NFL Offensive Line Rankings
After working on the pass rush efficiency a few weeks back I wanted to take that same concept and apply it to offensive line play. That article explains it more in depth, but the basics are that pressure, besides just a sack, leads to a significantly greater chance of play failure from the QB. The average number for a QB is to complete a pass 63.7% of the time he drops back to throw the ball. When put under pressure the number drops to 43.09%. These numbers were an average of 4 years worth of data of QB performance under pressure and under ideal conditions as collected by Pro Football Focus. Knowing those numbers we can calculate how many additional failures a passing game should expect based on being pressured.
The set of players we are analyzing here are those who played in over 25% of the teams passing plays. This allows us to mainly look at the major contributors to an offensive scheme. I analyzed each position individually and each line collectively. The numbers reinforce the importance of the offensive tackle to the offensive line and why more money should be paid for those positions compared to the interior of the line, a fact also pointed out in the defensive study where such littler pressure is generated from DT’s and MLB’s compared to the players on the outside. While I did not break it down by LT/RT or LG/RG, here is the average increase in failed pass plays caused by the position. In other words every time a dropback occurs there is a 1.9% increase in failures attributed to the center failing to block a player and cause a sack or a pressure.
Those numbers give you an idea of an ideal payment structure if you are just taking pass protection into account. A tackle that is 50% better than average is far more valuable than an equivalent better than average center or guard. For example let’s look at Jason Peters. Peters score of 2.72% is about 50% of the expected play for a tackle. If he played the normal amount of QB dropbacks, which was 603 last season, we would estimate that his QB would fail to complete a pass on 224.8 times. The average tackle, which last season was Anthony Costanzo, would have his QB fail 230.8 times in 603 dropbacks. Peters is going to allow 6 less failures a season than the average player. G TJ Lang’s 1.5% was about as good as Peters’ score in terms of percent better than his positional average, which was represented by Matt Slauson. However Lang is only going to reduce the failures 3.3 times compared to Slauson.
Clearly the tackle is much more valuable and there is probably an argument to be made that very little money should be poured into the center position. The worst center in the league would only cause an additional 3.8 more failures than the average center and 7.4 more than the best. The worst tackle would account for 15 more negative plays than Joe Thomas, who ranked 2nd but played far more snaps than Dahl. The range between the second best guard and worst guard is around 12.5. Granted I am sure there are plenty of synergies that exist from Centers pitching in and assisting the guys to the left and right of them, but if you need to compromise on cap spending it’s pretty clear you should be allocating to the outsides and keeping close to average in the middle.
We’ll take a look at all the teams after this but lets take a look at the 4 teams we cover here and dive more into the stats:
New York Jets
Overall Line Ranking: 21st (6.54% failures/dropback)
Best Player: Brandon Moore (4th ranked guard, 1.31% additional failures)
Worst Player: Wayne Hunter (62nd ranked tackle, 7.23% additional failures)
This was a major drop for the Jets this year and the problem is compounded by playing with one of the worst pressure QB in the NFL in Mark Sanchez. Remember that these stats are based on the average QB which Sanchez is not, so the problems looked much more glaring than they really were. Though the overall line play was average the team had been used to having far superior play and most players regressed. C Nick Mangold, playing through injury, had his worst season of the last four years with 1.63% added failures which ranked 12th at the position. His previous worst was 10th in 2008 at 1.42% and the last two years he ranked 4th in the NFL at 1.2% and 1.0% respectively. LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson collapsed posting a very pedestrian 5.05%. The year before he was 4th among tackles at a tremendous 3.13%. Hunter replaced Damien Woody at right tackle and was a disaster. Woody was 13th in the NFL in 2010 at 4.27% and in 2009 was the 4th best at the position with 2.66% increased failures. G Moore was steady and actually showed slight improvement while LG Matt Slauson showed the biggest improvement going from a 4.35% to 3.04%. Last year the line was responsible for only 26.2 more negative plays than expected which was only 4.6% of their dropbacks, which would have been 4th best in the NFL this year. If the tackle play fails to improve, and the Jets did not address it much, it could be a major problem going forward specifically since Sanchez only completes a pass 26% of the time he drops back and then faces pressure. Tim Tebow was actually worse than Sanchez. This is a must fix with the Jets current QB play.
New England Patriots
Overall Line Ranking: 9th (5.20% failures/dropback)
Best Player: Brian Waters (8th ranked guard, 1.43% additional failures)
Worst Player: Dan Connolly (30th ranked center, 2.63% additional failures)
Overall a solid performance by the Patriots with 6 contributors playing last season with 4 of the 6 ranking above average and G Logan Mankins ranking just below average for the position at 3.16%. The lone weak player was Connolly who was one of the worst centers in the league. The Patriots did bring back Dan Koppen to compete, but Koppen was actually worse in 2010 (2.92%) than Connolly was last season. Waters continues to be a dominant player and was an upgrade over the Stephen Neal and Mankins 2010 combo at the position. The team got very good play on the outside from Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer, and Nate Solder, all ranking above average. There are three issues that may concern the Patriots this season. Solder ranked 25th as a rookie but will be making the move from right to left tackle which is a more difficult position. That could be a slight worry. The second issue is the declining play of Mankins. Mankins peaked in 2009 at 1.95%, fell to 2.98% in 2010 off his lengthy holdout, and then fell further to a 3.16% off the lockout. Is that a trend or an issue of conditioning the last two seasons? Depth is more limited with Light’s retirement and there is always the possibility of Waters retiring. They have G Robert Gallery as a swingman but he is below average in pass protection. They also have the ability to shift Connolly back to guard and put Koppen in at center. While that is a weak group it is probably better than Connolly and Gallery in at the same time. Tom Brady is the 10th most effective QB under pressure in the league so he can deal with it better than most.
Overall Line Ranking: 26th (7.19% failures/dropback)
Best Player: Jake Long (26th ranked tackle, 4.87% additional failures)
Worst Player: Mike Pouncey (31st ranked center, 2.91% additional failures)
A miserable season with three of their players, C Pouncey, RT Marc Colombo, and RG Vernon Carey, being right near the bottom of their position. Not one player stood out with Long and G Richie Incognito ranking just slightly above the average. The teams biggest potential upgrade comes with the drafting of Jonathan Martin to replace Colombo. It would be hard to picture him being worse so that should be an upgrade. The question is whether or not Martin’s future is tied to Long’s. Long was the top ranked tackle in 2009 and 3rd ranked tackle in 2010. He was 5th in 2008. His norm would seem to be around 3% so last year was clearly alarming. Was he upset about not being offered a new contract? Did the lockout ruin his preparation? Was there some injury we did not know about? Miami not having signed him to a new contract is pretty much unexplainable but maybe they have cold feet after last season. This is a major year for him as he gets prepared to cash in next season. Other than Martin there are really no improvements. Pouncey is young so you expect better play. I’m assuming John Jerry will play guard with Artis Hicks being the veteran to challenge for that spot. Hicks is a journeyman and would likely be a slight downgrade from Carey. Jerry was decent as a rookie with an about average 3.0% rating, but fell off a cliff last season at 8.75%, which saw him benched. He could be the X-factor. T Lydon Murtha, off an injury, will be the backup at the tackle spot and is a decent option in that role. Seeing how bad things were in Miami its hard to believe the Jets hired their former head coach thinking he would fix the offensive line.
Overall Line Ranking: 1st (3.89% failures/dropback)
Best Player: Kraig Urbik (1st ranked guard, 0.46% additional failures)
Worst Player: Chris Hairston (37th ranked tackle, 5.38% additional failures)
How awesome was the Bills line last season? They had to use 7 players and not one of them finished below average on the season. Urbik was sensational finishing as the highest ranked center and guard in the NFL. Eric Wood, originally in at center, ranked second in the NFL before injury ended his season. Chad Rinehart was the 2nd ranked guard bouncing between left and right guard while Demetrius Bell ranked as the 4th best tackle. What made this even more impressive is that so many of the players were castoffs. Urbik was dropped by the Steelers in 2010 and claimed on waivers. Rinehart bounced around the league, suffering and injury and being dropped by the Redskins and subsequently being cut from the Jets practice squad in 2010 before ending up in Buffalo. T Erik Pears floundered out west before having a solid season for the Bills. The ones expected to be great were Andy LeVitre and Eric Wood, both high draft picks, and they lived up to their billing as the building blocks for the team. The question of course becomes whether or not last year was for real or some fluke. LeVitre is proven to be consistent based on his first three years with no score worse than 2.59% and none better than 2.24%. Bell signed with the Eagles, leaving Rinehart, the weakest player in 2011, to play LT. Wood seems to have issues staying healthy and his numbers made a huge jump switching to center as he had been disappointing as a guard. Everyone else has no track record to look at. This group has a great impact on QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s numbers as he faced so much less pressure than others that it likely inflated his stats as evidenced by his 62% completion percentage. He had never been higher than 59.4% in his prior 6 seasons and is a career 57% type player. If Buffalo’s line takes a step back that extension the Bills gave Fitzpatrick will look even worse than it does now.
Here is the list of all the teams in the NFL and how their offensive lines ranked in 2011. The teams are ranked by additional failures per dropback for their team and only includes data for those who played in more than 25% of the snaps, hence a player like Colin Baxter for the Jets is left out of the team stats. Also included is how many actual additional failures each team’s line would have caused last season had they played with the average QB. Those numbers are based on the offensive dropback count that the team played in last season. As always drop me a line if you want more information on how these are calculated and individual player statistics.
|Rank||Team||% Failures/Dropback||No. Failures|