Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pro-day passing stats … why they mean squat

 

Stanford’s Andrew Luck completed 46 of 50 passes at his pro day workout. Three were dropped. And it was a windy day to boot.

“No wonder he’s going to be the No. 1 pick!” we heard.

And Luck isn’t the only top NFL quarterback prospect who was practically perfect this month in showing off his arm to league coaches and talent evaluators at his pro day.

According to reports, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III was 78 of 84 with four drops (see my guilty-as-charged breathless video report, above). Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill was 65 of 68 with two drops. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weedon, 42 of 52 with several drops.

And on and on … Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, 59 of 63. San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley, 67 of 73. Boise State’s Kellen Moore, 52 of 53.

Just today, Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler was 66 of 75 — and that, of course, included several drops.

Impressive as hell, right?

Well, not really.

On Friday we asked two of the more respected NFL talent evaluators to weigh in on the subject, plus a former longtime NFL quarterback, and — yeah — the glistening pro-day numbers don’t exactly impress them.

“I can’t speak for coaches and scouts. I can only tell you that I think that those kinds of numbers for a pro day are close to being meaningless,” said Greg Cosell, senior producer at NFL Films for 33 years, whose analyses of draft-eligible players are considered by many to be the benchmarks.

“Obviously, if a quarterback who is being thought of relatively highly comes out and misses guys consistently, then you’d say, ‘Wow, that’s a concern.’ … But any quarterback who would be a top-quality NFL prospect, to me, would be expected to come out in shorts and a T-shirt, throwing to receivers he’s comfortable with, and (complete that many).”

Cosell said one of his good friends, former Eagles QB great Ron Jaworski, once told him that in practice he could complete timing passes while blindfolded.

At such practices, and at pro-day workouts, there’s no one rushing the quarterback, and no defensive back covering the receiver.

Perhaps it’s understandable that in our evermore statistics-obsessed sports culture, and in a sport as wildly popular as the NFL, that it would come to this — people breathlessly waiting for pro-day workout numbers to hit the Twittersphere. The average Joes and most reporters (raises hand) possess neither the acumen nor the all-22 game-film cutups with which to properly and knowledgeably make pre-draft comparisons of the top prospects.

Ta-da! Enter the pro-day passing stat. It’s a seemingly easy way to quantify and compare how the top prospects are progressing as the April 26-28 draft nears.

Yet not every college even keeps count; Michigan State’s sports-information department informed me Friday that no one there kept track of Kirk Cousin’s passing numbers two weeks ago, although reports said he tossed 66 balls.

We’re betting he completed upwards of 60.

Such impressive numbers are hardly new. Speaking of Spartan quarterbacks, Jim Miller played in the NFL for 12 years, with eight teams. He says he remembers throwing only one incompletion at his MSU pro day in 1994.

Miller brought up Tannehill (in Reuters photo, below) as an example of how observers sometimes get wowed by the buzz, and the pro-day passing numbers, which take attention away from factors that should garner much more introspection.

TANNEHILL“Last year in (Tannehill’s) three biggest games, he threw nine picks,” said Miller, now a TV and radio analyst, including for SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I mean, fine, I know he can throw a football. I know he can move, and all that. But where’s the decision-making?

“That’s not to say he doesn’t have the tools you can develop. But you really have to ask him the question, ‘What were you thinking on this particular play? Why did you think you could throw it through that linebacker to your receiver?’ … You’ve got to be a great decision-maker in the NFL.”

Pro days have been a big media deal only in recent years. One former NFLer told me Friday that there wasn’t even a single set-aside day when NFL scouts visited his campus back in his draft year, 1980. They’d come on different days, to scout different players.

Rob Rang, the senior NFL draft analyst for CBSSports.com, agreed when we suggested to him that the value of pro-day completion percentages is further eroded by the fact that most quarterbacks prepare for their pro days for weeks in advance, developing precision on an array of staple routes from the NFL passing tree — and usually with familiar receivers.

“I’ve gone to several pro days over the past 12 years,” Rang said. “The only QB workout I’ve gone to where every pass wasn’t scripted was at USC a few years back, when (Mark) Sanchez was asked by the Detroit Lions to throw a few extra passes after his scripted workout was finished.

“Any draftable quarterback should be able to complete the vast majority of his (pro-day) throws. Obviously, someone has to catch the ball, but at least 90% of the passes should be on target.”

So if NFL coaches, scouts and other player-personnel evaluators know that QBs aren’t going to misfire more than a few times, then why do they even bother attending the pro days?

There’s at least one good reason, Cosell said.

“I think you can tell it from film, but you can tell it better if you’re standing next to him — that is, you can always tell (in person) when the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand if there’s snap. If there’s velocity,” Cosell said. “And you want to see that.

“You often hear people say that arm strength is over-rated. I don’t believe that. Now, do you have to have an absolute cannon to play in the NFL? No. But I believe in the NFL that there are times in every game when you’ve got to make throws that require arm strength and velocity. And if you can’t make those throws, then you have limitations as a passer.

“You can see that better, live, standing next to a guy. You can see how it comes out of his hand.”

Don’t be surprised if, some year soon, someone comes up with a statistical barometer for THAT.

Harbaugh to Moss …. 47-of-48!

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Maybe San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh shouldn’t have bothered scouting Peyton Manning two weeks ago.
Or re-signing Alex Smith last week.
Maybe he should have made his next quarterback … himself!
Two weeks ago, the 49ers brought in recently unretired wide receiver Randy Moss for a workout. It was Harbaugh — the former longtime NFL QB for the Bears and Colts, among other teams — who threw him all the passes.
It went well. Moss impressed Harbaugh and the Niners, and he signed a one-year contract that night.
“I think we threw about 48 passes, and we were 47-of-48, I believe,” Harbaugh told reporters in response to my question Wednesday morning, after he arrived a half-hour late to the NFC coaches’ breakfast with the media.
Harbaugh is now 48. And he sports the odd grey hair. But he still looks to be in great shape.
Alas, “Captain Comeback” has no more comebacks in him.
“I may be getting a little slower. In fact, I know I am. Weaker,” Harbaugh said. “I threw a post to Randy, and I was feeling so good during the workout. It was going so well and I was like, ‘Damn, we’re clicking here!’ At that point we were like 44 for 45. And I’m going to throw a post.
“I’m feeling good about myself, you know? And him. So I go back to throw a post and I took seven steps off a play-action fake. Because I was feeling good. So I threw it, and Randy had to slow down on the post – not to the point where it was like a punt return he was catching. But he had to slow down enough to where he had to come to a stop to catch this post route.”
When Moss came back to run another pattern, he flipped Harbaugh the ball and asked the 6-foot-3 coach if he’d taken a five or seven-step drop.
“I said, ‘I took seven – I should’ve taken five.’ Very, very astute by him,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh said that in his playing days, his maximum throwing distance was 64 yards. Now it’s 57. Not bad.
The one incompletion, by the way, was Harbaugh’s fault.
“It was too far, it was a slant route that I threw out too far. Randy made me look good a couple of times. But it was an impressive workout by Mr. Moss. That was a lot of fun.”
Harbaugh and his brother John, who coaches the Baltimore Ravens, moved around the Midwest continually as kids, following their dad Jack Harbaugh on his nomadic career as a college football assistant coach.
After a standout college career quarterbacking the University of Michigan from 1984-86, Harbaugh endured the wrath of Chicago Bears fans for seven years before they finally released him in 1993. At age 30, he caught on with the Indianapolis Colts, and made a name for himself, nearly leading the previously sad-sack Colts to the Super Bowl.
“(Then) I had a third chance, and a fourth chance…”
He finally retired in 2001 after short stints with the Ravens, Chargers, Lions and Panthers.
Harbaugh seemed happy to be able give Moss his – what, fifth comeback chance? Of course Moss, now 35, is known for his less-than-teamlike behaviour in an otherwise spectacular NFL career, which ended embarrassingly in 2010 after short, failed stints with the Pats, Vikings and Titans.
“I just felt that this was a shot we wanted to take,” Harbaugh said. “And Randy felt the same way. So here we are. It’s exciting that we’re at the beginning of a journey that we don’t know what the outcome is gonna be. But I’ve got a lot of hope that it’s going to be really good for both of us, Randy and myself and the 49ers organization.
“Our dealings with him, our research — we feel that the merits outweigh the risks. We feel like he has the ability to be a contributor in the National Football League, and to the San Francisco 49ers. It’s that simple.
“I’d like to be a small part of it, selfishly. I’d like to see Randy put a stamp on a great NFL career, possibly a Hall of Fame career.”

The Packers are gonna do WHAT?!

McCarthy JOHN KRYK
QMI Agency
PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Green Bay Packers’ offence last season was one of the most prolific in NFL history.
Under league-MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay was only the third NFL team to score at least 35 points nine times, and had one of the best passing attacks the league has ever seen.
So, of course, they’re going to change things up.
Now why would they go and do that? Packers head coach Mike McCarthy explained Wednesday morning at the NFL annual meeting.
“The biggest thing for Aaron and, really, for any quarterback that has reached that level is we’ve got to continue to challenge him, and give him the opportunities to play at the level that he’s playing at,” McCarthy told me during the NFC coaches’ breakfast with the media.
“As we sit here, particularly our divisional opponents, the defences are studying him and our system — and we’ve got to be pro-active in how we attack the defences as we move forward. I mean, we’re gonna change some. We’re going to be a little different this year than we have been in the past.
“We had 47 new things we put in the offence last year. And it will probably be that or even a little bit more this year. So I think it’s important to keep challenging Aaron and give him the tools to be successful. And our offensive staff, we’ve done a good of that that last five or six years. I’m excited about some of the things we’re going to do this year.”

COUGHLIN ON TEBOW:
COUGHLINIf the acquisition of Tim Tebow does nothing else for the Jets from here on out, it at least has inflamed their Big Apple rivalry with the Giants.
The Jets stole a big chunk of the Giants’ post-Super Bowl thunder by bringing in His Worship. The Giants, it seems, are a bit touchy about the subject.
Tom Coughlin, head coach of the Giants, was asked what he thought of the Jets’ big move.
“It’s none of my business what they’ve done. That’s their business,” Coughlin said.
After barking that out, Coughlin proceeded to give an honest appraisal of Tebow — and he actually summed up all of his positives and negatives as succinctly as anything I’ve yet heard or read.
“I can tell you this — that Tim Tebow was 7-4,” Couglin said. “People talk about how he does things (wrong), but he has won. From afar, just observing him as a college player and as a rookie in the National Football League, he’s physically tough. You know, he obviously has ability as a runner. He’s continued to work on the throwing game, and there are things that he does in that aspect that are better than others.
“But you’ve got a guy who’s going to be a force in the locker room, a very positive guy … I think when you look at the player, you certainly can think of the ways in which you would use him.”

IN LIKE FLYNN?
CARROLLSeahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked probably many times at breakfast if free-agent signee Matt Flynn will be his starter, supplanting last year’s quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
Carroll’s answer:
“It’s really clear how we’re going to do this,” he said. “Our whole program is built on competition. It’s the central theme in all things we do, and so this is a classic. We’re going to bring him in and he’s going to go nose-to-nose with Tarvaris and see how it goes.
“Tarvaris will take the first snap, because he’s been with us and worked hard for that. But from that point forward, it’s going to be as even as you can get, and we’ll see what happens … We’re going to let them fight it out.
“We think he’s been through a great quarterback school (at Green Bay).”
Flynn, of course, backed up Rodgers the past couple of seasons and famously played spectacularly in two back-up starts, throwing for nine touchdowns and 734 yards. Does that lack of NFL experience concern Carroll?
“Of course it’s a factor, because playing time is so huge,” he said. “But I go back to the system and upbringing that Matt has had — and, really, I can only give credit to Mike McCarthy and his staff and all those guys that worked him. He’s ready. He’s ready to go.
“There are still those growing pains that we’re going to have to see as they unveil themselves. But he’s such a sharp kid, he’s so well-versed, physically fit and beautifully prepared for this time, that he’s ready to go for it.”

RAMS TRADING BACK UP?
FISHERSt. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that the team is open to maybe trading back up, perhaps swapping picks with the Browns.
The Rams now pick sixth, the Browns fourth.
Earlier this month the Rams traded down from No. 2 when the Redskins gave them their No. 6 pick — plus their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014, and a second-rounder this year.
The Browns, who had coveted the Rams’ No. 2 pick just as desperately as the Redskins, were reportedly livid that the Rams took the Redskins’ offer instead.
At the time of the “mega-trade,” it appeared that the top wide receiver in next month’s draft, Oklahama State’s Justin Blackmon, would be available at No. 6. Now? Probably not. His stock has risen. That’s presumably why the Rams would want to move up — to get Blackmon for last year’s No. 1 overall pick, QB Sam Bradford.

Exclusive: Saints GM Loomis addresses NFL brass

JOHN KRYK
Toronto Sun/QMI Agency
PALM BEACH, Fla. — Unlike his head coach Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis briefly addressed owners, GMs and coaches Tuesday morning at the NFL annual meeting.
“He did get up and talk briefly — but just, you know, that they were on board. That’s all,” Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix told the Toronto Sun/QMI Agency.
According to various reports, Saints head coach Sean Payton was present at the session here at The Breakers resort, but did not address the group.
Regarding the seriousness of some of the issues discussed Monday at the annual meeting, Nix said there are “things that are not pleasant, sometimes, and that’s not a good part of it.”
But the mood wasn’t so sombre on Tuesday, he said.
“Everybody’s on the same page, and we’re all concerned about the league and perception — and I think that was expressed in the meeting,” Nix said.

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca
@JohnKryk
blogs.canoe.ca/KrykSlants

Bills coach Chan Gailey on Mario, Fred vs CJ, Nick…

Chan

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Bills coach Chan Gailey and the rest of the AFC head coaches had breakfast with the press Tuesday morning at the NFL annual meeting.

OK, most were lucky to get down three sips of coffee. Questions didn’t let up for the entire hour of availability. (Even Pats coach Bill Belichick showed up this year, even if it appeared he’d just got up, threw on some clothes and ran a wet comb through his hair before arriving late.)

We sat with Gailey for the first half of his one-hour session and got some interesting stuff. A partial transcript:
On reaction to signing Williams within the AFC East:
“You hope that by the time you get everybody on the field, and everybody healthy — and you get Kyle Williams, and Marcell (Dareus) and Mario and the other people that will be playing, whether it’s Mark (Anderson) or whoever it is on the other side — you hope that you’ve got a viable pass rush with four people that makes our football team better. And you hope that (the opposing quarterback) feels like he’s got to get the ball out quicker, and maybe that makes him rush something. And if he rushes something, maybe he throws it to us instead of to his own guy.”

On whether the impact of the addition of a talent such as Mario Williams can be measured on a team:
“Yes, you can measure it. There is no statistical measure. But when you add Buddy Nix’s years in the league, and my years in the league, you come up with two old guys with a lot of years. And we know the effect that pass rush has on the game today. We’ve seen the game evolve. We’ve been in it since the ’80s. And pass rush is a huge part of this thing.”

On how to divvy the carries between RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller:
“That’s a great problem to have, by the way — to have two great players. And I don’t know how to do that. I know one thing. They’re both not going to be totally happy with the number of touches that they get. With only one football and several guys who can make plays, everybody’s not going to be happy. That’s part of it. So you do the best you can to use C.J. and Fred in different ways to get them the ball, because they’re both capable of making big plays when the ball is in their hands.”

On whether he can ensure that each gets roughly an equal amount of carries:
“You can do that if that’s what’s most important. I don’t think that’s the most important thing. The most important thing is to win, and to try to find ways to get two good players the ball so we win.”

On whether they’ll come up with plays featuring both Jackson and Spiller on the field at the same time, as Gailey suggested at the scouting combine:
“That will probably be a definite part of our offense (laughs). It’s got to be. They’re going to be in there at the same time, somewhere.”

On what the Bills liked most about Mark Anderson before signing him this month:
“You’ve always seen Mark’s capabilities. What happened between his rookie year and last year, I don’t know, because Buddy (Nix) just started talking about him at the end of this year — so I didn’t go back and do all the research that Buddy did. It’s better for you to talk to him about that guy. He was very productive, he’s very talented — and he can bring an end rush. We know we got push, so we were looking for edge-rush guys that can bring the quickness and speed off the edge.”

On whether Mark Anderson is just a situational defender:
“He’s capable of playing all three downs, I think. And the thing about it is, all three downs in the league today is more passing than running. We’re a different animal than we were 15 years ago.”

On whether the fact the Bills already have a second offensive package with another QB (Brad Smith) will help them better prepare for Tebow and the Jetsssss:
“Yeah, I think it will, because we’ll get some work against a Wildcat-type offense in training camp, if nothing else.”

On whether having to prepare for such a package really is a distraction for a defense in its preparations for the main offense:
“To be honest with you, one of the reasons we have it is we think that there is a definite advantage to that. Because what we say is this: if you’ve got something that’s unusal, the coaches are going to take an hour to sit there and talk about it. And then on the field they’re going to do a 10-minute walk-through on the wildcat. And then in practice, out of their 45 plays they’ll take five on the wildcat. So if you take all that, it’s somewhere between 5 and 15% of their time that they have available that they’re using on the wildcat. Every snap and every minute they take doing that means they’re not working on your base offense, the base pass plays, the base pass protections. So hopefully it helps you win games.”

On how pleased he was with the play of linebacker Nick Barnett:
“Nick Barnett played extremely well. If we’d have won more football games, he probably would have been in the Pro Bowl, because his statistics matched up with a bunch of the guys that went to the Pro Bowl. He got his feet wet, so to speak, in Buffalo. And I think this year he’ll have a better year, maybe, than he did last year. And last year was extremely good. And he’ll feel a lot more comfortable about a lot of things this year.”

On whether it takes time to become a leader in a new locker room (he had spent his first eight years in Green Bay before signing with the Bills last July):
“Sure it does. I don’t care who you are. Peyton (Manning) might be the exception. But most people it takes a while to find your way around the team — and plus, last year was unique because he didn’t have an off-season to get ingrained. He showed up the weekend of training camp. So that’s another thing that kind of hindered his progress as a leader and feeling comfortable.”

On what kind of player OT Demetrius Bell is:
“He’s got some talent. He’s got good feet. He’s still a young player. In football terms, he’s a young player, because he hasn’t played a lot of football. But he’s a good man, and he’s got talent.”

On whether the Bills are still looking to bring him back:
“Oh yeah. We’ve been talking to him all along. But I don’t know what they’re looking for right now.”

On Robert Kraft saying yesterday that he thinks one of the reasons the Bills loaded up with pass rushers was to “come after our boy, No. 12″:
“Well, he’s right. He’s exactly right. That’s what we feel like we’ve got to do — you’ve got to rush the passer in our division. That’s the first thing you go after is your division.”

On whether that also played into the decision to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3:
“No. I’ll tell you what happened is, there’s so much passing in the league today, you’re in a four-man front the majority of time anyway. That’s just the way the league is. Because you can’t stay in 3-4 on first and second down and go to nickel on third down. You’re in nickel on second down, and sometimes on first down because of personnel. So it had more to do with where we are as the game has evolved than it did anything else.

But some teams have switched to a 3-4 this year:
“It’s what everybody’s comfortable with. If (Dave) Wannstedt had been a 3-4 guy, we’d have kept going to a 3-4. But I thought he was the best guy to run it, and we can adjust.”

Did it help going to a 4-3 in recruiting Mario Williams?:
“Yeah. Oh yeah. Sure was. We’re going to be in it on every snap.”

On whether he’s happy with the roster changes this off-season:
“Yeah. We made some good additions to our football team. We said at the end of the season, our biggest challenge was to improve our pass rush, and that’s what we have done to this point. We haven’t done it on the field, but at least we’ve done it on paper. We’re excited about that. And when you help your football team in one area, you help your football team — there’s a ripple effect in a lot of different areas. So help your team in a lot of ways.”