Home / General / When Bullshit Was King: The 2005 NFL Draft, Insiders and Outsiders

When Bullshit Was King: The 2005 NFL Draft, Insiders and Outsiders

Comments
/
/
/
284 Views

nicksaban800_471014a

Paul recently mentioned the kind of extraordinary numbers Aaron Rodgers is putting up; even adjusted for era, and in substantive as well as freak show accomplishments, he’s one of the very greatest NFL players ever. It always amazes me that the Packers were able to get him with the 24th pick in the 2005 Draft. Rodgers was not a diamond in the rough. I mean, whenever someone turns into Aaron Rodgers you’re somewhat lucky, but QBs with his level of NCAA performance at his age are much more likely to become good NFL QBs than not. A QB prospect like this should go in the top 2 or 3 picks of the draft barring extraordinary circumstances.

What’s even better is that 3 running backs were selected with the first 5 picks of the draft. Could the idiots who would blow a top 5 pick on a running back — a silly decision in contemporary football even if Aaron Rodgers isn’t on the board — at least identify really good ones ex ante? Well, the picks were Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams, so no. Did those teams at least have solid starters at QB? Nope: they had Gus Ferrotte, Kyle Orton/Rex Grossman, and Chris Simms/Brian Griesie.  The Packers did have a Hall of Fame QB rather than a terrible one, but they jumped on Rodgers anyway because Thompson knows what he’s doing.

Bill James’s classic early essay about insiders and outsiders is, alas, not available online. But whenever someone is on the losing side of a sports argument — “trading Nick Foles and the equivalent of the 39th pick for the right to pay Sam Bradford $13 million was perfectly reasonable,” say — you can always retreat to the “the insider knows more than you do” argument. Chip Kelly stayed up all night analyzing that dogshit stock Sam Bradford game film. Who are you to criticize his actions?

But, as James said, the fact that insiders know much more about many aspects of the sport doesn’t make them more reliable analysts of everything. His example was Fred Lynn, who insisted that he would hit better in Anaheim than he had in Boston and was paid like it by the Angels, although he reliably had an OPS 300 or 400 points better at Fenway. Sometimes an intense knowledge of the details prevents you from seeing the big picture. Sometimes outsiders can see things insiders who know a lot more about many things cannot. In 2015, running backs are for the most part correctly valued by NFL teams, and the exceptions tend to be outright joke organizations like the Mike Holmgren-led Browns. But the massive overvaluing of running backs in the 2005 draft is an example of something on which outsiders were ahead of many insiders. Going back to the 1980s, any remotely sophisticated analysis of the question would show that the quality of a team’s pass offense and defense was far more important to its success than the quality of its running game and running defense; proto-sabermertics showed this conclusively.  This has been repeatedly confirmed as analysis has become more sophisticated, the marginal quality of a team’s passing game has if anything increased in importance. But a lot of insiders clung to GROUND AND POUND sentimentality for a long time. It was a prejudice — the SMASHMOUTH running game is REAL AUTHENTIC FOOTBALL and the forward pass WHY NOT PUT PLAYERS IN A DRESS — that could be supported by a statistical illusion (for strategic reasons, good teams tend to run more often, so if you use the measures of bulk yardage that were generally printed in newspapers and featured on broadcasts rather than measures of efficiency, it looks like good teams reliably run more effectively than bad ones even though they don’t.) In addition, a lot of coaches cut their teeth in the NCAA, in which there’s a much greater spread between good running games and bad ones and the attrition of individual running backs is less of a problem.

Nick Saban’s justification for taking Brown reflects a lot of this:

In four games against LSU when Saban coached there, Brown carried just 35 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Still, Saban liked what he saw — especially a short fourth-quarter run in a close game.

“It’s not one of the plays that are on the highlights, but he ran over about nine guys,” Saban said. “It was only about a 7-yard gain, but I had to say to myself, ‘Man, what a competitor.'”

Looking at the record as a whole, Brown didn’t even play particularly well against elite competition, but THERE WAS THIS ONE PLAY THAT ONE TIME AND HE DID THIS AND WOW. In terms of personnel evaluation, there’s no magic to game film. Sometimes it reveals things that aren’t in the statistics; many times, you lose sight of the forest for the trees. Perhaps Chip Kelly’s study of Sam Bradford game film was part of a dispassionate analysis. Much more likely is that he got tired of seeing Nick Foles’s flawed game up close, focused on Bradford as an alternative, saw what he wanted to see in the film, and then decided he had to get Bradford whether or not the cost was reasonable.  This last step is the real key, the flaw that often distinguishes bad organizations from good ones. It was completely reasonable for the Bills to evaluate Sammy Watkins as the best wideout available in the 2014 draft. It was not reasonable to think that the difference between Watkins and Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr. was worth an additional first round pick. There’s a reason good organizations are lot more likely to trade down than up.  I’m sure Ryan Grigson spent a lot of time analyzing that dogshit stock Trent Richardson game film,  and you can always find isolated footage showing that despite all evidence Richardson is a beast, and before you know if a first round pick you could have used to fill one of your team’s many holes is out the window in exchange for less than nothing because you have to have the player. In fairness, Saban (who wasn’t formally in charge of personnel but seems to have been the dominant decision-maker) did want to trade down — he is a Belichick disciple, after all.  But when the right offer didn’t come, he made a huge blunder that sent his NFL career on the path to oblivion.  The reason to do systematic analysis, as James said, is to avoid paying the price for believing things that aren’t true.

Sometimes insiders do know things that even sophisticated analysts don’t, and in cases where the evidence is ambiguous and someone has a good track record deference is warranted.  But a lot of times more systematic analysis is right. To reiterate, by any statistical measure Sam Bradford is a below-average QB, and the more sophisticated and context-sensitive the measure the worse he looks.  (This isn’t surprising — as an ultra-conservative thrower playing on generally bad teams, Bradford was well-situated to piling up safe yards in garbage time against soft coverages that make his numbers look superficially more efficient but don’t constitute any actual value to his teams.) This data was something Kelly should have paid more attention to.  Between the relative lack of importance of the marginal quality of a team’s running game and the relative fungibility, short shelf life and unreliability of running backs, under modern conditions it’s virtually never a good idea to invest a premium draft pick in the position, but it took an agonizingly long time for teams to figure this out.   A lot of GMs sacrificed their jobs to old-timey nonsense about the surpassing importance of the running game.

A final point of interest.  Saban’s time with Miami is generally remembered as just a bust.  But he did take a 4-12 team and improve it to 9-7, with Ferrotte at quarterback.  The improvement wasn’t quite as great as it looks in the record — “only” 80 points — but it was real (and, by the same token, his second and last Miami team was better than its 6-10 record suggests.)  His ability as a coach didn’t completely abandon him — but when you do stuff like “take Ronnie Brown with the second overall pick” all the motivational ability in the world will only get you so far, and of course when you show you don’t know what you’re doing it undermines your ability to lead the team. (Matt Williams ordering good hitters to bunt with 3-1 counts is much more damaging in making him look like a buffoon than for the direct effects of the suboptimal strategy itself.)

To be clear, all kidding and co-blogger trolling aside, I’m not saying that Kelly is doomed to a short and unexpectedly brutish career as an NFL head coach.  He has already won 10 games twice with retread quarterbacks, and the division being what it is could even return to the playoffs with his emaciated talent base this year.  I’m sure even Saban would acknowledge that Kelly is a better tactical coach (as opposed to recruiter/talent developer.)  But if he’s going to succeed in the long term, he’s going to need someone else to collaborate in picking players.  Tactical innovation just can’t overcome talent mismatches in the NFL like it can in the NCAA.   And you just can’t win in the NFL in 2015 with huge investments in running backs.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • efgoldman

    Maybe the best example was 1983, when Dan Marino was the fifth QB taken, at number 27(!!!)
    Elway was first. No argument there.
    The others were, in order: Todd Blackledge (#7, KC); Jim Kelly (HOF, #14, Bills); Tony Eason (#15, Pats); and Jim O’Brian (#24, Jets).
    After Marino, no QBs until Reggie Collier (who?) #162 (Dallas) and Babe Laufenberg (#166, DC).

    • Paul Campos

      The rumor at the time was that Marino had a “lifestyle problem” as they said in the 80s.

      • efgoldman

        The rumor at the time was that Marino had a “lifestyle problem” as they said in the 80s.

        Weed? I seem to remember pre-draft rumors that he was “uncoachable” and “couldn’t play in a pro system.”
        It’s probably just as well that the Pats didn’t snag him. They’d probably have screwed him up to a fare-thee-well/

        • Denverite

          Well, the rumor was that he was a smoker of a certain four-letter word, but that word was not “weed.”

          • Boots Day

            I think you guys are trying a little too hard to explain this. Marino looked like the best QB in college football his junior year, but had a very down senior season, in which he actually threw more interceptions than TDs. That’s the main reason he fell in the draft.

            • Bill Murray

              there definitely were rumors that Marino was a coke-head. Those would probably lead to your draft position falling now.

    • sleepyirv

      And that’s a Murderer’s Row compared to the QBs picked before Tom Brady: Chad Pennington (#18, Jets), Giovanni Carmazzi (#65, 49ers), Chad Redman (#75, Ravens), Tee Martin (#163, Steelers), Marc Bulger (#168, Saints), Spergon Wynn!!! (out of Texas State, where he made All-Southland Conference SECOND TEAM) (#183, the Browns, naturally).

      Only Pennington and Bulger had careers and both were basically journeymen.

      • Brien Jackson

        Tom Brady was a really unimpressive college QB with very few inate physical tools coming out of college. He’s probably a once in a lifetime development story.

        • Denverite

          I know someone who played for Michigan that was a year or two in front of him. I’ve always meant to ask what he was like as a college underclassman backup but have always forgot.

          • Brien Jackson

            As a senior starter basically everyone wanted him benched for Henson.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Tom Brady was a really unimpressive college QB with very few inate physical tools coming out of college. He’s probably a once in a lifetime development story.

          Yup, pretty much. It was basically luck plus Belichick.

          • Brien Jackson

            And pharmaceuticals, depending on who you believe.

        • endaround

          Does once in lifetime really count when in the same lifetime both Kurt Warner and Tony Romo exist?

          • Brien Jackson

            I don’t really count Romo or Warner as being in the conversation for best QB to ever play in the NFL, but YMMV, I guess.

            • Denverite

              There’s also that they slipped through the cracks because they played for non-major schools. Romo didn’t even play in I-A.

              Brady slipped through the cracks (and note, he was drafted and they weren’t) because the league didn’t think he had the tools to play.

              • Brien Jackson

                Well, I’m saying that Warner and Romo aren’t even inarguable HOF candidates, let alone on Brady’s level. I wouldn’t argue that low round QBs might turn out to be Pro Bowl/MVP caliber players, but that’s not what’s being invoked with “Brady was a 6th round pick” stuff.

                • Denverite

                  I gotcha. I was just also pointing out that there is a fundamental difference between Brady’s scenario and Warner/Romo because Brady wasn’t heralded because no one thought he could play. Warner/Romo weren’t heralded because they didn’t have any exposure in college.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Warner/Romo weren’t heralded because they didn’t have any exposure in college.

                  Right — in some ways they are market inefficiencies, like Wilson and Brees being undervalued because they were perceived as too short. The market for identifying talent will always be inefficient and a pro prospect will sometimes fall through the cracks of college recruitment (although it generally gets more efficient over time.)

                  Brady, as you say, got to play for a famous NCAA program, and just didn’t look like a quality NFL player.

              • efgoldman

                Brady slipped through the cracks (and note, he was drafted and they weren’t) because the league didn’t think he had the tools to play.

                And Johnny Unitas, arguably the best QB of his era, was undrafted and cut by the Steelers before Ewbanks picked him up for the Colts.

  • dilan

    I think this is more than a bit of a straw man:

    1. First of all, it assumes that there are these “insiders”, who are basing their decisions on gut feelings and whatever traditional metrics exist, and brilliant statistically minded “outsiders” whose methods are rejected by the stubborn insiders.

    I’m not saying that never happens (I know a bit about horse racing, and that really did happen with speed figures versus class analysis and traditional metrics there), but it really isn’t what happened with the statistical revolution in sports. Many, many advanced statistics have been developed BY TEAMS. Billy Beane, to pick just one obvious example, works for a baseball team!

    2. More importantly, I think this way overstates the knowledge of the “outsiders”. There are definitely “outsiders” whose opinions I would very much credit on sports issues. For instance, there are very sophisticated gamblers who run computer models on all aspects of the sports they gamble on. They probably know a ton– and always have, by the way. There was a time when Mort Olshan, the publisher of the Gold Sheet, probably knew as much about professional football as anyone in America.

    But for the most part, the “outsiders” consist of hobbyists, at best, or ordinary sports fans, at worst, who are using computer models and some statistical metrics to explain whatever game they are a fan of. There’s nothing at all really wrong with that, of course, but that is going to convey an extremely limited knowledge of only those aspects of the game that the statistics and computers can actually tell you about.

    Meanwhile, the insiders– EVEN THE INSIDERS WHO INCORRECTLY REJECT THINGS THAT THE STAT GEEKS ARE CORRECT ABOUT– are simply going to know quite a bit more about the game than you give them credit for.

    Let’s take running backs, which seem to be your favorite subject. A football GM or coach who is actually deciding whether to select a running back is going to be looking at lots of things. The depth chart is one. You indicate that these teams needed quarterbacks. And maybe they did. But it’s also possible that there was another quarterback that they expected to become available, or that they got unlucky with an injury, or they had a salary cap issue, or they were running an offense or a blocking scheme that Rodgers wasn’t compatible with, etc. You can’t get any of that from just pointing to the lousy running back they picked and saying “see! they should have picked Rodgers!”. Football is a team sport. It isn’t FanDuel or DraftKings.

    3. And this is perhaps most important. Even Aaron Rodgers, as great as he is, isn’t simply an automatic great quarterback on any team. All great players require blocking. Have you analyzed whether the teams that didn’t pick Rodgers had the offensive line necessary to protect him like the Packers do? Heck, have you analyzed whether they had the blocking necessary to maximize the careers of the running backs they did pick? Have you looked at whether their defenses gave their offenses enough time to spell between series? Time of possession is a really important statistic in football, you know.

    Have you analyzed whether the particular skill sets of the blockers and receivers and backs on the teams that passed on Aaron Rodgers would have meshed with his talents? Would they have had to restock other personnel to make it work if they drafted him?

    I don’t really know the answers to these questions. But you know who does know the answers to them? Insiders. Who watch game films. And look carefully at depth charts.

    4. One last thing. There’s just a ton of statistical variance in football. Even with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. Nobody goes 16-0 in the NFL. Teams make the playoffs one year and miss the next. It’s very hard to repeat as a Super Bowl champ. Teams play the same opponents twice a year and have vastly different statistics in the two games.

    This means two things: (1) a lot of “obvious” picks turned out bad, most likely because of bad luck (either they didn’t live up to the promise or had outperformed their ability in college), and (2) the difference between success and failure in the NFL is very small and often due to luck.

    It’s really, really, really easy to say “Aaron Rodgers was an obvious pick”. Yeah, sure he was. Now try actually being a general manager and drafting players. One of my favorite quotes in sports was by Tom Lasorda in response to a bunch of reporters asking him tough questions about this or that managerial decision:

    “This fucking job”, he said, “is not that fucking easy.”

    • Scott Lemieux

      The ratio of words to content here is truly impressive.

      • Grumpy

        The ratio of words to content here is undefined.

    • efgoldman

      Meanwhile, the insiders– EVEN THE INSIDERS WHO INCORRECTLY REJECT THINGS THAT THE STAT GEEKS ARE CORRECT ABOUT– are simply going to know quite a bit more about the game than you give them credit for.

      But clearly, year after year, THERE ARE INSIDERS WHO DON’T KNOW SHIT! And they keep doing stuff like overvaluing running backs when better, more helpful players (whether QBs or not) are available.
      Do you think Belechik is as good at player selection as Billy Beane? The last back he took with a top pick was Moroney in 2006 – a mistake, as it turned out.

      Heck, have you analyzed whether they had the blocking necessary to maximize the careers of the running backs they did pick?

      A lot of top QBs got killed their first year or two. Some survived and prospered (Aikman, Bradshaw); some had their careers ruined (Plunkett, although he later won a Super Bowl with the Raiders). It goes with being the QB on a bad team, which gets the top draft choice.

    • Stag Party Palin

      Time of possession is a really important statistic in football, you know.

      Strongly disagree. It’s the number of plays run on offense that matters.

    • Brien Jackson

      I absolutely remember a broad consensus that Alex Smith was the better of the two QBs, with specific drooling over his workouts.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I should note here that if unlike, say, Dilan you actually read the OP, you will see that I do not criticize the 49ers for taking Smith over Rodgers.

        • Brien Jackson

          I’m not saying you did.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Right, I didn’t think you did, just want to clarify (particularly in light of the discussion that opened the thread.)

      • mikeSchilling

        If Alex Smith gets to learn from Brett Favre for a few years, while Aaron Rodgers is getting his confidence destroyed by Mike Nolan and his mind screwed with by Mike Singletary, who knows?

        • Right.

        • Scott Lemieux

          The numbers suggested he would be a serviceable starter and not a star, and…once he got competent coaching that’s exactly what he became.

    • brugroffil

      Have you actually followed Rodgers’ career or taken a glance at his stats? He was sacked at least 30 times every year from 2008 through 2012. In 2012, he set an NFL record at 56. He also had 50 sacks in 2009.

      He has played behind some dogshit lines and has still put up incredible numbers.

      • Bill Murray

        His adjusted sack percentages were bad in 2009 and 2012, but have been average most of his career and have been extremely good the last 2 years. Part of the point being that sacks by themselves do not mean much about the O-line quality. Rodgers throws drops back to pass very often. He doesn’t generally get sacked too often

    • brad

      I was going to reply about how Billy Beane if anything proves the opposite of what you’re trying to argue, never mind he’s a former player and not actually a math geek, but instead…

      fuck Tommy fucking Lasorda, that fat pig. If you use him as an example of anything besides how shitty humanity can be you’re doing it wrong. Just to begin with, he refuses to acknowledge his son was gay and died of AIDS, to this day. The man is a gaping asshole.

      • Epsilon

        Billy Beane is kind of a remarkable case in that his own experience as a highly touted can’t miss prospect who failed miserably actually helped him realize how full of shit most conventional baseball scouting was.

        But Billy Beane also doesn’t really work for this argument. He didn’t really develop anything. He just recognized (probably mostly out of financial necessity) that the math nerds were right and was one of the first to fully implement THEIR ideas because he basically had no choice but to try something else. He wasn’t going to be able to keep any of the players that would command big money so he had to get young players that were undervalued, and sabermetrics allowed him to do that. The fact that he was able to do this as recently as he has proves how resistant the “insider” club in baseball has been to change.

        It’s certainly different now, with many more teams having gone in his direction. Epstein of course in Boston and now Chicago, Jeff Luhnow in Houston, and hell, the Brewers even just installed Luhnow’s 30-year-old assistant as their new GM.

  • Thrax

    Not interested in rehashing this argument, but it wasn’t the equivalent of the 39th pick. Depending on how much Bradford plays, it’s the equivalent of either the bottom of the 2nd round or the top of the third round. (5th for 4th, 3rd/4th for 2nd.)

    • Scott Lemieux
      • Thrax

        Pretty sure Barnwell screwed this up by forgetting about the 3rd/4th that the Eagles are owed in 2016. Here’s a standard draft value calculator:

        http://www.calculatorsoup.com/calculators/games/draft-pick-value.php

        Plug 49 (second-rounder in the middle of the round) and 119 (the fourth-rounder the Rams got this year) into one side, plug 97 (averaging middle-3rd and middle-4th) and 145 (the fifth-rounder the Eagles got this year) into the other, subtract, and you get a low second-rounder (the 58th pick). Eliminate the 97, and you get a high second-rounder. (It doesn’t make sense anyway: Barnwell assumed the 49th pick; the other two picks to the Eagles and one to the Rams can’t possibly amount to a 10-spot improvement.)

        So just call it the equivalent of the 58th pick.

  • D.N. Nation

    In four games against LSU when Saban coached there, Brown carried just 35 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Still, Saban liked what he saw — especially a short fourth-quarter run in a close game.

    “It’s not one of the plays that are on the highlights, but he ran over about nine guys,” Saban said. “It was only about a 7-yard gain, but I had to say to myself, ‘Man, what a competitor.’”

    I’m super-bummed that a pretty comprehensive YouTube highlight video of that game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgMTaUg69wU) only has the play after that Brown run. Though I remember watching that ’04 LSU/Auburn game and didn’t think any offensive competitor looked particularly awesome that day.

  • erick

    Wasn’t one reason that teams shied away from Rodgers that the last two Cal QBs had flamed out (Boller and I forget who the other one was)?

    Which is also a really stupid mistake that people make. When a college uses an unusual system that regularly produces QBs who put up big numbers in a college but not the pros that is one thing (June Jones run and shoot teams for example) But Cal under Tedford ran a more or less Pro style spread offense and Rodgers was much better in college than the previous QBs.

    I think Saban was guilty of a couple mistakes that lots of college coaches make when transitioning to the NFL.

    1) overvaluing players they are familiar with
    2) not understanding positional value in the draft since they are used to simply recruiting every player they want in no particular order.

    • Denverite

      The Bears didn’t draft him because they had picked Grossman in the first round of the 2003 draft, sat him the first year, and then he lost most of 2004 to injury. They thought they had their starter. They were horribly wrong.

      • brugroffil

        So, so wrong :[

  • efgoldman

    Sort of related: The Foxboro police issued a press release that, this past Sunday for the first time in decades, no-one was arrested at the Patriots game, although six people were taken into protective custody (translation: we got them sober before we let them drive home.)
    This actually goes back to the old toilet bowl stadium. What an accomplishment!

  • One thing this post is missing is that Rodgers’ fall was driven primarily by an insanely stupid narrative leading up to the draft that Jeff Tedford-coached QBs failed in the NFL. So somehow because David Carr started his career behind the worst line in NFL history and Akili Smith drank his way out of the league meant that Rodgers was doomed, DOOMED, to be a bust. And this literally affected how professional football GMs decided to draft.

    Here’s one example of that narrative.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/draft05/columns/story?id=2039797

    • Ahurazo

      I hear a ton about how if Rodgers didn’t have the opportunity to sit behind the QB (whose style he emulates to this very day, what with all his interceptions) for several years, he wouldn’t have turned out to be half the quarterback he is today. Nevermind that he lit up college, and that Favre was famously unwilling to help in his development. He was 25th in the draft, so ipso facto he wasn’t that good at the time. Nobody could have predicted (except the Packers, apparently).

      Yes, I’m a bitter 49ers fan. Why do you ask?

      • endaround

        Rodgers has picked up a bunch of things from Favre though. His cadence is basically a carbon copy of Favre’s. His delivery, which had to be completely reworked, copies Favre’s. He moves in the pocket like Favre did (though he is much more mobile and runs much better than Favre ever did). This is not to say he could never become a good QB somewhere else, but playing behind Favre likely made him the best QB in the league.

        • ASV

          I’ve seen the vast majority of both their games, and I agree Rodgers became a very similar passer to Favre. The reason Rodgers doesn’t have the pick problem is twofold. One is that he’s much more willing to pull it down and run, rather than scramble until he gets the opportunity to throw a mistake pass. Rodgers averages 3.5 rushes per game for his career, while Favre averaged 2.0. Rodgers also has had overall better receivers, I think, some of which may be attributable to play design. Rodgers’ receivers get open better than Favre’s did, they have better hands, they run cleaner routes, etc. It’s worth noting that with Nelson out this year, and the receiving corps overall worse as a result, Rodgers is at a career high for rushes per game in 2015.

      • That Alex Smith pick was a real doozy.

        • Bill Murray

          He is the 11th best pick in the draft by career value now, and may get as high as 7th. Had he had a consistently good offensive coordinator/QB coach over his first 5 years he probably would be the 4th or 5th best draft choice from 2005.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yes, excellent point. It was like a perfect storm of bullshit.

      • Brien Jackson

        I think it’s a stupid way to make decisions, no doubt, but it’s worth pointing out that a) Erik is leaving Boller out of the conversation altogether, b) Akili Smith was fucking terrible.

        • So what? It’s impossible to separate Smith’s poor play from his drinking. See also, Lendale White. And even if we include Boller and Harrington and everyone else, it says noting about Tedford and everything about the diffciutlty of producing an elite NFL QB.

          • Denverite

            Forevermore, I will think of myself as the Akili Smith of lawyers.

            • Scott Lemieux

              The thing is — as you can see at the linked data — Smith was not a great pro prospect. He had only 23 NCAA games and wasn’t particularly accurate. The only two QBs surrounding him in QBASE who have had any success are Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton, both of whom had a lot more experience but had their ratings lowered by weak schedules (an appropriate adjustment, but one that will produce some false negatives.) He was always a very long-odds project who shouldn’t have been taken #3, and certainly his failure said nothing about “Jeff Tedford quarterbacks.”

              • Even as an Oregon fan, I didn’t understand why one would take him so high. I hoped for his success of course but that he couldn’t win the job full time until well into his junior year was obviously a sign.

  • Brien Jackson

    I don’t necessarily disagree with this, per se, but there’s a feel of almost unfair hindsight here.

    1) First of all, the most basic rationale for not drafting Rodgers (that Cal quarterbacks were college-only players) was obviously bullshit, but this was at a time when NFL scouting operations were actually pretty threadbare and Mel Kiper and Scouts were providing a ton of raw inputs.

    2) There were some teams (the Ravens come to mind) who clearly should have taken Rodgers, but had fairly recent commitments to young QBs.

    3)This wasn’t that long after the drastic rule changes in pass defense were put in place, and a lot of teams were still adjusting to that.

    4) Most of all, we can’t really draw any conclusions from Rodgers because he’s such a crazy outlier, given the years he spent as a second stringer even being a 1st round pick

    • Scott Lemieux

      1)I specifically criticized only 3 teams for not taking Rodgers, and 2)my argument very explicitly does not rely on a claim that teams should have understood how good Rodgers would be (which would be silly.) If Rodgers is simply a very good QB prospect — which he obviously was — taking a running back over him if you don’t have a good incumbent would be crazy, and taking a RB with a top five pick was obviously stupid in 2005. (The dominance of the passing game is not simply a product of 21st century rule changes; passing was far more important in the NFL than running in the 80s.)

      • Brien Jackson

        In the near term, I’m not sure how clear this was. Looking at the list of recent Superbowl winners leading up to the 2005 draft, it was not clear at all that you needed a tremendous QB to win (Dilfer-Brad Johnson-and Brady before he was Brady had won the last five) and the common factor amongst all of the winners was a great defense.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Dilfer is an extreme outlier among Super Bowl QBs (and that team, of course, had a historically good defense.) I may be missing another exception but I think you’d have to go back to the young Bradshaw to find a Super Bowl winner with a QB as bad as Dilfer. Johnson and Brady-before-Brady were above-average, although not great, QBs in their championship years. And even if you wanted to see those 3 Super Bowls as more important than the previous 20 for some reason, they still provide no reason to take a running back with a top 5 pick. (The ’02 Bucs and ’03 Patriots had an atrocious running game and the ’01 Pats were nothing special.)

          • efgoldman

            Dilfer. Johnson and Brady-before-Brady were above-average, although not great, QBs in their championship years.

            Brady before Brady, though, already had the ability to be frightfully good in two-minute situations.

            • Epsilon

              I think this is overstated a bit. I recently re-watched his first Super Bowl and not only was he terrible for pretty much the whole game, on the last drive the Rams just gave him the entire middle of the field and he STILL got away with an uncalled intentional grounding that would have pretty much guaranteed overtime. The prevent defense was much more at fault for that final drive than Brady’s ability.

              Brady is probably the GOAT now, but I was actually stunned upon re-watching at how poor he was in Super Bowl XXXVI.

          • Thrax

            you’d have to go back to the young Bradshaw to find a Super Bowl winner with a QB as bad as Dilfer

            Jeff Hostetler? Ken Stabler?

            Mark Rypien was a generally average QB who had one very good year.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Hostetler was solidly above average in 1990 and played brilliantly in the postseason. Stabler was probably the best QB in the league in ’76; no idea where that’s coming from.

              The NFL has been dominated by the passing game for a long time. It’s not a recent development, and there’s no excuse for teams not understanding it in 2005.

              • Thrax

                “Brilliantly” is a stretch, though he did play very well in the SB. First two playoff games: nothing special, and he was roughly average, perhaps a tad above, in the few games he played during the season. (And his career was otherwise fairly unimpressive.) The Giants had a really good running game, and it’s probably fair to say that Hostetler didn’t have to do too much.

                I was thinking about Stabler’s overall career, which was sort of checkered, but agree that he was excellent in 1976.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Well, we can quibble over adjectives, but 7.5 Y/A with no picks against the caliber of defenses he was playing is damned good. The Giants ran a lot but not particularly effectively; Hostletler was not a passenger but was crucial to that team’s success.

                • Denverite

                  I think all of this is kind of proving Brien’s point from above. “Assemble an awesome defense and what type of offense you run isn’t such a big deal” is — or at least was — a viable strategy in the NFL for a long time.

                • Thrax

                  They weren’t a very good running team early in the year, but in the last two regular season games and the three playoff games (when Hostetler was starting), the Giants had roughly 4.5 Y/A on the ground. That’s pretty effective.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I think all of this is kind of proving Brien’s point from above. “Assemble an awesome defense and what type of offense you run isn’t such a big deal” is — or at least was — a viable strategy in the NFL for a long time.

                  I could not disagree more. Since Bradshaw’s first Super Bowl, Dilfer appears to be the only genuinely below-average QB to win a championship. Teams have certainly won without a star QB, which is becoming harder — but even in the 80s and 90s, nobody except the Ravens won without an effective passing game. Conversely, teams win without good running games all the time, and star running backs are utterly unnecessary.

                • Denverite

                  Conversely, teams win without good running games all the time, and star running backs are utterly unnecessary.

                  My point was more the style of what you run wasn’t so important. I didn’t say that you didn’t have to be efficient passing.

                  But I was thinking about this yesterday. In the ’90s, the team with at least arguably the league’s best RB won the Super Bowl in ’92 (Smith), ’93 (Smith), ’95 (Smith), ’97 (Davis), ’98 (Davis), and ’99 (Faulk). Yes, in retrospect, the passing games for all of those Super Bowl winners were at least efficient (Dallas and Denver) and sometimes transcendent (St. Louis), but you could hardly blame teams for overvaluing RBs based on that.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  They weren’t a very good running team early in the year, but in the last two regular season games and the three playoff games (when Hostetler was starting), the Giants had roughly 4.5 Y/A on the ground. That’s pretty effective.

                  But if you take Hostetler out of it, the Giants running game was just not impressive. Their primary RB was a 33-year-old Otis Anderson, who was lousy in the regular season (3.5 yards/carry) and was medicore in the postseason (4.0, although he did play well in the Super Bowl.) The Giants ran the ball a lot, but Anderson was basically a replacement-level talent at that point of his career. QB play like Hostetler’s, conversely, is not easy to come by.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  but you could hardly blame teams for overvaluing RBs based on that.

                  I absolutely think you can.

                • Denverite

                  Really? Based on the successful teams in the ’90s, you would fault a team for concluding that the way to build a winner is to assemble a dominant defense, a great running game led by a feature back, and an efficient — though not necessarily prolific — passing game? Clearly, as the Patriots subsequently showed, that model isn’t the only answer, but I think you’re holding GMs to too high of a standard if you think they should have seen through that and concluded that the efficient passing game was the driving force behind those successes. (And I’m too lazy to look, but were the late-career Elway Broncos even that efficient? ETA: OK, I looked, they were.)

                • Thrax

                  Hostetler’s running did bump them up a bit, but at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, their running game was above the league average even if you discount Hostetler. And that included games against some very good defenses, as you say.

                  Hostetler was probably better than Dilfer, and his play that year was above replacement level, but not by a lot, all things considered.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Hostetler was probably better than Dilfer, and his play that year was above replacement level, but not by a lot, all things considered.

                  Just not true. He was above average in the regular season and better than that in the playoffs. It’s the Giants running game that was barely above replacement level for the season as a whole (although, again, Anderson did play well in the Super Bowl.)

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I think the evidence was very clear in 2005 that 1)it is nearly impossible to win the Super Bowl without a good passing game, 2)it was eminently possible to win a Super Bowl without a good running game, and 3)spending top draft picks on running backs is idiotic. (Terrell Davis, a 6th round pick who is one of many non-touted backs to look great in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, is much better evidence for my point than yours.)

                  Defense, OTOH, is very important! But I don’t recall criticizing teams for investing top draft picks in defensive players.

  • Denverite

    If I started a blog called Phil Simms Errata, would people read it?

    “Every time, well not every time, but about 55% of the time…”

    “Peyton Manning literally has been in this situation hundreds of times before…”

    • efgoldman

      If I started a blog called Phil Simms Errata, would people read it?

      Wouldn’t have to.
      And he has the most irritating nasal drawl…
      (Aikman drawls, too, although not quite as badly. But he isn’t any better at giving useful information.

      • Denverite

        I don’t know Aikman. I do know people who know him. He’s reputedly a real class guy.

        I don’t know Phil Simms. I know people who know his kid. They won’t share what they think of him, which of course is fine. I do know that I’m skeptical that he has a sufficient IQ to comment on NFL games.

    • Scott Lemieux

      He was a true fount of old-school bullshit today. All fourth down gambles are bad, any decision to kick a field goal is good doncha know.

      • Brien Jackson

        I find Simms to be incredibly irritating and full of himself, but were we watching the same game? Simms seems to basically be a book of conventional wisdom, and as the league has gotten more aggressive on 4th down Simms defends it a lot more often.

        • Scott Lemieux

          This might be true, but AFICT this wasn’t true Thursday.

          • Brien Jackson

            I guess maybe you drown them out under all that stress, but I remember Simms defending at least a couple of decisions to go for fourth down, and pretty vigorously defended the Ravens’ attempt at a fake FG even with Nantz basically begging him to bite at the (if they had 3 more points they could have tied the game on the next kick) line of argument. Simms response was something like “sure things could have gone differently, the kick might have gotten blocked and run back for a TD” and then he went into a mind-blowing lecture on game theory about how each decision affects things moving forward and the fallacy of the predetermined outcome. I thought he’d been body snatched or something.

    • Denverite

      The first few comments from the Football Outsiders open games thread:

      Phil Simms just praised Vick for a 3 yard completion on 3rd and 16. I had been thinking a kneel-down or even a sack would have been preferable, since it looked like the receiver could have fumbled the ball, while fighting for a useless extra yard there.

      Simms Nantz is worse than dental work.

      Oh, the stupidity. The sideline reporter just told the story of how Harbaugh was mad at the officials for keeping the Ravens from running their play, that Harbaugh was yelling, “We did not sub! We did not sub!” Simms immediately responds by saying “Well, if the offense substitutes even one player, the officials won’t let the play be run.” You know, EXACTLY THE THING HARBAUGH WAS SAYING DIDN’T HAPPEN.

      He did it again! The sideline reporter reported that the Steelers don’t allow any players on crutches to be on the sideline, and that B. Roeth ditched the crutches in order to be there. Simms sys well he’s not on crutches maybe he’s feeling better than we thought.
      PHIL SIMMS YOU ARE SO STUPID HOW ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE? Are we to believe that you can actually feed and dress yourself without instruction?

      Simms actually makes good point that Steelers should have declined penalty. Hell freezes over…

      ETA: Swear to god that none of these is me.

  • Fighting Words

    Cal and 49er fan here. I remember the 2005 draft very well and I, and just about all the other 49er fans that I know, were wishing/hoping/praying for Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately, at the time, there were two major (bullsh!t) knocks on Rodgers: 1) he was a “Jeff Tedford” quarterback, and 2) he was seen as “too cocky.”

    However, not being drafted by the 49ers was probably the best thing to happen to him. The 49ers of the late aughts were terrible, and I think Alex Smith had something like 6 different offensive coordinators in seven years.

  • John F

    The 2005 draft was one of the few ones I actually watched live, and my vague recollection was that the commentators expected Rodgers to go earlier then he did and were openly puzzled at 2-3 teams that didn’t take him (for the life of me I cannot remember which ones)… When GB took them, one said something along the lines of, “well they don’t need him, but the talent was too good to pass up” and another said, “Well Favre isn’t going to play forever you know) (This was of course back in the day that the MSM still portrayed Favre as a saint/boyscout and never reported the fact that he was an egotistical/selfish/narcissistic ass who was driving GB coaching staff and front office completely round the bend)…

    Being a Jets fan the other thing I remember is that the Jets didn’t have a 1st round pick and used their 2nd round pick on a KICKER (who incredibly is still playing- I say incredibly not because kickers have high attrition rate, but because for 4 years with the Jets he was the least impressive kicker I can recall the Jets ever regularly starting.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I would assume the Lions would have been a particularly glaring case, although Matt Millen probably spent a lot of time watching tape of Mike Williams and who are you to criticize his expertise general managing is hard.

  • DTW

    This is some ace trolling. I basically agree with the general argument (QBs good, RBs bad), albeit without the religious certainty. Personnel evaluation is quite a bit more complicated than simply reviewing Barnwell’s summaries (how many times has that Bradford article been linked?). And it’s rich that in an article whose thesis is that teams don’t adequately value quarterbacks, one of the key supporting examples is that Chip Kelly overvalued a quarterback.

    Right now, the Bradford trade looks horrible, no question. But one of the things I liked about the trade was that Kelly wasn’t willing to rest on his laurels with an average (at best) QB. Foles was lousy last year. Like teams who spend a high draft pick on a QB they don’t really need, Kelly took a serious chance because he recognizes the importance of QB play and he thought Bradford was better than Foles. Foles’ slow release led to inconsistent short passing, which led to stalled drives, which screwed up the tempo & the defense. The reason why Kelly traded for him was that his release is much quicker than Foles’ and his accuracy on short passes is much more consistent, which make Bradford a better fit for the offense. The preseason seemed to validate this judgment. In camp and in his limited preseason game play, he barely missed a pass. If the skills he demonstrated translated to regular season success, the overpay in the trade would be more than worth it, for precisely the reasons detailed in this post. Bradford’s weaknesses have been well-documented here, but the best argument against Bradford isn’t a sabermetric argument, but an old-fashioned gut argument: Bradford seems to lack whatever intangibles are necessary for practice/preseason success to translate to regular season success. Instead of the confident, sharp QB he is on the practice field, he looks like a flustered, cautious rookie. Whether he’s nervous about his repaired leg, too obsessive about TO risks, too impatient with downfield routes, doesn’t trust the inconsistent WRs, or is simply not mentally strong, he has hangups that prevent him from maximizing his talents. Perhaps Kelly should’ve identified these hangups and not made the trade, but that would’ve meant relying on old-fashioned “insider” methods rather than the forward-thinking scouting he favors.

    • John F

      This is some ace trolling.

      Want some more trolling?
      Bradford is one of the few QBs I’ve seen where I go, “gee this guy makes Mark Sanchez look not so bad”

      I can understand losing patience with Foles don’t see in what Universe losing patience with Foles makes Bradford look like the answer.

      but the best argument against Bradford isn’t a sabermetric argument, but an old-fashioned gut argument

      ???? The Sabermetric argument is quite compelling, Bradford per the numbers is no better than (hell not as good as Foles) and only marginally better than Sanchez* and a hell of a lot more expensive.

      *And I’d bet $ that behind the same line with the same receivers Sanchez would put up better #s than Bradford.

    • Scott Lemieux

      how many times has that Bradford article been linked?

      It is a prescient analysis, and the arguments raised against it (including yours) have been feeble.

      And it’s rich that in an article whose thesis is that teams don’t adequately value quarterbacks, one of the key supporting examples is that Chip Kelly overvalued a quarterback.

      Uh, what the hell? The passing game is much more important in the modern NFL than the running game. It does not follow from this that every individual quarterback is valuable.

      But one of the things I liked about the trade was that Kelly wasn’t willing to rest on his laurels with an average (at best) QB.

      No, he was BOLDLY willing to rest on his laurels with an oft-injured 27-year-old quarterback who was solidly established as well below-average.

      As discussed in the OP, few forms of logic produce more bad decisions than “we must do something. This is something.” If you think Ryan Grigson and Don Rumsfeld are geniuses, you’ll love Chip Kelly’s personnel management.

      The reason why Kelly traded for him was that his release is much quicker than Foles’ and his accuracy on short passes is much more consistent, which make Bradford a better fit for the offense.

      Except, in fact, Bradford’s accuracy on short passes is below-average.

      What Kelly’s apoligists can never explain is where the hidden efficiencies from Bradford were going to come from. He was already being given ultraconservative throws, so that can’t be it. It can’t be the Eagles having superior personnel, because their wideouts and offensive line are both among the worst in the league thanks to Kelly’s bizarre resource allocation. Even if we grant Kelly is a better playcaller than Schottenheimer (certainly!) and McDaniels (much more dubious!), that’s only going to get you so far.

      The preseason seemed to validate this judgment

      Haha you have to be shitting me. “Veteran QB looks good against largely non-NFL defenders playing in not even plain vanilla but unflavored defensive schemes.” Well, I’m convinced!

      In his most recent actual regular season NFL game, Geno Smith posted a perfect QB rating. Kelly should trade a first rounder for him!

      • DTW

        -It IS a prescient analysis. The most important revelation–that Bradford’s deep passing is his serious flaw–I find entirely convincing.
        -Of course it doesn’t follow that every QB is valuable, but it follows that QBs are so important that you can’t expect long term success with a below average QB and you need to take risks to acquire a better one.
        -At the time of the deal, even most skeptics thought that Bradford was better than his STL stats indicated; few thought he was a well below average QB. Even Barnwell concedes that Bradford looked good before his latest injury. And this was much different than simply “doing something;” Kelly thought that at worst he was making a lateral move for a QB that was a much better fit for his system.
        -His accuracy this year has been below average, but historically he’s been a pretty good short passer.
        -The hoped-for inefficiencies: he was undervalued because of injury, and he was a perfect fit for Kelly’s timing/quick release/short passing system, something he hadn’t played in since college. He wasn’t a good fit for the Rams brand of five-step-drop conservative football.
        -Obviously, the preseason is only the preseason. But it isn’t just that he looked good against subpar competition, it’s that he seemed to be in full command of the offense and a perfect fit for what Kelly wanted to do.

        Oh well, gloat away. I thought the deal made sense (though I do agree Kelly overpaid), and even if Bradford struggled, I assumed Kelly would be able to coach him up. Even after Kelly released Mathis for no reason I had no idea the line would look this bad. But, regardless of the reasons, Bradford indeed looks horrible.

  • Pingback: - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: NFL Playoff Sunday Open Thread: On the Fungibility of Running Backs - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: The Trades - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: NFL Open Thread: Are You Ready For Some EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH? - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

It is main inner container footer text