Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Arguably the best to ever play QB

Jason Reid, who writes The Redskins Insider at The Washington Post, and who really should know better, writes about why Shanahan's Skins will likely draft Sam Bradford:

As a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator in two stints with the Denver Broncos, Shanahan played a big role in the success of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, arguably the best to ever play the position.
Uh, no. Elway is inarguably NOT the best ever to play the QB position. I doubt he was ever even the 3rd-best quarterback in any season he was active.

I'm not saying he sucked. He gave them a chance to win any game: that's a powerful statement. But he's got to be just about the worst "great" quarterback I can think of. I'm pretty sure I would rather have any Hall of Fame QB over Elway.

And I'm not just saying that as an old Baltimore Colts fan.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Starting A Rumor

McNabb to Pittsburgh.

Yeah, I know. I just can't get off this McNabb thing. But how often can a top ten quarterback at the top of his game who has never been any kind of a nuisance be had for a 2nd round pick?

But think about it. It's perfect. McNabb has one year left on his deal, so there are no worries about a controversy down the road Roethlisberger is in a jam, and no one really knows how it will turn out. Pittsburgh is a ready-to-win team and frankly it is hard to imagine a better fit for that lineup and offense than McNabb. One added benefit? Philadelphia doesn't face Pittsburgh this year.

So here's how it would go. Pittsburgh ships #52 to Philly for McNabb. I know, the Eagles have sworn they won't take less than #42 so if they get sticky the two teams swap spots in the 4th round to even up the deal. McNabb participates on all the OTAs while Roethlisberger squares his ducks.

If Big Ben can get clear of everything then Pittsburgh can ship McNabb to another target for a 3rd rounder or something. Cheap insurance for a Super Bowl team. If things get sticky for Roethlisberger then the team runs with McNabb for a season and then weighs things again next February after winning the Super Bowl.

It's sheer genius. It has to happen.

Of course, it won't.


Friday, March 26, 2010

More On The Meme

Will the Eagles really take the #40OA for Donovan McNabb? Really?

If Mike Holmgren isn't already on the phone to Howie Roseman he should be.

Sal Paolantonio with some comments.

The result: The music has stopped, the market has nearly dried up, head coach Andy Reid may have alienated his franchise quarterback by announcing that there's a "for sale" sign on McNabb, and with just a handful of teams in the mix and the draft a month away, time is running out.

After weeks of backroom discussions, no team has suggested more than a third-round pick for McNabb, league sources say. That's why a team source leaked to the Associated Press on Thursday night that the team will not accept anything less than a 42nd pick in the draft.
Crazy, crazy, crazy cheap price for a player who would add a couple of wins - or more - to two-thirds of the teams in the league.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Whole Charlie Whitehurst Thing

I should probably start this thing off by apologizing to Chris. He sent out an email to the blogroll with a link to Don Banks discussion of the trade and I got argumentative for no particularly good reason. I agree with him completely, the price for Whitehurst, both in draft picks and in contract is a head scratcher.

I've been mulling over the whole, draft a quarterback/trade a quarterback thing for a couple of days and it's a bit of a recent dynamic that people haven't talked about much.

Peter King discussed the reasons why Donovan McNabb isn't getting much trade interest, and I think his reasoning is valid. That said, I don't understand why a team that might be a quarterback away from a serious run wouldn't think he's worth quite a bit. The 49ers, Broncos and Panthers* are 3 teams off the top of my head who appear to have everything a team needs to contend, other than their respective holes under center. How about McNabb to Fitzgerald and Breaston for a few years? If I'm Arizona I'd happily spend a 1st rounder to make that deal. They could probably offload Leinart for a 3rd to recoup some of the costs of the deal.

The only reason that Philadelphia could make this deal though is because of Kevin Kolb, and this is more the point of this post. After seeing what Whitehurst fetched, I wonder if more teams don't consider becoming quarterback factories. It seems like it would be a very lucrative trade.

In recent years the Patriots developed Matt Cassel as a 7th round pick, got some excellent service out of him and then turned him into Patrick Chung. This a few years after they developed Tom Brady which allowed them to turn Drew Bledsoe into Ty Warren who has started the last 6 years at DE.

Atlanta drafted Matt Schaub and after a few years of outstanding service as a backup to Mike Vick, turned him into 2 2nd round picks, as well as a bump in the 1st round. While the players they acquired from those picks haven't worked out too well, this is still a tremendous bounty for a guy originally drafted in the 3rd round and a guy who never started.

The Chiefs grabbed Tyler Thigpen in the 7th, got a years worth of starting QB out of him and then turned him into a mid rounder. Chicago parlayed Kyle Orton into a multiyear starter and then an important component of the Cutler deal.

We've talked about this before, if not here then elsewhere. It seems to me that a bright front office would always, Always, be developing a late round quarterback. The benefits of suceeding far outweigh the risks, particularly considering the poor performance of picks after the 3rd round anyway. From 1998 - 2007 72** quarterbacks were drafted after round 4. Of those 72, 17 became NFL starters, at least for a year. 7 became multiyear starters, and even eliminating the Tom Brady factor they represent 6 Pro Bowls and 1 Super Bowl. Add Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Tony Romo, Shaun Hill and Billy Volek as undrafted quarterbacks who also came into the league in this period and we have another 6 Pro Bowls and 4 Super Bowls.

Quarterbacks are gold, and as we all know, he whose gots the gold, makes the rules. Finding these guys, drafting these guys, developing these guys have benefits that so significantly outweigh the costs that it only makes sense for more teams to be doing it.

*I'm a Matt Moore fan so maybe Carolina is all set
**some of those guys were drafted for other positions. I didn't bother to weed them out, so actually a bit less than 72.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Couple Of Names

I'm not a huge draftnik. I usually wait until draft day to get excited. Beats trying to memorize the names and relative rankings of 1000 amateurs, most of whom who will spend their careers deep on some team's depth chart, if at all.

So there are always guys and there is always hype and I don't cotton to much of it. But - like everyone - I love the Cinderellas. In particular I love Northwestern quarterbacks and obscure collegians from the state of Michigan.

Not coincidentally, this draft has both.

Mike Kafka, QB, Northwestern

It took Kafka until the end of August to secure the starting gig for the Wildcats following the graduation of C.J. Bacher. All he did was lead the Big 10 in passing throwing for 3400 yards on 65% passing, leading Northwestern to an 8 win season and a spot in the Outback Bowl. He saved his best - and worst - for the bowl game with career highs across the board. 47/78/532 4TD, 5INT. He also had a season high 20 rushing attempts. He threw a 102 yard pick 6 early and then carried his team back late with three drives in the last three minutes that put the team a made field goal away from winning in what proved to be the most exciting bowl game of the season.

He played very well in the Shrine game, winning the MVP. He confirmed his athleticism at the combine and then had the best Pro Day of any quarterback yet.

He may not be anywhere near the most famous or celebrated quarterbacks in this year’s draft, but Mike Kafka sure did astound the scouts from 25 teams in attendance at Northwestern’s pro day on Thursday. Among those on hand were Bengals QB coach Ken Zampese and Cardinals QB coach Chris Miller. The senior signal caller followed up on his sensational NFL Scouting Combine performance, in which he was among the top quarterbacks in the vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill, and 60-yard shuttle, with a tremendous throwing session indoors on FieldTurf. Kafka passed to his former Wildcats receivers, Zeke Markshausen and Andrew Brewer, and according to one scout, missed only one throw the entire workout.
– Gil Brandt
Major concerns about his relative lack of experience and coming out of a spread offense. He played under center at the Shrine game, and played well. I saw one mention that he was a bit indecisive. So, we'll see.

Joique Bell, Wayne State University

Have to give a shout out to the future alma mater here. Wayne State isn't exactly a football factory, despite its location in talent-rich Detroit. Bell rushed for more than 2000 yards his junior and senior seasons and won the Harlon Hill his senior year.

He's raw, he hasn't played against tough competition, he's slow. On the other hand he appears to be a willing blocker, he has good size. He has great character.
After the third day of Senior Bowl practice, Ravens running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery told the Detroit Free Press that Bell had been, "as offensive skill guys [go], the most impressive guy."

"You see if a guy can make a guy miss when he's in the hole," Montgomery continued. "What I saw ... four times when he had the ball, he was able to front up a guy right in the hole and shake him and get out of there."


Friday, March 19, 2010

The Jets and Tomlinson

A few weeks ago, the New York Jets cut Thomas Jones. Something about wanting to get younger and thinking he would quickly run out of gas. Yes, the contract was the likely big thing...they were set to pay him in the range of $5MM for the year. A 32 yo back on a team with a breaking-out young player probably shouldn't be getting $5MM in a single season ever.

But then, the Jets went and did something very strange. They signed LaDainian Tomlinson. He got $5.1MM for two years. This was done days after Thomas Jones signed with the Chiefs for $5.0MM for two years.

In a vacuum, either move makes sense on its face. The Jets want to get younger and save some money at the position, so cutting Jones loose is fine. The Jets want to add some experience and quality to give Shonn Green a blow, so signing Tomlinson is fine.

But look at the two together, and it just doesn't add up; particularly given Jones' deal in Kansas City. It would be impossible to convince me that the Jets could NOT have re-signed Thomas Jones for money equivalent to what both players are making now. For $5MM, would Jones have really said "No thanks" to a team he played on for three years and went to the Conference Championship game last season in order to go to a team picking in the top five of this coming draft?

And so what did the Jets get with their "trade" of Jones for Tomlinson? Well, Tomlinson is one year younger, sure. But he also has 600 more career rushes than Jones, so technically he's "older" in that sense. Those 600 carries is basically an extra two years of work. And the numbers over the last two years of each player's seasons is strikingly different.

Jones: 621 rushes, 2,714 yds, 4.4/carry, 27 rush TDs, 46 rec, 265 yds, 2 rec TDs (2,979 tot yds, 29 tot TDs) - this on the #20 and #16 offense in the NFL
Tomlinson: 515 rushes, 1,840 yds, 3.6/carry, 23 rush TDs, 72 rec, 580 yds, 1 rec TD (2,420 tot yds, 24 tot TDs) - this on the #10 and #11 offense in the NFL

Tomlinson clearly comes off as a RB out of gas, while Jones looks like he may legitimately have a year or two left before that happens to him. The overall production difference is there, but the yards per carry delta is pretty striking.

One argument I've heard is that Tomlinson is a better pass catcher, and should be better on third downs. That's not hard to deduce, but when you look a bit closer, in particular at the advanced stats from Football Outsiders, you'll note there's actually not much difference in their pass catching abilities. Both players have a significantly negative DVOA, and Tomlinson was actually rated last of all running backs with 25+ receptions in '09. While Tomlinson has a better catch rate than Jones, the delta there can almost be explained away by the delta in each team's completion rate. And even if you take the stats at face value with no advanced analysis, the increase in Tomlinson's receiving productivity simply doesn't come close to off-setting the decrease in rushing productivity.

Some other arguments some friends and I came up with, in no particular order:
- It's done to sell seats and merchandise, particularly with a new stadium. Okay, I could see this, but I also think Tomlinson's star power has worn off significantly over the last few years. Admittedly, they'll probably sell more Tomlinson jerseys this year than they would have Jones jerseys. But ticket selling? No, I find it tough to believe they won't sell out that stadium with either guy.
- Jones is a locker room cancer, Tomlinson a leader. Maybe. Last year, Jones took some heat for criticizing Favre. But is this enough to warrant such a move down in production? Maybe he shouldn't have said anything. But it's not like we're dealing with TO here. And it's not like he wasn't right that Favre folded like a cheap suit at the end of the '08 season.
- The Jets have the better OL and Tomlinson will produce better with it. Could be. But 0.8 YPC better for a RB after age 30?

Bottom line, the move just doesn't make much sense to me, so I figured it was worth calling out.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Do NFL teams laugh at us?

Floating around cnnsi this morning, I read this blurb in their draft prospects blog:

Linebacker Daryl Washington, a prospect shooting up draft boards

It led me to wonder whether or not NFL front offices, particularly some of the better ones, read things like this and laugh.

One of the interesting things many of us - myself included - like to do prior to the NFL draft, is to come up with a mock which lists everyone we think each team will pick. Usually we form this as a mock draft, and often there will be several versions of it as we change our minds on who each team will take. Besides this being a great "Told ya!" excuse if we get one pick correct while being able to disavow all knowledge of it if we were completely wrong, it helps us later say "Man, this guy who looked like a 2nd round prospect, but was really climbing up draft boards heavily with awesome combine and pro day workouts, wound up taking a huge hit for some reason and falling into the 2nd round. What happened???" The more versions of it the better. Last year, Don Banks had seven versions! So far this year he's up to three.

The problem with doing this is, none of us outside the team's front offices have any idea what's actually happening in those meetings. We hear a lot of conjecture about where teams are ranking guys and when they're moving up and down. But for all that talk in the media - "Man, [Prospect X] just shot way up on everyone's board since he ran a 4.34 forty rather than his expected time in the high 4.4s or low 4.5s!!" - do they actually take off-season factors into much account?

I read a quote somewhere. I can't remember where unfortunately. But it was on a major media site from someone interviewing an unnamed personele director for an NFL team. It was talking about what he'd look for at the combine, and what struck me was a statement about how their draft boards are mostly set already. He said that game film is the most important thing, and that the combine could influence things, but for the most part it's seen as a minor piece. He also hinted that almost the only place you could go at the combine is down.

This actually makes sense to me, cause logically when you think about it, why would you want to change your draft board all that much just cause some guy ran 40 yards a tenth of a second faster than you thought he would? It says good things about their dedication to ensuring they're ready for their talent evaluation. But when is an NFL corner going to allow some dude to come off the line and run 40 yards downfield at a full sprint? And even if they do, what's it matter when the DB that does that is likely standing off him 7-10 yards?

So who's draft board exactly are they shooting up? Sometimes that exists of course (*cough* Darius Heyward-Bey *cough cough*). But for the most part, I imagine it's actually more of a media phenomenon than anyone would have us believe. They impress so much at the combine and workouts that the media says "teams are really gonna fall in love with how fast/strong/good this guy looks," and eventually just morphs that into "teams are really falling in love with..."

Which makes me think, what happens when Ozzie Newsome picks up the paper in the morning or checks out something online and reads that the Ravens have such-and-such flying up their draft board because the guy had an awesome pro day? My bet would be he's chuckling a little at the notion.


Friday, March 12, 2010

What the Ravens Got in Boldin

With the Ravens recent acquisition of Anquan Boldin, many have said the Ravens are better, having addressed their biggest need. But you also hear a good bit about what a risk the Ravens are taking, counting on a receiver soon to be 30, oft injured and coming where his production may have been bolstered by a stellar quarterback and top flight receiver across from him.

While it’s true that this isn’t a no-risk move for the Ravens – receivers, upon moving teams, underperform to expectations more than they overperform – the risks aren’t overly significant. And the reward could be tremendous.

The injury concerns
For all the concerns about how he's frequently injured and fragile and Ravens fans should be concerned about him missing time, Boldin actually averages 13.5 games played per season. He's only played in 16 games twice, but he's also only played less than 12 games once, his second season.

The production as a result of his circumstances vs. his talent
Despite the criticism that he's hurt every year and he's more productive playing in the offense in which he's played, the reality is that he's one of the best receivers drafted this decade. But there are some that have claimed he wouldn't be nearly as productive without Warner as his QB and Fitz playing by his side.

But there are serious flaws with such an assertion. First, Warner hasn't always been his QB. He's produced well with Blake, McCown and Leinart. In fact, his most productive season, 2005, was one in which McCown threw 40% of the passes; and Warner, who threw most of the rest, boasted only an 85.8 QB rating, his lowest as a Cardinal and second lowest in any season in which he threw more than 150 passes.

Second, he’s produced without Fitzgerald playing along side him. His rookie season was one of his most productive, while Fitzgerald was still a Pitt Panther. In 2006, in three games that Fitzgerald missed, he averaged 80 yards per game.

And finally, playing along-side a great wide receiver does not make you a great receiver by default. Look at one of the best receivers in the league, Andre Johnson, as a great example of this. No one playing along side him has ever had 900 receiving yards, and only one – Walter in ’08 – has had over 700 receiving yards. Marques Coltson has yet to see a consistently producing receiver across the hash marks from him. Others include the Panther’s Steve Smith, Dwayne Bowe, Roddy White and Vincent Jackson. A receiver doesn’t simply become productive when playing across from another great receiver.

The performance
Meanwhile, Boldin’s performance truly has been one of the more underrated in the league, despite the fact that he's very highly respected. In the past 15 years, 183 receivers have been drafted and have caught more than 50 passes in the NFL. The list includes guys like Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Here’s how Boldin stacks up against all 182 of them, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
- No one has more receptions per game at 6.17 per.
- No one has more yards per game at 79.16 per. #2 on the list - Andre Johnson - is more than a yard per game behind him. #5 on the list - Marques Colston - is nearly 8 yards per game behind him.
- Only 8 players have scored more TDs per game at 0.463 per.
- Only 4 players have more total receptions per season.
- Only 7 players have more total yards per season.
- He is #17 overall in TDs per season.
- Only one season has he had fewer than 71 YPG, and has never had fewer than 5 rec/game..

The bottom line
The bottom line is, you don’t put up the fabulous productivity numbers that Boldin has put up without having exceptional talent. The Ravens are getting one of the most productive receivers in the NFL, and in fact, the most productive receiver in the NFL when healthy. This must be tempered with the expectation that he will likely miss some games over the next few years. But in the games in which he plays, Ravens fans should expect he is the significant upgrade at the position for which they’ve been begging.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Time Out For The Lions Fan

I'm well past the point of being thoroughly cynical about the Lions and I will probably be among the last to come around.

But hope springs eternal and it is very rare to see Detroit headline the first day of free agency. Usually they have to wait a week or two for the plums to get picked before begging midline aging players to come to fill some of their gaping holes, an exercise that guarantees they will be doing the same thing the following year.

Last year Mayhew showed he would be active, adding starters through free agency and trade all summer long. But even so, their best pickup was probably Larry Foote and the Lions are letting him walk, along with most of the others. Other higher profile players acquired last year, Philip Buchanon, Bryant Johnson, Julian Peterson, were either pedestrian or flat-out disappointing.

This is a story the Lions fan has seen repeated ah ... repeatedly. They acquire veteran players entering the decline phase of their careers who promptly go right over the cliff. This was never more pronounced than in 2008 when Detroit brought in Dwight Smith, Brian Kelly and Chuck Darby to start on defense. Each was terrible. Each contributed meaningfully to the winless season. Each was cut and hasn't played since.

So it is with no more than cautious optimism that I embrace the Lions current moves. On paper, they seem to be very well targeted to the Lions' needs. Corey Williams is an above average 4-3 under tackle. The Packers traded him to the Browns because he doesn't fit the 3-4 and the Browns are doing the same. Nate Burleson has been a productive receiver for two different teams. Kyle Vanden Bosch a couple of Pro Bowl years playing next to Albert Haynesworth. None of these players appears to have reached the drop off point, but each is around age 30 and unlikely to complete his contract as well.

Realistically, at least one of these moves won't work out, but if the Lions get 2 average starters out of this they are doing well. Any of these players would replace a player who is well below average, and the move from 'bad' to 'average' is almost as significant to a team as a move from 'average' to 'very good' would be.

But still, the ghosts of Lion moves past haunt this team and until they move past it we can expect no more than a year or two of production from these players before they leave another gaping hole to be filled.

That's if these moves work out at all.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Trying To Explain The Error Bars

Continuing the discussion of expected wins, I think the two most interesting things you can find are the strength of a trend and then how to account for the outliers.

As I mentioned in the first post on the subject, there does not appear to be a direct linear relationship between passer rating differential and victories, but rather an exponential or logarithmic one. With an R-square (how stupid is blogger that I can't insert superscript?) of 0.65, passer rating differential may be the smokiest of guns.

It doesn't, however, meant that it can't be improved.

Considering the components of football that passer rating doesn't cover, we have the running game, special teams and fumble differential. I have a pet theory of a "superstar player" factor as well, but that is difficult to define or measure.

Anyhow, going back to passer rating differential some interesting things happen when the data is broken down to "positive" and "negative". Looking at a graph of teams that achieved positive differential over the last ten years:

we see a nice orderly progression. However, looking at teams that posted negative differentials:

we end up with a much different shape. The slope of the positive graph is about 60% greater than the slope of the negative graph (.26 v .16). I think I will need to extend the range by double or treble to determine whether this is accurate or simply a chicken-egg result. This decade New England and Indianapolis dominated both the total victory column as well as the passer differential column. This could be somewhat coincidental and the sole driver of the increased slope.

It gets very noisy when we look at seasonal results, but with a very surprising difference:
It is difficult to see from the two pasted graphs, but while the two slopes are similar, the intercepts are vastly different. Teams with negative passer rating differentials have an intercept at 7.8 victories while teams with a positive differential an intercept at 8.5 victories. With an R-squared of 0.26 for the latter, chance plays a significant factor in the latter result and in fact when other variables are factored in we may ultimately see the intercepts meet, but for now it is a startling outcome, and again suggests an exponential relationship.

Teams that achieve even a small positive in rating differential can expect an extra victory per year over expectation.

Winding down on this post I'm not sure what kind of progress we've made, but we'll forge on. Next up I think I'll take a look at some of the outliers to see what contributed to those seasons.


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