Football: An MMA Match of Creativity and Creating Confusion

Thursday night, I was thinking about the way what used to be considered correct, factual information has changed over just a few hundred years–how  so much in science, for instance, of a few hundred years ago has changed. That got me thinking how today’s truths will be seen a few hundred years from now. It is an illustration of how you need to think outside of the norm and broaden your horizons of thinking to find new answers.

It made me think about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and how much the practice of martial arts has improved in the twenty years since the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) has been founded. These athletes had to innovate, they couldn’t be caught practicing martial arts that didn’t work in a MMA fight because if they weren’t being honest about what worked, they’d get their ass kicked!

Part of creating new ways of doing things is asking what haven’t people thought of or tried yet? That’s how science has evolved. What could get us to the same goal, but in a different manner? This is the kind of thinking that created “Moneyball.” Billy Beane, as he studied the work of Bill James, revolutionized baseball because of insights such as:  it didn’t matter if you got a hit or not, it mattered if you got on base or not. Beane knew that since there are only 27 outs in a game, a player’s on-base percentage—not batting average–illustrated who made less outs, thus telling you which players could extend the game by not making an out. Due to the fact that they were one of the first people to see how undervalued on-base percentage was at the time, the Oakland Athletics were able to become competitive despite a low payroll.

Watching the Arizona at Oregon game Thursday night showed another example of forward thinking in football: new ways of doing things, finding value where others don’t, etc. To build a football program that’s been down in the dumps for years, in a tough conference like the Pac-12, you have an uphill battle in recruiting and you have to be innovative. Rich Rodriguez is the perfect guy to do it. I must admit, because they’re a West Coast team, last night was the first time I saw Arizona’s offense and it was a dazzling display of creativity. It was the perfect illustration of how Rodriguez is a forward thinker, one of the fathers of the modern-day spread.

Speaking of spread offense gurus, let’s remind ourselves of Mike Leach. Why was he so innovative? It’s because he is willing to think differently. During his time as a student at BYU, he watched and studied Norm Chow’s pass-oriented offense and received a degree in American studies. He then went on to get his J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law and a Master’s of Sports Science in Sports Coaching from the United States Sports Academy. He never even played football, let alone college football, which makes him one of the half-dozen or so FBS football coaches who didn’t. The others include Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, David Cutcliffe at Duke, George O’Leary at UCF, and Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss.

Due to his unique background, he brought a unique perspective to college football and helped innovate the game. He brought that offense to Texas Tech for his first head coaching job and his ideas have been a major part of the passing revolution that we see today in college and the NFL. 

Watching the Wildcats, it really hammered home this idea I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks. According to Joe Rogan, the voice of the MMA, what makes MMA so exciting is the endless combinations of moves a master martial artist can throw at an adversary. This is also what makes an elite football offense today. When Georges St. Pierre was at his prime, Rogan said  he was so good because there was an endless combination of things he could do with his body since he was a master at so many different martial arts. In his prime, he was strong, smart and highly skilled in literally everything you could think of: wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kyokushin, karate and he even had a gymnastics coach. He was a master of his body in a way no other athlete was.

So, back to Arizona. Like Georges St. Pierre, their offense displayed prodigious variety: I couldn’t help but be wowed at the way they moved all of their skill players in unique, new, creative ways to get them in space with the football. I was even surprised at the way that Anu Solomon would roll out on play action as he seemed to take a path more toward the line of scrimmage. What Rich Rodriguez showed me is that there is always room to progress and innovate, new routes to be created and paths to be made. Some of the routes from the WRs last night seemed to remind me of basketball against a zone defense. They seemed to just go where the defense isn’t and sit down, but they weren’t running merely curl routes.


The main crux of Arizona’s offense, and any offense that wants to be successful, is creating confusion for the defense. In turn, the main crux of being a successful defense is creating the same confusion. Coaching, creativity and great athletes create confusion. There were multiple times during Thursday night’s game where Rich Rodriguez seemed to make the perfect play call for the situation and not only surprised the defense, but also everyone watching. He put players in positions where they’d be so wide open that even Rich Rod himself would have been able to pick up the first down.

Considering that Rodriguez and Arizona have beaten the national championship caliber Oregon teams the last two years, it seems he’s found some sort of weakness he can exploit. I think smart college coaches find a place where you can easily recruit the kind of athletes they need to be successful. Nick Saban’s offenses seem to need one game-changing wide receiver like Julio Jones (Foley, AL) or Amari Cooper (Miami, FL)  I think he’d have a tougher time recruiting guys like them to a cold place like Michigan. The Southeast, Florida especially, is known for producing speedy players, hence one reason why the SEC is so dominant.. To build a great program, you have to have a pipeline to states that have the kind of players you need to run your system. 

Rich Rodriguez needs athletes who are fast and incredibly athletic– a reason why he wasn’t going to work out in Michigan. It’s much easier to recruit skill players from California or Texas to Arizona, than it is to try to get Florida speed demons up north. There’s a reason the Big 10 doesn’t have the same kind of speed as the southern schools, and why the Big 10 is a lesser conference, it’s very hard to compete when you simply can’t recruit the kind of speed that the schools of the south can. It’s the same reason why my AAU baseball team had a tough time competing against the southern kids.  There’s a different climate, one that allows you to run outside and play sports all year round. When these kids get to high school, they aren’t dejected by temperatures in the teens that make it too cold to even attempt to run. The climate plays a part in molding these elite athletes. 


To my point, the two schools that have the most wide receivers in the NFL are both from the speed state, Florida: the University of Florida and the University of Miami. Florida high schools have 205 players in the NFL in 2014, or 12% of the 1699 total. Meanwhile, former Florida high school players make up 30 of the 185 WRs in the NFL or 16.2%. 

Even Rutgers, starting during the Greg Schiano years built their foundation of their skill positions in Florida. In 2014, they have 15 Florida boys on the roster, five of whom are defensive backs, one wide receiver, one running back and one kicker. These are all positions where players can practice their craft and hone their skills more easily due to weather. For instance, quarterbacks and wide receivers can play in 7-on-7s all year round down south, if they choose.

In 2007, our Ramapo Football team went to the Rutgers 7-on-7 Tournament like we do every year. Other than Don Bosco Prep, who won the tournament and beat this team in the final, us northern high schools couldn’t compete with this one school from Miami, Booker T. Washington. It wasn’t just their talent that set them apart, there about 20-25 of us there from Ramapo High School and Booker T. brought only SEVEN players to an all-day 7-on-7 tournament. That’s the kind of conditioning they were in at the beginning of the summer, something we had to spend the summer working on. 

Granted, they went on to go 14-0 that season with guys like Davon Johnson who had a nice career at Miami before a knee injury ended his senior year and Brandon Harris who was drafted in the second round by the Texans in 2011 and now plays for the Titans as a cornerback, but their speed and conditioning was unreal.

Michigan’s current roster has only six players from Texas, California, or Florida and they play QB, OL, DT and PK, not exactly the Rich Rodriguez style Speedsters from the South. Seriously, good luck recruiting a 5-Star WR from Florida up to the cold weather in Ann Arbor when he’s got offers from everyone in the SEC, especially when he goes to an SEC campus and sees how beautiful the wom…I mean campus is.

Also, in 2014, 138 of the 185 WRs on NFL rosters at the beginning of Week 1 went to high school in the South, so 74.6%. Meanwhile, “only” 1116 of 1699 NFL players, or 65.69% of players, went to high school in the South. That’s dominant, but not as dominant as the percentage of wide receivers. (Source: 2014 NFL Player Census;

Also according to the 2014 NFL Player Census, southern states seven of the ten states with the most NFL players per 100,000 residents, according to their high school’s state.

1) Louisiana – 1.369

2) South Carolina – 1.1

3) Mississippi – 1.106

4) Florida – 1.048

5) Alabama – 1.034

6) Georgia – 1.011

7) Montana – 0.788

8) Texas – 0.65

9) New Jersey – 0.629

10) Ohio – 0.622

So, just as I suspected, southern states are producing more NFL players per capita than northern states. I’m going to do some research into which states produce the most players at which positions.

Those Arizona running backs looked masterful at creating confusion with their speed and agility last night. They hit holes hard and with one-step and go burst that kills defenders in the open field. One guy in particular, Nick Wilson, moved with the same kind of balance and explosiveness that we saw out of Darren Sproles in Week 2 against the Colts. Wilson is freaky fast, his high school highlight tape doesn’t mess around, he’s just telling you, “zoom, zoom, zoom…zoom, zoom, zoom.” To my point, Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby, another quick, shifty runner, are both from California. Together, they combined for 339 total yards from scrimmage on 45 touches for 7.53 yards per touch and four touchdowns against Oregon.

That was a breakout, statement game, for Wilson–no fluke here. He’s 5’ 10”, 200 pounds, with room to bulk up as he’s only a freshman. He runs in the 4.4 range, so after what we saw last night, if he continues to develop, stays healthy and keeps his eyes on the prize, the sky is the limit with him. He’s run for 574 yards on 90 carries (6.4 average) and 8 catches for 67 yards for a total of seven touchdowns so far on the young season. The way he performed in space last night, though, is what confusing a defense is all about.

In terms of what this means from a team building perspective, you want offensive players who are fast and can catch the football, preferably guys who also have the agility and balance to make guys miss as well.

On defense, as we saw with the Seahawks in the NFL, who do not have a big burly defense, you need guys who fit the mold, but who are also fast, agile, smart, physical and who can tackle. Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP is 226 pounds, which is 12 pounds lighter than the average outside linebacker and he’s an inch shorter. That’s probably part of why he dropped all the way to the seventh round and wasn’t even invited to the combine.

When you look at their defense, you see a lot of these low draft pick players, which leads me to this question: what does Pete Carroll see in these guys that other teams don’t see? In the 2011 draft along, they got K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Malcolm Smith. This Greg Rosenthal article from sums it up nicely regarding Maxwell: 

Maxwell is a perfect example of how the Seahawks do business. He quietly stayed on the sideline for nearly two and a half seasons. When he was called upon this season to replace Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, Maxwell was somehow an upgrade over both of them. Maxwell might be more physical than even Sherman at the line of scrimmage. He was ready for his moment, and that comes back to coaching.

The Seahawks do a great job of developing talent, so much so that they sent agents an undrafted free-agent brochure this offseason and like this article by Dan Hanzus states that: “in the salary-cap era, locating players who are both productive and inexpensive is a surefire way to extended success. It’s really the only way.” There is no better way to increase your roster’s value than to get a player at a low cost and develop him into an important piece of your team.

They’ve been successful for the same reason that the Oakland A’s were able to take advantage of on-base percentage, because they’ve looked at the game differently and loaded their defense with fast, physical players and built up a lot of depth on the defensive line and in their secondary. At a time when other teams were investing in their passing game, the Seahawks were investing in their defense and their running game.

What’s also been key is that they have creative coaches like Dan Quinn who aren’t married to one way of doing things. As Michael Bennett said in an article on MMQB, Dan Quinn is “not married to a scheme; he wants you to grow, he changes with the players.” The article mentions that Quinn’s “open-mindedness” has helped him reach the pinnacle of his profession. 

Which brings us full circle to top of this article. To be excellent, to change the way things are done, to be the best, you need to be willing to innovate, see things others’ don’t,  and do things differently. If you understand the field you work in, then it’s not a risk, nor is it a crazy proposition, it’s just the way you think things should be done.

In terms of creating confusion offensively, the Eagles are a great example with players like McCoy, Sproles, Ertz, Maclin, Cooper, and Matthews. They have an array of weapons that can make plays, although they are troubled by a rash of injuries to their offensive line.

However, Chip Kelly has amassed and deploys them in a hurry-up style offense he used in college. Outsiders like Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly can bring a new perspective and innovate. 

Please, in the comments below, let me know what you think about this article. I’d love to hear your perspective on this and I’d love to see what kind of questions you guys think would help us all understand this topic further.

In the next few days, I’m going to create the “All-Confusion Team,” which will be made up players who can confuse a defense because of their versatility and athleticism. I’ll go over players individually, but I’ll also put together the offense that I think, together, best exemplifies the kind of creativity and confusion that is possible with a great set of athletes working together. This offense will also be salary cap friendly and won’t outspend the highest skill position spenders in the NFL, in keeping with the spirit of what we do at Over The Cap. 


Total Human Optimization: Onnit



Where do playoff teams come from?


This is probably the most uneventful time of the offseason as teams are generally not making moves so fans turn to speculation about the results of the next season. I’d imagine if you took a poll of most fans and insiders they already have the 49’ers and Seahawks penciled in as the NFC Conference Championship game while the Broncos and Patriots will likely be battling it out for the AFC crown.  We almost always base our predictions on results from the year before and expectations on a handful of changes teams make in the offseason.

With that in mind I wanted to look over playoff data since the NFL went to the 4 division format in 2002 and see just how well teams are faring year after year based on elimination round.


The teams that lose in the wildcard round are often considered either the teams that are expected to take the leap the next year or the teams on the last legs that just couldn’t get one more run in them. How do they fare in the future?  Not too well. Over 50% of the teams eliminated in the wildcard round have failed to make the playoffs the following season , with 2009 being the only year where more than 2 teams who have lost in the wildcard round the year before actually made the playoffs the following year.  7.5% did win the Super Bowl the next year and 12.5% at least made the Super Bowl making it a high reward position for investment.wildcard


The teams that lose in the divisional rounds actually have the lowest success rates of any playoff round in the league.  Nearly 58% of those who lose in the divisional rounds fail to make the playoffs the following season and 85% fail to improve on the playoff finish. With only 7.5% advancing to the Super Bowl this has become a chasing a dream position. With the Packers, Broncos, and Seahawks all being eliminated in this round in 2012 and all expected to be dominant next year its setting up a scenario where at least 1 is going to be disappointed in 2013. Only twice in 10 years have more than 1 team advanced on their position from the year before.


Conference Championship

This has been a relatively productive round of elimination. 40% of those eliminated miss the playoffs but 25% have advanced to the Super Bowl and 35% have made it at least back to the championship game. Due to the high success rates this is the one round where teams can justify overspending to improve their chances the following year.


Super Bowl Runner-Up

This has basically been a disaster position for the future. Not one team in the new playoff format has advanced to the Super Bowl in the following year and 70% have been eliminated by the Wildcard round the following year. Last years Patriots were the only team to even advance as far as the conference championships following a Super Bowl loss. So for those penciling in the 49’ers for the Super Bowl, past history indicates that they will have an incredibly tough time even coming close to the Super Bowl.


Super Bowl Champion

The 2004 Patriots are the only repeat champion in the last 10 years and, in fact, the only team to advance beyond the Divisional round of the playoffs. So much like the runner up category there is a high probability that teams simply don’t fire the following season.


Didn’t Qualify For the Playoffs

I wanted to save this for last. 68% of teams that did not qualify for the playoffs failed to qualify again the following season, but some of the results beyond that are interesting. 18 teams who failed in the Divisional round did not make the playoffs the year before which is only 4 shy of the teams who made the playoffs the year before. 50% of the teams that lose in the Conference Championship failed to qualify for the playoffs the season before.  30% made up the Super Bowl participants (split equally between winners and losers) making it most likely that the Super Bowl contenders will come from last years playoff field, but it certainly leaves a very strong chance for the unexpected to occur.


2013 Projection?

The breakdown of Super Bowl runner up is 30% non-qualifiers, 30% Conference losers, 20% Wildcard losers, and 20% Divisional losers. The winners have been 30% non-qualifiers, 30% Wildcard losers, 20% Conference losers, 10% Divisional losers, and 10% Super Bowl champs. So just playing the percentages Id bet the field that there will be a Super Bowl participant that did not make the playoffs in 2012.

As for a winner and loser? Who knows. Looking back at the Wildcard teams that won it were Eli Manning coming of age in 2006, Ben Roethlisberger making his real statement in 2007, and then Aaron Rodgers becoming elite in 2010. The teams who advanced and lost were the Seahawks and Colts both of whom were more veteran squads with playoff experience.  By no means is this a scientific way to do it but I cant see Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton making that leap and Andrew Luck and RG III are far too young, so Id eliminate the wildcard losers from contention.

The one divisional loser that won a Super Bowl was Peyton Manning who was pretty well established by that point. The comparison there would be Aaron Rodgers of the Packers.  The runner ups who made it were the defensive minded fluky Bears and the ultra established Patriots. I’d say the Broncos would be the closest team that resembles New England and the Texans would be the Bears, but neither of those really fit the bill. Manning is a lot older than Tom Brady and Houston has probably seen the window close. I think I would have bought the Tyler Yates Texans being closer to the Grossman/Orton Bears.

The teams that won that came from the title round and won were the Steelers, who were a dominant defense with a young QB, and the Ravens last season. Of those who advanced to the SB and lost, you had the “never get over the hump” Eagles, the established Patriots, and last years 49’ers.  I could see both the Falcons and Patriots fitting that bill.

Of the non-qualifiers who made it only the Panthers finished under 0.500 the year before (7-9) while the Saints and Cardinals both had 0.500 records. So these are teams that were not bad teams the year before. That would be the Dolphins, Steelers, Chargers, Giants, Cowboys, Bears, Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, and Rams.  Outside of the shocking Panthers, who had a new QB (and not a good one) and a record that kind of defied logic, the teams who made it were the already champion Patriots, Kurt Warner Cardinals, Drew Brees Saints, Big Ben Steelers, and Eli Manning led Giants. This is pretty much a list of terrific QB’s most of whom have been to the dance before. Only Brees had limited playoff success before that with a 1-2 record and a loss in the conference championship. What would be your most likely teams just based on the prior QB success criteria?  The Steelers, Chargers,  Giants, Saints, and (don’t kill me) Cowboys. I guess you can throw Jay Cutler in there as well.

All things considered I’d say that you can make a strong case for any of those teams  based on history. Id probably move the Chargers down a notch due to changes at head coach as well as the Bears if you consider Cutler good enough (all these teams had continuity).  Id probably lean towards the Steelers or Giants being the most likely from this group.

So after all of that who does that leave? Probably some combination of the Giants/Falcons vs Steelers/Patriots with the Packers  being the most likely to displace one of those squads. Just food for thought as we all start making our predictions and pencil in a number of teams that history says probably do not have a great chance of getting there.


Link: Final Thoughts on the Jets Old Front Office


I just wanted to link to an article I wrote going over some thoughts on the Jets front office and some of the misconceptions about the teams salary cap at times over the past few years. Its hosted on my other site and goes into the reasons why often having strong context to a cap report is extremely important for us to discuss those situations.

LINK: Final Thoughts on the Jets Old Front Office


Future League Cap Estimates Now Online


I know I have had a number of requests to add tables for future cap years and now with free agency slowing down (though Im still working through some teams), notably the Jacksonville Jaguars) I was able to sit down and add the tables. Under the cap space tab you can now jump to the 2014-2016 league years to see the current estimates for each team. The chart includes players under contract, active 51 salary, dead money, and estimated top 51 cap spending.

As always the numbers are not perfect and we are always looking for any info to help them become more accurate, bu these should give you a pretty decent idea of where teams stand in the future. I think it will also help better understanding of some of the long term planning teams are going through as they focus not just on 2013 but the next two years of the franchise.

All the table headers are sortable so just click on the header to relist the tables in the order you want. As always keep emailing any suggestions and I will do my best to work on adding them to the site.


NFL Rookie Pools Now Updated


Based on a large number of requests for the rookie pools to be updated I took a break from the contracts and modified the rookie cap numbers to reflect trades and compensatory selections. If you see any errors please let me know and Ill change the team in the database.

As a rough guide remember when calculating the amount of cap room that you will need for each team to subtract approximately $405,000 times the number of draft picks your team has from each teams rookie pool number. Next year Ill have that done automatically but I dont think I have the time to do that this season.

View Team by Team Rookie Pool Estimates

View Pick by Pick Rookie Pool Estimates

A Few New Features


While still sorting through numbers and trying to get as much help as possible to keep our database accurate I decided to add a few new items based on some feedback. If you happen to click on a team cap page, the cap space page, or individual player page you will notice a small menu which gives you the opportunity to view either cap or cash spending in a given year for a player or team. Hopefully this can give people a better idea as to what the real motivations may be behind cutting or keeping a player beyond just the salary cap hits. As with everything on the site its certainly not perfect and we are always looking for help to get our data as close to perfect as possible, but it should give decent estimates for our readers to better discuss their favorite teams and players.

Cash spending is mainly comprised of base salary, roster/reporting bonuses, workout bonuses, and prorated bonuses actually paid or promised to be paid in a given year. There will be a few differences between what you may see in reports on players and what is listed here. For example it seems as if a per game roster bonus will be considered as fully earned in a league cash report even if the player did not appear in 16 games the year before while only partially earned for cap purposes. To keep from losing my sanity my cash values will equal the cap values for such bonuses. I also do not have the sources (or time!) needed to perform PV calculations that will come into play with valuing deferred bonuses so they will be presented in full as well.

You will notice two ratios on each page. The first is called cash  to cap which is pretty explanatory. It is simply the cash value of a players contract divided by his cash value. A player with a high cash to cap is being paid in real dollars at a far greater rate than his cap hit, such as Joe Flacco who will earn nearly 4.5 times as much in real money as will be accounted for on the cap.

The CSC ratio is a bit different. Its an attempt by me to put full savings into perspective. The CSC is defined as:

(Cash number + Cap Savings) / (Salary Cap Number)

So basically its total savings divided by what it would keep in cap dollars to keep a player. A ratio over 1 would be a player that probably has a higher likelihood of being released as the cash and cap savings would be greater than the cap number occupied if the player sticks on his current contract. A ratio under 1 indicates that there is less to gain in overall benefits than just keeping the player on the team. Negative numbers are probably indicative of a player with almost no chance of being released.

The CSC does not factor guaranteed money into the cash savings aspect so for some players with full guarantees the CSC probably overstates the savings associated with cutting a player. One day Ill fix that up but that will not be anytime soon.

We’ll work on adding some additional ways to view data in the future. Thanks for the support.


New Writer Introduction – Andrew

Hey everyone –

My name is Andrew and I’m very excited to say that I’ve come aboard to contribute here on Much like Jason, I love studying the business side of the NFL and have been able to do some work with the salary cap and numerous other rules of the NFL’s CBA. Putting that to use on this new website is going to be an absolute blast.

Player contracts and the subsequent salary cap implications aren’t always the easiest things in the world to follow; having a resource for all that is definitely valuable for those who enjoy keeping track of it. We’ve discussed some pretty cool ideas for features on here, so stay tuned for the fun as this site continues to grow. With a seemingly infinite amount of ways to analyze players not only for their production on the field but also for production in relation to their contract value, there’s a bunch of different things we can do to ensure you stay filled in. Additionally, while we aim to be as accurate as possible, when you’re dealing with a ton of numbers there’s always bound to be a mistake once in awhile. If you see anything that needs to be corrected please don’t hesitate to point it out so we can update it.

I’d like to thank Jason for bringing me on here at OTC and I’m really looking forward to interacting with you all. Feel free to reach out with questions and comments on Twitter (@AndrewOTC).

Thanks everybody!