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.
Posted by Kip Earlywine