More on DeSean

I told you there was more…today I’ll try to knock a few more things off the list.  For this post, I want to focus entirely on the 2013 season.  While it’s not a large sample, it does represent the “DeSean under Chip” timeframe.  Seeing as how Chip Kelly remains the coach, it seems as though this might be pretty relevant information with which to evaluate DeSean’s importance to the team for next season.

So just how good was DeSean’s 2013 season?

Yesterday I covered Approximate Value and Receiving Yards.  Instead of repeating the analysis, I’ll just say that DeSean had a 2013 AV of 11 and 1332 receiving yards.  That puts him in a tie for 10th in Approximate Value and 9th in yards.

That’s really good, but hardly spectacular.

BUT…(you knew that was coming), there’s more to consider.   Beyond the production, there’s the qualitative (for now) value that DeSean adds to the offense.  His unique talent opens up the offense for the rest of the team, with the benefit redounding to other members of the offense rather than appearing in his stat line.  Let’s go beyond the generic “his speed stretches the defense” and try to illustrate, with stats, what makes him unique.

Below is a chart illustrating the Catch Rate for a sample of WRs along with their Deep Pass Attempt %.  These numbers are from AdvancedNFLStats.com.  For the sample, I included every WR who had 40 or more receptions last season.

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I added the trend line to illustrate the correlation (value is -.25).  That’s fairly intuitive.  Longer passes are harder to complete, so the catch rate for “deep threats” should be relatively lower.

Now let’s play a game.  Go to the chart above.  Using just the information displayed, which WR would you want on your team?

I think the answer is pretty obvious, but it might depend on your personal offensive philosophy.  However, regardless of your philosophy, it’s clear there are only a couple of logically defensible choices.  Now let me try to guess which one you chose.

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I thought so.  Now for the fun part.  As you might have guessed, the player I highlighted above is DeSean Jackson.  He’s a fairly significant outlier.  In other words, given the frequency with which his targets were “deep”, we’d expect his catch rate to be much lower.

In fact, just two other qualifying players had Deep Pass Attempt rates above 40%, Torrey Smith and Reuben Randle.  Smith’s catch rate was 47.4%.  Randle’s was 52.6%.  DeSean’s was…65.1%.  Clearly, one of these guys is not like the others.

Now let’s sort by Catch Rate.  Here are the top 20 from last season (remember we’re only including WRs with 40+ receptions.)

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Notice anything interesting?  Look closely at the Deep Pass Attempt rate column.  Among the top 20, DeSean has, BY FAR, the highest percentage of deep pass attempts.  In fact, the next closest player above is Doug Baldwin at 32.9%.  That’s a huge difference.   Now let’s flip it slightly and sort by Deep Pass rate.

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So now we have all of the major “deep threats” represented.  Look at the Catch Rate.  Again, near the top of the list, DeSean blows everyone else away.  Also note that Riley Cooper now makes the list, with the 6th highest Deep Pass rate.  However, his catch rate is “just” 56.6%.  I say put “just” in quotations because that’s still a very good catch rate, as you can see from the chart.   But it’s nowhere near DeSean’s 65.1%.

So, last season DeSean had a Catch Rate similar to the best possession WRs in the game, just behind Wes Welker actually.  Of course, he did so while operating as a true “deep threat”.  That’s a unique, and extremely valuable combination.

You see, last year the Eagles were able to attack downfield with DeSean without taking the normal reduction in Catch Rate.  Obviously, that makes the offense extremely efficient and dangerous.  More to the point, not a single other WR in the game put up numbers anywhere close to DeSean, at least not while catching more than 40 passes.

Now, the caveats.  It was just one season, so it’s certainly possible that DeSean’s Catch Rate and Deep Pass Attempts combination is unsustainable.  We’ll just have to wait and see on this one.  Additionally, you could credit a lot of DeSean’s stats to the genius of Nick Foles.  That too is possible.  Of course, that’s a LOT of credit to give to a 2nd year QB with mediocre arm strength.  As always, the “truth” is probably a combination of several factors.  One of them, though, is DEFINITELY DeSean’s skill.

Is there more?  Well yes, lots more, but let’s keep things relatively short.  It turns out AdvancedNFLStats.com also tracks Expected Points Added.  I’ve used the Expected Points concept in great detail before, so I’m not going to do a full explanation here.  Anyway, here are the WRs who registered the highest EPA last season:

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Yep, that’s DeSean, ranked ahead of guys like Josh Gordon, Eric Decker, and Calvin Johnson.  On a per play basis, DeSean also ranked 3rd, behind only Anquan Boldin and Doug Baldwin.

Like I said yesterday, DeSean Jackson is a GREAT player.  We can argue about what he’s “worth” contract-wise.  We can argue about whether he fits the “culture” that the team is trying to develop.  We can argue about how he’ll perform as he gets older.  When it comes to production to date, though, there is no argument.  Since entering the league, Jackson has been among the most productive receivers in the game.  Last season, with Chip Kelly calling the shots and Nick Foles at QB, Jackson became a tremendously unique and valuable weapon.  Don’t lose sight of that.

Scheme Fit

My final comment is a short one.  There was some talk about DeSean not “fitting” the scheme that Chip Kelly is trying to run.  Without engaging completely, because I think that grants too much credit to what is a ridiculous argument, let me just say this:

1) Chip Kelly is a great, creative, perhaps genius-level offensive mind.

2) DeSean Jackson, as shown above, is a unique talent and the premier deep threat in the league.

I’ve pretty much proven the second statement.  If you’re going to make the “scheme” argument, it stands to reason then, that the first statement above cannot be true.  Put simply, if Chip Kelly can’t find a way to use DeSean Jackson in his scheme, then he’s not the offensive mastermind everyone believes he is.  Of course, he did find a way to use Jackson productively last season, so….I told you that argument was ridiculous.

 Update: I forgot to mention that DeSean ranked 11th by Win Probability Added (also from AdvancedNFLStats.com).  That’s good, but given the EPA numbers I expected him to be higher.  I haven’t quite figured out a reason for the discrepancy, hence why I didn’t talk about it.  However, I don’t want it to seem like I’m hiding “unfavorable” stats, so there you go.

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Notes from Yesterday

Just a few notes from yesterday’s game:

– I don’t understand Chip’s decision to dial down the offense in the second half.  It makes complete sense to become more conservative and to take fewer risks when you have a lead (think equation).  HOWEVER, when the opposing team is basically begging for you to take a shot, you should take it.

Early in the game, it was clear the Eagles were going to take shots downfield when they had Cooper matched up one-on-one with a DB with no safety over top.  It almost led to an early TD (Cooper lost sight of the ball).  Anyway, late in the game the Redskins were packing 8 in the box and playing a single deep safety.  That means you’ve got both D-Jax and Cooper against a CB, and the safety can only help on one of them.

Somehow, a situation Chip was hoping for and targeting early in the game lost its appeal.  Keep in mind that this is not a high-risk play.  Throwing it deep to Cooper when he’s in single coverage is very unlikely to produce an outcome worse than an incomplete pass.

Given that we saw this exact same situation play out last time the team played the Redskins, after which Chip claimed he learned his lesson, I’m worried this will be a recurring issue.  Obviously, that would necessitate having big leads, which would be awesome, but it’s still a bad habit.  My only guess as to the reasoning is that Chip still doesn’t fully trust Foles.

– Overall a good win, but let’s remember that the Redskins aren’t a good team.  We’ll learn a LOT more about the team when it faces Arizona and Detroit after the bye week.  To date, the Eagles “best” win came against a Green Bay team playing with its 3rd string QB.  It remains to be seen whether the Eagles rank within the “mediocre” division of the NFL.  They’ve lost against Dallas and San Diego…which would suggest they’re at the bottom of that subset of teams.  If so, they’ll have trouble against the Cardinals.

– Still researching the topic, but safe to say that Nick Foles is at least close to doing something unprecedented.

He now has a career rating of 97.6, with 22 TDs and just 5 interceptions.  He’s also rushed for 3 TDs.

His rating this season is currently 128.  The single-season record is 122.5 (Aaron Rodgers).

Under Chip Kelly, he’s seen significant playing time in 6 games…he’s won 5 of them.

His career interception rate is now 1.2%.  The NFL Record for a career rate is 1.7% (Aaron Rodgers…yeah, he’s really good).

As I showed at the end of last week, few QBs have, at ANY point in their careers, had a career rating that as high as Foles does now.  The fact that Foles has it 15 appearances and 11 starts into his career is a very good sign.

Naturally, it’s a safe bet that Foles won’t maintain this level of play.  The next question, though, is:

What are the odds a “bad” QB could have a stretch of games like this?

How about a “mediocre” QB?

We could probably turn to Bayesian analysis to help out, but for now, it’s enough to know that the odds of either situation aren’t very good.  When you then consider that fact that he’s doing it to start his career, I think it’s safe to say Foles’ odds are now pointing heavily in favor of at least “solid NFL starter” and potentially much higher.

– Last point.  Chip was correct in going for it on 4th and 1.  There’s just not much to gain from punting the ball there, especially in comparison to the relatively high likelihood of maintaining possession.  I was much more concerned about the play-call.  It looked like a delayed handoff, which would be an inexplicable call (especially to Bryce Brown).  However, it may also have just been a miscommunication.  Unfortunately, the announcers had already stopped calling the game and were too busy to bother talking about it.  I don’t think we even got a replay.  I’ll have to review the film, but my first impression was: right strategy, wrong play.

 

P.S. It’s week 12 (practically) and the Eagles are entering their bye week in first place.

Time to step back and reflect

After a couple busy days in free agency, it’s time to step back and take stock of where the team is and where it might be going.

First, regardless of where you believe the team’s weaknesses are, the Eagles deserve a very high grade for what they’ve done so far.  As I showed after day one, they’ve hit on most of my “wish list” and there are still plenty of players out there and no reason the team will not sign anyone else.  I do have a few concerns, but I’ll get to those later.

The surface $ numbers surprised me on a couple of the deals (Barwin and Williams), but the reported guaranteed numbers make a lot more sense.  The Eagles haven’t hamstrung themselves with any outrageous deals, which is (or should be) rule #1 for FA.

Now for specifics:

Chip Kelly doesn’t give a fuck about Graham, Cole, Curry, or anyone else on the roster.

After the Barwin signing, a lot of people are worried about how Kelly will fit the DEs into the scheme, which is flawed thinking.  Kelly has no ties to these players.  Right now he is signing any player he believes will be a good fit for his system, as long as they take reasonable contracts.

If at the end of the day that means Cole and Graham are relegated to the bench, so be it. Kelly’s not going to lose sleep over that.

Overall, I think he’ll enter camp with an open competition for just about every position, and go from there.  That was his MO at Oregon, and I see no reason why he’d change his philosophy here.  I’m as excited as anyone about how Graham played last year, but Kelly is not going to alter his plan just to keep a guy like that on the field.

I believe you can summarize the Eagles FA philosophy like this:  Add depth/talent, breed competition, don’t kill your cap, and let the depth chart shake itself out in camp.

Still need another DT: 

The team still needs to add a DT. RJF seemed to be the perfect guy, but the money didn’t make sense.  They could (and likely will) add someone in the draft.  If it were me, even with a rookie addition, I’d want another low-budget veteran that has some experience in a 3-4.

Don’t get too excited about the safeties: 

Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips, when healthy, would be BIG upgrades over what the Eagles had last year.  Not sure if I have made this point before, but the Eagles Safeties last year were SO bad, that merely getting league average play from them this year would be a huge improvement.

In light of that, the Eagles really didn’t need to do much to start fixing that area of the team. My problem with Chung and Phillips is that they took on risk when they didn’t need to.  I really like the upside of both players, but both are SIGNIFICANT injury risks.  That means there’s a distinct possibility that, at some point in the season, the Eagles will be left with the same starting safeties as last year.

Again, I like both signings; they’re the definition of low-risk/medium-reward as far as the numbers go.  However, I’d have felt better if they had added an average level veteran that they KNEW was going to be available every game, even if he provided just mediocre play.

I’d be shocked if Eagles don’t add a S in the draft (they may do so as high as the 2nd round), so perhaps that’s where the additional player comes in.

In any case, don’t get too excited about the secondary being “fixed”.  Odds are one of the guys they signed (if not more) is going to either get injured or not pan out.  That’s why you have to throw a lot of shit at the wall; not everything’s gonna stick.

For the record, Connor Barwin did have a down year last season.  However, he is just 26 years old, and even off his peak from two years ago is far better than most of the LBs we have.  He also has a LOT of 3-4 experience.  This was a great signing, even if he doesn’t get close to double-digit sacks.

The starting CBs?

This is a similar story.  I like each player the Eagles signed individually, but it’d be silly to pretend there isn’t a lot of risk here.

Cary Williams appears to be the clear leader for #1 CB….I’m not sure he’s that good.  He certainly has the talent, but to date has been inconsistent.  The good news is he plays with a lot of “attitude”, which I sincerely believe was a big factor in the signing.  Kelly/Roseman must have watched tape last year and seen the team roll over.  Williams is not wired that way, he’ll fight (sometimes literally) regardless of the time/score/record.   He’s also very physical and not afraid to tackle, which will be a nice change of pace from what Eagles fans have seen the last few years.

Bradley Fletcher, as I’ve already explained, is a great risk/reward signing.  He’ll compete for the second starting CB job.  If he’s healthy he gets it.

The big thing to remember here is the ceiling we are looking at.  Previously, the Eagles somewhat consistently had, on paper, the best CB pairing in the league (or one of them).  Going back to Vincent/Taylor through Brown/Sheppard (for a time) to Asante/Nnamdi/DRC (remember I said “on paper”).  We are no longer looking for that, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Even at full health, a Williams/Fletcher combo is not going to be among the best CB tandems in the league (it’s possible but very unlikely).  The Eagles are now looking for reliability, not excellence.  After last year, though, average will look like excellent.

The OL: 

This is the elephant in the Eagles FA room.  Everyone expected the team to address this group, either by adding a starting OT or, at the very least, adding a young player to provide depth.  So far we’ve got….crickets… I’ve got a couple of theories on this.

A) The Eagles have tracked the medical progress of their starters and are convinced all of them will be ready for day 1 of the season.  As a result, no need to pay big money for a starter.  Maybe add a low-priced depth guy after the rest of FA shakes out or draft a couple of players late to compete for back-up spots.

B) The Eagles new regime has watched tape of Danny Watkins and truly believes he can be a viable starter.  This is like adding another starter, so no need to find a big name OT in FA.  Herremans remains on the right side.  Youth and depth will be added in the middle of the draft.

C) The Eagles have already decided that they love Joeckel/Fisher and are set to take him with #4 overall.  Obviously, if they plan on selecting a starting OT in the draft (with the #4 pick), there’s no reason to sign a FA to fill that role.

No idea which theory is accurate (there are certainly others to consider as well).  I hope it’s not C though, and I don’t believe it is.  Which leads me to…

The Draft: 

A lot of people have mentioned that the Eagles moves have “freed” the team to do whatever they want in the draft.  This is a mistake.  The Eagles were free to do what they wanted regardless of who they signed.  Roseman has made it VERY clear that his picks will not be dictated by positional need.  My reading of the situation is that Reid forced the Watkins pick on Howie, and that backfired spectacularly.  Hence, Howie will not choose for need in the first couple rounds.

That is obviously good news for Eagles fans.  Other good news for Eagles fans is the increasing hype for Geno Smith.

Remember folks, I made this point a long time ago.  Smith is very athletic, had a great college career, and completed 70% of his passes last year.  This guy has 1st round written all over him.  Also, PVM has him ranked as the #8 OVERALL prospect.

A while ago I mentioned that the Eagles may be holding the best pick for any team that wants to trade up.  Kansas City isn’t trading its pick.  Oakland and Jax could conceivably each select Geno Smith, but I think the odds of that are low.  Seems too rational for Oakland, and Jacksonville has so many holes that I’m not sure they can afford to give up on Gabbert just yet.  After that, a team like the Cardinals is a prime suspect to get scared and make the jump.

For the record, I do believe there is some legitimate interest in Geno on the Eagles part.  However, I don’t think there’s any way they take him at #4.

I think the most likely scenario is that they make every effort possible to trade down within the top ten, select the BPA (probably an OT or DT) and pick up an extra 2nd round pick.  Then they can use one of those 2nd rounders on defense and the other on whichever QB prospect they secretly like (EJ Manuel?  Nassib if he’s there?).

Regardless, the fact that Geno is now getting serious love increases the value of the Eagles pick.

That’s all for now, I’m at over 1500 words and half the audience (if not more) has probably already left…

Hopefully we’ll have another signing or two to talk about soon.

 

 

 

Let’s talk about Vick

Most of you can probably guess that I was shocked and disappointed at yesterday’s announcement that the Eagles have restructured Vick’s deal for a year.  To be abundantly clear: I think it’s a bad move.  However, there are a lot of different aspects to this decision, which I’ll endeavor to discuss here, some of which may be quite positive/hopeful.

– Chip Kelly clearly isn’t enamored with Foles.  Not a huge surprise, due to Foles’ relative lack of mobility, but I was hoping Chip would value the accuracy and poise more highly than he apparently has.  Also, I’m not buying the whole “open competition” comment.  Foles and Vick could not be more different as quarterbacks.  As a result, whichever “system” Kelly puts into place will tilt heavily towards one of them.  If the offense relies on the read-option, I don’t see any way Foles would win a competition for the starting job, he’s just not a fit for that scheme.

Also, the rumored discussions with Dennis Dixon should be added to the puzzle here.  In total, it’s clear that despite Chip’s professed flexibility, he really does want a truly mobile quarterback that can threaten defenses with his legs.

If I was Andy Reid, I would already be calling the Eagles and making an offer for Foles (or waiting to see if I could sign Alex Smith, then making a play for Foles).

– That doesn’t mean he’s in love with Vick.  My current belief is that Kelly doesn’t like either Vick or Foles as his permanent QB.  However, he has a specific system that he wants to install, and Vick was as close to a “fit” as there was on the market.  The fact that Vick wanted to stay here and was willing to rework his deal made that option very attractive.  Under this scenario, Kelly gets to fully install his system year 1 with Vick as the caretaker, rather than adapting it to suit Foles’ skills and then restarting when he finds “his guy”.  This makes some sense to me, though it suggests Kelly is heavily invested in his scheme, which makes me nervous considering he’s never tried it in the NFL.  In this case, it’s also possible the Eagles have their eye on a couple of QBs in the draft, and if they get one of them, can cut Vick before the season starts.  Vick gives the team insurance and means they don’t have to reach or overpay in the draft for a rookie.

– Maybe Chip is reading this blog.  Over a number of posts, I’ve explained why this past season the Eagles, in all likelihood, underperformed their “true success rate”.  The team was beset by injuries that decimated the OL, arguably the most important position group behind the QB.  Additionally, the Eagles had terrible luck when it came to turnovers (both giving/receiving and recovering).  Add in the near-historic special-teams ineptitude and it’s quite possible Chip reviewed last season and decided the potential is there for a much better football team than we saw this season.  For those of you looking for hope, this is the theory for you.  Predictions, for the most part, are worthless, especially when it comes to sports.  However, I’m going to make a couple here that I am extremely confident in, each of which bodes well for the team (I’ve mentioned them before):

1) The Eagles will not lose 22 fumbles next year or have a TO Differential of -24.  I’ve explained that fumbling the ball is largely random, and this year the Eagles caught the tail of that distribution.  Of the last 320 NFL team seasons, the 2012 Eagles had more lost fumbles than 99.4% of them (only one team had more).  THAT WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN NEXT YEAR.

2) In a related note, the Eagles recovered just 35% of all fumbles last season.  This number is almost completely random and over the long-term should be around 50%.  Though it’s certainly possible for the team to be unlucky again next year, I’m going to predict that the Eagles will recover MORE THAN 35% of all fumbles next year.

3) The Eagles this year had the worst relative field position BY FAR at -6.67 yards (a result of turnovers and terrible special teams).  A previous post of mine showed little persistence in this measure from year-to-year, therefore there is no reason to believe the Eagles will be that bad again next year.  So…the Eagles will have SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER average field position next year.

I apologize for repeating these, but they are vital pieces of evidence towards my most hopeful Chip Kelly/Vick/Eagles scenario.  None of these predictions require any great insight, just a cursory exploration of recent historical statistics and basic analysis.  It is quite possible (likely in fact), that Kelly and/or Roseman has reviewed these numbers and arrived at the same conclusions.

If so, it is entirely reasonable for Kelly to believe that combining better luck with a healthier OL, the #4 pick in the draft, and a few positional upgrades to the defense (hard not to find upgrades since they were so bad last year) will result in a significantly better team and one that can compete for both a playoff spot and a division title.

– Grace-period utilization.  Due to the performance of the team this year, it’s clear that Chip Kelly is not expected to perform a miraculous one-year turnaround.  He knows he has, in essence, a free year.  I mentioned early on in the coaching process that regardless of Kelly’s motives, he had to be salivating at the thought of Shady and Bryce Brown together in the back field.  Add in a healthy D-Jax, and you’ve got the type of speed Kelly prized at Oregon (and is VERY difficult to collect in the NFL).  In light of this, Chip might be thinking he has nothing to lose by trying to shoot the moon by adding Vick to this line-up.  I’m seeing a few people talking about Vick losing a step, but I don’t agree with it.  I’ve been pretty clear about Vick’s shortcomings as a QB, but speed is one area I am not concerned about.  Even at 85% of his prime-speed, Vick is fast enough to devastate defenses.

If Kelly has been given explicit guarantees of his job security (i.e. low expectations for this year) from Lurie, and I bet he has, then he really has nothing to lose by trying to go for it with Vick for 1 year.  The only cost here is impeding Foles’ development, but as I mentioned above, I don’t think Kelly cares about that and wouldn’t be surprised if Foles gets traded.

– Run-heavy option offense.  The biggest problem with Vick, outside of his fragility, is his propensity for turnovers.  However, Kelly might believe he can solve that problem fairly easily. How?  Don’t throw the ball.  Shurmur has already alluded to a run-heavy attack, and with Shady and BB, that should be the strategy.  It’s possible, though, that he’s underselling just how run-heavy the offense could be.  Could the Eagles try to run a Georgia Tech-style triple option in the NFL?  Why not?  Kelly has already stated that the only reasoning he won’t accept is “that’s the way it’s always been done”, which BTW is my absolute favorite thing about him.  With the speed in the Eagles backfield, a healthy OL (a healthy Peters especially), and perhaps a stud OT with the #4 pick, Kelly might believe he has the necessary ingredients to make an extremely run-heavy option offense work in the NFL.

If Vick doesn’t throw the ball, he can’t throw interceptions.  Fumbles are another story, but IMO they are much less of an issue than interceptions (both more random and easier to fix).

Concluding – Hopefully the thoughts above have given you a few new things to consider.  In any case, the Eagles will be interesting and entertaining, which at the end of the day is why the team exists.  We can complain all we want about not having a Super Bowl, but at least the team isn’t boring.  Would you rather be a Bucs fan?  If I was in charge, I would have already cut ties with Vick, but in exploring the situation, I can see a few strands of logic in the decision to keep him.  The fact is Kelly is coming into the league with such a good reputation, that anything he does right now deserves the benefit of the doubt.  Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to tear him up later.