"The cosmos speaks in patterns" - Roger von Oech (paraphrase of Heraclitus)
"Luck is the residue of design" - Branch Rickey (Brooklyn Dodgers GM - integrated baseball)
"Our business is winning" - Bill Parcells (Ex-Giants/Patriots/Jets/
The subject matter of ETTG is IDP with an emphasis on Dynasty leagues. Ear To The Ground was chosen for this column's title to convey a sense of detecting rumblings in the distance... an ability essential to project a prospect from college to pro and rookie to veteran. It will consist of three sections: Team Reports (Watchlist), a Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter, and a new section... The Lateral (rogue, guerilla offensive coverage). The emphasis here will be on the impact positions of LB, DE and S. Exceptional DTs and CBs will be noted for leagues that differentiate DE/DT and S/CB. Dynasty content is geared towards youth. Like most successful working rosters that employ a blend of production and potential, there will be a balance of rookie and veteran coverage in the mix. While by the nature of much IDP coverage new names will bubble up to the surface from week to week, ETTG will try to identify key players early on and provide a synoptic overview for the whole season as it unfolds.
Welcome to season eight of ETTG.
The second installment will be a special edition defensive counterpart to the offensive study last week...
Looking Through a Dynasty Lens
IDP Position Leader's Volatility, Age and Pedigree Data (with commentary)
A Summing Up - Changing of the Guard?
Dynasty IDP players know intuitively that in general it is a good thing to target young, high pedigree prospects, but this study aims to make this loose body of knowledge more precise, rigorous and QUANTITATIVE.
It is always a good habit when examining the Top 20* (or whatever sample size you choose to put under the data-scope) to try and guesstimate who is legit and who is a pretender. Which Top 20 IDPs are likely to remain from the previous season's final standings, and who will be jettisoned? Which IDPs currently outside the Top 20 have a shot to penetrate it, and who will remain isolated outside?
Take care to look at games played (and missed) in this context. It is also hoped that the below breakdowns by position, age and pedigree will provide some clues in your own research.
With two sets of top 20 (DL and DB) and one set of top 30 rankings (LB) containing 10 pieces of information for each player (position, rank, name, NFL team, age, draft pedigree, college, height/weight and games played), that is seven hundred data points (not counting the data mining section) organized in a form by which the general contours can be scanned and absorbed at least in outline fairly rapidly.
More fertile ground for data mining would be looking at measurables (for positional physical prototype info), as well as college pedigree (Div I, small school, etc.), but these will be left as a suggestion for further research and an exercise for interested readers. Also, 40 times (not included here) can be instructive for positional breakdown, though also misleading at times.
You can also look at the age data and breakdown not only WITHIN a position to see where a certain positional player is likely to be in his learning curve (ramping up, peaking, cresting or twilight), but also to see if there are INTER-POSITIONAL differences... i.e. - do these developmental curves differ BETWEEN positions.
Are there differences in the Top 20 in terms of draft pick distribution across positions? And so on...
This is obviously a small sample size (2010 season), and not too much of the INTER-POSITIONAL differences in terms of age-related developmental and life cycles and pedigree distribution at the top alluded to above should be inferred solely from this study (in the 2009 article archive, the week two and three Ear to the Ground covered a previous iteration of the offense and defense counterpart studies, for 2007-2008, with in turn links to previous studies of this nature). With the pro game evolving so rapidly, though, it is unclear how relevant methodical and systematic back-tests of what happened decades ago would be to the present? The intent here is definitely to track this type of information going forward, to see if some of the trends/patterns observed and noted below hold up, or prove to be chalked up as aberrations, statistical red herrings and a case of finding spurious, unwarranted connections.
It will also be interesting to track going forward whether any appreciable impact is felt in the longevity column due to potential ongoing advances in sports medicine (surgery and rehab therapy), nutritional science, training regimens, etc.
The numbers should be allowed to speak for themselves, however, some interstitial commentary has been included to provide contextual perspective and also to draw out potential implications suggested and pointed to by the data (or to note where data is ambiguous and when conclusions could only be drawn tenuously). The last thing intended here in the offensive study (and the counterpart defensive study to follow) is to fit the data to a Procrustean bed of preconception and presuppositional biases. To extend that idea, the intent is not to force feed conclusions, but to stimulate thought on these matters in the reader.
Taking a step back, so to speak, and using a historical lens to survey the dynasty statistical landscape may better enable discovering more pockets of coherent signals... from an otherwise roiling informational maelstrom inhabiting a sea of noise. In other words, grist for your pattern recognition mill.
* Why Top 20 DL, Top 30 LB and Top 20 DB? There tends to be a lack of difference makers after that point, with the gap between them becoming appreciably smaller and increasingly less important. While examinations that go deeper in numbers would yield different answers to different questions, this study is not interested in mediocrity, but represents a historical and statistical attempt to identify potential defining characteristics and hallmarks of excellence.
What this study is NOT. It does not even begin to attempt a comprehensive study of the relation of pedigree to bust rate of ALL players. That would again entail a different answer to a different question. One issue is agreeing on a definition of what constitutes a "bust" (a somewhat slippery if not subjective term fraught with difficulties in pinning down). Also, there would have to be a sliding scale by round. In other words, nobody would dispute that JaMarcus Russell was a magnificent example of an epic, colossal bust. Whereas virtually no seventh rounder would ever be categorized as a bust, as they are typically a long shot to even make the team.
While this study is ostensibly geared towards a Dynasty perspective, it clearly contains some information that could be relevant to redraft purposes. On that note...
Rank, Name, NFL Team, Position, Age, Draft Pedigree, College, Height & Weight, Games Played
- Justin Tuck, NYG, DE, 27, 3.10, Notre Dame (6'5" 275), 16
- Osi Umenyiora, NYG, DE, 29, 2.24, Troy (6'3" 260), 16
- Jared Allen, MIN, DE, 28, 4.30, Idaho State (6'6" 270), 16
- Ndamukong Suh, DET, DT, 23, 1.2, Nebraska (6'4" 305), 16
- Terrell Suggs, BAL, DE, 28, 1.10, Arizona State (6'3" 260), 16
- Julius Peppers, CHI, DE, 30, 1.2, North Carolina (6'7 285), 16
- James Hall, DE, STL, DE, 33, UFA, Michigan (6'2 280), 16
- Trent Cole, PHI, DE, 28, 5.10, Cincinnati (6'3 270), 15
- Justin Smith, DE, SF, 31, 1.4, Missouri (6'4 285), 16
- Robert Mathis, DE, IND, 29, 5.3, Alabama A&M (6'2" 245), 16
- Jason Babin, DE, TEN, 30, 1.27, Western Michigan (6'3" 265), 16
- Kyle Williams, DT, BUF, 27, 5.1, LSU (6'1" 305), 16
- Charles Johnson, DE, CAR, 24, 3.20, Georgia (6'2" 275), 16
- John Abraham, DE, ATL, 32, 1.13, South Carolina (6'4" 265), 15
- Ahtyba Rubin, DT, CLE, 24, 6.24, Iowa State (6'2" 330), 16
- Haloti Ngata, DT, BAL, 26, 1.12, Oregon (6'4" 350), 16
- Calais Campbell, DE, ARI, 24, 2.19, Miami (6'8" 300), 16
- Darnell Dockett, DE, ARI, 29, 3.1, Florida State (6'4" 290), 15
- Chris Clemons, DE, SEA, 29, UFA, Georgia (6'2" 240), 16
- Matt Shaughnessy, DE, OAK, 24, 3.7, Wisconsin (6'6" 255), 16
Data Mining Section
Percentage of DL from '09 Top 20 9 of 20 (45%)
Top 20 from 2010 characterized by HEAVY 55% churn rate. Three very promising young DEs in the top 10 through the first two weeks of the 2011 season are Michael Johnson (#2), Jason Pierre-Paul (#5) and rookie Jabaal Sheard (#8). Johnson is a freaking pterodactyl, with upside as massive as his ridiculous wing span. Chris Long could be on the verge of cracking the top 20. Trent Cole, John Abraham and Darnell Dockett were the only Top 20 DL to miss a start, and all three just missed one.
#1 & #10 Scorer... 170.3 - 129.5 = 40.8 pts #11 & #20 Scorer... 128.5 - 107.8 = 20.7 pts
Even beyond the top 10, the differences begin to become more compressed and indistinguishable, and therefore harder to find DIFFERENCE MAKERS.
DE - 16 DT - 4
Lends credence to the rule of thumb that you generally don't want to draft DTs high (with a position transcending, once-in-a-generation talent like Ndamukong Suh a conspicuous exception to the rule). This can be further broken down and subdivided into...
4-3 DE - 12 3-4 DE - 4
Ditto for the tip that 3-4 DEs are usually not as productive as their 4-3 counterparts.
(21-23) - 1 (24-26) - 5 (27-29) - 9 (30-32) - 4 (33-35) - 1 (36+) - 0
DL appear to start slowly, ascend and peak in the second and third age brackets (24-29), fade slowly from 30-32, than crash and burn afterwards for the most part.
(Round 1-3) - 13 (Round 4-7) - 5 Undrafted Free Agent - 2
Pedigree figures prominently in the 2010 DL scoring leaders, as in many positions on both sides of the ball.
1 - 7 2 - 2 3 - 4 4 - 1 5 - 3 6 - 1 7 - 0 UFA - 2
Rank, Name, NFL Team, Position, Age, Draft Pedigree, College, Height & Weight, Games Played
- Jerod Mayo, ILB, NE, 24, 1.10, Tennessee (6'1" 245), 16
- Ray Lewis, ILB, BAL, 35, 1.26, Miami (6'1" 250), 16
- Stephen Tulloch, MLB, TEN, 25, 4.19, North Carolina State (5'11" 240), 16
- Lawrence Timmons, ILB, PIT, 24, 1.15, Florida State (6'1" 235), 16
- London Fletcher, ILB, WAS, UFA, 35, John Carroll (5'10" 245), 16
- James Anderson, SLB, CAR, 3.24, 27, Virginia Tech (6'2" 235), 16
- Derrick Johnson, ILB, KC, 1.15, 28, Texas (6'3 240), 16
- Patrick Willis, ILB, SF, 1.11, 25, Mississippi (6'1" 240), 15
- Brian Urlacher, MLB, CHI, 1.9, 32, New Mexico (6'4" 260), 16
- Paul Posluszny, ILB, BUF, 2.2, 26, Penn State (6'1" 240), 14
- Chad Greenway, SLB, MIN, 1.17, 27, Iowa (6'2" 240), 16
- James Harrison, OLB, PIT, UFA, 32, Kent State (6'0" 240), 16
- D.J. Williams, ILB, DEN, 1.17, 28, Miami (6'1" 240), 16
- Paris Lenon, ILB, ARI, UFA, 33, Richmond (6'2" 240), 16
- James Laurinaitis, MLB, STL, 2.3, 24, Ohio State (6'2" 245), 16
- Kevin Burnett, ILB, SD, 2.10, 28, Tennessee (6'3" 240), 16
- Curtis Lofton, MLB, ATL, 2.6, 24, Oklahoma (6'0" 240), 16
- Jon Beason, WLB, CAR, 1.25, 25, Miami (6'0" 235), 16
- James Farrior, ILB, PIT, 1.8, 35, Virginia (6'2" 245), 16
- Barrett Ruud, MLB, TB, 2.4, 27, Nebraska (6'2" 240), 16
- Desmond Bishop, ILB, GB, 6.18, 26, California (6'2" 240), 15
- Takeo Spikes, ILB, SF, 1.13, 34, Auburn (6'2" 240), 16
- DeMarcus Ware, OLB, DAL, 1.11, 28, Troy (6'4" 260), 16
- Bradie James, ILB, DAL, 4.6, 29, LSU (6'2" 245), 16
- A.J. Hawk, ILB, GB, 1.5, 26, Ohio State (6'1" 245), 16
- Jonathan Vilma, MLB, NO, 1.12, 28, Miami (6'1" 230), 16
- Dhani Jones, MLB, CIN, 6.11, 32, Michigan (6'1" 235), 16
- E.J. Henderson, MLB, MIN, 2.8, 30, Maryland (6'1" 245), 16
- Clay Matthews, OLB, GB, 1.26, 24, USC (6'3" 255), 15
- David Hawthorne, WLB, SEA, UFA, 25, TCU (6'0" 245), 16
Data Mining Section
Percentage of LB from '09 Top 20 16 of 30 (53%)
Nearly as volatile as DL data above, with almost half the top 30 ranks turned over. There are a lot of old faces in new places this year, possibly explained in part by the fact that, like RB on offense, LB is viewed as a somewhat fungible (i.e. - commoditized) position. Stephen Tulloch (TEN - DET), Paul Posluszny (BUF - JAX), Kevin Burnett (SD - MIA), Barrett Ruud (TB - TEN) and Takeo Spikes (SF - SD), representing one sixth of the top 30, all found new homes. Jon Beason is already on IR with a torn Achilles tendon, and Dhani Jones is a host on BTN. CLE MLB D'Qwell Jackson is #1 in the early going, clearly enjoying the change back to his accustomed 4-3 MLB role, after the past few seasons lost to two torn pectoral muscle injuries (overlapping with former HC Eric Mangini's 3-4). Another old face in a new place, Nick Barnett (GB - BUF) at #15, looks like he could bounce back with the Bills after becoming increasingly marginalized with the Packers. The class of 2010 is making its presence felt strongly in year two, with Sean Lee (#2), Pat Angerer (#6), Sean Weatherspoon (#11), Navorro Bowman (#18), Kavell Connor (#21) and Donald Butler (#23) all populating the top 30... Playmaking Daryl Washington was #15 after the first game (with a sack and INT, having a second INT taken away by a penalty), missing week two with a strained calf injury. Oft-cited as the most instinctive of defensive positions and therefore conducive to a smooth transition from college as well as accelerated pro development (the RB of defense, as it were), the group immediately above potentially represents 20% of the 2011 top 30. The class of 2011 also sports some impressive talent, with Ryan Kerrigan (#8), Mason Foster (#9) and Von Miller (#28) all looking like impact players. Posluszny was the only LB to miss more than one start among the 2010 top 20 (two DNP).
#1 & #10 Scorer... 246.5 - 205.3 = 41.2 pts #11 & #20 Scorer... 203.5 - 180.3 = 23.2 pts #21 & #30 Scorer... 174.5 - 157.3 = 17.2 pts
Similar spread at top to DL in 2010.
MLB/ILB - 23 OLB - 7
Generally, three-down MLB/ILBs preferred to OLBs (with exceptions, of course).This can be further broken down and subdivided into...
MLB - 8 ILB - 15
A sign of the general proliferation of 3-4 defenses in recent years. Plus, in a more mundane and pedestrian observation, 3-4 teams start two ILBs whereas 4-3 teams only have one MLB, effectively doubling the pool of potential top 30 candidates from predominantly 3-4 schemes, relative to their 4-3 brethren and peers.
4-3 WLB - 2 4-3 SLB - 2 3-4 OLB - 3
Typically SLBs are shunned in IDP leagues, with exceptions like the brilliant Chad Greenway. A shrinking number of 4-3 teams impacts WLB as well as MLB numbers, with just two cracking the top 30 last year (Beason and David Hawthorne, MLBs temporarily filling in on the weak side). Stud 3-4 OLBs like DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews and James Harrison are relatively atypical and outliers in IDP leagues. While Harrison is approaching his mid-30s, returning from a back injury and may be slowing down, Ware and Matthews have consistently flashed the rare talent to be game changers, overcoming a lack of game-to-game tackle production by routinizing big plays and frequently denting the sack/FF columns.
(21-23) - 0 (24-26) - 12 (27-29) - 9 (30-32) - 4 (33-35) - 5 (36+) - 0
Based on the first section, the age distribution landscape could be changing dramatically in the youngest age bracket. Angerer, Bowman and Butler from the class of 2010 will end the 2011 season at just 23... ditto for rookie Kerrigan, and fellow rookies Foster and Miller just 22. Relative to DL, we see both more early breakouts in second age bracket (24-26), and a higher geezer quotient in the post-30 age brackets. There were just five DL 30+, and only one 33+. Comparatively, there were nine LBs 30+, and five 33+. As noted above, LB is more RB-like in the sense that instinct weighs heavily initially, and can often surmount obstacles to success related to less than refined technical levels of development (if not grossly incompetent) and overall game understanding. Later, a quick first step informed by experience can be an equalizer for older LBs and enable them to play with effectively superior field speed and get to the ball carrier quicker than their ostensibly "faster", but less experienced younger brethren. Conversely, DL seems to depend heavily on initial technical refinement for positional advancement up the ranks. It is also a position that seems to require a great deal of explosiveness (and exceptional speed/quickness for edge rushers), which inexorably diminishes through the aging process.
(Round 1-3) - 22 (Round 4-7) - 4 Undrafted Free Agent - 4
1 - 15 2 - 6 3 - 1 4 - 2 5 - 0 6 - 2 7 - 0 UFA - 4
As in so many other positions on both sides of the ball, the numbers (at the top at least) consistently reflect the great weight felt by pedigree.
Rank, Name, NFL Team, Position, Age, Draft Pedigree, College, Height & Weight, Games Played
- Terrell Thomas, CB, NYG, 25, 2.32, USC (6'0" 200), 16
- DeAngelo Hall, CB, WAS, 27, 1.8, Virginia Tech (5'10" 195), 16
- Donte Whitner, SS, BUF, 25, 1.8, Ohio State (5'10" 210), 16
- Michael Griffin, FS, TEN, 25, 1.19, Texas (6'0" 205), 16
- Kerry Rhodes, FS, ARI, 28, 4.22, Louisville (6'3" 210), 16
- T.J. Ward, FS, CLE, 24, 2.6, Oregon (5'10" 200), 16
- Charles Woodson, CB, GB, 34, 1.4, Michigan (6'1" 200), 16
- Devin McCourty, CB, NE, 23, 1.27, Rutgers (5'10" 195), 16
- Charles Tillman, CB, CHI, 29, 2.3, Louisiana-Lafayette (6'1" 200), 16
- Quintin Mikell, SS, PHI, 30, UFA, Boise State (5'10" 205), 15
- Tyvon Branch, SS, OAK, 24, 4.1, Connecticut (6'0" 205), 16
- Brent Grimes, CB, ATL, 27, UFA, Shippensburg (5'10" 185), 16
- Roman Harper, SS, NO, 28, 2.11, Alabama (6'1" 200), 15
- Alterraun Verner, CB, TEN, 22, 4.6, UCLA (5'10" 185), 16
- Eric Berry, SS, KC, 22, 1.5, Tennessee (6'0" 210), 16
- Michael Huff, FS, OAK, 27, 1.7, Texas (6'1" 205), 16
- Greg Toler, CB, ARI, 25, 4.31, St. Paul's College (6'0" 190), 14
- Cortland Finnegan, CB, TEN, 26, 7.7, Samford (5'10" 190), 16
- Bernard Pollard, SS, HOU, 26, 2.22, Purdue (6'1" 225), 15
- Dawan Landry, SS, BAL, 28, 5.13, Georgia Tech (6'0" 210), 16
Data Mining Section
Percentage of DBs from '09 Top 20 5 of 20 (25%)
Massive attrition (75%), in fact, alarming and disturbing carnage and near total annihilation of the 2010 top 20 DBs last season. This is no doubt partly related to the fact that the difference between an outstanding or average season for a DB can often pivot on a few big plays, and INTs are notoriously difficult to replicate from season to season... unless you are Ed Reed (currently #3, and even in his case, given his center fielder role, tackle numbers have previously been so severely curtailed as to often render moot his handful of big plays during the course of a season). Jene Bramel has led the clarion call at FBG that IDP leagues should not be leveled with a blanket indictment of inherent volatility and churning, whether from season to season or game to game. There is historical and statistical evidence this isn't as marked and pronounced at the DL and LB positions (see previous studies cited in the introductory section at the top), though clearly the case at the DB position. To paint all IDP positions with the same volatility brush that characterizes DB would be, to mix metaphors, an example of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Elite two way CBs with complete games, such as Antoine Winfield and Charles Tillman, can be exceptions. They have good coverage ability and ball skills, but more importantly, are ferocious in run support and embedded in cover two schemes conducive to maximizing these skills in terms of IDP production. Similarly, playmaking safeties put in position to get lots of tackles (such as Roman Harper and stellar rookie Eric Berry in 2010) can yield consistent production.
Berry is already done for the year, as are 2010 #1 DB Terrell Thomas, as well as #17 Greg Toler. 2010 top 20 DB safeties Donte Whitner (BUF - SF), Quintin Mikell (PHI - STL), Bernard Pollard (HOU - BAL) and Dawan Landry (BAL - JAX) have all switched teams, and Pollard has lost a starting gig (as has another 2010 top 20 DB, CB Alterraun Verner). It is probably absurdly premature just two games into the season to make changing of the guard projections for the 2011 season. However, #1 Morgan Burnett has been racking up tackles and filling up the box score. Jason McCourty (#11) has slotted into the starting CB role Verner was so productive from last year. DET tandem Chris Houston (#9) and ex-CLE CB Eric Wright (#14) could both get plenty of opportunities to make plays. With the Lions offense looking like a juggernaut and powerhouse, they could be playing with a lead early and often in 2011. Toler was the only DB among the 2010 top 20 to miss more than one start (two DNP).
#1 & #10 Scorer... 212 - 183.3 = 28.7 pts #11 & #20 Scorer... 182.8 - 169.8 = 13 pts
Not as big a differential at the top among the DBs in 2010 as with DL and LB (another reason to slough the position in most instances in IDP drafts, with the exception of transcendent talents such as top five overall draft picks such as Berry in 2010 and Patrick Peterson in 2011). So as if the inherent choppiness in surfing the season-to-season waves of DB productivity wasn't enough cause already to give one pause before pulling the trigger on a would be DB difference maker in your redraft leagues, the above spread, characterized by a more fractional, marginal and correspondingly less impactful separation near the top (relative to DL and LB), might.
S - 11 CB - 9
Sometimes safeties are viewed as more important than CBs, but clearly good CBs can be as good as the best safeties (earlier data supports this as well - see previous studies cited above). This can be further broken down and subdivided into...
SS - 7 FS - 4
It is commonly held that SS is a more coveted position than FS among the safeties. While that old saw has occasionally held up in the past (including last year), it shouldn't be viewed as an immutable, iron clad law. It should be noted that the SS/FS positions seems to be evolving into more interchangeable roles, somewhat blurring former distinctions that may no longer be as valid as they used to. SSs need to cover and FSs need to tackle in run support, or they will become mismatches waiting to be exploited by savvy OCs. Retired former DAL/CIN SS Roy Williams was a poster child for this development (Williams was frequently replaced in obvious passing situations towards the end of his career due to grave coverage flaws). Big, in-the-box SSs that are dedicated thumpers in run support like the increasingly marginalized Bernard Pollard are fast becoming dinosaurs and extinction could be just around the corner. Up 'n comer Kam Chancellor is a super-sized SS that appears to have better than the catastrophic coverage skills of Williams and Pollard, and looks like a keeper.
(21-23) - 3 (24-26) - 8 (27-29) - 7 (30-32) - 1 (33-35) - 1
Within the developmental life cycle, DB may be about intermediate between DL and LB. While there may not be the same kind of technical obstacles that impede rapid deployment and rollout of DL, there is arguably more technical development needed at DB compared to the very instinctive requirements of a LB. We see bigger numbers in the first two age brackets like at LB, though only two at 30+, fewer than both DL and LB. Perhaps DL and LB can better compensate for the inexorable loss of speed, as the vectors are tighter. Angles can be greatly expanded in the secondary, meaning there are limits to how better instincts informed by greater experience can compensate for diminished speed.
(Round 1-3) - 12 (Round 4-7) - 6 Undrafted Free Agent - 2
1 - 7 2 - 5 3 - 0 4 - 4 5 - 1 6 - 0 7 - 1 UFA - 2
Pedigree felt least here relative to other defensive (and offensive) positions, at least in the 2010 survey. Perhaps yet another reason (as if we needed one) to slough the position in drafts.