Performance Based Value: Wide Receivers

Be it poor quarterback play, decline due to age, or just good ol' ineffectiveness, these 10 receivers wound up as the NFL's most overvalued in 2012.

| 4 years ago

Performance Based Value: Wide Receivers

In this series of pieces, Pro Football Focus is hammering into the value of players. To us it’s a “Performance Based Value” number, telling you what players were worth (by our grading) in 2012. You can read about the work we’ve done to create it here, but in short:

• It’s solely about what a player did on the field in 2012
• Players are grouped by positions so their play essentially earns them a portion of the positional salary pool
• It’s all about cap hits (these values are approximate)

Let’s look at 2012’s most overvalued wide receivers.

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

2012 Cap Hit: $14.5m
2012 Performance Based Value: $2.6m
Value Differential: -$11.9m

Being one of the highest-paid players in the league, Fitzgerald could have been our top-graded receiver and still may have received a negative value differential. So when hapless quarterbacking sunk his production in 2012, he was doomed to lead this list by a healthy margin. Having never finished a season with a grade worse than seventh at his position, he was 61st out of 105 receivers in 2012. The league-leading 12 interceptions thrown on his targets resulted in a 39.8 QB Rating, the lowest of any receiver who saw more than 30 passes. It’s hard to blame Fitz when only 51.4 % of his targets were catchable in the first place. This goes to show how even the best receivers’ values are often at the mercy of their quarterback.

2. Santonio Holmes, New York Jets

2012 Cap Hit: $9.3m
2012 Performance Based Value: $825k
Value Differential: -$8.4m

Back in 2011 we viewed Santonio Holmes as a good receiver, but the Jets decided to pay him like a great one. He did nothing to reward their faith, as his -8.3 grade and 1.14 Yards Per Route Run that season were among the worst at his position. Throw in his theatrical sideline antics, and it was enough to make one think that his massive cap commitment was the only thing ensuring his return to New York. Holmes needed a big rebound to justify his contract, but a Week 4 Lisfranc injury sealed his spot near the top of this list.

3. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland Raiders

2012 Cap Hit: $8.2m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.8m
Value Differential: -$6.4m

Ah, the perils of the old rookie contracts. Heyward-Bey has done little in the past four seasons to live up to his seventh overall draft selection or his $38 million deal. He caught only 53.2% of his targets this season, thanks a 12.77% Drop Rate that was among the highest at his position. Scheduled for a $10.6 million cap hit in 2013, “DHB” will need a huge leap to avoid this list next season.

4. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs

2012 Cap Hit: $9.5m
2012 Performance Based Value: $3.7m
Value Differential: -$5.8m

As Fitzgerald showed us, paying for a top receiver when you have a hodgepodge of quarterbacks is like buying a Ferrari for a teenager. Cutting his Drop Rate to a career-low 9.23% and surpassing a 2.00 YPRR for the third straight year was not enough for Bowe to outperform his franchise tag salary. His brand new deal sets a lofty bar for the receiver, but it’s a good sign that Alex Smith’s 70.2 completion rate in 2012 was significantly higher than the 60.7 rate of catchable passes Bowe saw from Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn.

5. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers

2012 Cap Hit: $7.5m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.9m
Value Differential: -$5.6m

Injuries and a crowded Packers receiving corps limited Jennings to his fewest snaps and lowest grade since we started charting games in 2008. However, the fact remains that his production has declined across the board over the past three seasons. He hit new lows with 10.2 Yards Per Reception and 1.28 Yards Per Route Run, and after being one of the most productive home run threats in years past, he managed just one catch for 27 yards on Deep Passes this season. Whatever team gives him a big contract this offseason will be betting on him reversing those trends.

6. Mike Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars/Detroit Lions

2012 Cap Hit: $5.6m
2012 Performance Based Value: $700k
Value Differential: -$4.9m

Thomas is on this list for having not one, but two teams pay him a premium salary for minimum return. With his 6.2 yards per catch, 18.75 Drop Rate and 0.47 YPRR, it took Jacksonville’s new regime only seven weeks to sour on him and trade him to the Lions. Yet despite lining up opposite Calvin Johnson and upgrading from Blaine Gabbert to Matthew Stafford, Thomas’ awful numbers somehow worsened in Detroit.

7. Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2012 Cap Hit: $15.4m
2012 Performance Based Value: $10.7m
Value Differential: -$4.8m

Jackson is on this list not for poor play, but for having a salary too rich to outperform. He sparked the Buccaneers’ offense while earning the fifth-highest grade of all receivers this season. His 19.2 yards per catch was the highest of any receiver with over 20 targets, and his 633 yards on Deep Passes was second to only Calvin Johnson. As his cap hits decrease over the next few seasons, his value differential should only go up.

8. Steve Breaston, Kansas City Chiefs

2012 Cap Hit: $4.6m
2012 Performance Based Value: $700k
Value Differential: -$3.9m

After starring as a third receiver for the Cardinals (let’s just call it “The Kurt Warner Effect”), Breaston was brought on by the Chiefs to hopefully be the complement to Bowe. However his final year in Kansas City included just seven catches on 152 pass routes and ended with numerous healthy scratches in the final month of the season. After being cut in February and reportedly considering knee surgery, Breaston’s next cap hit will be considerably smaller.

9. Santana Moss, Washington Redskins

2012 Cap Hit: $4.7m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.4m
Value Differential: -$3.3m

The arrival of Robert Griffin III sparked Santana Moss just as it did the rest of the Redskins’ franchise. A 68.3 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, and just one interception on the veteran receiver’s targets made Griffin-to-Moss one of the most fruitful connections in the league. However, the Redskins still paid a starter’s salary to a slot receiver who played just 43.7% of their offensive snaps. As his cap hit rises next season, the Redskins may finally decide that Moss’ big cap hit does not befit his new role as a backup.

10. Wes Welker, New England Patriots

2012 Cap Hit: $9.5m
2012 Performance Based Value: $6.3m
Value Differential: -$3.2m

The franchise tag sets a player’s cap hit so high that even finishing 12th in our wide receiver rankings wasn’t enough to keep Welker off this list. Despite some early-season playing time concerns, the veteran filled his usual uber-productive role for the Patriots. He finished the regular season with 114 more Yards After Catch and 173 more Slot Yards than any other receiver in the league. Still, his 15 drops (not including another four in the playoffs) led the league and sunk his value enough to keep the Patriots from tagging him again.


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  • Patrick

    What about Lorent Robinson…awful last year with the Jags….

    • Nathan Jahnke

      His cap hit wasn’t all that high in 2012, and then it skyrockets in 2013 so unless he has a big turn around or gets cut, he will be on this list in future years.

  • Benjamin F. Barnes Sr.

    Yet even with Fitz’s situation they always say Stafford is only good because of Calvin. Obviously Calvin helps Staff but Stafford being able to fire the ball helps Calvin.

    • PFF_Pete

      Nothing in football is in a vacuum, and nothing is black and white. Calvin wasn’t breaking records in 2009 with Drew Stanton and Daunte Culpepper.