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Freeman flounders in advanced statistics

No, this is not a reference to Josh Freeman's academic ability, or how he fared in any business courses while back at Kansas State.  It's a look into Freeman's rookie campaign in the form of numbers.  (I know, I know, numbers are bad, they require thinking and such.  It will be ok, I promise).  In all honesty, we are just taking a look back at his first year.  Freeman may come out next year and be an entirely different quarterback, but for now, we analyze, re-analyze, and analyze again until we are exhausted the only tape we have of him, his 2009 season.

A few weeks back, we looked Freeman and his traditional stats and how he ranked not only against quarterbacks last year, but against several other rookie and second year starters across many different years.  We know that he was a rookie who got thrust into the starter role on a bad team with an offense that wouldn't have worked back in the Atari days.  While this may give us some latitude in judging Freeman, we all still agree on one thing;  Freeman has some work to do if he wants to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

We've beaten his traditional stats to death.  We've talked about the need for some offensive help, both in the playcalling arena, and the playmaker arena.  Potential targets have been scouted and passed by, others have been picked up (Reggie Brown).  But before we close the book on 2009, we'll take one last stroll down memory lane with FootballOutsider's advanced stats.  (Editor''s Note:  If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask.  There aren't any dumb questions and I would much rather you bombard me and the staff with any queries than just give up or move on without understanding).

Previously we've looked at advanced stats and I've given a few quick definitions and explanations as to what each one means.  If you aren't sure, or need a refresher, you can either ask me, or refer to the FO site.

Before we dig too deep (TWSS), lets look one last time at his basic passing stats.

Comp Att Comp % Yards TD Int
158 290 54.50% 1855 10 18

Nothing exciting here.  I didn't include these to bludgeon you to death with what we already know, but more as a reference when we begin looking at some of the other numbers.  There are typically a few arguments with stats that I'll summarize here.  The first is that stats don't matter or stats are for losers.  That's simply not true.  Every coach, every program, every team uses stats to prepare, to plan, and to execute.  Coaches know the percentages of a draw working on 3rd and 8.  Bill Belicheck was quoting percentages on his 4th down gamble against Indy this year.  We as fans use numbers to compare players.  I think it's safe to say that stats aren't for losers.  That statement is only made when the stats don't back up the argument that is attempting to be made.

The next argument is that stats don't tell us the full picture.  While partially true, particularly in football, there is a flipside to that argument.  Most stats dont tell us everything, but we are getting closer to that point.  Passing yards, for example, don't tell us what type of defense was being played against, if the team was up or down at that point, and if it was garbage time.  But stats like DVOA and DYAR are getting us to a point where we are getting a mroe complete picture with the numbers.  There is always the chance what we see with our eyes and what the numbers tell us may be different, but all that means is, we need more data. 

The third and final argument is that people who use stats either don't like the sport, don't understand it, or are disconnected from it.  And to that, I say hogwash (remember, we don't allow swearing).  Using statistics to supplement and increase your understanding of football is like using a cookbook to help make dinner, or a Sandra Bullock romantic comedy to understand women.  It (stats) help in the understanding of the game and can provide valuable insight.  Stats aren't only used by smart or dumb people and those who refer to them aren't any more or less of a fan.

So now that I've pre-empted any arguments on the stats, their meanings and why they may suck, lets look at the real reason you've read this far, Josh Freeman's numbers.

Plays NetYd NY/P DYAR Rk DVOA Rk
313 1756 5.61 -295 39 -26.20% 39

Consistent if nothing else.  His ranking in both DYAR (Defense-adjusted yards above replacement) and DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) is 39th, meaning out of all quarterbacks last year who took meaningful snaps, he ranked 39th.  Considering there are 32 NFL teams, you can see that this means Freeman ranked as a middle of the road backup.  Ouch.

DYAR represents how a player compares to his peers once the opponent, down, distance and situation has been accounted for.  A DYAR of "0" would suggest that a player was equal to his replacement.  Let me further clarify and say that "replacement" does not refer to a specific person like Josh Johnson or Byron Leftwich, but more of a league-wide example.  While I will attempt to explain here, I encourage anyone who is interested to check out this article on FO. 

Essentially, with a rating of "0" in DYAR, the examined player provided no upside or value or a replacement player.  The starter on a team plays and produces his own stats.  The question is, if the starter got hurt or was removed, the team obviously still must play, and the remaining snaps must be picked up by another person.  Enter the replacement player (a nameless, faceless figure).  By looking at what said replacement player does and what the starter did, over many trials, we can determine how each player compares and what value that starter brings to the table over the replacement.  If you are having trouble conceptualizing, think about the 2009 ColtsPeyton Manning's DYAR in 2009 was 1,936, meaning he was approximately 2,000 yards better than a replacement player would have been, and after seeing Curtis Painter's attempt at being a quarterback (DYAR of -133 in those two games), I think we can all agree with those numbers.

So back to Freeman.  Over his 10 game season, he produced a DYAR of -295, placing him firmly below replacement level.  This shouldn't be shocking news, because while he was a rookie learning a new offense on a bad team, he played exactly like you would expect.  Hurried at times, indecisive, and seemingly unaware of certain players or coverages. 

Now, I can already hear the murmurs.  "You just want to destroy Freeman" or "He was a rookie, give him a break" or even "you want him to fail."  I am offering no future predictions in this article, just a recap of his rookie year.  Did Freeman do some good things?   You betcha, but I think we all know that he was not spectacular in 2009, which doesn't mean he won't amaze ur in 2010.

On to DVOA.  The replacement level for DVOA is -12.5% which as explained by FO is

For quarterbacks, we analyzed situations where two or more quarterbacks had played meaningful snaps for a team in the same season, then compared the overall DVOA of the original starters to the overall DVOA of the replacements. We did not include situations where the backup was actually a top prospect waiting his turn on the bench, since a first-round pick is by no means a "replacement-level" player. By comparing the replacement-level quarterbacks to the quarterbacks they replaced, as well as the quarterbacks who played the entire season, we determined that the replacement level for quarterbacks is roughly -12.5% DVOA, fairly similar to what we had before.

The same is not true at other positions. There was no easy way to just separate running backs and receivers into "starters" and "replacements," since unlike at quarterback, being the starter doesn't make you the only guy who gets in the game. Instead, we decided to use a simpler method. First, we ranked players at each position in each season by attempts. The players who made up the final 10 percent of passes or runs were split out as "replacement players" and then compared to the players making up the other 90 percent of plays at that position. This took care of the fact that not every non-starter at running back or wide receiver is a freely available talent. (Think of Jerious Norwood or Anthony Gonzalez, for example.) Replacement level is now higher in most ways, but by different degrees, and replacement level actually went down for both running back receiving and wide receiver rushing

Josh Freeman's DVOA for 2009 was -26.20%, putting him again below replacement value.  This simply means that when we adjust for the defenses he faced, his value as compared to "average" players was negative.  Had we had a replacement level quarterback or average quarterback (think 2009 version of Bruce Gradkowski or Seneca Wallace, who both fell at replacement level for 2009.  Kevin Kolb and Alex Smith both were in the same range).  Now before you leap off a bridge or suggest that I prefer Alex Smith over Freeman, this is only looking at one year.  I'd take Freeman his potential over Alex Smith's known ability at this point.  This is a one year exercise we are looking into.

These numbers actually don't make me that angry.  The numbers, both traditional and advanced back up what we all saw with our eyes.  Freeman, for all his moments of brilliance, had far more moments that reminded us he was a rookie.  For the time being, he is below replacement level, which is what almost all of us predicted coming into 2009.  He was/is a quarterback who needed coaching, experience and an opportunity to grow and learn the game.  He wasn't ready to be a league leader from Day 1.  Now we have to hope the progression comes in and these negative numbers become positive in 2010.

With that, I close the book on Freeman, for the time being.  We've taken a look at each number, dissected it a few times, compared to anyone and everyone and set the table for him to give us more data to analyze in 2010. And for everyone who thinks I'm hating on Freeman, this is just a display and discussion of his stats, not a projection or indictment.  His 2009 season was less than stellar, and we all realized this as it was happening.  I look forward to dissecting more positive numbers in his 2010 campaign.