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Gary Clark Was Uniquely Dominant In 1991

Clark caps his dominant season with a Super Bowl

The 1991 Redskins are the hipster’s choice for greatest NFL team of the modern era. The team was statistically dominant, but what makes Washington’s case unique is that folks rarely mention the 1991 Redskins as one of the best teams of all time! Well, today I want to talk about that team’s star wide receiver: Gary Clark.

Judging wide receivers is very tough. One way to do that is to look just at their raw statistics, but a receiver’s production is heavily influenced by the environment he plays in — how often does his team pass, how talented is his quarterback, how good are the other targets on his team, etc.  At a high level, it’s easy to assume that the best receivers are playing on the best passing attacks: after all, if a passing game is dominant, the receivers are likely a big part of the reason why.

The 1984 Dolphins, 2004 Colts, 2007 Patriots, and 2013 Broncos all had record-setting passing attacks.  And while Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady were great, but they also each had not one, but two star receivers: Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison (and Brandon Stokely), Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (and Wes Welker!).  That’s generally the rule, not the exception: dynamic offenses almost always have a great quarterback, but they also almost always have multiple top receivers.  The Falcons offense was outstanding last year, and it’s hard for a wide receiver to be better than Julio Jones, but even he only accounted for 28% of the Atlanta receiving yards and 16% of the Falcons receiving touchdowns (Jones also missed two games). [click to continue…]

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Anyone who has spent any time studying football analytics knows one truth: teams are not aggressive enough on fourth down. For example, in situation-neutral contexts, it’s always advisable to go for it on 4th-and-1. The value of possession has become increasingly important in the modern game, where offenses are so adept at gaining yards and scoring points, and the likelihood of conversion is so high that the trade-off of 40-50 yards of field position for a chance to keep possession is almost always worth it. Possession, after all, is worth about 4 points: if having 1st-and-10 at the 50 yard line is worth 2 points, then being on defense in that situation is worth -2, making the swing between having the ball and not having the ball worth 4 points.

So are NFL teams becoming smarter when it comes to 4th down decision making? I looked at all 4th-and-1 plays since 1994 that (i) came in the first three quarters, (ii) with the offense between the 40s, and (iii) with the team on offense either leading or trailing by no more than 10 points. From 1994 to 2004, teams went for it on these 4th-and-1 situations about 28% of the time. Then, from ’05 to 2014, teams went for it 35% of the time. But over the last two years, offenses have stayed on the field for these fourth downs over 40% of the time both years. Take a look: [click to continue…]

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Implied SRS Ratings for NFL in 2017

Back in May, CG Technology released point spreads for all NFL games during the first 16 weeks of the 2016 season. We can use these lines to generate implied NFL ratings — as of May 10, 2017 — for this upcoming season.

Basically, we take the point spread in each game, adjust for home field, and then determine how by many points Vegas thinks Team A is better than Team B.  When the Seahawks are favored by 13.5 points in a home game against the Rams, we can take this to mean that Vegas thinks the Seahawks are 10.5 points better than Los Angeles.  When Seattle is a 6-point road favorite in Los Angeles against the Rams, that tells us that Vegas thinks the Seahawks are 9 points better than the Rams.  That’s just two games, of course: Using the iterative SRS process, we can generate season ratings based on the 240 point spreads involved. Here are those ratings, again as of May 10, 2017.

Here’s how to read the table below. After adjusting for home field, the Patriots are expected to beat their average opponent by 6.6 points. On average, New England’s opponents (after adjusting for *their* strength of schedule) are 0.3 points better than average, which means the Patriots are expected to be 6.8 points better than average (difference due to rounding). That’s the best in the league, far ahead of the Seahawks, Cowboys, and Packers (the only other teams that are 4 points better than average). [click to continue…]

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Leaders in Percentage of Team Targets

On Friday, I wrote about Rob Moore’s 1997 season, when he set the still-standing record for targets in a year. Moore had 208 targets, but as alluded to in that post, he did not set the record for percentage of team targets in a season, which is simply targets divided by team pass attempts (excluding sacks).

That honor belongs to Brandon Marshall, who was targeted on 40% of all passes for the 2012 Bears, and wound up with a post-1978 record 46% of the Bears receiving yards that year.  Remarkably, Marshall saw over 30% of his team’s targets on three different teams, and saw 29% of a fourth franchise’s targets in a season (2015 Jets). The table below shows all players since 1992 with at least 30% (okay, 29.5%) of their team’s targets in a season:

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Footballguys.com – Why Subscribe?

Regular readers know that I’m one of the writers at Footballguys.com. If you are a hardcore fantasy footballer (or daily fantasy sports player), you probably already know that Footballguys.com is the single best source for fantasy football information. If you are a more casual fantasy football player, you’ll find that the tools available at Footballguys will make life much, much easier for you to win your league(s). Either way, I think you’ll find FBG to be worthwhile at $29.95 for one season of the Insider PRO and $44.95 for the Insider PRO Plus.

I don’t make extra money if more people sign up for Footballguys or buy an app, but I hope my readers subscribe because I think a subscription is a really good deal. If you play fantasy football and want to win your competitive league or save hours doing research for your local league, a Footballguys subscription is well worth it. You get: [click to continue…]

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Not Rob Moore

If you find yourself talking about Rob Moore in the summer of 2017, it’s probably for one of four reasons.

1) You are a diehard Jets or Cardinals fan choosing to reminisce about Boomer Esiason and the halcyon days of the ’90s.

2) You just finished watching Jerry Maguire. That movie, which was released in December 1996, saw Cuba Gooding Jr. play the role of Rod Tidwell. Gooding’s character wore 85 and played wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, just like Moore (who even had a bit role in the movie, playing himself).

3) You are researching the best players in Supplemental Draft history, and Moore’s name came up. A star at Syracuse, Moore graduated early (back when it was still unusual for undergraduates to enter the draft), and therefore elected to enter the Supplemental Draft. The move cost the Jets the 8th pick in the 1991 Draft, which the Eagles used on Tennessee offensive lineman Antone Davis. Moore was the much better player.

4) You were wondering which player in the last 25 years (and, perhaps, for much longer) saw the most targets in a single season in NFL history. After some searching, you found out that the answer was Rob Moore, with 208 targets for the 1997 Cardinals.

Wait, what? Of all the players in the last 25 years, Rob Moore is the single-season leader in targets? The single-season leaders in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns are Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, and Randy Moss, respectively. The most targets (since 1992) that Jerry Rice ever saw was 176, and that was in 1995, when he gained 1848 receiving yards while playing for a 49ers team that threw 644 passes, the 2nd most in the NFL. So how did — just two years later — Rob Moore see 32 more targets than Rice in ’95? [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Passing Volume vs. Passing Efficiency

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Baldwin, a contributor for Field Gulls and Bryan’s site, http://thegridfe.com. You can find more of Ben’s work here or on Twitter @guga31bb. What follows are Ben’s words.


Arguing on the internet

A common argument on the internet (e.g. Twitter, where I spent too much time) is that the efficiency of players like Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson in their rookie seasons (and subsequent seasons, for Wilson) was not impressive because they were not asked to throw the ball as much. Once they are asked to throw more often, the argument goes, we can expect their efficiency to fall off. Here is one of many, many examples:

Do quarterbacks really look good because they throw less? [click to continue…]

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Receiving TD Concentration Index (By Passer)

Gronk Smash

On Monday, I looked at the concentration index scores for a number of quarterbacks based on the number of touchdowns thrown to each receiver (more details on the formula available there and here). Today, the reverse: how diverse (or not diverse) were receivers with respect to the number of quarterbacks from whom they caught TDs?

Marques Colston, for example, caught 100% of his touchdowns from Drew BreesRob Gronkowski has caught all but one of his touchdowns from Tom Brady. And Mark Clayton caught 94% of his touchdowns from Dan Marino.

At the bottom of the list are two of the most underrated receivers by modern fans.   Both were superstars in college and very high draft picks, but “disappointed” in the pros.  That’s probably because they were stuck with a revolving door of bad quarterbacks.

Joey Galloway caught 77 career touchdowns and was the 8th pick in the ’95 Draft, but he is chronically underrated due to the bad quarterback play he experienced. He only had double digit touchdowns with one quarterback: an in-his-40s Warren Moon.  His top four quarterbacks were responsible for only 51% of his career touchdowns!  Galloway played with a lot of quarterbacks, and most of them were below-average.

The other receiver with a concentration index of less than 11% was former number one overall pick Irving Fryar.  Regular readers may recall that Fryar is the odd duck who set his career high in receiving yards at age 35 while playing with Bobby Hoying!  Fryar has over 3,000 yards with three franchises, a very rare feat.  He spent his 20s with the terrible Patriots back when that was a thing, and he led New England in receiving yards in ’90, ’91, and ’92, then led the Dolphins in receiving yards in ’93, ’94, and ’95, and then led the Eagles in receiving yards in ’96 and ’97!  It’s pretty impressive to lead your team in receiving yards for eight straight seasons, but it’s really impressive to do it for three different franchises. [click to continue…]

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The Patriots and the Spread, Part I

Since 2001, the Patriots have been favored to win in a whopping 79% of all games, including postseason (giving half-credit as a favorite in games where the spread is zero). The Steelers are second at 73%, the Packers and Colts are next at 69%, the Eagles are at 68%, the Broncos at 67%, and the Saints at 61% are the only other team over 60%. In other words, the Patriots have been in a class by themselves when it comes to being favored.

But even that kind of underrates New England. The Patriots weren’t favored in any of the first 8 games of the 2001 season; the team was only favored in one of its first 12 games, at which point in time New England had a 7-5 record (and an 8-4 mark against the spread). There have also been 19 games since 2001 where Tom Brady was not the starting quarterback, and the Patriots were underdogs in 4 of those games (and a pick’em in a fifth). And there were meaningless week 17 games in 2006 and 2009 that the Patriots were underdogs because they were projected to rest their starters.

The graph below shows how many points the Patriots were expected to win in each game, regular and post-season, since 2001. I have included as red dots games not started by Brady or during meaningless week 17 games: [click to continue…]

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Passing TD Concentration Index (By Receiver)

Fran Tarkenton threw 342 touchdowns in his career, but you may be surprised to learn that he didn’t throw more than 25 touchdowns to a single player! He played with John Gilliam from ’72 to ’75, and Gilliam caught 25 touchdowns during those four seasons before signing with Atlanta in 1976.  Tarkenton played with receiver Sammy White during the final three seasons of Tarkenton’s career, from ’76 to ’78, and the duo connected for 24 touchdowns.  And Tarkenton threw 23 touchdowns to Hall of Very Good running back Chuck Foreman.  While with the Giants, Tarkenton also threw 20 touchdowns to Homer Jones; those were the only four players to catch 20 touchdowns from Tarkenton.

A couple of months ago, I discussed the concentration index as a way to measure how concentrated certain statistics are.  We can do that same thing to measure quarterbacks and receivers to see which players had the most varied passing games.  This will be skewed, of course, in favor of quarterbacks who played for multiple teams, but that’s arguably a feature and not a bug.

Below are the results for the quarterbacks with at least 100 touchdown passes: [click to continue…]

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Mike Anderson was the 189th pick in the NFL Draft, and one of the most unlikely rookie of the year winners ever. He played at Utah in ’98 and ’99, not getting there until four years in the United States Marine Corps and two years at junior college. On the other hand, Anderson’s success wasn’t entirely shocking: perhaps the biggest hurdle to his success was just becoming the team’s starting running back. From ’96 to ’00, Denver’s top running back averaged over 90 rushing yards per game in each season; the Broncos were responsible for 5 of the 21 instances when a rusher hit that mark while playing in at least 12 games.

Last year, Dak Prescott (the 135th pick) became another extremely unlikely rookie of the year winner. He helped turn around a Cowboys passing attack that was the worst in the NFL the prior year. Of course, there was quite an impressive infrastructure in place there, too: in 2014, the Cowboys passing game was great, too.

In 1974, Don Woods took the league by storm in 1974, despite being the 134th pick in the draft. A star quarterback at New Mexico, like most black quarterbacks of his time, he was converted to another position upon reaching the pros. Woods was cut by the Packers, but signed with the Chargers (who already had a pretty good quarterback on the roster). In the final 11 games of the season, Woods averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

In 1975, RB Mike Thomas was the 108th pick to the Redskins. Thomas totaled 1,402 yards in 14 games, and found himself in the company of the game’s top running backs by topping 75 yards in 12 of 14 games.

The graph below shows where the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year was selected in each season: [click to continue…]

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Congrats to the Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Congrats to the 2017 Hall of Fame Class that will be inducted tonight. We spend a lot of time debating and talking about someone’s Hall of Fame worthiness, but today is a day to celebrate and honor some of the game’s best players. We have an 7-person class (Commissioner Paul Tagliabue) being enshrined tonight:

It is a pretty remarkable class of players (and congrats to Jones, too, though I am not going to get into his accolades here).  Consider: [click to continue…]

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When it comes to the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award, one thing is clear: being a high draft pick really, really helps. On average, the last 15 players were drafted with the 11th overall pick, and all but one was a top-18 pick! This award is extremely skewed in favor of early draft picks. Take a look:

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I appeared on Chris Harris’s podcast yesterday, talking yards per carry and game scripts. You can listen to it here, beginning at the 41:36 mark.

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Bell had a lot of valuable yards last year.

All yards gained on special teams are done outside of the context of the series (down and distance) environment that defines most games. A kickoff return from to the 30 or to the 40 represents a difference of 10 yards, but those 10 yards are not as valuable as the difference between a gain of 5 yards and 15 yards on 3rd-and-10. The former are, quite literally, special teams yards. They don’t provide any value in gaining any additional first downs, or keeping a drive alive. This is why we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about all-purpose yardage leaders, or the difference between a kickoff returner who averages 28.0 yards per return or 24.0. Special teams yards, while obviously valuable, are — just as obviously — the least valuable yards possible.

On a 3rd-and-10, a 15-yard pass provides a significant amount of value by providing a first down. But let’s get a bit more precise: the first 10 of those yards were really valuable. The last 5? Well, those were special teams yards. The difference between gaining 10 yards and gaining 15 yards on 3rd-and-10 isn’t that significant: well, it’s about as significant as returning a kickoff for 30 yards or 35 yards. Those last 5 yards don’t help a team move the chains. [click to continue…]

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Two years ago, I wrote this post titled “Take Away His X Best Carries and He’s Average.” The idea was simple: Suppose you sort each running back’s carries in descending order by yards gained. How many carries would we need to take away from him to drop his production to at or below average?

Browns running back Isaiah Crowell ranked 9th in yards per carry last year, with an impressive 4.81 average gain. But that number may be a bit misleading, to the extent it made you think that Crowell was consistently churning out big gains. Crowell was responsible for the longest run of the season last year, an 85-yard run in week 2 against the Ravens. And, for what it’s worth, it was one of the easiest long runs you’ll ever see:

In the last game of the year, Crowell had a more impressive 67-yard run against the Steelers. But here’s the thing: outside of those two runs, Crowell averaged just 4.08 yards per carry on his other 196 carries.

There were 42 running backs last year who had at least 100 rush attempts; those players averaged 4.19 yards per carry last year. So if you remove Crowell’s two best carries, he falls below that average.

An impressive Powell movement

On the other hand, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell averaged 4.86 yards per carry last year, and his six best runs went for 44, 38, 33, 26, 25, and 24 yards. Remove those, and Bell still averaged 4.23 yards per carry, which means you need to remove his seven best runs to drop him below average.

Jets running back Bilal Powell was the star of this metric.  He averaged 5.51 yards per carry last year, but he was a consistent producer of big gains.  He had 12 runs of 13+ yards, and you need to remove all 12 to bring Powell below average.  Remove those 12 carries and his average finally dips to 4.16 yards per carry.

Below are the 19 running backs to exceed that 4.19 yards per carry average last year, and the fewest number of carries you would need to remove to bring their production below average: [click to continue…]

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