Over the weekend, ESPN released an interesting look at teams in partnership with Pro Football Focus, where the idea was to see how many players away from the Super Bowl are each team. Because so many of you have asked me for my thoughts about this particular piece, we'll look at it here.
To begin with, the premise of the study came from PFF, who looked at the 28 teams that played in the conference championship games from 2007-2013. Using that data, PFF found that those teams were made up by 40% of their roster being "good" players or better, on average. So, the idea then followed that PFF would look at how many "good" players or better each team needs to enter that average. The idea makes some sense, right?
The list saw that the Cowboys were ranked number one, as they need zero additional players to reach the Super Bowl per this study. It went from there all the way through the Redskins and Jaguars, who both need 13 good players. The Indianapolis Colts were ranked number 20 on the list, as they need nine good players to reach the Super Bowl. Here's PFF's breakdown of their roster (of players with a minimum of 250 snaps): two elite players (Vontae Davis and T.Y. Hilton), four good players (Mike Adams, Anthony Castonzo, Dwayne Allen, and Andrew Luck), 27 average players, and then four bad players (Gosder Cherilus, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, and Greg Toler).
These rankings are based on PFF's grades, which as we know aren't always accurate but normally give a general idea. I'm sure that there was some cutoff for the categories, but it's strange that they have T.Y. Hilton as an "elite" player but Andrew Luck not in that group. Nothing against Hilton, who had a tremendous season in 2014, but if he's in the elite category then his quarterback absolutely is as well. Other questions have to do with players who didn't play as significant of a role. There are some players that PFF lists as average that probably fit better into the bad category (like Trent Richardson) and some players that PFF lists as average that probably fit better into the good category (like Ahmad Bradshaw).
I think everyone here knows that I don't take PFF's grades as Gospel and, as I mentioned above, there are some questions about this process. But for the most part, I agree with the premise - the Colts need additional good players to reach the Super Bowl. This is the perception of the team nationally but not locally - that the Colts have Andrew Luck and a handful of other good players but as a team aren't that great. In other words, Luck makes the Colts look much better than they actually are as he covers over a number of mistakes. I think that's what is represented in this study that is useful, if nothing else - the Colts aren't there yet.
Do I think the Colts need nine more good players to reach the Super Bowl? Absolutely not. One thing that the ESPN and PFF piece did not do was consider the positions at which teams are strong or weak. For example, teams like the Browns (7th) and Jets (14th) are supposedly closer to reaching the Super Bowl according to this ranking, and that's not accurate. The Colts have Andrew Luck at the most important position in football, and he's already shown that he can cover over a lot of other holes on the roster. That's probably the biggest issue with this ranking - it doesn't account for the positions that those needs are in. A team that has a need at running back, for example, is better off than a team that has a need at quarterback, but according to this survey they're even.
So yes, the Colts need help to reach the Super Bowl. They're not there yet. But they're not nine good players away, because they have a great one at the game's most important position in Andrew Luck.