Pro Football Focus is an analytics company famous for its numerical grades which rank players based on their production and technique in games. Thanks to a web site redesign and some hefty offseason work, they've unveiled a new system which normalizes all grades across positions with a value of 0 to 100.
Their operation, which tracks every minute detail of play, is understandably complicated. What this small tweak does is allow you to not only look at which player is the best at their position, but what their comparative value is to someone playing a different area entirely. Each area of the game has its own traits and values so comparing apples and oranges has been difficult. Until now. For example, what if you want to trade Seattle's Richard Sherman for Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs? Is worth it for both teams? Well, based on recent production, PFF would suggest that it's a pretty fair trade with both players scoring 90.3 and 90.6 out of 100 respectively.
Grades are a tricky subject to discuss, and a sticking point for many critics of PFF. The company point to their extensive statistics library to be used in conjunction with the grades and that their numbers should always be provided in context rather than a vacuum. The introduction of a rating which can cross-process player evaluation means that we now get somewhat of an idea in terms of overall impact a player makes to a team.
What does this mean for Giants fans? Anyone familiar with PFF's database will know that their system fell in love with Odell Beckham Jr. Despite playing just 12 games last season, he finished with the third-highest grade for his position, narrowly being beaten by Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown. Interestingly enough, in the new single number ratings, Beckham leapfrogs to the top spot among wide-receivers. In fact, with his 92.3 rating, Beckham is nearly three points clear of Brown, who is in second place.
How could a rookie receiver who only played 12 games be conclusively better than any of his peers? Before joining Big Blue View as a staff writer, I used to work for PFF, so I reached out to my former boss, Nathan Jahnke, for some insight into how the new rating means a bump in placement for Beckham.
"For someone like Brown who has seen more than a seasons worth of snaps, we just take his grade per snap average. For someone like Beckham, his average was regressed to the mean based on his games played and how far away his average was from the mean. Choosing how many games to factor in, how much to weight the games, and how much regression was all based on our historical data to find out what would make this most predictive," said Jahnke, "In summary, on a per-play basis Beckham has been better than Brown, and even though we expect Beckham's play to come down to Earth some, we still think that will be good enough to be the best receiver in the league."
It's a clever approach, and clearly something that has taken a lot of man-hours. Anyone with two eyes and a TV can tell you that Beckham is a good football player, but PFF tells you just how good, and with its latest rating implementation, can now tell you he's the Marshawn Lynch of receivers. He's the Joe Thomas of catching passes. For the Giants, and their 2015 hopes, that's the best news they've heard all week.