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23

April

Packing the Stats: How the Packers Invest

Packing the StatsOne thing that many fans have noticed over the years is that Ted Thompson does not like to draft interior offensive linemen, instead preferring to draft tackles and converting them into the interior once they reach the NFL.  This concept seems to indicate that in the NFL there is a premium placed on some positions while not others; for instance quarterback is naturally considered the premium position of premium positions, traditionally followed by some combination of pass rushers and wide receivers.  However each team is different, for instance while the Packers do not put much stock into interior offensive linemen, the Packers have shown a love for fullback/H-backs which most team’s don’t even keep a roster spot for anymore.  So the question is, what are the positions that Ted Thompson favors or is willing to spend precious draft resources for and does Thompson’s weight of draft investment differ significantly with other teams?

To measure this, I took every draft selection made by Ted Thompson during his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, assigned each player to the position they played for the majority of the time and then assigned them a draft value based on which pick they were selected using the “Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys” draft trade chart as a metric.  Some caveats of course is that the Packers did switch from a 4-3 bump and run style defense to a blitzburgh 3-4 defense in 2009, which obviously changes what type of players the Packers select and where players ultimately end up playing (for instance AJ Hawk was supposed to play OLB in the 4-3 and moved to ILB in the 3-4).  Also the trade chart has come under scrutiny as of late (myself included); it’s unlikely to be all that accurate or precise in determining trade value and it’s likely that every team has their own modified chart with different values for each draft pick.  However, since all of this information is kept tightly in war rooms (unless you happen to be ironically the Dallas Cowboys), the original trade chart will be used knowing that the rough values are likely to be similar.

Workbook1

16

April

Packing The Stats: The Importance of Pre-Draft Visits

Packing the StatsSo it’s not exactly a busy week in the world of the NFL (try as they might to might to make it a year long sport), and there isn’t really anything going on until the draft; the Combine and Pro Days are essentially over, free agency has definitely hit that point where teams are now waiting to see what pieces they manage to pick up in the draft before signing anyone new and basically the headlines are now composed of DeSean Jackson missing the Redskins voluntary training camp (i.e. not all that voluntary after all so it would seem) and Aldon Smith trying his best to impersonate a terrorist at an airport.  Needless to say the media dull Packers are even more boring, apparently Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb are going to the Kentucky Derby…which is great and all but in all honesty I don’t really care.

There is however something going on that you should care about…if only a little.  That event is the annual tradition of pre-draft visits.  Essentially, every NFL team is allowed to invite 30 players from the college ranks to their facilities for whatever reason; sometimes potentially draftee’s are just going to get a medical update on an recent injury, some go through positional drills or even chalk board stuff (made famous by Jay Gruden’s QB camp series on ESPN) or even just a more in depth interview for the front office/coaching staff to really get to know a player.  Frankly, the Packers rarely make the news with their visits, as opposed to the Cleveland Browns, who essentially ignored the QB workouts and are instead inviting all big QB prospects for pre-draft visits instead (which is brilliant and idiotic all at the same time, got to love the Brown’s MO).

So who exactly do the Packers invite for visits and does this mean anything in regards to the draft as a whole?  Below is a list of every confirmed report of a pre-draft visit I could find going back 3 years (I chose 3 years because that’s all the data I could find, deal with it).  Also listed is each player’s alma mater, their ultimate draft pick and which NFL team initially signed them.  Two players, Jakar Hamiliton and Brandon Hardin (listed in italics) were both undrafted rookie free agents that initially signed with other teams but were released and then signed with the Packers.  I would wager that the Packers do indeed use their full allotment of 30 players, but some of these visits will never be reported (especially if they are unknown players with unknown agents), so keep in mind that this list is almost certainly incomplete.

9

April

Packing the Stats: Who can the Packers find at pick 21?

Packing the StatsIn 2012, Greg Gabriel postulated an interesting hypothesis that teams use historical draft data to predict how many players at a certain position will get drafted.  I did this analysis in 2012 based on the draft board and draft selection of the Packers back then and thought it was a pretty interesting exercise.  Basically, a quarterback (regardless of the specific player) is more likely to be drafted in the 1st round than say a kicker is.  Extrapolating that further, every draft can expect to see 2-3 quarterbacks drafted in the first round and expect 0 kickers to be drafted in the 1st round.  To narrow that down even further, the Packers can expect to see around 2 quarterbacks selected before pick 21 this year and hence if they were interested in drafting a quarterback, they could predict that the 3rd best quarterback will be available for them when they pick (assuming they don’t trade the pick of course).

Naturally, the Packers aren’t likely to pick a quarterback in the 1st round, but this hypothesis can be applied to any position.  Below is the number of players picked at their respective positions up to the 21st pick from 2005 (the first year of Ted Thompson’s tenure as the Packers GM) to last year.  Also note no punters or kickers have been picked in the top 21 selections so I’ve dropped those positions from the list.

 

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I wouldn’t say the data is all that surprising, quarterbacks, defensive ends (i.e. pass rushers) and wide receivers are the most highly drafted players in the top 21 picks while centers, guards and tight end almost never get drafted in the 1st round.  There’s also a very striking decline in the number of running backs drafted in the 1st 21 picks, with last year being only the 2nd time in 9 years that a running back wasn’t selected.

The following list is composed of the top players from their respective positions based on current rankings from CBS Sports’ NFL draft page.  One of the biggest caveats is choosing which big board to go off of, I personally like CBS Sport’s because their rankings have been the closest to the actual draft compared to other large media draft rankings. Players names which are italicized are likely to have already been selected by pick 21 and players with their names in brackets meaning that position typically won’t be picked again by the 21st round (for instance, only 1 tight end has been picked higher than 21st in a single draft so the Packers would be breaking the trend a little by drafting a second tight end in the top 21 picks.

2

April

What Do Packers Injuries and Winning Have In Common? Packing the Stats…

Packing the StatsA lot has been made about the Packers misfortune when it comes to injuries; injuries was the major hurdle that the Packers overcame to get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl in 2010 and injuries again were the major obstacle in 2013 with Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Bryan Bulaga all missing significant time due to their respective injuries.

I have always argued that the nature of injuries is in large part random; football is a vicious sport and there are so many different ways to get injured that are largely out of the control of the player, the coaching staff or the front office.  Not many would argue that the tackle that Nick Collins ended his career was unusual nor was the hit that Jermichael Finley took against Cleveland anything out of the norm.  Rodgers breaking his clavicle and Matthews breaking his thumb all occurred on mundane plays that both players have been involved in countless times before in their careers.

In 2013 alone, I would argue that the only two injuries likely could have been avoided were Brandon Merriweather spearing Eddie Lacy and maybe Randall Cobb breaking his leg against Baltimore (but in the defense of Matt Elam, going low is now encouraged to defenders with so many fines being levied to helmet to helmet contact).

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However, it’s pretty undeniable that the Packers as a franchise have either had consistent terrible luck or something else is at play.  The Packers have had one of the worst strings of injuries over the last 4 years and it’s 99.9% significant compared to the rest of the league.  Fingers have been pointed at pretty much every remote possibility; plenty have blamed Ted Thompson and the front office for drafting players who are injury prone (i.e. Justin Harrell), some have blamed the coaching staff for not teaching proper form while others have blamed the strength and conditioning coaches (there was some ridiculous rumor that floated around that the 49ers had a secret stretching routine that made them impervious to injuries; keep in mind free agency does happen and more importantly players stretch out on the field for everyone to see).

26

March

Why Haven’t The Packers Resigned Matt Flynn?

Matt Flynn

In case anyone forgot, the 2013 Packers will always be remembered as the “oh shit, Aaron Rodgers got hurt” season.  After Rodgers broke his clavicle against the Bears, it became quite apparent that the Packers front office had been unusually caught with its collective pants off by having no viable backup to keep the team afloat.  This all started in training camp and the preseason as the Packers cut incumbent backup quarterbacks Graham Harrell and BJ Coleman, leaving former 1st round pick and overall bust Vince Young as the presumed backup, only to release him at the 53 man cut deadline.  After all that, the Packers front office signed Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien to actually backup the season.  Obviously the football gods didn’t look favorably to all this as Seneca Wallace got hurt almost immediately into his first start for the Packers and left an unproven and inexperienced Scott Tolzien to start for the Packers against the Giants and part of the Vikings game.  It was only when the Packers got to “plan F” did they get really desperate and call back old buddy Matt Flynn, who took over halfway into the Vikings game, managed to scrape a couple of tight wins against the Falcons and the Cowboys and managed to do just enough to keep the team afloat until Rodgers came back to play the Bears in the season finale with playoff hopes on the line.

This story is something that the Packers can ill afford to repeat; in all honestly the Packers did not get into the playoffs last year, the Bears and Lions were just even less deserving of a playoff berth.  So the question really becomes, why are the Packers repeating 2013 by not resigned Matt Flynn and what reason could they possibly have?

Matt Flynn would not be an expensive backup, after bombing out in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, its pretty apparent that the only team that has any value for Flynn is the Packers, and thus his asking price would be low due to no competition for his services.  There has been no news of Matt Flynn taking any visits with any other teams and no rumors that any other team is even interested.  Furthermore, Flynn missed out on the free agent signing rush, where some backup quarterbacks commanded as much as a $5 million average over 2-3 years.  As such, the best Flynn will likely see is a 1 year veteran minimum, which for a player with 6 years of experience means $730,000.

21

March

What To Make Of Julius Peppers’ Contract

The poster boy of why total contract value is overrated.

For all you Packers fans that were hoping for a big name free agent splash, Ted Thompson would like to introduce you to one Julius Peppers, a guy you might have seen around on the Bears and the Panthers before.  Some of you (including a fair proportion of our dear commentors) will never be happy because Peppers has never played in a 3-4 scheme, no one really knows exactly what his role will be outside of rushing the passer, has a long injury history and he’s 34 with a motor that’s starting to get cold (you do know that experienced and old usually go hand in hand right?).  Well if you want to know what the Packers are going to do with Peppers, this isn’t the article for you. What this article will be looking into is not how Peppers will fit on the field, but how Peppers fits in the Packers salary cap.

As I’ve mentioned before in my previous article, the media and fans often fixate on the total value of the contract, which is probably the least important piece of information.  One only has to remember how Donovan McNabb’s 5-year $88 million contract with the Redskins turned out to be more $3.75 million which he actually earned.  Ironically, this is also probably the best example to use for Pepper’s contract with the Packers.

Julius Pepper signs 3-year, $30 million contract with the Packers (courtesy of Over The Cap)

2014: $1 million base salary, $2.5 million prorated signing bonus

2015: $8.5 million base salary, $2.5 million prorated signing bonus, $1 million roster/workout bonus

2016: $7 million base salary, $2.5 million prorated signing bonus, $1 million roster/workout bonus

17

March

How Overpaid Is Sam Shields?

Sam Shields is one happy camper.

Sam Shields is one happy camper.

Ted Thompson likely got done with his top priority this offseason when he resigned cornerback Sam Shields to a 4 year deal worth a total of $39 million.  At the time, reactions were rather mixed; many national writers who don’t cover the Packers specifically probably didn’t know too much about Shields and as a result many were taken aback by the size of the contract.  Few writers even predicted that it would set the pace for free agent signings, and contracts were going to be sizably bigger than previous years; so far this has yet to pan out and likely won’t.

For Packers beat writers, the response was a lot more subdued, while Shields did receive a hefty contract, there were times where Shields was obviously the best cornerback on the team and considering Ted Thompson almost never gets suckered in free agency (mostly because you can’t lose when you don’t play), Packers beat writers just assumed that Thompson likely got good value for a player who had other options.

So how much did the Packers really “overpay” for Shields?  Now that free agency is fully underway, I’ve compiled a list of the top free agent cornerback additions and compared the contracts they received with that the contract Shields received. PFF 3 stands for the 3 year average of that player’s grades from ProFootballFocus while PFF+ is the best season that player recorded in the last 3 years.  Before we start, I’ve intentionally left out perhaps the biggest free agent cornerback, Darrelle Revis, who was recently cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and signed by the New England Patriots 4 hours later with a 1 year $12 million deal with a purported $10 million guaranteed.

My primary reason for leaving Revis out is his contract demands and penchant for holding out are well known and therefore his contracts have always been unusual for a cornerback, starting from holding out as a rookie to get a bigger contract than his draft slot, holding out again with multiple years left on his rookie contract, and of course the bizarre contract he signed with the Buccaneers which netted him $16 million yearly but with 0 guaranteed money.  Simply put every once in a while there is a player that defies convention and logic and teams typically disregard these contracts when trying to establish fair value; Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh and Tony Romo’s contracts are prime examples of contracts gone awry and not actual market value of a player.