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Four years ago, I wrote an article about the — at the time — young and improving Seattle pass defense. It’s hard to compare modern defenses to what we saw in the ’70s, as the game has changed significantly in the favor of more impressive passing numbers.

But what we can do is compare each pass defense in each season to each other pass defense. In 2013, the Seahawks allowed 3.19 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, while the league average was 5.98. That’s a difference of 2.79 ANY/A, and the standard deviation among the 32 pass defenses was 0.95 ANY/A. In other words, the Seahawks were 2.93 standard deviations better than average (2.79 divided by 0.95).

This year, the Jaguars are allowing 3.52 ANY/A, and the league average is an almost identical 6.01. So Jacksonville is 2.49 ANY/A better than average, and given the standard deviation of 0.94, it means the Jaguars pass defense has a Z-Score of 2.65.

That would rank as the 6th best since 1950, behind the ’02 Bucs, ’88 Vikings, ’70 VIkings, ’13 Seahawks, and ’82 Dolphins. The 3.52 ANY/A average is the lowest since the 2013 Seahawks, and the second lowest since the 2009 Jets (who played in a less friendly passing environment; the league average was 5.74 ANY/A).

If you look at the NFL passing statistics through 13 games (well, 12 for the Dolphins and Patriots), it’s easy to see why the Jaguars pass defense is so good. It’s because they’re great at literally everything. The table below shows the team’s rank in every major category: top-5 finishes are in pink, and #1 finishes are in red with white font. [click to continue…]


The Jaguars Are Maybe Really Good?

In games when they allow 10 or more points, the Jaguars are 0-3 so far this year.

In games when they score fewer than 27 points, the Jaguars are 0-3 so far this year.

If those stats sounds like those of a really bad team one month into an NFL season, well, you’re right. The thing is, Jacksonville has played 7 games this year. Which means maybe they’re a really good team? Because in Jacksonville’s 4 non-losses — things commonly referred to in most parts of the country as wins — the average score has been Jacksonville 32.5, Opponent 5.75. The Jaguars four wins have come by 21+ points, the first team to record four such wins through seven games since 2007.

Entering the 2017 season, the Jaguars had allowed fewer than 10 points in four out of their last 100 games. In 2017, the Jaguars have allowed fewer than 10 points in four out of seven games. The Jaguars had scored 27 or more points in just 13 of their last 100 games entering 2017; so far this year, they’ve scored 27 points in four out of seven games. So yeah, Jacksonville is suddenly a lot better than they used to be.

Jacksonville ranks 2nd in the NFL in points differential at +73. So… are the Jaguars actually good? Well, through seven weeks (but before Monday Night Football), Jacksonville also leads the NFL in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt differential, which would have sounded impossible two months ago (especially if you knew Allen Robinson would tear his ACL one catch into the season): [click to continue…]


More Thoughts on the Jaguars Passing Attack

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been looking at measuring the age of a team’s passing attack. On Friday, I noted that the Jaguars had the 2nd youngest passing offense in the NFL behind only Tampa Bay. And yesterday, I measured the youngest passing offenses in football history, with Jacksonville checking in at #20.

The Jaguars threw for 4,428 gross passing yards last season (or, 8,856 combined passing/receiving yards), though, so that makes them a bit more of an outlier. The table below shows all teams with at least 8,500 combined passing/receiving yards, and ranks them in ascending order based on average age: [click to continue…]


New York Times Checkdowns: Blake Bortles, TDs, and INTs

This week at the New York Times, a look at the surprisingly good — and unusual — season of Jaguars second-year quarterback Blake Bortles.

Curiously, Bortles also ranks second in the N.F.L. in interceptions this season, with 16, and is one behind the injured Manning for the league lead. Since 1970, only three quarterbacks have led the N.F.L. in both touchdown passes and interceptions: Drew Brees in 2012, Lynn Dickey in 1983 and Brian Sipe in 1979. Bortles has a decent chance of joining that list, but even finishing in the top three in both categories is unusual.

You can read the full article here.



Young Jaguars Could Power Next Great Offense

The Broncos, Bengals, Falcons, and Packers won in week 5 to get to 5-0, while New England blew out Dallas to reach a 4-0 mark. So why, today, would I write about a Jaguars team that is now 1-4?

Because while Jacksonville is again in the NFL cellar, it’s anything but business as usual. I’m not quite sure how long it is going to take, but it feels like the next great NFL offense could be germinating in northern Florida. That’s because a young trio that has emerged this year while the team generally flies under the radar.

Blake Bortles has thrown for 1,299 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, against just 4 interceptions. As a rookie, Bortles threw for over 270 yards just twice; he’s done it three times in five games this year. As a rookie, Bortles had multiple touchdown passes in a game twice; he’s also done that three times in five games in 2015 so far, including a career high four on Sunday. Bortles is on pace to complete 346 passes for 605 yards (57.1%) for 4,157 yards, with a 6.87 Y/A average and an impressive 12.03 yards per completion rate. He’s also on pace for 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, along with 45 sacks (but for only 198 yards). He’s averaging 6.19 ANY/A — that’s right around league average, a pretty big jump from his 3.81 ANY/A average as a rookie. [click to continue…]


Hurns was part of a big Jaguars first quarter

Hurns was part of a big Jaguars first quarter

Jacksonville’s Allen Hurns led all players in the preseason with 232 receiving yards. The 6’3, 195 receiver had a breakout senior year with Miami(FL) — in fact, he set a school record for receiving yards in a season — but that was not enough to get him selected in May’s draft.

We know that the Jaguars spent some time watching tape of the Miami offense, since Jacksonville used a third round pick on Hurricanes guard Brandon Linder. Perhaps that tipped them off to Hurns, who provided immediate returns in week one. What sort of returns?

  • Hurns caught four passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles in week one. Prior to the Calvin Johnson explosion on Monday night, those numbers put Hurns tied for fifth in the league in receiving yards, and tied for second in receiving touchdowns.
  • Hurns became just the 5th player since 1970 to hit the 100-yard receiving mark and catch two touchdowns in week one of his rookie season.
  • Hurns produced the 2nd best performance by an undrafted rookie wide receiver in a season opener since the merger.

[click to continue…]


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. []

Johnny Jaguar

Johnny Jaguar.

A couple of years ago, I wrote that when a team misses on a first round quarterback, someone tends to gets fired (update here). I identified 22 quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 1998 and 2010 who did not turn into stars: in nearly every case, the offensive coordinator and/or head coach was fired.

Jacksonville has underdone significant upheaval over the past few years. In January 2012, Shahid Khan acquired the Jaguars. The general manager at the time was Gene Smith: after a 2-14 season, Smith was fired, and Khan brought in his man, David Caldwell.

Caldwell brought in his own man, too, when he replaced Mike Mularkey with Gus Bradley. The new management team also inherited Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft. After two poor seasons from Gabbert before they arrived, Caldwell and Bradley could have decided to select a quarterback in the 2013 draft. But with the 2nd overall pick, there was no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III available, and the Jaguars selected offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.

When Jacksonville was on the clock at the top of the second round, the only quarterback off the board was EJ Manuel. The Jaguars could have drafted Geno Smith, but instead selected Jonathan Cyprien. In the third round, Mike Glennon was still available, but the team picked Dwayne Gratz. In the fourth round, before Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson, and Landry Jones were drafted, the Jaguars took Ace Sanders.

[click to continue…]


Predictions in Review: AFC South

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 and the NFC West. Today, the AFC South, beginning with a straightforward case in Tennessee.

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary

Britt smoked the Eagles secondary.

Can Kenny Britt become the next great wide receiver?, July 9, 2013

Spoiler alert: Kenny Britt did not become the next great wide receiver, at least in 2013 (apparently, I still can’t quit him). Britt is an easy player to fall in love with, if you ignored the warning signs. He was just 20 years old when he played in his first NFL game in 2009. In 2010, he led all players in yards per route run according to Pro Football Focus, but his raw numbers underhwlemed because the Titans were a run-heavy team and Britt missed 30% of the season with a hamstring injury. In 2011, he matched his elite YPRR production, but a torn ACL/MCL tear ended his season after 94 pass routes.

He struggled in 2012, but I was willing to write that off due to recovering from the ugly knee injury, additional hamstring and ankle injuries, and a first-year starter in Jake Locker. That set up 2013 as a season where I thought Britt had great breakout potential. I interviewed Thomas Gower, of Total Titans and Football Outsiders, and asked him his thoughts. Gower was more pessimistic than I was about Britt, and for good reason.

As it turned out, Britt never seemed quite right mentally (in more ways than one); he struggled with drops and was eventually dropped behind Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright on the depth chart. He finished the year with 11 catches for only 96 yards and no touchdowns. In late December, Britt said he would definitely be a #1 wide receiver somewhere in 2014, which means I’m susceptible to falling into the Britt trap again. [click to continue…]


Last week, I examined the Chargers hiring of former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. What I found was that, on average, teams that go outside the organization to hire offensive coordinators saw no uptick in offensive production in the new coach’s first season. And in general, the list consisted of a lot of uninspiring names.  The history of hiring defensive coordinators is a little more successful, at least according to the eyeball test. Chuck Pagano, Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, and Mike Tomlin are some of the more recent hires, and of course Bill Belichick’s work as defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells was the launch pad for two head coaching jobs.

This year, the only team that hired a defensive coordinator was Jacksonville, who tapped Gus Bradley as the Jaguars newest head coach. There’s an entirely new regime in Jacksonville (led by owner Shad Khan and general manager David Caldwell), but it’s hard not to view the Bradley selection in light of the team’s previous hire. In 2012, the Jaguars chose “hotshot” offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who was coming off a successful season as the coordinator of the great Falcons offense. A year later, the Jags are picking the defensive coordinator for the league’s top defense in 2012, at least as measured by points allowed.

The table below shows all of the instances I’ve identified since 1990 where a team hired a new head coach who had been a defensive coordinator for a different team in the prior year. Here is how the Bradley line reads. In 2012, Bradley was the Defensive Coordinator for Seattle; after the season, he was hired to become the head coach of the Jaguars. With the Seahawks, Bradley’s defense ranked 1st in points allowed, 4th in yards allowed, and 7th in PFR’s EPA allowed.
[click to continue…]


Placing Cecil Shorts’ Production in Context

Shorts made the most of his one catch against the Colts

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

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

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

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

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


Season in review: AFC and NFC South

Last week I reviewed the seasons of the teams in the AFC East and NFC East and in the AFC North and NFC North. Today we’ll review the interesting seasons from the AFC and NFC South divisions.

In the AFC South, I had the bottom three teams projected for between 5 and 6 wins for a five week stretch starting after week two. As we now know, that was resolved quite definitively by the end of the year:

AFC South

Houston Texans

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 14 (after week 15)
Minimum wins: 10 (after week 1)
Week 1 comment: Going to win the AFC South going away; this team could win 12 games, but concerns about injuries and the potential to rest starters late keep them at 10 wins for now.

A miserable December ruined what should have been a marvelous season in Houston. At no point did I project any of the other AFC South teams to finish within even three games of the Texans. When they were 5-0, I wrote: Not only do the Texans still have 6 home games remaining, but they have 4 more games against the AFC South and get the Bills and Lions. Even without Brian Cushing, I don’t see why they don’t win 8 more games.

The Texans schedule was easy, but they also had dominant seasons out of J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson. Left Tackle Duane Brown was outstanding, and Houston is as good as any other team in the league when they’re at their their best. Unfortunately, they might be undermanned in a gunfight with the Broncos or Patriots, and it looks like now they’ll have to beat both of those teams to get to New Orleans. Still, I give the Texans a fighting chance; Matt Schaub has struggled in primetime games, but that doesn’t really mean anything. In the end I think the week 17 loss submarined their playoff hopes, and the team will be left wondering how good they could have been if Cushing stayed healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Pre-season Projection: 5.5 wins
Maximum wins: 10 (after week 12 through the end of the year)
Minimum wins: 4 (after week 1)
Week 1 comment: There will be growing pains in Indianapolis. But nobody feels bad for their fans, nor should they; the Colts will be contenders each year for a decade, starting next season.

I never got on board with the Colts this year and it only looks worse in retrospect. On the other hand, even though Indianapolis finished 11-5, they were still outscored by 30 points in 2012. They struggled to beat Brady Quinn and the Chiefs and split with the Jaguars. The Colts won just two game by more than a touchdown.

While I missed on the Colts overall, I was on board the Andrew Luck bandwagon early on even when his numbers were terrible. I wrote this before the Colts-Packers game: Andrew LuckAaron Rodgers I won’t steal the spotlight from Tom BradyPeyton Manning XIII; by the time these two teams play again in four years, we may be looking at the best two quarterbacks in the league. I highlighted how Luck was being undervalued by conventional statistics after week 7, and wrote this after week 8: A wildcard darkhorse? I don’t think the Colts are very good — they’re just 29th according to Football Outsiders — but a win over Miami this weekend puts them in the driver’s seat. I finally projected them at 10 wins after week 12, and noted: Basically clinched a playoff berth with win over Buffalo and Steelers loss. Hard not to like this team.

They may not be very good, but they certainly are likeable. Even after the upset win over the Texans, Houston is just the 10th team to make the playoffs after being outscored by at least 30 points.
[click to continue…]


Mike Mularkey went for it on 4th and 10 in overtime

With 2:36 remaining in overtime, the Jacksonville Jaguars were at the Houston 47-yard line. It was 4th-and-10, following two short incomplete passes that were sandwiched around a run for no gain. Surprisingly, Mike Mularkey kept his offense on the field. The only similar example I can find of such an aggressive move in this situation came in 2009, when Carson Palmer and the Bengals convinced Marvin Lewis to go for it with 1:04 left in overtime, facing 4th and 11 at the Cleveland 41. Suffice it to say, this was something you don’t see everyday.

Despite being an unorthodox decision, most fans approved of the move. I do as well. Against arguably the best team in the league and your division rival, on the road, why not take the gamble? Is 1-8-1 that much better than 1-9, because punting in that situation is clearly playing for the tie. However, I think it’s important to make a clear distinction here, because stats guys are always recommending teams to go for it more frequently on fourth down.

This was *not* one of those cases. The numbers say this was a bad move. That’s exactly why this decision should be characterized as a a gamble. It’s okay to be risky for riskiness’ sake, but it’s important to recognize that that’s the reason. You’re playing for the variance here, not for the expected value. According to Brian Burke, Jacksonville would have needed a 55% chance of converting to make going for it the smart play. Over time, 4th and 10 plays are converted at roughly a 35% rate, and I don’t think that’s going to be higher when it’s Chad Henne against one of the best defenses in the league, regardless of how the rest of the game unfolded.

An incomplete pass, and your win probably decreases to 30% (never mind what happens on a sack or potential interception return). Give Houston the ball at say, their 14 following a punt, and you have a 60% chance of winning (this counts a tie as half a win). If you convert, you have a 76% chance of winning. Assuming a 35% rate, your win probably if you go for it is just 46% compared to 60% if you punt.

So the numbers don’t say going for it was the smart play. This was a gamble in every sense of the word. When statistical analysts argue that teams should go for it more often on 4th and 1, we’re not advocating risky moves; we’re advocating smart ones. This was risk for risk’s sake — which, given the situation, was probably appropriate.


The Jacksonville Jaguars faced an uphill battle on Sunday: they were 15-point underdogs against the Packers in Lambeau Field. Trailing 14-6 in the final seconds of the first half, Blaine Gabbert threw a one-yard touchdown pass to tackle Guy Whimper. At that point, Mike Mularkey decided to go for two in an attempt to tie the game before the teams went into the locker room. The two-point conversion attempt failed, and Jacksonville ultimately lost, 24-15. So, did Mularkey make the right call?

In a lot of ways, this is similar to the decision Chan Gailey faced against the Titans in week seven. Essentially, Mularkey would need to calculate:

— (A) Jacksonville’s win probability in a 14-12 game
— (B) Jacksonville’s win probability in a 14-13 game; and
— (C) Jacksonville’s win probability in a 14-14 game

If we assume a 50% conversion rate on the 2-point attempt — more on this in a minute — then the question is a simple one. We just need to determine whether the difference between (A) and (B) is greater than or less than the difference between (B) and (C). Green Bay was set to receive the ball at the start of the second half, so according to Brian Burke, the values for (A), (B), and (C) are and 41%, 45%, and 48%.

I also looked at all games since 2000 where the team was set to kick to start the second half and was tied, trailing by 1, or trailing by 2 at halftime. In 275 tie games, the team kicking off to start the second half won 52% of the time. There were 70 instances where the team was trailing by 1, but they won just 39% of the time. And in 32 situations where a team was trailing by 2, the trailing team won 41% of the time. The sample sizes here are not large, and the set is of course biased; teams kicking off at halftime obviously had the ball in the first half, so if they trailed at halftime, that’s a signal that they were the inferior team.

So Burke’s model tells us that it’s a very close call; a small sample of results indicates a strong preference for being in a tie game. We can also look at Football Commentary, which theorizes that a team needs only a 36% chance to convert to make going for 2 the right call. So as you can see, the results are a somewhat over the map here.

My thoughts? It’s very close. It’s similar to the Gailey decision, but the uncertainty is magnified here with 30 minutes remaining instead of fifteen. There are a lot of ways for the game to unfold that make me think the difference between (A) and (B) is pretty close to the difference between (B) and (C). Still, my gut does tell me that — assuming a 50% conversion rate — it probably *is* better to go for two, but it’s certainly not obvious or a slam dunk. If I was a Packers fan, I would have preferred to see the Jaguars kick the extra point.

That said, understanding the resulting win probabilities is just one part of the equation. Let’s look at some of the others.
[click to continue…]


One of the most difficult decisions an organization has to make is when to admit its mistakes. The Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011, and his lack of success is even more striking when compared to the rest of the top dozen selections:

Last year, there were three legitimate excuses the Jaguars could proffer to defend Gabbert’s play: he was a rookie, the lockout prevented him from getting proper training, and Jacksonville had the worst set of receivers in the league. Giving up on a first round quarterback after just one season would be silly, especially one where the expectations were that the rookies would struggle. And the cupboard was bare: Jacksonville became the first team since the 2004 Ravens and only the 5th team in the previous 20 seasons to not have a 500-yard wide receiver, so it’s not like Gabbert had a lot to work with.1

But through five games, little has changed in Jacksonville. The Jaguars should wait to evaluate Gabbert’s career — five games into his second season isn’t a fair sample size — but his production so far have been extremely disappointing:

A few years ago, Jason Lisk wrote this post on when the Lions should have given upon Joey Harrington. One of the most relevant points of that article was Lisk’s supposition

that teams are far more likely to commit errors of holding on to a quarterback for too long, while rarely giving up on a quarterback too early — once they have seen him play any amount of time in a real NFL game. I can think of examples of quarterbacks who were drafted, never started for their original team, and found success elsewhere, but its relatively rare to find a quarterback who started but never had success with his original team, and moved elsewhere to have his first breakout.

There were 70 quarterbacks selected in the first round of NFL drafts between 1978 and 2010. How often did a team give up too early on a good quarterback?2 Vinny Testaverde had success outside of Tampa Bay, but the Bucs didn’t give up “early” on him by any means; he played for six years in Tampa with with varying levels of success. The team did give up too early on Steve Young, although he wasn’t included in this study because he was selected in the supplemental draft. Jim Harbaugh had success in Indianapolis, but it’s not like the Bears didn’t know what they had: Harbaugh was in Chicago for the first seven years of his career.

Jeff George had good years outside of Indianapolis, but I wouldn’t say the Colts gave up early on him. He was inconsistent for four years and caused problems off the field; he was finally traded in connection with a holdout. Mike Vick has had success in Philadelphia, but the Falcons obviously had their hands forced when they gave up on him. Ditto Kerry Collins, whose off the field issues left the Panthers with little choice.

With the exception of Steve Young, who Tampa traded after two years — and who may not have ever turned into a star quarterback in Tampa Bay — you’d be hard pressed to find any examples of teams giving up on first round picks too early (with the exception of those released/traded for nonfootball reasons). Chad Pennington had one great year in Miami, but that was after a long career in New York. Doug Williams and Trent Dilfer won Super Bowls with other teams, but Tampa Bay didn’t give up on either quarterback too early by any reasonable definition of the phrase. The reality is, teams will do just about everything before giving up on a first round quarterback too early and as a result, take way too long to move on from a bad investment. And while teams are (understandably) deathly afraid of giving up on a highly drafted quarterback too early, they’re more likely to harm themselves by waiting to move on for too long on a bad investment.

Through six weeks, NFL teams are averaging 6.44 NY/A, meaning Gabbert is averaging only 67% as many net yards per attempt as the average passer. How does that compare historically? The table below shows all drafted quarterbacks who threw at least 250 passes in their second season, and lists their NY/A and NY/A relative to league average during their sophomore years:

QBYearTmAttNY/ANY/A LgAvRd.Ovrl
Dan Marino1984MIA5648.6146%1.27
Ben Roethlisberger2005PIT2687.8131%1.11
Daunte Culpepper2000MIN4747.4127%1.11
Peyton Manning1999IND5337.3126%1.1
Eric Hipple1981DET2797117%4.85
Boomer Esiason1985CIN4316.8117%2.38
Jay Cutler2007DEN4676.8112%1.11
Matt Robinson1978NYJ2666109%9.227
Bernie Kosar1986CLE5316.3107%1.1
David Carr2003HOU2956.2106%1.1
Josh Freeman2010TAM4746.5105%1.17
Kerry Collins1996CAR3646.1105%1.5
Trent Edwards2008BUF3746.4105%3.92
Brett Favre1992GNB4716104%2.33
Eli Manning2005NYG5576.1104%1.1
Drew Bledsoe1994NWE6916.2104%1.1
Doug Williams1979TAM3975.9103%1.17
Joe Flacco2009BAL4996.3103%1.18
Jim Everett1987RAM3026103%1.3
John Elway1984DEN3806103%1.1
Gus Frerotte1995WAS3966.1103%7.197
Michael Vick2002ATL4216102%1.1
Brian Griese1999DEN4526102%3.91
Rodney Peete1990DET2716101%6.141
Vinny Testaverde1988TAM4665.9100%1.1
Charlie Batch1999DET2705.899%2.60
Joe Montana1980SFO2735.999%3.82
Byron Leftwich2004JAX4416.199%1.7
Tom Brady2001NWE4135.899%6.199
Craig Erickson1993TAM4575.799%4.86
Jake Plummer1998ARI5475.898%2.42
Timm Rosenbach1990PHO4375.998%1.2
Tony Eason1984NWE4315.898%1.15
Matt Ryan2009ATL451697%1.3
Tarvaris Jackson2007MIN2945.997%2.64
Tony Banks1997STL4875.597%2.42
Chuck Long1987DET4165.797%1.12
David Woodley1981MIA3665.897%8.214
Vince Young2007TEN3825.997%1.3
Carson Palmer2004CIN4325.997%1.1
Drew Brees2002SDG5265.696%2.32
Jim McMahon1983CHI2955.795%1.5
Mark Sanchez2010NYJ5075.895%1.5
Billy Joe Tolliver1990SDG4105.795%2.51
Alex Smith2006SFO4425.694%1.1
Mike Pagel1983BAL3285.694%4.84
Steve Walsh1990NOR3365.694%1.1
Shaun King2000TAM4285.493%2.50
Neil O'Donnell1991PIT2865.593%3.70
Chad Henne2009MIA4515.792%2.57
Patrick Ramsey2003WAS3375.392%1.32
David Whitehurst1978GNB3285.192%8.206
JaMarcus Russell2008OAK3685.590%1.1
Don Majkowski1988GNB3365.389%10.255
Tyler Thigpen2008KAN4205.589%7.217
Trent Dilfer1995TAM4155.389%1.6
Danny Kanell1997NYG294588%4.130
Troy Aikman1990DAL3995.288%1.1
Marc Wilson1981OAK3665.287%1.15
Todd Blackledge1984KAN2945.187%1.7
John Friesz1991SDG4875.287%6.138
Chris Miller1988ATL3515.187%1.13
Donovan McNabb2000PHI5695.187%1.2
Steve Fuller1980KAN3205.286%1.23
Browning Nagle1992NYJ387586%2.34
Joey Harrington2003DET554586%1.3
Charlie Frye2006CLE392584%3.67
Kellen Clemens2007NYJ250583%2.49
Cade McNown2000CHI2804.882%1.12
Rick Mirer1994SEA3814.982%1.2
Colt McCoy2011CLE4635.282%3.85
Steve DeBerg1978SFO3024.480%10.275
Phil Simms1980NYG4024.880%1.7
Tim Tebow2011DEN2714.978%1.25
David Klingler1993CIN3434.578%1.6
Sam Bradford2011STL3574.977%1.1
Kyle Boller2004BAL4644.675%1.19
Jeff George1991IND4854.575%1.1
Andrew Walter2006OAK2764.474%3.69
Akili Smith2000CIN2673.560%1.3

If your quarterback plays poorly in his second year, you’re basically hoping he’s Phil Simms (who had his first strong season at age 30) or the good version of Jeff George. Maybe Sam Bradford or [gasp] Tim Tebow, will also become solid starters in the NFL one day. But that’s only one part of the equation, and it’s the minor half. You could have the next Akili Smith or Kyle Boller or David Klingler or Colt McCoy or Rick Mirer or Cade McNown or Joey Harrington, too.

You might think it’s far better to wait a year too long with a first round investment than to cut bait a year too early. Tell that to the Ravens, who after two years of Kyle Boller, chose to wait it out in the 2005 draft and selected Mark Clayton over Aaron Rodgers (why take Rodgers, Cal quarterbacks are terrible!). Detroit selected Joey Harrington with the third pick in the 2002 draft, but as Lisk noted, Detroit could have reasonably “given up” (more on this in a second) on Harrington by the end of the 2003 season. The Lions did not, and selected Roy Williams in the 2004 draft instead of say, Ben Roethlisberger.

And “give up” doesn’t necessarily mean cut or spend a first round pick on another quarterback. Assuming Joe Flacco re-signs with Baltimore, there won’t be any real options in free agency for the Jaguars to address the quarterback position (Jason Campbell is probably the best of the bunch). But they can certainly address the issue in the draft. If a quarterback the Jaguars’ scouts view as elite is available with their (potentially very high) first round pick, then I don’t think you can simply say “let’s give Blaine one more year.” But at a minimum, the Jaguars must spend a pick on a quarterback in the 2013 draft if Gabbert doesn’t improve over the rest of 2012.

  1. Of course, there is the obvious “chicken or the egg” question involved there. The other four teams on that list? The 2004 Ravens (Kyle Boller), 2003 Lions (Joey Harrington), 1997 Buccaneers (Trent Dilfer) and 1992 Bengals (Boomer Esiason/David Klingler) featured four first round quarterbacks who ended up being busts. []
  2. Note that for purposes of this post, I am considering Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Jim Everett, and John Elway as being drafted by the Giants, Chargers, Rams and Broncos. []

Expect more MJD-style holdouts in the future

Jones-Drew's problems go back to how he was viewed as a college prospect.

The Maurice Jones-Drew holdout is slightly different than the typical holdouts we see every summer. As a 27-year-old running back, Jones-Drew is seeking his last big contract. But with a new owner and regime in Jacksonville, management is understandably hesitant to give a large contract to a player who already has two years remaining on his deal. The difference between Jones-Drew and most players is that this is his last chance to cash in. If he plays out his contract, even if he plays well the next two seasons, he’s unlikely to get a huge deal in 2014.

Would that be fair? I would hope that some of those writers who argued in favor of reducing rookie contracts would find such a result unjust, as a talented, star player should be rewarded with a big contract.1 But even if he performs well in 2012 and 2013, by 2014, Jones-Drew would be a 29-year-old runner who had just endured five years of punishment as a workhorse running back. No team would sign him to a large contract at that point, as he could not be expected to continue to produce at such a high level.

When it comes to running backs, it is understood that they must try to maximize their salaries when they are young, as big paydays for older runners are few and far between. But in this situation, some have argued that since this is Jones-Drew’s second contract, he should honor his deal (or, alternatively, that we should be less sympathetic to his cause). In 2009, Jones-Drew signed his second contract, and the argument goes that unlike a rookie contract — where players have almost no leverage — Jones-Drew already had his bite at the apple. But that argument ignores the fact that Jones-Drew’s rookie contract remains part of his current predicament.
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  1. This is obviously shtick, but I do find it hypocritical for owners to argue against paying “unproven” players and then to argue against paying aging players who “have little left” in the tank. Players should be paid for what we expect them to produce, and the “unrpoven” argument is and always has been a red herring. []

I don’t know why, but coach of the year is one of those awards that kind of fascinates me. That’s probably because its one of those few awards that in practice, bears little resemblance its name. There was a stretch from ’95 to ’01 — when Bill Parcells, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Tony Dungy, and Bill Cowher were roaming the sidelines — that the award went to Ray Rhodes, Dom Capers, Jim Haslett and Dick Jauron. Coach of the Year sounds like Most Valuable Player but is more often treated like Comeback Player of the Year or Surprise of the Year. Predicting in the pre-season which coach will ultimately win the award is so difficult that Vegas doesn’t even offer odds on the event. For reference, below is a look at every coach to ever be selected by the Associated Press as NFL Head Coach of the Year:

YearTeamWinnerTenureWin %RecN-1 Win%N-1 RecImp
2012INDBruce Arians10.7509-3-00.1252-14-00.625
2011SFOJim Harbaugh10.81313-3-00.3756-10-00.438
2010NWEBill Belichick110.87514-2-00.62510-6-00.25
2009CINMarvin Lewis70.62510-6-00.2814-11-10.344
2008ATLMike Smith10.68811-5-00.254-12-00.438
2007NWEBill Belichick8116-0-00.7512-4-00.25
2006NORSean Payton10.62510-6-00.1883-13-00.438
2005CHILovie Smith20.68811-5-00.3135-11-00.375
2004SDGMarty Schottenheimer30.7512-4-00.254-12-00.5
2003NWEBill Belichick40.87514-2-00.5639-7-00.313
2002PHIAndy Reid40.7512-4-00.68811-5-00.063
2001CHIDick Jauron30.81313-3-00.3135-11-00.5
2000NORJim Haslett10.62510-6-00.1883-13-00.438
1999STLDick Vermeil30.81313-3-00.254-12-00.563
1998ATLDan Reeves20.87514-2-00.4387-9-00.438
1997NYGJim Fassel10.65610-5-10.3756-10-00.281
1996CARDom Capers20.7512-4-00.4387-9-00.313
1995PHIRay Rhodes10.62510-6-00.4387-9-00.188
1994NWEBill Parcells20.62510-6-00.3135-11-00.313
1993NYGDan Reeves10.68811-5-00.3756-10-00.313
1992PITBill Cowher10.68811-5-00.4387-9-00.25
1991DETWayne Fontes40.7512-4-00.3756-10-00.375
1990DALJimmy Johnson20.4387-9-00.0631-15-00.375
1989GNBLindy Infante20.62510-6-00.254-12-00.375
1988CHIMike Ditka70.7512-4-00.73311-4-00.017
1987NORJim Mora20.812-3-00.4387-9-00.363
1986NYGBill Parcells40.87514-2-00.62510-6-00.25
1985CHIMike Ditka40.93815-1-00.62510-6-00.313
1984SEAChuck Knox20.7512-4-00.5639-7-00.188
1983WASJoe Gibbs30.87514-2-00.8898-1-0-0.014
1982WASJoe Gibbs20.8898-1-00.58-8-00.389
1981SFOBill Walsh30.81313-3-00.3756-10-00.438
1980BUFChuck Knox30.68811-5-00.4387-9-00.25
1979WASJack Pardee20.62510-6-00.58-8-00.125
1978SEAJack Patera30.5639-7-00.3575-9-00.205
1977DENRed Miller10.85712-2-00.6439-5-00.214
1976CLEForrest Gregg20.6439-5-00.2143-11-00.429
1975BALTed Marchibroda10.71410-4-00.1432-12-00.571
1974STLDon Coryell20.71410-4-00.3214-9-10.393
1973RAMChuck Knox10.85712-2-00.4646-7-10.393
1972MIADon Shula3114-0-00.7510-3-10.25
1971WASGeorge Allen10.6799-4-10.4296-8-00.25
1970SFODick Nolan30.7510-3-10.3574-8-20.393
1969MINBud Grant30.85712-2-00.5718-6-00.286
1968BALDon Shula60.92913-1-00.85711-1-20.071
1967RAMGeorge Allen20.85711-1-20.5718-6-00.286
1967BALDon Shula50.85711-1-20.6439-5-00.214
1966DALTom Landry70.7510-3-10.57-7-00.25
1965CHIGeorge Halas80.6439-5-00.3575-9-00.286
1964BALDon Shula20.85712-2-00.5718-6-00.286
1963CHIGeorge Halas60.85711-1-20.6439-5-00.214
1962NYGAllie Sherman20.85712-2-00.7510-3-10.107
1961NYGAllie Sherman10.7510-3-10.5836-4-20.167
1960PHIBuck Shaw30.83310-2-00.5837-5-00.25
1959GNBVince Lombardi10.5837-5-00.1251-10-10.458
1958BALWeeb Ewbank50.759-3-00.5837-5-00.167
1957DETGeorge Wilson10.6678-4-00.759-3-0-0.083

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How have previous Justin Blackmons fared?

Justin Blackmon was the first receiver selected in April’s draft. What are the odds that the former Oklahoma State Cowboy will be the best rookie receiver in 2012? And how likely is it that Blackmon will ultimately be the best receiver out of his class?

In some ways, it’s an unfair question. There were 33 receivers selected, including six in the first two rounds. The likelihood of Blackmon being the most productive is certainly greater than 1 out of 33, but how much greater is it?1

We don’t know, and we won’t know until his career (and the careers of his draft mates) ultimately unfolds, but we can speculate based on historical results.

Since the NFL merger, how frequently has the top drafted receiver ended up being the best rookie? Five out of 42 times, the top-selected rookie led his draft class in receiving yards that season. Believe it or not, before A.J. Green did it last season, Chicago’s Willie Gault in 1983 was the last to do so. The table below lists the top rookies selected in each of the last 42 drafts, along with their overall draft pick, and the number of receiving yards they recorded as rookies. The last two columns list the top rookie receiver (by receiving yards) and what percentage of that number of receiving yards the highest drafted rookie achieved.

YearReceiverTeamPickCollegeRook Yds% of LeaderTop Rookie
2011A.J. GreenCIN4Georgia10571.00A.J. Green
2010Demaryius ThomasDEN22Georgia Tech2830.29Mike Williams
2009Darrius Heyward-BeyOAK7Maryland1240.16Hakeem Nicks
2008Donnie AverySTL33Houston6740.69Eddie Royal
2007Calvin JohnsonDET2Georgia Tech7560.76Dwayne Bowe
2006Santonio HolmesPIT25Ohio St.8240.79Marques Colston
2005Braylon EdwardsCLE3Michigan5120.90Reggie Brown
2004Larry FitzgeraldARI3Pittsburgh7800.65Michael Clayton
2003Charles RogersDET2Michigan St.2430.18Anquan Boldin
2002Donte StallworthNOR13Tennessee5940.81Antonio Bryant
2001David TerrellCHI8Michigan4150.47Chris Chambers
2000Peter WarrickCIN4Florida St.5920.83Darrell Jackson
1999Torry HoltSTL6North Carolina St.7880.80Kevin Johnson
1998Kevin DysonTEN16Utah2630.20Randy Moss
1997Ike HilliardNYG7Florida420.08Rae Carruth
1996Keyshawn JohnsonNYJ1USC8440.75Terry Glenn
1995Michael WestbrookWAS4Colorado5220.50Joey Galloway
1994Charles JohnsonPIT17Colorado5770.67Darnay Scott
1993Curtis ConwayCHI7USC2310.36Horace Copeland
1992Desmond HowardWAS4Michigan200.06Courtney Hawkins
1991Herman MooreDET10Virginia1350.17Lawrence Dawsey
1990Alexander WrightDAL26Auburn1040.13Ricky Proehl
1989Hart Lee DykesNWE16Oklahoma St.7950.92Shawn Collins
1988Tim BrownRAI6Notre Dame7250.92Sterling Sharpe
1987Haywood JeffiresHOU20North Carolina St.890.14Ricky Nattiel
1986Mike SherrardDAL18UCLA7440.66Bill Brooks
1985Al ToonNYJ10Wisconsin6620.70Eddie Brown
1984Irving FryarNWE1Nebraska1640.19Louis Lipps
1983Willie GaultCHI18Tennessee8361.00Willie Gault
1982Anthony HancockKAN11Tennessee1160.46Lindsay Scott
1981David VerserCIN10Kansas1610.16Cris Collinsworth
1980Lam JonesNYJ2Texas4820.60Art Monk
1979Jerry ButlerBUF5Clemson8341.00Jerry Butler
1978Wes ChandlerNOR3Florida4720.47John Jefferson
1977Stanley MorganNWE25Tennessee4430.60Wesley Walker
1976Billy BrooksCIN11Oklahoma1910.21Sammy White
1975Larry BurtonNOR7Purdue3050.70Rick Upchurch
1974Lynn SwannPIT21USC2080.34Nat Moore
1973Isaac CurtisCIN15San Diego St.8431.00Isaac Curtis
1972Ahmad RashadSTL4Oregon5001.00Ahmad Rashad
1971J.D. HillBUF4Arizona St.2160.25Randy Vataha
1970Ken BurroughNOR10Texas Southern1960.28Ron Shanklin

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  1. I’m not going to comment on how Justin Blackmon was arrested on an aggregated DUI charge on June 3. []