Two More Factors That Affect Receiver Win Rates
In my last article, I looked at which receivers most frequently won their routes adjusted for the defenders that faced them. I defined a route as a win if the receiver either made the reception or dropped the reception, and I used the average win rates against specific defenders to make the adjustment on individual plays.
The goal of the research was to more fairly evaluate receivers who consistently drew better or worse coverage defenders, but it turns out that defensive attention is not the only factor that affects the likelihood that a receiver wins a route.
1. Depth of Target
When I saw the leaders in Wins Above Average (WAA) included players like Randall Cobb, Julian Edelman, and Jarvis Landry, I wondered if depth of target might play a part in win rate. The overall list was not skewed toward slot receivers, but it stands to reason that receivers are more likely to catch or drop their targets on shorter routes. That idea was confirmed by a look at win rate by depth of throw.
|Win Rates by Depth of Target, 2012-2014|
|Depth Group||Targets||Recs||Drops||Win Rate|
When a receiver is targeted at or behind the line of scrimmage, he wins 91.8 percent of the time. On those plays, it’s hardly even fair to say the defender is in coverage against him. He’s simply the man with the best chance of making the tackle. Meanwhile, the farther from the line of scrimmage the depth of target becomes, the less likely the receiver is to win that route.
|Most Wins Above Average per Target by Depth, 2014, Min. 50 Targets|
When you calculate WAA based on depth of target instead of quality of defender in coverage, many of the same receivers make the leaderboard. However, Kenny Stills, who has a 12.6-yard average depth of target (aDOT) that is on the deeper side for receivers, jumps to the third to first. Randall Cobb and Heath Miller are the two names on this list that were not on the original.
2. Distance from End Zone
In addition to depth or target, the distance from the end zone (DEZ) impacts the likelihood that a receiver wins his route. As he approaches the end zone, the 11 defenders are spread over less and less area of the field, which puts more players near every passing lane.
|Win Rates by Distance from End Zone, 2012-2014|
In particular, throws within the end zone are difficult ones for the receiver to win. That is the only spot on the field where the defender is more likely to win. There is a fairly steady increase from there to the 10-yard line. Then, win rates stabilize around 75 percent for receivers over the other 90 yards of the field of play.
|Most Wins Above Average per Target by DEZ, 2014, Min. 50 Targets|
Adjusted for distance from the end zone rather than depth of target, the WAA leaderboard becomes a tight end party. That makes sense given that bigger tight ends tend to receive a relatively high percentage of their targets in the end zone. Randall Cobb also makes this list with 17 end zone targets, which is tied for the ninth most among all receivers.
Scott Spratt is a Sloan Analytics Conference Research Paper Competition and Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. He also writes for RotoGraphs and contributes to ESPN Insider as a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt