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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Of Graham Harrell and Kafka

Texas Tech's Graham Harrell has signed with the Sasketchewan Roughriders. Harrell, of course, was undrafted, and had a "tryout" with the Browns that resulted in no contract being offered. He has since languished, and this seems the best bet he has. I can sum my feelings up on this, thusly: I'm not really sure I want to live in a world where Jared Lorenzen (currently of the ArenaFootball2 Lexington Horsemen) can flop around the NFL for four seasons while Graham Harrell has the door slammed in his face.

Harrell's experience here reminds me of a story by Kafka. In honor of Harrell and the Captain (who I believe is a Kafka fan), here is a very slightly paraphrased version, adapted for Harrell. (Original here.)

Before the NFL

Before the NFL sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from Texas who asks to gain entry into the NFL. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in sometime later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” The gate to the NFL stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try going inside in spite of my prohibition. But take note. I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I cannot endure even one glimpse of the third.” The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the NFL should always be accessible for someone who has thrown for over 15,000 yards and 130 touchdowns, he thinks, even if he did play in a Mike Leach system.

But as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and what it was like to throw to Michael Crabtree and what it was like to beat Texas on the last play and whether Mike Leach is really that weird and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet.

The man, who has trained vigorously for his journey, tries out with everyone to win over the gatekeeper. The latter observes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am doing this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this first one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the NFL. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud; later, as he grows old, he only mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has also come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the NFL. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things considerably to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know now?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the NFL,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”


MGoBlogs said...

I don't know why a team like the Lions take a chance on this kid.

I mean I think he has more have a chance than Drew Stanton. The only thing he's got going is his 2nd round pick status.

Of course that pick could have been Trent Edwards, but that's why they are the lions.

Anonymous said...

MGoBlogs, simple. The Lions already drafted Matt Stafford. They simply do not need to waste a pick on an another QB. Why bother spending another pick on a position where you only play one player on the field at all time?

Aaron Nagler said...

Ron Wolf used late round picks on QBs all the time and he had Brett Favre. Its silly to say 'the Lions drafted Stafford, their set' - you can never have too many good QBs. Now, is this kid a good QB? The NFL appears to think not so much...

- Think Tanker said...

Go to the NFL web site look at the QBs listed in the players section.
I can't belive this guy is not on a squad as at least a developmental player.

Will said...

Aaron is right. Even though they had Favre, the Pack drafted Mark Brunell and Aaron Brooks, later trading both.

In any case, hopefully Harrell will go the Warren Moon route and reappear in the NFL in a couple of years.

Anonymous said...

This is the best thing to happen for Harrell. He will get a real chance to earn a starting role and make an impression, and most of all enjoy himself playing in a league that actually still cares about football, and not just about money.

Otherwise he would have just been riding the pine in the No Fun League.

He will fit in nicely in Regina, SK, as it is basically the lost twin city of Lubbock, TX.

Can't wait to see him pass to 6 receievers!!

Go Riders!!!

War Eagle AC-47 said...

Joe Theismann, one of my all time favorite quarterbacks, played Canadian football. It is not the kiss of death.

Instead of waiting at the gate, he went in through another door, and played quarterback.

Anonymous said...

Aaron, that's in a different draft. That'd be an idiotic move by Mayhew by drafting two QBs in one draft. The Lions went 0-16 and they needed help everywhere. Drafting 2 QBs in one draft would not help the Lions.

loneweasel said...

Still not convinced that he's better than Kliff Klingsbury.

Every year dozens of graduating D-1A quarterbacks don't even sniff the pros. Nothing sets Harrell apart other than the gaudy stats, which everyone on the planet now knows is inflated by the Tech spread.

The "gatekeeper" theory is backwards from reality. The NFL did not start out discriminating against airraid quarterbacks. They thought Tim Couch's stats were real and drafted him as such. Then he busted. Then they drafted the whole slew of Leach's quarterbacks in the low rounds and they didn't do anything. Only after ten years of continual disappointments is Harrell now "kept out".

This is by no means unique to Airraid spread quarterbacks. Teams discount more and more the stats of Tedford QB's from bust after bust. So too Hawaii quarterbacks, Spurrier WR's, UTexas players in general. In the future Tebow will see his stock take a big hit because of Alex Smith. Future UM QB's will see the same thing after Pat White fails to do anything in the pros.

In the infancy of baseball sabermetrics people used to clamor for the Ken Phelps allstars, guys stuck in the minors whom the advanced stats of the day valued much more than their teams valued them. Then the stats became much more complete. And we saw there was usually a reason they were stuck in the minors. Same thing is happening in football. People clamored for guys like Brohm much more than the teams did. Turned out he couldn't beat Matt Flynn on the depth chart.

Dave said...

"That'd be an idiotic move by Mayhew by drafting two QBs in one draft."

They didn't need to draft him, obviously he went undrafted. They could have just brought him in as a free agent, the Lions would have nothing to lose.

Aaron Nagler said...

"That'd be an idiotic move by Mayhew by drafting two QBs in one draft." Ted Thompson did it last year - it's not idiotic. Yes, the Lions went 0-16. If one Harrell turned out be a player, he becomes valuable trade bait, a la Brunell, Hasselbeck, Brooks, etc.

Perry said...

This is the league that drafted Tom Brady with pick #199 and didn't even draft Kurt Warner. Just cause you didn't get drafted doesn't mean that you can't or won't be a great NFL player. (It certainly doesn't help though..)

brad said...

Very good post loneweasel.

I didn't see much in Harrel to differentate himself from a Kingsbury or Josh Heuple.

I don't think it is so much that an air raid QB can't be sucessful in the NFL, as many former BYU/Norm Chow QBs who used a very similar system have been sucessful. It is just that the air raid makes every QB look great (a testament to the system and how guys like Leach/Mumme teach it). To make it to the next level you need the numbers plus the tools to be sucessful in another offense.

Philip Rivers played in a very simlar offense set gaudy records and there were a lot of question marks about him, but he was 6'5"" with a strong arm and ripped it up at the Senior Bowl playing in a pro style offense. When Harrel had a chance to do similar he didn't produce.

Now for my money, I would have taken a flier on Harrell if I didn't have to waste a draft pick on him, but its not like a bunch of teams haven't been able to take a look and have decided to pass.

I am as much a stat geek as the next guy, but when 30 teams decide to take a pass on a free option, I am guessing it is not worth much. I have to believe there is something the statistics aren't telling me.

Maybe Harrell can prove all the doubters wrong in Canada.

Anonymous said...

"Ted Thompson did it last year - it's not idiotic."

Well both players have no trade value unless Aaron Rodgers is out for an extended period of time and one of them steps up as a fill-in starting QB. It's likely not going to happen because 1. Rodgers is relatively young, 2. Rodgers played through injury, 3. they won't see time on the field if any at all and 4. why would anybody trade for an unproven backup QB when they have never see significant time on the field. If you think that they may have trade value, good luck on trying to find a suitor.

Aaron Nagler said...

"why would anybody trade for an unproven backup QB when they have never see significant time on the field." - you just described Ron Wolf's trade for Favre. ;)

Dave said...

"Well both players have no trade value unless Aaron Rodgers is out for an extended period of time and one of them steps up as a fill-in starting QB."

That's just not true. Matt Hasselbeck had a total of 29 attempts when he was dealt. Mark Brunell had 27, Aaron Brooks had 0. Ty Detmer left as a free agent but considering at least one team wanted him (and that he continued as a backup for years after being in Philly) he had *some* value, same for Doug Peterson. And of course none of them started a game in Green Bay.

AERose said...

"Teams discount more and more the stats of Tedford QB's from bust after bust."

Except none of the Tedford QBs who busted in the NFL had particularly great college stats to begin with. (Neither Smith, Harrington, or Boller cracked 60% in career completion percentage.) It wasn't a problem of teams getting bamboozled by the stats, it was a problem of teams drafting based on wishful thinking.

So, um, way to make your point!

Dennis Prouse said...

I am a Canadian and a CFL fan, and also a huge NFL and NCAA geek. (We were running shotgun spread here long before you guys ever caught on. :-))

There is no question that Harrell is facing some discrimination based on the failure of similar style QBs in the past. (Let`s not forget David Klingler and Andre Ware and the numbers they put up running the John Jenkins system at Houston.) Even in a pass happy league like the CFL, a number of QBs who came from shotgun spread schools have crashed and burned. Andre Ware came up here to try to revitalize his career, and didn`t make it. New Uof W coach Steve Sarkisian put up ridiculous numbers playing at BYU, but couldn`t make it in the CFL. More recently, Timmy Chang flamed out here, and I thought for sure he would be a successful CFL

To me, the biggest issue is arm strength. In the NFL, of course, you have to be able to gun it through a pinhole, because the athletes on D are just so good. You don`t get the mismatches you sometimes see in NCAA. In the CFL, the issue is the dimension of the field. Our field is 65 yards wide, not 53, and that extra space means that you had better be able to gun it out to the flat, or it is going for a pick six.

It`s too bad Harrell didn`t sign in the CFL six weeks ago, as he would have been able to get into camp and compete right from the get go. Saskatchewan already has former North Carolina QB Darian Durant as their starter, and he looks like he might be coming into his own. CFL observers are wondering if Saskatchewan signed Harrell simply to showcase him, then trade him to a more QB needy team. Regardless, he will get his chance eventually, and as a big fan of Mike Leach I truly hope he makes the most of it!