Friday, 5 March 2010

An Editorial: The danger of buying into hype and borrowed evaluations

By Kip Earlywine
My timing sucks. I wrote this last night and saved it for today, forgetting that today was the first day of one of the most unusual free agency periods ever. Well whatever. I think this issue is important so there is no better time than the present to get this out there. I must preface this by saying I have a lot of respect for Draftniks, particularly Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. This post is not intended whatsoever as a slam on either of them.

This time last year, I was very excited and hopeful about the prospect of Michael Crabtree becoming a Seahawk. Nearly as much, I wanted USC's Mark Sanchez. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever wanted two players as badly as I wanted those two last year. And while both Crabtree and Sanchez were sort of successful by rookie standards this year, the truth is that my opinion of both was extremely over-inflated. I hadn't actually scouted either of them, and when I watched youtube videos, I wasn't even doing that with a critical eye. My sky high impression of Crabtree was fueled by his epic game winning TD catch against Texas. And my opinion of Sanchez was inflated by how easily he shredded the Huskies defense (and later, Penn State's in the Rose bowl). All of those were amazing performances, but an opinion formed with a combination of hype and small samples is going to have blind spots. Regardless of how good Crabtree and Sanchez will be, it doesn't change the fact that the method I used to arrive at my conclusion was flawed.

Similarly, I was a huge fan of Evander Hood, because he fit our need for a 3 tech DT and the clips of him I had seen on ESPN made him look pretty good. I was also a big proponent of Jason Watkins, a tackle from Florida. That impression was built off nothing more than a scouting report I had read and a seeming fit for Seattle's need for left tackle depth. As it turns out Hood was the last pick in the 1st round, but underwhelmed in his first NFL season (he was converted to a 3-4 DE, which may have played a part). Watkins, a projected 4th-5th rounder, went completely undrafted and didn't even make the Texans' roster or practice squad after they signed him as a UDFA. He played for the New York Sentinels last season. Luckily for him, the tackle desperate Bills placed him on their practice squad late last year. If I had actually scouted these players or even been critical or done some digging, I might have avoided over-hyping them.

The moral of the story is, I've learned that I have to be careful about how I form my opinions and I urge others to do the same. We live in a fast food culture where we want things fast and convenient. But when we allow ourselves to get excited about a prospect just because Mike Mayock says he's a stud, we run into problems. I hope everyone enjoys my player preview series, as well as Rob's thoughts or Kyle's real scouting reports which he works very hard on, but I also hope that people do a little bit of research when they can and try to form their own opinions which are hopefully both critical and well thought out. I don't want you guys to like Montario Hardesty, Joe McKnight or Damian Williams just because I do. I want you to like them if you came to that conclusion on your own, or dislike them for your own well formed reasons. This is why I try to include videos in every player write-up I do.

Some things I'm seeing in this draft- not here but pretty much everywhere, is the hype machine building up both for and against certain players. Not to push an agenda or anything, but I've noticed that Ryan Mathews is constantly talked about as a potential 1st round pick. Yes, he does have decent size and slightly above average speed (average combine time was almost identical to McKnight's). Yes, he was highly productive in 2009, with over 1800 of his career 3200 yards (in 3 years) coming last season. But when I actually watched the tape, I found there is very little he does that looks special at all. And while he was productive, that production came in the WAC, one of the weakest Div. 1 conferences in college football. Thankfully, Rob independently saw the same things, so I don't feel like the only sane man in a crazy world (which of course means the opposite).

Mathews may indeed gain near 1st round consideration, but not because of anything he did on the football field. Competition and demand absolutely play a role in a player's draft day value, and in a draft that has precious few RB's capable of 275+ carries- Mathews is the best- for man teams as they put a higher value on size, power, and speed. For teams looking for a workhorse option, Mathews isn't all that great, but he's the best anyway.

What I don't understand though is this persistent myth not only in the blogosphere but even with mainstream sports outlets like the Seattle Times, that Mathews is "perfect" for our zone system, when nearly the complete opposite is true. When I carefully broke down Mathews game, I noticed that he almost never makes cutbacks- making his ability as a 1 cut and go back with vision questionable at best, and his burst isn't visible at all (meaning he's a gradual, not sudden, accelerator). Mathews isn't shifty or a born runner. He's basically Frank Gore without a 3rd gear and with less power. To a desperate team that runs man and doesn't care about those things, they won't think twice about taking Mathews in the early 2nd, maybe earlier. But that team shouldn't be Seattle. And maybe I should be careful because my analysis of Mathews is incomplete, but I would wager that anyone who thinks Mathews is perfect for Alex Gibbs' system in Seattle probably didn't do their homework before saying that.

Mathews isn't the only over-hyped player. What sometimes bewilders me is the double standard that hype can bring. Jason Pierre-Paul could very well be a top 10 pick. Why? His impressive athleticism. But those same people, who in their excitement fail to realize how undeniably unnatural JPP looks on tape are often the same ones who bash Bruce Campbell for having bad tape which, their logic goes, downplays his highly impressive athleticism. I can't help but find this incredibly perplexing. In my player preview, I liked Campbell but also said that I wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole. He's too risky, but I'll be damned if he didn't look like 10 times the football player JPP did. Hype has a way of causing us to minimize a players weakness and over-state their strengths. Downplay (the opposite of hype) has a way of doing the opposite. I'm not saying we should draft Bruce Campbell, but I will say that I'd gladly take a downplayed prospect over a hyped prospect 9 times out of 10.

Guys like Lofa Tatupu. John Carlson. Brandon Mebane. Tatupu stirred many into anger because they believed he was a massive reach in the 2nd (and we traded up too). I'll admit- I was one of those people; not my finest hour. John Carlson was an afterthought after playing his final season for a miserable Notre Dame team. And Brandon Mebane seemingly escaped the notice of almost everyone but just a handful of us. To this day, it still stuns me that he fell to the late 3rd round.

Anyway, if anything, I really hope our front office feels this same way. Say what you will about Tim Ruskell- I say this as one of his biggest critics- but he did his homework on draft day for the most part. In the end, low draft position, free agency mistakes like Hutch, poor personnel management decisions, bad luck in round 1, and most fatally, a pernicious stretch of injuries in 2008 and early 2009, simply did him in. But at the very least, he knew how to see through hype, and when you look at the occasional bright spots of the Tim Ruskell era, his best moves were often for under-the-radar players who made sense upon close examination and scrutiny.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! It might be fun to re-post some of the discussions and expert scouting reports on some of our vets. Where can we find them? I know there was allot of wailing and knashing of teeth when we took some of our key guys. And what was the scouting report on Bosworth?
I doubt there will be any fooling PC and the boys, they have scouted most of this class begining in highschool and they know what is available. The trades will be the thing that starts to tie this all together.

Anonymous said...

berry and iupati are hyped prospects

Anonymous said...

Yah, a lot of us don't know what we're talking about. As Sylvester Stallone said in Rockey I when asked if he was interested in buying a condominium: "No thanks, I never use them."

Brendan said...

Excellent post - very well said.

You guys do an outstanding job analyzing players potential and how they may or may not fit the system in Seattle. The hype machine is a tough thing to look through and see the true value of players. I am really hoping and I do believe that this coaching staff will do an excellent job in Seattle.

Go hawks

ChavaC said...

Yah, I bought into the hype machine last year when everyone was so high on Taylor Mays, despite not really looking at game film. I was so upset he didn't declare... what a mistake that would have been had we taken him at 4.

Anonymous said...

Kip, the folks over at Walter Football (link below) make a very strong argument that Jimmy Clausen is a superior QB prospect. Since he is a real possibility for the Seahawks at #6, what are your thoughts about their opinions?

Kip Earlywine said...

Thanks for mentioning Taylor Mays from a year ago. I can't think of a better example than that.

Regarding Clausen, I'm debating whether or not to actually scout the QB's or not. And I mean a real scouting report, not a POTD. However, its a big time investment and its been hard to make up my mind. When I finally decide, I'll either do a scouting report or POTD right away. My very limited impression of Clausen is based off of the game I watched him play vs. the Huskies. During that game, I thought Locker was the better QB by a good margin, but Clausen definitely struck me as a QB that would stick in the pros. At the time I remember thinking that he felt like a high 2nd round prospect. I did like him though, and without ironically ignoring my own advice in this editorial, he's a player I currently want the Seahawks to strongly consider at #6. I have to research him more to be sure though.

micah said...

It's funny how much the combine overhypes and undervalues some players. I remember last year, some players' stock fell just by doing nothing. also, even though the WAC is an overall weak conference, there have been some quality player with good NFL careers (LaDanian -TCU, Marshall Faulk -SDSU, Ryan Clady/Quitin Mikkell - Boise St, Bernard Berrian - FSU, Pisa Tinoisamoa/Davone Bess/jason elam - UH, Ryan Moats/Josh Scobee - Lousiana Tech, Nate Burleson - Nevada, Chris Cooley - SJSU) Don't forget that BSU beat Oklahoma and TCU in BCS Bowls. Plus a lot of good running backs came from weaker conferences like Chris Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice. My point is, just because Ryan Matthews played in the WAC, it doesn't mean he won't be good. I'm also not saying he is worthy of the hype either.

Anonymous said...

I am not thrilled about a suspect character guy like Brandon Marshall but consider the following:

- WR is now a need and this is a position that takes arguably longer to develop than most positions. Brandon Marshall is an elite WR and entering the prime of his career.

- A threat like Brandon Marshall makes a possession receiver like Housh an extremely effective WR and opens up even an average running game.

- Adding Brandon Marshall (hopefully using a second this year and a third or fourth next year) allows the Seahawks to draft 2 of 3 OL, DE, QB needs.

- Love him or hate him, Brandon Marshall gives the Seahawks a realistic shot at a 2 year turnaround instead of a 4-5 year project.

Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily feel like Mathews is the stud some pundits think he is, but the fact that he played in the WAC doesn't lessen his accomplishments there. He did what he did with the competition he faced, and to give credence to your argument, I haven't seen all of his games, maybe he played bad against good competition?, I don't really know. But how can we know? Case in point, Ray Rice, from Rutgers, did he really have stellar competition? I don't think so, maybe this whole draft process is a shot in the dark.

Steve in Spain said...

Excellent post, Kip.

The only reason I didn't buy into the Crabtree and Sanchez hype last year was because they were not Ruskell guys. Neither were seniors, Sanchez had very little starting experience, and Crabtree didn't fit the personality prototype of Tim Ruskell. So it was easy to discount them as viable options from the get-go rather than get caught up in the hype. Neverthless we're all vulnerable to hype - I also liked Evander Hood.

And Rams GM Billy Devaney recently said medical exams had revealed that Sanchez's knees were shredded. Just a reminder that the "hype machine" doesn't have access to the inside information that the NFL teams enjoy.

Kip Earlywine said...

Being in the WAC doesn't disqualify a guy, but it does have to factor when weighing college stats. Joique Bell (who's a far inferior prospect) had 2000+ yards last year in division II, but that's pretty much fully meaningless because its division II. We can only speculate, but I think its fair to say Mathews totals would have been lower in a BCS conference.

Kip Earlywine said...

Thanks for the info Steve. Your completely right about information. Sometimes its easy to think we know better than a GM does- and maybe sometimes we do- but one thing we can never say is that we have more information. That's something a lot of people on the internet fail to realize. Great points.

Anonymous said...

Thanks kip for not trowing TR under the bus. I hated the Hutch and branch moves but draft day he found good team players. Free agency just always sucks guys get the big payday and stop being hungry. If guys where that good their teams wouldn't let them go ala Housh, Branch, Marshall. Changing our idenity to mirror the bengals instead of the pats or colts maybe not so good.

Anonymous said...

Kip, great article. I like to read KC Joyner's draft lab series on ESPN and also Wes Bunting's evaluations at NF Post. In addition to those on Addicts of course. Interesting, there is consensus that Berry and Thomas are both over hyped, among others. I seriously doubt Berry goes top 5, and maybe not even top 10. Likewise, if Mallett and Locker had declared for the draft, how many people would be talking about Jimmy Clausen as a top 10 pick? Just because he's in the top 2 in this draft, doesn't mean he's worth spending $50 million dollars on. At pick #14, I think he's worth considering, but no way at #6. I wish we knew more about Teel's progress. I hated that Mora gave him no playing time. I believe that if Hass can avoid putting himself in position to get hammered (don't turn your back, slide, etc...) he could have 2-3 years left and we may yet have time to develop Teel or a mid-round pick this year (Tebow, Crompton, Brown, take your pick). If we're talking about trading Seneca to the Browns, they either see something in Teel or are planning on landing another FA QB, or are seriously looking at Clausen who is admittedly the most ready to play soon. Hard to imagine who at this point.

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