Deion Sanders was there as part of his NFL Network duties. And the Sept. 18 game took place in Atlanta, where “Primetime” began his career.
So after returning a punt 62 yards to break Sanders’ all-time return record, Devin Hester mimicked the Hall of Famer by high-stepping the last 10 yards into the end zone.
But showing no sense for the moment or that the current Falcons returner was paying homage to the former Falcons great, officials gave Hester a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“It is unfortunate that the NFL won’t allow for that kind of celebration,” said Patrick Mannelly, Hester’s special teams teammate from 2006 to 2013. “I mean it’s an NFL record.”
With its stringent rules regarding touchdown celebrations, the NFL is once again living down to its notorious nickname — the “No Fun League.”
“We’re out there having fun,” said Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. “If you get in the end zone, you deserve to celebrate. It’s what we work for. So, once we get in there, I love to see guys just have fun, enjoy themselves, be a kid again.”
Though the NFL likely won’t relax its rules to allow for more frivolity, the competition committee would have to submit such proposals to NFL executives at the league’s annual meeting in Phoenix late March.
The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Rule
Currently, in Rule 12, Section 3 of the by-laws, the NFL lumps in such seemingly innocuous celebrations with other prohibited acts, including punching an opponent or making unnecessary physical contact with a referee, which results in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
Section 3 Unsportsmanlike Conduct
Article 1: Prohibited Acts. There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:
(a) Throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made.
(b) Using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League.
(c) Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.
(d) Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.
(e) Two or more players engaging in prolonged, excessive, premeditated, or choreographed celebrations or demonstrations.
(f) Possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop.
(g) Unnecessary physical contact with a game official.
(h) Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.
Note 3: Violations of (b) will be penalized if any of the acts are committed directly at an opponent. These acts include, but are not limited to: sack dances; home run swing; incredible hulk; spiking the ball; spinning the ball; throwing or shoving the ball; pointing; pointing the ball; verbal taunting; military salute; standing over an opponent (prolonged and with provocation); or dancing.
Who do football players hurt with these excessive celebrations that result in unsportsmanlike penalties?
Moreover, the semantics of the rule can make it difficult to interpret and legislate. Hester’s touchdown was excessive, but the Lambeau Leap is not?
The Husain Abdullah Penalty
Perhaps the most glaring screw-up in penalizing for excessive celebration occurred during the late September Monday Night Football contest between the Chiefs and Patriots.
After a Pick-6 against New England quarterback Tom Brady, Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah kneeled in the end zone in Islamic prayer and received a 15-yard penalty because he was “on the ground,” an activity outlawed in part D of Section 3, Article 1.
“That was just an errant call in my mind. Heck, a guy going to his knees and praying?” Abdullah’s teammate, Travis Kelce told NFP. “You can’t really say anything bad about that. It shouldn’t have been a flag.”
Kelce was right. The NFL admitted it messed up the call because, though Abdullah was going to the ground, it was part of a religious expression — no different than Tebowing.
Kelce, the dynamic Chiefs tight end entering his third year, is known for his touchdown celebrations, including The Nae Nae, The Shmoney Dance, The Bow and Arrow and even one that honors WWE wrestler Ric Flair.
“I do have some fun when I do get in the end zone,” Kelce said. “That’s for sure.”
One of the NFL’s most prolific celebrators is no fan of the restrictions.
“I really don’t agree with half of them,” Kelce said. “You got to abide by ’em … whether you like them or you don’t.”
Prior to Kelce, several players engaged in memorable celebrations that would be penalized today.
Chad Johnson performed CPR on a football and used an end zone pylon as a putter. Steve Smith pantomimed rowing a boat.
“When I was younger, I was big fan of Ochocinco and T.O. and Steve Smith and all the guys,” said Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans.
Evans, who scored 12 touchdowns during his rookie year, wishes he could celebrate in a way that reflects on his impressive prep basketball career, which led to numerous scholarship offers from Division-I schools.
“I wanna be able to dunk the ball,” Evans said.
Before the 2014 season, however, the NFL said dunking over the crossbar — something Saints wide receiver Jimmy Graham did regularly — would result in the 15-yard penalty.
This change to the rule by the NFL competition committee, though, made some sense. In previous instances dunking over the goalpost bent it, causing a delay in the game while it was reset.
The Odell Beckham Jr. Penalty
Making less sense is what happened to Beckham.
The rookie receiver was penalized 15 yards after he spun the ball and danced behind it following a first-quarter touchdown — his 10th score of the season — against the Rams in late December.
“I don’t think spinning the ball in front of myself is taunting anybody,” Beckham said. “That wasn’t directed to anybody. I spun the ball in front of me. I don’t think it was even past my feet.
“I didn’t quite understand the penalty.”
And neither do I.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin
In 2014, the University of Virginia had, in all probability, the best pair of outside linebackers/defensive ends in the country. In Eli Harold and Max Valles, Virginia had two tall, long, and athletic players who could set the edge and consistently put outside pressure on the quarterback. Both players were underclassmen, and both have entered the 2015 NFL Draft. Yesterday, I profiled Harold, today we will talk about Valles.
Max Valles – OLB/DE – Virginia
Max Valles is a true sophomore at Virginia. He was draft eligible as he attended Fork Union Military Academy for a year following high school. He enrolled at Virginia in 2013. As a freshman, he did not see game action in either of the first two games but began playing as a reserve beginning with their third game. By season’s end, he played in 12 games and had four starts.
He finished the 2013 season with 23 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. In 2014, he started all 12 games for Virginia and upped his production to 55 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, one interception, and three forced fumbles.
Looking at Valles physically, he is tall with good length and has the frame to carry more weight. At the combine, he measured 6050 – 251. While he showed good explosion with his jumps (36″ vertical jump, 10’1″ long jump), he was slower than expected. His best forty was only 4.87, and his 20 yard shuttle and 3-cone drill were 4.31 and 7.51 respectively. While those are adequate times, you would hope for better.
In the Virginia defensive scheme, Valles almost always plays on the left side and plays, mostly, from a 2-point stance. He shows good instincts and reactions and is consistently quick to find the football. He is tough, aggressive, and plays with a good, competitive nature.
With playing on his feet a majority of the time, he has a tendency to get tall. This can hurt him when taking on and shedding blocks. While he plays with good strength, his hand speed is adequate, and there are times he doesn’t get off a block quickly enough. Still, he plays the run well, does a good job playing contain, and more often than not keeps plays inside. He shows he can get penetration and be disruptive versus the run. He has a good burst, and when he gets an opportunity to shoot a gap, he can get the tackle for a loss. As a pursuit player, he takes good angles, shows hustle, but doesn’t have the flat out speed to consistently catch plays from behind.
Valles has the most value as a pass rusher. He has the body flexibility to get under his opponent and turn the corner. He also has the snap in his hips to generate a good bull rush. He also does a good job using counter moves. When he isn’t able to get a pressure, he does a good job getting his hands up and has a number of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Max is used regularly in coverage and has a decent drop. He can get depth and shows awareness in zone. I don’t see the responsiveness needed to be consistent with man-to-man coverage.
When I first looked at Valles, I thought he was a good fit to be a strong side linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Unless he runs better at his pro day, he may be better off adding some bulk and being a 4-3 defensive end. If he can get to 260 – 265, that may be his best position. I would like to see him get his time down to under 4.8. If he is able to do that, he has scheme flexibility. Based solely on tape, he could easily be drafted as high as the third round, but unless he runs better, it will more likely be the fourth.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
The University of Virginia has two underclassmen OLB/DE’s that have entered the draft. They are Eli Harold and Max Valles. I will profile Valles, who is a top prospect in his own right, tomorrow. Today, we will look at Harold who is the better prospect of the two.
Eli Harold – OLB/DE – Virginia
Harold is a third-year junior and a two-year starter entering the draft. He is the right defensive end in the Virginia scheme and lines up both up and down. He has been very productive over the last two seasons with 31 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.
Looking at his frame, Harold has ideal 3-4 OLB measurables. At the combine he was 6030 – 246, ran 4.61 and 4.53 in the 40 and had a vertical jump a 35″ as well as a standing long jump of 10’3″. His agility times were excellent also, timing 4.16 in the 20 yard shuttle and 7.07 in the 3-cone.
As a player, Harold has reacts quickly and has good instincts. He finds the ball and he makes plays. He shows strength at the point of attack and flashes the ability to set the edge. I say flashes, because he doesn’t do it on a consistent basis and, at times, can get over powered. Usually, this will happen when he is playing down.
He has good snap reaction to go along with a quick first step. He stays low and shows he can get penetration and disrupt the run. He is a good pursuit player who has the speed to chase plays down and takes good angles. On the negative side, while he flashes being able to shed quickly, there are times he can be slow off a block.
His best trait is pass rushing. He has very good initial quickness and shows he can beat his opponent with speed or moves. He has the speed and body flexibility to bend and get under his opponent when coming with speed. He also is good at faking an outside charge then coming back inside across the face of his opponent. He has quick hands and good overall hand use.
With 15.5 sacks over the last two seasons, Harold has very good sack production but he could and should have more. He gets a number of pressures and just needs to finish his pass rush a little better. He has the talent to be a double digit sack guy.
Harold is not used in coverage that often but he will occasionally drop. When he does, he gets depth and shows good receiver awareness. He has good ball reactions and shows he can plant and drive on the ball.
As good as Harold’s combine was, I doubt that he makes it in to the first round. Still, I see him going within the first 10 picks of the second round, and he should be a rookie starter. At his size, I don’t think that he is a good fit for the 4-3 teams, but the 3-4 clubs will be all over him. I’m sure Harold will be involved in a number of private workouts between now and draft day. A very interesting prospect who still has a lot of upside.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
Draft Choice Trade Value Charts would have you believe that the NFL draft is an orderly process where a drafted player has less chance of succeeding than the player drafted right before him. That may be the only logical assumption that can be made for purposes of the Charts. In truth, though, the draft is a disorderly process where an undrafted player can succeed and a first round draft selection can fail.
While not perfect, a better way to view the draft is as a series of draft selections that can be divided into groups (called Draft Ranges in this article). Each of the selections in a group is about equal in value (e.g., produces similar results). While this is useful information there can be no dispute that there are plenty of “blips” within the draft. The 44th draft slot, for example, has produced more players (nine) that were Pro Bowl selections than the 10th draft slot selection (four).
This article proposes Draft Ranges based on historical data. These historical Draft Ranges can then be applied to the 2015 draft. In future articles, success probabilities for various metrics will be discussed for each Draft Range based on historical data.
The information in this article sets the stage for pretty much all of the later draft articles. The Draft Ranges were determined by reviewing the outcome of draft selections over the past 20 years (1995-2014). For each individual draft slot the following data was accumulated and evaluated:
It should be noted that a player receives credit for a Pro Bowl appearance only if he was the original selection, regardless of whether he played in the game or bowed out due to “injury” or his team being in the Super Bowl. Alternates and other substitutes do not receive credit for a Pro Bowl appearance.
While the analysis is based on hard data there is definitely an element of subjectivity at play. This surfaces in determining the weighting of various factors. Should more importance be placed on players earning post-season awards or on the number of games started in a player’s career? The approach taken in this article is to make it less a calculation and more a balanced assessment of the individual factors.
As a result of this process and analysis, there turned out to be eight Draft Ranges defined as follows:
The following table summarizes the data used in setting the Draft Ranges:
For those of you who have read some of my past work, it should be pointed out that this is a pretty significant difference from prior writings. Last year, for example, the first Draft Range included selections one through 13. This year, after much thought, more emphasis was placed on the percentage of players who earned post-season honors and two smaller Draft Ranges evolved.
Future articles will further analyze the draft and use the Draft Ranges established in this article while using appropriate time periods for evaluation.
Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics
Now that the Combine is complete, the next phase in the evaluation process are the pro days. Starting next week, there will be numerous pro days Monday through Friday, through the month of March. When a club really wants to get up close and personal with a prospect, they will schedule a private workout with the player but we wont see many of these until after their school has it’s pro day.
The pro day is important for a number of reasons. First off, the players from a school who weren’t invited to the Combine get to workout in front of NFL evaluators. Every year there are about 35 players who did not get invited to the Combine who end up getting drafted.
Over the years, I have seen some drafted as high as the second round, but the majority of these players start coming off the board starting around the fourth round. While teams are interested in these players because of the way they played during the season, their performance on their pro day is also important in the evaluation process. These non-combine players have to have workout numbers better or similar to invited players at their position.
The pro days are also important for the players that didn’t live up to expectations at the Combine. The players who are happy with their Combine results will not take part in the measurable events such as the 40, the 20 yard shuttle, the 3-cone and the jumps. They will only do the position-specific drills for coaches after the measurable drills are finished.
There are other players who feel they need to improve on some of their combine times in order to keep their value high. After going through the Combine results, here are some players who may want to redo some of their drills.
Ameer Abdullah – Nebraska – While his jumps and agilities were excellent, he only ran 4.61. He may want to run the 40 again.
Melvin Gordon – Wisconsin – The same holds true for Gordon. I think every scout in the league felt Gordon would break 4.45. When he ran 4.52 that was a bit disappointing.
Duke Johnson – Miami – He is another running back who ran slower than expected. He may also want to try and improve on his 33.5″ vertical jump. Johnson did not run any of the agilities, so he needs to run those also.
Trae Waynes – Michigan State – While Waynes ran fast, his agility times were slow compared with the other top corner prospects. Slow times in the agility drills can mean a prospect is tight in the knees or hips.
Marcus Peters – Washington - Marcus looks fast on tape, but he didn’t run fast at Indy. 4.54 is not first round corner speed. His other drills were good enough.
Kevin Johnson – Wake Forest – With Kevin, it’s the same story as Peters, excellent jumps and agilities and an average 40 time.
Ladarius Gunter – Miami – Most felt he would run in the low 4.5’s. He ran in the 4.60’s. He has to run again.
Quinten Rollins – Miami (Ohio) – He ran much slower than anticipated, the problem he may have is Miami (Ohio) does not have an indoor facility and he may want to wait until early April before he attempts to run again.
Danny Shelton – Washington – Every one want to compare Shelton to Ngata, but Ngata ran a 5.13 at Indy and Shelton ran in the 5.6’s. He needs to improve his speed or his value will drop a little.
Justin Hardy – East Carolina – I never thought Hardy was a burner, but his average time of 4.58 is not quite fast enough.
Vince Mayle – Washington State – The same holds true with Mayle as he ran 4.67.
Maxx Williams – Minnesota - His speed was disappointing in that he ran 4.85, 4.77. He needs to run in the 4.6’s if he wants to be considered as a first round candidate.
Paul Dawson – TCU – No one thought he was going to be a speedster, but 4.95 is way too slow. I would think he will be first in line to run at TCU’s pro day.
Shaq Thompson – Washington – Shaq plays like he can run in the mid 4.5’s. His 40 times were 4.72 and 4.69. If I were him, I’d run again.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe