Around this time every year, Football Outsiders publishes their season preview. The 2015 Football Outsiders Almanac is full of great X's and O's talk along with interesting stats, tendencies, fantasy football advice, and more.It costs $24.95 plus shipping.
Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders answered five questions I had about their Jets chapter. Schatz answered my questions last week, but we were unable to publish until now so apologies if a nugget or two seems dated.
1. You seem fairly high on the Jets (61% chance of winning at least eight games). It seems like this prediction was made before certain developments, namely Sheldon Richardson’s suspension and Geno Smith’s injury. How do these impact your projection?
Actually, this projection incorporates Richardson’s suspension. It doesn’t incorporate Smith’s injury, but Smith’s injury actually will raise the Jets’ overall forecast a little bit because we were projecting Fitzpatrick to be a little bit better than Smith. Smith might have a higher ceiling than Fitzpatrick, but not much higher given how he’s played his first two seasons, and the floor is much lower.
We’re not kidding around about how much our new, upgraded projection system likes the Jets defense. No team has ever had fewer takeaways per drive than last year’s Jets, a stat that screams regression towards the mean. And no team except the 2009 Lions added more defensive free-agent talent than the 2015 Jets using the metric we’ve incorporated in our projection system, which is PFR’s Approximate Value over Replacement Level. Both of these facts point to a dramatically improved Jets defense. This team should go at least 7-9, probably more like 9-7. I don’t think they are serious Super Bowl contenders with that offense, but they are serious wild-card contenders.
2. The Almanac states the Jets finding Leonard Williams is not a case of the rich getting richer but more akin to Bill Gates finding treasure. What are reasonable expectations for Williams as a rookie?
In that defensive scheme, he’s not going to put up numbers like Aaron Donald did a year ago, but he should be a solid part of that defense against both the run and the pass. The biggest part of his value is if someone gets hurt. The depth the Jets have on the defensive line now is really strong.
3. You note that Buster Skrine’s statistical metrics have been above average the last two years. What statistics are you citing?
We chart every NFL game and create a number of metrics on cornerback coverage. The big two are adjusted success rate -- how often a CB is in coverage and it is a successful play for the defense, even if the ball is caught -- and adjusted yards per pass. ("Adjusted" because they are adjusted based on the quality of receiver being covered.) Metrics based on charting like this are never going to be exact, because we don’t always know exactly what coverage responsibilities were and the sample sizes are not huge. So you don’t want to insist that the player ranked 20th is absolutely better than the one ranked 21st. But you do get a reasonable idea of how well a guy played from his general position in the ranks.
Last year, Skrine ranked 41st out of 77 qualifying cornerbacks in success rate and 32nd in adjusted yards per pass. In 2013, Skrine ranked 39th in success rate and a surprising third in adjusted yards per pass. He’s been one of the most targeted cornerbacks in the league the last couple years, which is also a telling number about how opponents regarded Skrine compared to Joe Haden. But given all those targets, Skrine has been a starting cornerback of reasonable quality.
4. One frequent topic of debate around here is how good Darrelle Revis is now compared with before his injury. What do you say?
Revis isn’t as good now as he was before his injury but honestly, how could he be? Few cornerbacks in NFL history were ever as good as Revis was in 2009-2012. Cornerbacks in general seem to be less consistent than other players from year-to-year, so how long can one player remain as the undoubted, No. 1 shutdown cornerback in the game? In 2009, he led the league in both adjusted yards per pass and adjusted success rate even though he actually was one of the more targeted cornerbacks in the league that year. The next year, Revis Island really started, with opponents avoiding Revis. He still was in the top dozen of both our charting stats, but with far fewer targets. That’s how it went until he got injured in 2012. He was good but not great in 2013, but we know the Bucs’ scheme didn’t necessarily fit his strengths. Last year he was back to second in adjusted success rate, though only 25th in adjusted yards per pass. So if you leave him without safety help, he might get beat deep occasionally. But he’s 30 now. He’s not going to be as fast as he was when he was 25. He’s still as smart. He’s not as good as he was before. He’s still one of the top three cornerbacks in the league. It’s a good thing to have on your defense.
5. Who do you think the best options are for the Jets as kick returners and punt returners?
I’m not going to pretend this is an area where we have a lot of expertise. The numbers we have tend to come from small sample sizes. (Saalim Hakim had negative value on 13 kick returns last year, but that pretty much all comes from a single play, the Week 2 play where he muffed a Mason Crosby kickoff and stepped out of bounds at the 5.) Also punt returns and kickoff returns tend to be somewhat different skill sets. Kick returns require more direct straight-line speed, punt returns require more agility and decision-making skills as to when to return, when to fair catch, and when to just let the ball bounce.
Given that comment about straight-line speed, though, it would be great to see Devin Smith given a shot at kick returns.
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