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Zack Hodges and the Double Standard of NFL Draft Boards

Zack Hodges and I at Phillips Exeter Academy

The three day, seven round NFL draft concluded over the weekend, finally putting an end to the constant analysis of every little thing certain college football players do on and off the field. Often the media and teams bring up "character" issues or concerns, as players like Randy Gregory, who tested positive for marijuana at the NFL combine, Frank Clark, who was dimissed from his team for domestic violence charges, and Jameis Winston, who has dominated the headlines with sexual assault allegations and the apparent theft of crab legs. In light of the Ray Rice scandal, Greg Hardy's current domestic abuse history, and Aaron Hernandez being convicted of murder, it appears as though NFL teams and media members have more and more concerns over player's behavior and attitude off the field. It has led to certain prospects being drafted later than their game tape or athleticism might suggest. Reports even come out to signify that certain players have been "removed" from draft boards, which brings me to something I've been thinking about addressing for a long time.

After his Pro-Day, it was reported by Tony Pauline, that a "number of teams have removed [Zack Hodges] from their board. ... I'm told his interviews, dating back to the Senior Bowl, have not gone well and rubbed people the wrong way." If you are unaware who Zack Hodges is let me explain: Hodges is a two time Ivy League defensive player of the year for Harvard, setting a school record with 27 career sacks. Hodges storied career had many bumps in the road, not the ones which you would expext, which show his true character. When Hodges was only one year old, his father passed away of a brain tumor. Hodges' mother often worked multiple jobs, and at points in time Hodges was homeless and going nights without meals as a teenager. At the age of 16, Hodges' mother died of a massive stroke when the pair was living in the Charlotte area. Hodges was in the home and carried his mother to the ambulance. The day of her burial, Hodges played in a football game for Independence High School because he knew that game meant a lot to his team and teammates. Hodges moved then to Atlanta with his Aunt and Grandmother, and committed to Harvard over many big time programs, including Stanford, because of the opportunities he would receive with a Harvard education. Before shipping off to Harvard, Zack Hodges spent a year at Phillips Exeter Academy, where we were teammates, and friends.

I played next to Zack Hodges on the defensive line. A talkative, unique personality, Hodges played every snap hard and fast. We were quite different in our upbringing, our personalities, and our backgrounds, but that didn't stop us from being friends. Hodges took his studies extremely serious, often taking notes in assembly when other students were chatting, challenging himself with teachers and classes that were perceived as extremely difficult. Hodges, already commited to Harvard, was pulled from a philosophy class at Exeter by advisors, but instead of accepting that outcome, Hodges met with the teacher every week for 90 minutes at a time because he felt like he was missing an opportunity to learn. He challenged himself beyond what was expected, as he wanted to take the most of the opportunity. He wanted nothing handed to him. I came to learn that in my year playing and hanging around Hodges.

As I watched Saturday's draft coverage to hear my friend's name, I didn't buy the reports that he was removed from draft boards. Hodges wasn't a troublemaker. He had immense college production, albeit at an FCS program, is exceptionally smart compared to most prospects, has incredibly long arms for his size, great speed, and explosive off the line. Hodges did not end up being selected. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts shortly after the draft.

After all I had heard about media, the NFL, and character, this report came back to me. How can this kid be removed from your board. The report previously claimed "Hodges is a bit of a tweener, so attitude issues could spur a draft day tumble", but what "attitude" were they referring to. Hodges has a unique personality, is a talkative player, and is a confident young man, but he is also genuine and concerned with his fellow teammates and friends. Hodges, who has overcome every inch of adversity thrown his way, and who is graduating from Harvard with a double major in government and philosophy, was removed from draft boards yet Dorial Green-Beckham and Frank Clark go in the second round? NFL teams may try to emphasize character, but to remove Zack Hodges from the draft board shows an incredible double standard. Now many times character risk players work out, and I'm not against drafting flawed people off the field, but where did this kid go wrong? Production, smarts, measurables, all the community service, and his love of fellow man and teammates, yet an interview where you couldn't mesh with his uniqueness caused you to remove him from your board?

Cardinals GM Steve Keim said it best I guess on this double standard, claiming that "If Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3, we'd probably diagnose it as an eating disorder." 

Comparing Shane Ray and Michael Sam - Outsports Misses the Mark

Cyd Zeigler, writing for Outsports, penned an article that claimed that the NFL was surely homophobic in its drafting of Michael Sam due to the first round draft selection of fellow Missouri defensive end Shane Ray last night. Mr. Zeigler points to athletic measurables, often taken at the NFL combine and Pro Days, to strengthen his claim that the two players are not 226 selections different. Mr. Zeigler's assessment appears fair at first, as he compares their body sizes, speed, and accrued college statistics, but a strong bias comes through in his writing that cannot be ignored.

Michael Sam's Combine Spider Chart

Seen above is Michael Sam's combine "spider chart" which compares his athletic performance to other players in his position using percentiles. As it can be seen, Sam has athletic inadequacies when it comes to the football field at the next level. Sam's chart is highly concentrated toward the middle, except for his broad jump. The chart shows that Sam does not have a trait that necessarily, at least athletically, sticks out among his peers. His speed splits are poor, though he did have some hamstring problems at the combine, and he showed a weakness in strength with his bench press. His change of direction shows to be lacking with the 3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle. Sam did have great success in his 4 years playing at Missouri, earning SEC defensive player of the year, but his poor athletic measurables hurt a draft stock that was considered to be in the middle rounds. His admittance that he is a gay man most likely had him drop as well, but not as much as Mr. Zeigler would claim in my opinion. It is clear that Sam has athletic shortcomings even beyond his hamstring issues.

Shane Ray's Spider Chart

Above is Shane Ray's spider chart. One of Mr. Zeigler's claims is that Ray ony tested 1-10% better on certain drills than Sam and is slightly smaller in arm length, hand size, and weight. Mr. Zeigler is indeed correct about size, but his 1-10% value take into consideration the actual times the two ran or the number of reps they performed, but do not take into consideration their peers, which could lead to a percentile. As it can be seen above, Shane Ray posseses incredible speed and explosion at his position. Ray tested in the 89th percentile in the 40 yard dash and 78th percentile in the broad jump, two measures of speed and explosion. Ray did very poorly in the 3 cone drill, but Ray did these drills with a serious toe/foot injury that will sideline him for 5 months. Ray performed at his Pro Day after medical personnel did not clear him to perform at the NFL combine. Ray's performance then in these measurables must be looked at quite highly. I can tell you from the experience of breaking my toe in 3 places and hearing the words "possible amputation" in a doctor's office, changing direction and pushing off a severly injured toe/foot is quite challenging and very painful. Ray performed incredibly well under these circumstances, posting speed that even without injury would have scouts buzzing. Ray has a unique talent that stands out among his peers, and aside from his injury and issues with marijuana, NFL teams crave a unique skill set.

This discussion goes beyond athletic measurables though. The two players had statistically similar careers, each earning SEC defensive player of the year and All America honors. They had comparable numbers of tackles, sacks, and forced fumbles, which NFL teams look at when drafting talent. Mr. Zeigler, in his piece, failed to mention that Ray had passed Sam in two of those statistical categories in one less season, as Ray entered the draft after his junior season, while Sam played all four years in college. This speaks to the high level of production Missouri got out of Ray in his short career. With another season, Ray would have potentially smashed Sam's statistical prowess, and even had the opportunity to repeat in the post season honors he received. Mr. Zeigler shows much bias in his look at each's statistics, as Ray was on his way to one heck of a college career.

Now Mr. Zeigler does make a fair point about the two being 226 selections apart, but his analysis doesn't get at the true meaning of the claim. Sam's athletic measurables and body size make him a "hand on the ground" 4-3 defensive end, as he doesn't have the speed or fluidity to play in space and would be a liability in coverage as a 3-4 outside linebacker. This limits the number of teams that could select Michael Sam. Not every team in the NFL runs a 4-3 defense. Sam's speed also means that he is not going to be a real factor to play special teams. Though Sam's tape showed tremendous effort on every play, a strong first step, and a solid base, he's not going to be a speed rusher, which teams are craving right now. Shane Ray, on the other hand, has the speed and fluidity to be a stand of rush linebacker or 4-3 defensive end who can cover running backs coming out of the backfield. This makes Ray someone who could play for almost any team in the league. Hence Ray's stock goes up, and Sam's destination points lessen in number. Perhaps Michael Sam is much better than certain players selected ahead of him, but the fact of the matter is that teams need to fill their roster, and often draft on needs, which could have helped Michael Sam fall. 

Surely his open sexuality was a factor for some individuals or potential teammates, but I do not believe it is the main reason he lacks an NFL job or was selected in the 7th round. The fact of the matter is as well that he was selected, which people dream of, and is quite the honor, and had the chance to make a roster, but was in the end, beaten out by a similar player who also had a very productive preseason. We shall see how Ray plays out in Denver, but to use his draft position as an indication of homophobia is an unproductive and unreasonable endeavor. Comparing the two players is fair, but in how the NFL is transitioning, their measurables, and potential on the field, it is no wonder that Shane Ray was a first round selection. As an ally I am very supportive of Michael Sam's desire to play football in the NFL, and hope he receives another chance, but feel as if Mr. Zeigler's piece hurts the cause that the LGBTQIA community fights for, and only could lead to further backlash for Michael Sam. I'm sure Micheal Sam was happy that his former teammate, Shane Ray, is getting to live his dream to play in the NFL. I would like to wish each player the best in their future endeavors.

Genetics to Athletics - Gene Guru Set to Revolutionize Athletic Training

When the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003 and humanity gained more insight on the individual nucleotide basepairs that help determine our fate, we were left to question what we could do with all the information we possessed. Ideas of personalized medicine and customized health care based on an individual's genetic information emerged and began to be discussed. 23 and Me capitalized on this industry to make predictions based on specific genetic variants to help determine a person's disease risk, ancestry, and inherited traits. With this technology becoming cheaper and cheaper to use, and people looking to change their lifestyles and medicinal choices based on this information, a company is now ready to potentially revolutionize the world of athletic training and nutrition.

Gene Guru is taking the genetic information gained from a $99 23 and Me kit and using it to customize dieting and athletic performance plans for their customers. The company will use your own genetic information, the data that makes you in fact you, to help you reach your peak. These programs will also be based on your own goals, whether it be to lose weight, to make gains in the weight room, or even to slow the effects of aging. The profile will recommend supplements, dietary needs, and athletic exercises that will most help you reach your goals based on your genotype. They will provide information on allergens, develop programs based on your socioeconomic status and needs, and can also customize the training program based on whether you would want to reach your goals with or without training supplements and your dietary needs in mind. The most amazing part of this though: it's free of charge.

Imagine having an exercise program tailored for performance based on your genes. Each one of us is one of a kind, and we all have specific needs. These programs could change the athletic training market forever, as each person could reach their goals faster and more efficiently than ever before. This could potentially end the problem of certain people responding to an athletic program much greater than someone else. These programs will always be evolving based on results, new goals, and new insights as the industry grows. In this way modifications will be made to temper plateaus allowing individuals to reach their goals faster and have new goals more frequently.

The company realizes that athletic training and nutritional programs produce physiological changes in your body. It then only makes sense to use the available genetic information to your benefit in order to temper certain changes and accelerate your progress. The human body is complex so why not use all our givens in solving the difficult equations it presents.

This idea will not be a flash in a pan. Players from the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have signed on, but with the service being free of charge if you get a genetic profile from 23 and Me anyone has the potential to use this service. Gene Guru is set to change the world of dieting, nutrition, athletics, and lifestyle choices forever, and remember, it's free of charge.