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Flog that pony.

If adding Revis and Goldson to last year’s 7th overall, Barron, wasn’t enough, Mark Dominik added 6’2″ Banks at #43 in this year’s draft.  The wisdom of d-backfield investment will be tested this fall in Tampa.

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I’ve been at this short d-back thing for months.  I know it seems like I’m beating this horse and I promise, I’ll let it go once my twitter timeline can go 24 hours without telling me that Leon McFadden was a smart pick.  More precisely, that McFadden represents addressing the issue at cornerback.

My problem is that I keep finding data that confirm what my gut already knew:  when you’re the 26th shortest d-backfield in the league, you’re not addressing the problem by becoming the 32nd shortest.

Without even talking about whether or not drafting a rush linebacker at #6 after signing two FA OLBs and converting a third so you’ve just drafted your fourth OLB at six overall… without even going there, let’s review the d-backfield thing.  Let’s review the number one need of this off-season.

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This whole exercise began with a simple observation.  A basic truth.  Water is wet.  Sky is blue.  Buster Skrine is short.  Short cornerbacks struggle against tall receivers.  There are more tall receivers in the league.

WRs 6′ 3″ or taller who started three or more games:

It just seems to me that a 5′ 9″ sorry, 5′ 9.5″, CB is going to have problems no matter how fast he is or how many games he started in the WAC.  I’m surprised this is controversial.  So I decided to look at the data.  How are other teams dealing with a short backfield?

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The process.

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 8.46.39 AM

2012 d-back average heights.

Using PFR, I collected all d-backs who started three or more games, sorted by team, found average height in inches.  Here’s the bottom half of the NFL in d-backfield average height.  (Here’s the messy spreadsheet.)

My first question was:  what did the teams shorter than the Browns do this offseason?  Is any pattern apparent?

  • Minnesota:  Spielman drops Winfield (5-9), added X. Rhodes (6-2);
  • Pats:  dropped Patrick Chung (5-11), signed Adrian Wilson (6-2), drafted the two Rutgers d-backs Ryan (5-11) and Harmon (6-2);
  • Oakland:  Lost Michael Huff (6-0), drafted DJ Hayden (5-11), signed FAs Usama Young (kid you not) (5-11.5) and Mike Jenkins (5-10).
  • Houston.  Drafted a short-ish FS, Swearinger (5-10)… but signed Ed Reed to go with their Jonathan Joseph signing last year.
  • St. Louis.  Drafted 6-2 TJ McDonald, let 5-9.5 Quintin Mikell go.
  • KC.  Signed huge Sean Smith (6′ 3″/218), drafted huge Sanders Commings (6′ 0″/216).  Said goodbye to 5’8″ Javier Arenas.
  • CLE. Dropped Young, Brown (5-10); added McFadden (5-10).  If we want to add 6th round pick Slaughter (5-11.5) to the mix, then we also add 5′ 9″ FA Chris Owen.

The net here?  The Browns and Raiders are the only two teams in the set that got smaller.

This led me to wonder if the sample size really told the story.  So I decided to look at the bottom half of the league.  No need to look at the top half, after all the Seahawks already average a 74″ backfield, they don’t need to get bigger.  It’s the teams in the bottom half that, logically, need to get bigger.

Sooo.  Let’s go back to the bottom 16.

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 9.35.32 AM

2013 d-back average height with year-to-year change.

The numbers tell the story.

Teams in the bottom half of the league by d-backfield height who are not the Browns or did not sign Usama Young increased their height by 0.54″ this offseason.

But even the Raiders saw the problem at CB and spent a high first rounder addressing it.

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The data is the data.

When you drill into it deeper, most all these teams made improving their d-backfield an emphasis:

  • Saints:  Vaccaro and Keenan Lewis;
  • Titans:  Pollard;
  • Lions:  Quin and Slay;
  • Falcons:  CBs in 1st and 2nd round (Trufant and Alford);
  • Skins:  Rambo, Amerson;
  • Broncos: DRC;
  • Colts:  Landry, Toler.

And then there’s Mark Dominik’s experiment at Tampa.  He adds Revis, Goldson and drafts 6-2 Banks.  His investment nets out in proven talent for sure, but also bumps the average height by a full inch.

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Now it could be that Banner really is smarter than everyone else.  That having the shortest d-backfield in the league is the way to go; that adding another 5-9.5 CB will improve the ability to defend tall WRs.

I’m not ruling it out.  Not butt-hurt.

I hope you all won’t be butt-hurt either for me pointing out that the Browns are on an island with their tack here.

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14 Comments

  1. I get the point, but perhaps because I have a higher player evaluation of McFadden and Skrine I’m not as concerned. However, your global point is premised upon the empirical data regarding cornerback height. Let’s start with this: Wide-receivers in the NFL have always been taller than cornerbacks. And yet the corners have always covered. While, at the same time, it is true that water is wet. Sky is blue. Taller corner equals better coverage–or at least a higher likelihood of preventing a taller wide-receiver from catching the ball? I’m not convinced this last statement is true, but the more important question, it seems to me, is this: Is the height differential meaningful? Or, more precisely, is there a tipping point where the height differential becomes meaningful? Or, how much does an inch really matter?
    You do argue (although I don’t think you mean it literally) in tenths of an inch. I don’t think anyone would really assert that because my corners are 2/10 of an inch taller than yours they provide better coverage on taller receivers. The differential in average height between teams 22-32 is less than an inch. Does an inch really matter? Many other factors, including arm length, vertical leap, etc., obviously make a bigger difference than that one inch in height. No one would dispute that there is a big difference between a 6’2″ corner and a 5’9″ corner. There are obvious concerns with the fluidity and coverage skills of the 6’2″ corner getting burned, but you get the point. I just think that, at the end of the day, a 5’9″ or 5’10” corner may be “tall enough” and we’re debating a point that is supported by data, but doesn’t really have that much impact on the field. If the shorter corner is able to play press coverage, be physical and bump at the line, and maintain tight coverage in man, and you have an effective pass rush, the fact that your corners are shorter shouldn’t matter as much as you seem to think.

    • jimkanicki says:

      Coach D’Amato reminds you that life, like football, is a game of inches.

      THE INCHES WE NEED ARE EVERYWHERE AROUND US!

      but seriously. i absolutely know catching radius deals with arm-length and vertical and even hand size. i know height is an imperfect metric. (hell.. mcfadden’s arms are two inches longer than skrine, that’s huge.) but if all else is equal, the taller/longer CB is better. that’s #1.

      second, i can’t look at browner (undrafted), sherman (5th rd), chancellor (5th rd) without questioning the traditional rules for eval-ing CBs. how did so many trained professionals miss on these guys? i think size/length/height was undervalued and now that’s being recognized and except (seemingly) by the browns. that’s #2.

      i’ll give you an example, though, of where my premise falls down. imo, the best -by far- rookie CB last year measures out just like mcfadden. 5’10” 32″ arms 33″ vertical … all average measure-ables. if leon mcfadden turns out to be this year’s Janoris Jenkins, i will gladly write an ‘i was wrong’ post.

  2. Daniel says:

    I stand my original belief – the Browns are building for a switch back to the 4-3 in a couple years, a process which requires them to land the number one overall pick for Clowney next year. PASS RUSHERS – CAN WE PLAY 8 AT THE SAME TIME?? RARRRRRR

  3. jpftribe says:

    I get your point as well, and agree that Lombardi and Banner may be the smartest guys in their own room. But, and it’s a big but, there are inevitable truths ( which we somewhat agree on). Water is wet, sky is blue and you can cover and hit or you can’t.

    Who was the Browns No 1 tackler last year? MLB Jackson? 63 tackles ? No, Skrine, 64. In 2011 and half of 2012, Skrine looked like a steal in the fourth round. Only after Haden, Brown, Patterson took turns at disappearing acts did we see how vulnerable Skrine was. Add on top of it a SS that can’t cover (Ward) and free safety of the week and you could have put 75% of the CB’s in the league in Skrine’s spot and watched them self destruct.

    If you watch the tape, McFadden likes to hit, likes to be involved in every play, never quits and can cover the outside in his conference. He was a good pick in round 3, and this ain’t twitter.

    Would I have liked to see them sign Lewis, absolutely, and don’t understand why they didn’t throw money at him. But I’d rather have a 5’9″ guy that can cover and tackle than a 6’2″ guy chasing receivers downfield and unable to seal the corner while he is chasing faster dudes.

    • jimkanicki says:

      this is a great point. it’s not just a length/coverage thing. it’s also a tackling/run-support thing. i found a stat somewhere that keenan lewis had no missed tackles last year. THAT is what put lewis on my radar.

      now then.. if you watch Skrine’s tape, you’ll see that he’s usually in position. he’s plenty fast. fearless. i dont remember him being a bad tackler (but maybe that’s in comparison to UY and.. sorry to say.. tj ‘no wrap up’ ward). he just too short to cover a tall WR. so if the prob is short-ness, well, i *will* admit that mcfadden’s arms are a full 2″ longer than skrine so that’s a plus.

  4. Gary Collins says:

    Mingo runs almost a 4.5 40 and is tall. Let him drop the 10 lbs he seems determined to lose and start him at Corner. #greatestdraftever #vincewholombardi

  5. I get the bigger cornerback = better matchups, particularly in the Red Zone and in tight spaces. However, I also see the Seahawk secondary occasionally getting torched – like for half of the Atlanta playoff game. There’s a trade-off everywhere. I like the physical re-routing at the line those corners can do, but I also think downfield coverage is essential. If you can combine both, you’re set. Obviously. And I absolutely get that Buster Skrine is shorter than practically all the WR’s he will cover.

    However – and this is a horrible justification for some shoddy FO work – I think we were lucky to get ANY corner in last week’s draft. As for the ONE corner taken, McFadden should/could be solid, but suggestions that he’s an immediate starter are not based on his talent alone, but on the horrid depth at the position. I would hope even the Hiram’s of the world could cut through that fantasy.

    And since we’re staking positions on our own respective islands (Kanicki has Tall Corner Island all to himself), I would like to continue my assertion that the Strong Pass Rush (on paper) negates Bad Secondary idea is complete BS. For everyone who likes to claim the Giants as an example – go ahead. But remember, when the Giants aren’t winning a Super Bowl, they’re a mostly terrible defense who can’t cover or get to the quarterback.

    While I really, really, really hope that Horton’s D is the stuff of the legends being created now, I’m scared of those games where the opposing QB figures out a blitz and then picks on Kevin Barnes and Chris Owens for 3 first half touchdowns. Of course, this may mean that Banner and Lombardi will actually have to draft some corners in the 2014 Draft (you know, the greatest draft that anyone will ever see in their football lives).

    • jimkanicki says:

      re Red Zone defense: maybe that size in the d-backfield accounts for why the seahawks are 5th/6th in yards allowed but #1 (by two full points per game) in points allowed. tougher red zone defense.. something to be said for that.

      and you’re right to be scared about a QB figuring out things in the browns backfield. if i found that stat on randle in the giants game and if i’ve seen that tape, todd haley has.

      as a practical matter, what happens when the bengals bring out eifert _and_ gresham? would the browns really blitz mingo-kruger and release those beasts to our d-backfield? one chip block and eifert is one-on-one against tj ward. it’d have to be a hell of rush to blow up that play.

      • Salient point about the TE’s – something I had not thought about. I’m probably a bigger fan of DQ Jackson than most, but I’ll readily concede that the Browns’ coverage up the middle is pretty weak. Really, when Craig Robertson is probably your team’s best cover guy here, you’ve got some problems.

        And yes, this means Cincy and Baltimore can both stretch the Browns’ D deep and down the middle.

        If only the FO could have traded down and picked up…..oh, what’s his name? Ogle-bee? Kanicki – help me here.

        Anyway, I know most Browns’ fans are still in a post-draft haze, but everyone is really betting huge on this monster pass rush – not realizing that if/when it doesn’t materialize, the LB’s and secondary are going to give up a LOT of points.

        But DK – you’re so negative (collectively says the OBR): Just being realistic. But I am excited to see anything but Jauron’s generic 2000 defense. Horton’s D should bring some actual pressure (for the first time since the mid-1980’s) if not some creativity and style. But I do worry about the back end on those plays when Kruger, Bryant and Mingo aren’t “wreaking havoc.”

  6. Dan says:

    I get your argrument, and its certainly valid. But if u look at recievers in the AFC North, most are six foot or smaller. The only starting reciever taller than six foot is AJ Green, and not many people, no matter how tall they are, can guard AJ Green.

    Good stuff, very well researched.

    • jimkanicki says:

      hey thanks. btw,,, the cincy has sanu and marvin jones on the other side of AJ Green… both 6’2″ torrey smith and jacoby jones go 6’1″ 6’3″. and dont forget, teams have a week to plan for the skrine-mcfadden matchups.

      check out 6’4″ rueben randle’s game log: 19 recs all year but 6 against the short browns.
      http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/R/RandRu00/gamelog/2012/

      teams will game plan.

      • Dan says:

        I don’t think McFadden is the answer at starting corner opposite Haden, but he’s gonna start any way. Lombardi is illiterate for drafting an identical corner to Wade and Skrine. But McFadden seems to be physical so with Lombardi building a good pass rush like he is,having a big corner might not be as necessary as we think. And the afc north plays more than half there games in rough weather conditions where passing becomes more and more difficult.

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