Post NFL Draft Observations: 2017

Check out the latest: 2018 NFL Mock Draft

One year in the books for DraftBlaster, and finding ourselves with a little extra time on our hands, we felt it was time for a little self-critique; time to perform a thorough review of how we covered the draft and how we can do better in future drafts.  We also gathered our notes, and put together our impression of how draft coverage can improve overall:

Scheme Fits

Draft experts that previously worked in talent evaluation in the NFL will often say that the most difficult part of the draft process is determining how players will fit into a team’s scheme. A large amount of resources are used by teams determining which prospects will be a fit, and which, despite their talent, will not.  However, very little of that is talked about during the draft process by most mock draft sites or the personalities on the major sports networks.

The first part of the draft process for the new “draft year” should be looking at head coaching and coordinator changes in the league, and learning what scheme changes are underway as a result.  Next of course, should be a refresher on all of the team’s schemes and what they look for in players.  Mock drafts can either be mildly educated guesses, or something more thoroughly researched and thoughtful.

The lack of scheme fit understanding comes out most post draft, when local sports coverage and mock draft sites put out their opinions and grades of how a team drafted. Moreover, sometimes it is absolutely confounding how a team drafts in direct contradiction to their scheme, such as with the Chiefs and Giants drafting quarterbacks that simply don’t possess any of the traits desired for their offenses.

Cherry Picking Analysis

It’s an extremely prevalent practice that today’s journalism thoroughly embraces- the “cherry picking” of external resources to help support a conclusion that you have locked down from the start. Let’s say you cover team X and before the draft you put out many articles on what you think team X needs and players that the team should target. The draft comes and goes, and the team doesn’t go the route you expected.  What to do?  Good news for you is that draft analysis is all over the map and you can find differing views on most selections.

Next, you find analysis that fits your conclusion and you write an article citing those sources. It’s called “confirmation bias,” and in science and medicine, it considered one of the worst sins for an author. The problem is no integrity of sourcing. Readers pick up on this more than writers think. If you are using different sources to fit the conclusion that you are locked into, it becomes apparent.  What is shocking is that this is the norm and not the exception.

Furthermore, it is extremely common in journalism.  There are major news sources that will report on the economy based on their bias.  It is an easy trick to pull off; based on how you want to report on how the economy is doing you simply look at the GDP, unemployment numbers, new jobs added, stock market, etc., and you pick the one that suits your conclusion. Savvy readers will pick up on the inconsistency and will distrust that news source. Readers of local sports outlets should do the same.

Breadth vs. Depth of Coverage

Major networks that cover the draft are under a lot of pressure to maintain ratings and clicks and it is understandable that they tend to slant their coverage toward the most obvious aspects of the draft: the first round, and more specifically, the top 10. It’s understandable, but it is nonetheless annoying. Yes, there is weighted importance to the top of the draft, but there are seven rounds and hundreds of players that should be discussed. If you just watch these, you will know the astrological sign of every top 10 player, but have little insight on players going most likely after the first round.

Many mock drafts and local sports blogs do a nice job of trying to dive much deeper into the draft.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they need to put out a seven round mock in November, but just doing things like putting out regular content on player depth by position, having a repository of player profiles, and producing unique content that covers a specific topic about the draft and includes many examples of players that fit that topic really provides the “breadth” of coverage that fans are craving. Really, NFL Network, enough with the top 10’s.

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

The fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc or “with this, therefore because of this,” is one of the great social diseases of our day.  In a very basic nutshell it is lazily coming to a conclusion because one thing so obviously seems to be the cause of another.  The Internet is pretty full of some funny examples, such as the decline of pirates and global warming (just Google it). Here is a classic example: people who take a multi-vitamin every day are in much better health than those that don’t. Conclusion: taking a multi-vitamin is good for your health. Upon further analysis, taking multi-vitamins every day has debatable benefits in and of itself.  However, the people who have the discipline to take a multi-vitamin every day also tend to make many more positive health decisions, like exercising, eating better, etc.

In regards to the draft, this logic fallacy is everywhere.  “We didn’t run the ball well last year, we have got to get a running back.” “We didn’t get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, we have to get D-linemen.” The very fact that the league is based on trying to pounce on mismatches in personnel further muddies the water on perceived needs, and injuries to key players further exasperate the confusion.

The problem is that it takes some effort to actually learn how profoundly linked position groups are and a deficiency in one area can cause a major breakdown in another.  With a team that can’t run the ball, you need to look at the offensive line and play calling. Defensive lines that don’t get pressure?  Look at the linebacker core. Tight ends having a lot of production against your defense? It’s probably not your linebackers or corners, but rather that you don’t have a safety that can move up and cover a tight end. What would be encouraging is for there to be a lot more sports writers having the know-how and guts to say to their readers, “Listen, you may all think that we need X position, but here is why we may actually need Y.”

None other than that brilliant philosopher, Hannibal Lecter, wonderfully illuminates the point of how we are all deceived by our obvious perceptions, as he teaches young agent Starling how to see the actual truth of something by getting to the “principles.”

We need a running back!  No, that is incidental! 

“Motor” Problems

We went back the last few years of the draft to look at comments made about prospects, just to see what patterns emerged.  There was no bigger red flag that seemed to hold true more often than “motor runs hot and cold” or “inconsistent effort.”  Yes, player injuries and character problems did have some recurrences, but when prospects get identified by experts across the board as having a “bad motor,” it is a strong indicator that is going to persist at the next level.  This is a note we have made for next year, and are going to further downgrade college players that played with inconsistent effort.

I Am Not a Doctor

Every time I hear a draft analyst start with the qualification, “I am not a doctor, but…” I always hope the person next to them will follow up with, “What, have people been confusing you for a doctor?”  That, however, is never going to happen. Have we become such a litigious society that the legal department insists that analysts start any conversation about a medical condition with that disclaimer?  The point is that injuries are a huge part of the evaluation process and there is by no means enough information out there regarding common football injuries.

What’s the average recovery time for an Achilles tear?  What is the difference between an ACL and MCL injury? What injuries have a higher rate of recurrences than others? For each injury, can a player still do other training while recovering? There is a big difference between dispensing medical advice and simply reporting on some statistics of common football injuries, and that will be a part of our resources for 2018.

The Language Of The Draft

Every area of study develops its own language over the years and the NFL Draft is no different.  It has become a community and in some ways its own industry. With that comes a vernacular that in many ways is just a product of having to repeat a lot of the same concepts over and over, like “waist bender” or “quick twitch.”  These are actually helpful as they help express a key concept that people in the community quickly interpret.  However, there is also a lot of troubling or misused language that gets repeated too much without thought:

Polarizing: Player evaluations are not polarizing.  This term is normally assigned to a player with some red flags. Everyone knows the red flags, there are just some disagreements on risk assessment as per where to put them on their board. Save “polarizing” for politics. And for Pete’s sake, don’t say “most polarizing,” you’re just embarrassing yourself.

Team “Choose Not To Address” (fill in the blank) Position of Need: To be clear, stating that a team did not address a perceived need is perfectly clear reporting, however, stating that they “choose not to address” is passive aggressive, pandering nonsense. It is the type of language that is used by lazy sports writers to try to fire up their readers with the subtle implication that their team is trying not to succeed on purpose. In reality, it means that the writer identified a need at a position and was very vocal with their opinion. When the team didn’t draft anyone for that position, the writer felt like a fool and went into attack mode. The facts of the matter are A) the draft is one part of the process of team building; B) The draft is only 7 rounds and you can’t reach for players if the draft doesn’t fall exactly as you like, and; C) and most likely, the writer didn’t properly evaluate position needs. Implying that a team purposely ignored a need is irresponsible and lazy, but an all to common practice for insecure writers.

“No Brainer,” “Lock,” “Slam Dunk,” “Can’t Miss,” “Generational Talent.” Say what you want about the draft, it isn’t short of hyperbole and we get the impression that way too many sports analysts suffer from impaired short-term memories. We did an exercise where we took some of the big name draft experts and did a Google search along with some of these terms, and across the board there are prospects given those descriptions that the analysts would surely regret. The disappointing part of it is that it keeps happening. Once a player has been given one of those monikers, it is a mortal sin in the draft world to criticize that player. Despite Mel Kiper’s histrionics at the start of the draft against any criticism of Myles Garrett, people that gave honest and legitimate evaluations of him were right to do so.  Unless a John Elway type player comes up in the draft again, it is best to not use these descriptions.

“He’s a football player.”  Thanks, thought I was evaluating a jockey.

Underwear Olympics. This is a pejorative term used about the combine. It tells a lot about the person using it as it is supposed to be a clever joke about the workout gear that prospects wear at the combine.  The same type of gear that Olympians wear at the Olympics.  So shouldn’t you call the Olympics the “underwear Olympics?”  It is just as bad as the “Frozen Tundra.”  Guess what, tundras are frozen, no reason to add that.

Twitter Mining

Two of the people involved with DraftBlaster manage large departments of staff in their own career, and have to deal with many high profile Twitter accounts. It can be a powerful mechanism to get short pieces of info out quickly and efficiently to a large group of people.  However, as we all know, it is also a powerful source of hatred and ignorance. We were shocked at how prevalent this was with trying to get news on the draft.

There are a number of blogging services that have local versions of their site in order to cover local teams. There are normally several writers for each local version of the blog.  As a way to get quality local info on teams in the NFL, we spent a lot of time following writers on these blogs.  Their Twitter accounts were listed on the blog itself; we never Googled a person’s name to find their Twitter account.  We used several different accounts on Twitter that we set up just for following these writers, and within a week we had “un-followed” over half of them.  They were unprofessional and hate-filled; the writers were full of narcissistic entitlement.  Writers from bigger newspapers or the major networks rarely had this issue, which seems to show there is little editorial review for these accounts on some of the blogging services.

We had to do our own “Twitter Mining” and sort through to find those accounts that were informative, thoughtful, and professional, and there are many writers that are outstanding follows.  Coming up to the next year we are going to have a page on the site that lists our favorite follows.

So, How Did We Do?

We give ourselves a B+ for our 2017 coverage. We tried to strike that right cord between thoughtful selections and a deep understanding of why we thought the way we thought, from scheme to things like which teams will take a risk on a player with some trouble in their past, and which ones won’t, but we have a little room for improvement. We think our player profiles and the information we put together for people visiting our site was pretty well crafted and that our site was easy to navigate. Now… if we could just get some more people to read our Articles, and not just our Mocks.

Stay with us in 2018. You will not be disappointed.

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