Some people will suggest to you that numbers don’t lie. In many cases that proves to be true. Three apples will always be three apples. But in the game of football, numbers in fact do lie, just like everything else. Three touchdown passes doesn’t equal three great decisions. You don’t need to look any further than Mr. Irrelevant Chad Kelly’s long pass against Alabama for proof.
— College Football + (@CFBPlus) June 15, 2017
The play has been romanticized by many but bear in mind this: the box score reads nothing more than “65 yard touchdown pass”. There’s no column in the stat sheet for reckless decision making. This isn’t to say that numbers hold no value, I of course subscribe to the idea that data pools and significant sample sizes can help you find trends.
There are going to be outliers at every turn (here’s looking at you, Jarvis Landry!) but numbers and data assessment can give you a great supplement to a film study.
The key word here: supplement. I am not of the belief that you can look at any combination of advanced or baseline statistics and determine a player’s success rate. Too many independent variables (22, to be exact) are present on each play, over the course of 75-100 plays a game, spread over the course of 12-15 games in a season. A player’s quality of performance is told with his performance on the field. Nothing can substitute an eye for natural ability and technical skill, so here are a few examples of plays in which there’s a disconnect between a plus play on the field and a plus play from a scouting perspective.
A long touchdown pass
— NDTGifs (@NDTGifs) July 1, 2017
Make no mistake: the play and the performance of Washington WR Dante Pettis is excellent. Strong concentration, physical determination, soft hands and balance after the catch are all on display from Pettis. But look specifically at the throw from QB Jake Browning. Browning is credited with a long touchdown pass, inflating statistics such as yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdowns, etc.
Browning deserves credit for the decision. But note the throw. Pettis has uncovered by half a step down the field and has provided a massive window outside the numbers for Browning to drop the ball over his right shoulder. Instead, Browning puts the throw on the hash and underthrows Pettis to the point of having to nearly stop for the ball. Yes, it’s a good decision. Yes, it’s a touchdown. But this is an inaccurate throw and needs to be noted as such.
A half a sack
— NDTGifs (@NDTGifs) May 9, 2017
At the end of this play, Tyquan Lewis gets credited with half of a sack. Watch this play over again and then think about that. Sacks are the premiere statistic measured by football analysts for pass rushing prospects. On a third and three against Wisconsin, Lewis is credited with a half a sack working against Ryan Ramczyk even though he doesn’t contact the Quarterback until over 4.5 seconds after the snap.
Pressure rarely works like that with sustainability. It’s great that Lewis was rewarded for an excellent motor play with a half a sack, but it should warrant note that he did not in fact “win” the rush rep. Our National Scout Jon Ledyard does a tremendous job with contextualizing NFL sacks and leading a change on this front.
A bad read from opposition doesn’t negate quality performance
Super impressive POA stack and shuck from Hurricanes DL Kendrick Norton on 3rd and short. Power to reset LOS and length to separate. pic.twitter.com/ulwTNDlldy
— Kyle Crabbs (@NDTScouting) July 3, 2017
The play from DT Kendrick Norton here is excellent. Some followers on Twitter were curious and quick to ask how this could be such a great play when Florida State RB Dalvin Cook breaks off his trajectory from behind the Fullback and tries to cut across the grain on his own.
Defense specifically is centered around a single concept: DO YOUR JOB! If you execute your primary responsibility correctly, everyone is going to be given opportunities to make plays. Cook’s misread of the point of attack does little to change a few things:
- Norton resets the line of scrimmage with authority. He’s playing two yards further into the backfield than either Defensive End.
- Norton establishes control of the Center with his hands, preventing the Center from working his hips around Norton’s body and effectively sealing his reach attempt.
- Norton does well to come to balance and square up Cook after the cut, which very well may have been made due to Norton’s lateral scrape and ability to not give up his play-side shoulder cleanly at first contact.
- Norton gets off of the block due to his length, which is an uncoachable skill.
Yes, Cook cuts off his track and directly into Norton’s arms. But Norton’s execution put him in position to finish and possibly forced the cut to begin with.
In summary: There are 22 variables on each and every play on the football field. Consider each player as an independent: part of the greater picture but responsible for executing their own set of responsibilities. Sometimes the play still goes your way. But it doesn’t excuse blame or credit for a quality effort from the individual, and that’s what makes scouting hard.