This is easily the most asked question we get and so it is going to get pride of place at the top of our FAQ. The first thing to note about our “rankings” is that they are not rankings in the traditional sense. We don’t measure talent; we’re not telling you who the best players are. Our rankings are more of a performance evaluation, and a reflection of how efficiently a player made plays in the time he was on the field.
The second thing to take into consideration is that Player X really might be that good or that bad. Just because a player made the Pro Bowl last season doesn’t mean he played well — in fact, he may have played very poorly. NFL coaches don’t watch nearly the amount of tape on other players (certainly not ones they’re not going to play that season) as conventional wisdom would have you believe. When people watch a football game they tend to create a mental highlight reel, remembering a few of the best and a few of the worst plays, and then (based on those few) guessing the overall performance. That is rarely accurate. We are able to go back after the games and grade people on a play-by-play basis, totting up the numbers as we go. Just because a player was largely anonymous during the game doesn’t mean he played poorly. If he edged out a win in every block he made, he could well have had an excellent game overall, even if he didn’t leave anybody on the turf from a pancake block.
Similarly, just because Player X isn’t a household name, don’t discount the possibility that he is having an excellent season that is passing by the notice of most people.
A good case study from the 2009 season is 49ers TE Vernon Davis. Listen to anybody talk about him and they’ll point to his league-leading TD count and proclaim him an All-Pro TE.
Here are some of the things we would say about Vernon Davis and how he rates in our system:
- Blocking plays a big part in our grade:
With the size/strength ratio that man has there’s no way on earth that Davis couldn’t block effectively if he used good technique and put in the effort. When we initially graded him in some of the early games of the 2008 season it was apparent he had all the skills but just didn’t seem to care at times; he would make some difficult blocks but then miss a whole host of easy ones. When coach Mike Singletary took over and had “words,” it seemed to light a fire under Davis and for the last half of the season he was very good indeed. We expected this to continue but, after he began getting plaudits for his receiving, his blocking seemed to regress almost to a worse position than previously. Regarding what coaches and writers say on the matter, we take it with a pinch of salt. This is because coaches hardly ever tell the truth and most writers don’t have the time to analyze every player in detail to come to an accurate conclusion.
- Penalties Matter:
Most people will forgive players these but when you see the stats for how a penalty effects the chance of a drive progressing, why should they? Davis gave up more penalties than all but three players in ’09 (all of them offensive tackles) and twice as many as most TEs. This has to be taken into account.
- Pure Receiving:
We don’t grade people on how many yards they get because in a lot of cases that’s irrelevant. Many of TEs could probably get 1,000 yards if you threw to them enough. Our system is not impressed by dropped passes (13 is a ridiculous number and again league-leading), yardage that doesn’t pick up a first down or at least come close and yardage in garbage time. Frankly when you compare him to Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez or Dallas Clark as a receiver he’s wasn’t in the same zip code; he may well be soon but not last year. There are maybe another half dozen TEs that could pick up the same type of numbers as Davis playing in his place but would do it without screwing up as much as he did in ‘09.
- Overall Rankings:
At the moment these simply weigh everything equally. We believe blocking is a vital part of a TEs responsibility in the NFL and so players that struggle with this will be brought down in the overall rankings. We acknowledge that not everybody believes the same thing and so there is nothing to stop people sorting the columns by the attribute that they believe holds the most weight and viewing them that way.