Is the Chip Kelly Offense “Plug-and-Play” for Quarterbacks?

Does the Philadelphia offense make fantasy quarterbacks as precious as Beanie Babies, or are we underrating these players' talent?

How many of you young whippersnappers out there remember what piece of technology came before the DVD? I know it’s tough to think back then, what with all of the Chumbawamba thundering through our ears, but any guesses? If you said the Video Home System (VHS), then you’d be right! Congratulations, you were born before the Y2K scare, and your only prize is the satisfaction that neon windbreakers are no longer in style.

If you are age 14 or younger, please feel free to take a minute here to look up what all of those above references mean. I’ll wait.

It’s funny to me that back in the day the phrase “plug-and-play” was used about media like the VHS, despite the fact that you had to rewind the tape cassette if someone else hadn’t. It’s also a little ironic to me that we’re using such an archaic term and device as a metaphor for Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly’s warp speed offense of the future. It fits, though, as seemingly every quarterback inserted behind center with the “Blur” plan has found success. So, is Kelly’s offense a plug-and-play for fantasy quarterbacks, or do we have to slow down, be kind, and rewind on our enthusiasm for newly-minted starter Mark Sanchez and company?

In West Philadelphia Born and Raised…

Every time you start that line, I’m pretty sure it is considered treason if your friends/family/coworkers don’t complete it. And for what it’s worth, it looks like the Eagles are back to playing playground ball out there: quarterback Mark Sanchez was written off for dead so many times by everyone – come on now, we all did it – and now he looks like he’s having fun again. In this week’s Monday Night Blowout, Philadelphia rolled over the once-mighty Carolina Panthers defense to the tune of 45 points and even dropped 35 of those points unanswered between the middle of the first quarter and the beginning of the fourth.

Sanchez himself passed for 332 yards and 2 touchdowns with a 54.1% completion rate and performed so well that they even let backup (and huge bust) Matt Barkley join the party late in the game. It seems that even the most basically physically and mentally competent quarterback can thrive in this offensive system that Kelly innovated at Oregon in college, and when put in the hands of someone exceptionally talented, true artistry may happen. How true is this assumption?

We turn to our old friend, Net Expected Points (NEP), as a way of figuring this out. NEP is a metric that takes into account field position, down and distance, and the kind of play, and assigns it a value in increasing the odds of one’s team scoring on that drive. If a player advances the ball and betters his team’s chances of scoring, that is measured in expected points and credited to them as their contribution. This figures out true value of a player beyond box score stats. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.

Is it possible that Kelly can make magic with any quarterback Play-doh he’s handed?

You Got It, Dude!

If we look at the data of each of Chip Kelly’s quarterbacks since he leapt from the college football ranks to the NFL in 2013, we’ll be able to get a good picture of how his system tends to treat quarterbacks. This may seem a little bit “chicken or the egg,” but nearly two years and four quarterbacks have provided us with enough data to ask this question safely.

The table below shows each of the quarterbacks who have made a drop back for the Eagles during Chip Kelly’s tenure as head coach so far, as well as their NEP data in Passing NEP (all NEP gained on drop backs) and Rushing NEP (all NEP gained on rushing attempts). Is there a ton of disparity, or will we see a “Blur” baseline show up?

PlayerPassesPassing NEPPassing NEP/Drop BackRushesRush NEPRush NEP/Attempt
Foles667123.830.1954 11.320.21

It’s fairly difficult to see much of a trend or pattern that would mark these four very distinct quarterbacks as having played in the same system when looking at the overall picture here. There are vastly different Passing NEP totals, very different rates of Rushing NEP production, and one has to question if there is a “Chip Kelly offense” hallmark.

However, we can look at the rate stats for each player and see that there is some similarity. Nick Foles and Sanchez both have Passing NEP on a per drop back basis that exceeds 0.19, and they have tended to function similarly, as pocket passers with a slight amount of mobility. Foles and Michael Vick both exceed 0.18 in the Rushing NEP on a per attempt basis, as well.

This combination of efficiency in both categories for Kelly’s primary signal-caller makes one wonder if Foles has crossed these thresholds in both due to more exposure to the system over these two seasons. As for Matt Barkley, I’d like to throw him out the window, both for the terms of this study and otherwise; he’s terrible. Still, it’s worth noting that among the three NFL-caliber quarterbacks for this team, all of them have produced to some extent in this offense.

Where In the World Is…

What happens if we compare the careers of these less certain quarterbacks before and after they joined the Eagles? When we look at Vick’s Falcons and Jets tenure in comparison to his time with the Eagles (or the Jets for Sanchez), will we see a huge difference?

The table below shows Vick and Sanchez’s Eagles NEP data again, and then their rest-of-career numbers elsewhere. How do they match up?

PlayerTeamPassesPassing NEPPassing NEP/Drop BackRushesRush NEPRush NEP/Attempt

Now, it’s hard to draw any major conclusions when looking at a body of work that comprises a career against something more like a few starts, but there is something to be said about the fact that Vick and Sanchez were fairly below average passers when not in an Eagles uniform with Kelly in their ears and that Vick remains one with the Jets. Sanchez’s per drop back Passing NEP has skyrocketed since becoming an Eagle, by nearly a third of a point per drop back. Vick’s increase was much less drastic, only increasing by 0.05 Passing NEP per drop back.

It’s clear, however, that Kelly simplifies complicated offensive reads and gives his quarterbacks ways to easily tell where the defense will go. The Blur offense from Oregon isn’t just warping defensive minds, it’s also changing perception for even the most average quarterbacks who step into the system. It’s for this reason I don’t think Kelly will invest in a Marcus Mariota type in the 2015 NFL Draft, and it’s for this reason that almost any player with baseline talent (read: not Matt Barkley) will thrive in this up-tempo, simplified system.