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Estimating the Impact of Punt Placement on Defensive Performance

With the draft in the rearview mirror, no doubt you, like so many other RotoViz readers, are putting together your rankings in preparation for your next fantasy-football-dominating season. Edge cases, small differences, and little insights can make all the difference. The drama surrounding the release of Marquette King by the Oakland Raiders caused a lot of buzz, especially once he then turned and signed with heated division rival the Denver Broncos. But what, if anything, can this change tell us about the expected performance of the 2018 Denver Broncos defense? Pinning an offense deep within their own side of the field is obviously and intuitively valuable, but the extent of its value is an important question when personnel changes can impact our predictions of future performance. The following analysis will start with the assumption that Denver’s defensive baseline for points per game (PPG) in 2018 will be the average of their performance over the last five years: 21.3 PPG. Other adjustments and personnel changes will of course affect this number, but we have to start somewhere. Punt placement for this study is defined as the point on the field, measured from the receiving team’s own goal line, where the ball lands or is fielded before factoring in returns, muffed catches, or penalties. When looking at King’s performance on punt placement, we see he has been extremely consistent during his five years in the league. Again, we will use his five-year average from 2013 to 2017 as an estimate of his 2018 performance. The last five years, the average punt from King landed at the 18.2 yard line. Over that same period, Denver’s average punt placement as been the 22.4 yard line, worse than any year in King’s career thus far.1
  1. Punt placement data was extracted using nflscrapR. Credit goes to Ron Yurko (@stat_ron) for developing this tool.  (back)

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