Rankings, Schmankings!

Last week, I had heard that Tony Romo was going to be the highest undrafted player ranked on the NFL’s Top 100 list.  This meant that, because he hadn’t been named yet, Chris Harris, Jr. would not be included on the list.  I thought briefly of making a post on this, and earlier today Leo delivered a cathartic rant on the subject.

But I decided not to make that post last week.  Why?  Because we should not stress out and pay as much attention to rankings as we do.

Rankings such as the NFL Top 100 and most power rankings are subjective and unscientific.

By its own proud admission, the NFL Top 100 is a list of “the best NFL players chosen BY the players”.  By definition, this means that the list is nothing more than a collection of opinions of a group of fallible human beings.  Sure, you can make an argument that opinions culled from your peers have more worth, but they are still opinions nonetheless.

Even rankings that claim to apply some sort of objective metrics, such as Football Outsiders’ DVOA Ratings or PFF’s Top 101, still can’t escape some level of subjectivity.  That’s because the humans behind those rankings still have to make a subjective decision on which metrics to apply.  They can make legitimate arguments on why their chosen metrics matter, but they can still be subject to equally legitimate disagreement.

In the NFL, rankings are meaningless.

There are some cases in which the rules of the game force participants to care about subjective rankings.  College football is the most famous example.  But that’s not the case in the NFL.  Teams don’t win the Super Bowl, make the playoffs, or get the #1 overall pick based on their placement in a power ranking or how many highly rated players they have on their team.  They do it by well-defined rules based on wins, losses, and performance on the field.  If someone asks you if you could give up all postseason honors for the Broncos in exchange for a Lombardi Trophy, you know damn well how you should answer.

There is room, of course, for looking at rankings of teams or players based on one or two specific metrics–say, from highest-paid wide receivers to most rushing yards in a season.  But they only give you one or two facts to the puzzle, and it’s not definitive proof alone to make a conclusion on decisions from how much to pay Demaryius Thomas to when you should select DeMarco Murray in your fantasy draft.  All those metrics tell you is which players got more or less of what’s being measured.

Take rankings for what they’re worth: a selective appreciation of the past instead of an indicator for the future.

There’s a certain appeal to checking in on a lazy Tuesday morning to see how your team is being evaluated by observers of the league.  We like the comfort of seeing our favorites validated by fellow peers.  But it does nothing to make teams better or worse.  There’s a reason why “any given Sunday” is a tried and true saying that transcends football.  I know coachspeak can be annoying, but you should focus on the next game on the schedule, and in the offseason, the next task ahead (free agency, the draft, training camp).

I’ll do my best to keep this in mind for even the greatest of all NFL rankings: the Hall of Fame.  As a Broncos fan, I had a natural reaction to be miffed that not only did Jerome Bettis get in over Terrell Davis, but a Chief, Charger, and Raider all got inducted at the same time.  But I can take greater solace in the fact that TD has more rings than the opinionated honor of all four of those players combined.  And while Broncos fans regularly complain (and perhaps without merit) that the team in general gets very little respect from the Hall of Fame, I’d rather have the fact that the Broncos are a proud owner of a stat like having more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons over 30 years.