Friday, May 16, 2014

Charles Johnson: No, The Other One

Argghh!  I wrote this a couple of days ago, and it is already outdated due to today's Miles Austin signing.  Oh well, I'm posting it anyway.

I have to admit, that the possible year long suspension of Josh Gordon strikes me as hilarious.  How he could possibly be facing this sort of punishment for smoking marijuana, while Ray Rice will probably only miss a handful of games (if he is suspended at all) for knocking his fiancee out cold, is beyond insane.  I realize that Gordon's prior behavior factors into this, but at this point in time do any of us really care about a football player smoking weed?  Of course, being a jazz musician who grew up in the 1930's probably has an effect on my views of this subject.

Leaving aside my perhaps unpopular thoughts on pot persecution, this leads to an interesting and obvious question.  Who would fill the Josh Gordon void, for the Cleveland Browns?  Somebody is going to have to catch the ball, but who is it going to be?  To answer that question, let's first make a list of every wide receiver who is currently on the Browns' roster, and examine their physical characteristics.

While there are numerous other physical factors we could consider, I want to keep this as simple and straightforward as possible.  The Browns' receivers will be listed in descending order, according to their weight.  Beside their name, I will list their 40-time, Kangaroo Score and Agility Score.  The Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power) and the Agility Score, will be given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is above or below the average result for someone in their position group.  So, simply put, we are just looking for speed, power and agility.

NAME     Height      Weight      40-yard     Kangaroo          Agility
Greg Little 6' 2.5" 231 4.51 2.300 0.313
Tori Gurley 6' 4" 216 4.53 0.027 -0.441
Charles Johnson 6' 2" 215 4.39 1.470 -0.629
Nate Burleson 6' 0.5" 197 4.51 0.749 0.109
Conner Vernon 6' 0.25" 196 4.54 -0.773 -0.034
Willie Snead 5' 11" 195 4.62 -1.067 -1.284
Josh Cooper 5' 11" 190 4.65 -1.499 -0.968
Jonathan Krause 5' 11" 187 4.37 -0.396 0.592
Chandler Jones 5' 8.5" 183 4.34 -1.466 -0.209
Andrew Hawkins 5' 7" 182 4.34 -1.001 0.946
Kenny Shaw 5' 11" 174 4.56 -1.840 0.543
Travis Benjamin 5' 10" 172 4.36 -1.327 0.073

Okay, so what do we really have here?  Well, the Browns do appear to have some rather fast, but tiny, receivers in Benjamin, Hawkins, Jones, and Krause.  While these four are all lacking significant power, that is fairly typical amongst small receivers.  Amongst the pipsqueaks, only Hawkins and Krause really catch my eye though, as their Agility Score at least suggests the possibility of some sort of elusiveness, which seems like a good thing for a small underpowered player to have.  Of course, small speedy receivers tend to play more of a complementary role in today's NFL, and don't tend to be the primary target for most offenses.

When we shift our attention to the bigger receivers, Greg Little and Charles Johnson are probably the players who will create the most interest.  Physically, they both exhibit the measurable traits we are generally seeking to find when looking at large receivers, namely power (Kangaroo Score) and at least passable speed.  Though their Agility Scores are just average, at best, this is a rather typical outcome amongst larger receivers, and not necessarily a huge concern.  As for Tori Gurley, well, he is quite large, but there's nothing to suggest that he possesses any exceptional physical traits within his large frame.

A couple players, like Nate Burleson and Conner Vernon, fall somewhere in the middle, in terms of size.  While Burleson has fairly nice physical characteristics, with results that fall into the average to above average range in most areas, he has also recently broken his arm, which doesn't bode well for the immediate future.  He is also a soon to be 33 year old wide receiver, who has generally had statistical production of the "average to good" variety, which seems unlikely to change at this point in his career.  Conner Vernon, on the other hand, was a moderately interesting college prospect, but probably lacks the athletic ability to be anything more than a possession receiver.

Still, these sorts of physical traits can't tell the whole story.  At some point you need to know if a player can actually produce, and hold onto the ball.  Instead of listing the player's Stat Scores, the way I normally do, I wanted to do something a bit simpler.  This time, we're just going to look at what percentage of their team's offense that each player was responsible for generating in their final two years in college.  The average result for a player in their final college season is 17.75%.  In their next to last season, the average result is 15.34%.  These averages are based only on drafted receivers (or, players who were expected to be drafted), so the real averages would obviously be a bit lower if we included all college receivers.  With these results, we are just hoping to get a glimpse into how heavily a team 'leaned on' a player.  While some players may be underutilized in college, and blossom later in their NFL careers, this doesn't tend to happen very frequently.  Instead, it tends to be a safer bet to keep your attention focused on players with a proven track record of success. 

So, here are these same 12 receivers, roughly sorted according to how heavily their college offenses relied upon them.

NAME     % Offense Year 1   % Offense Year 2
Nate Burleson 14.76 31.22
Willie Snead 19.31 24.45
Charles Johnson 20.02 22.97
Conner Vernon 21.75 20.06
Chandler Jones 11.91 22.90
Greg Little 3.49 18.09
Jonathan Krause 1.39 14.98
Travis Benjamin 13.56 13.43
Kenny Shaw 8.08 12.83
Josh Cooper 10.88 10.07
Tori Gurley 9.74 8.45
Andrew Hawkins                            N/A                          N/A

Typically, I wouldn't pay much attention to players with results lower than what we see with Chandler Jones or Greg Little.  It's not that a player with lesser results can't succeed, it's just that it becomes much less likely.  As for Andrew Hawkins, who has had some limited success in the NFL, it is difficult to come to any real conclusion, as he was actually a cornerback in college, so no statistical data exists for him as a receiver.

Perhaps it's not surprising, that Nate Burleson has what is easily the best single year result of any player in this list, producing 31.22% of his team's offensive yards in his final college season.  Still, as I've said already, there is probably little remaining upside to Burleson at this point in his career.  Greg Little, while possessing rather strong athletic traits, appears to have had college production that was merely just average to below average, which could perhaps be linked to his current issues with actually catching the ball.  Willie Snead, while appearing to be quite productive in college, still suffers from the question of how much you want to place your faith in a small receiver who ran a 4.62 forty yard dash.  The history of players like Snead finding success just isn't so hot.

So, who does that really leave us with, except Charles Johnson?  Athletically, he is superb, possessing the size, speed, and power to potentially become a rather dangerous receiving threat.  His production in college, was above average, though it obviously came at a lower level of competition (Grand Valley State University).  While some of you may not have heard of him before, I can assure you that every draft geek, who is into examining the numbers, is keenly aware of Johnson and his intriguing potential.  I even made him a 6th round pick in our 2013 Ozzie Newsome Challenge (since he was one of the computer's favorite receiver prospects in the 2013 draft class), so you can bet that I am hoping that things work out for him.

Of course, Johnson is still a longshot.  Opportunities don't come easily to late round draft picks, especially when they come from rather goofy college programs.  It is entirely possible that the Browns will trade for a receiver, or pick one up when teams start cutting players later in the summer.  In fact, I would almost bet on this happening (I jinxed myself).  But if they don't?  Well, then suddenly Charles Johnson would have a very valuable opportunity to perhaps surprise some people.  If you have ever wondered how some teams stumble into a late-round/undrafted prospect like Victor Cruz, Miles Austin, or Marques Colston, this is pretty much how it happens.  All three of these players were somewhat similarly gifted athletes, with proven production, who just happened to play at lesser programs like UMass, Monmouth, and Hofstra.  Maybe history will repeat itself with Charles Johnson, or maybe it won't (damn you, Miles Austin!).

One of the drawbacks to getting excited about a player like Charles Johnson, is that you pretty much have to blindly trust the numbers, as there are very few video clips of him for us to watch.  Forming a subjective opinion of his skills is somewhat impossible for me.  This is one of the few examples I have been able to come across, which really only gives us a brief glimpse of what he may really be like as a player.

Perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with Johnson, which the numbers don't show.  Maybe he leans a bit in the direction of Greg Little, when it comes to catching the ball.  It is hard to say, without more data.  To claim that Johnson can single-handedly replace the 1,646 receiving yards that Josh Gordon produced last year would be irresponsible and idiotic.  All I can say is that people who fit Johnson's profile have a surprisingly strong history of turning into at least adequate players, even if they were initially overlooked by most teams.  Sometimes, perhaps more often than you might suspect,  they even turn out to be great.  At this point, I'm just hoping that the Browns organization sees his potential, and doesn't prematurely dismiss him as "just another disposable late round draft pick", and that they give him a real chance to compete for a role on their offense.  The potential rewards for giving him such an opportunity could be enormous.

Update: So, the Browns have now signed Miles Austin.  This obviously forces me to pull my voodoo doll out of the closet and stick needles in its knees, in hopes of getting Johnson an opportunity.  Oh, nevermind, Austin is bound to injure himself without my help.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The 2014 Ozzie Newsome Challenge

Well, the madness of the 2014 NFL Draft has come and gone, and frankly I'm quite glad that it is all over.  The amount of time I have spent over the last few months obsessing over the outcome of this event was most likely quite insane.  At this point, I am really looking forward to spending some time where I won't have to give any additional thought to the strange workings of the NFL.  The commissioner has left the podium, so Reilly and I can finally take a brief nap. 

Reilly Goodell

At this point, there is only one thing left to do, which is to post our results in the 2014 Ozzie Newsome Challenge.  I should have put this up earlier, but honestly I was too burnt out from the draft.  It also takes some time to photoshop my dog's head onto Roger Goodell's body, which was something we obviously needed to do.

The concept of the Ozzie Newsome Challenge is simple.  When the Baltimore Ravens are "on the clock", as they say, so is Team Kangaroo.  When Ozzie Newsome selects a player for the Ravens, we make our own selection as to who we would take instead.  Over the course of time, we are hoping to see whether the picks made by professional scouts and GMs, will actually outperform the selections made by my dog/spiritual advisor, Reilly, who runs the show at Team Kangaroo.  For those who are curious, you can look at the results of the 2013 Ozzie Newsome Challenge for an example of how this has gone in the past.  Overall, I'm quite pleased with the early returns from our 2013 selections, and think things could get even better for some of those players in the near future.  Then again, they might not.  Who really knows?

Either way, there are some things which I should mention about this fool's errand we have embarked upon.  When we make our selections for Team Kangaroo, we have no idea where the player will actually wind up, or in some cases, what position they might be asked to play.  This tends to make us a bit more cautious about who we will select.  If there is a cornerback, who we think might be better off playing as a safety, we are pretty much forced to 'pass' on such a player, due to the risk that they might be misused and have their talent squandered.  It is unfortunate, but there is nothing we can do about this.  Instead, we have to focus solely on players who we feel have an above average chance of succeeding, regardless of what team they may wind up playing for.  This can be a surprisingly tricky issue to contend with.

There is also the issue of how to deal with traded draft picks.  Our answer to this is simple.  If Ozzie Newsome trades draft picks with another team, Team Kangaroo can either accept or decline the opportunity to do the same.  Team Kangaroo can't initiate trades, but can only choose to go along with what the Ravens choose to do, or we can choose to stand pat.  For the most part, we will never agree to trade up, and almost always agree to trade down.  Being able to determine playing time, playing position, and whether or not to make a trade, gives Ozzie Newsome, and GMs in general, several significant advantages over Team Kangaroo.  There's really nothing we can do to level the playing field in this sense, but I think it is worth noting.

While our selections are somewhat influenced by the 'needs' that we feel the Ravens should address, the needs of Team Kangaroo are actually somewhat different.  Starting with last year's draft, Team Kangaroo is branching off on a somewhat different timeline, as to how things 'could have been'.  Our picks this year, will somewhat reflect the players we selected last year.  Rather than treating each draft as a reset, we are trying to take into consideration which positions we feel we have already addressed in previous drafts.  I realize that some people won't like this approach, but I find it more amusing, and more challenging to do things in this way.  To be perfectly honest though, even if we were doing this as a 'one off' type of affair, I doubt our selections this year would have been terribly different.  Maybe one or two picks would have changed, but that's about it.

Oh well, that's enough of my rambling.  Let's post the results, with fingers crossed, and pray that the people we selected don't make us look terribly stupid in the near future.

                                       Team Kangaroo                         Team Ozzie
Round 1
Pick #17                         Joel Bitonio, OT/OG                    C.J. Mosley, ILB

Round 2
Pick #48                         Cody Latimer, WR                       Timmy Jernigan, DT

Round 3
Pick #79                         Kareem Martin, DE                      Terrence Brooks, FS

Pick #99                         Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB                Crockett Gilmore, TE

Round 4
Pick #134                       Lache Seastrunk, RB                    Brent Urban, DT

Pick #138                       Bennett Jackson, CB                    Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB

Round 5
Pick #175                       Garrett Scott, OT                         John Urschel, OG

Round 6
Pick #194                       Jackson Jeffcoat, DE/OLB           Keith Wenning, QB

Round 7
Pick #218                       Michael Campanaro, WR            Mike Campanaro, WR

Are there some selections we made, that leave me feeling a bit nervous?  Yup.  I normally would have taken a more cautious path with some of our selections, and gambled less on 'upside'.  In the end, it was really the decisions that the Ravens were making, that allowed us to gamble a bit more.  So few of the Ravens choices fit the mold of players that the computer views as having a high probability of success, that we ended up feeling a bit more willing to take some gambles ourselves.  In the end, the question we are trying to answer is whether a team would be better off making decisions based on the more objective data that comes from a computer, or whether the more subjective views of NFL scouts appears to work better.  We'll just have to wait and see what happens, as there is a long road ahead of us.  For the most part, I'm just happy to only have one of our selections go undrafted this year, when we had five such players last year (though our undrafted players still did pretty well for themselves).

Despite my pessimism about a number of the Ravens selections, I wouldn't say that I disapproved of all of them.  In particular, I rather liked their selections of John Urschel and Michael Campanaro, though it is hard to say how many opportunities they will get early on in their careers.  Just as much as talent and motivation might determine success, draft status is probably just as important.  Regardless of what skills a player brings to the table, overcoming the bias of being a late round pick is a significant obstacle.  Several of Team Kangaroos most successful players last year came from the late rounds, though the teams they played for only gave them opportunities when forced to, often due to injuries to other players.  It appears to be an unfortunate reality, that high draft picks will always be given more of an opportunity, almost regardless of who is actually playing better.

I should also mention the weird circumstances that led to both Ozzie Newsome and Team Kangaroo selecting Michael Campanaro in the 7th round.  I wasn't really prepared to make a pick at that point, as the Ravens didn't initially have a 7th round pick.  When the Ravens traded a future 6th round pick to the Browns to acquire a 7th round pick this year, I was a bit conflicted about what to do.  Normally I would never trade away future picks, just like I would normally never trade up in the draft.  Still, I felt that if I declined this trade, and maintained a claim on our 6th round pick for next year, it might make our imaginary game too complicated, and rub some people the wrong way.  A similar argument could have led to us claiming that Team Kangaroo should have an additional 4th, 5th and 7th round pick in this draft, since those picks were lost in trades for Eugene Monroe and A.Q. Shipley, who play positions that we feel Team Kangaroo may have already addressed (or at least potentially addressed with Terron Armstead and Eric Kush).  I just didn't feel like pursuing this argument, though I will probably continue to harp upon the number of draft picks that Ozzie's decisions have cost us.  I also kind of like Campanaro, so for once, Ozzie and I agreed on a pick.

At this point, it is out of our hands.  I don't know what will happen at this point, but I think Frank Sinatra did a fairly good job of capturing my thoughts at this point in time:

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

But, perhaps Gary Oldman can demonstrate this sentiment a bit better.

Yes, that's much better.  Gary really captures our drunken buffoonery much better.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Day 3: Completely Stumped

It's because of trying times like this, that I generally post my thoughts a day after an event has occurred.  I find it is best to get a good night's sleep to clear my head before going off on some rant about how a team is being run by REDACTED REDACTED individuals.  The last thing I want is for my temper to cause me to say something that I will regret about some REDACTED questionable decisions that the Ravens, or any other team, may have made. 

Still, I really have to wonder what the Ravens have been thinking during the past couple of days.  The idea that they employ an 'Analytics Department' strikes me as laughably REDACTED.  Out of the nine players they selected in the 2014 draft, there were only two that I think have a significant chance of performing at a reasonably high level.  No, I'm definitely not talking about C.J. Mosley or Timmy Jernigan.  The players that they chose which interest me most are John Urschel and Michael Campanaro, who the team selected with two of their last three selections.  So, maybe Ravens fans have that to look forward to in three years when they are finally given a chance to play.  You didn't really think that competing for a starting job in training camp was a real thing did you?  No, the starting jobs will almost always go to the highest drafted players, regardless of whether they deserve them or not.

The saddest, and possibly most cover up story, from this draft may end up being the Ravens decision to exploit cheap third-world labor, to fill out their roster.  Drafting Canadian born John Urschel and Brent Urban, suggests a potentially disturbing collapse of ethics on the part of the Ravens organization.  I can understand how being able to dangle the threat of deportation over these young players, and the dread they must feel about returning home to slave away in cold poutine mines, might give a player added motivation to perform, but it just doesn't seem right to me.  Hopefully whatever wealth these players can scrape together will go towards buying their families' way out of the harsh Canadian gulags that they undoubtedly dwell in.  Oh, we want our ham (that's bacon, for our north of the border readers), but we don't want to know where it comes from.  Personally, I find this exploitation of a simple backwoods people to be deplorable.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Day 2: Umm...WTF?

Well, so far things seem to be going according to plan for Team Kangaroo.  The players we wanted seem to be falling to us.  I'm not sure if that is a good thing, or whether it says something horrible about the prospects we chose to target.  Now I just have to hope that our plan wasn't an incredibly stupid one.

Predictably, our first pick was Joel Bitonio, and I'm sure I'll get scolded by people for "reaching" here, but it's a pick I'm happy with.  I would have preferred to trade back, but I have no say in this.  When our second pick rolled around, the top 3 remaining prospects on our Little Big Board were Kareem Martin, Cody Latimer, and Allen Robinson, and I really wasn't planning to take a wideout, but plans change.  When Ozzie selected Timmy Jernigan (seriously, WTF?), who I have little faith in, my willingness to take a gamble went up a bit.  Actually, it went up a whole lot, as we selected Cody Latimer, who I've had a strange fascination with despite missing some data on him.  This pick is making me fairly nervous, and I suspect Allen Robinson would have been the safer option, at least among the available receivers.  Despite those concerns, when the 3rd round came up, and Kareem Martin was still available (who I would have probably  been willing to take in the 1st round, if I had to), I was ecstatic.

One strange little factor in this series of events was the trade that the Cowboys made in the 2nd round, where they sent their 2nd and 3rd round picks to the Redskins.  As far as I could tell, from looking at pre-draft team visits, I felt that the Cowboys were probably one of the main suitors for Kareem Martin.  When they were no longer a threat, as they picked just ahead of the Ravens in both rounds before trading those picks away, the chances of Kareem Martin taking a tumble and falling into my lap went up quite a bit.  Or maybe I'm hallucinating, and just got lucky.  I really have no idea, but it surprised me that it worked out this way.  Now, I just need for Martin to not suck.  That would be nice.

Maybe things are going horribly for us, and I just don't know it yet.  Either way, I'm just happy we haven't pulled a Da'Rick Rogers yet, and selected someone with a high pick, only to see them go undrafted.  We seemed to have a lot of those sorts of picks last year.  It was a bit embarrassing, so it's a pleasant surprise to see that this hasn't occurred yet.  Still, as we move into the later rounds, I'm sure our picks will become a bit more ridiculous.  I'm bound to do something harebrained at any moment.

While I'm mystified by the picks that Ozzie Newsome is making, he's far from the only GM who is doing their best to confuse me.  I'm particularly stunned by the way certain teams with really poor offensive lines appear to be doing very little to protect their quarterbacks.  The Giants, Steelers and Ravens, in particular, seem intent on getting their QBs killed, though there are still some good linemen available.  I'm really curious to see which of these teams makes some moves to address this issue with their remaining picks. 

To some degree, I also like to follow what the Seahawks organization is doing, as they tend to be an interesting group that goes off the beaten path a bit.  Still, I was a bit shocked when they selected Paul Richardson.  While I respect the Seahawks decision makers, at least more than I do many of the other teams, Richardson still strikes me as a huge risk.  More than anything else, I would be afraid that his skinny 175# frame will end up resulting in frequent injuries.  I'm not trying to jinx him, but it would scare the hell out of me.  Considering the team's history with players like Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, I would have thought durability would be a bigger concern.

Oh well, onward to Day 3...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Day 1: Well...that happened

I figured I would just throw out some quick thoughts on the first day of the 2014 NFL Draft, though the bulk of my deranged ranting and raving will come later.

So, let me see if I've got this straight.  The Ravens drafted Arthur Brown last year in the 2nd round.  Actually, they traded away a 5th and 6th round pick to move up and select Arthur Brown.  Now, they have selected C.J. Mosley in the 1st round, to play the same position.  That means 4 total draft picks have been spent, to fill one position that is of increasingly less value in the modern NFL.  Unless they have some brilliant plan to get both of them playing time, this pretty much guarantees that at least one of them won't get on the field enough, before his rookie contract expires, to justify these investments.  Personally, I'm not a fan of either linebacker.  I can't say that either of them is doomed to be a failure, but in the eyes of the computer both appear to be mediocrities with little upside.  Supposedly, the Ravens viewed Mosley as one of the top 10 prospects in the entire draft, which suggests to me that they may have lost their minds.

Everybody knew the Panthers were going to have to select some wide receivers.  What I don't understand is why they chose Kelvin Benjamin, who's profile suggests extreme bust potential.  There were at least a half dozen other wideouts who would have been safer bets, so I have to assume that the Panthers were just swept away by Benjamin's ridiculous physical dimensions.  In my eyes, Benjamin is an older WR prospect, who only had one decent (not great, just decent) year of statistical production, poor athletic measurables, and potentially unreliable hands.  I stand by my previous statement, that whichever team selected Benjamin should check the GM for signs of dementia.

I can't complain too much about Anthony Barr, as the computer did give him a first round grade, but going to the Vikings strikes me as a less than ideal landing spot.  Supposedly, they intend to use him as a 4-3 defensive end, which worries me a bit.  I still think he does better in space, and feel he is better suited as a 3-4 OLB, or even better, as a 4-3 OLB (which is also a possibility in Minnesota).  As a 4-3 DE, I think he could end up getting buried by opposing offensive tackles.  This isn't necessarily a terrible pick.  I just have some concerns as to how the team plans to use him.

I can understand why people might think that pairing Mike Evans with Vincent Jackson seems like an awesome idea, but I'm not sure that I buy into this theory.  If Tampa really wanted a wideout, I would have preferred to see them pick up a guy with a different set of skills.  Preferably someone who is a bit more quick and nimble, and who can get open quickly.  Honestly, I thought Tampa would go after DT Aaron Donald, but evidently they weren't interested.  We'll see what happens.

Now that I really look at how things unfolded, there really appears to have been way too many weird/questionable decisions being made in the 1st round this year.  I'll try to get into the rest of this mess in the upcoming days.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Last Minute Thoughts

I've been sorting through the spreadsheets for the different position groups, and trying to make some last minute updates.  This year seems to have been worse than any I can remember as far as data becoming available to the public.  Regardless, I'm slowly making minor mental adjustments to where I suspect certain player will be taken, and where Team Kangaroo will have to pounce in order to get the players we want.

Unfortunately, some of the players that I thought were very interesting, at least early on in this process, seem to be moving up peoples' draft boards, past the point where I would probably take them.  Phillip Gaines?  Probably not a huge bargain anymore.  Cody Latimer?  Getting a bit too expensive.  Deone Buchanon?  I'm still interested, but questioning the value.  Of course, I'm mostly basing my speculation on how high certain players will be taken, by how many teams have invited them in for visits, so who knows what will really happen?

On the other hand, some prospects seem to be getting ignored a fair bit.  There's been hardly any talk about Joel BitonioKareem Martin rarely seems to get mentioned, and seems to have had few visits with teams.  Maybe he will slip a bit, and fall into my clutches?  Kevin Pierre-Louis, similarly seems to have attracted minimal attention, and might be available even later than I anticipated, allowing me to wait a bit.  Then there is the weird situation with Garrett Scott, who is easily the most physically gifted offensive lineman in the entire draft.  I was completely unaware of him until a few days ago, and information is rather spotty, but he certainly seems intriguing.  Still I can find very little information on him, which makes me wonder what the real story is here.

The more I look at the potential outcomes of this draft, the more I suspect that I will probably pass on all of the wide receivers this year.  It's not that I don't like them.  For the most part, I rather like the top receiving prospects, even if I think most of them have certain flaws which might limit their upside.  In the end, I just don't think any of them are going to be available late enough to present a great situation to swoop in and get a great deal on any of them.  Instead, I get the feeling that Team Kangaroo will be going a bit heavy on somewhat peculiar defensive players this year.

As for my nemesis, the Ravens, I'm really hoping they do something obscenely stupid with their top picks.  It would just make my job easier.  The best way to make it look like I know what I'm talking about, is for Ozzie Newsome to take a dive (Please take Kelvin Benjamin!).  Based upon the lists of players that they have supposedly met with, the likelihood of this happening is probably very high.  The possibility of their trading back a few slots, strikes me as pretty strong, and probably a great move for them, as well as for Team Kangaroo. 

Among the players that the Ravens have met with, there are a handful that really seem to fit the mold of a Ravens' pick, for better or for worse.  Mike Davis (WR from Texas), seems like a classic Ozzie pick, in the sense that he measures up as a mediocrity in almost every statistical/athletic category, while possessing a stat sheet that superficially appears more impressive than it really is.  The Ravens love picking this type of receiver in the mid rounds (Hello, Tandon Doss!), and typically have gotten terrible results from such decisions.  Chris Borland (LB from Wisconsin) seems to have gotten a lot of attention from the organization.  Personally, I don't think the upside is that high with Borland, but I wouldn't make fun of such a pick.  Borland seems like a lot of the linebackers that the Ravens have taken in the past, and squeezed good mileage out of.  Gabe Jackson (guard from Mississippi State) fits the mauling behemoth type of linemen that Ozzie seems to crave, though I think he will probably be taken too high for the Ravens to get him.  Finally, we have Logan Thomas (QB from Virginia Tech).  Personally I don't see the appeal in taking Thomas, but would be somewhat shocked if the Ravens didn't strongly pursue him anyway.  The team has a rather stubborn streak when it comes to drafting athletic QBs, with questionable passing skills (Troy Smith, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Harris, Kyle Boller), and they seem to have paid greater attention to Thomas than virtually any other team.  I foresee a wasted draft pick here.  I might also put a five dollar bet on them going after Terrance West (RB from Towson) who I am also feeling a bit pessimistic about.

Weird things will happen.  Chaos will reign.  How it will all play out, nobody really knows.  I just plan on being in a semi-vegetative state for the next few days.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The 2014 Little Big Board

Well, we are getting closer to the big day.  While NFL teams finish arranging their Big Boards of NFL draft prospects, I thought it was time for Team Kangaroo to throw together our Little Big Board, in preparation for the 2014 Ozzie Newsome Challenge.  While NFL teams may have around 150-200 prospects that they would consider selecting, our list is noticeably shorter with only 56 prospects that we have some degree of serious interest in acquiring.  We're just going to be a bit more selective, and choose to take a pass on a lot of the prospects that are out there.  I suspect these players won't be too offended by what I think.

As we proceed on our drunken vision quest, we must brace ourselves for the perils that lie ahead.  The possibility of failure is great.  The potential for embarrassment is always on my mind.  The only thing we can do is to have faith in the numbers, and meditate on our spirit animal for guidance.

The Reilly-A-Roo, almost as dangerous as a chupacabra

1st Round
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Joel Bitonio, OT/G, Nevada *
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU*
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio St.*
Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina* 
Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA

2nd Round
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana*
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State*
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon St.
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington St.*
Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice*
Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi St.
Rashede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

3rd Round
Kevin Pierre-Louis, OLB, Boston College*
Carl Bradford, DE/OLB, Arizona St.*
Davante Adams, WR, Fresno St.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB/S, Nebraska
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE/OLB, Texas
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin

4th Round
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor*
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern*
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College*
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech*
Charles Leno, OT/G, Boise St.
Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa
Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana

5th Round
Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State*
Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma*
Garrett Scott, OT/OG, Marshall
Matt Patchan, OT, Boston College
Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
John Urschel, OG/C, Penn State
Travis Carrie, CB/S, Ohio 
Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame

6th Round
Carlos Fields, LB,Winston-Salem State*
Morgan Breslin, LB USC
Mike Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley St.
Justin Britt, OT, Missouri
Ryan Groy, G, Wisconsin
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT, McGill
Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
Preston Brown, LB, Louisville
Dontae Johnson, CB/S, NC State
Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt

7th Round
Bruce Gaston, DT, Purdue
Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin
Stephen Houston, RB, Indiana
Brock Coyle, LB, Montana
Terrence Fede, DE, Marist
Brandon Watts, LB/S, Georgia Tech
Kerry Hyder, DT, Texas Tech

If you ask me again in five minutes, I'm sure that the order I've listed these players in will have already changed.  The order that the players are listed in doesn't necessarily reflect my opinion of the players, or suggest where I think they 'deserve to be selected'.  This is all basically a compromised mash-up of my opinions, mixed with the practical reality that players will be selected in an order that doesn't mesh with my views about certain issues.  There are players who will probably go in the 5th round, that I feel are better than some people who will be taken in the 1st round.  To some extent, I also need to factor in whether I think a player will even be given a real opportunity to compete for a starting job, as the perception that teams have of certain players can really be the biggest obstacle to success in many cases.  It's all just a matter of figuring out, to the best of my ability, just how highly I would need to pick someone, in order to acquire them.  The goal is to have as many options in mind as possible, for each round, even if I'm not a huge fan of all of them.

As the draft unfolds, I will undoubtedly be frantically reshuffling the Little Big Board, and quite possibly tossing in extra names to fill in some gaps.  If a player isn't included in this list, it doesn't necessarily mean that I think they are a bum (though it might mean that).  It could just mean that I don't think there is a strong probability that they will fall to the point where I would be comfortable selecting them.  Other players, might not be suitable for the team I am drafting for, the Ravens.  In some cases, I might be very interested in a player, but have some uncertainty as to whether a team will play them at the position that I think best suits them.  That creates a huge problem, since I have no say in this issue, and it forces me to put a greater emphasis on selecting players that I suspect will do well regardless of what team they wind up on (since I will have no idea what team will end up selecting them).

Since Team Kangaroo's first pick will come with the 17th overall selection (barring any trades that might occur), we'll mainly focus on players who should be available at that point.  Currently, there are a couple of likely directions I could see us headed in, and I have laid out a few of these potential scenarios below.

The Ultra-Conservative Approach, Joel Bitonio
Based upon who I normally see falling to the Ravens 1st pick (the 17th overall), I am forced into an awkward position.  I just don't feel that I'm going to be terribly thrilled with the popular options that the Ravens will be selecting from at this point.  On the other hand, there are some players who I am very interested in, that will probably be available a bit later, though they probably won't fall to the Ravens 2nd pick.  This makes the option of trading back quite appealing, though I obviously have no say in what Ozzie Newsome will do.

If I selected OT/OG Joel Bitonio with the 17th overall pick, I'm sure that people would give me a fair bit of grief.  The term 'reach' would most likely be thrown at me for such a selection.  I suspect a bit of heckling and ridicule would be directed at me, leading to a tear soaked pillow as I sob myself to sleep.  Nevertheless, it's an option I could happily live with.

Since we are building off of the alternate timeline that began with last year's draft, some things look a bit different for Team Kangaroo, than they might for the Ravens.  I obviously drafted numerous offensive linemen last year, with Terron Armstead being the most highly selected of these players.  Seeing as how Armstead currently appears to be the Saints' starting left tackle, and seems to be showing some signs of promising potential, it has a significant effect on our view of things.  For one, we might not have been forced into trading for Eugene Monroe (which would have given Team Kangaroo 2 extra selections in this draft, though we'll overlook that), nor would we have had to resign Monroe.  Despite all of that, Team Kangaroo still needs more depth at the tackle position, and someone to play on the right side of the line.  I think Bitonio could do quite well in that role, though I obviously lean towards making heavy investments in the O-line.

This sort of pick would be perceived by many to be a 'reach', and it might not strike many people as a terribly flashy pick, but it is one that I suspect should turn out well.  I think the odds of Bitonio failing are rather slim, and that he could provide immediate value for the team.  After all, I've probably studied at least 2 or 3 minutes of his game film (a grueling 2 or 3 minutes!), so I'm kind of an expert on this subject.  The main drawback here is that, of the options I have considered for the team's 1st pick, Bitonio probably has the highest probability of falling to our pick in the 2nd round.  I doubt he will fall that far, but it is possible.  Still, this is somewhat balanced out by possibly being the safest pick. 

The Still Conservative But Less Shocking Approach, Deone Bucannon
Again, this is a pick that would get me laughed at by most people.  Personally, I don't think Bucannon should be taken before the 3rd round, because of my feelings about the value of the strong safety position.  In the end though, the market determines these things, and I suspect Bucannon is going to go in the late 1st to early 2nd round area (probably the latter).  The issue here is that Team Kangaroo should probably address the safety position at some point.  Since we are operating on an alternate timeline, Team Kangaroo doesn't have Matt Elam, not that this is terribly upsetting to us. 

Among the players who will clearly be playing as safeties, Bucannon strikes me as the safest prospect.  I'm not necessarily saying that he will be the best, just that he best conforms to the mold that the computer has for a safety prospect.  Will he end up being great?  I don't know.  All I care about is that he doesn't end up being horrible.  After Bucannon is selected, the safety options that hold the most appeal to me, are prospects who are listed as corners, who could be converted into safeties.  Since I have no say in what position a prospect will end up playing, this makes the risk of selecting them much higher, while also increasing the value of Bucannon to Team Kangaroo.  It's not a situation that I am thrilled with, but I could live with making this pick.  While I like Bitonio a bit more than I like Bucannon, I suspect Bucannon might be the more highly drafted player, which puts a bit more pressure on me to take a slight gamble here, and hope that Bitonio, might fall to my 2nd pick.

The Potentially Bat-shit Crazy Approach, Jason Verrett, Cody Latimer, Odell Beckham, et al
This is where things could go off the rails a bit, though it would also probably be greeted with less ridicule, and conform better with most people's thoughts in regard to where players "should be selected".  As well as Verrett, Latimer, and Beckham, I would also toss Jordan Matthews, Bradley Roby, Kareem Martin and Allen Robinson into this category.  Unfortunately, the players that people would deem to be more appropriate picks for the 17th overall selection all strike me as a bit riskier, and generally have certain issues that make me a bit nervous.  At the same time, they have some significant upside potential.  I don't necessarily feel that all of these players present the same risks, but the risks still aren't too bad with any of them.  They would all probably be seen as less peculiar picks than some of my more conservative preferences, who will probably be taken a bit later.

From my perspective, the players in this group are all intriguing, but the odds of success for any of them make them more suitable as 2nd round selections.  Still, I can't deny that I am really drawn to some of them, despite the increased risks that some of them present.  Cody Latimer, in particular, has seized an uncomfortable/irrational hold on my heart, despite potentially being one of the riskiest prospects in this group.  There are some strong arguments to be made for all of these players, but there are also generally some strong reasons to be somewhat wary of them.

Since the whole point of this exercise is to see what would happen if an imaginary team consistently made the most cautious picks possible, based largely on objective data rather than intuition, taking unnecessary risks would be a bit of a violation of our principles.  Still, such a pick could be justified to some degree.  Since our real goal is just to outperform Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens, they could end up giving Team Kangaroo the necessary breathing room to gamble a bit.  If Ozzie Newsome makes a selection that the computer feels has a low probability of success, it would decrease the pressure on our part to be extremely cautious.  The computer would essentially be playing down to the competition in this scenario.

In the end, my goal is pretty straight forward.  I think the 2014 draft is a bit more top-heavy than last year's draft.  In 2013, I felt the talent projected to go in the first 2 rounds was fairly weak, but that the players available in the later rounds might be more interesting.  This year might run a bit in the opposite direction.  So, getting out of the first 2 rounds with players I am happy with, might be a bit more important.  If I end up making it out of those two rounds with some combination of Joel Bitonio, Deone Bucannon, Jason Verrett, Bradley Roby (Hooray for DWIs lowering a player's stock!), Phillip Gaines, Kareem Martin, or perhaps one of the more intriguing receivers, I would probably be reasonably content, though the real fun always comes with the later picks.

If anyone wants to chime in, feel free.  You've got one week to persuade me that I either have my head up my ass about some prospect that I am interested in, or that I have underrated/excluded someone that I should be considering.  You might even influence my opinion about someone, or you might not.  Reilly will still serve as General Manager of Team Kangaroo, and I will serve as his humble assistant, but additional Kangaroo Scouts are always welcome.  In the end, the whole point of the game is to discover whether us mere mortals can produce something that looks like a half-way intelligent result.  Whether that result comes from an individual steering the ship, or whether it is a group effort, really doesn't matter too much to us.  Of course, Reilly will get all of the glory, but he is a benevolent leader.

Whether you choose to participate in this adventure with us, or not, I would highly recommend conducting your own version of the Ozzie Newsome Challenge, with whatever team you follow.  It makes the draft more entertaining to watch, and can really give you an odd sense of the pressure that GMs operate under.  I find that making a pick, and watching as nobody selects that player for several rounds, is oddly disturbing to my confidence.  Other times you get the timing right, and feel quite clever.  It can be surprisingly nerve wracking, for an exercise that has no real consequences.  If you end up deciding to play along, feel free to send me an email with your team's results, or post it in the comments.  In the end, I'd really enjoy making a post with some of the results that you all might generate.