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Farewell to one of the greats

Farewell to one of the greats

Detroit Lions superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson has likely retired. He had a pretty incredible six-year peak: Megatron gained 8,548 receiving yards in his last six years, the most by any player during their age 25-30 seasons. I don’t think there’s much of a debate that Johnson is a Hall of Famer, although I do think he’s not quite an inner circle member of the Hall.

The big reason for that is Johnson’s numbers have always been inflated by playing on a pass-happy team.  I’ve looked at this before, but (a) those numbers are now two years stale and (b) I want to use a different methodology today. So here’s what I did:

1) Calculate the number of pass attempts per game for each team in every season.

2) For the top 200 players, I then calculated the number of career games for that player.

3) Then, in each season, weight the number of team pass attempts per game by the percentage of games that player played relative to his entire career. For example, Johnson played 11.9% of his career games in 2012, and that year, the Lions threw 46.3 pass attempts per game. Therefore, for Johnson’s career, 46.3 pass attempts per game will be given a weight of 11.9%. Do this for every season of each player’s career, and you will derive the average pass attempts per game for that player. [click to continue…]

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In December, I noted that Antonio Brown was leading the NFL in Adjusted Catch Yards per Team Attempt. Now that the season is over, I wanted to update that post. Based on the end-of-year numbers, Brown once again led the NFL in that metric, just slightly edging Julio Jones.

ACY/TmAtt is pretty simple to calculate. Let’s use Brown as an example. He gained 1,834 yards, caught 10 touchdowns, and picked up 84 first downs. If we give 20 yards for each touchdown and 9 yards for each first down (excluding the ones that were touchdowns), you can see that Brown gained 2,700 Adjusted Catch Yards. By contrast, Julio Jones gained 1,871 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns, and had 93 first downs. That’s slightly more impressive — mostly based on the first downs total — and translates to 2,796 Adjusted Catch Yards.

But Jones played for the Falcons, who had 653 pass plays in 2015; Brown’s Steelers had only 623, which means Jones had more opportunities to pick up targets, receptions, first downs, and yards. On a per-team pass attempt basis, Brown gained 4.33 ACY/TPA, while Jones averaged 4.28. In other words, slight edge to Brown.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery had a sneaky good year. He was only on the field for 502 offensive snaps, which is about half that of the average star receiver (and about half of Chicago’s team snaps total). If you were to double his numbers, he’d have a 1600-yard, 86-first down season, which is even more impressive when you consider that the Bears were a run-heavy team.1 When calculating the ACY/TPA for players who played in fewer than 16 games, I used a straight line multiplier based on games played. For example, Jeffery had 1,238 Adjusted Catch Yards, and the Bears had 556 team pass attempts. That would give Jeffery 2.23 ACY/TPA, but we multiply that by 16/9 (since Jeffery only played in 9 games) to get at a 3.96 ACY/TPA number found in the table. Since Jeffery only played in about half of the games in St. Louis and in Minnesota, even that may understate things: if we used 8 games in the denominator instead of 9, he’d vault to number one on the list. [click to continue…]

  1. Jeffery had monster games in Detroit and San Diego, though, so it’s unlikely that he would have kept up this pace over a full season. []
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Guest Post: Adam Harstad on Sammy Watkins

Today’s guest post comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


It’s probably not really news at this point, but the 2014 WR class has been pretty good. How good?

Well, Jarvis Landry just broke the old record for receptions through two seasons… by 26 grabs. Jordan Matthews joined the short-list of receivers to top 800 yards and 8 touchdowns in each of their first two seasons, (a list which, since the merger, contained just five names prior to last year). Mike Evans joined Randy Moss and Josh Gordon as the only players in history with 2200 receiving yards through their age 22 season.

Allen Robinson just became the youngest player to top 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns in the same year. And 2nd-4th on that list? Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Lance Alworth.) Outside of the first two years of the AFL, no undrafted receiver in history has produced more yards or touchdowns in his first two years than Robinson’s teammate, Allen Hurns. [click to continue…]

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Antonio Brown has 1,586 receiving yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,813 receiving yards this season.

Adrian Peterson has 1,314 rushing yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,502 rushing yards in 2015.

That’s pretty weird.  In general, the rushing leader usually gains more rushing yards than the receiving yardage leader picks up through the air.  From 1970 to 2014, the receiving yards leader  “outgained” the rushing yards leader in only 10 of 45 seasons.  And in only three of those years did the receiving leader “win” by more than 100 yards: in 1999 (Marvin Harrison had 1663 receiving yards; his teammate Edgerrin James had 1553 rushing yards), 1990 (Jerry Rice over Barry Sanders, 1502 to 1304), and 1982 (Wes Chandler over Freeman McNeil in the strike-shortened season, 1032to 786). On a per-game basis, it’s tough to beat what Chandler did, but Brown is on pace to become the first receiving leader since the merger (in fact, the first in the NFL since 1952) to “outgain” the rushing leader by over 300 yards. [click to continue…]

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Today’s guest post/contest comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


This guy can pick up first downs

This guy can pick up first downs

Regular readers of Football Perspective are well acquainted with the sneaky-greatness of DeAndre Hopkins, who led the NFL in percentage of his team’s receiving yards in 2014 despite not even leading his own team in targets.1 And, indeed, by “percentage of team receiving yards”, Hopkins is having another terrific season; his 37.0% share is slightly above the league-leading 35.0% he posted last year, (though it trails the 38.6% share he carried through his team’s first 14 games in 2014).

But Hopkins is having an even better season by a far less esoteric statistic: receiving first downs. As best as I have been able to determine, the all-time record for receiving first downs in a season is 92, set by Marvin Harrison in 2002 and tied by Calvin Johnson in 2012.2 Through eight games this year, Hopkins has converted for a new set of downs a remarkable 54 times, putting him on pace for 108, a ridiculous 17.4% more than the previous NFL record. (For context, if a quarterback wanted to break Peyton Manning’s single-season passing yardage record by 17.4%, he would need to throw for 6430 yards.) [click to continue…]

  1. Hopkins had 127 targets in 16 games, or 7.9 per game. Then-teammate Andre Johnson had 146 targets in 15 games, or 9.7 per game. []
  2. Obviously play-by-play data is virtually impossible to come by for older seasons. Thanks to frequent guest contributor Bryan Frye, I have complete first-down data going back to 1992; however (a) the best first-down conversion rate by a receiver with 80 catches over that span was 85%, (Michael Irvin’s 75 first downs on 88 catches in 1993), (b) only 2.9% of 80-catch receiver since 1992 even managed to top an 80% first-down rate, and (c) there were only 12 seasons prior to 1992 that even had more than 92 total receptions. Assuming an 85% conversion rate, a receiver would have needed 109 receptions to beat 92 first downs. Assuming an 80% conversion rate, he would have needed 116 receptions. Art Monk had 106 receptions in 1984, but given his sub-13 yard per reception average, I find it impossible to believe he converted on 88% of them. So with all due respect to Jerry Rice’s 1990 season and Charley Hennigan’s 1964, I feel pretty confident calling 92 receiving first downs the all-time NFL record. []
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This week at the New York Times, a look at how the famous rookie wide receiver class of 2014 is faring this year:

The 2014 N.F.L. draft provided the greatest rookie class of wide receivers in football history. Last year’s rookies recorded 12,611 receiving yards, the most receiving yards produced by any single class year in the N.F.L. last season. Even more incredibly, 2014 rookie receivers caught 92 touchdowns, 20 more than any other class year produced during the 2014 season. So how are these players doing as sophomores?

You can read the full article here.

Also, I wrote about how the NFL’s idea of parity is well, kind of a joke.

The Panthers have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, making them the closest thing to an upstart among the unbeaten franchises. Both the Broncos and the Bengals have made it to the postseason in four consecutive years, while the Packers and the Patriots have made the playoffs in six straight seasons. Right now, the odds overwhelmingly favor each franchise making it to the playoffs again.

You can read the full article here.

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What is Wrong With Jimmy Graham?

With just 21 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns through five games, Jimmy Graham is hardly making a big impact in Seattle. Consider that over his last four years in New Orleans, he averaged 5.6 receptions, 69.7 yards and 0.73 touchdowns per game, while he is at 4.2, 40.8, and 0.4 in those metrics, respectively, so far with the Seahawks.

So what’s wrong? Well, let’s start by focusing just on receiving yards. The drop from 69.7 to 40.8 is quite significant, but is there one main factor driving it? We can break receiving yards down into several components. For example, we can parse out four different metrics from simple receiving yards:

Receiving Yards = Team Pass Attempts * (Targets/Team Pass Attempt) * (Receptions/Target) * (Yards/Reception)

[click to continue…]

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On Tuesday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of worst starter. Yesterday, I used that data to help identify which receivers produced their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses. Today, instead of measuring wide receivers by how often their teams passed, I want to measure them by how well they passed.

Some teams are very efficient at passing because they have great wide receivers: to be clear, today’s post doesn’t prove anything about which way the causation arrow runs. But I do think it’s worth quantifying the reality that receivers produce their numbers in very disparte environments. Let’s use Joey Galloway as an example. Galloway, longtime readers will recall, was a favorite of an early iteration of Doug Drinen’s attempts at ranking wide receivers. For similar reasons, Galloway comes out “very good” in this system, if good means producing numbers while playing for bad passing offenses (a proxy, one could argue, for playing with bad quarterbacks).

Galloway produced 2,071 Adjusted Catch Yards above the baseline in his career, good for an unremarkable 84th place on Tuesday’s list. But let’s look at the 8 seasons that get Galloway there: [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of the worst starter. Today, I want to use that data to help identify which receivers put up their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses.

Let’s use Calvin Johnson as an example. He’s been with the Lions for each season of his career, and Detroit has been very pass-happy throughout his career. Last year, Detroit averaged averaged 40.56 dropbacks (pass attempts plus sacks) per game, while the league average was 37.29 dropbacks per game. So Detroit passed 108.8% as often as the average team.

In 2013, Detroit’s ratio to the league average was 108.2%, but it was 129.8% in 2012. To measure pass-happiness as it pertains to Johnson, we can’t just take Detroit’s average grade from ’07 to ’14; instead, we need to assign more weight to Johnson’s best years. Johnson gained 1,358 ACY over the baseline in 2012, which represents 29% of his career value of 4,721 ACY over the baseline. As a result, Detroit’s 129.8% ratio in 2012 needs to count for 29% of Johnson’s career pass-happy grade.

If we do this for each of the players in yesterday’s top 100, here are the results. [click to continue…]

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Brown stuck the lanning.

Brown stuck the lanning.

Adjusted Catch Yards are simply receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for each reception and a 20-yard bonus for each receiving touchdown. In 2014, Antonio Brown led the NFL with 2,603 Adjusted Catch Yards, the 5th highest total in NFL history. That was the result of a whopping 129 receptions for 1,698 receiving yards (both of which led the league) and 13 touchdowns.

Brown was dominant in 2014, and he led the NFL in more advanced systems, too. But today, I wanted to do something relatively simple. How do we compare Brown’s 2014 to say, three Packers greats from years past?

In 1992, Sterling Sharpe had 108 catches for 1,461 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those are pretty great numbers for 1992, although they don’t leap off the page the way Brown’s 2014 stat line does. If we go back farther, Billy Howton in 1956 had 55 receptions for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns. Like Brown, that was good enough to lead the NFL in two of the three major categories, and rank 2nd in the third. And 15 years earlier, Don Hutson caught 58 passes for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns. How do we compare that statline to Brown’s?

Here’s what I did.

1) Calculate each player’s Adjusted Catch Yards. For Brown, that’s 2,603. For Sharpe, Howton, and Hutson, it’s 2,261, 1,703, and 1,228, respectively.

2) Next, calculate the Adjusted Catch Yards for every other player in the NFL. Then, determine the baseline in each year, defined as the number of ACY by the Nth ranked player, where N equals the number of teams in the league. For Brown, that means using 1,398 Adjusted Catch Yards, the number produced by the 32nd-ranked player in ACY in 2014. For Sharpe, we use 1,078 ACY, the number gained by the 28th-ranked player in ’92. For Howton, it’s just 797, the number of ACY for the 12th-ranked player (keep in mind that ’56 was a very run-heavy year). And finally, for Huston, we use the 10th-ranked player from 1941, who gained only 413 Adjusted Catch Yards.

3) Next, we subtract the baseline from each player’s number of Adjusted Catch Yards. So Brown is credited with 1,205 ACY over the baseline, Sharpe gets 1,183 ACY over the baseline, Howton is 906 ACY over the baseline, and Hutson is 815 ACY over the baseline.

4) Finally, we must pro-rate for non-16 game seasons. For Brown and Sharpe, we don’t need to do anything, so Brown wins, 1,205 to 1,183. Howton played in a 12-game season, so we multiply his 906 by 16 and divide by 12, giving him 1,208 ACY, narrowly edging Brown. And in 1941, the NFL had an 11-game slate; multiply 815 by 16 and divide by 11, and Hutson is credited with 1,185 ACY.

As you can see, it wasn’t a coincidence I chose those three Packers seasons to compare to Brown. Those four seasons are the 19th-through-22nd best seasons of all time by this metric, and stand out as roughly equally dominant for their eras (both Sharpe and Hutson won the triple crown of receiving in their years).

This is not my preferred method of measuring wide receiver player, but it’s my favorite “simple” one. I put simple in quotes, of course, since there’s a lot of programming power behind generating these numbers. But at a high level, it’s simple: we combine the three main receiving stats into one, we adjust for era because the game has changed so much, and we pro-rate for years where the league didn’t play 16 games. Nothing more, nothing less. [click to continue…]

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The GOAT

The GOAT

On Wednesday, we looked at the most dominant quarterbacks in fantasy history. Yesterday, we did the same for running backs. Today, we look at wide receivers, using the methodology described over the two previous days.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

There are four seasons that have topped 200 points of VBD in wide receiver history: Elroy Hirsch, 1951; Wes Chandler, 1982; and Jerry Rice, 1987 and 1995. In ’95, Rice set the still-standing record with 351.5 fantasy points, courtesy of 122 catches, 1,848 receiving yards, and 15 touchdowns (he also rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown). Rice averaged 21.97 FP/G that year, while the baseline of WR32 was 9.15 FP/G. Therefore, Rice was 12.82 FP/G above the baseline for 16 games, which comes out to 205.1 points of VBD. [click to continue…]

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On Saturday, we looked at the top passing performers against each franchise. Yesterday, we did the same thing but with rushing statistics. Today, we revive a post from two years ago and complete the series with a look at the top receiving producers against each franchise (all data beginning in 1960).

Let’s begin with receptions. In the past two seasons, Jason Witten has emerged as the number one franchise nemesis for both Washington and New York, eliminating Art Monk and Michael Irvin, respectively, from the tops of those record books. Witten was already the top guy against the Eagles, making him the career leader in receptions against each of the Cowboys three NFC East rivals.

Other non-surprising news: Jerry Rice is the top man against the Falcons, Saints, and Rams, with his numbers against Atlanta being particularly mind-blowing. Tim Brown is number one against his old AFC West teams, and was also number one against the Seahawks until Larry Fitzgerald just passed him. Andre Reed takes the top spot against the Dolphins/Colts/Jets (Marvin Harrison is #1 against the Patriots), Hines Ward has more catches than anyone against the Browns/Bengals/Ravens, while Cris Carter is number one against all four of his old NFC Norris rivals. [click to continue…]

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Weekend Trivia: Yards per Reception Leaders

Do you know who led the NFL in yards per reception last year?  Or in any season?  Unlike certain rate stats, YPR tends to fly under the radar, at least with respect to questions like who led the league in a given season.

One reason for that is the leader is often a part-time player.  Last year, DeSean Jackson had the top YPR average in the league at 20.9, and he also ranked a respectable 13th in receiving yards. But in 2013, that honor went to New Orleans rookie Kenny Stills, who averaged 20 yards per catch but ranked just 61st with 641 receiving yards.

That leads us to today’s trivia question: Can you name the last player to lead the league in both yards per reception and in receiving yards? [click to continue…]

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On Tuesday, I looked at the fantastic rookie class of wide receivers that entered the NFL last year. But in that post, I focused on receiving yards; in fact, the group was even more incredible when it comes to receiving touchdowns.

Rookie wide receivers caught an astounding 92 touchdowns last year, highlighted by Odell Beckham and Mike Evans each snatching a dozen scores. In addition, Kelvin Benjamin (9), Martavis Bryant (8), Jordan Matthews (8), Sammy Watkins (6), Allen Hurns (6), John Brown (5) and Jarvis Landry (5) each caught at least five touchdowns.

Let’s put that number in perspective. Second-year wide receivers caught just 43 touchdowns last year, while third-year and fourth-year wideouts each caught 59 touchdowns. Players from the class of 2010 caught 72, the second highest amount of any class last year. Take a look: [click to continue…]

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The 2014 Class of Rookie Wide Receivers

In December, I provided a quick look at rookie receiving production, and noted that an unusually large amount of receiving yards had come from first-year players. In that study, I lumped all rookies together, but today, the focus will be on only wide receivers.

And the 2014 season was an incredible one for rookie wide receivers. Odell Beckham was unsurprisingly named the Offensive Rookie of the Year by the AP, with a rookie-high 1,305 receiving yards. Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin each topped 1,000 yards, while Sammy Watkins (982), Jordan Matthews (872), and Jarvis Landry (758) all had seasons that would stand out as special in many other years.

The depth of the class was impressive, too: John Brown (696), Allen Hurns (677), Taylor Gabriel (621), Brandin Cooks (550), Martavis Bryant (549), Allen Robinson (548) all topped 500 yards, while Davante Adams, Donte Moncrief and Marqise Lee all hit the 400-yard mark.

Collectively, rookie wide receivers recorded 12,611 receiving yards last year, the most of any class year in the NFL in 2014. The graph below shows the number of receiving yards from wide receivers from each class (i.e., 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, etc.) in the NFL in 2014: [click to continue…]

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Trivia: St. Louis Rams and Receiver Turnover

From 2000 to 2008, Torry Holt led the Rams in receiving yards in every season. But since then, St. Louis has gone to the other extreme: in 2009, the leading receiver was Donnie Avery, followed by Danny Amendola in ’10, Brandon Lloyd in ’11, Chris Givens in ’12, Jared Cook in ’13, and, believe it or not, Kenny Britt in 2014. That’s seven different leading receivers for St. Louis over the last seven years. If that continues in 2015, the Rams will become just the 4th team since 1950 to have eight different leading receivers in eight seasons.

Now, no team has ever done it in nine straight years. So, today’s trivia question: Can you guess any of the three teams to run this streak for eight seasons? [click to continue…]

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Good at catching footballs, in the event his team throws one

Good at catching footballs, in the event his team throws one

The Houston Texans finished 31st in pass attempts in 2014, ahead of only the Seattle Seahawks. The Texans were not exactly the beneficiaries of stellar quarterback play, either: Ryan Fitzpatrick handled 64% of the team’s pass attempts, with Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, and Tom Savage taking the rest.

As a result, the 1,210 yards DeAndre Hopkins gained in 2014 is a lot better than it sounds. Houston threw for just 3,460 yards last year (excluding sacks), which means Hopkins gained 35% of all Texans receiving yards. Antonio Brown led the NFL with 1,698 receiving yards, but even that was just 34% of all Steelers receiving yards.

The table below shows the top 53 leaders in percentage of team receiving yards: [click to continue…]

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Brown was number one in 2014

Brown was number one in 2014

On Monday, I noted that Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown led the NFL in True Receiving Yards for the second straight season. He also, by the slimmest of margins, your leader in Adjusted Catch Yards per Attempt, too.

On October 1st, I looked at the leaders in Adjusted Catch Yards per Team Pass Attempt; at the time, Jordy Nelson had a big lead on the rest of the NFL, although Brown was in second place. You can read the fine details of the system in that post, but the short version is:

  • Begin with each player’s number of receiving yards. Add 9 yards for every first down gained, other than first downs that resulted in touchdowns, to which we add 20 yards. For Brown, this gives him 2,624 Adjusted Catch Yards (1,698 receiving yards, 87 first downs, 13 touchdowns).
  • Divide that number by the number of team pass attempts, including sacks, by that player’s offense. Pittsburgh recorded 645 dropbacks in 2014, which means Brown averaged 4.07 ACY/TmAtt. Jordy Nelson (1519/71/13) had 2,301 Adjusted Catch Yards and the Packers had 566 team pass attempts. That translates to .. 4.07 ACY/TmAtt, too. But go to three decimal places, and Brown (4.068 to 4.065) becomes your winner.
  • I have also included a column for Adjusted Catch Yards per Estimated Team Dropback; here, we use the same formula, but multiply the numerator by 16, and the denominator by the number of games played by the receiver. Let’s use Odell Beckham as an example. The Giants wide receiver finished with 1,959 ACY (1305/58/12) and New York had 637 dropbacks, giving Beckham 3.08 ACY/TmAtt. But if we adjust for the fact that Beckham missed four games, he gets credited with 4.10 ACY/EstTmAtt, which is the highest rate in the NFL.

The table below shows the top 50 receivers in ACY/TmAtt: [click to continue…]

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Brown was number one in 2014

Brown was number one in 2014

You may recall that in 2013, Antonio Brown led the NFL in True Receiving Yards, which felt controversial at the time. Remember, Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon were the runaway choices by the Associated Press as the top receivers in the NFL; in addition, A.J. Green also received more votes, and Demaryius Thomas finished with as many votes as Brown.

Well, Brown has done it again, but I doubt it will surprise many people this time around. Brown led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards, and received 49 of 50 first-team All-Pro votes. Regular readers are familiar with the concept of True Receiving Yards, but let’s walk through the system using Brown and Dez Bryant, who jumps from 8th in receiving yards to 4th in True Receiving Yards. [click to continue…]

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The Steve Smith Postseason Post

Today’s guest post comes from Adam Harstad, who is also part of the Smitty Fan Club. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


 

One of the greatest playoff receivers ever

Smith considers letting the chip roll off his shoulder.

IS STEVE SMITH THE GREATEST POSTSEASON WR IN HISTORY?

Prior to this last weekend’s slate of games, I remarked to several friends what a treat it was that we got to watch Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Smith all playing on the same weekend. In addition to being three of the best receivers of the last decade, all three could lay claim to the best per-game postseason numbers in history, depending on where you set the cut-offs.

Calvin Johnson had only appeared in one postseason game prior to this season, but he made it count with 12/211/2 receiving in a losing effort. Calvin was actually the fourth player in history to top 10 receptions, 200 yards, and 2 touchdowns in a single playoff game,1 but each of the three previous have played additional games to bring their per-game numbers down. Among players who appeared in at least one playoff game, Calvin’s 211-yard “average” was the best by a mile.

If you moved the cutoff to 6 games, Larry Fitzgerald’s postseason averages took over the spotlight. Following the 2008 NFL season, Fitzgerald had arguably the greatest postseason run by a wide receiver, hauling in 6/101/1, 8/166/1, 9/152/3, and 7/127/2 in his four games, including what would have been the Super Bowl-winning touchdown and a likely MVP performance if not for some heroics from Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes. Fitzgerald followed that up with a strong showing in the 2009 playoffs, catching 12/159/2 over two games. All told, Fitzgerald had 53/705/9 receiving in just six postseason appearances, for a per-game average of 8.8/118/1.5. [click to continue…]

  1. Oddly, all four receivers to reach those marks were active this past weekend; in addition to Calvin Johnson, they were Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, and T.Y. Hilton. []
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Rookie Receivers and the 2014 Season

Odell Beckham is ridiculous. Period.

Mike Evans, in just about any other year, would be considered the best rookie wide receiver in the NFL. Players like Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins would stand out in most years, too: both have over 25% of their team’s receiving yards.

Jordan Matthews has 767 receiving yards, which is only considered unimpressive against when compared against the above backdrop. Ditto Jarvis Landry and his 79 receptions. Martavis Bryant has seven touchdowns. The Jaguars have three rookie receivers playing well. And on and on we could go (just as I did in late October, and as Bill Barnwell did after week twelve).

Through 16 weeks of the 2014 season, rookies have been responsible for 12.6% of all receptions in the NFL, 12.7% of all receiving yards, and 13.7% of all touchdowns. As it turns out, that does make the 2014 class a very special one. The table below shows the percentage of all receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns by rookies in each year (other than 1987) since 1970: [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Is Reggie Wayne a Hall of Famer?

Bryan Frye is back with another fun guest post.  Bryan, as you may recall, owns and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history.  You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link.


A future HOFer?

A future HOFer?

Reggie Wayne has been in the news recently because Chuck Pagano called a pair of late-game pass plays in order to stretch Wayne’s streak of consecutive games with at least three receptions to 81 games.1 Frankly, I don’t care to criticize either of them for that. What I do want to do is acknowledge an impressive record from a great player and discuss whether or not he is likely to join fellow greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.2

Hall of Fame voters don’t seem to care too much about advanced stats, so I won’t bother covering anything beyond simple box score numbers.3 What voters do seem to care about are counting stats and a good story, or a combination thereof. Without any more ado, let’s get into the stats and the narrative.

The Stats

Currently ranks 7th all-time in receptions, 8th all-time in receiving yards, and 22nd all-time in receiving touchdowns. I am making the assumption that he will play a few more years at a diminishing level until he retires. That will leave us with a few questions about his statistical merits.

[click to continue…]

  1. That number has since grown to 82. []
  2. And yes, it is a very impressive streak, regardless of how it was achieved. According to Pro Football Reference, the second longest such streak is Cris Carter’s 58 from 1993-1997. []
  3. However, if you do want a more in depth look at receiving stats, check out Chase’s series on the greatest wide receivers of all time. []
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Average Air Yards per Reception, 2013 and 2014

In 2013, Kenny Stills saw his average reception come 13.9 yards past the line of scrimmage, the farthest amount of yards in the air per catch of any receiver in the NFL. He’s the deep threat in the Saints offense, and he’s being utilized in a similar way this year, with his average catch from Drew Brees coming 12.8 yards downfield. When it comes to the top deep threats in the NFL, Stills and Arizona’s Michael Floyd stand out. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians loves the vertical passing game, and Floyd has been the perfect weapon: he averaged a healthy 11.7 air yards per catch in 2013, but that number has spiked to 16.5 in 2014!

But not every player’s role is so static. In 2013, the Bengals used A.J. Green (average reception 10.5 yards in the air) and Marvin Jones (9.6) as deep threats, while Tyler Eifert (5.6), Mohamed Sanu (4.3), and Jermaine Gresham (4.2) were used on short/intermediate routes. But Jones will miss all of 2014 due to a foot injury, while Green has been limited to just 43% of the Bengals offensive snaps to date (and he was playing injured for a percentage of those plays, too). As a result, Sanu’s air yards per catch has jumped from 4.3 to 8.4, and his yards per reception has increased from 9.7 to 15.2.

Similarly, Emmanuel Sanders has seen his role change in 2014, as a result of switching teams. Last year, in Pittsburgh, Todd Haley’s offense called for lots of short routes for his wide receivers, but even among the wide receiver group, Sanders (6.3) had the shortest air yards per catch. Eric Decker, meanwhile, had his average reception come 10.8 yards downfield while playing with Peyton Manning. This year, Sanders — taking over Decker’s role — has averaged 10.3 yards in the air per catch.

The graph below shows wide receiver air yards in 2014 (on the X-axis) and 2013 (on the Y-axis): [click to continue…]

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Nelson has (still) been the league's best receiver in 2014

Nelson has (still) been the league’s best receiver in 2014

On October 1st, I looked at the leaders in Adjusted Catch Yards per Team Attempt. Today, I re-ran the numbers, which are through week 7 but also include the Broncos/Chargers game from Thursday night.

The formula is simple: Begin with receiving yards; add 9 yards for each first down reception, and 11 additional yards if that first down went for a touchdown. Then, divide that number by the player’s team’s number of pass attempts (including sacks). You can read more about the methodology here.

One player worth highlighting is Dez Bryant. Chances are, you’ve heard lots about DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys offensive line; you’ve also probably read something about the efficient season Tony Romo is having, and the shockingly decent performance from the Dallas defense. But Bryant is having a remarkably efficient year, too. The Cowboys are the second most run-heavy team in the NFL; as a result, Bryant ranks 9th with 590 yards through seven games, but he’s been much more productive than that on a per-attempt basis. [click to continue…]

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Nelson has been the league's best receiver in 2014

Nelson has been the league's best receiver in 2014

I have used the concept of Adjusted Catch Yards for a long time; that metric is the base statistic in my Greatest Wide Receivers Ever post. ACY, you may recall, is simply receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for receptions and a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns. Why a 5-yard yard bonus for catches?

We want to give receivers credit for receptions because, all else being equal, a receiver with more receptions is providing more value because he’s likely generating more first downs.

For the last 15 years, we have data on the number of first downs a receiver produces. But this summer, we added a bit of crucial information: we now know that the value of a first down is about 9 yards. As a result, Adjusted Catch Yards can be modified to be:

Receiving Yards + 9 * First Downs + 11 * Touchdowns

Why is the variable on touchdowns changed to 11? Because a touchdown is a first down; mathematically, this is the same as keeping the value of a touchdown at 20 but changing the first downs variable to be “first downs that did not result in a touchdown.”

This year, Jordy Nelson has caught 33 passes for 459 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 24 of those catches going for first downs (and, of course, 21 going for first downs and not being a touchdown). As a result, Nelson has produced 708 Adjusted Catch Yards this year. But we don’t want to just rank receivers by Adjusted Catch Yards. One thing we can do is rank them on a per-attempt basis; while not as advanced as True Receiving Yards, this provides a relatively simple metric that everyone can understand. We start with receiving yards; then we add bonuses for first downs and touchdowns, and finally we divide the level of production by team pass opportunities. [click to continue…]

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Over the last three seasons, Calvin Johnson has caught 5,137 yards of passes. That’s an incredible amount, and the most by a player over any three-year span in NFL history. That stat by itself isn’t proof of Johnson’s greatness – after all, Detroit has thrown 2,040 passes over the last three years, also the most in any three-year span in football history. But records are not just about greatness: records are a function of era, teammates, and many more elements than pure ability.

So can Calvin Johnson break Jerry Rice’s career receiving yards record? The odds are very long that Johnson will go down in history as a better receiver than Rice, but his odds at breaking his receiving yards record – almost by definition – are a little higher. The man known as Megatron has 9,328 career receiving yards, the third most of any player through his age 28 season. That gives him a 1,462-yard lead on Rice at this age, although Johnson will have to keep up his outstanding pace for a very long time if he wants to capture the record. As the graph below shows, Johnson has had an edge on Rice in career receiving yards through every age of his career to date, but it was Rice’s work in his thirties that separated the GOAT from the pack: [click to continue…]

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James Lofton is the Yards Per Catch King

Yesterday, we looked at which quarterbacks were the best at yards per completion after adjusting for league average. Today, we’ll do the same thing for wide receivers and yards per completion.

Lofton tries to hide from the creamsicle uniforms.

Lofton tries to hide from the creamsicle uniforms.

A small tweak is necessary to the formula. You can skip down to the results section if you don’t care about the math, but I suppose most of my readers want to know what goes in the sausage. We can’t just use league-wide yards per completion rates, since that average includes receptions by non-wide receivers. One way around this is to calculate the league average YPC for wide receivers only; that’s easy to do for 2013, but less easy to do for the earlier years of NFL history when the distinction among the positions was not so clear. So, after playing around with a few different methods, I’ve decided to instead use 120% of the league average YPC rate, and give wide receivers credit for their yards over expectation using that inflated number.

For example, in 1983, James Lofton caught 58 passes for 1,300 yards for the Packers, a 22.4 YPC average. That year, the average reception went for 12.63 yards; 120% of that average is 15.2, which means we would give Lofton credit only for his yards over the product of 15.2 and 58, or 879. Since Lofton actually had 1,300 yards, he gets credit for 421 yards over expectation.

The next year, Lofton caught 62 passes for 1,361 yards (22.0). Since the average reception went for 12.66 yards, Lofton gets credit for his yards over (120% * 12.66 * 62), or 942. Lofton therefore is credited with 419 yards over expectation, nearly identical to his performance in the prior year. In fact, those were the 10th and 11th best season in NFL history by this method. [click to continue…]

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The core of the Manning era Colts

Presumably the picture that caused the NFL to consider eliminating the Pro Bowl.

Last week, I looked at the top receivers and the quarterbacks who threw it to them. Today, we flip that question around and look at which receivers the top quarterbacks threw to. I used the exact same methodology from the previous post, so please read that for the fine details.

For Peyton Manning, 20% of his career passing yards came via Marvin Harrison, and another 16% came from Reggie Wayne.  Both of those numbers will decline the longer Manning plays, of course, but for now, those players dominate his list (Dallas Clark is third at seven percent). That’s a pretty stark departure from other quarterbacks such as say, I dunno, Tom Brady.  For the Patriots signal caller, Wes Welker is his top man (13%), followed by Deion Branch (9%), Troy Brown (7%), Rob Gronkowski (7%), and then Randy Moss (5%).

The table below lists the top 7 receivers for each of the 200 quarterbacks with the most passing yards since 1960. The list is sorted by the quarterback’s career passing yards, and I have removed the percentage sign from the table to enable proper sorting.  For example, here’s how to read Brett Favre’s line.  He’s the career leader in passing yards, and played from 1992 to 2010.  His top receiver was Donald Driver (9%), followed by Antonio Freeman (9%), Robert Brooks (6%), Sterling Sharpe (5%), Bill Schroeder (5%), Ahman Green (4%), and William Henderson. [click to continue…]

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Johnson's target ratio is no joking matter

Johnson's target ratio is no joking matter.

Yards per Route Run, a metric tabulated by Pro Football Focus, is one of my favorite statistics to use to examine wide receiver performance.  To me, it’s the wide receiver version of yards per pass, as it takes production and divides that by opportunity.  However, there are some folks who prefer Yards per Target to YPRR, under the idea that a target is a better way to define an opportunity than a route.

Which view is correct?  Fortunately for our analysis, Yards per Route Run can be broken down into two metrics: Yards per Target and Targets per Route Run.  In other words, YPRR already incorporates Yards per Target, but it adjusts that statistic for Targets Per Route Run.  This makes it very easy for us to compare the two statistics: essentially, the question boils down to how valuable it is to know a receiver’s number of Targets per Route Run.

For example, Kenny Stills had the most extreme breakdown of any player in the NFL in 2013. He was off-the-charts good in yards per target (13.9), but saw targets on just 9% of his routes run last year. As a result, Stills averaged just 1.29 yards per route run, a pretty unimpressive figure.

Steve Johnson was the anti-Stills. While Johnson had the worst year of his career since becoming a Bills starter, he still managed to pull down targets on 25% of his snaps. However, he averaged only 6.3 yards target, leaving Johnson with a poor 1.56 yards per route run average. Of course, when comparing Stills’ numbers to Johnson’s, one might note that Johnson was playing with EJ Manuel and Thaddeus Lewis while Stills was playing with Drew Brees, which provides some explanation for the drastic differences between the two receivers in yards per target.1 But putting the quarterbacks issue aside, the question today is a more global one.

Since the only difference between YPRR and Y/T is the metric “targets per route run,” it’s worth asking: is Targets Per Route Run a metric worth looking at? Is it more useful than Yards per Target? Well, the word “useful” will mean different things to different people. What I’m curious about is the stickiness of each metric. And there is a pretty clear answer to that question.

Among the three metrics — YPRR, Y/T, and TPRR — it’s Targets Per Route Run that’s the most consistent from year to year. From 2007 to 2012, there were 344 wide receivers who saw at least 40 targets in Year N, and then played for the same team and saw at least 40 targets in Year N+1.2 [click to continue…]

  1. I suppose one counter to that would be that Stills was competing with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and the Saints obsession with throwing passes to running backs, while Johnson was competing with Scott Chandler, Robert Woods, and Fred Jackson for targets. []
  2. While there are some issues with survivorship bias here, I’m not sure (1) how to get around them, and (2) that those concerns bias the results in a way that’s more biased towards one of the variables we’re examining than the others. []
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One of my first posts at Football Perspective was one of my favorites: the top receivers and the men who threw it to them. I like referencing that post from time to time, so I decided to update the numbers through the 2013 season.

I looked at all regular season games since 19601, and calculated the percentage of passing yards produced from each quarterback. Then, I assigned that percentage to the number of receiving yards for each receiver. For example, in this Raiders game from 1995, Vince Evans threw for 75% of the Raiders passing yards, and Jeff Hostetler was responsible for the other 25%. Therefore, since Tim Brown gained 161 yards, 121 of those yards are assigned to the “Brown-Evans” pairing and 40 to the “Brown-Hostetler” pairing. Do this for every game since 1960, and you can then assign the percentage of career receiving yards each receiver gained from each quarterback.

For example, 32% of Brown’s yards came from Rich Gannon, 26% from Hostetler, 12% from Jeff George, and 9% from Jay Schroeder. That breakdown isn’t too unique: in fact, of the six receivers with the most receiving yards since 1960, all six (including Brown) gained between 29% and 37% of their career receiving yards from their top quarterback.

The table below lists the top 7 quarterbacks for each receiver, although I only included quarterbacks who were responsible for at least five percentage of the receiver’s yards. It includes the 200 players with the most receiving yards since 1960. [click to continue…]

  1. Sorry, Don Hutson. []
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