When scanning over individual player snap distribution data, I’ll often come across a player or three who intrigue me. Often these players are wide receivers who play several different “positions” on offense and the intrigue usually lies in how much better (or worse) they are when lined up in one spot or another.
One of these players is Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss.
Moss handled 997 offensive snaps and 145 targets in 2010, both of which ranked 5th among all wide receivers during the regular season. 968 of those snaps came while lined up at wide receiver, 17 while at tight end, and 12 while in the backfield.
Obviously, we’re not too concerned about the 29 non-WR snaps, especially considering that just two of his targets came on those plays.
Instead, we move on to the intriguing part of the project, which is the breakdown between his snaps in the four different wide receiver snap zones (if you will): wide left, slot left, slot right, and wide right.
|% of snaps||100%||26%||20%||20%||31%||1%||2%|
As you can see in the chart, 57% of Moss’ snaps came while split wide and 40% came from the slot. Considering Moss was the team’s #1 wide receiver, 40% is a pretty healthy number of slot snaps. I also included the raw data at each position, but, as always, we want to dig deeper to try and find trends.
|% of Targets||100%||29%||30%||13%||27%||1%||1%|
Our next chart shows that 59% of Moss’ snaps came on the left side of the field, while 40% were on the right. Although we have a trend to keep in the back of our minds, it’s worth noting that many elite WRs will stick to the same side of the field while the Redskins do a nice job moving Moss around.
That being said, notice that Moss was targeted on 38% of his snaps while lined up on the left side and just 23% of the time when on the right. In fact, a whopping 22% of his targets (43 total) came when in the left slot, which ranks first among the four zones. This is especially interesting when you consider that he played 59 more snaps wide left and 109 more snaps wide right than he did slot left. Clearly, the Redskins quarterbacks liked going his direction when he was to their left.
Not coincidentally, Moss also put up his best catch rate when slotted left (70%). Although almost all wide receivers will catch a higher percentage of their targets when in the slot, Moss caught 67% of his targets when wide left and just 56% when wide right. The reason most WRs catch more balls when in the slot is because they are often closer to the line of scrimmage. This is the case with Moss, as his average depth of target was 11.9 when out wide and just 7.8 when in the slot. This is also reflected in the yards-per-reception department.
Focusing again on the left-to-right disparity, notice Moss’ ability to make more out of his slot left receptions than at any other position. His 6.3 yards-after-catch mark is well ahead of the 3.6 he put up slot right and the 5.1 mark while out wide.
The touchdown and interception departments should really stand out. Moss caught six touchdowns and six passes thrown to him were intercepted in 2010. All six scores came when lined up to the left (four wide left, two slot left) and all six interceptions came when he was lined up out wide.
Taking it zone by zone, we can determine what kind of impact Moss will make when lined up at each position:
Wide left: The high average depth of target and 14.3% TD rate tell us that this is Moss’ big play zone, which makes his 67% catch rate and 2% drop rate even more impressive. If he lines up wide left, expect a deeper route than usual and feel free to get your hopes up for a score.
Slot left: Moss’ most production zone by far, keep a close eye on him when he’s lined up here. He’ll see a target on 30% of these snaps and 70% of those targets will go for a reception. A low average depth of target means he’ll be close to the line when targeted, but the 6.3 YAC tells us to watch for him to rack up some extra yards after the catch.
Slot right: Focus on another player when Moss is in this slot. Moss sees the ball on just 10% of these snaps and doesn’t rack up many yards or touchdowns when he does see a target.
Wide right: Moss’ make-or-break zone, this is where we find his highest yards-per-reception mark (13.8), but also his worst catch (56%), drop (8%), and interception (8%) rates.
Despite an overload of statistical data, the message here is relatively clear: a wide receiver lined up at one position isn’t necessarily the same receiver when lined up somewhere else.
Santana Moss is a prime example.