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EJ Manuel, Rare Attributes, and the NFL Draft

Florida State Seminoles quarterback Manuel throws against the Northern Illinois Huskies in the first quarter during the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl NCAA football game in Miami

The NFL draft is this weekend and your (least) favorite clichés are running rampant.  “He is a special player!”  “He is a great leader!”  “He is a rare specimen!”  But what does any of that even mean?  What does it mean to be rare?  And why should anyone care?

Rare is important because it is economics in action.  Things that are in great supply have lower value; you can get them any ol’ time. Things that are scarce have higher value; think Calvin Johnson, who is a once in a generation specimen.  For the purposes of the NFL Draft, you want to acquire players with the RAREST possible attributes.  But how do we quantify rare?

Thanks to MockDraftable.com, we can quantify rare.  Using their measurable database you can compare prospects from 1999-2013 based on their combine workouts.   I think the best feature is the “similar players” box which provides a list of 10 comparable players along with an index of how similar those players are.  For example, if one of the comparable players has a 99% number next to their name that means the two are almost identical; if the number is 75% that means that the specific prospect is unique and that their physical profile is RARE in some way.

To demonstrate: Observe that Justin Blackmon’s tenth closest comparison is 91% similar to him.

Justin Blackmon rare

By comparison, Julio Jones’ tenth closest comparison is only 69% similar to him.  Julio is rare.  Justin is not.

Julio Jones rare

Missed out on Justin Blackmon?  I’ll bet you could call Chris Hannon or Will Franklin and ask them to come play on your team.  Meanwhile, all of Julio’s comparables (except Javon Walker) were on NFL rosters last year.  You get my drift?

Make no mistake, rare can cut both ways.  Rare can mean that they are the biggest, fastest, strongest dude to ever participate in the combine; or it could mean that they’re the slowest and least agile thing since the elephant.  But, in our search for rare, we have to start somewhere.  What follows are the the 2013 NFL prospects with the most rare physical profiles.  Note that in some cases, their top comp would be close, but the second would be much further away.  To adjust for this, I used the tenth closest comp to understand the cohort of similar players.  Also, it’s important to realize that football IQ and production are not factored into this.  Those are two critical pieces of the puzzle, but hopefully this can help you decipher between prospects who are being evaluated in the same range.  And if you don’t see your favorite prospect here, they’re probably on the “common list” which is coming shortly.

Running Back Tenth closest comp.
Christine Michael 67.8%
Robbie Rouse 68.6%
Latavius Murray 68.8%
Onterio Mccalebb 69.2%
Jawan Jamison 69.4%
Knile Davis 70.3%
Giovani Bernard 70.9%
Stepfan Taylor 71.3%
Miguel Maysonet 72.3%
Zac Stacy 72.5%
Rex Burkhead 73.0%
Michael Ford 73.2%
Mike James 73.6%
DJ Harper 73.9%
CLASS AVERAGE 76.3%

Christine Michael and Latavius Murray are good-rare.  Guys like Robbie Rouse and Jawan Jamison are bad-rare.  Everyone else is a shade of interesting.

Wide Receiver Tenth closest comp.
TJ Moe 66.5%
Darius Johnson 69.1%
Marquise Goodwin 69.4%
Ace Sanders 69.6%
Da’Rick Rogers 70.2%
Tavon Austin 70.7%
Alec Lemon 72.0%
Marcus Davis 72.1%
Tyrone Goard 72.1%
Josh Boyce 72.9%
Cobi Hamilton 73.2%
Brandon Kaufman 73.2%
Mark Harrison 73.7%
Rodney Smith 74.0%
Marquess Wilson 74.0%
Justin Hunter 74.5%
Deandre Hopkins 75.7%
CLASS AVERAGE 75.9%

Guys like Da’Rick Rogers and Mark Harrison are good-rare.  Alec Lemon and Cobi Hamilton are bad-rare.

Tight End Tenth closest comp.
Chris Gragg 66.6%
DC Jefferson 68.2%
Matt Furstenburg 68.5%
Joseph Fauria 68.7%
Vance Mcdonald 71.4%
Levine Toilolo 71.7%
Chris Pantale 72.5%
Tyler Eifert 73.0%
Dion Sims 74.5%
CLASS AVERAGE 75.0%

In this case, Chris Gragg and Tyler Eifert would be the good-rare.  Chris Pantale would be the bad-rare.

And just for fun, let’s check out the quarterbacks.  Obviously their combine numbers are a small piece of the puzzle.  But, if you determine that two guys are of similar passing ability, wouldn’t you want the more physically gifted one?

Quarterback Tenth closest comp.
Mike Glennon 68.2%
Matt Scott 68.3%
E.J. Manuel 70.6%
Marqueis Gray 72.8%
Ryan Nassib 75.7%
James Vandenberg 75.7%
Tyler Wilson 76.0%
Geno Smith 76.1%
CLASS AVERAGE 76.2%

As mentioned before, rare cuts both ways.  In the case of Glennon he is a bad kind of rare.  In the case of EJ Manuel he is a good kind of rare.  Everyone else falls somewhere in the middle of having some incredibly interesting attributes and some completely forgettable attributes.

(UPDATE) So, last night when the Bills made E.J. Manuel the first quarterback picked in the draft, they were essentially saying “Geno and Ryan, you are nice prospects, but your attributes are more common.  E.J. Manuel has a chance to be something you could never match.”

EJ Manuel md rareGeno Smith rare

Ryan nassib rare

When it comes to the NFL or fantasy football, you want to be acquiring the rarest possible assets.  There will always be 5’11”  200lb running backs that can run in the 4.5s.  What you’re looking for is a commodity that can’t easily be replaced.  So, next time you’re weighing the merits of a certain player, ask yourself, “what is rare about him?”  Your answer should help improve your decision making process.

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