Football is the most popular sport in the U.S. right now, having surpassed MLB several years ago. Part of the reason why it’s so attractive to people is the fact that games are more intense, all while still retaining the high levels of strategy that other complex sports have. The concept of football is pretty simple: score a touchdown by moving the ball down the field. How that end goal is achieved is another story.
For that reason, taking a look at the general movements associated with high level football players, and explaining the statistics behind those moves will be helpful. They might be things that you watch every single Sunday, but have never really understand the theory behind them.
Let’s start with passing.
The QB is the central part of any team. His job is to coordinate plays and get the ball to the endzone. This ability is summed up neatly in one little number: QB Rating. This one number summarizes a QB’s ability to move the ball successfully and score points. It looks at the basics like passing and rushing, and then accounts for fumbles, interceptions, and sacks. Touchdowns are included, too. It’s a complex formula, but it’s an easy way to compare QBs simply.
In the 2014 season, there were four QBs that finished the season with a QB Rating above 100: Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Peyton Manning. On any given day, these players could have done better or worse, but on average, they showed that they were consistently above 100. The number looks at average ability, and not day to day performance, which is what we see on any Sunday. It takes a year’s worth of play and compacts it into one number.
The WR is the person that will rack up the biggest gains in the shortest amount of time. He catches passes, and then runs the ball toward the endzone. It’s not unusual to see a running back have more yards in a game once in a while, but on average, the WR has the biggest gains. What you should be watching for in a WR is there ability to catch the ball cleanly, get open and away from the defense, and be able to catch the ball even when they are not open.
Look at yards here, but also look at yards/carry, too. This shows how productive the player is per catch, and not just the fact that they are heavily relied upon by the QB. For example, Antonio Brown led the NFL in yards in 2014 with 1,698, but had only 13.2 yards per reception. T.Y. Hilton had 1,345 yards, but a much higher average at 16.4. Statistically speaking, he did far less, but when he did it, was 3.2 yards more effective each time.
The RB sees much of the action. He doesn’t receive passes very often, but he is responsible for the bulk of the plays as he gets handoffs and runs the ball. Speed and agility are musts in this position, as is being able to read a defense and find holes quickly. We also look at yards in this position, and we also look at yards per carry. Both are important because they show volume and efficiency.
For example, DeMarco Murray was undoubtedly the most productive RB in the game in 2014. He had 1,845 yards on the year, which was above even the best WR. He had 4.7 yards per carry. If you scroll down the list a little, to the #5 overall RB, you will see that Justin Forsett had 1,266 yards, but averaged 5.4 yards per carry. It’s the same concept we saw above with the WR, but in a different position.