24 Nov 2009
Some of you may remember an article that Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The New Yorker a few months ago, entitled "Most Likely to Succeed. The article asked how you know who to hire if prior performance tells you nothing about who will succeed at a job, and uses as examples teachers and NFL quarterbacks. This essay got reprinted in a new book of Gladwell New Yorker articles, which got it critiqued by MIT professor Steven Pinker, and that was critiqued in turn by David Berri of Wages of Wins, and then Berri is critiqued here by Jason Lisk at the P-F-R blog in a very good post.
There are a lot of things to talk about in this whole chain of critiques, but what Lisk wants to talk about is this statement by Berri: "In the NFL, draft position is linked to playing time. And this link is independent of performance." Lisk wants to show that this is simply untrue, and I think he does a good job of it. Highly-drafted quarterbacks definitely get more playing time early, but most of the flops get pulled after a couple years and don't get repeated second and third chances simply because of their draft status. (Lisk points out that Akili Smith, Art Schlichter, Todd Blackledge, Heath Shuler and Andre Ware don't even make the data set he's using because they were pretty much cooked by age 24.) And of course, Lisk's study here doesn't even address the fact that there are many later-round draft picks who simply are never good enough to even get playing time in the first place. For every Kurt Warner or Tom Brady who becomes a superstar, there are 10 Todd Husaks and 50 Timmy Changs.
One other thing I need to say about the Malcolm Gladwell piece: Yes, Gladwell knows about the Lewin Career Forecast. I was interviewed for the piece. My comments didn't end up making it in due to space. I definitely feel that not mentioning the LCF, even in passing without using my quotes, is a bit of an oversight by Gladwell, and I've told him this, so it isn't like I'm "speaking behind his back" here. LCF does provide a reasonable counter-argument to Gladwell's article, although it too has flaws: It doesn't apply to lower-round picks, and its rate of predictive success has faded a bit in the past couple seasons.
36 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2009, 1:29pm by Tampa Bay Mike
Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?