In defeat, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins earned the vast respect of the New York Giants Sunday.Washington’s deplorable secondary gave up a 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz in the final 1:40 to blow the Redskins’ and Griffin’s strong performance in a 27-23 loss. However, Griffin was outstanding in all phases of the game. He finished 20-of-28 with 258 yards passing, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Down by four points, he led the Redskins on a go-ahead drive by completing a fourth-down pass for a first down after escaping a rush and a few plays later tossed a perfect 30-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss for the leadHe also rushed for 89 rushing yards on nine carries and showed veteran poise in the pocket.Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who referred to Griffin as “Bob” earlier this season has now taken to calling him “sir.”“That guy is flat-out unbelievable,” Umenyiora said to The Washington Post after the Giants 27-23 win. “That’s the best QB we’ve played this year.”That’s high praise when you look at New York’s first six opponents: Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Francisco. Tony Romo, Cam Newton and Michael Vick are all, based on hefty contracts or draft status (or both), “franchise QBs.” That said, if we’re starting a team, we’re taking RG3 over all of them.Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Griffin “takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit (as a defensive player).” And teammate Chris Canty added: “He’s faster in person than he is on tape. He’s very, very fast. He’s a very talented young man. He’s going to have a lot of success in this league.”Finally, Giants coach Tom Coughlin offered this: “(He) looks like the fastest guy on tape and he’s certainly the fastest guy on the field. When he pulls the ball down, when you break down contain and he goes outside, you are just praying someone is going to run him out of bounds.”When the coach for the defending Super Bowl champs is reduced to praying you know you might be onto something. Whether it happens this year for a young Redskins team is another issue, but the first time in a long time Washington’s quarterback situation appears to be settled.
Every four years, the basketball world holds its collective breath and waits for LeBron James to decide which team he’ll carry to the NBA Finals on an annual basis next. We’ve been through all this before: In 2010, James took his talents from Cleveland to South Beach (where he won two championships). In 2014, he went back home to the Cavs (and won yet another ring). So … what’s in store for LeBron as a free agent now? We can’t shed any light on what team he will pick this summer, but we can offer a little advice about which team he should pick.Using our CARMELO player projections and a little modeling of each team’s salary-cap situation, we created 30 hypothetical LeBron James free-agency scenarios, one for each NBA franchise. Not every team can afford to outright sign LeBron, of course, so we had to make some trades1Which we made sure were roughly balanced according to each player’s future projected upside (although we did lean toward best-case scenarios for LeBron’s new teammates, since it seems unlikely that he would join a squad whose roster had been badly stripped). Also, some situations required LeBron to accept the opt-in clause in his contract to facilitate a trade, which he may not do in real life. Finally, certain potentially impactful draft picks (such as Cleveland’s Collin Sexton and Philadelphia’s Zhaire Smith) were considered, but lesser rookies were not considered. and shuffle around some salaries to squeeze him onto each roster — sometimes at the cost of many other promising players. (On the other hand, a few teams even managed to snag another big-time free agent — such as Paul George — to accompany LeBron, although that arrangement was rare.) Based on each team’s projected talent level and average age2Weighted by the projected wins added by each player. after adding LeBron, we then estimated its odds of winning at least one NBA championship over the next four years — which, based on LeBron’s history, is presumably how long he’d sign on to a new city.Of course, winning rings is only part of the equation behind any LeBron decision. The other half: legacy. How will a new team affect how James is perceived in the greater pantheon of NBA legends? To measure that, we took an informal straw poll of FiveThirtyEight staffers and friends of the site, asking them to rate how much each destination would help or hurt James’s legacy, in a narrative sense.3From FiveThirtyEight, we solicited ratings from editor-in-chief Nate Silver, senior sportswriter Chris Herring, senior editor Geoff Foster, deputy editor Micah Cohen, video producer Tony Chow and general editor Sara Ziegler. (I participated in this exercise as well.) We also got input from Ben Alamar of ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Jody Avirgan of ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcasts, Ian Levy of Nylon Calculus and freelance sportswriter Owen Phillips. On our scale, a “0” means going to that team would damage James’s reputation among historical greats, while a “10” means that making the move would benefit it. (Admittedly, it’s not the most scientific metric in the world. OK, fine, it’s not at all scientific.)Finally, we merged together the two sets of ratings — the coldly analytical probability of a championship and the subjectively emotional legacy grades — to help come up with the perfect place for LeBron to spend the next phase of his career.4Certainly, there are considerations that our method ignores, including James’s family and the relative market sizes of his potential destinations.Don’t even think about itWe can cross a few choices off the list for LeBron right away. Some teams, such as the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings, neither add to the narrative arc of LeBron’s career nor offer him any real chance to win future championships. Others, such as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, provide a very good chance to win but would actively damage LeBron’s legacy if he signed there, since they’d require him to stoop to Kevin Durant’s level and join a talented longtime rival. Still others, such as the New York Knicks, would be great picks in terms of narrative — except that they’ve botched their rosters so badly that even with LeBron, winning would be nearly impossible.Those five teams and 16 others5The rest are the Thunder, Wizards, Raptors, Bucks, Bulls, Hornets, Nets, Nuggets, Pistons, Clippers, Blazers, Pacers, Mavericks, Magic, Grizzlies and Hawks. have nothing to offer James in either area that another team in the league can’t at least match. So according to the principle of Pareto efficiency — which says we can rule out any destinations for which there is another choice that improves LeBron’s standing on one dimension without reducing it on the other dimension — he shouldn’t waste his time even thinking about them as potential landing spots.Sorry, Knicks fans: Maybe they’ll be able to make a better pitch in four years.Fine options … but not the bestNext up, we have a group of teams that James either is reportedly considering or should consider — they’re roughly as good as the ones he is thinking about. These teams are still not Pareto optimal, in the sense that there are others out there that can offer a greater chance of winning a ring and/or better narrative value, but these clubs are close enough to think about.The Heat, which are nearly $20 million over the salary cap even if they renounce all their free agents, probably couldn’t sign LeBron this summer without some massive wheeling and dealing to trade away contracts. But they could pick him up in a trade if he opts into the final year of his Cavs contract and Cleveland works a deal with Miami, which would probably require the Heat to send away such valuable pieces as Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and/or Josh Richardson in the process.After all that roster-gutting, the Heat would be left with a supporting cast that isn’t much better than the one James had in Cleveland this year, so LeBron wouldn’t stand to gain much on the championship front by choosing Miami. The only reason Miami even ranks in this group at all is that it had the sixth-best narrative grade of any NBA team, perhaps because we’ve seen LeBron in a Heat jersey before and it would be a second homecoming of sorts. But aside from that (and the fact that our algorithm isn’t accounting for Pat Riley’s knack for recruiting star talent), it’s tough to recommend a second stint in Miami for James.This is admittedly a strange option, since most stars who find themselves on the T-Wolves have eventually left Minnesota before all was said and done. The Wolves are also capped out and would need to go the opt-in, then-trade route with James and the Cavs to snag The King. But depending on who the Wolves would send to Cleveland — dare we say Andrew Wiggins, back to the team who drafted him? — James could have a very strong talent base to work with. Even in the more likely scenario, that James is dealt for Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng for salary-matching purposes,6Which, in our calculations, we considered much more likely than a James-for-Wiggins swap. (We did assume Minnesota would get someone back from Cleveland to balance things out, such as Larry Nance Jr.) with another cheap/decent piece coming back from Cleveland to balance things out, the Wolves would have a 50-50 shot at a title with LeBron over the next four seasons.So from the perspective of winning ballgames, James could certainly do worse than jetting to the Twin Cities. Our legacy grade for the T-Wolves, however, ranks 14th in the league, meaning that they’re sort of a neutral destination. He can probably do better.If James is going to join up with a younger superstar, he might as well go all-out and pick Anthony Davis as his running mate. CARMELO projects Davis to be the eleventh-most valuable player in the league over the next seven seasons, and his game could mesh with James’s in interesting ways. Add in the possibility that New Orleans also re-signs DeMarcus Cousins, and the potential exists for James to forge a new Big Three in the Big Easy.That team would have basically a coin flip’s chance of winning at least one NBA title over the next four years, and the Pelicans would boast a stronger narrative value for LeBron’s career arc than the T-Wolves, according to our straw poll. (Maybe simply because New Orleans is viewed as a more exciting city than Minneapolis?) It’s a long shot, but James knows better than anybody about the championship potential of three major stars on the same team.Surprised to see the Lakers in this tier of teams? I was, too. After all, Los Angeles is the betting favorite to land James this summer — particularly since he might be able to lure at least one other superstar (Paul George) to join him, if not two (if only the Spurs would cooperate on that front). Of course, there’s no “potential to make boatloads of money outside of basketball” variable in these ratings — we’re not factoring in James’s stated desire to follow Michael Jordan on the path to billionaire status.But, realistically speaking, the Lakers might not be as strong an on-court contender as we think, even if they do snag both James and George. To facilitate that deal, they probably wouldn’t be able to bring back free-agent forward Julius Randle for next year’s team, leaving the two stars with an extremely young supporting cast of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. That’s a promising young core, but our research has shown that teams need more star power than that to realistically contend for titles.In the parlance of my boss, Nate Silver, James is an “Alpha” (meaning a top-tier star) and George is probably a “Gamma” (the third, and lowest, tier of star).7According to Nate’s research, Gammas add between 2.0 and 3.5 points per 100 possessions to a team’s efficiency margin while on the court. George was projected to be a Gamma going into the season and added 2.9 points per 100 to Oklahoma City’s margin last season, so I think it’s a fair designation. Unless one of LA’s other young players develops into at least a Gamma in his own right — and CARMELO thinks that’s a possibility only with Ball — the LeBron/PG-13 Lakers would still be a bit short of a championship talent base. There’s no denying the narrative value of James reviving one of the league’s proudest franchises, but there are probably better destinations if he wants to win rings while he’s still playing at his highest level.If the Lakers are being overvalued as a destination for James, the Jazz are undervalued. LeBron and his people don’t seem to be even entertaining offers from Utah — not that we’d expect them to — but they should be. If James joins the Jazz, which he could do as a free agent if Utah finds takers for veterans such as Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko in separate trades,8Rubio and Jerebko have expiring contracts, which shouldn’t too be hard to move. Crowder, who has two years left on his deal and is coming off a disappointing season, might be a tougher sell, but he could still be useful in the right situation. he’d find himself surrounded by rising young star Donovan Mitchell and reigning defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert — making for an underrated Big Three — plus some intriguing supporting pieces such as Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale.The weakness for the Jazz comes in terms of LeBron’s legacy-building, where Utah ranked only 10th in our straw poll. It’s tough to even think of the last veteran of any repute who willingly switched teams to join the Jazz — Pete Maravich, Bernard King and Jeff Hornacek all arrived via trade, so it may have been Carlos Boozer in 2004 — and the lasting image of Utah on the championship stage is Jordan releasing his final shot as a Chicago Bull over Bryon Russell. But just the same, Utah’s current potential to blossom around James could provide him with an interesting way to one-up MJ, finally bringing a title to his longtime foil.The top fourStrong candidates though they are, each of the teams listed above can still be beaten in both the championship-potential and narrative departments by at least one other squad. That cannot be said, however, about the following teams, meaning that each is operating at the Pareto frontier: LeBron cannot maximize things in one dimension without sacrificing along the other dimension.But that doesn’t mean each choice below is created equal. Here are our four best picks for LeBron, roughly in reverse order from the weakest combination of winning plus legacy to the strongest:Just as they were back in 2010, the Cavaliers are the sentimental choice. Cleveland ranks far and away as No. 1 in our legacy poll,9The Knicks are a very distant No. 2. with the lowest standard deviation in that grade as well. (So, pretty much everyone agreed that returning to Cleveland would have great narrative value for James’s career.) In fact, perhaps the only thing that could top LeBron’s 2014 return to the Cavs and his subsequent title run would be if he stayed with them now and continued to battle against the Warriors on the off-chance that he could engineer another monumental upset.However, LeBron’s championship ambitions may have outgrown the Cavs once again. This roster is capped out ($45 million over the salary cap if they sign LeBron to a max deal10Assuming that James inks a five-year deal worth $205 million.) and significantly over the luxury tax line as well. It’s unlikely that Cleveland would be able to go into 2018-19 with anything better than the group that stabilized the team’s season after a big trade-deadline shakeup. That crew proved (barely) good enough to win the East but was crushed in the NBA Finals despite James’s heroics, and it’s primed to decline further as time passes.11Rookie Collin Sexton should help eventually, but he probably won’t develop into a superstar. Our metrics give LeBron a mere 1-in-4 chance of winning another title over the next four years if he stays in Cleveland, roughly the same odds as he’d have in Orlando, Atlanta or Memphis. It might be time for James to take his talents elsewhere again.The Spurs are one of the most interesting choices for LeBron, given how glowingly he has spoken of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich (and vice versa), as well as the place the Spurs have in the mythology of James’s career. To join the team, LeBron would probably take the opt-in-and-trade route, with the Spurs potentially sending some combination of Danny Green and the injured/disgruntled Kawhi Leonard back to balance the salaries and talent being swapped.The Spurs have some cap flexibility, so they could snag James via trade and, say, re-sign free agent forward Kyle Anderson, too. In essence, they’d be adding LeBron to the majority of a core that won 47 games without Leonard last season, which isn’t a bad selling point. Combine that with a strong narrative score (third-best in our poll), and the Spurs have a lot going for them in the LeBron derby. Having said that, they might not even be the best choice within the state of Texas …If LeBron wants to win right away, the Houston Rockets are the obvious choice. The salary-cap machinations would be involved — James would have to opt into the final year of his Cavs contract, and the teams would need to work a trade that basically guts Houston’s entire roster, all while the Rockets would probably want to simultaneously re-sign Chris Paul and Clint Capela to new contracts as well. The resulting luxury-tax bill would be enormous, and it’s not clear how James, Paul and James Harden would play together. But if it all came together — and last year’s Rockets could help assuage some of those concerns about fit — this Houston superteam might instantly have a better NBA-title shot than even the Warriors (!) do.12Seriously. CARMELO thinks a core of James, Harden, Paul and Capela would win 66 games even if surrounded by Ryan Anderson and stray minimum-salary finds; as currently constituted, the Warriors project to win about 60 games next season. And any playoff experience adjustments might not tilt things back in Golden State’s direction much, since the Rockets would be adding a guy who has made the NBA Finals eight times in a row.Perhaps the only question is whether the potential for championships outweighs the negative effects such a move might have on the narrative arc of LeBron’s career. According to our straw poll, Houston was the ninth-most-damaging potential location for James’s legacy — though it was also the most polarizing destination in the poll. Through one lens, James’s suiting up for the Rockets could be viewed as “taking the easy way out” to join up with other stars. But it could also be spun as an Avengers-style team-up, with the mission of ending the Warriors’ stranglehold on the league.The Philadelphia 76ers don’t offer James the best odds of winning a title during his next contract, nor do they provide his best narrative potential. But the Sixers are the team with the best mix of both factors — and that’s why, out of all 30 possible destinations, Philadelphia should be LeBron’s next home.The Sixers have an unmatched base of budding talent in center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons — the closest thing the NBA has to the Orlando Magic’s Shaquille O’Neal/Penny Hardaway tandem of yesteryear. They also boast improving young forward Dario Saric, 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and unsung supporting star (at least, in the eyes of the advanced metrics) Robert Covington. And Philly has the cap space to sign James outright if it can find a taker for Jerryd Bayless’s expiring contract and perhaps either Justin Anderson or Richaun Holmes in related trades. So to bring LeBron aboard, it wouldn’t have to gut its entire roster (but would probably have to sacrifice pending free-agent shooter JJ Redick).The Sixers also have a strong narrative argument to present The King. Philly ranks among the league’s most historic franchises, having won the third-most games of any NBA club ever (trailing only the Celtics and Lakers). Yet LeBron would be no bandwagon-jumper if he signed there — the team hasn’t won an NBA title since 1983, when another former MVP (Moses Malone) joined forces with Julius Erving and company to win a championship. According to our straw poll, Philadelphia had the fourth-best legacy-building potential for LeBron of any team in the league, in addition to the third-best championship potential. For our money, that’s a difficult combo to beat.Yes, there are real concerns about how Simmons, a ball-dominant point guard who literally never shoots 3-pointers, would coexist with James, who has tended to run his own show with the ball (and who had to work years to refine his shooting touch). Fultz was a mess most of his rookie season, Embiid has a long history of injuries (plus his personality is an acquired taste), and the team is rolling with coach Brett Brown as GM right now, after Bryan Colangelo resigned amid a scandal involving burner Twitter accounts. But every destination has its flaws. Philly gives James the best combination of championship potential and possible upside for his brand as an all-time NBA legend. That’s why, this time around, LeBron should take his talents to South Broad.
That cohort has a similar number of great games but also a large bump around QBR 20, which are bad games by any measure — a bump that the Luck group avoids. Not surprisingly, the Luck group has a career win percentage of 59 percent, while the former cohort is only 53 percent. In the NFL, interceptions (a key component of a low QBR score) can drag a team, and a QBR, down.Now compare both of those groupings to the one with Ben Roethlisberger, Nick Foles, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson.They, too, have a bump around QBR 25, but their peak checks in somewhere around a QBR of 85 — a score that gives a team a very good chance to win. That elevated number would explain why the group’s 64 percent win percentage is the highest of the three groups previously mentioned. The occasional bad game won’t break a quarterback as long as his good performances are strong enough.Other quarterbacks might not like their company. Alex Smith chafes at the idea that he’s a “game manager,” and talent scout Russ Lande thinks he might not be. “Smith is often referred to as [a game manager], but physically, he doesn’t limit you,” he says. “You don’t have to make him a game manager. I think it’s just that some quarterbacks have that philosophy, ‘I’m never going to throw it where it’s a risk.’ It’s more based on their mentality than their physical skill set.” And yet the stats group Smith with E.J. Manuel, Jason Campbell, Josh Freeman, Josh McCown, Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Sanchez. Among that company, perhaps game manager is a generous term.One of the most interesting groups involves a player who is no longer in the league. Favre’s games after 2006 landed in the same cohort as post-2006 Michael Vick and Vince Young, two quarterbacks known for making plays with their feet and not much else. We can explain this by breaking down Favre against Dalton. Although their average QBR is nearly identical, the vast majority of Dalton’s games fall between a QBR of 25 and 75. Favre, the ultimate freelancer, has a big bump around 15 QBR and another between 80 and 85. Dalton won’t win a team the game, but he probably won’t lose it. Favre, however, is likely to do either.That difference results from playing style, according to John Westenhaver, president of Football Evaluations and a long-time quarterback talent evaluator. An average quarterback makes about half of his throws using nontraditional mechanics because he’s forced out of the pocket or rushed, but the former Green Bay Packers star made many more than that, often to his detriment. “Favre, to me, put that to the extreme. Although he’s passed for a gazillion yards, I think he leads the league in interceptions.7Favre threw 336 career interceptions, well ahead of second-place George Blanda’s 277. Sometimes you have to make a decision: Am I going to throw from this alternative platform, or is it best to select some other alternative, which may be to take the sack, throw the ball out of bounds, run the ball?”Rivers and Luck offer similar stories. Their career QBRs — 61.5 and 60.8, respectively — aren’t quite Manning’s 76.1 or Brady’s 70.1, but they are good enough to rank the pair in the top 10 of quarterbacks whom we examined. Both can make all the throws and post huge numbers, but there’s a general perception that Luck — a Stanford graduate who has the reputation of being a football savant — makes fewer mistakes. We see this in their game curves. Luck has fewer bad games but fewer truly exceptional ones as well, while Rivers has more bad games and great ones, with less middle ground.This season’s playoff picture provides a look at one possible future. Whereas Rivers watched from home, Luck led the Indianapolis Colts to a win over Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals, then an upset over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. He didn’t win the games with his play, but more importantly, he didn’t lose them. In other words, a team might not need a quarterback with a huge bump on the right side of the graph to prevail in the NFL, but one with a peak on the left probably dooms it to failure.We made an interactive tool with all the quarterback curves. Click here to graph density curves of your choosing, and look at the splits for home and away games. There’s a larger sample size of QBs in the interactive, which means players like JaMarcus Russell are involved. Because who doesn’t want to find out which QBs are most similar to JaMarcus Russell?CORRECTION (Jan. 16, 1:46 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated Rivers’ and Luck’s career QBRs. Each quarterback is given his own density curve, which represents the distribution of game-by-game QBR. The dark black curve in each figure represents the average density for all quarterbacks in that group. The groups are designed such that quarterbacks within the same group are similar, but from one group to the next, there are differences in the centers, shapes and/or spreads of each quarterback’s density curves.Some groupings weren’t a surprise. Brady, Rodgers and Peyton Manning — widely considered the three best quarterbacks in the NFL and the trio ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in average QBR — make up one group with a curve that spikes dramatically as QBR rises.Other groupings, however, offered some counterintuitive results. One cohort consists of five players: Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Schaub, Teddy Bridgewater and Tony Romo. Each quarterback in this group had more bad games and fewer exceptional ones than the Brady/Manning/Rodgers set, but he posted more strong games than poor ones over his career.This would suggest that if you’re going to call one of these quarterbacks “elite,” you need to at least consider that all of them are or were. Even though the narrative around Kaepernick, Schaub and Romo is that they’re inconsistent, their curves suggest otherwise.Compare that with a larger group that includes Cam Newton, David Garrard, Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco and Robert Griffin III.6Given that company, would you want to pay Flacco’s $120.6 million contract? This weekend, two perennial MVP candidates and two up-and-coming stars will be under center in NFL conference championship games. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the establishment; Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are the hopeful usurpers. They’ve all reached the conference title game, in part, because they’re among the highest-performing quarterbacks in football — all falling within a career average Total Quarterback Rating of 59.6 and 70.1.1ESPN’s QBR, measured on a scale from 0 to 100, debuted in 2006. It’s not retrofitted to quarterback performances before 2006.But that’s just an average, and sometimes averages can deceive. Turning several observations into a single metric like a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) obscures some information. For example, post-2006 Brett Favre2His final five seasons. (average QBR: 52.1) and Andy Dalton (52.0) have roughly identical numbers, but would anyone think of Favre when thinking of Dalton?A more thorough analysis makes use of the complete set of observations. The distribution of each quarterback’s QBR can offer a more thorough understanding of performance. When we look at quarterbacks this way, we find some players who consistently minimize bad games and others who can be brilliant one week and horrible the next, regularly handicapping their teams.3Quarterbacks who post a single-game QBR above 90 in a game win 90 percent of the time, whereas a score of less than 10 corresponds with a loss more than nine times out of 10.Comparing each quarterback’s distribution of game-by-game QBR can be done using a density curve, which is used to estimate the fraction of a player’s performances that occurred in a given interval — in this case, the probability that a quarterback had a QBR of a specific number in any individual game.4For a description of density curves and its application to hockey players, see this post on the blog WAR on Ice. We looked at the 45 quarterbacks with at least 10 starts in the past two years or 50 career starts since 2006, and found that the quarterbacks stratified into 10 categories.5We used k-means clustering on different percentiles of each quarterback’s distribution. Although there is no correct value for k in implementing k-means, we found the best performance with between k=8 and k=10. As the curves looked much easier to interpret with k=10, we went with that. Once we had fixed 10 clusters, we ran the algorithm about a dozen times and used the clustering with the highest within-cluster similarity of those iterations. This helps justify the choice of player groups but doesn’t exactly imply that the QB groups are perfectly stable from one iteration to the next. That is because the k-means algorithm is non-deterministic — it doesn’t give the same answer with each run.
49ers1989Roger CraigJerry Rice3,0436,55046.5 TEAMYEARRBWRRB+WRTEAMSHARE Packers2014Eddie LacyJordy Nelson3,0856,36448.5 Packers1995Edgar BennettRobert Brooks3,2335,96754.2 * Projected for the full seasonSource: Pro-Football-Referencetball-Reference.com Texans2008Steve SlatonAndre Johnson3,2346,32051.2 Rams2000Marshall FaulkTorry Holt3,8317,33552.2 Cowboys1991Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin3,3445,37462.2 Cowboys1995Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin3,7515,94263.1 Colts1999Edgerrin JamesMarvin Harrison3,8065,84265.2 Their share of total team production1Based on yards from scrimmage. is increasing from already historic levels, too. Since the schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978, there have only been 18 tandems of backs and wideouts to each notch 1,500 yards from scrimmage.2The 1995 Detroit Lions actually had two of these pairs: That year, running back Barry Sanders hit the benchmark with two different wide receivers, Herman Moore and Brett Perriman, so Sanders is counted twice in our tally. Among that group, Bell and Brown will rank third all time if they keep up this pace — they’re generating 62.8 percent of their team’s total yards this season, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Their share is not far behind the high mark on this list: Edgerrin James (2,139 yards) and Marvin Harrison (1,667) were responsible for 65.2 percent of the 1999 Colts’ yards. And just ahead of Bell and Brown are another famous duo — Emmitt Smith (2,148) and Michael Irvin (1,603) posted 63.1 percent of the 1995 Cowboys’ yards.This degree of volume obviously requires a heavy — if not reckless — amount of usage. Bell, who leads the NFL with 283 rushes, is on pace to carry the ball 348 times and haul in 92 passes. If the free-agent-to-be Bell does leave Pittsburgh in the offseason, the Steelers seem determined to make sure they’ve wrung every ounce of value they can get out of him first.Meanwhile, Brown’s 160 targets also lead the NFL, as do his 99 catches, by a wide margin. Simply put, no receiver has dominated his position like Brown since Jerry Rice was at his peak. Some are even calling for Brown to be the league’s MVP, an award that no receiver — not even Rice, who was arguably the greatest player in NFL history — has ever hauled in. If the award is going to one member of the Steelers duo, Bell would be the more obvious choice, since running backs occasionally bypass quarterbacks for the award. But it’s almost impossible to determine which skill player is most valuable, even just to the Steelers.And that’s the thing that seems to make the duo unstoppable. Defenses cannot key in on stopping one of the two because it will leave them unprepared for the other. Even though all three Pittsburgh stars have been in the league a while and the Patriots frequently face off against the Steelers, Belichick doesn’t have a lot of experience dealing with Roethlisberger and his two biggest weapons at the same time. Either Roethlisberger or Bell has been injured and missed all or part of every Pats-Steelers matchup after Bell’s rookie year, when he wasn’t nearly the force he is today. And even with the rookie Bell, the Steelers rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense. But the Patriots gained over 600 in a 55-31 victory. Bears2013Matt ForteAlshon Jeffery3,4596,37854.2 YSCRIM Lions1995Barry SandersBrett Perriman3,4346,26354.8 Steelers2017*Le’Veon BellAntonio Brown3,9306,25762.8% Cardinals1984O.J. AndersonRoy Green3,3306,72249.5 Falcons2015Devonta FreemanJulio Jones3,5056,20856.5 Bill Belichick is famous for meticulously studying his opponent’s offensive strengths so that he can neutralize them with his defense. But as he prepares for his epic AFC showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend, he could probably skip some of the film study — Pittsburgh’s likely attack plan is so obvious that a first-grader could decipher it. They will run the ball with Le’Veon Bell. They will throw the ball to Antonio Brown. And that’s basically it. (OK, they may also throw the ball to Le’Veon Bell.)Pittsburgh’s holy trinity of Ben Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell — or the Killer B’s, if we must — has always thrived when on the field together. But lately, it’s gotten absurd.Simply put, Bell and Brown are making a very compelling case for being the best running back-wide receiver tandem in NFL history. Currently, Bell is on pace for 2,073 total yards and Brown is tracking for 1,857. That combined projected total of 3,930 yards — or about 2.2 miles — would break the record for the most yards by a RB-WR duo where each totalled at least 1,500. The current record holders won’t be too bent out of shape if that happens, since Bell and Brown set the record in 2014 (the last time Bell played a full season) with a combined 3,926 yards. What makes the pair’s current pace all the more impressive is that Bell labored in three September games this season after refusing to sign a contract all summer; he totaled just 79 yards per game in those first weeks, about half his production in the ensuing 10 games.The last three games in particular have been off the charts. Brown and Bell have combined for 973 yards — or 324 per game. That’s more yards per game than 13 teams currently average. And it represents a stunning 70.5 percent of the Steelers’ total output from scrimmage in that span. The best RB-WR duos in NFL historyTeams where a running back and wide receiver each had at least 1,500 total yards and what share of the team’s total output that represented 49ers1994Ricky WattersJerry Rice3,1886,25950.9 Broncos2000Mike AndersonRod Smith3,3576,77549.6 Texans2012Arian FosterAndre Johnson3,2396,16952.5 Lions1995Barry SandersHerman Moore3,5846,26357.2 Steelers2014Le’Veon BellAntonio Brown3,9266,74958.2
Martinez adjusted and raised his slugging percentage to .500 against fastballs in the upper third and above the zone in 2017 when he became aware of the counterpunch that pitchers were throwing at him with the four-seam spin. Martinez slugged .584 against fastballs in the same location this season.Here’s Martinez versus an elevated 99 mph fastball from Houston’s Gerrit Cole earlier this year:“I knew there was an adjustment that needed to be made,” Martinez said. “I can’t tell you my secrets. No one told me. I had to go in there and grind myself and figure it out.”That’s not the only change Martinez has made.His pull percentage is also at its lowest level (at 37.7 percent) since he was an Astro in 2013. Out of 360 qualified hitters, Martinez ranked 268th this year despite playing in a home park with some of the most favorable left-field dimensions for a right-handed hitter. Perhaps with this approach, Martinez is also trying to combat defensive shifts.While 55.1 percent of ground balls were pulled this season, only 51.9 percent of Martinez’s grounders were hit to the pull side, ranking 252nd out of 340 hitters. In each season from 2014 to 2017, Martinez hit at least 60.8 percent of ground balls to the left side. Also of note is that his ground-ball percentage (at 43.5 percent) is the highest since before his metamorphosis, speaking to a change in swing angle. Martinez dropped his average launch angle from 13.4 degrees in 2016 and 15.2 degrees in 2017 to 10.6 degrees this season.Though Martinez is spreading his batted balls around more on the ground now, he’s always had power to all fields in the air, where he still wants to drive the ball. He had the seventh-highest rate of air balls hit to the opposite field this season at 47.7 percent. Since that 2014 season, when he remade his swing, he has increased his opposite-field fly ball and line drive rate every year. But unlike many hitters, Martinez uses the opposite field for power. Martinez had the fourth highest home run-to-fly ball rate on balls hit to the opposite field this season. He hit .360 on balls to right field and slugged .919.But when he does pull the ball in the air, he’s even better. He hit .828 and slugged 1.813 on air balls he hit to the left side. At a time when so many complain about hitters not using the whole field, Martinez is doing just that.Though Martinez has made plenty of changes, he’s still squaring up pitches like few major league hitters. Statcast’s “barrels” per plate appearances metric, which evaluates the quality of a hitter’s contact using exit velocity of ball off bat and launch angle, has him near the top of the leaderboard again this season — as he has been since the measure was introduced in 2015.Over the past five years, Martinez has been at the vanguard of the sport’s trends. He may just be giving hitters a road map for adapting to an ever-changing game.Check out our latest MLB predictions. J.D. Martinez changed baseball hitting philosophy once. Maybe he’s playing a part in changing it again.Martinez was one of the original fly-ball revolutionaries. He was one of the first hitters to go against convention, possibly risking his career, by adopting an uppercut swing to try to hit for more power. Like many hitters, he was taught to use a flat, level swing. But he wondered more and more why his best swing, what coaches preached, resulted simply in singles up the middle. From 2011 to 2013, while with the Houston Astros, Martinez posted a .251 average, a .387 slugging mark and an 88 OPS+.1OPS+ considers a hitter’s overall ability but adjusts to account for ballpark and run-scoring environment. An OPS+ of 100 constitutes league average. OPS+ allows players across eras to be compared. He knew as a corner outfielder that his career was in jeopardy. After watching former teammate and fly-ball hitter Jason Castro, Martinez sought out a private swing instructor and transformed himself. He tried to convince Astros management that he had changed the following spring, but he was released in March 2014.You probably know the rest of the story. The Tigers picked up Martinez in 2014, and he immediately became a star. Prior to this season, the Boston Red Sox guaranteed him $110 million over five years even though he’s entering his early 30s, when most hitters are expected to begin to decline. But instead of showing his age, the 31-year-old Martinez rewarded the Red Sox with a .330/.402/.629 slash line, 43 homers and 130 RBIs, along with a career-best 173 OPS+. The Red Sox were so invested in Martinez’s style of hitting they even hired a like-minded hitting coach in Tim Hyers. Hyers and Martinez helped Mookie Betts take the next step in his development to become an undersized slugger and the American League’s best player.All of that has taken the Red Sox to just one win away from advancing to the AL Championship Series, with the Houston Astros waiting. Boston meets the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the ALDS Tuesday night.Martinez isn’t the same hitter that he was when he turned around his career in 2014. He keeps evolving.“Look at my swing from 2014 to now, and it’s changed so much,” Martinez told me in September. “Just look at it. Just look at the swing. It’s black and white. It’s looks different. Every year it’s kind of changed. Everything changes.”As hitters like Martinez have started to crush low, sinking fastballs, more and more pitchers have tried to counter uppercut swings with elevated high-spin fastballs. In 2015 and 2016, pitchers could and did exploit Martinez at the top of the zone. Consider Martinez’s slugging-per-pitch numbers against fastball locations from 2014-17 (visualized by FanGraphs): In 2015 and ’16, he slugged a paltry .347 against four-seam fastballs in the upper upper third and above the zone. Here’s Martinez flailing at a high fastball from Mike Montgomery in 2015:But that hole in Martinez’s swing is gone this season.
Ohio State men’s gymnastics coach Miles Avery resigned his position with the team Wednesday to pursue other opportunities. “We appreciate everything coach Avery has done to keep Ohio State as one of the elite men’s gymnastics programs in the nation,” said Heather Lyke, associate athletics director for sport administration, in a press release. “He has built traditions, sustained success and positively impacted the lives of our student-athletes, developing them into leaders academically, athletically and personally.” Avery will be exploring different ventures including gymnastics camps, clinics and public speaking. “If ever I was going to do it, now’s the time,” Avery told The Lantern. Avery served as assistant coach with the Buckeyes from 1989 to 1997 and took the reins as head coach in 1998. In his 13 years at the helm for the Buckeyes, he earned one NCAA title and five Big Ten championships. He is a three-time recipient of USA Gymnastics Coach of the Year and five-time recipient of Big Ten coaching honors. “One of the highlights of my college coaching career is that I could win an NCAA title at home,” Avery said. His coaching expertise extends beyond his work with OSU. He served as assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic teams in the last four Olympic games. Last season, former Buckeye Brandon Wynn won a national championship with an NCAA-high 16.3 on rings, etching his name in the OSU record book. Wynn is one of six Buckeyes who earned a national title under Avery. “We’ll see if hopefully Brandon Wynn makes that next run and that I can be there at the next one (Olympic games) to help him achieve his goal of being an Olympic medalist,” Avery said. The decision is effective immediately and assistant coaches Blaine Wilson and Doug Stibel have been named as interim co-head coaches. Wilson and Blaine are in their seventh and 10th seasons, respectively, with the Buckeyes. Avery has complete confidence in the tenacity of the pair. “Without a doubt Blaine Wilson, three-time Olympian, that just about says it all,” Avery said.
It’s the last week of the regular season for the Weekly Picks, and James Laurinaitis has his largest lead of the season. The former Buckeye linebacker holds a three-game lead over Justin Zwick and defending champion Quinn Pitcock. Dallas Lauderdale and Zack Meisel sit one game behind Zwick and Pitcock. For the final week of the regular season, the participants made predictions for five games.
Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson influencing running backs in first season in Columbus. Credit: Jacob Myers | Assistant Sports EditorOhio State released the contracts of its three new football assistant coaches, collectively worth $1.15 million in the 2017 fiscal year and $1.55 million in 2018.Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day and co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson have agreed to two years with the program. Linebackers coach Bill Davis has only a one-year deal.According to the terms of the agreement, Davis is slated to make $500,000 in base salary this season.Day signed a two-year, $1.2 million contract. He will make $400,000 in base salary in the upcoming season and the remaining $800,000 his second season.Wilson’s two-year deal is worth $1.4 million. His base salary will be $650,000 in his first year; it will climb to $750,000 the following season. Wilson’s first-year salary is the same compensation former OSU co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner made in 2016.Like most contracts across college football, the assistant coaches can earn significant additional pay from success-based incentives.If OSU wins the Big Ten East, each coach will earn an 8.5 percent raise on their base salary. They’ll receive 4.25 percent raises if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten championship game. If the team wins at least nine games and doesn’t make a College Football Playoff bowl game, coaches will receive a 4.25 percent raise.Each coach will receive a 17 percent raise from their base salary if the team plays in a postseason CFP game. If the Buckeyes make it to a semifinal CFP and lose, the coaches will receive a 21.25 percent raise on their base salary. Should they win the semifinal game and advance to the finals, each coach will see a 25.5 percent raise in their base salary. Any of the aforementioned incentives will be issued out to the coaches within 60 days following the conclusion of the semifinal game.Though OSU has yet to pay an assistant coach a base salary of at least $1 million, if the highest total of incentives are reached, Wilson would surpass the threshold in his first and second years, while Day would be paid in excess of $1 million in his second year.If OSU wins the Big Ten East, the Big Ten championship game and makes it to the national championship game in 2017, Wilson will make $359,125 in addition to his $650,000 salary. If the Buckeyes were to do the same in 2018, Wilson’s total plus incentives would be $1,164,375, and Day’s total would be $1,242,000.According to multiple media outlets that received the contracts, three Michigan assistant coaches will make over $1 million in base salary in 2017.Wison, Day and Davis are budgeted $600 per month to spend on a car. The trio is also compensated with six football tickets and two men’s basketball tickets.If Davis, Wilson or Day leave OSU to take an assistant coach position at a Power 5 conference, Notre Dame or BYU, they would have to pay OSU $100,000, if they leave before April 30, 2018, and $50,000 if they leave the school between May 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018.Ryan Day contractBill Davis contractKevin Wilson contract
Members of Ohio State’s hockey team celebrates after senior forward Freddie Gerard’s goal during the first period of Ohio State’s hockey game vs. Michigan on Jan. 11. Ohio State lost 2-1. Credit: Nick Hudak | For The LanternNo. 4 Ohio State (15-5-4, 8-3-3-2 Big Ten) won both away games against No. 13 Penn State (13-9-2, 5-8-1-1 Big Ten) this weekend, giving the Buckeyes three wins in a row leaving the weekend.Game 1The Buckeyes dominated their first match, winning 4-1 in an aggressive game against Penn State. Midway through the first period, Ohio State freshman forward Gustaf Westlund, playing his first game since recovering from an upper body injury, scored his third goal of the season 10 seconds into a power play, putting the Buckeyes up 1-0. With about a minute left in the period, Penn State scored on its own power play, bringing the score to 1-1. This would be Penn State’s only goal before the Buckeyes scored three unanswered to finish the game.Shortly into the second period, junior forward Tanner Laczynski, assisted by senior forward Mason Jobst and junior defenseman Gordi Myer, scored to give Ohio State a 2-1 lead. Minutes later, Jobst once again assisted, this time helping Westlund score his second goal of the night. Then, with only 2 minutes left in the third period, Laczynski passed to junior forward Ronnie Hein. Ohio State shot 33 times while Penn State managed a season-low 22 shots. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the NCAA with 944 shots on goal this season. Ohio State is No. 2 with 856.Game 2Penn State showed more of its aggression in the second game, but Ohio State came out on top, winning 6-4.Ohio State took control of the game during the second period, scoring on four power plays in the middle 20 minutes to take a 5-3 lead it wouldn’t give up for the rest of the game.The first period was tame in comparison, with sophomore Grant Gabriele of Ohio State getting his first career collegiate goal with an assist from Hein. Penn State answered with a goal 10 minutes later, tying the teams up 1-1 by the end of the period.The second period opened up with the Nittany Lions advancing their lead to 2-1 within the first two minutes. Following a trip against Penn State, Ohio State began its run of goals on the power play. Senior forward Dakota Joshua tied the game up 2-2, which was followed by junior defenseman Matt Miller putting the Buckeyes up 3-2. Penn State received a major penalty for boarding after a hit to the back of Laczynski, giving Ohio State five more minutes with the man advantage. Despite being shorthanded, Penn State scored its third goal of the game, once again tying the teams up 3-3. Ohio State took advantage of the major penalty, with Joshua scoring his second goal that period. Then, with only a few minutes left in the second period, Westlund put a puck into the Lions’ net, advancing Ohio State to a 5-3 lead.Laczynski left the game following the hit by junior forward Blake Gober, and did not return. Midway through the third period, Jobst scored his 14th goal of the season, giving the Buckeyes their sixth score of the game. Penn State scored the last goal of the game, bringing the final to 6-4.Both teams were very evenly matched on the shot totals, with the Buckeyes shooting 39 times and the Lions shooting 38 times.The Buckeyes held Penn State to a combined five goals in the home series. The Nittany Lions averaged a NCAA-leading 4.86 goals per game heading into the matchups.Ohio State enters a bye week before facing off against No. 12 Notre Dame on Feb. 1.