Monday, March 02, 2015

2015 NFL Draft: Quarterbacks

Ohhh yeah, it's that time of year again! And I'm back to analyse this years crop of draft hopefuls. Now in previous years sometimes I've been able to get them all done before the draft, sometimes not. We'll see how we get on this year, it's a bit of a late start so I might have to finish the study post draft. At some point in the off season I'd also like to go back and look at my history of draft analysis, some of which is good and some of which has been not so good.

Now when it comes to quarterbacks this where I'm most confident. For example in the year that Russel Wilson and Nick Foles came out, only one person I know was touting them to the hills and back, and only one person I know had a bad word to say about Blaine Gabbert, and that was me! 

So what do I look for in a quarterback? Well seldom are two quarterbacks the same (just look at Wilson vs Foles) and as such each quarterback should be judged on his own merits, but generally I'm most interested in:

- Deep ball accuracy,
- Range of passing,
- Pocket presence/movement,
- Decision making,

I say deep ball accuracy because it's very easy to make short passes. Most NFL backups and free agent quarterbacks can hit short passes, screens, things like that. Hitting deeper passes is much more difficult, such as hitting a 15 yard deep out pattern. Please note though that when I say accuracy I mean the ability of the quarterback to deliver the ball to the receiver in a catchable position. If the receiver then drops the pass that's his problem, not the quarterbacks.

Range of passing simply means the ability to hit all the "NFL throws", such as post patterns, deep outs, seam routes to tight ends etc. The more types of throw a quarterback can make the better. NFL offenses are quite complex and the coaches seldom have enough time to sit down and work with a quarterback to teach him the passing tree completely from scratch.

Pocket presence/movement encompasses two things; the smoothness of the footwork - both in the drop back and moving around the pocket - and the ability to keep your eyes downfield while moving to avoid pressure.

Decision making encompasses many, many issues, but foremost among these are the decisions that the quarterback makes about where to throw the ball and how he responds to being pressurised in the pocket. It's very common for example for young quarterbacks to make poor choices such as throwing the ball deep into traffic instead of just eating the sack.

Finally I should note that a players position on this list has nothing to do with my opinion on them. They're ordered the way they are because that's how the list I'm working from is ordered. Nor do I give out what I believe to be pointless numbered grades. It's ridiculous I think to try and summarise your opinion of a player in such a manner. I will normally try and give the most thorough written appraisal that I can and unlike most of the media pundits I always try and give a definitive, unambiguous statement about whether I like the player or not.

And with all that out of the way lets jump right in.

Jameis Winston, Florida state
Let's get the football side of things dealt with first.

Last year I saw bits of Winston incidentally while watching other players and initially I was quite impressed. I'm not sure what happened this year but I'm not that impressed any more. The problem with Wilson is primarily three fold; he's not that accurate when throwing over 10 yards from the line of scrimmage (LOS), he makes a lot of poor decisions, forcing throws into windows that he simply can't make, and he stares down his receivers chronically.

To me that's a combination that cannot work in the NFL. Sure, he might have some good games here and there, make some nice throws now and again. Lots of quarterbacks do. But quarterbacks are not paid to occasionally have good games and show a bit of promise. They're paid the big bucks to try and lead their team to a Superbowl title. I cannot see Winston doing that. He's not consistent enough and he makes far too many mistakes.

When you couple that with the string of off field issues that demonstrate a pattern of poor decision making then I'm afraid for me I'd have to pass on Winston. I just don't see the point in drafting him because I don't feel like he'll ever develop into a good enough quarterback.

On a side note, Florida State freshman receiver Travis Rudolph looks pretty handy.

Marcus Mariota, Oregon
The other big name in this years quarterback crop and one that is drawing praise for his physical gifts, predominantly his speed. 

In some regards that's true, he is a very athletically talented individual. His speed, as demonstrated at the combine, is wide receiver class and should hold up in the NFL. What I don't understand is why the NFL scouting community and the TV analysts have not picked up on the trend with regard to athletic quarterbacks in gimmicky college systems. This is Blaine Gabbert, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton all over again.

Now the comparison isn't identical, I'll admit that. Whereas Gabbert used to crumble under the slightest pass rush Mariota has the speed and elusiveness to escape and extend the play. And compared to Griffin and Newton, Mariota has slightly better accuracy. But you can still see a little bit of all of them in him, and not the good bits.

You can see the same gimmick offense that Gabbert used to run. Sure, Mariota is a bit more accurate at distance than Gabbert was, but the offense still contained huge numbers of screens and dump offs, with no much in the way of NFL style throws. You can see the same vulnerability to injury as Griffin, given that Mariota is another tall, slender quarterback without enough meat to take a persistent pounding. And you can see the same eagerness to run and to throw hail mary passes down the field that Newton has.

None of these are traits that are conducive to winning NFL games on a consistent basis. Like Winston, Mariota will probably win the odd game here and there purely through a combination of luck and a few good passes. But not consistently enough to be a top quarterback I feel. Mariota is not Russell Wilson, who is a passer first and a runner second. He's more in the Griffin/Newton mould and I suspect his career will take a similar tangent. He'll get drafted high, get paid well for a few years, produce little, then eventually end up as a back up or out of the league. 

Not for me thanks.

Brett Hundley, UCLA
If this is supposedly the third best quarterback in this years draft then we have some serious problems, though I suspect that like normal there will be a selection of much better players to come.

No surprises then given that opening that I don't like Hundley. He never really threw that many deep passes and the ones he did were often under thrown and inaccurate. His arm is so weak he has to put everything he has into the throw just to get it moving more than 40 yards. He hit a lot of 10 yard hooks and some screens, but other than that his range of passing is very poor and he looks incapable of making the more difficult throws at the next level.

Just to cap it off he has a horrendous tendency to abandon the pass after one or two reads and look to run. His eyes come straight off the receivers and he just starts charging away, head down, normally right into a sack or an insignificant gain. As you might have guessed I would absolutely pass on Hundley. I wouldn't want him on my roster even as a back up. I just hope it gets better than this or this is going to be a long few days for me.

Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
Thank god for that!

Sort of. Grayson is certainly a hell of an improvement over Hundley even if he does have his own problems, one of which was an offensive line that couldn't block a doorway. This meant that in a lot of games he barely had enough time to read the field, let alone pick out a decent pass. But when his offensive line wasn't falling over or getting skinned alive for speed by the defense, then actually Grayson was really good.

He made some really, really nice throws deep down the field. We're talking the kind of throws where he puts it just over the head of one defender and just in front of another, into a really tight window where only his receiver can catch it. Some really impressive stuff. Sometimes he tried to stick it into windows that were just a little too tight, but this didn't happen that often.

Athletically he doesn't really have the ability to escape pressure and even when he did get out his accuracy went down quite a bit while he was on the move. If he's going to make it in the NFL it will be as a pure pocket passer. And in that regard I think he probably has a great shot. Clearly he'll still have to deal with pressure, just like every other quarterback, but I think he'll get more opportunities to shine than he did at Colorado State and that's where his deep passing accuracy will really come to the fore. His aim and his touch on those throws is just so sweet at times I have to believe that he'll be able to pull it off at the next level.

He does have some other issues, for example he has a tendency to stare down receivers at times and you do have to wonder if on some of his sacks whether he couldn't have just stepped up and perhaps kept the play alive a little longer, but broadly speaking I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Supposedly he's projected as a third or fourth rounder by most media outlets, which is probably a fair mark if only because of some of the uncertainty that surrounds him and because I suspect there will be better overall players at other positions still on the board. 

I would however be tempted to go higher. Hell, if Winston and Mariota are considered top ten picks then Grayson must be to, but more realistically I think you would still get value in the second round.  If you pushed me one way or the other to say "can Grayson be a starting quality quarterback in the NFL, a guy that might get us to the Superbowl?" then I would say yes, yes I believe he can be.

Bryce Petty, Baylor
Would not waste the phone call even if he slipped into free agency.

Petty has an amazing arm. It seems like he can just flick his wrist and the ball goes flying down the field like a bullet. It's a pretty amazing feat of athletic ability. The problem is everything else, most notably accuracy. On screens and quick throws he's ok, and that right there tells you everything you need to know. "OK" at throwing the ball less than 10 yards. That is not the makings of an NFL quarterback.

Against weaker opposition I saw one game where he missed four wide open receivers and only hit a fifth because the receiver stopped running to catch the ball, then had to race away from the closing defender. Against a more competent opponent he completed just one pass beyond 10 yards from the LOS. To me it is utterly ridiculous that Petty is considered to be any kind of prospect at the NFL level, let along a top 5. He represents a lot of what is wrong with the scouting community.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State
It's crazy that Mannion is widely considered to be behind Petty in the rankings. Someone has to be pulling my leg. I swear. It has to just be TV analysts and the like trolling the fans for fun. Because there is no way, no way on Earth that Mannion is behind Petty, or Hundley, or Winston. It's utterly laughable that anyone could consider those three to be better prospects.

This kid is good. His accuracy is normally very good, though on some of the deep patterns the accuracy was often just a hair off. That has to make you wonder whether in the NFL the larger, more athletic receivers would be able to jump just that bit higher and reach out just that little bit further in order to make the grab? Sometimes on shorter patterns he has a tendency to not follow through properly with his throwing motion leading to the ball going low, but that's not such a huge issue because normally the ball will still be delivered safely, it just means that sometimes he misses out on bigger gains because the receiver has to stoop down to catch the ball, which in turn slows down their pattern and allows defenders to close. In general his ball placement is perhaps a little bit below the NFL average.

Mannion has good awareness of the field, his ability to read the coverage and pick out the right receiver is pretty impressive. The offense he played in was a pro-style system that mixed shotgun and under center in a roughly equal blend, with some formations spread right out and others very tight. That should make his transition to the NFL much, much easier. The coverage and blitz looks he saw in college will be much more representative of those he'll face at the pro level compared to many of the other quarterbacks on this list.

His arm strength is not great, so tight windows will become more of a problem, especially as NFL defenders will close those windows at a much faster rate than the typical teams that Oregon State played. Mannion is not especially mobile, so he's not going to be threatening anyone with his nifty feet, and his ability to keep a play alive and extend it is very limited. Sometimes he also seems to have a habit of checking down to his safety valves just a little too quickly.

Broadly speaking though I like Mannion. I would love for someone who is a top scout or top draft analyst to explain to me why Mannion is not more highly rated. Whatever his faults, he utterly wipes the floor with guys like Hundley and Petty. It's not even close, not a little bit. He is head and shoulders above them. I would say that Mannion is a mid round guy that still needs some work. At the very least he should make a capable back up and potentially with the right coaches and the right receivers he could be a decent starter in the NFL.

Blake Sims, Alabama,
I think the thing that immediately stands out watching Sims is a reaffirmation of my analysis last year that A.J. McCarron was the best quarterback of that draft. At the time everyone was saying that McCarron was the beneficiary of playing for Alabama and that made him look better than he really was. I think now people are perhaps realising that it was Alabama that was the beneficiary.

That's not to say that Sims is necessarily bad, he's just not that good. He could probably be a serviceable back up, someone who would sit on a practice squad and develop into that role over time. He has some good traits such as his impressive speed and elusiveness that allows him to avoid pressure and make plays with his feet.

The problem is when he throws the ball. Short distances, good. Intermediate distances, hmmm, 50-50. Long throws... let's not talk too much about that. And that's really the crux of the issue with Sims. He's not great, he's not bad, he's middle of the road. He does some things well and can put some drives together, without really shining or being the sort of guy who you want to put the ball in his hands with 2 minutes left to go. Has something to offer, but it's not a huge amount. If he went undrafted I'd consider giving him a call, but that depends on who else was on the market.

Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion
You haven't experienced fun until you've tried to get hold of a copy of Old Dominion's offense! But was it worth it?

Meh, not really. Heinicke is quite inconsistent and he played on a frankly terrible team running a gimmicky offense. He made the odd nice throw, but most of his passes beyond dump offs were off target. He managed the quite remarkable feat of consistently over throwing wide open receivers as well, which is always good for a laugh. All in all, not worth the time.

Shane Carden, East Carolina
50 shades of Blaine Gabbert, racking up the yards running a dink and dunk, gimmicky offense. Not worth the time I don't think.


Brandon Bridge, South Alabama
Having watched Bridge throw the ball five yards in front of a wide open receiver I had that sinking feeling in my gut. "Here we go again" I thought. Then two or three plays later he pinged a beautiful shot down the field, 50 yards or more from QB to receiver, and hit his man perfectly in stride, with fantastic ball placement. It was a thing of absolute beauty.

And thus we have the dilemma that is Brandon Bridge. One minute he's missing an easy shot to a guy on a hook pattern, the next he's splitting the safeties like a pro to pick out a guy on a post pattern. It's absolutely infuriating! I'm glad I don't have to coach Bridge because he would drive me absolutely insane. But I love him anyway. Not enough to draft him I don't think. Maybe if he was still hanging around there late and there was nothing more appealing on the board then you might take a shot.

He has that raw talent, that kernel of core skills on which to build. The accuracy and strength to hit pretty much any throw that the NFL would ask him to make. He can read defenses and pick out the right guy. He can extend plays with his legs (being 6'5" helps). There's so many good things about Bridge. But the errors and inconsistency will kill him, and at the minute I don't think he can put it all together sufficiently to stay on the field as an NFL starter.

For that reason he's a project. He's a guy that will need work. And you wouldn't want to bet it all on this one guy. In time though, if those positive traits can be harnessed then I think Bridge is a decent long term prospect. I'd want to find a way to get him on my team.

Cody Fajardo, Nevada
Not for me thanks.

His throwing motion is awful, it's like a baseball pitch. He's not that accurate and has a major lack of arm strength. The offense he ran appeared to be very much a specific, simple system, one that I think will hold him back in the transition to the NFL. He doesn't even look like a back up. He looks like a kid playing against adults. Me personally I'd pass on Fajardo.

Hutson Mason, Georgia
Not sure why he's even being considered? It seems like every throw he makes is behind the receiver and he just appears like he's constantly panicking and rushing. Waste of a roster spot.

Anthony Boone, Duke
At one point I watched him throw 5 or 6 incomplete passes in a row. What was most worrying about this was they were a mixture of short, intermediate and deep passes. The offense he ran was a bit gimmicky, lot's of short passing and screens. Just generally not that impressive. I'd pass.

Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
We'll deal with the problems first. Kelly is tall and skinny, so unless he puts on a bit of muscle you're always going to be holding your breath anytime he takes a big shot. He played almost his entire career in the shotgun/pistol, so he only has a limited experience of under center offense (he did a bit). The offense was one of those that I hate where sometimes they would come up to the LOS and then have to look back to the coach who makes any adjustments. I don't like that because it takes some of the decision making out of the quarterbacks hands and I think it can have an effect on the quarterbacks confidence. Finally sometimes his deeper passes lack a bit of zip, so there's a question mark whether he could make some of the tighter NFL throws.

On the plus side he is generally very good. He is pretty accurate and really excels when throwing on the run, even if not being that athletic. He did make some NFL-esque throws and that's what makes me wonder whether he'd be able to hit these in the NFL. I think even though his offense in college was somewhat limited, he has the talent to convert and be able to make all the passes on a more developed route tree that would be expected in the pros.

He's a bit jittery in the pocket, partly because his offensive line was not strong enough to hold up to some of the more aggressive pass rushes, which meant that he was rushed far more often than he was allowed to sit comfortably and throw. This I suspect is one of the reasons that his coaches called so many plays that required him to move, because it gave him the chance to keep his distance from some of the better rushers.

Overall though I like Kelly. I highly doubt he'll get drafted, so it's probably going to be a case of getting called into someones camp for a tryout. And in the long run I think Kelly is good enough to at the very least fight for a backup spot. He's another one of these guys that will take a bit of time to learn his craft at the next level, but I think he has the raw tools to make that happen and to be a success in the long run with the right coaching. 

Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
The big knock on Thompson right now, the one that seems to have got everybody on a downer about him, is his footwork. And it's true that his footwork is shocking. Just, shocking. Sometimes he drops back properly, but more often than not he goes into this weird sort of hopping movement, a bit like Peyton Manning in the pocket except he's doing it as part of his dropback. It's really bizarre and really very unorthodox (and slightly comical).

And I don't care one bit about that. I like to learn from my mistakes, and I made a big mistake back in 2011 when I backed quarterback Christian Ponder to do well based on the quality of his footwork and technique. I'm also reminded of comments made by Bill Walsh about the danger of over-coaching players; if the player can perform to the standard required then there is no point pushing too hard to change a technique area that isn't "textbook" (or words to that effect).

That's why I don't care about Thompson's appalling and inconsistent footwork. To me it would be ridiculous to write off what is clearly a talented kid just because he doesn't move his feet the way the coaching DVDs say he should. It sounds an awful lot to me like a scout speak cop out, designed to cover someones butt in case Thompson doesn't pan out at the next level.

And there are some reasons why he might not. He does make some bad throws now and again, many of which though seem to stem from a miscommunication between him and one of his receivers. He played almost the whole of last year in the shotgun and so may find it difficult to transition to an offense where he spends more time under center. 

Making that transition harder could be the fact that he's only a one year starter, having had to sit and wait his turn for the opportunity to shine. You can see an element of that lack of experience in how he handles pressure. Behind an O-line that really seemed to struggle with the pass rush all season long he often found himself hurried into throws or on the run, something which he never really seemed comfortable with, not least because he doesn't have the speed to be racing away from defensive linemen. He needs to learn how to hang in there and make the throw, even if it means taking a hit.

But credit where credit is due he was really good. Though he's only been starting this year, he's been in what is effectively an NFL system under Steve Spurrier, just all out of the shotgun. His deep passing isn't always the greatest in the world, but he does have quite a bit of zip on his throws, he can put touch on those long lobs, and his ball placement is probably the best I've seen so far.

And in a nutshell, I think he has a lot of potential. Sometimes it can feel a bit like he's just managing the game and not taking control of it, but he made a pretty wide range of passes and generally was a good decision maker. He's a little raw still, the product of so much time on the bench, but if he's this good after just one year as the starter I'd be really intrigued to see where he can go three years from now.

For that reason I'm going to throw my hat into the ring and back Thompson. He may ultimately prove to be one of those quarterbacks like a Matt Ryan, someone who makes a bunch of decent throws but never seems to be able to pull it all together when it matters, but I think he has a much better than average chance to go on and be successful. Something of a project, but a project with a great amount of promise I feel, one that if it was down to me I'd be willing to invest in. I think his potential ceiling is very, very high.

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And that pretty much rounds up the quarterbacks. Not a classic year for quarterbacks by any means but I think there's some guys in there who have promising futures in the NFL.

Next up is the running backs. If you liked this post then please share it and leave a comment below. See you next time.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

"That" Superbowl pass

So, there's been quite a lot of mudslinging around the Seahawks decision to pass it for the go ahead, potentially game winning touchdown in the Superbowl. The hype train has been going into overdrive, so today I want to put the brakes on, take the train back to the station and help everyone get off it.

There are several reasons that I want to touch on as to why the Seahawks decision to throw it was not as dumb as many people think.

The first is because of the 'cheat sheet'. This is the sheet of laminated paper that you see the coaches holding on the sideline. Cheat sheets of this nature started appearing (to the best of my knowledge) during the 80's and were predominantly driven by coaches from the Bill Walsh lineage. Regardless of who invented it, the theory behind the cheat sheet is very simple; it's easier and more reliable to make decisions on a Thursday night during the week, when you have the opponents game film to hand, a copy of both rosters, information about who your best performers are, who the opponents best performers are etc, than it is to make one in a split second during the pressure of the game.

Every coach understands this. It's incredibly hard to make snap decisions that are properly informed. You'll almost inevitably forget some piece of information or another that has an impact on the outcome. Sitting in an office however, with a nice cup of coffee at hand, you can check and double check most of the important factors that might influence the play. You can double check the opponents film if you have to. And so you put together your cheat sheet.

On that cheat sheet will be a section that covers short yardage plays around the goalline. It may even have a section for plays specifically designed to be run in this situation (short yardage goalline, sub 30 second, need a touchdown). It's possible the Seahawks would even have those plays in a specific order. And like any coach with any degree of experience they would probably have lingering memories of a previous incident where they went "off sheet" and tried to call a play on the fly... and it failed miserably.

On that note I'm guessing that the Seahawks had a play lined up and they went with the play on the sheet. While it may be hard for Seahawks fans to accept, that is the kind of play calling decision that has gotten you to the Superbowl two years in a row in the first place, and will probably take you back to the Superbowl at some point in the near future. In the long run sticking with the sheet is the right call. In the same vein that just because it snows sometimes where you live that doesn't mean global warming isn't a thing, just because sometimes the play that was called doesn't work that doesn't mean that overall your playcalling strategy is bad.

On to the second point and a bit of tough love Seattle fans; stop talking about Marshawn Lynch like it was a guaranteed touchdown. Stop it. You're making yourselves ill.

Because the reality is that while Marshawn Lynch has been a great running back for the Seahawks and has had some amazing runs, sometimes it doesn't quite work like that. Sometimes the opposition get the defensive penetration they need and Lynch goes nowhere. The Patriots had made several plays of this nature during the game. Everyone saying "give it to Lynch" is missing the point that Lynch may not have actually gotten the yards needed. Then what?

Conversely the play that Seattle ran has a league wide very high success rate. That's because Seattle ran what's called a pick play, where one receiver deliberately tries to block an opposing defender in order to set up a free catch for his team mate.

Pick plays are actually banned under the rules (they come under offensive pass interference). The reason they're banned is because they are almost impossible to defend against. Normally in order to defend them you need a player to do the two things that Butler did for the Patriots a) recognise the play almost instantly and b) commit defensive pass interference to stop the catch.

Yet despite being banned almost everyone has this play in their playbook. The Patriots (one of the worst historical offenders for this, along with Peyton Manning) ran a pick play themselves earlier in the game. So why does everyone run it if it's banned? Because the officials almost never call it. The use of the pick has been growing dramatically in the last few years as a result of the fact that officials don't throw the flag. Why not run a play that is practically guaranteed to work if the officials aren't going to flag it and everyone else is running it?

Typically pick plays are reserved for tight spots. I mentioned both Manning and the Patriots, both of whom will normally reserve the pick play for difficult third downs, such as third and six. When they can't get it done using their regular offense, it's time to dial up the pick play. Both have been doing it for years and lately everyone else has been jumping on the bandwagon too. As have Seattle, clearly.

And yes, before anyone jumps in, what Butler did was pass interference. I personally think that kind of physical play should be permitted, but per the rulebook what Butler did was quite blatantly pass interference. He used his shoulder and hit the receiver off the ball. On first and ten, anywhere else on the field, that would have drawn a flag.

So where is all this talk of picks going? Well basically just to point out that it was perfectly reasonable for the Seahawks coaches to think that the play they called would result in a touchdown. They could run that same play a hundred times during a season and would reasonably expect it to work (or draw a defensive flag) probably 95 times out of those 100 attempts. Again, this is precisely why pick plays are (at least officially) banned, because the success rate is so ridiculously high. The Seahawks just happened to encounter a case of exceptionally bad luck (and defensive pass interference, which in a sense serves them right). 

We also have to consider the clock. The Seahawks had just the one time out left. A run would probably have forced them to use their time out, which then would have meant calling two plays in the huddle. They might have got a shot to run it after a timeout, but then would have had to have desperately scrambled to get off a final shot.

Throwing the ball gave them an additional option. An incomplete pass would have stopped the clock and let them go back to the huddle. Now you can run it and then call a time out to give yourself time before a final shot. 

In summary, as hard as it may be for Seattle fans to swallow, the reality is that their coaches made the right choice at the time (the only thing you can judge them for). Ultimately they were beaten by Butlers alertness, physicality, and an exceptional piece of bad luck. Oh, and not being able to hold onto their earlier lead. As a 49ers fan I'm chuckling at this whole saga and I suspect most Seattle fans will eventually calm down and realise that their team is in an exceptional position to make yet another Superbowl run next year, while my own will be lucky to finish above the Rams in the division.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Just one more note on the Pats alleged ball tampering

For now at least, until the league's investigation has been concluded. 

See a lot of people have pointed to the deflated balls issue and said that it would help in the passing game, but not in the run game where the Pats did so well against the Colts. That's not strictly true though. A deflated football, especially one deflated by over 2 psi compared to normal, would be easier to hold for the ball carrier and more difficult to punch out for defenders. This would suggest that a team using deflated balls would see its fumble rate drop.

In the 2013 regular season the Pats were tied for the fifth most fumbles in the league with 10. This year? Tied for 1st with the Giants with just the one fumble. Now, correlation and causation are not the same thing. But it's just another thing to store away in the back of your mind until the results of the NFL's investigation come out.

#Flexball

Probably the funniest thing about this whole deflated balls saga came today with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick giving speeches to the press in front of an advertising hoarding that had the line "#flexball" on it. Oops!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Ineligible Gate"

I do intend to resurrect this blog as the draft season approaches, but for now I just want to chip in to "ineligible gate" from the Ravens/Pats playoff game.

As amusing as it is watching Harbaugh have a good complain, and as much as the Ravens are guilty of a) not recognising that a tight end was lined up on the left side, which is basically just the same as flipping the strength of a conventional formation to the left, and b) throwing away their lead, they do seem to have a point on the controversial plays.

I unfortunately did not have time to watch the game (though I have since reviewed the plays in question) but my understanding is that Shane Vereen did not report as being ineligible until he was at or near the line of scrimmage, just seconds before the ball was snapped. 

This is a clear violation of the rules on reporting eligibility, which require players to inform the referee immediately if they are intending to play in a manner that alters their eligibility compared to the number on their jersey. The key word is "Immediately" which is generally understood to mean as soon as the player enters the field of play, and at the very latest as soon as the huddle has been broken. 

If you're running to the line of scrimmage having not informed the ref than two things are apparent a) you already know that you are going to be ineligible on the play and b) you have deliberately passed up an opportunity to inform the officials of this fact. That - per Rule 5, Section 3, Article 1 - is a five yard penalty for an illegal substitution. No ifs, no buts. It's a clear penalty, and it's also clear that the Patriots would have known this before hand and tried to sneak one (successfully in this case) past the refs. A bit like their persistent use of illegal "pick" plays.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A new season beckons

Apologies to the people who have been checking in on the site. I originally did draw up some diagrams as part of my off season plan, but then like the tit that I am managed to lose these somewhere within the bowels of my computer. I am intending to cover the 2014 season for those that are interested, just not sure when I will get round to kicking it all off (pun not intended). Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in the time for some thoughts ahead of week one. 

Just can't believe football is so close now. Seems like this offseason has breezed by.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Close...

... to putting up a new post. Just need to figure out a few final touches.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: Refined Board (I know, a little late)

Ah, finally found the time to sit down and finish this one off. Been quite hectic and had to do a bit of digging to try and get this right.

Basically I wanted to drag one last piece of life out of the 2014 draft. I've already done one piece looking at how various drafts for teams like the 49ers and Jets would work out if they had drafted using my personal big board and adjusted board. The problem with that is that I didn't have enough time or information to put together a proper adjusted board, one that realistically took into account projections of where certain players would be drafted based on the information that was widely available (a lot of which was subsequently proven quite accurate when taken as a whole and averaged out).

So I've now sat down and produced a new adjusted board. This started with me ranking the players based on my own opinions of them, then using the pre-draft "intelligence" available about where players were likely to have been drafted to re-order them, in order to avoid over drafting players who were likely to be picked much later.

The final short list is actually quite small, relatively speaking. I removed players who I had rated significantly lower than what their projected round was (based on a variety of pre-draft open sources) like Jadeveon Clowney, who everybody knew was going to go at least in the top five picks, but who I had lower down on my board. Clearly I also removed all the people that I wasn't that interested in.

What I paid most attention to was to try to avoid shaping the board based on knowledge of how the draft ultimately panned out. Luckily (in this case) I don't have a great memory so by simply avoiding a list of all the drafted players I was able to keep these pretty honest I think. Even those that I could remember roughly where they were drafted, like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, were kept on the list despite the fact I now knew they would be drafted before I ever got round to it using my board.

I also took care not to use this hindsight knowledge of the draft to bias rankings of players that I liked. Take Michael Sam for example. We now know that he went in the seventh round, right near the end. Based on pre-draft projections it was obvious Sam wasn't going to go until this late, but I also know that if I had been a GM I would not have taken the chance of waiting all the way till the seventh round. I would have listed him in the fifth (and been biting my nails from the fourth onwards). 

Now I did all this because I want to show you the board that I honestly suspect I would have produced had I been a GM, as opposed to my current capacity as a blogger who only just managed to squeeze out all his draft notes in time. The reason I think this is interesting is because if you go back and compare it to my big board and adjusted board that I produced basically on draft day, I think it gives you a good insight into how teams work through the process of putting together their draft plans and how their boards evolve, from a basic big board to one that is roughly round adjusted (based on early information), to one that is much more refined based on a variety of sources.

If we were to go even further - and I really don't have time to do this - the next stage would be to go back and re-watch the film of all the people on this "refined board" to get a much better idea about where to place them. For example from memory and looking at my notes I was quite high on Kevin Norwood, so it's possible that having watched some his games a second time and compared him to other players that he might have moved up even further (or down, if I thought my initial instinct was wrong).

So without further ado here is the "refined board":

Round One:
Jeremiah Attaochu, Outside Linebacker, Georgia Tech,
Dee Ford, Defensive End, Auburn,
Zach Martin, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame,
Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh,
Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker, UCLA,
Odell Beckham Jr, Wide Receiver, LSU,
Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC,
Greg Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Auburn,
Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan,
Xavier Su'a-Filo, Guard, UCLA,

Round Two:
Gabe Jackson, Guard, Mississippi State,
Jordan Matthews, Wide Receiver, Vanderbilt,
Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, LSU,

Round Three:
A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama,
Cassius Marsh, Defensive End, UCLA,
Jared Abbrederis, Wide Receiver, Wisconsin,
Kevin Norwood, Wide Receiver, Alabama,
Chris Borland, Inside Linebacker, Wisconsin,
Chris Watt, Guard, Notre Dame,
Tom Savage, Quarterback, Pittsburgh,
Marcus Martin, Center, USC
Kyle Van Noy, Outside Linebacker, BYU,
Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver, Penn State,
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cornerback, Nebraska
Keith McGill, Cornerback, Utah,

Round Four:
Shane Skov, Inside Linebacker, Stanford,
Trai Turner, Guard, LSU,
Cyril Richardson, Guard, Baylor,  
Michael Schofield, Offensive Tackle, Michigan,
David Yankey, Guard, Stanford,
Paul Richardson, Wide Receiver, Colorado,
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Tight End, Iowa,
Terrence Brooks, Safety, Florida State,
Scott Crichton, Defensive End, Oregon State,
Chris Smith, Defensive End, Arkansas,
Bruce Ellington, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
Dezmen Southward, Safety, Wisconsin,

Round Five:
Michael Sam, Defensive End, Missouri,
Kelcy Quarles, Defensive Tackle, South Carolina,
Deandre Coleman, Defensive Tackle, California,
Adrian Hubbard, Outside Linebacker, Alabama,
Brandon Coleman, Wide Receiver, Rutgers,
Mike Davis, Wide Receiver, Texas, 
Rashaad Reynolds, Cornerback, Oregon State,
Devin Street, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh,

Round Six:
Corey Linsley, Center, Ohio State,
George Uko, Defensive Tackle, USC, 
Craig Loston, Safety, LSU,
Jeoffrey Pagan, Defensive End, Alabama,

Round Seven:
Jeff Mathews, Quarterback, Cornell,
David Fales, Quarterback, San Jose State,
Andrew Norwell, Guard, Ohio State,
Jonotthan Harrison, Center, Florida,
Eddie Lackey, Inside Linebacker, Baylor,
Demonte McAllister, Defensive Tackle, Florida State,
Cody Hoffman, Wide Receiver, BYU,
Devekeyan Lattimore, Inside Linebacker, South Florida,

Undrafted Targets:
Isaiah Crowell, Running Back, Alabama State,
Brandon Thomas, Offensive Tackle, Clemson,
Kaleb Ramsey, Defensive Tackle, Boston College,
Brock Jensen, Quarterback, North Dakota,
George Atkinson III, Running Back, Notre Dame,
Connor Shaw, Quarterback, South Carolina,
Roderick McDowell, Running Back, Clemson,
Kassim Edebali, Defensive End, Boston College,
Ben Gardner, Defensive End, Stanford,
Chase Rettig, Quarterback, Boston,
Henry Josey, Running Back, Missouri,
Damien Williams, Running Back, Oklahoma,
Jalen Saunders, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma,
Isaiah Lewis, Safety, Michigan State,
Vinnie Sunseri, Safety/Running Back, Alabama,
John Urschel, Guard, Penn State,
C.J. Barnett, Safety, Ohio State,
Ryan Groy, Guard, Wisconsin,
Khalil Wilkes, Center, Stanford,
James Stone, Center, Tennessee,

Now with a "refined board" also comes the prospect that as a draft progressed you would be more careful about which players to select. Generally speaking I personally am a fan of the Best Player Available (BPA) process, but even I recognise that it has its limits. So for example if you already had a place holder quarterback on your roster (like a Matt Cassell or Christian Ponder in Minnesota) and then subsequently drafted someone like A.J. McCarron in the mid-rounds, would you really want to then use another late round pick to draft Jeff Mathews? 

Well, one line of argument would say 'yes, if you think he's good enough to warrant it', but in all probability you would probably hedge your bets and take a non-quarterback pick in that later spot, then hope to snag him in free agency (congratulations to the Falcons for bagging Matt Ryan's future replacement). To illustrate this I thought I'd do another 'mock draft', where I use the refined board to draft for the Texans. I'll be using their picks, including adhering to the trades that they made.

Round One: Dee Ford, Defensive End, Auburn,

For the first pick then I'd go with Dee Ford instead of Clowney. But why not Attaochu? Well, Attaochu was a consensus second round grade using all the available sources, sources that proved correct ultimately. While a risk would have existed that Attaochu would go in the first, it would have been unusual. As the Texans GM you would have had to have thought that he would be there for you still with the 33rd pick, which is effectively as good as a late first rounder. 

Round Two: Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC,

Dun, dun, duhhhhhh! What's this, Chris deviating from the board again? In a word, yes. If Lee had come off the board by this point (which he really should have) then it would have been Attaochu all the way, no question. But at the same time you have to think that you already have guys like J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed as pass rushers, and in the first round you just added Dee Ford. The board might say 'Attaochu' ahead of 'Lee', but the strength of the pass rush and the prospect of having Lee opposite Andre Johnson can't be ignored. 

As Su'a-Filo was drafted here in reality and Lee went to Jaguars not long after, we'll say for the sake of this hypothetical that the Jags took the UCLA guard and remove him from the board.

Round Three: A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama,

Huh! Another deviation from the board! Yes, I'm afraid so. As I've mentioned before, normally the difference between two players is difficult to assess. What makes the guy number 20 on your list better than the guy at 21 for example? In this case it was a choice between Gabe Jackson, an excellent guard, or A.J. McCarron, someone who I believe can develop into a franchise quarterback. If drafting for the Texans then it would have to have been McCarron, who as it turns out wouldn't have been drafted until two rounds later in reality, but who was broadly projected as a third round guy.

At this spot the Texans actually took C.J. Fiedorowicz, who for the sake of this hypothetical we'll remove.

Round Three (83): Cassius Marsh, Defensive End, UCLA,

Houston traded up to get into this spot, something I'm absolutely not a fan of because I think there's no player who is good enough to warrant giving away two picks for. But as we're Houston, here we are, and we take Cassius Marsh, the BPA. This makes up for missing out on Attaochu I guess. I think this would have been a tough pick to consider though as Jared Abbrederis, Kevin Norwood and Chris Watt would all have been available here as well.

Luckily in reality the Texans picked Nix, who isn't on my list. And if there hadn't been a trade it would have meant picking Marsh at the start of the fourth before Seattle anyway.

Round Four: Jared Abbrederis, Wide Receiver, Wisconsin,

Seattle may have pinched Norwood towards the end of the fourth, but Abbrederis was still waiting. Having already taken Lee in the second you might be tempted to take someone lower on the list at a different position, but I think here Abbrederis would represent too much value to let go. The Texans actually took Savage at this position, who we'll remove from the list.

Round Six: Michael Sam, Defensive End, Missouri,

Although Skov and Brooks are listed higher, that's only because of the round adjustments. Sam - on the big board - is the BPA at this point. And that's by quite a long way. The only question is whether in this hypothetical world we're sticking with the Texans 3-4 defense or if I can switch to my preferred defense, the 4-3. Still, another quality pass rusher, though by now it might look a bit excessive with Marsh and Ford as well. But Sam is too good to pass up in my estimation.

The Texans actual pick, Jeoffrey Pagan, is removed from the list.

Rounds Six (181): Shane Skov, Inside Linebacker, Stanford,

The perfect accompaniment to Brian Cushing on the inside I feel. And a sweet Mohawk. The Texans actual pick, Alfred Blue, is not on this list.

Round Six (211): Kelcy Quarles, Defensive Tackle, South Carolina,

We've already pinched some outside rushers, so time to add on an inside rusher. Quarles could probably play nose tackle if, in this hypothetical world, we're sticking with the 3-4, or he could be an end. Either way, not a bad pick up. 

Round Seven: Andrew Norwell, Guard, Ohio State,

At this point there was no contest. I think Norwell is a quality guard and rather than waiting and taking a shot on free agency I'd rather have been sure and scooped him up with this seventh round pick.

Round Seven (256):  Rashaad Reynolds, Cornerback, Oregon State,

Plenty of possible choices here but I think I would have gone corner at this spot, a position that I hadn't touched previously, and made Reynolds Mr. Irrelevant. Looking at who else is left on the list it would have meant double or triple dipping at another position, which seems excessive with Reynolds available. I'd have been mighty tempted to take Jeff Mathews I think, but having taken McCarron already I think it would be better long term for the franchise. If I hadn't already got Skov I might otherwise have gone for Eddie Lackey.

Priority Free Agent Targets:
Jeff Mathews, Quarterback, Cornell,
Mike Davis, Wide Receiver, Texas,
Deandre Coleman, Defensive Tackle, California,
Adrian Hubbard, Outside Linebacker, Alabama,
Isaiah Crowell, Running Back, Alabama State,
George Uko, Defensive Tackle, USC, 
Brandon Coleman, Wide Receiver, Rutgers,
Jonotthan Harrison, Center, Florida,
Eddie Lackey, Inside Linebacker, Baylor,
Craig Loston, Safety, LSU,
Demonte McAllister, Defensive Tackle, Florida State,
Cody Hoffman, Wide Receiver, BYU,
Devekeyan Lattimore, Inside Linebacker, South Florida,
Brandon Thomas, Offensive Tackle, Clemson,
George Atkinson III, Running Back, Notre Dame,
Isaiah Lewis, Safety, Michigan State,

Other Free Agent Targets:
Brock Jensen, Quarterback, North Dakota,
Connor Shaw, Quarterback, South Carolina,
Roderick McDowell, Running Back, Clemson,
Kassim Edebali, Defensive End, Boston College,
Chase Rettig, Quarterback, Boston,
Henry Josey, Running Back, Missouri,
Damien Williams, Running Back, Oklahoma,
C.J. Barnett, Safety, Ohio State,
Ryan Groy, Guard, Wisconsin,
Khalil Wilkes, Center, Stanford,
James Stone, Center, Tennessee,

Clearly with those free agents you wouldn't go out and try to get all three quarterbacks. You'd go Mathews first and then Jensen etc. So after seven rounds and several months of watching videos, calling peoples high school coaches and travelling all across the US, the final draft haul for the Texans would have looked something like this:

- Dee Ford, Defensive End, Auburn,
- Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC,
- A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama,
- Cassius Marsh, Defensive End, UCLA,
- Jared Abbrederis, Wide Receiver, Wisconsin,
- Michael Sam, Defensive End, Missouri,
- Shane Skov, Inside Linebacker, Stanford,
- Kelcy Quarles, Defensive Tackle, South Carolina,
- Andrew Norwell, Guard, Ohio State,
- Rashaad Reynolds, Cornerback, Oregon State,

Which after all that messing about to create the 'refined board' looks annoyingly similar to the draft haul that I produced for both the Jets and 49ers using my adjusted board! The difference at the start is quite significant though. And honestly speaking, I'd be pretty happy with that draft. 

Right, that's definitely it when it comes to draft boards and the like. Next up I want to get back into doing some diagrams and the like, perhaps a basics series for the offseason to help better explain a lot of the terminology that I end up using that some fans may not be familiar with. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Update May 22nd

Sorry for the delays. Been a busy week or so. But the next post is right round the corner. Had to do a bit of digging for it to make it more reliable. Should be up in the next 24-48 hours.

Again, apologise for the delay.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: What if....?

So the other day I put up my big board ahead of the draft and now that the draft is over we can see how that board would have panned out. For the sake of interest I chose two teams with a lot of picks, the 49ers and the Jets. Below are the results.

In the case of the 49ers the first list represents what would have happened if they had drafted (including their own trades) using my big board and taking the best player available at each spot;

49ers Big Board:
1 (30) - Jeremiah Attaochu, Outside Linebacker, Georgia Tech
2 (57) - Michael Sam, Defensive End, Missouri,
3 (70) - Gabe Jackson, Guard, Mississippi State,
3 (77) - A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama, 
3 (100) - Cassius Marsh, Defensive End, UCLA, 
4 (106) - Andrew Norwell, Guard, Ohio State,
4 (129) - Jeff Mathews, Quarterback, Cornell,
5 (150) - Jared Abbrederis, Wide Receiver, Wisconsin, 
6 (170) - Chris Borland, Inside Linebacker, Wisconsin, 
6 (180) - David Fales, Quarterback, San Jose State,
7 (243) - Jonotthan Harrison, Center, Florida, 
7 (245) - Marcus Martin, Center, USC

Which I think is a good draft. If you wanted to be especially pedantic about the issue of drafting three quarterbacks (which in fairness wouldn't be the greatest plan in the world) then it works out that you just take Fales off the list and bump the last two up, then add Shane Skov as pick 245 (who as it happens was signed by the 49ers as a free agent). 

Now this is where the "draft for need" crowd would have an absolute fit. Three pass rushers, on a team that has Justin Smith and Aldon Smith? Two guards on a team that has Mike Iupati? Two centers? Potentially three quarterbacks, or if you skip Fales and add Skov then two quarterbacks and two inside linebackers, on a team that has Colin Kaepernick and Patrick Willis?