Mark Jackson28.012.0-16.049.9 John Williams18.31.8-16.4-0.8 Back in March 2011, I wrote a column for The New York Times about how, statistically speaking, Derrick Rose didn’t deserve to win the NBA’s MVP award over Chris Paul (and others).The reaction from Chicago Bulls fans was — how can I put this? — not positive. But in the process of researching Rose and watching him closely, I grew to appreciate him more and more as a player, to the point that he became one of my favorite players to watch in all of basketball.1I even had a framed photograph of him on the wall of my old office at Sports Reference. In other words, sometimes contemptuous feedback breeds familiarity with — and even fondness for — a player. (I confess that a similar phenomenon is taking place for me now, with Andrew Wiggins.)That’s why it was so disheartening to see Rose suffer yet another devastating injury Tuesday night, this time a torn meniscus in the same knee that he injured early in the 2013-14 season. While the severity is still unknown, as is the course of action that Rose’s doctors will pursue, this latest setback could be Rose’s fourth season-ending injury in as many seasons. It’s a string of bad breaks that shouldn’t befall any athlete, much less one who ranked among his sport’s most exciting before injuries struck.Purely from a basketball perspective, the Bulls are probably more equipped to handle Rose’s absence now than at any point in the past four years. While Rose’s season started with promise, his play has largely been uneven; for the year, he ranks 33rd among point guards in Real Plus-Minus and 165th overall.2He ranked 20th overall during his best season, 2011-12.The bigger question concerns whether Rose can overcome another misfortune to contribute meaningfully in the future. And in that regard, he’s in uncharted territory by the standards of NBA history.Through age 233For all ages in this post, I’m referring to Basketball-Reference.com’s convention of listing a player’s age on Feb. 1 of the season in question. (for Rose, the 2011-12 season), the Bulls guard had generated 26.1 wins above replacement (WAR), a total that ranks 32nd among all NBA players since the 1977 ABA-NBA merger. For comparison’s sake, LeBron James is the 23-and-under leader over that span, with 82.2 WAR. But plenty of great players — from Adrian Dantley to Shawn Kemp and Shareef Abdur-Rahim — also had fewer WAR than Rose through the same age.Based on his average yearly performance through age 23,4Adjusted for aging effects. it would have been fair to expect about 26 more WAR from Rose between the ages of 24 and 26.5Using a historical regression between average age-adjusted WAR per year through age 23 and total WAR between the ages of 24 and 26. However, Rose produced just 0.9 WAR between his lost 2012-13 and the current 2014-15 season. Through no fault of Rose’s own, that 25 WAR shortfall was the largest of any player in the sample I examined, a tangible measure of just how much was lost over the past three years. Derrick Rose25.90.9-25.0Active Rik Smits12.71.9-10.823.9 Jay Vincent14.34.0-10.2-2.3 Chris Paul54.537.3-17.1Active David Thompson26.810.0-16.82.5 Shaquille O’Neal46.034.8-11.2106.3 Norm Nixon20.98.0-12.83.4 Sam Bowie21.02.7-18.311.2 John Long6.6-3.0-9.6-1.1 Tyrone Nesby15.71.0-14.70.0 Darius Miles10.7-1.4-12.10.1 Brevin Knight19.14.8-14.310.2 LaPhonso Ellis19.83.8-16.13.3 And Rose’s peers at the top of the shortfall list show what uncharted comeback territory he’s in. Big man Sam Bowie, now known mostly for being drafted one pick ahead of Michael Jordan, returned to post 11.2 WAR after missing his entire age-26 season with a stress fracture but wasn’t anywhere near as effective as he’d been in his first two seasons. And Bowie is the success story of the group.Clark Kellogg undershot his projected age 24-26 WAR by 19.8, retiring four games into his age-25 season after a trio of knee surgeries. David Thompson’s issues with injuries and substance abuse caused him to undershoot his expected age 24-26 WAR by 16.8 and then generate only 2.5 WAR from age 27 onward. John “Hot Plate” Williams succumbed to injuries and struggled to control his weight, producing -0.8 WAR after age 26. And LaPhonso Ellis was never the same player following a knee injury suffered early in his age-24 season.Most of these cautionary tales are at most only tangentially similar to Rose’s injury travails, but they do underscore just how rare it is for a player to return to productivity after a spell of lost prime seasons, even if — like Rose — they’d shown tremendous promise as young players. Clark Kellogg20.91.1-19.80.0 Landry Fields11.3-0.4-11.7Active Kerry Kittles21.15.6-15.517.5 Andris Biedrins12.82.8-10.0-0.2 Phil Ford14.3-0.3-14.60.0 Willie Anderson17.15.7-11.53.7 Rajon Rondo25.415.1-10.3Active Reggie King16.76.4-10.3-0.7 Bill Garnett11.20.9-10.30.0 Eddie Griffin10.9-0.3-11.20.0 Ron Brewer10.4-1.6-12.0-4.8 Eric Gordon11.72.0-9.7Active Eric Money8.2-1.9-10.10.0 Dudley Bradley12.01.1-10.97.0 Tyrus Thomas8.7-1.5-10.2Active WAR, AGES 24-26WAR, AGE 27+ PLAYERPREDICTEDACTUALDIFF
Saturday is Independence Day in the U.S. and tomorrow is a company holiday, so we’re off and you’re without a newsletter. Have a good holiday weekend everybody, be cool around the fireworks and don’t do anything too stupid. See you on Monday. If you haven’t already, you really need to sign up for the Significant Digits newsletter — be the first to learn about the numbers behind the news. You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news.2-1The semifinal game between England and Japan ended in heartbreak for Britons, with an own-goal in stoppage time ending the Lionesses’ run. [ESPN FC] 250 studentsSweet Briar University, a private all-women’s college in Virginia, was saved from closing after a dedicated alumni campaign. Still, the premature closing announcement meant that only 250 students will be returning to campus this fall, down from 561 students last year. [Bloomberg] 54 yearsThe U.S. is going to have an embassy in Cuba again, and vice versa, after 54 years of no diplomatic ties. [USA Today]67 percent It’s the United States versus Japan in the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup this Sunday. According to our model, the United States is favored to win the match and the tournament with a 67 percent chance of victory. Still, don’t get too cocky: Japan should still win this game one out of three times. If you want a primer on the team, definitely check out Allison McCann talking to current members of the squad from earlier in the tournament. [FiveThirtyEight] 5.3 percent“Magic Mike XXL” is out in theaters, and you should see it both because Channing Tatum has abs that can probably open jars, and because “Magic Mike” was actually a pretty accurate look into a crucial sector of the American economy. The strip club industry derives 5.3 percent of its revenue from women. [FiveThirtyEight]44 yearsSonia Manzano has played Maria on Sesame Street for 44 years, but that tenure is coming to an end. She announced that she’s going to retire from the beloved children’s television program after this season. [The AV Club] 600 feetComet 67P, where the European Space Agency sent the Rosetta probe and harpooned a lander, is littered with massive sinkholes 600 feet deep. I’m pretty sure this renders the “drillers have to become astronauts to dig 800 feet into an asteroid” plot of “Armageddon” effectively moot. Finally, science standing up to a Michael Bay movie. [The Los Angeles Times]$45 millionThe campaign of Hillary Clinton raised about $45 million since its launch, which is a stack of dough the size of an incumbent president’s. At press time, Iowa local TV news station owners were presumably checking if a shiny new Doppler radar is eligible for Amazon Prime. [ABC News]$935 millionOne side effect of all those comic book movies we keep seeing is that comic book sales are bananas again. Last year they hit mid-1990s sales levels, after adjusting for inflation. About $835 million came from physical sales of comic books and graphic novels and another $100 million from digital sales. [Comichron]$1.9 billionPuerto Rico paid the $1.9 billion debt service payment it owed Wednesday, averting a deeper fiscal crisis in the U.S. territory that owes $73 billion total. [CNBC] If you see a significant digit in the wild, tweet it to me, @WaltHickey.
DenverAFC—0-2-114 Winners and losers of the wild-card round Last year, we went into the playoffs with a pretty good idea of the Super Bowl favorites. This year, not so much. According to our Elo ratings, no team entered the 2015-16 postseason with better than a 20 percent shot at the Lombardi Trophy. (As a point of historical comparison, Elo’s No. 1 regular-season team wins the Super Bowl at a 34 percent clip.) And none of last weekend’s games changed that — if anything, the Super Bowl picture is even more chaotic now.Why is all this happening? In part, blame a weird disagreement between seeding and team strength. Basically, each conference’s lowest-seeded teams — i.e., the road teams in wild-card weekend — are among its most powerful, which left weaker teams with home games and even, in a few cases, bye weeks. That’s a recipe for more parity across the playoff landscape.The trend toward parity was borne out in last weekend’s results and will continue into this weekend. All four road teams won for the first time in modern wild-card history, and in each case the winner was the stronger team according to Elo. Consequently, all of Elo’s current top eight are still alive, but upside-down seeding continues to keep the playoffs wide open, as the higher-rated team will be at home in only a quarter of this weekend’s games. MinnesotaNFC-6-15-6-3— Kansas CityAFC262013614 SeattleNFC6188413 WashingtonNFC-27-11-3-1— PittsburghAFC1324848 New EnglandAFC—-8-3-211 ArizonaNFC—-3-2-116 HoustonAFC-26-12-4-1— CincinnatiAFC-13-24-11-5— CHANGE IN PROBABILITY OF WINNING … CarolinaNFC—-6%-4%-2%18% TEAMCONFΔ ELODIVISIONAL ROUNDCONF CHAMPSUPER BOWLSB ODDS Green BayNFC2716747 Bold indicates that a team is still active in the playoffsSource: ESPN The weekend’s two biggest gainers in Super Bowl win probability, for instance, were the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks, who also happen to be the top two teams in football according to Elo. But both will be underdogs in the divisional round because they’ll be on the road. Conversely, the Super Bowl odds for the top two seeds in each conference went down, because the possibility that they’d have to face one of the scary lower seeds turned into a certainty.As a result, all of the remaining teams in the championship hunt saw their Super Bowl chances become more compressed over wild-card weekend. That’s bad news for the bye teams but good for us as football fans, because this is one of the most evenly matched sets of divisional-round games ever.Read more: The Biggest Surprises Of Wild-Card Weekend
David Garrard left the Jets due to chronic knee pain back in May, but now the veteran quarterback has returned for another season in the NFL.Garrard previously said he was going to retire, but things changed after rehabilitation and rest this summer. After a call to Jets general manager, Garrard was back on the Jets roster for the second time.“I’m sitting at home, watching games thinking, ‘Why am I at home? Why I am doing this to myself? I didn’t want to have any regrets one day,” Garrard told the Jets’ official website today.The veteran, will be attending practices and team meetings, but won’t be eligible to play for the next two games. After that, the Jets have an option to activate Garrard or release him.Geno Smith came out the victor over Mark Sanchez for the starting quarterback position. With Smith starting all five regular season games and playing well, it’s safe to say that he has the spot. However, No.2 Sanchez just went through a season ending surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder opening room for any capable fill in.If Garrard improves his health, he could take over Sanchez’s No.2 spot and mentor Smith.
LeBron James went to the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive year. He changed addresses again, leaving his Cleveland home for the second time to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the biggest move of free agency over the summer. He remained arguably the most dominant player in the basketball, adding even more glitz on a legacy that reached epic status long ago.It was, by any measure, a fantastic year for James.FILE – In this Dec. 7, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) drives against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half of an NBA basketball game, in San Antonio. LeBron James was named The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Darren Abate, File)And even without a title, it may have been his most significant year.For the third time, James has been selected as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year — after 2018 saw him continue to excel on the court, open the “I Promise” school for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and further use his voice as an activist who bristled at being told to “shut up and dribble.”“I would describe it as a success because I was able to inspire so many people throughout the year,” James said. “I got to go back to China, to Paris, to Berlin, I opened up a school. And all these kids I was able to see, all over the world and in my hometown, I was able to inspire, to make them think they can be so much more than what they think they’re capable of being. That was my outlook for 2018.”James received 78 points in balloting by U.S. editors and news directors announced Thursday, while Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts was second with 46. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was third, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was fourth and Triple Crown winner Justify was fifth.On the court, James remained dominant. He averaged 28.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists in 2018 between his time with the Cavaliers and Lakers, playing in 102 games through Thursday.“In addition to being on everyone’s short list as one of the league’s all-time greatest players, LeBron is among the hardest working players and is a thoughtful and impactful leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “He serves on the executive committee of the Players Association even as he builds an impressive media company of his own. And what’s most inspiring, and no surprise given his talent and focus, is how he’s done all of this while embracing his unique opportunity to positively impact communities in need.”James becomes the third man to win the award at least three times, joining Lance Armstrong (a four-time winner from 2002 through 2005), Tiger Woods (1997, 1999, 2000 and 2006) and Michael Jordan (1991, 1992 and 1993).Armstrong won the Tour de France in each of his years as the AP recipient, — though he was later stripped of the titles in a doping scandal. Woods won at least one major and was the PGA’s Player of the Year in all four of his AP-winning years. Jordan’s three awards coincided with his first three NBA championships in Chicago. And James’ first two times getting the award were in 2013 and 2016, years where his fingerprints mussed up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in a title celebration.And James’ closest rivals in the AP balloting this year — Betts and Ovechkin — also won titles in 2018.James’ year included no championship, no scoring title, no MVP award. But some of the people closest to James still considered 2018 to be his finest year yet.“I like to talk about generations,” said Miami guard Dwyane Wade, one of James’ best friends. “There will never be another Michael Jordan because he was the first to be a global superstar, the first to take the NBA to another level. There will never be another LeBron James, and a lot of it is from what he’s done away from the game. Him understanding his voice has been so refreshing and so important to the culture and his friends.”The “I Promise” school is perhaps James’ most prized accomplishment yet. It opened in July for 240 third- and fourth-graders, a public school in Akron that is perhaps like none other. Families — not just the kids — get support there, whether it’s by helping put food on the table or providing adult education or even legal assistance.And this is just the start. James and his LeBron James Family Foundation have enormous plans for the school in the years ahead.“It is already such a success,” James said. “And it’s something that I never thought was possible until we made it happen. So yes, it’s been a pretty good year.”A busy year, too.He had a documentary series called “Shut Up and Dribble,” which discusses the role athletes have in the current political and cultural climate. His show “The Shop,” featuring James and friends talking about life in the backdrop of a barbershop, has been enormously popular. James has faced criticism in recent days for posting rap lyrics that included the phrase “Jewish money,” for which he apologized, and even rival coaches have spoken out about how he’s used his fame for good.“To this day, he hasn’t missed a step,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said earlier this year. “He hasn’t fallen off the ledge and he’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunity and haven’t had the same advantages as others.”On the court, he was already an icon.Off the court, he’s looking to be one as well in the years ahead.“The next star is out there,” James said. “And I’m not just talking sports. Doctor, nurse, pilots, they’re out there. The one thing they need is knowing that people care about them and care about their lives. I believe it’s part of my job, and I take it very seriously, to try to tap into that.”
Related: Hot Takedown Should Terrell Owens Be In The Hall of Fame? In today’s NFL, a 52-yard field goal is a little under a 70 percent proposition. Scooch up 10 yards, and you’re looking at something closer to 80 percent. Add another five yards onto that and you’re up above 90 percent, turning a not-so-sure thing into one as sure as it’s going to get. The only choice is to try to advance the ball.On first down, Devonta Freeman lost a yard. The Falcons could have taken two more plays to run into the line and taken their chances on the 50-plus-yarder. But when you have the league MVP under center and are gaining 8.8 net yards per pass attempt on the season, and when those 8.8 yards would represent a material improvement to your odds of winning, you stick to what you know. And so the Falcons did what they did all season — they gave Matt Ryan the ball. And then he got sacked. And then Jake Matthews committed his second costly holding penalty. Suddenly, the Falcons had 3rd-and-33, and as the coaches like to say, there’s no play in the playbook for that.The difference between the Falcons and the Patriots is the difference between the Patriots and the Falcons. The Falcons’ inexplicable little foibles, like the repeatedly snapping the ball without milking all the time they could off the clock, doomed them. The Pats’ miscues, like the decision to kick a field goal while down 19 in the fourth quarter should have doomed New England, but the Patriots were saved by a series of miraculous events. Edelman caught the ball; Ryan coughed it up. The Patriots stay the Patriots, and the Falcons surely will stay the Falcons. HOUSTON — Great Super Bowls tend to be remembered in miniature: A missed kick. A ball pressed to a helmet. An outstretched arm at the goal line. For this Super Bowl, though, the picture will be bigger and two-sided: the New England Patriots’ furious comeback from down by 25 points to take a title they had no business taking, and the Atlanta Falcons’ attendant collapse. This game’s individual moments, memorable as they were, will likely be pale in importance next to the way the reputations of both teams were affirmed in the strongest possible terms, by the thinnest possible margin.On the Patriots’ side, Belichick and his apostles are up for beatification. Tom Brady led five consecutive scoring drives to stage the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, setting records for pass attempts, completions and yardage in the championship game. Julian Edelman made the cleat catch. And the Patriots defense clamped down to hold the Falcons scoreless in their final four drives. The turnaround was so dramatic that it practically unwound the ESPN win-probability model in real time. These are seemingly acts of a higher power.Except Brady, of course, hadn’t been perfect all game. Before the Patriots offense clicked into action late in the third, Brady missed Julian Edelman badly on a few throws and was making uncharacteristic errors. Partly this was due to the Falcons pass rush getting to him using just four rushers. In the second half, New England’s massive time-of-possession advantage began to show as the Falcons’ pass rush faded. (“I think for sure we ran out of gas some,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn. “I don’t know what the time of possession was, I didn’t look at that. But I can tell you how hard these guys battled for it.”) But partly Brady’s poor start to the game was simply some bad throws and costly drops at the worst possible time in the season for either.But rather than overreact to a few bad plays, New England stayed the course. “You can decide to say that the game is out of reach,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said after the game, “and start scrambling and going into a two-minute mode earlier than you really want to. At halftime, we definitely weren’t going to do that.”This is the least shocking thing the Patriots could have done. The comeback was prodigious, of course, but everyone in the stadium was watching something they had seen the Patriots do many times before. Brady wasn’t reeling off dazzling, how’d-he-do-that highlights; he was marching the Falcons to their unavoidable doom. Even the team’s ho-hum reactions to Edelman’s time-and-space-defying catch demonstrate the sense of certainty surrounding the Pats:Edelman: “It was 3rd-and-5. We made a decent play. Thankfully, we finished. I was just trying to track it. It was a bang-bang play.”Brady: “Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. It was one of the greatest catches. We’ve been on the other end of a few of those catches and tonight, you know, we came up with it. It was a pretty spectacular catch.”McDaniels: “It was just great concentration. I think to win a game like this, you’re probably going to need a few plays like that, and that was one of them.”Running back James White: “I was actually right in front of him when he caught it. I was pretty sure that he caught it. It was a big play in the game.”Tight end Martellus Bennett: “I was like, ‘OH SHIT HE CAUGHT THAT!’” OK, so not all of them are replicants. But if Brady didn’t quite come away from Sunday with one defining “Isn’t that John Candy?” moment of cool, he got the one thing that solidifies legacies more than iconic moments: luck. The ball finally bounced (or, in Edelman’s case, didn’t) the Patriots’ way, and the same stroke of the divine that stole away a perfect season in 2008 put New England in position to steal a championship back. For a player and a franchise as accomplished as Brady and the Pats, the inescapable conclusion is that the luck you have is the luck you make.But for a team and quarterback that don’t have that luxury, one bad half threatens to peel off whatever veneer of credibility they had constructed on top of the city’s old Loserville neuroses this season. And if the team’s only luck is bad luck, Ryan and the Falcons manufactured it themselves.As you’d probably guess, the biggest postgame scrum for the Falcons coaches wasn’t around Quinn, but around offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The defense was gassed, sure, but how could the high-powered Falcons offense (No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ offensive ranks) have scored its final points with 8:31 left in the third quarter?After the game, the thing most everyone wanted to know — and made sure to ask every Falcon in the building — was just what happened after Julio Jones made a ridiculous catch of his own with 4:47 left in the fourth quarter, putting the Falcons on the edge of field-goal range and in position to go up two scores. Were you too aggressive late? Do you wish you had any of those play calls back? They were polite versions of the obvious question: Just what the hell was Shanahan thinking? Score there and the Falcons are up two scores with just about four minutes remaining. In a game that was over several times before it was truly over, that would have buried the Pats a few feet deeper.“Our goal was to get as many yards as we could,” Shanahan said. “You don’t think, ‘Just run the ball and make your guy kick a 50-yard field goal,’ you try your hardest to give him a great chance to for sure make it, but we ended up getting a sack, and [running the ball isn’t] really an option after that.”
For the fifth time and in one of the most dominating fashions the NBA Finals has ever seen, the San Antonio Spurs won the title on Sunday night. The Spurs beat the Miami Heat, 104-87, their third consecutive double-digit win.How dominant were the Spurs? San Antonio led the league in per-100-possession point differential during the regular season at +8.1. The Spurs were +13.0 or better in all four of their Finals wins.The ascension of finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the decline of Miami’s defense, the battle of the role players going emphatically to San Antonio, Manu Ginobili immersing himself in the fountain of youth — many elements explain this Spurs breakthrough. But perhaps nothing was more important than San Antonio’s ball movement.As I’ve highlighted before, the Heat play an aggressive, trapping style of defense. If the Spurs maintained composure and continued to swing the ball during the finals, they would stretch Miami’s defense to the breaking point.That’s exactly what happened.In the Finals, the Spurs had 127 assists to just 76 for the Heat. Even if we account for their many more made field goals and instead compare the percentage of assisted baskets, the Spurs still have an enormous edge: 66 percent to 45 percent.More revealing: The Spurs had 42 secondary assists in the series (tracked by the NBA’s SportVU Player Tracking System, these are passes that led directly to an assist). That means that a third of the Spurs’ assists in the series were part of a sequence of two or more passes. Looking at the numbers game by game, we can see the stark difference in the way the Heat and the Spurs went about their business.The secondary assist percentage shown here is the percentage of each team’s baskets for which a secondary assist was recorded. For the Heat, those numbers dropped off significantly from the regular season, when Miami had an assist percentage of 59 percent and a secondary assist percentage of 16 percent. The Spurs defense was disruptive enough that it forced the Heat toward relying on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to create offense, often singlehandedly.One might imagine that the Spurs would have a harder time executing against an NBA Finals-caliber team (not to mention a two-time defending champ) than they did in the regular season. But the Spurs pretty much met their regular season numbers: an assist percentage of 62 percent and a secondary assist percentage of 18 percent. The Heat’s defense wasn’t able to shake the Spurs out of their rhythm, and Miami paid the price, over and over again.
One of the strongest takeaways of the early NFL season is that the Minnesota Vikings need to stop drafting kickers.Last Sunday, rookie Daniel Carlson endured one of the worst days for a kicker in recent history, becoming just the 15th man this century to attempt at least three field goals without hitting any of them, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Carlson was drafted in the fifth round, one round higher than the Vikings selected Blair Walsh in 2012. Walsh is also a distinguished member of the 3+ missed kick club, pulling the feat for the Vikings in his rookie year. For good measure, he did it again last year on the Seahawks.Like Walsh, Carlson is also currently looking for an NFL job. The Vikings cut him Monday after his last-second, overtime miss of a 35-yard chip shot, which left the Vikings in a 29-29 tie with their archrival Packers in Green Bay. Minnesota replaced him with free agent and longtime Cowboy Dan Bailey, who is only the second most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history.Drafting Carlson in the fifth round doesn’t sound like a huge investment by the Vikings, given that most fifth-round picks in general don’t amount to much.1The 40 fifth-rounders of 2017 have a combined two touchdown passes with seven picks, 522 rushing yards, 124 catches and nine sacks. But a fifth-round pick for a kicker is more like a first-rounder for any other position. Since 2000, just 16 kickers have been taken in the fifth round or higher, led by Sebastian Janikowski, taken 17th overall in 2000. (Janikowski is another kicker on the misery list of shanking all three attempts in a game.) In the same time period, 53 quarterbacks and 75 wide receivers have been taken in the first round.Carlson is hardly the first drafted kicker to struggle so much that he ends up booted out of the NFL. Last year, second-round pick Roberto Aguayo was released by Tampa Bay and has yet to attempt another regular-season kick. He missed nine of 31 attempts as a rookie. So is there any reason for a team to draft a kicker — especially one so high?We looked at all field goals since 2000, using data from Pro-Football-Reference.com. In total, 140 kickers made 13,469 made field goals on 16,389 total attempts, for an 82.2 percent success rate. Limiting our sample to the 91 kickers who had at least 15 attempts2Which eliminated Carlson. gave us 13,328 field goals on 16,175 attempts. But then we broke it down further, looking at kickers who were drafted out of college versus kickers who were signed as free agents. Ultimately, there was no improvement in field goal accuracy for drafted kickers relative to the proverbial man off the street. Since 2000, all drafted kickers have made 5,532 of 6,794 field goals, a rate of 81.4 percent. Free agents are 7,937 for 9,595, or 82.7 percent. Among those free agents is only the most accurate and prolific long-distance kicker in NFL history, two-time All-Pro Justin Tucker. Even if we go super rarified, the best of the best kicking prospects — just the nine men to kick this century who were drafted as kickers in the first three rounds — the percentage is just 81.3 percent (1,680 for 2,066). And the bulk of that is longtime Raider and current Seahawk Janikowski, who is also below average at just 80.3 percent on 517 career attempts.3Janikowski’s abundance of long attempts are skewing his success rate, though — he has an 86.1 percent rate on field goals under 50 yards, which is slightly better than the 2000-2018 league average of 85.3 percent for that distance.Carlson isn’t the only drafted kicker to get the hook this season. The Browns released 2017 seventh-round pick Zane Gonzalez after he missed two field goals against the Saints, including the potential game-tying kick in the closing seconds, and two extra points. In typical Browns fashion, it turns out that he may have been kicking with an injury unbeknownst to the team and head coach Hue Jackson. Either way, the team signed rookie free agent Greg Joseph to kick Thursday against the Jets — and he made two field goals and an extra point, with no misses.The kicking game in general has been an ugly mess this season. Through two weeks, NFL kickers had made “only” 80.7 percent of their field goals, which would be the lowest rate for a season since 2003. Even last year’s AFC Pro Bowl kicker, Pittsburgh Steeler Chris Boswell, has followed up his 35-for-38 season by missing both of his attempts plus an extra point already this year. It’s hard to view this season as anything more than an aberration, though. Success has been steadily increasing over the years, as noted in 2016 by FiveThirtyEight’s Benjamin Morris, and that trend continued in the following two seasons. Even 80 percent is a massive improvement from 1986, when barely two-thirds of kicks split the uprights.But while kickers are generally getting better, having one that ends up being bad seems random. So we have come here not to criticize NFL GMs in their kicker-picking ability, but to pity them. Not only is predicting whether a kicker is going to make a specific kick virtually impossible, past performance in kicking — whether in college or in the NFL — also doesn’t seem to predict future results.So regardless of Bailey’s career excellence, the Vikings can’t be that confident that he’ll make his next kick any more than they would have been if they had kept Carlson.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
Wofford compares favorably to other mid-major contendersTeams from conferences that had played fewer than three tournament games per year and were seeded No. 8 or better in the men’s NCAA Tournament, based on key KenPom efficiency stats, 2000-19 YearTeamConfSeedOff.RkDef.RkDiff.Rk 2019WoffordSoCon7118.51197.763+20.819 Adjusted Efficiency Metrics 2011George MasonCAA8113.32895.044+18.326 2005PacificBig West8113.52799.393+14.240 2012Murray St.OVC6110.25195.142+15.138 2012St. Mary’sWCC7114.42098.997+15.536 2011ButlerHorizon8112.33497.369+15.044 Source: KenPom.com 2010ButlerHorizon5110.84990.718+20.022 Tiny Wofford has posted a 118.5 adjusted offensive efficiency, better than all of those high-seeded mid-majors except St. Mary’s in 2016-17. The Terriers’ No. 19 ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s metrics indicates that they’re actually underseeded. In fact, they resemble the profile of the most famous Southern Conference darling, a Davidson team with a star shooter named Stephen Curry.Entering the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Davidson was 30th in adjusted offense, 25th in adjusted defense and 18th overall. Today, Wofford is 11th in offense, 63rd in defense and 19th overall. Davidson finished 27th in effective field-goal percentage, while Wofford is fourth. Neither team went to the foul line much — Davidson was 332nd in free-throw rate; Wofford is 303rd — but both compensated by limiting turnovers, taking lots of 3-pointers and making a high percentage of those threes. Both teams ran the table in the SoCon.Sunday was kind to little guys everywhere, from Wofford to Buffalo (a similarly threatening No. 6 seed in the West) to Belmont (which earned an at-large bid from the Ohio Valley Conference). But no team has Wofford’s combination of firepower, efficiency and relative obscurity.Mid-major conferences have had looks at the top 20 in Pomeroy’s rankings — Wichita State from the Missouri Valley in 2014, San Diego State from the Mountain West in 2011 — but even in that company, Wofford and the Southern Conference would be considered lower-profile in every way. In the NCAA’s 2016 revenue distribution based on tournament success, the Southern received a smaller share than any other conference except the Big Sky, with which it tied at $1.56 million. The conference with the biggest share — the Big Ten — received $25.82 million.The Terriers have been to the tourney before, positioned as a double-digit seed underdog in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015. In 2010, they were tied at 49 against No. 4 seed Wisconsin with 1:17 left. They didn’t score again and lost 53-49. In 2015, they were tied at 53 with No. 5 seed Arkansas with 1:55 left. They didn’t score again and lost 56-53.Mike Young’s team has since developed into one that’s built to pull off an upset or two in the next couple of weeks. Wofford has followed the collegewide trend of increased reliance on the 3-point shot. The Terriers are second in America from 3-point range, shooting 41.6 percent, and 43.5 percent of their shots are from deep. Since 2002, only two tournament-bound mid-majors shot a higher percentage from three than Wofford did this season. In 2012, Doug McDermott and No. 8 seed Creighton knocked out Alabama before running into top-seeded North Carolina, and in 2010, hot-shooting Cornell made the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed after upsetting Temple and Wisconsin. 2007ButlerHorizon5118.11097.150+21.014 2017St. Mary’sWCC7118.91594.322+24.614 True to the reputation of an overlooked mid-major, when the Wofford Terriers were headed for the Southern Conference tournament earlier this month, they refused to take anything for granted. As dominant as the Terriers were, the persistent refrain from Spartanburg, South Carolina, was that Wofford would not feel safe on Selection Sunday without a tournament title and an automatic bid to the Big Dance.Those worries were built on years of heartbreak from small schools whose surprise losses in conference tournaments nullified dominant seasons. No team from the Southern Conference has been given an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Despite finishing the regular season 26-4 and ranking 14th in the NCAA’s NET metric, Wofford was vulnerable.But the concern proved to be unnecessary. Wofford defeated its three conference tournament foes just as it won its 18 regular-season league games, and based on the way Sunday went, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. This is no ordinary mid-major underdog. It’s official now: Wofford is going to the NCAA Tournament as one of the most dangerous mid-major teams this century.A No. 7 seed in the Midwest region, the Terriers are a rare breed of March upstart. They are the highest-seeded Southern Conference team since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Other than powerhouse Gonzaga, just five schools this century have earned top-eight seeds in the NCAA Tournament from conferences that had played fewer than three tournament games per year.1This excludes the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, Conference USA, Big East/American Athletic, Missouri Valley, WAC and Mountain West. They are Pacific, Murray State, George Mason, St. Mary’s (twice) and Butler (four times). To power that offense, Wofford has a shooting threat capable of being a star in this tournament: Fletcher Magee, who’s just two 3-pointers shy of the all-time career record for made threes. Every March explosion needs a spark, just like Creighton had McDermott, Davidson had Curry and Murray State had Isaiah Canaan in 2012. Magee’s work ethic has become mythical in Spartanburg, where they tell tales of the guard who practices in the dark to work on his feel. He once shot in his driveway in the middle of the night, setting cushions under the hoop to muffle the sound.As for any comparison to the other hot-shooting SoCon star? “I don’t like to compare players,” Young told The Athletic in 2017, “but in terms of Fletch’s ability to score and do it as efficiently as he’s doing it, from all points on the floor, let’s just say it reminds me of someone.” The mid-major energy and the streaky shooting are familiar, too.The history of mid-major success in the NCAA tournament is what makes March Madness so special. Loyola of Chicago became the latest stunner last season when it reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed from the Missouri Valley. If Wofford makes a similar run, nobody should be shocked.Check out our latest March Madness predictions. 2008ButlerHorizon7116.11696.856+19.326
Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, athletic director Gene Smith and university President E. Gordon Gee met with the media at 7 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the NCAA violations committed by the coach. Tressel has been suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season, ordered to attend a compliance seminar and fined $250,000 by the university. Though the three responded to questions for about 15 minutes after their statements, they left many more to be answered. What wrongdoing did Tressel commit? On April 2, 2010, Tressel received an e-mail from an attorney. The contents of the e-mail alerted Tressel to the fact that the owner of a local tattoo parlor, Edward “Eddie” Rife, was recently involved in a federal government investigation. His house had been raided the day before, and the government seized $70,000 as well as some memorabilia from OSU, including championship rings. He was also informed in the e-mail that a Buckeye player had taken signed memorabilia to Rife, who was flipping the items for profit, while in turn supplying the players with free tattoos. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the e-mail came at the end, where the attorney listed various criminal charges involving Rife in the past, including a conviction for felony forgery. “It kind of jogged in my mind some of the toughest losses I’ve ever had in coaching,” Tressel said. “I’ve had a player murdered; I’ve had a player incarcerated; I’ve had a player get taken into the drug culture and lose his opportunity for a productive life. And so it was obviously tremendously concerning. Quite honestly, I was scared.” Tressel replied that he would “get on it ASAP.” Over the next two months, the attorney continued to send Tressel e-mails pertaining to Rife’s misdeeds. The attorney had recently spoken with Rife, and had more information about the incidents in question. Included in these messages were specific items Rife obtained, including the names of two student-athletes who were selling their championship rings. The university determined that Tressel violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1, and failed to follow the school’s protocol by not reporting the violations to compliance, or any of the university administrators. It was decided that he had multiple opportunities to do so, and chose to prioritize the ongoing criminal investigation over reporting potential violations in regards to the NCAA rules and regulations. “I think back to what I could have done differently because obviously as Gene mentioned in the outset an NCAA violation occurred on my part,” Tressel said. “I asked for a little advice as to how I should have taken this forward. I’ve learned that I probably needed to go to the top legal counsel person at the university and get some help as to how you handle primo investigations.” Will these sanctions hold up to NCAA scrutiny? Unfortunately for the OSU football program, these self-imposed sanctions are not the end of the scandal. Though the university has conducted its own investigations and levied sanctions against its coach, the NCAA has yet to officially weigh in. “Even though (the NCAA has) worked with us all the way collaboratively to this point, they still get the self-report,” Smith said. “They deliberate within their team to determine if they are supportive of the sanctions we have levied and if they agree with the exact bylaw that we have said the violation occurred.” The OSU athletic department contacted officials early on in its own investigative process, and two NCAA investigators came to campus to begin conducting interviews in unison with the university Feb. 8. “We decided early on to work with them, to ask them to be a part of the process and work with us from the beginning,” Smith said. “It’s a different model than what you historically see in these types of investigations.” That OSU went the alternate route and got the NCAA involved sooner rather than later might be its saving grace as it might be more likely that the association simply uphold the university’s self-imposed sanctions. Students say they are concerned that this investigation might affect the appeal of the suspension the five players who sold memorabilia received. “I just thought that there is a possibility that the five-game suspension for the kids might’ve been lifted or reduced a little bit, but with this now I think it won’t change at all,” said Jason Ruberg, a fourth-year in health sciences. Smith, however, assured that the two investigations were “totally separate.” All that is known for sure is that the 2011 Buckeyes will not have Tressel at the helm for their first two games. The coach is forced to look forward. “At no point … am I looking for anything other than doing what needs to be done,” Tressel said, “growing from the experiences that we’ve had, and continuing to serve the greatest university in America.” How will this affect OSU during the 2011 season? The university has taken corrective and punitive action toward Tressel, the worst of which includes a two-game suspension for the beginning of the 2011 season and a $250,000 fine. “Obviously I’m disappointed that this happened at all,” Tressel said. “I take my responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously, and for the game of football. “I plan to grow from this, and I’m sincerely saddened by the fact that I let some people down.” Smith was adamant that this incident was separate from the incidents that occurred with the players back in December 2010, Tattoo-gate as they’ve come to be known. However, both transgressions will affect the team in a major way next season. The football program will now have the responsibility of choosing an interim coach for the first two games. Darrell Hazel, the assistant head coach last season and obvious choice for the gig recently took over as the new coach of Kent State, so he’s out. Another option is defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, who was the head coach at Illinois State from 1988–95. At this point, it’s hard to predict who will be stepping in for the Senator to start the season, but what we do know is that the Buckeyes’ first two games, against Akron and Toledo, shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as some of the games they’ll be playing in later in the year. Still, losing Tressel for the first two games — on top of losing five seniors, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, for the first five games — will make for a tumultuous start to the 2011 season. Tressel’s leadership in the locker room and along the sidelines will be missed. Despite all the turmoil, the football program remains united in its efforts. This includes former players, whose support for Tressel has been unwavering. “It doesn’t change my opinion of him. I would do anything for coach Tress,” former kicker Mike Nugent said. “I think it’s terrible that he had to be a part of it, and I’ve never met someone with so much class and I just hate that this happened. He doesn’t deserve it; he doesn’t deserve any of this.” News regarding the interim coaching assignment should be announced before the start of spring practices. How will this affect his legacy? Tressel has amassed a record of 106-22 at OSU with one national title and seven Big Ten championships during his decade with the program. Though Tressel has been lauded for his success on the field, many have also praised the man for his integrity off it. This scandal might call that feature of the man’s personality into doubt. “I really have to question the man’s judgment,” said Richard Hersch, a third-year in actuarial science. “If you get a letter from somebody like that … you know that part of your responsibility is to report any sort of situation like this to other authorities.” Others pointed to the fact that Tressel’s transgression was an error in judgment, and, as such, one he should not be judged too harshly for. “It wasn’t that he went out and, you know, elected to do something illegal or against recruiting regulations and thought he couldn’t get caught. It wasn’t anything like that at all,” OSU football historian Jack Park said. “It was something he had to deal with because of some actions of other players.” Regardless of how the transgression is viewed, it did occur and must be put into the context of the coach’s résumé. That résumé is compared to former OSU coach Woody Hayes, who compiled a 205-61-10 record, three national titles and 13 Big Ten crowns with the team. His career ended after punching a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Park said Tressel’s failure to report knowledge of violations does not resonate in the same way as Hayes’ assault. “I think it’s pretty major right now because it happened (yesterday) and we’re all talking about it,” he said. “I think in a few years as you reflect on everything … I don’t think it will have a major impact on coach Tressel’s legacy.” Jay Clouse contributed to this story.