Monday, March 30, 2015

Kangaroo Court: The 2015 Linebackers

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I worked at a liquor store.  It was a rather wonderful experience, because it made my own my youthful adventures with amateur alcoholism seem rather pathetic and harmless, at least in comparison to the more dedicated lushes I would encounter there.  If the livers of those dedicated sots were still functional, I clearly had little reason to worry.  Being able to make flattering comparisons between myself and more damaged individuals is sort of how I get by in this world.

One of the interesting things about serious drunkards, was in the strange peculiarities of their drinking habits.  You'd think that a large 1.75 liter bottle of liquor would be the most efficient way to get the job done when you were consuming massive quantities on a daily basis, but this was rarely the case.  In fact, the "miniature" bottles, as they are called, are the real sign that you might have a problem (or a solution, depending on your point of view).  It's quite possible that you've never bought one of these tiny bottles, but that's just because you haven't fully committed yourself to a proper and sustained binge.  It's quite likely that you lack the discipline and dedication to pursue a mission of self-destruction, and need to step up your game.

Regardless, the beauty of the "miniature" is that it fits pretty much anywhere.  It's the derringer of the debauchee.  You can toss a few into your pocket.  They can be inconspicuously hidden in desk drawers.  Your average glove compartment can hold quite a nice arsenal of them as well.  They are made for the drunk on the go.  They fuel the man who has things he has to get done, even if he might not remember doing them later. 

Now, let me put this into perspective, just a little bit.  I also made daily alcohol deliveries to some of the residents of nearby nursing homes.  One older and somewhat decrepit gentleman, who so far as I could tell never left his reclining chair, would consume a half-gallon of the cheapest vodka that we were legally allowed to sell, every single day.  Over the course of a week, that works out to about 3.5 gallons of liver candy.  Some people might find that a bit disturbing.  Others might find that to be pretty damned impressive.  All I can say is that after a while, you came to admire this sort of drinker.  We really should have built a shrine to this man.  He was like an Olympian, and his disregard for his own well-being was both glorious and absurd.  There he is, sitting in his nursing home.  His children probably haven't visited him in months.  The clock is winding down, and he figures "Screw it.  I'm getting drunk, and I'm going to stay drunk".  I can respect that...umm...sort of.

When you dealt with Miniature Man, you got a very different vibe.  You knew he was sneaking something on the side.  Somewhere, there must be a wife snooping through his drawers, or a boss who was subtly sniffing his breath.  Miniature Man was still trying to appear functional, even if he was clearly somewhat haggard.  He was trying to keep a secret, even if the burst blood vessels in his nose kept squealing on him.  He just wasn't quite ready to baptize himself in booze, and fully dedicate himself to the cause.  It was a tad depressing, selling those tiny bottles to him, and it felt like you were watching somebody try to commit suicide by repeatedly shooting themselves with a BB gun, when you were perfectly willing to hand them a shotgun.

So, what does any of this have to do with linebackers?  Err....hmmm....gimme a second.  I'm sure I can spin some nonsensical connection here.

I suppose, much like we discussed with last year's list of linebackers,  that we are just expressing our preference for football players who approach the game with a lack of restraint, or concern for their own well-being.  I suspect that you kind of have to throw common sense out the window to truly excel as a linebacker, because anyone with an instinct for self-preservation would probably choose another profession.  Still, there are quite a few players who seem to tiptoe around the field, and that greatly diminishes the benefits of the "bread and circuses" distractions that the Lizard People are trying to provide for us.  Timid play diverts our attention from the spectacle before us, and makes us start to contemplate things like "Is the fluoridation of our tap water really an attempt to drug us, and control our minds?"  These are things we really shouldn't be thinking about, if we know what is good for us, and watching players recklessly assault one another helps to keep our mind at peace.

Sleep....sleeeeeeeeeep........sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep......You want to buy a Ford F-150.....Coors Light is delicious and refreshing......sleeeeeeeep.......... Vote yes for funding a new $1.5 billion stadium in Los Angeles........sleeeep..........

Since the athletic traits of players in this category are measured against all defensive prospects who are under 275#, this skews their results when it comes to the Kangaroo Score, because they don't have the same mass as some of the larger outside pass rushers in this weight class.  Since the goal is to see how many standard deviations away from an average result that a player is, we have to make some mental adjustments here.  For these (generally) lighter prospects, a Kangaroo Score of -0.800, would be the approximate point at which we would find the 'average' player in this group.  Among these lighter prospects, you typically start to see Pro Bowl and All Pro players reaching a score of -0.400, or better.  Just like the Kangaroo Score, the Agility Score (which comes from the short shuttle and 3-cone drill), will also be given in the form of how many standard deviations away from the  average result that a player is.  While the Kangaroo Scores for these players tend to suffer by comparison to heavier players, these lighter prospects generally make up for this by having an advantage when it comes to how nimble they are.  So, we prefer to see Agility Scores that are at least 1.000 standard deviation above average.   Normally, I would expect a player with a higher Kangaroo Score to be a stronger hitter, and more productive on blitzes, while a player with a high Agility Score will probably be better in coverage.  Still, nothing is set in stone, and individuals do vary in how they perform.

This list will continue to be modified and updated, as new data and prospects come to my attention.  The list won't include every player. but instead, just the ones that I find interesting for one reason or another.  Last Updated: 4/26/2015

Eric Kendricks  ILB, UCLA
40 Time: 4.61    Kangaroo Score: -0.136   Agility Score:  0.777
As far as Kendricks's athletic ability is concerned, things seem to check out rather nicely.  He has perfectly acceptable speed.  His Kangaroo Score is significantly above average for a player in this weight class.  His Agility Score might be a bit lower than we would like, but that seems like the product of an irregularity with the results from his 3-cone drill.  Fortunately, this irregularity favors his short shuttle score, which is 1.236 standard deviations above average, and something we highly value in linebackers.  When it comes to his statistical production, he appears to have been a fairly dominant and consistent force over the course of several years, which we love to see.  In the handful of games we watched, he performed just as well as we would have hoped, based on his data.  He seemed rather versatile, and appeared to do well against the run and in coverage.  We really see no reason to object to him.  Among the players generally projected to be taken near the end of the 1st round, we think he is probably one of the better/safer options, and someone we could have some real interest in.  An added bonus is that he was born on February 29th, so his skills should erode at a quarter of the normal rate for an NFL player.

Shaq Thompson OLB/S, Washington
40 Time: 4.64    Kangaroo Score: -1.270   Agility Score:  1.232
He seems to be everyone's favorite 'jack of all trades, master of none' candidate.  As a linebacker prospect, I have my doubts about whether he has the size or power to avoid getting physically abused.  Honestly, we'd probably rule him out as a linebacker, though our opinion of him as a safety is quite a bit more positive.  That requires comparing his traits to a very different set of athletes, which results in very different scores..

Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska
40 Time: 4.64    Kangaroo Score: -0.130   Agility Score:  1.182
Eli Harold  OLB, Virginia
40 Time: 4.53    Kangaroo Score:  0.137   Agility Score:  0.856
It's hard to say how Gregory or Harold would do as a LB in a 4-3 or as an ILB in a 3-4, but we just wanted to throw that option out there.  We weren't terribly impressed by either one of them as 3-4 OLB or DE prospects, but their measurable traits suggest that this sort of position switch might be beneficial.  In fact, they would be comparable to some fairly impressive NFL players at this position.  Unfortunately, this requires quite a bit of wild speculation, since what they did in college doesn't really give us a great glimpse of how they would do in this very different sort of role.  It's probably not something I would want to gamble on with a high pick, but if they end up struggling early on in their careers (assuming that they become 3-4 OLBs), a position switch could be interesting.  This possibility sort of makes us think about the similar situation that the Dolphins are in, as they are now contemplating a similar switch with Dion Jordan, whom we also disliked as a pass rushing prospect.

Bernardrick McKinney  OLB, Mississippi St.
40 Time: 4.66    Kangaroo Score:  0.730   Agility Score:  0.282
I have very mixed feelings about McKinney.  On the one hand, his Kangaroo Score suggests significantly above average lower body power and explosiveness.  For a player at his position, I would expect that to translate to being fairly stout against the run, and possibly making him a decent blitzer.  On the other hand, his Agility Score might suggest that he is a bit stiff, and could struggle in coverage.  It's like reading the future in chicken bones.  In the handful of games that I was able to watch, these expectations seemed to be rather accurate, though I also got the impression that he was just a fairly average tackler.  Now, if somebody wanted to use him as a thumping inside linebacker in a 3-4, who you might pull off the field in obvious passing situations, I guess I could see him doing a decent job in that role.  If he is going to be selected in the 2nd round, as many seem to suggest, I just think the value of a player like this might be a bit debatable for that sort of investment.

Stephone Anthony   ILB, Clemson
40 Time: 4.56    Kangaroo Score:  0.162   Agility Score:  1.216
It's hard to criticize Anthony's athletic ability.  He's pretty much an ideal physical specimen.  As far as his actual production goes, he's a bit more peculiar.  Compared to most MLBs, he had a rather high number of eye catching plays (TFLs, FFs, sacks, etc), but a surprisingly low tackle count.  The role that his Clemson teammates had in helping to inflate some of his stats is hard to judge, though it's also impossible to discount.  The defense did appear to be rather talented as a whole.  When we watched him play, we actually thought he looked rather good, though we sometimes questioned the decisions he made.  Compared to Eric Kendricks, Anthony seems like a potentially higher reward type of player, but also a potentially higher risk.  If he continues to be ranked as a 2nd round pick, we'd probably view that as an acceptable price for someone like him.

Hau'oli Kikaha   OLB, Washington
40 Time: 4.93    Kangaroo Score:  -0.462   Agility Score:  0.101
This was a player who we were very curious to learn about, but after his pro day we've lost a lot of interest.  He doesn't seem to quite fit the ideal mold for an outside pass rusher, but he also doesn't seem to be fast enough, or agile enough, to be exciting as a more conventional linebacker.  Since people seem to be projecting that he will be a selection in the 2nd or 3rd round, that would be significantly more costly than what we would consider to be reasonable.

Paul Dawson  ILB, TCU
40 Time: 4.75    Kangaroo Score:  -1.890*   Agility Score:  0.540*
We're not fans of the "He's a football player, not a track star" argument.  Why not say,"I'm not an athlete, but I play one in football games."  In an attempt to be generous, we're listing Dawson's results based on his pro day.  While people may point to a player like Vontaze Burfict, as an example of someone who tested poorly but seems to have done well in the NFL, we view that as a rather large exception to the rules.  Also, similar to Burfict, some people seem to be expressing concerns with Dawson's character.  At least when the Bengal's picked up Burfict as an UDFA, the balance of risk versus reward was strongly tilted in their favor.  They had nothing to lose.  We have to admit that we won't be watching any of Dawson's games, even though we do respect his statistical production, because it would just be a waste of our time.  Even if we thought he looked like a good player, this just isn't the sort of gamble we are looking to pursue.

Kwon Alexander   OLB, LSU
40 Time: 4.55    Kangaroo Score:  -0.792   Agility Score:  0.610
Well, if we can trust Rod Tidwell, then "it's all about the kwon".  So he has that going for him.  Honestly, we have minimal interest in Alexander as a linebacker prospect.  His athletic ability is just on the fringe of what we would consider.  His statistical production is passable, but not very interesting.  Seeing as he frequently seems to be listed as a 3rd round prospect, there is very little that would make us want to pay that price.  On the other hand, his physical traits and smaller size (about 6'0.5" and 227 pounds), do make him a fairly respectable fit for the strong safety position.  Overall, he didn't make much of a positive impression on us as a linebacker.

Denzel Perryman   ILB, Miami
40 Time: 4.78    Kangaroo Score:  -1.319   Agility Score:  ?
We're still waiting for data from Perryman's pro day, so we haven't completely made up our minds about him   Nonetheless, we already have some concerns about his somewhat mediocre speed, and below average lower body power.  It's causing us to lean strongly towards the idea that Perryman should only go to a 4-3 team, with a rather stout defensive line to protect him.  While we liked his statistical production, and thought he generally looked fairly respectable in the games we watched, we currently would have a hard time accepting the 2nd round grade that many people seem to have given to him. 

Ben Heeney   ILB, Kansas
40 Time: 4.59    Kangaroo Score:  -0.975   Agility Score:  2.050 
If you put him in a colander, he would probably come running out the other end.  At least that is the sort of fluidity that the computer feels Heeney has based on his Agility Score.  While we like his athletic ability, we still would have some concerns about his fairly mediocre Kangaroo Score.  This potential lack of power might require that he play behind a fairly solid defensive line.  Despite that concern, we thought he was one of the more enjoyable linebacker prospects that we have watched so far.  In many ways, both in terms of athletic ability on the field play, he reminded us of Paul Worrilow, and no, it's not just because they suffer from the same terrible birth defect.  While both players have exceptional agility, that we would normally associate with coverage linebackers, this doesn't seem to be the real area of strength for either player.  Instead, they both seem to be roving tackling machines, who do better against the run.  We would be rather interested in acquiring Heeney for Team Kangaroo if he is still be available in the 3rd or 4th round.

Jordan Hicks   OLB, Texas
40 Time: 4.68    Kangaroo Score:  0.061   Agility Score:  1.442 
At least on paper, this is a prospect I would normally get excited about.  Hicks has fairly ideal athletic traits for a linebacker.  His statistical production in college, at least in his senior year, also looks rather impressive.  Unfortunately, when we watched him play, the only description that popped into my head was 'bozo'.  That seems to happen a lot with players from Texas.  We also have to consider the fact that Hicks has missed a rather significant amount of playing time due to injuries.  In 2012, he missed time with a hip injury.  In 2013,  it was his achilles tendon.  Somebody clearly doesn't know how to "rub some dirt on it".  When I look around, I seem to see him projected as a mid round pick.  I guess that there are worse prospects, but the 5th or 6th round is about as high as I could see taking him, and even then I wouldn't be thrilled with doing so.

Mike Hull   OLB, Penn State
40 Time: 4.68    Kangaroo Score:  -1.636   Agility Score:  1.038
Well, the numbers would suggest that Hull is a reasonably nimble linebacker, with a possibly serious shortage of power.  As far as I can tell, based on watching him play, he seems to fit that description.  I wouldn't say that he looked bad, because he definitely had his positive moments, but I do think this guy is probably better suited to playing in a 4-3, or at least going to a team with a serious defensive line to protect him.  Even then I suspect I wouldn't want to see him become a starter, though he could be okay for depth.  One other drawback is that he will already be turning 24 in May, and has really only had one college season with significant production.  I probably wouldn't pursue him, but I could understand why someone might take him somewhere late in the draft.

Bryce Hager   ILB, Baylor
40 Time: 4.6    Kangaroo Score:  -0.802   Agility Score:  0.148 
I'm starting to wonder if the defensive players at Baylor have their statistical production inflated, in a similar manner to what we normally see with their offensive players.  Despite a fairly impressive stat sheet, I don't really see much here that would make me interested in pursuing Hager.  There are probably worse prospects than Hager, but I just don't get the sense that he possesses much upside.

Jake Ryan  OLB, Michigan
40 Time: 4.65    Kangaroo Score:  -0.493   Agility Score:  0.668 
Oh, I don't know.  Ryan seems like a fairly respectable and serviceable athlete.  I could even make an argument for boosting his Agility Score a tad, based on some irregularities in his results.  I sometimes questioned his decision making and range, but as a straight ahead hitter, and occasional blitzer, he seemed fairly good.  In what I suspect is a relatively mediocre draft class, I could see him as one of the more interesting late round linebackers, though I probably wouldn't bet on stardom.  People seem to be projecting that he will get selected somewhere around the 5th round, and that sounds about right to me.

Damien Wilson   ILB, Minnesota
40 Time: 4.77    Kangaroo Score:  0.091   Agility Score:  0.476 
In Damien Wilson's case, I have to admit that we are missing a fair amount of data that we would like to have.  We also weren't able to watch him play very much, so we sort of  have to base our hunches off of his numbers.  Athletically, he should be a fairly reasonable prospect.  His speed is a bit pedestrian, but acceptable.  He should have good lower body power and explosiveness.  As far as his agility is concerned, he wasn't amazing, though his short shuttle results were very promising.  He also appears to have been fairly productive in his final college season.  The main reason to be interested in Wilson is that he generally isn't projected to be drafted at all.  So, a team could probably bring him in as an UDFA.  If so, he has enough potential to be interesting, but a team wouldn't be taking any real risks.  That's not a bad situation to be in.

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