Friday, July 13, 2012

17 Sentences on Whether Chris Clemons is Really Underrated

Pro Football Weekly saluted Seattle DE Chris Clemons as the NFL's most underrated player today, continuing a trend of grudging but increasing respect from the national media as they slowly realize that Pete Carroll is NOT, in fact, just signing every USC alumi he can find.

I'm usually one of those annoying posers who dismisses production that doesn't appear to be sustainable, and indeed the Clemons' label as "NFL's most underrated" has a few people cocking their heads. Clemons gets a lot of his sacks on blitzes and on specific but seemingly random third downs (and against the Rams), gets shut down a lot on double teams, and has a rather limited toolbox (quick first step, great closing speed amongst them) that doesn't remind one of a complete DE. He also rarely does anything besides rush the passer, which might lead to inflated results and the question of whether Clemons is a true talent or merely benefiting from Seattle's defensive scheme.

But this is where I keep ending up with that question: who cares? At some point, arguing with results becomes churlish. Clemons has produced 11 sacks for each of the last two seasons since being traded from Philly for peanuts. He's accomplished this as the team's sole dedicated pass rusher. The horrifying gash people predicted in our run defense's left side due to Clemons' middling weight, has never really materialized. Getting double teamed isn't a failure for a DE - it's a success that opens up blitzing lanes and opportunities for the interior rushers. He's either talented enough to overcome his limits and create value, or he's being enabled by the one-on-one matchups the scheme affords him, which isn't necessarily a red alert.

Now, insert another dedicated pass rusher in Bruce Irvin (and some grease for the wheels of Clemons' new contract) and see what happens.

If you want a vote for most OVERRATED player on the Seahawks, I'd have to go with Ricardo Lockette. It says great things about this team that its most overrated player is only a backup WR, but it's mind-boggling the goodwill that Lockette has gotten by catching 2 passes on go routes. Most UDFA fliers could probably do that in two NFL games, and what it says about that WR is not significantly different from nothing. Add that Hawk Blogger has hinted that he's still dropping too many passes to assure a roster spot, and I'm astonished that people are (already) projecting him as an NFL starter. John Schneider must be pretty confident with someone in this group.

Six Possible QB Depth Charts

Recently, a "math" friend and I have been playing with probability questions that go against intuition. Probably the most famous is the Monty Hall Problem, based on the Let's Make a Deal TV show with doors numbered one, two, and three...

Let's say one of the three doors is a winner and the other two are "zonks". You pick a door at random, say door number three. Now the host reveals that one of the unpicked doors, say door number one, is a zonk and he offers you the chance to switch to the remaining door, door number two. Should you switch?

Most people feel that the odds are the same, or even better, sticking with door number three. Bzzt. Wrong answer. The odds when you picked door number three were 1 in 3. That doesn't change when the host reveals that door number one is a zonk. That means that the odds of door number two having the winner is now 2 in 3, given that a closed set of probabilities always add up to 1. So given the choice, always switch!

It doesn't make intuitive sense, but the math proves it out. They even tested it on Myth Busters, and practice matches theory. Hey, if Myth Busters proved it, it has to be true!

So that brings us to the Seahawk's quarterback situation. Who is behind doors number one, two, and three? More importantly, what does the organization do after they announce the starter?

So... there are six possible combinations. Using "F" as shorthand for Flynn, "J" for Jackson, and "W" for Wilson, we have FJW, FWJ, JFW, JWF, WFJ, and WJF. We can guess that FJW is the most likely: Flynn makes the most money and has experience behind the league's best QB, Jackson has the most experience but a limited ceiling, and Wilson doesn't just lack height; he lacks experience too. But the fact of the matter is that we fans have no idea. We haven't seen all three in meeting rooms, on the practice field, or in game situations with this offense. It's virtually even-steven, so I'm not going to put odds on who starts.

The more interesting thing is to look at who ends up in third place. That's what will determine the organizational moves.

Let's say it's FJW or JFW. Wilson is in last place. The (unbiased) odds are 1 in 3. If so, Flynn/Jackson end up as the starter and backup combo. According to Schneider, Wilson was a "must get" in the draft. That leaves Portis as the odd man out. He's either cut or put on the practice squad from which he will likely get snatched up by another team. Wilson is kept on the 53 man roster to keep him from being lost and to develop as a future starter/backup.

So far, Portis has a 1 in 3 chance of not being a Seahawk.

Next, lets assume that Jackson ends up in last place with FWJ or WFJ. If that happens, TJack gets cut. He would have no future. Portis is put on the 53 to protect him, since Portis would have more future upside than dead-end Jackson.

Now we can add a 1 in 3 chance that Jackson is gone.

Finally, we have Flynn tanking with JWF or WJF. This is a tough call. The team must either cut Flynn or lose Portis. With Portis as the #4 and all that guaranteed money to Flynn, I think Portis is gone and Flynn stays on the 53 as we try to improve his game. If Flynn doesn't improve, he could get cut the next year. If Flynn is on the bottom of the totem pole this year, I say there's a 50/50 chance he gets cut the following year.

So, given unbiased odds, I've got a 2 of 3 chance that Portis walks, and a 1 in 3 chance that Jackson is gone this year. We also have something like a 1 in 6 chance that Flynn is cut the following year.

The interesting thing is that I don't have any scenario where Wilson is cut in the near future. He's the only guy with job security. Portis, on the other hand, shouldn't buy a new house in Seattle and might think about a pre-move yard sale. His only chance to stay is if TJack fails.

The thing is, when Carroll announces the starter, he will be mum on who "placed" and who "showed." The way we will figure out the order of the number two and three spots will be based on contract moves from Schneider's office.

If there's a moral to the story, it's this: When you want to be the prize on Let's Make a Deal, don't stand behind door number four. Also, when you have the most experience, don't dare come in third place.