Then I ran into this. It's CNNSI's "Photo Gallery" wherein they take a topic, give it very little substance, but beef it up by posting it accompanied by very large pictures. It's like the print version of a musical montage. Very little substance, but it has a nice beat and you can dance to it.
Anyway, this "Photo Gallery" lists the Top 10 NFL Draft Steals for 2007. It helps me crystallize something I've been trying to articulate about "Draft Grades" and "Draft Analysis" in the media for a while. That thing I've been trying to say is that they do not mean much because they are heavily weighted towards rewarding teams that draft players from big schools that the reporters have seen on television. Here are the top 10 draft steals, in order:
- Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame (late first round)
- Ryan Kalil, C, USC (late second round)
- Antonio Pittman, RB, Ohio St. (4th round)
- Steve Breaston, WR, Michigan (5th round)
- Dallas Sartz, LB, USC (5th round)
- Tarrell Brown, CB, Texas (5th round)
- Derek Landri, DT, Notre Dame (5th round)
- Adam Koets, OT, Oregon State (6th round)
- Mason Crosby, K, Colorado (6th round)
- David Irons, CB, Auburn (6th round)
CNNSI thinks, then, that the big "steals" of the draft almost uniformly came from schools that just so happen to get on television frequently. I wonder if the Top 10 Draft Steals of 2006 published in May of last year included Marques Colston from Hofstra?
I have nothing against any of these players personally, and there is certainly a chance that any of these guys will emerge as a major player in the NFL. And really, when you think about it, if you're a typical football fan not privy to scouting reports, combine reports, etc., there's a certain amount of decent logic in using as your measuring stick in evaluating talent, "Was he productive against top level competition?"
However, in an NFL where players routinely excel from unheralded programs and players from big schools often flop, don't even pretend an analysis that is heavily biased in favor of players from big programs is even remotely definitive.
To show you how far this goes, consider the case of Tarrell Brown, the 5th biggest steal of the draft. He was a cornerback at Texas, a school which had seven players drafted. In particular, two cornerbacks, one safety, and two defensive ends were drafted. That's 5 of the 6 most important positions on the field for defending against the pass. You have your two corners, one of your safeties, and both of your primary outside pass rushers going to the NFL. Three of them were first-day picks including two in the first round.
Wow, Texas's pass defense must have been excellent in 2006 to have had that much talent on the field. Think again. Texas's vaunted pass defense, which put so many players into the NFL, was tenth in the Big 12 in yards per game.
"OK", you say, "but Texas won a lot of games, and were undoubtedly ahead by large margins, forcing opponents to pass more, thereby giving up more yards."
Good try. They were also tenth in yards per attempt. Out of 12. Texas's pass defense compared to the rest of the Big 12 was poor. Despite this, the third member of the Texas secondary to be drafted gets labeled one of the Top Ten Biggest Draft Steals of 2007? How can this be explained other than by basic big-school bias?