When trying to value drafts, we tend to think only in one direction:  how to get as much talent for the kinds of draft picks we have.There is another kind of optimization that often goes under the radar, and that is having the coaching talent and foresight to construct a winning offense that doesn’t require extreme athletes. If, for example, you can get the same caliber running game out of 4th round draft choices as other coaches would with a mid first round choice, you’ve lowered the cost of the offense (Mike Shanahan and his zone blocking-cutback running scheme). If you can get high quality play out of quarterbacks with modest physical skills by making their reads simpler and jobs easier, you’ve lowered the cost of your quarterbacks (the West Coast offense). If by looking for smaller players with plenty of speed, drafting linebackers from strong safety-linebacker tweeners, putting linebackers at defense end and defensive ends at defense tackle,  you markedly  increase  your team speed. Further, because you’ve fruitfully used so many tweeners, you’ve cut the cost of your defense (Miami 4-3, notes here and here and here. Coach Hoover talks about it here, defending the flexbone, and I’m pretty sure the Penn State defense, described here, is a derivative of this defense as well).

You can probably formalize the cost of an offense (or defense) by treating the draft as a market and assigning the players on a team their draft value, either by methods we touched on here, or a fit to a Weibull distribution, as shown in figure 1 of this manuscript, or by analogy using AdamJT13’s chart here. To note, the cost of a free agent in this context is zero, since no draft choice was spent purchasing them. I don’t claim ideas like these are original to me. On the site LiveBall Sports – very nice multisport site with a nice analytics bent – they  have a 2 part series (NFC and AFC) evaluating the usage of free agents, and the language of the author, Greg Trippiedi, makes it clear he’s thinking in terms of draft value. How valuable are these no-cost free agents? Please recall that in this article, we quote Bobby Beathard as saying the first Super Bowl team under his watch with the Redskins  had 26 free agents on the roster. But it also had excellent coaches, who could turn sow’s ears into.. well.. Hawgs.

Since a player  that makes a roster is occupying a slot that others could also occupy, I suspect a true valuation of the cost of a player would also have to include development time. If it takes 5 years for a player to become a starter (or major rotation player), there is the cost of his draft choice and the time cost of his development. Both need to be assessed in terms of his cost. A player that never starts, never plays and occupies space becomes a dead weight cost.

One final issue. Dynasties can’t be constructed with expensive players. Think about it. Dynasties don’t have particularly good draft position. Winning in the early years guarantees that. The average player lasts about four years. So in general, they will have a few elite players with long careers and a large corps of pretty good, inexpensive players. If costs of the team model can’t be lowered adequately, sustained winning can’t be achieved. Replacement players will simply come at an unsustainable cost.

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I’ll note that the Sports Reference blog Statheads now has this blog on their sidebar, something I’m quite  grateful for. Not that you don’t have to fight for readership as an amateur in football  blogging, because you do. But to be spoken of in the same breath as sites like Football Outsiders or Advanced Football Stats is, well,  heady stuff. So to Neil Paine, thank you.

What I’m going to say to readers that are largely team (e.g. Dallas, Atlanta, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Chicago) fans, you’ll get the best bang for your buck by looking at the tag cloud on the right of the blog and clicking ones that interest you. If you’re one of the football coaches that have drifted here because of Coach Hoover’s recommendations, I’d suggest your best usage of this site would be to follow the  tags “46 defense” and “defensive fronts”. For those for whom algebra isn’t an issue, just read the  general flow of this board. I’m going to try and keep the look visual and fold most of the numerical results behind “more”  tags. The guy who wants to see Rob Ryan or Dom Capers get after the quarterback doesn’t need screen shots of program output, and the guy who does can click on the “more”.

The big splash of the draft, from my point of view, was the trade from 27th to 6th by the Falcons. They netted Julio Jones with the trade, giving up two firsts, one second, and 2 4th round choices in the process. This is because the Falcons felt they weren’t explosive enough, and so had to improve on an offense ranked in the top ten in the league. That their defense was mediocre and the salient feature of the last Super Bowl was that the #1 and #2 ranked defenses met, seemed to be bypassed in the quest for game changing explosiveness.  I suspect trying to become a 21st century Air Coryell certainly has fan and box office appeal, but is it wise over the longer term? I’m reminded of the nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

I’m not convinced there was that much more air based explosiveness to get out of the Falcons offense. Perhaps on the ground, where some rest for Michael Turner might save him from regression to the mean.

JMO, but the focus of the Falcons is classic Parcells style ball control, where yards per carry are far less important than time of possession (this, incidentally, is why Curtis Martin will always be underrated by YPC-heads – Parcells just never cared about his ball carriers YPC). In such an offense, the most important component of  the offense are first downs, not pretty stats. Given how light the Falcons defensive line tends to be, keeping them  off the field as much as possible has to be a serious design consideration for the whole team.

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In the late 1990s, football talk – the good stuff – was usually found on Usenet, in places like alt.sports.football.pro.dallas-cowboys. There were some smart people there. Guys like Larry Cottrill (i.e. Silverbear), Adam JT13 and the phenomenal Chris Warner would offer their opinions. Though it was something of a madhouse at times, you usually could glean something useful from all the posts there. Further, if you posted, you usually didn’t have to defend the very fact of your posting.

Around the mid 2000s, trash posting on places like Usenet began to reduce those places to uselessness. There are some Usenet groups that are still useful.  Usually those are moderated groups. But guys like Larry Cottrill, Adam JT13, and the fellow now known as Wick migrated off Usenet as their primary posting medium and onto the forums. In general I’ve found forums not as incisive or as clever as Usenet used to be,  even back in the day. And the more days drag on, the more I’m finding forums to be more and more useless as a place to develop an idea, build an identity.

I food blog these days. I’ve been doing it for 2 years. It took a year to build a bit of readership of my food blog, but I did, and at this point, I can’t ever see going back to a forum to post anything too edgy, too cutting edge on food. The basic issue are the hundreds of divergent views that collide on forums, and the general thoroughgoing rudeness of forum dwellers towards their peers. In areas that are known to house marked disagreements, such as the character and nature of barbecue, these guys won’t let anyone else have an opinion. Only theirs counts, and if you disagree, they treat you as if you’re less than an idiot.

This is becoming more and more true on football forums as well. Only one opinion matters. Any other opinion is foolish. Being in any sense opinionated, or having a view not held by some self appointed majority is the source of an immediate brawl. Further, the very nature of forums, to react to really off beat comments and speculation, means they can spend thousands of messages and thousands of man hours on intellectual drek, which washes out small, modest, clever contributions.

Guys like Larry Cottrill, guys like InmanRoshi, guys like Adam JT13 are less and less valued. No one bothers to remember what they’ve said. Whole arguments get started because people can’t remember what these guys have posted and argued in the past, and so passing  through blog posts becomes a brain-punishing torture. Hasn’t this already been argued a hundred times before?

I think the take home is, forums are a lost cause for any kind of subtle argument. Joe Poster simply won’t allow anyone to develop a subtle argument, much less a contrary argument. If it isn’t plain and obvious to the most common user on the Internet, it won’t be allowed to exist. And God forbid if  you make reference to a post even a few weeks old. No one will bother to remember it.

So this blog exists so I can say something even moderately controversial without having to fight 100 assorted football nuts, so that I can post about football code without a collective yawn, so that I can do some deeper analysis before some denizen of Redneckistan tells me I’m wrong in ways that disrupt the whole thought process before it can get started. Using another metaphor, the modern football forum is at best a very sloppy Yellow Pages. A blog is more akin to a book. No one reads Yellow Pages to  get a deep understanding of anything. Books are read to edify. And books, unlike chaotic multiple endeavors like forums, have a single unifying author or editor. And perhaps,  in the process, I can rescue the thoughts, arguments, documents, pictures, diagrams, etc, that I’ve left on forums that otherwise would be forgotten to the ends of time.

The focus of the blog will be football talk of a deeper nature than standard forum fare. We’ll talk about and review football books. Also, coding tools that allow the active fan to dig a little deeper into stats will be featured. We’ll look at sites that offer stats, places to find analysis tools. Open source code and free tools will be favored over anything purchased.

To note, this is the blog of an amateur, oriented towards other amateurs. How it turns out,  I don’t know. But something, anything, has to be better than the deeply disappointing and dissatisfying product they call football forums these days.