Friday, October 10, 2014

Pass Rushers...Now Lobotomized!

For reasons that are probably related to an undiagnosed mental disorder, our post on the Lobotomy Line was among the ones that I enjoyed the most.  Speculating on "what could have been", if a computer drafted offensive linemen based purely on measurable physical traits, gave me a bit of a chuckle.  For the most part, the computer had no problem matching, or simply outperforming, the draft picks that the Ravens made.  So, I thought we would play a similar game with pass rushers, to see how the computer could have theoretically done, in comparison to a handful of NFL teams.  The goal, just as it was when we looked at offensive linemen, was to go about this in as stupid and straightforward a manner as possible. 

When the NFL calendar rolls around to draft season in the spring, I frequently see people bemoaning the lack of quality pass rushers that are available.  Often, I hear people suggesting that if a team wants to improve their pass rush, they are pretty much required to take a player in the first round.  It's simply about supply and demand, so you have to pounce on the highly touted prospects, since there are so few quality players available.

To some extent they might be right.  The general quality of players taken in the first few rounds is a bit better, on average.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of this perception is also guided by the fact that teams just do a horrible job of identifying talent.  I suspect that there is a higher availability of talent than some may realize, though it sometimes gets overlooked.

When we discussed Reilly's views on drafting pass rushers (in the not very creatively titled Explosive Pass Rushers), we suggested a method that we believe should produce a successful pick between 65 - 82% of the time.  Of course, this suggested success rate hinged upon always drafting the best available pass rushers, in the eyes of the computer.  This doesn't necessarily mean taking somebody in the 1st round, as the computer's view on who the best player in a particular draft class can sometimes be surprising.  Still, it does frequently involve making a substantial investment of draft capital.  It's entirely possible that a team might not feel inclined to do that on a regular/annual basis.  When you start targeting lower tier pass rushers, your success rate will obviously go down a bit, though I think there are still some surprising opportunities out there.  Those less obvious opportunities are what we are going to explore today.

The rules for this game, however, will be slightly more complicated than when we were picking offensive linemen.  Just like we did before, the computer will pick one player per year, from the 2004-2013 draft classes.  We will discuss the computer's method of prioritizing these players in a second, but for now will just say that it is only looking at players whose weight ranges from 245-285 pounds (based on their combine weigh in), which is roughly the range in which you find most 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers.  The computer will not be able to pick anyone who was taken before the 3rd round.  Even when we reach the 3rd round, the computer will be blocked from taking players if they wouldn't have been available to them according the additional rules which will follow.  The computer will also be barred from selecting players who went undrafted.  In the end, the computer will simply be looking for the best combination of athletic ability and statistical production in college.

First of all, let's discuss the athletic ability portion of this game.  Now, in the approach we took in the previously mentioned Explosive Pass Rushers post, we gave a bit more weight to some combine drills than others.  We're going to foolishly throw that idea out the window, for the moment.  Instead, we're just going to give equal weight to a player's Kangaroo Score (based in equal parts on their vertical jump and broad jump), and their Agility Score (based in equal parts on their short shuttle and 3-cone drill).  By simply combining these two scores together, we will arrive at a Total Score, which gives equal weight to all four of these drills.  Personally, I think this is a stupid thing to do, but stupid is what we are aiming for.  In the end, we are looking for players that are at least 0.500 standard deviations above average, relative to their peers, and when they are in short supply we will lower our standards to 0.300.  These thresholds were simply chosen because they are the ones we have used in the past, though they really weren't intended to be used in this way.  Again, stupidity and a lack of effort are our goals.  The 40-yard dash will almost completely be ignored in all of this, except that we will have a cutoff of 4.90 seconds for all of the prospects, which really isn't setting the bar very high at all.

Now, we get to the statistical production portion of the computer's judgment process.  All the computer will consider here is the average number of tackles for a loss that a player produced in their final two years in college.  Player's who attended non-Division I schools will be penalized with a 25% deduction from their actual results.  How did we settle on 25%?  Well, we kind of pulled that number out of our ass.  Remember our goal of being stupid?  We're achieving that quite nicely.  Regardless of the questionable (half-assed) scientific merits of this 25% figure, it only seemed fair to say that players at a lower level of competition should have their statistical production downgraded a bit.

Okay, so we have to combine this athletic potential, with the player's statistical production in some way.  Once again, we're just going to go with the method suggested near the end of the post on Explosive Pass Rushers, even though it was intended to be used somewhat differently.


Players Over 0.500 Players Over 0.300
Avg. TFL Round Avg. TFL Round
15                                 1st N/A N/A
14                                 2nd N/A N/A
13                                 3rd 15                                  3rd
12                                 4th 14                                  4th
11                                 5th 13                                  5th
10                                 6th 12                                  6th
9                                  7th 11                                  7th


Let's give an example of how this works.  If a player had a Total Score over 0.500 (for his athletic ability), and averaged 12 tackles for a loss in his final two college seasons, the computer would give him a 4th round draft grade.  The computer would not be allowed to select him any higher than this.  At the same time, a player with a Total Score of 0.300, but who averaged 15 tackles for a loss, would be given a 3rd round draft grade, which would put them slightly ahead of the previously mentioned, but more athletically gifted player.  I've always had a policy of not drafting players with sub-0.500 total scores before the 3rd round, which is why you see the 0.300 group having no proposed draft grade that could have them selected in the 1st or 2nd round, which we've carried over to this game, even though it is irrelevant for our purposes, since none of the computer's picks will come in the first two rounds anyway.

In the end, this might seem fairly complicated to some people, but it really isn't.  It's just a very basic system of balancing potential versus actual proven performance.  The less athletically gifted a player is, the more the computer will demand to see evidence of exceptional production.  The more freakishly gifted an athlete is, the more the computer is going to be willing to gamble on potential and upside.  I suspect my description of the process the computer will use makes it sound much more complicated than it really is. Let me see if I can simplify things.

We want freakish athletes with a lot of tackles for a loss.

There, that sounds a lot better, doesn't it?  Oh well, I tried.  Let's just move on to the list of players that the computer would have selected over this 10 year span.



2013
Mike Catapano
207th Pick
Princeton

Even with a 25% reduction to his average of 12.75 TFL (since he came from Princeton), Catapano still winds up with a result of 9.56 TFL.  This in combination with his Total Score of 0.789, would result in the computer giving him a 7th round grade, which is in fact where he was selected by the Chiefs.  While his contributions have been minimal so far, his Kangaroo Score of 1.176, and Agility Score of 0.402 are very intriguing.  Only time will tell what he will become.

2012
Miles Burris
129th pick
San Diego State

At just 246 pounds, Burris barely qualifies for this list.  Still, the rules are the rules, so he is the computer's pick for 2012.  At his current playing weight of 240 pounds, the computer wouldn't have been able to select him at all.  Averaging 19.5 TFL, with a Total Score of 0.783, the computer would give him a 1st round grade, which is obviously a bit insane.  It's perhaps fortunate, in this case, that the computer is barred from taking him any higher than the 3rd round, which is one round ahead of where Burris was actually selected.  That's a price I would have been perfectly happy to pay for someone with his physical gifts (a 0.319 Kangaroo Score, and a 1.246 Agility Score).  I have to admit that I am fairly interested in how Burris' career progresses, as I've briefly mentioned before, though I do question the way in which the Raiders have chosen to utilize him.

2011
Justin Houston
70th Pick
Georgia

Averaging 16.75 TFL, with a Total Score of 1.043, the computer would have given Justin Houston a 1st round grade.  Fortunately, NFL teams didn't feel the same way about this, and let him fall to the 3rd round, where the computer would have happily and quickly picked him up.  In retrospect, I think people would agree that the computer's evaluation was probably the more correct one in this case.  It really does seem odd to me that NFL teams would have let a player with a 1.581 Kangaroo Score and a 0.506 Agility Score  slide this far... until you consider that none of these numbers actually matter to them.

2010
Austen Lane 
153rd Pick
Murray State

When we adjust Lane's 20.75 TFL to 15.56 TFL, due to his level of competition, and combine it with his barely passable Total Score of 0.304, he becomes the computer's pick for 2010.  The options for the computer were fairly slim in this year, so we sort of have to write this one off as a failure, as Lane did very little in his brief time in the NFL.

2009
Michael Johnson
70th Pick
Georgia Tech

Depending on whether or not we round up Johnson's 11.75 TFL,  and combine it with his Total Score of 0.732, the computer would have given Johnson something in the range of a 3rd or 4th round grade.  Since I can't find another 2009 prospect that the computer would have even viewed as draftable, we're sort of forced to go with the round-it-up-to-12 TFL option, and say that the computer would take Johnson in the 3rd round, which is indeed where he was actually selected.  I'm not really a huge fan of Johnson, but he's been relatively productive, so we can live with this result.

2008
Trevor Scott
169th Pick
Buffalo

With an average of 14.25 TFL, and a Total Score of 0.608, Scott would have been the computer's pick in 2008.  Injuries, and perhaps a lack of opportunity, seem to have slowed Scott's career.  He had 12 sacks in his first two NFL seasons, but has rarely been asked to start many games since then.  He's still bouncing around the league, and I have to wonder if he may be a bit underutilized.

2007
Brian Robison
102nd pick
Texas

This is a fairly interesting situation.  With Robison's average of 12 TFL, along with his Total Score of 1.154, the computer would have given him a 4th round grade, which is in fact, precisely where he was selected.  While his athletic ability is spectacular (with a 1.383 Kangaroo Score, and a 0.926 Agility Score), it's only his college production that held him back from getting a much higher grade.  While his NFL career started off a bit slowly, this seems to largely be due to playing behind Jared Allen and Ray Edwards in his first few years.  Since becoming a regular starter in 2011, by which point he was unfortunately already 28 years old, Robison has averaged 8.5 sacks per year, from 2011-2013.  I strongly suspect that the Vikings might have wasted a lot of the best years that Robison had to offer.

2006
Chris Gocong
71st Pick
Cal Poly

Chris Gocong never became the sort of pass rusher that I would have hoped for, but he seems to have still been a serviceable player.  What makes this even more disappointing, is that the computer's 2md and 3rd choices for 2006 would have been Rob Ninkovich and Mark Anderson, who were both more successful.  Still, I suppose things could have been worse.

2005
Justin Tuck
74th
Notre Dame

With an average of 16.5 TFL, and a Total Score of 0.528, the computer would have given Justin Tuck a 1st round grade.  Fortunately for us, he actually fell to the 3rd round, where the computer would have happily pounced on him.  While Tuck has exclusively played as a 4-3 defensive end, I think his 1.060 Kangaroo Score and -0.004 Agility Score might have also made playing 3-4 OLB a real possibility.  I guess we'll never know for sure.

2004
Roderick Green
153rd Pick
Central Missouri

This is a perfect example of why I am hesitant to dumb down our little system for identifying pass rushers.  Based on our normal method of doing things, where we give more weight to some combine drills than we do for others, Green would be rated much lower.  He also only weighed 245 pounds at his weigh in, so he would just barely qualify for this list.  In reality, there are numerous factors which would have made it unlikely that this would have been our actual pick, and it's particularly unfortunate since the computer's next two options would have been the vastly more successful Shaun Phillips and Jared Allen.  Still, the rules are the rules.  Roderick F***ing Green it is!



Okey-dokey, the computer has made it's ten picks, so let's see what sort of picture this presents to us.  Depending on whether we are considering the average or median pick at which these players were actually taken at, the results would be around the 119th or 115th pick, which places most of them solidly within the 4th round area.  So, these players generally didn't cost much to acquire.  When you consider how low most peoples' expectations are for players who are selected at that point in the draft, our expectations should probably be quite modest.

When we consider how productive these players have been, I want to focus not just on their sacks, but also on how many games they've played in, and how many games they were listed as a starter.  For this, we're going to refer to Potential Games Played.  Instead of just saying how many games a player actually played, we're going to count how many they could have theoretically played.  If a player was drafted 2 years ago, they could have potentially played in 32 regular season games.  We want to use Potential Games Played, because it will actually give us a measuring stick that is a bit crueler and less forgiving of injuries, or players who briefly played, but were booted out of the league.  We'll just abbreviate this to POTGP.  The results listed here will just reflect what they have done from the time they were drafted, through the end of the 2013 NFL season.


Player   POTGP        GP        GS      Sacks  Sack/POTGP      % GP      % GS
Mike Catapano 16 15 0 1 0.062 93.75 0
Miles Burris 32 22 15 1.5 0.046 68.75 46.87
Justin Houston 48 43 37 29.5 0.614 89.58 77.08
Austen Lane 64 30 17 3 0.046 46.87 26.56
Michael Johnson 80 79 45 26.5 0.331 98.75 56.25
Trevor Scott 96 76 18 16.5 0.171 79.16 18.75
Brian Robison 112 110 54 39 0.348 98.21 48.21
Chris Gocong 128 79 67 9.5 0.074 61.71 52.34
Justin Tuck 144 127 90 61.5 0.427 88.19 62.5
Roderick Green 160 54 0 12 0.075 33.75 0








Total 880 635 343 200 0.227 75.15 38.97



I think it's fairly safe to say that Justin Houston, Brian Robison, and Justin Tuck would probably be viewed by most people as successes, and Michael Johnson could arguably fall into that category as well.  Those four players alone account for 156.5 of the computer's 200 sacks.  So, let's say that the computer has been successful about 40% of the time.  Then, we have a couple of oddballs like Miles Burris, Chris Gocong, and perhaps another debatable player of your choice, where you might not consider them successes, but you probably wouldn't call them failures either.  So, depending on how you look at things, the computer might be edging somewhat closer to a 50% success rate.

However you slice it, these results are clearly below the 65- 82% success rate that I have suggested might be possible (numbers which I still believe are attainable).  You have to remember though, we're dealing with a computer that views all the combine drills as being of equal importance in this scenario, which I believe is a fairly huge mistake.  The restriction banning the computer from taking players in the first 2 rounds is also a rather significant handicap.  So, all things considered, I would say that the computer did a fairly decent job, under the circumstances, though how this compares to the results of an actual NFL teams is something we will get into later.

Now, let's address some obvious questions. 

Isn't judging a player solely on their sack production a bit stupid?  Shouldn't they also be judged on how they perform against the running game?

It's not that I believe defending against the running game is completely unimportant, but people get carried away with praising such versatility.   I think if you had a player (defensive end or 3-4 OLB) who was good against the run, but only producing about 3 sacks a year, you'd probably be perfectly willing to trade them for a somewhat one dimensional pass rusher who was capable of putting up 10 sacks a year.  Hell, Dwight Freeney made a career out of it.  While I was never a huge fan of Freeney (Robert Mathis on the other hand, I like quite a bit), he was very good at rushing the passer.  With the way the rules in the NFL are changing to make it nearly impossible for defensive backs to properly cover someone without drawing a penalty flag, I think the only real option is to murder the quarterback.  I also tend to think that a good pass rush benefits the players in coverage, much more than the coverage is likely to benefit the pass rush, though that is an argument that is difficult to resolve.

Also, pass rushers are simply the rarer commodity.  If you just want somebody who is solid against the run, well, you can find someone like that in the 7th round without too much difficulty.

Isn't it cheating to draft players without giving any thought as to whether they are suited for a 4-3 defense, or a 3-4?

I think there tends to be a fairly fine line that divides a 4-3 defensive end from a 3-4 OLB, and a lot of these distinctions get exaggerated.  It's not that I don't believe that there is a difference, it's just that I think the difference probably doesn't matter too much...in most cases.  People also might underestimate the degree to which NFL teams could already be employing players in defensive schemes that might not really suit them.  Take Brian Orakpo, for example.  With his 1.979 Kangaroo Score, he has the sort of explosive pass rushing power that makes me salivate.  On the other hand, his somewhat below average Agility Score of -0.312, could suggest some problems dropping back into coverage.  To some extent, I feel playing in a 4-3 might have been a better fit for him, but overall, he's still been quite successful a getting to the quarterback, averaging about 7.9 sacks per year from 2009-2013, despite missing nearly a full season's worth of games due to injuries.  On the other hand, Jason Babin might fit better in a 3-4, yet continues to play in a 4-3.  With a middling 0.492 Kangaroo Score, but a 0.988 Agility Score, I think he's probably better suited to playing with a bit more space. 

While I would agree that Michael Johnson and Austen Lane probably fit better in a 4-3, and Miles Burris in a 3-4, I'd say that the rest of the computer's picks might be surprisingly flexible.  You also can't underestimate the value of adjusting your team's defensive scheme based on the talent that is available at the time, though most organizations seem to loathe doing so...because they stubbornly think their playbook matters ore than the talent implementing it.

Is it actually sensible to be drafting players like this, every single year?

Well, that all depends on whether you actually care about having a successful pass rush.  If a team is unwilling to invest in the position, then they certainly can't complain about being bad at rushing the passer.  I will say though, that this level of investment in pass rushers really isn't that different from what a lot of NFL teams actually do (though this comparison is going to have to wait until the next post).  In reality, I would probably be less rigid about selecting a player every single year, but might double down on the position in certain years where the talent appears to be stronger.  In the end, this would still probably result in a similar total number of players being taken though.

The biggest problem would probably be continuing to draft pass rushers, even when you already have good ones on the team.  Personally, I think teams should do precisely that, though I can understand how they might feel less incentive to do so.  The goal, from my perspective, isn't just to draft talented players.  It's to draft talented players, that push other talented payers out the door, so that you don't have to re-sign them to the sort of costly contracts that veterans demand.  I think the impact of quality pass rushers is obviously quite high for most teams.  Unfortunately, retaining a high quality veteran pass rusher can be unreasonably expensive, especially when the chances of their talents declining with age seems inevitable.  When you factor in the relative ease with which it appears that replacement talent can be acquired in the draft, I think there's a lot of incentive to not grow too fond of the bird in the hand.

Do I really think an outcome like this is actually likely, or possible, in reality?

Hmm, probably.  I think it is certainly doable, but it would really depend on a lot of difficult to assess.factors, that are outside of the scope of this little test.  I'm really only doing this to see what results might have been possible, if we unleashed a brain damaged computer operating on auto-pilot.  Personally, I think that significantly better results would be quite attainable, and some of the computer's more questionable decisions could have been avoided.  There are additional bits of information the computer is simply unaware of in this game.  A pinch of common sense wouldn't have hurt either  Still, even if the real world results were only half as encouraging as the ones seen here, I believe they would easily beat the results we see from actual NFL teams, but that is something we'll explore in the next post.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Walking Dead Money

It would be difficult to deny that the Ravens had some rather spectacular successes in the draft, starting with their first selections in Baltimore where they selected Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in 1996.  When you additionally throw in players like Peter Boulware, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata, you see a collection of high end players that managed to carry a team through more than a decade, generally with a rather positive outcome in most seasons.

Unfortunately, time moves on, and I have to wonder if the young players that are taking over the team are capable of providing the sort of impact that their predecessors did.  While I've speculated a fair bit about whether the more recent Ravens' drafts have been as successful as their past drafts, I wouldn't deny that the Ravens have still managed to turn up the occasional gem.  The problem seems to be that a number of the team's better picks from recent years aren't showing the longevity we saw with some of the team's past stars, and it's leading to some potentially horrific financial consequences.

With that in mind, I wanted to look at some of the more expensive players that the Ravens currently have under contract.  For the moment, I'm going to leave out Joe Flacco, though we'll discuss him at some point.  I'll also ignore Haloti Ngata's obscene contract, that pays him $16 million/year in 2014 and 2015, since I think the damage has already been done in that case.  It seems fairly likely that Ngata will play out his remaining time, and then move on, which will eliminate that issue.  Instead, I wanted to just look at some of the situations which could have a longer term negative impact on the team.

This clearly starts with Ray Rice situation.  Whether it ever really made sense to give a running back a contract that paid him an average of $7 million/year was always highly debatable, but that question is now a bit irrelevant.  As things currently stand, the Ravens are looking at $9.5 million in dead money for 2015 after cutting Rice   While this is only $1.75 million more than Rice would have cost if he was still on the team, the real problem is that they're now getting nothing in return for the money they are spending.  There's no way around this one.  This situation is going to cause the team a headache, but it's really just a relatively insignificant starting point in examining their financial problems.

Then you have the problem that stems from Dennis Pitta's recent injury.  I've always been a big fan of Pitta, though I've often had issues with the team's utilization of him.  Prior to the 2014 season, the team signed him to a 5 year, $32 million dollar contract, with $11 million in his signing bonus (but $16 million in total guarantees).  They did this despite the fact that he was already 29 years old, and coming off a fairly serious hip injury.  The team threw caution to the wind, and now might be facing some unfortunate and painful consequences.  Now, after suffering a seemingly similar hip injury to the one he had in 2013, you have to wonder if he will ever be able to play again.

If this is the end of the line for Pitta, the team could be looking at another $12.8 million in dead money for 2015, depending on when/if he is cut or chooses to retire.  That would bring the combined Rice/Pitta dead money pool up to $22.3 million, though it's possible that not every single cent of Pitta's dead money would have to hit the team all at once.  It's entirely possible that Pitta and the team might not immediately choose to call it quits on his career, and give him an additional year to recover.  This could also give them additional time to spread out some of this dead money over an additional year or two.

Let's assume that Pitta can return next season.  If Pitta can play, what are the chances that he returns as the same caliber of player that the team thought they were paying for when they gave him the new contract?  The more likely scenario, in my opinion, is that he returns in 2015 only to be put on IR, to delay the acceleration of his dead money hit by one year.  In this case, the Ravens would be effectively be paying $15.2 million in 2015 dead money for Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta, while delaying an additional $6.6 million in dead money from Pitta's contract, which would hit the team in 2016.  This would be somewhat similar to how the team held onto an injured Peter Boulware in 2004 and 2005, despite never starting him.  Unfortunately, I think this sort of optimism is sort of like seeing the silver lining in slowly bleeding to death, versus a quick exsanguination. 

Okay, let's consider some of the broader implications of this situation, before we go any further.  The salary cap in 2014 is about $133 million.  We have no idea what the cap will be in 2015 (though some people have speculated that it could rise to $140 million), but the team is already projected to be at about $136.2 million in 2015, for the 41 players that they will still have under contract.  If Pitta retired, that would push the team's cap number to around $142.8 million, though in this scenario the team would only have 40 players under contract.  Now, even if the team filled out the 13 remaining slots on their roster with undrafted rookies making the league minimum ($435K in 2015), that would still add $5.655 million in cap expenses, pushing their total to $148.4 million.  It seems pretty obvious that filling those 13 roster spots will actually cost more than that amount, but we're just playing pretend.  Now, the Ravens are also currently carrying about $6.3 million in 2014 cap space that they could carry over to 2015 (if they don't spend it before then).  That would reduce the 2015 projection of their cap expenses to about $142.1 million (again, this assumes that Pitta retires, and the unrealistic assumption that 13 roster spots could be filled with players working for the league minimum).  It's not a great situation.

It appears to me that finding additional 2015 cap space would be a priority, but this could mean cutting quality players, simply to cover the expenses of players who are no longer on the team.  It would be like owning two cars, and selling the one that runs, to pay off the debt on the one you totaled.  As far as I can tell, there is really only a small handful of players who the team could cut to free up significant financial room.



Player            2015 Cap Hit                   Savings If Cut
Haloti Ngata $16,000,000 $8,500,000
Marshal Yanda $8,450,000 $5,500,000
Chris Canty $3,326,668 $2,660,000
Sam Koch $3,100,000 $2,500,000
Lardarius Webb $12,000,000 $2,000,000
Albert McClellan $1,200,000 $1,000,000
Daryl Smith $3,375,000 $750,000
Jacoby Jones $3,375,000 $750,000



While some of these players would obviously be less painful sacrifices than others, the easy players to cut don't tend to save the team much money.  So, let's say that we wanted to reduce the team's imaginary 2015 cap number of $142.1 million by about $8-10 million, to give the team some breathing space.  Well, unloading Ngata would go a long way towards reaching that goal, but would also probably put a sizable dent in the defensive line.  Ngata also only has one year remaining on his contract, so maybe it's for the best to let him play out the year.  Unfortunately, if the team doesn't cut (or massively restructure, which could be difficult) Ngata, they would have to cut perhaps 3-5 other players from this list to reach our goal of gaining $8-10 million in additional cap space (I'm sort of assuming that Yanda would be viewed as untouchable).

In the imaginary scenario I presented earlier, the team was already trying to fill 13 roster spots with players working for the league minimum, and now we could be adding 3-5 more roster spots that would need to be filled rather cheaply.  Pretty much anyway you slice it, you can probably expect the team to unload some proven quality, in the hopes that an unknown can do the same job for significantly less money.  Of course, if this was easy to do, the team wouldn't have been paying these players in the first place.

You can probably rule out the Ravens making any sort of substantial moves in the 2015 free agency period.  They simply won't have enough money for big ticket acquisitions.  Any new contracts that pay more than a laughably small $1 million/year are going to be difficult to squeeze in under the cap.  It could also be quite unlikely that the team will be able to resign any of their own free agents such as Justin Tucker, Torrey Smith, Pernell McPhee, or Owen Daniels, as it's doubtful the team would be able to afford them either.  So, accounting for those likely losses becomes a factor in all of this as well.  Even giving the franchise tag to the team's kicker, Justin Tucker, could cost somewhere in the ballpark of $2.51 million, which could prove to be difficult to afford.  So, does it appear that the team is likely to get better, or worse, in 2015?

This brings me to the one contract that the Ravens did recently renegotiate, which really confuses the hell out of me.

Let's take a look at the Ravens' star cornerback Lardarius Webb.  For a mere 3rd round pick in 2009, Webb was clearly a steal.  Despite that, it's hard to be a fan of the way his contract was restructured.  When the team adjusted his contract prior to the 2014 season, converting $4 million of his $7.5 million base pay to future guaranteed money, it became really unclear what they were trying to accomplish.

Let's take a look at his original contract, and then his restructured contract.  Please make some allowances for the fact that the details of these numbers can vary a bit, depending on where you look up the data, so there could be some relatively minor errors in this.


Original




                 Year            Base Pay    Signing Bonus  Other Bonuses               Cap Hit    Dead Money
2012 615,000 2,000,000
2,615,000
2013 2,385,000 2,000,000 1,000,000 5,385,000 13,000,000
2014 7,500,000 2,000,000 1,000,000 10,500,000 10,000,000
2015 8,000,000 2,000,000 1,000,000 10,500,000 7,000,000
2016 8,000,000 2,000,000 1,000,000 11,000,000 4,000,000
2017 8,500,000
1,000,000 9,500,000 1,000,000




Renegotiated




                 Year            Base Pay    Signing Bonus  Other Bonuses               Cap Hit    Dead Money
2012 615,000 2,000,000
2,615,000
2013 2,385,000 2,000,000 1,000,000 5,385,000 13,000,000
2014 3,500,000 2,000,000 2,000,000 7,500,000 14,000,000
2015 8,000,000 2,000,000 2,000,000 12,000,000 10,000,000
2016 8,000,000 2,000,000 2,000,000 12,000,000 6,000,000
2017 8,500,000
2,000,000 10,500,000 2,000,000



Regardless of how well Webb has played in the past, his recent contract restructuring makes little sense to me.  While it saves the team $3 million in 2014 cap space, this money hasn't been used to sign anybody else, and seems to have been of no immediate benefit.  At the same time, it increases Webb's future cap hits in the years from 2015 onward.  Most importantly, it increases the dead money hits that the team would face, if they chose to release him at some point in the future.

Now, as I've said already, I really like Lardarius Webb.  Despite that, he is still a fairly small cornerback (approximately 182#).   We can't overlook the fact that he does have a rather extensive injury history (quite possibly connected to being on the smaller side), including 2 torn ACLs, and is now dealing with some back issues.  He will also be turning 29 this coming October, so even if he wasn't already fairly beaten up, it's quite likely that his best years might already be behind him.  So, why would they restructure his contract in such a way that makes the team even more committed to his long term role with the team?  As things currently stand, he is slated to have the 6th highest cornerback cap hit for 2015, which is silly for a guy that might have a 50/50 shot of being injured at the time.

The reason I find all of this interesting, is that all of these burdens seem to fall into 2015, which is the last year before Joe Flacco's contract explodes into utter lunacy.  As things currently stand, his cap hit for 2016 is slated to leap to $28.55 million dollars.  I plan to pursue the subject of Flacco's contract later, in a separate post.  Regardless, even if many of the team's current questionable/idiotic contracts will be off the books by 2016, the eventual room that is created by their removal is quickly going to get absorbed by Flacco. 

While there are many strange and magical ways to manipulate the salary cap that I haven't gotten into here, I have to wonder about the team's immediate future.  If the Ravens had a surfeit of young and emerging stars, of the caliber we saw in the past with players like Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata, maybe they could still push past the financial bump in the road they are quickly approaching.  I have my doubts that this is going to be possible.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Derek Carrier: Pegacorn?

You're probably going to think I'm nuts, in just a few moments.

Sometimes I have to wonder if I've become mentally impaired or crazy from looking at NFL statistics for too long.  Little things, which should really interest nobody but a lunatic, will fill me with deranged delight.  I'll just be sitting there on Sunday afternoon, watching the numbers come in from different games, and something incredibly stupid will catch my eye.  I'm not talking about Tom Brady's passing numbers, or Calvin Johnson's receiving yards.  I honestly have very little interest in that stuff.  Those types of players put me to sleep with their reliable and boring excellence.  I'm looking for the weirdos.  I'm interested in the pegacorns.

I'm not talking about unicorns.  I'm not talking about pegasus.  I am talking about their bastard offspring the fearsome pegacorn.  It's an exceedingly rare and ferocious creature, kind of like the chupacabra or the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.  Since it's unusual for people to encounter these creatures, and survivors are rarer still, you don't hear much about them in the press.  In much the same way, I would argue that there are players in the NFL who are a bit pegacorn-ish, both in their rarity and in the way they can dominate their opponents.  Sometimes, they are people we've never heard of before.

So, while mindlessly perusing the Sunday stat sheets, a weird set of numbers caught my eye.  Derek Carrier, backup tight end for the 49ers, caught 3 passes (on 4 targets) for 41 yards.  Yes, I know that this isn't exactly mind-blowing production, but he's just one of those odd players that always piques my interest.  Back when I first started this blog, I even made a very brief mention of Carrier's name.  In the post on using a statistics based approach to drafting wide receivers , I listed the players that the computer would have viewed as the top 5 receiving draft prospects, over a nine year span, and the computer came up with Derek Carrier as being it's favorite wide receiver prospect in 2012.  In the eyes of the computer, he was quite an interesting prospect.

Of course, things aren't really quite that simple.  I don't really view selecting wide receivers exactly the way I portrayed it in that post.  I was just trying to take a very simple look at a weird subject.  There were some factors that made Derek Carrier a very peculiar subject.  Issues which were beyond the computer's comprehension.

First of all, Carriers played at Beloit College.  Yup, I had to look that one up myself, as I had no idea where Beloit was located.  So, his level of competition is an obvious area of concern.  Still, a number of great players have come from very weird little schools.  Jerry Rice came from Mississippi Valley Sate.   Terrell Owens went to Chattanooga.  Marques Colston played at Hofstra.  I try to keep an open mind about these things, though I do admit that it makes me nervous.  Still, the degree to which Carrier dominated his competition at Beloit really made me wonder if he might be one of those weird guys who could succeed at making the leap to a higher level of competition.

I normally pay a lot of attention to what percentage of a team's total offensive yardage that a receiver is responsible for generating.  In a player's final year in college, I estimate the average result to be 17.75%.  In the year prior to that, I view 15.34% to be the average result.  Obviously, I want to see draft prospects meeting or exceeding these targets.  So, let's see how Carrier compared to two similarly plus-sized receivers (yes, he's a tight end now, but he was a wide receiver in college) from the 2014 NFL Draft (though Carrier went undrafted back in 2012).


Final Season          Rec       Yards           TD     % Offense    % Rec TD
Derek Carrier 75 1250 12 33.38 80
Kelvin Benjamin 54 1101 15 15.15 37.5
Mike Evans 69 1394 12 19.91 30
Average Result


17.75






Prior Year          Rec       Yards           TD     % Offense    % Rec TD
Derek Carrier 67 1044 12 26.78 50
Kelvin Benjamin 30 495 4 7.51 16.6
Mike Evans 82 1105 5 15.21 17.85
Average Result


15.34


Whether looking at the percentage of the team's offense, or the percentage of the team's receiving touchdowns, it's fairly obvious that what Derek Carrier was doing in college was pretty ridiculous.  The degree to which his team leaned on him was rather severe, which is a good thing since we are looking for someone who is comfortable carrying a load.  Also, just to be clear, I didn't pick Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans for this comparison for any reason other than the fact that they are both jumbo sized receivers, like Carrier.  Still, it does present an interesting comparison, since both of those receivers were selected fairly high in the most recent draft.  Now, if Carrier had played at a higher level of competition, how much of a bite would that likely have taken out of his results?  I really have no idea.  Even if we said that Carrier's results would be cut in half by such a change in competition, they'd still be in the range where you'd have to take him somewhat seriously.  Personally, I doubt the hit would have been that bad, but we're trying to be fairly cautious here.

There's also the question of whether he had the sort of athletic ability to hold up at a higher level of competition.  So, let's see how his physical traits compare to these same two players.  As always, the Kangaroo Score and Agility Score will be given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is away from the average results for a player in their position group.


Player     Height     Weight    40-yard    10-yard      Kangaroo      Agility
Derek Carrier 75.3 238 4.50 1.57 1.948 1.142
Kelvin Benjamin 77 240 4.61 1.65 0.956 -1.624
Mike Evans 76.75 231 4.46 1.60 1.408 -0.550


For a player of his size, Carrier's athletic ability is absolutely freakish  His Kangaroo Score puts him at a level where only a very small handful of players like Calvin Johnnson or Vincent Jackson have scored better.  When it comes to his Agility Score, his results are insanely good for a large receiver.  I normally have such low expectations of large wide receivers doing well on their Agility Scores, that I somewhat ignore these results.  As long as a large sized receiver comes in around -0.500, I'm usually pretty satisfied, even if that is a fairly mediocre result.  Big guys just don't tend to do very well in this are, so I cut them some slack, because they tend to make up for it in other areas.  In Carrier's case, he didn't just do okay.  No grudging allowances needed to be made.  He simply knocked it out of the park when it came to his Agility Score.  So, when it comes to physical potential, he seems to stack up just fine.  Physically, he is a monster.

This leaves us with an extremely productive player (though we can question how his production compares to players from tougher programs) with insanely good athletic ability.  It seems like a reasonable recipe for success.  Despite all of that, I have to admit I never really expected to hear his name mentioned again, after I initially considered him back in 2012.  Why?  Well, I don't know really.  Maybe I can't shake the whole Beloit thing.  There's also my general lack of faith in NFL teams, and the limited opportunities they give to weird undrafted prospects like this.  Then you have to consider the fact that he's been asked to play tight end, which is a bit of a position switch to deal with.  Oh...oh...that's right!  There's also the little fact that I've never actually seen this guy play before.  How did I forget to mention that?  Yup, never seen him play a single snap...umm...ever.

Like many players who come from weird places like Beloit, getting an opportunity (Hello, Youtube!) to watch thesm on the field is pretty difficult to come by.  Every year, I run the numbers on hundreds of draft prospects, and honestly, I'm not going to watch a lick of game tape for most of them, unless the computer tells me there is a reason to do so.  I've got Hummel figurines to polish.  My record collection needs to be alphabetized, and I still haven't finished knitting pajamas for Reilly.  These things all take a fair bit of my time.  Inevitably, this leads to speculating on someone who I have never actually seen play.  Yes, I should probably feel guilty about this, but considering that my main competition is only the expertise of every single scout employed by an NFL team, it still feels a bit safe to slack off from time to time.

Now, despite this admission of laziness, I have to say that I probably would have watched clips of Carrier, if I had been able to find any.  Again, playing at Beloit creates weird issues here.  I would have been curious to see what he actually looked like in a game.  Maybe there was something terribly wrong with him, which would have become apparent.  I really can't say.  Then again, I can't claim to have any great eye for talent.  I just look for pegacorns, in the simplest most objective way that I can, by the numbers.  Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes a prospective pegacorn disappears, never to be heard from again.  It's something I've gotten used to.  Other times, a prospective pegacorn returns from out of nowhere, gets a measly 41 receiving yards on 3 receptions, and I go "Ah, that's right.  I almost forgot about him", and the optimism returns.  It's such a little thing, but it stokes the fires, and makes you wonder once again, "Could this guy actually be pretty good?"  Honestly, I still fully expect Derek Carrier to disappear again, possibly forever.   At the same time, I'm feeling tempted by the possibilities he presents.  41 yards, man!  Have you ever seen something so spectacular?

Like I said at the beginning, this is all quite crazy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

WR Size Matters (that's what she said)

The Browns' somewhat recent release of wide receiver Charles Johnson has left me feeling sad and despondent.  I had such great plans for him, and now...well...I guess I'll just get drunk and listen to The Cure.  Robert Smith understands my pain.  My hopes have been dashed against the rocks that are the skulls of the Browns' brain-trust, and there's nothing I can do.

I have no real issue with the Browns.  I may live in Baltimore, but I can't say that I have any real allegiance to my local team (or any team), or any hatred for their rivals.  Yes, I think the Browns organization may be run by  individuals who are riding the short bus, but that doesn't necessarily mean I have a lower opinion of them than I do of the 31 other teams.  It's just that in this particular case, I am completely confounded as to what their plan might be at the wide receiver position.  What's the deal with all of those midget receivers that they seem to be clinging to, at the expense of my Chosen One?  Yes, I'm looking at you Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel.  Your diminutive stature confuses me.

I'm not saying that these sorts of guys can't be good, but I do tend to believe that the odds aren't in their favor.  They're not just small; they're really really really small.  They're so small, that they ask their wives to reach things that are on high shelves.  They're so small that calling them 'cute' or 'adorable' seems kind of like a fitting description.  Nobody calls Demaryius Thomas or Calvin Johnson cute.  No, they're too terrifying and huge for that.

Instead of doing my regular ranting about the degree to which combine data and statistical production in college may be able to predict success (to some degree), let's just make this a ridiculously simple discussion about physical mass.  I'm going to present 2 lists.  The first list will show all of the wide receivers who are under 190 pounds, who have managed to rank in the top 25 for receiving yards during the last five years.  The second list will show all of the receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, who have managed to rank in the top 25 in receiving yards during the last five years.  Choosing 214 pounds as the cutoff point may seem like a random number, but there is a reason for it, which we'll get to a bit later.  Regardless, this is all intended to look at the two extreme ends of the bell curve when it comes to one very simple measurement, weight.  I couldn't make this simpler if I tried.

Besides listing where the players ranked in NFL receiving yards (just among wide receivers, since we want to exclude tight ends and running backs), we will also list where they ranked in the the NFL when it came to receiving touchdowns.  I should also mention that these players have their height listed in inches, and their weight is based on their current listed weight, rather than their combine weigh in.  Okey dokey, let's get to the list.


2013                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Antonio Brown 70 186 110 1,499 8 2 13
DeSean Jackson 69 178 82 1,332 9 9 11
T.Y. Hilton 69 183 82 1,083 5 17 25
Harry Douglas 71 183 85 1,067 2 19 69








2012                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Wes Welker 69 185 118 1,354 6 8 26








2011                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Wes Welker 69 185 122 1,569 9 2 4
Antonio Brown 70 186 69 1,108 2 13 68
Nate Washington 73 183 74 1,023 7 16 18
Percy Harvin 71 184 87 967 6 19 26
DeSean Jackson 69 178 58 961 4 20 43








2010                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
DeSean Jackson 69 178 47 1056 6 12 24
Johnny Knox 72 185 51 960 5 20 35
Mario Manningham 71 185 60 944 9 21 11
Anthony Armstrong 70 185 44 871 3 24 52
Percy Harvin 71 184 71 868 5 25 35








2009                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Wes Welker 69 185 123 1,348 4 2 37
DeSean Jackson 69 178 62 1,156 9 11 7
Chad Johnson 73 188 72 1047 9 18 7


So, out of 125 possible opportunities for a sub-190 pound receiver to make it into the NFL's top 25 for receiving yards (5 years times 25 possible slots, duh?), we seem to have 18 occasions where this actually happened.  This means that sub-190 pound receivers seem to appear in the top 25 about 14.4% of the time.  Whether this is actually a good result or not somewhat depends on how many sub-190 pound receivers there are in the league.  If, for example, only 10% of the receivers coming into the league are in the sub-190 pound range, appearing in the top 25 around 14.4% of the time might be a good result.  On the other hand, if significantly more than 14.4% of the receivers that come into the league are under 190 pounds, then perhaps these pipsqueaks aren't the best guys to bet on.

To answer this question I decided to look outside of my own database of players, and went to NFLCombineresults.com.  I wanted to make sure that I was getting a fairly random sample of NFL Draft prospects, and their weights, since there was no way to determine if my own database of players wasn't biased.  In the end, it seems that 136 out of the 583 wide receiver prospects on NFLcombineresults.com fell into the sub-190 pound range.  That works out to 23.32% of the wide receiver draft pool.  To double check this, I compared it to my own database of players, where we got a result of 22.55% who fell into this weight range.  Either way, the results are pretty similar, and significantly more than the 14.4% that are making it into the list above.  So, it seems that sub-190 pound receivers are making it into the top 25 receiving yards list about 36-38% less often than we might expect, relative to the percentage of the NFL receiver population that they probably make up.

Now, we come to the receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, and I guess I should explain why I chose 214 pounds as the cutoff point.  Initially, I was going to set the bar at 210 pounds, but this wound up with a larger pool of wide receivers than I really wanted.  When I moved the mark to 214 pounds, I ended up with a group that makes up a very similar portion of the NFL receiver population to what we find with the sub-190 pound players, only at the opposite end of the scale.  According to NFLcombineresults.com, players who weigh 214 pounds or more should make up about 20.96% of the NFL's receivers.  In my own database of players, they make up about 23.42% of the league's receivers.  So, about 21-23.4% should be 214 pounds or more, and about 22.5-23.3% should be under 190 pounds.  That seems close enough for government work, and should make our comparisons reasonably fair, as they both seem to occupy a similar portion of the league's receiver population.

Now, onto the list of receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, who finished in the top 25 for receiving yards during the last 5 years.


2013                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Josh Gordon 75 225 87 1646 9 1 11
Calvin Johnson 77 236 84 1492 12 3 3
Demaryius Thomas 75 229 92 1430 14 4 1
Alshon Jeffery 75 216 89 1421 7 6 18
Andre Johnson 75 230 109 1407 5 7 25
Pierre Garcon 72 216 113 1346 5 8 25
Jordy Nelson 75 217 85 1314 8 10 13
Brandon Marshall 76 230 100 1295 12 11 3
Eric Decker 75 214 87 1288 11 12 5
Dez Bryant 74 220 93 1233 13 13 2
Vincent Jackson 77 230 78 1224 7 14 18
Anquan Boldin 73 220 85 1179 7 15 18
Michael Floyd 74 220 65 1041 5 22 25
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 82 954 10 25 7








2012                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Calvin Johnson 77 236 122 1964 5 1 30
Andre Johnson 75 230 112 1598 4 2 40
Brandon Marshall 76 230 118 1508 11 3 4
Demaryius Thomas 75 229 94 1434 10 4 6
Vincent Jackson 77 230 72 1384 8 5 12
Dez Bryant 74 220 92 1382 12 6 3
Julio Jones 75 220 79 1198 10 11 6
Marques Colston 76 225 83 1154 10 13 6
Michael Crabtree 73 214 85 1105 9 14 10
Eric Decker 75 214 85 1064 13 17 2
Miles Austin 74 215 66 943 6 23 26
Anquan Boldin 73 220 65 921 4 24 40








2011                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Calvin Johnson 77 236 96 1681 16 1 1
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 80 1411 8 4 9
Jordy Nelson 75 217 68 1263 15 7 2
Brandon Marshall 76 230 81 1214 6 8 26
Dwayne Bowe 74 221 81 1159 5 11 33
Marques Colston 76 225 80 1143 8 12 9
Vincent Jackson 77 230 60 1106 9 14 4
Dar. Heyward-Bey 74 219 64 975 4 18 43
Julio Jones 75 220 54 959 8 22 9
Pierre Garcon 72 216 70 947 6 24 26








2010                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Andre Johnson 75 230 86 1216 8 6 14
Dwayne Bowe 74 221 72 1162 15 7 1
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 90 1137 6 8 24
Calvin Johnson 77 236 77 1120 12 9 2
Miles Austin 74 215 69 1041 7 14 17
Marques Colston 76 225 84 1023 7 15 17
Brandon Marshall 76 230 86 1014 3 16 52
Terrell Owens 75 224 72 983 9 17 11
Braylon Edwards 75 214 53 904 7 22 17








2009                        





Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Andre Johnson 75 230 101 1569 9 1 7
Miles Austin 74 215 81 1320 11 3 3
Vincent Jackson 77 230 68 1167 9 9 7
Brandon Marshall 76 230 101 1120 10 13 5
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 97 1092 13 15 1
Marques Colston 76 225 70 1074 9 16 7
Anquan Boldin 73 220 84 1024 4 20 37
Calvin Johnson 77 236 67 984 5 21 28


Okay, let's get to it.  Out of 125 possible slots in the top 25, receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more have filled 53 of them.  That works out to 42.4% of the league's top 25 receiving years, in terms of yards, coming from a group that should only make up about 21-23.4% of the league's total pool of receivers.  It could be said that these bulkier receivers seem to be dominating the league at a rate that is perhaps 81-97% higher than what you might expect given the percentage of the league's receiver population that they occupy.  I guess this isn't exactly shocking, since this is sort of what we probably all expected, isn't it?

Let's consider something outside of the degree to which these players dominate in the receiving yards category.  Let's look at how they fare when it comes to producing touchdowns.  What if we examined the difference between each player's "TD/Rank" and their "Yrd/Rank"? Well, If we did that, sub-190 pound receivers' TD/Rank would fall between 14.05 to 10.5 slots lower than their Yrd/Rank, depending on whether we were looking at the average or median level of decline.  Small guys may get good yardage, but they don't tend to score a lot of touchdowns.  On the other hand, when we look at the receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, their TD/Rank only falls between 3.09 to 2 slots, again depending on whether we are looking at the average or median level of decline.  I'd say that this minimal drop in TD/Rank is almost nonexistent, though touchdown catches can still always be a bit fluky.  So, not that this will come as any real surprise, the larger receivers not only dominate when it comes to appearances in the top 25 for receiving yards, but they also tend to rank much higher when it comes to producing touchdowns.  Yes, duh, duh duh.  Everybody knows this, or suspects it.  I'm just not sure that the Browns have figured it out yet.

Okay, so everybody kind of expects larger receivers to dominate.  Still, the degree to which this happens seems to get overlooked to some extent.  Among players in the top 25 in receiving yards, players who weigh 214 pounds make 2.94 times more appearances than sub-190 pound players.  Among players in the top 25 for touchdowns, we see players who weigh 214 pounds appearing 4.66 times as often as sub-190 pound players.  But what if we step things up a bit, and look at the top10 rather than the top 25?  When we do that, there are 4.8 times as many top 10 receiving yards appearances for players who weigh 214 pounds or more than there are for sub-190 pound players.  With top 10 appearances for receiving touchdowns, players who weigh 214 pounds or more show up 9.33 times more often than such appearances by sub-190 pound receivers.  The more demanding your expectations become, the more you seem to wander into the land of the plus sized receiver. 

And yet, the Browns felt it was vitally important to hold onto 3 rather miniscule wide receivers, while cutting my love child Charles Johnson.  Let's take a look at the evil hobgoblins who have been upsetting my dreams, and see how they compare to the sub-190 pound receivers who have made it in to the top 25 in the past five years.

Browns' Midgets        Height     Weight
Taylor Gabriel 68 167
Andrew Hawkins 67 180
Travis Benjamin 70 175



AVG Top 25 Midget 70.22 183.27

Even by the average standards of munchkin sized receivers, this trio of Browns' receivers appears to be surprisingly small.  Of course, whenever a team signs players like these guys fans start saying things like "This guy could be our Wes Welker/DeSean Jackson/AntonioBrown!".  Sure, that could happen, but the odds are that it won't.  Wes Welker, DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown are somewhat peculiar players, and in no way do I wish to diminish their accomplishments.  They've been excellent.  Still, they are sort of the exceptions to the rule, and considering that only one of them was selected before the 6th round, it's not as if we can really trust the idea that NFL talent scouts have a great eye for these types of players.  These players are most likely the proverbial nut found by a blind squirrel.

Oddly enough, if there was one pint sized receiver on the Browns' roster that actually interests me, it might be Taylor Gabriel, who's the smallest of the lot.  At least he was reasonably productive in college, which is more than I can say for Travis Benjamin.  Hawkins is a bit more of a mystery, since he split time at cornerback while at Toledo, making his statistical profile a bit peculiar.  Still, the question remains, do they really need to hold onto three of these guys?  How many kick returner/slot receiver types of receivers does one team need?  Also, what do you do with a slot receiver, when you have practically nobody to 'slot' them between?  Are we really counting on Miles "Ouch, my hamstring" Austin to make it through a complete season uninjured?  It seems unlikely.

The real problem is that there appears to be a bit of a ceiling for munchkin receivers, that perhaps isn't there for the larger players.  Saying where an individual player's 'ceiling' and 'floor' exists, isn't something I would really like to do.  Yes, occasionally a little guy breaks through, and produces at a high level.  But is that a reason to horde these types of players just on the off chance of this happening?  So far, the 28 year old Hawkins has averaged 28.42 receiving yards per game played, with a total of 4 career receiving touchdowns.  Benjamin has averaged 18.31 receiving yards per game played, and 2 career receiving touchdowns.  Both fall a bit short of the 35 yards per game played that I generally consider to be an average result.  Oh, but Benjamin was drafted in the 3rd round, so the team can't possibly cut him...uggh.  Shoot me now.

Do we really think that the highly athletic 6'2" and 215# Charles Johnson's floor couldn't have at least equaled such mediocre production?  A mere 454 receiving yard season with 1 or 2 touchdowns would have been sufficient to exceed the output of these players, and his size alone should make him a much more viable red zone threat.  I would think that practically any halfway competent receiver could hit that mark if given a chance.

Maybe the Browns have some ingenious plan to join all three of these waifish receivers together to form something like Voltron.  That would certainly be awesome, and make my suffering worthwhile.  Maybe they will develop some insane offense that involves lateraling the ball from one pipsqueak to another and then to another.  Maybe the Browns will become the 'all kick return' team, and completely forgo having a passing offense.  Yeah, they might just catch everyone sleeping with their super secret special teams assault.  Maybe they are constructing some sort of wide receiver Russian nesting doll, and needed a few pipsqueaks for the inner layers.  I also really have to wonder if Browns' GM Ray Farmer has his house guarded by a swarming pack of chihuahuas, figuring that as a group they might accomplish the job of one rottweiler.

While I genuinely wish Cleveland fans the best, I have to admit that I'm not feeling terribly fond of their GM at this point.  You're killing my dreams Mr. Farmer!  There will be no Christmas gifts or birthday cards for you.  If you want to apologize, I'll just be lying here weeping into my pillow, and waiting for you to give Charles Johnson another look.