Saturday, June 1, 2013

The NFL Top 100 Players of 2013 & 360 Degree Feedback

The NFL Network does an annual ranking of the NFL's top 100 players of the season, in which fellow NFL players rank their peers based on the 2013 season.  This exercise by NFL players is very similar to an annual performance review process in the workplace called 360 degree feedback.  360 degree feedback is a formal performance appraisal process in which employees are given performance feedback by direct reports, peers and supervisors/managers for a given performance year.  The NFL's Top 100 Players of 2013 has started and I have a few rankings that I'd like to discuss.  Players ranked #100 through #41 have been revealed and here are my surprises thus far:

#63 Stephen Tulloch - Detroit Lions
#67 Darrelle Revis - New York Jets (traded to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
#73 Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers
#80 Dwight Freeney - Indianapolis Colts (traded to San Diego Chargers)
#85 Charles Woodson - Green Bay Packers (traded to Oakland Raiders)
#91 Troy Polamalu - Pittsburgh Steelers
#94 Daryl Washington - Arizona Cardinals

Let's compare these rankings to their 2012 Fantasy Football Rankings.  Although it may sound silly, Fantasy Football Rankings are highly accurate because fantasy points put a premium on intangibles and statistics that sometimes are ignored on the stat sheet.  For example, if you look at 2012 NFL Statistics on the NFL's or ESPN's websites you'll see that their rankings only consider tackles, interceptions and sacks separately for the purposes of ranking defensive players.  However, Fantasy Football Linebacker Rankings considers tackles, assists, interceptions, sacks, fumble recoveries, passes deflected and touchdowns concurrently by assigning a point value to each item.  Linebackers are then ranked by the total point value.

Based on Fantasy Football Rankings by position, here's what the data shows:

#63 Stephen Tulloch was the 40th best linebacker
#67 Darrelle Revis only played two games and was not on the list, basically he was ranked last for defensive backs
#73 Antonio Gates was the 12th best tight end
#80 Dwight Freeney was 129th best defensive linemen
#85 Charles Woodson was the 142nd best defensive back
#91 Troy Polamalu was the 155th best defensive back
#94 Daryl Washington was the best linebacker

Justin Houston is even surprised by his ranking:

Most critics ague that the Top 100 Players List is a popularity contest.  In addition, rookies, players who are not well known or players who are new to being one of the NFL's best get a lower ranking.  Veterans or players who were once great and no longer are get a higher ranking.  If you are a future Hall of Famer and redefined your position, players struggle to give you a lower ranking if you did not perform well in a given year or did not play enough due to injuries.  They basically judge you based on past performance or what you can do on a given play, not based on sustained performance throughout a given year.  They ignore the negative and focus on potential or the positive.

The problems that are found in the NFL's Top 100 of 2013 rankings are exactly the same problems found with ranking peers, direct reports and supervisors during 360 degree feedback.  It can become a popularity contest as peers collude to get favorable ratings or criticize those they don't like.  Supervisors and employees fall victim to the spillover effect, when an employee's good performance years ago is used as the basis for current ratings; even though the employee is now a poor performer.  Or the employee's poor performance is used as the basis for current ratings, when in fact the employee is currently a good performer.

I'll keep tracking the NFL's Top Players of 2013 and see if it gets any better.  But just like 360 degree feedback, it's unlikely.

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