Now before the traditionalists tell me that the “underwear-olympics don’t matter” and that “film is the most important tool in scouting a player” - please know that I firmly realize the game is played between the lines, in pads vs. an opponent. When I evaluate a player, film is the lion’s share of the grade. For me, the most important question you can ask is always: how good of a football player is he? But a vitally important question that sometimes get’s overlooked is: how good of an athlete is he for his size?
The metrics I use and discuss in this article are not a tool meant to predict how good or productive a player will be. These are formulas meant to aid in explaining whom the true athletes are and to help verify what we are, or what we aren’t seeing when we watch the tape.
I think we can all agree that there is a large range of athletic variance among NFL position groups. By holding height constant, we are able to arrange each position group more fittingly and compare athletes not just by their 40 time or their vertical, but by how dynamic those measurables really are based on mass. In other words, this tool helps us see how explosive or fast an athlete truly is for his mass. If a 5’10” 180lb man leaps 45”, most would say “that’s amazing” but by the same token if a 6’5” 245lb man leaps 45”, not only is that amazing but it’s truly a more dynamic display of athleticism when considering the variance in each player’s mass.
I can’t claim that these metrics or methods are statistically conclusive but I am working on a multiple regression formula for player data to see what relationships truly exist. That being said, I personally feel there will be correlations and patterns between athleticism and success in the NFL. I believe that history supports the notion that the “athletic crème” usually rises to the top. However, I can’t credibility paint with such broad strokes because - on both ends of that spectrum - there are athletes that prove this untrue: Jerry Rice and Greg Little are just two that come to mind that fit both ends of that spectrum. Yet, when you filter each metric, it’s hard to ignore the patterns you see when productive athlete’s like Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Javon Walker, Miles Austin, Julio Jones. Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald are all grouped somewhat closely together.
Like I said, using metric tools like this is an important piece of the puzzle. The combine is important. Numbers are important. In fact, the NFL uses similar metric tools and equations to measure athletic ability. Nike also collects data and tracks these same measureables very closely. Each year, NIKE evaluates thousands of athletes across the country from various age ranges, heights and weights all with the goal to track and gather data around this same idea. Uncovering the athletes. NIKE uses a formula known as SPARQ which is a much more refined statistical formula that provides data with better fit and statistical confidence.
To better understand why I might have something beneficial or relevant to offer on this topic, it’s important to note that with the help of James I have compiled a database of measureable data, heights, weighs, schools, etc., for every player who completed the combine events from 1999 to the present – this includes 40, vertical, short shuttle, 3-cone, broad jump, and bench press. Plugging this data into my formulas allows me to compare any particular athlete to any other athlete or group of athletes in terms of where they rank on spectrum of athleticism.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon’s availability for the season, I decided to take a look at new Browns receiver, Charles Johnson and compare him to some select company. ( I would have included Josh in my comparison but he didn’t complete several of the combine events at his pro-day. I felt using the low-end average for his position to calculate his metrics didn’t seem fair because I assume he’s above average, if not elite, in many of these areas ). I’ve read other articles that support the notion – and it’s immediately clear from my data below – that this kid is an athletic freak!
In fact, you can see below where he ranks among the group of receivers I selected. Each receiver is within his height grouping (6’2” < ) and when comparing all athletes in this group since 1999 you can see that Johnson’s “scores” rank him in the top 9 in the broad jump; top 17 in the 40; and top 23 in the vertical jump. Then, when putting his numbers into an adjusted Waldo formula for both speed (SPEED) and explosiveness (EXP) based on height/weight ratios, Johnson ranks in the top 17 in both EXP and DYS. I won’t fully reveal the adjustments that were made, but you can reference the original formula above.
I didn’t group or rank the players according to their DET or DAS because I haven’t been able to apply those formulas to my database yet. But what I did do was make bold any metric, including DET and DAS, that ranked better than Charles Johnson’s respective metric. This was simply for comparison sake among this specific sample.
DET = vert + bench + broad jump inches
DAS = (40 + 3 cone + short shuttle) / 3
The next layer to this was that I wanted to look at Sammy Watkins because I wanted to compare where his athleticism ranked on the spectrum. The narrative in Cleveland and across the league is that the Browns lost out on one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the 2014 NFL Draft. Again, it’s important to make the distinction between what a player can do on film and these metrics. I think Sammy is a fine football player and a master of his craft, however it’s interesting to note how non-explosive and non-dynamic Sammy Watkins is for his height when looking at the chart above. I went a step further and layered the ranking, adding Watkins within his height group as well as within the bigger height group – again just for comparison sake. In the end you can see that Watkins is fast for his speed - ranking 16th in the SPEED category – but across the board he clearly isn’t as explosive or dynamic as most claim.
Yes Browns fans, Charles Johnson is one of the most explosive and dynamic athletes to play in the NFL since 1999 – and he’s on our roster! The only question remains: what can he truly do on the field? See for yourself below, it’s not much, but it’s the best of what I can find.
OK, so we have some practice footage, and a little college tape. Realistically, at this point, nobody really knows that he can do on the field. Last year was Johnson’s rookie season and the Browns were able to “steal” him away from Green Bay’s practice squad but were never able to see him play. That’s because during his physical with the team last fall he discovered that he had a torn ACL and was shut down for the season. As a rookie in Green Bay last year, and given their depth at WR, Johnson never really got a true look at a roster spot. The opportunity in Cleveland is his first legitimate shot at making a roster and having a chance to contribute – and in a big way.
Recently, Mike Pettine had this to say about Johnson:
"He's explosive," coach Mike Pettine said. "He's a guy that is deceptively fast. He doesn't look like he's covering a lot of ground but he is. I think his catch radius is bigger than most. He's got long arms and he's got (big) hands. He's a guy that we hope can emerge from this as a guy that can help us."
And just this week Lane Adkins shared that the Browns have been very impressed with Charles Johnson’s play on the field and were pleased with all his work in the off season to ensure he entered into camp 100% healthy and ready to compete. The word is that he’s been catching everything thrown his way; he’s been going up, battling and winning jump balls; he’s been running sharp, crisp routes; showing good hands and concentration; and similar to Josh Gordon, those in Berea have described his speed and explosiveness as “effortless”. If this chatter is legit and Johnson can continue to build upon what he has demonstrated so far in training camp, this young man could develop into the dynamic, explosive weapon the Cleveland Browns need.
You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeKrupka