Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
04 Dec 2005
by Aaron Schatz (and the FO staff)
Time for another look at the Football Outsiders mailbag. We get a lot of e-mail, and there are a lot of comments on the discussion threads, so I apologize if your question doesn't get answered. There simply are too many good questions that require well thought out answers. The best way to get your question answered at this point is to use the contact form. If it is a question not related to the DVOA stats, it is more likely to be answered if you send it to one of the other writers, not me.
Be aware that we reference plenty of our innovative FO stats here, not to mention their unfamiliar terminology, so if you are a recent addition to the readership you might want to read this first.
Before we get to some questions, we've had a few e-mails asking if we have an RSS feed. We do, and you'll find it here:
Let's start with a question for Mike Tanier.
Tony Doucet: Mike ... please, please, please ... help settle an argument. Is Drew Bledsoe a Hall of Famer? This is a huge argument among my friends and I. On one hand, its possible he could finish with 50,000 yards, which only Elway, Favre, and Marino have done, and could finish top 10 all time in passing touchdowns, but at the same time, he's never had a year with 30 TDs, he hasn't been to many Pro Bowls, and never really won any awards. Is Drew going to be in the Hall, or is he going to be like the quarterback version of Fred McGriff?
Mike Tanier: This will probably settle no arguments, but here goes. At present, I do not believe that Bledsoe is a Hall of Famer. As you state, he has a chance to be near the top of the NFL all-time lists. If he winds up first or second on the yards or TDs list, then he would have a resume. But if he's fourth or fifth on those lists, and he doesn't do something crazy like lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowls, then he won't be in.
A quick note for any Pro Football HOF argument: Canton is not Cooperstown. The things that make you a shoo-in for the Baseball HOF, like having a long career and climbing the all-time leader boards, are less relevant to the Football HOF voters, for a variety of reasons. Super Bowls and Pro Bowls matter much more than stats, and as you said, Bledsoe comes up short on both.
You may want to track Warren Moon's HOF progress over the next few years to see what becomes of Bledsoe. Moon has tons of stats and took several teams to the playoffs, but he doesn't have a lot of HOF buzz. Bledsoe may find himself in a similar situation, and the fact that the Patriots became great after Bledsoe left doesn't exactly make him look better in the eyes of voters.
Aaron Schatz: I think Bledsoe would get support for the Hall of Fame if he could lead the Cowboys to just one Super Bowl, not three, as long as they won that one Super Bowl. Otherwise, no. A couple other points:
1) Football's Hall of Fame is much more exclusive than baseball's. There's never been an equivalent to the period in the 1970s when Bill Terry and Frankie Frisch ran the Veterans Committee and basically stuck everyone who played for the Giants or Cardinals in the 1930s into the Hall of Fame.
2) Another good comparison for Bledsoe is Boomer Esiason -- always considered a top quarterback, but never considered the best, led his team to one Super Bowl, and had a big season later in his career in his first year with another team (1993 Jets). Esiason is 12th on the all-time passing yardage list. Here's the top ten:
|All-Time Top 10 in Passing Yards|
Among the top ten, Bledsoe has the lowest yards per attempt, the fewest touchdowns, and is below average (although not at the bottom) in both completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Richie Wohlers: Have you had fewer/no guest columns submitted for the site this year, or have you chosen not to publish them? It seems like there used to be more guest columns.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah. Almost no guest columns submitted. Weird, huh? Anybody who wants to submit a guest column is welcome to send an idea or even an entire rough draft. The general policy is usually that we either want something with a unique take on things, or a unique new stat, or something really funny. And historical-type stuff is better submitted in the off-season.
Parker Beck: One of my favorite articles appearing in FO was the one about Ricky Williams a couple years ago, the one about how he was "screwed." If I remember correctly, the idea was that Ricky had been overused and that NFL history was littered with running backs that fell off in productivity after years of heavy use, unless their name was Eric. Further, I believe the magic number was 400, as in 400 touches in a year was a pretty good indicator that the RB was about to take a dive. Ricky's touches in:
2001: 313 runs, 60 passes, 373 total
2002: 383 runs, 47 passes, 430 total
2003: 392 runs, 50 passes, 442 total
01-03 1088 runs, 150 passes, 1238 total
Based on this information, I made some pretty bold statements to a couple of friends about how LaDainian Tomlinson was likely to see a big drop in production this year. My evidence:
2002: 372 runs, 79 passes, 451 total
2003: 313 runs, 100 passes, 413 total
2004: 339 runs, 53 passes, 392 total
01-04: 1024 runs, 232 passes, 1256 total
So my question is, what happened? LT2 is having a fine year, his yards per carry are back up and everything appears to be fine.
Is the answer as simple as amending the original statement to read "unless you are named Eric or LaDainian" or is there something in the numbers that I am missing? My fellow fantasy football players take great joy in reminding me of my statements about LT2 and then calling me an idiot.
Aaron Schatz: The first thing I should clarify is that the magic number was 370, not 400, and the issue at hand was carries, not touches. There's been some discussion on the comment threads a few times about what the research would look like if we included receptions, but as of yet we've never done that research (I'm hoping to do it in next year's book).
Second, LT did have his breakdown year. It was last year, when he dropped to 3.9 yards per carry. People didn't notice as much because the Chargers were winning and he was scoring touchdowns and thus worth a lot in fantasy football. (I don't know if you bought the book, but while Kevin Jones was on the cover, LaDainian Tomlinson was projected to be the number one player in fantasy football for 2005 in the fantasy projections appendix.)
Third, there's still a good chance that LT's average yards per carry will end up lower than both 2002 (4.5) and 2003 (5.3). He's got a 4.6 yd/carry average now but that was 4.3 yd/carry with four minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Washington game.
Fourth, here are your leaders in carries for 2003:
Ricky Williams, 392
Jamal Lewis, 387
Ahman Green, 355
Deuce McAllister, 351
I think LT is an exception that proves the rule. I'm guessing you passed on Lewis and Green in your draft and they went way too high and their owners are a little bummed out. (I should point out that Rudi Johnson had 360 carries last year and seems fine.)
John Healy: I was wondering. What is the relationship between offensive line adjusted yards and RB yards? The Colts lead the league with 5.16 adjusted yards per carry, but their RBs only have 4.29. What is to be made of this? Is the Edge actually underperforming given his offensive line?
Aaron Schatz: First, this is my chance to mention that the offensive and defensive line tables are updated through Week 12. You are right, sort of. Edge isn't really underperforming, because adjusted line yards still can't completely separate the line from the back. But since his return from the ACL injury, Edge just doesn't break many long runs. He gets a lot of 5-7 yarders, but very few carries that go nowhere and very few that go long. You can see that Indianapolis ranks first in not getting stuffed and 31st in percentage of rushing gains that come more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Edge is also on pace to blow apart the record for RB success rate -- he's at 65% and the highest success rate of any starting running back from 1998-2004 was 61%. I think Edge and his line are equally responsible for this remarkably consistent performance.
James: Your an Ass hole Araon. you should give some respect to Seattle. the win big games and you drop them in the rankings. i hope they make it to the super bowl it will really make you look like the ass hole that you are.
Aaron Schatz: Hmmm. You may be confusing me with this guy. This was one of a zillion e-mails from this week accusing me of anti-Seattle bias. I'm getting used to this each time some teams falls a bit in the ratings for some reason that isn't readily apparent from simple wins and losses. The Seattle people were nice enough to keep their complaints to e-mail instead of infiltrating our discussion threads, but this was interesting because the e-mails just kept coming all week, into Friday and Saturday, almost as if there was a delayed reaction. Were mean things about me posted on a Seahawks message board or something?
The strangest thing about the accusations of anti-Seattle bias is that I may be the most pro-Seahawks writer on the Internet. When the site started in 2003, our first-ever projection system said that Seattle would be the second-best team in the NFC. I picked Seattle to make the playoffs in 2003 and to win their division in 2004 and 2005. I nicknamed Bobby Engram "The First Down Machine" and I've written about him as the most underrated receiver in football numerous times. I wrote a whole article for the New York Times about how Seattle would be much better than people expected this year. We put Matt Hasselbeck on the cover of our book and I chose him as 2005 MVP in the New York Sun season preview (partly, I will admit, because picking Peyton Manning would have been really boring). Man, if this is how I write about a team that I have a bias against, how would I write about a team I had a bias for?
I hereby promise that we will put a Seattle Seahawk on the cover of next year's book. How about Walter Jones? We all agree he doesn't get enough press. In fact, how about we put nothing but guys named Jones on the cover of next year's book? I can see it now:
Nick: I Just have a question about my home team the St. Louis Rams and how it possible for them to be that low. They win five games and are below teams with two wins and below the Titans, Cardinals, and Saints who they beat. They have beaten a good team in Jacksonville also. They have played Seattle close twice and were beating the Colts until Bulger went down. They have also won without their starting quarterback and wide receivers.
Aaron Schatz: Here's the other reason why I clearly have nothing against the Seahawks. I don't know what's up with the Rams, who are currently 30th in DVOA. They were also ranked very low by DVOA last year (30th despite going 8-8) and the year before (13th despite going 12-4). I wanted to take a closer look, at least at this year's Rams, to see if there was an explanation.
Let's get this out of the way first: DVOA is entirely based on stats and therefore does not take into account injuries of any kind. That's part of the reason why the Steelers are so low and why the Jaguars (who keep playing teams with injured quarterbacks) are so high. I don't want to make subjective judgments based on injuries, I prefer to leave that to the readers. For this same reason, the fact that they were beating the Colts until Bulger went down doesn't matter -- the plays in the second half of that game count just as much as the plays in the first half.
Are the Rams just getting away with a lot of close wins? Their Pythagorean win total, based simply on points scored and allowed, is 4.6 wins, and the Rams are 5-6.
DVOA, however, seems to disagree. Here's another fun week-to-week DVOA chart, except this time we'll run both DVOA and VOA, which is not adjusted for strength of opponent. DVOA is the blue line with yellow squares, VOA the darker blue line with little diamonds.
VOA says the Rams' wins have pretty much been all squeakers. The Arizona win was a little bigger, and the Rams were actually outplayed by Jacksonville even though they won -- which is balanced out by the fact that they outplayed San Francisco even though they lost.
Look at DVOA, though, and the Rams have only one positive game all year, the Jacksonville win. All their other wins have been against bad teams, and therefore after adjustment they end up negative.
Without considering strength of schedule, is the system underrating the Rams in some way? Well, the "success points" system that starts the computation of DVOA currently caps the value of all plays at 40 yards (not counting the possible touchdown bonus). People have suggested that this is unfair to teams that depend on big plays. (A few folks have pointed to this as a reason why certain past Indianapolis teams were ranked low, like the 10-6 Colts being 20th in 2002.) In the past rewarding plays over 40 yards has never improved the system's correlation with wins, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth experimenting again. The Rams are still running the offensive style that made them the Greatest Show on Turf, so perhaps this is the problem.
Except the Rams do not lead the league in offensive plays over 40 yards. And the Colts are nowhere near leading the league in offensive plays over 40 yards. When you see which two teams lead the league in offensive plays over 40 yards, one of them will completely blow your mind.
New York Giants: 11
(St. Louis has 9, Indianapolis 5)
Somehow, the idea that Miami offense is underrated by our system doesn't quite fly with me. And I also don't buy the idea that the defense allowing the fewest plays over 40 yards is also underrated by our system.
New York Jets: 2
New York Giants: 3
Yes, that's right, the powerhouse Miami Dolphins lead the league in plays over 40 yards, and that amazing Jets secondary has done the best job of preventing plays over 40 yards.
The moral of the story is that I have no idea what the heck is going on with the low rankings for the Rams. It's possible that the Rams have just been lucky for three years. Even if DVOA has them a little low, though, I don't think they're a playoff team.
Nick Gourevitch: Any plans for a playoff odds report similar to Baseball Prospectus?
Aaron Schatz: This was one of the things that just fell off the radar this year because I'm overworked, with a lot more responsibilities from the FOX deal, a lot of management to do, plus the two and a half weeks of work time that I lost at the start of the season. It's a great idea and I want to do it but if we do it, we have to do it right, with the right amount of research. A lot of people have volunteered to help out but no matter how many volunteers we have, I still have to manage the project, and I just don't have the time this season. (In other words, ten people shouldn't send me e-mails volunteering, because that's not the problem.) I hope we can do it for next year and have it going from Day 1 of the 2006 season.
Jon Lewallen: Given the discussion over whether it's worth a team's while to sign Terrell Owens next year, I'm hoping FO can confirm one of my suspicions. I know you guys only have data going back a few years, but when was the last time a team won the Super Bowl with the league's best wide receiver, DPAR- or DVOA-wise?
Aaron Schatz: Actually, the answer is never (at least, since 1998). The closest was 2000, when two teams dominated the league. Derrick Mason led the league in DVOA but Tennessee narrowly lost to other top team, Baltimore, in the second round of the playoffs.
I don't really think that's an argument that TO is meaningless, though. We're talking just seven years of data, 1998-2004, and plenty of Super Bowl champions have had great receivers. In 1998, Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey ranked third and sixth in DPAR (and Shannon Sharpe was the top tight end). Isaac Bruce was fourth in both DPAR and DVOA in 1999. Although they barely made the 50-pass minimum, David Givens was third in DVOA in 2003 and Deion Branch fifth in DVOA in 2004.
It is probably better to have two B+ wide receivers than one A+ wide receiver and one D+ wide receiver. But that's not an argument to get rid of your star receiver, its an argument to get rid of your James Thrash-type receiver
Finally, here's this week's "question I don't know the answer for and therefore we open it up to the readers."
Dennis Hollod: How does a hook and lateral (sometimes called hook and ladder) play get scored. QB Adams throws a 10 yard forward pass to Bell, Bell laterals to Cooper who goes 50 yards for TD. Does QB Adams get credited for a 10 yard pass or a 60 yard TD pass? Does Bell get credited with a 10 yard reception? Does Cooper get credited with a 60 yard TD reception or a 50 yard run?
Whoever knows the answer, go ahead and let us know in the comments. No need to have ten different people post it, of course.
63 comments, Last at 27 Apr 2007, 12:02am by Ken Roberts