Football Outsiders' Bill Barnwell Talks Eagles

This week, we get our yearly visit from Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders. The guys at Football Outsiders are on the forefront of advanced NFL stats and analysis and they've recently released their 2010 Football Outsiders Annual that's jam packed with tons of great stuff for real football nerds. You can grab the PDF from their site for only $12 or you can get the book from Amazon...

I talked to Managing Editor Bill Barnwell about some of the Eagles topics they covered in the annual, but this just touches on the real wealth of information they have in the Eagles section of the annual alone.

JasonB - The first and most obvious topic is Kevin Kolb. By your measure, he had almost twice as much value per pass(DVOA) than Donovan McNabb did last year. On the other hand, you also noted how often passing games decline after the departure of a franchise QB. So, can Kolb be an upgrade over McNabb this year and from a value standpoint did you agree with the Eagles decision to trade McNabb and keep Kolb?

Bill Barnwell - I'll start with the end of that question. Certainly, I think that now was the right time to trade McNabb and elevate Kolb to the starting role. This was the Eagles' last chance to get any sort of return from a McNabb deal. With regards to Kolb's DVOA, he certainly outperformed McNabb in those two starts, but it was also just two games -- if we based our thoughts on Kolb solely upon two games, well, the Eagles might have cut him before the season even started. (I'm not suggesting that they should have, of course.) 

Can Kolb be an upgrade over McNabb this year? Potentially. Will he be one? I don't know about that. I would suspect that he'll end up playing at a roughly similar level of performance, even if the makeup of that performance is different.

Speaking of Kolb, I know that the Lewin Career Forecast, which looks at college starts and completion percentage, views him favorably. First, how confident are you in that metric and what are your feelings on those who sprinkle in Wonderlic scores in similar metrics?

I think that the LCF isn't infallible, but if you went through the list of quarterbacks taken over the past ten years in the first two rounds of the draft and ranked them by their LCF projections, you'd have done a much better job of drafting quarterbacks than the NFL did.

The work done by those who "sprinkle in Wonderlic scores in similar metrics" is, at best, an awful job of journalism and reviewing the existing writing on a topic. At worst, it's plagiarism. Including Wonderlic data adds no accuracy to the equation, and it itself may be plagiarizing a paper that suggested that quarterbacks needed a certain Wonderlic score to succeed. When those who do so then suggest that "NFL teams originated this research", it's a sign pointing to the latter. It's funny that no "NFL teams" presented this research publicly before we did several years ago, and since then, there's been a handful of people who have suddenly discovered that completion percentage and games started have a world to do with NFL success without crediting us. It's humorous by now. 
One metric FO has created that Eagles fans suddenly became fans of after the draft was the SackSEER projections, which projects Eagles 3rd round pick Daniel Te-O'Nesheim to be the top pass rusher in his draft class. Could you explain the projections a bit and talk about your expectations for Te-O'Nesheim?
What SackSEER -- which FO reader Nathan Forster created last year -- does is look at 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers coming out of school and analyze which factors of their college and Combine performance bear any relationship to NFL success. Forster found that there were several factors which do: Vertical leap, short shuttle time, a metric of sack rate at the college level, and the player's injury history in college. With that data in hand, Te-O'Neshiem projects as arguably the best pass rush prospect of this draft, ahead of even Brandon Graham. (Giants first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul notably profiles as a bust.)
Maybe you can help settle a debate for us... Those of us who follow teams in the NFC East have all noticed that there's a very good group of Tight Ends in this division. How might you rank them now and going forward?
That's really a tough question, and I think a lot of it depends on what you value and how a player gets used. I think it's pretty clear Jason Witten's at the top of the list. After that? It's hard to say. Chris Cooley's the best receiver of the three other starters, but he's also had injury issues. Kevin Boss is inconsistent from week to week and isn't a great blocker, and Brent Celek might be the toughest of the three, but he drops a lot of passes. I really don't think there's anything between those three that would make me put one ahead of the other.
Finally, is there a specific Eagle that you're projecting to make a significant jump in 2010?
An Eagle to make a significant jump? How about LeSean McCoy? He showed flashes last year, but the Eagles have a particularly complex scheme for backs to pick up. I really think he'll end up playing better on a per-play basis this year, as long as he can stay (relatively) healthy.
Thanks to Bill for speaking with us and if you've got $12 bucks and you're and Eagles(or just NFL) fan, I really do encourage you to check out the 2010 Football Outsiders Annual.
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