Titan Sized Interviews Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus


Do you have an argument with your friends over who the best runningback is? I can make my argument so good, but without actually watching every single game of each of the players in question, and having legitimate proof….I never win. Thankfully, Pro Football Focus can solve that argument. They rank every player of every position and tell us who is really the best.

Sam Monson, of Pro Football Focus, was kind enough to do a recent interview with us and tell us a little more about the site, while shedding some light on the Titans, including why Chris Johnson didn’t finish in the top-12 on their elusive ranking.

How long have you been writing for Pro Football Focus?

I’ve been part of the PFF set up since 2008 sometime, writing for the site, working on player participation and now the analysis side of things.

What’s the main goal of the site?

The goal of the site is to further the understanding of the game amongst the average fan.  We look at every play, every player, every game, and grade players to find out who was really playing well, and who has a reputation they don’t really deserve.

How long does it take to analyze a game? I remember reading that it was somewhere around 10 hours a few years ago.

Each game has two sets of eyes going over it at the moment (three really, but we’ll come to that in a moment).  One analyst runs through the player participation – who lined up where on each play – and that takes anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on the game.  Another analyst does the analysis for the game, grading players on each play, and that takes a similar amount of time.  We now also have a second person run through the player participation because almost all of the errors made there are transposition errors, and two people don’t make the same errors.  A second person doing the PP takes our accuracy from 99.5%+ to well over 99.9% accurate.  So there’s probably easily 15+ man-hours in every game that goes up on the site.

Do you cover a particular team or division?

Last season the analysis was done by just three people on the site, so we all saw a lot of every team in the league.  I’d go so far to say nobody on the planet saw more NFL games in their entirety than Ben Stockwell and Khaled Elsayed (our chief Analyst and PP guru) last season.

What makes Pro Football Focus different than Football Outsiders?

I don’t want to speak too much for the guys at Football Outsiders because truthfully I don’t know enough about what they do to comment too much on it.  From what I can tell we’re more player-oriented, whereas they work more focused on teams and play outcomes.  We grade to try and move beyond statistics to tell you what really happened on plays – they develop sabremetrics to improve on statistics already present – adjusted yards etc.  It’s a different way of approaching similar problems, and the bottom line is we both are trying to improve on the NFL’s base stats and further everyone’s appreciation of a very complex game.

You recommended Stephen Tulloch as the number one person for the Titans to re-sign. Could you give us a little detail on that?

When you watch Tulloch play he’s exactly what you want to see from a MLB – he flows to the football, he moves sideline to sideline, he’s always hitting people.  I think your entire D gets a lift when a guy like that is in the side.  Every team needs a hitting machine back there, and Tulloch is the Titans’ guy.

For 2008-2010, Chris Johnson didn’t rank in the top-10 for your elusive rating. Would you take ten backs before him if you were building a roster and everyone was available?

No, definitely not.  The Elusive Rating is designed to try and isolate the ability of a running back to make moves and avoid being tackled while weeding out the effect of the O-line.  What Chris Johnson has, that not many other backs have, is the ability to beat defenders without them getting in position to even miss a tackle on him.  He has a unique speed to run by defenders in a gap that shouldn’t be there to a normal back.  He’ll always be slightly underrated by the Elusive Rating because he makes so many plays with speed, where the majority of the time the defender just never gets in position to even attempt a tackle.  Chris Johnson is definitely a top back, but last year showed that like all runners, he is dependent to some degree on the blocking in front of him.

Speaking in general about the Titans, what players  do you feel could excel on any team?

We really liked the rookie season that Alterraun Verner had last season. With another year of development he could really excel.  We’ve already talked about Tulloch and CJ who are studs and could succeed anywhere.  David Stewart had been having a quietly great career at right tackle before struggling a bit last season.  We’re also big fans of Jason Jones when healthy, he’s a force up the middle.

Do you see the offensive getting worse, or was 2010 a fluke?

The good news is the O-line can’t get much worse than it was in 2010.  An improvement in blocking makes everybody better, but they could well have some growing pains with Locker the only viable option at the moment, depending on if they bring in a veteran to start.  The talent evaluating world is kind of split on Locker.  Some believe if you take him out of the mess of that Washington offense, he’ll immediately look much better, but some believe that his accuracy issues there are a major, and inherent problem.  The downside is that even if the first group are right, the Titans’ protection is bad enough to negatively affect him as well, so his development will be very interesting to watch.

Can the secondary get better without bringing any outside help in?

Definitely.  There are some young guys in there, and if Verner and McCourty take another step forward they get better just by them being another year older and another year more experienced.

With your insight and study, how does the AFC South finish in 2011? (assuming free agents stay and no new names are brought in)

You’d be crazy to bet against the Colts taking it yet again, even if they were run close last season.  Every season I expect the Texans to do better than they eventually manage, so I won’t go overboard on them.  The Jags have some nice pieces, but they’ve got holes that need patching, and the Titans need to get some viable QB play to get into the mix.  Unfortunately I don’t see any shocks, with the Colts taking the division and the other three teams scrapping for position behind them.

Can you give us a quick one-liner about the other 3 teams in the AFC South?

Colts: Manning hides a myriad of problems
Jaguars: Garrard now on a short leash
Texans: Always pretenders, yet to be contenders – have to fix that secondary.

Who is your hidden gem for fantasy football this season?

I’d keep an eye on Ryan Torain, the Redskins HB.  He’s a Shanahan favorite, having been drafted by him in Denver, and he ranked in the top 5 in the Elusive Rating this season.  He’s had an injury blighted career so far, but he’s still just 24, and if the Redskins can improve their blocking just a bit, he could do some damage.

Go ahead and tell everyone about all the great benefits they get if they subscribe to the premium section on Pro Football Focus.

You get advanced statistics that aren’t available anywhere else, and you get access to grades that come from the only place to watch every player, on every play, in every game, each and every season.  Check out our Why Subscribe page.

Be sure to check out Pro Football Focus’ main site and you can follow them on Twitter here.

And thanks again to Sam for the interview.