Friday, June 27, 2008

Which came first: the Bernard or the Adrian?

Even before Bernard Berrian inked his huge deal with the Vikings, people were already picking Adrian Peterson to have a 2008 to put his rookie year to shame. The excitement reached a fever pitch after Berrian was signed, as people believed he would open a passing game that was largely ineffective in Peterson's rookie year. With Berrian and an improved passing game in 2008, Peterson won't face eight defenders in the box and will run wild through opposing defenses all year long; 2,000 yards is a distinct possibility. If you play fantasy football and wind up with the fourth pick or lower -- or in some drafts, the second pick -- you likely won't even sniff Peterson.

But here's the thing: If Peterson is going to have such a phenomenal year because of the improved passing game, how will the passing game actually be improved if Peterson is rushing for 2,000 yards? An offense can only run so many plays, and if the bulk of them are going to Peterson (and maybe Chester Taylor), that won't leave much for Bernard Berrian and company. Going back again to fantasy drafts, I've heard two reasons why a player, especially a running back, might be poised for a breakout year:

Situation A: The team has a good passing game.
"That'll open up lots of holes for him! He'll have a huge year!"

Situation B: The team has a poor passing game.
"He's all they've got! He'll get tons of carries and have a huge year!"

Well, they can't both be true, can they? So, which is it? How does having a good passing game impact the running game (and vice versa)?

On the surface, it seems to make sense. But if you think about it, does one beget the other? Consider these questions:

Q: How do you have a good running game?
A: Have a good passing game to open holes for the running back.

Q: How do you have a good passing game?
A: Have a good running game so your receivers are single covered.

Er...OK. Chicken, meet egg.

Nobody would dispute that it's easier to run against seven in the box than it is against eight (or, in some cases against the Vikings last year, nine). But if the defense is stacking up to stop the run, shouldn't that mean the pass is wide open? But why are they stacking up to stop the run? Probably because the running game is very good, clearly better than the passing game. And if you're an offensive coordinator, shouldn't you be using what works? Do good running teams abandon or minimize the run just because the defense tries really hard to stop it. Of course not.

But when the offense does pass (or run against a team defending primarily against the pass), they should meet with some success, better than would be normally expected, right? They'll probably still pass fairly infrequently, but the results should be pretty good.

So maybe that's the key. A team that accumulates a lot of rushing yards should pass relatively infrequently but should be rather successful when they do pass. And a team that racks up the passing yardage runs infrequently but should be successful when they do run. In other words, high accumulation (raw yardage) in one stat should lead to a high rate (yards per carry or pass) in the other.

That's the theory, at least. This post is long enough, so I'll run the numbers and see what I come up with sometime this weekend. For now, just think about it and realize that if Bernard Berrian does somehow rack up 1,160 yards, it'll be more likely to come on 60 catches than on 80.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How good is your team's top receiver?

When I wrote my post last week about Bernard Berrian's expectations, I found that the Vikings haven't had a single receiver top the 700-yard mark (much less the 1,000-yard mark) for three straight seasons. Clearly, lack of production from the team's #1 wideout contributed to the Berrian signing, but it got me to thinking: Were the Vikings the team most in need of a true #1 receiver this offseason? Or was there another team that needed that deep threat more?

My method of figuring this out was simple. I took each team's top receiver and divided his yardage total by his team's total passing yards, discounting sacks to determine the percentage of his team's yards each "top" receiver accumulated. The smaller that percentage, the "worse" that team's #1 receiver. Thus, a receiver who caught 1,200 yards worth team that threw for 3,600 yards would have accounted for 33.3% of his team's passing yards. That would have made him a "better" #1 receiver than a player who caught 1,400 yards for a team that threw for 4,500 (31.1%) but "worse" than a 1,000-yard receiver on a team that threw for 2,500 (40%). After all, it should be harder to have a 1,000-yard season on a crappy team than it is to get 1,500 yards on a good passing team, right?

Here are the results for 2007:

NY Jets3330Cotchery113033.9%
St. Louis3561Holt118933.4%
Kansas City3525Gonzalez117233.2%
San Diego3175Gates98431.0%
New England4859Moss149330.7%
NY Giants3376Burress102530.4%
Tampa Bay3579Galloway101428.3%
New Orleans4423Colston120227.2%
Green Bay4461Driver104823.5%
San Francisco2685Battle60022.3%

Looks like Minnesota wasn't the worst at getting top production from its top receiver. Houston, Jacksonville, and Miami did worse, though two of those teams have excuses. Houston can at least point to the injury to Andre Johnson that kept him out for nearly half the season. His 94.6 average yards per game actually led the league last year, though he only suited up for nine games. Miami, meanwhile, traded Chris Chambers after six games; he had accumulated 415 yards up until that game and added 555 in San Diego, finishing with 970. If he'd gained all that yardage with Miami, he would have accounted for 29.2% of the team's production in the passing game, and even with lesser success, it's likely he would have kept the team out of the bottom spot. Meanwhile, espite David Garrard's breakthrough year, Jacksonville is probably the only team in the league consistently referred to as having worse wide receivers than Minnesota. Hey, good luck with Troy Williamson and 30-year-old Jerry Porter, guys!

It's both a little surprising and unsurprising to see Indianapolis at the top of this list. On the one hand, as much as the team is known for passing, you'd think there'd be enough yards to go around. Then again, Peyton Manning has been known to throw a lot (to the tune of 143 catches for Marvin Harrison in 2002) to his favorite receiver Reggie Wayne led the team this year, but from 1999 to 2006, Manning threw for 33,847 yards while Harrison caught 11,219, the vast majority of them coming from the arm of Manning. That would make for a 33.1% rate for virtually their entire career together, which would put them at #11 on this list. Wow.

In reality, this chart is just a fun way of looking at how much each team got out of its "top" receiver. For Berrian to manage 1,160 yards, as WhatIfSports thinks, though, Vikings passers would have to manage just over 3,200 yards in the air to get to Indy's 36.1% rate from last year -- possible, but unlikely. With the running game as good as it is and the potential emergence of Sidney Rice, Berrian probably won't put up those kind of numbers, but he should be good enough to get us out of the bottom five.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dry and dry again: Jared Allen

Almost as common as the "Bernard Berrian couldn't catch a cold even if the Vikings played outdoors in December" talk that's gone on since the Vikings signed the receiver has been the dire predictions of what will happen if the team's other major off-season acquisition, Jared Allen, "falls off the wagon." Allen, you'll recall (and how could you forget?) was suspended four games (later reduced to two) in 2007 for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy after being arrested for a DUI in 2006. If he violates the league policy again, he could be slammed with a full-season suspension, and that likely played some part in the Kansas City Chiefs' willingness to let go of last year's NFL sacks leader.

Truthfully, I didn't know much about Allen prior to his eight-tackle, two-sack game against the Vikings in 2007, his first game back after serving his suspension. Since rumors of a trade surfaced in mid-April, I've dug into his history a little more, to get an idea of his future. Every story I've read paints him as a guy who partied hard right out of college, made some mistakes, and has now cleaned up his act.

Great. That's what Koren Robinson said, too. And we know how that turned out.

But Allen seems different. Yeah, I know, there's some homer-ness to that, since he's one of "our guys" now. And, unless his drinking habits led to a tragedy, stories about him are going to be of an unfailingly positive nature. I really believed Allen had turned the corner, but I always thought there was at least some small, fraction-of-one-percent chance he might surrender once again to his demons and, like too many athletes who had come before him, wreck what should be an outstanding career.

Then I read Jeffri Chadiha's piece about Allen for ESPN The Magazine. And that fraction of a percent has evaporated to zero.

Most encouraging is Allen acknowledging that his going out to bars was due to a belief in the notion that he had to cultivate an image of a wild and crazy "party guy" to fit in with teammates and, he admits, "I was single and wanted to meet chicks." Since his arrest and suspension -- he's been dry since the arrest, 20 months and counting -- he "vanished from the nightlife" and has matured considerably: "Not drinking was part of my growth as a man." In essence, he sounds like someone who drank and partied to appear cool and attract the chicks, so to speak, and no longer needs that sort of stimulus to live a happy life.

And that's the difference between Allen and Koren Robinson. Robinson spouted all the usual platitudes about how he'd turned a new leaf and didn't need alcohol anymore, and so on, but I never got a sense of the underlying reason of why he would quit drinking. With Allen, it seems a very logical procession: He wanted to look cool and establish himself as a youngster, so he drank. Now, he is a well-established star, one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, and a focal point for his team's upcoming season. Why would he need alcohol? He's already got everything. I realize I'm no expert on the insidious nature of alcohol addiction, but it seems to me that Allen's achieved everything he wanted -- though it doesn't look like he's found that "chick" yet -- so why would he need alcohol? Yes, there's the case of Koren Robinson again, but he was still a marginal NFL player. Allen's far above "marginal," and looks to be smart enough to realize that alcohol will only bring him down, not prop him up.

There's also a little bit of on-the-field good news tucked away in the article. Take a look at this sentence:

By summer 2007, Allen had dropped 20 pounds, from 280 to 260, and reported to Chiefs camp in the best shape of his life.

Allen averaged about 9.0 sacks per season his first three years in the league before exploding for 15.5 in 2007. If his giving up drinking and re-dedicating himself to football led to that kind of improvement, maybe he can sustain that level of play for 2008 and beyond -- or even improve upon it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What to expect from Bernard Berrian

Hopefully, it won't be a lot of drops, though that perceived flaw in his skills has probably been overexaggerated. Still, Vikings fans are expecting a lot of Bernard Berrian in 2008 and beyond, perhaps more than should be expected from a fifth-year player who has yet to notch his first 1,000-yard season. Granted, he moves from possibly the worst quarterback situation in the league (Chicago) to -- well, not a great QB situation, but one with at least an inkling of hope for improvement. (And, as much as I get on some people, Brad Childress included, for being too optimistic about the Vikings' passing game, there's a difference between being optimistic and being outright delusional.)

WhatIfSports predicts a very nice 1,160 yards and 8 TDs for 2008 for Berrian, but is that just wishful thinking? The Vikings haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Nate Burleson in 2004. In fact, no Viking has even caught 700 yards through the air in the past three years. Why will Berrian break the 1,000-yard plateau -- cruise by it, in fact, according to WhatIfSports -- while the Vikings still have a shaky QB situation and a world-class running game? And, even if his QB situation was poor in Chicago, what reason is there to believe that Berrian will step it up in Minnesota?

To answer that last question, I'll return again to the Historical Data Dominator and look for seasons by fourth-year receivers with stats similar to Berrian's 71 catches for 951 yards. Specifically, I'll look for fourth-year players with 66 to 76 catches (five in each direction) and 900 to 1,000 yards (almost exactly 50 in each direction -- you'll forgive me for wanting to keep things round).

In addition to Berrian's 2007, six players fell within these boundaries since 1978, and it's a decent mix. Two of the six players (T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth) are still active. One (Andre Reed) should be in the Hall of Fame. Another (Sterling Sharpe) probably would be if not for a freak neck injury that ended his career. Then there's O.J. McDuffie and Jeff Graham. Meh.

Let's take a look at what these six players did in their first season after achieving their Berrian-like numbers:

Stallworth (2006): 38 catches, 725 yards, 5 TD
Houshmandzadeh (2005): 78 catches, 956 yards, 7 TD
McDuffie (1997): 76 catches, 943 yards, 1 TD
Graham (1995): 81 catches, 1,302 yards, 4 TD
Sharpe (1992): 108 catches, 1,461 yards, 13 TD
Reed (1989): 88 catches, 1,312 yards, 9 TD

That's rather promising. Stallworth regressed, but injuries played a part, and, while the window of opportunity is closing, he still has a chance to be considered something more than a mediocre first-round draft pick. Houshmandzadeh and McDuffie essentially repeated their fourth-year numbers, numbers we would probably be happy to get from a Vikings receiver these days. McDuffie actually had 90 catches and 1,050 yards in 1998, his sixth year, giving him a fairly consistent three-year stretch.

Graham, Sharpe, and Reed, meanwhile, blew away expectations in their fifth seasons. For Graham, it was his career year -- he would never again top 1,000 yards in a season -- and even Reed never topped 1,312 yards, though he played 11 more seasons. Sharpe, as Vikings fans are probably well aware, had two more great seasons with the Packers (totaling 206 receptions in 1993-94) before his injury.

Average those six seasons and you get 1,117 yards on 78 catches with 6.5 TDs, and that's with Stallworth missing some time. It's a small sample size, granted, but those numbers seem about in line with most predictions of Berrian's 2008 production. Is that about what we should expect from Berrian?

Well...Sharpe and Reed had Brett Favre and Jim Kelly throwing to them, and even Jeff Graham had Erik Kramer's crazy 1995 (29 TDs) backing him up. Stallworth had Donovan McNabb, Housh Carson Palmer, and McDuffie (an admittedly aging) Dan Marino. With the exception of Kramer, all of those men are or have a shot (or in Favre's case a lock) at being in the Hall of Fame; Tarvaris Jackson ain't quite on their level, to put it politely.

If I had to bet, I'd say Berrian will probably clock in with something right around 1,000 yards -- maybe 50 above or below -- and that's assuming the Vikings don't run it 40 times a game (which they probably should but probably won't). Still, he'll be an improvement over the Bobby Wades and Troy Williamsons that have suited up for the team in recent years.

And at the very least, he should break that 700-yard mark.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

They told me to write this

They say success in life is all about networking. "They" also say you should only eat about 4 oz. of red meat per week and that success in the playoffs is all about running the ball and stopping the run, so what do "they" know, really? Well, I know that I've been looking at some more blogs over the past few weeks and I'm adding them to my reading list on the right. You should check them out, too.

* Twinkie Town is a nice Twins site, with frequent updates and lots of quality opinions. The next time you hear that the Twins are struggling because they're so young or that they need to add a veteran to provide guidance for all those fragile "kids," read this.

* I'll return a shout-out from The Ragnarok, a Vikings blog that's optimistic about the team's chances, even if Bryant McKinnie misses significant time due to a suspension. Still...Artis Hicks? *shiver*

* Here's another Twins blog, The Curse of the Big Papi -- hey, you know, it has been five years since the Twins gave away David Ortiz and we haven't won a title since! It's a curse!

* Skol Vikes isn't quite as frequently updated as the others, but I like his layout. He includes a picture with every post, a style I may copy.

* Finally, not related to sports at all, but if you haven't discovered Hulu yet, you should. Free streaming movies and episodes of TV series (including the three unaired episodes of Journeyman, which I loved), with minimal commercial interruptions. Best of all, it's legal, unlike some other streaming-video venues.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Charles Rogers? Really?

Noted flop Charles Rogers has been in the news recently thanks to a rumor planted by, of all people, his former high school coach, who says that the Minnesota Vikings have been in contact with the wide receiver. The story's been picked up by several sources, but most people rate the chances of Rogers actually making it to training camp somewhere between slim and none.

Which is how it should be. As bad as the Vikings' receiving corps has been recently, there shouldn't be any interest in a player who hasn't even taken a snap in nearly three years and possesses a total of 36 receptions in 15 games as a pro. Most people (myself included) probably weren't even aware he was still in football, but he apparently tried out with the Dolphins, Patriots, Bucs, and Chiefs since his release by the Lions in September 2006. As if being rejected by four teams shouldn't be enough to put a team off signing a guy, Rogers also reportedly ran a lineman-like 4.8 40 in a 2007 workout with Kansas City. He's supposedly also received interest from the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, so maybe he just got sidetracked and passed through Minnesota on his way north. Let's at least hope that's what it is.

(And speaking of the Alouettes, I think it's great that CFL teams have cheerleading squads. I wonder if they still wear the skirts when it's below zero in October? And you have to love some of those French-Canadian names, like Marie-Noelle, Andrée-Anne, Eve Lyne, and not one, but two Marie-Eves. My official favorite Alouette cheerleader is Nathalie. She builds airplanes for a living. Insert "Mile High Club" joke here.)

UPDATE: Looks like Rogers might have actually gotten lost on his way to Montreal, or at least his former coach was confused about it. It's understandable, I mean, how many football teams up north that start with "M" are there?

And yes, I still think the CFL should get more air time in the United States.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Power rankings compilation, June edition

Well, why not? Sure, it's not the regular season, but I'll still find a way to disagree with/mock the "experts" who like to rank all 32 NFL teams in May and June. I'm sure they're not just doing it as a way to fill space during the looooooooong off-season (unlike the NBA, which I'm pretty sure has a three-week off-season). To make things a little more interesting, though, I'll not only comment on the Vikings' position, but I'll also get on their case about anything else that seems amiss. Apologies in advance if I offend your team's sensibilities. (Unless you're an Atlanta fan. They're still going to be awful.) After all, just because these guys are paid to give half-educated opinions doesn't mean I can't dole out my half-educated opinions for free.

All rankings were issued from May 1 or later. So yes, they are taking Jared Allen and the draft into account. Here they are, in no particular order

AOL Sports John Schaefer says:

9. Minnesota will continue its upward trend and nose out the Pack in a tight NFC North race. The difference? The Vikings have the best player in the division -- Adrian Peterson.

You mean the best player in the division isn't Rex Grossman? (He ranks the Pack at #10.) My "boner" pick for him, though, is the Saints at #8. You know, the team that went 10-6 two years ago but OMG PRETTY OFFENSE. Yep, they're in the top 25% of NFL teams. Amazing what one slightly above-average year will do for your expectations. says:

12. If they settle on a QB, the Vikes could become a playoff team. RB Adrian Peterson is at the top of the list for MVP candidates. (JW)

That prediction's turned in by James Walker; five guys in total handled's predictions, including Pat Yasinskas, who puts Seattle at #8. Yeah, I know, we've been predicting the downfall of the Seahawks for years, but nobody in the NFC West has stepped up. Me, I think winning a criminally weak division every year doesn't qualify you as the eighth-best team in the league.

CBS SportsLine's Pete Prisco says:

24. They have the makings of a deep playoff team with one exception: quarterback. Do you believe in Tarvaris Jackson?

Not really, but I believe in the rest of the team well enough not to put this team at #24. I mean, really? 24? Are you sure these aren't the 2007 pre-season rankings? That'd be enough to qualify as the ludicrous pick, but then he puts the Giants at #3. Yes, they won the Super Bowl, yes, they had some great games in the post-season. But they were only 10-6. They won their post-season games by an average of five points each. They're not going to do it again.'s Vinnie Iyer says:

12. With that Fantastic Four on their defensive front and that Flash in their offensive backfield, watch out.

The D-line is the Fantastic Four? And here I thought Troy Williamson was The Thing, you know "hands of stone" and all. Apart from putting the Giants on top (ugh), Vinnie also has the Bills at #13, just below the Vikings. They were a nice story last year, but they were only second in their division by default.'s Peter King says:

7. I can hear you all out there saying, "Too soon." Well, here's my question: What year in recent NFL history hasn't a Green Bay (2007), New Orleans (2006), Chicago (2005) or Pittsburgh (2004) jumped from nowheresville to Super-Bowl contention?

The Vikings do have a totally unproven passing game, but they still outscored Philly, Washington and Denver last year with the best running game in the league for about half the season. Minnesota had the biggest (by far) edge in average rushing margin per team last year, rushing for 5.3 yards a tote while surrendering 3.1 yards per carry. And though I don't love the Jared Allen signing for the long haul (too dangerous), I love it for 2008. Allen's quickness on the turf of the Metrodome ... scary. Maybe 20-sack scary.

"Too soon." Probably. I just wouldn't have the guts to put the Vikings this high, not quite yet. And as much as I'd like to see it, there's no way Jared Allen is getting 20 sacks. Meanwhile, he puts the Jets, who I don't see above the #20 spot on anyone else's list so far, at #14, just behind good ol' Buffalo at #13. AFC East: powerhouse division?

There are oodles of other power rankings out there -- just Google "power rankings 2008 NFL" (without quotes, of course) -- but I try to stick to the "professional" sources. And hey, if anyone ever wants to pay me to do this sort of thing, I'm all ears.

And sadly, there's no Jason Cole to kick around just yet. That's almost as fun as the regular season itself.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Yet another Adrian Peterson post

OK, enough talk about Tarvaris Jackson for a while. It gets a little depressing at times. Let's instead look at the luminescent star of the Vikings' offense and try to get an idea for just how good Adrian Peterson was in 2007 (even though the team was only 6-8 in games he appeared in, thus making him far less valuable than Jackson, who, as we all know, went 8-4 in his games) -- and how great he might be in years to come.

A few posts ago, I used the Historical Data Dominator to get an idea of how many other second-year quarterbacks had a season like Jackson's second season and to see how he might do in the future. Making such a comparison for Peterson is nearly impossible; Peterson had 238 carries for 1,341 yards in 2007. Going 25 carries (213-263) and 100 yards (1,241-1,441) in either direction yields zero results among rookies. Expanding the search to include any player with those numbers, in any year of his career, still yields a small but elite group of runners. There's Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, and Franco Harris, and future HOF-er Marshall Faulk, who appears on the list three times. Ottis Anderson also had a solid career, racking up over 10,000 career rushing yards.

Then there's Wendell Tyler, a part-time back with the Rams and 49ers two decades ago, who, to his credit, had a 4.7-yard-per-carry career average in what was probably an injury-hampered career. And, oh yeah, there's a pair of Vikings on the list: Robert Smith and Michael Bennett. If he'd played a few more years, Smith might have had a shot at 10,000 career rushing yards and the Hall of Fame, while Bennett was an unmitigated disaster in his Vikings career, never staying healthy and showing a remarkable ability to run right into opposing defenders instead of avoiding them with his great speed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Peterson, Bennett, and Smith are the last three running backs taken in the first round by the Vikings. Still, with five of the nine players whose season compare to Peterson's rookie campaign in the Hall of Fame, and two others displaying near-HOF talent, the future looks pretty good for Purple Jesus, presuming injuries don't cut short his career as they did for Bennett and Tyler.

Here's another way to compare Peterson's season. Since 1960, there have only been 10 seasons where a running back accumulated more than 200 carries while notching a 5.5 or better yards per carry. (Peterson averaged 5.63 in 2007.) Again, it's a very short and very good list: Peterson, Brown (twice), Sanders, O.J. Simpson (twice), James Brooks, Eric Dickerson, and Clinton Portis. Aside from Peterson, Portis (7,715) and Brooks (7,962) are the only men on that list with fewer than 10,000 career rushing yards, and Portis is a good bet to make it there in two years or so. Even expanding the search to 5.25 yards per carry or better yields more hits than misses.

Of course, nothing is certain in the NFL. Injuries can derail even the most promising career, and AP has had his share of ailments already early in his career. But if these comparisons are even remotely an indication of where Peterson will go with his career, we Vikings fans could be in for a long, gratifying, highlight-packed ride.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Madden as Hell

Individual player ratings for Madden '09 have been revealed, and with them comes the usual gnashing of teeth at how certain players are rated ridiculously high or low. The folks over at Daily Norseman are particularly upset over Tarvaris Jackson's rating and how it compares to other QBs, as are the bloggers at The Viking Age. Naturally, I would never disparage T-Jack's ability and the Viking blogosphere's defense of the man who, 31 of 32 NFL fans would probably rate among the worst handful of quarterbacks in the league.

Heh. Right.

The charts shown on Viking Age are a little different than the ones at Daily Norseman, though, with Jackson's overall rating being 78 instead of 79, and they do break down the rating a little better. In particular, Jackson's awareness is a ghastly 56, worst among the starting quarterbacks listed. His 78 throwing accuracy is also dead last. Among qualifying QBs in 2007, Jackson rated 26th in completion percentage and 30th in interception percentage (out of 33), so it's not hard to see where those numbers come from. It might be that Jackson's not the most "unaware" or inaccurate QB in the NFL, but he's in the discussion.

The Madden folks do give Jackson credit for his throwing power, rating him a 94, and his 86 speed trails only Vince Young. But then you get to the rookie quarterbacks. The top three quarterbacks taken in the draft -- Joe Flacco, Brian Brohm, and Matt Ryan -- all have higher overall ratings than Jackson, which sends the blogger into a tizzy. How could it be that a rookie QB could be better than a third-year man with lousy career numbers? Who on Earth would think that? The nerve.

Look, my point all along is not that I think Tarvaris Jackson is the next coming of Peyton Manning or that I'm accusing other fans of thinking that's the case. My point is that there is no reason -- none, zip, zilch, zero, nada -- to believe that he will get better at a rate any higher than any other third-year quarterback with his numbers, or even that he will get better at all. I pointed out a few posts ago how QBs with his stats in their second year tend to do in their third years: just over 2,000 yards, about 13 TDs, and 10 interceptions. Based on the fact that he's got the starting job practically won already, I think Jackson will improve slightly on those numbers, but not terribly so. 15 TDs, along with more TDs than interceptions, would make me more than happy. But it's just as likely that he'll have a drop-off-the-charts awful season. I hope he doesn't, but someone's got to be the worst QB in the league next year, and Jackson's as good a bet as any.

I also understand that, with the other offensive and defensive weapons the Vikings have, as well as its relatively weak division, Jackson doesn't have to put up big numbers for the team to succeed. But the sheer indignity that some fans have at the notion that Jackson might actually be very bad makes no sense. And some of the "logic" used to shore up some of those claims -- from not believing that there could be less experienced players out there who are better to his awesome 8-4 record as a starter in 2008 (Drew Brees went 7-9 as a starter last year -- would you rather have T-Jack at QB than him?) -- is mind-bogglingly frustrating and has little basis in actual likelihoods.

Is Tarvaris Jackson a good quarterback? There is zero evidence to support that this is true.

Could Tarvaris Jackson become a competent quarterback? It's possible, though I think fans are overestimating the impact of the relatively unproven Bernard Berrian and the maturing Sidney Rice. Toss in the fact that the O-line was likely playing a bit over its head in 2007 and Bryant McKinnie could still get suspended, and the improvements in the offense could be largely negated.

Can the Vikings win with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback? 10 dollars says "yes."

Does Brad Childress really know that T-Jack isn't very good but never says a bad thing about him so as to both not damage his ego and to keep fans optimistic about the season? Quite possibly.

How many teams are "going to win the Super Bowl" in June? All of them. OK, maybe not Miami.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The votes are in!

...and I've kind of ignored them.

"Black and Blue and Read All Over" actually got the most votes (4) for my new blog title, but my favorite, "Defensive Indifference," came in second with 2 votes. Thus, I have invoked executive privilege and re-named my blog(s) according to my own, selfish whims.

Besides, "B&B&RAO" was just too damn long.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Various Viking Verbage

Brooks Bollinger looks to be the odd man out in Vikings mini-camp, as he competes for reps with four other quarterbacks. As much as I've harangued Tarvaris Jackson, there's no doubt that, if I had to start a game right now with the quarterbacks the Vikings have in camp (Jackson, Bollinger, Gus Frerotte, John David Booty, and Kyle Wright), he'd be my choice. Looking at the competition, that's not saying much, though.

It's a near-foregone conclusion that the three QBs on the Vikings' roster come September will be Jackson (the incumbent), Frerotte (the semi-wily veteran), and Booty (the new kid), so Bollinger and Wright should keep a moving van on speed-dial.

* "Even with an 8-4 record as the starter last year, Jackson knows the doubters are out there." Really? Where? To his credit, Jackson takes it in stride and doesn't seem to buy in to his own hype:

"People are going to say what they want to say. It's their job to analyze things and to give their opinion of our team. My job is to go out there and prove them wrong. That's how I look at it. It's just extra motivation. That's all it is. Things like that kind of help me out, get me over the top."

Personally, I think "If I don't play well in 2008, I could be unemployed" should be enough of a motivation, but hey, go with what you can.

* The Vikings apparently have a contingency plan if Bryant McKinnie is suspended for the first part (or more) of the 2008 season, and his name is Chase Johnson. An undrafted, second-year player wouldn't normally gain much notice, except that, at 6'8" and 330 pounds, it's hard to miss Johnson. That makes him a near-clone of McKinnie, who's listed at 6'8" and 335 pounds, and nobody else is taller, with Artis Hicks being the only other Viking listed over 330 (335). Remember, kids, Pat Williams only weighs 317 *snort*

* In June, every team had a great offseason, every running back will run for 2,000 yards, every quarterback will throw for 30 touchdowns, and every team will go to the Super Bowl. Jared Allen made the claim for the Vikings recently and, while I think they've got about as good a chance as any team in the NFC, save Dallas, such talk from someone who's been with the team for less than two months makes me nervous.

(On the other hand, if I were a professional athlete, I'd tell every reporter before every game that I guarantee a win. Because that's what we're going out there to do. If we didn't think we'd win every game, why play?)

* Troy Williamson got the usual glowing "former first-round pick looking for a fresh start" article that all such players get when they wash out with their first team and join a new one (Koren Robinson got the same treatment in Minnesota).

"I'd say it was very important because it was getting very intense up there as far as me and the head coach and some of the other coaches," Williamson said. "I feel like I just need to play football, be me and be comfortable in the situation."
Yes, how dare the coaches up in Minnesota make things so intense by asking you to catch the ball. It's not like that was your job or anything.

* Finally, I've started reading The Daily Norseman, a good-looking Vikings site with lots of good material. In fact, it's better than this site, so I'll have to resort to some solid journalistic techniques and hard-hitting content to draw more readers.

Or I can just post a picture of a scantily clad Sarah Michelle Gellar:

Admit it, you like that better than more Tarvaris Jackson talk, right?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cut the draft (and the minors)

Every MLB franchise has one, and exactly one goal: win the World Series. To do this, you need good players at the major-league level. Therefore, the goal of every draft and every farm season should be to find and develop players to play in the big leagues. Simple, right?

Then why are so many drafts, and, by extension, most low minor-league teams, near-complete failures at this seemingly obvious task? Even in a sport where failing seven times out of 10 is considered "good," most teams would be overjoyed to have such success with the draft and their minor-league system.

I looked back to drafts and minor-league squads from 1998, 10 years ago, figuring that, by now, anyone who was with an organization at that time should have already made an impact on the big-league club. And the results are staggeringly inefficient. Here, for instance, is the 1998 draft for the Twins, considered one of baseball's best franchises for manufacturing talent from within. An impressive bunch, no? Only seven of 49 selected players ever appeared in the big leagues, and only JJ Putz (who didn't sign with the Twins and was re-selected in 1999 by the Mariners) has made any significant impact.

It isn't just Minnesota, either. Take a look at some other teams' draft from that page (the "Picks by Franchise/Year pull-down menus at the top). I'm not going to go through each team, but I'll glance at a few:

Orioles: 5 picks in majors
Cardinals: 9
Brewers: 2

And, again, most of those players are fringe major leaguers. Take a look at a few more, and you'll see a lot more "inefficient" drafts. Sure, the Indians got CC Sabathia in the first round, but their only other major-leaguers were Zach Sorensen, Ryan Drese, and Matt White. The White Sox did pretty well, too, drafting Kip Wells, Aaron Rowand, and Josh Fogg in the first four rounds, along with Nate Robertson (later drafted by Florida) in the 16th and Mark Buehrle in the 38th round. Still, that's only five decent players, four of whom played for the Sox, out of 52 picks. They could have drafted me instead of 50th-round pick Justin Hairston and gotten the same results (and I would have played for cheap).

Overall, only 79 of the 223 (35.4%) players picked through the first seven rounds of the 1998 draft ever cracked a big-league roster. And several of those either weren't signed by the teams that drafted them (like Mark Prior by the Yankees) or had insignificant big-league careers.

The NFL Draft, of course, is also seven rounds. Admittedly, an NFL draftee has a much better chance of cracking a roster and at least appearing in a game, being generally older and not having to work through a minor-league system. Even so, of the 241 players drafted in 1998, 116 (48.1%) were considered a starter for at least one season of his career -- more than the percentage of 1998 MLB draftees that just appeared in a major-league game. It's not a perfect comparison, but remember that the NFL Draft ran 12 rounds until 1992 and was even longer before that. Has the league suffered since the draft was shortened? Not that I can see. Look at the 12th round of any MLB draft and you'll see even less impressive results. Did the 1998 draft have to go that far just so John Koronka could throw 151 innings with a 6.02 ERA? Yes, you'd miss out on the occasional Buehrle or Mike Piazza, but maybe you could actually make the whole thing -- beginning to end -- seem meaningful.

"But," you might say, "teams need the bigger draft to fill out their minor leagues so they can develop talent." A few months ago, aajoe7 posted about how the draft and MLB in general is "ruthlessly efficient at weeding out those players who can't cut it in the Big Leagues; more than any other sport, MLB players earn their right to play in the show."

But how well do the minors do at developing talent? There's little question that many of the players in the higher minors (AA and AAA) are quality prospects, but what about the low minors? Again, going back to 1998, here are the Twins' two rookie-level teams and their low A team. I see a few players who got a cup of coffee in the bigs, along with a couple part-time major-leaguers (Matt LeCroy and Grant Balfour) and two solid contributors (Juan Rincon and Michael Cuddyer). That's four players out of about 80 who made any impact on the big-league team, and only two who the team would have actually missed.

So, in effect, the Twins' three lowest minor-league teams existed solely to develop less than a handful of players. I realize minor leaguers don't make a lot of money or stay in fancy hotels, but they do require some salaries, stadium rent, travel costs, and management. How much money and effort would a team save by eliminating two or even three of its lowest minor-league teams? What would they really lose? Rincon's iffy, but Cuddyer was a #1 pick, so he still would have gotten a chance somewhere in the organization.

Take some time to scan through the 1998 draft and minor-league teams for your favorite organization, and you'll probably find similar lack-of-success stories. If I were in charge, I'd probably cut the MLB draft at least in half and reduce the minor-leagues to four teams, max, per big-league team: a low A/rookie team for your really young/raw talent, a high-A team for second- or third-year youngsters, and AA and AAA filling essentially the same roles they do today. The rest just don't seem to serve the implied purpose of every team: producing major-league talent. So why do they exist?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Time for a change

When I created this blog (well, the SN version, at least) over two years ago, I struggled for a name. I wanted it to be simple, short, and open to interpretation -- "J-Dub's Shack o' Sports," while direct and descriptive, wasn't exactly what I was looking for. I settled on "Displaced," because, after 11 years of living away from my home state of Minnesota, I sometimes feel like I don't really identify with the sports teams there any more. I usually have to go to sports bars or to a friend's house (with his Sunday Ticket) to watch the Vikings. I used to watch some or all of about 100 Twins games a year on MSC; now I'm lucky if I catch more than half a dozen a year on ESPN or the occasional local affiliate. I definitely felt "displaced" from my roots and unsure of where I truly could call home. Was I still really "Minnesotan"? Maybe that's why, when the temperature drops below freezing here in the Carolinas (about once or twice every winter), I like to talk about those -30 degree mornings in International Falls where my eyes would freeze shut while I walked to school (true story!).

In truth, I still feel "displaced." For a while, it looked like I might have the chance to move back to the land of 11,842 lakes (according to Wikipedia), but that's now unlikely. Even so, I think it's time for a change from the rather depressing (and highly non-descriptive) title my blog currently sports into something more interesting and more descriptive, or, at the very least, witty. There are a lot of smartly named blogs both on and elsewhere with sports-influenced names (my favorite title, even though I don't read it often, has to be Futility Infielder).

So, I brainstormed a few name ideas. The only thing I saw as a requirement (apart from general goodness) was that the new title must reflect both football and baseball, my primary interests, or have a Minnesotan slant. I came up with a few likely candidates, but, since I've got this handy-dandy polling tool on the site now, I thought I'd ask for help in picking the new name. I reserve all right to ignore the popular opinion -- you know, kinda like Hilary Clinton has done the past few months -- but if 95% of people choose one of the titles, I'll feel really bad about not using it.

Here are the candidates, in alphabetical order:

Black and Blue and Read All Over. Black and Blue Division. And it’s a blog. You read it. Get it?

Chicks Dig the Long Bomb. Again, fits into both a baseball and football mold. But when you read the title, do you think the blog is written by a woman?

Defensive Indifference. My early favorite. It’s a baseball term, but the way the Vikings have played against the pass the last few years, it might describe the football team, too.

Pardon the International Falls-ian. Tony Kornheiser, forgive me.

Pinstripes and Purple. Simple title referencing the Twins and Vikings. But is “pinstripes” too much a synonym for “Yankees”?

Punt ‘n’ Bunt. This is just cute, and fits the baseball/football requirement. It’s probably too cute.

State of Anxiety. Let’s face it: Minnesota sports fans are as neurotic as any fans in the nation. We just don’t have the media coverage like New York and Boston.

If you have any other ideas, leave them in the comments section. And no, "J-Dub's Shack o' Sports" is not an option.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Vikings not left out in the cold in '08

The first thing I look at when the NFL schedules are released isn't the prime-time evening or Thanksgiving games. It's not the games against Green Bay or Chicago (sort of -- see below) or the games against the AFC teams the Vikings only see once per year. No, with the Vikings having a reputation as being "soft" because they play in a weather-controlled dome, I'm always aware of the potential for cold-weather games, always a concern when playing in the NFC North. Fortunately, for 2008, this is a complete non-concern, as the Vikings appear to have about as good a schedule, weather-wise, as can be conceived.

To recap, here's the Vikings' schedule for 2008:

@ Green Bay
@ Tennessee

@ New Orleans
@ Chicago

Green Bay
@ Tampa Bay
@ Jacksonville

@ Detroit
@ Arizona
New York Giants

That's quite the temperature-friendly road schedule. Green Bay and Chicago are the only cities with anything resembling a real winter. The Vikings travel to the not-so-frozen tundra right away in week one and travel to Chicago on October 19. After that, it's Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, and Arizona (and the domed Detroit) for November and December, and who in Minnesota wouldn't want to go to Florida or Arizona that time of year?

Last year, the Vikings faced three "potentially cold" road games (Nov-Dec) in Green Bay, New York, and Denver, and went 1-2 in those contests. In 2006, they went 0-2 and Chicago and Green Bay. The notion that the Vikings can't win in adverse weather is probably a bit of an exaggeration -- after all, remember that playoff game in Green Bay in January 2005? -- but it's still nice to see that the team can at least save on heaters for the bench this year.

(Cue the "Vikings are wimps" comments in 3...2...1...)