How the NFL’s Best are Telling us Tight Ends are Undervalued

by Warren Sharp

The salary-cap era of the NFL has always been a tale of class structure.  But not about rich or poor, since teams can’t merely outspend limitlessly.  Its about intelligent and unintelligent.  The teams who make the smart decision about player acquisition (draft, free agency) and player retention typically find themselves at the top year in and year out.  Certainly there is the element of the new CBA and the desire to obtain cheap labor in reasonable first year contracts, thus, collecting a lot of draft picks (as discussed in my FOX Sports piece).  But let’s merely discuss key positions, and one in particular.  Obviously the most important piece is the quarterback.  More than skill positions, a sound offensive line can make a good QB great enough for one season to win a Super Bowl.  But I’d argue that the tight end is a more important weapon than the running back or wide receiver positions.

Part of the reason is supply and demand.  While no doubt there are special talents at all skill positions in the NFL and each position experiences drop off at some point, the drop off from elite tight end to average tight end occurs the fastest.  How many tight ends in the NFL are truly ridiculous talents?  And how many are simply adequate players who get usage simply because the tight end position is a key position which many offenses can utilize effectively against a defense?

The New England Patriots have the NFL’s best tight end:  Rob Gronkowski.  This past offseason, they traded for another solid tight end in Martellus Bennett.  The rich get richer.  The Packers decided to go out on a rare limb to sign a free agent in tight end Jared Cook, which tells you how important the tight end is for Green Bay, considering they rarely sign free agents.  The Pittsburgh Steelers similarly made a move to bring in Ladarius Green, the former Charger, to take over for Heath Miller.  When three of the best NFL franchises make moves to acquire tight ends via free agency or by trading away draft picks, it should turn on a light bulb for you, if it already wasn’t on.

The Washington Redskins decided that contracts aren’t getting any cheaper, and in a franchise year for Kirk Cousins this year, (which will help the team decide if they want to hold onto Kirk for years to come) tight end Jordan Reed could see a lot of usage.  So the team signed Reed to a five year, $46.75M contract before he became an unrestricted free agent next spring.  This gives Reed the 3rd highest average TE salary, joining Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski in the top 5.  But the contract’s cap hit doesn’t go crazy until year 3 (2018).  Until then, Reed hits the 2016 cap for $3.4M (19th most for a TE) and the 2017 cap for $5.8M (13th most for a TE).  Compare those numbers to some of the other TE contracts for players far less skilled, such as the Colts Dwayne Allen (hits the cap for $8.9M in 2016 and $6M in 2017) or the Lions Brandon Pettigrew (hits the cap for $4.65M in 2016 and $5.35M in 2017) and you can see this won’t really stretch the Redskins too thin at the position until 2018.

So what does Reed do that made the Redskins decide he was worth keeping long term for a hefty total?  For one, its his hands.  The 6’2″, ~240 lb tight end from the Florida Gators has the best hands the NFL has seen, not just from a tight end, but from any receiver over the last decade.  For any receiver (TE or WR), Reed has the best catch rate in the last 10 years, and its not particularly close:

reed catch rateAnd these are career numbers, not just 2015 from Kirk Cousins.  It includes over 100 passes from Colt McCoy and Robert Griffin III.  Yet that didn’t matter for Reed. Nor did it matter that due to injuries in 2013 and 2014, he was in and out of the lineup and couldn’t develop real consistency with any QB.  If you notice, most of the top players on the above list had perennial Pro-Bowl and/or Super Bowl-winning QBs throwing them passes:  Jermichael Finley (2nd) and Randall Cobb (4th) from Aaron Rodgers; Jason Witten (3rd) from Tony Romo; Steve Smith (5th) and Odell Beckham (6th) from Eli Manning; Wes Welker (7th) and Julian Edelman (11th) from Tom Brady and some from Peyton Manning.  Catching 78% of all passes is obscene.  It’s ridiculous.

Second, its his importance to what GM Scot McCloughan and HC Jay Gruden envision the passing game heading in the future.  Last year, apart from Cousins, there was no more important player to the Redskins than Jordan Reed.  Teams up at halftime win at an exceptional rate, and the Redskins led at halftime in 11 games.  Only two teams led more often at halftime:  The Panthers and Bengals.  The Redskins 11 games up at halftime tied with the Patriots, Seahawks and Cardinals.  And a big part of the reason for their halftime lead was Jordan Reed.

Below is a look at directional passing success in the first half in opposing territory.  Its evident how often Reed was targeted, and how successful the Redskins were when targeting him:

Reed stats in 1H in opp side of fieldIn fact, collectively, when targeting Jordan Reed in the 1st half in opposing territory, Kirk Cousins went 28/33 (85%), 10 yds/att, 7 TD : 0 INT and a 149 passer rating.  When targeting everyone else, Cousins had a 110 passer rating (which is still very good).  Combined, Cousins’ passer rating was 129, the very best in the NFL.

The above infographic is color coded to depict success, and the Reed line looks strikingly similar to another key tight end:  Rob Gronkowski.  In that while Reed’s numbers are slightly better, its clear that even though both are tight ends, their usage all over the field, sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone, is a constant weapon.  And even though the Redskins have deep threat DeSean Jackson, in the above situation (1st half in opposing territory) Reed was used more on deep passes than even Jackson.

NE stats in 1H on opp side of fieldIts not just Reed’s direct ability to utilize his incredible hands and skilled running ability for a bigger player, but its his ability to win battles which at times result in better opportunities for other players.  As a result, when Reed wasn’t on the field last year, Cousins posted just a 73 passer rating and a 5 TD : 7 INT ratio.  But when Reed was on the field, the defense had to adjust, and Cousins posted a 112 passer rating with a 24 TD : 4 INT ratio.

Like most of the smart teams, the Redskins decided to lock up a game changing tight end.  One who can line up as a traditional tight end or in the slot or as an outside receiver.  This allows the Redskins to do many things, but a key element is to enable the offense to operate at a faster pace.  In Cousins’ first season at the helm, the Redskins were exceedingly slow.  They were the 2nd slowest tempo team in the NFL in the first half, and 3rd slowest overall.  But, when trailing by 7 or more points, their pace rocketed up to 10th in the NFL.  When trailing, the Redskins passed the ball on 72% of play calls (3rd most often in the NFL) and over 22% of those attempts went to Reed, which Cousins turned into 63% completions, a 5 TD : 0 INT ratio and a 110 rating.

The Redskins would be wise to operate faster in situations to keep tired defenses on the field on extended drives, which would improve the offense’s efficiency even more.  And with Reed’s ability to stay on the field and play multiple positions, it gives the Redskins the option to reduce substitutions and increase the tempo.  I would be shocked if the Redskins did not play faster in 2016, particularly because they will be in for a difficult season going up against the 4th most difficult schedule (in part due to their 1st place finish in the NFC East in 2015).

Despite the tight end position being such a boon for offenses, and basketball players crossing over to the NFL with success (see Tony Gonzalez & Antonio Gates as some of the patriarchs), the NFL still lacks an abundance of multi-dimensional talent at the position.  The Carolina Panthers just went to the Super Bowl with a tight end (Greg Olsen) as their best receiver.  The Patriots won it the year before with Rob Gronkowski.  While the Redskins are forecast to come back to earth in a big way in 2016, with current odds showing them struggling to even finish 8-8, locking up Jordan Reed long term as a key difference maker for whichever QB is under center in DC is the right move.

Redskins GM Scot McCloughan was previously GM in Seattle.  Seattle locked up Jimmy Graham.  As previously mentioned, the Patriots, Packers and Steelers locked up tight ends this offseason as well.  Add to that list the Baltimore Ravens adding Benjamin Watson.  Between those teams and their GMs, you literally have the some of the best of the best in the NFL.  Personnel guys who “get it”.  Bill Belichick, Scot McCloughan, Ted Thompson, Kevin Colbert, Ozzie Newsome, John Schneider.  And they “got” tight ends either this year or last year.  And these are not teams accustomed to outbidding or overspending.  But perhaps they see the market for solid tight ends is undervalued right now, and these elite difference makers are well worth it.  Time will tell.  But when so many of the very best have made the similar moves after coming to similar conclusions, its unwise to think  contrarian of their strategy.

The 2nd round is no PLACE for a KICKER

by Warren Sharp

First let me say I hope I’m wrong.  I hope place kicker Roberto Aguayo has a tremendous NFL career.  I hope this move isn’t the one for which Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Jason Licht is infamously remembered.  But when you break the full scope of the move down, as I do below, the nicest way to possibly put a trade up to the 2nd round to draft a kicker ahead of teams that would never contemplate drafting a kicker in the 2nd round, is highly questionable.

The Buccaneers traded the 74th and 106th selections to the Chiefs in exchange for the 59th selection.  From this perspective alone, the trade was a value-loser for the Bucs according to the AV-based model from Football Perspective.

But this move was bad from so many different perspectives:

Trading into the 2nd round moved them ahead of teams who know how to draft and know what to do with valuable picks, such as the Patriots, Panthers and Broncos.  Do we really think that those teams would have drafted a kicker?  For the Patriots, the team the Bucs jumped directly in front of, it was their first pick in the entire draft due to losing their first round pick for Deflategate.  It would be a cold day in hell before Bill Belichick used his first pick in a NFL draft to draft a kicker.

If one were attempting to defend this move, one of the best pieces of evidence that they could present would be a run on kickers getting drafted in the 3rd round, and that Tampa Bay’s move got them the best of the bunch.  But there was no run on kickers in the 3rd round.  Or the 4th round.  Or the 5th round.  Or the 6th round.  Or the 7th round.  In fact, Roberto Aguayo was the ONLY kicker drafted in the entire draft.  I’m certainly not proposing by that logic that a team could have drafted him in the 7th round.  But to trade up to the 2nd round ahead of teams who would never draft a kicker that early is laughable.

Additionally, what this tells you without a doubt is that the Buccaneers could have used a 6th round pick (they had two) to take the 2nd best kicker in the draft if they really needed a kicker (more on that later).  With an increased focus on accuracy from a kicker, are we to believe that the 2nd or 3rd best kicker in this year’s class is so steep a drop from the best kicker to warrant a 5 round gap (from 2 to 7)?

As an example, Ross Martin from Duke went 4-4 on kicks of 50+ yards this year, and the last 2 years, hit 81% (13/16), on kicks 40+ yards.  Roberto Aguayo hit 1-3 kicks of 50+ yards this year, and the last 2 years, hit 64% (14/22) on kick 40+ yards.  Both hit 100% of their extra point attempts.  Yet Martin went undrafted and the Buccaneers took Aguayo in the 2nd round after trading up. [Ross Martin signed with the Jets as an Undrafted Free Agent, costing the Jets nothing]

Next, let’s introduce some of the reasoning that is more analytics based, and let’s begin with a geographical fact that Tampa Bay is in Florida.  Being in Florida, the weather is warmer than most other NFL cities.  Per a description of the weather in the city:

Tampa, like the other two Florida teams, basically is in an atmospheric dome. The weather there is consistently nice, and the winter becomes a sort of dry season for them. They don’t average much rainfall, and their temperatures don’t drop below the 70s at all during the season.  That is basically dream weather.

TampaMTMPThe reason why weather is an important key is that it’s easier to kick field goals in warmer weather.  According to a study done by Brian Burke, field goal success rate increases as the temperature increases.  Meaning, on average, it’s easier for ALL kickers to perform in Florida than it is in Buffalo or New England.  Which is why having a great kicker in a warm climate is LESS a weapon than it would be in a cold weather city.  So in terms of winning games and having a kicking advantage, the fact that the last 5 years, the Patriots Stephen Gostkowski is banging 88% of 40-53 yard FGs in New England, while opponents they host are hitting only 68%, it is a solid edge.  But when opponents are capable of kicking the NFL average in Tampa Bay (75%), that edge per game is not as large.  Additionally, playing in the NFC South means games played in domes (ATL, NO) and in Charlotte, North Carolina, so it’s not even as if the Buccaneers can bring this weapon to get a surprising edge in a cold weather game that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

In a minute, we will cover Roberto Aguayo’s stats in detail.  But another related consideration is the vast majority of his stats are skewed to an extent because he has gained an edge virtually his whole career due to playing games in the warm Southern climate.  In fact, despite kicking for 3 years, there are only 4 games Aguayo played outdoors north of the North Carolina state line.

Field goals attempted of 30+ yards in said games:

  • @ Boston College (9/18/15) – 0/1 (missed 42 yd FG)
  • @ Louisville (10/30/14) – 0/1 (missed 41 yd FG)
  • @ Pittsburgh (9/2/13) – 0/0
  • @ Boston College (9/28/13) – 1/1 (made 40 yd FG)

This extremely small sample size over 3 years doesn’t give us much to work with, but it certainly doesn’t provide reassurance.  Aguayo has attempted just 3 FGs longer than 30 yards when outside the friendly confines of warm climates in his entire college career, and he missed two of them.  Both were less than 45 yard kicks (41, 42).  Neither were in November, December or January.  And as those from Pittsburgh, Louisville or Boston may attest to, generally September and October are pretty nice.

Of course, as I mentioned previously, Aguayo won’t have to kick in cold weather often in his career, so it may not be an issue.  But saying that he’s “been tested” in those conditions would be false, and his performance from the few games he played before the end of October in those cities did not exactly bleed confidence.

Next we move to the fact that kicking in generally is getting more reliable annually.  FiveThirtyEight did a study on it and found accuracy is increasing tremendously:

kickingThis means acquiring a talented kicker early in the draft (like Sebastian Janikowski being drafted in 2000 or Mike Nugent being drafted in 2005) would make more sense years ago than it does now.

We also must look at the replacement situation itself.  The Buccaneers current kicker is/was Connor Barth [Barth was cut Monday by the Bucs].  Let’s examine Connor Barth vs Roberto Aguayo:

Extra Points (last 4 years)

  • Aguayo = 100%
  • Barth = 99%

Less than 40 yd FGs (last 2 years)

  • Aguayo = 100%
  • Barth = 100%

Less than 40 yd FGs (last 4 years)

  • Aguayo = 100%
  • Barth = 98%

40+ yard FGs (last 2 years)

  • Aguayo = 64%
  • Barth = 63%

40+ yard FGs (last 4 years)

  • Aguayo = 72%
  • Barth = 78%

There is absolutely nothing that screams out that Aguayo will be a night and day improvement over Barth.

Part of the biggest issue with kickers is not their ability.  It’s their mentality and confidence.  Unlike virtually any other play in football, a kicker is ONLY judged on himself.  He doesn’t have to catch the snap (like a punter), the holder does that.  He doesn’t have to spin the laces, the holder does that.  All he must do is kick a (hopefully) stationary ball.  Either a kicker can or can’t perform that job adequately.  But the element that screws with them the most is the mental aspect.  Will they choke under the pressure?  Will they get the “yips” after missing a few key kicks?  Does their career spiral out of control as a result, or can they rebound?

As for Connor Barth, how is this for clutch?  The last five years Barth is 20/20 on FGs of 50 yards or less in the fourth quarter or overtime.  No other kicker is 100% unless they have 7 or fewer attempts.  Stephen Gostkowski and Steven Hauschka are the next most accurate kickers late in the game.

Additionally, the last five years Connor Barth has never missed a FG 55 yards or less in the second half when the game was within 3 points (meaning down by as many as 3 points or up by no more than 3 points).  His lone miss was a 56 yard attempt.

Thus, based on:

  1. Value lost in the trade up to grab Aguayo;
  2. The teams the Bucs moved ahead of would never take a kicker at that point in a draft;
  3. The 2nd or 3rd best college kickers were available in the 7th round, and neither was drafted.  Many of their stats were better than Aguayo’s stats, and could have been drafted by the Bucs at the end of the draft;
  4. Kickers are less valuable in warmer climates (when all kickers have an edge) and Tampa Bay is a warm climate;
  5. Aguayo has no experience relevant experience kicking in any environment apart from the warm South, and the few kicks in college that he took on the road, outside his normal temperature range, did not provide positive results;
  6. Kicking in general is improving league wide, so even average kickers are closer to the best kickers than they were a decade or more ago;
  7. Tampa Bay’s current kicker has nearly identical (and in some cases better) results at the NFL level as compared to Aguayo at the college level;
  8. Kicking in the NFL is more nerve wracking than it is in college, and yet the Buccaneers current kicker was the most accurate in the clutch of any NFL kicker the last 5 years.

I thought the decision to draft Aguayo 59th overall was not wise.  Is he a great kicker?  Will he have a great NFL career?  Will he win some games for the Buccaneers based on a late kick?  The answer to all three is likely, yes.  But that still does not make the move a smart one based on the above information.

Its not just my analytics and opinion that suggest it was a poor decision, here are some other respected opinions from the college draft universe:

  • “No kicker in the history of the NFL is worth a second round pick. None…. Dumbest pick I’ve ever seen” – Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
  • “Let me repeat, we (Bucs) just traded up in the 2nd round to take a damn kicker, unbelievable just unbelievable.  When u select a kicker that high it adds even more pressure to an already stressful situation.” – Shaun King @realshaunking
  • “I don’t care if you know for a fact that you’re getting the second coming of Morten Andersen, you don’t draft a kicker in the 2nd.” – Benjamin Allbright @AllbrightNFL
  • “Licht got greedy by trading up for Aguayo, sending Kansas City a fourth-round pick (106) in exchange for upgrading his third-rounder (74) by 15 slots — only to draft a kicker. I’m entirely not a fan of trading up to draft any kicker in the second round.” – Evan Silva @evansilva
  • “The Bucs earn a D- for trading up to draft kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round” – Pro Football Focus @PFF

It is always difficult to properly “grade” a draft pick because we don’t yet know how he’ll turn out.  For Tampa Bay’s sake, for Jason Licht’s sake, and for the young kid Roberto Aguayo’s sake, I hope it works out well.  And while busts are found everywhere in the first two rounds on an annual basis, the move to trade up (immediately before NE, CAR and DEN) to draft a kicker was highly questionable, to be kind.

70 Analytical Thoughts from Round 1 of the NFL Draft

by Warren Sharp

The 2016 NFL Draft started with an entertaining and active first round.  Below are some thoughts on many of the selections.  Not the players themselves and what they did in college, however, but primarily how they will fit with their new team and the analytics of their potential impact.

#1.  Rams Jared Goff (QB)

  1. The Rams on offense had the WORST red zone passing efficiency last year.
  2. If Goff makes a difference, look out: STL was 2nd in red zone rush efficiency.
  3. Goff needs to utilize sound decision making and accuracy to make that difference, but the rushing ability of the Rams will help him immensely.
  4. The Rams defense ranked 3rd in red zone conversion rate, so Goff should be in plenty of competitive games so long as he avoids turnovers.
  5. Last year the Rams played 5 games decided by 3 or fewer points (5th most in the NFL).

#2.  Eagles Carson Wentz (QB)

  1. It’s hard to say when we’ll get to see Wentz, but apparently if Sam Bradford gets his way, it will be even sooner than previously expected.
  2. I’d love to see Wentz develop some on the bench and really learn the offense before getting forced into starting immediately, though getting Cleveland at home in week 1 is as soft a start as a team could hope for.
  3. Pundits closely compare Wentz to Newton, but keep in mind, even with a great defense in Carolina, Newton’s dynamic build and abilities didn’t lead his team to a playoff win in any of his first 3 seasons. Newton ran the ball a lot as a young player and did not get his TD:INT ratio under control until year 3.

#3.  Chargers Joey Bosa (DE)

  1. The Chargers defense ranked 25th in pass rush efficiency and 32nd vs the run, so they certainly have a need on the defensive line. But there are a ton of question marks about where he’ll fit in the Chargers 3-4 scheme due to his size.
  2. Last 3 DEs drafted in top 3:
  • 2014 Jadeveon Clowney
  • 2013 Dion Jordan
  • 2009 Tyson Jackson

#4.  Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott (RB)

  1. This is one of the most fascinating picks in the entire round. In today’s NFL, passing efficiency is 4 times more correlated to winning than rushing efficiency, but Dallas is a city where that has been proven irrelevant.  Ball control & playing keep away while producing in the red zone kept the bad defense fresh and rested while exhausting the opponent by the 4th
  2. Tony Romo won’t live forever, he’s 36 & has broken his collar bone multiple times the last few yrs. Last year, Dallas had the #3 red zone run success rate DESPITE no Romo & Darren McFadden as RB1.
  3. No Romo meant #30 in red zone pass success rate, so it was impressive that they were still #3 in the run. Add Ezekiel Elliott & Romo, and Zeke should be TD machine behind their O-Line.
  4. Zeke should be what Jerry Jones wanted Felix Jones to be, on steroids.
  5. Top 5 RBs since 2002:
  • 2012 Trent Richardson
  • 2008 Darren McFadden
  • 2006 Reggie Bush
  • 2005 Ronnie Brown
  • 2005 Cedric Benson
  • 2005 Cadillac Williams

#5.  Jaguars Jalen Ramsey (CB)

  1. Gus Bradley has to love him dropping to 5. Between FA, this pick, last year’s #1 actually playing, and scheme development, I think JAC’s D turns the corner in 2016.
  2. Highest SPARQ score and highest PFF grade of any cornerback in the 2016 NFL Draft.
  3. With Dante Fowler coming back this year, the additions of Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara, Gus Bradley has to be licking his chops to get to work with this defense.

#6.  Ravens Ronnie Stanley (OT)

  1. Little known stat about Joe Flacco last year – he had the WORST yards in air rating of any QB in the NFL. He received a ton of yardage in the pass game from yards after the catch, but he was not throwing downfield often.
  2. His offensive line ranked just 21st in pass protection efficiency and the run game was below average.

#7.  49ers DeForest Buckner (DE)

  1. Yet another Pac-12 guy for Chip Kelly, from Oregon no less. So he’ll be familiar with the Chip Kelly issues the defense faces.
  2. In his 3 years in the NFL, his defense has spent the most time on the field per game of any team.
  3. You can’t argue that coming from Oregon will prepare him for that, however – Chip Kelly had Casey Matthews, Taylor Hart, Kiko Alonso, Patrick Chung and Walter Thurmond. None excelled or graded well for Kelly.

#8.  Titans Jack Conklin (OT)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Browns got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Titans by getting 34.3 draft points & losing 23.1
  2. I loved how the Titans fleeced the Rams from a value perspective earlier this month, and they added a key piece toward helping keep Mariota upright moving forward. Zero complaints.

#9.  Bears Leonard Floyd (OLB)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Bucs got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Bears by getting 24.2 draft points & losing 20.6.
  2. Bears defense was 31st in total efficiency and 31st against the run last year. Let’s see what Fangio does w Leonard Floyd.

#10.  Giants Eli Apple (CB).

  1. The Giants allowed TEs to wreak havoc up the middle, recording a 156 passer rating w 6 TDs and 0 INTS and a 73% completion rate, while WRs were particularly dominant to the offense’s deep right or short left, posting a 112 rating with a 10:2 TD:INT ratio. Signing Jenkins in free agency offset the loss of Prince Amukamara, but the Giants needed CB help even with an improved defensive line via free agency as well (DE Oliver Vernon, DT Damon Harrison). He didn’t grade out as best CB available at the time of selection, but time will tell how he fits into the defensive scheme.

#11.  Buccaneers Vernon Hargreaves (CB)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Bucs got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Bears by getting 24.2 draft points & losing 20.6.
  2. After 1 DB was taken in the top 11 each year the last 3 years, 3 were taken in top 11 this year.

#12.  Saints Sheldon Rankins (DT)

#13.  Dolphins Laremy Tunsil (OT)

  1. Happy to see the Dolphins get to take the shot on Tunsil, because the city deserves better than what the team has been bringing in for them in years past.
  2. Building at the lines (Suh in the past and Mario Williams this offseason) shows their plan to help improve the overall ability of both the defense and offense.

#14.  Raiders Karl Joseph (S)

  1. I love this pick to the Raiders, and I’ve actually been quite impressed by the moves in Oakland.
  2. Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin in free agency, and now Joseph in the draft can immediately make a difference on a defense that was starting to make a statement with Khalil Mack, and good things are happening for Raider Nation (ranked 9th in yds/pass allowed and 15th in rush efficiency).

#15.  Browns Corey Coleman (WR)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Browns got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Titans by getting 34.3 draft points & losing 23.1
  2. Browns get a boatload of picks and still get their #1 player at biggest position of need. Impressive.
  3. Orchestrating multiple trades, first with the Eagles, then with the Titans, the Browns walk away with an extra 1, two extra 2s, three extra 3s. They effectively have two drafts through the next 4 rounds in 2017.
  4. As far as Coleman, we saw what Hue Jackson was able to do to players like Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu – as they signed huge contracts in the offseason, primarily because of Hue’s creativity.
  5. I can’t wait to see how he maximizes Coleman, but without any help at WR (as of now), defenses will absolutely be focused on stopping Coleman.

#16.  Lions Taylor Decker (OT)

  1. After Jim Bob Cooter took over play calling, DET became BEST red zone offense in NFL. 66% of RZ plays were successful. Car (#2) was 52%, NFL avg=43%.
  2. Decker should provide even more protection and blocking to help the line, but the key will be how does the loss of Calvin Johnson affect coverages inside the 20?

#17.  Falcons Keanu Neal (SS)

  1. Both former Seahawks DCs turned HCs (Dan Quinn & Gus Bradley) beefed up secondary in round 1. Knew how much it helped in Seattle.

#18.  Colts Ryan Kelly (C)

  1. Pretty solid record for true centers when drafted in the first round:
  • 2015 Erving
  • 2013 Frederick
  • 2010 Pouncey
  • 2009 Mack
  • 2009 Wood
  • 2006 Mangold

#19.  Bills Shaq Lawson (DE)

  1. Bills D moved from #1 in pass rush efficiency in 2014 to #31 last year under Rex Ryan.
  2. Rex betting Shaq Lawson will help turn that around.

#20.  Jets Darron Lee (OLB)

#21.  Texans Will Fuller (WR)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Redskins got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Texans by getting 16.6 draft points & losing 15.2.
  2. Brock Osweiler had the NFL’s WORST passer rating on deep passes last year. Deep speed from Will Fuller, can Osweiler hit him? We’ll see.

#22.  Redskins Josh Doctson (WR)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Redskins got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Texans by getting 16.6 draft points & losing 15.2.
  2. While both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson may be gone from the Redskins by 2017, this move should help immediately to really provide a measuring stick for Kirk Cousins while he’s playing under the franchise tag. Can he get the job done with a ridiculous receiving corps including TE Jordan Reed, or was he a one-year wonder in 2015?
  3. Regardless, Doctson should be a productive (and potentially stud) WR in Washington for years to come.
  4. GM Scott McCloughan continues to shine – he added the best available CB & drafted potentially best WR prospect less than 1 week apart. Likely will build around the secondary & young WR rather than aging, vet WRs so it won’t shock me if he avoids overpaying to retain Garcon & Jackson next year.

#23.  Vikings Laquon Treadwell (WR)

  1. Vikings called RUN on 68% of 1st down play calls from wk 11 onward. 68%!  NFL avg was 51%. They had better let Teddy Bridgewater throw more with Treadwell now in the mix.
  2. And, Treadwell is, according to Mike Zimmer, the best blocking WR he’s ever seen, which is high praise.
  3. His catch radius will help with some of the deeper balls Teddy has thrown of late – Bridgewater went 33/80 (41%) with 3 TDs and 8 INTs on deep passes last year, for a rating of 51. Of planned 2016 starting QBs, only Brock Osweiler was worse.

#24.  Bengals William Jackson III (CB)

  1. Excellent move knowing division rival Steelers wanted and needed a CB as well, and they nabbed the better graded one just before Pittsburgh settled for Burns.
  2. He was PFF’s #2 graded CB.

#25.  Steelers Artie Burns (CB)

  1. Their defense cannot afford to miss on this first round pick at their biggest need position. While ranking 5th in run defense efficiency and 7th in pass rush efficiency, the defense ranked just 15th in overall pass efficiency, showing that the secondary was a big problem for them.
  2. Below is a list of all the DBs the Steelers have drafted since 2004. It’s an atrocious list of failure after failure.
  • Rd 2 Senquez Golson
  • Rd 4 Doran Grant
  • Rd 7 Gerod Holliman
  • Rd 5 Shaquille Richardson
  • Rd 4 Shamarko Thomas
  • Rd 5 Terry Hawthorne
  • Rd 7 Terrence Frederick
  • Rd 3 Curtis Brown
  • Rd 4 Cortez Allen
  • Rd 5 Crezdon Butler
  • Rd 3 Keenan Lewis
  • Rd 5 Joe Burnett
  • Rd 6 Ryan Mundy
  • Rd 5 William Gay
  • Rd 3 Anthony Smith
  • Rd 2 Bryant McFadden
  • Rd 2 Ricardo Colclough

#26.  Broncos Paxton Lynch (QB)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Seahawks got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Broncos by getting 18.4 draft points & losing 13.9.
  2. Even with Paxton Lynch’s contract, the Broncos move from 7th MOST cap to QB in 2015 to ~6th LEAST cap to QB in 2016. More flexibility.
  3. In today’s NFL world of over hyping & over paying quarterbacks, with coaches and GMs losing jobs when they lack a “franchise” talent, it was refreshing to see Elway and the Broncos this offseason approach the QB position. Not willing to overpay, and not desperate to go crazy, they let their groomed option leave the building and quietly grabbed a potential better fit at 26th in the draft, after multiple QBs were already drafted.  It was a tremendous understanding of discipline, team building and roster construction.
  4. The Cowboys coveted Lynch in the late first round, and reportedly had a deal in place to snag him but Denver leapfrogged them.
  5. This also gets into team building and will be fascinating to watch play out. I’m a huge proponent of getting a young, cheap QB in (on a 5 year contract in the 1st round) and spending your money at other positions.  It worked wonders for Seattle and Baltimore in 2 of the last 4 Super Bowls.
  6. Lynch’s mobility could work wonders with the Gary Kubiak offense.
  7. FYI, if Lynch does win the starting job, Denver has the toughest strength of schedule in weeks 1-3 of any NFL team.

#27.  Packers Kenny Clark (DT)

#28.  49ers Joshua Garnett (OG)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Chiefs got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w 49ers by getting 18.2 draft points & losing 13.4.

#29.  Cardinals Robert Nkemdiche (DT)

  1. Most guys love playing for Bruce Arians. We’ll see if Nkemdiche is one of them. Tyrann Mathieu should be a solid influence. With Larry Fitzgerald setting the tone on offense, they have a great workplace environment out in the desert.  If he can possibly be anything like the force that Darnell Dockett was, coupling him with DE Chandler Jones could produce even more points for the high flying Bruce Arians’ offense in Arizona.

#30.  Panthers Vernon Butler (DT)

  1. Despite the Panthers theoretically being more desperate at CB, they didn’t force anything and grabbed their best available on defense. CB may (and should) be coming in later rounds, but they believe Butler can make plays, and a solid pass rush helps out the secondary.

#31.  Seahawks Germain Ifedi (OG)

  1. Draft Day Trade Result: Seahawks got the better deal in NFL Draft trade w Broncos by getting 18.4 draft points & losing 13.9.
  2. Seattle’s pass protection ranked 30th in the NFL last year and has been bad for a few years: Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013 & spent $28M of cap on their offensive line, most in NFL. In 2016 SEA is allocating just $8.8M to offensive line, least in NFL.  This speaks to them having to spend $10M more on Wilson for his new deal, so the only place to find cheap offensive line talent is in the draft.

 

Where are Franchise Quarterbacks Found in the Draft?

NFL teams want you to believe they are smart.  That they have answers.  That they know best.  We know that they have more data on college players than ever before.  They collect more measurables than ever before.  They have access to better analytics and more information than ever before.  And thanks to rules changes in 2010, quarterbacks are more valuable than ever before.  At the most in-demand position, in what should be a golden era of evaluation, NFL teams still miss at a staggering rate.  NFL teams cannot afford to miss on 1st round draft picks, especially when they use that 1st round pick to draft a potential franchise quarterback they plan to build around for years to come.

Where are franchise quarterbacks found?  If an NFL team thinks they have the answer, they’re wrong.  That’s a question that the entire NFL can’t answer, because no team knows. What is a “franchise” quarterback?  That’s an easier question. If you’re the Chicago Bears, apparently it’s Jay Cutler and his 7 year, $126M contract.  If you’re the Falcons, It’s Matt Ryan and his $23.75M cap hit the next several seasons.  Many NFL teams have paid good but not great QBs to be their franchise quarterback, and I’m looking right at the Lions, Ravens, Chiefs and 49ers.

Both the Rams and Eagles recently traded up into the top two of this year’s NFL draft to snag their franchise quarterback.  If they’re wrong, they gave up a lot in the process, as both team’s lost out on tremendous value by making these moves.  One of the best talent evaluators and front office strategists the last several years, Seattle’s GM John Schneider, called this the most impressive draft class he’s seen joining the Seahawks in 2010.  If he’s right, having many draft picks in this particular draft would be wise.  So why are teams exchanging multiple selections in a talent-rich draft to move up to grab just one, single player they “hope” will save their franchise?  It’s a valid question, but one that has been dismissed by many NFL analysts, who opined that what the Rams and Eagles did was was the right move.  It’s been called “the only move to make” for a team in search of a franchise QB.  Because its unlikely you’ll find a franchise QB unless you’re at the very top of the NFL draft.

Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman made it quite clear in his press conference that based on all of their analysis, they felt like moving up from #8 to #2 was where they needed to be to draft their next franchise QB.  We’ve also heard stories that in today’s pass-heavy era, every team knows it “needs” a QB to win games, so franchise QBs don’t last on the board.  The most important position in the NFL is the quarterback, as everyone knows, and the best players won’t make it out of the first few picks.

Here’s the problem with that mindset:  bad teams usually draft high, bad teams usually are managed poorly, bad teams usually are poor talent evaluators, and thus, good NFL QBs, even franchise QBs, can be found outside the top few picks in the draft.

We’ve been told good QBs can’t be found anymore outside the top of the NFL draft.  Howie Roseman mortgaged much of his draft on that belief.  “It’s impossible to draft a franchise Qb unless you’re at the top of the draft”, they said. Especially in the 5 years since the NFL changed the hit rules (mid-season 2010).

But just because teams know they need a decent QB to have a shot does not mean the first couple QBs off the board in the first round will be the answer.  In fact, it should be universal truth that the following six 2nd round-or-later QBs from the last 5 years will have better NFL careers than these six 1st round QBs drafted over the same span:

  • 2nd Round or later: Andy Dalton (2), Tyrod Taylor (6), Russell Wilson (3), Brock Osweiler (2), Kirk Cousins (4) and Derek Carr (2)
  • 1st Round: Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel and Johnny Manziel

And these are just the last 5 years, when the NFL turned its focus to the pass game in part due to rule changes.  What about prior to the rule changes?   I could easily rattle off number one overall picks including Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell or David Carr. Or top three picks including Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington or Vince Young. But focusing not on the failures, but those that worked out and became “franchise” quarterbacks, let’s take the analysis back to 2000.  The below graphic lists a variety of “franchise”  quarterbacks and where they were drafted, using the following simplistic and extremely loose definition:

  • Lasting long enough (tenure) to start 50 games and
  • Compiling a passer rating of over 80.

This certainly isn’t the best way to measure if a quarterback is a “franchise QB” or not, but typically to earn the money of a franchise QB (which varies based on era), there is an element of longevity and durability coupled with some baseline level of performance.  And while a passer rating of 80 doesn’t sound spectacular, the last 10 years, exactly 200 QBs produced seasons where they averaged ratings over 80 (in at least 10 starts), and collectively they won 60% of their games (between 9-7 and 10-6 on the season).

 

Included are QBs who started 50+ games anytime after 2000, even if they were drafted previously.  The darker the green circle, the better the career passer rating (though keep in mind only QBs who recorded at least an 80 rating appear on the graphic).

In the mid-2000s, the argument was that Tom Brady, a compensatory selection and 199th overall, was a rare gem and no other QB would be mis-evaluated as poorly again.  There would be no more late round talents.  A few years later, Tony Romo went undrafted, and while certainly not Tom Brady, he has put up numbers certainly worthy of the label “franchise quarterback”.  More recently, Russell Wilson came along in 2012 in the 3rd round, to post solid numbers, win a Super Bowl, and earn a huge payday in his 2nd deal.  Still we hear:  “that won’t ever happen again”.  Time will tell.

The point is, you don’t have to be a top pick to be a franchise quarterback.  Drew Brees and Andy Dalton went in the 2nd round.  Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers were drafted outside the top 10.  And of course, other quarterbacks drafted lower have outperformed their first round competition, such as:

  • 2011 – Tyrod Taylor was drafted in the 6th round, as the 11th QB off the board) well after #8 overall Jake Locker, #10 overall Blaine Gabbert, and #12 overall Christian Ponder.  Andy Dalton was drafted in the 2nd round that year as well.  Is Tyrod Taylor a franchise QB?  Probably not.  Andy Dalton is being paid as one, and both are far better than any of those mentioned who were drafted inside the 12th overall.
  • 2012 – A slew of potential or definite franchise QBs were drafted late in this draft, including Russell Wilson in the 3rd round and Kirk Cousins in the 4th round.  Even Brock Osweiler was drafted late in the 2nd round, ahead of 1st rounder Brandon Weeden.
  • 2013 – Unlike 2012, there were no QBs in this draft.  EJ Manuel was the only QB drafted in the first round, followed by Geno Smith as the only QB in the second round.
  • 2014/2015 – A total of 14 QBs were drafted in 2014 and 7 more were drafted in 2015.  Its entirely too early to say which of these QBs will become franchise QBs or not.  Certainly Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the only two QBs who started games from the 2015 class, look on their way.  One of three first round QBs from 2014, Johnny Manziel, is without a team and saw multiple agents terminate him.  This year, we may get to see if Jimmy Garoppolo is the heir apparent to Tom Brady’s throne.  A.J. McCarron and his 6:2 TD:INT in 3 starts last year showed some promise.  But potentially one of the best of the entire 2014 class was drafted in the 2nd round: Derek Carr.

Where are franchise quarterbacks found?  I’d argue they are found just as much as they are bred.  You certainly must have the talent, but you also need the coaching to refine and perfect the mechanics.  You need the hours and hours of work in the film room.  You need the support system.  You need the right play caller and right schemes.  You need teammates on both offense and defense. You could move a young Tom Brady to the 2002 David Carr led Houston Texans, with a ridiculously bad offensive line (76 sacks taken by Carr his rookie year), and while Brady would be better than Carr, he won’t be the Brady we know now.

Franchise quarterbacks may be difficult to find, but one certainty exists in the above data.  Absolutely nothing indicates the only place to find a franchise quarterback is in the top couple of draft picks each year.  The misconstrued notion that teams should willingly mortgage much of their draft class to move up the draft board to draft (what they think will be) a franchise quarterback needs to stop.  If those teams put just as much emphasis on surrounding a drafted quarterback with a blueprint for success (both on and off the field) as emphasis on draft slot above all else (price to move up be damned), we’d likely see even more 2nd and 3rd round quarterbacks evolve into franchise quarterbacks.

Who Should Own the 2016 NFL Draft

Until all the final draft-day trades are executed, it’s impossible to know for certain which team ended up with the most total value in the 2016 NFL draft. But what we do know right now, after watching both of the top 2 picks in the draft get traded, is we know who should own the 2016 NFL draft based on total draft commodity entering the draft.  Last year I wrote several stories about valuing the draft, the foundation of which always goes back to the concept of “draft points” which I introduced then, and as mentioned, is based on Football Perspective’s research where they assigned point value to each draft pick.

While the prior year’s finish dictates current year selections, a number of elements cause the distribution to be imbalanced on an annual basis.  For instance, prior year trades (and current year trades) will cause some teams to be better off.  Additionally, the overlooked (by most fans) world of compensatory selections which I discussed HERE when writing for Fox Sports, allows some really good teams (Broncos, Packers, and Seahawks, for instance) to have even more value than one would expect based on their prior year’s finish.

It’s easy to see why a team like the Washington Redskins, who do not have much value (13% below average) in the draft, would be interested in obtaining a star cornerback (Josh Norman) prior to the draft as opposed to trying make it their top priority in the draft.

The Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys are two good teams (both won games in the playoffs in 2014) whose prior year record was affected by injuries to the QB position, and now have extremely strong value heading into the 2016 NFL draft.  At the other end, the Atlanta Falcons have three consecutive non-winning seasons in a row, and yet have only 6 draft picks and draft value totaling 17% below the NFL average.

But at the very top of the heap, it will be fascinating to see what new GMs do in Cleveland and Tennessee, with so much opportunity in the 2016 NFL draft.  Both teams have over 55% more draft value than the NFL average, and both teams are in desperate need of a solid re-building draft.  While each moved down in the first round via trades the last couple of weeks, both now have substantially more value as a result (some of which will not be gained until future drafts), and should have plenty of chances to draft difference-makers for their teams.

First Taste of Complete 2016 NFL Betting Lines

CG Technology released 2016 NFL betting lines for every game the entire season (except for week 17).  Of course, I had to dive in and organize them in a manner far easier to use than just the weekly listing of each game and its associated line.

Below you can find an interactive infographic which allows you to manipulate the team to see their weekly opponents and the betting line on the game.  It also segregates home vs road games, and shares the average lines for each.  To the lower right, you can find full season counts of games favorite or underdog as well as the average line, with one cool feature – you can define the time span, so if you want to see the team that starts or finishes as the largest average favorite, you can do that.

A few interesting takeaways:

  • The Browns are underdogs in all 15 games, by an average of +6.4 ppg.
  • Other teams near the bottom:
    • Titans (underdogs in 13 games, avg 2016 line is +4.5 ppg)
    • 49ers (underdogs in 12 games, avg 2016 line is +5.4 ppg)
  • The Packers are favored in 14 of 15 games, avg 2016 line is -5.1 ppg.
  • Other teams near the top:
    • Panthers (favored in 13 games, avg 2016 line is -5.1 ppg)
    • Steelers (favored in 13 games, avg 2016 line is -4.0 ppg)
  • The first 8 weeks of the season, the Cardinals are favored in 7 of 8 games, tied with the Broncos for most in the NFL over that span.
  • However, the Cardinals average line is only -3.4 ppg.  The Seahawks average line is -6.1 during the first 8 weeks, the most favored team in the NFL, but they have a bye and are +1 point underdogs in Arizona week 7.
  • Some of the rare games when the NFL’s best teams are not favored:
    • Seattle: +1 @  ARI wk 7, +2 @ NE wk 10, +2 @ GB wk 14
    • New England: +1 @ ARI wk 1, PK @ PIT wk 7
    • Carolina: +1.5 @ DEN wk 1, +3 @ SEA wk 13
    • Green Bay: PK @ MIN wk 2
    • Pittsburgh: PK vs NE wk 7, PK @ CIN wk 15
    • Arizona: +3.5 @ CAR wk 8, +1.5 @ MIN wk 11, +3.5 @ SEA wk 16
    • Denver: +3 @ CIN wk 3, +1 vs NE wk 15, +1.5 @ KC wk 16

You can play around with the below infographic to obtain many more interesting tidbits about the opening 2016 betting lines:
(note: if the appearance is blurry, zoom in on your browser & refresh page)

2016 NFL Schedule Grid with Color Coding

I joined Chad Dukes on Chad Dukes vs the World via 106.7 The Fan in DC for a segment on the 2016 schedule, see above.

Your one-stop, ultimate 2016 NFL Schedule resource featuring:

  • Single-page, color coded schedule grid (save and access all year long)
  • Strength of Schedule overlay on the schedule grid
  • Fully interactive visualization to customize views of NFL team schedules and Strength of Schedule for the team or the league
    • Choose teams to view & see the schedule change
    • Choose weeks to view & see who has the hardest or easiest schedule at various points during the year
  • Listing of Worst or Easiest stretches during the season using REAL Strength of Schedule (based on the betting market’s projection of the 2016 season, NOT using 2015 win percentage which is irrelevant in 2016).

2016 Schedule Grid (click to enlarge)

2016 Schedule Grid(click to enlarge) – Any corrections please contact @SharpFootball

2016 Schedule Grid – Coded w Strength of Schedule using Opp Forecasted Regular Season Wins

The MOST accurate way to look at Strength of Schedule is NOT using prior year (2015) opponent win percentage.  Its to use current year (2016) forecasted wins.  Incorporated into the below document is the projected strength of schedule of the 2016 opponents based on CG Technology Regular Season Win totals updated as of April 14th.  (click to enlarge)

2016 Schedule Grid with SoSStrength of Schedule Visualization:

Select team to view week by week opponent strength

 

Top 5 / Bottom 5 Stretches, Starts and Finishes based on SoS per Opponent Forecasted Wins

(For all categories below, Hardest = 1, Easiest = 32. Ignores site, focuses only on strength of opponent based on current CG Technology win totals.)

Worst 3 Week Stretch:

1. Saints: wk 6-8 (vs CAR, @ KC, vs SEA)
2. Falcons: wk 4-6 (vs CAR, @ DEN, @ SEA)
3. Jets: wk 4-6 (vs SEA, @ PIT, @ ARI)
4. Eagles: wk 11-13 (@ SEA, vs GB, @ CIN)
5. 49ers: wk 2-4 (@ CAR, @ SEA, vs DAL)

Worst 4 Week Stretch:

1. Jets: wk 3-6 (@ KC, vs SEA, @ PIT, @ ARI)
2. 49ers: wk 2-5 (@ CAR, @ SEA, vs DAL, vs ARI)
3. Redskins: wk 10-13 (vs MIN, vs GB, @ DAL, @ ARI)
4. Seahawks: wk 13-16 (vs CAR, @ GB, vs LA, vs ARI)
5. Falcons: wk 3-6 (@ NO, vs CAR, @ DEN, @ SEA)

Worst 5 Week Stretch:

1. Jets: wk 2-6 (@ BUF, @ KC, vs SEA, @ PIT, @ ARI)
2. 49ers: wk 2-6 (@ CAR, @ SEA, vs DAL, vs ARI, @ BUF)
3. Falcons: wk 4-8 (vs CAR, @ DEN, @ SEA, SD, GB)
4. Redskins: wk 11-15 (vs GB, @ DAL, @ ARI, @ PHI, vs CAR)
5. Seahawks: wk 10-14 (@ NE, vs PHI, @ TB, vs CAR, @ GB)

Worst First Month:

1. Jets: vs CIN, @ BUF, @ KC, vs SEA
2. 49ers: vs LA, @ CAR, @ SEA, vs DAL
3. Bills: @ BAL, vs NYJ, vs ARI, @ NE
4. Broncos: vs CAR, vs IND, @ CIN, @ TB
5. Dolphins: @ SEA, @ NE, vs CLE, @ CIN

Worst Last Month:

1. Ravens: @ NE, vs PHI, @ PIT, @ CIN
2. Dolphins: vs ARI, @ NYJ, @ BUF, vs NE
3. Titans: vs DEN, @ KC, @ JAX, vs HOU
4. Packers: vs SEA, @ CHI, vs MIN, @ DET
5. Bears: @ DET, vs GB, vs WAS, @ MIN

Easiest 3 Week Stretch:

32. Bears: wk 12-14 (vs TEN, vs SF, @ DET)
31. Jets: wk 8-10 (@ CLE, @ MIA, vs LA)
30. Dolphins: wk 10-12 (@ SD, @ LA, vs SF)
29. Bills: wk 15-17 (vs CLE, vs MIA, @ NYJ)
28. Ravens: wk 1-3 (vs BUF, @ CLE, @ JAX)

Easiest 4 Week Stretch:

32. Bears: wk 10-13 (@ TB, @ NYG, vs TEN, vs SF)
31. Jets: wk 7-10 (vs BAL, @ CLE, @ MIA, vs LA)
30. Dolphins: wk 9-12 (vs NYJ, @ SD, @ LA, vs SF)
29. Titans: wk 6-9 (vs CLE, vs IND, vs JAX, @ SD)
28. Redskins: wk 4-7 (vs CLE, @ BAL, vs PHI, @ DET)

Easiest 5 Week Stretch:

32. Bears: wk 10-14 (@ TB, @ NYG, vs TEN, vs SF, @ DET)
31. Titans: wk 5-9 (@ MIA, vs CLE, vs IND, vs JAX, @ SD)
30. Raiders: wk 1-5 (@ NO, vs ATL, @ TEN, @ BAL, vs SD)
29. Dolphins: wk 9-13 (vs NYJ, @ SD, @ LA, vs SF, @ BAL)
28. Redskins: wk 3-7 (@ NYG, vs CLE, @ BAL, vs PHI, @ DET)

Easiest First Month (byes are easy!):

32. Eagles: vs CLE, @ CHI, vs PIT, bye
31. Packers: @ JAX, @ MIN, vs DET, bye
30. Seahawks: vs MIA, @ LA, vs SF, @ NYJ
29. Ravens: vs BUF, @ CLE, @ JAX, vs OAK
28. Raiders: @ NO, vs ATL, @ TEN, @ BAL

Easiest Last Month:

32. Panthers: vs SD, @ WAS, vs ATL, @ TB
31. Steelers: @ BUF, @ CIN, vs BAL, vs CLE
30. Bills: vs PIT, vs CLE, vs MIA, @ NYJ
29. Chiefs: vs OAK, vs TEN, vs DEN, @ SD
28. Cowboys: @ NYG, vs TB, vs DET, @ PHI

 

Trading into the Top 10 is a License to Fire

With the 2016 NFL Draft quickly approaching, it gives us an opportunity examine a problem which haunts many drafts – trading up.  Not just trading up, which I’ll discuss in more detail later, but going “all in” on a player inside the top 10.  It’s indicative of an organizational problem and combines poor decision making, lack of understanding draft pick value and desperation.  And after not seeing a team jump up the board to draft a top 10 pick last year, we’re starting to hear rumors that we may see a team make that move this year:

lanceZtweetHere is the big problem:

History has shown us that teams who trade up to acquire a top 10 pick are over 6 times more likely to fire their coach than they are to win a playoff game.  These teams sacrifice a ton of draft value (each pick is “worth” value, and teams must mortgage multiple picks to land a better pick – a higher pick – inside the top 10).  Take a look at the results from just the last 5 years:

Trades into top 10 - 1Not just in the season after the trade, but since the trade itself, these teams have fired and re-hired 13 new head coaches, and won just 2 playoff games in the process.  These teams posted a total record of 38% wins (though this double counts some years from the Jaguars and Browns).

It’s not just the last 5 years, either.  Remember Ryan Sims of the Chiefs?  Johnathan Sullivan of the Saints?  Troy Williamson of the Vikings?  Derrick Harvey of the Jaguars?  Maybe not, but certainly you’ll remember Mark Sanchez of the Jets.  All of these players were drafted in the top 10 as a result of a trade up the board to acquire the player.

Remarkably, despite teams making such a massive investment to move up the board, the player drafted often quits football well earlier than his draft position should entail.  Or sees a player who can’t seem to stay out of trouble:

  • Dion Jordan started 1 game out of 48 for the Dolphins since being drafted.
  • Justin Blackmon started just 18 games out of 64 for the Jaguars.
  • Sedrick Ellis of the Saints retired after only 5 years.

In other cases, the players are not what the teams predicted they would become:

  • Justin Gilbert, drafted 8th overall by the Browns, started just 3 games the last 2 years and has 1 career interception with terrible grades.
  • Trent Richardson averaged just 3.3 ypc and, though drafted 3rd overall in 2012, has just 6 rushing TDs since his rookie year.
  • 7th pick Troy Williamson averaged just 23.1 yards/game and started 24 games before his brief career ended.
  • Derrick Harvey started in just 32 games (2 seasons) before washing out of the NFL.

While many of those named have not been quarterbacks, it’s no safer moving up to grab a quarterback:

  • 5th pick Mark Sanchez is on his 3rd NFL team and has a career 74 passer rating with 86 TDs and 84 Ints.
  • 10th pick Blaine Gabbert is on his 2nd NFL team and has a career 71 passer rating with 33 TDs and 31 Ints.
  • 2nd pick Robert Griffin III is on his 2nd NFL team and led his team to a 5-15 record since his rookie year before being benched and then leaving to resurrect his career in Cleveland.

The bust potential of these highly coveted players is enormous.  To convince an owner that the smart move is to trade up to draft a top 10 player, a lot of focus is obviously placed on the best player attributes.  In the process, potential red flags or warning indicators may be missed by the team, or simply “offset” by positives.  That is a big concern.  Ultimately, while not every single player listed below was a total and complete bust, a scary number of them were.  And the players that were not busts often played on a team with less talent due to the draft commodities which were sent packing so that the team could obtain the top 10 selection.

Certainly, most of the media and almost all of the fan bases rejoice when a team grabs a top 10 talent.  The team, slotted to draft a seemingly less talented player, moves up to draft the better prospect who was a pipe dream to land before the trade.  But with the assistance of hindsight, it’s easy to see why such a risky move is not wise, and often is more likely to result in a coach getting fired than a team winning in the postseason.

Trades into top 10 - 2

VIZ: 2016 College Football Season Win Totals, Conference Odds & Title Odds

This past week, Vegas bookmakers were hard at work preparing for the 2016 College Football Season. South Point released regular season win totals on all 128 Division 1 FBS teams, while CG Technology updated their National Title and Conference odds for most of the top programs.

Nationally, Alabama (+650), Clemson (+750), Ohio State (+800) and Michigan (+800) are the 4 largest favorites, standing apart from the next tier of teams which includes Oklahoma (+1100), Florida State (+1200), LSU (+1200), Baylor (+1500), Tennessee (+1600) and Notre Dame (+1800). Those programs round out the top 10, and all other programs are +2000 or greater.

Next, let’s look at the Power 5 Conferences:

In terms of win totals, in the SEC, Alabama (10), LSU (10) and Tennessee (9.5) are the schools most likely to enjoy success. However, both are in the SEC West and thus, competing with one another before making the title game. That said, both programs are #1 and #2 in overall conference odds (Alabama is +150, LSU is +350) while Tennessee is third at +450, indicating linesmakers belief that the SEC West, at least those top programs) are simply more dominant. LSU is projected to show the most overall improvement, winning 2 more games than 2015. Meanwhile, Florida and Texas A&M are both projected to lose at least 2 more games in 2016 than they did last year.

In the ACC, the Clemson Tigers are still projected to be dominant. They have the second best odds to win the National Title, right behind Alabama. They are +140 to win the ACC, with Florida State their only real competition (at +220). Lousiville is third, but is all the way down at +850. Boston College and Georgia Tech are projected to be substantially improved, with each estimated to win 6.5 games this year, more than double their 2015 mark. On the other hand, North Carolina is projected to fall back, dropping to 8.5 wins (2.5 fewer than 2015) but that would still put them in contention in the ACC as well as assuredly landing a good bowl game.

The nation’s third most likely champions hail from the Big Ten. Michigan and Ohio State both have identical odds to win the title at +800. They both are between +160 (Ohio State) and +180 (Michigan) to win the Big Ten, with the next closest competition (Michigan State) being +500. It appears South Point is higher on Nebraska than CG Technology, with Nebraska being projected to win 8.5 games in 2016, a massive improvement of 3.5 more wins than 2015. It would be the third most wins in the Big Ten. But CG Technology has them at +900 to win the Big Ten (fifth longest odds) and in terms of the National Title, they are +15000, placing them behind Wisconsin (despite them having better odds to win the Big Ten than Wisconsin).

The Big 12 provides the next most likely National Champion, with Oklahoma having the fifth best odds to win the title in 2016. They are projected to win 10 games, most in the Big 12. Kansas pulls up the rear, with 1.5 projected wins, which is 1.5 more wins than they had in 2015. Texas is also projected to show an improvement of 1.5 wins, while TCU is projected to win 8 games, 2 fewer than 2015, and Oklahoma State is projected to show a decline of 1.5 wins as compared to 2015.

Rounding out the Power 5 Conferences, Stanford is +2000 to win the National Title, 11th best in the country. However, they are tied with USC at +280 to win the Pac-12, and USC’s title odds are +3500, worse than UCLA (+3200). The team projected to win the most games in the Pac-12, however, is Washington, who South Point is extremely big on. They forecast the Huskies to show a 3 point win improvement as compared to 2015, by far the most in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, CG Technology has Washington at +600 to win the Pac-12, with 4 teams projected with better odds to finish ahead of them. Without Jared Goff, the NFL’s #1 overall draft pick last year, Cal is projected to win only 4 games this year, 3 fewer than 2015.