In this part of my conversation with Sigmund Bloom, Footballguys senior staff writer and Draftguys co-founder, we discuss NFL trends, the appeal of the NFL Draft, and the value of the Game Recaps he does at Footballguys.com.
Waldman: Tell me about the more profound things you’ve learned about the game on the field because of your work as a fantasy football writer/analyst?
Bloom: I think that one of the things that is really fun to watch and has a massive impact on fantasy football is the natural intelligence of the game that evolves during a game. This happens when you have smart quarterbacks and smart coordinators. It’s the classic idea that if something is working then why go away from it? The game tells you which way to go. The game will guide smart coaches and quarterbacks to exploit something and continue to exploit it until the other team adjusts. Finding players who are smart enough and talented enough to do it is a big part of it. Seeing how in the course of the game that the first drive can tell you whether it’s going to be a big day for a player and it could be a player who hasn’t done much coming into the game, but because what the team knew about its opposition heading into the week it was going to be a big day. We try to perfect our ability to anticipate that on a weekly basis. Again that is where a lot of success in fantasy football comes from in-season.
Waldman: So tell me about some of the players or coaches that you see that are good at spotting a weakness and exploiting it until they are stopped.
Bloom: Of course the Patriots and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Also the Steelers defense and what they do on a game to game basis. I think Peyton Manning has obviously been one of those players. Some of these receivers you’ve seen be a part of this equation: Sidney Rice with Brett Favre; Hakeem Nicks with Eli Manning; Antonio Gates with Phillip Rivers. I think we may see it with Jermichael Finley and Aaron Rodgers very soon. You see these guys who know that they have a trump card that the opponent cannot answer. This really is the mountain top when it comes to what we’re seeking in fantasy players. These are guys you know that you want to stack your lineup with. These players can transcend the game and pretty much do whatever they want to do, which is very difficult to achieve in the NFL.
Waldman: It’s very interesting that many of the players you mentioned are hybrid-type players. The Steelers and their linebackers who are really a mix of linebacker and defensive end. The same goes for tight ends with the ability to play on the line, in the slot, or split wide. These players make opponents guess and that’s something that Matt Williamson mentioned in his interview a couple of weeks ago – the NFL is going to the hybridization of certain players. Even a Percy Harvin or Dexter McCluster are hybrids to some extent. I think you and have both liked McCluster, but we need to see how it will work out for him in the NFL because he’s a different type of hybrid. McCluster and Harvin are not the kind of combination players that present size/speed mismatches as much as it is the speed/quickness and vision/balance to play receiver and occasionally run the ball between the tackles. A Danny Woodhead type. What do you think of McCluster and Woodhead?
Bloom: It’s all about interchangeable parts and being able to make presnap adjustments in the formation, create mismatches, and present a trump card to defenses that they can’t counteract. It’s a damned if they do damned if they don’t choice for them. And I think this is the goal for the Patriots both on offense and on defense. It’s like chess, right? Except you can turn a knight into a rook or a rook into a bishop. It’s not limited by the rules of movement because you have pieces that can move in multiple ways. This is especially true on defense with the 3-4 and these ‘tweeners. They used to fall in the draft because teams didn’t know what to do with them, but now they understand what to do with these players because of the their versatility. The 3-4 OLB types continue to change the calculus of player values in the draft.
As for Dexter McCluster, I think Kansas City saw a guy with “quicks,” that were second to none in the draft and a hard-nosed mentality. A true football player’s football player despite the fact that he came in a diminutive package. He has the willingness to do everything: he was a good running back, a good receiver, a good return specialist, and a Wildcat quarterback in the toughest division in college football. People might get worried about McClutser getting pin-balled around, but in the SEC those guys are NFL size already and McCluster proved he could handle it. Now it’s just a question of Kansas City figuring out what to do with him.
Another case like this is James Casey of Houston, another versatile player who fell in the draft because he could play defensive end, he was a holder on kicks, he was a fullback, a tight end, and a receiver who caught over 100 passes for Rice. I think the Texans just don’t know what exactly to do with him. He could be a great receiving tight end for somebody, but Houston has Owen Daniels. They are going to play Casey at fullback for now, but you could see Casey having a break through with the second team that takes him when he becomes a free agent one day.
This interchangeability in players is now the trend and I think players see it, too. I remember seeing Casey at the Shrine game the year he was drafted and he asked me and others if someone could put together a video montage of all of his blocking. He was known so much for his offensive prowess – he was also a Wildcat quarterback by the way – but he really wanted people to see that he was a great blocker. Now that the Texans haven’t re-signed Vonte Leach we might see this on a weekly basis.
Waldman: The NFL and society have evolved in similar ways. There was a time when we were growing up where things were still pretty specialized and didn’t have multiple functions. The most computerized thing we saw that was handheld was a calculator. Now there are devices smaller than the calculators we were introduced to in the `70s that can do multiple, powerful things. I think football was this way, too. There were some players ahead of their time with versatile skills, but you could win more often with bunch of guys who could do one thing and do it better than the opponent.
Bloom: I read a Chuck Klosterman article that really highlighted the interested dichotomy in football – the paradox if you will – between the fan base and the game. The values around the game seem very conservative but the game itself being very liberal. The game of football itself does not care if something is outlandish, if something is conceptually cheating or creating unfair advantages; football will continue to naturally gravitate towards what works. People like Mike Leach and Chip Kelly will come up with new ideas that work and the liberal nature of football will copycat it. It’s like a virus. If it has an opening and will work, it will spread. We saw it with the Wildcat. It caught on, it spread, and now its dying off with the exception of a few teams that really do it well because they have the players and variation that defenses cannot stop.
The DNA of the game allows us to see more facets and angles explored and it’s very exciting. I love the fact the game itself is not discriminating. Look at the A-11 offense. If you can create something that is within the rules of the game and it works, then go with it. That’s why we may see more running quarterbacks and more college style offenses. For fantasy? Oh man, the permutations that it will create will be that much more enjoyable. It will be more fun to watch and a more wide-open game.
Waldman: Let’s return to something you alluded to when you spoke with James Casey at the Shrine Game a few years ago. You were there as a part of the site you co-founded with Cecil Lammey and Marc Faletti, Draftguys.com. I really thought the way you guys filmed practices and broke down individual players was a pioneering concept for the Internet. Tell me more about Draftguys and future plans with it.
Bloom: Fantasy football is tremendous and I spend more time thinking about it than any other aspect of football, but the draft is a true love and a passion because of how wide open it is. You have 32 front offices and 32 scouting departments evaluating players; going through their garbage to figure out character issues and then evaluating the 31 other organizations to figure out what they are going to do. They have to develop clarity to determine what fits for their system as well as determine the values they have on players. All the twists and turns and ebbs and flows of the college bowl season, all-star games, combine, and workouts that make the three months from January to April intensely compelling.
Being at those all-star games and a part of that process is intoxicating. Being there when Antonio Rodgers Cromartie takes the field and seeing flashes of speed, athleticism, and fluid skill to turn and run that stands out from any player at his position and knowing he has first-round ability is an exciting moment. It’s so illuminating to see all of these players face each other with the rest of the football world watching how it plays out.
I was a Phish-head out of college and I like to travel and I needed something to fill that spot when the band broke up. The college all-star games provided that. Different cities, same people passionate about something, and watching something very exciting. Then you turn around and do it again in the next town. So we decided to start a website to place all our observations about guys like Johnny Knox and BenJarvus Green-Ellis; good players regardless of where they were slated to go in the draft. That was the genesis of it. I’ve been home the past couple of years and scaled back my involvement with the draft because of the birth of our son Miles, who has been an absolute joy. But he’s going to preschool next fall and I’ll be back on the draft full bore and Draftguys isn’t going anywhere.
Waldman: I heard the news that you’re joining us for the Senior Bowl, which is very exciting. Let’s switch gears and talk about your role as the guy heading up Game Recaps at Footballguys.com. How many games do you watch a week and what are you seeking to help others gain with recaps?
Bloom: This is a great question. I think people underestimate the value of recaps and don’t check them out as often. Most weeks I watch every game with the NFL Rewind on Direct TV – no I don’t get paid for talking about them, either. It’s the rapid-fire nature of play after play after play and the patterns that pop out at you. What you see is beyond the box score mentality. What you’re not going to see in the box score are things like a receiver torching a cornerback but it was called back because of an illegal procedure penalty. You’re not going to see that an interception was the fault of the receiver running the wrong route or a defensive back making a ridiculously, gambling, foolish play to anticipate the pass and he somehow succeeded. You’re not going to see major momentum-shifting plays where a running back is tearing up a team on the ground in the first quarter and then a guard gets hurt and is out the rest of the game and the productivity comes to a screeching halt.
Maybe its some guy who only gets it during garbage time and you see in the box score that he only had 3 carries for 10 yards, but if you saw those carries he should have been stopped in the backfield in all three of those carries. Are touchdowns caused by busted coverages or inspired plays by receivers or quarterbacks or running backs? These are the things we can get out ahead of and find second-half breakout players or players who are going to win jobs during the season. That’s what we’re looking for in recaps.