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On Thursday, I looked at the increase in pick sixes per interception in the NFL. Brian Fremeau asked if that was also going on at the college level, so let’s take a look.

In 2012, there were 159 pick sixes according to cfbstats.com, matching the number provided at Sports-Reference.com. That’s right in line with previous numbers. The table below shows the number of pass attempts, interceptions, and pick sixes in major college football games since 2006, courtesy of cfbstats.com.

YearPick 6INTAttINT RatePick 6 Rt

It’s pretty interesting that the interception rates in college and the NFL are nearly identical. The interception rate in the NFL was 3.1% in 2007 and 2.9% in 2011, just about what it was in college football in those years. And with the exception of the crazy-high Pick Six rate in the NFL in 2012, both leagues see about 10% of all interceptions returned for touchdowns. Unfortunately, I don’t have the data to see if the Pick 6 rate was 5% in the ’50s in college football like it was in the NFL. But my guess is the trend would hold and that there’s an inverse relationship between interception rate and pick six rate.


Yesterday, I asked how many wins a team full of recent draft picks and replacement-level NFL players would fare. I don’t think there’s a right answer to the question, but it might be a more important question than you think (and you’ll see why on Monday). But I have at least one way we can try to estimate how many games such a team would win.

Neil once explained how you can project a team’s probability of winning a game based on the Vegas pre-game spread. We can use the SRS to estimate a point spread, and if we know the SRS of our Replacement Team, we can then figure out how many projected wins such a team would have. How do we do that?

First, we need to come up with a mythical schedule. I calculated the average SRS rating (after adjusting for home field) of the best, second best, third best… and sixteenth best opponents for each team in the NFL from 2004 to 2011. The table below shows the “average” schedule for an average team:

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It’s been awhile, but time for another post in the Thought Experiments category. Assume the following:

  • On May 1st, 2013, an average owner, average general manager and average coach are assigned an expansion team. They are randomly assigned 24 players: one from each of the seven rounds of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 drafts. So this expansion team has a 1-in-32 shot at getting Cam Newton from the 2011 first round and a 1-in-32 chance of getting Green Bay offensive lineman Derek Sherrod.  There’s a 1-in-32 chance the sixth round pick from the 2012 draft lands on the Alfred Morris pocket, but more likely than not Lady Luck will give them a generic sixth rounder. As for the final three players, the team is randomly assigned from each draft class one of the X number of undrafted players that ended up making an opening day roster that year. So while it is technically possible this team could get someone like Vontaze Burfict, it’s much more likely to be a Junior Hemingway, David Douglas or Martell Webb. Finally, assume in this magical world that while random, the 24 picks work out in this team’s favor as far as spreading the roster: they don’t end up with 6 quarterbacks and zero defensive lineman, and instead things are magically balanced.
  • On May 2nd, this team is able to poach anyone on any roster provided that such player is making the veterans minimum. The team can also sign players currently not on any roster, but it must be of the veterans minimum variety. The team can sign anywhere from 29 to 50 of these minimum players, with the spread based on how many of the 24 players from above the team decides to roster (and they can roster more in training camp, but must be at 53 by the start of the season).

Suppose we simulate this process and play out the 2013 season 10,000 different times. On average, how many games does this mean win per season?

One thing that you might want to keep in mind. While some teams have gone 1-15 and the 2008 Detroit Lions went 0-16, those records do not represent the true winning percentages of those teams. If we simulated the 2008 Detroit Lions season 10,000 times, they wouldn’t go 0-160,000. When Neil talked about the Tangotiger Regression Model, he added 11 games of .500 football to get an estimate of a team’s true ability level. That would put the ’08 Lions at a .204 winning percentage, or 3.26 wins in a 16-game season. The Lions also has a Pythagorean record of 2.8-13.2, so perhaps we can say they were a 3-win team that was really unlucky. On the other hand, Brian Burke had those Lions at 1.8 wins and Football Outsiders had them at 2.1 wins.

Of course, there are many differences between the 2008 Lions and our mythical expansion team. Just food for thought.


Good bit of trivia from my buddy Scott Kacsmar: there were 71 interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2012, the highest number in NFL history. Another interesting fact about the 2012 season: just 2.6 interceptions were thrown per 100 attempts, the lowest figure in NFL history.

We already know that the league-wide interception rate has been rapidly decreasing for years, but the significant increase in interceptions returned for touchdowns per interception is an under-reported story. Last year was the year of the Pick Six, but the Pick Six rate (INTs returned for touchdowns per interception) has been on the rise for several years. The graph below shows both the interception rate (100*INTs/Att) in blue (and measured against the left vertical axis) and the Pick Six rate (100*INT TDs/INT) in red (and measured against the right vertical axis):

Pick Six rate
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A closer look at Danny Amendola

Amendola in his element

Amendola in his element.

Few get the statheads talking like Danny Amendola. Bill Barnwell wrote a free-agent book on Amendola in March, where he presented Amendola in the best possible light. Barnwell noted that over the last four years, Bradford has completed 66.5% of his passes aimed at Amendola compared to just 56.8% to all other targets. Barnwell further argued that since Amendola was much more productive in St. Louis than Wes Welker was in Miami, there is a good chance Amendola sees a big, Tom Brady-induced spike when he moves to New England, too.

Scott Kacsmar takes a slightly different view. First, the pro-Amendola argument: since 2010, the Rams are 12-15-1 (.446) when Amendola plays and 4-16 (.200) when he is out. Kacsmar also shows that the Rams averaged 18.9 PPG, 5.8 yards per pass attempt, and 312 yards per game, along with a 5.9% sack rate, in games with Amendola, versus averages of just 12.6, 5.6, 296, and 8.1%, respectively, in games that St. Louis played without Amendola. On the negative side, Kacsmar focused on Amendola’s miserable 8.81 yards-per-reception average, the lowest in history by a wide receiver with at least 100 receptions (by a pretty large margin). Another reason not to be impressed with Amendola’s high catch rate is that 29% of his receptions were “failed completions”1 according to Kacsmar.

Amendola is a unique player in the same sense that Darren Sproles isn’t a traditional running back or Tim Tebow isn’t a traditional quarterback. Amendola’s a wide receiver, but he doesn’t operate the way wide receivers have for much of NFL history. According to Pro Football Focus, Amendola was in the slot on 85% of his routes over the last four years; that’s an enormous number, as even Wes Welker ran routes out of the slot on “only” 73.8% of his routes over that time period.
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  1. These are plays where the player fails to gain a minimum percentage of yards towards a first down (45 percent on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third/fourth down. []

The best drafting teams from 2000 to 2007

In this post I derived the expected value of the contribution of each draft slot based on Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Approximate Value system. You can see the full draft chart here. Once you know what the expected value is for a draft pick, the next step to grading a draft pick is to measure how much actual value was provided. As before, I used the marginal Approximate Value generated by each player in each of his first five years, with the caveat that a player is only credited for his AV after his first two points of AV. Using that formula, Patrick Willis, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Maurice Jones-Drew come in as the three most valuable picks over that time period.

Since 2000, the team with the most amount of draft value in terms of picks was the 2002 Texans. Houston not only received the first pick in each round that year, but the expansion Texans were given several supplemental draft picks as well. The 2007 Raiders and 2000 Browns tied for the second mount amount of value in terms of raw draft picks, but both of those teams wound up with many more whiffs than hits.

The table below lists the best drafting teams from 2000 to 2007. I’ve also broken out each team’s AV above expectation for each year. If you click on any of the values in the columns from 2000 to 2007, you can see the players drafted by the team that year (one side effect of including this information: the columns do not sort correctly).

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The Time Value of Draft Picks

How do you compare the value of a draft pick this year compared to a draft pick next year? NFL teams have often used a “one round a year” formula, meaning a team would trade a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round pick this year for a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd rounder next year. But to my knowledge, such analysis hasn’t evolved into anything more sophisticated than that.

So I decided to come up with a way to measure the time value of draft picks. First, I calculated how much Approximate Value each draft pick provided from 1970 to 2007 during their rookie season. Then, to calculate each player’s marginal AV, I only awarded each player credit for his AV over two points in each year. As it turns out, the player selected first will provide, on average, about 4 points of marginal AV during his rookie year. During his second season, his marginal value shoots up to about 5.5 points of AV, and he provides close to 6 points of marginal AV during his third and fourth seasons. In year five, the decline phase begins, and the first pick provides about 4.7 points of AV. You can read some more fine print here.1

Here’s another way to think of it. The 1st pick provides 4.0 points of marginal AV as a rookie, the same amount the 15th pick provides during his second year, the 17th pick produces during his third year, the 16th pick during his fourth year, and the 8th pick during his fifth year. So the 15th pick this year should provide, on average, about the same value next year as the 1st pick in the 2014 draft (of course, that player might have something to say about that, too).

The graph below shows the marginal AV (on the Y-axis) provided by each draft selection (on the X-axis) in each of their first five years. The graphs get increasingly lighter in color, from black (as rookies) to purple, red, pink, and gray (in year five):
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  1. The charts in this post are “smoothed” charts using polynomial trend lines of the actual data. I have only given draft picks credit for the AV they produced for the teams that drafted them – that’s why the values are flatter (i.e., top picks are less valuable) than they were in this post. Finally, astute readers will note that the draft looks linear in the second half; that’s because if I kept a polynomial trend line all the way through pick 224, some later picks would have more value than some early picks []

I’m usually the one doing the talking, but we’ve got a long off-season ahead of us. I generally advise people interested in becoming writers to write what they want to write about, but it’s also important to give your audience the type of writing they want to read.

This week I looked at a wide range of topics. Monday’s post was about how can teams best take advantage of the rookie salary cap, which fits into the football strategy and theory parts of Football Perspective. On Tuesday, I went all statgeekery on you with a look at the youngest and oldest teams in the NFL last year.

I changed courses on Wednesday and went the player profile route with an in-depth look at Arrelious Benn, while on Thursday I did a social economics-style post when I examined the correlation between birth months and making the NFL. On Friday, I did the sort of data dump that was a specialty at PFR with a post about players who played with the most coaches.

Those are five very different types of posts, and I like to think that there’s generally an wide variety of posts at Football Perspective. But I’d like to make the site as reader-friendly as possible, and I know there are some devoted readers who check in every day. If I can produce content you’re interested in reading about, all the better.

So, how can I improve the site? What would you like to read about? Nothing is off-limits, so make your suggestions in the comments.


I took this Sporcle quiz the other day on receivers to gain 1,000 yards with multiple teams. I did fine, I suppose, naming 22 of the 30 receivers. As I was going through the list, I kept looking at the rows for “Buccaneers, Panthers” and “Panthers, Cowboys” and my brain operated in this way:

Steve Smith never played for the Bucs or Cowboys. Neither did Muhsin Muhammad.”
Patrick Jeffers had a big year in 1999, but that was it for his career.”
“The Panthers have literally never had anyone resembling a competent wide receiver starting across from Smith in as long as I can remember (other than Muhammad).”
Wesley Walls didn’t play for Dallas or Tampa Bay. And I can’t think of a single other Panthers receiver from before 2000.”

“Let me try typing in Smith and Muhammad again.”

After the quiz, I checked the Panthers team page on PFR. The top nine receiving seasons were accomplished by either Smith or Muhammad, but there were in fact two other players to hit the 1,000-yard receiving mark for Carolina. Can you name them? If so, you’re a better man on Panthers wide receiver trivia than me.
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Playing with the most coaches on one team

This man knows a coach when he sees one.

This man knows a coach when he sees one.

During the season, Mike Tanier noted that Shane Lechler has played for eight different coaches while being a member of the Raiders. When I read it, I thought that sounded like the start of a really good trivia question, and I put figuring out the answer to that question on my offseason to-do list. Sadly, the offseason is here.

Lechler and his special teams brother Sebastian Janikowski are two of only four players since 1960 to play for eight different coaches for the same franchise. Both Lechler and Janikowski were selected in the 2000 draft, and they each played under Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, and Dennis Allen.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Jason Hanson, the Lions placekicker since 1874, has seen his share of head coaches come and go, too. The fourth player is Ernie McMillan, a four-time Pro Bowl tackle for the Cardinals in the ’60s and ’70s (and the father of Jets safety Erik McMillan), although he makes the list with an asterisk. McMillan played for Don Coryell in ’73 and ’74, Bob Hollway in ’71 and ’72, Charley Winner from ’66 to ’70 and Wally Lemm for four years before that. But in his rookie season of 1961, the Cardinals had four different head coaches, if you take a liberal definition of the word. St. Louis was coached by Pop Ivy for most of the season, but Chuck Drulis, Ray Prochaska, and Ray Willsey all served as the interim head coaches at the end of the year. In any event, I will include all co-coaches as separate coaches.

The table below shows all players to play under at least five different coaches for the same franchise since 1960. The first year with the team and the last year with a new coach for that team is indicated for each player, and I have taken the inclusive approach when it comes to co-coaches.
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In 2006, Doug looked into how much of a role the month in which you were born could play into your chances for athletic success later in life. Doug didn’t just ponder this out of thin air: a bit more research has been spent on this topic than you might think. Steve Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, found some evidence indicating that “older” kids in the same level of play — older by as much as 365 days, I suppose — tended to be more likely to become professional athletes. Basically, if you’re the oldest kid in your travel soccer team or 8th-grade basketball team, chances are you will be better than the other kids. This leads to a snowball effect, where you might be more likely to receive more personal coaching and your confidence should increase.

J.C. Bradury graphed the birth-month of over 16,000 major league baseball players. Take a look:
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Benn against the Redskins

Benn against the Redskins.

To the casual fan, Arrelious Benn is one of many nondescript wide receivers in the NFL. The Buccaneers selected him in the second round of the 2010 Draft, he gained 862 yards in three seasons, and Tampa Bay just traded him to Philadelphia for a 7th round pick in the 2013 draft.

My curiosity with Benn dates back to his college days. He came to Illinois as a five-star recruit and he gained 676 yards and 2 touchdowns as a true freshman.   While that might not sound impressive, he gained more than twice as many receiving yards as any other player on the team, and his production earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. That 2007 Illini threw the fewest passes in the Big Ten, suppressing Benn’s numbers, but landed in the Rose Bowl based on a run-heavy attack led by Rashard Mendenhall. They were quarterbacked by Juice Williams, a running “quarterback” in name only, and coached by Ron Zook, the two men who would torpedo the Illinois offense over the next two seasons.

As a sophomore, Benn again more than doubled the production of the next best receiver on the Illini: he caught 67 passes for 1,066 yards and ran 23 times for 101 yards. Those numbers were good enough to lead the conference in receiving yards during the regular season, although Minnesota’s Eric Decker passed him in Minnesota’s Bowl game. Illinois didn’t have a Bowl game, as the team imploded and finished 5-7.
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The youngest and oldest NFL teams in 2012

Last August, I looked at the 2011 age-adjusted team rosters. I have reproduced the intro to that post below:

Measuring team age in the N.F.L. is tricky. Calculating the average age of a 53-man roster is misleading because the age of a team’s starters is much more relevant than the age of a team’s reserves. The average age of a team’s starting lineup isn’t perfect, either. The age of the quarterback and key offensive and defensive players should count for more than the age of a less relevant starter. Ideally, you would want to calculate a team’s average age by placing greater weight on the team’s most relevant players.

Using Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value system, I calculated the weighted age of every team in 2012, with the weight for each player being proportionate to his contribution (as measured by AV) to his team. You don’t have to use AV — Danny Tuccitto did an excellent job producing age-adjusted team rosters based on the number of snaps each player saw — but since AV is what I’ve got, AV is what I’ll use.

The table below shows the total AV for each team in 2012. The table is sorted by the team’s average (AV-adjusted) age. I’ve also included the offensive and defensive AV scores and average ages for each team.

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[Special thanks goes out to my Footballguys.com co-writer Maurile Tremblay for his help in co-authoring this piece with me. Any points with which you may disagree are almost certainly due to my error, and not Maurile’s.]

The new NFL collective bargaining agreement that ended the 2011 lockout instituted some pretty big changes to the salary cap. When it comes to roster management, here are three ways the post-2011 NFL differs from how things were under the old CBA:

  • Rookies are now super cheap relative to their production, especially high first-round players (relative to their old cost)
  • Rookie contracts can not be renegotiated until three years after the player is drafted.
  • Over a four-year period, each team must spend 89% of the cap dollars available to them, and the league must spend 99% of the cap dollars available to the 32 teams.

Under the old system, contrary to popular belief, most (if not all) rookies were underpaid relative to their free market value. Then in 2011, the owners and NFLPA decided to rob the rookies to pay veterans even more money under the new CBA. Russell Wilson has three years remaining on his contract and will have an average cap figure of just $817,000 over those three years. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will only cost their teams about 6 million cap dollars each per year from 2013 to 2015. The salary cap in the NFL in 2013 is $123M, making Luck and Griffin fantastic values, and Wilson perhaps the most valuable player in the league.

Wilson's paid in direct proportion to his height

Wilson's paid in direct proportion to his height.

What makes this especially juicy from the perspective of their general managers is that all three players are locked into their deals until 2015. Luck and Griffin actually are struck through 2016, as teams get club-options for a fifth year for the top picks. In Wilson’s case, after the 2014 season, he’ll be facing a contract that would pay him less than a million dollars in 2015 and then a possible franchise tag in 2016, meaning a maximum payout of probably 20 million dollars over two years (the tag in 2012 for quarterbacks was just under $15 million). That puts Wilson in a pretty poor position to bargain for a market deal: he’s going to sacrifice money in exchange for security. This means Seattle will get him for absurdly below-market rates in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and then will still have him on a very generous contract for the next few years after that.

In the case of Luck or Griffin, the Colts and Redskins essentially get a chance to use the tag twice; teams can turn the four-year rookie deals into a five-year deal by paying top-ten picks the average salary of the ten highest-paid players at their position; then the next year the franchise tag would be the average of the top five quarterbacks or a 20% increase on the salary from the previous year. So when they are up for renegotiation after year three, they’re looking at the team “forcing” them to stay for three years at roughly $42 million, with year one bringing just over three million. Luck and Griffin will have a little more bargaining power than Wilson, but not much. There’s no chance either player is going to play for $3 million in 2015 (remember, their cap hit will be a bit higher, but their base salaries will be around $3M in that season), so both will likely give up their freedom (which would be three years away, potentially) for security.
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Wait, how many USC quarterbacks are starting?

Wait, how many USC quarterbacks are starting?

There was a streak in jeopardy in week 17 of the 2012 season. With former Trojan Carson Palmer injured, the Raiders skipped over his former USC teammate, Matt Leinart, and started ex-Ohio State Buckeye Terrelle Pryor at quarterback for the season finale. Since the Chiefs had previously benched Matt Cassel for Brady Quinn, if it wasn’t for Greg McElroy missing the Jets last game against the Bills — which reinserted Mark Sanchez into the starting lineup for New York — USC’s streak of consecutive weeks with a starting quarterback in the NFL would have ended. Instead, the streak is now up to 81 weeks with at least one of Sanchez, Palmer, Cassel and/or Leinart starting.

As impressive as that might sound, it’s not even halfway to the record. You can take a second to think about which school had the longest run with at least one of its former players starting at quarterback, but first, another bit of trivia: I noticed that in week 12 of the 2009 season, Matt Leinart, Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, and Carson Palmer all started. But believe it or not, that’s not a record, either.

In week 13 of the 2000 season, five quarterbacks from the University of WashingtonWarren Moon, Mark Brunell, Damon Huard, Chris Chandler, and Brock Huard — were starting in the NFL. Add in Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf, and seven quarterbacks that played college in the Evergreen State were starting in the NFL that weekend.
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With Anquan Boldin being traded to San Francisco, he’ll have the rare opportunity to win the Super Bowl in consecutive years with different teams. Here’s another bit of trivia: if Boldin makes it back to the Super Bowl, he’ll become just the 11th player to ever make Super Bowls with three different teams. (man, the Anquan Boldin tag at Football Perspective has gotten way more use than I ever expected).

Rod Woodson1995-pit2000-rav2002-rai
Bill Romanowskisfo-1988; 1989den-1997; 19982002-rai
Matt Millenrai-1980; 19831989-sfo1991-was
Ricky Proehlram-1999; 20012003-car2006-clt
Preston Pearson1968-clt1974-pitdal-1975; 1977; 1978
Harry Swayne1994-sdgden-1997; 19982000-rav
Clark Haggans2005-pit2008-crd2012-sfo
John Parrella1993-buf1994-sdg2002-rai
Joe Jurevicius2000-nyg2002-tam2005-sea
Jeff Rutledge1979-ram1986-nyg1991-was

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Kruger takes down Andrew Luck

Kruger takes down Andrew Luck.

Explanation of the RSP Writers Project and my picks in Round 1 and 2

After selecting Josh Freeman, Julio Jones and Brandon Marshall early in the draft, I needed to use my picks in rounds 4 and 5 to build the core of the rest of my team. The two most critical positions I had ignored were left tackle and pass rusher. Fortunately my need largely coincided with what was left: I didn’t see a true difference maker at corner or defensive tackle, so it was easy to focus on 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 ends.

On offense, my choice at left tackle was made easy once Jake Long, Trent Williams, and Tyron Smith went off the board at the end of round four. I had D’Brickashaw Ferguson with those four in my final tier of what I would consider above-average left tackles, and Ferguson ranked second to only Williams. His reputation took a bit of a hit with a a poor 2011 and the Jets general implosion since then, but Ferguson quietly had a nice rebound season last year. He allowed only two sacks in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus, and came in as PFF’s #7 left tackle. He’ll only turn 30 in December, so I think my team can count on him for another five years at least. He’s got size and great athleticism, and keeps himself in good shape, so he seems unlikely to fall off a click as he ages. As the 14th offensive tackle off the board, I think Ferguson represents strong value this late in the draft. He’s capable of being a franchise left tackle, which makes him a pick I can feel comfortable about at the end of the fourth round.
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Football Research Intern

If you’re a reader of this site and in college, chances are this opportunity might interest you.

An NFL team is looking for football research interns for the summer. There is a chance that the position could become full time after the summer if the candidate is outstanding.

All interested candidates should send a resume and cover letter to nflanalyticsintern [at] gmail [dot] com. In the cover letter, please detail any relevant analytics experience and describe one question you would like to study if you had access to an NFL team’s data. Special preference will be given to those with database and/or programming skills.

Best of luck to anyone who applies.


Welker won't have any more "rare" drops in New England.

Welker won't have any more 'rare' drops in New England.

The craziness continues, with Wes Welker signing with the Denver Broncos being the big story of day two of the league year. The Patriots responded by signing Danny Amendola, the least surprising move since Brandon Lloyd joined Josh McDaniels in New England last year. Arguably the biggest move so far this week has been Mike Wallace joining Dolphins, while Greg Jennings still seems likely to move on from Green Bay. Throw in Percy Harvin to Seattle and Anquan Boldin to San Francisco, and we’re seeing a lot of movement among the top receivers this year. Which gives me an opportunity to do a quick data dump on the best receivers to ever switch teams.

In some ways, it’s hard to find a comparable receiver to Welker. He’s been so productive for so long that it’s easy to be unimpressed with the 118 catches, 1,354 yards, and six touchdowns he had last year, but no receiver had ever switched teams after catching more than 101 catches in a season. Only two receivers — Muhsin Muhammad and Yancey Thigpen — gained more receiving yards in a season than Welker did in 2012 and then played for a new team the next year.

But Welker’s amazingly unique numbers are a product of playing in a very pass-friendly environment on a team that threw 641 passes last year. To compare players across systems and eras, I came up with a wide receiver ranking system last month. That will allow us to look at the best receivers to switch teams and not just the ones from the last couple of decades. For some perspective, Welker ranked 8th among wide receivers last season, although that’s without any Tom Brady-adjustment.

The table below contains a lot of information. It shows receivers who added over 200 yards of value over average in Year N and then played for a new team in Year N+1. For each player, I’ve listed his old team, his age in Year N, some traditional statistics, the amount of value added by the receiver, and his rank among wide receivers. Then starting in the “N+1 tm” category, we see his new team, his statistics in the new season, how much value he added in Year N+1 and his rank in that season.
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Mike Wallace dropped Pittsburgh for Miami.

Mike Wallace dropped Pittsburgh for Miami.

Happy New Year to the NFL, which opened for business at 4PM yesterday. It’s been a busy couple of days, as the Seahawks (Percy Harvin) and 49ers (Anquan Boldin) acquired veteran receivers a day before the floodgates opened. The Dolphins made the biggest waves yesterday by signing WR Mike Wallace and ILB Dannell Ellerbe from AFC North heavyweights, and then later released ILB Karlos Dansby and signed OLB Philip Wheeler from the Raiders. The Colts chose to go quantity over quality by signing four different players (G Donald Thomas from New England, OLB/Colin Kaepernick turnstile Erik Walden from Green Bay, T Gosder Cherilus from Detroit, and DE Lawrence Sidbury from Atlanta). The Ravens lost Paul Kruger to Cleveland but did sign former Giants DE Chris Canty.

Tennessee made some noise signing G Andy Levitre from Buffalo and TE Delanie Walker from San Francisco, while the Chiefs picked up 3-4 DE Mike DeVito and TE Anthony Fasano from the AFC East. Chicago helped out Jay Cutler by signing TE Martellus Bennett (Giants) and T Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans), while Sam Bradford will be happy to know that the Rams added TE Jared Cook from Tennessee. The Broncos added guard Louis Vasquez from division-rival San Diego to keep Peyton Manning upright, and are rumored to be after Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. The Eagles won’t win the headlines, but made a couple of interesting signings in NT Isaac Sopoaga (San Francisco) and TE/HB/WR/FB/Chip Kelly chess piece James Casey from Houston. About an hour later, the Eagles added CB Bradley Fletcher (Rams), S Patrick Chung (Patriots) and LB Jason Phillips (Panthers). And there were some releases, with Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo), Nnamdi Asomugha (Philadelphia), Sione Pouha (Jets), and Darrius Heyward-Bey and Michael Huff (Oakland) among the more notable cuts. You can check out Pro-Football-Reference.com’s free agent tracker to stay up to date on the latest signings.

The first few days of the league year provide fans across the country with an opportunity to ring in the new year with a dash of optimism. But how often does adding a veteran or two via trade or free agency land a team in the Super Bowl? The table below lists every notable veteran acquisition1 by the 40 teams to make the Super Bowl since 1993, the start of the Free Agency era in the NFL. The “W/L” column shows whether the team won or lost in the Super Bowl, while the AV column shows how much Approximate Value the player provided in his first season with the new team. The N-1 Tm and N-1 AV columns show where the player came from and how valuable he was in the prior year; the table is sorted by the average of the player’s AV in Years N and N-1.
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  1. Here, notable means having an AV of 4 or greater in Year N. []

Examining Paul Warfield’s career

Warfield played for Woody Hayes, Paul Brown, Don Shula, and John McVay

Warfield played for Woody Hayes, Don Shula, and John McVay.

Paul Warfield has been confounding stat heads for years. Warfield was a rare first-ballot Hall of Fame wide receiver and one of the most athletic and talented wide receivers in history. However, his statistics look downright unimpressive to the modern eye. That’s not too surprising, though, since he played the prime of his career in football’s deadball era for one of its best teams.

I was pretty happy when I noticed that Warfield ranked 16th in my wide receiver ranking project last month; that’s much higher than most (all?) stats-based ranking systems place him, although some would argue that it would still underrate him.

One way to understand Warfield’s statistics is to see just how infrequently his teams passed. The table below shows some of the top wide receivers in football history to enter the league since 1960, including some Warfield contemporaries like Gary Garrison, Fred Biletnikoff, Harold Carmichael, and Gene A. Washington. While career numbers are interesting, you can often learn more by just looking at a player’s best seasons.

The table below shows the top 7 seasons for each wide receiver (based on the formula from this post) and how many pass attempts per game his team attempted during those seasons:
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Quarterback Age Curves

The master and the puppet?

The master and the puppet?

Last summer, I looked at the age curves for running backs in an attempt to find out if there is a magical cliff at age 30 (there isn’t). But when I wrote about Josh Freeman last week, I started thinking about quarterback age curves.

The first step in trying to measure the aging patterns of quarterbacks is to figure out a sample to analyze. I decided to look at all quarterbacks who entered the league since 1970 and have since retired. I further limited my sample to quarterbacks who had at least three seasons of above-average play based on this system. That brought us to a group of 77 quarterbacks, from quarterbacks like Jon Kitna, Jay Fiedler, and Dan Pastorini to Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino.

While before I graded quarterbacks based on how much value over average they provided, that baseline is too high for this type of post. Instead, I gave quarterbacks credit for their value over replacement, defined as 75% of the league average. I then calculated the best three seasons of value over replacement (VOR) for each quarterback’s career to get a sense of their peak level of play. The last step was to divided their VOR in each season of their career by their peak value. Do this for each of the 77 quarterbacks, and we can get a sense of quarterback aging patterns.

There is another thing to consider when coming up with an age curve: The intuitive way is to sum up each quarterback’s value (relative to his peak) in each season and divide that total by the number of quarterbacks active at that age. Another way is to divide that total by 77, the number of quarterbacks in the study. The former method will make really young and really old ages look closer to average than they really are, but I have decided to include both methods in the picture below. The blue line represents the average performance based on the number of quarterbacks actually playing in the NFL that season; the red line shows the aging patterns when you divide by the total number of passers in the group.
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Better than Elway?

Better than Elway?

Today’s title gives a pretty good hint as to what today’s post is about. The table below shows the career Approximate Value for the top 50 players whose last game happened to be a Super Bowl victory. For reference, I’ve also includes things like number of games, Pro Bowls, 1st-team All-Pro selections, and number of seasons starting.

In addition to Lewis, Matt Birk of the Ravens also joins the list, and for the heck of it, I’ve included Anquan Boldin, who has hinted that he might retire. Full disclosure: I defined a player as “retiring after winning the Super Bowl” if his last season came during a year in which he played for the eventual Super Bowl champ. So Wes Chandler, who played for the ’88 49ers but retired in mid-season, is included in this list even though he shouldn’t be. Ditto Michael Dean Perry, who was on the Broncos in 1997 but actually finished the season with the Chiefs. I could filter out all the Chandlers and Perrys of the world, but my time is better spent elsewhere (for that matter, just about every person’s time is better spent elsewhere), and therefore I’ll present the full, overinclusive list instead of spending an extra hour of time fixing it and possibly not presenting it at all.

The table is sorted by the Career AV column; the AV column shows the player’s AV in his final season.
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Emmitt knows the point of a good fullback.

Emmitt knows the point of a good fullback.

Ever wonder what percentage of Super Bowl champions had a Pro Bowl quarterback? Can you get by without a star-studded secondary? The table below shows the number of Pro Bowlers made at each position for each Super Bowl champion.

As it turns out, 30 of 47 Super Bowl champions saw their quarterback made the Pro Bowl. That doesn’t include the 2012 Ravens, as Joe Flacco was not a Pro Bowl selection, but it does include the ’69 Chiefs, the only team with two quarterbacks to make the Pro Bowl (Len Dawson and Mike Livingston). The Ravens did have two Pro Bowl running backs, though (Ray Rice and Vonta Leach), joining the ’93 Cowboys (Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston) and the ’72 and ’73 Dolphins (Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris) as the only Super Bowl champs with multiple Pro Bowl running backs.

Arguably the least represented position is cornerback, which might be relevant to yesterday’s post: the average Super Bowl champion had just 0.45 Pro Bowl cornerbacks, the lowest average among positions that always have multiple starters (as opposed to defensive tackles or inside linebackers). Both Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams made the Pro Bowl for the 2010 Packers, but eight of the last nine Super Bowl champions failed to place a single cornerback in the Pro Bowl in that season. The full table, below:
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My thoughts on trading Darrelle Revis

There are four things the Jets could do with Darrelle Revis.

Option 1: Trade him before the draft to the team (not in the AFC East or in New York) willing to offer the most.

Option 2: Trade him during the five-month period after the draft but before the trading deadline, under the assumption that Revis will be able to fetch more in return once he is healthy and playing at his old level (assumption #2). [Update: As pointed out to me on twitter, the Jets will also incur the $9M penalty discussed in Option 3 if Revis is traded after June 1st.]

Option 3: Have Revis play out his contract, and then watch him sign with another team in the off-season (or enter a bidding war and try to win Revis on the open market). In return, the Jets will receive a compensatory draft pick, roughly the 100th pick in the 2015 draft. And, since Revis was given an $18M bonus on a six-year deal in 2011 — a deal that Revis has the option of voiding after this season — the Jets will also incur a nine million dollar cap penalty in 2014.

Option 4: Re-sign Revis to a mega deal now. The Jets will get a slight discount off the enormous contract Revis would get on the open market based on the questions about his knee and the fact that he’s due to make “only” $9M in 2012.

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On Tuesday, I discussed the RSP Football Writers Project, a 32-team start-up draft of every player in the NFL.  I was assigned the 32nd pick, which does bring with it one advantage.  In order to balance the values assigned with the random draft order, the selection picks for the third round is “reversed”, a common fantasy football technique known as 3rd Round Reversal.  So while I picked last in round one after 18 quarterbacks had been drafted, I got to pick first in rounds two and three.

As you now know, I drafted Josh Freeman and Julio Jones with picks 32 and 33.  At 65, there were several ways I could go.

  • I think it’s hard to overestimate the value of a great passing game, so adding a receiver or tight end isan attractive option. That’s doubly true when Brandon Marshall and Aaron Hernandez were still available. Marshall was my highest-ranked receiver from last year and is relatively young; he turns 29 this month. Hernandez is 23 and is an incredible asset in the passing game.
  • If you think of the big positions in the NFL as quarterback, pass rusher, and left tackle, then you probably want to fill those slots as quickly as possible. At left tackle, Duane Brown, Joe Thomas, Matt Kalil, and Nate Solder are gone. Michael Roos is a solid pick, but at 31 in October, does he fit my model of fielding a young team? Ryan Clady was a player I might have taken, but he was selected just a few picks before I was up. I didn’t see an elite player available, so I crossed this off the list (a few picks later, Matt Waldman selected Russell Okung.)
  • On the pass-rusher front, Von Miller, Aldon Smith, Clay Matthews, Cameron Wake, Jason Pierre-Paul, DeMarcus Ware, Charles Johnson are all gone, as are 3-4 defensive ends J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell, Muhammad Wilkerson and Justin Smith. While there were some attractive options out there, my hope is one of them will be around when I pick again. The most interesting option was Mario Williams, a player I really wanted to take, but his struggles in 2012 were too significant to overlook.

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Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Don Hutson is down with era adjustments.

I’ve written several posts about how to grade wide receivers and did a three-part series on one ranking system two weeks ago. Grading wide receivers requires one to adjust for era, but there are many different ways to do that.

Calvin Johnson caught 122 passes last year for 1,964 yards and five touchdowns. In 1973, Harold Carmichael had 67 receptions, 1,116 yards and nine scores. Which season was better? You might be inclined to think Johnson’s season was much better regardless of era, but both receivers led their respective leagues in both receptions and receiving yards. But let’s think about it another way.

In 1973, all the players on the 26 teams in the NFL combined for a total of 4,603 catches and 58,009 receiving yards. That means Carmichael was responsible for 1.46% of all receptions and 1.92% of all receiving yards. Of course, with only 26 teams, we need to multiply those numbers by 26/32 make for an apples-to-apples comparison of the modern environment. If we want to transport Carmichael into 2012, that means he needs to be credited with 1.18% of all receptions and 1.56% of all receiving yards accumulated last year. That would give him 128 catches and 1,970 receiving yards, and thanks to recording 1.93% of all receiving touchdowns in 2012, 14.6 touchdowns.

This analysis is actually unfair to active players, as there are more three-, four-, and five-wide receiver sets than ever before. Elroy Hirsch gained 1,495 receiving yards in 12 games — an outstanding rate of production in any era — but that translates to an absurd 2,667 receiving yards in 2012. In Don Hutson’s magical 1942 season, after multiplying by 10/32, he gained 2.3% of the league’s receptions, 2.8% of the receiving yards, and 4.9% of the touchdowns — for a 254/3501/37 stat line.
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Matt Waldman and Sigmund Bloom are once again running the RSP Football Writers Project this off-season. Last year, a salary cap value was assigned to each player and we were asked to assemble our team within the confines of a salary cap. You can see my team here, but my basic philosophy was to invest heavily in building an elite passing offense. One of the questions we had to answer was who were our stars and why did we pick them? I wrote:

Peyton Manning is the key. With an elite quarterback and competent weapons, you can just about pencil your team in for the playoffs. With Jimmy Graham and Victor Cruz, I’ve got one player who ranked in the top three in receptions and one in the top three in receiving yards in 2011. Those three can form the cornerstone of the offense for the next three-to-five years.

This year, the RSP Football Writers Project (you can see the draft recap here or follow the picks on twitter here) is being run as a 32-team start-up draft with fantasy football style serpentine order that includes a third-round reversal. Trades are not allowed and the player pool will consist of veterans only (i.e., no players available in the 2013 draft).

We were told the draft order was random, although I choose to believe that I was assigned pick #32 because of my performance in last year’s project. Having the 32nd and 33rd picks in the draft placed me in a unique position, and I figured I’d explain my team-building methods here.
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Smith kept a low profile during his playing days.

Smith kept a low profile during his playing days.

Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2011. He was cut early in the process, failing to be one of the 26 semifinalists selected. A year later, he again failed to make the cut to 26, and was shut out at the same stage a few months ago, too.

To the extent that the Hall of Fame is supposed to mirror the consensus view, Smith’s absence from Canton is justified. But that’s only because he’s tragically underrated. If you take a normative view of how the Hall of Fame should operate, then the lack of traction Smith’s case has made is downright appalling.

No wide receiver of his caliber has ever been so overlooked. Even Art Monk was a finalist for the HOF every single year he was eligible until being inducted in 2008. Ditto Cris Carter, who was a finalist the first five years he was eligible before being selected for the Class of 2013. Tim Brown has been a finalist each of the first four years in which he’s been eligible. Smith, on the other hand, appears to have fallen through Canton’s cracks.

When I came up with my era-adjusted career rankings, Smith came in as the 12th best wide receiver in history. The issue with Smith has never been production but perception. Let’s go through the reasons Smith’s been overlooked.
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Griffin against the Sooners.

Griffin against the Sooners.

This week, I looked at the best college quarterback seasons in 2012 and over the last eight years. Today I’m going to do a quick data dump on the top passing performances by a college quarterback since 2005. I’ll be using the same formula as I did before, so check there if you want to read the fine print. As before, the data below is courtesy of cfbstats.com.

I’m not too surprised to see Geno Smith‘s game last year come in as the top game over the last eight years. And seeing Robert Griffin III come in with the third best passing game since 2005 isn’t too surprising, either. He threw for 479 yards and 4 touchdowns — including a memorable game-winner — on just 34 passes against the #5 team in the country. But #2 on the list is a game I doubt many remember. UCLA’s Drew Olson put together one of the craziest stat lines you’ll ever see in a 45-35 victory over Arizona State. Olson threw just 27 passes but racked up 510 passing yards and 5 touchdowns, en route to a ridiculous 21.5 ANY/A average. A future Jacksonville Jaguar had a big game for Olson, but it wasn’t Maurice Jones-Drew; Marcedes Lewis caught 7 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

The full list of the top 400 games, below:
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