Taking a short throw and turning it into a first down can sometimes mean the difference between punting and a scoring drive. Players that can make the quarterback’s job easier and do it all themselves after the catch are becoming more and more in demand. So today we’re taking a look at the players that were the best and worst at converting throws short of the markers into first downs.
It isn’t always all on the receiver for converting first downs. Scheme and accuracy of the quarterback will both play a factor. There are plays where the receiver breaks multiple tackles en route to a first down while there are others where you and I could make the catch and walk past the sticks. No stat will capture that as well as our grades. That being said, it is definitely better for both the team and the player to be towards the top of these charts than the bottom. Many struggling receivers and passing offenses from a year ago are overrepresented on the low end of these lists.
Note: 30 catches in front of the first-down markers was the cutoff for this analysis.
– Randall Cobb was the perfect storm of shifty receiver, favorable scheme, and accurate quarterback last year. He led all players in conversion rate.
– Kendall Wright, Golden Tate, Dwayne Bow, and Alshon Jeffery all barely missed out on the Top 10, but were still above a 40% conversion rate.
– Jarvis Landry was quite the playmaker as a rookie with the ball in his hand. His 29 conversions led all wide receivers.
– Percy Harvin and Brandin Cooks fit the mold of typical ‘space’ players so it’s a bit unusual seeing both this low. Cooks finished with 3.2 YAC/Rec and forced just two missed tackles on the season.
– Not much of surprise seeing two Jaguars receivers in the Bottom 10. It was a reinforcing cycle in Jacksonville with an inexperienced quarterback throwing to inexperienced receivers.
– Roddy White has always been a textbook possession receiver, but he’s taken that to a whole new level recently. He finished last in the league in YAC/Rec each of the past two seasons.
– Le’Veon Bell was truly special with the ball out in space in his second season. His 33 conversions led all players regardless of position.
– Marshawn Lynch isn’t thought of as much of a receiver, but he is still deadly in space. His 11.4 average YAC on catches short of the markers was second to only Roy Helu (12.0)
– Matt Forte may have piled up big fantasy stats, but as we see many of those catches were for naught. His 74 catches that got stopped short of the markers were 24 more than any other player in the NFL.
– There is a fairly strong correlation at the running back position between breaking tackles after the catch and converting first downs. All listed here sans Justin Forsett were in Bottom 10 for missed tackles per reception while all on the Top 5 list but Darren Sproles were in the Top 10 for missed tackles per reception.
– Travis Kelce’s sophomore year really was that freaky. His 6 average YAC wasn’t just the best among tight ends, it was second best among all receivers losing out to only DeSean Jackson (10 YAC/Rec).
– Jason Witten’s high conversion rate with a middling YAC/Rec suggests more about his usage than anything else. The king of the option route, Witten routinely gets right in front of the sticks only to fall forward over them.
– Derek Carr’s receivers didn’t make it any easier on him in 2014. The Raiders had a player make the bottom three at each position.
– Nobody completed fewer passes short of the markers than the Browns’ 161. With their success it’s puzzling they didn’t throw it short a bit more often.
– Washington’s 7.7 average YAC on catches short of the markers was the best figure in the NFL last year.
– With two 6-foot-5 receivers on the outside and average athletes at tight end inside, the Bucs are certainly not a team built for YAC.
– The Patriots just narrowly missed being in the bottom 10 with a 32% conversion rate and average YAC of 5.4.
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