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Tom Savage, Devin Street, Travis Greene, and The Little Caesars Bowl: “I Guarantee It!”
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With the NFL regular season winding down and the college football bowl season in full swing, we at RotoViz are beginning to transition our focus from 2013 to 2014. In particular, we’re in the middle of a series of Bowl Game Previews calling your attention to intriguing players in each contest. Here are the ones we’ve done so far (they still make for good reads):

As the bowl season progresses, more previews (and other pieces) may be found at my RotoViz Author Page. Want to compare one college WR with another? Check out our College Career Graph WR App. Want to talk about other college prospects? Hit me up on Twitter. And, yes, my name is really Matt Freedman. No, I’m not nine years old.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas. Let’s get to it!

The Little Caesars Bowl

Pittsburgh (6-6, ACC)
In October the legendary Gil Brandt called Pitt’s Tom Savagethe best QB prospect you’ve never heard of,” comparing him to Troy Aikman. The 6’5” and 230-lb 23-year-old redshirt senior certainly has the size to warrant an Aikman comparison—and both QBs transferred while in college—but that’s basically where the similarities end. Here are some efficiency stats from their final collegiate seasons:

Year

Player

College

Class

Pct

Peer Pct

Y/A

Peer Y/A

AY/A

Peer AY/A

2013

Tom Savage

Pittsburgh

rSR

61.2

60.618

7.5

7.3174

7.6

7.1233

*1988

Troy Aikman

UCLA

rSR

64.4

54.336

7.8

6.9766

8

5.8096

If you look at the raw numbers, I guess you could say something like, “Savage is basically just a less efficient Aikman,” but such a statement would totally ignore the contexts (separated by 25 years) in which the two QBs accumulated their stats. Compared to his peer group, Aikman was an utter stud on a per-pass basis—and that’s why he was the #1 pick in the 1989 Draft and became an eventual HOFer. Savage, meanwhile, has played only a notch above average in comparison to his peers. Maybe Savage has the potential to be a great NFL starter—but that potential hasn’t manifested itself in his college statistics.

After taking a lot of flak on Twitter for his high opinion of Pitt’s QB, in November Brandt restated his belief in Savage: “I can guarantee he’ll show up at the NFL Scouting Combine and impress.” Maybe. Here are a few points:

1) People who make guarantees about events over which they have no influence are crazy. They’re like lesser versions of the Men’s Wearhouse Bearded Dude, who himself is the poor man’s Most Interesting Man in the World. What does it mean for Brandt to say that he guarantees Savage’s success at the Combine? Is Gil the guy who’ll be catching Savage’s passes? I know he’s merely conveying his conviction by saying, “I can guarantee,” but he’s really overstating his case. I guarantee it.

2) Perhaps Savage actually will tear up his pre-draft workouts. What will that mean? Almost nothing. Lots of QBs do well before the draft. They’re supposed to. They’re throwing without the pressure of a pass rush or the need to read and react to a defense. A great combine doesn’t make a great NFL QB. Just ask JaMarcus Russell. He had a great workout before the draft and great college stats.

3) On the subject of stats, I should say that lots of stuff goes into a QB’s statistical performance. For instance, maybe he has a lot of his perfect passes dropped by incompetent WRs. Maybe his offensive coordinator doesn’t use his talents in an optimal manner. Maybe he never gets the opportunity to throw potential TD passes in the red zone. Lots of factors. So maybe it’s possible that, like Matt Ryan in 2008, Savage will enter the 2014 Draft with average stats and a solid workout and then eventually become a good NFL QB—but then again Ryan was a Heisman candidate with first-round hype, and (as 2013 suggests) maybe he’s not all that good anyway.

So I guess what I’m saying is this: Maybe Savage has merely flown under the radar, which would make sense, as the last time he started a game prior to this season was in 2010 during his sophomore year at Rutgers. (He transferred to Arizona in 2011 and then Pitt in 2012, sitting out both years.) Maybe, as Brandt says, Savage actually is the best QB prospect you’ve never heard of. I tend to think there’s a legitimate reason you’ve never heard of him: Most people don’t talk all that much about average QBs.

As it is, people tend to think that Savage’s two best WRs are pretty good. One of them, Tyler Boyd, is a freshman with over 1100 scrimmage yards this year. Keep an eye on him for the future. The other WR is Devin Street. The 6’4” and 195-lb redshirt senior has a Justin Hunter-esque build and accumulated 1000 scrimmage yards last year with 5 TDs and a 0.27 DR. Here are his 2013 stats:

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

DR Rec

DR Yds

DR TDs

Total DR

Games

51

854

16.7

7

0.26

0.35

0.39

0.37

10

Keeping in mind that he’s missed 2 games due to injury, I don’t think those stats are bad, especially his 0.37 DR. Still, I’d like to see him with a few more TDs and a little more weight. At a 195 lbs, he’ll need to have a good 40 time in pre-draft workouts to justify anything higher than a third-round pick—and even that feels high. He could have the upside of Sydney Rice—but to me he feels much more like Domenik Hixon.

Bowling Green (10-3, MAC)
The main guy to pay attention to on BGU’s team is Travis Greene, even though he’s only a 21-year-old redshirt sophomore and thus unlikely to declare for the 2014 Draft. I’m a little torn on Greene. Here are his stats from 2013, his first year of full-time action:

Att

RuYds

RuAvg

RuTD

Rec

ReYds

ReAvg

ReTD

Games

261

1555

6

11

16

145

9.1

2

13

Gotta love that production, right? Just over 20 att/g, with a strong rushing average and double-digit TDs. What’s not to love? Well, he’s small (I generally don’t like small RBs), has a relatively low nQBDR for a workhorse, and in particular scores a low percentage of his team’s TDs in comparison to the percentage of carries he receives:

Ht

Wt

nQBDR Carries

nQBDR Yds

nQBDR TDs

Tot nQBDR

Games

70

181

0.62

0.63

0.44

0.535

13

Remember in 2012, when Ronnie Hillman lost too much weight as a rookie and reportedly was playing at around 180 lbs? That’s what Greene feels like to me. But who knows? Maybe he’ll somehow become Warrick Dunn—but I think he’ll be lucky just to turn into Ronnie Hillman.

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