Points Per Play and Teams That About-Faced

This is the second post in a series where I look at the most improved and most declined teams for a team statistic. The first post was Passing Yards Per Attempt  and today I look at Points per Play. Points per play is the team’s offensive points scored divided by the offensive plays run.

The average points per play in 2017 was 0.3201 with a high of 0.4380 by the Rams and a low of 0.2220 by the Giants. In 2018 the league average rose to 0.3494 with a high of 0.5351 by the Chiefs and a low of 0.2219 by the Jaguars. To put the 2018 numbers in perspective it would take on average 13 plays for the Chiefs to score seven points and 32 plays for the Jaguars.

It should come as no surprise that 8 of the top 10 teams in points per play made the playoffs in 2018.  The two that did not were the Falcons and Steelers. The teams outside the top ten that made the playoffs and their rank in points per play were Texans (11), Eagles (17), Cowboys (22) and Ravens (23).

Here are the top three teams most improved in points per play in 2018. As in our first article we look at both 2018 and then the 2019 season. For 2019  I look at players that have shown a history that indicates they could significantly affect points per play.

1. Indianapolis Colts

2017 – Rank: 28, Value: 0.2545
2018 – Rank: 6, Value:  0.3972

Tight end Eric Ebron scored the most points by a tight end in 2018 with 13 receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.  He was tie for sixth in the league with two other players for the most points scored among all players. Ebron was a significant part of the increase in points per play as he went from an average of 3 touchdowns over his first four years to 14 in 2018.

Running back Marlon Mack scored 9 rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown and made two 2-point conversions. He was the tenth running back in points scored and one of only three in the top ten that were twenty-two years or younger. He is going into his third year in 2019 after being selected in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Mack is the latest draft selection (Round 4-143) to be in the top ten running backs in scoring. mack is another reason for the jump in points per play as he went from 24 points scored his rookie season to 64 points scored in 2018.

Quarterback Andrew Luck had the second most passing touchdowns (39) in 2018 and the sixth best TD% (6.1%). TD% is the % TDs when attempting to pass.  He did not play in 2017 due to injury. In his place quarterback Jacoby Brissett had the 26th ranked TD% (2.8%) and the 24th number of passing touchdowns (13).

Receiver TY Hilton made the top 100 of offensive players that had the most points scored. He was tie for number 56 with 6 receiving touchdowns. There are 18 active wide receivers that have played for the last 7 seasons. Of those 18 players only 4 have had 4+ receiving touchdowns in each year. TY Hilton is one of the four along with Antonio Brown, A.J. Greene and Demaryius Thomas.

The Colts drafted receiver Parris Campbell of Ohio State in the second round. In 2018 Campbell was number one in the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns (12) and tie for eighth overall. They signed undrafted free agent receiver Penny Hart of Georgia State.  Hart was third in the Sun Belt Conference for receiving touchdowns in 2015 and 2017 with 8 touchdowns each year.

2. Chicago Bears

2017 – Rank: 29, Value: 0.2463
2018 – Rank: 10, Value: 0.3702

The Bears were the only team to have four players in the top fifty offensive players for points scored. Their top two scorers were their running backs. Jordan Howard had 9 touchdowns and Tarik Cohen had 8. Chicago and New Orleans were the only two teams that had two running backs in the top 25 running backs for scoring. Nine of the top 25 running backs for scoring were chosen in round 4 or later in the draft including both of Chicago’s backs.

Second round draft choice, rookie Anthony Miller was the second highest scoring rookie receiver in the league and the sixth overall rookie in scoring. At 5’11” and 190 lbs Miller shows that smaller receivers can not only make it in the NFL but also flourish.

Tight end Trey Burton had a career high 6 touchdowns in 2018 and one 2-point conversion.  He was the fourth highest scoring tight end in the league. He signed as a free agent from the Eagles in March of 2018.

The Bears traded running back Jordan Howard to the Eagles in March 2019. The Bears drafted receiver Riley Ridley from Georgia in round four. Ridley is reported to excel at contested catches and had nine touchdown receptions in 2018. His six receptions in the red zone were all touchdowns with a long of 12 yards. They drafted running back David Montgomery of Iowa State in the third round. Montgomery had 13 rushing touchdowns in 2018 all on rushes in the red zone.  Twenty four percent of his 55 red zone attempts made a touchdown.

3. New York Giants

2017 – Rank: 32, Value: 0.2220
2018 – Rank: 16, Value: 0.3486

Rookie running back Saquon Barkley scored the third most points (92) among offensive players.  He scored the most points by a rookie beating the second place rookie by 32 points. He had 11 rushing touchdowns, 4 receiving touchdowns and one 2-point conversion. Receiver Odell Beckham made the top 100 players by points scored. He was tied for 56th place with six receiving touchdowns.

The Giants traded Odell Beckham in 2019. Beckham had injuries the last two seasons that limited the games he played in. Before that in his first three years Beckham had 10+ receiving touchdowns in each of his three years form 2014 thru 2016. Antonio Brown was the only other receiver to accomplish that in that time-frame.

The Giants have not added a touchdown threat to replace Beckham. Sterling Shepard had 8 touchdowns in his rookie year in 2016. However he has since not come close to that number. Corey Coleman was number one in the nation his last year in college (2015) in receiving touchdowns with 20. He has yet to be such a touchdown threat in his three year NFL career.

Undrafted free agent Reggie White Jr. of Monmouth  has the frame of a receiver at 6’2″ and 208 lbs. . He had an impressive 31 career touchdowns with 11 in his senior year. At his Monmouth Pro Day he met 5 of the 6 combine event targets for a wide receiver. His 20 yard shuttle time (4.07) would have tied for third among receivers at the combine. His 3-code time (6.81) would have been fourth. His nfl.com draft profile said  – “He’s a springy leaper with a wide catch radius who snares balls outside his frame or goes up and over cornerbacks to bring it in.”.

The three most declined teams with respect to points per play are as follows.

30. Washington Redskins

2017 – Rank: 12, Value: 0.3360
2018 – Rank: 28, Value: 0.2802

Washington had only one player in the top 100 offensive players for points scored. That was running back Adrian Peterson who was tied at number 34 with 8 touchdowns. He had seven rushing and one receiving.

Before he was injured quarterback Alex Smith had the 2nd lowest TD% among quarterbacks with 8+ starts with a 3% in 10 games.

In his 2017 season in Minnesota Case Keenum had a 4.6% TD% which was 11th best in the league. Dwayne Haskins led the nation in passing touchdowns with 50.  He averaged 3.6 touchdowns per game which was top in the nation. The next quarterback was Will Grier who averaged 3.4 touchdowns per game. However Haskin’s red zone touchdown conversion rate of 32.5% was not as good as a number of other quarterbacks. He was beat out in the red zone conversion by Trace McSorley, Justice Hansen, Kyler Murray, Will Grier and Tyree Jackson (in order).

The Redskins 2015 first round draft pick Josh Doctson has yet to show the production he had in college. In his final year in college Doctson was fifth in the nation in receiving touchdowns with 14. In his three year NFL career he has yet to break a 60% catch percentage.

Tight ends Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed had impressive touchdown numbers in 2013 and 2015 respectively. However since those years they have not come close to matching that production.

Undrafted free agent Steven Sims Jr. had over 42% team market share of receiving touchdowns in 2016 and 2017.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 – Rank: 13, Value: 0.3349
2018: Rank: 32, Value: 0.2219

The Jaguars had three players in the top 100 offensive scorers. The lowest ranked player was running back  Leonard Fournette at tied at 56 with six touchdowns.  The second year back was down from his rookie season of 10 touchdowns.  Also tie at 47 was second year receiver Dede Westbrook. Westbrook had five receiving touchdowns and one punt return touchdown. They are followed by running back TJ Yeldon who is tied at 77 with five touchdowns which were four receiving and one rushing.  Quarterback Blake Bortles was 27th among starting quarterbacks in TD% with 3.2%.

The Jaguars traded for quarterback Nick Foles and release Blake Bortles in 2019. Over the last five seasons Foles averaged a 3.5 TD % and the league average for starting quarterbacks was 4.5%. In that time-frame during the regular season Foles has 35 touchdown passes over 28 starts. Running back TJ Yeldon departed the Jaguars in free agency in 2019.

For 2019 the Jaguars the Jaguars signed undrafted free agent receiver Tyree Brady. Brady is one of only thirteen players that had 8+ receiving touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. His team market share of receiving touchdowns was 32% and 45%.

32. Detroit Lions

2017 – Rank: 6, Value: 0.3714
2018 – Rank: 27, Value: 0.3062

You have to go back to 2014 to get a lower TD% for Matthew Stafford than his 3.8% in 2018. The team in 2018 had three players in the top 100 offensive scorers. The first is running back LeGarrette Blount who comes in tied at 77th with five rushing touchdowns. He has had quite a drop-off since his career high 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016 with the Patriots. Also tied at 77th is receiver Kenny Golladay with five receiving touchdowns for the second year player.

Sixth round draft pick, receiver Travis Fulgham, had a receiving touchdown in each of his nine last games. He is a big receiver at 6’3″ and 215 lbs. Five of his seven red zone receptions were a touchdown for a 71% conversion rate.

Undrafted free agent signing tight end Donald Parham had 13 receiving touchdowns his senior year. That accounted for 46% of his team’s receiving touchdowns. Parham has a 36″ vertical jump which would have been tied for third among tight ends at last year’s combine. That jump combined with a 6’8″ height and being a former basketball player makes for a nice red zone target.

In Conclusion

Two of the three most improved teams in points per play, the Bears and Giants, were also among the top three most improved teams in yards per passing attempt. The three most declined teams in points per play were also the three most declined in yards per passing attempt.

The data for all teams is Points Per Play. It has the 2017 season sorted by highest to lowest points per play. Beneath that is the same for the 2018 season. That is followed by the teams ranking for each year sorted by the difference in rank form 2017 to 2018.

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