Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Feb 2017

Neural Networks Predict NFL HOF Chances for QB/RB

In case you didn't see this at ESPN or catch him talking about it on Twitter, Brian Burke's model of Hall of Fame chances using neural networks is kind of fascinating. This article talks about the HOF chances of top current players; Matt Ryan basically would have gone from "almost no chance" to "almost assured" with a Super Bowl win. It also discusses which HOF QB and RB are outliers, starting with Floyd Little and the newly elected Terrell Davis. Davis seems to suggest a change in voting trends to make running backs more like quarterbacks.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 09 Feb 2017

21 comments, Last at 24 Feb 2017, 9:00pm by Pen


by JohnxMorgan :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 5:21pm

I may only be evincing the smugness of retrospection, but Davis's induction did not at all surprise me. I was pretty young at the time and it may be that I am confusing nostalgia for memory, but Terrell Davis was perceived as an unstoppable offensive force who, in many ways, carried John Elway and the Broncos to two Super Bowl victories. It was Larry Fitzgerald in 2008 before Larry Fitzgerald in 2008, and it happened in consecutive seasons, and Davis's team won both Super Bowls. It also cannot be minimized how happy many longtime NFL fans and followers felt for Elway, and the perception that Davis changed the fortunes of an all-time great but (perceived) loser greatly adds to his legacy.

I don't know how you factor that into a neural network but in my own neural network, Terrell Davis's induction was both obvious and merited.

by BlueStarDude :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 6:01pm

What Terrell Davis getting in makes it really hard to do is not put Sterling Sharpe in.

Sharpe was already generally recognized as having a peak better than a number of HoF receivers--a peak that was longer than Davis’s (and Warner’s, even taking into account that Warner’s peak occurs in non-consecutive seasons at early and late stages of his career).

by JohnxMorgan :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 6:32pm

Not great at this kind of debate, and certainly not fond of it, but saying Sharpe's peak was longer than one player known to have an exceedingly short peak, and greater than certain unnamed players who may have excelled for over a decade, does not seem like a particularly cogent argument for Sharpe. You seem to be picking at the weaknesses of certain enshrined players but those players are not enshrined for their respective weaknesses.

The season before Brett Favre took over as starting quarterback, Sharpe received for all of 971 yards. He had one "great" season not receiving from Favre, and only ever played in two postseason games--a win and a loss. He's greatly overshadowed by his quarterback, the Packers improved the season after he retired, his production was duplicated by virtual unknown Robert Brooks, etc. etc.

And I just don't think the neck injury which ended his career has the kind of cultural relevance to make up for all those deficiencies.

I don't think TD's induction at all supports Sharpe's induction. Davis won an MVP, won two Super Bowls, and excelled in the playoffs. That, in a nutshell, is his case for induction, and Sharpe shares none of those achievements.

I was barely cognizant of football in the early 90's. If I am wrong, if he was a shooting star type and clearly better than his numbers would indicate, I apologize for my ignorance. But after minimal research he seems like both an unlikely candidate and, really, someone I doubt any kind of movement would get behind to induct.

by LyleNM :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 6:48pm

The season before Brett Favre took over as starting quarterback, Sharpe received for all of 971 yards. He had one "great" season not receiving from Favre, and only ever played in two postseason games--a win and a loss. He's greatly overshadowed by his quarterback, the Packers improved the season after he retired, his production was duplicated by virtual unknown Robert Brooks, etc. etc.

You do realize that this is essentially the same arguments that people had used as a reason to keep Davis out, don't you? Gary, Anderson, Portis all duplicated (nearly) Davis' production; it was all the offensive line, etc., etc., etc.

Sharpe was definitely a great receiver who had a sudden end to his career and the problem with inducting a player like Davis who had an unusual career path is that it opens up arguments for including other players who had similarly unusual career paths like Sharpe.

by JohnxMorgan :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 7:08pm

Maybe it's a bad argument! But, really, not one of Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson or even Clinton Portis (who had a very good career after leaving Denver, nothing like the other two) duplicated Davis's performance, much less his postseason dominance. But, if you want to discount that argument, it's one of many, and not crucial.

I remember the "it's the offensive line" talk (or, more specifically, "it's the blocking scheme" as zone blocking was something of a novelty then), but Davis had roughly four times the postseason rushing yards of Portis, Gary and Anderson combined. People tend to remember stuff like that. He was great in the crucible of greatness--a hall of fame will forever be partial to such stuff.

It's not fair to create a huge bucket called "unusual career paths" and use it as precedent. Each path is evaluated individually, and unless another player ticks all the boxes of Davis--MVP, two-time Super Bowl Champion, postseason dominance--or establishes equal or superior criteria of his own, it really doesn't matter how short or unusual it was. Sharpe's path may have been unusual; what matters is that it was not exceptionally great or at least not remembered to be exceptionally great.

by BlueStarDude :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 8:24pm

"Shooting star type," not really: more like star or super star. (Unfortunately I am old enough that I was not only cognizant of football then but playing stat-based simulation games.) Sharpe was an amazing talent, and if he stayed healthy he would have been in the conversation as either best WR ever or at least best WR not named Jerry Rice. Three AP All Pro nods in an abbreviated career at a time when Jerry Rice was locking down one of the All Pro slots every year.

And of course Davis did not win two super bowls, his superior team did. Sharpe mostly played on bad teams with bad quarterbacking and though he got in a couple of years on an ascendant 90s Packers team, he did not get to a chance to play with them when they were at their best.

As for Davis having an MVP and Sharpe not—not even Rice could manage to grab one of those, so Sharpe has as many as any other WR to play the game. Sharpe was a better pure receiver than Joiner, Monk, Reed, Carter, Tim Brown; and now that Davis is in with his short peak, it is absolutely relevant that Sharpe's peak is longer.

But I appreciate how hard it is to judge a player before one’s time, when stat lines can sometimes not really tell the whole story.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 10:02am

Absolutely agree Sterling Sharpe is HoF worthy but doubtful he'll ever get there. Certainly he was a better WR than Tim Brown and I always felt the Raiders made a mistake taking Brown the pick ahead of him.

At his own HoF induction Shannon talked about how he was only "the 2nd best receiver in his own family". I'm sure there was some hyperbole to that but even so Shannon isn't in the hall for his blocking.

As for the argument that Sterling became a better receiver because of Favre, I'm sure it's the case but let's note that actually that was also the same year Holmgren took over, so I'd say that was probably the more important factor.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 11:53am


by Bill Walshs Hol... :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 4:31pm

Jerry Rice was the MVP in 1987. Can't wait to see the DVOA from that season.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 4:36pm

dont' have any material in front og me so could be mistaken

pretty sure J. Elway QB Denever was assoc. press mvp in 1987 which moist epopel commonly and mistakenly think is be-all, end-all mvp award but it is certainly most discussed oen.

rice if won an mvp award in '87, and pretty sure he did get one, was from different agency. maybe Maxwell athkletic club (or whatever the heck it is called) olr sporting news or something else.

by BlueStarDude :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 4:50pm

OK, Rice won an MVP award. But I’m pretty sure the AP MVP is the official MVP of record for the NFL. That might not quite be the case, but it is what people are referring to when they say a player won the MVP x times.

by BlueStarDude :: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 5:52pm

RE: “[Don] Perkins has one All-Pro selection and six Pro Bowl selections to his credit, but his statistical totals aren't Hall-worthy.”

Perkins retired as the fifth leading rusher in league history. The four players who were in front of him, and the one who was behind him, are in the Hall.

The seven RBs who had more career rushing yards than Perkins did at the time the league switched to a 16-game schedule are all in the Hall. One of those is Floyd Little, who wasn’t in until a few years ago, but Perkins has it over Little in yards per attempt and yards per game (though Little brought more value in the passing game and early in his career as a return specialist).

Perkins is certainly an edge case, and behind, at least, Howley, Harris, and Pearson on the list of snubbed Cowboys. But his statistical totals, in the context of his era (he was also the third leading rusher of the 60s behind Jim Brown and Jim Taylor), are clearly in line with others who were inducted into the Hall.

EDIT: The article also makes an argument that because it is a Hall of FAME, Pro Bowls, though a generally poor metric, have a place in judging a player’s Hall-worthiness. Every RB with at least 6 Pro Bowls is in the Hall except Perkins (and the active Adrian Peterson and modern FB Mike Alstott).

by Otis Taylor89 :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 8:31am

Floyd Little never played a 16 game season. I dodn't think Little belongs, but boy he was really good for several years during a period when RBs were kings and was fun to watch, even on some bad teams - plus he had a great name.

Perkins was a little before my time, but he certainly played on much better teams than Little.

by BlueStarDude :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 1:48pm

Right: Little was one of the 7 ahead of Perkins who played before the 16-game season change.

Perkins was a little before my time, too. Whew.

He joined the Cowboys just a year after their first season. He didn’t play on a team with a winning record until the sixth of his eight seasons. Dallas was 5-8-1 the year he made All Pro.

As mentioned above, there are bigger snubs even just with this one franchise, not to mention if we get into other teams. Perkins seems to be a solid borderline case. What annoyed me was the writer dismissing his career totals as not Hall-worthy when they clearly are in line with others who have been inducted.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 9:53am

I'd say Eli's 72% chance of getting in is ordinarily about right however the neural network probably hasn't taken account of the fact his surname is Mannning and therefore added an extra 23% ...

by RBroPF :: Fri, 02/17/2017 - 10:28am

That's an interesting idea, but I wonder if it really helps, or actually hurts him. It's impossible to think about him without having Peyton in the back of your mind, and he obviously pales in comparison. I suspect my own opinion of Eli might be slightly better if his name was Eli Brindle or somesuch.

by dryheat :: Thu, 02/23/2017 - 9:16am

We're at the point now where every above-average QB has strong support for the HoF, and it makes me sad. If people had this attitude 30 years ago, or if the game were as pass-heavy as it is now, several, if not most, of Tommy Kramer, Steve Bartkowski, Archie Manning, Bert Jones, Steve Grogan, Joe Ferguson, Richard Todd, David Woodley, Brian Sipe, Ken Anderson, Danny White, Craig Morton, Ron Jaworski, Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, Jim Hart, Lynn Dickey, Joe Theismann, and Neil Lomax would be Hall-of-Famers. It seems there's a rush to put the 6th-12th best QBs of their cohort in the Hall.

And the over-representation continues.

by wiesengrund :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 1:34pm

My gut feeling was saying the same about Ryang before SB LI. With a win his career would have gotten close to the trajectory of Brees, who is basically a lock, plus the MVP. Now he needs at least another run or all-pro year to have a chance. But a ring should do it.

by BlueStarDude :: Fri, 02/10/2017 - 2:00pm

Agreed. In the DYAR era, only Manning, Brady, and Brees have had more 1000+ DYAR seasons than Ryan, who is tied with Favre for the moment. But Ryan has done that with noticeably less-than-stellar DVOA than those three (if I recall correctly, as I am at work and don't have numbers handy, or premium). Still, another ring or, as you say, all-pro season, should clinch it for him.

by Bill Walshs Hol... :: Mon, 02/13/2017 - 4:33pm

In 1987, he was named the NFL's MVP by the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) and the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) and the Offensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press (AP). ---Per Wikipedia

Yes, John Elway won the AP NFL MVP.

by Pen :: Fri, 02/24/2017 - 9:00pm

And not back to my annual "why isn't the Redskins RB Larry Brown in the HOF yet?" rant.

His raw numbers on the surface look weaker than TD's, but his AV is well above TD's because you have to take the era into account and AV does that IMO.

Plus, the eyeball test. Even the sportscasters of his day described him as Future Hall of Famer Larry Brown. the people of TD's era are pretty much describing him as "wow, the HOF has changed its standards" Terrel Davis.