Football is the epitome of a team sport. While the likes of Greg Jennings among others have displayed the ability to put the team on their back for short stretches over the years, generally any successful football play must involve multiple teammates doing their jobs at a high level.
Because of this reality, we often have an endless supply of "What if?" questions to chastise both our friends and ourselves with after inevitably experiencing some bad luck throughout the season.
What do I mean by bad luck? Specifically ...
- Nullified TDs: Scores that were taken off the board due to a penalty.
- Uncatchable targets: Players get open ... only for their QB to throw an inaccurate pass.
- Bad offensive line play: RBs in particular are unable to produce if the big uglies up front can't provide at least some resistance.
- Lack of TDs: Bunches of touches that somehow still don't produce trips to the end zone.
- Injuries: Players miss time due to various ailments.
The goal of this article is to provide a snap shot of the league's most-unlucky players from the 2019 season by breaking down these five aforementioned categories.
I tracked every nullified TD throughout the season by going through ESPN's play-by-play sequence for every game of the year. Riveting work, I must say.
Players that had multiple nullified scores in 2019 were as follows:
- George Kittle (3)
- Cameron Brate (2)
- Raheem Mostert (2)
- Justin Jackson (2)
- Robert Woods (2)
- Randall Cobb (2)
- Derrick Henry (2)
- Latavius Murray (2)
- Aaron Jones (2)
That's right, Kittle's already-huge campaign could've been even bigger, but not one, not two, but THREE scores were called back by penalty.
Unsurprisingly, the 49ers led all teams in total nullified scores:
- 7: 49ers
- 6: Saints
- 5: Cowboys, Chargers
- 4: Chiefs, Rams, Titans
- 3: Jets, Seahawks, Buccaneers
- 2: Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Vikings, Patriots, Eagles
- 1: Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, Panthers, Browns, Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Raiders, Steelers
Obviously some of these scores wouldn't have come to fruition without the penalty occurring. Still, there's nothing more heartbreaking for fantasy managers than the stomach punch after watching a score come off the board courtesy of the refs.
One of the other truly awful feelings for fantasy managers to experience is when their open player is badly missed by the QB.
We can determine a player's rate of uncatchable targets through a simple formula: (targets - receptions - drops) / targets. Basically, we're zeroing in on every player's percentage of targets that weren't either caught or dropped.
The top-10 unluckiest receivers in 2019 were as follows:
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling (48% uncatchable target rate)
- Breshad Perriman (48%)
- Phillip Dorsett (46%)
- Auden Tate (46%)
- Mike Gesicki (43%)
- T.J. Hockenson (42%)
- Alex Erickson (42%)
- Curtis Samuel (42%)
- Robby Anderson (42%)
- Mike Williams (41%)
The fact that each of Tate, Gesicki, Samuel, Anderson and Williams are on this list truly sends shivers down this truther's spine. Samuel in particular could've had such a better season with even a somewhat competent QB under center.
A look at the league's team-wide rankings shows that 14 teams had featured an bad throw rate of over 18% last season:
- Lions (22.7%)
- Packers (21.3%)
- Patriots (20.7%)
- Buccaneers (20.7%)
- Rams (20.2%)
- Bills (20%)
- Steelers (19.8%)
- Panthers (19.2%)
- Colts (19.1%)
- Bengals (18.8%)
- Dolphins (18.5%)
- Seahawks (18.4%)
- Redskins (18.4%)
- Giants (18.3%)
To be fair, Josh Allen (7.2% drop rate), Dak Prescott (6.2%), Kyle Allen (6%), Jimmy Garoppolo (6%), Sam Darnold (6%), Joe Flacco (6%) and Tom Brady (5.9%) didn't exactly benefit from a plethora of sure-handed receivers.
Of course, not all targets are created equal. A look at the uncatchable targets on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield does paint a slightly different picture.
- Panthers (25%)
- Colts (31%)
- Bills (33%)
- Jets (34%)
- Steelers (35%)
- Bengals (37%)
- Rams (37%)
- Packers (38%)
- Titans (38%)
- Dolphins (39%)
The Broncos (51%), Texans (53%), Cowboys (53%), Saints (53%), Chiefs (54%) and 49ers (58%) were the league's only offenses to post a catchable deep-ball rate of at least 50%.
73 players had double-digit targets thrown at least 20 yards downfield in 2019. Just 10 received a catchable deep ball rate of 30% or lower:
- Corey Davis (0%)
- Curtis Samuel (19%)
- Jimmy Graham (20%)
- Keenan Allen (25%)
- Chris Conley (26%)
- D.J. Moore (29%)
- Phillip Dorsett (29%)
- Christian Kirk (29%)
- Zach Pascal (30%)
- Odell Beckham (30%)
Not every deep-ball target is created equal. Sometimes QBs unnecessarily force the ball downfield to their covered play-makers, while other times they largely don't have much chance of success due to pressure. Still, some players undoubtedly had less to work with when it came to even getting a chance to make a play on the ball.
Plenty of RBs experienced similar moments where they simply couldn't get going due to porous performance from their teammates.
Bad offensive line play
This category is for RBs, as pressure and sacks *usually* tend to be more of a QB stat than a true indicator of a team's offensive line.
Obviously RBs matter in the sense that they're crucial pieces of offenses all around the league. The problem is that it can be hard to truly discern the difference in skill between multiple backs when their offensive lines are in different stratospheres when it comes to ability.
Last season eight offenses failed to average even two yards before contact per rush:
- Bengals (1.9)
- Chargers (1.9)
- Redskins (1.9)
- Jaguars (1.8)
- Buccaneers (1.8)
- Dolphins (1.7)
- Jets (1.4)
- Steelers (1.4)
The Cardinals (3.3), Ravens (3.2), Panthers (3.1) and 49ers (3) were the only teams to average at least three yards before contact per rush in 2019.
Like our previous variables, we can't exclusively pinpoint the blame here. Several of these teams didn't boast anything resembling consistent play under center last season, allowing opposing defenses to regularly stack the box and clog up any and every available rushing lane.
Our next breakdown covers players that had plenty of opportunities in 2019, but simply failed to have any sort of success in reaching the end zone.
Lack of TDs
59 players had at least 100 touches in 2019. Just 18 of them failed to find the end zone more than five times:
- 1 TD: Alexander Mattison (110 touches)
- 2 TD: Benny Snell (111), Frank Gore (179), Gus Edwards (140), Jaylen Samuels (113), Matt Breida (142)
- 3 TD: DeAndre Washington (144), Leonard Fournette (341), Tony Pollard (101), Robert Woods (107), Tarik Cohen (143)
- 4 TD: Kerryon Johnson (123), Royce Freeman (175), Le'Veon Bell (311), Devin Singletary (180)
- 5 TD: Adrian Peterson (228), LeSean McCoy (129), Duke Johnson (127)
Some of these RBs were truly the victim of bad circumstances, most notably Singletary. Overall, the Bills gave their rookie just three carries inside the 10-yard line, instead leaning on both Gore (18) and Josh Allen (11) near the goal line.
Other backs just couldn't find the end zone no matter how hard they tried. Fournette is the best example of this. Even the refs weren't doing him any favors.
We also have a hefty list of players that failed to find the end zone despite getting plenty of targets. 13 receivers posted a TD rate of 3% or lower in 2019 among 65 WRs and TEs with at least 75 targets on the season:
- Alex Erickson (0%)
- Danny Amendola (1%)
- Auden Tate (1%)
- Robert Woods (1%)
- Mike Williams (2%)
- Mohamed Sanu (2%)
- Anthony Miller (2%)
- Greg Olsen (2%)
- Darren Waller (3%)
- Christian Kirk (3%)
- D.J. Moore (3%)
- Dede Westbrook (3%)
- Odell Beckham (3%)
Several of these players are slot receivers that aren't actively schemed the ball near the goal line, but the presence of contested-catch specialists like Williams and Beckham is more surprising to see.
Finally we'll end with some players who simply couldn't even find their way on the field in 2020.
We'll focus on key players and starters that missed at least six regular season in 2019.
- QB: Ben Roethlisberger (14 missed games), Cam Newton (14), Drew Lock (11), Nick Foles (9), Matthew Stafford (8), Joe Flacco (8)
- RB: Lamar Miller (16), Isaiah Crowell (16), Jerick McKinnon (16), Bryce Love (16), Derrius Guice (11), Ito Smith (9), Kerryon Johnson (8), Kareem Hunt (8 - suspension), James Conner (6), Jordan Howard (6)
- WR: Jalen Hurd (16), Trent Taylor (16), Devin Funchess (15), Quincy Enunwa (15), DeSean Jackson (13), Travis Benjamin (11), Parris Campbell (9), N'Keal Harry (9), Chris Hogan (9), John Ross (8), Preston Williams (8), Taylor Gabriel (7), Marquise Goodwin (7), Jakeem Grant (6), T.Y. Hilton (6), Alshon Jeffery (6), Sterling Shepard (6), Adam Thielen (6)
- TE: Jordan Reed (16), Chris Herndon (15 - injury and suspension), Vernon Davis (12), David Njoku (12), Josh Oliver (12), James O'Shaughnessy (11), Will Dissly (10), Ryan Izzo (10), Jace Sternberger (10), Geoff Swaim (10), Delanie Walker (9), Trey Burton (8), Evan Engram (8), Adam Shaheen (8), Rhett Ellison (6)
Some players obviously are a bit more injury prone to others, but be careful about writing off any of the above players due to their porous production before taking a closer look at what they were dealing with.
Football isn't an easy sport to follow. Both film and analytics need to be analyzed in order to paint the clearest picture for yourself, but even then we have instances where players are unfortunately products of their below-average environments.