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We’re a fan of progressive leaderboards here at Football Perspective, and it’s time to take a look at the all-time single-season leaders in completion percentage.

Officially, Sammy Baugh was the single-season leader in completion percentage from 1945 to 1981, as he completed 70.3% of his passes in 1945. To qualify for the completion percentage crown, a player needs to throw at least 14 passes per team game, or 224 passes in a 16-game season. Baugh threw 182 passes in 1945, during a ten-game schedule for the Redskins, though Baugh himself missed two games. But let’s up the minimum to 224 passes, since completion percentage can be misleading over a small sample size. That’s certainly not “fair” to Baugh, but this is a fun post designed to look at the progressive leaders in history, so omitting everyone from ’45 to ’81 would be pretty boring.

In 1942, Sammy Baugh completed 58.7% of his passes for the Redskins. Washington went 10-1, finishing 3rd in points and 3rd in yards in a 10-team league, and won the NFL championship. As a team, Washington finished 3rd in ANY/A, too.

That record held for five years, until 1947, when Baugh completed 59.3% of his passes.1 But it didn’t come with much success: the team finished 4-8, thanks to a very bad defense. Still, don’t blame Baugh: Washington finished 4th in points and 2nd in yards, and easily led the NFL in ANY/A. But the pass defense was nearly as bad as the pass offense was good, and the team lost 13 more fumbles than it recovered, leading to the bad record.

In 1953, Otto Graham smashed the non-Baugh record, completing 64.7% of his passes for the Browns in one of the greatest passing seasons of all time. The Browns had an unreal +5.0 Relative ANY/A that season, and began the season 11-0 before losing the team’s final two games.

In 1974, Ken Anderson completed 64.9% of his passes as part of a strong season for the Bengals. Cincinnati had a good passing offense — it finished in the top 5 in ANY/A — but the team finished just 7-7, in part because the defense finished last in takeaways. [click to continue…]

  1. Over in the AAFC, Otto Graham completed 60.6% of his passes, but I’m going to ignore the AAFC today. []
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Sam Bradford, Career Passing By Game

On Sunday night, Sam Bradford had a great game in his first start with the Minnesota Vikings. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards, and while he was sacked 4 times (for -32 yards), he also threw for 11 first downs and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions. That translates to an 8.40 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average, giving 20 yards for every touchdown and deducting for sacks. If you also give him 9 yards for his other 9 first downs (remember, touchdowns are first downs), that means Bradford a 10.7 average.

Was that the best game of Bradford’s uneven career? I thought it might be up there, so I decided to run the numbers. Turns out, Bradford’s had more good games in his 65-game career than I had remembered.

  • In October 2013, Bradford had the most efficient game of his career: he went 12 of 16 for 117 yards with 3 TDs and 9 first downs, and no sacks or interceptions in a blowout over Houston. That gave him a career-high 13.8 ANY/A with the first down bonus included. (
  • As a rookie against the Broncos, Bradford might have had the best combination of quantity and quality in his career: He went 22 of 307 for 308 yards with 3 TDs with 16 first downs, and no interceptions or sack yards lost (he did take two sacks). That gave him a 12.4 ANY/A with the first down bonus, the second highest rate of his career.

The graph below shows all of Bradford’s games and how well he performed (using ANY/A with the first down bonus), in order, and color-coded to match the team he was playing for. I have also included a black line which represents league-average play that season. [click to continue…]

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Additional Thoughts on Sam Bradford

On Thursday, I wrote about the mediocre (and worse) statistics produced by Sam Bradford throughout his career. Today, I wanted try to present the other side of the case. I’ve written about Bradford a few times here at Football Perspective, and some of those articles are instructive:

  • A year ago, I wondered whether Bradford would break out in his first season with the Eagles, and became a quarterback with the rare age 27 breakout season. I wrote that the odds were highly against a quarterback playing like Bradford through age 26 and then turning into a very good quarterback, but number one picks stuck on bad teams were the quarterbacks most likely to buck that trend.

In the context of defending Bradford, it is easy to point to a revolving cast of characters, both at receiver and offensive coordinator. His first three seasons in St. Louis, he had a different leading receiver and different offensive coordinator each year. In fact, he’s now had five different leading receivers in each of his five seasons, and last year was the first time he’s had a player gain even 700 receiving yards:

YearTop ReceiverRec YdsOffensive Coordinator
2010Danny Amendola689Pat Shurmur
2011Bradon Lloyd683Josh McDaniels
2012Chris Givens698Brian Schottenheimer
2013Jared Cook671Brian Schottenheimer
2015Jordan Matthews997Pat Shurmur

As a result, no player has gained even 15% of Bradford’s career passing yards. In fact, Bradford’s career-leading weapon is Brandon Gibson, who has 11.2% of Bradford’s yards. And only Danny Amendola is also over seven percent.

ReceiverTarYdsPerc
Brandon Gibson226165211.2%
Danny Amendola22913989.5%
Chris Givens1199936.7%
Jordan Matthews1179186.2%
Lance Kendricks1249006.1%
Steven Jackson1458715.9%
Zach Ertz1058165.5%
Austin Pettis1206904.7%
Danario Alexander746054.1%
Daniel Fells653912.6%
Brandon Lloyd583512.4%
Laurent Robinson753442.3%
Jared Cook423342.3%
Mark Clayton463322.2%
Brian Quick453152.1%
Darren Sproles652972.0%
Brent Celek202952.0%

That’s a pretty underwhelming set of receivers. One thing that might be instructive is seeing how those players have fared without Bradford. Let’s go in descending order based on the number of targets each player has seen from Bradford. [click to continue…]

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The Eagles have resigned Sam Bradford, in a move that’s pretty hard to justify. In five different seasons, Bradford has thrown at least 250 pass attempts (he missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL). In those years, he has never ranked as a league-average quarterback as measured by Net Yards per Attempt. Based on PFR’s Advanced Passing Index ratings, Bradford had an 84 NY/A+ as a rookie, a 73 in year two, a 94 in 2012, an 89 in 2013, and a 98 last year.

In these ratings, 100 represents league average, 85 is one standard deviation below league average, and 70 is two standard deviations below league average. That’s five seasons of below-average — and often really below average — quarterbacking. And it now appears as though he’ll be given a sixth year, and you can imagine the smart money is on him once again falling short of league average.

I’m using NY/A instead of ANY/A because NY/A is a better predictive stat and less sensitive to outlier plays, and that arguably hurts Bradford in this analysis. He did post a 102 in ANY/A+ in 2013 because of an excellent interception rate, but the biggest criticism of Bradford is that he doesn’t take enough risks, as he generally throws very short passes. His average pass traveled just 7.04 yards downfield in 2015, which ranked 31st out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks. He ranked 34th out of 37 passers in this metric in 2013, 22nd out of 32 in 2012, 10th out of 33 in 2011, and 30th out of 31 in 2010. As a result, yes, Bradford does throw fewer interceptions, but I don’t think that’s a sign of anything other than conservative quarterback play.

I looked at all quarterbacks who had at least five seasons since 19701 with 250 pass attempts. Every season with a NY/A+ index of less than 100 was graded as “Bad” and every season with a NY/A+ index of 100 or better was “Good.” Bradford therefore goes down as 0/5, giving him a grade of -5. That’s pretty bad, although not the worst score in the group: [click to continue…]

  1. I have included quarterbacks who entered the league before 1970, but only counted their post-1969 seasons. []
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Sam Bradford and Breaking Out At Age 27

Bradford will move from St. Louis to Philadelphia via 195,000 eight-yard passes.

Bradford will be moving from St. Louis to Philadelphia, presumably via 195,000 eight-yard passes.

As a rookie at age 23, Sam Bradford averaged 4.73 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt1 at a time when the league average ANY/A was 5.73; as a result, we could say that Bradford had a Relative ANY/A of -1.00. The next year, he averaged 4.49 ANY/A with a RANY/A of -1.41. In 2012, he was at 5.64  and -0.30, and in seven games in ’13, he averaged 6.10 and +0.23.  In other words, he’s been mostly below-average for his career.

In order to calculate his career RANY/A to-date, we need to weight his production by his number of dropbacks, which were 624 in ’10, 393 in ’11, 586 in 2012 and 277 in his last season of play. Do the math, and Bradford has a career RANY/A of -0.68 entering the 2015 season. But could he have a breakout year playing with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia?

I decided it would be interesting to look at the question from the reverse angle: how many of the quarterbacks that were really good at age 27 were not so good before that? I defined “really good” to mean a RANY/A of +1.00 on at least 224 dropbacks since 1970 (i.e., a quarterback who had an ANY/A average at least one full yard better than league average, had a significant number of dropbacks, and did so since the merger). I also required that such quarterback had at least 500 career dropbacks through age 26 (Bradford has 1,880 career dropbacks prior to the 2015 season.)  There were 24 quarterbacks who met those criteria.

The best RANY/A season since the merger by an age 27 quarterback was Craig Morton; the Dallas quarterback hadn’t played much prior to 1970 (just 615 career dropbacks), but he had been effective in limited time before then (a career RANY/A of +1.58 prior to the ’70 season).

The second best age 27 season came from Boomer Esiason, in his MVP season of 1988. That year, he had 418 dropbacks and averaged 2.77 ANY/A better than the league average; prior to 1988, he had 1,531 career dropbacks, and a career RANY/A of +1.32. The table below shows that data for all 31 quarterbacks: [click to continue…]

  1. Defined as Passing Yards + 20 * PTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yards Lost, all divided by total dropbacks (i.e., including sacks). []
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Predictions in Review: NFC West

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. Last week was the AFC West; this week, the NFC West.

Let’s begin in Arizona, where I actually got one right.

Questioning the Narrative on Larry Fitzgerald, June 20, 2013

The conventional wisdom was that Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a bounce-back year in 2013. That view was widely-held: in fact, I caged a lot of my negative Fitzgerald comments with caveats, as it felt like criticizing Fitzgerald was just something football writers didn’t do. Fitzgerald was one of the game’s best wide receivers when Kurt Warner was under center, and it felt wrong to argue with folks who wanted to give him a pass for the mediocre numbers he produced with John Skelton/Ryan Lindley/Kevin Kolb. With Carson Palmer in Arizona in 2013, the expectation was a big year for Fitzgerald. Instead, he produced 82 passes for only 954 yards, although he did score 10 touchdowns.

For the second year in a row, Fitzgerald failed to lead his team in receiving yards per game, with Andre Roberts (2012) and Michael Floyd (2013) instead earning those honors. So what’s happened with Fitzgerald? I have no idea, but he’s certainly not the same player he was during the Warner/Anquan Boldin days. And while the touchdowns made sure he wasn’t a complete fantasy bust, he gained just 22.2% of all Cardinals receiving yards in 2013, somehow falling short of his 23.6% mark in his miserable 2012 season. [click to continue…]

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Bradford looks to check down

Bradford looks to check down.

As a rookie, Sam Bradford ranked last in the league in yards per completion. That year, he averaged 9.92 YPC, 1.61 yards per completion lower than the league average of 11.53. In his second and third years — 2011 and 2012 — Bradford was a little better in that metric, but he still finished 0.65 and 0.34 yards per completion below league average in those seasons. So far in 2013, Bradford has earned his reputation as a checkdown artist: with a 10.21 YPC average, he’s averaged 1.43 fewer yards per completion than the average quarterback.

If you take a weighted average (based on his number of completions in each season), Bradford has been 0.98 yards per completion below league average over the course of his 980 career completed passes. In August, I noted that the Rams have experienced constant turnover at offensive coordinator and wide receiver since Bradford entered the league. This year, with Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, and developing talents like Chris Givens, expectations were high for Bradford. So far, we’ve seen more of the same from Bradford, which means lots of checkdowns and few big plays.

For his career, Bradford has averaged just 10.68 yards per completion. The table below shows the 164 quarterbacks since 1950 to complete at least 850 passes. The far right column represents the difference between each quarterback’s career yards per completion average minus the league average (calculated on a weighted-average basis for each quarterback based on his number of completions in each season) rate. As it turns out, Bradford ranks in the “top five” when it comes to the worst era-adjusted yards per completion averages.
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Since Sam Bradford was drafted by the Rams in 2010, the only consistent force in St. Louis has been change. Tackle Rodger Saffold, drafted in the second round of the same draft, is the only other player on the 2010 Rams offense who is still on the team. Bradford has already played under three offensive coordinators (Pat Shurmur as a rookie, Josh McDaniels in 2011, and Brian Schottenheimer last year), which means this is the first time in four years he isn’t learning a new system. And while his rookie season was always overrated, his performance last year was better than you think. After adjusting for one of the league’s toughest schedules, Bradford ranked 18th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, despite being saddled with an inferior set of receivers.

How inferior? The table below shows the top six leaders in receiving yards for St. Louis last season:

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Chris Givens 2012 23 STL 15 12 42 698 16.62 3 46.5
2 Brandon Gibson 2012 25 STL 16 13 51 691 13.55 5 43.2
3 Danny Amendola 2012 27 STL 11 8 63 666 10.57 3 60.5
4 Lance Kendricks 2012 24 STL 16 14 42 519 12.36 4 32.4
5 Steven Jackson 2012 29 STL 16 15 38 321 8.45 0 20.1
6 Austin Pettis 2012 24 STL 14 2 30 261 8.70 4 18.6

Chances are, unless you’re a Rams fan or play fantasy football, you’ve never even heard of four of those names.  And while Amendola was productive when healthy, he missed five games last year (and it’s worth noting that Bradford’s numbers weren’t worse without Amendola in the lineup). Steven Jackson is of course a great player, but there’s only so much help a 29-year-old running back who catches 38 passes can provide to an ailing passing game.
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Franchise leaders — passing stats

Happy 4th of July! Before you head to your barbecue, I’d recommend you take a look at the incredible document our founders signed 236 years ago.

As far as football goes, today’s a good time for a data dump. The table below shows the career passing leaders for each franchise, organized by when the current leader last played for that team.

TeamYardsQuarterbackLast Yr
NWE39979Tom Brady
NOR28394Drew Brees
HOU16903Matt Schaub
BAL13816Joe Flacco
IND54828Peyton Manning2011
SEA29434Matt Hasselbeck2010
PHI32873Donovan McNabb2009
CAR19258Jake Delhomme2009
GNB61655Brett Favre2007
JAX25698Mark Brunell2003
DAL32942Troy Aikman2000
MIA61361Dan Marino1999
DEN51475John Elway1998
BUF35467Jim Kelly1996
TEN33685Warren Moon1993
NYG33462Phil Simms1993
STL23758Jim Everett1993
SFO35124Joe Montana1992
TAM14820Vinny Testaverde1992
SDG43040Dan Fouts1987
CIN32838Ken Anderson1986
WAS25206Joe Theismann1985
ATL23470Steve Bartkowski1985
ARI34639Jim Hart1983
PIT27989Terry Bradshaw1983
CLE23713Brian Sipe1983
OAK19078Ken Stabler1979
MIN33098Fran Tarkenton1978
NYJ27057Joe Namath1976
KAN28507Len Dawson1975
DET15710Bobby Layne1958
CHI14686Sid Luckman1950

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