Yardbarker Horiz

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Experience vs. Talent

I had planned to use the following table to contrast where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stand versus where the NFC South Champion New Orleans Saints stand:

TeamAverage Age
Redskins28.02
Saints27.99
Cardinals27.74
Patriots27.74
Lions27.62
49ers27.51
Steelers27.50
Vikings27.48
Seahawks27.41
Falcons27.39
Titans27.29
Browns27.18
Jets27.16
Broncos27.16
Bears27.02
Cowboys26.93
Bills26.93
Chargers26.93
Texans26.89
Giants26.88
Ravens26.83
Raiders26.82
Eagles26.81
Rams26.73
Jaguars26.61
Bengals26.60
Dolphins26.47
Buccaneers26.46
Panthers26.39
Chiefs26.36
Colts26.34
Packers26.16
(Data from:  ESPN South Blog around the 2009 opening weekend)

However, after a fun-to-watch come-from-behind 20-17 victory in overtime against those same Saints, the analysis changes:  what are the forward-looking prospects for the Saints and Buccaneers?

The Saints are the top of the NFC South at 13-2, are still in the driver's seat for having all their playoff games at home, and feature a high-powered offense along with an aggressive defense.  Clearly, 2009 was their year.  But as you can see from the chart above, they have the 2nd oldest team in the NFL with an average age of 27.99 years old.  How much longer can they keep their salary-heavy veterans?  Will age catch up to them in the next few years in the form of declining production and more injuries?

Meanwhile, the upstart Bucs have their first winning streak in over a year as well as an average age of 26.46 -- younger by a full year and a half per player versus the Saints -- and are the 5th youngest team in the NFL.
It is a typical scenario for the NF:.  If you look at the top of the list you see many playoff teams (excepting, of course, the rudderless and aged Washington Redskins).  Yet if you look at the bottom of the list it's not just the teams with the worst records.  You see an assortment of teams having a wide variety of seasons.  The Colts are 14-1 and are the 2nd youngest team.  The Chiefs, who nearly match the age of the Colts on average, are 3-12.  So youth is erratic, but age seems to be consistant.  Why?

I do not have the numbers, but the common sense answer is "game experience".  Obviously the Colts have done a much better job of getting their younger players ready to contribute.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Chiefs have rolled a huge chunk of their roster from the beginning of the year to players with less than 2 years experience.

This tells us something about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  waiving age during the 2009 Free Agent preiod resulted in younger players reaching the field to develop experience. The prior GM and coach preferred to keep youth on the sideline and bring in veteran after veteran.  In fact, the prior coach really has no player development story to hang his hat on (nor does the prior GM).  In contrast, many young players have reached the field under Coach Raheem Morris, including Josh Freeman, Geno Hayes, and Sammy Straughter (to name a few).  These players have shown talent and improvement in their play during the course of the 2009 season.

All this demonstrates that if you do not have experienced youth then you have no choice but to wait for it to develop -- and I'm not taling about on the practice field.  This is the state of the Buccaneers in 2009:  serving youth a heaping spoonful of experience.  During the upcoming offseason, the Buccaneers will possibly add 10 new players to the roster, and those players will need experience as well and so time will be served.  Nonetheless, as the first ever 2-12 team to defeat a 13 game winner, Tampa Bay has shown their time on the field gaining needed experience will pay off.

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