10 NFL Players Whose Stats Will Be Greater Than on-Field Impact
Mark Twain once famously said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
With respect to the NFL, there's great truth in Mr. Clemens' assessment.
Stats do give us a way to measure one player against his contemporaries, one player against historical counterparts or one player against himself, as well as providing the very foundation of fantasy football.
But they don't always give us the best indication of a player's true impact.
Think about it: If a player rushes for a 90-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 40-point blowout, thus pushing him well past 100 yards on the day, was his performance really that outstanding? Was it better than a player who rushed for 75 yards in a close victory during which he carried the ball several times on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive?
Players have ways of padding their stats, either in garbage time, or in meaningless games, or thanks to the greatness of his teammates around him. Looking towards next season, here are 10 such examples.
No. 10: LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2011 Stats: 39 tackles, nine sacks
Ever since implementing the 3-4 back in 1992, the Steelers have almost always had truly excellent pass-rushing outside linebackers: Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon and Joey Porter to name a few.
Clearly, the scheme sets outside backers up to collect sacks in bunches.
And if that weren't enough to bolster LaMarr Woodley's chances at nabbing quarterbacks, the presence of former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison has been. When healthy, Harrison is an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
So, couple that with the fact that the Steelers have two very promising young defensive ends (Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward) poised for breakout seasons in 2012, and Woodley's opportunities for easy sacks do increase.
Oh, and with Troy Polamalu playing behind him, he should routinely find himself free to roam in opponents' backfields.
That's not to say Woodley isn't a fine player (worth $10 million per season, though?), but on the Steelers' defense he'll still be at best the third most impactful player, no matter how many sacks he nabs in 2012.
No. 9: Brandon Jacobs, RB, San Francisco 49ers
2011 Stats: 152 carries, 571 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns
Despite two Super Bowl rings (and therefore a lot of prime-time ball-carrying) Jacobs has never been considered an elite back. And truth be told, his numbers have mostly diminished each of the last four seasons.
That has to be a big reason why the Giants weren't interested in bringing him back for 2012.
Now, given his great size and the fact that he's only 29 years old, he will contribute to the 49ers' game plan this year.
But whatever impressive numbers he puts up will largely be a result of Frank Gore's heavy lifting. Gore has a way of wearing down opposing defenses, which will be a great boost to Jacobs, who probably will steal a few touchdowns and yards, especially near the goal line, thus padding his stats.
No. 8: Robert Meachem, WR, San Diego Chargers
2011 Stats: 40 catches, 620 yards, six touchdown catches
During four years in New Orleans, Meachem's numbers were never terribly impressive: The Saints just have so many weapons that Drew Brees spreads the ball around efficiently.
So when Meachem heads west to play in San Diego (and partly fill the void left by Vincent Jackson), expect those personal stats to largely increase. I think he'll be a perennial 70-catch, 1,000-yard receiver for years to come.
But that doesn't necessarily mean he will have some sort of transformative impact on a club that still has Antonio Gates and also brought in Eddie Royal.
He'll be a nice option for Philip Rivers, but as Ryan Matthews starts to become a bigger part of the offense (both running the ball and catching it), Meachem won't be "the face" of that offense. Not even close.
No. 7: Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills
2011 Stats: 76 catches, 1,004 receiving yards, seven touchdown catches
During the past two seasons, we have seen several times that Johnson is very capable of putting up big numbers—back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, 17 total touchdowns—but he's repeatedly come up small in big moments.
There was that terrible drop against Pittsburgh in 2010, another big drop against the Jets the following season, as well as two stupid celebration penalties against division rivals, the Patriots and Jets.
So, until he proves otherwise and comes through in the clutch (or simply doesn't do something stupid or costly), he can rack up all the receptions and yards and touchdowns he wants, but no one is going to say he is an impactful, standout receiver.
No. 6: London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins
2011 Stats: 166 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has nice things to say about Fletcher. He's a great leader, he plays far taller than his 5'10" frame and he's routinely snubbed for deserving spots on the Pro Bowl squad.
But despite those great annual tackle numbers (and last year he led the NFL), the defenses he plays on haven't exactly been top-notch. The last three seasons, the Redskins' run defense has been either middle-of-the-pack or far worse.
Now, maybe that's a reflection of the other 10 players around him, but there's no denying that collecting tackles in bunches hasn't made the Redskins even close to dominant.
Is he a great player? Sure. Hall of Fame? Maybe. But Fletcher would certainly trade those 150 or 175 tackles that he'll nab in 2012 for a postseason berth: His teams have played in exactly one playoff game the last 10 years.
No. 5: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
2011 Stats: 3,610 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions, 57.6 completion percentage
One of the annual NFL doormats when it comes to quarterback praise, Flacco has been the very model of inconsistency. Sometimes he's great, sometimes, well, not so much.
Nevertheless, he does routinely put up decent-to-good passing numbers: at least 20 touchdown passes, at least 3,600 yards passing and no more than 12 picks each of the last three years.
But while those numbers would have been Pro Bowl-caliber a decade or two ago, they certainly are not in this modern age of passing brilliance. Even if they were, they'd still seem to be pretty over-inflated.
Flacco has (had?...with Ben Grubbs gone?) one of the NFL's best offensive lines and one of the game's best running backs, Ray Rice. The numbers he puts up are largely a result of their presence and the fact that the Ravens' defense does a great job of putting him in good situations.
And if you don't think there is a sense, even within the Ravens' organization, that his numbers don't accurately reflect his true value, remember that they still haven't given him a contract extension. He becomes a free agent at the end of 2012.
No. 4: Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans
2011 Stats: 2,479 passing yards, 15 touchdown passes, six interceptions, 61.0 completion percentage
Everything just said, in the previous slide, about Joe Flacco, double it for Matt Schaub, who also hasn't been given an extension to a contract that expires after 2012.
He gets a ton more respect than Flacco, but his stats seem to overvalue his true stock with the Texans.
Schaub has put up tremendous numbers over the last three seasons (averaging well over 250 yards per game), but when he was lost for the season and T.J. Yates played pretty well in his place, it confirmed what many suspected. Throwing to Andre Johnson and handing off to perhaps the game's premier back, Arian Foster, made his job a lot easier.
In short, when the Texans' offense is successful, odds are Foster or Johnson made the lion's share of the contribution.
Schaub is a good quarterback, but not even close to elite, which is what he might seem given a 4,300-yard passing season followed by a 4,700-yard passing season in 2009 and 2010.
No. 3: Brandon Lloyd, WR, New England Patriots
2011 Stats: 70 catches, 966 receiving yards, five touchdown catches
Despite not having a Pro Bowl or even above-average passer throwing to him the last few years (remember Sam Bradford was banged up throughout most of 2011), Lloyd has put together very impressive stats the past two seasons.
So now that he's headed east to join Tom Brady and that potent attack, those numbers will probably improve.
He should be a 70-catch, 1,000-yard receiver in 2012.
But it's a safe bet that, in most situations, he'll still be at best the fourth option for Brady, behind Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And don't underestimate what Deion Branch can do in the clutch.
So, while Lloyd will put up numbers, in the grand scheme of things, he's going to have very little overall impact, even if he does fill out a stat sheet.
No. 2: Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins
2011 Stats: 216 carries, 1,086 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns
Last season was a true milestone for the former (sort of) Heisman Trophy winner, and not just because he topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. No, it's because, for the first time since his rookie season, he was healthy enough to play 15 games.
Nevertheless, Bush's numbers didn't exactly spark the Dolphins to a fine season. In fact, despite leading the team in rushing, he might not have even been the best running back on the Dolphins' roster. At times, especially early on, rookie Daniel Thomas was very impressive carrying the ball.
Bush, and his excellent five-yards-per-attempt total, racked up the numbers, but remember that his 200-yard day (nearly one-fifth of his season total) came against a truly awful Bills run defense.
He very well may have another excellent season carrying the ball for Miami, but if the Dolphins are going to make a playoff run, don't expect Bush to be the catalyst.
No. 1: Jason Babin, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
2011 Stats: 40 tackles, 18 sacks, three forced fumbles
Statistically, Babin had an amazing season and on the surface seemed worth every penny of the $27.723 million contract Philadelphia gave him last year.
But several of those sacks came late in blowouts. And besides, with all those sacks, the Eagles' defense (especially their pass defense) looked pretty pedestrian at times.
Let's be honest: Sacks aren't really the perfect litmus test for measuring a defender's consistency. They almost always come in bunches and don't take into account whether or not a player is being double- or triple-teamed.
But when you think of the five or even 10 best pass-rushers in football, is Babin on that list? For me, the answer is no.
And if the Eagles are to have a resurgent season in 2012, and that Wide Nine defense finally gels, it won't be because of Babin's sack numbers. It will be because Nnamdi Asomugha adjusted to the new scheme and/or DeMeco Ryans was the missing piece of the puzzle and/or Fletcher Cox made a lightning quick transition to the NFL.