The Dissenting Costanzan #3: De’Anthony Thomas, 40 Times, and Philip Rivers

Black Mamba

Seinfeld, Season 3, Episode 16, “The Fix Up.”

George: What does she look like? . . . What kind of hair?

Jerry: You know, long dark hair. . . .

George: Is it flowing? I like flowing, cascading hair. [Combs his hair with his fingers.] Thick lustrous hair is very important to me. . . .  

Jerry: She’s got great eyebrows. Women kill to have her eyebrows.

George: Who cares about eyebrows?

The Dissenting Costanzan is a new semi-regular series in which I as RotoViz’s (un)official ombudsman will examine or call into question some of the arguments, assumptions, evidence, logic, methodologies, and pop culture references made recently on our site. In general, we at RotoViz desire for our posts to be as Costanza-proof as possible—for them to be able to withstand the (dare I say) bald pessimistic, caustic, and probingly meta-concerned deconstructionist post-postmodern inspection of the most Costanza-like reader imaginable. Why “The Dissenting Costanzan”?—why not???

Is De’Anthony Thomas at All Like Randall Cobb?

Shawn Siegele recently wrote an excellent post on De’Anthony Thomas, suggesting that Kansas City’s fourth-round pick is similar to Randall Cobb and other RB/WR hybrids. Shawn has convinced me that, as a versatile all-purpose player, Thomas is comparable to other RB/WR hybrids in terms of his collegiate rushing, receiving, and kick and punt returning production and abilities—but I do have questions about whether rostering Thomas is actually a low-cost arbitrage-esque way of playing the Randall Cobb market.

To start: Even though their production numbers are similar enough, is Thomas actually similar to Cobb as first a prospect and then NFL rookie? Here’s a table that highlights some of their crucial differences:

Name

Ht

Wt

Combine 40 Time

Round Drafted

College Position

NFL Position

Randall Cobb

70

191

4.46

2

WR

WR

De’Anthony Thomas

69

174

4.5

4

RB

RB?

Cobb is a taller, potentially1 significantly bigger, faster, higher-drafted player—and he was drafted to play a specific position. Despite their similar multi-faceted college production, do they seem similar?

Specifically, the issue of weight seems important. Cobb is 17 lbs. heavier, which makes him—though small—look like The Hulk when he’s compared to Thomas. If we were analyzing two “normal” prototypical WRs, and one were 200 lbs. and the other 217 lbs., most RotoViz contributors would insist that the difference in weight were crucial. Why not in this instance?—especially since every lb. means more to smaller WRs? And since these guys weigh less, wouldn’t that 17 lbs. represent a greater percentage difference between the two? Why should that difference in weight not matter for WR/RB hybrids?

The issue of their 40 times seems important too. This article used Thomas’ pro day 40 (a vastly improved 4.38 seconds), and he has some good reasons for doing so, since it’s possible that the pro day 40 time is more reflective of his athleticism than his combine 40 time is. Still, I have questions: is it fair to use the pro day (and perhaps less trustworthy) 40 time when an electronic time from the combine is available?2 And what about uniformity? When only a combine 40 time is available for Cobb, should we use only combine 40 time to ensure that the comparison is uniform?3 Finally, is it best to use only one 40 time for a prospect, in this instance Thomas’ pro day time, instead of an average of all available 40 times? I don’t have a problem with exclusively using a pro day 40 time, but we should do some work to show that using a pro day 40 time (or the best 40 time available) provides better prospect analysis.4

And the issue of position is very important. Shawn particularly argues that Thomas is dramatically undervalued because he 1) will probably inherit Dexter McCluster’s old role and 2) is RB-eligible. I agree that Thomas is certainly versatile enough to play receiver, but I don’t know if we can assume safely that Thomas (drafted presumably to play running back) will automatically inherit the 8 carries and 53 receptions that McCluster got last year (as exclusively a slot receiver). Did Thomas see the bulk of his rookie minicamp action at WR?—and has Andy Reid said anything about how natural Thomas is as a receiver and how the Chiefs will look to use him heavily in that role? Thomas could inherit McCluster’s role, but it doesn’t seem certain right now.

I agree with Shawn that Thomas will be intriguing if he’s essentially an RB-eligible slot receiver (even though relying on rookie receivers is dangerous). In fact, if things get really weird, he’ll even be intriguing if he’s a WR-eligible pass-catching RB, like Danny Woodhead in 2010 when he moved from the Jets to the Patriots—or McCluster in 2011, when he played “WR” and got 114 carries and 46 receptions. But if Thomas is designated as an RB and then isn’t used as a WR in disguise—basically, if he’s used as a change-of-pace RB—will he actually be dramatically undervalued?

Probably not, because in recent history no sub-180-lb. RB has succeeded in the NFL. Sub-180-lb. WRs? Sure. Just look at DeSean Jackson last year—and that’s intriguing because Reid drafted him and he played in Chip Kelly’s offense last year, so there’s significant overlap between D-Jax and Thomas—but D-Jax was also selected in Round 2 as a WR and ran the 40 in 4.35 seconds at the combine—so are they even that similar?

Note that out of the 4 hybrid players to whom Thomas is compared, all of them are WRs who were drafted no later than Round 2—and the guys who are successful (Cobb and Percy Harvin) weigh more than 190 lbs., and the guys who haven’t had success yet (McCluster and Tavon Austin) weigh less than 175 lbs.—and, of those last two guys, Austin (the guy with more promise) has a combine 40 time of 4.34 seconds, and McCluster’s combine 40 time was 4.58 seconds. So . . . is a fourth-round RB—with no news that he’ll play any other position (except return man)—actually similar to 4 highly drafted WRs?—and what does it mean that the guy to whom he’s most similar (McCluster), in fact the guy he would directly replace if all went well, is the smallest, slowest, and least successful of the comp group?

In some ways Thomas is comparable to Cobb—but making the comparison raises lots of questions, such as this final one: If looking to play the Cobb market with a cheap RB/WR-ish McCluster-substitute 2014 rookie, why not make an argument for Dri Archer, who will play for Todd Haley (who drafted McCluster) and is similar to Thomas in weight, production, and versatility but is much faster, was drafted a round higher, and is probably even cheaper in rookie drafts? Well, I guess Shawn already did. For that matter, I did too.

How Do We Gather, Analyze, Order, and Present Our 40 Time Data?

40 times matter, so even though this question immediately arises from Shawn’s use of Thomas’ pro day 40 time it’s been in my head for a while, especially since I majorly slipped up on 40 times in an early RV piece on Isaiah Pead, using a comparison of official combine 40 times for some and unofficial combine 40 times for others. I got called out for this—as I should’ve been—but it wasn’t entirely my fault.

The site from which I gathered data was inconsistent—and it’s still inconsistent. For some players it provides official times while for others (even if they were drafted in the same year) it provides unofficial times. For some years the majority of the prospects will have either official or unofficial 40 times—but for other years it’s a mix. Additionally, the site doesn’t adjust the weight of players from the combine to their pro days. Needless to say, these details matter, and unfortunately this is the site that lots of people use for finding workout data—and it’s even the site on which other sites that provide workout data base most of their information. In short, it’s a frakking minefield.

Wouldn’t RotoViz and its readers be well-served if we internally created a standardized way for gathering workout data?—for instance, if we decided (when looking for combine data) to use only the information on NFL.com’s player combine profiles, or at least to use that as the primary source? Or why not make it standard practice for us (when looking for pro day data) to find information, when possible, from more than one source to ensure accuracy?—why not see what we can find at NFL.com, CBSSports.com, and even local blogs? Better yet, why shouldn’t RotoViz on its own just collect this data and then compile it for the use of its contributors and subscribers; that way we no longer need to worry about whether we have the “right” 40 time? We’ll know which 40 times we’re using.

Further, shouldn’t RotoViz consider coming up with a standardized process for how and when certain 40 times should be used? For instance, should we just average all available 40 times for a prospect and use that average as his 40 time? Should we use only official combine 40 times when they’re available and ignore any existing pro day data? If the subject of a post ran a 40 at the combine and a pro day, should we present both 40 times of other players when making comparisons? If a guy has only a hand-timed 40 from a pro day, should we use only pro day 40 times of other comparable players—or could we potentially use their unofficial combine 40 times, since those are also recorded by hand?

In short, how can we make the ways in which we gather, analyze, order, and present our 40 time data—and really all our data—as scientific as possible?

Are We Too Low on Philip Rivers?

RotoViz recently released its Composite Redraft QB Rankings—a great resource—but as a staff we have Philip Rivers ranked #14, and we might be selling him short.

Here’s data on Rivers that might intrigue you:

Year

Age

G

FantPt

PosRank

2006

25

16

212

8

2007

26

16

189

16

2008

27

16

287

3

2009

28

16

275

7

2010

29

16

290

4

2011

30

16

265

9

2012

31

16

208

21

2013

32

16

287

5

Avg

28.5

16

251.6

9.1

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

If you look at the averages I’ve provided, you’ll notice that since Rivers became a starter in 2006 he hasn’t missed a game, he’s averaged over 250 fantasy points per season, and he’s on average been a top-10 QB across that timeframe—and that includes his disastrous 2012. Specifically, Rivers has finished 6 of the last 8 seasons as a top-10 QB and 3 of those seasons as a top-5 QB, including last year, when he was a Waiver Wire Wonder and the (unknown) King of the Fantasy World.

What Rivers has done over the course of the last 8 years might not be indicative of what he’ll do in 2014—but as a staff we seem to be 1) holding on strongly to the memory of 2012 and 2) discounting the reality of 2013. In effect, are we saying that what happened two years ago is more important than what happened both over the last eight years and just a year ago?

Has Rivers’ situation worsened noticeably since the end of last season?—is that why his ranking is low? No. Actually, his situation has arguably improved. He has yet another year to gain comfort in the offense of Mike McCoy—you know, the guy who turned Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow into low-end fantasy QB1s—and now Rivers has five good pass-catching RBs (Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, Marion Grice, and Kerwynn Williams), three of whom were top-30 RBs last year—and he’s also got Keenan Allen, who is moving into his second season after a 1000-yard rookie campaign; the reliable Antonio Gates, who is coming off another top-10 season; the Graham-in-the-making Ladarius Green, who is capable of becoming a force whenever the Chargers choose to unleash him; the potentially revived Eddie Royal, who pitched in last year with 650 yards and 8 scores; and the returning big-bodied deep threat, Malcom Floyd, who was a strong complementary top-40 WR for years before his 2013 injury.

Given that Rivers was the #5 QB last year and that his situation hasn’t worsened (and has potentially improved) in the offseason, on what grounds are we ranking him the #14 QB for next year? It’s possible that Rivers deserves to be the #14 QB—but an explanation might be needed.

  1. De’Anthony ran a 4.34-4.39 at his pro day  (back)
  2. In playing Devil’s Advocate to myself, I’ll also acknowledge that perhaps the electronic 40 time isn’t the best possible measure of a player’s speed.  (back)
  3. This is what I’ve done in my comparison above, but I’m not sure if that’s even the best solution. It’s just the decision I’ve made for this example.  (back)
  4. And, in all fairness, this question could be legitimately asked of many of our articles, insofar as the source of 40 times used isn’t explicit.  (back)

Matthew Freedman

Matt is the Executive Producer of the RotoViz Radio podcast channel. He started contributing to RotoViz in March 2013. In January 2016 he started working full-time at FantasyLabs, where he's the Editor-in-Chief.
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