Though we don't often need it, sometimes the journalists who choose to cover sports for a living decide to remind us that there is a critical distinction to be made in most instances between reporters and analysts. In most situations, a reporter is a fact-chaser. He or she investigates and writes stories by unearthing facts, interviewing persons of note, and communicating information that is supposed to be objective. Analysts, on the other hand, take facts given to them (or that they sometimes find themselves) and provide analysis of that information in the context of their own experience and expertise. It is the truly rare journalist who can do both things and do them well.
David Barbour, who writes for the New York Sports Examiner and something called "Just at Sports," apparently wants to breathe in the rarefied air of reporter and analyst and has penned a few articles recently about the wide receiver prospects believed to be first-round material for the 2012 NFL Draft that begins tomorrow. His latest piece talks about Baylor WR Kendall Wright, who Barbour believes is not worthy of inclusion in that group. From that article:
After combing through Wright's collegiate career, it is extremely difficult to understand why any NFL team would want him, provided the franchise puts his receiving statistics in the right context...
This "right context," according to Barbour, is illuminated only by looking at a player's production only in terms of how it affected the overall team averages. For a wide receiver, that means Barbour can tell how much or how little a player actually contributed, independent of the absolute values (yardage, touchdowns, completions, etc.), by seeing how the offense performs without that player. In Wright's case, according to Barbour:
Those are completely underwhelming statistics as Wright had a minimal impact on the Baylor passing offense. Without him, the quarterbacks were still able to put up pretty comparable numbers to how they performed with him. Truly elite wide receivers make quarterbacks look considerably worse when the quarterbacks are not throwing to them.
Barbour did not provide any statistics from any other players that he used for comparison. There was no scale to define what he might find to be satisfactory or overwhelming statistics. All we know from this article is that Wright's were underwhelming (compared to something, I assume) and that he shouldn't be drafted in the first round because of it. Here's his conclusion (emphasis added):
It is unlikely Wright would be able to be a difference-making wide receiver in the NFL when he was unable to do so in college. Therefore, the best thing a team could do would be to use their first-round draft pick on someone else.
Now, this may shock you to learn, but I find this entire exercise, while certainly novel, to be ridiculous at best because of the process used. Unlike baseball where each pitch is a discrete event mostly involving one player (the pitcher) against another (the batter) with the pitcher's defense thrown into the mix (and the characteristics of the park in which the game is being played), It is impossible in a normal setting (meaning absent significant injury) in football to isolate one player's influence in this manner from the rest of the offense. Barbour's method, among other things, completely ignores the likelihood that Baylor's offense, which, by his own metrics did not suffer much of a decline in passing production throwing to players other than Wright, almost definitely still benefits from Wright's presence on the field. Having a player like Kendall Wright on the field impacts everything that a defense does schematically. If I have one great cornerback, for example, I'm going to put him on Wright, a proven receiving threat at the highest level, rather than someone like Terrance Williams, who is also extremely good in his own right. A pass that then goes to Williams (this is just an example) is likely more successful than it otherwise would have been had Wright not existed on the field at all. In that example, Baylor's passing offense performs better in part because of Wright even though he is not technically involved in the pass itself. The same concept holds in the case that I give safety help to the defensive back covering Wright and take it away from somewhere else or I try to shut him down completely.
By that same token, Barbour's methodology ignores the fact that Baylor had several other extremely good receivers in addition to Wright that need to be taken into consideration. Excising Wright's yardage from Baylor's totals and then comparing the effect on the remainder ignores how that remainder came to be: the contributions of the aforementioned Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese, Lanear Sampson, and a host of other players on Baylor's offense. The fact that these players are also good does not make Kendall Wright any less good. It may affect how you look at his absolute numbers that he played in possibly the best offense in the country, but that's not what Barbour attempted to do or did. He never even mentioned Wright's numbers at all.
Worse than that, I think, is that he didn't say anything else about Wright, either. The entire justification for the first quote I blocked above, which he restated in his conclusion, particularly the statement that " it is extremely difficult to understand why any NFL team would want him" comes from one process with one set of results. That's it. He didn't talk about Wright's speed or how he might be used in an NFL offense. He didn't look at any tape or mention a single specific game played. He did not describe even one of the 600+ plays Baylor ran on offense this season with Wright on the field. He didn't even provide what might be legitimate criticisms about Wright's hands, his disappointing Combine numbers, or the fact that he does not have ideal height for the NFL game. He talked about Wright's stats, but only in such a way that it supported his overall premise through inclusion in his formula. Not only is that lazy from the standpoint of analysis (because you're willfully or recklessly ignoring a vast amount of contrary data including scouting reports, film, and other statistics), it's just plain bad journalism, and it makes people who are already skeptical of statistical analysis even more so.