Dustin Colquitt’s time with the Chiefs is over — and we’re all sad.
Most will remember the amazing person (and player) Colquitt has been with the Chiefs. But with some advanced analytics, we can go even further: quantifying just how important Colquitt has been to the team.
For a quick refresher on the metrics I’ll be using in this article, such as Expected Points Added and Win Probability Added, come check out my article here. But briefly, they’re estimates of how much a play influenced a team’s chances of scoring (EPA) and chances of winning (WPA).
First, let’s look at how Dustin Colquitt compares to some of the most prolific punters of the past two decades (and yes, we now have two decades of play-by-play data — not just one like we did the past season — thanks to a new R package available here).
The size of the dots represent the number of total punt attempts each punter has taken since the 2000 season.
As you can see, Colquitt has had a tremendous impact — totaling over 150 Expected Points Added and adding around 2400% to the Chiefs’ Win Probability Added. In other words, plays in which Colquitt punted the ball have totaled up to add an additional 24 wins since he joined the team in 2005.
How does this compare to the impact of some of the Chiefs’ other most notable players?
Well, if we look at the Chiefs’ quarterbacks, only two have done as much to increase the Chiefs’ chances of scoring — Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes — and neither of them has added as much to the team’s win probability.
When it comes to Chiefs pass catchers, only five have done more to increase the team’s chances of scoring: Tony Gonzalez (402 EPA), Travis Kelce (392 EPA), Dwayne Bowe (387 EPA), Eddie Kennison (245 EPA) and Tyreek Hill (209 EPA).
No running backs have totaled over 100 EPA in their career with the Chiefs. The closest is Jamaal Charles, who totaled 97 EPA with the team.
In summary, Colquitt has been the eighth-most valuable Chiefs player in terms of scoring — which is pretty darn impressive!
What’s even more impressive is the huge WPA associated with his punts. But it should be noted that the data includes plays where Chiefs special-teams players recovered a fumble on a punt — which are, of course, hugely impactful plays that are not directly under Colquitt’s control.
There’s another issue with using these two metrics for comparing punts. While they do a good job of capturing how influential the punt plays involving these players were, they do not do a good job of capturing punter skill. This is because a punter isn’t the one choosing when to punt. In other words, our EPA and WPA models really do not like it when a team punts within opponent territory; when you shouldn’t be punting at all, even a great punt doesn’t look good! So when Colquitt punts from that field position, it will likely be a negative EPA/WPA punt — even if he actually did a great job.
So we can better compare Colquitt to his punting peers, I’ve created a metric that I’ll call Punting Yards Over Expectation (PYOE). This metric looks at how many yards a punt netted (including the return) based on what we’d expect the average punt to net from the current field position. (And yes... the return is not completely under a punter’s control, but a punter’s skill does factor into it). This is similar to what others have done on the subject (though slightly less complex) - and interestingly, the author of this article now works for the Baltimore Ravens!
To show why this yardage adjustment is necessary, here’s the average net punting yardage by the field position at the time of the punt.
Naturally, as we get closer to the opponent’s end zone, it becomes harder to have a long punt — and there’s the risk of a touchback, which will likely lower the punt’s net yardage.
Here’s a look at which punters look best when we account for these changes in field position. (For the more technically curious, the model I am using here is a simple polynomial regression).
On the y-axis (up and down), we have a volume measure — how many total yards over expectation a punter has added since 2000. Colquitt is a superstar here — only two other punters (Brett Kern of the Tennessee Titans, and Johnny Hekker of the Los Angeles Rams) have punted more yards over expectation.
When we look at average punts instead (the x-axis, left and right) we see that Colquitt is still great, though not quite as spectacular as by our other measure. This analysis only includes punters with over 150 punts — so as not to overcrowd the graph — and Colquitt ranks in the top 20 (#19) of the 86 punters shown.
This was a lot of work to leave you with a simple takeaway: Dustin Colquitt is not only an awesome punter who has had a prolific NFL career (one of the best of the past two decades), but he is one of the most important and valuable Chiefs of all time.
It’s easy to underrate punters, but over the years, Colquitt’s longevity and consistency have greatly contributed to the Chiefs’ success.
And I — for one — will miss him greatly.
If you’d like to replicate this analysis for yourself — or check my work — I’ve posted my code to my github.