Type to search

Pro Football Focus Is Changing the Way Fans View the Game

When the Packers played the Bears, the TV network ran a graphic of the offensive and defensive formations of each team, with the players’ PFF numerical rankings featured below their names. That signifies to me that the Pro Football Focus grading system has reached a consensus among pro football followers of being an accurate and respected measure of players’ abilities.

How does PFF rates players? On every play, an analyst grades each player on a scale of -2 to +2 according to how he did on that play. From there, the grades are normalized to better account for game situation and are finally converted to a 0-100 scale.

Through Week 12, how has PFF rated Packer players compared to others at their positions?

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is ranked #1 overall by PFF, and he’s also the top-ranked passer, with Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Kirk Cousins, and Tom Brady holding down spots two through six. Aaron’s running grade is but 28th – but the team is better when Rodgers quickly releases the ball instead of scrambling and running. Plus, who’s to say AR won’t show off more of his running prowess in the postseason?

Among the 124 rated wide receivers, Davante Adams is at the top of the pile, and by a relatively wide margin. Interestingly, his two closest pursuers are the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Will Fuller, who the Packers considered trading for a few weeks ago, stands at #4 – on November 30, however, Fuller was suspended for six games for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Substance Policy.

Among the 36 rated centers, Corey Linsley is far and away the top-ranked guy – his total score of 89.8 is more than 10 points above his nearest competitor. Corey sprained his MCL against the Bears, so he’s expected to be out for three to six weeks. Even after Corey was carted off during the first period, the Packers’ O-line showed its depth by continuing to prevent Rodgers from being sacked, or even hit, the rest of the game.

Of 78 rated tackles, David Bakhtiari is top ranked; he’s almost equally highly ranked at both pass blocking (4th) and run-blocking (6th).

At cornerback, I believe Jaire Alexander had been the top-rated cornerback until recently. Following the Bears game, however, he currently ranks #4 among 125 rated CBs. He’s ranked fifth overall in pass coverage, while his run defense mark is graded as mediocre.

Below are some of the rest of PFF’s rankings of other key Green Bay players.

Despite rarely being beaten by pass rushers over a year and a half now, guard Elgton Jenkins is only rated 35th overall (out of 80). PFF has the second-year man at #13 at pass blocking, though he’s rated only #51 at run blocking.

PFF also doesn’t rank the rest of Green Bay’s receivers highly. They’ve got Allen Lazard at 74th, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling at 117th, eighth from the bottom. My eyes have certainly not shown Lazard to be ranked so low – to me it’s no coincidence that Allen missed two of the games that Green Bay has lost.

I’d also take issue with Robert Tonyan being ranked just 24th out of 72 tight ends. Though his receiver rating is okay at 20th, PFF marks him quite low as to pass- and run-blocking.

As to “half backs,” PFF has Aaron Jones at #27 and Jamaal Williams close behind at #30. The ratings be damned, I’ll be crushed if the Pack parts ways with Jones at season’s end.

As to the team’s other tackles, Rick Wagner comes in with a very respectable #20, while Billy Turner is at #52. Turner is being paid an average of $7M per year, while Wagner is getting $5.5M.

Green Bay’s primary guards, Elgton Jenkins and Lucas Patrick, are rated at #36 and #46 (out of 83) respectively.

With some trepidation, I turn my attention to the Packers’ defenders.

Re cornerbacks other than Alexander, Kevin King ranks 49th, Chandon Sullivan 62nd, and Josh Jackson 96th.

At safety, Adrian Amos stands in a commendable seventh position; he also ranks seventh as to pass coverage. The remaining Green Bay safeties are: Darnell Savage, a respectable 19th; Raven Greene, 53rd; and, Will Redmond, 70th.

Listed under “linebackers,” are: Krys Barnes, 73rd (out of 86), and Christian Kirksey, 80th. By the way, Blake Martinez, now with the Giants, is rated at #11 by PFF.

The next category is edge defenders. Za’Darius Smith is 14th (out of 106), Rashan Gary is 72nd, and Preston Smith is 89th.

That brings us to Interior Defenders, who number 127: Kngsley Keke is tops on the team, at 26th; Tyler Lancaster and Kenny Clark are tied at 37th; and Dean Lowry is 91st. The numbers for Keke and Lancaster are surprisingly solid – and better than Clark, who’s been playing through some injuries.

Kickers are also rated, though the placekicker listing has been inoperative. Punter J.K. Scott ranks 7th out of 29.

If you accept the notion that the PFF grading system is a good indication of a player’s performance, it’s not hard to say where the team’s strengths and weaknesses exist – or which players are, and are not, returning good value based on what they are getting paid. These ratings also highlight which Packers players need to step up and improve their play over the rest of the season and post-season.

Aaron Rodgers with Matt LaFleur on the sideline

Sep 20, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talks with head coach Matt LaFleur during the third quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Blessed with Top Talent

One final note. I’ve been looking at PFF grades sporadically over the past four years or so. Mostly I like to view scores of linemen, as it’s hard for TV viewers to see how well they are performing, as opposed to players in the skills positions.

To the best of my knowledge no Packer player has finished first at his position in the PFF rankings since at least 2016. But breaking news! Of the 14 positions that PFF employs (“Kickers” is still not functioning), Cleveland has two of the top-ranked guys, at fullback and guard. Eight other teams (most of whom are in the AFC) have one player each. Green Bay, however, has the top-rated quarterback, wide receiver, tackle, and center – and Jaire Alexander has off and on held PFF’s top cornerback spot. Astounding!

On this basis alone, I think you have to view Green Bay as having a real shot at making the Super Bowl.

Another way to look at things: despite the Packers being blessed with star players, the play of ILBs Christian Kirksey, Krys Barnes, Kamal Martin, Ty Summers, and Oren Burks might well determine how far the team goes the rest of the way.

Still another way to contemplate the future: though I don’t know what Aaron Rodgers’ final PFF player grade ranking was last year, his passer rating was only twelfth best among NFL QBs – and the Packers still made it to the NFC championship game. This year though, Mr. Rodgers is shooting the lights out – making anything possible!

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

    1

28 Comments

  1. PF4L December 4, 2020

    So…. i usually read the article before i know who the author is.
    As i’m reading it, i’m thinking to myself…remember to give props to the author as this is an article people can really sink their teeth into.
    Then i got towards the end of it and i read “……..you have to view Green Bay as having a real shot at making the Super Bowl.”
    As soon as i read that i said…”ROB!!” Sure enough, as i scrolled up to verify.
    .
    First things first, Kudos on the article. I would have posted the actual grades with the rankings, but no big thing. The article should draw discussion, not just on the players rankings, but the legitimacy and accuracy of their grading system. Under critical thinking, i just think there are a lot of questions. Under Robs explanation on how players are graded, it seems to be a 3 tier grading system, which alone brings up questions, which i’ll get into when i get freed up later. Although i always have questions about PFF grading system. I’ll say what i’ve always said. You have to trust it because it’s established, and it’s the only game in town. From what i understand, most if not all teams subscribe to it.
    .
    Now…about this Super Bowl mention. The problem is, most of our defensive players have lower grades this season, over last season. Meaning…overall…the defense has regressed. So in theory, do we have a better shot at making the Super Bowl this season over last season? We ALL know the 2020 draft hasn’t moved the needle. We know Christian Kirksey hasn’t moved that needle. I won’t pick on the others. It isn’t a secret what happened last season.
    So to me….the only way one could subscribe to the theory of the Packers having a real shot at making the SB this season, is improvements on offense.
    .
    BTW….How could Justin Jefferson rank so high? He’s a first year receiver. I read after the draft that 1st year receivers can’t help a team.
    That’s why i thought 2nd round pick DK Metcalfs 1st year of 900 yards…was a fluke (cough)
    .
    Anyway…Good work Rob

    Reply
  2. Robster December 4, 2020

    I’d like to do an entire series on PFF during the off-season. Just think, some person must have worked up a crazily ambitious business plan whereby every NFL player would be rated on every play, and then manage to have those ratings issued within 24 hours or so of the games. The ratings will even be broken down into sub-categories; for example, blockers will be rated on run blocking and pass blocking, and running backs will be rated according to their running, receiving, pass blocking and run blocking abilities. Then if things go well, services might be expanded to include NCAA Division 1 teams – if that means the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), that’s another 125 teams, and if it includes the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), that’s another 127 teams – making their ratings of 32 pro teams seem like child’s play. The guy who came up with and executed this plan, in 2004, was an Englishman no less. PFF has created a monopolistic organization that compares in some ways to Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. They rule pro football when it comes to player grading. Imagine how their influence must be felt not only among fans, but also among coaches, at draft time, at player contract renewal time, and so on.

    Reply
  3. Howard December 4, 2020

    Rob, one thing to remember about the Sunday night broadcast on NBC. Chris Collinsworth is a majority owner in PFF. Not sure why Chris was not on the broadcast, but his son was a part of the broadcast, and if I remember correctly was promoting PFF.
    .
    I don’t think Collinsworth started PFF, but Collinsworth saw the value and bought into the company. I’m not sure when Collinsworth became the majority owner, but my guess is Collinsworth greatly expanded the business model.

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 4, 2020

      PFF was founded by Neil Hornsby in the United Kingdom. Dissatisfied with some limitations of standard statistics, Hornsby began grading players in 2004. The staff gradually expanded over the next few years, and the site was launched in 2007. The 2006 NFL season is the first season for which PFF has complete data. For the 2011 season, PFF provided customized data to three NFL teams, agents, media and NFL players.[1][2] In 2014, sports commentator and former NFL player Cris Collinsworth bought a majority interest in the service, which moved its operations to Cincinnati, near where Collinsworth lives in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.[3][4] PFF began collecting data for every NCAA Division-I college football game in 2014.

      As of 2019, PFF provides customized data to all 32 NFL teams, 74 NCAA FBS teams, 4 CFL teams, national/regional media (i.e. Washington Post, The Athletic, ESPN) and sports agencies/agents.[5]

      Reply
  4. PF4L December 4, 2020

    “A quarterback who makes a good pass that a receiver tips into the arms of a defender will not negatively affect the quarterback’s grade on that play, despite the overall negative result for the team.”
    .
    See…i don’t agree with that if the pass is high. Under that scenario the QB should get partial if not all the blame. So the gray area is….what constitutes a “good” pass?

    Reply
  5. PF4L December 4, 2020

    “PFF has been criticized by the analytics community regarding the accuracy and veracity of its ratings.[9] In contrast to the purely quantitative ratings released by sources like Football Outsiders, TeamRankings, and numberFire, PFF uses qualitative and opinion-based grading as the root of its 0-100 Player Grades — not its advanced statistics. As such, the 0-100 Player Grades are not truly quantitative and could be seen as being prone to bias, poor sample sizing, or other issues.” – PFF Wiki

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 4, 2020

      What i’ve always wondered…besides how many people it would take to grade all these players, on every play, in a 3 tier grading system is……
      Whats the criteria for being hired to grade players for PFF? A High school Diploma or equivalent? High school football coach? An NFL fan? A former NFL or College scout?

      Reply
      1. PF4L December 4, 2020

        TJ Lang isn’t a fan of PFF, where he also questions the expertise and qualifications of the evaluators.
        ……………………………………………………………………
        “PFF hands out numerical grades based on qualitative analysis. This is what rubs Lang the wrong way. He feels the complexity of a linemen’s job makes it impossible for an outsider to accurately evaluate it.” – TJ Lang
        …………………………………………………………….
        He also feels a lot of the other NFL players don’t like PFF either. Which isn’t hard to believe considering….what player wants it shown on TV that he isn’t very good?

        Reply
  6. Howard December 4, 2020

    PF4L. One example of PFF grading/stats that I think many will remember from last years regular season 49ers game. In the game Rodgers was sacked several times. I’m sure everyone watching that game including QB#1 remembers. What no one caught was, PFF did not attribute any of the sacks to the offensive line. To me the pressures came to fast in that game to not attribute even one sack to the offensive line.
    .
    To me all of the sacks were the result of the offensive line except for the one that Tonyan was suppose to block man up on one of the 49ers defensive linemen. It also seems like one of the RBs missed a blitz pickup. So if the offensive line was not at fault for any of the sacks, guess who PFF put those sacks on, QB#1 and the WRs. In fact if I recall correctly I think PFF graded Rodgers very, very, low in that game.

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 4, 2020

      Exactly…it goes almost directly to what Lang complains about. It’s not always one guys fault. This is true in football, more than any other sport.
      .
      Just to be clear and there are no misreading JT Langs comments. PFF has graded Lang well, he doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind. Other than the fact i don’t think he likes that the rankings are posted on National TV as it embarrasses players.
      I mean….how would we all like someone to come to our workplace telling the Country your not very good at your job?

      Reply
      1. PF4L December 4, 2020

        The fast-growing firm has added 20 full-time employees in the past year and has 100 now. That follows its growth from 63 college teams a year ago to 87 now plus its ever-expanding NFL services.Nov 16, 2020

        Cris Collinsworth’s Pro Football Focus doubles space, plans …www.bizjournals.com › collinsworths-firm-doubles-space
        ………………………………………………………………………..
        100?….Total?
        If that is true, PFF loses some credibility to me. But it’s the best i could find.

        Glassdoor stated they have 201-500 employee’s, so i don’t know.

        Reply
  7. PF4L December 4, 2020

    Still…my two biggest questions are, how many evaluators are on the payroll, and what qualifications must you possess. Do they give them a test?
    .
    It seems to me if you don’t have a lot of evaluators and every player has to be graded on a 3 tier system within 24 hours. I could imagine some careless, hurried and shoddy work.
    .
    For whatever reason…this topic intrigues me.

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 4, 2020

      It’s a bit like NFL scouts….They make mistakes and maybe don’t view everything correctly, But they are right far more than they are wrong.
      .
      Nothing is perfect

      Reply
  8. Howard December 4, 2020

    Rob, QB#1’s PFF player grade ranking in the regular season last year was 81.4. This year so far 93.1.

    Reply
    1. Robster December 4, 2020

      PFF is an intriguing subject, but one TP readers would probably be interested in. Do you know what AR’s ranking with respect to his peers was in 2019? One standard that should be upheld is that an evaluator should not evaluate games in which he/she is a fan of one of those teams. As to number of employees, I imagine the only way PFF could turn out such a product would be by use of hundreds (or even thousands) of independent contractors (temps) who work something like one shift per week. The Collingsworth connection is news to me. As I say, it’s a worthy topic to explore in depth during the off-season.

      Reply
      1. Howard December 4, 2020

        Rob, out of the 12 playoff QBs in 2019 Rodgers would have ranked #7 at the end of the 2019 regular season.
        .
        1. Tannehill 92.5
        2. Brees 91.4
        3T. Wilson 91.1
        3T. Jackson 91.1
        5. Cousins 84.4
        6. Mahomes 84.1
        7. Rodgers 81.4
        8. Watson 81.3
        9. Brady 80.5
        10. Garoppolo 77.9
        11. Wentz 76.5
        12. Allen 64.2
        .
        I think Mahomes is an example of one thing that PFF does not take into account in grades and that is someone playing through injury. There is no way for PFF to take injuries into account, but Mahomes last year was much better than his grade would reflect, and that was probably due to playing through injury. The other factor is how many games do certain players/teams have to play in less than ideal weather conditions. QBs in domes should have better rankings, while QBs and other skill players that play outdoors in cold weather climates/games may have lower rankings.
        .
        One thing I have always believed is a slick or cold grass surface also impacts pass rushers.

        Reply
  9. PF4L December 4, 2020

    I think one thing to keep in mind in those 2019 rankings. Rodgers had two strikes against him 1) learning a new offense during Covid, 2) Receiving talent or lack there of. There is a reason Jones had as many TD’s as he had in 19. He was a trusted (alternative) option.
    .
    As for #3 RB Lamar Jackson, i think that’s an anomaly. Matter of fact i’m not so sure you’ll see him with anything close to a 90 score again.
    .
    I agree with Rob…i stated the same thing to Howard awhile back. PFF would need to have hundreds of evaluators, if not thousands. I agree that they may only work a shift, 8,10, maybe 12 hours. And definitely from home.
    .
    My guess is PFF probably wouldn’t know most of their evaluators by sight. BTW…they do “test” them, grading players performance from games in regards to the hiring process.

    Reply
  10. PF4L December 4, 2020

    Speaking of RB’s parading as QB’s.
    RG3 got a start in place of Jackson.
    7 completions,,,33 yards..1 pick
    7 rushes….68 yards
    Sounds about right
    .
    This RB almost made it through the whole game, until he got injured and now he’s on IR.
    Hamstring injury…shocking.

    Reply
  11. Ferris December 5, 2020

    I will be crushed if they don’t retain Jones as well. Maybe the ranking will help them retain him….They do have Dillon though so that’s good. :)
    Just can’t pay everyone. No way they should have kept Martinez I don’t care what his ranking is or was. Please let King walk too, he is just not that good.

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 5, 2020

      The very best attribute’s of Martinez were twofold.
      A) He was always available
      B) A handful of other players may have better skills, but he played with heart and desire to be great, he gave it all he had every game. I respect that, and i’m proud he wore the Packer uniform.
      ……………………………………………..
      When you look at Kirksey’s career stats to Martinez. The numbers don’t lie…Martinez over Kirksey…across the board. Blake made more plays and always showed up on workday with his lunch pail.

      Reply
  12. Mick December 5, 2020

    Like PF4L said, nothing is perfect. there are just to many variables to be considered. So many that it could cause confusion and disagreements among the evaluators. How then, would that be evaluated? Plus or minus a certain percentage points? Look; I’m not pooping on the PFF stuff (also described as analytics); but they’re trying to perfect something that cannot be done with 100% accuracy. We as football fanatics, starve for every little tidbit of knowledge we can get—— I get it! We breathe it! Next, we’ll probably be grading teams 1 through 32 on who has the best analytics, best trainers, best equipment guys, best whatever else that can be analyzed. Although fun and interesting, how much info do we really need? Apparently, more! I think my brain is full now……..

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 5, 2020

      Yes Sir…..It might not be a perfect science…but it’s the next best thing i guess.
      …..
      And like Ferris said…they can’t pay everyone. As far as i can tell without going to Over The Cap, The Packers are going to be walking a salary cap tight rope this upcoming off season, unless they cut some players for relief. Because of that 2018 spending spree, sooner or later the Piper has to be paid.

      Reply
  13. Mick December 5, 2020

    I agree Ferris, the whole offense will take on a new face if they let Jones walk. I’m thinking King will be gone and possibly Linsley too. they have to find a way to keep Jones.There are plenty of OL on the roster to see this might happen with Linsley. He’ll command a big payday.

    Reply
  14. PF4L December 6, 2020

    FUN FACT: Rodgers needs 3 TD’s to get to 400 in his career. The 7th QB in history to do it.
    Not impressed?
    Now take into account he sat his first 3 years.
    Aaron Rodgers is a Baaaaaad Man!!

    Reply
  15. PF4L December 6, 2020

    There are some reasons why the Packers defense could/should look like a Championship caliber defense this afternoon.
    .
    Anyone?

    Reply
  16. PF4L December 6, 2020

    Just because…….
    .
    Ralph and Edna were both patients in a mental hospital. One day while they were walking past the hospital swimming pool, Ralph suddenly
    jumped into the deep end.
    .
    He sank to the bottom of the pool and stayed there.
    .
    Edna promptly jumped in to save him. She swam to the bottom and pulled
    him out. When the Head Nurse Director became aware of Edna’s heroic
    act she immediately ordered her to be discharged from the hospital, as
    she now considered her to be mentally stable.
    .
    When she went to tell Edna the news she said, ‘Edna, I have good news
    and bad news. The good news is you’re being discharged, since you were
    able to rationally respond to a crisis by jumping in and saving the
    life of the person you love… I have concluded that your act displays that you have a sound mind.
    .
    The bad news is, Ralph hung himself in the bathroom with his bathrobe belt right after you saved him. I am so sorry, but he’s dead.’
    .
    Edna replied, ‘He didn’t hang himself, I put him there to dry..
    .
    How soon can I go home?’

    Reply
  17. Mick December 6, 2020

    “Rodgers is a baaaad man” . We are so used to great Q-back play the last 28 years that we sometimes forget how fortunate we Packer fans have been. We expect him to be perfect but, in reality, perfection cannot be achieved. The man has achieved so much in his career. Take into account that he has done a hell of a lot more, with less talent; than any Q-back that I can remember. He has played hurt, taken care of himself, he relishes the Packer history and tradition. Even at his age, he wants to win, wants to improve and loves playing. Is he perfect? No! Is it his fault we haven’t won more in the playoffs? No! It’s a shame the organization hasn’t provided the talent necessary (a defense good enough); and or WR help that would have maybe, put us over the top more often. Considering all of this, with all the pressure on him EVERY GAME; he deserves all the accolades he gets—- maybe even more! her’s hoping for MVP #3!

    Reply

What Are Your Thoughts? Comment Now! *No Registration Required*