Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Heads Will Roll

Team Kangaroo is sort of the ultimate small market team.  Our attendance is extremely poor, leading to blackouts for all of our team's home games.  Sponsorship arrangements to endorse Viagra and Ford F-150s have been non-existent.  We can't even afford uniforms for our cheerleaders, and we're shamefully forced to send them onto the field naked.  It's also safe to say that our continued efforts to get tax payers to fund our $1.5 billion stadium plan have fallen on deaf ears.  This has forced us to make some radical adjustments, namely the selling of the team to an individual who better conforms to blueprint of the league's standard owner.  Hopefully, having the right figurehead can be our first step towards legitimacy. 

Long may he reign!

All hail our fearless leader!  May he live forever!

By acquiring a 51% stake in our fictional franchise (for the low, low price of $3.50), Boss Hogg has become our new leader, and representative at league meetings.  He promises to bring the swagger back to our humble organization, and should prove to be the equal of other cartoonish individuals such as Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones.  He has also made a pledge not to move the team to Los Angeles, though he keeps bringing up some place called Hazzard County, wherever the hell that is.  While I'm sure there might be some criticism about having the team run by a deranged and fictional character, portrayed by a now deceased actor, I do think Al Davis might have set a precedent here.

In death, members of Team Kangaroo have a name...

Normally, our primary focus is on trying to find interesting young prospects in the NFL Draft, but there is another side to this coin that is perhaps almost as vital.  Sometimes you need to know when to let go, and cut your losses.  Far too often, teams hold onto players for far too long, hoping that the light will eventually come on, and a previously incompetent player will begin to shine.  The longer that teams wait to cut ties with these disappointments, the fewer opportunities they have to discover if someone better might be out there.  We prefer to use maggot therapy, to eat away the dead flesh as soon as possible, so that the healthy areas remain uninfected.

We will now cast off those poor bastards who failed to set our world on fire, so that we can make room for new and future disappointment who will take their place.  While I've been meaning to do this for a while, I kept forgetting to make these decisions official.  Managing a non-existent team, and keeping up with the endless paper work, can be quite a burden.  Still, most of these cuts should have been rather obvious from the beginning.  We'll start things off with some of the selections from the 2013 Ozzie Newsome Challenge.

It's pretty clear that there is no longer any reason to hold out hope for our 7th round pick of offensive tackle Wade Jacobson, so onto the trash heap he goes.  Admittedly, we picked him despite never having seen him play.  That's just the sort of responsible scouting we do around here.  Nonetheless, his physical attributes are so shockingly unusual that the odds of him being completely incapable of landing a roster spot struck me as incredibly unlikely.  With a 1.788 Kangaroo Score and a 1.407 Agility Score, he was an absolute freak.  The failure rate for people with this sort of athleticism is really remarkably low.  Despite that, nobody seemed interested in giving him much of an opportunity, and yet the incomparably incompetent Oneil Cousins continues to be employed.  It's really quite confusing.  Oh well.

Likewise, we will also be discarding our 4th round pick of wide receiver Ryan Swope.  In this case, I have to admit that we had a bit of a brain-fart.  I knew that Swope had a serious history of concussions, but I must have been blocking this out when we chose him.  Regardless, he retired before his first season even began, so as to preserve the integrity of his precious brain.  Personally, I think he could have just rubbed some dirt on it, but that's not really my decision.

We also probably have to do something about Da'Rick Rogers.  The sensible part of me says it is time to move on.  On the other hand, I see that he has now been picked up by the Chiefs, a team that is clearly in need of some receiving talent.  Honestly, I think he could end up being the most talented receiver on their team, not that this will probably have much effect on his ability to get playing time.  It's really an odd situation.  His most likely less gifted former Tennessee teammates Justin Hunter and Cordarelle Patterson are still sort of limping along, producing relatively little.  Da'Rick, in his limited opportunities, has arguably provided more reasons for optimism than either of them, but without the draft status these other two carry, nobody seems too invested in seeing how far he can go, or how many DUIs he can acquire.

I've always thought Da'Rick had a lot in common with Mike "Not the fat one" Williams, who seems to be going through a similar spell of struggles related to his...umm...issues.  Of course, neither one of them appears to have entered the Josh Gordon Zone of truly exceptional stupidity.  I'm not sure when the NFL's concern with character became such a priority, but I find this new trend highly disturbing.  The league was built on highly athletic and productive players, who frequently tended to be morons!  It's almost as if nobody has any respect for tradition anymore.  For now, I think we'll let Da'Rick hang around a tiny bit longer, though we might revisit this question after the upcoming draft, if we need to make room for someone else.

Now, we're gradually going to transition from our 2013 draft class to our group from 2014.  There is a bit of overlap here when it comes to bad luck.  From the 2013 class, we have offensive guard Dave Quessenberry, who appeared to be doing quite well, before being diagnosed with cancer.  For the time being, we're going to hold onto him, and cross our fingers.  Our fictional team now has a fictional injured reserve, just for him.  Then in 2014, we selected offensive tackle Garrett Scott, who was promptly diagnosed with a previously unknown heart ailment, which forced his immediate retirement.  I almost have to wonder if we are causing these things to happen to people, merely by selecting them.  The odds of having two such extreme medical issues come up seems rather slim.  Either way, we clearly have to call it quits with Garrett Scott.

I suspect our problems with identifying health/injury risks are Reilly's fault.  When your expected lifespan is only 12 years (and you're already 12 years old!), your attitude towards long term risks can become quite warped.  The way things are going, we'll be the first team to draft a player with polio in over fifty years.

Plans for the future...

We're working on some new ideas that we want to explore for the upcoming draft.  We're kicking around some ideas about minimizing risks when selecting quarterbacks.  We're also giving some serious thought to how we view the statistical production of defensive linemen and linebackers.  Unfortunately, the results of some of these thoughts might not be entirely ready in time for this year's upcoming draft.

For the most part, the bulk of these new efforts will really focus on defensive players who line up in the front seven.  We're leaving defensive backs out, for the moment, because we still think their output is too heavily influenced by the individuals who are in front of them.  So far, it seems to be providing some interesting possible explanations for why some players who had exceptional athletic ability, and superficially good statistical production, have failed to succeed to the level that the computer might have expected.

While we're excited about some of these possibilities, it involves rebuilding some of our database of players from past drafts, and this will take some time.  We probably won't have this finished before the upcoming draft, though we'll test it out on a limited basis with some of the more interesting prospects.  Honestly, I have very mixed feelings about some of the ways that we are trying to reevaluate college statistics.  On the one hand, some of these efforts will probably push us in a more intelligent direction, and help to eliminate some potential errors.  On the other hand, I've rather enjoyed approaching the draft with no real intelligent thoughts in my head.  It's sort of been our raison d'etre, to see how far we can go, while making almost no effort.  It really would be a shame to give that up.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The People's Champions

Our main focus around here has been speculation about the criteria by which team's make their picks in the NFL Draft.  The goal is simply to find ways of identifying prospects that have a better chance of meeting a team's hopes and expectations, rather than ending up a disappointment.  It's a tricky business, and inevitably we will be wrong sometimes (at which point, I will place the blame squarely on Reilly's shoulders). 

Oddly, if there is one aspect of doing this blog (the bloooog) that makes me nervous, it is the possibility of shouting "Hey, we were right about this guy!".  Yes, we want our idiotic hunches to turn out well, but chest thumping bravado gives me the heebie jeebies.  The data is there.  We attempt to sort it, and extract some meaning from it.  We think it is the sensible thing to do.  Despite that, I really cringe when I see some of the gurus of the internet, and the self-congratulatory wanking they engage in.  Some enthusiasm is understandable, but preferably in moderation.  I generally think we should behave more like monks, or maybe the Amish.  So, with that in mind, we've decided to try to make it a policy to avoid reflecting on the times when things go according to plan.  We want to avoid doing unnecessary and tacky victory laps.

At the same time, there are going to be some prospects whom we strongly disapproved of, who go on to do quite well for themselves.  Whether they are genuine outliers, or there was insufficient data to project them correctly, or maybe we were just plain wrong; it all works out the same.  Sometimes we're just going to be way off the mark.  It may not change our feelings about whether such prospects were sensible gambles for a team to make, but we do think these slip-ups should be given some consideration.  Maybe there is something to be learned from such embarrassing accidents.

Based on these feelings, we decided to start doing an annual list of our potentially most egregious errors.  Rather than include all of our mistakes, we'll mainly focus on the players that we had the most damning criticisms of, who still managed to exceed our expectations.  As time goes on, these lists will undoubtedly grow.  Since these players are possible victories for the traditional scouting crowd, we'll just refer to them as The People's Champions.  Our cilice has been tightened, let the flagellation begin...

Kelvin Benjamin

I believe our exact words were something like, any team that drafts him "should probably check their GM for symptoms of dementia".  That might have been a bit harsh.  Of course, Benjamin went on to accumulate 1,008 yards, and 9 touchdowns in his rookie season.  It wasn't our finest moment.  The worst part is, I still don't have a great theory as to how this happened.

One issue that makes Kelvin Benjamin particularly difficult to reexamine, relates to his claims that he intentionally bombed the combine in order to drop in the draft, so that Carolina would be able to select him.  If this is true, then we clearly didn't have much of a chance to evaluate him correctly, since we base a fair bit of our hunches on a player's measurable attributes.  On the one hand, it is hard to believe that Benjamin is serious about any of this, since you would have to be a moron to intentionally make yourself look bad at the combine.  On the other hand, this is an individual who scored a 7 on the Wonderlic test, so he probably needs his coaches to help him tie his shoes. 

Will Benjamin flame out like Michael Clayton, who was a 2004 rookie phenom that similarly defied explanation?  I have no idea.  While I'd love to have order restored to my universe, I will try to refrain from constructing any voodoo dolls shaped like a Panthers' player to do so.  I wish him luck, and sincerely hope that someone in Carolina has child-proofed his house.

In the end, if we have to be wrong at some point, I'd always prefer that it  be about someone as comically peculiar as Kelvin Benjamin.

C.J. Mosley

It's particularly painful for me to acknowledge that we might have been wrong about C.J. Mosley, since the Ravens are not only my home team, but one of my favorite organizations to torment.  Still, despite my apprehensions regarding Mosley, I have to say that I do think he probably is performing quite a bit better than our numbers suggested he would.

While we never really outright claimed that Mosley would be a bust, we certainly leaned towards the possibility that he would be a mediocrity.  Whether it was his measured athletic ability, or his statistical production in college, there wasn't much that grabbed our attention, or made him appear to be in the same class as some of the 1st round MLBs that preceded him.  Still, off the top of my head, I can say that there were a handful of similar players such as Navorro Bowman, Curtis Lofton, and maybe Jon Beason that were also a bit unlikely to become successful NFL middle linebackers.  So, these things do happen from time to time..

Has Mosley performed better than I believed he would?  Yes, almost certianly.  Now, do I really believe that Mosley deserved to be selected for the Pro Bowl this year?  Ehh...hmm...maybe not.  The degree to which his draft status may have enhanced the likelihood of receiving this honor is a strong possibility.  At the same time, we should also probably take a look at the players who have surrounded Mosley in his rookie season.

While the Ravens' 2014 secondary play was clearly horrendous, that shouldn't really have too much impact on an inside linebacker.  The front seven of their defense, however, was actually rather good.  The outside pass rushing tandem of Suggs and Dumervil, accumulated 29 combined sacks, more than holding up their part of the equation.  The team's three primary down linemen, of Ngata, Williams and Canty, are a massive 992 pound wall (possibly the largest trio in the league, though I still have to check on that), and generally conform (to varying degrees) to the athletic and statistical profiles we hope to see in these types of players.  They probably kept Mosley relatively untouched.  Finally, there is the team's other inside linebacker, the veteran Daryl Smith, who despite his age, is still performing at a high enough level to take a lot of the pressure off of Mosley.  All things considered, Mosley wound up in a pretty good environment.

Will Mosley be able to maintain this head of steam, as the surrounding talent retires or moves to other teams?  I don't know, but I think it is an interesting question.  Haloti Ngata is easily the most physically gifted linemen on the team, but his current contract makes him a ripe target to cut.  With the exception of Brandon Williams, everyone else in the front seven is at least 30 years old, so the clock is ticking.  How this will impact Mosley is hard to say.

The most interesting question, at least to me, is whether Mosley's apparent success may actually end up hurting the team in a more roundabout way.  If Mosley continues to do well, despite being a prospect that on paper appeared to present some risks, doesn't this just encourage the team to continue pursuing their questionable approach to the draft?  Let's consider the team's top draft picks in the past few years.

In 2013, the team's top pick was Matt Elam, who so far has been a fairly well recognized failure at the safety position.  Due to an inability to calculate his Agility Score, we weren't able to give him much of an assessment last year.  With defensive backs, the Agility Score is obviously a bit more of a factor than it might be at other positions.  While his 40 time was fairly good (4.43 seconds), his statistical production and Kangaroo Score (0.284) were little more than just average.  Still, while we couldn't fully appraise Elam, we certainly wouldn't have been able to endorse selecting someone about whom there wasn't enough data, or where the available data was relatively weak, so the computer would have viewed this pick as an unnecessary and unwise risk.

In 2012, the team's top pick was Courtney Upshaw, who is someone we have criticized numerous times already.  Due to the fact that he has been listed as a starter in 36 out of a possible 48 games during his young career, many people still choose to defend this pick.  Of course, Reilly and I tend to think that the whopping 3 sacks he has produced in this time are a bit more meaningful.  The data was there to suggest he would likely struggle as a pass rusher, which we still feel is the primary role for a 3-4 OLB, particularly when one is selected with a relatively high pick.  So, again, caution was thrown to the wind, and the team went with their gut instinct, rather than with the statistical data.

In 2011, the team selected cornerback Jimmy Smith, and...we really don't have a huge issue with this pick.  While there were other prospects that the computer might have preferred, Smith was still fairly intriguing.  While his Agility Score (0.316) was only slightly above average, he was a much larger sort of corner, and his Kangaroo Score (0.963), suggested he did have some potential.  While people seem to feel he has done well so far, injuries appear to be his main obstacle.  This seems to be shaping up to have been a reasonably effective draft pick.

In 2010, the team's top pick was Sergio Kindle.  While we could skip past this selection, since he never really played due to injury, the data still suggests that the team was ignoring the glaring warning signs here, as they frequently appear to do.  It's a shame that Kindle couldn't get on the field and confirm whether or not the data was accurate, but we still have to accept that this was a bust.

In 2009, the Ravens' first pick was the infamous Michael Oher.  What would the computer make of an offensive tackle prospect with a 0.134 Agility Score, and a 0.194 Kangaroo Score?  Well, you could certainly do worse, but those are pretty much the definition of average and forgettable results.  They certainly aren't the kinds of results that would make us feel comfortable with selecting someone in the first round.   Nonetheless, that is precisely what the team did, and Oher has gone on to surrender a sack in about 53% of his games started, which is clearly a rather poor result.  Oddly, none of this appears to have greatly impacted his starting status, because high draft picks probably get more second chances than they sometimes deserve.  We tried to delve into why this foolishness happens before,, and I think that brings us back around to why we should be equally suspicious of why Courtney Upshaw continues to get starts.

In the area that these players were selected, you can generally figure on making a successful pick about 60-70% of the time.  It seems reasonable to me that you could say that the only arguable success in this group may have been Jimmy Smith (though it may still be a bit early to declare that).  Most likely, it isn't a complete coincidence that Smith was a rather decent fit for the athletic/statistical profile of an NFL cornerback. On the other hand, what can we say about these other picks that the Ravens made?  Pretty much without exception, they all seem to have been enormous gambles, even if the conventional wisdom at the time suggested they were reasonable picks.

Now, it may sound as if I am still being a bit reticent about giving C.J. Mosley the level of praise he perhaps deserves, but that isn't my goal.  While I wish Mosley continued good fortune, I still have some concerns about the thought process that went into his selection, regardless of how things actually turned out.  To some extent, the process used to select Mosley appears to be the same one used to make all of these other regrettable picks.  It feels as if the Ravens are playing a strange form of Russian roulette.  While the computer would have expected the Ravens to shoot themselves in the foot 5 times out of 6, it only actually happened on 4 of these occasions.  That the team's most recent pull of the trigger turned out to be significantly less painful than it was in past years, might lead them to believe that their process is worth pursuing in the future.  People tend to sweep the past under the rug, in light of more positive recent outcomes.  This would make me very nervous.

Okay.  Maybe I'm feeling just a tiny bit bitter about C.J. Mosley.