Tuesday, December 10, 2013

NFL Draft 2014 Preview

That wonderful time of year has come when the playoff intensity is arriving, the weather is turning brutal, and the awful teams have distinguished themselves. The top of the draft is starting to cement itself. Using my patent-pending formula of projecting final standings, I will now venture a first guess at the top of the draft! I'll be using some hand-wavy combination of Mel and Todd's big boards to base this on. Can you tell we're going to have serious insight here?

1. Houston Texans (2.6 wins) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
What a mess! The Texans were hoping to contend for a Super Bowl, instead they've lost their quarterback, running back and head coach to injury... and now they've gone ahead and fired their coach. Despite sitting at 2-11, the Texans have only lost 3 games by more than a touchdown. If not for an amazing streak of 5 games with pick-6s and a little bad luck, they could very well be at 7 or 8 wins and contending for the division. It's unlikely Case Keenum is their QB of the future and it's clear they're done with Matt Schaub. Their line hasn't been great, but their left tackle is not the issue. They also have serious issues in the secondary, but the positional value isn't there. Thus, they have no choice but to roll the dice and hope Teddy can deliver.

2. Minnesota Vikings (3.6 wins) - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
After an inspiring 2012, the Vikings have regressed again. Their defense is awful, they give up too many big plays, and their impact guys are aging. Jared Allen may finish with the lowest sack total of his career and he's also making fewer tackles than normal. This is a perfect pick for the Vikings, hitting both need and value. They'd love to land a franchise quarterback (Matt Cassell's probably been the best for them this year), and the 2nd round offers a good chance to do so. Adrian Peterson is still special, and Cordarrelle Patterson is a Percy Harvin-type playmaker, but they have an eroding core and this draft needs to be all about value across the board.

3. Atlanta Falcons (4.2 wins) - Jake Matthews, OL, TA&M
Another team in the Houston mold, the Falcons were more hurt by off-season moves. They neglected their offensive line and run game (trading one old back for another), and made what proved to be a mistake in not keeping John Abraham. While they are doing reasonably well getting sacks by committee, they have no legitimate threat beyond Osi Umeniyora, who is aging out rapidly. Matt Ryan's been sacked at a high rate as well. Really, the Falcons were loaded up for a Super Bowl push the last few years, and finally the team shook apart. They could alternatively go with an impact defensive end, but solidifying the offensive line should help all aspects of their offense which has completely imploded.

4. St Louis Rams (from Washington, 4.2 wins) - Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
The Rams were all set for a promising season, but the injury to Sam Bradford and the slow development of Tavon Austin really limited their offense. While their front 7 is showing good, though intermittent, progress, they still give up too many big plays. They'll have Bradford back next year, and they can hope their playmakers develop. They can pick up additional running backs or secondary in later rounds, and with Jake Long on board they don't need a new left tackle. They need to make the best value pick, and Tuitt paired with Brockers, Quinn and Long could make for one of the best lines in the league. They really hit a homerun with the collapse of the Redskins, and should be able to load up with 2 high picks.

5. Buffalo Bills (4.9 wins) - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Another disappointing season for the Bills, just seems like they can never get it together. They do have a promising young quarterback and offensive skill players, along with a defense that gets sacks like no other. However, they are surprisingly bad against the run and Barr would enter in a role similar to Von Miller.

6. Oakland Raiders (4.9 wins) - Khalik Mack, OLB, University of Buffalo
If Al Davis were still running the show, this pick would be Johnny Manziel. But, cooler heads are in charge, and they're still cleaning up the mess left by the previous regime. Despite their record, the Raiders have been competitive in many of their losses .. but there's no question Terrell Pryor is not an NFL quarterback and I don't think anyone is holding out for Matt McGloin to be that guy either, though he's been decent. The Raiders don't get sacks, give up lots of passing TDs and play generally mediocre defense. Mack has a chance to make an impact on a team that needs impact players.

7. Tampa Bay (4.9 wins) - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Bucs are finally showing some signs of life! After starting 0-8 and jettisoning their former franchise qb and having a mess in the locker room, they seem to be on the right track. They need more playmakers on offense and Watkins fits that bill.

8. Cleveland Browns (5.2 wins) - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Browns have a clear need for a franchise quarterback, plain and simple. They are playing competitive defense, have a wide receiver with endless potential, a good young tight end and are putting points on the board through the air. However, their running game is awful and they give up almost 4 sacks a game. Their line needs help.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars (5.2 wins) - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Jaguars are terrible all around, and they shipped off their starting left tackle. This draft is deep with replacements, and Lewan represents a clear upgrade. Chad Henne is competent and given how far this team is from challenging, they need to make their high picks count. Offensive line is a much safer place to invest than quarterback.

10. St Louis Rams (5.9 wins) - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma St
The Rams second top 10 pick in this scenario. They've used the first as a value pick on their defensive line and have more flexibility to address need here. Despite a formidable pass rush and good run defense, they give up huge yards per pass. I think the Rams make a bet that their skill guys are going to develop and keep beefing up their defense against the very large and physical NFC West.

We'll revisit this after the end of the season when the order finalizes, then again after the combine.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Draft Pick Values

The NFL Draft features numerous trades, many of which seem to conform to the classic draft value chart. It's almost dogmatically accepted, but does it always make sense? My dad once told me to look at the extremes. He was referring to sanity checking if a proposed function made sense or not by testing it at variable=0 or infinity, but the same concept can apply here. Granted I'm backing the following up with little concrete data, but let's take a look at a few examples:

Trading from 2nd to 1st costs about a 2nd rounder. Getting to the top spot means you can guarantee picking that one blue-chip, can't-miss tackle or quarterback. If there's a dropoff after them, forfeiting a good shot at another starter makes sense. If you didn't, you'd be taking a bigger risk on the 1st rounder not working out. If it only cost an additional 3rd, this would be a clear win for the team trading up. If it cost an additional 1st, it would mean the team misses out on a premium pick. This passes the smell test.

The 20th pick is valued equally to the 33rd and 65th. At 20, there's unlikely to be a premium quarterback, tackle or pass rusher. While there may be an elite tight end, nose tackle or inside linebacker, these are positions of lesser impact. In other words, we're looking at players who either have limited impact no matter what, or have a red flag in either college production, measurables or character. The 33rd pick is a little more of the same, and may actually be more appropriate value-wise for the lesser impact positions. The 65th is skirting the territory where guys with clear NFL upside are disappearing, so finding a good role player is often the best outcome. This, again, feels like a reasonably fair trade. Another way to look at it is: the team with the top pick got their blue-chipper, and now they want to go all in for a particular player they want to take a chance on instead of waiting for the board to play out. Never underestimate the perceived value of getting to pick the particular player you want instead of taking who is left for you.

In general, the classic chart lets a team move up about half a round by trading their pick in the next round (ex: mid-2nd + 3rd = borderline 1st), and about a quarter round by throwing in their pick from 2 rounds later (ex: mid-2nd + 4th = higher pick by about 8 spots in the 2nd). What this expresses is that getting to pick the particular player they feel good about is worth not getting to take a chance on a lesser prospect later.

A very important thing to remember here is that the values assigned to each pick are generalized guidelines. Making a big trade up in some drafts has little to no reward. For example, 2013 and 2012 featured similarly graded blue-chip players at the same premium position. The Redskins had no reason to trade beyond the 2nd pick because both Luck and RG3 were franchise-changing quarterbacks (pending discovery of the indestructible ACL ... ). This year, the Jags had no reason to trade up to take the tackle of their choice because both Fisher and Joeckel are dominant, can't-miss players. In other words, the 1st and 2nd pick were worth about the same. Suppose RG3 wasn't there last year. Now suddenly, the benefit of trading to 1 is huge because no other quarterback in the draft compares to Luck. 2013 featured a glut of similarly graded players at a variety of positions. The Raiders traded their 3rd pick to the Dolphins for the 12th and 42nd. Per this chart, they gave the Dolphins a 50% discount. Why? Because they were desperate to add extra picks, and the quality of player they were likely to draft at 12 was not much lower than what they would have goten at 3. Getting 2 shots at the premium part of the prospect list was worth passing on Milliner or whoever they would have taken in their original spot. As such, we can't say that any trade value chart is inherently correct, there's too much contextual information missing without actual players plugged in.

We can, however, call out clearly degenerate cases. In the latter rounds, the gaps in relative values of picks get oddly large. Per the chart, the 211th pick is worth as much as 222, 223 and 224 combined. We're really looking at the scraps at this point, and picks are really a crapshoot here. We're essentially talking low-yield lottery tickets (keep in mind most 7th round picks won't even make the final roster). So why should 1 of these (at 211) be worth as much as 3 of these just a few spots later? This makes no sense at all. Similarly, the last 3 picks of the 6th round are worth as much as the last pick in the 4th. In the 4th, we're still looking at guys who have good physical skillsets and are expected to make the team and contribute. 6th rounders usually have significant physical shortcomings that most never make it past.

The classic chart uses an approximately exponentially decreasing point value model (about a factor of 2 per round) until the top of the 5th, when it changes over to an almost exactly linearly decreasing model. I guess it's trying to account for teams targeting specific crapshoot players, which again has perceived value to the team ... but really, would you elect to have more randomly given scratchers tickets, or hand-pick fewer of them?

Overall grade: B+. The top 4 rounds seems pretty reasonable, but the scale erodes in the later rounds.

To attempt to address the perceived arbitrariness of the classic model, a group created the Harvard model. Right off the bat we can tell that the later rounds are addressed: there's very little difference between 6th and 7th rounders, in fact it's not even possible (per the chart) to engineer a trade back in the 6th without the buyer grossly overspending (or getting into some crazy exotic pick swapping). Unfortunately the Harvard model completely faceplants in the earlier (aka: "important") rounds. For a 7th rounder, a team can move from the 32nd to the 20th, or from 16th to 10th, or from 10th to the 6th pick, or from 5th to 3rd, or 3rd to 2nd. This is lunacy. That 7th rounder is worthless, and you're telling me I can instead have my choice of blue-chip prospect, maybe align that with a need, or hop forward spot(s) to get the clearly better of 2 options? No no no no no. In the Harvard model, the 1st can be had from 7th with the addition of a 2nd rounder, or from the 3rd with the addition of a 4th rounder, or from 2nd with the addition of a 6th. Again, not a chance the seller would go for it. There's also a very oddly large discontinuity form the 32nd to the 33rd pick that should make any basic sanity checker scratch their head. And just to pile it on, the last few picks in the 7th are actually more valuable than those in the middle of the 7th (though this may be a copy/paste error, the sequence from 193 repeats starting at 215).

Overall grade: F. I appreciate their attempt at a statistical approach, but sometimes we don't use the right stats or put them together the right way and a simple smell test should say "no, this doesn't make sense". Anyone who reads KC Joyner's articles should be familiar with this reaction. The meat of the draft is in the top 2 rounds and getting values clearly wrong here makes the scale unusable.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Meanwhile in Jersey

Bottles of champagne are on ice, ready to pop.
The moment this Revis deal goes through, the Jets get:

1. A 2nd reasonably high pick. They can now go 49ers on us and take Cooper + Fluker, or  address needs with Fluker + Werner, or ... options abound, but having 3 of the top 45 picks is a great way to reload cheaply.
2. A ton of money off their books.
3. No more headaches with Revis's holdouts.

All it cost them is a player they proved they don't need.

Tampa Bay: the new Redskins

Holy crap, what a crazy pair of off-seasons we've seen in Tampa. Let's recap:

1. They've signed Carl Nicks to a 5 year deal worth up to 47.5M
2. They've signed Vincent Jackson to a 6 year deal worth up to 61M
3. They've signed Dashon Goldson to a 5 year deal worth up to 43M
4. Impending: they are about to sign Darrell Revis in the neighborhood of 15M a year. Oh yeah, and forfeit their #13 pick along with a couple later picks as well.

Let's see what they've accomplished here. They locked up 20M a year in a guard and wide reciever, after which their pass offense was #10 in the NFL and their running production was #15. They spent over 8M a year on a safety when other very good options are _still_ available and desperate for jobs. For example, Kerry Rhodes is a solid player, was available and could probably have been signed for 2-3M a year on a shorter deal. Unless you're the Steelers or Ravens, that elite safety does not change your defense considerably versus having a solid player there. Adding Revis to the mix means locking up 15M a year for a player to take away half the field, but the Bucs don't do a terribly good job of pressuring quarterbacks ... so ... yeah.

43M a year locked up in 4 players, none of whom play the real premium positions (quarterback, tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end).

And we haven't looked at the impact of the Bucs losing their draft pick in a year with really good quality depth at a lot of positions that they happen to need. I'm pretty sure they'd be better off taking a chance on Bjoern Werner or Star Lotulelei or any other defensive lineman available at 13 than trading it for Revis. Or, just reach a bit for one of the corners in the draft and pay them 20% of what Revis is making.

Oh yeah, don't forget Revis is in love with being the top-paid guy in the league. The moment he's not, you've got a contract holdout on your hands.

Well done.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Final 2013 Mock

Time to pit my predictive skills against the experts! All relevant scouting, trades and free agent moves have been made. There's nothing left before the draft except some time. According to Bill Polian, the 1st pick is finalized about 3 days before, at which point the team with that top pick sits tight waiting for a blockbuster trade. This year, there's no chance of that happening.

In general there's a reduced chance of trades because there are few clearly superior players at impact positions. Fisher or Joeckel? Lotulelei or Floyd? Warmack or Cooper? Austin, Allen, Patterson? There are no running backs valued in the top half of the 1st, and the entire pass rushing crop has eithe production or measurable red flags. Teams are less incentivized to trade up for one of these guys because the other one is just as good. The only exceptions are Geno Smith and Dee Milliner. Milliner is a clear blue chipper, and Smith becomes enticing due to positional value.

1. Kansas City - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A/M (+1)
Kiper's pick: Eric Fisher (+2)
McShay's pick: Eric Fisher (+2)
Mayock's pick: Eric Fisher (+2)
Everyone is saying the pick will be Luke Joeckel, but I'm hung up on Andy Reid's history. He's drafted defensive line 6 times since 1999, and offensive line once. The Chiefs' defensive line received considerable investment between Dorsey and Jackson, but neither really panned out. Defensive end is a big need, and Lotulelei has all the production and measurables a team could want. However, the impending trade of Branden Albert may force the team's hand, and according to most experts Joeckel is the most can't-miss player in this draft.

2. Jacksonville - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (+1)
Kiper's pick: Luke Joeckel (+2)
McShay's pick: Dion Jordan (0)
Mayock's pick: Luke Joeckel (+2)
The Jaguars have a desperate need for a pass rusher, but none of them grade out. I just don't see them taking a chance on a raw prospect like Ansah this early. Their offense is also dismal and a great blocker should pay dividends in front of MJD and their iterating quarterback position. The should strongly consider Star Lotulelei to pair with Tyson Alualu. That tandem should improve their 30th ranked run defense and also provide some pass rush.

3. Oakland - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida (0)
Kiper's pick: Sharrif Floyd (0)
McShay's pick: Sharrif Floyd (0)
Mayock's pick: Sharrif Floyd (0)
The Raiders lost or are losing players along their defensive line, and need quality disruptive pieces. They'd love to finally get a quarterback, but Smith just won't go this high. I think Dion Jordan is an outside possibility, but the line takes precedence.

4. Philadelphia - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma (+2)
Kiper's pick: Lane Johnson (+2)
McShay's pick: Lane Johnson (+2)
Mayock's pick: Lane Johnson (+2)
The Eagles went big to get Jason Peters, and his time has come. They have to know that no quarterback will succeed behind a patchwork offensive line that loses one-on-one battles. Many mocks are calling for Geno Smith here, but they still have Vick's upside. Sure he's old, but they also have Dennis Dixon in that option mold.

5. Detroit - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (0)
Kiper's pick: Ezekiel Ansah (+2)
McShay's pick: Ezekiel Ansah (+2)
Mayock's pick: Ezekiel Ansah (+2)
The Lions have been on a roll, drafting impact players in the 1st. Despite getting good sack production, they gave up 26 passing touchdowns last year. Remember, they made a pretty big offer to Arizona to swap spots and the rights to draft Patrick Peterson. It's finally time to take a blue chip cornerback. I think they would strongly consider Chance Warmack as well to help turn all their empty yards into points. Ansah could be in play here since the Lions lost both of their top ends and Jim Schwartz is defensive guy.

6. Cleveland - Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon (+1)
Kiper's pick: Dee Milliner (0)
McShay's pick: Geno Smith (0)
Mayock's pick: Geno Smith (0)
The Browns have a great cornerback, but are still giving up lots of passing scores. They produce a pretty good number of sacks, but by committee. They need to invest in an impact pass rusher. Ray Horton is bringing a 3-4 defense with him, and Jordan is both the most proven prospect and the best fit for the scheme.
6. San Diego - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers are desperate to solidify their line and let Philip Rivers actually pass from a pocket. AJ Smith was never afraid to make bold moves, ... though he's gone, I think that spirit will live on. The Browns would be happy to trade back. They should be targeting either a guard or pass rusher, and both figure to be available at 11. If any of the top 3 tackles is still on the board, this trade will happen.

7. Arizona - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (+1)
Kiper's pick: Dion Jordan (0)
McShay's pick: Jonathan Cooper (+2)
Mayock's pick: Jonathan Cooper (+2)
The new front office believe in best player available, and new coach Arians says the line is one player away from being really good. The weakest link just so happens to be RG Adam Snyder, so Warmack upgrades a weakness to a dominant position. The Cardinals would probably be happier to get Lane Johnson or Dion Jordan to provide consistent pressure instead of them having to scheme for sacks. However, both of those guys are off the board and Warmack is the pick.

8. Buffalo - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (0)
Kiper's pick: Jonathan Cooper (0)
McShay's pick: Ryan Nassib (+1)
Mayock's pick: Tavon Austin (0)
Blocking is key for the Bills to keep Kevin Kolb comfortable, performing, and on the field. The Bills lost excellent guard Andy Levitre in the offseason, making this is a position of need. In past mocks I've said Buffalo should consider only the premium middle lineback prospect, but the value is no longer there. They have to focus on what they do well: run the ball. Between Te'o, Minter and Ogletree, they can pick up a quality middle linebacker in the 2nd.

9. New York Jets - DJ Fluker, OT, Alabama (0)
Kiper's pick: Barkevious Mingo (0)
McShay's pick: Tyler Eifert (0)
Mayock's pick: Dion Jordan (0)
The Jets gave up almost 3 sacks a game and need to get back to the ground and pound game that let them drag a clearly inept Mark Sanchez to the AFC championship game. The other option is Chance Warmack. The Jets have shown a consistent pattern of drafting for need, and this is what they need. Many mocks have them taking a pass rusher, but they took Coples last year and he came on towards the end of the year. Their pass defense was great as is, and their run defense probably needs an infusion in the linebacking layer.

10. Tennessee - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (0)
Kiper's pick: Sheldon Richardson (0)
McShay's pick: Dee Milliner (0)
Mayock's pick: Dee Milliner (0)
The Titans need to get CJ2K back on track, and the offseason acquisition of Andy Levitre should help. Jake Locker could use a down-field weapon, but we're too high to take a wide receiver in this draft. The Titans have numerous needs, and at this point Star represents too much value. Taking a risk on Ansah doesn't make a ton of sense because they already have two solid defensive ends and a linebacker who all collected 6 sacks last year.

11. San Diego - Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington (0)
Kiper's pick: DJ Fluker (+2)
McShay's pick: Luke Joeckel (+1)
Mayock's pick: Chance Warmack (0)
The Chargers missed all their chances to upgrade their line. They lost two good corners as well, so they elect to replenish that spot. The next best left tackle is Menelik Watson, and he's not even a 1st-round grade.
11. Cleveland - Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
If the Browns traded back with San Diego, they get a player with the same upside they would have taken at 6.

12. Miami - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU (+1)
Kiper's pick: Chance Warmack (0)
McShay's pick: DJ Fluker (0)
Mayock's pick: DJ Fluker (0)
The Dolphins got Mike Wallace and are about to get Branden Albert. They have a great pass rusher in Cameron Wake, but let's not forget he's 31 already and they have no one opposite him. Cornerback should be a consideration here too, but Ansah's upside is too much to pass up here.

13. New York Jets - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (+2)
Kiper's pick: Tavon Austin (0)
McShay's pick: Chance Warmack (0)
Mayock's pick: Tyler Eifert (0)
The Jets have been horrific against the run. After upgrading their offensive line in a move to get back to ground-and-pound, they can address their defense with a distruptive defensive tackle who should pay off in both facets of the defense. There's a glut of cornerbacks that they can pick from in the 2nd.

14. Carolina - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (0)
Kiper's pick: Star Lotulelei (+2)
McShay's pick: Star Lotulelei (+2)
Mayock's pick: Sheldon Richardson (+1)
The Panthers have a great run game, a franchise quarterback, a good pass rush, a solid run defense, and a single playmaking wide receiver entering his 13th year in the league. Steve Smith's shelf life is short and they'll need a replacement. In the meantime they can enjoy two dynamic threats.

15. New Orleans - Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU (0)
15. New Orleans - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Kiper's pick: Jarvis Jones (0)
McShay's pick: Barkevious Mingo (0)
Mayock's pick: Barkevious Mingo (0)
The Saints' offense has no problems and their defense is awful. They have lots of playmakers in the secondary, but it's all predicated on getting pressure up front. Mingo is still on the board and has all the physical measurables needed for the job and excelled at making splash plays. If he's off the board, Jarvis Jones is the next best option.

16. St Louis - Keenan Allen, WR, California (+1)
Kiper's pick: Kenny Vaccaro (0)
McShay's pick: Tavon Austin (+2)
Mayock's pick: Kenny Vaccaro (0)
The Rams lost their best receiver and have no one even pushing for a strong #2 role. They also need to upgrade their offensive line, but have the 22nd pick to pick up Menelik Watson, and can target a guard in the 2nd or 3rd.

17. Pittsburgh - Sylvester Williams, DE, North Carolina (0)
Kiper's pick: Tyler Eifert (0)
McShay's pick: Jarvis Jones (+2)
Mayock's pick: Jarvis Jones (+2)
The Steelers suddenly have a lot of needs: James Harrison is the biggest name, but their defensive line is eroding. Jason Worilds will be thrust into the starting pass rusher role, and this spot is great for a value pick. Williams has all the upside to be a disruptive end and help keep the defense dominant.

18. Dallas - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (0)
Kiper's pick: Sylvester Williams (0)
McShay's pick: Sheldon Richardson (0)
Mayock's pick: Star Lotulelei (0)
The Cowboys need to shore up their defense so they can actually finish games. Their offensive line is also suspect, but it's not quite value time to go that route.  They'd love for Vaccaro to still be on the board to help glue their secondary together, and this works out well for them.

19. New York - Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (0)
Kiper's pick: DJ Hayden (0)
McShay's pick: Bjoern Werner (0)
Mayock's pick: Justin Pugh (+2)
The Giants are a defensive mess. They weren't producing sacks at their usual rate, and everything suffered as a result. They do still have Justin Tuck and JPP coming off the edge, so they need support in the 2nd level. Ogletree edges out Te'o due to his athleticism.

20. Chicago - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame (0)
Kiper's pick: Manti Te'o (0)
McShay's pick: Manti Te'o (0)
Mayock's pick: Manti Te'o (0)
The Bears, despite aging, still have a great defense and a good running game .. but their passing game has been a mess despite the addition of Brandon Marshall because they still lack other legitimate threats. Scoring the top tight end in the draft gives Cutler more options. The knee-jerk reaction would be to find Brian Urlacher's replacement, but middle linebackers are easier to find in the 2nd or 3rd round.

21. Cincinnati - Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (0)
Kiper's pick: Eddie Lacy (0)
McShay's pick: Eddie Lacy (0)
Mayock's pick: Eric Reid (0)
The Bengals are a team without real weaknesses. Their defense is better than their offense, and providing Andy Dalton with a true complement to AJ Green should help the passing game out.

22. St. Louis - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (x)
Kiper's pick: Cordarrelle Patterson (x)
McShay's pick: Kenny Vaccaro (x)
Mayock's pick: Alec Ogletree (x)
The Rams have a multitude of needs, mostly along the offensive line. I certainly think Menelik Watson is in play here (I don't buy that Kyle Long is a prospective tackle in the NFL and good guards can be found in the 2nd-4th rounds), but lining up Jones at the weakside linebacker spot like Denver does with Von Miller could elevate an evolving defense.

23. Minnesota - Robert Woods, WR, USC (0)
Kiper's pick: Robert Woods (0)
McShay's pick: Sylvester Williams (+1)
Mayock's pick: Cordarrelle Patterson (0)
The Vikings lost Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph is their only other credible receiving threat. Even with Harvin they were fairly one-dimensional and had the 2nd-worst passing offense in the league. Adrian Peterson is amazing, but he needs help. I think the Vikings take Woods over Hunter for the playmaking upside. I think Geno Smith is in play here as well; it's hard to believe Ponder is a franchise QB. The Vikings also need help in the secondary and will address that at 25.

24. Indianapolis - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida St (+2)
Kiper's pick: Xavier Rhodes (0)
McShay's pick: DJ Hayden (0)
Mayock's pick: DJ Hayden (0)
The Colts have trouble keeping Andrew Luck upright and they have trouble running the ball. They need to invest in their line, primarily at guard. However, they also were one of the worst teams against the run and weren't great against the pass. Guards are easy to find outside the 1st and they picked up Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin, so they should looking for a 4-3 end to displace the disappointing Jerry Hughes.

25. Minnesota - DJ Hayden, CB, Houston (+1)
Kiper's pick: Alec Ogletree (0)
McShay's pick: Alec Ogletree (0)
Mayock's pick: Sylvester Williams (0)
The Vikings lost their only playmaking corner and need to reload. There's a glut of players ranked about equally, so look for the Vikings to try and trade back with this pick.

26. Green Bay - Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (0)
Kiper's pick: Datone Jones (+2)
McShay's pick: Justin Pugh (0)
Mayock's pick: Eddie Lacy (0)
Not only is Aaron Rodgers the best quarterback in the NFL, he's also the best runner on his team. That needs to change. The Packers have been less consistent since parting ways with Ryan Grant. Lacy brings true 3-down credibility to the position, though it isn't consistent with the way the team has drafted in the past. They could also look at improving their line, but the value likely isn't there.

27. Houston - Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (+1)
Kiper's pick: DeAndre Hopkins (+2)
McShay's pick: Justin Hunter (+1)
Mayock's pick: Justin Hunter (+1)
The Texans have no glaring needs, which is common for a team that made a playoff run, though their passing game changes dramatically when Andre Johnson is out. They simply need additional threats, and Hunter fits that bill.

28. Denver - Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame (0)
Kiper's pick: Tank Carradine (0)
McShay's pick: Datone Jones (+1)
Mayock's pick: Bjoern Werner (0)
After a slow start, the Broncos were the best team in the NFL, and were a small meltdown away from probably continuing to a Super Bowl championship. They can take the best player available, one of whom happens to be at a position that needs a reboot.

29. New England - Johnathan Hankins, NT, Ohio State (x)
Kiper's pick: Desmond Trufant (x)
McShay's pick: Xavier Rhodes (x)
Mayock's pick: Xavier Rhodes (x)
We're getting into tantalizing Geno Smith trade territory, and look for the Patriots to be eager partners. The Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles and Jets could all be interested parties. Absent a trade, the Pats will take the best player available at any position. It doesn't hurt that he should be a good replacement for Wilfork down the line.

30. Atlanta - Datone Jones, DE, UCLA (0)
Kiper's pick: Robert Alford (0)
McShay's pick: Desmond Trufant (+2)
Mayock's pick: Desmond Trufant (+2)
The Falcons have a surprising number of needs for a 13-win team. Their running game was unproductive, and get Steven Jackson in place of Michael Turner is a wash at best. I think they'd love to get Lacy, and there's a good chance the Packers don't pick him up. But, their defense is actually quite suspect, and a lack of strong line play has hurt them. Jones is a versatile player who can line up as either a 3-4 end or 4-3 tackle in the Falcons' shifting schemes.

31. San Francisco - Margus Hunt, DE, SMU (0)
Kiper's pick: Eric Reid (+2)
McShay's pick: Eric Reid (+2)
Mayock's pick: Zach Ertz (0)
The 49ers identity is around their defense, and Hunt has intriguing upside as a potential matchup nightmare after Justin Smith's brilliant career winds down.

32. Baltimore - Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (0)
Kiper's pick: Kevin Minter (0)
McShay's pick: Matt Elam (+2)
Mayock's pick: Matt Elam (+2)
The Ravens lost so many impact players this offseason, and have a surprising number of needs for a Super Bowl champ. They could use help along the offensive line, in the secondary, in the pass rush and in the gaping hole left by Ray Lewis. Minter actually profiles similar to Lewis athletically, and I think the Ravens would prefer him to Te'o.

I expect to see a number of trades happen as teams target specific players. The rookie scale has made trading up less prohibitive because only draft capital is involved while salaries are kept reasonable.

Just for fun, I'll see how I do against the experts. Each correct pick for a team will be worth 2 points, 1 point credit for correct player position. Draft position is ignored-ish, for example if a team trades back 3 spots but still selects the predicted player, that's worth 2 points.

Edit, final tallies:
Me: 14 points.
Kiper: 18 points.
McShay: 25 points
Mayock: 20 points
Todd McShay is the winner, and I'm the loser. Guess I'm not ready to quit my day job just yet.

And now, we wait.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Matt Flynn, 90% off original price!

... or is he?

Let's look at the basic facts:
The Seahawks brought in Flynn as a free agent, signing him to a 3 year deal worth a max of about 26 million dollars. The Raiders acquired Flynn from the Seahawks for a 2014 5th rounder and a conditional pick in 2015. The details of the latter are undisclosed, but let's assume it's a mid- or late-round pick.

On the surface, the net result is that the Seahawks bought two minor future picks for about $10m that they have already paid Flynn. But, is it fair to assess the outcome like this?

At the time, Seattle was signing a guy they were pretty sure would be their starter. As starters go, the original deal worked in Seattle's favor (consider the Cardinals made twice the financial commitment to an equally unproven Kolb, one who had never, say, passed for 480 yards in a game). Let's assume (and this is a big assumption), that Seattle's full plan was always to both buy Flynn and draft Wilson. Wilson is on a tiny rookie deal paying him less than a million per year. He ended up beating out Flynn and the team now appears set at quarterback for the next decade. Net investment over 3 years is the $10m paid to Flynn and the couple million paid to Wilson before he gets an extension for real starter money. This is an incredible outcome. Basically, the team gave themselves two shots at guys with upsides, with a low combined cost. Critics can nitpick that "well, if only they had just drafted Wilson and never signed Flynn ... ", but no one could know which (if either) player would blossom. It's possible that Wilson succeeded because Flynn was also there as competition. We'll never know. Bottom line is that they got a franchise guy, amortized to around $4m per year over 3 years. Brilliant.

The Seahawks are already winners, even if they simply leave Flynn at a gas station after stopping for snacks. To understand trade value, we have to look at both the seller and the buyer. The seller is motivated by what they'd need to spend to replace the asset they are giving away. The buyer is motivated by what they'd need to spend elsewhere to get someone of similar quality.

Seattle's replacement value is the going rate for a backup quarterback. It doesn't matter of Flynn turns out to be a starter in the league, he's of basically zero value in Seattle because he'll ideally impact zero plays in 2013. To boot, he's an $8m cap hit this year and the next. A typical roster backup should be making less than half that. In other words, Seattle would benefit by simply dumping him and signing someone else for way less, or drafting a guy in the middle rounds to develop behind Wilson. The catch is that Flynn's cap hit is bigger if he's cut (and he may even impact the 2014 cap, though I'm not sure). If Seattle can trade him, his cap hit for 2013 is reduced to $4m, and his 2014 hit goes away. Thus, trading him for _anything_ saves the team $12m over 2 years, and gives them flexibility to address the backup spot in the draft or via free agency or trade. Right here, right now, Seattle should be happier with a 7th round pick than with Flynn.

The Raiders need a quarterback because Carson Palmer doesn't want to be there anymore. Flynn is probably as attractive as the top 2 quarterbacks in the draft, which would peg his value as high as a late 1st rounder, but realistically a high 2nd. However, Flynn is already 28 and therefore hitting on him has less long-term value than hitting on Smith or Barkley or one of the other college prospects. Additionally, having the flexibility to either take a quarterback in the 2nd or a player of great value filling a need who happens to be there is worth something to the Raiders as well. Thus, I don't see them inherently valuing Flynn higher than about a 3rd round pick. Add in that Flynn will make much more than rookie money, and that offer has to keep going down.

In principle, we've established that there's common benefit to the trade, and we've pegged the value between "less than a 3rd" and "at least a 7th". The Raiders maintain the leverage here because they can just as easily draft a prospect with upside. Thus, they can squeeze the Seahawks close to their acceptable selling point. The final deal seems like a compromise: a future 6th is about equal to this year's 7th (minimum selling point), and the conditional 2015 pick is there for "fairness", in case Flynn really pans out. If that 2015 is, say, a 3rd rounder (equals a 5th rounder today), then the Seahawks are getting pretty close to about the max the Raiders would have been willing to pay.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Talent, or Upside?

This year's top pass rushers come with a lot of excitement, and a lot of question marks. Using the linebacker smell test guidelines, I've outlined all who are anywhere near a first round grade. Carradine and Jones didn't run in Indy; Jones now has numbers from his pro day while Carradine continues to rehab from a mid-season ACL tear.

Name10y40yVerticalBroad Jump
Ezekiel Ansah1.564.6334.59'10
Cornelius Carradine--------
Bjoern Werner1.684.8331.09'3
Datone Jones1.634.8031.59'4
Damontre Moore1.694.9535.510'2
Margus Hunt1.624.6034.510'1
Jarvis Jones--4.92*30.5*9'3*
Dion Jordan1.574.6032.510'2
Barkevious Mingo1.554.5837.010'8
Khaseem Greene1.674.7130.09'8
Jamie Collins1.564.6441.511'7
Corey Lemonier1.574.6033.09'11
Sam Montgomery--4.8134.59'4
* - values from pro day

The results are almost perfectly split between guys who produce and don't measure, or vice versa.

Werner, both Joneses, Moore and Montgomery all produced at the college level, but measured poorly. Khaseem Greene also measured poorly, didn't produce great stats and is undersized. Moore actually performed similarly to Akeem Ayers, who is now doing a solid job playing linebacker in the Titans' 4-3. None of these guys seems to have the elite measurables that almost all eventual Pro Bowlers share.

Ansah, Mingo and Jordan are considered the top 3 prospects right now. All their measurables agree that they are the ones with true NFL potential, however none had great production. Additionally, Mingo and Jordan each need to gain 20 or more pounds to fill out their frames and compete with NFL blockers. Ansah has a mere 3 years of experience, but the other 2 should have been able to use their physical skills to dominate in college. None had over 5 sacks in their final year. Lemonier isn't rated as high and also has great measurables, but was also limited to 5.5 sacks in 2012 (though he reached 9.5 in 2011, higher than Ansah, Mingo or Jordan ever did). Margus Hunt measured about as well as Ansah and even had 8 sacks his senior year, but isn't shooting as far up the boards.

Perhaps the lone exception is Jamie Collins, who had 10 sacks to go with eye-popping numbers at the combine, though his production was mostly against lower competition.

If I'm a team looking for a pass rusher, I have a real dilemma here. There's no Von Miller in this group. Everyone comes with major question marks. In my mind, there are a ton of great mid-to-late 1st round prospects here. Teams can elect between the solid player who might have a few good years, the boom-or-bust athletic specimen, or the small-conference star.

I don't, based on the numbers, see the reason for Mingo, Jordan and Ansah being top-10 prospects, but Hunt and Lemonier being fringe 1st rounders. Of all these players, only Hunt showed improvement his senior year (unless we count Ansah's introduction to the starting lineup and resulting 4.5 sacks). The other players actually regressed in their final years.

Moore and Montgomery are already free-falling down the boards after being top-10 prospects during the season. Bjoern Werner is now going in the mid-1st in mocks, which seems about right. Jarvis Jones's bad pro day and spinal stenosis add up a giant buyer beware note, and he should be following Moore down the draft tubes.

This year's draft will have a lot of busts, and one or two of our super athletes will become big-time players. And, the fascination with upside will continue.

Friday, March 15, 2013

No Cardinals at Geno Smith's Pro Day

Reports say that the Cardinals (despite having clear quarterback issues) were one of the few teams (along with the Cowboys and Seahawks) not at Geno Smith's pro day. Why wouldn't they go? 3 suggestions have been given:

1. They are genuinely not interested
2. They are throwing up smokescreens, but are interested
3. They simply don't think pro days are a valuable research tool

I think option 3 can be thrown out immediately. When every other team, including teams with top notch quarterbacks, shows up, this doesn't add up. The Cardinals are trying to show disinterest, but why so blatantly? Consider the recent moves in free agency:

a. The Bills cut Ryan Fitzpatrick and have nothing going for them
b. The Jets can't be all that excited about Mark Sanchez and are high enough (and have shown a willingness) to make a move
c. The Vikings may be looking for a new player and just traded Percy Harvin for the 25th pick to go with their 23rd pick

Suppose we're pretty sure the the Bills will take Geno Smith if he's there at 8.

In scenario 1, another team could trade to 7 to get Smith. The Jets just need to package a 4th rounder with their 9th, and the Vikings 23rd and 25th comes out just about equal to the 7th pick in draft capital. The Cardinals would like to trade back if a top offensive tackle is no longer available. It's important others believe the Cardinals will not take Geno, otherwise they would trade higher up and the Cardinals don't get to trade back.

In scenario 2, everything lines up the same, but the Cardinals take Geno Smith. Here it's important everyone thought they wouldn't, otherwise they could trade up past the Cardinals.

If other teams think the Cardinals will take Geno Smith, all trade leverage is lost and there's a good chance someone else will trade up and beat them to Geno if they really wanted him.

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Draft Mock 2.0

The combine is over and the players who are likely to be franchised have been tagged. The offseason picture is getting a little clearer! Of course there will still be big moves in the next month (both signing and releases before roster bonuses are due), but that's what Mock 3.0 will encompass. Here I'll try to combine some FA move predictions and mocking of the top 10 picks. The Chiefs are still on the clock. They've had a lot of moves this off-season: new coach, new front office, free agent left tackle.

1a. Kansas City Chiefs - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida
1b. Kansas City Chiefs - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah.
Impact FA moves: Jake Long, OT or Mike Wallace, WR
Lotulelei had some heart irregularity at the combine and didn't get to work. It's a shame, but he didn't need to blow anyone away to remain an elite prospect. Until his heart is deemed actually faulty, I'm working under the assumption that he'll check out. There's a lot of speculation that the Eagles will take Joeckel or Fisher, but franchising Branden Albert suggests otherwise. It's possible they are just renting Albert as insurance for a year with the intention of moving him to the right and drafting their future LT, then getting a new RT in a later round or next year and phasing Albert out. After all, the rookie salaray scale allows teams to replace expensive vets with much cheaper young guys. They could also be hedging their bet and will rework Albert's deal if they don't pick a tackle or pick up Jake Long. Andy Reid has brought in big name linemen in the past (that's how Jason Peters ended up in Philly) and the Chiefs have over $18M in cap space. Lost in all this talk is that Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are both hugely underperforming their contracts and Lotulelei or Floyd are likely giant upgrades at impact positions. History lines up with this as well: Andy Reid used 6 of his 12 1st round picks with the Eagles on his defensive line and only 1 on an offensive tackle. The Chiefs probably stand to gain the most by cutting Jackson and replacing him with Floyd if the salary cap hit can absorb that. Given Tamba Hali and Justin Houston's performance, a pass rusher would just be crowding the roster here. Looking at Mike Wallace doesn't impact this draft choice, though it would give Andy Reid the kind of dynamic playmaker he had in Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.

2a. Jacksonville Jaguars - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
2b. Jacksonville Jaguars - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida
Impact FA moves: Cliff Avril, DE
The Jaguars have needs at quarterback and pass rush. There's no passer remotely good enough to take here or even a good bet to beat out Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne. The best 4-3 defensive end on the board is Ezekiel Ansah. He reminds many of Jason Pierre-Paul. While JPP turned out to be a great pick for the Giants, he also dropped into the middle of the 1st round due to being a very raw prospect. Ansah may be even more so... in other words, this pick is too high for him. Picking in the top 5 means a team has to score a blue chip prospect, so the Jaguars do the next best thing for the team and pick up the top rated offensive tackle. They could also be in play for Floyd or Lotulelei to play as a disruptive, penetrating defensive tackle, but given their offensive ineptitude the last few years I feel they have to look at that side of the ball. The Jaguars can throw some of their over $26M available at pass rush, further reducing the likelyhood they go after Ansah or another defensive end.

3a. Oakland Raiders - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida
3b. Oakland Raiders - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
3c. Oakland Raiders - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Impact FA moves: None
The Raiders still need help with their pass rush or more consistency on offense. They have some dynamic skill players and a solid quarterback in Carson Palmer, but have a hard time scoring touchdowns. Joeckel (or Fisher) would definitely help here, but their offense is able to get points (Janikowski helps a lot there). Floyd and Jones both represent dynamic defensive threats. The Raiders can pretty much take any top rated prospect and have made a good pick. They only have about $1M of space under the cap, so it's unlikely they'll make any splashy moves.

4a. Philadelphia Eagles - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
4b. Philadelphia Eagles - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
4c. Philadelphia Eagles - Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Impact FA moves: Jake Long, OT or Cliff Avril, DE
The Eagles have over $33M in cap space, so they can afford to throw some money at holes in their roster. It's likely Milliner will last this long in the draft and there aren't any truly elite corners availablein free agency. Getting Jake Long could free them up to take Milliner. Dion Jordan is the wildcard: never underestimate the appeal of the familiar. If Chip Kelly liked Jordan at Oregon, he could be leaning very hard towards taking him. If the Eagles want to reload their roster fast, I think they spend money on an aging Freeney and hope he has maybe 2 decent years left.

5a. Detroit Lions - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
5b. Detroit Lions - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
5c. Detroit Lions - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Impact FA moves: None
Well, looks like the Lions are out both defensive ends and will probably need a replacement. Milliner fills a huge need for them and would be a good pick. Ansah could is a risk/reward option here if the reward is very high. Werner fell down draft boards and I think Detroit would love to trade back here, but it's unlikely they'll find any trade partners. None of the quarterbacks should be valued this high, and almost all positions have pairs of players so there's no rush for a team to move up and grab one (Mingo and Jordan likely still on the board, Warmack and Cooper, ...). The only attractive player would be Fisher or Joeckel if they are still available. If one is gone, perhaps the Cardinals make a move, but that's not usually their style. Combine that with Detroit not likely selecting a tackle (and certainly not trading out of this spot if they are planning to do so) and the Browns being set at the position and having impact needs, Arizona can safely wait until 7. Detroit relied too much on Stafford's arm and their one-dimensionality reduced their ability to grind out games and turn their offensive yards into points. Warmack would immediately rejuvenate their running game and should merit some serious consideration here.

6a. Cleveland Browns - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
6b. Cleveland Browns - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
6c. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Impact FA moves: Wes Welker, WR or Mike Wallace, WR or Cliff Avril, DE
Last time around we were all thinking Chip Kelly would end up in Cleveland and bring the west coast system with him and increasing the likelyhood Geno Smith would be in play. I no longer think this is a likely scenario. The best bet to improve this team is to focus on offense, and build around the pieces they trust. Trent Richardson is their back of the future, so it's time to give him a line to run behind. Warmack would give that line a big boost. The upside of Mingo and his more natural fit as an outside linebacker might be too tantalizing here. They could also look at Dion Jordan, Jarvis Jones or Sheldon Richardson, but the value doesn't appear to be there anymore. The other interesting scenario is for the Jets to leapfrog Arizona and get their choice of quarterback. I don't think the Cardinals are picking a passer, but the Jets may not want to take that risk. This works out great for the Browns because they can take Warmack or Cooper at 9 as well and pick up about an extra 3rd round pick. The Browns have the most cap space (over $47M!) and could get a splashy playmaker for their passing game or an impact pass rusher for the next few years.

7a. Arizona Cardinals - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
7b. Arizona Cardinals - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
7c. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Impact FA moves: None
The Cardinals have Levi Brown coming back, but a) he's coming off a serious injury and b) he was never elite. Given the chance to get an elite left tackle prospect, the Cardinals have to pull the trigger. If both Joeckel and Fisher are off the board, they could look to add an impact pass rusher, which would most likely be Jones. Warmack or Cooper is an outside shot in this scenario as well; new Cards' management has said the offensive line is a top priority. If the Jets aren't worried about the Cardinals picking a quarterback, they could trade up to get ahead of Buffalo (who might be regretting the big Ryan Fitzpatrick deal). If both tackles are gone by now, the Cards would do well to accept the offer and pick up an extra 4th rounder.

8a. Buffalo Bills - Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
8b. Minnesota Vikings - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Impact FA moves: None
Despite their spending spree last year, the Bills are $18M under the cap ... but I don't think there are any elite players they'd be going after. Their weak layer is the linebacking corps, and it's likely they can reload that through the draft. If their favorite of Ogletree or Te'o is gone, they should market the pick to a team desperate for the first shot at a quarterback if the Jets haven't traded up. The Vikings might be in that group, they are one of the few teams left to pick in the round that might make the move. It'd probably cost them their 2nd and next year's 1st, which Buffalo would love to get.

9a. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
9b. Cleveland Browns - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
9c. Arizona Cardinals - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Impact FA moves: None
While the Jets may fortify some spots in FA and have about $8M of space to do so, I don't think available players line up with their needs. They could take a look at Avril, but no move they make will impact what they do here. If the pick was traded, the trade partner will just take whichever player they wanted is still available. Further trades from this spot are unlikely, again because pairs of players of similar quality are still on the board so teams have no incentive to trade up to grab one until the other is gone.

10a. Tennessee Titans - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
10b. Tennessee Titans - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Impact FA moves: Cliff Avril, DE
The Titans were good when CJ2k's name was applicable. Putting Cooper into the line should help get him back to form. Jake Locker is a limited passer and needs to be able to lean on a good running game. I don't see the Titans bailing on him just yet, so a player to help them run better should be the pick. They could also look at the defensive side and help both their pass and run defense by choosing a capable safety. Picking up Cliff Avril should help their mediocre pass rush, and with $18M space under the cap they certainly could do it.

Looks like Cliff Avril is one of the lynchpins of this draft. I'm not convinced that all the highly touted pass rush prospects are going to fly off the board, almost all of them have red flags between being raw, undersized or not performing well at the combine. As much as teams go gaga for quarterbacks, I also think teams will be pretty disciplined and focus on the glut of 2nd round options. When so many of them have question marks, it's best not to overspend and realize each pick is basically a lottery ticket.

Free agency is starting now, let's see how that affects our mock draft!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fumbles and yards?

me:  the individual fumble is not break even, but there's a very non-zero chance it doesn't affect the outcome of the game
 Gary:  That seems counter-intuitive
 me:  sure, but look at facts
 Gary:  Winning Turnovers + Big plays has a high correlation with winning the game. That's my mental model
 me:  if your points for = points against, you expect to be 8-8. For every 2 points per game you gain or lose, your expected record changes by 1 game. This is actually a very strongly correlated line and that's the exact value. So the question is, how many points per game does a 1per50 fumbler cost you?
assuming he gets about 15-20 carries a game, that's 1 fumble per 3 games ...
 Gary:  But not all carries are equal. If you believe that fumbles in the 4th quarter hurt more than in the 1st, and that "the winning team" rushes more in the 4th ...
 me:  a fumble in the 4th could also be during a blowout when it definitely doesn't matter. In the aggregate, 2 points per game = 1 win change over a season. The intuition gets messed up cuz it's really easy to pin a loss on a fumble, but a lot harder to pin a win on the 4.5 yards per carry on the other 49 carries. However, they both matter. Think of it as an egg race: one guy is faster, the other guy never drops the egg. If the faster guy drops the egg, you think "my god, if he could just hold on to the egg". Assuming he only drops the egg once per 3 races, he still beats the slow guy. That 1 fumble may lead to a loss, sometimes a heart breaking one, but the better rushing average, in the aggregate, will lead to wins [unless the fumble rate is abysmal].

This was an ad-hoc conversation stemmed from the Arizona Cardinals' running back situation. New coach Bruce Arians has called out that the Cardinals' existing running backs are poor in pass protection. I was suggesting they should bring back Tim Hightower (who could probably be had on a minimum contract, and let's ignore his health status for a second). Gary argued that Hightower has serious fumbling issues. I was pointing out that Hightower averaged something like 4.5 yards per carry while the Cards' top backs this year were under 3 per attempt (and let's even ignore that both Wells and Williams struggle, current tense, with fumbles).

The true cost, compared to no fumbles, of Hightower's approximately 1 fumble per 50 attempts is not that much. Given his expected fulltime work load of 15-20 rushes per game, this breaks down to 5 or 6 fumbles over a full season. Each fumble might prevent his offense from scoring a touchdown or field goal, or give up the ball deep in his own territory, leading to an easy field goal or touchdown. Assuming the absolute worst case of every fumble being a touchdown swing, his fumbling would account for a net loss of about 40 points per season. A more realistic scenario is that he costs his offense a touchdown and a field goal, gives up short field position a couple more times (say, another touchdown and field goal) and the remaining 1 or 2 times the turnover leads to no points, nor was the offense near scoring position anyways. This would be a net swing of about 20 points per season, or about 1.2 points per game. Using the regression line, an entire season's worth of fumbles might cost the team a win. The only points you can absolutely pin on fumbles are impending points for the offense. There's no guarantee the other team wouldn't have scored points driving 80 yards instead of 30, after all.

This does not account for the 'momentum' factor, which is basically impossible to quantify. So let's stick to the numbers and conclude that a back with apparent fumblitis might not actually be that big a liability**

I didn't break down the expected outcome of running for 4.5 yards per carry instead of 3, but the former theoretically allows a team to advance the ball and convert on 3rd downs, while the latter leads to a lot of 4th and 1 situations. Judging by the performance of the Cards' offense in 2012, it doesn't work.

** - except in the post-season when "performance in the aggregate" stops being relevant in favor of "nothing matters but this game". Just ask Ray Rice.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Warren Buffett Phenomenon

Is Warren Buffett the best investor of all time? Available evidence certainly says yes. If you needed to entrust your money, is he definitely the best guy for the job? Maybe. There are probably numerous others who are very good at managing and growing your money. Every decision they make is based on incomplete data; every choice has an actual and perceived chance of success and actual and perceived probably payoff. The good ones minimize the difference between perceived and actual risks and payoffs, then make the moves that actually have the least risk or the best expected growth.

Even so, no move is 100% and Buffett probably benefits in the pantheon of great investors from some additional good fortune. This is why we think he's the best. His record is the only thing we can measure, but he benefited from his plays actually working out the way they were 'supposed to'. In a similar vein, the good poker player who gets sucked out on the river never gets to show us how good he really is. The winner of the WSOP Main Event is likely a very good player, but they are rarely one of the consensus "best" because a great deal of fortune also goes into winning over such a long stretch of decisions.

Why am I talking about this on a football blog? Because football teams, operations and coaches are all subject to this same phenomenon. For example, if a new coach/GM misses on replacing their aging quarterback, they're likely doomed to a few bad years, thus a bad record, thus a perception they are a bad coach, thus getting fired. But, replacing a quarterback is tough. They are hard to scout, hard to map their skills to NFL defenses, hard to project to an existing offensive system. Even 1st round draft choices are equally likely to be stars, be busts, or wander the league. Staff choices are similar. Some coaches are established commodities: for example by now we can be sure that Wade Phillips is a fantastic defensive coordinator and Bill Belichick is probably the best head coach in the league. However, Phillips did not achieve success as a head coach, and Belichick was sub-500 in a 5-year stint in Cleveland. The point is, there are a lot of variables outside the coach's control, and a lot within. It's hard to separate them all, but we can use the Buffett phenomenon as a more insightful way to think about a coach than just their win-loss record.

Andy Reid is this off-season's hottest available coach. He has a great record in Philadelphia, but made some questionable moves in the last few years. He invested heavily in an aging and fragile Michael Vick. He promoted former offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. He has not built well through the draft in recent years. Is he slipping? What's going on? Is he good and just having moves not work out? Or was he mediocre but hit on a couple big ones that anyone should be able to prosper with?

Reid started with the Eagles in 1999, and brought Jim Johnson with him to be the defensive coordinator. This was clearly a great move, Johnson was a fantastic coach. In that year, the Eagles also hit the quarterback lottery and drafted Donovan McNabb, who was a great player for 10 years. With these 2 vital pieces in place, Reid performed very well. 2009 was a pivotal year. McNabb was deemed too old and was traded away while they could still get value for him. It was the right move, and the combination of Kolb/Vick looked positive going forwards. Let's keep in mind that there was no guarantee either way: we couldn't know that Vick would have one great season and no more, or that Kolb would keep getting hurt. In this case, the decision to go with Kolb/Vick did not work out the way Reid hoped. Was he wrong to hope that Kolb would build on his promising showings? Probably not. Was he wrong to think Vick would continue to perform well after his miracle comeback? Probably not. In addition to the quarterback situation, longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died. Reid made a curious choice to replace him. Again there was no guarantee it would succeed or fail, but this one didn't have "high probability" written all over it. In the last couple years, the Eagles made some splashy free agent acquisitions. Since Reid had major say in the roster, this one is on him as well. Those moves didn't work out, either due to chemistry or lack of performance from the defensive coordinator spot. Again, since that staffing was Reid's call, it's ultimately a move of his that didn't work out.

Hiring Johnson was a good move, though Johnson had not been a coordinator before. Thus there was less track record by which his success could be known than if Reid had hired a known commodity. This doesn't mean Johnson was a weak candidate, some guys clearly have tremendous upside. However, it's unlikely that the expected odds of success were super high. Even if we give Reid credit for selecting McNabb, history says there was no more than about a one-third chance he was making the right call at the time. Looking back at draft performance over the last 5 years, we see the Eagles doing significantly less than average with their 1st and 2nd round picks. Since Reid had personnel control, this fault falls on him. He's a chronically awful late-game manager. He definitely did well to get value for his own players and/or move on from them before the rest of the league realized they were, in fact, declining. He took the Eagles to numerous NFC Championship games, suggesting he made good use of the roster he'd assembled. Critics will point out he never won the Super Bowl, and perhaps this is an indication of inconsistency. To win the Super Bowl, a team has to maintain a high level of play against good opponents. Perhaps the Eagles never achieved that, perhaps they were outperforming their roster, who knows. Very few teams enjoyed the level of success the Eagles had from about 2000-2008, which suggests that Reid was doing many things well with the guys he did have.

My take is that Reid is great at evaluating and using the guys he has, but is not good at evaluating unknown quantities. Thus, the Eagles didn't draft well and flopped on key staff decisions. Eventually the halo of the McNabb and Johnson decisions would wear off, and here we are. Perhaps Andy Reid is really ideally suited to be an offensive coordinator, or perhaps he needs to be a head coach with less personnel say.

Kansas City needs a quarterback, so we'll get to see how Reid does in identifying their next one.

Preliminary Mock Draft

The regular season has ended, and 20 teams know their exact draft position. Various talking heads have created big boards of various college prospects, and it's time to match them all up. The Chiefs have the top pick, a new coach, and have released their GM. A number of other teams in the top 10 have made organizational changes as well. It'd be great to figure in these effects, but that might be a pipe dream. 

We learned last year that trades for specific players are more and more likely. While draft capital is considered about the same as before, the rookie wage scale makes the financial commitment given to a player a couple spots ahead negligible. In the old days, moving up a few spots not only cost draft picks, it cost millions a year. This was not a risk most teams were willing to take. Now, we need to figure possible trades into the mock draft since they have not only become possible, they have become likely. Since the top of the draft often features multiple players at the same positions, it's unlikely we'll see a trade into the top 5. 

Kansas City is on the clock. They have a clear need at QB, however there's no consensus top-notch prospect. Geno Smith and Matt Barkley are the only 1st-round prospects per current analysis, and both are terrible fits for blustery, cold winters. Neither is considered a sure-fire top pick. However, both are good fits for a west coast scheme that Andy Reid is likely to bring with him. The draft is loaded with pass rushers and defensive linemen, and there are two very good offensive tackles who could merit a top pick. 

1. Kansas City Chiefs - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Teams want to capitalize on high picks and fill positions where prime talent is taken early. There's no such QB here, and the Chiefs are already set on their offensive line and pass rushers. Lotulelei has a chance to be a Haloti Ngata-type impact player on the line, and Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson never quite reached expectations. Their rookie contracts are coming to a close, and it's probably time to upgrade on the defensive line. 

2a. Jacksonville Jaguars - Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
2b. Jacksonville Jaguars - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Jaguars would also love to solve their quarterback woes, but their high pick also comes a year late. The Jaguars have a ton of problems, but Chad Henne is decent stopgap. Their leading sack producer was DT Tyson Alualu, and their top defensive end had 3. This is simply unacceptable, so they pick between the top 2 prospects Moore and Jarvis Jones. Moore profiles better as a 4-3 DE. The Jaguars also gave up 50 sacks over the season and Maurice Jones-Drew's 2 backups combined for 2 games with over 50 yards rushing after he was injured. Both issues could be addressed by taking Joeckel. 

3a. Oakland Raiders - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georiga
3b. Oakland Raiders - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
3c. Oakland Raiders - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Raiders lack an impact pass rusher as well, and Jones is the other elite prospect. This pick could go several ways. Richard Seymour is getting old, but he should be replaceable next year with a mid-1st pick. There's an outside chance they'll pick a disruptive 4-3 DT like Richardson to groom behind him (or pair with him). Their running game wasn't great, but everyone not named Darren McFadden ran fairly effectively. Their offense threw for a lot of yards, gave up about an average number of sacks, but scored few touchdowns. There isn't a game-changing wide receiver to select from, Carson Palmer is still their guy and their offensive line seems adequate but an infusion of top talent would likely boost their offense. The Raiders are in a good spot: between Moore, Jones and Joeckel they are guaranteed to get an impact player. Given the level to which their previous regime depleted their draft capital, they may want to trade back, though I don't think any team that could afford to trade up to this spot needs to do so. The Eagles may consider picking up Jones and using him like Denver uses Von Miller, but they should also be happy to land a replacement for the likely-done Jason Peters, and at least one of these guys should still be on the board at 4. 

4a. Philadelphia Eagles - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
4b. Philadelphia Eagles - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
4c. Philapdelphia Eagles - Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio St
The Eagles need to shore up their line. The loss of Jason Peters was a huge blow to the team and given his injury and subsequent reinjury, I don't think they can count on him coming back at full capacity. If Joeckel is gone, they can consider Tyler Lewan from Michigan, the next best tackle. The Eagles also took a huge step down in sack production, which Jones would help with. If both are off the board, they could pair a big body like Hankins with Fletcher Cox and copy the Williams wall from the Vikings' days as a dominant run defense.  Foles is probably their man going forwards, so QB is not interesting here. 

5a. Detroit Lions - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
5b. Detroit Lions - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
5c. Detroit Lions - Bjoern Werner, DE, FSU
The Lions are a statistical enigma. They threw for over 5000 yards, didn't take a ton of sacks, yet only converted that into 22 touchdowns. Their defense was mid-pack in yards, yet they gave up huge points. Their running game stands out for its lack of production. This is partly a result of their almost 2:1 pass:run ratio, but they also didn't run for good average when they did hand the ball off. Chance Warmack will instantly make their line a force and bring balance to the offense, though picking a guard at 5 is unprecedented (the Cardinals took Leonard Davis at 2, but played him at tackle). Cliff Avril, Ndamokung Suh and Nick Fairley are all productive players, but Kyle VandenBosch is getting old. A replacement for him could be prudent as well. Mingo has the higher physical upside, Werner has the better build for a 4-3 and a good body of college production. 

6a. Cleveland Browns - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
6b. Cleveland Browns - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
6c. Cleveland Browns - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
6d. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
6e. New York Jets - Bjoern Werner, DE, FSU
The Browns cleaned house in the front office, so loyalty to Brandon Weeden is gone. While he flashed some good play, he's nowhere near solidifying his status as the quarterback of the future. Chip Kelly is rumored to be the front-runner for the new coaching job, and his system requires a mobile quarterback. Concerns over Geno Smith's bad-weather performance remain, but the temptation might be too high. They could also give Weeden and Trent Richardson help by improving the run game. Warmack would be a big upgrade to the line and could help create holes for Richardson. The Browns could also invest in a disruptive lineman to pair with big Phil Taylor. Sheldon Richardson should fit this bill perfectly and should improve both their pass and run defense. The Jets are looking to move on from Mark Sanchez, and there's no way they can think Greg McElroy is their future. It would only cost them about a 3rd rounder to move up here from 9, and the Jets have shown they are willing to make big moves. The Jets also need another impact pass rusher to match with Quinton Coples (who seemed to come on at the end of the season), and they could pre-emptively move up to pick Werner. 

7a. Arizona Cardinals - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
7b. Arizona Cardinals - Bjoern Werner, DE, FSU
7c. Arizona Cardinals - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
7d. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Cardinals can go a lot of different ways with this pick. Conventional wisdom says they need a quarterback, but I think the organization and coaching front-runner Ray Horton both believe in Kolb. Furthermore, their defense is good enough that they just need to score 20 a game to be competitive. The Cardinals got a lot of sacks as a team, but their top pass rusher was a blitzing Darryl Washington. None of their outside linebackers provided a consistent pass rush, and Werner would likely be a force for the team. The team could also look at replacements for Darnell Dockett who was limited this year with lingering injuries and is definitely getting older and not as good a fit for the Cardinals' 3-4. Sheldon Richardson is potentially interesting if he's still on the board, but I think the team feels ok with Dave Carter in the lineup if Dockett is gone or loses effectiveness. The absolutely clearest hole is the play of the offensive line. The big question is how the team feels about Levi Brown. He'll likely be back at full strength, but his new contract suggests no one thinks he's an upper echelon pass protector. Lewan is almost certainly a big upgrade. The team should also look at Chance Warmack (and rely on Brown/Nate Potter who played solidly down the stretch) to boost their woeful run game. Since Arizona has multiple options, a trade back to 9 would be attractive for them since one of their good options would still be on the board. Moving up to 7 to ensure they get Smith would only cost the Jets a 3rd/4th swap. 

8a. Buffalo Bills - Manti T'eo, ILB, Notre Dame
8b. Minnesota Vikings - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Bills have a lot of money invested in their defensive line. They are producing sacks, but not stopping the run well. They need a great linebacker to clean up running plays. T'eo appears to be in the Brian Urlacher mold and could be a cornerstone of this defense for a decade. I'm not sure they should be looking at anyone else. I don't really think the Vikings would move up from the low 20s to 8 for Smith, but they are the one other team left who might be interested. Christian Ponder appears to be plateauing and playing in a dome alleviates Smith's bad weather concerns. It's more likely that they'd be equally interested in Barkley though, and would wait until one of the two top quarterbacks is off the board, then jump up to grab the other. The only other interested teams have already picked and wouldn't have the draft capital to trade back up this high. They're more likely to target a move from the early 2nd into the mid-late 1st round, much like what the Browns did for Brady Quinn in 2007. 

9a. New York Jets - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
9b. New York Jets - Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio St
9c. Cleveland Browns - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
9d. Arizona Cardinals - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Assuming the Jets elect to address their quarterback issues in free agency, they would not trade up for Geno Smith. They need more pass rush production to maximize the impact their excellent secondary can make. They were also pretty bad against the run this year, which a big run-stuffer like Hankins should help with. If the Bills don't take T'eo, the Jets should snatch him up. He's versatile and both Bart Scott and Calvin Pace are winding their careers down. The Jets need to get some marquee guys in the front seven. The Jets actually need playmakers on offense (Jeremy Kerley was their top receiver and Shonn Greene failed to hit 4.0 yards per carry), but there aren't any worth taking this early. If he's on the board, Warmack could be interesting to help their ground game and get them back to what they did so well just a couple years ago. Trades up are hard to evaluate since the pool of possibilities grows so rapidly once we get out of the blue chip range. 

10. Tennessee Titans - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Titans have problems all around. The finished outside the top 20 in both passing and running defense AND offense. Jake Locker is still their guy for now. They can go in almost any direction here. They have a number of solid pass rushers that would be hard to upgrade with the top prospects off the board. The could look at T'eo or Alec Ogletree to add some playmaking in their linebacker corps. But, they would probably benefit the most from a playmaker in the secondary since they gave up 31 passing touchdowns. 

Obviously lots will change between now and April. The draftniks are going to be hard at work after bowl season and I'll probably look at this list again if there are any big changes. Of course the scouting combine plays heavily into the evaluation as well and could provide another big flux. Finally, I'll need to re-evaluate needs after free agency plays out.