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South Carolina Gamecocks Football: Speaking of ESPN hacks, why is KC Joyner knocking Marcus Lattimore?

<em>Overrated?!? - says who?</em>
Overrated?!? - says who?

KC Joyner is a blogger who calls himself "The Football Scientist" and is a sometime contributor to ESPN's Insider's Forum and the New York Times Fifth Down football blog. One of the best take downs I've read about Joyner comes from our sister SBNation blog for the Indianapolis Colts, Stampede Blue, who eviscerated "The Football Scientist" after Joyner took shots at Peyton Manning in the summer of 2009:

I personally cannot think of a more pretentious title than "Football Scientist." I almost thought it was a tongue-in-cheek joke, but since both the NY Times and their blog are completely and utterly humorless, I have to conclude that Joyner thinks it makes him sound important, or something. If I can offer a comparison, you can title yourself Sanitary Engineer, but that doesn't change the fact that you're cleaning toilets.

And calling a silly fool like Joyner a "scientist" is like adding PhD after "Bozo T. Clown."

Well said. (Ed. - Oh, and in case you forgot, KC, Manning went on to win his fourth MVP and play in his second Super Bowl in the 2009 season).

For a metrics guy, who never played the game at any high level, Joyner is just another talking head who has parlayed his statistical analysis into a paying gig. Good for him. But he's still a Bozo.

So what's KC Joyner saying about Marcus? In a piece behind the ESPN paywall, Joyner has posted a piece entitled College football's most overrated players, and he leads off with Marcus Lattimore - to which he also adds LSU's Tryann Mathieu and OU's Landry Jones. In the teaser lede (free), Joyner says:

This analysis needs to start by making one point crystal clear -- Lattimore's inclusion on this list is not an indictment of his talent level, as his elite physical skills are undisputed. What is in dispute is Lattimore's track record. He ranked fifth out of six SEC "bell cow" running backs in an Insider analysis I did in July 2011 that reviewed the 2010 performance of each of those ball carriers in a wide variety of metrics.

Don't you just love metrics guys? I'm a big fan of metrics to the extent it keeps us from overlooking a diamond-in-the-rough who for whatever reason doesn't have star quality or play to a big audience. But when metrics are used to denigrate guys who clearly do have skills, it's another thing entirely - and Joyner falls squarely into this category with a bullet. He did the same thing with Alshon Jeffery before this year's draft, as reported here :

Jeffery's backers might point out that his low rankings in the YPA totals (ninth in three categories) were a direct result of the quarterbacking woes that beset the South Carolina offense this past season. The problem in taking that tack is that the Gamecocks' four leading underclassmen pass-catchers last season tallied a composite 9.8 YPA that was nearly two yards higher than Jeffery's. South Carolina's field generals certainly didn't help Jeffery, but if he was truly an elite receiver he would have posted better totals.

Does Joyner take into account that Jeffery was usually double-teamed the entire season? Or that the guys Stephen Garcia usually threw open were the opposing team's DBs? Or that Connor Shaw wouldn't throw up jump balls to Alshon? Or that Lattimore and our starting LT (Kyle Nunn) were out? What about the sheer athleticism of this play? None of that stuff means squat to a numbers guy like Joyner. Either he doesn't have the time, the inclination or the eye to see things like this. To the Joyners of the world, if your numbers are bad, then it's all on you.

Give KC some credit, though - at least he didn't bother saying that Alshon was fat, dumb or a diva like others. And, I don't think he has an anti-USC bias - he lavishly praised our "D" last year (of course that was the c.w. last season so it's not like he gets extra marks for figuring it out on his own). The sad reality, however, is that Joyner is more pitiable than just a garden-variety hater - not only doesn't he see anything beyond the numbers, but isn't able to see more even if he tried. His metrics are like blinders. That's what makes him different than say a Mel Kiper, Jr. - who can judge intangibles (whether you agree or disagree), who said before the injury that Lattimore would be his projected number 2 player taken overall in the 2012 NFL Draft - if had been eligible, of course.

So what did Joyner say about Marcus? I don't have an ESPN Insider pass (sorry Trav - not even you could get me to send money to Bristol). But you can imagine that "Football Scientist" has broken down number of touches, yards-per-carry, etc. Do I need to know what he said? No. If Joyner or ESPN wants to put in the public domain, fine.

But to be honest, I don't need to see KC's stuff because of these metrics; despite missing 6.5 games, Lattimore's SEC finish was: 7th in overall rushing yards (818); 9th in attempts (163); 11th in yards-per-carry (5.0); and tied for 3rd in rushing touchdowns (10). Going into the MSU game where he was injured, Marcus was the SEC's 2nd leading rusher and scorer (he'd actually been ahead of Bama's Trent Richardson the week before, but Richardson torched Ole Miss for 183 yards and 4 scores - maybe Coach Freeze plans to change the Tide's mind about the Rebs too). Here is what the university said about Marcus' 2011 campaign:

2011: Heisman Trophy candidate before his season ended prematurely when he suffered a knee injury in the win at Mississippi State... finished his second campaign with 818 yards on 163 carries, an average of 5.0 yards per carry... had 10 rushing touchdowns... also caught 19 passes for 182 yards and a score... ranked among the SEC and national leaders in rushing at 116.9 yards per game, scoring at 9.4 points per game, and in all-purpose yards per game at 142.9, but did not play in enough games to qualify for the national rankings... had four 100-yard rushing games (East Carolina-112; Georgia-176; Navy-246; Kentucky-102)... his 246-yard performance against Navy set a career high and was the fourth-highest single game total in school history... had a 52-yard touchdown reception right before the half that was a key play in the win over Vanderbilt... despite playing just seven games, still was named second-team All-SEC by both the Associated Press, the SEC Coaches, and Phil Steele... a member of the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.

Oh yeah - fer sure - he sure sounds overrated, doesn't he? Let's also remember that Marcus was a sophomore - playing for a QB (Garcia) who flaked out three games allowing the opposition to stack the box. Then Marcus had 1.5 starts with a rookie signal caller. Despite all that, he still had a noteworthy season despite missing the last six games. Yup - just a flash in the pan.

Funny, going into 2011 season Chis Low had Marcus as the number 2 back in the league behind Trent Richardson, and said it could have gone either way. Just a few weeks ago, Low and Ed Aschoff said he was number 1 SEC RB going into 2012. Big fall-off there! Does KC even read what the other guys are saying at ESPN? Apparently not.

The SEC media guys must not know what they're talking about, either, since Marcus garnered the most votes (201 of 220) and was a consensus first team All-SEC - ditto the SEC coaches who made him a first-teamer, too. Didn't see how overrated he was, did they? We don't even need to go into the fact that Marcus is also on everyone's pre-season Heisman watch list not to mention the Doak Walker award watch list. Maybe when you're the only guy saying a player is overrated, you might want to go back and check your hypothesis there, KC.

Well, I think we can safely chalk-up Joyner's opinion as a naked attempt to trade on Marcus' name to create a little controversy and steer a little business to ESPN Insider. The stats never tell the full story. KC - I think we all know who's overrated in CFB; here's a hint - it's not Marcus Lattimore.

UPDATE: I know some of you are not big Barrett Sallee fans (and that's putting it mildly), but in a Bleacher Report post he says that Joyner identified five SEC players on his "nine most overrated list" -

  • South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray
  • Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton
  • LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and
  • Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo

As far as Lattimore goes, Sallee makes a good point:

You can bend numbers in a lot of ways, but the eye test rarely fails. Lattimore put his team on his back and carried it to an SEC East title as a true freshman. And he was on his way to repeating the feat last season before tearing up his knee last October. If you want to be concerned about his performance after knee surgery, that's fine. But one of the nine most overrated players in America? Not even close.