Thursday, March 15, 2012

dusting off the cobwebs of this thing…..

now with more aggro!!!

This post has been on the shelf for a while, so forgive the incomplete thoughts…..

I apologize for the extended break here, y’all. I’ve been unplugging on a sabbatical and really just taking a step back from everything.

I don’t watch television anymore, but every year at this time is always filled with stimulus for the football junkie to crescendo into the climax of the NFL Draft. It is the Senior Bowl, the Scouting Combine, then the Pro Days, then the Draft. An exercise in marketing, hype, and metrics with the benefit of stoking the next great insight into the ‘missing piece’ or next Hall of Famer in the NFL. This lust for the prized champion is probably best epitomized with the drafting of Ricky Williams (tunnel vision to a must-have player).

What I’ve always been amused by was the impact of group-think / mass-appeal when it comes to stories catching fire and raising the stock of a player’s worth. Whether it is Warren Sapp’s marijuana test or Cam Newton’s comments on being an “entertainer”, the slightest crosswind in the pony show can result in a six-figure imbalance all because of a change in personal opinion.

Continuing the diatribe of irritation previously, where flash carries more impact than substance, the amusing meme of Vontaze Burfict. Burfict’s “flash” on the field was exemplified in aggressive junior high antics (making a scene for the cameras), but making few plays as a linebacker. What has been interesting over the course of two seasons is how this ‘performance’ has been interpreted by hacks “analysts”. This type of hype snowballs to create an exaggerated monster of perception. Burfict is used here simply as a case study, this happens all over the place whether it is the Draft or HS Recruiting Prospects. Burfict’s aggression was interpreted as him being a “mean” player, and well, naturally, if he is ‘mean’, he’s gotta be a great player, amirite (because to become a better defender one simply has to “tackle harder”)?
I bring this up because football in its purest form ultimately comes down to fundamentals and the execution, both physically and mentally.  As dispassionate and mechanical as that sounds, there really are key metrics to examine a player’s worth on the field. Yes, the Combine and Pro Days can provide an assessment for athletic capacity, but more than anything it is gameplay that determines if a player can actually fulfill his role on the field. I am not going to make an argument for or against the vetting of NFL commodities (players).

The intent of this post is just to document how players can be lauded as a myth, despite performing at the same level each week.  Beware of Bullshit. While Burfict started for ASU at middle linebacker from 2009 to 2011, his legend grew. By the end of the 2010 season, NFL Draft expert, Todd McShay felt his talent was 1st round worthy. This isn’t to bash McShay (nor was I bashing Mayock last year) but to pump the breaks on the information train. The film is there, his performance is documented, yet McShay delivered a different account of what was actually taking place. It would make you question what this person was analyzing, what they were looking at to base their claims.
How do we judge whether is a player is ‘good’ or ‘bad’?   Stats are causational, physical attributes represent output potential, but to actually grade efficiency you would have to recognize how that player is supposed to perform on the field. You really don’t even have to have an intimate knowledge of a playbook to quantify a performance. Its all going to come down to the fundamentals of the position. Athletic capacity is relative to the opponents played against (the NFL carries a litmus by position….minimum standards to see if your talent could actually compete with others of elite caliber athletes). A linebacker can easily assessed on the fundamentals of the position; stance, start, key recognition, pursuit, tackling, and hustle. A liability on the field is an ass sitting the bench (asset on the bench).
Best defensive player: Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He was heralded as a tremendous prospect when he first arrived at ASU, and he hasn't disappointed. In fact, the only knock is that he draws too many penalties. Can a linebacker be too mean? Burfict has vowed to play more under control, which will make him even better. A punishing hitter with great power and range, Burfict posted 90 tackles last season and was named all-conference.

We really could pick any game here, but to be fair, lets present Exhibit A against a competent opponent in Wisconsin, who runs an offense not unlike what we see every Sunday from every team in the NFL.
The definition of production at the position is directly relational to the player’s competency in fundamentals (position, leverage, tackling, hustle, etc).  The player here (#7) routinely stays blocked, misses tackles, fails to anticipate routes as they develop around him, and worst of all, just flat out gives up if he’s not immediately around the ball. 

If we’re not judging players (in The Draft or on the field) for what they can produce, then we’re just bullshitting ourselves…..

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