Sporting events--in the age of fantasy sports and sabermetrics--are
saturated by statistics, with announcers marveling at the first
10-reception game by a third-round draft pick in a retractable-roof
football stadium at night, or singing the praises of the second
left-handed pitcher in World Series history to throw a one-hitter while
sporting a beard and fending off rain.
And yet, as Reed Albergotti points out
at the Wall Street Journal, there are no good ways in professional
football to measure the performance of the offensive line:
It's no secret that the five enormous men who protect a team's thoroughbred running backs and pretty boy quarterbacks are essential to success. But in the official NFL statistical game books, or in the transcript of the telecast for that matter, there are few hints about how they did.
Alamar, the founder of the
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, is trying to change that, Albergotti explains. Alamar and his research assistant spent over 100
hours watching tapes of NFL passing plays, assigning grades to all
offensive linemen on playoff teams, and estimating the number of
passing yards each lineman contributed to
his team's season total.
While the analysis is
only part of the picture (it doesn't, for example, consider running
plays), it did yield some interesting results:
New York Jets linemen Brandon Moore and Damien Woody actually ranked higher in pass protection among playoff contenders than the team's big-name center, Nick Mangold, and its one-time No. 4 draft pick, D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
Other findings confirmed what we already suspected: Highly touted Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk was ranked No. 1 his position, for instance, and the top-ranked left guard in the playoffs was Logan Mankins of the New England Patriots, a three-time pro bowler. The Patriots line also graded out No. 1 among the eight remaining playoff teams. The Ravens were ranked No. 2.