Pro Football Focus received a lot of attention this summer when broadcaster Cris Collinsworth bought a stake in it. In many ways it further legitimised the product. We’re going to be hearing even more about PFF’s grades as a consequence. Bob Condotta at the Seattle Times dedicated a lengthy blog post to their breakdown of the defeat in San Diego.
I hope the extra attention and respect doesn’t stop people challenging some of their analysis. PFF’s system isn’t always water-tight, as the following tweet suggests:
Man, @PFF grades offer very little. Russell Wilson given a -0.8. Colin Kaepernick a -0.9.
— ken-drick lamarthur (@KennethArthuRS) September 15, 2014
Wilson’s two-touchdown, highly productive display against San Diego graded almost identically to Colin Kaepernick’s four-turnover meltdown against Chicago.
Here’s the issue as far as I can see it — PFF’s grades rely on one man’s opinion on a players responsibility during a given play and his ability to execute. As far as I’m aware they don’t use all-22 tape, it’s based on the broadcast output. They’re also judging based on their diagnosis of the scheme and play call. They’re grading a guard, for example, and saying he didn’t do his job because of X, Y or Z.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was criticised by some for the following remarks…
I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside, if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who is in our blitz package and what they are supposed to do. I would just ask everybody to take that with a grain of salt, including our fans.
… and yet instead of appearing dated or out of touch, Zimmer simply points at the elephant in the room. An analyst sat at home watching the game on his TV or computer is grading every player based on what he interprets his role to be. Sometimes they’ll be right, sometimes they’ll be wrong. To take those grades on face value is to take a leap of faith in the individuals ability to break down every play call and scheme.
I’m not doubting their ability to get it right most of the time. However, it would only take one misjudgement on one scheme to potentially eschew a grade dramatically. If a player isn’t doing what they think he should be repeatedly, he’ll get marked down — possibly unfairly if he’s doing the exact job he’s been set by the coaching staff.
It’s also my understanding they don’t take into account the opponent. So a player competing against J.J. Watt is graded in exactly the same way as a player facing Benson Mayowa. Neither does it take into account supporting cast. J.R. Sweezy was marked down during a stretch where he was the only healthy starter remaining on the offensive line. He was criticised, to some extent, because he played on a hopeless line featuring Paul McQuistan and rookie Michael Bowie at tackle against the likes of Watt, Robert Quinn and Calais Campbell.
In the case of Kaepernick, whoever graded the Bears game clearly decided the quarterback wasn’t responsible for the four turnovers. They decided that his display was on a par with one of the top QB performances over the weekend.
It just doesn’t seem right.
I first became sceptical of the PFF system when I noticed they’d graded Earl Thomas as one of the worst starting safety’s in the league during the 2012 season. Perhaps he wasn’t at his Defensive MVP best like we saw in 2013, but one of the worst?
There is some science involved in the way they grade. It’d be wrong to suggest this is all based on a take. Yet there is a lot of one man’s opinion involved. The Collinsworth-inspired attention has legitimised PFF in a way it never previously experienced. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, because it seems like people are accepting their analysis as gospel. It isn’t. Use it, quote it, debate it. But take it for what it is.
For what it’s worth I’m not one of those anti-analytics types. Football Outsiders is a fantastic website and a weekly must-visit.
Shawn Oakman tape vs Buffalo
He stands out on a handful of plays here — especially the sack. He moves so well despite a reported 6-9, 280lbs frame. For that reason I’m almost certain he’ll be a high pick. There just aren’t many human beings with this level of size and freedom of movement. If Ziggy Ansah can go in the top-five based purely on potential, Oakman could easily be a very high pick next year.
Like Ansah, however, there’s a lot to work on. He has a tendency to get blocked out of plays too easily given his size. He can play with a greater intensity and his technique overall needs some refinement. Yet if he was a really polished, dominating defensive end he’d be a lock to go first overall. Nobody should be surprised he needs a bit of fine tuning.
A coach or GM somewhere will fall in love with the idea of developing this guy. The top-10 doesn’t seem unlikely.
Weekend scouting notes:
I watched the Tennessee-Oklahoma game and focused mainly on nose tackle Jordan Phillips. He’s a talented player who moves well for his size. He had a sack in the first half — stunting around and bursting to the QB. He could develop into a first or second round pick — but he wasn’t the most impressive player on the field in this game.
Eric Striker (6-0, 221lbs) is used mainly as a pass rusher but he’s really an athletic, roaming linebacker who just makes plays. He’s a junior and had three sacks in the Sugar Bowl last season versus Alabama. In this game he was constantly involved and stood out a mile.
With smaller, athletic linebackers getting more attention (see: Ryan Shazier) — Striker could be a coveted prospect. His ability to rush from the outside, cover and fly around will be attractive to many teams. If you get a chance to watch the Sooners this year take a look at #19.
It was also another impressive day for senior Chuka Ndulue. He looks bigger than 6-3 and 289lbs and while he might not end up being a high pick — he’ll add quality depth to a defensive line rotation. He’s a NFL player playing college football right now and it shows — he dominated the true freshmen on Tennessee’s O-line.
If we’re debating athletic linebackers destined to be high draft picks, Washington’s Shaq Thompson deserves a mention. He had two defensive touchdowns against Illinois and will almost certainly be a first round pick. The Huskies are getting a lot of love right now, but I’m not convinced Danny Shelton or Marcus Peters will go anywhere near round one. Thompson is a different case altogether.
Shelton is a big, productive tackle but is he enough of an athlete to warrant a high grade? Is he not the prototypical mid-round DT? As for Peters — his recent team suspension is a concern and while he showed what he’s capable of against Stanford last year, his performances are quite inconsistent. With good coaching he could be special, but it’s probably a risk too high for the first frame.
I mentioned it on Saturday but Markus Golden continues to dominate for Missouri. He and team mate Shane Ray have already notched nine sacks between them. They could both go in the first two rounds next year.
Kevin White’s fast start continues. The West Virginia receiver is a fantastic prospect — he had a big game against Alabama in the season opener and he’s already up to 460 yards (2nd in the nation overall) and two touchdowns. He’s 6-3 and 210lbs, sudden in his movement and he high points the football. He has suffered with a lack of confidence in the past but he’s showing no signs of that as a senior. He’s another player to keep an eye on this season.
Congrats to Austin Davis
Three years ago I had a chance to interview Davis — a highly motivated and talented individual at the time playing quarterback for Southern Miss. He went undrafted in 2012 and landed with the St. Louis Rams — and this week had his first NFL start against Tampa Bay. He completed 22/29 for 235 yards in a 19-17 upset victory on the road.
If the Rams want someone to control their offense and make the most of a difficult situation, I’ve no doubt Davis is up to the task. And while he’s now playing for a NFC West rival — I wanted to take the time to congratulate him on his first victory as a pro.