Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Boise St Screwed

So Boise State is ending up in the Las Vegas Bowl, which is a relatively mediocre game. They will probably crush Utah, and have no financial motivation to care what game they go to this year (

The argument comes down to Arkansas being given the bid over the Broncos. Wouldn't it be delicious to actually have Boise St vs Ohio St in a BCS Bowl, with Ohio State's President E. Gordon Gee's commentary about the superiority of BCS teams hanging in the air? This one could be hyped up like a boxing match. A classic Drago vs Rocky affair. I think the BCS missed out on a great opportunity to do justice and score awesome ratings.

It seems they were more interested in avoiding future contention if the game wasn't a blowout by the Buckeyes.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

TopoRank Bowl Predictions

Time to handicap all the bowl games!:

Northern IllinoisFresno St1.12.5-323
UtahBoise St17.316-1723
NavySan Diego State5.6----
Florida IntlToledo6.81.5-22
Air ForceGeorgia Tech4.42-2.57
West VirginiaNorth Carolina St7.12.516
East CarolinaMaryland16.47.5-831
Oklahoma StArizona1.6626
Kansas StSyracuse12.32-3-2
North CarolinaTennessee6.9-(1.5-2.5)-3
South FloridaClemson3.24-4.5-5
Notre DameMiami2.03-16
Georgia UCF11.37-4
South CarolinaFlorida St0.13-9
NorthwesternTexas Tech5.29-9.57
FloridaPenn St7.6713
AlabamaMichigan St13.610.5-1142
Mississippi StMichigan3.0638
StanfordVirginia Tech14.53-3.528
Ohio StArkansas7.63-3.55
Middle TennesseeMiami (OH)6.31.5-214
LSUTexas A&M1.7-1-17
NevadaBoston College21.19.5-107

Boise State is the clear Bowl placement loser here, and Connecticut is a questionable choice for the Fiesta Bowl. Swapping those two would do them justice and avoid a couple of ho-hum blowout games.

TopoRank finishes the bowl season 17 of 33, which loses just short of 2%.
I'll have to take a long hard look at the theory behind it, and perhaps change it up for next year.

NCAA 2010 Rankings, pre-bowl

The final regular season games have been played, and the bowl games are posted. Time to start with the new TopoRankings, out to the top 100 to include all the bowl contestants. Each team also has its TopoRanking value listed. Every point differential correlates with a team being '7 points better':

1. 22.135 Oregon
2. 21.270 Boise St
3. 21.254 Stanford
4. 20.738 Ohio State
5. 20.439 TCU
6. 20.153 Alabama
7. 19.983 Nebraska
8. 19.754 Auburn
9. 19.725 Oklahoma
10. 19.717 Missouri
11. 19.703 Oklahoma St
12. 19.654 Arkansas
13. 19.469 Arizona
14. 19.346 Nevada
15. 19.287 Texas A&M
16. 19.270 Oregon St
17. 19.214 Wisconsin
18. 19.178 Virginia Tech
19. 19.112 Arizona St
20. 19.093 Southern Cal
21. 19.042 LSU
22. 18.849 South Carolina
23. 18.843 Iowa
24. 18.841 Florida St
25. 18.831 West Virginia
26. 18.794 Utah
27. 18.760 Georgia
28. 18.516 Miami FL
29. 18.504 California
30. 18.373 Florida
31. 18.234 Notre Dame
32. 18.211 Michigan St
33. 18.150 Hawai`i
34. 18.044 Kansas St
35. 18.006 Mississippi St
36. 18.000 Tennessee
37. 17.902 Northern Illinois
38. 17.899 Illinois
39. 17.886 Clemson
40. 17.810 North Carolina St
41. 17.804 Washington
42. 17.762 San Diego St
43. 17.708 Texas
44. 17.700 Pittsburgh
45. 17.651 Maryland
46. 17.606 Louisville
47. 17.572 Michigan
48. 17.509 UCLA
49. 17.424 South Florida
50. 17.414 Air Force
51. 17.289 Penn State
52. 17.262 Texas Tech
53. 17.151 Brigham Young
54. 17.142 Central Florida
55. 17.122 Connecticut
56. 17.081 Baylor
57. 17.016 Kentucky
58. 17.013 North Carolina
59. 16.968 Navy
60. 16.889 Colorado
61. 16.793 Temple
62. 16.787 Cincinnati
63. 16.783 Georgia Tech
64. 16.758 Fresno St
65. 16.686 Mississippi
66. 16.646 Tulsa
67. 16.552 Iowa St
68. 16.544 Houston
69. 16.517 Northwestern
70. 16.509 Southern Miss
71. 16.457 Louisiana Tech
72. 16.406 SMU
73. 16.377 Villanova
74. 16.334 Boston College
75. 16.307 Western Michigan
76. 16.285 Syracuse
77. 16.045 Washington St
78. 16.030 Toledo
79. 15.956 Army
80. 15.918 Idaho
81. 15.886 Purdue
82. 15.880 Ohio U.
83. 15.852 Minnesota
84. 15.749 Delaware
85. 15.736 Northern Arizona
86. 15.668 William & Mary
87. 15.665 Duke
88. 15.639 Rutgers
89. 15.623 Virginia
90. 15.552 Wake Forest
91. 15.539 Eastern Washington
92. 15.526 Sacramento St
93. 15.503 Central Michigan
94. 15.481 Vanderbilt
95. 15.440 Kent St
96. 15.420 Utah St
97. 15.419 NW Missouri St
98. 15.367 Western Illinois
99. 15.321 New Hampshire
100. 15.320 Appalachian St

The next post will handicap all bowl game, and we can debate which teams got short-changed in the selection process.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Looking Back: BCS conference games

To cover a few games we might not otherwise hit, I'm looking at all the BCS conference games for this week. In the future, I think I'll post all BCS and Top 25 games.

21. Florida St15. Virginia Tech0.93.5-4.511
Big 12
9. Oklahoma13. Nebraska3.84-6.53
Big East
Rutgers24. West Virginia19.119.5-20.521
ConnecticutSouth Florida32-2.5-3
Big Ten
IllinoisFresno St12.2?skip
2. OregonOregon St25.215.5-16.517
Arizona St23. Arizona3.35-6.5-1
WashingtonWashington St1.85.5-87
1. Auburn19. South Carolina1.45-639

I can no longer find reliable spread numbers for the Illinois-Fresno St game, so I won't count it. TopoRank hits 5 of 10 BCS conference games. There were a number of close calls, but this week comes out to a slight loss.

I'm looking forward to the bowl season!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

TopoRank v4 Predictions, Week 14

The end of the regular season is here! I have the predictions for Week 14 using TopoRank v4, and I'll have predictions for the entire bowl lineup once the games are published:

1. Auburn19. South Carolina1.45-639
2. OregonOregon St25.215.5-16.517
9. Oklahoma13. Nebraska3.84-6.53
Utah St11. Boise St43.538-4036
21. Florida St15. Virginia Tech0.93.5-4.511
17. NevadaLouisiana Tech15.89-12.518
Arizona St23. Arizona3.35-6.5-1
Rutgers24. West Virginia19.119.5-20.521
25. N IllinoisMiami (OH)19.414.5-18.5-5

TopoRank hit on 4 of 9 games this week, giving back 15% of the gain from last week. The overall record for the season is 33 out of 60 (5% return). Having fewer games reduces the diversity (safety) of the process, so it's advisable to reduce the total stakes on weeks like these.

As a further experiment, I'll chart up TopoRank's success for each of the BCS conferences this week (it's harder to find historical spread numbers, so I'm not going to create the same data going backwards in time).

I'll also post the new TopoRank rankings and critique the bowl selections when they are released.

2010 College Football Rankings, Week 14

I am now just tracking TopoRank v4. Here are the updated rankings after week 13 action:

1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Boise St
4. Ohio State
5. TCU
6. Oklahoma
7. Alabama
8. Oklahoma St
9. Auburn
10. Wisconsin
11. Texas A&M
12. Nebraska
13. South Carolina
14. Arizona
15. Missouri
16. California
17. Arizona St
18. Florida St
19. Arkansas
20. Southern Cal
21. Georgia
22. Nevada
23. Virginia Tech
24. Florida
25. LSU

This week we see Stanford leap into the #2 spot with a big win. Wisconsin comes screaming up the board to #10 and LSU teeters on the edge of the Top 25. A few interesting and perhaps unintuitive moves I'd like to point out are Arizona and Arkansas. Arizona stays put despite a 19 point loss. They were predicted to lose by 19.6, so they actually outperformed their previous ranking slightly, and hence we see them retain the #14 spot. Arkansas falls 8 spots despite a victory over LSU. LSU had been ranked slightly outside the Top 25 and Arkansas was expected to win by 10.5. This alone drops them a little, but we also see the effects of teams on their schedule losing a lot of games. Furthermore, #13 through #19 are separated by the equivalant of about a 1.5 point spread, so big rank moves are possible with slight changes in rating.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TopoRank (Classic) Predictions, Week 13

Here are the predictions for Week 13 using TopoRank Classic:

20. Arizona1. Oregon10.417.5-19.519*
2. Auburn11. Alabama0.64-5-1
3. TCUNew Mexico38.642.5-43.549
4. Boise St19. Nevada10.114-14.5-3
5. LSU12. Arkansas8.43.5-48
Oregon St6. Stanford12.914-1538
Northwestern7. Wisconsin17.722.5-23.547
Michigan8. Ohio St18.817-17.530
13. Oklahoma9. Oklahoma St2.82-3skip
10. Michigan StPenn St0.2-(1.5-2)-6
Kansas14. Missouri30.024-24.528
Colorado15. Nebraska16.717.528
Virginia16. Virginia Tech22.423.530
17. Texas A&MTexas9.63-3.57
18. South CarolinaClemson2.92.5-3skip
BYU20. Utah15.39-101
Florida22. Florida St2.92-2.530
23. N.Carolina StMaryland5.42-2.5-7
24. IowaMinnesota22.215-16-3
25. Mississippi StMississippi4.62.5-38

I have a feeling TopoRank v4 will continue to outperform this algorithm. TopoRank Classic reverses the pick for a number of games, and finishes the week with 8 correct picks out of 18 for about a 15% loss this week. If it has a poor showing next week too, I will likely retire the algorithm.

TopoRank v4 Predictions, Week 13

Here are the predictions for Week 13 using TopoRank v4:

20. Arizona1. Oregon19.617.5-19.519*
2. Auburn11. Alabama4.34-5Skip
3. TCUNew Mexico52.642.5-43.549
4. Boise St19. Nevada20.914-14.5-3
5. LSU12. Arkansas10.53.5-48
Oregon St6. Stanford16.414-1538
Northwestern7. Wisconsin25.622.5-23.547
Michigan8. Ohio St26.717-17.530
13. Oklahoma9. Oklahoma St0.62-3-6
10. Michigan StPenn St0.9-(1.5-2)-6
Kansas14. Missouri38.824-24.528
Colorado15. Nebraska19.117.528
Virginia16. Virginia Tech23.823.530
17. Texas A&MTexas11.43-3.57
18. South CarolinaClemson5.72.5-322
BYU20. Utah18.29-101
Florida22. Florida St1.22-2.524
23. N.Carolina StMaryland3.72-2.5-7
24, IowaMinnesota19.315-16-3
25. Mississippi StMississippi6.82.5-38
* - Given the available spreads, anyone picking Oregon to beat the spread should have gone with the 17.5 option

TopoRank v4 was a stellar 11 of 14 for the Top 20 games this week, and a very good 12 of 19 overall, resulting in a 20% return. If I can achieve these results consistently, I'll consider a change of profession.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2010 College Football Rankings, Week 13

I am now tracking rankings based on 2 TopoRank algorithms in order to evaluate both.

RankTopoRank ClassicTopoRank v4
1Boise StOregon
2Ohio StBoise St
3OregonOhio St
9Oklahoma StOklahoma St
10Texas A&MTexas A&M
13South CarolinaWisconsin
15NebraskaSouth Carolina
16Virginia TechNebraska
19ArizonaArizona St
20MiamiSouther Cal
22FloridaOregon St
23TrinityVirginia Tech
24Florida StMiami
25North Carolina StFlorida St

We're seeing the capped TopoRank classic let some lower division teams sneak up into the rankings. This is a rather odd turn, and I may investigate it ... or just decide that TopoRank v4 is the fundamentally correct way to go.

TopoRank v4 predictions for 2010 week 11

And here are the retroactive predictions for week 11 using TopoRank v4:

1. OregonCalifornia19.519-20.5skip
Georgia2. Auburn8.27.5-8.5skip
San Diego St3. TCU31.827-285
4. Boise StIdaho31.933.5-34.538
LA-Monroe5. LSU30.231-3451
6. StanfordArizona St10.34.5-6.54
Indiana7. Wisconsin21.521.5-22.5skip
Kansas8. Nebraska41.134-34.517
Penn St9. Ohio St25.717.5-20.524
10. Oklahoma StTexas18.04-6.517
19. Mississippi St12. Alabama16.013-1427
13. IowaNorthwestern16.69.5-12-4
14. UtahNotre Dame10.85-6-25
UTEP15. Arkansas32.928.5-3031
Texas Tech16. Oklahoma23.216-16.538
24. Kansas St17. Missouri7.913-13.510
USC18. Arizona2.9-(4-5.5)3
20. Virgina TechNorth Carolina0.3-(3-5.5)-16
21. NevadaFresno St18.38-9.51
23. South Carolina22. Florida6.46-7skip
25. Texas A&MBaylor11.53-3.512

This week, TopoRank v4 made the right call 9 out of 17 times for a success rate of 52.9% which would result in a 1% return.

TopoRank v4 Predictions, 2010 week 12

Here are the predictions for Week 12 using TopoRank v4:

Fresno St4. Boise St32.630.551
Mississippi5. LSU22.415.5-167
6. StanfordCal3.56.5-834
7. WisconsinMichigan11.14.5-5.520
8. Nebraska19. Texas A&M3.2-(2.5-3)3
9. Ohio St20. Iowa10.233
10. Oklahoma StKansas35.622.5-2434
Purdue12. Michigan St25.819.5-214
13. Arkansas21. Mississippi St3.23-4skip
14. OklahomaBaylor16.67-7.529
15. MissouriIowa St13.111-1214
16. Virginia Tech24. Miami0.3-(2-2.5)-14
Troy17. South Carolina26.222.5-23.545
New Mexico St18. Nevada15.737.546
23. UtahSan Diego St5.92.5-34
25. Florida StMaryland3.54-614

TopoRank v4 hits on 8 of 15 picks for a slim 2% gain. Among the big calls are Texas A&M's upset victory over Nebraska, Boise State's blowout win, and Wisconsin's dominating win over Michigan. There were also a few big misses were Nebraska's trampling of New Mexico State, Michigan State's narrow margin over Purdue and Stanford's pounding of California. A number of these varied wildly from the real spreads too, and that's why they play the game. As a coworker once told me, a person would be foolish to pin their well-being to the performance of 20-year-olds. But that, is why a diversified approach should perform!

Rethinking TopoRank

I had originally put a condition into TopoRank to discount extreme blowout wins. This has 2 reasons:
1. To allow for sportsmanship and not make teams feel like they need to pile it on to appease the computer rankings
2. Because one can only say so much about beating up on a weaker team (ex: does beating North Dakota State by 50 mean that same team will stand toe-to-toe with Oregon?)

However, teams are not currently playing with TopoRank in mind, so I believe I'm allowing for a factor that doesn't actually make much sense. Furthermore, I do believe there's a difference in teams who can focus and trample a weak team by 50 as opposed to let them linger in the game and stretch the lead to 25-30 at the end. Removing the cap for how much better a team can be rated than another per game gives the following ranking (TopoRank v4):

1. Oregon
2. Boise St
3. Ohio State
4. Stanford
5. TCU
6. Alabama
7. Oklahoma
8. Oklahoma St
9. Auburn
10. California
11. Texas A&M
12. Southern Cal
13. Nebraska
14. Arizona
15. Wisconsin
16. Missouri
17. Arizona St
18. Arkansas
19. Georgia
20. South Carolina
21. Miami FL
22. LSU
23. Florida
24. Iowa
25. Florida St

Stay tuned for week 11 and 12 re-predictions using the new formula

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Handicapping 2010 NCAA Week 12

Sticking with the theme of validating TopoRank, here are the predictions for Week 12:

Fresno St4. Boise St16.930.551
Mississippi5. LSU20.315.5-167
6. StanfordCal5.46.5-834
7. WisconsinMichigan3.04.5-5.520
8. Nebraska19. Texas A&M3.2-(2.5-3)3
9. Ohio St20. Iowa4.533
10. Oklahoma StKansas21.722.5-2434
Purdue12. Michigan St22.719.5-214
13. Arkansas21. Mississippi St2.53-47
14. OklahomaBaylor10.47-7.529
15. MissouriIowa St10.611-1214
16. Virginia Tech24. Miami2.3-(2-2.5)-14
Troy17. South Carolina24.422.5-23.545
New Mexico St18. Nevada34.737.546
23. UtahSan Diego St4.12.5-34
25. Florida StMaryland4.14-6skip

The top 3 teams have this week off. TopoRank predicts two upsets: Texas A&M over Nebraska and Miami over Virginia Tech; the spread is in favor of the higher ranked team in each case (marked with a negative in my table to reflect the opposite polarity). Florida State vs Maryland is currently a skip. 9 of 15 games won't beat the spread.

A terrible week for predictions here. I hit on only 4 of 15, which translates into a whopping 49% loss. TopoRank v4 did considerably better.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2010 College Football Rankings, Week 12

Updating TopoRank ratings after week 11:

1. Oregon
2. Alabama
3. Ohio State
4. Auburn
5. TCU
6. Stanford
7. Oklahoma St
8. Oklahoma
9. Boise St
10. South Carolina
11. Arkansas
12. Missouri
13. Texas A&M
14. LSU
15. Nebraska
16. Virginia Tech
17. Miami
18. Michigan St
19. Iowa
20. Florida
21. Pittsburgh
22. Southern Cal
23. Arizona
24. North Carolina St
25. Wisconsin

Wisconsin certainly seems out of place at #25, this rating is a result of several very weak teams on the schedule, and some close wins seem to be weighing them down a lot. Alabama, not Auburn, grades out as the best SEC team, and TCU is the top non-BCS team at #5.

Handicapping 2010 NCAA Week 11

We can use TopoRank to reverse-engineer the expected point differential between two teams. Let's see how it does for this week's Top 25 matchups. The predicted winner is bolded.
1. OregonCalifornia12.219-20.52
Georgia2. Auburn14.27.5-8.518
San Diego St3. TCU25.927-285
4. Boise StIdaho20.933.5-34.538
LA-Monroe5. LSU32.331-34skip
6. StanfordArizona St12.94.5-6.54
Indiana7. Wisconsin16.421.5-22.563
Kansas8. Nebraska24.734-34.517
Penn St9. Ohio St13.917.5-20.524
10. Oklahoma StTexas8.04-6.517
19. Mississippi St12. Alabama12.213-1427
13. IowaNorthwestern11.59.5-12skip
14. UtahNotre Dame6.45-6-25
UTEP15. Arkansas30.128.5-3031
Texas Tech16. Oklahoma13.916-16.538
24. Kansas St17. Missouri7.213-13.510
USC18. Arizona5.14-5.5skip
20. Virgina TechNorth Carolina3.73-5.5skip
21. NevadaFresno St7.48-9.51
23. South Carolina22. Florida3.76-7-22
25. Texas A&MBaylor5.53-3.512

I'm also tracking approximate spreads for these games and seeing how TopoRank would do. In each case, if TopoRank predicts a bigger win than the spread, I'd bet for the spread (and vice versa). This is slightly complicated by the fact that spreads vary by institution, so if TopoRank's prediction falls within a range of published spreads, the game will be ommitted ('skip').

This week, TopoRank made the right call 10 out of 17 times for a success rate of 58.8%. Assuming someone, somewhere, would pay 21:11 for a correct pick, the rate of return would be 12.3% ...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

2010 College Football Rankings, Week 11

TopoRank Top 25 after Week 11:

1. Oregon
2. TCU
3. Stanford
4. Boise St
5. Auburn
6. Ohio State
7. Alabama
8. Arkansas
9. Missouri
10. Oklahoma St
11. Oklahoma
12. Nebraska
13. Texas A&M
14. Iowa
15. Arizona
16. Virginia Tech
17. LSU
18. Florida
19. Utah
20. Kansas St
21. South Carolina
22. Michigan St
23. Wisconsin
24. Southern Cal
25. Nevada

The BCS results aren't out yet, but I expect to see some big differences again. Oregon and TCU stay on top. Compared to last week, we see Missouri, Utah and Arizona take big falls after ugly losses, and Stanford and Boise State jump to #3 and #4 with big wins. TopoRank still shows Auburn trailing these teams to round out the top 5.

If the season ended today, Oregon would face Auburn in the BCS Championship game, even though TCU and Boise State are more deserving. This is the strength of perception, especially about the SEC.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

2010 College Football Rankings, Week 9

I am using TopoRank to rank college football teams, and have compared my Week 9 standings and the BCS standings. I'm calling out the teams that ended up at least 5 spots lower or higher and examining if these re-rankings make sense. (*I've also added in the combined of two TopoRank algorithms)

Rank BCS TopoRank *TopoRank Combined
1 Oregon TCU Oregon
2 Auburn Oregon Missouri
3 TCU Oklahoma TCU
4 Boise State Alabama Oklahoma
5 Utah Missouri Nebraska
6 Alabama Stanford Alabama
7 Nebraska Boise State Stanford
8 Oklahoma Utah Auburn
9 Wisconsin Iowa Boise State
10 LSU Arizona Iowa
11 Ohio State Auburn Arizona
12 Missouri Nebraska Ohio State
13 Stanford Ohio State Utah
14 Michigan St Arkansas Arkansas
15 Arizona Virginia Tech Virginia Tech
16 Iowa Michigan St Oregon St
17 Oklahoma St Oregon St South Carolina
18 Arkansas Illinois Oklahoma St
19 South Carolina South Carolina LSU
20 Mississippi St Oklahoma St Michigan St
21 Baylor Mississippi St Florida St
22 Virginia Tech Florida USC
23 Nevada Florida St Mississippi St
24 Florida St USC Florida
25 NC St LSU Texas A&M

The Good (*-no longer 5 spots better):
Oklahoma* (BCS #8, TopoRank #3) - This is a stretch. Oklahoma's only good win was a demolition of Florida St, and narrow wins over Utah St, Air Force, Cincinnati don't paint a picture of a national powerhouse. An alternate version of TopoRank has them at #8 and I think that's much more correct. Perhaps I also need to average the results of different algorithms (the subjectivity in TopoRank is how much credit to give a team over another based on the final score differential).

Missouri (BCS #12, TopoRank #5) - Missouri was racking up dominating wins and a close win over a probably underappreciated (now 6-2) SDSU team when it ran into a backup running back who had a career game. This is more a case of a very strong team tripping a bit than a consistently semi-strong performer. I think the #5 ranking is much more justified than #12.

Stanford (BCS #13, TopoRank #6) - This team packs a major punch and has absolutely blown up 6 of its 8 opponents (Washington St made the score look a lot closer in the closing minutes). The Cardinal get it done and don't leave things to chance. Their one loss is against one of the best teams in the last decade, and they managed to respond late in the game to pull off a win against borderline-Top-25 USC. Name 6 teams you'd favor over them. I sure can't.

Iowa (BCS #16, TopoRank #9) - Iowa is bearing the brunt of having 2 losses, both of them being close games against good teams. Their wins have been mostly beatdowns, including a 37-6 trampling of then-#6 Michigan St. This team is strong and would be competitive against many of the teams ranked ahead of them.

Arizona* (BCS #15, TopoRank #10) - Arizona is smothering opposing offenses, scores points in bunches, and is one subpar half away from being 8-0. Their defense is consistently stepping up when the offense stalls. This team is never out of a game.

Virginia Tech (BCS #22, TopoRank #15) - A close loss to a top team followed by a letdown loss on 5 days rest has doomed this team. They've rallied to win 6 straight since, their best win being a comeback against #23 NC St. Perhaps the Hokies are benefiting too much from score differential. The other algorithm (which gives less credit for blowouts) has them at #18.

Oregon St (BCS unranked, TopoRank #17) - The Beavers took on two national title contenders and were overmatched in both games, but not badly. And Jake Locker had one of his 2 good games to pull out a double overtime win. Their big win is against Arizona, but really they're a victim of their schedule. Replace games against TCU and Boise St with weaker opponents and this team is likely 6-1 and in the thick of the 10-15 range.

Illinois* (BCS unranked, TopoRank #18) - 3 losses against very good teams (including then unranked Missouri) have made voters forget about this team. However, they turned in dominating performances in 4 of 5 wins, and 2 of the 3 losses to good teams should be considered competitive games. This is not the profile of an unranked team. Perhaps they should be borderling Top 25. The other algorithm currently places them #32, so an average of the two seems to place them just right.

The Bad (* - no longer 5 spots worse):
Auburn (BCS #2, TopoRank #11) - Yes, Auburn is 9-0. Yes, they have big wins over South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU. But, Auburn barely squeezed by SC and LSU, and pulled away from Arkansas after Ryan Mallett was hurt. And they had narrow wins over barely ranked Mississippi St and unranked Clemson and Kentucky. This paints a picture of a team that is certainly good, but sweating out wins against teams across the Top 25 and beyond.

Nebraska* (BCS #7, TopoRank #12) - Nebraska has 2 wins against good teams, a win that used to look good (Washington), 4 wins that carry no weight, a loss that looks increasingly bad (Texas). This team created a strong impression against weak competition, then pulled out 2 wins powered by big plays against good teams. This team has gotten a little bit lucky, and is not as consistently good as voters think.

LSU (BCS #10, TopoRank #25) - This team might actually be ranked closer to its true strength if Tennessee hadn't tried to defend with 13 men on the field. In addition to the biggest gift of the year and a solid win over Mississippi State, they've pulled off narrow wins over no-longer-ranked teams North Carolina, West Virginia and Florida, and never-ranked Vanderbilt and McNeese State. Add in a loss to overranked Auburn, and this team belongs in the tail end of the Top 25.

The Additional Bad by Combined TopoRank:
Boise State (BCS #4, Combined TopoRank #9) - With only 2 quality opponents, it's hard to argue that Boise State has shown it's a national contender. We specifically see the Combined TopoRank place less emphasis on the margins of victory, causing the Broncos to fall lower.

Utah (BCS #5, Combined TopoRank #13) - The Utes suffer for the same reason as Boise State in this assessment, and their blowout loss to TCU hurts them further. With their only other quality game being against no-longer-ranked Pitt, it's hard to make the case that Utah should be a top 5 team.

I think TopoRank places several teams more correctly with respect to their actual strength. I'll modify the rankings to incorporate both algorithms and republish* the results with Week 10 included. While it certainly is true that a team needs to prove itself by winning games (and not just playing good teams close), I contend teams are overly penalized for losses. Even if TopoRank can't overcome conventional thinking and 'gut feel', perhaps it can make a good handicapping tool for those of us headed to Vegas....
* I have updated the table with the Combined TopoRank results. I think they highlight the same over and underrated teams, and correct some of the extreme jumps. It also highlights the uncertainty of Boise State and Utah's rankings.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Long Field Goal

Your team has just stalled their drive at the 35 yard line, and your kicker has a pretty good leg. Send on the field goal unit, right? We're seeing teams sometimes elect to punt or go for it... which is right?

Using average points per drive numbers, we see that pinning the opponent deep means they can expect to score about 0.7 points on the ensuing drive. Missing the field goal pushes this number up around 3.0 for a net loss of 2.3. Even if you make the field goal, your opponent will average 1.6 points on the next drive, netting 1.4 points. Kickers convert on long field goals about 50 percent of the time, meaning the likely outcome is a loss of 0.8 points per attempt. In other words, the long attempt is about as good as pinning the opponent deep, especially when factoring in that your punter might put the ball in the endzone.

But, what about going for it? Getting the first down ups the average score to 3.6, for a net of 2.0 after factoring in the ensuing drive from the other team. Failing to convert yields the same 3.0 to the other team as missing the field goal does, so the conversion would have to succeed about 60 percent of the time to break even.

Turns out that all the options are pretty even, and this is really an area where a coach can make their money by having a good feel for the right play to call.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Buying 4 points

Teams try all manner of improving the defense, but it's a complex machine with many moving parts. What if there were an easier way to keep points off the board? A ball-control offense does the trick, but that tends to score fewer points.

Turns out there's a very simple, side-effect free, but hypothetical way to do this. The Cowboys got it half right last year. I've charted every drive from the first 20 games of this year and quantified a fairly obvious truth: the farther back a team starts its drive, the less likely it is to score. When a team starts inside its own 10, it averages about 0.67 points per drive. When it starts past its own 40, that number rockets up to 3.0. Here are the ranges and average points scored:

1-10: 0.67
11-20: 0.70
20 yard line: 1.00
21-30: 1.60
31-40: 1.75
40+: 3.0

The average starting field position for a team accepting a kickoff is its own 26. 2 yard line.
Suppose we could find a player whose only job it was to kick a ball through the endzone, time after time. The average team in 2009 kicked off just about 5 times a game. According to the chart above, we'd shed about 3 points allowed per game!

Charting offensive yards vs points scored yields a highly correlated best-fit line showing that a team scores 1 point for about every 9.1 yards over 143 they gain in a game. So, a team gaining 250 points can expect to score about 12 points in a game, 360 yards yields 24 points, and 500 yards comes out to around 40. By this metric, a savings of 6.2 yards, 5 times a game, saves about 4.5 points. Even better! (but we'll use the first method)

Want a bonus? Since our kickoff duties have been offloaded to Mr Cannonleg, our field goal kicker can be optimized for accuracy. Teams attempted an average of 1.8 field goals a game, and converted at an 81 percent rate. The best kickers in the league hit about 10 percent more often than that, resulting in an extra 0.54 points per game. Replacing an inaccurate kicker? The bottom of the league is another 10 percent below the average, so the net effect would reach 1 point per game.

And sprinkles on top (though now we're being a bit silly)? The concept extends to punts too. Teams punt 4.8 times per game, of these 1.6 are downed inside the 20 and 0.4 result in touchbacks. If your punter can keep those touchbacks out of the endzone, that's another 0.12 points. Drives starting after punts yield 1.36 points. Mat McBriar was able to punt past the 20 57% of the time, which was 15% better than the league average. If the average team could improve by that much, they could expect to give up 0.72 points less per game. In short, improved punting could improve your team's defense by over 0.8 points per game. Can your cannon-legged kicker always get a touchback? The benefit jumps to 1.73 points per game! Even if your average punter is replaced by McBriar, about half a point is saved.

Points saved per game over average for
always kicking a touchback: 3.0
having an accurate field goal kicker: 0.5
* always punting a touchback: 1.7
* always punting inside the 20: 2.7
being best at punting inside the 20: 0.5
*- these are kinda ridiculous ...

Now for the hypothetical part: there has never been a kicker who could kick that far, that often. I suspect there are some soccer players out there who could achieve results close to these, especially in warm weather/indoor stadiums. They could probably be signed for minimum contracts and the benefit is probably bigger than keeping an extra special teams or backup player on the active roster. How much bigger? There's a very strong correlation: for every 2 point differential a team averages, it gains a win. 3 points, 1.5 wins per season. Tell me that's not worth it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Draft Metrics: Linebackers

Linebackers are the multi-tool of the defense. Some come blitzing off the edge, others fill running lanes, while some frequently drop back in coverage. The wide variety (or combination) of objectives makes them hard to compare, so I'll be leaning on's Career Approximate Value (CarAV) to help me rank players. Similar to defensive backs, I've broken down picks between 2000 and 2008 into starter quality (starts at least 80% of seasons), journeyman (at least 50% of seasons) and the rest. I've correlated these with CarAV ranges to get an idea of what level of play is required for each bucket, and will look at player yields from the draft using these points of reference.

By inspecting the list of players, the 'elite' range for CarAV is above 9, and 'good' is above 7.5. Starter quality players average about 6, so I'll consider this the cutoff for an 'adequate' starter. The bottom third of the journeyman range is 4.5, which will become the cutoff for a bust ('backup'). Now let's see what the data shows.

Round 7:
Of 45 picks, there are 2 backup level players.

Round 6:
Of 37 picks, there are 1 good, 2 adequate and 1 backup players.

Round 5:
Of 44 picks, there are 3 adequate and 3 backup players.

Round 4:
Of 42 picks, there are 5 adequate and 4 backup players.

Round 3:
Of 53 picks, there are 1 elite, 1 good, 4 adequate and 6 backup players.

Round 2:
Of 39 picks, there are 3 elite, 2 good, 8 adequate and 5 backup players.

Round 1:
Of 27 picks, there are 5 elite, 6 good, 6 adequate and 5 backup players. 5 players were busts.

We see the similar trend of little differentiation in rounds 5 through 7. Less than 5% of picks are of adequate starting caliber, and only another 5% are destined to backup duty. In rounds 3 and 4, the odds of each double, but even building depth is a slim proposition. Things change drastically from here though, as nearly half of 2nd round picks seeing significant action, with 1 in 3 being starter quality. We also see about 1 in 5 picks end up in the good or elite category. Round 1 yields about 2 starters per 3 picks and those are equally likely to be good or elite. The bust rate is less than 1 in 5.

Based on past pick history, teams should not use a top-10 pick on a linebacker. Brian Urlacher is the only good or elite pick in that range (#9). The other 4 (Arrington, Hawk, Sims, Rivers) have been quality players, but didn't reach the higher status for one reason or another (Arrington and Rivers missed significant time to injury). Looking more closely at the draft history, the quality starts to drop off pretty significantly by the middle of the 2nd. The range is just right for every team to get one good shot at a starting linebacker.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Draft Metrics: Defensive Backs

What good is a strong pass rush if there aren't players to make a quarterback pay for poor passes? Defensive backs are the last line of defense, and have the largest ability to make big plays on the ball, but they're also the ones who get singled out for being burned over the top. So, what can we expect from a player? Most seasons, the NFL leader has 8-10 interceptions. The names are familiar: Darren Sharper, Ed Reed, Antonio Cromartie, Champ Bailey ... and yet, that level of success is incredibly hard to maintain. In fact, the highest per-season interception average over the last decade is just 5.8 (Ed Reed), and only two other players (Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) are at 5 per season. 7 more players are between 4 and 5, and there aren't quite enough players total (28) to leave every NFL team with one player averaging at least 3 interceptions per year.

We'll define players averaging 4 or more picks as 'elite' playmakers, 3 or more as 'good', 2 or more as 'adequate' and the rest are freely replacable. Any player starting over 80% of his seasons (to allow for one injured or bad season) in the league will be labeled a 'career starter', and players starting at least 50% of the season will be labeled 'fringe starters'. Of 485 picks made between 1999 and 2008, only 48 meet this criteria. So, based on picks made from 1999 to 2008, where should teams look to find these players?

See full data here.

Round 7:
Of 70 picks, 3 fall into the adequate playmaker category and all others are replacable. 1 player (Finnegan) has made 1 Pro Bowl. 1 player is a career starter and 6 are fringe.

Round 6:
Of 71 picks, 2 are adequate playmakers and all others are replacable. 1 player (Bethea) has made 1 Pro Bowl. 2 players are career starters and 1 is fringe.

Round 5:
Of 69 picks, 4 are adequate playmakers, and 1 player (Azumah) has made 1 Pro Bowl. 3 players are career starters. 3 are career starters, 4 are fringe.

Round 4:
Of 79 picks, 1 (Samuel) is an elite playmaker, 3 more (A.Henry, Vasher, Rhodes) are good and 5 more are adequate. There are 5 Pro Bowl appearances from this group (Samuel: 3, Vasher: 1, McGee: 1). 5 are career starters, 9 are fringe.

Round 3:
Of 67 picks, 2 (Atogwe, Wesley) are good playmakers, and 6 more are adequate. Wilson has made 3 Pro Bowls, C.Hope has made 1. 7 are career starters, 8 are fringe.

Round 2:
Of 73 picks, 1 (Mathis) is elite, 5 are good, and 14 are adequate playmakers. There are 13 Pro Bowl selections from this group, though the 2 belonging to Devin Hester are not for playing defense. 10 are career starters, 32 are fringe.

Round 1:
Of 56 selections, 8 are elite, 7 are good and 14 are adequate. 47 Pro Bowl spots over the last decade are from this group. 20 are career starters, 19 are fringe.

Defensive backs show a fast dropoff in playmaking skill and starting caliber through the rounds. Rounds 5-7 are essentially interchangable, yielding 6 career starters, 3 Pro Bowls and no good or elite playmakers in 210 tries. Rounds 3 and 4 contain 12 career starters, 19 fringe, 8 Pro Bowls, 1 elite and 5 good playmakers in 146 tries. The odds of an impact player stay safely under 10 percent. Round 2 improves the odds, but there's still only about a 30 percent chance of picking up a playmaker, and only about half of those stick as career starters.

Round 1 drastically improves the odds of picking up a playmaker who becomes a starter over a career. Bust rates are very high, barely 1 in 3 first rounders reach this level. Another 1 in 3 are shuffled in and out of lineups, relegated to Mel Kiper's assessment that they are not the long-term future of the position and an upgrade could be made. But Mel, the odds of the new pick beating them out just isn't that high.

It seems drafting defensive backs is a constant struggle, and teams picking well need to treasure that player. Even for just quality depth, picks should come from the top 2 rounds. Because of the high risk involved, these players should not be picked so high that their contracts become prohibitive. A smart team must realize there's a good chance their selection will not pan out, and has to be ready to move on in a few years.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Draft Metrics: Center

The center is the quarterback of the offensive line, and a great player in the middle can really gel the line into a cohesive front. However, centers are valued even less than guards, only 5 having been selected in the 1st round between 1996 and 2008. Yet, finding a center is non-trivial, there are only about 2 starting-caliber centers per draft. I am using the same groupings as for tackles. Full data is here.

Round 7:
Of 23 selections, 2 (K.Houser, E.Amano) are top, 1 is a solid starter and 5 are backups.

Round 6:
Of 17 selections, 1 (J.Sullivan) is top, 2 are solid starters and 5 are backups.

Round 5:
Of 12 selections, 2 (R.Pontbriand, D.Koppen) are top and 2 are solid. 4 more are backups.

Round 4:
Of 13 selections, 1 (K.Lichtensteiger) is a top, 4 are solid starters. 4 more are backups.

Round 3:
Quality picks up a lot here, of 10 selections, 1 (A.Treu) is a top and 7 more are solid starters.

Round 2:
Stacks up like round 2, of 9 selections, 2 (S.Satele, D.Raiola) are top and 3 are solid starters. 3 more are backups.

Round 1:
Only 5 picks have come from round 1, and they have all panned out. 1 (N.Mangold) is a top and the other 4 are solid starters.

Quality is spread evenly on the first day, with 75% panning out as at least solid starters. Rounds 4 and 5 present about a one-third chance each of picking up a starter or a quality backup. Odds diminish by about half in the last 2 rounds. Teams looking for a starter should stay disciplined and not pick in the first 2 rounds. In 9 of the 13 years, the top player came from the 3rd round or later, and in 2 of the remaining years there was still a starting-quality player available at that time in the draft.

Draft Metrics: Offensive Guard

Guards set the tone for the offensive line. They are the mean ones, the maulers, and tend to have the biggest impact in establishing a physical running attack. Guards are rarely selected in the 1st round, in fact each year averages 1 player taken with a top pick. I'm going to use the same bucketing as for tackles. As expected (since they have similar career lengths as and play every down like tackles), the buckets contain similar hit rates overall. Of 201 selections, we have 18 top, 30 adequate and 47 stopgap starters. 106 (about half) are busts. Full data here.

Round 7:
The last round shows a run on guards. Of 52 selections, 5 are adequate and 4 are stopgap starters. This has been a significantly weaker round for picks than any other.

Round 6:
Of 24 selections, 2 (M.Rivera, R.Hadnot) are top, 2 are adequate and 5 are stopgap starters.

Round 5:
Of 34 selections, 3 (D.Diehl, J.Scott, B.Olson) are top, 7 are adequate and 5 are stopgap.

Round 4:
Of 29 selections, 5 are adequate and 11 are stopgap.

Round 3:
Of 26 selections, 3 are top, 2 more are adequate and 10 more are stopgap.

Round 2:
The quality picks up drastically in the top 2 rounds. Of 23 selections, 7 are top, 4 more are adequate and 8 more are stopgap. The starter hit rate jumps suddenly over 50 percent, whereas it's 25% or lower in the later rounds.

Round 1:
There have only been 13 1st round selections, which reflects the relatively lower value assigned to guards compared to some other positions. Of these selections, 3 are top, 6 are adequate and the remaining 4 are stopgap quality.

Rounds 3 through 6 are a good place to add depth with the possibility of more. 21% of selections in this range end up being at least adequate starters, and another 27% are quality backups. Round 2 yields about half starters, and almost all picks are at least a quality roster spot. Paralleling tackles, two-thirds of Pro Bowl selections are 1st rounders, but teams can build effectively using 2nd-round picks to save money, or assembling depth and developing starters from rounds 3 and on.

Draft Metrics: Offensive Tackle

Most teams approach building their offense through the trenches, specifically focusing on the offensive tackle. A dominant player can lock down the position for over a decade, and positively impact both the running and passing games. For this study, I've taken draft data from 1996 to 2008 (2009 data hadn't been updated yet). In assessing a player's performance, I'm looking at two tiers: games played per years available to judge whether a player is starting caliber, and Pro Bowls per year available to screen out elite players.

There were 256 tackles selected between 1996 and 2008. 32 of these have played 15 or more games per season (top starter) over their career, and 43 more play 12 or more games per season (adequate starter). An additional 54 appear in more than 6 games (stopgap starter/backup). The remaining half of selections are backups at best, and should be trivially replacable. Full data is here.

Round 7:
Of 41 selections, 1* is strong (J.Richard), 5 more are adequate, and 5 more are stopgap solutions.

Round 6:
Of 39 selections, 1 is strong (C.Johnson), 1 is adequate and 4 are stopgaps.

Round 5:
Of 34 selections, 1* is strong (C.Nicks), 2 are adequate and 8 are stopgaps.

*- both players have been in the league one year, so longterm success isn't guaranteed yet.

Round 4:
We start to see the quality pick up a little. Of 35 selections, 2 are strong (J.Evans, J.Runyan), 6 are adequate and 9 more are stopgaps. Both strong players have made a Pro Bowl, the lowest picks earning this distinction.

Round 3:
Looks much like round 4. Of 35 selections, 3 (A.Snyder, E.Winston, M.Starks) are strong, 7 are adequate and 9 can plug a hole in a lineup.

Round 2:
A noticeable increase in quality again. Of 28 selections, we see 7 strong players, 11 adequate starts, and 6 more stopgaps. Only 4 players (M.Pearson, W.Justice, J.Roque, J.Rogers) in 13 years fall below stopgap. We also see numerous Pro Bowl-level players (M.Roos, M.McNeill, F.Adams, C.Clifton, M.Light, ... )

Round 1:
Scouts earn their paychecks for this position. Of 44 selections, 17 are strong starters, 11 more are adequate and 11 are stopgaps. 5 players are busts. While the bucket numbers are pretty close to round 2, round 1 tackles have earned a combined 53 Pro Bowl nods vs 13 for round 2 picks.

The late rounds produce about one starter per 10 picks, so don't get your hopes too high for that raw prospect. However, another 1 in 7 picks become decent backups, so there's a combined 1 in 4 chance your team will find a quality roster player here. The odds roughly double when picking in the 3rd and 4th round; per 4 players, 1 will be a starter, another will be a backup. 2 out of 3 players from the top rounds will be a solid starter or better. Though Pro Bowl selections are dominated by 1st rounders, a savvy team can build a strong line with 2nd-round picks and keep costs considerably lower.

Top offensive tackles should be located in the first two rounds, but upgrades to weak players can be readily found in the middle of the draft, and depth behind an otherwise solid line can be addressed with late-round picks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Draft Metrics: Defensive Ends

Defensive end is a position dedicated to producing sacks, and a dominant player can single-handedly elevate a defense. However, such dominant players are rare. How rare? There have been 223 defensive ends selected this decade, but only 4 (Allen, Dumervil, Freeney, Peppers) average double-digit sacks per year. There are 7 more players at over 8 sacks per year (elite), and 11 more over 6 (strong presence), and 20 more over 4 (solid pass rusher). What does this mean? In other words, each draft contains about 1 8-sack, 1 6-sack and 2 4-sack players. Only two players from this decade (LaBoy, K.Edwards) averaging 4 sacks per year failed to make a roster. The halfway point is about 2 sacks per year, anyone under this I'll consider a bust.

I am using sacks per year available to compensate for players who have failed to make rosters in some of the years since they have been drafted. Note that I'm only evaluating these players as pass rushers. Some players are moved to DT or LB positions where pass rushing is no longer a primary duty. See full data here

Round 7:
Of 36 players, 2 players (McCray, Ratliff) turned out solid and 31 busted.

Round 6:
Of 34 players, 1 player (T.Scott) turned out strong, and 31 busted.

Round 5:
Of 23 players, 2 players (T.Cole, R.Mathis) turned out elite, 2 (K.G.Biamila, Kampman) are strong and 1 more is solid. 13 players busted.

Round 4:
Of 30 players, 2 (J.Allen, Dumervil) are elite, 1 (S.Philips) is strong, and 3 more are solid. 19 players were busts.

Round 3:
Of 25 players, there are 4 solid (Tuck, Burgess, Hayward, Shaughnessy), and 15 busted.

Round 2:
Of 35 players, 2 (Woodley, Schobel) are elite, 2 (Umeniyora, D.Howard) are strong and 4 more are solid. 14 players are busts.

Round 1:
Of 40 players, 5 (Freeney, Peppers, M.Williams, Abraham, W.Smith) are elite, 5 (A.Carter, Sh.Ellis, Hali, Wimbley, J.Smith) are strong and 6 more are solid. 16 players are busts.

Pass rushers have a very high bust rate. Even in the first round, only 25 and 40 percent turn out strong or solid, respectively. Drafting across the first 2 rounds yields starters about 30% of the time, and 40% bust.

Drafting in the middle three rounds yields a solid starter nearly 20 percent of the time (with a similar ratio of strong and elite rushers). Bust rates increase to 60%, but mid-round salaries are cheap, so it appears teams are better off spending several middle round picks on high-risk/high-reward prospects than trying to get the highly touted player.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A quick aside: Trade Value

The Anquan Boldin trade discussion has fired up again, and everyone's asking what he's worth. Given the expectations from drafting a replacement wide receiver, we can give upper and lower bounds on his value.

What is he worth to the Cardinals?
One can make the argument that he's worth nothing. The Cardinals are 6-2 without him in the last 2 years. They would need to give him a big contract to keep him, and he's not likely to play at an elite level for more than the next 2 years, so simply not re-signing him is not out of the question.

What is he worth to another team?
Depends what the other team needs. There are two primary scenarios to consider: a team who needs a receiver to put them over the top, or a team building for the longer term. The team who needs a proven veteran is clearly the higher value proposition for the Cardinals. Such a team would need to spend a 1st and 2nd round pick to most likely get a player of Boldin's caliber. Missing slightly and getting another #3 receiver wouldn't do for such a team. In the immediate term, the value is therefore about a 1st and 2nd. However, if they do get a quality starter, that player is guaranteed to be with the team for 4-5 years on a rookie contract, which is likely substantially smaller than Boldin's future cost, so that cuts the total value of Boldin to half or slightly under. Thus, a team might spend a high 2nd round pick. A rebuilding team would have the same considerations as the Cardinals with respect to Boldin's cost and longevity, but given the small yield for a starter from the 3rd or 4th round, they're likely to easily trade such a pick. Thus, I'd bracket Boldin's value between about a 2nd and 3rd round pick. If there are multiple teams in the short-term need category vying for him, it could push his value up to a 2nd + a mid-round pick, or maybe a high 1st rounder, though that seems extreme.

Draft Metrics: Wide Receivers

Now that we've found where to pick our franchise quarterback, it's time to give him some weapons. Wide receiver is unique in that a team can field many of them at once, and they get to work against typically progressively weaker components of the defense. Thus, it stands to reason that a team can use a range of quality at the position. For this study I will look at receivers drafted since 2001 (299 total), and will measure receptions per year available (the number of years they could have played if they stayed in the league since they were drafted). I am breaking this performance into 4 categories: greater than 60 (top receiver), 60-40 (solid #2), 40-20 (solid #3) and less than 20 (replacable at will, aka 'bust'). See all data here.

Drafting a starter:
teams are generally looking to add playmakers at the position, which necessitates them being on the field. There have been 17 top receivers selected since 2001, 7 from the 1st round, 5 from the 2nd, and 5 spread across later rounds (3, 4, 4, 7, 7). There have been 24 solid #2 options, 12 from round 1, 7 from round 2, and 5 from later rounds (3, 4, 4, 5, 5). Combined, 19 came from round 1, 12 from round 2 and 10 from rounds 3 through 7. This suggests there is good talent in the later rounds, however, it is harder to find these diamonds amongst the refuse.

Round 7:
Of the 65 selections, 55 have been complete busts (34 of them have never caught a pass in the NFL). 2 have turned out to be top pass-catchers (Colston, Houshmandzadeh). 7 players have turned out to as solid #3 options. Starters = 3%, Regular contributors = 14%

Round 6:
Of the 41 selections, 4 have become solid #3 options and the rest have been busts (28 have never caught a pass). Starters = 0%, Regular contributors = 10%

Round 5:
Of the 39 selections, there are 2 each solid #2 (Breaston, Knox) and #3. 17 players never caught a pass. Starters = 5%, Regular contributors = 10%

Round 4:
Of the 34 selections, there are 2 top targets (Marshall, Collie) and 2 solid #2 (Cotchery, M.Thomas). There are 7 more solid #3 options. 6 players in this group never caught a pass. Starters = 12%, Regular contributors = 32%

Round 3:
The overall quality is still low here. Of the 40 selections, there is 1 top receiver (S.Smith of CAR), one #2 (Berrian) and 10 more #3 wideouts. 4 players have zero career receptions. Starters = 5%, Regular contributors = 30%

Round 2:
Finally some improvement. Of the 42 selections, there are 5 top targets (Boldin, Ochocinco, Royal, D.Jackson, Jennings), 7 more #2 options and 10 #3 wideouts. Only 1 player never caught a pass (Dexter Jackson). Starters = 29%, Regular contributor = 52%

Round 1:
Of the 38 selections, 7 turned out to be top receivers, 12 more were solid #2 and 10 were #3, leaving 9 as complete busts. Half the receivers will be career starters, and the other half are replacable with late first-day or early second-day picks. Starters = 50%, Regular contributor = 76%.

If you are looking for a starter, you should be drafting in the first 2 rounds, and even then the yield is low (around 40%), though about 2 out of 3 will earn regular playing time and catch at least 20 passes a year. Rounds 3 and 4 produce a regular contributor per 3 picks, and almost no starters. Wide receiver is a great position to target in rounds 5-7 for special teams players such as gunners or returners. These players will often have some skills but won't be able to crack a starting roster due to size issues, route-running deficiencies, etc.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Draft Metrics: Quarterbacks

Quarterback is the flagship position of any team, and perhaps more draft effort goes into that selection than any other. Conventional wisdom says franchise quarterbacks are found in the first round, though there are examples of extreme late-round or undrafted successes (Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Kurt Warner). So, what's the reality, what should a team expect? For this exercise, I'll be looking at career rating vs draft round for players with at least 100 lifetime pass attemps, and the Sit-Adjusted Games per Year, which compensates for quarterbacks not typically playing their rookie year and a successful pick lasting at least 10 years in the league. The goal is to pick a franchise starter, which is a player who will play most games for the next 10 years or more. I've left players with little expected playtime (last 2 drafts) off the list, and compiled the data for the 1995 through 2007 drafts, which includes 160 total picks. See complete chart here.

69 of the 160 players have less than 100 lifetime pass attempts, in fact 42 of them have never thrown a pass in the NFL. All but a few of these picks came from day 2, about two-thirds of these picks (round 4: 9 of 21, round 5: 12 of 17, round 6: 18 of 28, round 7: 23 of 31) go virtually unused. Picks from the first 4 rounds fare considerably better at getting on the field, so I will focus the discussion on these rounds.

Round 4:
12 of 21 players have thrown at least 100 NFL passes. There are a few notable successes (David Garrard, Kyle Orton). A few others have turned in solid performances in limited time (Seneca Wallace, Sage Rosenfels, Aaron Brooks), but most are weak backups or never see the field.

Round 3:
14 of 18 quarterbacks have thrown at least 100 NFL passes (exceptions are Giovanni Carmazzi, David Greene, Charlie Whitehurst and Dave Ragone), but only 2 have become regular starters (Trent Edwards and Matt Schaub), and several others have gotten spot duty but been displaced (Brian Griese, Josh McCown, Charlie Frye, Chris Simms). Most become adequate short-term backups. This round stacks up much like round 4.

Round 2:
12 of 14 have thrown at least 100 NFL passes (Marques Tuiasosopo, Drew Stanton). Only 2 were regular starters (Drew Brees, Jake Plummer), and several others played significant time as starters (Kordell Stewart, Charlie Batch, Tarvaris Jackson). The bulk are again relegated to adequate backup duty, though career ratings more consistently hover in the 70s (instead of ranging down to about 60 for round 3 picks).

Round 1:
Drumroll please, for the obvious conclusion. 30 of 31 quarterbacks have gotten on the field for at least a season's worth of games (Jim Druckenmiller is the dubious exception). 5 have posted career ratings over 90, and 6 more are over 80 (for comparison, Dan Marino and Brett Favre are 86.4 and 86.6, respectively). 11 more are over 70, and only two are under 60 (Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith). The average for this group is about 75. Drafting a quarterback in the first round has about equal chances of netting a guy who can win games, who can manage, and who is a bust.

Top franchise quarterbacks come primarily from round 1. Picking in round 2 most likely gets you a solid backup, rounds 3 and 4 net players you can use in a pinch, while rounds 5 through 7 are probably better spent on any other position.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Draft Metrics: Running Backs

It's important to know what kind of production to expect from your running back, and targeting the right round to meet that expectation should increase the success of meeting needs with draft picks. I've charted rush yards per year and combined yards per year vs round drafted for running backs drafted since 2002 (to focus on current backs, given the expected career for them is about 8 years). A very interesting trend develops: if we remove the two 1st-round outliers (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson), there is virtually no difference in the peak performance per round on day 1. As expected, the average performance decreases with round.

First, let's take a look at the Rush Yards per Year and Combined Yards per Year vs Draft Round graphs (see full data here):

We see very similar distributions in both, suggesting there's no significant change in usage for backs taken in early rounds vs later ones. We also see a gradual dropoff in average career production with round, and no 1st rounder has failed to play at least one year (though this is not surprising given the money invested in them, and I expect this theme to persist for other positions).
So then, where should your team look for a back? As mentioned before, there are 2 exceptional backs from the last 8 years, and neither is the type of talent that is available in any draft. There is approximately 1 back per draft that will average over 1000 yards per year, 3 of whom came from the 1st round, 2 from the 2nd, and 1 each from the 3rd and 4th. Hence, the top back per draft can be lurking anywhere on day 1.

Digging deeper into the talent pool, we come up with 20 backs who averaged at least 800 yards per season (1st: 11, 2nd: 5, 3rd: 3, 4th: 1), which is about what we'd expect from a quality feature back. More than half of them are found in the first round, and an overwhelming majority come from the first two rounds.

Rounds 3 and 4 produce many solid backups, or players for multiple-back systems, but virtually no stars. Players from this range may have a few good years, but don't sustain success (Brandon Jacobs, Jerious Norwood). Careers average about 5 years.

Rounds 5 and later rarely produce anyone better than backup quality, Michael Turner and Tim Hightower being the exceptions. About a third of these players will never make an NFL roster.

NFL Draft

Every year the NFL Draft brings great hopes, fan opinions, Mel Kiper's prospect grades and ultimately, elation or disappointment. We debate if it's worth getting that top quarterback or running back, or to focus on the offensive line first. What we really need to know is the expectation of performance for a prospect drafted in a given round. I'm going to be evaluating performance vs round drafted for a number of positions to help sort these questions out.

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