Wednesday evening, I had a chance to stop by Intel's Inside the Huddle: Big Data in Football event at Pedro's Cantina, right across the street from AT&T park, in San Francisco. The event was a panel discussion hosted by Bleacher Report's Josh Zerkle and included Boyd Davis from Intel, John Pollard from STATS LLC, Kevin Meers president of the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, and hall of fame 49er Jerry Rice.
The event focused on statistical analytics in football, the role Intel's technology has to play in this venue, and how the technology trickles down to regular fans, especially fantasy football owners. The information was fascinating, but my mood was sour. Upon check in at the event I was told my chances of one-on-one time with Mr. Rice were small. I managed to move past this and decided to use this opportunity to improve my fantasy ownership skills, something I sorely needed (last place in consecutive years).
By some divine intervention I got five minutes alone with Jerry Rice, No. 80, the greatest wide receiver of all time. How this happened is still a blur, I think I almost passed out. My usual debonair suave escaped me as I promptly dropped my notebook then my pen hit the floor as I tried to scoop it up. I squeaked out the obligatory Intel questions: what's your involvement? Say something insightful about fantasy football, etc... But then I got to the real deal, the real question I wanted to ask and the one we are all probably dying to hear: what is your insight on the 49ers wide receiver situation?
He got quiet for a second and looked down at the floor. His massive, MASSIVE, Super Bowl ring stared me in the face. He took so long to collect his thoughts that I started to worry he was not going to answer.
"Crabtree hurt them" he spoke softly with all the solemnness of a true loyalist.
I had always been under the impression that Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree was essentially the same player, as far as skill sets go, just separated by age. He promptly dismissed this notion saying that it is Crabtree's ability to run after the catch which makes him special. He even went as far as to compare the 49ers leading receiver in 2012 to himself, something I would never dare to wax poetic about.
"Somebody is going to have to step up" he with the same urgency and passion in his voice.
Rice explains Boldin will be a huge factor on moving the chains, especially on third down, but that there needs to be someone to stretch the field. He says there are plenty of guys on that roster capable; it is just a matter of finding one that can be ‘that guy' consistently. Williams, Baldwin, Patton, are all young players he sees can fill the all important "vertical" role.
"Crabtree was their guy out wide" he says a mischievous smile on his face.
I am no football analyst, simply a fan, and right now I am getting a wide receiver 101 education. He goes in to detail on how Boldin will, almost exclusively, line-up in the slot. He says the guys out wide are the ones meant to be a threat and now there is a massive void to fill on the edge. Again he re-iterates that the talent is there but the consistency is not.
"If I were a defensive coordinator..."
He makes it seem so simple to ground the 49ers air attack. He says, just shut down Vernon Davis and let Boldin get his touches, which is probably exactly what you will see defenses do, especially if the 49ers struggle to run the ball. In that case this whole process becomes much easier. If a defense can employ these techniques then you force the offense into a situation where they have to rely on unproven talent.
Feeling somewhat deflated after I half expected him to say "Patton will be a star," I am told I have one last question. "What are you most excited about this upcoming season?" A balk! I can't believe I asked something so ridiculous in my last opportunity, maybe ever, to pick the brain of the greatest to ever play the game. Perhaps sensing my rued moment he projects a Cheshire grin and says: "the read option, it's unstoppable."
Suddenly my deflated optimism is reformed and rejuvenated. Thank you Mr. Rice.
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