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.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Yoyodyne: The Future Begins Tomorrow!

Everybody can probably remember what it was like to be a small child waiting for Christmas morning.  Time moves much more slowly when you are young, and it slows down even more on Christmas Eve.  Now, imagine what it would be like if you ran downstairs to the Christmas tree and unwrapped the brand new bicycle that you had wished for, only to find that it was completely disassembled.  Your father, a man with no mechanical skills, promises to "get right to it", meaning that it should only take about three months for him to put it all together.  To be fair, my father did lose both of his hands in a bizarre meatloaf related accident, and had to have hams sewn onto the ends of his arms to take their place.  Of course, this also doesn't take into account the additional months of waiting, when your cautious mother ships the assembled bicycle off to the Underwriters Laboratory for safety testing, to ensure that her precious baby boy won't be killed on this mechanical death-trap.

Under these circumstances, you would probably start to have very mixed feelings about Christmas.  A more deprived life in an orphanage might even start to seem like an appealing option.  I don't know.  I guess I was a fairly impatient kid.  Maybe it all balances out in the end, when you get to put your parents in a nursing home (Who's going to be laughing then, Mom and Dad?).

Now, I'm not a child anymore (supposedly), and perhaps I have exaggerated the way in which my parents operate.  Either way, I am older now, and I have hair growing out of my nose, and my expectations for immediate gratification have been somewhat subdued.  I know that the world doesn't move as quickly as I would like, or else we would already have jet-packs (or Japanese robot butts).  You have to learn to be patient, even if waiting can be extremely frustrating at times.

One of the most annoying aspects of speculating about NFL Draft (football Christmas) prospects is the endless waiting.  It's particularly bad when you have a hunch that a late round draft pick might be pretty good, but nobody else really seems to care.  It's even worse when your interests are drawn to some of the less glamorous positions like that of the NFL center.  Try having a serious discussion about NFL centers with a friend, and watch how quickly people begin to fall asleep.  Yet, for some reason, I find this subject endlessly fascinating.  I am...how should I put this...a bit of a dork about such things.  Unfortunately, once the draft is over, all I can really do is sit around and wait...and wait...and wait...just to see if the players I am interested in will ever get an opportunity to play.  Sometimes it takes years for all of this to play out, and even then we sometimes don't get a real chance to judge a player's skills, simply because they may never be given an opportunity.

Normally, I have somewhat mixed feelings about Pro Football Focus, and their methods for grading players.  Sometimes I ignore what they have to say....and sometimes they agree with me and I make sure to mention it here.  Yes, I can be a bit of an inconsistent ass in that way.  Either way, I do find what they are attempting to do quite interesting, even if I sometimes have some differences of opinion with them.  This morning, however, they posted an article that had me howling in delight.

When they posted their grades for the top performers in the 2014 NFL preseason, a stupid smile began to spread across my face.  According to their numbers, the top rated center in the preseason has been Eric Kush of the Chiefs, with a grade of +4.7 cheeseburgers.  Okay, they don't really grade people on a 'cheeseburger scale', but the methods by which they evaluate people can sometimes be a bit mysterious, so I sometimes make up meanings for their numbers.  Either way, Eric Kush scored more cheeseburgers than any other center, at least so far, in the 2014 preseason.

This is particularly funny because PFF has been busy trashing the rest of the Chiefs offensive line, so it doesn't appear as if Kush is likely to be benefiting from an abundance of surrounding talent.  This is all very exciting to me, because Eric Kush was our favorite center prospect from the 2013 draft, although he wasn't selected until the 6th round.  Seeing some signs that things might actually work out for this strange little prospect of ours is sending me into a bit of a tizzy, especially since he is somebody we selected in our ongoing battle versus Ozzie Newsome.  I have to admit that I have the horrible feeling that even mentioning any of this will end up jinxing things for Kush.

Then, things got even weirder...

Among the other centers that PFF had ranked in their top 5, along with established names like Alex Mack and Nick Mangold, was another somewhat peculiar fellow.  Tied for 3rd place on their list, with a score of +3.7 cheeseburgers, was Corey Linsley who the Packers drafted this year in the 5th round.  While there were a handful of people that we considered to be interesting center prospects in the 2014 draft, we finally settled on Linsley as our favorite overall center candidate.  All things considered, I think that projection is starting to look fairly good, considering that we probably spent a whopping 2-3 minutes actually watching him play, and based this hunch almost entirely on his physical measurables.  Our deranged fascination with the short shuttle times of center prospects seems to again be paying some dividends, even if it is a remarkably simple-minded way of doing things.  Yes, Reilly and I do factor in other results besides short shuttle times, when judging centers, but it still remains our favorite score for that position.

Obviously, none of this necessarily means that much.  There's still plenty of time for these players to turn around and make our little projections look incredibly stupid.  For the moment, however, I just want to savor the possibility that maybe...just maybe...we don't have our heads firmly lodged in our buttocks.  In no way am I claiming that these two players are Canton bound, but for the moment, there do appear to be some promising signs of competence.  Even if they were to merely become average/serviceable players, I think that would still be a rather positive outcome, considering how little was invested in them.  My fingers are crossed.

Of course, there is a bit of a catch in all of this.  Eric Kush is still listed as a backup, and I suspect there is a good chance he won't really see the field until 2015, when starting center Rodney Hudson's contract runs out.  I may personally believe that Kush is a much better prospect than Hudson ever was, but that's where PETARD comes back into play.  Hudson was a 2nd round draft pick.  Short of a complete and undeniable failure on his part, the team is likely to give him the starting job, instead of Kush.  Since the same questionable "trust your eyeballs, and not the numbers" type of evaluation goes into assessing NFL players, that also goes into choosing who to draft, it's entirely possible that the Chiefs will squander another year of Kush's career, having him sit on the bench.  How annoyed am I with this situation?  Extremely.

Linsley, on the other hand, appears poised to become a starter this year, even though I don't personally think he is as exciting a prospect as Kush probably is.  Don't get me wrong.  I do think Linsley could be quite good, but I just that think Kush could be really exceptional.  I'm sure Linsley will struggle at times, and there will be ample opportunities to question his abilities, but that is sort of to be expected with all inexperienced offensive linemen.  Still, I generally support the sink or swim approach, of tossing players into games early, and figuring that a few screw-ups will be more educational than they will be harmful.  Hopefully it all works out for the Packers.  Again, I'll have my fingers crossed for a positive outcome here.

Because I haven't said anything negative about the Ravens yet (a requirement), I figured I should tack this on at the end.  In the past year, the Ravens have traded for two veteran centers (Shipley and Zuttah), while starting one of the league's most abysmally poor centers in Gino Gradkowski, in 2013 (who was selected in the 4th round in 2012).  While I suspect Zuttah will inevitably turn out to be an improvement over the performance we saw from Gradkowski (with a fairly pleasing 4.54 second short shuttle time coming from Zuttah), you still have to wonder if all of this scrambling around to address the center position was really necessary or economically sound.  Anytime you sign a veteran player, you are getting somebody who is both older and more costly than what you could have acquired in the draft.  It's still too early to say whether Kush or Linsley will pan out, but if they do, and if the signs that pointed to success were relatively apparent to our Banana 6000 data thresher, then why weren't they apparent to the Ravens?



However this all plays out, I'll just be sitting here waiting.  Like the slogan of Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems says,"The Future Begins Tomorrow", and the NFL has taught me just how true this statement is.  I just find it a bit frustrating how often I see teams with well known areas of weakness spending their preseason games trotting out the same tired players on the field, while giving fewer opportunities to some of the lesser known guys who are buried on their rosters.  The idea of shaking things up, and trying to reevaluate some of the lesser known talents in the league, seems to always take a back seat to simply making decisions based on where someone was drafted.  So I keep waiting...and waiting...and waiting...