There are an abundance of statistical measurements and data that is readily available to anyone looking more in-depth at things in today’s NFL. But it’s always absolutely crucial to understand what exactly those measurements are looking to explain.
Case in point: the NFL’s Next Gen Stats and their Next Gen Stats All-Rookie team. Colts.com pointed out over the weekend that two Colts players - and two defenders, no less! - made the list. Linebacker Antonio Morrison and safety T.J. Green were both included.
The idea behind Next Gen stats is to look at things like speed and athleticism, as it “captures real time location data, speed and acceleration for every player, every play on every square inch of the field.” That doesn’t mean that Morrison and/or Green were good in their rookie seasons (though it also doesn’t mean they were bad), nor does it mean that the list is a joke if there are players who weren’t good. Because the list, for the most part, looks at those rookies who were fast and ran a lot.
Here’s what they said about Antonio Morrison:
Colts LB Antonio Morrison only totaled 43 tackles on the season, but he was drafted in the 4th round out of Florida because of his speed and sideline to sideline ability. That was demonstrated by his average distance to tackle (18.2 yards), which ranked 3rd among all inside linebackers during the 2016 season (minimum 40 tackles).
And here’s what they said about T.J. Green:
Colts FS T.J. Green was heralded in the pre-draft process for his elite speed. Green finished 9th among all safeties (and 8th among all FS) in largest average distance to tackle at 22.6 yards (minimum 40 tackles), demonstrating his ability to show off his range. Green's wheels were on display in Week 17 as he was nearly able to chase down Jaguars RB Corey Grant on his 57-yard touchdown run. Green reached a top speed of 22.34 MPH, which was the 3rd fastest top speed reached by a safety this season.
I can’t be the only one who finds it funny that the play they noted for T.J. Green was on a long Jaguars touchdown run where “he was nearly able to chase down” the running back because he ran super fast, right?
Anyway, both of these guys making the list fits what the NFL is trying to do with Next Gen stats in displaying athleticism and speed and things like that, since both guys had to run a lot to make tackles (which might say something about the rest of the defense or their positioning or something like that). But it doesn’t neccessarily represent how players fared overall. Just because they ran a lot or were fast doing it doesn’t even mean that those were even good plays, and it surely shouldn’t be used as ‘evidence’ for how they played.
The stats are helpful in understanding what happened: both Morrison and Green had to run a long way to make tackles, and Green was particularly fast in doing so - but we should be careful not to draw more conclusions than that with this data. The bottom line? Running a lot doesn’t automatically make a good football player.