2020 NFL Draft Guide: Utilizing Advanced Football Stats
Published: Jul 11, 2020
Advanced metrics and analytics. Sounds too complicated. It conjures up images of Billy Bean slaving over excel sheets during the “Money Ball” days or Ernie Adams chained to a desk in a dungeon below Gillette Stadium, only being fed a Ballpark Frank when he discovers a new formation that’s just barely within the rules. This pleases the Belichick.
(Ravens should have known Shane Vereen was playing “split ineligible second offensive tackle” here)
Yes, the title “advanced metrics” makes it seem like some sort of wizardry that is beyond our comprehension but the reality is that most of these stats are quite the opposite. A lot of times they take opinions that we feel subjectively e.g. “Derrick Henry is good at breaking tackles” and boil it down to an objective, scientific statistic that can be calculated and measured e.g. “Josh Jacobs ’s elusive rating of 103.6 was far better than Kalen Ballage ’s Elusive Rating of 12.1 (fart sound)”.
So here what we are going to do is attempt to demystify some of these by giving you one of our favorites for each position, explaining what they are, and how you can use them to dominate your league. So, let’s go to it!
Elusive Rating – Figured we might as well start with the stat I just mentioned which is Pro Football Focus’s Elusive or Elusiveness Rating.
What It Does: According to PFF, this stat distills the success and impact of a runner with the ball independently of the blocking in front of him by looking at how hard he was to bring down.
How Is It Calculated: (Missed Tackles Forced) / (Designed Run Attempts + Receptions) * (Yards After Contact Per Attempt * 100)
How Does It Help: As I mentioned in the intro, previously we would just watch a guy and say, “gosh dang it that Adrian Peterson sure is tough to bring down ain’t he?”. But with this metric we can actually quantify how likely Adrian Peterson is to run you over, step on your chest, then run for a touchdown as the formula basically factors in your broken tackles and yards after that contact compared to how often you are touching the ball. As far as guys with 25+ touches per year, AP was fairly consistently in the top 10 so the answer for guys like him and Marshawn Lynch was “very likely to do that”.
Drawbacks: Like many stats, it can favor small, successful sample size. A good, realistic elusiveness rating is between 50 and 100 with the top couple backs getting a full workload probably getting just over 100 (last three years leaders with over 100 carries were 2017 Alvin Kamara at 108.5, 2018 Nick Chubb at 103.3, and 2019 Josh Jacobs at 103.6). However, in 2012 Marcus Thigpen had 2 touches, 1 rush and 1 carry. He broke tackles on both for a total of 11 yards after contact. 2/(2)*(1,100) = 1,100 which basically makes him Forrest “The Flash” Booby Miles Gump. You need to be weary of guys with low usage who frequently break tackles or guys who might break one tackle then take it for 80 yards giving him 80 yards after contact. The best move to mitigate that is to set a filter that requires a minimum number of rush attempts but when you do that you now only have proven backs which we pretty much already know about. It’s a double-edged sword.
Where To Find It: As of now, Elusive Rating can only be found behind a paywall as part of ProFootballFocus.com’s Premium Stats package.
Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt – If you are like me, you’ve looked at QB stats for a long time and saw ANY/A there and thought “hmm that’s something I will just ignore because it’s beyond my comprehension”. Well, turns out it’s a pretty darn helpful stat so ignore it no more!
What It Does: The stat was first introduced in a book by Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer, and John Thorn called The Hidden Game of Football but was later amended by Chase Stuart of Pro Football Reference to better encapsulate the current league. It basically factors in passing yards, pass attempts, sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions to give you an all encompassing “passing yards figure” to measure QB success.
How Is It Calculated: (pass yards + 20*(pass TDs) - 45*(interceptions thrown) – sack yards)/(passing attempts + sacks).
How Does It Help: Seems complicated but what it essentially does is boil down good things (touchdowns, yay) and bad things (sacks and interceptions, boo) into their yardage equivalent to figure out how the QB performed overall from an efficiency standpoint. Higher ANY/PA means more bang for your buck on each throw and less bad things happening. And when you look at the all-time leaders, the list is pretty good.
Drawbacks: Like a lot of “catch all” stats, it does not really encapsulate circumstance and it does not include everything. It does not factor in desperation time vs. mid game and it also doesn’t factor in the QBs ability to run – it just looks at passing stats. So, you might say Jared Goff at #12 isn’t far off from Dak Prescott but, when you factor in that Dak provides running upside and also somehow fumbles less than Goff per game while still running, it’s actually not as close.
Where To Find It: Many sites have it but ProFootballReference.com was the one that perfected it and they list it by default with all QB stats so that’s where I go for any of my ANY/A needs.
Weighted Opportunity Rating – This stat is great because A. it gives us useful, subjective info and B. it has a great acronym (WOPR, pronounced “whopper”). As far as names go, I personally hold it just a tier below elite acronyms like YAC “yack” and RBI “ribby”.
What It Does: Josh Hermsmeyer of AirYards.com delves deep into passing stats and we him for it. His first stat, Air Yards, was a simple yet ingenious stat that essentially looked at how far the ball traveled in the air before getting to the receiver. In his studies he found that regularly catching it five yards down field and running for 20 yards vs. catching it 20 yards down field and running for five may both be 25 yards but in fantasy, the guy regularly catching it 20 yards down field is going to have better opportunities in general than the guy catching it five yards down first. That then spawned average depth of target to find out how regularly it’s happening and later, WOPR, which takes the player’s air yards/aDot and also factors in what portion of the teams target’s they are getting to find out what their real opportunity is. In this case you take their targets compared t total targets to get their “market share” then take their Air Yards compared to team Air Yards to get their share of the team Air Yards. Then you calculate WOPR as follows.
How Is It Calculated: 1.5 X Market Share + 0.7 X Air Yards Market Share
How Does It Help: The ideal wide receiver gets a large quantity of medium to deep targets. The most important thing first being the targets themselves and then secondly being the depth of them since, without a lot of targets, you can’t really put up a lot of points. The leaders last year were Michael Thomas , DeAndre Hopkins , Allen Robinson , Courtland Sutton , and Julio Jones so clearly it’s identifying the big boys getting a big workload and big looks.
(The “big boy” receivers showing up for the late first, early second of your draft)
Drawbacks: The stat doesn’t account for A. quality of targets or B. team volume. For drawback A. just look at Sutton and Robinson. They may have gotten a lot of deep targets but were they good targets? Michael Thomas got 180 targets, 155 of which were catchable (per PFF). Allen Robinson got 153 but only 101 were catchable. Not great, Bob. For B. Sutton may have gotten a good percentage of his team’s targets but Denver only attempted 31.9 passes per game which is bottom 6. So, he has a high WOPR because he had a good chunk of that market share but he only got 115 targets, 75 of which were catchable. That’s why he can be ahead of Julio Jones in WOPR but not ahead of him in actual production.
Where To Find It: Why, AirYards.com of course!
Pass Blocking Percentage – This stat is not necessarily “advanced” but I felt it needed to be mentioned here because of how few people actual reference it when I believe it be incredibly important for the position (of which I write a lot of the articles for Fantasy Alarm on which you can find here).
What It Does: Analysts like to look at “routes run” and “yards per route run” which is great for receivers where nearly all pass plays amount to a route run. But the tight end has two roles – as part of the protection and part of the attack. So, a lot of them aren’t going out for a pass every pass play which causes the above stats to potentially be misleading.
How Is It Calculated: Pass blocking snaps / pass snaps
How Does It Help: The formula is simple but it’s not widely available and it tells us a lot. You want your tight end to be part of the attack, not the protection. You look at an athletic guy like Jonnu Smith and wonder why he didn’t perform better with Delanie Walker being hurt two years in a row now. You look and see that he played 766 regular season snaps (701) on offense. Then you see he only ran 240 routes. What gives? Well, when you look into is, he blocked on 22.9% of his teams PASS plays. A guy like Mark Andrews on the other hand only played 457 snaps but he only blocked on four pass plays or 1.3% of his pass snaps (to put that in perspective, Cooper Kupp blocked on 16 pass plays or 2.8% of his snaps so he actually blocked on more pass plays than Andrews. So the reality is, despite Jonnu playing 701 snaps, he is in a run heavy offense and is part of the protection on one of every five pass plays so he ran 240 routes while Mark Andrews is a pass specialist who played 457 snaps yet ran 295 routes. Makes it so you aren’t super excited about Jonnu Smith anymore huh?
(This guy, George Fant , plays ~220 tight end snaps a year. His PB% might as well be infinite.)
Drawbacks: You don’t always want a super low pass block percentage. Often times guys who lead that stat are guys, like Andrews last year, who only come on the field for pass plays like Eric Ebron , Cameron Brate , Anthony Firkser etc. You want the guys who are on the field every play but don’t block on pass plays like Zach Ertz (played nearly all the snaps while blocking on 3.6% of pass plays. Goedert handled the blocking while blocking on 13.2% of his). So, you can’t just take that and say “this guy is a stud” because Ricky Seals-Jones doesn’t block and that’s why he doesn’t see the field.
Where To Find It: ProFootballFocus.com behind the Premium Stats paywall is the only place I know that has it as of now.
Statistics for this article were provided by the author, Andrew Cooper, with help from ProFootballFocus.com, ProFootballRefence.com, and AirYards.com. Follow Coop on Twitter @CoopAFiasco.