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Patriots at Falcons Game Thread: My Favorite Time of the Year

I got a late start today, for whatever reason (you don't care about.) Then I have a conference call. Then I have to figure out if I can appear on Northwest Cable News, because I would like to but I live outside the Seattle area. This is a long way of saying I might not be able to post again before the game thread tonight, and when football is on, I'm watching football.

This four-day stretch is perhaps my favorite all season. It's August. It's still beautiful out. The games do not matter except for the players with something to prove. And for four nights straight, I get to watch football. Hot damn do I love that fact.

In years past, this football orgy would coincide with a mini-bender. Each year the beer has gotten better and less plentiful, and my interest has more and more centered on the talent.

Speaking of the talent:

Covering the draft has made me a fan of every team in the NFL. Not a fan-fan. More like, I appreciate every team in the NFL. Players I root for populate every team. And so do players I am interested in because, well, because I did not like them as a prospect. I do not root against these players, but I remain interested. If I'm wrong, I need to know why. And if I'm right, I need to know why, too.

Tonight's game features quite a few players I am invested in. Here is a partial list and why:

Sam Baker

I threw a lot of support behind Baker at a time when rumors were swirling that he could fall into the third round. That seemed ludicrous at the time, but with a little perspective, I realize now that players like Baker do in fact fall and sometimes for no obvious reason. This was the draft, 2008, I was pushing really hard for Seattle to draft a left tackle and Baker was a good mix of Ruskell-approved and likely-available at Seattle's pick. Baker has not been bad, but neither has he been the rock I hoped he would be. He helped me recalibrate my eye for offensive tackle talent. I used to see it as a skill-first position, but I now see it as very tools dependent. The left tackle typically squares off against one of if not the most athletically gifted player on defense, and all the skills in the world do not cover for poor agility or poor power.

Jamaal Anderson

It seems unlikely that Anderson will play, but Anderson, along with Amobi Okoye, helped be learn that very young players can sometimes struggle at first compared to their older classmates. Especially young players playing strength-dependent positions. There is a certain common sense in that, but that common sense seems to escape people. Anderson has been deemed a bust, and he has been a bust thus far for the Falcons.

The more interesting question might be, if a player is likely to struggle at first, or if some players at certain positions are likely to struggle at first, should it hurt their draft stock? Think: Chris Spencer. Does it make sense to draft a player at a position that so often peaks late? Anderson is entering the fourth year of a five year contract. He has struggled throughout his first three seasons. At most, the Falcons can salvage their investment, and if Anderson does turn it on and the Falcons do salvage their investment, they are stuck with a player that will become a free agent just as he is entering his peak seasons.

Justin Blalock

Blalock was the star of my original size-acceleration metric. The idea of combining size and speed into a single measure was later used in Bill Barnwell's "Speed Score." I take a more nuanced approach to scouting players now, but the synthesis of size and speed and how it represents explosive force is something I look for at all positions. It seems like a decent proxy for quick-twitch strength.

Last I checked, Blalock is among the best young guards in football.

Michael Jenkins, Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner

All players that for different reasons helped to illuminate the limitations of statistics, and specifically, how they can deceive.

Periah Jerry

Jerry is the opposite of Anderson: Jerry is 25 and turns 26 in October. I hated this pick. I hated this pick not because Jerry is bad, but because one expects a 24 year old man to be able to dominate college kids. I thought Jerry's potential was limited and that we has overvalued. He missed most of his rookie season, and so I am very interested in seeing how he plays. It is his second season and he is already nearing his athletic prime. Good? Bad? Plug and play or undermined by a shorter development curve? I don't know.

The Patriots drafted quite a few players I thought were quality prospects.

Patrick Chung

Loved his athleticism and awareness, but kid was super unpolished. There was a time I tracked every safety in every class, I was so desperate for Seattle to improve its talent. Chung was a personal favorite.

Taylor Price

With Golden Tate, my favorite wide receiver prospect from this last class. When I say favorite, I do not mean the one I think is the absolute best, though I think Price has the potential to be the best, but rather the best value for projected draft slot. Price fell to the third. I am very interested in how he develops. Like Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, I think his true talent might have been hidden by poor quarterback play.

Zac Robinson

Robinson is a funny story: He is attractive because of his tools and makeup, but he crumbled at the end of his senior season. So, tools and makeup or raw performance? Worth a 7th round pick anyway.

Brandon Spikes

Spikes is a classic "slow" player. He is slow, especially after about 20 yards. But people mistakenly conflate footspeed with athleticism. Spikes has a ton of tools, and excelled in college. I think he can be an All-Pro inside linebacker.

Ron Brace

Brace was the lesser half of the Brace - B.J. Raji duo. The two ruled at Boston College. Brace looked good, while Raji looked special. I was surprised when Raji worked his way into the top ten. Brace is interesting because teammates can improve teammates while not being flashy themselves. He seems like a classic trench warrior that people ignore, but consumes blocks while teammates make plays. I want to see if Brace was perhaps unheralded in the hype surrounding Raji.

Rob Gronkowski

Quintessential second-round pick: good tools, good production, great makeup--Quintessential Tim Ruskell second round pick. Gronkowski lacks a great ceiling, but he also seems likely to fulfill his potential. Just how valuable is that? And, in a sport so dominated by injuries, can a player ever be a safe pick?

Anyway, this is football paradise for me. So excuse me while I indulge.