Thursday, May 05, 2011

Pesky Numbers

The more I think and read about the Julio Jones pick, the more skeptical I become. Football Outsiders has created a statistical formula to analyze receivers and before the Draft, they wrote that Jones only came out as the 13th best receiver in the class ($) based on his college numbers. Anticipating the claim that Jones played in a run-first offense in a great conference and that it is to be expected that his numbers will be low, take a look at FO’s criteria:

The exact formula behind Playmaker is too complicated to get into here, but it is based on six factors:

• Receiving yards per game
• Receiving touchdowns
• Average yards per catch
• The team's yards per pass
• The team's passes per game
• The conference the receiver played in

In short, Playmaker accounts for both the style of the offense and the level of competition. Jones’s pedestrian numbers go into that system and come out with the projection that he’ll be a pedestrian receiver in the NFL. As FO acknowledges, their system is by no means perfect. We are simply talking about probability here. Combining the history of receivers taken in the top ten spots in the Draft and Jones’ numbers leaves us with the conclusion that the odds are against Jones producing at anywhere near the level that would justify his price tag.

Speaking of the list of top ten receivers, look at the college numbers of Jones and the three receivers who have lived up to their lofty draft positions as exceptions to the "don't take receivers at the top of the Draft" rule:

Andre Johnson921,8312019.9
Larry Fitzgerald1612,6773416.6
Calvin Johnson1782,9272816.4
Julio Jones1792,6531514.8

None of these four receivers played in pass-heavy spread offenses and they did not play with quarterbacks who would go onto success in the NFL. With that groundwork out of the way, there are two issues that jump off of the table. First, Jones’s yards per catch is lower than any of the three receivers on the list. Second, he caught fewer touchdowns. The touchdown issue is especially worrying when you account for the fact that Andre Johnson - the only one of the three whose TD total is close to that of Jones - only started for two years in college, whereas Jones started for three. Those 15 touchdowns look a lot more like Troy Williamson (13 TDs in three years as a starter at South Carolina) than they do Johnson & Johnson or Fitzgerald. Thus, we have to go on faith that Jones was a decoy for most of his time at Alabama and that he will thrive when he has Roddy White on the other side of the formation as opposed to Marquise Maze. I’d rather have more than faith in my corner when trading five picks for one guy.

One last thought: for the first time, I’m a little anxious for the NFL owners and the NFLPA to reach a deal. Previously, I was ambivalent about the prospect of a lockout eating some or all of the season. I do like watching NFL games, but on the other hand, a fall where college football doesn’t have the share the spotlight is an appealing thought. Now, I’m so interested to see how the Jones gamble pays off that I want a resolution so we can start getting reports on how the Falcons’ passing game looks in August.


Anonymous said...

I'm not necessarily saying he'll definitely justify the 5 picks Atlanta gave up to take him at No. 6, but definitely consider the following:

1. The QB throwing him the ball was extremely limited. This affected playcalling and on field performance.

2. Bama had a running offense and generally ran the ball into the endzone or threw to a trick receiver - again due to the limits of the QB. Julio was often doubled and they weren't confident Gmac could put the ball up where only he could get it.

3. Bama had many games won by early in the 3rd and simply quit throwing the ball in a lot of games and ran down clock.

4. Schematically, due to the limits of the QB, Bama ran a lot of screens and short passes with Julio. They took a guaranteed 10 yards rather than take chances down the field. Really, watch Bama tape the past few years and see where they allowed their QB to throw the ball and note that he rarely placed it such that made it easy for YAC. If you don't believe me, watch Bama this upcoming season where they'll chunk the ball all over the field with a better QB (either one) and despite no reciever at the caliber of Julio Jones.

5. Julio is a weight room warrior and a workhorse. He is a bruising pass blocker and an extremely hard worker.

Anonymous said...

Don't badmouth Greg McElroy. He's a much better QB than you are giving him credit for.