Sunday, June 3, 2012


Dave Campo can see beyond numbers


“Moneyball” would have us believe that any skilled researcher can predict the future success of an athlete making a big step up in competition primarily by studying his statistical past.

Nonsense. It takes trained sports professionals to make projections that can’t be backed up statistically and aren’t obvious to most of us.

Kansas University defensive coordinator Dave Campo’s evaluation of Arizona State’s Darren Woodson, selected in the second round of the 1992 draft by the Dallas Cowboys, illustrates one way in which figures lie. Campo was one of many who attended Arizona State’s pro day.

“I’m sitting in the room watching tape, and I see this guy flashing across the field, but he’s not making any tackles,” Campo recalled. “He’s a weak-side linebacker, they’re running the ball away from him all the time. They’re not running at him. They’re running away from him. He’s running over there. Well, Arizona State had such a good team that guys were getting tackled before he had a chance. But he’s right there.”

Campo heard others saying things such as, “You know that Woodson kid, I don’t know if he’ll hit anybody. He’s running all around, but I don’t ever see him doing anything. He doesn’t have any statistics.”

Woodson had stats as a sophomore, before foes knew the value of running on the opposite side from which he played.

“I’m watching the tape, and my eyes are lighting up,” Campo said. “And then I’m watching him on the special teams. He’s the first one down.”

Jimmy Johnson, then the Cowboys' head coach and Campo’s boss, had emphasized the need for a big strong safety because the NFC East was loaded with teams that thrived on power football. The Cowboys worked out Woodson as a defensive back.

“Here’s this guy, 218 pounds and 6-2, and he runs a 4.38 (seconds),” Campo said. “So I watched him work out and went back to Jimmy and said, ‘Look, I don’t know if this kid will be a great ball hawk because he’s never been in the secondary. He’s been close to the line of scrimmage all the time.’ But I said he’s got the feet to play in the secondary.”

After his rookie season, Johnson told Campo that Woodson would start at safety the next year, and Campo wasn’t so sure he was ready. Johnson wasn’t swayed, and Woodson retired as the Cowboys’ career leader in tackles.

Campo stressed Johnson deserves the credit because he was the one who pulled the trigger on making Woodson a starter so soon, but the truth is, without Campo, Woodson never would have been a Cowboy.

When a KU defense short on speed, size, Division I experience and hard hitters gets abused this fall, remember Campo can project talent, and that should pay dividends in time.


longhawk 5 years, 11 months ago

Apples and oranges, Tom. Agree 100% about the importance of scouting in football, AND they are important in baseball, to a point. But in baseball, the stats seldom lie. A guy who strikes out all the time and never draws a walk isn't going to start doing the exact opposite in the majors, no matter what the scouts say about him.

KU_cynic 5 years, 11 months ago

Keegan, have you actually read Michael Lewis's book Moneyball, or just sleep through the movie? It's not about statistical prediction of athletic performance, but relying on truly informative data instead of potentially misleading "conventional wisdom." Campo's seemingly out-of-the-scouting-mainstream assessment of Darren Woodson's potential epitomizes "moneyball" thinking: placing a bet on a seemingly undervalued player whom one envisions contributing in a dimension that the rest of the league fails to appreciate.

Bville Hawk 5 years, 11 months ago

I'd be willing to bet you a big sack of fries that Tom has read Moneyball at least once. TK is a baseball guy first.

Doug Cramer 5 years, 11 months ago

Tom - this was a good read...and I agree 100%.

I really hope KU fans fully understand your last sentence. Our defense will likely struggle again this year...due to the lack of physical talent on the D-Line...but in time...Campo should fix that.

We really needed more than just one freshman d-linemen recruited in the 2012 class though...that has me concerned.

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