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Why Player Comparison Are Fraught With Peril

Drawing comparisons to past players can backfire.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As fans, we're always reaching for the comparison. We can't just say 2013 was an awful season,we have to say it was the worst season since 2007. Familiarity gives us something to build a discussion around.

I was going to tackle Time2RiseUp's question in the mailbag, but I wanted to spin it out into an article because of the trap I see many of us falling into with player evaluations. In case you missed it in the mailbag question thread, here's what he asked:

How effective will Ra'Shede Hageman be?

Honestly sometimes I see Hageman like Peria Jerry. He’s a big dude with a lot of hype. Jerry did not pan out. How do you think Hageman will pan out, and will he help rush the passer?

The fear here is natural. We all watched Peria Jerry's knee explode and we've seen him plod his way through every season since, topping out as a decent rotational piece on the Falcons' defensive line. When we're confronted with another defensive tackle facing questions about whether he'll reach his upside, Jerry springs readily to mind, for good or ill.

I've seen, to grab three examples, Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr compared to Aundray Bruce; Tyson Jackson compared to Jamaal Anderson and Ricardo Allen compared with great hope to one Brent Grimes or Asante Samuel. I'm not suggesting that trying to draw parallels is a fool's errand, because we're all going to do it and there is value in using current players as benchmarks. Yet it's wildly unfair to raise the specter of Bruce for every hyped pass rushing prospect, and it's even more unfair to anticipate that someone like Allen could come close to Grimes or Samuel because their measureables bear a surface resemblance.

I had to go back and edit this in, because I'm not the only one noticing this:

What I'm advocating is that we do our very best to eliminate the comparison as one of our first tools for evaluation. When we're forced to consider a player purely on their own merits, we can evaluate them without the emotional baggage present from shades of draft busts and successes past.

To answer Time2RiseUp directly at lastand many thanks for the thoughtful question—I think Hageman can't help but pan out better than Jerry if he stays healthy. Jerry stood 6'2" and 299 out of college and was known for his quickness, a quickness the catastrophic injury sapped from him. Hageman is bigger (6'6", 310), stronger and well-suited for the 3-4 defensive end role the Falcons are envisioning for him, and even if he's not called upon to rush the passer himself, he'll aid the pass rush by occupying blockers up front. I can't promise you he's going to be a wild success, but I think he's got an excellent chance to surpass Jerry's career almost immediately.

Chime in on player comparisons, if you would.