The Meat Market Is Open

- The NFL's Annual Meat Market and best example of the dangers of group think kicks off this weekend. Few events are more overrated than the NFL Combine, where NFL scouts throw all logic out the window and fall in love with the guy with the best 40 time. It's the time when analysts preface their statements with "of course college games are the most important factor" but then do the exact opposite and rank players based on their combine results. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network ranking's going into the combine partially reflect this backwards logic (although critics could argue I'm putting the cart before the horse here).

Mike Mayock is the latest hotness in NFL Draft "experts" and in his rankings not only does he have Sedric Ellis ranked ahead of Glenn Dorsey but he has Rashard Mendenhall ranked over Darren McFadden. Never mind that at the end of the season both Dorsey and McFadden were widely considered possible number one overall picks. If I'm a scout or NFL GM I'm taking into account both Dorsey's and McFadden's better and more consistent track records, not only are both players considered two of the best collegiate players right now, they were considered two of the best players at the beginning of the season. The problem with NFL scouting is the same problem with the media's coverage of the Presidential race, everyone falls in love with the latest hotness, aka contestant/player. For example, the media fell in love with Fred Thompson when he first entered the race but we all know how that ended. The same can be said of Barack Obama who the media has treated with kid gloves. The NFL Draft analysts are guilty of the same failing, falling in love with the latest hotness which in this case would be Ellis and Mendenhall. I could very easily turn this into a diatribe on the obvious media bias despite supposed journalistic integrity but I will avoid the Rush Limbaugh go to move.

Also, as long as I'm throwing stones at the NFL Combine it's worth mentioning that a cottage industry has sprung up in the last few years centered on training players for the Combine. As this Sun-Sentinel article explains, there are a variety of camps that train prospects how to excel at the Combine. (By the way, that's just one of dozens of articles which popped up when I googled "nfl combine cottage industry.") The argument can be made that very little advantage is maintained if everyone has the same training but much like the SAT prep courses which train people how to take the test but fail to actually measure their intelligence, the end result of the NFL Combine is that prospects are tested on their ability to run through hoops and around cones instead of measuring their ability to play football.

- As BucStats has pointed out the Falcons finally had some luck and won a coin flip giving them the third overall pick. The buzz is that the Dirty Birds would pick Matt Ryan, the underwhelming quarterback out of Boston College. I'm assuming the thinking behind this is that Atlanta needs the "franchise quarterback" and Ryan is considered the top quarterback in the draft. I'm really hoping Atlanta falls for this fallacy and drafts Ryan, a player who has consistently failed to impress me when I watched him play (and since I'm in ACC country I've watched a few of his games). Without going into the detailed argument against taking a quarterback in the first round there is more value in players like McFadden and Dorsey. There are typically only a half dozen or so guys that are not only great athletes but also great college players. (Last year those players would have been Calvin Johnson, JaMarcus Russell, Joe Thomas, Gaines Adams, LaRon Landry, and Adrian Peterson. With the exception of Russell all these guys will eventually be multiple Pro Bowlers barring injury and/or pulling a Pacman Jones.)

Since the new Atlanta GM is a former Patriots guy (although I may be wrong about that) I'm inclined to think the Falcons will NOT draft Ryan. The Pats draft strategy has been to ignore the hype and draft value players who fit the franchise. This is also where it would be convenient to spout some crap about drafting Tom Brady in the 6th round. As a Bucs fan my biggest concern is that the Falcons make the "smart" move and draft an offensive lineman (Jake Long) or a defensive lineman (Ellis, Dorsey, or Chris Long) as lineman typically make the most immediate impact on a team.

- A quick note on the Bucs and the NFL Draft as we begin the marathon to the NFL Draft in April. Gruden and Company have typically kept the players they like close to their vest and refuse to release any information to the media. As far as I know the Bucs refuse to even take phone calls from reporters during this period although I'm basing that on heresay and may be wrong. The exception to that is when Gruden clearly goes ga-ga for a player as he did for Calvin Johnson last year. One great press conference from last year comes to mind where Gruden went out of his way to praise all the top players not named Calvin Johnson but never mentioned the Tech receiver except for some very light praise. I did the same thing in middle school when I really liked one girl I would ignore her and talk to all her friends. Needless to say that strategy only made my crush all the more obvious and failed to work.

Anyway, my childhood embarrassment aside looking at Gruden's previous drafts one of the obvious trends is that Gruden loves him some receivers as well as offensive lineman. And since the Bucs are fairly full at the offensive lineman position it makes sense to predict Gruden will draft a receiver, considering the lack of depth at the position. Although Gruden's previous success or lack thereof in drafting receivers is a concern, Marquise Walker and Michael Clayton have been busts and Maurice Stovall is heading in that direction.


Charging at Windmills (Why Alge Crumpler Should Not Be a Buc)

In what can only be described as an effort to remain the NFC South's doormat, the Falcons have released about half their decent players including Alge Crumpler. For reasons that are beyond me some have advocated signing Crumpler, despite the fact that he is an average tightend. What's even more amazing is that same person has demanded the Bucs offer Crumpler a $4.5 M contract, even when the widely acknowledged best tightend in the league (Antonio Gates) makes $3 M a year. So let's break down why this is a phenomenally bad idea.

First off the Bucs have a pretty good tightend in Alex Smith. I will admit some bias here as I've been a big fan of Smith since his first game when he caught two touchdowns. Smith is the new age prototypical tightend, a big man with speed and good hands, i.e. a tightend who is more receiver than blocker. Which is exactly what Alge is as well. Let's take a closer look at the stats (I know, a novel idea to say the least)...

The Football Outsiders have Alex Smith rated one spot ahead of Crumpler, which means the two players are about even. Both have a catch percentage of 60% and roughly equal value per play. So Crumpler is essentially Alex Smith part deux, or vice versa depending on how you look at it, i.e. they are almost exactly the same players. Now Alex Smith will make $460,000 next season and is under contract for the next two seasons. So explain why it makes sense to sign an identical player to Alex Smith for ten times more money? Of course, if Crumpler could be signed for the veteran's minimum I would sing a different tune.


I am starting to feel better and better about the possibility of the Bucs drafting Mario Manningham in the first round. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has him listed as the top receiver in this year's draft. And in Don Banks latest mock draft he has the Bucs drafting the Michigan receiver. Now at this point the draft is all speculation, at least until we get past the combine. But it appears most draftniks are running with the idea that the Bucs need a receiver or an offensive tackle in the first round.