Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 Linebackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This list will continue to be modified and updated, as new data and prospects come to my attention.  The list won't include every player. but instead, just the ones that I find interesting for one reason or another.  Updated 5/4/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian Kirksey, OLB, Iowa
40 Time: 4.50   Kangaroo Score:  -0.452   Agility Score:  0.059
I wouldn't make fun of anyone for selecting Kirksey.  He has fairly good athletic ability.  He was pretty productive, even if he didn't make as many plays behind the line of scrimmage as I would like to see.  In the little I have seen of him, he looked pretty good on the field.  So, I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be an okay player, though I'm not sure if he is special enough to warrant a 3rd round pick, which is where I see people projecting him to go.  It should also be mentioned that Iowa had a surprising number of reasonably talented players on their defense, such as James Morris and Anthony Hitchens, who will also be selected in this draft, which somewhat makes me wonder how much Kirksey benefited from all of this. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Morris, ILB, Iowa
40 Time: 4.78   Kangaroo Score:  -0.179   Agility Score:  0.553
He appears to be a good athlete with good statistical production.  Like his teammate Christian Kirksey, I have to wonder how much he benefited from the talent that surrounded him at Iowa, but for a player that is projected to go in the 7th round, or go undrafted, this is less of a concern.  While I wouldn't bet on him becoming a star, I wouldn't be surprised if he outperforms a number of the more overrated prospects who will be taken ahead of him, if he is given a chance.

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

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