An Optimistic View on the Tesla and SolarCity merger

Disclosure:  I worked at SolarCity from July 2010 until December 2014 and still hold and am long $SCTY (or $TSLA in the future)

Let me start by saying as a $SCTY shareholder I'm not thrilled about the price I'm getting ($25 or so) but ultimately I think it will be better for the world in the long run and I hope the Tesla-SolarCity merger goes through.  I also don't think I could give as good of a bullish case on the merger as Jigar Shah just did.

It is the belief of most of the major decision makers involved that these ideas could be mutually beneficial when packaged together.  That combined with (IMO) the deep discount SCTY can be bought for right now, the decision was better to make sooner rather than later.  Elon has said that it's easier to create a single product and that's true, but David Crane's analysis that SC needs a reboot and couldn't survive this reboot in the public market is probably also true.  

So let's look at an optimist's view on the combined final product:

I think I've read that SolarCity will take on the Tesla name, I only assume as the Tesla Energy (TE) brand.  There should immediately be sales installations at Tesla stores in the states SC currently operates in, hopefully accompanied by an initial boost in leases/loans/sales in those areas as this is business as usual for SC/TE once the sale is made.  

TE needs to stop with the pushy door to door tactics that made the leases popular and instead rely on referrals and word of mouth sales.  Think of how many ads you saw Tesla run for their Model 3 launch that saw 400,000+ pre-orders (mine included)... oh wait, you didn't.  We've already seen evidence that solar is contagious and SC's referral business has been a success.  An emphasis on distributing the work needed to acquiring new customers to others (thoughts on that shared here) should drastically reduce the cost of marketing and sales overhead, a painful but necessary step to rein in costs.

SC as a company created a TON of jobs but some jobs inevitably become unnecessary when the organization becomes more efficient.  SC's operations department has become a machine when they're stocked full of scheduled jobs but during seasonal down times they become another unnecessary cost.  Their operations department is a huge success story in the field of construction management, the efficient gains they've made are remarkable but are getting harder to come by.  

What I'd like to see TE do is the same thing they did with their sales & marketing streamlining and distribute the work of their operations department.  You decentralize your installation work.  You'd be bolstering the independent contractor installer network by distributing not only your workers but also your knowledge by creating an industry-wide standard of installation excellence.  This will be hard for Elon and SC management to agree to as they like to have their finger on the quality from top to bottom and it may seem like you're losing that high standard of installation quality.  However it is simply being transferred via your industry-leading training and certification program to locally-owned and operated installation companies.  

Publicly it would look like TE is getting rid of A LOT of SC construction jobs and officially they are but overall those jobs are still being filled by the independent installers that are installing up to your standard (and even inspection) but are locally-owned and operated.  So you're actually creating a lot of small business owners, something that is always well-received.

Behind the scenes, I'd expect the Tesla and SC HR departments to see which roles are now duplicated, which are necessary independently, and which are mutually beneficial.  Then you decrease the positions that are duplicated and increase the mutually beneficial ones.  I think these are the main synergies Elon and Co. talked about initially.  I expect their battery and solar panel gigafactories to learn from each other and both benefit as well.

By distributing a lot of SC's work (both in creating the sale and installing the solar panels) they can streamline their costs and become more profitable.  Elon's always been a huge proponent of economies of scale and I think you can still have this with a distributed sales and installation force by controlling the standards instead of the workforce.  You'd lose a couple process efficiency points in the process but you gain that and more by not having to control everything.

I believe such changes can be beneficial to a combined company and I'm hopeful for the Tesla and SolarCity merger to finally go through, as it seems like it has been a long time coming.

But how did you end up in Kansas City?

Like I've mentioned previously, ultimately I'm in KC because this was the recommendation of the algorithm Teach For America uses to determine placements.  That much is out of my hands.  But how KC was rated in my top 5 placement preferences was a conscious decision.  This is that story, 4chan style for simplicity.

>Be me

>March 2015

>Looking for jobs while finishing up my Master's

>Denver hasn't provided any good hits

>My other top 2 choices Austin and Raleigh haven't provided any good hits

>Need to decide where else I'd look for jobs

>Read U.S. News Best Places to Live 2015 article on web

>See how they ranked them based off stats

>Decide to make my own personalized rankings

>Copy down the stats for 25 cities I wouldn't be opposed to

>Stats like median income, high tech job %, and job growth go into the Job category

>Because I want to find somewhere with good jobs

>Stats like cost of living and median home price go into the Cost category

>Because I want to find somewhere that isn't too expensive

>Stats like % that graduated high school, college, and graduate programs go into the Education category

>Because I don't want to be surrounded by too many idiots

>Rank each category from most desirable to least and award more points to higher rankings

>Remove any cities that have too many unreasonably hot or cold days

>Remove any cities that are not on this list of best places to find love

>Rank cities now based on a (40% Job) + (40% Cost) + (20% Education) weighted point average

>Kansas City comes in 3rd behind Raleigh and Austin and above other cities I was intrigued by like Dallas, Charlotte, Nashville, etc.

>Go "huh, KC?" and just throw it in my top 5 placement preferences

>End up in KC

Most people think of KC as a "flyover city" that you would literally fly over and not even think about.  And in some ways, it is:  it's the closest city to the geographical center of the continental U.S. (aka it's in the middle of the map) and there's nothing distinguishable about its landscape.  But I've grown to love KC and I'm happy to live here as it has an up and coming vibe, has a great sense of community, and because the people are amazing.

The city data without my personalizations can be found here if you're interested

2016 NFL Mock Draft

I can't let go of an old favorite past time of mine:  the NFL mock draft.  The picks I feel most confident in are Darron Lee to ATL, Ryan Kelly to IND and Mackensie Alexander to PIT.  I could also see Washington trading up for Zeke Elliot with New Orleans to get ahead of Miami.

Order NFL Team Player Pos. College
1 Los Angeles Jared Goff QB Cal
2 Philadelphia Carson Wentz QB North Dakota State
3 San Diego Jalen Ramsey CB Florida State
4 Dallas Joey Bosa DE Ohio State
5 Jacksonville Myles Jack OLB UCLA
6 Baltimore Laremy Tunsil OT Mississippi
7 San Francisco Paxton Lynch QB Memphis
8 *Tennessee* Ronnie Stanley OT Notre Dame
9 Tampa Bay Shaq Lawson DE Clemson
10 NY Giants DeForest Buckner DE Oregon
11 Chicago Leonard Floyd OLB Georgia
12 New Orleans Sheldon Rankins DT Louisville
13 Miami Jack Conklin OT Michigan State
14 Oakland A'Shawn Robinson DT Alabama
15 *Cleveland* Ezekiel Elliot RB Ohio State
16 Detroit Vernon Hargreaves III CB Florida
17 Atlanta Darron Lee ILB Ohio State
18 Indianapolis Ryan Kelly OC Alabama
19 Buffalo Noah Spence DE Eastern Kentucky
20 NY Jets Taylor Decker OT Ohio State
21 Washington Corey Coleman WR Baylor
22 Houston Will Fuller WR Notre Dame
23 Minnesota Laquon Treadwell WR Mississippi
24 Cincinnati Josh Doctson WR TCU
25 Pittsburgh Mackensie Alexander CB Clemson
26 Seattle Robert Nkemdiche DT Mississippi
27 Green Bay Kevin Dodd DE Clemson
28 Kansas City Eli Apple CB Ohio State
-- New England --
29 Arizona Vernon Butler DT Louisiana Tech
30 Carolina Emmanuel Ogbah DE Oklahoma St
31 Denver Andrew Billings DT Baylor

Thoughts on the Future of the Solar Industry

//Update:  3/26/16

I've been thinking recently that the solar companies have to know that they can't compete against the utilities in all of these fights concurrently (  They can't be reactive against goliaths, they need to be proactive in the fight as any David should be.  The solar companies and their supporters need to get the American people to vote on a comprehensive, objective study of the impacts of distributed solar on the grid.  This will bring attention to the nation-wide issue (not just on the state level) and hold both sides accountable in the eyes of Americans.  If it is found that distributed solar will hurt other users of the grid, the solar side should pay more.  If it comes out that it won't hurt the other electricity users and only the utility will lose profit, these state level fights should cease.  There is risk for the solar companies to initiate this fight but I think the national exposure (and publicity) and potential rewards (these state-level, utility-backed current fights) warrant the big swing at the plate.



(Disclosure: I worked at SolarCity from 2010-14. I am still a shareholder. I am long SCTY)

Here are some thoughts I have on the future of the solar industry:

1.  Like Elon Musk has said before, solar will become the energy plurality in our lifetime, likely in the next 20-30 years.  We will still get plenty of energy from fossil fuels and nuclear but solar, both distributed and utility-scale, just makes too much sense to not win out over a long period of time.  Whether it's shorter than 20 years or longer than 30 is dependent on policy decisions but it's inevitable in the long run.  I for one would love to see it happen sooner since we could be saving 10+ years worth of not burning fossil fuels for those GWh.

2.  Think about the above point in terms of future value created for the industry.  Huge.  I think we'll see the solar industry to consolidate even more in the near future as economies of scale begin to act exponentially.  The big players will get bigger, there will be new market entrances from big companies in similar industries and more mom-and-pop operations will close shop.

3.  The cost of customer acquisition will be what separates the industry leaders from the rest of the pack.  Installation costs have come down and will level off but acquisition costs could get exponentially lower.  The biggest drop in costs will be because of the industry becoming more popular and accepted and will benefit the industry as a whole.  And the biggest brands will benefit the most from the name recognition.  Another way to drastically reduce costs is to democratize the sales process and let the customers do most of the work instead of internal sales teams.  Google's Project Sunroof is part of this process, as is SolarCity's Ambassador program.  I've already mentioned my thoughts on that : )

4.  Since almost all companies in a free market hate to lose money and investor-owned utilities (IOUs) stand to lose A LOT of future revenue from distributed solar, I'd expect their attacks on distributed solar to only increase in the future.  At the same time, they will trumpet every new solar plant they build.  The road will only get tougher in the near future for solar (think Big Tobacco type doubt created about the effect of distributed solar on the almighty yet purposely obfuscated "grid", as referenced here) but they're not at the big boss yet in the game.

5.  I think one positive that the pro-solar camp can take away from their fight with IOUs is that they're getting a lot of positive, cheap advertising. Solar is getting some love thrown around about it by the media and everybody from liberal tree-huggers to conservatives and libertarians.  Yeah there's doubt surrounding the solar industry right now (the constant fights with IOU-backed state regulators) but these fights will only last so long.  Pretty soon, it's going to be clear that distributed solar is actually helping the grid and these fights will almost disappear.  When the general public gets behind the logic and accepts distributed solar as not just an option but the no-brainer option then the universal love will be self-reinforcing.

6.  I hope SolarCity holds out and doesn't get gobbled up/run out. The Rives seem to be in it for the long haul, as does Chairman Musk. The company has and will make mistakes and has been given a lot of cushion since they're literally creating new processes as they go. Given their work thus far in building it and the long-term view of the market, the Rives should get the chance to turn it around in the near future. However, I can see investors getting impatient in the next year or two and voicing their opinion.  So a change at the top to a more proven, established CEO is possible.  I think there's enough smart people at SolarCity (and a big enough first-mover advantage) that they will figure it out, become more efficient, and prosper. 

7.  Even the most modest forecasts for the solar industry have it making up at least 10% of the electricity market that makes hundreds of billions of dollars each year in revenue. I don't expect them to hold a 34% market share forever, but even a part of that share is worth much, much more than the ~$2 billion SCTY market cap right now.  If the stock price is supposed to value a company on present and future value, I believe SCTY is very undervalued at it's current price.  That's mostly why I'm long SCTY, that and beginning to consider future company efficiency and industry-wide, mature-market gains.

The Next Step in a Nonlinear Career

One of the people I most admire in the world is Elon Musk and a really cool thing about him is the insane focus he's had for most of his whole adult life:

"In the case of Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, and PayPal... it really stemmed from when I was in college and trying to think: what would affect the future most likely in a positive way?" Musk said. "So the three areas I was quite sure would be positive were sustainable energy, the internet, and making life multi-planetary."

When I left SolarCity 8 months ago to finish my Master's degree early, I knew it would be impossible for my next company to compare.  Not only did I work with amazing people (mostly) but I actually felt like I was doing my small part to make the world a better place, one home at a time.

After graduating I looked at Business Analyst-type jobs available but they didn't really excite me that much; yeah I'd be doing interesting work and making good money but at the end of the day, what was I actually going to accomplish? Save X company Y amount of dollars through process improvements or data analysis insights that would it more money?  I knew I couldn't just do that.

So I had my own Musk-type moment and thought about what I could do to most affect the world in a positive way and came up with my own list of three things:  sustainability/renewable energy, medicine and education.  I had already hit most of my goals on the sustainability/renewable energy front with SolarCity and I think the 'medical school' ship has long since sailed for me, so I looked harder back into education.

I always thought I would end up in front of a classroom at the tail-end of my career but honestly I was more concerned with making more money and earning prestige early on.  But having a couple months off to think deeper, I realized having a career that was challenging, rewarding and fulfilling was much more important to me.  The one constant in my life has always been a love of learning so if I can pass on that love to others that can then go on and impact the world positively themselves, that will have a much bigger impact than I ever could by myself.

Four months ago I joined Teach For America, taught summer school in Tulsa and today started as a math and science teacher at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, Missouri.  Here's to the next step!

Wear Sunscreen

Originally found this via the song above but reading the speech is actually better.  By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune:

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '98: Wear sunscreen. 

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now. 

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine. 

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday. 

Do one thing every day that scares you. 


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours. 


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself. 

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. 

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements. 


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't. 

Get plenty of calcium. 

Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone. 

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's. 

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own. 

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room. 

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. 

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly. 

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. 

Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. 

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young. 

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. 

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. 


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders. 

Respect your elders. 

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out. 

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85. 

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth. 

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Best Data Visualization of 2014

From this excellent blog post from the always great Priceonomics blog, it actually followed up this equally great post ranking each city by proportion of race.  

To me, even though it's a late entrant, this is probably my favorite data visualization of 2014, for two reasons:  it succeeds in its primary purpose of showing which cities are more diverse (those with relatively equal bar lengths by race) and you can also clearly see just how much MORE diverse some cities are than others.  So not only could you guess with the numerical value of each percentage but you also get a feeling for the intensity of the diversity as well. 

Why the Miami Hurricanes should switch to a 4-2-5 defense

Born and raised a Miami Hurricane football fan, I'll be the first to admit my opinion is biased when it comes to them.  I'll always see the promise in whatever team we field and will never enter a season without a sense of hope.  But for the past couple years, that optimism has been tempered pretty early in the season each year; no matter how good I think they'll be, they seem to disappoint more often than not when it comes to big games.  

For other teams it is easy to say that the other team was just simply better than you but for us that's not the case.  Usually our individual talent level on matchups exceeds the opponent's but we still seem to be worse off collectively (and are usually proven this on the field).  This points to a simple conclusion:  either we are being out-coached or we are being out-schemed, or possibly both.  Maybe it's not that simple.

The best coaches fit their scheme to their talent; you work with the tools you are given, or another way to look at it is you only worry about what you can control.  But it seems that even though Al Golden has done some really remarkable things in his time at Miami (among them, guiding us through the NCAA mess, re-establishing community relationships, instilling a sense of accountability, etc.) he could improve when it comes to fitting his scheme to his talent.  Golden and our defensive coordinator, Mark D'Onofrio, have coached together since Virginia and Temple and even played together at Penn State, so the defense Miami runs is as much Golden's as it is coach D's.  But I believe in order for Golden to ultimately survive successfully at Miami he needs to adapt from what he has always run and switch to a scheme that maximizes the strengths of what is readily available to him (in terms of local talent) and simplifies things to allow playmakers to make plays.  And I wholeheartedly believe that this defense is a version of the 4-2-5 defense that Gary Patterson has made famous over at TCU.

"So what exactly is the 4-2-5 Defense?"

Put simply, there are 4 down linemen, only 2 linebackers, 2 cornerbacks and 3 safetys.  This differs from the typical 4-3 defense in that it replaces a lineback with a smaller, faster safety (Miami has run a 4-3/3-4 hybrid since Golden has arrived).  You would think that with this replacement that you would be easier to run on but actually this is one of the strengths of the defense; the interior is meant to force runners horizontally so that these faster replacements can run them down.  Also, they're normally able to line up with 8 men in the box to deter the offense from running and able to adapt to multiple WR substitutions without having to switch up your base defense too much. 

Coach Patterson has been fairly open throughout the years in the philosophy of his defense, but the two things he has stressed throughout is that his defense is built to maximize their speed and to be able to defend multiple different fronts from a simple base.  Instead of trying to wait for you to get this connection in how this is similar to Miami's past history, I'll let Ian Boyd from SBNation summarize it in his 4-2-5 primer:

The TCU 4-2-5 defense is descended from Jimmy Johnson's 4-3 over defense. It carries many of the same principles, including the positioning of the ends. Out wide, the ends are safe to attack upfield and are not confronted with the possibility of being pinned between a tight end-offensive tackle double team. If the ball gets wide of them, it's going to take the runner going horizontal for such a long time that the secondary will have time to arrive.

The area between the offensive tackles belongs to the defensive tackles, who also tend to align fairly wide. Unless there's a stunt called, after the snap the interior gaps will be the responsibility of the DTs and linebackers. They're looking to either make a tackle or spill the ball outside.

In this instance, the penetration is too quick. The runner can't bounce outside, so the run-support defensive backs converge in on the ball with leverage, in case the first wave misses the tackles.

Since these six players in the defensive front are always responsible for the six interior gaps, they can play it straightforward, as they do in the clip above. Or they can move around and switch up which of the six is responsible for each gap.

All this allows the Frogs to be instinctive and aggressive in how they respond to different formations, personnel groupings, or schemes from the offense. No matter what, the same defensive players will be performing more or less the same roles, attacking the offense from the same angles, dealing with similar offensive strategies.

So they're allowing their fast defenders to attack horizontally where they can use their speed to make up ground and allowing them to also play instinctively (and thus aggressively) by making it as simple as possible.  That sounds like something Miami could possibly benefit from.

"Yeah but does it actually work?"

It's fairly well known that Gary Patterson's defenses have been among the top in all of college football, so I know I'm not breaking any earth-shattering stats.  But compared to Miami's defensive stats, TCU puts us to shame.  Below is the summary for each of the last 7 seasons (including this one without yesterday's games) comparing Miami's defensive stats to TCU's.  I've conditionally formatted each year to visually identify the better team in green. (These are per game averages, all stats are from's college football stats here)

As you can see, TCU was better than Miami in most of the defensive comparisons (SRS is an overall ranking, with a higher score being better).  In Miami's best year compared to TCU (2011), we were better than them in 7 of 19 categories, still less than half.  Below is the picture for the average of each category for each school:

Yeah, so any doubt is now likely removed.  Anybody in their right mind would rather take TCU's defense over Miami's over the last 7 seasons.

"Ok, but TCU's players must be very different from Miami's right?"

If you've ever read any other blog post that asks rhetorical questions to itself, you already know this answer.  This is the point that gives me the most hope in a Miami version of TCU's 4-2-5 defense:  our defenders are more alike than not.  In fact, the type of players that TCU covets are exactly the type that is famous for being prevalent in the South Florida area;  they are typically smaller and faster athletes that rely more on instinct than training.  These are the type of athletes that every team covets and Miami has a much greater chance of convincing the best ones to stick around than other teams.  

Basically I'm a saying, and what has been proven on a different level, is that I view roster building as a crapshoot overall, so to increase your chances of fielding a good defense, you should emphasize skills in which you have the best chance of getting quality athletes.  The great Miami defenses of old and those from a decade ago were built to emphasize their speed and instincts, and less on the size and play-reading of today's 4-3/3-4 hybrid.  Or as Ian Boyd says best again:

In true Miami 4-3 defense fashion, the Frogs are looking to put as much speed on the field as possible. They adhere to a "shrink the field" philosophy of finding personnel. They recruit with the main purpose of locating speedy athletes with potential, rather than finished products with years of experience at a particular position.

At defensive tackle, they prize players with the lateral quickness. They want a big guy who can stunt and work his way across an offensive lineman's face in order to control that space from end to end.

The other positions often feature players spun down from other roles. 

Let's look at comparisons of the average size of each position since 2008 from TCU and Miami players that also were recruited from Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties (height's are in inches and weight in pounds and TCU is in purple, Miami is in orange that looks yellowish here):

So if you dig into these comparisons, you start to see common themes.  Both TCU and Miami's defenders are normally underweight compared to the Draft Mockable positional averages of draft prospects (yes I know that the median draft prospect is likely bigger than the average size, but the average size takes into account prospects that were under- and oversized and honestly it's the easiest overall average I could find).  Both TCU and Miami defenders are particularly undersized on the defensive line and linebackers.  So it doesn't seem smart in either case to try and build your defense around size and strength when the recruits you have in your own backyard are smaller and quicker.

For the best example, just think of Miami's local LB's since 1999:  Nate Webster, Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma, Jon Beason, Tavares Gooden, Daryl Sharpton, Sean Spence and now Denzel Perryman.  Most were generally smaller than average but made up for it with speed and instincts.

"Well Miami's defense could never be as good as TCU's"

While we likely couldn't get as good of a teacher as Gary Patterson to bring his defense to Miami, we could likely get a former defensive coordinator of his who has worked closely and learned from him to bring over the scheme.  So even though the quality of teaching won't be as good, we could likely make up the difference by getting better athletes and recruits than TCU from right in our backyard.  

Below is the overall difference in BCS final standings and the recruiting rankings from the last 5 seasons from Regressing:

TCU has outplayed Miami even though Miami has recruited much better overall.  Actually TCU had the 8th best record of outplaying their recruiting rankings on the field, Miami was 105th since they actually underperformed versus their recruiting rankings.  Out of 120 teams.  

"So what exactly are you trying to say?"

Clearly something has to change.  Miami is underperforming on defense compared to how it should be based on its talent level.  This has been blamed on players not executing on their responsibilities for the past 4 years but some of the blame has to fall on the coaching.  And in this case, I'm blaming it on the scheme for not putting the players in the best position possible for them to play up to their abilities.  

What I'm saying is that Al Golden should adapt from a defense he has taught for many years for one that best utilizes the traits that are typical of the players it recruits.  Unfortunately this adaptation will force him to part with his friend and coworker for over a decade in Mark D'Onofrio.  It's not that he isn't capable of changing schemes but we would need to bring expertise in.  In doing so, we can possibly become an even better defense than the great TCU defenses of late.  And return to our roots of playing aggressive and with speed.

Lastly, I'll leave you with another Boyd quote, this one from his shrink the field link above (and here for those too lazy to scroll up), tell me who else who could field this type of defense besides TCU:

1). Shrink the field

Some teams build their teams by simply trying to get the fastest team possible on the field and relying on team speed to attack opponents, rally to the ball, and essentially shrink the field so no offensive player finds a match-up advantage or leverage to operate in for more than a small window of time before the defense converges on him.

Gary Patterson's TCU Horned Frogs are a perfect example of this approach as they rely on 4-2-5 base personnel that has at least five defensive backs, including three safeties, on the field at all times. They'll also play speed at cornerback that can run deep with vertical routes.

Even in their fronts the Horned Frogs target linebackers who can change direction and run in underneath coverage, defensive ends who are aligned wide and are often athletes bulked up and deployed to terrorize the edge, and even defensive tackles who have the lateral quickness to stunt and play blocks outside-in.

In all of their tactics, TCU is looking to handle opponents by playing speed everywhere and racing to where they think the ball will be, and then where ever the ball actually goes.

The 4-3 Over defense popularized by the Jimmy Johnson Miami Hurricanes really launched this tactic into the modern era, the Gary Patterson 4-2-5 TCU defense is largely a modern take on it.

One reason the Philadelphia Eagles chose Cody Parkey over Alex Henery

While professional football might never get the Moneyball-type benefit that baseball has, I still think there are undervalued "situationalists" in the NFL that teams could exploit to their advantage.  This simply means someone that could excel in a certain underrated skill that adds value to a team, similar to how on-base percentage has for MLB teams.

One of those situationalists is the kickoff responsibility.  To state the obvious, kickoffs are necessary in football to start either half or after scores; they're usually exciting and filled with hope for the receiving team but also violent and dangerous, both to the player's health and to the team kicking off.  So it'd be great for a team kicking off to limit the number of chances that you give the other team to return one for a touchdown or to get a great starting position as well as limiting the amount of number of chances for someone on your team to get injured trying to cover the kickoff.  Thus why touchbacks are so important to NFL football.

I love the accessibility and usability of PFF stats, so I wanted to get some data behind the value of having someone on your roster that had a strong leg on kickoffs and got more touchbacks.  Below is a scatter plot of NFL kickers that played 8 or more games in the 2013 season, with their PFF kickoff value (the higher the value, the better the kicker was at kickoffs) on the Y axis and the average distance of their kicks in yards on the X axis (PFF doesn't clarify if this includes touchbacks or not).

The linear trendline describes the overall picture, namely that the farther a kickoff is, the better the kicker is at kickoffs.  This shouldn't be a surprise.  The R-squared value of the trendline is the "fit" of the trendline for the points, so a higher R-squared value means the trendline better describes the data.

Below is a graph of the kickers PFF kickoff value on the Y axis versus the average starting yard line of the other team on the X axis.

This trendline shows that, generally, the lower the average starting position of the other team the better the kicker is at kickoffs.  However, this also has to do with how well the kicker's team is at covering kicks.  That's why it makes sense that the average starting yard line trendline's R-squared value is lower than the average distance's trendline, because how far a kicker kicks if more of an indicator of how good that kicker is at kickoffs than the average starting yard line, since the latter isn't fully under the kicker's control like the first.

Now let's see how touchbacks affect how good a kicker is at kickoffs.  Below is a graph of the kicker's PFF kickoff value on the Y axis versus the percentage of their kickoffs that were returned (assuming a kicker with a higher percentage of touchbacks would have a lower percentage of their kicks returned).

This trendline's R-squared value is much higher than the previous two other characteristics we looked at, meaning that the lower the percentage of kickoffs that were returned is a better indicator of a better kicker on kickoffs than the kicker's average kickoff distance or starting position of the other team.

All of the above should be pretty obvious to most followers of the sport, but it's good to have some data behind assumptions.  So now let's look at what was referenced in the title, the case of Chip Kelly and Eagles recently picking rookie Cody Parkey over veteran Alex Henery as their kicker heading into the season.  The first obvious reason is he was cheaper, as a rookie makes much less, meaning the Eagles had more money to spend elsewhere.  But let's move beyond that.

Chip likes to think out of the box when it comes to how he runs his team and so the Eagles trading a backup RB to the Colts for a rookie kicker to battle the entrenched veteran, something most teams wouldn't do, is another example of this type of thinking.  But Chip and the coaching staff obviously thought there was a chance they can improve their roster, so they brought in competition.  

Undoubtedly the most important quality a NFL kicker has to have is making field goals, so for the Eagles to pick Parkey over Henery they likely are at least equal when it comes to that.  But I believe a large part of Chip choosing Parkey has to do with his prowess on kickoffs compared to Henery.  Parkey led the NCAA in the number of touchbacks last year, hitting roughly 70% of his kicks for touchbacks.  Henery only kicked about 40% of his kicks for touchbacks last year.  Granted the footballs they were using were different in shape, both college and NFL kickers kick off from the same yard line so Parkey can be considered a much better kickoff kicker than Henery, touchback-wise.  

Assuming the Eagles have about the same number of kickoffs this coming season as Henery did last year (100 or so), switching to Parkey would result in about 30 more touchbacks than Henery!  That's 30 less chances for the other team's returner to take one to the house and 30 less chances for one of your players to get hurt trying to tackle the returner.  That is a huge advantage to the Eagles for switching out their kickoff kicker.  Assuming both are comparable field goals kickers (this is a big assumption, I'm not downplaying it), Parkey would likely add much more value to the Eagles than Henery would have.  This decision was another reason Chip Kelly is a great coach.

Now if a team already had a kicker who was excellent at field goals, but struggled on kickoffs, I could see a team keeping a kickoff-specialist on the 53-man roster in addition to that kicker as opposed to a 3rd string LB or TE.  I hope to prove this in a later analysis.

Fantasy Football 2014 Draft Review

I'm only doing one fantasy league this year so I'm putting a lot of thought into it and going for broke rather than joining a bunch of leagues and playing around with roster combinations.  I follow a bunch of very smart football analysts on Twitter, so I absorb a lot of their predictions and opinions throughout the year without paying too much attention to it and subsequently benefit from it come only once per year, fantasy football draft day.

I'm in a 10-person league so there's talented players at every position but the guys I play with are knowledgeable as well so I don't feel too far ahead.  But I likely see more overall opinions from varied sources than them.

This year I wanted to try something new since we just added the PPR element to our league (something I was a BIG fan of).  So I went for broke and applied the zero RB strategy talked about on Rotoviz with a focus on big, physical pass catchers that saw a lot of targets.  I also wanted to guarantee that I would end up with at least 3 WR1-caliber players for their respective teams.  Overall I think I did very well, I got potentially 5 WR1s, a potential top 4 QB, the undisputed top TE and a couple of RBs with upside.

One note:  Obviously hindsight is 20/20 and I see things I could've done differently, but in too many years past I've been burned by picking a stud RB top 3 (CJ0.5K, Muscle Hampster, etc) so this year I traded out of the 2nd pick for the 7th overall and got to switch my 13th rounder for his 6th, so overall I think it was a win for me.  But yes I passed on Jamaal Charles and AP.

1st Round

I went with a past classmate in Jimmy Graham to open up my draft.  He's the #1 option on arguably the best passing offense in the NFL and he represents real value at the TE position, even though it's early for one.

2nd-5th Rounds

This is where I solidified my passing game within the first 5 rounds, which I hope will pay dividends with the 0.5 PPR element this year.  I got Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson and Andre Johnson for my main WRs.  I was happy with Alshon and Jordy alone, but to get someone who is one of my favorite players and is a target magnet in 'Dre was icing on the cake.  

Originally I wanted to wait and grab a QB later but when I saw Stafford available in the 5th round, I knew I couldn't pass up his upside.  Barring injury, he'll put up top 3-5 numbers easily.

6th-7th Rounds

I guess I have to take a couple of RBs right?  I chose Gerhart and Tate as my lead backs.  Yes they're sub-standard on paper to most starting fantasy team's RBs but I think they're both safe options and RB1 options for their respective teams.  But I did give up PPR points for my RBs, which I tried to shore up later on.

8th-10th Rounds

This is where I got my key backups.  Torrey Smith is a frequent pick of mine because of his potential.  Plus he should see a lot more targets this year in the new offense.  

Nick Foles was a value pick and arguably my most important backup pick.  Yes I reached early for a fantasy backup QB but the last thing I want to see is my fantasy season derailed because of a QB injury. Plus you never know how Foles or the Eagles offense will progress.

Bernard Pierce was a gamble pick but I believe Ray Rice is on the outs, physically and roster-wise.  He's too unstable so I'm picking his backup.

11th-16th Rounds

Here are my other backups/special teamers:

I couldn't pass up the potential, even slight, value of Josh Gordon in the 11th round.  Even if he only plays a half a season, he might be a valuable trade asset or sub.  Also, if he's suspended for the year, I can just drop him Week 1 and pick up the unknown WR that impresses.

Darren Sproles was another high-upside pick because you don't know how Chip Kelly is going to utilize him.

Dan Bailey is a K.

Ladarius Green was a high upside pick as well although I don't know how he lasted this long.  Could be the steal of the draft if he's a trade asset by Week 9.

This was my "Oh shit it's the last 2 rounds, I gotta get a DEF and D player" moment.  So I went with Lavonte David because he's a stud and the NYJ defense, solely because they play Oakland Week 1.