Alex Smith Superstar

asmith

Now that an Alex Smith trade to Kansas City appears a fait accompli, long-suffering Chiefs fans are wondering what to make of the former No. 1 draft pick turned bust turned redemption project turned Wally Pipp.

I have to admit, the news doesn’t particularly excite the emotions. Everyone who knows anything knows Smith is a game manager masquerading as a viable starting quarterback due to the brilliant machinations of one Jim Harbaugh.

Kansas City hasn’t attempted to draft a franchise savior since they used the No. 7 overall pick in 1983 to select Todd Blackledge with Dan Marino on the board. They haven’t tried it again for thirty years, instead opting for a long series of retreads that includes Steve DeBerg, Dave Krieg, Joe Montana, Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, and Matt Cassel. An entire generation of fans has known nothing but castoffs.

It’s hard to handle the idea of the Chiefs with the No. 1 overall pick and trading for Smith instead of selecting their own Matthew Stafford or Andrew Luck or RG3. Of course, there are supposedly no franchise quarterbacks in this draft, which has me scanning the historical archives for the what the ‘scouts’ had to say about Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Survey says: . . . Well, you never know what’s going to be on the board.

John Dorsey and Andy Reid are just joining the Chiefs, but they better understand the stakes. To go with Alex over Geno in the battle of the Smiths, they need to be absolutely certain the rookie won’t turn into a star and simultaneously have a lot more confidence in Smith than the rest of us.

Regardless, if Smith is the hand we’re dealt, let’s see what we’re likely to get.

The most accurate way to do quarterback comparisons is to use adjusted yards per attempt. We also want to get a large enough sample to even out the inherent randomness of quarterback stats. Most importantly, we want to focus on a set of years that accurately compares quarterbacks at the same level of experience and athletic development. Therefore, we’ll use three seasons worth of data and compare Smith to other quarterbacks in their age 26 to age 28 seasons.

Alex Smith Historical Comparisons Age 26 to 28

Passing
Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Y/A AY/A Y/G W L
Tom Brady 939 1531 61.3% 11422 77 40 90.2 7.46 7.29 238.0 38 10
Donovan McNabb 786 1308 60.1% 9380 64 25 90.4 7.17 7.29 228.8 32 9
Carson Palmer 1042 1604 65.0% 12002 86 45 93.6 7.48 7.29 250.0 26 22
Mark Brunell 825 1346 61.3% 10249 57 36 87.9 7.61 7.26 238.3 28 15
Chad Pennington 706 1066 66.2% 7932 51 27 93.7 7.44 7.26 208.7 20 14
Alex Smith 630 1005 62.7% 7251 44 20 90.7 7.21 7.20 196.0 22 12
Troy Aikman* 806 1226 65.7% 9221 51 32 91.2 7.52 7.18 209.6 34 10
Marc Bulger 849 1304 65.1% 10106 57 45 88.8 7.75 7.07 273.1 22 15
Drew Brees 1119 1706 65.6% 12417 78 44 91.6 7.28 7.03 258.7 26 22
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2013.

 

The comps turn out to be shockingly good. Troy Aikman is already in the Hall of Fame and Tom Brady and Drew Brees will  be in the not too distant future. The list also includes a former Reid signal-caller in Donovan McNabb.

The comparisons also serve to undermine the major argument against Smith – namely that he’s purely a system quarterback who’s recently benefited from crafty manipulation. Brady, Brees, and McNabb had access to some of the best coaching the NFL has to offer. Aikman is in the Hall of Fame at least in part because he was the caretaker for a franchise overflowing with talent.

Continue reading Alex Smith Superstar

Marquise Goodwin and the Hilarity of Scouting

GOODWIN

In case you’ve never heard of Marquise Goodwin, he’s a former Texas Longhorn wide receiver who goes 5’9”, 179. During his senior year in college Goodwin logged 340 yards receiving.

Now you may be thinking to yourself: a) I didn’t think short, light wide receivers project well to the NFL, and/or b) I didn’t think terrible college wide receivers project well to the NFL. And you’d be right on both counts.

But that evidently hasn’t stopped Goodwin from flying up draft boards.

Every season about this time there is a big battle between scouts and analysts. In his most recent column on Cordarrelle Patterson, Rotoworld’s Evan Silva suggests that ‘box score scouts’ will ding Patterson for essentially sucking in college. First of all, there’s no such thing as a ‘box score scout.’ The term scout implies watching the game and making a series of non-scientific observations which are essentially untestable. Scouts cannot be wrong because their observations are personal and don’t correspond to results in the real world. Any time they do reference things that exist in the real world, they’re referring to information that is freely available to anyone (for example, a 40 time).

On the other hand, box score analysts look at hard information and draw conclusions that can be judged. For example, compare two statements. A scout suggests that Goodwin has good speed in pads because he separated from corners in Senior Bowl practice. An analyst suggests that Stedman Bailey has good speed in pads because he put up 1,600 yards in the Big XII and must have separated from corners all season.

Scouting is a system of evaluating players that is that is riddled with red herrings, logical fallacies, and emotional biases. But in addition to lacking a framework for successfully projecting players to the NFL, scouts seem to know very little about what type of players are currently playing in the league.

The aforementioned Patterson acts as something of a flashpoint between scouts and analysts because he only had 778 yards receiving which left him with a .17 Dominator Rating (essentially the receiver’s market share of collegiate yards). Yet, I challenge you to find a single starting NFL receiver with a DR below .25. Most NFL No. 1 receivers had at least one year well above .40, and, most damningly, almost all previous first round picks at the bottom end of the DR spectrum went on to become busts.

The scouts love Patterson because his athleticism pops on tape, but that athleticism will be evident during the Combine next week, which gives scouts a pretty minimal advantage over those who simply turn on their DVRs. Since Patterson is 6’3”, 200, he has a good chance of turning in an excellent Height-adjusted Speed Score (HaSS), and I’d being will to take a third round flyer on a guy with a dominant HaSS even if he was as bad as Patterson in college. Unfortunately, Patterson is going to go in the first round.

But Patterson isn’t the best example of how scouts are the NFL’s incarnation of the Know Nothings. That honor goes to those who have Marquise Goodwin ranked above Stedman Bailey, a faction which includes CBSSports powered by NFLDraftScout.com.

Goodwin has a .11 Dominator Rating and is tiny. To believe he’s worth a second day pick, you basically have to believe Mack Brown is the worst coach, regardless of sport, in the history of organized athletics.

Stedman Bailey has a .46 Dominator Rating. Bailey accounted for a higher percentage of West Virginia’s receiving value than Tennessee size/speed prospects Patterson and Justin Hunter did combined. And Bailey did that despite competing for looks with supposed first round prospect Tavon Austin.

Perhaps the funniest thing about the scouts versus analysts debate – or at least the most counterintuitive – is the concept of intangibles. This is supposedly an area where scouts – guys who grind tape – separate themselves, but that’s a purely illogical declaration since intangibles, by definition, show up better in the box score than they do on tape. (If that sounds weird, think about it for a while and it’ll become obvious.) We love the mythical, grizzled scout – the TV personalities not so much – because scouts are old school and love the game, but what’s more old school than results?

Most people hate the idea of Moneyball in sports because they believe a faith in numbers undermines the potential for narrative. But does it? Or is it exactly the opposite? Considering the current predominance of scouts over analysts, who makes for the better underdog story, Patterson or Bailey? Should you be rooting for the guy who evidently turned wicked athleticism into mediocre results, or the guy who turned mediocre – or at least undervalued – athleticism into an extended stretch of brilliance?

Every season it seems inevitable that scouting will become more rational or systematic, but in many ways we seem to be going the opposite direction. Marquise Goodwin is not going to be drafted before Stedman Bailey, but the very fact that scouts can talk about the possibility with a straight face is enough to give a theater of the absurd quality to the entire endeavor.

As far as Cordarrelle Patterson? The GM who drafts him will inevitably be fired in the near future and not necessarily because of Patterson. Selecting Patterson is a gamble against the odds, but such gambles work out all the time. Clueless people constantly hit individual bets in Vegas. They inevitably leave broke. To win on a high enough percentage of bets to make money long term, you need a system for counting cards.

In the new NFL, those systems are already coming into existence. Welcome to the new breed of analysts.

 

One of the top fantasy football players in the world, Shawn Siegele has finished in the Top 10 of the NFFC’s Main Event Classic for two consecutive seasons and is one of only a handful of players to own three or more Main Event league titles.

Future of the Banana Stand

You remind me of someone… a man I met in a half-remembered dream. He was possessed of some radical notions. – Saito

The Banana Stand has taken some time off recently to put together a plan for future world domination. (Not unlike what Clark Hunt has done with the Kansas City Chiefs.) I’ve got an Inception-style series of articles entitled The Death of Value-Based Drafting coming up this summer. And when I say Inception, I mean Imminent Paradigm Shift. In the meantime, here are a few things I recommend.

1. Frank DuPont, author of Game Plan and the Crop Report, is striking out on a new venture called Rotoviz.com. An extension of his groundbreaking work creating viable similarity scores for NFL players, this site is literally the future of fantasy sports (and not in the “I figuratively hate people who misuse the word literally” kind of way – it’s going to be that good). As if a new fantasy douche website could actually be any better, I’m also going to be providing some content.

2. You don’t need a subscription right now to read Pro Football Focus Fantasy Gold, which means you can read my 2012 archive free gratis (or just gratis if Al has his way). This season I wrote Advanced Targets and Advanced Touches on a weekly basis. At the risk of re-using literally, these columns are guaranteed to include the most in-depth breakdowns of advanced stat splits anywhere on the internet. I heartily recommend perusing these as the start of your 2013 preparation. (If you go back to the first month, you can see me make a fool of myself by cracking on Adrian Peterson and Randall Cobb right before they explode.)

3. If my comments on Cobb and Purple Jesus start to undermine your confidence, please read my most recent column Best in the World? where I put my 2012 high stakes fantasy results on display and suggest if we could somehow generate poker-style rankings for FF, yours truly would be No. 1. In all seriousness, there’s usually nothing more tedious than reading about somebody else’s fantasy teams – other than watching most of the movies nominated for Best Picture the last ten years – but hopefully this acts as something of a strategy session.

4. The Banana Stand is going to have a handful of forward-looking columns this month, including an in-depth look at the undervaluing of Geno Smith and the ridiculous hyperbole surrounding Joe Flacco‘s contract. (I would probably trade Flacco for Smith straight up, but that’s the Banana Stand for you.)

 

Best in the World? A 2012 Postmortem

The objective of Money in the Banana Stand is to be the No. 1 fantasy site for contrarian viewpoints. My goal as a fantasy football player is to be the best in the world. To make either of those claims, it’s important to actually go back and grade yourself. Like anyone, I’m wrong on a lot of my individual projections, and I’m also right on some apparently bizarre takes. If you make enough crazy predictions, it’s easy to link back to the few that were correct. The key to providing value is to have a methodology for judging your ideas and strategies in a way that holds up to examination.

Before the season, I explained that the Banana Stand should be your place for fantasy football info because I actually play fantasy football. And not just a little. And not just in recreational leagues, or, for that matter, in ‘expert’ leagues (which might actually be easier than recreational leagues). I’ve played in nearly 200 leagues over the past three seasons, many of which were high stakes. During that time period, I’ve won a lot of titles and finished in the Top 10 of national contests.

At the beginning of this season I wrote about playing in many high stakes leagues again. In fact, on the final preseason weekend, I twice completed three Main Event drafts simultaneously (two on the internet while doing one over the phone). I also participated in PFF’s startup dynasty league with full IDP. (Although this is an expert league, I think its writers are some of the best in the world because they’re actually required to be well-versed in PFF’s advanced stats, not just spin platitudes. Then again, I’m obviously biased.)

Now that the regular season is over, it’s time to look at how the Banana Stand performed in those leagues. If my results in actual leagues are far superior to what is likely to be achieved by luck, then the crazy ideas espoused in this space may have significant value.

The National Fantasty Football Championship

The Banana Stand entered 29 teams in the various NFFC offerings. The goal was to spread around risk, continue to build experience, and create the best chance to win one of the big prizes.

For those who haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing the high stakes space, the National Fantasy Football Championship is less recreational than the FFPC. Unlike most formats, only three of the 12 teams advance to the playoffs in the two Main Events (Classic and Primetime). The Online Championship is even less forgiving with only the top two teams advancing to the playoffs. The NFFC is also more egalitarian. While head-to-head matchups matter, record only determines one of the playoff spots. This means you can finished tied for first and not be one of the qualifiers (which one of our teams accomplished). Teams who split best record and most points have a three week playoff to be crowned league champion.

Due to the format, the chances of making the playoffs across the 29 teams is approximately 20%. This season 15 of our 29 teams qualified and another squad finished 7th in the consolation out of 1,500-plus teams. All five of our teams that were forced to go extras to determine the league championship emerged victorious.*

*Banana Stand owners Shawn and Tyson Siegele have now cashed more than 25 times in the NFFC and count among only a handful of participants to have ever won three or more Main Event league titles.

Continue reading Best in the World? A 2012 Postmortem