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Funbag

NFL Draft Analytics Are Teaching Me Some Pretty Incredible Shit

MOBILE, ALABAMA - JANUARY 29: Scouts check their stopwatches after a participant ran the 40-yard dash during the 2022 NFL HBCU Combine at University of South Alabama Jaguar Training Center on January 29, 2022 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about video games, jazz, being boring to death while injured, and more.

Before I get into the bag, I forgot to use this space to plug our new live call-in show, so let me do that right now. I’ll keep it swift: Every Friday morning, from 11–12 Eastern, Roth and I are hosting a live show on Amp, which allows us to take your calls in realtime, and to spin some hot tunes if we’re feeling frisky. All you have to do is follow this link, download the app, and then join us for some quality clock-burning. For the moment, this app is in beta testing and only works with iPhones, but that’ll change eventually.

Got all that? Terrific. Let’s get back to business. Your letters:

Matt:

What are your thoughts on the NFL scouting process? I feel like most of us could be successful by simply watching an average amount of college football on TV and reading a handful of mock drafts. We could otherwise do away with entire scouting departments. For example, I can tell you with a high degree of confidence that Aidan Hutchinson will be average at best and Kyle Hamilton will be really good. Just as two examples from this year’s draft. Happy to wait to have you publish this two to three years from now when my predictions have proven accurate but I feel quite confident in my assessments.

Well, the Bengals just won the AFC title with exactly six scouts on the payroll, so cheap-ass Mike Brown likes the cut of Matt’s jib here. Them aside, I don’t think that you or I would be very good at scouting NFL players cold. It’s not that far off from thinking you could score a basket in garbage time of an NBA game, or make contact with an MLB fastball one time in a full season at the plate. You always hear about the dreaded anonymous scouts, who are both idiots and, as Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy once told me, are almost never actively employed by any NFL team. Those guys are just random unemployed fuckheads when they tell ESPN that they don’t think Malik Willis has the right friends or whatever the fuck.

Actual scouts, by contrast, are too busy doing actual research to leak takes that would get them fired, and they do tend to know a thing or two about football. They know mechanics. They know the plays. They know college players. They know what kind of schemes they’re playing in. They know their own team’s scheme, and if there’s any overlap to be had. They know the quality of these players’ opposition. That’s why the first round of the draft resembles a lot of mock drafts. Not down to every pick, of course. But the high first-rounders are usually consensus picks, including Aidan Hutchinson (Matt is wrong; Hutchinson will be very good), because NFL teams not only did their homework, but did so correctly. And, of course, they have access to data that you and I likely do not.

But what fun is it to acknowledge that I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about? Why get hyped up for the draft at all if I can’t believe—KNOW—that I could do a better job that my own shit-ass GM could? It’s even easier to suspend my disbelief now that Pro Football Focus, which I used to goof on but has become essential, has published two pre-draft articles that double as excellent drafting blueprints for armchair GMs. If I really wanted to go overboard, I’d say the PFF solved the draft. But for now, let’s just admire some of the handiwork on display. The first study, by Timo Riske, calculated the “surplus value” of each draft position, as noted by this chart:

via Pro Football Focus

In a league with a rookie wage scale, it’s very stupid to use your first round pick on a fungible position like RB when you could draft a quarterback or an edge rusher instead. Hit on those picks and not only have you locked in one of the most important positions on the field, but you’ve done so for an obscene bargain—one that gives you enough capital to beef up every other vital spot on the roster. We’ve already seen NFL teams adopt this gospel, with RBs rarely taken high anymore. But it’ll also eventually happen, and already has to a degree, with interior linemen, safeties, and linebackers too. None of those positions will ever get taken No. 1 ever again. The winning margin you get from drafting other positions with your first pick is too high to ignore. Do I still want my team to draft Nakobe Dean anyway? Yes.

The second article, by Kevin Cole, is a cumulative study of which QBs are more likely to succeed as professionals. This isn’t eye test shit. Cole found hard evidence that QBs who can scramble and avoid sacks are better gambles than other QBs. More charts:

via Pro Football Focus
via Perez Hilton. Just kidding.

That all means drafting a QB isn’t necessarily a crapshoot, which I have taught myself to believe my whole life. I never thought there was much rhyme or reason for QB X going bust while QB Y goes on to become a Hall of Famer. Now I know differently, and it’s a genuine revelation. It all makes perfect sense when you read it, and it’s something I should have realized long ago. But I’m still mesmerized. Even the second base location revelation wasn’t as mind-blowing as all this has been.

You can still end up drafting a piece of shit, of course. But at least you now know where the football equivalent of the DON’T PASS line is on the craps table. You know where the better odds are, and that’s no small thing. That’s especially valuable to fans like you and me when an obvious fuckhead like the now-fired Dave Gettleman throws out all of the research and drafts a guy because he liked how decisive he was ordering off the Combine Deli menu. You’re not gonna outsmart most NFL front office types. But you can still dial in on the worst of the worst, watch them fail, and indulge yourself in the delusion that you would not only outperform them, but do so by a significant amount. That’s why I’m a draftnik, baby. I live for this shit now. PFF just released a mock draft simulator and I don’t want to write blogs anymore. I just want to draft.

Mark:

Going forward, will there ever be a customer service interaction that doesn’t begin with, “Our customers are important to us, but due to high call volume waits are longer than normal”? 

No, because it works. As with sitting on an airport tarmac, the misery of being stuck on hold with customer service is that you have no clue when the wait will end, especially when they don’t offer to call you back. Sometimes the holds music cuts off and I think I’m gonna get a person, but no. No, I just get the same pre-recorded “Visit our website for no reason!” message I just got a minute earlier. And then it happens again.

By telling you that the wait will be long, companies at least help calm you down before you get all pissy. They prepare you. Also, as a veteran of the customer service helpline process, I know they’re often lying about those wait times because I’ll get an operator 10 seconds after I hear that call volume is high. And then I’m pleasantly surprised to be talking to a real person so quickly. All by design. They have us figured out.

This is why I use chat support for most everything now. If shit breaks in this house, I Google the company’s name plus “chat support,” and that usually gets me where I wanna go. Then I can get help without ever having to talk on the phone to anyone. My dream come true.

Josh:

Assuming we as a species survive that long, how exhausting is it going to be to when naming an individual year during the next century? The 21st century has been fine so far saying “Twenty Twenty-One” or whatever. It has a satisfying enough cadence. But are we going to have commercials with a cryogenically-frozen Matthew McConaughey thawed out just long enough to promote “the new Twenty-One Seventy-Six Lincoln”? Just thinking about the latter possibility stresses me out.

We won’t. Chill out. We’re gonna go back to abbreviating by decades very soon. Right now we’re in an awkward spot where we have to still acknowledge the existence of the 1900s. You know, the 1900s: ugly cars, landline telephones, Kennedy getting shot, “Hey man is that Freedom Rock?”, etc. Because it’s so early in the century, I have to enter all four digits of my birth year into any online form, which is a complete pain in the ass and costs me a whole second I could have otherwise spent scratching my balls. Unacceptable.

But eventually, people my age will either die or become so old that no one except Congress gives a shit about us anymore. And that’s when we’ll start using decade terminology again, like the ’50s and the ’60s and what not. I can’t WAIT to replace the 1960s with some other ’60s. Gonna be a real treat. Once that transition takes place—and it’ll be natural; Marco Rubio isn’t gonna pass a bill making it so—individual years will be referred to by only their last two digits. “The all-new ’36 Lincoln Navigator NFUV,” etc. We’re only at the beginning of the 2020s, but that shift could happen by the end of this decade. We don’t have to fuck with the clumsy potential shorthand of, “aught-six” or, “Back in the ’10s,” any longer. We’re on firmer ground, which means the 2020s will soon just be The Twenties. And then Chuck Klosterman can write a book about them.

Ben:

I recently broke my leg and blew out my knee while skiing. After reading your book where you fell over pretty bad, I just wanted to know if you’ve got any tips on how to stay sane during rehab. I am stuck at my in-laws, who are not that old, but still tell the same stories we hear every time we come for dinner every two weeks, pre-accident, but now I hear these same stories on a daily basis. What makes all of this worse is that I’m only on week three since I injured myself, I still have to have surgery to fix my ligaments. They’re still not open enough to weed to let me just sit here stoned in the corner. I’m going to go postal, Drew. Help me.

I also went stir crazy during my rehab but I also had the advantage(?) of being sick in the head, so my memory is blurry, and I didn’t stay sane while rehabilitating. My friends and family tell me that I was erratic, delusional, morose, and pissy. I have no reason to doubt their observations.

I remember being very bored, trapped in a prison of forced lethargy. At the end of my rope, I would get up and try to do something productive, get the spins, and then go lie down to recover. We had company over to the house on occasion but I hated it, often retreating up to the bedroom. Then I’d feel relieved when I heard the front door close shut and the house go quiet again. All I wanted was rest and silence, which were easy to attain because my wife and kids were on hand to protect me from the irritants of the outside world barging in. I wasn’t living with my in-laws during any of this, like Ben is. I don’t think I would have handled that well.

In between bouts of depression and napping, I had three main outlets for distraction. The first was writing, because I love writing and hate it when I’m forced to spend time away from it. The second was television. I watched a shitload of TV in the hospital, Good Morning Football in particular. I found Kay Adams impossibly charming. I haven’t watched a minute of that show since I got out, but it was there for me when I was desperate.

The third distraction was my phone. And lemme tell you something: Phones fucking rule. If the real world is angering me or boring me out of my mind … HEY PRESTO! I can just bury my head in my phone and be content for hours. You might find this depressing or a sign of ill times. But I was sick before smartphones existed too, you know. I know what those days were like. They were awful. Your smartphone is a fucking godsend. There’s no sense in pretending otherwise. I could do the whole Social Interaction Warrior spiel about how phones are bad and how they make you anti-social. But sometimes you NEED to be anti-social. I know I did. I was much better off staring at my phone while I recovered than complaining to my family or demanding that they bring me a bowl of pita chips or whatever. Sometimes you need an avenue to cut yourself off, because you’re sick, or because you’re on a 15-hour flight, or because you can’t do anything else. A phone is perfect for that job. Appreciate you, phone! You are my brother.

HALFTIME!

Andrew:

I’m 43 and I still play video games. I’ve been playing my whole life from back when I was a kid and had an Atari 2600. I know when I think about me playing video games it’s normal, but when I tell other people my age I feel like they judge me. I don’t play online or anything, I just do my own thing. It’s usually sports games but I’ll do other big titles as well. Is this weird or should I just not care about what other people think and enjoy my hobby?

Enjoy your hobby. Fuck other people. Video games are normal. As an industry, they make more money than movies do. A lot more. Everyone plays video games, even the middle-aged. If anything, I feel like I don’t play ENOUGH video games to keep up with the rest of my friends and colleagues. I’ve never played a single second of Red Dead Redemption, or The Witcher series, or the notorious Elden Ring. None of that. I play Everybody’s Golf and Madden 18 on my PS4. Not a terribly impressive rotation, but both games give me the Me Time that I require. I’m gonna get into the more immersive games as I get older. That’s my retirement plan. I already feel great about it.

Sometimes my wife asks me what I’m doing on my phone and I’m too embarrassed to tell her I’m playing a Japanese escape room game with an adorable cartoon pig mascot. But really, it’s an antiquated practice to hide your gaming habits from a world that can’t get enough hot gaming action. It’s like being embarrassed to date people you found online. Those stigmas don’t exist anymore. They’re a basic facet of existence in 2022, especially after living through a goddamn pandemic. Any self-consciousness I feel about my gaming habits is strictly a remnant of me playing Sega as a teenager and having my mom yell at me for not enjoying a gorgeous day outside. I can go outside anytime. But I can’t ALWAYS reach this level in My Hero, Mom. True gamers know this thought process.

So, you shouldn’t feel weird about being a gamer … unless you’re a real dick about it. On my phone, I play Yahtzee, The Room games over and over, and a FUCKLOAD of Scrabble. So much Scrabble. I play Scrabble in every available nook of free time I can find. Even on the can. I love Scrabble so much, to the point where I don’t like being interrupted by anyone when I’m locked in battle with the bot and the endgame is in sight. The other night I got a little snippy with my son because he kept asking me about stuff and I had a rack with nothing but V’s and I’s and U’s to tangle with. So I was like LEAVE ME ALONE!, which was shitty dadding. I put the phone down, helped the boy get a snack and up to bed, and THEN I beat the bot. I had earned my right to game, as we all must. But once you have earned that right, no one should judge you. I say FINISH HIM if they do.

Nick:

The more I listen to/read about it, the more I realize that jazz is where the real head shit is. I mean, Alice Coltrane and Albert Ayler dove into the cosmic core to a depth that would make your average psych-rocker run screaming back to their delay pedals. I am way into it. But I’m also a 41-year-old dad with no time to fully devote to becoming a true freak, so I remain an unschooled jazz tourist. I have decided, therefore, that jazz will be my retirement “thing,” the way “learning about wars” was to my dad’s generation. Once I’m old and useless with grown children, I’m going to do nothing but collect obscure jazz records and listen to them on an expensive, finicky German stereo, while extremely stoned. I’m excited by this prospect to the point that I actively fantasize about it. Do you have any plans to have a retirement “thing?” 

You just read my gaming plans up above. I might also turn fully into my own father and embrace classical music. My dad is so heavy into classical music that he attends annual gatherings of composer fanboys for marathon listening sessions of their entire oeuvre. When I was a kid, he would take me down into the basement and blast the 1812 Overture for me, jacking up the volume on the cannon blasts. It was awesome. I should do that on my own. Right now, I spend my basement time listening to the same playlists I always listen to. I could stand to expand the repertoire, if not to classical music, then finally to a deeper appreciation of hip hop, after this Billy Haisley post has inspired me to one day do.

But no jazz for me. My respect for jazz is grudging and will never grow past that. I could give half a shit about the musicianship involved. I require structure. Everything else is masturbatory to my damaged ears. This is why I hate The Grateful Dead, and this is why I hate jazz. Nothing in my life has moved me off of that hill, and never will. I remember watching Whiplash and seeing a note in one of the scenes that said, “If you don’t have ability, you wind up playing in a rock band.” I’m sure that’s true. I hate that it’s true, but I know it. I also still hate jazz.

Rob:

Has there ever been something in a movie, show, book, etc. that was directly contradicted by your own super-specific or hyperlocal knowledge that only a few people like you would know? Like, a reference to a New Jersey sandwich or a Colby College dorm where you immediately knew it was wrong, and were ashamed of your knowledge?

I remember being thrown a little by the accent in Fargo, even though I grew up in Minnesota. “We don’t sound like thaaaaaaat!” I remember thinking. This, of course, was incorrect. Minnesotans, especially out in the sticks, absolutely sound like that. Also, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film.

In general, I’ve moved around too much in my life to feel overly protective of anywhere I’ve lived or anything from those places. Most of the time, I’m excited to see familiar spots, even when they’re done wrong. One of the best-ever Sopranos episodes is “College,” where Tony takes his daughter to visit all of the fancy colleges in Maine, Colby included. The Colby in that episode is not the actual Colby. They shot it at Drew University instead. I didn’t care. I still liked the shoutout. I also got excited when I watched Breach and there was a scene shot about a mile from my current house. I was like OMG I LIVE RIGHT NEAR THERE!, even though A) Many people also do, and B) It was not that interesting of an exterior, because I live in a pretty anodyne suburb.

And, of course, I lived in New York long enough to recognize various street corners and storefronts. That never got old. To this day, I’ll watch Buddy the Elf go into the Empire State Building and say to my kids, “We went there too!” Never gets old.

Michael:

When the NFL had 16 games, 7-9 was one of the worst records your team could have. Teams usually didn’t make the playoffs but were good enough to be in contention late in the season before losing their last one or two games in disappointing fashion. Fans can’t get too excited about the draft because their team will be picking in the middle of the first round. A 7-9 record means your team is just worse than mediocre. Now that there are 17 games though, what is the equivalent of that record (the Jeff Fisher Line if you will)? Is it one game under .500 at 8-9? Or is 7-10 the new most disappointing record because eight wins is still too respectable?

8-9 is the new 7-9. Take it from me. I just lived through a 7-9 season followed by an 8-9 season. Both were equally miserable. If anything, going 8-9 was worse. You won eight games but still had a losing record. You’re worthless. You’re scum. There’s nothing acceptable about winning eight piddly shit games. You didn’t even score a high draft pick. You owe every fan a year of their life back. Go to hell and feed from a shit trough for eternity.

Earl:

Tried out a new brekkie sandwich the other day, one made of chicken instead of bacon or sausage. Ya know, the “staples” of a good breakfast. I was surprised to see it was just a piece of chicken with sauce and cheese on a bun. Was also expecting an egg, like I would with the other breakfast sandwich staples. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine. But got me thinking about what might possibly be taboo? Is it wrong to eat chicken with eggs? Sure, I can see the moral dilemma but I mean, what’s the beef with the double chicken meals? 

I don’t think it’s taboo, it’s just that most people don’t like the taste of chicken and eggs together. I’ll eat fried chicken for breakfast, and have. I also put sliced deli turkey in omelets and what not. And I’ll house the shit out of those little chicken and honey biscuits at Chick-fil-A. But I’ll never eat, like, a drumstick next to a pile of scrambled eggs. They don’t work together. I have no clue why.

Email of the week!

Ryan:

Back in my teen years I had the job of pumping gas at a full-serve gas station in Connecticut near a prominent flagpole in the middle of the road (people who live there will know exactly where I’m talking about). It was a barebones brick building. The floors were just plywood on the ground, they smelled musty and would puddle with water from underneath when it rained.

Anyway, there was a guy who came in regularly at about 5:30 most nights. He drove a beat up old Suburban and would usually put $5-10 of gas in, which explains why we saw him most nights. Every single time he ever came in, he would be blasting that god awful Kid Rock song “Cowboy.” This other kid I worked with, Mike, and I figured it must’ve just been the only CD he had in the car, that he would just put it on from the start when he left work, and it was always at that track when he got to us. We got to calling him, “Cowboy Guy”.

Then, one day, the song ended. Mike and I froze as we waited to see what came next. As I’m sure you can now guess, the damn song started right over. Mike and I fell over laughing so hard I’m not even sure we grabbed money from Cowboy Guy that day. If one of us did, we certainly couldn’t have looked the customer in the eye with a straight face while we grabbed the cash. I’m not sure about the lesson here, but I think there is one. Twenty years later, I’m still searching for it.

The lesson, sir, is to start an escort service for all the right reasons.