Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Feb 2013

Forget Leon Sandcastle

Forget Leon Sandcastle. He’s a joke – albeit a hilarious one. I’ve dug deep into my contacts to unearth a gem. A prospect so good that he will make you wonder if his career will be on par with the all-time greats. In fact, I guarantee it.

Posted by: Matt Waldman on 17 Feb 2013

24 comments, Last at 24 Feb 2013, 4:05pm by ndw74


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sun, 02/17/2013 - 4:40pm

Unfortunately that prospect has personality issues and a history of abusing his girlfriend which the press has caught wind of.

I hear Syracuse has a freshman next year who is supposedly even better.

by Matt Waldman :: Sun, 02/17/2013 - 5:31pm

We should add to that list O.J. Simpson, Jovan Belcher, Warren Moon, Larry Johnson, Joe Namath, Erik Walden, Chris Rainey, Chad Johnson, Dez Bryant, Jarriel King, Julian Edelman, Albert Haynesworth, Ben Roethlisberger, Kevin Alexander, Will Smith, and a list you can use at your own leisure right here to point out all the personality issues and history of criminal behavior to your heart's content:


by MatMan :: Sun, 02/17/2013 - 6:09pm

wait what

by Podge (not verified) :: Mon, 02/18/2013 - 9:44am

I have this theory that the best way to compare players across eras is to compare them each to their peers and work out who was more better than their peers (if "more better" makes sense!). I think by that measure, Jim Brown is the best running back ever, and probably has a decent argument for being the best football player ever.

Weird that a guy who is so good would have 0 career DYAR and a career DVOA of 0% though.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 02/18/2013 - 11:12am

I suspect, had FO been around in 1960, that we'd have seen a slew of discussions about how according to DVOA, Bobby Mitchell was a better running back than Jim Brown and was being criminally underused.

by MC2 :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 4:50am

Using that standard, it would be hard to argue against Don Hutson as the GOAT. His numbers were miles ahead of not only his peers, but of any WR who played within 30 years of the time he retired.

by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 10:59am

ProFootballReference's AV numbers don't go back that far, but I think it's a pretty fair bet that someone like Hutson would be the only person who you might be able to say was more dominant against his level of competition than Brown. I just did a quick and dirty check through AV, and Jim Brown led the league in AV 5 times in his 9 years. No one else has led the league more than three times (Steve Young (in 15 years) and Alan Page (16 years)).

Brown led the league in rushing in 8 of his 9 seasons. Hutson played 11 years, led the league in receiving yards 7 times, in receptions 8 times and in receiving TDs 8 times. He didn't have a single season in his career when he wasn't the league leader in at least one of those categories, which is horrendously impressive.

by Guido Merkens :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 12:57pm

When you use "times leading the league in AV" as a metric to argue for Brown and Hutson, keep in mind that it's a lot easier to lead a 10-12 team league than it is to lead a 32 team league. And keep in mind that the league in their day was composed largely of 210-lb white guys who didn't work out in the offseason and smoked cigarettes at halftime. Brown's ability to stiff-arm defensive ends was helped by the fact that he was bigger than many of them.

Brown and Hutson were certainly incredibly dominant compared to others in their era, but let's keep in mind who those others were.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 1:17pm

Hutson had a 74 rec 1211 yard, 17 TD season in 1942, when they played 11 games. I know projecting has it's issues, but if that pace had been over 16 games, that's 108 receptions for 1761 yards and 25 TDs and that was in 1942.

#2 in all those categories
Rec: Hutson 74, Pop Ivy 27
YDS: Hutson 1211, Ray McLean 571
TD: Hutson 17, Ray McLean 8.
YD/R: Andy Uram 20, Hutson 16.4

So he didn't lead in one category, his team mate who had 21 receptions for 420 yards (3rd) got him there. So what Curly Lambeau had Cecil Isbell, Hutson, and Uram doing was certainly different than the rest of the league, but it's still a crazy season. The TD total stood as the NFL record till 1984 (Mark Clayton had 18), the yardage as a record till 1951 ("Crazy Legs" Hirsch with 1495), and the receptions till 1949 (Tom Fears with 77). Of course the Packers were only 8-2-1 that year, losing twice to the 11-0 Bears and the tie was with the 5-5-1 Giants) so it wasn't necessarily dominate, but it was still a crazy year.

He had a few other years where he was clearly above the rest of the competition as well just not to 42 levels. His worst finish in receiving yards was 3rd in his first year, 1935, he finished 2nd 3 times and was closer to first then 3rd two of those years, he was 6th in receptions his rookie year, after that his worst finishes were 2nd, twice. He finished 2nd in receiving TD's twice, otherwise he lead the league.

He also lead the league in interceptions as a DB in 1940, and int return yardage in in 1943 with 197. It was a different game back then for sure. But he stood out.

Of course Hutson helped with the early revolution/definition of the position too.
The progression of the receiving records goes:

1932 Flaherty 21....1932 Flaherty 350......1932 Flaherty 5
1933 Kelly 22
1935 Goodwin 26.....1935 Malone 433........1935 Hutson and Karr 6
1936 Hutson 34......1936 Hutson 536........1936 Hutson 8
1937 Hutson 41......1937 Tinsley 675
...........................................1938 Hutson 9
....................1939 Hutson 846
1940 Hutson 58
...........................................1941 Hutson 10
1942 Hutson 74......1942 Hutson 1211.......1942 Hutson 17

1949 Fears 77.......1951 Hirsch 1495.......1984 Clayton 18

So from 35 to 42, Hutson set at least one NFL record every year. Again records were a little easier to come by, 1932 I think was the first year official stats were kept for what are now all the major categories, so starting in 35, you are bound to get some records, and have a chance to break even more. So another way to look at those early numbers is to check longevity. Hutson's records set some pretty high standards. The "weakest" of the bunch, receptions, has changed 11 times in the 70 years since he set it. The yardage mark, 4 times, the TD mark 3 times.

Jim Brown's attempts record set in 61 has changed 9 times in 50 years. His 1963 record for rushing yards has changed hands twice in 50 years. His 1958 record for rushing TD's (interestingly 17 as well) has changed hands 5 times since then. Those are similar rates (except for the TDs) to what Hutson did, and he was clearly dominate as well.

That 58 season looked a lot like what Hutson did in 42.
Attempts: Brown 257, Casares 176
Yards: Brown 1527, Ameche 791
TD: Brown 17, Wilson 9
YD/R: Moore 7.3 (82 att), Mitchell 6.3 (80 att), Perry 6.1 (125 att), Brown 5.9 (257 att).

He not only crushed the old yardage record, he crushed his closest competitors. Yeah 4th in yards per attempt, but he had so many more attempts than the guys who qualified in front of him, #5 was 5.2 on 98 attempts.

He didn't stay quite as dominant in 59-62, in part because the Lombardi Packers with Taylor showed up. Some say they were a bit like the mid 90's Bronco's. The running system Lombardi had was just better than what other teams had and Taylor was a very good back elevated by the system. But Brown's 63 season was another stupidly dominate one.

Attempts: Brown 291, Taylor 248
Yards: Brown 1863, Taylor 1018
TD: Brown 12, Taylor 9
YD/A: Brown 6.4, Moore 5.0 (Taylor was at 4.1)

He did that again in 65
Attempts: Brown 289, Taylor 207
Yards: Brown 1544, Sayers 867
TD: Brown 17, Sayers 14
Yd/A: T. Brown 5.4 (158 att), Brown 5.3, Sayers 5.2 (166 att), Bull 4.6

Then, he walked away.

I honestly look at Jim Brown as a modern day running back playing in the 50's and 60's. There were some other darn good runners during his time, Taylor wasn't a slouch, and he did hit Sayer's rookie year too.

So yeah, it's hard to think of other players who dominated like Hutson and Brown, and not only for just a single season, but for multiple years. Marino in 84 was pretty far ahead, but he didn't have several crush the competition seasons like Brown and Hutson, and I'm not sure Hutson had quite as many seasons where he was so far ahead as Brown did. So I think I'm still putting Brown up as the "most ahead of peers" award winner.

Again I ramble but it's fun to look at the history (I've been enjoying Tanier's Top 5's on his SoE Blog too)

by Andreas Shepard :: Mon, 02/18/2013 - 12:21pm

Can this become a regular, or at least occasional series? As someone who was too young to watch guys like Jim Brown or Walter Payton or Joe Montana or Jerry Rice at their peaks, I'd love to get the details on what made them so great.

by NRG :: Mon, 02/18/2013 - 5:41pm

I agree with Catfish, however basing a column title on an ad is questionable. I'd love to see this kind of analysis of other old-timers, but if the column is titled "Twitter joke of the week reference" I am unlikely to find it, or even realize what it is.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 02/21/2013 - 5:08pm

NSo Leon Sandcastle is a twitter joke? I would have guessed it was an ironic nickname Jim Brown used to have or something. Where would I find this Sandcastle joke? Is it even funny?

I'm with NRG, I don't even have any contacts in the common-person world to keep tabs on what's hot or trendy in pop culture. I don't even watch the ads during the super bowl. I have enough information in my head I don't need that sort of useless clutter.

EDIT: I looked it up, and it actually WAS a super bowl ad! I never would have known that. Is that what people think is funny these days? I wouldn't even have called it mildly interesting. How disappointing, and what a shitty title for an article. I would expect a joke article to go with the joke title. I don't see why Waldman would expect football fans to be experts on commercials, I don't see the relation except they sometimes interrupt football broadcasts when I'm not watching the BBC feed.

by andrew :: Mon, 02/18/2013 - 10:39pm

I've watched the supplied highlights of Jim Brown. I am duly impressed, especially that last run, incredible. Then I watch something like this superb Peterson highlight video... (skip past the commercial for highlights, but it is part of the effect). mind you entirely composed of stuff he did before his MVP campaign... and I have serious doubts. Even separating out the production values and higher definition of the video.. When you say greatest of all time is that adjusted by competition?

I'm just grateful to be watching AD in his prime...

by MC2 :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 4:54am

No disrespect to Peterson, but I imagine it's much easier to put together an impressive highlight reel for today's players. I would guess that many of Jim Brown's best games may not have even been televised, and of the ones that were, some of the footage may have been lost. It's quite likely that some of his greatest runs may never be seen again.

by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 6:15am

I do like the line towards the end of it being a bit unfair that he was the same size as the linemen. And then you watch videos of this lineman juking people out of their pants and outsprinting defensive backs.

Say, have the Raiders tried Bruce Campbell at RB?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 11:34am

Let me put it this way -- what do you think AP's career stats would look like if you dropped him into the late 1950s?

Jim Brown dominated his era, but it's a legitimate question, had he been born 10 years later, whether he would have been considered the best running back of the 1970s.

In his era, he was clearly better than Taylor or Perry, and Sayers was never healthy. But he's not so head-and-tails above Simpson, Peyton, or the irrational love of Franco Harris. And defenses had gotten better by the 1970s.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 1:28pm

I actually think an in his prime Jim Brown could play today and be among the league leaders. Would he be in the discussion for greatest of all times if his whole career was played at the same time as AP? I doubt it, but think he could have still had some of the great seasons.

I have no doubt that the average athletic ability of the players has risen significantly. But I still think it's fair to compare to peers. As others have said a 12 team league may have been easier to dominate than a 32 team league. Others might try and claim a 32 team league waters talent down. I don't agree with that, because there are simply more people alive today, so there will be more genetic outliers. The talent pool to pull from has expanded as well because of race barriers falling, or at least lowering. Football has become the premiere sport and gets the focus of many athletes who at lower levels are good enough to play several (though certain body types still go the way of basketball). And of course modern techniques, position specialization, coaching selection biases, in part because of the specialization, etc. I believe the league is more talented than it ever has been. There may have been some dips in the generally upward trend of overall talent, but it's upward.

With all that, I still think an in prime Jim Brown could play today.

by ndw74 (not verified) :: Sun, 02/24/2013 - 4:05pm

Anyone involved in this discussion should read Stephen Jay Gould's discussion on Ted Williams and hitting 400, very similar argument.

by andrew :: Tue, 02/19/2013 - 8:18pm

Its like soccer fans who tell you Pele was the greatest ever (and there is a case to be made)... but at the same time there is no way he would have been as dominant as he was then today. But he could have played today, definitely.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 02/21/2013 - 4:38pm

It's not hard to make the case that Messi is the best fútbol player ever. As a casual observer, I'd say the Brazilian Ronaldo is the only other one-a-generation talent I've seen play, and he wasn't close to Messi.

by Jim C. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/21/2013 - 4:32pm

If you're going to ask the fair questions about the context in which Brown played, you also have to ask the fair questions about the context in which he developed. Like, what kind of player might he have been if he'd had access to modern training techniques, medicine, and nutrition? How much better might he have been if he had concentrated all his efforts into football, rather than splitting time with lacrosse? How long might he have extended his career if he had an AP-level contract rewarding him? I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but it seems to me that if you're going to adjust for the era's effects on Brown's competition, you also have to consider the era's effects on Brown himself.

by sn0mm1s :: Thu, 02/21/2013 - 5:54pm

That really doesn't matter since all players have access to the same knowledge at the time they are playing. You wouldn't say that the WAC is better than the SEC right? Both groups have access to all the same knowledge but one draws better athletes. And that is the difference between the modern game (I usually define it as beginning around 1975) and the era in which Brown played in nutshell.

Remove 90-95%+ of the money, 100% of the PEDs, 80-90% of the African American players from today's game and I don't care what training methods are used the NFL would be a shadow of itself.

Brown dominated a league that was 1/2 step above the college game. The 1962 Packers, who won an NFL Championship going 13-1 with 10 HOFers starting on the roster, were beat by a college all star team. There likely aren't 10 HOFers starting on a pro bowl team yet college kids, with very little practice, beat an "all world" team with who many consider the greatest motivator and coach of all time - Lombardi.

I have no doubt that Brown could play in today's game - but he isn't the GOAT.

by JonFrum :: Thu, 02/21/2013 - 8:39pm

The NFL-College All Star game was a preseason exhibition charity game. The 1969 Jets won 26-24, and the 1971 Colts won 21-17. Do you really, in your wildest dreams, imagine that those are representative scores? Get serious. If you think NFL teams weren't very good back in the day, how do you explain the college teams NFL players came from being anywhere near as good as NFL teams?

by sn0mm1s :: Fri, 02/22/2013 - 1:17am

I know it was a exhibition game - doesn't make a difference. From the inception of the game until the early 1960s the college teams won about 1/3 of the games. That doesn't speak well of the competition. I mean, I see it all the time that these old school players were so tough and played for the love of the game - what they couldn't muster the motivation to beat some college seniors?

You are arguing apples and oranges here in regards to the college team. It was a college *all star* team - not a college team. I have no doubt that an NFL team could beat a college team - but they should also beat an all star college team - especially if said team was the best in the NFL.

The era was weak compared to when the league actually became professional, integrated, and PEDs became prevalent. It isn't a stretch to say that 60-70% of the players back then couldn't even make a roster.