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Why did I have to play with Matt  Moore?

Why did I have to play with Matt Moore?

While reading the always excellent Football Outsiders Almanac, I was reminded that Brandon Marshall has had 1,000-yard seasons playing with Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Chad Henne, and Matt Moore (and, of course, Cutler again in Chicago). That’s pretty impressive for a player in his twenties, although regular readers know that I’m a big fan of Marshall.

Two other active players have gained 1,000 yards with four different quarterbacks. For the remainder of this post, I’ll be defining a receiver’s “quarterback” as the quarterback on his team each season who threw for the most passing yards. One of them is pretty obvious: the annually great Tony Gonzalez hit the 1,000-yard mark with Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, Damon Huard, and Tyler Thigpen (but not Matt Ryan). The third player might be a bit more difficult to guess:
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On Tuesday, I discussed the RSP Football Writers Project, a 32-team start-up draft of every player in the NFL.  I was assigned the 32nd pick, which does bring with it one advantage.  In order to balance the values assigned with the random draft order, the selection picks for the third round is “reversed”, a common fantasy football technique known as 3rd Round Reversal.  So while I picked last in round one after 18 quarterbacks had been drafted, I got to pick first in rounds two and three.

As you now know, I drafted Josh Freeman and Julio Jones with picks 32 and 33.  At 65, there were several ways I could go.

  • I think it’s hard to overestimate the value of a great passing game, so adding a receiver or tight end isan attractive option. That’s doubly true when Brandon Marshall and Aaron Hernandez were still available. Marshall was my highest-ranked receiver from last year and is relatively young; he turns 29 this month. Hernandez is 23 and is an incredible asset in the passing game.
  • If you think of the big positions in the NFL as quarterback, pass rusher, and left tackle, then you probably want to fill those slots as quickly as possible. At left tackle, Duane Brown, Joe Thomas, Matt Kalil, and Nate Solder are gone. Michael Roos is a solid pick, but at 31 in October, does he fit my model of fielding a young team? Ryan Clady was a player I might have taken, but he was selected just a few picks before I was up. I didn’t see an elite player available, so I crossed this off the list (a few picks later, Matt Waldman selected Russell Okung.)
  • On the pass-rusher front, Von Miller, Aldon Smith, Clay Matthews, Cameron Wake, Jason Pierre-Paul, DeMarcus Ware, Charles Johnson are all gone, as are 3-4 defensive ends J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell, Muhammad Wilkerson and Justin Smith. While there were some attractive options out there, my hope is one of them will be around when I pick again. The most interesting option was Mario Williams, a player I really wanted to take, but his struggles in 2012 were too significant to overlook.

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Analyzing the leaders in targets in 2012

Reggie Wayne led the NFL in targets last year, but that’s a little misleading since the Colts ranked 6th in pass attempts. As a percentage of team targets, Wayne ranked second in the league, but he was a distant number two to Brandon Marshall, who saw two out of every five Bears passes in 2013.

But that doesn’t make him the best receiver. It was easier for Marshall to receive a high number of targets because the rest of the Chicago supporting cast was weak, so Jay Cutler consistently looked Marshall’s way. Chicago ranked 25th last year in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, so essentially we have a player on a bad passing offense receiving a ton of targets. It’s not all that obvious how you compare a player like that to Roddy White, who deserves credit for being in a great passing offense but loses targets because of the presence of Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez (of course, without them, would Matt Ryan start looking like Jay Cutler?)

I identified the leader in targets for each team, and then calculated the percentage of team targets each leading receiver had in 2012. The table below lists that percentage on the Y-Axis; the X-Axis represents the number of ANY/A that player’s team averaged. Someone like Marshall (represented by the first four letters of his last name and the first two letters of his first name, MarsBr) will therefore be high and to the left, while Randall Cobb is low and to the right:

2012 targets
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Three weeks ago, I set forth the argument that perhaps Calvin Johnson was not even the most productive receiver in his own division. While Megatron racked up the numbers, I argued that you have to account for the situation. The relevant situation here is that the Lions ran an incredible 1,160 plays compared to just 999 for the Bears, and Detroit attempted 740 passes while Chicago threw only 485 times.

When one team throws 255 more passes than the other, I don’t think it’s appropriate to compare the receivers based on their raw receiving yards. One thing we could look at is yards per team attempt. The table below lists the number of team attempts for each wide receiver, his raw receiving statistics, and also his yards per attempt. The table is sorted by yards per team passing attempt. And while it is not relevant when discussing Marshall and Megatron, I have also included a Pro-rated Yards per Attempt column, which pro-rates the number of team attempts for the number of games played by the receiver (this helps Percy Harvin, of course).

Rk
Player
Tm
G
TmAtt
Rec
Yds
YPR
TD
Y/A
PY/A
1Brandon MarshallCHI16485118150812.8113.113.11
2Andre JohnsonHOU16554112159814.342.882.88
3Calvin JohnsonDET16740122196416.152.652.65
4Michael CrabtreeSFO164368511051392.532.53
5A.J. GreenCIN1654097135013.9112.52.5
6Vincent JacksonTAM1656672138419.282.452.45
7Demaryius ThomasDEN1658894143415.3102.442.44
8Steve SmithCAR1649073117416.142.42.4
9Roddy WhiteATL1661592135114.772.22.2
10Reggie WayneIND16628106135512.852.162.16
11Brian HartlineMIA1650474108314.612.152.15
12Wes WelkerNWE16641118135411.562.112.11
13Dez BryantDAL1665892138215122.12.1
14Steve JohnsonBUF1651179104613.262.052.05
15Victor CruzNYG1653986109212.7102.032.03
16Julio JonesATL1661579119815.2101.951.95
17Sidney RiceSEA16405507481571.851.85
18Eric DeckerDEN1658885106412.5131.811.81
19Mike WilliamsTAM165666399615.891.761.76
20Greg OlsenCAR164906984312.251.721.72
21Marques ColstonNOR1667183115413.9101.721.72
22Randall CobbGNB155588095411.981.711.82
23Golden TateSEA154054568815.371.71.81
24Dwayne BoweKAN134755980113.631.692.08
25Jeremy KerleyNYJ164935682714.821.681.68
26Cecil ShortsJAX145865597917.871.671.91
27Anquan BoldinBAL155606592114.241.641.75
28Jason WittenDAL1665811010399.431.581.58
29Lance MooreNOR156716510411661.551.65
30Davone BessMIA135046177812.811.541.9
31Malcom FloydSDG145285681414.551.541.76
32Torrey SmithBAL165604985517.481.531.53
33Tony GonzalezATL16615939301081.511.51
34Justin BlackmonJAX165866486513.551.481.48
35Jimmy GrahamNOR156718598211.691.461.56
36Mike WallacePIT155746483613.181.461.55
37Miles AustinDAL166586694314.361.431.43
38Pierre GarconWAS104424463314.441.432.29
39Josh GordonCLE165665080516.151.421.42
40Heath MillerPIT155747181611.581.421.52
41Brandon LloydNWE166417491112.341.421.42
42James JonesGNB165586478412.3141.411.41
43Percy HarvinMIN94836267710.931.42.49
44Jeremy MaclinPHI156186985712.471.391.48
45Brandon LaFellCAR144904467715.441.381.58
46Nate WashingtonTEN165404674616.241.381.38
47Antonio BrownPIT135746678711.951.371.69
48T.Y. HiltonIND156285086117.271.371.46
49Jermaine GreshamCIN165406473711.551.361.36
50Jordy NelsonGNB125584974515.271.341.78
51Larry FitzgeraldARI166087179811.241.311.31
52Santana MossWAS16442415731481.31.3
53Owen DanielsHOU155546271611.561.291.38
54Hakeem NicksNYG135395369213.131.281.58
55Brandon MyersOAK166297980610.241.281.28
56Vernon DavisSFO164364154813.451.261.26
57Chris GivensSTL155574269816.631.251.34
58Andre RobertsARI156086475911.951.251.33
59Danario AlexanderSDG105283765817.871.251.99
60Donnie AveryIND16628607811331.241.24
61Brandon GibsonSTL165575169113.551.241.24
62Rob GronkowskiNWE116415579014.4111.231.79
63Leonard HankersonWAS164423854314.331.231.23
64Danny AmendolaSTL115576366610.631.21.74
65Jermichael FinleyGNB165586166710.921.21.2
66Dennis PittaBAL16560616691171.191.19
67Denarius MooreOAK156295174114.571.181.26
68Martellus BennettNYG165395562611.451.161.16
69Kendall WrightTEN15540646269.841.161.24
70Josh MorganWAS164424851010.621.151.15

Why can't we throw it like the Lions do??

Why can't we throw it like the Lions do??


As it turns out, Calvin Johnson was neither the best Johnson nor the best receiver in his division, at least as measured by this metric. I’m not convinced or even arguing that yards/attempt is the best way to rank receivers, but I do think the statistic represents an improvement on just receiving yards. Since receiving yards are so highly correlated with attempts, some adjustment needs to be made, and I plan on providing more analysis on how to grade wide receivers this off-season.
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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
Player
Tm
Rec
Ryds
TD
TMATT
Yds/Att
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
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