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Archive for July, 2009

AFL versus NFL: 1964-1966 Drafts

31st July 2009

When it comes to the AFL, it may seem logical to think that the AFL was improving at a fairly constant rate, and that it would be doing better in terms of talent acquisition in year five, compared with year one.

After looking through the draft data and careers of the players, I would like to suggest an alternate history. The AFL came in and immediately made a splash against the NFL, signing several high draft picks and taking away a lot of young talent. I have the early drafts rated as wins for the AFL in 1960 and 1963, and for the NFL in 1961 and 1962. Overall, it was a great start for an upstart league.

In this post, I am altering my method for calculating draft value slightly.

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Posted in AFL versus NFL, NFL Draft | 10 Comments »

All-decade team of the 80s: Part I

30th July 2009

If you're a first time reader, you might want to check out the following links, first:

90% of the '00s All-decade offense
90% of the '00s All-decade defense
My All-decade offense of the '70s
My All-decade defense of the '70s
Doug, JKL and I discussing the All-80s offense on the podcast

A few quick notes about the '80s:

1) A bunch of marquee players -- Eric Dickerson, Wes Chandler, Fred Dean, Dave Casper and Herschel Walker -- were traded in mid-season during the decade. As far as Approximate Value and my position formulas go, I simply combined those numbers into one season.

2) Sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982. I used unofficial statistics to record "sacks over 0.5 games played" for as many players as I could find in '80 and '81.

3) There were two strikes in the decade -- '82 and '87. Doug's Approximate Value system and my QB/RB/WR formulas take this into account, but things like games played and games started will be affected. And, as with the '70s post, not all games started data are accurate.

4) Of the 280 teams in the decade (there was no expansion in the '80s -- the NFL was a 28-team league in all ten seasons), 204 of them played a 3-4 defense. With 73% of the teams fielding three defensive linemen and four linebackers, I feel obliged to do the same even if the official team did not. Let's take a quick look at the official All-decade team, as chosen by the voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

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Posted in Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever | 19 Comments »

Podcast: all-80s offense

29th July 2009

Chase's recent series on all-decade teams has been so fun that we decided to podcast the all-80s team. This episode, we do the offense. Chase will have a full writeup posted tomorrow.

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

Posted in Podcast | 9 Comments »

Best players by uniform number

28th July 2009

Now that has uniform numbers for every player since 1950, I thought we might as well take a look at the best players to wear each number since then. As usual, we'll be ranking players by Approximate Value (AV). A few notes before the big list:

1) Only seasons from 1950 or later are being considered. So Otto Graham is considered, but only his seasons from 1950 through 1955 count for AV purposes. This doesn't eliminate those guys: while three of Charlie Trippi's best seasons came before 1950, he still makes the cut as one of the three best players to wear #2 since 1950. (But don't interpret the chart to read me as saying Trippi was not as good a player as Aaron Brooks). Similarly, Benny Friedman would be a good choice for uniform #1, Don Hutson for #14, Steve Van Buren for #15, and Sid Luckman for #42; but their accomplishments (along with the accomplishments of many others) were from pre-1950 and unfortunately are therefore excluded.

2) As a general disclaimer, AV works well at measuring groups of players. On average, most of the players with an AV of 100 will be better than most of the players with an AV of 90. But there will be lots of individual cases (especially at the same position) that are not correct -- Edgerrin James being ahead of Jim Brown, Jon Kitna over Daryle Lamonica and Sam Mills outscoring Dick Butkus are just three examples of that. There are many more; AV is not perfect, but it's the best way to ranks lots of players across different positions and across different eras. And yes, that's even if it says Mr. Brady is not among the top three players to wear number twelve (ditto Mr. Graham and #14). Remember, AV looks only at regular seasons.
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Posted in Approximate Value, History | 39 Comments »

Preseason awards are absurd

27th July 2009

You know what I don't get at all. Preseason Awards.

I was reminded of this during the recent "Tim Tebow was left off of somebody's preseason coaches ballot . . . who could it be . . . the world will end . . . " saga that we were forced to witness last week. It was part sad and part comical, and entirely absurd. SEC Coaches were coming out of the woodwork to proclaim their innocence from the horrible slight of Tim Tebow. Newcomer Lane Kiffin, public suspect #1, produced his ballot publicly to dispel any rumors. Coaches like Saban and Petrino were asked if they voted for Tebow, and they said they did. (And here's the thing, Dolphins and Falcons fans, they were actually telling the truth). Turns out, it was Steve Spurrier and the director of football operations who filled out his ballot.

Here's what Spurrier had to say about voting for someone other than Tebow: "We screwed up pretty badly. I'm embarrassed about it. I feel bad about it."

Before we go lamenting the humanity of it all, let's remember that we are talking about a preseason award here. Preseason awards are pointless, insignificant, and worthless. Sounds like I'm being repetitive, recurrent, and verbose--but I'm not.

Preseason awards are pointless. I mean, what is the point of voting on a preseason award when you are basing it on the past. Just re-publish last year's award winners, bump up any second teamers to replace the graduating first teamers, and move on. If someone is not allowed to disagree (even if it is an accident or oversight), then why even vote in the first place. You shouldn't. It's pointless.

Preseason awards are insignificant. Who was the last person to actually cite a preseason award on their resume or career summary? I'm sure there is somebody out there, but that's a whole other rant. The point is, Tebow is not going to be listing his hallowed preseason SEC QB selection among his career accomplishments. Heisman trophy winner--yes. 2009 Preseason selection--no. And if you're never going to use it on a resume, well, it seems like an insignificant award. Awards are made to be cited. Who is going to cite to this one in a few months?

Preseason awards are worthless. The whole term is an oxymoron. There is nothing to award. The 2009 version of Tebow and Snead have the exact same statistics right now. It's a prediction. Some will turn out to be right (in which case, gosh, they might get an actual award), and others will not (and then the preseason award won't be worth the 2 seconds spent considering it).

I know there are a lot of things in sports that make no sense. Preseason awards, though, really, really make no sense. I'm pretty sure my preseason comeback player of the year and 2007 NFL MVP Tom Brady agrees.

Posted in College, Rant | 7 Comments »

Another trivia blitz podcast

23rd July 2009

Read this for a description of the format.

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

Posted in Podcast | 18 Comments »

All-decade team of the 70s: Part II

21st July 2009

Yesterday, I looked at the top offensive players of the 1970s, and compared them to the actual All-Decade team as selected by the voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today, we're going to look at the defensive players and special teams stars from the 1970s. For a year-too-early look at the eventual '00s All-Decade defense, click here.

     First Team       Second Team 
DE:  Jack Youngblood  L.C. Greenwood 
DE:  Carl Eller       Harvey Martin 
DT:  Joe Greene       Alan Page 
DT:  Bob Lilly        Merlin Olsen 
OLB: Jack Ham         Robert Brazile 
OLB: Ted Hendricks    Bobby Bell 
MLB: Dick Butkus      Jack Lambert 
CB:  Willie Brown     Louis Wright 
CB:  Jimmy Johnson    Roger Wehrli 
S:   Ken Houston      Larry Wilson 
S:   Cliff Harris     Dick Anderson

Let's get started with the defensive line.

Defensive Ends

104.6   7       130     116     8       0       5       2       Jack Youngblood
104.3   4       141     126     9       0       3       1       Carl Eller
 89.8   6       129     114     9       0       2       0       L.C. Greenwood
 82.5   6       115      43     8       0       2       2       Claude Humphrey
 81.4   1       144     133     9       0       0       1       Fred Dryer
 78.4   0       144     144    10       0       0       0       Jim Marshall
 74.6   7       137     135    10       0       0       2       Elvin Bethea
 71.0   4        96      78     6       0       1       1       Bill Stanfill
 68.6   1       143     128     9       0       0       1       Tommy Hart
 68.1   3       140      84    10       0       0       0       Coy Bacon
 67.6   0       128     107     9       0       0       0       Ron McDole
 64.6   2       114      98     8       0       1       1       Lyle Alzado
 64.6   2       119      39     8       0       0       0       Dwight White
 63.8   0       127     113     8       0       0       0       Vern Den Herder
 59.7   1       140      16    10       0       0       1       Jack Gregory
 58.5   2       139     103     9       0       0       0       Cedrick Hardman
 56.9   4       101      14     5       1.5     1       2       Harvey Martin 

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Best/Worst Ever | 24 Comments »

All-decade team of the 70s: Part I

20th July 2009

After spending some time projecting the All-decade offense and All-decade defense of the '00s, I thought it might be fun to perform the same analysis for another period in NFL history. Today, we're going to look at the All-decade offensive players of the 1970s; tomorrow, we'll check out the defensive players, special teams stars, and head coaches.

Let's start with the actual All-decade offense, as selected by the voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

    First Team         Second Team
QB: Roger Staubach     Terry Bradshaw/Ken Stabler
RB: O.J. Simpson       Earl Campbell
RB: Walter Payton      Franco Harris
WR: Lynn Swann         Paul Warfield
WR: Drew Pearson       Harold Carmichael
TE: Dave Casper        Charlie Sanders
OT: Art Shell          Dan Dierdorf
OT: Rayfield Wright    Ron Yary
OG: Larry Little       John Hannah
OG: Joe DeLamielleure  Gene Upshaw
OC: Jim Langer         Mike Webster

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Posted in Best/Worst Ever | 26 Comments »

Another podcast

15th July 2009

Jason talks about Terry Metcalf and Doug talks briefly about Steve Walsh. As always, we stray early and often from the topic. Apologies in advance for some audio difficulties.

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 »

Jason Witten (HOF Class of 2024)

14th July 2009

Does that title strike you as odd? Jason Witten, at least at first glance, doesn't strike me as a HOF player. In 2007, he was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, and last season he was named to its second-team. But his lack of awards to date has more to do with the dominance of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates than the productivity of Jason Witten. But putting aside the questions of 1) exactly how good Witten has been, 2) whether or not he should make the Hall of Fame one day, or 3) whether or not he's a HOFer right now, by the time he retires it looks like he'll wind up in the Hall of Fame. And that comes as a surprise to me.

While I'm nowhere near an expert on these matters, it seems as though the TE position was officially created, at least in name, once the T-Formation died out at the end of the '50s. Before 1960, receivers (or ends) were hybrid wide receivers/tight ends, joined in the lineup by three running backs. As teams moved towards a two-RB system, offenses moved the two ends farther out -- and were classifed as wide receivers and not ends -- and a new position, the tight end, would line up next to one of the tackles. Maybe some commenters will further explain the evolution of the position, but this is my quick way of saying that statistics for tight ends begin in 1960. Before that season, no one was labeled a tight end, which is background information for the next few paragraphs.

Jason Witten entered the NFL at age 21. That's very young for a player at any position, let alone tight end. So how has he done?

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Posted in Player articles | 14 Comments »

Site additions

13th July 2009

Four new additions. These might be considered beta for now, as I'm sure there will be some cosmetic tweaks based on your feedback.

1. Approximate Value (AV) is now a column in each player's first stat stable.

2. For quarterbacks, we've added a table called Advanced Passing. In each of nine different passing rate stats, we have computed each player's standard deviations above (or below) league average for that season and converted it to an "IQ score" (average = 100, standard deviation = 15). From the glossary:

  • On all stats, 100 is league average.
  • On all stats (including sack percentage and interception percentage), a higher number means better than average
  • The greatest passing seasons of all time are in the 140s. A typical league-leading season in most categories will be in the high 120s or the low-to-mid 130s.

3. For players who were starters for at least five seasons, we've added a table of similar players. The method is nearly identical to the one outlined in this blog post, where I tried to answer the question "how would you explain Dave Duerson to some punk kid who had never heard of Dave Duerson?" (Of course, it's all relative, and I myself am often playing the role of the punk kid when players from the early 70s and before are involved.)

From the glossary:

At you'll find, for each player in baseball history, a list of players similar to that player. These lists are generated by a method introduced by Bill James in the 1980s, and his aim was to find players who were similar in quality, but also similar in style of play.

The similar players lists here at pro-football-reference are NOT the same thing.

Unfortunately, football stats just aren't descriptive enough to capture players' styles. So we have settled for a method that attempts to find players whose careers were similar in terms of quality and shape. By shape, we mean things like: how many years did he play? how good were his best years, compared to his worst years? did he have a few great years and then several mediocre years, or did he have many good-but-not-great years?

Essentially, if you run across a player you've never heard of before, and if the list of similar players has some names you recognize, this gives you a quick way to (very roughly) figure out where the guy fits in history.

Also note that each player has a list of similar players for each year of his career after the third, so you can sort of get an idea of how his career progressed. At George Webster's page, for example, you can see that the first three years of his career looked like the first three years of the careers of Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, et al. By the end of his career, he looked more like Dan Currie, Keith Bulluck, and Tim Harris.

For active players, a bit of interpretation is required. Kevin Williams has been in the league for six years. On the "6" line of his similar players table, you'll find Bob Lilly, Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp. This means that Williams' first six years look similar to Lilly's, Taylor's, and Sapp's first six years. Then Williams has a career line that includes the likes of Jerome Brown, Keith Millard, Mike Reid. This means that, if he retired today, Williams' career would look similar to the complete careers of Brown, Millard, and Reid.

4. For about 60+ coaches, like Al Groh, we now have their complete coaching resumes. We will be adding more coaching detail soon.

Posted in P-F-R News | 22 Comments »

New podcast episode

9th July 2009

This is a relatively short one-segment show, with Chase talking about a player whose name will be revealed a few minutes into the podcast.

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

Posted in Podcast | 10 Comments »

Chris Johnson

8th July 2009

Chris Johnson is one of the poster children for the recent rise of the two back rotation in the NFL. For those that prefer quality over quantity, and value consistency, I think he is also a relatively safe fantasy play to maintain or improve upon his touches in 2009.

Ordinarily, I would be concerned about a back on a team that won 13 games last year getting the same number of opportunities. As most of us know, teams that are winning run the ball. So, the opportunity to get rush attempts is (in addition to the running back’s ability) also tied to the quality of his team’s defense and the offense’s ability to get a lead. If those factors change from one season to the next, then so do the running back’s opportunities.

So why do I think Johnson is a safe play, even if the Titans regress defensively or find themselves trailing in more games in 2009? Let’s start with a comparison of Johnson to other similarly ranked backs. He finished with 251 rushes and 43 receptions in 15 games (sitting out the season finale after the Titans were locked into the top seed), which may seem low to you. However, the standard deviation on his per game rush attempts was 3.2, and the standard deviation on his per game total touches was 4.0.

Now, compare that to previous running backs who finished with the same fantasy ranking as Johnson, from 1996-2005 (Johnson finished 11th in standard fantasy scoring). I list for you the rush attempts, total touches, the rush attempt per game average minus one standard deviation (marked 1 s.d.), and the standard deviation on per game rush attempts for every back that finished ranked 11th in fantasy points.

1996-2005, RB 11

			        rushes	touches	-1 s.d. 	sd rush
1996	Thurman Thomas		281	307	13.4	6.8
1997	Robert Smith		232	269	13.6	5.4
1998	Eddie George		348	385	18.0	6.3
1999	Corey Dillon		263	294	12.7	6.5
2000	Lamar Smith		309	340	15.8	6.3
2001	Dominic Rhodes*		223	256	17.9	7.2
2002	Fred Taylor		287	336	13.1	6.4
2003	Travis Henry		331	359	17.2	6.6
2004	Clinton Portis		343	383	16.2	9.0
2005	Steven Jackson		254	297	15.5	4.5
	Average RB11		287.1	322.6	15.34	6.5
2008	Chris Johnson		251	294	15.6	3.2

So we are talking about a little less than 30 touches for Johnson compared to similarly ranked backs from 1996-2005. But look at the difference in consistency. The average standard deviation on per game rush attempts for this group was 6.5 (compared to Johnson's 3.2). If you look at average touches minus 1 standard deviation, Johnson was actually slightly higher than the comparable group as a whole. His low end and average (median) games were in line with the previous era. It's those 2-4 games where those other backs got 30+ touches, while Johnson typically topped out in the low 20’s, that account for virtually the entire difference.

Johnson was more consistent than previous backs, but the Titans’ team numbers weren’t. Lendale White was inconsistent in terms of his rush totals, with his rush attempts directly tied to the Titans’ score situation as the game progressed. Early in the game, and when the Titans were trailing or in close games, Chris Johnson got the vast majority of attempts. When the Titans were playing with the lead, White got an almost even number, and when it was late and with a lead, White got the majority.

I don’t expect that pattern to change, and given Johnson’s explosiveness advantage over White, and with another year of experience, might even expect a slight uptick in the percentage of touches for Johnson when the game is early/close.

So, Johnson, as the “Get the Lead” guy, is going to get his touches. He’ll get them early, he’ll get some late when leading (splitting with White), and if trailing, he’ll still be the guy in there to try to produce the come from behind big play. It’s the “Keep the Lead” guys, like White, that present the bigger risk to hold their value.

Posted in Player articles | 6 Comments »

Trivia blitz podcast

2nd July 2009

This is a different kind of podcast.

The goal was to come up with a format that is easier to produce so that we can do them more regularly, yet still interesting enough that it'll help you pass the time on your commute, during your exercise, or whenever you consume podcasts. We call it a Trivia Blitz. I ask you, the listener, questions. Chase plays along. You post in here about how much better you did than Chase.

We still plan to do regular shows with roughly the same frequency as before. If you think this format is worth keeping, we'll use it to fill in some of the dead spots between those regular shows. Let us know.

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

Posted in Podcast | 11 Comments »

90% of the All-Decade Team, Part II

1st July 2009

Yesterday, we looked at my choices for the through-nine-years All-decade offense. Today, we'll do the same for the defense.

Even when the 3-4 defense was at its peak in the '80s, that All-Decade Team still selected four linemen and three linebackers (although it still chose three 3-4 players in its front seven). We'll do the same here, but we'll keep in mind that Pro Bowl and AP honors are less likely to be given to 3-4 linemen, which will drive their AV scores down, too.

Defensive Ends:

100	6	141	136	8	1	3	1	36.5	Jason Taylor
 78	4	113	112	8	1	2	2	34.5	Michael Strahan
 76 	5	111	105	7	0	3	1	 1.0	Richard Seymour
 71	4	106	106	7	1	2	1	23.0	Julius Peppers
 66	1	139	137	9	0	0	0	 0.0	Aaron Smith
 66	2	110	 99	7	0	1	1	28.0	Simeon Rice
 63	3	113	103	6	0	1	1	27.5	John Abraham
 62	2	128	127	8	0	1	1	19.5	Patrick Kerney
 59	1	112	105	7	0	0	0	12.0	Adewale Ogunleye
 58	4	103	 89	7	0	2	1	22.5	Dwight Freeney
 58	1	144	139	9	0	0	0	 4.5	Kevin Carter
 57	2	117	112	7	0	0	1	14.0	Aaron Schobel
 56	2	111	102	7	0	0	0	 8.5	Jevon Kearse
 54	1	123	106	7	0	0	0	 8.0	Mike Rucker
 53	3	 79	 65	4	0	1	1	13.5	Hugh Douglas
 53	2	 77	 71	5	0	2	0	19.5	Jared Allen

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Posted in Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever | 28 Comments »