If the NFL offseason is for anything, it’s for lists of various things. As we near the end of football activities, the focus of those lists shift more and more away from awards and toward draft prospects. But we still have a game to play, so people are still talking about who the best players have been.
Yesterday, the NFL Network website published somewhat of an interesting pairing of All-Pro lists, one of which was created by Chris Wesselling, who is regarded for his scouting eye, while the other was created by Matt Harmon using advanced analytics to color his choices.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Antonio Brown and David DeCastro made both lists, while Wesselling included Le’Veon Bell as his flex player on offense, while Harmon opted for New Orleans Saints rookie Alvin Kamara.
Of Brown, Wesselling wrote that he “seemed to single-handedly carry Pittsburgh’s offense for large sections of the season”. Harmon noted that the wide receiver caught 10 passes for 229 yards on “boundary targets”, which are caught within one yard of the sideline. Only Brown and DeAndre Hopkins (whom both chose as their other wide receiver) had 10 such receptions or 200 yards or more.
Wesselling described DeCastro as “a picture of reliability in Pittsburgh, opening holes for Bell and overcompensating for the instability at right tackle”. While it is true that they had instability, Chris Hubbard held his own in filling in for Marcus Gilbert much of the season.
Harmon provided some advanced analytics to the Steelers’ offensive line as well to justify his selection. He noted that the team ranked 11th in rushing yards gained prior to defenders being within a yard of the ball carrier, which is quite a niche statistic, and also ranked sixth in pressure rate allowed, indicating that they did well in both phases.
Finally, of Bell, his flex player, Wesselling wrote of the running back’s second-half stretch, adding that he “re-emerged as the dual-threat focal point, averaging 152 yards on 25 touches over a five-game stretch as the offense finally fired on all cylinders”. He called Bell “the NFL’s pre-eminent backfield force over the past four seasons”.
No other Steelers made the All-Pro list out of these three. On the actual All-Pro list, all three of them were listed at these positions on the first team. Bell was also listed as the second-team running back aside from being the first-team flex player. Defensive end Cameron Heyward also made the Associated Press’ list, which is the one that actually counts.
Still, I thought it was an interesting approach to the discussion. There are those who swear only by the eye test. There are even people who (foolishly, in my opinion) value hand-timed 40-yard dashes over computer tracking.
And there are also those who lean more toward looking at both traditional and advanced statistics to help color one’s perception of a player, and I do think there is value in both. This brings them together a bit and shows that the two frequently reach the same conclusions.