Here is an interesting statistic that I came across courtesy of Pro Football Focus yesterday. According to their research from last season’s data, the Pittsburgh Steelers posted the second-most efficient group of five skill-position players in the league during the 2016 season—but whom that specific group of five players was might surprise you.
Needless to say, it is a group that is headlined by Antonio Brown, arguably the best wide receiver in football, and among the most efficient as well. Jesse James functioned for most of the season as the starting tight end, so his inclusion is pretty much a given.
The other three members of that group were Eli Rogers, the wide receiver in the slot, and Sammie Coates as the deep threat on the outside, with DeAngelo Williams at running back. That is DeAngelo Williams, not Le’Veon Bell, who just turned down a contract worth more than $12 million per season.
Could the Steelers offense be even better in 2017? pic.twitter.com/7w69B0kDY5
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 18, 2017
Of course, this statistic no doubt requires a good deal of parsing, and just from the grouping we can conclude that the bulk of their production, and their playing time, occurred over the course of the first three games of the 2016 regular season, because that is when Williams saw the vast majority of his playing time, while Bell was serving a three-game suspension.
According to their data, the Steelers offense averaged 7.38 yards per play when these five players constituted their skill positions on the field together. The only other grouping that produced better results on a per-snap basis together was up in New England.
It is worth keeping in mind just how big a part of this equation Coates was, given his big-play threat, but by my count, in my charting I have this group producing at least 15 plays that went for at least 15 yards. Four of those were receptions by Coates that went for at least 40 yards, but Brown also had a 29-yard reception, as well as a 26-yard reception.
Only one of the plays mentioned came on the ground, but the Steelers were not exactly home-run threats on the ground last season. While they were effective, it came more gradually rather than in extremely large chunks.
Still, I think it is obvious to point out that sample size is an issue in this statistic, as I would imagine that most or even all of these groups that PFF is ranking as their five skill position players who yielded the most yards per snap may not have played a great deal together.
I’m sure there is probably a snap threshold that they are working with, but just taking the Steelers as an example, the vast bulk, or perhaps even exclusive bulk of their work came over the course of just three games, and I would estimate that they may have had something in the vicinity of 100-120 snaps together.