Commentary

Football Outsiders: Week 1 Quick Reads

Updated: September 10, 2008, 2:31 PM ET
By Aaron Schatz and Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders.com

Each week, it is easy to figure out which players had the most value in fantasy football. But what about the question of which players had the most value in actual, real-life NFL football? It isn't enough to add up yards and touchdowns. A running back who piles up a ton of 2-yard carries isn't really helping his team win, and he's not really responsible for a touchdown if the quarterback completed 90 yards worth of passes to get the team to the 1-yard line. A wide receiver who has five catches that each gain a first down is helping his team more than a receiver who catches one touchdown but lets the defense bat away four different incomplete passes on third down. And if your defense picks off the other quarterback when he's backed up against his own end zone, how much credit does the offense really deserve for the ensuing touchdown drive that might go all of 8 yards?

At FootballOutsiders.com, we've developed a system called Yards Above Replacement (YAR) that gives us a pretty good idea of which players did the most to help their teams win or lose. The success of every single NFL play is judged based on yardage gained toward both a touchdown and a first down. Then each play gets compared to the NFL average on similar plays, based on down, distance and other variables. Once we have enough data for the season, we also adjust for the quality of the opposing defense. (It's important to note that this week's numbers are not adjusted for opponent.) Each player's performance is then translated into an approximate number of yards representing what such success (or failure) is worth when compared to your average second-tier player.

Need an even quicker and easier way to see how good a player was? Use another stat we call Effective Yards (EYds). Effective Yards takes the player's performance, adjusted for situation and opponent, and puts it on the exact same scale as standard yardage. If a player has more Effective Yards than Yards, he was better than standard stats make him look. If he has fewer Effective Yards, he was worse than standard stats make him look.

Each Monday in Quick Reads, we'll use YAR and Effective Yards to take a look at the best and worst quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers of the week. (This initial edition is a day later so we could include both "Monday Night Football" games.) You can read how it works here.

The first week of the season is always followed by that annual holiday named National Jump to Conclusions Week. Performances that might be seen as flukes later in the season are instead taken as infallible indicators of improvement and decline. Carson Palmer has collapsed! (Note: Against a Baltimore defense that's likely to be much improved from last year.) Michael Turner is amazing! (Note: Against a Detroit defense that's not likely to be much improved from last year.)

Two years ago, the top quarterbacks in Week 1 were Chad Pennington, Donovan McNabb, Kurt Warner and Rex Grossman. Alex Smith was sixth, and Michael Vick was seventh. How did that work out?

Right now, Week 1 stats are all we have to work with, and some of the surprise teams and players this week will end up on top at the end of the year. But some will not. Football Outsiders urges you to resist National Jump to Conclusions Week.

Now, on to the business of the first week's Quick Reads.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
1.
Donovan McNabb PHI
21/33
361
3
0
221
223
-2
480

The Rams might have spent their last two first-round picks on defensive linemen, but McNabb could have computed these statistics in the pocket himself and still completed a 45-yard pass on most of his dropbacks.

2.
Jay Cutler DEN
16/24
299
2
0
180
180
0.0
387

Does Cutler have a special mind meld with Eddie Royal? A better explanation is that Cutler spent the whole night avoiding Nnamdi Asomugha and targeting D'Angelo Hall.

3.
Tony Romo DAL
24/32
320
1
1
159
159
0
381
Romo would have passed McNabb and Cutler on this list had his third-quarter interception in the end zone been a touchdown pass instead.
4.
Philip Rivers SD
17/27
217
3
0
119
119.2
0.0
305
5.
Jon Kitna DET
24/32
262
2
1
107
109
-2
331
11-of-13 on first downs; unfortunately, by the time he'd thrown his sixth pass, the Lions were down 21-0.
6.
Drew Brees NO
23/32
343
3
1
107
107
0
313
Although Brees' touchdown pass to Reggie Bush won the game for the Saints, his most valuable play was the bomb to Devery Henderson; the latter earned him 46 DYAR, and the former 41 DYAR.
7.
Jake Delhomme CAR
23/41
256
1
0
94
94
0
358
8.
Aaron Rodgers GB
18/22
178
1
0
76
61
15
243
9.
Trent Edwards BUF
19/30
215
1
0
72
72
0
251
It's a testament to both Edwards and a stretched Bills offensive line that he was sacked only once. That also was the only play of the day in which Edwards racked up as many as -10 DYAR.
10.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
13/14
137
2
0
71
63
8
203
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
11.
Matt Cassel NE
13/18
152
1
0
70
64
6
208
Remember how the 49ers stayed competitive when Joe Montana and Steve Young would get injured and be replaced by guys like Jeff Kemp and Steve Bono?
12.
Peyton Manning IND
30/49
257
1
0
68
68
0
358
Manning's night presents a perfect example of the difference between Yards Above Replacement and Effective Yards. Although Manning threw for 257 yards, it took him 49 attempts, much of his yardage was gained when he dumped the ball underneath coverage for short, ineffectual gains.
13.
Matt Ryan ATL
9/13
161
1
0
67
69
-2
164
If we gave out points for handing off really effectively and properly celebrating running back touchdowns, Ryan's day would be even better. Of his 69 YAR, 43 yards came on his first NFL pass, the touchdown throw to Michael Jenkins.
14.
Kurt Warner ARI
19/30
197
1
0
59
66
-7
245
15.
Joe Flacco BAL
15/29
133
0
0
53
31
22
258
16.
Chad Pennington MIA
26/43
251
2
1
40
40
0
285
17.
JaMarcus Russell OAK
17/26
180
2
0
38
57.3
-19.4
187
18.
Kevin Kolb PHI
5/6
53
0
0
38
38
0
80
19.
Kyle Orton CHI
13/20
150
0
0
37
38
-1
168
The next time you hear the words "Kyle Orton" and "game manager" in the same sentence, ask that person how Orton conjured up nine defensive points and a fourth-and-1 stop.
20.
Brett Favre NYJ
15/22
194
2
0
33
31
2
185
His touchdown duck to Chansi Stuckey was equal parts Eli Manning and Dave "La Lob" LaRoche.
21.
Eli Manning NYG
19/35
216
0
1
31
22
8
266
22.
Tarvaris Jackson MIN
16/34
178
1
1
26
3.3
23.1
289
23.
Tom Brady NE
7/11
78
0
0
23
23
0
96
If you have a time machine, go back in time to an hour before the Patriots game. Bet your friend $100 that Brian Moorman will throw more touchdown passes in 2008 than Tom Brady. Hope your friend doesn't see your escape pod.
24.
Jason Campbell WAS
15/26
133
1
0
16
16
0
148
25.
Jeff Garcia TB
24/40
221
1
1
5
10
-5
213
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
26.
Brodie Croyle KC
11/19
88
0
0
0
0
0
111
27.
Derek Anderson CLE
11/24
114
1
0
-8
-11
3
146
28.
Marc Bulger STL
14/26
158
0
0
-26
-26
0
96
29.
Damon Huard KC
8/12
118
1
1
-35
-35
0
25
30.
J.T. O'Sullivan SF
14/20
195
0
1
-42
-39
-3
78
31.
Matt Hasselbeck SEA
17/41
190
1
1
-64
-64
0
132
32.
Matt Schaub HOU
25/33
202
1
2
-66
-70
4
128
Schaub to Andre Johnson: 10-for-12 (plus a pass-interference call) for 112 passing yards and 91 YAR. Schaub on all other plays: 90 passing yards and -161 YAR.
33.
Carson Palmer CIN
10/24
99
0
1
-75
-77
2
49
34.
David Garrard JAC
23/35
215
1
2
-84
-80
-4
105
35.
Vince Young TEN
12/22
110
1
2
-106
-105
-1
-30
Young's most effective yards were the ones when he walked off the field to allow Kerry Collins to get on. Collins earned 48 YAR on just two pass attempts (65 passing yards).

Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush Yds
Rush TD
Rec Yds
Rec TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Michael Turner ATL
220
2
6
0
104
102
2
252
Turner played as if he brought San Diego's offensive line with him to Atlanta. Unfortunately, he likely will not be able to bring the Lions' defensive front with him to each stop the Falcons make this year.
2.
Willie Parker PIT
138
3
0
0
63
63
0
187
Though Parker had the second-best day of any back in the league, his success rate (explained here) was only 40 percent. None of the other backs in the top 15 from Week 1 had a figure below 50 percent.
3.
Frank Gore SF
95
1
55
0
52
19
33
163
Gore gained 24 YAR on his big play, the 41-yard touchdown run, but also had -25 YAR on a carry that lost 2 yards with a fumble.
4.
Reggie Bush NO
51
0
112
1
51
-8
59
194
Bush had one carry for 26 yards, then 13 more for 25 total yards. He was obviously fantastic as a receiver, but it's hard to get first downs when your running back regularly puts you in second-and-10 and third-and-9 territory.
5.
Chris Johnson TEN
93
0
34
1
45
17
28
148
Johnson will give linebackers nightmares. If it weren't for Vince Young's overthrowing him on a third-and-short by few yards, he might have had another touchdown.

Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush Yds
Rush TD
Rec Yds
Rec TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Chris Perry CIN
37
0
5
0
-58
-52
-6
-20
Eventually, when we factor in the quality of the Baltimore defense, this game will look better, but Perry had a miserable 28 percent success rate and had people wondering whether the Bengals could get back Rudi Johnson.

Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
REC
ATT
Yds
AVG
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
1.
Eddie Royal DEN
9
11
146
13.3
1
79
199
Going back to 1995, this is the second-best performance by a rookie wide receiver in his debut. The best: Anquan Boldin in 2003, with 217 yards and 2 touchdowns (91 DYAR).
2.
Andre Johnson HOU
10
12
112
9.3
0
59
170
If the Texans could ever develop a receiver across from Johnson, they'd have a dynamic passing game. Instead, everyone focuses on Johnson, and he still catches everything.
3.
Hines Ward PIT
6
6
76
13
2
58
125
Four of Ward's six catches went for either first downs or touchdowns.
4.
Plaxico Burress NYG
10
13
133
10.2
0
46
149
We often joke that Eli Manning thinks Burress has a box three feet over his head that will drop a mushroom or leaf onto Burress if he hits it. The game against the Redskins featured a box that just leaked coin after coin onto Burress.
5.
Hank Baskett PHI
2
3
102
34.0
1
45
92
Most of Baskett's production came on his 90-yard touchdown catch and run, but he also picked up a first down later in the game and drew a 20-yard pass-interference penalty for another.

Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
REC
ATT
Yds
AVG
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
5.
Braylon Edwards CLE
2
10
14
1.4
0
-50
-9
Victimized by drops and poorly thrown passes, Edwards seemed to never get into the game Sunday. The man you can credit? Shockingly enough, the returning Adam Jones.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE NFL HEADLINES

MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM