Some things are unexplainable, like the fact that PETA wants the Pet Shop Boys to change their name. As in, now. Here's hoping And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead is really about an ancient Mayan ritual, and not, say, kittens. This leads us to the NFL Draft, where yesterday we whipped up this concoction to go along with Mel's latest mock.
So what's so unexplainable?
Try this: When we were at the combine a couple months back, one of the big risers was Clay Matthews Jr., a guy who at one time walked onto the USC football team at 166 pounds and now is every bit of 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. It doesn't work that way for most. Needless to say, there's a good chance that Matthews has worked his way up into the first round. Of the six experts we looked at, only Mel has him falling out of the first round, and barely. But this is incredible. We know it's common for a single defense to produce multiple first round picks. Remember when Simeon Rice and James Hardy from Illinois were both among the top three? But USC may have four players from the same position group taken within the first two rounds.
Think about that, of 120-plus Division I teams as a benchmark, there are somewhere between 360 to 480 starting linebackers at the highest level of football each week. (Yeah, we factored in 3-4 or 4-3, and don't even get us started on guys like Rocky Long at New Mexico who have two linebackers and a million safeties running around. For him, even Urlacher was a safety.) Needless to say, a single position group at a single college is going to have what amounts to four of the guys deemed to be in the top 2% at their position.
But this is where it gets weird and should be a lesson to you in draftology. Based on their draft positions, the USC linebacking group wouldn't just be the best college crew in terms of draft stock in the college game -- that's patently obvious, not even mentioning that there are a couple backups on that team who will get drafted someday, and that their position coach, Ken Norton Jr. is also a stud -- no, this group would also be the best group of pro linebackers in terms of draft stock. Just ask the Lions. Their depth chart shows a pair of UFA's as starters.
But this is also a lesson. When we create our expert's consensus every few weeks to get a sample of value, inevitably someone will say how unscientific it is because there are experts who will consider Matt Stafford at best a 10th pick, when everyone else has him in the top three. But the fact is there are almost no scientific factors that help determine who the best picks are in the first place. Why is it such a certainty that Stafford really is top three? There are certain mesaurables, like 40-times, that we still often throw out the window for some players (Michael Crabtree) but apply strictly to others (Percy Harvin). And coaches will tell you how much they dismiss these things, yet a receiver like Darrius Heyward-Bey will remain high on boards despite a mediocre college career in terms of productivity. The greatest true science of the NFL Draft process is really the study of how crowds help determine who is good and who is not. A buzz comes up surrounding one guy, and the crowd follows. Based on his stock, we can conclude that most are discounting the fact that Stafford wasn't a very accurate quarterback at Georgia. And we know that guys who are accurate less than 60% of the time in college have a bad track record in the pros. Yet Stafford measures high in areas like size and arm strength. Both of those we can measure. Sort of.
Fans would like to believe the science that goes into Stafford is serious know-all. But it wouldn't ever hold up in a lab. In real science, you'd think that four linebackers from a single group might be cause for further examination. Does such a confluence of excellence mean something more? Does it mean that one great player could make up for the weakness in another, and thus they all look good? Was this individual brilliance that can be plugged into any one of 32 systems, or a coordinated effort? And on Stafford, would we seek out other models, or ask if arm strength and size really are huge factors when arguably the league's two best QB's last year -- Kurt Warner and Drew Brees -- are known because they lack both?
Science seeks to explain. That's why draft and science don't belong in the same sentence.