Could This Unconventional NFL Draft be the Best Ever?

The 2020 NFL draft will go on as the world is shut down due to COVID-19. The draft will not be in Vegas, instead, it will be in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement. It would be an understatement to say that this draft will be unconventional. General managers, scouts, coaches, and owners who are used to sitting in a state of the art war rooms, will now make decisions that could cost them their job while their kids may be fighting in the other room. Of course, things could be MUCH worse but it’s less than ideal circumstances for the teams trying to pick the best player. At face value, these new situations that teams are placed in would make you think that this draft will probably have more busts and more players that just don’t work out. Yet will it? Could these altered interactions help the NFL teams draft better?

 It’s not just the actual NFL draft that had to be changed due to COVID-19 but also the events leading up to the draft. In a normal NFL year leading up to the draft there is the combine (which the NFL was able to get in), and then the other major events which are pro days. Pro days are held by schools to help showcase their talent, think of it as a mini-combine. At these pro days, it provides players an opportunity to show their skill to scouts of NFL teams that they can help their team if they are drafted. This is an opportunity for players who ran too slow at the combine to get a second chance and allow players that weren’t invented to the combine to showcase their skills to scouts. Unfourtantly, pro days were canceled this year due to the coronavirus. Yet, there are two other key aspects of pro days that play pivotal parts in helping a player get drafted. That’s scout communication and player-team conversations. 

 First, with scout communication, this is a key element of the draft process. NFL scouts are human, so when they travel to all of these pro days across the country, they talk. Some of those conversations are about the NFL draft and about where they have players ranked and who they may like. I’m not saying one scout is giving the other his team’s draft board, but there is a communication of which players they may like. Of course, the obvious thing right now is that this doesn’t exist. Scouts may be talking with scouts from other teams but the odds of the team finding similarities make it much more difficult. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network sent out a tweet this week detailing the exact point saying there will be “less groupthink in the draft this year”. Now, what does that mean?

 Since there will be less awareness about which players are valued as superior, the more likely we see players that are low on some boards to be ranked higher on others. The advantage of this is for the players. Teams will rely more on what they see and take players based on the talent from the tape rather than what everyone else thinks. A lot of teams may second guess taking a player higher because other teams don’t value player X that high. Less of that will happen in this draft because teams will go with their instinct and draft player X because they won’t have as much knowledge of what other teams are thinking. 

 The second element of this equation is the removal of person-to-person interactions that teams use to interview players. Now luckily in today’s society, we have Skype, Zoom, and hundreds of more ways to talk to people through devices. Although, anyone that has ever used any of these devices realizes that it doesn’t exactly feel like the same experience. Teams will place lesser emphasis on this interaction because it simply isn’t the same thing as sitting across from someone and looking them in the eye. Then how is this a good thing? I’m going to rely on Malcolm Gladwell to help me with this.

 A lot of people have made a similar reference that I’m about to make, but this example might have more than one connection. For that reference, I look back at Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book Talking to Stranger. Those not familiar with Gladwell’s work, he proposes theories that are backed up through historical references and tied together to make a point. One particular part of the book connects closely to this idea of social interaction being a deterrent in our ability to judge someone’s character. Gladwell uses the example of when British prime minister Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler. Just wait, it ties together.

 If you don’t know how this infamous meeting unfolded, I’ll explain. Chamberlin decided to meet with Hitler, at his request to talk about Hitler’s future plans. The year of this meeting was 1938 which was before WW2 began and Chamberlin wanted to make sure that this would never happen (spoiler alert it did). Hitler at the time was talking about invading Sudetenland, which if he did would have started WW2. So Chamberlin sat down to talk to Hitler, and Chamberlin shifted the questioning, to if Sudetenland was all that Hitler wanted. Of course, Hitler said yes, and Chamberlin came away with the impression that Hitler was “a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”

“a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word”

Neville Chamberlain on meeting Adolf Hitler

 Chamberlain would fly back to talk to Hitler two more times and he stayed convinced that he would stick with his word. Obviously, Hitler didn’t stick to his word and the events later would, of course, be the start of WW2. So why did I mention that? The connection that Gladwell drawls from this event connects to the draft (obviously on a very different scale). When people interact it’s impossible to know their real intentions, and it creates a bias. When we talk to someone face to face we create a connection and everything we do in the conversation gives us a basis on how to feel about a person. It’s clear how this connects to the NFL draft. 

 When a team talks to a player, no matter what, they are now going to be influenced by the interview (obviously). The question then arises, how much does that help? Teams have tape, numbers, references from the player, why do they need to talk to them? People usually answer this with, “You can learn a lot by looking a man in his eyes”. From the example, maybe not. If Adolf Hitler could convince someone that he was loyal, then an NFL draft prospect can easily convince someone of some small detail that the team is questioning them on. I’m not saying that all prospects lie, or that nothing can be gained from the person-to-person interaction. What I am saying is that, when evaluating if a player is talented enough to be chosen with a first-round pick, how much do you gain when talking to them? Just through one example, it’s evident that we have much more to lose. 

 Of course, there is a downside to this alternative draft system that the NFL has thrown together. There is less systematic data to rely on, and the other main downfall is limited medical information. For Tua Tagovailoa, the former Alabama QB who suffered a dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture is one of the players that is going to be hurt by this pseudo draft process. Since team doctors can’t meet with the players, there are less reliable sources giving information about the impacts that his injury may have. It’s going to hurt his draft stock, but the fraction of players, like Tagovailoa, that fall into this category is small. Also, even if teams could check out his injury, the past has shown that this also may be misleading, just ask the Dolphins with Drew Brees. 

 Overall, I’m by far not saying this is a great outcome for the NFL. The world right now is suffering and the NFL draft will serve as a much-needed distraction for people. I understand that people are angry that they aren’t able to attend the draft, and for the prospects who are stuck inside as their lifelong dream comes true. For those same fans and players, I believe that a little bit more of them will be able to celebrate at a later time, possibly in Canton. 

How Fast is Too Fast? Breaking Down the NFL 40 Yard Dash

This week is the NFL Combine where players entering the 2020 draft will be testing their measurement skills to see how high they can jump or potentially drop on draft boards. It’s only Tuesday yet combine measurements for QB hand sizes came out the other day, which sparked some conversation. News broke that primed number one overall pick Joe Burrow out of LSU has a 9-inch hand measurement. For NFL standards these are smaller hands. I’m not going to go into why hand measurement doesn’t play a difference in football, but it made me start to think about another important stat that is seen as the “make it or break it” part of the combine. The 40-yard dash.

“The 40” as it’s usually referred to, is the time a certain player can run 40 yards. Simple enough, right? For certain positions, this is a very big deal, one of those positions is WR. If you watched any Eagles game this year, it wouldn’t be hard to understand why the Eagles would be in the market for one. There are a lot of great options in this year’s WR class, such as Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs, in particular, has been mentioned a lot with the Eagles for his elusive speed along with other great WR traits. It’s not just the media who thinks he’s fast he does too.

Ruggs recently stated in an interview that his goal is to be “the fastest ever”, he’s going to try and beat John Ross’s record of 4.22 back in 2017. Now, this gets into the meat of the question, does the 40 matter?

Yes, it does. Though to get more specific, does a 40 time under 4.3 matter?
With the 40 many times are considered “good”, a lot of it depends on the player’s position. For example, Lane Johnson isn’t expected to run the same time as Desean Jackson. So with that put into consideration a “good/great” time for a WR in the 40 is sub 4.4. If it’s over 4.4 that’s fine for players but they better have certain skills that can make up for it. Getting a sub 4.4 is an incredible feat, but to shave off another ten seconds from there is very hard to do. That’s why a lot of people are taken aback when a player can run a sub 4.3.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to other combines where a WR ran a sub 4.3. In 2017 as I mentioned, John Ross ran a 4.22 which skyrocketed himself to the 10th overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2013 Marquise Goodwin ran a 4.27, 2010 Jacoby Ford ran a 4.28, and 2015 J.J. Nelson ran a 4.28.

Only four players since 2006 have reached that sub 4.3 records. No wonder why people are making a big deal out of Ruggs potentially joining those ranks. Yet looking at the “ranks” of these players it’s clear to see that there is no Hall of Famers on that list. Julio Jones, Deandre Hopkins, and Micheal Thomas are absent from this list. I’m not going to trick you, they aren’t that far behind but not in the same range these players were held in. And if you’re wondering what Desean Jackson ran well that would be a 4.35.
Let’s look at the players that did make the list, starting with Jacoby Ford. You may have no idea who he is, but you may oddly remember his name recently… well that was in the XFL. Ford had a short-lived NFL career and the 40 was the highlight of it. Now looking at J.J. Nelson, who was with the Oakland Raiders the past season, only played 2 games for the silver and black. Down the list to the record setting John Ross, who has had a down NFL career riddled with injuries. The case is still out on Ross but it looks like he might be another player that will be an interesting trivia question one day. Lastly, Marquise Goodwin has a total of 13 touchdowns in his seven-year career. Goodwin was with the 49ers the past season but ended the season on IR.

That doesn’t look good. All four WRs who ran a sub 4.3 at the combine had unknown, mediocre to bad careers in the NFL. Yet the biggest difference is such, Henry Ruggs III is better than all of them. Other than Ross, all other players were taken in later rounds than the first. So all of this was for nothing?

No, because it’s important to understand what this information means before we talk about it as fans. This is to help you later this week when a player runs a very fast 40, maybe even sub 4.3 and everyone loses their minds. As a fan, I think back to all the players, all four of them, who did the same thing and how that ended.

If Henry Ruggs III runs a sub 4.3, I’m not saying he’s going to be a bust. But I am saying that if he or anyone else runs a sub 4.4 but not a 4.3, they might just be alright. Because a big part of the NFL is about patterns, and I think we are seeing one being discovered over time.

Why Logan Ryan is the guy for the Eagles

Cornerback will be a hot topic this offseason for the Eagles and fans. Since Andy Reid left for Kansas City, corner and really the secondary in general has lacked consistent talent. From the Chip Kelly secondary of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to the now Doug Pederson era of Jalen Mills and company, the secondary has been shakey at best.

The Eagles are expected to be players in the cornerback market when free agency kicks off in March. The three biggest names that are expected to be available are Broncos Pro Bowler Chris Harris Jr., Cowboys Pro Bowler Byron Jones, and the Titans Logan Ryan. While I think the Eagles could use all three of them, this isnt Madden and they will only be able to spend big money on one. That guy needs to be Logan Ryan.

A third round pick of the Patriots in 2013, Ryan’s career was a journey. He wasn’t a starter in New England until 2015, and had his best year as a Pat in 2016. In 2017 he signed a free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans. In his three years in a Titans uniform Ryan was able to solidify himself as one of the best corners in the league. He will be 29 years old before the start of the 2020 season, and this will most likely be his last shot at a big deal. The Eagles should choose Ryan over the field for many reasons.

Logan Ryan will most likely be the cheapest of the three corners. He doesn’t boast the resume of the other two guys, but is arguably playing better than both. A guy who checks every box for the Eagles. Size, athleticism, scheme fit, personality, and price.

Just like in 2014 when the Eagles had to choose between safeties Jairus Byrd and Malcolm Jenkins. Byrd was the flashy, pricier name but the Eagles went with the right guy in Jenkins. A similar situation can play-out this offseason if the Eagles make the right choice in pursuing Logan Ryan over Chris Harris Jr. and Byron Jones.

Superbowl or Bust?

Today Eagles football is set to start. The Philadelphia Eagles are having all players report to training camp today with tomorrow bring the action start of training camp. The Eagles had a very active offseason with the additions of Desean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Andre Dillard, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, and Jj Arcega-Whitside. With the more noticeable returns of Brandon Graham, Ronald Darby, Darren Sproles, and Rodney McLeod. The Eagles decided to spend money to bring back a good amount of veterans to keep the chemistry and system in tack. A team does that when the belief that they are “in the window”, which is the time to try and win a Superbowl.

For a team in that mindset of trying to win a Superbowl such as the Eagles, some things will go wrong. Though as fans we should be expecting a Superbowl, of course, we do every year but this is different. We can trick ourselves in believing a playoff appearance or a playoff win is good enough but it’s not. Of course, Wentz getting experience is key but this team should be better than the competition to give the QB weapons to pick apart every defense. The 2019 Eagles have to be held to the highest standards and of course, this is not going to be smooth sailing but they have enough talent to smooth the bumps over. Bringing back Brandon Graham on a relatively higher salary, the Eagles were willing to put more money in a player because they know that they would be losing a leader on defense. Especially on the defensive line that would be struggling without him.

Howie Roseman took this team out of cap hell and pushed back salaries because he knew that the team needed players to add to this team. The “window” of winning in football various from each year because the playoffs are one game. That’s all. So looking at this offense and defense there are a lot of aging players, declining players, and that being said, have limited time. We can’t accept a playoff win with Carson Wentz as a success, because there is no guarantee that Desean Jackson has the speed next year, or that Jason Peters can still hold on for another year. Which brings it back to the statement, the Eagles are Superbowl or bust.

It’s a very intimidating expectation considering the Philadelphia fanbase that has invested in many teams and watched them blow up. Though we can’t use the Buddy Ryan era, or the Andy Reid era as a guide to what a Doug Pederson team will do. No matter how hard it is, fans of the Eagles have to expect a Superbowl from this team and nothing else. It’s a crazy idea that 4 years into Doug Pederson’s coaching career that we are already expecting champions to be produced. Although when you have an elite QB, with an attacking offense, paired with a nose-hard defense, you get expectations.

It’s not just me believing in this team, a lot of people are giving this 2019 Eagles team expectations. Not all are Superbowl or bust high, but the majority of them are demanding a hell of a lot from this team. We won’t know how the Eagles respond to the expectations that fans and media are putting on them until the season concludes. The Eagles truly have an opportunity to bring two championships to Philadelphia in three years which sounds crazy but with the re-loading that occurred this off-season, it should be expected. Now, we are a month and so away from the season and a lot of things will start to happen (injuries, trades, and roster moves), though as it stands now, the Eagles should be a Super Bowl-winning team.