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.

No comments:

Post a Comment