Nov 28, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson Make Each Other Better


One of the arguments against whether or not Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford deserves a mention with some of the NFL’s best is the presence of Calvin Johnson.

Some say Calvin Johnson, with his freak set of skills, makes Stafford look better than he really is.

Others point to the jump in Megatron’s statistics after Stafford took over as his quarterback full time.

Mostly it’s a chicken-or-the-egg argument heavily influenced by personal biases.

But FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has done what he does and quantified the effect of a wide receiver’s quarterback in a new post. Basically, to what extent are a wide receivers numbers helped, or hurt, by who his quarterback is relative to an average quarterback. Silver explains the nuts and bolts of the methodology:

To come up with these estimates, I used a subcomponent of QBR called Pass EPA, which focuses on a quarterback’s passing performance (as opposed to Total QBR, which also accounts for his rushing statistics and his propensity to avoid sacks and draw penalties). I ran a series of regressions on team totals from the 2011-13 NFL regular seasons, which estimated a team’s receiving yards, receptions and receiving touchdowns as a function of its Pass EPA. In essence, this reflects what a team’s passing statistics would look like given average receivers and pass protection but its actual quarterbacks. For example, a team with the quarterbacking of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys (mostly Tony Romo) would project to about 360 receptions, 4000 passing yards and 29 touchdowns given average receivers and offensive linemen.

We can then divide a team’s projected statistics by league-average figures to estimate what effect its quarterbacks had on its receivers. For example, the average team since 2011 has had 24 passing touchdowns. Since the 2013 Cowboys projected to 29 touchdowns instead based on their QBR — about 20 percent higher than average — this implies that Romo boosted his receivers’ touchdown totals by 20 percent. Thus, we can divide the touchdown totals for Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and other Cowboys receivers by 20 percent to estimate how they would have done with league-average quarterbacking.

Over the last three seasons, Johnson has averaged 101 receptions, 1,712 yards and 11 touchdowns for a total of 338 fantasy points (1 pt per rec, 0.1 pt per yard, 6 pts per TD).

After Silver’s adjustment with an average quarterback, Johnson’s numbers drop to 94 receptions, 1,561 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns for a total of 304 fantasy points.

Interestingly enough, whether you take the actually three year average or the adjusted numbers, Megatron comes out as the number one ranked wide receiver. Clearly, Calvin Johnson is a true talent but according to the numbers in Silver’s analysis, an additional 10% of his fantasy football production is attributed to the presence of Matthew Stafford.

In the question of which player makes the other better, the real answer is likely that they help each other.

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Tags: Calvin Johnson Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford