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.

 

Sheet2

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.

7

April

Ted Thompson Must Not Care Much About the Center Position

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. The Packers have no one on their roster with more than minimal NFL experience as  a center.  Before yesterday, there were 19 players on the NFL Free Agent Tracker listed at the center position. Surely Ted would be looking to bring in an inexpensive player with real experience at center in case the JC Tretter conversion doesn’t work out.

Well, Ted has done nothing yet and now there are 18 centers on the market, with arguably the best of the bunch now off the board.

The NFC  North Division rival Bears signed former Saints starting center Brian De La Puente on Sunday. De La Puente was a guy I had on my radar as the best target for Ted Thompson to bring in as cheap veteran insurance. Only I had no idea how cheap.

The Bears signed De La Puente for a veteran minimum contract ($735K for a player with 4 years experience) with a $65,000 signing bonus and only $100,00 in guaranteed money. That’s quite a bargain for a player ranked as the fifth best center in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Still young at only 28yrs old, De La Puente turned down the Lions and the Saints to join the Bears and his old offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. While that makes sense, it is odd that he joins a team where he is expected to be a backup, not a starter. Certainly a team like the Packers could have offered him a better opportunity to win a starting job.  But apparently, that offer never came.

With how inexpensively De La Puente came, one can’t say the Packers (Ted) were being cheap, a common refrain heard from many critics. So that leaves several other possibilities:

1) The Packers are dead-on convinced Tretter is their center of the present and the future.

2) The Packers are planning to draft a starting center.

2) Ted Thompson just doesn’t value the center position that highly.

Let’s take a look at the first option. I recently wrote about the state of the center position for WTMJonline.  Here’s an excerpt from that article:

3

April

Character Still Matters for the Green Bay Packers

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers, Packer People, Packers players, Johnny Jolly, Packers character, Packers off the field

Johnny Jolly is proof that Green Bay is a very special place to play.

Another week, another story about an NFL player (allegedly) engaging in shady off-field activities.

This time it’s former Philadelphia Eagles and now-current Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his supposed affiliation with a gang. Jackson denies such activity, but the fact the accusation has even been made stains his reputation.

This is just the most recent in a string of stories over the past several seasons involving NFL players and criminal activities. Aaron Hernandez, currently awaiting trial on miser charges, is probably the most severe but there have been so many other instances this entire article would just be a list if all were to be mentioned.

Drunk driving, drugs, domestic violence, assault and the aforementioned murder are just some of the charges levied against NFL players the past several seasons. The league has an image problem and commissioner Roger Goodell has his hands full trying to fix it.

This is why NFL fans, regardless of what team colors they wear on Sundays, should be thankful for a team like the Green Bay Packers.

Since general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy arrived in 2005 and 2006, respectively, the Packers have been able to avoid the off field issues so many other teams have had to deal with over and over again.

The one potential exception to this for the Packers, the past drug arrests of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, was turned into a positive this past year when Jolly was reinstated by the NFL and was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient for how he has turned his life around and became a locker room leader (per Aaron Rodgers himself) in the process.

How has Green Bay been fortunate to avoid the distractions a good chunk of the rest of the league often encounters?

Well, for one, character sometimes has to trump talent in the eyes of Thompson and McCarthy and it should. This is why the Packers have passed on players such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens in the past, despite lobbying by fans and a certain former MVP quarterback.

They might be uber-talented on the football field, but if they cause distractions off the field or disharmony in the locker room, what’s the point? McCarthy and Thompson value a united locker room above all else and they won’t introduce any element that risks upsetting this.

26

March

Patience and Proactivity Pay Off for Packers GM Ted Thompson

Ted Thompson manages the Packers roster by balancing patience and proactivity.

Ted Thompson manages the Packers roster by balancing patience and proactivity.

General manager Ted Thompson runs the Green Bay Packers football operations his way.

The Thompson way is characterized by accumulating draft picks, developing drafted players, re-signing young Packers players on the rise, and largely avoiding bidding wars with players leaving other teams during the opening of free agency.

Depending on the fans prospective, this is usually a love or hate relationship. Fans either love the draft and develop approach or long for big name signings in free agency.

However, Ted Thompson has utilized a combination of patience and proactivity to bring his vision of building a franchise to life.

Thompson isn’t afraid of free agency. Rather, he waits until the initial frenzy is over to avoid overpaying players. Doing this has yielded quality players in the past, including Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, who were both signed in 2006.

Both Pickett and Woodson were integral players in the 2010 Super Bowl run, and when looking back at their contracts, they appeared to be relative bargains when compared to their contributions to the team.

When free agency opened in 2014, Thompson appeared to be quiet. While teams like the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints were throwing money around like they printed it, Thompson waited.

By waiting until the overpaying binge subsided, he was able to sign defensive end Julius Peppers at a very competitive contract (3 years, $30 million) and bolster the interior defensive line with Letroy Guion (1 year, $1 million).

Will Peppers have the same impact as either Woodson or Pickett? We certainly hope so, but only time will tell.

Rather than panicking and overpaying impeding offensive free agents running back James Starks and tight end Andrew Quarless, Thompson was able to bring them back for a modest investment (2 years, $3.17 million and 2 years, $3 million, respectively).

Not only is Thompson patient, he’s also proactive.

He’s great at extending players before they ever hit free agency. Similarly, he has knack for re-signing his own players in that small window between when their contracts expire and when they’re able to test the market.

19

March

Ron Wolf vs Ted Thompson: By the Numbers

Ted Thompson and Ron Wolf

Ted Thompson and Ron Wolf

With the conclusion of the 2013 season, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson hit a milestone of sorts with a team: he just completed his ninth season at the helm of the Packers’ football operations.

Know who else made it that long as GM in Green Bay? Thompson’s predecessor and mentor Ron Wolf.  Both men have won a Super Bowl but yet Wolf is held in legendary status with Packers fans and Thompson, to date, is not.

With the passionate debate about Thompson and his activity (or lack thereof) in free agency that consumed much of the offseason thus far until Thompson signed Julius Peppers,  ow figures a good time to compare Thompson and his mentor and how their times as Packers general manager compare and contrast.

As the saying goes, “the numbers never lie.”

Regular season record:

 Wolf: 92-52

Thompson: 86-57-1

 Wolf took over a team that was in ruins with only three winning seasons in the past 24 years.  The cupboard for talent was pretty barren and it wasn’t until Wolf traded for Brett Favre in 1992 and signed Reggie White in 1993 that marquee talent would stay in Green Bay.  Wolf also didn’t have a losing season and had only one non-winnjng (8-8) season in 1999.

Thompson meanwhile inherited a team that had an aging but still gifted Favre at quarterback and talent on offense but disastrous drafts by Mike Sherman left the defense in disarray and a team that was getting older by the day.  Thompson had to cleanse the roster and the 4-12 record in his first season as GM showed that.  Thompson had been only one other losing season in 2008 (6-10) and an 8-8 season in 2006 with rookie coach Mike McCarthy leading a young roster.

This might come as a shock to some of Thompson’s detractors but he’s pretty close to Wolf here and not many fans would have fired Wolf.

 Postseason record:

 Wolf: 9-5 (1-1 in Super Bowl) 6 playoff appearances

 Thompson: 6-5 (1-0 in Super Bowl) 6 playoff appearances

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.