A rebuttal to Pro Football Focus’ analysis of DeSean Jackson’s overall game

Pro Football Focus put out an article earlier this week that made the claim that DeSean Jackson has the highest drop percentage in the NFL.  He very well might (I haven’t decided yet if I want to put in the time to view every target he had in 2010), but this claim immediately set off a “BS alarm” in my head, as I happen to be a subscriber to their service and am all too aware of their distaste for DeSean Jackson’s game.  PFF is a great service for data.  I place a high value particularly on their snap counts.  As a blogger, that information is invaluable.  However, I’m extremely skeptical of how they use that data to assign their numerical rankings to every player in the NFL.  For example, if you’re a paying customer and you were to click on a player’s “stats” on their website, you’ll find something like this:

Name Overall Pass Rush Pass Block Screen Bock Run Block Penalty # of Pen
DeSean Jackson -0.1 0.2 -0.2 0 0 -0.3 0.2 0-0

What does (-0.1) mean?  What’s the formula that goes into that number?  It’s not readily apparent, and yet, countless football blogs reference these meaningless numbers to say players had good games or bad games.  “Quintin Mikell had a (+4.3) last Sunday.  He had a great game.  Unfortunately, Jason Peters had a (-1.3).   Hopefully, he can bounce back next week.”  I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough for me.

I’ll explain further.  On the season, Pro Football Focus claims that based upon their ranking system, DeSean Jackson had a dismal (-8.4), which placed him precisely at the 104th best receiver in the NFL.  Yes, you read that correctly, and I’ll be that annoying guy that repeats something you just read for effect – PFF’s rating system says that DeSean Jackson is the 104th best receiver in the NFL. That basically means he’s an OK #4 receiver.  Wanna know some of the names ahead of him?

(cont after the jump)…

Greg Lewis.  Yes, that Greg Lewis.  Joey Galloway.  David Gettis.  Brandon LaFell.  Greg Camarillo.  Brian Finneran.  Terrance Copper.  Kassim Osgood.  And it goes on like that.

So let’s get back to the “stats” I posted above.  In fact, I’ll post them again for your “not-having-to-scroll-back-up-convenience:”

Name Overall Pass Rush Pass Block Screen Bock Run Block Penalty # of Pen
DeSean Jackson -0.1 0.2 -0.2 0 0 -0.3 0.2 0-0

Those “stats” happen to belong to DeSean Jackson from his Week 2 performance against the Detroit Lions last season.  But wait… I remember DeSean having a good game that week, right?  What gives?  Well, quite simply, I’ll tell you what gives – Those “stats” are utter nonsense.  I went to the video tape and pulled film of the 7 targets to DeSean Jackson in that game.  Here’s the raw video, with a quick explanation of each play below:

Click here to see video of DeSean Jackson vs. the Lions

Target 1 – 1st and 10 at DET 45 – M.Vick pass short left to D.Jackson for 45 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Not much explanation necessary here.  DeSean catches the ball over the middle, splits like 6 Lion defenders and outruns everyone to the endzone.  Highlight reel material.

Target 2 – 3rd and 3 at PHI 48 – (Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep left to D.Jackson to DET 17 for 35 yards (J.Wade). Detroit challenged the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) M.Vick pass incomplete deep left to D.Jackson (J.Wade).

Drop.  No question.  Professional NFL receiver has to make that catch.

Target 3 – 2nd and 23 at PHI 10 – M.Vick pass incomplete deep right to D.Jackson (Z.Follett).

I’ll tell you what – If that pass is on target, the wide open DeSean Jackson may very well be off to the races for a 90 yard TD.  However, a bad pass and a “missed target” to DeSean likely means minus points for DeSean in PFF’s rating system.

Target 4 – 1st and 10 at DET 37 – M.Vick pass incomplete deep middle to D.Jackson (J.Wade).

Nice play here by the safety, and an ill-advised decision by Vick.

Target 5 – 2nd and 2 at PHI 30 – (Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep middle to D.Jackson to DET 17 for 53 yards (R.Phillips). DET-K.Vanden Bosch was injured during the play. His return is Probable.

Huge play, but it’s even more important to note the context here.  The Eagles are at their own 30 with just 0:51 second left in the half.  There are more than a few NFL coaches that would be content to sit on the football and take it to halftime.  That thinking doesn’t enter into the equation when you have playmakers like Vick, Maclin, McCoy, and most of all, DeSean Jackson.  Jackson gets open downfield for a 53 yard bomb.  The Eagles score a TD on the drive, completely taking all the momentum with them into the locker room.  Huge play by a playmaker, and a hat tip for the absolutely gorgeous pass by Vick.

Target 6 – 1st and 10 at PHI 31 – (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to D.Jackson to PHI 39 for 8 yards (J.Wade).

Little 8 yard slant on 1st down.

Target 7 – 3rd and 14 at PHI 31 – (Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep right to D.Jackson ran ob at DET 40 for 29 yards (C.Brown).

Vick mostly makes this play with his elusiveness, but Jackson does a nice job helping out his scrambling QB by finding an open zone and picking up 29 yards on 3rd and 14.

Jackson’s actual stats – 7 targets, 4 receptions, 135 yards, 33.8 yards per catch, 36 YAC, 1 TD, 1 drop.  You do that every week for 12 years and people are going to say you’re better than Jerry Rice.

And yet…

PFF’s stats, yet again:

Name Overall Pass Rush Pass Block Screen Bock Run Block Penalty # of Pen
DeSean Jackson -0.1 0.2 -0.2 0 0 -0.3 0.2 0-0

To me, (-0.1) means that DeSean Jackson had a bad game.  $20 to the first person that can make any sense of PFF’s rankings to me.  Seriously.

In other news, my mom started her sports writer ranking website this week.  I’m pleased to announce that I’m the best sports writer on the planet with a 3,405.8 rating (a new record).  That hack Ray Didinger is 104th with a (-68.2).  Sorry, Ray – Your spelling was flawless and your insights were fantastic, but you used a double negative a few weeks ago, and my mom just couldn’t get past it.

16 Comments

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  4. Norman says:

    Well, to defend PFF a little, the guy above me has it right. They grade every play, regardless if the player is active in it or not.

    For example, a draw play to Shady may get a negative grade because jackson couldn’t effectively block his cb (even if the cb wasn’t in on the tackle).

    Another is if Jackson is asked to run a hitch route and runs it poorly, negative grade.

    For every catch jackson had, he had a drop. That wiped out a lot of the good karma, too.

    Inexcusable, I know- but my cmments about him being a 789 are not too far fetched. He’s a weapon, but he’s useless in so many other aspects.

    Btw, Hicks, Bryant, Maclin, Austin, and Smith, in that order, i’d take over Jackson.

    1. D3Keith says:

      That’s absurd.

      A rating system is just that, and we’re free to interpret it to mean whatever. And your free to wish for Nicks, Austin and Bryant over DeSean, but he’s way more valuable than you’re giving him credit for. I’m assuming 789 refers to the route tree — he does plenty on square-ins, comebacks and other short stuff. But he’s also a threat on reverses/end-arounds, and Andy does this frequently to keep defenses honest and make sure they’re always accounting for him.

      And that’s why he’s providing value on those plays where it looks like he’s doing nothing. He’s one of those rare players whose presence alone accomplishes something.

      The guy is definitely limited — he can be taken out of games with the proper amount of attention, and obviously the teeny body limits what he can do in the red zone and blocking on run plays. But I’ve seen him go fearlessly over the middle, score TDs rushing, take a short slant and go 71 yards with it, catch a 15-yard flag and turn it into a TD by tiptoeing down the sideline. Same thign with the quick out against Dallas last year, though that was as much awful CB play as a great play by DeSean.

      I think Austin is a hell of a player, and I wouldn’t mind having Nicks on my team. But when you’re insinuating you’d rather have Steve Smith or DeSean only runs deep routes, you’re not seeing the forest for the trees, IMHO.

  5. bsencore says:

    PFF basically grades each player on every play as positive or negative where possible. But I think you get too tied up in those grades. They’re not very helpful — especially compared to the bountiful great other stats they collect.

    ubrab has a point that FO’s wide receiver stats are also questionable. They’re very different from Advanced NFL Stats’s EPA/WPA for wideouts. DeSean ranks highly there, for example.

    1. Wow, is that how they do it? That’s useless.

      I like PFF, but mainly for black and white data only, where they’re not infusing their interpretations into it, especially the snap counts. The snap count data is fantastic.

      However, I’m always curious how accurate their stats really are. Drops, in this case, are very subjective. Is the same guy watching all the film for all 32 teams? I would guess not. So one man’s interpretation of what a drop is could vary significantly from from another man’s interpretation might be, and the whole thing is skewed.

      For example, PFF had Jackson down for 12 drops, while Sheil had him down for 7:

      http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/moving_the_chains/Too-many-drops-for-DeSean.html

      That’s a fairly big discrepancy. In the next week or two, I plan on pulling film of the plays PFF are calling drops and letting everyone decide for themselves.

  6. Glen Danzig says:

    The guys at PFF should become baseball fans. That’s a game where stats can tell the story. Football just isn’t the same thing.

    There’s simply no way any rational person can argue that DeSean Jackson isn’t a top 97 WR. 104??? That’s a joke.

  7. MikeC says:

    I’m gonna bet that the Giants fans are willing to accept the PFF numbers – just for the hell of it.

    1. Dan in Philly says:

      Giants fans would push the numbers in the hopes the Eagles will try to play hardball with Jackson so they can snatch him up.

  8. Joe says:

    While a Cowboys fan, i think that rating is pretty outlandish….I would hazard to say that D Jax had more yards per Target than just about anyone in the league last year…..so while yes, drops maybe a problem, would you rather have him or Roy Williams (who drops 10 yard routes) ….

    anyway my 2 cents

    1. Charla says:

      What a joy to find such clear thinking. Thanks for psontig!

  9. Dan in Philly says:

    What ubrab said. All the stats boys have the same blind spot due to their approach of extreme empiricism. Your analysis absolutely destroys the conclusions of their approach. If they are honest, they will probably concede that you are correct that their numbers cannot account for an outlier like Jackson.

    That’s what Jackson is, of course, and outlier. The only player in my memory who remotely compares to him in my mind is Andre Rison, but he played in the run and shoot which often matched him up against poor defenders. This year Jackson was often going deep in max protect schemes, where it was only him and Maclin against 4 or 5 defenders. His unique abilities are matched with a coach who has a particular genius for running plays which allow him to maximize those abilities, creating a perfect storm of a literally once in a lifetime big play player.

    Reid will happily allow Jackson to drop twice the number of balls in return for the unbelievable, game changing plays he churns out. I’m not worrying about the critics who are blinded by their own genius; I am enjoying a player I’ll be telling my grandchildren about someday.

  10. ubrab says:

    Jason, I lol’ed.

    However, no grading system (FO or PFF) has been able to properly measure WR play so far. Possession receivers are overvalued, and deep threats undervalued, all the time.
    I like those ratings for QB, RB, OL plays, I love the “defeats” notion for DL/LB, the QB Pressures notion for pass rushers, and the CB stats of teams playing most of the time in man converage, but apart from that, they aren’t not all that great, to completely crap for WRs.

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