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Just The Sports: 2006-12-17

Just The Sports

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Look At Four Rookie Linebackers

Leading up to the NFL draft, when the linebacker position was brought up, the conversation invariably began with the mostly overrated linebacker trio from Ohio State (A.J. Hawk being the lone exception) and then traveled west to discuss the Iowa linebacker duo of Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge before someone got around to mentioning Ernie Sims from Florida State. Mostly overlooked were Demeco Ryans from the University of Alabama and Thomas Howard who played his college football at UTEP, but it has been those two linebackers along with Hawk and Sims who have been the rookie linebackers to have the most impact on the teams who drafted them.

With fifteen full weeks of the NFL season in the books, it has been A.J. Hawk of the Green Bay Packers who has emerged as the best of these four linebackers. The reason behind his superiority lies in the fact he is almost equally proficient against the pass as he is against the run. His run tackles have come an average of 4.1 yards past the line of scrimmage and the opposing teams have gained a successful amount of yardage 45.7% of the time with 3.0 extra yards per successful run. On those failed runs, the teams failed by 2.8 yards per rush. When he is making tackles in the passing game, he makes them 4.9 yards per the last of scrimmage on average with a 54.5% success rate (4.3 average extra yards per successful run and 6.6 average yards needed per failed run). Besides the fact the team now looks to have a solid linebacker for the future, the Packers are probably happiest that they were able to avoid wasting another draft pick.

As for Ernie Sims of the Detroit Lions and Demeco Ryans of the Houston Texans, they might as well be the same player since there are only minute differences between the two. Both are excellent against the run, the two best out of these four linebackers, with no clear superior run stopper. Ryans is better than Sims at keeping opponents from gaining successful yardage (42.5% success rate allowed to 43.8% success rate) and making sure the runners fail by a marginally higher average per failed run (3.3 per to 3.0 per), but Sims makes his tackles incrementally closer to the line of scrimmage (average of 3.3 yards past to 3.6 yards past) and tackles the runners before they break off large amounts of yardage (2.3 extra yards per successful run to 3.4 extra yards per).

At the same time, they are equally bad at having a positive impact when playing against the pass as evidenced by Sims being involved in pass plays that occur an average of 8.2 yards per the line of scrimmage and Ryans does his pass defense work an average of 7.4 yards past the line. Not unexpectedly, when you see Ryans or Sims making a play after the pass is completed, more than likely the team has gained a successful amount of yardage before the play is stopped (5.0 extra per for Sims to 7.2 extra per Ryans).

That leaves only Oakland Raider Thomas Howard, who is the most complete linebacker after A.J. Hawk because he can play the run competently and he does not get overly exposed when playing the pass. Against the run, he is fourth in success rate allowed (50%) and where he makes his plays (4.6 yards). However, when he does make a tackle and keep the runner from gaining successful yardage, he does so an average of 4.3 yards away from where successful yardage would be, which is tops among these four. As I alluded to earlier, playing the pass does not completely flummox him since he is the second-best linebacker after A.J. Hawk in this category (62.5% success rate allowed, plays coming 6.5 yards past the line of scrimmage per, 4.1 extra yards per successful passes , and 3.9 needed yards per failed pass). If he were able to make more plays overall in his games, Howard could be a star in the NFL.

With their rookie seasons almost complete, we are able to get a pretty good glimpse into the players these four linebackers have become so far. Hawk and Howard are your two complete linebackers while Sims and Ryan are great run stoppers who are highly susceptible in pass coverage, which means playing quality pass defense is a skill these two might want to look into acquiring for the 2007 season.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

How Completion Percentages Translate

Successfully scouting an NFL prospect is a task of Herculean proportions, problematic on two fronts. On one front, it is an immensely difficult task to predict how a player will perform once the chaff has been separated from the wheat and he is only facing the nation's best players. In addition, those who do the actual drafting, namely coaches and general managers and owners, allow themselves to overly romanticize the tangible measurements of a player (i.e.,height, weight, bench press, 40-yard dash time, and arm strength) and give those attributes more credence than they deserve. NFL personnel usually do that at the expense of paying attention to the actual productivity the potential NFL player had at the college level. Perhaps no position better exemplifies the trap draftees fall into time and time again than quarterback.

What I have sought to do in this post is to prove that what a quarterback does at his college directly reflects what you can expect the quarterback to do when he is allowed to start an extended number of games. Mostly, I am concerned with the quarterback's college completion percentage in comparison to his NFL completion percentage as I think completion percentage is the most important statistic to describe how good a quarterback is. Yards per pass attempt is nice, but no quarterback story can be told without first mentioning his completion percentage.

Not wanting to look at every single starting quarterback, I chose eight starting quarterbacks in what I have no doubt is a pretty good representative sample of all the quarterbacks who have been starting over the past couple years. The quarterbacks are as follows: Ben Roethlisberger, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Chad Pennington, Marc Bulger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Brooks. In this sample are four first-round picks, one second-round pick, one fourth-round pick, and two sixth-round picks who have had varying degrees of success in the NFL.

Even though there are apparent differences between the eight quarterbacks, there is one overarching similarity, which is that none of the quarterbacks have put together an NFL completion percentage that is statistically significantly better than the one they amassed while matriculating at his respective university. Only one, David Carr, has an NFL completion percentage that is statistically signifcantly worse than his college one. For the rest, there is no really discernible difference between the rate at which they completed passes in college compared to how they are now doing on the professional level.

Those who find themselves armed with this knowledge will find themselves with a built-in advantage over those who continue to drool over a quarterback's arm strength. This is not to say that there is not a single NFL quarterback who has out-performed his NCAA days, although I think that is extremely unlikely, although the Denver Bronocs no doubt Jay Cutler (proves himself the exception to the rule I proved.

NOTE: The data did not include NFL postseason games or NFL games where the quarterback attempted fewer than 15 pass attempts.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Two of Two Satire Pieces

With all of the adulation and excitement surrounding his latest passing performance, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is finally ready to admit the painfully obvious both to himself and the media. At the same time his most ardent supporters have pointed to his play against the Dallas Cowboys where he completed 16 of 24 pass attempts for 237 yards and four touchdowns while throwing only one interception as proof that Vick belongs as an NFL quarterback, Vick has taken his fans' reactions as proof that the complete opposite is true.

"I had always suspected I was an awful quarterback," Vick admitted. "How could I not? Here I am, an NFL veteran of six years and a starting quarterback for five of those years, but I only have a 53.8% completion percentage. What else was I supposed to think?"

"Think about this," Vick continued. "When Peyton Manning or Drew Brees complete two-thirds of their passes and throw for over 200 yards, no one makes a big deal about it. Hell, Tony Romo is only a first-year starter and no one is even mildly excited about the fact he outplayed me. So, just how bad of a quarterback must I be to receive so much praise for turning in a performance that is average for good quarterbacks?"

At the end of the post-game interview, Vick cautioned his fans against expecting a similar performance on a weekly basis since there was a zero percent chance he would ever become that consistent.


One of Two Satire Pieces

New York Knicks president of basketball operations and head coach Isiah Thomas sent a formal request to the NBA league office that the Knicks no longer be required to play teams that have not lost at least one star player to injury or suspension. The request was filed shortly after the Knicks suffered a 23-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, yet another full man NBA squad to add a tally mark to the Knicks' loss column.

When asked why he had chosen to further coddle his players, Thomas responded, "The numbers don't lie. We are 4-0 when we are playing an injury-depleted team and 6-17 when we are not. More importantly, I am done being a fool when it comes to running an NBA team, which I had actually planned to be my New Year's Resolution, but I see no reason not to get a head start on it."

"Plus, this is the only way I could think of to ensure myself of actually having an NBA job next year," he added. "Two birds with one stone, so to speak."

Unfortunately for Isiah Thomas and the New York Knicks, NBA commissioner David Stern did not view the request in a positive light. In fact, Stern called the proposal utterly ridiculous and one the Knicks should not have wasted time either typing up or printing out.

"When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas and when you assemble a roster with five shooting guards and no true NBA point guard, you wake up with losses," Stern further stated in a scheduled press conference. Stern was then seen high-fiving Larry Brown after he left the dais.