Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Price of Randy Moss

Here's a quick guess at what a third-round pick -- which was apparently the going rate for one of the best WRs in history -- is worth.

Here are all third-round draft picks from 1991 to 2000. It can be assumed that all of these players have completed their careers or, in a few cases, we've seen enough of them to get a reasonable idea of how successful they've been. We can use PFR's Approximate Value as a guideline, sorting by CarAV to see who the best third-round picks were. The top five are:

Terrell Owens - 116
Jason Taylor - 115
Ronde Barber - 110
Aeneas Williams - 104
Curtis Martin - 101

If the Vikings actually gave up a player of that caliber for a few years late in Randy Moss' career, then it was a bad move, for certain. (I'll ignore the 7th-rounder the Vikings got from New England.) But those are just five players, out of 323 3rd-round picks, or about 1.5% of all picks. Sorted by AV, here are the number of players, and their percentage of all 323 picks:

100+: 5 (1.5%)
80-99: 5 (1.5%)
60-79: 9 (2.8%)
40-59: 27 (8.4%)
20-39: 65 (20.1%)
0-19: 212 (65.6%)

That means that about 2 out of every 3 3rd-round picks are essentially valueless -- players who achieve a career AV of less than 20. The 20-39 isn't much better, and the 40-59 tier hardly represents players you would regret not having on your team; the high end of that bracket gives us players like Ray Buchanan, James Jones, Brian Griese, and Darrell Jackson -- useful, but not overly significant.

Here's another way of looking at it: Coming into this season, Randy Moss has averaged about 14 points of AV per year, and that includes his hideous years with Oakland. Assuming the Vikings have him for three years, and assuming some decline in his skills -- with years of 12, 10, and 8 AV, that would give him 30 points of AV, which would make him better than 255 of the 323 3rd-rounders (78.9%) in our sample. So, you could say that there's about a 4-in-5 chance that this was a good deal for the Vikings and a 1-in-5 chance that the player the Pats get -- which will, we hope, be a late 3rd-rounder -- will be good enough to offset the loss of Randy Moss.

I'm happy with those odds.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010 Season Predictions

So that "going to post more" semi-promise. Yeah, not so much.

But, on the eve of the 2010 season, the first game of which features the Vikings, I thought I should at least briefly share my opinions on the Vikings chances this season and the NFL as a whole. Unfortunately, I don't share the optimism that most of my brethren seem to.

I hate to sound like a naysayer, but I feel the Vikings have declined this offseason, while the Packers look to be really, really good. Our secondary is limping to the starting line, the offensive line (and Pat Williams) is still too fat, Adrian Peterson still fumbles, Sidney Rice is hurt, Brad Childress is still the head coach...

Oh, and yeah, there's that guy who's closer to retirement age than he is to college age. He's still a douche, and his ankle is already hurting.

As improbable as it was that Brett Favre would have the season he did at age 40, it's even more improbable that he'll do it at the age of 41, which he hits a month from tomorrow. Toss in the fact that he doesn't think Brad Childress knows how to run an offense (a point that I agree with him on) and the notion that, even if he's good, his body might not hold up all season, and only the homer-est of homers would have trouble acknowledging that the 2010 Vikings are walking a fine line between excellence and simply very-good-ness.

All is not lost, however, even if #4 doesn't perform up to snuff. The 2008 Vikings went 10-6 with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at the helm, and Peterson and the defense are enough to at least get us that far. Unfortunately, I don't know that they'll get much farther than that, unless everything comes together like it did last season.

My prediction: 10-6

Overall NFL Predictions (and very brief summaries):

AFC East
1. NY Jets - y
2. New England - x
3. Miami
4. Buffalo

The Jets probably aren't as good as everyone thinks they are, but they're good enough to get this far.

AFC North
1. Baltimore - y
2. Cincinnati
3. Pittsburgh
4. Cleveland

Sorry Pittsburgh, but you could be really bad this year.

AFC South
1. Houston - y
2. Indianapolis - x
3. Tennessee
4. Jacksonville

Houston has to get it done one of these years, right?

AFC West
1. San Diego - y
2. Denver
3. Oakland
4. Kansas City

I don't see any of these teams doing anything notable.

NFC East
1. Dallas - y
2. Washington
3. Philadelphia
4. NY Giants

Dallas is the only really good team here, IMHO

NFC North
1. Green Bay - y
2. Minnesota - x
3. Detroit
4. Chicago

Jay Cutler is really not good.

NFC South
1. Atlanta - y
2. New Orleans - x
3. Carolina
4. Tampa Bay

Don't sleep on the Panthers.

NFC West

1. San Francisco - y
2. Arizona
3. St. Louis
4. Seattle

See AFC West.

AFC Championship: Baltimore over New England
NFC Championship: Green Bay over Dallas
Super Bowl: Baltimore over Green Bay

See you in five months!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I don't usually use the d-word, but...

You know you're a douche when even your agent calls you a "goddamned drama queen":

And yes, I realize that complaining about media coverage of Favre while linking to an article about Favre is ironic, but none of it would be necessary if he wasn't such a douche.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

How many idiots does it take to make a bad draft pick?

My answer: one.

On the other hand, it takes a lot of idiots to make a good draft pick.

And at the heart of this discussion are Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy and why I'm OK with the Vikings not drafting either one of them, even with their pressing long-term needs at quarterback.

Confused? Good! Now, let me explain.

First, when I say "good" or "bad" draft pick, I mean that a player was drafted lower (good) or higher (bad) than he probably should have been. By this definition, Peyton Manning wasn't a good draft pick. He was picked #1 overall, which was probably about right. The same goes for Adrian Peterson, who was the #7 overall pick, and could arguably be called the #7 best player in the league right now. Similarly, Sam Manuel, the last pick of the 1996 draft who never played a game in the NFL, wasn't a "bad" pick -- he was picked right about where he should have been.

Now consider someone like Troy Williamson. #7 overall, has done squat in his NFL career...clearly a "bad" pick. On the flip side, there's the #199 pick in the 2000 draft, Tom Brady. He was a "good" draft pick.

Most teams probably had Williamson much lower on their draft boards than #7. But the Vikings, thinking themselves "smarter" than everyone else, had him pegged very high and chose him with the #7 overall pick. In other words, it can be argued that 31 of 32 NFL teams were "smart" about Williamson, and it only took one "idiot" team to overdraft him and make him a "bad" pick.

Now, look at Brady. Every NFL team passed on hi, multiple times. Clearly, this was not a good decision. The Patriots finally picked him -- making them the "smart" team and the other 31 teams "idiots." Even so, Brady is an anomaly. 6th-round draft picks don't normally go on to Hall-of-Fame careers. Nobody was commenting on how Brady was a "steal" when he was drafted. 30 of 31 teams didn't even want him on their roster, and the Patriots didn't even care to expend a pick on him until the draft was nearly over.

Clearly, the Patriots did well by drafting Brady. But it's not like they possessed some kind of prescient knowledge that he would go on to the type of career he did. If they did, they would have drafted him much earlier. At most, they were hoping for a capable backup and, perhaps someday down the road, Drew Bledsoe's replacement.

All of which brings us back to Clausen and McCoy. The Vikings could have drafted either player but chose not to do so. Instead, Clausen went #48 overall to the Panthers, while McCoy slid to the third round and was picked in the #85 slot by the Browns. Along with Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, who were taken before the Vikings' first draft pick, both were considered potential future franchise quarterbacks. All four were featured extensively on ESPN, including a "QB school" run by Jon Gruden, where he broke down each QB.

My question is: If they're so good, how could every NFL team pass on them -- some multiple times?

Yes, not every team needed a quarterback, but I count about 17 possible picks before Clausen went and 25 before McCoy was drafted by teams that could have potentially gone after a QB (including several by Cleveland before the team took McCoy). If these two players are so good and were, according to many draft "experts," undervalued and "steals" by the teams that picked them, then why did it take so long for them to be drafted? I clearly didn't spend weeks breaking down each player, but I came away from his session with Gruden unimpressed. Both might be decent QBs -- and certainly better than what the Vikings look to have under center in 2011 -- but I don't think we "missed out" on either player. Chances are that both of them were "decent" draft picks, picked right about where they should have been.

(And only time will tell if the Denver Broncos were smarter than the likely 31 of 32 NFL teams who didn't think Tim Tebow was worthy of a first-round pick. Given those odds, I'd be pessimistic about Tebow's chances.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

2000 Draft Revisited

We all (OK, I) like to talk about how silly it is for the NFL pundits to grade the draft hours, or even minutes after teams have made their selections. We all (really, all of us!) know that you can't give a team an A- or a C+ or an F on its draft until several years have passed and those rookies have turned into All-Pros or unemployed free agents. Unfortunately, nobody ever really keeps track of what the draftniks of the world have had to say and hold them accountable for their predictions of draft success.

Yeah, I'm gonna go there.

Here is Peter King's draft report card from the 2000 NFL Draft. After 10 years, I think we can get a pretty good idea of how these teams actually did in the draft. To evaluate the draft, I'll be using Pro-Football-Reference's Approximate Value (AV) system to sum up the total value of a team's draft picks. AV is a decent measure of overall value of a player, whether he's a quarterback, offensive lineman, safety, tight end, whatever. It's not perfect, and, for purposes of tracking the draft, it doesn't account for players who leave a team via trade or free agency, but it's a reasonable way to measure draft success, and, since the draft was 10 years ago, most players taken in it have played the bulk -- if not all -- of their careers, giving us a good measuring point to determine their overall success.

Here's the draft list, sorted by AV, with Peter King's placement listed first and the team's top pick, as determined by AV:

KingTeamTotalAVTop PlayerAV
14NY Jets280John Abraham68
6Green Bay257Chad Clifton61
23Chicago235Brian Urlacher97
11San Francisco212Julian Peterson64
7Pittsburgh199Plaxico Burress66
19Denver196Deltha O'Neal47
16Baltimore188Jamal Lewis69
15NY Giants183Cornelius Griffin59
9Tennessee172Keith Bulluck68
2Seattle168Shaun Alexander68
8New England167Tom Brady104
17Arizona156Thomas Jones58
31New Orleans156Marc Bulger57
12Jacksonville153Brad Meester50
25Minnesota146Chris Hovan57
21Carolina131Deon Grant54
18Cincinnati131Neil Rackers45
1Oakland131Sebastian Janikowski50
24Indianapolis128Marcus Washington53
13Philadelphia111Corey Simon47
4Washington111LaVar Arrington61
10Cleveland110Dennis Northcutt41
22Detroit96Reuben Droughns27
20Kansas City96Greg Wesley38
28St. Louis94Brian Young42
27San Diego87Damion McIntosh39
29Atlanta66Mark Simoneau31
5Buffalo64Sammy Morris26
3Tampa Bay60Cosey Coleman27
26Miami59Todd Wade39
30Dallas34Mario Edwards24

The biggest issue with AV, IMO, is that it doesn't rate kickers (or punters), and there were three kickers and one punter who were drafted in 2000 -- first-rounder Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland), along with Neil Rackers (Cincinnati), Paul Edinger (Chicago), and Shane Lechler (Oakland again). I decided to go with a very simple rating of 1 AV per 20 points scored for each of these kickers. The very best players ever in the NFL have AVs around 150-200 for their careers (Jerry Rice is 250), and that would put the best kickers -- the ones around 2,000 career points at about 100 AV, which seems fair for kickers. As for Lechler, I semi-arbitrarily gave him an AV of 40 -- less than Jano, but still appropriate, I think, for a guy who's been probably the best punter of the last 10 years.

Some observations:
  • It's not hard to rule the roost when you have four #1 draft picks, as the Jets did in 2000. None have gone on to truly spectacular, HOF-worthy careers, but the foursome of John Abraham, Chad Pennington, Shaun Ellis, and Anthony Becht have a total AV of 208, which would be enough for fourth place alone -- not bad for one round!
  • Lechler and Jano save Oakland from having a truly abysmal draft; without my AV assignments to those two, the Raiders would have mustered just 41 total AV from their other picks, good for #30 (of 31) on the list. Still, they were probably a tad overrated by King.
  • Meanwhile, King's worst draft grade went to New Orleans, and probably deservedly so. Marc Bulger never played a down for the Saints; without him, the team's total AV drops to a mediocre 99, with Darren Howard (42) as the only notable.
  • Several of King's lowest grades -- St. Louis (28), San Diego (27), Atlanta (29), Miami (26), and Dallas (30) -- actually do rank among the worst drafts of 2000. Dallas' picks are especially putrid. Admittedly, they only had five picks, and #49 was their highest, but still... only sixth-rounder Mario Edwards made any kind of NFL impact.
  • King doesn't think much of Chicago's draft. "Brian Urlacher had better be great," he said, and he is, at least when he's healthy.
  • "he'll be a better pro than Ron Dayne" is what King said about Shaun Alexander. Uh, yeah.
  • His opinions of Tampa Bay's and Buffalo's drafts, though, were a little overly optimistic. "Cosey Coleman's an eight-year starter after Randall McDaniel retires," he said. Not bad -- Coleman started for six years with the Bucs and Browns. Then he said, "Corey Moore, will be one of those classic Bills picks (they always get a very good player after the first round, every year), the kind of player GMs will regret passing on." Moore played two years in the NFL, one for Buffalo and one for Miami.
  • One very good player can really skew a team's overall ranking. If not for Tom Brady, the Patriots would have had a total AV of 63, and their best player would have been Greg Randall (17).
  • Tee Martin and Danny Farmer also get big props for Pittsburgh.
  • The "uninspired" Vikings draft turns out OK. Unfortunately, Chris Hovan and Fred Robbins wind up playing much of their football outside of Minnesota, forcing the team to rely heavily on free agency for much of the decade, with mixed results.
Anyway, King's analysis of the draft is pretty much what you'd expect: some hits, some misses, overall reasonably good (as anyone can do just by observing draft position and possessing some football savvy) but generally uneven. And, like the Buffalo observation, a whole lot of "this guy is a hidden gem"-type commentary that's easy to ignore when the guy doesn't pan out (which happens 99% of the time) and is highly recounted when it's right. Shame he didn't get on the bandwagon of that Brady guy. Still, I suggest you read the full article if, for nothing else, a trip down nostalgia lane.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The not-so-triumphant return

Hey there. Been a while.

I won't get too heavily into what's been keeping me away from here. Don't worry, it's nothing drastic -- I'm not dying, I'm not in prison, I'm not getting married. I've just been busier at my job than ever before and I just didn't have the energy to try and keep up a blog when I went home in the evenings. I can't guarantee that I will now, but I'd like to still post occasionally, when the mood strikes me, which has been rare as of late. Just don't expect three to four posts per week, like I used to do.

In the meantime, if you're new here, or relatively new, you might have missed out on some of my crude attempts at analysis over the past few years. Now that fantasy football season is nearly upon us again (and I actually work for a company that produces fantasy sports magazines, though not in that department), all the tired old theories are being trotted out again as to why a player will have a better/worse season in 2010. So I thought I'd take a little time to refresh you on what I think on such matters, backed up by more than just selective memory and wishful thinking.

Here are my two most significant findings for you to keep in mind this fantasy football season:

1) The running game has virtually no effect (statistically, at least) on the passing game and vice versa. Don't believe it when someone says, "Running back X will have a great season now that quarterback Y is on his team!" This is often quoted when a RB does have a good year when a new QB arrives (or an old QB does well) and never mentioned when a RB has a bad year with a good QB (or a QB has a bad year with a good RB). For the statement to be true, it must apply in a majority, if not all cases. I got into it a little bit with someone on the PFR blog lately but decided to bow out since my research was a little crusty and spread out.

And here is that old, crusty research! Enjoy!

If you can only read one, read the second one. It contains most of the significant data.

2) A wide receiver's performance has nothing to do with other wide receivers on his team. Larry Fitzgerald will probably see his numbers drop this year, but it won't be because Anquan Boldin left. The absence of Kurt Warner will have a much bigger effect. A complimentary wide receiver (or good-hands tight end) has little to no effect on a player's stats. I covered that concept here:

When it comes to premises like these, I still think it's a case of people just trying to sound smarter than they are or, in the case of fantasy football, trying to make it seem like they're getting a great or emergent player as a great draft pick. Don't buy into it. Remember, Matt Forte was supposed to have an awesome year once the Bears landed Jay Cutler.

Oh yeah, speaking of Jay Cutler...

And here's one last fun little Cutler/Kyle Orton comparison:

Broncos' #1 QB passer ratings:
2008 (Cutler): 86.0
2009 (Orton): 86.8

Bears' #1 QB passer ratings:
2008 (Orton): 79.6
2009 (Cutler): 76.8

Still think that was a good deal, Bears fans?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

RBIs and Touchdowns

Joe Posnanski recently posted a nice article about the relative lack of value of RBIs, something that virtually any baseball fan with more than rudimentary knowledge of the game understands. These two paragraphs, in particular, helped solidify in my mind a similar idea I'd had for a while about football:

But it really isn’t so. Take this situation: One out, Rick Manning cracks a line drive single. Duane Kuiper hits a high chopper in front of the plate, he’s out, but Manning takes second. Jim Norris, with first base open and two outs, works for a walk. Manning and Norris move up on a wild pitch. Pitcher works around Andre Thornton, and he walks. Then, with a 3-1 count and the bases loaded, the pitcher has to throw a fastball that catches too much of the plate, and Rico Carty rolls a single between short and third, scoring two runs.

That’s a fairly typical sequence, I would guess. In our mind and in our statbook, Carty is the hero — two RBIs. He is, in fan and media shorthand, RESPONSIBLE for those runs. But he isn’t. Carty’s single didn’t make those two runs happen. Those two runs scored because of a series of events, and Carty’s single was just the last of those events.

I've emphasized that last sentence to drive home the notion that I have the same feeling regarding touchdowns. Last season, Adrian Peterson had 1,383 yards, a 4.3 average, and 18 touchdowns. In 2008, he had 1,760 yards, a 4.8 average, and 10 touchdowns. And I'd wager that at least a third of football fans would point to his 18 TDs in 2009 as a positive sign, despite the lower yardage and yards per carry.

I don't. I think they're meaningless, except to fantasy football players -- kinda like the RBI is to fantasy baseballers.

We've all seen drives where the quarterback passes and the featured back runs the ball down to the 1-yard-line. Then, in comes Mike Alstott (or Jerome Bettis or Craig Heyward) to plunge it in from the one. Alstott is the Rico Carty of this scenario. To paraphrase JoePo: Alstott's run didn’t make that touchdown happen. That touchdown was scored because of a series of events and Alstott's run was just the last of those events.

To be certain, there are times when the player scoring the touchdown is the "hero" of the drive and fully deserving of the stat bump and the accolades that come with scoring the TD. But taking another look at Peterson's 18 TDs in 2009, nine of them came from one yard out and only four came from further than five yards out. Peterson's good, to be certain, but a lot of backs could have scored from that distance, just as a lot of players can hit a single -- like Rico Carty did -- and drive in two runs in JoePo's scenario. All of which isn't to say AP's not a great player. He is, but it's not because he scored 18 TDs last year.

This is also why I've been slow to adapt to the notion, now professed by the guys at Pro-Football-Reference, that a TD should be worth 20 adjusted yards (instead of 10). To me, a touchdown doesn't require much more skill than any other run and shouldn't be rewarded in the stats. Yes, it is more difficult to gain a yard on the one-yard-line than it is on the 50, and I'm willing to give the 10-yard bump for that, but 20 just seems like too much to me.

Finally, JoePo goes on in his article to name a few situations where teams that added players who had poor averages put up big RBI numbers actually scored fewer runs the next season. I thought I'd see if there was any similar correlation in football. I did a search of players who scored more than 15 rushing TDs ("high RBI totals") but averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry ("low batting average/OBP") and got this list of nine players. (The Redskins apparently love these guys!) Did they improve their team's scoring the year they scored so many TDs? Let's see:

John Riggins: 24 TDs in 1983
1983 Redskins: 33.8 points per game
1982 Redskins: 21.1 ppg

Terry Allen: 21 TDs in 1996
1996 Redskins: 22.8 ppg
1995 Redskins: 20.4 ppg

George Rogers: 18 TDs in 1986
1986 Redskins: 23.0 ppg
1985 Redskins: 18.6 ppg

LaDainian Tomlinson: 17 TDs in 2004
2004 Chargers: 27.9 ppg
2003 Chargers: 19.6 ppg

Shaun Alexander: 16 TDs in 2002
2002 Seahawks: 22.2 ppg
2001 Seahawks: 18.8 ppg

Pete Banaszak: 16 TDs in 1975
1975 Raiders: 26.8 ppg
1974 Raiders: 25.4 ppg

Lenny Moore: 16 TDs in 1964
1964 Colts: 30.6 ppg
1963 Colts: 22.6 ppg

Karim-Abdul Jabbar: 16 TDs in 1997
1997 Dolphins: 21.2 ppg
1996 Dolphins: 21.2 ppg

Lendale White: 16 TDs in 2008
2008 Titans: 23.4 ppg
2007 Titans: 18.8 ppg

Well, that's not quite what I was expecting. In every situation except one (the Dolphins scored exactly 339 points in both 1996 and 1997), the team in the high-TD year scored more points than in the previous year -- and it usually wasn't even close. My only redeeming thought is that, unlike an "RBI machine," a high-TD featured runner can score around a third to a quarter of his team's points, compared to accounting for only about one-sixth to one-seventh of a team's RBI total, which is all most hitters can manage. Thus, with an outlying high-TD season, a high-TD back can have a bigger impact on his team's overall scoring than the RBI machine. I might also claim that five of these nine players were just barely under the 4.0 yards per carry mark (3.87 or better), so it's not like they were truly awful. And I'm not looking up any other team-related improvements that might have accounted for the increase in scoring. If I found a way to incorporate Adrian Peterson's 2008-09 seasons into this mix, I'd see that the Vikings scored 470 points in 2009 (when Peterson scored 18 TDs) and 379 in 2008 (when Peterson scored 10 TDs). But I think we all know who was responsible for that.

Maybe a wider search using this list (greater than 12 rushing TDs and less than 3.75 yards per carry) would shed some more light on the subject, but that's for another day. I'll still draft AP #1 overall in my fantasy football league, but I'll prefer if he has a season like 2008 than like he did in 2009.