Deep Stats: Garrett Taylor Is Having a Great Start to the Season

By Craig Fritz on September 20, 2018 at 4:15 pm
Penn State Safety Garrett Taylor
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

You know I love looking at advanced stats. The day S&P+ rankings update is my favorite non-game day of the week (Penn State is currently 8th). New this year, stat maven Bill Connelly has added some individual player values, Marginal Explosiveness and Marginal Efficiency. This is fun because it gives us a tool to evaluate which players are most valuable to the team in specific situations (better rating for higher-leverage plays). 

A quick explainer on each:

  • Marginal Efficiency: the difference between a player’s success rate (passing, rushing, or receiving) or success rate allowed (for an individual defender) and the expected success rate of each play based on down, distance, and yard line.
  • Marginal Explosiveness: the difference between a player’s IsoPPP (passing, rushing, or receiving) or IsoPPP allowed (for an individual defender) and the expected IsoPPP value of each play based on down, distance, and yard line.

For offensive players, the larger the positive value, the better. For defensive players, it’s the opposite — the more negative, the better.

According to Connelly, the average rating for each level of a defense is as follows:

  • Defensive linemen: minus-19 percent Marginal Efficiency
  • Linebackers: minus-3 percent Marginal Efficiency
  • Defensive backs: plus-23.3 percent Marginal Efficiency (Average safeties are plus-20 ME)

So now that's out of the way, I'm here to report that you may not have expected or realized that redshirt junior safety Garrett Taylor is having a whale of a season so far with a -11.4 percent marginal efficiency.

But what does that mean? Per Connelly's stats (link opens a Google doc), Taylor leads the team in tackles (13), while Penn State's official stats have him tied for second on the team (16) with Micah Parsons (who should play more). However, the total tackles don't tell the whole story, it's more about WHERE and WHEN the tackles are made. Consider the positioning of defenders on the field. Clearly defensive linemen are going to have more opportunities for negative plays since they start closest to the ball, next would be linebackers. Defensive backs come last because they generally make plays/tackles the farthest away from the line of scrimmage after the offense has already gained yards, and are thus less efficient. So for Taylor's numbers to be what they are, he's having the impact of an above-average linebacker from the safety position. I'm not sure that's something anyone expected after the graduation of Marcus Allen, who often played like a run-stuffing box safety.

For perspective on Taylor's numbers, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama's No. 11 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, had a marginal efficiency of -1.4 percent for the entire 2017 season. No, I'm not comparing Taylor to Fitzpatrick, I'm merely saying that through three games, the Penn State safety is putting up an awesome performance. Certainly the talent of the Nits' last two opponents probably has something to do with the rating, but his numbers are WAY better than the rest of the starting secondary (Nick Scott: +11.9 percent, Amani Oruwariye: +13.1 percent, Tariq Castro-Fields: +12.9 percent). 

The good part is, based on those averages I listed above, the whole PSU secondary is playing pretty well, but not near the level of Taylor so far. 

Can we expect this to continue? With just three games and tons of garbage time, it's difficult to say, but we have a good indication that Taylor is a difference-maker, and it's something I'll monitor all year to see how players are trending.

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