The “30 for 30” Complete Rankings

The “30 for 30” ESPN series is more than a few documentaries that captures one sports story and provides the audience with not only an insight on the athletes and teams but the social context as well. Over the years I have managed to watch 67 of the 30 for 30 movies and decided to compile a ranking of the movies. It is important to understand while that I do have my personal preferences, I eliminated any of it and looked at certain criteria to grade the movies on:

The Story – While moments and sports come unscripted (well, maybe not “Playing for the Mob”), each sports story has a level of intrigue. This is the most important element to the judgement of the 30 for 30 movies, as even the best director and analysts cannot create the story. The plot is what it is and is essential to the greatness of the movie

Director’s Sequence – The order and fluidity of the scenes can make a difference in how I perceived the movie. Some directors presented a fascinating movie by how they chose to assemble the documentary. “June 17th, 1994” opted to just show media clips, which led to the creation of a fabulous documentary

The “Cast” – Who spoke in the movie and who did not is another key component. “The Fab Five” worked around Chris Webber’s refusal to speak to create a compelling story to his documentary. In “Unmatched”, however, it may have been more interesting to show critics or fans discussing the two tennis greats.

Miscellaneous – Anything else that added or subtracted to the movie.

Other Notes

I enjoyed all these documentaries, but there needed  to be a way to separate all the movies. Each movie, along with its ranking received a letter grade. To help deviate the grades, the average grade for the rankings is a “B”. Any movie that received a “B” or higher is deemed to be a “must-watch”. Finally, there are currently two movies I did not manage to obtain: “Goose” and “Right to Play”. If you find a link for either movie, or if they appear on some legal source (Comcast, Youtube, Netflix, etc.), please send it to my e-mail on the “About Me” Page.

Rank Title Grade Sport
67 The House of Steinbrenner D+ Baseball
66 The Day The Series Stopped D+ Baseball
65 Unmatched D+ Tennis
64 The Dotted Line D+ Other
63 Jordan Rides the Bus C- Baseball
62 Marion Jones: Press Pause C- Running
61 Kings Ransom C- Hockey
60 The Band That Wouldn’t Die C- Football
59 Elway to Marino C Football
58 The Announcement C Basketball
57 Little Big Men C Baseball
56 There’s No Place Like Home C+ Basketball
55 26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story C+ Boxing
54 Broke C+ Other
53 The Legend of Jimmy the Greek C+ Football
52 Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL C+ Football
51 Straight Outta L.A. C+ Football
50 Rand University B- Football
49 Free Spirits B- Basketball
48 Fernando Nation B- Baseball
47 When The Garden Was Eden B- Basketball
46 Roll Tide/War Eagle B- Football
45 9.79* B- Running
44 Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau B- Other
43 Silly Little Game B- Other
42 One Night in Vegas B Boxing
41 Guru of Go B Basketball
40 Four Days in October B Baseball
39 Muhammad and Larry B Boxing
38 The Birth of Big Air B Other
37 The Real Rocky B Boxing
36 Ghosts of Ole Miss B+ Football
35 The Marinovich Project B+ Football
34 Brian and the Boz B+ Football
33 No Mas B+ Boxing
32 Youngstown Boys B+ Football
31 Without Bias B+ Basketball
30 Playing for the Mob B+ Basketball
29 Run Ricky Run B+ Football
28 This Is What They Want B+ Tennis
27 The U B+ Football
26 Tim Richmond: To the Limit B+ Other
25 Bernie and Ernie B+ Basketball
24 You Don’t Know Bo B+ Football
23 The Best That Never Was B+ Football
22 No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson A- Basketball
21 Unguarded A- Basketball
20 Requiem for the Big East A- Basketball
19 Bad Boys A- Basketball
18 Into the Wind A- Running
17 The Price of Gold A- Other
16 Charismatic A- Other
15 The Pony Excess A- Football
14 Catching Hell A- Baseball
13 The U Part 2 A- Football
12 The 16th Man A- Other
11 Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks A- Basketball
10 Once Brothers A- Basketball
9 The Fab Five A- Basketball
8 June 17th, 1994 A- Other
7 Brothers in Exile A Baseball
6 Survive and Advance A Basketball
5 Big Shot A Hockey
4 Slaying the Badger A Other
3 Renee A Tennis
2 The Two Escobars A Soccer
1 Benji A Basketball
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Midfield Kickoffs and Optimizing Winning

Two Sundays ago, the Cowboys and Eagles squared off in a game that ultimately decided the division title. While the Cowboys did win the game with a dominating performance in the final third of the game, the frequency of kick-offs from midfield and the lack of aggression by the kicking team seems peculiar. Personal foul penalties by the defense on plays resulting in a touchdown, successful extra point attempts, or dead-ball are enforced on the kick-off. Those fifteen yards lead to the ball being kicked from the fifty yard line. From there, the expected win probability and expected points can be calculated.

Dallas’s WP and EP for an onside kick up 28-24, 0:39 remaining in the 3rd Quarter

Dallas WP

After a penalty on Nolan Carroll for unnecessary roughness after a fourth Cowboys’ touchdown, the Cowboys were presented with this scenario. Above is a chart that gives the Win probability and Expected Points probability that Dallas had at the time of the kickoff, according to Brian Burke’s EP and WP calculator. Assuming that the kickoff would be a touchback is conservative as the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective calculated (Note: Jeremy Maclin would return the kick to Philadelphia’s 21-yard line. The HSAC also states that surprise onside kicks were successful 60% of the time from 2001-2010, albeit a small sample size. For an onside kick to be worth it in this situation a team must expect that it would convert about 28% of its surprise onside kick. That is less than half the league rate over that ten year span. Even including expected onside kicks, the success rate of onside kicks is 35%, a difference significant enough to make the risk worthwhile.

The main problem here is convincing a team to put this in action. If Jason Garrett opted to take the onside kick and failed, the media would have thought he was absurd for taking an onside kick with the lead, despite the mathematical evidence to support the reasoning. When Jeff Fisher took a field goal down nine from Arizona’s goal line a few weeks ago, Grantland writer Bill Barnwell made a keen observation on his podcast: many coaches make decisions that delays the inevitably of a loss rather than optimizing their chances of winning. Many coaches choose to make conservative decisions to remain in a closer game for a longer period rather than take a risk that could severely diminish their team’s chances of winning. Regardless, Week 17 will see a lot of desperate teams on the cusp of a playoff berth willing to make bolder decisions. Maybe one will even attempt an onside kick from midfield.

Roger Goodell and a Dream Deferred

The ruling on the Ray Rice scandal temporarily closes the door on one of the most controversial disciplinary rulings in NFL history. While Rice’s indefinite suspension ceases and teams can sign the former Baltimore Raven, it appears unlikely that any team will. Really that decision comes down to the discretion of the teams’ personnel and their thoughts on whether or not Rice appears apologetic for his heinous act. Some of the spotlight remains on him and his wife, but the media scrutiny for Goodell seems out of focus.

Various news sources are commenting on the ambiguity and inconsistency in the Commissioner’s statements. Yet, there is a complete disregard to the other social issues the commissioner seems to neglect. To combat the Rice and Hardy suspensions (the latter of whom has disappeared completely from the attention of the NFL audience), the NFL launched a “No More” campaign as a way to promote the ending of violence. I hold players like John Lynch and Cris Carter in the highest regard, but preaching to the NFL audience, the ones who rebuked the original punishment, seems just as a poor masking of the major problems that plague the NFL. Skim through any of the “Outside the Lines” articles that discuss the topic of domestic violence, and you will see the abundant amount of instances where the culprit’s punishment is unfitting for his crime. The “No More” campaign is a public relations stunt that calls for us, the fans, to help make changes, yet for years the league improperly dealt with this important issue.

Amidst this NFL controversy came the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the accused rape by a fraternity brother at the University of Virginia. In both situations, there is not enough evidence to draw a full-proof conclusion. Due to this, people around the United States debate this rather delicate topic. Maybe we will never know what happened; regardless, both of these tragedies call us to think about a larger issue. The murders of Amadou Diallo and Oscar Grant are examples of police brutality, and again, while everyone has their own opinion on Mike Brown, police brutality is a blight that hurts our nation on a daily basis. The same goes for the UVA case with one in four female college students say they have been victims of sexual assault.

In both cases, proper measures went in to place: A grand jury examined Officer Wilson’s case while the president of UVA shut down all fraternities for the remainder of the semester. Yet, the NFL’s handling of Rice is completely unorganized. Goodell wrote down random words and phrases. He scribbled down Ray Lewis’s name and could not recall why, yet remembered writing down the word “struck” as Rice’s description of his then-fiancee hitting him. His note-taking ability seems incredible compared to VP Alphonso Birch, who only wrote down the phrase “bottle service” and then proceeded to ask Rice one and only one question that dealt with alcohol and lacked pertinence to the matter at hand.

Goodell claims that to him the most important thing is the remorse he sees from the player. It is ironic that he is apathetic to the complaints of those who are offended by the name “Redskins”, the players who received improper treatment from team doctors, and the countless women in the numerous other cases who suffered the assaults and Goodell suspended most of the assailants for one maybe two games. When Goodell first entered the position, he became a no-nonsense type of leader whose punishment tactics were harsh. Over time, he cares more about his perception to the owners than the millions of consumers of the NFL. I do not want Goodell to admit he lied, or that the Redskins name is racist, or that the doctors deserved to be fired. I want an apology and action. The NFL fans deserve that much. These issues bubble underneath a liquid surface, and as Langston Hughes wrote many years ago, “or does it explode?”. Unless Goodell can amend his wrongs, the NFL will confront many difficult obstacles, but the support for Goodell will be less than ever before.

The Year of the Rookie Wide Receiver

Editor’s Note: Article written prior to Cooks’s injury announcement

“Rookie wide receivers just do not produce at the same level as veterans” was the belief many analysts and fans came with entering the season. Last year, Keenan Allen and Cordarelle Patterson caught the eyes of casual fans, while DeAndre Hopkins and Marlon Brown quietly produced solid seasons. Even so, the class, as a whole was underwhelming, and that is what history tells us to expect. While one or two rookies might put up great seasons, usually rookie wide receivers do not produce at a high level. The adjustment from a college secondary and a professional one is usually too great. Rookies only have a few months to learn the routes and develop a relationship with their quarterbacks. While all this may be true this year’s rookie class is debunking all those theories.

Averages for Top 5 Rookie Wide Receivers/Tight Ends by Year

Top 5 WR

The 2014 group, while only projections based on production per game and games remaining, is heads and heels better than any season in this century. The top five, based on number of receptions, contains two possession receivers (Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson) and three home-run hitters (Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, and Sammy Watkins). While the production for these wideouts are quite incredible, it becomes a discussion of talent plus opportunity. The top five includes four first round picks and one second round pick. For Cooks, the rapid decline of Marques Colston, the inconsistency of Kenny Stills, and the lack of a slot receiver created more chances for the Oregon State Beaver. Robinson benefitted from the suspension of Justin Blackmon and the injury woes of Cecil Shorts III. Benjamin and Watkins were expected to jump in and be the primary wide receiver. Additionally, the Buffalo Bills and the Carolina Panthers have no wide receiver depth after their two rookies. The Buccaneers almost jettisoned pro bowler Vincent Jackson a month ago which probably would boost Evans’s numbers even more as he would become the sole skill player on the team.

Averages for Top 10 Rookie Wide Receivers/Tight Ends by Year
Top 10 WRs

The class only becomes more impressive, when the top 10 wide receivers are compared year by year. The crop at the top also consists of high picks: Jordan Matthews (2nd), Jarvis Landry (2nd), Jace Amaro (2nd), John Brown (3rd), and Odell Beckham Jr. (1st). It is rare to see rookies get so much field time, but for each team on the list, there was no number two target in their offenses. The talent matched the projection and the opportunity was there. What is happening this season is rare in that there were no busts nor injuries that hampered their rookie seasons, and all ten have been able to pick up their offenses quickly. The stars aligned and the 2014 wide receivers and tight ends are combining to put up unbelievable statistics as shown by the chart. Odell Beckham Jr. is barely in the top ten when he would easily be a top 5 (possibly a top 3) receiver in any other season.
The question is what do we make of the phenomenal rookie seasons moving past 2014?

Name Rec Yds Avg Yds/G TD 1st 1st%
Brandin Cooks 84.8 880 10.4 55 4.8 40 47.2
Player B 91 980 10.8 65.3 5 43 47.3

The only other rookie wideout with numbers comparable to Cooks is Eddie Royal in 2008. While Royal is a decent wide receiver, he never matched his rookie numbers again. Let’s do another one:

Player Rec Yds Avg Yds/G TD 1st 1st%
Kelvin Benjamin 75.6 1117.1 14.8 69.8 11.6 50.9 67.3
Player C 71 1046 14.7 69.7 8 54 76.1
Player D 70 1038 14.8 74.1 8 51 72.9
Player E 80 1193 14.9 74.6 7 56 70

Benjamin is projected for more touchdowns than these former rookies, but otherwise the four players have very similar numbers. Player C is Keenan Allen whose numbers this seasons more closely resemble Cooks. Player D is the aforementioned Marques Colston who has had a relatively successful career. Player E? Michael Clayton in 2004. He never had a season with over 40 receptions or 500 yards following his rookie campaign. The point is these wide receivers could become anybody. The volatility of players from their 1st season to their 2nd season is so great, that it is too difficult to project the trajectory of their careers. For the 2014 wide receivers and tight ends, they should enjoy their current success because they are as likely to reach a pro-bowl as they are the practice squad.

The Death of the Running Back

It is a widely known fact that the NFL s recently became a passing league. 4000 yards from a quarterback is an accomplishment that has been diminished by the gaudy numbers of the 32 quarterbacks. While eclipsing 4000 yards has lost some value, the a thousand yard mark is elusive to many of the premier running backs. As recently as 2006, 23 running backs topped that mark. Since then, the number of backs hitting that number is on a downward trend. There are two primary reasons for the recent decline: the difficulty of finding running back talent and the adoption of the running back by committee.

Screenshot (26)Above is a chart displaying the number of backs who rushed for 1000 yards, how many had done it for a consecutive season, and how many managed to reach a thousand yards twice in a three season interval (Note: 2006 does not include Michael Vick). What’s important about the chart is the consistency by which the same group of running backs would hit that mark. For example, in 2006, out of the 13 running backs who managed to accumulate 1000 yards at least twice in a three year span, 10 made a postseason appearance in either the ’05 or ’06 season. Having that running back who a quarterback could rely on made a huge difference in their offensive capabilities. In 2013, that number decreased to five out of seven. That means that having a versatile back does have the same significance, but that the number of backs who can provide that has been cut almost in half.

Now, the NFL is at the point where it appears that only 11 running backs will top the thousand yard mark. Those on the list include DeMarco Murray (already over 1000), Arian Foster, Le’Veon Bell, Justin Forsett, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Alfred Morris, Andre Ellington, Mark Ingram, and Jamaal Charles. While two or three more backs could have a huge game and pass the mark, it is also likely that two or three of the backs on the list will not keep producing at their current rate and come up short of a thousand yards or they may just get injured as their bodies have already taken a huge physical toll by this point of the season. As displayed on the chart, this would be a second consecutive 1000 yard season for six of the running backs. Trying to acquire such a rare commodity in the NFL is difficult. Also, evaluating what running backs are best is also challenging, as the Buffalo Bills can attest to since they traded away one of the more consistent backs in today’s games. Even when a team does acquire a running back in the free agency market or via trade, there are so many different variables that can influence a running back’s performance. Ben Tate is arguably the third best running back on the Cleveland Browns’ roster, but everybody thought he would be their number one. Out of the thirty-one instances in which a running back carried for a thousand yards or more, there were only eight occasions where the running back was able to duplicate their success from the prior season. The odds that a running back gets injured, does not produce, or cannot create plays in spite of a weak line makes them a difficult investment. Allocating a sizeable portion of the salary cap to such a high risk, high reward position is too dangerous, especially if the team structures its offense around that player.

Averages for Primary Backs

Primary Back

The chart above is the average percentage of carries, average percentage of yards, and the average yards per game the leading rusher on each team had during their respective seasons. Ultimately, the chart is a reflection of how the running back by committee has taken over the league. In a decade, the percentage of rushing attempts from primary backs has dropped by 8 % and the average number of yards per back has dropped by 16.5 yards. If a running back plays 14 games in a course of a season, which is a difference of 231 yards! If you add that difference to the running backs, the NFL is looking at, as one may expect 18 running backs with a thousand yards. Those touches that are being given to other backs plus the increase in pass attempts leads to seven backs coming up shy of the mark.

The scariest thought to all this is that some of these backs may not be able to put together three consecutive a thousand yard seasons. LeSean McCoy’s banged up O-line has brought him to a poor 3.8 yards per carry. The electric Jamaal Charles has dealt with nagging injuries throughout his career and may not even hit 1000 yards this season. The Dallas Cowboys are riding DeMarco Murray, which could easily lead to late season injury. Marshawn Lynch may not return to Seattle which could hamper his future performance. Matt Forte turns 29 this December. The physical demand of the position plus all the necessary components have heightened the difficulty for running backs to hit a thousand yards. Offensive linemen may get hit every play, but typically, only running backs get tackled 15 or more times per game. That detriment increases as the weather gets colder and the ground gets harder. There is a new perspective on running backs and it is changing the game drastically.

Stats from ESPN

The Evolution of Kicking

On Sunday, Mike Tomlin’s team possessed the ball inside the redzone while facing a fourth-and-two. Tomlin opted to play it safe and kick the field goal. However, Shaun Suisham shanked his kick wide left to the surprise of everyone in the stadium. Whether or not Tomlin’s decision was the right call from an EPA perspective (which it was not), shanks, like Suisham’s are becoming less and less common, regardless of the distance. Kicker accuracy has improved significantly over the past decade, which makes the decision to go for it more difficult for coaches.

Percentage Breakdown of Kicking By Year and Distance
Kicking Table

Not surprisingly, kicks within 40 yards have changed very little in terms of accuracy and have fluctuated significantly over the years. Even so, there is an upward trend in kicks mad from within forty yards. Suisham missing that kick was approximately 2% or even lower. Most of the misses from close range are coming from blocked field goals. For attempts from 40-49 yards, there is a noticeable increase in the percentage of made attempts in the past two years over the rest of the decade. Even the attempts from 40-49 have been at an all-time high over the past two years. The 11.03% increase over the past decade leads to an EPA increase of over three-tenths of a point, a significant statistic that could lead to coaches being more conservative. Advanced NFL Stats implements a 76% success rate for kicks of forty-one yards. With the recent rise in the percentage the past two years, the adjustment of that success rate to 79% or 80% would alter the EPA and WPA of whether or not to go for it on fourth down. Through Week 9, kickers are hitting 83.56% of their attempts, which provides an argument for an even higher success rate on such kicks.

Again, we see a recent spike in attempts made over 50 yards. From 2004-2010, kickers converted 53.90% of attempts from such a distance. Since 2011, that numbers has risen to an outstanding 64.06%, which does not include the rate of 63.16% through week 9 of the 2014 season. Advanced NFL Stats say that converting a field goal from fifty-one yards is only 55%. That ten percent difference is significant enough to convince more aggressive coaches to go for it on a 4th and 4 or so, when in reality, the field goal attempt yields the higher EPA.

Obviously, understanding game situation and personnel is critical. The Detroit Lions and their committee of kickers has lost them a couple games this year, and it may be wise to trust Megatron on a fourth and short. Conversely, Dan Carpenter is more reliable than most kickers and Kyle Orton and the Buffalo Bills do not exactly have an exhilarating offense. Overall, coaches may want to reexamine the EPA of kicking and give their million dollar legs a chance to score. It paid off for the Ravens when they did so on Monday Night against the Lions last year. Across the board, coaches should recognize the ever increasing odds of converting that 45 or 50 yard field goal.

Week 8 Thursday Night Pick

What promises to be one of the more meaningful Thursday night games, the 5-2 San Diego Chargers march into Denver with the hope of seizing the division lead. Rivers appears to be the mid-season favorite for MVP. His gaudy numbers are impressive given the rotating backfield and suspect defense of the Chargers. Manning tends to struggle against the Chargers whether McCoy, Turner, or Schottenheimer is coaching the team. Flashbacks of Antonio Cromartie, Darren Sproles, and last year’s Thursday night game must haunt Manning, but tonight he will get his revenge. Denver is currently the best team in the league. It is difficult to see them losing a home game against any opponent, following their 42-17 shellacking of the 49ers.

Denver Broncos 24, San Diego 17 (+7.5)

Week 7 Thursday Night Pick

Ah, the 1-5 New York Jets square off against the 4-2 New England Patriots. The poor Jets have played formidable opponents for five straight weeks. Aside from the debacle in San Diego, all of these games have been competitive until the end. Critics want to point the finger at Geno Smith, but the real problem is the wide receiver core. Eric Decker and Jace Amaro should not be the best receivers on a team that came into the season with playoff aspirations. Even though I am under the conviction that Smith may pan out to be a good pocket passer, it is time for Michael Vick. He has the ability to score 35 points on any given day, even though he is also capable of committing five turnovers.Geno Smith is not capable of leading an offense to 30+ points. On the other side of the ball is a New England Patriots team that appears to have found their identity. Brady is Brady and the defense played well in their past two games. It is hard to see the Jets winning, but New York will keep it close.

 

New England Patriots 28, New York Jets 19 (+9.5)

Week 6 Pythagorean Expectations Observations

Week 5 to 6

1. Seattle and Chicago’s win percentage is equal to the Pythagorean percentage.

2. San Francisco’s rank dropped 6 spots, despite winning on Monday night.

3. Baltimore (4-2) has only been slightly luckier than Jacksonville (0-6).

4. Miami dropped the furthest of any team this week, moving from 14th to 26th.

5. Arizona has won a full game more than their Pythagorean Expectation.