On Thursday, I put together a (flawed) statistical analysis in which I attempted to prove that third-year Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner has been one of the two or three least impactful first-round safety prospects of the past decade. Since the time that article has aired, response has been either overwhelmingly positive or, more frequently, overwhelmingly negative. After receiving an onslaught of emails either praising my efforts or questioning my sanity and/or credentials to even be writing such an article in the first place, I digested some of the more salient points made. The result? This post.
I've done everything you asked, which on the majority was including a wider variety of significant stats which were (not purposely) omitted from the first iteration of this exercise. The net results? Yeah, Donte Whitner is as unproductive as I said he was. Before we get to the numbers, though, I've got some responding to do...
This list isn't completely random.
I heard a lot of complaints along the lines of "Why did you randomly pick such obscure names?" They're not obscure, folks. The sixteen players I listed in this exercise are all sixteen safeties drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft from 1999 through 2008 - i.e. the last decade.
All data is over each players' first three years, where applicable
I heard this argument so many times it made me want to scream...
Some of these safeties have played longer than Whitner! You shouldn't be comparing entire careers, you should be comparing each player's first three years in the league!
Short answer: I did. All data here is from each respective player's first three seasons in the league. I thought I had made that point abundantly clear in the first iteration of this exercise; apparently I assumed incorrectly. Again, I repeat: THIS IS DATA FROM EACH PLAYER'S FIRST THREE YEARS. Games played and games started are included for the purpose of fairness. Any player on the list with an "*" next to their name is a player that has played less than three NFL seasons.
Tackles as a meaningful statistic
Many of you were unhappy with the idea that I didn't include tackles as a meaningful stat in this analysis. My response to that is simple. If there was a stat involving “clutch tackles”, such as tackles that prevent a first down or keep a player in-bounds in a clock management situation, then I might have referenced it here. As such, it’s difficult to include tackles because probably 80-90% of them (maybe even more) are of the “routine” variety. And, at any rate, this article is about "big plays" - and not very many tackles can be categorized as such.
Talent versus Production
Many have written questioning how such an analysis proves Whitner's lack of talent. I'll say this once: statistics cannot prove (or disprove) talent level. Busts are busts for a reason - they're highly talented, ultra-unproductive players. Statistics prove production. I did not write this post to prove Whitner is a bust. I did not use this analysis to prove that Whitner lacks talent, because number one, I don't believe that - I think Whitner has a world of talent - and number two, it's impossible to do so. I used this analysis to prove one thing: Whitner has been terribly unproductive as a playmaker. That point is made crystal clear, in my opinion.
This doesn't mean I don't think Whitner can play in the NFL.
People are reading this as "Galliford hates Whitner". I don't. I like the kid. I think he can play better. I like his attitude. In the off chance that Whitner or any of his teammates stumble across this blog in a drunken reverie or while searching for pornographic materials (or whatever else Bills players do online), however, I'd like to think that this will serve as a public notice to Mr. Whitner: we love you, but we want to love you more. You need to start making more plays.
The pass rush argument.
Perhaps the most popular argument being made is "Whitner would be great on [insert good team]!" or "Let's see how he'd do with an actual pass rush!". I could not agree more. However, those are hypotheticals unrelated to this report. As our very own Fort Worth repeatedly tells us, "great players make great plays". Great players also make the players around them better. Whitner, at least to this point in his career, is decidedly neither.
I heard a lot of complaints about forced fumbles, sacks, passes defended and safeties not being a part of the report. Ask and you shall receive, Bills fans. Again, not including tackles (see explanation above), I have compiled statistics from all sixteen players' first three years in eight statistical categories. I've added up the "big play" categories and ranked the safeties accordingly. First, the safeties...
1999: Antuan Edwards, GB (25)
2000: Rashard Anderson, CAR (23)
2001: Adam Archuleta, STL (20); Derrick Gibson, OAK (28)
2002: Roy L. Williams, DAL (8); Ed Reed, BAL (24)
2003: Troy Polamalu, PIT (16)
2004: Sean Taylor, WAS (5)
2005: no safeties drafted in Round 1
2006: Michael Huff, OAK (7); Donte Whitner, BUF (8); Jason Allen, MIA (16)
2007: LaRon Landry, WAS (6); Michael Griffin, TEN (19); Reggie Nelson, JAX (21); Brandon Meriweather, NE (24)
2008: Kenny Phillips, NYG (31)
The results? Prepare to be shocked, folks...
|E. Reed (47/48)||234||4||21||4||4||3||44||0||80|
|T. Polamalu (32/48)||227||6||7||3||2||2||37||0||57|
|S. Taylor (44/46)||264||2||7||7||1||1||34||0||52|
|R. Williams (48/48)||267||4||9||6||4||2||27||0||52|
|M. Griffin* (25/31)||121||1||10||2||1||1||18||0||33|
|A. Archuleta (41/42)||251||9.5||2||2||3||1||15||0||32.5|
|R. Nelson* (28/29)||114||1||7||2||0||0||15||0||25|
|L. Landry* (32/32)||160||2||2||2||3||0||16||0||25|
|D. Gibson (25/47)||144||1||3||1||1||0||17||0||23|
|M. Huff (32/44)||187||1||1||1||1||0||17||1||22|
|J. Allen (22/45)||104||0||5||1||1||0||9||0||16|
|R. Anderson* (9/27)||159||0||1||1||3||1||9||0||15|
|D. Whitner (42/43)||255||1||2||2||0||0||7||0||12|
|A. Edwards (4/31)||57||0||6||0||1||1||1||0||9|
|K. Phillips* (0/16)||62||0||1||0||0||0||5||0||6|
So, yeah. There you have it. With all of the relevant stats and all of the critiques out on the table, Whitner is still statistically the second-worst safety drafted in the first round over the past decade in terms of impactful plays. (Again, I'm giving the Giants' Kenny Phillips a pass because he's coming off a rookie season in which he didn't start a single contest.) He still ranks behind guys long labeled busts - guys like Derrick Gibson, Michael Huff and especially Rashard Anderson.
If there's anyone out there who'd like to continue to offer me feedback, positive or negative, on this exercise, I encourage you to do so in the comments section or via email. But I don't think there are too many more counter-arguments to make. Whitner is a solid starter at safety and his versatility is an asset to this team, but in three years, he has proven to be highly average overall and very mediocre when it comes to making game-changing plays. That argument I made on Thursday? I steadfastly stand by it.