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Richard Goodman is Better than You Think at Returning Kicks

A large contingency of Chargers fans think Richard Goodman is not good at returning kickoffs. We have found otherwise.

Thearon W. Henderson

There is a fair amount of hate and negativity towards Richard Goodman as a kick returner. So much so, that even the Union-Tribune has felt compelled to write about the fan reaction to the way Richard Goodman returns kickoffs. Some on this very site have even asked, "why is Richard Goodman taking up a roster spot?" I started to join the anti-Goodman movement, then I did a little research and was surprised with the results.

When the NFL changed the kickoff rules before the 2011 season - moving the kickoffs 5 yards up - a number of sites decided to take a look at the stats and figure out the wisdom of whether or not a player should take a knee in the end zone. What did they find? Assuming you have an "average" return specialist, anything shallower than 5 yards deep in the end zone is usually worth bringing out. Anything further back than that should be taken for a touchback.

With that wisdom in mind, I decided to chart Richard Goodman's kickoff returns for 2011 and 2012, and compare them to other return specialists. I chose Devin Hester and Darren Sproles. The former for obvious reasons, and the latter to just see what the Chargers would have in a return specialist if they managed to keep Sproles.

(This of course assumes all other things being equal)

2011 Season

Richard Goodman in 2011

Let's take a look at Richard Goodman's return stats for 2011.

Total Shallow Deep
Total Returns 47 47 47
# End Zone 40 13 27
# Touchbacks 13 0 13
Ran out of End Zone 27 13 14
Average EPA on Run-Backs 0.293 0.585 0.051
# Positive EPAs 17 9 5
# Negative EPAs 14 3 8
# Pushes 3 1 1
Avg Starting Position 21.152 23.083 20.786

Quick Explanation: EPA stands for "Expected Points Added." I'm using Advanced NFL Stat's Expected Points table to relatively objectively calculate how successful a given return is. Then I subtract 0.34 from the expected point value - the value of a 1st-and-10 from the 20 yard line; aka: the value of a touchback - this allows me to see if he should have taken a knee or not. Positive EPA mean she got past the 20 yard line, negative means he stopped short, and a push means he downed it on the 20.

Okay, so Goodman fielded 47 kickoff returns in 2011, and 40 of those (85%) went into the end zone. On those 40 kicks in the end zone, he took a knee 13 times (32.5%). What's interesting is all 13 of those touchbacks came on deep end zone kicks (all 13 were 7 yards deep or deeper), right in line with what he should have done (if you believe internet analysts).

On returns from 5 or fewer yards in the end zone, Goodman was successful in 10 9 of 14 returns; or a 71% 64% success rate. Not terrible. And also the 0.551 0.585 average EPA means he more than doubled the expected points on average. That's some relatively good success.

He was less successful on runs greater than 5 yards deep in the end zone. He ran it out of the end zone 14 of 27 times (52%). When he did run it out, he was only successful 5 of those 14 times (35.7%). Not great success. And he had just 0.051 EPA, hardly worth it given the chance of injury and fumbles. But, he did take a knee 48% of the time, so he was basically taking a 50/50 gamble on running it out.

How does that compare to Sproles and Hester in 2011?

Darren Sproles in 2011

Total Shallow Deep
Total Returns 45 45 45
# End Zone 42 23 19
# Touchbacks 5 0 5
Ran out of End Zone 37 23 14
Average EPA on Run-Backs 0.216 0.168 0.284
# Positive EPAs 18 13 5
# Negative EPAs 14 8 6
# Pushes 5 2 3
Avg Starting Position 23.300 23.000 24.429

On the shallow kicks, Goodman was a bit better than Sproles. Sproles was only successful on 13 of 23 returns (57%). Goodman's average EPA was also significantly higher than Sproles.

Things change when we compare their performances on deep returns.

Sproles had fewer deep returns than Goodman, but when he did return it, Sproles was more successful than Goodman. Sproles had greater success across the board running the deep returns out than Goodman.

Devin Hester in 2011

Total Shallow Deep
Total Returns 36 36 36
# End Zone 20 16 4
# Touchbacks 0 0 0
Ran out of End Zone 20 16 4
Average EPA on Run-Backs 0.111 -0.069 0.610
# Positive EPAs 8 6 2
# Negative EPAs 11 9 2
# Pushes 1 1 0
Avg Starting Position 21.171 18.500 30.250

Comparing Devin Hester's performance in 2011 to Richard Goodman's was rather interesting. When doing the charting, Devin Hester doesn't field as many kicks from inside the end zone. Hester fielded 36 kickoffs, and only 20 of those were inside the end zone (55%). Compare that to Goodmans 40 of 47 (85%).

Hester is regarded as a major threat in the return game, but these numbers make it apparent that threat is mostly on punt returns, not kickoffs.

On shallow returns, Hester actually had a negative EPA in 2011. He only had success on 6 of 16 returns (38%) from less than 5 yards deep in the end zone. The Bears' average starting position on shallow kicks was behind the 20 yard line. Ouch.

Things improve for Hester on deep returns, however. Though, it's a rather small sample size as he only returned 4 kicks from deep in the end zone. He had a 50/50 success rate in running it out.

Interestingly, in 2011, Devin Hester not once took a knee on kick returns.

Overall though - and all things being equal - Richard Goodman was a more successful kick returner in 2011 than either Darren Sproles or Devin Hester.

2012 Season

Richard Goodman in 2012

Goody only played in the first 7 games of the 2012 season before he was injured in Cleveland and finished the rest of the season on Injured-Reserved. But, that's not to say we can't take a look at his 2012 season.

Total Shallow Deep
Total Returns 19 19 19
# End Zone 17 8 9
# Touchbacks 1 0 1
Ran out of End Zone 16 8 8
Average EPA on Run-Backs 0.182 0.020 0.293
# Positive EPAs 9 3 6
# Negative EPAs 7 5 2
# Pushes 0 0 0
Avg Starting Position 24.000 20.125 25.250

In the first 7 games of the 2012 season, Goodman returned 19 kicks. 17 of those (89%) went into the end zone where Goodman took a knee only once (5.8%).

Things get really interesting when you look at the shallow-deep splits: they've completely reversed from the 2011 season. Goodman was far more successful on returns from deep in the end zone than from shallow returns.

He was successful on 3 of 8 shallow returns (37.5%), whereas he was successful on 6 of 8 deep returns (75%). Doesn't that just fly in the face of the supposed wisdom?

Darren Sproles in 2012

Total Shallow Deep
Total Returns 20 20 20
# End Zone 19 7 12
# Touchbacks 5 0 5
Ran out of End Zone 14 7 7
Average EPA on Run-Backs 0.194 0.231 0.156
# Positive EPAs 6 4 2
# Negative EPAs 6 3 3
# Pushes 2 0 2
Avg Starting Position 23.533 24.000 22.714

Sproles' 2012 numbers were in line with his 2011 numbers, with a little variation. He was overall more successful on shallow returns and less successful on deep returns. And he started taking a knee more often deep in the end zone.

Overall, Sproles and Goodman had comparable overall numbers in 2012, but their levels of success on shallow-vs-deep returns was swapped.

Devin Hester in 2012

Total Shallow Deep
Total Returns 18 18 18
# End Zone 13 10 3
# Touchbacks 2 0 2
Ran out of End Zone 11 10 1
Average EPA on Run-Backs 0.218 0.245 0.040
# Positive EPAs 8 7 1
# Negative EPAs 3 3 0
# Pushes 0 0 0
Avg Starting Position 24.625 24.500 21.000

Charting Hester was interesting. The Bears started using him less often as a kick returner, so it took 12 games to get him to 18 kick returns charted just so we had a similar sample size to compare him.

Continuing his trend of fielding mostly shallow kicks, Hester fielded 13 total kicks in the end zone, with 10 of them being shallow. He fielded 3 deep kicks, and much to my dismay, took a knee on 2 of those. He only ran out one kick from greater than 5 yards back and he took it back to the 21 yard line; not really worth.

On the shallow runs, he was much more successful than Goodman in 2012. And even overall he was much more successful on his runs than Goodman in 2012.

Wrapping Up

When I set out on this little project, I fully expected the stats to back up the conventional wisdom that Richard Goodman is not a good return specialist. The numbers just don't back up what the casual fan may observe.

Which version of Richard Goodman will we see in 2013? Will it be the 2011 version who was actually pretty good running it out on shallower kicks? Or will it be the 2012 version who defies logic and is greatly successful returning deep kicks?

Only time will tell, but I'm optimistic about his success knowing he's better than many make him out to be.