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Interesting take: Jets oline issues more a product of Darnold & Gase


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2020 NFL free agency: Five value signings that could be steals

 

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What the Chargers accomplished in free agency (0:55)
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    Seth WalderESPN Analytics

There are deals to be found in NFL free agency's bargain bin. It's just a matter of finding them.

That's what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did with Shaquil Barrett last year. They paid a discount price -- one year, $4 million -- for a part-time player who flourished in a new system and larger role, leading the NFL in sacks in 2019 with 19.5.

Who is this season's Barrett? That's where the data comes in. We're using the quantitative tools at our disposal -- many of them powered by NFL Next Gen Stats data -- to try to figure out which of the many small- and medium-money contracts doled out by teams this offseason will look like a steal a year from now. Value today leads to wins in the fall.

 

Here are five players the numbers love at their relative cost.

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Vic Beasley Jr., OLB, Tennessee Titans

The deal: One year, $9.5 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal:There's a pretty decent chance that the Falcons' secondary was the real culprit behind Beasley's low sack totals over the past couple of seasons. He had eight last season, and five in each of the previous two, after recording 15.5 in 2016.

But Beasley's pass rush win rate (PRWR) -- an ESPN Stats & Information metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats player tracking -- ranked 15th among qualified edge rushers last season, just one spot below Yannick Ngakoue with a very similar double-team rate. A year ago, Beasley ranked fifth in the same category (while Ngakoue was 27th).

To me, this says a one-year, high-upside $9.5 million risk on Beasley is absolutely worth it. While the situations aren't exactly the same -- Beasley is a former first-round pick with a 15.5-sack season under his belt and is being paid more -- if anyone is most likely to pull off a Barrett-style breakout on a one-year deal this season, it's Beasley.


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Maliek Collins, DT, Las Vegas Raiders

The deal: One year, $6 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal:Though Chris Jones was far and away the defensive tackle prize of the offseason, from a pass-rushing perspective our metrics indicate that Collins was the next-best bet. The former Cowboy ranked fourth in pass rush win rate among defensive tackles last season. But what makes that particularly impressive is that he did so on a Dallas defense that didn't blitz a ton, so he was double-teamed at an above-average rate compared to his defensive tackle peers.

This plot hammers home the point: Collins was at roughly the same PRWR level as Arik Armstead and Quinton Jefferson but was doubled more than either of them.

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Double team rate as an edge rusher (x) by pass rush win rate as an edge rusher (y) in 2019 for players who were in the last season of their contract.

Lower qualifying threshold than usual to get a few more players in.

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Double team rate as a defensive tackle (x) by pass rush win rate as a defensive tackle (y) in 2019 for players who were in the last season of their contract.

Lower qualifying threshold than usual to get a few more players in.

View image on Twitter
 
 
 
 

Though he had only four sacks last season, he did have seven sacks created -- a stat in which we attribute credit for a sack to the player who earned the first pass-rush win on the play rather than the one who finished the sack. Only 12 other players had three-plus more sacks created than sacks last season.

Of course, pass rushing is only a part of the equation for a defensive tackle, but at one year and $6 million, Collins is an easily identifiable bargain even looking at just pass-rush ability. And the cherry on top is that Collins is reuniting with Rod Marinelli in Las Vegas after playing so well under the former Cowboys defensive coordinator last season.


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Brian Poole, CB, New York Jets

The deal: One year, $5 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal:Based on NFL Next Gen Stats' completion probability, Poole allowed minus-98 air yards over expectation (CAYOE) last season, which trailed only Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson for best among cornerbacks -- and it was the best overall among slot corners.

Watching his targets defended, there were times when he got lucky and earned credit on plays that he deserved to lose on. Specifically, there were at least three occasions against New England when he was beaten by Julian Edelman but the veteran wide receiver either dropped the ball or Tom Brady's pass was off target.

Even with that, Poole's strong CAYOE number seems like a good sign. But that's also all it is -- a good sign and nothing definitive. We're still in the nascent stage of being able to quantify defensive backs with player-tracking data. CAYOE is quantifying only part of a corner's performance. For example, not attracting a target can also be a positive sign for a corner. And early indicators are that metrics like these for corners are, at best, weakly correlated with future performance in the same statistic (and we're not the first to determine this). On the other hand, we're also working with a limited sample of data, going back to just 2017.

Still, there are other circumstantial pieces of evidence that suggest Poole's 2019 season could have been a real breakout. His Pro Football Focus grade, a qualitative measurement, concurred that he had a strong 2019. And his CAYOE has improved every year from 2017 to 2019. He was in the fourth season of his career, and it was his first on a new team.

We might not know exactly how predictive past cornerback performance is for the future, but taking a very cheap bet on a player who played well in the same defense last season seems like a wise move.


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Bryan Bulaga, OT, Los Angeles Chargers

The deal: Three years, $30 million

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Why the numbers say this is a value deal: This is more money and a higher-profile deal than the rest on this list. But locking up a high-end tackle for three years and $30 million is a bargain (and Los Angeles can get out of the deal at two years and $19 million, too).

Bulaga ranked 11th in pass block win rate (PBWR) last season but was fourth in 2018. In both of those seasons, he received a below-average amount of double-team help. The downside is age (31) and an injury history, but the upside is he's an absolute proven commodity at right tackle.

Bulaga's average of $10 million per season is tied for just 21st among tackles (despite an ever-rising salary cap), per OverTheCap.com. So all things considered, this is a nice deal for the Chargers.


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Alex Lewis, G, New York Jets

The deal: Three years, $18.6 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal: The Jets strike again with another bargain re-signing. Perhaps PBWR's most contrarian take was that the Jets' offensive line was not particularly bad last season. No one is denying that Sam Darnold was under fire, as his 35% pressure rate was third-highest among qualifying quarterbacks.

But Darnold also held the ball for a long time (2.91 seconds, the fifth-highest rate in the league). And that's how we end up with a disparity between Darnold's under-pressure rate and the Jets' No. 16-ranked pass block win rate, which is based on blocking performance in only the first 2.5 seconds. In other words: Darnold or the Jets' offensive scheme is mostly to blame for the high pressure rate.

So back to Lewis, who was part of the more-solid left side of the Jets' line. He ranked 12th in PBWR among guards and second among guards in the last year of their contract, behind only New England's Joe Thuney (who was assigned the franchise tag by the Patriots). It was an improvement from the season prior, but he was still pretty solid in 2018, too. With Baltimore that season, he was a roughly average pass-blocker.

All the Jets are paying is $6 million to find out if Lewis really broke out in 2019. If it wasn't a true breakout, that's all they'll have paid him on this contract. But if it was, they effectively have two club options for roughly $6 million more per year to reap the rewards.

 


 

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7 minutes ago, Butterfield said:

Its funny to watch everyone get so defensive.  

It’s just a bad stat that is particularly bad in the context that it is being used. 

Unfortunately, contemporary football analysis is being hijacked by what essentially amounts to bad science.  
 

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1 minute ago, slimjasi said:

It’s just a bad stat that is particularly bad in the context that it is being used. 

Unfortunately, contemporary football analysis is being hijacked by what essentially amounts to bad science.  
 

I also think when you don’t trust your oline you call a game to protect them from having to sustain blocks.

Gase called a ton of bubble screens/quick hitting routes. I’d imagine that skewed the oline ranking for the purpose of this metric. 

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23 minutes ago, Charlie Brown said:

Ummmmm Darnold was holding the ball because he was running for his life!!!

Watch the games and then watch the OL and you will have a hard time blaming Darnold for the vast majority of the Jets poor OL play!

Or having to hold onto the ball longer than he'd like because he didnt have WRs who could get separation and leave many windows of opportunity to throw into.

Another brain dead use of numbers by someone who didnt watch the games

ESPN and others do this far to many times

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1 hour ago, GeorgeJetson said:

So back to Lewis, who was part of the more-solid left side of the Jets' line. He ranked 12th in PBWR among guards and second among guards in the last year of their contract, behind only New England's Joe Thuney (who was assigned the franchise tag by the Patriots). It was an improvement from the season prior, but he was still pretty solid in 2018, too.

So what's the point, we dont need OL who can play?

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1 hour ago, GeorgeJetson said:

Alex Lewis, G, New York Jets

The deal: Three years, $18.6 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal: The Jets strike again with another bargain re-signing. Perhaps PBWR's most contrarian take was that the Jets' offensive line was not particularly bad last season. No one is denying that Sam Darnold was under fire, as his 35% pressure rate was third-highest among qualifying quarterbacks.

But Darnold also held the ball for a long time (2.91 seconds, the fifth-highest rate in the league). And that's how we end up with a disparity between Darnold's under-pressure rate and the Jets' No. 16-ranked pass block win rate, which is based on blocking performance in only the first 2.5 seconds. In other words: Darnold or the Jets' offensive scheme is mostly to blame for the high pressure rate.

Nonsense. I'd bet this guy never watched a game the Jets played last season. This BS exposes why just looking at stats doesn't tell the true story.

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Sam had to take a ton of hits to get that offense to work.  He had to keep the play going as long as possible for secondary targets to emerge.  Did this guy watch any of our games?  For as many times as Darnold missed he primary there were several times more opportunities he made a play by rolling out or scrambling to move the pocket.  

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• Sam scrambles a lot.

• Our "best" WR (Robby), gained bottom of the league separation.  The rest of the wideouts (Crowder not included IIRC) were not much better.

These two things skew the numbers HEAVILY.  Anyone who watched those games and came away thinking our line was anything other than apocalyptic levels of awful doesn't have two functional eyeballs.

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The OL definitely wasn't good and absolutely needed to be greatly improved, but some here are having a very questionable memory of last season.  Part of the reason for the numbers working out this way is that when the OL was at its very worst, Darnold wasn't even playing.  Those were the games where the likes of Siemian and Falk were getting slaughtered.

Not to mention, Lewis was also one of many examples of the Jets OL improving as the season went on, with pretty much every single backup on the team outplaying the starter at their respective position, with the sole exception of LT when Beachum was out, further proving the unmatched level of complete incompetence that is Adam Gase.

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2 hours ago, GeorgeJetson said:
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On another note, Jenkins' rate of double teams was ridiculous.  I was glad they brought him back and while I certainly don't think he's by any measure elite, this certainly speaks a bit to what he had to deal with.  It also tells you what a complete lack of respect the Jets' opponents had for the pass-rush abilities of every other player on their line.

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But Darnold also held the ball for a long time (2.91 seconds, the fifth-highest rate in the league). And that's how we end up with a disparity between Darnold's under-pressure rate and the Jets' No. 16-ranked pass block win rate, which is based on blocking performance in only the first 2.5 seconds. In other words: Darnold or the Jets' offensive scheme is mostly to blame for the high pressure rate.

This seems a bit lazy.

He's saying that the high pressure rate is due to either the scheme or to Darnold holding the ball too long.  Couldn't it be the case that blame lies with the guys running the routes?  The wide receivers, TEs, etc. need to get open.  How much separation were our guys getting last year?  We had no WR1, no real WR2, no TE1 (although Griffin did fairly well), etc.  When we're counting on guys like Demaryius Thomas, Daniel Brown and Vyncint Smith to get open because Robby is being erased by the other team's CB1 and Jamison Crowder is getting clamped down/bracketed in the slot it's not too surprising that Darnold might hold the ball a bit, right?

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3 hours ago, Butterfield said:

Its funny to watch everyone get so defensive.  

To me, it's more interesting to see a writer look at a team that is starving for both OLine talent and WRs (as evidenced by free agency and the likely OT/WR combo in Rounds 1 and 2 of the Draft) ignore those two glaring problems and try to blame the scheme and QB.

This seems like a guy who write how the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was really the fault of the astronauts and not having life boats onboard.

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