Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Quick Reads: 2015 In Review
Quick Reads: 2015 In Review
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vincent Verhei

The average NFL team this season ran the ball 26.3 times per game, the lowest mark in league history. That broke the record of 26.7 runs per game set in 2014, which broke the record of 27.1 runs per game set in 2013. If it seems like the running game is disappearing from the NFL, it is, and that is very clear looking at the top running backs this season. No running back in 2015 finished in the top 100 seasons we have measured at that position since 1989, whether we look at total value, rushing and receiving, or just at rushing value alone. But this shrinking number of running plays also means that it's harder for running backs to be historically bad -- no running back this year made the bottom 40 in our database, either. In fact, we had a terribly hard time finding the "worst" players at running back this year.

And actually, that pattern applies at other positions as well. Though it's most extreme at running back, you could also argue that the best quarterbacks weren't that great this year, nor were the worst quarterbacks that bad. And the same goes for wide receivers (with the notable exception of one really good player from Pittsburgh). And this makes some of the following analysis a little more difficult than usual.

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.

This was a little harder to do this year than usual, largely because it was so hard to find bad players. Since DYAR is a counting stat, players with more passes/carries/targets tend to amass more value, either positive or negative, and therefore we usually don't need to worry about a minimum number of plays in our year-end analysis -- the best and worst players tend to filter themselves out from the group automatically. This season, though, we had a number of cases where players who had a few dozen plays but still fell short of our typical opportunity thresholds still put up more negative value than any full-time player. Therefore, at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver (it wasn't necessary at tight end) we have listed two separate bottom-five tables -- one for the worst full-timers, and one for especially bad part-timers. That way you can decide for yourself who was truly the worst.

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 Ben Roethlisberger or Le'Veon Bell) will find it harder to make it to these leaderboards.

(More information on these statistics is available here.)


Top Five Quarterbacks, 2015
Player Team Pass DYAR Rush DYAR Total DYAR
Carson Palmer ARI 1,702 -10 1,692
Tom Brady NE 1,311 25 1,358*
Russell Wilson SEA 1,192 122 1,314
Andy Dalton CIN 1,139 10 1,149
Drew Brees NO 1,109 21 1,130
* Total includes 21 receiving DYAR

Analysis: We talked about three of these guys in our look at the MVP race last week. Carson Palmer just completed the best season of his career, leading the league in passing DYAR and DVOA for the first time and not racking higher than tenth in either category since 2007. He also led the league with 8.7 yards per pass, and in QBR at 82.2. Tom Brady, meanwhile, is quite used to this rarefied air. He has made the top ten in passing DYAR every healthy season since 2001, the year of his first Super Bowl win, including eight top-five finishes and four times leading the league. He was first in the NFL with 36 touchdowns, and also first with an interception rate of just 1.1 percent. Russell Wilson's late-season passing surge (and a full year of nifty footwork) led to his best season ever that halted a period of slight decline in his passing numbers -- he ranked eighth as a rookie in 2012, then ninth in 2013 and 14th last year. He led the NFL this year with a 110.1 passer rating. Andy Dalton was quietly fourth in DYAR and even more quietly second in DVOA in what has been by far his best season -- he had never ranked higher than 12th in either category before. And finally there's Drew Brees, who like Brady is quite familiar around here. This was his fifth consecutive season in the top five in passing DYAR, and his 12th straight season in the top ten. He also led the league with 4,870 passing yards, the sixth time he has finished first in that category.

If you're looking for Cam Newton, he finished tenth among quarterbacks with 763 total DYAR (621 passing, 142 rushing). As we explained last week, Newton has been getting the absolute most out of the dreadful talent around him, and his real-world value is almost certainly higher than what our numbers say. Newton finished 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing), six more than anyone else. Newton now has 43 career rushing touchdowns; the record for quarterbacks is 44 by Otto Graham. Did we mention that Newton is only 26 years old?

Bottom Five Quarterbacks, 2015 (minimum 200 passes)
Player Team Passes Pass DYAR Rush DYAR Total DYAR
Nick Foles STL 350 -355 21 -334
Peyton Manning DEN 346 -328 --* -328
Matt Cassel DAL** 216 -173 -10 -183
Colin Kaepernick SF 273 -179 63 -116
Blaine Gabbert SF 309 -124 55 -69
* Not counting kneeldowns, Manning did not have a single rushing play in 2015.
* Cassel also played one game for Buffalo this season, but did not throw any passes

Analysis: The Rams didn't give up much to get Nick Foles, just a quarterback who can't stay healthy, but they got even less back, as Foles finished as the worst starting quarterback of 2015. He was last in DYAR, DVOA, and QBR among qualifying quarterbacks. It's partly Foles' fault that his teammates end up in bottom-five lists throughout this article. Colin Kaepernick's DVOA has declined from 25.8% in 2012 to 16.6% in 2013, to -8.4% in 2014, to -21.3% this year. His career in San Francisco is hanging by a thread. Matt Cassel hasn't had a positive DVOA since 2010; his career in the NFL is hanging by a thread. The last time Blaine Gabbert was a regular starter, he established himself as the worst quarterback in the last quarter-century. By finishing below replacement level this year, he is now even worst-er.

Peyton Manning deserves special mention, because he's the only player in this table who is still relevant. There's no gentle way to put this: Manning has been a disaster this year. Among quarterbacks who started at least one game for any of the 12 playoff teams, only Michael Vick was worse than Manning in DVOA. Yes, that means Manning was worse than Landry Jones, worse than A.J. McCarron, worse than any of Houston's four quarterbacks, and for sure worse than Brock Osweiler. Manning's interception rate of 5.1 percent was the highest in the league, and his total of 17 interceptions was second only to Blake Bortles -- who threw nearly twice as many passes (606) as Manning did (331). The Broncos won the AFC's top seed on the strength of the best defense in football, but by re-inserting Manning into the starting lineup they may have put themselves at a disadvantage at the sport's most important position against any team that will be visiting Denver in the next month. The Broncos are gambling that this awful 2015 performance was all about injuries rather than decline and age, but that's quite a gamble. Manning's performance in the postseason hasn't been nearly as bad as his reputation, but he has gone 0-1 in the playoffs nine times, and nobody should be surprised if it happens a tenth time.

(Now watch as Manning throws nine touchdowns in three games and wins his second ring.)

Bottom Five Quarterbacks, 2015 (fewer than 200 passes)
Player Team Passes Pass DYAR Rush DYAR Total DYAR
Zach Mettenberger TEN 179 -408 4 -404
Austin Davis CLE 105 -269 -5 -275
Mark Sanchez PHI 100 -229 7 -222
Michael Vick PIT 75 -206 16 -190
Matt Schaub BAL 83 -146 -17 -163

Analysis: Zach Mettenberger now has -619 passing DYAR and an 0-10 record as a starter, and whoever ends up in charge in Tennessee next year, their first order of business should be making sure the LSU product never puts on a Titans uniform again. The other names here are all backups only at this point, and honestly they would also be lucky to find work in the NFL next year.

Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Jameis Winston, TB

The Buccaneers rookie was just 28th with a passer rating of 84.2, but he was 16th with a DVOA of 2.2%. DVOA is willing to look past his low completion rate (58.3 percent) and it likes his high yards per pass (7.6) and low sack rate (4.8 percent).

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Marcus Mariota, TEN

The top two picks of the 2015 draft had dissimilar statistical profiles, especially in pocket presence. Mariota was sacked 38 times and fumbled ten times, both in the top ten in the league, despite missing four starts. And sacks and fumbles are not accounted for in passer rating, but they are in DVOA.

Most Improved: Josh McCown, CLE

What a strange career McCown has had. One year after he posted the largest year-to-year DVOA decline we've ever measured, he had the biggest improvement in football, from -41.9% to -5.7%. McCown has now had enough passes in a season to qualify for our tables seven times, ranking fourth in DVOA in 2013 and never again in the top 20.

Biggest Decline: Peyton Manning, DEN

Manning was third in DYAR and fifth in DVOA last season. This year… he wasn't.

Running Backs

Top Five Running Backs, 2015
Name Team Rush DYAR Rec DYAR Total DYAR
Matt Forte CHI 194 110 304
DeAngelo Williams PIT 184 109 293
David Johnson ARI 131 120 251
Danny Woodhead SD 13 237 251
Thomas Rawls SEA 217 13 229

Analysis: With 898 yards rushing and 389 receiving this season, Matt Forte becomes the 12th member of the 8,000-4,000 club. DeAngelo Williams had his best season since 2008, when he finished first in rushing DYAR and DVOA. David Johnson started each of Arizona's last five games. In his first three starts, he ran for 378 total yards; in his last two, he ran for 64. Danny Woodhead never ran for more than 55 yards in a game, but he led all running backs with 80 catches, 755 yards, and six touchdowns. And finally there's Thomas Rawls, who did little as a receiver and only started seven games, but he was dominant when he ran the ball, gaining 830 yards (16th-most in the league) on only 147 carries (33rd). He led all running backs in rushing DVOA and success rate, and was second in DVOA. It was the first time a runner finished first or second in all three categories since Clinton Portis did it in 2002; the only others to do so are Marshall Faulk (in 1999, 2000, and 2001), Stephen Davis (1999), and Emmitt Smith (1993).

Bottom Five Running Backs, 2015 (minimum 100 carries or 25 targets)
Name Team Rush DYAR Rec DYAR Total DYAR
Melvin Gordon SD -67 -6 -73
Ronnie Hillman DEN 22 -90 -68
Alfred Morris WAS -54 -10 -64
Frank Gore IND 0 -60 -60
Chris Polk TEN -31 -26 -57

Analysis: Melvin Gordon, the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, never gained more than 88 yards in a game and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Ronnie Hillman was a decent runner, but a horrible receiver, averaging only 4.6 yards per catch with a catch rate of 69 percent. Alfred Morris seemed to have lost all big-play speed, averaging only 3.7 yards per rush and 5.5 yards per catch. Frank Gore averaged only 3.7 yards per carry, the first time in his career he failed to hit 4.0, and also had a catch rate of only 59 percent while averaging 7.9 yards per catch. Chris Polk's raw numbers were even worse: 3.4 yards per rush; 57 percent catch rate, 6.8 yards per catch.

Bottom Five Running Backs, 2015 (fewer than 100 carries and 25 targets)
Name Team Rush DYAR Rec DYAR Total DYAR
Tre Mason STL -99 -19 -118
Andre Williams NYG -83 -6 -89
Stevan Ridley NYJ -51 -35 -86
Tevin Coleman ATL -12 -46 -58
Mike Davis SF -14 -42 -55

Analysis: Tre Mason, Andre Williams, and Stevan Ridley all failed to average even 3.0 yards per carry. Tevin Coleman's issues were mainly fumble-related -- he had three in fewer than 100 touches -- but he also had just two catches for 14 yards in 11 targets. And Mike Davis gained only 58 yards on 35 carries, an average rush of 1.7 yards that was the worst for any running back with at least 30 carries since the 1970s. Oh, and he only averaged 5.4 yards per catch with a 54 percent catch rate, too.

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Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Le'Veon Bell, PIT

Bell was just 46th among running backs with 692 yards from scrimmage, but he was 16th in combined DYAR, and led the NFL in rushing DVOA.

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Latavius Murray, OAK

Fifth at his position with 1,304 yards from scrimmage, but negative total DYAR. He was especially terrible as a receiver, averaging only 5.7 yards per catch.

Most Improved: Giovani Bernard, CIN

Technically, Alfred Blue had a bigger improvement in DYAR, but since he merely improved to average, we'll acknowledge Bernard improving to very good. The Bengals runner jumped from 3 rushing DYAR in 2014 to 129 this year, putting him in the top ten even though he split time in the backfield with Jeremy Hill.

Biggest Decline: DeMarco Murray, PHI

Come on, you knew this was coming. Murray had a league-best 382 DYAR last year, but -29 in 2015. His carries were cut by more than half, from 392 to 193, and his average carry fell from 4.7 to 3.6.

Wide Receivers

Top Five Wide Receivers, 2015
Name Team Rec DYAR Rush DYAR Total DYAR
Antonio Brown PIT 516 25 526*
Doug Baldwin SEA 414 -- 414
A.J. Green CIN 413 -- 413
John Brown ARI 351 16 368
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 363 -- 363
* Total includes minus-16 passing DYAR

Analysis: Antonio Brown tops 500 DYAR receiving for the second year in a row. This is just the 14th time that a receiver has gone over 500 DYAR, and Brown joins Marvin Harrison (2001 and 2006), Randy Moss (2003 and 2007), and Jerry Rice (1989, 1994, and 1995) as the only players to do it more than once. (We'll add more 1980s seasons to our database this offseason, so we'll probably find some more big years from Rice.) Keep in mind that Landry Jones and Michael Vick threw more than 20 percent of the passes for Pittsburgh this year. I'm not saying that a wide receiver on a 10-6 team should win MVP, but aside from a lineman like Joe Thomas whose performance we have trouble measuring, you won't find an offensive player who did his job better than Brown in 2015.

Doug Baldwin was second in the league in DVOA as the No. 2 receiver behind Golden Tate on Seattle's Super Bowl championship team 2013), but seemed miscast as the top target in 2014. This year he was the top target again, especially after Jimmy Graham's injury, and he responded by finishing second in DYAR and first in DVOA. A.J. Green's advanced numbers have never been as good as you would think -- he had never finished higher than ninth in DYAR or 17th in DVOA -- but that all changed this year. Larry Fitzgerald, much like his quarterback, had his best season in years in his mid-30s, finishing in the top ten in both DYAR and DVOA for the first time since 2008 -- the last time Arizona played in the Super Bowl. His Cardinals teammate, John Brown, blew up after a 2014 season that saw the rookie finish outside the top 60 in both DVOA and DYAR.

Bottom Five Wide Receivers, 2015 (minimum 50 targets)
Name Team Passes Rec DYAR Rush DYAR Total DYAR
Davante Adams GB 94 -109 -- -109
Dez Bryant DAL 72 -86 -- -86
Eddie Royal CHI 50 -81 -5 -86
Chris Givens STL/BAL 53 -69 -11 -80
Brandon LaFell NE 73 -37 6 -31

Analysis: Davante Adams wasn't all that good as a rookie, and then he collapsed along with the rest of the Green Bay offense in his second season. Dallas' offense also collapsed this season, but that likely has more to do with Tony Romo's injuries than anything Dez Bryant did. Eddie Royal had a 72 percent catch rate in Chicago, which isn't bad, but he averaged only 6.4 yards per catch, which sounds impossible. Chris Givens had precisely the opposite struggles -- he averaged 17.7 yards per catch, which is great, but had a catch rate of only 37 percent, which sucks. Brandon LaFell was the only player in the NFL to gain at least 500 yards receiving without scoring a single touchdown.

Bottom Five Wide Receivers, 2015 fewer than 50 targets)
Name Team Passes Rec DYAR Rush DYAR Total DYAR
Brian Quick STL 32 -110 -- -110
Keith Mumphery HOU 32 -93 -- -93
Marlon Brown BAL 30 -92 -- -92
Donteea Dye TB 30 -74 -- -74
Taylor Gabriel CLE 48 -74 -- -74

Analysis: Some quick numbers here: Brian Quick: 31 percent catch rate, 10.2 yards per catch. Keith Mumphery: 44 percent catch rate, 9.2 yards per catch. Marlon Brown: 47 percent catch rate, 8.0 yards per catch. Donteea Dye: 37 percent catch rate, 12.0 yards per catch. Taylor Gabriel: 58 percent catch rate, 8.6 yards per catch.

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Weirdest Statistical Profile of 2015: Tavon Austin, STL

You won't find Austin's name in either of those tables, but he was last among all players with -122 receiving DYAR. A 60 percent catch rate isn't bad, but 9.1 yards per catch is, and Austin had 87 targets, which meant a lot of opportunity to build up negative value. However, he managed to do the impossible and lead all players at any position with 254 rushing DYAR. He gained 434 yards on only 52 carries. That makes him just the fifth player (and first non-quarterback) to rush for 400 or more yards and average at least 8.0 yards per carry in the last half-century. I have spent all day trying to think of another situation like this in sports, where a player is the worst in the league in what his job typically is, but the best in the league in something he's not even supposed be doing. He's like a National League pitcher with a 10.0 ERA who leads the league in home runs. Or a 7-foot NBA center who can't block a thing but dishes out assists like you wouldn't believe. Anyway, Austin's total of 132 DYAR makes him one of the Rams' best players on offense, but he sure found a strange way of getting there.

Better Than Their Standard Stats Made Them Look: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Jermaine Kearse, SEA

Seattle's wideout trio combined for 178 catches, which isn't a ton when you consider that Antonio Brown had 136 by himself. But what they did with those catches, and the way they wasted so few of their opportunities, was phenomenal. All three of Seattle's wideouts were in the top 20 for DYAR, something that had been accomplished by only 12 teams before this season. (Arizona's trio of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd were also in the top 20 this year.) More to the point, Baldwin was first among wide receivers in DVOA, Lockett was third, and Kearse was fifth -- the first time in our records that one team put three receivers in the top five in this category.

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Davante Adams, GB

Adams caught 50 passes this year, which isn't terrible -- it's on the low end of what you'd expect from a typical starter. But as we've mentioned, only a handful of players had worse receiving value in 2015.

Most Improved: John Brown, ARI

One (1) DYAR as a rookie, 351 in 2015.

Biggest Decline: Dez Bryant, DAL

430 DYAR in 2014, -86 in 2015.

Tight Ends

Top Five Tight Ends, 2015
Name Team Total DYAR
Tyler Eifert CIN 247
Rob Gronkowski NE 235
Gary Barnidge CLE 218
Jordan Reed WAS 206
Delanie Walker TEN 194*
* Includes 20 DYAR rushing

In hindsight, Tyler Eifert vs. Rob Gronkowski was the best one-on-one stat race of the entire season. After Week 3, Gronkowski was second among tight ends and Eifert was fifth. In every week since then, both have ranked in the top three (with Gary Barnidge usually the man to push one or the other to third place). Gronkowski jumped ahead of and took the lead in Week 8 and held it through Week 16. Meanwhile, Eifert missed three games in December, catching only two passes in the game he did play. Gronkowski couldn't do much to gain separation though, and then in Week 17 Eifert went 4-for-4 with 51 yards and a touchdown to win the race, caught only 2-of-7 passes for 18 yards to fizzle into second place. Eifert becomes the first tight end to break up the Reign Of The Four G-Men (Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, and Antonio Gates, one of whom finished first among tight ends in DYAR for 12 years in a row) since the immortal Billy Miller did it with the expansion Texans in 2002.

Barnidge finishes third. He also finishes with more yards (1,043) and touchdowns (nine) than he had in his first seven seasons combined (603, three). With 952 yards, Jordan Reed nearly doubled his prior output (964 yards) too, though doing so in his third season isn't quite as impressive as Barnidge doing it in his eighth. He did up his touchdowns from three to 11, though. And Delanie Walker may have been the only player in Tennessee to have had a good season, catching 94 passes for 1,088 yards when nobody else on the Titans managed even 40 catches or 600 yards.

Bottom Five Tight Ends, 2015
Name Team Total DYAR
Jared Cook STL -76
Marcedes Lewis JAC -76
Garrett Graham* HOU -70
Julius Thomas JAC -57
Mychal Rivera OAK -51
Jordan Cameron MIA -50
* With 19 targets, Graham did not get enough targets to qualify for our full tables

So, let's recap. The St. Louis Rams had:

  • Nick Foles, the worst starting quarterback in the league;
  • Tre Mason, the worst running back even though he almost never got onto the field;
  • Tavon Austin, the worst qualifying pass-catching wide receiver even though was also somehow a great runner;
  • Brian Quick, the worst non-qualifying wide receiver, who was still worse than most qualifiers;
  • and now Jared Cook, the worst tight end in the league.

First reaction: Man, I bet the folks in Los Angeles are gonna LOVE this team!

Second reaction: This team beat Seattle -- twice. What a weird sport.

Marcedes Lewis, so long a good player on some god-awful Jaguars teams, seems to have sadly gotten old just as the team has started to show signs of life. Teammate Julius Thomas was a bust in free agency, with only five touchdowns in his first season in Jacksonville after a dozen in each of his last two seasons in Denver. Between we find Garrett Graham, whose 19 targets this season, resulted in a catch rate of (I am not making this up) 21 percent and 7.5 yards per catch. But hey, he had a touchdown, which is more than you can say for Brandon LaFell. Mychal Rivera fell off a cliff in his third season, as the Raiders seemed to prefer Lee Smith as a blocking tight end and Clive Walford as a receiver. And Jordan Cameron, the second-biggest tight end free agent bust in the state of Florida this year, was a shadow of himself in Miami.

Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Darren Fells, ARI

Fells was just 40th among tight ends with 21 catches, but he was 14th with 86 DYAR. That includes a 75 percent catch rate, 14.8 yards per catch, and three touchdowns.

Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Coby Fleener, IND

In his last three seasons, Fleener has caught 52, 51, and 54 passes, which makes him look like the model of consistency. However, his yardage and touchdowns in those three seasons have fluctuated from 774 and eight in 2014 to 491 and three in 2015.

Most Improved: Tyler Eifert, CIN

Some great options here. The four tight ends in our top five not named Gronkowski all had 12 DYAR or less in 2014. Our pick is Eifert, who had to overcome not just shaky quarterback situations or tight roster squeezes, but a severe injury, a dislocated elbow that limited him to one game in 2014.

Biggest Decline: Julius Thomas, JAC

Minus-57 DYAR in his first year in Jacksonville after 140 in Denver in 2014 and 214 in 2013.


54 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2016, 5:30pm

1 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Newton now has 43 career rushing touchdowns; the record for quarterbacks is 44 by Otto Graham.

While Pro Football Reference may recognize AAFC statistics, the NFL does not. (Graham ran for 11 of his 44 TDs there.) If you're going to include non-NFL professional leagues, Steve Young ran for 52 TDs, 9 in the USFL and 43 in the NFL.

10 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Arguably, the AAFC should be treated differently than the USFL, since the AAFC partially merged with the NFL whereas the USFL just folded. The merger implies some element of parity (especially since Graham's team was one of the ones that merged).

If we count professional leagues that haven't merged with the NFL, then Aaron Garcia is the all-time passing TD record holder with 1,336, blowing away Peyton Manning's 539.

16 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

It's not only the fact that they merged, it's that when the AAFC and NFL merged, many of the leagues best players were from the AAFC, and the Browns were as dominant in the NFL as they were in the AAFC.

I take the AAFC more seriously then the AFL, AFL teams were clearly inferior to the NFL, AAFC were for the most part worse, but not by much.

19 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

The Browns were dominant as soon as they moved to the NFL, but the 1950 49ers went 3-9, and the 1950 Colts went 1-11 before going defunct. The AAFC was pretty much a one-team league.

There was plenty of elite young talent and quality coaching in the USFL, but it lacked any kind of roster depth.

2 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Firstly great to see Carson Palmer up there at the top. I always felt we were deprived of a great potential rivalry between Bengals-Steelers and Palmer-Roethlisberger when he got injured back in 2005.

Secondly may I ask where Julio Jones ranks among WRs? Conventional stats he's right alongside Brown so I'd be interested to know why he's doesn't even make the top five. (Apologies if you explained in previous weeks).

5 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Julio was 6th. Probably a mix of schedule faced, passing situations, and drawing DPI. Julio was #2 in VOA but hit hard by the schedule adjustments while the Steelers faced an above average schedule. Ben was also by far the most aggressive third down passer this year and a lot of those went to Brown. Finally, Brown drew a ridiculous 7 DPI penalties for over 196 yards, giving him effectively over 2000 yards of generated offense.

12 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review


6th in DYAR but second in YAR, so the schedule he played hurt his DYAR rank. It seems (looking at DVOA) that despite the aggregate stat similarity he was not as successful on a per play basis.

3 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

I have spent all day trying to think of another situation like this in sports, where a player is the worst in the league in what his job typically is, but the best in the league in something he's not even supposed be doing.

It's only one game instead of over a full season, but I think Chris Davis's performance in this Orioles-Red Sox game is the best example possible.

14 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Definitely a shot-blocking terror, but his 3-point shooting extended beyond one game (http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bolma01.html)

1988-89: 20-91 (22%) (1.9 3PA/36 min.)
1989-90: 9-48 (18.8%) (1.3)
1992-93: 10-32 (31.3%) (1.3)

26 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

In a similar spirit, check out Brooks Kieschnick's 2003 season at Baseball Reference (spam filter won't let me link).

As a pitcher: 53 IP, 5.26 ERA, 82 ERA+, 0.1 WAR
As a batter: 70 AB, .970 OPS, 149 OPS+, 1.4 WAR

He only played a non-pitcher position in 10 games and was the fourth most valuable hitter on his team.

41 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

My first thought was Dirk Nowitzki, as a seven-foot-tall shooter who isn't great at typical power forward stuff. But then again, he's got eight rebounds and a block per game over his career, so he's not as terrible in the paint as his reputation.

9 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

I guess Winston and Mariota are always inexorably linked, and it's fitting they appear here. Winston is definitely a QB who likes to put the ball deep and is very accurate as long as he isn't lofting a bomb (where he's honestly just terrible in terms of accuracy).

Very pleased to see Dontae Dye on the worst list; due to loads of injuries at WR/TE (#2 Vincent Jackson missed about half the season, #3 Louis Murhpy blew his ACL, TE Sefarian-Jenkins missed most of the year), Dye got lot of opportunities. He played in six games, started ten, and was on the field for 35.32% of offensive snaps for a team that threw the ball a lot. 30 targets, 11 catches, and four of those were in the last game. Couldn't get open, stone hands, I'm currently convinced he's an alternate-universe Sabby Piscitelli who came to Earth-616 via an incursion just to mess with the Bucs some more.

17 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

"First reaction: Man, I bet the folks in Los Angeles are gonna LOVE this team!"

Especially if they bring along that paragon of mediocrity, Jeff Fisher.

18 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Are the replacement level baselines different for WR and RB? How do Tavon Austin's results change if he's classified as an RB instead of WR? He's clearly a hybrid -- he had 52 rushing attempts while, according to PFR, no other WR had more than 18. I didn't watch much of the Rams this year, does he always line up split wide or do they use him sometimes out of the backfield?

Statistically, he seems to have more in common with receiving RBs like Darren Sproles or Shane Vareen than he does with traditional WRs.

21 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Biggest Decline: DeMarco Murray, PHI

I'll note that Murray finished 18-18 across 10 games in converting 3rd and 4th downs. Gives new meaning to the phrase "third-down back."

23 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

I wish folks at FO would do two versions of dvoa - one normalized by year and one normalized by the entire data in the index - so it gives us a proper comparison of offense and defense relative to years past.

Its interesting - everyone in the comments and from my own personal observations felt like qb play and o line play were way down this year. Yet, the rate of sacks per att and ints per att were way down this year and 2015 also had the best average anya in nfl history.

27 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

This occurred to me too -- everyone I know says that most quarterbacks suck this year, but the passing efficiency numbers keep rising. So why is it that so many fans watch quarterbacks who are, as a group, more efficient than ever, and saying "man, these guys stink"?

28 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Well, its possible that more qbs are throwing tds instead letting the rbs rush them in. - just as the number of rush stats across the board have gone down. I suppose an ez indication would be to look at the number of tds scored this year versus past.

30 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Yes, but even those backups are putting up better numbers than Hall of Famers of years gone by. Mark Sanchez had a higher passer rating this season than John Elway, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, or Dan Fouts had over their careers. So if it sucks watching Mark Sanchez, shouldn't it have also sucked watching those guys play?

(And no, I am NOT saying Sanchez was the best player out of that group. Just pointing out that as passing numbers go up, fan dissatisfaction seems to go down.)

31 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

1) I would imagine that one reason is that there are more passing attempts and fans discount the 3 yard pass as mattering. So if a guy like Stanton makes four three yard passes and then throws the horrible INT to Earl Thomas you remember the really bad pass.

2) I would also imagine that it comes down to comparison to other QBs. Elway had similar numbers but in that era those numbers were way better as compared to his peers. So, you enjoyed his play because the QB play from other guys was even worse

33 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Fans can see how hard something is. The degree of difficulty for Fouts was much higher than it is for Sanchez in 2015.

I think people think QB sucked this year because of a lack of QBs player better than their peers.

Comparing a single season to a career is misleading. Yeah Fouts sucked when he was young, and he sucked when he was too old. At the height of his power, he had 7+ ANY/A 4 times in 5 years. Sanchez's career best is 6.18—that's last year.

So yeah, it did suck to watch 1973 Dan Fouts and it sucks to watch 2015 Mark Sanchez.

Finally, passer rating sucks as a stat :)

32 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

It could because the QBs are making less challenging passes that end up going further because of great scheme or poor tackling. People aren't as impressed by a 40-yard gain off of a pick play compared to a pinpoint strike downfield, and none of the elite three of Rodgers, Brady and Manning were good at the latter this year.

35 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

A 40-yard gain off of a pick play followed by horrible tackling then. Take this play, for instance:


Seattle didn't execute the screen very well, and it should have been a 5-yard loss. Instead it turns into a 22-yard gain because of multiple whiffs. Some of the poor technique is about trying to make the highlight reel, but it seems like defenders don't have enough patience these days and simply charge in a straight line. It's better to stay in front of the ball-carrier (assuming no one is in a position to block you) and make him hesitate long enough for the cavalry to arrive.

36 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

1) That's a screen pass, not a pick play.

2) That was an impressive, exciting play.

3) It's 22 yards, not 40+.

4) Even if it had been a pick play that had gone for 40, that wouldn't refute what I said at all. I clearly couched everything in "mosts". Are either the rate or total number of 40 yard pass plays up this year?

37 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

I would argue the majority of the passing explosion has been the result of short passes and passes over the middle of the field. The latter was probably an inevitable innovation, the former is a function partially of rule changes. The Patriots exploit this to an extreme extent.

As a fan of football, I really dislike how the short passing game has become so prominent in the nfl. It has greatly inflated the stats of qbs while simultaneously altered the risk reward tradeoff of throwing medium and deep. And I say this as a fan of Manning, whos renaissance was made possible in part by the short passing game.

Frankly - look at pittsburgh or arizona. To build a medium throwing scary offense, not only do you need a good qb, you need a decent to good o line and a solid to good set of receivers. To Run NE's offense, you need a good short throwing qb but really only one really good receiver and a decent to even poor o line. ThE LATter of which nearly replicates the scoring efficiency of the fomer with 1/10 the risk of ints and sacks. Frankly speaking, I wondered why more teams didn't go the route of ne and the answer is ...they have. Short passes are up across teh league while sacks and ints are down. Until defenses really learn/never learn to stop short passing...this will continue.

38 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

I don't want to call it a fad because it is not, but could this be a matter like the run and shoot and the WCO (the top two offensive "revolutions" that come to mind), where the offensive design is a new paradigm that defenses have to figure out and until they do, the offenses will rack up lots of success. Read option is also here but defenses have yet to create a blueprint that works consistently.

If teams start placing a high emphasis (and salary) on quicker coverage LBs (converted safeties?) and bigger CBs who can play close to the line and disrupt routes at the snap, thereby clogging the short lanes (at the expense of pass-rushing LBs and DEs because everybody is releasing the ball inside 2.0 seconds), we might see a shift away from the all-short-passes-all-the-time offense and a return to the deep game (weaker pass rush! CBs at the line!) or run game (smaller LBs in coverage are less stout vs the run). Who knows, maybe a leaguewide return of the bruising FB and the I formation....

It's like a supply/demand curve--never static. Prices go up so demand wanes. Demand wanes so production declines. Less production means there is more relative demand for fewer items, which raises prices, which brings new competitors and therefore supply, reducing prices which increases demand for cheap goods....

39 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Agree with your assessment. And on a personal note fans of the deep ball game I think are displaying stylistic preferences when it comes to watching football. I see beauty in the execution and difficulty of the short passing game since it requires flawless execution across more plays per drive. I appreciate the excitement of the bombs away highlight worthy deep ball passing. I see the cleverness of the disguises of the read option. And a defensive slugfest between 2 run heavy teams is also a gem specially combined with brutal weather. With the advent of the widespread availability of the all-22 it just makes football a joy to watch.

45 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Geez, stop getting so hung up about the number 40 and the exact type of play. My point is that the viewing public is seeing more short passes that lead to big gains, so that even if passer rating is going up it doesn't mean that QB play is going up as well.

46 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

My point was that viewers like 40 yard gains and don't really care how they come. They don't like the that inevitably feeling watching this over and over: Brady takes a 3 step drop, fires to Edelman for 7 yards who got open because another receiver obstructed (legally!) his defender, repeat 100 times in a row.

The problem isn't short passes leading to long gains, it's short passes leading to short gains, but being nearly impossible to stop.

48 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

If I've gotten my sums right, there were 327 passes that gained 40+ yards this season, up from 300 in 2014 (a 9% rise). The problem? We didn't see many of them. While the networks were bringing us endless Packers, Cowboys, Broncos and Patriots games in prime time, there were more 40+ yard passes in Miami, Buffalo, San Francisco and Cleveland.

As regards short passes, I think the problem is not so much what as who and when. In 2014, the 10 QBs that averaged more than 4.0 Air Yards Per Attempt (AYPA) included Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger – #s 1-5, 7 and 10 in DYAR; all established stars. This year, of those players only Roethlisberger and Ryan again averaged more than 4.0 AYPA. The top 10 by AYPA includes four of the top five QBs by DYAR but also Tyrod Taylor (#3 in AYPA), Jameis Winston (5), Brian Hoyer (7), Marcus Mariota (9) and Blake Bortles (10) – inexperienced QBs on mediocre offenses, some of whom I didn't see at all on the tv. It seems there was a small shift from throwing deep tactically (2014) to throwing deep out of necessity (2015).

50 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

Heaven help!

Yes, it's more that the big-name QBs took fewer shots downfield this year. When Favre had no respectable WRs, he'd throw deep anyway – and interceptions make for excitement as well as exasperation! When Rodgers or Brady have no receivers, they throw dumpoffs or, in Rodgers' case, take a sack to bring on the punting unit. Turnovers are becoming rarer, yet successful field goals get more frequent, which is the wrong way round in terms of entertainment.

Another reason why more passing yards ≠ more excitement: more passes are happening in an offense's own half. Fewer takeaways and kickoff returns means more and more drives begin at or inside the 20. I saw a drive this year where, after eight pass plays, the offense still hadn't reached midfield. On the tv, there's more to see on a running play (and it's easier to follow), and there's more suspense on a downfield throw; three hours of short passes between the hashmarks makes for a completely unmemorable game, no matter how many are complete.

24 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

I have been thinking about where Antonio Brown should start to rank all time among receivers. If he puts up another year or two like this, I think he starts to enter the discussion of the top 5 wr of all time. As a fan of receivers who get open while running the entire route tree(as opposed to say big body sideline leeper receivers); he pretty much fits the ideal of what I want - which means I would take him over just about any receiver not named Moss(even this is a debate) or peak Calvin(also a debate) or possibly harrison(Brown is probably better).

51 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

I wonder what kind of numbers Rice could have put up in the current passing environment. From 1986-1996 he averaged 91/1405/14 for teams with 536 pass attempts/year. Only once during that time, in 1996, did he play for a team that threw >600 passes, and not surprisingly Rice had his greatest statistical season that year, finishing with 122/1848/15 and setting the single-season yardage record (since broken by Megatron in a season where Detroit threw 740 passes). Teams throw a lot more now: the average team attempted 571 passes this year, while from 1986-96 the average team attempted 513 passes.

With the rule changes regarding DB contact and more pass-happy systems, could Rice have had a 150/2000/20 season?

54 Re: Quick Reads: 2015 In Review

"could Rice have had a 150/2000/20 season?"


I mean, I'm a Steelers fan and love AB, but if you look at the difference between prime Rice and...everyone...and compare it to AB in this era you have to think he'd have even higher numbers.

Doing real basic math(all I'm capable of) on AB's averages in 12 games with The Ben this season(including the partial Rams game) his projections with 16 games of Ben at QB would be 158.6/2132/13.3. There's no reason to think a prime Rice wouldn't match/eclipse all of those in this era with a QB of Ben's quality or better.

BTW the yards goes up to 2257 if you chuck the Cincy game where Ben was clearly not healthy and came in because Jones was hurt. Running joke this season has been that no one can stop Antonio Brown except Mike Vick.