UPDATE: PFF has informed me that the Bears’ grade was actually “good” and the below average grade was due to an error in editing. They have updated their post according. However, I put too much work into this retaliatory takedown piece not to leave it up for your enjoyment.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) is an interesting beast. I probably have more respect for them than most people at WCG. I love their signature stats, and have discussed how their grades can be a useful metric when understood in the appropriate context. But it’s difficult to maintain respect for an organization when they frequently drop garbage-bombs on the football community, and they have outdone themselves this time, delivering their 2018 draft grades in a composting cesspool of a garbage bag that rips when you try to pick it up and leaks all over your favorite pants.
Your favorite pants in this case are the Chicago Bears, whose undeniably gorgeous draft class is unceremoniously bequeathed a “below average” grade. To add insult to injury, among the 32 teams graded, only 5 received below average grades. Less than one sixth of teams being below average doesn’t past the sniff test, but it is mathematically possible if they are using a numerical grading system and the five “below average” scored so catastrophically far below the mean that they offset the amount that all other teams scored above average. SPOILER: they are not using a numerical grading system.
So why did the Bears score so poorly? According to the article, the Bears’ first pick, Roquan Smith, was “the top linebacker on PFF’s draft board,” “a perfect linebacker for the 2018 NFL,” and “a solid choice.” Their second choice, James Daniels comes from a “very pro-oriented” offense, and “his agility is impressive and he has an outstanding feel for zone blocking.” PFF chooses whine that his “play strength can be questionable” rather than mention that he was their #2 graded center in this draft class.
If the Bears’ grade is harmed by their day two selections, it must be due to the selection of my new favorite Bear, Anthony Miller, who they scathingly describe as “a poor man’s Odell Beckham Jr with the skills to play far bigger than his size.” PFF clearly didn’t bother to dig through their own signature stats to see that Miller shines in one of their favorite metrics, yards per route run. Miller’s 3.47 YPRR was 25% higher than any receiver drafted before him (D.J. Moore was closest with 2.78).
Perhaps the real explanation comes on day three, when the Bears drafted Bilal Nichols who “graded well in the limited games we have for him at PFF, and had an impressive East West Shrine game.” Did the Bears embarrass PFF by drafting a player they had only graded in limited games and incur their wrath? Perhaps. But surely the “Overall grade” section of their article will shed some light on the real reason the Bears were graded so poorly.
I suppose I can’t argue with that.
Perhaps we can learn something from some of the draft classes that PFF ranked above the Bears?
It should be no surprise that the universally-acclaimed Buffalo Bills draft outdid that of the Bears, considering they traded up twice to nab a quarterback whose PFF grade was just below that of 6th-round stud, Luke Falk, and posted eye-popping signature stats such as 48th-best adjusted completion percentage and 4th-highest percentage of “negatively graded throws.”
Bears were also outdone by the Oakland Raiders, who smartly traded back before picking up PFF’s 7th ranked tackle in the first round before pilfering unranked defensive and offensive tackles in the second and third rounds respectively.
PFF has an army of underpaid devoted fans who watch every NFL game—and now most college games—excruciatingly closely while painstakingly collecting data for an impressive goldmine of a database. Their so much value they could add to the conversation on draft picks with this data, but instead they have shared the lazy, arbitrary, and unjustified opinions of a couple of staffers. The authors, Monson and Palazzolo, earned their positions by reaching out to PFF early in its development as devoted fans who wanted to be part of the project. It’s commendable that the company has allowed them to earn the opportunity to play integral roles in the organization, but it doesn’t mean we need to care about their opinions.
PFF earned a seat at the table in mainstream NFL media by putting in the astronomical amount of work required to create the first comprehensive, consistent, and reproducible play-by-play grading system for NFL players. They are currently wasting that seat more often than not by failing to use the same diligence and accountability when producing the content they publish on their platform.
In the immortal words of millennials everywhere: “Do better, PFF. Do better”