Last week, I wrote about how the 2012 Redskins were powered by a pair of rookies in Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. The only team whose rookies had more passing/rushing/receiving yards in NFL history was the 2012 Colts, while the only non-expansion team with a higher percentage of yards from rookies was the ’55 Colts.
In the comments, Shattenjager pointed out that the list I presented was pretty quarterback-heavy. So I thought a fun thing to do would be to use PFR’s Approximate Value (AV) system instead of yards, and re-run the numbers.
The table below shows all non-expansion teams since 1950 that had at least 25% of their AV come from rookies. For each team, I’ve listed their record and winning percentage, total team AV, their rookie AV, and the percentage compiled by rookies. Then I listed their top four rookies in terms of AV.
Only two teams since 1990 appear on the list — the 2012 Colts and 2012 Browns. That’s pretty interesting, but what’s also interesting is how little separated the Browns from the Colts last year. Cleveland had a Simple Rating System rating of -5.3, while Indianapolis was only marginally better at -4.7. What made one team 5-11 and one team 11-5? One reason the Colts made the playoffs was because they had a very easy schedule. But the bigger reason is that Andrew Luck led 7 game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime, compared to just one for Brandon Weeden. In addition, the Colts allowed only one fourth quarter comeback (to Blaine Gabbert!), while Cleveland allowed fourth quarter comebacks to Tony Romo, Michael Vick, and Joe Flacco. Not much separated the teams other than fourth quarterback play: in points differential through three quarters, Indianapolis ranked 20th and Cleveland ranked 22nd.
Usually, that would mean a team like the Colts is due for a massive decline in record in Year N+1. And perhaps that will be the case: after all, Vegas only considers them to be the 23rd best team in 2013. [You can see what the wisdom of crowds tells us about the Colts here.] But for a team that was so dependent on rookies, an equally plausible argument is that the Colts should be a much improved team this year, which would counter the expected regression due to little ‘l’ luck.
The 2012 Colts ranked as the 8th youngest team last year, and seventh-youngest on offense. Even ignoring Luck, 2012 class members T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, and Coby Fleener all look to be key contributors this year. And left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a first round pick in 2011, will be only 25 in August. Just about everyone on the offense is young, with one notable exception.
Luck’s raw efficiency numbers were below average last year, although part of the explanation there was that he led the league in Air Yards per Completion. I suspect his numbers will look a lot better in year two. But Reggie Wayne led the NFL in targets last season and ranked 2nd to only Brandon Marshall in percentage of team targets. The Colts have a very young offense that’s extremely dependent on a wide receiver who turns 35 in November. And avert your eyes, Indianapolis fans. Only one player in NFL history ever gained more receiving yards at age 34: Wayne’s old running mate, Marvin Harrison, who was pretty much washed up after 34.
The Colts are a tricky team to typecast in 2013. Luck was great in many ways last year, but his efficiency numbers need to significantly improve for Indianapolis to remain a playoff contender. For such a young team, that’s typically not a problem. But while Wayne was great last year, there are always question marks around a player of his age. The Colts only hedge was signing Darrius Heyward-Bey, but he’s not capable of filling Wayne’s shoes. We’ve been conditioned to think that wide receivers aren’t very important, but a healthy Reggie Wayne could be the difference between another playoff berth and a very disappointing year two for Luck.
Then again, perhaps the age concerns are overblown. I took a look at all wide receivers, ages 33-35, who gained 1,000 yards in a season and then played for the same team in Year N+1 (there were 45). I then compared how they did to a control group, of receivers in their 20s who gained 1,000 receiving yards and then played in Year N+1 for the same team.
Some decline is expected, but that’s typical regression to the mean decline and not “you’re too old to be good” decline. Even the yards per game drop wasn’t that bad, and it rises to about 60 if you exclude the receivers who played in fewer than 8 games in Year N+1.
Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams