Here’s a list of the top 50 NFL Draft schools with each program’s primary color: FBS Team Colors. I’ll expand the list to all 124 FBS schools in the next few weeks.
It’s been a busy fall, but we’ve just finished a significant project that should provide us with endless entertainment. For every game, the NFL publishes a box score, stat overview, and a play-by-play that includes situational elements like down, distance, time, score, and a short description of the play. We have compiled the play-by-play for every game since 2002, nearly 500,000 plays, and parsed the plays for analysis.
To start things off, we took what’s considered a defining scenario, 4th and 1, at the opponents 1-yard line, to see how teams had responded across the league. Here’s a first-level look at it that provides some basics, including success rates and a list of “other” results that surfaced.
Most interesting: Run success is better than 50%. If you consider the extra point a gimme, then the expected point total when running the ball is just over 3.7. Aside from scenarios that involve kicking a crucial, go-ahead field goal (with total disregard for hundreds of possible in-game factors), running the ball in this scenario seems like a no-brainer.
Most frightening: 5 sacks on 74 attempts (6.76%). The league average sack rate through week 12 of the 2012 season is also about 6.7%. With the two figures being so close, one might worry that NFL quarterbacks don’t understand the importance of getting rid of the ball in this scenario.
Somewhat interesting: Of the 274 times we can be fairly certain that the offense lined up with the intent to run or throw, the offense committed a false start penalty 7 times (2.6%). I’ll have to pull that rate for all plays in general, but 2.6% seems high, even when factoring in situational anxiety.
Ouch, that hurts: Yes, one field goal attempt was blocked. Back in December of 2002, trailing by 3 points in the 2nd quarter, Houston’s Kris Brown had the tying field goal blocked by Tennessee’s Samari Rolle. The Titans beat the Texans 13–3.
From here, we can look at response by even more specific scenarios, including: when losing by a field goal or less, when winning, early or late in the game, early or late in a winning or losing season, and more. We don’t mind requests, so if anything comes up that you’d like numbers for, just ask.
Following a look at Florida’s three powerhouse programs (Miami, Florida, and Florida State), I’d like to bring up an old rivalry that’s had it’s share of twists and turns. Having first met in 1926, and battling for the Jeweled Shillelagh since 1952, USC and Notre Dame are steeped in tradition. Notre Dame leads the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh by nine games (43-34-5), holds the longest streak in the series with 11 straight wins, and the largest margin of victory (55-0 in 1966). Plus, ND and USC are tied for first in college football with 7 Heisman Trophy winners (Ohio State also has seven total; running back Archie Griffin won it twice).
With all that, it seems the two gridiron juggernauts ought to stack up well in terms of sending their fine young men to compete at the next level. From an earlier post, NFL Draft by College 1970 to 2012 (Top 50), we know that since 1970, USC is #1 in NFL draftees with 288, and Notre Dame is #6 with 230. Have a look at how they got there:From a glance, you’ll notice that the two histograms seem to complement each other in terms of shape, with USC featuring a smiling curve, and Notre Dame on a frowning curve. If we’re brave enough to believe in cycles (Notre Dame has seemed so hopeless at times), Notre Dame’s next crop of world-class athletes is on the horizon. It’s also interesting to compare these two draftee profiles with our three top-50 schools from Florida, charted in the article, Percentage of NFL Draft 1970 to 2012 (Miami, Florida and Florida State). All three Florida schools are noticeably front-loaded in comparison with Notre Dame and USC. Is the Speed State taking advantage of pass-to-run-ratio trends over the last 30 years, and rule changes in the NFL that favor athleticism in space?
Florida’s three big football schools have their stretches of dominance on the field. And, looking at the number of players they’ve sent to the NFL via the annual draft, the Sunshine State’s been upping its game. In my previous post, NFL Draft by College 1970 to 2012 (Top 50), all three schools ranked near the top: Miami #5, Florida #10, and Florida State #11. I wanted to take a look at their success in the NFL draft over time, and see how their dominance on the field related to their success on draft day.
Here’s a look at the three teams’ success in the NFL draft since 1970. Note the humble beginnings for each program, followed by growth through the 1980s and 1990s.
Combining the numbers from the first three drafts (1970, 1971 and 1972), the three schools combined for about 4.8% of players drafted (just under 0.5% per draft, per school). Even with some pullback since 2000, the schools’ three most recent classes comprised 17.2% of NFL draftees (about 1.9% per draft, per school), more than triple the numbers from 1970.
Possibly due to short cycles in recruiting success (with high-profile players often evaluating their competition and looking for the earliest opportunity to play), it’s rare to post four consecutive growth seasons. Yet, each of the three schools had one such period of growth: Miami from 1998 to 2002; Florida State from 1991 to 1995; and Florida from 1982 to 1986 (with a zero-growth year in 1984).
Sending players to the NFL is an interesting way to gauge the long-term success of a program, and provides some insight as to which schools are able to consistently attract and develop top-level talent. Over time, we’ll test these numbers against other success indicators and try to establish some correlation between team and individual success. We’ll also chart the draft numbers of top schools over time. For now, let’s take a look at the totals since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970.
One of the first things that jumps out is how far Notre Dame seems to have fallen since 1970. Often times, we see school comparison lists of players drafted back to the birth of the NFL. Including those pre-merger draft numbers through the 2012 draft, Notre Dame trails USC by only 9 players drafted all-time (USC with 480, ND with 471). Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the numbers show USC players being drafted at a much higher rate since 1970, where USC leads Notre Dame by 58 players total (1.35 players per draft).
While we’ve all seen how the NFL’s steady movement toward the passing game impacts the record books, and how the game is played strategically, we haven’t seen much about how it’s impacting the personnel decisions the league is taking as a whole. Here are some quick charts I’m working through on the way to learning more about how teams are evolving to address changing demands. I decided to work from 1970 forward for a few reasons, the most important being that it was the first draft following the AFL/NFL, for lack of a better term at the moment, merger.
The first chart illustrates the fair amount of consistency in drafting line players since 1970. Offensive tackles, defensive tackles, and defensive ends have seen an increase in draft rate. Guards, centers, have seen, if anything, a slowing in draft rate. Kickers and punters are on the board, and given the importance I hear coaches putting on the kicking game, the early numbers don’t appear to show any increase in their hurry to upgrade at the position.
(Caution; I unwisely used second-order polynomial trend lines here to help eyes move across the graph. Side effects include making you believe you can predict the future based on the shape of the curve. Trust me; you can’t. There’s a better way to trend position-per-draft data, and I’m working on it. In the meantime, suggestions are welcome.)
As shown here in the second graph, it’s a really bad time to be a running back (and appears to be getting worse), while it’s a great time to be a defensive back (and increasingly so). Over the last 42 years, defensive backs have seen about a 4% increase in draft rate. Running backs, however, have seen roughly a 7% decline.
Even after acknowledging a probable decline of the use of multiple running backs at one time, the drop in running back demand seems alarming, considering that running backs seem to have the shortest careers by several seasons on average (more on that coming soon). Meanwhile, many teams are carrying 10 or more defensive backs between their active roster and practice squad, and the use of five or six defensive backs as a base personnel package has become increasingly prevalent (also more on that coming soon).
The first installment of Statballer.com Drive Analysis breaks down the game-winning drive of Super Bowl XXIII, Bill Walsh’s last game, and his final demonstration as an NFL play caller. With 3:10 on the clock and three timeouts, the 49ers trailed the Bengals by three points. This 11-play, 92-yard march took just 2:36 off the clock, while utilizing four different formations and producing catches by four different receivers.
1) Red right, lucky (circle)
The Bengals line up in a 4-3 under front. With the corners in inside leverage, and the weak-side backer chasing the full back, they appear to be in cover-2 man. However, the the middle and strong-side linebackers mismatch coverage when #51 Leon White gives tight end John Frank a free release and works to the flat (well outside of the backs). Frank clears #91 Carl Zander, and running back #33 Roger Craig fills the vacated area. Montana’s pass is complete to Craig, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, for an 8-yard gain.
Yard: – 16
2nd down & 2
2) Red right, Y spot, F wide, H slow flat
The Bengals are slow getting lined up, but align in a similar set. They switch to zone, and the bottom of the picture reveals linebacker #57 Reggie Williams lined up on the outside receiver. Tight end John Frank gets a free release, but finds two zone linebackers in coverage. With Frank bending his route between the two defenders, Montana releases the pass just as the tight end turns his shoulders. A low throw helps Frank secure the ball, get the first down, and avoid a big hit.
3) Red right, Z quick out
The Bengals give Rice 7 yards by alignment. Looking closely as the 49ers come to the line, Rice looks surprised, and stares down Montana before getting set. Here’s how it plays out in my head:
Whether the play was called or checked at the line, Montana’s footwork indicates that he intended to throw the quick out before he took the snap. He drifts slightly to the throw side, and works his hips into the throw throughout the quick 3-step drop. His helmet stripe pretty much gives it away on the first step, and the throw is behind Rice, but it doesn’t matter. The corner backpedals after the snap, making the closest defender 10 yards away at the time of the throw. The tackles give a little more ground than is preferable on a quick throw, which leads me to believe it was all Montana and Rice. Quite possibly the easiest 8-yard pickup of the day.
4) Spread right, 42 draw (reverse out)
After sticking with the same formation for the first four plays (often thought of as good practice in hurry-up situations), the 49ers spread the field and try a boot draw. It’s stopped near the line of scrimmage, but the 49ers seem content to let the clock burn to the two-minute warning, possibly worried about leaving too much time on the clock following a touchdown or field goal.
5) Red right, 42 draw
The Bengals play off of Rice again, and invert the alignments of the strong-side linebacker and the defensive end #70 Jim Skow. When Skow rushes wide and up the field and the linebacker backs off to cover a hard-charging tight end, it creates the perfect natural void for Craig on the standard draw. Skow gets rolled up on by his own man and goes down with a lower leg injury (he would return later in the drive). 49ers must have called timeout #1 here before the injury.
Yard: – 35
1st & 10
6) Red right slot, Z corner, X fake smash, lucky
Coming out of the timeout, the 49ers switched up their formation, putting both wide receivers opposite the tight end. This draws man press coverage on both receivers, with safety help. Rice breaks away from #22 Eric Thomas for the catch on the corner route. Montana uses a 5-step drop and hitch to help get the ball between Rice and the sideline.
Yard: + 47
1st & 10
7) Red right slot, curls, lucky (circle)
Staying with the same formation, the 49ers’ seventh play of the drive looks a lot like the first, with the TE’s vertical release creating a void, allowing for a solid gain by Craig on the circle route.
8) Red right slot, Z corner, X fake smash, lucky
Montana targets Rice again on the corner route, but Thomas forces Rice to arc his release more than the first attempt, narrowing the target area. Montana’s hitch looks far less confident than the first corner route. With Montana throwing more off his back foot, the throw sails high and out of bounds (a safe play).
Yard: + 36
2nd & 10
9a) Red right, X go, H delay, F shoot
Montana looks to the weak side go route of wide receiver #82 John Taylor, on seven-step timing, but checks it down to Craig on a delay. After the snap, 49ers’ center #51 Randy Cross bursts to the second level, and is called for a 10-yard penalty, ineligible man downfield, despite his best effort to sneak back across the line of scrimmage.
Yard: + 46
2nd & 20
9b) Red right, Y cross, Z center, lucky
Bengals defense plays cover-2 man, pressing the corners at the line of scrimmage with inside leverage, and rushing four. The linebackers step up and flow with Frank and the backs to the offense’s left. Rice works off the press beautifully, immediately gaining inside leverage, and spinning the Bengals cornerback. With the safeties staying over the top, Rice executes a roughly 90-degree break across the field at the prescribed 15 yards and works back to the ball slightly. Montana takes his five-step drop with a hitch, plus a slight delay, and fires a pass to about a foot in front of Rice’s path, just above the shoulder, Walsh’s definition of a perfect throw. After making the catch, Rice bursts for 16 more yards. While Taylor isn’t able to stay on his block long enough to get Rice past the last defender, and appears upset at the time, he’ll probably be alright with the final result. Rice down at 1:07, clock running.
10) Red right, lucky (circle)
According to the 49ers playbook, when inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Walsh starts thinking about a first-down throw into the end zone. While they don’t throw it in the end zone (not yet, anyway), it’s complete to Craig on, you guessed it, the circle route. Offensively, it’s very similar to the first play of the game, run out of the same formation. Unlike the first play of the drive, the Bengals defense has inverted the alignments of the strong-side end and linebacker. Both the strong and middle linebacker run with the tight end, giving Craig even more room than his previous attempts. 49ers call timeout #2.
11) Red right tight, Z opposite, 20 H curl, X up
Rice motions to the play side, drawing plenty of attention from the safety. The corner route attempts earlier in the drive pay off, as the zone defense bites on a soft-sell corner move (that makes this look very similar to U shake), and Taylor breaks back inside to the void between the two deep safeties. Montana uses a 5-step drop with a hitch, working his eyes outside to encourage the underneath defender to work outside. Just as the underneath defender slips, Montana uncorks it, threading the ball right between the converging safeties.
The 49ers scoring drive gives them a four-point lead with 0:34 remaining in the game. The lead holds, and the Walsh era ends with one of the finest game-winning drives of all time.