Random Rumblings: May 5th

Happy Cinco de Mayo! A day that gives Americans the excuse to wear sombreros, eat tacos and drink tequila! Oh come on, guy! Don't be so cynical. Me? Cynical? Whoever said there was anything wrong with that?! Tacos are great. Tequila is great. Sombreros on white people? Questionable at best.

Jordan Reed gets extended

The Redskins and tight end Jordan Reed reportedly agreed to a 5-year, $50 million extension this morning. A reported roughly $22 of that is guaranteed. Reed is one of the best weapons in football, regardless of position, but has an extensive injury history including multiple concussions. This was a win for both sides. Reed gets money now. The Redskins make sure he can't hit free agency next summer. 

Reed's a special, special route runner. His combo of size, speed and precision basically makes him impossible to cover one-on-one. Linebackers and safeties have no shot at sticking with his speed and quickness. 

Corners are too small, but even late in the year last year he was juking them out of their shoes.

Reed is an elite red zone threat because he can do everything. He's lightning quick on slant routes if a defender protects against the fade. If the fade is there, the former basketball player (who is still apparently an exceptional pickup player) is winning the jump ball more often than not. He can do all of that from the tight end spot, the slot or outside. 

Johnny in Jail

Johnny Manziel was arraigned this morning on misdemeanor domestic violence charges and he apparently thinks that's funny. Yesterday, Manziel tuned himself in and took a mug shot. He joked on Twitter "at least I had a shirt this time" referring to his last mugshot following an arrest in college. 

He quickly deleted the tweet, probably after being told to do so by his attorney, but the fact that he put it out there at all is another sentence in the story of his demise. I thought Manziel would be fine when he got to the NFL because he always seemed to know what was right. He would screw up, but say the right things after. He knew what to do, but didn't seem interested in actually doing it because he was a kid and didn't care.

That was obviously a gross miscalculation. Manziel is something beyond immature and truly thinks he's bullet proof. He no longer even bothers saying the right things, instead saying it's everyone else who has it all wrong and his self-destructive behavior isn't a problem at all. Multiple people have tried to get through to Manziel, but it seems the only way to get inside his brain is to tell him what he wants to hear.

The tweet, which completely disregards the seriousness of the situation, is right on character for former quarterback. He's no longer a football player. He's a man accused of kidnapping, threatening to kill and hitting his ex-girlfriend so hard that he ruptured her ear drum.

I'm not sure how he's not facing multiple felony charges, but it would seem it's because the DA thinks he's more convictable on these. If he is found guilty, he could face up to a year in jail. Maybe then he would hit rock bottom, but trying to predict how the world will turn for Johnny Manziel is a business I have no interest in.

Frank Vogel

The Pacers have decided not to renew the contract of coach Frank Vogel. This seems like a pretty obvious mistake. Vogel is an outstanding coach. Allow me to present you his resume:

  • Took team whose second best offensive player was Lance Stephenson to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

That's it. That's all you need. There's an argument to be made that David West was the second best offensive player on that team, but Lance and his basketball pants certainly was the second best shot creator behind Paul George and taking a team with that limited of an offensive arsenal to the NBA's final four is pretty remarkable. 

Vogel helped develop Stephenson into something useful. He helped develop Roy Hibbert into an all-star. He developed Paul George into a superstar, twice! He's a great defensive coach, a terrific talent developer and some NBA team is going to be very lucky to have him. 

The Rockets will certainly be interested after losing out on Scott Brooks. The Wizards pushed hard to sign Brooks before the Rickets were eliminated, and thus in the mix. They probably regret that decision on some small level, or at least they should. Vogel is a better coach. 

The Knicks should absolutely want Vogel, but given he's not a triangle guy, Phil Jackson probably won't look at him. He's the exact guy I would want in charge of Kristaps Porzingis's development. The Kings should push hard too, although Vogel will likely stray away from the NBA's biggest dumpster fire. 

Evaluating Evaluation

It's draft season, both in the NBA and the NFL meaning evaluations of players are flying. Everyone, from general managers of the actual teams to amateur scouts on the internet are putting out their reports. Some of those amateur scouts will somehow have better results than those professionals whose very jobs it is to nail those evaluations.

How is that possible? I have no idea and that will become increasingly clear as you read the rest of this post. That is because evaluating talent is as much about who a person is as what they do on the field. Team personnel (and professional media evaluators like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay) get to talk to the draftees, their college coaches and the people around them. The amateurs on the internet? They might know a guy somewhere, but likely they're watching tape and drawing conclusions.

So how is it that the professionals can so wildly miss? Simple. It's hard to evaluate how a human being will grow from the time they are 21 or 22 (or in the NBA's case, 19) over the next ten years of their life, but knowing what to look for is half the battle.

The genesis of this post started a few weeks ago as I heard people talk about evaluating quarterbacks. Talk show hosts and the like love talking about measurables. Carson Wentz from North Dakota State has "prototypical size" and a cannon for an arm. Those are great, but when it comes to the quarterback position, the number one attribute is decision making.

I would rather have a quarterback with an average arm that is smart and decisive than one who has the physical tools and hope that the second guy can figure it out. Everything happens in the NFL at extraordinary speed. The margin for error is nearly non-existent. A quarterback must read coverage, determine where to throw the ball and deliver without hesitation. So long that he can do that, and has a baseline requisite arm to do so, he's going to succeed. The difference in arm strength between average and good isn't enough to make up for the difference in decision making between good and average.

While the decision making trait is unique to quarterbacks, there is another set of mental traits that is just as important as any other physical trait when evaluating talent. It's described perfectly by Redskins GM Scot McCloughan in a Q&A with Bleacher Report's Jason Cole.
You watch five or 10 plays, you can see the physical skills. You can see it pretty quick. If it’s a receiver running a route or a pass-rusher, you can see him drop his hips, that kind of stuff. That’s the easy part. The tough part is figuring out the person. Is he a competitor? What’s his toughness? What’s his mindset? I’ve been around long enough, which is great because I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve learned from them, but what makes a guy average to good, good to great and great to exceptional? That’s the hard part because the talent is there. Every year, you see guys come out, and they are physically gifted, bigger than life, whatever. But you also see guys who are in the sixth or seventh (round), or they are college free agents, and they play 10 years while the other guy plays two. It’s the "it" factor, and it’s hard to find. It’s really hard to find.
McCloughan's theory is true in other sports as well. Think of the great athletes and what you think of first with them. Whether is Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, Jerry Rice or any other number of legitimate all-time greats, the first thing you hear about is their work ethic. It's how Stephen Curry elevated himself to the top of the basketball world. He had a set of natural skills that he enhanced by an immense amount of work. He wanted to be great. He loves the game. He put in the work. He is great.

These characteristics can continue to play out into a players career in a negative way as well. While Curry and the others mentioned (and many more) continually improve as they go, other players can't seem to be bothered too.

Josh Gordon led the NFL in receiving in 2013. He's played in five games since. Gordon has been suspended multiple times for failed drug tests, and while reading Gordon's accounts of his downfall creates sympathy and empathy, it also makes you take a step back and go "hey guy...figure it out!" For someone that seems to so clearly understand the circumstances around his peril, he's awful at avoiding it.

That continues to this week's news when it was revealed Gordon is reportedly living with Johnny Manziel, a walking embodiment of a similar theory. (Update: the report, from ESPN, is false according to another report from Pro Football Talk, so credit to back in Gordon's corner if it is. He still did something to have his re-instatement denied. He can appeal August 1st.)

Manziel is a master (well, until this week) of saying the right thing while doing nothing of what he says. Both of them have an optics problem and neither seems particularly interested, based on their actions, of fixing them. I should be perfectly clear here that the Manziel optics problem doesn't include his domestic violence which is a real problem that, if it played out as reported based on his ex-girlfriend's accounts, should land him in jail, nevertheless out of football.

Evaluators need to be able to identify players, or more accurately people, like Gordon and Manziel so they know not to invest vast resources in acquiring them. They also need to know that if they do acquire them with low resources (whether that be a late round pick or a low dollar contract) that they will need to invest a high number of resources to help the player succeed. The results when this is done right can be magical.

Dez Bryant dropped in the draft because he was "high-risk" coming out of Oklahoma State. Bryant has succeeded because he loves football above all else (which is a credit to him and him alone) and because the Cowboys set up a support system to make sure that he had the highest chance possible to succeed as he adjusted to a new life.

Of course the difference between Bryant, Gordon and Manziel is that only one of them has football as their highest priority. In a profession with such a short career span that requires an inordinate amount of physical dedication, that's something an evaluator has to identify.

It's why Kristaps Porzingis will succeed in the NBA and countless other European players haven't. The busts fail for the same reason many American born players have. They just don't love the game. Often these are big men who play because they're big. They can succeed without immense work because their physical stature gives them such an inherent advantage at the lower levels. In order to succeed in the world's highest level professional league, even the most gifted physical players need to have a work ethic to maximize their talent.

Porzingis loves the game. He's had early success and I'll be shocked if he doesn't continue to improve. The same is true for Karl-Anthony Towns. Last year's #1 overall pick has been glued to Kevin Garnett, who is as much coach as he is player at this point, trying to learn what's made the 15-time All-Star successful.

So as you read the latest mock draft to see who your favorite team is going to take, make sure to read the whole scouting report. Don't just look at 40-times and verticals. Take a look at the personality section. Do they love the sport? Do they value being a good teammate? Will they be a positive influence on your team's culture?

If you want to put on your amateur scouting hat, don't just watch a highlight tape. Watch how hard they play. Read and watch interviews with the player to see what kind of answers they give. What's their attention to detail?

If scouting was solely about finding the best physical specimens, it'd be pretty easy. Everyone would have the same lists. However sports are played by human beings which means there are human dynamics at play and the ability to find and project talent is an extremely valuable talent in its own right.

Inevitably, someone will cost themselves their job (and the jobs of those below them) because of ego. General manager X will think he's the one who's got it all figured out. He's the one who can take the physically gifted kid and mold all that "talent" into a great player. What the great talent evaluators have figured out is that "talent" is overrated. They want the guys who can think the game so effortlessly that they don't have to think at all, maximizing the physical ability they have leading to success.

As a fan, just hope that person isn't running your team. If they are, don't worry though. They won't be for long.

2-22 Hoffman and Platt

Jeff and I are live Saturdays at 2 pm CT on 103.3 FM in Dallas and online at KESN1033.com. Follow along on twitter @craighoffman and @jeffplatt. We'll also be taking calls at 855-787-1033 and you can text the show at 64636. Type "ESPN" and then your message. Here's what we're doing on Feb. 15th:

2:00 - Mavs discussion
  • The Mavs get LeBron'd, survive a turnover plagued first half to beat Philly and get ready for Detroit
  • Dirk Nowtiski sits down with Bill Simmons - watch here.

2:15 - Cowboys - Keeping up with the Joneses
  • The initial installment of "Keeping up with the Joneses," trying to make sense of the senseless statements made by Stephen and Jerry Jones.
  • Just as senselessly, Jason Garrett tries to explain the Cowboys off-season thus far

2:30 - Richard Durrett live from Surprise
  • It was a bad, injury plagued week to open Spring Training. We get the latest from ESPN.com's Rangers insider.

2:45 - Best of the Six Pack
  • The top "other" stories from the week in sports and entertainment.

3:00 - Amin Elhassan/"Things that make you go hmm"
  • ESPN NBA Insider Amin Elhassan joins us as the "smart basketball guest of the week"
  • The opposite of smart is dumb. We look at some of the things that made us go "hmm" this week.

3:15 - Johnny Manziel/"Talk To Me"
  • We discuss Johnny Manziel's day in front of the microphone at the NFL Combine
  • The most fun we have all day, "Talk to Me" - you call, we answer and that's about it.

3:30 - Mavs at the deadline/"Hoffman’s Guide to college hoops"
  • The Mavs stand pat at the trade deadline. How close were they? Will they add players as contracts around the league are bought out?
  • Your weekly look at college hoops, "Hoffman's Guide to College Hoops" has its eyes on Syracuse/Duke, Kansas/Texas and Marcus Smart's return

3:45 - The NFL Combine - Platt Style/"One Last Thing"
  • If you can bet on something, Jeff knows about it. You can bet on the NFL combine. We'll look at some of the fun you can have.
  • My final take on a topic we saw this week. This week? How to properly use the NFL combine.
We hope you'll join us!