Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
01 May 2008
by Vince Verhei
The Kansas City Chiefs are going to win multiple Super Bowls in the next few years, and there's not a damn thing anyone can do to stop them.
That seems to be the consensus opinion after the weekend of April 26 and 27, when the Kansas City braintrust parlayed a defensive end with sweet pass-rush moves and a sweeter mullet into a trio of draft picks, one in the first round and two in the third. (The Chiefs and Vikings also switched picks in the sixth round.) They then used those picks to bolster the interior line on both sides of the ball, bolster their secondary and add a promising runner. When the smoke cleared, they found themselves with the draft's top defensive tackle, the first guard selected and a renewed sense of hope.
Don't believe us? Just ask, well, anyone. For the fifth year in a row (Here are the 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 versions), we've compiled and compared the draft grades of various experts to see which drafts were most popular. Even more fascinating, we'll see which drafts caused the most disagreement.
This year, we looked at ten draft evaluations:
(Looking for Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman from SI.com in that list? You won't find him. The Good Doctor stopped doing letter grades this year, but you can read his thoughts on each team's draft here. We'll miss those endless hours trying to parse the subtle difference between a "B/B+" draft and a "B+/B" draft.)
We translated all of the letter grades into standard numerical form to calculate each team's average grade, and also found the standard deviation of the scores to measure the most controversial teams.
Which brings us back to Kansas City. Thanks to a bevy of A+ grades, the Chiefs' average grade is literally off the hypothetical charts, a 4.1. And the Chiefs' draft wasn't only the most popular, it also had the lowest standard deviation (0.30); nine evaluators graced them with either an A or A+. The lone dissenter was Reuter, who awarded the team with a B+. And that has less to do with the quality of the Kansas City draft than with Reuter's moderate grades; that B+ was the highest grade he gave out, and was matched only by the grade he gave to Cincinnati. Notable praise flowed from Cole ("The Chiefs ... got perhaps the most dynamic defensive player in the draft in [DT Glenn] Dorsey and a terrific talent on the offensive line in [G Branden] Albert. Both are great building blocks for the future"), Czarnecki ("On paper, the Chiefs had the best draft of any team"), and the MSNBC crew ("[Brandon] Flowers was our favorite cornerback"). This was likely the most beloved draft in Draft Report Card history.
On the flip side of the coin, nobody liked the Chargers' draft. With an average grade of 2.1, the Chargers ranked 30th, ahead of only Jacksonville and Tennessee. And it was nearly unanimous; the standard deviation of grades for San Diego was 0.37, smaller than all teams except Kansas City, Green Bay and Arizona. The most common note on the Chargers' draft was that they traded a number of picks in this draft away to acquire WR Chris Chambers, S Eric Weddle and RB Jacob Hester, and while some aren't holding those trades against the team (as Reuter noted, "It's too early to tell"), others have already dubbed them poor decisions. MDS was particularly harsh on San Diego: "First-round cornerback Antoine Cason can return punts and is from all accounts a high-character guy, but in college he never showed the fundamental skill of being able to stick with elite wide receivers. He was a bad choice."
But those are the cases where everyone agrees, which is boring. Let's look at the five teams that caused the most divergent reactions and hope for some real fireworks.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Average grade: 2.2
Standard deviation: 0.75.
Highest grade: B+, Reuter.
Lowest grade: D-, Cole.
To label this as one of the most controversial drafts is somewhat misleading; the gap between No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 4 Tennessee was bigger than the gap between Cincinnati and No. 21 Pittsburgh (0.61). Still, there's a big difference between a B+ and a D-, and the Bengals got one of each. Reuter was a fan, noting that linebacker Keith Rivers "is no slouch, and should provide a run-stuffing and pass-rushing presence for years to come." He also liked wide receiver Jerome Simpson, and said the Bengals may have found "future starters" in the third and fourth round with DT Pat Sims, WR Andre Caldwell and RT Anthony Collins. Cole agreed that Rivers and Sims would be starters ("by default"), but criticized the Bengals for allowing New Orleans to leapfrog them and select USC DT Sedrick Ellis ("As is typical with Cincy, the Bengals let someone else determine their fate"). MDS gave the team a higher grade, a D+, but called the Simpson pick "a head-scratcher." He also knocked them for failing to select a defensive tackle on Day One. They drafted a pair of DTs on Day Two, Sims in the third round and fifth-rounder Jason Shirley -- who ended his college career with one suspension and two arrests ("So much for the Bengals cleaning up their image").
4. Tennessee Titans
Average grade: 1.6.
Standard deviation: 0.90.
Highest grade: B, Gosselin.
Lowest grade: F, ESPN SportsNation.
If you like the idea of taking the best player available, you were probably OK with this draft. If you believe in drafting for need, you hated it. The SportsNation voters don't leave comments (and if they did, we probably couldn't print them anyway), so we turn to the next lowest grades: Both Cole and Czarnecki gave the Titans a D. Cole noted that "this is the third consecutive year the Titans have spent a first- or second-round pick on a running back. They desperately need receiving help." Czarnecki actually liked the first-round selection of RB Chris Johnson ("He should complement the inside bruising running style of LenDale White") but said they "didn't land a lot of quality" after that. Gosselin was one of the few impressed with this draft, noting that Tennessee was desperate for offensive speed, and that Johnson was the fastest player in the draft. Prisco judged this draft a B-, adding that "second-round pick Jason Jones should help the pass rush."
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Average grade: 1.9.
Standard deviation: 1.03.
Highest grade: B, Weisman.
Lowest grade: F, ESPN SportsNation.
Perhaps you have noticed that when the SportsNation votes hate a draft, they really HATE a draft. Well, they weren't the only ones. MDS graded this a D-: "Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey might be a fine player, but the Jaguars traded up way too high to select him, dealing a first-round pick, two third-round picks and a fourth-round picks to move into the eighth spot." He's not a fan of second-round DE Quentin Groves either, and says the other draftees "will struggle just to make the team." Reuter said that Harvey wasn't "consistent" and that "giving up those picks for Harvey prevented the team from trying to find replacements for Marcus Stroud and Sammy Knight." Weisman, on the other hand, favored the Jaguars' bold strategy: "Want to knock off the Colts? Then find a way to rush Peyton Manning, no matter the price."
2. Cleveland Browns
Average grade: 2.3.
Standard deviation: 1.07.
Highest grade: B+, Kiper, Prisco.
Lowest grade: F, ESPN SportsNation.
Once again, SportsNation fans are harder on their team than any of the professionals. Part of the problem is that the Browns traded away their first three picks for Brady Quinn, Corey Williams, and Shaun Rogers. "When you factor those transactions," says Kiper, "the Browns are using the draft process the right way." Prisco also gave them credit for the trades, and liked fourth-round selection Beau Bell ("has some character questions, but he's a physical linebacker who has been compared to Jeremiah Trotter") and sixth-round defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin ("a dominant nose tackle for Iowa State"). Czarnecki gave the Browns a D, and suggested that they should have found a way to trade back into Day One ("The Browns' big draft was last season and GM Phil Savage took Saturday off"). Gosselin said the Browns did "remarkably well" considering the status of their picks, but still only gave the team a C.
1. Detroit Lions
Average grade: 2.2.
Standard deviation: 1.19.
Highest grade: A, Gosselin.
Lowest grade: F, MDS.
Yes, the Lions got both an A and an F, and this time the passion of SportsNation had nothing to do with it. Gosselin loved the draft, noting that OLB Jordon Dizon, DT Andre Fluellen, and DE Cliff Avril might all start on defense, and the offense "may benefit even more from the arrival of OT (Gosder) Cherilus and RB (Kevin) Smith." Other fans included Prisco (B+ -- "Give credit to Matt Millen. He added a lot of good football players in this draft") and Reuter (B), who gave the team credit for trading down two spots and picking Cherilus, rather than taking him two spots higher with their original pick. For the opposing viewpoint, we turn once again to MDS, who said the Lions made "a horrible decision" to select Cherilus instead of RB Rashard Mendenhall. He also said trading up for Smith "doesn't make much sense," and noted that Fluellen and Avril "looked better at the combine than they did on the field." Robinson (D) didn't like the draft either, saying that they should have traded up for Derrick Harvey, Jonathan Stewart or Jerod Mayo; instead they traded back to No. 17 "and still reached for Cherilus." And he thought that was their best move: "Other than Cherilus, it's hard to see a lot of room to grow in this class."
Here are the final scores for each team, ranked by average grade, with standard deviation:
|Rank||Team||Average||Stand. Dev.||Rank||Team||Average||Stand. Dev.||Rank||Team||Average||Stand. Dev.|
The softest judge was Prisco, whose average grade was a whopping 2.9. Pete Prisco loved the 2008 draft. The toughest critic? Why, it's our own MDS, whose average score was 2.3 -- a perfect C+. The most erratic voters were those lovable kooks over at ESPN SportsNation (standard deviation: 1.07), followed very closely by MDS (1.06) -- so he was a harsh critic, but he did give out A grades to the Chiefs, Giants and Bills, and A- grades to the Redskins and Cowboys. The most consistent voter was Reuter (0.44); 29 of his 32 grades were between Bs and Cs. Here are the evaluators, ranked by average grade, with standard deviation:
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