Shout (Out) At The Devil - Thank you, San Diego Chargers!

One should rarely heap praise upon division rivals.     While it might seem like a technically sound thing to do, it simply leaves you feeling a little dirty inside and you fall asleep at night knowing you've probably put bad karma into the world.   

But there's always an exception.

So today, it's time to salute the San Diego Chargers.

The road to the AFC West title just got easier, and not because Elvis Dumervil signed his 1-year tender.

Contract disputes have put the San Diego Chargers in a tough position, and because of it, the Chargers are likely going to play at least 10 of their regular-season games without the services of Pro-Bowl wide receiver Vincent "Action" Jackson and Pro-Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill.  Both Jackson and McNeil wanted new deals and refused to show up and sign their 1-year tender offers by the mandated June 15th deadline.  After A.J. "I'm Smarter Than You Are" Smith decided not to budge, well, let's just say, the Denver Broncos--along with the rest of the AFC West--got a nice off-season gift. 

As of today, it appears the best case scenario puts Jackson and McNeil on the field in week 11. But so what?  Big deal.  By that time, the damage could have already been done.  The Chargers could be sitting in last place.  And eventually, the Broncos have to play at least .500 football in their last six weeks, right?

It's possible it could even get worse  for the Chargers.  Jackson is also threatening to hold out the entire 2010 season, although it would seem unlikely.   According to Mike Florio:

Indications we've picked up suggest his camp is unfazed by the looming (as of Tuesday) decrease in his tender offer to 110 percent of his 2009 base salary, and that Jackson likewise has no qualms about holding out into the season because he expects to be suspended for at least two games in the wake of his second DUI guilty plea.

Losing your starting left tackle is never a pretty sight, we all know that, but how big of a loss is Jackson?   It depends on who you ask.  But we know in order to make Norv Turner's vertical offense a success, Philip Rivers needs to stretch the field.  Without Jackson's deep threat abilities, things just got a lot tougher. 

One could make an easy case for Vincent Jackson (not Brandon Marshall) as the best receiver in the NFL.  First, let's cast aside the meaningless quantitative stats of total yardage and number of catches, which simply increase or decrease with the number of targets.  As we saw with Marshall, if you are targeted 154 or 181 times in a season, and you don't have 100 catches, you should be shot (or at least quarantined in Oakland).  Instead, we'll focus on several non-traditional rate stats, which allow us to more fairly compare wide-outs.  

According to friend Brian Burke over at Advanced NFL Stats, here are the top-5 wide receiver rankings from 2009 with respect to Yards Per Target:

Player (Minimum 50 Targets)  Team YPT
17-R.Meachem NO 11.3
83-V.Jackson SD 10.9
18-S.Rice MIN 10.8
88-H.Nicks NYG 10.7
19-M.Austin DAL 10.7

Yards Per Target is a much more meaningful stats than Yards Per Catch because it accounts for all passes thrown at a receiver, not just the ones that he's caught.  If you were wondering, Brandon Marshall ranked 45th on this list, with a YPT average of 7.3 yards.   But the point of this post isn't to blast Brandon Marshall (it's only a sub-plot).  It's to show that Jackson can stretch the field.  And it's clear from these numbers (his yards per targeted pass was 2nd in the league) that he can do just that.

How does this translate to the potential to score?  We can can also break last year down by Expected Points Value Per Play to see which receivers created the most value for their teams.  Here are the top-5 from 2009, again according to Advanced NFL Stats:

Player (Minimum 50 Targets)  EPA/P
17-R.Meachem 0.82
83-V.Jackson 0.71
18-S.Rice 0.71
81-J.Avant 0.62
19-M.Austin 0.56

Jackson ranked #2 in the league, creating, on average, .71 points each time he touched the ball.  What about Brandon Marshall?  He ranked 31st, creating, on average, .28 points each time he touched the ball.  But to boosters of the 100-catch club (and the Miami Dolphins), expected points matter little.  

The last stat worthy of attention is called Success Rate, and it's defined by our friend Brian Burke as:

It's the percent of plays in which the player participated that result in an increase in net expected point advantage. [Success Rate] measures consistency as opposed to the total magnitude of each play's outcome.

In other words, how often did a player contribute to his team's positive outcomes when he was out on the field? For wide receivers in 2009, here were the top-5, according to Advanced NFL Stats:

Player (Minimum 50 Targets)  Team Success Rate (%)
83-K.Walter HST 67.1
81-J.Avant PHI 65.5
17-R.Meachem NO 65.3
18-S.Rice MIN 63.2
83-V.Jackson SD 62.4

These are some interesting numbers, and for Jackson, it meant that 62.4% of the time, he contributed to a positive expected points value, whether through blocking or receiving.  Since Jackson has the reputation as one of the best blocking wide receivers in the game, this shouldn't come as a surprise. 

Marshall's percentage you ask?  A rather limp 52.6%.  But again, this article isn't about how over-rated Brandon Marshall was (yes, it is), it's about Vincent Jackson.   And the truth is that Jackson stretches the field consistently,fights for the ball in the air, blocks like a truck, isn't afraid to go over the middle, and is a load for any corner back to handle.  

Now, the counter to all of this is Philip Rivers.  What came first, the chicken (Rivers) or the egg (Jackson)?  Did Rivers make Jackson the All-Pro wide-out he is today or did Jackson make Rivers look good?  Certainly, one could make a compelling case that Malcom Floyd, San Diego's "other" receiver, wasn't far from Jackson in any of these statistical categories.  So perhaps Rivers just makes everyone around him better. 

In 2010, he'll certainly get the chance.  Without the benefit of Jackson and a starting left tackle, we'll get to see--maybe for the first time in his career--just how good Philip Rivers really is.

The fact that Elvis Dumervil, who will be rushing Rivers' weakened blindside, just signed his own 1-year tender makes it all the more interesting.

Originally posted at MHR

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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