Monday, March 13, 2006

Noodle in a Haystack

The other day I was perusing the fanball forums and I found myself in a debate over who has the best WRs in the NFL.
As a Colts fan, I obviously think they have the best WR core in the NFL, but deadlift boy makes what on the surface appears to be a good case for up and coming duo of Arizona Cardinals.

His post is quoted below:

Harrison 82 rec., 1146 yd, 12 TDs
Wayne 83 rec, 1055 yd, 5TDs
Stockley (omg fluke season 2 years ago) 41 rec 543yds 1TD Boldin 102 rec, 1402 yds, 7TDs
Fitz 103 rec, 1409 yds, 10TDs
that's in a worse system and a worse QB, and a worse oline and still check the numbers, you can say I dont know alot about football because manning and the colts are football gods and cant do no wrong but Id take Fitz and Boldin.. So Noodleboy dont say Stockley puts them over the hump either. Who cares about Stockley....I guess I dont know anyting about football.

Simple stats like those are fine for fantasy football, but if you really want to compare players you have to take a look at the context. Saying that extra yardage makes Boldin and Fitz better than Harrison and Wayne ignores that stats happen because of the game, not the other way around.

Lets take a look at the 20 players who had 1000+ yards receiving last year:

Receiving Yards


1Steve SmithCAR103156315.21248

2Santana MossWAS84148317.7951

3Chad JohnsonCIN97143214.8948

4Larry FitzgeraldARI103140913.71070

5Anquan BoldinARI102140213.7766

6Torry HoltSTL102133113.0960

7Joey GallowayTB83128715.51050

8Donald DriverGB86122114.2557

9Plaxico BurressNYG76121416.0731

10Marvin HarrisonIND82114614.01212

11Terry GlennDAL62113618.3758

12Chris ChambersMIA82111813.61154

13Rod SmithDEN85110513.0640

14Eddie KennisonKC68110216.2533

15Antonio GatesSD89110112.41037

16Derrick MasonBAL86107312.5358

17Reggie WayneIND83105512.7516

18Jimmy SmithJAC70102314.6653

19Antonio BryantCLE69100914.6458

20Randy MossOAK60100516.8874

I'm sure that most of you are wondering what the heck %YWB is. %YWB stands for Percentage of Yards While Behind.

Anyone who has watched football knows that when a team is behind, they are forced to throw the ball more than they otherwise would. Conversely, teams that are ahead rush the ball more often in an attempt to run the clock out. %YWB is an attempt to to quantify that effect on a receivers yardage totals.

Of the top 20 receivers, 12 had %YWB between 40% and 60%. I haven't looked back through the years, but I would guess that this is a range that you would expect for most starting wide receivers. Harrison, Wayne, Boldin and Fitz all fall far outside of that range.

Harrison and Wayne are both over 15% lower than anyone else in the top 20. Why? Obviously because they play for a team that was very infrequently trailing last year.

Looking back, it is obvious that the Colts record winning streak had a profound effect on the numbers of Harrison and Wayne. The Colts can't be expected to go 2 months without trailing in a game, as they did last season.

Boldin and Fitz are the complete antithesis, gaining more of their yards while behind than anyone else in the top 20 with the notable exception of Randy Moss, who has made it entirely clear that he plays for himself first and the team second.

Can there be any doubt that Harrison and Wayne would put up similar yardage numbers if they played from behind as often as these 2 world class accumulators?

There more to sports than a quick glance at the stats, sometimes you have to look at the scoreboard too.

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