Are Safeties Risky Top Picks?

One of the Chiefs' most dire needs this off-season is a dynamic safety, but GM Scott Pioli is reluctant to take a safety with the 5th pick in the draft. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff is apparently on the same wavelength. There seems to be a growing conventional wisdom that safeties are high-risk picks at the top of the draft. As Peter King pointed out recently, the three best safeties of the decade--Ed Reed, Bob Sanders, and Troy Polamalu--have missed 78 games due to injuries in their combined 21 NFL seasons.

The thinking is that safety (ironically) is a fundamentally dangerous position. The nature of the position, launching head-first at high rates of closure toward oncoming ball carriers, may carry a systematically higher risk of injury than most other positions. Reed, Polamalu, and Sanders suggest this may be the case, but a sample size of three is small to say the least. Are Pioli and Dimitroff rightfully concerned?

The New Overtime Format

The NFL finally admitted its overtime format was broken when it revised the rules to allow a team a possession to match or beat a first-drive field goal. Although I have been shouting from the rooftops that OT was broken, I was not strongly in favor of any particular fix. I thought that adjustments such as returning the kickoff line to the 35 from the 30 would do a lot to reduce or eliminate the advantage the coin-flip winner had, but if the NFL wanted to keep it's sudden death format, there weren't many other good options.

The solution the NFL settled on strikes me as too complicated, and it only partially addresses half of the problem. I'm reminded of my favorite non-sequitur (all too common in politics and public policy):

We have a really big problem. We must do something.
This is something, so we must do this.

Well, the NFL has certainly done something.

Roundup 3/20

More on advanced stats for golf.

Here is a great application of the Expected Points values I released into the wild last season. This is exactly the kind of stuff I hoped would start happening. It's a look at the Cowboys running game through the lens of EPA. I'd love to see more people take advantage of the EP model.

Here's another article in the same vein. It implores Broncos coach Josh McDaniels to use the EP model to become more aggressive on 4th down.

Sean McCormick at Football Outsiders has a great write-up on the much-hyped Draft class of 2004.

The geometry of free-throw shooting. (Hat tip: M/R)

A strange quirk in how seeding in the NCAA basketball tournament can allow lower seeds to advance more easily. #10 seeds are actually more likely to advance than #9 or #8 seeds. #12 seeds are twice as likely to make the Sweet 16 than #8 seeds.

Turnovers are the key to predicting upsets.

Playoff Filter

Individual player stat pages now include a filter for playoff performance. You can select one of three options: all games including playoffs, regular season only, and playoffs only.

Now you can see how insane Kurt Warner's passing game really was in the 2008 run to the Super Bowl. And how costly was Jake Delhomme's 5-interception performance in 2008?

Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw both had about 200 yards in the 2007 championship run, but which runner really made the bigger difference?


With the football calendar at its darkest nadir--no games, no signings, no draft, just some off-season workouts--and basketball season getting into full swing, maybe it's a good time to broaden our statistical horizons. If you're new to sports analytics or want to become more familiar with the methods used in other sports than football, I recommend Wayne Wilson's book Mathletics.

Wayne is a professor of decision science at Indiana University and has consulted for the Dallas Mavericks for several of the last few seasons. Basketball is his wheelhouse, but Mathletics covers baseball and football analytics as well. The book is really two things. It's a primer on the various principles and techniques used in sports analysis, and it's a how-to book on how to use Excel to do the actual computations. It's perfect for the guy who wants to grab some data off the Web and get his feet wet crunching numbers.

Yards Per Target

Yards Per Target (YPT) has been added for WRs and TEs on the individual stat pages. It's exactly what it sounds like: receiving yards divided by how many passes were attempted to the receiver. It's hopefully something a little more useful than Yards Per Reception.

Individual Player Pages

Another new addition to the individual player stats is up and running. Each player now has his own page for all years of his career, or at least since 2000. There are pages by position, by team, and now by player. You can navigate to each player page via the position pages or team pages.

If you're curious about the career arcs of Ladanian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook, you can check out their pages. All the fantasy stats aside, it's interesting to see who really helped his team win more.

How does Anquan Boldin compare to the current stable of Ravens receivers? Boldin is a big upgrade over Derrick Mason...right?

Bill Polian Doesn't Get It

Polian thinks Belichick made the right call on the infamous 4th and 2 play. But according to him, "All of the statistical analysis that’s done over the course of a season means nothing."

As one of the guys who authored that analysis, I find it ironic that the rest of his comments were laced with pseudo-statistical mumbo-jumbo:

"Tackle Factor"

I keep seeing 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis' name listed at the top of defensive player statistics the last few years. He led the league in tackles in 2009 and 2007, and was second in 2008, but does this mean that Willis is really a top player?

Most fans understand that the tackle statistic is not a very good way to measure a defender. Weaker defenses tend to give up longer drives, giving players more opportunities to make tackles. So in a perverse way, more tackles can be a bad thing. If a defensive back has a lot of tackles, it may be because he's being thrown on successfully. Plus, certain positions get more tackles by the nature of team defense. Middle and inside linebackers will naturally have the most tackles by virtue of their role and where they are at the snap. If you scan down the list of the season leaders in tackles, you're likely to see a simple list of each team's central linebacker, assuming he was healthy most of the year. So how can we tell if Patrick Willis is really that good using just tackle information?

Individual Player Stats by Team

Team pages are now available for advanced individual player stats. Win Probability Added (WPA), Expected Points Added (EPA), and Success Rate (SR) for 'skill' players are organized by team. You can get to the team pages directed by using the site menu to navigate to Stats|By Team, or you can click on the team links next to each player in the position pages.

Which players made the 2001 Rams so potent? How much did the 2007 Patriots running game contribute to their team's success? Was the 2000 Ravens offense really that bad? Were the 2005 Steelers built on running and defense, or was it actually their passing game? Which receiver was most critical to the Saints' 2009 championship run? Now you know.

Roundup 3/5

Scientists find the part of the brain that causes coaches to punt too often. (Hat tip: Marginal Revolution)

The Coase theorem says that dynamic ticket pricing is a good idea.

The Chicago Sun-Times says that Jay Cutler's interceptions were all due to poor decisions and not to pass protection deficiencies. Seems KC Joyner was right and I was wrong about Cutler going into last season. The stats show Cutler was a still minor upgrade over Orton, even accounting for all the interceptions. Whether the trade was worth it is another matter.

Jason Lisk defends Joe Namath from the charge he may not be a legitimate Hall of Fame QB. My take--It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Passing Efficiency. He definitely belongs.

Lisk also tells us all about real football. If you read one link from this post, read this one.

What tends to happen to teams that lose the Super Bowl?

New Proposed Overtime Rules

The NFL announced it is considering new overtime rules. The new rules will be considered by the competition committee and, if approved, would be implemented for future playoff games only. I've heard two versions of the proposal, and in this article I'll analyze both.

The version I heard goes like this: the team that loses the coin flip is always guaranteed at least one possession. If the coin-flip winner (which I'll refer to as the 'first team') scores and the  second team matches the score, then the game reverts to the sudden death format. If the first team fails to score and the second team does, the second team wins. If the first team scores a field goal, and the second team scores a touchdown, the second team wins.