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.

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