Neil's NFL Daily: June 8th, 2013
I’d like to say thanks to Khaled for once more excelling in his back-up role on Thursday. If all goes to schedule it won’t be long before the hometown fans get their way and this old war horse makes way permanently for the young pup. Unfortunately, salary cap concerns mean you may have to make do with the incumbent for a little longer; so tight is our wage bill that his excessive demands to fill the starting role won’t fly further than a Christian Ponder pass.
However, the reason I wanted to delay this edition was I managed to catch up with Tony Khan over the past few days and he had some interesting notes on the Jaguars’ latest draft class. Given the strategy Jacksonville has employed this offseason I thought I might break with NND tradition and pass on his thoughts on some players we haven’t even graded yet.
Saturday, June 8th
A Different Approach
With cap room seemingly exceeding the GDP of some third world countries and with probably the weakest roster in the NFL, some felt the Jaguars would blast out of their stance in the 100 meter dash that is the start of free agency. Instead, it became apparent not only were they set for a greater distance but they may be considering this particular race a warm-up for much bigger things. No one in Jacksonville is saying they can’t win this year but their actions in free agency reflect those of an organization building for the long haul. They wish to become a team that builds through the draft, takes chances only where the risk/reward ratio is sensible and making bigger free agent signing only when the return on investment can be counted in wins.
It’s the strategy of new GM David Caldwell, a man who grew up as a football scout in the very traditional school of thinking espoused by mentor Bill Polian. With Polian a well-known analytics denouncer, it may seem counter-intuitive that his team has been a front-runner in the use of metrics. Under Tony Khan the Jaguars have implemented a football technology and analytics group which provides new and valuable information to both the coaching and scouting departments. While many may have expected an uneasy marriage, Caldwell is clearly his own man and has integrated much of what Khan does into every facet of organization.
The result of this in 2013 was a meager smattering of third-tier moves in free agency preceding a well-managed and highly strategic approach to the draft that incorporated both the old and the new. The best of both worlds? Only the results will determine that — but probably not this year.
Although I’m not qualified to comment on the players taken, I did ask Tony Khan to give me his views and some insight into the Jaguars’ new crop with emphasis on the analytics used.
A Starter at Corner in Round Three?
“A lot of the metrics we used were applied based on the projections of who would be drafted. For example, for DBs I had used a metric I called Passes Touched per Target, which was just (Passes Intercepted + Passes Defensed)/Passes Thrown at That DB. Dwayne Gratz fared well here among the pool of “draft worthy” players, particularly among the group of press cover corners with long arms we were targeting.”
“Dee Milliner, Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks also fared very well in this metric among the pool of CBs who could potentially fit our scheme. However, they were all off the board by the time we drafted in the third, so we were all very pleased when Gratz was available at that point. Dave (Caldwell), Gus (Bradley), Jedd (Fisch), Bob (Babich) and I had toured the entire country coast-to-coast. We worked out many of the top players privately and also attended many Pro Days. Gus really connected with Gratz during our time in Connecticut, and he seemed like he would be a great fit for us. He had a very strong workout and spent some great one-on-one time with Gus.”
“For Johnathan Cyprien, my stats were limited to BCS schools. However, to get an idea of Cyprien’s range, I recommend that you watch Cyprien’s game against one of the most efficient and dominant offenses in the nation, Louisville. His interception on the sideline, coming from centerfield, of a beautiful deep ball thrown by one of the great college QBs in recent years Teddy Bridgewater, was a play that is embedded into the brains of many college football fans. It demonstrates Cyprien’s tremendous instincts and good range. He has really developed into a great player since he first came to FIU.”
“Josh Evans, another safety from the state of Florida, was a player that both Dave and I were high on. We both valued him as a Day 2 player (he gave up just a 35% completion rate on the best defense in the country, in the toughest conference in college football, the SEC), and we were very fortunate to be able to draft him in the sixth round.”
Special Teams Matter
“Many of our draft picks (and potentially some of our undrafted free agents too) will have a chance to contribute on offense and defense, but I also feel that we’ve hugely improved our special teams through the draft and signing undrafted free agents. Our fourth round pick Ace Sanders will be a contributor on offense (nine offensive TDs in 2012 for one of Jedd’s many famous mentors, Coach Spurrier, at South Carolina), but also was one of the most deadly punt return men in the nation. In the brutal SEC, he averaged 15.3 yards per punt return (28 punts returned for 429 yards) with two punt return TDs, including a 70-yard punt return.”
“Our fifth-rounder Denard Robinson may contribute in our kick return game, but under the radar we signed the undrafted free agent speedster Tobais Palmer, wide receiver, from North Carolina State, a former high school track champion in North Carolina. Tobais was not only a key part of NC State’s offense in 2012 (54 catches, 781 yards, six offensive TDs, 14.5 yards per catch, a catch rate of over 65% for a team with a completion rate well under 60%), but he was arguably the best kickoff return man in the nation, averaging 25.7 yards per kickoff return (44 returns for an astounding 1,130 yards) with two kickoff return TDs, including a 100-yard kickoff return. He is another player we worked out privately at his campus, and he was very impressive. I think we were lucky that he was not drafted. He’s also a great kid.”
“Another potential special teams contributor is Steven Terrell, another undrafted speedster, from Texas A&M. He is undersized, which is almost surely why he wasn’t drafted, but he is also possibly the fastest safety entering the league this year, having run a 4.38 40 yard dash at the Aggies’ Pro Day. He was a leader for the elite Texas A&M defense in 2012 in the toughest conference in America, the SEC, with two interceptions, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and allowing a completion rate in coverage of just 43.8%. He seems like he may be a good special teams player for us, and I hope that he will be a contributor someday on defense for us too. I think he has good potential, especially if he can add some bulk without sacrificing much of his great speed. He is a very active safety. As I said, special teams will be his niche if he makes the 53 man roster.”
First Becomes Last
“Last, but certainly not least, I think we grabbed one of the best offensive line prospects in the last decade, Luke Joeckel. Fisher was very impressive too, but Luke was our number one rated player, having dominated great competition in, again, the hardest conference in America, the SEC.”
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