Has a player ever in the history of sports put up as many historical records as Jamaal Charles has in his three year career, and still be so unknown and so under the radar. Let’s take a look at what Jamaal Charles
has done so far in his short career.
In 2009, Jamaal Charles finished the season with the highest yards per carry in the league for anyone running back with 120 carries or over, and became the only player in NFL history to rush for 1,100 or more yards with 200 or fewer carries. He also became the only player in NFL history to take over as a starter halfway through the season and double the ypc of the player he replaced. Jamaal Charles averaged 5.9 ypc compared to Larry Johnson’s 2.9.
In 2010, Jamaal Charles averaged 6.38 ypc, which is the second highest ypc in history behind Jim Brown’s 6.4. He also become the only player in NFL history to finish second in the league in rushing yards and not even lead his own team in rushing attempts. Charles only had 230 attempts this past season compared to Jones’ 245 attempts. Despite Jones having more attempts, Jones only rushed for 896 yards this year compare to Charles 1496 yards, because Jones only averaged 3.7 ypc.
As of right now, Jamaal Charles has the highest career ypc for any running back in NFL history with a minimum of 200 carries.
What’s most amazing about Charles is that he defies the common assumption that an offensive line makes the running back. In most systems in the NFL, the ypc discrepancy between running backs on the same team is relatively close to each other. In the Last two years, Charles ypc compared to the other running backs on his team has been off the charts. His 3.0 ypc advantage in 2009 and his 2.7 ypc advantage in 2010 is proof that if a running back is great enough, he can make that much of a difference. Charles’ ypc advantage, considering how many carries he and his teammates have gotten, is something that we haven’t and may never see again.
From the moment I saw Charles play, I knew he had an amazing talent, and I even wrote an article after the 2009 season claiming that Jamaal Charles could be better than Titans RB Chris Johnson. At the time, most people laughed at me, and what’s scares is me is that if I wrote that now, they would still laugh. The question that needs to be answered however is why is Jamaal Charles still so under the radar?
The first obvious reason why he is underrated is because he plays in Kansas City. Players in Kansas City lack the exposure that big city players get and often get under-appreciated, which we saw in the hall of fame voting for the late great Derrick Thomas for many years, and most recently this year for Willie Roaf, who I could make a case for as the greatest offensive tackle ever.
However, playing in Kansas City is not the sole reason for this as his lack of carries, especially goal line carries, hurts his credentials. The reality is that with Jamaal Charles amazing ypc, a 2000 yard season or something close to that is very probable with more carries. A lot of fans and even experts overvalue yards in a season and undervalue yards per carry. Thus if Charles put up a more historical single season rushing yard mark, fans would quickly know who he is, just as they knew who Chris Johnson was after he ran for over 2000 yards.
The other reason is because Charles, who actually is a more efficient goal line rusher than Thomas Jones, isn’t given many goal line carries. Many fans and experts overvalue rushing touchdowns when the truth is that rushing touchdowns are often more of a production of opportunity and situation rather than anything else. If Charles was given more or even most of the goal line carries that most feature running backs get, his stats would be much more appealing and noticeable to everyone.
Sadly though, it doesn’t seem as though Chiefs Coach Todd Haley wants to give Charles a more featured role in the offense. One theory is that Haley is doing this to not ware out Charles, because of the tendency for running back’s careers to be shortened by an overload of carries as well as Haley wanting him to be fresh at the end of the season. But if Haley wants Charles to become that next great running back, he’s going to have to unleash him, and stop holding him back. Because at the end of the day, he’s only holding his team back.
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In any defense, the tackles may be the most important part.
They are the first line, and they’re the tone-setters. Their play can determine the difficulty or ease of the linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties behind them.
If the line is playing well and keep the linebackers clean, odds are that team will be fairly successful. If they’re not, their respective team is looking at a very long day.
They’re the biggest guys on the field and their only intention is to make sure that the other big guys across from them don’t move them. They growl, they snot, and they snarl just to defend that six inches of ground.
The trenches. It’s the reason why we love football and what makes it such a man’s man of a sport. Giving up or keeping that six inches can be the difference between a win and a loss.
These are the guys who do it best.
5. Mike Patterson – Philadelphia Eagles
54 games started, 9.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles, 1 TD, 154 tackles Patterson has been solid since his first days in the NFL, but over the last two seasons he has really began to separate himself as one of the better tackles in all of football.
He’s grown into a brick wall. He’s not tall, and not all that big at only 5’11 and barely breaking 300 pounds, but he understands that leverage is all that counts when you’re a lineman, and he uses it better than most.
His shorter stature seems to help with this, as it’s much easier for a guy at 5’11 to get lower than a guy at around 6’4.
Look for Patterson in the Pro Bowl this year, and several times in seasons following. If this list is put together again in a few years, he may find himself much higher.
4. Marcus Stroud – Buffalo Bills
100 games started, 24.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 245 tackles, *3-time Pro Bowler
Stroud is an absolutely dominating force.
He’s highly underrated because of the small markets he’s played in (Jacksonville and Buffalo), but make no mistake there is not a single offensive coordinator in the league who doesn’t gamplan for a way around Marcus Stroud.
Even without the deserved media coverage, Stroud has still found his way to three Pro Bowls. One more than his former teammate, John Henderson.
Stroud is always going to command a double-team, and will make his teammates better because of it.
3. Tommie Harris – Chicago Bears
69 games started, 24.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 143 tackles, *3-time Pro Bowler
Tommie Harris may be the quickest man playing defensive tackle.
UnlikePatterson, Harris is much more of a pass-rush specialist. While he certainly doesn’t seem to lack against the run, his forte is getting pressure on the quarterback and creating havoc in the backfield.
Barring injuries, Harris may be considered the best tackle in all of football, regardless of the scheme. Unfortunately for Harris and the Bears, he has been injured throughout his career and unable to reach his full potential.
Even while he may not ever get to that point, he is still a force to be reckoned with and should be recognized as one of the most complete tackles playing the game today.
2. Albert Haynesworth – Washington Redskins
74 games started, 24 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 200 tackles, *2-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Albert Haynesworth. He seems to only be motivated by the money and the glory of playing professional football. I may be wrong, but the fact that he has only produced in contract years does nothing to temper the criticism.
As far as on-the-field goes, no one has been better than Haynesworth the past two years. He has been a disrupting force anywhere along the line. While he’s mainly a tackle, he has moved out to defensive end on occasion with great success.
He is a beast of a human being and is able to beat nearly any offensive lineman that the league can throw at him. Again, the only problem is that he has only produced in contract years.
If we throw out the past two seasons (both contract years), Haynesworth has a mere 9.5 sacks. He also has never finished out an entire season. This, in my mind, does not entitle him to the $100 million contract he received. He has his money, now will he be motivated to perform?
1. Kevin Williams – Minnesota Vikings
94 games started, 42.5 sacks, 4 INTs, 5 forced fumbles, 4 TDs, 223 tackles, *4-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro
Kevin Williams is without question the very best defensive tackle in the entire NFL.
He is incredibly reliable (having missed only two games in his career), and can rush the passer as well as stuff the run.
He’s an absolute wrecking ball on the line. Moving him is a nightmare for any offensive line. He consistently must be double-teamed if he is going to be taken out of a game, and even then he usually dominates.
His rare mix of being able to get to the quarterback and hold his own on the line is something the NFL hasn’t seen since back when Reggie White graced the football field with his presence.
The four career interceptions, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns, shows the rare athleticism he possesses for a man his size. He also has scooped up two fumbles for touchdowns.
Williams is a talent that only comes along once a generation. He’s a man who’s extremely underappreciated because of the position he plays, but should get serious Hall of Fame looks if his career holds up the way it is.
The biggest training camp story continues to be the absence of first-round pick Jeremy Maclin.
According to Andy Reid the talks are continuing, but nothing has been signed or even agreed upon at this point. Right now, all he’s missing is meetings. However at 8:45 tomorrow morning it gets real and he officially starts missing valuable time.
Reid pointed out how vital the camps are and how being there on time last year helped DeSean Jackson immensely with learning the playbook, getting his timing down, and everything else. A lot goes into an NFL training camp; missing is not an option for a young player with lofty expectations like Maclin.
The only thing that could be causing a delay at this point is the length. He waited to sign so the Eagles are limited in what they can spend on their last rookie. They may be bickering about a few tens of thousands of dollars, but my guess is that the Eagles want to give him a six-year deal like was originally reported a month ago, but he wants a four-year deal.
Again, that’s just a guess. We’ll hear more once something is agreed upon, I’m sure.
Brian Westbrook, Victor Abiamiri, and Andrews Bros. Injury Updates
On the injury front, it appears as though Brian Westbrook and Victor Abiamiri will be ready to return by mid-August. For those of you saying, “Um, when did Abiamiri get hurt?” it was apparently a few days ago. He was benching and strained his pec.
The best news is Westbrook. Some people were questioning if he’d be able to make it back for Week 1, but the news now is that he may even see some time in the third game of the preseason just to shake off some rust before Week 1.
Abiamiri’s injury is costly for him. If he doesn’t return until mid-August it means that he’s probably missing all of camp, and most certainly won’t be a starter, at the least at the beginning of the year.
This gives Juqua Parker a great shot to keep his job, but is just another knock against Abiamiri. He just can’t stay healthy long enough to try and win this job. I’m sure the coaches are frustrated with him at this point.
Some more good news is that the Andrews brothers are good to go. Someone asked Dave Spadaro if the brothers were ready to go and all he said was, “Yes, 100 percent.”
Good to hear, hopefully it stays that way
Pinkston Returns to the Eagles
Relax, not as a player.
The Eagles have brought Pinkston in as a coaching intern. I would assume he’s going to be shadowing David Culley, the Eagles’ wide receivers coach. However, there is no word on what exactly Pinkston will be doing.
Pinkston caught a lot of heat as a player, some deserving and some not, but he always seemed to at least be a smart guy. Even if you don’t think he was a very good player keep in mind the old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.”
John Madden and Bill Cowher are Hall of Fame coaches (Madden is in already, Cowher will be one day) but were just awful players.
Interesting sidenote: John Madden was actually drafted by the Eagles in 1958 out of Cal-Poly. Maybe you learned something today.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, rookie training camp begins on July 26th, exactly one week from today. So for guys like LeSean McCoy, Cornelius Ingram, Macho Harris, and the rest of the draft picks, it means it is time to officially start their NFL careers.
Well, except for maybe Jeremy Maclin.
Maclin remains the only Eagles rookie without a deal heading into training camp, and without one, he more than likely will not participate until he in fact receives a contract.
According to Adam Caplan of Scouts.com, contract talks are about to start heating up. They’ve been having discussions, but I think training camp is sneaking up on them at this point, and they realize that it’s time to get something done.
Last year, the 19th overall pick (Jeff Otah) received a five-year deal worth $14.4 million and nearly $9 million in guaranteed money.
Considering that the pay for most other players has gone up about 20 percent, then figure that the Eagles have already spent most of their money for the rookie pool, knock that down to about 15 percent and the contract would look to be about a five-year deal worth somewhere around $17 million with around $10 million in guarantees.
Not bad for your first salary right out of college.
Expect the Eagles to get something done with Maclin before the weekend. I would guess around Thursday this will go down because the Eagles want Maclin thinking about football, and not about his contract.
If not Thursday, probably sooner. I don’t expect it to go past Thursday.
So it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, don’t expect a holdout from Maclin.
The Philly and national media alike are calling the re-working of McNabb’s deal a “financial apology.”
Apparently a “financial apology” is that the Eagles are giving McNabb more money in order to say that they’re sorry for him being benched Week 12 against Baltimore. This would also explain why he’s not receiving an extension on top of the two years.
Anyone who has been an Eagles fan for more than five minutes knows that this is lunacy at its highest level. I don’t mean that the front office or the Eagles organization is crazy, but anyone who believes that is crazy.
Of any team in the league, the Eagles are probably the least likely to hand out “financial apologies” to a player simply because they feel like they’ve been done wrong.
Yes, McNabb was upset about being benched. No, he did not agree with the benching. But does anyone believe that Andy Reid, Tom Heckert, Jeff Lurie, or Joe Banner really care if McNabb’s feelings were hurt? Of course not.
This new contract is nothing more than showing good faith in McNabb. He only has two years left on his deal, and the bottom line is those last two years underpaid him by about $3 million.
Over the next two years, McNabb was scheduled to make about an average of $10 million a year. Kurt Warner, on the other hand, was just signed to a deal that will pay him about $12.5 million over the next two years.
All McNabb and his agent were looking for was fair market value for a guy who is a top five, perhaps even top three quarterback in the NFL today.
That is exactly what they got.
“If they’re showing good faith, why no extension?”
McNabb is 33 years old, and the Eagle believe that he definitely has two years left in him to get the job done and bring a Super Bowl to Philadelphia.
However, they may not have as much faith in him at age 35. As we’ve seen, the Eagles are not fond of players over the age of 30, much less half way to their 40s.
The plan from the Eagles’ point of view is to sit and wait. They will watch how he performs this season before jumping the gun to give him an extension. If he performs well and has a Pro Bowl caliber season, then they will most likely give him the extension that he’s looking for in the offseason, probably three years or so.
If he does not play well enough, or they see something that would indicate that he has lost a step, they will allow him to play out his contract and finish his career elsewhere.
A key indicator of what they plan to do will be if Kolb gets an extension after next year and McNabb does not, it means that Kolb will be viewed as the heir-apparent and that he will simply have to wait out McNabb before the team is his.
If neither McNabb or Kolb get an extension, look for the Eagles to go after a quarterback in the 2010 draft and look towards the future.
My gut feeling is that the Eagles are simply being overly cautious and will give McNabb the extension after this coming season (hopefully after he returns from Disney World).
All three quarterbacks’ contracts (Feeley included) run out in 2010, so the quarterback situation will become a huge focus in the coming years and what the Eagles do with McNabb/Kolb will really show their hand as to their plans for the future.
Right now the Eagles are just showing good faith that McNabb will take them to where they need to be within the next two years. He’s got a lot of guaranteed money coming his way with three-fourths of his 2010 season guaranteed. The Eagles are hoping that this show of good faith will pay off for them, hopefully in ’09 rather than ’10.
“How will this affect players in the locker room?”
Other players in the locker room looking for new deals such as Sheldon Brown and Max Jean-Gilles have not done half of what McNabb has done.
Brown is at least a starter, but signed a six-year extension only two years ago. He cannot think that throwing a fit about a contract that he agreed to only two years ago is going to get him a new deal.
Jean-Gilles has come out of left field in his search for a new contract. He’s a backup guard, and has recently had to switch sides because he lost his right guard backup spot to Nick Cole.
A backup who just lost his spot is in no position to ask for a new contract.
If the players are smart they will realize that the team needs McNabb and that the front office is simply showing good faith and hoping that he will finally get this team to the promised land.
If they’re not smart and want to chirp up, Reid will have a comfy place for them on the bench. They’ll also get a lovely financial apology.
Chad Ochocinco will get his desired wish of his new legal name on the back of his jersey. However, it won’t be the way he actually wanted it.
The NFL announced Thursday that the Bengals wide receiver will be allowed to wear his new name on the back of his jersey this season, but it will read “Ochocinco” instead of Ocho Cinco. Since he wrote Ochocinco on his name-change form, the league claims he must wear his jersey that way since it’s his real name.
Once again, Ocho Cinco appears to be a popular topic in the media. He will most likely voice his opinion within the next couple of days about how he is unhappy with the way his new jersey name looks. Does he have the right to speak up?
It’s hard not to assume the league did this to Ochocinco on purpose. Last season, the league was against calling him by his new name because of their large inventory of Johnson jerseys that Reebok already printed for the 2008 season. If he wanted to go by his new name, he would have to pay around $4 million for the jerseys that had already been printed.
Ever since Chad legally changed his name, he has always spelled it as Ocho Cinco. The media has always spelled is as Ocho Cinco. The league knew that he always spelled it Ocho Cinco. So how can we not assume they are making him spell it as Ochocinco to get under his skin?
No matter what happens with this situation, the league will always use the defense that players’ real names appear on jerseys and he made his legal name Ochocinco on the name-change form.
Then again, the league was aware of how he liked to spell his new name. If they knew this was going to be an issue, why did they wait until now to bring up the issue? Is it because they had no reason to deny Ochocinco the rights to wear his new last name?
With everything that happened last year with the name-change debate, it’s hard to not to imagine the league did this to make Ochocinco upset
If the New York Jets haven’t established that they will aggressively pursue the players they covet most by now, then you haven’t been watching closely enough.
Where there’s smoke, there’s usually been fire as far as the Jets have been concerned.
With inquiries into Plaxico Burress hitting the news wires and rumors of a trade for Braylon Edwards floating around, it’s clear that the Jets aren’t willing to leave their passing game to chance.
Finding a receiver may be a priority for most fans, but Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum is willing to see what David Clowney and Brad Smith can do before making another offseason splash.
But if neither receiver establishes himself as a quality starter, fans should know that Tannenbaum will not hesitate to acquire talent from elsewhere. With Terrell Owens and Randy Moss claiming residence in the AFC East, New York will need a dynamic receiver who will level the playing field.
That could mean kicking over some rocks that would have been completely ignored by the previous regime.
How Would They Look in Green?
No Coke, Then a Smile — Matt Jones Fights for Redemption in New York
After being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars following drug-related incidents, Matt Jones failed to generate any interest in the offseason. And understandably so.
With the NFL taking a hard stance on off-field infractions, most teams are afraid of the risk Jones poses to their organization with bad press. But desperation could inspire leniency.
When reports surfaced regarding the Jets inquiries into Adam “Pacman” Jones, one thing became clear: New York ain’t scared.
At 6’6″, Jones is the tall receiver New York could utilize in the red zone. With four years in the NFL under his belt, he has shown more promise as a quarterback-turned-receiver than Brad Smith ever has with the Jets.
While Jones never established himself as an elite player, it would be in the Jets’ best interest to carefully evaluate his risk and reward factors. Signing him to a one-year, veteran minimum contract is probably a more generous offer than he’ll receive elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the gamble wouldn’t end with the evaluation of his personality. There’s likely a four-game suspension in his future that could be contributing to the hesitation for his services.
More Cameras Than He Can Smile At; Braylon Edwards to New York
When he’s at his best, Braylon Edwards is a top receiver in the NFL.
He commands a double team and can score 16 times in a season. At his worst, he leads the NFL in drops and becomes a liability rather than a sure-handed receiver.
Which No. 17 would the Jets be getting if they managed a deal for him?
If the Jets believe he’s worth the gamble, then finding the right compensation to free him from Cleveland becomes the problem. New York may have fleeced the Browns in the NFL Draft, but the chances of lightning striking twice this offseason are slim.
Cleveland has stockpiled receivers this offseason, but they still place a high price tag on Edwards. The Jets may not have enough ammunition to entice Mangini without mortgaging future draft picks, or offering up a key defensive player.
The New York Giants did back down after the Browns requested Mathias Kiwanuka and their first round pick for Edwards.
After the trade compensation is determined, the battle is only half finished. The Jets would have work out a new contract with Edwards, since the root of his unhappiness stems from his desire for a more lucrative commitment.
Then they have to make sure he’s more committed to football and not modeling opportunities.
Too Late to Reconcile, Anquan Boldin Flies the Coop
Reports from Arizona have been conflicting. Prior to the draft, Ken Whisenhunt told reporters that they would listen to offers for the disgruntled Anquan Boldin.
If the Jets can break through the Cardinals’ defenses and agree to compensation for Boldin, the new issue revolves around meeting his financial requirements. Much like Edwards, Boldin wants a new contract, and he wants a big one.
With Larry Fitzgerald’s contract paying him an average of $10 million a year, Boldin expects something comparable. Drew Rosenhaus has said Boldin could be re-signed for less, but how much less is unknown.
Despite the contract demands, Boldin wouldn’t be the best fit in New York anyway. He’s only played two full seasons in his career and is a similar receiver to Jerricho Cotchery, in style and build.
There’s no doubt that Boldin is an elite receiver. But he’d be an expensive addition to a Jets’ team that promises to run first.
Only a Flesh Wound — Plaxico Burress Moves Down the Hall
Jerricho Cotchery and Alan Faneca, two well-respected Jets veterans, have said they would welcome Burress to the team on the merit of what he brings to the field alone.
The significance of those sentiments should not be overlooked.
Cotchery became the Jets new No. 1 receiver after Laveranues Coles forced his release, but he respects the dynamics of Burress’ game enough to put the team before his well-deserved promotion.
Knowing what Burress brings to the field, the attention he demands every time he lines up, and his ability to be a trustworthy receiver, the Jets understand what he could mean for the offense and Mark Sanchez.
If celebrity justice (read: slap on the wrist) allows Burress to avoid prison, then a move to the other football locker room in the Meadowlands shouldn’t surprise anyone.
If the Jets Decide to Do Nothing
While the focus rests upon finding a traditional wide receiver to complement Jerricho Cotchery, the answer could rest with the untraditional player the Jets already have on the roster.
Despite being listed as a tight end, Dustin Keller established himself as a certifiable threat in the passing game with his versatility.
He emerged as one of Brett Favre’s favorite targets as a rookie, taking advantage of the mismatch he constantly presents.
There are no defenders who stack up favorably against Keller.
Keller exploited the soft spots in zone coverages at all distances. He was a big target in underneath routes, and he was able to slip past the secondary to get down field. He’s swift, fast, and a reliable target.
If utilized more effectively in 2009, Keller has the potential to become the centerpiece of the offensive passing game.
There were no pads on and no one was knocked around, but everyone on the New York Jets’ offense was immediately dazzled by the defense Rex Ryan installed.
The Mad Scientist has officially arrived, bringing with him with his personal brand of organized chaos. And his new defensive players appear to be basking in all of it’s glory.
Running 11-on-11 drills, the Jets’ quarterbacks struggled to identify the looks the defense gave them, throwing errant passes, and failing to grasp who’s doing what at any given time.
The playbook Ryan brings is the most significant change for the team. He was hired for his knowledge of the 3-4 defense, allowing the Jets to maintain expensive personnel they’ve acquired over the last three years.
But limiting Ryan’s defense to the 3-4 label would be criminally negligent at this juncture.
Imagining the Jets taking the field with a 4-4 defensive front isn’t too far-fetched. And although the 46 defense was eventually countered by the West Coast offense, can anyone doubt Ryan’s desire to bring his father’s defense back from time to time?
“As far as trying to figure out a defense, I’ve never seen anything like it since I’ve been in the league,” said right tackle Damien Woody, an 11-year veteran.
“They do such a good job of disguising what they’re trying to do. They have looks that you just don’t see,” added Woody to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
The principle concern for the defense heading into training camp revolved around how quickly the Jets would pick up the complexities of Ryan’s scheming. With Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard around to aide Jets veterans in the transition, it appears as if the unit is already in midseason form.
If a veteran offense was stunned by the formations alone, fans should only expect even more confusion when the Jets are allowed to hit as hard as they’ve promised.
Seeing a Jets’ defense utilizing multiple fronts is unfamiliar territory for some fans.
There was a brief spell in 2006, after Eric Mangini implemented his base 3-4 alignment, where there would be motion to confuse an offense before the snap. But that creativity eventually took a backseat to a more traditional, line-up and read approach.
What was once a luxury for Jets’ fans now comes standard with Ryan. With the defensive fronts converging on the offense with intricate blitz packages, the secondary has been able to take advantage.
With players like Drew Coleman and Donald Strickland creating turnovers, it makes the possibilities even more exciting for Darrelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes when the season starts.
In Ryan’s defense, every player will be in a position to succeed.
Yes, that means Vernon Gholston, too.
“The biggest thing is that last year at this time I wasn’t here. I was back at Ohio State,” said Gholston. ”Now, you get the chance to go through the defensive installs. You can work on it and work on your technique and the different ins and outs of the defense.
“I didn’t get the chance to do that last year. I think that’s pretty big.”
That’s very big, Vern.
Closing out the practice session with a sack, Gholston received praise from defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
“You can tell this is important to him. He’s passionate about it,” said Pettine. “I think progression-wise, he’s right where he needs to be.
“I’m confident he’ll be better once we have the pads on.”
There’s no need to play coy. The NFL offseason is all about the blockbuster transactions that generate the most headlines and pique the casual fan’s interest for longer than a day.
But the power moves aren’t always the most significant ones an organization can make to improve their team.
To know football is to know that games aren’t won by superstars alone.
The new head coach hired in January, the guy who’s overpaid at the start of free agency, and the kid drafted early on that April afternoon won’t define the season by themselves.
Finding the appropriate complements for the things a team does well is what establishes winning traditions. Acquiring the perfect personnel who can appreciate and apply their team’s philosophy on the field makes all the difference.
The Top Five
Oakland Raiders Re-sign KR/CB Justin Miller
At first glance it would appear to be an unimportant move, but the decision to re-sign Justin Miller could be a significant for the Oakland Raiders.
After joining the Raiders halfway through the 2008 season, Miller provided a spark on special teams that was lacking everywhere else on the field. He returned kickoffs for touchdowns and was named Special Teams Player of the Month in December.
Drafted in the second round out of Clemson, Miller never established himself as a true defensive back in his tenure with the New York Jets. But he was never given a real opportunity to develop either.
Miller is aggressive by nature and has elite NFL speed. He’s a fearless runner and never shies away from contact. With that skill set, he could emerge as a quality safety if the Raiders choose to use him outside of special teams.
If not, he’s always good for a 90-yard kick return to get points on the board if the offense stalls.
Cleveland Browns Hire Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator
Rumors of Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan teaming up first surfaced during the 2008 offseason, when Lane Kiffin was still coaching in Oakland.
Ryan was expected to be fired in favor of Lane’s father Monte Kiffin. There was supposed to be a deal waiting for Ryan to join the Jets as soon as Oakland made it official.
Then Al Davis interfered, and Mangini’s plan never came to fruition.
Now in Cleveland, Mangini has finally managed to team up with the defensive coordinator he needs to succeed.
Ryan brings the infamous defensive reputation established by his father, Buddy Ryan, to the Browns. His experience as a coordinator should help alleviate the pressure for Mangini, who sometimes seems overwhelmed as he overthinks his strategy.
While the defensive personnel Cleveland acquired throughout the offseason has Mangini’s stamp all over them, it’s going to be Ryan’s scheme that complements the discipline Mangini preaches.
It’s a welcome change for Ryan after spending so many seasons with an undisciplined Raiders team.
Cincinnati Bengals Sign WR Laveranues Coles
When it became clear that the Bengals would be unable to retain T.J. Houshmandzadeh, finding a suitable replacement became critical.
Last season, the Bengals’ passing game shifted from being centered on Chad Ocho Cinco to Houshmandzadeh becoming the primary target. It was important for Cincinnati to find someone who could bring a similar skill set to the offense.
After forcing his way out of New York in pursuit of a long-term commitment, Laveranues Coles found the ideal contract with an offense that could utilize him to perfection.
At 31, Coles’ speed is deceitful. He has a good burst off the line of scrimmage and is quick enough to extend a catch for extra yardage. Most importantly, he’s a fearless receiver who will cross the middle and can hang on to the ball after contact.
No longer a primary receiver, Coles can be the same complement to Ocho Cinco that Houshmandzadeh was. He was good enough with the Jets to command double teams, and he could pose an offensive mismatch while defenders focus on No. 85.
New York Jets Steal CB Lito Sheppard from the Philadelphia Eagles
The free agent pool was noticeably shallow for cornerbacks this offseason. With DeAngelo Hall and Domonique Foxworth setting the bar for exorbitant contracts, New York wasn’t going to overpay for marginal talent like the Redskins and Ravens did.
But the Jets still needed a cornerback to play opposite Darrelle Revis, and Philadelphia happened to be stacked at the position.
Sheppard slid down the depth chart and out of favor with the Eagles after injuries and contract disputes, respectively. The strain on their working relationship made the former All-Pro available to New York for a fifth-round draft choice and a conditional 2010 pick.
But it’s the terms of the deal Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum worked out that make this move so underrated.
Knowing that Sheppard’s history of injuries would be a concern, Tannenbaum protected the Jets in the scenario that Lito doesn’t pan out as expected. He also salvaged the conditional 2010 draft pick with a potential poison pill for the Eagles.
Philadelphia receives a 2010 draft pick if Sheppard is on the field for 85-percent of the snaps. That won’t be difficult if he remains healthy and returns to All-Pro form.
But the second half of that negotiation requires Sheppard to receive a four-year, $27.2M contract extension in March 2010 after the Jets pay out a $10M option bonus.
The conditional 2010 pick is contingent upon both things happening—and if anyone has paid attention to Tannenbaum over the last few seasons, they’d know that he’s more likely to release someone than pay them.
New York Giants Don’t Trade for WR Braylon Edwards
On the rarest of occasions, it’s the move that isn’t made that has the most significant impact.
Refusing to succumb to their obvious desperation at wide receiver, the Giants opted to use their draft picks to fill holes rather than mortgage them on disgruntled Browns receiver Braylon Edwards.
A deal for Edwards was seemingly imminent in the weeks leading up to the draft.
But Big Blue learned their lesson from Plaxico Burress and decided not to pull the trigger on another diva receiver.
When at the top of his game, Edwards is undoubtedly among the best in the NFL. A receiver who caught 16 touchdowns in one season should always be worth a gamble.
Unfortunately, every time the ball is thrown his way, it’s a gamble.
After leading the NFL in drops in 2008, taking a risk on a receiver who’s demanding a new contract would be counterproductive to the Super Bowl-winning chemistry the Giants hope to reestablish for Eli Manning.
Ultimately, the Giants were able to use their draft picks on players they could develop internally. Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden were selected to be long-term solutions, not immediate band-aids.
By not trading for Edwards, the Giants avoid a severe case of the Drop Flu and won’t have to deal with headaches from a player whose mind wouldn’t be focused on football.
Jerry Jones was given a lot of credit this offseason for stepping away from the headline-grabbing players. He severed ties with Pacman and lost $9M to not play with Terrell Owens. Signing Igor Olshansky stood as a testament to his commitment to bring pure football back to Dallas.
New Orleans Saints sign Darren Sharper
The Saints’ search for quality defensive backs continues. Signing Sharper isn’t the answer to all their prayers, but he brings his reputation and leadership skills to a secondary that’s lacked guidance for years.
Carolina Panthers re-sign Jordan Gross
When you have one of the best rush attacks in the NFL, you don’t play games with the men who open holes for them. Jordan Gross has done everything the Panthers asked of him since being drafted, and he has done it well. Sure, Julius Peppers’ whining made the decision to extend Gross’ contract easier. But Gross deserved it on his own merit too.
In football, there are some truths that are self-evident.
Defense wins championships. A robust rushing game is key for all successful teams. You can’t win a Super Bowl without a fierce passing attack.
Given the frequency with which these notions are maintained, there shouldn’t be any disagreement with the statements. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry believes you need a franchise quarterback to win a championship. Everyone also thinks that you should only go for it on fourth down with one or two yards to go (hint: that’s wrong).
What if those self-evident truths weren’t self-evident truths? What if they were simply nonsensical lies? Has the general public been deceived over these so-called doctrines?
I chose statistics for both sides of the ball in the following categories: a team summary, passing, rushing, kick and punt returns, and kicking and punting; in total, there were 180 different statistics I used in the study—about 50 of which were differences between offense and defense (such as the difference between passing yards and passing yards allowed). The sample went back 15 years—from 1994 to 2008—giving me 465 team seasons with which to work.
To determine each stat’s relative value, I used to methods of choice: correlation and regression.
Correlation shows how relationship between two variables in a number between negative-one and one. The more related two variables are, and the more the graph between the two looks like a perfect line, the closer to one or negative-one the correlation is; a positive number represents a positive relationship—that is, as one stat goes up, so does the other (such as points scored and wins—and a negative number represents a negative relationship—when one variable goes up, the other goes down (such as points allowed and wins).
This chart shows several relationships and the resulting correlation.
Note: The correlations of an offensive stat and its defensive counterpart—such as offensive passing yards and passing yards allowed—are nearly the same, and you get the same conclusion whether you look at the offensive or defensive stat. For example, in the final table in the “Passing and Rushing” section, I show the correlations of five passing statistics; on the defensive side, the correlations of those five stats are about one-tenth less as a whole, but the order of the stats based on correlation with wins is the exact same.
Regression can be used to estimate a dependent variable based on one or more independent variables. In other words, if I ran a regression based on wins, points scored, and points allowed, the resulting regression equation will be something like this (numbers as illustration only): Wins = 0.13 x points — 0.12 x points allowed + 7.5.
What regression does is take a set of data and forms a line that creates the smallest difference between actual wins and estimated wins (based on points scored and allowed).
However, if I include a stat like touchdown percentage in a regression with yards per attempt, the equation may look like this: Wins = 50 x TD% + 2 x YPA — 6.5. That may look like touchdown percentage is 25 times more important than yards per attempt, but because the scales of the two stats are much different, we must take one more approach to see which is more important to wins.
Standardization. We standardize by computing how many standard deviations a variable is from the average value. That sounds like a lot, but by doing so, we put both on the exact same and thus comparable scale in the regression. Generally, a 3,900-yard passer with 28 touchdowns is one standard deviation above the average in both stats, while 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns are both about two standard deviations from the average value.
PASSING AND RUSHING
Running the ball wins games more often than passing.
That statement is true; since 1995, in fact, teams have won 84 percent of the time when one running back has 30 attempts, but they’ve won just 28 percent when their quarterback has 40 attempts. This is even backed up by the correlations of pass and rush attempts to winning.
The problem lies, however, in the analysis. Running does not lead to wins, and passing does not lead to losses; it’s the other way around.
When a team is up by 10 points in the fourth quarter, you bet they’ll rush the ball to run out the clock. Similarly, a team down 10 will in no way make an attempt to run. They’d pass as much as they can in order to start a comeback.
So when analysts see that Arizona is 9-1 when rushing the ball 19 or more times, and 0-6 in all other games, they’ll point out that the Cardinals just need to run the ball to win—even though they may actually need to pass first to get a 10-point lead, when they can then run the ball.
There’s a similar problem when looking at pure yards. Teams have won 74 percent of the time when they have at least one 100-yard rusher, and only 53 percent of the time when they have a 300-yard passer—but that doesn’t mean that teams should go out and try as hard as they can to have a 100-yard rusher and not 300 passing yards.
That’s why it’s best to look at efficiency stats, such as yards per attempt. When teams have at least one running back with 10 attempts and five yards per attempt, they win 65 percent of the time; with a quarterback with 25 attempts and eight passing yards per attempt, they win 70 percent of the time.
The table below shows this, including correlations with points scored.
By dividing rushing yards by attempts, the correlation/causation issue—more of any rushing stat equals more wins—is gone. There’s also clear evidence that pass efficiency is more important than either pass yards or pass attempts.
There are, however, other passing statistics that correlate better with wins and points than yards per attempt, and all take the standard yards per attempt and add on to it.
There’s net yards per attempt, which subtracts sack yards from pass yards and adds sacks and to pass attempts; the popular quarterback rating, with its arbitrary, complex formula; adjusted yards per attempt, which adds 20 yards for each touchdown pass and subtracts 45 for each interception to passing yards; and adjusted net yards, which is adjusted yards per attempt with sacks and sack yards added in.
Adj Net Yards/Att
TOUCHDOWNS AND TURNOVERS
Touchdowns are an odd thing.
At first, it appears that passing touchdowns are the result of luck and surrounding talent. A quarterback gets credit for a touchdown if the wide receiver runs 70 yards to the end zone on an eight-yard slant route; a quarterback loses a touchdown if the wide receiver gets pushed out at the two-yard line on a perfect, 40-yard throw.
Despite that, touchdowns and passing yards have a 0.73 correlation—and that number rises slightly if you subtract sack yards and 45 yards per interception from passing yards.
Clearly, passing touchdowns are affected by pure passing production as much as—if not more than—luck and surrounding talent.
Rushing scores, on the other hand, seem to be the result of solely running back talent. There are some situations in which a team can set up a three-play, 70-yard drive and get down to the two-yard line for the running back to punch it in. But the majority of the time, the running game keeps the drive alive or sets up the score.
Yet, the correlation between rushing touchdowns and yards is just 0.61, showing that there’s more to rushing touchdowns than just rushing yards, at least compared to passing.
And then, something weird happens—our intuitions were correct after all.
What this shows is that rushing touchdowns are worth more than the yards it takes to get them, and vice versa for passing. The complaints about quarterback rating that argue about its inclusion of passing touchdowns are well-founded, to say the least.
One thing quarterback rating fails to take into account is fumbles. Fumbles may arguably be worse than interceptions, because a defense starts out with the ball after a fumble about 15-20 yards ahead of where it would have started after an interception. Most fumbles occur near the line of scrimmage, while interceptions happen 20 yards downfield, depending on the pass.
It should be of no shock, then, that fumbles correlate better with wins than do interceptions. There will be a shock, though, when it comes to how many wins each turnover is worth—that will come in Part II.
(I define fumble rate as fumbles divided by fumble chances, or completions plus rush attempts plus sacks. Fumble rate did have a higher correlation with wins if I divided fumbles just by rush attempts, but although leaving out completions and sacks results in a higher correlation, it doesn’t provide a real estimate of fumble rate.)
Fumble Lost Rate
It’s also beneficial to use fumbles instead of fumbles lost. Many studies, including some by Football Outsiders, have said that forcing a fumble takes skill, but recovering it is based solely on luck; my data says the same.
The year-to-year correlation of fumbles is 0.29; for fumbles lost, it is 0.13; and for fumble lost percentage, it is 0.01.
DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS
I said in describing the method to the madness, “The correlations of an offensive stat and its defensive counterpart—such as offensive passing yards and passing yards allowed—are nearly the same, and you get the same conclusion whether you look at the offensive or defensive stat.”
I haven’t mentioned any defensive stat up until now simply because there’s no point—for every offensive stat I took from Pro-Football-Reference, I also have its defensive equivalent.
I decided to look instead at tackles (total, solo, and assisted) to see if they had any bearing on wins. Since my final goal in this is to evaluate players on both sides of the ball, I had to use a common defensive statistic.
I don’t think I will anymore.
Points Allowed Correlation
You read that right—as tackles go up, wins go down and points allowed goes up. I found that a tackle was worth about negative-0.06 wins (not by itself, of course, but in a regression with several other stats), which means that if I were to apply this to individual players, Patrick Willis’ 141 tackles would have been worth almost negative-8.46 alone last year.
As for special teams, there aren’t many stats that correlate well with wins, except for useless stats such as extra points or kickoffs (which are both about equal to touchdowns). The table below shows some special teams stats along with their correlation with winning.
Field Goal %
Punt Return AVG
Kick Return AVG
Kick Return TD
Punt Return TD
A Devin Hester or Josh Cribbs certainly can help your field position when needed most, but the fact is, there’s so few punt or kickoff returns to make the effects any worthwhile. As well, the difference between one or two return touchdowns per years is meaningless, considering it takes about 34 points to add on an extra win (that’s explained in the next article).
In Part II of this series, I’ll use regression to estimate wins based on stats and apply that to the player level