Can we project Eric Decker’s 2014 production?

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Once this year’s free agency signing period got underway, the Jets moved fast to secure their top target, wide receiver Eric Decker. The addition of Decker bolsters the Jets’ much-maligned receiving corps, as he was one of the most productive receivers in the NFL over the past two seasons. However, most experts agree that it’s going to be difficult for him to replicate that kind of production now that he won’t have future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning throwing him the ball.

So, we can probably expect some kind of drop-off in terms of his statistical production. However, can we use statistical data from previous seasons to try and quantify the scale of the drop-off?

The answer, of course, is no. There are far too many variables at play that any numerical data analysis can’t account for. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t look at what these variables are and what will have the biggest influence upon how close he can get to the anticipated numbers. That’s what we’ll do after the jump.

Football Perspective Study

The best place to start is with this article from Chase Stuart on Football Perspective. You may have read this before, because I linked to it when I did my Eric Decker BGA scouting report (where I discussed similar themes in terms of free agent wideouts signed by the Jets in the “Potential Downside” section).

While Stuart’s article attempts to do what I’ve already conceded isn’t possible and project how successful Decker will be by comparing him to similar players who switched teams at the equivalent point of their career, it does give some sense of the probability of a move like this working out.

Stuart’s conclusion was that, while there were a couple of high profile receivers who give “receivers moving teams in their prime” a bad name (notably Peerless Price and Alvin Harper), Decker isn’t a close enough comparison to enough players from the past to draw any definitive conclusions. Ultimately, Stuart seemed pretty optimistic about Decker’s chances of continuing to be a productive receiver as he transitions into a number one receiver role and felt it was a good move that provided an “enormous upgrade” at the position.

If you missed this article first time around, make sure you check it out this time.

FiveThirtyEight.com Study

Taking this analysis one step further is this analysis article from ESPN-owned “data journalism” site FiveThirtyEight.com. Neil Paine writes, not about Eric Decker, but about DeSean Jackson and what we can expect from him in Washington. This is still relevant to Decker, though, because he meets the same criteria as Jackson and therefore the data and conclusions drawn therefrom can also be applied to Decker in a discussion of what we can expect from him with the Jets.

Paine and Stuart are actually former colleagues who used to write for the Pro Football Reference blog. Stuart’s site does use statistics from PFR, although his Decker analysis was just based on fantasy numbers. Paine’s analysis, on the other hand, uses PFR’s AV metric to try and quantify a player’s influence in the season before they switched teams and how much of a drop-off there was in the following season. We’ll discuss the AV metric in the next section, but Paine concludes that there is usually a drop-off, although not necessarily a large one.

Paine’s final conclusion says that the data suggests Jackson is unlikely to emulate his career-best performance and therefore, by extension, we can assume he would draw the same conclusions about Decker. Again, though, the data makes it difficult to quantify how far such numbers would typically drop.

Analyzing AV

Just by way of an explanation, here’s how the AV (Approximate Value) metric works. What AV aims to do is, as the name suggests, assign a value to each player’s statistical contribution over the course of their career. Broadly speaking, each team has a certain amount of points to divide between all the players on the roster and this is weighted so, for example, an above average offense will have more points to divide between its players than an inferior offense.

Since it works that way, it measures your contribution with regard to all 32 teams rather than your own team. So, if Decker’s 2014 numbers are identical to his 2013 numbers, but he’s making a much bigger contribution to the Jets offense in terms of his proportion of the total yardage than he was in Denver, that won’t affect his AV much. As an example, Dustin Keller’s production in 2009 was slightly below his 2008 numbers (three catches and 13 yards less) and as a result his AV dropped from 6 to 5. However, as a proportion of total passing yardage his production jumped from 16% to 22%. If you can say a player’s value to the offense as a whole increased (and that’s what we’d expect as Decker moved from being a second or third option in Denver to being the Jets’ primary option), then maybe a study based on numbers quantifying a player’s contribution to their team would provide a more interesting set of results.

Whether or not you agree with the AV metric, it does go beyond the metrics from sites like Football Outsiders or Pro Football Focus in terms of historical context, because it goes all the way back to the beginning. This makes it particularly instructive in terms of projecting a player’s Hall-of-Fame worthiness. However, in terms of being a projection tool, it doesn’t currently appear to be any more useful than just using yardage totals.

Interestingly, there is a discussion on the methodology page about introducing a touchdown bonus into the AV numbers. Had they done that, then Decker’s AV over the past two years (24 touchdowns) would be that much higher and if we did use AV to try to put a number on the amount by which his production might drop off, then including a touchdown bonus co-efficient would produce a better projection.

Mining the Comments

In the above links, there’s wisdom to be found beyond the original articles themselves, as the 538 commentariat in particular raise several issues which Paine didn’t address in his article. These are worth a read too.

Issues raised include age, having to learn a new system, chemistry with the new quarterback, recent sample size and injuries (although Paine makes a reasonable rebuttal to this one). Another big one – one which clearly applies in Decker’s case – is that the offense and/or quarterback for the new team often isn’t as good as the one that the player is leaving. The point is also well-made that even if a player’s statistical production might drop, they might make up for that with the intangible value of how much the other players on the team benefit from the defensive attention the new guy draws.

Maybe the best point of all is raised not in the comments, but by Paine himself during the article, where he admits that you would expect a drop-off from any group of players that were pre-selected based on past performance. Since the criteria they were looking for was good receivers that changed teams, you could expect the following year’s performance from that same group to regress to the mean on the whole. Add in the other issues above – everybody being one year older, in a new system and the potential for injuries to eat into statistical production and you suddenly have a raft of reasons for the expected drop-off with the new team, some of which will not apply in each individual case.

The Absolute Best and Worst Case Scenario

When I think back over the years to a receiver switching teams in his prime, two examples immediately spring to mind, neither of which are included in either of the above studies (although one is mentioned in the comments).

For the worst case scenario, consider David Boston. Boston just fell short of the AV threshold (he was at 9, but the data was based on players with an AV of 10 or above), but he’s arguably the biggest cautionary tale in terms of big money wide receiver signings. He was coming off a 70 catch, seven touchdown season where he would have exceeded 1,000 yards (and had an AV of 10 or above) if he didn’t miss a couple of games. Miami acquired him and he would play just five times for them, catching four passes.

This was certainly an unusual set of circumstances. Miami had only given up a sixth-round pick for Boston, but they inherited the last six years of a massive $47m, seven-year contract. Boston was suspended for steroid abuse, tore up his knee and missed the whole season. He was then cut, re-signed and was totally ineffective in season two as he had bulked up far too much and lost too much speed and agility.

If the spirit of these studies is to consider when a player moves from the team where he had initial success, then Boston had arguably already made his “prime years move” when he signed for San Diego. That came after a season where he missed eight games, but he had a 98-catch, 1,598 yard season in the year prior to that. Average out the production over those two seasons and his performance in San Diego was what you’d usually expect based on the rest of this data: A slight drop-off. (For the record, he was traded for his laziness in practice and “moody personality”. I think we can guess where that moodiness came from.)

The Boston case was such a unique set of circumstances that it holds little predictive use. However, it does serve to underscore how difficult it is to make any kind of definitive projection because you never know what’s going to affect the outcome.

For your best case scenario, consider Santana Moss. Moss went from the Jets to Washington and exploded for career highs in receptions (84) and yardage (1,483). Moss isn’t included in the 538 dataset because, like Boston, he had achieved an AV of over 10 in a previous season, but not in the one preceding his move. (You might recall me writing several times before about how disappointed I was with Moss’s performances and effort during the 2004 season). Moss’s improvement in AV from his last year in New York to his first year in Washington was far better than the best two cases in Paine’s dataset (Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson).

There were a few reasons for this, but the biggest of these was scheme fit. Moss, one of the league’s top deep threats was leaving a team where the head coach and offensive coordinator’s conservative nature and the lack of arm strength of their quarterback meant that they hardly ever threw deep. That’s another factor not taken into account above. If anything, that should give us more confidence that Decker’s performance won’t deviate too far from expectations, because he’s a solid route runner that should be capable of getting open in any system.

As I said, there were a few reasons for this, so just for completeness, the others as I see them were as follows: First of all, Moss was traded, so unlike most of the players in this study, his final year with his old team wasn’t a contract year for him. That might explain what I considered to be disappointing effort that season. Secondly, he was bothered by a hamstring injury in the middle of the 2004 season, so perhaps that hurt his production.

Conclusions

On the basis of these two studies, which use similar but not identical methodology and data sets, we can surmise that a player in Decker’s situation often sees their statistical production drop off in their first year with their new team. Based on the data sets analyzed by Paine and Stuart, the average drop off doesn’t seem to be so significant that the Jets would end up disappointed with their financial outlay.

However, the most important takeaway from this is that Decker’s production might drop off by more than the average or by less than the average. Or maybe it will increase. There’s no way of knowing and there are plenty of factors at play. While we can predict some of these things with reasonable accuracy, there are others where it is simply impossible to know what will happen.

While there are a few things you could do to take this type of analysis one step further, it’s probably not worthwhile in the grand scheme of things. The Jets may hope they got a good one in Decker, but the fates will decide whether or not this proves to be a good move. While history may suggest there’s a good chance, there are no guarantees either way.




74 comments
Brendan
Brendan

This was great, Bent. Maybe Decker's fair price tag will make living with that drop-off a lot easier for some fans (not hopeful). 

NYCPEinGermany
NYCPEinGermany

Awesome use of the word commentariat. I nominate that for the chat password.


Did they include Keyshawn in the analysis? If I remember correctly, his last year here wasn't as good as his prior one because of QB issues, then he did solidly (but not spectacularly) well his first year in TB.

lagoo
lagoo

I really think there's a good chance darqueze Dennard falls to us. He's mocked to go to pit and St. Louis in most drafts but both those teams are in serious need for offensive talent and I think Dallas will take a safety. Fingers crossed.

Tyrone Garcia
Tyrone Garcia

65catches for 825 yards typical Jets receiving yards 

Pat d
Pat d

You can't successfully project any players production.

funkymonk
funkymonk

Hmm, Browns signed Nate Burleson. Pizza incident notwithstanding, I think he would have been a solid pickup for us, didn't realize he was still a FA. I would have taken him over Ford (Burleson also got a 1 year deal).

funkymonk
funkymonk

So, regardless of what happens in the draft, we're going to need to add a veteran/depth TE at some point. I'm surprised I haven't heard anyone mention Dustin Keller. He's a free agent, and because of that gruesome knee injury, he'll end up signing a one year post-injury prove-it contract (aka The Idzik Special). I have no idea where he is in his recovery, but possibly a name to keep in mind once training camp rolls around. He wasn't worth the contract the Dolphins gave him last year, but I think he's a solid pass catcher who sometimes made Sanchez look like a real QB.

boose2
boose2

I think Decker will be solid.  Also think that Decker will benefit from having another weapon around that could possibly take the heat off of him.  Revis 2x, Talib, and other team's #1 CBs will definitely keep Decker busy.  I mean unless we hit a home run at WR in this year's draft, I don't see another WR being able to take that attention off of him for us.


Since we haven't tossed around this idea for a while.....how about JIMMY GRAHAM?!  Wait until after the draft (esp if the Jets feel good about how the draft shaped out).  We pay Jimmy enough over the first 1-2 years so that the Saints can't match, give them our '15 & '16 1st rd picks, & snag easily the biggest playmaker of the offseason???


Disclaimer:  I don't see this happening, & I'm not really sure how I would feel about it.  But I'm not going to lie, it intrigues me.  Wondering how others feel...

lagoo
lagoo

He's a slot guy all the way we have kerley who is better IMO

Pat d
Pat d

or Sanchez made him look like a real TE

Bent
Bent moderator

@Hanknaples  Coaching salary figures sometimes NEVER hit the public domain.  Unlike player salaries you don't have any obligation to disclose these anywhere that the media has access to (like statutory accounts or the NFLPA database).


Can't help you there, but I'm sure you're right that it's a lot ... and he pretty much deserves it, whatever he's getting.

funkymonk
funkymonk

@jake100  Uh oh, Willie Colon's a crip! Look at that gang sign he's flashing! Someone call the media!


</sarcasm>

Pat d
Pat d

Graham is by far the play maker I want the Jets to go after.

bradysucks
bradysucks

I would never under any circumstances trade 2 first round picks for ANY tight end including Jimmy Graham

If I endorsed trading 2 1st round picks it would ONLY be for a QB

funkymonk
funkymonk

@McGeorge Right, or something similar to Ford's deal, where nothing is guaranteed until the season starts. With all those 6th rounders, I could easily see us drafting two TEs (or converting a WR), going into camp with them/sudfeld/pantale/veteran, and seeing what sticks. COMPETITION!

Bent
Bent moderator

@bradysucks  If it was just two first round picks and they're late picks and future picks, then the actual value you're trading away (assuming a one-round discount for each year) is equivalent to one current year mid-second rounder.  That's all.  Would you give up the Jets' second round pick for Graham?


However, you'd ALSO be committing yourself to a $10m+ deal for a guy who's just started to show signs of breaking down, which would be extremely risky.

Hazard2012
Hazard2012

@bradysucks  


As above, the point is...we don't have to trade future picks to upgrade at TE.   Any of the top four TE's in this draft can fill that kind of role...maybe not to Graham's level, at least not at first...but certainly to the degree where they're weapons to be feared in an evolving offense.  All it costs is a first or second round pick in this draft.   



boose2
boose2

@jake100 @boose2  


Of course not ...just hypothetically, since we do have the resources to pull this off, I was wondering how people would react if we did haha


Bent
Bent moderator

@NYCPEinGermany @Bent @bradysucks  


That's just the way it works.  To get a pick NOW you have to give up more value in a future year.  The inherent value comes from the fact that you start to receive the returns on that pick one year sooner.

karlhungus
karlhungus

@Bent Channeling my inner Chris Farley........

THAT.......WAS AWESOME............

Steven Windeler
Steven Windeler

@Bent @bradysucks I would trade my 2nd round pick every year for next years first. That way after the original year I'd have 2 firsts every year. That may be the formula, but I'm not sure any team is actually taking that deal though unless there's a player they're desperate for on draft day.

NYCPEinGermany
NYCPEinGermany

@Bent @bradysucks  

Bent, - you wrote "If it was just two first round picks and they're late picks and future picks, then the actual value you're trading away (assuming a one-round discount for each year) is equivalent to one current year mid-second rounder."

Can you please explain a bit about the one round discount for each year you mentioned? I wasn't aware of this. Why is next year's first only the value of this year's 2nd? That first will still be pretty valuable next year, no? Is it simply that you're theoretically improving enough (because of the extra pick) so drafting later in the round? Still, next year's late round 1st still seems to me to have more value than this year's mid-round 2nd. thanks

boose2
boose2

How many times have you seen a TE drafted in the 1st RD of fantasy football? I've seen it once...& it was last year... & it was Jimmy Graham... & he had 1200 yds & 16 TDs...

bradysucks
bradysucks

Bent

When did I say I'd trade a CURRENT 1st & 4th rounder for Jimmy Graham? I did not specify.

I said I'd trade a 1st for Jimmy Graham and (at most) a 4th rounder. I would not do it in the same draft year. I probably wouldn't do it period because as I said before I do not think it is difficult to find productive tight ends who can help you win. I think the Jets have done a terrible job drafting offense. It is clear though that plenty of other teams around the NFL have productive tight ends.

boose2
boose2

Or am I reading wrong?

boose2
boose2

So if I'm reading this right Bent, It would cost less in draft compensation for Jimmy Graham than it would to trade up for a player like Watkins or Evans? I realize the salary differences, but still...

Bent
Bent moderator

@bradysucks  So you wouldn't trade 2015 and 2016 first rounders, but you would trade a current 1st and fourth?


You'd be easy to fleece in a trade.  I'll happily give your team my 2016 first rounder and my 2015 first rounder for your 1st and fourth and you'll think you're getting a bargain.


Now I trade to any of the other 30 teams that follow the draft value chart with one year discounting for future picks.  My second rounder this year for a 2015 first rounder and my 2015 second rounder for a 2016 first rounder.


Then I trade the extra 4th rounder you gave me for a 2015 3rd rounder and then I trade that extra 2015 3rd rounder for a 2016 second rounder.


I just picked up an extra first rounder and all it cost me was one second rounder.


Also, I know that the picks I got from you would be later than the ones you got from me because my team would inevitably better than yours because of my awesome GM abilities!


Plus I know I can deal with you again in future because you still think you got a bargain.

Hazard2012
Hazard2012

@boose2  


Idzik doesn't strike me as the kind of GM who's eager to get the ole band back together.   He didn't bite on Revis or Cro and isn't going to on Keller or Tone.   


Idzik wants to build his own team, not reassemble some one else's 

boose2
boose2

Honestly, I like the idea of bringing back Tone, & drafting a WR in one of 1st 2-3 RDs. Then the Graham idea becomes even more appealing haha. Teams will have to pick their poison. Shut down Jimmy by putting your #1 CB on him, Decker goes back to being a #2 bec he's covered by a #2...Then Holmes & Kerley are facing Nickels & Safeties.

Again, hard not to flirt with this idea even though it won't happen. Tone, when healthy, is a #1 caliber WR himself... just been so long since we've seen it.

Hazard2012
Hazard2012

@bradysucks  


They certainly need another top receiver or two, but I think in today's NFL the TE can be as valuable a weapon as any WR...especially in the red zone and in playing 'above the rim'.   I'll take one of each, thank you.   

bradysucks
bradysucks

Cumberland is a pretty good TE who has gotten better every year. I wouldn't mind drafting Amaro in round 2 to compliment Cumby.

I genuinely think the Jets need the most help at WR where the depth is terrible.

Hazard2012
Hazard2012

@boose2 @Hazard2012 @bradysucks  


I have to admit that getting one of these top TE's would be one of my priorities in this draft...even at the expense of losing Cooks or Beckham.   In your scenario I'd take my CB first, the TE next, and then hope I can still get a Moncrief, Matthews or Bryant third.      

boose2
boose2

@Hazard2012 @boose2 @bradysucks  


All of this, hypothetically, of course, would be happening after the draft.  Say if we drafted CB 1st, WR 2nd, & missed out on the top 2-3 TEs in this draft...

Hazard2012
Hazard2012

@boose2 @bradysucks  


Not arguing that...but do the Jets really need a Cadillac of TE's just now...given where they are in the building process, and particularly re their fledgling O and lingering questions at QB?   


And can any of us say, with certainty, that Ebron and ASJ, especially can't become Cadillac's or at least Lincolns themselves in a few years?  

boose2
boose2

@Hazard2012 @boose2  


I agree.. I don't see Idzik doing this, either.  But then again, how much do we really know about Idzik...

boose2
boose2

@bradysucks  


We aren't talking about just a TE that can contribute here, tho.  We are talking about Jimmy Graham.  The Cadillac of TE's.....

Hazard2012
Hazard2012

@boose2  


Tabling the TE alternatives in this draft for a minute, I just don't see this as something Idzik would do; especially knowing that he's going to have to cut comparable deals with Mo, BossHogg and Coples in the foreseeable future.   

boose2
boose2

@Bent @bradysucks  


Jimmy Graham is a playmaker.  I would put him in the top 5 non-QB offensive playmakers.  The 41 TDs over his first 4 years is just ridiculous.  Drew Brees or not.


Gronk is making about 9 mil per year right now...& I'm pretty sure that makes him highest paid TE.  Jimmy Graham doesn't think he is a TE, or at least doesn't think he should be paid like one.  Probably will want around $12-13 million a year, but if he loses his grievance with the NFL, the Saints can keep the tag on him for the next 2 years - $7 mil this year, & around $8.5 mil next year.


With that said, I think your salary prediction is right on, Bent.  $9.5 to $11.5 for 5-6 years is my guess for how much he is looking for.  If we were able to front load the contract, I think it could be a potentially great risk.  But it certainly is a risk.

bradysucks
bradysucks

I would trade one 1st round pick for Graham and perhaps a 4th rounder (at most) as well. I don't think trading multiple draft picks in the first 2 rounds of a draft makes sense under any circumstances unless you trade for a QB

I also don't think it is difficult to find tight ends who can contribute through free agency or the draft. The NY Jets have not drafted well on offense for years and years....There have been a large number of productive tight ends and receivers they could have drafted or signed in free agency but chose NOT to

Jason_OTC
Jason_OTC

@Bent @boose2 @jake100  I think the report was $22 over three years which is not a top line deal that is going to take a player away. On a 3 year total that comes in just under Mangold. They need to do that over two year to make them consider matching.

Bent
Bent moderator

@boose2 @jake100  My first reaction was that I thought the deadline for an offer sheet is just before the draft which would mean that your plan doesn't work.  However, I just checked the rules and was surprised to note that transition players (ie Alex Mack) can be signed all the way up to July and non-exclusive franchise players (like Graham) can actually be signed all the way up to November.  


Of course, the offer sheet for RFAs IS just before the draft.


According to reports, the Jags are weighing up a deal for Mack with $22m guaranteed but the Browns would supposedly match rather than lose him for nothing.

Hazard2012
Hazard2012

@boose2 @jake100  


Why go to that expense when there's every possibility that Ebron, ASJ, Amaro or Niklas can do for our offense what Graham does for the Saints, or Gronk's does for NE?