2015 NFL Player Rankings (Z-Score)
I introduced those of you who follow Baltimore Sports and Life to Z-Score back in 2014. We looked at many decades worth of players dating back to 1950. In 2014 we followed Z-Scores throughout the season to track who is worthy of the “elite” tag. For the second year in a row, here is the best of the best according to the numbers and compared to their peers.
Click here for links to all of the decades we have broken down, including an in depth look at last years rankings.
Check out this article for all you need to know about Z-Score. The short version is that Z-Score is a number that is assigned to each qualifying player on a scale of -4.0 to +4.0, where 0.0 is average.
Any Z-Score over +1.96 is considered to be in the top 5% of the players measured, or “elite” by some definitions. In most seasons, scoring above +1.96 means you should be in consideration for the league’s MVP. All-Pro status at a minimum.
The NFL will hand out their awards as Super Bowl 50 approaches. What better time than now to check out how the players stack up. Lets take a look at the league’s elite candidates and the top rookies in 2015. Of course we’ll highlight the Ravens. This is Baltimore after all.
Discuss your thoughts on these ranking on our message board.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: sRBZ – 1.925. Bell only played six games in the 2015 season. But he toted the rock enough in that short time to become a qualifying player when it comes to counting his statistics. He led the league in scrimmage yards per game at 115.33. Over a full slate of games that comes out to 1,845 total yards. Pittsburgh’s other qualifying back, DeAngelo Williams, played all 16 games and averaged 79.63 yards. His 11 touchdowns make him one of only seven backs with double digit TDs. The rest of his body of work wasn’t that impressive leaving Williams with a score of 0.774.
Looking at a couple quarterbacks now, lets have a little blind resume fun.
Player A, QB: sRBZ – 1.733. Player A was our highest ranking quarterback for 2015. That statement is going to raise some eyebrows as it doesn’t cross the “elite” 1.96 threshold. You mean no quarterback was elite in 2015? Time to address the elephant in the room.
Player A – 329/483, 68.1 Cmp%. 4,024 passing yards, 8.3 Y/A. 35 Total TDs. 8 INTs, 7 fumbles.
Player B – 296/496, 59.7 Cmp%. 3,837 passing yards, 7.7 Y/A. 45 Total TDs, 10 INTs, 5 fumbles.
Player A is our QB leader in Z-Score.
Player B is Cam Newton. NFC Champion QB and already talked about as a shoe in for league MVP. His Z-Score of 1.324 ranked him seventh among quarterbacks. 45 TDs stands out for Cam which also helps his TD/turnover ratio which is accounted for in Z-Score. But the completion percentage, the yards per pass attempt, those are just average.
What does this mean? No single quarterback really separated himself from his peers. Instead of having two or three elite QBs in 2015, we had eight or nine really good ones.
Cam Newton is exciting, special, has that extra asset called his legs. But so does Player A in this scenario. Newton rushed for 636 yards on 132 attempts on the year. That’s 4.8 per carry and 39.8 yards per game.
Player A rushed for 553 yards on 103 attempts. Good for 5.4 per carry, and 34.6 per game.
Combine it all:
Player A: 4,577 yards. 586 pass/rush attempts. 7.81 yards per pass/rush
Newton: 4,473 yards. 628 pass/rush attempts. 7.12 yards per pass/rush
Clearly Player A was the more efficient quarterback on a per play basis. But Newton found the endzone more and generated a score on 7.2% of his attempts. Player A, 6.0%
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Player A is Russell Wilson.
But Newton will win the MVP for the same reason players win the Heisman Trophy. He’s the best player on the best team. The MVP is supposed to be a regular season award, but you can’t help but notice the level Newton took his game to in the last two playoff games. That will unfairly help his case. Keep in mind Carolina’s first playoff game which the other man in this debate, Russell Wilson, looked like a rookie for three quarters against the Panther’s stout defense. Cam Newton shredded a good Arizona Cardinals defense and promptly put away Seattle.
Regular season alone, Wilson was better, slightly. Even in the phase Newton really excels in, running the ball. But if you want to look at the touchdown total alone and the level Newton took his game to in the last two weekends, Cam is your guy. Cam will be the guy because wide receivers never get any love in MVP voting. Did you know Jerry Rice, the greatest player of all time, never won an MVP? It’s always the quarterback on the best team, or sometimes a running back who approaches record setting numbers.
With all of that said, only three players cracked the +1.96 “elite” benchmark in Z-Score. None of them we’re QBs. Here are three players who set themselves miles apart from their peers at their position.
Z-Score All-Pro candidates
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: sRBZ – 2.031. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: sRBZ – 2.134
Jones and Brown nearly mirrored each other in production. Both reached 136 catches which is tied for second most in a season (Marvin Harrison, 143 in 2002). Jones out performed Brown in yardage, 1,871 to 1,834. Brown with the edge in touchdowns, ten to eight. As a gauge, DeAndre Hopkins ranked third on our scale at 1.517. He had 111 catches for 1,521 yards. 11 TDs though.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: sRBZ – 2.080. Freeman will fall in line behind Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin as the top rushers. Both of them posted over 1,400 rushing yards to Freeman’s 1,056. But Freeman was a weapon in receiving as well, catching 73 passes and finishing third in scrimmage yards, much closer to Martin and Peterson. (Freeman – 1,634. Martin – 1,673. Peterson – 1,707). Freeman did miss one game in 2015, which could have propelled him up to the scrimmage yards lead. His 108.93 scrimmage yards per game were second only to Le’Veon Bell. Freeman also led all backs in TDs with 14, and fumbled less per touch than Doug Martin and Adrian Peterson.
Rookies in the 2015 class (worst to best)
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers: sRBZ – -2.637 (Round 1, #15)
Ameer Abdulah, RB, Detroit Lions: sRBZ – -2.099 (Round 2)
Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins: sRBZ – -1.546 (Round 4)
Matt Jones, RB, Washington Redskins: sRBZ – -1.461 (Round 3)
Javorius Allen, RB, Baltimore Ravens: sRBZ- -0.918 (Round 4)
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks: sRBZ – -0.872 (Round 4)
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings: sRBZ – -0.425 (Round 5)
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns: sRBZ – -0.237 (Round 2)
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: sRBZ – -0.006 (Round 1, #1)
Jeremy Langford, RB, Chicago Bears: sRBZ – 0.123 (Round 4)
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders: sRBZ – 0.141 (Round 1, #4)
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans: sRBZ – 0.301 (Round 1, #2)
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: sRBZ – 0.450 (Round 2)
Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks: sRBZ – 0.758 (Undrafted)
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: sRBZ – 0.854 (Round 3)
…and 2015 Rookie of the Year should go to…
Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams: sRBZ – 1.571 (Round 1, #10).
Where do the Ravens rank?
Joe Flacco: sRBZ – -0.005. Despite missing the final six games of 2015, Joe Flacco ranks just about league average overall (0.0 Z-Score being average). He ranks 22nd among QBs according to our Z-score. Much lower than his 14th place finish a year ago. But, Peyton Manning, ranking 32nd out of 35 quarterbacks, is about to play in the Super Bowl. So there’s that.
Justin Forsett: sRBZ – 0.018. Forsett, like Flacco, is just about average on the year as well, also missing the last six games of the year and also ranking 22nd among RBs. His yards per touch (4.36) has taken a hit since he didn’t excel in receiving under Marc Trestman’s new offense. He only found the endzone twice on the year. But it should be noted that he never coughed the ball up.
Javorius Allen: sRBZ – -0.918. Allen saw his workload increase after Forsett was lost for the season. He was excellent in receiving going for 7.8 yards per reception versus Forsett’s 4.9 YPR
Kamar Aiken: sRBZ – -0.341. Aiken was thrust into the top target role when Smith Sr. went down. It’s the only reason he was able to manage 75 catches, nearly 1,000 yards (944) and five scores on the year. He did show ability to be an asset, but Ravens fans are hoping to see him relied on as no better than the number three or four option in the following year.
**Steve Smith Sr.: sRBZ – 1.013. At the halfway mark of the season, Smith Sr. ranked 12th among receivers and tight ends in our ranking. He was also the highest ranking Ravens player and the only Ravens receiver to qualify for measurement at that point. 46 catches for 670 yards in seven games was pretty good. His 95.7 yards per game ranked fifth in the NFL. Smith Sr. found the endzone three times. Had he kept those numbers going through the rest of the season, he would have finished tenth among NFL receivers.
**Did not qualify.
Here are the complete Z-Score, sRBZ rankings for the 2015 season.
Receivers, Tight Ends
Antonio Brown owns the top score for 2015 after finishing third overall in 2014. But his score ranks just 19th among seasons since 2010. Tom Brady’s 2010 season with a score of 3.332 tops the current decade and ranks as the ninth best season ever. For comparison sake, this season for Antonio Brown ranks 167th.