Football Cities: Where the Stars are Bred

This is the final look at the metro, state, and regional breakdown of the 2012 NFL player class.

Having looked at where all players come from, this one looks at where the best ones are bred. Using Pro Bowl appearances, All-Pro team recognition, and Offensive/Defensive player and rookie of the year awards, I calculated a point total for each of the 254 active players who have earned any (or all) of the above recognitions. Here’s how metro areas perform. In total, 81 metro areas have produced at least one active player with one of the accolades. 10 have produced 4 or more.

Miami, second to Los Angeles in overall players, jumps ahead in both stars and points accumulated. Established players like Steve Hutchinson (OG, Tennessee), Andre Johnson (WR, Houston) and Devin Hester (WR/KR, Chicago) lead the way, while emerging stars like Patrick Peterson (CB/KR, Arizona) and Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, New York Giants) figure to keep the metro’s reputation for success alive. Los Angeles similarly boasts a combination of veteran stars like Tony Gonzales (TE, Atlanta), Troy Polamalu (S, Pittsburgh) and Steve Smith (WR, Carolina) to go along with ones in their prime like Clay Matthews (LB, Green Bay) and DeSean Jackson (WR, Philadelphia).

The New York City metro boasts New Jersey-bred stars like Brian Cushing (LB, Houston) and Ray Rice (RB, Baltimore). Houston has produced young stars like Brian Orakpo (LB, Washington) and Andy Dalton (QB, Cincinnati). It’s also the home of this year’s first overall pick, Andrew Luck, who figures to join the list of stars soon.

New Orleans is home of Peyton (QB, Denver) and Eli (QB, New York Giants) Manning, along with veteran (Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis) and young (Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh) star receivers. Atlanta’s stars figure to dominate this list for a long time, led by Calvin Johnson (WR, Detroit), Cam Newton (QB, Carolina), and Eric Berry (S, Kansas City), and Philly is home to two quarterbacks named Matt (Ryan of Atlanta and Schaub of Houston).

Beyond the top 10, 9 metros produced 3 stars, 19 produced 2, and 42 produced 1 each.

Metro vs. Small Town
75% of all players are from a Metropolitan Statistical Area, and the proportion of stars is slightly higher at 77%.

However, the number drops below that to 71% when we count the share of points earned.

Notable stars from outside metro areas include Ed Reed, Brian Urlacher, Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers, and Champ Bailey.

Yet, the large metros (and a handful of football hotbeds such as New Orleans) are leading the way in both quantity and quality.

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Football States and Mega Regions: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

On Wednesday, I looked at the metro areas that produced the most NFL players at the start of the 2012 season. This post looks at the states and mega-regions that have done so.

The Top 10 States Overall

Many of the most populous states dominate the top 10, with only one state (Louisiana) ranking below 12th overall in population. California and Florida, home of the top two NFL-producing metros (LA and Miami) finish 1st and 3rd. Both have several other metros that also produce many players. Sandwiched between them is Texas, home of Dallas and Houston – two of the top 5 metros.

New Jersey’s inclusion, while New York state doesn’t show up on the list, is a reflection of the fact that most of the New York City metro area’s players actually come from the New Jersey counties that are part of it.

Top 10 Per Capita

The southern states, like the colleges, dominate this list. 7 of 10 states are from the south and/or sun belt, with only Ohio (the best performing northern state by nearly every metric), midwest powerhouse Nebraska, and the island state of Hawaii cracking the top 10 from outside those areas. The deep south states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina) atop the list are home to only one NFL team (New Orleans Saints, though part of South Carolina is included in the Charlotte MSA – home to the Carolina Panthers); however, many college football powerhouses play in that region.

Mega Regions Overall

Going back to the 11 Mega Regions, the most populous regions, the Great Lakes, is first, followed by the Piedmont and Florida. Southern California does well on the strength of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

Mega Regions Per Capita

The Piedmont, whose colleges lead the way in producing players, shows up atop this list, edging out Florida. Cascadia, whose colleges do well, is one of the two worst performing regions, a sign that it imports players at that level.

The final post will focus on the metros where star players are bred.

Football Cities: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

Pile Up
Miami, Florida, led by Baltimore Ravens defensive stars Ed Reed (pictured) and Ray Lewis, is one of the top producing regions for NFL players.

The National Football league regular season kicks off tonight, with two marquee teams – and markets in Dallas and New York – facing off. Last week, I looked at the states and regions whose colleges produce NFL players. This post looks at which cities and metro areas the 2012 NFL rosters come from, to see which ones produce the most players.

Using data available from this map, as well as player biographies on Wikipedia and their college and NFL team sites, I assembled a database of players along with their hometown and metro region (according to Metropolitan Statistical Area). The list is comprised of 1917 players who were on an NFL roster (active, injured reserve, or practice) as of late August/early September.

Looking at the 51 metro areas of over 1,000,000 residents, here are the top 10, with overall rankings on the left side and per capita on the right.

The Miami area shows best, coming in a close second in both overall and per capita numbers. Los Angeles edges out Miami in overall numbers. Both metros have produced many notable NFLers, in particular local players who went to prominent local colleges (USC and the University of Miami, respectively). Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Andre Johnson are three Miami locals who starred at The U before launching successful NFL careers. The Los Angeles area has seen quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez go from local high schools to USC to the pros, and is also the home of defensive stars like Clay Matthews.

New Orleans, home of the Manning brothers, leads the way per capita. The overall top 10 track fairly closely to overall population. While the Northeast (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington) lacks colleges that produce top players, the region itself is sending many local players from high schools to the pros, with the exception of Boston (and most of New England). Texas and Georgia are known football hotbeds, so it’s no surprise to see their teams show up here. On the per capita side, the south leads the way, with only Cincinnati (on the border) cracking the top 10 from outside the region.

In the overall top 10, Los Angeles is the only metro without an NFL team, while 3 in the top 10 per capita (Birmingham, Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach – Norfolk – Newport News) are without one.

Here is how the 30 metros with NFL teams rank (New York City and San Francisco-Oakland both have two). The top 10 mirrors the overall top 10, with Detroit taking LA’s place.

Pittsburgh and the two Ohio teams show up here, amongst another grouping of predominantly southern and Californian metros.

The midwest, often thought of as a player-rich area, occupies most of the bottom 10 spots, with none boasting notable per capita scores either. Green Bay is an outlier due to its small size, but Milwaukee (the biggest city in Wisconsin) would be 25th if it was included.

We also see many metros without NFL teams producing players. Here they are grouped by metro size:

California shows its might here. In addition to overall leader Los Angeles, the neighboring Inland Empire (Riverside – San Bernardino – Ontario) produces a large number of players, as does the state capitol region of Sacramento in the north. This is another list where the south dominates, with the recognized football hotbeds of Austin, Birmingham, Oklahoma City, Orlando, and the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas of Virginia making the top 10. The only city from the north to crack the top 10 is Columbus, home of the Ohio State University.

Of the metros between 500,000 and 999,000 (below), we see that its once again only Ohio cities – Akron and Dayton – cracking the top 10, in addition to Honolulu, Hawaii.

Finally, the handful of metros below 500,000 produced 5 or more NFLers are again all from the Sun Belt and South.

Conclusions
Football’s Base Has Shifted South and West.
The major metros, both in raw numbers and per capita, are primarily from California, Florida, and the south. A handful of Ohio cities perform well per capita, and the large metros of NYC, Chicago, Philly, and DC produce their share, but if the day existed when the Rust Belt of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania was an NFL pipeline, it’s by and large passed.

Football’s Base is Slightly Less Urban than the Country.
Most calculations list the percentage of Americans living in an urban/metro area as being between 80-85%. Of the 1892 American players on this list, 1412 are from a metro area, which works out to 75%.

The next post will look at the player breakdown by state and mega region.

I plan to do this for the rest of the big four North American leagues (plus the American and Canadian professional soccer pools) to see what trends emerge regarding the metros, states, and regions that produce the most professional players.

(Update: somehow I missed Richard Florida’s post on this topic from April 2012, which used 2010 numbers, and birth place instead of high school location/hometown).

What Drafting Quarterbacks Can Teach Us About Picking Good Leaders

The 2012 NFL Draft took place over the past few days. The first selection in the draft is often a Quarterback (4 years in a row now, and 12 of the past 15), and players available at this position receive disproportionate attention from both teams and viewers. It makes sense, as it’s rare for a team to win a Super Bowl without an elite QB. Teams often overvalue QBs in the draft – 3-4 usually go in the first round; roughly half of which become average starters (never mind stars). Compared to many other sports, football (when a team is on offense) sees a hierarchical structure where there is a position that is the natural leader. The QB often has to call plays at the line, or make adjustments when seeing the defense. He’s the only skill player to handle the ball on every play.

A Quarterback is colloquially called a “field general”, and as the nickname indicates, there are parallels to the leader of any organization. Picking both can be problematic, but there are lessons from drafting QBs that can apply to any organization. These lessons are especially important for smaller organizations such as non-profits, where the (opportunity) cost of making a mistake is magnified.

What Makes a Great Quarterback or Leader?
During the first round on Thursday, I tweeted about how the top two picks, Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, scored high in number of college starts and pass completion percentage, which are both usually good indicators of pro success.

Writer John Lopez elaborates on this, with his 26/27/60 rule. What this means is a QB prospect who scores a 26 on the Wonderlic aptitude test (administered to prospects), starts at least 27 college games (just over 2 full seasons), and completes 60% of his passes stands a good chance of success in the pros. I’d suggest the 60% threshold needs to be raised as college offenses use more and more short, high percentage passes, but the principle is sound.

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck, first overall pick and likely success story.
Flickr/Michael Li

Each one of these points to key attribute:

Aptitude and Willingness to Learn
There is learning on the job in every position; a willingness and ability to acknowledge this and work to address this is essential. In a sense, it’s self-awareness (or humility) – the ability to recognize that you still have lots to learn, regardless of accolades or success.

Relevant Leadership Experience

An easy trap to get in to is confuse types of experience, assuming that people can progress linearly from one level (or type of job) to another and produce a similar quality of work. A better way to look at it is how relevant previous experience is to the role in question. You can see this in politics, where many politicians are successful chief executives at more than one level of government (while many legislators struggle to become good executives, for example). Number of starts for QBs captures this; playing QB at one level is usually pretty similar to playing QB at the next one up (unless you run the option offense).

Decision-Making Ability
It’s not enough to have similar experience; it’s important to have demonstrated success. Completion percentage is the easiest way to measure this for a QB. Did they complete the pass they were trying to make?

The 2012 QB Class and What We Can Learn
Six QBs were selected in the first three rounds. Each one points to an archetype of the type of person people often tab to be a leader, for better or worse:

The Supreme Talent
Andrew Luck is just a damn good QB. A three-year starter who completed 2/3 of his passes (and scored highest on the Wonderlic in this group), you have little reason to worry about his success.

The only knock on Luck has been that he’s more cerebral than charismatic. Yet, with people like this in any line of work, there’s no reason to believe they won’t succeed. Nothing in their history suggests otherwise. Luck will be a good QB, and any leader who hits the key metrics in their field the way Luck does in his will similarly be a good bet to succeed.

The Charismatic Leader
Robert Griffin III meets most of the qualifications on paper. His wonderlic score is slightly below average (not a huge detriment), but he’s a three-year starter (over 35 career starts) and completed 2/3 of his passes. Also, every report says that his teammates love him. He’s a charismatic guy who can rally and motivate them.

RG3 will likely be a success, as most charismatic leaders are. Whatever they may be lacking themselves, they can rally others to do. The key to identifying people like RG3 (as opposed to The Projection, which is covered later), is to look for a demonstrated track record of success, irrespective of their charisma. Get both, and you’ve likely got a strong leader who will do well.

The Natural Talent
Ryan Tannehill came to Texas A&M as a wide receiver, played his first two seasons there, then moved to QB. He started just over 20 games, and his completion percentage is in the low 60s.

He has a good wonderlic score (34), meaning he’s a better bet than most to put in the work to become good at his new role. It’s easy to think he can make it as as QB with all his given talent, but the odds are against it. Yet, if he doesn’t make it at QB, he can probably succeed in another role. That’s the thing with natural talents; they’ll be good at more than just one thing.

The Late Bloomer
Brandon Weeden tried his hand at baseball, and when that didn’t work out, went to Oklahoma State and became a record-setting QB. Now, he’ll turn 29 as a rookie, 6-8 years older than most of his peers. He’s a tough call, since he’s just at the threshold for wonderlic and starts, but his completion percentage is just under 70%.

His biggest disadvantage, as with all late bloomers, is the clock. Certainly he was successful in college, but he’s already at the age when most QBs peak. His learning and adjustment curve has to be quick, or the team that drafted him is likely to see a positive return for only a few short seasons, if at all.

The Projection

Brock Osweiler just looks like a star quarterback. At 6’7 and 242 pounds, you can just see him standing tall in the pocket, evading on-coming pass rushers before throwing perfect spirals to speedy wide receivers. Even though he only has slightly more than one season’s experience as a starter, and completed just over 60% of his passes, it’s easy to say that with all his natural physical talent, he just needs time to develop.

Except, history says he probably won’t. In fact, you’ll probably invest a lot of time in someone like this because you just know they should succeed. But they won’t, and you’ll be disappointed. It’s easy to get seduced by people who just seem like they should be good leaders, whether it’s because they’re charismatic and likeable, or they just exude the aura of leadership or success. More often than not, they won’t live up to expectations. In large part, it’s because they never have to change. Someone else will give them a chance because they project the same things.

My guess? Brock Osweiler is a bust. But in spite of his inexperience, and average completion percentage and wonderlic, he’ll keep getting chances.

The Steady Type
Nick Foles, taken 88th by the Philadelphia Eagles, is not expected to be a star – never mind start – any time soon. Nevertheless, I would be shocked if he’s the first one of the six out of the league. Foles started over 30 games and completed 2/3 of his passes for a middling Arizona team.

Many strong leaders will never wow you, they just get things done. Whether it’s through judicious (if cautious) decision-making or motivating and empowering their staff, they do a good, if not spectacular, job.. My guess is this is how Foles will play when he gets the chance. In football, these types of QBs are called “Game Managers”. They’ll never win you a game on your own, but they usually won’t blow it either.

When identifying leaders, it’s important to be thorough, and look for what is really important. If you’re in a position to do so for an organization, you could probably relate to NFL front offices.

What It Takes to Win: Management Lessons from the NFL’s Final Four

While I enjoy watching sports for the competitions themselves, I also believe there lessons we can learn from them. In particular, as I’ve progressed in my career, and have had the opportunity to take leadership roles in various initiatives, I’ve paid more and more attention to how successful teams and individuals operate off the field. There are some excellent books that cover the management styles of teams or individuals (I recommend starting with Moneyball, The Extra 2%, The Education of a Coach, and the Soccernomics chapter on Olympique Lyon’s approach to the transfer market).

Like many people, I’m looking forward to the NFL’s Championship Sunday tomorrow. There are four strong, interesting teams competing for spots in the Super Bowl. They’ve all taken different roads to success, but they all have things they can teach us. Here are some of the key lessons I think we can take away from each team:

New England Patriots
Strong, Stable Leadership is Key
Head Coach Bill Belichick joined the club in 1999, and Quarterback Tom Brady took over as the starter midway through 2001. Since then, neither has relinquished his spot, and their stability has led the Patriots to 3 Super Bowls, another appearance in the final. In that time, they’ve only missed the playoffs twice (one of those years, Brady was knocked out for the season in the first game).

The Belichick-Brady partnership has transcended turnover on and off the field, and allowed the team to persevere through some bad drafts in the middle of the 2000s, and loss of other key personnel. For any organization, strong leadership is key to success in an ever-changing environment.

It’s Important to Adapt
In the early 2000s, New England built their teams around defense, focusing on ball control (running, short passes) while on offense. Later, as Brady matured, they shifted to a more aggressive passing style – still throwing short but adding a greater focus on the deep ball. Whatever the impetus, the Patriots were not content to assume what had worked in the past would work again in the future. Lots of organizations, after periods of success, are content to rest on their laurels, and that’s where they usually fall behind.

(Football-specific digression: because they won 3 Super Bowls from 2001-04, and have won none – and only appeared in one since – it’s easy to write off the past several years as a less successful approach. This is where luck and the law of averages come in. The Patriots won those 3 Super Bowls by 3 points each, 2 of them on the last play of the game. They made the first one by getting a controversial – albeit correct – call on the famous Tuck Rule play to go their way. Since then, the Super Bowl they lost was by 3 points in a game that could have gone either way. No Helmet Catch (which I refuse to look up and link to because of the bad memories), or if Brady’s bomb to Moss a few plays after NYG went ahead is a few inches closer to his target, and they might win). Also, they lost a close AFC Championship game to Indianapolis – after holding a huge halftime lead – the previous season, and had they moved on, would have been heavily favoured to beat Chicago. Point is, they probably should have about 3 Super Bowl wins in this era, but a few breaks or lucky/unlucky bounces is the reason they all came early on, not later).

Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Chance on Talented People with Problems…
Through the years, Belichick has taken on talented players with off-field issues. Some, like Rodney Harrison and Corey Dillon, contributed to championship teams. Others, like Randy Moss, had good runs of success before becoming headaches. And some, like OchoCinco and Albert Haynesworth, haven’t contributed much.

…But Have a Short Leash, and Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Ties
While Harrison enjoyed a long tenure, Moss had a great first year, but less than 2 years later, the Pats cut ties in the middle of a season once he became a distraction. And OchoCinco and Haynesworth rarely played this past season. It’s one thing to take a chance, but it’s critical to know when to let go, and to not feel compelled to keep giving them more chances.

Baltimore Ravens
Create an Identity, and Keep it Strong
Gang Tackle

The talent on offense has come and gone, but the D has been the Ravens’ identity for 15 years. Think of the team, and you think of charismatic, ferocious leader Ray Lewis, hard-hitting, ball-hawk free safety Ed Reed, or any number of big, bruising lineman and linebackers that have suited up in purple over the years.

The Ravens play defense, they hit, and they’ll make you hurt. Can you sum up your organization (and it’s identity) that succinctly?

Also, does your organization have a leader who dances to ‘Hot in Herre’ by Nelly to finish the pre-game intros?

Always Recruit New Talent, and Don’t Be Afraid to Let People Go
Every team in the NFL, due to the salary cap, sees a lot of turnover, the key is how they respond. Baltimore has turned over its roster several times (except for their core leaders), and rarely misses a beat due to the excellent work they do uncovering talent in the draft. This is particularly relevant for non-profits or small organizations on fixed budgets (like salary cap-limited NFL teams), who will likely lose talent to higher-paying competitors. Strong work identifying young, up and coming replacements can ensure continued success.

San Francisco Giants 49ers
Talent Needs an Environment Where it Can Succeed
After being drafted first overall, Alex Smith has struggled for much of his career. Many, including myself, wrote him off. But can you place the blame entirely on a quarterback who went through 3 head coaches, and 7 offensive coordinators in his first 7 seasons? Young talent needs to be nurtured, and under head coach (and former QB) Jim Harbaugh, San Fran is finally starting to see the fruits of Smith’s potential.

A Leadership Change Can Bring Quick Results
The aforementioned Harbaugh took over as head coach this season, and with few major moves, doubled the team’s win total from 2010. A successful leader like Harbaugh can rally people and get a lot more out of them with few other changes.

New York Giants
Build On Your Strengths
For the past number of years, the Giants’ strong point has been their ferocious pass rush, and they keep building on it. Justin Tuck was drafted when Osi Umenyora and Michael Strahan were well-entrenched as the starting defensive ends. When Strahan retired, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty were brought in not long afterwards, despite the line not appearing to be a major need. This talented, deep group of pass rush continues to fuel much of the team’s success, giving it a competitive advantage in almost every game.

If You Want Talent, Go the Extra Mile to Get It
Drafting 4th overall in 2004, the Giants had no chance at consensus first overall choice Eli Manning. But when he expressed refusal to play in San Diego (who drafted him), the Giants swooped in, trading that pick, an additional one, and next year’s first rounder to get Eli. A steep price, considering they took a QB for San Diego (Phillip Rivers) in that spot (also, Ben Roethlisberger went 7 picks later), but the Giants targeted Eli, and did what they had to in order to acquire him.

Don’t Panic in Times of Trouble
The Giants are one of the most mercurial teams I’ve ever followed, in any sport. In any given week, it looks like they could either quit on their coach, Tom Coughlin, or beat any team they face. Despite this, management has stuck with the coach despite conflicts, and some collapses on the field. With one Super Bowl win to his record, and a team playing like a favourite to win a second this year, it appears to be the right choice.

Football Season = RUINED

Tom Brady looks to be done for the year.
I think it was a cheapshot, but judge for your self.