We’ve heard it all by now- rumors have been swooning about the New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis, but no trade destination has ever really made sense but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are in a position where they’re essentially bidding against themselves, but after a season that saw them dead last in the NFL in passing yardage allowed, they’re desperate to upgrade their secondary and Revis is in obvious fit. The talks have revolved around the Bucs’ 13th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, but the Bucs want to instead trade the Jets their 2014 first round pick, which they believe will be later in the first round as their team improves next season. Does this whole situation make any sense for the Buccaneers? Is Darrelle Revis good enough that the Buccaneers should put their pride aside and make this deal happen even if giving up what they hope will be their last pick in the top half of the first round for a while is what it takes to do so?
Using the metric Win Probability Added from Advanced NFL Stats, Bucs cornerbacks actually ranked 7th in the NFL with a 3.59 value. The simplest way to think about that number is that their cornerbacks made the Bucs 22.4% more likely (3.59 divided by 16) to win each game. How does that make any sense? As it turned out, it’s quite misleading as the Bucs had 9 players take snaps at CB over the course of the year, and the more players you have, the more win probability you’re going to add even if they’re not as good individual. When looking at WPA per player, the Bucs dip all the way to 23rd in the NFL which certainly makes more sense given that they ranked 27th in Passer Rating Against in the NFL in 2012. That parallel between WPA per player and the Bucs’ Passer Rating ranking is a little interesting, and that becomes much more so the case when looking at the entire NFL. WPA per cornerback and Passer Rating had a -.472 correlation, not the strong relationship but still quite noticeable. Taking the R2 value, we can say that 22.3% of the variation in Passer Rating Against can be explained by the WPA per cornerback for each team, which is nothing too crazy given that teams have 2 or 3 cornerbacks on the field at the same time, and 2.5 divided by 11 is 22.7%, basically the same as the R2 value. But correlation does not imply causation and we especially can’t say that the cornerbacks performance as determined by WPA is the only thing affecting that 22.3% of Passer Rating Against. A quick glance at the graph of Passer Rating Against versus the WPA/CB gives us a hint about what’s going on.
Looking at the graph, the only real negative correlation lies in the seven points the farther to the right, the teams with the the highest WPA/CB values. Of those 7, 6 of them rank among the top 10 in the NFL in Passer Rating Against. Take out those 7 points, and there’s basically no correlation at (r=.083). What does this mean? Essentially that only the teams with the true top-of-the-top corners can really make their defenses elite and the separation between everyone else based on their corner play is not very large. That’s where Darrelle Revis comes in for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In 2011, his last full season, Revis managed a 1.84 WPA all by himself, the best in the NFL that year and higher than what four NFL teams managed in 2012. If the Bucs add that level of production, it will make their entire secondary better and give them a chance to completely reverse course and become a top 10 defense next season. If the Bucs could guarantee that level of performance from Revis, the Jets asking for a 1st and 3rd round pick in exchange for Revis is nothing. It may be a long time before they get another chance to acquire a player of Revis’ caliber with the ability almost singlehandedly turn the entire defense around.
There’s another complicating factor in this- Revis is coming off knee surgery and it’s very much in question whether he can resume being the best corner in football when he gets back onto the gridiron. If Revis is a good but not great corner, he certainly would not be worth a 1st and a 3rd round pick (or a 1st and a 2nd next year) because the impact he could make on the Bucs defense would be marginal at best. In that case, the Bucs would be better off simply holding onto their picks or trading down and drafting a corner. Darrelle Revis’ health will be the key to the negotiations- but if the Bucs believe that Revis is healthy and ready to return to elite form, they could regret it for a long time if the offseason passes with Revis not in their uniform.