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Using historical NFL player comparisons to value top 2022 free agent offensive guards

Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team guard Brandon Scherff (75) at the line of scrimmage against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

While the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams are still focused on this year and Super Bowl 56, the rest of the league and its fans are preparing for the offseason. PFF is also getting into the action with the launch of its 2022 Draft Guide and free agency rankings, which allows you to sort by position or team needs and includes OverTheCap contract projections as well as historical grades and wins above replacement (WAR) numbers for the past three seasons.

This article is part of a series going through PFF's top-ranked free agents (excluding quarterbacks) by position group, using their past stats to match them with historical players. Once we have a sample of similar players, we can see how they performed in subsequent seasons to get an idea of the current player’s range of outcomes. I’ll also include any potential bargain free agents who aren’t at the top of our rankings but look better than expected in WAR projections.

This system is similar to FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO NBA player projections, but it is applied to football and uses PFF’s WAR metric as the proxy for player value.

Buying wins in free agency is an expensive proposition, but the value of each incremental win for a playoff-caliber team cannot be understated. This year, teams are going to have tough decisions on how to spend that money.


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METHODOLOGY

For each of the guards below, the closest comparable players were found by measuring the similarity between them based on several features — age (within one year), WAR, previous-year WAR, WAR per snap, PFF pass-blocking grades and PFF run-blocking grades.

The most similar players across these metrics are grouped together to calculate the expected WAR numbers for 2020 and 2021, and the weight of each comparison reflects the level of similarity. I didn’t use the same number of comparisons for all players, as it is more difficult to find a wide range of comparable seasons for older players.

The first plot shows the relevant WAR numbers for each of the guard’s closest comparisons, the next displays past and future performance for the free agent based on the comparisons and the final table shows the dollar values based on positional WAR baselines for each outcome (expected, ceiling and floor) through 2023.

I decided to restrict the forecasts to the next two years in order to maximize the number of comparable players we have in the data set, reduce error for longer forecasts and reflect the fact that all but the NFL's top-tier free-agent contracts are glorified two-year deals that give teams the option to continue.


Brandon Scherff

PFF FREE AGENCY RANK: 19

Scherff was already playing on his second franchise tag in 2021, and he continued to play at a high level. It’s difficult to find 12 appropriate and comparable players for a player of Scherff’s quality, but the names below are fairly representative.

Scherff’s WAR production fell in 2021 as his pass- and run-blocking grades fell from career-highs last year. Scherff still was still one of the most valuable interior linemen in the NFL.

We project Schertt will sign for around $17 million per season for three seasons. The Washington Commanders placing another franchise tag on Scherff is borderline cost-prohibitive at over $18 million.

Outcome 2020 2021 2022 2023 Two-Yr Avg
Actual/Expected $22.0 $12.2 $16.2 $13.1 $14.7
Ceiling (90th) N/A N/A $18.1 $23.7 $20.9
Floor (10th) N/A N/A $6.2 $1.0 $3.6

Laken Tomlinson

PFF Free Agency Rank: 26

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