Friday, August 16, 2013

Arthur Brown vs. Lavonte David

I have to admit to being a bit excited to see what will become of Arthur Brown, the MLB that the Ravens traded up to select with the 56th pick in the 2013 draft.  As I've mentioned before, I'm kind of betting against Arthur Brown, but I have no real ax to grind on this issue, and wish him the best of luck.  Still, the numbers upon which I base most of my hunches suggest that it is reasonable to be wary of Brown.

When I wrote about Paul Worrilow, I discussed how predicting the success of middle linebackers is a bit more difficult than when we look at other positions on the defense.  This position, as well as safeties, can be used in so many different ways, which makes ruling out success completely a bit difficult.  They can drop into coverage, run sideline to sideline, or blitz the QB, and as long as they can do at least one of these things adequately, they'll continue to have a job.  The truly exceptional MLB can do all three of these things at a high level, but such players are so rare that you generally have to content yourself with someone a bit more limited.  In general, I would say that there is maybe one full service MLB in every draft class, and they tend to go in the first two rounds, because they are fairly obvious talents.  Unfortunately, the 2013 draft class had very little to offer (in the eyes of the computer) in terms of obvious high end MLB talent (at least among players projected to go in the first few rounds). The computer felt that many of the prospects being pushed into the first two rounds, were more a product of a weak draft class, rather than exceptional talents.

I don't think people are expecting Brown to meet the standards of a young Ray Lewis.  The fans probably aren't that crazy.  Fortunately, Lewis' steady decline in the last few years should make the transition significantly less glaring.  Hooray for lower standards!  Beyond that, there is also the high probability that Arthur Brown will end up starting, even if he isn't particularly great, simply due to a lack of options.  The reason this bothers me, is that I think people will end up viewing his starter status too optimistically, and overstate the grandness of any play he ends up making (sort of like people did with Courtney Upshaw this past year).  It's not that I can't appreciate the optimism of the fans, but people tend to treat all draft picks, particularly the high ones, as if they are going to be future stars...until the truth becomes unavoidable.  Then we just move on to our next infatuation.

Again, none of what I'm saying should be read as a statement saying "Arthur Brown can't possibly succeed".  I'm just trying to encourage a more cautious approach to appraising him.  While laying out a precise set of requirements for a high end MLB is a bit complicated, there are some physical and statistical thresholds that you don't tend to see the best of the best falling below.  Just taking a quick look at some of the recent draft classes, we can see some rough patterns amongst the more well known and currently productive MLBs.  As always, the Kangaroo and Agility scores are given in terms of how many standard deviations that a player is above or below the average result for his position group.

Player                                Year      40 time    Avg. TFL      Kangaroo    Agility Score
Arthur Brown 2013 4.67 8.25 -0.869 0.441
Luke Kuechly 2012 4.58 11.25 0.303 1.256
Mychal Kendricks 2012 4.44 14.75 0.574 1.524
Bobby Wagner 2012 4.46 9.75 0.951 0.466
Lavonte David 2012 4.57 14 -0.547 0.285
Akeem Ayers 2011 4.70 12.25 -0.006 0.293
Sean Weatherspoon 2010 4.62 16.5 0.422 0.401
Sean Lee 2010 4.72 10.75 -0.219 1.203
Brian Cushing 2009 4.64 6.5 -0.219 1.133
James Laurinaitis 2009 4.76 7.75 -0.723 0.904
Jerod Mayo 2008 4.54 10.25 0.142 0.034
Curtis Lofton 2008 4.79 8.25 -1.333 -1.445
Patrick Willis 2007 4.51 10.5 0.217 -0.282
Lawrence Timmons 2007 4.66 10.75 -0.481 0.702
Paul Posluszny 2007 4.70 10.5 -0.406 0.996
AJ Hawk 2006 4.59 12.5 0.421 1.891
DeMeco Ryans 2006 4.65 9.5 0.463 0.569
Derrick Johnson 2005 4.52 19.5 0.070 1.223
Jonathan Vilma 2004 4.61            N/A -0.376 1.516
Karlos Dansby 2004 4.58 11.5 -0.059 -0.763
Nick Barnett 2003 4.67             13.5 -0.451 1.212
Avg. Results
4.61 11.42 -0.062 0.655

In some cases, such as with Lavonte David, Akeem Ayers, and Sean Weatherspoon, I included players who are currently 4-3 outside linebackers.  This was either due to a shortage of plausible, and successful, middle linebacker prospects from their draft class, or simply because I think that projecting them to the inside isn't that far fetched.  You can make whatever you wish to of this decision.  However you choose to look at it, this is, I feel, a reasonable representation of the most highly acclaimed and highly drafted MLBs from the past few years, minus a handful of players for whom there isn't sufficient data.

If the Kangaroo scores seem a bit lower in general, this is because these players are graded with all of the OLBs and defensive ends (generally the cutoff point is 275#), who throw off the curve for the MLBs.  The average results for middle linebackers is probably closer to -0.800 (for now, use that as the baseline for judging these Kangaroo Scores).  If anyone is curious, the average Kangaroo Score for the last 17 Pro Bowl or All Pro MLBs would be around -0.362.  These same 17 Pro Bowl/All Pro MLBs averaged 0.633 on the Agility Score.

So, what do we see when we look at Arthur Brown in comparison to his peers?  Well, first of all, his 40 time is merely okay, and slightly below the average result of his peers in this list, though this is hardly a huge concern.  Secondly, in terms of his Kangaroo Score, he performed worse than anyone on this list, except for Curtis Lofton, who is a bit of an anomaly.  Excluding Lofton, only James Laurinitis came close to Arthur Brown's score of -0.869.  Generally, this would suggest a low probability that a MLB would generate much pressure as a blitzer.  Still, this is not necessarily the end of the world.  Thirdly, we come to Arthur Brown's Agility Score of 0.441, where he did better, though still blow the overall average for the group.  So, this would predict he has some ability to drop into coverage, but still doesn't suggest anything exceptional.

Among the 8 players who had more mundane or average agility scores, let's say below 0.500, most compensated by having improved Kangaroo Scores.  Excluding Curtis Lofton, who I have no explanation for, only Lavonte David remains among these 8, as appearing to be significantly below average in terms of his explosiveness, while simultaneously just okay in terms of agility.  It is for this reason that I included Lavonte David on this list in the first place, despite the fact that he is currently playing as an outside linebacker.  I'll get to that comparison in a second.

For a player whose reputation seems to largely hang upon his alleged athletic ability and speed, Brown certainly doesn't seem to demonstrate this when tested.  Except for a moderately above average Agility Score, his results are in the average to poor range.  Still, I can accept the possibility that he might have just had a bad day at the combine.  It's his on the field results that matter, correct?

As far as the player's Avg. TFL (the average number of tackles for a loss that they generated in the last two years in college), Arthur Brown is again somewhat below average.  You might think that this doesn't matter, and only relates to their pass rushing ability, but I feel differently.  Even if a player isn't generating a significant number of sacks, I think their Avg. TFL number says something about the awareness/decisiveness/aggressiveness with which they are attacking the play, rather than just waiting for it to come to them.  While it is certainly true that the teams they played on can influence these stats, I wouldn't be thrilled with seeing a player measure up poorly in this area. 

As I said, I wanted to make a comparison between Arthur Brown and Lavonte David.  I find this comparison particularly interesting, because I've actually been a fan of Lavonte David for some time now, despite his rather pedestrian measurables.  During the 2012 draft, the computer suggested that there were 4 players who were plausible candidates to become significant inside linebackers Kuechly, Wagner, Kendricks, and David.  So far, they all seem to be doing quite well for themselves. For the most part, I ignored Kuechly, since it was obvious he would be taken before the Ravens would be making their pick.  This left me with just three prospects.  Despite the fact that Kendricks and Wagner scored better, I couldn't escape the fact that Lavonte David was the player I had the most fun watching.  While his combine numbers were just in the acceptable range, his exceptional college stats kept him on my radar.  I still believe that the physically superior player, with proven production, tends to be the safer bet, but Lavonte David drew my eye, and it wasn't as if he did terribly, as far as his measurables were concerned. 

To keep this a fair comparison, let's just compare Arthur Brown's statistical production to that of Lavonte David and the enigmatic Curtis Lofton.  We'll just look at the results from their final two year in college.

Player        TKL        TFL        Sack        PBU         INT           FF
Arthur Brown 1 100 7 1 4 2 0
Arthur Brown 2 101 9.5 2 2 1 0
Lavonte David 1 133 13 5.5 2 2 3
Lavonte David 2 152 15 6 10 0 0
Curtis Lofton 1 157 10.5 1 5 3 4
Curtis Lofton 2 (4 games) 37 4.5 0 0 0 1

Despite all three players being 2nd round picks (Arthur Brown 56th overall, Lavonte David 58th overall, and Curtis Lofton 37th overall), their stat sheets seem to tell an odd story.  For all of his acclaim, Brown doesn't seem to have produced terribly remarkable statistics in any category.  He forced no fumbles.  Brown's number of passes broken up, and interceptions, were decent, but hardly exceptional.  This seems peculiar considering that his coverage ability is allegedly one of his strengths.  His total number of tackles, and TFLs, paled in comparison to the other two (Lofton was on pace for 111 tackles and 13.5 TFL in his junior year, though whether he would have reached those marks is debatable), suggesting less of a presence against the run.  In the end, Brown's stats still appear to be good, but not so stunning that it would make me overlook his mediocre average athletic ability, the way I might for the much more accomplished Lavonte David.

Should I really judge a player off of his stat sheet?  Probably not.  The situations that a player finds himself in do have an impact on these numbers.  Still, I can't deny that I am a sucker for a player with lots of numbers after his name. 

While Curtis Lofton might seem like a reasonable example for why you could ignore athletic measurables, I don't think that is really the case.  According to Pro Football Focus, Lofton has a terrible career rating in terms of his pass coverage ability, which would correspond with his poor Agility Score.  Similarly, he has had a rather poor pass rusher rating from them, which I believe could relate to his bad Kangaroo Score (though agility plays a role in this too).  This hasn't prevented him from becoming a good run stopper, but it does make him a fairly one dimensional player.

I can't predict how things will turn out for Arthur Brown.  All I can say is that for where he was selected, I would be looking for more reassuring signs of athletic or statistical dominance.  If Brown turns out to be just an average to decent middle linebacker, as his numbers would suggest, that is still worth something, though I would argue, not a 2nd round pick (as well as the additional 5th round and 6th round picks it took to trade up).  If he turns out to be great, that's excellent.  I just feel that the argument for taking him isn't as clear cut as some people make it out to be.

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