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Running back Duke Johnson, a 3rd round pick from the University of Miami in 2015, currently leads the Browns in receiving yards.

No. Player Age Pos G GS Tgt Rec Yds
Y/R TD R/G Y/G Ctch%
29 Duke Johnson 24 12 0 69 52 456 8.8 2 4.3 38.0 75.4%
87 Seth Devalve 24 te 12 4 46 26 335 12.9 1 2.2 27.9 56.5%
85 David Njoku 21 te 12 2 49 28 332 11.9 4 2.3 27.7 57.1%
80 Ricardo Louis 23 WR 12 9 57 26 322 12.4 0 2.2 26.8 45.6%
18 Kenny Britt 29 wr 9 4 38 18 233 12.9 2 2.0 25.9 47.4%
81 Rashard Higgins 23 wr 11 3 40 20 214 10.7 0 1.8 19.5 50.0%
19 Corey Coleman 23 rt/wr 6 6 36 15 206 13.7 1 2.5 34.3 41.7%
34 Isaiah Crowell 24 RB 12 12 30 20 180 9.0 0 1.7 15.0 66.7%
12 Josh Gordon 26 wr 1 1 11 4 85 21.3 0 4.0 85.0 36.4%
82 Kasen Williams 25 wr 7 2 18 9 84 9.3 0 1.3 12.0 50.0%
11 Bryce Treggs 23 wr 6 1 18 5 79 15.8 0 0.8 13.2 27.8%
10 Sammie Coates 24 wr 8 1 10 5 62 12.4 0 0.6 7.8 50.0%
27 Matthew Dayes 23 12 0 5 4 29 7.3 0 0.3 2.4 80.0%
11 Jordan Leslie 26 2 0 1 1 26 26.0 0 0.5 13.0 100.0%
86 Randall Telfer 25 TE 12 11 2 2 24 12.0 0 0.2 2.0 100.0%
40 Dan Vitale 24 fb 12 4 4 2 18 9.0 0 0.2 1.5 50.0%
70 Kevin Zeitler 27 RG 12 12 1 1 -4 -4.0 0 0.1 -0.3 100.0%
Team Total 24.6 12 435 238 2681 11.3 10 19.8 223.4
Opp Total 12 262 2764 10.5 23 21.8 230.3

Suffice it to say, that’s not a good thing, at least in this case. The Browns rank last in ANY/A at 3.5 and last in passer rating at 59.8; Cleveland has the worst passing attack in the NFL, and the fact that Johnson is the team’s leading receiver probably speaks to that.

It’s also pretty rare. Excluding guys like Eric Metcalf or who played running back at times but wasn’t a running back in say, the 1995 Falcons, it’s only happened twice since 2000. Two years ago, with Keenan Allen limited to 8 games and Antonio Gates to 11, Danny Woodhead led the Chargers in receiving yards. And for the 2013 Chiefs, Jamaal Charles somehow led the team in rushing and receiving yards (something neither Johnson nor Woodhead did) as Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery fought for table scraps.

The table below shows every running back to lead his team in receiving yards since 1970: [click to continue…]


The New Browns Are Still The Worst Expansion Team Ever

Five years ago, in one of the very first posts at Football Perspective, I wrote that the new Browns were the worst expansion team in NFL history through 13 seasons. That claim felt a little controversial at the time; it has held up surprisingly well.

After 13 years, Cleveland had a pitiful 68-140 record (0.327). Since then? The Browns have gone 20-68, for a pitiful 0.227 winning percentage. Overall, after 18.5 seasons, the 0-8 2017 Browns have brought the New Browns’ record since 1999 to 88-208, a 0.297 wining percentage.

And things are not exactly trending in the positive direction: [click to continue…]


Over their last 16 games — the final 12 games of 2016 and the first 4 games of 2017 — the Cleveland Browns are 1-15. Over the Browns last 16 games before that, Cleveland is 2-14: Cleveland began the 2016 season 0-4, and was 2-10 over the final 12 games of 2015. But the first game in that streak was the 5th game of the 2015 season, a rare Browns victory. Which means if the Browns lose to the Jets on Sunday, Cleveland will be 1-15 in their last 16 games, and 1-15 in the 16 games prior to that.

How bad is a 2-29 stretch over 31 games? Well, the Browns are just the fourth franchise to pull off that feat.

The World War II Cardinals

The Chicago Cardinals lost 29 games in a row during World War II, and went 1-36 during one 37-game stretch. [click to continue…]


Like the Browns’ future, Myles Garrett is in good shape.

Before the 2017 NFL Draft, Bill Barnwell wrote about the incredible amount of draft value accumulated by the Browns. At the time, Cleveland’s 2017 draft picks equaled 96.7 points of draft value, but because of some trades – particularly involving Houston’s trade up for QB DeShaun Watson (which hurt the Browns 2017 Draft but added a 2018 1st round pick), along with a pair of trade-ups by the Browns that cost the team some value – Cleveland wound up using 86.9 points of draft value. That was still, by a good measure, the largest amount of draft value for any team in 2017.

In the last 20 years, only two teams had even 85 points of draft value — the expansion Texans (85.2 points) and 2008 Chiefs (86.6 points). As a result, the 2017 Browns had more draft value than any team since the 1993 Patriots (88.4 points)! Meanwhile, the current iteration of the Patriots had very, very little draft value: New England started behind the 8-ball with the last pick in each round, and things only got worse after trading a 1st round pick for Brandin Cooks, a 2nd round pick for Kony Ealy, and a 4th round pick for Dwayne Allen and a 6th rounder. That’s the lowest in the last five years, topping the 2014 Colts (17.3 points of value), and the fewest since the 2012 Raiders, who had just 14.9 points. [click to continue…]


The 0-11 Browns Are Looking To Challenge History

The Browns have lost their first 11 games of the season, becoming just the sixth team since 2000 to begin the season 0-11.

  • In 2008, the Lions went 0-16.
  • In 2007, the Dolphins began the year 0-13, and ended the streak with an overtime win against Baltimore in game fourteen.

I’m short on time today, so here’s a quick look at all teams that began the season 0-10, along with how long that streak continued, and which opponent broke the streak.

TeamYearFirst WinOppRecord
Cleveland Browns2016Game ??????
Oakland Raiders2014Game 11KAN3-13
Indianapolis Colts201114TEN2-14
Detroit Lions2008n/an/a0-16
Miami Dolphins200714BAL1-15
Detroit Lions200113MIN2-14
San Diego Chargers200012KAN1-15
Indianapolis Colts199711GNB3-13
Cincinnati Bengals199311RAI3-13
Indianapolis Colts198614ATL3-13
Buffalo Bills198412DAL2-14
Houston Oilers198411KAN3-13
Houston Oilers198311DET2-14
New Orleans Saints198015NYJ1-15
Tampa Bay Buccaneers197713NOR2-12
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1976n/an/a0-14
San Diego Chargers197512KAN2-12
Buffalo Bills197111NWE1-13
Philadelphia Eagles196812DET2-12
Oakland Raiders196214BOS1-13
Washington Redskins196114DAL1-12-1
Dallas Cowboys1960n/an/a0-11-1
Chicago Cardinals195312CHI1-10-1
Chicago Rockets194711BCL1-13
Brooklyn Tigers1944n/an/a0-10
Chi/Pit Cards/Steelers1944n/an/a0-10
Chicago Cardinals1943n/an/a0-10
Detroit Lions1942n/an/a0-11
Pittsburgh Pirates193911PHI1-9-1
Oorang Indians192311LOU1-10

The Chiefs have been the streak-breaker four times, but sadly for Cleveland fans, Kansas City is not on the schedule this year.


Corey Coleman and Rookie WR Targets

corey coleman brownsThe Browns wide receiver depth chart is really, really thin.  As a result, Cleveland attacked the wide receiver position in the Draft, starting with Baylor Bear Corey Coleman at 15, making him the first wide receiver taken. The Browns followed that up with Auburn’s Ricardo Louis in the fourth round, and UCLA’s Jordan Payton and Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins in the fifth round. The veterans on the depth chart? There’s only Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Marlon Moore, and Terrelle Pryor (who has made a position switch from quarterback) remaining, after the team released Brian Hartline in late May.

Last year, the Browns threw 609 passes (ignoring sacks), the 11th most in the NFL. If you expect Cleveland to be bad again this year — which just about everybody does — that number may only go up. In 2013, Cleveland threw 679 times, as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron had breakout years.1 Gordon is a key variable here, of course: his status for the 2016 season remains up in limbo and is in the commissioner’s discretion. [click to continue…]

  1. In between, the Browns went 7-9 with an excellent pass defense that kept the team in games; I am not expecting that to happen again. []

The Browns have been running in place

The Browns have been running in place

A good read from ESPN yesterday about new Clevleand Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, who is being labeled as the man who will (attempt to) bring Moneyball philosophies to the NFL. Putting aside the inaccuracy of that statement — Moneyball philosophies mean different things to just about everyone, and such philosophies are already a staple in many organizations — there will be a certain spotlight cast on DePodesta in Cleveland. And, according to some statistical analysts, that’s a bad thing.

At MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March, unilateral fear existed inside analytics community that systemic ineptitude of Browns franchise will be too substantial for even DePodesta to repair. Failure would damage legacy of beloved industry pioneer and set field of sports data science back decades. “If you love analytics and want it to grow and succeed in the NFL, then you know Cleveland is a nightmare scenario,” states NFL executive with 20 years of experience in analytics. “Cleveland is a crazy, terrible place for this to be tested in football.”

The idea that Cleveland is too toxic to be resurrected is…. well, it’s more supported by the data than you might think. Certainly DePodesta could turn things around, but if he doesn’t, he’ll just be the next man in a long line of failed Browns executives. You won’t be surprised to learn that Cleveland has the worst winning percentage in the NFL since re-entering the league in 1999. But even accounting for the fact that the Browns have been bad, Cleveland has still underperformed to the tune of about 26 wins over the last 16 years, most in the NFL.

How did I arrive at that number?

  • First, I calculated each team’s Pythagnpat winning percentage in each season beginning in the year 1999, which is based solely on the number of points scored and allowed by each team. For example, in 2014, the Browns scored 299 points and allowed 337, which translates to a 0.429 Pythagenpat winning percentage (the Browns actually beat that slightly, by going 7-9).
  • Next, I ran a regression on the years 1999 to 2014, using Year N Pythagenpart winning percentage to predict Year N+1 wins. This would, in theory, help out the Browns, because Cleveland would be expected to win fewer games than the average team in Year N+1 because the Browns typically have a poor Year N performance. The best-fit formula was 0.311 + 0.376 * Yr_N_Pyth_Win%. This shows that regression to the mean is a large factor, because past performance only accounts for 38% of what goes into a team’s projection for Year N+1; the remainder is a constant for all teams.

Using Cleveland’s 2014 line as an example, the 2015 Browns would have been expected to win 7.6 games, because the 2014 team had 6.9 Pythagenpat wins, and regression to the mean drives that number towards 8 wins. But Cleveland won just 3 games last year, falling 4.6 wins shy of expectation. And that’s only the second-most disappointing season of the new Browns era: in ’08, Cleveland fell 4.7 wins shy of its Pythagenpat prediction. Take a look at every Cleveland season from 2000 to 2015 (obviously there was no prediction for ’99, since there was no ’98 team): [click to continue…]


Gary Barnidge is This Generation’s Pat Curran

Barnidge even scored against the Broncos... twice

Barnidge even scored against the Broncos… twice

For seven years, Gary Barnidge was one of the hundreds of nondescript players in the NFL. He played in 92 games for two teams, but logged just 25 starts. He caught 44 passes for 603 yards, an average of less than 100 yards a season, with just three touchdowns. He averaged 6.6 yards per game during this seven-season stretch in his 20s.

But Barnidge turned 30 on September 22nd, and then transformed into one of the most dominant tight ends in the NFL. Barnidge has played in six games since his 30th birthday, and has caught 36 passes for 512 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Let’s say Barnidge finishes the season with 1,000 yards in 16 games. That would mean his career average in receiving yards per game will have jumped from 6.6 to 14.8, a pretty remarkable increase for a player in his eighth season. In fact, Barnidge would become just the third player to have his career receiving yards per game double at any point after their fifth season in a year where they gained at least 500 receiving yards.

The last player to do so is Jim Jensen, a utility football player for the Dolphins who saw time at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end in his career. In his 20s, he totaled just 414 receiving yards in seven seasons, but he broke out in 1988 with 58 catches for 652 yards and five touchdowns. [click to continue…]


Trivia: Cleveland Browns and Quarterback Turnover

In 2002, the Browns leading in passing yards was Tim Couch. It was Kelly Holcomb the next year, Jeff Garcia in ’04, Trent Dilfer the next season, and then Charlie Frye in 2006. Then, Derek Anderson led the team in passing yards in back-to-back years! Brady Quinn led the team in passing yards in ’08, and then Colt McCoy was the top quarterback for two years in a row. But we’re back to musical chairs in Cleveland, with Brandon Weeden leading in ’12, Jason Campbell in ’13, and Brian Hoyer last year. In 2015, it looks like either Johnny Manziel or Josh McCown will hold that honor.

That means over this 14-year period, the Browns will have had 12 different quarterbacks lead the team in passing yards. That, as you might suspect, is freakin’ insane, and will set an NFL record. Since Couch led the team in passing yards in ’01, it means that Cleveland has had 11 different quarterbacks lead the team in passing yards over the last 14 years. That’s tied for the record. Which brings us to today’s trivia question: can you name the only other team(s) to have such quarterback turnover?

Trivia hint 1 Show

Trivia hint 2 Show

Trivia hint 3 Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer Show


Interesting tidbit from Peter King this week about how the Vikings nearly acquired Johnny Manziel:

As the picks went by, starting soon after the Rams chose at 13, Cleveland GM Ray Farmer worked the phones, trying to find a partner to move up from their second pick in the round (26th overall) to grab Manziel. He couldn’t find a fit. Finally, with less than three minutes to go in Philadelphia’s 22nd slot, Farmer heard this from an Eagles representative over the phone: “If you’re not gonna jump in here, we’re gonna trade the pick right now.” It’s cloudy what his offer had been to this point, but now he had to sweeten it, and he offered the 83rd pick overall, a third-rounder, in addition to their pick four slots lower than Philly. Done deal. The Eagles liked that offer better than an offer from Minnesota, because the Vikings would have been moving up from 40.

As discussed in my round 1 recap, the Eagles made out like bandits picking up the 83rd pick to move down four spots. Not only did Philadelphia received 137 cents on the dollar according to my trade chart, but the Jimmy Johnson trade chart — which overvalues high picks and therefore cautions against trading down — had the Eagles receiving 112 cents on the dollar. [click to continue…]


Will Blake Bortles be the Best QB of the 2014 Class?

A rare shot of Blake Bortles in a two-tone helmet.

A rare shot of Blake Bortles in a two-tone helmet.

The Jaguars drafted Blake Bortles with the 3rd pick in the 2014 draft. Nineteen picks later, the Browns took Johnny Manziel, and with the 32nd pick, the Vikings traded up to acquire Teddy Bridgewater.

If you believe in the efficient market theory, this means Bortles is the most likely of that group to wind up being the top quarterback from this year’s draft. But I wanted to look at other drafts where the top quarterback was selected very early but the next quarterback wasn’t drafted in quick succession (like say, Andrew Luck and RG3).

Since 1967, the first year of the common draft, a quarterback was selected in the top 61 in 34 of 48 drafts. But in 22 of those 34 drafts, another team spent a top-12 pick on a quarterback, too.2

That leaves 12 drafts where (a) a quarterback was drafted really, really early, and (b) no other quarterback went off the board for awhile (at least 14 picks between the quarterback selections in all 12 cases). Some further slicing, however, is required if we really want to do an apples-to-apples comparison. In six of those cases, a quarterback was selected with the number one overall pick, and based on research conducted by Jason Lisk, it doesn’t seem appropriate to compare quarterbacks not selected with the top pick to number one overall selections.3 I’d also throw out the 1973, 1976, and 1981 drafts, as the number two quarterbacks were all drafted after pick 30. [click to continue…]

  1. Why the top 6 and not the top 5? Only once was the top quarterback drafted with the fifth overall pick, but in three other drafts prior to 2014, the first quarterback went off the board at number six (and never was the first passer selected at seven, eight, nine, or ten). Plus, since the Jaguars were rumored to be considering a trade down to #6 to draft Bortles, it seemed to make sense to use 6 as a cut-off. []
  2. Why top 12? In none of these drafts was the 2nd quarterback selected with the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, or 17th picks, which made 12 seem like a good cut-off. []
  3. In reality, the number one picks in this sample were pretty underwhelming: Sam Bradford, JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, Michael Vick, Troy Aikman, and Steve Bartkowski are the six quarterbacks who would have otherwise made the cut-off. []

In January, I calculated the AV-adjusted age of every team in 2013. In February, I looked at the production-adjusted height for each team’s receivers. Today, we combine those two ideas, and see which teams had the youngest and oldest set of targets.

To calculate the average receiving age of each team, I calculated a weighted average of the age of each player on that team, weighted by their percentage of team receiving yards. For example, Anquan Boldin caught 36.7% of all San Francisco receiving yards, and he was 32.9 years old as of September 1, 2013. Therefore, his age counts for 36.7% of the 49ers’ average receiving age. Vernon Davis, who was 29.6 on 9/1/13, caught 26.5% of the team’s receiving yards last year, so his age matters more than all other 49ers but less than Boldin’s. The table below shows the average age for each team’s receivers (which includes tight ends and running backs) in 2013, along with the percentage of team receiving yards and age as of 9/1/13 for each team’s top four receiving leaders: [click to continue…]


Okay, that title could be the opener to any number of jokes. But I mean “strange season” in the way Football Perspective has used the phrase before. Take a look at Cleveland’s schedule and results from 2013:

Week Day Date Rec Opp Tm Opp
1 Sun September 8 boxscore L 0-1 Miami Dolphins 10 23
2 Sun September 15 boxscore L 0-2 @ Baltimore Ravens 6 14
3 Sun September 22 boxscore W 1-2 @ Minnesota Vikings 31 27
4 Sun September 29 boxscore W 2-2 Cincinnati Bengals 17 6
5 Thu October 3 boxscore W 3-2 Buffalo Bills 37 24
6 Sun October 13 boxscore L 3-3 Detroit Lions 17 31
7 Sun October 20 boxscore L 3-4 @ Green Bay Packers 13 31
8 Sun October 27 boxscore L 3-5 @ Kansas City Chiefs 17 23
9 Sun November 3 boxscore W 4-5 Baltimore Ravens 24 18
10 Bye Week
11 Sun November 17 boxscore L 4-6 @ Cincinnati Bengals 20 41
12 Sun November 24 boxscore L 4-7 Pittsburgh Steelers 11 27
13 Sun December 1 boxscore L 4-8 Jacksonville Jaguars 28 32
14 Sun December 8 boxscore L 4-9 @ New England Patriots 26 27
15 Sun December 15 boxscore L 4-10 Chicago Bears 31 38
16 Sun December 22 boxscore L 4-11 @ New York Jets 13 24
17 Sun December 29 boxscore L 4-12 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 7 20

[click to continue…]


Predictions in Review: AFC North

During the 2013 offseason, I wrote 32 articles under the RPO 2013 tag. In my Predictions in Review series, I review those preview articles with the benefit of hindsight. Previously, I reviewed the AFC West, the NFC West, the the AFC South, and the NFC South. Today, the AFC North.

Marvin Lewis, Jim Mora, and the Playoffs, May 30, 2013

In this article, I noted that Marvin Lewis had coached the Bengals for ten seasons without recording a playoff victory.  That was pretty unique: Since 1966, only Jim Mora had coached a team for longer without notching a playoff victory, and he was fired by the New Orleans Saints in his 11th year after a 2-6 start. Well, Lewis now stands alone in the Super Bowl era, as the only coach to fail to record a playoff win in 11 straight seasons and then be brought back for season twelve.

Since I wrote that article, though, I’ve become much more sympathetic to Lewis.  For years, it was easy to take pot shots at his ridiculous use of challenges or his failure to be aggressive when the situation warranted it, but I now think Lewis is one of the better coaches in the league.  He seems to have a knack for connecting with his players, he’s surrounded himself with very good coaches, and you get the sense that he has more on his plate organizationally than the typical head coach.  He’s the de facto GM, unless you consider Mike Brown the real man building the franchise.  And he’s developed one of the most talented rosters in the league, even if Andy Dalton turns into a pumpkin every January.

Of course, that is just cold comfort to Bengals fans who have witnessed the team go 0-11 in the Lewis era when it comes to recording a playoff victory. On the other hand, Cincinnati didn’t win a playoff game in any of the 12 seasons immediately preceding the Lewis hire, either.  But Lewis’ streak is particularly notable for just how rare his tenure has been in today’s environment. [click to continue…]

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Josh Gordon sets two-game receiving record

Cleveland’s Josh Gordon caught 14 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers last week. Against the Jaguars this afternoon, Gordon caught 10 passes for 261 yards and two scores. In the process, he became the first player to ever record back-to-back 200+ yard receiving games, and set an NFL record with 498 receiving yards in two games.

The table below shows the 53 players to record 350 receiving yards in back-to-back games from 1960 to 2012. Until this year, Houston’s Andre Johnson had the modern record for receiving yards in consecutive games, set just last season. Then Calvin Johnson had 484 yards in two straight games, setting a record that stood for all of five weeks.

PlayerTeamyear_idrec ydsrecrectdGame 1 BoxGame 2 Box
Andre JohnsonHOU2012461231BoxscoreBoxscore
Calvin JohnsonDET2011455233BoxscoreBoxscore
Chad JohnsonCIN2006450175BoxscoreBoxscore
John TaylorSFO1989448163BoxscoreBoxscore
Jerry RiceSFO1995442263BoxscoreBoxscore
Miles AustinDAL2009421164BoxscoreBoxscore
Flipper AndersonRAM1989413191BoxscoreBoxscore
Terrell OwensSFO2000412262BoxscoreBoxscore
Jerry RiceSFO1995410203BoxscoreBoxscore
Stephone PaigeKAN1986402132BoxscoreBoxscore
Frank ClarkeDAL1962400145BoxscoreBoxscore
Sonny RandleSTL1962400193BoxscoreBoxscore
Don MaynardNYJ1968394162BoxscoreBoxscore
Drew BennettTEN2004393255BoxscoreBoxscore
Lance AlworthSDG1963390182BoxscoreBoxscore
Andre JohnsonHOU2009389202BoxscoreBoxscore
Eric MouldsBUF1999387191BoxscoreBoxscore
Wes ChandlerSDG1982385175BoxscoreBoxscore
Flipper AndersonRAM1989384171BoxscoreBoxscore
Art PowellOAK1964382175BoxscoreBoxscore
Raymond BerryBAL1960381154BoxscoreBoxscore
Charley HenniganHOU1961381171BoxscoreBoxscore
Charley HenniganHOU1961380172BoxscoreBoxscore
Wes ChandlerSDG1982378144BoxscoreBoxscore
Jerry RiceSFO1989378172BoxscoreBoxscore
Wes WelkerNWE2011375253BoxscoreBoxscore
Torry HoltSTL2003374182BoxscoreBoxscore
Qadry IsmailBAL1999373134BoxscoreBoxscore
Eric MouldsBUF1998373143BoxscoreBoxscore
Glenn BassBUF1964372142BoxscoreBoxscore
Isaac BruceSTL1995372184BoxscoreBoxscore
Qadry IsmailBAL1999371113BoxscoreBoxscore
Fred BiletnikoffOAK1968370144BoxscoreBoxscore
Webster SlaughterCLE1989370123BoxscoreBoxscore
James LoftonGNB1984368163BoxscoreBoxscore
Lance RentzelDAL1967368183BoxscoreBoxscore
Isaac BruceSTL1995364192BoxscoreBoxscore
Gary ClarkWAS1986364172BoxscoreBoxscore
James LoftonGNB1984364162BoxscoreBoxscore
Jerry RiceSFO1986360163BoxscoreBoxscore
Chris ChambersMIA2005359233BoxscoreBoxscore
Henry EllardWAS1994359162BoxscoreBoxscore
Del ShofnerNYG1962359171BoxscoreBoxscore
Stephone PaigeKAN1985358113BoxscoreBoxscore
Drew BennettTEN2004357156BoxscoreBoxscore
Charlie JoinerSDG1981357130BoxscoreBoxscore
Lance AlworthSDG1967355152BoxscoreBoxscore
Roy GreenSTL1984355142BoxscoreBoxscore
Pete RetzlaffPHI1965355143BoxscoreBoxscore
Lance AlworthSDG196435393BoxscoreBoxscore
Bill GromanHOU1960353123BoxscoreBoxscore
Jimmy SmithJAX1999352192BoxscoreBoxscore
Calvin JohnsonDET2012350172BoxscoreBoxscore

Trent Richardson – How Good Is He in Pass Protection?

Richardson exhibiting proper blocking technique

Richardson exhibiting proper blocking technique.

I have some bigger thoughts on the Trent Richardson trade, but I want to first address a statistic I’ve seen cited frequently the past few days. You’ve probably heard some variation on the following, perhaps first reported by ESPN:

Since the start of 2012 with Richardson on the field, Browns quarterbacks were sacked on 4.8 percent of dropbacks. With Richardson off the field, Browns quarterbacks were sacked on 9.4 percent of dropbacks.

Colts quarterbacks have been sacked on 6.2 percent of dropbacks since the start of last season, the ninth-highest rate in the league.

I’ll assume the numbers are accurate, but stats like that don’t mean anything out of context. The conclusion isn’t spelled out, but the reader is asked to connect the dots: Richardson is good at pass protection and Indianapolis could use an upgrade in that department, so this is another reason to like the trade for the Colts. But when is Richardson most likely to be off the field? In obvious passing situations, which happens to be the most likely time the Browns would be sacked.

Brandon Weeden and other Cleveland quarterbacks were sacked 36 times last year and 11 times in the first two games of 2013. First, we should note that Thaddeus Lewis started in week 17 last year against the Steelers — his only start of the year, and the only game Richardson has missed in his pro career. He was sacked four times on 36 dropbacks, an 11.1% rate. So let’s throw that game out, since nobody cares about Lewis’ sack rate.

According to NFLGSIS, Richardson was not on the field for 22 of the 43 sacks of Browns quarterbacks over the last year and two games. But the fine print is the real story: only five of those 22 sacks came on 1st or 2nd down, only seven came when Cleveland had the lead, and only three of those sacks occured when the Browns needed fewer than seven yards for a first down. Take a look:
[click to continue…]


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.
[click to continue…]


Season in review: AFC and NFC North

On Monday, I examined the seasons of the teams in the AFC and NFC East. Today I will do the same for the AFC and NFC North, starting in the AFC.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (after weeks 2, 5, and 9)
Minimum wins: 8 (after week 16)
Week 1 comment: Sunday Night was one of the best games I’ve seen from Ben Roethlisberger. An elite team that will be favored to win most weeks, although questions remain about the offensive line, the running backs, and the age of the defense.

Pittsburgh started off 6-3 and looked like a contender, but tanked in the second half of the season once Roethlisberger went down. Even when Roethlisberger returned, the offense never quite looked right. Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Rashard Mendenhall were unexciting plodders, which is an improvement over the 25 carries that went to Baron Batch. No Steeler finished the season with more than two rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both failed to match last year’s lofty numbers. The potential was there, but the results were not in Pittsburgh in 2012.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s defense performed well by conventional measures — through week 16 (which is when they were knocked out of the playoff race), they ranked 1st in yards allowed and first downs allowed, and ranked 2nd in net yards per attempt allowed, rushing yards and rushing yards per carry allowed. But the defense wasn’t really up to Steelers standards — through week 16, they ranked 10th in points allowed and, more damningly, had forced more turnovers than just three teams. Pittsburgh allowed 5 4th quarter game-winning drives, which ultimately cost them the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (first after week 3, last after week 13)
Minimum wins: 9 wins (after week 15)
Week 1 comment: Great performance on Monday Night, but I have to imagine missing Terrell Suggs is going to hurt this team. He’s too good to simply expect business as usual in Baltimore, and their schedule (AFC West, NFC East, Houston, New England outside the division) is riddled with traps.

The schedule was riddled with traps, but the Ravens rode some late-game success and excellent special teams to a 9-2 record. At that point, I wrote: I still don’t believe in this team, because they aren’t going to have amazing special teams or amazing 4th and 29 conversions every week.

Joe Flacco had a solid but not great year, while Ray Rice continued to prove effective when given the carries. The big issue for Baltimore was defensively. Through 16 weeks, the Ravens ranked 20th in yards allowed, 18th in NY/A, and 24th in first downs allowed. While the Ravens won the North, 8 games out of Terrell Suggs, 6 games of Ray Lewis, and 6 games of Lardarius Webb simply wasn’t enough to give them the defense Ravens fans were used to seeing.
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This is a starting NFL quarterback in an NFL uniform. Welcome to 2012.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were drafted as franchise saviors, and have been expected to start on opening day for months; more recently Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Ryan Tannehill in Miami won starting jobs. Then, last night, Pete Carroll announced that Russell Wilson had beaten Matt Flynn in the Seahawks quarterback battle. Barring injury, we’ll see five rookie quarterbacks starting on opening day for the first time since 1950 (and likely ever). Before Wilson, we were already in record territory, as no more than three teams have ever started the season with rookie quarterbacks since 1950 (and likely ever). In 1969, Roger Staubach, Greg Cook and James Harris were week one starters for the Cowboys, Bengals and Bills. The year before, Greg Landry, Dewey Warren, and Dan Darragh started for the Lions… Bengals and Bills. And in the AFL’s inaugural season, three teams fielded rookie quarterbacks. But on average, less than one rookie quarterback has started a team’s opening game each season since the merger.

Last year, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton were opening day starters, and their success (along with the success of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan) have undoubtedly made teams become more willing to start rookie quarterbacks. In fact, the youth movement goes beyond just this year’s class: in addition to Newton and Dalton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, and Blaine Gabbert will be second-year quarterbacks starting in week one this season. That’s another record, breaking the seven such quarterbacks in 2000. Remember 1999, the Year of the Quarterback in the NFL Draft? Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, and Daunte Culpepper were all high first-round draft picks, and all were sophomore starters in 2000. Shaun King, fresh off a strong late-season run for Tampa Bay, joined the group in week 1 of the 2000, as did Jeff Garcia in San Francisco.

What’s the explanation? Luck, Griffin, and Newton were uber elite talents who were too good to sit. Wilson legitimately won the Seahawks job in training camp and preseason, a rare event in any era for a rookie quarterback. But the rest of the group — Weeden, Tannehill, Dalton, Gabbert, Ponder, and Locker — seem to signal a shift in NFL philosophy. The table below lists all quarterbacks drafted in the top 40 — but not in the top 5 — since 1970, and the first year in their career when they started for their team in week one:
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The best rookie season and best career from the class of '89.

Yesterday, I looked at how frequently the highest drafted rookie running back ended leading his draft class in rushing yards. Today, we’ll examine how often the best rookie running back ends up being having the most career rushing yards among the members from his class.

I performed this same exercise at wide receiver, and concluded that as great as A.J. Green was last season, the odds were stacked against him leading the 2011 rookie receiver class in career receiving yards.1 For whatever reason, there simply is not a strong correlation between rookie performance and career performance for wide receivers. Is the same true at the running back position?

There was an eleven-year stretch from ’92 to ’02, when Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor, Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis each led their class in rushing yards both as rookies and over the course of their careers. The lone exception came in 2000, when Mike Anderson nudged by Jamal Lewis to lead the ’00 class in rookie rushing yards, while Lewis ended with the most career rushing yards. If I had written this article a decade ago, I would have thought that unlike at the receiver position, there was an extremely strong correlation between rookie and career performance for the top running backs.

But since then, things have changed. Domanick Williams (Larry Johnson), Kevin Jones (Steven Jackson), Cadillac Williams (Frank Gore), Joseph Addai (Maurice Jones-Drew), Steve Slaton (Chris Johnson), and Knowshon Moreno (Arian Foster) led all rookies in rushing yards but have been passed in the career category by another back from the same rookie class. It’s too early to get a handle on the last two draft classes, although I certainly wouldn’t take even odds on either Ben Tate or LeGarrette Blount finishing with the most career rushing yards of any running back who entered the league in either 2010 or 2011.

The table below shows the top rookie running backs and the top career running backs from each class since 1978.
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  1. From 1978 to 2008, only three of the 31 wide receivers with the best rookie seasons ended up with the most receiving yards from their class. []

An ordinary running back.

Last month, I wondered whether previous Justin Blackmons — i.e., the first receiver selected in the draft — lived up to their lofty draft status. There have been 42 drafts since 1970, but only five times has the highest selected wideout gained the most receiving yards among all rookie receivers. The long-term odds were slightly better, though, as nearly a quarter of those highest selected receivers ended up with the most receiving yards in his draft class.

So how do things look at the running back position? The Bills drafted Willis McGahee knowing he would miss his entire rookie season, while Bo Jackson chose to play baseball instead of playing with the Buccaneers. Ki-Jana Carter and Larry Stegent suffered season-ending injuries in the pre-season of their rookie years, making them inapplicable for our purposes, assuming Richardson stays healthy. What about the other 38 running backs who were the first at their position selected in the draft since the merger?

Over 40% of those highest drafted running backs led their class1 in rushing yards as a rookie, while exactly half gained at least 75% as many rushing yards as the the most productive rookie running back. That may not be particularly impressive in the abstract, but represents a much better track record than we saw at the wide receiver position. On the other hand, recent history has not been particularly great: in the past 10 years, arguably every top rookie running back outside of Adrian Peterson disappointed, as even Moreno failed to meet the expectations of many.

YearRunning BackTeamPickCollegeRush Yds% of LeaderTop Rookie
2011Mark IngramNOR28Alabama4740.53DeMarco Murray
2010C.J. SpillerBUF9Clemson2830.42Ryan Mathews
2009Knowshon MorenoDEN12Georgia9471.00Knowshon Moreno
2008Darren McFaddenOAK4Arkansas4990.39Steve Slaton
2007Adrian PetersonMIN7Oklahoma13411.00Adrian Peterson
2006Reggie BushNOR2USC5650.52Joseph Addai
2005Ronnie BrownMIA2Auburn9070.77Cadillac Williams
2004Steven JacksonSTL24Oregon St.6730.59Kevin Jones
2003Willis McGaheeBUF23Miami (FL)----Domanick Williams
2002William GreenCLE16Boston Col.8870.59Clinton Portis
2001LaDainian TomlinsonSDG5TCU12361.00LaDainian Tomlinson
2000Jamal LewisBAL5Tennessee13640.92Mike Anderson
1999Edgerrin JamesIND4Miami (FL)15531.00Edgerrin James
1998Curtis EnisCHI5Penn St.4970.41Fred Taylor
1997Warrick DunnTAM12Florida St.9780.87Corey Dillon
1996Lawrence PhillipsSTL6Nebraska6320.46Eddie George
1995Ki-Jana CarterCIN1Penn St.----Curtis Martin
1994Marshall FaulkIND2San Diego St.12821.00Marshall Faulk
1993Garrison HearstPHO3Georgia2640.18Jerome Bettis
1992Tommy VardellCLE9Stanford3690.65Vaughn Dunbar
1991Leonard RussellNWE14Arizona St.9591.00Leonard Russell
1990Blair ThomasNYJ2Penn St.6200.66Emmitt Smith
1989Barry SandersDET3Oklahoma St.14701.00Barry Sanders
1988Gaston GreenRAM14UCLA1170.10John Stephens
1987Alonzo HighsmithHOU3Miami (FL)1060.16Christian Okoye
1986Bo JacksonTAM1Auburn----Rueben Mayes
1985George AdamsNYG19Kentucky4981.00George Adams
1984Greg BellBUF26Notre Dame11001.00Greg Bell
1983Eric DickersonRAM2SMU18081.00Eric Dickerson
1982Darrin NelsonMIN7Stanford1360.20Marcus Allen
1981George RogersNOR1South Carolina16741.00George Rogers
1980Billy SimsDET1Oklahoma13031.00Billy Sims
1979Ottis AndersonSTL8Miami (FL)16051.00Ottis Anderson
1978Earl CampbellHOU1Texas14501.00Earl Campbell
1977Ricky BellTAM1USC4360.43Tony Dorsett
1976Chuck MuncieNOR3California6591.00Chuck Muncie
1975Walter PaytonCHI4Jackson St.6790.74Mike Thomas
1974Bo MatthewsSDG2Colorado3280.28Don Woods
1973Otis ArmstrongDEN9Purdue900.09Boobie Clark
1972Franco HarrisPIT13Penn St.10551.00Franco Harris
1971John RigginsNYJ6Kansas7690.70John Brockington
1970Larry StegentSTL8Texas A&M----Duane Thomas

Richardson is the favorite to be the most productive rookie running back, although “the field” appears to be a more enticing proposition. But Cleveland drafted Richardson for what he can do for the next five or ten years, which will ultimately be much more significant than how he performs in 2012. Even if the highest drafted running back is unlikely to lead his draft class in rushing yards as a rookie, is he more likely (than the field) to lead his draft class in career rushing yards?
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  1. Note that this only includes drafted running backs. []

2011 Age-adjusted team rosters

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

That’s not easy to do for the 2012 season, but we can apply one method to last year’s rosters. Using Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value system, it’s simple to calculate the weighted age of every team last season, by weighing each player’s age proportionately to his percentage of contribution (as measured by the Approximate Value system) to his team.

Let’s take a look at the (weighted) average age of each offense last season:


RkTeamAvg Age
1Seattle Seahawks25.7
2Tampa Bay Buccaneers25.7
3Denver Broncos25.9
4Jacksonville Jaguars26.0
5Cleveland Browns26.1
6Pittsburgh Steelers26.2
7Cincinnati Bengals26.3
8San Francisco 49ers26.4
9Green Bay Packers26.4
10Buffalo Bills26.5
11Dallas Cowboys26.6
12Miami Dolphins26.6
13Arizona Cardinals26.7
14Oakland Raiders26.7
15Philadelphia Eagles26.8
16Carolina Panthers26.9
17Chicago Bears26.9
18Minnesota Vikings27.1
19New York Giants27.1
20Baltimore Ravens27.3
21St. Louis Rams27.3
22New York Jets27.3
23Detroit Lions27.4
24Washington Redskins27.4
25Kansas City Chiefs27.6
26New Orleans Saints27.6
27Houston Texans27.7
28San Diego Chargers27.7
29Tennessee Titans27.8
30Atlanta Falcons28.1
31Indianapolis Colts28.4
32New England Patriots28.4

An offense where the star eats Skittle is a young one

It’s not too surprising to see Seattle at the youngest team in the league last year, and they look to have a young offense again in 2012. The Seahawks will get younger at quarterback if either Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson replaces Tarvaris Jackson. At wide receiver, Sidney Rice (26 in 2012), Doug Baldwin (24) and Golden Tate (24) are the projected top three, although the team just added 29-year-old Braylon Edwards. Marshawn Lynch is still just 26, and the Seahawks added Utah State’s Robert Turbin in April’s draft. The offense line, anchored around LT Russell Okung (25) and C Max Unger (26), has all five starters under the age of 30, as are both Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow, Jr..

The Patriots, meanwhile, featured the league’s oldest offense last season. We all know about Tom Brady (34 in 2011) and Wes Welker (30), but Brian Waters (35), Matt Light (34), Logan Mankins (29), and Deion Branch (32) made were older members of the Patriots’ supporting cast. New England has a pair of young tight ends (Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez) and young running backs (Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen), but the rest of the offense remains old. Obviously Brady and Welker continue to play at a high level, but the team didn’t wasn’t focused on age when it added wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (32).
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Yesterday, I began looking at how the 12 expansion teams of the modern era fared during their first 13 years of existence. Today, the bottom half of the list:

#6 Cincinnati Bengals (1968-1980)

Art Modell purchased the Browns in 1961; Modell and Paul Brown, the only coach the franchise had ever known, clashed almost immediately. In January 1963, Modell fired Brown, who began plotting his revenge almost immediately. At the time, the AFL was gaining traction, but Brown had no desire to be in a “lesser” league. By the time the AFL had decided to add Cincinnati as an expansion franchise, the AFL and NFL had already agreed to merge prior to the start of the 1970 season. Brown was part of the ownership group that brought the Bengals into professional football, and became the team’s first head coach. One of his first decisions? Hiring a young Bill Walsh.

The Bengals played like a typical expansion team in 1968, but their hopes seemed to change the following season. With the 5th pick in the 1969 draft1, Brown didn’t have to look far: he selected Cincinnati signal caller Greg Cook. The former Bearcat was an immediate star: his 9.4 yards per attempt average remains the highest ever by a rookie quarterback with at least 175 pass attempts. Cook led the AFL in completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback rating, but was mostly known for his powerful arm. His 17.5 yards per completion average that season has only been bested once since, and it remains the 12th highest mark in league history. Making the season more incredible was that Cook tore his rotator cuff against the Chiefs… in week three. Following surgery to repair his shoulder, Cook threw just three more passes, prompting many to wonder how great he could have been.

They're never going to expect the shallow cross.

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  1. The AFL and NFL had a common draft beginning in 1967; the Bengals, with the second worst record in the league, ended up with only the fifth pick in the draft, causing them to miss out on O.J. Simpson and Joe Greene. []

Thirteen years ago, the Cleveland Browns were preparing for their return to the NFL. The Browns were the dominant team of the ’50s and were a consistent playoff contender for much of the ’60s and ’80s. In 1996, Art Modell took the Browns to Baltimore and renamed them the Ravens. Three years later, the NFL gave the city of Cleveland an expansion franchise; unfortunately, the new Browns have struggled to find an identity or a direction for much of their first thirteen seasons.

Consider: since 1999, the Browns have the second worst record in football, trailing only the Detroit Lions. Cleveland has scored the fewest points in the league and been outscored by the most points since returning to the NFL.1 The Browns have been shutout 12 times, by far the most in the league over that span. The Browns and the Bills are the only teams to appear in only one playoff game since 1999, with neither team being victorious.

Symptomatic of the Browns’ failure to build a competitive team is the constant turnover at the most important positions. Assuming rookie Brandon Weeden starts in week one, he’ll be the 11th quarterback to start the season opener for the new Browns, and the sixth in six years. Pat Shurmur is Cleveland’s sixth head coach since returning to the league; Brad Childress is now their ninth offensive coordinator/play caller.

How do the Browns rank compared to other expansion teams? The Bears, Cardinals, Packers, Giants, Lions, Redskins, Steelers, Eagles and Rams all entered the league before 1940, making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible. The 49ers and Browns (v.1.0) entered the NFL from the All America Football Conference, so they weren’t expansion teams when they joined the NFL. The Baltimore Colts and their complicated history are probably best left off this list.
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  1. Excluding the Houston Texans, who entered the league in 2002. Still, the Browns have scored fewer points per game and been outscored by more points than the Texans. []