Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit: Tennessee - Ranking Linebackers

In today's Tennessee profile, I mention the following:

With the rankings above, one can begin to zero in on where problems may have originated. Tennessee ranked 49th in Adj. Line Yards but 73rd in Rushing S&P+, suggesting their linebackers were perhaps giving away some of the gains made up front. Meanwhile, their Need for Blitzes figure was incredibly low, suggesting most of UT's mediocre pass rush came from the line. Only one linebacker managed even 5.0 TFL/sacks, which is a low number as well. In all, the linebackers left something to be desired, which is not altogether surprising given the unit's injury history and lack of depth.

One of the things I would love to do as time progresses is figure out the most accurate way to begin ranking different units. On offense, it's easy enough to begin figuring out -- measure running backs by adding up Adj. POE, measure quarterbacks by somewhat doing the same (with perhaps some receiver targets/catches data thrown in), measure offensive and defensive lines by looking at Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rates. But evaluating a unit like linebackers is really difficult for obvious reasons. They have a part to play in run defense, pass rushing and pass coverage. But what if we were to start with exactly what I mentioned above?

Adj. Line Yards vs Rushing S&P+

By comparing these two measures, we are, in theory, isolating how much the line was responsible for rushing success (or lack thereof) and how much everybody else was. And while the secondary obviously has a role to play in stopping the run, most of it comes from the front seven. So the difference between these two measures gives us a good hint for how the LBs held up.

Adj. Sack Rate vs Need For Blitzes

Here's a reminder of what the Need For Blitzes concept measures:

Need for Blitzes: This compares a team's standard downs sack rate to its passing downs sack rate.  The lower the number, the more they were able to generate pressure on standard downs, and the less need for blitzes.

You have to make generalizations in these stats, and the one we are making here is simple: teams aren't going to blitz nearly as much on standard downs (first-and-10, second-and-4) as passing downs (second-and-9, third-and-7), so a team's passing downs sack rate tells us much more about its linebackers' ability to attack the passer. Obviously if you're running a 3-4, you're much more likely to send players on standard downs, but ... again, it's about generalizations.

There is still an aspect of pass coverage that we have to account for, and I'm very much open to conversation about that one, but we can still get quite a bit of the way toward evaluating linebackers by using these two concepts. So, naturally, let's see what a rough rankings system would look like using this. As always, ratings are set up so that 100.0 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, and below 100 is bad.

LB Rank Defense LBs vs Rush Rk LBs vs Sack Rk COMBINED
1 Boise State 165.5 5 207.3 1 372.9
2 West Virginia 174.0 2 181.1 3 355.2
3 Utah 198.4 1 108.9 49 307.3
4 Oklahoma 143.7 13 157.6 8 301.4
5 Texas 100.1 57 196.1 2 296.2
6 California 123.2 25 171.5 4 294.6
7 Clemson 163.4 6 119.1 33 282.4
8 Stanford 146.6 10 131.2 20 277.7
9 South Carolina 171.1 3 103.7 55 274.8
10 LSU 121.4 27 151.0 9 272.3
11 Central Florida 105.3 45 166.9 5 272.2
12 Nebraska 138.0 14 130.3 21 268.3
13 Illinois 146.4 12 120.6 32 267.0
14 Mississippi State 130.4 18 135.8 15 266.2
15 Florida State 123.8 23 139.0 14 262.7
16 N.C. State 120.7 30 140.3 13 261.0
17 Arkansas 114.2 39 140.7 12 254.9
18 Oregon State 129.0 19 120.6 31 249.6
19 Wisconsin 117.8 32 131.3 19 249.2
20 TCU 133.5 17 110.7 45 244.2
21 Fresno State 82.9 81 160.3 7 243.2
22 Auburn 124.4 22 118.4 34 242.7
23 Western Michigan 95.2 66 147.0 11 242.2
24 Arizona 122.9 26 118.1 35 241.0
25 Notre Dame 146.4 11 93.7 64 240.2

Rest of the list after the jump.

LB Rank Defense LBs vs Rush Rk LBs vs Sack Rk COMBINED
26 Purdue 91.1 71 147.5 10 238.7
27 Missouri 110.2 42 128.5 23 238.7
28 Oklahoma State 153.9 7 84.8 75 238.6
29 Alabama 148.7 8 89.1 71 237.8
30 Texas A&M 123.2 24 113.0 43 236.3
31 Boston College 169.5 4 66.5 102 235.9
32 Colorado 113.3 40 122.4 29 235.7
33 Navy 121.2 29 113.9 41 235.1
34 Iowa 134.1 16 99.5 57 233.6
35 Colorado State 72.3 98 160.5 6 232.8
36 SMU 113.0 41 116.9 37 230.0
37 Pittsburgh 92.8 69 135.2 16 228.1
38 Virginia Tech 101.5 53 126.0 26 227.5
39 Ohio State 148.5 9 76.4 88 224.9
40 North Carolina 127.6 20 96.8 61 224.4
41 Marshall 97.6 59 125.2 27 222.8
42 Maryland 116.2 37 103.9 53 220.2
43 Hawaii 103.2 51 116.0 40 219.2
44 USC 107.6 44 108.1 51 215.8
45 Tulsa 116.9 35 98.6 59 215.4
46 Miami 120.2 31 94.7 62 214.9
47 Arizona State 137.6 15 76.8 86 214.4
48 UCLA 104.3 47 109.4 48 213.8
49 Troy 80.1 84 133.5 18 213.6
50 Georgia 101.7 52 110.1 47 211.9
51 Louisville 100.2 56 110.4 46 210.7
52 Wyoming 83.0 79 127.5 24 210.5
53 Oregon 117.0 34 92.6 66 209.6
54 Arkansas State 88.3 73 120.9 30 209.2
55 Memphis 73.0 97 134.4 17 207.3
56 San Jose State 77.3 89 127.2 25 204.5
57 Michigan State 121.3 28 77.1 85 198.4
58 Ole Miss 81.2 83 116.4 39 197.6
59 BYU 93.4 68 103.9 54 197.3
60 Northern Illinois 91.6 70 103.6 56 195.2
61 South Florida 116.8 36 77.4 83 194.1
62 Nevada 76.0 91 116.6 38 192.6
63 Penn State 114.3 38 72.9 91 187.1
64 Houston 61.5 111 124.4 28 185.9
65 Toledo 95.7 63 89.2 70 185.0
66 Florida 126.5 21 57.9 108 184.4
67 Ohio 90.1 72 94.0 63 184.1
68 Duke 105.0 46 78.1 82 183.1
69 San Diego State 95.9 62 87.2 73 183.1
70 Syracuse 95.9 61 83.3 78 179.3
71 Connecticut 95.2 65 83.7 77 178.9
72 North Texas 95.5 64 80.9 80 176.4
73 Tulane 62.0 110 113.5 42 175.5
74 Southern Miss 66.5 105 108.5 50 175.1
75 Florida International 62.3 109 112.7 44 175.0
76 Louisiana Tech 103.3 50 71.3 96 174.5
77 Miami (Ohio)
56.2 116 117.9 36 174.1
78 Cincinnati 75.3 93 98.8 58 174.1
79 Vanderbilt 100.9 55 72.7 93 173.6
80 Buffalo 104.0 48 68.5 100 172.5
81 Middle Tennessee 67.3 103 104.9 52 172.2
82 Army 84.2 77 87.8 72 172.0
83 Akron 117.0 33 54.6 110 171.6
84 Texas Tech 98.4 58 72.7 92 171.1
85 Kent State 39.8 120 129.4 22 169.2
86 Temple 96.7 60 71.5 95 168.2
87 Iowa State 103.4 49 64.3 104 167.7
88 Kansas State 94.7 67 71.9 94 166.6
89 Bowling Green 77.9 87 87.1 74 165.0
90 Florida Atlantic 82.9 80 81.2 79 164.1
91 UL-Monroe 82.8 82 78.4 81 161.2
92 Rice 108.8 43 52.3 114 161.0
93 New Mexico 63.4 108 97.6 60 161.0
94 Central Michigan 84.4 76 76.6 87 161.0
95 Kentucky 66.2 106 92.9 65 159.1
96 UL-Lafayette 74.9 94 84.2 76 159.1
97 Virginia 67.2 104 90.5 68 157.8
98 Air Force 101.5 54 53.0 112 154.5
99 Washington 63.6 107 90.4 69 154.0
100 Indiana 83.0 78 70.6 98 153.6
101 Utah State 85.6 75 66.7 101 152.3
102 Washington State 58.6 114 92.5 67 151.1
103 Idaho 75.9 92 73.9 90 149.8
104 Kansas 78.7 86 69.4 99 148.1
105 UAB 76.9 90 71.0 97 147.9
106 Baylor 68.7 102 77.1 84 145.8
107 Ball State 79.9 85 64.3 105 144.2
108 Rutgers 74.1 96 62.3 107 136.4
109 Georgia Tech 87.4 74 48.9 117 136.4
110 Michigan 71.9 99 63.6 106 135.4
111 Wake Forest 69.4 100 65.6 103 135.0
112 Tennessee 77.8 88 53.9 111 131.7
113 UNLV 74.3 95 52.5 113 126.8
114 Western Kentucky 42.4 119 74.0 89 116.4
115 UTEP 61.4 112 49.9 116 111.3
116 Northwestern 55.5 117 55.7 109 111.2
117 East Carolina 58.3 115 50.0 115 108.3
118 Minnesota 69.1 101 35.5 120 104.5
119 Eastern Michigan 59.1 113 44.1 118 103.2
120 New Mexico State 47.4 118 39.0 119 86.3

This list needs further calibration (among other things, I'm pretty sure the Purdue linebackers are getting a rather hefty boost from defensive end Ryan Kerrigan's general badass tendencies), and it's rather confused by West Virginia's 3-3-5, but ... it's not bad. It certainly seemed to lock in on the poor units, anyway. Tennessee doesn't rank well, and it's hard to make the case that a team like Michigan or Minnesota should have ranked any higher (right, Maize n Brew?).

Anyway, consider this an experiment more than a declaration. Feedback is more than encouraged.

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