Goal Line Stand
Scientific Football 2005
By Gregg Rosenthal
Senior Editor, RotoWorld.com
July 19, 2005
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Finishing KC Joyner’s new book “Scientific Football 2005” was bittersweet. I didn’t want to wait another year to unlock more about the players and game we love to follow. I couldn’t put the book down and wanted more. After devouring over 400 pages in a single weekend, that’s saying a lot.
Joyner, “The Football Scientist”, advertises his book as a “Bill James-style” analysis about pro football. The comparison is apt. KC uses actual game tape to create the most unique matchup analysis I’ve ever seen. It is going to be a huge help for me personally in fantasy leagues for weekly lineup decisions. Now that we’ve hired KC to pen a weekly column, we’re proud that he will help RotoWorld.com readers just as much. Instead of basing his opinions on hearsay and copycat football coverage, KC backs up his conclusions with facts and game tape.
This is not a numbers book. Joyner uses unique stats to help derive some of his conclusions, but this is still a labor of love about the game of football and it’s players. KC has incisive, surprising, and often hilarious takes on every key quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and cornerback in the league.
We’re not the only ones who have noticed “The Football Scientist’s” groundbreaking work. Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated recently devoted an entire column to him. The Florida Times-Union and Boston Herald have written features on him. Texans GM Charlie Casserly and ESPN personality Mike Golic are two more football “insiders” who have told KC how impressed they are with his work.
For an introduction to KC’s material, I’ve decided to highlight some of the most interesting points I found in his book and talk about the fantasy impact below. For more information on his book and his other products, check out his website at TheFootallScientist.com. And don’t miss his weekly column, exclusively on RotoWorld.com and FoxSports.com every Friday. It should be required reading before setting your in-season lineups. Now, on to a few of the highlights.
-- Larry Fitzgerald was a terrible vertical receiver in his rookie season.
Perhaps his ankle injuries got in the way, but Fitzgerald’s rookie season was disappointing. Known as a vertical threat, Fitzgerald faced “tight or good” coverage more than any receiver in the league. The kid could not get open. Defenses did not respect his speed, very rarely playing off him. Fitzgerald will need big improvement on his routes and by Arizona’s quarterbacks this season to live up to his potential.
-- Ed Reed didn’t deserve the Defensive MVP award.
Reed makes a ton of big plays, but Joyner’s analysis made it clear he’s a gambler. He gave up a ton of big plays too, and was not a deserving MVP candidate compared to someone like Pittsburgh’s James Farrior. Consider this – teams attacked the hell out of Reed because he was prone to big mistakes. “Reed had the 2nd most deep pass attempts and the 4th most medium pass attempts against him despite being an All-Pro.”
Reed seems like a typical highlight show-hyped player. He’s great talent, but not as valuable as the media makes him out to be.
-- Lee Evans could be a Pro Bowler this season.
“Despite playing in this vertically challenged offense, and having over 50% of his passes being short ones, Evans still led the league in yards per attempt.”
That is amazing stuff for a rookie in a terrible offense, especially on deep plays. It’s likely that J.P. Losman’s development will hold Evans back from star status for a year, but the talent is certainly there. He has a chance to be the best of the 2005 rookie wideout class and is a great keeper league prospect.
-- Jake Delhomme threw more deep passes than any quarterback in the league – by a wide margin.
Delhomme aired it out 121 times, far more than Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, and Marc Bulger despite their extra games in the playoffs. The Panthers love to run the ball, then attack deep. Since their running game was so injured last season, they went vertical more than ever. With Deshaun Foster, Stephen Davis, and Eric Shelton in the mix, the Panthers may throw deep less this year. We’d expect a step back in yardage numbers for Delhomme.
- Bernard Berrian has major sleeper potential.
Berrian was targeted for deep passes at a greater percentage than any receiver in the league. Like Evans on Buffalo, this is especially impressive considering the conservative offense Berrian played for. While he’ll have to beat out Justin Gage for the starter job, any receiver with this type of vertical potential is someone to watch in fantasy leagues.
- Carson Palmer’s deep passing numbers were possibly the best in the league.
We loved to read this. While Palmer struggled mightily in the short game and decision-making, he excelled in the deep passing game. He was third in the NFL in “deep completion percentage” and first in “deep yards per attempt.” We know Palmer has a great deep receiver group to help him, but these numbers show Palmer’s huge fantasy upside. If he’s this good in his first season as a starter, his ceiling looks awfully high. Even if keeps making bad decisions this year, Palmer has a great chance to put up Brett Favre-like yardage and touchdown numbers.
- T.J. Houshmandzadeh may be the most underrated receiver in the league.
We watched nearly every Bengals game last season, and couldn’t agree more. It was nice to see KC back our optimistic pre-season ranking with numbers. Houshmandzadeh had a 65% completion percentage, which was good for fourth in the NFL. He can catch passes at each depth level, and was especially effective deep.
KC’s stats also backed up something I wrote in my notebook often last season. Houshmandzadeh has great hands. He was not especially effective getting wide open, but his suction cup mitts snatched balls very well in traffic. In today’s “measurables” dominated NFL, great hands tend to be overlooked in wide receivers. It’s a shame. With the Bengals offense ready to bloom, Houshmandzadeh remains one of our very favorite value picks for drafting this season.
- Jason Witten was used very often as a wide receiver.
Witten was one of the most vertical tight ends in the league. “He was used at wide receiver on 39 of his 129 attempts. He caught 29 of those passes for 353 yards and 3 TDs,” Joyner writes. “When you factor into those numbers that Witten had only 3 attempts from the WR position between weeks 1-7, you begin to understand his evolving role last year as the WR injuries occurred.”
Simply put, Witten is the best receiver on the Cowboys. They will find a way to get him the ball. With Dan Campbell, an excellent blocker, returning from injury, Witten can really focus on the passing game. We see his role in a similar vein to Tony Gonzalez’s on the Chiefs. He’s practically a wideout, which is great to hear for fantasy owners.
- Jake Plummer was one of the best decision makers in the league.
That’s not a misprint. KC’s book challenged conventional wisdom quite often, and this one really threw us for a loop. Plummer finished 5th in the NFL in a metric KC uses called “bad decision percentage.” He only threw into tight/good coverage about 10% of the time, ranking him 2nd in the league in that category. Considering how often Plummer threw deep, that’s an amazing percentage.
So how could a guy with 20 interceptions be such a good decision maker? My guess is that he had lots of bad luck and a ton of pass attempts. Another possibility is that when Plummer makes a bad decision, it’s really bad. Either way, these numbers indicate that Plummer’s huge statistical jump the last two seasons in Denver should hold up. Despite being a top five QB last season in fantasy leagues, he’s getting overlooked in Drafts this summer. He might be worth picking up in the sixth-seventh round just for those four games against the Raiders and Chiefs!
- Champ Bailey might be the most overrated player in football.
Those are my words, not Joyner’s. But Bailey’s 2004 season was simply terrible for a guy who made the Pro Bowl. He was near the bottom of the league in deep yards given up, deep completion percentage, most deep attempts, TDs allowed, completion percentage, total yardages, and yards per attempt.
KC’s stats were comprehensive and overwhelming. Bailey was targeted and beaten often last year. He gave up 7 TDs and 6 plays over 25 yards! Here are KC’s words on Bailey, “You simply cannot tell me that all of these plays were due to other people in the Broncos secondary blowing coverages, especially since John Lynch was voted to the Pro Bowl. Even if they did blow some coverages, wouldn’t you expect Bailey to do better than this in man-up coverage?”
Fantasy owners who see Bailey covering their receiver should not be overly worried if his performance doesn’t dramatically improve.
- Jeff Garcia has a chance to make the Pro Bowl.
KC does a very convincing job dissecting Joey Harrington’s lack of toughness. Harrington exhibits a ton of characteristics that indicate he doesn’t like to be hit. The best QBs can ignore the pass rush; Harrington fears it, hurting his accuracy. As KC writes, “Unless Harrington solves the very large issues he has, there is no way Garcia won’t get into the starting lineup.”
We agree. Jeff Garcia was not only a Pro Bowler recently, but he was one under Steve Mariucci. That can’t be overlooked. More importantly, Joyner proves that Garcia had a very misunderstood 2004 season in Cleveland. Perhaps he was not great in the locker room, but his on-field performance was quite admirable considering. His yards per deep attempt were 2nd in the league despite the myriad of problems around him. His bad pass percentage was 6th lowest in the NFL, and his “bad decision” percentage was among the league leaders any way you measured it.
This surprised me. But when you simply look at Garcia’s game logs in Cleveland, you’ll notice how often he was effective. He held up very well versus the Ravens, Redskins, and Eagles. He dominated the Bengals. Heading to Detroit, with an improved offensive line and vastly improved receiver corps, Garcia could post big stats in the NFC Central. It’s difficult to draft a backup QB in shallow fantasy leagues, but Garcia is certainly worth a look in deeper leagues with larger rosters. We’d grab him at the first sign of Harrington falling apart.
- Donald Driver had a very comparable season to Javon Walker.
Perhaps this is why the Packers aren’t worried too much about Walker’s holdout. Driver scored four less touchdowns, but his metrics were very impressive. He was actually more effective than Walker on deep routes. Driver lost a ton of yards (244) due to bad passes by Brett Favre. That’s just bad luck. We haven’t always been big Driver fans on RotoWorld.com, but these numbers are making us think twice.
- “David Carr is possibly the next great NFL QB.”
“I don’t mean he’s the next Chad Pennington or Trent Green,” Joyner writes. “I mean he’s possibly the next Manning (Peyton, not Eli) or Culpepper. Just take a look at his numbers from last year… He ranked 4th in yards per attempt, 3rd in tight/good coverage percentage, and 5th in bad decision percentage… Besides ranking in 1st in deep completion percentage, he also ranked 4th in accurate deep pass percentage and 4th in deep yards per attempt.”
The numbers don’t lie. Carr was smart, accurate, and an effective deep passer. People seem to think he struggled in 2004, but even his fantasy numbers were solid. He threw for 3,500 yards and ran for 299 more in his third season. We truly believed last season that Carr was being completely held back by his terrible offensive line and receiver group, and these numbers back it up. No team has frustrated us more this off-season with their inactivity than the Texans. Carr looks like he has the potential to be great. But he may continue to be limited by Houston’s secondary receivers (Corey Bradford, Jabar Gaffney) and their offensive line.
-- I intended to pick out some highlights from Joyner’s whole book, but only got through the Houston Texans here before running out of space. That’s how stuffed his book is. There are surprising conclusions around every turn. Once again, to check the whole book out, go to TheFootballScientist.com.