Signature Stats Snapshot – Yards Per Route Run

| October 13, 2011

One of the things that has always bothered me is how much a receiver is at the mercy of his coach. If a coach is good to his receiver he’ll get him on the field and running routes for plenty of pass plays. If he’s not so sold on him, then what? The numbers of yards and targets he gets may be a tough way of measuring the performance of a player in a fantasy-conscious society.
So here at Pro Football Focus we’ve been busy again. This time we’re putting forth a very simple formula that takes into account some of our most prized information: snap numbers. See, by breaking down each game, seeing who lines up where and what they do, we’re able to tell you a few things about which players are picking up the most yards per time running routes.
The results, as usual, are interesting. Though how interesting comes down to how much you like to read between the lines when it comes to playing time. In any case, let’s look at the skill position players on offense shall we? As we bring you another Signature Stat, and this time it’s Pro Football Focus’ Yards Per Route Run.


For this study we’re looking at receivers who have run at least 74 pass routes. Random? Yes. But a fair sample size that leaves us 87 receivers to pick from (and from egg to wipe from my face as we’ll get to later). Anyway, if you had to guess, who would be No. 1 on this list? I imagine if you’re reading this your brain has clicked straight away that unless this is a trick question (which it is not) then the answer simply as to be Wes Welker, and it is. The Patriot receiver is a country mile ahead of the opposition, picking up 3.94 yards per pass route. Some running backs would kill for that average on the ground.
The first real shock (although it makes perfect sense when you think about it) isn’t who comes in third, Andre Johnson, but who beats him into second by a considerable distance. The Giants’ Victor Cruz has made a number of big plays and it’s telling that he’s turned his 109 pass routes run into 386 yards. Flattering but fair numbers that show his yardage is well earned, picking up more yards than Johnson, while running two more routes. Now, if only his performances were a little more consistent.
Other figures in the Top 10 include the now I.R’d Kenny Britt, and one of the success stories of the young season, Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks picked-up the rookie undrafted and he’s turned into a player they simply can’t do without and, as a result, he’s made himself a bigger part of the offense. He’s run 123 routes and picked up a healthy 2.72 yards per route run. Below is a list of the Top 10:

Yards Per Route Run - Wide Receivers, Top 10

#PlayerTeamTargetsRec. YardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
1Wes WelkerNE637401883.94
2Victor CruzNYG283861093.54
3Andre JohnsonHST343471073.24
4Mike WallacePIT405361703.15
5Kenny BrittTEN25289933.11
6Miles AustinDAL24233782.99
7Steve L. SmithCAR486092062.96
8Dwayne BoweKC374201452.90
9Doug BaldwinSEA273341232.72
10James JonesGB20228842.71


Now, at the other end of the scale Falcon fans may want to look away. After I predicted a breakout season for Harry Douglas, he’s repaid my faith by picking up just 0.61 yards per route run. Obviously getting targets in an offense that features Roddy White (47th) and Julio Jones (36th) isn’t easy, but so much more was expected out of Douglas. Other fans who may want to look away are those of the Texans who have found Jacoby Jones a less-than-stellar replacement for Johnson, showing little of the big play ability that we’ve expected to see from him since an increase in playing time in 2010. What’s more, the guy they’ve just brought in, Derrick Mason, rounds out the Bottom 10, after collecting less yards than routes he’s run. Essentially that’s not great.
Perhaps the most topical use of this number, however, is to look at the Green Bay receivers. I don’t want to incur the wrath of Mike McCarthy in doing so, but points have been made about it, especially regarding Donald Driver. Now while we saw James Jones in the Top 10 of the catchy “YPRR”, Driver has the fourth-lowest total, so you’re starting to understand why his playing time is dwindling. After all, Green Bay has three receivers in the Top 15 (Jordy Nelson at 12th and Greg Jennings in 14th) so, consummate pro and less-explosive wideout, Driver is bound to feature less. Here are the Bottom 10:

Yards Per Route Run - Wide Receivers, Bottom 10

#PlayerTeamTargetsRec. YardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
87Harry DouglasATL18801320.61
86Andre RobertsARZ201251860.67
85Legedu NaaneeCAR321382000.69
84Donald DriverGB16761080.70
82Jacoby JonesHST181001170.85
83Damian WilliamsTEN20941110.85
81Greg LittleCLV201261440.88
80Mike Sims-WalkerSL211391560.89
79Lavelle HawkinsTEN201091200.91
78Derrick MasonNYJ201151230.93


Of course, it’s not just the wide receivers who this applies to. It’s also a pretty handy tool for looking at which tight ends are having the biggest impact in their teams’ passing game, and which warrant more route running and less time providing extra pass protection. A surprise does therefore top the list. We’re talking about ‘blocking specialist’ Jeff King, who has turned his 50 routes run into 135 yards. Given his past performance, we’d expect a bigger sample size to see this number drop out, and the guy below him, Jimmy Graham, to replace him. Graham has been everything advertised, picking up 2.66 yards per route run as he makes himself the go-to guy in the Saints’ offense. It’s nice when players live up the hype isn’t it?
Which isn’t something you can say about Evan Moore. For the second year in a row, the Browns have teased us by leading us to believe Moore will be a big part of the offense. The result? He’s averaging less than nine snaps running routes per game. What makes this more remarkable is how extremely productive Moore is, and how much of a favorite of Colt McCoy he is when on the field. He’s targeted 35.29% of the time he’s out on a pass patten, and picking up 2.5 yards on those 34 times the Browns have seen fit to get him involved. Get him on the field and McCoy will get him the ball. It’s really that simple.

Yards Per Route Run - Tight Ends, Top 10

#PlayerTeamTargetsRec. YardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
1Jeff KingARZ11135502.70
2Jimmy GrahamNO444311622.66
3Evan MooreCLV1285342.50
4Jason WittenDAL393661502.44
5Jake BallardNYG11192792.43
6Jeremy ShockeyCAR26199842.37
7Aaron HernandezNE23203862.36
8Vernon DavisSF262631242.12
8Rob GronkowskiNE313271542.12
10Fred DavisWAS212481182.10


Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum the results are a tad more shocking. Are we really looking at big free agent signings (Zach Miller), players who have helped re-invent the position (Antonio Gates), and one of the most reliable tight ends in the league (Dallas Clark) as part of the Bottom 10? How does this happen? Well, with Miller it seems like he needs to find a rapport with Tarvaris Jackson as he’s getting targeted on just 9.4% of the routes he runs. Gates has some well-documented injuries, and Clark just simply hasn’t adjusted to life without Peyton Manning. You can blame some of his low rating on the quarterbacks, but the one-time star tight end has dropped six balls. That’s terrible. Here’s the complete Bottom 10:

Yards Per Route Run - Tight Ends, Bottom 10

#PlayerTeamTargetsRec. YardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
37Zach J. MillerSEA11551170.47
36Brent CelekPHI19731270.57
34Antonio GatesSD1574810.91
34Leonard PopeKC1477850.91
33Marcedes LewisJAX1487841.04
32Visanthe ShiancoeMIN221141081.06
31Lance KendricksSL17102951.07
30Dallas ClarkIND271361211.12
29Delanie WalkerSF1274601.23
28Daniel FellsDEN141431081.32


Yards per route run is, like most Signature Stats, not definitive. It’s a piece of information that, when used in context, can help to explain certain things. Why Donald Driver is seeing less of the ball, or why the Browns need to get Evan Moore on the field more. You’d only hope that teams could see the effectiveness of players and react to it, because some players are getting it done, and others aren’t.
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Comments (4)

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  1. PaulK says:

    As a rule, Tom Brady doesn’t lead his receivers right into some linebacker’s shoulder. He puts the football where his receivers will have room to pick up more yards. I see Welker, Hernandez and Gronkowski all on this statistic’s top 10 lists.

    The other useful parts of making safe throws are that the receivers don’t drop the football when they never worry about big hits, and interceptions are minimized.

    • naim15 says:

      Brady’s receivers are so good that they get so wide open that they can run after a catch. Why does Brady get credit for having wide open receivers?

  2. odinsundin says:

    Thanks for the enjoyable article and all the hard work you do.

    I am curious as to why Bernard Berrian is not at the very top of the “Yards Per Route Run – Wide Receivers, Bottom 10″ list? He has only two catches for 37 yards and has been on the field for 177 snaps despite being benched last week. Minnesota had an almost 50/50 run/pass ratio in the four games Berrian played in, so he must have run at least 80 pass patterns and tallied less than a 0.50 YPRR, or am I missing something?

  3. There’s an error to do with Berrian because of his low target count – excellent spot. Tech is on it and it will be sorted. Thanks for the feedback.