Friday, July 21, 2017

Kickers with the Best Kickoff Legs

By John Turney
Starting in 1992 the NFL compiled complete kickoff data and has continued since.  However, over that time the kickoff rules have not been consistent. In 1994 there were kicking game changes.  he NF. moved the kickoff line back to the 30 to generate more returns. Also, a lower kicking tee was required. Then, in 2011 the kickoffs were moved back to the 30 and in 2016 touchbacks were placed at the 25-yard line, rather than the twenty.

because of all this, it's very difficult to compare kickoffs over the last 25 years. touchback percentages will be vastly different from 1994 through 2010.  However, kickoff distance remained fairly constant, In 1992 the average was just over 60 yards and it peaked in 2011 at 65 and has dropped to about 64.5. Rather than rule changes, this seems to fit the pattern of players training year-round and the evolution of the game.

Here are the players with the highest kickoff average since 1992 (The top three are punters):
Note: Many of these players began their careers prior to 1992 and data is not available for previous seasons. In 1991 there is partial data but we chose not to use it since it would skew the touchback percentages.

Kickers with the Soft Touch

By John Turney
Beginning in 1991 the NFL began to track the success rates of onside kicks. Sadly, no one has gone back to recover data from earlier generations so we could do a full analysis. Hopefully, the NFL, who is not (as we understand it) in negotiations with Elias Sports Bureau for the contract to handle the statistical matters for the NFL, will make backdating kicking and punting statistics part of the deal.

In the mean time, here are the leaders in onside kick success since 1991:
Neil Rackers is at the top and Jeff Wilkins is right behind him. Certainly, we understand a lot of things need to go right for a successful onside kick. Keeping the kickoff team onside is one thing, getting a good bounce is another, some luck in the bounce doesn't hurt. And the "hands" team has to fight for the ball if there is a scrum. But, it does seem some kickers, over the course of their career seem to have things go right about 40-50% of the time while many a great kicker have those things happen about half of that, perhaps 20-25% of the time. Jason Hanson seems particularly unlucky at 6 for 34 (17.6%) and Phil Dawson just below that at 17.1% (6 for 35). But John Kasay seems to be doing something wrong (1 for 25) for 3.6%.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Long Distance Kickers

By John Turney
With each passing year, it seems the NFL's kickers and punters break records for their positions. Fifty years ago a fifty-yard field goal was something that happened maybe a few times a season. Now it happens a few times every week.  Today, kickers have a kicking percentage for 50-and-over attempts that would have been not only acceptable but excellent for all the kicks in a season.

Right now there are nine kickers in the history of the game that have a 70% or better success rate on attempts of 50 yards or more and 46 who have hit fifty percent or better.

For a comparison, Tom Dempsey, who had one of the strong legs in league history was 12 for 39 (30.8%). Jan Stenerud, a Hall of Fame kicker was 17 for 64 (26.6%) and those two were among the very best in long range field goals when they retired.  This is no reflection on them, it's just a fact that the kicking game in the NFL has really upped its game in the last couple of decades.

Here is the list:

This is a list sorted by the most 50-yard field goals made:
This chart shows the top long distance kickers as of the end of the 1979 season, Dempsey's last:
Players with an asterisk played in the 1950s when complete distance data is not available. For instance, Lou Groza had at least 4 kicks of 50 or more, but it is unknown how many he missed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Food For Thought: One-yard Touchdown Passes

By John Turney
The following quarterbacks— Johnny Unitas Roger Staubach, Bobby Layne, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Dan Fouts, Sonny Jurgensen, Fran Tarkenton threw a combined total of 35 one-yard touchdowns in their careers which is an average of about 4 one-yarders per season.

Tom Brady has 35, the same number. Peyton Manning has 38 one-yard touchdown passes. Drew Brees has 32.

Just something to think about.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

NFL, AFC/NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year Awards

By John Turney
Mackey Award. This is for the Linebacker of the Year, but the Lineman of the Year trophy was the same.

NFL Alumni NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year Trophy
To football fans the most familiar "honor" and offensive lineman can win is being voted to one of the various All-Pro teams in any given year. The Associated Press, United Press International, Newspaper Enterprise Association and the Pro Football Writers of America are the teams that are the most traditional and that are included in the NFL Record and Fact Book, which is released yearly.

However, at times there have been additional awards given out by press organizations, often with corporate sponsors and also by the NFLPA and the NFL Alumni Association that honor offensive linemen and were often accompanied by a Trophy and a dinner given by the club in question.

The voters were often NFL players or former NFL players or former players or coaches. The following is a list of those award winners that ranged from 1956 and went through 2010. We are not going into detail on each award at this time but at a future date, we will revisit this.

As for now, you can click on the graphic below to enlarge:

Anthony Munoz won awards in 1981-82 and 1986-90. Dwight Stephenson won the AFC Lineman of the Year Award from 1983-87 (5 times).

Monday, July 17, 2017

Analysis: My MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney
About six weeks ago I was honored to participate in Peter King's MMQB All-Time Draft as one of the drafters, along with Joel Bussert, Ron Wolf, Rick Gosselin, Dan Fouts, Gil Brandt, Bob McGinn, Joe Horrigan,  Bill Polian, John Wooten, Ernie Accorsi and of course, Peter King.

We were to draft against each other, to attempt to build the most competitive team.

My goal was to get as many G.O.A.T.s as possible (G.O.A.T. is greatest of all time) but I knew they'd go fast. I also wanted to have the strongest offensive line possible and that begins with left tackle Anthony Munoz who I took in the first round. In addition to his All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, Munoz won NFL/AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year awards from various legitimate organizations in seven different seasons. I had targeted him and was glad he was there when I picked.
In the second round, Jerry Rice was available and that was an easy choice. It was a gift since though he'd go in the first round.

On the third round, I likely over-drafted Ed Reed, even though he is the G.O.A.T. at free safety I could have had a top cornerback or even a top defensive end. However, I had targeted Reed since I wanted to play a lot of Cover-2 and I knew that Reed was best best-ever at range, instincts, speed, smarts and had played both strong and weak safety at top levels in his career.
In the fourth round, I took right guard (though he can play left guard and tackle) Larry Allen, to me, another G.O.A.T.. He was a tremendous drive blocker and the best pass protecting guard ever. He and Jim Parker are the tops at guard and I was glad to have Allen. I project he could face up to Joe Greene and Merlin Olsen and even J.J. Watt when he slips inside and plays defensive tackle.
In round five I took another G.O.A.T in Dwight Stephenson who was a five-time Offensive Lineman of the Year and was further ahead of the number two center than any other top player is ahead of the number two in NFL history (other than Junior Seau) according to Pro Scout, Inc. Stephenson was too quick and too powerful to pass up and could dominate a player over his head better than any center ever. I had 3/4 of my line and it was time to get other positions, but my line is stacked.
So, with this line, I needed a back but I wanted a complete back. A top runner and receiver and also a top pass blocker. I chose Marshall Faulk. Faulk, who had legitimate 4.3 speed was also a top goal line and short yardage runner. In 2000, during a Rams versus Saint game Hall of Famer Jack Ham was asked who Faulk reminded him of. Ham pondered and said, "Earl Campbell". Ham mentioned Faulk's short yardage ability and his powerful lower body.

Couple that with his pass receiving skills, the best-ever by a running back with the possible exception of Lenny Moore. Faulk's abilities include the skill to run wide receiver routes, both outside and in the slot. He also is one of the top six pass blocking running backs ever. The others? Marion Motley, John Henry Johnson. Walter Payton. Edgerrin James and Emmitt Smith. Thus, I was pleased to get Faulk, who I had targeted all along.

Yes, there are a couple of runners better than Faulk. But I didn't want someone like Barry Sanders. who was taken out on goal line situations and was mediocre at best on third down in receiving and pass blocking. Additionally, Faulk was not a fumbler and that matters, too.

By building the offensive line I missed out on all the great 4-3 tackles and ends so I knew I had to know build a 3-4 defense. So to begin that process I chose the nose tackle Curley Culp, the only nose tackle in the Hall of Fame, another G.O.A.T. I felt there would be great inside and outside linebackers still available so getting the nose was important.
I needed a quarterback and seven had been taken I pulled the trigger on the trigger man:  Aaron Rodgers. I took him because of his mobility, accuracy, arm strength, and the avoidance of super negative plays. What is amazing about Rodgers is that if he keeps up his current pace he will throw his 400th touchdown before he throws his 100th interception. Incredible.
Now was time to get busy on defense and I took Von Miller to played LOLB in the base defense and LDE in the nickel. Miller at about 235 pounds and 4.5 speed it a perfect fit for the 3-4 I am building.
However, in the 10th round, I get distracted by another shiny object—Tony Gonzales at tight end and select him. He was just too good to skip and I still knew the ILBers I was targeting would still be there. So, in the 11th round, I take my left defensive end, Howie Long. Long will be the left end in base and a defensive tackle in nickel, just as he was in the NFL. He was good against the run and had the best arm under ever (rip move).
Aeneas Williams was a player I had targeted. Good run force and a top notch cover player. Yes, likely not as good at man coverage as Deion Sanders, but he was someone who will be there week-in and week-out. For Ron Wolf, who took Deion, five games a year he will have to start his nickel back because Deion will be playing baseball or will be nicked. Williams didn't miss a game until he was 34 years old.

After Williams, I took Andre Tippett and regretted it. Not that Tippett, a Hall of Famer, isn't a great player. He was. However, he's a clone of Von Miller. A left outside linebacker who plays left defensive end in nickel. I wanted a defense that could play as they did, as much as I could. Only myself and Rick Gosselin were trying for this added layer of perfection and I admit Gosselin did a better job. So, later in the draft, I traded Tippett to Ron Wolf for Robert Brazile, who was a weak side linebacker who could blitz, cover, and play the run.
I am sure Tippett could play the right side or Miller, in fact, Miller has some, but I wanted to build it with their own spots and with two exceptions I did. So, I made the trade. I lose some pass rush with Brazile but gain in coverage.

It was time to grab a fullback and I took John Henry Johnson. As I mentioned as good a pass protector as there ever has been at running back. He could also catch and run. He would sometimes even line up on the wing, as a second tight end, either outside the tight end or opposite the tight end in what is now called "Detroit" formation. And he could lead block for Marshall Faulk when I want to run power with Larry Allen short trapping.

Now, in round 15, I get another G.O.A.T.—Devin Hester. He will handle all the returns, plays some nickel back and some slot receiver. Gale Sayers is still the best kick returner but he had such a short career. Josh Cribbs may be the next-best, though it may be Hester. But Hester is the best on punt returns and no worse than third as a kick returner, overall, he's the best returner ever.
I get the inside linebacker I wanted in Randy Gradishar. Pro Scout, Inc. calls he and Ray Lewis the two best-ever at combined "neutralize and range". By that, they mean a player who can take on a neutralize a block by a guard and also has speed and ability to cover sideline to sideline. Stats, LLC. has a "Marshall Faulk number" which is a stat composed of the ability to run and receiver. In baseball, advanced metrics include a "power-speed" number which included the ability to hit home runs and also to steal bases. The "neutralize and range" is similar in that it is a skill set that combines two different things and one player who possesses both is rare.

Steve Hutchinson became the fourth player on my line. He was a powerful left guard who was a two-time Offensive Lineman of the Year. After him, I needed a right end so I took Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea. Bethea played the run well, stayed square and understood his role in the 3-4 defense. He also could get as many as 14½ sacks in a season, which he did in 1976 in a 3-4 scheme.
I took Richard Sherman as my other corner. He is averaging 5.0 interceptions a season, which is more than any of his contemporaries. One would have to go back to the 1960s to find players with a higher average. In this efficient passing era, interceptions are hard to come by and Sherman gets them with the regularity of a bygone era. Bottom line:  he is a true ballhawk, just what I wanted opposite Williams. But, this is one where I wanted someone who was a right corner and Sherman, of course, is on the left. So this is one of my failures in that sense.
On round twenty-one Marvin Harrison is still available and I snag him. He's ideal opposite Rice. Though he played on the right side of the offensive formation almost exclusively he played plenty as an "X"  allowing Rice to be the flanker and go in motion.

The the other inside linebacker I wanted was still there, HOFer Harry Carson. Carson will dominate on run downs but will have to be taken on on pass downs.
The other drafters are starting to go for the kickers and punters so I take the best:  Johnny Hekker. If he keeps his pace up he will set records that will last a long time. Ray Guy is the only punter in the Hall of Fame. He will likely get the nod again. However, keep and eye out for Johnny Hekker. Playing for a mediocre-to-poor team in his five years Hekker owns almost every record in the book, both in terms of gross stats and in terms of "metrics".

Guy was All-Pro six times, Hekker three times in five seasons. Guy's Inside-the-20 to touchback ratio was 1.5 to one. Hekker's is currently 8.3 to 1. Almost double the next best (Dustin Colquitt's 4.6 to one—though when Sam Martin qualifies he will be around the same). But 8.3 to 1? It's unheard of.

Guy only had 3 punts blocked, which is excellent (0.3%). Hekker has had one blocked and his block percentage is 0.2%. For comparison, Jerrel Wilson, the Chief's great has 12 blocked for 1.1%.  That was one reason I avoided Wilson and a few others.

Hekker had, so far, had 38.2% of his punts end up inside the twenty yard-line. Only Dustin Colquitt has a higher percentage (40.5%). Guy's percentage is 24.6% in that metric.

Hekker's net punting average is 43.3 as of the end of the 2016 season. The next closest is Thomas Morstead of the Saints with a 41.2 net average, nearly two yards fewer than Hekker and in this kind of statistic that is a lot since most of the best net yardage punters are all bunched around 40.0.

In the same round, I took Mike Kenn, the best pass protector of the remaining tackles. He was a two-time Offensive Lineman of the year, All-Pro and all the credentials. It is one of the "copouts" though. He's a left tackle and he'll have to play right tackle on this squad. I had the chance to pick someone who played right tackle, Joe Jacoby, for one. Erik Williams for another. But in the 30 seconds or so alloted to make the pick I went with who I thought was best overall tackle left and Kenn edged our Tony Boselli.
I felt Nick Lowery would be there and he was. I thought that because few know how good he was, relative to his peers. Lowery was the most accurate kicker of his era and even past that for a few years. He also kicked outdoors (unlike Morten Anderson) and had good range. He didn't have as much power in his legs as Anderson but Anderson was a freak. Chase Stuart of Football Perspective did a nice piece on Lowery. Pro Football Researcher member Ruppert Patrick is working on a book that will feature Lowery. For me, I followed Lowery's career in the 1980s and 1990s. I remember his clutch kicks and many of the distances. I found it odd he never go the acclaim he deserved. He easily could have been the All-Decade kicker for the 1980s and 1990s (he led both in kicking percentages) but Morten Anderson's pure power and long kicks got more acclaim. However, I am glad I got Lowery in this excecise, he's a guy who gets more points above average than any of the kickers all the other men chose.

Finally, I need my other safety who can play Cover-2. Someone with size, range, hitting ability, smarts. That player is Nolan Cromwell. He was on his way to the Hall of fame until a knee injury in 1984 felled him. He'd been the Defensive Player of the Year, multiple All-Pros and was considered the prototype safety. After the knee injury he played well, but lacked some of the range he'd had before. Cromwell had played both free safety and strong safety in his career, just like Ed Reed did. But with my safeties taking half the field and Gradishar covering the "hole" and Williams and Sherman playing zone (plus some 2 man) I think this secondary can get it done.
Most of the art credits go to Merv Corning.

Analysis: Ernie Accorsi MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney

Ernie Accorsi MMQB All-Time Draft Team is the final review n this series.
 Drafting last would have been tough in this exercise and Accorsi did well. He got every player in the position he played and they were impact players as well.
The fullback halfback combo is excellent along with Steve Van Buren to fill in. Creekmur was more of a tackle than a guard, though he did play some guard early in his career. He made his bones as a tackle, however.
This is a fine set of special teamers though in studying Yale Lary, he had a bit too many touchbacks when punting. Maybe he was trying for the coffin corners and missed, but his net average would be a lot higher if he'd dialed it back a hair.

Analysis: John Wooten MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney

John Wooten MMQB All-Time Draft Team

John Wooden picked two fine left defensive ends and two fine right defensive tackles, but they could project to different spots. Brown and Page, especially likely could work well together. The safeties work very well and the linebackers, too, with the exception of Bill Willis. All the film I've seen of his is as a middle guard in a 5-3 or 5-2 defense. Having Leo Nomellini to fill is is great.
I love this offensive line, all in right positions. A dancer-type left tackle named Brown and a boomer of a tackle named Brown. A possession receiver and a deep threat. The only question is lack of a lead blocker of Simpson.
Cockcroft was a fine dual kicker and had some excellent years and a couple poor ones. But he saves a roster slot allowing Ike Bruce and Leo Nomellini.

Analysis: Bill Polian MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney

Bill Polian MMQB All-Time Draft Team is next.
I would have preferred seeing a rush tackle paired with Olsen and or Kennedy. Both are great, Olsen a bit better rusher than Kennedy but both were run stuffing tackles. Les Richter was mostly a middle linebacker for the Rams, except his first couple of seasons when they were still running the 5-2. So, he does project as does Conner. Polian chose two right side ends, but Dent might project to the strong side. Haley and Dent, as designated rushers would play on the left side, but by and large both were right defensive ends. Haley was an "elephant" when he was with the 49ers.
Polian has two right tackles, an oddity in this draft when most of us have two left tackles. Slatr played left tackle in 1981, due to injuries, and hated it. He'd been on he right and moving was not his favorite thing. He was happy in 1982 to move back to right tackle.
This is a good set of special teamers.

Analysis: Peter King MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney

Peter King MMQB All-Time Draft Team is next on my list for analysis.
Eller and Watt are both left ends, but Watt moves around and would project as a 4-3 right defensive end. The tackles are a left- and right tackle who both had to do multiple things so they work well. Kevin Greene spent a couple of years as a 4-3 OLBer and he did fine, but his forte was as a LOLBer in a 3-4 defense. It was there he earned his Hall of Fame credentials. The safeties couldn't be better.
Again, two left tackles, though when Zimmerman first arrived in Denver he did play some right tackle and did just fine. It's a great offensive line who could run lots of traps that fullback Franco Harris ran with the Steelers in the 1970s. The only criticism might be lack of top-end speed at wide receiver. But put Sayers in the slot, see what happens. 
These are four fine picks. Maybe not all are G.O.A.T.s but Vinatieri is a clutch kicker, Lee is in the Hekker-class as a net punter, Sproles is a fine returner and Gleason was an excellent core special teams player.  Outside my own team, I like King's best.

Analysis: Joe Horrigan MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney

Joe Horrigan MMQB All-Time Draft Team is up next.

The safeties work here as a strong and free safety. Joe chose a 3-4 defense but only Bennett has experience in it, but it would be interesting to see Dave Robinson as a blind side rusher in a 3-4. He was a great athlete and could pull it off. As a nose tackle Ray Childress would struggle. He was a 3-4 end and a left defensive tackle in nickel situations until the Oilers moved to a 4-3 where he was a left tackle. Jack Youngblood played in a 3-4 in 1983 and in 1984 and did well, the Rams stopped the run and Youngblood amassed 20 sacks in those two years. So, he can play it. He'd cuss you for doing it, but he'd play the 3-4. Andy Robustelli, at 230 pounds, would likely struggle in a 3-4. Horrigan chose a fourth lineman as his wildcard selection. Ernie Stautner would likely have to play a lot meaning one of the linebackers would have to sit. The question is who?
This is a well-fitted offense and with Jim Taylor and Emmitt Smith, Horrigan could run every offensive set.

The kicker and punter are fine choices. Hanson did have an advantage in kicking indoors, but that's the nature of the game.

Analysis: Bob McGinn MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney

Bob McGinn MMQB All-Time Draft Team is next up for review and he, like my team, is a 3-4 defense.

 His safeties fit well as so do his outside backers. His inside backers have played some (Seau anyway) in a 3-4 defense but both would project well. Pat Williams was a 4-3 nose tackle, so the move to 3-4 nose would not be a problem. Reggie White played some in a 3-4, though he thrived more in a 4-3, but he and Selmon would do well with this set of players.

McGinn has two finesse-type left tackles, but moving one to right tackle would be possible with these two. Outside Anthony Munoz I think Walter Jones is the best left tackle. So, I'd project that Pace would have to move sides.
Tommy Davis will handle both kicking and punting. His punting is great, but in my view his kicking was average.

Analysis: Dan Fouts MMQB All-Time Draft Team

By John Turney

There is no doubt Dan Fouts got the pick of the litter in kickers and punters. he took Ray Guy in the first round and a few round later too Jan Stenerud.
 Fouts picked two free safeties but both were great. His corners were excellent, both Hall of Famers. He picked a true middle linebacker, a true strong side linebacker (Wilcox) and a true weakside linebacker (Jackson).  He also picked a left and right defensive end. With Johnson and Kinard it's hard to tell, but Johnson was a rush tackle who was very productive. It actually is a very interesting team. Green and Dean are a bit undersized but they could play. Green was a truly underrated player. Caught in a decade with a lot of good defensive ends.
All of this works except for Bruce Matthews at left tackle. he played some right tackle early in his career but was moved inside. Once, he was moved to left tackle to match up against Bruce Smith. Smith lit Matthews up for 4 sacks and Matthews again moved back inside, where he was dominant. So, I am not a fan of him at tackle, to say the least.
There are no criticisms in the special teams other than where they were drafted. All have a legitimate argument for bing G.O.A.T.s.