You want to be very careful about drawing conclusions from one week of NFL games. But given that there are only 16 a season, some games to provide useful information. This weekend’s Titans/Bucs game, for example, does not prove that Mariota will be a star and Winston will be a bust, and it does not even prove that Mariota will be better than Winston. On the other hand, the consensus of the scouting community seemed to be that despite Mariota being more effective against tougher opposition Winston was more “pro-ready.” Mariota massively outplaying Winston with inferior surrounding offensive talent against a comparable defense makes the consensus…much less likely to be true than false.
So history may vindicate Chip Kelly, picker of players. But I think it tells us something that in Game 1 Kelly’s moves went about as well as could be expected. This is not good news for Eagles fans:
- The Good Trade Kelly made at least one excellent move in the offseason, getting Kiko Alonso for Shady McCoy. This still looks excellent. Alonso, an very good player when healthy, made a key pick in the endzone. McCoy was expensively pedestrian at best for the Bills. This was very smart — get a running back’s best performance, and ditch him while he still has some perceived value. Alas, Kelly forgot the wisdom of this deal quickly.
- All of yr running backs belong to us The most baffling decisions of Kelly’s offseason involved heavy investments in the running back market. The centerpiece acquisition was DeMarco Murray, who was excellent last year but 1)gets hurt a lot, 2)was given an insanely high workload by a team that clearly had no intention of retaining him, and 3)was running behind a superb offensive line. Since Murray gets hurt, Kelly also invested in another injury-prone RB, Ryan Matthews. Kelly ended up investing more than $15 million in running backs this year. This is a really bad idea, because 1)the marginal quality of a team’s running game just isn’t very important in 2015, and 2)any competent organization should be able to find adequate players at the position on the cheap. Because of Kelly’s innovative offense it’s tempting to assume that Kelly has HACKED the NFL and could make running backs matter like Dick Nixon was still in the White House. Tempting, but almost certainly wrong. Anyway, if Kelly has HACKED the NFL he’s modest enough to keep it under wraps. Facing 2014’s 30th ranked running defense, Murray got 9 yards in 8 carries and Matthews got 4 yards in three carries, and neither did much as a receiver. The only quality play the Eagles got out of running backs yesterday was out of a guy who was already on their roster after having been acquired by a 5th round pick. Murray and Matthews will have better games than this, of course, but both signings were obviously dumb, and people who think that Kelly knows something about the value of running backs the market doesn’t are kidding themselves. Kelly has hacked running back value in the sense that Larry Lessig has hacked politics.
- The Quarterback The good news for Eagles fans is that Sam Bradford was better yesterday than his career norms. The bad news is that he can improve substantially and still be mediocre, which is what he was against the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense in 2014. At least he was on the field, which he often isn’t. I can understand Bradford as a relatively cheap reclamation project. I don’t get sacrificing draft picks and a QB of at least comparable quality to take him on at a huge cap hit at all, and obviously nothing he did yesterday changes my mind.
- Let’s pretend Byron Maxwell is a #1 corner rather than a decent player who looks really good next to three better players in the Legion of Boom Kelly paid $63 million for Byron Maxwell. Julio Jones caught 9 passes for 141 yards and 2 TDS. Jones has torched a lot of guys, of course, but Maxwell remains a solid #2 corner at best getting paid like he’s Darelle Revis.
Maybe this game will prove to be an outlier. I think it’s much more likely that as a personnel guy Chip Kelly is a very fine offensive tactician.