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.
26 May 2006
by the Football Outsiders staff
Sorry for the bit of delay in Four Downs. To make up for it, we thought we'd take a look through some questions in 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 (although we're planning on rewriting that sometime in the next few weeks so it will be easier to understand).
Joe Fafara: I am not as big of an NFL fan as I used to be, so please do not think that I am crazy. But here is my question: Why is Kenny Anderson of the Bengals not a Hall of Fame candidate? I read the article in last year's Pro Football Prospectus about the greatest QB seasons and he had two of the top 10. He took the Bengals to the Super Bowl and as far as I know had a very solid career. Is there something that I am missing? I am not saying for sure that he belongs ... in fact I really do not know the criteria for the Football Hall as I do the Baseball Hall. My point is that you never hear about Anderson when he certainly was one of the top 20-30 quarterbacks of all time.
Mike Tanier: You mention the baseball HOF. I usually start any discussion about the Pro Football Hall of Fame with a warning: Canton is not Cooperstown. The two Halls have different traditions and different tendencies. Recently, Jimmy Smith retired, and many writers speculated that Smith might be a HOFer, citing his statistics. Smith has as much chance of reaching the Hall of Fame as I do. Cooperstown rewards guys who hang around for 20 years and ring some magic bell like 3,000 hits. Canton rewards guys who win championships, or dominate the game for a period of years, or change the way the game is played or perceived. Smith did none of those things.
Anderson is an interesting case. He won a conference title but no Super Bowls, so he falls short in that category. His stats are great but not overwhelming, and he is hampered by playing part of his career in the offense-starved 1970s. He may have been among the best players in the league in 1981 or 1982, but in most seasons he would have been considered the third, fourth, or fifth best quarterback in the league behind Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Dan Fouts, and guys like Ken Stabler and Fran Tarkenton.
Anderson did "change the game" in one way: he was essentially the first West Coast Offense quarterback. To some voters, that's actually a disadvantage; they may hold against him the fact that his great 1974 and 1975 statistical years came in an offense that emphasized short passes. Had he won a playoff game or two in the mid-70's, his reputation might be better. (Cincinnati's problem wasn't Anderson, it was horrible run defense in a run-heavy era.)
In short, don't hold your breath for Anderson, and keep in mind that the bar for Canton is set really high, as Art Monk and others are learning.
Chris Shields: I'm looking for a definition of "passes not caught"when referring to receiving stats. Is it simply uncatchable balls or is it a combination of factors such as lack of effort on the receiver's part?
Aaron Schatz: If you are referring to our stats pages, "passes not caught" is simply passes that are listed with receiver X as the intended receiver, and are not caught. We can't drill down to why the pass was not caught, because that information does not appear in the play-by-play. We are attempting to track this with our game charting project, and while not much of that material made it into the book, we hope to do analysis of it in the next three months.
Rob Z.: I'm a big Chargers fan down here in San Diego. I am an active member of a Chargers fan forum where I am fighting tooth-and-nail to defend our O-line. Some fans have it in their head that our O-Line sucks, that Shane Olivea should be moved from right tackle to guard, that Nick Hardwick is a crappy center, etc. Never mind the fact that both guys started as rookies two years ago and we have maintained being a top offense since then. When are you going to revise your offensive line rankings? I would really like to provide some good stats to help prove that the San Diego O-line is surprisingly effective.
Tim Gerheim (who writes the San Diego chapter for PFP 2006): I don't reckon as the offensive line rankings will be revised until next season when some new offensive line performances take place. There isn't any change in the pipeline for the OL formulas, either Adjusted Line Yards or Adjusted Sack Rate.
So it's a matter of breaking down the numbers to defend the Chargers O-line. Basically, they're a very good run blocking line and an above average pass blocking line. In 2004, with basically the same personnel but much greener (both Hardwick and Olivea were rookies), it was an average run blocking line but an elite pass blocking line. Pretty much all of that decline in pass blocking from 2004 to 2005 is attributable to Roman Oben's injury and Leander Jordan's replacing him. According to our game charting project, Jordan had six blown blocks resulting in sacks, which tie him with a number of other linemen for ninth in the league. Only one other Chargers lineman, guard Kris Dielman, had more than two. And Jordan missed all those blocks in just half a season of play.
In run blocking, the Chargers are one of the best teams running anywhere outside, ranking in the top 10 in three of the four directional Adjusted Line Yards categories other than Mid/Guard. The fourth, left end where Jordan roams, ranked 12th, which is still respectable. They were ninth and first behind right tackle and right end respectively. So to review, the Chargers are above average in both pass blocking and run blocking, they're excellent at running right, and Olivea blew no more than two blocks in 16 games. Blown blocks aren't the be-all-and-end-all of pass blocking, but they're a good indicator, and if we know Olivea was good in terms of blown blocks, it stands to reason that he was good at the other aspects of pass blocking at well. And somebody wants to move him inside to guard?
The Chargers were below average only in runs up the middle, 19th, which might indicate that Hardwick isn't doing such a great job run blocking. But that hardly seems like enough of a reason to disrupt the two-year continuity of the offensive line. After all, the Chargers have hardly been weak in the rushing game. Healthy again in 2005, LaDainian Tomlinson ranked 7th in DPAR last year, and the Chargers had the second-best rush DVOA in the league.
So probably their offensive line could be better. But that can be said about every team except maybe Indianapolis -- #1 in both run and pass blocking -- and after the AFC playoffs it can probably be said about the Colts too. The Chargers hope to get Roman Oben back from his plantar fascitis injury, and they drafted Marcus McNeill in case he doesn't make it back and to be his long-term replacement. If that solves the problem at left tackle, the Chargers should be back to where they were in 2004 in terms of pass blocking. And between the health of Tomlinson and the experience of Hardwick and Olivea, the run blocking should be about the same as last year or a little better. The moral of the story here seems to be, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Kevin Rich: I suppose this question might be for Jim Armstrong who does the 2005 Drive Stats. I was wondering why he did not include a FGs/Drive column. What happens if a defense returns a pass for a TD, does that count as a drive since a change of possession has occurred? What about a special teams touchdown on a return or block?
Jim Armstrong: FGs/Drive are mainly omitted for space reasons. I actually do compute it along with the other drive stats, but too many columns made the page more difficult to read and I didn't think this one was as interesting as the others. Perhaps if we change the layout it will be added in the future.
For the purposes of these stats, I define a "drive" to be a possession with at least one scrimmage play. Thus kickoff return touchdowns are not included at all. A drive also ends with a punt or a turnover, so return yards or points are also not included in these stats. The return is considered a possession but not a drive.
Andy: Could you analyze the whole Browns-to-Broncos defensive line phenomenon? As I understand it, the defensive line for the Browns sucked. Then, they went to Denver and were great. Why did they suck in Cleveland, and what did Shanahan do to them in Denver? Had this ever happened before?
Mike Tanier: First of all, "they" didn't "suck" in Cleveland. More accurately, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren were very high first-round picks who were severe disappointments in Cleveland. They didn't perform up to the level of high first-round picks in Denver, either, but they weren't being held to that standard. Ekuban and Myers were decent veteran role players who were about as good in Denver as in Cleveland (and, Ekuban's case, Dallas until 2003).
Shanahan looked at these guys and saw low-priced talent at an in-demand position. Plus, Shanny hired defensive line coach Andre Patterson last off-season, and Patterson wanted his boys. The Cleveland four joined Trevor Pryce in Denver, adding another pass-rush threat. Players like Demetrian Veal added depth, so the Broncos always cycled rested linemen onto the field. The biggest difference for Warren and Brown wasn't about schemes. It was about a fresh start and realistic expectations.
As for whether or not a failed unit from one team has ever moved almost all of its players to another team and then succeeded, no, not that I can remember.
Mark Papadopoulos: In Eddie Epstein's excellent book Dominance, he states that the 1981 Colts (who were 2-14) were statistically the worst team of all time. He uses, as I am sure you know, a formula of team total yards and points and strength of schedule and then measures how many standard deviations a team is away from the average. In essence, he measures how good or bad teams were for their era. In any event, looking at your DVOA analysis, which is different but also statistically-based, last year's 49ers were truly dreadful. Is it possible that the 2005 49ers were the worst team in NFL history?
Aaron Schatz: The 49ers are the worst team in the history of the DVOA stat, which goes back nine years, but based on Epstein's measurements, they are not the worst team. Epstein's measure is called API, or Adjusted Power Index, and he adds together the number of standard deviations a team was from the league average in points, yards, points allowed, and yards allowed, then adjusts based on strength of schedule.
The 2005 49ers have an API of -7.54 which would put them fourth on a list of Epstein's worst teams, ahead of the 1970 Patriots, 1986 Bucs, and 1981 Colts. They blow away every other team from the past six years -- the second-lowest team from 2000-2004 by Epstein's measure were the 2002 Lions, at -6.04. Incidentally, the 2005 Texans have an API of -5.86, so they aren't even close to being on Epstein's worst list.
Here are the worst teams since 2000 by Epstein's API and by DVOA. These DVOA ratings will be different from the others on the site, because they are the new upgraded DVOA v5.0 which is making its first appearance in PFP 2006:
|10 Worst Teams, 2000-2005 by API||10 Worst Teams, 2000-2005 by DVOA|
(The 2004 49ers are 11th in worst API, -4.70.)
78 comments, Last at 12 Jun 2006, 8:57am by Scott de B.