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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.

Nelson, as it turns out, leads the league in both ACY and ACY per team pass attempt; of course, the Packers have not been very pass-happy this year, so that isn’t a big surprise. What may be a surprise is the wide gap between Nelson and every other receiver in the league:

1Jordy NelsonGNB4334593241407085.06
2Antonio BrownPIT4294275201546624.3
3Julio JonesATL4294473211616694.16
4Emmanuel SandersDEN3253340151144694.11
5Steve SmithBAL4254293161566063.88
6Andrew HawkinsCLE3212440141003703.7
7DeAndre HopkinsHOU4182913111174233.62
8A.J. GreenCIN31223318883163.59
9Dez BryantDAL4232913131264413.5
10Andre JohnsonHOU4222620161174063.47
11Delanie WalkerTEN4223173141404763.4
12Kelvin BenjaminCAR4213293171535153.37
13Jimmy GrahamNOR4323403201665533.33
14Calvin JohnsonDET4213412171595163.25
15Jeremy MaclinPHI4213643161725413.15
16Michael FloydARI311252091063333.14
17Randall CobbGNB4212395161404383.13
18Larry DonnellNYG4252364181454423.05
19Brian QuickSTL3162351111143453.03
20Martellus BennettCHI4292954171644923
21Travis KelceKAN4182592151414162.95
22Golden TateDET4243170151594522.84
23Michael CrabtreeSFO4242302141343782.82
24Mohamed SanuCIN31216418882472.81
25Victor CruzNYG4182991101454002.76
26Julian EdelmanNWE4262831141544202.73
27Reggie WayneIND4233071181764802.73
28Greg OlsenCAR4212542151534112.69
29Julius ThomasDEN3141605101143052.68
30Niles PaulWAS4213131121624322.67
31James JonesOAK4212722131564112.63
32Keenan AllenSDG4222440141423702.61
33Anquan BoldinSFO4212310131343482.6
34Terrance WilliamsDAL4141794111263222.56
35Eddie RoyalSDG417236491423612.54
36T.Y. HiltonIND4222910171764442.52
37Antonio GatesSDG4172153111423472.44
38Mike WallaceMIA4202463131643962.41
39Allen HurnsJAX47186371192822.37
40Sammy WatkinsBUF4171972121383272.37
41Pierre GarconWAS4242551131623832.36
42Giovani BernardCIN31214806882022.3
43Greg JenningsMIN415204191292962.29
44Alshon JefferyCHI4202621111643722.27
45Eric DeckerNYJ4142042111463252.23
46Jared CookSTL315177081142492.18
47Mike EvansTAM4172031101433042.13
48Steve JohnsonSFO4141741111342842.12
49Markus WheatonPIT4192270111543262.12
50Miles AustinCLE314115281002092.09

In addition to Nelson, who else stands out?

  • Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins checks in at #7 on this list, despite ranking tied with three others at 20th in receiving yards per game. That’s because the Texans have been extremely run-happy this year, and Hopkins also has three touchdowns to go along with his 291 receiving yards (along the same lines, Andre Johnson jumps from just outside the top 25 in receiving yards per game to 10th in ACT/TmAtt). The same can be said for Dez Bryant, who ranks 9th here but is tied with Hopkins at 20th on the receiving yards per game list.
  • The other player tied with Hopkins and Bryant with 291 receiving yards is T.Y. Hilton. However, since Hilton’s Colts have thrown 50 more pass plays than either the Texans or Cowboys, he’s down at #36 on the list.
  • Andrew Hawkins has picked up a first down on 14% of Browns pass attempts; only Nelson (17.1%) has a higher ratio. Cleveland has been pretty run-heavy this year and the Browns have only played three games; as a result, it’s easy to overlook Hawkins and his 244 yards and 0 touchdowns. But you shouldn’t: he ranks 6th in ACY/TmAtt.

What do you think of this new version of Adjusted Catch Yards? And what stands out to you on the ACY/TmAtt list?

  • James

    5 tight ends in the 11-21 range is a little surprising to me, but not nearly as much as the first tight end – Delanie Walker!? Even if you knew that Graham wasn’t #1, who would ever have guessed Delanie Walker would be doing so well?

    I never thought of him as anything more than a glorified fullback in San Francisco (avg. 2 receptions and 20 yards a game), but even after his expanded workload last year in Tennessee (avg 4 catches for 40 yards) he’s currently averaging 5 catches for 80 yards a game!

  • Richie

    It’s almost time to put Steve Smith on the “awesome old guy receiver” watch. (Of course, if he keeps up this pace, we’ll have to put him on the “awesome receiver of any age” list.)

    He’s averaging 107.3 yards/game.

    Of receivers age 35+, the record for yards/game is Irving Fryar at 82.3 in 1997. Smith needs to average 74 yards/game the rest of the way to break that mark.

  • My assumption is that Dallas’ defense has a lot to do with Delanie Walker rating so high. That and the fact that Drew Brees probably spread the ball around better than Jake Locker does.

    I like this version of adjusted catch yards because of the specific reward for first downs. I have been using 4.35 for each reception, under the obviously false assumption that receivers get first downs on about half of their catches. Maintaining the same formula is good for comparing across eras, when little data is available; but in the here and now, the more granular the better.

    As soon as PFR includes first downs and QB kneels, I will be a much happier man.

  • Sunset_shazz

    Curious – what is your reasoning for using TmAtt as denominator rather than the individual receiver’s targets?

    • Chase Stuart

      Targets are only a small subset of the opportunities a receiver would have to gain receiving yards. Pass attempts on the whole would encompass all such opportunities, so that makes more sense as the divisor.

  • Andy

    Thought I’d throw in PFF’s routes-run numbers with that table** (and updating the GB/MIN receivers’ numbers), and there was quite a lot of movement. The new top 10 was:
    Travis Kelce
    A.J. Green
    Jordy Nelson
    Steve L. Smith
    Antonio Brown
    Steve Johnson
    Niles Paul
    Andrew Hawkins
    Julio Jones
    Jimmy Graham

    Notable (15+ spots) risers:
    Steve Johnson (+42), Niles Paul (+23), Giovani Bernard (+23), Eric Decker (+23), Travis Kelce (+20), Mike Wallace (+15), Miles Austin (+15)
    Notable drops:
    Golden Tate (-17), Andre Johnson (-16), Julian Edelman (-15), Victor Cruz (-15).

    **I just took the players that were in this table, which means people who would make the top 50 when including routes-run (Devin Hester is a high-ranking example), are not present.

  • James Rauseo

    How can you forget demaryius thomas on this list? He has been an absolute beast. You have Emanuel Sanders above him?

    • This article was published on October 1. At that point, Thomas was averaging 47 yards an .33 touchdowns per game. The fact that he followed his slow start with one of the best 3-game stretches ever is not reflected in this article because that hadn’t happened yet when this was written.