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Grading the NFL’s Best Playmakers: The Foolishness Rating

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The Foolishness Rating is the harmonic mean of contested catches and forced missed tackles. The name comes from the highlight-reel plays that usually result from one of these. The operative defensive player looks foolish. It is a stat used to grade pass catchers (primarily wide receivers and tight ends) on what they add to their team, thus helping to find the NFL’s best playmakers. It is the same calculation as power speed in baseball. To perform well in the metric, a pass catcher must be adept at both. Let’s look at the NFL’s best playmakers from 2021 by The Foolishness Rating.

No.1: CeeDee Lamb (16.1)

Lamb forced 19 missed tackles and made 14 contested catches. He finished seventh in forced missed tackles and 15th in contested catches. After a middling performance in both metrics in 2020, Lamb became one of the most dangerous players in the NFL in 2021, which makes him the mainstay for the NFL’s best playmakers.

Now as the unquestioned top receiver in Dallas, Lamb will continue to ravage secondaries across the NFC. He can win in all aspects at the wide receiver position, and he will likely be in many top 10 conversations by the end of the season. He is already well worth the draft capital that the Cowboys spent.

No.2: Cooper Kupp (16.0)

This might be the only statistic that Kupp ranks second in after winning the receiving triple crown. Kupp led wide receivers with 24 forced missed tackles (only Najee Harris had more). His 12 contested catches ranked 24th in the NFL. While Kupp had two seasons with at least 15 forced missed tackles, he only had 16 total contested catches in his first four seasons.

Kupp had an all-time receiver season, posting the fourth receiving triple crown season since the AFL-NFL merger. His 1,947 yards ranked second to Calvin Johnson‘s 1,964 in 2012. Kupp had spent most of his career as a package deal with Robert Woods, but he ascended to being the alpha in the Rams‘ offence in 2021. Woods is now in Tennessee, and Kupp is firmly in top-five receiver conversations.

No.3: Stefon Diggs (15.5)

Diggs would have had a 15.0 Foolishness Rating in 2020, but he became even spicier in 2021. Diggs notched 15 contested catches and 16 forced missed tackles. He was the only player in the NFL to post 15 of each. He finished 12th in forced missed tackles and 10th in contested catches.

Diggs has three consecutive 1,100-yard seasons, and he is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl nods. In his first five seasons, Diggs was known as a route specialist with a particular affinity for running deep routes. Since joining the Buffalo Bills, Diggs has elevated his game to be one of the most well-rounded receivers in the NFL.

No.4: Deebo Samuel (15.0)

Considering that only Samuel’s receiving acumen matters here, Samuel might be underrated. He had 20 forced missed tackles, the fourth most in the NFL. His 12 contested catches were 24th. 2021 was the first season Samuel was used as a go-to contested-catch option, and his Foolishness Rating increased dramatically.

Samuel has been embroiled in ongoing contract negotiations with the San Francisco 49ers, so his 2022 status is unknown. The 2021 All-Pro had a historic season, but he more than doubled his previous production. He has had a slew of nagging injuries in just three seasons, and he missed nine games in 2020. The 49ers must separate the player from the system and justify his next contract.

No.5: Brandon Aiyuk (14.4)

Staying in San Francisco, Aiyuk had a breakout season from a Foolishness Rating perspective. He doubled his forced missed tackles up to 18. He went from two contested catches to 12, launching into the top 25 in contested catches. He was 11th in forced missed tackles.

Aiyuk had a bizarre 2021 season. Entering the season, he was a popular breakout candidate, but he soon found himself in Kyle Shanahan’s so-called doghouse. He became a popular drop candidate in fantasy football, but he ended up piecing together over 800 yards. After Week 6, Aiyuk was on pace for 73 catches and 1,128 yards.

No.6: Davante Adams (13.5)

Adams ended with 13 forced missed tackles (19th) and 14 contested catches (15th). Heading into 2021, Adams had only posted 10 of either category twice, overlapping in 2017. He has still certainly made some absolutely impressive plays in the NFL, which could see him make the top 10 in many categories, and in terms of the Foolishness Rating, he comes in at number six.

In the offseason, the Green Bay Packers dealt Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, reuniting Adams with his college quarterback Derek Carr. Carr may not be Aaron Rodgers, but he already has a strong rapport with Adams from their days at Fresno State. Adams could be even better than the multi-time All-Pro he was with the Packers.

No.7: Ja’Marr Chase (13.1)

Chase had 19 forced missed tackles, ranking seventh in the NFL. He only had 10 contested catches, but that still ranked 34th in the NFL. Chase had two games with at least three contested catches and seven games with multiple forced missed tackles. Though he only just came out of his rookie season, many already tote Chase as one of the NFL’s best playmakers, as is evident by his ranking in this list.

After opting out of 2020 and struggling with drops in the preseason, Chase lit the NFL on fire in 2021. Chase posted 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. He ran away with Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he made his first of many Pro Bowls. Chase is already one of the most productive deep threats in the NFL, and he will only get better moving forward.

No.8: Dalton Schultz (12.5)

Schultz earned the top spot for tight ends. He had a career-best 13 forced missed tackles and 12 contested catches. He ranked 19th in forced missed tackles and 24th in contested catches.

After three middling seasons, Schultz broke out to the tune of 808 yards and eight touchdowns. He should have an even bigger role in the offense with Amari Cooper gone and Michael Gallup nursing an injury.

No.9: Tee Higgins (12.3)

An inverted Chase, Higgins had 16 contested catches and 10 forced missed tackles. His 16 contested catches ranked sixth while his 10 forced missed tackles ranked 36th. Higgins had a modest increase from six forced missed tackles and 12 contested catches as a rookie. In the last two games Higgins played in the regular season, he had five total contested catches and four forced missed tackles.

No.10: Mark Andrews & Michael Pittman (12.0)

Both Andrews and Pittman recorded nine forced missed tackles and 18 contested catches. They ranked 46th in forced missed tackles, but they came in fourth in contested catches. Neither player had much of a track record in accumulating both simultaneously before 2021.

Benefits

For the most part, the Foolishness Rating is quarterback independent. It is also partially scheme-independent. These stats are in the hands of the receiver and their ability to convert a sliver of an opportunity into something serious, which would help to make them one of the NFL’s best playmakers.

While the stats are often inversely related, there is value in being effective in both situations. The baseball equivalent of power-speed combines home runs and steals. Most power hitters are not speed threats and vice versa, but the best of the best are good at both.

In the Middle

Foolishness Rating uses volume rather than efficiency. Outside of missing out on more volume, Chase was not penalized for only converting 34.5% of contested chances. Similarly, Lamb does not get bonus points for being the most efficient contested-catch threat among high-volume receivers, making it slightly less accurate at assessing the NFL’s best playmakers. Context matters and this stat alone does not provide that. A combination of volume and efficiency is likely the ideal result, but volume weeds out many fraudulent cases.

Limitations for Judging the NFL’s Best Playmakers

Some players get more contested-catch opportunities than others. Some players (Mike Williams, for example) are pigeonholed into being a jump-ball targets, so they will accumulate many contested catches while not having much opportunity to force missed tackles.

On the other hand, some players are not given contested targets. Of the six players to force 20 missed tackles as a receiver, three were running backs. Najee Harris led the NFL in forced missed tackles by a comfortable margin, but he had zero contested targets.

Also, the number itself is fairly meaningless. Adding 1.0 to one’s Foolishness Rating is not as understandable as tacking on an extra contested catch or forced missed tackle.

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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.

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