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Brown continues to dominate the NFL.

Antonio Brown averaged “only” 12.1 yards per reception last year, although his great reception, receiving yards, and receiving touchdown totals earned him a third straight first-team All-Pro selection. If Brown wasn’t so good and just 28 years old, you might look at that average and think Brown was on the decline or at least was becoming less of a big play threat.

But that’s not really true: with 22 receptions (in 15 games) of at least 20+ yards, Brown had the third most big plays of any receiver last year, and 21% of his catches went for at least 20 yards. What really hurt Brown’s average was that he also caught a ton of short passes: he had 57 receptions of 10 or fewer yards. Kelvin Benjamin caught 63 passes for 941 yards last year, a 14.9 yards per reception average. But while that sounds good, Benjamin only caught 10 passes — or 16% of his total — for 20+ yards. How did Benjamin average nearly three more yards per catch than Brown? You probably already figured this one out: just 20 of his receptions (32%) went for 10 or fewer yards. Either Benjamin wasn’t running short routes or he wasn’t catching passes on those routes. If it’s the latter, it’s a bad thing; if it’s the former, well, it’s also a bad thing (relative to Brown, at least) that all he was doing was running long routes and Brown still caught more long balls than him!

The graph below shows the top 100 wide receivers and tight ends in receiving yards last season, sorted by number of 20+ yard receptions. In addition, I have included the percent of their receptions that went for 20+ yards, the number of receptions that went for 10 or fewer yards, and that percent as well.

ReceiverTmRecYdYd/Rec20+20+ Perc<10<10 Perc
T.Y. Hiltonclt91144815.912830.8%3639.6%
Julio Jonesatl83140916.982732.5%2631.3%
Antonio Brownpit106128412.112220.8%5753.8%
Amari Cooperrai83115313.892125.3%4048.2%
Odell Beckham Jr.nyg101136713.532019.8%5655.4%
Jordy Nelsongnb97125712.961919.6%5556.7%
Tyrell Williamssdg69105915.351927.5%3144.9%
DeSean Jacksonwas56100517.951933.9%2544.6%
Michael Thomasnor91113412.461819.8%4751.6%
Davante Adamsgnb7599713.291722.7%4154.7%
Doug Baldwinsea94112812.001617%6367%
Jarvis Landrymia94113712.101617%5457.4%
Rishard Matthewsoti6594514.541624.6%3452.3%
Adam Thielenmin6996714.011623.2%3449.3%
Marvin Jonesdet5593016.911629.1%2341.8%
Brandin Cooksnor78117315.041519.2%4355.1%
Pierre Garconwas79104113.181519%4151.9%
A.J. Greencin6696414.611522.7%3248.5%
Kenny Brittram68100214.741522.1%3247.1%
Mike Evanstam96132113.761515.6%3031.3%
Travis Kelcekan85112513.241416.5%4148.2%
Greg Olsencar80107313.411417.5%3543.8%
Quincy Enunwanyj5885714.781424.1%2746.6%
Golden Tatedet91107711.841314.3%5257.1%
Jordan Matthewsphi7380411.011317.8%4561.6%
Delanie Walkeroti6580012.311320%4061.5%
Cameron Meredithchi6688813.451319.7%2842.4%
Marqise Leejax6385113.511320.6%2742.9%
Steve Smithrav7079911.411217.1%4361.4%
Emmanuel Sandersden79103213.061215.2%3949.4%
Willie Sneadnor7289512.431216.7%3650%
Coby Fleenernor5063112.621224%3060%
Alshon Jefferychi5282115.791223.1%1732.7%
Julian Edelmannwe98110711.301111.2%6364.3%
Kyle Rudolphmin8384010.121113.3%5262.7%
Terrelle Pryorcle77100713.081114.3%4051.9%
Jamison Crowderwas6784712.641116.4%3856.7%
Allen Robinsonjax7388312.101115.1%3750.7%
Brandon LaFellcin6486213.471117.2%3250%
Vernon Daviswas4458113.201125%2352.3%
Will Fullerhtx4763013.401123.4%2348.9%
Chris Hogannwe3868017.891128.9%1642.1%
Stefon Diggsmin8490310.751011.9%5869%
Michael Crabtreerai89100311.271011.2%5460.7%
Demaryius Thomasden90108312.031011.1%4752.2%
DeAndre Hopkinshtx7895412.231012.8%4051.3%
Mike Wallacerav72101814.141013.9%3852.8%
Robert Woodsbuf5161312.021019.6%2854.9%
Martellus Bennettnwe5570012.731018.2%2850.9%
Robby Andersonnyj4258713.981023.8%2661.9%
Travis Benjaminsdg4767714.401021.3%2655.3%
Eli Rogerspit4253512.741023.8%2354.8%
Dontrelle Inmansdg5881013.971017.2%2339.7%
Brandon Marshallnyj5978713.341016.9%2339%
Jimmy Grahamsea6592314.201015.4%2233.8%
Victor Cruznyg3958615.031025.6%2153.8%
Kelvin Benjamincar6394114.941015.9%2031.7%
Dez Bryantdal5079615.921020%1734%
Kenny Stillsmia4272617.291023.8%1638.1%
Zach Ertzphi7881610.46911.5%4355.1%
Jordan Reedwas6669010.45913.6%4060.6%
Tyler Boydcin5460311.17916.7%3463%
Ted Ginncar5475213.93916.7%3055.6%
Eric Ebrondet6171111.66914.8%3049.2%
DeVante Parkermia5674413.29916.1%2951.8%
Tyler Lockettsea4159714.56922%2561%
Allen Hurnsjax3547713.63925.7%1851.4%
J.J. Nelsoncrd3456816.71926.5%1338.2%
Larry Fitzgeraldcrd10810289.5287.4%6661.1%
Tyreek Hillkan615999.82813.1%4472.1%
Jeremy Kerleysfo6466710.42812.5%4062.5%
Phillip Dorsettclt3352816.00824.2%1751.5%
Taylor Gabrielatl3557916.54822.9%1748.6%
Breshad Perrimanrav3349915.12824.2%1442.4%
Jason Wittendal696749.77710.1%5072.5%
Randall Cobbgnb6061010.17711.7%3761.7%
Adam Humphriestam5562211.31712.7%3461.8%
Lance Kendricksram504999.98714%3366%
Gary Barnidgecle5561211.13712.7%3360%
Brian Quickram4156413.76717.1%2561%
Jermaine Kearsesea4151112.46717.1%2151.2%
Tajae Sharpeoti4152212.73717.1%1843.9%
Hunter Henrysdg3648213.39719.4%1644.4%
Cole Beasleydal7583311.1168%4458.7%
Tavon Austinram585088.76610.3%4272.4%
Sterling Shepardnyg6568310.5169.2%3858.5%
Mohamed Sanuatl5965311.07610.2%3559.3%
Jeremy Maclinkan4453612.18613.6%2147.7%
Terrance Williamsdal4459413.50613.6%1840.9%
Anquan Boldindet675848.7257.5%5176.1%
Jack Doyleclt595849.9058.5%3254.2%
C.J. Fiedorowiczhtx5455910.3559.3%3157.4%
Zach Millerchi4748610.34510.6%2961.7%
Antonio Gatessdg5354810.3459.4%2954.7%
Cameron Bratetam5766011.5858.8%2950.9%
John Browncrd3951713.26512.8%1435.9%
Dennis Pittarav867298.4844.7%6474.4%
Charles Claybuf575529.6847%3764.9%
Chris Conleykan4453012.0549.1%2352.3%
Michael Floydcrd3748813.19410.8%1540.5%

One remarkable player is DeSean Jackson. He caught a ton of short passes/screens, but he still led the NFL in yards per reception because of how many deep passes he caught. The chart below shows the amount of yards he gained on each catch last year: it is low for awhile, before spiking towards the end. He had 10 catches of 30+ yards and four catches of 55+ yards:

One player who has a low yards per reception average that *isn’t* misleading? Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals great saw just 7.4% of his passes go for more than 20 yards, and “only” 61.1% of his passes went for fewer than 10 yards. He simply wasn’t producing much in the way of big plays.

What players stand out to you?

  • sacramento gold miners

    Yards per reception for a WR is similar to yards per carry for a RB, context is important. I would rather have a 100 yard receiver or back who had the volume, and usually, the greater impact in a game, as opposed to the gaudy averages, but often, lower volume and impact on a contest. The degree of difficulty on some of these shorter routes or runs, can be very high, and your go-to players are frequently called on in these situations.

    Larry Fitzgerald has lost speed, so the Cards were probably wise to move him to the slot, and that affected his per catch average. But he did help the offense with his blocking, part of the reason behind David Johnson’s excellent season. As bad as the Cards looked at times in 2016, they still just missed the NFC playoffs.

    • I think Y/R is even worse than Y/C, since receptions are an even worse thing to put in the denominator than catches, although I think that’s the general opinion, too. Most folks don’t spend much time analyzing a receiver’s per-gain average.

      That said, my real problem is Y/R doesn’t even do a great job of measuring what people think it does, which is measure style.

  • It looks like Larry Fitzgerald just wasn’t that effective last year, period. Despite leading the league in receptions, he not only had a low Y/R, he also had relatively few DYAR, and a very bad DVOA, according to FootballOutsiders.

    Perhaps the Cardinals would be well-served to cut down his role in the offense. Although, as SGM points out, he’s a good blocker, and Bruce Arians was grousing about his receiving corps this preseason, so… who knows?

    • I don’t think DYAR and DVOA are very good measures of receivers. Fitzgerald had 59 first downs last year, which ranked 8th in the NFL. Now Arizona ranked 3rd in the NFL in pass attempts, and Fitzgerald was on the field for 91% of Cardinals plays last year, so he ran a ton of routes. To get a sense of his efficiency, you would want to look at something like first downs per route run, and I imagine he would drop quite a bit from 8th. But I don’t think he would look *bad* even by that metric.

      • Update: It looks like Fitz had a first down on about 9% of his passing plays/routes, which is decent enough. Mike Evans is 1st at 13%, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Cole Beasley, and Michael Thomas were at 11%, and then a number of receivers were at 10% and 9%. Fitz probably was in the 20s as far as converting pass plays to routes, but that’s certainly not bad. John Brown and J.J. Nelson were both at 7%.

      • Richie

        Since DVOA is based on successful plays and they consider a first down to be successful, I wonder why his DVOA is weak despite gaining a lot of first downs.

  • Joseph Holley

    Could you have added air yards and a percentage to this? Antonio Brown produces lots of YAC–which is good, don’t get me wrong–but it would be interesting to take receiving yards, subtract YAC (difference=air yards–how far downfield did they catch the ball?), and show the resulting table. Obviously, it is easier to have longer receptions if you run longer routes–but it’s also harder to get open and for your QB to have the time and accuracy needed to throw the pass. For example, Randy Moss would have probably had bad stats on last year’s Vikings, b/c Bradford never had time to throw. While having Moss would have changed how defenses defended the Vikings (duh), he would not have had the time to get downfield to catch those jump balls that made him a terror to defend.

    • I don’t have that information easily available, but agreed that it would be a good idea.

  • Richie

    Interesting to see Jarvis Landry relatively high on the list. He seems to be the poster child of guys that catch a lot of short, meaningless passes.

  • LightsOut85

    A late thought, for any future readers of these comments. I think that on a long-term/career basis, YPC has a stronger relationship with frequency of big receiving plays (by a per-game measure), than it does on a single season (like it was shown here). I was looking at the top 100 players in receiving yards (ie: 1 PFR search page) since 1994 (so I could also compare play-by-play from PFR) — which is more likely to be looking at established/successful players (weeding out guys who had hardly any catches but a high YPC). I then found each players number of 25+ (receiving) gains per game**, and the correlation (north of 0.4) was stronger than the table here (using 25+ gains, which I also looked up), which was 0.364. Which, isn’t too bad in itself, IMO (given the usual correlations found in football statistics). There’s obviously notable exceptions (like Brown – he also stood out in the since-94 table), but 10 of the top 15 in 25+/G (in 2016) had a YPC of over 14. Of the bottom 15, only 1 was over 13. I think that *in general*, if you’re comparing WRs in the same range of receptions/game (ie: not a “specialist” like Kenny Still), YPC is a *decent* indicator of how often someone is providing big plays. Not amazing, but without “advanced” stats (derived from film charting), it’s decent.

    **Which I went with over 20, just because I’ve seen that used as the mark of “big plays” elsewhere (since passes are more likely to get big gains than runs), and like that. Using 25 instead of 20 may help the correlation, as using 20+ for 2016 only about 0.25.