Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Pair of Pass Rushers: Hughes & Worilds

Sometimes the decisions that teams make really baffle me.  One the one hand, you know that NFL GMs covet quality pass rushers.  On the other hand, they often seem perfectly willing to screw over their players, and not give them a chance to succeed.  Maybe that comes across as a little harsh, but let's take a look at some of the odd decisions that they made this year, related to Jason Worilds and Jerry Hughes.

First off, we'll poke around the Jerry Hughes situation.  Despite being a former first round pick (31st overall selection in 2010), he was constantly buried behind Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on the Colts' depth chart, starting only 7 games in his first 3 years.  You would think that failing to take a starting job from either of those two players would be understandable, but the fans seemed to eventually turn to the "he can't get on the field, so he must be a bust" viewpoint.  The Colts' management evidently were of the same mindset as the fans, as they drafted Bjoern Werner in the first round (24th pick overall in 2013), to provide a pass rushing presence that Hughes apparently wasn't capable of while sitting on the bench.  With renewed confidence that they had gotten it right this time, the Colts promptly traded the nearly showroom condition Jerry Hughes to Buffalo, for middling linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.

What was the outcome of this trade?  Well, let's look at their statistical performances in 2013.

          GP           GS    Tackles        Sack         Pdef            FF
Jerry Hughes 16 1 46 10 2 2
Bjoern Werner 13 1 18 2.5 2 0

It appears that when finally given a real opportunity, Jerry Hughes did turn into a legitimate pass rusher.  His replacement in Indianapolis, on the other hand, has struggled mightily.  Now, I'm sure that some people will argue that Werner is just a rookie, and that he should be given time to prove himself, the same sort of time that I might criticize the organization for not giving to Jerry Hughes.  The difference here is that Werner's measurables don't give me much confidence that he will ever really develop into anything special, while Hughes at least gave us some reason to be optimistic.

So, let's look at their data from the combine, side by side.

Player         Year       Pick#    40 Yard     KANG     Agility    FINAL Avg. TFL
Jerry Hughes 2010 31 4.65 0.155 1.038 0.448 18
Bjoern Werner 2013 24 4.83 -0.280 -0.251 -0.220 14.5

The Kangaroo Score (my measure of lower body power) and Agility Score (based on the short shuttle and 3-Cone drill), are given in the form of how many standard deviations away from the average result for their peers, that a player is.  As I explained in the post on Explosive Pass Rushers, I basically use the player's Final Score, in combination with a player's Avg. TFL (the average number of tackles for a loss that a player had in his last two years in college) is used to come up with a rough idea as to what round I would be willing to draft a player in.  According to these numbers, Jerry Hughes would have been considered a 3rd round prospect by the computer (admittedly lower than where he was selected, but still intriguing to us).  Technically, Hughes is a player who would better fit in the High Agility Pass Rusher category, for obvious reasons, though this doesn't alter the round in which the computer would have selected him.  Werner, despite a respectable number of tackles for a loss in his college years, would have been viewed as too risky a prospect for me to select in any round (though a very late round pick could be considered, I suppose), due to his poor physical measurables.  You can take this all with an enormous grain of salt, as it is just my goofy method for judging things, but it tends to produce reasonable results.

One of the more peculiar aspects of this, is in how these players are utilized.  Being a somewhat smaller to average sized DE/OLB prospect, at 254 pounds, Hughes, with his excellent agility measurements would have seemed to perhaps be better suited for a 3-4 defense, where he could operate in space and not get smothered by larger offensive tackles.  Of course, the Colts were running a 4-3 defense during the majority of the time he was with them, until 2012 when they switched to a 3-4, and suddenly Hughes responded with 4 sacks in 6 games started.  Then, to make matters even stranger, they draft Werner, a somewhat larger 266 pound player with below average/poor measurables in terms of agility and speed, and ask him to operate in space, something he may not be terribly well suited for athletically.  Hello there, square peg and round hole, I'd like to introduce you to Chuck Pagano's mighty mallet of misguided machinations, which will make everything turn out just fine.  It almost feels as if teams select their defensive scheme, with little to no thought as to whether it suits a player's abilities.

Now let's move on to the Steelers' situation with Jason Worilds.  Similar to Jerry Hughes, Worilds was stuck behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, a rather successful and talented pass rushing duo.  After three years of just occasional usage in a rotation, it seems that the Steelers' expectations had diminished for this former 2nd round pick.  With the departure of James Harrison, the organization decided to fill this void by selecting Jarvis Jones in the first round (17th pick overall), in the 2013 Draft.  While Jones was given the starting job at the opening of the season, his lack of production eventually resulted in Worilds being given his first real opportunity to prove himself.  Let's take a look at their results in 2013, to see how they did.

          GP           GS    Tackles        Sack         Pdef            FF
Jason Worilds 15 11 63 8 2 2
Jarvis Jones 14 8 40 1 4 0

Again, I suspect a lot of people will argue that Jarvis Jones just needs time to develop, but I'm just not terribly confident he will ever really turn into the sort of player the Steelers are probably looking for.  The positive side of this, is that the Steelers could still choose to bring Worilds back next year (he will be a free agent after the 2013 season), though this might require admitting to some problems with Jones.  Teams do seem to have a problem with admitting to potential mistakes with their draft picks, so this will be interesting to watch.  Still, just like we did with Hughes and Werner, let's take a look at how the computer viewed them as draft prospects, to see if either one has an advantage over the other, or might be a better long term gamble.

Player         Year       Pick#    40 Yard     KANG      Agility    FINAL Avg. TFL
Jason Worilds 2010 52 4.65 0.604 0.727 0.583 14.75
Jarvis Jones 2013 17 4.92 -1.243 -1.304 -1.216 22

In this case, the computer feels that the Steelers hit the nail on the head with their selection of Jason Worilds, and assigned him a 2nd round grade, which is precisely where he was taken.  Jarvis Jones, on the other hand, produced nightmarishly poor results at the combine, that largely negated any good will his excellent college production might have engendered.  I honestly have to wonder if Jarvis Jones was drunk at the combine, to produce these kinds of numbers.  While it is certainly possible for a player with poor physical measurables to become a quality player, it isn't the sort of thing that happens frequently enough to take this sort of gamble in this first round.  When you throw in Jones' health concerns (spinal stenosis), it makes his selection in the 1st round even more perplexing.

When you see that the computer only rated Worilds and Hughes as 2nd and 3rd round draft prospects, it might seem odd that I am so interested in how they perform.  The truth is, that despite these modest appraisals, they were still the computer's second and third rated pass rushing prospects in 2010 (out of 57 players, between 240-280 pounds, who we felt might be used in a pass rushing role), and rated well ahead of players like Brandon Graham, Jason Piere-Paul, and Derrick Morgan (who were selected with the 13th, 15th, and 16th overall picks).  Graham has clearly been a disappointment for the Eagles.  Morgan appears to have done somewhat better, though almost certainly not at the level you would hope for from a 1st round pick.  Pierre-Paul is a bit of an enigma, who had one huge season, then started to turn into a pumpkin again (though injuries may be a factor).  So, it is nice to finally see Worilds and Hughes beginning to justify the computer's optimism.  We were getting tired of waiting.

In the end, none of this should be taken as a statement of my strong belief in Hughes or Worilds.  I think they are legitimate pass rushing prospects, now somewhat confirmed, though a long way from greatness.  Their physical measurables and college production suggested they had potential, though they certainly wouldn't rank as highly as many other prospects in better draft classes, whom the computer might feel more strongly about.  Still, like I said, they seemed to have a reasonable likelihood of doing okay for themselves, which is more than I can say for the people that teams have tried to shove onto the field as their replacements.  That, right there, is the issue that confuses and annoys me.  Just having to ask the question of whether the best players are even getting on the field, is something that should be unthinkable.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sometimes I'm Wrong...

Speculating about the future success of college football players is a questionable endeavor.  Having your speculation based almost entirely off of the players' combine data and college stats is even more questionable.  Sometimes I'll be right, and sometimes I'll be wrong.

Being wrong doesn't necessarily bother me too much, so long as it doesn't happen too frequently.  My main goal is just to explore some ideas on how to optimize a team's chances of success in the NFL Draft, based on more objective data.  I can't pretend to have watched the majority of the players when they were in college, and honestly doubt that doing so really is a very reliable method for identifying talent.  For the most part, I'm just curious as to whether draft selections chosen by a computer can approach or exceed the results made by NFL GMs.  If, indeed they are experts in this field, I should fail horribly.  If the GMs are blindly guessing, while posturing as highly paid experts, maybe the results will be surprising.  Personally, I suspect that the average fan with a draft magazine and a dart board, could probably do just as well as the best experts, so I aim to encourage a bit of doubt when it comes to blindly trusting the people in charge.

While I have plenty of stupid ideas, the real core of my idiocy probably gets condensed down to my annual Ozzie Newsome Challenge.  While teams talk about taking the "best player available", I think it can generally be agreed that all such claims are blatantly bullsh*t.  Frequently this familiar line gets modified to "best player available at a position of need", which is more honest, though probably still a bit misguided.  It's kind of like going to a party, in search of your future wife/sandwich maker, and saying that you are seeking the "best wife available....with exceptionally large breasts".  The added qualifier "with exceptionally large breasts" sort of reveals what your real motives are.  For instance, do you really think that Matt Elam and Arthur Brown (the Ravens' first 2 selections in the 2013 Draft), were the best players available?  Or, were the Ravens blatantly trying to fill holes left by the departure of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis?  In the Ozzie Newsome Challenge, we admittedly don't exactly go for best player available either.  Instead, we try to select the player who we think is the "best player available..who we think will be gone in the next 32 picks (or however long it is until our next pick)".  Occasionally, our earliest picks aren't the ones we are most interested in acquiring, but we figure we can wait to take particular players who we anticipate will be overlooked by NFL teams.

It will be quite a while before we can judge the results from the 2013 Draft, and there are one or two selections that the computer made that I wish I could change.  Still, amongst the players that the computer selected, and who have been given  an opportunity to prove themselves, I am generally quite pleased with the results so far, and wanted to take a brief look at two of the more interesting results that came from late round selections.

First of all, we have Chris Jones, defensive tackle for the New England Patriots.  His initial selection at the end of the 6th round (198th pick overall), already shows the degree to which teams weren't too intrigued by him.  Then, the team that drafted him (the Texans) chose to cut Chris Jones before the regular season began, another vote of no confidence.  He was promptly picked up by the Buccaneers, who also quickly dropped him before he ever played a single game.  Once again, things were looking rather bad.  Then, he gets signed by the Patriots, shockingly is allowed to actually play, and accumulates 45 tackles and 5 sacks in his first 8 games started. 

I don't want to engage in a subjective analysis of how well he has played, since I don't think that will get us anywhere.  Loosely throwing around opinions is pretty useless.  However you look at it though, I think it is probably fair to say that Jones' performance has likely exceeded his draft position, and thus the expectations of NFL GMs (experts!).  Instead, let's just ask the question "How unlikely was it that Chris Jones would start at least 8 games as a rookie?", a mark he just reached yesterday.   If we look back at data from past drafts (1992-2011) we can calculate how unlikely it is that such an occurrence is just a fluke (using historical data from Tony Villiotti at To even out any irregularities at a particular draft slot, I looked at all the players taken during this 20 year span, that were selected between the 188th pick and the 208th pick (ten spots prior to, and subsequent to where Chris Jones was chosen).  In total, there have been 420 players selected in that range in the past 20 years, and only 20 of them managed to start at least 8 games in their rookie year.  So, the odds were 1/21 (a 4.76% chance) of such an outcome happening just by blind luck.

Next, we have the case of Paul Worrilow, linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons.  Of course, Worrilow wasn't drafted at all, and the Falcons were supposedly the only team to even offer him a chance.  Despite this, he has now accumulated 101 tackles and 1.5 sacks, through his first nine games started.  Unfortunately, the lack of data related to undrafted players complicates things a bit.. Without this data, I decided to examine the issue as if Worrilow had been selected at the end of the seventh round, figuring that if anything the odds for an undrafted player would probably be even lower.  Using the same data from, I examined the situation as if Worrilow had been selected between the 235th pick and the end of the seventh round to get a similar sample size to the one we had with Chris Jones.  In this case, we had 421 players during this 20 year time frame that had been selected in the range, with only 7 managing to start at least 8 games in their rookie season.  That works out to a 1/60.14 probability (a 1.66% chance), of such an event occurring due to dumb luck.

Where this becomes really interesting is when we ask the question "What were the odds of a team selecting 2 such players in the same draft?".  The odds of both events occurring would be 1/1262.94 (a 0.079% chance).  To be fair though, Team Kangaroo had 5 selections from the end of the 6th round to the end of the 7th round, so our actual odds were closer to 1/252.5 (or 0.395% a chance).  Either way, those odds do make you wonder about the likelihood of whether the computer was just lucky, or if taking a more objective view of a player's data might be a reasonable thing to do.  It also makes me have a greater appreciation for late round draft picks.

Will either of these player end up as Hall of Famers?  Probably not, but that would be a rather unreasonable expectation anyway.  Yes, judging a player based on his number of games started as a rookie is obviously questionable.  Still, observing the successes of late round and undrafted players, is much more interesting to me than their counterparts who were selected in the first few rounds.  The hype factor is less of an issue with the late round players, so getting on the field probably does suggest that a player is doing something right, rather than inheriting a starting role because a team has invested a lot in them.  All I'm concerned with is whether I can get anything at all out of a draft pick.  I really don't think that selecting "stars" is nearly as important as avoiding "bums", who can tie up a roster spot for years simply because they were highly drafted.  Why some players succeed, when nobody was really betting on them doing much, probably reveals more about what really matters.

As for the computer's other picks in 2013, well, some will turn out well and some won't.  The biggest question for me is whether a player is given an opportunity to show what he can do, over which I have no control.  As it stands, I think the odds are in our favor that a few more of the computer's picks should turn out quite well...if given a chance.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vincent Rey: Opportunity Knocks

When the unheralded Vincent Rey embarrassed the Ravens a couple weeks ago, it piqued my interest.  With 15 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 passes defensed, and 1 interception, Rey clearly stood out, even if getting sacks against the Ravens' interior offensive line isn't quite as challenging as it should be (Gradkowski!).  He then followed that up with another fine, if somewhat less shocking performance against the Browns the next week (12 tackles, and 1 pass defensed).  So, I thought it would be interesting to go back and see what the story was with this strange individual from Duke, and why he went undrafted in 2010.

First, let's look at how he performed at his college pro day (since nobody bothered to invite him to the combine).  His Kangaroo Score (measuring lower body explosiveness) and his Agility Score (from the short shuttle and 3-cone drill), will be shown in the form of how many standard deviations he was above or below average, relative to his peers.  His other measurements are more obvious.  I'll also include the results for the linebackers who were taken in first 2 rounds (excluding 3-4 OLBs), just for comparison.

NAME Height  Weight    40 Yard  Kangaroo     Agility      Pick #
Vincent Rey 6'2" 240 4.58 0.436 0.871              U
Rolando McClain 6' 3.3" 249 4.68 -0.564 0.074 8
Sean Weatherspoon 6' 1.3" 239 4.62 0.422 0.401 19
Koa Misi 6' 2.5" 251 4.75 0.976 0.551 40
Sean Lee 6' 2.1" 236 4.72 -0.219 1.203 55
Brandon Spikes 6' 2.7" 249 5.05 -1.282          N/A 62
Pat Angerer 6' 2.2" 235 4.71 -0.555 0.612 63

Since I don't separate linebackers into different groups (because where they wind up playing could vary), such as MLBs, 3-4 OLBs, or 4-3 inside or outside linebackers, or whatever, this can create an issue over the Kangaroo Score for smaller linebackers.  The larger 3-4 OLBs throw off the curve for these smaller players, and can create a bad impression about results that are actually pretty good.  To adjust the scale a bit, for better understanding, I'll throw this out there.  The average results for middle linebackers is probably closer to -0.800 (for now, use that as the baseline for judging these Kangaroo Scores).  The average Kangaroo Score for Pro Bowl or All Pro MLBs would be -0.362.

So, compared to his more highly drafted brethren, Vincent Rey would have been the fastest (40 time), 2nd most explosive (Kangaroo), and 2nd most agile.  His physical stature, at 6' 2", 240#, would have also fit right in with his peers.  Despite all of this, descriptions of Rey, prior to the 2010 draft, often mentioned his "lack of size" or " limited speed and athleticism".  Considering the lack of interest that teams showed in him, it seems that they shared similar thoughts.  Of course, none of this really makes any sense, but what can you do?  Perhaps the funniest aspect of this is how Rolando McClain's athletic ability was described at the time.  CBS praised McClain's,"balance, speed and pursuit quickness", while his actual measurable results screamed "average to poor".

Still, having athletic ability is only part of the story.  At some point, you want to see a player actually produce in college.  So, let's look at Vincent Rey's college stats in his final 3 years, leaving out his freshman season when he got limited playing time.

        Year   Tackles         TFL        Sack             Int           PD            FF
2009 98 8.5 1 2 5 0
2008 109 10.5 2 1 5 1
2007 111 8.5 2.5 0 4 3

I wouldn't claim that these are the most shocking stats I have ever seen for a linebacker, but they certainly look quite solid.  So, let's compare these stats to the frequently mocked Rolando McClain, who was selected with the 8th overall pick in the same draft, despite his significantly worse athletic ability.

        Year    Tackles         TFL        Sack            Int           PD            FF
2009 105 14.5 4 2 6 1
2008 95 12 3 1 7 0
2007 75 5 1 2 4 0

While McClain played for a vastly more powerful college team (Alabama), his overall statistical production rarely exceeded that of Vincent Rey.  The main difference between them would be the number of tackles for a loss that McClain had, though the degree to which McClain can credit the talent of his teammates for this is debatable.  Even here, though, McClain only significantly bested Rey in their senior years, with Rey tending to produce at a more regular and steady pace.  There is also the pesky issue of McClain playing in, approximately, 14 games each year, while Rey only played in about 12.  So McClain was on the field for about 15% more games.  Either way, I wouldn't say that either player was leaps and bounds ahead of the other, in terms of actual college results.

None of this is meant to imply that Vincent Rey should have been selected in the 1st round.  If anything, it is more of a statement about how unwise a selection that McClain was.  Speculating as to when Rey should have been selected is pointless.  I just think that when you weigh his physical potential and production, against that of his peers, you start to wonder why such a prospect was completely ignored.  A mid round pick would have seemed to be a fair gamble.  I certainly don't want to portray Rey as the next Brian Urlacher, but compared to many of the foolish picks that teams make, Rey seems to possess a rather plausible resume that NFL GMs should have taken more seriously.   It's still early in his career, and I can't say how things will turn out, or if he will continue to get an opportunity, but looking back at his numbers, he strikes me as a rather intriguing player who I wouldn't bet against doing quite well.  I'll be curious to see what happens with him.

Also, because I thought it was an interesting article, some of you might be interested in reading this, which gives some description of Rey's background, and how being overlooked seems to have been a bit of a trend in his life.  Overall, this piece gives me the impression that he is a decent hardworking kid, that somehow slipped through the cracks. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The L_B_T_MY Line

I realize that this is sort of like beating a dead horse, but I wanted to continue to pursue some thoughts related to NFL offensive lines. 

I've already briefly mentioned some of my weird thoughts related to the athletic qualities I look for when drafting NFL centers.  There have also been some earlier posts that lightly explore the traits that I think separate guards from tackles (seen here and here).  Still, the question remains, could you actually construct a complete offensive line based on these sorts of simple-minded measurements?

Answering that question is slightly complicated.  Still, I thought it would be fun to look back over the past ten years (the 2003-2012 draft classes), and see how the computer could have theoretically done, compared to a typical NFL team.  However, since hindsight is 20/20, we have to establish some rules for the computer, to keep things as fair as possible.  Many of these rules will significantly handicap the computer, but I wanted to avoid having things appear to be rigged in the computer's favor. 

Rule #1- The average NFL team drafts 1.28 offensive linemen each year, or 12.8 players over the ten years we will be looking at.  Having the computer select one offensive lineman per year is simple enough, but those extra 2.8 players present a problem.  Deciding which years that the computer could pick an extra offensive linemen would be too much of an advantage, since we now know which years had better talent.  Instead, I decided to give the advantage to the NFL GMs, and not allow the computer to make the additional selections.  So, the computer gets to pick just one player per year, and that's it.  NFL GMs will have 28% more opportunities than the computer to get a quality player.

Rule #2- The Kangaroo Score gives equal weight to a player's vertical jump and broad jump.  The Agility Score gives equal weight to a player's short shuttle time and their 3-cone drill.  Since both scores are given in the form of how many standard deviations above (or below) average that a player is relative to their peers, if we combine both scores we will have a Combined Score that gives each of these four drills equal weight.  So, the computer will simply pick whichever player has the best overall results, in terms of general athletic ability.  Since I feel that some of these drills matter more for some positions along the line than for others, this is a significant dumbing down of the computer's ability, and I wouldn't suggest taking such a simple approach in reality.   The computer is basically being hit in the head with a rock before making its picks, and looking for a 'generic offensive lineman' rather than looking for specific positions along the line.

Additionally the computer will filter out any offensive lineman whose forty yard dash time is worse than 5.20 seconds (the actual average time for linemen is approximately 5.22 seconds).  This will be a simple pass/fail type of test, so there will be no benefit to performing exceptionally well here.  A player simply has to be average as far as their 40 time is concerned.

Rule #3- The computer can't pick a player unless that player would have been available in the 3rd round or later.  There's no point in having the computer select someone, if that player most likely wouldn't have been an available option to most teams.  So, every offensive linemen that the computer picks will have been passed over twice by every single team.  Similarly, the computer can't select anyone who went undrafted, as I think this would also give some advantages to the computer.  Overall, I think this is a fair compromise that tilts things in the favor of the NFL GMs.

With the computer now functioning in a somewhat brain damaged manner, we can now look at who it would have selected in the last ten years.  We'll call this the Lobotomy Line, since I think that accurately captures the way that the computer has been impaired.  As well as displaying each selection's 40 time, Kangaroo Score, Agility Score, and Combined Score (this being the only score that matters in the eyes of the computer for this little game), we'll also include a few other bits of data for those who are curious.  First of all, will be their Draft #, the overall selection that they were chosen with by an NFL team.  Secondly, there will be the % Pot GS (Percentage of Potential Games Started).  If a player was selected ten years ago, they could have potentially started in 160 games (not counting the post season), and so on.  Games not started due to injuries, being out of the league, or other unfortunate circumstances, will still count against a player.  This will only be based on a player's "starts" through the 2012 season.

Player      Year   Pick #  40 yard  Kangaroo     Agility  Combined   % of Pot. GS
Brandon Brooks 2012 76 4.99 1.992 1.250 1.621 0
Jason Kelce 2011 191 4.89 -0.537 2.472 0.967 56.25
Jared Veldheer 2010 69 5.06 1.070 1.246 1.158 89.58
Lydon Murtha 2009 228 4.82 1.190 2.265 1.727 6.25
Josh Sitton 2008 135 5.20 0.665 1.005 0.835 80
Doug Free 2007 122 5.19 1.248 1.233 1.241 57.29
Eric Winston 2006 66 4.94 0.612 1.879 1.246 91.96
Evan Mathis 2005 79 4.92 1.677 2.122 1.900 41.4
Kelly Butler 2004 172 5.11 2.718 -0.864 0.927 14.58
Seth Wand 2003 75 5.14 1.221 0.899 1.060 11.25



Since there is no universally agreed upon standard for judging offensive linemen, we'll begin by moving the players who started less than 40% of their team's games to the reject pile, before examining the players that remain a bit more closely.

Let's look at the computer's failed picks first, which would include Lydon Murtha, Kelly Butler and Seth Wand.  Murtha seemed to show some potential for the Dolphins, but after a couple of injuries, he has magically disappeared from the league.  Kelly Butler and Seth Wand, though managing to start 21 and 18 games respectively, also get dumped on the trash heap.  Funnily enough, if the computer had been allowed to select players that went undrafted, it would have chosen 5 time Pro Bowler Jason Peters in 2004.(1.136 combined score) rather than Kelly Butler.  Interesting food for thought, don't you think?   Regardless, it is something we have to ignore (now that I have craftily planted the idea in your mind).  I am only mentioning this particular example because it is unlikely, in reality, that we would be selecting a tackle (Butler) with such a poor agility score.  In the end, the computer seems to have wasted a 3rd, a 6th and a 7th round pick.  As for Brandon Brooks, who only just became a starter in 2013, most of the signs are pointing towards a positive outcome here, and I am still ridiculously confident that things will turn out well for him.

Now, we can look at the computer's better picks.

The Evan Mathis situation is particularly interesting.  Generally regarded as one of the top guards in the NFL, his career got off to a slow start.  Some people will claim that the early stages of his career were hindered by injuries and that he was slow to develop.  People would probably credit his current success to being "coached up", which I feel is most likely nonsense.  In his first 6 seasons, he was on 3 different teams, playing in a total of 58 games (with 22 starts).  How many sacks did he allow in this time?  Well, according to the information I can find, he only allowed 3 sacks (0.136 sacks per game started, in his first 22 starts), which is quite exceptional.  Despite the lack of interest that teams showed in him, I don't see any evidence to suggest that he was really struggling.  Since then, his numbers have improved even further, to 0.084 sacks per game started.

Everybody knows RT Eric Winston, and would probably agree that he has generally been quite good.  Do the Texans miss him?  I would think so.  Derek Newton (-0.667 Combined Score) has, so far, been a rather depressing replacement for Winston.

Then, there is RT Doug Free, who will probably create a bit of controversy.  While Free has had his ups and downs, he is currently having a spectacular 2013.  Whatever people may think of him, I suspect he is still better than what most teams have at RT.  For a 4th round pick, he seems to present excellent value.

Next, we have G Josh Sitton.  Despite the sometimes poor reputation of the Packers' offensive line, I don't think anyone would direct the blame towards Sitton.  Unlike Evan Mathis, who took longer to gain recognition, Josh Sitton quickly seized a starting job, and is often ranked among the top guards in the NFL.

If LT Jared Veldheer played for someone other than the Raiders, he might be a more recognizable name.  While he struggled some in his rookie year, which isn't surprising considering his transition from Hillsdale College, he has since that time entered the discussion as one of the top young OTs in the league.  If he had a weakness early on, it is that he probably committed too many penalties (though that has steadily improved), but he doesn't give up sacks.

Last, but not least, we have C Jason Kelce.  Despite being picked in the 6th round, he has started every game since his rookie year, except for those he missed due to injury in 2012.  He doesn't give up sacks, allowing just 0.055 per game started, and has generally been a favorite of the guys over at Pro Football Focus.  Make of this what you will.  Seems to be one of the more intriguing young centers on the rise.

Overall, regardless of your methods for judging offensive linemen, I think most people would agree that 50-60% of the computer's picks (while operating in 'idiot mode') have been quite good, and this could climb as high as 70% depending on how things work out for Brandon Brooks.  In the end, I am quite surprised and pleased with the results, and suspect this would have produced a rather intriguing, and possibly spectacular offensive line.  While some of the players have areas of relative weakness, I have a hard time imagining that putting them together as a unit wouldn't magnify their strengths.  Though I know this is obvious to everyone, players do seem to perform even better when teamed with other superior players.

Now, let's take a look at the results of an actual NFL team.  Which team will we choose as an example?  Well, since I've already criticized the Ravens a fair bit in the past, we might as well use them.  It's probably simpler than offending a different fanbase.  That the Ravens are generally perceived as a team that drafts well, also has the obvious advantage of not appearing to pick on the helpless (hmm, like the Jaguars, perhaps).

Player      Year    Pick #   40 yard  Kangaroo     Agility  Combined   % of Pot. GS
Kelechi Osemele 2012 60 5.22 0.500 -0.538 -0.018 100
Gino Gradkowski 2012 98 5.25 -0.509 -0.034 -0.271 0
Jah Reid 2011 85 5.32 1.291 0.319 0.805 21.87
Ramon Harewood 2010 194 5.11 0.943          N/A            N/A 10.41
Michael Oher 2009 23 5.34 0.134 0.194 0.164 100
Oniel Cousins 2008 99 5.11 -0.515 -0.348 -0.432 6.25
David Hale 2008 133 5.27 -0.579 0.145 -0.217 0
Ben Grubbs 2007 29 5.18 -0.393 -0.311 -0.352 89.58
Marshall Yanda 2007 86 5.15 -0.611 1.146 0.267 75
Chris Chester 2006 56 4.83 0.260 1.321 0.791 70.53
Adam Terry 2005 64 5.40 0.009 -0.324 -0.157 14.06
Jason Brown 2005 124 5.40 0.437 0.656 0.546 71.09
Brian Rimpf 2004 246 5.41 0.280 -0.147 0.066 4.86
Tony Pashos 2003 173 5.30           N/A          N/A            N/A 43.75
Mike Mabry 2003 250        N/A           N/A          N/A            N/A 0



The Ravens seem to be following more of a whimsical 'just throw the dart and see where it lands' approach to drafting linemen.  When using the same "40% of potential games started" criteria, we get a rather extensive list of probable failures for the Ravens.  This includes Gino Gradkowksi (now starting, though doing very poorly), Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood, Oniel Cousins, David Hale, Adam Terry, Brian Rimpf, and Mike Mabry.

When it comes to the Ravens' "successes" we wander into much murkier territory. 

When we look at OT Tony Pashos, we might as well also look at Michael Oher.  Despite the difference in their draft positions, and the expectations that come with that, I think a reasonable argument could be made that there isn't a huge difference between them.  In some ways, Pashos might even have a slight edge over Oher.  When it comes to sacks allowed per game started, Pashos has allowed 0.45 to Oher's 0.50.  So, a minor point in Pashos' favor.  If we look at their penalties per games started, Pashos has 0.50, to Oher's 0.59.  Again, a point in Pashos' favor.  So, the question becomes, is Pashos underrated, or has Oher been a bit overrated?  Or, are both of them just mediocre?  It seems hard to suggest that Pashos has faced easier circumstances, moving around from the Jaguars, 49ers, Browns, Redskins, and Raiders.  In the end, I don't suspect either player is someone that most teams would be clamoring to acquire, though both are probably serviceable.  Still, they seem like the sort of players that always leave a team searching for somebody better.

While I personally thought Jason Brown was a rather good center, during his time with the Ravens, his reputation/performance seemed to take a hit when he signed on with the Rams.  At the very least, I think we can say he was enough of a success to briefly be the highest paid center in the league.  What was it that eventually went wrong, when he wound up in St. Louis?  I have no idea.

Current Redskins' guard, Chris Chester, also creates an interesting debate.  I am forced to count him as a success because of the number of games he has started, but I find it hard to believe that anyone would argue that he is particularly good.  I suspect most Ravens fans would laugh at this suggestion.  You can make up your own mind about this situation.

The selection of guards Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs, are probably the two most undeniable successes for the Ravens in the last 10 years.  Both have been highly regarded, and I can see no reason to complain about either pick.

Lastly, we come to guard Kelechi Osemele.  Despite the initial optimism people had about him, he appears to have been on a gradual downhill slide since his rookie year.  While he gets starting opportunities, he has so far been rather unimpressive.  Many people seem to be suggesting that his struggles are due to the talent that surrounds him, but I don't think a genuinely great player would need to have such excuses made on his behalf.  Still, it is early in his career, so who knows what will happen here?

I suspect someone will want to point out Jah Reid's lack of success, despite his excellent measurables, as compared to Ben Grubbs, who was athletically somewhat below average.  All I can say here is "Yup, this sort of thing happens".  A player's athletic ability, as measured at the combine, doesn't guarantee success or failure.  I merely want to suggest that the odds are generally in favor of the athletically superior, and worth betting on.  Players tend to meet the expectations set by their athletic ability more often than they exceed them, at least as far as I have been able to judge these things.

If we are being extremely generous, this would mean that 46.6% of the Ravens selections could be called successes.  Still, I think that most people would agree that their true success rate is probably a fair bit lower than this.  If we determined that just 2 of the Ravens' 'successes' were highly debatable (take your pick as to which 2), their success rate would drop to 33%, and we could be even harsher if we chose to.  How you choose to evaluate this, in comparison to the computer's selections is entirely up to you.  One thing to remember though, is that the Ravens, with their 15 selections, had 50% more opportunities to get it right.  A full third of their picks also came in the first two rounds of the draft (with two 1st round picks, and three 2nd round picks), where the computer was forbidden to make selections.

When we try to evaluate the likelihood of a player developing into someone useful, we also run into some peculiar issues.  The average player's result, in terms of percentage of potential games started, isn't that much worse for the Ravens than it is for the computer.  The Ravens come in with an average result of 40.49%, versus a somewhat better result of 48.82% for the computer.  The problem we have here is that the Ravens results seem to be heavily weighted by a few outliers, that are having a heavy influence on their results.  This largely seems to stem from their higher draft picks, who get many starting opportunities regardless of their actual performance.  If we look instead at the median results for percentage of potential games started, the Ravens fall to 21.87%, versus 44.85% for the computer.  That would be a rather commanding lead for the computer's picks.

While I think the computer's theoretical draft results could arguably be considered to be twice as good as those of the Ravens (depending on how generous you want to be towards the Ravens' picks), there is the question of whether this could be accomplished in reality.  Let's look at some obvious angles from which all of this could be criticized.

1. This all assumes a reasonable knowledge of where the players would actually be selected.  In reality, how would you snake these players before someone else selected them?

Generally, the pre-draft speculation as to what round players will be selected in is fairly accurate, though this accuracy diminishes towards the later rounds.  I have no problem with taking a player as high as a full round ahead of where the conventional wisdom says he is projected to go, if it means getting the player I want, and if he is someone the computer deems a best-in-class prospect.  People will probably criticize this as "reaching" for a player, while ignoring how bad most teams more conventional "value" picks actually are.

2.  Some of the computer's picks were relatively high in the 3rd round.  Wouldn't many teams have to actually select them in the 2nd round, if they were intent on acquiring them?

Well, that's true, though trading up in the third round is a possibility too.  Having to take a player in the second round, in order to get them, also opens up the possibility of taking other, potentially more highly rated players, that we didn't examine here because of the rule forbidding us from going after players in the first 2 rounds. Even when I ran this same little test with the computer restricted to picks that were available in the 4th round or later, the computer arguably did at least as well as the typical NFL GM. 

3.  So, the computer was right maybe 50-60% (though I suspect it will soon be 70%) of the time.  Big deal!  That's not that impressive!

Well, in reality, I don't think anybody is likely to see a success rate that is significantly higher than 70%.  Somewhere around the 70% mark I've run into the issues of injuries, teams potentially neglecting/misusing talent, and the general unpredictability of human nature, as significant obstacles, regardless of how I approach this subject.  I realize that people want to find some sort of magic formula that will result in 90% of a team's picks being outrageous successes, but this simply isn't going to happen.  We also have to remember that the computer is operating with at least one hand tied behind its back in this little game.  With that said, I still think these results are probably surprisingly close to optimal, even if I would prefer to do things somewhat differently in reality (weighting the scores differently, and including more data in other areas).  While I aim for the 70% mark, hitting on 50-60% is still a decent outcome, and significantly better than what most teams could probably manage.  It is also worth remembering that NFL teams, on average, only have about 21.5% of their picks turn out to be successful.  We're just looking for a little edge, that over time will tilt things in our favor.

Remember, this is just a game I'm playing here, so take this all with a grain of salt.  While we can incorporate more data than I've shown here, and weigh the data more intelligently than we have in this incredibly simplified example, I think it might illustrate some of the potential benefits of using objective data rather than the "gut feeling" that most GMs seem to rely upon.  While I won't quote the great philosopher Rob Gordon, I think we all know what our guts are full of.  If nothing else, I think all of this raises some interesting questions relating to the supposed expertise and 'eye for talent', that GMs and scouts allegedly bring to the table.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

If he was that good, he would be starting!

That line of thinking really makes me very uncomfortable.  I'm not looking to get into an argument, but when people say things like "He's a backup for a reason" or "If he's so great, why is he on the practice squad?", it makes my skin crawl.  These kinds of lines are sort of a close relative to the classic "Scoreboard!" argument that some fans make, in an attempt to end all discussion by saying something idiotic to end all debate on a subject.

While it is sometimes difficult to quantify which players/teams are good, versus lucky, or succeeding due to the peculiar circumstances that surround them, I think most people would agree that weird things do happen, and that the simplistic "Scoreboard!" view of things probably doesn't capture the truth a lot of the time.  The better team doesn't always win.  The player with the most gaudy stats isn't always the best.  A coach with a good win/loss record may still be a bozo.

The only reason that I mention all of this, is that I have a creepy (possibly paranoid) feeling about something that may occur soon.

The recent Reggie Wayne injury was obviously unfortunate.  He's a quality player, with no character issues that I am aware of.  In his absence, the Colts are left with T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey, as their starting wide receivers, a somewhat sketchy position for the team.  Both of them are useful/good receivers, though Hilton seems to easily be the better of the two, but neither seems like the type to fill the void that Wayne will leave behind.  They are mostly just deep threats, while Wayne provided the steady and reliable option for Andrew Luck to throw to.  While Hilton and Heyward-Bey have caught 50.9 and 51.4 percent of the passes thrown their way, Wayne has been catching 66.1 percent of the balls targeted to him.  Granted, the deeper routes that Hilton and Heyward-Bey typically run, tend to be lower percentage types of plays in general, but even if they start running more short to intermediate routes, I doubt their overall catch rate would climb to Wayne's level.

So, this leads people to speculate about, and apparently clamor for, a trade.  The object of everyone's deranged desires seems to be the Brown's receiver Josh Gordon.  While Gordon has generally been a fairly good receiver, and would probably do even better with the Colts, everyone knows he has some significant baggage that he brings along with him.  If the rumors are true, he's just one exuberant Saturday night away from a year long suspension. His history of idiocy is fairly impressive for someone who has been in the league for such a short time, just as it was before he was drafted.  He spent more time in college suspended than actually playing.

At the same time, the Colts already have a potentially talented malcontent lurking on their practice squad, in the form of Da'Rick Rogers.  Despite his bad reputation, Rogers' only documented offenses seem to involve smoking weed in college and a scuffle outside of a bar during his freshman year.  Small potatoes compared to Josh Gordon's accomplishments in this area.  While I am a fan of Rogers, I obviously can't guarantee that he will be a success.  All I can say for certain is that the evidence suggests he could be quite good, but, of course, none of that matters if he isn't going to be given a chance.  At 6'2" tall, and 217 pounds, he seems to be built for the role the Colts are looking to fill, and his combine measurables suggest he is highly agile and explosive.  His college stats also point to Rogers being a better alternative than the other options that exist.  Best of all, it wouldn't cost the Colts anything to find out what he has to offer.  Why trade for a talented idiot, when you probably already have one?

Considering the Colts' most recent act of desperation, when they traded for Trent Richardson (how's that working out?), maybe they should be a bit more cautious this time around.  Maybe, they should save some of those draft picks that they have been eagerly trading away, and try to actually find out if it is worth giving a shot to some of the players that they already have.  Or, they can just run with their initial evaluation, and dismiss Da'rick Rogers as a mere "practice squad player".  After all, their initial evaluations have been so good, that it has gotten them in this mess in the first place.  Why would anyone second guess that?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The devil you know...

I'm generally much less concerned with the outcomes of NFL games, than I am in seeing how the young players are coming along.  This inevitably leads to immense (and pointless) frustration, as I have to wait for injuries or desperation to drive teams towards experimenting a bit with the rookies.  Too often, teams seem much more content to trot out the same old under-performing veterans, just because they feel that they know what they will get from these players, rather than to take some risks.  Much like my views on marriage, I think a similar attitude applies to football players.  Go with what you've got, until something younger and prettier comes along.

I am a bit annoyed by the Jets' release of Ryan Spadola.  Despite the lack of interest that teams showed in him during the draft, he is still a very physically gifted player, with college production that puts most receivers to shame.  When given a chance in the preseason, he statistically outproduced every single rookie wide receiver, and even ranked third amongst non-rookies.  Basically, he performed about as well as any reasonable person could hope for, and truly appeared to be a legitimate player.

Then, in a rain soaked week 2 game against the Patriots, he dropped one pass (the only regular season pass to be thrown his way), and was never targeted again this season.  At the same time, Clyde Gates dropped 3 passes in the same game, and has only been catching 43.1% of the 51 career passes thrown his way, and Stephen Hill is only marginally more reliable so far (47.9% for his career, but a somewhat improved 54.2% for 2013).   People seem to be offering the "coaches must have seen something in practice that they didn't like" explanation for why Spadola was cut, though I find this difficult to take seriously.  As long as Oniel Cousins has a job, I refuse to acknowledge that the majority of coaches have some sort of magical "eye for talent".  It's entirely possible that the Jets will resign Spadola to the practice squad, or that he will amount to nothing, but I would prefer to see him land somewhere else.

In a similar way, I was surprised by the Seahawks decision to release Stephen Williams.  Similar to Spadola's situation, it seems that Williams might suffer from the continued stigma of having been an undrafted player.  While I have compared Williams to his former teammate Sidney Rice before (though the computer thinks he could be better than Rice, if given a chance), I wanted to add a bit more to this thought.  Sidney Rice is currently engaged in a 5 year contract with the Seahawks that pays him, on average, $8.2 million per year.  This is more than Victor Cruz makes (who will average $7.6 million on his new contract).  Now, if we ignore Rice's 2009 season (1,312 yards and 8 TDs), he has only had one other somewhat above average year, which was in 2012, when he had 748 yard and seven TDs.  Though somewhat hindered by injuries (which were a bit predictable), I find this situation to be rather odd.  Rice's career, so far, is eerily similar to that of the somewhat disappointing Marcus Robinson.  I'm not saying this with the intent of insulting Sidney Rice, but merely to suggest that the Seahawks wide receiver situation might not be as settled as they seem to think.  Rice's status as a former 2nd round pick, and one great performance 5 years ago, seem to be outweighing his current reality.  I had hoped that the Seahawks would give Williams more of an opportunity to develop.

I suppose the upside of this, is that there are now two somewhat intriguing wide receiver prospects out there, that any team could sign for practically no cost.  Sadly, I don't really have any expectations of this happening though, since we seem to live in a world where teams would rather recycle former 1st round draft picks like Levi Brown, rather than admitting to a mistake and moving on.  Ah, confirmation bias is alive and well.

While Kenbrell Thompkins' 273 receiving yards and 3 TDs might be pleasing to the fantasy football crowd, I still find him to be highly suspicious.  Catching only 41.9% of the passes thrown to him is just a disturbingly poor result.  While I will acknowledge that I find Catch Rates to be a debatable statistic, heavily influenced by the routes a receiver is running as well as who is throwing the ball, none of it seems to justify Thompkins' current issues.  So far, he is credited with 5 dropped passes through five games, which is the second most for all receivers at this point.  On the one hand, I am glad to see a team give an opportunity to an undrafted player, on the other hand, I would prefer to see Josh Boyce get more of an opportunity.

On a more positive note, I was quite happy to see the Patriots give an opportunity to defensive tackle Chris Jones this week.  For the most part, this seemed to be the product of an Achilles tendon injury to Vince Wilfork, rather than actual confidence in Chris Jones, but I'll take what I can get.  Chris Jones was a 6th round draft pick this year, by the Houston Texans, but didn't get to play much in the preseason due to minor injuries, and was promptly released.  This caused me some minor annoyance, since he was a player I had selected in my battle versus Ozzie Newsome.  Then, my spirits perked up, when he was signed by the Buccaneers...only to see him cut shortly thereafter.  Again, I saw him picked up, this time by the Patriots, but at this point I was feeling a bit more pessimistic.  A future in the CFL seemed to be looming.  When he finally got significant playing time this weekend against the Bengals, he responded with 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks.  It's amazing how these things work out when you give a gifted player a chance.  I still think Jones is better suited to playing a disruptive role along the defensive line, rather than a space eating nose tackle role, but we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out.

It's also been pleasing to see the Falcons giving increased opportunities to undrafted Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu.  While I should probably just be satisfied with this minor victory, I can't deny that I wish the team had made the switch earlier.  This is one of those situations where it seems like there was no real downside to gambling on rookies.  Was the team actually afraid that these players would perform worse than Stephen Nicholas, or the slightly more tolerable Akeem Dent?  While I've focused on Worrilow much more than Bartu, it should be noted that Bartu also showed signs of rather impressive athletic ability with a -0.015 Kangaroo Score (which is actually quite a bit above average for a 4-3 LB), and a 0.885 Agility Score.  I think Worrilow is still probably the more versatile of the two, though Bartu might have a slight athletic edge when it comes to rushing the passer.  While there are no guarantees on how things will work out, I think getting these two some experience should pay dividends in the future.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Steelers trade for OT Levi Brown

It looks like I spoke too soon when I called the Ravens' trade for Eugene Monroe "idiotic".  This move by the Steelers has significantly moved the bar for idiocy, making the Ravens look just "a little bit slow" in comparison.

I've already discussed the screwed up nature of the Steelers' offensive line in a previous post.  Basically, it boiled down to the idea that the Steelers seem to value bulk more than actual athletic ability.  The acquisition of Levi Brown continues this trend of large but oafish busts.

NAME  Height  Weight     Arm 40 yard   Kangaroo     Agility
Levi Brown 6' 5.4" 323 33.125" 5.40 -0.560 -0.516

Basically, Levi Brown has significantly below average power (based on the Kangaroo Score), below average agility, horribly below average speed (which, perhaps surprisingly, does matter for OTs), and below average reach (based on arm length).  Add to that a poor history of on the field performance in Arizona, and I have to ask, how could this possibly go wrong?  I'm sure Levi Brown will magically change for the better upon his arrival in Pittsburgh.  Surely it was the dry Arizona climate that was holding him back, and not just incompetence/inability on his part.

The main reason this trade troubles me is that it demonstrates a constant problem that plagues the league, which is the continued overvaluing of former first round picks (Brown was the 5th overall pick in 2007).  Regardless of how a player under-performs, if they were selected in the first round, they basically go through their career with a "1st round pick" merit badge pinned to their chest, ensuring that people will continue to give them future opportunities at redemption.  There is always some team that thinks they can cleverly salvage these players' careers, rather than just admitting that these players never should have been selected as highly as they were.

While players such as Levi Brown routinely get selected too highly in the draft, others who might be better sometimes get ignored.  You would think the cream would eventually rise to the top, and it often does, but inevitably this process gets delayed by the continuing affection for former first round draft picks who never lived up to the hype, yet remain in the spotlight.  Really look at the merits of Levi Brown, and tell me why anyone believes he is salvageable?  Then tell me that there isn't some gifted individual out there, perhaps wasting away on a teams practice squad, who might one day be good, if only the coaches weren't afraid to give a chance to someone with a lesser history of popular acclaim?

Ravens trade for Eugene Monroe

I'm going to be blunt.  I think this was an idiotic move by the Ravens.  Hell, the first suggestion that Google makes when I type in Eugene Monroe's name is "Eugene Monroe bust".  That's encouraging.  Truthfully, I don't think he is a bust, but merely a disappointment relative to where he was drafted (the 8th overall pick).

This is a move that smells of desperation.  Yes, the Ravens offensive line is a mess, but trading away future picks, even ones in later rounds, isn't the right thing to do just to put a band aid on a bad situation.  Treating late round picks as if they are worthless is a mistake, but doubly so when you are trading them away for a player who has so far been merely average.   The Ravens are making this decision because they aren't satisfied with their recent record, and are now wandering down the Jerry Jones/Daniel Snyder path of player acquisition.  The Ravens have enough fan support right now to ride out a bad stretch, and wait until next year's draft to rebuild, but they seem to be overreacting under some deluded belief that they can actually compete this year, which they probably can't.

Athletically Monroe is kind of on a similar tier to Michael Oher.  Actually, I would say that he is moderately better than that, but not so much as to make a real difference, in my opinion.

NAME Height     Weight         Arm   40 yard Kangaroo     Agility
Eugene Monroe 6'5 1/4 309     33 7/8" 5.18 0.340 -0.253
Michael Oher 6'4 1/2 309     33 1/2" 5.34 0.134 0.194

Yes, Monroe does a little bit better on the Kangaroo Score and a little bit worse on the Agility Score.  In the end though he is not a terribly unique athlete, and the fact that the Jaguars are willing to unload him should tell you something.  There is also the fact that even if he greatly outperforms my expectations, his rookie contract will be up after this season, forcing the Ravens to commit a lot a cash to him (which they don't have), and most likely cutting other high priced starters on a team that already lacks quality depth.  Actually, even if Monroe is just average, which is what I really expect of him, the team is still probably going to be forced to pay him to stick around, just to justify the draft picks they will have lost. 

I realize that a lot of people are going to see Monroe as the pretty new face on the team, and be hopeful because of his status as a former high draft pick.  Really, though, do you really think a team would let a left tackle and 8th overall pick leave their team, if he was actually an exceptional talent, let alone for a handful of low draft picks?  Just to be clear, I am not saying that Monroe sucks.  I just don't think he is likely to be a special enough player for the team to be binding themselves to, which I think this trade ensures they will be. positive....

Well, Monroe will almost certainly be better than McKinnie, who has been less of a physical presence than his friend Sweet Pea. The main reason this trade annoys me is because of the eventual financial cost of resigning Monroe after this season, when I would rather see the team going younger and cheaper (yes, Monroe is relatively young, but he probably won't be terribly cheap). 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

John Harbaugh: Master of the Obvious

If you expect the worst, you'll never be disappointed.  This depressing bit of advice has been the cornerstone of my family's continued acceptance of my foolish decisions. 

“The whole O-line is disappointing right now,” Harbaugh said.

I just had a vicious laughing fit when I read this post on PFT.  While John Harbaugh isn't the one who selects the players that wind up on his team, the possibility that he expected something better from them was probably unwise.  It's all just rainbows and unicorn farts in the optimistic world of John Harbaugh.

The problem, as I see it, is the o-line reverting to their normal/predictable level of play.  Their recent post-season run, where Flacco was only sacked once in every 21 pass attempts, was an aberration.  The o-line's history had generally shown them to allow a sack once in every 15 to 16 pass attempts, and currently (through 4 games) is allowing a sack once in every 14.08 attempts.  While this still only places the Ravens' slightly below what we we would expect their average results to be, recent history has shown what happens to Flacco as the hits start to accumulate.  So far, the game in which Flacco was sacked least frequently was against the Browns, where he was only taken down once in every 16.5 attempts (itself a rather mediocre result), and not coincidentally this game produced his best passer rating of the season (94.4).

“It’s a difference between Gino and Matt with the calls,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh then proceeds to drop a fair bit of the blame on poor Gino Gradkowski, whom many seem to feel has been a significant drop off in talent from his predecessor Matt Birk.  Being expected to follow a Hall of Famers' career isn't an enviable position to be in, but this current situation also seems like it should have been a fairly predictable outcome.  The computer still thinks that A.Q. Shipley should be starting center, though it is entirely possible that the Ravens are waiting to see if recent draft pick Ryan Jensen might be the answer, when he returns from his injury.  While Jensen's measurables aren't quite as strong as Shipley's, Jensen's short shuttle time of 4.56 seconds is much more in line with what the computer expects from a center prospect, at least compared to Gradkowski's time of 4.78 seconds.  On the other hand, the Ravens' management could stick their fingers in their ears and say, "Naaa-naaa!  We can't hear you.!", while continuing to start Gradkowski.

Despite that bit of negativity, I actually think Flacco has been playing about as well as can be expected, considering the horrible pass protection, lack of running game, and questionable receiving corps.  That might seem odd to say about someone who currently has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5), while having a 69.4 passer rating, but he hasn't looked nearly as discombobulated as I would expect, considering the situation he has been put into.  Still, it probably is fair to wonder if paying Flacco as if he is the equivalent of 3.5 Steve Austins, really makes much sense (he's worth maybe 2 Jaime Sommers in my opinion).  This idea that any QB, who is about to become a free agent, automatically becomes the highest paid player in the league is hilarious.  You're either viewed as a bum, who the team lets go of, or a 21 million dollar man, and there is almost no middle ground.  Remember all of that talk about how it was Cam Cameron holding Flacco back, and how things would be different with Jim Caldwell?  In the end, you kind of have to wonder if it is worth buying into a small sample size, like last year's playoffs, as a way of making your decisions.

Speaking of the poor situation surrounding Flacco, a recent quote about Ed Dickson provided even more entertainment for me:

“The stats kind of speak for themselves as you’re alluding to. He’s not the same player right now than he was then (2 years prior) obviously,” Harbaugh said

The player that Ed Dickson was 2 years ago is kind of an illusion.  Even in his most productive year (2011) Dickson had a habit of dropping passes.  Ed Dickson was a player who benefited from his draft position to get on the field ahead of Dennis Pitta, who was almost certainly the superior player.  While Ed Dickson was selected with the 6th pick of the 3rd round, in 2010, Pitta was taken with 16th pick of the 4th round, again in 2010.  So, why was Dickson selected ahead of Pitta, and given an earlier chance to play?  Well, that is difficult to answer, but the popular opinion seems to have always been that Dickson was a better athlete, while Pitta was a more reliable but less physically gifted player.  Is any of this actually true though?

  Height   Weight    40-yard   10-yard  Bench  Vert.    Sh. Sht. 3-Cone   Br. Jmp
Dennis Pitta 6' 4.5" 246 4.68 1.63 27 34" 4.17 6.72 113"
Ed Dickson 6' 4.2" 249 4.59 1.64 25 34" 4.59 7.32 122"

While Ed Dickson did better than Dennis Pitta in the 40 yard dash and the broad jump, Pitta bested Dickson in the agility drills.  While we could debate the value of speed versus agility (I would obviously prefer a player to have both), I don't think it is unreasonable to say that the physical advantage of one over another, isn't really as big as some people might have made them out to be.  On the other hand, what they accomplished with these abilities while in college was staggeringly different.

Dennis Pitta       Rec.     Yards         YPC          TD  % of Off.   % of TD
2009 62 829 13.4 8 14.92 23.52
2008 83 1083 13 6 18.73 17.14
2007 59 813 13.8 5 14.12 19.23

Ed Dickson       Rec.     Yards         YPC          TD  % of Off.   % of TD
2009 42 551 13.1 6 10.28 37.5
2008 35 508 14.5 3 8.05 15
2007 43 453 10.5 3 7.45 11.53

While Pitta's stats are somewhat gaudy in terms of his receiving yardage, I am more interested in the percentage of his teams' offense that he was responsible for, which gives us some idea of how much the opposing defenses probably focused on stopping him.  In this area, Pitta clearly establishes that he was a much more vital target for his team, with his results averaging out to about 15.92% over his three years, compared to just 8.59% for Ed Dickson.  I know a lot of people will probably choose to disregard this, but it is something I tend to put a lot of faith in.  Beyond that, we can see that Dickson never really outperformed Pitta in any area during their time in college, except for the percentage of team receiving TDs in his senior year, which is a much flukier sort of stat.

So, why exactly was Dickson given 19 starts in his first 2 years, while Pitta was only given 2?  I have no idea.  All we can say is that it eventually became clear to the team that only one of these players could reliably be counted on to catch the ball, and it just happened to be the player that probably should have been the preferred target from the beginning.  Much like the Gino Gradkowski situation, I often have my doubts about whether teams actually put the best players on the field.  Too often it feels as if teams are hesitant to switch things up, even on a limited basis, preferring to stick with the guys they picked come hell or high water.  Of course, these sorts of complaints on my part are sort of like pissing into the wind.

If there is a positive side to all of this, it is that most teams are in equally bad positions.  There are probably only 3 or 4 teams in the NFL that are worth being scared of at this point, so the Ravens probably won't have to pay too steep of a price for some of their decisions.  They will most likely manage to bumble their way to somewhat mediocre results as the season progresses.  I'll just continue to expect the worst, and if things somehow turn out well, I'll be pleasantly surprised.  I anxiously await John Harbaugh's next great revelation, when it occurs to him that NFL head coaches are vastly overpaid.