Week Six Football Rankings and a Research Question

Posted on October 18, 2008 by


Here are the Week Six Quarterback and Running Back Rankings

Table One: Quarterback Rankings for Week Six

Table Two: Running Back Rankings for Week Six

And here are a few stories (with an obvious Detroit slant):

Top Rookie Running Backs

When we look at the running backs we see three rookies who are above average in Net Points per Game: Matt Forte, Steve Slaton, and Chris Johnson.

Of course Net Points per Game is just one perspective on a running back’s production.  Another perspective would be to look at Net Points per Play. 

For the per-game measure I only look at running backs that have carried the ball 10 times a game (or 60 times this season). For the per-play measure I am going to lower the limit to 40 carries for the season.  To see why I am doing this, consider the top rookies in Net Points per Play:

  1. Kevin Smith: 0.189 Net Points per Play, 42 rushing attempts
  2. Steve Slaton: 0.185 Net Points per Play, 72 rushing attempts
  3. Darren McFadden: 0.158 Net Points per Play, 59 rushing attempts
  4. Chris Johnson: 0.155 Net Points per Play, 85 rushing attempts
  5. Tim Hightower: 0.136 Net Points per Play, 43 rushing attempts
  6. Matt Forte: 0.130 Net Points per Play, 127 rushing attempts
  7. Jonathan Stewart: 0.066 Net Points per Play, 71 rushing attempts

Of all rookies with at least 40 rushing attempts this year, Kevin Smith of the Detroit Lions (the team I follow) is the most productive per play. And yet, of these seven backs, Smith has gotten the fewest carries.

Would Smith post a higher Net Points per Game than Forte, Slaton, or Johnson if he got more carries? It’s hard to say.  Certainly his per-play measure says the Lions should try and find out.  It’s not like this team is winning games with Smith sharing the load with Rudi Johnson (who has posted a 0.160 Net Points per play).

Top Rookie Quarterbacks

So far only two rookie quarterbacks have attempted a pass this year.  Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons has been an above average performer.  Meanwhile, Joe Flacco has been the least productive starting quarterback in the league. 

Dan Orlovsky of the Lions is not a rookie (and therefore shouldn’t be discussed in this section).   And he has not attempted enough passes to be ranked.  Still, his Net Points per Play (how I rank quarterbacks) is currently -0.023.  Such a mark is below Flacco and suggests the Lions should be thinking about their second round draft choice from 2007, Drew Stanton. 

Of course, the Lions are not thinking along these lines.  This week Orlovsky got most of the reps in practice.   Yes, there are good reasons why this team can’t win.

The Big Trade

The Matt Millen era will be known for three things:

  1. The Lions lost a lot of games
  2. Millen only hired head coaches with the same last initial as his last initial.
  3. Millen loved to draft wide receivers

For three consecutive years (2002-2004), the Lions took a wide receiver in the first round.  This past week, just days after Millen departed Detroit, the last of these three wide receivers left the Lions.  For a collection of draft picks the Lions shipped Roy Williams to Dallas.

Now that these three wide receivers have left Detroit we can look back on what these players did for the Lions. 

  1. Charles Rogers: 36 receptions, 440 yards
  2. Roy Williams: 262 receptions, 3,884 yards
  3. Mike Williams: 44 receptions, 539 yards

So these three receivers caught 342 passes for 4,863 yards.  Immediately after Rogers was taken in 2002, Andre Johnson was taken by the Houston Texans.  Here is what Johnson has done all by himself: 405 receptions, 5,292 yards. 

Of course we don’t know if Johnson could have played this well in Detroit.  Certainly many players have a hard time playing well for the Lions.  But certainly it looks like the Lions could have just made a different selection in 2002 and received the same level of production they eventually got from all of their first picks from 2002 to 2004.

Research Question

When Matt Millen took these three receivers his basic idea was that you cannot double-team three great receivers. Therefore on any given play one of these receivers must be open.  Clearly this idea never quite worked like Millen thought it would.

Here is why I think it failed.  I think a team cannot have more than one number one receiver.   In other words, there is just one ball.  If you try and split receptions across a collection of receivers who think they should be number one, all of them will be unhappy and hence less productive.  If this is true, the Cowboys are about to find out that adding Roy Williams doesn’t make Terrell Owens (or Roy Williams) a better player.

To test this, it might be good to see how a team distributes its pass attempts across its receivers.  I would suspect that teams with a more even distribution do worse.  In other words, you are better off with a clear number one receiver.

Let me note that I have collected no data on this question so I am purely speculating.  And often when I do this – as noted in The Wages of Wins – it turns out I am wrong.  Still, I would be interesting to see what someone might find.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

For more on the Wages of Wins football metrics see

The New QB Score

Consistent Inconsistency in Football

Football Outsiders and QB Score

The Value of Player Statistics in the NFL