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ESPN and Pro Football Focus use unlikely Colts starters to create rankings

During the off-season ESPN and Pro Football Focus has been generating a lot of content attempting to rank NFL rosters that are either based upon bad information and ridiculous score assessments

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Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The NFL off-season is rife with arbitrary team and player rankings that make the rounds through national media. During the slowest time of the year for football, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about so it is understandable but it doesn’t cure the frustration from fans who have given up on a lot of the traditional national and regional media sources who consistently demonstrate that they are out of touch with a lot of teams — particularly in smaller markets.

ESPN recently partnered with Pro Football Focus to rank the roster of all 32 NFL teams. The Colts are ranked 26th overall but there are important aspects of the rankings that go a long way in understanding how and why these rankings are not only subjective, but are also often uninformed.

Included in the “expected” Colts starting offense is Phillip Dorsett and Denzelle Good. Both of these players drag down the team’s overall “score” using the PFF system. It would seem that there are two valid options PFF has to help these rankings have a great degree of legitimacy.

First, it would go a long way to actually know specifics about what has happened over the summer that would likely lead to modified starting projections. Absent that information, you’re throwing a player and a score into your equation without relevance to 2017. Second, if the entire basis of these ranks is a scoring system that attempts to grade players based upon their performance or ability, it might be worthwhile to allow those scores — particularly lopsided ones — to help inform as to which players might be included with the starters in the coming season.

For example, Phillip Dorsett has a score of 50.2. Throughout the off-season there have been two important story-lines that would impact his projected role as starter. The first being that Chris Ballard signed Kamar Aiken in free agency and the second being that Chester Rogers has had a strong summer program.

Kamar Aiken’s “grade” for 2016 was 58.6, which is 8.4 points higher and Chester Rogers received a grade of 52.2, which is two points higher than Dorsett. Both would improve the team’s averages.

Similarly, on the offensive line Joe Haeg — the projected starter at right guard — earned a grade of 67.4 against Denzelle Good’s 45.4, a 22 point difference! There is simply no excuse for this discrepancy, or for the ESPN or PFF brain trust, to not realize that Haeg is the projected starter. This puts the methodology of the entire system in the toilet.

On the defensive side of the football, there are other issues that pop-up. On the defensive line, Johnathan Hankins is represented by a grade of 45.4 on the basis of his role in a base 4-3 defense in New York last season, playing the 3-technique. He is included in this list as the projected nose tackle, which clearly makes the ranking inapplicable (PFF’s own writers are aware of this problem). In his last season as a 1-technique nose tackle his grade was 80.9, the year before that it was 85.9.

For reference, Hankins is tied for the second-lowest grade on the Colts starting roster with non-starter Denzelle Good.

Next to Hankins is Kendall Langford, who tried to play through an injury that ended up costing him the entire season — and who hasn’t yet taken the field in 2017. There is a two-fold problem with including Langford as a 38.8 (by far the lowest graded Colts projected starter).

The first is, if you’re not going to included Jon Bostic in the rankings over Edwin Jackson because he missed the season due to injury, it makes no sense to throw in a player who should have never taken the field in 2016 and who essentially missed the whole season himself with a trash level score to drag down the numbers.

The second is, it makes no sense to throw an injured player’s rank into the mix to drag down a team’s averages when it will unjustifiably throw off your results. He undoubtedly had a better grade in 2015, the last healthy season he took the field, that would be more representative of his projections for the coming season.

By comparison, Hassan Ridgeway was given a score of 51.3 and TY McGill had a score of 76.3. Even including Ridgeway’s bad score for the year increases the projected starting group total by 12.5 points.

The last ridiculous score on defense is Vontae Davis at 47.3 — .4 points lower than rookie right tackle Le’Raven Clark who played all of four games last year. While it is fair that Davis didn’t have one of his strongest years, the Pro Football Focus ranking system grades him as poor. Poor relative to what?

Davis was still the best corner on the Colts roster — Darryl Morris scored 74.3, Rashaan Melvin scored 74.2, while Patrick Robinson scored 45.1 — but according to the grading system used to rank starting rosters against one another, Pro Football Focus would have you believe that Darryl Morris and Rashaan Melvin are clearly better corners than Davis and that Patrick Robinson is about as good.

Look, while it is not news that PFF, ESPN, or most national news outlets are out of touch with small market teams and generally put out a lot of low quality content that is without a solid foundation, it is even more frustrating when one looks closer at how poor the methods are that go into these 32-team ranks. PFF and ESPN have clearly missed the mark at key starter projections and included grades in their projections that poorly represent the Colts roster against the competition.