If you read my last fanpost and looked at the poll, you would see that the majority of the MHR community graded the 2010 Broncos OL as a C (pretty good Bell curve).
A grade of C is average but the discussion (and the blog) brought up the context - two three main points of which are
1. The same five guys did not start at the same positions on the OL in 2010 until roughly mid-season (and the line played better in the second half of the season)
2. Two starters were rookies
3. Two guys were playing at less than 100% (Harris and Clady)
I wanted to dig further into what effect point 2 has/had on the play of the OL. What can we learn from history here? What have other teams done recently that have started two rookie OL? How does the 2010 Broncos OL compare? What has that meant for future OL performance (assuming the line is kept mainly intact)?
Make the jump with me and I will show you what I found...
First off, starting two rookie offensive lineman is rare. Only two teams did it in 2010 - The Broncos and the 49ers. Only two teams did in 2009 - the Jags and the Bills. No team did it in 2008. One team did it in 2007 - the Ravens. 32 teams x 4 years : 5 occurrences = 4% of the time = rare, but not unheard-of. The 2009 Bills actually started three rookies on the OL (Bell - 7th rnd pick in 2009), similar to the Broncos being forced to start Daniels (who had never started an NFL game) along with Beadles and Walton.
As with the last fanpost, I am going to focus on the OL and leave out the effect that a given QB or RB might have had on these numbers (Does Maurice Jones-Drew make his OL look betterthan they are? Does Ryan Fitzpatrick make his OL look worse than they are?)
2009 OL Performance
Ok so lets see how the Jags' and Bills' OLs played in 2009 with two rookie starters - BUF had a 1st and a 2rd rounder (Wood and Levitre) along with a 7th rounder (Bell) starting 8 games. JAX had a 1st and a 2nd rounder (Monroe - 15 starts and Britton - 13 starts). The stats that I am going to use to compare OL play are yds/carry (although its value is debatable), power situation success rate (3rd, 4th or goal and 2 or less to go - 1st down or TD), sacks allowed, QB hits allowed, non-QB TFL allowed, WPA (win percentage added), EPA (expected points added), run WPA, pass WPA, run EPA, pass EPA and total experience (sum of the games played by the main 5 OL starters for the team).
2009 Stat (NFL rank) - all stats from advanced NFL stats and NFL.com
yds/carry BUF 4.4 (8th), JAX 4.5 (5th)
Power % BUF 50% (27th), JAX 50% (29th)
Sacks BUF 46 (28th), JAX 44 (25th)
QB hits BUF 103 (31st), JAX (32nd)
TFL BUF 65 (21st), JAX 62 (18th)
WPA BUF -0.83 (28th), JAX -1.28 (31st)
EPA BUF -15.1 (24th), JAX -27.6 (31st)
Run WPA BUF -0.12 (19th), JAX -0.50 (27th)
Pass WPA BUF -0.71 (29th), JAX -0.78 (31st)
Run EPA BUF -4.1 (21st), JAX 8.5 (11th)
Pass EPA BUF -11.0 (22nd), JAX -36,1 (32nd)
EXP BUF 91 games (32nd), JAX 296 games (16th)
So outside of yds/carry both BUF and JAX had bottom 3rd of the league (or bottom 10th of the league) OLs in 2009. Even the yds/carry stats look hollow when you see the poor performance in power situations. If we stick with the letter grade analogy I'd have to give both lines an F (or a D being generous) for 2009. The 2009 Bills OL at least had the excuse that there was no experience at all on the line - some teams have one starter on the OL with more games started than the entire Bills 2009 OL. The Jags did have that same excuse. The hope is that since the rookies got experience in 2009 they would play better in 2010 and the overall line performance would get better.
2010 OL performance
So how did our OL fare relative to the 49ers offensive line in 2010. Let's also throw in the 2010 Bills and Jags OLs as well to get some idea of what we might expect for a line with two guys who started as rookies and are now second year players (Britton for the Jags got hurt in the 7th game and missed the rest of the year). The 49ers used the #8 overall pick in 2010 to take OT Anthony Davis and the #17 overall pick to take OG Mike Iupati. The Broncos got Beadles and Walton at #45 and #80 in the same draft. The general rule is that high to mid 1st round picks are expected to start immediately, so it should not be surprising that SF started those two guys. Same stats are shown but now we are interested in seeing how the 2010 Broncos OL compared to the 2010 49ers. I have also included the 2010 Bills and Jags see we can see what they were able to do the year after starting two (or more) rookies.
2010 Stat (NFL rank)
yds/carry BUF 4.3 (13th), JAX 4.7 (4th), SF 4.1 (18th), DEN 3.9 (24th)
Power % BUF 78% (4th), JAX 59% (17th), SF 67% (12th), DEN 40% (28th)
Sacks BUF 34 (14th), JAX 38 (20th), SF 44 (27th), DEN 40 (24th)
QB hits BUF 93 (26th), JAX 111 (32nd), SF 95 (30th), DEN 64 (9th)
TFL BUF 53 (18th), JAX 49 (10th), SF 63 (26th), DEN 66 (27th)
WPA BUF 0.61 (10th), JAX -0.39 (22nd), SF -0.12 (15th), DEN 0.80 (7th)
EPA BUF -5.8 (22nd), JAX -16.7 (27th), SF -6.9 (24th), DEN 8 (9th)
Run WPA BUF 0.67 (6th), JAX -0.01 (17th), SF 0.1 (12th), DEN 0.21 (11th)
Pass WPA BUF -0.06 (19th), JAX -0.38 (26th), SF -0.22 (23rd), DEN 0.59 (5th)
Run EPA BUF 8.0 (11th), JAX -10.4 (25th), SF 20.1 (4th), DEN -9.5 (24th)
Pass EPA BUF -13.8 (25th), JAX -6.4 (23rd), SF -27.0 (30th), DEN 17.6 (6th)
EXP BUF 147 games (32nd), JAX 379 games (10th), SF 171 games (30th), DEN 169 games (31st)
Did the Bills' and the Jags' OL play get better in 2010 relative to 2009?
Remember that while both Bills played every game in 2010, Eben Britton, the other rookie for the Jags was lost for the season to injury after the 7th game of year with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Jordan Black who hadn't been a regular NFL starter since 2006.
The Bills' OL got better in almost every area (ypc and pass EPA got slightly worse). In some areas the improvement was gradual (EPA, TFL, QB hits) while in others it was dramatic (power, sacks, WPA, run EPA), but the fact remains that they improved in almost every area moving from the bottom third to the top third of the league in a number of areas. It is interesting to note the dramatic improvement in power situation success rate from 50% (27th ) to 78% (4th). It is also interesting to note that the Bills OL in 2010 was still the least experienced OL in the NFL.
The Jags line also showed improvement in most stats, although in general their improvement was not as great as the Bills' OL. In one stat the Jags line actually got significantly worse in 2010 - run EPA, but that stat can be skewed by a shift in playcalling (more reliance on the running game to generate points). The Jags OL was still the worst in the league at allowing their QB to get hit and, while they allowed 6 fewer sacks, they were still in the bottom third of the league in that stat. With all that, the trend still holds, in the year after starting two rookie OL player the OL performance improves.
So how did the Broncos 2010 OL compare to the three recent OLs that started two rookies?
YPC was the lowest of the group. The Broncos power success rate was signficantly lower than the other three units (40%). Of particular note is the fact the 2010 SF OL had a 67% power success rate. Power success rate was poor for the other three units. The Broncos Run EPA was the lowest of the group. On the other hand, in every other stat the Broncos 2010 OL was equal to or better than the three units in question. Think about that, despite the injuries, the inexperience, the lack of familiarity with each other and with guys playing out of position, the 2010 Broncos offensive line still was able to perform significantly better than the other three units in things like QB hits allowed (half as many QB hits as the 2009 Jags allowed), WPA, EPA, pass WPA and pass EPA
The 2010 Broncos OL performed better than could be expected from the three recent historical examples of OLs starting 2 rookies. From the two examples (admittedly a tiny data set), the performance of the Broncos offensive line should improve in 2011 relative to 2010. I am really looking forward to watching what a healthy line of Clady - Beadles - Walton - Kuper - Harris (hopefully) can do in 2011.