Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The PETARD Hall Of The Reasonably Productive

The eventual death of this blog will most likely be a product of how few positive things I generally have to say.  I suspect people are much more interested in hearing good news rather than bad news.  Unfortunately, I come from the school of thought that says "If you don't have something negative to say, don't say anything at all".  It's not that I don't want to be more optimistic regarding the careers of NFL players, it's just that it feels a bit pointless to state the obvious, simply for the sake of being upbeat.  That's why we have Jon Gruden, after all.  We all know that Aaron Rodgers is good.   Jimmy Graham?  Well, he seems to be doing quite well.  What's really left to say about those sorts of players?  I'm much more interested in why certain draft picks fail to meet our expectations, and to what degree such disappointment might be avoidable.

Still, when Reilly and I recently got back from our annual expedition to Bohemian Grove, we were feeling a bit more buoyant than usual.  A weekend of peeing in the woods and sacrificing goats in the Owl Shrine with our nation's overlords just has that sort of effect on us.  So, with a more chipper outlook, I thought we would examine some of the players who have had somewhat surprisingly positive outcomes to their careers, at least relative to where they were drafted.  It's time to give the Ravens credit for their draft picks that seemed to have done well for the team.

We'll do this the same way that we did with the players in the previous post, where we examined the players who fell short of our expectations.  As always, we will be using PETARD to define what the average number of games started would be for a player (in their first 4 NFL seasons), depending on where they were selected in the draft.  We will list the number of games that the player actually started, as well as the number of games that PETARD would have projected for them to start.  When we examined the players who failed to meet PETARD's expectations, we were only looking at players who were selected in the first 100 picks of the draft.  This time, when we examine the "successes", we will only be looking at players who were taken with the 90th pick of the draft, or later.  Undrafted players will not be included in this list.  Since teams seem to be a bit overly exuberant in their confidence when it comes to high draft picks, and frequently give them opportunities almost regardless of their actual performance, drawing a line at the 90th pick should help restrict our attention to players for whom the team probably didn't have enormous expectations.  Basically, if these players got on the field, they probably earned their playing time, rather than just being the products of draft hype.

Since we're trying to see if there is a pattern to who succeeds, versus who fails, we'll generally make a note of the player's physical attributes, and perhaps a little bit about their statistical production in college.  Sometimes pieces of this information just aren't available, but we'll do the best that we can with what we have.  As for the physical data, we will generally just refer to a player's Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power and explosiveness), and the Agility Score (based on the short shuttle and 3-cone drill).  These scores are 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, the results for a linebacker, for example, shouldn't be directly compared to those of a wide receiver.  In the end, we just want to see if there were signs related to a player's physical traits or statistical production, which would have helped us to differentiate them from some of their less successful peers.

Seeing as how none of these players will have been selected before the 3rd round, it is unlikely that we are going to run across any players of the Calvin Johnson or J.J. Watt type of physical freakishness.  Players of that sort are generally so obvious that they don't get overlooked by NFL teams very often.  Still, even if these players are likely to be of a somewhat lesser caliber, we're just looking to see if the objective facts seemed to point more towards a good argument for their selection.

There is one final note that I should mention.  As I've mentioned before, fullback Le'Ron McClain has generally presented some issues for PETARD.  Because of the nature of the fullback position, it is hard to treat his extraordinarily high PETARD result very seriously.  As things stand, we would be forced to say that no Ravens' selection has exceeded their PETARD projection as much as McClain has, but I think this is more a result of him playing at an unusual position, that has a very different set of expectations placed upon it.  Being selected in the 4th round is about as high as you ever see a fullback taken, and when such a pick is made, the player is probably more comparable to a more highly drafted player, at a more conventional position.  So, for now, we are going to leave Le'Ron McClain out of this discussion.

Now, let's get on to the list...

Ed Mulitalo, G, 129th pick in 1999  Actual # GS:  53   PETARD Proj. GS: 12.9
It's a bit unfortunate that we have to start this list with Edwin Mulitalo, because I really don't have a great explanation for his career.  Since offensive linemen lack traditional stats when they come out of college, we have to rely on their combine performance to a much larger degree.  With a -1.089 Kangaroo Score and a -0.487 Agility Score, I have to admit that there was nothing here that I would have found intriguing at all.  No matter what angle I come from, I would have had a hard time seeing Mulitalo as an interesting prospect, based on the data that was available at the time.

How good was he in reality?  I really can't say.  He did manage to start 128 games over his career, and though he never struck me as anything amazing, that is still quite an accomplishment for a 4th round pick.  Maybe he was just a fairly pedestrian guard, who survived at a position that just draws less attention?  Or, perhaps he's just an oddball exception to my normal rules?  I'm really not sure.  Either way, having him head this list at least shows that we're not trying to unfairly tilt the conversation in a particular direction.  There are always going to be guys like this who exceed my expectations, and it's just a part of life that we have to accept.

Dawan Landry, SS, 146th pick in 2006  Actual # GS:  48   PETARD Proj. GS: 10.89
With Dawan Landry, I think we have an imperfect, but still rather interesting prospect.  That's about the best you can reasonably hope to find in the 5th round of the draft.  His 4.64 second 40-yard dash (which he improved upon slightly at his pro day), along with an Agility Score of -0.588, doesn't suggest a lot of speed or gracefulness.  Still, when it comes to strong safety prospects, I'm usually willing to be a bit more flexible about agility than I would be with cornerbacks or free safeties, and generally have a cutoff in the -0.400 to -0.600 range, which barely lets Landry slip past inspection.  Of course, making such an exception would depend on whether other areas check out okay.  When we look at his exceptional Kangaroo Score of 2.322, we start to see some real reasons to get excited.  Anytime a player has a Kangaroo score that is over two standard deviations higher than his average peer, I pay attention.  That is precisely the sort of lower body power and explosiveness that we might hope to find in an in-the-box hard hitting safety.  But how did he actually perform in college?

        Year         TKL         TFL       Sacks         PBU           Int            FF
2005 76 4.5 0 5 4 0
2004 81 10 3 2 1 1
2003 85 4.5 0 2 2 0

Now, I could easily come up with a list of players that have gaudier college stat sheets, but I think Landry's results would still be viewed by most people as quite solid.  That he produced these results over the course of several seasons, and showed a reliable above average steadiness to his performance, also minimizes any concerns about the flukiness of these sorts of things.  There are few things I hate worse than a "one year wonder".  While Landry might not be a perfectly designed safety, it would have been difficult to argue that he didn't appear to be worth taking a shot at in the 5th round.  With reasonably impressive physical potential, and proven production, I would have to say that his relative success shouldn't be terribly surprising, even if he is perhaps never going to be much more than an 'in the box' type of safety.

Ed Hartwell, LB, 126th pick in 2001   Actual # GS:  46   PETARD Proj. GS: 13.33
With Ed Hartwell, I think we have another fairly interesting prospect.  Athletically he was a bit of a mixed bag of results, though we can't really expect many dominating physical freaks to last until the end of the 4th round.  You gradually have to lower your expectations as the draft rolls on.  His Agility Score of -1.349 is clearly not very good, and might have suggested some potential problems dropping into coverage, but this wouldn't necessarily rule him out as a capable middle linebacker, intended to simply stop opponents from running up the middle.  It's when we look at his Kangaroo Score of -0.025, that we begin to see some of this potential.  Yes, -0.025 might not look like a good result, but since I weigh middle linebackers on the same scale as the larger OLBs and DEs, the results for middle linebackers tend to get pushed down a tad.  As I've said before, I generally view -0.800 to be an average result for the somewhat lighter middle linebacker prospects, with Pro Bowl and All Pro middle linebackers averaging about -0.400.  So, in comparison to those results, Hartwell actually comes out looking quite nice, and well into the range where we find a lot of All Pro/Pro Bowl MLBs, and with a result that is actually about 0.825 standard deviations better than his average peer.  Still, with that said, I probably would have expected him to be a fairly one dimensional player, which he probably was.

When we move past these measurable athletic traits, the picture becomes even more interesting.  While I have been unable to find his college statistics prior to his senior year, that one season of play seems to be worth taking a real look at.

      Year        TKL   Solo TKL       TFL      Sacks         PBU        Int         FF
2000 184 117 12 5 3 1 2

I would have to call that an extremely productive season.  In fact, even if we compared this production to all of the middle linebackers taken in the first round during the past decade, I would say Hartwell appears to measure up quite nicely.  While injuries appear to largely be to blame for the derailing of Hartwell's career (a not unusual case of Exploding Knee Syndrome), that shouldn't diminish what he accomplished early in his first few NFL seasons.  Would I have picked Hartwell in the 4th round?  I'm not sure.  In the end, it would have been a question of whether I felt his exceptional statistical production and lower body power balanced out his poor Agility Score.  I probably wouldn't have bet against him though, and for a mere mid-to-late-round pick, the price was probably right for a guy like Hartwell.

Jason Brown, C,124th pick in 2005   Actual # GS:  45   PETARD Proj. GS: 13.6
Say what you will about Jason Brown's disappearing act once he joined the St. Louis Rams, he still appeared to be quite a good center during his time with the Ravens.  His Kangaroo Score of 0.437 was a fairly good result relative to other offensive linemen, but particularly exceptional when compared to other centers.  When I was recently looking at all of the starting centers from the 2013 season, the average Kangaroo Score was -0.324, so centers do tend to have the least lower body power along the offensive line, at least on average.  Brown was somewhat unusual in this area, at about 0.761 standard deviations above that average starting center's result.  Perhaps more importantly, he had an Agility Score of 0.656, which includes a short shuttle time of 4.52 seconds.  That short shuttle time places him 1.110 standard deviations above the average results for an offensive lineman, and is the number one trait I look for in a starting center prospect.  At least from my perspective, he was precisely the sort of prospect I would expect to see thriving at the center position, and for a period of time, he appeared to do exactly that.  For the price of a mere 4th round pick, the payoff seems to have been quite reasonable, though not terribly surprising when you consider his physical advantages.

I'm going to skip past Derek Anderson at this point, though he did manage to start more games than PETARD would have expected of him.  Since we're mainly looking at the degree to which athletic measurables could have predicted these outcomes, quarterbacks sort of fall outside of the scope of this examination.  Still, Anderson is the only quarterback that the Ravens have ever drafted, who wound up going to a Pro Bowl, which is sort of a funny bit of (depressing) trivia.

Jeff Mitchell, C, 134th pick in 1997   Actual # GS:  40   PETARD Proj. GS: 12.31
When you go back to 1997, it becomes nearly impossible to find combine results for most players.  A fractured leg in November of his final college season also increases the likelihood that he never would have participated in the NFL Combine or his college's Pro Day.  Since offensive linemen also accumulate no stats, at least of a conventional variety, it is even more difficult to say how I would have viewed Mitchell as a prospect.  Either way, he had a relatively long career, and started a total of 118 games, so by the typical standards of what you expect from a 5th round pick, he was quite productive.  If anybody can fill in some of the blanks here, feel free to let me know.  I have to admit that I would really love to know his short shuttle time, in particular.  I have a peculiar and unhealthy interest in such things. 

Terry Jones, TE, 155th pick in 2002  Actual # GS:  35   PETARD Proj. GS: 9.9
Perhaps this is a somewhat similar situation to what we have with Le'Ron McClain.  On paper, there was nothing about Terry Jones that struck me as exceptional in any way.  When he was on the field for the Ravens, there was similarly very little to get excited about.  He mainly seemed to serve as a blocking tight end, who rarely contributed much in the passing game.  In what was perhaps his most productive season, at least from a statistical standpoint, he accumulated 159 receiving yards on 20 receptions, with 3 touchdowns.  It seems highly probable that his role as a blocking tight end put him in a position somewhat similar to what we find with our Le'Ron McClain fullback dilemma, as a peculiar role player, which may have allowed him to get on the field a bit more than PETARD might have expected. 

Adalius Thomas, DE/OLB, 186th pick in 2000  Actual # GS:  26   PETARD Proj. GS: 6.87
This is probably going to be one of my favorite late round oddball picks that the Ravens made.  From the perspective of pure physical potential, Adalius Thomas was a rather stunning prospect.  At 270 pounds, running a 4.56 second 40-yard dash, while also displaying an extremely good 1.573 Kangaroo Score, Thomas was quite the physical specimen.  His only minor shortcoming was a slightly below average -0.306 Agility Score, though this never stopped the Ravens from dropping him into coverage (though I never felt he excelled in this area).  Thomas clearly had the sort of physical ability that teams shouldn't have ignored, though he still slipped to the 6th round.  Maybe his on-the-field performance in college just didn't live up to the these physical traits?

      Year         TKL        TFL      Sacks         PBU            Int         FF
1999 67 16 9 0 0 1
1998 71 20 12.5 5               ?           ?
1997 65 15 9 10 1           ?

Umm...nope...that doesn't appear to clarify things at all.  His college stats actually appear to be exceptionally strong.  In fact, it only makes his late round status more of a mystery.  If I employed my normal methods for determining where a pass rushing prospect should be selected, as shown in the post on Explosive Pass Rushers, Thomas would actually come out with a 1st round grade.  I suspect most people would view that as a bit of a reach, since Thomas was probably a 'very good' but not necessarily 'great' type of NFL player.  Still, I would say that the computer's view of Thomas' potential was probably a bit more accurate than the view most NFL teams seemed to have of him at the time.  In retrospect, I think he probably performed at a level that would have made a 2nd round pick seem like a fairly reasonable price to pay.

Jermaine Lewis, WR/KR, 153rd pick in 1996  Actual # GS:  27   PETARD Proj. GS: 10.11
What I can say about Jermaine Lewis as a draft prospect, is somewhat limited.  When you go back as far as the 1996 NFL Draft, finding combine data gets to be a bit difficult.  While a good portion of my hunches typically rely on that information, we can still look at his statistical production at Maryland. 

In 1995, his final college season, Lewis had 66 receptions for 937 yards.  That would have been good for 26.8% of his teams total offense, and significantly above the 17.75% mark that we consider to be an average result for a draft prospect.  In his Junior season, Lewis had 45 receptions for 692 yards.  That would have been good for 16.98% of his team's total offense, and slightly above the 15.34% mark that we consider an average result.  Now, normally, I don't mention much about a receiver's sophomore season, but in this case I will.  In Lewis' sophomore year, he had 52 receptions for 957 yards.  This would have been good for 19.69% of his team's total offense, and clearly an above average result.  It should also be noted that there were 3 games in his sophomore year that Lewis didn't even get to start, so his results could have been even higher if we adjusted for this factor.

So, while we may not know how he measured up at the combine, there's really no denying that his actual college performance did merit some serious attention.  I'm not usually a fan of drafting small receivers (Lewis was about 5'7", and 183 pounds) but it's also clearly much easier to justify a move like this later in the draft.  Lewis was primarily known for his skills as a kick/punt returner, and was selected for 2 Pro Bowls, as well as 2 All Pro teams, though he also produced 2,129 career receiving yards and 17 receiving TDs.  All in all, not a bad result for a 5th round receiver, but also not terribly shocking considering the information that we have about how he performed in college.

Tony Pashos, OT, 173rd pick in 2003  Actual # GS:  23   PETARD Proj. GS: 8.07
I don't think that anyone would claim that Tony Pashos was a star, but as I mentioned in the post about the Lobotomy Line, I think we could argue that there is probably minimal difference between Pashos and the more heralded and hyped Michael Oher.  It's one of those unfortunately familiar cases where the perception of the difference between two players seems to hinge upon their draft status (Oher was selected in the 1st round, Pashos in the 5th), regardless of any actual differences in their performance.  Sadly, I can't really say much about how I would have viewed Pashos' athletic ability, as there seems to be practically no data available on this subject.

Arthur Jones, DT, 157th pick in 2010  Actual # GS:  20   PETARD Proj. GS: 9.68
Due to an injury in his final college season, there is no combine information to help clarify some of the questions we might have about Arthur Jones.  If we ignore his final injury plagued college season, and instead look at his performance prior to that point, we see that he had 13 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2008.  In 2007, he produced 17.5 tackles for a loss, and 1 sack.  Yes, his sack totals may not have been outrageous, but he was clearly producing a lot of tackles behind the line of scrimmage for an interior linemen, and I put a fair bit of stock in that.  All in all, I would say those results are extremely encouraging signs of a prospect's potential, and might have warranted a fairly high draft pick if we could have filled in some of the blanks about his physical abilities.  Still, without any combine data, I probably would have been afraid to pull the trigger on a player like Jones, even if the limited data we have is fairly exceptional.  In the end, things worked out reasonably well for the Ravens with this pick.  It's just a shame that we'll probably never know where he would have measured up athletically.

Casey Rabach, C,  92nd pick in 2001  Actual # GS:  23   PETARD Proj. GS: 18.55
It's really unfortunate that acquiring combine results prior the the early 2000s is sometimes so difficult to find.  This leaves us with a somewhat incomplete picture of Casey Rabach.  While we are missing several bits of data about Rabach, I am particularly disappointed to not have his short shuttle time.  Nevertheless, the one piece of measurable data we do have is his vertical jump.  This one sliver of information gives him a Vertical Kangaroo Score of 1.284 standard deviations above his offensive linemen peers, which is quite an exceptional result.  Typically, I find that centers have the lowest Kangaroo Scores of all of the offensive linemen, with results that frequently go into into the negative range.  They often seem to make up for this with quickness and agility.  In Rabach's case, it seems safe to say that his lower body power did not appear to be an area of weakness, but instead an area of surprising strength.  While I wish we had more to go on, this alone would be an extremely encouraging start towards any explanation of Rabach's rather solid career, where he would have 118 total career starts.

But wait...the Ravens must have had numerous other late round surprises, right? really.  Answering questions such as this is going to make it rather difficult for me to maintain the illusion of optimistically supporting the beliefs people wish to hold about the Ravens.  For the most part, the rest of the players that the Ravens have selected in the late rounds of the draft have contributed at a level that is rather close to what PETARD would have expected of them.  Just for the sake of argument, let's look at some of the players that people might suspect were much more beneficial to the team, relative to where they were drafted.

Jarret Johnson, DE/OLB, 109th pick in 2003   Actual # GS:  15   PETARD Proj. GS: 15.73
While I've never thought Johnson was a particularly exceptional player, he has turned into a fairly useful OLB/DE, who has his positive moments from time to time.  Still, he only started 15 games in his first four years, when PETARD would have predicted an average outcome of 15.73 games started for a player who was selected with the 109th overall pick.  Whatever the fans may think of Johnson's ability, the team clearly didn't exhibit much enthusiasm about getting him onto the field, at least while he was operating under his rookie contract.  Basically, the team got out of Johnson, exactly what we would typically expect them to get out of any player taken with the 109th pick. 

Brandon Stokley, WR, 105th pick in 1999   Actual # GS:  11   PETARD Proj. GS: 16.35
Brandon Stokley has always been a bit of an enigma.  Still, many Ravens' fans probably view grabbing Stokley in the 4th round, as a bit of a steal.  In reality, Stokley would start about 5 fewer games than PETARD would consider to be the average result for a player chosen with the 105th overall pick.  Stokley's only real value seemed to emerge when he went to the Colts, and got to play with Peyton Manning (surprise!).  Prior to that, I think we could argue that he did no more, and perhaps slightly less, than a typical player who the Ravens would have selected at the same point in the draft.

Dennis Pitta, TE, 114th pick in 2010   Actual # GS:  8   PETARD Proj. GS: 14.9
If I haven't made it clear in the past, I really like Dennis Pitta.  Unfortunately, the Ravens seemed to have been less enamored with Pitta than they were with Ed Dickson, as I discussed in an earlier post.  Come hell or high water, the Ravens were going to give the starts to Ed Dickson, no matter how often he dropped the ball.  In the end, this created a situation where Pitta saw the field even less than you would have expected of someone taken with the 114th overall pick.  Ed Dickson, on the other hand, actually started 44 games, when PETARD would have only expected him to start 23.08 games.  This seems like a good time to start asking questions about how much faith you really have in your team's management and decision making abilities, since the only apparent reason for Dickson's edge in this area was probably due to being selected one round ahead of Pitta, in the same draft.  Let the players compete on a level playing field for a starting job, regardless of when they were drafted, you say?  Hahahaaahaaha.  That's hilarious.

Chester Taylor, RB, 207th pick in 2002  Actual # GS:  8   PETARD Proj. GS: 5.1
I've always had a soft spot for Chester Taylor, and think he perhaps got screwed over by landing on teams that had players like Jamal Lewis and Adrian Peterson installed ahead of him on the depth charts.  If given a chance, I think he could have done fairly well as a team's primary running back.  Nonetheless, Petard only projected him to start 5.1 games in his first four years, and he ended up actually starting just 8.  Yes, that was more than the computer projected, but not so much more as to really matter.

Okay, now for some final thoughts on all of this.

Despite the fact that numerous players on this list have incomplete sets of data, we have to do the best that we can with the information that is available to us.  All we can really do is try to weigh their individual pros and cons, and see what sort of picture emerges from all of this.

First of all, amongst the players for whom statistical information is available and relevant, the picture seems quite clear.  For Dawan Landry, Edgerton Hartwell, Adalius Thomas, Jermaine Lewis, and Arthur Jones, their statistical production in college at least matched an average player's results, and frequently exceeded it by a fairly large margin.  Compared to the players in the previous post, who fell short of their PETARD expectation, the differences in this area should be pretty clear.  It seems to make sense to invest in players that have a history of dominating statistical production, which should come as no real surprise, though team's can be surprisingly erratic in giving this any real consideration.

Secondly, while our data related to these player's physical traits is frequently incomplete, particularly for drafts from the more distant past, the bits of data that we do have almost invariably seems to point to this being a rather important factor too.  Even when only a few bits of data are available, these small glimpses into their potential seem to point towards these players having strong physical gifts.  Particularly for Dawan Landry, Edgerton Hartwell, Jason Brown, Adalius Thomas, and Casey Rabach there did appear to be signs of some physical superiority.  Particularly in the area of lower body power and explosiveness (the dreaded Kangaroo Score), these players seemed to do exceptionally well.  Again, when we look to the players who fell short of their PETARD projections, the differences in this area become a bit more stark.  The players who were disappointment in the eyes of PETARD tended to be a bit below average/horrible when it came to their measured athletic ability.

Does it look like focusing a team's attention on physically superior players, with a history of solid statistical production, might be a good idea?  I certainly think so.  Still, this is not meant to suggest that such players are ever a sure thing.  There will always be players who end up succeeding, where I never would have bet on such an outcome.  Likewise, there will be physical freaks with goods stats, who end up becoming disappointments.  Human beings always have an annoying ability to surprise us in that way (my robot army will solve this problem).  All I'm trying to suggest is that the trend tends to point in a fairly obvious direction.  When a team has multiple draft picks at their disposal, it just seems to make sense to focus them on players who have provided the most objective evidence for why they should succeed.  Over the course of time, such repeated investments do appear to work out better, and put the odds a bit more in your favor.


  1. Your blog will always have one fan.....I might be the only one left so.... Yay?

    1. This is why we plan to clone you. We'll be sending somebody by your house to collect a DNA sample in the next few days.