Stats & Info: NFL

Gordon a huge loss for Browns

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27

DavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards last season.
With Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon suspended for the 2014 NFL season, Stats & Info examines Gordon’s accomplishments in historical context before delving into the impact of his loss on the Browns.

Out for season
Gordon will be the first player since Jim Brown to not play the season after leading the league in receiving or rushing yards. Brown retired after leading the NFL in rushing in 1965. Gordon is the sixth All-Pro player to face a suspension of one year or more from the NFL and the first since Ricky Williams in 2006.

Outstanding in 2013
Despite missing the first two games of the 2013 season, Gordon led the league in receiving yards with 1,646, setting a Browns single-season record in the process. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Gordon was the second-youngest player in NFL history to lead the league in receiving yards at age 22. Only Billy Howton of the 1952 Packers did so at a younger age.

The Browns found a receiving threat in Gordon that had been lacking for some time. Gordon was the first Browns player to lead any league in receiving yards in 64 years. Mac Speedie led the All-America Football Conference with 1,028 yards in 1949. Before Gordon, no Browns wide receiver had a 1,000-yard receiving season or made the Pro Bowl since 2007.

Gordon had a two-game run that was particularly outstanding. In Weeks 12 and 13, Gordon became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 200-yard receiving games, setting the Browns' single-game record for receiving yards (237 and 261) twice in consecutive weeks. Per Elias, his 498 yards over that tremendous two-game span was the most in NFL history.

Career in context
Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, only two players have had more receiving yards in their first two seasons than Josh Gordon: Randy Moss and Jerry Rice. To give you an idea of what kind of career trajectory Gordon was on -- Rice is the all-time leader in receiving yards, while Moss ranks third on that list.

Gordon’s 1,646 receiving yards were the third most in a player's second NFL season in league history. The last player to eclipse 1,600 yards in his second NFL season was Torry Holt with the Rams in 2000 (1,635).

Impact on Browns
The Browns' offense relied heavily on Gordon last season, as he accounted for nearly 38 percent of their receiving yards. He had over 600 more receiving yards last season than the rest of the Browns' wide receivers combined. The 1,029 yards amassed by the rest of Cleveland's receivers combined would have ranked 24th in the league among individual receivers, one spot behind Michael Floyd (1,041) and one ahead of Brian Hartline (1,016).

Browns quarterbacks got more out of Josh Gordon than any other receiving option by far. Gordon was tied with Jordy Nelson for the most 30-yard receptions last season. The rest of the Browns' receivers had 11 such receptions combined. When throwing to Gordon, Browns quarterbacks averaged 10.7 yards per target, compared to 5.6 yards per target when throwing to all other pass-catchers.

With Gordon out, the Browns will have to rely on returning Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron as well as offseason additions Miles Austin and Nate Burleson in the passing game. But truthfully, a talent like Gordon is immensely difficult to duplicate or replace.

Dalton’s deal: numbers tell two stories

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4

Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton agreed to a six-year, $115 million contract with the Bengals on Monday.
Coming off one of the best seasons by a quarterback in Cincinnati Bengals history, Andy Dalton agreed to a six-year, $115 million contract on Monday.

Dalton threw for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns in the 2013 season, breaking Carson Palmer's team records in both categories and tying Palmer's franchise season mark of 586 attempts. But was he worthy of such a massive contract?

Good move?

Volume-wise, Dalton's first three seasons rank among the best in NFL history. His 11,360 passing yards and his 80 touchdowns in his first three seasons are third most in NFL history behind all-time greats Dan Marino and Peyton Manning.

Dalton's overall numbers aren't far off from Manning's first three years either. With 49 more attempts, Manning had five more touchdown passes and almost 1,000 more yards, but Dalton threw nine fewer interceptions and had a much better win percentage (.625 to .542).

Dalton has improved the Bengals' win total while raising his yardage per attempt and touchdown passes each season thus far. He also became the fifth quarterback since the NFL merger to start a playoff game in his first three seasons. Only Joe Flacco has a longer streak to start a career (five straight from 2008 to 2012).

Bad move?
On the down side, Dalton failed to win any of those three playoff games, tying the longest postseason losing streak to start a career by any quarterback since the merger. His playoff numbers have been horrible too, with one touchdown pass, six interceptions and a Total QBR of 18, compared to his slightly above-average QBR of 52 in the regular season.

Dalton's biggest regular-season issues have come against division foes. He has a record of 8-10 with 24 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and a QBR of 35 against the Steelers, Ravens and Browns; and he's 22-8 with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 56-26 and a QBR of 62 against all other teams.

As Bill Barnwell noted on Grantland this morning, Dalton particularly struggles when facing pressure, with a Total QBR of 11 when under duress in his career. That ranks 33rd among 36 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in that span, ahead of only Sam Bradford, Brandon Weeden and Mark Sanchez.

Playoffs aside, Dalton's QBR, completion percentage and win percentage are similar to Flacco's when he signed a contract with $51 million guaranteed last offseason. Flacco then finished 2013 with a QBR of 47, 25th best in the NFL, as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time in his career.

With a new contract in hand, will Dalton follow Flacco's lead, or will he continue to track with the game's all-time greats?

Top stats to know: 2014 Indianapolis Colts

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28

Sam Riche/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano look to return to the playoffs for the 3rd straight season.
SportsCenter is at Indianapolis Colts camp today. Here's a look at the most significant statistical storylines for this team heading into the 2014 season.

1. Andrew Luck joined Russell Wilson as the only quarterbacks to lead a team to 11-plus wins in each of his first two seasons. The only other Colts quarterback to lead the team to consecutive 11-plus win seasons was Peyton Manning, who did it seven straight seasons from 2003-09.

2. Since 1998 (Peyton Manning’s rookie season), the Colts have the second-best regular-season winning percentage in the NFL (64.5 percent). However, the Colts’ postseason winning percentage during that span is 45.5 percent, tied for 16th in the league. No team has more playoff losses since 1998 (12) than the Colts.

3. Luck’s 64 Total QBR since 2012 ranks eighth in the NFL, but his 54 playoff QBR is ninth out of 12 quarterbacks with multiple playoff starts over that span. No quarterback has more playoff interceptions than Luck in the last two seasons, and his minus-two TD-Int differential is tied with Andy Dalton for worst since 2012.

Pep Hamilton took steps to limit the pressure on Luck in his first year as Colts offensive coordinator. Luck’s average throw was 8.0 yards downfield last year, 25th-longest among qualified quarterbacks. Luck’s average throw was 10.0 yards downfield in his rookie year, deepest in the league.

4. Last season, the Colts ranked ninth in scoring defense (21.0 PPG allowed), the first time the defense had cracked the top 10 in scoring in the last five seasons. The Colts were undefeated last season when holding opponents to 17 points or fewer (7-0).

Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesReggie Wayne returns for his 14th season.

5. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been cleared to practice after a torn right ACL ended his 2013 season in Week 7. Wayne is entering his 14th season with the Colts, and his 1,006 receptions rank eighth all-time, 18 behind Isaac Bruce. In Luck’s career, he has a 69 Total QBR with Wayne on the field and 49 without Wayne.

6. Trent Richardson's Colts career has been a disappointment so far. His 2.9 yards per rush average in 14 games would have ranked 46th of 48 qualified rushers and was the lowest by a Colts’ running back with 100 rushes since 1992. The Colts were without a first-round pick in this year’s draft for the first time since 2008 after trading it to acquire Richardson.

7. On day two of the draft, the Colts selected Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort and Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Since Luck’s rookie season (2012), his 374 dropbacks under pressure are the most in the NFL. Last season, Colts’ wide receivers dropped 5.2 percent of their targets, fourth-worst in the league.

8. The Colts will start the season without a pair of defensive stalwarts - safety Antoine Bethea (signed with the 49ers), and pass-rush specialist Robert Mathis (suspended). Since his 2006 rookie season, Bethea’s 804 tackles led all defensive backs and his 14 career interceptions are a team high. Mathis’ 19.5 sacks led the league last year, but he will miss the first four games of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy.

9. The Colts will open the season against the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles, who ranked first and second respectively, in yards gained last season. Indianapolis is without Mathis to face Peyton Manning (NFL record 55 pass TD in 2013) and Nick Foles (27 TD and 2 Int in 13 games last year).

10. Andrew Luck was at his best late in games last season. His 82 Total QBR in the fourth quarter and overtime was fourth-best in the NFL, and his 10 game-winning drives since 2012 are the most of any quarterback.

Luck showed off his ability to create with his legs as well. Since he entered the league, no quarterback has more scramble touchdowns than Luck (5).

Top stats to know: 2014 New England Patriots

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25

Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsThe Patriots will be counting on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski again this season.
SportsCenter is at Patriots training camp Friday. Here are the top things to know leading up to the 2014 season.

1. The Patriots have won the AFC East in 5 straight and 10 of the last 11 seasons. New England is the only team since the merger to win 10 division titles over 11 seasons. Some potential milestones for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady this season:

• Belichick needs 1 postseason win to tie Tom Landry for most all-time
• Brady needs 1 regular-season win to break a tie with John Elway for third-most in NFL history
• Patriots can become first team to win 6 straight division titles since mid-1970s (Steelers – 1974-79; Rams – 1973-79)
• Patriots can become second team to win at least 10 games in 12 straight seasons (49ers – 1983-98)

2. Since Tom Brady’s first season as a starter in 2001, the Patriots have been the NFL’s most successful team with 158 regular-season wins (19 more than any other team), 18 playoff wins (6 more than any other team), 11 division titles (3 more than any other team) and 3 Super Bowl wins (1 more than any other team). However, since Brady and Belichick went 9-0 in the postseason en route to winning Super Bowls following the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, they’re just 9-8 in the playoffs.

3. Last season, Tom Brady had his lowest completion percentage since 2003 (60.5) and his fewest yards per attempt since 2006 (6.9) and ranked outside the top 20 in the NFL in both categories for the first time in his career. Brady was the league’s 11th-highest rated QB last season, with his lowest Total QBR (61.1) since 2006 (first season for which data is available).

4. One reason for Brady’s relatively average (for him) 2013 could be that he threw a career-high 163 passes to rookies, 35 more than any other QB in the NFL. When throwing to rookies last year, Brady completed 48 percent of his passes. When throwing to veterans, he completed 67 percent of his passes. Patriots rookies dropped 8 percent of Brady’s passes last year. Patriots veterans dropped just 5 percent of Brady’s passes.

5. Along with more experience at wide receiver, a healthy Rob Gronkowski should help Brady be more productive in 2014. Gronkowski, coming off surgery to repair torn knee ligaments suffered in Week 14 last season, led all tight ends with 85 receiving yards per game last year. In his 4 seasons with the team, Brady has 42 touchdowns vs just 6 interceptions when targeting Gronkowski. Over that span, Gronkowski’s 42 receiving TDs are the most by a TE in the NFL and second most by any player behind Calvin Johnson.

6. After appearing in 16 games in each of his first 2 seasons, Gronkowski has missed 14 games with injuries over the last 2 years. Over that span, Brady has a Total QBR of 78 with 33 touchdowns and 8 interceptions when Gronkowski is on the field and a Total QBR of 60 with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions when he is off the field. He’s missed even more in the red zone, where Brady has a Total QBR of 94 over the last 2 years with Gronkowski in the game and a Total QBR of 67 with him on the sideline.

7. The Patriots “bend but don’t break” defense has allowed the most yards in the NFL over the last 3 seasons (386 per game) but ranks seventh in the league in points allowed over that span (21.1 per game). A key for the unit is the ability to generate turnovers. Over the last 3 years, the Patriots lead the league in takeaways (104) and turnover margin (+51).

8. Less than a week after Pro Bowl CB Aqib Talib left for the Broncos via free agency, the Patriots signed 5-time Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis to a 2-year deal with $11.5M in guaranteed money. New England also signed former Pro Bowl CB Brandon Browner, who will be suspended for the first 4 games of the season, from the Seahawks. The Patriots allowed Peyton Manning to pass for 400 yards in last year’s AFC Championship loss.

9. Returning to the Patriots defense will be nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who tore his Achilles in Week 4 last season and missed the rest of the year, and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who tore his ACL in Week 5. From Weeks 6-17, the Patriots allowed the fourth most rush yards per game (142) and fifth most yards per rush (4.6) in the NFL. Rookie first-round pick Dominique Easley, coming off his own season-ending injury (torn ACL at Florida), is expected to push for playing time on the defensive line.

10. Patriots Top Transactions This Offseason
Draft picks: DT Dominique Easley, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB James White
Additions: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, DE Will Smith, LB James Anderson, WR Brandon LaFell
Departures: CB Aqib Talib, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, S Steve Gregory

Top stats to know: 2014 Denver Broncos

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
SportsCenter will be in the Denver Broncos camp on Thursday to visit with the AFC champs. Here's a look at the most significant statistical storylines for this team heading into the 2014 season.

1. The Broncos will attempt to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in over 40 years: win a Super Bowl after losing it the previous season. The last team to accomplish that was the 1972 Dolphins, who beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete a perfect season after losing to the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.

2. Since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver two seasons ago, the Broncos have the best regular-season record in the NFL (26-6). They will look to win a fourth straight division title for the first time in franchise history, and will also attempt to become the first AFC West team to win a Super Bowl since 1998.

3. Peyton Manning threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes last season, and with 18 more this season will pass Brett Favre (508) for the most in NFL history. Manning threw more touchdown passes in 2013 than each of the other 31 teams scored total touchdowns last season.

What made Manning so effective last season was that he threw the ball effectively to all areas of the field, as this image below shows.

4. The Broncos lost wide receiver Eric Decker to the Jets in free agency. Decker was the Broncos’ most effective deep threat last season, leading the team with 24 receptions and 6 touchdowns on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield. Only A.J. Green, Josh Gordon and DeSean Jackson had more touchdown catches on such throws last season.

5. The team drafted Cody Latimer and signed Emmanuel Sanders to help replace Decker, but more responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of Demaryius Thomas. He was second in the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions last season and the team is currently negotiating with him on a long-term contract extension, since he is an unrestricted free agent after 2014.

6. Montee Ball is currently listed as the top running back on the depth chart, replacing Knowshon Moreno, who signed with the Dolphins in free agency. Ball averaged 2.55 yards after contact per rush in the team’s last eight games in 2013, the fourth most in the NFL during that span. Ball also had more rushing touchdowns (3) than Moreno (2) during that span despite having half the number of rushes.

7. Along with a returning Von Miller, the Broncos made some big acquisitions on the defensive side. Perhaps the biggest is DE DeMarcus Ware, whose 63.5 sacks in the last five seasons are second in the NFL behind Jared Allen. Miller and Ware each had at least 35 sacks from 2011 to 2013, meaning (via the Elias Sports Bureau) the Broncos will be the third team since 2000 to have two players that each had 35 sacks in the previous three years.

8. The Broncos also acquired cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Talib has 19 interceptions in the last five seasons, tied for seventh in the NFL since 2009. Ward had 112 tackles last season, second most on the Browns and 40 more than any Broncos defensive back.

9. The Broncos particularly needed help in the secondary. They had the 27th-ranked pass defense last season (254.4 yards per game) and allowed 58 completions on balls thrown at least 15 yards downfield, tied for the fourth most in the NFL.

10. The Broncos open up the season with three straight games against 2013 playoff teams: home games against the Colts and Chiefs followed by a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle in Week 3. The Broncos' five scheduled prime-time games are tied for the most in the league.

By the numbers: Can Manziel succeed?

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
As rookies report to Browns’ camp on July 23, all eyes will be on the most scrutinized rookie in the NFL, Johnny Manziel. Analysts are split on whether Manziel will be able to make the transition to the NFL given his reckless style of play and reliance on his legs. Below are three numbers that suggest that Manziel could succeed in the NFL and three that suggest that he may struggle.

Three numbers that suggest that Manziel could succeed in the NFL:

1: Johnny Manziel’s QBR rank in 2012

Manziel had the highest Total QBR in the FBS in 2012 and ranked seventh in 2013. Every player who led the country in Total QBR from 2008 to 2011 is a current NFL starter, including three players who led their respective teams to the divisional round of the playoffs last season.

Manziel had a 88.2 Total QBR in his two-year career at Texas A&M. No college player in the last 10 seasons has had a higher career QBR than Manziel among players who started at least two seasons.

73.5: Manziel’s completion percentage from inside of the pocket

Manziel had the highest completion percentage from inside of the pocket of any AQ quarterback in 2013.

Seeing over tall linemen was not an issue. Only three of Manziel’s 347 pass attempts from inside of the pocket were batted down at the line (0.9 percent) in 2013, well below the AQ average of 2.1 percent.

97.5: Manziel’s Total QBR on third down in his career

Manziel’s career 97.5 Total QBR on third down is the best of any qualified quarterback in the last 10 years (the start of Stats & Info’s data set).

Third-down performance in college has been shown to translate to NFL success. Among the 25 quarterbacks who were selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft from 2009 to 2013, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford had the top third-down QBRs in college.

Those players were a combined 38-17 last year, and Manziel’s third-down QBR was far ahead of theirs in college.

Three numbers that suggest that he could struggle:

76: Percentage of dropbacks Manziel escaped the pocket when under duress

Manziel left the pocket on 76 percent of the plays in which he was under pressure in his career, by far the highest percentage of any AQ quarterback in the past two seasons and more than twice the rate of the NFL average (33 percent).

As Merril Hoge noted in a pre-draft breakdown, “He has an instinct to run, but that’s a bad instinct if you have that in the National Football League.”

73: Percentage of Manziel’s scrambles on which he was hit

There is no denying that Manziel was in a league of his own when it came to scrambling in college – he scrambled for 1,400 yards and 64 first downs in two seasons at Texas A&M, which was 521 more yards and 15 more first downs than any other AQ quarterback during that time.

Yet Manziel rarely ran out of bounds or slid. Overall, he was hit on 73 percent of his scrambles, slightly above the AQ average and a significantly higher percentage than the NFL average last season (56 percent).

Other than Newton, who is the average weight of a linebacker, all of the top scramblers in the NFL have learned to avoid contact.

55: Average temperature of Cleveland’s games the last 5 seasons

Cleveland’s average game-time temperature in the past five seasons has been 55 degrees. It drops to 49 degrees when looking at the 40 regular-season home games. Only Pittsburgh and Green Bay had a colder average game-time temperature during that time.

Manziel played high school and college football in Texas. In two years at Texas A&M, the average temperature of Manziel’s games at kickoff was 71 degrees, and he did not play a single game in freezing temperatures. His coldest game came against Missouri on Nov. 30, 2013, a game that Texas A&M lost 28-21, when it was 45 degrees. Every other game that he played in college was at least 55 degrees.

Top stats to know: 2014 New York Giants

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports
Eli Manning and the New York Giants look to avoid missing the playoffs for the third straight season
SportsCenter is at Giants training camp Tuesday. Here are the top things to know leading up to the 2014 season.

1. The New York Giants rebounded from an 0-6 start to go 7-3 over their final 10 games last season, tied for the fourth best record in the NFL over that span. But a 7-9 record wasn’t good enough to reach the postseason, meaning that the Giants have now missed the playoffs in two straight and four of the last five seasons. The Giants haven’t missed the playoffs in 3 straight seasons since 1994-96.

2. Eli Manning threw a career-high and an NFL-high 27 interceptions in 2013, his third time leading the league in interceptions. It was the most interceptions thrown by any player in a season since Brett Favre in 2005 and also the most interceptions thrown by a QB in Giants history, breaking Charlie Conerly’s record from 1953. Manning’s 37 Total QBR last season (0-100 scale) ranked 33rd among 39 qualified quarterbacks.

Manning's numbers took a significant hit on his deep throws, as the image below notes.

3. Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times last season, more than doubling Manning’s sack total from 2012 (19). Manning was sacked on 6.5 percent of his dropbacks last year after being sacked on just 3.6 percent of his dropbacks from 2010-12 (second lowest in the NFL behind his brother Peyton Manning). No Giants offensive line combination played more than 40 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2013. The hits took a toll on Eli, who is coming off offseason ankle surgery. He could have as many as four new starters on the offensive line this year.

4. The offensive line’s struggles also carried over to the rushing game. Only the Baltimore Ravens (3.1) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3.3) averaged fewer yards per rush than the Giants last season (3.5). The Giants gained only 1,332 rushing yards in 2013. During the first nine seasons of Tom Coughlin’s tenure with the Giants, the team averaged 2,029 rushing yards a season, sixth best in the NFL. The team’s leading rusher in 2013, Andre Brown, signed with the Houston Texans this offseason.

5. Eli Manning also didn’t receive much help from his receivers. Hakeem Nicks, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, posted no touchdowns despite 896 receiving yards, the second most receiving yards without a touchdown in NFL history. Victor Cruz, tied for third in the NFL with 18 30-yard receptions from 2011-12, recorded just four 30-yard receptions last season. Manning was intercepted on 10 percent of his passes to Rueben Randle, the highest interception percentage to any one receiver in the NFL last season (min. 50 attempts). To help at wideout, the Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr. 12th overall, the second highest draft pick they have ever used on a wide receiver (Ike Hilliard – 7th in 1997).

6. For the first time since 2006, the Giants will open training camp without Kevin Gilbride at offensive coordinator. Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo was hired to replace Gilbride and is installing a new offense. The Giants ranked 28th in both points and yards last season, the first time they’ve finished outside the top 25 in both categories since 1996.

7. The Giants’ once vaunted four-man pass rush produced just 18 sacks last season, tied for 26th in the NFL. When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2011, they had 34 sacks with four or fewer rushers, second most in the NFL. Justin Tuck, whose 11 sacks were five more than anyone else on the Giants team last season, signed with the Oakland Raiders in free agency. The team is counting on Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks in 2011, to return to form after an injury-plagued 2013.

8. The best competition in camp could be at the cornerback spot, where the Giants signed two coveted free agents this offseason. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed a five-year deal with $14M in guaranteed money and Walter Thurmond signed a one-year deal that includes $2M guaranteed. The duo, who faced each other in Super Bowl 48, will compete with former first-round pick Prince Amukamara for a starting job.

9. Head coach Tom Coughlin signed a 1-year contract extension in February, tying him to the team through the 2015 season. Coughlin, who will turn 68 on August 31st, is the NFL’s oldest active head coach. He’s been with the team since 2004, making him the third-longest tenured head coach behind Bill Belichick (with the Patriots since 2000) and Marvin Lewis (with the Bengals since 2003).

10. Giants Top Transactions This Offseason

Draft picks: WR Odell Beckham Jr., C Weston Richburg, DT Jay Bromley, RB Andre Williams

Additions: RB Rashad Jennings, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Walter Thurmond, CB Zack Bowman, DE Robert Ayers, S Quintin Demps, G John Jerry, OT Charles Brown, G Geoff Schwartz

Departures: WR Hakeem Nicks, C Kevin Boothe, G David Diehl, DE Justin Tuck, DT Linval Joseph, S Ryan Mundy, S, Will Hill, TE Brandon Myers, LB Keith Rivers, CB Terrell Thomas

Top stats to know: The 2014 Buffalo Bills

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21

Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesThe Bills are counting on Sammy Watkins for big numbers in 2014.
NFL training camps are opening and SportsCenter will be on hand at select teams as they get ready for the upcoming season. Monday, we pay a visit to the Buffalo Bills.

Here are some statistical takes on 10 topics sure to come up throughout the day.

1. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. Their last playoff game was a loss to the Titans in the 1999 Wild Card Playoffs (a.k.a. the Music City Miracle). Their last playoff win was in the 1995 Wild Card Playoffs against the Dolphins. The only teams without a playoff win from 1996 to 2013 are the Bills, Lions, Browns, Bengals and Chiefs.

2. The Bills have lost at least 10 games in five straight seasons, tying the franchise record from 1967 to 1971. Over the last six seasons, the Bills have finished in last place in their division five times. That’s tied with the Browns and Redskins for the most last-place finishes in that span.

3. The Bills traded from the No. 9 pick to the No. 4 pick to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins, giving up their first-round pick and fourth-round pick in next year’s draft to the Browns.

Currently, Buffalo is the only team that doesn’t own its first-round pick in the 2015 draft. However, the Bills got a conditional mid-round pick in 2015

4. Watkins is the 19th WR drafted in the top five in the Common Draft Era. The previous 18 averaged just 38 catches for 569 yards and 3.5 touchdowns as rookies. Only one of them had 1,000 yards as a rookie (A.J. Green – 1,057 yards in 2011).

5. EJ Manuel was 4-6 in his 10 starts last season. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,972 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ranked 28th in the NFL in the Total QBR (rating of 42.3 on the 0-100 scale). His 10 starts were third most ever for a Bills rookie quarterback behind Joe Ferguson (14 in 1973) and Dennis Shaw (12 in 1970).
E.J. Manuel
6. Manuel’s biggest problem might have been against the blitz. He completed only 41 of his 85 passes when blitzed, giving him the league’s second-worst completion percentage against it (48 percent) (Case Keenum – 46 percent).

Manuel was also bad on third down, completing only 48 percent of his passes (second-worst in NFL) for 5.2 yards per attempt (worst in the NFL). That’s one reason the Bills converted on only 34 percent of their third down attempts (29th in NFL).

7. While the Bills passing attack struggled (194 yards per game, 28th in NFL), the rushing attack averaged 144 yards per game, second-best in the league behind the Eagles. The Bills called run plays on 45 percent of their snaps, the third-highest percentage in the NFL behind the Seahawks and 49ers.

C.J. Spiller (933 yards) and Fred Jackson (890 yards) were the only teammates to each run for at least 800 yards last year. They’ll both be pushed for playing time by Bryce Brown, acquired in a trade with the Eagles this offseason.

8. The Bills defense was the inverse of the Bills offense last year: good against the pass and bad versus the run. Buffalo had the league’s 28th-ranked run defense, allowing 129 yards per game on the ground, and the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense, allowing only 204 yards per game.

The Bills held opponents to the lowest completion percentage in the league (55 percent) and the second-lowest Total QBR (36.0). That might be a tough feat to repeat after losing safety Jairus Byrd, their best defensive back and 2013 franchise player, in free agency.

9. Another problem for the Bills defense is the loss of linebacker Kiko Alonso to a season-ending torn ACL suffered this offseason. Alonso is the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He ranked third in the NFL with 159 tackles last season, 32 more than any other rookie and 77 more than any other Bills player.

Alonso also played all 1,089 snaps for the Bills defense last season, the seventh most defensive snaps of any player in the NFL.

10. The Bills were second in the NFL with a franchise-record 57 sacks last season. Mario Williams (13.0), Kyle Williams (10.5) and Jerry Hughes (10.0) became the first trio of teammates with double-digit sacks in a season since the 2000 Saints (La’Roi Glover, Darren Howard, Joe Johnson). In two years since signing a massive free agent deal ($39.4M guaranteed) with the Bills, Williams is tied for sixth in the NFL with 23.5 sacks and has played a team-high 1,839 defensive snaps.

Did Pats rookies ruin Tom Brady in 2013?

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18

Elsa/Getty ImagesThis was a familiar pose for Tom Brady, who had one of his worst statistical seasons in 2013.
Tom Brady is coming off his least efficient season in some time, but his average output in 2013 might not have been entirely of his own making.

The numbers suggest that youth on the Patriots roster, especially at the wide receiver position, played a big role in Brady's struggles.

2013 Was a Down Year For Brady
Tom Brady completed just 60.5% of his passes last season, his lowest completion rate in a season since 2003.

He ranked 22nd in the league in completion percentage, behind Matt Flynn, Matt Schaub and Chad Henne, among others.

Brady's 6.9-yard average per pass attempt was 24th-best in the league.

It’s a steep decline from 2011-12, when Brady averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, third best in the NFL.

Brady’s 25 pass touchdowns were his fewest in a full season since 2006, when he threw 24. Julian Edelman led the team with 6 TD catches, which tied for 30th in the NFL.

The Rookie Factor
But Brady's down season didn't occur in a vacuum.

He attempted 163 passes to rookies last season, the highest total of his career and 35 more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

On average, those pass attempts weren't particularly successful. His completion percentage on those throws was 47.9%, compared to better than 67% to all other targets.

That low completion percentage wasn't merely a symptom of poor chemistry. Patriots rookies dropped 8% of the passes they received from Brady, compared to a drop rate of 4.7% by other Patriots players.

First round rookie QBs not backups long

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
The three quarterbacks picked in the first round of the draft have already encountered obstacles that could threaten their playing time as rookies.

The Jaguars have repeatedly claimed that the plan is for Blake Bortles to sit in 2014. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has said that Johnny Manziel is currently the team’s backup QB. And Teddy Bridgewater is locked in perhaps the NFL’s only three-way quarterback competition in Minnesota.

But history tells us that not only will we see Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater on the field in 2014, we might not need to wait long.

A look at rookie first-round QBs since the merger by the numbers.

5 – Each of the last 5 quarterbacks drafted in the first round started in Week 1 of their rookie seasons, the longest streak since the merger.

78 – 78 percent of quarterbacks drafted in the first round started at least one game as rookies (71 of 91). That means there is only about a one percent chance that Bortles, Manziel nor Bridgewater starts this season.

49 – 49 percent of first-round quarterbacks started within their team’s first five games in their rookie seasons (45 of 91). That equates to an 87 percent chance that at least one of these three quarterbacks will start in their team’s first five games.

3 – Teams that draft a quarterback in the top five (like the Jaguars did with Bortles this year) are even more unlikely to sit him as a rookie. Only three of the 41 quarterbacks drafted in the top five did not start a game as a rookie (Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Art Schlichter).

Starting with Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in 2008, both of whom went 11-5 in 16 starts as rookies, first-round rookie QBs have averaged over 12 starts per season and won 46 percent of their starts. From the merger through 2007, 1st-round rookie QBs averaged just over 5 starts per season and won only 37 percent of their starts.

Kaepernick's success leads to big payday

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4

Harry How/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick has a reported $61 million guaranteed to celebrate.

Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year extension with the 49ers Wednesday reportedly worth more than $110 million, including a $61 million guaranteed. That would be the most guaranteed money among current NFL contracts, besting Matt Ryan’s $59 million.

The deal is an extension of Kaepernick’s cap-friendly rookie deal. Last season, the 49ers committed only $2.85 million of cap space on quarterbacks, fifth-lowest in the NFL. That figure will now be among the highest in 2014 and beyond.

Is Kaepernick worth the money, though?

Postseason success
Since making his first start in Week 11 of 2012, Kaepernick is tied for the fourth-most wins among quarterbacks (17) and has the third-best Total QBR (69.6), trailing only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

Kaepernick has been even better in the postseason, posting the best QBR (82.7) since 2006 among quarterbacks with at least three postseason starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kaepernick is also the sixth-youngest quarterback to start multiple conference championship games.

Kaepernick has been successful in the playoffs despite playing most of those games on the road. He is already 3-1 in road playoff games in his career. All other 49ers quarterbacks have combined to go 2-9 on the road, which includes Joe Montana (1-3) and Steve Young (0-3).

Areas of strength
Kaepernick’s rushing ability might be the most well-known aspect of his game. Last season, he ranked in the top four among quarterbacks in rush yards, yards per rush, rush touchdowns and rush first downs.

In the postseason, Kaepernick’s 507 rush yards are 87 shy of the most in NFL history by a quarterback, a mark currently held by former 49er Steve Young.

Kaepernick isn’t all legs, though, as he ranks sixth in yards per pass attempt since making his first NFL start.

Kaepernick has been at his best passing when facing the blitz. Opponents have sent five or more pass rushers against him on 38 percent of his dropbacks the past two seasons, highest in the NFL. His 75.2 QBR in those situations is third in the NFL, throwing 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Only Tom Brady (31 TD, 2 Int) has a better ratio of touchdowns to interceptions in that time.

Areas of improvement
Despite all this early success, Kaepernick still has areas of his game to improve, most notably passing from the pocket.

Kaepernick completed 61 percent of his passes in the pocket last season, a regression from his first year as a starter in 2012. His struggles inside the pocket were more pronounced this postseason, as he completed 54 percent of his passes, while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions.

The other big area for concern for Kaepernick is his performance against the 49ers top rival, the Seattle Seahawks. He's just 1-3 in his career against the Seahawks, including the loss in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. Kaepernick has just five losses against all other opponents.

With the Seahawks locking up Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas this offseason, as well, beating Seattle will continue to be a tough task for Kaepernick and the 49ers.

Lee's production tough to replace

May, 27, 2014
May 27
Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee was taken off the field with a left knee injury during Cowboys’ organized team activities Tuesday. The Cowboys fear Lee tore his ACL, an injury that would take away one of Dallas’ most productive defenders.

Since his 2010 rookie season, Lee is the Cowboys’ leader in tackles (281) and interceptions (11). Lee’s 11 interceptions over the last four seasons lead all linebackers.

Lee is one of the league’s top tacklers. He averaged 9.2 tackles per game in the last two seasons, fifth among players with at least 10 games played. Lee was 3rd in the league in tackles last year before injuring his hamstring in Week 10 against the Saints.

During Lee’s career, the Cowboys allowed 4.1 yards per rush with Lee on the field, an average that would have tied for 12th-best in the league over that span. Without Lee, Dallas’ 4.7 yards per rush allowed would rank 31st in the league over that span.

The strong start to Lee’s career prompted Dallas to sign him to a six-year contract extension last August. Productivity has never been a problem for Lee, but durability is another story.

Lee missed the entire 2008 season at Penn State with a torn right ACL during a non-contact drill, and partially tore his left ACL in 2009. In 2012 and 2013, Lee missed 15 total games with neck, hamstring and toe injuries. Should Lee’s injury be serious, the 2014 season will be the third-straight in which Lee has missed at least five games.

It could be a critical loss for Dallas, a team that allowed 6,645 yards last season, third-most by a team in NFL history. Dallas has finished 8-8 in 3 straight seasons and missed the playoffs in 4 straight seasons, the Cowboys’ longest streak under Jerry Jones.

Lee’s injury leaves Bruce Carter (96 tackles) as the only linebacker on the Cowboys roster who made at least 25 tackles last year. Ernie Sims (41 tackles with the Cowboys last year) is still an available free agent, and Dallas drafted Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round.

Lee is the latest notable player injured during the league’s organized team activity period. He joined Hakeem Nicks (foot in 2012, Michael Crabtree (Achilles in 2013) and Melvin Ingram (ACL in 2013) as players with serious injuries during organized team activities in the last three seasons.

Lee is also the latest NFL player with a serious knee injury. There were 125 players placed on injured reserve with knee injuries last year, up from 121 in 2012 and 93 in 2011.

Can Bridgewater handle freezing temps?

May, 12, 2014
May 12

AP Photo/Frank Franklin IITeddy Bridgewater has never started a game in freezing temperatures.
The Minnesota Vikings took Teddy Bridgewater with the final pick of the first round and he is expected to compete for the starting job in training camp.

The Vikings do have two quarterbacks on their roster -- Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel -- but neither rank higher than 25th in Total QBR among qualified quarterbacks since 2009.

Bridgewater’s ability to handle pressure in college bodes well for his success at the next level. He ranked third in completion percentage when under duress among quarterbacks from BCS Automatic Qualifying (AQ) schools, and only Brett Hundley had a higher completion percentage against five or more pass rushers among AQ quarterbacks.

His accuracy also earned him high grades among pro scouts. Bridgewater led all AQ quarterbacks in overall completion percentage last year despite having an average target distance of more than nine yards downfield.

Yet there is one lingering question about his transition to the Vikings: How will Bridgewater adapt to the cold weather in the NFC North?

The Miami native played college football at University of Louisville and did not start a single game in freezing temperatures while in college.

The coldest game that Bridgewater ever started was a 34-degree game against Connecticut on Nov. 24, 2012. Louisville lost that game 23-20 and Bridgewater had a 55.1 Total QBR, which was well below his season average (77.3).

In addition to Bridgewater’s inexperience in cold temperatures, he has a below-average hand size (9.25 inches), which could make it difficult to grip the ball when the temperature drops.

The average hand size for all quarterbacks measured at the combine since 2008 is 9.55 inches. Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Nick Foles all have hands larger than 10 inches.

With the Vikings playing their home games outdoors for the next two seasons, in addition to away games at Green Bay and Chicago every season, Bridgewater’s ability to adapt to cold temperatures could have an impact on his long-term success.

Top stats from the 2014 NFL draft

May, 10, 2014
May 10
The 2014 NFL draft spanned three days, seven rounds and 256 picks. The Houston Texans started the draft by selecting Jadeveon Clowney and ended it by selecting safety Lonnie Ballentine from Memphis.

A lot happened in between, and ESPN Stats & Info is here to break down the biggest notes, stats and trends from the draft.

• The Texans bookended a draft that featured no players selected from the University of Texas. It was the first time since 1937 that a Longhorns player wasn’t selected in the draft.

• Among schools with players selected this year: Lindenwood, Pittsburg State, Bloomsburg (Pa.), McGill, Concordia University (St. Paul) and Saginaw Valley (Mich.).

Clowney was the first defensive player selected first overall since Mario Williams in 2006, who was also taken by the Texans.

• Clowney was the first selection in 2014 from the SEC, but he wasn’t the last. For the eighth straight year, the SEC had the most players selected in the draft (49). Next highest was the ACC with 42 selections.

• The SEC also dominated the first round. The SEC had 11 selections in the first round, more than twice the next highest conference (ACC, five).

• A pair of those first-round selections were Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. With the picks, Alabama became the first school in the common draft era to have multiple first-round picks in five straight drafts.

• LSU had more players selected than any other school (nine). Alabama was tied for the second-most selections with Notre Dame (eight). No other SEC school had more than four picks.

• For the second straight year, LSU had the most early entrants selected. Six of the nine selections this year were early entrants after eight went last season.

• All in all, a record 61 selections this year were early entrants (previous high was 53 in 2013). However, 41 early entrants weren’t selected at all.

• Cornerbacks were the most sought-after position in the 2014 draft with 36 were taken. Not surprisingly, the next-most drafted position was wide receiver (33).

• Running backs continued to be ignored in the first round as none were selected for the second straight year. Every other draft in the common draft era (since 1967) featured a running back selected in the first round.

• The first running back didn’t come off the board until pick No. 54 (Bishop Sankey, Titans). That’s the latest the first running back has ever been picked.

• No teams were more active in this draft than the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets. Each team made 12 selections.

• No team was as inactive as the Indianapolis Colts, which made five picks over three days. The Colts traded their first-rounder this year for running back Trent Richardson.

• The St. Louis Rams were active in keeping teammates together. Six teams drafted a set of teammates, but the Rams did it twice. St. Louis selected Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Tre Mason and Missouri’s E.J. Gaines and Michael Sam.

• Although they play in Missouri, the Rams selected twice as many University of Missouri players than they had since relocating to St. Louis in 1995.

Contenders build off strengths on Day 2

May, 9, 2014
May 9
Quarterbacks highlighted the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, and early on in Round 2 the Raiders made a splash at quarterback as well.

The Raiders selected Derek Carr 36th overall Friday, months after sending a sixth-round pick to the Texans in exchange for Matt Schaub.

The Raiders using multiple draft picks on quarterbacks shouldn’t come as a surprise. Three of the Raiders selections in 2012 were sacrificed in various moves to acquire three different quarterbacks (Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn).

The rest of Friday’s action was most notable for playoff contenders building off strengths and teams making some interesting pairings.

The rich get richer

WR Jordan Matthews – 42nd overall, Eagles
WR Davante Adams – 52nd overall, Packers
WR Cody Latimer – 56th overall, Broncos

Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning each finished in the top six in Total QBR last season. All three lost a wide receiver in the offseason, and now all three have a new one to work with.

Matthews joins an Eagles team that led the NFL with 569 yards off screen passes last season. Last year at Vanderbilt, Matthews made 44 receptions off screen passes, tied for most among AQ-receivers (Sammy Watkins).

Adams’s specialty is yards after catch. His 888 YAC was second in the FBS to Watkins last season. He should fit in well with a Packers team that ranked third in yards after the catch in the NFL last season.

Latimer should prove to be a reliable target for Manning. Last season at Indiana, Latimer dropped only one pass on 119 targets.

RB Carlos Hyde – 57th overall, 49ers

The 49ers drafted a running back for the sixth straight draft, and for the ninth time in the last 10 drafts.

Hyde fits the downhill rushing mold for the 49ers. Hyde averaged 7.3 yards per rush last season at Ohio State, with 3.1 coming after first contact. Hyde gained at least one yard on all but 12 of his 208 rushes last season.

DE Kony Ealy – 60th overall, Panthers

The Panthers led the NFL with 60 sacks last season and drafted one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the SEC last season. Defensive end Ealy pressured the quarterback 35 times last season, most in conference.

Dynamic duos

WR Marqise Lee and WR Allen Robinson – Jaguars

The Jaguars took two wide receivers in the second round Friday night. The last team to take two wide receivers in the second round was the 2008 Redskins (Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas).

Lee and Robinson will join first-round quarterback Blake Bortles. They were two of seven receivers in AQ-conferences to gain 1,000 yards after the catch the past two seasons.

OT Greg Robinson and RB Tre Mason – Rams

Robinson went second overall in the first round, but Mason was selected 75th overall in the third round. The duo helped Auburn lead the FBS in rushing last season. Mason averaged 6.5 yards per rush running behind Robinson last season.

LB Ryan Shazier and DE Stephon Tuitt – Steelers

The Steelers ranked 21st in yards per rush allowed last season and ranked 25th in sacks. To fix that, the Steelers used their first two picks on front seven defenders.

Shazier was a first round selection that should help the rush defense. He was the only player in the FBS with 20 tackles for loss and 100 total tackles.

Tuitt should help the pass rush. He had 21.5 sacks in 35 career games at Notre Dame, and his 12 sacks in 2012 were second most in school history.

WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Buccaneers

Evans measured in at 6’5". Seferian-Jenkins measured in at 6’5". They will join Vincent Jackson, who also stands 6’5". Only one team – the Lions – had at least three players that tall making 20 receptions each.