Graph of the day – NFL draft edition

Advanced NFL Stats asks, “What happened to the first-round runningback?

In the five-year period between 1970 through 1974, running backs made up 20% of all first round NFL draft picks. That’s one out of every five. As recently as the 1985-1989 period, RBs made up 19% of first rounders. But by the most recent decade, from 2000 through 2010, RB selection was cut in half–down to about 10%. Last night, only 1 of the 32 players chosen (about 3%) was a RB, and he was chosen 28th, near the bottom of the round.

The graph below illustrates the trends in how teams favor each position over the past 41 years. Most positions are fairly stable.

draft

Fascinating graph. First, I’m completely not shocked that defensive line is at the top. It really is the most important position in football, particularly at the NFL level. Second, and more importantly, I wonder how much of the movement in the graph over time is driven by strategic trends with respect to personnel versus increased demand or rule changes. For example, in the ’70s and ’80s, most teams used “21 personnel,” i.e. the “Pro set” with either an I-formation or splitbacks. Nowadays almost all teams base from a one-back set, with the fullback having being replaced by either a third receiver, a second tight-end, or an “H-back” hybrid guy, depending on the scheme and talent.

The tight-end line on the graph is interesting in this respect. It declined in the 90s but had a slight uptick in the early part of the 2000s (almost hitting the old historic high), as teams moved to more two-tight end sets. Similarly, who was the last true “fullback” to be selected in the first-round? (Mike Alstott (a) was a true runner and (b) was a second-round pick.)

I suppose the way to control for this effect — the numbers versus importance point — would be to simply take a look at the proportion given positions have occupied over time as a percentage of the 53-man NFL roster. I.e., have teams gone from three wide receivers and four or five defensive backs to five wide receivers and seven defensive backs, thus making the uptick in those players being drafted more in the first-round simply a reflection of their increased numbers? No one doubts quarterbacks are effective, but teams only carry two or three — and there is generally less turnover there as well — so it remains low on the above graph as a percentage of all first-rounders. I’m curious if folks have any thoughts on how best to understand this.

Paragraph of the day

Spencer Hall imagines what would happen if Grantland Rice were to submit his most famous article to a certain future ESPN site.

To: GrantRice@aol.com
From: [REDACTED]@espn.com

Thank you for the submission, but we unfortunately will not be able to use your work on our new website. We are looking for voices who echo a tradition of innovative, moving sportswriting that is at once young but timeless, emotionally moving but with a eye towards clinical critique, and infused with a creativity that never ceases in its quest to expand the parameters of sportswriting.

To expand on this, I’d like to just offer a few pointers for you in order to help you in your future work.

Outlined against a blue-gray(1) October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.(2)

1. Hyphenates are a no-no. Just say “sky.” Shorter is always better. This is always true. Trust. Me.

2. Wrestling references are a little low in the class department. This one is dated, too. When you write for us, think: “Would Malcolm Gladwell know who this is?” If not, don’t include it.

Read the whole thing. This piece echoes something I wrote awhile back about Rice’s work in comparison to popular “sports journalism” and the weirder backwaters found on the internet:

I bring all this out to show the parallels between sort of post-modern (for lack of a better term) sports writing on the internet, twitter, blogs, and the like, and the greatest sports writing ever, which has very little to do with the alternatively obsequious or bellicose 800 word columns and maddening boilerplate recaps we have become accustomed to.

“The Four Horsemen” would not have been published by a reputable institution anytime in the last fifty-years. By modern standards, it is not a very good sports story. It is merely the greatest sports story of all time.

A page from Gus Malzahn’s (and Cam Newton’s) playbook (literally)

Say what you will about Cam Newton, but don’t tell me that Auburn doesn’t have NFL pass plays in its playbook (answer, they do).

Straight out of the playbook.

 

Paragraph of the day

On what being no-huddle does — and does not — do for you:

So how did the [Oregon] Ducks win so many games and score so many damn points? Pace, of course. They employed the 2008 Oklahoma strategy of maximizing their per-play advantage by running more plays than anybody else. Pace is a beautiful weapon as long as you maintain that per-play advantage. Simply running plays quickly won’t matter if you’re going three-and-out; in fact, it can be detrimental to your cause if you are not good enough to employ the strategy. But Oregon figured something out and exploited it; with their success — and Oklahoma’s — I’m curious to see if or how other good teams attempt to take advantage of a seemingly worthy “Goliath” strategy. (I’m also curious how long it takes defenses to catch up and adjust.)

Read the whole thing. For more on the no-huddle and underdog versus favorite strategies, see here, here and here.

Smart Links – 4/25/2011

New England Patriots screen game:
screen

Brophy with a bunch of videos, including Holgorsen/U of Houston practice film and Philadelphia Eagles/Indy Colts film.

Which universities spend the most on sports? Number one is UT Austin, at $112.9 million a year, followed by Ohio State, U. Florida, Louisiana State, U. Tennessee, Wisconsin-Madison, Auburn, Alabama, U. OK, and then USC, which is still spending $80 million a year.

Economics of the Jetsons.

Does nagging work? Unfortunately, yes.

Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden goes from student to teacher in the Airraid offense.

Rich Rodriguez muses on the spread offense.

Harold Bloom doesn’t want to be edited. (Me either, but I need it.)

What podcasts do you listen to?

Here is a list of my weekly (or at least bi-weekly) listens:

Solid Verbal — The only football related podcast I consistently listen to because it’s, well, the best one. I especially recommend the recent episode with Bill Connelly.

NPR Planet Money — Unbelievably good at breaking down complex subjects in entertaining ways. The recent episode with actual crack dealer Freeway Rick Ross (the real one) on the economics of crack dealing is a must listen.

Philosophy Bites — At this point I can emulate professor Nigel Warburton’s British accept pretty well (I did live in the mother country for a stint too). This one can be a bit inconsistent, but when the guests are good the bites go down easy. Check out Bakewell on Montaine.

Freakonomics — Due to their excessive popularity and the grating intro (“Why am I thanking the listeners? The podcast is free.”) I really did not want to like this, but podcasts on cooking, schools, earthquake prediction, and poop have made this part of my routine.

This American Life — Since it’s a full hour I don’t always have time for it, but it’s the best radio journalism I’ve ever heard. The recent episode on a Georgia Drug Court and Drug Court judge gone off the rails is required listening.

EconTalk — I don’t always agree with Russ Roberts, but this podcast is the best hardcore-let’s-talk-economics podcast out there. Being an hour, the quality of each episode is very much driven by the quality of the guest. The best formula is when Russ (a self-professed libertarian/Hayekian) does battle with an economist on the other side of the ideological divide.

I also must hesitatingly admit that I listen to Bill Simmons, depending on the topic and guest. I actually prefer to listen to him than read him, for whatever that is worth.

So what podcasts am I missing out on? Any others? Also, since I recently bought a new MacBook I’m interesting in getting my podcast software and equipment up; I’d like to do something like the Philosophy Bites one but with football (10-20 minutes with an expert on a particular topic), but could use some recommendations.

Smart Links – 4/19/2011

Probably right (via the edsbs commentariat):

gus

– Holgo the colorful. I know it was just a post practice presser after a spring practice, but I found this very entertaining (and informative). Best part: “Any more consistency from Woods?” “No.” *Crickets*

Defeating shade nose defenders in even fronts. Also check out the midline triple against the odd stack defense.

– Boise State, known for having one of the most creative staffs around, has a different definition of vanilla spring gameplan than most teams.

Spring game attendance, by the numbers. Note that some teams charge for tickets while others do not.

Oklahoma still looking for a featured back, though I doubt it needs just one.

We can all breathe a national sigh of relief.

2011 Pulitzer winners (NY Times link).

Tennessee fans are not concerned that quarterback Tyler Bray went 5 for 30 in the spring game. Really.

You win with people.

Roger Ebert on being “well read” (recommended).

Smart Links – 4/14/2011

Three links from Football Study Hall: Adjusted POE, Highlights Yards, and a LaTech Bulldog breakdown.

Brophy on Frontline on Football.

David Simon of The Wire fame opens up.

Very interesting post on the economics of scheduling cupcakes in football.

Les Miles kissed a pig on purpose.

Andy Staples on Keyshawn Johnson doing the 7-on-7 thing.

Purdue recalls its new mascot after like, an hour.

Houston Nutt, destroyer of quarterbacks.

The big Huffington Post unpaid blogger lawsuit looks like a loser.

Writing about sports in 2010: Four points about two (or three) articles

Ben McGrath’s profile of Gawker Media’s head-honcho, Nick Denton, in this week’s New Yorker, is a fascinating window into the world of professional blogging, where the pageview is king. (Gawker owns the sports site Deadspin, along with, in order of popularity, Gizmodo, Gawker, Lifehacker, Kotaku (video games), Jezebel, io9 (science fiction), Jalopnik (cars), and Fleshbot. In this list Deadspin would rank behind Kotaku and ahead of Jezebel.) Less informative but equally entertaining is Bill Simmons’s most recent column, which recounts the circumstances that led to his “accidental” tweeting of “moss Vikings” roughly thirty minutes before Fox Sports’s Jay Glazer formally broke the story of Randy Moss’s potential trade to the Minnesota Vikings. These pieces form the backdrop for my points below.

1. Pageviews, hits, unique visitors — these will drive the news and what articles get written, and not just for blogs.

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
– Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Boswell.

It’s often said that the internet is the most democratic of all technologies, which may be true, but it is certainly true that it is the most capitalistic of technologies — products will be designed to meet the public’s tastes. One reason for that is that the internet reduces transaction costs, as exhibited by the ability of sites like eBay and Craigslist to connect buyers and sellers for really any products at all. But this is also because the internet allows the measuring of such tastes like never before, whether it’s products recommended by Amazon or movies by Netflix. And online writing is no different:

Paying bonuses for traffic meant not only keeping statistics about what readers did and didn’t like but sharing that information with writers—a supreme journalistic taboo, as it could easily lead to pandering. Pandering was precisely Denton’s aim, and he took it one step further when he started publishing his traffic data alongside the stories themselves. It almost felt like a sociological experiment designed to prove the obvious: that readers are herd animals, that heat begets heat. A photograph of an unidentifiable mammalian carcass on a beach, cleverly dubbed the Montauk Monster, is viewed two million times: go figure. “I think people are sort of waking up to it now, how probably the biggest change in Internet media isn’t the immediacy of it, or the low costs, but the measurability,” Denton told me. “Which is actually terrifying if you’re a traditional journalist, and used to pushing what people ought to like, or what you think they ought to like.”

It is terrifying. Most good bloggers I know try to have a kind of code duello, where although pageviews (which, at least on some level, especially for full-time internet writers), has to be the goal, there is still room for “ethics” in the sense that things won’t be done gratuitously or without sufficient support. But this line is hardly a clear one, and it’s difficult to compete when the other side unabashedly will do anything for digital eyeballs.

Denton’s receptionist sits beneath a large digital screen known as the Big Board, which lists the ten best-performing posts across the company network; these are determined by the number of new readers—as opposed to returning obsessives—in the previous hour. Denton says that the primary purpose of the Big Board is to encourage competition among his writers. A few months ago, he told the Times, “Sometimes one sees writers just standing before it, like early hominids in front of a monolith.”

And make no mistake, Gawker is taking not only eyeballs but advertising revenue from traditional media, who have increasingly gone online — where their content is measurable. Can they resist the temptation to pander? Are they supposed to?

2. “Sources” doesn’t mean what you think it means. The internet has done some interesting things to how stories are “broken.” If something is released by press release, wire service, tweet, or other official medium of the sender, no website, media company, or blog can lay any claim to having broken it — it just happens too quickly. Organizations that want to keep credibility tend to break information this way — when have you ever heard of a Supreme Court decision being leaked early? Of course, most stories are not broken in this way, and that’s because if you have an inside tip you now have power. I’ll let Bill Simmons explain:

With every media company unabashedly playing the “We Had It First!” game, reporters’ salary and credibility hinges directly on how many stories they break. That entices reporters to become enslaved to certain sources (almost always agents or general managers), push transparent agendas (almost always from those same agents or GMs) and “break” news before there’s anything to officially break. It also swings the source/reporter dynamic heavily toward the source. Take care of me and I will take care of you.

[…]

So that’s how it works — not all the time but occasionally, and only because of everyone’s obsession to be first. On the surface, this annoys me to no end. Who cares? It’s not like we have some giant scoreboard keeping track of everything. But my reporter friends all say the same thing: It’s not about one scoop but the entire body of scoops (not just for the reporter, but the company that employs them). Think of Ichiro grinding out 200 hits every season. Yeah, most of them are mundane singles … but they add up. For readers, that volume turns it into a “feel” thing….

So yeah, there’s no official scoreboard for scoops. We just subconsciously keep score. As do editors. As do media companies. Some will do whatever it takes to pad their stats, whether it’s pimping every decision someone makes to get repaid with information later, playing the odds by reporting something they hope is true (and if it is, they look like a stud), spinning every angle against someone who once butted heads with a favored source, whatever. The best reporters maintain relationships, avoid agendas, craft good narratives, never stop cultivating new sources and — occasionally — break news simply because it’s an outcome of being good at their jobs. That’s what should matter. And that’s how they should be judged. I wish that were always the case.

Of course, “payment” doesn’t always come in the form of leaking certain stories in the future or spinning a column a particular way. Sometimes payment means, well, payment:

(more…)

Smart Notes 3/26/2010

More influential books lists:
Kyle King
Tom Gower
Carlin (The Marlin)
Walter
Zach

– The NFL’s new overtime rule. So far, opinion is split. The coaches appear the most unhappy. Brian Burke offers some thoughts. For my part, I am mostly confused as to why they went with this complicated system; I’ve yet to wrap my brain around the decisional nuances that will be present with giving teams the chance to “match” and so on. The old sudden death system already skewed the touchdown and field goal numbers, since (a) teams in field goal range usually settled for a field goal, but (b) sometimes a demoralized defense gave up a cheap touchdown when the offense had the ball in obvious field goal range. Now, the team with the ball will face a big decision whether to go for the touchdown, particularly by increasing their odds of scoring a touchdown by going for it on fourth down, or playing conservatively. And the team that gets the ball second will have plenty of incentive to go for the touchdown and be aggressive — but I anticipate most will settle for the field goal.

So I think there are only two things we can, right now, say with certainty about the new plan: (1) almost any statistics you hear on TV about how often the team who gets the ball first or second wins will be misleading because there are so many factors at play, and (2) it will likely succeed in making overtime last a little longer on average, which I take to be the overall goal anyway. Whether the system is any fairer in practice is probably besides the point: if the team that won the toss gets a field goal, you can say the other team “got a shot,” and if they get a touchdown, everyone will use truisms about “stopping them.” The measure ameliorates debate, but it doesn’t solve issues.

– Jump on the Coach Kill bandwagon. Northern Illinois’s football coach loves football, corn cobs, his own face, and THUNDERSTIX, and hates Toledo, Wisconsin, and your kids.

– Nick Saban doesn’t want to hear about “repeats.” Via Doc Sat: “Saban would disagree with that “defending” part. He’d say that last year’s team is no more because so many important elements of that team are gone, and to say this next group of football players is defending anything is incorrect because this particular group hasn’t won anything to defend.”

This is basically an argument of necessity: How do you get 18-21 year olds to handle success, particularly when several if not many of the major contributors are no longer around? Saban is well-known for championing the “process” over the results or even end-goals, and we’ll see if his approach succeeds better than another coach’s recent attempt to deal with the same “entitlement” phenomena.

– St. Mary’s football pedigree. From The Quad:

[T]he most significant victory in St. Mary’s history came in a sport the college no longer plays — football.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Gaels had one of the best teams in the nation under Edward Madigan, known as Slip, a Knute Rockne protégé….

St. Mary’s, then an all-male college, beat the Rose Bowl champion of the 1927 season, Stanford, and the 1931 season, Southern California, which won the national championship that season. In 1933, the Gaels had the third-largest attendance in the nation.

Their biggest win, though, came in New York in 1930 when they traveled east and ended the 16-game winning streak of Fordham with a 20-12 victory after trailing by 12-0 at halftime.

On the eve of that game, Madigan threw a party in New York that included Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones and the politician Al Smith. After the game, the team traveled to Washington, as it had planned, and received an invitation from President Herbert Hoover, a Stanford graduate, to visit the White House — perhaps the first sports team to be celebrated there.

– Rex in the City: The HBO series “Hard Knocks” will follow the New York Jets this fall. But isn’t there a risk of giving away information by having cameras and a film crew troll your practices, while having no editorial control? Not to Jets Coach Rex Ryan:

Would the Jets leak information about players and schemes that opponents might latch onto for future use? Ryan shrugged it off. Giving away a play or a coverage, Ryan said, would not be included in the final version of the show.

“I think, you know — I trust, you know, let’s just throw a guy out there — anybody,” Ryan said, pausing, a gleam in his eye. “Bill Belichick. Let’s just throw him out there.”

The room erupted in laughter at the mention of the New England Patriots’ intelligence-gleaning coach, before Ryan said: “He’s going to do his due diligence. He’s going to do his work, anyway. He’s going to have a huge opinion on our players, one way or the other.”

Indeed, having the brash Ryan as coach had nothing to do with HBO selecting the Jets…

“We have our Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg in Rex Ryan,” Ross Greenburg, the president of HBO Sports, said. “Absolutely,” Ryan said.

– The effect of shooting angle in basketball. (more…)