Thursday, April 30, 2015

Year Two: Wahnsinn Und Blödheit

Well, we seem to have made it through another year, and the bloooog's anniversary has magically landed on the most holy of holy days.  Last year, we listed some of the search queries that had brought people into our dark corner of the internet, and I thought we would continue the tradition.  Here are some of my personal favorites from this past year.

1. midget kangaroo
2. spandex guys
3. chub chasers
4. chubby chasers 2
5. What is a petard?
6. women chubby chasers (there is definitely a theme emerging here)
7. mindless meditation
8. drunk giraffe picture
9. miniature wife
10. 8.75 x 40  (how mysterious!)

Hmm, you people really are fascinating.  I suppose this is an improvement over last year's collection of search queries where people were seeking information on dead prostitutes.  Still, there is a continuing not so subtle sexual theme to many of your searches, but at least the girls your are seeking now appear to be alive...and possibly very well fed.  Really, I am shocked and horrified that people would use the internet for such deviant purposes.

We're probably going to be fairly busy for the next couple days, but I sort of feel like I should be making a speech, or at least make some sort of mildly amusing statement on this grand occasion.  Unfortunately, I am already deeply into the alcohol and cookies regimen that will sustain me for the next 72 hours.  It may sound unhealthy, but I can assure you it is the diet of champions.  This sort of binging inevitably results in a kind of zen like state that improves our powers of draft prognostication, or at the very least will provide an excuse for some of our more stupid decisions.  It might sound like an unhealthy way to live, but it is really the only way to make it through the 3 day coma that is the NFL Draft.  3 DAYS OF SLOTH!  3 DAYS OF SLOTH!  3 DAYS OF SLOTH!  I can't see how this won't provide NFL GMs some slight advantage in our upcoming battle.

Still, there is one thing I would like request, as a sort of birthday gift.  While I know our circle of readers is extremely small (I prefer to think of you as elite), I still wonder who some of you are.  In particular, I have always wondered who one regular visitor is, that Google informs me comes from Abu Dhabi.  It's not that the rest of you aren't interesting as well, but come on, Abu Dhabi?  There has to be a story to this guy.  Either way, it would be interesting to hear who some of you bozos are, and how your life went so terribly wrong that you wound up here.  Of course, if you prefer to remain anonymous and are concerned that a visit to the comment section might reveal that you are indeed a chubby chaser, I would completely understand.  Just realize that this is a safe place, and we won't pass any judgements about you...unless you are the guy searching for drunk giraffe pictures.  That's just weird.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More Last Minute Thoughts

I have to admit that I am impressed with the degree to which our local citizenry is showing excitement over the upcoming NFL Draft.  Wait a second...there's a riot going on?  Hmm, I might be losing touch with what is going on in the rest of the world.

Constant Doubts And Reshuffling Of the Board

During the past two seasons, when we have posted our Little Big Board, we've mentioned how we are constantly reshuffling how we rank these players, right up until the last second.  Doubts and paranoia creep into our empty heads, and eat at our brains like a worm in an apple.  This year in particular, we have some nagging concerns.

We're not really that worried about who we will select in the 1st round.  Finding an acceptable player here should be pretty simple.  We're also not very worried about rounds 4 through 7.  There are enough appealing oddballs in this class, so we should be able to grab a handful of players we like during that portion of the draft.  The area that is causing us some annoyance, is in the 2nd and 3rd round area.  We're not feeling too excited about our likely options here.

This has led to a fair bit of squabbling between me and Reilly.  I've been leaning towards taking a more conservative approach to this area of the draft.  Basically, we could take a couple reasonably solid prospects, even if they don't really excite us.  We could aim for someone like Trey Flowers, who we don't expect will become a star, but should be fairly solid.  There are quite a few players we could look at as similar, somewhat less stellar options.  Or, maybe one of the players we really like will slip in the draft, allowing us to get someone we really want at a nicely discounted price.

Reilly, on the other hand, has been arguing in favor of taking a much more aggressive approach in these two rounds.  He wants to say "screw it" to the conventional wisdom, and just reach for some of the players we actually desire, even if they are generally projected to be available later in the draft.  He would have us bump up some of the players we listed as targets for later rounds, by about a round, in order to give us some 2nd and 3rd round options we would find more satisfying.

I have to admit that I'm starting to agree with him, though I might want to wait and see how things look after the 1st round before committing to this.  Would we be willing to select someone like Tre McBride in the 2nd round?  Maybe.  We certainly think he is an interesting player, though the possibility of getting him in the 3rd round is obviously more appealing.  Would we be willing to take someone like Craig Mager or Mark Glowinski in the 3rd, even though most people would probably view this as a bit of a reach?  Hmm, yes, that probably wouldn't bother us as much as you might think.  At the end of the day, we just like some of the prospects who we have rated for selection in later rounds, quite a bit more than some of the players we have listed for selection in the front half of the draft.  Still, I really feel like trying to try to wait it out, and let our prospects fall to us, rather than chasing them.

I also can't deny that dealing with Reilly's wrath, if I oppose him, has got me feeling quite terrified.  So, I might crumble under the pressure of his constant badgering. We'll see what happens.

My Opponent

The more you look at the information that is available, the more it appears that the Ravens are going to target a running back and a cornerback, with some fairly high draft picks.  The team has been interviewing a lot of the top prospects at these two positions, and that probably says a lot about what their intentions might be.

I wouldn't criticize them for making a move at the cornerback position, depending on who they actually select.  They need some more depth at that position, and there are some very interesting prospects in this year's class.

On the other hand, I just don't get what the point would be in selecting a running back.  Yes, the likelihood that a highly drafted running back can produce immediate and obvious results is undeniable.  They do tend to produce numbers.  Still, I lean towards the idea that even a mediocre offensive or defensive lineman is probably a rarer and more valuable asset than an above average running back.  A running back would probably produce the sort of superficial results that would make it appear to be a successful draft pick, but it would strike us as a weak move.  I just think they should aim for rarer commodities, rather than addressing a position where you can probably manufacture similar rushing results by other means.

I also kind of wonder if the Ravens might be considering the possibility of trading up, though I'm not sure if I would support that idea either.  If the 2nd and 3rd rounds are going to be the minefield of fairly mediocre talent that I previously stated that we expect them to be, maybe the Ravens would be willing to part with the picks they have in this part of the draft.  If they traded away their 2nd round pick, they could theoretically move their 1st round pick up to somewhere around the 16th pick.  I don't really like that option, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did this.  If they did this, I suspect it would be part of an attempt to target a wide receiver.  A more interesting option might be trading away their 3rd round pick, to raise their 2nd round pick to something in the area of 44th selection.  Considering how many draft picks the team has this year, I would almost bet on them doing something like this.

More Dead Hookers In The Trunk

I saw that James Todd made some brief mention of this already, but I wanted to add some of my own hopes and prayers.  Has anybody been paying anybody been paying attention to the Chiefs wide receivers?  Outside of the recent Jeremy Maclin signing, there really isn't much standing between Da'Rick Rogers and potential stardom, other than his own personality defects (a seemingly insurmountable obstacle).  Are we really supposed to take Jason Avant, Junior Hemingway, or Armon Binns seriously?  I think not.  Yes, they have Albert Wilson, and he is a player we have some respect for based on last year's list of receivers that the computer found interesting, but we still wouldn't say that his ceiling is probably that high.

Reiily and I are having a hard time letting go of our love for Rogers, though we have to admit that the NFL keeps kicking us in the teeth over this one.  We get it, he might be an asshole.  Is that really such a big deal?  Aren't most of these guys morons?  At least Da'Rick appears to have some real talent, so we'd really like to see the Chiefs get through the draft without selecting a serious challenger to Da'Rick's possible ascendance.  Whatever his issues may be, we still think he's probably a better player than at least 90% of this year's wide receiver prospects.

Yeah, I don't really expect to ever hear from Rogers again, but I can hope.

I'm probably mentally imbalanced.

Our interest in what the Chiefs will do, seems to have several peculiar angles.

It's probably a bad sign that almost nothing fascinated me more during free agency than seeing Rodney Hudson signed by the Raiders.  While his 5 year, $44.5 million deal was a bit astounding, that didn't matter much to me.  Honestly, I have serious doubts about whether Hudson is a particularly good center, but if teams want to spend their money this way, that's not going to impact my life.  No, Reilly and I don't particularly care about Hudson very much, one way or another.

The only reason this matters to us, is that it suddenly opens up a path for Eric Kush to become the starting center for the Kansas City Chiefs.  That interests us very much, because we've been waiting for this day for the past couple years, and genuinely think he could turn out to be a special player.  That really has to be a sign of sickness, when you are obsessively watching the career of another team's backup center, who was drafted in the 6th round.  That's just how we roll, and I doubt there is a medication designed for this particular sort of disorder.

Now, we're stuck waiting for the outcome of the draft, hoping that the Chiefs won't select any centers (or wide receivers).  We particularly don't want them to select a center with a pick in the first couple of rounds, because a player with that sort of draft status could easily doom Kush's chances of getting the opportunity we so desperately want him to receive.  As we've probably said a million times, draft status probably matters just as much as actual ability, and Kush probably only has the latter of these two attributes.  Actually, we'd probably say that draft status might matter more than ability.  So, while you are all praying for your teams to strike gold in the 1st round, say a little prayer for this weird center prospect.  Otherwise, I'm going to have to spend the next year complaining about some center that nobody appears to care about.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The 2015 Little Big Board

Well, we're down to the last week before the 2015 NFL Draft, so that means we are busy preparing for our annual game of delusional egomania, the Ozzie Newsome Challenge.  For this year's Little Big Board, we've narrowed down our preferred draft targets to 56 prospects, which is coincidentally the same number that we had last year.  It's just like before, only different.

The hardest part of this annual process, is the challenge of coming to some sort of agreement with Reilly over who we should include in the final list.  In the end, Reilly probably wins in most of our arguments over which prospects to consider, but we do tend reach a common ground fairly frequently.  It's almost as if we have developed some sort of mind meld, making it very difficult to tell us apart from one another.

We're sort of like a very poor man's Voltron.

We're never really satisfied with any list we end up making, and keep wanting to rearrange things.  As we have done in the past, we've left out some prospects we might be interested in, simply because we felt it was incredibly unlikely that they would fall to a point in the draft that we would be comfortable/capable of selecting them.  We also end up having to include a fair number of 'filler' players, who we might not really want, simply because we want to have some fallback options.  Regardless, this is where we are at for now, though we'll undoubtedly change our minds in the next five minutes.

1st Round
Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon*
Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA* 
Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut* 
Eric Rowe, CB, Utah* 
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Cameron Erving, OT/OG/C, Florida

2nd Round
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest  
Preston Smith DE, Mississippi St.
Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson
Ali Marpet, OG, Hobart
Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
Xavier Cooper, DT, Memphis 
T.J. Clemmings, OT/OG, Pittsburgh

3rd Round
Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary*  
Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Carl Davis, DT/NT, Iowa
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT, Southern Miss.*
Henry Anderson, DT/DE, Stanford 
Adrian Amos, FS, Penn State

4th Round
Mark Glowinski, OG, West Virginia*  
Mitch Morse, OG/C, Missouri 
Ben Heeney, ILB, Kansas 
Craig Mager, CB, Texas State* 
Cedric Thompson, SS/FS, Minnesota*  
Darryl Roberts, CB, Marshall 
Quayshawne Buckley, DT, Idaho*
Clayton Geathers, SS, UCF
Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State
Ibraheim Campbell, SS, Northwestern
Alex Carter, CB/S, Stanford

5th Round
Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
Austin Reiter, C, USF* 
Bobby McCain, CB, Memphis 
Justin Coleman, CB, Tennessee
Kyle Emanuel, DE/OLB North Dakota State
Corey Grant, RB, Auburn
Shaq Riddick, DE/OLB, West Virginia
Davis Tull, DE/OLB, Chattanooga
Casey Pierce, TE, Kent State

6th Round
DeAndre Carter, WR, Sacremento St.* 
Geremy Davis, WR, Connecticut 
Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State* 
Brian Suite, FS, Utah St.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
Louis Trinca-Pasat, DT, Iowa
Jarvis Harrison, OG, Texas A&M 
Terrell Watson, RB, Azusa Pacific

7th Round
Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia 
Brian Parker, TE, Albany
Micheal Liedtke, OG, Illinois State
Ryan Murphy, SS, Oregon State
Brian Mihalik, DT/OT, Boston College
Kristjan Sokoli, DT, Buffalo
Laurence Gibson, OT, Virginia Tech
Frank Clark, DE/OLB, Michigan
Cameron Ontko, LB/SS, Cal Poly

We actually had a fairly difficult time cobbling together our shopping list for this year.  Part of the problem was that we don't think this year's crop of players is really that exceptional, which makes it difficult to feel comfortable with using a high draft pick on many of the prospects.  As we roll through the upcoming week, we'll probably reshuffle this list a fair bit, and maybe add some new names, but for now we're just trying to make up our mind as to how we would use up our 10 draft picks. 

Since we have to weigh our own opinions against the general perception of where players are likely to be selected, this forces us to elevate many prospects higher than where we feel they probably deserve to be selected.  This is a very tricky problem.  On the one hand, we don't have a problem with the idea that the hive mind is probably a fairly accurate predictor of where players will be chosen.  It tends to be reasonably accurate from year to year, particularly in the first few rounds.  Perhaps even more important than selecting a player based on their abilities, we are really forced to take the 'popularity contest' aspect of the draft into consideration.  So, when we are picking, we aren't necessarily trying to choose the best player, as much as we are trying to choose the best player who we think won't be available at our next pick.  That's a very different sort of problem to solve, and it causes us a great deal of annoyance.

After all, when most people are projecting that Florida State defensive tackle, Eddie Goldman, is going to be a 1st round pick, this creates some confusion for us.  We don't think he's the least bit interesting, but we sort of have to embrace the lunacy that suggests he is highly regarded, though we wouldn't take him even if he fell to the 7th round.  Honestly, we think here is likely to be a much higher bust rate this year among the players projected to be taken in the first two rounds, at least relative to an average draft.  So, is the public's perception of the draft off the mark this year?  Or, are teams really going to be taking a lot of potentially foolish gambles?  It's hard to say, but we have to approach this as if a lot of madness is going to unfold, and adjust our rankings accordingly.

The plan, so far, is to play things a bit safe in the first 3 rounds.  Then, from the 4th round on, we're probably going to start pursuing a lot of prospects who frequently aren't even projected to be drafted.  It will be interesting to see how this works out.  Either way, it all start with the 1st round, so here are some of the options we are currently considering.

The Boring And Conservative Pick, Jake Fisher
Among the players who will likely be available at the 26th pick, Jake Fisher is probably one of the safest possible choices.  The odds that he won't become at least an adequate right tackle seem fairly slim.  In fact, we suspect he will probably end up becoming a better player than half of the people who will be selected before him, assuming that the general projections of where his peers will be picked is correct.

The problem is that we are simply getting tired of choosing offensive linemen, and it just isn't a pressing need for Team Kangaroo.  We would really prefer to aim for a different position, to help round out our roster, even if it means taking a bit more of a risk.  In the end, however, we might be forced to select Fisher, simply because the odds are so strongly in his favor, relative to the other prospects who will be available when it is our turn to pick.  It would be a boring pick, but slow and steady wins the race.

Another Cowardly Option, Eric Kendricks
Taking an inside linebacker probably wouldn't sell a lot of tickets for Team Kangaroo, but this is a pick that wouldn't make us the least bit uncomfortable.  Yes, non-pass rushing linebackers aren't a terribly valuable commodity.  Yes, Kendricks is sometimes criticized for being a slightly smaller prospect than some of his peers.  Yes, finding a linebacker isn't a huge pressing concern for our imaginary roster.  Despite all of that, we still like him quite a bit compared to the other prospects who might be available to us at the 26th pick, and think he has a pretty good chance of becoming the best linebacker in this draft class.  Choosing Kendricks might not be exciting, but he doesn't strike us as a player that would keep us up at night feeling regret over his selection.

The Gamble On Potential, Byron Jones & Eric Rowe
Depending on what the Ravens choose to do, and how foolish their selection ends up being, we might be willing to do something that the computer feels is a bit riskier by choosing Jones or Rowe.  We have very mixed feelings about this option.

In the end, we still don't think either of these players deserve to be selected before the late 2nd or maybe 3rd round.  Reilly and I view them both as potentially better gambles than last year's Phillip Gaines (who we also liked), who was selected in the beginning of the 3rd round, but there is still a limit on how highly we would value them.  Like Gaines, Jones and Rowe are mostly interesting because of their physical potential, with some lingering concerns about their experience and the quality of the opponents they faced.  We also don't generally place as much value on cornerbacks as many people do, and feel this is a bit of an overrated position.

Despite all of that, this is a position that we are going to have to address at some point, and the market seems to be shifting to where we feel it is increasingly unlikely that either of these players will be available at our 2nd pick.  So, we might need to reach a bit.  We also can't deny that the history of how teams give starting opportunities to cornerbacks plays a role in this possible decision.  If a corner isn't selected in the first 2 rounds, it can become quite a bit more unlikely that a team will demonstrate much faith in them, or give them a real opportunity.  It's very frustrating.

The drawback to being cautious, and passing on both of them, is that there probably won't be any other cornerbacks available who have nearly the same upside.  With both of these players, it is all about potential, of which they have an abundance.  They both possess an ideal combination of size, speed, power, agility and explosiveness that puts them in an excellent position to succeed.  When it comes to making a play on the ball, we think Jones has the edge.  We think Rowe is probably the better tackler, and of the two of them has a better shot at moving to safety, if playing at corner doesn't work out.  While we're not thrilled with the way these players' draft projections are being pushed higher and higher, we'd probably be willing to take a shot on them at the end of the 1st round, if the Ravens themselves do something that we feel is overly risky.

Late Round Madness
While we feel a fair bit of pessimism about many of the players who are projected to be high draft picks this year, we wouldn't say that this is a bad draft class.  We just think it is maybe a bit average.  Overall, we're not thrilled with the fact that this is the year in which we have 10 draft picks to spend, though we do think there are a fair number of interesting mid-to-late round picks that are potentially as interesting as some of the higher selections.  This is where we could start to behave very recklessly.

The tricky thing here is that some of the players we find to be the most interesting, might not get drafted at all.  That's a huge concern for us.  Should we use our late round picks on players that we expect will get drafted, even if we don't feel as strongly about them?  There is a good argument for this, since those sorts of players are more likely to get an opportunity, even if they will eventually fizzle and disappear.  Or, should we aim for the players that the computer believes have legitimate ability and upside, even if it doesn't appear that they are likely to get as much of a chance to play?  Right now, we are kind of leaning towards the second option, even though we realize that this could severely hurt our chances of success.  We would just have to hope that the players' talents eventually shine through and get them noticed in training camp.

Take Quayshawne Buckley, for example.  Most sites rank him as a player who is unlikely to be selected before the end of the draft, if he even gets selected at all.  While there are some aspects to Buckley that worry us, the computer still thinks he is potentially one of the 5 most interesting defensive tackle prospects in this year's class, and is conceivably worth a 3rd or 4th round pick.  If we chose him that high in the draft, it would probably be viewed as a massive reach, and a waste of draft capital.  At the same time, if he is even half the player we think he could be, it would seem foolish to ignore the possibility that some other team isn't giving him greater consideration than many people might suspect.  Should we just trust what the data suggests, and make the pick?  Or should we count on the possibility that teams could be overlooking him?  While we will try to resist the urge to do something stupid here, we can't make any promises.

Jake Waters and Austin Reiter are some other players that fall into a similar position.  Most people don't seem to expect them to get drafted at all.  The computer thinks they are probably among the five most interesting prospects at their respective positions. Should we select them, or should we simply aim for a player for whom we suspect NFL teams currently have a high opinion?  While I might think that players such as Bryce Petty and Reese Dismukes, who play the same positions as these less talked about prospects, will have a much greater likelihood of getting an opportunity, I don't really have any confidence that they won't be disappointments in the long run.  In the end, I suspect we are going to spend a lot of our draft picks on players that don't make much sense to many people.  That's why we are very fortunate that so few people actually read anything that we write.  The possibility for embarrassment and criticism is greatly reduced by our insignificance.

That's where things stand for now.  Anybody who wants to make an argument for the inclusion of another prospect, or to promote/demote one of the players in our list, is welcome to make suggestions.  This week is your final chance to convince us to change our minds, before we do something stupid.  We're not feeling terribly excited about this year's draft anyway, so we're definitely open to some last minute ideas.

As we suggested last year, if anybody ends up feeling like doing their own version of the Ozzie Newsome Challenge, with whatever team interests them, we'd be curious about seeing your results.  So, feel free to email us the outcome, or post the results in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jake Waters: The Foundling

Reilly and I generally don't have much to say about quarterbacks.  It's not just because this is one of the more difficult positions to predict success for.  It's also because having thoughts about this subject can be rather pointless.

Let's face the facts here.  If a quarterback isn't selected in the first couple of rounds in the draft, they are unlikely to be treated with much respect, or given any real opportunity to compete.  If a quarterback is selected in the first few rounds, mediocrity will be celebrated as a sign of potential, and actual greatness is a rare outcome.  The best predictor of quarterback success, or at least playing time, is merely being an individual who was predicted for success in the first place.  So, any interest I might have in Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters is unlikely to ever amount to anything, since he is generally viewed as a late round prospect at best.

Admittedly, I've always preferred quarterbacks like Kyle Orton, who are generally treated like disposable bozos.  Pay a guy like him about $3 million per year, toss together a quality offensive line, and watch as he performs to pretty much the same level as most of the league's average quarterbacks.  But who is going to want to buy Orton jerseys, am I right?  No, that approach is clearly unthinkable.  We want unfulfilled promise and potential.  The fans want a Cutler.  The fans want a Kaepernick.  The fans want a Stafford, Dalton or Flacco.  The teams clearly don't feel much differently than the fans, and are apparently willing to shell out $14-20 million per year for these types of players.  While your team could attempt to gamble on someone in the 3rd round, and watch him perform in a perfectly respectable manner, they will inevitably proceed to trade this player to St. Louis for a gimp and a ham sandwich.  The people demand someone that they can call a 'franchise quarterback', as if this means anything more than an individual who has financially taken your team hostage.

So, why are we still interested in Jake Waters, when we don't really expect that he will ever play?  Well, I guess that is because Reilly and I have been playing around with some potentially foolish ideas about what relates to success at the quarterback position.  Instead of looking for players who were 'winners', who led talented teams to great success, we decided to look for something different.  We didn't care about championships.  We didn't care about prestigious college programs.  We went looking for the guy who kept getting knocked down, and kept getting up again.  I mean this quite literally.

I'm not sure what you can say about a player who goes through college rarely getting hit by his opponents.  Maybe they possess some great ability for sensing oncoming pressure, and compensating for it, like Peyton Manning.  That's an interesting possibility, and something we're going to discuss in the future, but for the most part we think this is a fairly rare and difficult trait to measure.  The other possibility, is that a player has just never had to deal with adversity, which could be a problem.  So, we went on a search for quarterbacks who were knocked on their ass fairly frequently, and ran some regressions to see how this affected their overall passing performance.  Again and again, this kept leading us back to Jake Waters.

In 2013, Waters was sacked on 8.12% of his passing attempts, which is a rather high result compared to most of the players who will be selected ahead of him.  Despite that, he still completed 61.2% of his passes, for an impressive YPA of 9.5, and a touchdown to interception ratio of 2:1.  Yes, his interception rate was a bit higher than we would like, at 3.46%, but this was his first season starting as an FBS quarterback.  In 2014, that interception rate would drop to a much more impressive 1.76%, so he did appear to be making progress, even though he was still getting sacked on 7.24% of his passing attempts.  Waters would similarly improve his completion percentage in this season to 66% as well as boosting his touchdown to interception ratio to a hair over 3:1. Whether it was do to a slight improvement in the frequency with which he was getting hit, or just a product of added experience, he appeared to be making significant progress.  Imagine what his results could have been if Waters was only getting sacked 5 or 6 percent of the time, like many of this years more hyped prospects.

Maybe the credit for Waters improvement from 2013 to 2014 should go to Kansas States' offensive line.  Maybe Waters is overly dependent on the protection he receives from his linemen.  It's a possibility, though we really saw almost no significant statistical correlation between Waters game to game passing efficiency and the rate at which he was getting sacked.  Either way, the majority of the league's quarterbacks are somewhat dependent on getting good protection, and improving a team's offensive line shouldn't be a  terribly difficult obstacle to overcome, even though many organizations seem to neglect doing so.  In fact, simply avoiding a negative correlation between a player's passing efficiency, and their sack rate, could be more of a positive than you might suspect.  The only real correlation we could find between Waters good games, and his bad ones, was that he occasionally threw more interceptions when his team faced a significantly superior opponent   Even then, his failures rarely outweighed his successes.  In 2014, he only had two games where his touchdown to interception ration dipped to 2:1 or worse, and these games were against Auburn and West Virginia, though only the Auburn game would probably have been viewed by most people as a poor performance.

Of course, people always seem to want to come back to a more subjective evaluation of a players abilities, rather than just relying on the numbers a player brings with them.  It's hard to say what real value there is in this, since this approach more often than not produces 1st round picks like Johnny Manziel, Blaine Gabbert, E.J. Manuel, Christian Ponder and Brandon Weeden.  Clearly, somebody watched these guys play, and had a high opinion of them, for all of the good that accomplished.  Still, I will say that Waters was arguably one of the most enjoyable quarterbacks I have watched this season.  All I will say, is that I think there is a vaguely Tony Romo-ish improvisational vibe to Waters' play.  Of course, my opinion isn't really worth anything, so maybe you should watch him play for yourself and make up your own mind.

Do I think that Waters is going to become a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady?  No, I'm not a complete idiot.  I also don't think whatever quarterback your team might select in the first round is likely to become that caliber of player either.  The question for me is whether I think Waters can be a respectably average NFL quarterback, who might even end up surprising people.  To that I would say yes, I think Waters could be capable of doing this, if he is given a chance...which almost certainly won't happen.  At just 6'1" tall, and about 210 pounds, NFL teams are most likely going to ignore Waters.  They would much rather select someone who is probably inferior, but conforms to the 6'5" and 230 pound mold, even if that player is absolutely wretched at actually throwing the ball.

In the end, if events unfold the way they have in the past, the majority of this year's highly drafted quarterbacks will end up becoming serious disappointments.  That won't stop them from starting a lot of games, signing lucrative second contracts, and lingering around the league for a decade.  That's just the way things are, and always has been.  So, I'll just be sitting here, waiting for the possibility of glimpsing Waters in the 4th quarter of some preseason game, because that may be the last we ever see of him.  Meanwhile, we can all enjoy the eventual evolution of either the Crab Thief, Chip Kelly's love child, or Brett Hundley along their inevitable path towards becoming a mere journeyman quarterback.  It's bound to happen to at least one of them.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kangaroo Court: The 2015 Wide Receivers

When the computer looked at the wide receiver prospects in 2013, it had some serious doubts about the majority of the top selections.  Then, in 2014, the computer generally agreed with the mainstream view that the top wide receiver prospects were a rather interesting group of players.  This year, Reilly and I were actually somewhat tempted to not to make this list at all.  There were just so many gray areas to so many of this year's top prospects, that we really started to feel a bit uncomfortable.

It's not that this year's prospects are bad.  They aren't.  In fact, there were more wide receivers who passed through our filters this year, than in any year in recent memory.  Despite that, it was hard to say that there were many wide receivers who we would confidently argue were clearly destined for greatness.  Instead, we found a lot of players whom the computer just projected to be 'okay'...maybe.  With the expectations for where a lot of these players are supposedly going to be selected, this led us to feel a bit more worried about the potential value of this year's crop.  In the end, someone is almost certainly going to emerge as a future star, but this just feels like a draft class where a lot of the top prospects might be more likely to become good number 2 receivers, rather than the terrifying monsters that their draft status might lead you to hope they would be.  More than we would normally like to see, this group feels much more vulnerable to the unknown factor of what team they end up playing for.

So, as we have done before, we will contemplate every wide receiver prospect who managed to produce both a Stat Score and an Athletic Score, that was no worse than -0.100 standard deviations below average.  The receivers will be divided into two groups, one for players that are over 200# (the 'Big' receivers), and those who are under 210# (the 'Small' receivers).  For players who fit in both groups (players who are between 200 and 210 pounds), we'll test them in both groups to see where they might fit best.  For 'Small' receivers, the computer puts more of an emphasis on speed and agility when forming their Athletic Score, and their Stat Scores is more demanding of multiple seasons of solid statistical production.  For the 'Big' receivers, the computer places more of an emphasis on power (the dreaded Kangaroo Score), and their Stat Score is somewhat less demanding.  We'll also filter out any 'Big' receivers with 40-times below 4.60 seconds, as well as filtering out 'Small' receivers with 40-times below 4.50 seconds.

Big Receiver            Stat Score    Athletics Score
Devante Davis -0.013 0.397
Jaelen Strong 0.426 1.192
Kevin White 0.201 0.584
Breshad Perriman 0.481 0.773
Deontay Greenberry 0.166 0.198
DeVante Parker 0.191 0.267
Jordan Taylor -0.083 -0.084
Da'Ron Brown -0.070 0.156
R.J. Harris 0.966 0.098
Geremy Davis 0.113 0.616

Small Receiver            Stat Score    Athletics Score
Tre McBride 0.415 0.628
Tyrell Williams 0.484 0.504
DeAndre Carter 0.726 0.518
Amari Cooper 0.462 0.517
Nelson Agholor 0.428 -0.023

Just to be clear, these filters are only intended to identify the players that the computer thinks have the best chance of becoming 'average' NFL receivers.  Our definition of average is a player that can produce 35 receiving yards per game played over the course of their career (or a modest 560 receiving yards over 16 games), so our standards are fairly low.  If we raised our standards to players who averaged at least 45 receiving yards per games played, it really becomes quite rare for a player not to pass both of these statistical hurdles.  We wouldn't take the scores listed above too seriously, as they are really scores that are built upon many smaller scores, which frequently matter even more.  This is just how we start the weeding out process, to determine which players we want to focus our attention on.  In reality, we always end up having to veto some of the computer's recommendations for various reasons, which we will try to describe as we go along.  Unfortunately, our own worthless and subjective opinion does come into play a bit more on these vetoes.

In last year's post, we also mentioned that we were intending to make some changes to our filters, that we hoped would improve the accuracy of our hunches.  Mainly, we wanted to make agility measurements a more significant factor for Big receivers.  We've also been thinking about tweaking some of the numbers for small receivers, because we tend to be a bit harsh with with those guys.  Unfortunately, umm, we kind of forgot to get around to doing this.  So, at least for this year, our filters have largely remained the same, though I suppose that gives us something to do in the upcoming season.

There is one other thing that we should probably mention.  While it doesn't get discussed very much, there is a wide receiver in this draft class who is named Jazz King, who played at Marshall.  The computer doesn't find him very appealing, but I think a good argument can be made that this is the type of name that merits a 1st round pick.  I mean, if I can pick horses for the Preakness based on their names, I don't see why that wouldn't work for wide receivers.  It's worth giving this some thought.

Because of the way that data slowly becomes available, I will continue to modify and adjust some of these results as new information becomes available.

Kevin White, WR, West Virginia  Ht: 6' 2.5"  Wt: 215
40 Time: 4.35  Kangaroo Score: 0.456  Agility Score: 0.267
It seems pretty obvious that White will be gone long before Team Kangaroo would ever need to seriously contemplate selecting him.  I'm not sure that this really bothers me.  I think it's going to be a common theme this year, for me to say that a "player is nice, but we're not necessarily willing to pay the price".  Of all the different athletic traits that a wide receiver can possess, raw speed probably interests me the least.  I generally prefer explosiveness/power or exceptional agility, since I figure that will get a player open more frequently than simply trying to outrun his opponent.  Now, Kevin White doesn't do badly in those areas, but he isn't exactly an unusual prospect either.  He struck us as a fairly tough and dependable wide receiver, though he often seems to play more like a running back.  It was his effort after the catch which seemed like his strongest attribute.  I am obligated (by our Dark Lord Hard Drive) to say that he will probably become a respectable receiver, but I don't know if I really believe that his ceiling is high enough to merit the top 10 pick he is supposedly going to be.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama  Ht: 6' 0.75"  Wt: 209
40 Time: 4.42  Kangaroo Score: -0.200  Agility Score: 1.349
I seem to run across a lot of people who compare Amari Cooper to A.J. Green.  To some extent, I get this, since neither player really has amazing lower body power, but I'm still not sure if this is a great comparison.  Really, I find it hard to come up with someone who is in quite the same athletic mold as Cooper.  In some ways, he actually compares better to players like Odell Beckham or Cecil Shorts, who although they are somewhat smaller, both possess a similar sort of rare agility, and just average lower body power..  While Cooper probably isn't as explosive as Beckham, his 10" mitts appear to be more dependable than those of Shorts.  Among the somewhat larger receivers, I really can't find a player who possesses similar athletic traits, as well as the sort of statistical production that Cooper brings to the table.  This both worries me, and fascinates me.  This is why running Cooper through the computer at his pro day weight of 209 pounds matters, as it allows him to be judged against the Small receivers.  Last year, we discussed how Jordan Matthews was sort of like a small receiver in a big receivers body, and Cooper seems like a much more extreme example of the same idea.  While I have no doubt that Cooper's agility can help him get separation from some of the league's average corners, I do have to wonder what will happen when people try to jam him.  For some reason, his college opponents almost always gave him a fairly clean release which seems insanely stupid, at least in retrospect.  Regardless of all that nitpicking, yes, I like Amari Cooper, but I do have some doubts about whether he is the receiver that some people present him as.

DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville  Ht: 6' 2.5"  Wt: 209
40 Time: 4.45  Kangaroo Score:  0.422  Agility Score: ?
Just to be clear, Parker's Stat Score would be significantly higher if we adjusted it for the games he missed due to injury.  It just wasn't necessary to do this, as he met our marks despite that handicap.  As far as his athletic ability is concerned, he seems like a nice all around athlete, though he didn't really excel in any particular area.  He has slightly above average power, but not so much that I would view him as a real threat to abuse anyone.  His speed and quickness are good.  We can only speculate about what his Agility Score would be, though I tend to place much less weight on this for larger receivers.  He has solid hands, and is quite good at going up for the ball, but I wouldn't say that he creates a ton of separation, or has unusual explosiveness.  While we are obviously missing some data, and he only played 6 games in his final season, there do seem to be some interesting reasons to suspect that Parker might have just been starting to emerge as one of the more interesting wide receivers in this draft class.  In those 6 games, there was only one game in which he was responsible for less than 31% of his team's total offense, which is astounding.  Or, if you want to think about in terms of his share of the team's receiving yards, he never dipped below 36% in any single game.  In total, he wound up with 33.7% of his team's total offense, and 51.1% of the team's receiving yards during this period, which are truly ridiculous results.  While his results in prior seasons were significantly less exceptional, it's entirely possible that Parker was just starting to hit his stride.  Without his agility results, we might project that his upside could be similar to what we see with DeAndre Hopkins, while his downside might be similar to Michael Jenkins.  We probably lean more towards the former, rather than the latter of these two outcomes.  Where Parker winds up playing will undoubtedly have a huge influence over his eventual production, but in the end we find it hard to imagine that he won't become a good number 2 receiver, at the very least.  He strikes me as one of the more interesting and enigmatic wide receiver prospects, at least among the ones projected to be taken in the 1st round.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona St.  Ht: 6' 2.3"  Wt: 217
40 Time: 4.44  Kangaroo Score:  1.606  Agility Score: -0.915
Jaelen Strong might end up being an interesting test case for how much agility matters for a big powerful receiver.  Normally, we don't worry about this too much, and just look to see if a player's strengths outweigh their potential weaknesses.  With Strong, we really have to wonder if having a cutoff for certain results might make more sense.  The interesting thing about his agility results is the somewhat lopsided nature of his scores.  In the short shuttle, he produced a result that was respectably average, and 0.176 standard deviations above average.  In the 3-cone drill, which we normally associate with upper body flexibility, Strong's result was an abysmal -2.008 standard deviations below average.  It's very peculiar.  Was it an anomaly, or is it something to be concerned with?  While his overall results bear some similarity to a player like Dez Bryant, Dez's career is a bit of an outlier when it comes to the upside potential of large receivers with horrific agility results.  Another possible comparison, and perhaps a more likely outcome, is that of Jonathan Badlwin.  Baldwin actually wasn't quite as stiff as Strong, but is still rather similar, in a general sort of way.  Also, while we often hear people describing Strong's hands as being exceptionally reliable, his somewhat small 9" mitts only struck me as being a bit average.  The most disturbing thing we saw with Strong, was probably the game against Oregon State, where he faced off against the 5'10" cornerback Steven Nelson.  Strong seemed to have a surprisingly difficult time dealing with somebody he really should have been able to step on like a bug.  The whole reason we lust after big powerful receivers, is that we expect them to fling players like this out of their way, yet Strong didn't appear terribly inclined to do so, which somewhat negates his best selling point.  While we think Strong has some jump ball potential, and can sometimes be dangerous after the catch, we have a hard time imagining him becoming the terror we might be hoping for.  Instead, we suspect he might just become a fairly average receiver, with some red zone potential.  The main reasons we don't want to entirely write him off, is that he is still one of the younger receivers in this class, and if he could learn to direct his power towards violence, he might still turn out to be something interesting.

Nelson Agholar, WR, USC.  Ht:  6'   Wt: 198
40 Time: 4.42  Kangaroo Score:  -0.102  Agility Score: -0.223
In many ways, the computer views Agholar as a slightly faster, but potentially less nimble, version of his former teammate Marqise Lee, for whom we also had somewhat modest expectations.  The main thing Agholar has going for him is his speed, where his 2nd Gear Score of 0.17 suggests that his deep speed is significantly more impressive than his already very good 40 time might suggest.  The way he accelerates from the 10 yard split, to the 20 yard split, and finally to the 40 yard mark, almost qualifies him for our Midget class of speedy receivers, where you find people like DeSean Jackson and T.Y. Hilton, but he doesn't quite fit there.  Most Midget type receivers tend to be incredibly small and lightly built players (hence the politically incorrect name for them), so it's fairly odd that Agholar was even able to come close to this group when it came to how he accelerates.  Personally, we thought Agholar was a fairly respectable receiver, even if he isn't quite as nimble as we would like him to be, and he probably has some real value as a deep threat and kick returner.  We also might even commit ourselves to saying that we somewhat prefer him to Marqise Lee.  Despite that, we don't tend to place a lot of value on small speedy receivers, so even at his generally projected cost of a 2nd round pick, I'm not sure if we would pursue him.

Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF.  Ht: 6' 2"  Wt: 212
40 Time: 4.27  Kangaroo Score:  0.636  Agility Score: ?
Do you like Kevin White, but think you need someone much faster and possibly less dependable?  Honestly, I don't think his hands are nearly as bad as some people say, but he can be a bit erratic and unpredictable about dropping the ball.  While his Kangaroo Score isn't much more impressive than many of the other top rated receivers, his score from the broad jump produced a Kangaroo Score that was 0.962 standard deviations above average, and suggests slightly more promising potential than some of these other players.  In the end, I have to admit that I think he has legitimate number 1 wide receiver potential, but he also might have an equally good chance of being an enormous disappointment.  When you consider how much of his production came against rather mediocre competition, how many games he seemed to disappear in, and the possibility that he might be a bit of a dim bulb, you really would need balls of steel to select him with as high of a pick as some team is probably going to use.  It seems safer just to stand back, and let some other team take the gamble on this one.

Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary  Ht: 6' 0.25"  Wt: 210
40 Time: 4.41  Kangaroo Score:  0.595  Agility Score: 0.398
This is where we come to what the computer thinks might be the sweet spot in the draft.  Do we have some concerns with the idea of drafting an FCS wide receiver who has never surpassed the 900 receiving yards mark even once in the past three years?  Sure we do.  At the same time, if McBride continues to be viewed as just a 3rd round prospect, his potential value aligns with the cost of acquiring him much better than it does with some of the more highly touted prospects.  While his Agility Score isn't remarkable, it is somewhat weighed down by his very average 3-cone drill, but his short shuttle result was 0.956 standard deviations above average.  As far as statistical production, things become a bit murkier.  On the surface, his stat sheet isn't as flashy as many of these other players.  Still, within the context of his team's offense, he carried a respectable share of his team's load, and did so consistently for three years.  When his team faced more challenging competition, like Virginia Tech, West Virginia, or Maryland, it didn't appear to slow McBride down in the least, as he continued to successfully produce positive results.  Based on what we have seen of him, McBride appears to be a very competent player, with above average hands, and from a purely subjective standpoint we rather enjoyed watching him play.  If you watch McBride play, and then compare him to some of the more highly rated prospect, it's hard to say that he isn't as impressive as at least half of them.  Maybe he will become a star, maybe he won't.  Maybe he'll just become a good player.  Either way, I would say that McBride could very easily end up being at least 80% of the player that some of the 1st rounders are, for about half the price.  We would start to consider McBride in the area of the 3rd round.

DeAndre Carter, WR, Sacremento St.  Ht: 5' 8.5"  Wt: 192
40 Time: 4.44  Kangaroo Score:  -0.075  Agility Score:  2.194
Small speedy receivers with some degree of shiftiness aren't exactly in short supply.  There are tons of them in this draft, just like every year, and each one has his fair share of supporters.  You have Tyler Lockett, Kenny Bell, Devin Smith, Rashad Greene, Nelson Agholar, Stefon Diggs, Phillip Dorsett, etc.. Each of these players has his own list of pros and cons.  Some were highly productive players in college.  Some are highly gifted athletes.  Still, there are very few who checked off both of these boxes.  While we have our own subjective opinions and preferences regarding these players, and wouldn't be surprised if one or two of them end up performing quite well in the NFL, we suspect that the majority of them will end up becoming disappointments.  Even among the ones who do succeed, you also have to consider the potentially limited payoff that these sorts of receivers tend to offer.  So, yes, while somebody will end up being correct in their fanatical support for one of these players, the odds still aren't terribly favorable.  With DeAndre Carter, on the other hand, the computer feels a bit more optimistic.  Athletically, he passes through our filters quite comfortably.  Despite his smaller size, he surprisingly appears to have at least average lower body power.  He also possesses good, but not necessarily terrifying speed.  His 10 yard split of 1.45 seconds, and 2nd Gear Score of 0.01, suggest he is probably quicker than he is fast, though in now way are we saying that he is slow.  Max Mulitz and I have sort of discussed the possibility that Carter might be more of an Edelman/Welker type of receiver, rather than a T.Y. Hilton.  Perhaps more importantly, Carter also possesses excellent agility, which should not only assist him in getting open, but also help him to avoid get beaten to a pulp.  When it comes to his statistical production, the computer also gives him high marks, even if he competed at a lower level of competition, because he did appear to dominate his opponents quite convincingly.  Considering that the cost of acquiring him will probably be no more than a 6th round pick, and he may not get drafted at all, there is really very little risk involved here.

Jordan Taylor, WR, Rice  Ht: 6' 4.5"  Wt: 209
40 Time: 4.52  Kangaroo Score:  0.317  Agility Score: -0.302
Like a couple of other players on this list, Taylor just sneaks past our filters, without really excelling in any one area.  While there's nothing shocking about Taylor when examining his athletic traits, there is something we find a bit worrisome.  His BMI results are -1.342 standard deviations below average, which puts him in a class of players where we really start to worry about their risk of injury.  Somebody might want to start feeding this guy some cheeseburgers.  Still, we're not his parents, and his physical welfare isn't going to keep us up at night.  While we wouldn't say that Taylor is an exceptional prospect, or somebody that we would seriously pursue, we do think he could be an interesting red zone threat because of his height, and he does appear to have some rather exceptional and reliable hands that could serve him well in this role.

Geremy Davis, WR, Connecticut  Ht: 6' 2.3"  Wt: 216
40 Time: 4.48*  Kangaroo Score:  0.720  Agility Score:  0.272
What should you do if you like Tre McBride, but feel like being a cheapskate?  Well, you could set your sights on Geremy Davis.  The two receivers really have a lot in common.  They're both somewhat underrated and comparable athletes.  They both played in rather terrible offenses, with horrible quarterbacks, which probably reduced their statistical production.  They also both seem to have rather reliable and consistent hands.  Unfortunately, Davis doesn't seem to be as fast or explosive as McBride, and he is also a full year older.  We probably wouldn't expect Davis to become a terrifying number one receiver, but we wouldn't be surprised in the least if he becomes a solid and respectable secondary target.  We currently seem to see people projecting that Davis will only be a 7th round to UDFA type of prospect, but we think Davis could be an interesting target, maybe starting somewhere around the 5th or 6th round.

Now, this is the point where the computer starts spitting out names of players for whom we have significantly less confidence.  So, bear that in mind, as you continue reading.

Devante Davis, WR, UNLV  Ht: 6' 2.75"  Wt: 220
40 Time: 4.57  Kangaroo Score:  0.577*  Agility Score: -0.471
While his Stat Score appears to be very unimpressive, it starts to look much better when we adjust things to account for the games he missed due to injury.  Still, he manages to get past our minimal requirements even without this adjustment, so we'll ignore this.  While his Kangaroo Score suggests that he has somewhat above average lower body power, his result is a bit less impressive than you would expect for a player of his size.  His agility results are a bit below average, but not unusual for a bigger bodied receiver.  When it comes to speed, his 2nd Gear Score of 0.02 suggests that his fairly pedestrian 40 time is an accurate gauge of his deep speed, and that he probably isn't a significant deep threat.  Overall, he seems like a fairly commonplace possession receiver.  His hands generally appear to be reliable, and we certainly don't think he is a bad player, but in the end we probably wouldn't feel terribly interested in spending a draft pick on him.

Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston  Ht: 6' 1"  Wt: 211
40 Time: 4.52  Kangaroo Score:  0.044  Agility Score: -1.046
We felt very tempted to cut this player from our list.  Once again, you can see how the computer largely disregards agility for Big receivers.  Unfortunately, Greenberry also lacks the sort of lower body power and explosiveness that we are normally looking for in these types of prospects.  It's really a bit of a mystery to us how he was so productive in college, though playing in a spread offense against fairly mediocre opponents probably helped quite a bit.  He struck us as wildly inconsistent, making a spectacular catch one moment, and then disappearing for long stretches, or simply dropping a pass he should have caught.  If it wasn't for his productive 2013 season, we probably wouldn't be paying attention to him at all, and even in that year his production was just good, and not really amazing.

Da'Ron Brown, WR, Northern Illinois  Ht: 6'  Wt: 205
40 Time: 4.54  Kangaroo Score:  0.134  Agility Score:  0.078
Because of where he falls when it comes to weight, Brown could have been treated as either a Big or a Small receiver.  Unfortunately, his statistical production didn't pass the more difficult filters of the Small receiver group.  As a Big receiver, he faces a different sort of problem, which is that he appears to lack anything more than just average athletic traits, especially when it comes to his lower body power.  He kind of squeaks by, despite falling somewhere in between our mold for either a Big receiver or a Small one.  Still, in the little we have seen of him, he actually appears to be a surprisingly respectable and reliable target.  Considering his lower level of competition, and shortage of exceptional traits that we crave, we probably wouldn't pursue Brown in the draft, but that's probably not a huge problem, since most people seem to expect him to go undrafted.  That he will be 24 years old in September, also sort of weighs his stock down a fair bit.  Despite that, as an UDFA we could definitely have some interest in DaRon Brown.

R.J. Harris, WR, New Hampshire  Ht: 6'  Wt: 200
40 Time: 4.51  Kangaroo Score:  0.206  Agility Score:  -0.706
Harris kind of sneaks through the cracks, on some odd technicalities.  Because of his average size, you would think he would be compared to smaller receivers, but he doesn't pass the computer's filter here because of his low agility (though there were some wild inconsistencies with his results here) and mediocre speed.  Oddly, the computer finds him to be a more interesting, but not thrilling prospect, as a Big receiver.  His speed is adequate for that group, and he does have some explosiveness and average power.  If he weighed just one pound less, we wouldn't even be discussing him.  Harris has squeezed through a weird loophole.  While his level of competition is an obvious concern, he did perform at a fairly dominant level, and appeared to have rather good hands.  Still, I don't really see the sort of exceptional athletic traits that are likely to let him get much separation in the NFL, so I would probably ignore him.

Tyrell Williams, WR, Western Oregon  Ht: 6'3.5"  Wt: 204
40 Time: 4.43  Kangaroo Score:  0.701  Agility Score:  0.602
First of all, don't confuse him with Tyler Williams, the wide receiver from Akron.  Williams is just somebody we view as a bit of a lottery ticket type of player.  Athletically, he is a pretty interesting specimen, with fairly impressive speed, power and agility.  His main physical drawback is his low BMI result (-1.366 standard deviations below average), which puts him into a group of players where injury becomes a much greater concern.  This is another candidate for the all cheeseburger diet plan.  As for his production, well, he technically hits our marks, but it's a bit more complicated in his case.  First of all, he was playing against a much lower level of competition, so we really would have preferred to see him dominate his opponents a bit more than he did.  He was also operating out of a spread offense, that typically allowed him some ridiculous opportunities to just blow past people.  These are factors for which the computer doesn't make adjustments.  We would also say that his hands would probably be described as 'adequate' at best, which might explain why he wasn't a more dominant college player.  We just find him to be mildly interesting as a potential UDFA.

One of the frustrating issues that we run into, is that there are occasionally players who we really like, that the computer simply won't allow us to pick.  This is highly annoying, but in the end we think sticking to a rigid system should work out over the long run.

One example of this sort of restriction is with the Tyler Lockett, from Kansas State.  Here we have a highly entertaining and productive player, that we actually want to draft, but the computer says that we aren't allowed to.  Lockett has respectable speed, good agility, and was highly productive, all of which is very promising.  The problem comes with his lack of mass, since he is only 182 pounds.  When a player is that light, the computer starts to become very demanding of a prospect to demonstrate truly remarkable speed and agility, to compensate for their potential lack of power.  While Lockett's overall results were good, they were just a tad short of where they needed to be in order for us to be allowed to select him.  The computer was also a bit disturbed by Lockett's rather small 8.375" hands.  I really wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being one of the players who exceeds the computer's expectations.

Max Mulitz would probably kill me if I also didn't make some mention of his adopted son Bud Sasser, from Missouri.  Athletically, Sasser passes all of our filters to qualify as a rather interesting Big receiver.  The problem is that Sasser just didn't produce enough prior to 2014 to qualify when it came to his Stat Score, though he didn't miss the mark by much.  It's entirely possible that is the result of a failing on the part of his coaches, and they just didn't recognize his talent.  It's also possible that an older and more physically mature Sasser was just beating up on younger less fully developed opponents in his final year in college.  It's hard to say.  The interesting thing about Sasser is that the computer does think there is a potentially good argument that he might be a better prospect than his former teammate the troubled Dorial Green-Beckham, who is likely to be selected in the 2nd round.  Considering the possibility that Sasser will probably only be a late round pick, he could be an interesting player to pick up.

Last, but not least, we have Cameron Meredith, from Illinois State.  Athletically, he might be one of the more interesting prospects on this list, and almost everything we would want to see in a 6'3" and 207 pound receiver.  He has perfectly good speed, with a 40 time of 4.49 seconds.  He has some fairly good power, with a 0.775 Kangaroo Score.  He also has pretty good agility, with a result of 0.853.  The problem is that his statistical production just doesn't meet our standards, though this might have something to do with the fact that he is a quarterback who was converted to the wide receiver position just 2 seasons ago.  Regardless, in the little we were able to see of him, we actually thought he looked surprisingly good, and made some rather impressive plays.  It seems unlikely that anyone is going to draft him, but he really might be one of our favorite UDFA prospects

Monday, April 6, 2015

Kangaroo Court: The 2015 Running Backs

Well, just like last year, we are again forced to discuss my least favorite topic, the running back prospects.  Now I'll admit, this year's crop of soylent is probably a bit above average, but I'm still not sure how much I really care.  Just give me a decent offensive line, and Charles De Mar as my team's coach, and I'm sure things will work out just fine, regardless of who is carrying the ball.

I'm not really sure if there is anything left to say about running backs..

So, instead, I thought we would discuss the 2003 cinematic masterpiece The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen .  It's a brilliant and often misunderstood little gem, which revolves around some of fiction's most famous and beloved characters.  The story has Twain's Tom Sawyer, Verne's Captain Nemo, Haggard's Allan Quatermain, Wells' invisible man, Stoker's vampire, Wilde's Dorian Gray and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, all aligned together to confront a sinister plot by Doyle's Dr. Moriarty.  Let's consider what some of the critics had to say about it. 

This film is odd, loud, unintentionally funny and quite awful. - Richard Roeper

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen just plain reeks. - Stephen Hunter

(The movie) plunges into inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy. - Roger Ebert

Okey-dokey, so perhaps its stunning genius wasn't broadly recognized or appreciated at the time of its release.  Not all of the great works get recognized early in their existence, and sometimes we need a little while to catch up with the minds of greater men and their creations.  It also doesn't help that people seem to think that this movie was intended to be good, which I have some very strong doubts about.  If its mission was intentionally directed towards causing a very different reaction in its audience, which we will argue that it might have achieved, wouldn't we have to reconsider whether the film was a success and a genuine work of art?  Whether it hit its intended target, has to matter as much as whether we actually like what target it chose to aim for, right?

Let's start from the beginning here.  Before its arguably horrible/brilliant celluloid manifestation, there was a comic book of the same name, written by Alan Moore.  Now, while people will say that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, would you say that Alan Moore looks like a genius or a lunatic?

Clearly, this is a man who has got it together.  If his dapper appearance doesn't convince you that he's a brilliant and sophisticated individual, maybe there's something else that will persuade you.  He's English.  Yup, he has a fancy accent, which typically means that he can project an air of intellectual superiority, and make anything he says sound much smarter.  Al-u-minium.  So, when he crafted a story that borrowed some of the most famous characters of deceased writers, and put them all together in one adventure, there must have been some sound reasoning for it, correct?

Well, if we put ourselves into the mind of an artist, what sort of issues do you think might matter to them, that might not matter to an ordinary Joe?  Now, when you look at Alan Moore, does he strike you as someone who can be trusted with children?  No, probably not.  Despite the generally open-minded generosity of the fairer sex, you have to suspect that Moore is likely going to be the end of a genetic line, and so his emotional investment in offspring continuing his legacy is doubtful.  So, if we believe that every man wants to leave something behind for which he will be remembered, what else could he be concerned with other than his work?

Now if a man is highly committed to his daily labor, what might weigh on his soul, and cause him to sleep a bit restlessly?  One of the obvious problems with being a creative individual, is sending your handiwork out into the world, where you have no idea how it will be received.  Unlike a sculptor working in tough and unyielding stone, a man who works with paper and ink, is particularly vulnerable to the unpredictable vagaries of the lunatic masses.  Even worse, for a writer, copyright law only protects his creation for a mere 70 years after his death, at which point it enters the dreaded public domain, and any bumbling fool can meddle with and remix his thoughts.  Basically, every work of genius eventually devolves into Twilight fan fiction, given a long enough period of time.

Oddly, this dreaded meddling and cheapening of an artist's legacy, is very similar to what we see happening in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Is this just a coincidence?  I have to wonder, was this film actually created to horrify its audience through the banality of unoriginal thought, so as to encourage us to end this very sort of inept fumbling with the works of greater artists, and eliminate the concept of the public domain altogether?  The film certainly makes a strong argument for this case, even if its real message is often misunderstood and concealed in buffoonery.  Perhaps, by being willing to be mistaken for fools, and comically inept, the creators of this movie are striking a bold and powerful blow for artists everywhere.  They are practically serving themselves up as martyrs for a much greater cause, with likely very little reason to think that their true motives will be understood.  The director, Stephen Norrington, would watch his career wither and die after this film's release, and hasn't been allowed to direct or have any significant participation in a single film since this crowning 2003 achievement.  I have to suspect this was all a clear and selfless act of heroism and personal sacrifice, and yet like Peter, we all denied him at least three times before the Academy Awards.

So, yes, unless someone would like to argue to the contrary, that this movie was actually intended to be good, I will just be sitting here awaiting my MacArthur Genius Grant, along with the inevitable lifetime achievement Oscar that this film clearly deserves for its contribution to artists everywhere.

Now, let's move on to this year's crop of scrambling and overrated commodities at the running back position.

I've already mentioned my peculiar views on running backs and their athletic abilities, so I'll just skip ahead a bit here.  The player's Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power) and Agility Score (based on their short shuttle and 3-cone times) will be given in the form of how many standard deviations above, or below average, that the player happens to be compared to his peers at the same position.  I'll also include the player's 2nd Gear Score, and Speed Score.  Personally, I have some issues with using the Speed Score, but a fair number of people are familiar with it, so I figured I would toss it in there.  I should also mention that I use the unofficial 40 times, rather than the magically altered official times of the NFL, since I prefer to look at the results in relation to a player's 10-yard split.

This list will continue to be updated, as new data and prospects come to my attention.  I won't list everyone here, but instead will just mention the players that I feel are interesting for one reason or another. Last Updated: 4/20/2015

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 222
40 Time: ?   2nd Gear: ?   Speed Score: ?   Kangaroo Score: ?  Agility Score: ?
Because of his torn ACL, it seems unlikely that we are going to get the sort of data that we prefer to have.  That leaves us in the unpleasant position of having to weigh Gurley based solely off of his statistical production, and our worthless subjective opinion.  So, here we go.  Gurley's eyes seem to gaze directly into your soul.  He has the sort of strong arms, that can hold you tight and make you feel safe and secure.  His feet have ten toes, so that you can play a full round of "this little piggy".  Eh, I'm assuming that's how these things work when scouts try to size things up by eye, right?  Actually, I think Gurley probably is just about the most exciting running back in this draft, which only makes me more disappointed that we don't have measurable data for him.  He appeared to be a fast and powerful runner, who was creative and had a fair amount of ability to escape tackles.  We also like that he has shown some history of being a receiving option.  One nagging concern, is that when Gurley went down with his injury, Nick Chubb (awesome name) appeared to carry the load with hardly a slip in the team's production, or yards per carry.  Despite that, yes, we do think Gurley is probably at least a step ahead of this year's other running back prospects.  The real question for us is, do we care?  Do you really need a top tier running back, so much that you are willing to spend a 1st round pick on one?  This kind of reminds me of a commercial that General Motors used to run for some of their trucks.  Their slogan was "It's not more than you need. It's just more than you're used to".  Just give that statement a moment's thought, and tell me whether you find that message to be as horrific and disturbing as I do.  So, to turn that line around, Gurley will probably offer more than you're used to from your team's running back, but he might also be more than you need.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 215
40 Time: 4.52  2nd Gear: 0.10  Speed Score: 103.0   Kangaroo Score: 0.492  Agility Score: 0.652
Gordon's results were all over the map, which potentially makes his Agility and Kangaroo Scores a bit misleading.  His broad jump would have resulted in a score of 0.934, but gets weighed down by his vertical jump.  Still, there are promising signs of power.  Gordon's short shuttle was 1.396 standard deviations above average, but he followed that up with a very average 3-cone drill.  His 2nd Gear Score of 0.10, also suggests that his deep speed is probably a bit better than his 40 time might suggest.  Okay, so he has some impressive athletic ability buried in there, but the real concern is that historically everybody who carries the ball at Wisconsin ends up doing well.  I have to admit though, Gordon struck me as a rather respectable runner, even if we do have some worries about how he was rarely used as a receiving option.  I just have to wonder why anyone would ever draft a running back anywhere near the 1st round.  It's just one of those questionable life decisions, like getting married right out of high school, that I can't understand.  Even if you marry a supermodel (which we'll say is Adrian Peterson in this analogy) don't you think you're going to regret that you didn't sow your wild oats with a bunch of cheap 4th round picks?

Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State  Ht: 5' 11.5"  Wt: 221
40 Time: 4.57  2nd Gear: 0.02  Speed Score: 101.3  Kangaroo Score: 1.105  Agility Score: 0.407
As far as I can tell, Ajayi seems to do almost everything a running back is asked to do fairly well.  For the most part, he struck me as a respectably useful and versatile player.  My only concern with his athleticism had to do his speed, which was just a bit marginal.  Unlike Melvin Gordon, who also had a fairly bland 40 time, Ajayi's 2nd Gear Score suggests a lesser likelihood that his deep speed is being underestimated.  While Ajayi's production was fairly respectable, even if his average yards per carry was somewhat unexceptional,  the teams he faced weren't overly impressive.  Really, I suspect it is primarily his productivity as a receiver that is boosting his value in most people's eyes.  As far as concerns go, well, he has fumbled the ball more than you might like.  He was also arrested for stealing a pair of sweatpants from Walmart, back in 2011.  Okay, that's probably where I draw the line.  He clearly lacks vision, which is supposedly important for a running back.  If you are going to go down for a crime, you have to at least head for the high end electronics.  I don't see him as a particularly exceptional prospect, but he does seem like a reasonably competent and versatile one.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska  Ht: 5' 8.5"  Wt: 205
40 Time: 4.61  2nd Gear: 0.00  Speed Score: 88.8  Kangaroo Score: 1.142  Agility Score: 1.655
We're generally not big fans of these pint sized running backs, and we have some doubt about whether Abdullah can ever become a significant blocker, but he does seem to have some interesting tools to work with.  While his 40 time at the combine was a rather disappointing result, we think we have to also take a look at his pro day numbers.  At Nebraska, he seemed to get a much better start to his run, with a 10 yard split of 1.48 seconds, and finished his run with a respectably average result of 4.55 seconds.  Still, that would put his 2nd Gear Score at -0.07, which suggests that he is more quick than fast.  His statistical production was excellent, even though he was clearly the focus of his team's offense, and his surrounding talent probably wasn't exceptional.  In the end though we couldn't help but feel like he bore a bit of a resemblance to David Wilson.  There's just something very boring about watching him play.  Despite his agility, he was less of a receiving threat than we would have expected, though this might have something to do with his small 8.625" hands.  Those tiny mitts might also explain his issues with fumbling the ball.  While we wouldn't want to bet against a guy like this, we can't say he ever made us say 'Wow!'.

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami  Ht: 5' 9"  Wt: 207
40 Time: 4.54  2nd Gear: 0.06  Speed Score: 97.4  Kangaroo Score: -0.209  Agility Score: 0.730
I think it is safe to say that Johnson is not going to be a bruising between the tackle runner, based on his slightly below average Kangaroo Score.  For similar reasons, it would also appear to be unlikely that he will ever amount to very much as a blocker.  Fortunately, the picture for Johnson improves somewhat when we look at his Agility Score.  As an outside the tackles runner, his average timed speed would be a bit of a concern for us, though it seems to be his best option.  Really, his most noticeably above average trait seems to be his ability as a receiver.  Overall, he struck us as a very unimpressive player, and someone who was ridiculously easy to tackle.  If a team is really going to select Johnson in the 2nd or 3rd round, as some have suggested, we would tend to suspect that they will end up feeling a bit disappointed with the returns from this investment

Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana  Ht: 5' 11"  Wt: 206
40 Time: ?  2nd Gear: ?   Speed Score: ?   Kangaroo Score: ?  Agility Score: ?
On a pleasant sunny 70 degree day, with a wide open path ahead of him, and facing an opposing team made up of drunk and limping Quakers, Tevin Coleman can break some pretty long runs.  Outside of those conditions, I don't find him nearly as interesting as his ridiculous yards per carry stats would suggest.  If you farted in his general direction, I suspect it would be enough to knock him down.

David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 224
40 Time: 4.50  2nd Gear: 0.08  Speed Score: 109.2  Kangaroo Score: 1.976  Agility Score: 0.501
Despite his very impressive lower body power, he only struck me as a mildly interesting runner.  The peculiar thing with Johnson was that he actually looked  liked a reasonable blocker, and really surprised me with how good he looked as receiver.  It might be insane, but I really had to wonder if he might be an interesting player to turn into a big bodied wide receiver.  Because of the lower level of competition that he faced, and the fact that he will already be turning 24 in December, I can't see taking him before the 4th round.  I wouldn't bet on him becoming a star, but as a number 2 running back with some upside, he could be a worthwhile prospect.

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama  Ht: 6' 1.25"  Wt: 226
40 Time: 4.61  2nd Gear: 0.02  Speed Score: 100.0  Kangaroo Score: 0.712  Agility Score: -0.213
If we take the results of his pro day seriously, then we would have to consider his reported 4.52 second 40 time.  Either way, his 2nd Gear Score hardly budges at all, and doesn't suggest that his deep speed is much more than just average at best.  When you take that, in combination with his somewhat above average power, and arguably average agility, we'd say he is just a reasonably respectable athlete.  The problem is that we don't trust players from Alabama.  While his statistical production was fairly good, it wasn't anything that separates him from every other running back who floats though Alabama.  He showed no significant contribution as a receiver, and basically split carries with Derrick Henry in 2014, who's average YPC was better than Yeldon's.  While Yeldon had games where we thought he looked like a fairly good prospect, he also had just as many games where he seemed to accomplish very little.  While we wouldn't be amazed if Yeldon has a decent career, we also wouldn't bet against him being enshrined in the museum of former Alabama players who did nothing upon entering the NFL.  Coming from a team like Alabama, we would really require some stronger signs of exceptional ability in order to consider spending draft pick.

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 222
40 Time: 4.81  2nd Gear: ?  Speed Score: 85.56  Kangaroo Score: 1.479  Agility Score: ?
We have to assume that his 40 time at the combine was some sort of comical error, because he is clearly faster than that.  Either way, he appears to be a perfectly reasonable power back, and though we can't judge his agility, he didn't strike us as a stiff.  While he was rarely thrown to, he didn't look unnatural as a receiver.  The biggest concern with Cobb is probably his unfortunate number of fumbles.  Still, we probably enjoyed watching Cobb more than Jay Ajayi of Ameer Abdullah.  If he was available in the 4th round we'd probably give him some minor consideration.

Zach Zenner, RB, South Dakota St.  Ht: 5' 11.5"  Wt: 223
40 Time: 4.61  2nd Gear: 0.03  Speed Score: 98.7  Kangaroo Score: 1.504  Agility Score: 0.320
Have you ever seen those commercials, where they show a small child who has been crippled or is missing a limb, and the narrator asks for your donation to help these pathetic creatures live a normal life?  Yeah, it's kind of like that with Zach Zenner.  You see, through no fault of his own, he was born with a terrible and career threatening birth defect.  Because of this, he will most likely never get a chance to be an NFL running back, despite having some impressive athletic traits, and being extremely productive in college  He might get to be a fullback though, because the NFL is extremely predictable in how they handle these sorts of players.  With your help, just $0.25 per day, we can get Zenner the tanning bed he so desperately needs.  Think of the children.

Terrell Watson, RB, Azusa Pacific  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 239
40 Time: 4.55  2nd Gear: 0.02  Speed Score: 110.2  Kangaroo Score: 1.534  Agility Score: -1.819
When the initial reports of Watson's pro day came out, Reilly and I quickly jumped onto the bandwagon.  His speed, for his size, and power, were quite attractive.  There is also something that is undeniably hilarious about watching a guy like this as he pummels his Division II competition.  I also have to admit that I might be getting suckered a bit by his story of dealing with a learning disability, and his pleasant personality.  That really disturbs me, because it might suggest that I haven't completely purged myself of feelings and humanity.  Then the numbers came out for Watson's short shuttle time and 3-cone drill, and we somewhat fell off the bandwagon, just a little bit.  What these numbers said about his agility was a tad bothersome.  Okay, so there probably isn't a lot of Barry Sanders level elusiveness here.  Still, there is a place in the league for guys who just run their opponents over, and are hard to bring down, and Watson might really fit that role quite nicely.  While his level of competition is a valid concern, the cost of acquiring him should more than compensate for this risk.  If people are going to ignore him, I'd probably be willing to swoop in and take him with a late round pick. 

Corey Grant, RB, Auburn  Ht: 5' 8.75"  Wt: 201
40 Time: 4.28  2nd Gear: 0.29  Speed Score: 119.7  Kangaroo Score: 0.036  Agility Score:  0.714
A 40 time of 4.28 seconds is obviously impressive, though we don't tend to get suckered by speed very easily.  A 40 time of 4.28 seconds, with a 2nd Gear Score of 0.29, is something that makes us take a second look.  Oh yes, that could be some very serious speed we are seeing here.  While his Kangaroo Score only suggests fairly average lower body power, when you factor in his above average agility, it's not hard to guess what sort of running back you are dealing with here.  The odd thing is that he doesn't appear to have been used very much at all in his time at Auburn.  In the end, there doesn't seem to be enough information to fully evaluate Grant or opportunities to watch him play, but at the very least you would think he could be used as a kick returner, and perhaps a bit more.

Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia  Ht: 5' 10.5"  Wt: 223
40 Time: 4.48  2nd Gear: 0.11  Speed Score: 110.7  Kangaroo Score: 0.815  Agility Score:  1.054
Players with names like Dreamius are sort of our kryptonite.  If names determined a player's draft status, he would be a 1st rounder.  Now, as far as athletic ability goes, Smith should be a fairly ideal prospect.  On paper, he has size, speed, power and agility.  What he doesn't have is much of a proven history on the field.  In 2013, he backed up Charles Sims, an eventual 3rd round pick.  In 2014, Smith backed up Rushell Shell and Wendell Smallwood, despite having a higher yards per carry than either of them.  So, is there something terribly wrong with him that we are unaware of, or did he just get screwed over by the coaches at West Virginia?  I really have no idea.  While we've only been able to see a small sample of his plays so far, he appeared to be quite capable.  Honestly, we thought he looked just as good as at least half of the guys who are projected to be taken in the 2nd or 3rd round.  Still, it currently appears to be somewhat unlikely that he will be drafted at all.  That makes him very interesting to us.  At the very least, we would view him as a high priority UDFA, but wouldn't rule out the possibility of drafting him just based on his athletic potential.