All the attention and adulation for last week’s National Signing Day went to the country’s top players, like Robert Nkemdiche of Georgia, who chose Mississippi.But for Kris Smith of Flowery Branch High School near Atlanta, who has signed with Indiana University, the occasion was just as important and exciting, despite there being no ESPN cameras or significant gathering of media.The 6-foot-2, 205-pound linebacker Smith gave up football after the eighth grade to focus on basketball. But the urge was too great to not return to the field, and he resumed his football career in his junior year. In just two seasons, he flourished enough to earn a scholarship, making last Wednesday a special day.“I just can’t wait to play football when I get to Indiana,” Smith said.Smith’s father, Sean Smith, credits Rodrick Clark — a former assistant coach at Stephenson High School near Atlanta who co-founded Athletic Trust Advisers with Cosey Coleman and Tim Mason — for his son landing a Division I scholarship.Clark’s and Coleman’s company helps parents and young athletes navigate college options.“We were lost,” Sean Smith said. “We were a little behind. (Clark) told us what we needed to do as far as training, education and eating right. Kids had been getting letters since their sophomore year. I didn’t know that kids had to be registered to be recruited through the NCAA Clearinghouse.”Kris Smith was surprised at how much he learned from Clark about training and diet and that Clark was as committed as he was in the recruitment process.“It’s a blessing,” Sean Smith said when he learned his son was being offered scholarships. “We give God the credit and he orchestrated Coach Clark in our life.”William Koen Jr., a 6-foot-4, 270-pound offensive lineman, signed his letter to play with Bethune Cookman University, a small school in Daytona Beach, Fla., that plays in the MEAC. For Koen, it was like he signed with Alabama.Coming out of Mt. View High, he earned looks from some Division I and I-AA schools. But offers were not coming in. Koen and his family were hooked up with Athletic Trust Advisers. There was some skepticism by William Koen Sr. — until Clark provided examples of others he had mentored.“Their family went 110 percent no matter what,” Clark said. “They trusted the process.”The family celebrated when they received word that their son would be receive a scholarship from Bethune Cookman.“It was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Koen Sr. said. “One of the best things that could have happened to me. Me and my wife (Tracey) danced around the house and gave each other high fives.”It was similar for Archer High corner back Trevellous Cheek and his family. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Cheek is expected to sign with California. Clark said Cheek’s work ethic has been his strength.“He would go 110 percent on anything,” Clark said. “Grades, working out. He would call and ask questions and was eager to learn. He wanted to be the best on and off the field, to the point where he would be drained.”“He not only encouraged, he kept my son reaching,” Leon Cheek said of Clark. “That guy is a blessing to me, my family and so many other families. He helped us build this young man.”Trevellous Cheek added, “I learned small things about what wide receivers don’t like, such as to be touched. Especially, if you keep (hands) on them all the way through five yards.”Cheek’s teammate Deondre Singleton, who played corner back and safety, signed with Duke. And the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Singleton said aside from football, he learned from Clark the importance of dressing properly and speaking clearly and with authority to coaches and the media.“I had to learn how to work on my body language,” Singleton said. “No matter what school it was, I had to show the same body language.”For Archer defensive end Antonio Riles, who signed with Florida, Clark’s work was more about helping him raise his grade point average to meet admission qualifications, which he did.Some other local Atlanta recruits who will be attending college in the fall on a football scholarship are: Ernest Alexander of Archer High (going to Navy), Sean Fowler of Archer (Shorter College), Jaypee Philbert of Archer (Alabama State), Brandon Goodson of Dacula (Wofford), Chris Palmer of Collins Hill (Navy), Kyle Simmons of Druid Hills (Stetson University), Jay Turner of Parkview (Coastal Carolina), Detavius Long and Demetrius McClendon of Tri-Cities (West Georgia Tech).Each player that Clark has helped has vowed to come back and be a testimony to other high school football players, but William Koen Jr. summed it up best as far the collective sentiments they had for Athletic Trust Advisers.“Without coach Clark’s help I wouldn’t be anywhere,” Keon Jr. said. “Without his help I would not be getting a scholarship to college. If you’re a good football player, with coach Clark’s help he will make you a great football player.”
Von Miller is speaking out about the four-game suspension he received for undisclosed reasons and which is currently being reviewed on appeal by the NFL. The Denver Broncos linebacker met with the media Wednesday and said he does not believe he let his team down.“I don’t think I let my teammates down,” Miller said. “Everybody has tough moments.”According to reports, in addition to the undisclosed reason he has been suspended this year, Miller has tested positive for amphetamines and marijuana in the past.When asked whether he still smokes pot, the NFL star said, “Absolutely not.”The linebacker would not reveal any other details about his suspension.“I’m obviously aware of the situation surrounding me, but out of respect for confidentiality … I can’t talk about it,” he said. “I can touch (on it) in more detail when the situation is resolved.”
The Cleveland Browns has selected a new runningback for Trent Richardson’s replacement.The Browns has set their sights on Ben Tate, whose contract with the Houston Texans expires after this season, to replace Richardson.The Browns traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a very valuable first round draft pick next year. If the Browns ball club is able to come up with the capital, they could acquire both Tate and a first round pick for the price of Richardson.ESPN reported that Browns CEO Joe Banner said that the Richardson trade, which was completed Wednesday, was not reflective of anything negative about the star running back, and that the team simply seized an opportunity to improve with the deal.Despite the Browns interest in Tate, the Texans aren’t simply willing to give Tate up, especially when their backup running back Arian Foster is looking more and more injury prone. In Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, the 25-year-old Tate rushed for 148 yards on just 18 carries, averaging 8.2 yards per carry.
.@KingJames doesn’t drive — unless he’s got a droptop and a Christmas Day game to get to. #TheShop pic.twitter.com/27n7Tq0WfZ— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) March 6, 2018Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James’ media company just dispatched a letter over to the University of Alabama, claiming copyright infringement.In the document obtained by ESPN, Uninterrupted is alleging the Crimson Tide football team of having a show way too similar to their own.A trailer for Alabama’s new show “Shop Talk” featuring football players Julio Jones, Eddie Jackson, and more getting their haircuts while talking about different topics is extremely similar to “The Shop”.Josh Tarnow, the head of Uninterrupted’s business and legal affairs listed in the letter that “”Shop Talk’” is clearly using the ideas, concepts and format previously created and exploited by Uninterrupted in connection with its program titled “The Shop,” and Uninterrupted believes “Shop Talk” infringes the copyright in “The Shop””.James’ media platform also claims “Shop Talk” “damages” the “commercial prospects” of their own talk show.“Your continued exploitation of “Shop Talk” infringes Uninterrupted’s copyright, trademark rights and other valuable intellectual property rights in “The Shop” and significantly damages Uninterrupted’s commercial prospects for “The Shop,”” the document stated.Tarnow also requested a “conversation” with the school before “getting into a ‘battle of legal letters’ or rushing into legal proceedings.”
Relative to other positions, top running backs are slated to make around half as much in 2017 as they did at the start of the 2000s.So why is this happening? Perhaps NFL teams have consciously devalued the running back, or perhaps it’s just a multitude of decisions in many different circumstances that have happened to lead us here. But while the RBs’ new situation almost certainly results directly from the league’s shift toward pass-centric offenses, it may also stem from the league ever so slowly wising up to the fundamental math of its own game. Much like with the 3-point shot in the NBA, passing the football in the NFL has virtually always looked better on paper. And, like the midrange jumper, the NFL seems to be (perhaps more slowly) creeping in the direction of running just about as rarely as the situation and game theory require. Indeed, the history of offense in the NFL is largely a story of running less and getting more efficient: In 20172Note that the 2017 RB figure will likely go up a bit after rookie contracts are signed, since Leonard Fournette, the no. 4 pick, will likely count just under 5 million against the cap because of the rookie salary scale, making him the new 12th-highest paid RB in the NFL. The top 16 RBs are projected to have an average cap value of (just over) $6 million – up slightly from last year’s $5.9 million. Any remaining signings during free agency also may move 2017’s number, though most of the big names are off the market. the top 16 running backs (the league’s above-average starters, give or take a few) are slated to make less than any offensive or defensive positions — even tight ends and safeties, who were the bottom-feeders of the nonkicking game in 2000.3ESPN’s salary data isn’t guaranteed to be complete — particularly the further back you go – though it should be most accurate for top players whose contracts are widely reported. Additionally, running backs and six other positions – WR, DE, CB, LB, DT and OL — averaged between $3 and $4 million in 2000. In 2017, top RBs will average around $6 million — the other six positions will each average more than $10 million. And even this picture may be slightly rosier than it appears, because for several years Peterson bent the RB curve upward.4For example, in 2015 the top 16 averaged $6.1 million, while spots 2 through 16 averaged just 5.4 million.If we look at each figure as a percentage of all money spent on the top 16 players at each position, things look even worse for running backs: Over time teams have been passing more and more, and they have been picking up more and more yards as a result. Part of that is that teams are getting better at passing, but it’s also that they have gotten better at knowing when to pass. And, of course, those two trends play well together: As teams have gotten better at short, high-percentage passes, the rationale for running in situations where you need less-explosive but high-percentage plays has declined.That said, the NFL still has a long and easily demonstrable history of running way, way too much — even recently. We can tell because we know how every play in the NFL since 2000 has affected a team’s likely win percentage. The stat is called WPA, or Win Percentage Added. WPA allows us to look at the results of plays beyond just yards gained5As always, you shouldn’t take my use of this model as a suggestion that it’s perfect. No model is. But it does the job in this case perfectly well., which is helpful since a successful run should positively impact a team’s chances of winning even if it picks up fewer average yards, etc. Indeed, if every team played perfectly and everything was in game-theoretical balance, we wouldn’t expect to see much difference between runs and passes at all. This is not the case.For starters, let’s cut out a bunch of special circumstances and look at the most vanilla run/pass decisions possible: first and second downs, with 5-10 yards to go, outside the Red Zone, outside the last two minutes of either half — giving us about 278,000 plays to work with. This is where the traditional, workhorse, MVP-type running back butters his bread. Now, since the decision to run or pass is largely a function of how far ahead or behind a team is and how late it is in the game, let’s break our results down by quarter and score margin before the play: Basically, there is pretty much no ordinary situation in which running produces better results than passing. If a team is more than 10 points ahead in the second quarter, running has seemed to do OK. And that’s about it. Even situations where running a lot is pretty standard — like up fewer than 10 points in the third or fourth quarters — passing has done substantially better. Of course, some amount of run/pass balance is necessary, or defenses would completely tee off on the pass every time. But this issue is likely overblown: As a pretty straightforward application of introductory game theory, if one option keeps producing substantially better results than the other, you should do it more often.6Technically, you should keep doing it more until the two options have equal marginal expectations.Of course, running the football has ancillary benefits, such as burning time off the clock, avoiding turnovers, gaining positive yards more consistently, picking up shorter yardage a higher percentage of the time, keeping the defenses honest, and so on. (There may even be situations in which teams pass too often, such as with 2-point attempts.) That sounds like a lot of good uses for the run! But note that, when it comes to these things, the quality of your running back — at least by conventional measures like how many yards they gain — is of secondary importance.This is because even a great rushing attack is still worse at picking up yards than even a mediocre passing attack. The all-pro running back may gain a lot of yards as his team funnels its offense through him, but many (or even most) of those yards are picked up in spots — like when a team is slightly up or down in the third quarter — where passing would have been better (or at the very least, where teams should be passing more often). Indeed, much like with having a good punter, there’s a danger that a great running back could hurt his team, if he entices them to run too often. (Conversely, a potential problem with having a great run defense is that opponents may be bullied into passing!)None of which is to say that the running back position will die out, or that the league’s unwillingness to pay a lot for them will continue indefinitely. Running backs and rushing may still be an important part of the game, so long as you aren’t trying to use it to pick up a bunch of yards on the ground. There are better ways to do that, and better things you could be doing with that slot.For example, running backs who excel in short-yardage situations — such as Marshawn Lynch, Jerome Bettis or Marcus Allen7Super Bowl winners, all. — or “third down” or pass-catching RBs who can be legitimate multiway threats in a spread offense — may actually be more valuable than they seem. As the athletes who play “running back” get better at things like opening up the passing game and helping pick up first downs, the position may be leveraged more efficiently and see its value increase commensurately. Note the sole runner scheduled to make eight figures this year is Pittsburgh’s extremely versatile LeVeon Bell (whose one-year franchise player contract will earn him a little over $12 million in 2017).But committing money to “workhorse” running backs who provide little outside of their ability to grind out a large number of yards inefficiently — a description that arguably fits Peterson as well as any great RB — is like doubling down on buggy whips when everyone else is scrambling to make flying cars.CORRECTION (May 16, 1:32 p.m.): The “Why running sucks” chart in an earlier version of this article misattributed the source of its data. It was from Pro-Football-Reference.com, not ESPN Stats & Information Group. Being a productive rusher in the NFL takes a rare mix of skills and talents, such as speed, elusiveness, vision and anticipation. Those who have excelled at it have historically been rewarded with team-defining roles, league accolades, furious media attention and nice contracts to boot.Of late, however, top rushers have seen their roles diminished and their pay stagnate. In the modern NFL, teams appear reluctant to commit resources to ball carriers like they used to.Perhaps this reflects the new offensive landscape in the NFL, in which teams pass more and better than ever before. But it may also reflect a growing recognition that, for all their talent, traditionally great running backs probably don’t actually contribute that much to their teams’ chances of winning.Consider the case of Adrian Peterson — the 2012 NFL MVP and the only running back to win that award in the past 10 years. Peterson has made by far the most money for a RB in NFL history after the Vikings paid him more than $12 million each year for the past six years — during which the Vikings averaged just over seven wins per season. He’s 32 years old and spent much of 2016 injured but led the league in rushing as recently as 2015. As an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Peterson signed with the New Orleans Saints for a modest $7 million over two years, with only $3.5 million guaranteed. In 2017, he’s slated to cost less than Bengals backup RB Giovani Bernard (who will cost $3.7 million against the cap) — not to mention 10 different kickers.1Dustin Colquitt, Thomas Morstead, Bryan Anger, Matt Prater, Stephen Gostkowski, Sebastian Janikowski, Justin Tucker, Graham Gano, Dan Bailey and Mason Crosby! (Have I mentioned kickers are awesome?)While Peterson’s situation has its own contours and meniscus tears, it’s something of an emblem for the NFL’s approach to RB talent right now. With top players at most positions getting paid more and more as the league’s revenues and salary cap have grown (and in some cases, exploded), the average pay for top running backs has stalled and even declined in recent years:
LeBron’s GOAT turnGoing into the summer of 2010, James’s future was as uncertain as it would ever be. He had just suffered the most high-profile failure of his career, inexplicably struggling as his Cleveland Cavaliers were bounced from the second round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. He faced a looming free-agency “decision” — would he betray his hometown Cavs? — and persistent questions about whether he could lead a championship team. Statistically, James’s career was off to a stellar start, but by the NBA’s ring-obsessed standards, his path toward GOAT status was wobbling.Nearly a decade later, James is still not universally hailed as the greatest ever. (Michael Jordan’s shadow looms large.) But he is generally placed right in the conversation with MJ. He answered postseason critics with eight straight conference titles and three rings, including one that involved: a) one of the greatest NBA Finals comebacks ever; b) upsetting the winningest regular-season team in history; and c) ending Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought. At the same time, James has climbed up the all-time statistical mountain in countless categories, including passing Jordan on points in March. If James isn’t the GOAT, he has at least become the defining player of his generation — and in some ways, he even redefined the role of a superstar and the criteria we use to judge all-time greats.The rise of the WarriorsThe 2009-10 Golden State Warriors won only 26 games and got their coach, Don Nelson, fired. (The team would go through two more coaches before finding current boss Steve Kerr.) Few vestiges of Nelson’s 2006-07 “We Believe” Warriors — the franchise’s high-water mark for postseason success since the early 1990s — were still on the roster anyway. Newcomer Stephen Curry finished second in Rookie of the Year voting but gave scarcely any clues that he’d eventually become a transformational player. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were still 20-year-old college kids. From these not-so-promising beginnings, the single greatest dynasty in basketball history1If not all of sports history, if you compare their run to those of greats from other leagues. would be formed.Every dynasty requires a series of unlikely breaks to fall its way, but it’s difficult to overstate just how surprising it was that Golden State would barge into an NBA championship club that included just eight franchises (the Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Rockets, Lakers, Heat, 76ers and Spurs) hoarding the 31 titles up for grabs from 1980 through 2010. Before they added Kevin Durant in free agency, the Warriors were a testament to the power of drafting home-grown stars and locking them up on team-friendly contract extensions. After inking Durant, they became the scariest collection of talent ever assembled. And it would all come completely out of the blue, from the perspective of a neutral observer in the summer of 2010.The superteam craze gets crazierIn conjunction with James’s emergence as arguably the best player ever (see above), he also helped usher in an era of star players dictating the direction of the league on their own terms. The Age of the Superteam had already gotten underway with the 2008 Boston Celtics’ title-winning team-up between Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But James pushed the trend even further when he joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a trio of prime-age superstars on the 2011 Miami Heat. Ever since, most of the game’s highest-profile moves have been designed to either counterbalance or mimic James’s original flight of fancy made good.The league’s power balance, of course, has almost always been about an ever-escalating arms race between Big Twos and Threes. The difference this decade has been about who gets to choose both how and where those combinations form. Encouraged by a salary structure that prioritizes nonmonetary benefits and empowered by what strange quirks of the system do arise, superstars (and their agents) have become every bit as powerful in team-building as general managers. You can’t fault them for it, either: Rings are how players are judged, and star recruiting is the most sensible path to a title in the NBA. This was bound to happen eventually — and the past decade has only solidified the trend.Pacing and spacingThe Warriors didn’t just break the mold of dynasty-building — they helped redefine how a championship team plays the game. Before Curry and Co., the conventional wisdom was that a team who lives by the 3-pointer would eventually die by it before the playoffs ended. During the 2015 playoffs, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson famously tweeted a critique of jump-shooting teams during the 2015 playoffs; Charles Barkley voiced the same sentiment around the same time. The Warriors’ title that summer felt like a retort, invalidating any preconceived notions about what kind of great team could successfully win a title.Although the rise of the 3-point shot was set in motion long before Golden State formed its dynasty, the Warriors became its symbolic standard-bearer — even after they shifted away from small-ball lineups a bit and were surpassed by many other teams in their actual use of the 3-pointer. Whether influenced by Golden State or not, the league’s obsession with speed, spacing and shooting has intensified greatly over the past decade. Pace factor is up 8 percent since 2010, and 3-pointers per game are up 78 percent. (Huge dinosaurs still roamed the paint back in 2010; today’s game looks very different.) Offenses are the most efficient they’ve ever been, and the range at which players can reliably make threes is expanding constantly. James’s own development even mirrored these changes: Once criticized for a lack of shooting touch, he improved to eventually become one of the game’s best deep 3-point bombers by the end of the decade.The evolution of tankingIn addition to the LeBron-influenced spate of superteams, one of the league’s other primary off-court concerns this decade has been how to prevent teams from tanking — deliberately building bad (and often dirt-cheap) rosters in order to get high picks in that summer’s draft. The tactic is nothing new, but back in 2010, it still hadn’t been fully explored to its cynical conclusion — that wouldn’t truly come until Sam Hinkie took over the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013.2Perhaps the SuperSonics/Thunder of the mid-to-late 2000s could also be seen as a precursor to Hinkie’s Sixers, but even those teams were not as brazen in their tanking efforts as Philadelphia would become.Hinkie’s “Process” — designed specifically to acquire a franchise-altering talent like James — left a controversial legacy. It helped Philly eventually acquire many building blocks for their current contending squad, even after missing on a number of their high picks. It also produced some of the worst basketball ever along the way, and the results underscored the complete lack of certainty inherent in hitching a franchise’s fortunes to a randomized lottery system. Neither of this year’s NBA Finalists were built by tanking — in fact, Toronto methodically built a solid team until a superstar (Kawhi Leonard) fell into its lap. And the league readjusted its lottery odds this year anyway, flattening out the rewards for poor records and further discouraging intentionally bad roster construction. Unlike the dreadful 2002-03 Cavaliers team that drafted James, the next LeBron might not even enter the league with a team that lost on purpose to get him.The end of ‘Lakers exceptionalism’?Perhaps the starkest contrast between 2010 and the present is in the state of James’s current club, the L.A. Lakers. With a core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Odom and young center Andrew Bynum, coached by Jackson, Los Angeles had just won its second consecutive title — and they appeared poised to contend for even more over the next few seasons. But Jackson retired from coaching in 2011; Bryant and Gasol got older; Bynum couldn’t stay healthy; Odom was traded; and the front office struggled to upgrade the supporting cast.An attempted superteam of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Bryant and Gasol failed miserably. It also represented the last time the Lakers made the playoffs. Ever since, the team has tried desperately to replenish its once-endless supply of Hall of Famers, whether through the draft or in signing James, the game’s biggest star. But at the same time, L.A. has been hamstrung by ineffectual management, a story that extended to this week’s ESPN report about dysfunction between Magic Johnson, former president of basketball operations; general manager Rob Pelinka; James’s agent, Rich Paul; and the rest of the team and its staff. The Lakers still figure to aim for another huge star acquisition this offseason, but the era of what SB Nation’s Tom Ziller calls “Lakers exceptionalism” — the idea that L.A. is entitled to always dominate the NBA — is over, difficult as that would have been to believe in 2010. In many ways, it’s fitting that these 2019 finals would pit two of James’s longtime foils — the Raptors (who could never beat him in the playoffs) and the Warriors (whom he could seldom beat) — against each other. James’s shadow hangs over the series in absentia, if not simply for what his vacancy signals. He may return to the championship stage again sooner than later, particularly if the Warriors’ hegemony is threatened this summer. But for now, this series marks the end of an era — and the culmination of all the many changes that have remade basketball since the last time we weren’t debating James’s chances of adding another ring to his collection.Check out our latest NBA predictions. When Lamar Odom heaved the ball down-court to drain away what seconds remained between the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers and a championship, few realized that it marked the start of a new era. The period that followed was defined by who wasn’t in L.A. that June night: LeBron James. For each of the next eight seasons, a James-led team would make the NBA Finals — a streak of contesting the championship that won’t technically end until Thursday’s Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors.As the confetti filled the Staples Center air, there was little sense of just how profoundly the game was about to change — some changes because of James himself, others just moving on a parallel track to the game’s biggest star. With the benefit of hindsight, then, let’s take a look at exactly how many huge developments have transpired across the league since the last time we had an NBA Finals without LeBron James.From ABC News:
Over the years, bullpens have eroded the workloads of starting pitchers. This season, relievers have accounted for the greatest share of pitching workload in Major League Baseball history: They have completed 41.1 percent of total innings through Wednesday, up from last year’s record of 40 percent. There are a variety of reasons for this trend, including teams becoming more aware of how starting pitchers tend to do worse each time through the opposing lineup and the increasing specialization of the sport.For more than 40 years, relievers had outperformed starters on a per-inning basis. But this season, through Wednesday, starters’ ERA is 0.02 points lower than that of relievers. Starters have not posted an ERA superior to that of relievers since 1973, but that gap has shrunk rapidly, and this year it could be potentially erased. As recently as 2012, the overall ERA of relievers was half a run better than that of starting pitchers.Perhaps this suggests that the sport has reached the limits of bullpenning and specialization — there are too many relievers employed. Through Tuesday, 492 different pitchers who primarily serve in relief have appeared in games this season.1At least 90 percent of games pitched as relievers. That already breaks the record set last season (488) and is up from 381 relievers in 2010 and 297 in 1998, the first season that MLB had 30 teams.This change in personnel may explain relievers’ decline in performance the first time through opposing lineups, relative to starting pitchers, a trend that Ben Clemens at FanGraphs documented in May and has continued into the summer. For the first time this century, starters have been better than relievers in their first time through the order in back-to-back seasons. Craig Edwards, also of FanGraphs, found there have been more low-leverage innings this year and poorer performance within them,2According to Leverage Index (LI), which is a measure of the relative “pressure” a player has faced. speaking to less meaningful baseball and more poor teams. Those innings have presumably been pitched by lesser relievers, diluting the group’s overall performance. There have been fewer meaningful innings this season — and also a greater volume of lesser-skilled relievers.A key decision for managers in today’s game is deciding whether to stick with a starter a third time through the lineup or to use the bullpen. And the gap between starters in that position and relievers has shrunk to its lowest level since 2005, as relievers have an advantage of only 49 points of opponent OPS this season compared with a 64-point edge last season and a century-high, 88-point difference in 2007, according to Baseball-Reference.com.Another reason for the convergence between starters and relievers is that starting pitchers are gaining relative skill. For the first time in the pitch-tracking era, which dates to 2007, the average fastball velocity of starting pitchers (93.3 mph) is less than 1 mph (0.8 mph) slower than that of relievers (94.1 mph). In 2012, relievers’ average fastballs were 1.7 mph faster than those of starters, and the difference has generally been shrinking since. Relievers’ overall fastball velocity has even declined this season, for the first time since 2008. Moreover, starters so far in 2019 have posted a higher difference between their strikeout rate and walk rate (14.5 percentage points) than relievers (13.9 percentage points). This is the first time starters have had a greater difference than relievers in the two rates since 1986.New technology is also allowing pitchers to improve the efficiency of their pitches. Starting pitchers also generally have a greater variety of pitches — and better command — than relievers, which is arguably one reason why they are starting pitchers and not relievers. If starters close the velocity gap, where relievers have traditionally held an advantage, they are closing a significant portion of the performance divide.Perhaps the game has swung too far in favor of relievers. Managers might want to wait a little longer on that call to the bullpen, or at least consider whom they are calling upon.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com The numbers in Jackson’s last year with his teams are especially noteworthy. Among all teams since 1970 — that’s out of 1,445 team seasons in the period — they rank 57th (2013 Philadelphia), 32nd (2016 Washington) and 23rd (2018 Tampa Bay) in yards per pass play.2Using net yards per attempt, which counts sacks as pass plays and subtracts those yards from the total passing yards. This means each one finished in the 95th percentile or better.Each of Jackson’s teams immediately gained in passing efficiency once he arrived. And both Philadelphia and Washington significantly declined once he left, by nearly 1 yard net per pass play. To put that into context, ranking last year’s teams by that measure, just 0.9 net yards per attempt separated the ninth-ranked Colts (6.7) and the 25th-ranked Lions (5.8). Those teams were 10-6 and 6-10, respectively, which is not surprising given that teams that win the yards-per-pass-play stat by any margin have won about 74 percent of games since the merger, according to my reporting for The Wall Street Journal.Of course, it’s possible that these teams became more prolific at passing coincidentally upon Jackson’s arrival, via coaching, play-calling, quarterback performance or the skills of the team’s other receivers. Jackson has struggled with durability during his career, missing nine games in his first stint with the Eagles, eight with Washington and six with the Buccaneers. So if there is a significant Jackson effect, it should be apparent when looking at his team’s performance when he plays versus when he’s inactive. And it is: Philadelphia2008-13220.127.116.11 StatWithoutWith Pass yards5,53540,772 Jackson’s active-and-inactive effect is even more pronounced than the difference before and after he joined his teams, at 1.03 yards per pass play.Not surprisingly, given the impact of yards per pass play on wins and losses, Jackson’s teams with him inactive are 8-15 (.348 win percentage) compared with 75-76-2 (.497) when he plays.It’s also possible that the effect Jackson seems to be creating for his team is really just a result of his own efficiency. After all, he’s averaged 9.7 yards on the 1,057 passes he’s been thrown in his career, counting incompletions.But last year, Jackson’s ability to threaten defenses deep did seem to significantly benefit his team’s primary receiver. Mike Evans averaged a career-best 11.0 yards every time a pass was thrown his way, a startling 2.4 yards greater than his prior season high (in 2014). And Evans was thrown the ball 138 times, nearly twice as frequently as Jackson (74 targets). For Washington, Jackson’s tight end teammate Vernon Davis (2016) boosted his yards per target by over 3.0 yards from the prior year. And another Washington tight end, Jordan Reed, averaged 7.8 yards per target with Jackson from 2014 to 2016 and since has dropped to just 6.5. During Jackson’s last stint in Philly, Riley Cooper averaged 9.9 yards per target, 10th-best in the league that year. But the next year, without Jackson, that collapsed to 6.1. Cooper has been out of the NFL since 2015.The question now is whetherJackson can be expected to maintain his fleet feet entering his age-33 season. The Eagles sure seem to think so, awarding him a three-year, $27.9 million contract this offseason with more than half the money guaranteed.Jackson’s 18.9 yards per catch in his age-32 season was third-most since the merger (minimum 40 catches). The average age-33 season of the other seven receivers with more than 17.0 yards at age 32 was 53 catches for 769 yards. Two of them, Irving Fryar and Frank Lewis, subsequently made the Pro Bowl. Another, Steve Smith, had two 1,000-yard seasons. But unlike Jackson, none of these other seven receivers led the NFL in yards per reception even once, never mind a record-setting four times.While there’s no way to know for certain the player the Eagles have, there’s little question about what Jackson has been so far in his career. Pass attempts8615,478 Yards per pass by when Jackson joined the team DeSean Jackson makes the offense betterNet yards gained per team passing attempt for DeSean Jackson’s teams, by when he was on the team The splits on Jackson’s teams when he’s on and off the field Washington2014-18.104.22.168.5 Tampa Bay2017-22.214.171.124? TeamYearsYear beforeFirst yearLast yearYear after Net yards per pass attempt counts sacks as pass plays and subtracts those yards from the total passing yards.Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com DeSean Jackson may seem like a pedestrian NFL wide receiver — very talented but far from spectacular in an era when wideouts regularly post 100-catch campaigns. Since he came into the NFL in 2008, Jackson is 17th overall in receptions and 15th in touchdown catches.But Jackson, now with Philadelphia, has led the NFL four times in yards per receptions, including last year for the Buccaneers at age 32. That’s more than any other player in NFL history.1Since 1932, when the NFL began keeping individual statistics. And his electrifying speed seems to dramatically enhance his team’s overall passing game. Having Jackson in uniform has boosted the yards per pass play of his teams. And when he’s gone, his former teams have quickly lost these games. That bad news for Tampa Bay, Jackson’s team last year, which had the 23rd best season in the statistic since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.Jackson’s newest quarterback noticed quickly that Jackson’s ability to take the top off the defense by getting behind the secondary makes the rest of the field easier to attack. Defenses have no choice but to play deeper.“(This) takes pressure off all the other guys,” Carson Wentz said. “He’ll open up a lot of things underneath, we truly believe. … He just threatens defenders in a different way.”Still, teams seem to have a hard time reconciling Jackson’s team value with his often underwhelming personal statistics. Since he broke into the league, he’s been on four squads, if you count his two stints with Philadelphia.Jackson’s nomadic career makes it easier to quantify his impact. This effect can be seen at the team level when looking at how they perform during Jackson’s stay there compared with before as well as immediately after he leaves. Net yards/pass play5.636.56
Much like the regular season that preceded it, this NBA postseason has been marked by some eye-popping individual performances. As he tries to reach the NBA Finals for the seventh-straight year, LeBron James has been phenomenal, even by his own ridiculous standards. Meanwhile, point guards Isaiah Thomas and John Wall have been throwing haymakers at one another for the right to face James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.But perhaps no star has raised the level of his game in the postseason as much as Golden State’s Draymond Green. Yes, he was great on offense in Game 4, recording a triple-double as his team finished a sweep of the Jazz1He averaged 16 points, nearly nine rebounds and seven assists for the series.. But it was his defense — both in this series and all postseason — that made his performance as special, if not more so, as Stephen Curry’s or Kevin Durant’s.Utah scored a meager 95 points per 100 plays with Green on the floor (down from 105 points per 100 with Green on the sidelines), connecting on just 52 percent of its shots inside of five feet with Green on the court (down from a respectable 61 percent with him on the bench), according to NBA.com. But Green’s raw defensive numbers in the series weren’t the real surprise — the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner was statistically the best interior stopper in the NBA this season2Among players who played at least 50 games and defended three or more shots per game from close range — rather it was the emphatic way in which he repeatedly shut down the Jazz at the rim.On Monday night, Utah tried and failed to score on Green at the basket, shooting just 3 of 10 from close range with him nearby. You would have thought the Jazz had learned their lesson earlier in the series: In Game 2, they tried sneaking three alley-oops past Green, including two to Rudy Gobert, a skilled big and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in his own right. In all three instances, Green snuffed out the play.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/alleyoop1.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/draymondswat.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/greenswat2.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Those plays came on the heels of a series against Portland in which Green had a couple of similar rejections at the rim.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/greenrejection.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/greenrejection2.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.In all, he’s blocked four dunk attempts in 283 minutes this postseason, the most in the league. It’s important to remember here that blocking the dunks of 7-foot-1-inch NBA players is about as hard as it sounds. During the regular season, players were successful on better than 90 percent of their dunk attempts, according to Basketball-Reference.com. To give Green’s postseason performance even greater context, consider this: In his entire career — five seasons and 10,627 regular-season minutes — he had four such blocks, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. Block percentage is a rate estimate of how many 2-point shots a player blocks while he’s on the court.Source: Basketball-Reference.com 2014-152.92.5 2012-131.83.5 Draymond Green’s block rate usually increases during the playoffs 2013-143.04.5 SEASONREG. SEASONPLAYOFFS 2016-173.4%6.4% 2015-163.03.8 Blocked dunks are not only difficult to accumulate, players also run the risk of becoming a potential poster. “There’s definitely a sense of urgency, but it’s also [me] not caring if I get dunked on,” Green said when asked by FiveThirtyEight about his spike in blocked dunks. “Because every time you do it, you put yourself in that position. I like the reward we can reap from getting a block. That outweighs getting dunked on. The way I see it, it’s still just two points. I try to read what the offense is trying to do and be a step early, if I can.”Green, who’s averaging just under five blocks and steals a game combined this postseason, knows his aggressive approach is inevitably going to cause some embarrassment. And that was on display in Game 4 when Utah’s Derrick Favors got the best of him on one play.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/draymonddunkedon.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.But more important than a few blocked dunks, the Warriors rely heavily on Green’s instincts to read the opposing team’s offense. Many times, his ball denial or ability to close out on someone like Gordon Hayward forces the opponent to look elsewhere to get a shot; a huge accomplishment in the postseason, when teams learn which role players can handle the moment versus which ones can’t.Earlier in the series, acting Warriors coach Mike Brown was asked to compare or contrast Green’s defensive ability with that of Ben and Rasheed Wallace, from the mid-2000s Detroit Pistons teams. In his response, Brown praised Green, saying he was more versatile than those two while saying that Green took a similar leadership role in terms of how much he communicated with teammates on the court.“They anchored whatever defense they were a part of, and they did a lot of things that were kind of on the fly, that they felt,” Brown said. “That’s something Draymond does. I mean, he has carte blanche. Steve [Kerr] has empowered him since day one to quarterback the defense, and he does a heck of a job in that regard.”And as long as Green keeps improvising the way he has, it will be tough for anyone to challenge the Warriors.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey has been suspended five games by the NCAA beginning with Saturday’s game at Nebraska, the NCAA announced Friday. Posey must also pay back $720 he received for work he didn’t do from former booster Robert DiGeronimo. The NCAA’s ruling comes after OSU athletic director Gene Smith announced Monday that Posey, along with Dan Herron and Marcus Hall, would be suspended for Saturday’s game at Nebraska, also for being paid for work they didn’t do. “I am extremely disappointed with the NCAA’s decision regarding Devier Posey,” Smith said in a statement released Friday. “This penalty is harsh considering the nature of the violation and the five game suspension already served by this student athlete.” Larry James, Posey’s lawyer, said the NCAA ignored documentation that showed Posey worked proper hours, but said the NCAA had made up its mind, according to a tweet from Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I believe they think he was dirtied by Terrelle Pryor,” he said. “That’s the only thing that could make sense.” Attempts to reach James by phone and email were unsuccessful. Posey’s suspension follows a prior five game suspension for improper benefits in the form of free tattoos. He was scheduled to make his return at Nebraska this weekend prior to the new suspension. The suspension means Posey won’t be eligible to return until OSU hosts Penn State on Nov. 19. The team will finish the regular season by traveling to Michigan the next week, and then could play in the Big Ten Championship and a bowl game afterward, if necessary. DiGeronimo overpaid Posey by $720, being paid for 70 hours of work, despite actually working only 21.5 hours. He also received $102 in impermissible benefits for a round of golf. Herron was overpaid $292.50. He was paid for 104 hours of work, even though he only worked 84.5 hours. Hall was overpaid by $225. He was paid for 66.5 hours of work, despite only working 51 hours. Melvin Fellows and Etienne Sabino were also involved, though Fellows is no longer playing due to a career-ending injury and Sabino has already been reinstated. DiGeronimo has since been disassociated from the university.