25 May 2011

Charting Colston's Career

With the recent announcement of Marques Colston's inclusion in the top 60 players in NFL in 2010, it seems like a relevant time to examine Colston's career and see how it matches up against his contemporaries. For most of his five-year career, Colston has flown beneath the proverbial radar and, seemingly, has been chronically undervalued by the media and "pundits" outside of the New Orleans/NFC South region. To wit, Colston has yet to receive a Pro Bowl invitation. 

Yet among his peers, Colston has emerged as a top-shelf WR ahead of more heralded playmakers like Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, and Santonio Holmes. While this might be somewhat surprising to many NFL fans and "experts" alike, it is less surprising to Saints' fans. But is it warranted? 

Let's take a look at how Colston has fared against his fellow WRs from 2006-2010. Using my own rudimentary system for weighing the importance of these basic statistical benchmarks of catches; yards; TDs; and games missed, I ranked fifteen WRs.

Colston ranks 9th among this group, tied with Brandon Marshall. What stands out most glaringly is that Colston has been the least durable WR among this elite group over the five-year span. While Reggie Wayne has been astonishingly durable--missing zero games in the last five regular seasons--Colston has missed eleven. In a league where each game is extremely important, missed games remain significant in all areas, especially when comparing players' values. If staying healthy is a skill--which it probably mostly isn't, though no less impactful to results--Colston is the worst among the elite class in this category. It's a testament to Colston's production--along with the Saints' pass-first philosophy--that he's been able to keep pace statistically with his colleagues. 

Let's dig a little deeper. How exactly does Colston rank in "per game" production. Using a similar methodology for weighing the categories, here are the per-game values and corresponding rankings I generated:

When production is weighted for per-game significance only, Colston's value vaults much higher, falling a notch below the elite tier of A. Johnson, L. Fitzgerald, and R. Wayne. What's more is that Colston is a "smaller" cog in his offense's machinery.  His targets/games played, total targets, and overall% of team targets falls toward the bottom tier of this group, meaning that Colston--when he's playing--is doing more with less. He's producing almost as much as the elite WRs, even though his opportunities are more sparse than theirs. Specifically, his opportunities in relation to his peers look like this: 

What's relevant here is that the top three WR's in terms of production--Wayne, Fitzgerald, Johnson--are also the most targeted. Of these fifteen WRs, Colston is last in target%--which is just his percentage of the team's total targets--and thirteenth in overall targets. Now both of these rankings are attributable, in part, to the fact that Colston has missed eleven games and that the Saints throw more than most teams in the league. What's indisputable, however, is that Colston ranks towards the bottom tier of targets/games played. When he plays, Colston receives fewer opportunities than most of his counterparts in this group yet still outperforms the vast majority of them. 

Emerging from this analysis is Colston's overall high level of efficiency in games played and opportunities granted. We can bolster this claim of high efficiency through two more statistical benchmarks: Catch Rate and Success Rate. These stats are cited from here

Simply, Catch Rate measures the percentage of passes caught that are intended for said WR; just think of this as the "hands" category. Success Rate is a bit more nebulous, but measures the percentage of plays--in which the WR is directly involved--that are considered successful. Within the group of 15 WRs we've used for this exercise, this is how Colston measures up:

In the Catch Rate rankings, Colston essentially ranks in the top tier if you view Welker's rating as a potential outlier. Welker catches mostly short passes--thus greatly increasing the likelihood for catching each pass. The subsequent ratings for Wayne, A. Johnson, Boldin, and Colston are all closely grouped--separated by less than one percentage point--thus indicating an outlier scenario for Welker whose rate shatters that of his peers. Regardless, Colston ranks towards to the top. 

Similarly, Colston ranks near the very top for Success Rate. As Saints' fans already know, when Colston is involved, good things happen. Surprisingly, he ranks higher than both A. Johnson and L. Fitzgerald in this category that essentially defines a player's relation to his team's individual successes. 

It's important to note that in these two categories (Catch Rate and Success Rate), I'm measuring Colston's rates against the other 14 WRs in the group. The rankings in these two categories do not contain the entire class of NFL WRs; instead, I'm ranking these 15 players within their own group, which has been the most statistically productive group over the past five seasons. 

What we can summarize from this examination is that Colston is indeed fit for inclusion in the elite class of NFL WRs, even though he is largely excluded from that group among "experts." While his injury history is both concerning and limiting of production, Colston has nevertheless established himself not only as the best WR on the #1 offense of the last five years, but also as one of the best WRs in the league. 

After all, it's efficient production and Super Bowl wins that largely matter and Colston has both. 

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