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Turner describing a route. I think.

Turner describing a route. I think.

With Norv Turner, you know what you’re going to get. Turner was fired in San Diego after the Chargers failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three years, but as usual, Turner was able to find a nice landing spot. He’ll be the Browns offensive coordinator in 2013, which will mark his 29th straight year in the NFL. Turner started as a receivers coach with the Rams in 1985 and hasn’t been out of work for very long ever since.

And while he has a reputation for having great running games, he also has habit of sending his receivers down the field. That’s no accident. Ernie Zampese, a longtime assistant under Don Coryell, became the Rams offensive coordinator in 1987, and Turner’s teams have been running a variation of the vertical Coryell/Zampese system ever since.

I ranked all players (minimum 500 receiving yards) in yards per reception in each year since Turner was united with Zampese in ’87. In six of those seasons, one of five different Turner receivers led the NFL in yards per reception. In addition, Turner’s top receiver (in terms of YPR) finished in the top five in that metric thirteen more times. The table below shows the rank of the highest-ranked receiver (in terms of YPR) in Turner’s offense in each of the last 26 years.
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If I throw a spiral, I pledge to use one challenge in the first quarter

If I throw a spiral, I pledge to use one challenge in the first quarter.

Marvin Lewis has coached the Bengals for ten seasons. To his credit, Lewis has helped resurrect the worst franchise of the 1990s; on the other hand, Lewis has not won a playoff game in ten years with the Bengals. That’s unheard of in this era where coaches are expected to win and win big right away. No other active coach has gone even five straight seasons with his current franchise without a playoff victory. At the end of the 2012 year, four coaches — Andy Reid in Philadelphia, Jim Schwartz in Detroit, and Norv Turner in San Diego — had gone four straight years, and Reid and Turner were both fired after the season. Schwartz was given a longer leash after he inherited an 0-16 team, but he is now on the hot seat. Only three others coaching at the end of 2012 had gone even three straight years for the same team without a playoff win — Buffalo’s Chan Gailey, Mike Shanahan in Washington, and Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona. Shanahan made the playoffs last year but lost, while Gailey and Whisenhunt were both replaced.1

Prior to the Super Bowl era, there was only one playoff game a year (other than playoff games to break ties). Since 1966, Lewis is one of just two coaches to coach one team for a decade and fail to win a playoff game.2 The 11th, the elder Jim Mora, was fired by the New Orleans Saints in his 11th year after a 2-6 start. The table below shows each coach since 1966 who was the head coach for the same team for five straight years and failed to win a playoff game during that stretch. The “First Yr” and “Last Yr” columns show the first and last years of the streaks, not of the coach’s tenure. Coaches who were fired in the middle of their last season are marked by an asterisk, while coaches whose reign started in mid-season (but who are treated as if they coached the entire season) are marked with a “+” sign.
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  1. Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier technically meet the requirement, too, but they only coached for the second half of the season in 2010. []
  2. If you want to look before the Super Bowl era, there were two longer streaks. Steve Owen was the Giants head coach from 1931 to 1953. He compiled a 151-100-17 record and won two championships with New York, but those were the only two seasons he won a playoff game. The last fifteen years of his coaching career he did not win a playoff game. Bears owner/coach George Halas did not win a playoff game from 1947 to 1962. That was a stretch of fourteen seasons (he did not coach in ’56 or ’57), and it only included one playoff loss. []
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Great Linebackers Playing Together II

One of the many great pairs of Bears linebackers

One of the many great pairs of Bears linebackers.

Four years ago, I wrote version 1 of this article. With Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis retiring, I thought it would be fun to revisit the topic.

This post is NOT a look at the greatest linebacker groups ever. Instead, this post seeks to identify teams that had a bunch of great linebackers playing together while those players were in their primes.

The first thing we need to do is rate the linebackers. I used PFR’s Approximate Value system, which assigns a value to measure the approximate contribution of each player in each season since 1950. I then analyzed each player’s single-season AV score to come up with a base rating for each linebacker.1 It’s always difficult figuring out how to grade a player’s career, as you need to balance career length with peak production. I decided to average the best five years (they need not be consecutive) for every linebacker since 1950 to come up with a “peak AV rating” for each linebacker. Then I adjusted each linebacker’s peak AV rating for each season of his career depending solely on his age. That age adjusted score is the rating I’m giving each linebacker for each season of play, not his actual AV grade.2
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  1. One other note: I applied an AFL qualifier for players in the earlier days of the AFL. []
  2. If you used the actual AV score, you would essentially be compiling a list of the best defenses of all time and little more. []
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Which NFL teams draft from which colleges?

[Click here for Part II, which focuses on more recent drafts.]

The Steelers found lots of players from Pittsburgh, but not this one.

The Steelers found lots of players from Pittsburgh, but not this one.

Gregg Rosenthal on NFL.com noted that both the Patriots and Buccaneers have eight former Rutgers players on each of their rosters. With former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano coaching in Tampa Bay, seeing Scarlet Knights pop up in Florida isn’t too surprising. With Belichick, you can trace the Piscataway-Foxboro connection to the fact that Belichick has long been an admirer of Schiano’s program and that his son was a member of the Rutgers football team.

In the 2013 draft, Belichick selected three players from Rutgers — cornerback Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon, and linebacker Steve Beauharnais. The Patriots were one of two teams to draft three players from one college. Down in Miami, the Dolphins selected three Florida Gators, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, running back Mike Gillislee, and kicker Caleb Sturgis.

It’s not unusual for teams to get smitten with the Gators program. In the last 25 years, only once has a team selected four players from the same college. That happened in 2003, when Chicago drafted the following players from Gainesville: quarterback Rex Grossman, defensive back Todd Johnson, and defensive tackles Ian Scott and Tron LaFavor.

Which team has selected the most players from one school? As it turns out, there’s a two-way tie. 2013 will mark the 77th season for the Rams, who spent their first nine years in Cleveland and their last eighteen in St. Louis. But the middle fifty years were spent in Los Angeles (or Anaheim), and the franchise has drafted 45 players from UCLA. The other team to draft 45 players from one school also had a local connection. The Steelers used to go to the Pittsburgh well repeatedly, although they have selected only Panther in the last 20 drafts. You can view the 90 Rams/Bruins and Steelers/Rams draftees here.
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Memorial Day

Pat  Tillman

Pat Tillman.

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.
Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC

Today is a day that we as Americans honor and remember those who lost their lives protecting our country. As my friend Joe Bryant says, it’s easy for the true meaning of this day to get lost in the excitement of summer and barbecues and picnics. But that quote helps me remember that the things I enjoy today are only possible because those before me made incredibly selfless sacrifices. And since this is a football blog, I thought I’d take the time to remember the many football players who have lost their lives defending our country.

The most famous, of course, is Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety who chose to quit football to enlist in the United States army. On April 22, nine years ago, Tillman died in Afghanistan. In Vietnam, we lost both Bob Kalsu and Don Steinbrunner. You can read their stories here. Hall of Famers Roger Staubach, Ray Nitschke, and Charlie Joiner were three of the 28 NFL men to serve in the military during that war.

An incredible 226 men with NFL ties served in the Korean War, including men like Night Train Lane and Don Shula. But it was World War II that claimed the lives of 21 former NFL players.

I first encountered the list below from Sean Lahman, identifying those 21 players.

Jack Chevigny, former coach of the Cardinals, and John O’Keefe, an executive with the Eagles, were also World War II casualties. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has chronicled the stories of these men, too. Lummus received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Iwo Jima, and you can read more about his sacrifice here.

Let me close with some more words from Father Dennis Edward O’Brien.

What is a Veteran?

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.

Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg – or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.

You can’t tell a vet just by looking.

He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She – or he – is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another – or didn’t come back AT ALL.

He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat – but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other’s backs.

He is the parade – riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket – palsied now and aggravatingly slow – who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That’s all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot, “THANK YOU”.

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Over at Footballguys.com, I identified which quarterback statistics are repeatable and which ones are most likely to regress to the mean. I also ran a regression using touchdown length as my input and future touchdowns as my output.

From 1990 to 2011, 188 different quarterbacks started at least 14 games and thrown 300+ passes in one year, and then attempted at least 300 passes for the same team the next season. After analyzing the lengths of each touchdown pass for those quarterbacks, I discovered the following:

  • For every one-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.70 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every two-to-five-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.56 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every six-to-ten-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.77 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 11-to-20-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.70 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 21-to-30-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.22 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 31-to-50-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.33 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 50+ yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.33 touchdowns in Year N+2

If a team throws touchdowns from inside the red zone, that reveals an offensive philosophy that is good for your fantasy quarterback. On the other hand, 21+ yard touchdowns might make the highlight feels, but are very unpredictable from year to year. What does that mean for 2013?

You can view the full article here.

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Bambi shouldered much of the Chargers passing offense.

Bambi shouldered much of the Chargers passing offense.

Seven years ago, Doug wrote this post analyzing wide receivers by team receiving yards. That post was overdue for an update for three reasons: (1) it was written seven years ago; (2) Doug only went back to 1978, while we now can go back to 1932; and (3) I think using Adjusted Catch Yards (which gives receivers 5 additional yards for every reception and 20 additional yards for every touchdown) is better than just using receiving yards.

For every year of every receiver’s career, I computed the percentage of his team’s Adjusted Catch Yards that he accounted for. I then averaged together each receiver’s 6 best six seasons according to that metric, and ignored all wide receivers who have played in fewer than six seasons. The results are listed below for the 161 receivers to hit the 25% mark, along with the six years selected for each receiver. As always, you can use the search box to find your favorite receiver, and the table is sortable, too.
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Smith throws a pass in between checking twitter.

Smith throws a pass in between refreshing Twitter.

As Jason Lisk has pointed out, quarterbacks drafted first overall tend to be much more successful than other quarterbacks, even those drafted just a few picks later. If a quarterback is an elite prospect — think John Elway or Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck (the Colts got three of those for one Jeff George) — he’ll go first overall, while lesser-skilled quarterbacks might get “overdrafted” because of the position they play. There are counter-examples, of course — think Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008 — but I agree with Jason on the general theory.

One could argue that if you group together all quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds (after removing the top five or ten picks), you won’t find any significant relationship between draft slot and performance. That’s not where this post is going, though. Instead I’ll take a narrower view and note that Geno Smith became the 44th quarterback drafted in the second half of the first round or the first half of the second round since 1978. Those cut-offs should give us a good look at quarterbacks ignored by teams picking in the top half of the first round but quarterbacks who were otherwise good enough to be drafted relatively early. This analysis generally applies to EJ Manuel, too, although he technically misses the cut-off as the 16th pick of the first round. Once we leave out the quarterbacks drafted since 2009 — Brandon Weeden, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Josh Freeman, and Pat White — we’re left with 36 quarterbacks.

The table below shows each of those quarterbacks, along with the year they were drafted, the round, the overall pick, and the team that selected them. How did they turn out? I’ve included their number of seasons starting, number of games and games started, career passing yards and passing touchdowns, and also their number of Super Bowl wins, Super Bowl appearances, and Pro Bowls. The final row shows the median for each category (and for the last three columns, the average). Obviously this will shortchange some of the active quarterbacks, but you get the general idea.
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Last night, I recorded a podcast with my fellow Footballguys staffers Sigmund Bloom and Matt Waldman. You can listen to it here.

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Woodson forces a key incompletion.

Woodson forces a key incompletion.

Charles Woodson is back in Silver and Black. Woodson was drafted by Oakland with the 4th pick in the 1998 Draft and had a very good eight-year run with the Raiders. But he saw experienced even more success with the Packers, and the two biggest highlights of his career — winning the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2009 and Super Bowl XLV — came during his time in Green Bay. Woodson has had a star-studded career, beating Peyton Manning for the Heisman Trophy in 1997 and being selected to eight Pro Bowls in fifteen years in the NFL.

Now the real question? Where does Woodson rank among players who returned to their original team? I’m going to institute a five-year rule on the amount of time that must be spent away from the first franchise, which both narrows down the list and meets the spirit of the post. Otherwise we’ll have to include people like Jason Taylor was in Miami from 1997 to 2007, Washington in 2008, Miami in 2009, the Jets in 2010, and the Dolphins again in 2011. Instead, the list will be dominated by one franchise, which holds my top three spots. See if you can figure it out before you get to the bottom. And my apologies for not putting this in a slideshow.

#10: Herschel Walker, Dallas Cowboys (1986-1989; 1996-1997)

Walker is remembered for the Herschel Walker trade, which helped the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 1992, 1993, and 1995. Walker returned in ’96, but alas, Dallas’ window had already been closed by then. It’s a shame that Walker’s production is not how his career is defined, because he was a Hall of Fame caliber back. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982, Walker joined the USFL and led the league with 1,812 rushing yards in 1983. Two years later, Walker had an even more dominant season for the New Jersey Generals: he rushed for 2,411 yards and 21 touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 467 yards. Walker then joined the Cowboys and gained 5,199 yards from scrimmage in his first three years, the second highest total in the league over that span behind Eric Dickerson. That prompted the Herschel Walker trade to the Vikings, where Walker did not prove to be the player to put the Vikings over the top in the NFC. Walker spent time with the Eagles and Giants before a 34-year-old Walker joined the Cowboys for two throwaway seasons.

#9: Earnest Byner, Cleveland Browns (1984-1988; 1994-1995)
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Wherefore Art Thou Fullback?

No average fullback.

No average fullback.

When you think of the fullback in today’s game, you probably think of a player like Vonta Leach, widely regarded as the best blocking back in the NFL. There are also the H-Back/receiving fullback types, like Marcel Reece or James Casey, and the rushing fullbacks like Le’Ron McClain, Jacob Hester, and Mike Tolbert. And it’s the fullbacks who double as goal line threats like John Kuhn and Jed Collins who get the most attention from fantasy players. But the fullback position was not always so specialized.

In fact, fullback used to be the glamor spot in the backfield, and that’s the position played by Marion Motley, Dan Towler, Tank Younger, Joe Perry, Alan Ameche, John Henry Johnson, Rick Casares, and the great Jim Brown. Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung both played fullback in Green Bay, while Keith Lincoln and Cookie Gilchrist were great fullbacks in the AFL. In 1966, Minnesota fullback Bill Brown led the NFL in carries. That wasn’t unusual, as fullbacks were key parts of rushing attacks in that decade: the four leading rushers of the ’60s — Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Don Perkins, and Dick Bass — were all fullbacks. In 1965, fullback Tom Nowatzke went 4th overall in the AFL Draft while Ken Willard (a future four-time Pro Bowler) went second overall in the NFL Draft… just ahead of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.

The ’70s were dominated by great fullbacks, as future Super Bowl MVPs Larry Csonka, John Riggins, and Franco Harris were among the game’s best players. And while lacking in star power, Sam Cunningham, Mark van Eeghen, and Pete Johnson were all Pro Bowl-caliber players and key parts of their team’s offenses, too. As the passing game opened up after 1978, the role of the fullback changed. William Andrews was the throwback, but Roger Craig and James Wilder entered the league as fullbacks at a time when the position was evolving into a more specialized role, and had their best seasons after switching to halfback. In Wilder’s case, Tampa Bay switched to a two-tight end offense to get Jerry Bell and Jimmie Giles on the field (and removing running back Mel Carver from the field was an added bonus). For Craig, he played fullback when he was joined in the backfield with Wendell Tyler and Joe Cribbs and halfback when Tom Rathman replaced them.

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The Most Pass-Happy Coaches in NFL History

Belichick checks to see where he is on the list.

Belichick checks to see where he is on the list.

Yesterday, I looked at the most pass-happy active head coaches and offensive coordinators in the NFL. If you’ve been a loyal reader of my previous posts on Game Scripts, you understand the methodology I’ve used today to grade each coaches. The quick summary is I’ve come up with the term “Game Scripts” to determine the average points margin over each of the 3600 seconds in each game; from there, I also came up with Game Scripts scores for each season.  If you then take each coach’s pass/run ratio, adjust for the league average pass/run ratio, and then adjust for Game Scripts, then you can determine each coach’s passing identity.  I’ve done this for every season since 1940.

The table below lists the 252 coaches I have in my database who have been either a head coach or an offensive coordinator for at least four seasons. I suggest using the search box to find your favorite coaches, but as always, all columns are sortable, too. In the table below, the number of HC/OC seasons includes all seasons, but the games, wins, losses, ties, winning percentage, and wins over .500 columns all include only the coach’s records as a head coach. The Game Script column shows each coach’s average Game Scripts average over each season, while the “P/R” column does the same for pass/run ratio.  The next three columns are all indexes centered around 100. The “SCRIPT” column is the Game Scripts rating, the “PASS” column is the Pass/Run Ratio rating, and the Pass Identity column is a combination of the two columns. (You can read some of the other Game Scripts articles for more explanation).  Based on his time in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, Joe Philbin comes in as the most pass-happy coach, but that number seems likely to decline the longer he coaches. George Seifert built his reputation as the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, but having Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice turned him into a pass-friendly coach. As for the next two men on the list, modern NFL fans need no further explanation.
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Which coaches are the most pass happy?

Mike  Smith checks the score, calls for a pass.

Mike Smith checks the score, calls for a pass.

One reason I came up with the concept of Game Scripts was to identify the most pass-happy coaches. Remember, a team’s Game Script score is simply their average scoring differential over each second of every game. Last year, the Falcons were the most pass-happy team in the NFL after adjusting for Game Scripts; Atlanta had the 5th highest Game Script (average lead of 3.6 points) and the 7th highest Pass/Run Ratio (63.0%). To put that in perspective, none of the other top 16 teams in Game Scripts had a Pass/Run Ratio of even sixty percent. The Falcons used to be run-heavy, of course, but as Michael Turner aged while Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White matured, they’ve become a passing team.

There will be 64 head coaches and offensive coordinators in 2013; I went back and looked at every season those coaches were either head coaches or offensive coordinators in the NFL.1 Two head coaches — Gus Bradley in Jacksonville and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia — have never been a head coach or offensive coordinator at the NFL level. In addition, the following seven offensive coordinators will be entering those roles for the first time, too: Harold Goodwin (Arizona), Nathaniel Hackett (Buffalo), Adam Gase (Denver), Pep Hamilton (Indianapolis), Jedd Fisch (Jacksonville), Doug Pederson (Kansas City), and Dowell Loggains (Tennessee). The table below shows the career Game Scripts averages, Pass/Run Ratios, and Pass Identities for the other 55 head coaches/offensive coordinators entering 2013.

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  1. At least, according to my database. I won’t have missed any head coaching years, but it’s possible I’ve missed some seasons where a coach was also an offensive coordinator. []
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Over at Footballguys.com, I analyzed how the fantasy value of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends have changed since 1990. The NFL is a very different beast than it was 23 years ago, but you might be surprised to see what that means for fantasy football. To measure value, I examined the VBD curves for each of the four major positions in fantasy football.

For those unfamiliar with VBD, you can read Joe Bryant’s landmark article here. The guiding principle is that the value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position. This means that in a league that starts 12 quarterbacks, each quarterback’s VBD score is the difference between his fantasy points and the fantasy points scored by the 12th best quarterback. The cut-offs at the other positions are 12, 24, and 36, for tight ends, running backs, and wide receivers, respectively.

The NFL in 2013 won’t closely resemble how the league looked in 1990, but what does that mean for fantasy football? To determine that, we need to see if VBD has evolved with the rest of the football statistics. Let’s start with a graph displaying number of fantasy points scored by the last starter at each position since 1990. As you can see, quarterback scoring has risen significantly over the last two decades, and the production of the 12th tight end has nearly doubled over that time period.

Worst Starter Since 1990

You can see the full article here.

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Longest Streaks without a 1,000-yard rusher

Two weeks ago, I looked at the longest streaks where a team failed to have a player rush for 100 yards. Richie asked me if I could run the numbers on the longest streaks without a 1,000-yard rusher. The longest active streak in the NFL belongs to the Detroit Lions, who have not boasted a 1,000-yard rusher since Kevin Jones rushed for 1,133 yards as a rookie in 2004. Will Reggie Bush or Mikel Leshoure end that streak in 2013? Probably not.

It’s hard to look at these streaks across NFL history. For example, New York entered the NFL in 1925 and no Giant rushed for 1,000 yards until Ron A. Johnson in 1970. The Lions didn’t have a 1,000-yard rushing in their first 41 years, either. But we can look at the longest streaks that starter after the AFL-NFL merger. The modern Lions are the 12th team to go eight straight years without a 1,000 yard rusher over the last 43 years. As the longest streak? Well now we know why Miami drafted three running backs in consecutive rounds in 1996.

TeamFirst YrLast YrYrsStreak Breaker
MIA1979199517Karim Abdul-Jabbar
CLE1986200416Reuben Droughns
GNB1979199416Edgar Bennett
NYG1973198412Joe Morris
MIN1982199110Terry Allen
NOR1990199910Ricky Williams
NYJ1986199510Adrian Murrell
KAN199220009Priest Holmes
RAI198619949Harvey Williams
DET200520128--
DET197219798Billy Sims
NYJ197619838Freeman McNeil
PIT198419918Barry Foster

Insert obligatory Dan Marino comment here.

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Green Bay didn’t use a first round pick on a running back, but the Packers did spend a second round pick on Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and a fourth round pick on UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin.  How much weight should we put on draft status when one team drafts two running backs just a couple of rounds apart?  One school of thought is that the Packers liked both players and are maximizing their odds of finding a star; another is that Green Bay prefers Lacy and wants him to win the job, since he was their first choice.  Here’s another thing to consider, courtesy of my good buddy Sigmund Bloom: the Packers traded down to grab Lacy and traded up to draft Franklin, indicating that perhaps the Packers were higher on Franklin than you might think.

How rare is it for teams to double dip at the running back position like this? That depends on how you want to categorize what the Packers did. I think a reasonable comparison would be to look at all teams that:

  • Did not draft a running back in the first round but drafted one in the second or third rounds (this excludes combinations like Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington); and
  • Then drafted a different running back within the next two rounds

Since 1970, only 34 teams have met those criteria, meaning this is a strategy employed roughly three times every four years. In three instances, a team drafted three running backs that met those two criteria, and we’ll deal with them at the end of this post. I’m going to exclude three teams that drafted fullbacks after selecting halfbacks, as the 2008 Lions (drafted Jerome Felton after Kevin Smith), 2003 Ravens (Ovie Mughelli after Musa Smith), and 1999 Dolphins (Rob Konrad after J.J. Johnson) don’t really fit the intent of the post. That leaves us with 28 pairs of running backs. The table below lists each pair. On the left, you will see the first running back drafted, his round and overall pick, his rookie rushing yards, his rookie fantasy points total (using 0.5 points per reception), and his career rushing yards; on the right, the same information is presented for the second running back drafted. The far right column shows the difference between the two players in terms of fantasy points during their rookie year. For example, Stevan Ridley scored 41 more points than Shane Vereen in 2011, even though the Patriots drafted Vereen first.
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How bad were the Chiefs last year?

  • Kansas City went 2-14, tied for the worst record in the league with Jacksonville. Since the Chiefs faced an easier schedule, they received the first pick.
  • With an Simple Rating System score of -14.0, Kansas City had the worst SRS rating in the league. They ranked 32nd in points scored and 25th in points allowed, leaving them 32nd in points differential. With a slightly easier than average schedule, that left them 32nd in the SRS, too.
  • The Chiefs ranked in the bottom three in both NY/A and NY/A allowed.
  • With a -24 turnover differential, K.C. tied several other teams, including the 2012 Eagles, for the third worst turnover differential since 1978.
  • Brian Burke ranked the Chiefs 31st overall, 31st on offense, and 31st on defense, just edging out the Jaguars (who ranked 32nd on offense and 30th on defense).
  • Kansas City finished 32nd in Aaron Schatz’s efficiency rankings, as Football Outsiders ranked them 31st on offense, 30th on defense, and 22nd on special teams.

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Twenty quarterbacks started all sixteen games last season:

Mark Sanchez started 15 games for the Jets, but was benched for the week 16 game against the Chargers.  Carson Palmer (ribs/chest) and Brandon Weeden (shoulder) were each injured in week 16, causing them to sit out week 17 (although Weeden probably could have played if the game meant anything.) In addition, Jay Cutler (concussion) and Robert Griffin III (knee) each missed one — but only one — game due to injury.1  As for the other seven teams:
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  1. Griffin was on the injury report twice for head injuries but did not miss a start due to concussions. []
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Placing Cecil Shorts’ Production in Context

Shorts made the most of his one catch against the Colts

Shorts made the most of his one catch against the Colts.

One of the surprising success stories of the 2012 season was the breakout performance of second-year Jacksonville wide receiver Cecil Shorts. With a cap value of $729,000 in 2013, Shorts is probably the best value on the Jaguars roster. But he’s one of the more confusing players to project.

The optimistic outlook on Shorts is simple. He missed two games with a concussion and took a couple of weeks to become a key part of the Jacksonville offense (he didn’t record a catch in week two, for example): in his final 12 games, Shorts averaged over 75 yards per game and scored 6 touchdowns. That would put him on a 1200-yard, 8-touchdown pace over a full slate of 16 games as a starter.

But there are other factors to consider. Shorts was only a fourth round pick and gained just 30 yards as a rookie, so he doesn’t have much of a resume beyond 2012. And while he may have produced impressive numbers, Jacksonville ranked 29th in ANY/A last year, making Shorts the co-star (along with Justin Blackmon) of a really bad passing offense. And what’s impressive about that?

So which view should carry more weight? The productive season he had as an individual or the fact that he’s a low-pedigree player who was only responsible for 26.1% of the receiving yards on a terrible passing team?
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Tempo in the NFL

Gronkowski and Hernandez can rest after they score

Gronkowski and Hernandez can rest after they score.

It’s no secret that Bill Belichick’s Patriots ran an up-tempo offense last year: Tom Brady and crew ran 1,191 offensive plays in 2012, just eight shy of tying the record set by the Drew Bledsoe Patriots in 1994. With versatile players like Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, and Danny Woodhead, New England was capable of running out of multiple formations without changing personnel and uses that flexibility to prevent defenses from substituting players based on down and distance. As a result, New England ran 31 more plays than any other team and 101 more plays than any other team that had a positive Game Scripts average. We would expect some teams with negative Game Scripts — especially when they have Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck — to run a lot of plays late in games as they play catch up, which makes the Patriots’ offensive play numbers even more impressive.

New England ran an offensive play every 24.9 seconds, the highest rate in the league. The Saints were second at 26.1, which makes sense: New Orleans also has an MVP quarterback and versatile weapons at tight end (Jimmy Graham) and running back (Darren Sproles). You might be a little surprised to see Joe Flacco’s Ravens come in at #3 in play tempo, but the Ravens finished in the bottom five last year in time of possession. The Eagles will be running a high-octane offense under Chip Kelly in 2013, but Philadelphia already ranked fourth in tempo last year.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 2012, the Patriots ranked 1st in tempo (i.e., seconds per play). New England had an average Time of Possession of 30:56 and ran 1,191 offensive plays, an average of one play every 24.9 seconds. The Patriots Game Script average was 7.7, and New England ran 21.3% of their plays in the 1st quarter, 24.9% in the 2nd quarter, 27% in the 3rd quarter, 25.8% in the 4th quarter, and 0.9% in overtime.
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Time spent leading, tied, or trailing

Tom  Brady thinks playing with the lead is funny

Tom Brady thinks playing with the lead is fun.

Earlier this week, I posted the Game Scripts for each team this season and in each game. After spending the time to calculate the Game Scripts — i.e., the average margin of lead or deficit over the course of every game — it involved minimal extra effort to measure the percentage of time each team spent with the lead, tied, or trailing. So that’s what I’ve done for you today.1

It’s not surprising to see the Patriots #1 in minutes spent with the lead: New England ranked first in Game Scripts score and in points differential. But the #2 team might surprise you. One reason the Vikings were so successful basing their offense around Adrian Peterson was because the team held the lead 59% of the time. You may recall the Vikings week 1 victory against the Jaguars, when Christian Ponder led Minnesota from behind to steal the win; that was an extreme outlier. In the team’s other nine victories, the Vikings held the lead for at least 45 minutes in each game. On the other hand, Minnesota led for less than 25 minutes in all seven of their losses.

The table below shows the percentage of the time each team spent leading, tied, or trailing. I’ve also included their respective ranks in each category.
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  1. One note: I’ve noticed I made one minor mistake, which I do not have the energy to spend to fix. If a team scored first in overtime and then stopped the opponent on the ensuing drive, I did not include those extra minutes spent on defense as time spent with the lead. []
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Previously on the 2013 RSP Football Writers Project…

Introduction/My Picks in Rounds 1 and 2
My Pick in Round 3
My Picks in Rounds 4 and 5
My Picks in Rounds 6 through 11

You can also view every pick in this draft recap.

Rounds 12/13

Already on team: QB Josh Freeman, WR Julio Jones, WR Brandon Marshall, TE Greg Olsen, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, G Alex Boone, 3-4 DE Desmond Bryant, 3-4 DE Cameron Heyward, 3-4 OLB DE Paul Kruger, 3-4 OLB Courtney Upshaw, CB Vontae Davis
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Implied SRS Ratings of each NFL Team

On Wednesday, Jason Lisk came up with a set of power rankings based on the point spread for nearly every game this season (spreads for the games in the final week of the season have not yet been released).

We can use the SRS to come up with the implied ratings for each team (this is what Lisk did, although I don’t think he used the SRS). So how do we come up with the SRS ratings? The point spread in each game provides an implied strength margin (“ISM”) between the two teams: When the Jaguars are 14-point underdogs in Denver, that implies that Denver is 11 points better than Jacksonville. If we treat each ISM like we would margin of victory, then we can use the SRS to come up with team ratings. For those who need a primer on what the SRS is, you can read about it here; the rest of you can skip to the ratings:
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Jerry Rice’s records are essentially unbreakable. Over a marvelous twenty-year career, Rice caught 41 more touchdowns than Randy Moss, 44 more than Terrell Owens, and 67 more than every player other than Moss and Owens. He also holds the overall touchdowns mark, with 33 more touchdowns than Emmitt Smith, 46 more than LaDainian Tomlinson, and over 50 touchdowns more than every other player in NFL history. If you check the NFL records books, no player has finished his career with more than 16,000 receiving yards and fewer than 22,895 receiving yards: that’s how wide the gulf is between @JerryRice and the rest of the great wide receivers.

But there is one record that possibly, maybe, hey you never know could be broken. Jerry Rice is the career leader with 1,549 receptions. For some perspective, Steve Largent was the first player to reach the 800 receptions mark, and Art Monk passed Largent in 1992. Rice caught the still-active Monk in the final game of the 1995 regular season. Monk would retire after the season with 940 catches to his name; as he laced up his cleats for the last time, he was the career leader in receptions. When he came off the field that day, he had been relegated to number two. That’s because 700 miles away, Rice caught 12 passes against the Falcons, bringing his career total up to 942. Oh, and Rice also set the single-season record for receiving yards that day, too. Rice turned 34 in 1996; up until that point, only Charlie Joiner (325) had recorded more than 300 receptions after his age 33 season. Even though Rice missed nearly the entire 1997 season due to injury, he still caught 607 passes after 1995. Which is why we always assumed this record was unbreakable.

However, as teams began passing more frequently (and more conservatively) than ever before, some modern receivers have compiled massive receptions totals. Did you know that Tony Gonzalez is number two all-time in career receptions? With 1,242 catches, Gonzalez has a 140-catch lead on #3 man Marvin Harrison, but Gonzalez still trails Jerry Rice by 307 catches.

But what about Gonzalez’ statistical doppelganger, Jason Witten? Four years ago, I wrote that Witten was going to find himself in the Hall of Fame because of his massive numbers:

Jason Witten entered the NFL at age 21. That’s very young for a player at any position, let alone tight end. So how has he done?

  • Through age 22, he had more receptions and receiving yards than any other tight end.
  • Through age 23, he had more receptions and receiving yards than any other tight end.
  • Through age 25, he had more receptions and receiving yards than any other tight end.
  • Through age 26 (the 2008 season), he had more receptions and receiving yards than any other tight end.
  • With 40 receptions and 472 receiving yards in 2009, he will have more receptions and more receiving yards than any other tight end through the age of twenty-seven.

Witten hasn’t slowed down since I wrote that article. With 806 receptions, he has the most catches of any player through age 30 in history (although Larry Fitzgerald should catch him next year). I thought it would be interesting to chart the career receptions totals of Rice, Witten, and Gonzalez. The graph below shows the career receptions of each player at the end of each season, with age on the X-axis and career receptions on the Y-axis. Witten is in Cowboys blue and silver; unfortunately Chiefs fans, I chose to reserve red and gold for Rice, leaving Gonzalez in Falcons black and red.

Rice Witten Gonzalez career receptions

Even now, Gonzalez has a lead on Rice, and he’ll be 36 catches ahead of Rice after 2013 even if he doesn’t catch a single pass. Of course, Rice went (literally) off the chart in his final years, making it essentially impossible for Gonzalez to catch him.

But Witten has basically had the same career as Gonzalez but with an even larger buffer against Rice. Witten’s lead on Gonzalez grew significantly this year thanks to a 110-catch season at age 30 (the year Gonzalez had just 73 catches), but ages 31 to 33 were ridiculous years for both Gonzalez and Rice. The odds are very much against Witten getting to 1,549 catches, but becoming the second player to hit the 1400-catch mark is a realistic (and incredibly impressive) goal.

The left columns in the table below shows the number of career receptions through each age for each of Rice, Gonzalez, and Witten. The right three columns show the number of catches by each player at each age.

AgeRice (C)Gonzalez (C)Witten (C)Rice (S)Gonzalez (S)Witten (S)
21033353335
220921225987
2349168188497666
24135261252869364
25200334348657396
26264397429646381
27346468523827194
2844657061710010294
29526648696807879
306107218068473110
317088208069899
3282091680611296
3394299980612283
341050106980610870
3510571149806780
36113912428068293
371206124280667
381281124280675
391364124280683
401456124280692
411519124280663
421549124280630

Witten has a nearly 200-catch lead on Rice through age thirty. If we assume Witten can stay healthy in each of the next five years, he’ll get an even bigger buffer when he hits age 35. If we give Witten 351 catches over the next five years, he’ll be at 1157, giving him a 100-catch lead on Rice. Based on what Rice did after age 35, that’s not going to be anywhere near enough. If Witten wants a realistic shot, he’s going to need to keep pumping out 90-100 catch seasons for the next four years, at least. In any event, Witten will be able to keep this dream up for awhile: he needs just 38 catches in 2013 to end the year with the most receptions of any player through age thirty-one.

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The Saints would dig Football Perspective

The Saints would dig Football Perspective.

Last week, Chase had a great post where he looked at what percentage of the points scored by a team in any given game is a function of the team, and what percentage is a function of the opponent. The answer, according to Chase’s method, was 58 percent for the offense and 42 percent for the defense (note that, in the context of posts like these, “offense” means “scoring ability, including defensive & special-teams scores”, and “defense” means “the ability to prevent the opponent from scoring”). Today I’m going to use a handy R extension to look at Chase’s question from a slightly different perspective, and see if it corroborates what he found.

My premise begins with every regular-season game played in the NFL since 1978. Why 1978? I’d love to tell you it was because that was the year the modern game truly emerged thanks to the liberalization of passing rules (which, incidentally, is true), but really it was because that was the most convenient dataset I had on hand with which to run this kind of study. Anyway, I took all of those games, and specifically focused on the number of points scored by each team in each game. I also came armed with offensive and defensive team SRS ratings for every season, which give me a good sense of the quality of both the team’s offense and their opponent’s defense in any given matchup.

If you know anything about me, you probably guessed that I want to run a regression here. My dependent variable is going to be the number of points scored by a team in a game, but I can’t just use raw SRS ratings as the independent variables. I need to add them to the league’s average number of points per game during the season in question to account for changing league PPG conditions, lest I falsely attribute some of the variation in scoring to the wrong side of the ball simply due to a change in scoring environment. This means for a given game, I now have the actual number points scored by a team, the number of points they’d be expected to score against an average team according to SRS, and the number of points their opponents would be expected to allow vs. an average team according to SRS.
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Yesterday, I presented the average lead or deficit for each team in the NFL last year, a number I’ve called the “Game Script.” Teams that find themselves with big leads or in deep holes early in games tend to deviate from their game scripts. That’s why it’s important to put metrics like pass/run ratio in context with how the game scripts unfold.

The table below shows the Game Scripts score for each team in all 267 games last year (this includes the post-season). The table is fully searchable and sortable; to shorten the load times, the table by default will display only the top 25 games, but you can change that with the dropdown box on the left (and you can use the previous/next buttons — or the search box — to find other games).
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Game Scripts – The Best Teams of 2012

Last year, I introduced the concepts of Game Scripts. There are 3600 seconds in every game: the Game Script is the average score over each of those 3600 seconds. For reference, you can check out this list of the top single-seasons of all-time.

Did you know that the Patriots ranked 20th in pass/run ratio last year? Without the concept of Game Scripts, we can’t put that in proper context. New England actually ranked second in the league in rush attempts last season, a result based on two factors: the Patriots ran an incredible 1,191 plays last year and on average, the team was winning by over a touchdown in each game.

Here are the 2012 Game Script scores for each team, which represent the average lead held by the team in every second of every regular season game from last year:
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As most of you know, I also write for Footballguys.com, what I consider to be the best place around for fantasy football information. If you’re interested in fantasy football or like reading about regression analysis, you can check out my article over at Footballguys on how to derive a better starting point for running back projections:

Most people will use last year’s statistics (or a three-year weighted average) as the starting point for their 2013 projections. From there, fantasy players modify those numbers up or down based on factors such as talent, key off-season changes, player development, risk of injury, etc. But in this article, I’m advocating that you use something besides last year’s numbers as your starting point.

There is a way to improve on last year’s numbers without introducing any subjective reasoning. When you base a player’s fantasy projections off of his fantasy stats from last year, you are implying that all fantasy points are created equally. But that’s not true: a player with 1100 yards and 5 touchdowns is different than a runner with 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Fantasy points come from rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Since some of those variables are more consistent year to year than others, your starting fantasy projections should reflect that fact.

The Fine Print: How to Calculate Future Projections

There is a method that allows you to take certain metrics (such as rush attempts and yards per carry) to predict a separate variable (like future rushing yards). It’s called multivariate linear regression. If you’re a regression pro, great. If not, don’t sweat it — I won’t bore you with any details. Here’s the short version: I looked at the 600 running backs to finish in the top 40 in each season from 1997 to 2011. I then eliminated all players who did not play for the same team in the following season. I chose to use per-game statistics (pro-rated to 16 games) instead of year-end results to avoid having injuries complicated the data set (but I have removed from the sample every player who played in fewer than 10 games).

So what did the regression tell us about the five statistics that yield fantasy points? A regression informs you about both the “stickiness” of the projection — i.e., how easy it is to predict the future variable using the statistics we fed into the formula — and the best formula to make those projections. Loosely speaking, the R^2 number below tells us how easy that metric is to predict, and a higher number means that statistic is easier to predict. Without further ado, in ascending order of randomness, from least to most random, here is how to predict 2013 performance for each running back based on his 2012 statistics:

You can read the full article here.

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Why do you need to run the ball when you have this guy?

Why do you need to run the ball when you have this guy?

The Packers have gone 43 consecutive regular season games without having a 100-yard rusher. Not coincidentally, Green Bay drafted Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin in the draft last weekend, hoping that one of those players can bolster the team’s rushing attack.

Brandon Jackson rushed for 115 yards in an overtime loss against the Redskins on October 10, 2010. How long ago was that? Washington’s quarterback that day was Donovan McNabb. Two months later, Jackson rushed for 99 yards in a loss in Foxboro, and Ryan Grant had 92 rushing yards in a September victory in Chicago in 2011, but no Packer has hit the century mark in a regular season game since October 10th, 2010. (It’s worth noting that James Starks rushed for 123 yards in a playoff victory against the Eagles in the 2010 playoffs, but NFL game streaks routinely exclude postseason performances.)

The table below lists all teams since 1960 to go at least 32 games without a 100-yard rusher. Here’s how the second row of the table reads: The Washington Redskins went 72 games without a 100-yard rusher. The team’s last 100-yard rusher came in a game on December 17, 1961, and the streak finally ended on September 24, 1967. The player to break the streak was Bobby Mitchell, and you can see the boxscore from that game in the final column.
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Can you believe no one drafted me?

Can you believe I went undrafted?

Now that the NFL Draft is behind us, I thought I’d take a look at the best undrafted rookies to enter the NFL since 2002. At some positions (quarterback, tight end, pass rusher), picking the best players is very easy; at others (running back, wide receiver, safety) you’ll notice that there have been quite a few successful undrafted free agents. I think the most valuable part of this exercise is simply seeing where it’s reasonable and unreasonable to expect to find a successful player outside of the draft.

Below is my starting lineup, although I’ve selected 12 players on offense and 14 players on defense to accommodate different schemes.

Quarterback: Tony Romo (2003)
Honorable Mention: Shaun Hill (2005), Matt Moore (2007)

This one’s a no-brainer.  Outside of Romo, no undrafted quarterback has done much as of late.  As Scott Kacsmar noted yesterday, it’s not just undrafted quarterbacks struggling for playing time: all but five of the expected 2013 starting quarterbacks were top-40 picks.

Running Back: Arian Foster (2009)
Honorable Mention: Willie Parker (2004), Ryan Grant, Fred Jackson, Pierre Thomas (all 2007), BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Tolbert, (both 2008), Danny Woodhead (2009), LeGarrette Blount (2010)
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