the just released schedules were a flat-out statement that the B10 doesn't believe SOS will matter in playoff selection
Below are some charts - yes, charts - showing how the defense stacks up after three games, both this year and last year. Please take these charts with a massive grain of salt, but I was still a little surprised by the findings. Also, I know that the defense last year was statistically one of the worst in UM's history, but I still think that was due more to the offense's inability to stay on the field than a complete implosion by the defense.
So not as bad as I thought. Points are just about equal (one of ND's 2008 touchdowns was on a fumble return, which I did not attribute to the defense). The passing yards are essentially the same, with the rushing defense clearly taking a step back. At least part of that rushing difference, though, can be attributed to the Herculean effort the defense put on Utah, holding them to 0.8 yards per carry on 43(!) attempts in the first game of 2008. Put their average from last year (157 yds/gm), and you have effectively the same defensive effort.
But what about the offenses faced? Were the offenses UM faced last year statistically better or worse than the ones they have faced so far? I wanted to find out, so I go again to my trusty excel chart.*
*Note, the national rankings for the 2009 opponents only includes the first 2 games (since today's games are not complete). Also, I included both the final and after-3-games totals for the 2008 offenses.
|Teams||Utah||Miami (NTM)||ND||AVERAGE RANKING|
|After 3 games|
2009 - after 2 games
So yeah, the defense is struggling a bit, but certainly not to the extent people first envisioned. While I will update the 2009 numbers when they are posted, both ND and WMU have/are putting a hurting on their most recent opponents, and EMU showed some competence against both UM and NW. As you can see, the rush defense might have been helped by the fact that both ND and Miami (NTM) trotted out some of the worst rushing offenses last year, and Utah was the first game of the year against a fresh defensive front. This year it is clear that the line is a work in progress, and the LBs need to tackle better, but those were trouble spots everyone expected. Not to harp on the Denny Green meme, but the front 7 are who we thought they were - incredibly shallow with some clear weaknesses. Still, the rush defense is ranked #43 (last year it finished #50), and my guess is that it will improve somewhat as the season progresses and some of the younger players get their feet under them and GERG's principles become more familiar.
As for the passing defenses, they are remarkably similar statistically. Sure, Cissoko has struggled mightily this year, but don't forget that last year Stevie was letting bombs soar over his head and receivers scoot by him virtually unmolested. Angry Secondary Michigan Hating God works in mysterious ways, but apparently the pox can never be eradicated; just moved to a different victim. It should be noted that they have faced two top-30 passing offenses so far this season, so perhaps we shouldn't read that heavily into the fact that the backfield has been exposed somewhat. Currently the defense is 87th in passing defense, but that happens when you face top-30 passing attacks. Last year they finished #79, and I would be amazed if the pass defense didn't finish in the 60's or even the 50's by the end of the season.
So I guess my conclusion is that while the defense has struggled somewhat this year, let's not forget that it wasn't some juggernaut last year. For all of Cissoko's recent failings and the struggles of the front 7 against the run, the team is not that far away from last year's numbers, and should probably exceed them once the sample size increases. Yes, PSU and OSU will likely run all over the D, but that should surprise nobody. Those are top-notch offenses with dynamic playmakers in the backfield. But I like what I'm seeing so far under GERG - tackling alone seems light-years ahead of last year, the players seem to get the scheme, the young guys, especially Roh, look legit, and Warren and Graham have been revelations. I'm not saying this defense will approach 1997 or 2006, but I do think it will grade out better than people expect.
I would love to hear what people who know far more about football, especially on the defensive side, think of this defense and how it should look going forward.
EDIT: I have updated the rankings for this year's offenses after 3 games. Overall, they match up quite similarly to last year's offenses after 3 games, when the defense was touted as one of the best. My take is that while the defense certainly has to improve, I think that it will certainly be better than last year's because the offense should protect it via sustained drives and, hopefully, less turnovers resulting in bad field position.
2009 - after 3 games
Listen guys, I know this week’s been tough. Everyone is counting us out, questioning our heart, our determination, our will to win. The fans and media say this team is a rudderless ship, taking on water and circling the drain. They say we are still looking for our identity, that we are missing some pieces to the puzzle and they doubt we’ll be able to pull together and find our way. They say it’s going to be another rebuilding year, that we’ll stay the doormat while our rivals sip from the cup of glory.
They say I’m on the hot seat, that I’m under fire and that the AD and Boosters ain’t happy about the product I’m putting out on the field. They say the inmates are running the asylum, that I’ve lost control of this team and that there is dissention in the ranks. They wonder if I’ll make it to the end of the season, and I’ll admit that the buck stops with me.
Our rivals are licking their lips and ready to give us the business, and they can’t wait to come into our house and beat the snot out of us. They are looking for revenge and retribution, and they’ve got some bad intentions. They can smell blood in the water, and they are circling in for the kill. They are going for our jugular, gentlemen.
And the media is saying that this team isn’t a family anymore, that we are bunch of individuals and not a cohesive unit. They say we’ve got too many off-the-field distractions, that our heads are not in this game and that we don’t have leadership at the top. They say we’re on the ropes, and ripe for a knockout. They say that this first game is a “Must Win,” that this game will define our season for us. One week until the biggest game our lives.
We are in hell gentlemen.
Now if we go out there, and we half-ass it 'cause we're scared, all we're left with is an excuse; we're always gonna wonder. But if we go out there, and we give it absolutely everything - that's heroic.
We’ve just got to dig deeper, deeper than we’ve ever dug before. We’ve got to find that inner demon, that eye of the tiger. I don’t believe anything they are saying about us out there; the only opinions I care about are from the men in this lockerroom. And what I’ve seen and heard is a team that is tired of getting dirt kicked in its face, is tired of being told that it can’t win, that is doesn’t know how to play the game the right way. I see a team that’s been cornered like a wild animal.
And you want to know what happens when you corner an animal – it comes out fighting for its life. We are fighting for the way we live our lives men, the way Michigan Men play this game. We are fighting for respect, for the right to be considered champions again. We’re on a mission gentlemen, to claw our way back into the light. I don't care if you like each other of not, but you will respect each other. And maybe... I don't know, maybe we'll learn to play this game like men.
That means we need to be willing to give 110% every time we step out onto that field. I’ve seen the blood, sweat, and tears that you guys have given to this program during the offseason. There is no other group of guys I’d rather go into battle with than the men in this room. Because we are going to lose as a team, and we damn sure are going to win as a team.
Football is a game of inches gentlemen, and on this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch. We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch. Because every game this season is going to be a war, and we are going to have to earn everything we get. Nobody is going to hand us a victory; we are going to have to take it from them. This game is four quarters, and don’t take a play off. Nobody believes in us right now; let’s go out there and give them something to believe in.
The first quarter, hit them in the mouth and let them know that they’re playing football. They start talking, you keep quiet and play your game. Play within yourself, but just keep coming. And look out for each other, and if someone makes his mistake, clean it up for him.
Second quarter, turn up the heat. Don’t give them anything easy. They want to run it on you, make them pay. They want to throw it by you, make them pay. They try to stop you, make them pay. I want them to look over on our side of the field and realize that they’re in for the fight of their lives. I want them checking their plane tickets at halftime to see if they can go home sooner.
Third quarter, they’re going to get tired, but you’ll keep coming. You are the best-conditioned team in the country, and your heart is the strongest muscle in your body. You just keep hitting them, you keep scoring, and you’ll see the fear in their eyes.
Fourth quarter, that’s when champions are revealed. You are going to need to take your game to another level, gentlemen, but you have laid the foundation and you know, in your heart of hearts, that you can get there.
Now, this season is going to test you gentlemen. There are going to be times when you want to give up, when you don’t think you can give anything more. But that’s when you have to band together and pick each other, support your brother out there and raise all of your games to places you never dreamt possible.
We’re in the business of winning football games, and business is about to pick up. So let’s go out there and shock the world. Go Blue!
As has been chronicled on this site, UM football has been taking a beating recently both for its on-field performance (both past and presumed future) as well as the myriad of negative stories generated this off-season. Without rehashing or dwelling upon them, I want to address why they bug me (and I suspect others). Bear with me - this is more a cathartic rant than some eloquent point-by-point discussion.
I'm really pissed about the transfers, the expulsions, the APR hits, and the Feagin arrest; not because I am some naive fan who always thought UM was filled with "good guys" who bled maize and blue, but because this just reminds me more and more that nothing is really "pure" anymore. Now, I know that sounds somewhat whimsical and illogical, but hear me out.
My connection with UM didn't start when I entered the school back in '99. It started as a little kid growing up outside Detroit, knowing how good a school it was, how it was a "leader" and the "best", and most importantly, how every fall Saturday this whole state cared about how the Wolverines played that day. Sure, MSU had its fans, but in the 80's and 90's, the trials and triumphs of UM seemed to matter way too much to this state, and I couldn't help but be caught up. So I was bummed out when this team lost in the Rose Bowl to Washington, and I was ecstatic when UM returned the favor the following year. And to this day, I still remember walking down Hoover with my friend and his dad, who scored tickets to some meaningless early-season game against Miami (Not that Miami), awestruck by the beauty of the campus that crisp fall day. And to sit in that stadium, to hear the announcer welcome us all to the biggest stadium in America, the most people watching a football game anywhere, and to see those winged helmet rush onto the field and dominate - well, let's just say that it took Britney Spears dancing around in a schoolgirl outfit before I was that excited again.
So when junior year rolled around and college became the "thing" everyone worried about, I knew the beginning and end of my search. Then, to learn that UM had a world-renowned engineering program, I was sold. So I sweated through the ACTs, through the essays and the AP exams, and hoped that I could attend the school that captured my mind years ago. Then one rainy day my senior year, I sprinted to my jeep and found an envelope on the steering wheel - an envelope emblazoned with the UM Admissions seal (my mother, too nervous to open the letter when it arrived in the mail, had driven to school and left it in my car). I ripped it open, hoping for the best but fearing the worst, and in that first line I saw the word that means way too much to a 17-year-old kid - “congratulations.” I practically lost my mind, in a way that would have made me a worldwide sensation had youtube existed at that time.
But that was only the beginning of my connection with Michigan and, in particular, this football team. My freshman year, I sat with the greybeards while UM held on against Notre Dame, the snow and cold of the HC game against Purdue, and I cared way too much that Carr kept yanking Brady and Henson around at QB (I personally though Brady looked better out there than the hot-shot Henson, but maybe that's a bit of revisionist history). I lost my mind like everyone else in the stands when Phil Brabbs, the goofy guy who lived next to me freshman year in South Quad, booted the game winner against Washington, and then moped around like a jilted lover as the team was dominated by the likes of Iowa(!) and OSU later that year. And no matter what anyone says, I will remain the biggest Marquise Walker fan in the world, all because he blew me and my housemates' minds with his catch against Iowa. And sure, it wasn't all about football while at UM. I loved the Law Quad in the winter, the way the campus looked in the fall and spring, and how everyone on the bus up to North Campus looked close to death come December, wishing they had skipped class that day or become a psych major (no offense). Heck, I met my wife at UM, as well as some of my closest friends. But that football team, that winged helmet, is an essential element of my memories of UM.
So that's why all of this negative press kills me. Not because I care if we get a Fulmer Cup point or if guys like Boren and Wermers were right about this team, or that Rittenberg picks up to finish 9th in the Big 10 or that we are significantly worse than OSU – but because all of these hits dilute, though infinitesimally, my memories of UM. Now I know that sounds crazy – my four years at UM are in the past, and no matter what happens in the future, they should remain untouched. My friends didn't disappear, my degree still means the same, and those football memories still live on unmolested by the transgressions of subsequent years.
But they do, and I don't think you can help it. That is MY school that is being knocked on ESPN; it is MY school with the drug-dealing former player and the 3-9 season; it is MY school that gets run over my PSU, MSU, and OSU, that has to listen to people on the radio and online talk about how the UM mystique is dead and buried. Sure, the academics still are great, and the community and congeniality of UM and its alumni remains strong, but the fact remains that UM is partially defined by the football team, and this recent mediocre string leaves everyone with a taste in their mouth that you just can't spit out.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is that what has happened turns these dynamic memories into buzzwords and cliches. Appy St. Thugs. Rodriguezed. 3-9. It takes everything I've written, everything I lived before, during, and after my time at UM, and distills it down to some meaningless soundbite. And for any fanbase, that is the worst feeling – you see your memories, your ups and downs, your relationship with a team and school belittled by a few words. This happens everywhere – talk to MSU fans, and they have to live with “riots” and “safety school”; OSU fans, “Clarett” and “SEC”; Florida State, “Shoegate.” As a fan, you didn't ask for these black clouds, but that is part of the deal with being a fan – you take the good with the bad. But it still hurts, and it still gnaws at you more than you know it should, and that's why you write 1,000-word blog posts at night instead of doing something more productive.
So I welcome people's opinions and criticisms, their memories and their recommendations for dealing with the realities of this team. I guess I just needed to get this out, even if it makes me seem a little crazy. Part of me is bothered that I care this much about a football team and a school from my past, but part of me is happy that I still feel such a connection with this school and this team, even 5+ years after that envelope rested on my steering wheel.
With the NFL draft rapidly approaching and college football existing in a tantalizing “spring game and then random non-mandatory-but-if-you-plan-on-playing-you-better-show-up practices” realm until the fall, my mind began to wander
about football. Perhaps spurred on my Mel Kiper’s impeccable coif, I started to think about the NFL draft and the immense differences in how college and professional players are rated depending on who is providing the analysis.
With college players, the focus tends to be on the player's "fit" within a system, while in the NFL the focus seems to be
far more on a player's raw "numbers" and physical attributes. For example, the proliferation of spread-style offenses in college has made 5'-10" WR/quarks far more valuable than they are to a professional football team, while some CFB teams have moved away from the massive-but-speed-impaired OLs that still find homes on most NFL rosters. While there remains a significant number of skills that translate well no matter what person is doing the analysis, it does seem that being a star in college does not necessarily oneself of that success following you into the pros.
Now, that probably is not a revelation to most people, but it got me thinking about CFB All-Americans and how they
are evaluated by NFL scouts, the theory being that the highest-rated players tend to be drafted early. Every year, it always seemed like two or three All-Americans (usually QBs, but other positions as well) either were drafted in
the lower rounds, or not at all. It always struck me as odd how these guys can dominate the college game, oftentimes
against players who are later drafted before them, but still evaluated as borderline pros by NFL front offices.
With that in mind, I set out to determine how success in college translated to the NFL, broken down by position.
First, the set-up:
Set-up and caveats:
- Draft years: 2001-2008
- I used only the players from the first-team AP All-American list. My reasons are two-fold for selecting this particular cross-section of college football's elite.
- I chose the AP list because it is the one most commonly cited when discussing a player's collegiate success, and it seemed to have far less WTF selections compared to ones put out by the Coaches or TSN.
- I limited by analysis to the first team because those players were regarded as the "best" that year, and enough guys moved up and down the 1st, 2nd, and honorable mentions throughout their careers that it made
my head hurt trying to keep them all properly slotted.
- So you didn't get drafted... - Believe it or not, some All-Americans were not drafted by an NFL club (sorry, Mr. Shazor). In those few instances where a player went undrafted, I assigned them a round of 8 and an overall draft position of 256, which are 1 more than the respective limits of rounds and positions in the NFL draft.
- APs and FBs - In college, a position on the All-American team is reserved for an uber-athlete who, in most instances, is a kick/punt returner. In the NFL Draft, though, these players are listed at their "preferred" position.
Similarly, players are drafted as FBs even though the AA team does not feature such a position. So both those
categories are out. Note to those worried about these omissions corrupting my numbers - most of the APs were WRs
or RBs drafted around the same round and pick number as the rest of their position, while FBs never factored into
most AA teams and were drafted so low that they would have artificially depressed the numbers for whatever group -
RB or TE - I tried to shoehorn them into.
- The Lines - People may notice that I lumped defensive and offensive line players into two groups - DL
and OL - without regard for their position along said line. I know, this undoubtedly screwed with my numbers. The first problem is that the AA teams do not list separate positions on either line except at C. Sure, I could have gone based on the position they were drafted/listed at, but that might not be the position at which they attained AA status
while in college. So yeah, good LTs are going to be gone far sooner than good RGs, as will good DEs compared to good NTs, but I'm willing to accept that variance here. Furthermore, guys in college move around all the time, sometimes lining up as DE on one play, a hybrid linebacker the next, and on the inside as a tackle on another, all depending on the matchups. Similarly, while a great LT might not be moved around much, injuries and even particular formations may lead to guys bouncing around from G to T throughout the year, making a single position difficult to ascertain. So I bunched everyone into line play, and
I accept all criticisms that come with that decision.
- DBs - See above for my logic with bunching guys together. While the AA team does have a separate listing for safeties and cornerbacks, their variability of position (CB, S, or LB) at the draft made it difficult to determine where many of them fell. For example, Marlin Jackson was a CB while at UM, but has been more of a safety while in the pros. That seemed to happen more with DBs than any other position I followed, so I figured I might as well
lump them together and accept that the numbers would be a little skewed.
- Sample size - I know, I know. With samples of 7-8 players, of course one or two outliers are going to
knock everything out of whack. For that, I
apologize, but I am gainfully employed, recently married, and only have a finite number of hours a day to spend
surfing the Internet for All American teams
and yearly drafts. Take all of the numbers with a massive grain of salt; that said, the trends you'll see in the
numbers, at least to me, keep in line with
my expectations going into this project and match, I hope, with the conventional wisdom shared by others.
- Math: I'm a computer engineer from UM who was, at one point, decent with statistical analysis methods.
Over the years, though, my knowledge has retreated farther and farther in the recess of my mind, replaced with Family Guy quotes and the rules of eminent domain. As a result, I limited my analysis to average draft position for the All Americans, the average draft position for every player at that position (with the All Americans removed from the pool
so as to not skew the numbers), and standard deviations for both. Since my sample sizes were relatively small, the standard deviations are all over the place, and are practically useless beyond a "hey, that's interesting" viewpoint. I know there are other models and methods that might make more sense of this data, so look below for a link to part of my data (I can upload the full file if anyone really wants it).
My expectations - i.e. my uneducated beliefs about football:
Before jumping into the data, I'll quickly recount my expectations going into this little analysis.
- I've been Weinke'd - Though this was based mostly on my recollections of such college studs-turned-pro-duds as Chris Weinke (the greatest travesty in Heisman history), Jason White, Eric Crouch (not in sample), and Tim Tebow (jury is still out, but just saying...), I figured the QB position would show the greatest divergence between All American status and actual draft position. In college, where specialized systems are rampant and guys like Graham
Harrell, Colt Brennan, and Chris Leak can dominate despite clear deficiencies, it would make sense that they would
no fit snuggly into most pro systems and, as a result, drop in the draft.
- Fast little guys - I have always heard from the talking heads on ESPN, Fox Sports, etc. that the two
positions where the transition from college to the pros (outside of special teamers like Ks and Ps) is easiest is at RB and DB, especially for college corners. That makes sense to an extent, as those positions rely most heavily on pure athletic ability. So I expected to see the the greatest deviation in draft position at these two positions, with AAs
being drafted far higher than the "average" player at that position.
So on to the chart? Yeah, chart:
|Position||Count||Average Round||Average Draft Pick||Std Dev Round||Std Dev Draft Pick|
|C - CFB||8||4.5||135.38||2.78||101.15|
|C - NFL||51||4.88||152||1.84||66.72|
|DB - CFB||31||2.35||60.71||1.98||68.64|
|DB - NFL||356||4.23||127.82||1.93||69.35|
|DL - CFB||28||1.96||44.96||1.67||58.13|
|DL - NFL||317||4.24||127.64||2.06||73.73|
|K - CFB||6||5.33||163||2.5||90.92|
|K - NFL||15||5.87||183.27||1.19||50.53|
|LB - CFB||18||3||79.44||2.35||83.62|
|LB - NFL||234||4.32||130.36||1.81||67.14|
|OL - CFB||27||2.44||58.33||1.8||62.86|
|OL - NFL||260||4.67||143.92||1.92||69.99|
|P - CFB||7||5.29||165.71||1.98||70.33|
|P - NFL||12||5.33||163.17||1.15||45.01|
|QB - CFB||7||3||81.71||2.77||100.75|
|QB - NFL||101||4.2||126.04||2.14||77.71|
|RB - CFB||15||2.87||77||2.33||80.38|
|RB - NFL||138||4.29||131.53||2.08||76.91|
|TE - CFB||8||2.5||66.38||2.51||84.96|
|TE - NFL||112||4.57||142.23||1.91||69.89|
|WR - CFB||14||2.36||53.29||2.1||73.82|
|WR - NFL||245||4.44||136.22||2.03||74.51|
|AP - CFB||7||3.57||107||2.23||80.01|
|FB - NFL||31||5.16||160.94||1.39||53.33|
For individual draft positions of AAs and the NFL draft in general, click here.
So that was interesting. Some observations:
- Being an AA clearly helps your chances of being drafted. At every position, guys who were AAs were drafted
before the "average" player at that position. If one throws out Ks and Ps, in fact, most players AAs were drafted between 1 and 2 rounds before the average player, which amounted to millions of dollars in compensation and a far greater odds of making it on an NFL roster. So as a PSA - kids, try to be All Americans in college except...
- If you kick for a living and/or are used to having a guy's hands between your legs. Ps, Ks, and Cs received
comparatively small bumps in their draft stock for being AAs, though all three positions were drafted far later on average than other positions on the football field. While the special teamers really did not surprise me, one always hears how Cs are the smartest guys on the field and, as such, you would think such a commodity would be at a premium
come draft day. I will leave the explanation as to why Cs are drafted so much lower to those who know more about football than me.
- QBs on both side of the line struggle - You always hear about LBs being treated as the "QBs of the
defense," and at least on the AA team that seems to be true - both positions were consistently drafted lower than others. As I said above, sample size and what-not certainly had something to do with this theme, but the QB position in college is almost a different species compared to the NFL, so the divergence in draft status versus college success
doesn't really surprise me. LB was a bit more of a shock, but it does seem that LBs (and DEs) benefit the most
from the various systems run at the collegiate level as well as the relative strength of the line in front of them. If the DL can hold up the blockers from reaching that second level, it makes sense that free-flowing LBs are going to rack up huge tackle numbers that, inevitably, raise their national prominence. Plus, there does seem to be a
movement in the pros to draft smallish DEs in college to play LB in the pros, so maybe the LBs in college are getting squeezed down the line because of this phenomena as well. Again, smarter people than me can probably explain this better.
- DLs are rolling in the money (money!) - The old maxim is that you can't teach size and speed, and clearly NFL scouts have taken this to heart when evaluating DLs from college. The average AA DL is drafted before the end of the second round, which means the average DL is assured of millions before even stepping onto the football field. Furthermore, the standard deviation for the position was the lowest of all positions, meaning that most top college DLs
were gone on the first day of the draft. Even though some of these DLs are undoubtedly projects, it is clear that solid DLs in college are at a premium in the pros, and teams are willing to take fliers out on these physical freaks.
- OLs are not doing too badly either (um, slightly less money!) - Again, a premium on speed and size on one end would beget a premium on the guys on the other. Pancake factories and hulking bulls are evident in college and, it seems, are quickly snapped up by the pros as well. While OLs were drafted a little later on average than their DL counterparts, both sides have clearly benefited from the increased exposure and emphasis teams have placed on the
- DBs and RBs, plus WRs - I proferred the theory that DBs and RBs tend to possess skills that translate well between college and the pros, and as a result top players in college would be drafted early on in the pros because "you know what you are getting with them." Well, it looks like I was partly correct. Top DBs tend to get drafted early on, as the speed and size maxim held up. If you can run really fast backwards and then be able to jump really high to knock down a pass, you will likely dominate at every level of football. While there certainly are systems in both college and pro that can mask some deficiencies in speed and size, DB seems to be one of the positions where great athletes are easily identifiable and measurable. That aptitude shows up
pretty quickly on the college field and, apparently, in the eyes of pro scouts.
A similar story can be found for the men who most frequently match up against DBs: WRs. If you can run a 4.4 40 and stand 6-5 or more, you will certainly dominate college and, at least initially, be looked upon favorably by pro scouts. While there have certainly been a number of high-profile flubs from this group (looking at your, inmate #4587...I mean, Charles Rogers), there have also been some on-the-spot hits (Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Braylon - if
he remembers how to catch the football again). Plus, I think part of reputation surrounding WRs in the draft is
directly related to the incompetence of the Lions' front office, with an abnormally large number of turds floating in their punch bowl.
As for RBs, I think the reason they are drafted over such a dramatic range (check out the Std Dev) has to do with the fact that NFL GMs see them largely as replaceable parts, pieces that break down quickly and, thus, should only be highly paid if they are exceptional. The oft-quoted statistic is that starting RBs last about 3 years in the NFL, so most teams are loathe to spend a first- or second-round pick on that position unless they believe he will have a long, successful career. Another factor that may play a role in the draft deviation is that the running back position is being deemphasized on a number teams,
with more teams adopting a back-by-committee approach. With less of a focus on a single dominant workhorse, top backs are being drafted farther down the line. Finally, and I guess I'll call this the Ron Dayne-Javon Ringer scenario, some college RBs dominate because they run the ball an ungodly number of times, resulting in huge numbers at the expense of shortened pro careers. Pro scouts have likely noticed that some of these guys have well over a thousand
college carries on their legs before taking a snap in the pros, and again don't want to pay for players likely to
So that's about it from my end. I would love any comments or criticisms, so go crazy in the comments section
below. Furthermore, if you note some glaring flaw with my data and/or analysis, please point it out (but in a way that doesn't sound TOO condescending) as well.
This was going to be a comment under the article concerning Beilein's recruiting and Brian's response, but it went too long and I figured it might as well be a diary entry.
While I agree that this David fellow sounds pretty whiny, I do think he points out the one potential failing of Beilein - his system was designed to compensate for the lack of the "big time" star. The heavy reliance on three pointers that is a hallmark of his offense is designed to compensate for the lack of a post threat and/or a dynamic finisher around the basket. Similarly, the 1-3-1 was designed to create turnovers as a way to compensate for little interior defense from a dominant inside presence. And when Beilein was coaching at Canisius, Richmond, and WVU, that focus made sense, as he wasn't going to be able to nab the type of dynamic players teams like UNC, Duke, UConn, and MSU has that can take over a game. Instead, he recruited guys who could play in his system and flourish, trotting out a team that, when playing well, could beat a more talented collection of players.
Unfortunately, and I think this might have been a small component of David's rant, this type of system has a finite level of potential success - something I'll refer to as the Mid-Major Ceiling (MMC). Look at teams like Gonzaga (though their recruiting has gotten better over the years), Xavier, Creighton, and throw WVU into that mix (though they come from a major conference, they would never have succeeded in the Big East simply trying to out-recruit other teams). While they all are/were consistent NCAA teams, none ever made it past the Elite 8 (except George Mason, which was the flukiest of fluky runs), and even getting past the Sweet 16 was a crapshoot. The reason for this, at least in my opinion, was due to the fact that they inevitably ran into a team whose talent was great enough to expose the deficiencies each of those systems was designed to hide. In most instances, what exposed this MMC was a team that possessed a "superstar" or, at the very least, a combination of near-stars that could simply impose his/their will upon the game; basically, the talent beat the system.
Now, as a fan of basketball purity I don't see a major problem with this. I loved when Princeton beat UCLA, not because it was a huge upset, but because it showed that a good team could beat a collection of great players. Similarly, the Pistons in 2004 were great because they played a system that stymied the more talented Lakers. And maybe years ago systems won championships, when you didn't need to have the best players because your 1-5 played better together than anyone else's 1-5. But as much as I hate to say it, basketball has become far more about the dominant player(s) than the system.
Look at this year's NCAA championship - MSU has a huge amount of talent, but UNC was clear and away the most talented team in college basketball all season. Leading up to the final, you kept hearing that MSU could win if they played their "game", the Izzo system of tough defense, offensive rebounding, and opportunistic scoring with guys like Lucas and Morgan attacking the basketball with Suton firing from outside. UNC, by comparison, seemed to run a more fluid, less-defined system, where guys like Lawson, Hansbrough, and Ellington simply took over parts of a game with their superior talent. Well, UNC steamrolled MSU, like they did every other team in the tournament, and they did it by fielding a more talented lineup than anyone else.
And this wasn't a one-time shot - looking at recent NCAA finals participants, most of them sent numerous players to the pros and generally recruited the best talent every year. There's a reason that Duke, UNC, MSU, UConn, Kansas, UCLA, and Memphis (under Cal) are NC contenders every year, and it's not because they run a distinctive style - they trot out All-Americans and future pros and simply out-talent the opposition on most nights. And UM has been on the receiving end of this out-talenting firsthand - see Griffin taking over the game against UM in the second round this year. UM and OU (sans Griffin) were similar teams in terms of talent, and UM's system was better that OU's. But Griffin's talent exposed the chief deficiency of this team (no inside talent/defense), and as a result UM was sent home.
In fact, a good barometer of this phenomena is the Duke-UNC rivalry. Duke out-recruited UNC earlier this decade, and took command of the rivalry for years. Then, once Doherty left and Williams started to out-recruit Duke for key talent, the pendulum swung over and UNC has consistently beaten Duke the past 3-4 years. Now, I don't think that the programs drastically changed their offenses and defenses over those stretches; they simply out-talented each other during their up periods.
So what does this mean for Beilein and recruiting? In my opinion, you need stars in today's NCAA to break the MMC and compete for championships, both in conference and nationally. The concern I have, and I do think some others share, is that UM isn't WVU, Richmond, Gonzaga, Xavier, etc. - the school's name alone gives its coach a chance to recruit kids that would never consider those other program mentioned. UM should be able to recruit top-100 kids on a consistent basis (Amaker showed it was possible even while the team was hopelessly flailing). That said, you need a coach who is willing to do that, to go after some kids who might bolt after 1-2 years and who might not be the best fit for your system.
Listen, I don't want UM to go to the way of Memphis or OSU, with one-and-done super-talents comprising the bulk of the depth chart. At the same time, though, we've seen how far many of these "system" teams can go - the occasional Elite 8, usually at least 1 win in the NCAA tournament but rarely a threat to compete for the NC. And maybe I'm overreacting, and maybe this shows my arrogance, but I think UM can be better than that. This "hey, 9-3 is fine with me" mindset was what permeated the last few years of Carr's tenure (save 2006), and those years were tough to handle as peers (OU, OSU, USC, LSU, UF) rose to greater prominence. That's why Brian's claim that "Michigan will build up a program over Beilein's career and then be in a position to swing for the fences afterwards" troubles me so much. I don't want to leave such a transition to chance, to nabbing that hot coach with the ability to recruit nationally to push this team into the NC conversation. UM can and should be able to enter this conversation NOW, but it is going to take a concerted effort by Beilein and his staff to take some chances and build a team that not only runs his system to a T, but has that player/players who can take over a game or make a big shot when the system breaks down.
Ultimately, I think that Beilein is a great coach and I fully expect him to recruit great players for this program. I think UM will one day soon shatter the MMC and contend nationally, and I will be cheer on the program until my voice goes hoarse. Already he has recruited better players than he usually had at WVU, and this season's success should only help in these efforts. But until we see a consistent uptick in recruiting, these concerns shouldn't be shouted down as alarmist either.
While I am a relative neophyte when it comes to understanding how recruiting works, the one aspect that has really interested me is how the concentration of D-1 prospects breaks down amongst the states. Anecdotally, states like Florida, California, and Texas always seemed to create top-notch prospects, but that kind of made sense - those are three of the four most populous states in America. I always presumed, erroneously at it turns out, that fast, strong kids exist everywhere, and that the percentage of the population which embodied these desirable characteristics was pretty constant across the board. Thus, the reason the Big 3 fielded more D-1 football recruits than, say, Utah was more the result of population and "math" than something in the drinking water or the focus certain states place on football. Of course, there also seemed to be two glaring holes with this logic - the fact that many states in the Southeast (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.) produce an inordinate number of recruits compared to their populations, and the fact that relatively populous states in the Northeast (New York and Massachusetts) produce far fewer recruits than their populations predicted. But was this really true, or did these two anomalies exist more as a figment of recruiting services and media hype than reality.
Now, I was going to do all of this research myself, but then I was luckily able to stumble upon this page that broke down each state by number of recruits, population, and ratio of people to recruits for 2004-2008. I then wondered how this translated to the NFL - in other words, were the states that produced a large number of D-1 prospects also sending kids to the NFL. So after some more scouring of the interwebs, I came upon this page, which provided a really awesome user-friendly chart. After some more finagling and Excel-assisted sorting, I came upon this chart:
Big Chart of recruits/NFL players home states 2004-2008
|State||College Recruits||State Pop.||State Citizens/Per Recruit||NFL Players||State Citizens/Per Pro|
|District of Columbia||27||591,833||21,920||3||197,278|
So that really wasn't that surprising. Presuming that the distribution of football players was constant across the population (i.e. for every x people, y recruits exist), the ratio should be 1:40,380 - in other words, the population at large holds about 1 D-1 recruit per 40,000 people. Similarly, of those kids who went to the pros, the number was truly astronomical - 1:241,575, an astounding number considering that some of those positions are held by international players that were not listed on my chart. And yes, this statistic is not perfect, since the actual number of high school boys every year who could become D-1 athletes, and thus future NFL players, is far less than the population at large, people move in and out of states, etc. But for illustrative purposes I think it still supports my points, and I don't have the time or inclination to peruse government population numbers for a more true number. Plus, I doubt the ratios would be so greatly skewed as to dramatically alter the clear trends present.
So these results alone somewhat shocked me, but it has more to do with the illogical hopes so many kids even becoming D-1 college recruits, let alone professional football players. To put this into perspective, there are about 3 people sitting in the stands during a Michigan home game, on average, who have or will become D-1 recruits in their lifetimes. In another way, my hometown of Royal Oak has a little over 60,000 people in it, or about 1.5 D-1 football recruits per year if the model holds true. As for those who go on to play in the NFL, the entire state of Vermont, if my model held true, would produce 3 NFL-quality players per year - and that really isn't even true over the 2004-2008 span (0 players over that span).
But clearly, football talent is not evenly distributed across the country. While some more populated states come pretty close to the proposed distribution, such as California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, outliers exist in the expected regions of plenty (Southeast) and barren (NY, MA). Both Michigan and Illinois also seemed to produce far fewer recruits than their populations suggest while places like Hawaii and D.C. seem more fertile than expected, but not to an extreme degree that you see with some other states. And in Hawaii's case, a large percentage of those recruits are taken by University of Hawaii, so that situation is clearly atypical.
So what does this mean? - college
For one thing, some traditional "hotbeds" of talent may actually "under"perform their expected ratio of recruits given a linear distribution - I'm looking at you, Pennsylvania and California. At the same time, maybe some people are underselling certain areas, such as Virginia and Oklahoma/Kansas, who have decent-to-great in-state programs that recruit nationally but also seem to have pretty fertile backyards to pick from as well. But the real focus, though, must fall on the Southeast, where states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia continually churn out top-notch kids at a far greater rate than their populations suggest.
Despite what some Freep "columnists" opine as RR's apparent idiocy in not recruiting in-home talent at MSU's rate, it clearly makes sense to focus more of the staff's efforts on Florida and the Southeast compared to other regions in America. Sure, California and Texas are hotbeds that should be scoured, but the Southeast is where the money tends to be. Michigan produces a decent amount of recruits, but it is clear that outside of Ohio, the rustbelt just isn't a fount of top-notch talent the way some envision it. I'm sure there are a millions reasons why this may be, and I'll leave it to people in the comments to hash them out. My guess is that high school/college football has always been a more communal activity in areas of the South compared to the North, especially considering how few professional teams used to be located below the Mason-Dixon line compared to the population. Simply put, people "care" more about football down there, and that fervor translates to the youngest of children. They see football as a way to make a living, as a way to succeed and be a "god" in the community, and their environments seemed geared around making this dream a reality.
I don't think it has that much to do with the weather - sure, it helps to be able to play and practice outside more than in the north, but receivers can still catch balls, RBs can still squat and run wind sprints, and linemen can still work on their techniques indoors just as easily as outdoors. Plus, warm-weather states like New Mexico and Arizona produce recruits at a lower rate than expected, while some cold-weather states are able relative factories. To put it bluntly, I think kids in the Southeast "care" more about football than kids in the North. Now, that doesn't mean high school boys in Michigan and New York don't work hard or lack a will to win, but by and large I don't think the community rewards kids in the North as much for the success they experience on the football field as they do in places like Mississippi and Florida. I'm sure there are some socio-economic undertones to it, and some will say that kids in the Southeast see football as a way to escape the communities they are "trapped" in - see the Pahokee (?) pipeline as an example for crushing poverty pushing kids toward sports. But irrespective of the cause, it is clear that if you want the biggest payoff for your recruiting efforts, learning to whistle Dixie might as well become a requirement for major college recruiters. Now, that might not seem like a revelation to some, but it is interesting to see that anecdote play out in the numbers. I'm interested, though, to see how others feel.
So what does this mean? - NFL
As I mentioned above, I think a big reason more D-1 recruits emerge from the Southeast and Texas has to do with the relative importance the community places on football as a means to succeed. For better or for worse, a ticket to a D-1 school is viewed as a stepping-stone to playing in the NFL, and all the millions of dollars and notoriety that entails. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that the states which produce the most D-1 recruits per person also generate the most NFL players per person as well. Louisiana leads the way, with approximately every 82,000 residents producing an NFL player - a ratio about 3X greater than the expected! The same held true for most of the Southeast, with those states sending far more to pros than they have any business doing so. By comparison, Michigan is pretty average - it may be a little low on the D-1 recruits, but those who do emerge have a pretty average shot of making it to the NFL. So kudos to the Wolverine state.
By comparison, a pair of Ks - Kentucky and Kansas - seem to be the biggest "frauds" of the group in terms of overvaluing its D-1 recruits - both have pretty average or above-average number of D-1 recruits per population, but about half as many of those recruits wind up making it to the NFL as expected. So once again, Kentucky and Kansas underwhelm. As for New York and Massachusetts, they might as well focus on baseball - they just don't know how to create top-notch football talent.
But overall, this analysis proved what I expected - the Southeast produces a disproportionate number of D-1 recruits, and an inordinate number of these recruits are high-caliber enough to break into the NFL. Again, I have no scientific proof for the cause of this inequity, but I have stated my guesses. I am intrigued to see what other people believe is the cause, and I welcome anyone with more statistical knowledge than my one 400-level probability and statistics course to prove me wrong/drill down deeper.
What I'd like to do in the future:
* Breakdown for each state by high-school-aged boys, not the state population as a whole.