Easterbrook Idiocy and the Irrelevance of Star Power in the NFL

Gregg Easterbrook is incredibly arrogant. I rarely read Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, and when I do, I usually need 20 minutes of meditation to avoid acting on my new found violent urges. (Even the title screams arrogance: “See, most people call themselves Monday morning quarterbacks, but they are fools, because there are games on Mondays!”) Recently left with a ton of time to kill and only an iPhone at my disposal, however, I had little choice but to read through every story offered by ESPN’s ScoreCenter app, including TMQ.

Easterbrook, who regularly points to the folly of detailed NFL draft prognostications, proceeds to conduct a 2,000 word analysis of the draft. Usually I’m happy to leave idiots like GE alone, but his brief take on my beloved Cleveland Browns was too full of falsehoods and logical contradictions to resist. Let the FJM treatment begin. (Column in its entirety is here, should you dare.)

*Easterbrook’s actual quotes are bold.

Peyton Hillis is about to become well-known via his selection as cover boy for “Madden 2012.”

For a man once employed by a think tank, this sentence is stunningly dumb. Peyton Hillis was not picked for the cover of Madden 2012 by a committee of dart wielding orangutans (although that would be pretty cool, and given that EA Sports has a monopoly on NFL video games, it’s really not inconceivable). He was selected in a March Madness-esque tournament, in which the general public chose between various pairs of “opponents” in a series of “games”. The player receiving more votes advanced to the next round, etc. In essence, this was a popularity contest, won by the player that Easterbrook implies was not well known prior to this.

Hillis aside, what Cleveland Browns starter can you name?

I’ll grant him that the everyday NFL fan isn’t geeking out about Mohamed Massaquoi. I think it’s safe to assume, however, that Colt McCoy (best statistical college QB of all time), Josh Cribbs (who has his own Fathead commercial and a cameo in The League), Joe Thomas (third overall pick in 2007, three time Pro Bowler), and Scott Fujita (noted nice-guy for a noted Cindarella team) are household names among anyone who watches football.

My point exactly.

You mean the point that you incorrectly made, or the stupid one that you’re about to make?

In 2009 and again this April, the Browns traded down from high-profile selections at the top of the draft to stockpile no-names.

Yes, and I know every Browns fan rues the day that we traded the rights to draft Mark Sanchez for players and additional picks, one of which netted a Pro Bowl center.

The team is now well-stocked with no-names.

Aside from the “names” that you failed to recall.

With Houston suddenly making the scoreboard spin, the Browns are poised to supplant the Texans as the NFL’s dullest team.

Given that I only watched 15 of the Browns’ 16 games last year, maybe I’m missing something here. Do they run halfback draws on every third down? Do they spend 3/4 of practices working on punts? Does the defense always play safe, vanilla coverage without exotic blitz packages? But those things aren’t true at all!

Oh, wait, I get it. Gregg is saying that because neither team signs high priced, over the hill free agents or trades up for overrated skill players in the draft, they’re dull. So by this measure, the two most exciting teams in the league are Washington and Oakland. (Combined record since 2008: 36-60.) In this case: I would like nothing more than for the Browns to be Gregg Easterbrook’s dullest team every single season.

Also, I’ll leave it up to the reader to judge whether or not Houston’s “dull” offseasons had anything to do with the insanely exciting and effective offense (third overall and fourth in passing yards in 2010) that GE references. Or maybe the Texans secretly signed Warren Sapp to a ten year, $115 million contract, hence motivating the offense to be successful. Perhaps we’ll never know.

Courtesy of the Julio Jones trade

…which, that the Browns absolutely screwed the Falcons on the deal, was the only thing that draft experts near-unanimously agreed on…

the Browns have two first-round choices next year. TMQ says don’t trade either — use both on impact players.

OK…wow. Where to begin.

First, another insane logical error. Easterbrook chides the Browns for trading down, implying that their lack of star power is at least partially a result of said trades. But it’s not like the Browns traded high first round picks to stockpile fourth and fifth rounders; every deal involving a first round pick netted them another first round pick…just a later one. Yet Easterbrook claims that these very same picks (the later first rounders) should be used to net impact players. Huh?!?!?!

Second, GE’s focus on star power makes sense…in the NBA, where there are five starters, 7-9 guys who ever see the court, and 12 players on the active roster. In the NFL these numbers are something more like 22, 35-40, and 53. Based on simple math (each player in football represents a smaller portion of the players on the field than basketball players on the court) and the dynamics of the game (football is extremely team-oriented, as opposed to the NBA’s isolation-dominated playbook), one player in the NBA can singlehandedly change the fortunes of a team. In football? Try putting Peyton Manning on the Panthers, or Adrian Peterson on the 2011 Vikings Cardinals. They’d struggle mightily.

Next, the injury rate in NFL games is astoundingly high (roughly 2.5 injuries/game). Usually the teams that win the Super Bowl do so largely by virtue of having the fewest crippling injuries. Assuming teams cannot control how many of their players get hurt, what can they control? Depth. And how do you accrue depth? By stockpiling draft picks.

Finally, trading high first round picks for multiple selections tends to be a good move because it hedges a team against unnecessary risks. Studies have shown that the vast majority of elite NBA players are picked in the top 5, while the bulk of All Stars are picked in the top-10. Everything outside of the top-10 is essentially a crapshoot. In the NFL, superstars are regularly found outside of the top-10, and it’s pretty easy to find a good starter late in the first round. It’s also easier for a top-5 pick to flame out. Thus, teams that can regularly turn early first round picks into multiple first/second rounders have a greater chance of landing quality players.

Perhaps Easterbrook didn’t consider any of the above when writing this week’s column. Fair enough; when you crank out tens of thousands of words worth of material in a year, not all of its going to be great. But when you carry an aura of unflappable pretentiousness, refer to your column as if it is a sentient being, etc., you’re fair game.

Hear that, Krugman?

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