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There have been 49 Super Bowl champions. But only one of those teams managed to win it all with a quarterback that was in his first season with the team. Can you name that team?

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There have been seven other quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls in their second season with a team. How many can you name? [click to continue…]


Fantasy: New Extra Point Rule (FBG)

Over at Footballguys.com, I provided my thoughts on what the new PAT rule means for fantasy players.

What does that mean in practical terms? Instead of there being one missed extra point every 2-3 weeks, there will be about two missed extra points per week. For fantasy owners, that means you might wind up losing a point a couple of times during your regular season, but, of course, you are just as likely to benefit from your opponent missing out on that point, too. In general, kickers are often an afterthought in many fantasy leagues; this rule is not going to change that, although it will make the best kickers (and kickers who play in friendly conditions) imperceptibly more valuable than before.

You can read the full article here.


Last year, DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards. The 32nd-ranked rusher last season rushed for 570 yards, which means Murray rushed for 1,275 yards more than the Nth-ranked rusher, with N representing the number of teams in the NFL. That’s obviously excellent, although not quite the best of all time.

That honor, as regular readers could have guessed, belongs to O.J. Simpson. In 1973, Simpson rushed for an incredible 2,003 yards, while the 26th-ranked rusher in the 26-team NFL rushed for 655 yards. As a result, Simpson is credited with 1,348 yards over the Nth-ranked rusher. Then again, remember that this was a 14-game NFL season; we need to pro-rate that number to 16 games to make for a fairer comparison. That brings Simpson’s season up to +1,540, slightly edging out Adrian Peterson‘s 2012 season (2,097, 564, +1533).

What if we use that methodology for every player during every season of his career? That, to me, is an improvement on just a list of the career rushing leaders, since we don’t give players any benefit for junk seasons. That may be the only thing this list is an improvement on — after all, it is still based on only one statistic — but hey, it’s Friday. Below are the career grades for the top 150 running backs (note that by default, the table only displays the top 25). I have also listed for each back his career rushing yards and his rank in that category. [click to continue…]


Quarterback Rushing Data Since 1950

The 2007 season was the ultimate fantasy of the immobile quarterback lover. No quarterback rushed for 400 yards, after at least one quarterback did so in each of the ten prior seasons. Just as importantly, the top quarterbacks were all pocket passers: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo (only 129 rushing yards that season), Brett Favre, Jon Kitna, Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, Jay Cutler, Kurt Warner, and Eli Manning were the top 12 leaders in passing yards. As a group, those dozen quarterbacks rushed for just 67 yards, led by Cutler’s staggering 205 rushing yards.

But it was only seven years earlier that the mobile quarterback wave was taking the NFL by storm. Six quarterbacks hit the 400-yard rushing mark: Donovan McNabb (629), Rich Gannon (529), Daunte Culpepper (470), Kordell Stewart (436), Jeff Garcia (414), and Steve McNair (403). Of the top ten leaders in passing yards, only Vinny Testaverde and Kerry Collins failed to rush for at least 100 yards, and the top 12 leaders in passing yards rushed for an average of 236 yards.

Since 2012, the mobile quarterback has re-emerged. So how do we test how much each quarterback has run since 1950? Here’s what I did. [click to continue…]


The Jerick McKinnon/Matt Asiata Time Share

Last year, I looked at the unusual running back by committee in Arizona in 2013.  Rashard Mendenhall was the team’s primary back, but he averaged 3.17 YPC that season, while Andre Ellington averaged 5.53 YPC. To measure how “unusual” the split was, I came up with the following methodology: calculate the difference between the YPC of the top two running backs (as measured by carries) on each team, and multiply that difference by the number of carries given to the running back with fewer carries. So for the 2013 Cardinals, the difference between Ellington and Mendenhall in terms of YPC was -2.36; we multiply that by 118 to get a value of -278. For 2014, the most extreme result along this line came in Minnesota.

Matt Asiata had 164 carries for the Vikings but gained just 570 yards, for a 3.48 YPC average. Meanwhile, Jerick McKinnon rushed only 113 times but picked up 538 yards, a 4.76 YPC average. So McKinnon averaged 1.28 more yards per carry than Asiata. Then, we multiply -1.28 by 113, which produces a value of -145, the most extreme of the 32 teams last year.

The reason for this two-step process is that when dealing with backup running backs, you sometimes get small sample sizes. For example, Latavius Murray averaged 5.17 YPC on his 82 carries, but the Raiders split doesn’t count quite as extreme as the Vikings split based on this method.  Also, the Cowboys split would look pretty funky if you didn’t penalize RB2s that had only a handful of carries: [click to continue…]


Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5

I’ve been studying NFL history throughout my life. It’s a journey that began the first time I watched my dad’s copy of NFL’s Greatest Hits on VHS, accelerating when I read Total Football II, and continuing when I began sportswriting over a decade ago.

Something I’ve never done is publish my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. I’m finally stepping into the ring. But because I’ve done so much research over the years, this is not a simple list. Instead, I’ll present my choices as a series of articles, highlighting about 10 players per list, and counting down to number one. We began last week, with quarterbacks who preceded the Modern Era, like Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. [click to continue…]


Memorial Day 2015

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. That includes a number of 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, eleven years ago, Tillman died in Afghanistan. Over thirty years earlier, we lost both Bob Kalsu and Don Steinbrunner in Vietnam. You can read their stories here. For some perspective, consider that Hall of Famers Roger Staubach, Ray Nitschke, and Charlie Joiner were three of the 28 NFL men who served in the military during that war.

An incredible 226 men with NFL ties served in the Korean War, including Night Train Lane and Don Shula. Most tragically, World War II claimed the lives of 21 former NFL 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. [click to continue…]

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A quick data dump today. Since 1960, players who record 20+ carries in a game were on the winning side of things 72.7% of the time. Steven Jackson, however, is just 30-31-1 in his 62 games where he has had at least 20 carries. Given that we would “expect” a player to win 45.1 games given 62 games with 20 carries, Jackson’s 30.5 wins falls 14.6 wins shy of expectation. That, perhaps not surprisingly to regular readers, is the worst record relative to expectation among all running backs since 1960.

The table below shows all running backs who had at least 20 games with 20+ carries over the last 55 years, including the postseason. Thurman Thomas is on top of the table because he had 71 games with 20+ carries, and his teams went 63-8 in those games for an incredible 0.887 winning percentage. That gave Thomas 11.4 wins over expectation, the most ever. If you want to sort by a different category (say, win%), you can: the table is fully sortable and searchable. [click to continue…]


This week, a pair of Jets fans have weighed in on the contract standoff between Muhammad Wilkerson and the New York Jets. Jason at OverTheCap explained why it may be difficult for the two sides to get a true sense of Wilkerson’s market value. Jason points out that the 3-4 defensive end market is pretty weird: You have J.J. Watt at $16.67M per year, then a big drop to Calais Campbell at $11M per year, Jurrell Casey (who was a 4-3 DT when he signed his contract) at $9M per year, and then another big drop. After those three comes Jason Hatcher (also a hybrid 4-3 DT/3-4 DE player) at $6.88M, Desmond Bryant at $6.8M, and then Allen Bailey at $5M per year. And that’s it: no other 3-4 defensive end is making more than five million per year, while Wilkerson reportedly wants upwards of $14M per season. Perhaps we should also include Buffalo’s Kyle Williams — the Bills seemingly switch between a 3-4 and a 4-3 every month — who is making about $10M per year.

But there are three big problems when looking at these contracts and trying to structure a fair deal for Wilkerson, and all three point in Wilkerson’s favor. [click to continue…]


Comparables To Ryan Tannehill

In 2012, Ryan Tannehill averaged 5.23 ANY/A, which was 0.70 ANY/A below the league average.

In 2013, Tannehill averaged 5.00 ANY/A, which was 0.87 ANY/A below league average.

In 2014, Tannehill averaged 5.83 ANY/A, which was 0.30 ANY/A below league average.

I thought it would be interesting to look for comparables to Tannehill using just those metrics. I ran a query for all quarterbacks since 1970 who were within a 0.5 ANY/A of Tannehill’s Relative ANY/A in three consecutive seasons: that is, quarterbacks who averaged between -1.20 and -0.20 Relative ANY/A in Year N-2, between -1.37 RANY/A and -0.37 RANY/A in Year N-1, and between -0.80 RANY/A and +0.20 RANY/A in Year N, with a minimum of at least 200 pass attempts in all three seasons.

As it turns out, there were just 12 quarterback seasons that met that criteria, with one quarterback meeting those criteria twice over a four-year span. Making the data set even less helpful, just six of those 12 seasons came by players in their 20s, and even one of those came by an over-the-hill Joey Harrington in his final season at age 29: [click to continue…]


You remember 2012, don’t you? Among quarterbacks with 200 pass attempts, Colin Kaepernick ranked 2nd in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, RG3 ranked 4th, and Cam Newton ranked a respectable 11th. The young quarterbacks — Kaepernick and Griffin were in their first years as starters, while Newton was just 23 — seemed poised to take over the NFL. If they were this good in 2012, how good would they be in 2014?

As it turns out, not all young quarterbacks improve gradually with age. Some even take a step back. Or, in the case of these three, two steps back. Take a look at their respective ANY/A ratings in each of the past three seasons:

Colin Kaepernick7.556.655.58
Robert Griffin7.475.485.17
Cam Newton6.655.695.45

In terms of Relative ANY/A — that is, ANY/A minus league average — Kaepernick has fallen from +1.6 to +0.8 to -0.6. Newton has had a similar decline but just from a lower starting point, dropping from +0.7 to -0.2 to finally -0.7. Griffin, of course, has seen the most dramatic change, going from +1.5 to -0.4 to -1.0 last year.

Each player has his own story. RG3 was lights out as a rookie, then struggled in 2013 seemingly as a result of tearing his ACL in the 2012 playoffs, a breakdown in his relationship with the Shanaclan, and [insert your other favorite reason here]. His descent continued in 2014, and he frankly looked like a lost quarterback, with this play being perhaps the most damning example.

For Newton, the issue seems to be entirely about a decline in his supporting cast, along with injury issues in 2014. I’m not particularly worried about Newton, who almost seems to make the cut (you’ll see what I mean below) on a technicality. I have little doubt that a healthy Newton with an improved supporting cast — you know, if we ever see that1 — would be a very productive quarterback. Kaepernick, to me, is the real wild card.

Kaepernick’s RANY/A dropped by 0.84 from 2012 to 2013, and then by 1.34 from 2013 to 2014.2 Which made me wonder: how often does a quarterback who is still in his 20s see a decline in RANY/A of at least 0.5 in consecutive years?

Since 1970, it has happened just 19 times, with Kaepernick, Newton, and Griffin being the most recent three. Newton and Griffin are also two of the three youngest, while Kaepernick is more in the middle of things (he was a sneaky old 27 in 2014).3 So what happened to the first 16?

Six of them did not retain their jobs, and you can read about them in this footnote.4 What about the other 10?

QuarterbackYear NTmYr N AgeYr N-2 RANY/AYr N-1 RANY/AYr N RANY/AYr N+1 RANY/A
Colin Kaepernick2014SFO271.620.78-0.56
Cam Newton2014CAR250.72-0.18-0.69
Robert Griffin2014WAS241.53-0.39-0.97
Daunte Culpepper2002MIN252.070.12-0.431.49
Dave Krieg1985SEA271.140.61-0.081.30
Neil O'Donnell1994PIT280.790.28-0.321.24
Neil Lomax1986STL271.690.01-0.890.79
Jim Everett1991RAM281.910.68-0.270.60
Ken O'Brien1987NYJ271.740.670.00-0.06
Jon Kitna2001CIN/SEA290.30-0.78-1.43-0.08
Boomer Esiason1990CIN292.771.480.07-0.09
Trent Dilfer1999TAM5270.30-0.26-0.90-0.74
Mark Malone1987PIT6290.46-0.76-2.19-1.21

There are some promising stories in here. Daunte Culpepper was great at age 23, decliend at age 24, was even worse at age 25, and then was great at age 26 and had a career year at age 27.

Dave Krieg had great efficiency numbers at age 25, pretty good (but worse) ones at age 26, and then struggled at age 27. But at age 28 he had a great season, and he had a great 9-game year at age 30.

Neil O’Donnell was a Pro Bowler in his first full year as a starter at age 26, but took steps backwards at ages 27 and 28. Then, at age 29, he had a career year and made it to the Super Bowl.

Neil Lomax was outstanding at age 25, then had RG3-like slides at ages 26 and 27. Then, at age 28, he had another great season, and followed it up with a great performance at age 29, too.

Jim Everett also took an RG3-like slide: he was unreal at age 26, but below average by age 28. He rebounded at age 29 and was above average during his age 31 and 32 seasons, too.

Ken O’Brien was lights out at age 25, worse at age 26, and then average at age 27. The age 25 year (1985) looks like the outlier, though: he stayed as a roughly league average quarterback from ages 28 through 31.

Jon Kitna looked completely washed up at age 29, but he rebounded with two solid statistical years at ages 30 and 31.

Boomer Esiason was the NFL MVP at age 27, still very good at age 28, and then just average at age 29. He had one more average year, then struggled at age 31 in his final year in Cincinnati, before a mini-resurrection with the Jets.

Trent Dilfer showed steadily decline from ages 25 to 27 during his final three years in Tampa Bay before… not really improving during his first year in Baltimore, despite you know, winning a Super Bowl. He did put up some impressive efficiency numbers over the next couple of seasons in part-time duty, however.

Mark Malone is an example of things not getting much better, but even he still rebounded at age 30 after declining at ages 28 and 29.

So What Does This Post Mean?

Well, let’s start with the obvious: it’s not common for a young quarterback to take consecutive steps backwards, and we have three of them that have done so since 2012. Kaepernick, at least to me, is the most intriguing of the bunch, as it’s harder (at least for me) to really understand what’s going on there. I have a pretty good idea of where Newton’s career is headed, and Griffin seems destined for failure in Washington (and perhaps beyond), while Kaepernick truly appears to be at a crossroads.

The table above presents overwhelmingly positive news if you are a 49ers fan. Could Kaepernick have a revival the way Culpepper did in 2003 and 2004? Could he turn into an above-average quarterback like Lomax or Everett? Eight of the ten quarterbacks who had declines like Kaepernick bounced back the following year. That’s promising.

Of course, it doesn’t mean all that much, either. Kaepernick is an individual, not an amalgamation of historical figures. And his struggles in San Francisco last year were very real, and didn’t appear to be a product of a poor supporting cast. And it’s not as though most of the news for the 49ers has been very positive this offseason, either.

But I guess if there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s this: even if a young quarterback struggles for a couple of years, the odds are in his favor that he’ll bounce back. For Newton, that seems like a safe bet. For Griffin, his ANY/A was so poor that an improvement seems very likely, too. For Kaepernick, the 2015 season looks like a real tipping point in his career, and one I can’t quite get a read on just yet.

  1. Carolina’s projected 2015 offensive line, from left to right: Michael Oher, who may be the worst starting left tackle in the NFL; Andrew Norwell, an undrafted free agent who was a rookie last year; Ryan Kalil, a Pro Bowl center; Trai Turner, a third round pick in 2014; and Mike Remmers, an undrafted free agent in 2012 who has been on six teams so far. At wide receiver, the Panthers have Kelvin Benjamin, who was tied for 2nd in the NFL in drops last year; Jerricho Cotchery, whom the Jets released in 2010 because he looked washed up; Ted Ginn, Jr., who had 14 catches last year; and second round rookie Devin Funchess. []
  2. The NFL ANY/A decreased slightly from 2012 to 2013, but then jumped by 0.26 last year, which is why you might not have noticed the true impact of the declines of Newton and Kaepernick based on just their raw numbers. []
  3. Note that Jon Kitna is the only one of the players on the list to switch teams, moving from the Seahawks to the Bengals. []
  4. Aaron Brooks declined with New Orleans from 2003 to 2005, and then joined the Raiders. He was an even bigger disaster there: he failed to reach 200 pass attempts, but produced career-low numbers and never played again in the NFL after 2006. Don Majkowski and his numbers dropped off with the Packers from ’89 to ’90 and then from ’90 to ’91; he entered ’92 as the starter, but was hurt early in the third game. That allowed Brett Favre to take the job and never look back. The Packers quarterback before the Majik Man also made the cut: Randy Wright saw his RANY/A drop off from ’86 to ’87 and then ’87 to ’88; he never played again in the NFL.

    Steve Grogan saw relatively modest drop offs in his RANY/A from ’79 to ’81; due to the strike and missing three games, he did not hit the 200 attempt cut-off in ’82, but he posted career-high efficiency numbers in ’82 and ’83. He’s our first success story. Pat Haden was excellent in 1977, declined in ’78, and then struggled at quarterback with the Rams in 1979; he lost the job to Vince Ferragamo, but after the ’80 season, Ferragamo went north to Canada. Haden played again in ’81, but posted career-low numbers. Haden started at least half his team’s games in five seasons, and incredibly, his ANY/A decreased in each year. And finally, Archie Manning saw his RANY/A drop from -0.1 in ’73 to -1.6 in ’74 and bottom out to -2.7 in ’75. He then missed all of ’76 due to shoulder surgery, but would turn in the best seasons of his career beginning in the late ’70s. He’s another promising sign, perhaps for Newton in particular, since both have been plagued with weak supporting casts. []

  5. Was on Baltimore in Year N+1. []
  6. Was on San Diego in Year N+1. []

Yesterday, the NFL announced the extra point will be moved to the 15-yard line (although two-point conversion attempts will stay at the 2-yard line). What will this mean?

Probably not too much. You can expect the extra point conversion rate to go from a hair shy of 100% to say, 95%. On field goal attempts from 31 to 33 yards (assuming the average XP will be a 32-yarder), kickers were successful on 96% of attempts last year, 96% in 2013, and 92% in 2012. This rule change would have made a much bigger impact … well, just about at any other time in NFL history. The graph below shows field goal success rates from 31 to 33 yards since 1960: [click to continue…]


Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. You may recall that in April, he gave us a sneak peak at some quarterback rankings. Today, we begin seeing the words behind those numbers, starting with the pre-modern era quarterbacks.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5

I’ve been studying NFL history throughout my adult life. It’s a journey that began the first time I watched my dad’s copy of NFL’s Greatest Hits on VHS, accelerating when I read Total Football II, and continuing when I began sportswriting over a decade ago.

Something I’ve never done is to publish my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Sparked by Adam Steele’s crowd-sourcing project here at Football Perspective, I’m finally stepping into the ring. But because I’ve done so much research over the years, this is not a simple list. Instead, I’ll present my choices as a series of articles, highlighting about 10 players per list, and counting down to number one. [click to continue…]


You probably have not given much thought to Ty Law since he retired, and you almost certainly haven’t given much thought to what Law did as a member of the Jets in 2005. But it was a pretty remarkable season.

Law had 10 interceptions that year. That number may not sound like a lot to you — it’s not a record, and we rarely focus on interception totals — but no player has had more than 10 interceptions in a season since 1981. Since Everson Walls of the Cowboys recorded 11 interceptions in 1981, eleven players have intercepted exactly ten passes in a single season. Of those, Law played on the team that faced by far the fewest passes, and he did so in an era where it was very difficult to record interceptions. That’s why, by the metric I’ll describe below, it’s the most impressive interception season in NFL history.

First, I calculated each player’s individual interception rate, defined as his number of interceptions divided by his team’s pass attempts faced.1 The record here was set in 1946 by Pittsburgh’s Bill Dudley, a former first overall pick. That year, Dudley led the NFL in rushing… and punt return yards… and interceptions! Dudley intercepted 10 passes, while the Steelers faced just 162 pass attempts, giving him an interception on 6.2% of opponent dropbacks. Perhaps most amazing, the Steelers leading receivers each had just ten catches, which means Dudley caught as many passes on defense as any Pittsburgh player did on offense in 1946.

Law’s 10 interceptions came against 463 opponent pass attempts, giving him an interception on 2.2% of opposing pass plays. That remains the highest rate in a single season since Walls picked off a pass on 2.4% of opponent pass plays in 1982. But obviously interception rates have been sharply declining, which is what makes Law’s accomplishment so remarkable. [click to continue…]

  1. Perhaps in a future version, I will adjust for games missed due to injury. []

On Thursday, I looked at yards per attempt and outlier teams. Today, we use the same methodology but look at yards per attempt allowed (or, more specifically, Relative Yards per Attempt, which subtracts the league average from each team’s Y/A allowed).

In 2014, the best-fit linear formula to correlate relative yards per attempt allowed and winning percentage was 0.5019 – 0.1646 * Relative Y/A allowed. In the picture below, each team’s Relative Yards/Attempt allowed is on the X-Axis, while their winning percentage is on the Y-Axis. Since a negative RY/A is better — it means a team has allowed fewer yards per attempt than league average — you would expect the best teams/pass defenses to be on the top left of the chart. [click to continue…]


Weekend Trivia: Elite Passing Offenses

Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt starts with Yards per Attempt, but is also influenced by things such as sack rate, interception rate, and touchdown rate. There is, arguably, a negative relationship between some of these variables: for example, some quarterbacks deliberately trade interceptions for sacks, so it’s difficult to be excellent in all four metrics.

Since 1950, there have been just seven teams to rank in the top 3 in Y/A, Sack Rate, Touchdown Rate, and Interception Rate in the same season. Can you name them? [click to continue…]


Yards per Attempt is not as good as Net Yards per Attempt, which accounts for sacks, and it’s not as good as Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt when it comes to predicting wins, since that metric includes touchdowns and interceptions. But still, vanilla Yards per Attempt usually correlates decently well with winning teams. The emphasis here is on the word usually.

There were four teams that stood out from the pack in yards per attempt last year: while 28 teams averaged less than 8.0 Y/A, four team averaged 8.2, 8.3, or 8.4 yards per attempt. Those teams were Dallas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and…

Why don’t you try to guess the 4th team.

[Come on, give it a good try.]

[Wrong. Guess again.]

[Nope. One more guess.] [click to continue…]


Quarterback Heat Maps

Since my running back heat maps post was so popular, I thought it made sense to perform the same analysis for quarterbacks. So here’s what I did. And as a reminder, BLUE means GOOD or above-average, while RED means BAD, or below-average.

I looked at all quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks (i.e., pass attempts + sacks) in 2014, and then measured on what percent of their dropbacks did each quarterback gain at least 0 yards1, at least 1 yard2, at least 2 yards, etc., up to 10 yards. I also calculated the percentage of runs that went for at least 15+, 20+, 25+, and 30+ yards. [click to continue…]

  1. This is essentially a proxy for percentage of times the quarterback wasn’t sacked. []
  2. This is a decent proxy for completion percentage, or, frankly, an improvement on completion percentage. []

Previously on “take away his X [best/worst]” plays:

In April, I noted that you would need to take away Peyton Manning’s best 19 passes in order to bring his stellar Net Yards per Attempt average to below league average. Today, we look at the reverse question: How many of Derek Carr’s worst dropbacks would we need to erase to bring his NY/A above league average? I’ll give you a moment to think about the answer. [click to continue…]


As you know by now, Tom Brady has been suspended for the first four games of the season. This seems to have sparked outrage among everybody because that is what we do in 2015. But let’s try to take a logical approach to things.

Do you think the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs?

The answer to this one seems to be almost certainly yes. The numbers bear that out, as does the very lengthy Wells Report. There has been some confusion about the Wells Report findings, so let’s try to clear that up now.

What exactly did the NFL ask Wells and his team to do? To “conduct an investigation… pursuant to the Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of Competitive Rules.” The very first footnote in the Wells report reads

Under the Policy, the “standard of proof required to find that a violation of the competitive rules has occurred” is a “Preponderance of the Evidence,” meaning that “as a whole, the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not.”

So the NFL asked Wells to determine if it was more probable than not that the Patriots violated the rules. Here was Wells’ conclusion:

For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.

Wells’ report did not say he thought there was a 51% chance the Patriots violated the rules. In reading the report, it seems pretty clear that Wells thought it very likely that the Patriots violated the rules. But that wasn’t the question he was asked. He was asked if he thought it was more probable than not that the Patriots deliberately circumvented the rules, and to that he answered in the affirmative. At this point, I don’t see any rational argument to be made to the contrary, given the duration and depth of Wells’ investigation. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that the Patriots did not intentionally cheat, but that seems to be very unlikely. [click to continue…]


In April, I looked at how each defense fared at recording sacks. Today, we flip things around and look at it from the offensive perspective.

In 2014, there were 17,879 pass attempts in the NFL, and another 1,212 dropbacks that ended up as quarterback sacks, translating to a sack rate of 6.35%.

Peyton Manning offenses are always excellent, and they’re always particularly excellent at avoiding sacks. In 2014, the Broncos had 624 dropbacks; given the league average, we would “expect” that Denver’s quarterbacks would have been sacked 39.6 times. In reality, Manning was sacked just 17 times, of 22.6 fewer sacks than “expected” last season. Only one other team, the Joe Flacco and the Ravens at 17.4, had 15 fewer sacks than expectation.

The worst team, by over 10 expected sacks, was Jacksonville. The Jaguars had 628 dropbacks and were sacked an incredible 71 times. Using the league average as our guide, we would have expected Blake Bortles and the Jaguars quarterbacks to have been sacked 38.4 times, which means the Jaguars were sacked 31.1 more times than “expectation.” [click to continue…]


Justin Houston had 22 sacks last year for the Chiefs, just one sack shy of breaking the modern NFL record. Houston did it while playing a full slate of games for the Chiefs, and Kansas City faced 591 pass attempts last year (including sacks). That means Houston recorded a sack on 3.7% of Kansas City’s opponent dropbacks.

That’s very good, although it’s just the 11th best rate since 1982. But we have to remember that sack rates have been steadily declining over the past few decades. For example, from 1982 to 2014, the average sack rate was 6.87%, but the 2014 rate was just 6.35%. In other words, we would need to increase the sack rate last year by 8.2% in order to adjust for era. So if we adjust for Houston’s 3.7% average by multiplying that average by 108.2%, his adjusted sack rate jumps to 4.03%. And that’s the second best rate since 1982. [click to continue…]


In 2002, Rich Gannon, a former 4th round pick, led the NFL in passing yards. That year, Tom Brady (6th round), Trent Green (8th round), Aaron Brooks (4th round), and Jeff Garcia (undrafted) were in the top 11 in passing yards, while Jon Kitna (undrafted), Matt Hasselbeck (6th), and Brad Johnson (9th) all gained at least 3,000 passing yards, too.  You can find all that information here.  So in a year where only 17 quarterbacks threw for 3,000 yards, nearly half of them were drafted in the 4th round or later.

Ten years later, the quarterback landscape was very different. Other than Tony Romo, Brady, and Matt Schaub, all of the top 17 leaders in passing yards were drafted inside the top 35. Last year, Brady, Romo, and Russell Wilson were the only quarterbacks in the top 20 in passing yards not taken inside the first 36 picks (#36 was the draft slot for both Bay area quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Derek Carr).

But those are just three isolated years.  How does the trend look over time? Here’s what I did.

1) Convert each player’s draft pick selection to its draft value.

2) For each player with passing yards in a season since 1970, calculate their percentage of league-wide total passing yards.

3) Multiply that number by each player’s draft value. Then sum those values to get a weighted-average of the draft value for each quarterback.

Here are the results: the number on the Y-Axis may not mean much to you in the abstract (it’s the weighted average draft value), but it’s the shape of the curve that’s important.

draft val QBs

As a general rule, the modern passing attack barely resembles what was going on in the early ’70s, but there is at least one exception: an emphasis on quarterbacks that were highly drafted.  For example, an overwhelming number of early draft picks are at the top of the passing charts from 19721  That trend didn’t hold for very long, though.  Then, in the early ’90s, things peaked again for highly drafted quarterback.  In 1994, five of the top seven passers were former top 3 picks, with the other two going in the top 33 selections.

My hunch is that this trend is going to stick around this time: once Brady and Romo retire, there may not be much out there other than Wilson (and perhaps Nick Foles) when it comes to quarterbacks drafted outside of the top 40.  This year, Buffalo, Houston, and Cleveland may be going with quarterbacks that were not highly drafted, but those appear to be short-term solutions, anyway.   And, at least for 2015, we have four top-2 picks that should boost the average. Carson Palmer should be back in Arizona after starting just 6 games last year, while Sam Bradford is a projected starter after missing all of 2014.  And we should also see Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota helping to bring up last year’s average.

  1. Note that for players who went in both the AFL and NFL drafts, I assigned the better pick to them. []

Andrew Healy, frequent contributor here and at Football Outsiders, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Andrew’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @AndHealy.

For a stats guy, the Wells Report is gripping reading, particularly the appendices provided by the consulting firm Exponent. The conclusion there is pretty simple. Compared to referee Walt Anderson’s pregame measurements, the Patriots’ footballs dropped significantly further in pressure than the Colts’ footballs did. Therefore, even if Tom Brady’s involvement is unclear, a Patriots’ employee probably deflated the balls.

At first glance, that evidence seems pretty convincing, maybe even strong enough to conclude more definitively that tampering occurred. And it is kind of awesome that the officials even created a control group. But there is a problem with making firm conclusions: timing. As Exponent acknowledges, the measured pressure of the balls depends on when the gauging took place. The more time that each football had to adjust to the warmer temperature of the officials’ locker room at halftime, the higher the ball pressure would rise.

And, not surprisingly given the Colts’ accusations, the officials measured the Patriots’ footballs first. This means that the New England footballs must have had less time to warm up than the Indianapolis footballs. Is that time significant? We will get to that, but it does make for a good argument that the Indianapolis footballs are not an adequate control group for the New England footballs. Given the order of events, we would expect the drop of pressure from Anderson’s initial measurements to be lower for the Colts’ balls that had more time indoors at halftime. As the Wells report notes, the likely field temperature was in the 48-50 degree range, compared to the 71-74 degree range for the room where the footballs were measured.

So, how much lower? Here it gets a little fuzzy. The report is clear that the Patriots footballs were gauged first during halftime, but it is unclear about whether the second step was to reinflate the Patriots’ balls or to measure the four Colts’ balls. In Appendix 1 (see p. 2 of the appendix), Exponent notes “although there remains some uncertainty about the exact order and timing of the other two events, it appears likely the reinflation and regauging occurred last.” If events unfolded this way, it would make the Indianapolis footballs at least a better sort of control group. [click to continue…]


Philadelphia Eagles and Offensive Turnover

The Eagles 2015 offense isn’t going to look very much like the team’s 2014 offense. The starting quarterback duties were split between Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles last year, but Sam Bradford is expected to be the team’s top quarterback this year.1 The top running back was LeSean McCoy, but he’s been replaced by DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. And the team’s top wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, is also gone.

Already, this is pretty freakin’ rare. For purposes of this post, I am going to assume that Mark Sanchez isn’t on the 2015 Eagles roster, because that meet the spirit of the question.2 If that’s the case — or if Sanchez doesn’t take a single snap all year — Philadelphia would be the first team since 2008 to have turned over their top quarterback, top running back, and top receiver.

That team was the 2008 Bears. The prior year, the team went 7-9 with an ugly offense, led by Brian Griese, Cedric Benson, and Bernard Berrian. A year later, those three were in Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and Minnesota.

The only other team since 2002 to meet these standards were the ’06 Saints. You might recall that the 2006 Saints were a very good team that reached the championship game with Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, and Marques Colston. But Brees and Colston joined New Orleans in ’06, while McAlister missed most of ’05 with an injury; as a result, it was Aaron Brooks, Antowain Smith, and Donte’ Stallworth that were the statistical leaders on the Katrina Saints, a team that ranked 31st in points. [click to continue…]

  1. If he falters, Sanchez is still around, but then of course there’s also Tim Tebow. []
  2. Or, you could call Foles the team’s top quarterback if you like. But the way I’m defining top quarterback in this post — the player with the most passing yards — Sanchez would get marked down as the ’14 Eagles top passer. []

2014 AV-Adjusted Team Age

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville JaguarsIn each of last three years, I’ve presented the AV-adjusted age of each roster in the NFL. Measuring team age in the NFL is tricky. You don’t want to calculate the average age of a 53-man roster and call that the “team age” 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 want to calculate a team’s average age by placing greater weight on the team’s most relevant players.

My solution has been to use the Approximate Value numbers from Pro-Football-Reference.com.  The table below shows the average age of each team, along with its average AV-adjusted age of the offense and defense. Here’s how to read the Jaguars line. In 2014, Jacksonville was the youngest team in the league, with an AV-adjusted team age of 25.8 years (all ages are measured as of September 1, 2014). The average AV-adjusted age of the offense was 24.5 years, giving the Jaguars the youngest offense in the NFL (and by over a year!). The average age of the defense was 26.6 years, and that was the 10th youngest of any defense in football in 2014. [click to continue…]


Some house keeping notes today.

1) Every April 1st, friend-of-the-program Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) releases his Rookie Scouting Portfolio. The RSP not only provides rankings and analysis of all of the major skill position players in this year’s draft, but also provides over 1,000 pages of scouting checklists and play-by-play notes.

Matt does top-notch work year round, and I support just about everything he does.  In fact, I’m a bit delinquent this year in letting you hear about the RSP, and my apologies for that.  But this is not the worst time to bring you news of the RSP, because Matt also writes a post-draft analysis with rankings assembled in a tiered cheat sheet. This is free with the RSP purchase and will be available by the end of this week.

The RSP is $19.95 and available at www.mattwaldman.com. Matt donates 10 percent of every sale to Darkness to Light, a non-profit that combats sexual abuse through individual community and training to recognize how to prevent and address the issue.    Matt’s not only a great football writer, but a great guy, so I don’t think you can go wrong here.

2) Let’s make the smooth transition to a man who has decided that he’s had enough of football.  It’s All Over, Fatman, was the best Broncos website on the internet.  And the main man behind it, Douglas Lee, is another one of the good guys. But last week, IAOFM shut its doors.  Doug is not just a smart guy, but a thoughtful one, and well, here’s an excerpt from his very interesting farewell post:

It’s become increasingly difficult for me to think about football outside the context of the brutal long term physical and cognitive toll the sport exacts upon its players. This would be somewhat more palatable if I thought the league and its owners cared about their current and former players to a greater extent than a settled class action lawsuit dictates. Their actions consistently suggest otherwise.

Given those long-term consequences, I’ve known for quite some time that I wouldn’t want my son to ever play tackle football. More recently, I realized I didn’t necessarily want him to become a fan. Sure, I’ll have far more control over the former than the latter, but what example would I be setting by continuing to pour so much energy into chronicling and analyzing the NFL?

Teams pump players full of (performance enhancing) narcotics to mask pain, stay on the field, and risk more serious injury. But when those players turn to HGH to help rebound from this increasingly brutal sport (hello, Thursday Night Football), they’re branded as cheaters. Owners hold cities up for hundreds of millions of dollars in stadium subsidies, while simultaneously demonizing players who seek to maximize their earning potential during limited career spans.

Those three paragraphs don’t do the whole article justice, so give it a read. Of course, we all wish Doug and the other members of IOAFM well in their future, football-less lives. And I can’t say that I am shocked by his words, or that I haven’t battled some variation of them myself. I don’t know how many people will quit football, but if someone like Doug is going to, that should be enough to make everyone stop and think.

3) Yes, I will surround IAOFM’s farewell with a pair of football fanatics. Arif Hasan, another friend of the program, has put together a great set of post-draft “grades” based on his consensus rankings. It’s well worth a read.


Analyzing Position Values In the 2015 Draft

The 2015 NFL Draft is in the books. The three-day event gives us a unique peek behind the NFL curtain; teams can and do say all sorts of ridiculous things, but the way the draft unfolds is the ultimate in what economists refer to as a revealed preference. Regular readers may recall that after last year’s draft, I analyzed the positions each draft pick was spent on and what that meant about the NFL’s value of each position.

As you probably know, I’ve created a draft value chart based on the expected marginal Approximate Value produced by each draftee in his first five seasons to the team that drafted him. By assigning each draft pick a number of expected points, we can then calculate how much draft capital was spent on each position. I went through the 2015 draft (using the position designations from Pro-Football-Reference) and calculated how much value was used on each position; the results are displayed in the table below.1 [click to continue…]

  1. I’m excluding fullbacks and specialists from this definition. For purposes of this study, the four fullbacks drafted, Alabama’s Jalston Fowler Jr. (Titans), Rutgers’ Michael Burton (Lions), Oklahoma’s Aaron Ripkowski (Packers), and Hawaii’s Joey Iosefa (Buccaneers), were counted as running backs. In addition, one punter (Bradley Pinion, Clemson, 49ers) and one long snapper (Joe Cardona, Navy, Patriots).  Pinion and Cardona were back-to-back picks in the 5th round []

What Will The Jets Do With Leonard Williams?

Teams should not draft for need in the first round, particularly in the top half of the first round.  So when perhaps the best player in the 2015 draft — Southern Cal’s Leonard Williams — the Jets were faced with an interesting decision.  Williams profiled as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 or a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3, although he’s lauded for his versatility in playing along the line.  For New York, the team’s best position in terms of talent and age is 3-4 defensive end, where Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson ply their trade.

Last year, Pro Football Focus charted 47 3-4 defensive ends that played at least 25% of their team’s snaps.  The top three were J.J Watt, Richardson, and Wilkerson.  For a team that went 4-12, adding a third dominant (if Williams pans out) 3-4 defensive end seems like a luxury.  But is it?  What are the Jets thinking?

Can’t the Jets Just Switch To A 4-3 Defense?

Not really. Sure, Todd Bowles is famous for his versatile defensive fronts, as Rex Ryan was before him. In a 4-3, the Jets could get everyone on the field, but they’d lack a true pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. More importantly, the Jets don’t have the personnel to play linebacker in a 4-3.

The Jets two inside linebackers, David Harris and Demario Davis, led the team in snaps last year.  Switching to a 4-3 obviously means either benching one of them or switching one to outside linebacker.  Harris, limited in his speed and agility even by 3-4 ILB standards, would appear to be a terrible fit for a 4-3, and benching him is unlikely given that he has more guaranteed money per year on his contract than any other inside linebacker.  Davis could, perhaps, switch to outside linebacker, but who would be the other option? Calvin Pace or Quinton Coples would be far too slow to cover enough ground at that position.  Frankly, in a 4-3, the Jets would have one of the worst linebacker groups in the NFL.

The Jets would be fine in nickel (4-2-5), but again, where would the pass rush come from?  The farther you put two of Wilkerson, Williams, or Richardson from the center/quarterback, the less you get to take advantage of their true talents.  None of them are true 4-3 pass rushing ends; all could play it, but you move away from their strengths. Williams, Wilkerson, and Richardson are all about 6-4 and 300 pounds.  Last year, there were 19 players who recorded double digit sacks in the NFL.  Twelve of those players weighed 260 pounds or fewer, while another three were between 260 and 280 pounds.  The remaining four: two huge outside linebackers (Paul Kruger and Mario Williams), a defensive tackle (Marcell Dareus), and Watt.  If the Jets switch to a 4-3, the team would probably be worse off when it comes to rushing the passer, and it’s hard to imagine the team being any better against the run.

Okay, what about a 3-4 with those three on the line?

That could work… if the Jets didn’t happen to have one of the best nose tackles in the NFL.  Among 3-4 teams, Damon Harrison rated as the top nose tackle against the run by Pro-Football-Focus last year, which is where he ranked in 2013, too.

Harrison recorded a “stop” on 12.5% of his snaps last year when the opposing team ran the ball.  That was the best of any defensive lineman, regardless of position or alignment, in the NFL in 2014. In 2013, Richardson ranked 2nd to Watt in this metric.  Taking Harrison off the field on running downs makes no sense at all, especially when he’s about 50 pounds heavier than each of Wilkerson, Williams, and Richardson.

Okay, So Now What? Do They Trade Wilkerson?

Richardson is not going to get traded, while Wilkerson is playing out his fifth year option this year.  It makes no sense for New York to trade him right now, though, given that he’s only due to count for seven million against the cap.  And since the Jets could still franchise him, there’s no rush to trade him, either, at least until Williams shows that he’s as good as everyone thinks.  Oh, and by the way, teams aren’t in the habit of just letting All-Pro caliber defensive ends just leave in the primes of their careers.

Okay, so Harrison has to be on the field on run plays, and the Jets probably can’t play a 4-3. So what do they do with Williams?

This was the conundrum faced by the Jets once Williams slid to the sixth pick.  Do you bypass an elite talent because he’s not a need pick? Of course not!  Do you remember Tony Jones and Orlando Brown? Both were above-average tackles, the position of strength for a bad Cleveland Browns team in 1995.  The team was hoping to take Simeon Rice with the 4th overall pick in the ’96 draft, but the Cardinals took Rice with the 3rd pick.  With the 4th pick, the franchise — now in Baltimore — selected Jonathan Ogden.

As a rookie, Ogden … played left guard for the Ravens.  After the season, Baltimore traded Jones to Denver for the 58th pick in the ’97 draft.  The Jets could be in a similar situation, and it wouldn’t shock me to see the team try to trade Wilkerson for a 2016 1st round pick (if not more). That’s what you call a good problem.

But What About 2015?

Again, teams shouldn’t make their draft decisions based on what will happen in the immediate future.  If the Jets took Kevin White or Vic Beasley — the 7th and 8th picks and players at clearer positions of need — both would just be rotational players as rookies.1  And that’s what the team will do with Williams this year.

Richardson and Wilkerson generally play about 80% of the team’s defensive snaps.  Perhaps that number drops to 70-75% this year: and while you don’t want to take either of them off the field, you may be able to extract even better play on a per-play basis if you give them a breather every once in a awhile. That would leave Williams around to play about 55% of snaps as a rookie, which is a pretty reasonable number. And, of course, the team could wind up having all three on the field every once in awhile, so Williams could still feature in about 2/3 of all plays.

Last year, rookie Aaron Donald played in 67% of the defensive snaps for the St. Louis Rams, despite being arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL.  And who knows what the team will do this year, with Donald, Michael Brockers, and Nick Fairley all on the defensive tackle depth chart.  But that’s the point: teams need to rotate their defensive linemen, particularly the interior linemen.

So the Jets have three great five technique defensive ends.  Would the team be better off with an elite edge rushing 3-4 OLB than Williams? Probably, but presumably the team’s scouting department didn’t see a player that was on the same talent level as Williams.  And not reaching is the right move in that case.

When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013, the team rotated its top seven defensive linemen.  In Seattle’s 4-3 defense, all seven played between 480 and 600 snaps, and that seemed to work out just fine for the team.  Rotating three defensive stars (and occasionally having all three on the field) may not be the sexiest solution, but it’s the most reasonable. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  1. White would  not start over Eric Decker or Brandon Marshall, and Jeremy Kerley would still get his snaps.  The Jets desperately need an edge rusher like Beasley, but the Jets would still have rotated him with Pace during his rookie year. []

There were only two trades on Thursday night, but the activity picked up significantly last night. Let’s go through all the trades through the first three rounds of the 2015 draft.

1) San Francisco trades the 15th pick to San Diego for the 17th and 117th (4th) picks, and a 2016 5th round selection

The Chargers traded up for Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, while the 49ers took Oregon’s Arik Armstead, a 3-4 defensive end, two slots later. According to my chart, San Francisco picked up 136 cents on the dollar on my calculator (using the 150th overall pick as a proxy for the 2016 5th), while the trade was essentially even on the traditional calculator, with the 49ers getting 99 cents on the dollar. [click to continue…]

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