Pro Football Management – Numbers tell a different story

The National Football League seems a dichotomy of an amalgamation of risk avoidance and putting almost no forethought into multimillion dollar decisions.  Somewhere between are the daily operations of thirty-two clubs vying for a Super Bowl Championship.  A fine line is teetered to maintain the status quo.  Too much conservative thought can leave you in the wake of competitors, constantly shooting from the hip can cost your club both money and victories.

Covering your bases

General Managers collect every piece of recordable data.  Watch more games; junior tape, postseason bowls, all-star practices, one on ones.  Time more 40’s; grass, field turf, tennis shoes, spikes.  Push, pull, poke, and prod.  Weigh, measure, test, and record.  Check every box, cover every base.  Amazing the amount of information assembled to dodge a bust on draft day.  Yet perhaps two of seven selections will ever really amount to much.  It’s a 50-50 chance for a mid first rounder to accumulate 56 starts over his first five years.  Thirty-five percent of late first to early second round picks might reach that mark, and even late second or early thirds are looking at a one in five shot.

How’s that happen?  The evaluation process starts well before the senior season and personnel prognosticators are petrified of poor performance.  So they check off the boxes, all of the boxes.  They work to lower the risk, avoid the bust, and find the needles in the haystack.

The numbers tell a story

A class of rookie prospects traditionally produces only so many at each position, on average about 15 QB’s each season.  Of those 15, two or three are selected in the first round, four or five total by the end of the third. Back to the initial study, after the 50th selection the chances are about 0% of making 56 starts over the first 5 years.  Tom Brady skews the backend, but he’s more of an anomaly than the norm.

In addition, fifty percent of NFL 2-Deeps come from rounds 1 & 2.  Account that studies have also shown the highest rated NFL QB’s coming out of college traditionally pass the 36/60 rule; 36 games started and 60% completions.

These are hard numbers that paint a compelling picture of future success.

Where the “best of the best” come from

A step further, the NFL Combine assembles the top 350 prospects for as thorough an evaluation as possible.  Most fans don’t know the top priority of the Combine is to complete the most comprehensive medical examination the prospect has ever been through.  The financial and opportunity costs are just too high.  Ten years ago seven clubs from both National Football Scouting and BLESTO compiled their combined lists of positional prospects to make up the invites.  That committee has now expanded to eleven.  A few players fall through the cracks, but not many.

Where am I going with this?  Statistics show that the best of the best at the QB position come from the top of the draft.  There are exceptions to every rule, but remember “risk avoidance”, making the sound decisions based on facts and not emotion.

Mystery man

Consider this player;

  • Four year backup in college to two future NFL players; 20 of 33, 192 yards, 0 TD’s, 1 Int.
  • Not invited to the NFL Combine.
  • Drafted late in the 7th to avoid a college free agent bidding war.
  • Spent the first three years of his pro career as a backup; 22 of 39, 253 yards, 2 TD’s & 2 Int’s.
  • Year four was forced into action because of injury and more than exceeded expectations.
  • Was “Franchised” because of performance and lingering questions on the health of the starter.

Figured it out?  The player is Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs.  Cassel was caught in a perfect storm.  Brady’s knee injury vaulted him into the starting position, supported by a New England roster that had gone 18-1 the prior season.  A Patriot circle of Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels (Broncos) and Scott Pioli (Chiefs) hyper inflated his market value and the frenzy to acquire Cassel was on.

True value?

The result;

  • A trade that sent Cassel to the Chiefs (along with Mike Vrabel) for a 2nd round pick (#34).
  • A $63 million dollar contract that was then easily valued in the top 10 of QB’s.
  • $27.75 million in assumed guarantees and a $12.25 million 3 year average.
  • A player who had effectively started one year since high school.
  • Had thrown 72 competitive passes (college & pro) prior to 2008.

Cassel duplicated that “one year wonder” success his second season in Kansas City, but is now all but done as the Chiefs’ starter.  A bust by any other definition.  So how’s that happen?  The numbers just didn’t add up.  Personal emotion and competitive “fist pumping” overrode sound decision making processes.  Not checking all the boxes.

“Statistics are for losers”?  Right.

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