Monthly Archives: April 2015

Final 2015 SPARQ Update

SPARQ is now fully updated for 2015. These are now available in a Google Doc embed on the rankings page.

The advantage of the new format is that it’s possible to use the find function (CTRL-F on PC, Command-F on a Mac) to locate a given player. These documents will be updated during the draft as players are selected.

The rankings are also now available in PDF form for those who prefer a hard copy, listed below as well as on the rankings page.

All Players, All Positions

Top 300 Overall

Combine Invitees Only

Offense: Quarterback, Running Back, Fullback, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Line

Defense: Defensive Line, EDGE, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety

-ZW

The “Seahawky” OL in the 2015 NFL Draft

I covered the 2015 corners on Monday, and now we’re back for a quick look at the 2015 offensive line group. Note that there are no significant comparisons available in the 2015 class for J.R. Sweezy or Russell Okung.

While Seattle’s been wildly successful at converting late-round defensive backs into stars, the offensive line hasn’t been quite as successful. I’ll stage a quick defense of their recent OL draft strategy:

Their late-round OL picks have worked out relative to expectation. J.R. Sweezy is a tremendous seventh-round pick, Michael Bowie contributed as a rookie (and is now with another team), and Ryan Seymour is going into his third NFL season (albeit with another team as well). Those are successful picks. Garrett Scott’s medical retirement ended his career before he had a chance to prove himself. Jared Smith struggled with knee issues and never lasted in Seattle. Bottom-line: the Seahawks are 3-1-1 on 7th round OL picks. That’s good.

James Carpenter was never the star that the first-round selection warranted, but he was good enough to get a second NFL contract. The third-round selection of John Moffitt is the franchise’s biggest draft error at OL under the current regime.

That leaves only Justin Britt and Russell Okung, the latter of whom is a good player. Britt’s a popular target of criticism, but I’m reserving judgment until we see his second season.

The point is that Seattle’s missed a few times, but they also haven’t invested a ton of draft capital in the line, particularly over the last 3 years. It doesn’t help that they tend to pursue linemen who specialize in the run game, and it’s probably easier to point out errors in pass protection.

Roster Mirroring

There are five offensive linemen with confirmed visits to the VMAC this month: Tennessee State’s Robert Myers, Florida’s Chaz Green, West Virginia’s Mark Glowinski, Virginia Tech’s Laurence Gibson, and Colorado State’s Ty Sambrailo. These names will come up again.

Justin Britt, 2nd round, 2014

Comps: Duke’s Laken Tomlinson, Texas A&M’s Jarvis Harrison

britt

Guys like Idaho’s Jesse Davis, Penn State’s Donovan Smith, and Buffalo’s Andre Davis are also in Britt’s general zip code, but Tomlinson and Harrison are better comparisons. I’ve noted a few times that Britt profiles more as a guard, and this kind of analysis is why. Note that Britt was an 89 simScore comp to Paul McQuistan last year, a near-identical match. This is a profile Seattle’s acquired a few times now.

Tomlinson is interesting. He’s projected to go in the second round, and Seattle doesn’t pick until 63. Taking a guard probably isn’t my first choice, but Tomlinson is probably the best at that position in this range. I’d talk myself into the selection in about 20 minutes, give or take.

Jarvis Harrison has a ton of potential and is a great athlete, but showed up late to his pro day and there are questions about his “want-to”. It’s difficult to see that being attractive to Peter Clay Carroll and I’d guess Harrison may be left off the Seattle draft board entirely.

James Carpenter, 1st round, 2011

Comps: Florida’s Chaz Green, Duke’s Takoby Cofield

carp

Chaz Green visited the VMAC last week, so the athletic comp to Carpenter becomes a little more interesting. He’s nearly identical to Carp except for the 8 second 3-cone, which definitely makes a future at tackle seem dubious. I could see Green as a late-round option at left guard.

I have no idea what a Takoby Cofield is.

Jared “Fat Rabbit” Smith, 7th round, 2013

Comps: Hobart’s Ali Marpet, Illinois State’s Michael Liedtke, Connecticut’s B.J. McBryde

fat rabbit

Drafted as a center, Fat Rabbit never got off the ground in Seattle, spending more time on the IR list than on the practice field. Still, that kind of athletic interior lineman is a profile that Seattle’s consistently sought after, and center is a position that the team will need to address with the departure of Max Unger.

Ali Marpet is awesome and would likely be an awesome value proposition… if he hadn’t been invited to the NFL Combine in February. Even coming from D-III Hobart, Marpet is projected to go in the 2nd-3rd range. He’s SPARQ-y and could probably play center, but it ain’t coming cheap.

B.J. McBryde might factor into Seahawk DL-to-OL shenanigans. Freak athlete with 35″+ arms, little draft buzz at his college position, and the exact profile Seattle’s hit before. The Eagles will probably draft him a few picks ahead of where the Seahawks have him slotted, just like we saw with Beau Allen last year.

Michael Liedtke has a wrestling background, which Tom Cable’s been known to like in the past. I know nothing about him on the field, but he’s presumably a UDFA candidate.

Michael Bowie, 7th round, 2013

Comps: Tennessee State’s Robert Myers

bowie

Michael Bowie represents one of the lesser athletes drafted by Seattle under Carroll and Schneider. He was claimed off waivers by Cleveland last offseason after a shoulder injury, leading to a release with injury designation. It’s interesting that Carroll then fueled speculation by noting his dissatisfaction with Bowie’s weight, and it may be that those issues are part of the reason for his poor pre-draft testing.

Whatever the reason for his Seattle departure, he wasn’t terrible as a rookie, and that’s a good result from a 7th-round draft pick. I noted last preseason that Bowie profiled better as a guard, and Robert Myers is pretty much Michael Bowie as a guard. Combine that with his recent visit to the VMAC and I could see him in rookie camp, whether as a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent. Most Seattle offensive linemen have been very athletic, but the LG position has tended to be more about mass than explosiveness.

Ryan Seymour, 7th round, 2014

Comps: West Virginia’s Mark Glowinski, Cincinnati’s Tyreek Burwell, Hobart’s Ali Marpet

seymour

Seymour wasn’t anything special as a Seahawk, but he ended last season on the Cleveland active roster and is heading into his third NFL season. He even drew a little praise among Browns fans late last year, and that’s a positive result for the 7th-round 2013 pick.

VMAC visitor Glowinski is a very close comp to Seymour, and he just feels like a Day 3 Seahawk pick. Burwell is the athletic OL option in UDFA, much like Garry Gilliam in 2014.

Garry Gilliam, UDFA, 2014

Comps: Virginia Tech’s Laurence Gibson

gilliam

Garry Gilliam and Laurence Gibson aren’t much different. Gibson’s projected in the 6th, which is just about right. The biggest knock on him is that he’s already 24.

With Gibson also having visited the Seahawks this April, 4 of their 5 visits are the top 2015 comparisons to former Seattle draft picks. Roster mirroring is real.

Other Fits

There are a ton of OL in the draft, but there are a few that stand out to me a little bit.

otherOL.0.png

A.J. Cann, Hroniss Grasu, T.J. Clemmings

Projected Round: 2nd

Clemmings is probably not available at 63, but they did discover a stress fracture in his foot on a recent team visit. If he freefalls on draft day, look out. Cann and Grasu are both SPARQ’d-up interior OL choice that will command a pretty high price, much like Tomlinson. Again, if Seattle does go interior OL early, this group seems the most likely.

I added a number of centers onto the list, but I’ve only watched Shaq Mason. He’s my first choice among mid-round centers. Hamilton, Easton, and Reiter round out the SPARQ-y group.

Boston College DL Brian Mihalik is 6’9″ and extremely athletic. It seems like there might end up being some buzz about him at OT, just going from the raw profile.

Buffalo’s Kristjan Sokoli is a freak of nature and would be the most Seahawks OL-to-DL convert of them all. It seems almost too obvious to actually happen in real life. He’d also be the 6th 3 Sigma Athlete in the NFL if converted to OL.

–ZW

The “Seahawky” cornerbacks in the 2015 NFL Draft

I wrote about roster mirroring last August, and then again last week when the Philadelphia Eagles’ GM spoke publicly about a similar process. Seattle often likes to acquire athletes very similar to ones they’ve selected before, and it’s possible to profile the 2015 class through the lens of current LOB members. We’ll take a little look back at past Seahawk draft picks and see who in the current crop of draft DBs seems to fit the Seattle M.O. While players like Byron Jones and Eric Rowe are personal favorites and fit the Seahawk profile well, they won’t be available at 63. I’ll mainly focus on those with at least an outside chance at making it to 63.

Seahawk defensive backs are typically unique in profile, even if their overall athleticism places them in in the middle of the pack. I define this uniqueness by UQI, explained here. There aren’t many corners who fit the athletic profile and fulfill the height and length requirements.

A brief aside on the length requirement: arm length measurements vary substantially by source. It’s possible that someone with a 31.5″ public measurement is listed at 32″ or great in Seattle’s database. We have no way of knowing. We do know that all Seahawk corners drafted in the Carroll and Schneider era have had public arm length measurements of 32″ or greater.

There are no significant comps for Kam Chancellor or Byron Maxwell in this class. Walter Thurmond was injured in the pre-draft process and doesn’t have the numbers necessary to make an athletic comparison.

Richard Sherman, 5th round, 2011

Comps: Curtis Riley

CurtisRiley

There are three basic ways to emphasize text in Microsoft Word: underlining, bolding, and italicizing. Sure, there’s highlighting, changing the font color, etc., but those three are really the foundation. Curtis Riley’s name should be bolded, underlined, italicized, and written in 40-pt font. This is a Seahawk corner, the epitome of a Seahawk corner.

Richard Sherman is good at football, and obviously not all of it is down to his athletic profile. Much of his success is due to his freakish ability to digest information, recognize patterns in offensive formations and plays, and WR-esque ball skills. Still, his athleticism is fairly underrated, as he’s a very good athlete relative to other NFL corners. His best traits are his great jumps, 3-cone, and length, all of which combine to make him effective both in the slot and outside. He possesses the length and vertical ability to completely shut down fade routes while also drawing critical third-down assignments against Tavon Austin-types in the slot. He’s good at football.

Curtis Riley is Richard Sherman minus 2.5 inches of height, and his Seahawk-iness doesn’t stop there.

Jeremy Lane, 6th round, 2012

Comps: Curtis Riley, Alex Carter

JeremyLane

Curtis Riley, underlined, bolded, italicized. 40-point font. Riley is projected as a 6th-7th round draft pick.

Sherman and Lane aren’t themselves significant athletic comparisons, but Riley exists between the two. He moves like Sherman while being built like Lane, and is in the same athletic range as both. This is the Seahawk corner, the 32″ arms, athletic profile that significantly matches Seattle’s two best 2015 cornerbacks, and likely ability to play both inside and out.

Of course, the ability to play football is important. There’s only limited tape available, but both Jared Stanger and I agree that what’s out there is promising. It’s a case of missing data, and we don’t know nearly enough about Riley’s psychological evaluation or have enough game tape available to judge on Riley’s potential. However, the data that we do have leads me to believe that they’ll be very interested.

Alex Carter won’t turn 21 until after the start of the 2015 season. He’s young, talented, and projected to go on the second day of the draft. I’d guess that he starts at boundary corner but may eventually be able to move inside, like Maxwell and Sherman. This selection seems less likely as Seattle would probably have to invest one of their first two picks on Carter.

Lane has a few more player comps, but P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby don’t meet the typical 32″ arm length requirements.

Tharold Simon, 5th round, 2013

Comps: Julian Wilson, Tray Walker

JulianWilson

I almost hesitate to bring Simon up. He’s a bit of a lightning rod for Seahawks fans after the Super Bowl, when he was burned repeatedly by Julian Edelman. There are a few points that are relevant here:

  • Tom Brady and Julian Edelman are good.
  • Tharold Simon was drafted in the 5th round. Just being on the 2015 roster is better than a lot of 2013 5th rounders. Seattle’s hit rate on late corners has been insane, and Simon struggling doesn’t mean the profile is necessarily bad or that the strategy is poor. It’s one individual, and our expectations are skewed from the incredible success of Sherman and the gang.
  • We don’t know that Tharold Simon is a bust. He was 23 in XLIX; Byron Maxwell was 26 when he began active service in the LOB.

With that noted, there are two safeties and two corners who closely resemble Simon. Julian Wilson is the first key name here, an Oklahoma cornerback with the speed, length, and vertical ability that Schneider and Carroll value in their outside corners. Wilson has repeatedly been described as “imposing” by draft writers. He’s big, fast, and projected as a 7th rounder or undrafted.

Tray Walker is also interesting, his 33-5/8″ arm length ranking first in the class at corner. Though he weighs less than Tharold, his body type and athletic profile are strikingly similar. This feels every bit like a 5th-round Seahawk boundary corner. Hat tip to Jared Stanger for finding Walker back late last year.

Earl Thomas, 1st round, 2010

Comps: Kyshoen Jarrett, Steven Nelson

StevenNelson

I really like Steven Nelson, so I figured I’d include ET when I saw this comparison pop up. While Seattle isn’t looking for a new starting free safety, they did bring in the athletic comp I noted last year in pre-draft, so it wouldn’t be overly surprising to see them do the same with Nelson or Jarrett. Nelson is projected to go in the 3rd or 4th and Jarrett the 6th.

Steven Nelson is also a significant athletic comp for Mark Legree, drafted by the Seahawks at free safety in 2011. It’s a profile the Seahawks have hit twice in the draft, and Nelson offers the cover ability to function as a nickel/safety hybrid. With the acquisition of the short-armed Marcus Burley last September, Seattle’s restrictions on inside corners may be relaxed from a few years ago, when the highly-wingspanned Lane and Thurmond were drafted. The success of Seattle corners has certainly been influential in the draft process, and the influx of Edelman-type receivers and steeper cost of long corners could result in a change in Seahawk philosophy.

Other Possible Fits

There are other corners who fit the loose requirements of Seahawk-iness without conforming closely to a specific Seahawk. The following table shows the players who meet the typical parameters, sorted by NFLDraftScout.net’s projected draft position.

OtherCorners

Jalen Collins, LSU

Projected Round: 1st-2nd

The Seahawks traded the 31st pick for Flight End Jimmy Graham, so Collins is a long-shot. I include him as there were rumors of multiple failed drug tests at LSU that surfaced last week. The timing of the leak makes me believe that it’s someone trying to drive his value down, but if he were to fall, it’s an obvious pick at 63.

Adrian Amos, Penn State

Projected Round: 2nd-3rd

Amos played both corner and safety at Penn State and is an obvious Seahawk candidate. He has length, a solid build, and ranks among the elite DB athletes in the class. If Seattle does spend an early pick on a DB, Amos offers the athleticism and hybrid inside/outside ability that could justify the higher cost.

Ryan Murphy, Oregon State

Projected Round: 7th-UDFA

Ryan Murphy played safety at OSU, so it’s a projection to put him at outside corner. As someone who watches a lot of Oregon State football, he’s excellent at football while also testing as one of the better athletes in the class.

Robertson Daniel, BYU

Projected Round: 7th-UDFA

Robertson Daniel is awesome. A possible VMAC visitor, the 6’1″/209/32-1/4″ profile is picture perfect for a Seahawk corner. While bench press is not something that I view with great significance, the 24 reps he put up is impressive and indicative of his physique. He’s a freak and currently projected in the 7th round.

Among the others, Akeem King visited Seattle recently and like profiles as a boundary corner in Seattle. Nick Marshall was Auburn’s quarterback for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but played defensive back earlier in his college career and meets all criteria. I know nothing about Brian Suite except that the Seahawks have drafted from Utah State before and he ticks all the boxes. Travis Lee is 172 pounds but still might be a camp body type.

The Philadelphia Eagles and analytics

Chip Kelly recently pulled off somewhat of a coup in Philadelphia, taking control of the front office shortly after the 2014 regular season ended. With former GM Howie Roseman re-assigned to deal more with contracts and cap, Kelly promoted the 31-year-old Ed Marynowitz to VP of player personnel. The excellent Sheil Kapadia profiled Marynowitz today, and much of what he said echoed the philosophy that Seattle’s built under Pete Carroll and John Schneider. I recommend reading Kapadia’s excellent article before continuing as I’m only going to highlight a few passages here.

“This is a size/speed league. [Nick Saban and his staff at Alabama] believed the SEC was a size/speed league. There’s enough statistical data that will support that in terms of players that are playing at a high level. There’s a certain prototype.”

A large portion of the best players in the league are also great athletes. As I detailed a few weeks ago, the 4 current 3 sigma athletes in the NFL are all excellent players. This is anecdotal evidence, but the idea holds up under more rigorous scrutiny. There are not many elite non-QBs who test poorly.

Marynowitz worked for Saban at Alabama before coming to Philadelphia in 2011, and he details their philosophy below.

“So there’s a certain prototype at each position. We try to build the same thing here, whether it’s at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, corner, safety. There’s a prototype, and there’s a model that fits what we do.”

I’ve written before about the Seahawks and prototypes, an application that I refer to as “roster mirroring.” If the backups on a team fit into the same athletic class and build as the starters, then the scheme used to maximize the strengths of the starters should also serve the players waiting on the bench. Next Man Up works much better when the incoming player resembles the starter they’re replacing.

Marynowitz also spoke on a general height/weight/speed model and trimming the draft pool of potential Eagles, summing it up with the following quote:

“If you have seven draft picks, do you really want to waste one, especially in the top three rounds, on a guy that history is telling you… typically these guys with these types of measurables don’t produce at this level?”

As Chris Brown tweeted, this is an application of Bayesian reasoning, which you can read about here.

The application of athletic comparisons is frequently debated, but this quote does a good job of relating how they should be used. There are between 2000 and 3000 players who test at either the NFL Combine or pro days during the pre-draft season. The idea is to take the best possible bet, and if a certain prospect has athletic comparisons that show significant issues at the NFL level, I’d prefer to move on to the next player.

We don’t have to be right about every player. Missing on a prospect who ends up overcoming the odds is frustrating, but it happens. I’m more concerned about not being wrong, and that means thinning the pool of possible selections. As Maryonowtiz notes, the Eagles only have around 150 players on their final draft board.

The specific approach can shrink the pool of potential prospects, but Kelly, Marynowitz and others find more danger in trying to gamble on exceptions.

Pete Carroll has spoken before along the lines of “if you keep making exceptions, your whole team ends up being made of exceptions.” Notably, Seattle and Philadelphia had 2014’s two highest-ranked SPARQ rosters by my pSPARQ calculations.

This is less about individual evaluations and more about macro-level team roster strategy. As I wrote in my first post on this blog, a large group of superior athletes will ultimately perform better than a large group of averages athletes. Analytics matter most when used over a large number of decisions, the small percentages adding up to meaningful and significant added value. By generally selecting players from an athletic pool and taking fewer shots on the exceptions, it’s possible to obtain more value in the long run.

Marynowitz did note that exceptions aren’t necessarily discarded from the board, but that they “better be exceptional in a lot of other areas” to be considered.

Kapadia goes on to interview Marynowitz about how the team views scheme fit and culture in prospect evaluation. It’s excellent and well worth taking the time to read if you ignored my advice at the start of this article. I’ll link it again so that you don’t even have to scroll up: http://www.phillymag.com/birds247/2015/04/23/marynowitz-eagles-taking-three-pronged-approach/.

The article makes clear that analytics don’t make every decision in the Philadelpha front office; still, the Eagles do subscribe to an analytical ideology which plays a significant role in shaping their draft board and roster composition.

——-

I’ll be back next week with the final SPARQ update and a few articles searching out roster mirroring candidates for Seattle in the upcoming draft.

3SA on the Process the Process Podcast

I appeared on Josh Norris’ excellent Process the Process podcast back in February. I really enjoyed talking with Josh about analytics, SPARQ, pro days vs. the NFL Combine, and the ways that data can be used to aid in the draft process. We also got into some fun stuff at the end about data that the NFL is likely using that isn’t available to the public.

This is probably the best distillation of my thoughts about the whole draft process. You can listen over at Rotoworld: http://www.rotoworld.com/articles/cfb/52478/461/norris-podcast-episode-seven

–ZW

A quick note on Davis Tull, the outlier

Davis Tull and Vic Beasley both performed very, very well at the NFL Combine in February. While Beasley’s freak show fueled top-5 talk, we still aren’t entirely sure what to make of Tull. A defensive end with a 1.52 10-split, 42.5″ vertical, and 11′ broad jump just sounds like a high draft pick. But those numbers from a player who competed in the Southern Conference and whose arms measured in at 31-1/4″? There’s a lot more to unpack there.

Tull recently described himself as a late-bloomer, which meant that he wasn’t recruited by elite college programs out of high school. A broken leg during his senior year led him to end up a Chattanooga Moc, where he three-peated as the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year. Even with the production at UTC, he wasn’t well-known before he blew up Indianapolis. Well, a few people had an inkling, but he was largely anonymous.

(I am shameless. Sorry, gang.)

I don’t have a clear answer for what to make of Davis Tull, mainly because we haven’t seen a Davis Tull before. His arm length of 31-1/4″ is extremely short for the position, existing in a range for which we have almost no data. Is it possible for an EDGE player to succeed with an arm length more typical of a running back than a pass rushers?

The arm length concern isn’t completely unheard of in the NFL, with both Matt Roth (30-7/8″ arm length) and Rob Ninkovich (31-1/2″) representing successful pass rushers with limited wingspan. Still, only six EDGE players have even been drafted since 1999 with an arm length less than 31-3/4″, as shown in the following table.

TULL

We can see pretty clearly that there’s no Davis Tull on that list, with the top player maxing out at a 0.9 z-score. This is really the problem; it’s tough to make smart predictions about players who fall so far outside of the typical distribution. Data analysis relies upon identifying trends and exploiting them to find value, but there’s no trend with a Davis Tull. He’s the rarest of prospects, the kind that’s unique in my 17-year prospect database.

Davis Tull has the second-highest pSPARQ of any EDGE player from 1999 to present. This isn’t just another good athlete from a small school; Tull is Combine Godzilla, ready to wreck buildings and offensive linemen with equal aplomb and impossibly short arms.

In Ninkovich and Roth, we have at least enough data to suggest that the “can’t have short arms” hypothesis might be flawed. Tull is a great, very-great, super-great athlete, the kind of rare athlete for whom we bend the rules. And even in the case that he ends up unable to make an impact as a pass rusher, he has the athleticism to play SAM linebacker in a base defense, a la Bruce Irvin for the Seahawks.

There’s trepidation about the arm length, small school pedigree, and bum shoulder, all of which are pretty terrifying. Tull is projected as a third-round prospect and would probably be projected in the first round without the questions about his health, pedigree, and frame. While all three of those issues have been overcome before, but this is a case where three negative indicators are stacked on top of each other. He’s in the discount bin for a reason, and it’s not entirely unreasonable.

Even knowing all of that, I find myself hoping that Tull ends up playing for my Seattle Seahawks. Damn the torpedoes; bring me Combine Godzilla.

–ZW