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Friday, September 2, 2011

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – NFL 2011

One of the many addictive elements of sports is the number of permutations available for performance statistics to analyzed, presented, and evaluated. In a number of discussions I have had with NFL fans, I have noticed that some fans are surprised by some statistical realities in the NFL, especially regarding career achievements.

Often, the longevity of an above average player can yield counter-intuitive all-time leader rankings for that player. For example, is should surprise nobody that Peyton Manning is the NFL’s all-time leader is passing attempts, completions, and yards among active players. How many of you, unless you read the same fact recently, knew that Kerry Collins was #2, all-time among active players? Number 3 (in passing yards) is Donnovan McNabb and McNabb is not likely to catch Colling this year, even if Collins does not play a single down. Actually, I could publish a Kerry Collins “did you know” fact every day for a month, but I digress.

Here are a few statistical facts that may make you go, “Hmmm…”

Kerry Collins is the NFL’s #11 all time leader in passing yards.

I promise not to make this a collection of Kerry Collins facts. But for a guy who has a career completion percentage well below 60% and has often, in several seasons, thrown more interceptions that touchdowns, it may surprise you to know that Collins is ahead of a lot of Hall of Fame QBs in career passing yards, likely to crack into the top 10 all time by passing Joe Montana this season.

It isn't so hard to forget that Kerry Collins led the Giants to the Super Bowl, is it? 1

Chad Pennington’s career passer rating is over 90, 12th all time in NFL history.

Pennington’s career efficiency rating is better than the likes of Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman, and Warren Moon.

Perhaps the Dolphins wouldn't have had the tough years they had if Pennington could stay on the field.  2

Matt Schaub owns the record for the sixth-highest single season passing yardage total in NFL history.

This may not be a cardiac surprise. The Texans have had an explosive offensive attack in recent years. Still, when thinking of the greatest single season performances in the history of the NFL, Schaub’s name is not the first to come to my mind.

Schaub threw for 4,770 yards in 2009, leading the Texans to their first winning season in franchise history. For contrast, Peyton Manning, a virtually certain Hall-of-Famer, has no single season yardage totals in the top 10, all-time, though he does hold positions #11 (4,700 yards – 2010) and #19 (4,557 – 2004).

The Texans have had a number of problems holding them back in recent years, but the quarterback isn't one of them. 3

Thomas Jones, Clinton Portis, and Ricky Williams are all among the NFL’s top 30 all time leading rushers.

All three of these players have had good careers and been named to Pro Bowl teams. Still, that there are fewer than 30 men ever to play the running back position with more rushing yards is surprising to me. These three players have more career rushing yards than Hall of Fame running backs Earl Campbell, Jim Taylor, and Larry Czonka.

Ricky Williams is the biggest surprise to me in this group. Williams has an excellent chance to surpass the 10,000 career rushing yards plateau this season. Keep in mind that Williams has not been an every down, starting running back in 8 years and he missed the entire 2004 and 2006 seasons and, for all practical purposes, missed the entire 2007 season (played in one game).

However, of those three missed seasons, only the 2007 season was missed due to injury. Williams has also averaged over 4 yards per carry in his career. This means that when Williams did, in fact, play, he was healthy and efficient. The consistent performances have added up over time.

People can crack all of the jokes they want. Ricky Williams...Robert Parish...Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...Chris Simms...they all played much longer than they "should have". Coincidence? I think not!

Derrick Mason is the NFL’s 12th all time leading receiver.

Sure, Mason has played for a long time and is a former Pro Bowler and All-Pro. Still, with 924 receptions, he is the NFL’s #12 all-time leading receiver and will likely crack the top 10 this year, barring injury. Mason is ahead of Hall of Famers Steve Largent, James Lofton, Michael Irvin, and Charlie Joiner for career receptions and should pass Art Monk and Andre Reed in 2011 if he has any significant playing time with the New York Jets.

Derrick Mason - This isn't a retro/throwback jersey. This is Mason when he played with the Oilers. Yes, he played when the Oilers still existed as a current NFL franchise. He's been around a L..O..N..G time! 5

Tight end Tony Gonzalez is the NFL’s 10th all time leader in receiving touchdowns.

Tony Gonzalez is a slam dunk to have a bust in Canton, Ohio after his playing days are over. However, for a tight end, as trailblazing and dominant as Gonzalez has been, it gives me pause for reflection, considering that his career total of 88 receiving touchdowns dwarfs Hall of Fame WIDE RECEIVERS such as Fred Beletnikoff, James Lofton, and Bob Hayes. The next closest tight end in career receiving touchdowns is Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers, with 69 scores. For contrast, newly inducted Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharp is #58 all time in receiving touchdowns, with 62.

I wonder how Gonzalez would have faired in basketball. 6
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