is there such a thing as an etsy genuis? if so, this is it.
A POTENTIAL MODEL OF NFL DRAFT BEHAVIOR
As the next installment on an admittedly slow-moving series of diaries on the NFL Draft, I’ve decided to do the behavioral component of this study next. I have always been fascinated by the talk – the endless talk – in the run-up to the draft about who should go where, when you draft certain positions, and the like. I decided to look at it from a league-level view – it would be a little tedious to break it down to individual teams, and indeed the individual needs of teams vary from year-to-year and while it would be interesting to track a specific team to see if they’ve got developmental issues at a position, it is easier for purposes of a diary to see what the trends look like by position and round.
Building on data that I already had collected – from 1995 to this year’s draft, I first built a table by position or position group in the case of DB (too few players listed specifically as CB, FS or SS for it to be telling in their case) or P / K (which I combined for a similar reason) and totaled the number of players drafted in each position or group by round (n=4,810 in this study). There were some interesting things merely in the raw data:
Significantly more than any other position group, defensive backs of one kind or another are the most common in the NFL Draft per this sample. 957 of them, in fact, have been draft in the last 20 years in various rounds, close to one-fifth of all drafted players in that period. The next two in order of appearance in the draft should not surprise anyone, I think – linebackers (638, or 13.26%) and wide receivers (599, or 12.45%). What the table above is showing, of course, is mere totals and as you can see, some areas have a relatively steady hum of activity if you look at it like that. Another level of analysis was needed.
Here is the breakdown in terms of percent of total by position or group and by round:
Now, this is more interesting. You can see in the first round, for starters, a higher level of activity at defensive end, offensive tackle and quarterback, which you might expect. The second round tends to be a hodge-podge, if this data is telling us the right story, and then in the third round, activity picks up for offensive guards, linebackers and wide receivers. Running backs spike in the fourth round and you start to see a slight peak for tight ends in the fifth round. The seventh round is simply filling needs, hence the glut of green.
To get a cleaner look at tendencies by position, I normalized this data by position and here’s that table:
It’s telling you a similar story to the second table, but what you are seeing here – for those who are not stats people – is the number of standard deviations above or below the average amount of players taken by round. This was merely to show in more stark terms where the spikes in activity were at various positions. Those individual graphs are below:
One thing I intentionally left out is longsnapper. This is not because I have anything against them, of course, for indeed as we know in Ann Arbor, they sometimes make serviceable wide receivers in a pinch (see Sugar Bowl for details). It is because – and this might just be a problem with the Pro Football Reference database – there has been only one longsnapper drafted in 20 years of draft data. Again, it might just be the database, but I nixed it because there are too many people like me here who would see n=1 for a position and grumble.
As with most of my diaries, I don’t have a particular conclusion here – there’s not really a message in this data other than that there seem to be definite trends in draft activity by position, and quite a bit of that is determined by teams trading up or trading down as well, but teams do that with specific players and/or positions in mind, so that strategy is not necessarily confounding anything here, in my opinion as there are oft-debated informal guidelines about where to draft various positions.
In any case, if this a reasonably accurate picture of modern draft behavior, then it is interesting to see what more than 30 teams’ combined draft strategies is producing.
A Historical Fiction piece i wrote for my Creative Writing course, it could only be five pages, but would have been around 8 if i could have done what i wanted.
Teammates, and Champions
Charles walked along Main Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan on a gloomy August day, there he saw the infamous Big House; 106,000 empty seats waiting eagerly for the 1997 season to start. He thought to himself, “I can’t wait for this season, man, they have no clue.” He started jogging back to his dorm to eat, then get ready for bed after a long day of lifting, class, practice, then film; the almost unbearable life of a college football star. His roommate and teammate, Andre Weathers, was watching film on his vintage TV that his mother bought him the year before. Last season Andre struggled learning the new defense and his confidence was a little shook. He would always turn to Charles for advice, whether he could act on that advice would be up to him though. During the 1996 season CB Charles Woodson was finishing up his second year as Michigan’s starting defensive back. He was considered one of the best in the country at the position his Freshman and Sophomore years and many analyst docked him as an All-American, multiple award-winning, first round draft pick.
The opponent they faced first was the Colorado Buffaloes, a team who was large, experienced, and extremely well coached. The weekend was four days away. Michigan was in Schembechler Hall, named after the beloved Bo Schembechler. The team meeting was held there every Tuesday and was ran by Coach Car, a handsome and very intriguing older man who seemed to knew every button to push on every player. A motivator is the simplest way to put it, but to people who knew him he’s much more. Halfway through the meeting as Car is explaining the motto of the season “Trust, Leadership, Willpower”
which was engrained in every player as if it was their very favorite childhood memory, Charles Woodson stood up on his older broken desk and shouted to his teammates,
“This is OUR year, and this is MY year, this YOUR year, and together WE will make history!” Teammates cheered “Yeah Woodson!” “Hell yeah boys! Let’s win this for Michigan.”
The team rallied around coach Car and sang the notorious fight song “Hail to the Victors” as they jousted their venerated Coach into the air. The night ended on a great note and the feeling was in the air. It was their year.
That same night Charles was lying in his bed when he heard the fuzzy TV on out in their small living room. He was confused as to why it was playing and clearly remembered turning it off right before he went to bed. He went to check, and what he saw filled him with a great sense of pride. At 2 A.M. Andre was watching film on Colorado.
Andre and Charles went to bed, with visions of a National Championship dancing in their heads.
The week went by at a rapid pace and it was game day. The noon kickoff was approaching fast and the fans had been tailgating since 6 in the morning. The whole campus was buzzing as the 17
th ranked Wolverines faced the 8th ranked Buffaloes from the beautiful city of Boulder. ESPN was talking about the game the whole week, as it was one of the premier matchups of opening day. People were football hungry and it showed. Every game that was played that week had very detailed write-ups and predictions of the score. The Michigan-Colorado write-up was very one sided with the 5 analyst predicting the Buff’s to win easily in Ann Arbor. A quote from E. Jackson, who was the Ann Arbor Free Press sportswriter, was being read aloud by Charles in the locker room just 5 minutes before kickoff, “Colorado stomps Michigan, 38-12.” The players were pissed and rallied up together. Quarterback Brian Griese was giving a very emotional, heart-felt speech. The team was fired up, and ready to tap the “M Club Supports You” banner, a tradition held for many years. As the Maize-and-Blue clad ran out of the tunnel you could hear 106,000 fans cheering for what seemed like miles. Kick off was here.
Michigan jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the half, and the energy in the stadium was appreciable. The defense was relying on the tough man-to-man defense from Charles and Andre. They had locked down the Buff’s receivers all half with only 3 receptions total. In the locker room, Coach Car applauded the team and inspired them to fight on, and win the second half as well. The Wolverines did just that as they cruised to a 27-3 stomping of Colorado. The Michigan defense didn’t give up a touchdown thanks to the great play of the veteran secondary. The hard work of both Charles and Andre paid off. In a post-game interview, E. Jackson caught up with Woodson just before he ran into the tunnel.
Jackson asked Woodson, “What did the defense do today to stump the highly potent Colorado offense?
Woodson responded briefly and quickly “It’s our year. Thanks for doubting us.” Charles then ran off into the tunnel with his winged helmet held high.
The Wolverines went on to win their next 5 games. 6-0 heading in to State week Charles thought to himself, halfway there. Woodson was excelling on the field, with 32 tackles, and 4
interceptions. As a defense they hadn’t gave up more than 24 points in a single game. That score coming from the always tough Iowa Hawkeyes. Notre Dame was the next closest, with only 14 points. Michigan was ranked in the top 8 and people started giving them a close look, as a possible contender in not only the Big Ten, but in the National picture as well.
Andre Weathers was also playing extremely well, and posted a respectable 22 tackles with 2 interceptions. The Junior corner was no longer struggling; instead, strutting himself around campus. They felt like kings, and in some aspects, were treated as such.
Michigan was prepared to play the in-state rival Spartans. Some viewed the Michigan St Spartans as the Wolverines “little brother” in terms of results on the field, and academically. The Spartans came into the game with a 2-4 record, something the Wolverines shouldn’t have scoffed at. To MSU players this was their National Championship.
Charles Woodson was a target for the Spartans as he told the local news, “Michigan St is formed up of players that Michigan didn’t want, that Ohio didn’t want. Classless, dirty players, they go against everything we stand for.” Coach Car heard these comments on the News and was pissed, calling the young Woodson on the phone.
“What the hell were you thinking Charles? You can’t go around talking to the news like you have no repercussions! Are you trying to get us killed Saturday?” Charles started to respond, but Coach told him to shut up, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to sit you for the first half.”
Coach Car hung up the phone. Charles was sitting on his small bed in his apartment, Andre asked him what was going on and he told him the he was sitting the first half of the State game. Andre went on thinking in his head… You’ve got to be kidding me...
Prentavious Jones-Darbo would be taking his spot, the highly touted Freshman from Santa-
Monica, California. Half-way through the second quarter, Jones-Darbo was completely toasted by the State receiver and the Wolverines ran into halftime trailing 7-0 to the rival Spartans.
Michigan started the third quarter with the ball, driving 78 yards on just 6 plays for a quick score tying it all up. The Spartans next drive was ended shortly, as Woodson jumped nearly four feet into the air and snagged the ball with one hand, tip-toeing his foot down right before it hit the sideline. The Wolverine crowd erupted and the momentum shifted. The Wolverines went on effortlessly to shut the Spartans out the second half going on to win the Paul Bunyan Trophy, 23-7. Wolverine players ran onto midfield with the Olde Paul Bunyan Trophy, and sang “Hail to the Victors” as loud as their voices could raise, Michigan had triumphed Little Brother again.
Michigan was 8-0. Charles Woodson was in the running for one of the most prestigious awards known to man, and Ann Arbor was now the place to be. Michigan went on to win their next four games which included a drubbing over 8th ranked Penn St 34-8 in State College. The Wolverine faithful was rocking and the college football world was in awe of the 2nd ranked Wolverines.
December 17th, 1996. “Standing on that podium, hoisting the Heisman trophy was a dream of mine, a dream turned reality, congratulations to the guys that were up there with me.”
Charles won the Heisman trophy, and was the first defensive player to ever do so. He truly was in a class of his own. Michigan had Washington St in the Rose bowl, which would determine if Michigan won the National Championship.
The Wolverines and Charles were unstoppable. Michigan was the team everyone wanted to be, everyone wished their season had turned out like the beloved Wolverines. Coach Car was AP coach of the year, an honor that was highly respected. Michigan beat Washington St in that Rose Bowl. They were the undefeated National Champions.
Running into the locker room the Wolverines sang “Hail to the Victors” one last time.
Charles spoke to the team, “Before this season started I knew we were going to win it all. Thank you guys for allowing me to win the Heisman and a National Championship!” the team broke out in cheers.
Coach Car proceeded to tell his athletes, “I am so gracious for this team. I have NEVER, and I mean NEVER, been more proud to coach the men in this room.” Coach Car started crying and gave the crystal ball, the trophy of the champions, to Andre Weathers. Andre shook his head in disbelief.
“Hey Charles, get your fancy ass over here.” Andre said. Charles and Andre held the crystal ball over their heads in a way only a champion could do.
There is an interesting dichotomy of the views of Michigan's defense of 2014 - some view it as a "top 10 defense" because the NCAA stats say so. Others (hand raised) use more of an eye test and advanced stats, specifically FEI and S&P+ via Football Outsiders, which have various measures to adjust for SOS, garbage time points, etc. (more info on how those stats are derived can be found on that site - I wont rehash)
Let's take a closer look at the NCAA stat for total defense which sports journalists of both the print and video variety tend to parrot. What does it really track? Only 1 thing: total yards given up per game. It is very simplistic and in my estimation misleading. My thesis has been this gives an overinflated value to all Big 10 defenses because Big 10 offenses have really stunk it up of late, especially the past half decade. So this piece will try to fact check my opinion.
There have been very few premium QBs the past 6-7 years in the Big 10 until last year... the last golden batch was 2007-2008 when you had Henne, Smith, Stanton. Before that you had to go to 2004 to Navarre, Sorgi, Krenzel, Smoker. 1 year of Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins really are all you have had up to about 2013 and after 2008. It's been 18 years since the Big 10 had a QB drafted in the 1st round although there is finally the potential for 3 at once in 2016 with Cook, Hackenberg, and Jones. But even Hackenberg was a disaster last year. So you get the general point - when you look at passing stats of Big 10 offenses vs those of the Pac 12, SEC, Big 12 - it has lacked severely for most teams... Wisconsin was throwing out a converted safety last year as a QB and they were the 3rd best team in the conf. Gary Nova - in the conference for all of 1 year, was the 3rd best QB (If you group all the OSU QBs as one since only one plays at a time) in the conf last year. Kevin Hogan in the Pac 12 ? A lower third QB ... in the Big 10? Awesome throw god....
I don't recall what week it was (maybe week 8 or 9) 8 of the top 25 defenses in the country per the NCAA stat were in the Big 10. Even in the year end results the Big 10 had 4 of the country's top 10 defenses (PSU, Wisconsin, UM, MSU)... and 6 of the top 22 (OSU, Iowa) Wow what a performance! Elite defenses all over this conference!!
Or is this really a confluence of mediocre to poor offenses with some former powers looking awful (PSU, UM) and other recently high octane offenses (Indiana) hampered by a true freshman QB, while others were run by a former safety for much of the year. Advanced stats say the latter - in fact only 2 offenses made the top 30 in the country via FEI; OSU and MSU. Some Big 10 teams in the West avoided both those offenses, and others only played 1. So you could in theory go through your conf slate playing 0 or 1 of the top 30 offenses in the country. Wisconsin's 1 dimensional offense was 33, and then you have to drop to 50 to find another Big 10 team. It's was an awful year save for a few teams on that side of the ball. And advanced stats say only Wisconsin and PSU had anywhere near elite defenses - and you saw what OSU did to Wisconsin.
So with run heavy schemes without Jeff George, Chuck Long, Drew Brees (hell Kyle Orton) types populating mid level teams in the league (and of course those schools wont have that type of QB every year), Big 10 defenses have feasted. Or at least that is my opinion so I thought I'd use advanced stats to compare the major conferences.
Below is a comparison chart of 7 teams comparing FEI offensive stats of their conference only schedule in 2014. The lower the average rank, the better the average offense faced. I've created a pool of 2 Big 10 teams (one from the East, one from the West), 2 SEC teams (one from the much tougher West, one from the East), and then 1 team from the other 3 power 5 conferences. I chose mid level type teams (excl Michigan which had 5 wins) of 7-9 wins on average to try to compare similar teams from each conference in 2014. Not the top teams, not the bottom teams....
This led me to: Nebraska, LSU, Tennessee, Louisville, West Virginia, Utah -along with control group Michigan.
My theories going into this were:
- The Pac 12 features the most NFL arms and prolific offenses so their defenses would be most stressed and thus a high defense ranking in that conf actually means something.
- The Big 10 and ACC would both suffer from a lot of mediocre offenses and thus their defenses (per NCAA stats) would be overinflated.
- The Big 12 rank in terms of opponent offensive rank would be closer to the Pac 12 although the struggles of Texas would hurt.
- The SEC West would rank very well, somewhere near the Big 12 while the SEC East would be hurt by the brutal (Michigan/PSU like) Florida offense
These are obviously 1 year data points specific to any 1 team (or 2 teams) in a conference (picking another team would give some variability) but I do think by and large they would hold up over the past half decade to give us a general trend (Obviously the Big 12 has changed body count over that time frame as has the Big 10 and SEC).
The Rankings Unadjusted
Let's see what the data told us (the # to the right of each team is their offensive FEI rank - lower = stronger) UM was 82 for comparison.
|NC State||38||OK St||70||ASU||16|
What does this data set say?
- As predicted in theory 1, Utah had the most onerous schedule. Pac 12 offenses are very good - they only faced ONE offense with a rank outside the FEI top 48. Again there are only 3 teams in the entire Big 10 with a ranking inside the top 48. Week in and week out - its brutal and the 32.0 ranking clears the field. (of course a cynic could say Pac 12 defenses are bad and Pac 12 offenses feast on bad defenses but I'd say the eye test disagrees - the Pac 12 offenses put a ton of pressure on you with a lot of pass oriented spread teams).
- As predicted in theory 2, Big 10 defenses had a huge advantage as the 57.9 opponent rank for UM and 56.6 for Nebraska were far and away the worst readings out of all 7 teams. And for all the talk of the how weak the Big 10 West is, the Big 10 East had even worse offensive outputs via FEI. But its very close - any defense in the conference had a much easier time than in any other conference.
- I was wrong in theory 2 about the ACC, I thought their offenses were as bad as the Big 10s. In fact they were right on par (with Louisville's 49.0) to the SEC East, and the Big 12.
- I was wrong about theory 3, than the Big 12 would be closer to the Pac 12 then not. The offenses in that conf were not dissimilar to the ACC, and SEC East. But part of that is due to both Oklahoma State and Texas having really bad offenses so it's a bit of an outlier this year. More on that later.
- I was correct on theory 4, the SEC West had the 2nd best offensive output - thus difficult on their defenses, and the SEC East was pushed down to average due to Florida. In fact every SEC West opponent for LSU was in the top 50 - even better than Utah's opponents. Surprising as we assumed this was a down year for SEC offense with a down year for SEC QB play.
The Rankings Adjusted
Now I decided to take this one step further and create an adjusted set of data. What does the adjusted data do? It simply takes a handful of teams above and puts them nearer to a historical reading - those teams would be UM, PSU, Clemson, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma State. I also threw in Indiana to try to make Michigan look better :P and also to account for their offenses of late which under Wilson are usually decent...when not run by a true freshman model. So I re-ran the numbers giving those schools a 35 FEI offensive rank. That is not world beater but it is solid (Wisconsin like). Let's see how the data changed.
|NC State||38||OK St||35||ASU||16|
What did the rerank do? It benefited the Big 10 East (UM) and Big 12 team (WV) the most as it rocketed up PSU - Indiana - OK State - Texas. 2 teams for each schedule - and in a 8 game schedule that is (math alert!) 25% of the schedule adjusted. Louisville benefited from Clemson, and both SEC teams from Florida. There was no benefit to Utah.
Results? The SEC West moved ahead of the Pac 12. A bit surprising because it felt like a down year for SEC West offenses. But these are clearly the 2 most competent conference / divisions from an offensive standpoint. Coming in 3rd was the Big 12 - which more fits my theory #3 above. So I believe my theory that the Big 12 is a good offensive league is true in general but didnt hold so much in 2014 as Texas and Oklahoma State had abnormal readings.
The Big 10 East and SEC East would be more on par with each other if PSU/Indiana (and Michigan) and Florida were more normal rather than abysmal. Then just behind them would come the ACC if Clemson had been a more typical offensive power as they usually have been under Chad Morris. Then way way way at the bottom is the Big West - which would support the case the Big 10 West sucks if UM and PSU can ever find their way. But for the purpose of this exercise - even adjusting to "normal times" for PSU and UM, and a Kevin Wilson Indiana the typical Big 10 defense is going to have the easiest time out there- and hence their stats are going to be inflated via NCAA.com's stats. Throw in their normal foray into the offensive juggernauts of the MAC in their non conf schedules and it gets even more slanted for Big 10 defenses. As expected the ACC would not be too far behind the Big 10 in a "normalized" environment.
The other 3 conferences are on a different plane, esp the SEC West and Pac 12 in terms of offenses and their defenses suffer. Or put another way - if your defense is performing in those conferences / divisions they have really earned it.
Or if you are a Big 10 apologist you can just yell they dont play no stinking defense in the SEC or Pac 12.... Or you could also blame cold weather for bad offenses and bad passing attacks but teams in Boston, Columbus, East Lansing, West Lafayette (in the Tiller years), Ann Arbor (in the Carr years), South Bend, et al seem to be able to run nice offenses even in northern climates so I dont buy the excuse. Lack of good QBs is more the issue.
Before looking at this I felt UM disappointed on defense last year relative to expectations - despite their "top 10!!!" ranking. Now - adjusting for what appears to be the easiest set of offenses faced in 2014 in any conference / division it makes it even more disappointing considering a relative good amount of talent and experience on that defense. Most advanced stats only had the defense around #40ish in the country despite an array of mediocre offenses faced. Going forward, it is worth keeping this sort of data in mind when comparing conference defensive achievement - the Big 10 (and ACC) defenses seem to have a quite clear advantage.
With June days away, and the board under constant Nike v Adidas attack, thought I'd steal some Mr. Yost thunder and do a 2 deep for the defense for 2015. I was going to do this for the offense but as I looked over the RB, WR, and even OL positions it is really in constant flux - any number of guys could be starters or backups and even positions on the OL are not set in stone. So it's way more guesswork.
Unlike Mr. Yost who does this as a data set I'll add some thoughts and comments.
- SDE: Charlton OR Wormley / Charlton OR Wormley
- WDE: Ojemudia / Marshall
Other contributors (i.e. 3 deep): Godin, Hurst (?), Jenkins-Stone, Poggi**
Freshmen: Johnson, Jones
Lost in the Weeds: Strobel
Views: Of the 5 position groups on defense the DEs have the most variability and question marks. Depth is an issue - any injury could cause havoc. Or cause the team to go heavily to a 3-4 system.
Ojemudia played decently in spots last year but this will be the first time starting. Charlton is already a JR - he is one of those guys who you wonder if he is a great athlete or a great football player. One hopes he turns into the latter in the next 2 years. For now he has the "potential" label. Wormley intrigues me as he is a guy who can flex out to SDE and in a 3 man front could be an end. I see him as potentially being more impactful than Charlton but that's just an uninformed guess - he does seem to make splash plays and will be 2 years removed from his ACL this year. He could also play inside but I think the depth chart says we need him outside next year. If he breaks out, a lot of concerns for the DEs could go away.
From there the dropoff in experience is vast. Marshall is a projected backup WDE but right now that is based on no one else on the depth chart. He did make a splash play or two in the spring game but... it's a spring game. Godin is a plugger at the WDE and could also play inside at 287 lbs. Then you have a few not perfect fits - Hurst is more of a DT but with his "quick first step" and weight (281) he could play as a DE in a pinch. Jenkins-Stone was a highly ranked LB out of HS who has done next to nothing in his time at UM other than in spring apparently where he is always hyped as doing well. Then fall comes and he disappears. I don't expect much from him but at 240 lbs he would seem to be the 3rd WDE. Speaking of disappearing 4 star Strobel is a guy most fans probably don't even remember at this point.
**They seemingly have shipped Poggi to TE but in theory - in case of injuries - he could flip back to WDE.
UM recruited 2 freshmen in 2015 but it would seem - barring a lot of injuries - neither is going to be playing in 2015 at their current projected weights. Each could use 15+ lbs (i.e. a redshirt year).
- NT: Glasgow / Mone
- DT: Henry / Wormley / Hurst
Other contributors (i.e. 3 deep): Godin
Views: Having a strong 2 deep at the DT is a nice luxury for the 2015 team. There should not be much drop off from starters to backups. In fact if Mone and Wormley were starting at Utah over Glasgow and Henry you wouldn't bat an eye really. You'll notice Wormley here along with Hurst - these are probably their more natural positions but in a 3-4 they could be your ends (along with a Charlton type). Heck Henry might be an end in a 3-4. It will be interestng to see how it plays out.
Henry is tantalizing - he is talked up by the staff and does some very good things on the field. Then sometimes he doesn't. Have to remember he was only a RS SO last year - the next 2 years should be very good for him and the no nonsense staff should help any potential attitude issues (i.e. drive). Glasgow is a 297 lb NT - that's tough but (cliche time) you can't measure heart! He is not going to get you much in pass rush but seems like a very good run stopper. Mone makes hearts flutter and performed much better than Pipkins in these sets of eyes in their respective freshman years. The FR to SO leap for an interior linemen should make him a serious contributer this year and in the 320s he is a mountain of a man.
Wormley has proven pass rush capabilities from the inside and Hurst - again a young guy that it seems like we've been hearing good stuff on from practice reports for a few years - seems like he is ready to take a step as a contributor much like a Bolden did a year ago in the LBs. This sets up a lot of flexibility in pass rush options as you could have a big stout but still pretty effective pass rush group of say Charlton, Henry, Hurst, Wormley. Whatever the case the DTs have talent, depth, and lots of competition among talented players which should drive the group.
I've assumed with so much fire around his name, Pipkins will have be a medical...
- SAM: Ross / Jenkins-Stone
- MIKE: Morgan / Gedeon
- WILL: Bolden / Gedeon
Other contributors (i.e. 3 deep): Gant, McCray, Furbush, Wangler
This is a solid workmanlike group but it seems to lack elite playmaking. I'd also argue it lacks depth. And it gets downright scary in 2016 when all 3 projected starters graduate. (UM might take 2 grad transfers here in 2016 the way this depth chart looks!!)
Bolden seems like the most sure thing as a starter after he and Jake Ryan combined for an enormous amount of playing time last year. UM played a ton of 2 LB sets, essentially erasing the SAM position for large portions of games and going with a nickel. Morgan is a presumed starter at the MIKE but I hold out hope Gedeon is seriously going to push there. He is another tantalizing guy that we've seen splashes of to get our interest up but not over a sustained period of time. At the SAM, Ross is a mystery - a 2 year starter he entered 2014 expected to continue to be an undersized fast LB - but disappeared for much of the first half of the year it seemed like. One hopes he re-emerges this year - his size hurts him but with a guy like this if you can keep him clean he is one of the few guys in the LB core with serious speed. His backup is RJS but again see notes above - guy has been a disappearing act for 3 years so I am not counting on him. I really would have liked to see Dymonte Thomas bulk up to 210-215 lbs and take a swipe at SAM in his remaining 2 years at UM.
The backups are worrisome and injuries to this unit could be a big issue. Not recruiting an impact LB this class hurt as he could have been someone who was part of the 2 deep, especially at that SAM position. And it will hurt even more in 2016 when this team is probably going to be running out multiple freshmen on the 2 deep. With Winovich switched to TE (head scratcher to me) and Ferns transferring all you are left at from the 2014 class is often injured Furbush and Wangler. Can either help this year? They will have to in 2016. McCray is a MIKE type who has yet to really make any impact on the football team (was injured this spring) and Gant is a lightly regarded SAMish type. Again the worry is depth here - once you get past LB #4 (Gedeon) you open up a lot of question marks. The starting unit should be "solid" but it would be nice to really develop LBs other teams have to game plan for.
- FS: Peppers / Thomas or Kinnel
- SS: Wilson / Hill
Other contributors (i.e. 3 deep): Clark
The much hyped Peppers joins Wilson at the safety position. If Dymonte Thomas had developed as projected out of HS (or Hoke didnt stop recruiting wonderkid Montae Nicholson - grrrr), one wonders how dynamic a corner tandem of Peppers and Lewis could have been but that is not our situation. So Peppers takes over and is joined by a solid if unspectacular Wilson. There will be a learning curve for Peppers and a busted assignment here or there but one hopes the football IQ and pure athleticism helps hide that, especially by the time the conf season rolls around.
Thomas and Clark are sort of ... well meh for now. Clark played nicely vs App State and you have sugar plum dreams of a 6'4 safety but that was App State. When real competition rolled in Clark did not look good. Dymonte Thomas is a worry as a guy who will never reach his potential - this year should be a make or break year as he is already a JR and if he doesnt make an impact this year, your only hope is a Will Campbell SR yr miracle.
The 2 that intrigue me are Hill and Kinnel. Hill had a rough 2014 with all the injuries - he had supposedly won the starting spot across from Wilson and then promptly was hurt. He returned later in the year, but getting trucked by Connor Cook was a testament to the type of season it was. He still seems like someone who has good potential and a good year for him would help alleviate worries about the 2016 SS position. As for Kinnel, I am for some reason buying this kid's hype. He has great size at already 205 and is one of the guys I could see losing his redshirt with the inevitable injuries every team has in the secondary.
In nickel defenses one assumes Peppers moves over to nickel and Hill and Wilson are your traditional safeties. Unless Dymonte Thomas has a break through and can figure out nickel.
There is also a wildcard here with a guy like Moncrief from Auburn but he was a backup beat out regularly by other, younger players and frankly a prospect like Hill seems more interesting. But maybe he provides injury insurance if he were to arrive.
- CB: Lewis / Douglas
- SS: Lyons OR Watson OR Stribling
Other contributors (i.e. 3 deep): Dawson
Lost in the weeds: Richardson
I am expecting great things out of Lewis. It might not show up in the stat sheet if teams avoid him. Barring injury I don't see a reason to ever take him out of the game - the drop off between him and anyone else is vast, especially Douglass/Dawson types.
At the other corner the loss of Countess hurts. He wasn't a great player but he was needed depth. Lyons is an ok player (see my diary on him here) but not a world beater - that said Pac 12 QBs crush Big 10 QBs with the exception of OSU, MSU and most years of late Indiana. So he will have an easier job in the Big 10 facing Minnesota and Rutgers type offenses (err, excluding SuperGaryNova). But my hope is Brandon Watson beats him out. Watson looked great in the spring game but ... sigh... it was against our QBs and WRs. He has good size and if he beats out a veteran in Lyons it would be a lot like if Morris beats out Rudock - it would give you a nice floor as a backup and mean very good things for the new starter. Stribling is also there and unfortunately had a rough SO campaign. I thought he would show up last fall up 15 lbs heavier and ready to build on the very understandable mistakes of an unheralded FR CB. Instead he seemed marginalized even further by the coaching staff. And then this year shows up for spring at almost the exact same weight - again. Frustrating. 6'2 195 lb Stribling seems far better suited for Big 10 play than 6'2 178 lb Stribling. He is still a wildcard and I hope the new staff does more with him as he seemed interesting as a freshman.
Douglas and Dawson are not people I feel comfortable rolling out as contributors at this point. Hopefully they can contribute something. Terry Richardson falls into the Strobel camp - a 4 star recruit who has had zero real impact on football Saturdays - and at this point you can't really count on to contribute. Also I don't expect Washington to see the light of day - he looks like a player who really needs a RS year both from size and learning this position.
While Michigan's NCAA defensive rank was pretty decent all that does is rank teams by average yards given up per game. And that gives a major advantage to every Big 10 defense as the offenses - save for a few - have been anywhere from pedestrian to poor by and large for years. Advanced stats showed a Michigan defense which ranked around 40ish in the country and 6th to 8th in the Big 10 last year. That felt about right - and that was disappointing considering the defense was expected to be top 3 going into 2014. Even the things the team did right (rush defense) let the team down when needed (Minnesota). It wasn't a bad defense but it wasn't as good as it looked on paper. The end of 1st half implosions also caused us to pull out our hair.
While the NFL losses are significant (specifically Ryan and Clark) better position coaching should help as will any reversion to mean in the turnovers caused which was abysmal in 2014. The entire team had 5 INTs last year; multiple DBs on other Big 10 teams had more than our entire team. Fumbles caused was also pathetic. Just adding 8 more TOs a year by this unit - which would just be a "normal" year, should help change the field and make the defense "feel" better. I dont buy the "defense was on the field too long" argument at all for last year's failures - Michigan not only had the ball over 30 minutes a game on offense they also played at a very slow pace in real time terms. Lack of dynamic playmakers and ability to flip the field hurt more.
The 2015 defense should also be interesting in terms of formations - while others have said the type of "3-4" Durkin runs won't be a sea change the position flexibility of a few players on the DL (Charlton, Wormley, Henry, Hurst) should make for interesting post game analysis. The obvious strength are the DTs with a potential pair of top end DBs - Peppers still needs to prove it on the field vs non MAC competition. LBs seem solid if not game changers. Finding solutions at the 2nd CB and DEs are the key - pressuring the QB is probably going to be the #1 issue for this defense. #2 will be depth at various positions - while one feels comfortable with the starters at most spots, the backups are either unproven or proven to be a significant step down, esp in the back 7. So when injuries do hit - can we get servicable production from the next guy on the totem pole?
Fuller / MGoBlog
The 2015 season was a breakout of sorts for Spike Albrecht: the famously under-recruited junior wasn’t projected to start at any point in his four year career, but because of the injuries to Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert, Spike ascended to starter and became an indispensible presence on the court and one of Michigan’s most valuable rotation players. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins saw the biggest bumps in playing time after the injuries, but Albrecht increased his minutes per game from 26.2 to 38.6 (tied for the most on the team with Zak Irvin for games after LeVert and Walton were sidelined).
Spike showed off more playmaking ability than he had in either of his previous two seasons and became a Vine star with highlights like this:
Plays like that became somewhat common for Spike – Drew Hallett, who posted the Vine above, titled the play “Spike Nash,” something I wrote about at length after Michigan’s win over Syracuse in the ACC – Big Ten Challenge:
Spike attempted a behind-the-head pass (which, if memory serves, resulted in a flubbed Mark Donnal layup) and literally dribbled around the paint a few times in another game so far this season, but this play – a seemingly effortless play that was both audacious and completely necessary – in context, was something else. Firstly, Spike Albrecht is not, nor will he ever be, Steve Nash, a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the more exciting players ever to play the game. Still, there’s been a decidedly Nash-esque quality to Spike’s game this season, even if it’s a $29.99 photo print of an original masterpiece. It’s not hard to envision Spike Albrecht watching hours of Nash highlights on Youtube as a middle-school kid and trying out that nonsense at practice or on the driveway.
Spike’s going to be that guy eventually. He’s currently the elder statesman on the team, but he has almost two entire years of eligibility left in a Michigan uniform. He still has plenty of basketball to give – unlike several players capable of singular brilliance (the Nik Stauskases and Trey Burkes), he won’t be a fleeting season’s worth of memories. I suspect that we’ll have another two years of Spike attempting insane passes that look almost indifferent and while his moments of genius will be much fewer and further in between than those from the stars of the college basketball world, it will be incredibly fun to wait and watch what Spike will do next. At the very least, he’ll probably hit about 40% of his threes, he’ll probably post a gaudy assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’ll probably be a solid player at worst, on the whole.
Spike was one of the most visible silver linings in the wake of Michigan’s disappointing season – he’s an above-average player (particularly on the offensive end) compared to others in his role. To wit, he outplayed future NBA lottery pick D’Angelo Russell in Ann Arbor last year, scored 17 points in half of the national championship game three years ago, and clearly elevated his level of play over the course of the season. Incredibly, he’s played in 107 games as a Michigan Wolverine; Jordan Morgan holds the school record at 140 games and, if he stays healthy, Spike could claim that record as his own.
* * *
Old Man Spike
— LaVall Jordan (@LaVall_Jordan) April 22, 2015
Among the much ballyhooed (and eventually very successful) “Fresh Five” recruiting class, only two are left: Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht. It’s easy to see, even now, that the watershed 2012 class was instrumental in triggering the renaissance of Michigan basketball – they went to the national title game as freshmen (three started), won the Big Ten by three games as sophomores (with Stauskas and LeVert leading the way), and up to four will eventually be drafted into the NBA. Here are their individual accomplishments:
- Nik Stauskas – Second-Team All American (2014), Big Ten Player of the Year (2014), #8 overall in the 2014 Draft.
- Mitch McGary – Preseason First-Team All American (2014), South Regional All-Tournament Team (2013), Final Four All-Tournament Team (2013), #21 overall in the 2014 Draft.
- Glenn Robinson – Big Ten All-Freshman Team (2013), #40 overall in the 2014 Draft.
- Caris LeVert – Second-Team All Big Ten (2014), Preseason First-Team All American (2015).
- Spike Albrecht – Final Four All-Tournament Team (2013).
As it turns out, Caris and Spike will be the only two to finish out their four years of eligibility at Michigan and – for the first time in several years – the Wolverines will have two senior cornerstones. LaVall Jordan’s tweet above calls an interesting comparison to mind: Zack Novak and Stu Douglass were four year contributors and valuable leaders in their time at Michigan and, like Caris and Spike, were under-the-radar prospects added late in the recruiting process. Beilein’s had success in uncovering gems late – Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman come to mind – and they’ve made quite an impact at Michigan.
Albrecht and LeVert have obviously had very different careers, but there’s one interesting factoid that underscores the leadership role Albrecht’s in: Spike’s two years older than the next-oldest Michigan player (LeVert) and has several years of game experience. Because of prep school, Spike will be 23 by the time next season starts, providing a level of veteran leadership that was lacking at times this past season. Last year, he was unexpectedly called on to fill a big role and performed admirably – Spike was a captain as a junior and was eventually named team MVP. His hips were so badly messed-up that he had to have offseason surgery on both, but he played star minutes through the end out of necessity. Hard-hats, lunchpails, and all that.
Additionally, he’s the front-runner for the Robbie Hummel Memorial “That Guy’s STILL In College?” Award given to the Big Ten player who seems to have been around forever more than anyone else in the league.
After the jump, more on Michigan’s floppy-haired cult hero
The softball team left for Oklahoma City and the WCWS today, ahead of their Thursday match up with Alabama (7:00 pm ET, ESPN2). The ASA/USA Player of the Year award (softball Heisman) will be announced tonight and Michigan's Sierra Romero -- already the recipient of ESPNW's POY award and MGoBoard's Chick that Knocks the Fuck Out of the Ball award -- is one of three finalists. Here are some tweets and reading material for those interested.
— Carol Hutchins (@UMCoachHutch) May 26, 2015
— Michigan Softball (@umichsoftball) May 26, 2015
- Inside Pitch with LC: Eight Things That Led Team 38 to OKC: Catcher Lauren Connell provides a view from inside the team on the Super Regional and the preparation for the WCWS.
- 5 Questions Heading Into Women's College World Series: ESPNW's Graham Hays writes a great primer on the WCWS and what to look out for. Touches on Romo, Christner, Betsa, and the Michigan-Alabama game.
- Sierra Romero is Michigan's Derek Jeter: Angelique Chengelis bio piece on Romo, details Hutch's comparison of her to Jeter.
- Dancing helps Michigan softball boost energy, maintain chemistry in push for national title: Justin Hicks covers the most important key to the team's success. This one is from before the Super Regional, but still a fun read.