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2013 NFL Preview: The year of Andrew Luck.

Andrew-Luck

This kid Andrew Luck is incredible. Don’t miss it by silly debates. He’s the best quarterback from last year’s draft class and he is ready to emerge as one of the league’s best signal callers, period. Before you know it, he will be the league’s most valuable player as well.

And honestly, it’s not too far fetched to imagine that happening as soon as 2013.

I agree with you Stampede Blue.

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I got a chance to listen to the Simmons AFC Over-Under podcast with his random-dude-buddy guest.

(Browns fans: when the national concensus is moving as a group in favor of the Browns and is moving as a group against the Steelers, how does that usually work out? .. Exactly.)

Anyhoozles, there were several other parts of their analysis that I found sub-par. But none moreso that the Pythogorean theory of football-predicting applied to the Colts. These two went through maybe five minutes on the Barnwell stat-boy data and out of division match-ups and blah blah blah and in their whole “UNDER 8.5 WINS” speil on the Colts, they forgot to mention one thing.

Andrew Luck.

How on earth does one evaluate the Colts and not account for Andrew Luck? You want to hang your hat on last year’s point differential? REALLY? Gonna do the pythorgoen jive to quantify ‘lucky wins?’ Is the term ‘regress to mean’ supposed to overwhelm?

Here’s Barnwell rationale for calling an team that went 11-5, made playoffs, with a rookie QB a “team in decline:”

Indianapolis Colts
2012 Record:
11-5

Pythagorean Wins: 7.2 (overperformed by 3.8 wins, luckiest in league)
Record in Games Decided by Seven Points or Fewer: 9-1 (0.900, second-best in league)
Strength of Schedule: 0.435 (easiest in league)
Turnover Margin: Minus-12 (26th in league)
2013 Out-of-Division Schedule: AFC West, NFC West, vs. Dolphins, at Bengals
I already wrote about the Colts and their chances of succeeding in 2013 earlier in our season preview; you can read that article here. Let me say this much: The Colts are going to start 2-0. They host the Raiders and the Dolphins during the first two weeks of the 2013 campaign, and those are games that the Colts are exceedingly unlikely to drop to inferior competition. That will get the fans going, but remember that their subsequent six games include trips to San Francisco and Houston and drop-ins from Seattle and Denver. If the Colts are competitive in those four games, we’ll all have a good idea that they’re a team to be reckoned with in 2013.

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Camelot of college football.

Best-Case Scenario: Andrew Luck overcomes all concepts of regression.
Worst-Case Scenario: Andrew Luck is overcome by all concepts of regression.

The Colts are 9-1 in close games and the deduction is that they’re lucky? Not that their rookie QB is extra-special? Oh-kay. Barnwell talks about regression but fails to realize that Andrew Luck has not regressed since he won the starter role as a freshman at Stanford four years ago. His analysis simply ignores that the Colts might just have the best quarterback of the generation.

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Not like you couldn’t see it coming.

When Jim Harbaugh took over the Stanford team in 2007 they were coming off a 1-11 season. Harbaugh’s first year, 4-8; next year 5-7. Enter Luck. Here’s the progression of Stanford’s offense in the Harbaugh years:

  • 2007: 4-8, 19.6 pts/gm (107th in country);
  • 2008: 5-7, 26.2 pts/gm (54th);
  • 2009: Luck wins job as [redshirt] freshman. 8-5, 35.5 pts/gm (12th). Lose Sun Bowl (Luck injured, doesn’t play.);
  • 2010: 12-1, 40.3 pts/gm (9th). Win Orange Bowl 40-12 over VaTech. Ranked 4th;
  • 2011: (Harbaugh leaves, David Shaw now HC.) 11-2, 43.2 pts/gm (7th). Lose Fiesta Bowl. End ranked 7th.

So, it’s not like he didn’t have a .795 winning percentage. Not like he didn’t grow the offense from 26 to 43 points a game. QB rating? 162.8 over three years with 9430 yards and 82 TDs.

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Just stop it, Marvin Lewis.

AP BENGALS CAMP FOOTBALL S FBN USA OH

We’re guessing Mom picked out the adorable outfit for Pacman’s daughter but we can’t rule that maybe Adam hit Gap Kids the day before.

What in the fey-ook is going on in Cincy?  They are killing me by staying on my radar in ways that have me saying, “Damn, wish that were my team.”  You know it’s beyond the beyond when I’m tapping Pacman Jones for cutest father-daughter picture (from of a field of 18).  Every day there’s a new story with the Bengals doing something smart.

We’ve covered the Bengals running at 4-3 and also how they’re building a great front four and a particularly tall and pass deflecting/altering one.  I’m on record as being a Mike Zimmer fan; Jay Gruden knows his business.  But the hits keep coming and it’s time to catalogue everything the Bengals are doing right.

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Drafted Margus Hunt.
Look at the measurables (6′ 8″, 4.60 40, 38 bench reps) and Margus Hunt just oozes 5-tech DE in a 3-4.  Bengals already have Dunlap (6′ 6″) and Johnson (6′ 7″) at DE.  Bengals didn’t have a need there really (although M. Johnson’s franchise tag might signal his departure next year), they simply decided to take the single most unique athlete in the draft.  Now then, thus far in camp the Bengals have not been using Hunt with the #1s and indications are that the learning curve will be steep.  But as we knew or are learning, that’s true for all rookie DEs, even top 10 picks.

Going big in the secondary.
George Iloka (6′ 4″) is now showing as a starter on the Bengal’s depth chart.  No need to bang the tall d-backfield gong here again, you all know where I am on that.  Though he played FS at Boise, Iloka is playing strong safety for the Bengals.  They signed Taylor Mays last year; drafted Dre Kirkpatrick last year; plus Iloka… these are big d-backs.  If the Bengals wanted, they could roll out the second longest d-backfield in the league:  Kirkpatrick (6′ 2″), Mays (6′ 3″), Iloka (6′ 4″), Leon Hall (5′ 11″).
Looks like a Bengals fifth round pick is starting along with Bengals fourth rounders Peko and Atkins and Boling.  That’s how you build through the draft.  Or not.

Forgotten Orson Charles, now starting FB.
I was pretty big on Orson Charles when he came out of UGA last year.  I expected he’d challenge the incumbent Jermaine Gresham (first rd, 22nd overall, 2010) and he did have four starts last year.  Not bad for a fourth round rookie.  But for this camp, the Bengals went ahead and drafted the top-rated TE in the draft.  Like the Hunt pick, it wasn’t a need selection; it was a ‘how can we not accept the riches bestowed upon us by the draft gods’ pick.  So where does that leave Charles?  Starting at fullback and reportedly looking great.
Looks like another fourth round pick starting for the Bengals along with Peko and Atkins and Boling and fifth rounder Iloka.  That’s how you build through the draft.

OKLAHOMA DRILLS.
You can talk about being aggressive or you can actually be aggressive.  You can practice the mindset.  Marvin Lewis has chosen option “B” by running the Oklahoma drill.

While flag-football enthusiasts decry the “dangerous and archaic” drill, there are still some coaches who have had success with it and still run it or modified versions of it.

Not shown, Browns on stationary bikes.

Injury risks?  Cripes.  Hey.  Pollyanna.  Injuries happen.  So while the Browns spew buzzwords of attacking aggressive play while dressing their players in bubble-wrap; the Bengals (and Buckeyes) are actually doing it in practice.  My money is with Urban (and Lewis) on this:  you are what you practice.

Three deep at TE. (more…)

DBN Mock: Cowboys select Jonathan Cooper.

Kanick selects JONATHAN COOPER at #18 for the Dallas Cowboys.

Quick hitter this morning:  I’m participating in Dawgs By Nature’s reader mock draft.  I drew the Dallas Cowboys and I’m up.

Prior picks are:

  1. Kansas City: CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
  2. Jacksonville: DE/OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
  3. Oakland: OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
  4. Philadelphia: OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
  5. Detroit: DE/OLB Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
  6. Cleveland: OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
  7. Arizona: OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
  8. Buffalo: QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
  9. Jets: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
  10. Titans: SS Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
  11. Chargers: OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
  12. Dolphins: CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
  13. Buccaneers: DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
  14. Panthers: DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
  15. Saints: OLB Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
  16. Rams: WR Tavon Austin, WVU
  17. Steelers: DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

    Introducing the Cowboys’ anchor for the next ten years.

If the draft breaks this way, the Cowboys will sprint to the podium for Jonathan Cooper, OG, UNC.

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Cowboy problems.

Whenever I watched the Cowboys this year it seemed like Romo was running for his life.  It turns out that that’s a strength of Romo’s so the sack numbers weren’t low.

But Romo’s league leading 19 interceptions reflect the fact.

Dig a little deeper and you find the Cowboys guards are undrafted 30 year old Nate Livings and 7th round pick from Bentley College, Mackenzy Bernadeau.  There’s upgrade opportunity here. (more…)

15 yd. penalty on Cribbs: Lowering the crown.

As you can see in the thumbnail, Cribbs lowers the crown of his helmet before having it taken off by Ellerbe’s STILL LEGAL hit.  Thus on top of being knocked unconscious for ten minutes, Cribbs costs his team fifteen yards for the personal foul of ‘Lowering the crown.’

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‘Cribbs has the ball.’  ‘Ellerbe targets his head with his shoulder.’ = LEGAL.

Cribbs lowers crown of helmet. = ILLEGAL.

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Think that’s an outlier? Au contraire, mon frere. Here is another shoulder hit. This particular hit gets flagged under the ‘defenseless receiver’ rule. But if Jordan Shipley had managed to take a step with the ball he’d be considered fair game.

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Great job NFL.

As has been said here before:

“… the solution couldn’t be easier: you can either make targeting heads illegal or require players to sign waivers accepting that they’ll have some level of brain damage after leaving the game.”

For more on my take on the NFL and head injuries, see this post.

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Edited to add (3/22):  Here is a rules committee honk telling us this is rule change is not about litigation protection.

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Cap rollover provisions and the Browns.

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This is a clarification post.  It stops short of a retraction on the Smaug’s Cave post from the weekend.  But I do wish to soften that critique with today’s piece.  I’ve gained a new and key understanding on NFL salary cap and it needs to be shared because it affects how we view the Browns’ activity in this FA season.

Let me explain.

I’ve been hammering the Browns for whiffing on a CB acquisition in free agency.  Ditto tight end, safety, guard.  I’ve made note –in an unkind way– of the Browns’ position in cap spend being last or tied with the Bengals for last.

Yowch. What a stare.

And I was all set to tee off on Jimmy Haslam’s statement yesterday that the Browns are saving half their cap space to use next year (go to 4:50 of link).  I did not think teams could spend over the cap so I thought it was an incorrect statement.

But it turns out, this:

Can a team carry excess/unused cap space into the next year?
Yes. Unused cap space from a team’s previous year cap can be added to the following year. The team must notify the league of their intent to rollover cap money at least 14 days prior to the start of the next season’s league year.

Does it continue to rollover like cellphone minutes?
No. Rollover money from 2012 into 2013 is treated as “adjusted cap”. Any unused “adjusted” money in 2013 cannot be rolled over again into 2014.

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Let’s play: BEST CASE SCENARIO!!

Rhodes, CB at #12.

Eifert, TE at #41.

Jones, OG/C at #82.

Rambo, FS at #101.

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As of Friday AM, it’s looking like a whiff in free agency concerning the number one need for the Browns:  cornerback.  We’re also missing a free safety, a tight end ‘threat,’ and guard depth.

It could be Aqib Talib has been the target all along and that he’ll be signed today.  It could be that Kerry Rhodes makes a nice fit at safety.  The Fred Davis battle continues today and as for me, I’d welcome Dustin Keller (Dead; Keller to Dolphins.) as a consolation prize.  We see no guards on the horizon.

Regardless, one takeaway here is that the confidence displayed with the initial moves of Kruger and Bryant shows all the hopeful signs of a plan being executed.  Based on that, I will assume that the plan for cornerback, tight end, safety, and guard centers on the draft.

Sooo.. let’s play:  BEST CASE SCENARIO!!

Go.

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First step:  trade back.

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Football Outsiders says Jets o-line sucks.

The usual fan call for ‘trade-back’ tends not to address the ‘with whom shall we trade?’ question.  And as of a couple weeks ago, that was very much an open question.  But several events have created an environment where this becomes do-able.

  • Geno Smith looked good in his pro-day.
  • Bills cut Ryan Fitzpatrick and now have Tarvaris Jackson as their #1 QB.  While it *could* be with an eye toward reuniting HC Marrone with his QB Nassib in the second round, it could also reflect an interest in Geno.
  • Dolphins get nutty acquiring ‘playmakers’ and lose their best o-lineman.  They would seem to be targeting Joeckel/Fisher/Johnson as a replacement; after all that’s a top 10 QB they’ve got there and need to keep upright.  Add in that the back-loaded trickery employed to stock the 2013 roster still leaves them short on money to the point where signing draft picks might become a problem. 
  • Cardinals display every indication of having lost faith in Kevin Kolb.
  • Jets now rumored to be interested in Geno Smith.  (Of course, this report also says that the Jags, Raiders, Eagles are also interested.  But we’re playing best-case scenario and so dismissing these reports.)  The Jets line is horrible.

I’ll sprinkle in just a touch of reality and acknowledge that Geno could well be gone before the Browns’ 6th pick which would remove Bills, Cards from mix.  But the Dolphins could easily believe in a drop-off after the big three OTs.  The Jets could get squirrelly of it looks like Warmack and Cooper won’t last to #9.

We’re just playing here, right?

Ok then:

Browns trade back from #6 to #12 with Miami.  Complete deal sends Browns’ #6 and #68 (3rd) for Dolphins’ #12, #42 (2nd), and #82 (3rd).*

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FA target #4: Dustin Keller

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I admit to struggling with these google images for Dustin Keller.

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Editor’s note:  I wrote this three weeks ago and didn’t publish because of possible ‘diva’ signs and because I expected the Jets to franchise him rendering the discussion moot.  It turns out the Browns are sniffing around Jared Cook of the Titans and Brandon Myers of the Raiders.  IMO, neither are in Keller’s class.  Also, there’s been surprising little ‘buzz’ on Keller, probably due to his hammy/ankle-restricted poor year last year.  

If we’re going to sign a tight end, I think Keller is the best receiving tight end in the class, the best ‘vertical’ tight end in the class, and shaping up to be somewhat of a bargain.  

Dustin Keller is shaping up to be a steal.

Thus, I say let’s bring him in.

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When I dated a Jets fan a couple years ago, I watched a lot of Jets and grew to like that team.  Dustin Keller got on my radar during that time.  Call it bias or call it informed:  I like him.  A lot.  He’s good.  He can be great.  I’ll circle back to Keller, but I need to write a quick editorial on the cautionary tale that is the dismantling of the 2009 Jets.

TJ + Faneca + Mangold = tough football.
(Not to start a Mangini thing, but: tough Mangini-style football.)

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Splash over substance:  the NY Jets’ cautionary tale.

The turning point of that team’s direction can be traced to one transaction two simultaneous transactions:  releasing Thomas Jones and signing LaDainian Tomlinson.

In the three years TJ was with the Jets he never missed a start.  He averaged ~1300 yds/year.  But what’s more:  he ran tough.  He moved piles.  He was quiet and did his business and behind a great offensive line, the Jets had built a punishing, physical, line-of-scrimmage dominating offense purpose-built to win in December/January which it did.  The 2009 Jets were 9-7.  They won their last two games behind 202 and 257 yards to get the wild card.  They rushed for 171 and 169 in winning two playoff games before losing the championship to the Manning Colts.

You could say, ‘What the hell Kanick:  TJ was 31 and didn’t do much after he left.  LDT was in his 30s too, but hell, the 2010 Jets were 11-5 and won two playoff games.’ (more…)

The fallacy of restricted player movement as restraint of trade.

Not pictured: 200+ NBA minimum salary guys at $490,180 per.

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Back in 2011, in the aftermath of the LeBron super team thing, the NBA owners locked out the players because there was no Collective Bargaining Agreement in place.  The CBA talks broke down over ‘player movement’ issues.  Basketball Related Income distribution to the players was settled on with a band around 50% and thus a revenue sharing partnership was agreed upon.  Rookie contracts are slotted.  Max contract frameworks are defined.

The problem was player movement.

The NBA wanted a franchise tag; the players didn’t.

To me, it seemed the biggest issue.  Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard were all playing the franchise shopping game using LeBron’s template.  In so doing, they were holding their current teams hostage and alienating countless NBA fans/customers.  But ‘player movement’ as a blocking point in negotiations was diminished as a minor point.  Or at least that’s how I read the reporting at the time.

When it was discussed, the prevailing wisdom that I saw reported/tweeted/blogged ran like this:  why shouldn’t players be entirely free to work where they want.. just like you and I are?

Can’t find the tweets, but this guy does not like the franchise tag.

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I’ve got a different viewpoint on this, interested in your thoughts.  I’m using the 2011 NBA lock-out as a context.  But I’ve seen the larger player movement issued applied in the NFL and NHL.  MLB players are of course quite happy, but the macro outlook of a ‘have and have-nots’ league is dim.

The debate over ‘righteousness of free player movement’ and the ‘responsibility of a union in partnership with an enterprise’ is in hibernation but still current.  In my opinion, the NFL’s franchise tag strikes a fair balance between the sides and deserves some acclaim.

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‘The NBA is a business.’  Ok.  What does that mean exactly?

First, I think it’s useful to define the ‘business’ of the NBA.

The NBA is in the entertainment business.  Their product is ‘competitive sporting event.’  Their competitors are not Cavs vs. Heat vs. Knicks, etc.  Their competitors are NHL, NCAA Men’s Basketball, NCAA Men’s Hockey, UFA, PGA Golf, NASCAR… any other competitive sporting event that occurs in Winter and Spring.

When you look at the NBA as a singular business entity with a common goal, then it becomes easier to view the 30 teams as franchises of the NBA brand.  As the brand grows, the all the entity’s partners benefit.

As with any franchise model, the brand’s value derives from the delivery of a consistent product where ever the franchise is located.  The Big Mac I get here in New Hampshire is the same as the one you get in Elyria.

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What if Dunkin Donuts offered Super Columbian Supremo in Miami and Sanka in Cleveland?

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About that 2009 draft…

Jason Smith, OT, Baylor. 2nd overall, 2009. 5yr/62MM. .. Traded for Wayne Hunter.  Then cut.

So.  Jason Smith is available.  Jets released him yesterday.

Jason who?

Jason ‘second pick in the 2009 draft‘ Smith, that’s who.  Consensus top-three pick.  Rams’ next Orlando Pace.  Anchor on the line for next decade.   Busting holes for Stephen Jackson; protecting Sam Bradford’s back.

Three years later he’s being traded straight-up for journeyman OT Wayne Hunter.  Four years later he’s being cut from the 6-10 Jets.

Smith has had more than his share of injuries.  Three concussions.  Two seasons finished on the DL.  But even before that, Rams fans had concerns.

I knew we were in trouble during the 2009 training camp when aged Leonard Little was routinely beating the shit out Smith.

A lot of people were distressed when the Rams picked the former TE Smith to play one of the most important positions on the team.

Smith’s contract, signed before the new CBA, was crippling for the Rams.  So it was pretty much a train wreck of a pick.  Especially when you consider that they passed on:

That’s weird.  Of the first five picks in 2009, only Matt Stafford seems to be a significant contributor to an NFL team four years later.

If we keep going:

  • Andre Smith, rounding into form now, but it was uncertain for the first two years;
  • Darrius Heyward-Bey .. meh;
  • Eugene Monroe — solid;
  • BJ Raji — hit;
  • Michael Crabtree .. looking good;
  • Aaron Maybin, bust;
  • Knowshon Moreno .. err;

And then Orakpo, Jenkins, Cushing.

Massaging the numbers as I’m wont to do:  of the first twelve picks in 2009, only four (Stafford, Monroe, Crabtree, Raji) are slam-dunk ‘We’d take them again’ choices.  Out of those twelve, three are disasters (Smith, Maybin, Curry), three are disappointments (Jackson, Sanchez, Moreno).

When you consider thousands of hours of research by hundreds of paid league sources
33% hit rate on the top 12 is weak… and…
A whiff rate of 38% in the top 12 is a damning indictment of all the NFL personnel experts who are smarter than you.

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Prototype 5-tech JJ Watt is lined up on Ravens’ RT’s right shoulder.

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Where are you going with this, Kanick?

So let’s have fun with this drafty-picky game!

I mixed it up with minor twitter and Cleveland sports-radio celebrity Hiram Boyd tonight.  Hiram’s a Ziggy Ansah fan.  So am I.  I’m also a Margus Hunt fan.
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Introducing the “Three Studs on the O-line” rule.

emmitt_smith_1993_01_31

No running back ever ran behind better blocking.

Emmitt Smith’s 164 rushing TDs are the most in NFL history.  His 175 TDs are second only to Jerry Rice’s 208.  (Smith’s eleven receiving TDs in 15 years says something unkind about his versatility but we don’t intend to go there.)

He also brought the NFL’s most classless touchdown celebration to all 175:

After every touchdown, Smith trotted behind the Cowboys bench and carefully tucked the touchdown football into a secured locker.

Dale Hansen.
The last honest Cowboys announcer.

From Jeff Pearlman’s Boys Will Be Boys (p. 227):

“Emmitt would score a touchdown from the two-yard-line, keep the football, and sell it at his souvenir shop back home in Pensacola,” says Dale Hansen, the Cowboys radio announcer.  “I thought it was both odd and selfish.”

Me too Dale.  Me too.  Glad I wasn’t the only one.

I always thought he should give the ball to Larry Allen.  Mark Tuinei.  Nate Newton.  Jay Novacek.  Mark Stepnoski.  Erik Williams.  Moose Johnston.  Ray Donaldson.  Flozell Adams.  Andre Gurode.  Hell, add Michael Irvin to the list, he was a great blocking WR.

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A link to pro-football ass-hattery, yours for $800+.

All of these blockers in front of Smith went to multiple pro-bowls, many all-pros, and Larry Allen is now in the Hall of Fame.

They’re why Emmitt Smith gets to append his signature with ‘HOF.’

It was painfully obvious just through the eye-ball test that Emmitt Smith was the beneficiary of one of the greatest offensive fronts ever assembled.  But his 175 incidents of douche-baggery prompted me to dig in and prove this thesis:  Emmitt Smith is the least special running back in the HOF and owes all to his offensive line.

[Here’s the link to HOF by position and by my gut take, in the RB group, I think it’s Smith and Thurman Thomas in the, ‘Really?’ category.]

After looking at the Cowboys’ impressive o-line, I started looking for other great lines with a view toward seeing whether other running backs benefitted as magnificently.  I didn’t find that.  But I did notice that great offensive lines were, generally, attached to a dynastic team.

That led me to a greater thesis which I first shared with Frowns in an email a couple years back:

“If you find a team with 3 probowl OLs, they’re pretty much in the SB; probably a dynasty.  The 90s boys were incredibly stacked.  ALL FIVE on the line plus TE and FB.  (This is why i never dug Emmitt Smith’s act.)”

To put a finer point on it, the postulate being proposed is this:

If you assemble an offensive line with three or more pro-bowlers, you’re likely going to a Super Bowl and probably more than one.

Or, more safely:

A great offensive line is an excellent indicator that you have a playoff team.

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