We've all seen the Next Gen Stats as part of NFL broadcasts -- player speed, distance traveled, etc. -- but this story on NFL.com is the first time I've seen anything really useful done with the data. For each pass thrown in the NFL, they've calculated the likelihood of a completion based on six factors:
- Air distance, the actual distance between the passer and receiver, both horizontally and vertically.
- Target separation, the distance between the receiver and the nearest defender in coverage.
- Sideline separation, the distance between the receiver and the sidelines.
- Pass rush separation, the distance between the passer and the nearest pass-rusher.
- Passer speed, the foot speed of the quarterback at the time of the pass.
- Time to throw, the time between the snap of the ball and the pass.
They have not listed full-season numbers yet (which would be pretty meaningless after two games anyway), but they have listed the three most unlikely completions of Week 1: Aaron Rodgers' 39-yard touchdown to Geronimo Allison against Chicago, Case Keenum's 4-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas against Seattle, and Tom Brady's 21-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski against Houston. It will be interesting to see the full-season offensive numbers -- and the defensive numbers, which theoretically would reveal which teams were "really" playing good or bad defense, and which were lucky or unlucky in terms of the quality of plays made by their opponents.