If you watched Northwestern’s blowout victory over Bowling Green last Saturday, you know superback Garrett Dickerson had a great game. In addition to his usual stellar blocking, he caught 9 passes for 150 yards, both of which are career highs. The most receiving yards Dickerson had ever tallied prior to the game was 46! He more than tripled that.
But Dickerson didn’t just have a great game. He had a perfect game, if you believe in the grading abilities of Pro Football Focus.
PFF Week 2 National Team of the Week - Offense pic.twitter.com/JRFUqUbcge— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 20, 2017
Yes, that’s a grade of 99.9 out of 100 for Northwestern’s senior superback. The next highest is a 94.6, and no defensive player even broke 94.
If you’re unfamiliar with PFF’s grades, here’s an explainer from Wikipedia.
PFF grades every player's every play on a scale of -2 to +2 using half point increments. The grades are based on context and performance. A 4-yard run that gains a first down after two broken tackles will receive a better grade than a 4-yard run on third-and-5, where the ball carrier does nothing more than expected. A quarterback who makes a good pass that a receiver tips into the arms of a defender will not negatively affect the quarterback's grade on that play, despite the overall negative result for the team.
Furthermore, grades are separated by play type. Beyond just an overall grade, an offensive lineman receives one grade for pass-blocking and one for run-blocking. The average grade is meant to be zero, and raw grades are normalized.
In watching every game, PFF is also able to record information and create data that is typically unavailable. One example is how frequently individual offensive linemen yield pressure.
PFF has been criticized by the analytics community regarding the accuracy and veracity of its ratings. In contrast to the purely quantitative ratings released by sources like Football Outsiders, TeamRankings, and numberFire, PFF uses qualitative and opinion-based grading as the root of their ratings. As such, the ratings are not truly quantitative and could be seen as being prone to bias, poor sample sizing, or other issues.
So, no, it isn’t a perfect system. But a 99.9 grade is still pretty incredible, and something I’ve never seen. Some PFF college writer(s) watched every play of the game and must’ve determined that Dickerson made virtually every block he was asked to make, in addition to catching 9 of his 10 targets (on the one incompletion, Thorson was late delivering the pass).
Dickerson was joined by a couple teammates on the all-Big Ten PFF teams.
PFF Week 3 - B1G Team of the Week - Offense pic.twitter.com/Me5hwcjzLD— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 19, 2017
PFF Week 3 - B1G Team of the Week - Defense pic.twitter.com/wdU9PomWDR— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 19, 2017
Dickerson almost certainly won’t ever repeat a 99 grade, but if he can keep playing at a high level both as a blocker and receiver, that will be a major boost for Northwestern as it enters Big Ten play.