Down with the draft

Like most everyone else, I’ll tune into the NFL draft. It’s a big media spectacle, and certainly draws a lot of interest, but does it make any sense? And for who? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warns us:

In the union lawyers’ world, every player would enter the league as an unrestricted free agent, an independent contractor free to sell his services to any team. Every player would again become an unrestricted free agent each time his contract expired.

Trust us, the draft works great

Rather than some corrupt dystopia, this sounds a lot like the free market and — I don’t know — real life to me, even setting aside the fact that most of Goodell’s arguments are hypocritical (“some players might get paid less” yet the players support the proposal). The draft is extremely anachronistic (and autocratic), and, with free agency now otherwise widespread, probably is not nearly as significant as it once was. Chase Stuart has explained that NFL teams derive something like 50-60% of their “production” from players acquired in the draft versus free agency (with 40% on the low end and 80% on the high end), and my guess is this is skewed given the very short time expectancy for NFL players. So the draft only makes up a piece of how good a team is.

So what if there was no draft? The current draft system is bizarre, and the mystery leads to bizarre turns of events where teams draft players they never met with because they didn’t want to tip off other teams — hiring guys based on his resumes but without the interview) or you uncomfortable watch someone like Texas A&M runningback Leeland McElroy sit through hours of waiting on live television on his way to becoming the lowest drafted player to actually attend. Instead of this, once the NFL imposed waiting period was lifted (call it “Signing Season,” and could run from, say, March through May) teams would begin working out players and giving them offers. Players won’t have to wonder, “Will I be a first round guy? Or will I slip to the third round?” Instead they will know that, say, the Panthers have offered them three years at $15 million, while the Saints have offered four years at $25, or in the case of some other player maybe two years for a total of $1.2 million. Rather than the smoke screens and forced marriages the draft creates, you’d have actual, objective value out there, and players would be more likely to go to teams that fit them.

But what of the teams, and, most importantly, what of that bogeyman, “competitive balance”? As I mentioned above, close to half of all teams (in terms of production) is determined by free agency now anyway, and the NFL still has a reputation as a “balanced” league. More importantly, however, the draft adds very little to competitive balance. As Richard Thaler has noted, having a high draft choice is more of a “Loser’s Curse” than anything else, with the heavy salaries and high risk of a top pick doing more to destroy competitive balance than to help it. And the NFL already has the two best mechanisms for keeping and establishing competitive balance: the salary cap and revenue sharing. A recent study discussed the idea of sharing venue revenue as a way to remedy any remaining competitive balance issues; the draft does little to help. And I’m not persuaded that small market teams will suffer as much as Goodell claims; they said the same thing before free agency, and they seem to be doing fine with that (in the last eleven years, small or mid market teams in St. Louis, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Green Bay have all won Super Bowls).

Ultimately, I don’t think the draft is going away. It’s too entrenched and people have convinced themselves they want it. But just think about how much more orderly — and fair — it would be if teams could bid on players rather than this messy, strange draft system. With minimum salaries for players based on experience (as we have now), revenue sharing, and a salary cap, I don’t know why this system wouldn’t be infinitely better than the one we have now. But it’s likely a pipe dream.

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.

 

Follow-pivot pass concept

Good stuff from Coach Hoover’s site:

I first learned this play while studying the Meyer/Mullen Florida Gator Offense. I remember sitting at their first Spring Clinic, listening to Dan Mullen talk. Mullen explained that their offense mainly used five passing concepts: All-Go [Ed.: See also this article.], Smash, Houston (maybe another article in the future), H-Option, and Follow-Pivot.

[Ed. Note: Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen got this play (among others) from Joe Tiller at Purdue. Check out pages 131 to 133 (in PDF page numbers, not playbook page numbers, of the 1999 (Drew Brees) Purdue playbook.]

After studying the Follow-Pivot concept, I realized that it was very similar to the NCAA pass (Post-Dig-Drag). However, because of the distribution of routes, this concept is better suited to beat Quarters coverage. . . .

Conceptually, the play creates a High-Low on the Free Safety, as well as [a] Middle-Triangle [read] off the two weak-side Linebackers (or weak-side and middle LBs). I always put the Post to the boundary, and have the Follow route coming from the field. I do this because teams will almost always rotate their coverage to the field (which would disrupt my Triangle) or because we see a lot of Quarters with the Strong Safety inside my #2 receiver to the field (which makes it difficult for that receiver to run the Post). I must create a situation where I can isolate the Free Safety for my High-Low read, and my Post and Follow routes can win.

pivot

The two receivers closest to the ball will run Pivot routes if displaced or Check-down/Breakout routes from the backfield. Their purpose is to attract the two LBs closest to the Post, or replace those LBs if they disappear in coverage or become pass rushers. Those two LBs are also the players that we are trying to occupy get the Follow route open. A coaching point that we teach to the Pivot & Check-down routes is to have them sit and replace the LB they are aiming for if he rushes the QB or drops into coverage. They will only work outside if they are covered, as this will open up a huge throwing lane over the middle for the Follow route. Finally, the outside receiver to the field runs a Curl, and is there should the QB have to scramble that way.

Check out the video cutup and read the whole thing. This is a good complement to the shallow cross concept I recently described.

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.

Paragraph of the day

Unlike GERG [former Michigan defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson] he [new Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison] has patience with questions, especially football questions. GERG wanted little to do with the press and had no patience with anything resembling a football question. (I asked whether he would be playing “one or two gap” a couple of years ago. He looked at me like I was crazy (maybe I am/was, probably the question was idiotic) but he responded (and repeated himself) with “Let’s just say by the end of the season you’ll be happy with our defense.” Uh, well, not exactly.)

That’s from Craig Ross’s writeup of the coaching clinic at Michigan over at mgoblog. Read the whole thing.

Airraid screen game and wide receiver blocking

Videos all courtesy of the excellent Trojan Football Analysis. Screen game:

And wide receiver blocking drills, after the jump:

(more…)

Did Cam Newton flunk the Jon Gruden test?

Setting aside whether there is (or should be) a Jon Gruden test, many on the interwebs have pointed to this video and decided Newton can’t make it:

The argument is that Newton just passes on the long verbiage call and, in not answering, fails the question. Now, it’s clear that Newton’s offense in college was not as complicated as what the pros do, I think the conclusion that Cam is automatically unfit is unfair. He didn’t forget his own plays; he says they did not have it in his offense because everything had to be done from the no-huddle. He says “36” might be the play name, and they call 36 and up and go. (For what it’s worth, in his book Finding the Winning Edge, put out in 1997, Bill Walsh said the future of football was in no-huddle offenses where the plays were called with single words.)

In the full segment, Cam diagrams a couple of plays and a couple of things were clear to me: (a) he’s a freak athlete, (b) he actually internalized his coaching quite well, as he remembered all the coaching points and axioms from Malzahn (and Gruden said he retained everything in their meeting quite well), and (c) he really does have a long way to go in terms of mastering a complicated NFL system. The upshot is that, while I like Cam’s potential, drafting him number one is risky. But he’s not incapable of mastering an NFL system.

But a final thought. Gruden — rightly, I think — emphasizes to Newton that he is going to have to prepare himself for complicated NFL playbooks and verbiage, because he will be a new employee and that’s what they do. Yet it’s not clear to me that all that verbiage goes to good use; I’m curious if Gruden, if he goes back into coaching, will choose to deluge kids with those insane playcalls or will instead do as Walsh predicted and as Malzahn does, and find a simpler way of doing business. As Cam says in the clip, “simple equals fast,” and as Holgorsen likes to remind his team, “if you’re thinking, you’re not playing.”

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).