In 2014, Julio Jones led the NFL with 31 catches of at least 20+ yards. He also was tied for 3rd with 25 receptions on either 3rd or 4th down that picked up a first down for his team. Those are two pretty different skill sets, but Jones fared well in both areas.
I thought it would be fun to try to see which wide receivers were big outliers in one of those two metrics relative to the other.1 There were 56 players with at least 10 receptions of at least 20+ yards last season. I ran a simple linear regression using “20+ Yard Receptions” as my input and “1st down receptions on 3rd/4th down” as my output. The best-fit formula was:
1st down receptions on 3rd/4th down = 6.77 + 0.63 * 20+ Yard receptions
Let’s use Jones as an example. With 31 big play catches, he’d be “expected” to pull in 26.3 first downs on either 3rd or 4th down; as noted above, he came pretty close to hitting that exact number.
Then there are players like Washington’s DeSean Jackson. He had 16 “big play catches” last year, which means we’d “project” him to have about 16.8 first down grabs on 3rd/4th down. In reality, he had just five, falling 11.8 catches short of expectation. As it turns out, that’s the most extreme player in that direction from the 2014 season. The narrative meets the numbers: Jackson is a great deep threat, but not a move-the-chains receiver (or, at least, he’s not being used like one).
In the other corner, we have Anquan Boldin. The crafty veteran had 14 receptions of at least 20+ yards, which means we’d expect him to have recorded about 15.6 first down catches on 3rd or 4th down. In reality, he had 27, giving him 11.4 more than expected. That makes him the most extreme “possession receiver” by this methodology.
The full list, below:
|Rk||Player||20+ Yard||1st Down (3/4)||Exp||Diff|
For the most part, this list seems to pass the eye test pretty well (other than a Roy Helu sighting near the top). Guys like Jackson, T.Y. Hilton, and Vincent Jackson are renowned deep threats. Boldin, Golden Tate, and Antonio Gates checking in as possession receivers makes sense, too, and Antonio Brown falling on that end of the spectrum isn’t a surprise given how dominant he is in the intermediate game. But there are still some surprises.
For example, Kenny Stills only had 10 20+ yard catches last year? That’s on the heels of him leading the NFL in yards per reception in 2013 (although he did have just 7 catches of 20+ yards that season). Odell Beckham and Jordy Nelson can be big play machines, but also move the chains, and wind up looking more like possession receivers than guys like Roddy White or Larry Fitzgerald. On the other side, Marques Colston had 17 catches of at least 20+ yards last year. That one caught me by surprise. What stands out to you?