.

Really, we have rather humble expectations for most of our higher draft picks.  Trey Flowers isn't really someone we expect to become a star.  We just view him as a solid run stopping defensive end.  Basically, we think he is probably a much better version of what the Ravens think they have in the underwhelming Courtney Upshaw.  Flowers' selection was more a product of our lack of interest in the other prospects who were projected to be selected in that portion of that draft, rather than a sign of our outrageous enthusiasm for him.  That he would actually fall to the beginning of the 4th round is probably fairly appropriate, and something we discussed as a more reasonable area of the draft in which to select someone with his skill set.  So, yes, this pick will be viewed as a a bit of a reach, but we don't really care too much about that.

It's really with our selections from the 4th round onwards, that we had the most fun.  Buried in this odd pile of late round prospects, are the players we actually probably enjoyed the most.  Obviously, the odds of success in that portion of the draft are rather long.  The role that draft status has on a player's ability to get on the field is huge, and generally dwarfs any consideration of actual ability.  Despite that, if someone we chose is going to emerge as a star, we suspect they might come from this oddball group. Whether a player gets an opportunity to compete can be tough to predict, so we just have to hope for the best.

If there is one peculiar regret we had this year, it wasn't with the occasional reaches we made with our selections.  That sort of thing is inevitable, since we never really can tell where players will be selected.  No, the issue that still stings a bit was that we missed the opportunity to select cornerback Craig Mager.  There were only a small handful of corners we really desired in this year's draft class, and Mager was one that we were very interested in acquiring.  We seriously considered selecting Byron Jones or Eric Rowe in the 1st round, but at the end of the day we generally just don't place that much value on defensive backs.  So, we had been planning to grab Mager in the 3rd or 4th round, where many people projected he would still be available.  That the Chargers chose him before our selection in the 3rd round really caught us off guard, and somewhat screwed with our overall strategy for the draft.  It's hard to say whether he will become a quality player or not, but we like the potential value and upside he would have presented as a mid-round pick.

We also chose to pass on selecting Jake Waters, though we still think he is a rather interesting QB prospect.  It wasn't because of a lack of interest that we didn't select him, but more a lack of confidence in the idea that any other team would choose him, or give him an opportunity.  So, as things turned out, Team Kangaroo could have theoretically picked him up for free as an UDFA.  While we still doubt he will be given a real opportunity to compete, his signing by the Jaguars does put him into a position where his competition is highly questionable.  Honestly though, if we were going to actually select a QB in this draft, it would have been difficult to pass on the more conventionally acceptable Brett Hundley, who slid all the way to the 5th round.  At that price, his upside significantly outweighs his risks, and it remains a bit of a mystery why he was allowed to fall that far.

Since we feel a bit more pessimistic about this year's crop of players (even beyond our own selections), and have no control over how they are utilized or the opportunities they will be given, we're feeling much more inclined to cross our fingers and pray for some positive outcomes.  Despite that, we wanted to carry over last year's idea of having a theme song for this draft, and we think we've found just the right tune to capture our sense of confidence.

Oh well, I guess all we can do now is sit back and see what happens.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Year Two: Wahnsinn Und Blödheit

Well, we seem to have made it through another year, and the bloooog's anniversary has magically landed on the most holy of holy days.  Last year, we listed some of the search queries that had brought people into our dark corner of the internet, and I thought we would continue the tradition.  Here are some of my personal favorites from this past year.

1. midget kangaroo
2. spandex guys
3. chub chasers
4. chubby chasers 2
5. What is a petard?
6. women chubby chasers (there is definitely a theme emerging here)
7. mindless meditation
8. drunk giraffe picture
9. miniature wife
10. 8.75 x 40  (how mysterious!)

Hmm, you people really are fascinating.  I suppose this is an improvement over last year's collection of search queries where people were seeking information on dead prostitutes.  Still, there is a continuing not so subtle sexual theme to many of your searches, but at least the girls your are seeking now appear to be alive...and possibly very well fed.  Really, I am shocked and horrified that people would use the internet for such deviant purposes.

We're probably going to be fairly busy for the next couple days, but I sort of feel like I should be making a speech, or at least make some sort of mildly amusing statement on this grand occasion.  Unfortunately, I am already deeply into the alcohol and cookies regimen that will sustain me for the next 72 hours.  It may sound unhealthy, but I can assure you it is the diet of champions.  This sort of binging inevitably results in a kind of zen like state that improves our powers of draft prognostication, or at the very least will provide an excuse for some of our more stupid decisions.  It might sound like an unhealthy way to live, but it is really the only way to make it through the 3 day coma that is the NFL Draft.  3 DAYS OF SLOTH!  3 DAYS OF SLOTH!  3 DAYS OF SLOTH!  I can't see how this won't provide NFL GMs some slight advantage in our upcoming battle.

Still, there is one thing I would like request, as a sort of birthday gift.  While I know our circle of readers is extremely small (I prefer to think of you as elite), I still wonder who some of you are.  In particular, I have always wondered who one regular visitor is, that Google informs me comes from Abu Dhabi.  It's not that the rest of you aren't interesting as well, but come on, Abu Dhabi?  There has to be a story to this guy.  Either way, it would be interesting to hear who some of you bozos are, and how your life went so terribly wrong that you wound up here.  Of course, if you prefer to remain anonymous and are concerned that a visit to the comment section might reveal that you are indeed a chubby chaser, I would completely understand.  Just realize that this is a safe place, and we won't pass any judgements about you...unless you are the guy searching for drunk giraffe pictures.  That's just weird.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More Last Minute Thoughts

I have to admit that I am impressed with the degree to which our local citizenry is showing excitement over the upcoming NFL Draft.  Wait a second...there's a riot going on?  Hmm, I might be losing touch with what is going on in the rest of the world.

Constant Doubts And Reshuffling Of the Board

During the past two seasons, when we have posted our Little Big Board, we've mentioned how we are constantly reshuffling how we rank these players, right up until the last second.  Doubts and paranoia creep into our empty heads, and eat at our brains like a worm in an apple.  This year in particular, we have some nagging concerns.

We're not really that worried about who we will select in the 1st round.  Finding an acceptable player here should be pretty simple.  We're also not very worried about rounds 4 through 7.  There are enough appealing oddballs in this class, so we should be able to grab a handful of players we like during that portion of the draft.  The area that is causing us some annoyance, is in the 2nd and 3rd round area.  We're not feeling too excited about our likely options here.

This has led to a fair bit of squabbling between me and Reilly.  I've been leaning towards taking a more conservative approach to this area of the draft.  Basically, we could take a couple reasonably solid prospects, even if they don't really excite us.  We could aim for someone like Trey Flowers, who we don't expect will become a star, but should be fairly solid.  There are quite a few players we could look at as similar, somewhat less stellar options.  Or, maybe one of the players we really like will slip in the draft, allowing us to get someone we really want at a nicely discounted price.

Reilly, on the other hand, has been arguing in favor of taking a much more aggressive approach in these two rounds.  He wants to say "screw it" to the conventional wisdom, and just reach for some of the players we actually desire, even if they are generally projected to be available later in the draft.  He would have us bump up some of the players we listed as targets for later rounds, by about a round, in order to give us some 2nd and 3rd round options we would find more satisfying.

I have to admit that I'm starting to agree with him, though I might want to wait and see how things look after the 1st round before committing to this.  Would we be willing to select someone like Tre McBride in the 2nd round?  Maybe.  We certainly think he is an interesting player, though the possibility of getting him in the 3rd round is obviously more appealing.  Would we be willing to take someone like Craig Mager or Mark Glowinski in the 3rd, even though most people would probably view this as a bit of a reach?  Hmm, yes, that probably wouldn't bother us as much as you might think.  At the end of the day, we just like some of the prospects who we have rated for selection in later rounds, quite a bit more than some of the players we have listed for selection in the front half of the draft.  Still, I really feel like trying to try to wait it out, and let our prospects fall to us, rather than chasing them.

I also can't deny that dealing with Reilly's wrath, if I oppose him, has got me feeling quite terrified.  So, I might crumble under the pressure of his constant badgering. We'll see what happens.

My Opponent

The more you look at the information that is available, the more it appears that the Ravens are going to target a running back and a cornerback, with some fairly high draft picks.  The team has been interviewing a lot of the top prospects at these two positions, and that probably says a lot about what their intentions might be.

I wouldn't criticize them for making a move at the cornerback position, depending on who they actually select.  They need some more depth at that position, and there are some very interesting prospects in this year's class.

On the other hand, I just don't get what the point would be in selecting a running back.  Yes, the likelihood that a highly drafted running back can produce immediate and obvious results is undeniable.  They do tend to produce numbers.  Still, I lean towards the idea that even a mediocre offensive or defensive lineman is probably a rarer and more valuable asset than an above average running back.  A running back would probably produce the sort of superficial results that would make it appear to be a successful draft pick, but it would strike us as a weak move.  I just think they should aim for rarer commodities, rather than addressing a position where you can probably manufacture similar rushing results by other means.

I also kind of wonder if the Ravens might be considering the possibility of trading up, though I'm not sure if I would support that idea either.  If the 2nd and 3rd rounds are going to be the minefield of fairly mediocre talent that I previously stated that we expect them to be, maybe the Ravens would be willing to part with the picks they have in this part of the draft.  If they traded away their 2nd round pick, they could theoretically move their 1st round pick up to somewhere around the 16th pick.  I don't really like that option, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did this.  If they did this, I suspect it would be part of an attempt to target a wide receiver.  A more interesting option might be trading away their 3rd round pick, to raise their 2nd round pick to something in the area of 44th selection.  Considering how many draft picks the team has this year, I would almost bet on them doing something like this.

More Dead Hookers In The Trunk

I saw that James Todd made some brief mention of this already, but I wanted to add some of my own hopes and prayers.  Has anybody been paying anybody been paying attention to the Chiefs wide receivers?  Outside of the recent Jeremy Maclin signing, there really isn't much standing between Da'Rick Rogers and potential stardom, other than his own personality defects (a seemingly insurmountable obstacle).  Are we really supposed to take Jason Avant, Junior Hemingway, or Armon Binns seriously?  I think not.  Yes, they have Albert Wilson, and he is a player we have some respect for based on last year's list of receivers that the computer found interesting, but we still wouldn't say that his ceiling is probably that high.

Reiily and I are having a hard time letting go of our love for Rogers, though we have to admit that the NFL keeps kicking us in the teeth over this one.  We get it, he might be an asshole.  Is that really such a big deal?  Aren't most of these guys morons?  At least Da'Rick appears to have some real talent, so we'd really like to see the Chiefs get through the draft without selecting a serious challenger to Da'Rick's possible ascendance.  Whatever his issues may be, we still think he's probably a better player than at least 90% of this year's wide receiver prospects.

Yeah, I don't really expect to ever hear from Rogers again, but I can hope.

I'm probably mentally imbalanced.

Our interest in what the Chiefs will do, seems to have several peculiar angles.

It's probably a bad sign that almost nothing fascinated me more during free agency than seeing Rodney Hudson signed by the Raiders.  While his 5 year, $44.5 million deal was a bit astounding, that didn't matter much to me.  Honestly, I have serious doubts about whether Hudson is a particularly good center, but if teams want to spend their money this way, that's not going to impact my life.  No, Reilly and I don't particularly care about Hudson very much, one way or another.

The only reason this matters to us, is that it suddenly opens up a path for Eric Kush to become the starting center for the Kansas City Chiefs.  That interests us very much, because we've been waiting for this day for the past couple years, and genuinely think he could turn out to be a special player.  That really has to be a sign of sickness, when you are obsessively watching the career of another team's backup center, who was drafted in the 6th round.  That's just how we roll, and I doubt there is a medication designed for this particular sort of disorder.

Now, we're stuck waiting for the outcome of the draft, hoping that the Chiefs won't select any centers (or wide receivers).  We particularly don't want them to select a center with a pick in the first couple of rounds, because a player with that sort of draft status could easily doom Kush's chances of getting the opportunity we so desperately want him to receive.  As we've probably said a million times, draft status probably matters just as much as actual ability, and Kush probably only has the latter of these two attributes.  Actually, we'd probably say that draft status might matter more than ability.  So, while you are all praying for your teams to strike gold in the 1st round, say a little prayer for this weird center prospect.  Otherwise, I'm going to have to spend the next year complaining about some center that nobody appears to care about.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The 2015 Little Big Board

Well, we're down to the last week before the 2015 NFL Draft, so that means we are busy preparing for our annual game of delusional egomania, the Ozzie Newsome Challenge.  For this year's Little Big Board, we've narrowed down our preferred draft targets to 56 prospects, which is coincidentally the same number that we had last year.  It's just like before, only different.

The hardest part of this annual process, is the challenge of coming to some sort of agreement with Reilly over who we should include in the final list.  In the end, Reilly probably wins in most of our arguments over which prospects to consider, but we do tend reach a common ground fairly frequently.  It's almost as if we have developed some sort of mind meld, making it very difficult to tell us apart from one another.

We're sort of like a very poor man's Voltron.

We're never really satisfied with any list we end up making, and keep wanting to rearrange things.  As we have done in the past, we've left out some prospects we might be interested in, simply because we felt it was incredibly unlikely that they would fall to a point in the draft that we would be comfortable/capable of selecting them.  We also end up having to include a fair number of 'filler' players, who we might not really want, simply because we want to have some fallback options.  Regardless, this is where we are at for now, though we'll undoubtedly change our minds in the next five minutes.

1st Round
Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon*
Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA* 
Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut* 
Eric Rowe, CB, Utah* 
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Cameron Erving, OT/OG/C, Florida

2nd Round
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest  
Preston Smith DE, Mississippi St.
Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson
Ali Marpet, OG, Hobart
Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
Xavier Cooper, DT, Memphis 
T.J. Clemmings, OT/OG, Pittsburgh

3rd Round
Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary*  
Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Carl Davis, DT/NT, Iowa
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT, Southern Miss.*
Henry Anderson, DT/DE, Stanford 
Adrian Amos, FS, Penn State

4th Round
Mark Glowinski, OG, West Virginia*  
Mitch Morse, OG/C, Missouri 
Ben Heeney, ILB, Kansas 
Craig Mager, CB, Texas State* 
Cedric Thompson, SS/FS, Minnesota*  
Darryl Roberts, CB, Marshall 
Quayshawne Buckley, DT, Idaho*
Clayton Geathers, SS, UCF
Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State
Ibraheim Campbell, SS, Northwestern
Alex Carter, CB/S, Stanford

5th Round
Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
Austin Reiter, C, USF* 
Bobby McCain, CB, Memphis 
Justin Coleman, CB, Tennessee
Kyle Emanuel, DE/OLB North Dakota State
Corey Grant, RB, Auburn
Shaq Riddick, DE/OLB, West Virginia
Davis Tull, DE/OLB, Chattanooga
Casey Pierce, TE, Kent State

6th Round
DeAndre Carter, WR, Sacremento St.* 
Geremy Davis, WR, Connecticut 
Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State* 
Brian Suite, FS, Utah St.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
Louis Trinca-Pasat, DT, Iowa
Jarvis Harrison, OG, Texas A&M 
Terrell Watson, RB, Azusa Pacific

7th Round
Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia 
Brian Parker, TE, Albany
Micheal Liedtke, OG, Illinois State
Ryan Murphy, SS, Oregon State
Brian Mihalik, DT/OT, Boston College
Kristjan Sokoli, DT, Buffalo
Laurence Gibson, OT, Virginia Tech
Frank Clark, DE/OLB, Michigan
Cameron Ontko, LB/SS, Cal Poly

We actually had a fairly difficult time cobbling together our shopping list for this year.  Part of the problem was that we don't think this year's crop of players is really that exceptional, which makes it difficult to feel comfortable with using a high draft pick on many of the prospects.  As we roll through the upcoming week, we'll probably reshuffle this list a fair bit, and maybe add some new names, but for now we're just trying to make up our mind as to how we would use up our 10 draft picks. 

Since we have to weigh our own opinions against the general perception of where players are likely to be selected, this forces us to elevate many prospects higher than where we feel they probably deserve to be selected.  This is a very tricky problem.  On the one hand, we don't have a problem with the idea that the hive mind is probably a fairly accurate predictor of where players will be chosen.  It tends to be reasonably accurate from year to year, particularly in the first few rounds.  Perhaps even more important than selecting a player based on their abilities, we are really forced to take the 'popularity contest' aspect of the draft into consideration.  So, when we are picking, we aren't necessarily trying to choose the best player, as much as we are trying to choose the best player who we think won't be available at our next pick.  That's a very different sort of problem to solve, and it causes us a great deal of annoyance.

After all, when most people are projecting that Florida State defensive tackle, Eddie Goldman, is going to be a 1st round pick, this creates some confusion for us.  We don't think he's the least bit interesting, but we sort of have to embrace the lunacy that suggests he is highly regarded, though we wouldn't take him even if he fell to the 7th round.  Honestly, we think here is likely to be a much higher bust rate this year among the players projected to be taken in the first two rounds, at least relative to an average draft.  So, is the public's perception of the draft off the mark this year?  Or, are teams really going to be taking a lot of potentially foolish gambles?  It's hard to say, but we have to approach this as if a lot of madness is going to unfold, and adjust our rankings accordingly.

The plan, so far, is to play things a bit safe in the first 3 rounds.  Then, from the 4th round on, we're probably going to start pursuing a lot of prospects who frequently aren't even projected to be drafted.  It will be interesting to see how this works out.  Either way, it all start with the 1st round, so here are some of the options we are currently considering.

The Boring And Conservative Pick, Jake Fisher
Among the players who will likely be available at the 26th pick, Jake Fisher is probably one of the safest possible choices.  The odds that he won't become at least an adequate right tackle seem fairly slim.  In fact, we suspect he will probably end up becoming a better player than half of the people who will be selected before him, assuming that the general projections of where his peers will be picked is correct.

The problem is that we are simply getting tired of choosing offensive linemen, and it just isn't a pressing need for Team Kangaroo.  We would really prefer to aim for a different position, to help round out our roster, even if it means taking a bit more of a risk.  In the end, however, we might be forced to select Fisher, simply because the odds are so strongly in his favor, relative to the other prospects who will be available when it is our turn to pick.  It would be a boring pick, but slow and steady wins the race.

Another Cowardly Option, Eric Kendricks
Taking an inside linebacker probably wouldn't sell a lot of tickets for Team Kangaroo, but this is a pick that wouldn't make us the least bit uncomfortable.  Yes, non-pass rushing linebackers aren't a terribly valuable commodity.  Yes, Kendricks is sometimes criticized for being a slightly smaller prospect than some of his peers.  Yes, finding a linebacker isn't a huge pressing concern for our imaginary roster.  Despite all of that, we still like him quite a bit compared to the other prospects who might be available to us at the 26th pick, and think he has a pretty good chance of becoming the best linebacker in this draft class.  Choosing Kendricks might not be exciting, but he doesn't strike us as a player that would keep us up at night feeling regret over his selection.

The Gamble On Potential, Byron Jones & Eric Rowe
Depending on what the Ravens choose to do, and how foolish their selection ends up being, we might be willing to do something that the computer feels is a bit riskier by choosing Jones or Rowe.  We have very mixed feelings about this option.

In the end, we still don't think either of these players deserve to be selected before the late 2nd or maybe 3rd round.  Reilly and I view them both as potentially better gambles than last year's Phillip Gaines (who we also liked), who was selected in the beginning of the 3rd round, but there is still a limit on how highly we would value them.  Like Gaines, Jones and Rowe are mostly interesting because of their physical potential, with some lingering concerns about their experience and the quality of the opponents they faced.  We also don't generally place as much value on cornerbacks as many people do, and feel this is a bit of an overrated position.

Despite all of that, this is a position that we are going to have to address at some point, and the market seems to be shifting to where we feel it is increasingly unlikely that either of these players will be available at our 2nd pick.  So, we might need to reach a bit.  We also can't deny that the history of how teams give starting opportunities to cornerbacks plays a role in this possible decision.  If a corner isn't selected in the first 2 rounds, it can become quite a bit more unlikely that a team will demonstrate much faith in them, or give them a real opportunity.  It's very frustrating.

The drawback to being cautious, and passing on both of them, is that there probably won't be any other cornerbacks available who have nearly the same upside.  With both of these players, it is all about potential, of which they have an abundance.  They both possess an ideal combination of size, speed, power, agility and explosiveness that puts them in an excellent position to succeed.  When it comes to making a play on the ball, we think Jones has the edge.  We think Rowe is probably the better tackler, and of the two of them has a better shot at moving to safety, if playing at corner doesn't work out.  While we're not thrilled with the way these players' draft projections are being pushed higher and higher, we'd probably be willing to take a shot on them at the end of the 1st round, if the Ravens themselves do something that we feel is overly risky.

Late Round Madness
While we feel a fair bit of pessimism about many of the players who are projected to be high draft picks this year, we wouldn't say that this is a bad draft class.  We just think it is maybe a bit average.  Overall, we're not thrilled with the fact that this is the year in which we have 10 draft picks to spend, though we do think there are a fair number of interesting mid-to-late round picks that are potentially as interesting as some of the higher selections.  This is where we could start to behave very recklessly.

The tricky thing here is that some of the players we find to be the most interesting, might not get drafted at all.  That's a huge concern for us.  Should we use our late round picks on players that we expect will get drafted, even if we don't feel as strongly about them?  There is a good argument for this, since those sorts of players are more likely to get an opportunity, even if they will eventually fizzle and disappear.  Or, should we aim for the players that the computer believes have legitimate ability and upside, even if it doesn't appear that they are likely to get as much of a chance to play?  Right now, we are kind of leaning towards the second option, even though we realize that this could severely hurt our chances of success.  We would just have to hope that the players' talents eventually shine through and get them noticed in training camp.

Take Quayshawne Buckley, for example.  Most sites rank him as a player who is unlikely to be selected before the end of the draft, if he even gets selected at all.  While there are some aspects to Buckley that worry us, the computer still thinks he is potentially one of the 5 most interesting defensive tackle prospects in this year's class, and is conceivably worth a 3rd or 4th round pick.  If we chose him that high in the draft, it would probably be viewed as a massive reach, and a waste of draft capital.  At the same time, if he is even half the player we think he could be, it would seem foolish to ignore the possibility that some other team isn't giving him greater consideration than many people might suspect.  Should we just trust what the data suggests, and make the pick?  Or should we count on the possibility that teams could be overlooking him?  While we will try to resist the urge to do something stupid here, we can't make any promises.

Jake Waters and Austin Reiter are some other players that fall into a similar position.  Most people don't seem to expect them to get drafted at all.  The computer thinks they are probably among the five most interesting prospects at their respective positions. Should we select them, or should we simply aim for a player for whom we suspect NFL teams currently have a high opinion?  While I might think that players such as Bryce Petty and Reese Dismukes, who play the same positions as these less talked about prospects, will have a much greater likelihood of getting an opportunity, I don't really have any confidence that they won't be disappointments in the long run.  In the end, I suspect we are going to spend a lot of our draft picks on players that don't make much sense to many people.  That's why we are very fortunate that so few people actually read anything that we write.  The possibility for embarrassment and criticism is greatly reduced by our insignificance.

That's where things stand for now.  Anybody who wants to make an argument for the inclusion of another prospect, or to promote/demote one of the players in our list, is welcome to make suggestions.  This week is your final chance to convince us to change our minds, before we do something stupid.  We're not feeling terribly excited about this year's draft anyway, so we're definitely open to some last minute ideas.

As we suggested last year, if anybody ends up feeling like doing their own version of the Ozzie Newsome Challenge, with whatever team interests them, we'd be curious about seeing your results.  So, feel free to email us the outcome, or post the results in the comments section.