2014 Passing Yardage Predictions – Part II

Categories: Fantasy, NFL, Statistics
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Published on: August 19, 2014

Welcome back everyone. I took last week off because some very important things were and still are happening in our country. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about a game overlaid on top of another game. It just seemed a little disconnected from the world at large. I think it’s important that we all stay reminded of the events happening in Ferguson, MO. That being said, it’s time to build an audience and nothing builds an audience like new content.

This week I finished a full set of projections for yardage totals of quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. This new model makes two major corrections compared to the one I posed a couple weeks ago. First, it corrects for 2013 injuries. You’ll note that Julio Jones has a much higher predicted yardage total in this model compared to the previous one. Second, it corrects for changes to the offensive system. I’ll get to why this is important in a minute. For ease of viewing, I’ve added a new page to the banner so you can easily check these tables whenever you need to. Remember that these yardage totals assume the player in question plays all 16 games and any coaches that have changed jobs do not radically alter the schemes they’ve used in the past. I also want to throw out a big thank you to Jeff over at thefakefootball.com for the offensive coordinator history spreadsheet that made all these projections possible.

One very important caveat before we begin. I don’t have any historical data to check these predictions against. Jeff’s data on targets doesn’t go back far enough for me to do any historical checking on how accurate this model tends to be. So, I have no idea about the uncertainty inherent in this model. We’ll all be learning this together as the season goes on. After the season is over, we’ll check them together. Isn’t science fun?

Top Projected Wide Receivers – Receiving Yards

My first list of projections is for wide receivers, and that list doesn’t come with a lot of surprises. You’ve got your Andre Johnsons, your Dez Bryants, your Brandon Marshalls and your DeSean Jacksons at the top. I don’t really see a surprise on that list until I see Josh Gordan predicted at less than 1,000 yards – assuming he plays all 16 games. And even that is understandable given Cleveland’s quarterback situation. I’ll keep the list updated as depth charts change and injuries occur.

Top Projected Tight Ends – Receiving Yards

Once again, a lot of ho-hum on this list. Jimmy Graham will lead the league in tight end receiving yards, a Detroit Lion will follow him because Detroit will still throw the ball all over the place and defenses will try to lock down Calvin Johnson, blah-blah-blah. You’ll see Levine Toilolo third on that list, but I’m not sure I buy that specific prediction. The model is assuming that Toilolo will step in and take all of Tony Gonzalez’s targets which my human brain tells me isn’t going to happen. I have left that prediction as the model reports it for accuracy’s sake, but on that one, I think we have some justification to adjust it down a bit.

Top Projected Quarterbacks – Passing Yards

I went back and checked the results I’m about to tell you three different times. As I was doing that, I anthropomorphized the mathematical equation and called it a “little dickens” for trying to trick me. But there was no mistake. The inputs I fed into the model were all correct. Furthermore, all the other top five quarterbacks make perfect sense. Most of us expect Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and Peyton Manning to have high yardage totals at the end of the season. But I didn’t expect the guy at #1 by a long shot. And so, without further ado, your projected 2014 NFL leader in passing yards – edging Peyton Manning by 98 yards – is…Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick.

You’d call a mathematical equation a “little dickens” too if it tried to trick you with such nonsense. After I saw it I looked up the prop bet odds on Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the NFL in passing yards and found that it’s such a ludicrous notion that Vegas isn’t giving action on such a proposition. It seems insane, but let’s keep an open mind and consider this for a second.

Once you think about it, there are several reasons why it makes sense that Ryan Fitzpatrick could lead the league in passing yards this year. First, we know something about what Bill O’Brien likes to do on offense. We know he likes to throw the football and his system is very effective at gaining yards through the air. Any system that makes Matt McGloin look that good has got to have something going for it. We also know that O’Brien provides a lot of opportunities to his best receivers and seems to be able to adapt the passing game around what he has. Second, Houston has the best receiving corps you will find outside of Denver or Chicago. From top to bottom, the wide receivers in Houston know how to get open and know how to get yards after the catch. This will be a second huge bonus to Fitzpatrick’s passing yards. Third, nobody really knows what the status of Arian Foster is. We know he’s busy trying to be the best teammate he can be, but can he still be the productive running back he once was? I have my doubts. And finally, I don’t want to count out the man himself. Fitzpatrick is a serviceable quarterback. He’s not going to take a team on his back or anything, but he’s not horrific either. There’s a reason he’s stuck around in the NFL so long.

So there you go. Lots of fairly boring expectations for receiving yards and one super out-of-left field prediction. Let the season begin!

2014 Draft Class – Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Summer time is over for us up here in the Deep North. Those two 90 degree days were brutal, let me tell you. I’ve spent the summer cocooned in my office cooking up the latest and greatest that I can offer in predictive football statistics both at the college and professional levels.

If you’re new to the site during a football season, I’ll be talking wide receivers and quarterbacks here, both at the collegiate and professional level.

And to start, let’s talk NFL rookie wide receivers. I made some predictions about rookie wide receivers for the 2013 season and they were…well they were terrible. I spent most of my spring and summer ripping apart the model and figuring out what went wrong. I discovered two very important elements of predicting wide receivers that needed to be addressed.

#1) What’s your Dependent Variable?

One of the trickiest things about doing football analysis is figuring out exactly what you want to measure and what you want your wide receiver or pass catching tight end to do. Many people have tried to deal with this issue when it comes to pass receivers with varied success.

My approach in 2013 was to use an in-house metric I created that measures pass catching ability. This, it turns out, was a horrible mistake. The reason is that NFL teams typically use particular wide receivers in particular roles. One receiver goes deep, another goes across the middle, etc. This creates a problem because it confounds pass catching ability with depth of target. Deep passes are successful less often, but the large impact they create on the game can offset their lower success rate.

For the 2014 predictions, I have changed the DV I use to get around this problem. I start with NFL Yards per Target. Yards per Target is much less susceptible to the depth of target problem. It’s not perfect, but it’s less bad than what I was using last year. I also do a little hoo-doo with the numbers to make them more consistent year-over-year. The first thing I do is to subtract the league average Yards per Target for the given season. This corrects for changes in the passing game across seasons, rule changes, passing tendencies, etc. Next, I use a highly constrained (sort of) structural equation model to pull out the effect of quarterback and offensive system on yards per target. I call it a “sort of SEM” because the model is incredibly constrained due to the realities of the game I’m modeling. It’s so constrained that what I do cannot be called a true SEM. But the technical details are probably not why you’re here. The ultimate result is a metric I call Receiver Influence on Yards per Target (RIYPT; in my ears “ripped”). We’ll use this metric at the NFL level as our DV.

#2) Lower-Level Interactions

Issue #2 I didn’t appreciate when making the 2013 predictions is the importance of interactions. You see, RIYPT at the NFL level predicts productivity. In fact, it’s the only receiver-focused metric that predicts NFL level performance. I made a bad assumption that the same situation would exist at the college level. It doesn’t. At the NFL level, every receiver has great hands. If you don’t have great hands, you don’t get to be a receiver in the NFL. Once we account for depth of target, there’s no meaningful variance in ability to catch a football among NFL pass receivers.

This is not true at the NCAA level. You can be a college receiver without having exceptional hands. As long as you make up for it with lots of long gains, less-than-stellar hands aren’t the handicap that they can be in the NFL. To deal with this, you need an interaction term. Interactions find the receivers that have good enough hands to make it in the NFL while also having the ability to gain useful yardage on an efficient basis.

That’s enough details. Down to brass tacks. Who should we be looking at as far as success at the wide receiver position? Remember, our DV is yards per target, so our definition of success may be different than the actual outcomes obtained on a football field. You can have a large RIYPT, but if you don’t get a lot of targets you won’t gain a lot of yards (see Ladarius Green in 2013).

The full table can be found above in the web page header. My top five rookie wide receivers, according to Predicted NFL RIYPT are…

  1. Brandin Cooks – Oregon State – 2.56
  2. Jalen Saunders – Oklahoma – 2.33
  3. Cody Latimer – Indiana – 1.99
  4. Marqise Lee – USC – 1.97
  5. Cody Hoffman – BYU – 1.93

Here you can see I expect Brandin Cooks to be head and shoulders above the rest of the rookie receivers in the NFL. This is especially true now that he is a member of the New Orleans Saints. Jalen Saunders will be a stickier situation. He’s a lower round draft pick, so it will be more difficult for him to see the field compared to Cooks. Second, he has (at the moment) Geno Smith throwing to him. Past visitors to the site will know I’m not high on Geno Smith. Geno will likely improve next year compared to 2013, but I still expect him to be in the bottom fifth of the league in terms of completion percentage and passing yards.

My top five pass catching tight ends according to Predicted NFL RIYPT are…

  1. Eric Ebron – North Carolina – 1.37
  2. Richard Rodgers – California – 1.12
  3. Marcel Jensen – Fresno State – 1.04
  4. Blake Jackson – Oklahoma State – 1.02
  5. Jace Amaro – Texas Tech – 1.02

Once again, we have one prospect that is head and shoulders above the rest, that being the prospect everyone expected to be on top, Eric Ebron. The second name on that list probably surprises a few people. If you look up scouting profiles of Richard Rogers, they’re not that glowing of him. I guess we’ll see where we end up. Rodgers also ended up in a great place to succeed as a pass catching tight end – Green Bay – so hopefully we get an opportunity to see him succeed.

This wraps up our rookie preview.  Up next, we’ll predict 2014 yardage totals for veterans from 2013 data.

Data Drop: Before the Draft Edition

Categories: NFL Draft, Statistics
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Published on: April 21, 2013

The 2013 NFL Draft is less than a week away.  All the draft analyzers are putting in their final push to get everything in order for the big day.  In the spirit of getting everything in order, I’ve added a load of new data to the site.  Check the Draft Numbers menu for everything.

I’ve added my entire list for wide receivers and pass receiving tight ends.  I’m a bit scared of putting that up, actually.  There was a time when I said I wasn’t going to do that.  I’m scared because I don’t have a good metric for understanding what these numbers predict.  The numbers are an indication of the pass catching talent of that player separate from the quarterback and offensive scheme.  However, I don’t think the numbers will predict receiving yards or touchdowns at the end of a season.  My major project for the summer will be to connect these numbers to something more meaningful and concrete, like I have with quarterbacks.  Until then, we can just look at the nice pretty list.

One note, the tight end data refers to pass catching ability only.  There are many other factors that make a quality tight end other than being able to catch passes, most notably blocking ability.  The tight end list only ranks tight ends on the single measure of pass catching.

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