How Much Offense Do NFL's Top Stars Really Account For?

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How Much Offense Do NFL's Top Stars Really Account For?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to believe, but the 2013 NFL season is almost at an end.

After the upcoming slate of Week 17 games, we'll know which 12 teams will get tickets to the postseason. With the release of the 2014 Pro Bowl rosters, many of the NFL's best and brightest just got their tickets to Hawaii.

Between the picks at the top of the draft and the first few days of free agency, NFL teams bust their budgets trying to stock their roster with just a couple of these superstars. But how much difference do they really make? How much of each team's offense do the NFL's top start really account for?

With only one week of games left to play in the 2013 regular season, we've got all the numbers we need to find out what slice of their teams' statistical pies belongs to the NFL's top offensive superstars.

 

Quarterbacks

Of course, the quarterback touches the ball on nearly every play. Some quarterbacks, though, play with strong running games—and some have strong running games. I added up every starting quarterback's passing and rushing production, per Pro Football Reference, and measured it against his team's total yards and touchdowns.

On the chart below, the quarterback's horizontal and vertical placement are determined by what percent of his team's touchdowns and yards he is responsible for (note that the axes are not scaled 1 to 100, in an effort to better show the spread between the quarterbacks).

The size of his circle represents his Win Probability Added, as calculated by AdvancedNFLStats.com:

Ty Schalter/Bleacher Report

WPA is a very interesting stat; for the full explanation check out AdvancedNFLStats.com. The short of it is a statistical model can tell you how likely a team is to win given down, distance, score and time remaining; after a play happens, that probability changes. When it's a good play, that probability goes up.

By adding up how a player's performance has made his team more or less likely to win, we get his WPA—as close to a true statistical "clutch factor" or "he just wins" as there is.

As we see, Peyton Manning's 5.55 WPA leads all quarterbacks; Manning, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady have made the most positive plays in crucial situations this season. Despite Manning's 5,211 yards and NFL-record 51 passing touchdowns, the Broncos have been so productive overall that he's not leading the way in either percentage of team's yards or percentage of team's touchdowns.

Way out on the right of the chart, Matt Ryan leads all quarterbacks with 82.8 percent of his team's yards; Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees are close behind. Brees is way ahead of the pack in touchdowns; his arms and legs account for 37 of his New Orleans Saints' 43 touchdowns (86 percent) this season. Rivers and Manning are a distant second and third, at 74.4 and 72.2, respectively.

Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton and Tony Romo are in the middle of the pack in terms of yards and touchdowns, but all three have higher WPA than Ryan or Roethlisberger.

 

Running Backs

Here's the same chart, this time with the 10 most productive running backs. Their rushing, receiving and passing (we had a few halfback passes for touchdowns this season!) stats were all included when tabulating these:

Ty Schalter/Bleacher Report

We can see right away that Jamaal Charles stands way out from the rest of the pack. Racking up 39.1 percent of the Kansas City Chiefs' yards and scoring 38.8 percent of their touchdowns, Charles has been a machine in 2013.

Charles' crazy share of his team's stats makes everyone else look like they're slacking.

Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson and Eddie Lacy round out the backs most responsible for scoring touchdowns, and LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Lynch are the three next-most-relied-upon yard-chewers.

The most interesting aspect of this chart, though, is the running backs' WPA. Note that Charles' WPA is 0.78—strong, but less than half that of McCoy's 1.99 and Moreno's 1.6. The lesson seems to be that while the Eagles and Broncos are winning because McCoy and Moreno are running, more often Charles is doing his running while the Chiefs are already winning.

 

Wide Receivers

Like the running backs, the receivers' rushing, receiving and passing yards were all added up when calculating how much of their teams' production they were responsible for:

Ty Schalter/Bleacher Report

The 10 most productive receivers are more evenly distributed across the top of each category, which is interesting, and their WPA is all very similar. Surprisingly, A.J. Green's WPA is the lowest at a (still impressive) 1.21, and—for all his troubles this season—Calvin Johnson still leads the way at 2.27.

The two Chicago Bears wideouts, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, are in the top five of this group in team yards percentage and touchdown percentage, respectively. That two wideouts from one team both make this list is impressive enough; that they both are among the league's most offense-dominating players is doubly so.

Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown round out the top four in WPA; Gordon has gained an eye-popping 32.2 percent of the Cleveland Browns' offensive yards in 2013. This is partially due, of course, to the relative lack of other talent on the field.

 

Tight Ends

This position group was very hard to chart; the top producers are bunched up very tightly. Only Jimmy Graham, head and shoulders above the rest in both yards and touchdowns, breaks away from the pack. Julius Thomas, on par with the rest in touchdowns but lagging behind in yards, brings up the rear:

Ty Schalter/Bleacher Report

Poor Tony Gonzalez is almost completely obscured, despite boasting the best WPA at 1.5. His Atlanta Falcons didn't win a lot of games, but it wasn't his fault.

Vernon Davis, Jordan Cameron and Greg Olsen top the group in percentage of yards gained—though again, we're talking differences of just two or three percent from the leaders to the stragglers. Davis, Charles Clay and Cameron are the best of the non-Graham rest in touchdown percentage.

Interestingly, Graham has the lowest WPA of any of the top tight ends, despite leading the NFL in yards, touchdowns and his team's percentage of both. He's No. 18 overall in tight end WPA right now, per AdvancedNFLStats.com. Is most of his production coming in garbage time?

There's no doubt that a top tight end can have great value, but this chart makes it hard to argue that one tight end was significantly better than any other in 2013.

 

Best of the Best, or Best of the Rest?

This cuts right to the heart of the issue when measuring what share of a team's production each player is responsible for: A good player on a poor offense is going to "eat" more than a great player on a great offense.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

If, instead of looking at the top producers at each position and then measured their share of their teams' production, we'd looked at the players who have the biggest share, they'd be very different graphs. For example, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill would top the list of signal-callers; he's been responsible for 83.4 percent of their yards gained and 72.7 percent of their touchdowns scored.

That's why measuring a player's percentage of his team's production isn't the end-all, be-all statistic. It has to be balanced with a player's absolute production, and it's also important to factor in whether that player's production is actually helping his team win games.

The result is a player's true value to his team—just as good for determining how much cash to splash on a new contract for a player as it is for settling watercooler MVP debates.

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