For example, consider a team whose production from the offensive line, quarterback, running back, and tight end positions all rank somewhere in the top third of the league. But its wide receiver production ranks in the bottom third. It should be no secret where the team should look to improve.
Although it's doubtful the stats will tell us much we don't already know about team needs, they can confirm, underscore, or possible refute the common perceptions.
The table below lists each team's EPA rankings by position. Within each position, the top third of the league is shaded in green, and the bottom third is shaded in red. EPA stats for the QB, RB, TE, and WR positions are straightforward aggregations of each player's EPA by team. But offensive line EPA is measured indirectly, using the concept of -EPA. Each column is sortable.
There are any number of observations we can pull from this table. For example, looking at Baltimore, we see that they are healthy at the skill positions but are being held back by poor line play. That would confirm the consensus opinion--Flacco, Rice, Boldin, and Heap had solid years.
Cleveland's performance at the QB and WR positions last season were poor. And although obviously linked, the Browns appear strong at OL, RB and TE. They seem satisfied with McCoy's development, so they may be looking to upgrade at WR.
Denver needs a RB and a TE. Detroit needs a RB. Houston should probably be looking at defensive players only this year. Jacksonville needs to buttress its line, and should think twice about making a big offer to Marcedes Lewis.
New England could use a WR. New Orleans needs a RB. The Giants could improve at TE, as could the Jets. Oakland needs a WR. Philly needs help on the line. Washington needs help everywhere but at TE.
Admittedly, some of these numbers don't make sense in that they don't match popular perceptions of how good a player is supposed to be. For instance, is RB really the weak spot for the Titans? Obviously not, but strictly speaking, Chris Johnson did not have a very good year in 2010, and he was strategically overused.
What about the 'basket case' offenses--the squads with red shading all the way across or almost all the way across? ARI, BUF, CAR, CHI, MIN, SEA, and SF. Usually, when an entire team stinks, it starts with the line. Of the basket cases, only one has a halfway decent line. That's Arizona, and its troubles can be put squarely on the QB position. Otherwise, when a team is poor across the board, the place to start rebuilding is on the line. Besides, without halfway decent line play, we can't even get a good read on whether the skill players are any good, using statistical methods or otherwise.
The table doesn't account for injuries from last season, nor does it project free agent losses. And it's always important to acknowledge the shortcomings of individual stats in football. Still, last year's performance is never a bad starting point when looking at draft needs.