Route Breakdown: In Routes
In an effort to add to the reams of data that we already collect at PFF, we took the passing game to a whole new level in 2013.
Instead of just tracking each receiver’s targeted route, we went ahead and charted every route run on every pass play in the NFL and continued this work in 2014. We can now tell you how often each receiver ran a particular route, at which depth he ran it, and whether or not he was targeted.
This data becomes quite useful when analyzing each receiver’s role, but it’s also handy when determining passing concepts for each team. The ante was upped further this past season as we added exact WR splits as well as shifts in motions to our charting data. We now have the data to break down how often teams run their favorite plays, and the corresponding tendencies that come with them.
How often did Peyton Manning run his staple “levels” concept? How often did Chip Kelly have a built in bubble screen for his slot receivers? Which team’s receivers run the deepest routes? This is the type of data that can only be found in the PFF database, and it’s a big reason why NFL teams are adding our information into their weekly scouting reports.
While much of this data remains exclusive for NFL team usage, we’re pulling back the curtain to show some of the passing game trends, starting on a route-by-route basis.
Our route charting is extremely detailed, but for the sake of this exercise, routes will be sorted into the basic families above. So while we can tell you if a wide receiver’s “go” route had an inside or an outside release, or if it was run up the seam or with a back shoulder throw, all of these unique routes will be lumped into the “go” route category for simplicity sake.
The In Route
The “in” route, also often known as the “dig”, sees a receiver running a vertical stem before cutting in field and driving parallel to the line of scrimmage. The depth of the initial push varies, and will ideally see the receiver get the inside line, that way a sharp turn infield leaves the defender with an awkward angle to defend the play legally. A well-executed cut can see a receiver make the catch in space with room to run. While a poor read by the quarterback can leave the receiver vulnerable to a punishing hit from a covering linebacker or safety who is coming downhill at speed.
Here’s a deeper look into the players who ran the in route most often, and most efficiently.
– Brandon LaFell ran 100 in routes in 2014, more than any other player. LaFell and Edelman combined to run the route 172 times for the New England Patriots, making them the leading same-team duo, 27 routes ahead of Indianapolis Colts duo Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton.
– Davante Adams led all rookies with 76 in routes, but that produced just seven receptions for a healthy 120 yards.
– Like the Patriot receivers, Rob Gronkowski was the leading tight end with 54 in routes, 23rd overall.
-Keenan Allen, of the San Diego Chargers, was easily the most targeted receiver on in routes. His 30 targets were almost double those of Alshon Jeffery and Reggie Wayne, who tied for second. In fact, Allen had more receptions from in routes (19), than any other player had targets.
– The Chargers clearly liked using the in route from Allen’s position, Allen saw 25.9% of his targets from the in route, second-most in the league, the top rate (31.6%) belonged to Dontrelle Inman who stepped into the lineup when Allen went down with injury.
– Odell Beckham Jr. was the most targeted rookie with 13, tied for 11th overall.
-Antonio Brown was the most productive wide receiver on in routes, turning 13 receptions into 204 yards.
-Jimmy Graham only ran the route 31 times, compared to Gronkowski’s 54, but he edged out the Patriot to lead all tight ends with 124 yards from eight receptions.
– Adams and Beckham Jr tied for the lead among rookies with 120 yards.
Yards per Route Run
– Graham was the player who gained the most bang for his buck from in routes in 2014, with an impressive 4 yards for every in route ran.
– With Kenny Stills taking fourth place with 3.24 yards per in route, It’s clear that the New Orleans Saints executed the route well. Stills didn’t use it often, running the in on just 5.5% of his routes, but he caught all six targets for 81 yards.
– Marqise Lee makes his first appearance in these lists, with fifth place, and the top mark among rookies.