While I still find myself digging through the ramifications of the N’Keal Harry trade, something on the other side of the ball grabbed my attention.
Before I begin, I’d be foolish if I didn’t make note that there have been differences in opinion between how Bears fans (present company included) and the folks at Pro Football Focus see things. But our differences don’t stop me from continuing to browse through the site, gain new perspective, and learn new things that I can apply as I watch the game through my own eyes.
With that being said, I’m fascinated with PFF’s tweak in how it grades receivers and defensive backs. And not just because Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson ranks as the No. 1 cornerback in PFF’s newly minted Route Coverage Grade Over Expectation.
Although, I’ll admit that is good enough reason for us to dig into this metric a bit more.
PFF’s Route Coverage Grade Over Expectation is meant to grade players on the difference between the actual route-coverage grade on the play and the expected route-coverage grade. This new method of evaluating cornerbacks (and receivers via the Route Running Grade Over Expectation) should give us new perspective and additional depth in identifying who’s going well and who isn’t. And while I don’t expect this to be a catch-all stat, I think it can be helpful as we try to gain a greater knowledge of the game and players. That aspect shouldn’t be lost on us in the grand scheme of things.
Grading each player on every play doesn’t fully illustrate what a player did on a given play. And by implementing these new metrics, I feel as if PFF understands that. So, perhaps with that in mind, it is notable to see the analytics giant dig deeper in its analysis. Particularly when it comes to receivers and defensive backs, who have to account for so much at their respective spots.
I’m very much into PFF breaking it down into multiple facets. With those being (1) route-running and covering the route, (2) catch and defending the target, and (3) yards after the catch and tackling. All in all, this is pretty neat — especially if you’re into some of this nerdier football stuff.
As for the Route Coverage Over Expectation grades, the leaderboard looks like this:
- Jaylon Johnson, 0.086
- Ronald Darby, 0.072
- Rasul Douglas, 0.055
- Patrick Peterson, 0.054
- Bryce Hall, 0.050
- Jourdan Lewis, 0.049
- Taron Johnson, 0.047
- Marshon Lattimore, 0.046
- Darious Williams, 0.046
- Byron Murphy Jr., 0.044
Seeing Johnson at the top of a list featuring some darn good corners is encouraging. This placement is really interesting for Johnson, and not just because he is a Bears player at an important position grading out well in a newly created advanced metric. Because seeing Johnson’s standing in this group suggests he excels in areas that are important to his position. I feel as if this grade bodes well for the rising third-year cornerback moving forward.
In the end, this is why you’ll see me banging the table hoping for more consistency from Johnson. We’ve seen Johnson get off to strong starts in each of his first two seasons as a pro. And they’ve helped establish him as a quality NFL starter. But we’ve also been his play and production fizzle out as the season went along. Maybe some of that has to do with battling injuries and the wear-and-tear that comes with being a pro cornerback. Even still … I’d like to think the strong starts would bode well for the long haul. Perhaps a fully healthy season from Johnson will allow him to reach that untapped potential that we’ve seen only in early season snapshots.