The NFL has evolved over the years into a passing-friendly league, and new rules this season could help offenses even more.
When sports evolve, statistical markers can change accordingly. In baseball’s steroid era, for instance, 30 home runs suddenly wasn’t a major benchmark; 40 was the new 30.
With that in mind, do the traditional yardage standards of excellence for NFL receivers, quarterbacks and running backs need to be altered to reflect the modern game?
First take: Michael Rand
Back when I was first watching the NFL regularly in the mid-1980s, I feel like 3,000 yards passing was the benchmark for a very good or elite quarterback. I think that’s already changed, though. I mean, Christian Ponder almost had 3,000 yards in 2012. It seems as if 4,000 yards is the new mark to hit and has been for a while. But is that too big of a jump?
For running backs and wide receivers, a 1,000-yard season has been the accepted counting number. Like the passing mark, it’s a nice round figure with a lot of zeroes.
I have a hunch, though, that one or both of those marks is out of line with how the modern game is played. I also have a hunch that Chris is armed with some facts that will either make me look like a liar or a genius.
Chris Hine: You’re so good at predicting things. I had some fun with Excel spreadsheets and the Play Index on Pro Football Reference and found that from 1998-2007, an average of 18.1 running backs hit 1,000 yards per season. Since 2008, that number has dipped to 13.
Among receivers, there was an average of 21.2 who hit 1,000 yards from 1998 to 2007, and 21.4 over the past 10 seasons.
I can still buy 1,000 yards being an excellent season for a running back, but for a receiver I can’t. Not when 20-plus guys are reaching that mark every season.
So I beefed up the parameters and checked to see how many receivers have reached 1,200 yards over the past 10 seasons — 9.2. That feels better.
Rand: So you’re telling me the Vikings, who didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver from 2010 to 2016, now have to get to 1,200 to be excellent? (Wait, it still works. Adam Thielen, who broke the streak last year, had 1,276 yards.)
By the way, it’s always seemed strange — other than our fascination with round numbers — that the benchmarks for great games (300 yards for a QB, 100 yards for a running back or receiver) would put those players on paces for 4,800 yards and 1,600 yards in a season, respectively.
Maybe those numbers need an adjustment as well?
Hine: Not everything is about the Vikings, Mike! As for the yardage, 300 for a quarterback, 100 for runners and receivers — they might get you a bonus in your fantasy league. That’s their ultimate value. But is, say, 80 yards rushing or receiving considered an average game then, even though averaging 80 yards per game would get you to 1,280 yards?
Rand: Why do you hate round numbers so much, Mr. Analytics? Next thing you’re going to tell me is there are better ways to evaluate offensive players than total yards.
Final word: Chris Hine
If there is, then there’s no point to everything we’ve just written.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More Hine: startribune.com/NorthScore