The PFF Top 101: Tweetbag Edition

| May 19, 2014

2013PFF101-mailbagThe PFF Top 101 is never short of controversy and we’re always keen to address as much feedback as we can. We have had a lot of questions and comments tweeted our way since the list went live and instead of just replying to individuals on Twitter, we thought we would use those tweets to break out a mailbag style reply for everybody to see.

Here are some of the more frequent comments or criticisms we received. Let’s take a few moments to answer them.

In short Forte missed the list because of his blocking. He was an every down player who had massive production in Chicago in 2013, and he has been a fine pass-protector in the past, but in 2013 he earned a -5.5 PFF grade for his blocking alone, taking his overall grade from the DeMarco Murray range to ‘merely’ the 15th best RB.

Forte surrendered more pressures than any other running back in football in 2013 (17 combined sacks, hits and hurries) and while some of that can be explained by his playing time, his Pass Blocking Efficiency score, weighted for playing time, of 90.7 was only good enough for 43rd in the league. Without his struggles in blocking Forte would certainly have made the list, albeit likely still shy of the range some Bears fans were looking for him to land in.

The list itself involved a day-long meeting among the PFF senior staff (actually multiple meetings, but the first one was a day-long affair. After having each of the staff send in their own 101 list to get the ball rolling we then went through the list and debated the merits of each person, worked on the outliers among our individual lists and slowly honed in on a consensus.

We didn’t just use stats or even raw grading (though they obviously formed the spine of the process), but we were prepared to move players around according to the various factors that PFF grading doesn’t try to take account of – how hard was a player’s role? What was his supporting cast like? Did the scheme benefit him or hurt?

As for how Colston ended up above Dez Bryant, that’s because we looked beyond raw production numbers. The first point to make here is that it was close. Colston was player number 101 and Bryant was one of the guys in the argument for that spot before ultimately missing out. Bryant had more yards and touchdowns than Colston, but PFF has never been about the basic box-score stats. Colston actually graded better than Bryant over the season.

Bryant’s problem was consistency. If he had finished the season the way he began it we wouldn’t be having the discussion. His grade over the first half of the season was +12.0. His grade overall on the season was +11.0, which tells you all you need to know about the second half of the season, despite his big day against the Packers. Bryant made more big plays than Colston, but he also had more opportunities and there were more negatives in there as well. Colston caught 70.1% of the passes thrown his way and dropped just three balls all year while Bryant only caught 59.6% of his targets and dropped 11.

 

Nick Foles is a classic example of stats not telling the whole truth, or anything like it. His numbers are ridiculous – 27 touchdowns and just two picks. Extrapolated over a full season starting that’s something in the region of 40 TDs and three picks (the ambiguity coming from actually playing a part in some of those early games).Those numbers look spectacular, but they don’t really match up to his play-by-play grading.

He finished the year with a +5.4 grade – positive, but nowhere near the plus his numbers suggest he should have earned. Why? In part it’s hidden poor plays the stats didn’t record. He had another interception that was nullified by a penalty, he also fumbled four times. The other thing is that despite the nice looking TD:INT ratio Foles just wasn’t making as many tough throws as other quarterbacks. The Eagles offense set a quarterback up to make plays and while Foles certainly made some, he did’t make as many as he could have. As good as those numbers are we would expect them to regress next year to better reflect his actual level of play.

 

Ah Tom Brady, always a bone of contention when it comes to the PFF 101. We’ve been accused of Tom Brady hate at PFF, but only in the seasons when we rank him comparatively lowly. He has enjoyed fantastic seasons in the PFF era, but 2013 was not one of them, and most objective viewers would happily agree with that. Some of it wasn’t his fault – his receiver corps became a shadow of what it once was – but some of it was, notably his play under pressure. Once something Brady excelled at, in 2013 Brady threw as many picks (5) as he did touchdowns when pressured and 20 passers had a better completion percentage when they felt heat.

 

Grades are not comparable directly across positions, because each position receives a slightly different normalisation factor to account for snaps. For example you expect a defensive lineman to do a little more for each snap against the run than you do a safety, so for every run snap he plays where he doesn’t make a play against the run he’ll receive a greater negative factor applied to his grade. While Mathis has a far higher grade, that grade can’t be compared to cornerbacks, only to other guards.

Good spot. Here though is a case in point where we did not stick rigidly to the PFF rankings but applied a bit of intelligence and our own weighting to the grades to rank players. Also, the 101 looks at playoff games as well as regular season. When you look at all games both players actually tied in grade. Though their grades were similar overall, Mathis had a markedly better pass-rush grade and made more big plays than Houston did. The overall rankings don’t place any weighting on run vs pass defense, preferring to allow people to decide for themselves, but the staff all agreed that we placed a higher premium on the pass-rush among 3-4 OLBs.

 

Miller suffers in the list from missing so many games. He is almost always fantastic when he plays, but his grade is also inflated by the 3rd down pass-rushing role in which he has that other 4-3 outside linebackers (like David) don’t have. Had Miller played at the same level for a full 16-game season he undoubtedly would have been much higher but since he missed time (though a suspension – i.e. something within his control) he was penalised.

 

The simple answer is that Luck isn’t as good as some people think he is. When the game is on the line there may be few quarterbacks better, but there is still a pretty large element of ‘Bad Luck’ during games where he misses too many routine throws and makes too many poor plays. Those are reflected in his play-by-play grading and explains why he finished the year graded as just the 10th best QB while only six made the list.

People get a little carried away with the rookie season Kiko Alonso had. He started the year on fire, with three games firmly in the green and his own Analysis Notebook article, but he didn’t sustain that stellar level of grading for the full season. After Week 5 he had a +8.5 grade overall, but was up and down after that, ending the season at just +6.2 overall. That’s still firmly in the green, very impressive for a rookie, and 10th among inside linebackers on the season, but it’s not pushing for a place on the 101.

 

Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam 

Comments (9)

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  1. Josh Coryell says:

    I’m a huge Patriots fan, and I agree with you guys on Brady this year. Granted he wasn’t helped at all by having two of the worst starting offensive linemen in football at C and G (Wendell and Connolly) but he did struggle at times this year. It’s frustrating to think people need to argue their favorite player is always the best, when it’s obvious he had a down year this year.

    • thenextone82 says:

      Plus, he’s like a billion years old. Even Belichick was talking about Brady’s age and the need to prepare for the future.

    • Johnny Vicars says:

      Having one of the worst receiving corps and a bad oline, makes QB’s great….I wonder how others would have done, hard to tell because most teams do not let their franchise QB’s face that.

      • Brandon Purdy says:

        Then you have Russell Wilson. He had one wr (Tate) who was drafted. Oline was one of the worst in the NFL.

  2. Silver12345 says:

    “In short Forte missed the list because of his blocking.”
    Uh huh, sure he did.

    But despite your own admission that Peterson isn’t a good pass blocker either, he managed to make the list at a healthy #38. All the while falling short of Forte in both the running and pass catching (by a mile) categories.

    And you expect people to take this seriously?

    • PetEng says:

      Forte graded out as the worst pass blocker in the entire league (55th out of the 55 who qualified on snap count). Adrian Peterson was 35th out of 55.

      Trying to reverse engineer their thinking – I can see why Forte didn’t make it…but did Peterson deserve to be as high as he was graded?

  3. Ruire9 says:

    Again I Just Listened to Jake Liskow on the Cincy Jungle Website and he made you guys sound very very suspect in your stats and rankings.