Category Archives: Packing the Stats

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.

18

April

Packing the 2013 NFL Draft Stats: Explosion Number, Part 1

Packing the StatsA couple weeks ago, I presented some data in regard to some of the 3-4 defensive front prospects that the Green Bay Packers could be looking at in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft. We calculated their “production ratios” based on big plays during their college years. This time around, we’re going to take some numbers from the NFL Combine to see how explosive some of these players are.

Taking another page from Pat Kirwan’s book, “Take Your Eye Off the Ball,” we’re going to take some of the combine measurable and plug them into a formula that will help to show how explosive these players are.

“On the snap of the ball,” writes Kirwan, “the front seven and the offensive line are going to engage physically. It’s a series of adjacent bar fights, and we need to be able to project who has the athleticism to win these all-important battles in the trenches. . . . A prospect with an Explosion Number of 70 or higher has my attention.”

So how do we calculate this number? Here’s the formula:

BENCH PRESS (reps) + VERTICAL LEAP (in.) + STANDING BROAD JUMP (ft.) = EXPLOSION NUMBER

The bench press, vertical jump, and broad jump are three workouts at the combine that specifically test a player’s raw strength, power, and explosiveness. They comprise the core qualities that a defensive lineman needs to do his job. Other workouts like the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill don’t really factor into this equation, because they relate much less to these trench battles.

Without further ado, here are the numbers. The data is taken from NFL Combine Results, and the players listed are the only ones who have data for the required workouts. Some players skip certain workouts for health or preferential reasons, so their Explosion Number can’t be adequately measured. Additionally, I used DraftTek.com to pare down the list to only those players projected as 3-4 candidates. The overall draft rankings are also based on DraftTek’s “big board.”

(Click the image to enlarge)

 

2013 NFL Draft Stats: Explosion Number of 3-4 Defensive Front Prospects

2013 NFL Draft Stats: Explosion Number of 3-4 Defensive Front Prospects

 

You’ll notice that only four players have an Explosion Number (EN) of 70 or greater: Brandon Williams, Cornelius Washington, Margus Hunt, and Nicholas Williams. None of them are projects as first round prospects, which is rather interesting; however, Datone Jones is extremely close with an EN of 69.8. Conversely, Ezekial Ansah is the highest ranked of the group, but only boasts an EN of 65.3.

2

April

Packing the 2013 NFL Draft Stats: Production Ratio

Packing the StatsI have a confession to make: I’m completely clueless when it comes to NFL draft prospects. Okay, well maybe not clueless, but I don’t follow college football, so it’s hard to really know much about these guys moving around the draft boards. Once a guy gets drafted by the Green Bay Packers, then I take the time to read up on his scouting report and check out the highlight reels.

That means you won’t be getting a lot from me when it comes to evaluating players. However, as we get closer to the 2013 NFL Draft, I’m going to post some statistics articles that relate to the current rookie prospects. The nice thing about statistics is that I don’t really have to be that intimate with the players’ individual skills and deficiencies. I can take some of their important numbers, crunch them together, and make something useful out of them.

Of course, this is where I make my disclaimer that statistics don’t tell the whole story. They’re a useful tool when evaluating performance, but they’re just one item in the toolbox. Just like the “measurables” from the NFL Combine and pro days, statistics need to be combined with the rest of the puzzle to make the complete picture. (Okay, maybe that was one too many analogies in a single paragraph.)

My first endeavor is to determine the “production ratio” of front seven draft prospects. A few months ago, I finished reading Pat Kirwan’s book, “Take Your Eye Off the Ball,” and he mentioned a couple statistical tools he uses to help measure incoming players. (By the way, I highly recommend picking up this book if you haven’t read it. I got it on iBooks for about $10.) Production ratio is one of these measurements, and it’s a look at how often defensive lineman and linebackers made impact plays during their playing time in college. Here’s the formula:

(SACKS + TACKLES FOR A LOSS)/GAMES PLAYED = PRODUCTION RATIO

Obviously, this is an attempt to combine big plays into one number that’s comparable across the board. The sum of sacks and tackles for a loss are divided by the number of games played to essentially get an average number of impact plays per game.

8

March

Packers B.J. Raji in 2012: Warrior or Shrinking Violet?

B.J. Raji 2012

B.J. Raji

From the time BJ Raji was drafted in 2009, I’ve taken a special interest in this player. Maybe because he’s from a local town here in NJ, maybe because I was hoping he would be one of the linchpins for Dom Caper’s new 3-4 defense – the next “Gravedigger.”

I wrote a profile on Raji back in May of 2009, and later talked to some people who saw him in his HS playing days. “Really nice kid from a nice family,” I heard repeatedly, followed by, not sure if he has enough “mean” in his personality to thrive in the trenches in the NFL.

I discounted those comments for the most part. Surely the Packers wouldn’t have spent a top-10 draft choice on him if the Packers didn’t think he was a potential star.

B.J. Raji made the Pro Bowl in 2011, probably based on the rep earned by his 8 sacks and strong sophomore season  in 2010 (film study here).  Ironically, though, he just wasn’t that good in 2011.

Raji’s 2012 season for the Packers was noticeably better than 2011, but one major thing was missing; consistency.  It seemed to these non-expert eyes that as the season unfolded, Raji had some very strong performances, and some downright awful ones.

Raji terrorized the Bears (film study here) late in the season and a few weeks later was bounced around like a pinball machine by the 49ers offensive line. With those two offensive lines being on opposite ends of the talent scale, a thought crossed my mind; were’s Raji’s “good” performances all against “bad” offensive lines and vica versa?

While a film study would be the optimal way to examine this hypothesis, that kind of free time eludes me, especially with all our NFL Draft prep going on. So, I decided to go to the folks that examine every player on every play over the course of an entire season; Pro Football Focus.

For a little background, lets first take a look at how Raji has graded out over his first four seasons in the NFL.

Year OVERALL Pass Rush Run Defense
       
2009 -4.8 -5.5 1.8
2010 15.1 12.7 -4.3
2011 -20.8 -2.4 -21.2
2012 6.5 2.8 5.9
7

March

Packing the Stats: Is Aaron Rodgers’ Time Ticking Away?

Packing the StatsIn the shadow of the last two postseason losses, I’ve seen a number of Green Bay Packers fans itching for Ted Thompson to make some big roster moves. Their basic premise is that star quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have much time left to get to another Super Bowl. It’s either now or never if the team wants to make another serious run at it.

Rodgers is, after all, turning 30 this December. By the time the season is over and the playoffs are underway, he’ll have reached that magic age in the NFL when a player’s value suddenly drops like a brand new car being driven off the dealer’s lot. Sure, he hasn’t shown any physical or mental signs of decline in his performance, but time flies when you’re chasing the Lombardi Trophy.

To be perfectly clear, I have been a big skeptic of this line of thinking. This skepticism has actually led me to do a little data mining. How many quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl after they’ve turned 30? How many have even played in a Super Bowl? Is it a foregone conclusion that Rodgers will be battling the odds in the coming years?

So I went all the way back to Super Bowl XXX and compiled the ages of the starting quarterbacks since that year. Just to note, I only went back 18 years for the purposes of time management and the idea that modern rules are helping with durability. Quarterbacks are being protected from physically damaging hits, so they should theoretically have a better chance of playing into their later years.

Here is the raw data I uncovered (click to enlarge):

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages - Raw Data, 1995-2013

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages – Raw Data, 1995-2013

 

After compiling all the data, I went through and calculated some simple statistics to help us measure and understand what we’re seeing:

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages - Statistics, 1995-2013

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages – Statistics, 1995-2013

 

Looking at the numbers, Aaron Rodgers has clearly surpassed the average age for quarterbacks appearing in a Super Bowl. Losing quarterbacks tend to be about a year older than winning ones, while the median age seems to hover around 28. About 60% of all quarterbacks starting in a Super Bowl during the past 18 years were under the age of 30.

29

November

Packing the Stats: Packers First Down Failures

Packing the StatsOne thing I noticed while watching the Green Bay Packers humiliating loss to the New York Giants was their inability to put themselves in favorable down-and-distance situations.

In fact, of the 54 offensive downs that Aaron Rodgers was on the field for, 40 of them were at or over ten yards to convert. Three were in the moderate-long range (7-9 yds.), eight were in the moderate-short range (4-6 yds.), and only three were in the short range (1-3 yds.).

But how does this compare with the rest of the season? It’s one thing to have the numbers, but we also have to have some context and comparison. After all, there will tend to be more downs of 10 yards to go, since that is what most first downs start with.

Without further ado, here is some raw data concerning the Packers’ offensive performance by down-and-distance (click on the image for a larger resolution):

 

2012 Green Bay Packers, Yards Gained by Down and Distance

 

The first thing to look at is the yards per play on first down. Green Bay had its lowest overall production on first-and-long this season (2.68 yards per play). Their second lowest output came against the Seahawks where they averaged a full yard more at 3.68 yds/play. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, their best production on first-and-long came against the Indianapolis Colts (6.79 yds/play).

What that means is the Packers should have faced more long second downs than normal. And, in fact, that was the case. Eleven of 20 second downs were in the 10+ yards-to-go range. That’s 55.0% for those keeping track. On the season, the Packers have only ended up in second-and-long situations 32.8% of the time.

What becomes even worse is how they performed on second down. Their 3.73 yds/play on second-and-long is a yard short of their season average. And one very misleading statistic is their production on second down with 4-6 yards to ago (moderate-short). While 78 yards on 7 plays gives an average of 11.14 yds/play, consider what happens when we remove the 61-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson. It becomes a paltry 17 yards on six plays for just 2.83 yds/play – or about half of their season average.

We can clearly see that an inefficiency to move the ball forward into manageable situations led the Packers to downs where they were forced to throw deeper. And that, I would say, is a bad situation to be in against such a formidable New York Giants pass rush.

21

November

Packing the Stats: Third Quarter Struggles

Packing the StatsIn my very first “Packing the Stats” feature, I broke down the 2010 Green Bay Packers’ scoring by quarter in an attempt to research the claim that they were slow starters. Among a number of conclusions that I drew was the discovery that the team performed best in the third quarter. Not only were they scoring well, but they were also limiting the point totals of their opponent.

As I look through the stats this year, however, it’s quite the opposite. The third quarter for the 2012 Green Bay Packers is their worst by far, especially considering it is the only quarter in which the Packers have been outscored by their opponent. In fact, the Packers have only had a higher third quarter score than their opponent in two out of ten games so far.

Before we go any further, though, let’s take a look at the raw data. I’ve also included a chart to help illustrate the overall scoring data by quarter:

 GB vs OPP Scoring by Quarter Chart

 GB vs OPP Scoring by Quarter Graph

The Green Bay Packers, perhaps surprisingly, do the best overall in the first and fourth quarters of play. Their defense does a nice job keeping the points down at the beginning of games, where they only allow and average of 1.9 points in the first quarter. Unfortunately, they allow on average a steady 6.0 to 6.6 points in each subsequent quarter of play.

The offense, meanwhile, scores the majority of their points in the second and fourth quarters. In fact, the Packers have only gone scoreless three out of twenty times in those quarters of play. Perhaps indicative of their struggles, they’ve put up the most points (9.1 average) in the fourth quarter, where they’ve probably needed them the most.

If you compare this data to the 2010 season, the margins are definitely closer. The third quarter problems become even more magnified when you also note that the 2010 Packers, at least in those first twelve games, maintained a higher average than their opponents across the board. Thus, having a negative difference in point total becomes a little worrisome.

Now, as further analysis, I thought it might be prudent to look at the opening drives of each half of play. I was curious to see if this might have anything to do with who got the ball first, as well as how each team fared on their first drive. Below you will find a chart that notes which team earned the first possession of the game, as well as whether each team scored on their respective first possessions in each half: