Category Archives: Packing the Stats

16

April

Packing The Stats: The Importance of Pre-Draft Visits

Packing the StatsSo it’s not exactly a busy week in the world of the NFL (try as they might to might to make it a year long sport), and there isn’t really anything going on until the draft; the Combine and Pro Days are essentially over, free agency has definitely hit that point where teams are now waiting to see what pieces they manage to pick up in the draft before signing anyone new and basically the headlines are now composed of DeSean Jackson missing the Redskins voluntary training camp (i.e. not all that voluntary after all so it would seem) and Aldon Smith trying his best to impersonate a terrorist at an airport.  Needless to say the media dull Packers are even more boring, apparently Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb are going to the Kentucky Derby…which is great and all but in all honesty I don’t really care.

There is however something going on that you should care about…if only a little.  That event is the annual tradition of pre-draft visits.  Essentially, every NFL team is allowed to invite 30 players from the college ranks to their facilities for whatever reason; sometimes potentially draftee’s are just going to get a medical update on an recent injury, some go through positional drills or even chalk board stuff (made famous by Jay Gruden’s QB camp series on ESPN) or even just a more in depth interview for the front office/coaching staff to really get to know a player.  Frankly, the Packers rarely make the news with their visits, as opposed to the Cleveland Browns, who essentially ignored the QB workouts and are instead inviting all big QB prospects for pre-draft visits instead (which is brilliant and idiotic all at the same time, got to love the Brown’s MO).

So who exactly do the Packers invite for visits and does this mean anything in regards to the draft as a whole?  Below is a list of every confirmed report of a pre-draft visit I could find going back 3 years (I chose 3 years because that’s all the data I could find, deal with it).  Also listed is each player’s alma mater, their ultimate draft pick and which NFL team initially signed them.  Two players, Jakar Hamiliton and Brandon Hardin (listed in italics) were both undrafted rookie free agents that initially signed with other teams but were released and then signed with the Packers.  I would wager that the Packers do indeed use their full allotment of 30 players, but some of these visits will never be reported (especially if they are unknown players with unknown agents), so keep in mind that this list is almost certainly incomplete.

9

April

Packing the Stats: Who can the Packers find at pick 21?

Packing the StatsIn 2012, Greg Gabriel postulated an interesting hypothesis that teams use historical draft data to predict how many players at a certain position will get drafted.  I did this analysis in 2012 based on the draft board and draft selection of the Packers back then and thought it was a pretty interesting exercise.  Basically, a quarterback (regardless of the specific player) is more likely to be drafted in the 1st round than say a kicker is.  Extrapolating that further, every draft can expect to see 2-3 quarterbacks drafted in the first round and expect 0 kickers to be drafted in the 1st round.  To narrow that down even further, the Packers can expect to see around 2 quarterbacks selected before pick 21 this year and hence if they were interested in drafting a quarterback, they could predict that the 3rd best quarterback will be available for them when they pick (assuming they don’t trade the pick of course).

Naturally, the Packers aren’t likely to pick a quarterback in the 1st round, but this hypothesis can be applied to any position.  Below is the number of players picked at their respective positions up to the 21st pick from 2005 (the first year of Ted Thompson’s tenure as the Packers GM) to last year.  Also note no punters or kickers have been picked in the top 21 selections so I’ve dropped those positions from the list.

 

Sheet2

I wouldn’t say the data is all that surprising, quarterbacks, defensive ends (i.e. pass rushers) and wide receivers are the most highly drafted players in the top 21 picks while centers, guards and tight end almost never get drafted in the 1st round.  There’s also a very striking decline in the number of running backs drafted in the 1st 21 picks, with last year being only the 2nd time in 9 years that a running back wasn’t selected.

The following list is composed of the top players from their respective positions based on current rankings from CBS Sports’ NFL draft page.  One of the biggest caveats is choosing which big board to go off of, I personally like CBS Sport’s because their rankings have been the closest to the actual draft compared to other large media draft rankings. Players names which are italicized are likely to have already been selected by pick 21 and players with their names in brackets meaning that position typically won’t be picked again by the 21st round (for instance, only 1 tight end has been picked higher than 21st in a single draft so the Packers would be breaking the trend a little by drafting a second tight end in the top 21 picks.

2

April

What Do Packers Injuries and Winning Have In Common? Packing the Stats…

Packing the StatsA lot has been made about the Packers misfortune when it comes to injuries; injuries was the major hurdle that the Packers overcame to get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl in 2010 and injuries again were the major obstacle in 2013 with Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Bryan Bulaga all missing significant time due to their respective injuries.

I have always argued that the nature of injuries is in large part random; football is a vicious sport and there are so many different ways to get injured that are largely out of the control of the player, the coaching staff or the front office.  Not many would argue that the tackle that Nick Collins ended his career was unusual nor was the hit that Jermichael Finley took against Cleveland anything out of the norm.  Rodgers breaking his clavicle and Matthews breaking his thumb all occurred on mundane plays that both players have been involved in countless times before in their careers.

In 2013 alone, I would argue that the only two injuries likely could have been avoided were Brandon Merriweather spearing Eddie Lacy and maybe Randall Cobb breaking his leg against Baltimore (but in the defense of Matt Elam, going low is now encouraged to defenders with so many fines being levied to helmet to helmet contact).

Data 1

However, it’s pretty undeniable that the Packers as a franchise have either had consistent terrible luck or something else is at play.  The Packers have had one of the worst strings of injuries over the last 4 years and it’s 99.9% significant compared to the rest of the league.  Fingers have been pointed at pretty much every remote possibility; plenty have blamed Ted Thompson and the front office for drafting players who are injury prone (i.e. Justin Harrell), some have blamed the coaching staff for not teaching proper form while others have blamed the strength and conditioning coaches (there was some ridiculous rumor that floated around that the 49ers had a secret stretching routine that made them impervious to injuries; keep in mind free agency does happen and more importantly players stretch out on the field for everyone to see).

1

November

Packing the Stats: Balanced Offense Performing with Increased Efficiency

Packing the StatsThere’s no doubt that Green Bay Packers fans have experienced a rough start to the 2013 season. Among losing games to the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, the Packers have been without a number of key players due to injuries. But, in spite of this, we’re finally starting to see this team come together and work with efficiency.

It hasn’t been an easy transition, though. We’ve been used to a high-flying offense that made big plays down the field and racked up quick points, and it has taken some getting used to a more balanced offensive attack. Yet this newfound balance has paid major dividends.

Here is a look at some basic statistical categories for the Packers offense this season compared to their overall results from the last two years (from TeamRankings.com):

Statistical Category 2013 2012 2011
Points per Game 30.3 27.1 34.1
Yards per Game 438.9 357.2 404.1
Points per Play 0.448 0.419 0.547
Red Zone Scoring % (TD) 50.00% 68.52% 65.22%
Yards per Play 6.5 5.5 6.5
First Downs per Game 23.0 21.2 22.2
First Down per Play 0.340 0.327 0.357
Average Time of Possession 31:57 30:06 30:28
Third Down Conversion % 46.39% 41.00% 48.50%
Rushing Attempts per Game 29.6 26.7 24.6
Rushing Yards per Game 141.4 104.6 100.3
Rushing First Downs per Game 7.6 5.1 5.7
Yards per Rush Attempt 4.8 3.9 4.1
Rushing Play % 43.76% 41.20% 39.43%
Rushing First Down % 32.92% 23.88% 25.66%
Pass Completion % 67.07% 67.14% 67.34%
Passing Yards per Game 297.4 252.6 303.8
Yards per Pass Attempt 8.4 7.2 8.7
Passing First Downs per Game 13.3 13.4 14.4
Passing First Down % 57.76% 63.25% 64.81%
Average Team Passer Rating 108.0 107.1 119.4
Passing Play % 56.24% 58.80% 60.57%
QB Sacked % 6.39% 8.03% 7.01%

 

I think it’s interesting to not only look at the overall improvements from last season (which are striking), but also to look at how this offense has changed from the high-scoring juggernaut of 2011. For example, the overall performance indicators for 2013 are generally better than 2012, but not quite as good as 2011. Categories like Points per Game, Yards per Game, and Points per Play clearly show this. However, notice that the Yards per Play statistic is the same in 2013 as 2011, and the number of First Downs per Game is slightly higher than both years.

26

August

Packing the Stats: Adding Up, Subtracting Down to 53

Packing the StatsLast preseason, I took a look at how the Packers could fudge the numbers in order to keep six wide receivers on the roster. It involved breaking down the starting rosters since 2009 and seeing how many players at each position were kept on the initial 53-man roster. From there, I could make some conjectures about what might need to happen to make the numbers work.

This year, I’m doing the same exercise, but instead I’m looking at the numbers in a more general sense. By the end of business on Saturday, August 31, 2013, the Green Bay Packers and the other 31 NFL teams must have their roster size cut down to 53. In subtracting players, it’s important to see how the positions add up.

In other words, if you want to keep an extra player at one position, then what other position will be subtracted from to balance things out? And how might this year’s group of players affect the total numbers?

Below is a chart that represents the number of players at each position on the year’s starting roster. Rosters do change throughout the year due to injury, but by and large, the starting rosters are a clear indication of the personnel philosophy of Mike McCarthy. Also, as I stated last year, I only went back to 2009, because that’s when the 3-4 defense was first implemented, and that could have affected the defensive numbers.

Take a look. Each year is listed, followed by the minimum (MIN) number of players kept at that position in a single year, plus the average (AVG) number of players kept across all years. (Obviously, I have rounded off the average since we can’t keep half of a player.)

POS 2012 2011 2010 2009 MIN AVG
QB 2 2 2 2 2 2
WR 6 5 5 5 5 5
TE 4 5 4 3 3* 4
RB 4 3 2 3 2* 3
FB 1 1 3 3 1* 2
OL 7 8 10 9 7 8
DL 6 6 6 6 6 6
ILB 6† 4 4 4 4 4
OLB 3† 6 4 5 4 5
CB 6† 7 6 6 6‡ 6
S 5 3 4 4 3‡ 4
16

May

Packing the Stats: Defense Tackling Improvements

Packing the StatsIn my recent perusal of the internet for some Green Bay Packers news in the offseason, I came across an article at Football Outsiders by editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz. “Broken Tackles 2012: Defense” focuses on the best and worst defensive players when it came to broken tackles last season. Those of us who regularly follow the Packers know that tackling was a big point of interest after an abysmal 2011 season when, according to ProFootballFocus.com, they missed a whopping 109 tackles.

Naturally, I was intrigued to see how the Packers and some of their individual players ranked among the rest of the league for 2012. I braced for the worst, knowing the defense was lacking against opposing rushing attacks. (They gave up 132.6 yards per game, for 25th in the NFL.) And then, of course, were the games against Adrian Peterson.

Imagine my surprise when I found out the Packers were in the top three best teams when it came to missed tackles.

Now, let’s clear something up first. Football Outsiders clearly defined their criteria for a “broken tackle,” which should not be confused with the PFF “missed tackle” statistic. (Though for comparison’s sake, the 109 missed tackles from 2011 dropped down to just 81 in 2012 as charted by PFF.) That aside, here is how FO defines a “broken tackle”:

We define a “broken tackle” as one of two events: either the ballcarrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ballcarrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ballcarrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn’t count as a broken tackle.

Before we get to the team’s overall numbers, I want to highlight the two Packers players that made “best” and “worst” lists. First, take comfort in the fact that no player from Green Bay recorded 10 or more broken tackles. None of the defensive backs made the bottom ten in broken tackle rate; of course, none of them made the top ten either.

No, our two players in question were linebackers.

Inside linebacker Brad Jones made the “naughty” list as one of the twelve worst linebackers when it came to broken tackles in 2012. For his 61 solo tackles on the season, he had 7 broken tackles, for a rate of 10.3%. That put him seventh from the bottom.

6

May

Packing the Stats: The 49ers, Ted Thompson, and Draft Class Contributions

Packing the StatsYou know what’s been bugging me about some fans’ reactions to the 2013 NFL Draft? They look at the San Francisco 49ers, who have been lauded for their draft results, and feel like the Green Bay Packers’ selections were utterly underwhelming by comparison.

Yes, the 49ers had a great draft. They were able to get some highly regarded players who could definitely make their great team even better. But I have a few counterpoints to the assertion that the Packers had a terrible draft in comparison. First and foremost, the 49ers started out with thirteen picks to the Packers’ eight. According to the traditional trade value chart, San Francisco’s total value of picks was about 1,958 points, compared to Green Bay’s total value of about 1,318 points.

In other words, the 49ers started out with 48.6% more draft value than the Packers. Of course they’re going to be able to get more out of it!

Secondly, these players have yet to play a single down in the pro arena. We should very well know by now that high draft picks can be phenomenal busts, while low draft picks can be hidden diamonds in the rough. It’s worthwhile to compare draft value based on scouting grades and reports; however, it’s rather silly to make concrete future predictions based on that.

Which leads to my third and most important point: a team’s draft picks don’t contribute that much in their rookie season. We call it “draft and develop” because these players don’t come ready-made for the NFL. They have to be coached, and they have to improve their technique and football knowledge in order to be effective at the professional level.

Let’s take the San Francisco 49ers for example. They reached the Super Bowl in 2012, but do you recognize any of these names from their rookie draft class? A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Darius Fleming, Trent Robinson, Jason Slowey, and Cam Johnson played a combined total of 12 games and zero starts. That means the 49ers were a Super Bowl team in the making over several years and that drafted players take time to really make an impact.

Of course, I don’t want to rest my assertion on that one example. I wanted to make sure that this claim actually has some validation to it, so I started doing some research.