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Critiquing Mike Mayock's Top 5 Running Backs

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. -Andre Gide

The combine starts next week. With it begins that deluge of rumor, speculation and misinformation that comprises the pre-NFL draft. The entire foofaraw is a textbook example of argumentum verbosium with every draftnik with a horse jockeying to out bullcrap each other. I'm not attempting to impugn the whole scouting community, some, even most, no doubt, just want to be right. But right and honest are different daemons with different agendas. My point is that over the next few weeks it's best to keep a healthy skepticism about anyone's analysis of who is a stud or dud - including mine. I do my best to find the truth, but truth is a momentary quality. If I see Sam Baker play well over the course of three games it doesn't mean that Baker is and forever will be a stud left tackle, it just means this is what I saw, this is what I think it means. That plus a little rhetorical flare sounds awful cogent, but it's only information + opinion. That's what I do. That's what any writer does, even those who hide behind the veil of objectivity.

Anyway, enough naval gazing. I state all this because it's incumbent of me these next two months to state my opinions and argue those of others. This is a link I happened upon while skimming Blogging the Boys of Mike Mayock's take on the top five running backs in the NFL draft. And my response to his analysis.

Any real evaluation of a player must include all plays, not just highlights and lowlights. The use of lowlights to emphasize a weakness is no more accurate than the use of highlights to emphasize a player's strength. Mayock uses this bit of deception when he shows Jones being tackled saying "you have to make this play 10 out of 10 times". No one makes any play 10 out of 10 times. He's implying that because he gets tackled on this play that Jones is missing an ability, but one could take one play from any player who's ever played the game, say they should "make that play 10 out of 10 times" and paint an inaccurate portrait of that player. This is a basic fallacy of accident, where Mayock implies that this play can't be an exception, but must be indicative of a larger weakness.

The play where "McFadden's supposed to fly, Highsmith almost caught him" is highly deceptive and makes me both wonder about and question Mayock's scouting. First, Highsmith posted a 4.5 40 in high school. He is one of the fastest linebackers in the NCAA, something that should be stated. More importantly, if you look at the play it's clear that Highsmith is not faster than McFadden but because of simple geometry is running a shorter route to their meeting point than McFadden. Watch the clip again, McFadden cuts in, the linebacker is already inside of McFadden, so McFadden is running toward the linebacker in a horizontal sense - that's the only reason the linebacker even gets close to McFadden. I'm not super-high on McFadden, for other reasons, but that clip, framed as it was is more deception than scouting.

I'm not discrediting Mayock outright, but we should be wary of this type of analysis. Highlights, lowlights, special framing and broad declarations are more hype than analysis.

I've often thought to myself what I would tell someone who asked how they could better understand football, and the response I keep coming up with is "trust your eyes, not your memory." I didn't need any special training to start evaluating players, I just watched them play, over and over, and took down notes. Notes are good. Little that happens in the NFL is so complex or specialized that it should be beyond the grasp of an average fan. What I think persistently fudges good evidence broadcast for free into millions of homes is half-assed commentary, highlight packages and the weaknesses of human memory. We tend to remember the vivid rather than the consistent. That's why I think if you want to be a better draft scout or NFL fan you'd be well served trusting your eyes and not your memory. See if you can't find whole games to watch, not highlight (or lowlight) packages. Don't be afraid to be wrong. Wrong is good, if you can admit to it. That's what I'll try to do, anyhow.