Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why a QB Absolutely Has to Be Chosen First in the 2018 NFL Draft

Dude, if you are an NFL GM, you are so not going to draft anyone but a quarterback in at least the first three positions this year.  Why?  Well, let's take you through the proof that today's quarterbacks are unlike anyone we have ever seen before.  Let's first take a look at Aaron Rodgers in college, courtesy of the 2005 College All-Star festivities.  This is a simple drill, throw the ball as far as you can and see where it lands on the turf.  Now watch Aaron heave the rock for an amazing 64 yards, and then 70 yards (but off target).  

At around 3:30, a 22 year old Aaron Rodgers, at the same age as Rosen and Allen, heaves the ball 70 yards.

Ok, got it.  Impressed?  Good.

Well, now let's watch Josh Rosen throw from his own 15 yard line and hit a receiver chest high at about the 4 yard line.  That's a bit more than 80 yards, and it the receiver hadn't caught it, probably it would travel a few more yards before hitting the turf. The press couldn't quite believe it, and in fact they reported this throw as a 60 or 65 yard pass.  But check out the yard markers.  Josh is clearly behind his 15.  The receiver is clearly beyond the opposite 5 yard line. This ball traveled 80 yards in the air, not one inch less, and if the receiver had let it go it would have gone several yards further.  

    This is real. I'm not aware of John Elway or Dan Marino doing something like this (show me the tape, you geezers, before swearing that some old timer could do it). The only conclusion is that this kid can throw a football at least 10 to 15 yards farther than Aaron Rodgers at the same age.  

Go to 1:25 or so...Rosen is definitely throwing from behind his 15 yard line and hits his man beyond the opposite 5 yard line.  Do the math, that's 80 yards.  It's so shocking that the throw is reported in the press as 65 yards because they can't believe he really did that. 

Now, let me remind you that Josh Rosen is thought to have the third best arm in the draft behind Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. Sam Darnold didn't throw at the Combine, and in my mind has to slide to fourth best, but he is up there too.  

     This is borne out by velocity measurements at the Combine.  Unfortunately, there is some confusion between average and peak velocity,  as I pointed out in a previous blog, and in 2018 so far only the slower numbers have been reported.  But with that understanding, Josh Allen's peak velocity is best estimated at 66 mph (62 mph average), which is 6 mph faster than the previous high ever recorded (Logan Thomas). The College All-Star game also reports measuring Josh Allen at 66 mph.  Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen are also significantly above the previous record.      

   The inescapable conclusion is that these kids throw harder than anyone else has ever thrown before.  Better than Aaron Rodgers for sure.  Has anybody got film of Elway throwing 80 or 90 yards?
    To be sure, a strong arm isn't everything, and many times the guys with the strongest arms don't make it. So check the scouting reports and find out if they have bad decision making or accuracy issues.  Supposedly, the latter problem will hold Josh Allen back.  However, if you check into it, you find out that Josh Allen's best receiver is a converted quarterback who also plays guard on the basketball team. That's his best guy.  I keep on asking for someone to produce game film on Allen showing inaccuracy and no one has sent me any yet.  Anyway, if you don't like Allen, there's Mayfield and Allen who did put up good numbers in college.  Sam Darnold's velocity is unproven, but the eyeball test says he is comparable to Rosen. 

   Now, knowing that you have arms in the draft that are the best in history, better than John Elway, tell me again how you're going to justify taking a running back instead of a quarterback.  How can you have four guys with a better arm than Elway, and you're not going to draft the guy you think is best.  Because what?  You want a running back or a safety?

      That is insane!  There's a reason why quarterbacks get paid twice as much as running backs.  It's very hard to imagine that an NFL GM is going to turn down the opportunity to draft the most talented quarterbacks of all time in order to draft a very good position player such as Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb or Minkah Fitzpatrick.  I think all of them are going to the Pro Bowl soon.  But some of these qbs are headed to the Hall of Fame, and probably more than one.  These guys are going to change the face of the NFL forever.  You cannot pass that up.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What's Up With Very fast QB Ball Velocity This Year?

Quarterback velocities are up this year--way up.    Josh Allen reportedly can throw a football 66 miles per hour, which is 6 mph better than the previous best (Logan Thomas, who by the way didn't make it as an NFL player).  That's a full 10% improvement, an amazing figure.  To put it into perspective, if a person were to beat the previous 40 yard dash by 10%, he would run a 3.8.  Holy kazoo!  What is going on here?  It may be that this year there has been a quantum leap in the ability of human beings to throw a football.

That of course piques my curiousity, so I did some research on the subject.  First thing to know is that there are two sets of numbers being used. Dan Shonka of published results in 2017 and 2018 for a pass to the right, and another pass to the left. His results are found here:

 Others use numbers from Dan Brugler of NFL Draft Scout.  

For example, Our Lads lists Mitchell Trubinsky's speed thusly:  51 (left), 50 (right).  But NFL Draft Scout lists is velocity as 55 mph.  Supposedly 55 is usually the cutoff for a successful NFL quarterback.  

Who's right?  Well, both of them. I emailed both of them, and from what they say,  the numbers both come directly from the Combine.  However, NFL Draft Scout lists the "peak velocity"  whereas Our Lads lists some sort "average velocity". I'm not sure about the details, but basically what we need to know is that the ball slows down a little as it travels due to air resistance.  It does not travel at constant velocity. Presumably if you throw a wobbly ball, that will slow down more than a tight spiral.  The net is that you have to add about 4 mph to the Ourlads.

Okay, but now let's look at the 2018 numbers from Our Lads.  Are these still the "slow" numbers as in 2017?  If so, they are ridiculously higher in 2018 than 2017.  In the case of Allen, however, they measured his velocity at 66 mph at the Senior Bowl, whereas Our Lads lists it as 62 mph. The 4 mph difference is very similar to the difference between the two 2017 data sets, so quite possibly the Our Lads numbers are still the "average" (lower) numbers.   If so then we should add 4 mph to all the numbers to estimate  the peak velocity.  So let's first  list the numbers from Our Lads

Austin Allen - Arkansas - 53 (left), 54 (right)
Josh Allen - Wyoming - 62 (left), 62 (right)
JT Barrett - Ohio State - 52 (left), 52 (right)
Kurt Benkert - Virginia - 55 (left), 56 (right)
Sam Darnold - Southern Cal - did not throw
Danny Etling - LSU - 54 (left), 56 (right)
Luke Falk - Washington State - 52 (left), 52 (right)
Riley Ferguson - Memphis - 52 (left), 54 (right)
Quinton Flowers - South Florida - 49 (left), 49 (right)
Lamar Jackson - Louisville - 49 (left), 49 (right)
Kyle Lauletta - Richmond - 52 (left), 52 (right)
Tanner Lee - Nebraska - 56 (left), 57 (right)
Chase Litton - Marshall - 53 (left), 55 (right)
Baker Mayfield - Oklahoma - 59 (left), 60 (right)
Josh Rosen - UCLA - 57 (left), 59 (right)
Mason Rudolph - Oklahoma State - 52 (left), 52 (right)
Nic Shimonek - Texas Tech - 55 (left), 55 (right)
Mike White - Western Kentucky - 53 (left), 55 (right)
Logan Woodside - Toledo - 52 (left), 52 (right)

Without adjusting anything, there are 8 guys who throw at the 55 mph threshold or higher:  Allen, Benkert, Darnold, Etling, Lee, Mayfield, Rosen, Shimonek.  Darnold sat out the throwing competition, but I'm putting him on the list because we know darn well that he can. If it is true that we should add the additional 4 mph then  add another 7 guys to the list of faster-than-Trubisky club at 55 mph and above. The All-Time list would be headed by the first four guys from 2018 (Allen, Mayfield, Rosen and Tanner Lee). That is hard to believe. Perhaps these guys are not from planet Earth.  

As an engineer, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that  something is different about the way they carried out the tests, and that the numbers are too high.  Perhaps the old radar gun broke and they replaced it with a new model or something like that. Different guns have different readings depending on where they pick up the ball (earlier = faster, later=slower).  

It would be nice if the NFL used a standard, documented test procedure, similar to an ASTM standard (American Society for Testing and Materials).  It takes several thousand dollars to get the method approved, but once it's approved there would be no doubt that the test is reproducible and can be compared from year to year.   

Irrespective of the comparison between conflicting data sets, the eyeball test tell me that nobody in NFL history has ever thrown the ball like Allen, Mayfield, Rosen and Darnold.   We have not seen this level of ability in years, if ever.  This quarterback class may be able to smash the records of the fabled 1983 class with Elway, Marino, Kelly and O'Brien.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Why Was Danny Shelton Given Away?

Danny Shelton has been traded from the Browns to the Patriots.  Plus the Browns thrown in an extra 7th round pick.  The Patriots give nothing in 2018, then in 2019 they will send a third round pick to the Browns.  This for a guy who was 12th overall in the 2015 NFL draft.  

I've been a big fan of the giant Samoan kid, Danny Shelton q Defensive Lineman formerly of the Cleveland Browns, and now a New England Patriots.  At 6'2" and 335 pounds, give or take, he was one of the biggest and strongest guys on the team.  Pro Football Focus rated him as the 31st best interior lineman in the NFL, an above average player.  What gives?  Why did they get rid of him?

Ultimately, I don't know any more that the rest of you.  But I'll offer this speculation--to me this has the mark of Paul DePodesta, the baseball "analytics" guy that Sashi Brown hired.  DePodesta has been quiet, but new GM has kept him on the team, rather than fire him along with Brown.  DePodesta might really be the better analytics expert, not Brown, who was prone to make crazy decisions (like give away Joe Haden to the Steelers, for one).  Anyway, DePodesta understands the concept of "negative value" in a salary cap sport.  A player's value is related to how much he gets paid.  You try to maximize value and minimize cost.  So a guy who plays great and doesn't cost too much is worth adding to the team.  Conversely, if you feel he is overpaid, you should not add him to the team unless someone actually pays you.  The clearest example was Brock Osweiler, a backup quarterback who somehow got signed to a huge contract with substantial guarantees. The Browns wouldn't give anything to get him, they demanded and got a second round draft pick from the Texans in order to accept Osweiller's $16 Million salary cap charge.  So could it be that  the Browns thought that Danny Shelton was not worth $3 M?  DePodesta would ask, what if we took that $3M per year and signed a comparable player?  What have teams gotten when they invest $3 M on a player on the open market?  I looked up on the amounts that teams paid for defensive tackles in 2017.  Guys like Akeem Spence, Margus Hunt, Al Woods, got paid less than Shelton, but performed at a comparable level by Pro Football Focus' estimation.  They had Shelton ranked as the 35th best interior lineman (nose tackles and DT's all mixed together). Hunt was 33rd, Woods 24th.  Others, like Damien Square (99th) and Smith (65th)  were not at Shelton's level. 
Another question is how good Shelton actually is.  Danny had trouble with his weight as a rookie and really didn't play well.  But in 2016, a slimmed down Shelton was outstanding and there was talk that he might even make the Pro Bowl--as a Nose Tackle.  Shelton is perfect for a nose tackle.  He's big, strong and can plug up the middle of the line and stop the run.  But the Browns switched to a 4-3 defense, and Shelton became a Defensive Tackle, rather than a Nose Tackle.  They are not the same position. 

In particular, Danny was notorious for a plodding 5.64 time and the Combine.  For a Nose Tackle, it doesn't matter that much.  But a Defensive Tackle, there are increased responsibilities for rushing the passer and moving laterally.  In this case, his lack of speed is going to limit his effectiveness in Gregg Williams' defense. How could he be as effective as a mobile DT in the 4-3 versus the immovable object NT in the 3-4?  That seems unlikely.
Danny Shelton is slower than Tom Brady. By a lot. Ouch.  

Well, what about Pro Football Focus?  They gave Danny fairly high grades,right?  Well that is true.  PFF says they have several graders who watch every play.  I doubt whether they pay that much attention to the Browns, however.  I'm not a genius grader, but I thought in particular Joe Schobert was greatly improved starting in Preseason 2017.  But PFF gave him lousy grades for a few weeks (like in the 40s, which is F minus). before someone woke up. In the same way I doubt whether they paid attention to the defensive line. Trevon Coley?  Who's that?  Well Trevon had more tackles, more assists, more tackles for a loss, 2 sacks (versus zero for Danny), and a fumble recovery (none for Danny).  That earned Trevon a D plus.   How can anyone get a D plus on a line  on a line that was second in the NFL in yards allowed per carry??  Danny Shelton got a solid B, and especially surprising is that he was rated more highly against the pass than Coley.  Are you kidding?  There are glaciers that move faster than Danny's pass rush. 

Hence I'm not sure how accurately they graded the Browns in general, and in particular the defensive line.  
PFF says they evaluate performance, and not talent level, and if so they are sloughing off on the Browns.  I think Shelton played out of position last year, and his performance was not nearly at the same level as in 2016.   He is just not that good in the 4-3 defense, and the PFF grade on Shelton as well as other Browns is hard to justify.  Coley, in fact, was rated as the worst interior lineman on the Browns, rated behind Larry Ogunjobi, Shelton, Jamie Meder and Caleb Brantley.   That is nuts that Coley is rated so poorly and once again I can't take PFF seriously in their evaluations of the Browns' players.

  However the larger point may be that all the Browns' Defensive Tackles have actually played well.  I could totally believe that after a winter of reviewing film, they felt that their 4-3 defense is better off with Coley, Ogunjobi, Meder and Brantley.   Maybe then Danny was headed for third string, and $3 Million per year was too steep of a price for someone not getting a lot of snaps.  

I think Danny will perform much better for the Patriots, and it would not shock me if he makes the Pro Bowl one of these years.  I'm sad to see him go, because he is a personal favorite.  It seems like a crazy move, but matbe not if you look at the salary cap, who's available, and who we already have.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Lamar Jackson to the Patriots?

Lamar Jackson is one of the most sensational athletes in the draft.  Could he slide all the way to the Patriots at 31st overall pick?  

    I have a weird premonition that Lamar Jackson is going to the Patriots.  No secret sources or computer calculations, I just think that the rest of the NFL is uncomfortable with a quarterback who can run.  That is partly justified, because the quarterback takes enough of a pounding as it is, without adding five or ten additional opportunities for the Defense to pound on your guy.  
    Let me also mention right off the bat that I approve of Lamar's decision not to run the 40 yard dash at the Combine.  He is certainly a credible enough quarterback until such time as proven otherwise.   Teams shouldn't need a stopwatch to figure out that he's faster than all of the other quarterbacks in the class.  So, I'm with you, kid. You deserve your shot.
    Nevertheless, much of the NFL has the idea that they don't want to draft the sensational playmaker from Louisville.  Hence he could slide to the Patriots at 31st overall.  Does that make sense? Let's consider some of the arguments against it:  

1.  He suffers from lack of accuracy.  That's true.  But he is always throwing on the run.  No quarterback is as accurate throwing on the run instead of with his feet stationary.  In the Combine, word is that he showed good accuracy in pocket passes,

2.  Well, then, why can't he stay in the pocket?  What pocket?? Louisville has an untalented team surrounding the young star.  He's the only thing they've got, and the other team knows it.  So they are coming after him on every play and the team just couldn't maintain a pocket for him. 

3.  He's going to be another Mike Vick.   People have faulty memories.  Off-the-field issues notwithstanding, Mike Vick had a 13 year NFL career and made the Pro Bowl four times. He threw for 22,000 yards.  You're going to have to come up with something a little more disparaging than that. 

4.  Okay, so he's another Kordell Stewart.  That's an interesting comparison. Here again, Kordell made the Pro Bowl, and quarterbacked the Steelers to the playoffs twice.  That's not exactly Hall of Fame stuff, but he was a good player.  Moreover, he was a very good extra wide receiver for two years before becoming a full time quarterback.  

"With the 31st selection, the New England Patriots select....Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville.  As soon as they call out his name, the rest of the league will realize their mistake. I can almost hear Coach Belichick's proposition for him.  "Lamar, I like your game and if you want to be considered a quarterback and nothing else, I'
ll support you in that.  But dude, our first string quarterback is Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. and you are absolutely not going to play a single snap as long as he's healthy.  Now, if you want to contribute in some other way, let's see if we can work you in as a fourth wide receiver...."

I think framed in that context, Lamar will see that his initial opportunity with the Patriots may be at wide receiver.  It's not a knock on his ability, it's just the reality of the situation. Nor does it mean that he will never play quarterback.  Kordell Stewart became the starter at quarterback after being a wide receiver for two years. The rest of the NFL will lose their minds:  "Hey, you told us you weren't going to play wide receiver."  But that was assuming a situation would exist in which he has a chance to play.  It won't happen on a team that has a Brady (or  Brees for that matter).  Needless to say, it is also the case the Lamar Jackson probably has much greater ability than Kordell Stewart, both in running the ball and throwing it and probably in catching it as well.  He's one of the most gifted athletes in the draft, and he's got a shot to be playing at Brady's level in a few years.  

So I think if the Patriots get him, he'll probably be willing to play wide receiver because of the team situation.  Eventually he might learn to play like Tom Brady, but with world class speed, and Patriot fans may forget all about Jimmy Garoppolo.  That's a scary thought, but the rest of the NFL might just allow that to happen.    

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Why Josh Allen's Low Completion Percentage Doesn't Matter

Introducing the First Overall Pick of the 2018 NFL Draft

   Josh Allen put up some very vanilla numbers last year for the Wyoming Cowboys.  In particular, his completion percentage is under 60%.  Most of the time, NFL teams should steer clear of a guy with a low completion percentage.  I don't think that is the case for Allen, however.  Here are a few reasons why:

1. Coach Craig Bohl runs a Pro-Style offense at Wyoming rather than the Spread.  Bohl's quarterbacks will never put up the numbers that the up-tempo Spread guys put up simply because they have fewer plays and fewer pass attempts.  Bohl's teams won with both Carson Wentz and Josh Allen, but the stats for both were unimpressive.  Bohl likes to win.  He doesn't care about generating stats for the quarterback.  So sue the guy.  But don't blame the quarterback.

2.  Bohl uses very few dump passes to the halfback. In 2017, halfbacks Overstreet and Woods had a total of 7 passes for the SEASON.  Those passes usually have a very high completion percentage, like 70-80%, and Wyoming just didn't use them very often.  

3.  The 2016 Wyoming Cowboys graduated the team's top 2 wide receivers, tight end and running back, losing a total of 4800 yards.  That is an unbelievable total, 86% of the offense, and it was simply not possible to make it all up.   In particular, wideout Tanner Gentry had 1326 receiving yards and running back Brian Hill  rushed for an impressive 1860 yards. The  players who remained were much less accomplished, including wide receivers C. J Johnson (304 yards) and Austin Conway (103 yards), plus running back Nico Evans, who had a grand total of 33 rushing yards.  That's it.  In 2017, Conway led the team with 549 receiving yards, and no running back gained as many as 500 yards.  Conway is an interesting guy, a converted quarterback who also plays for the basketball team.  He also rushed 15 times for 70 yards. That shows that they like him to have the ball in his hands, but perhaps it also shows that the team felt they needed another way to get him the ball besides through the air. If your best guy is a converted quarterback with just a year of experience as a receiver, you're not going to have a flying circus offense. To make a long story short, the 2017 Wyoming team was unusually weak on offense with the exception of the quarterback position.  They don't catch very well.

4.  Watch some film!!   I have gone back and watched some games front to back, not nearly everything but at least a few.  In my opinion, Lazy sportswriters didn't really watch Wyoming Cowboys games. They just saw the low completion percentage and say he's inaccurate.  It's not true.  If you watch his games, you see him place the ball where it's supposed to be.  But his pocket breaks down frequently and he throws out of bounds to avoid the sack.   There are some Youtube videos that attempt to show negative Allen performances, but even they actually indicate the opposite.  I watched him throw a few incompletions that were dropped by inexperienced receivers, or in which the receiver obviously ran the wrong route. One play comes to mind in which he was criticized for throwing the ball low to an open receiver.  That's true. But to me he was placing it where only the offensive player had a chance to catch it and the defender had no chance to make the interception.  That's the correct throw.  If you complete a pass and then get the receiver knocked out, that's not going to work in the long run.  Then there are other passes where he flat out overthrows somebody or gets deked by the cornerback. But overall, I believe there is a very high percentage of throws that are on target.   

5. On rare occasion, highly ranked NFL quarterbacks put up ho-hum stats in college.  Carson Wentz comes to mind, playing in Craig Bohl's offense and winning a championship with unimpressive stats.   Matthew Stafford was first overall,  though like Allen, he completed fewer than 60% of his passes.  Dan Marino threw 23 INTs his senior year versus 17 TDs.  Stats are great, but you have to study deeper to figure out what they really mean.

To my amateur's eye, I see an accurate passer in Mr. Allen. More concerning is that there are a lot of one-look and-then-run plays. He actually ran a lot in 2016, but calmed down a bit in 2017.  There also a few times when he locked on to a favorite receiver waiting for him to get open rather than looking for the next progression. In those areas, Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph and Josh Rosen are probably ahead of him. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

NFL Draft Analytics: Is a 7th Round Pick Worth More than an Undrafted Free Agent?

It might be that Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs) are worth more than a seventh round draft pick.  What?  How can that be, you may ask,  since the seventh round pick is chosen ahead of all the undrafted players?   

Well, hear me out.  AN NFL team adds about ten undrafted guys upon conclusion of the NFL draft.   That number is a little imprecise because teams rapidly cut players and other teams re-sign them tried to figure out.  But the talent pool is roughly 320 players, give or take. 

I found a 2014 article by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Free agent numbersthat says that 64 players made the opening day roster, or two per NFL team.  That's about 2 per team out of 10 candidates.  There's a 20% success rate for UFA, but 7th rounders are not a 100% but I hardly ever hear of a draft pick failing to make the roster.  So let's say the typical NFL team roster has 1 (new) seventh round guy, and 2 new UFA's.  

But how many of those are actually good players?  To answer that question, I rely on a small study by Forbes  Magazine (Patrick Wishe via RIchard Thaler) and tells where NFL starters came from circa 2014.  Using  60% as a crude estimate for the probability that a round 1 draftee becomes a starter, I estimate the success rate for other rounds as being scaled back from 60% by the number of starting players from each round, divided by the number of starters from Round 1.  That is, 

Success Rate  = 60%*(number of nth round starters)/(number of 1st round starters). 

So I added a column to the table that estimates what the chances are in each round for getting a player who becomes a starter during his career.

Source of Players Number of Starters Success Probability
Round 1 178 60.0%
Round 2 105 35.4%
Round 3 75 25.3%
Round 4 64 21.6%
Round 5 38 12.8%
Round 6 29 9.8%
Round 7 25 8.4%
UDFA per tryout spot (10) 81 2.7%
UDFA per 53 roster spot (2) 81 13.7%
UDFA total 81 27.3%

Note that only about 8.4% of NFL starters come from Round 7.   Yet three times as many come from UDFAs.  How can that be? Probably it's because you get to audition about ten guys, and usually pick about 2 for the 53 man roster. So even if the average talent level is lower, you get to identify the standouts in Training Camp.  On the other hand, teams almost never cut the seventh round pick in Year 1, so like it or not you're stuck with him.  Put another way, you have a roster spot that is 92% likely not to produce a starter.  For your two UDFAs, there is a 27% chance that your guy eventually becomes a starter.  That's about the same as Round 3!  Again, it's not because the talent level is so high, it's because you get 10 chances and weed out 8 of the 10 during summer camp.

It's a small data set, and the definitions and categories need to be more rigidly quantified before reaching a definite conclusion.   But it appears that the roster spot occupied by the seventh round draft choice may be less productive, on the average, than the roster spots occupied by UDFAs.  The reason is that ten players compete for two roster spots for UDFAs, whereas the 7th round draft pick is usually given a roster spot without having to compete for it. Hmm.  

For further review:

Forbes Success rate vs draft position

Saturday, January 13, 2018

ALL 21 Year Old NFL Quarterbacks are Terrible

     All 21 year old quarterbacks are a new phenomenon because of the change in draft rules.   In 2017 DeShone Kizer of the Cleveland Browns became the the third youngest NFL starter of game 1 in league history.  The others were Drew Bledsoe and Matthew Stafford.   Bledsoe completed less than 50% of his passes in his rookie year, though he won 5 games, which I believe is the record for a 21 year old.  Stafford went 2-8, which is more typical.  Other 21 year olds included Bernie Kosar, Alex Smith, Tommy Maddox, Blaine Gabbert,  Johnny Manziel and Fran Tarkenton.   Some of them were legitimate stars over their total career.  But not at age 21.  

Johnny Manziel was horrible as a 21 year old, okay at age 22, but improved significantly in his second year before substance abuse ended his career.  You would think that the Browns might have learned something from this experience, but no, they had to start DeShone Kizer at the same age.  What could possibly go wrong?  

As far as I am aware, every single 21 year old starter in NFL history has had a losing  rookie season, unless you count Jack Concannon, who went 1-0 in 1964.   Other than that, EVERY SINGLE ONE has been a loser, and most have been terrible.  Tarkenton made the Hall of Fame, but not for his rookie season at 2-8 followed by a 2-11-1.  

The historical record tells us that it is stupid to start a 21 year old in the NFL.  Still, teams are going to continue to do it, thinking it will lead to a quick turnaround.  In 2018, there are a couple 21 year olds with great ability in Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson will all be 21 years old at the start of the 2018 season.  Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield have had four years of major college ball and will be 23.   Josh Allen will be 22.   You might have a shot starting one of the older guys.  And I might think a little about Lamar Jackson because he is a running quarterback.  But the odds are against it.  I don't expect to hear from Darnold or Rosen till 2019 at the earliest. 

Look, draft the guy if you think he's that good, but keep him on the bench for a year or two to learn the offense. THEN you will find out whether you've got something.  You learn nothing by sending him out too soon and getting his head bashed in.  

    By the way, in case you were curious, rookies Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were all 22 by the start of the 2017 season, and they all had 3 years of college football versus 2 years for DeShone Kizer.  So it should not come as a shock if DeShone Kizer is a year behind the others.  If you believe that football quarterbacks are normally not very good until their sixth season out of high school, then Kizer might assert himself in 2019.  I would not assume he is ready to start in 2018 since he will be only 22.  

    Watson was a legitimate star in his rookie year, although I would argue that a lot of that had to do with his ability to disrupt defenses with his running ability, rather than strictly his ability as a pocket passer.    But okay, he was a legit star at age 22.   As for Trubisky and Mahomes, neither of them in their short careers has a higher NFL passer rating than Colt McCoy.  They might be great later on, but in 2017 they were not outstanding....yet they are a year older than Kizer.  You just have to wait until they reach age 23 till you can get an idea what they car really do.  

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Why didn't the Patriots Franchise Jimmy Garoppolo and Trade Him (to the Browns?)

      Now, everyone knows that Jimmy Garoppolo is a franchise quarterback.  Fans wonder why the Patriots didn't franchise tag Garoppolo and then trade him to a qb-hungry team like the Cleveland Browns for a first round pick.  Instead, they now have a second round pick, and no logical successor to Tom Brady. Stupid Patriots! Well, maybe not so stupid.  First of all, if you wind the clock back to the trading deadline in November, everyone suspected Jimmy G was a franchise qb, but they weren't sure.  NOW they are sure.  
       So, if the Patriots figured they liked Jimmy G but couldn't afford him in 2018, why not just keep him through the season, franchise tag him and trade him for a first round pick?  The "franchise tag" would have allowed the Patriots to keep Jimmy for one year, but they would have to pay the average of the top 5 players at his position.
         Sounds like a great plan, but it would not have worked.  First of all, do you realize that the Franchise Tag for qbs is going to be around $23 Million dollars in 2018?  The perception was (probably still is) that there are at least five first round quarterbacks in the 2018 draft.   Now, why should I give the Patriots my first round pick and also pay $23 Million dollars for an unproven quarterback who isn't necessarily better than the rookie?  Remember, this was back in November, so we hadn't seen him lead a weak San Francisco team to five straight wins.   In particular, the Browns would predictably want to draft a quarterback rather than let someone else draft one.  Shades of Brock Osweiler!  
      Instead, use that pick on a quarterback, and take the $23 Million dollars and get, say, Le'Veon Bell plus a decent offensive lineman. 
     If you wanted to trade Garoppolo to Cleveland instead of New England, you don't get Brian Hoyer who was a Patriot for several years under Belichick and McDaniel and already knows most of the offense.  Instead the Browns cut Kevin Hogan or Cody Kessler, and that would have been Brady's backup.  What's smart about that?
     No, the Patriots knew what they had in Garoppolo and kept him as long as they could, as insurance for Tom Brady.  By trading him to San Francisco, they got the best possible deal they could from San Francisco, and get a second round pick plus a very credible backup in Brian Hoyer, for a guy they were not going to be able to keep.  Plus, this is the Patriots.  Some qb is going to slide to the second round, and they might nab him at that point.  One scary thought is what if they get Lamar Jackson, and he has the opportunity to learn about being a pocket quarterback from Tom Brady?  

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Cleveland Browns are the New England Patriots of the Off-Season

   The Cleveland Browns were not build to win in 2017.  They were built to get draft picks, draft position and salary cap.  So while they were the worst in the NFL on the field, they will dominate the 2018 off season, for what it's worth.  The Browns will be the team that adds the most talent via Free Agency, and they will also be the team that adds the most talent via the Draft.  

   Tanking is becoming a new fashion in the NFL, as bad teams realize that there is a payoff for being really bad.  Conventional theory (developed by Brandt & Schramm of the Cowboys 25 years ago) is that the first overall pick is worth three times the mid-first round picks.  So cut some expensive talent, make sure that you are awful and in theory you get much better personnel for the next few years.  The Browns took that to an extreme by getting rid of players who were still very viable and paring down the salary cap to among the lowest in the NFL.  Meantime they accumulated draft picks, including the fourth overall pick from the Texans, and 36th overall from the Texans.  
    Other tanking teams included the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, both of whom have accumulated draft picks and salary cap space.  On paper, the 49ers seem to have a smaller payroll than the Browns.  But, they have to sign Jimmy Garoppolo and they are potentially losing 18 players to free agency, representing 2017 salaries of $21 Million. If they franchise tag Garoppolo ($21 Million dollars at least in 2018, compared to his 2017 salary of $871 thousand).  Plus, don't you think they should leave some money to sign draft choices? All told, they need to spend about  $50 million dollars just to stay even.  Their net payroll will probably go up about $25 million dollars.  
    The Jets are in a similar situation, having to replace departing players currently earning $25 Million.  
   The Browns are losing only three: Isaiah Crowell, backup OL Marcus Martin and backup  DL Lavar Edwards, total 2017 salaries less than $5 million dollars.  Frankly, I don't think Marcus and Lavar are going to be able to make the team. 
    Forget about the inflated "total cap room" which is the maximum possible money a team can spend, meaning they sign no draft choices, re-sign none of their departing veterans, and use all of their saved-up carryover money this year.  That's totally unrealistic.
   The real stat you need is the "expected salary differential" or the estimated amount of money that will be added to the previous year's payroll, after replacing departing free agents, and includes a budget for draft choices, and paying off "dead money."  Carryover salary cap should is not included, because that is unlikely to be spent unless the team is a playoff contender.  "Carryover" money is like the team's savings account, usually not spent unless there is an emergency.  

Cleveland Browns:
Base cap...........................................................+ $178 Million
Active Player salaries.......................................- $117 Million
Departing player salaries to be replaced..........- $    5 Million
Dead money (inactive players)........................- $  10 Million
Draft pick salaries (13)....................................- $  18 Million
Value of players replaced by draft pic (13).....+$     7 Million
Net    differential..............................................+$  35 Million

So, I come up with about $35 Million, which is the amount of money that can realistically be used to sign new players.  That's enough to afford 2 or 3 very good players.  I believe they will sign a veteran, probably A. J. McCarron, and likely they will draft a qb as well.  

Does that mean that they will be a good team?  I think they will have playoff caliber personnel, but with no experience at how to win.  The computer doesn't realize that that is a problem, but my feeling is that it may take quite some time to develop a winning culture in Cleveland.  

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cleveland Browns Quarterbacks Still in the NFL

 Everyone knows that the Browns quarterback situation is a mess.  They have continued to search for a so-called franchise quarterback, only to fail miserably.   I want to make it clear that I am not down on DeShone Kizer, but I think his lack of experience and lack of receiving talent around him doomed him to be the worst performer in the NFL this year.  By far.  The other guys on the roster are presumably even worse (Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, and Brock Osweiler in the pre-season).  

    Typically, the Browns have been so fearful of "quarterback controversy" that they ALWAYS trade or cut the backup quarterback.  So not only have they never had a long term solution at quarterback, they have also failed to identify a reliable backup.  
   The Steeler have Landy Jones as their backup, and he is in his fourth year.  That's an inconceivably long time for the Browns.  Prior to that, Charlie Batch backed up for NINE years.  Unbelievable. 

   But consider this.  Somehow there are eight backup quarterbacks in the NFL who are ex-Browns.  Any one of them are better than Kizer, Kessler and Hogan.  Without further ado, here is a list: 

    1.  Brian Hoyer, New England Patriots, began the year as the 49ers' top guy, but displaced by Jimmy Garoppolo trade.  Hoyer is good enough to back up Tom Brady, but not Johnny Manziel. Brian Hoyer's career record is 10-6, but that is not nearly good enough to hold a job in Cleveland, right?  Not a franchise quarterback, so fire him.  

     2.  Josh McCown has won 5 (count 'em, FIVE) games for the New York Jets. He had a good year for the Browns in 2015, but we had to cut him this year to keep Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler on the roster.    

    3.  Colt McCoy is at Washington backing up Kirk Cousins.  Colt went 6-15 for Cleveland, but he's done well when called upon.    

     4.  Derek Anderson is still holding a clipboard at Carolina, where he has been for 7 years.  As a Browns starter he went 16-18.  He's good enough to back up Cam Newton, but not Brady Quinn.

    5.  Austin Davis also saw some starting duty in 2015. He is now backing up  In his four year career, he's thrown 13 TDs versus 12 INTs.  He is now Russell Wilson's backup.  
   6.  Brandon Weeden is backing up in Tennessee now.  He put up some good numbers in Dallas, but unfortunately did not create any "W"s.  

   7.  Josh Johnson  is now with the Houston Texans, taking Brock Osweiler's place.  Josh didn't play much as the third string guy in Cleveland.  

   8. Brock Osweiler had a brief audition for the Browns in pre-season, and is not a part-time starter in Denver. Really, he came to the Browns as a way of trading salary cap for a draft pick.  (we get a second round pick, but had to expend $16 M to eat his salary).  He's not doing well.  

  Did I miss anyone?  

    None of these guys are considered to be "franchise quarterbacks," but that's an unfair comparison.  The real comparison is whether any of them are better than the guys on the current roster.  I would say yes.  Definitely, with the benefit of hindsight all of the quarterbacks except Osweiler and maybe  Josh Johnson would have started ahead of Kizer this year.  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Why Wouldn't the Browns re-sign Isaiah Crowell?

   This is a no-brainer, Browns fans.  There is only one current player on the Browns roster who is turning free agent in 2018.  That would be starting running back Isaiah Crowell.  Meanwhile, the Browns have plenty of cap space, as they are currently underspent by about 38 million dollars for 2018.  So SIGN THE CROW!  He can't possibly be more valuable to another team. 
   If Crow is re-signed, it doesn't mean the Browns can not also draft Saquon Barkley or another running back.  On the contrary, a normal roster has four or five spaces for running back.  Duke Johnson is a very good tough player, but he spends most of his time in the slot now. In today's NFL, the fullback (Danny Vitale) shares responsibilities with tight ends.  So really Crowell and Matthew Dayes are the only full-time running backs on the roster, and they could legitmately add a draftee like Barkley and even another guy if they want. 
   Crowell is on his way to another 900 yard season, and guys like that do not grow on trees.  He's been reliable and durable despite not being on a good team.  By the way, did I mention that as of game 14, Crowell has 27 receptions, which is more than any wide receiver on the roster?  It's true.  The immortal Ricardo Louis leads Browns wide receivers with 26 receptions, a preposterously low total. 
   It would be foolish to let him walk away.  Sign him. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Can Cleveland Browns' Jimmy Haslam III Learn from Past Mistakes?

I don't care if the Browns make blunders.  Hey, the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth.  

I do care if the Browns' ownership can not learn from past mistakes.  

Joe Banner came up with the idea of tanking to get draft position.  He was eventually let go despite being one of the best executives the Browns have ever had.

One time the Browns had an absolutely brilliant guy in the Front Office.  He wasn't officially the GM, and wasn't really a football guy, but had tremendous business skill, and eventually exerted great influence on player acquisition.   He devised a scheme whereby the team would shift resources to future years, let go the veterans, and collect high round draft picks and eventually win the Super Bowl.  However, he could not get along with the Head Coach because his methods were too extreme.  Basically they could not stomach weakening the team on purpose.  So they fired the guy, and replaced him with a highly regarded personnel guy who had been with the Kansas City Chiefs.  

Does that sound familiar?  However, I'm not talking about Sashi Brown, but Joe Banner.  Like many fans, I was livid when the Browns traded Trent Richardson during the 2013 season for a first round draft pick.   The whole point of football is to do everything in your power to put the best team on the field that you can, and then try to win.  It's not football when you deliberately take away a player who can help the team win, and don't replace him with anyone.   

Joe was probably right that the way you build a team is to cut veterans who do not figure to be contributing three years in the future.   You're better off if you don't overspend on temporary fixes, and if it costs you some games, you'll make up for it in the next draft because you're getting better players. 

You let some of the veterans leave via Free Agency so that the team can pick up compensatory draft picks.  You trade this year's seventh round pick for next year's sixth round pick, and that sort of thing.  You increase the level of talent on the future team. 

To some degree, the Browns did that in 2013 by signing Willis McGahee to fill Richardson's role, but the perception was that they were giving up on the season.  Players don't like playing for an organization that is not committed to winning, and agents won't steer their players to a team like that in Free Agency.  

The 2014 draft was positioned to be one of the deepest in history because underclassmen were being permitted to enter the draft.  Hence Banner had accumulated several extra picks and figured to bolster the Browns with several good players.   But what happened was that they promoted ex-Chiefs front office man Ray Farmer to GM, replacing Banner.  Farmer managed to squander draft picks, trading up to get players like Justin Gilbert Johnny Manziel and Pierre Desir.  Though they entered the draft with ten picks, they came away with only six, and the top two players had lifestyles that were incompatible the NFL.  Whiff! Whiff! Farmer did better with Christian Kirksey and Joel Bitonio, but the damage was done.  

This same pattern has repeated itself.  When Jimmy Haslam III hired Sashi Brown, I hoped that Brown would implement Banner's basic draft strategy, minus some of the more draconian moves. Instead, Brown was even more destructive to the roster, purging current year payroll as much as possible while cutting or failing to re-sign an incredible number of valuable players:  Joe Haden, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Gary Barnidge, Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby, DeMario Davis, Josh McCown, Travis Benjamin, Tashaun Gipson, Starter Craig Robertson, Taylor Gabriel, Jordan Poyer, Johnson Bademosi, Terrelle Pryor, Barkevious Mingo, Tramon Williams.  These moves allowed the Browns to pare down payroll such that active salaries are an amazing 57 million dollars under the nominal 2017 cap of $167 Million.  As a consequence, the 2018 Browns figure to have the first overall pick plus a Top 5 pick via Houston.   But the Browns won only one game in 2016 and are currently 0-14.   Attendance has fallen off dramatically, sponsors are jumping ship, ratings are down, and generally Sashi Brown's tenure has been a disaster.  So once again, Mr. Haslam has fired the effective GM, and hired a personnel guy from Kansas City in John Dorsey. 

I can't believe the Browns made the exact same mistake with Sashi Brown that they made with Joe Banner.  That shows a lack of growth and a failure to learn from past mistakes.  So, my question is whether anything has improved by hiring John Dorsey, or will the results be the same as with Ray Farmer? 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why I'm Not Down on DeShone Kizer

   Actually, the title of this article is a lie.  Truthfully I'm down on Kizer or just about any rookie quarterback this side of DeShaun Watson.  Rookie quarterbacks are usually terrible.  Once in a while you get a guy who is outstanding as a rookie, like Robert Griffin, DeShaun Watson or Ben Roethlisberger.  But it is much more common for rookies to be awful. 
    Kizer, it must be confessed, has put up some terrible numbers.  19 INTs versus 9 TDS, interception percentage of 4.6%.  But if you look around the league, that's about what usually happens if your team is dumb enough to start a rookie quarterback in Game 1.  Check out some of these numbers.  I just list the quarterback rating and interception percentages, but trust me, the rest of the numbers areq equally bad.   I'm not saying Kizer is necessarily as good as these guys, but he has not disqualified himself either:

Rating INT pct

Alex Smith 40.8 6.7
John Elway 54.9 5.4
Eli Manning 55.4 4.6
DeShone Kizer 59.4 4.6
Jared Goff 63.6 3.4
Troy Aikman 55.7 6.1

Because underclassmen are now being drafted to the NFL, guys like Kizer are coming with less experience than ever before.  Instead of four years of major college experience, he came to the Browns with only two.   Normal quarterback development would call for the player to have a good year by the second year out of college.  For Kizer, 2017 is his junior year at Notre Dame.  2018 is the senior year, 2019 he gets drafted but stays on the bench at first and he's ready to play for real in his second year as a Pro which would be 2020.  That's a normal development.  Instead, the Browns felt they could condense the development process into three months, and get Kizer ready three years early, in what should be his junior year at Notre Dame.  This is delusional, and I wish it would stop. 

DeShone Kizer is too early in his development to make any lasting judgment.  

      Kizer might be great or he might be terrible, but not very much is gained by playing him three years before he is ready. We know he has some good characteristics.  He's obviously psychologically tough, intelligent, hard working and throws a great ball.  But beyond that I can't tell where he is headed. I don't believe the coach can either.  The Browns are just going to have to keep him on the roster for another two years, and then they can form an opinion on him.    

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gregg Williams Should be the Next Coach of the Cleveland Browns

   I don't think the Browns can go 2-30, establishing all sorts of negative NFL records, and keep the Head Coach.  On the other hand everyone recognizes the lack of continuity in management has been a major problem.  The obvious solution is to appoint Gregg Williams to Head Coach, and hire a new Offensive Coordinator. 
   Hue Jackson has done a great job keeping the team together and playing hard every week. But as Offensive Coordinator, he has been a disaster. He has managed to ruin the careers of three quarterbacks this year. He promoted DeShone Kizer way to soon to be the starter, and meanwhile sophomores Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan never got the chance to show whether they can play or not.  
     With an atrocious passing offense, Hue was not able to create a run-first offensive game plan for whatever reason.  All year long they have tried to throw the ball all over the ballyard 40 times or more per game, and with a rookie quarterback, it just didn't work. Help is needed from a true Offensive Coordinator.  
      But on the other side of the ball, Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has gotten results, turning around the worst  defense in the NFL.  Yes he had some help from young star Myles Garrett, but even without him the Browns were much improved, especially in rushing defense.  Coach Williams switched the team over from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3, and made a huge improvement.
     Gregg has been to the Super Bowl and won, as Defensive Coordinator for the Saints.  Yes, he was too aggressive by allowing the players to establish bounties on knocking out the other teams' stars ("bountygate"), which earned him a fine and a year-long suspension.  But truthfully, I can understand that mentality for a tough nasty defense.  If it can be controlled, the Browns could use some of that aggressiveness.    Gregg has Head Coaching experience Buffalo Bills teams.  Frankly it did not go particularly well, with his best record being 8-8 in 2002.  But after a Super Bowl win and solid performances with the Rams and Browns, he's earned another shot.   
    He has some of the swag from Buddy Ryan, his former mentor.  But he is not a Ryan clone from the blitz-every-down school.  Gregg has proven himself to be very versatile in designing defenses based on the personnel that he has available.  He seems just as comfortable with extra blitzers or extra defensive backs, depending on the personnel and the situation.  

Gregg Williams has gotten results. Promote the guys who have had success.  

    So if the team values continuity, it would be bad to throw away the current defense, especially since the offense is in chaos.  If Coach Jackson has to go, and I suspect with 1-29 he's probably earned that fate, Gregg Williams is the obvious candidate to succeed him.  Get him a good offensive coordinator, and back them with solid personnel evaluators, and we might go somewhere.  


Monday, December 11, 2017

Browns 2018 Free Agent Fantasies: Reality Check

    Estimates are all over the place for what the Browns will likely do in Free Agency.  Yes, their total cap space is $108 Million dollars, but no they are not going to spend nearly that much.   The carryover (unspent money from previous years) is not likely to be be all blown in one year, plus don't forget to leave some money for all those 2018 draft choices.  Hence here is the Village Elliot's attempt to determine what is realistic. 
     In 2018, the Browns are in very good shape, but not to the tune of $108 million dollars as suggested in some articles.  NFL Salary cap space is compiled in  Let's break it down as follows:   The Browns have $128 Million committed in salaries for 2018 (which includes $10 million "dead money" to players no longer on the team).  That's a very low number.   The estimated salary cap for 2018 is $178 million.  There's another $58 Million in unspent money from previous years ("carryover dollars").  So the "total cap" is $178 +$58 M -$128 M = $108 M.    That's where the $108 Million in salary cap comes from, but that assumes zero rookies signed, zero departing veterans to replace, and assuming you blow all the carryover money in one year.  None of those things are realistic. 

Carryover money is just like a savings account in case of an emergency.  Likely it will not be used at all in 2018, so poof!  there goes $58 Million.  The Browns also will have a much larger than usual bill for rookies, as they have to be paid after you draft them.  In 2018, that will be about $28 Million.  Plus, we have to either re-sign Isaiah Crowell or provide money to replace him. 
   That may run $18 Million for 13 players, or in other words about $12 Million above the league minimum for those roster spots.  This number also comes from   
       My guess is the Browns let will their carryover dollars ride and spend up to the current limit or $178 Million total expenditures (including $6 Million to players not with the team). Also, the Browns have two free agents in Isaiah Crowell and backup Marcus Martin.  So let's allow $5 Million to either re-sign Crowell or come up with a replacement.  So,  compared to last year, the difference in player salaries is $178-$12-$128- $5 = $29 million dollars, give or take, above 2017.  Conclusion:  That's a lot of money, enough for three or four significant starters.  So $108 Million is the absolute limit if they sign no draftees, give zero pay raises and blow all their saved-up carryover money in one year (totally unrealistic) whereas $33 million is where I put the over-under for what they will actually add.   That's still a lot of money, enough to add two or three very significant players.  This is not going to be like previous years in which they had tons of cap space to raise fans expectations, but in which they deliberately underspent the cap and also let star players leave without being replaced.  No, in 2018 they really are going to add signficant players.  I promise.    

        In addition there are currently five draft picks in Round 1 and 2 and a total of 13.   These high picks should usually start or at least contribute significantly.   So, when all is said and done, they have one guy who might leave in Free Agency (Crowell) but they can replace him with about 8 very good players.   It sounds crazy, but I believe they will have enough firepower to contend next year if they get their act together.