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Checkdowns: Brandon Marshall Underrated, Calvin Johnson Overrated?

by Chase Stuart on December 11, 2012

in Checkdowns, Receiving

I’ve noted a few times this year that Calvin Johnson, in his pursuit of Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record, has quite an advantage on his side. The Lions have attempted more passes through 13 games of any team ever, and seem likely to break the pass attempts record.

Obviously it’s easier to gain more receiving yards when your team is throwing the ball nearly every play. That’s why when I came up with my Greatest WR Ever series, I looked at receiver performance per pass attempt.

I don’t have time for a nuanced analysis of wide receiver, but let’s just look at a simple statistic: receiving yards per team pass attempt. That’s what the table below shows, along with each player’s rank in receiving yards (the far left column). Brandon Marshall has 1,342 receiving yards while the Bears have only attempted 444 passes this year (including sacks). That means he’s averaging more than three yards per team pass attempt, which is incredible. Of course, it also speaks to the lack of other weapons in Chicago.

Ryds Rk
Y/A Rk
2Brandon MarshallCHI101134294443.021
7Vincent JacksonTAM56114584422.592
4Andre JohnsonHOU82120934712.573
1Calvin JohnsonDET96154656182.54
6A.J. GreenCIN791151104782.415
5Demaryius ThomasDEN74119785032.386
12Steve SmithCAR6099924252.357
9Wes WelkerNWE95111645192.158
3Reggie WayneIND94122045692.149
8Roddy WhiteATL77114055352.1310
11Victor CruzNYG76100494792.111
14Brian HartlineMIA6292514422.0912
28Michael CrabtreeSFO6676153831.9913
13Julio JonesATL6399775351.8614
22Dwayne BoweKAN5980134361.8415
10Dez BryantDAL75102895671.8116
45Sidney RiceSEA4565873651.817
26Steve JohnsonBUF6177654321.818
24Davone BessMIA6177814421.7619
19Anquan BoldinBAL5882844821.7220
35Jeremy KerleyNYJ5272824351.6721
31Mike WilliamsTAM4673674421.6722
20Cecil ShortsJAX4382475001.6523
39Greg OlsenCAR5469154251.6324
25Randall CobbGNB7177774841.6125
15Marques ColstonNOR6588985591.5926
42Percy HarvinMIN6267734291.5827
23Eric DeckerDEN6479085031.5728
29Torrey SmithBAL4375374821.5629
18Tony GonzalezATL8183175351.5530
16Jason WittenDAL9288015671.5531
27Malcom FloydSDG5477555031.5432
17Lance MooreNOR5384845591.5233
32Josh GordonCLE4273254871.534
21Miles AustinDAL5581955671.4435
30Rob GronkowskiNWE53748105191.4436
34Mike WallacePIT5972885091.4337
47Hakeem NicksNYG5065234791.3638
44Jordy NelsonGNB4665864841.3639
59Brandon LaFellCAR3457744251.3640
72Golden TateSEA3749273651.3541
40Heath MillerPIT6167975091.3342
52Jermaine GreshamCIN5563654781.3343
70Vernon DavisSFO3850653831.3244
53Owen DanielsHOU5262264711.3245
49Nate WashingtonTEN3964844991.346
33Brandon MyersOAK7072845611.347
38DeSean JacksonPHI4570025411.2948
36Jimmy GrahamNOR6471085591.2749
58Chris GivensSTL3658434641.2650

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Noso December 11, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Obviously, it would take more work, but this would be more meaningful if it took into account attempts while the player was in the game (or at least attempts in games in which the receiver played, if the former is impossible to source). This would move players like Percy Harvin up the list, as he’s been out for (I’m guessing) >100 of his team’s attempts.

Overall, though, I’m not sure of the value of this stat in determining how good a WR is. You’re measuring an individual by combining a team stat (% of team attempts) into an individual stat (yards). Why is this a better measure than YPC or yards per attempt to that individual player?

Any team with an imbalanced attack is going to have a player higher up on this list than a team that spreads the ball out.

Of course, somebody needs to explain to me how two Dolphins got into the top 20!


Chase Stuart December 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Agree with just about everything you said.

Nathan Jahnke at PFF uses a statistic called Yards per Route Run:

I think that’s a great stat and an improvement on Yards per Team Passing Attempt. But this is just a quick and dirty post. I also agree about removing attempts when the player was injured — I did this in my greatest WR of all time series. I would have done it here, but again, quick and simple post.

When you ask why is this a better measure than Y/A for quarterbacks (at least, I think that’s what you’re asking), well, it’s not. But Y/A is a very good statistic for QBs.

To the extent a team focuses on just one player — and it’s not like the Lions don’t do that — I agree, Y/TmAtt will favor that player. But that’s not a bad thing. Usually a team force feeds a player because he’s very good. Again, this isn’t supposed to be THE statistic to look at receivers but rather another way to look at them. I think it provides a nice check on what almost everyone uses, which is receiving yards. To put it another way, how is it fair to Marshall to compare his stats to Megatron’s when the Lions attempt nearly 200 more passes?

Miami has a mediocre (but not bad) passing attack, but they basically only throw it to tow players.


Daviston85 December 18, 2012 at 7:14 am

funny how you use quarterback attempts but you don’t use passes attempted to specific wide- receiver and for that fact u don’t see any other receiver on that list that’s triple teamed and double teamed more than Calvin Johnson so I’m not buying this list for one second maybe your using the skip bayless approach by saying something crazy knowing that you don’t even believe you I mean this Johnson gets punt coverage on him in the redzone what other receiver have you seen get that


Sir December 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm

There are too many other variables that must be considered. Here are some other things to consider as well:

1. Coverage (e.g. man-to-man, double-coverage, etc)
a.) It’s obviously easier to catch a pass when a receiver is not double-covered.

2. Receivers per attempt (how many other receivers ran routes on each passing play).
a.) The chances of the quarterback throwing the ball to a particular receiver is higher when there are less “other” receivers running routes. Essentially divide overall pass attempts by average number of receivers, but then you also have to consider the percentage of passing attempts a receiver was actually in the game for.


Richie December 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Not sure if you mentioned it, and I missed it – but it looks like Jerry Rice had about 2.72 yards per team pass attempt in his record-setting season.

The 49ers had 677 pass attempts+sacks that year.


Chase Stuart December 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Yeah, I mentioned it here:

That was a great 49ers team — they went 11-5 but their 5 losses were by a combined 15 points — but they just kept calling passes. Seifert and Trestman just went insanely pass happy that year, considering their game script.


Shattenjager December 11, 2012 at 7:01 pm

This is actually per dropback rather than per actual attempt (which is to say sacks are counted), right?


Chase Stuart December 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm



Chase Stuart December 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm

According to Footballguys, both Marshall and Johnson have 157 targets each.

So the question is why does Marshall have 35.4% of his team’s targets but Johnson has only 25.4%?

And that number includes sacks and throwaways. If we look at pure targets, Detroit has 587 targeted passes, meaning Megatron has been targeted on 26.7% of the Lions’ targeted pass attempts. Meanwhile, Chicago has only 404 targeted passes, so Marshall has been targeted on 38.9% of the Bears’ targeted pass attempts.

That’s insane.


ETC December 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm

1. You can often slice and dice stats until you get the subset of data that supports whatever hypothesis you want.

2. CJ went through a rough period in the middle of the season after taking some bad/dirty hits in the first Vikings game and was working with a bum knee and could barely grip the ball. He had a quote after the Seattle game that he couldn’t extend his arms and put a ball into the endzone on a pass because he couldn’t feel the ball at all. That first Minny game was where he started dropping passes he would normally catch.

3. Lions probably spread out to more targets than the Bears – Pettigrew, Scheffler, Burleson, Young, Broyles, Bell, etc have been frequently targeted because of all the double/triple coverage the CJ receives. Burleson (before his injury), Pettigrew, and Scheffler, in particular.


Ken December 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm

This is a joke. He’s use team attempts to skew his numbers. BM and CJ have the same number of targets this year and CJ blows him out on almost every category. 5 less catches, 204 more yds, 2.8 higher ave, 13 more 20+ catches


Tricericon December 12, 2012 at 1:36 am

Or, maybe, Marshall’s results on the same number of targets being poorer is because the Bears throw low % passes his way when no-one else is open, and if instead he received the same proportional number of attempts as Johnson he’d been even more productive per target than Johnson is.

Or, maybe, this set of is just a set of stats that isn’t pushing any agenda. If you are so confident that Megatron is so much better than Marshall, why are you so defensive?


Tim Truemper December 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm

IN RESPONSE TO: “He uses team attempts to skew his numbers.” This presupposes that Chase designed his analysis to get the results he wanted. That does not seem apparent from what he described. He was curious and use an admittendly “quick and dirty” comparsion/ratio as a test.

Subsequently, Chase provided other data from PFF as you can see above.


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