NFL Stats Crew Tackle Bias
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all home stats crews are not created equal, that they are endowed by the NFL with certain unofficial statistics, that among these are solo tackles, assisted tackles and the defense of passes.
Okay, that last part was a stretch. But if you’ve played in IDP leagues for any amount of time, you’re well aware of the impact home stats crews have on fantasy scoring.
The NFL does not define tackles and passes defensed as “official” statistics, and this leads to a lot of ambiguity in how home stats crews record these statistics.
There has already been some strong research on this topic from Jene Bramel over at Footballguys.com and from our own Nate Hodges. I’m not going to rehash their work, but I suggest reading both pieces if you’re not familiar with this topic.
Instead, I’d like to turn the lens toward last season’s tackle numbers. As we’ve seen since the league attempted to standardize what the stats crews should consider a tackle, there was a lot of variation across the league in 2013.
Here’s the data from last season in a sortable table:
We can make some immediate observations based on this data. Perhaps the most glaring is the fact that Buffalo blew away the field in tackles awarded with 1,337. That’s over 300 more tackles awarded than the league average of 1,015, which equates to just over 40 more tackles per game for the eight home games in Buffalo.
Conversely, Kansas City awarded the least tackles at just 873, with several crews not that far off – Miami (880), Jacksonville (890), St. Louis (891), Arizona (897), Chicago (901), New Orleans (907), and Philadelphia (917).
With the exception of New Orleans, the aforementioned seven crews awarded the highest rate of solo tackles in the league. The Saints’ crew came in at No. 14. A low tackle rate and a low solo tackle rate made New Orleans arguably the worst venue in the league for IDP production.
While it’s not desirable to see such low tackle numbers out of the remaining crews, their high solo tackle rates do figure positively for IDPs in those venues. Most IDP leagues award different points for solo and assisted tackles, which tends to devalue IDPs who play in assist-happy stadiums.
Last season, only three crews recorded more than 40 percent of all tackles as assists – Seattle (47.2%), New England (47.0%), and Baltimore (42.3%). This is fairly consistent with historical trends, and while not ideal, all three crews ranked in the top 10 in total tackles awarded. In fact, if we look to the top 10 in tackles awarded, only the Chargers’ and Raiders’ crews awarded less than 25 percent of their total as assists.
How does this ultimately impact IDP leagues? Well, that depends a lot on your scoring system. If there’s a significant difference in how your league scores solos and assists, you’re obviously going to want to target players in the solo-centric venues.
However, in most leagues there’s a 2:1 ratio between the value of solos and assists. Here, you want to be conscious of crews that award a high percentage of solos along with being above the league average for tackles awarded.
The pickings are slim here, but San Diego tops that list, which means Donald Butler is in an ideal position to put up numbers. That has yet to happen with Butler in an every-down role, but the good news is his value is likely to be depressed this year. That means you can likely snag him on the cheap come draft day.
Green Bay and Oakland also award an above average amount of tackles with roughly 75 percent recorded as solos. The linebacker situation isn’t ideal for either team, but Nick Roach posted respectable numbers last season (except that one goose egg) with 112 total tackles.
Likewise, whoever emerges as the Packers’ every-down linebacker should be on your radar. Right now, it looks like Brad Jones has the early edge for that job, though a lot can change between now and September.
You can also take the approach of targeting volume. Obviously, Buffalo tops the list, and I expect Kiko Alonso to be a hot commodity this year. The Bills brought in Brandon Spikes this offseason to man the middle with Alonso moving to the weak side. While I don’t anticipate Spikes playing every down, he will be worth LB3 consideration in Bills home games where he has the potential to put up big tackle numbers even in a two-down role.
Washington awarded the second-most tackles last season, which likely explains London Fletcher’s staying power as an IDP-relevant option. With Fletcher fading off into the sunset, Perry Riley stands to benefit the most from the Washington stats crew. I’d also keep an eye on if Keenan Robinson can crack the starting lineup. Right now, Darryl Sharpton is penciled in along side Riley, but Robinson has the pedigree to play three downs.
We also saw significantly above average tackles awarded from the New England and New York Giants home stats crews. While Giants linebackers haven’t exactly been fantasy stalwarts in the recent past, Jon Beason will be back with the team this season and still has a little gas left in the tank.
Jerod Mayo has put up massive numbers for the Pats in the past and remains an LB1 if he’s fully healthy. But the question in New England is who plays the other linebacker spot in the subpackages – Dont’a Hightower or Jaime Collins? While Collins had an impressive post-season, it appears Hightower is the early favorite for nickel duties. Whichever player gets the gig will have LB3-or-better fantasy value.
Ultimately, home stats crew bias should be a tool in every IDP owner’s arsenal. This is one of the many benefits subscribers to PFF Fantasy Gold will have access to in 2014.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool! Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven of PFF Fantasy.