The Breakdown: Nerdin’ it up
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Summit County, Colorado
There’s a new bit that ESPN does – actually, it was originally a show on Fox Sports Net – that is pretty much the ultimate viewing experience for any sports nerd. You know, the people, like me, who enjoy watching things get so overly analyzed and broken down into tiny little parts that we become so obsessed with stats and mathematical probabilities we almost forget the teams still have to play the games.
Aptly named, this segment (mostly shown on Sporstcenter but also found on ESPN.com) is called “Sports Science.” For the last month or so, ESPN has had this show analyzing different football players for this weekend’s NFL Draft.
The one that really caught my eye was on Tim Tebow’s “new” throwing motion.
Everyone that’s read or watched anything on the NFL in the last four months knows all about how Tebow, the all-everything college signal caller, is trying to get rid of his elongated delivery. Well, this “Sports Science” segment breaks down just how far he’s come.
Comparing film of an average throw during a game for Florida last season and throws from his pro day, “Sports Science” shows that by moving the position of the ball during his dropback 12 inches higher and closer to his chin, Tebow’s new motion is, on average, 60 milliseconds faster than his old one. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but when defenders come at you at an average speed of 9 yards per second in the NFL, those 60 milliseconds give Tebow an extra 2 feet of protection to get the pass off. At least, this is what “Sports Science” said.
Basically, the new delivery (if performed the same way in a real-game situation) makes the difference between Tebow spending all his time on his back with a 300-pound man squashing him or sailing spirals for touchdowns.
Really, though, this entire segment shows why this weekend’s draft – or any draft – is so intriguing.
Let’s put it this way: If “Sports Science” is the ultimate sports nerd show, then the NFL Draft is the ultimate sports nerd event.
The draft is basically three days of people – again, like me – sitting around, arguing with their buddies about players, teams and scenarios that have no tangible way of being proved for a minimum of six months.
Should Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford be No. 1? Is Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh, or any defensive tackle for that matter, worth a top-3 overall pick? Can anyone actually spell “Ndamukong” without looking it up?
These are the types of things people like arguing about – at least during the first round, which will be Thursday in prime time on ESPN. The rest of the days will be more about picking up possible third-string tight ends or trying to predict where the next Tom Brady will come from.
(Note: I will never, ever, in my entire life believe anyone that thought Tom Brady could become a Hall of Fame-caliber QB when he was at Michigan. I grew up as a huge Wolverine fan, and I watched nearly every game of Brady’s two-year run under center in college. And there was no time – ever – that I thought he should’ve even played over his backup Drew Henson, let alone ever play in the NFL. So, if you’re saying you had Brady pegged, then I’m calling you a liar.)
This is all where that Tebow segment comes in, though. We sit and look at these numbers and stats and what the talking heads call “measurables,” trying to decide who is going to make it as a pro and who isn’t. All the while, we miss out on a pretty simple way of looking at prospects: If they were really good in college, chances are, they’re going to be pretty darn good in “The League.”
Of course, there are the exceptions. (Ryan Leaf and the Human Blob that used to be known as JaMarcus Russell come to mind right away.)
But that’s the fun of it. Despite looking at all the numbers and stats, a player’s success never comes down to simple science, no matter how much us sports nerds want it to.
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