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Archive for March, 2009

Art Monk = Shannon Sharpe?

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 31, 2009

It took Art Monk eight years to make the Hall of Fame. While his career numbers were terrific, Monk's biggest problem was the lack of statistical single season dominance. He only ranked in the top 10 in receiving yards three times -- finishing fourth in '84, third in '85 and tenth in '89. But arguably Monk shouldn't have been compared to the star receivers of NFL history. As argued by Sean Lahman in the Pro Football Historical Abstract:

Even though Monk lined up as a wide receiver, his role was really more like that of a tight end. He used his physicality to catch passes. He went inside and over the middle most of the time. He was asked to block a lot. All of those things make him a different creature than the typical speed receiver.... His 940 career catches put him in the middle of a logjam of receivers, but he'd stand out among tight ends. His yards per catch look a lot better in that context as well.

I haven't heard anyone else suggesting that we consider Monk as a hybrid tight end, but coach Joe Gibbs hinted at it in an interview with Washington sportswriter Gary Fitzgerald:

"What has hurt Art -- and I believe should actually boost his credentials -- is that we asked him to block a lot," Gibbs said. "He was the inside portion of pass protection and we put him in instead of a big tight end or running back. He was a very tough, physical, big guy."

Monk has said similar things:

“In [1981] we were pass oriented and that didn’t work so well. So we went to a ground game. About this period of time we shifted a little into more of a balanced offense. I was moved from being just a wide receiver to playing H back. I would come out of the backfield and do a lot of motion. And we had a lot of success with that.”

More from Coach Gibbs:

'We used him almost as a tight end a lot,' said Gibbs, 'and not only did he do it willingly, he was a great blocker for us.'

It's an interesting argument, calling Monk a hybrid tight end. But now that Monk is in the HOF, the more interesting argument points to Shannon Sharpe. Is he the anti-Monk? While Monk may have been a tight end in wide receiver's clothing, was Sharpe a wide receiver in tight end's clothing? When Sharpe -- easily one of the greatest TEs of all time -- was not elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009, people were surprised. I believe Mike and Mike on the radio were the first to report this, but several claimed that the HOF voters were considering Sharpe as a wide receiver, and not as a tight end. My first reaction to this was probably like yours -- how ridiculous. But now I'm not so sure. Is Sharpe a hybrid wide receiver?

Baseball, Fantasy Football and the NFL

Jeff Kent was a very good hitter who played second base, a position that historically was played by good defensive players who were not great hitters. Kent may have been a 2B, but he was not very skilled defensively and may have been better suited at first base (which is where he ended his career). But by playing Kent at 2B, that allowed his teams to get another big bat into the lineup -- first base could be filled by a typical power hitter. If you put Kent at first base, you're going to put your typical lightweight hitting 2B into the lineup. So the trade-off is a slightly worse defense but a much better offense. As long as your power hitter is respectable on defense, putting him in at 2B instead of 1B makes your whole team better.

In fantasy football, this becomes even more obvious. In Marques Colston's rookie season he was listed as a TE in some fantasy leagues. Playing him at TE instead of WR left room for an extra WR -- a fantasy owner could play Colston and three WRs instead of Colston, two WRs and a TE. Since WRs score many more points than tight ends, this made him one of the most valuable players in fantasy football leagues.

But that's *not* the case in real football. And that's why the situations are apples and oranges. There's nothing magical about the name you give to a player's position. The Broncos used Terrell Davis (RB), Ed McCaffrey (WR), Rod Smith (WR), Howard Griffith (FB) and Shannon Sharpe. The Redskins used Earnest Byner (RB), Gary Clark (WR), Ricky Sanders (WR), Don Warren (TE) and Art Monk. Is there a meaningful difference between those lineups? With Sharpe, you still needed a guy like Griffith in there to have six blockers. With Monk, Gibbs was still able to get two other athletic wide receivers on the field.

When we think of a tight end, we think of a hybrid blocker-receiver. But, as Lahman says:

[In the 1990s,] the tight end began to re-emerge as a major part of the offense. Rather than look for a player who could both block and catch passes, most teams split the position into two roles. There were blocking tight ends and receiving tight ends, and two guys would replace each other as the situation dictated. What this meant was that a receiving tight end didn't need to carry the bulk necessary to block a 300-pound lineman, so the position could be stocked with smaller but stronger and more athletic players. The key figure in that last shift was Shannon Sharpe, who emerged as a new kind of offensive weapon with his play for the Broncos. He was just 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, which most people considered too small to play tight end in the NFL. But he had the speed, strength and agility to create havoc for defenders.

During Sharpe's best years, the Broncos still carried two big blocking tight ends -- Byron Chamberlain (6'1, 250) and Dwayne Carswell (6-3, 290) on the roster. When Denver needed an extra blocker, those guys came in. And while Sharpe may have been a better blocker than guys like Dallas Clark or the Jets' Dustin Keller, these H-Back/slot receiver types are evidence that the tight end and the wide receiver positions are not binary options but rather they fall on a continuum. On one end, there are guys like Bob Hayes; closer to the middle are Art Monk and Shannon Sharpe and maybe a Hines Ward; on the other end is Bubba Franks. In that light, it's legitimate to wonder -- how much difference was there between Art Monk and Shannon Sharpe?

PFR lists Sharpe at 6'2, 225 and Monk at 6'3 and 210. While Sharpe looks a lot bigger, and their careers overlapped, some significant changes occurred in the NFL while these guys were playing. In Monk's breakout season, 1984, the average TE was 6'3 or 6'4 and 236 pounds. Ten years later, the average TE was 6'4 and 254 pounds. So Monk was about 25 pounds lighter than the average TE; Sharpe was a little shorter and about 30 pounds lighter than the typical tight end. In Monk's five 1,000 yard seasons, he averaged 13.8 yards per reception; the league average YPR for WRs was 15.2 in those seasons. In Sharpe's four big yardage years he averaged 13.0 YPR while the average WR averaged 13.7 yards per reception. Both were dependable, reliable possession receivers and had significantly better hands than the typical tight end. Both were much better blockers than your average WR but worse blockers than the average tight end.

If Sharpe is considered as a WR, he's in trouble. He ranked in the top ten just once in receiving yards, a tenth place finish in 1993. Like Monk, he has three Super Bowl rings, but that won't be enough if people compare him to Harrison, Owens and Moss. But the point of this post is that we shouldn't just think of these guys as tight ends or wide receivers, but as football players. And unlike in baseball, your contribution to your team can't be measured by what designation they put next to your name on the team roster.

11 Comments | Posted in General

Adjusting QB win-loss records, part II

Posted by Doug on March 30, 2009

In part one I attempted to adjust quarterback win-loss records for the differing levels of defensive support that each quarterback got. This post is an attempt to refine that idea.

Let me start by reiterating a couple of things I said in the previous post, but probably wasn't clear enough about.

Quarterbacks do not have win-loss records. Teams have win-loss records. Quarterbacks are big parts --- the single biggest individual part in most cases --- of teams, but they are not the same thing as teams. They therefore do not have win-loss records. Wins and losses are determined by (1) the quarterback, (2) the other offensive players, (3) the defense, and (4) the special teams (and also coaching, to the extent that it influences the three things above). So when people talk about "John Elway's record," they're really talking about something that was influenced by all four of the above factors in the games that Elway started.

The last post and this one are an effort to remove factors (3) and (4) as much as possible from the computation. What would "Elway's record" have been if he had average contributions from the defense and the special teams? (And, as discussed last time, understanding exactly how Elway himself might have contributed to (3) complicates things further.) These posts make no attempt to estimate what "Elway's record" would have been if he had had Jerry Rice to throw to in the 80s, or if he hadn't had Terrell Davis to hand off to in the 90s.

In order to keep this from reading like a software license agreement, though, I'm going to use terms like "Elway's record..." or "Elway won..." or "Elway was X games above average." These statements mean, respectively, "The teams quarterbacked by Elway had a record of ....", "the teams quarterbacked by Elway won....", and "The OFFENSES quarterbacked by Elway were X games above average."

And even with all those disclaimers out of the way, I'm not really sure how much I like the rankings from part one or the rankings I'm going to develop here. The only thing I'm sure of is that I like them better than regular win-loss records. I'm not making any claims beyond that.

OK, let's get on with it.

115 Comments | Posted in General

38 questions results

Posted by Doug on March 29, 2009

I apologize for my inability to get these things done in a reasonable amount of time. In case you've forgotten that this ever existed, here's a link to the original contest announcement.

A three-way tie for first. Per the rules, Omroth wins by virtue of being the first entry (chronologically) among the tied entries. Congratulations to Omroth. Send me an email (feedback at pro-football-reference) to negotiate your prize.

Omroth            26
JWM               26
JT                26
Rick              24
ChrisFromNJ       24
Justin            24
Braden            24

10 Comments | Posted in P-F-R News

Lots of new data added to the site

Posted by Doug on March 27, 2009

Complete game logs for all players back to 1960. Just go to any player's page and click on GameLog above his main stat table.

Lance Alworth

Tony Dorsett

Terry Bradshaw

In addition to all regular season games back to 1960, we also now have every postseason game ever. Check out Don Hutson and Sammy Baugh.

We actually have far more than what we're currently showing on the pages, because our game log database now includes kick returns, punt returns, punts, field goals (by distance), interceptions (and returns), fumble recoveries (and returns), and sacks. For instance, here are all of Lawrence Taylor's sacks:

+----------+------------+------+--------------------+
| opponent | date       | sack | Starting QB        |
+----------+------------+------+--------------------+
| ATL      | 1982-09-12 |    1 | Steve Bartkowski   |
| GNB      | 1982-09-20 |  1.5 | Lynn Dickey        |
| DET      | 1982-11-25 |    1 | Eric Hipple        |
| HOU      | 1982-12-05 |    1 | Archie Manning     |
| PHI      | 1982-12-11 |    3 | Ron Jaworski       |
| SDG      | 1983-10-02 |  0.5 | Dan Fouts          |
| KAN      | 1983-10-16 |  0.5 | Bill Kenney        |
| STL      | 1983-10-24 |    1 | Neil Lomax         |
| DAL      | 1983-10-30 |    1 | Danny White        |
| WAS      | 1983-11-13 |    1 | Joe Theismann      |
| PHI      | 1983-11-20 |    1 | Ron Jaworski       |
| STL      | 1983-12-04 |    1 | Neil Lomax         |
| WAS      | 1983-12-17 |    3 | Joe Theismann      |
| PHI      | 1984-09-02 |    1 | Ron Jaworski       |
| DAL      | 1984-09-09 |    3 | Gary Hogeboom      |
| TAM      | 1984-09-23 |    4 | Steve DeBerg       |
| WAS      | 1984-10-28 |    1 | Joe Theismann      |
| DAL      | 1984-11-04 |  0.5 | Danny White        |
| STL      | 1984-11-18 |    1 | Neil Lomax         |
| STL      | 1984-12-09 |    1 | Neil Lomax         |
| RAM      | 1984-12-23 |    1 | Jeff Kemp          |
| SFO      | 1984-12-29 |    2 | Joe Montana        |
| PHI      | 1985-09-08 |  2.5 | Ron Jaworski       |
| GNB      | 1985-09-15 |    1 | Lynn Dickey        |
| CIN      | 1985-10-13 |    1 | Boomer Esiason     |
| WAS      | 1985-10-20 |    2 | Joe Theismann      |
| NOR      | 1985-10-27 |    1 | Dave Wilson        |
| WAS      | 1985-11-18 |    2 | Joe Theismann      |
| STL      | 1985-11-24 |    2 | Neil Lomax         |
| CLE      | 1985-12-01 |    1 | Bernie Kosar       |
| HOU      | 1985-12-08 |  0.5 | Warren Moon        |
| SFO      | 1985-12-29 |    1 | Joe Montana        |
| DAL      | 1986-09-08 |  1.5 | Danny White        |
| STL      | 1986-10-05 |    2 | Neil Lomax         |
| PHI      | 1986-10-12 |    4 | Ron Jaworski       |
| WAS      | 1986-10-27 |    3 | Jay Schroeder      |
| DAL      | 1986-11-02 |    1 | Danny White        |
| PHI      | 1986-11-09 |    3 | Ron Jaworski       |
| MIN      | 1986-11-16 |    2 | Tommy Kramer       |
| WAS      | 1986-12-07 |    3 | Jay Schroeder      |
| STL      | 1986-12-14 |    1 | Neil Lomax         |
| DAL      | 1987-09-20 |    1 | Danny White        |
| BUF      | 1987-10-18 |    2 | Brian McClure      |
| DAL      | 1987-11-02 |    1 | Danny White        |
| NWE      | 1987-11-08 |    2 | Steve Grogan       |
| PHI      | 1987-11-15 |    2 | Randall Cunningham |
| PHI      | 1987-12-06 |    2 | Randall Cunningham |
| STL      | 1987-12-13 |    1 | Neil Lomax         |
| GNB      | 1987-12-19 |    1 | Randy Wright       |
| WAS      | 1988-10-02 |    2 | Mark Rypien        |
| PHI      | 1988-10-10 |    1 | Randall Cunningham |
| DET      | 1988-10-16 |    3 | Rusty Hilger       |
| DET      | 1988-10-30 |    2 | Rusty Hilger       |
| DAL      | 1988-11-06 |    2 | Steve Pelluer      |
| PHI      | 1988-11-20 |  0.5 | Randall Cunningham |
| NOR      | 1988-11-27 |    3 | Bobby Hebert       |
| KAN      | 1988-12-11 |    2 | Steve DeBerg       |
| WAS      | 1989-09-11 |    1 | Mark Rypien        |
| DET      | 1989-09-17 |  2.5 | Bob Gagliano       |
| PHO      | 1989-09-24 |    1 | Gary Hogeboom      |
| PHI      | 1989-10-08 |    2 | Randall Cunningham |
| MIN      | 1989-10-30 |  2.5 | Tommy Kramer       |
| PHO      | 1989-11-05 |    3 | Gary Hogeboom      |
| DAL      | 1989-12-16 |    1 | Troy Aikman        |
| RAI      | 1989-12-24 |    2 | Steve Beuerlein    |
| RAM      | 1990-01-07 |    2 | Jim Everett        |
| PHI      | 1990-09-09 |    3 | Randall Cunningham |
| DAL      | 1990-09-16 |    1 | Troy Aikman        |
| MIA      | 1990-09-23 |  0.5 | Dan Marino         |
| DET      | 1990-11-18 |  1.5 | Bob Gagliano       |
| MIN      | 1990-12-09 |  2.5 | Rich Gannon        |
| BUF      | 1990-12-15 |    1 | Jim Kelly          |
| PHO      | 1990-12-23 |    1 | Timm Rosenbach     |
| SFO      | 1991-01-20 |  0.5 | Joe Montana        |
| RAM      | 1991-09-08 |    1 | Jim Everett        |
| CLE      | 1991-09-22 |    2 | Bernie Kosar       |
| DAL      | 1991-09-29 |    1 | Troy Aikman        |
| PHO      | 1991-10-06 |    1 | Tom Tupa           |
| PHO      | 1991-11-10 |    1 | Tom Tupa           |
| TAM      | 1991-11-24 |    1 | Vinny Testaverde   |
| SFO      | 1992-09-06 |    1 | Steve Young        |
| RAI      | 1992-10-04 |    1 | Todd Marinovich    |
| SEA      | 1992-10-25 |    1 | Stan Gelbaugh      |
| WAS      | 1992-11-01 |    1 | Mark Rypien        |
| GNB      | 1992-11-08 |    1 | Brett Favre        |
| CHI      | 1993-09-05 |  1.5 | Jim Harbaugh       |
| BUF      | 1993-10-03 |  1.5 | Jim Kelly          |
| MIA      | 1993-12-05 |    1 | Steve DeBerg       |
| NOR      | 1993-12-20 |    1 | Wade Wilson        |
| DAL      | 1994-01-02 |    1 | Troy Aikman        |
+----------+------------+------+--------------------+

It's going to take some time to organize, or, in some cases, reorganize, this new data, but it has at least been integrated into the box scores. Here is that October 1986 game where LT had four sacks against the Eagles, for instance. You'll find complete rushing, passing, and receiving stats for all players, and also defense and return stats.

And we now have the complete starting lineup for both teams in every postseason game in history, so the playoff box scores are really jazzed up.

Finally, a preview of what's to come: within the next few months, we should have uniform number info back to 1950, which will be integrated into the site spiffily just like at basketball-reference.

10 Comments | Posted in P-F-R News

Adjusting quarterback win-loss records, part I

Posted by Doug on March 25, 2009

Last summer I wrote a post that rated field goal kickers according to their accuracy compared to league average. And I also adjusted each kicker's field goal percentage to account for the distance of his attempts. If one kicker attempted a bunch of chippies while another was kicking a lot more long ones, then we should take that into account when comparing their percentages.

This is highly non-controversial. Obvious even.

So we're going to do it again. But instead of kickers, we'll look at quarterbacks. Instead of field goal percentage, we'll look at winning percentage. And as our measure of difficulty, we won't use distance but points allowed by the quarterback's team. Just as kicking a 45-yarder is more difficult than kicking a 23-yarder, it's harder for a quarterback to win a game if his defense gives up 30 than if they give up 10.

Highly non-controversial, right?

So here's the plan, which mirrors the kicker plan exactly:

STEP 1: compute each quarterback's winning percentage in each of six categories: (1) defense allows 0--10 points, (2) defense allows 11--15 points, (3) defense allows 16--20 points, (4) defense allows 21--25 points, (5) defense allows 26--33 points, and (6) defense allows 34+ points.

STEP 2: in each category, compute how many games that quarterback won compared to how many an average QB would have been expected to win.

STEP 3: sum up the QB's wins above or below average, across all six categories.

Let's run through Joe Namath as an example:

defense allows 0--10 points: Joe was the beneficiary of this kind of defensive performance 17 times. An average QB would be expected to win 15.9 of 17 games. Joe went 17-0. So he's +1.1 wins.

defense allows 11--15 points: 18 games. Joe is 16-2. An average QB would win 13.7. So Joe is +2.3 here.

defense allows 16--20 points: 23 games. Joe is 13-10. An average QB would win 12.1. So Joe is +0.9.

defense allows 21--25 points: 25 games. Joe is 10-15. An average QB would win 9.7. So Joe is +0.3.

defense allows 26--33 points: 24 games. Joe is 6-18. An average QB would win 4.1. So Joe is +1.9.

defense allows 34+ points: 25 games. Joe is 2-23. An average QB would win 0.9. So Joe is +1.1.

Add it all up (and ignore the rounding error) and Namath comes out at +7.6. Do that for every quarterback who has started 50 or more games since 1950 and you get the following list. Lots of commentary and fine print below:

34 Comments | Posted in General

AFL versus NFL: the Super Bowls

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 24, 2009

I'm going to start my discussion of the AFL and NFL by going where, for most people, the discussion begins and ends. The first four AFL versus NFL championship games (or Super Bowls as they came to be known) took on almost mythic significance. These 240 minutes of game action not only decided titles--they proved how good the two leagues were.

Once the American Football League established itself as having some staying power, the clamor for a championship game began. The December 16, 1963 issue of Sports Illustrated featured an article titled "The Two Pro Football Leagues Must Meet", which set forth an exchange between then AFL Commissioner Joe Foss and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozell. That issue also featured a point/counterpoint, with
Dan Jenkins setting forth the case for the AFL being competitive with the NFL,
and Tex Maule summarily dismissing the AFL with the retort, "Ridiculous! The NFL by 50 Points".

2 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL

Brees, Ryan, Rivers, Cutler and Manning (and maybe Brady, too)

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 23, 2009

The biggest story in the NFL these days not involving the NFL draft has to do with the bizarre circus involving Jay Cutler. Many have written about everything from Cutler's production and his psyche to macro thoughts on Bill Belichick disciples; I have nothing to add there. I'd rather take on an impossible task and take a statistical look at how Jay Cutler ranks among other QBs.

And when I say how Jay Cutler ranks, I mean how Jay Cutler 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and so on, ranks. And that's why it's an impossible task. I can't predict what will happen in three years. You can't predict what will happen in four years. We won't know how good Cutler is over the next five years until five years from now. It's all a guessing game, but that doesn't mean we can't refine our guessing. There are obvious and not so obvious flaws in the approach I'm about to outline, and I'll do my best to explain them.

What I'm trying to figure out is how valuable is Jay Cutler, the commodty, in March 2009? For example, we know we'd rather have Cutler than Tarvaris Jackson and we'd rather have a 26 year old Peyton Manning than a 26 year old Jay Cutler. But to determine his value -- his trade value, if you're a Broncos fan -- you need to know what he'll do in the future. And as Yogi Berra once said, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. Consider:

  • At the end of the 1970 season, Billy Kilmer was 31 years old and had just 11 career wins to his name. In 1970, he threw 6 TDs and 17 INTs. Who would have guessed he would have been one of the best QBs in the NFL over the next half-decade?
  • At the end of the 1995 season, Rich Gannon was 30 years old and had started just four games over the past three years. Who would have guessed that he would make four Pro Bowls over the next seven seasons?
  • Stop me if you've heard this one. QB is drafted 330th overall. He throws 1 TD and 7 INT his rookie season. He throws 1 TD and 3 INT and has an 0-2 record his sophomore season. You probably wouldn't think he'd still be in the league five years after that, but in his seventh season Brian Sipe was named a first team All Pro.

This goes the other way, too, of course.

    Archie Manning struggled early in his career, but the #1 pick was very good at ages 29, 30 and 31. Who would project him to throw 15 TD and 30 INT the rest of his career?
  • Mark Rypien won a Super Bowl and had one of the better seasons in passing history in 1991. He was just 29 years old. He never came close to duplicating that success.
  • Greg Landry was a first round pick who had big years as a runner and passer in 1971 and 1972. He was 26 years old in March 1973, and he may have been the single best QB prospect in the NFL at that time. When you consider his rushing, he'd been more productive than Manning or Bradshaw or Griese, he was younger than Tarkenton and Namath, and he had a better pedigree than Ken Anderson. Landry stuck around for awhile but there were about 15 QBs who outperformed him from that moment on.
  • Steve Bartkowski was a former number 1 pick who made the Pro Bowl in '80 and '81 and had an incredible 22 TD/5 INT ratio in 1983. He was 31 years old, but he threw for fewer than 4,000 yards the rest of his career.

None of this is breaking news; we all know it's difficult to predict one year down the road, let alone five or ten. But it's important to set the stage before we answer the key question: if you could have any QB in the NFL right now, for your favorite team, who would you pick? Can statistics and past history guide us?

There are a ton of factors that you would want to use to predict future QB success, but there are three that seem most prominent: age, past production and draft value. Unfortunately, each of these are complicated variables and require a full description, but first, let me describe how we measure future QB success. If you hate reading the details, skip to the end for the QB list.

First I calculated each QB's adjusted net yards per attempt (passing yards + 20*TDs - 45*INT - sack yards lost) / (passes + sacks) metric. Then I compared that ratio to "replacement level", defined as 75% of the league average. Then I multiplied the difference between the QB's ANY/A and replacement level by the QB's number of pass attempts plus sacks to get a measure of "adjusted yards over replacement." Then, I added to that number every adjusted rushing yard (rushing yards + 20*rushTDs) over four yards per carry. So if a QB had 100 carries, 500 yards and 5 TDs, that would be plus 200 adjusted yards. Whether or not this formula is perfect isn't that important -- for what we're looking for, with hundreds of QBs, something that's generally correct is all we need. We don't need to know specifically if Troy Aikman was better than Jeff Garcia, but just that both were better than Danny Kanell and Bobby Hoying.

Measuring QB success or value in a given year isn't enough, though. We want to know how they'll do for awhile, although we also want immediate success. To grade QB value for the long term, I took 100% of their production in Year N+1 (2009, for Jay Cutler's purposes), 95% of their value in N+2, 90% in N+3, and so on, for 8 seasons. This will thus reward great immediate production and sustained levels of strong play. This weighted measure of eight years of production will be the output variable in our regression formula. Not surprisingly, Manning in March 2000 (the year he turned 24) and Marino in March 1984 (the year he turned 23) come out as the top two scores.

Age:: The effects of age are obviously nonlinear; going from age 23 to 24 is good; going from 35 to 36 is bad. I looked at the top 50 QBs (based on NFL production, using something similar to the metric I used in the Greatest QB Ever series) drafted since 1970, that are no longer active, to determine the general "dropoff" rate for a QB. Here are the results:

21	 12.4
22	 34.6
23	 53.1
24	 68.1
25	 79.9
26	 88.8
27	 94.9
28	 98.5
29	100.0
30	 99.5
31	 97.3
32	 93.7
33	 88.9
34	 83.2
35	 76.8
36	 69.9
37	 62.9
38	 56.0
39	 49.4
40	 43.4
41	 38.3
42	 34.2

This shouldn't be too controversial; it says that QBs peak from ages 28-31, and a QB at 36 is about as good as a QB at age 24. However, we can't just use these numbers as the inputs in the regression formula because we're trying to predict a weighted value of eight years worth of scores. So the value of being 24 corresponds to 100% of the value of being 25, plus 95% of the value of being 26, and so on. Here are those numbers:

21	 12.4	452
22	 34.6	510
23	 53.1	552
24	 68.1	578
25	 79.9	591
26	 88.8	591
27	 94.9	581
28	 98.5	563
29	100.0	537
30	 99.5	505
31	 97.3	469
32	 93.7	430
33	 88.9	391
34	 83.2	352
35	 76.8	315
36	 69.9	282
37	 62.9	254
38	 56.0	225
39	 49.4	196
40	 43.4	172
41	 38.3	151
42	 34.2	132

Therefore, the ideal range of ages where your average QB has his best days ahead of him is somewhere between 24 and 27 years. And that makes a lot of sense. And whereas the table above said being 36 was slightly better than being 24, now being 24 is much better than being 36. And that makes sense, too.

Past Production: I used the same formula to measuring past production as I did for measuring future production; adjusted net yards added over replacement value. However, I didn't want to limit myself to 2008, so I used a weighted average of the last three years. So for Philip Rivers, he gets 3*2008_value plus 2*2007_value plus 2006_value, all divided by six. For JaMarcus Russell, he gets 2*2008_value plus 2007_value, divided by three. For Matt Ryan, he simply gets his 2008 value. This becomes a little unfair for someone like Aaron Rodgers, who is treated like a star in 2008 and a nothing in '07 and '06. That's not an accurate portrayal of what happened, but we can tweak that later.

Draft Value: I used the numbers here to assign a value to each slot in the draft. I feel really comfortable with those values, but there's one big problem: a player's draft value is really important when they're young but not very important when they're old. I made some rough, back of the envelope calculations as to a good multiplier for draft value at each age:

22	1.0
23	1.0
24	0.9
25	0.8
26	0.7
27	0.6
28	0.5
29	0.4
30	0.3
31	0.2
32	0.1
33	0.1
34	0.1
35	0.1
36	0.1
37	0.1
38	0.1
39	0.1
40	0.1

This just quantifies what my gut says, although I have no idea how accurate it really is. Deriving a good formula for this could be a whole separate blog post, so I'm going to put that off for another day. So I simply multiplied each player's draft value (as derived in that post) times their multiplier based on age. There's a problem with this, though: it makes the "draft value" variable for a 31 year old Brett Favre equal to the draft value variable for a 24 year old Tom Brady. That's beacuse Favre's an old guy that used to be a high pick and Brady's a young guy who is a low pick. That's what I ended up doing, but I don't love it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if there's a better way -- using regression analysis -- to handle this.

If you've made it this far, the payoff is about to come. We now have our input variables -- an age variable, a draft value variable that decreases over time, and a past production variable. The output is a weighted average of performance over the next eight seasons. What's our dataset? Every QB who entered the league since the merger, but excluding all player-seasons since 2003 and any QB born after 1977. Further, I only looked at player-seasons with at least 200 pass attempts.

What's the formula that best fits that curve? It won't mean much to you, but here it is:

-1972 + 4.21*age + 28.6*draft + 2.38*pastproduction

That doesn't mean anything until we apply it to the current list of QBs. Here are the top 25 projected QBs going forward in the NFL as of March 2009, but using only QBs who had 200+ attempts in 2008. The age is how old the player was during the 2008 season.

08Val   Age	AgeV	 DraftV  3YrVal      Proj	 Rk	Name
2157	 29	537	 11.8	  1861	     5049	 1	Drew Brees
1245     23	552	 59.4	  1245	     5009	 2	Matt Ryan
1919	 27	581	 33.5	  1429	     4829	 3	Philip Rivers
1495	 25	591	 34.4	  1169	     4277	 4	Jay Cutler
1501	 32	430	  7.3	  1702	     4096	 5	Peyton Manning
1217	 28	563	  1.5	  1372       3699	 6	Tony Romo
 875	 27	581	 43.9	   648	     3270	 7	Eli Manning
 484	 23	552	 73.2	   288	     3127	 8	JaMarcus Russell
 492	 26	591	 30.1	   727	     3106	 9	Ben Roethlisberger
1422	 25	591	 26.6	   733	     3016	10	Aaron Rodgers
1234	 32	430	  6.4	  1205	     2889	11	Donovan McNabb
 477	 23	552	 36.8	   477	     2538	12	Joe Flacco
 731	 27	581	 19.6	   614	     2495	13	Jason Campbell
1030	 27	581	  9.9	   728	     2489	14	Matt Schaub
1721	 37	254	  0.3	  1305	     2207	15	Kurt Warner
 645	 30	505	  4.3	   801	     2179	16	David Garrard
1477	 32	430	  3.7	   925	     2143	17	Chad Pennington
 663	 25	591	 13.0	   490	     2050	18	Trent Edwards
1013     26	591	  3.4	   495	     1789	19	Matt Cassel
  74	 25	591	  4.6	   429	     1665	20	Derek Anderson
 539	 26	591	 10.2	   302	     1523	21	Kyle Orton
1072	 33	391	  0.3	   752	     1468	22	Jake Delhomme
 553	 24	578	  4.9	   354	     1444	23	Tyler Thigpen
 528	 28	563	  1.5	   410	     1413	24	Shaun Hill
 462	 28	563	  7.0	   277	     1254	25	Seneca Wallace

How does that list look to you? This is my best attempt to, using just objective data, figure out which QBs would have the most value either on the open market or through a trade. All three input variables were highly significant, which means they are all certainly correlated to future production. The R^2 was just 0.35, which isn't very high, but I'm not sure if you can come up with a formula to make it any higher. There's a ton of randomness in future production, and if 35% of it can be predicted through this formula, that's pretty good. Before we conclude, let me throw some general thoughts out there on this list:

1) If we ignore Rodgers' 2006 and 2007, and just use last year for his 3YrVal, that would give him a projected score of 4654, and he'd move into 3rd place on the list. Very interesting. Doing the same analysis with Cassel bumps him just north of 3000, where Rodgers currently is.

2) Joe Flacco's ahead of Kurt Warner. That makes some sense to me. We're basically projecting one or two big years out of Warner versus eight good years out of Flacco.

3) Matt Ryan (along with Rodgers if we tweak his score) comes in too high, I think. Why? My buddy Maurile would recommend using some sort of Bayes' theorem analysis, because being great over a small number of attempts is not as convincing as being great over a large number of attempts. As I've currently structured it, three great years will have the same score as one great year, if you only play one year. Usually, that's not a problem, but when you have the greatest rookie season ever (or you edit Rodgers' career), things get dicey. Suffice it to say, while I love Ryan, I'm not convinced just yet that he's mega elite. I love Ryan as much as anyone, but putting him at #2 scares me a little bit.

4) Look over there at JaMarcus Russell. He's up there over Big Ben! Two of the three factors point Ben's way -- being older actually helps him, since he is entering his prime, and obviously he's already better. The only thing pointing Russell's way is that #1 draft pick status. Is that right or wrong? Here's how every QB drafted #1 overall since the merger (along with Steve Young, a supplemental #1) ranked among QBs in their first two seasons.

                        RookYr  Yr1     Yr2 
JaMarcus Russell	2007	82	24
Alex Smith	        2005	81	26
Eli Manning	        2004	79	10
Carson Palmer	        2003	--	24
David Carr	        2002	84	25
Michael Vick	        2001	29	 5
Tim Couch	        1999	35	27
Peyton Manning	        1998	20	 3
Drew Bledsoe	        1993	25	12
Jeff George	        1990	36	59
Troy Aikman	        1989	81	63
Vinny Testaverde	1987	49	81
John Elway	        1983	74	16
Steve Bartkowski	1975	23	70
Jim Plunkett	        1971	12	68
Terry Bradshaw	        1970	65	21
Steve Young	        1984	--	67

Sure, Russell looks bad. But so did Troy Aikman. And Vinny Testaverde. And Terry Bradshaw. So did Steve Young. John Elway wasn't much better. I have to say, it's very counterintuitive to me to suggest that Russell is going to be better than Roethlisberger, going forward. On the other hand, you could probably have made the same argument about Jim Everett and Troy Aikman in March 1991, too. As for Ben and Russell, I think it's at least arguable that Ben's statistics understate how good he really is. If his 3YrVal was a bit higher, he'd easily be ahead of Russell and Manning.

5) Notice anyone missing? I don't really know what to do with Brady, but his score after 2007 was 5179. Giving him an extra year of age would drop him to 5008, but we can't ignore that he suffered a serious injury. Who knows how he'll come back, and I don't really know where's a good place to put him. If he's healthy, though, he's right there up with Brees. Carson Palmer was right behind Brady in 2007, so if he's healthy, he's got to be in the mix, too. If we age him a year based on his '07 numbers, he'd project at 4471.

Let me close with a subjective list, using the numbers above as my guide (along with the changes I mentioned above). I won't try to be so exact, but I'm going to group the top 25 or so QBs in the NFL into tiers.

Build your team around them (6): Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan. These six QBs are at their own level, IMO, as no one matches past production and youth the way they do. You build your team around any of these guys, and all would be a good bet to be the NFL MVP in 2009, 2010 or 2011.

You're in love (5): Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer. It wouldn't take you more than a second to find fault with any of these guys. That said, you've got to feel like you can go to the playoffs anytime in the next five years with this guy at the helm.

I really, really like you (3): JaMarcus Russell, Donovan McNabb, Joe Flacco. These guys are a half step below the guys above and a half step above the guys below. You're happy with your QB outlook, but you're not going to puff your chest too much. While Russell hasn't received nearly the praise that Flacco has, Russell put up at least equal numbers last season despite playing for a worse team and despite being eight months younger than Flacco. Warner arguably deserves to be in this group, but I don't think he has enough left in the tank.

You like what you've got (7): Jason Campbell, Matt Schaub, Kurt Warner, David Garrard, Chad Pennington, Trent Edwards, Matt Cassel. These guys don't have a lot in common. Warner may be an All Pro next year, but you're going to be looking for a new QB very soon. Garrard and Pennington have had big years while Schaub and Campbell have shown flashes. Edwards and Cassel are inexperienced but have done okay so far. The whole group is a mixed bag, and if this guy is your QB, you can't even guarantee that he'll be in the league in five years. I suppose a healthy Matt Hasselbeck could join this tier, too. Based on just 2008, Warner and Pennington are the obvious class of the group, but both have long histories.

Can I really trade for Jay Cutler? (6): Derek Anderson, Kyle Orton, Jake Delhomme, Tyler Thigpen, Shaun Hill, Seneca Wallace. The less said about these guys, the better.

So what do you think? How would you rank the QBs?

21 Comments | Posted in History, Statgeekery

Bracket assistance

Posted by Doug on March 18, 2009

For those of you who don't get over to the basketball-reference.com blog regularly, you might want to head over there before filling out your brackets. Sports-reference.com's Sean (with help from Sagarin) and Neil (with help from Ken Pomeroy) both simulated the tournament a gazillion times and presented their results (Sean - Neil)

One caveat I'd add is that these simulations will tell you how to maximize the expected points you score in your pool. This does not always coincide, however, with maximizing your chances of winning. The bigger your pool is, and the more conservative/knowledgeable the people in it are, the more you need some longshots to maximize your chances of winning. I talked about this two Marches ago and was then convinced by a reader that #3 and #4 seeds are probably the key to maximizing your win chances in big pools. And it goes without saying, of course, that among the mind-bogglingly huge number of reasonable entries in any given pool, the differences we're talking about are very small. If you enter a pool with 50 or more participants every year, the rest of your life is not nearly enough time for you to perceive whether any particular strategy is working or not.

Good luck to all!

Comments Off | Posted in Non-football, Statgeekery

Podcast #5

Posted by Doug on March 18, 2009

As an experiment, we decided to do an all trivia show. Listen here and be moderately impressed by how much we know about some things and astounded by how little we know about others.

Information on how to subscribe (it's free) can be found here.

9 Comments | Posted in Podcast

Podcast #4

Posted by Doug on March 10, 2009

JKL talks about the 1980 Cincinnati Bengals, most notably Pat McInally.

Doug talks about Erich Barnes

One quick errata: late in the show, I find myself talking about former Cowboy/Titan/Seahawk/Charger/Redskin linebacker Randall Godfrey. I mentioned that he had played for the Rams, which he never did. I think I was mixing him up with Dexter Coakley.

But how did I get from Erich Barnes to Randall Godfey anyway? Listen and find out.

Information on how to subscribe (it's free) can be found here.

15 Comments | Posted in Podcast

The Curious Case of Art Donovan

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 9, 2009

I was reading Sean Lahman's terrific book the Pro Football Historical Abstract when I stumbled upon a fascinating bit of trivia that I never knew about before. After a bit of research, I was able to turn his four paragraphs into a full blog post.

Part I

Few players have a team history as odd as that of Art Donovan. Here's a list of the teams he played on during each season of his twelve year career:

1950	Baltimore Colts
1951	New York Yanks
1952	Dallas Texans
1953	Baltimore Colts
1954	Baltimore Colts
1955	Baltimore Colts
1956	Baltimore Colts
1957	Baltimore Colts
1958	Baltimore Colts
1959	Baltimore Colts
1960	Baltimore Colts
1961	Baltimore Colts

You might think he switched teams three times in his career, played for three franchises in his career and played for ten seasons with one franchise, the Baltimore Colts. What actually happened is he played for two franchises in his career, switched teams just once and played for ten seasons with two franchises named the Baltimore Colts. Here's the full story.

In 1927 and 1928, there was a short lived NFL franchise named the New York Yankees. And in the All America Football Conference, there was a team called the New York Yankees. But let's begin with the history of a different defunct team called the New York Yanks. As described by Lahman, in 1944:

Owner Ted Collins wanted to play at New York's Yankee Stadium and call his team the New York Yankees. Tim Mara of the Giants insisted that he still had exclusive rights to playing in New York, however, so Collins was forced to relocate to Boston. He still called his team the "Yanks".

After a nondescript 2-8 inaugural season in 1944, World War II forced the Boston Yanks to merge with the Brooklyn Tigers. The Brooklyn Tigers have their own interesting history. They were owned by Dan Topping, who was a part owner of the New York baseball Yankees from 1945 to 1964. But first Topping owned the Brooklyn Dodgers in the NFL, not to be confused with the Brooklyn Dodgers in MLB or the Brooklyn Dodgers in the AAFC. The Dodgers played from 1930 to 1943, and while they never won a title, they did have HOFers Benny Friedman and Ace Parker. The Dodgers were hit particularly hard by the war, and Topping renamed the team the Brooklyn Tigers for the 1944 season. After going 0-10 that year, they merged with the Boston Yanks.

Topping, apparently like Ted Collins, wanted to play in New York and at Yankee Stadium. So after the 3-6-1 merged season between the Boston Yanks (Collins) and Dan Topping (Brooklyn Tigers), Topping chose to accept an invitation to own a team in the new AAFC. Topping would name his new AAFC team the New York Yankees and play at Yankee Stadium, and the NFL canceled his Brooklyn Tigers and assigned all of those players to Collins' Boston Yanks. At least nine players from the combined Tigers/Yanks team played for the Boston Yanks in 1946, but four players -- including Ace Parker and Pug Manders -- went to play for Topping in the AAFC.

The New York Yankees of the AAFC were pretty good from '46 to '49, but there's another ironic twist here. Remember when I said that Topping's Brooklyn Dodgers in the '30s shouldn't be confused with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the AAFC? Those Dodgers folded after the '48 season and were merged with Topping's New York Yankees for the final season of the AAFC. Over in the NFL, the Boston Yanks continued their losing ways up until 1948, when Ted Collins asked the NFL to allow him to move to New York. They moved to New York in '49, played in the Polo Grounds along with the New York Giants, and became the New York Bulldogs. Some historians say the Boston Yanks franchise folded after the '48 season and Collins' New York Bulldogs in 1949 was a brand new franchise. Whatever the case, at least 16 players were on both the 1948 Boston Yanks and 1949 New York Bulldogs. One player who was new to the '49 New York Bulldogs? From Chicago Bears quarterback Bobby Layne. So through 1949, here was Ted Collins' resume:

1944   Boston Yanks
1945   Boston Yanks/Brooklyn Tigers
1946   Boston Yanks
1947   Boston Yanks
1948   Boston Yanks
1949   New York Bulldogs

And Dan Topping:

1934   Brooklyn Dodgers
1935   Brooklyn Dodgers
1936   Brooklyn Dodgers
1937   Brooklyn Dodgers
1938   Brooklyn Dodgers
1939   Brooklyn Dodgers
1940   Brooklyn Dodgers
1941   Brooklyn Dodgers
1942   Brooklyn Dodgers
1943   Brooklyn Dodgers
1944   Brooklyn Tigers
1945   Boston Yanks/Brooklyn Tigers
1946   New York Yankees (AAFC)
1947   New York Yankees (AAFC)
1948   New York Yankees (AAFC)
1949   New York Yankees (AAFC)

Part II

After the 1949 season, the AAFC and the NFL merged, with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts joining the NFL. There were only seven teams in the 1949 AAFC, and the NFL agreed to take three of them. The Browns and 49ers were the class of the AAFC, but there was some debate over which other team should join. Chicago and New York already had the Cardinals, Bears, Giants and Bulldogs, so adding either the Chicago or New York AAFC franchise was not an option. The NFL wasn't going to triple its presence in California, so taking the Los Angeles franchise was going to be seen as similarly risky. That left just the Bills and the horrible Baltimore Colts, who went 1-11 in the AAFC in 1949. However, some were concerned about adding Green Bay East, so to speak, a small market team that came with a terrible climate. A series of deals were struck with the Bills owner and the Washington Redskins owner, and the Colts were chosen as the third team.

The NFL also chose to split the roster of Topping's New York Yankees between the two NYC franchises, but Tim Mara and the New York Giants got the better half of the transaction. Going to Tim Mara and the Giants was Tom Landry -- yes, that Tom Landry, along with Otto Schnellbacher and Arnie Weinmeister, who made 6 combined Pro Bowls in their careers. Collins' Bulldogs would get the overwhelming majority of the players, at least 16 by my count, but with Brad Ecklund being the only notable one. And while it took six years, Collins finally got his wish: with Topping's AAFC New York Yankees gone, Collins moved the Bulldogs from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium and renamed them the Yanks. And in 1951, those New York Yanks signed Art Donovan.

Part III

There have been at least three professional football teams named the Baltimore Colts and all of them played exclusively at Memorial Stadium. The last was a CFL team in the 1990s that is most famous for having punter Josh Miller and losing a lawsuit to the NFL that required them to change their nickname; the team settled on calling themselves the Stallions. The famous version was the middle one, the Johnny Unitas Colts who called Baltimore home for 31 seasons. But the first one was the AAFC's Baltimore Colts.

One of the founding AAFC teams was the Miami Seahawks, who sported burnt orange and played home games at the Orange Bowl. A 3-11 season that saw the team go 1-7 before playing its second home game cost owner Harvey Hester his life savings. The team was sold to a Baltimore consortium led by Abraham Watner. A fan contest named the team the Colts, and Art Donovan wasn't the only star who donned the green and silver. Three HOF QBs have some ties to the team.

Bobby Layne -- who was drafted by Chicago in the first round and sent to the New York Bulldogs in 1949 -- was also drafted in the first round by the Colts in 1948, and was offered $77,000 to play for them. He chose to play for the Bears, but you already knew that. In that same NFL draft, the Lions selected Y.A. Tittle in the first round, but for whatever reason (probably lots of money), he went to the Baltimore Colts. George Blanda also played one game for the Baltimore Colts after they joined the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns (1950 NFL Champions) and San Francisco 49ers (four straight winning seasons from '51 to '54) adjusted fine to the NFL, but what about the Baltimore Colts? They would go 1-11 in 1950, too, and according to Wikipedia:

Due to financial difficulties after the 1-11 losing season, Colts owner Abraham Watner gave his team and its players contracts back to the NFL for $50,000. But many Baltimore fans protested the loss of their team. Supporting groups such as its marching band (the second in professional football, after that of the Washington Redskins) and fan club, remained in operation and worked for the team's revival. Three years later a new team was given to Baltimore.

Donovan and Y.A. Tittle were on that 1950 Baltimore Colts team. After the Colts folded, Tittle went to San Francisco, where he would first compete with QB Frankie Albert for playing time and then later be the star QB under head coach Frankie Albert. Blanda went back to the Bears, and Donovan signed with the New York Yanks.

Hopefully Donovan wasn't taking it personally, because his new football team -- owned by Ted Collins -- couldn't make any money, either. After a 1-9-2 1951 season, Collins sold his team back to the NFL. Here's what happened next:

A few months later, a Dallas-based group led by Giles Miller bought the franchise and moved it to Dallas--the first-ever major league team to be based in Texas. Home games were scheduled to be played at the Cotton Bowl.

Miller thought that Texas, with its longstanding support of college football, would be a natural fit for the NFL, and NFL owners approved the move with an 11-1 vote. However, they proved to be one of the worst teams in NFL history.... Only 17,499 fans showed up at the Cotton Bowl (capacity 75,000) for [the opener], and attendance continued to dwindle as the losses piled up. Unable to meet payroll, Miller returned the team to the league with five games to go in the season.

The Texans played their last home game of the season at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio, the site of the team's only win. Don't confuse this failed 1-11 Dallas Texans team with Lamar Hunt's AFL Dallas Texans, who after 1962 moved to Kansas City and exist today as the Chiefs. And while the NFL considered the Texans a new team, consider that of the 37 players on the 1951 New York Yanks, 20 were out of the NFL in 1952, 14 were on the Dallas Texans, two went to the Browns and one to the Eagles. So it makes sense to view the Dallas Texans as an extension of the New York Yanks, and Donovan of course played for both teams.

1952 was also Gino Marchetti's rookie year. Here are some quotes from him and Donovan about those Texans, as told by Tom Callahan in the book Johnny U:

Donovan: We were horse####. [Head Coach Jimmy] Phelan was the only coach I ever knew who hated practice more than the players did. He would say, "Aw, the hell with it, let's go to the racetrack."

Marchetti: After the team declared bankruptcy, and we went out on the road for eight straight weeks, the older guys started quitting. They didn't try anymore. We were playing a game in Los Angeles, and Dan Edwards, a good tight end from Georgia, got hurt. "Who can play tight end?' Phelan yelled out on the sideline. "We need somebody in there right now!" I ran into the huddle and, just teasing, said, "Hit me for six!" Probably that was the first Hail Mary pass in the history of the game. I caught it, believe it or not, and scored my first touchdown. [It was a 17 yard touchdown pass, the only reception in the Hall of Fame defensive end's career.] I remember feeling great until I heard the announcer say, "L.A. forty-two, Dallas six." ####.

After three years, Donovan had seen his team fold after every season of his career and he had compiled a sparkling 3-31-2 record. After the 1952 season, the NFL sold the Dallas Texans franchise (formerly the New York Yanks franchise) to Carroll Rosenbloom and four other investors who wanted to bring football back to Baltimore. Starting in 1953, there was again a Baltimore Colts in the NFL, and Art Donovan had come back home. Of the 41 players on the '52 Dallas Texans, 25 were out of the league in '53, with twelve players going to the Baltimore Colts and five other players going to five different teams. The Colts would keep the Texans' team colors of blue and white. Two months after moving to Baltimore, the team traded for a cornerback named Don Shula.

Seven players in total played for the New York Yanks in 1951, the Dallas Texans in 1952 and the Baltimore Colts in 1953: Sisto Averno, Art Donovan, Brad Ecklund, Dan Edwards, Barney Poole, George Taliaferro and Buddy Young. Ironically, Averno, like Donovan, also played for version one of the Baltimore Colts in 1950. And that's how Art Donovan played for just two franchises, two Baltimore Colts franchises and only switched teams once in his career, despite wearing four different jerseys.

Epilogue

After the 1971 season, Carroll Rosenbloom exchanged franchises with Bob Irsay, with Rosenbloom receiving the L.A. Rams and Irsay the Colts. Irsay moved the Colts out of Baltimore in 1984 and the team has been in Indianapolis ever since. His son Jim is the current owner and CEO of the franchise. Rosenbloom died quite famously in 1979, leaving the team to his wife Georgia Frontiere. She moved the Colts out of California and to St. Louis in 1995, and died in January 2008. Chip Rosenbloom, the son of Georgia and Carroll, is the current owner of the Rams.

The Colts officially began playing in 1953, but if you look carefully, you can arguably trace their history back to 1913. A founding member of the NFL, the Dayton Triangles, were sold to William Dwyer and John Depler, who renamed the team the Brooklyn Tigers. Four years later they sold the team to Topping, and in '45 Topping merged teams with Collins, creating the Boston Yanks/Brooklyn Tigers. Topping gave up his team to go to the AAFC, leaving the merger permanent. So the team that was the Dayton Triangles became the Brooklyn Tigers who became the Brooklyn Yanks who became the Boston Yanks who became the New York Bulldogs who became the New York Yanks who became the Dallas Texans who became the Baltimore Colts.

The NFL, of course, doesn't recognize the connection between the Yanks/Texans/Colts, and neither the Dallas Cowboys or Houston Texans chose recognize the old Dallas Texans. That makes the 1952 Texans the last NFL franchise to permanently cease operations and not be included in the lineage of any current team.

10 Comments | Posted in History

AP MVP Award History

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 4, 2009

Starting in 1957, the Associated Press began naming its Most Valuable Player each season. During the '60s, the AP gave two MVPs, one to (in its mind) the most deserving NFLer and one to (in its mind) the most deserving AFLer. For our purposes, I'm going to consider each of the AP awards in the '60s as co-MVPs, along with the two co-MVPs awarded since the merger. That leaves us with 32 QB MVPs, 16.5 RB MVPs and 3.5 MVPs given to other players.

The point of this post isn't to show that numbers rule and sportswriters drool, or that I could do a better job of picking the 1965 AFL MVP than the Associated Press. Rather, I'm doing this for two reasons. One, checking the annual award winner lets me play with my QB Rating formula and my soon to be released RB Rating formula, along with (on occasion) my recent WR rating system. It serves as a nice check on my formulas to see how the MVP ranked each year compared to his peers at the position. Two, you learn a lot by researching, and studying why and who won each award can be pretty fun. I'm not taking the ratings as gospel or claiming their superiority, but rather they let me get into discussing what I really enjoy: NFL history.

Let's start with the RBs. Barry Sanders won the co-MVP in 1997, and three AFL and three NFL RBs won the award in the '60s. Here's the list, with the number on the right showing how the RB ranked that season in my (unreleased) RB rating formula.

2006	NFL	LaDainian Tomlinson	1
2005	NFL	Shaun Alexander	        1
2000	NFL	Marshall Faulk	        1
1998	NFL	Terrell Davis	        1
1997	NFL	Barry Sanders	        1
1993	NFL	Emmitt Smith	        1
1991	NFL	Thurman Thomas	        2
1985	NFL	Marcus Allen	        1
1979	NFL	Earl Campbell	        1
1977	NFL	Walter Payton	        1
1973	NFL	O.J. Simpson	        1
1972	NFL	Larry Brown Jr.	        1
1966	AFL	Jim Nance	        1 (1)
1965	NFL	Jim Brown	        1 (1)
1962	NFL	Jim Taylor	        1 (1)
1962	AFL	Cookie Gilchrist	2 (3)
1961	NFL	Paul Hornung	        6 (11)
1960	AFL	Abner Haynes	        1 (4)
1958	NFL	Jim Brown	        1
1957	NFL	Jim Brown	        1

The numbers in parentheses represent the players overall ranks if you combine the two leagues. If a RB ranked 1st in the league among RBs, I'll generally just assume that he deserved the award as comparing RBs to QBs and WRs is pretty dicey. But I thought it might be interesting to explore the other seasons.

In 1991, Thurman Thomas ranked just a hair behind Barry Sanders in my rating system, so I'm more than okay with Thomas getting that award considering Thomas led the Bills to the best record in the AFC. That was the year the Lions made it to the NFCCG and Sanders led his team to a 12-4 record, but Thomas did have more total yards than Sanders.

In 1962, Gilchrist led the AFL in rushing but only by 47 yards over Abner Haynes. Haynes led his team to the championship that season, had four more TDs, 350 more receiving yards and three fewer fumbles. Gilchrist served as the team's primary FG kicker that year, so perhaps that factored into the voting. Even adjusted for era he was a terrible kicker that season, but roster spots were scarce at the time so there is probably some value there.

Then there's Paul Hornung's 1961 MVP award, which at first glance seems entirely unjustifiable. 1960 was his big TD and scoring season, but in 1961 here were the top RBs in the NFL:

	                Tm	Rsh	Ryd	YPC	Rec	Yds	YScm	RRTD
Jim Brown          	CLE	305	1408	4.6	46	459	1867	10
Jim Taylor	        GNB	243	1307	5.4	25	175	1482	16
Alex Webster     	NYG	196	 928	4.7	26	313	1241	 5
Willie Galimore	        CHI	153	 707	4.6	33	502	1209	 7
J.D. Smith	        SFO	167	 823	4.9	28	343	1166	 9
Nick Pietrosante	DET	201	 841	4.2	26	315	1156	 5
Don Perkins 	        DAL	200	 815	4.1	32	298	1113	 5
John Henry Johnson	PIT     213	 787	3.7	24	262	1049	 7
Joe Perry	        BAL	168	 675	4.0	34	322	997	 4
Clarence Peaks	        PHI	135	 471	3.5	32	472	943	 5
Jon Arnett  	        RAM	158	 609	3.9	28	194	803	 4
Paul Hornung	        GNB	127	 597	4.7	15	145	742	10

Hornung had only one fumble and didn't play in two other games, so his numbers are probably more impressive than some of the guys on the bottom of the table. But he looks far behind Smith, Galimore and Webster and light years behind Taylor and Brown. Brown already had two MVP awards but how could the second most valuable Packers RB be the MVP of the league? Probably because like Gilchrist, he was the team's primary kicker. Unlike Gilchrist, Hornung was terrific and the best kicker in the NFL that season. Still, there's only so much value to be had as a kicker, and this award stands out as absurd if you look at him as just a RB and still unjustified when you consider the total package. I know he was a special teamer and a lead blocker and a affable fellow, but he ranked 13th in rushing yards in a 14 team league.

Overall, it looks like when a RB wins the MVP award he's usually the most dominant (according to my system) statistical RB in the league. That's less frequently the case at quarterback. In '03, Manning and McNair split the award and in '97 Favre and Sanders won co-MVPs. Seven NFL QBs and six AFL QBs won the award in the '60s. The full list:

2008	NFL	Peyton Manning          5
2007	NFL	Tom Brady	        1
2004	NFL	Peyton Manning        	1
2003	NFL	Peyton Manning	        1
2003	NFL	Steve McNair	        2
2002	NFL	Rich Gannon	        1
2001	NFL	Kurt Warner	        1
1999	NFL	Kurt Warner	        1
1997	NFL	Brett Favre	        3
1996	NFL	Brett Favre	        1
1995	NFL	Brett Favre	        1
1994	NFL	Steve Young	        1
1992	NFL	Steve Young	        1
1990	NFL	Joe Montana	        5
1989	NFL	Joe Montana	        1
1988	NFL	Boomer Esiason	        1
1987	NFL	John Elway	        2
1984	NFL	Dan Marino	        1
1983	NFL	Joe Theismann	        1
1981	NFL	Ken Anderson	        2
1980	NFL	Brian Sipe	        1
1978	NFL	Terry Bradshaw	        5
1976	NFL	Bert Jones	        1
1975	NFL	Fran Tarkenton	        2
1974	NFL	Ken Stabler	        2
1970	NFL	John Brodie	        1
1969	NFL	Roman Gabriel	        1 (2)
1969	AFL	Joe Namath	        2 (4)
1968	NFL	Earl Morrall	        1 (3)
1968	AFL	Joe Namath	        3 (4)
1967	NFL	Johnny Unitas	        3 (4)
1967	AFL	Daryle Lamonica	        2 (5)
1966	NFL	Bart Starr	        1 (2)
1965	AFL	Jack Kemp	       14 (34)
1964	NFL	Johnny Unitas	        1 (1)
1963	NFL	Y.A. Tittle	        2 (2)
1963	AFL	Tobin Rote	        1 (3)
1961	AFL	George Blanda	        1 (1)
1960	NFL	Norm Van Brocklin	2 (2)

In '08, Manning comes in way behind Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, who both had outstanding seasons. Brees threw for over 5,000 yards and was sacked just 13 times. One of the great qualities about Brees is his ability to make quick decisions -- he's ranked in the top three in sack rate each year since moving to the Saints. Rivers had 4,000 yards and 34 TDs on just 478 attempts -- the fewest in league history by a member of the 4,000/30 club. Kurt Warner and Chad Pennington had very good seasons leading bad teams to big seasons. Both were mentioned in MVP talks, too. Manning won because he's Manning, and he led a bunch of fourth quarter comebacks, and what he did considering the state of his knee was downright amazing. And really, Manning's (or Brady's) been the most valuable player in the league almost every year, even if the statistics don't show it. That said, his production was down in 2008, and even though he may be the best QB in the league, Rivers or Brees would have been better choices. Rivers got some revenge in the playoffs, at least, unlike some other Chargers QB.

In 2003, Manning and McNair were both deserving MVP candidates, and a split award was appropriate there.

In 1997, Favre's co-MVP was not unjustifiable, but it was probably unnecessary. Sanders had an all time great year and several other QBs were about as good as Favre. Favre's raw numbers were terrific, as usual, but he threw more than twice as many INTs as Steve Young or Mark Brunell. He was the defending MVP and SB Champion and had a great season, but I would have preferred to see Sanders win that alone.

In 1990, Montana was the defending MVP and SB Champ, and was Joe Cool. What he wasn't, was one of the top three QBs in the league that year. Warren Moon had the best season of his HOF career, Steve DeBerg had a fluky but incredible season (23 TD/4 INT, fourth in the league in raw yards per attempt) and Randall Cunningham had a good passing season and 942 rushing yards and five TDs. Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas were the best RBs in the league (as they were in '91) but neither had abnormally big seasons. Jim Kelly also rated ahead of Joe Montana, but was not nearly as deserving as Moon or DeBerg or Cunningham.

In '87 there were four great QBs -- Kosar, Elway, Montana and Marino. Any of them could have been argued for MVP, along with Jerry Rice (22 TDs). None of these QBs had big time seasons and in this strike year, only Rice was historically great. I would have given it to him.

In '81, Ken Anderson and Dan Fouts were terrific, and both were worthy MVPs. Fouts had much bigger raw numbers while Anderson threw for slightly more adjusted net yards per attempt and chipped in 320 rushing yards. Anderson's team had the best record in the AFC and that probably pushed him over the edge; Fouts didn't exact much revenge when the two met in the AFC Championship Game that season. That game was arguably the coldest game in NFL history.

Terry Bradshaw's MVP in 1978 wasn't too bad of a choice, either. Bradshaw ranked fifth in value, behind Staubach, Manning, Fouts and Sipe. Staubach had one of his typical great years but didn’t have a career year. This was the best year of Archie’s career after adjusting for era, as ‘78 was really the last season in the dead ball era. The league average was 3.66 ANY/A (with a passing TD being equal to 10 yards) and it’s never been below 4.00 since then. This was also Fouts’ first breakout season. Suffice it to say, this was a close call and I can't find fault with the voters that chose Bradshaw. He lead the league in passing TDs and took the Steelers to a 14-2 record. While Staubach's regular season numbers were probably better (on the strength of a lower INT rate), Bradshaw outdueled him in the classic Super Bowl XIII.

No one loves Fran Tarkenton more than me, but he didn't really deserve his '75 MVP. Ken Anderson averaged a full yard more adjusted net yards per pass attempt that season and also outgained him on the ground. Anderson had a huge season, and along with John Brodie (1970) and Bert Jones ('76) had one of the three best QB years of the decade. Anderson shouldn't have won it, either, though. O.J. Simpson had what I consider to be the best season in RB history, with 1817 rushing yards (runner up: Franco Harris at 1246), 23 TDs and 426 receiving yards. As referenced here, O.J. also had the greatest fantasy season ever in '75.

What about '74? Anderson, Stabler and Tarkenton were the best QBs in the league that year, although Stabler led the league in ANY/A. I've got Anderson a smudge higher because of his good rushing numbers, but I can understand why Stabler (12-2) won the award over Anderson (7-7).

In 1969, Joe Namath won the AFL MVP award but he didn't produce the best numbers that year. While he and Lamonica averaged nearly the same ANY/A, Daryle Lamonica did it over more passes, he beat Namath head to head, he quarterbacked the team with the best record in the league, and helped the Raiders lead the AFL in scoring. Namath won the MVP in '68, too, and once again Lamonica (or Dawson) would have been worthy. Len Dawson averaged an absurd 8.4 adjusted net yards per attempt (league average was just 4.8), but he only threw 224 passes. Lamonica and Namath posted similar numbers, with Namath amassing more yards per pass and more pass attempts overall and Lamonica throwing more TDs and fewer INTs. Of course, Namath won the Super Bowl in '68, so he justified the award by season's end.

Ironically, in '67, Lamonica won the award but Namath finished as the top QB. He was the first (and only QB) to throw for 4,000 yards before the move to the 16 game season, and while he threw more INT than TD, he still edged out Lamonica in my system as the top QB. John Hadl also had a big year, and Dawson had a typical Dawson-like season.

In the NFL, four QBs stood out, not counting eventual SB MVP Bart Starr. Sonny Jurgensen (who was throwing to two HOF WRs), Fran Tarkenton, Unitas and Roman Gabriel all were worthy MVPs that season. The Redskins and Giants weren't very good, so you can see why Jurgensen and Tarkenton didn't win. Gabriel and Unitas were on the two best teams in the NFL, and due to the unfair NFL playoff structure at the time (and the subsequent tiebreaker), only one of them could make the playoffs. In the final game of the season, Gabriel went 18-22 for 257 yards and 3 TDs, leading the host Rams to a victory over the Colts. The Fearsome Foursome helped the Rams get seven sacks that day.

And then there's 1965 and Jack Kemp. Paul Lowe had the best season of his very good career and he won the UPI and TSN AFL MVP award that season. Lowe was a deserving winner as was teammate John Hadl. Hadl and Len Dawson ranked as the top two QBs in the AFL that season, with rookie Joe Namath a distant third. Kemp's 14th place rating is misleading because my grade is relative to the league average -- once you fall below average you rate behind every QB with a small number of attempts. Comparing him to replacement value (75% of league average) instead of league average bumps Kemp up from 14th to 4th. But how in the world does Kemp win over Hadl (or Lowe), Dawson or Namath?

player	    team	g	cmp	att	pyd	ptd	int	ay/a
Dawson      kan 	14	163	305	2262	21	14	6.04
Hadl	    sdg	        14	174	348	2798	20	21	5.90
Namath	    nyj	        13	164	340	2220	18	15	5.07
Kemp	    buf	        14	179	391	2368	10	18	4.24

We don't have individual sack numbers from 1965, but according to the team pages, Len Dawson was probably sacked a bit more often than average, Namath a bit less than average, and Hadl and Kemp right about average. So why Kemp? The Bills had the best record in the AFL East and beat the Chargers in the AFL Championship Game. But Kemp's AFL MVP stands out as the last time a QB will ever win the MVP when he throws 8 more INTs than TDs. Even if you don't love any of those QBs or Paul Lowe, there was an obvious choice for MVP that season. Lance Alworth had maybe the greatest WR season ever, with his 1602 receiving yards more than doubling the fourth best WR that season, and his 14 TDs weren't too shabby, either. The only reason that Alworth's season does not come out as #1 in my rating system is because of the AFL adjustment, which is obviously not relevant when discussing the AFL MVP.

The last two NFL MVP QBs to discuss are Y.A. Tittle in '63 and Norm Van Brocklin in '60. For starters, Jim Brown was the obvious choice for MVP in '63, when he had the best season of his career, the best season by any RB at that time and what still stands (in my system) as a top five season in RB history. As far as QBs go, though, Tittle and Unitas were by far the class of the league in '63 and either would have been a worthy choice (if not for Brown). Tittle set the record for passing TDs in a season that year and had a higher ANY/A than Unitas, who edged him out ever so slighty in my system because of his edge in pass attempts.

1960 was not the same. Milt Plum produced much better statistics, although perhaps they deserve an asterisk. The Eagles won the NFL Championship and had a better record than Cleveland, but the Browns led the league in points differential and lost their three games by a combined ten points. While Plum and NVB had almost identical numbers, there was one big difference: Van Brocklin threw 17 INTs and Plum threw five. So why the asterisk on Plum's numbers? He was playing with two HOF skill position players and two more HOFers on the right side of the line, so he had a pretty easy gig back there. One could also argue for Raymond Berry, whose 1298 receiving yards was over 300 yards more than any other player, making it one of the best WR seasons in NFL history.

Non-QB, non-RB seasons

Three and a half MVPs have been awarded to non-QBs and non-RBs. Going in reverse order:

In 1986, Lawrence Taylor had 20.5 sacks while leading the 2nd best defense in the league. Taylor's impact on all those Giants teams is legendary, and an MVP for him in his best year is appropriate. That season, Marino had another 40 TD season and Boomer Esiason had a big year. Marino threw 635 passes and was the Miami team; that would have been a justifiable MVP for his collection case. Eric Dickerson, Curt Warner and Joe Morris had big years at RB, too. Rice had the first of many huge seasons and was the top WR that year. But it is hard to really argue with LT.

In 1982, Mark Moseley, a placekicker, won the NFL MVP. On one hand, this award is not entirely absurd, as according to both Doug and my yet to be released kicker rating system (sad but true), Moseley's '82 season ranks as one of the top five kicker performances per game in NFL history. On the other hand, no one was arguing Shaun Alexander or Neil Rackers for MVP in 2005 and for good reason. This was my best attempt to justify Moseley getting the award. So who should have received it?

Marcus Allen had a very big year, the second biggest of his career on a per game basis. He was the top RB in the league and could have won the award, but Dan Fouts and Ken Anderson were probably better. Fouts would have been a great MVP choice, as he averaged 7.20 ANY/A while the league average was just 4.41. On a per game basis, 1982 was the best season of his career. Fouts never won an MVP, but he was better than Joe Theisman was the next year when he quarterbacked that great Redskins offense and won MVP honors.

But Fouts' main man, Wes Chandler, should have been the MVP. He had one of the greatest WR seasons of all time and the best WR season of all time on a per game basis. In consecutive high scoring games against the defending SB Champions and the defending AFC Champions (who ended the Chargers season the prior year), Chandler caught 17 passes for 385 yards and five TDs.

In 1971, Alan Page won the NFL MVP. As I wrote about here and here, the '69-'71 Vikings had maybe the best defense in NFL history. Judging one player on a defense is close to impossible, but there's no doubt that the value created by those Vikings defenses was off the charts. In 1969, the Vikings had maybe the best defense in history. In 1970, Page had 8 turnovers and a TD, both career highs. So at first glance, you might wonder why he won the MVP in '71 and not either of the prior two years. Page certainly benefited from the talent on the defensive line, as Carl Eller, Gary Larsen and Jim Marshall were terrific players. My best guess is that it was some sort of three-year achievement award.

Staubach had a big year but only started 11 games. He was easily the best QB in the league and would have been a very deserving winner. Brodie very much deserved the MVP in 1970, but if it was time for a DT to win the award, I'm not sure if I'd say Page was more deserving over Staubach in '71 than over Gabriel in '69. Greg Landry, Bob Griese and Len Dawson also had good seasons. The top RBs all had down years, as Floyd Little, John Brockington and Larry Csonka were probably the best of the bunch. Otis Taylor was the top WR that year but he wasn't historically good enough to win the award. I'm fine with Page winning the award, and after three awesome years by the Purple People Eaters, some recognition was appropriate.

That leaves just one MVP award left, and it's an obscure one. In 1964, Dawson was the class of the AFL, throwing 30 TD and 18 INT. Matt Snell, Cookie Gilchrist and Clem Daniels had big years at RB, although none were particularly outstanding. But if I gave you 100 guesses, I doubt you would have come up with the name of Gino Cappelletti, 1964 AFL MVP.

The Duke, as he was known, played quarterback at Minnesota and just about everything else in the pros. He played QB in the Ontario Rugby Football League out of college, then was drafted by the Army, and then played in the CFL. In a sign of how desperate for talent the AFL was, Cappelletti was signed by the Boston Patriots in their inaugural season ... to play cornerback and kick field goals. He played as a WR and kicker for the rest of his career. In 1964 he set a career high with 865 receiving yards, but that still ranked just 9th in the AFL.

So why did he win the award? Because the Duke had a dominant season at kicker, with his '64 rating as one of the five best kicker seasons in the '60s. He made every XP, was 8/16 from 40-49 yards (league average was 37%), and was the class of the AFL. If nothing else, he convinced the Broncos that he was the best player in the league. In the first game against Denver, he converted on all six attempts in a blowout victory. In the rematch against the Broncos, Cappelletti caught a 25 yard TD pass and kicked a 51 yard FG, leading the Pats to a 12-7 victory. In NFL history, only two players (Paul Hornung in 1960 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006) have scored more points per game in a season than than the 10.5 PPG the Duke had in 1964.

Those are my thoughts on past MVP winners. I'm excited to hear yours.

17 Comments | Posted in History

AFL versus NFL: introduction

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 3, 2009

Next football season will mark the fiftieth since the American Football League began playing in 1960. With that historic anniversary approaching, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back and do an in-depth comparison of the teams in both leagues during the decade between the start of the AFL and the AFL-NFL merger for the 1970 season.

Ask someone who was around during this time how the AFL and NFL compared to each other, and you are likely to get a variety of answers, primarily dependent on where their allegiances lay. I hope to sort through this and provide a detailed statistical look that tries to bring all the available evidence to the table, put it in context, and try to develop a best estimate that answers both general and specific questions about the teams and leagues, and how they compared before 1970. This all may very well prove to be a fool’s errand, and but some of the types of questions which hopefully can be addressed include:

**When did the AFL catch up with the NFL during the 1960’s and become at least comparable competitors, if ever? Think of it in terms of kind versus degree. To draw a college football analogy, when did the AFL stop being the MAC to the NFL’s Big Ten—where a few teams may be able to be competitive but the rank and file would have trouble—and instead become the Pac-10, where one league or the other may have a better year at any given moment, but where we consider the talent roughly equal over time?

3 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL

Podcast #3

Posted by Doug on March 2, 2009

Who knows how long this will continue, but it's another week and we've got another podcast.

In this episode, Chase talks about Paul Hornung and Doug talks about the 1995 Eagles.

You can listen here. Or, if you're an iTunes kind of podcast listener, you should be able to drag this link here into your podcast directory in order to subscribe to the podcast.

12 Comments | Posted in Podcast