Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Quick Reads: 2014 In Review
Quick Reads: 2014 In Review
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vince Verhei

When looking back at the individual stars of 2014, one thing becomes immediately clear: It was a very, very good year to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers finished with an offensive DVOA of 22.5%, second in the league behind Green Bay and their best DVOA in our records going back to 1989, topping the 16.3% they posted in 2004 (Ben Roethlisberger's first year. As such, it's not surprising to see them dominating the individual leaderboards, be they passing, rushing, or receiving.

Using our core advanced metrics -- DYAR and DVOA -- we've gone through the full-season totals at each position and identified the best and worst quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends from this past season. There's also a look at which players have had their performance most drastically different from their conventional statistics, as well as those players who have had the biggest improvement or decline in their performance from a year ago.

Our annual disclaimer: Numbers are never perfect. While we certainly believe that our metrics do a better job of analyzing a player's performance than anything else you'll see, there are some things statistics can't account for. We'll point out where the data needs some missing context as warranted. Also, remember that DYAR is a cumulative stat, so players who miss time (like Carson Palmer or Nick Foles) will find it harder to make it to these leaderboards.

(More information on these statistics is available here.)


Top Five

1) Aaron Rodgers, GB: 1,667 total DYAR (1,563 passing, 104 rushing)
2) Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: 1,544 total DYAR (1,598 passing, -54 rushing)
3) Peyton Manning, DEN: 1,403 total DYAR (1,433 passing, -30 rushing)
4) Drew Brees, NO: 1,234 total DYAR (1,212 passing, 27 rushing, -5 receiving)
5) Tony Romo, DAL: 1,221 total DYAR (1,198 passing, 23 rushing)

Analysis: For the first time since 2002, the leader in passing DYAR is not named Peyton, Tom, or Drew. Ben Roethlisberger becomes the first player since Rich Gannon (Think about this! Rich Gannon!) to wrest the DYAR crown from the Holy Trinity of quarterbacks. It was kind of an odd out-of-nowhere late-career surge from Roethlisberger, who had never finished higher than seventh in passing DYAR before this year.

When we include rushing value, however, Roethlisberger is surpassed by Aaron Rodgers, who is also not named Peyton, Tom, or Drew. So any way you look at it, there is a new king of quarterbacks this year. Rodgers actually led the league in passing DVOA, but finishes behind Roethlisberger in DYAR because he had 85 fewer passing plays.

It is worth noting that although Roethlisberger did lead the league in DYAR, it was actually a below-average league-leading season. In fact, it was not one of the top 30 seasons we've measured since 1989. The hyper-inflated passing stats of this era have strongly boosted the depth of the rank-and-file quarterback, making it harder for those on top of the heap to stand out.

Mind you, the old guard isn't exactly lying down and playing dead. Peyton Manning is third this year (his 13th top-three finish, which is ridiculous), and Drew Brees is fourth (his seventh top-four finish, and his tenth straight year in the top 10). Tom Brady was sixth, just missing this table; not counting the 2008 season, when he tore his ACL, Brady has now finished sixth or better in ten straight years.

Bottom Five

1) Blake Bortles, JAC: -855 total DYAR (-955 passing, 100 rushing)
2) Josh McCown, TB: -618 total DYAR (-665 passing, 47 rushing)
3) Robert Griffin, WAS: -394 total DYAR (-371 passing, -23 rushing)
4) Michael Vick, NYJ: -225 total DYAR (-229 passing, 4 rushing)
5) Zach Mettenberger, TEN: -206 total DYAR (-211 passing, 5 rushing)

Analysis: Bortles finishes with the third-worst passing DYAR total on record, behind Bobby Hoying's -962 with Philadelphia in 1998 and Jacksonville's own Blaine Gabbert, who had -1,010 in 2011. The struggles of fellow Jaguars passer Chad Henne (he had a -54.6% DVOA this year in 94 passing plays, much worse than his previous career worst of -24.6% in 2012) suggest that the problems in central Florida run much deeper than the quarterback position. And hey, at least Bortles can run pretty good.

Also on the list are Josh McCown and Michael Vick, a pair of washed-up veterans who split time with second-year passers. In McCown's case, he was clearly so much worse than Mike Glennon (a -41.9% DVOA for McCown, compared to -2.9% for Glennon) that there is no logical explanation for why McCown should have been starting by the end of the year -- unless the Buccaneers were deliberately tanking for the top pick in the draft, in which case, hey, mission accomplished. Glennon should make a decent enough backup for Marcus Mariota; McCown has somehow accumulated 12 NFL seasons under his belt and should be ready to enjoy a long retirement. (No, seriously, Josh, please retire.) I don't know what's left to say about Michael Vick, except that if you throw out Week 17, a game where the Miami Dolphins defense was clearly not trying, Vick actually beat Geno Smith in passing DYAR, -229 to -242. (Smith, however, had a much higher DVOA, -21.4% to -36.9%. And again, that's throwing out the Week 17 game, far and away Smith's best game of the year.)

There is no clear solution to the quarterback mess in D.C., where the coach has publicly knocked his quarterback and the quarterback has publicly knocked his teammates, but it looks as if everyone there is going to be stuck with each other for at least another season. Better pass protection might help; Griffin's 13.4 percent sack rate was the highest for any player since David Carr's 76-sack rookie season for the expansion Texans in 2002. As for Mettenberger, the Titans have the second pick in next year's draft and should at least consider taking a quarterback, though Mettenberger himself believes he can be "the guy." He did nothing on the field to show that in 2014.

Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Drew Stanton, ARI

By the NFL's passer rating formula, Stanton officially ranked 28th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. In DVOA, though, he was 13th among that same group. Stanton's completion rate of 55 percent was the worst in the league, but his 13.0 yards per completion were second only to Brian Hoyer (13.7). As a result, his 40 percent Success Rate on passing plays was still bad, but bottom-ten bad, not worst-in-the-league bad. His sack rate and interception rate were also much better than average, making him an odd mix of long-baller and game manager. Stanton also played a much harder portion of the Cardinals' schedule than Carson Palmer did; Palmer's DYAR drops by about 100 when we add in opponent adjustments, while Stanton's goes up by 50.

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Teddy Bridgewater, MIN

The Vikings rookie ranked 22nd in passer rating, but 31st in DVOA. In some ways he is the anti-Stanton, 11th in completion percentage, but that's padded with a lot of dumpoffs, and Bridgewater's Success Rate is actually a little below average. He also has the 11th-highest interception rate, and the sixth-highest sack rate.

Most Improved: Joe Flacco, BAL

Flacco's DVOA climbed from -17.5% in 2013 to 15.4% this year. The addition of Steve Smith no doubt had a lot to do with it.

Biggest Decline: Josh McCown, TB

McCown's DVOA, seasons with at least 100 pass plays:

2003 ARI 193 -39.5% 44
2004 ARI 442 -17.8% 29
2005 ARI 291 -6.6% 25
2007 OAK 207 -32.9% 48
2013 CHI 236 32.1% 4
2014 TB 360 -41.9% 44

Can you spot the fluke year? Lovie Smith, apparently, can't. For the detail-oriented, I will note that McCown's DVOA dropped by 74.0% from 2013 to 2014.

Other Notes

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson finished with 284 rushing DYAR, breaking the all-time quarterback mark of Michael Vick's 261 set in 2006. Wilson had 33 runs of 10 or more yards in 2014; only seven running backs had more.

Running Backs

Top Five

1) Le'veon Bell, PIT: 519 total DYAR (206 rushing, 313 receiving)
2) Marshawn Lynch, SEA: 454 total DYAR (362 rushing, 92 receiving)
3) DeMarco Murray, DAL: 437 total DYAR (381 rushing, 56 receiving)
4) Eddie Lacy, GB: 300 total DYAR (190 rushing, 110 receiving)
5) C.J. Anderson, DEN: 265 total DYAR (199 rushing, 66 receiving)

Analysis: This is just the seventh time a running back has amassed 300 receiving DYAR in a season. Marshall Faulk did it four times (with the Colts in 1998 and with the Rams in 1999, 2000 and 2001), while Charlie Garner pulled it off for the 2002 Raiders and Larry Centers did so for the 1995 Cardinals.

Lynch led all running backs in rushing DVOA (23.3%), but finished second to Murray in DYAR because Murray racked up 113 more carries. Lacy gets lots of credit for his power running style, but his receiving prowess sometimes gets overlooked because the Packers have so many other weapons. Anderson's presence here is a stunner because he only became a regular player in Week 10. Since then, he is second among running backs in rushing DYAR (behind Lynch) and fifth in receiving DYAR.

Bottom Five

1) Darren McFadden, OAK: -109 total DYAR (-32 rushing, -77 receiving)
2) Andre Williams, NYG: -73 total DYAR (-24 rushing, -49 receiving)
3) Doug Martin, TB: -60 total DYAR (-24 rushing, -35 receiving)
4) Knile Davis, KC: -53 total DYAR (-50 rushing, -4 receiving)
5) Ben Tate, CLE: -48 total DYAR ( -37 rushing, -11 receiving)

Analysis: The problem for this quintet was basic inefficiency. Martin, Tate, and Davis finished 1-2-3 among qualifying runners in lowest Success Rate, Williams was fifth, and McFadden was ninth.

It was a bad year to find bad running backs; only one of these players would have made last year's bottom five. This year's worst runner by DYAR (Houston's Alfred Blue, -87) would not have made the bottom 50 going back to 1989.

Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Jerick McKinnon, MIN

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Though he ran for only 538 yards this season before undergoing back surgery in November, McKinnon finished 15th in DYAR. His Success Rate was quite low at 42 percent, but he still averaged 4.8 yards per rush, with 13 of his 113 runs going for 10 yards or more, including four runs of 20 yards or more.

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Joique Bell, DET

Bell slowly amassed a career-high 861 yards on the ground this year, but he also put a lot of balls on the ground, leading all running backs with five fumbles on running plays.

Most Improved: Lamar Miller, MIA

From a DVOA of -7.8% in 2013 to 17.8% this year, Miller blossomed in his third season. Yes, his Week 17 97-yarder against the Jets helped, but Miller was extremely reliable all year long, leading the league in Success Rate (57 percent) while fumbling just twice.

Biggest Decline: Andre Ellington, ARI

We dubbed Ellington the top prospect in all of football in Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, so we're just as disappointed in him as anyone else is. His 17.2% DVOA in his rookie year in 2013 fell to -13.3% this year, as he apparently fell victim to the same curse that has ruined the career of pretty much every Cardinals running back since the team moved to Arizona in 1988. (In 27 years, the team has produced only six 1,000-yard rushers, and five of those averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry.)

Wide Receivers

Top Five

1) Antonio Brown, PIT: 587 total DYAR (553 receiving, 5 rushing, 30 passing)
2) Emmanuel Sanders, DEN: 512 total DYAR (480 receiving, 31 rushing)
3) Randall Cobb, GB: 484 total DYAR (478 receiving, 6 rushing)
4) Jordy Nelson, GB: 481 total DYAR (all receiving)
5) Dez Bryant, DAL: 435 total DYAR (all receiving)

Analysis: Antonio Brown led the league in receptions and receiving yards this year, so it's hard to say he flew under the table, but none of us quite realized what a great year he was having until the dust settled in Week 17. Brown was just the 14th wide receiver ever to gain 500 receiving DYAR in a season:

All WRs, 500-DYAR seasons, 1989-2014
Year PBP ID Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch %
1995 Michael Irvin DAL 591 30.6% 165 111 1603 10 67%
2007 Randy Moss NE 568 29.2% 160 98 1482 23 61%
2011 Calvin Johnson DET 565 31.6% 158 96 1680 16 61%
1989 Jerry Rice SF 563 45.1% 129 82 1483 17 64%
2014 Antonio Brown PIT 553 25.6% 181 129 1697 13 71%
2001 Marvin Harrison IND 534 28.2% 164 109 1524 15 66%
2011 Jordy Nelson GB 520 52.9% 96 68 1263 15 71%
1994 Jerry Rice SF 516 29.5% 150 112 1499 13 75%
2003 Randy Moss MIN 515 25.0% 172 112 1632 17 65%
1995 Jerry Rice SF 514 23.7% 175 122 1848 15 70%
2003 Torry Holt STL 513 24.0% 183 117 1694 12 64%
2006 Marvin Harrison IND 508 30.1% 148 95 1366 12 64%
2008 Andre Johnson HOU 506 23.2% 171 115 1575 8 67%
2005 Steve Smith CAR 506 29.3% 150 103 1563 12 69%

Emmanuel Sanders, the man Brown replaced in Pittsburgh (sorta), has flourished in his new home as well. Nelson is a holdover from last year's list, while his teammate Cobb set career highs with 91 catches, 1,287 yards, and 12 touchdowns in his fourth season. Bryant's career has been a little up and down; he is fifth this year and was third in 2012, but hasn't finished higher than 13th in any other season.

If we expanded this list to six names, we would add Odell Beckham, Jr. The Giants wideout finished with 394 DYAR, the second-best rookie season ever, and he did it despite missing a quarter of the season.

Bottom Five

1) Cecil Shorts, JAC: -147 total DYAR (-184 receiving, 37 passing)
2) Andre Johnson, HOU: -89 total DYAR (all receiving)
3) Brandon Gibson, MIA: -57 total DYAR (all receiving)
4) Marqise Lee, JAC: -36 total DYAR (-42 receiving, 6 rushing)
5) Riley Cooper, PHI: -33 total DYAR (all receiving)

Analysis: Similar to the "bad" running backs, the "bad" receivers this year aren't all that bad -- with one exception. Cecil Shorts finishes with the fifth-worst single-season DYAR on record, behind only 2006 Chris Chambers (-294), 2004 Bobby Wade (-210), 1994 Kelvin Martin (-188), and 2003 Az-Zahir Hakim (-185)

There were other receivers who certainly stand out. Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson and the Jets' Percy Harvin would both have made the bottom five in receiving DYAR alone, but both topped 100 DYAR rushing to lift themselves from the bottom. Only three other receivers have ever topped 100 DYAR rushing: Harvin in 2011 (183), Patterson last year (118), and Jacoby Ford with the Raiders in 2010 (112).

Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Terrance Williams, DAL

Williams caught only 37 passes, tied for 77th among wideouts, and only tied for fourth on the Cowboys alone. However, those 37 catches came with a 16.8-yard average and eight touchdowns, and so Williams finished 20th among wideouts with 219 DYAR.

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Andre Johnson, HOU

85 receptions tied Johnson for 11th among wide receivers, but with a Catch Rate below 60 percent, barely 11.0 yards per catch, and as many fumbles (three) as touchdowns, he was the second-worst wideout by DYAR. That being said, remember that quarterback and receiver stats are still intertwined, particularly because we are measuring receivers using both complete and incomplete passes. We don't really think Andre Johnson is one of the "five worst receivers in the NFL." He just was one of the five lowest in this specific metric, which means he wasn't as good as standard stats made him look.

Most Improved: Steve Johnson, SF

In 2013, Johnson posted a -15.5% DVOA as Buffalo's No 1 receiver catching passes from EJ Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis, and Jeff Tuel. That DVOA climbed to 23.4% when catching passes from Colin Kaepernick as San Francisco's third or fourth option. Context matters, folks.

Biggest Decline: Riley Cooper, PHI

It's a similar story for Cooper, in reverse. In 2013, he had a DVOA of 22.0% catching passes from Nick Foles in a one-of-a-kind season. In 2014, Foles regressed before getting hurt and giving way for Mark Sanchez, of all people, and Cooper's DVOA fell to -17.2%.

Tight Ends

Top Five Six

1) Rob Gronkowski, NE: 234 receiving DYAR
2) Antonio Gates, SD: 202 receiving DYAR
3) Greg Olsen, CAR: 175 receiving DYAR
4) Travis Kelce, KC: 171 receiving DYAR
5) Jason Witten, DAL: 144.2 receiving DYAR
6) Heath Miller, PIT: 143.6 receiving DYAR

Analysis: We're listing a top-six here because the gap between fifth and sixth place is so air-tight, and also because we wanted to list a Steeler at every position.

This marks the third time in the last four seasons Gronk has led all tight ends in DYAR; in his other two seasons, he finished second and eighth. Gates notches his eighth top-three finish after two seasons outside the top 10. Olsen makes the top four for the second time in three seasons in Carolina after never finishing higher than 20th in four years in Chicago. Witten has now made the top five ten times in the last 11 seasons. So those four, to one degree or another, we're used to. Kelce, a third-round pick in 2013, played in only one game his rookie season; his sophomore campaign was better. He was No. 2 on our Top Prospects list, so maybe that makes up for Andre Ellington a little bit. As for Miller, though he's not thought of as a dominant receiving option, he also finished in the top 10 in 2005, 2007, and 2012.

None of these seasons were historic; Gronkowski's was the 25th-best we've ever measured.

Bottom Five

1) Levine Toilolo, ATL: -115 receiving DYAR
2) Mychal Rivera, OAK: -97 receiving DYAR
3) Jermaine Gresham: CIN -78 receiving DYAR
4) Eric Ebron, DET: -71 receiving DYAR
5) Jeff Cumberland, NYJ: -67 receiving DYAR

Analysis: Nobody expected Levine Toilolo to replace Tony Gonzalez, but surely Atlanta was expecting more than this, one of the 20 worst tight end seasons on record. Keep in mind that Toilolo would have been the fourth or fifth option on almost every passing play, and he gets to catch passes from a top-ten quarterback. Rivera, like Toilolo, was a second-year player, while Ebron was a rookie, so they still have time to improve. Gresham, though, has been at this for five seasons now, and has been below replacement level in four of those seasons. If the light bulb hasn't turned on yet, it's hard to see how it could. Cumberland has been below replacement level two times in three years as a starter, but his quarterback situation has been, um, less than ideal.

Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Dwayne Allen, IND

Allen finished 11th among tight ends with 110 DYAR despite catching only 29 passes. Allen showed a surprising knack for making big plays, with a 13.6-average gain per reception that would be the envy of many wide receivers. He also scored eight touchdowns in just 49 targets.

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Martellus Bennett, CHI

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Bennett led all tight ends with 90 catches, but he was just 14th with 86 DYAR. Frankly, it's hard to determine the reason for the disconnect. His Catch Rate is good, but not great; his yards per catch is bad, but not awful. He only caught six touchdowns, but never fumbled. He was just an average producer with a very high workload (128 targets, more than any tight end except Gronkowski, who had 131).

Most Improved: Antonio Gates, SD

Technically, Houston's Garrett Graham had a bigger increase in DVOA (from -21.3% in 2013 to 2.4% this year), but that's partially due to small sample size as Graham has been injured this year, missing five games and only collecting 28 targets. So we're going with Gates, who rebounded nicely with a 23.7% DVOA after posting just an 0.9% DVOA the year prior. Gates turns 35 in June, but he's not done yet.

Biggest Decline: Vernon Davis, SF

Once again, the biggest change in DVOA happened to a part-timer (Denver's Jacob Tamme, whose DVOA fell from 23.7% in 2013 to -43.1% this season -- seriously, if you're quarterback is Peyton Manning, how do you post a Catch Rate of 50 percent and average only 7.8 yards per catch?), so we're going with Davis, one of the most disappointing players on one of this year's most disappointing teams. His DVOA fell from 29.2% in 2013 to -27.0% in 2014. A 52 percent Catch Rate (fourth-worst among tight ends) didn't help things, but Davis' home-run ability also disappeared. From 2009-13, Davis averaged 13.8 yards per catch, and never less than 11.8 yards per catch in any season. That average last year sunk to 9.4 yards per catch.


97 comments, Last at 03 Jan 2015, 7:11pm

1 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Uh oh.... Teddy Bridgewater, worse than his standard stats make him look? Now that's picking a fight.

I asked on Twitter yesterday to no avail, when PFF and Football Outsiders disagree, who do I default to?

2 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Yeah huge disconnect for me on watching Teddy and his DVOA. I mean part of it is the absolute crap surrounding him on offense. Kalil at times just let guys in unblocked. But Teddy was never rattled by pressure. Managed to survive with Charles Johnson as his top wideout.

Really the only two criticisms I see are he dumps off too much (esp on 3rd down), and maybe takes too many sacks (though I wonder how much blame is on the line, esp Kalil). I thought the deep ball concerns were way overblown.

Idk, maybe I'm biased as a Vikes fan, but really really liked what I saw from Teddy this year. Grew as the year progressed.

7 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Maybe Vince could give us an idea of what Bridgewater's early and late-season DYAR splits rank (thanks for a great season of Quick Reads, Vince!), but just glancing back through some old Quick Reads articles from recent weeks, Bridgewater did post a lot of near-zero or moderately positive DYAR games in the last 5-6 games—not bad for a rookie passer. I think the issue might be that FO's numbers thought he was *really* bad earlier in the season, and that's how I felt watching him—consistently missed targets down the field. Although I didn't watch him much in the later stages of the season, by all accounts his accuracy has improved markedly.

13 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Thanks for sharing that.

Over the same length of time, Weeks 12-17, PFF has Teddy as the second-highest graded QB in the league, only behind Rodgers. FO says he's just below average. I'm inclined to go with PFF on this one, but I'm open to arguments.

15 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Football Outsiders does not "grade" players. There are no grades on this page. These are stats. You don't have to "believe" them. They are simply telling you what a players performance looks like using some equations. They are then part of a broader discussion.

Stats are merely tools to be used in analysis. Unlike grades, they don't claim to make arguments on their own.

19 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Aaron, that is a little disingenuous, especially when the conversation is centered on the question of players that played better or worse than standard stats suggest. (It's also curious why you put the word "believe" in quotes, considering the only person to employ that word choice was Vince in his disclaimer "we certainly believe that our metrics do a better job of analyzing a player's performance than anything else you'll see, there are some things statistics can't account for.")
Vince employed DVOA and success rate to make an argument, which is appropriate. My counter is that the PFF grades disagree with the argument presented. How is that a misapplication of DVOA, DYAR, or any stat at all?

20 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I mis-read. I guess I should have put "go with" in quotes.

The wording on the QR year in review is standard boilerplate. So maybe we should change that. When we say "better than standard stats make him look" it's really just "hey, here's where there were big differences between our stats and standard stats." It's not meant to come of as a holistic argument.

I think we are really clear on what our stats DON'T capture in player performance. So I'm sorry if it comes off sounding we are claiming to capture those things. We are really just trying to point out some interesting stuff about the aspects of performance that our stats DO capture.

24 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I doubt it as well, but over his last 5 games his accuracy was very good and he did it with a line that almost never gave him a clean pocket. What I was most impressed with was the number of very accurate throws while under pressure. He actually seems more accurate under pressure than when he has lots of time.

The tough thing to measure QB play when watching on TV, is that you can't see the field, which is the vast majority of the time. When Bridgewater checks down you can't tell if he was missing a bigger play. There were a few times that replays actually showed him missing opportunities down field and colour guys pointed that out from time to time as well.

As for the sacks, I think Bridgewater holds the ball a little long at times, but most of the sacks seemed to be the breakdown of blocking and less than 3 second variety. After years of watching Ponder and yelling at the TV, "throw the ball idiot", I might just be reacting to Bridgewater vs Ponder, but I don't see Bridgewater as having big time sack issues. He won't be Peyton Manning avoiding the sack, but I suspect he will be a league average guy on that front.

As for the ints - I don't put much stock in one year ratings as so many are the result of luck both bad and good. From watching a full year of him I suspect Bridgewater will have a career int rate below average. He's accurate and careful, that usually leads to lower int rates.

26 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

A sizable portion of Bridgewater's negative value is also from that week 6 game alone against Detroit, where he was sacked 8 times, threw 3 picks, and an adjusted yards per attempt of 1.43. i think that game was the worst QB performance by anyone all year according to DYAR, a huge hole (compounded by another awful game against Buffalo the following week). He was then merely meh and inconsistent against a soft mid season lineup of Tampa, Washington, and Chicago before it seems like something started to perhaps click.

fWIW, At Advanced Football Analytics, Bridgewater ranked 22nd in success rate, 21st in win probability added per game, and 23rd in expected points added per play. He was the best rookie in all three. There are those like Chase Stewart who feel a decent predictive stat for QBs is Net Yards per attempt (while adjusted net yards per attempt is better at describing performance, given interceptions can be unpredictable, ny/a is better for projection). Bridgewater was a little below average by this metric (N/YA+ of 96), but respectable given he was a (young) rookie.

How to feel about him is tough to say considering he was 22 and surrounded by a mix of disappointing high picks and practice squad candidates. I feel like it's too easy to write off the sack issues completely on a poor line and receivers who don't scare anyone; a lot of it is on him and it's something he'll need to improve next year. However, at the very least I think he's someone they can at least try to work with going forward, and potentially someone good they can win consistently with. Given the qb's they e run out there over the past 10 years, that's saying something.

35 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Interesting that his two worst games came against two top-ten rated pass defenses. Well, maybe "telling" moreso than "interesting". He was definitely overmatched in those two games (though not Geno Smith-level overmatched, apparently.)

27 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Bridgewater's DVOA was around -16%, whereas Cassel was -40% and Ponder -57%.

Also take into account that Cassel played one game with the full offence including Peterson, and the full oline for 2.5 games. Ponder played with only one olineman down.

Bridgewater played many of his games with 3 backups on the line and Rudolph was out our at half speed. He also lost McKinnon for the last 4 games.

Last thought on DVOA - Bridgewater lost quite a few close TDs (ref calls, fumbles at the 1/2 yard line, dropped passes) and the Vikings tended to run the ball inside the 5 vs passing. I'm curious how better his DVOA would be if he had say 5 more td passes?

58 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Well, the "absolute crap surrounding him on offense" is part of 'his' DVOA and DYAR stats. DYAR and DVOA is just saying that Bridgewater, with THIS PARTICULAR offensive line throwing TO THESE PARTICULAR "skill" players performed a lot worse than Rodgers throwing to Jordy Nelson. Even worse than standard stats would have you believe. That doesn't mean he's bad. It's just a stat, and it can be interpreted in many ways. One is that the other Vikings offensive players suck a lot more than standard stats can capture.

4 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Minor correction: "When we include rushing value, however, Rodgers is surpassed by Aaron Rodgers" - first Rodgers should be Rothlisberger.

5 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

1) Cecil Shorts, JAC: -184 total DYAR (all receiving)

Were passing stats for non-QBs not included? (Not that Shorts's 2/2, 32 yards, 1 TD will move him out of last place for WR.)

6 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Fun read, as always.

Worth noting, I think, that Terrance Williams's targets, and so his production, declined after he broke his finger.

And not only does Dallas get a player listed at every position, but they have a "better than his stats" performer given his due as well.

18 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

"a game where the Miami Dolphins defense was clearly not trying"

Ugh, what a stupid throw away line. The clearly-not-trying Miami defense held the Jets to 103 yards rushing and 3.1 yards a carry when they averaged 142 yards per game and 4.5 yards a carry for the year (and ran for 277 yards on 5.7 yards a carry against Miami a few weeks ago). Maybe Geno just had a good day against a team that game planned to stop the run?

EDIT: I'll temper this criticism with appreciation for posting Geno's non-Week 17 DVOA. It's pretty amazing that one game improves his DVOA by 9 points. Although I think it's both lazy and foolish to say Miami wasn't trying, the game is still a massive outlier and should be taken with a grain of salt in evaluating Geno's 2014 performance and long term potential.

9 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

How's Vernon Davis' contract extension coming along after he registered biggest decline?

Remember reading his self-centered MMQB explaining why he was holding out.

10 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Gronk had his snap count limited to approximately 50% for the first four games, and was rested in Week 17. And still finished first. Yikes. The man is a beast.

11 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Flacco's DVOA climbed from -17.5% in 2013 to 15.4% this year. The addition of Steve Smith no doubt had a lot to do with it.

With his -3.4%DVOA. Look I love Steve Smith and he certainly improved the WR corps but I would rank it thus.

1. The improvement in the OL. I’ll say this is a combination of Kubiak's system combined with Juan Castillo’s teaching.
2. Kubiak as OC. Flacco is not one to go all verbose, but it’s pretty evident he feels more comfortable in this system than in any since he’s been in the league.
3. Owen Daniels/Crockett Gillmore- Sure they’re no AllPros, but last year after Pitta was injured he was throwing to the shell of Dallas Clark and Ed ‘no hands’ Dickson.
4. Steve Smith.

14 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

So if I'm reading this right Russell Wilson had the third best rushing DYAR in the league (assuming no running back had a massive rush DYAR and massively negative receiving DYAR). If you throw in his reception from the Denver game how much does it close the gap between him and Lacy in non-passing DYAR?

23 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

RE: Colts Tight Ends, I assumed Fleener's high drop rate dinged him but he's higher in DYAR than Allen despite that. Then again, their catch rates are BOTH low at 55 and 59%. 8 TDs each, but Fleener had 2.5 times the targets. Both have good YPC, but what's up with all those failed targets? Does catch rate correspond directly with drops (which would be horrific), or just passes that were not completed for numerous reasons? Still, these two have good production but the lowest catch rates among the top 15. Is Luck's accuracy the issue? The longer types of patterns they run?

57 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

If Dwayne Allen could stay healthy he would be an excellent player. The Colts seem to use those 2 guys very aggressively on long routes. They don't get very many of the "easy" looks TEs get a lot of. Still, that seems low.

25 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

First time in Roethlisberger's career that he's had above average pass protection. Pretty good results. Big Ben never seems to get any credit for being a top QB despite average (2004-2006) to completely horrific pass protection (2008 OL has to be the worst ever to win a SB). The Steeler's offense is young and very talented. I expect more seasons like this from Roethlisberger in the coming years.

29 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

As a Colts fan, I was really surprised to not see Richardson on the worst RB list. Was it his receiving DYAR that pulled him up, or just lack of carries since the Colts generally alternated backs?

30 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I just watched a video by Tobias Carlisle on deep value investing - one key message was that when experts mess with a simple model, they actually reduce the performance of the model.

I liken that to something like NetYards/attempt adjusted for league average (NY+) vs DVOA. My gut is attempts to improve the predictions on future success of QBs with things like DVOA will actually weaken predictive results provided by NY+.

But I could be entirely wrong. Has FO ever down any such comparison?

63 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

one would presume not - but the problem is that's not all DVOA does of course. The analogy is that suppose you had a model that predicted if people went to a movie on Friday night - one of the folks you are trying to predict comes up with a broken leg - so you rule him out and presume your model would be more accurate - the problem is people don't stop there - they keep looking for broken legs - in the end they find all sorts of broken legs that aren't broken and weaken the predictive value.

34 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I would be curious to know Andrew Luck's final numbers. Boffo traditional stats, but not very efficient, and the late spate of turnovers has been disastrous.

40 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

It's really quite stunning. Peyton Manning is now a pretty immobile, somewhat weak armed qb who never really had a tight spiral to begin with. What we are seeing is the distillation of high intelligence, and an unbelievably fanatical approach, for years and years, to preparation and consistent mechanics, which maximizes the now limited physical potential. Yes, he has some good receivers. It's amazing what can be accomplished, however, if you are smart, and just flat outwork, year after year, 95% of your cohort.

To head off the coming response, I'd say the same about Brady.

42 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I know nobody, at least around here, treats wonderlic scores as gospel, but the fact that Manning scored a mediocre (for a QB) 28 pretty much tells you all you need to know about the effectiveness of that test. Hard to imagine a QB with greater football intelligence than Manning. (Just for you, Will, Christian Ponder scored a 35 and Bridewater a 20.)

47 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Yeah, I should have said "football intelligence". I am not super familiar with the Wonderlic, but from memory, it seems odd that NFL would employ a test test which has such significant emphasis on reading vocabulary, and reading speed generally. Yeah, there are some useful pattern recognition questions, but it seems to me that with the NFL's resources, they could develop a test which was better tailored for what they were trying to gauge, like, oh, I dunno, how fast a guy memorizes stuff accurately, and how quickly he can accurately shift from one set of rules for solving a problem, to another set, based upon a different observed pattern.

50 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Also some sort of special spatial visualization ability must be necessary. Seems to me the ability to "see" where everyone is going to be 1.5 seconds after you throw the ball is hugely important. Part of that is memorization, pattern recognition, and rule application based on rigorous preparation but part of it is also visualization. It's the split second ability to the abstract into the concrete. Similarly, to be a great chess player requires more than the ability to memorize all the openings and gambits. You have to be able to "see the board" in your head multiple moves down the road (and in the past).

67 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Part of that smartness reflected in his choice of Denver where he has a great #1, the best #2, possibly the best #3 WRs and a good TE and a decent OLine and a very good defense that allows him to use the entire playbook all game long. Not to take away anything from his success and skills just recognizing that he has found a great landing spot for himself.
And no I do not believe those players are so good because Peyton is throwing to them. They would be as good with any good QB IMO. They won't get as much volume though.

71 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

It will never matter nor never change. It will always be that Emannuel Sanders was good and not Peyton Manning helping him become great; same with Demaryius, or Decker, or Stokley in 2012, or Julius Thomas, or Tamme.

73 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Ignoring Emanuel Sanders' stats, standard or advanced, to assert that Denver's receivers would be just as good with another good qb throwing to him, is a near-perfect case of how we all become victim to confirmation bias.

76 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

The thing that is interesting to me is that Sanders catch rate went way up this year. After never having a catch rate above 60% before this year he suddenly went to 71%. It is hard to figure out (at least for me if I'm being honest) if that is scheme related, Manning related, Sanders related of some hard to determine combination. What I also see though is that Decker's catch rate didn't drop when going to the Jets which adds another bit of data to the situation for me.

85 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

"It will never matter nor never change." Why do you have to read it the way you want to read instead of the way it is written? I never made an argument against Payton not helping him to become great.
It makes perfect sense that Denver would provide the best weapons to extract the most out of its most important player. So they get him good receivers. Why does playing with Payton should mean that the other players cannot get any recognition?

84 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Funny, Welker was much better with Brady. does that mean Brady is a lot better than Manning?
Players performance change form year to year, form scheme to scheme. Why has everything to be explained entirely and only entirely by Manning? I am sure Manning is adding value to him by being an excellent QB. Does that mean his WRs lack talent?

91 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

My comment about Welker was an example of the fallacy of your argument. Not about the value of Welker. Changing QBs is not the only thing that affects performance.

Sanders would be good with any QB, he would not have as much volume and opportunity to show his goodness with other QBs. I am talking about the quality of the player not his production. Manning adds value to his production not to his quality.

My statement is Manning went to a place where he gets a great surrounding cast of players. I believe Thomas would be a #1 WR on most of the NFL teams, Sanders is better than #2 WRs of most if not all NFL teams.
Eric Decker for example has been the best WR Jets have seen in a while and he was a #2 for Manning.

93 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

My only argument was that it was quite remarkable for a weak armed immobile guy to function at the level Manning is functioning at. If you differ, fine. I never stated or implied qbs were the only variable in passing performance.

On the other hand, you made an assertion that Manning added no value to the receivers in Denver, compared to other good qbs. This assertion is quite strong, in the face of things we can measure. Now you are saying he he adds value to a receiver's production, but not his quality. I really don't know what this means.

94 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I agree with your take on Manning. I had an additional comment that he chose a good team to go that had/has good receivers by coming to Denver. And they are not receivers that look good because Manning is throwing to them, they are good receivers that would also be successful elsewhere. They benefit from Manning but Manning did not make them. That is what it means that they are good with Manning and would be without Manning.

BTW you never said the QBs are only variable but your comment comparing Sanders performance between Steelers and Denver pretty much says that.

And please, I never said Manning does not add value to them.

95 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

No, to state the undeniable, that Sanders has been better in Denver than he was in Pittsburgh, is not synonymous with stating that qbs are the only variable in passing.

You wrote.....

"They would be as good with any good QB IMO."

...which certainly reads to me as saying that Manning adds no value, relative to other good qbs. To be clear, I am not saying that Manning's receiver are not good.

37 Regarding Rodgers' passing numbers

Rodgers actually led the league in passing DVOA, but finishes behind Roethlisberger in DYAR because he had 85 fewer passing plays.

Part of that may be due to the fact that Rodgers got yanked in the 4th quarter of blowout victories more than once.

41 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I thought the quarterback section was a little... odd? Not to take away anything from what Big Ben has done in Pittsburgh, he had a monster season no question, and he's certainly the reason the Steelers are in the playoffs. But those rushing numbers matter, they are about 80-90% pocket presence and scramble ability when talking about these guys. That stuff keeps drives alive (as shown in Rodgers' overall DYAR advantage.) Not only that, but Rodger's has a sizable advantage in value per play.

Overall an excellent look at some of this year's performances, but it seemed like maybe you were focusing too much on the second place performance. Maybe Rodgers' doesn't need any more press, he's certainly an easy vote for MVP in my book.

46 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

"We don't grade players; we just rank them in order of value, and tell you where to draft them on your fantasy teams based on those values." :-)

49 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Uh oh.... Teddy Bridgewater, worse than his standard stats make him look? Now that's picking a fight.

When picking players for the “better/worse than standard stats” sections, all I do is throw up an XY scatter plot of DVOA and passer rating, add a best-fit line, and see who’s farthest away from that line on either side. Among QBs, Stanton was way out in front in the “better” category, but the “worse” category wasn’t as clear. I could have gone with Tony Romo, but he was still second in DVOA, so it didn’t really make sense to use him.

For RBs, I compared rushing yards and rushing DYAR. For TEs and WRs, I used receptions and receiving DYAR.

As for Bridgewater specifically, a lot of stuff I’ve seen supporting him talks about his performance under pressure. DVOA doesn’t look at that at all. It analyzes the Vikings offense as a whole with Bridgewater at QB. So if the offensive line was letting blitzers through all day, of course that’s going to impact Bridgewater’s DVOA, even if it’s not his fault. Same thing if a receiver drops a pass, that effects a QB’s DVOA.

1) Cecil Shorts, JAC: -184 total DYAR (all receiving)
Were passing stats for non-QBs not included? (Not that Shorts's 2/2, 32 yards, 1 TD will move him out of last place for WR.)

This (and all other typos/omissions) have been fixed.

So if I'm reading this right Russell Wilson had the third best rushing DYAR in the league (assuming no running back had a massive rush DYAR and massively negative receiving DYAR). If you throw in his reception from the Denver game how much does it close the gap between him and Lacy in non-passing DYAR?

Yes, technically, Wilson was third among all players in rushing DYAR behind Murray and Lynch. And Wilson’s one reception was only worth 10 DYAR. But really, you can’t compare QB rushing DYAR to RB rushing DYAR because the baselines are so out of whack. It’s totally apples and oranges.

RE: Colts Tight Ends, I assumed Fleener's high drop rate dinged him but he's higher in DYAR than Allen despite that. Then again, their catch rates are BOTH low at 55 and 59%. 8 TDs each, but Fleener had 2.5 times the targets. Both have good YPC, but what's up with all those failed targets? Does catch rate correspond directly with drops (which would be horrific), or just passes that were not completed for numerous reasons? Still, these two have good production but the lowest catch rates among the top 15. Is Luck's accuracy the issue? The longer types of patterns they run?

I don’t have time today to do a full-length breakdown of the Colts’ usage of tight ends, but I did want to mention that Catch Rate is simply Catches/Targets. It doesn’t matter if the pass was dropped, overthrown, defensed, or whatever, it simply asks the question, when the ball was thrown to this player, how often did he catch it?

51 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

The case of Josh McCown is fascinating to me. What happened last year? At the risk of stating the obvious, it was some combination of pure luck, better coaching, and better surrounding cast, but it's not clear to me which one of those was the largest contributor. Trestman may be a lousy head coach, and he may not have been able to permanently fix Jay Cutler, but I have to think the McCown Miracle gets him a shot at another NFL job (QB coach would be the logical one).

Oh, and in the Uncharitable Tweaking of Vince Department:

Antonio Brown led the league in receptions and receiving yards this year, so it's hard to say he flew under the table...

Flying under the table is really hard; so little room.

53 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Some great teachers just can't reach bad students no matter how much they try, and sometimes their efforts adversely affect the rest of the class because the teacher can't commit enough time to them. Especially when the school is paying the difficult student 16 mil a year. So I don't think it just a question of talent but that Trestman can help QBs who want to be helped.

61 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I don't think you need to read much into the "magic" of McCown and Trestman. McCown played in eight games, and started five. He was really good in those games. Lots of players have blips where they're great, and then they're not. McCown had a short run of playing well when he had two great WRs and a good RB all playing well, and an offensive line that was clicking. If Trestman was the coach or OC in Tampa this last year, does anybody think McCown repeats his 2013 performance? Maybe the "magic" of it all is just that when Josh McCown has time to throw to really talented skill position players, sometimes he doesn't screw up as much.

64 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I'm curious about Antonio Brown's DYAR. It's listed as:
Antonio Brown, PIT: 557 total DYAR (553 receiving, 5 rushing)

I'm trying to make it all add up. That 553 receiving plus 5 rushing is 558. My best guess is that means it's really something like 552.6 + 4.6 = 557.2, and only those two stats are included. It could also come from passing, but he went 2 of 2 for 20 yards, a first down, and a touchdown. I doubt that could result in negative DYAR. Is there another DYAR I'm forgetting? I think this is offensive only, so it wouldn't include returns, but was that negative?

65 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

The answer to your question is rounding. DYAR figures are calculated out to many, many decimal points. (Antonio Brown's precise total was 552.705178482936 receiving DYAR.)

However, I also forgot Brown's passing DYAR. We have separate spreadsheets for passing, rushing, and receiving data, and when I put this together I have to copy and paste stuff from all three sources. Usually it's not worth my time to check for passing numbers, but apparently a lot of wide receivers threw passes this year.

66 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Good to see Eddie Lacy getting some love, though Pro Bowl voters (whoever they are) were unimpressed. Packer fullback John Kuhn is headed to Hawaii though!

69 Vernon Davis

I'm not sure it can be overstated how much Vernon Davis' horrid year contributed to the decline of the 49ers.

72 Re: Vernon Davis

In reply to by beargoggles

Hold on, I'll try: If Vernon Davis were healthy the 49ers would have gone 16-0, won the Super Bowl, and Jim Harbaugh would have signed a five year extension. Colin Kaepernick wouldn't have thrown a single interception, and would be widely regarded as the greatest bargain at the QB position the league has ever seen. The 49ers would have beaten the Seahawks so badly that Pete Carroll would have quit football forever and wandered the earth trying to find out the truth behind the 9-11 attacks.

74 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I know this is becoming a third rail here at FO, but I still feel like Brees' ranking is way too high. I know a lot of it is volume-based, and I know Aaron feels he didn't have that un-Brees-like a year, but, man, he looked average. So many bad, bad interceptions, and some really poor passes in the four or so games I saw him play in. I wonder if the offense they run now is meaningfully different than the one they ran in Payton's first couple years. Is Brees throwing fewer short passes now? Is his profile different, even though it's adding up to similar totals? I wouldn't be surprised if he has more big plays now that are canceling out his awful INTs and missed throws.

It's also kind of hard to reconcile NO's terrible record with such a potent passing attack. I know their D is horrendous, but in today's NFL most teams most weeks have trouble stopping any decent offense, and NO plays in an awful division. We've discussed the dropoff in the O-line, but if you need a great line to throw behind, you aren't a great QB. Plenty of QBs make do with average O-lines most of the time during their careers (Rodgers, Brady, etc. etc.).

It just seems to me that Brees is as close now to Jay Cutler and his ilk as he is to the true top QBs. Probably the 10th best QB or so.

89 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I don't see why it's so difficult to reconcile NO's record with Brees' advanced stats. Their defense is terrible - I mean utter garbage, worst in the league. With average QBing this would be a 3/4 win team.

One sure fire way to make a QB look worse than he is, is to pair him with a useless defense so that he is under constant pressure to score and often playing from behind (see also M. Ryan/J.Cutler). It also lends itself to scenarios whereby a QB has the opportunity to make high-leverage, perception-defining mistakes, of which Brees has had a handful this season (see also the career of T. Romo).

81 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

I'm surprised Shady McCoy isn't the biggest drop off among rbs. Was he better than he seemed this year, or not as good as I remember last year?

92 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

You're not misremembering: last year he was #1 in DYAR and #3 in DVOA. His collapse is stunning, especially since there was no notable improvement after the o-line got healthy(-ish).

He should have at least gotten the shout-out for "worse than his traditional stats make him look." He made the freaking Pro Bowl and was, what, 3rd in overall rushing yards? Him being terrible was both the Eagles biggest problem this year (yes, bigger than the secondary) and going forward their most troubling (because unlike the secondary, I have no idea what they should do about it. He can't be washed up that suddenly, right?)

97 Re: Quick Reads: 2014 In Review

Oh God.

And he relies on shiftiness and speed way more than Alexander ever did. But that both have that profile where their excellence is somewhat a product of their excellent o-line, so maybe a decline is getting masked and the... bam! They stink.