SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all PFR content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing PFR blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Pro-Football-Reference.com » Sports Reference

For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Archive for May, 2009

Greatest Coaching Records of All Time

Posted by Chase Stuart on May 27, 2009

As evidenced by the title, this is not a list of the greatest coaches of all time. I don't feel equipped to answer the question of which coach was the best of all time, much less which coach should rank #9 or #42. That said, I feel pretty comfortable in ranking coaching win-loss records.

Generally, discussions about coaches center around three numbers: championships won, regular season wins, and winning percentage. All three of those metrics have some merit, but all are obviously flawed in other respects. Championships won't doesn't help us decide who was better, Bill Cowher or Tony Dungy. Wins are nice, but are obviously heavily weighted towards coaches with more games. Winning percentage works in theory but it tends to underrate two groups of coaches -- those who have coached for a long time (and therefore lowered their career winning percentage) and those who took over bad teams (and were bad at first but ultimately built those teams into top contenders). Further, it can overrate coaches who haven't been around for very long.

My solution is a formula that incorporates all of those things. We start with nets wins -- each coach gets credit for wins minus losses. A 14-2 season is +12, an 8-8 season is +0. Basic, simple stuff.

If a coach won his conference, he gets +5. If he then wins the Super Bowl, he gets another +7, for a total of +12 in the playoffs. I didn't spend forever deciding those weights, but I did spend a nontrivial amount of time. Obviously there must be a big weight towards winning the Super Bowl, but it can't be overpowering. A 9-7 season with a SB championship would be +14; that is equal to a 15-1 season with no Super Bowl appearance. That seems pretty fair to me. As far as other playoff bonuses, I decided something must be given for a Super Bowl appearance, but I don't know that any other playoff bonus merits anything. I decided against such a bonus, or a division championship bonus -- should we really care that much that you won your division if you didn't get to the Super Bowl? Reasonable people could certainly disagree here, and perhaps I'll be persuaded as such in the comments.

So a 14-2 Super Bowl Championship season is +24; Mike Tomlin gets +20 for his work in 2008. Bill Belichick gets +21 for his 16-0 season in 2007 that ended with a Super Bowl loss.

So Super Bowl winners get +12; Super Bowl losers get +5. In the pre-Super Bowl era, I gave +8 to all NFL Champions and +6 to the six AFL Champions (counting the '66-'69 AFL Champs as part of the SB era). The reduced weight was designed to reflect the fewer teams in those leagues. And that's pretty much the scoring system.

For coaches in the non-16 game era, they get their "wins over losses" number pro-rated. As an example, when Joe Gibbs went 8-1 in 1982, he was +7; a straight pro-rating (of 7*(16/9)) would put Gibbs at +12.4, which would be better than a 14-2 season. That seems too high to me, so I split the difference. I pro-rated short seasons by the average of 16 and the number of games played, divided by the number of games played. So for Gibbs' 1982 season we'd multiply 7 * (12.5/9) to get +9.7. This puts him right below a 13-3 season, which seems more appropriate to me. Paul Brown in 1955 (9-2-1) would be at +7 wins, and get that number pro-rated to 8.2. Since he won the NFL Championship that season, he gets +16.2 for 1955.

That enabled me to grade every coach, in every season, in NFL history. From there, we just need to get a career ranking. I used the familiar 100/95/90 drop-off rate approach; coaches get 100% credit for their best seasons, 95% for their second best, and so on. For example, here's how John Madden's ten year career with the Raiders looks:

year   	raw	wt	final	nflg	w-l-t
1976	24.9	100	24.9	14	13-1-0
1969	11.2	 95	11.8	14	12-1-1
1974	9.6	 90	10.7	14	12-2-0
1977	7.3	 85	 8.6	14	11-3-0
1975	6.9	 80	 8.6	14	11-3-0
1972	5.6	 75	 7.5	14	10-3-1
1973	3.8	 70	 5.4	14	 9-4-1
1971	2.8	 65	 4.3	14	 8-4-2
1970	2.6	 60	 4.3	14	 8-4-2
1978	1.1	 55	 2.0	16	 9-7-0
			87.9	

So in Madden's best year, he was 12 games over .500 in the fourteen game season; that gets pro-rated by 15/14, for a result of +12.9. The Raiders won the Super Bowl that year, so he finished the season with a +24.9 score. In his 10th best season the Raiders were just 2 games over .500 (and in a 16 game season); he gets a raw score of +2 but for calculating his career grade, he gets just just a little over one point.

Here's the list. The coaches are ranked by their score, as calculated above. The "Only+" column eliminates all seasons where the coach finished with a below average records; it treats all of those seasons as .500 seasons. So if you want to give Bill Walsh a mulligan when he went 2-14 his first season, you can do that. I've also included for each coach the number of seasons he was a HC and his score per season for our Vince Lombardi fans. Note that score per season is slightly misleading here, as our built-in scoring system gives less weigh on each successive good year you have.

rk      Coach                   Score   Only+   #Sea     Score/Sea
 1	Don Shula	        141.7	141.7	33.0	 4.3
 2	George Halas	        139.4	139.4	39.5	 3.5
 3	Curly Lambeau	        128.9	128.9	32.8	 3.9
 4	Tom Landry	        119.2	119.2	29.0	 4.1
 5	Chuck Noll	        106.4	107.5	23.0	 4.6
 6	Vince Lombardi	         99.8 	 99.8	10.0	10.0
 7	Joe Gibbs	         95.8 	 99.2	16.0	 6.0
 8	Paul Brown	         95.6	 95.6	21.0	 4.6
 9	Bill Belichick	         91.5	 99.9	14.0	 6.5
10	Bud Grant	         80.2	 82.5	18.0	 4.5
11	Steve Owen	         78.4	 79.0	23.0	 3.4
12	Bill Parcells	         78.1	 82.6	19.0	 4.1
13	John Madden	         75.7	 75.7	10.0	 7.6
14	George Seifert	         74.1	 82.2	11.0	 6.7
15	Guy Chamberlin	         72.6	 76.3	 6.0	12.1
16	Dan Reeves	         71.2	 74.9	22.8	 3.1
17	Mike Shanahan	         70.5	 73.6	15.3	 4.6
18	Tony Dungy	         70.4	 72.0	13.0	 5.4
19	Mike Holmgren	         69.3	 72.5	17.0	 4.1
20	Bill Cowher	         69.2	 72.6	15.0	 4.6
21	Bill Walsh	         69.1	 80.8	10.0	 6.9
22	Hank Stram	         66.1	 72.3	17.0	 3.9
23	Marty Schottenheimer	 65.0	 65.1	20.5	 3.2
24	George Allen	         63.4	 63.4	12.0	 5.3
25	Marv Levy	         57.9	 65.0	16.4	 3.5
26	Chuck Knox	         55.7	 58.0	22.0	 2.5
27	Jimmy Conzelman	         53.2	 62.2	15.0	 3.5
28	Weeb Ewbank	         53.0	 59.6	20.0	 2.7
29	Ray Flaherty	         52.0	 52.0	 7.0	 7.4
30	Buddy Parker	         51.8	 56.8	15.0	 3.5
31	Mike Ditka	         48.5	 62.8	14.0	 3.5
32	Blanton Collier	         47.2	 47.2	 8.0	 5.9
33	Sid Gillman	         45.7	 52.7	17.0	 2.7
34	Tom Flores	         45.1	 59.0	12.0	 3.8
35	Jimmy Johnson	         43.2	 52.9	 9.0	 4.8
36	Greasy Neale	         42.9	 52.0	10.0	 4.3
37	Dick Vermeil	         41.6	 56.1	15.0	 2.8
38	Jeff Fisher	         40.1	 48.1	14.4	 2.8
39	Tom Coughlin	         40.0	 50.4	13.0	 3.1
40	Andy Reid	         39.1	 44.8	10.0	 3.9
41	Jim Lee Howell	         35.4	 35.4	 7.0	 5.1
42	Don Coryell	         33.7	 40.7	13.3	 2.5
43	Potsy Clark	         32.3	 36.5	10.0	 3.2
44	Jon Gruden	         31.0	 39.5	11.0	 2.8
45	Brian Billick	         30.5	 38.1	 9.0	 3.4
46	Jim Mora	         29.7	 38.7	14.5	 2.1
47	Barry Switzer	         27.8	 31.2	 4.0	 7.0
48	Lou Saban	         26.7	 40.3	14.4	 1.9
49	Buck Shaw	         26.6	 33.7	 8.0	 3.3
50	Dennis Green	         26.1	 35.9	12.9	 2.0
51	Mike Martz	         25.9	 28.2	 5.3	 4.9
52	Roy Andrews	         24.8	 33.5	 7.0	 3.5
53	Don McCafferty	         24.1	 27.8	 3.4	 7.2
54	Mike Tomlin	         23.8	 23.8	 2.0	11.9
55	Elgie Tobin	         23.4	 23.4	 2.0	11.7
56	Hunk Anderson	         23.2	 27.6	 3.5	 6.5
57	Luke Johnsos	         23.2	 27.6	 3.5	 6.5
58	Red Miller	         23.1	 23.1	 4.0	 5.8
59	Ralph Jones	         22.5	 22.5	 3.0	 7.5
60	Tommy Hughitt	         21.8	 21.8	 5.0	 4.4
61	Wade Phillips	         20.9	 23.4	 7.4	 2.8
62	Adam Walsh	         20.7	 20.7	 2.0	10.4
63	John Fox	         19.5	 24.0	 7.0	 2.8
64	John Rauch	         19.5	 30.9	 5.0	 3.9
65	Mike Sherman	         18.2	 24.2	 6.0	 3.0
66	Bobby Ross	         17.4	 21.0	 8.6	 2.0
67	Paddy Driscoll	         16.8	 18.7	 5.0	 3.4
68	Norm Barry	         16.5	 17.6	 2.0	 8.3
69	Lovie Smith	         16.0	 22.5	 5.0	 3.2
70	Jack Pardee	         15.7	 25.7	10.6	 1.5
71	Raymond Berry	         14.9	 19.4	 5.5	 2.7
72	Hampton Pool	         14.8	 14.8	 2.9	 5.1
73	Wally Lemm	         14.5	 30.2	 9.6	 1.5
74	Jock Sutherland	         13.9	 13.9	 4.0	 3.5
75	Jim Fassel	         12.7	 21.4	 7.0	 1.8
76	Allie Sherman	         11.9	 25.6	 8.0	 1.5
77	Bum Phillips	         11.6	 22.6	10.8	 1.1
78	Dudley DeGroot	         11.5	 11.5	 2.0	 5.8
79	John Robinson	         11.3	 23.4	 9.0	 1.3
80	Steve Mariucci	         11.3	 28.2	 8.7	 1.3
81	Dick Rauch	         11.1	 17.5	 5.0	 2.2
82	Mike Holovak	         10.4	 22.9	 7.7	 1.4
83	Joe Schmidt	         10.4	 15.3	 6.0	 1.7
84	Lou Rymkus	         10.4	 12.4	 1.4	 7.7
85	Jerry Burns	          9.5	 12.5	 6.0	 1.6
86	Chuck Fairbanks	          9.2	 19.1	 5.9	 1.6
87	Earl Potteiger	          8.4	 19.2	 3.0	 2.8
88	Clark Shaughnessy	  8.1	  8.1	 2.0	 4.1
89	Ray Malavasi	          8.0	 20.1	 5.9	 1.4
90	Ed Weir                   8.0	  8.0	 1.6	 5.1
91	Al Davis	          7.6	  9.5	 3.0	 2.5
92	Forrest Gregg	          7.5	 23.5	10.9	 0.7
93	Art Shell	          7.0	 16.9	 6.8	 1.0
94	Ken Whisenhunt	          7.0	  7.0	 2.0	 3.5
95	Mike McCarthy	          6.4	 10.0	 3.0	 2.1
96	Ron Meyer	          6.3	 10.6	 7.0	 0.9
97	Jack Del Rio	          6.2	 15.5	 6.0	 1.0
98	John Harbaugh	          6.0	  6.0	 1.0	 6.0
99	Mike Smith	          6.0	  6.0	 1.0	 6.0
100	Tony Sparano	          6.0	  6.0	 1.0	 6.0

38 Comments | Posted in Best/Worst Ever

Great Linebackers Playing Together

Posted by Chase Stuart on May 18, 2009

This post is not a look at the greatest linebacking corps ever. We might attempt to do that one day, but today I've got another thought on my mind today. What teams have seen a bunch of great linebackers playing together while those players were in their primes?

The first thing we need to do is rate the linebackers. You could use Pro Bowl nominations, or games started, or some combination of sacks, turnovers and tackles. Here at PFR, Doug developed the Approximate Value system -- it assigns an approximate value to measure the approximate contribution of each player in each season since 1950. While none of us claim that the Approximate Value system is a perfect measure of player performance, we believe it's a big improvement on things like games started or other objective criteria one might use to create a set of inter-positional rankings.

You could simply look at a list of the top linebacker by AV per team for each season. For various reasons, I chose a different approach. I looked at the peak three years of every linebacker ever, and assigned that as a rating for each linebacker. Then I gave him an age adjusted score for each season. That age adjusted score is the rating I'm giving each linebacker for each season of play, not his actual AV grade.

How do you adjust for age? I looked at the top 100 or so linebackers in NFL history and studied their dropoff rate, as measured by AV. After smoothing out the numbers a bit, you get something that looks like this:

age	weight
21	0.24
22	0.43
23	0.58
24	0.72
25	0.82
26	0.91
27	0.96
28	0.99
29	1.00
30	0.98
31	0.94
32	0.87
33	0.77
34	0.65
35	0.51
36	0.40

Ray Lewis has a peak AV -- the average score of his three best seasons -- of 20. Keith Brooking has a peak AV of 11; here's how we would then project how good each player would have been for each season of his career:

age	weight	Lewis	Brooking
21	0.24	 4.9	 2.7
22	0.43	 8.5	 4.7
23	0.58	11.7	 6.4
24	0.72	14.3	 7.9
25	0.82	16.5	 9.1
26	0.91	18.1	10.0
27	0.96	19.3	10.6
28	0.99	19.9	10.9
29	1.00	20.0	11.0
30	0.98	19.6	10.8
31	0.94	18.7	10.3
32	0.87	17.3	 9.5
33	0.77	15.4	 8.5
34	0.65	13.0	 7.2
35	0.51	10.1	 5.6
36	0.40	 8.0	 4.4

Obviously these numbers are far from perfect; the goal is simply to get, roughly, the quality of the production we would find in each season from, approximately, the best linebackers ever. I think the results below pass the sniff test; what do you think?

These represent the 25 best set of 4-3 linebackers playing together at their peaks. The top combination is a recent trio of Ravens; from left to right the line says: The best linebacker was Ray Lewis, who was 31 and had a peak of 20. The second best linebacker was Adalius Thomas, who was 29 and had a peak of 15.6. Bart Scott was the third best linebacker, and he was 26 and eventually would have a peak of 13.

One note: For obvious reasons I decided not to re-list LB trios that appeared more often than once. Any time a LB trio appeared multiple times, I only listed the best one (which would be based solely on the ages of the three players). So the 2000 Ravens aren't on there, when Ray Lewis was 25 and Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper were 26; that's because the 2001 Ravens are on there when Lewis was 26 and Boulware and Sharper were 27. A similar fate sacked the '85 Bears, replaced by the more physically mature '87 Bears.

BAL-2006	Ray Lewis (31): 20	     Adalius Thomas (29): 15.6	 Bart Scott (26): 13
GNB-1963	Ray Nitschke (27): 15.6	     Bill Forester (31): 16	 Dan Currie (28): 14.3
CHI-1987	Mike Singletary (29): 17.6   Wilber Marshall (25): 18.3	 Otis Wilson (30): 11
KAN-1972	Willie Lanier (27): 17.3     Bobby Bell (32): 16         Jim Lynch (27): 13.3
CHI-1959	Bill George (30): 18	     Joe Fortunato (29): 15.3	 Larry Morris (26): 10.3
PIT-1978	Jack Ham (30): 17	     Jack Lambert (26): 18	 Loren Toews (27): 8.66
CHI-2007	Brian Urlacher (29): 19.3    Lance Briggs (27): 15.6	 Hunter Hillenmeyer (27): 7
CHI-1955	Bill George (26): 18	     Joe Fortunato (25): 15.3	 George Connor (30): 12.3
PIT-1980	Jack Lambert (28): 18	     Jack Ham (32): 17	         Robin Cole (25): 9.66
RAM-1976	Isiah Robertson (27): 17.6   Jack Reynolds (29): 12.6	 Jim Youngblood (26): 11.3
GNB-1968	Dave Robinson (27): 14.3     Ray Nitschke (32): 15.6	 Lee Roy Caffey (27): 13
PHI-1954	Chuck Bednarik (29): 20.6    Bucko Kilroy (33): 14	 Wayne Robinson (24): 11.3
PIT-1979	Jack Lambert (27): 18	     Jack Ham (31): 17	         Dirt Winston (24): 8.66
BAL-2001	Ray Lewis (26): 20	     Peter Boulware (27): 11.3	 Jamie Sharper (27): 10.3
RAM-1975	Isiah Robertson (26): 17.6   Jack Reynolds (28): 12.6 	 Ken Geddes (29): 10.3
RAM-1967	Maxie Baughan (29): 15.6     Myron Pottios (28): 12 	 Jack Pardee (31): 11.6
BAL-1972	Mike Curtis (29): 16	     Ted Hendricks (25): 17	 Ray May (27): 8.66
BAL-1973	Mike Curtis (30): 16	     Ted Hendricks (26): 17	 Stan White (24): 10
CHI-1970	Dick Butkus (28): 15.6	     Lee Roy Caffey (29): 13	 Doug Buffone (26): 9.33
ARI-1994	Wilber Marshall (32): 18.3   Seth Joyner (30): 13.6	 Eric Hill (28): 7.66
PIT-1976	Jack Ham (28): 17	     Jack Lambert (24): 18	 Andy Russell (35): 13.6
TAM-1999	Derrick Brooks (26): 19	     Shelton Quarles (28): 10	 Hardy Nickerson (34): 14.6
GNB-1974	Ted Hendricks (27): 17	     Fred Carr (28): 12	         Jim Carter (26): 9
DAL-1967	Chuck Howley (31): 16.3	     Lee Roy Jordan (26): 13	 Dave Edwards (28): 9.33
CLE-1952	Bill Willis (31): 18.3	     Tommy W. Thompson (25): 14	 Walt Michaels (23): 13

We can do the same thing for teams that played 3-4 defenses. Not surprisingly, the Dome Patrol tops the list, but of course we're only going to list them once. A couple of Lawrence Taylor-led Giants make the list, although not the '86 version where Reasons and Banks were both just 24 years old. The Orange Crush and a bunch of Steelers teams are well represented:

NOR-1990  Pat Swilling (26): 19	      Sam Mills (31): 17	 Rickey Jackson (32): 14.6   Vaughan Johnson (28): 11.6
PIT-1995  Greg Lloyd (30): 17.3	      Kevin Greene (33): 16.6	 Chad Brown (25): 14.3       Levon Kirkland (26): 13
BAL-2003  Ray Lewis (28): 20	      Adalius Thomas (26): 15.6  Peter Boulware (29): 11.3   Ed Hartwell (25): 8.66
PIT-2003  James Farrior (28): 14.6    Jason Gildon (31): 14.6	 Joey Porter (26): 14	     Kendrell Bell (25): 10.3
BAL-2004  Ray Lewis (29): 20	      Adalius Thomas (27): 15.6  Ed Hartwell (26): 8.66      Terrell Suggs (22): 13.3
DEN-1979  Randy Gradishar (27): 16    Tom Jackson (28): 13.6	 Bob Swenson (26): 11.6      Joe Rizzo (29): 9
DEN-1981  Randy Gradishar (29): 16    Tom Jackson (30): 13.6	 Bob Swenson (28): 11.6      Larry Evans (28): 7
OAK-1979  Ted Hendricks (32): 17      Phil Villapiano (30): 13.6 Rod Martin (25): 13	     Monte Johnson (28): 8.66
PIT-1997  Greg Lloyd (32): 17.3	      Levon Kirkland (28): 13	 Jason Gildon (25): 14.6     Earl Holmes (24): 9.66
NYG-1991  Lawrence Taylor (32): 18    Pepper Johnson (27): 13.3  Carl Banks (29): 11	     Gary Reasons (29): 7
PIT-1982  Jack Lambert (30): 18	      Jack Ham (34): 17	         Robin Cole (27): 9.66       Loren Toews (31): 8.66
BAL-2007  Ray Lewis (32): 20	      Bart Scott (27): 13	 Terrell Suggs (25): 13.3    Jarret Johnson (26): 5.66
OAK-1978  Ted Hendricks (31): 17      Phil Villapiano (29): 13.6 Monte Johnson (27): 8.66    Willie Hall (29): 7.33
PIT-1991  Greg Lloyd (26): 17.3	      Hardy Nickerson (26): 14.6 David Little (32): 9.66     Bryan Hinkle (32): 9
DET-1993  Pat Swilling (29): 19	      Chris Spielman (28): 12    George Jamison (31): 7.66   Dennis Gibson (29): 6.66
NYG-1988  Lawrence Taylor (29): 18    Carl Banks (26): 11	 Pepper Johnson (24): 13.3   Harry Carson (35): 13.3
PIT-2000  Jason Gildon (28): 14.6     Levon Kirkland (31): 13	 Earl Holmes (27): 9.66      Joey Porter (23): 14
NYG-1990  Lawrence Taylor (31): 18    Pepper Johnson (26): 13.3  Carl Banks (28): 11	     Steve DeOssie (28): 4
PIT-1999  Jason Gildon (27): 14.6     Levon Kirkland (30): 13	 Earl Holmes (26): 9.66      Carlos Emmons (26): 9
PIT-2006  Joey Porter (29): 14	      James Farrior (31): 14.6   Larry Foote (26): 9	     Clark Haggans (29): 7.66
DEN-1980  Randy Gradishar (28): 16    Tom Jackson (29): 13.6	 Larry Evans (27): 7	     Rob Nairne (26): 7.33
PIT-1992  Greg Lloyd (27): 17.3	      Hardy Nickerson (27): 14.6 David Little (33): 9.66     Jerrol Williams (25): 5.33
NYG-1983  Harry Carson (30): 13.3     Lawrence Taylor (24): 18   Brad Van Pelt (32): 9.66    Brian Kelley (32): 9
DEN-1982  Randy Gradishar (30): 16    Tom Jackson (31): 13.6	 Larry Evans (29): 7	     Jim Ryan (25): 8
DEN-1989  Karl Mecklenburg (29): 15.6 Simon Fletcher (27): 10	 Michael Brooks (25): 10.6   Rick Dennison (31): 8.33

Finally, here's a list of the top 50 grades (simply averaging the age-adjusted AV score of the starting linebackers) for all 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, including duplicates:

4-3 Linebackers:

tm	yr	av
BAL	2006	46.2
GNB	1963	44.3
GNB	1962	43.7
CHI	1987	43.6
KAN	1972	43.4
KAN	1973	42.8
KAN	1971	42.8
CHI	1959	42.4
GNB	1961	41.9
CHI	1960	41.8
CHI	1986	41.7
PIT	1978	41.3
CHI	2007	41.2
KAN	1974	41.1
CHI	1955	41.0
KAN	1970	41.0
PIT	1980	40.6
CHI	1961	40.2
RAM	1976	39.9
GNB	1968	39.9
PIT	1981	39.9
CHI	2006	39.7
PIT	1977	39.7
PHI	1954	39.6
PIT	1979	39.5
GNB	1967	39.4
PHI	1953	39.3
GNB	1969	39.3
BAL	2001	39.0
GNB	1960	38.9
RAM	1975	38.9
CHI	1985	38.7
RAM	1967	38.5
BAL	1972	38.4
BAL	1973	38.3
KAN	1969	38.0
GNB	1966	37.9
PHI	1952	37.8
CHI	1962	37.5
RAM	1968	37.5
CHI	2005	37.3
CHI	1970	37.0
RAM	1974	37.0
ARI	1994	36.9
PIT	1976	36.7
TAM	1999	36.7
GNB	1974	36.4
DAL	1967	36.3
CLE	1952	36.3
DET	1962	36.3

3-4 Linebackers:

tm	yr	av
NOR	1990	57.4
NOR	1989	57.3
NOR	1991	56.0
NOR	1988	55.6
PIT	1995	53.5
NOR	1992	53.0
PIT	1994	52.8
BAL	2003	52.5
NOR	1987	52.3
PIT	1993	50.5
PIT	2003	49.5
BAL	2004	48.6
DEN	1979	48.6
DEN	1981	48.0
OAK	1979	47.5
PIT	2002	47.4
PIT	1997	47.0
NYG	1991	46.4
DEN	1978	46.2
PIT	1982	46.2
BAL	2007	46.0
BAL	2008	45.9
OAK	1978	45.3
PIT	1991	45.2
DET	1993	44.8
OAK	1976	44.4
NYG	1988	44.3
PIT	2000	44.2
PIT	1990	43.9
NYG	1990	43.8
PIT	1999	43.8
PIT	2006	43.6
NYG	1987	43.4
PIT	2005	43.3
DEN	1980	43.0
PIT	1992	42.7
DEN	1977	42.6
NYG	1983	42.2
DEN	1982	42.1
PIT	2004	42.0
DEN	1989	41.9
NYG	1992	41.9
NYJ	1999	41.7
PIT	1998	41.7
NWE	2007	41.5
NYG	1982	41.3
PIT	1989	41.3
NYG	1989	41.2
CLE	1950	41.2
CLE	1951	41.2

22 Comments | Posted in Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever

AFL versus NFL: 1960-1963 Drafts

Posted by Jason Lisk on May 14, 2009

Last week, I posted my proposed methodology for evaluating the drafts of the 1960’s. A couple of quick notes before I get into the specific drafts. After considering Jim Glass' comment and reviewing the drafts, I’ve decided not to include the head to head wins and steals in my analysis. I’ll go into more detail in the 1961 draft section.

Also, there are players who signed with one league and then moved to another. Typically, this was a player who signed with an NFL team, sat the bench for a couple of years, then moved to the AFL after playing out their option. Ben Davidson and Ron McDole are examples of this. If we are looking at who did the best at signing players, we want to credit this player to the original league, but if we want to look at which league got the production, we want to credit the league where the player starred. I decided to not include these players in the draft value analysis at all. I did include them in my list of the best players for each league, if they otherwise qualified, for the league where they accumulated their value. Finally, the best players list for each year consist of (1) players drafted in that year, even if they debuted later, and (2) undrafted free agents who debuted that season. For 1960, (since there were so many “rookies” entering the AFL) I only included undrafted players age 23 or younger. For the best players, I decided to list at least 10 AFL guys and 15 NFL guys each year, but sometimes I list more.

9 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL, NFL Draft

Ben Roethlisberger

Posted by Jason Lisk on May 11, 2009

In March, Chase did a study evaluating the most valuable quarterbacks looking forward. One of the more interesting results was Jamarcus Russell ending up one spot ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. I'm going to set aside that specific result, and focus on one specific issue affecting Roethlisberger's value going forward--whether his career path may look different than we expect because of his propensity to take sacks. I was also reminded of this recently when Chase mentioned Ken O'Brien peaking early in last week's podcast.

Do quarterbacks who take alot of sacks early in their career have shorter primes and careers than those who avoid them, all other things being equal? The "all other things being equal" is a tricky one, as avoiding sacks is one component of what makes a QB good and keeps him getting a chance to start. This quick study is not meant as a definitive look at the topic, only a starting spot for further investigation.

I pulled all quarterbacks debuting since 1970 who threw at least 1,000 passes by age 26, and had a career yards per pass attempt of 6.0 or higher through age 26, and then looked at their sack rates. Some of those quarterbacks are still active, so I excluded any that were age 36 or younger and still playing last year.

That left a nice, even forty quarterbacks. The correlation coefficient between sack percentage through age 26, and the player's age in their last season in the NFL, is -0.335. This negative correlation means that the quarterbacks who took a higher percentage of sacks at a young age did tend to retire at an earlier age.

Let's put some of those results in chart form.

31 Comments | Posted in Player articles

Backup quarterbacks and the element of surprise

Posted by Doug on May 8, 2009

From a reader named John Worrall, this appeared recently in my email box:

I have a theory that says that backup players that come into games perform at a very high level, because the opponent gameplanned for a different player. For example, when Joe Montana would go down with an injury and Steve Young came in, the opposing defense got a COMPLETELY different kind of QB than they were ready for, which meant Steve Young would have a huge game.

With all this new game log data we've got, we can test this kind of thing out.

The first thing I wanted to do was build a database query that would find all instances where one quarterback was unexpectedly replaced early in the game by another. I eventually decided to find all instances where:

1. the starting quarterback in a particular game threw five or fewer passes (and no interceptions), and the quarterback who replaced him threw 20 or more passes

and

2. the replacement started the following game, and the original starter (from the previous game) did not play.

From 1970 to 2008, there have been 73 such cases, so it's a respectable sample. Then I compared the replacement QB's adjusted yards per attempt ((yards + 20*TDs - 45*INTs)/attempts) in the first game, in which he was presumably not expected to play, to his adjusted yards per attempt in the second game, for which we can only assume the defense had a full week to prepare for him.

Here is a line of data that supports John's theory:

mia 1981  5 David Woodley        Don Strock            11.00   1.93  

This says that in game 5 of the Dolphins' 1981 season, David Woodley started and Don Strock relieved him early in the game. Since Woodley had started all four of Miami's games before that one, the Dolphins were undefeated at the time, and nothing in the stat line indicates that Woodley did anything terrible to get himself pulled in that game, we have to assume that Strock's appearance was not expected by the Jets. Or the Dolphins, for that matter.

But anyway, Strock played very well, going 18 of 29 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. That's 11.00 adjusted yards per attempt, and you can click the '11.00' to see the boxscore of that game. In the following week, Strock started against the Bills and went 26 of 44 for 245 yards, with one touchdown pass and four interceptions. That comes out to 1.93 adjusted yards per attempt. 1.93 - 11.00 = -9.07, so this goes down as a -9.07, which represents strong evidence for the element-of-surprise-helps-backup-QBs hypothesis. Now all we have to do is repeat the procedure for all 87 other data points and average the numbers together.

Result:

On average, the replacement quarterbacks had about 0.15 more adjusted yards per attempt in the following game than they did in the original game. So the data seems to indicate that the quarterback himself benefits from the week of preparation as the starter at least as much as the defense benefits from preparing to face him. Interesting.

Just because I know someone will ask, I checked to make sure the two sets of defenses were comparable. They were. In the aggregate, the defenses faced by these QBs were actually negligibly better (.05 adjusted yards per attempt allowed during the given season) in the second games than in the original games.

Full data set below:

12 Comments | Posted in General

Podcast #8

Posted by Doug on May 6, 2009

Doug talks about some trades of the 70s and 80s.

Chase talks about that other great Namath/Unitas showdown.

JKL talks about a 1983 Bears/Saints game in which Walter Payton shined (even moreso than usual).

Listen here, subscribe here if you know how, and read this if you don’t. It’s free, of course.

16 Comments | Posted in Podcast

What might have been: NFC West edition

Posted by Doug on May 2, 2009

In the comments to Chase's post on the Jets' draft, football historian extraodinaire and p-f-r friend Sean Lahman pointed out that the Jets drafted Ken O'Brien, Al Toon, and Blair Thomas instead of Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, and Jerry Rice. That prompted me to investigate other teams who might have just missed on all-time greats. It was so much fun that I decided to turn it into an eight-part series, looking at one division at a time. For no particular reason, I'll lead off with the NFC West.

Although it might make sense in some cases to look at the player(s) drafted immediately after a particular pick, I'm going to limit my attention to players at the same position. For example, in 1996, the Eagles took guard Jermane Mayberry one pick before the Ravens took Ray Lewis. Passing on Ray Lewis is never a good idea, but I'm not going to kill the Eagles for that pick. Instead of comparing Mayberry to Lewis, I'll compare Mayberry to the next guard taken, who happened to be the undistinguished Jason Layman. In that light, the Mayberry pick looks OK. I understand that that's an arbitrary choice, but it makes the comparisons a little cleaner. These are supposed to be fun posts, not serious analysis.

Before I get to it, let me first just say for the record that I understand that each team's draft board and draft strategy is different, and just because Layman was the next guard taken after Mayberry in no way means that the Eagles were sitting there on the clock trying to decide between Mayberry and Layman. So please understand that

Team X drafted Player Y instead of Player Z

and

Team X passed on Player Z to take Player Y

are merely shorthand for

Team X drafted Player Y, and the very next player taken at Player Y's position in that draft was Player Z

Again, this is just for fun.

Seahawks

In the big picture, Seahawk fans really don't have too much to complain about draft-wise, but Seattle's 1981 draft is perhaps one of the worst what-might-have-beens there is. And the killer is that it actually wasn't that bad of a draft. It's just that the guys they passed on turned out to be much better.

8 Comments | Posted in General, NFL Draft