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Top Links 5-15-2012

The Link Leaderboard

  1. *The Essential Smart Football* | Smart Football (Source)
  2. RSP Football Writers Project: July 23rd | The Rookie Scouting Portfolio (Source)
  3. Jets QB coach says Tim Tebow has good mechanics | ProFootballTalk (Source)
  4. Rebuilding? Rams prefer to look at 2012 as re-stocking period – NFL.com (Source)
  5. Johnny Jolly granted release after six months of six-year sentence | ProFootballTalk (Source)

The @HeHaithMe Challenge

@HeHaithMe is a veritable force on Twitter.  He’s what would happen if you combined the gambling enthusiasm of Jimmy the Greek with the zen mental state of the Tasmanian Devil.  I’ve engaged in a few prop bets with HHM in the past year or so, losing two and then also having to pay him for winning the Mock Draft Free Roll.  So I’m down a few bucks to HHM.

HHM has pretty much been killing his MLB bets this year and while I don’t really have any interest in baseball, I am sort of mildly interested in the issue of whether individual bettors can outpick the books.  So HHM and I are going to do another prop bet.  I took the under on HHM’s record to date in MLB and he took the over.  He was 58% when we made the bet, so every point over 58%, I owe him $100, and every point under 58%, he owes me $100.  The kicker is that 75% of the winner’s take goes to charity.  So it’s going to be pretty difficult for this to be a positive EV bet for me.

In any case, wouldn’t you know it, HHM went like 5-1 the day we made the bet which got him up to 60% for the year.  Here are HHM’s picks from Saturday:


Then here is his update from Sunday:


Lucky for me, HHM did a little worse on Sunday and he’s right back around 58%.

Here was my thinking in terms of why I proposed this prop bet:

  1. We’re like more than 90 days from Week 1 and I am BORED.
  2. I think the most likely outcome is that little money money changes hands.  HHM has already picked 150 games, so there is a decent sample available.
  3. The bet is almost assymetric in favor of me.  I said almost.  If HHM were only picking games that were –110 on the betting sheet, then I think the bet would be in favor of me by a margin.  Gamblers have to pick those right at 53% just to do better than break even, so I would essentially be on the book side of the bet by taking the under on 58%.  But HHM sometimes takes games that are –125, so the bet isn’t as much in my favor as it would be if all games were –110.  But actually, you can see from above that HHM often picks games that he thinks will return the most for his money, so I’m not concerned that our small prop bet might influence his picks.  He places actual bets on these games, so his wins from picking good bets will have a larger impact for him than simply picking safe bets in order to win a small prop bet where the money is largely going to charity. 
  4. When I say assymetric what I mean is that my losses (if I lost) would likely be small, while my wins could be larger.  I would think that a 60% win rate for HHM would really be something, while a 54% win rate wouldn’t be odd at all on the downside.  So I guess I think that even while it’s likely that not a lot of money changes hands, my upside is probably larger than his.

If you know of a good charity, be sure to post it in the comments.  If I win, I might just have HHM donate to that charity.

Top Links 5-14-2012

The Link Leaderboard

  1. Rookie Courtney Upshaw looks like another prototypical Raven – NFL.com (Source)
  2. Twitter / Tim Hightower: I’m baaaaaaaack http://t.c … (Source)
  3. McNabb dropping weight in comeback attempt | ProFootballTalk (Source)
  4. Ex-Bear Tommie Harris is building the future in his late wife’s honor – Chicago Sun-Times (Source)
  5. 9 Lessons on Power and Leadership from Genghis Khan – Forbes (Source)
  6. Cowboys Corner: Jerry Jones says he lost no confidence in Rob Ryan last year, believes offseason moves will help him ‘match up’ (Source)
  7. Carson Palmer: Raiders, Bengals both won in last year’s trade | ProFootballTalk (Source)

I’m About 90% Sure This is My Last NFL Draft Post for the Year.. Ok, Maybe I’m 80% Sure.

Code and Football has been doing a series of posts on trades in the NFL draft.  You should check out the site if you haven’t before.  C&F recently linked to my Games Started draft value chart, and then followed that up with something of a rundown of recent discussions of draft trades that have been taking place on the interwebs.

As I was reading the C&F post, I remembered that I had meant to return to the issue of draft trades one more time.  Post-draft I was reading something on ESPN that sort of caught my ire.  John Clayton wrote a piece that was essentially a winners and losers column on the first round trades.  In that piece he included these lines:

Too often in past years, the Patriots got a little too cute. They’d trade a choice for a future first-rounder. They’d trade back and acquire more draft choices than they had roster spots for rookies.

And then this line:

3. St. Louis Rams: Trading out of the top six is usually a bad idea.

Really?  Why?

Maybe I’m getting too excited over a few lines in this Clayton piece, but here’s why I haven’t forgotten about it since I read it.  Clayton is a thought leader as it relates to the NFL.  Maybe he’s outside of the top five guys in terms of being thought leaders, but he’s on the list.  He gets paid to do this stuff.

Why is trading out of the top six “usually” a bad idea?  Even in the world where everybody believes in the Jimmy Johnson Chart, trades are assumed to be equal on each side based on that chart.  For Clayton to assume that trading out of the top six is a bad idea, is to say that the draft chart that transactions are based on isn’t steep enough.  He’s saying that the talent in a draft is even more weighted towards the early picks than everybody already erroneously believes it is.

Clayton also makes the assumption that the Patriots “got too cute” when in reality, they were simply executing a draft strategy that presupposes that football is a sport that starts 22 players who will incur a lot of injuries.  The Patriots were also excellent at taking advantage of the over-discounting that most teams do related to future year picks.  The Patriots were acting like bankers (or loan sharks), advancing near term picks at extremely high interest rates.

I would say about 85% of the post draft coverage I’ve read contains a “bold move” bias.  At the heart of the Bold Move Bias is the faulty idea that every move is a 50/50 proposition, but that the payoffs aren’t weighted that way.  For instance, the Bold Move Bias would break the RGIII trade down based on it either a) works out or b) doesn’t work out.  It would then assign a 50/50 probability to each potential outcome.  But then the Bold Move Bias says that if the trade does work out, the benefits will be outsized because you’ll have a franchise quarterback.  Under that view, every bold move has a positive return on investment.

The unfortunate thing is that the real world doesn’t work that way.  The Bold Move Bias as applied to a roulette wheel would say that the odds of hitting on any number are 50/50 (it either hits on the number or it doesn’t) but that the payoffs are 35/1.  The Bold Move practitioners would then say “Any time you have the chance to put $20 on a single number and potentially make $700, you have to do that.” 

That type of thinking, the kind that considers only the payoffs of the bet and not the costs or the odds, is why a lot of teams spend years in the cellar.  While the Redskins keep putting their money on a number on the roulette wheel, the Patriots, Eagles, Steelers, and Packers keep putting their money in the bank.  Every once in a while it’s reasonable to expect that the Redskins will hit on their number, but that doesn’t mean their outlook is necessarily right.  It’s just bound to happen some of the time.

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Top Links 5-10-2012

The Link Leaderboard

  1. NFL Players Association: ‘Punishment demands evidence’ – USATODAY.com (Source)
  2. Adrian Peterson: I’ll be surprised and disappointed if I miss Week 1 | ProFootballTalk (Source)
  3. Terrelle Pryor looking forward to fresh start under Oakland Raiders’ new regime – Jim Trotter – SI.com (Source)
  4. Cap case starts today but decision will take time – Rich Tandler’s Real Redskins (Source)
  5. 2011′s Best Performances: Wide Receivers | ProFootballFocus.com (Source)
  6. Wake-up: Browns’ Weeden must win job? – AFC North Blog – ESPN (Source)
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What Does This Poker Bluff Have in Common With Sean Payton’s Decision to Onside Kick During the Super Bowl?

Game-Plan-CoverIn Game Plan, I spend a considerable amount of time comparing decision making in football to decision making in poker.  To me it’s a natural connection. But I could see where it might not be a natural connection to everyone.

It’s a natural connection to me because coaching a football game is a series of decisions from set scenarios in the same way that poker is a series of decisions from set scenarios.  Coaches decide whether to run or pass.  Poker players decide whether to bet, check or fold.  Coaches decide what pass play to call.  Poker players decide how much to raise, or whether to check raise, or whether to slow play.  Poker players and coaches both have to anticipate what the opponent will do.  They both have to disguise what their team wants to do.

I spend a not insignificant time in the book talking about poker phenom Tom Dwan.  Dwan is interesting to me for two reasons.  First, he’s young.  He’s a lot younger than any NFL coordinator or head coach.  He’s a lot younger than even the youngest NFL coordinator or head coach.  That goes against the notion that age is an important consideration in forming expertise.  Dwan is probably one of the top five poker players in the world.  But Dwan is also interesting to me because he learned to play online, in a way that the old school pros didn’t even view as being real poker.

The poker hand that I’ve embedded below actually reminds me in some ways of the Sean Payton decision to inside kick in Super Bowl XLIV.  Dwan bluffs two extremely accomplished players out of made hands.

To me the impressive thing is not that Dwan executes this bluff.  If you bluff enough (he does) then some of them are going to work out.  The impressive thing to me is that after the hand, a number of players around the table engage in discussion in order to try to guess whether any of the players had three twos.  Dwan actually ends up engaging in a prop bet with Doyle Brunson where Dwan bets that Peter Eastgate had a two in his hand.

The only player at the table who is younger than Dwan is Peter Eastgate, and yet Dwan’s mastery of the game shows through on a number of levels.  First, he executes a bluff that, like Sean Payton’s decision to onside kick, is not for the faint of heart.  Then, after the hand he shows that he read the hand better than a much more experienced player and that he knew where he was in the hand the entire time.

I think that the most demanding thing that a football coach does is make strategy.  I don’t think that the management side of football is particularly demanding.  If I had to guess how many people in the world are better at managing employees than the NFL’s coaches, I would say “A lot”.  Managing people isn’t something that requires that you’re in the top group of cognitive performers.  But strategy, and implementing strategy within the confines of the play clock, is something that requires elite cognitive ability.  That’s the area where football coaches are similar to poker players.

When Sean Payton came out in the second half of the Super Bowl and decided to employ the high risk, high reward strategy of onside kicking, he had numbers on his side.  But he was also making a decision that, if it went poorly, would probably stain his coaching resume forever.  But he pretty much didn’t give a shit.  He had ice in his veins in the same way that 20-something Tom Dwan had ice in his veins when he put out a $100k bet and he knew he was dominated by the other players in the hand.

For the rest of my thoughts on this topic, be sure to check out Game Plan, which at just $0.99, is like half the cost of using an ATM not owned by your bank.

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Top Links 5-8-2012

The Link Leaderboard

  1. 2012 Offensive Line Rankings – Matchups – Rotoworld.com (Source)
  2. Matt Light reveals long battle with Crohn’s disease – NFL.com (Source)
  3. Travis Benjamin vs North Carolina – YouTube (Source)
  4. Document: Anthony Hargrove was told to lie by Gregg Williams, Joe Vitt about bounty program – Yahoo! Sports (Source)
  5. Broncos, GM Brian Xanders agree to part ways after four years in Denver – The Denver Post (Source)
  6. Cowboys Corner: New secondary coach Jerome Henderson’s enthusiasm — and cleats — are easy to see (Source)

Will Write Guest Posts for Food.. Fine.. No Food.. Jeez You’re a Tough Negotiator

Just wanted to mention again that I’m going to try to crank out as many guest posts as I can in the month of May.  I just recently finished up a guest post on Greg Little for FootballSickness.com and last week I wrote a post about taking punters in the third round for Big Cat Country.

I’m also working on a few posts on Value Based Drafting (for fantasy football) for some other sites as well as a post on the relative value of quarterbacks and wide receivers (for real football).

Top Links 5-3-2012

The Link Leaderboard

  1. Junior Seau was gregarious, ebullient, hilarious and immensely popular – Yahoo! Sports (Source)
  2. Junior Seau’s legacy extends well beyond his play on the field – Jim Trotter – SI.com (Source)
  3. NFL.com news: Player suspensions won’t hurt the Saints much (Source)
  4. NFL.com – Top 100 Players of 2012 (Source)
  5. ESPN NCAAF Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees jailed (Source)
  6. Report: Terrell Suggs tears Achilles tendon | ProFootballTalk (Source)

Just in Case You Didn’t Think I Had Another Punter Post in Me

OK, one last post tonight to try to put this punting thing to bed.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the comments at Big Cat Country are focusing on the idea that a good punter’s longest punts are what we should look at.  It’s not that the best case scenario shouldn’t be considered.  In fact I argued that in salary cap terms, teams should think about the potential upside from their 3rd round picks.  But the best case scenario is just one potential outcome.  There are always a range of potential outcomes.  Even the best punter in the league is going to have results sometimes that are below average.

I thought I would actually look at the best punter in the league to illustrate this fact.  Shane Lechler is the highest paid punter in the league.  He has a big leg. 

But if you’re looking at Lechler, should you focus on his longest punts, or the average of his results? 

Below is a graph that shows Lechlers kicks based on the line of scrimmage when he kicked them.  I show Lechler’s net punt, and I also show the expected net punt from each yard line on the field.  As you get closer to the other team’s end zone, the expectation for a punt goes down in terms of net.

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Lechler is actually better than average if you take his net punt and then subtract out what the average punter gets from each yard line on the field.  But he’s only 2.5 yards per punt better than the average expectation.  This analysis adjusts for field position in the way that the BCC commenters are saying is important.  Lechler also isn’t significantly better when he’s closer to his own end zone.  He’s still just about 2.5 yards per kick better than average.  So in the places where the BCC commenters are saying Lechler can “flip the field”, Lechler is still just 2.5 yards per punt better in terms of net punt than what we would expect.

The average is the central tendency.  For every punt that Lechler kicks that might go 70 yards, he is balancing that out with a shorter kick so that his average is close to what the average kicker yields (although slightly above).

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has done a number of experiments looking at whether humans can make good judgments about the most likely outcome.  It turns out that we can’t.  We often focus on the best case scenario.  We’re drawn to the idea that the best punter we can find might be able to outkick the next guy by 10 yards per kick.  But that’s not realistic.  It’s not realistic for the same reason that municipal projects never finish on time or on budget.  The projects are always bid with the best case scenario in mind.  Just like the Jaguars probably do feel like they took a guy who can net them an average 50 yards per game in field position.  But a quick review of historical outcomes shows that those expectations aren’t reasonable.

Fooled by Randomness in the Punting Game?

For my guest post at Big Cat Country I looked at whether it made any sense to take a punter in the third round of the NFL draft.  Go check out that post if you’re interested in punters at all.  In the comments of that post a number of people suggested that I had ignored the value that a punter might have in pinning the other team deep in it’s own territory.

I thought I would look at that issue.  First I had to create a formula to figure out whether a punt should or should not be a touchback.  I used results from 2000-2010 to create this graph that breaks down punts by likelihood of becoming a touchback, depending on field position.

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I can then use the formula from that graph to analyze actual punts and see whether punters have repeatable ability to avoid touchbacks (when controlled for field position).  When I do that, I am basically calculating Expected Touchbacks vs. Actual Touchbacks.  Doing that, I get the following graph.

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The trend line explains about 60% of the variance in touchback results, which is to say that field position explains about 60% of the variance in touchback results.  But that’s not 100% either.  So is the actual punter responsible for causing or preventing the touchbacks that can’t be explained by field position, or is it randomness at play?

It’s probably randomness.  The graph below shows an X, Y scatter where prior ability to prevent touchbacks is the independent variable.  It doesn’t have any explanatory power over future ability to prevent touchbacks.  Just because a punter may have had less touchbacks than you would expect based on field position in the past, doesn’t mean that will continue.

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This is something of a “fooled by randomness” issue.  Sometimes it’s easy to mistake randomness for skill.  Some might remember the performance of San Diego punter Mike Scifres in the 2009 playoffs.  Scifres was lauded for his performance against the Colts.  Below is an account from the game:

Scifres, passed over again this year in Pro Bowl voting, booted the ball six times last night for a 51.7 net average – an NFL playoff record for a punter with five or more punts. All six were downed inside the 20-yard line, also an NFL playoff record. Five times Scifres pinned the Colts inside 11 yards, and Indy had 6 yards in returns. Scifres had one booming drive of 67 yards.

But over his career, Scifres has about as many touchbacks as you would expect, based on field position.  Over the long term he hasn’t shown any increased ability to pin the other team deep and avoid touchbacks.  I have Scifres calculated for 44.05 “Expected Touchbacks” and he has 44 “Actual Touchbacks”.  The skill he showed in the playoff game against the Colts may have just been randomness.

In all of this analysis, I only found one punter whose results looked like they deviated from expectation significantly.  That was Shane Lechler, who causes touchbacks a lot more often than should be expected.  Based on field position you would expect that he would have caused about 75 touchbacks in his career.  He’s actually caused 129.  The interesting thing is that Lechler is really bad at that part of the game and yet he’s the highest paid punter in the league.

Top Links 5-2-2012

The Link Leaderboard

  1. Cosell Talks: Teams Reveal Their Beliefs in the Draft : NFL Films Blog (Source)
  2. Vince Young to work out for Bills – BillBoard – The Buffalo News (Source)
  3. Sarah Phillips Admits She “Concealed” Her Identity, Made “Poor Choices With Who To Trust” (UPDATE) (Source)
  4. First look at Eli’s turn on SNL | ProFootballTalk (Source)
  5. Has Roger Goodell improved player conduct? (Source)
  6. Reese calls Umenyiora’s comments part of ‘offseason chatter’ | National Football Post (Source)
  7. NFL.com news: Seahawks GM was ‘uncomfortable’ no one talked about Irvin (Source)
  8. Joe Cowley Put On “Final Notice” After His Sexist Twitter Tirade (Source)

A Quick Rundown of the First Round Trades

If you’re a fan of watching the ways that markets work, then the NFL draft pick trade market can be fun to watch.  I sort of got interested in the topic when it occurred to me that the way that the NFL values picks is not probably very efficient based on a reasonable expectation of the distribution of human abilities.  Basically the NFL works off a trade chart that assumes the existence of super human individuals.  I think it’s unlikely that those superhuman individuals actually exist and I would argue that actual player results back me up.

I thought it might be fun to look at the draft day trades and compare the trades on the basis of the Jimmy Johnson Chart and also my chart that focuses on how many games started you can expect to get out of each pick.  As a refresher, here’s my draft pick value chart shown versus the Jimmy Johnson Chart.

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In putting this together I relied on this recounting of the trades. 

Here we go!

Browns move up to No. 3: Wanting to secure their top choice, the Cleveland Browns moved to the No. 3 pick in a deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota acquired the No. 4 pick, plus three additional draft choices ( a fourth-round pick-No. 118 overall, a fifth-round pick-No. 139 overall and a seventh-round pick-No. 211 overall). The Browns moved up one spot to select Alabama running back Trent Richardson, while the Vikings grabbed Southern California offensive tackle Ryan Kalil with the No. 4 pick.

The table below breaks down the value of the picks exchanged.  image

Note that the JJ Chart is denominated in points, while my chart is denominated in “Games Started”.  So you can expect to get about 85 career games started out of the fourth overall pick.  The JJ Chart says that Cleveland won the trade by a pretty wide margin, and the FD Chart says that Minnesota won the trade by a pretty wide margin.  Note that if I were to include position specific data, Minnesota would have blown Cleveland out of the water on this one.  Offensive linemen tend to start a significant number of games more than a running back.  Then if you consider salary cap issues and the fact that Minnesota is saving a lot of money on a left tackle and Cleveland is saving less money on a running back, it gets even worse for Cleveland.


Moving on.  From the trade summary on MassLive.

Jaguars go up to get Blackmon: The Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to the No. 5 overall pick to select Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Tampa Bay acquired the No. 7 overall pick and pick up a fourth-round pick from Jacksonville (No. 101 overall). With the No. 7 pick, Tampa Bay selected Alabama safety Mark Barron.

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Again, the Jimmy Johnson Chart says that the team trading up won, my chart says that the team trading down won.  My chart says that the expectation for the games started difference for the 5th and 7th picks isn’t that great.  However, if you look at the actual picks, I think you could make the case that Jacksonville did alright with this trade.


Moving on.  From the trade summary on MassLive.

Cowboys jump up eight spots to No. 6: The Dallas Cowboys have moved up eight spots to the No. 6 pick in a deal with the St. Louis Rams to select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Rams acquired the No. 14 pick (which St. Louis used to selected LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers) as well as a second-round pick (the No. 45 pick) from the Cowboys.

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The JJ Chart says this one is about even.  My chart says that the team trading down (STL) won, and by a sizable margin.  The 2nd round pick that the Cowboys gave up is worth quite a bit.  In terms of the actual players, I do think there’s something to be said for getting the best corner in the draft due to positional importance.


Moving on.  From the trade summary on MassLive.

Eagles move up to No. 12 for defensive tackle: The Philadelphia Eagles traded up three spots to acquire the No. 12 pick from the Seattle Seahawks to select Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Seattle picked up the No. 15 pick (which Seattle used on West Virginia outside linebacker Bruce Irvin) plus two additional picks (a fourth-round pick-No. 114 overall and a sixth-round pick-No. 172 overall)

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From a pick value standpoint, my chart says that SEA won.  But from an actual pick standpoint, it doesn’t look like they really capitalized on the opportunity.  PHI got Fletcher Cox, who many considered to be a top 10 quality player.  To figure the pick value on this one, it might actually be appropriate to think about Cox in terms of what his inherent value is, not what other teams assigned to him.


Moving on.  From the trade summary on MassLive.

Bengals deal out of No. 21 pick: After taking Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with the No. 17 pick, Cincinnati traded out of the No. 21 pick in a deal with New England. The Patriots gave up the No. 27 pick as well as a third-round pick (No. 93 overall) to move up six spots. New England selected Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones with the No. 21 pick. Cincinnati took Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler with the No. 27 pick.

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The only comment I have here is that we were talking last night about CIN and how they seem to be increasingly making smarter decisions.  I’m not even saying that they sharked NE here, but between their draft picks last year, the Carson Palmer trade, and then this trade, they are increasingly operating like the smarter franchises.


Moving on.  From the trade summary on MassLive.

Patriots move up again: The New England Patriots moved up for the second time tonight when they acquired the No. 25 pick from the Denver Broncos. Denver acquired the No. 31 pick and a fourth-round pick (No. 126 overall). Denver later dealt those picks to Tampa Bay. The Patriots went defense once again with their draft selection, selecting Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

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I think there’s actually an important point to be made here.  When NE trades down, they often are just swapping picks with a 5 or 6 pick difference, and they will sometimes get a future year number one pick in the deal.  When they do that, they are taking advantage of teams discounting future year picks too heavily.  But even when they trade up, they do in with terms that no other team gets.  In terms of Games Started (my chart metric), this is the first trade where the team trading up got the better end of the deal.


Moving on.  From the trade summary on MassLive.

Vikings jump back into first round:The Minnesota Vikings picked up a second first-round pick in a deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Minnesota acquired the No. 29 pick and in exchange the Ravens received a second-round pick (No. 35 overall) and a fourth-round pick (No. 98 overall). The Vikings selected Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with the No. 29 pick.

I really have no comment on this one.

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Moving on.  From the trade summary on MassLive.

Broncos move back again: The Denver Broncos, who traded out of the No. 25 pick, also traded out of the No. 31 pick in a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Denver acquires a second-round pick (No. 36 overall) and a fourth-round pick (No. 101 overall). Tampa Bay picks up the No. 31 pick, to select Boise State running back Doug Martin and a fourth-round pick (No. 126 overall).

No comment here except that Tampa Bay moved up in order to select a running back.

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Top Links 4-27-2012

The Link Leaderboard

  1. Rams get their man Michael Brockers – after their first two choices were drafted – Yahoo! Sports (Source)
  2. The 2012 Draft: Picture Analysis – Draft Countdown Forums (Source)
  3. Bears plan to play Shea McClellin at defensive end | ProFootballTalk (Source)
  4. Mohamed Sanu got an unpleasant phone call during the first round | ProFootballTalk (Source)
  5. 1981 NFL draft part 1.mov – YouTube (Source)