NFL Z-Score All Decade Team: 2000s
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The turn of century meant taking the NFL to a whole new level. Fantasy football became as big as it ever had. Popularity grew exponentially league wide as people not only wanted to connect with their home team players, but everyone on their fantasy teams as well. A 24 hour network devoted to the NFL was created. Round the clock coverage of the league, complete with the implementation of Thursday night games, not just devoted to the season opener and Thanksgiving anymore.
Fantasy football would also become one of the leading reasons for another one of the NFL’s money grabs, Sunday ticket and the Red Zone channel. A place where every game is available and they’ll change the channel for you based on which game is having the most exciting moments.
Yes, technology is one of the greatest things that keep the NFL growing in popularity. They even brought technology to the field of play by instituting instant replay challenges in 1999. While it is supposed to be in place to ensure that the referees get the call right on the field, Oakland Raiders fans still cringe from two words uttered in 2001; “Tuck Rule”. More on that later on.
Starting the new decade, the Baltimore Ravens were coming off their best season yet at 8-8 under new head coach Brian Billick. Led by Hall of famer Jonathan Ogden, and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, the Ravens took even bigger strides finishing 12-4, earning their first playoff berth. The Lewis led defense set records, allowing just 165 points that year. 10.3 per game. Four shutouts, and nine games allowing single digits or zero. Their division rival Tennessee Titans, hadn’t lost a game in their new stadium in this their second year, until the Ravens went in there and beat them not once, but twice. The second time came in the Divisional round of the playoffs to advance to the AFC title game. The defense shined again holding the high powered offense of the Raiders to three points. They would follow suit allowing just seven to the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, although it was on a special teams play.
Yes, the Colts had moved to Indy. In the 17 years from the time they moved until the year 2000, zero Super Bowl appearances. Baltimore in those 17 years, landed in one, and a win to boot. Only took five seasons, and two under Billick’s watch.
2001 was a season played in the shadow of the attacks on 9/11 prior to the second week. The league cancelled their games and moved week 2 to the end of the year. That following week, the world was introduced to Tom Brady, backup quarterback. He entered the game for the injured Drew Bledsoe. Pretty soon, Brady was leading the Patriots to win after win, and into the playoffs. Cut to the “Tuck Rule”, in the AFC title game against the Raiders, in a blizzard, in the final game at Foxboro Stadium, Brady dropped back and pump faked. When he stopped his motion, the ball was stripped, and the Raiders, leading late in the game, seemingly saw their Super Bowl aspirations come to fruition. Upon further review, it was deemed that the arm of Brady had come forward, resulting in an incomplete pass. Adam Vinatieri with otherwise improbable game tying, and game winning field goals through the blinding snow, the rest is history. There was something just right about a team called the Patriots finishing that season on top in their red, white and blue.
It was the start of a dynasty that saw the Patriots win three Super Bowls in four years, and return to the big game for a fifth time in the decade, looking to cap off the first perfect season since the 1972 Dolphins. The New York Giants had other plans as they upset the heavily favored Patriots in SB XLII, sending them to an 18-1 finish
Spygate had caught up to the Patriots by this point, and they have yet to win a Super Bowl without cheating.
Parity would take the league by storm once again as 14 different teams made up the 20 Super Bowl representatives of the decade. Three of those teams came from years and years of despair to finally make it to the big game. The Tampa Bay Bucs (often called the “Yucks”) and New Orleans Saints (often called the “Aints”) both hoisted the trophy. The Arizona Cardinals, who had won exactly one playoff game in the Super Bowl era, made it, but fell just short to the Steelers in SB XLIII.
Realignment also took place once again, as the last team added to the current slate of teams was added in 2002. The Houston Texans were an expansion team which created an even number. As a result, Seattle moved to the NFC West, and three divisions in each conference became four divisions of four teams.
Baltimore was back on the football map and in the process, had five players named to the NFLs All Decade team of the 2000s. They are Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden, Jamal Lewis, and Lorenzo Neal.
Those are the best of the best from the 2000s. But does Z-Score with our sRBZ metric agree? Z-Score is a measure of how far above or below the average something is. For a full explanation on Z-Score, refer to this article. Of the #1 ranked most above average players in a season according to our ranks, the AP agreed with us four times this decade in picking their MVP. However, a score over 1.96 puts said player in the top 5%, or elite status by some definition. So it looks like we have a bone to pick here as the AP picked a less than elite season as most valuable five times. Before we get to the ten best seasons of the decade let’s take a look at the supposed MVP campaigns.
Let’s look at 2000, and Rich Gannon. Gannon and his 1.548 sRBZ was second best for QBs, with Chad Pennington actually having the best season for a QB at 2.3873. Priest Holmes was the leader of the pack and our MVP choice at 3.1432.
Gannon – 67.6%, 4,689 yards (7.6 Y/A), 29 TDs, 19 turnovers
Pennington – 68.9%, 3,120 yards (7.8 Y/A), 24 TDs, 8 turnovers
Holmes – 2,287 scrimmage yards, 5.9 Y/T, 163.3 Y/G, 24 TDs, 1 fumble
Well, if there is any trend in the voting among the AP after looking at the previous decades, it’s that they don’t care about taking care of the football. Sure, Gannon attempted a little more than 200 more passes than Pennington. But the Jets QB was more efficient. Shouldn’t there be something said for that? Probably helps that Gannon also made it to the Super Bowl that year. Even if you don’t want to consider Pennington in the conversation, how does Priest Holmes get left out? Those numbers by Gannon are very meh. Holmes has a season there that they’ll be talking about for years to come.
Moving on to 2003 where Peyton Manning and Steve McNair split the award. They were in fact the two top QBs by our metric. But, neither was “elite” this season by out metric, falling short of the 1.96 mark. The top season in 2003 went to Randy Moss. You be the judge.
Manning – 67%, 4,267 yards (7.5 Y/A), 29 TDs, 16 turnovers
McNair – 62.5 %, 3,215 (8.0 Y/A), 28 TDs, 19 turnovers
Moss – 111 catches, 6.9 R/G, 1,632 yards, 14.7 Y/R. 102 Y/G, 17 TDs
Again, like Gannon the year before, pretty tame numbers from the quarterbacks. Moss’ numbers are much more impressive for a receiver.
In 2005, Shaun Alexander garnered the attention that Priest Holmes should have three years prior. He was ranked fifth by our metric Fifth is good, but he was ranked second among RBs with Tiki Barber earning top honors. Here’s their lines, compare it to Holmes above.
Alexander – 1,958 scrimmage yards, 5.08 Y/T, 122.3 Y/G, 28 TDs, 5 fumbles
Barber – 2,390 scrimmage yards, 5.81 Y/T, 149.4 Y/G, 11 TDs, 1 fumble
Take the yards and the protection, or the TDs and the mistakes?
Rounding out the decade, let talk about Peyton Manning. I’m not about to call him overrated, am I? Um, no. He is undoubtedly the best quarterback ever to play the game. However, I think his name, his pedigree, his successes, put him up on a pedestal above all the rest in the eyes of the voters, as if to say there is Peyton Manning, then the rest of them. Manning won his third and fourth league MVPs in 2008 and 2009. But was he deserving, or was the magical 2004 season where he threw a record 49 TDs still fresh in the minds of the voters? In 2008, by our metric, Manning was the second best QB, runner up to Phillip Rivers.
Manning – 66.8%, 4002 yards, (7.2 Y/A), 28 TDs, 13 turnovers
Rivers – 65.3%, 4009 yards (8.4 Y/A), 34 TDs, 19 turnovers
Oh, so now the voters take turnovers into account.
Moving on to 2009, Manning was ranked a whopping 17th by this metric. It’s the lowest ranking for an AP MVP winner since John Elway was ranked 23rd here and won in 1987. Manning was also the fourth best QB by our metric that year. Check it out.
Manning – 68.8%, 4,500 yards (7.9 Y/A), 33 TDs, 18 turnovers, sRBZ – 1.2784
Rodgers – 64.7%, 4,434 yards (8.2 Y/A), 35 TDs, 17 turnovers, sRBZ – 1.3102
Brees – 70.6 %, 4,388 yards (8.5 Y/A), 36 TDs, 21 turnovers, sRBZ – 1.6783
Favre – 68.4%, 4,202 yards (7.9 Y/A), 33 TDs, 9 turnovers, sRBZ – 1.9863
Very close race among the QBs in 2009. Anyone of those four could have been anointed MVP and no one would have complained about it. When in doubt, go with Manning I guess. Also, since this is one of those equations based on deviation and league averages, this many outstanding seasons bring the league average up. If Manning had the same season, but the other three were a bit more down to earth bringing league average down, then Manning would have a higher sRBZ.
Four great seasons by those QBs, but they couldn’t match what RB Chris Johnson did in 2009.
Johnson – 2,509 scrimmage yards (6.2 Y/T), 156.8 Y/G, 16 TDs, 3 fumbles.
More on that amazing season from Johnson as we list the top ten seasons of the 2000s
**Disclaimer** Number 10 on this list is actually supposed to be Terrell Owens in 2005. However, he only played seven games. In those seven games he put up some great numbers that would be even more impressive spread over 16 games. However, by barely qualifying, I can’t in good faith say a guy who played in less than half of the games had a great season. So…on we go without Owens.
10. Randy Moss, WR, New England Patriots, 2007 – sRBZ: 2.6162 – Moss made his mark in history by catching a record 23 touchdown passes from Tom Brady in this season. The Patriots offense in 2007 was unbeatable throughout the first undefeated regular season since the 1972 Dolphins. Unlike the Dolphins, the Patriots couldn’t finish it out losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
9. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts, 2004 – sRBZ: 2.8253 – Manning, like Moss prior to him on this list, set a new record in 2004, throwing for 49 TDs. Eclipsing Dan Marino’s mark of 48 in 1984. His 4.557 yards was third best in 04’, but his 9.2 Y/A is outstanding, as well as over 3 TDs per turnover.
8. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts, 2006 – sRBZ: 2.8386 – Not so much a better year than his 2004 campaign, but the rest of the league regressed a bit in 2006, Manning just didn’t as much. A 65% CMP was second best, 4,397 yards is good for second and a Y/A of 7.9. He scored 35 TDs and the next best was Carson Palmers 28. He once again did an incredible job at protecting the football with just 11 turnovers, once again over 3 TDs per turnover.
7. Randy Moss, WR, Minnesota Vikings, 2003 – sRBZ: 2.8769 – It was Torry Holt and Randy Moss that separated themselves from the herd with over 100 catches and over 1600 yards. But Moss racked up 17 TDs to Holt’s 12. Advantage, Moss. Moss had more catches and yards than he did in the Patriots juggernaut year in 2007.
6. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots, 2007 – sRBZ: 3.0043 – Brady was the general of one of the most prolific offenses in recent memory. He led the league in every major category, including breaking the passing TD mark with 50, and rushing for two more. The next closest to Brady in scores was Tony Romo…14 shy at 38.
5. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans, 2009 – sRBZ: 3.0707 – CJ2K was the first back to reach 2,500 scrimmage yards in a season, and he still holds the record with that 2009 season mark. It’s hard to set a single season record in a major category and not be named MVP, right? His full stat line is above.
4. Priest Holmes, RB, Kansas City Chiefs, 2002 – sRBZ: 3.1432 – see above as well. His 2,287 yards we’re fifth most in a season at that point. 24 TDs was also two shy of the single season record. A record he would break by one the following season.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers, 2006 – sRBZ: 3.1524 – Tomlinson may not have been the league leader in yards or attempts, but he was close. One stat he led by a mile was touchdowns as he still to this day is in a club all by himself. The 30 TD club. 31 TDs to be exact in 2006. Another way to look at it, Tomlinson was worth 442 fantasy points that year. LeSean McCoy, 2013’s leading rusher, 304 points. The more teams that go to a committee approach, at RB, or have a goal line back, the less chance I think anyone will ever challenge Tomlinson’s 31 TD mark.
2. Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams, 2000 – sRBZ: 3.521 – Faulk missed two games in the 2000 season….and still amassed 2,000+ yards from scrimmage. It was 2,189 yards to be exact. He averaged 6.5 Y/T, 156.3 Y/G, and found the endzone 26 times. Had he played in the other two games, the 30 TD club could have two members. He also may have cracked 2,500 yards as well. Clearly he couldn’t top that effort….or could he….
1. Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams, 2001 – sRBZ: 3.6539 – Just like the 2000 season, Faulk missed two games, and still was able to reach 2,147 scrimmage yards. He only got to 21 TDs (only, pffft). The rest of the leagues running production dropped a bit, lowering the averages and rising Faulk’s score for this season as he clearly didn’t drop off as much as his peers. Consider that Faulk’s 1999 season also was one of the all-time bests, this span from 99’-01’ might very well be the greatest three year stretch of production ever, for any position.
Quickly, the ten worst seasons of the decade:
10. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders, 2009, sRBZ: -2.1476
9. Eddie George, RB, Dallas Cowboys, 2004, sRBZ: -2.1476
8. Kyle Orton, QB, Chicago Bears, 2005, sRBZ: -2.1484
7. JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders, 2009, sRBZ: – 2.1751
6. Jermaine Wiggins, TE, Minnesota Vikings, 2006, sRBZ: -2.2138
5. Freddie Jones, TE, Arizona Cardinals, 2004, sRBZ: -2.2183
4. Ron Dugans, WR, Cincinnati Bengals, 2002, sRBZ: -2.3364
3. Ike Hilliard, WR, New York Giants, 2004, sRBZ: -2.3650
2. Akili Smith, QB, Cincinnati Bengals, 2002, sRBZ: -2.6727
1. Chris Perry, RB, Cincinnati Bengals, 2008, sRBZ: -3.8648
What does the worst season of the 2000s look like for Perry, which by the way, is the worst season of any by this metric (1950-present): 13 games, 124 touches, 2.74 yards per touch, 26.1 Y/G, 2 TDs, 5 Fumbles.
The most average season of the 2000s: Brian Finneran, WR, Atlanta Falcons, 2002, sRBZ: -0.0014. 56 catches, 838 yards, 15 Y/R, 52.4 Y/G, 6 TDs.
As we look at the rookie of the year candidates, the AP agreed with us quite often. But the times we missed, we we’re way off from each other. Now, I’m not going to list all 11 of the players that our metric felt like had a better season than Vince Young in 2006, or all five that we’re better off than Matt Ryan in 2008 (Joe Flacco wasn’t one of them by this metric anyway). But maybe take a look at the top two rookies in our metric and compare to each and we’ll see where the disparity is.
Marques Colston – WR – 70 receptions, 1,038 yards, 74.1 Y/G, 8 TDs, sRBZ: 1.1825
Frank Gore – RB – 372 touches, 2,180 scrimmage yards, 136.3 Y/G, 9 TDs, 6 Fum, sRBZ: 0.9744
Matt Leinart – QB – 56.8% CMP, 2,547 yards (6.8 Y/A), 13 TDs, 20 turnovers, sRBZ: -0.529
Vince Young – QB – 51.5% CMP, 2,199 yards (6.2 Y/A), 19 TDs, 25 turnovers, sRBZ: -0.972
Leinart was ranked a little higher than Young as the higher ranked rookie QB. Neither had great seasons by any means. Clearly the seasons by Gore and Colston we’re better than that of Young. What we’re they thinking. Colston had pretty solid numbers for a tight end (fantasy football players know what I’m talking about).
Chris Johnson – RB – 294 touches, 1,488 scrimmage yards, 99.2 Y/G, 10 TDs, 1 Fum. sRBZ: 1.2611
Matt Forte – RB – 379 touches, 1,715 scrimmage yards, 107.2 Y/G, 12 TDs, 1 Fum. sRBZ: 1.2104
Matt Ryan – QB – 61.1% CMP, 3,440 yards, 17 TDs, 17 turnovers, sRBZ: 0.1234
A pretty average year from Ryan. But a pair of rookie running backs that average near 100 yards per game and score double digit TDs is more impressive. Ryan was the highest ranking rookie QB. Quarterback bias is still a thing among the voters.
No love for the Ravens Super Bowl team of 2000 according to these offensive metrics. Here are some of the sRBZ scores for the notable offensive players from that year.
Trent Dilfer: -0.358
Tony Banks: -1.111
Jamal Lewis: -0.086
Priest Holmes: -0.618
Shannon Sharpe: -0.409
Qadry Ismail: -0.556
In this decade, it was running backs who dominated the landscape. Marshall Faulk joins John Jefferson, O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Raymond Berry as two time recipients of sRBZ player of the year. Lenny Moore and Steve Young have won three times, and Jerry Rice has four.
Joe Montana had been the first QB to win sRBZ POTY since Otto Graham, and Steve Young now joins the club. This means that Kurt Warner is the first non-San Francisco QB in 44 years to win it.
60 years down as we head toward the present day. We’ll present 2010-2014 at the end of this regular season to round out this extensive project.