Saturday, February 20, 2016

What Does it Mean to be the "Face of the Franchise?"

Manziel is gone, but Josh McCown is not necessarily the new Face of the Franchise either.  

    If you have fantasies of being an NFL General Manager, this is your time.  The off season is upon us!
    My team, the Cleveland Browns, is in the market for a quarterback again.  Last year we had terrible run defense, and couldn't run the ball effectively either.  The cure for that is always to fire the Coach (check!) and to sign or draft a new quarterback.  
     Browns fans usually figure that the only way to get a good quarterback is to draft one with the first pick in the NFL Draft. This year we may have a shot at the top quarterback unless the Tennessee Titans concoct a massive trade.  So there is much ado about arm strength, 40 yard dash time, INT percentage and so on.  But what about being the "Face of the Franchise?"  
     I think that is very real.  It's about selling tickets and projecting the right image in the media, to be sure.  But the most important aspect is the ability to convince players to play for your team.  
    Supposing there is an All-Pro free agent wide receiver.  Do you suppose he will gladly come to a team that has Johnny Manziel for a quarterback?  Well, if the receiver isn't convinced that Johnny is going to be on the field, there is not much point in coming to play for Cleveland.  
     You need to have a quarterback that people can't wait to play for, based on the belief that he will be successful and make other people successful around him. And so off the field issues matter.  Any one event is not decisive, but players need to feel confident that the quarterback is stable, and that the franchise is stable and going to contend.   
       In the case of Manziel, even if he is exonerated completely and never has a drinking issue again this off season, there is zero chance we can convince players to choose our team.   So he's out, despite playing well on the field last year.  
      It's not just moral character.  I would say a guy like Sam Bradford, a tremendous talent who has had a history of injury trouble, might also be a poor Face of the Franchise.  It's not his fault, but if his injury history casts doubt as to whether he will be available or not, then his team is just not able to recruit and retain free agent players.  Conversely, Cam Newton gets a lot of press for minor misbehavior, but players know they are going to move the football, and they will definitely go to Carolina to play.  
    The best guys are still guys like Brady, Rodgers and Eli Manning; very stable individuals who throw for yards and touchdowns.          
    With the Browns, in my opinion  Hue Jackson becomes the face of the franchise.  I believe he has a lot of respect around the league and players will play for him.  As for McCown, despite playing at a very high level and winning great respect around the league, he will be 37 next year, and a top young player might not be willing to hitch his wagon to that horse.
     The Browns need to have a talented young quarterback, if not for 2016 then certainly 2017 and beyond.  We'll see what they come up with.  

Hue Jackson is the Face of the Franchise right now, rather than any particular player.   


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Ifo Ekpre Olomu

If Ekpre Olomu was a sensational cornerback for Oregon, but suffered a horrific knee injury.  

Ifo Ekpre Olomu is by all accounts a hard-working solid individual that everyone would like to root for, a great kid.  He was a terrific cornerback at Oregon, and was projected as a first or second round draft pick, maybe even the top cornerback in the draft. 

That dream fell apart when he suffered a horrific knee injury in practice before the National Championship game against Ohio State.  I'm not a a medical authority, but based on what I've read, he suffered a knee joint dislocation. This is a severe injury that as far as I can find out no player has ever recovered from to play pro sports.   

This is NOT a dislocated kneecap.  This is a case in which the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) have been separated from  the femur (thigh bone) as shown in the figure below.

Knee joint dislocation.  

Fortunately the Oregon Ducks wisely took out an insurance policy for him, and so he is going to be all right financially. But he still wanted to play football.  He received that opportunity when the Browns drafted him in the seventh round. 

The buzz among fans is that the Browns got a steal.  My suspicion is that Ray Farmer simply did not understand the extent of his injury.  The Browns did not do their homework, made a stupid pick.  At least the Browns could have taken a kicker as several were available and they were looking for one.

I hope that Ifo can beat the odds through determination and hard work.   If he makes it back on the field, he will be the first person to ever do so at the NFL level. Ifo is a great kid and deserves for good things to happen.  Miracles do happen.  Let's hope for one for Ifo.  

Frankly though, the players you get in the NFL draft should be guys that you have some belief in, rather than draft a guy and start praying for a miracle.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

Quarterback ball velocity at the Combine since 2008

      Some very interesting data on quarterback ball velocity comes via the NFL combine and Ourlad's guide to the NFL, which posts the ball velocity from some quarterbacks from 2008-2015. Not everyone participates in the velocity drill and in fact a lot of the better quarterbacks skip it. Plus it's probably not that accurate of a test as there are all kinds of different throws that the quarterback makes in real life. Still the numbers probably do mean something. I was surprised by a few items.  First, look at the top guys. Colin Kapernick and Kirk Cousins have a 59 mph ball, but so does former Brown Brandon Weeden. 

Believe it or not, the Browns' Austin Davis produced higher velocity at the combine than Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.  It doesn't prove that he is a good quarterback, but I'd like to see how he does with another year with the same team. 

Austin Davis is up there too at 58 mph. But Jameis Winston is supposed to have a cannon, and he is in the middle of the pack. Guys like Cam Newton, Marcus Mariotta, Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles and Russell Wilson are also at the 55-56 mph range.

The highest velocity measured since 2008 was Logan Thomas of Virgina Tech at 60 mph.   He hasn't been tearing up the league so far, and was released by the Cardinals. He's now with the Dolphins.  

Not everyone with high velocity is taken by the pros.  There were 5 guys who were at 59 mph that I had scarcely heard of.   Apparently some of the strong-armed guys just were not pro prospects. 

On the other hand, for the guys who are very slow, almost none make it.  Only Tyrod Taylor is a starter with a 50 mph ball, and in his case a lot has to do with his running ability. That would make you think that Connor Shaw might really struggle to make it in the NFL based on his small size and slow fastball at 50 mph. I also wonder what the Vikings  were thinking when they took Christian Ponder at 51 mph. Basically, nobody other than Tyrod has made it as a fulltime starter if they couldn't throw at least 55 miles an hour.

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State 59
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada 59
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State 59

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas 58
Austin Davis, Southern Mississippi 58
Nick Foles, Arizona 57
Tom Savage, Pittsburgh 57
Sean Mannion, Oregon State 57
Mark Sanchez, Southern Cal 57
Josh Freeman, Kansas State 57
Chase Daniels, Missouri 57
Cam Newton, Auburn 56
Marcus Mariota, Oregon 56
Blake Bortles, Central Florida 56
Andy Dalton, TCU 56
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois 56
Ryan Nassib, Syracuse 56
Colt McCoy, Texas 56
Curtis Painter, Purdue 56
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin 55
Joe Flacco, Delaware 55
Geno Smith, West Virginia 55
Jameis Winston, Florida State 55
Casey Keenum, Houston 55
Jake Locker, Washington 54
Bryce Petty, Baylor 53
Brett Hundley, UCLA 53
AJ McCarron, Alabama 53
Landry Jones, Oklahoma 53
Chad Henne, Michigan 53
Ryan Lindley, San Diego State 52
Kellen Moore, Boise State 52
TJ Yates, North Carolina 52
Marqueis Gray, Minnesota 51
Christian Ponder, Florida St 51
Tyrod Taylor, Va Tech 50
Connor Shaw, South Carolina 50
Matt Flynn, LSU 50
Michael Glennon, North Carolina State 49
Josh Johnson, San Diego 49
Colt Brennan, Hawaii 44

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How Much Money Will the Browns Spend on Quarterbacks in 2016?


The Browns will spend $4.3 Million on Johnny Manziel if he does not play.  No wonder they call him "Money Manziel."

If as expected the Browns  add a first round quarterback this year, and cut Johnny Manziel, they will wind up spending about $15.5 Million on quarterbacks in 2016.  That would place them around 20th in the NFL.  

    Assuming they cut Johnny Manziel in March, his guaranteed money will count against the 2016 salary cap. That comes to $4,333,487.  If we would keep him, only half of that money would be charged this year, and we would actually have the player.  No matter, we will probably cut him even if he is exonerated by the legal system.  So let's just admit that we are paying $4.3 Mil.  By the way, if that were his salary he would be ranked 29th in the NFL, pending the resolution of the new free agents and draftees.    

     Josh McCown is going to cost us $5,041,666, ranking 27th in the NFL as of today.  That make him a low-paid starter or one of the top non-starting qbs in the league.  If we cut him we still have to pay him $2,333,334.  

Josh McCown ranked 15th in the NFL statistically, while drawing the 27th highest salary in the NFL.  I'd say he earned his money.  

Austin Davis is due for $1,766,666 (37th in the NFL, making him a top second string quarterback), but only $333,334 is guaranteed.  I would say Mr. Davis is vulnerable as a third stringer.  Most third stringers get close to the NFL minimum.

If we take a guy in the 2nd overall position, he would presumably get a Marcus Mariota level contract, which paid him  $4,402,541 in his rookie year.

All told, if you add up the amount we are on the hook for, Manziel, McCown, Davis and a top rookie will cost the Browns  $15.5 million.  As a comparison, $15.9 Million is the amount that the Patriots spend for Tom Brady $15,000,000 and Jimmy Garoppolo ($950,154).  The Bengals will spend 
$13,745,413  ($13,100,000 for Andy Dalton and $645,413 for A. J. McCarron).  Except instead of a true star player, we will be fielding New Kid, McCown and Davis.   Ouch.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Will Browns Analytics Lead to a First Round Quarterback?

Does a first round quarterback always lead to instant success?  Well, no, and it's not just the Browns.  

    Browns media and fans expect the Browns to draft a quarterback in the first round in order to replace Johnny Manziel, and we will also try to rush the new guy into the starting lineup as soon as possible.  It's just what we do.  

   But I'm not sure if Sashi Brown is going to follow the script.  He was selected based on the idea that he is an "analytics" guy, meaning that he is going to try to get players that are actually a sound investment.  I doubt whether that value investing philosophy translates to running out and getting a quarterback with the highest draft pick we have.  

    The buzz is that none of the quarterbacks available this year are NFL ready superstars.  Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch are both juniors, Carson Wentz is a true senior but played ball at a small college.  Connor Cook, Dak Prescott, Kevin Hogan  and Cardale Jones are also well qualified prospects who will probably be drafted.  Among the top prospects, Goff, Lynch and Wentz are supposed to be first round guys, though there is some disagreement about which one is actually best.  On that basis, I don't think it is smart to draft one of these kids at the number 2 overall position.  

In the recent past, Cam Newton got his team to the Super Bowl, but not every quarterback succeeds. From 2011 forward, first round picks Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Eli Manuel,  Blake Bortles, John Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota, did not get it done for their teams, and some of those guys have been cut by the team that drafted them. It's not just the Browns.  

If a guy comes out early, is he mature enough to make up the difference?  Who figured out that Aggie Sophomore Johnny Manziel was two years more mature than the average quarterback?
Meanwhile, in the 2016 draft, there are legitimate Pro Bowl caliber players with guys like Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, Mississippi LT Laremy Tunsil, Florida State CB Jalen Ramsey, and others.  These guys are much more valuable than a good-but-not-great quarterback that probably won't start regularly until 2017.   Remember that Jared Goff and Pax Lynch are juniors, and you will recall what happened the last time we took an underclassman quarterback.  Namely Johnny Manziel turned out to be not quite as mature as we thought.   

The analytics guys should be able to figure out which positions are most likely to be impact players.   Fans always want skill position players, namely quarterbacks and wide receivers, with much less emphasis on defense and offensive linemen and tight ends.   Is that the real right answer?  I've always suspected that it might be better to draft defense first, and not overdo the skill positions, but I admit I don't know for sure.   I think you could go back in the draft and see which draft strategies worked the best and try to emulate those. It seems like the Patriots and Ravens usually do a pretty good job at drafting, and the Browns not so much.  It might worth thinking about trading back in the draft to get some extra picks, and maybe even some for 2017.

    It'll be interesting to see how the new "moneyball" approach influences the draft especially in the first round.