2014 Draft in Review

This will probably be my last post before I go into summer hibernation to work on my receiver model. I was going to review the first round pf the draft, but that’s been done to death at this point. There isn’t much to be gained from rehashing all the details. Instead, I only want to talk about two teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns.

Minnesota Vikings

Regular readers know that the Vikings are my team. They’re the team I grew up watching and the logo  on the blanket currently draping my couch. So when the Vikings traded up back into the first round, I reacted emotionally. The reaction was about the trade-up, not the actual pick itself. I was worried the Vikings had learned the wrong lesson from their experience in the draft last year.

Last year, the Vikings gave up a number of picks to move back into the first round and make a third selection in the first round. For doing this, they were applauded, given high post-draft marks, and given general kudos all around. The problem is that the actual move was a terrible one. And the reason the 2013 trade was terrible was the number of picks they gave up to make it. Every single credible analyst has shown that the way to get the most value out of the draft is to make more picks (see this new, inventive analysis showing how number of picks predicts total draft value). So the psychological problem is a problem of reinforcement. The Vikings made a move. In the short term, they were told that this move was a great idea. However, the negative consequences of the move they made will either never be realized because the Patriots rarely play the Vikings, or they won’t be felt for three to four years down the road, which is far too long to learn something from reinforcement. And not only that, but the Vikings got incredibly lucky that their target in the trade up is showing promise as a wide receiver and kick returner. All this is positive reinforcement for making a trade up more likely in the future.

I was worried that the Vikings had learned the wrong lesson from their experience last year. I was worried they were going to give up a two to three picks to move back up into the first round as they did last year and then not recoup those picks in the later part of the draft. I’m very happy to say I was wrong. At the end of the draft the Vikings had made, by my count, the 4th most picks of any team in the draft. That’s a path to success through the draft if ever there was one.

As for the actual pick itself, I don’t mind the Vikings picking Bridgewater. My model isn’t precise enough to get upset about a difference between a predicted passer rating of 80 vs. 75. Good luck to the Vikings in the 2014 season.

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are run by Blitzwing from Transformers: Animated. If you don’t know Transformers, Blitzwing is a triple-changer. He has forms of a jet, a tank, and a robot. To drive home the “triple” metaphor, the character has three distinct personalities. One of them is cunning, cold, and calculating, one of them is emotional and explosive, and one is completely wack-a-doodle. Or, as my 4-year-old nephew named them, Smart, Dumb, and Scary.

 photo blitzwing.jpgAny move the Browns make seems to fit into one of these three categories and you can never tell which personality is going to be in control for any specific decision. They achieve great outcomes, but project this image of ineptitude. They do really smart things to set up the situation in their favor, but then bungle the execution.  You could do Homer-Buying-the-Cursed-Krusty-Doll for an entire day with this team.

They commissioned a $100,000 study that (supposedly) said Bridgewater was the best quarterback in the draft.

That’s good!

They released the results of that study before the draft.

That’s bad.

They entered the draft with 10 selections.

That’s good!

They ended the draft selecting 6 players.

That’s bad.

They traded down with the Bills and secured picks in future drafts.

That’s good!

They gave up a pick to move one spot up.

That’s bad.

They selected Manziel with the 22nd pick.

That’s good!

They outbid three other teams to trade up to get there.

That’s bad.

They signed Joe Haden, one of the best DB’s in the league to a big contract.

That’s good!

They also signed Miles Austin, a 30-year-old, oft injured wide receiver who hasn’t been productive since 2010.

That’s bad.

But he came with a free frogurt.

That’s good!

The frogurt is also cursed.

Can I go now?

How can a franchise make such good decisions at one time and such bad decisions 15 minutes later? Being run by a robot in disguise with dissociative identity disorder is the only possibility I could come up with.

A Viking, a Jet, and a Mountaineer walk into a bar…

As I was watching the Vikings-Packers game last weekend, a strange thing happened.  I agreed completely with Troy Aikman.  He was talking about the Viking’s struggles in the passing game and mentioned that the Viking’s receivers were simply not winning the one-on-one battles.  This meant that Christian Ponder had nowhere to throw the ball and therefore couldn’t complete any passes.

I’ve already mentioned my take on the Viking’s problems, and that assessment hasn’t changed.  With Percy Harvin out for the season, the Viking’s are likely to struggle in the passing game for the rest of the season.  However, the fault won’t be with Christian Ponder, who is still above average in terms of completing passes to the Viking’s set of receivers.

What about the newest quarterback controversy in New York.  The Jets are under considerable fan pressure to bench Mark Sanchez.  What does the model say?  Is Mark Sanchez to blame for the Jets’ struggles?  This question is more difficult to answer than you might think, but only because of historical coincidence.  My model relies on historical data to observe how performance changes when receivers, quarterbacks, and offensive systems change.  Mark Sanchez and the current Jets coaching staff have never been separate from one another.  Rex Ryan’s staff has never had a different quarterback and Mark Sanchez has never worked within a different offensive system in the NFL.  So, while the model can identify that the problem in New York isn’t a receiver problem, it can’t separate the quarterback from the Jets offensive system (if anyone knows of a good site for seeing historical lists of offensive coordinators and play callers, please let me know in the comments).

What does this all have to do with a Mountaineer?  Well, it’s a lot easier to separate offensive system from quarterback in the NCAA because the quarterbacks turn over so quickly.  This turns our attention to Geno Smith, the current consensus #1 pick.  How much of Geno Smith’s success is due to the West Virginia offensive system?  How much is due to Geno’s quarterbacking ability?  Sadly, the answer is that everything that makes Geno Smith an above average NCAA quarterback is attributable to the West Virginia offensive system.  Geno Smith’s Career CAA is only 3.78.  In his entire NCAA career, he has only completed 3.78 passes that an average NCAA quarterback wouldn’t have completed.  The rest of the success comes from the coach.

I find it strange that no one is talking about this, given that Dana Holgorsen made a name for himself as an offensive coaching specialist.  My model says that there is nothing unique about Geno Smith.  Any average NCAA quarterback dropped into the West Virginia offensive system would perform just as well.  I hope someone with decision making power recognizes this before heaping a load of expectations onto him and turning him into the next JaMarcus Russell.  The new rookie wage scale will limit the damage, but Geno Smith is not likely to be the answer for the Kansas City Chiefs or any other team in the market for a quarterback.

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