Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 Running Backs

You could be looking at tentacle porn right this very second.  If you so wished.  Instead of that, you came here.  The simple fact that you've selectively wandered into this little corner of the internet practically guarantees that you are a classy and sophisticated individual (relatively speaking).  Perhaps you are a connoisseur of the arts.  Most likely, you drink with your pinky pointed outwards.  Your spouse is probably the sort who would decline membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, as she is still a royalist.  I suspect that there's also a good chance that you spend your weekends engaging in dressage and falconry.  That's just how we do things around here, isn't it?

Being such a swell individual, you have probably been exposed to the 'great works' such as the 1973 masterpiece Soylent Green.  Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the post-apocalyptic utopia that is portrayed in this film, other than its brilliant solution as to how we should deal with the rabble, was the oft overlooked real estate system it proposed.  In the future, it was suggested, every apartment came...fully furnished.  The film shows a time when men were men, and women were sofas.  It was a glorious time (for males in the economic top one-percent)!  The objectification of our fellow human beings was achieved to perfection, and probably not terribly different from what I imagine life is like inside Dan Snyder's underground volcano fortress.

In a similar fashion, I suspect we could view disposable meatsacks running backs as a form of Soylent.  They are increasingly becoming less and less valuable, and a commodity that should probably be used up and then quietly disposed of on the side of the road (hopefully before they start beating their fiancee).  Of course, as Charlton Heston might say,"It's people!  Running backs are made out of people!"  This little ethical dilemma is something we probably can, and should, overlook.  We really don't want to have our sleep disturbed by such unpleasant thoughts.  Beat them like a rented mule, and then send them to the glue factory.

When I have looked at the other position groups for the upcoming draft, I have tended to be extremely pessimistic.  I expect most of the draft prospects to do rather poorly, or at least not be exciting enough to aggressively pursue.  With running backs, I strangely lean slightly in the opposite direction...sort of.  I figure most of them are generally perfectly adequate, though still probably somewhat unexceptional.  While people are gradually embracing the idea that teams shouldn't invest 1st round picks in running backs, I'd probably go a step further.  I wouldn't take one before the 3rd round.  Hell, with the way the free agent market has been going in recent years, I would almost say that they aren't worth drafting at all, since they can be picked up on short term deals that pay almost nothing nowadays.  For the most part, I really don't think it matters who your team's running back is, as long as the offensive line is passably competent, and the running back's skills are used correctly.

If a player only has raw power, run him up the middle.  If he only has speed and agility, run him outside the tackles.  Let's not over-think this.  I hate to see teams that appear to be confused about this simple concept, and then whine about how the player isn't meeting their expectations the way the Dolphins have been doing with poor Lamar Miller.  Complaining that Lamar Miller isn't 'more physical' is just offensively stupid.  Lamar Miller has excellent speed (4.34 40-yard dash, with a 0.19 2nd Gear Score), very good agility (0.857 Agility Score), and showed that he can also catch the ball when he was in college.  What he doesn't have is remarkable power (0.071 Kangaroo Score), so wishing that he would behave like a human battering ram is unrealistic.  I like Lamar Miller a lot, but I think I appreciate him for what he is, not what I might wish that he could be.  Asking a player to be something other than what he actually is, strikes me as a bit insane.

I've already mentioned my peculiar views on running backs and their athletic abilities, so I'll just skip ahead a bit here.  The player's Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power) and Agility Score (based on their short shuttle and 3-cone times) will be given in the form of how many standard deviations above, or below average, that the player happens to be compared to his peers at the same position.  I'll also include the player's 2nd Gear Score, and Speed Score.  Personally, I have some issues with using the Speed Score, but a fair number of people are familiar with it, so I figured I would toss it in there.  I should also mention that I use the unofficial 40 times, rather than the magically altered official times of the NFL, since I prefer to look at the results in relation to a player's 10-yard split.

This list will continue to be updated, as new data and prospects come to my attention.  I won't list everyone here, but instead will just mention the players that I feel are interesting for one reason or another.

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn  Ht: 5' 8.4"  Wt: 207
40 Time: 4.50   2nd Gear: 0.00   Speed Score: 100.96   Kangaroo Score: 0.520  Agility Score: 0.854?
I don't have any serious complaints about Mason.  His Kangaroo Score suggests that he has at least moderate lower body power, even if he isn't exceptional here.  For his Agility Score, though, we have to solely rely on his short shuttle result, which is above average, since we are missing his 3-Cone time.  While his 40-time isn't stunning, his 10-yard split of 1.50 seconds, does suggest a high degree of quickness.  When you combine all of this with his high level of productivity the last two years, Mason seems to have a perfectly reasonable resume.  While he's been highly productive, he hasn't caught many passes, though I thought he looked rather good when given an opportunity to do so.  Would I take him in the 2nd round, where he is generally projected to be selected?  No, because running backs are about as valuable as a moldy ham sandwich.  Still, I suspect he should do okay, and his high draft status will likely give him many opportunities to get on the field.

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State  Ht: 5' 11.7" Wt: 230
40 Time: 4.62   2nd Gear: 0.03   Speed Score: 100.96   Kangaroo Score: 0.533  Agility Score: ?
I'm going to ignore his off-the-field issues, since they aren't my primary concern.  While Hyde has been rather productive, it was really only in his senior year where his stats suddenly went through the roof.  Unfortunately, I kind of feel that the teams he played against as a senior, just weren't terribly good.  He seemed to beat up a lot of mediocre programs like Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, etc.  That's not his fault, of course.  The schedule is the schedule, and he did what he should have done.  Still, when I see his measurable traits, it makes me worry about whether he has the athletic ability to compete against a higher level of competition.  I could forgive his poor speed (though his 10-yard split of 1.65 seconds really makes me worry about his quickness), if I he seemed to have exceptional power, but his Kangaroo Score is a bit pedestrian for someone who is promoted as being a power back.  As for his agility, it is hard to say since he didn't do the 3-Cone or short shuttle drills (though I will say that he didn't look terribly stiff to me).  In the end, I kind of suspect that his offensive line did him a lot of favors.  I can't say that he is incapable of succeeding, but I wouldn't want to bet on him.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington  Ht: 5' 9.4" Wt:  209
40 Time: 4.47   2nd Gear: 0.12   Speed Score: 104.69   Kangaroo Score: 0.231  Agility Score: 1.582
As his numbers would suggest, he seems to basically be an outside the tackles runner, with at least a  respectable ability to also catch the ball.  He was very productive, and I appreciate the added dimension he brings as a receiver, but I think whether he has great success will hinge somewhat on who selects him.  Players with his sort of average Kangaroo Scores aren't terribly likely to break many tackles, or run over anyone, so I generally think they require a competent offensive line more than some of their more powerful peers.  For someone who is on the smaller side as a running back, I am slightly concerned about his 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds.  You generally see smaller running backs exhibiting a higher degree of quickness than that result would suggest.  He struck me as a respectable running back, with the sort of nimbleness his measurables would lead you to expect, but I can't see taking him as highly as he is generally projected to go.

KaDeem Carey, RB, Arizona  Ht: 5' 9.3" Wt: 207
40 Time: 4.62   2nd Gear: -0.03   Speed Score: 90.87   Kangaroo Score: -0.526  Agility Score: -0.491
Carey was undeniably a very productive player.  Unfortunately, his results make it a bit of a mystery as to how he managed to do so well.  According to his measurable traits, he lacks speed, power, and agility, and I don't like to bet against the numbers.  While I can't say that Carey is doomed, I also can't see how anybody could confidently bet on Carey with a high draft pick, when there will be safer prospects out there.  He strikes me as a ridiculously unnecessary gamble, and I don't like to bet on a player being an outlier.  Honestly, I don't think he looks as bad as his number might suggest, but if you consistently make picks based on gut reactions or your lying eyes, you will most likely end up getting burned in the long run.

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU   Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt:: 233
40 Time: 4.63   2nd Gear: -0.07   Speed Score: 101.40   Kangaroo Score: -0.195  Agility Score: ?
Yes, Hill was very productive in his final year in college, but I don't trust him at all.  When you consider his weak measurables, along with the fact that he was running behind a fairly talented 271# fullback (J.C. Copeland), I begin to suspect that Hill might be product of his environment.  His game-to-game stats also seem to show a trend of beating up on the weak, and struggling against the better teams.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State  Ht: 5' 8"  Wt: 208
40 Time: 4.50   2nd Gear: 0.09   Speed Score: 100.47   Kangaroo Score: -0.817  Agility Score: -0.157
Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  Not interested.  I really don't get the appeal of Freeman at all.

Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia   Ht: 6'   Wt: 214
40 Time: 4.48   2nd Gear: 0.08   Speed Score: 106.25   Kangaroo Score: 0.781  Agility Score: -0.412
For someone with a relatively low Agility Score, I'm surprised at how productive Sims has been as a receiving option.  Because of his above average Kangaroo Score, I think he could stand up reasonably well as a main carry running back.  He really strikes me as a very weird prospect.  That he excelled as a receiver, while being only moderately productive as a runner, is sort of the opposite of what the computer would have expected, given his athletic profile.  I wouldn't necessarily predict stardom for Sims, but I wouldn't be surprised if he became an adequate and versatile running back.  I see people projecting him to be taken in the 3rd round, and that is a little bit higher than I would consider selecting him, since there are other prospects I prefer over him.  He really strikes me as one of the more confusing running back prospects.

Lache "Loch Ness" Seastrunk, RB, Baylor   Ht: 5' 9"  Wt: 201
40 Time: 4.45   2nd Gear: 0.15   Speed Score: 102.51   Kangaroo Score: 0.976  Agility Score: 0.220
More than anything else, I am really impressed by his name.  That is going to be a tough selling point for his rivals to match.  I should probably note that Seastrunk improved his 40 time to a 4.37 at his pro day.  This would change his Speed Score to 110.23, and his 2nd Gear Score to 0.18.  Obviously, these improved results should be treated with some wariness, though I wouldn't completely dismiss them in this case.  The main reason I think his pro day 40-time should be taken seriously is due to his 10-yard split.  At the combine he appeared to get a bad start to his run, which resulted in a 1.60 10-yard split.  At his pro day, his 10-yard split was 1.55, while his acceleration from that point onward stayed roughly the same as what he showed at the combine (according to his 2nd Gear Score).  Overall, Seastrunk has been a reasonably productive player, for a guy who has never had more than a paltry 158 carries in a season, though he's never been much of a receiving threat.  For a small running back, he also seems to have surprisingly respectable power.  I thought he was actually one of the more interesting running backs to watch, but without any demonstrated ability as a receiver (I'm not saying that he can't catch the ball, just that he hasn't so far), I probably wouldn't consider him before the 4th round.  Compared to a lot of the other running back prospects, I though he showed more suddenness/explosiveness, which also probably relates to his Kangaroo Score.  I wouldn't be surprised if he turns turns out to be one of the better RB prospects in this draft.

Andre Williams, RB, Boston College  Ht: 5' 11.3" Wt: 230
40 Time: 4.53   2nd Gear: 0.03   Speed Score: 109.23   Kangaroo Score: 1.931  Agility Score: 0.137
Based on his very high Kangaroo Score, but just moderate results relating to his speed and agility, he would appear to primarily be an inside the tackles battering ram.  He didn't strike me as terribly flashy, but every team should have at least one guy like this, who can consistently pound the ball for a short gain.  I suspect he should do okay on almost any team, since I think these sorts of power backs tend to be less dependent on their offensive line, though a good line would obviously still help.  For what he is, I like him a fair bit, and would love to see him paired up with someone like Zac Stacy.  Still, I probably wouldn't take him unless he fell to the 4th round, which is tiny bit later than some people seem to be projecting that he will go.

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern  Ht: 5' 9"  Wt: 209
40 Time: 4.38   2nd Gear: 0.08   Speed Score: 113.57   Kangaroo Score: 1.222  Agility Score: 0.985
Do you remember last year's hype over converting QB Denard Robinson to the running back position?  Well, as an all around athlete, McKinnon crushes Robinson.  While Robinson had blazing speed, he didn't have the sort of power or agility to be a serious running back threat, but McKinnon does.  Perhaps my favorite measurable trait of McKinnon's is his excellent 10-yard split of just 1.46 seconds, which suggest rather extreme quickness.  It doesn't do a player much good, being able to run forty yards quickly, if people are going to catch you in the first ten yards.  I'm sure people will fret about the level of competition McKinnon faced, but if he ends up being available in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, I wouldn't worry about this too much.  I don't see a problem with rolling the dice on athletic freaks in the latter half of the draft.  If he was available in the 4th or 5th round, I would definitely be interested in selecting him, though I am somewhat concerned with the rumors that teams are considering converting him into a defensive back.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford  Ht: 5' 11"  Wt: 220
40 Time: 4.43   2nd Gear: 0.10   Speed Score:  114.24   Kangaroo Score: 0.415  Agility Score: 0.901
There's not much to criticize about Gaffney, when it comes to his athletic ability.  He seems to have respectable speed for a guy his size, reasonable power, and significantly above average agility.  He was also quite productive in his time at Stanford, though he didn't do much as a receiver.  Overall, he seems like an acceptable prospect for someone who is generally projected to go in the 4th or 5th round.  Still, I can't say that he blew me away, when I watched him play, but i guess he had his moments.  Something about Gaffney just never clicked with me, though I can't quite put my finger on it.  The main drawback to Gaffney seems to be his age.  I'm not sure how thrilled I would be about drafting a 24 year old running back.  Still, he seems like a reasonable player to abuse for a couple years, and then discard.

Rajion Neal, RB, Tennessee  Ht: 5' 11"  Wt: 220
40 Time: 4.57   2nd Gear: ?   Speed Score:  100.87   Kangaroo Score: 0.796  Agility Score: -0.642
I'm still waiting to see official pro day results for Neal, but this is where things stand now, based on the rumors.  I'll get around to exploring him at some later time.

Stephen Houston. RB, Indiana  Ht: 6' 0.75"  Wt: 225
40 Time: 4.50   2nd Gear: ?   Speed Score:  109.73   Kangaroo Score: 2.105  Agility Score: 0.135
CBS is currently projecting that Houston will go undrafted, which is frustrating, but somewhat understandable.  In terms of pure athletic ability, Houston is pretty impressive.  Unfortunately, there is a catch.  He has never rushed for more than 802 yards in a season, though a fair bit of this has to do with not getting a lot of carries.  Some games, he seems to just take over, and perform like a monster.  Other games, he seems to get tackled a little too easily for someone that the numbers would suggest should have excellent power.  He did show some ability catching the ball, so, he also has some versatility.  Overall, I rather like Houston as a late round or UDFA prospect, though I do wonder if there is some hidden reason for his lack of high level productivity.

Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Coastal Carolina  Ht: 6'  Wt: 229
40 Time: 4.53   2nd Gear: 0.10   Speed Score:  108.76   Kangaroo Score: 0.495  Agility Score: 0.527
While Taliaferro was extremely productive at Coastal Carolina, he was obviously playing against a fairly low level of competition.  While his measurable traits are reasonably respectable, there is nothing truly shocking about them.  I would say that this sort of mirrors what I saw of Taliaferro when I watched him play.  For a player of his size, he his Kangaroo Score only suggests moderate potential as a power back.  If he had more exceptional power, I might be willing to overlook his extremely poor 10-yard split of 1.63, but as things stand, this would really worry me.  My own worthless and subjective opinion of Taliaferro, is that he looked fairly wretched.  I would ignore Taliaferro as a draft prospect.

Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma  Ht: 5' 11" Wt: 222
40 Time: 4.43   2nd Gear: 0.14   Speed Score: 115.28   Kangaroo Score: 0.662  Agility Score: -0.744
Well, he seems to have some speed, and at least a reasonable amount of power.  It's his Agility Score that is weighing him down in the eyes of the computer.  The problem here is that there is a significant difference between how he performed in the short shuttle, where he did fine (a result of 0.177), and his results from the 3-cone drill (-1.666 standard deviations below average).  Normally there is enough of a correlation between how a player does in these drills, that such extremely divergent results don't occur very often.  Based on what I have seen of him, I would tend to want to throw out his poor 3-cone time, as just a flukish anomaly.  If he was likely to be a high draft pick, throwing out data would bother me, but he isn't.  He struck me as a moderately talented player, who is probably worth a look as an UDFA, though I would probably never draft him.  He was supposedly kicked off the Oklahoma team for failing multiple drug tests, but if you're not doing drugs while you are in college you are probably missing the point of the entire experience.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 Linebackers

What do you fear the most?  What makes you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat?  Is it the Peruvian ridge-backed chupacabra that haunts your dreams?  Maybe, the Nicaraguan sabre-toothed chupacabra?  Perhaps it is the ring-tailed chupacabra of the Oaxaca region of Mexico?  Many an intrepid cryptozoologist has fallen prey to all of these creatures (exact statistics on chupacabra related deaths are unavailable due to the Lizard People covering up their existence), and I'm sure each and every one of these fallen heroes was convinced that there was nothing more terrifying than the particular beast which took them down.

Maybe your answer is simply,"My primary fear in life is the chupacabra, regardless of their regional variety".  This would be a very wise answer, as no chupacabra should be underestimated (particularly if they are protecting their nest).  Debating minor differences in how quickly you would be killed, by one chupacabra versus another, are pointless.  In much the same way, I feel that the desire to classify linebackers as inside linebackers, outside linebackers, linebackers for a 4-3 defense, or those for a 3-4 defense, can become a bit ridiculous.  I prefer to keep an open mind about most prospects, though I will acknowledge that some players do have traits that might limit their versatility.  I just wouldn't recommend making rash judgements based on minor differences in weight, which often seems to be the way these things are done.  It's the size of the fight in the chupacabra linebacker that matters most.

"80% of life is showing up"-Woody Allen

This quote sums up my views on tackle statistics (as well as TFLs, PBUs, INTs, and forced fumbles).  People often want to downplay a player's number of tackles, but particularly for linebackers, I don't think they should.  Even if this sometimes means accepting the fact that not all tackles are equal, I prefer to see a linebacker who at least shows up to where the ball is, even if it is just for an assisted tackle.  I still have a preference for solo tackles, but arriving on the scene to help a teammate probably shouldn't be so casually dismissed.  For middle linebackers, in particular, I expect to see very high tackle counts, if I am going to take them seriously.  People have occasionally questioned the value of tackle stats for defensive players, arguing that pile jumpers accumulate cheap stats just by showing up late in the play.  There might be some minor truth to this, but do you know what is worse than a cheaply acquired stat?  Not acquiring any stats at all, that's what.

"I only have one rule. Everyone fights. No one quits. You don't do your job, I'll shoot you myself."-Jean Rasczak (from the Academy Award winning movie Starship Troopers)

While I most likely wouldn't support threatening to shoot a teammate just to motivate them (there may be exceptions), I think this line pretty well captures the relentless lunacy I expect to see in a linebacker.  I sadly have to admit that there is some subjective analysis that goes into all of this.  While I generally only support players who have high statistical production, along with great athleticism, at some point I have to prioritize the few remaining players who managed to survive the weeding-out process.  At that point, it pretty much comes down to who I think was the most entertaining to watch, which also tends to be the person who I would least like to have chasing me down a dark alley.  I want my linebackers to play with a murderous rage and violence, even if this frequently seems to trickle into their off the field behavior.  I'm not married to these lunatics, so I'm not really terribly concerned if they are borderline insane.  I want them to be fueled by methamphetamine and 'roid rage...unless my annual income suddenly increases to the point where I might end up being neighbors with them...but until then, unleash the berserkers!

There is one additional factor that can cause me to rate a player higher than the conventional wisdom would dictate was sensible.  If the player, either legally or just as a nickname, is referred to as either Gator, Tank, or Peanut, this has some special appeal to me.  Yes, I am keeping a watchful eye on Gator Hoskins.  I can't say that these names have a strong correlation to a player having a successful career, but it can't hurt.

Since the athletic traits of players in this category are measured against all defensive prospects who are under 275#, this skews their results when it comes to the Kangaroo Score, because they don't have the same mass as some of the larger outside pass rushers in this weight class.  Since the goal is to see how many standard deviations away from an average result that a player is, we have to make some mental adjustments here.  For these (generally) lighter prospects, a Kangaroo Score of -0.800, would be the approximate point at which we would find the 'average' player in this group.  Among these lighter prospects, you typically start to see Pro Bowl and All Pro players reaching a score of -0.400, or better.  Just like the Kangaroo Score, the Agility Score (which comes from the short shuttle and 3-cone drill), will also be given in the form of how many standard deviations away from the  average result that a player is.  Normally, I would expect a player with a higher Kangaroo Score to be a stronger hitter, and more productive on blitzes, while a player with a high Agility Score will probably be better in coverage.  Still, nothing is set in stone, and individuals do vary in how they perform.

This list will continue to be modified and updated, as new data and prospects come to my attention.  The list won't include every player. but instead, just the ones that I find interesting for one reason or another.

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
40 Time: 4.66    Kangaroo Score: 0.563   Agility Score:  1.255
As I said earlier in the post on DEs & 3-4 OLBs, I think Barr might be more interesting as an OLB in a 4-3, rather than in a 3-4.  While he's a physically gifted guy, and has been quite productive, I think he does much better when operating in space, and struggles a bit more when directly tied up with OTs.  That's just my opinion, and I'm not inclined to make much of a fuss about it if others disagree.

C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
40 Time: 4.62   Kangaroo Score: -0.748   Agility Score:  -0.251
Well, he appears to have extremely average lower body power, slightly below average agility, and speed of the okay-to-"meh" variety.  This sort of mediocre athleticism might actually be excusable, if the player had exceptional statistical production, but he doesn't.  Don't get me wrong, he was reasonably productive, just not enough to make me perk up and pay attention.  It also probably doesn't help that whenever I watched him play, I felt myself slipping into a coma out of sheer boredom.  I really don't see anything to suggest that he deserves to be taken before the 4th or 5th round.  Still, he will probably be taken fairly early, and many opportunities to start will be given to him.  People will see what they want to see, and be eager to say that he is performing brilliantly.  If he does end up as a disappointment, I think it will probably take time for people to come to that conclusion, as people will mainly want to see the positive aspects of a high draft pick.  I really don't see what makes him any different from his predecessor, the mediocre Rolando McClain.  Of course, there are still people who insist that McClain was a real talent, even to this day, and I've largely given up on trying to debate this issue.

Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
40 Time: 4.38   Kangaroo Score:  0.964   Agility Score:  1.026
Shazier is going to put me into an awkward position.   Yes, he is an amazing athlete.  Yes, his statistical production in college was very impressive.  Still, despite all of that, I'm just not terribly excited about him.  Every time I watch him play, I just see a guy that makes weak or ineffectual tackles, which is not something I want to see in a linebacker.  Then I look at his stat sheet, and I am confronted with somebody who doesn't appear to have any problem racking up tackles.  Cognitive dissonance is rattling my mind.  I had a similar issue with Bobby Wagner a couple of years ago.  The computer loved him, but watching him play just didn't set my panties on fire.  So, you're probably best served by ignoring my deranged concerns on Shazier, because the computer thinks he could be a star.

Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
40 Time: 4.71   Kangaroo Score:  -1.002   Agility Score:  0.456
This was already covered in the post about DEs and 3-4 OLBs, but since Van Noy could be suitable for a 4-3 defense, I am forced to repeat some things.  While I do think Van Noy would do better in a 4-3, I still would feel a bit nervous about him..  There are aspects of his statistical production that are very encouraging, like his high number of TFLs.  Then, there are aspects of his physical profile that I find very worrisome, such as his below average Kangaroo Score.  Taking him in the first few rounds, where he is projected to go, strikes me as very risky, so I would avoid him.

Trevor Reilly, OLB, Utah
40 Time: 4.66   Kangaroo Score:  -0.907   Agility Score:  ?
I really don't care what his measurables are, or how productive he was in college.  He's 26 years old, and that freaks me out.  By the time he adjusts to the higher level of competition in the NFL, he will probably be entering his inevitable physical decline.  I just don't get how people are projecting him as a 2nd to 3rd round draft pick.

Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut
40 Time: 5.01   Kangaroo Score:  -0.548   Agility Score:  ?
It's starting to look like we will never get a full set of results for Smallwood.  His Kangaroo Score is acceptable, if not particularly exciting.  I suspect he is avoiding doing the short shuttle and 3-Cone drills, because he knows he will do poorly in them.  From what I have seen nimbly-toed gracefulness is not his strong suit, so I'm not surprised that he might duck out of doing these drills.  His statistical production was above average, but I can't say I was too impressed by him.  He didn't seem to be an amazing tackler, despite his stats, or terribly aggressive.  He also seemed to be just about as slow as his wretched 40 time would suggest.  I think he's overrated, for a player that people are projecting will go in the 3rd round. 

Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
40 Time: 4.83   Kangaroo Score:  -0.257   Agility Score:  0.340
He actually strikes me as an okay little prospect.  Nothing about him really blows me away, but I could see him being a solid role player, that might even thrive in the right situation.  His college production was a fair bit above average, and he showed some ability as a blitzer as well as a handful of tipped passes.  He strikes me as a somewhat athletically limited guy, who might do better as an ILB in a 3-4, where he wouldn't have to cover as much ground.  When I watched him play, he seemed to run in the wrong direction a little bit more than I would hope for.  I don't expect him to become a star, but wouldn't be surprised if he is a useful/serviceable type of player, and probably wouldn't take him before the 4th round.

Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
40 Time: ?   Kangaroo Score:  ?   Agility Score:  ?
I can't say too much about Skov until we get some sort of Pro Day results.  I thought he looked pretty good against the run, but rather poor in coverage.  Injuries seem to be an issue for him.  Without some sort of confirmed measurables, I would be forced to pass on him.

Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State
40 Time: 4.52   Kangaroo Score:  -1.867   Agility Score:  -0.442
Let's see if we can save some time here, by being succinct.  I think he is going to struggle to have much of an impact.  Too succinct?  Okay.  I think he is going to get annihilated if someone insists on playing him at linebacker.  Of course, some people would suggest that he might play strong safety, since he is only 6'3", and 218 pounds.  That sounds reasonable until you look at his Agility Score, which would be even lower if he was being compared to the average results for defensive backs.   I'm not sure that there really is an appropriate position for him.

Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
40 Time: 4.67   Kangaroo Score:  -0.316   Agility Score:  1.757
As an overall athlete, Tripp is rather impressive, and his statistical production was quite good, even if it came against a relatively low level of competition.  Still, from the little I have been able to see of him, he didn't really blow my mind.  He struck me as relatively soft, and someone who mainly excelled in coverage, which probably isn't surprising when you consider his excellent Agility Score.  I think he has some potential, but I'm not sure if I would be willing to pursue him as high as the 3rd round, where people seem to be projecting that he will be taken.  Still, he is somebody who I would keep my eye on.

Christian Kirksey, OLB, Iowa
40 Time: 4.50   Kangaroo Score:  -0.452   Agility Score:  0.358
I wouldn't make fun of anyone for selecting Kirksey.  He has fairly good athletic ability.  He was pretty productive, even if he didn't make as many plays behind the line of scrimmage as I would like to see.  In the little I have seen of him, he looked pretty good on the field.  So, I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be an okay player, though I'm not sure if he is special enough to warrant a 3rd round pick, which is where I see people projecting him to go.  It should also be mentioned that Iowa had a surprising number of reasonably talented players on their defense, such as James Morris and Anthony Hitchens, who will also be selected in this draft, which somewhat makes me wonder how much Kirksey benefited from all of this. 

Kevin Pierre-Louis, OLB, Boston College
40 Time: 4.51   Kangaroo Score:  0.205   Agility Score:  1.533
Hello?  Is it Pierre-Louis you're looking for?  I really like Pierre-Louis.  He's quick (1.53 10-yard split), fast, powerful, and agile.  When I watched him play, he more than met the expectations I had based on his measurable traits.  He looked good in coverage.  He was impressive on blitzes.  He seemed more than capable of running people down, and made good tackles.  People seem to be projecting that he will be taken in the 5th or 6th round, but I suspect he will go higher than that.  I have to imagine that the relatively low projections people have for him are being influenced by his weight (232#), and the fact that he has missed 3 games in 2012 and 2011 with injuries, but this doesn't really bother me too much.  While I can understand how people might not be thrilled with his weight, that seems like something that can be cured with a high-cheeseburger diet.  I suspect he could become a rather special player, and be more positionally versatile than some might expect.  He's a rather high priority target for Team Kangaroo, and I would go so far as to say that I greatly prefer him over the more highly touted Ryan Shazier.  I would probably start to consider Pierre-Louis in the 3rd round.

Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU
40 Time: 4.64   Kangaroo Score:  -0.338   Agility Score:  0.002
On paper, he's a fairly mediocre athlete, with fairly good statistical production.  He didn't make much of an impression on me.  In fact, he kind of put me to sleep.  I suspect playing at LSU is the main reason he is getting mentioned as a prospect.  People are projecting that he will go in the 4th to 5th round, but I would ignore him.

Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
40 Time: 4.60   Kangaroo Score:  -0.662   Agility Score:  ?
It's really unfortunate that we may never get to know Breslin's Agility Score, as I think he is a really interesting prospect.  As a pass rusher, he was about as productive as anyone who will be available in this year's draft, though he was derailed by injuries this last year.  His Kangaroo Score isn't quite what I would have hoped to see, but is still within the tolerable/average range for a linebacker.  His speed is perfectly acceptable, though his 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds is even more promising.  So, we are left wondering if he might have some sort of extreme agility that would make him a worthwhile target, and explain whether he can continue to do well.  I loved watching him play, but without sufficient data to make an assessment, I would have to pass on him, which annoys me a bit.

Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville
40 Time: 4.86   Kangaroo Score:  -0.143   Agility Score:  0.753
I don't want it to sound as if I am terribly excited about Brown, because I'm not.  Still, if he were used as a 3-4 ILB, he might be somewhat useful, and I think this might minimize his shortcomings in terms of speed.  He's a fairly nimble, hefty player (251#), who just doesn't appear to have much range.  His college production was reasonably good, though nothing amazing.  I probably wouldn't pursue him, but if he was there in the 6th round, I could see him producing acceptable results for the right team.

Carlos Fields, OLB, Winston-Salem State
40 Time: 4.50   Kangaroo Score:  0.378   Agility Score:  0.748
This is probably only going to cause me heartache, but I have to do it.  If you're looking for a Paul Worrilow or Vincent Rey type of linebacker prospect, someone extremely cheap who might emerge as something special, this might be your guy.  Yes, he played at a goofy school, but he seems to have been reasonably dominant while he was there, which is all you can ask from him.  He showed production in almost every aspect of the game, making tackles for a loss, interceptions, and forced fumbles.  From the little I have been able to see of him, he looks like he could be a terror.  Athletically, he has the speed, power, and agility to be quite special.  For some reason, that I can't explain, people seem to think that C.J. Mosley is a 1st round talent, and that Fields is a nobody who might not even get drafted.  If I had to choose, I would go with Fields over Mosley every single time, and the fact that one will be much cheaper than the other just makes it an even simpler decision.  Am I saying that I would take Fields in the 1st round?  Hell no!  I'm just dumpster diving here, and looking for value.  There are no guarantees that Fields will turn out to be a good player, but if he is given an opportunity I think the odds are better than some might suspect.  Unfortunately, I do have to worry about whether a team will give him much of a chance, and that his talent will be squandered.  I would probably start to target Fields in the 5th or 6th round, though many are projecting that he will go even later, if he is even selected at all.  I have to admit that I have a serious weakness for strange prospects like Fields.

Brock Coyle, ILB, Montana
40 Time: 4.60   Kangaroo Score:  -0.601   Agility Score:  1.160
While his measruables aren't quite as impressive as his Montana teammate Jordan Tripp, they are still rather good.  Just like I said with Tripp, I would be concerned about the level of competition that Coyle faced, though there isn't much we can do about that.  It is what it is.  I can't claim to have watched very much of him, since Montana games are difficult to come across, but from the little I have witnessed, I think I preferred him to Tripp.  He just struck me as the more intimidating, and aggressive player, who might also be a better tackler.  Since Coyle is only projected to be a 7th-round-to-undrafted type of prospect, the price of admission is also lower.  As a 'lottery ticket' pick at the very end of the draft, I think he could be rather interesting.

James Morris, ILB, Iowa
40 Time: 4.80   Kangaroo Score:  -0.545   Agility Score:  0.535
He's a respectable if not necessarily spectacular athlete, with good statistical production.  Like his teammate Christian Kirksey, I have to wonder how much he benefited from the talent that surrounded him at Iowa, but for a player that is projected to go in the 7th round, or go undrafted, this is less of a concern.  While I wouldn't bet on him becoming a star, I wouldn't be surprised if he outperforms a number of the more overrated prospects who will be taken ahead of him, if he is given a chance.

Howard Jones, OLB, Shepherd
40 Time: 4.60   Kangaroo Score:  0.339   Agility Score:  -0.009
Jones is obviously an odd duck, coming from Shepherd College.  Still, for someone who is only projected to be a late round pick, he has some upside.  His 10-yard split (1.58 seconds) suggests that he has good quickness, and he has decent speed, but it is his above average Kangaroo Score (for someone his size, at least) that is probably his best attribute.  It would suggest that he could be a decent pas rusher, as a 4-3 OLB, which was sort of his area of strength in college, where he accumulated a lot of TFLs.  Outside of that, I think he would probably just be fairly average.  He's not someone I would freak out about, but he might have some upside.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 Defensive Backs

I suspect that whatever I say about defensive backs will leave me wide open for bloody and contentious arguments.  I'm almost tempted to avoid this subject altogether, but that would be a bit cowardly.  Depending on how things play out, I might end up claiming that I was drunk when I wrote this, just to have an excuse.

The problem, as I see it, is the incredible volatility in the way we perceive the quality of defensive backs.  Perhaps more than any other position group, one day's hero is the next day's goat.  A good middle linebacker or defensive tackle can be selected year after year to Pro Bowl or All Pro teams (not that these honors should be taken too seriously), but outside of a very select group of players, there seems to be a constant changing of the guard in the defensive backfield.

I don't really think that the quality of most players probably changes very much from year to year, or at least not as much as our attitudes about them do.  Sure, a player might improve with experience, and decline with age and injuries, but their essential qualities are probably fairly set.  Part of our change of perception is probably due to Interception Hysteria, where a player suddenly grabs people's attention with a handful of eye-popping plays, but the second his numbers dwindle, so does the mania.  When the dynamic and explosive results shrink into the background, you are often left with a player that has exploitable flaws.  Those flaws start to stand out a bit more, and we begin to judge them more harshly.  I suspect this is just as big of a problem for teams, as it is for fans, as they frequently over-invest in flash-in-the-pan players, only to later wonder why the well seems to have run dry.  I tend to believe that what a player is, he most likely will largely remain, but his circumstances and surrounding talent can be constantly evolving.

When people debate which position influences the success of the other more, defensive backs aiding the pass rush or vice versa, I tend to come down pretty strongly in favor of the pass rushers.  I think a team can probably do pretty well with mediocre defensive backs, if their pass rush is strong.  I'm not so sure about how reliable or consistent the results are with the opposite approach.  Of course, defining what a "mediocre defensive back" is, is its own problem.  I suspect that most defensive backs are pretty mediocre (well, statistically speaking, they have to be), though our hysteria can often elevate these players, for a time, to some lofty and highly paid pedestals.  Was Pro Bowler Mike Jenkins actually talented (yes, he surprisingly made a Pro Bowl in 2009), or was he a player with limited ability who benefited from the seemingly eternal luster of being a former 1st round pick, as well as playing behind DeMarcus Ware?  It's a tricky question to answer (no, it really isn't), though I personally suspect that Jenkins likely sucks.  Why do I think this?  Well, I think despite people's optimistic hopes for him, he probably lacked the athletic ability to really reach the greatest heights of success.

While some players might only thrive in a certain environment, there are certain players who seem so exceptional that it is hard to imagine a situation where they wouldn't perform well.  I like to picture the great defensive backs as if they were Marcel Marceau, capable of mimicking their opponents movements to perfection.  There aren't enough discussions about football that end up mentioning dead French mimes, and I am trying to rectify that problem.  While people get excited about a great 40 time, I think it's really exceptional agility that separates the great from the merely good.  For this we have the Agility Score (based equally upon a player's short shuttle drill and 3-Cone drill), to show how many standard deviations above, or below average, that a player is relative to other players in his position group.  While I can never definitively say who the "great" players are, we can make a simple comparison here.

        40 yard         2nd Gear             Agility
Champ Bailey 4.28 0.20 2.575*
Darrelle Revis 4.38 0.08 1.176
Patrick Peterson 4.31 0.18 1.160
Mike Jenkins 4.38 0.09 -1.552

While they are all quite fast, it is pretty easy to see which one of these players is not like the others.  In Champ Bailey's case, we only have the data from his short shuttle to go on, but there tends to be enough of a correlation between short shuttle results, and 3-Cone results, to safely expect that the missing information probably wouldn't have been capable of hurting him very much.  In fact, I might argue that the short shuttle drill might be slightly more valuable than the 3-Cone drill, when it comes to predicting success, though I don't want to get into that right now.

When you consider the huge physical advantages that players like Bailey, Revis, and Peterson have, it's not hard to imagine why they have found success.  You can almost picture them whistling Anything You Can Do, as they run about the field, perfectly capable of matching almost any movement their opponents makes.  Yes, I started out making references to mimes, and felt I should add more hyper-masculine references from the musical Annie Get Your Gun.  Life is simply easier for the supremely gifted athlete.  This doesn't mean that I think a high agility score guarantees success, or that a player with a poor result will fail.  I would, however, probably suggest that players who fall on either of the two extreme ends of this scale, will have wildly different probabilities of finding success.

But it's all so much more wonderfully complicated than just a player's agility.  There are probably a dozen different athletic or statistical areas of concern for us to fret about, all with varying degrees of potential importance.  Quickness, speed, size, power, and proven college production are all worth putting on the scale.  While individual players can find varying degrees of success, and defy our expectations, gambling on players who have a paucity of evidence to support the views you have based on your lying eyes, is a difficult gamble to justify.  This is particularly true, if you are thinking about using a high draft pick.  Of course, as you get deeper into the draft, it is reasonable to lower your standards a bit.

So, to the best of my limited ability, I will try to narrow down the field of prospects, looking for the players that I feel have the odds most strongly tilted in their favor.  The degree to which I value one piece of data over another, will shift somewhat, as we move from cornerbacks, to free safeties, to strong safeties, but the goal is always the same.  That goal is to minimize the risk of doing something that is potentially stupid.  Perhaps, even more importantly than seeking to identify gems, we are really seeking to avoid busts.  Mediocrity is tolerable.  Selecting someone who becomes an outright failure isn't.

Besides the player's Agility Score, I will also list their 2nd Gear score, and their average number of passes defended in their last two years in college.  Like Charles Nelson Reilly in a bathhouse, I think a high quality DB should probably be grabbing balls with some frequency.  For safety prospects, my expectations for the Agility Score will go down a bit, but I hope to see an increase in their Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power), which is also given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is away from the average result for someone in their position group.

Let the guessing begin....

This list will continue to be modified and updated as new data, and additional prospects, come to my attention.  Not every prospect will be included here, but instead, just the ones that I find interesting for one reason or another.  Updated: 4/10/2014

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State  Ht: 5'10.75"  Wt.: 199
40 time: 4.51  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  -1.235   Avg. PD:  12
Well, what do you do with a guy who has poor agility, average speed, and relatively poor quickness (1.60 10-yard split), as well as just slightly better than middle-of-the-road statistical production?  I certainly don't see any of this as a reason to believe that he should really go in the 1st round, and I suspect that people are being blinded by his moderately impressive number of interceptions (10 in the last three years). Personally, I think he would do better as a free safety, though I would still would have some concerns even there.  As a cornerback, I think he is probably a moderate fraud, though that doesn't mean he can't be serviceable to some degree.  I just doubt he will ever be able to deliver the level of high quality play that you would expect for such a potentially high draft pick.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma St.  Ht: 6'  Wt.: 202
40 time: 4.37  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  0.039?   Avg. PD:  11.5
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Gilbert.  On the one hand, his Agility Score is merely average, and I think he could struggle against quick, agile receivers who run sharp routes.  On the other hand, he probably has the size, speed and power to adequately match up with some of the bigger receivers, who generally aren't terribly nimble.  I think he could do an okay to good job, but most likely will never truly be great.  For someone his size, he doesn't strike me as much of a force against the run, though he should be capable of doing so (0.506 Kangaroo Score).  I have a hard time getting excited about Gilbert, though I wouldn't necessarily bet against him.

Ha'Sean 'Ha Ha' Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama   Ht: 6' 1.3"  Wt.: 208
40 time: 4.58  2nd Gear:  -0.02   Agility Score:  -0.603   Avg. PD:  7.5
I really don't get the appeal of Clinton-Dix as a draft prospect, and fully expect him to become a disappointment like most of the recent players who came out of Alabama.  His Agility Score is too low for me to take him seriously as a free safety, and is more in line with what I expect to see from a strong safety.  At the same time, he seems to lack the power to be a strong safety (0.079 Kangaroo Score), where I would hope to see something closer to a 1.000.  His college production was also very much of the "meh" variety,  in my opinion.  I would avoid him altogether, let alone in the 1st round, though he does get points for having a name that is fun to say.  Ha Ha, indeed, the joke will be on somebody.

Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville    Ht: 5' 11"  Wt.: 207
40 time: 4.58  2nd Gear:  0.01   Agility Score:  -0.595   Avg. PD:  7
Athletically, he is very similar to Clinton-Dix, and raises a lot of the same concerns.  The main difference is that Pryor was much more productive (though their Avg. PD is similar), and more entertaining to watch, which at least allows me to raise the argument that perhaps his measurable traits don't adequately capture what he brings to the table.  While he is listed as a free safety, he seems to play more like a strong safety, and his Agility Score would be perfectly acceptable for that role.  My only real concern with him as a strong safety prospect would be his Kangaroo Score, which is just  0.072, though he seems to be a pretty good hitter despite this average result.  While I wouldn't be able to select him, because Reilly and I need to unanimously agree about a prospect in order to choose him (Reilly doesn't like him), he does strike me as a fairly entertaining prospect who could exceed our expectations. 

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio St   Ht:  5' 11"  Wt.: 194
40 time: 4.39  2nd Gear:  0.08   Agility Score:  0.862   Avg. PD:  17.5
Well, he is very physically gifted, and unlike some corners he actually seems to be willing to hit people.  Perhaps even more than his impressive speed, I am drawn in by his exceptional quickness (1.47 10-yard split).  His statistical production was well above average, and he made plays in multiple aspects of the game, which is good to see.  He's actually slightly younger than some of the other corners (born 5/1/1992), which I like, and this could give him some advantages in terms of further development.  I'm not sure if I really see any significant problems here.  While I don't think he is necessarily overly dominant in any one area, I think he might be the one of the safer overall compromises in terms of size, athleticism, production.

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU   Ht:  5' 9.5"  Wt.: 189
40 time: 4.38  2nd Gear:  0.09   Agility Score:  1.175   Avg. PD:  19 
He's quick, fast, agile, and productive.  So, obviously, I like him quite a lot.  With that said, I think there are still limitations to what you can expect from such a relatively small corner.  From what I can see, he does appear to be quite capable in coverage, though there are times where he gets pushed around a little bit.  He's kind of like a relentless little chihuahua, that keeps nipping at your ankles, and slowly driving you insane.  If it weren't for the size concerns, I would say he is the probably the most appealing corner prospect that I have seen in this draft.  An obvious person to compare him to might be someone like Lardarius Webb, though Verrett is actually slightly heavier and much more physically gifted than Webb was (at least on paper), though Verrett's 40-yard dash is just a tiny bit less impressive.  As long as you don't expect him to shutdown larger receivers of the Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson variety (not that any corner really does this), I don't see any reason to think he shouldn't do quite well.

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech   Ht: 5' 11.5"  Wt.: 190
40 time: 4.49  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  -0.053   Avg. PD:  9.5
I don't necessarily have a huge problem with Fuller's average agility, or the mediocre rate at which he got his hands on the ball.  To some extent, his strengths seemed to lie in his above average physical play, and that's fine.  His Kangaroo Score of  0.288 is tiptoeing into the realm of the safeties, when it comes to potential hitting power, and his above average number of tackles for a loss lines up nicely with this strength.   Still, I probably wouldn't draft someone with his physical traits as highly as he is projected to go, since I think the first couple of rounds should be reserved for defensive backs with truly exceptional coverage skills.  As with Bradley Roby, I would give him some extra consideration just for being a bit younger than some of the other prospects (born 2/16/1992).  While he may end up being a decent corner, I would probably bet against him becoming a great one.  I wouldn't give him serious consideration until the 3rd or 4th round, though that isn't the insult it may sound like to some people. 

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida  Ht: 6'  Wt: 191
40 time: 4.61  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  0.474   Avg. PD:  8.5
For some reason I seem to run across a lot of people projecting Roberson as a 2nd round pick.  I don't quite get what they are thinking on this one, but I wish them luck.

Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida St.  Ht: 5'8"  Wt: 184
40 time: 4.55  2nd Gear:  -0.05   Agility Score:  -1.677   Avg. PD:  6
I can only assume that the people who are promoting Joyner as a high draft pick, are doing so as a joke. 

Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida   Ht: 5' 11"   Wt: 194
40 time: 4.41  2nd Gear:  0.09   Agility Score:  -1.694   Avg. PD:  9
I wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole, though people seem to be projecting that he will go in the 2nd or 3rd round.

Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois   Ht: 5' 10.75"  Wt.: 197
40 time: 4.47  2nd Gear:  0.09   Agility Score:  -0.200   Avg. PD:  15.5
I like Jimmie Ward a lot.  I'm just not sure what position he should play.  Athletically he falls into a somewhat gray area between free safeties and cornerbacks.  While I normally place almost no value in a player's results from the bench press, his 9 repetitions does set off some alarms for me.  The bench press tends to be a terrible thing to put much stock in, except for weeding out players with abnormally low results.  Ward's result was about half of what I would normally expect to see for a safety prospect, and there is seems to be some correlation between this and a player's ability to become an exceptional tackler.  Despite this concern, he actually appears to be pretty good when making tackles, though they tend to be of the go-for-the-ankles variety, and this leaves me feeling somewhat concerned about what will happen when he faces bigger and more powerful running backs and tight ends, who might just plow through him.  His 0.502 Kangaroo Score, is also only a moderately good/acceptable result for a safety (though quite good for a corner).  All of this combined with his relatively small size for a safety (5' 10.75", and 197#) makes me worry about how he will stand up to the punishment.  I really have to wonder if he would be better off being used in a cornerback/nickelback role.  Still, he has proven to be a surprisingly capable tackler, and has been extremely productive.  Part of me would be very tempted to take him in the 2nd round, though it would make me nervous, and probably be a bit of a violation of some of my rules.  Either way, he is a very exciting player to watch, and I think he is vastly more interesting than Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix.

Deone Buchanon, SS, Washington St.   Ht: 6' 1"  Wt.: 211
40 time: 4.49  2nd Gear:  0.07   Agility Score:  -0.444   Avg. PD:  7.5
My feelings about Buchanon sort of waver, going one way and then the other.  But they're just feelings, nothing more than feelings.  While his Agility Score is nothing to write home about, it is in an acceptable range for a strong safety.  While strong safeties tend to lag behind other defensive backs when it comes to agility, they generally compensate for this with power.  Buchanon's 1.162 Kangaroo Score suggests to me that the power is in fact present.  When it comes to athletic ability, he is basically the prototypical strong safety.  His statistical production was excellent, and diverse, with 15 career interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, and 13.5 tackles for a loss.  He didn't really set my panties on fire when I watched him play, but I still suspect he should eventually become a good safety, since I don't place a lot of value in what my lying eyes tell me.  With that said, I probably take him if he fell to the 3rd round, and might even go as high as the 2nd round, as I figure he is a relatively low risk prospect, who should turn out to be an at least adequate player, even if he doesn't become a star.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB/S, Nebraska  Ht: 6'2.5"   Wt:  218
40 time: 4.61  2nd Gear:  -0.06   Agility Score:  -0.007   Avg. PD:  13.5
Is it wrong for me to downgrade a prospect, simply because I think he might be a moron?  That's sort of the vibe I get when I see this player interviewed, and the fact that he will also be a 24 year old rookie doesn't help to dispel these intelligence/maturity concerns.  Nevertheless, I do find Monsieur Jean-Baptiste to be extremely interesting, and if we eliminated all of the idiots from the NFL, there might not be many guys left standing.  The problem here is determining what position he will play.  If he ends up playing cornerback, I think he could struggle, though the Seahawks have gotten good mileage out of similar over-sized prospects recently.  Still, I think his Agility Score, and short shuttle time of 4.33 seconds would probably make this a questionable idea.  As a safety, on the other hand, these concerns are greatly diminished, and he does possess excellent size for that position.  Perhaps more importantly, he has the power to play that position.  As I said before, I want a strong safety to have a Kangaroo Score of about 1.000 standard deviations above average.  Jean-Baptiste's score was 2.594, which is simply stunning.  That's some very impressive lower body power, but despite what his size and power might suggest, I like him more as a free safety than as a strong safety.  It's his ability to get his hands on the ball, rather than his hitting/tackling ability, that really impresses me, which probably isn't surprising considering that he is a converted wide receiver.  Now, his official 40 time of 4.61 seconds is somewhat worrisome, though that too would be borderline tolerable for a safety.  Fortunately, he improved upon this time at his pro day, running a reported 4.45.  Pro day results can be a bit questionable at times, but I would probably be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here, and say that he probably runs in the mid-to-low 4.5s.  If he is still there in the 3rd round he could be a fairly interesting target for Team Kangaroo.

Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon St.  Ht: 5' 10"  Wt.: 189
40 time: 4.51  2nd Gear:  -0.01   Agility Score:  1.049   Avg. PD:  13
Well, he's not that big and he's not that fast.  He is, however, quite quick (1.50 second 10-yard split), and very nimble.  If a team can accept his physical limitations, and provide some safety help against much faster opponents, I think he could provide at least adequate depth.  He didn't make much of a positive impression on me when I watched him play, but if he slid to the 4th or 5th round, I might be interested.  In the end, I'm really not much of a fan, despite some of his measurable traits.

Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice   Ht: 6' 0.3"  Wt.: 193
40 time: 4.38  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  1.163   Avg. PD:  15.5
For a someone who is generally listed as a mid-round pick, I think the calculation of risk vs reward would be rather favorable here.  Athletically, he is clearly quite gifted, and comparable perhaps to the smaller Jason Verrett, though Verrett seems to be a scrappier player.  From the little I have been able to see, he appears to cover his opponent quite tightly, and he has managed to get his hands on the ball fairly frequently even if he hasn't turned a lot of those opportunities into interceptions.  It's a bit harder to judge him as a tackler, since I didn't see him get many opportunities to do this, but when the opportunity arose he appeared quite willing to at least make an effort here.  He has missed playing time in the past due to injuries, though none of them appeared to be too serious.  While I often see him listed as a 4th to 5th round prospect, I doubt he will last that long in the draft, and I would probably start to target him in the 3rd round.  At this point, he is probably one of my three favorite corners in this year's draft, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he ends up outperforming more highly touted players like Gilbert and Dennard, though he might not get as many opportunities early on.

Dontae Johnson, CB/S, NC State   Ht: 6' 2"  Wt.: 200
40 time: 4.45  2nd Gear:  0.08   Agility Score:  -0.024   Avg. PD:  6.5
As a cornerback, I don't find Johnson to be terribly impressive.  He does appear to be a fairly good tackler though, and with his size and athletic traits, I could see him as a moderately interesting safety (which he has played in the past).  Since I value the Kangaroo Score a bit more for safeties, I will say that his result of  0.710 is a good, but not necessarily shocking result for a safety.  If someone insists on using him as a corner, I suspect he will struggle with more nimble wide receivers, who he probably doesn't have the agility to keep up with.  I generally see people projecting him to be selected in the 5th to 6th round, which seems like a reasonable place to take someone like him, depending on who is available at other positions that might be more interesting.

Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke    Ht: 6'   Wt: 191
40 time: 4.56  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  -1.453   Avg. PD:  16.5
Once again, we have to decide how we feel about pro day results.  I wouldn't normally even raise this issue, but Cockrell was so productive, that I am wary of being too dismissive of his abilities.   While his 40 time was fairly weak, he did manage to improve this at his pro day to a 4.46.  Similarly, while I wouldn't normally pay much attention to a corner with an Agility Score of -1.453, he likewise improved this to a more average -0.138 at his pro day.  These still aren't exciting results, but they are at least acceptable, especially for someone who is only projected to be taken in the 5th or 6th round.  Maybe he was drunk at the combine, I really don't know.  Personally, he struck me as a pretty good player, which makes me want to trust his pro day results, but truthfully, I would probably pass on him in favor of a more athletically superior prospect.  That's how we roll.

Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame  Ht: 5'11.75"  Wt: 195
40 time: 4.51  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  0.974   Avg. PD:  6.5
I should probably mention that he did improve his 40 time to a 4.40, at his pro day, though you can take that with a grain of salt.  He didn't get his hands on the ball as much as I would hope to see, but when he did, it seemed to frequently result in an interception (6 in the last two years).  As far as his tackling ability is concerned, I really haven't come to any strong conclusions yet.  At this point I would strongly lean towards Jackson, over someone like Rashaad Reynolds.  People seem to project that Jackson will be taken in the 5th or 6th round, which seems fairly reasonable to me.  Probably not a bad corner, for someone who can be picked up rather cheaply, even if he will possibly only become a #3 or #4 corner on a lot of teams.

Travis Carrie, CB, Ohio  Ht: 5'11.5"  Wt: 206
40 time: 4.43  2nd Gear:  0.12   Agility Score:  -0.298   Avg. PD:  14.5
Yes, I know this is becoming a bit of a theme, but I want to see someone use him as a safety.  Could he do okay as a corner?  Maybe.  He probably wouldn't do any worse at corner than some of the overrated prospects that people have been hyping.  I'm just not sure if he would thrive there.  At safety, I think he has a shot at really excelling, and his 1.415 Kangaroo Score suggest he has the power to make this switch.  That he has generally managed to get his hands on a lot of balls, and appears to be a decent tackler doesn't hurt either.  Will I get my way here, and see a position switch?  Probably not.  CBS is listing him as a player who will go undrafted, but I think he's probably worth picking up, and would start considering him around the 5th round.

Dashaun Phillips, CB, Tarleton St.  Ht: 5'11" Wt: 182
40 time: 4.48  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  1.328   Avg. PD:  8.5
I can't really say too much about Phillips, because I have never gotten to see him play.  I suppose ESPN got too much criticism about all of their Tarleton State coverage, and decided to shift the spotlight to an underdog program like Alabama.  Since he comes from a low level program, is a bit of a lightweight, and only had moderate production, it is fairly obvious why he is generally projected to go undrafted.  On the other hand, he appears to be very agile, acceptably fast, and can be had for less than a ham sandwich.  Considering the poor state of most teams' #3 or #4 cornerback, I think he might be well worth bringing in as an UDFA, just to see if he might have something.

Brandon Watts, LB/S, Georgia Tech  Ht: 6' 1.75"  Wt: 225
40 time: 4.41  2nd Gear:  ?   Agility Score:  -0.097   Avg. PD:  1.5
This is another peculiar player that I have been unable to watch, but I thought he was worth mentioning.  Yes, he was actually a linebacker, not a defensive back, but at his pro day he only weighed 225# (though the team's site, and other sources, sometimes claim he weighs 235#, which is probably fiction), which would give him an excellent frame for a strong safety.  In terms of his measured agility, he would actually be above average for a strong safety, and more in line with what I expect to see in a free safety.  His lower body power, however, is way beyond what I would hope for in a free safety, and even exceeds the results of most strong safeties, with a 2.014 Kangaroo Score.  His college production was just okay, but maybe this was due to being a bit undersized for the position he was playing.  I really don't know since, as I said, I haven't been able to watch him play.  Physically, he is almost a clone of Stanley Jean-Baptiste, though slightly bigger and faster.  Since he is projected to go undrafted, I think he is well worth picking up as a UDFA.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 Defensive Tackles

Very gradually, just slowly enough to not be noticed by my friends and family, my brain is turning into tapioca from staring at information related to the NFL Draft.  I really need to find a more sensible hobby.  Maybe I'll build a trebuchet in my backyard.  Or, perhaps, I could learn to knit sweaters for Reilly.  Almost anything would be more productive than obsessing over the draft, and probably much less frustrating.

Now, on with the lunacy...

My first impression of the defensive tackles that are available for the 2014 NFL Draft, is that they aren't particularly exciting.  There are a few that I think should turn out quite well, but the overall quality and depth seems very weak.  At some point I'll really have to compare this group to the ones from some of the more recent drafts, to see if this really is a weak crop, or if it is just my imagination.  Either way, I just thought I should mention this, to explain why I'm going to be exceptionally negative on the DT subject.

As always, I will include the player's Kangaroo Score (my measure of lower body power), and the Agility Score (which comes from their short shuttle drill and 3-cone drill).  Each score is given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is above, or below, the average result for someone in their position group.  I will also list the average number of tackles for a loss (TFL) that a player had in their last two years in college, just to provide some rough measure of how disruptive they were.

While I am sure that some player will emerge, who does quite well despite not being seen as very appealing by the computer (and vice versa, someone the computer likes will under-perform), this isn't of any great concern to me.  I'm just trying to see if a team would wind up with better results, over a period of time, if they bet on certain players, that fit a particular athletic/statistical profile.  I don't expect this to appeal to everyone, but if you're curious as to my justifications for this, you can read the post on Athleticism and the Defensive Tackle, which should quickly put most people to sleep.

This list will continue to be modified/updated as new data and prospects come to my attention.  I won't list every prospect here, but will just focus on the ones that I think are interesting for one reason or another.  Last updated: 4/6/2014

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Kangaroo Score:  0.195   Agility Score:  1.517   TFL:  18.5
So far, Aaron Donald is far and away the best/safest DT prospect that I can see amongst the players who will be taken in the draft.  While he may not have the raw power that I normally would like a prospect to have, his ridiculous Agility Score more than adequately makes up for this.  He has also been insanely productive despite being surrounded by mediocre talent at Pittsburgh, which is obviously nice to see.  I suspect he will be an extremely safe pick, but with that being said, I think his success will depend on what team he winds up on.  For a 3-4 defense he could be somewhat useless, as the linemen you see in that defense tend to be relied upon to tie up blockers so that the OLBs can do the pass rushing, and I doubt that he has the power to do that.  In a 4-3 defense, he could be a quick (1.59 10-yard split) and slippery penetrator of the opponent's offensive line.  Even here, I think he would benefit from having a mammoth nose tackle next to him, to provide the run stopping presence, and to allow Donald to do what he does best.  He might even be interesting as a 4-3 DE, though his scores come out very differently when compared to the players in that position group (1.014 Kangaroo Score, and a 0.142 Agility Score when compared to DEs & 3-4 OLBs).  He's probably the only DT that I can really justify taking in the 1st round.

Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
Kangaroo Score:  -0.400   Agility Score:  -1.800   TFL:  4.75
Do you remember when Terrence Cody was a hot nose tackle prospect?  Do you remember how that turned out?  Actually, I don't think it will turn out quite that badly for Nix, but I do expect him to have significant troubles.  I'm not really that concerned about Nix's lack of impressive college production, as nose tackles don't tend to be great accumulators of stats.  I am, however, mildly horrified by his measurable traits, as his lack of power and agility spells major trouble.  I've heard some discussions saying that he could still be recovering from injuries, which might perhaps explain some of this, but I'm not here to give the benefit of the doubt.  I am here to doubt.  I think Nix will most likely end up being a fairly high draft pick that some team will quickly regret.  This appears to be one of those cases where people look at an enormous player (he weighs 331 pounds) from a famous college football program, and they just assume he is actually powerful, even if all of the evidence points in the opposite direction.  Much like Santa Claus, I think his physical proportions suggest a high-cookie diet, rather than power.  I would nix whatever plans I might have when it comes to selecting him (I had to say it).

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Kangaroo Score:  -0.618   Agility Score:  -0.477   TFL:  9.5
Jernigan was moderately productive in his time at Florida State, but not so productive as to justify being selected in the first 2 rounds, where he is projected to go.  When we also consider his poor athletic ability, I really fail to see what people are so excited about here.  Also, his name is Timmy.  You have to hold that against him.  I suppose that there are some who call him...Tim.  I would suggest getting a refund on your season tickets, if your team selects Jernigan at the top of the draft.

RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Kangaroo Score:  1.515   Agility Score:  -0.001   TFL:  10.25
Athletically, these are the kind of results I would expect from a nose tackle, just pure power.  He is a true demonstration of die vollidiot stärke in action.  At 6'6" tall, however, that position probably wouldn't be a great fit for him.  He probably fits better as a 3-4 DE, though I'm not sure if his mediocre agility wouldn't be a problem there.  While his Agility Score is perfectly acceptable, and average, how he reaches this result is a bit peculiar.  His result from the 3-Cone drill was -0.717 standard deviations below average.  On the other hand, his result from the short shuttle was 0.714 standard deviations above average.  I normally associate this with a player that has a stiff upper body, but a somewhat flexible lower half.  I don't enjoy discussing other men's flexible lower halves, so you can make of this what you will, and come to your own conclusions about Hageman.  I think teams will find a place for him, and he could be useful in a 3-4 or a 4-3, just because of his exceptional power, but I'm not sure if I would bet on him becoming a star.  He was only moderately productive, which is a bit disappointing considering his physical gifts, so I wouldn't take him before the 2nd round.  Still, players with his ability and level of production can generally be expected to become at least solid/average players at least 60% of the time, which is a higher likelihood of success than you will typically get with most other DT prospects.  He supposedly scored a 13 on his Wonderlic, so I would have to expect that he is indeed a moron, not that there is anything wrong with that.  The odds that this leads to him being bankrupt within five minutes of filing his retirement papers is not anything for us to be concerned with.

Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
Kangaroo Score:  ?   Agility Score:  ?   TFL:  11
I'm actually fairly curious about Tuitt, based on his statistical production in Notre Dame's defense, but until I get some sort of results from his pro day, I can't really say too much one way or another.

Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
Kangaroo Score:  -1.620   Agility Score:  ?   TFL:  11
I still need the data to figure out his Agility Score, but at this point the signs are pointing in a troubling direction.  While he was a moderately productive player, it's not as if he didn't have a fair amount of talent around him at South Carolina to give him a boost.  I would be extremely wary of a defensive tackle with such poor Kangaroo Score.  Unless Kelcy quarrels with chipmunks, he might get overpowered.

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Kangaroo Score:  -0.842   Agility Score:  -0.327   TFL:  18.5
Unlike a lot of the mediocre prospects I see in this draft, Sutton at least produced at a very high level while in college.  Unfortunately, I still have some concerns, because his teammates Carl Bradford, Davon Coleman, and Chris Young also produced at a high level, making me wonder who was really benefiting from this collection of talent.  So far, I am starting to suspect that Sutton might have been one of the larger beneficiaries in this situation, based on his relatively poor athletic traits.  He did improve his Agility Score to 0.048 at his pro day, but I don't generally count that as the official result unless I have to.  Even if I did adjust this score, it still wouldn't be high enough for me to take a gamble on him.  I wouldn't dismiss him altogether, but I also wouldn't pin my hopes, or a high draft pick, on him.  I would probably avoid him, though I am curious to see what he becomes.

Kerry Hyder, DT, Texas Tech
Kangaroo Score:  -0.394  Agility Score:  1.473   TFL:  12.75
Since he is only projected to be a sixth round pick by most people, I could see some reasons to take a shot at him.  He sort of measures up as a poor man's Aaron Donald.  Similar to Donald, I would probably expect him to fit better in a 4-3 defense.  Personally, I probably wouldn't pursue him, but I wouldn't mock someone who does choose to do so.

Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin
Kangaroo Score:  1.049  Agility Score:  0.977   TFL:  4.75
My, my, what have we got here?  For a player who is projected to be a late-round-to-undrafted prospect, I have to say that I am rather intrigued.  As I said when discussing Louis Nix, I am not terribly concerned with a nose tackle that has mediocre stats, and as you would expect Allen's college stat sheet really isn't too stunning.  His average TFL result would actually be slightly higher, at 6.5, if we looked at his two-year results prior to the 2013 season, after which his role in Wisconsin's defense changed a bit.  He's actually eerily similar to Nix in almost every statistical category, outside of tackles, where Nix has a bit of a lead, though he obviously crushes Nix in terms of athletic ability.  Regardless, all I want out of a nose tackle is a fat guy with the power and athletic ability to tie up opposing offensive linemen, and for the paltry cost it would take to acquire Allen, I think he could be well worth going after.  When it comes to nose tackles, you almost require a Kangaroo Score that is around one standard deviation above average, and Allen manages to hit that mark.  As for his agility, his nimbly-toed results are really quite unusual for a man as large as he is (329 pounds), which is just a nice little bonus.  The biggest concern I have with someone like Allen, is whether a team will actually give him enough of an opportunity, as late round picks tend to be treated rather poorly.  Despite this, I view him as a interesting target for Team Kangaroo, as there is minimal risk or investment required to go after him, but potentially a reasonable payoff.  I might actually target him as high as the 5th round, depending on who else is available at other positions, though he is generally projected to go even later than that.

Bruce Gaston, DT, Purdue
Kangaroo Score:  1.024  Agility Score:  0.508   TFL:  6.25
Athletically, Gaston has a lot in common with Beau Allen, despite being about 20 pounds lighter.  While this makes Allen's Agility Score seem even more impressive, due to his enormousness, I think I actually prefer Gaston in many ways.  Gaston may, or may not, be a suitable player to be used as a nose tackle, but I think he is more versatile than Allen.  I also think he benefited less from surrounding talent than Allen did, as Purdue has kind of been an embarrassment the last couple years.  The more I picked apart their stats, the more the data seemed to point to Gaston as the preferred pick, amongst the late-round lottery ticket types of DTs.  When I watched Gaston play, he clearly seemed to be the more disruptive of the two, and while I wouldn't bet on Gaston becoming a star, I do suspect he should at least provide good depth for a team looking for a DT..  He generally seems to be ranked as a 7th round to undrafted prospect, but I suspect he could turn out to be better than a number of the guys who will be taken in the first three rounds....if he is given a chance....which probably won't happen.  I would happily target him in the last couple of rounds.

Monday, March 24, 2014

When you wish upon a star...

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you... free agency

Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I don't want to do it!!!  I don't want to talk about free agency!!!

I wasn't going to say anything about the free agency period.  People want to hear nice things about their team's decisions, and maintain a sense of optimism.  I'm not very good at the optimism thing.  Out of some basic awareness of the possibility that I might be an assh*le, I thought I should just keep my grim thoughts to myself...but it's just so hard sometimes (that's what she said).

I really don't care that the Ravens resigned Eugene Monroe, despite the fact that I have repeatedly ranted about how I suspect Monroe is probably mediocre.  It was a predictable move, and I had already braced myself for this inevitability.  The only interesting aspect of this, from my perspective, was that they could have signed Jared Veldheer for slightly less money.  Not everybody is sold on Veldheer to the degree that I probably am, so I guess the benefits of this alternative outcome would be debatable.

Now, even if we ignore the Veldheer option, does it strike anyone as interesting that Monroe only pulled a contract that will pay him $7.5 million per year (couch cushion money)?  Seems to me that there wasn't really that much demand for him, though some will spin this in a more positive manner.  Team loyalty!  Ozzie is a genius!  He wants to play for a winner!  Blah, blah, blah...whatever.  What if the team just felt compelled to show that they really got something out of the two draft picks they traded away to acquire Monroe, rather than viewing that as a sunk cost, and moving on?  People frequently have a difficult time backing away from investments that don't pay off to the degree that they had hoped they would (Hello, Iraq!).  On the other hand, if the team had pursued Veldheer, it most likely would have cost them a mid round compensatory pick in 2015, that they would likely receive for the loss of DT Arthur Jones.  If there is one thing that the Ravens do well, it is to acquire compensatory picks, which is why they rarely target young, expensive free agents, which would count against them in the compensatory pick calculations.  After all, those compensatory picks are quickly becoming the bulk of their picks, since they seem increasingly eager in recent years to trade away draft picks to fill holes at positions they are perpetually incapable of drafting well. 

Umm, but I'm not annoyed by the Monroe signing at all.  Nope.  Not at all.  He's serviceable, even if I do think he is a bit overpaid.

No, it wasn't the signing of WR Steve Smith that stirred me to rant like a loon.  After all, how can you not like Steve Smith?  He's been an excellent receiver, who has had a great career.  Now, he may be a 5'9", 35 year old receiver (at the start of the 2014 season), who will probably stunt the development of any young receivers on the Ravens roster, as they will now get less playing time, but...umm...sure he still probably has something left in the tank.  Actually, the possibility of stunting a young receiver's development would only be a problem if we believed that the Ravens had accidentally drafted one with talent, which is improbable considering the team's history.  In the end it is probably a good thing for the Ravens to sign Smith, which is basically a public acknowledgement of the fact that they can't draft anyone to play the position.

No, that wasn't what annoyed me, because as these things go, Steve Smith is rather cheap, and probably a fairly harmless acquisition.

No, the thing that really annoyed me was the one acquisition that I probably think was their smartest move.  That would be the acquisition of Jeremy Zuttah from the Buccaneers.  Yes, I think Zuttah is probably a fairly decent player.  The computer even backs me up on this hunch, as his -0.405 Kangaroo Score and 0.837 Agility Score, with a short shuttle time of 4.54 seconds, places him comfortably within the range of what I expect to see from a successful center prospect (though I am a bit wary of him as a guard).  So, why is this making me so crazy?  I should be happy about this, shouldn't I?

The reason it annoys me is because, once again, the Ravens are trading away draft picks to address "needs".  Sure, people will say that it is only a 5th round pick in 2015, but that's not the point.  In this past year alone, the team has already traded away 3 draft picks for offensive linemen, with this being the 4th.  At what point did the Ravens decide that throwing these sort of band-aids on a situation made more sense than trying to find cheap young talent in the draft?  

Now, I'm sure that some people will say that replacing Gradkowski at center was a priority, and I would offer no defense to Gino.  He sucked.  I still doubt that they will cut him, which is perhaps the funniest aspect of all of this, because that would be too much of an admission of failure on the team's part.  He will probably stay on the team, tying up a roster spot, until his rookie contract is up.  Continuing to occupy that roster spot means that the team won't be giving someone else a chance to come in and compete.  That just means you need to make even better decisions in the future with your draft picks, in order to compensate for the dead weight you are carrying.

Of course, if Zuttah ends up performing at a reasonable level (which I suspect he will), nobody will care.  People often seem to take the attitude that whenever they manage to identify who the worst player is, that upgrading that position is then such a priority that common sense can be ignored.  You say that you have to have a big name QB to get to the Super Bowl?  Okay, blow $20 million on that, and see if that works.  Oh, but you say that you now need a top tier left tackle to protect him, or you QB isn't worth much?  Throw down another $10 million.  Wait!  Now, they are just blitzing us up the middle, and our center sucks!  WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!  Wait a minute.  Now our offense is really clicking, but our defense is giving up so many points that we are still losing games.  What should we do?

Look, no matter what you do, every team is going to have its weak spots.  A smart team figures out how to work around this, and conceal these weaknesses.  Now, would I have been content to stick with Gradkowski?  No, but I already drafted a center last year in anticipation of Gradkowski's seemingly inevitable failure.  Maybe that pick will eventually work out, maybe it won't.  Either way, there will be other options in this year's draft as well.  Finding somebody who could at least be a serviceable replacement should have been quite manageable, since there was no direction to go but up.  Even a mediocre center would have been fine.  A competent or average player is a surprisingly underrated commodity.

All I know is that continuing to pursue these kinds of acquisitions will generally end up hurting you down the road.  I just feel as if many of the moves that the Ravens have made in recent years have had the faint aroma of panic and desperation about them.  It's a scent I normally associate with the Jets.  Then again, victory supposedly smells like "napalm in the morning", so knowing which direction your franchise is headed could be tricky.