Similar Player Comparisons are quickly becoming the most popular method to project future seasons for NFL players within the football analytics and fantasy football community. At a high level, the methodology takes a player's ("Test player") statistics from the past year and finds other players throughout NFL history that have posted a season with similar numbers to the Test Player.
These comparisons take into account box score stats but also physical attributes such as age and weight. After finding historically similar seasons, the methodology then analyzes the next season for each of the historically similar players to "project" what the Test Player's next season will look like. Throughout this article I will be using Similarity Score Apps from the fantastic analytics site Rotoviz.
To help you visualize how these comparisons work, here's a snapshot of what 2012 A.J. Green's comparable seasons would look like. Don't worry about understanding all the column names right now, the purpose of this is just to get familiar with similar player comparisons:
And here's what those players did the following season:
This player comparison shows that wide receivers that experienced years similar to A.J. Green'a 2012 season tend to exhibit a bit of a drop-off in the next year, unless they're Randy Moss. Seems like a reasonable outcome.
Now that we have a fundamental understanding of how Similar Player Comparisons work, I will use them to forecast a range of possible outcomes for noted pirate-enthusiast Keenan Allen's first season with the Chargers.
Since Allen has not yet played an NFL season, he does not have a season to compare. However, we do have access to his three years of college statistics at Cal. To project Allen's first season, I decided to find current NFL wide receivers that had similar college careers to Allen and then analyze their first years in the NFL. Therefore, the first step to projecting Allen's season is to find comparable NFL wide receivers based on college careers. Because I have such confidence in Kid Dynamite and Magic Mike, I started at the top and quite unexpectedly arrived at the following list of players: A.J. Green, Hakeem Nicks, and Julio Jones. Whoa.
As a disclaimer, I don't watch a lot of college football. Therefore, I will admit to not knowing any specifics regarding the offenses these receivers played in during college, nor any other mitigating circumstances that could have affected their statistics. However, I did attempt to account for (limited) physical attributes, volume of targets, and years at school.
Here are the stats for the players listed above:
- A.J. Green - 6'4" 207 lbs., 261 Targets, 3 Years at School
- Hakeem Nicks - 6'1" 208 lbs., 301 Targets, 3 Years at School
- Julio Jones - 6'3" 220 lbs., 304 Targets, 3 Years at School
- Keenan Allen - 6'2" 206 lbs., 315 Targets, 3 Years at School
Well, those look pretty similar. It should also be noted that Keenan Allen had the highest single-year mark for targets amongst the four players, receiving 148 (!) targets in his second year at Cal.
Now that we've determined that these players are similar in terms of physical attributes and opportunities on the football field, we're going to look at some efficiency metrics comparing their college careers. The first graph we'll look at is each receiver's market share of their respective team's receiving yards:
As you can see, Keenan Allen posted very similar market share numbers to the other receivers. This graph shows us that each of these receivers carried the weight of similar receiving loads for their college teams. Of the comparables, only Nicks and Allen posted a single season where they received greater than 40% of their team's receiving yards.
Our next graph is market share of touchdowns, which is like the graph above but for the college team's receiving touchdowns:
Once again, very similar charts. Are you starting to get a little excited?
Here's the graph of each player's Red Zone TD Rate, which is each player's Red Zone Touchdowns/Red Zone Targets:
This is where the pants came off for me. After watching the Chargers struggle in the Red Zone in recent years, the prospect of seeing Malcolm Floyd and Kennan Allen going after fades in the endzone gets me giddy.
By this point you're accepting the fact that A.J. Green, Hakeem Nicks, Julio Jones, and Keenan Allen posted similar wide receiver numbers while in college. To project a range of results for Keenan Allen's first season with the Chargers, the next step is to see what each of the comparable players did in their first seasons:
*Targets/Game was visually approximated from Rotoviz graphs.
These numbers should paint a clear picture for Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt. If the Chargers get Keenan Allen the ball, even as a rookie, good things will follow.