Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Dec 2006

FO Mailbag: Is Terrance Newman better than DeAngelo Hall? (plus more fun with cornerback stats)

Ron: OK, many of the Cowboys fans and I are a tad bitter about Terrance Newman not making the Pro Bowl - especially with DeAngelo Hall getting in. We feel that Newman does an excellent job of shutting down whatever side of the field he's on, or whatever receiver he's been assigned to. He doesn't get the picks or huge plays because QB's just don't throw at him and he doesn't give up big plays.

Are we correct? Is Newman better statistically?

Aaron Schatz: DeAngelo Hall is not the worst Pro Bowl selection this year. That would probably be Mack Strong -- Strong would have been a great pick in any of the last few years, but this year his ability to block just disintegrated. Hall is probably the second-worst selection. Hall is an example of a phenomenon that we may be writing more about in the coming months, and in next year's book: people wrongly assume that great athletes are effective football players. This is a huge problem with boom-and-bust running backs of the DeShaun Foster type, for example, but it also goes for Hall, who is super insanely fast but still learning effective cornerback technique. He's not a bad cornerback, he's just average. His reputation is helped by the fact that the other cornerbacks on his team are god awful. Compared to them, average and fast looks Pro Bowl-caliber.

Anyway, spurred on by your question I recompiled the data from this year's game charting project with all the games that are finished so far. We've got partial data through Week 13, although the later in the season you go, the more games that are unfinished. So take this stuff with a grain of salt. Also note that this stuff doesn't include pass interference penalties yet.

But... I was surprised to see that Newman's metrics don't come out much better than Hall's metrics. With 56 charted passes, Hall has given up 8.8 yards per pass with a Stop Rate of 55%. Newman, on 39 charted passes, has given up 8.2 yards per pass with a Stop Rate of 56% -- slightly better, but not much. The difference does come out in the last thing you noted, that quarterbacks avoid Newman. We've charted more passes thrown at Hall than at the inferior Jason Webster (52) but far fewer at Newman than at his partner, Anthony Henry (61). Remember not to compare those numbers between teams, since we have different amounts of games charted for each team.

Of course, if you open your Pro Football Prospectus 2006 you'll see that Newman was in the top five in both stats last year, and Hall was emphatically not.

Here's a look at the players who are best in the metrics, based on the data collected so far. We're listing players with a minimum of 30 passes. First, the top 10 in Stop Rate. (Stop Rate measures percentage of plays that do not achieve offensive success by Football Outsiders standards: 45% of yards on first down, 60% on second down, 100% on third down.)

• 32-A.Jones TEN 52 65%
• 28-L.Bodden CLE 31 65%
• 31-R.Marshall CAR 35 63%
• 33-C.Tillman CHI 75 63%
• 21-C.McAlister BAL 53 62%
• 20-C.Gamble CAR 38 61%
• 29-D.Florence SD 55 60%
• 26-L.Sheppard PHI 35 60%
• 22-F.Thomas NO 49 59%
• 36-D.Barrett NYJ 34 59%

The other number listed is number of charted passes. First of all, I should point out one player who ISN'T listed here, because I made the cut-off 30 passes. Antonio Cromartie has a Stop Rate of 69% with 28 charted passes. Wow, was I wrong when I thought the Chargers made a mistake because Cromartie would require years to learn to play corner in the NFL. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Then we've got Pac-Man, who probably should have made the AFC Pro Bowl team over Rashean Mathis, and our boy Leigh Bodden -- remember, this doesn't include the recent games where Bodden played hurt and not up to his previous level. Fred Thomas is still on this list for the same reason, because he played so well early in the year, and this doesn't include those recent games where he got torched like Johnny Storm. I'm a little surprised to see two Panthers on the list, since I thought the secondary was one of the big reasons they didn't live up to their Super Bowl potential this year. And I read some San Diego blog where some guy was talking about Quentin Jammer having a huge year this year. Actually, by our numbers he's the only one of the three San Diego cornerbacks who still qualifies as a weakness.

The top 10 in yards per play:

• 36-D.Barrett NYJ 34 4.5
• 28-L.Bodden CLE 31 4.6
• 22-A.Samuel NE 53 4.7
• 27-W.Harris SF 48 5.0
• 25-R.McQuarters NYG 35 5.0
• 31-N.Vasher CHI 44 5.4
• 31-C.Finnegan TEN 30 5.4
• 32-A.Jones TEN 52 5.5
• 26-L.Sheppard PHI 35 5.5
• 31-R.Marshall CAR 35 5.5

These numbers are a little kooky. David Barrett? R.W. McQuarters has looked horrible recently. Let's see where those guys stand at the end of the year.

I have no problem with Ronde Barber (we all know about his amazing run support) or Sheppard. Based on these numbers, Richard Marshall, the Carolina rookie, should be going to the Pro Bowl, but I don't trust that, not with this incomplete data. Combining this data with what we know from past seasons, I would have given the third NFC spot to Nathan Vasher. Vasher has a lower Stop Rate (57%) than Charles Tillman, but allows fewer yards per pass and opponents throw at Vasher roughly half as often compared to Tillman. Newman would have been a better choice than Hall, certainly, based on what we know from last year. Look, Jason Webster and Allen Rossum are so bad that if DeAngelo Hall was as good as people think, teams would treat those guys the way they treat Darrant Williams when Champ Bailey is on the other side of the field.

To finish up, here's a look at the worst cornerbacks so far by these metrics (remember, though, incomplete data). First, Stop Rate:

• 22-S.Rolle BAL 46 30%
• 22-Tr.Fisher STL 42 33%
• 24-T.Law KC 35 37%
• 27-J.Webster ATL 52 38%
• 23-M.Trufant SEA 55 40%
• 25-K.Wright WAS 42 40%
• 21-J.Fletcher DET 32 41%
• 27-Da.Williams DEN 59 41%
• 23-Q.Jammer SD 64 42%
• 24-I.Taylor PIT 67 43%

And then yards per pass:

• 22-S.Rolle BAL 46 14.1
• 22-Tr.Fisher STL 42 10.7
• 26-T.Hill STL 40 10.7
• 21-J.Fletcher DET 32 10.4
• 20-T.James CIN 42 10.0
• 21-R.Hill TEN 45 10.0
• 27-J.Webster ATL 52 9.9
• 24-T.Law KC 35 9.7
• 29-B.Williams JAC 47 9.6
• 24-I.Taylor PIT 67 9.3

You can be very sure that Bill Belichick, Marty Schottenheimer, and Tony Dungy know who to pick on if/when they face the Ravens in January. Also, Ty Law is over the hill -- his metrics were awful in New York last year too -- and the Rams' defensive backfield is horrific.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 22 Dec 2006