Friday, February 29, 2008

Vikings have a new safety, look for help elsewhere

When the Vikings traded Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders before the 2005 draft, they acquired linebacker Napoleon Harris and the Raiders' first-round draft pick, number seven overall. Harris did nothing of consequence with the team and that #7 pick was used to draft Troy Williamson, who wowed scouts at the combine with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash but was otherwise virtually unknown. (When it became obvious that the Vikings would take a wide receiver with their pick, I favored USC wide receiver Mike Williams as a safer pick but, as bad as Williamson has been, Williams has been worse, notching just 44 catches in three seasons.)

Now, all the Vikings have to show for dealing Moss is a rumored sixth-round draft pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars, which would figure to be around the 200th pick in next month's draft. Last year's sixth-round picks -- all of them -- had 22 receptions in 2007 and that includes a guy who's listed as a linebacker. Not exactly fair compensation, but we're past the point of wondering whether Randy Moss or Mike Tice should have been shipped out after the 2004 season, when Moss said that he "wasn't sure" Tice was the head coach for him. Hint: It probably wasn't Moss.

But the free-agency period has begun, and there's a lot of talk of who the Vikings might get to fill the void at wide receiver and other positions, some of which might come true very soon.

I don't give the rumormongering from Yahoo much thought most of the time, but saying that Zygi Wilf has flown to California to court Bernard Berrian does seem like a bit more than your run-of-the-mill "Team A is interested in Player B" garbage they spew out regularly. The last paragraph, in particular, throws a ton of names out there, from Sage Rosenfels to Thomas Tapeh to Justin Smith, but it's the Berrian deal that seems most likely to develop into something more, and as soon as tonight, if true. confirms the Vikings apparent interest in Berrian and their desire to sign him quickly.

The stated terms of the deal worry me, though. $6-8 million per season for a wide receiver who hasn't even generated a 1,000-yard campaign yet? Granted, catching balls from Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton will depress anyone's numbers, but is Tarvaris Jackson that much better?

* According to the SI story, Smith and Madieu Williams could also be wearing purple very soon, filling voids at defensive end and safety, respectively. The Vikings have $35 million of cap room, the fifth-highest total in the league, so they can afford to overspend a bit and still have plenty left for signing draft picks and second-tier free agents.

(And...just as I write this, the story comes up on about Williams signing a six-year, $33 million contract with the Vikings, making him one of the highest-paid safeties in the league.)

* Even if all these deals get made, that will still leave a semi-gaping hole at one position for the team: quarterback. The team cut Kelly Holcomb earlier this week, and Derek Anderson, the closest there was to a top free-agent QB, has already re-signed with the Browns, leaving the Vikings to pick from a lackluster group of free agents that includes Trent Green, Quinn Gray, Cleo Lemon, and Byron Leftwich, or to work a trade for Rosenfels or J.P. Losman if they want to find a complement to or replacement for T-Jack. And, unlike last year, I won't be stumping for the team to pick up David Carr, who was recently released by the Panthers.

* Another interesting free agent is defensive end Jevon Kearse, recently released by the Eagles. Though he struggled with injuries in his Philadelphia career, and only managed 3.5 sacks in 14 games in 2007, he might be an interesting third-down option if he's willing to sign a low-cost, incentive-laden contract. Even with last year's disappointing season, Kearse averaged about half a sack per game in his Philadelphia career and if the 31-year-old is only counted on for 20-25 snaps a game, it might be that he could still be effective.

If you want to keep track of all the free-agent activity, I suggest either's free-agent tracker or the one located on It should be an interesting weekend!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pardon the Interpretation

While discussing Darren McFadden on Monday's Pardon the Interruption and whether he should be a top-five draft pick, one of the hosts -- Tony Kornheiser, I think -- said that he wouldn't want to draft a running back with a high first-round pick because (and I'm paraphrasing here) "running backs are too much of a risk and are too fragile, because they only last a few years before you need a new one." To "support" his argument Tony rattled off a few names, like Ki-Jana Carter and Curtis Enis, as "proof" that drafting a running back so high is risky.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that such an argument is the height of cherry-picking and ignores the several very good backs who have come out of the early part of the draft, guys like Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Barry Sanders. I could just as easily say that you shouldn't draft a quarterback with an early pick and point at Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, and Tim Couch while ignoring Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, and Carson Palmer.

But there is something to the point that running backs have relatively short shelf lives, and a primary back over the age of 30 is a rare thing. This is of special interest to Vikings fans, who hope that Adrian Peterson can take care of business for the next five to ten years or so, and to fantasy players who wonder when Tomlinson, age 29 and going into his eight season in 2008, will hit the wall that most backs do around the age of 30. And, since we're talking about your first-round pick here, you don't just want a decent player who lasts into his 30s -- you want a great player, one who will be a perennial all-star and have at least a shot of making it to the Hall of Fame.

With that in mind, I've scoured the draft lists on pro-football-reference and compiled every first-round pick from 1984 to 2003, 20 drafts' worth. To compare players' relative success across seasons and positions, I'll be using their Pro Bowl berths -- not the greatest metric, I know, but it's a reasonable enough way to compare the greatness of, say, a defensive lineman to a wide receiver. That's why I only include drafts to 2003; that gives every drafted player at least five seasons to make a Pro Bowl.

In those 20 drafts, there have been 583 first-round picks. Of those picks, 212 (36%) made at least one Pro Bowl in their careers. Here's how that breaks down by position (setting aside the only first-round kicker in the last 25 years, Sebastian Janikowski, who has never made the Pro Bowl):

Position% IN PBAVG PBS

Interesting. First-round running backs actually make one or more Pro Bowls 42.47% of the time, a large margin over the second-place position (quarterback, 38.89%). So, if you draft a running back in the first round, recent evidence would seem to indicate that he's got a nearly 50-50 chance of being a Pro Bowl player, at least once in his career. Barely one third of all first-round offensive linemen, on the other hand, barely qualify for the Pro Bowl in their careers.

But Tony Kornheiser's beef wasn't with short-term greatness. Instead, he questioned the durability and shelf life of a running back, and that's better expressed in the second column, which lists the average number of Pro Bowls made for each position, including players who played in zero of the games.

Here, the running back's fragility is more evident, with just 1.14 Pro Bowls made per career. Equally intriguing, though, is the similarity of that number to the average Pro Bowls made by first-round quarterbacks. If you take the numbers to one more decimal point, QBs actually win, 1.139 to 1.137, but it's still intriguing. However, I think it can be explained by the recent glut of very good non-first-round quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Matt Hasselbeck, and even Jeff Garcia, a four-time Pro Bowler who wasn't even drafted. Another factor is the relative reluctance teams have to play their highly regarded QBs too soon, while first-round running backs are often handed a heavy load right out of college, thus giving them an extra year or so to establish themselves (and, in the case of Adrian Peterson, to make the Pro Bowl).

As for the other positions, while O-linemen might have trouble making the Pro Bowl, it's no secret that once they're there, they're as hard to dislodge as, well, an offensive lineman. Only linebackers average more Pro Bowls in their careers, and one could argue that they're almost as tough to oust as linemen. D-linemen have the most trouble racking up the bids; it could be that it only takes one or two good games, where a d-lineman racks up five or six sacks, to virtually guarantee a trip to Hawaii, thus allowing more players to rotate through the ranks of Pro Bowlers. Seven sacks in 15 games doesn't usually get a lineman to the Pro Bowl, but that's what Osi Umenyiora did in 2007. Of course, he played in 16 games, including this one, which stamped his ticket to Hawaii. Defensive backs have sort of the same issue. A three-interception game can make all the difference between making the Pro Bowl and not.

In the end, it seems that Tony Kornheiser was at least partially right -- running backs do have relatively short shelf lives, even the great ones that you look for in the first round. Does that mean you shouldn't spend a high pick on one? Of course not. If a tremendous talent (like Darren McFadden or Adrian Peterson) is available, one that can lead your team for six to eight years, you'd be foolish not to snap it up. Very few players, from running backs to quarterbacks to linemen to any position last that long with one team anyway, and it's not really that much riskier than any other position, especially the premier position of quarterback.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The worst NFL team ever

With an ominous heading like that, there are several directions one could go. It's a heck of a billing to live up to, isn't it? With all the talk this season of the 2007 New England Patriots and how they compared to the 1972 Miami Dolphins, one has to figure that, if one team could be "unbeatable," could another be "unwinnable"? Even if they'd won the Super Bowl easily, the Patriots were still certainly challenged three or four times this year, but has there ever been a team that was so bad that it wasn't any challenge to its opponents?

Probably the most well-known "awful team" is the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the famously bad 0-14 expansion squad that inspired an entire segment of Football Follies. Led by quarterback Steve Spurrier (who would go on to have a decent post-playing football career), the Baby Bucs managed just 125 points in 14 games, while giving up 412, for an average margin of loss of 20 points, and was shut out five times. The team was so bad that head coach John McKay, when asked "What do you think of your team's execution?" quipped, "I'm in favor of it."

But they're not the worst.

Fresher in some people's minds are the 1992 Seattle Seahawks, a truly abysmal squad that scored only 140 points, the lowest total (I believe) for a 16-game season. When Mark McGwire says he "doesn't like to talk about the past," he might be referring to time spent watching his brother, Dan, see action with this club. The 'Hawks did boast a pretty good defense, though, and beat Denver in a snorefest of a Monday Nighter in late November that still has Bronco fans steaming to this day.

But they're not the worst.

Go back a little farther and you find another infamously bad team, the 1952 Dallas Texans, also known as the last NFL team to fold. This team lasted only one season but has an interesting history. Notably, they were forced to play on the road for their final two "home" games, which included the franchise's only win, against the Chicago Bears, which, understandably did not sit well with Chicago coach George Halas. The team was actually re-formed a year later as the Baltimore Colts, and has since done quite well for itself, and football in Dallas is equally strong.

But they're not the worst team, either.

No, I think the honor of "worst NFL team ever" has to go to the 1934 Cincinnati Reds, which not to be confused with the 1934 Cincinnati Reds of Major League Baseball, another poor team. That said, the baseball Reds averaged 3.88 runs per game in 1934, last in the National League. The football equivalent would have killed for that kind of scoring.

While it's true that football in 1934 was not the high-flying aerial show that it is today, the 1934 Reds were a singularly hideous squad, putting up just 10 points -- not per game, but for the entire eight-game season. Just to make games entertaining (I suppose), they gave up 243 points, an average of about 30 per game, on the way to an obvious 0-8 record.

Looking at the team's schedule page, you can see that the first half of the season wasn't actually all that bad. They lost their first four games 13-0, 9-0, 21-3, and 16-0 -- three shutouts, sure, but only two teams in 1934 cracked 200 points, and most averaged 10 points or less per contest. Then came the second half of the season, with drubbings of 41-0, 41-7, 38-0, and a 64-0 season-ender against the Philadelphia Eagles that sealed the Reds' untimely fate.

Looking at the team's stats paints an equally grim picture. The team only attempted 88 passes, and 14 of them were picked off (with zero touchdowns), compared to an fine (in any era) 11-5 TD-Int ratio for the opposition in 116 passes. By comparison, that would be 44 TDs and 20 ints. for a 464-attempt season. (Dan Marino threw 44 TDs and 23 interceptions in 1986.) They managed a halfway-respectable 3.7 yards per carry, though no rusher managed more than 200 yards on the ground. PFR lists Algy Clark as the team's head coach and as one of its players (ignore his listed age -- that's a known issue with PFR at the moment). If you thought Mike Holmgren did a poor job while trying to wield the power of both a head coach and general manager, just be glad you never had Algy running the show.

The Reds actually managed a 3-6-1 record in 1933, their only other season in the NFL, despite scoring only 38 points. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals and the Portsmouth Spartans (later to become the Detroit Lions) were two of their victims. In 18 games, the Reds scored 48 points, just 2.7 per contest, while being shut out 11 times. And you thought the Bengals were bad during the '90s...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vikings' have several wide-receiver options

It's no secret that the Vikings' passing game in 2007 was subpar. Certainly, Tarvaris Jackson was in over his head most of the year, but one can't ignore the inadequacy of his wide receivers, as well. With Coach Brad Childress seemingly committed to keeping Jackson under center, and most potential free-agent replacements probably coming at too high a price (Donovan McNabb) or being not much of an improvement (Rex Grossman), Jackson will probably be the Vikings' quarterback going into 2008. Even if the Vikings spend a high draft pick on a QB, it's unlikely that such a player would be ready to start until at least mid-season, if that early.

Wide receiver, on the other hand, is a different story, both in terms of available veterans and in terms of potential rookie replacements, not to mention the team's probable willingness to replace what they've got at the position already. Of the team's top three receivers from 2007, only Sidney Rice appears to have a long-term future with the team. Robert Ferguson and Bobby Wade were short-term fixes, Aundrae Allison seems better suited to kick-return duties, and the less said about Troy Williamson the better. So, how can the Vikings best bolster their wide-receiving corps?

Some draft boards have Cal's DeSean Jackson going to the Vikings with their #17 pick in the first round. He's fairly small (6', 172 lbs) but has game-breaking speed, which might be a good fit for the Vikings. Jackson could hit him on short passes and watch him turn five-yard gains into 30 yards. Other mock drafts have us taking Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma with that pick. While not quite as fast as Jackson, he's got great size (6'4", 217 lbs), and his 40 times at the combine could radically alter his draft stock. If the Vikings wait until the second round or later, there are lots of good prospects, like Limas Sweed (Texas), Mario Manningham (Michigan), and Harry Douglas (Louisville), all of whom would look good in purple and definitely bolster a weak receiving corps.

For more immediate help, though, the Vikings will have to turn to free agency or, in one interesting case, a trade. Here are some of the top free-agent wide receivers out there and one non-free agent who's received a lot of talk recently:

Randy Moss (New England). Let's be realistic. Randy Moss is going to get a huge payday, and it won't be from Minnesota. And it probably wouldn't be worth it, considering our quarterbacking situation.

Bernard Berrian (Chicago). Despite not yet owning a 1,000-yard receiving season, Berrian is probably the top free-agent WR on the market the Vikings can realistically expect to land. He's a deep threat (14.7 yards per catch career) and a bit old (27) but represents the best option for an immediate upgrade to the position.

Bryant Johnson (Arizona). Johnson's an interesting case. He's lived in the shadows of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for most of his career as a Cardinal but has been very consistent, with seasons of 35, 49, 40, 40, and 46 catches. He would probably put up solid numbers as a starter and might even qualify as the #1 receiver in the Vikings' offense.

Patrick Crayton (Dallas). Crayton emerged as a solid complement to Terrell Owens in Dallas this season, taking over for the injured Terry Glenn. Granted, Tarvaris Jackson is no Tony Romo, and nobody will cover the Vikings' other receivers the way defenders shadowed TO, so if Crayton gets his payday somewhere other than in Dallas, he probably won't put up numbers like he did in 2007 (50 catches, 697 yards, 7 TDs).

Chad Johnson (Cincinnati). Here's the wild card. Does Johnson want to be traded or doesn't he? If he does, I think the Vikings would be wise to inquire about his price. Yes, he's arrogant and at times immature, but the offense could probably benefit from a character like Johnson and, even if Jackson can't get the ball to him regularly, defenders will have to respect his ability, and that will open holes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. His age (30) is a concern, and who knows if he'd be willing to suit up for a run-oriented offense like the Vikings', but at least one part of his transition would be smooth -- the Vikings don't have anyone on their roster who wears ocho-cinco.

There are, of course, other free-agent wide receivers to be had, like Muhsin Muhammed, Andre Davis, David Patten, and Drew Carter, but they don't offer much of an improvement over the team's current crop of wideouts. Nearly every season, the team has made one big free-agent splash, from Antoine Winfield to Darren Sharper to Chester Taylor to Fred Smoot, and with room under the cap (as usual), hopefully they'll take a shot at refreshing a badly depleted wide-receiver corps that's in desperate need of a playmaker to take the pressure off the running game.

(Don't forget to answer poll to the right!)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A new direction for my blog

So, I'm leaving -- and then again, I'm not.

I really like it here, I do. I like the community, especially the great Minnesota Vikings fans I've had the chance to meet (in the virtual sense). I like the games. I like my four (hopefully soon to be five) stars. I won't be leaving any of that behind. I'll still post here, and you'll still see my name on your friends list (I hope) with new content on a regular basis, and I'll keep looking for new friends and keep making comments on other people's blogs on a regular basis.

Rather, it's the core of the blogs that I have issue with -- the blogs themselves. Not any user's particular blog, but the blogging process here on and the simple, inadequate tools SN provides to us. For people just beginning in blogging and web writing, they're enough, to be sure, but I need more. I first touched html in 1994 and have maintained several web sites and blogs and find the blogging process here sometimes infuriating. I dislike that I can't make a proper table for displaying statistical info. I dislike that I can't have a list of favorite links outside of blogs. I dislike that every time I bold or italicize something, I'm kicked to the top of my window. And I dislike the itty-bitty window in the first place.

Then there's the damn smiley-face bug. Try entering an 8 followed by a parentheses (like if I refer to the Vikings of 1998), and you'll see how annoying that is.

So, what's a man to do? Well, this.

Hi! And welcome to the "new" Displaced. It's essentially the same as the old one, except that I'll be able to do much more here from both a presentation and functionality standpoint. I have complete control over the html and can easily add modules for links, surveys, news feeds (I particularly like the customizable Vikings feed at the bottom of the page) at will, all in lovely html, which allows me to craft things such as this:

TeamRun CompPass CompTotal
San Diego Chargers38.6038.2876.88
Washington Redskins46.4929.1575.64
Jacksonville Jaguars36.8438.6075.44
New York Giants41.2333.8975.12
Philadelphia Eagles38.6034.5673.16

Neat, huh? Looks a hell of a lot better than the list on this page, doesn't it?

As I said, I'm not actually leaving Every one of my posts here will be simulposted, for a paragraph or two, on, just like this post was. You'll still see the titles in your friend's lists, you'll still be able to read the start of my posts, and then you'll be able to come here to see them in all their glory. On the surface, nothing's change. Leave your comments here or leave them on -- I'll read both. I hope you'll keep giving me thumbs ups (or, if you must, thumbs downs) on my blog. And, if you're finding this page for the first time on Blogger, I do recommend you sign up for a account, if only to join the community and play the games.

I hope you'll enjoy my "new" old blog and take the time to check out everything else this humble page has to offer to the right. Of course, if you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to let me know. As long as this experiment turns out better than Troy Williamson has in purple, I'll consider it a success. (Yes, I know that's aiming mighty low.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

But wait, there's more!

This blog existed for nearly a year on The Sporting News' web site. You can find all my previous entries there. I still blog there and direct people here, but if you have an account, feel free to add me to your friends list. I like friends!