Neil's NFL Daily: April 17, 2013
On a day when the biggest news is Eben Britton signing with Chicago and Calvin Pace going back to the Jets you know things are slow. I will comment on both of those as they play to the paucity of those teams in those positional groups, but the lull also gives me a chance to mention something that’s been concerning me for some time: how people use our grades.
Monday, April 15th
How to Use Pro Football Focus Grades
I’m really thankful so many commentators use and quote our work; from the brilliant Kevin Harlan and Marv Albert on TV, Adam Schefter, Field Yates and Chris Sprow among others at ESPN, Peter King and the guys at SI.com, to nearly all the superb group at NFL.com and so many other fantastic journalists we admire. The list is endless and we are incredibly grateful for their support.
That said, as the use of our work becomes more prevalent among other commentators (which again I must stress we are very grateful for) there’s been a trend, particularly on Twitter, of both fans and some media quoting our overall grades out of context. Worse, in many respects, that is more our problem than theirs as we may have built a rod for our own back. As someone who started all this because of a perceived lack of accuracy in rating players, I believe we may be in danger of inadvertently giving misleading impressions at certain positions. Let me try and explain…
For those who don’t know, our overall grades are broken down into the various facets of play; for example, a linebacker is graded under coverage, run defense, pass rushing, and penalties (discipline). Now for each of these facets of play we are confident (within certain parameters, of course) that the rankings are very good. To say a certain guard is ranked fifth as a run blocker out of 81 rated players is usually perfectly reasonable. We are the only company to grade every player on every play of every game in terms of performance using a repeatable methodology. NFL teams have taken our gradings and run them alongside those of their positional coaches rating their own team and found them to be completely valid in most areas. This isn’t sabermetrics for football as some people believe — we are absolutely not trying to rate an offensive line based on how many sacks they allow (which may work if your target audience think the Dukes of Hazard is intellectually stimulating TV) — this is performance based scouting.
However, where things start to go a little “pear-shaped” is when we get to overall grades. I’ll be really honest and say when we first started PFF I didn’t want to include them. If a tight end is the best blocker in the league but a below average receiver, does that make him better than the best receiver who is an awful blocker? And even if the answer to that question is obvious, what happens with less extreme examples? In my opinion, how each facet of play is weighted is in the eye of the beholder and may well be related to scheme. If Rolando McClain is as poor in coverage as he was in a full-time role in 2011 (he graded as such) but is then removed in nickel the following year and as a result his grade improves, does that make him a better player? If a player grades +0.5 in 350 sub-package snaps does this make him superior to another who scores a -1.7 with over 1000 plays?
In summary, the grades are useful tools when used in context and with some thought as to the individuals’ actual role, but a statement like “X” tight end graded 43rd out of 78 rated players doesn’t tell the audience much at all. Hopefully I won’t make the same mistake in the next two items.
Eben Britton to the Bears
When a left guard is replaced by someone who ended up with our worst grade as a pass protector among guards – as Britton was when benched by the Jaguars for Mike Brewster (-14.4 in pass pro) last year – you know there is an issue. He gave up two sacks, a hit, and five hurries to the Bengals in Week 4 and, in his lone start post being sat down, a sack, hit and four hurries to the Jets. It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who his only positively-graded game all year came against, so if you guessed Chicago don’t hurt yourself patting your own back – this stuff is getting so old, so quick I think I should be on a pension.
Calvin Pace Re-signs With the Jets
Last year Pace played 94% of the Jets’ defensive snaps and despite all the exotic stuff the team likes to throw at offenses, in 353 attempts to get to the QB, from his position at OLB, managed only 32 disruptions. That gave him a Pass Rushing Productivity score of 7.5, or to put it another way, about half a point lower than Quinton Coples who rushed from the inside.
This has been his M.O. ever since arriving from the Cardinals in 2008 as a UFA; a very good run defender who struggles to get to the quarterback.
What’s interesting is that despite this being a year in, year out trait, and as the Jets in general have had real issues with pressuring the passer, he may well now play out (with extensions) his original six-year deal.
Past editions of Neil’s NFL Daily.
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