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.