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Archive for June, 2009

90% of the All-Decade Team

30th June 2009

There's one year left in the decade of the '00s, but that didn't stop ESPN from naming its All-decade offensive and defensive teams. It is obvious that we should wait for the 2009 season to unfold before we name the All-Decade team of the '00s. But that doesn't mean we can't take a sneak peak at what the eventual team should look like.

I'll mostly be using Doug's approximate value system, with of course only the years from 2000-2008 included. I'll give each player 100% credit for their best season of this nine-year decade, 95% credit for their second best season, 90% for their third best, and so on. For each position, in addition to the approximate value grades for the candidates, we'll list the number of pro bowls each player made, his numbers of games and games started, total seasons as a starter, awards (consisting of the AP's Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Super Bowl MVP, Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year), and first team and second team all pro honors. For QB, RB and WR, I'll also use the systems I used in the "greatest ever" series for each of those positions. Let's get started.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever | 20 Comments »

Gone too soon

29th June 2009

My first strong memory of the Kansas City Chiefs growing up had nothing to do with a play, or a game, or a season. It came twenty-six years ago today. It was a hot late June weekday and we were heading out to go play baseball when the news trickled in. Joe Delaney had drowned while trying to rescue three boys down in Monroe, Louisiana, near his hometown of Haughton. Didn't know how to swim, the reports said. But he went in anyway to try to save those three boys-complete strangers-who were drowning.

Death comes in threes, you often hear. Many times the connections between the three are forced and tenuous. Not so here. Joe Delaney was the third young Chiefs running back, all from Louisiana, who died too soon.

Most of you have probably never heard of Stonewall Edward "Stone" Johnson. You won't find a player page for him here at pro-football-reference, because he never played in a regular season game. You will however, find his page at our companion Olympics reference site. Stone Johnson was a finalist in both the 200 meter and as a member of the 4x100 relay at the 1960 Rome Olympics at age 20. Three years later, Lamar Hunt had moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City, and Stone Johnson was a rookie running back from Grambling trying to make the roster. In a preseason game against the Raiders played in Wichita, Kansas, Johnson broke his neck. He died a few days later, on September 8, 1963.

A year after that tragedy, a young running back from Southern University joined the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. Mack Lee Hill was an instant success. Hill led the AFL in yards per carry in both of his seasons with the Chiefs, in 1964 and 1965. He was a pro bowl selection in 1964 as a rookie. He may very well have been a pro bowl selection again in 1965 (he was second team all-AFL). On December 12, 1965, though, Hill suffered a knee injury in the next to last game of the regular season, and died during knee surgery. The Chiefs began their team Hall of Fame in 1970, and Mack Lee Hill was the first player enshrined. The Chiefs' rookie of the year award was also instituted in 1966, and named the Mack Lee Hill award.

Joe Delaney, as it turns out, did not receive the Mack Lee Hill award in 1981--that honor went to Lloyd Burruss. That's because Delaney was selected as the team MVP for the 1981 season. He also was selected as the AFC Rookie of the Year, and represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl.

If you want to get a vision of what Delaney, the player, was like, I think there are two guys that entered the league last season that have a lot of similarities--Chris Johnson, and to a lesser extent, though still similar sizewise, Steve Slaton. Delaney was considered undersized for a running back, at 5'10" and between 180 and 190 pounds, but he was blazing fast. He had initially gone to Northwestern State as a wide receiver, but converted to running back when the team had injuries at the position. The Chiefs drafted him in the second round in 1981 thinking that he would be a change of pace type back, but he turned into so much more in his rookie season.

He started the season as a backup to Ted McKnight, and had some solid performances in limited action. In the season's fifth game, McKnight suffered a season-ending injury on his first carry in a game against the New England Patriots, and Delaney finished that game with his first 100 yard rushing performance. The next week, in his first career start, Delaney had both 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a 27-0 victory against the hated rival and defending Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders. A week later, Delaney finished with 149 rushing yards, including an 82 yard touchdown run that would stand as the longest run from scrimmage in the NFL that season, as the Chiefs beat the Broncos at Arrowhead. Later that season, Delaney would rush for 193 yards in a game against the Houston Oilers. He finished the year with a Chiefs' rookie record of 1,121 rushing yards.

The following year, Delaney had an eye injury that limited him, and the season was disjointed and shortened due to the 1982 player strike. He was only 24 years old, though, as the 1983 season approached, and he was poised to continue his success as a star running back, until that sad day twenty-six years ago.

If you want a vision of what Delaney the person was like, well, I'm probably not the person to provide that perspective. I just know that when I was a child, his loss was mourned throughout Kansas City, and I think in a way far beyond just losing a young athlete. The way that he died, trying to save three children, when he didn't know how to swim very well, says a lot about the man. The great Sports Illustrated writer Frank DeFord wrote a piece entitled "Sometimes the Good Die Young" that ran in the November 7, 1983 issue. I would highly encourage you to click through and read that great tribute if you have the time.

We've seen numerous players gone too soon, reminding us that tomorrow is promised to no one, not even young athletes who appear to be at the peak physically. The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico involving Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith is the most recent case. Korey Stringer died from heat stroke complications at training camp. Sean Taylor, Darrent Williams and Fred Lane were homicide victims while playing in the NFL. We've had players die too young because of cancer or other disease, like Ernie Davis, Brian Piccolo, and Eric Turner. Heart attacks or other cardiac events have claimed numerous NFL players, both while playing and during the off-season, including Stan Mauldin, Chuck Hughes, Larry Gordon, J.V. Cain, Dave Waymer, and recently, Thomas Herrion and Damien Nash. Car accidents have probably claimed more active NFL players than any other cause. Derrick Thomas died from complications following a car accident. Jerome Brown died in the prime of a star career in 1992. Teammates Bo Farrington and Willie Galimore died in the same car accident in 1964, months after they had won an NFL Championship with the Chicago Bears. The list goes on and on.

These deaths were often sudden and unexpected, and universally tragic. Only a handful, though, involved a conscious choice to put one's life at risk to help others. Pat Tillman left an active NFL career to join the military, and died in Afghanistan in 2004. Over thirty years earlier, Bob Kalsu made a similar choice when he left a career as a guard for the Buffalo Bills to go to Vietnam. I'm sure there were countless others who died on the battlefields of World War II, when they would have otherwise been on football fields. Then there is Joe Delaney, who in a moments' notice, had to make a decision, and decided to risk his life rather than do nothing.

God rest your soul, Joe.

Posted in History | 5 Comments »

Podcast #10

26th June 2009

Doug talks about a player who will be named a little while after the segment gets going, and also talks for awhile about one of that player's coaches.

Chase talks about everything under the sun, but claims that it should be called a Paul Brown segment.

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

Posted in Podcast | 5 Comments »

DeMarcus Ware (and John Abraham, Joey Porter and James Harrison)

25th June 2009

Let's take a quick look at where the top sack guys in 2008 might finish this season, using history as a guide.

DeMarcus Ware finished last season with 20 sacks, joining Michael Strahan, Mark Gastineau, Chris Doleman, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas as the only players to reach that number since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.

Those guys averaged 13.2 sacks the following season, with all of them recording at least 11 sacks. So while we should expect some regression for Ware, looking at the guys he has joined, he's a pretty solid bet to record a healthy sack total again. But that's a really small sample size. Let's expand it out to all guys that have recorded 16.0 or more sacks in a single season since 1982--that brings our total up to 43 total seasons. That group was 27 years old on average, recorded 17.7 sacks in their high sack season, and dropped back to 10.4 sacks the following season.

Only five players have recorded at least 16 sacks in consecutive seasons-- Reggie White, twice (1986, 1987(!), and 1988), Mark Gastineau (1983, 1984), Richard Dent (1984, 1985), Andre Tippett (1984, 1985), and Kevin Greene (1988, 1989).

Ware wasn't the only player added to this list from last season, as John Abraham, Joey Porter and James Harrison also recorded at least 16 sacks. There is a big difference, though, between Ware and the other three--namely, their age. Ware is entering his prime as a pass rusher, as he was 26 last season. 27 of the 43 seasons of 16+ sacks were turned in by players between ages 26-28.

On the other hand, Abraham (30), Porter (31) and Harrison (30) are among the oldest high sack guys since 1982. Only six other players recorded 16 sacks or more at age 29 or older: Michael Strahan, twice (ages 30 and 32), Michael Sinclair (age 30), Simon Fletcher (age 30), Fred Dean (age 31), Trace Armstrong (age 35), and Reggie White (age 37). Not surprisingly, this group did not maintain their performance the following season as well. Here are the sack averages the following season, sorted by age:

Age		No.		Sacks, Yr N		Sacks, Yr N+1
24 or under		4		17.6		13.5
25 to 26		14		17.3		12.2
27 to 28		19		18.1		9.7
29 or older		6		17.9		6.5

Of course, we probably shouldn't include two guys that were age 35 or older in trying to evaluate what James, Joey and John are going to do this season. Lowering the limit down to at least 13.0 sacks in a season, we have 43 seasons turned in by guys from age 29-32. This group averaged 14.4 sacks in Year N and got 8.2 the next season, so ended up a year later with about 57% of their previous total on average.

When I look at that list, I see a lot of seasons turned in by the likes of Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Lawrence Taylor that pull the year N+1 average up. I'm not sure if the three 30 somethings from 2008 match up with those names, so I'm going to shade them a little lower. I'll put an over/under on DeMarcus Ware of 12.5 sacks in 2009, and an over/under of 8 sacks for Abraham, Harrison and Porter.

Posted in Player articles | 9 Comments »

Seeking more mobile input

25th June 2009

Mobile-device-friendly versions of all the sports-ref sites are getting closer to becoming reality. If you're interested in helping shape how they turn out, and you have a few minutes to fill out this survey, we would appreciate the input. Thanks in advance.

Posted in P-F-R News | Comments Off on Seeking more mobile input

Great OL playing together

24th June 2009

Recently, I've been focused on great players who, while they were still great, have played the same position for the same team at the same time. I looked at linebacker groups and DL units a few weeks ago; I then combined those two levels of the defense to rank some of the best front sevens of all time.

Using pretty much the same methodology, I'm going to rank the offensive lines. What teams have had stellar tackles, guards and centers playing together at the same time? To rank the offensive linemen, we're going to use Doug's Approximate Value system. I recorded the best three seasons for all linemen since 1950 to assign a "peak AV rating" for each player. For each player-season, I took the lineman's peak AV rating and then adjusted his score for age. What adjustment?

Last August, Doug looked at which great running backs were helped most by their offensive lines. He used the following aging curve for the big uglies:

Age  PctOfPeak
21 => 0.48
22 => 0.48
23 => 0.57
24 => 0.81
25 => 0.93
26 => 0.97
27 => 1.00
28 => 1.00
29 => 0.97
30 => 0.91
31 => 0.90
32 => 0.88
33 => 0.78
34 => 0.76
35 => 0.77
36 => 0.63
37 => 0.62
38 => 0.62
39 => 0.62
40 => 0.62

That's slightly different than the one I derived for defensive linemen; that could be because of the different ways you could interpret the data, or it could be because offensive and defensive linemen actually have different curves. That might be interesting to look at in a future post, but for now the above aging curve looks good to me. From there, it's really simple -- we multiply each lineman's peak AV grade by his age weight to obtain his value for each season. Then we add that number for each of the members of the starting five for every team since 1950.

An incomplete list of reasons to dislike this post:

As was the case in the DL and LB posts, active players that are still young are going to be undervalued. Jake Scott has a peak AV of 8.3 right now, but that could easily improve if he makes a couple of Pro Bowls. Therefore, the '04 and '05 Colts -- while they made the list below -- are potentially undervalued. Obviously for any team with no active players, this point is irrelevant.

Not all offensive line positions are created equally. While some people may argue that DEs are more important than DTs, surely others would go the other way. Many view MLBs as the face of a defense, but the OLBs are often the playmakers of a defense, especially in a 3-4 scheme. So combining the grades of all the players seemed innocuous in the prior posts. But you'd be hard pressed to find anyone argue that guards are equivalent to tackles. A line with two great tackles and two average guards should be better than the reverse.

I didn't make any adjustment, though, because of two reasons. One, I would have no idea what weight to use for the tackles; two, it's explicitly built into the AV formula that tackles get more credit than the interior linemen. So to some extent, this has been considered when we have our AV grades. But to assume that the ratio is going to always work well across all teams and all eras would be to assume too much.

More importantly, AV ratings for all OL are obviously going to be heavy on the "approximate." There's just not a lot to go on there, even less than for defensive linemen and linebackers. I think AV ratings are better than any other individual OL metric commonly available, but that is probably a bigger indictment of the latter rather than a selling point of the former.

Finally -- and this isn't just a throwaway line -- continuity and cohesiveness are commonly considered to be key parts of a good offensive line. One day we might test that theory; for now, let's just recognize that putting five great lineman together on a team may be less effective than five good linemen who have played together for half a decade. Obviously, AV ignores this issue.

One note on reading the data below: I made the number next to each player be his age-adjusted AV, and not his peak AV (as I did in the former posts). While I think this might make it easier to understand the rankings, I'd be lying if I didn't say the reason I made the switch was I accidentally took the age-adjusted number and didn't notice until I was finished formatting.

In this post on all-time running backs, I mentioned how Marion Motley brought power football to Cleveland, later sustained by Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. Well the same sort of thing was going on the for the Browns at the same time, at left tackle. Lou Groza was the starting left tackle for the entire decade of the ’50s, making nine Pro Bowls and being named first team All-Pro four times. After Groza switched to placekicker exclusively, Dick Schafrath started for Cleveland at LT for every season in the ’60s, making six Pro Bowls and being named first team All-Pro four times. Doug Dieken would take over for Schafrath, and while he only made one Pro Bowl, he was the starting left tackle for thirteen straight seasons. From 1948 to 1984, Cleveland would have three men man the that position.

The '73 Raiders ranking first are a win for AV -- the '71-'73 Raiders are the only post-1950 team to have four HOF offensive linemen; only Buehler did not end up in Canton. A reserve on the '71 team, Ron Mix, gave that squad five Hall of Fame offensive linemen. The Chicago Bears in 1940 are the only pre-1950 team to have four starting HOF linemen on offense. The Browns from '53 to '59 had three HOF OL every year except 1957, and are well represented on the below list. As usual, duplicate teams (like the '71 and '72 Raiders when the '73 team is on the list) have been deleted.

tm-yr      avg    LT                        LG                         C                            RG                         RT
rai-1973   12.4   Art Shell (27): 16        Gene Upshaw (28): 15.3     Jim Otto (35): 10.3          George Buehler (26): 8.1   Bob Brown (32): 12.3
gnb-1961   12.2   Bob Skoronski (27): 7.7   Fuzzy Thurston (28): 11.7  Jim Ringo (30): 13.7         Jerry Kramer (25): 13      Forrest Gregg (28): 14.7
mia-1973   12.0   Wayne Moore (28): 10      Bob Kuechenberg (26): 10.7 Jim Langer (25): 13.6        Larry Little (28): 15      Norm Evans (31): 10.5
cle-1959   11.9   Lou Groza (35): 11.8      Jim Ray Smith (27): 15     Art Hunter (26): 9.7         Gene Hickerson (24): 10.8  Mike McCormack (29): 12.3
dal-1972   11.8   Ralph Neely (29): 14.2    John Niland (28): 13       Dave Manders (31): 8.1       Blaine Nye (26): 8.4       Rayfield Wright (27): 15.3
cle-1962   11.7   Dick Schafrath (25): 14.6 Jim Ray Smith (30): 13.7   John Morrow (29): 10         John Wooten (26): 9.1      Mike McCormack (32): 11.1
cle-1960   11.6   Dick Schafrath (23): 8.9  Jim Ray Smith (28): 15     John Morrow (27): 10.3       Gene Hickerson (25): 12.4  Mike McCormack (30): 11.5
dal-1973   11.6   Ralph Neely (30): 13.3    John Niland (29): 12.6     John Fitzgerald (25): 8.1    Blaine Nye (27): 8.7       Rayfield Wright (28): 15.3
rai-1970   11.5   Art Shell (24): 13        Gene Upshaw (25): 14.3     Jim Otto (32): 11.7          Jim Harvey (27): 6.3       Harry Schuh (28): 12
sfo-1990   11.3   Bubba Paris (30): 8.8     Guy McIntyre (29): 11.3    Jesse Sapolu (29): 9.7       Harris Barton (26): 14.9   Steve Wallace (26): 12
sfo-1991   11.3   Steve Wallace (27): 12.3  Guy McIntyre (30): 10.6    Jesse Sapolu (30): 9.1       Roy Foster (31): 9         Harris Barton (27): 15.3
mia-1972   11.2   Doug Crusan (26): 8.4     Bob Kuechenberg (25): 10.2 Jim Langer (24): 11.9        Larry Little (27): 15      Norm Evans (30): 10.6
cle-1958   11.1   Lou Groza (34): 11.7      Jim Ray Smith (26): 14.6   Art Hunter (25): 9.3         Chuck Noll (26): 7.1       Mike McCormack (28): 12.7
min-1972   11.1   Grady Alderman (34): 8.9  Ed White (25): 9           Mick Tingelhoff (32): 12     Milt Sunde (30): 7.3       Ron Yary (26): 18.1
mia-1977   11.0   Wayne Moore (32): 8.8     Bob Kuechenberg (30): 10   Jim Langer (29): 14.2        Larry Little (32): 13.2    Mike Current (32): 8.8
cle-1964   11.0   Dick Schafrath (27): 15.7 John Wooten (28): 9.3      John Morrow (31): 9.3        Gene Hickerson (29): 12.9  Monte Clark (27): 7.7
mia-1979   10.9   Bob Kuechenberg (32): 9.7 Ed Newman (28): 12.7       Jim Langer (31): 13.2        Larry Little (34): 11.4    Mike Current (34): 7.6
rai-1974   10.9   Art Shell (28): 16        Gene Upshaw (29): 14.9     Jim Otto (36): 8.4           George Buehler (27): 8.3   John Vella (24): 6.8
mia-1974   10.9   Tom Funchess (30): 4.2    Bob Kuechenberg (27): 11   Jim Langer (26): 14.2        Larry Little (29): 14.6    Norm Evans (32): 10.3
gnb-1959   10.9   Norm Masters (26): 5.8    Fuzzy Thurston (26): 11.3  Jim Ringo (28): 15           Jerry Kramer (23): 8       Forrest Gregg (26): 14.2
rai-1977   10.8   Art Shell (31): 14.4      Gene Upshaw (32): 13.5     Dave Dalby (27): 9           George Buehler (30): 7.6   Henry Lawrence (26): 9.7
rai-1975   10.8   Art Shell (29): 15.5      Gene Upshaw (30): 14       Dave Dalby (25): 8.4         George Buehler (28): 8.3   John Vella (25): 7.8
cle-1956   10.8   Lou Groza (32): 13.5      Abe Gibron (31): 11.1      Frank Gatski (34): 11.4      Harold Bradley (27): 5.7   Mike McCormack (26): 12.3
cle-1952   10.8   Lou Groza (28): 15.3      Abe Gibron (27): 12.3      Frank Gatski (30): 13.7      Lin Houston (31): 4.5      John Sandusky (27): 8
was-1989   10.6   Jim Lachey (26): 14.6     Russ Grimm (30): 11.2      Jeff Bostic (31): 7.2        Mark May (30): 7           Joe Jacoby (30): 13
sfo-1988   10.5   Steve Wallace (24): 10    Jesse Sapolu (27): 10      Randy Cross (34): 8.6        Guy McIntyre (27): 11.7    Harris Barton (24): 12.4
clt-1959   10.5   Jim Parker (25): 14.3     Art Spinney (32): 10.9     Buzz Nutter (28): 8.3        Alex Sandusky (27): 9.7    George Preas (26): 9.4
mia-1971   10.5   Doug Crusan (25): 8.1     Bob Kuechenberg (24): 8.9  Bob DeMarco (33): 9.6        Larry Little (26): 14.6    Norm Evans (29): 11.3
kan-2002   10.4   Willie Roaf (32): 13.2    Brian Waters (25): 10.9    Casey Wiegmann (29): 8.4     Will Shields (31): 11.7    John Tait (27): 8
cle-1953   10.4   Lou Groza (29): 14.9      Abe Gibron (28): 12.3      Frank Gatski (31): 13.5      Chuck Noll (21): 3.5       John Sandusky (28): 8
cle-1963   10.4   Dick Schafrath (26): 15.2 John Wooten (27): 9.3      John Morrow (30): 9.4        Gene Hickerson (28): 13.3  John Brown (24): 4.9
min-1975   10.4   Charles Goodrum (25): 6.5 Andy Maurer (27): 7        Mick Tingelhoff (35): 10.5   Ed White (28): 9.7         Ron Yary (29): 18.1
nwe-1978   10.3   Leon Gray (27): 14.7      John Hannah (27): 14.3     Bill Lenkaitis (32): 7.3     Sam Adams (30): 7          Shelby Jordan (26): 8.4
min-1970   10.3   Grady Alderman (32): 10.3 Jim Vellone (26): 5.8      Mick Tingelhoff (30): 12.4   Milt Sunde (28): 8         Ron Yary (24): 15.1
sfo-1951   10.3   Ray Collins (24): 9.5     Nick Feher (25): 4.7       Bill Johnson (25): 9.9       Bruno Banducci (31): 10.2  Leo Nomellini (27): 17.3
clt-2001   10.3   Tarik Glenn (25): 13      Steve McKinney (26): 7.1   Jeff Saturday (26): 14.9     Larry Moore (26): 7.1      Adam Meadows (27): 9.3
dal-1993   10.2   Mark Tuinei (33): 8.1     Nate Newton (32): 10.6     Mark Stepnoski (26): 10.7    Kevin Gogan (29): 9.7      Erik Williams (25): 12.1
sfo-1989   10.2   Bubba Paris (29): 9.4     Guy McIntyre (28): 11.7    Jesse Sapolu (28): 10        Bruce Collie (27): 5.7     Harris Barton (25): 14.3
sfo-1993   10.2   Steve Wallace (29): 12    Guy McIntyre (32): 10.3    Jesse Sapolu (32): 8.8       Ralph Tamm (27): 5         Harris Barton (29): 14.9
clt-2002   10.2   Tarik Glenn (26): 13.6    Rick DeMulling (25): 6.8   Jeff Saturday (27): 15.3     Ryan Diem (23): 5.9        Adam Meadows (28): 9.3
sdg-1973   10.2   Terry Owens (29): 7.4     Doug Wilkerson (26): 12    Carl Mauck (26): 6.8         Walt Sweeney (32): 10.9    Russ Washington (27): 13.7
dal-1970   10.2   Tony Liscio (30): 8.2     John Niland (26): 12.6     Dave Manders (29): 8.7       Blaine Nye (24): 7         Rayfield Wright (25): 14.3
was-1986   10.1   Joe Jacoby (27): 14.3     Russ Grimm (27): 12.3      Jeff Bostic (28): 8          R.C. Thielemann (31): 8.4  Mark May (27): 7.7
ram-1969   10.1   Charley Cowan (31): 10.8  Tom Mack (26): 11.6        Ken Iman (30): 7             Joe Scibelli (30): 7.3     Bob Brown (28): 14
clt-2004   10.1   Tarik Glenn (28): 14      Rick DeMulling (27): 7.3   Jeff Saturday (29): 14.9     Jake Scott (23): 4.8       Ryan Diem (25): 9.6
ram-2000   10.1   Orlando Pace (25): 17.1   Tom Nutten (29): 7.8       Andy McCollum (30): 7.6      Adam Timmerman (29): 9.4   Ryan Tucker (25): 8.7
mia-1982   10.1   Jon Giesler (26): 8.7     Bob Kuechenberg (35): 8.5  Dwight Stephenson (25): 14.9 Ed Newman (31): 11.4       Eric Laakso (26): 7.1
mia-1976   10.1   Wayne Moore (31): 9       Bob Kuechenberg (29): 10.7 Jim Langer (28): 14.7        Larry Little (31): 13.5    Darryl Carlton (23): 2.7
hou-1988   10.1   Bruce E. Davis (32): 8.2  Mike Munchak (28): 12.3    Jay Pennison (27): 7         Bruce Matthews (27): 14.7  Dean Steinkuhler (27): 8.3
clt-2005   10.0   Tarik Glenn (29): 13.6    Ryan Lilja (24): 5.4       Jeff Saturday (30): 14       Jake Scott (24): 6.8       Ryan Diem (26): 10
nwe-1977   10.0   Leon Gray (26): 14.2      John Hannah (26): 13.9     Bill Lenkaitis (31): 7.5     Sam Adams (29): 7.4        Tom Neville (34): 6.8

  • I'll run down a far from complete group of non-listed but relatively famous offensive lines. The Electric Company -- the Buffalo Bills offensive line led by Joe DeLamielleure and notorious for providing the Juice to its running back, peaked at a 9.1 average rating.
  • The '79 Rams, who almost upset the Steelers in the Super Bowl, had an average rating of 8.9 that season. Jackie Slater was just 25 and along with Doug France at LT, anchored a very good line.
  • The Cardinals assembled some strong lines in St. Louis. In the late '60s, Bob DeMarco, Ken Gray and Ernie McMillan made the right side of the line a dominant force. The group had an average rating in the high 9s from '65 to '67. A decade later, Tom Banks, Conrad Dobler and Dan Dierdorf replicated the success on the right side, and each player made the Pro Bowl from '75 to '77. The '77 Cards had a 9.4 rating.
  • The Super Bowl Champion Broncos had very strong lines, averaging a rating in the low 9s for most of the later '90s. Tom Nalen was in his prime for a unit that had no weakness; the lowest (age-adjusted) rating on the '98 Broncos was a 7.3 for Harry Swayne.
  • Neither the Mike Webster nor the Dermontti Dawson Steelers are on the above list; Dawson's best team was in '95, when the group had a 9.1 rating thanks mostly to Dawson; of the '70s Steelers, the '77 unit ranks at the top, with a 9.0 rating carried by a 25-year-old Webster.
  • It's easy to think of the '95 Cowboys as the weakest of Dallas' three Super Bowl teams in the '90s, but don't blame the lack of starpower. In addition to Switzer's squad being the only one with Deion Sanders, it was the only one with Larry Allen, too. The '99 Cowboys are the highest ranked team Allen was on, and at 9.6 they just missed the cut. Allen, Erik Williams, Mark Stepnoski and Flozell Adams all had big ratings; if Everett McIver (RG) was any better than 5.2, they would appear on this list.
  • Mark Schlereth was on those Broncos teams mentioned above, but he was also on the famous '91 Skins. That team had an average rating of 9.8, the third best iteration of the 'Hogs. Lachey and Jacoby were in their relative primes, but May was gone and Grimm was a reserve.
  • Anthony Munoz had a peak AV of 18.3, and he teamed with Max Montoya (peak of 10.3) for the entire '80s. The Bengals were best in '82, where RT Mike Wilson (9.7) was also at his best.
  • A final thought -- are there three names more synonymous with the NFL than Lombardi, Montana and Madden? All three are more than tangentially related to the men on the above lists.
    • Lombardi took over the Packers in 1959. He inherited and a 25-year-old Skoronski, a 28-year-old Ringo, a 23-year-old Kramer and a 26-year-old Gregg. 1959 was also the year Thurston (age 26) became a Packer, although I'm not sure whether it was Vince who brought him to Green Bay. Regardless, while he certainly inherited a team with a terrible record, he inherited arguably the best combination of offensive line talent and youth in NFL history. Of course, one can easily argue that it was Lombardi who made those players great -- and I wouldn't want to argue against that point. But it must have been nice to have a bunch of terrific 25 year old offensive linemen in the pre-free agency era to help you create a dynasty for the next decade.
    • Montana's teams had won two Super Bowls in the early '80s (with OL ratings of 9.1 and 9.2), but it was his work in the late '80s that made Montana into the superstar for which he is now remembered. In addition to having a pretty good WR, I didn't realize how impressive his linemen looked. There wasn't a single weakspot on those offensive lines, and I wonder if they have received enough credit for San Francisco's offensive success. Of course, AV could be inflating their OL rankings, if they made Pro Bowls and All Pro teams because they looked good playing next to Montana and Rice.
    • Madden holds the record for the best winning percentage of any coach in history, minimum 100 games coached. He only coached for 10 seasons, but like Lombardi, he had some nice luck in the trenches. When he was promoted to head coach, Shell was just 23 years of age, Upshaw was 24, and he still had six more years of Otto's career. Not too shabby a situation to inherit for ten seasons.

Posted in Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever | 6 Comments »

Steve Smith

23rd June 2009

Everyone knows Steve Smith is the man, but I'm not sure if people know exactly how awesome he really is. His best season was in 2005, and it was one of the greatest seasons any WR has ever had. Not only did he lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, he capped off that monster season with 335 receiving yards, 38 rushing yards and five total touchdowns (including a punt return) in three playoff games.

Since then, he's averaged 1196 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs each of the past three seasons. Good numbers, to be sure, but numbers that would indicate that Smith has not been as dominant as he was back in '05. And that's the point of this post. Because upon further review, Smith hasn't declined at all.

His numbers are misleading because both Smith and Jake Delhomme have been in and out of the lineup, something that didn't happen in '05. In 2006, Smith missed two games with injury and Delhomme missed three himself. In 2007, Delhomme missed all but the first three games of the year. And last season, Smith was suspended for the first two games of the season.

But in the 28 games that Delhomme and Smith have played in since 2005, Smith has averaged 98 receiving yards per game, the same number he averaged in that magical '05 season. Despite the great performances by Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Anquan Boldin last year, it was Smith who led the league in receiving yards per game, and only Andre Johnson was within 10 yards of Smith's 101.5 per game average. (Even with the two missed games, because of his huge numbers on a run-first team, I ranked him as the best wide receiver last year.) A look at Smith's raw numbers from '06 to '08 would make you think his '05 performance was a fluke; but once you factor out the games where either Smith or Delhomme weren't in the lineup, you see how Smith has been absolutely dominant for a four year stretch.

How dominant, you ask? Only three duos have ever averaged more receiving yards per game over a four year stretch than Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme. Five of the six players in those pairs are in Canton or will be there five years after they hang up their cleats.

The table below shows the top 50 WR-QB pairs over every four year stretch from 1960-1963 to 2005-2008. (Note: I'm working with partial data for '08, so it's conceivable that I missed a '05-'08 stretch.) Only WRs and QBs who played at least one game together in four consecutive years and at least 20 games total were considered. The list is sorted by the receiver's yards per game average with the particular QB, but also listed is the WR's yards per game average when that QB was out of the lineup, along with the number of games in which that situation occurred.

WR			QB		 years	        #gm    w/YPG 	w/oYPG  #g
Lance Alworth		John Hadl	 1964-1967	46     103.7	114.8	 4
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1967-1970	38     102.3 	 44.0	 7
Lance Alworth		John Hadl	 1965-1968	51     101.1	149.0	 1
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 1999-2002	64	98.8	n/a	 0
Steve Smith		Jake Delhomme	 2005-2008	44	97.9	 56.3	15
Charley Hennigan	George Blanda	 1961-1964	47	96.3	139.0	 5
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1993-1996	55	95.1	 96.9	 9
Steve Smith		Jake Delhomme	 2004-2007	31	95.1	 56.3	15
Jerry Rice		Joe Montana	 1987-1990	50	94.7	 63.5	10
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 2000-2003	63	94.1	n/a	 0
Torry Holt		Kurt Warner	 2000-2003	34	93.9	 93.4	30
Jerry Rice		Joe Montana	 1986-1989	43	93.6	 83.1	17
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1965-1968	49	93.5	 41.4	 5
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1992-1995	59	93.2	110.0	 5
Torry Holt		Marc Bulger	 2002-2005	44	92.9	 89.7	18
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1994-1997	41	92.9	 96.9	 9
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1968-1971	28	92.6	 35.9	16
Herman Moore		Scott Mitchell	 1995-1998	48	90.8	 60.1	15
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1993-1996	54	90.4	 51.2	 5
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1966-1969	50	90.2	n/a	 0
Terrell Owens		Jeff Garcia	 2000-2003	56	90.1	 73.7	 3
Lance Alworth		John Hadl	 1966-1969	47	90.0	 95.2	 5
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 1998-2001	60	89.6	n/a	 0
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 2001-2004	63	89.4	n/a	 0
Herman Moore		Scott Mitchell	 1994-1997	55	89.2	 60.4	 9
Torry Holt		Marc Bulger	 2003-2006	53	88.9	 97.3	 9
Larry Fitzgerald	Kurt Warner	 2005-2008	41	88.7	 82.0	19
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1992-1995	60	88.7	 62.3	 4
Randy Moss		Daunte Culpepper 2000-2003	57	88.4	 86.9	 7
Chad Johnson		Carson Palmer	 2004-2007	61	88.4	 41.0	 3
Stanley Morgan		Tony Eason	 1986-1989	21	87.8	 48.4	27
Jimmy Smith		Mark Brunell	 1998-2001	57	87.5	 83.6	 5
Carlos Carson		Bill Kenney	 1984-1987	27	87.4	 50.0	22
Terrell Owens		Jeff Garcia	 1999-2002	52	87.2	 63.5	 6
Henry Ellard		Jim Everett	 1987-1990	56	86.9	 24.0	 1
Steve Smith		Jake Delhomme	 2003-2006	43	86.8	 41.8	 4
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1991-1994	58	86.1	 69.2	 6
Charley Hennigan	George Blanda	 1960-1963	42	85.8	132.7	 6
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1994-1997	56	85.7	 62.7	 3
Anquan Boldin		Kurt Warner 	 2005-2008	34	85.4	 79.6	20
Jimmy Smith		Mark Brunell	 1997-2000	56	85.4	 95.5	 6
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1995-1998	52	84.9	 64.2	 6
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 2002-2005	62	84.7	n/a	 0
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1995-1998	40	84.5	 95.9	10
Jimmy Smith		Mark Brunell	 1999-2002	59	84.4	 89.3	 3
Mark Duper		Dan Marino	 1983-1986	48	84.4	 55.8	 4
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1991-1994	56	84.3	 96.0	 8
James Lofton		Lynn Dickey	 1982-1985	49	84.3	 54.1	 7
Henry Ellard		Jim Everett	 1988-1991	61	84.3	n/a	 0
James Lofton		Lynn Dickey	 1981-1984	52	84.2	 68.3	 4
Chad Johnson		Carson Palmer	 2005-2008	52	84.1	 45.4	 9

We can also look at the top QB-WR combo for each four year period, under the same rules. No AFL modifier was used, and the AFL and NFL teams were combined for the purpose of this study. Players in the HOF have an asterisk next to their names.

4yr period      #gp     YPG     WR              	QB
2005-2008	44	97.9	Steve Smith 		Jake Delhomme
2004-2007	31	95.1	Steve Smith 		Jake Delhomme
2003-2006	53	88.9	Torry Holt 		Marc Bulger
2002-2005	44	92.9	Torry Holt 		Marc Bulger
2001-2004	63	89.4	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
2000-2003	63	94.1	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
1999-2002	64	98.8	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
1998-2001	60	89.6	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
1997-2000	56	85.4	Jimmy Smith 		Mark Brunell
1996-1999	56	83.5	Antonio Freeman 	Brett Favre
1995-1998	48	90.8	Herman Moore 		Scott Mitchell
1994-1997	41	92.9	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1993-1996	55	95.1	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1992-1995	59	93.2	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1991-1994	58	86.1	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1990-1993	43	82.3	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1989-1992	35	80.9	Sterling Sharpe 	Don Majkowski
1988-1991	61	84.3	Henry Ellard 		Jim Everett
1987-1990	50	94.7	Jerry Rice 		Joe Montana*
1986-1989	43	93.6	Jerry Rice 		Joe Montana*
1985-1988	27	81.3	Stanley Morgan 		Tony Eason
1984-1987	27	87.4	Carlos Carson 		Bill Kenney
1983-1986	48	84.4	Mark Duper 		Dan Marino*
1982-1985	49	84.3	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1981-1984	52	84.2	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1980-1983	54	79.1	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1979-1982	41	77.2	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1978-1981	60	72.9	Steve Largent*		Jim Zorn
1977-1980	56	70.9	Steve Largent*		Jim Zorn
1976-1979	23	70.3	Roger Carr 		Bert Jones
1975-1978	30	65.9	Roger Carr 		Bert Jones
1974-1977	47	74.7	Cliff Branch 		Ken Stabler
1973-1976	45	71.8	Cliff Branch 		Ken Stabler
1972-1975	35	62.6	Cliff Branch 		Ken Stabler
1971-1974	36	61.8	Otis Taylor 		Len Dawson*
1970-1973	38	68.0	Gene A. Washington 	John Brodie
1969-1972	42	68.1	Gene A. Washington 	John Brodie
1968-1971	28	92.6	Don Maynard*		Joe Namath*
1967-1970	38     102.3	Don Maynard*		Joe Namath*
1966-1969	50      90.2	Don Maynard*		Joe Namath*
1965-1968	51     101.1	Lance Alworth*		John Hadl
1964-1967	46     103.7	Lance Alworth*		John Hadl
1963-1966	36	80.7	Art Powell 		Tom Flores
1962-1965	46	81.9	Charley Hennigan 	George Blanda*
1961-1964	47	96.3	Charley Hennigan 	George Blanda*
1960-1963	42	85.8	Charley Hennigan 	George Blanda*

I'll leave the comments on that list up to you guys. One last note: if you want to change the cut-off from 20 games to 30 games, you'd get the following leaders: Gary Garrison-John Hadl in '68-'71 (45 games, 75.9 yards per game), Steve Largent-Jim Zorn in '76-'79 (54, 66.9), Mark Duper-Dan Marino in '84-'87 (49, 78.9) and Jerry Rice-Joe Montana in '85-'88 (44, 81.1).

And finally, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have only started 16 games together, as either Schaub or Johnson has been out of the lineup in half of the Texans' games since the trade with the Falcons. In those 16 games, Johnson has 1667 yards.

Posted in Player articles | 20 Comments »

18 Game Schedule Proposal: Flex Conference Games

19th June 2009

I’m going to jump the gun a little here. I don’t have a strong opinion on whether the NFL should remain with a 16-game schedule or expand the regular season to 18 games. I don’t know what the right answer is here. There is a limit to how many games of football can be played in a year, I just don’t know if we are at that limit.

The one thing I do have an opinion on is that the league needs to do something to improve the competitive incentive for the final week of the season, so that it is not like a fourth pre-season game for a lot of teams. A year and a half ago, I wrote about a proposal to eliminate automatic home games for division winners now that we have four divisions of only four teams each in both conferences. A similar proposal was raised by the competition committee but failed to pass.

Despite my complaints about the uptick in competitive games in week 17 because wildcard teams have no chance at a home game, and division winners get locked in earlier with fewer teams in a division, the current scheduling format has several things going for it. First and foremost, it is simple and consistent. Compared to the scheduling formats used in the 1970’s and 1980’s, it is far fairer within divisions and less complex. Teams also get to play non-divisional opponents on a set rotating schedule, and these matchups are guaranteed—unlike the past where things like Miami going 15 years without playing a game in Denver were possible.

The rotating conference schedules are both good and bad, though. Good for simplicity and insuring that conference members will play each other regularly. Bad because it basically creates two separate groupings within a conference, where there are very few common games across groups. Yet, when tiebreakers like conference record come into play, completely different conference schedules, without head to head matchups, may be determining playoff spots and seeding.

If the league is going to add games, I have an alternate proposal to keep the current uniform 16-game schedule format, while creating exciting and competitive matchups in the final weeks with the additional two games.

Play flex games in the final two weeks of the regular season, setting the matchups based on how the season has progressed. The recent television deal with NBC on Sunday Night Football has already introduced the concept of a flexible schedule in terms of setting the night matchup closer to the time of the game. This idea simply builds on that. My idea would simply pair up those teams that have something to play for within a conference, and set up matchups that would decide playoff positioning on the field. For teams that had nothing to play for, the matchups could still be set up in such a way that geographic rivals can play at season’s end.

Here’s how my idea would work:

1) After 16 games have been played, the final two matchups are set based on record and playoff eligibility to that point.

2) The home team dates will be known ahead of time, by setting which divisions will have home games for game 17 versus game 18, so tickets for the games can be sold with just the identity of the opponent to be determined. For example, in 2009, the AFC West and North play each other. The AFC West/North would be at home for week 18 and on the road in week 19. The reverse would be true in the NFC, so that there would still be a roughly equal geographic distribution of home games both weekends.

3) All teams that have not clinched a specific playoff seed (even if they have clinched a playoff spot) and all remaining teams that are mathematically alive for a playoff spot are put into the Playoff Pool of teams.

4) All teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention, or have clinched a specific playoff seed are put into the Non-Playoff Pool of teams.

5) If the number of playoff pool teams within a conference is imbalanced across the two halves of a conference (In 2009, West+North versus East+South), then the necessary number of teams will move up from the Non-Playoff Pool to give an even number of matchups for Playoff Pool teams. The Non-Playoff Pool Team with the best record, from the half of the conference with fewer teams, will move to the Playoff Pool, if necessary, to balance out the matchups.

6) For Playoff Pool games, all games will be played between conference opponents. AFC Playoff eligible teams will only play AFC, and NFC teams will only play other NFC teams.

7) For Non-Playoff Pool teams, games can be played against both conference and non-conference opponents.

8) Teams will not play a non-divisional opponent they already played in the regular season in the flex games.

9) The matchups within the Playoff Pool will be set based on a priority order (subject to Rule #8). I would love to let teams select their home opponent, but I doubt this would ever happen in real life. Teams that were tied for a playoff position would meet, with the team holding the current tiebreaker getting home field for the matchup. The priority rules for setting matchups would have to be spelled out in detail, but for now, let’s say generally that first priority would go to teams that had not clinched a playoff spot, but were in playoff position after 16 games, followed by teams that had clinched playoff berth but not positioning, followed by teams out of playoff position but still in contention.

If we applied that to last year, here is one version of the matchups that could have resulted. The Ravens and Patriots ended up tied on record with the Patriots missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker. In this system, those teams meeting is a high priority, and New England at least gets to play their way in on the field in a play-in game in Week 19. In the NFC, several teams were still in playoff competition for that final spot, and the Eagles get to play two of the teams right behind them, while several other matchups also feature teams directly fighting for playoff spots.

Week 18
Baltimore at San Diego
Tennessee at New England
Pittsburgh at Denver
Indianapolis at Miami
San Fransisco at Atlanta
Washington at Minnesota
Dallas at Carolina
NY Giants at Tampa Bay
Arizona at Chicago
Philadelphia at New Orleans
Houston at NY Jets
Cincinnati at Buffalo
Saint Louis at Green Bay
Seattle at Oakland
Jacksonville at Kansas City
Cleveland at Detroit

Week 19
New England at Baltimore
San Diego at Tennessee
Denver at Indianapolis
Miami at Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia
New Orleans at Arizona
Chicago at New York Giants
Minnesota at Dallas
Carolina at San Fransisco
Atlanta at Washington
Buffalo at Houston
NY Jets at Jacksonville
Green Bay at Cincinnati
Detroit at Seattle
Oakland at Cleveland
Kansas City at Saint Louis

Posted in General, Insane ideas, Rule Change Proposals | 23 Comments »

Marc Bulger

18th June 2009

Over the dog days of summer, I’m trying to revive a concept that Doug used back before the 2002 season, when he wrote 75 mini-articles about individual quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers—basically writing something related to a player that came to mind. There is no way that I (or collectively “we” if Chase and Doug join in) get anywhere close to that number, but hopefully there will be at least a handful of interesting player comments sprinkled in among other posts.

Here’s how Doug described his concept, borrowed from Bill James, back in 2002:

“So for every player, I wrote about whatever popped into my head when I thought about that player. A lot of times, as with Bill James' comments, I think about something that morphs into something else that is only vaguely related to the player himself. . . . Some of these comments were written two months ago and some of them were written yesterday, and I'd like them to be timeless. I want them to be as interesting and as relevant in one or two or five years as they are now. . . . What you will find in these comments are my opinions, some interesting trivia, and hopefully more than anything else, some historical perspective. . . . You'll also get your fair share of completely stat-free ramblings and opinions. As with all opinions, take them for what they're worth.”

That is sort of the framework I am shooting for. As this is not a fantasy site, the player articles are going to have less of a specific fantasy focus compared to Doug’s original series, though if you want to find fantasy relevance, by all means, feel free. The Ben Roethlisberger post last month was actually my first stab at the concept, but I promise that going forward, I will not focus entirely on quarterbacks or other fantasy football positions—I plan on writing some things on offensive linemen and defensive players as well. The goal is to also be relatively short and sweet.

Now, let’s actually get to Marc Bulger.

Marc Bulger put up pretty good numbers through age 29. Over the last two years, though, he has not only had injury issues (something that isn’t entirely new), he has also struggled when he did play (something that is new). According to Chase’s 2009 Rearview QB article, that poor performance came against an easy schedule, and Bulger was statistically at the bottom of the list for quarterbacks in 2008. I thought I’d take a historical look to see how many quarterbacks have had roughly similar declines at ages 30 and 31, and then look at what happened after that.

I searched all quarterbacks going back to 1960 who, between ages 26 and 29, threw at least 1200 passes and averaged at least 7.0 yards per pass attempt. Bulger is squarely above both of these endpoints, and I’m basically trying to find guys that were good (or better than good) for multiple seasons as they approach age 30. 34 names appear on that list. Two of them don’t really fit, as they were already backups by age 30 but met the minimum requirements—Bubby Brister and Brian Griese. Most of the quarterbacks on this list, though, kept playing, and playing pretty well, as they entered their early 30’s.

Three quarterbacks on the list (like Bulger) started and had two consecutive years of sub-7.0 yards per attempt at age 30 and 31. Another one missed an entire season at age 30 and then posted a poor yards per attempt the next season. We’ll set them aside and get to them further down. Four other guys had one pretty bad season at either age 30 or 31 and can be considered at least reasonable comparables for Bulger, though he has had two bad seasons in a row. Let’s take a look at them first, in alphabetical order:

Boomer Esiason became a full-time starter at age 24, and for the next 6 seasons, averaged over 8.0 yards per pass attempt, and never threw for less than 3,000 yards. The lowest yards per attempt he posted during that span was 7.54. At age 30, he declined a bit to a still respectable 7.0 YPA, and then at age 31, his numbers fell off a cliff—in 12 games, he threw for only 1407 yards. That was his final season in Cincinnati, as he signed with the Jets. He would make the pro bowl that first season in New York, then start parts of four more seasons with Jets, Cardinals, and Bengals.

Jim Everett is the answer to a trivia question involving Philip Rivers in 2008, so let’s see who can guess the question. Anyway, Everett put up pretty decent numbers from ages 26-29, even as the Rams stopped winning. At age 31, not only did the Rams continue to lose, but his yards per attempt dropped to 6.0 in only 9 starts. The next year, he signed with the Saints and put up back to back 3500 passing yard seasons, and two more top 10 fantasy QB seasons.

Bill Kenney put up decent numbers in his late 20’s, even though he was only the clear-cut starter for a short period, have split time with Todd Blackledge during the prime of his career. He continued to play well at age 30, but then dropped off to 8 starts and a sub-7.0 yards per attempt in 1986 at age 31. He had a bounce back year of sorts in the strike shortened 1987 season, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt in 8 starts. He played one more season after that, starting 5 games in 1988.

Steve McNair actually shared an MVP at age 30, before falling apart due to injury at age 31 in 2004. He rebounded slightly in 2005 and played in 14 games, then the Titans drafted Vince Young, and McNair was famously locked out of the training facility before he was traded to the Ravens. He managed one more solid season at age 33, leading the Ravens to a 13-3 regular season record in 2006.

Now, to the guys who had two consecutive sub-par seasons at ages 30 and 31. The first guy, honestly, doesn’t belong on this list and isn’t a real good comp for Bulger, but I’ll mention him since he showed up.

After three MVP awards and six straight playoff appearances, Brett Favre’s performance dipped a little at ages 30 and 31, posting sub-7.0 yards per attempt in consecutive years as the Packers missed the playoffs in 1999 and 2000 (He still finished as the 10th ranked QB in 2000). Of course, he rebounded to have some pretty good seasons at ages 32-35, and to retire five times.

As for the other three guys, the guys you could say are probably the most similar to Bulger, well, they run the range of outcomes after age 31.

Bobby Hebert missed all of 1990 at age 30. The next year, he managed only 1676 passing yards in 9 starts. He bounced back at age 32 to average 7.8 YPA in his final season in New Orleans. He then signed with Atlanta and made his only pro bowl at age 33 playing in Glanville’s run-n-shoot, and then played in parts of three more seasons for Atlanta.

Mark Rypien was on top of the world after winning the Super Bowl in 1991 at age 29. His incredible year in 1991 was followed by a decline at age 30, and then an absolute collapse in 1993, when he averaged 4.7 yards per attempt and posted a 56.3 passer rating. He never started full-time again.

Which brings us to the last guy that has a lot of things seemingly in common with Bulger (or at least the Rams should hope it turns out that way). This quarterback also played for an innovative offensive coordinator, and after that coordinator left, saw his play take a downward turn. He also went through a rebuilding effort as the team around him went from playoff contender to bottom of the league. Bulger was temporarily benched in favor of Trent Green by head coach Scott Linehan right before he was fired. This other quarterback, on the other hand, saw his team spend a high first round pick on a quarterback right before he turned 30, and wasn’t even the opening day starter at age 31, though he did end up being the team’s leading passer. Of course, I’m talking about Ken Anderson. At age 31, Anderson’s career was on a downhill slide. Prior to the 1980 season, though, the Bengals used a high first round pick on a left tackle, Anthony Munoz, and the next season, Cris Collinsworth was drafted to replace Isaac Curtis. Anderson’s career took another sudden turn, and in 1981 he was one of the best quarterbacks in the league and led the Bengals to the Super Bowl, and he posted another stellar season in 1982 at age 33.

You may notice that most of these guys with some proven performance track record bounced back to some extent after their declines at ages 30-31. Most of them, though, did so with other teams. Only Hebert and Anderson had their bounce back year at age 32 with the same team for whom they had played previously. I’ll close with a list of all the guys mentioned above (except Favre), listing their QB fantasy point ranking in Year D (for Decline), which is age 31 for everyone on the list except for Everett, who was 30. Following that is the QB fantasy point rank in Year D+1.

		Yr D	Yr D+1
Rypien		35	40
McNair		32	15
Anderson	30	2
Everett		30	7
Esiason		28	6
Hebert		28	9
Bulger		27	????
Kenney		22	16

My impression of Bulger has been that he is a solid quarterback, but not necessarily the kind that will elevate those around him and carry a team that is lacking. When he had a great supporting cast at the skill positions and a healthy Orlando Pace, he was among the league leaders. When Pace missed most of the last two seasons, the receiving corp declined, and Linehan was coaching, he struggled mightily. I don’t think Bulger is as bad as he showed last season, and I think he is a bounce back candidate—I’m just not sure if it is more likely this year in Saint Louis or next year on a different team. After looking this list over, I think he is more of a value play this year, with a new left tackle (who is not replacing Pace, but rather Pace’s backups), a new head coach, and a second year receiver who showed promise as a rookie to step in for the perceived loss of Torry Holt.

Posted in Player articles | 33 Comments »

The Greatest Field Goal Kickers Ever, Part III

17th June 2009

On Monday, I explained the methodology behind the grade for every kicker-season from 1960-2007. Yesterday, I looked at the best and worst single seasons over that time period. Today, we'll look at the best kickers by career.

The table below shows each kicker's career grade, using the familiar weight of 100% of the player's best season, 95% of his second best, 90% of his third best, etc. This is useful because when we think of Jan Stenerud, we're not thinking of his awful 1985 season -- we're thinking of him at his best. If you have a bunch of good seasons and several more average ones, a bad season as a very young or old player won't kill your career rating, and I think that is appropriate. Here's the list of the top 75 kickers from '60 to '07.

rk	kicker	               VAL    	rkyr
 1	Jan Stenerud	       136.2	1967
 2	Nick Lowery	       124.6	1978
 3	Morten Andersen	       109.6	1982
 4	Gary Anderson	       100.4	1982
 5	Eddie Murray		83.7	1980
 6	Garo Yepremian		82.7	1966
 7	Mark Moseley		76.0	1970
 8	Fred Cox		73.6	1963
 9	Jim Turner		73.1	1964
10	Jason Hanson		68.5	1992
11	Mike Vanderjagt		65.8	1998
12	Norm Johnson		65.1	1982
13	Matt Stover		63.7	1991
14	John Carney		63.1	1988
15	Jim Bakken		61.9	1962
16	George Blanda		58.5	1949
17	Don Cockroft		54.9	1968
18	Jason Elam		54.3	1993
19	John Kasay		54.2	1991
20	Al Del Greco		49.9	1984
21	Jeff Wilkins		47.0	1994
22	Pete Stoyanovich	43.2	1989
23	Horst Muhlmann		41.3	1969
24	Bruce Gossett		39.7	1964
25	Sam Baker		38.1	1953
26	Pat Leahy		37.2	1974
27	Errol Mann		36.0	1968
28	Tom Dempsey		35.2	1969
29	Mike Mercer		35.1	1961
30	Rafael Septien		35.0	1977
31	Ryan Longwell		34.5	1997
32	Doug Brien		33.8	1994
33	Efren Herrera		33.1	1974
34	Toni Fritsch		32.9	1971
35	Gene Mingo		32.4	1960
36	Gino Cappelletti	31.7	1960
37	Ray Wersching		31.4	1973
38	Raul Allegre		30.5	1983
39	Paul McFadden		29.2	1984
40	Don Chandler		28.8	1956
41	Rolf Benirschke		27.6	1977
42	Mick Luckhurst		27.5	1981
43	Shayne Graham		26.2	2001
44	Donald Igwebuike	25.5	1985
45	Joe Nedney		24.9	1996
46	Chester Marcol		24.9	1972
47	John Smith		24.0	1974
48	Adam Vinatieri		22.0	1996
49	Tony Zendejas		21.3	1985
50	John Leypoldt		20.2	1971
51	Todd Peterson		19.9	1994
52	Mike Hollis		19.3	1995
53	David Akers		18.7	1998
54	Dean Biasucci		18.6	1984
55	Chris Jacke		17.6	1989
56	Cary Blanchard		16.9	1992
57	Nate Kaeding		16.5	2004
58	George Blair		16.5	1961
59	Steve Christie		16.5	1990
60	Tony Franklin		15.5	1979
61	Matt Bahr		15.5	1979
62	Olindo Mare		13.8	1997
63	Rian Lindell		13.1	2000
64	Fuad Reveiz		12.9	1985
65	Pete Gogolak		12.8	1964
66	Rich Karlis		12.1	1982
67	Jeff Jaeger		11.4	1987
68	Jim Breech		11.0	1979
69	Josh Brown		10.9	2003
70	Mike Clark		10.2	1963
71	Bob Thomas		 9.7	1975
72	Sebastian Janikowski	 9.4	2000
73	George Fleming		 9.2	1961
74	Pat Summerall		 8.9	1952
75	Paul Edinger		 8.4	2000

When I ranked the RBs, I had a separate formula which awarded 10 points each year to the best RB, 9 points to the second best, and so on. We can do the same thing for kickers. Lowery had two seasons as the NFL's top kicker (+20), four seasons as runner up (+36), two more seasons in the top three (+16), along with a #5, #7, two #9 and a #10 finish. That totals 87, the most in this system. Stenerud had three seasons atop the charts (+30), two more seasons at #2 (+18) or #3 (+16), one season at #5, one at #8, and three where he rounded out the top ten. Here are the rankings in this scoring system:

kicker		       VALUE	rkyr	Rk Score
Nick Lowery	       124.6	1978	87
Morten Andersen	       109.6	1982	77
Jan Stenerud	       136.2	1967	76
Gary Anderson	       100.4	1982	70
Eddie Murray		83.7	1980	63
Mark Moseley		76.0	1970	56
Jason Hanson		68.5	1992	53
Norm Johnson		65.1	1982	53
Garo Yepremian		82.7	1966	52
Jim Turner		73.1	1964	52
Fred Cox		73.6	1963	51
Matt Stover		63.7	1991	51
George Blanda		58.5	1949	50
Don Cockroft		54.9	1968	49
Mike Vanderjagt		65.8	1998	47
Jason Elam		54.3	1993	46
Jim Bakken		61.9	1962	45
John Carney		63.1	1988	44
Gene Mingo		32.4	1960	42
Gino Cappelletti	31.7	1960	39
Bruce Gossett		39.7	1964	38
John Kasay		54.2	1991	37
Al Del Greco		49.9	1984	36
Errol Mann		36.0	1968	33
Pete Stoyanovich	43.2	1989	32
Don Chandler		28.8	1956	32
Jeff Wilkins		47.0	1994	30
Sam Baker		38.1	1953	29
Mike Mercer		35.1	1961	29
Pat Leahy		37.2	1974	27
Ryan Longwell		34.5	1997	26
Adam Vinatieri		22.0	1996	26
Tom Dempsey		35.2	1969	24
Doug Brien		33.8	1994	24
Toni Fritsch		32.9	1971	24
Tony Zendejas		21.3	1985	22
Efren Herrera		33.1	1974	21
John Smith		24.0	1974	21
Ray Wersching		31.4	1973	20
Rolf Benirschke		27.6	1977	20
David Akers		18.7	1998	20
Dean Biasucci		18.6	1984	20
Tony Franklin		15.5	1979	20
Horst Muhlmann		41.3	1969	19
Chester Marcol		24.9	1972	19
Chris Jacke		17.6	1989	19
Steve Christie		16.5	1990	19
Paul McFadden		29.2	1984	18
John Leypoldt		20.2	1971	18
Fuad Reveiz		12.9	1985	18
Paul Hornung	       - 4.4	1957	18
Rafael Septien		35.0	1977	17
Raul Allegre		30.5	1983	17
Todd Peterson		19.9	1994	17
Jeff Jaeger		11.4	1987	17
Joe Danelo	       - 8.2	1975	17
Joe Nedney		24.9	1996	16
George Blair		16.5	1961	16
Pete Gogolak		12.8	1964	16
Bob Thomas		 9.7	1975	16
Paul Edinger		 8.4	2000	16
Martin Gramatica	 3.4	1999	16
Roger Ruzek	       -10.2	1987	16
Rian Lindell		13.1	2000	15
Scott Norwood		 3.3	1985	15

Before I get to the trivia answers, I want to make three quick HOF notes.

  • Nick Lowery's HOF case is pretty strong. Comparing across positions is very difficult, but if you want to assume that Stenerud is a worthy HOFer, then I think Lowery should be considered one, as well. Stenerud may be slightly better, and he likely had a greater impact on the game (as Gary alluded to in the comments to Monday's post, Stenerud was one of the first soccer style kickers and he changed the way many viewed the kicker position). But still, Lowery was so accurate and successful for so long, that he should be a HOFer. And, of course, his numbers are not inflated by playing in a domed stadium or a particularly nice climate. Lowery kicked Stenerud out of KC in 1980 -- the plackicker's version of Young replacing Montana.
  • At least for now -- before we break field goal length down into even smaller increments and before we introduce some sort of weather variable to our formula -- I feel confident in stating that Morten Andersen was better than Gary Anderson. This seems to be the prevailing opinion, at least among those who can separate out which was which. What's more important, though, is that both are clearly ahead of everyone not named Stenerud or Lowery. Those four kickers are in a tier of their own. Is Andersen a HOFer? He's got the career records (points, field goals made, games) but I would still put Lowery in before Andersen.
  • Some will make a case for Vinatieri for the HOF one day. He certainly will look much better once I figure out how to include some sort of variable to boost up cold weather kickers. But outside of that, Vinatieri's HOF case is absurd. Even if he didn't have the two missed field goals in Super Bowl XXXVIII, his history of clutch performances is not nearly enough to boost an otherwise weak resume. Vinatieri will get some love from those who don't know how to grade kickers, from those who love the Patriots, and from those who enjoy sparking controversy, but he's not a legitimate candidate when there's just one pure placekicker in the HOF.

Finally, here are the trivia answers from Monday's post.

1) Who holds the record for most missed field goals in a season?

2) What is the record for most extra points missed in a season and what three kickers hold it?

3) What kicker has the lowest single season field goal percentage, minimum one field goal made?

4) Who was the first soccer style kicker, what team signed him and in what year?

5) What two kickers hold the record for longest field goal made?

6) What kicker holds the record for most consecutive extra points made?

7) What three kickers hold the record for most XP made in a game?

8) What two kickers hold the record for most field goals attempted in a season?

9) What kicker holds the record for most consecutive field goals made?

10) Who are the only five kickers to make 100% of their field goal attempts in a single season, minimum ten attempts? Hint: The fifth kicker joined the group in 2008.

11) Who attempted the most field goals in a single game?

12) Name the three kickers in the HOF? Hint: Only one of the players was a pure kicker.

13) Who is the only kicker to win an NFL MVP award?

14) Recycled trivia edition: What player/kicker combination have combined for the most touchdowns/point after touchdowns?

15) What kicker has the most points in a season?

16) What kicker has made and attempted the most extra points in a season?

17) What kicker has made the most field goals in a single season?

18) What three kickers have hit three 50-yard field goals in a single game?

19) Who holds the Johnny Unitas kicking record -- most consecutive games with a field goal made?

20) What kicker holds the record for most field goals made in a game?

21) How many kickers have been selected in the first round of the draft?

22) What kicker set the record with 18 consecutive years with one team?

23) What kicker spent one year with four different teams?

24) What two kickers hold the record for playing for the most teams?

25) What kicker holds the record for most Pro Bowls made?

26) What kicker holds the record for most first team All Pro honors?

27) Who has made the most field goals in NFL history?

28) Who has missed the most field goals in NFL history?

29) Who has scored the most points in NFL history?

30) Who has made the most extra points in NFL history?

31) What two kickers have made the most 50 yard field goals in a single season?

1. Paul Hornung, 1964, 26 missed field goals.
2. Eight, by Tom Dempsey (1976), Steve Little (1979) and David Trout (1981).
3. Bob Timberlake, with a 7% success rate after going 1-for-15 in 1965.
4. Pete Gogolak, Buffalo Bills, 1964.
5. Tom Dempsey, 1970 and Jason Elam, 1998 each hit 63-yard field goals.
6. Matt Stover, with 386 consecutive extra points made and counting; he set the record in an otherwise nondescript loss to the Giants this season. Floyd Turner caught the last touchdown pass that preceded a Stover failed PAT.
7. Pat Harder (1948), Bob Waterfield (1950) and Charlie Gogolak (1966) with nine.
8. Bruce Gossett (1966) and Curt Knight (1971) with forty-nine attempts.
9. Mike Vanderjagt, 42 field goals made, 2002-2004.
10. Tony Zendejas (1991, 17-17), Gary Anderson (1998, 35-35), Jeff Wilkins (2000, 17-17), Mike Vanderjagt (2003, 37-37) and Garrett Hartley (2008, 13-13); only Zendejas (Los Angeles Rams) did not play for a dome team.
11. Jim Bakken, 1967, with nine attempts and seven field goals made in a 28-14 win against the Steelers.
12. Lou Groza, George Blanda and Jan Stenerud.
13. Mark Moseley, 1982.
14. Jim Brown and Lou Groza is almost certainly the answer, but we don't have confirmation data on that; the modern record is shared by Moseley and John Riggins and Jerry Rice and Mike Cofer.
15. Gary Anderson, 164 points, 1998. Bonus answer: Paul Hornung, with 176 points scored in 1960, but 90 of those points came on touchdowns.
16. Stephen Gostkowski, 74 for 74, 2007.
17. Neil Rackers, 40 field goals made, 2005.
18. Morten Andersen (1995), Kris Brown (2004) and Neil Rackers (2005).
19. Matt Stover, 38 consecutive games, 1999-2001.
20. Rob Bironas, eight, 2007.
21. Three. Sebastian Janikowski (2000), Steve Little (1978) and Charlie Gogolak (1966). Tony Zendejas was also a first round pick in the 1984 Supplemental Draft.
22. Pat Leahy, 18 seasons, New York Jets.
23. Jose Cortez, 2005, Philadelphia, Dallas, Indianapolis and San Francisco.
24. Eddie Murray and Joe Nedney, seven.
25. Morten Andersen, seven.
26. Morten Andersen, three.
27. Morten Andersen, 565 field goals made.
28. George Blanda, 304 field goals missed.
29. Morten Andersen, 2,544 points scored.
30. George Blanda, 959 extra points made.
31. Morten Andersen, 1995 and Jason Hanson, 2008, with eight. Hanson was a perfect 8-8.

Posted in Best/Worst Ever | 26 Comments »

The Greatest Field Goal Kickers Ever, Part II

16th June 2009

Yesterday, I explained the methodology I would use to rank each placekicker in each season since 1960. We're going to examine every attempt from every distance (in ten-yard increments) in every year and compare each kicker to the league average. A missed 50-yard field goal in 1965 was very common; a missed 36-yard field goal today is very rare. My method adjusts all kicks for distance and era.

Further, we're not going to just consider the ability of the kicker but also his value to the team -- missing a 50-yard field goal is more costly to a team than missing a 20-yard field goal because of the cost in field position. We can do that with the help of Professor Romer. To be clear, this won't be perfect -- kickers in Denver and domed stadiums have an advantage, while kickers who play a bunch of games in particularly tough environments will be at a disadvantage. But this sure beats the heck out of every other method to rank kickers.

One last embarrassing note (in addition to me devoting three days to kicker research). I've excluded the 2008 season. That's because I performed this study originally in September, but it being kicker-related, never got around to writing it until the '08 season ended. If I was to wait until I incorporated the '08 data, there's a good chance I wouldn't finish until the '09 season ended. If you really need '08 kicker data, you'll sadly have to wait to the updated version of this post. Let's get to the analysis.

Jan Stenerud had arguably the two best seasons in kicker history. (And if you want to hear Kansas City Chiefs writer Jonathan Rand explain why he voted for Stenerud to make the HOF, go to the very end of this podcast.) Let's examine his 1969 season, which culminated in three field goals in a Super Bowl victory. Stenerud went 9/9 from inside of 20 yards; the NFL average from that distance was 90%, meaning the average kicker would have hit 8.1 field goals from inside of 20 yards. Therefore, Stenerud made 0.9 more FGs than average from that distance. Since every FG made under 20 yards in the "Early" era was worth 2.87 points, Stenerud gets +2.58 points of value for his work inside of 20 yards that season.

Stenerud was 4/6 from 20-29 yards, which was slightly below the league average. He hit 0.4 fewer field goals than we'd expect; field goals are also worth 2.87 at this distance and in this era, which gives him a score of -1.28 from this distance. From 30-39 yards, he made six of eight attempts when the average kicker would have converted 4.4/8; these field goals were worth 3.46 points in the Early era, so another +5.48 for the HOFer. He was even better from 40-49, where he connected on 6/9 attempts while the league average was just 29%; he made 3.4 more field goals than average from this distance, and these field goals were worth, on average, 4.09 points; +13.97 for Stenerud.

Finishing up, he was 2/3 from 50+; the average kicker would have made just 0.5 field goals out of three tries. These kicks are worth 4.49 points each, so +6.91 goes in his 50+ value column. He also made every extra point, giving him an extra 0.6 points up on the average kicker.

Add all those scores up and you get a rating of +28.3 for Stenerud. That's the highest rating for any kicker since 1960, although it's possible that Lou Groza (or another pre-1960 kicker) had a higher single-season rating. Finally, we make one more adjustment, to pro-rate for games played. I pro-rated each kicker's score as if he was playing a N game season, where N equals the average of 16 and the actual number of team games played. That gives him a score of 30.3, obviously the highest in the study. Stenerud '68 is the second highest score in the study. In 1968, he had a season better than any kicker has ever had in the last 50 or so years; then, somehow, he managed to top it in 1969.

Here are the top 50 seasons in kicker history. The raw column shows the kicker's score before pro-rating for the number of games on the schedule, but the group is listed by the "value" column which does pro-rate for the number of games.

kicker	                yr	team    raw	val
Jan Stenerud	        1969	KAN	28.3	30.3
Jan Stenerud	        1968	KAN	27.7	29.7
Neil Rackers	        2005	ARI	26.5	26.5
Garo Yepremian	        1970	MIA	24.5	26.3
Fred Steinfort	        1980	DEN	26.2	26.2
Jim Turner	        1969	NYJ	22.5	24.1
Gary Anderson	        1998	MIN	23.2	23.2
Morten Andersen	        1985	NOR	23.1	23.1
Raul Allegre	        1983	BAL	23.1	23.1
Gene Mingo	        1962	DEN	20.8	22.3
Mark Moseley	        1979	WAS	22.2	22.2
Jan Stenerud	        1970	KAN	20.4	21.9
Gino Cappelletti	1964	BOS	20.4	21.8
Toni Fritsch	        1979	HOU	21.4	21.4
Mike Vanderjagt	        2003	IND	21.3	21.3
Sam Baker	        1966	PHI	19.6	21.0
Nick Lowery	        1985	KAN	20.9	20.9
Jim Turner	        1968	NYJ	19.3	20.7
Chester Marcol	        1972	GNB	19.1	20.5
Pete Stoyanovich	1997	KAN	20.3	20.3
Tony Franklin	        1979	PHI	20.1	20.1
Cary Blanchard	        1996	IND	19.9	19.9
George Blair	        1962	SDG	18.5	19.8
Eddie Murray	        1989	DET	19.5	19.5
Horst Muhlmann	        1970	CIN	17.9	19.1
Fred Cox	        1969	MIN	17.8	19.1
Mac Percival	        1968	CHI	17.7	18.9
Fred Cox	        1965	MIN	17.3	18.6
Nick Lowery	        1980	KAN	18.1	18.1
Bruce Gossett	        1973	SFO	16.7	17.9
Jim Bakken	        1967	STL	16.7	17.9
Jeff Wilkins	        2003	STL	17.8	17.8
Dean Biasucci	        1987	IND	17.1	17.7
Norm Johnson	        1993	ATL	17.7	17.7
Mike Mercer	        1966	KAN	16.5	17.7
Garo Yepremian	        1971	MIA	16.3	17.5
Nick Lowery	        1988	KAN	17.4	17.4
Mark Moseley	        1977	WAS	16.1	17.2
Morten Andersen	        1986	NOR	16.9	16.9
Mark Moseley	        1982	WAS	12.1	16.8
Jan Stenerud	        1981	GNB	16.7	16.7
George Blanda	        1967	OAK	15.4	16.5
Dean Biasucci	        1988	IND	16.5	16.5
Bruce Gossett	        1964	RAM	15.3	16.4
Gino Cappelletti	1963	BOS	15.2	16.3
Jan Stenerud	        1967	KAN	15.1	16.2
Ali Haji-Sheikh	        1983	NYG	16.1	16.1
Al Del Greco	        1995	HOU	16.1	16.1
Nick Lowery	        1983	KAN	15.9	15.9
Nick Lowery	        1990	KAN	15.8	15.8

Stenerud leads the way with five top-50 seasons, tied with fellow Chief Nick Lowery. Mark Moseley proves he wasn't a one-hit-wonder as he has two other top-50 performances in addition to his MVP season in 1982. (On a per game basis or if you performed a straight pro-rating of his 9-game season, it would rank as the 17th best since 1960; obviously it is lower than that using the formula above, which pro-rates his performance to a 12.5 game season.) Garo Yepremian shows he was a better kicker than passer with two top-50 seasons on the list; Morten Andersen, Gino Cappelletti, Jim Turner, Fred Cox, Bruce Gossett and Dean Biasucci join him with a pair of stellar seasons. If you don't remember, I've already discussed Cappelletti's 1964 season on this blog. And believe it or not, the great Gary Anderson has just one top-50 season, his not-exactly-perfect 1998 performance. And, for what it's worth, only 14 of the above 50 seasons came from kickers whose teams were in Denver or played in domed stadiums.

What about the worst seasons by any kicker? You already knew which season was going to come out on bottom:

kicker	                yr	team    raw	val
Jim Gallery	        1987	STL	-13.3	-13.7
Gary Anderson	        1999	MIN	-13.7	-13.7
Eric Schubert	        1986	STL	-13.8	-13.8
John Hall		2000	NYJ	-13.8	-13.8
Neil Rackers		2001	CIN	-13.9	-13.9
Kris Brown		2001	PIT	-14.0	-14.0
Todd Peterson		2002	PIT	-14.2	-14.2
Curt Knight		1973	WAS	-13.5	-14.4
Tony Franklin		1980	PHI	-14.5	-14.5
Wade Richey		1998	SFO	-14.6	-14.6
Jerry DePoyster		1968	DET	-13.7	-14.7
Tim Mazzetti		1979	ATL	-14.8	-14.8
Wade Richey		2001	SDG	-14.8	-14.8
Steve McLaughlin	1995	STL	-14.9	-14.9
Richie Cunningham	1999	2TM	-15.2	-15.2
Dave Green		1975	CIN	-14.2	-15.2
Mike Mercer		1969	GNB	-14.3	-15.3
Jack Spikes		1963	KAN	-14.3	-15.3
Martin Gramatica	2004	2TM	-15.4	-15.4
Dick Guesman		1964	DEN	-14.5	-15.6
Mark Moseley		1970	PHI	-14.7	-15.7
Matt Bahr		1982	CLE	-11.4	-15.8
Booth Lusteg		1968	PIT	-14.8	-15.9
Gene Mingo		1970	PIT	-14.9	-16.0
Martin Gramatica	2003	TAM	-16.1	-16.1
Neil Rackers		2000	CIN	-16.2	-16.2
Chuck Nelson		1987	MIN	-15.9	-16.4
Tommy Brooker		1965	KAN	-15.4	-16.4
Mike Cofer		1991	SFO	-16.6	-16.6
Dale Livingston		1970	GNB	-15.5	-16.6
Happy Feller		1973	NOR	-15.9	-17.0
Jan Stenerud		1985	MIN	-17.3	-17.3
Don Chandler		1966	GNB	-16.5	-17.7
Joe Nedney		1996	MIA	-18.0	-18.0
Bob Timberlake		1965	NYG	-16.9	-18.1
Gino Cappelletti	1969	BOS	-17.1	-18.3
Larry Barnes		1960	OAK	-17.2	-18.4
Happy Feller		1971	PHI	-17.2	-18.4
Greg Davis		1992	PHO	-18.5	-18.5
Uwe von Schamann	1984	MIA	-18.9	-18.9
Chip Lohmiller		1993	WAS	-19.3	-19.3
Ray Wersching		1973	SDG	-18.7	-20.1
Seth Marler		2003	JAX	-20.2	-20.2
Ali Haji-Sheikh		1984	NYG	-20.8	-20.8
Bill Capece		1983	TAM	-20.9	-20.9
Scott Sisson		1993	NWE	-21.9	-21.9
Jim O'Brien		1972	BAL	-21.1	-22.6
Ken Vinyard		1970	ATL	-22.6	-24.2
Fred Steinfort		1983	2TM	-25.7	-25.7
Paul Hornung		1964	GNB	-29.9	-32.0

Did you happen to catch that Mr. HOF is on the list? Stenerud was 43 and in his 19th season in 1985 -- he should have hung up his cleats a year earlier. In '84, he was the second best kicker in the NFL (although he was in a dome), behind the Eagles' Paul McFadden.

Finally, here's a big table showing the league average success ratio in each season since 1960, from the distances we've discussed:

	XP	10-19	20-29	30-39	40-49	50+
2007	99%	100%	95%	90%	73%	47%
2006	99%	100%	96%	86%	73%	47%
2005	99%	100%	95%	85%	71%	52%
2004	99%	100%	96%	80%	71%	58%
2003	98%	100%	96%	82%	69%	48%
2002	99%	 92%	94%	83%	63%	52%
2001	98%	 90%	95%	85%	60%	52%
2000	99%	 95%	94%	80%	71%	55%
1999	99%	100%	94%	80%	66%	48%
1998	98%	 91%	95%	85%	70%	54%
1997	99%	100%	94%	85%	62%	53%
1996	99%	100%	95%	84%	64%	52%
1995	98%	 95%	92%	81%	64%	51%
1994	99%	100%	96%	84%	67%	36%
1993	97%	100%	92%	84%	61%	51%
1992	98%	100%	90%	75%	58%	51%
1991	98%	 97%	93%	78%	60%	44%
1990	97%	 97%	95%	79%	62%	35%
1989	98%	100%	94%	78%	54%	35%
1988	96%	 96%	90%	77%	56%	40%
1987	97%	100%	92%	73%	54%	40%
1986	97%	 93%	88%	79%	53%	35%
1985	96%	 95%	87%	79%	59%	37%
1984	97%	100%	93%	75%	60%	42%
1983	96%	 96%	90%	75%	57%	38%
1982	95%	 95%	85%	70%	62%	26%
1981	95%	 93%	85%	69%	52%	31%
1980	95%	 95%	89%	67%	48%	29%
1979	91%	 70%	88%	66%	45%	30%
1978	93%	 93%	85%	61%	50%	18%
1977	92%	 81%	79%	62%	44%	18%
1976	91%	 96%	78%	63%	44%	18%
1975	92%	 96%	83%	66%	49%	24%
1974	92%	 81%	81%	65%	44%	13%
1973	98%	 96%	77%	64%	39%	16%
1972	97%	 94%	75%	69%	38%	25%
1971	98%	 91%	73%	56%	38%	24%
1970	97%	 91%	70%	64%	41%	23%
1969	98%	 90%	74%	55%	29%	15%
1968	97%	 94%	77%	56%	28%	14%
1967	97%	 77%	64%	56%	35%	 9%
1966	97%	 89%	68%	56%	35%	14%
1965	98%	 77%	74%	52%	28%	11%
1964	96%	 78%	67%	53%	37%	19%
1963	96%	 71%	62%	54%	30%	23%
1962	95%	 78%	65%	56%	34%	15%
1961	96%	 61%	60%	40%	21%	30%
1960	95%	 64%	60%	42%	27%	29%

Tomorrow, please check in to see the career rankings and the answer to yesterday's trivia questions.

Posted in Best/Worst Ever | 15 Comments »

The Greatest Field Goal Kickers Ever, Part I

15th June 2009

Last summer, I wrote a five part series on the Greatest QBs of All Time; since then I've studied the Greatest WRs Ever and the Most Dominant RBs in history. I've taken quick looks at Great coaching records, and really talented Defensive Line units, Linebacker Corps, and front sevens. While my examination of real football players is not finished, for the next three days bear with me as I take a less popular, less interesting, and less noteworthy look at the kicker position. I don't hate kickers as much as Doug, but I don't anticipate this being the most exciting thing you'll ever read. That said, if we're going to rank all the kickers, we're going to do it correctly.

There have been many rules changes throughout the history of the NFL. Thanks to Mike Herman, a good friend and the leading (only?) expert on all things kicker related, let's examine some of the more notable changes that have impacted the kicking game. A complete list can be found here.

  • 1904: Field goal value was changed from five points to four
  • 1909: Field goal value was changed from four points to three
  • 1945: Hashmarks were moved nearer to the center of the field, from 15 yards to 20 yards away from the sidelines.
  • 1966: Goal posts offset from the goal line, painted bright yellow, and with uprights 20 feet above the cross-bar were made standard in the NFL.
  • 1967: "sling-shot" goal posts (with one curved support from the ground) were made standard in the NFL
  • 1972: Hashmarks were moved nearer to the center of the field, 23 yards, 1 foot, 9 inches from the sidelines; the hashmarks were now 18 feet, 6 inches apart (the same width as the goalposts), cutting down on severe angles for short field goal attempts
  • 1974: The goal posts were moved from the goal line to the end lines and the uprights were extended to 30 feet above the crossbar; for missed field goals from beyond the 20, the ball was now returned to the line of scrimmage
  • 1994: On all missed field goals when the spot of the kick was beyond the 20 yard line, the defensive team taking possession received possession at the spot of the kick; on any field goal attempted and missed when the spot of the kick was on or inside the 20, the defensive team took possession at the 20. The two-point conversion option was introduced this year as well.
  • 1999: K-ball implemented for all kicking plays in a game

Before going on, I should note that this post is really Part I-B, because Doug wrote Part I-A almost exactly one year ago. That's strongly recommended reading before reading the rest of this post.

Here at PFR, we've got complete data on all kickers since the merger, incomplete data on kickers from 1960-1970, and data on kickers from pre-1960 but without distance breakdowns. Keep that in mind whenever I use phrases like "greatest X of all time" or "worst Y ever." Roughly complete data is what we're dealing with here, but there always exists the possibility that something crazy happened in 1955. In particular, Lou Groza may be the best kicker of all time, but until we get some distance breakdowns on his field goal attempts, I'm unfortunately going to have to ignore him.

So how do we grade kickers? Obviously we're going to need to adjust for era and for field goal length when rating the kickers, but we'll also need to note some of those rule changes that impact the value of a field goal. From 1960-1973, a 30 yard field goal was attempted when the line of scrimmage was the 23-yard line. When Steve Myhra kicked the 20-yard-FG that sent the '58 championship game into overtime, the LOS was the 13-yard line. Since1974 \, the line of scrimmage has always been 17-18 yards shorter than the length of the field goal, as opposed to seven or eight yards. Why does this matter?

Because to measure the value of a successful field goal, we need to measure the value of an unsuccessful one; to do that, we need to know where the ball will be placed following a missed field goal. It's also important to keep in mind the rule change about missed field goals from beyond the 20-yard-line. The table below should help; it shows where the ball would be spotted following some sample missed field goals across three eras:

Year		25-yard FG   33-yard FG   50-yard FG
1960-1973	20           26           43
1974-1993       20           20           33
1994-curr       20           23           40

While the differences aren't significant, they're worth noting if we want to be accurate. What this means is we're going to need three separate formulas for ranking field goal kickers, depending on whether the season was between '60 and '73 ("early"), '74 and '93 ("middle") or since 1994 ("late").

The average starting field position following a kickoff is around the 27-yard-line. The NFL moved the kickoff back from the 35 to the 30 starting in 1994, so I'm going to simply declare the average kickoff return will take you to the 22-yard-line from 1960-1993 and to the 27-yard-line for any kickoffs since 1994. What's this all mean?

A 33-yard-FG has always been worth three points, but the value of the alternative field position has changed. In the Early period, a missed 33-yard FG cost you three points and four yards of field position. In the Middle Period, it cost you three points but you picked up two yards of field position. Now, a missed 33-yarder costs you three points but you gain four yards in field position. Fascinating stuff, indeed.

We've got data on field goal tries in ten yard increments (that might be changing, soon). As a result, I'm going to have to approximate how long each field goal attempt actually was. All missed field goals from 10-19 yards have always brought you back to the 20-yard-line. Attempts from 20-29 yards, 30-39 yards, 40-49 yards, and over 50 yards will be considered 26, 36, 46 and 54 yard attempts. Here's where missed field goals from each era would take you:

Year		10-19   26   36   46   54
1960-1973	20      20   29   39   47
1974-1993       20      20   20   29   37
1994-curr       20      20   26   36   44

Those numbers can then be compared to where the opposition would take over following a successful field goal (the 22 in the Early and Middle years, the 27 in the Late years), and we can use Romer point values to show the difference.

Year	        10+	26	 36	46	54
1960-1973	0.13	0.13	-0.46	-1.09	-1.49
1974-1993	0.13	0.13	 0.13	-0.46	-0.97
1994-curr	0.46	0.46	 0.07	-0.57	-1.02

To explain what that means, a missed 54 yard field goal in 2009 gives the opponent the ball at the 44, which would put them in a +1.73 position according to Romer. A successful 54-yarder gives the other team the ball at the 27, a +0.71 position; therefore the miss is worth -1.02 points of field position. Of course, a miss also costs you three points on the scoreboard -- the table below incorporates that:

Year	         10+	 26	 36	 46	 54
1960-1973	-2.87	-2.87	-3.46	-4.09	-4.49
1974-1993	-2.87	-2.87	-2.87	-3.46	-3.97
1994-curr	-2.54	-2.54	-2.93	-3.57	-4.02

One more example. A missed 46 yarder in 1968 occurred when the LOS was the 39, and that's where the other team would gain possession. Having the ball at the 39 is a +1.47 situation. A successful field goal would give the opponent possession at the 22, a +0.38 situation. So the average difference between a successful and unsuccessful 46 yard field goal in the Early period is 3 points on the board and 1.09 points of field position, or 4.09 points total.

Now all we need to do is figure out how likely it is that the average kicker would make any given field goal, and we can then compare every kicker to the league average. Bring your popcorn tomorrow -- we'll be examining the best and worst seasons in kicker history. On Wednesday, we'll look at the greatest and worst kickers of all time over the course of each placekicker's career.

Let's close today with some kicker trivia. Be prepared to wow your friends. The answers will be posted on Wednesday. Whoever answers the most number of questions correctly will gain an incredible amount of respect from Mike Herman.

1) Who holds the record for most missed field goals in a season?

2) What is the record for most extra points missed in a season and what three kickers hold it?

3) What kicker has the lowest single season field goal percentage, minimum one field goal made?

4) Who was the first soccer style kicker, what team signed him and in what year?

5) What two kickers hold the record for longest field goal made?

6) What kicker holds the record for most consecutive extra points made?

7) What three kickers hold the record for most XP made in a game?

8) What two kickers hold the record for most field goals attempted in a season?

9) What kicker holds the record for most consecutive field goals made?

10) Who are the only five kickers to make 100% of their field goal attempts in a single season, minimum ten attempts? Hint: The fifth kicker joined the group in 2008.

11) Who attempted the most field goals in a single game?

12) Name the three kickers in the HOF? Hint: Only one of the players was a pure kicker.

13) Who is the only kicker to win an NFL MVP award?

14) Recycled trivia edition: What player/kicker combination have combined for the most touchdowns/point after touchdowns?

15) What kicker has the most points in a season?

16) What kicker has made and attempted the most extra points in a season?

17) What kicker has made the most field goals in a single season?

18) What three kickers have hit three 50-yard field goals in a single game?

19) Who holds the Johnny Unitas kicking record -- most consecutive games with a field goal made?

20) What kicker holds the record for most field goals made in a game?

21) How many kickers have been selected in the first round of the draft?

22) What kicker set the record with 18 consecutive years with one team?

23) What kicker spent one year with four different teams?

24) What two kickers hold the record for playing for the most teams?

25) What kicker holds the record for most Pro Bowls made?

26) What kicker holds the record for most first team All Pro honors?

27) Who has made the most field goals in NFL history?

28) Who has missed the most field goals in NFL history?

29) Who has scored the most points in NFL history?

30) Who has made the most extra points in NFL history?

31) What two kickers have made the most 50 yard field goals in a single season?

Posted in Best/Worst Ever | 18 Comments »

Podcast #9

12th June 2009

Another trivia episode.

Doug and JKL both make complete fools of themselves early. JKL later redeems himself, while Doug goes on to make an even bigger fool of himself. Chase turns in a workmanlike effort. Play along, it's fun!

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

Posted in General, Podcast | 10 Comments »

Uniform Numbers!

10th June 2009

This is was by far the most requested item to add to the p-f-r pages. We now have uniform numbers for most (not quite all) players since 1950. Jeff Blake, Lorenzo Neal, Vinny Testaverde, and Steve Bono now have much more colorful player pages.

These data were made possible by the research efforts of a group named 24-7 Baseball and the programming of's Justin Kubatko. We football fans are very appreciative.

Another small bit of site news: AV is starting to make its way onto the site, most notably at the draft pages and the college pages. Pages like that are essentially AV's raison d'etre. You have a big list of players, possibly from different positions and/or different eras, and you want to quickly sort those players in order of quality. AV isn't perfect, but it's the best single value to sort on if you want to quickly bring the best players up to the top of the page.

Posted in P-F-R News | 15 Comments »

Great DL and Great LB, playing together

9th June 2009

In mid-May, I examined which teams were fortunate enough to have the best linebackers playing with one another during the best times of their careers. In early June, I did the same thing for defensive linemen. It's not difficult to combine those posts to come up with the top front sevens ever.

Of course, when I say top front sevens ever, you know what I really mean -- the front sevens with the best players (at the right stages of their career) playing together since 1950. I split the groups up into 3-4 defenses and 4-3 defenses, because I believe 3-4 defenses are underrated in the current analysis I'm using. Defensive linemen in the 3-4 do not get many accolades nor do they compile objective stats; it's often impossible without the use of videotape to distinguish a good 3-4 DL from a great one or a mediocre one. As a result, I think the Approximate Value system that we've been using has been hurting 3-4 defensive linemen, and therefore we should separate out the two types of defenses.

Not surprisingly, Mike Ditka's Bears comes out on top in this analysis. The '87 Bears ranked as the 3rd best linebacker corps in the earlier post, as they had Singletary, Marshall and Wilson all in the age 25-30 range. The Super Bowl Bears had the same three linebackers, but Marshall in particular was harmed by our scoring system -- he was just 23 years old that season.Not to be overshadowed, the '87 Bears defensive line came in as the #4 group; Hampton, McMichael, Dent and Perry were all in that same 25-30 years of age range. What's interesting about those '85 Bears is not only were they dominant, but they were young. Even with 31 year old Gary Fencik in the secondary, the average age of the starting 11 on that defense was just 26.2 years old. Fencik was the only defensive starter over the age of 28, which might help explain why they decided filming a dance video was a good idea.

The '70 Vikings aren't far behind, almost exclusively on the strength of their unbelievable front four. Linebackers Roy Winston, Lonnie Warwick and Wally Hilgenberg are not household names anywhere outside of Minnesota. Despite never making a Pro Bowl, the three players played in 441 total games for the Vikings. The players were in their primes in 1970, as were the beef up front; that's why that version of the Minnesota squad looked the best in this sort of analysis.

The rest of the top 4-3 fronts bring in the usual suspects from NFL history.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever | 21 Comments »

Running back injury rates by week

5th June 2009

The NFL is considering expanding the regular season to eighteen games, and one of the big points of discussion is what impact extending the regular season will have on injury risk to players. Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats and Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders have already weighed in with some interesting thoughts on the topic, and the NFL’s study regarding injury rates.

Since it now seems somewhat relevant, I thought it would be as good of a time as any to dust off some data I had lying around from last off-season that never got published, and add in the new individual games info we have going back further than 1995 (as well as add in last season’s numbers).

I know the discussion on injury effects will center on more than the running back position, but it is this position, where the players take as many hits as any other and have shorter careers, that we probably all think of when we consider who may be most impacted by additional games.

I pulled all running backs who (1) had 200 or more rushes in a season from 1988-2007, and (2) played in the first game of the following season. This hopefully excluded all retirees and guys who came into the year injured. (On second thought, I'm extremely positive it did exclude all retirees). I then recorded which game, if any, each of the qualifying backs first missed a game that next season. So when you are looking at the chart below, the "Game 2" line tells you that 365 backs met the criteria by playing in game 1 the season after they had at least 200 rushes, 9 of those backs did not play in game 2, with 1 of them missing all remaining games starting with game 2. As you can see, the "Total" number is decreasing as the weeks progress because I am subtracting out the players who missed games. This is trying to look at the rate at which players who had not missed any games to that point then miss the next game. I should point out that not every game missed is due to injury, but I'm comfortable enough that the vast majority are missed games caused by injury.

GAME		Total	Missed	Missed All	Missed/Total
2		365	9	1		0.025
3		356	21	3		0.059
4		335	19	2		0.057
5		316	14	3		0.044
6		302	23	3		0.076
7		279	10	3		0.036
8		269	11	2		0.041
9		258	14	3		0.054
10		244	5	1		0.020
11		239	10	3		0.042
12		229	13	5		0.057
13		216	11	3		0.051
14		205	8	4		0.039
15		197	7	5		0.036
16		190	14	14		0.074
play all	  176				

Judging by these numbers, there’s about a 4.7% chance that your established healthy running back who has not missed any games so far will then miss the next game, and a little less than 50% chance that a veteran back will play a full 16 games. I don’t see any particular trend that suggests that the injury rate is increasing in the final weeks of the season. You may be inclined to think it is, based on the percentage of guys who missed game 16. However, the group of backs who played 15 straight games then missed the final regular season game is over-populated with star backs on really good teams who had already clinched playoff spots. I don’t know individually how many would have still missed the final game if there was any incentive to play, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that the true numbers are a lot closer to the week 14 and 15 rates.

Will there be more injuries with two extra games? Sure there will, even if the rates don't increase. The powers that be on both sides of the negotiating table will have to decide what the appropriate level of risk is. Judging on these numbers, I don’t see that the rate of injury should be expected to increase dramatically in games 17 and 18. I will note, though, that this is looking only at the injury rate for guys who had not missed any games previously that same season. We could potentially have a situation where the running back injury rates are a little higher overall, even if the injury rates for previously healthy backs and injury rates for previously injured backs are steady, because there are more “previously injured” backs in game 16 than in game 4. (This assumes that players who have already missed games with injury and return within the same season are at an elevated risk of additional injury).

A bigger concern for me is not whether the additional games create more injuries in just those two weeks, but whether they increase the risk of serious injury going forward in the future. I’ve done research on injury rates in the past, including looking at end of season workloads and playoff games played.

That data was from 1995-2006 (I probably need to update that, but don’t have time right now). It looked at all players who averaged at least 15.0 carries a game over the final six regular season weeks and played in all games over that stretch. Pooling that data, the guys that didn’t play on playoff teams (n=104) suffered a season ending injury within the first 6 games of the following season 7.7% of the time. The playoff performers (n=86) had a season ending injury 7.0% of the time—roughly equal. The non-playoff guys missed at least one game within the first six weeks 19.2% of the time, versus 18.6% for the playoff guys. Average games played the following year was 13.5 for the non-playoff guys versus 13.3 for the playoff guys.

Now, if you look at the guys who played 3+ playoff games on top of the regular season, you might be concerned about increasing the game totals. I'll just note that of the 18 guys that averaged 15.0 or more carries and played in 3 or more post season games, the only 3 to suffer season ending injuries in the first month (and thus lower the games played dramatically for the group) were also the only 3 to average 25.0 or more carries a game over the final six weeks of the regular season. For backs with a more moderate starting running back workrate who were extended deep in the playoffs, the average games played the next year was 14.1.

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Great Defensive Linemen Playing Together

3rd June 2009

Last week, I wrote a post on Great Linebackers Playing Together; it's worth checking out before reading this, as I'm going to skip some of the introductory materials. Just as last post was not a look at the greatest linebacking groups ever, this post is not a look at the greatest defensive line units ever assembled. We might attempt to do that one day, but that's not the goal today. What I want to know is what teams have seen a bunch of great defensive linemen playing together while those players were in their primes?

Once again, I'm using Doug's Approximate Value system to rate the linemen, as opposed to things like sacks, tackles, Pro Bowl nominations or starts. Approximate value incorporates all of those factors, and a little more. It's far from perfect, but it's probably the best way to rank large groups of players from several different eras across every position.

I recorded the peak three years for every defensive lineman since '50, and assigned the average of those numbers as the core rating for each player. Then I gave him an age adjusted score for each season. Once again, the age adjusted score is the rating I’m giving each DL for each season of play, not his actual AV grade.

Last time, I adjusted for age by examing the top 100 or so linebackers in NFL history and their dropoff rates, as measured by AV, and then smoothed out the numbers. In an effort to get this post actually posted and not placed on my imaginary to-do list, I chose to simply use the same dropoff rate again and not derive one specifically for defensive linemen. Here is the rate:

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

To use an example, Reggie White has a peak AV — the average score of his three best seasons — of 20. Mike Rucker 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	White  Rucker
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 defensive linemen ever. I think the results below pass the sniff test; what do you think?

These represent the 40 best combinations of 4-3 defensive linemen playing together at their peaks. The top combination -- by far -- comes from the old Vikings teams. In fact, the top six combinations are all the same: Page, Eller, Larsen and Marshall from the '68 to '73 Vikings. For obvious reasons I decided not to re-list any DL groups that appeared more often than once. Therefore, any time a set of DL appeared multiple times, I only listed the best one (which would be based solely on the ages of the three players). So it's the '70 Vikings that are shown from that group because the seasons after that Marshall was declining due to age and the seasons before that Page was still too young.

The player's age is listed in parentheses while his peak AV (which is NOT the grade he gets for the season in question -- the listed grade is not adjusted for age) is listed after the colon. So in 1970, Minnesota had Eller (age 28) who had a peak AV of 22, Page (at age 25) who had a peak AV of 23.7, Larsen (30) who had a peak AV of 14.3 and Jim Marshall (33) who had a peak AV of 13.3. No other defensive line group even comes that close to the Purple People Eaters. I've listed the average score (which *is* age adjusted) of the four players next to the team name. You can see that Minnesota at 16.4 has a nice edge on all other defensive line groups.

min-1970   16.4   Carl Eller (28): 22        Alan Page (25): 23.7        Gary Larsen (30): 14.3      Jim Marshall (33): 13.3
ram-1967   14.6   Deacon Jones (29): 18      Merlin Olsen (27): 18       Roger Brown (30): 16        Lamar Lundy (32): 8.3
dal-1981   14.3   Randy White (28): 17.7     Too Tall Jones (30): 14.7   Harvey Martin (31): 14.3    John Dutton (30): 12
chi-1987   14.1   Dan Hampton (30): 17.7     Steve McMichael (30): 16.7  Richard Dent (27): 16.3     William Perry (25): 8.7
chi-1988   14.0   Dan Hampton (31): 17.7     Richard Dent (28): 16.3     Steve McMichael (31): 16.7  Al Harris (32): 8.7
pit-1976   13.9   Joe Greene (30): 19        L.C. Greenwood (30): 16.3   Dwight White (27): 12       Ernie Holmes (28): 9.3
min-1974   13.8   Alan Page (29): 23.7       Carl Eller (32): 22         Doug Sutherland (26): 9.3   Jim Marshall (37): 13.3
phi-1991   13.6   Reggie White (30): 20      Clyde Simmons (27): 15.3    Jerome Brown (26): 13.3     Mike Pitts (31): 8.7
ram-1969   13.6   Merlin Olsen (29): 18      Deacon Jones (31): 18       Coy Bacon (27): 11          Diron Talbert (25): 11
chi-1984   13.6   Dan Hampton (27): 17.7     Steve McMichael (27): 16.7  Richard Dent (24): 16.3     Mike Hartenstine (31): 10.3
ram-1968   13.5   Merlin Olsen (28): 18      Deacon Jones (30): 18       Roger Brown (31): 16        Gregg Schumacher (26): 3.7
ram-1965   13.2   Deacon Jones (27): 18      Merlin Olsen (25): 18       Rosey Grier (33): 16.3      Lamar Lundy (30): 8.3
ram-1978   13.1   Jack Youngblood (28): 18   Larry Brooks (28): 13       Fred Dryer (32): 14         Cody Jones (27): 10
cle-1953   13.1   Len Ford (27): 20.7        Don Colo (28): 15.3         Doug Atkins (23): 16        Derrell Palmer (31): 8.3
cle-1954   13.0   Len Ford (28): 20.7        Don Colo (29): 15.3         John Kissell (31): 10       Carlton Massey (24): 9.7
cle-1957   13.0   Len Ford (31): 20.7        Don Colo (32): 15.3         Bob Gain (28): 13           Bill Quinlan (25): 8
dal-1980   13.0   Randy White (27): 17.7     Too Tall Jones (29): 14.7   Harvey Martin (30): 14.3    Larry Cole (34): 9.7
pit-1977   12.9   Joe Greene (31): 19        L.C. Greenwood (31): 16.3   Dwight White (28): 12       Steve Furness (27): 7
tam-2002   12.8   Warren Sapp (30): 19       Simeon Rice (28): 16.7      Greg Spires (28): 9.3       Anthony McFarland (25): 8.3
phi-1990   12.7   Reggie White (29): 20      Clyde Simmons (26): 15.3    Jerome Brown (25): 13.3     Mike Golic (28): 6
pit-1978   12.6   Joe Greene (32): 19        L.C. Greenwood (32): 16.3   Dwight White (29): 12       John Banaszak (28): 8
clt-1957   12.6   Gino Marchetti (30): 17.3  Gene Lipscomb (26): 13.7    Art Donovan (32): 13.7      Don Joyce (28): 9.3
nyg-1952   12.6   Arnie Weinmeister (29): 20 Ray Poole (31): 11.7        Ray Krouse (25): 12.7       Jim Duncan (27): 9.3
dal-1978   12.6   Randy White (25): 17.7     Harvey Martin (28): 14.3    Too Tall Jones (27): 14.7   Jethro Pugh (34): 11.3
min-1966   12.5   Carl Eller (24): 22        Jim Marshall (29): 13.3     Gary Larsen (26): 14.3      Paul Dickson (29): 8
nyg-1959   12.5   Rosey Grier (27): 16.3     Jim Katcavage (25): 16      Andy Robustelli (34): 18.3  Dick Modzelewski (28): 9
min-1967   12.3   Carl Eller (25): 22        Jim Marshall (30): 13.3     Alan Page (22): 23.7        Paul Dickson (30): 8
ram-1976   12.3   Jack Youngblood (26): 18   Fred Dryer (30): 14         Larry Brooks (26): 13       Merlin Olsen (36): 18
gnb-1962   12.2   Willie Davis (28): 17.3    Henry Jordan (27): 17       Bill Quinlan (30): 8        Dave Hanner (32): 8.7
nyg-1951   12.2   Arnie Weinmeister (28): 20 Ray Poole (30): 11.7        Al DeRogatis (24): 12.7     Jim Duncan (26): 9.3
ram-1979   12.0   Jack Youngblood (29): 18   Larry Brooks (29): 13       Fred Dryer (33): 14         Mike Fanning (26): 7
clt-1960   12.0   Ordell Braase (28): 14     Gene Lipscomb (29): 13.7    Gino Marchetti (33): 17.3   Art Donovan (35): 13.7
rai-1995   11.9   Pat Swilling (31): 19      Chester McGlockton (26): 14 Jerry Ball (31): 11.7       Anthony Smith (28): 6.3
chi-1983   11.9   Dan Hampton (26): 17.7     Steve McMichael (26): 16.7  Mike Hartenstine (30): 10.3 Jim Osborne (34): 9.7
min-1992   11.9   Chris Doleman (31): 16.7   John Randle (25): 16        Henry Thomas (27): 11       Al Noga (27): 8.3
sea-1999   11.8   Cortez Kennedy (31): 17    Sam Adams (26): 13.3        Michael Sinclair (31): 11   Phillip Daniels (26): 10
tam-2001   11.8   Warren Sapp (29): 19       Simeon Rice (27): 16.7      Marcus Jones (28): 6.3      Anthony McFarland (24): 8.3
den-1997   11.8   Neil Smith (31): 15.3      Michael Dean Perry (32): 16 Alfred Williams (29): 11    Keith Traylor (28): 8
chi-1990   11.6   Richard Dent (30): 16.3    Dan Hampton (33): 17.7      William Perry (28): 8.7     Trace Armstrong (25): 10
sea-1996   11.6   Cortez Kennedy (28): 17    Michael Sinclair (28): 11   Michael McCrary (26): 12    Sam Adams (23): 13.3

  • At #2 on the list is one of the iterations of the Fearsome Foursome, and in the top fifteen are some of the other members that bore that nickname; unsurprisingly, Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen carry the group with appropriately high grades.
  • Eagles fans surely noted that the '91 Philly DL is on the list; only a low peak AV for Mike Pitts kept them down.

We can also perform this analysis for 3-4 defensive lines, although be sure to note my caveat at the bottom:

tm.yr	  grd	DL1	                  DL2	                  DL3
buf-1995	  13.0	Bruce Smith (32): 18.3	Ted Washington (27): 14	Phil Hansen (27): 10
buf-1988	  12.6	Bruce Smith (25): 18.3	Fred Smerlas (31): 14	Art Still (33): 12.3
nyj-1985	  12.3	Mark Gastineau (29): 17	Joe Klecko (32): 15.3	Barry Bennett (30): 6.7
mia-1984	  12.3	Bob Baumhower (29): 16	Doug Betters (28): 12.3	Kim Bokamper (30): 8.7
rai-1987	  11.8	Howie Long (27): 16.7	Bill Pickel (28): 10.7	Sean Jones (25): 10.7
kan-1993	  11.3	Neil Smith (27): 15.3	Dan Saleaumua (29): 10.7	Joe Phillips (30): 8.7
den-1978	  11.3	Lyle Alzado (29): 14.7	Rubin Carter (26): 11.3	Barney Chavous (27): 9.3
buf-1993	  11.2	Bruce Smith (30): 18.3	Phil Hansen (25): 10	Jeff Wright (30): 7.7
nwe-2008	  11.2	Richard Seymour (29): 15.3	Vince Wilfork (27): 10.3	Ty Warren (27): 8.7
kan-1991	  11.1	Neil Smith (25): 15.3	Bill Maas (29): 10.3	Dan Saleaumua (27): 10.7
mia-1981	  11.1	Bob Baumhower (26): 16	Doug Betters (25): 12.3	Vern Den Herder (33): 11
sfo-1990	  11.0	Michael Carter (30): 14.7	Pierce Holt (28): 10.7	Kevin Fagan (27): 8.3
phi-1981	  10.9	Charlie Johnson (29): 14.7	Carl Hairston (29): 10	Dennis Harrison (25): 9.7
phi-1985	  10.9	Reggie White (24): 20	Greg Brown (28): 9.3	Ken Clarke (29): 9
sea-1988	  10.8	Joe Nash (28): 12.7	Jacob Green (31): 11	Jeff Bryant (28): 9.7
rai-1989	  10.7	Howie Long (29): 16.7	Bob Golic (32): 11.7	Scott Davis (24): 7.3
phi-1979	  10.7	Charlie Johnson (27): 14.7	Carl Hairston (27): 10	Claude Humphrey (35): 16.3
gnb-1993	  10.7	Reggie White (32): 20	Matt Brock (27): 8.3	John Jurkovic (26): 7.3
tam-1979	  10.6	Wally Chambers (28): 13	Lee Roy Selmon (25): 15	Randy Crowder (26): 7.3
buf-1987	  10.4	Fred Smerlas (30): 14	Bruce Smith (24): 18.3	Sean McNanie (26): 4.7
hou-1988	  10.4	Ray Childress (26): 15.3	William Fuller (26): 12	Doug Smith (29): 6.3
buf-1985	  10.3	Fred Smerlas (28): 14	Ben Williams (31): 9.7	Bruce Smith (22): 18.3
phi-1978	  10.3	Charlie Johnson (26): 14.7	Carl Hairston (26): 10	Manny Sistrunk (31): 9
buf-1990	  10.3	Bruce Smith (27): 18.3	Jeff Wright (27): 7.7	Leon Seals (26): 6.3
hou-1975	  10.3	Curley Culp (29): 13	Elvin Bethea (29): 11.3	Tody Smith (27): 6.7
sfo-1991	  10.1	Michael Carter (31): 14.7	Pierce Holt (29): 10.7	Larry Roberts (28): 6
den-1983	  10.0	Rulon Jones (25): 13.7	Rubin Carter (31): 11.3	Barney Chavous (32): 9.3
nyj-2008	   9.9	Kris Jenkins (29): 15.7	Shaun Ellis (31): 9	Kenyon Coleman (29): 5.7
min-1982	   9.8	Charlie Johnson (30): 14.7	Mark Mullaney (29): 7.7	Doug Martin (25):  9
rai-1985	   9.8	Howie Long (25): 16.7	Bill Pickel (26): 10.7	Lyle Alzado (36): 14.7
nyg-1992	   9.7	Leonard Marshall (31): 13	Erik Howard (28): 10.3	Eric Dorsey (28): 6.7
sfo-1986	   9.7	Michael Carter (26): 14.7	Dwaine Board (30): 10	Jeff Stover (28): 6
den-1987	   9.7	Rulon Jones (29): 13.7	Greg Kragen (25): 11.7	Andre Townsend (25): 7
buf-2000	   9.7	Ted Washington (32): 14	Phil Hansen (32): 10	Marcellus Wiley (26): 9
sfo-1987	   9.6	Michael Carter (27): 14.7	Dwaine Board (31): 10	Pete Kugler (28): 5.3
tam-1981	   9.5	Lee Roy Selmon (27): 15	Bill Kollar (29): 7.3	David Logan (25): 8.3
nyj-1997	   9.5	Hugh Douglas (26): 16	Rick Lyle (26): 8.3	Ernie Logan (29): 6.3
tam-1982	   9.4	Lee Roy Selmon (28): 15	David Logan (26): 8.3	Dave Stalls (27): 6
nyg-1989	   9.4	Leonard Marshall (28): 13	Erik Howard (25): 10.3	John Washington (26): 7.3
pit-2006	   9.3	Aaron Smith (30): 10.3	Casey Hampton (29): 10	Brett Keisel (28): 7.7

Some thoughts:

  • The 3-4 rankings look less reliable than the 4-3 ratings because players who excelled in a 4-3 (say, Mark Gastineau) get a high rating as a 3-4 end. While I don't remember how he actually played as a 3-4 end, he wouldn't fit the typical mold of the current 3-4 end. If Dwight Freeney played in a 3-4 this season, he would get a high rating for his team because his peak AV was high -- but that was based on his peak seasons as a 4-3 end. So to some extent, some of these results could be misleading.
  • Bruce Smith was a 3-4 end -- I tend to forget that because his sack totals are insanely high even for a 4-3 end. As my good buddy and defensive expert Jene Bramel said, Bruce Smith reigns supreme for 3-4 end pass rushing production. Bramel's article -- The Ultimate Guide to NFL Defense -- is as good as it is long. I've never read a better article on understanding NFL defenses.

Posted in Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever | 21 Comments »

AFL versus NFL: 1960-1963 Trends

1st June 2009

Last time, I put the draft classes from 1960 to 1963 under the microscope to evaluate how both leagues did. Now, I'm going to go in depth on some of the age and experience trends from this period, and also look at positional and team trends. I'm going to have lots of data and charts in this post anyway, so to start with, I'll just link to the already existing pages at the website that summarize the yearly league numbers. The NFL season by season totals are here, and the AFL season by season totals are here.

We all know of the AFL's well-deserved reputation as a wide-open and wild passing league. The NFL in the early 1960's was changing its passing stripes as a result of the AFL expansion as well. In the late 1950's, the average completion percentage hovered around 50%. The completion percentage steadily climbed throughout this four year period. The expansion from 12 to 22 teams diluted the talent pool, and had an impact on defenses. A passer averaged 8.5 or more yards per attempt in a single season seventy-six times in the history of the NFL. Fifteen of those seasons (11 in the NFL, 4 in the AFL) came in this four year period-roughly 20%. Another 8 NFL passers reached the 8.0+ yards per attempt mark between 1960 and 1963, which means that over a third of all starting quarterbacks in the NFL in this time period averaged at least 8.0 yards per pass. The yards per attempt spiked at a league-wide average of 7.1 in 1962, a mark that hasn't come close to being touched since (2004 was the highest since the merger, at 6.6). Interception rates dropped during this time, and pass attempts climbed slightly from the 1950's. Overall scoring was up slightly (about 0.8 points per team per game), with a larger standard deviation, which makes sense given the poorer quality of some expansion type teams, along with the good offenses that were able to take advantage.
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Posted in AFL versus NFL | 3 Comments »