Quarterback and Location-adjusted Catch Rates

Mike Clay adjusts each player's 2014 catch rate based on target location and quarterback quality.

| 1 year ago
kenny-stills

Quarterback and Location-adjusted Catch Rates


The ultimate team sport, the NFL rarely produces a player statistic that doesn’t require context. Touchdown totals are influenced by opportunity, height/weight, and a team’s offensive prowess. Yardage can be distorted by big plays and defensive ability. And that’s just scratching the surface. The variables that construct an individual player statistic are nearly infinite, which certainly doesn’t make the prognostication aspect of the game particularly simple.

Fortunately, our team of analysts here at PFF continues to change the game. By charting every aspect of every play, we can normalize these statistics based on the most-significant underlying influencers.

Earlier this offseason, I analyzed the impact of depth on quarterback completion percentage and defensive packages on yards-per-carry.

Today, I’ll be examining the impact of target location and quarterback play on each player’s catch rate.

Location-adjusted

In the past, target location was limited to the depth of target. The further down field a player is when targeted, the less likely he is to catch the pass. This year, the horizontal location of the throw is also in play. This is an important upgrade to the formula, as not all depths are created equal. Consider the below heat map, which splits catch rates based on the vertical and horizontal throw distance.

Screenshot 2015-06-16 16.30.35

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll kick off the best in the business. The players shown in the below chart exceeded their expected catch rates by the largest margins during the 2014 season. Players who saw 60 or more targets are included.

Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C% Diff
1 Kenny Stills 80 63 12.6 79% 59% 20%
2 Brandin Cooks 65 53 8.5 82% 67% 14%
3 Travis Kelce 80 66 6.3 83% 70% 12%
4 Emmanuel Sanders 155 108 13.0 70% 60% 10%
5 Odell Beckham Jr. 129 91 12.3 71% 61% 10%
6 Antonio Brown 192 138 10.7 72% 63% 9%
7 Jason Witten 101 75 9.4 74% 66% 9%
8 Niles Paul 51 39 7.8 76% 68% 9%
9 Randall Cobb 145 106 9.3 73% 65% 8%
10 Pierre Thomas 50 45 -1.2 90% 82% 8%
11 Eddie Royal 86 62 10.4 72% 64% 8%
12 Jarvis Landry 105 84 5.4 80% 72% 8%
13 Doug Baldwin 104 76 9.5 73% 66% 7%
14 DeMarco Murray 68 61 -1.2 90% 83% 7%
15 Malcom Floyd 86 52 18.1 60% 53% 7%
16 Marshawn Lynch 50 42 0.7 84% 77% 7%
17 Larry Donnell 87 63 8.6 72% 66% 7%
18 Dez Bryant 142 94 12.9 66% 60% 6%
19 Jermaine Gresham 78 62 4.5 79% 73% 6%
20 Jordy Nelson 159 105 12.0 66% 60% 6%

If you read this piece last year, the name at the top of the board won’t surprise you. For the second consecutive season, Kenny Stills stands above the rest. Stills has a reputation as a situational deep threat, but he’s so much more. Consider that his 82 percent career catch rate on targets 20 yards or less downfield is tops in the NFL since 2007. On 130 career targets, Stills’ catch rate is 75 percent despite a hefty 14.3 average depth of target. That’s 17.7 percentage points above expected based on target location (58 percent). Not only is that best in the NFL – it’s six percentage points ahead of second place (Tim Wright) during the two-year span. Once quarterback is factored in, Stills’ remains atop the board at 15 percent.

Travis Kelce had an outstanding 2014 season, but note that his 83 percent catch rate was heavily influenced by target location and quarterback play. Kelce’s expected catch rate of 70 percent was topped by only four non-running backs. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, but when I show this same chart later except with the influence of quarterback play added in, Kelce will not be in the Top 15. Alex Smith is exceptionally accurate on short-to-mid-range throws, which helped boost Kelce’s catch rate. There’s a lot to like about Kelce, but is stat line figures to normalize a bit this year, especially in the catch rate and post-catch yardage departments.

There are quite a few well-known/reliable targets on the list (Antonio Brown, Jason Witten, Randall Cobb, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson), but we also see a few emerging and/or potential breakout players, including Brandin Cooks, Odell Beckham, Niles Paul, Jarvis Landry, and Larry Donnell. Landry is especially notable because many traced his high catch rate solely to an absurdly-low 5.4 average depth of target (aDOT). That obviously is a big factor, but Landry’s 80 percent catch rate was still well above expected (72 percent).

Next, we head to the opposite end of the spectrum. These are players who fell short of their expected catch rates by the largest margins.

Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C% Diff
131 Cecil Shorts 102 53 9.1 52% 65% -13%
130 Darren Sproles 60 40 1.0 67% 79% -12%
129 Justin Hunter 66 28 16.3 42% 53% -11%
128 Andre Roberts 68 36 10.3 53% 63% -10%
127 Jared Cook 91 52 9.1 57% 66% -9%
126 Cordarrelle Patterson 58 33 10.2 57% 65% -8%
125 Jason Avant 58 34 9.0 59% 67% -8%
124 Arian Foster 56 38 3.1 68% 75% -7%
123 Reggie Wayne 115 65 10.2 57% 63% -7%
122 Marcel Reece 54 37 3.2 69% 75% -7%
121 Sammy Watkins 124 65 13.5 52% 59% -7%
120 Taylor Gabriel 71 38 14.2 54% 60% -6%
119 Jeremy Kerley 64 38 9.4 59% 65% -6%
118 Joique Bell 51 38 0.0 75% 80% -6%
117 Marqise Lee 61 37 8.2 61% 66% -6%
116 Mohamed Sanu 104 59 10.8 57% 62% -5%
115 Allen Hurns 91 51 11.3 56% 61% -5%
114 Matt Asiata 58 44 -0.9 76% 81% -5%
113 John Brown 99 52 15.2 53% 57% -5%
112 Andre Holmes 91 47 14.8 52% 56% -4%

As if his durability issues weren’t enough of a problem, Cecil Shorts had a rough on-field campaign last season. Shorts barely caught half his targets despite a manageable 9.1 average depth of target. As we’ll visit later on, Blake Bortles was only a mild factor in Shorts’ underwhelming play.

It’s far from surprising to see 2014 busts Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson here, but the presence of Sammy Watkins and John Brown should catch your eye. Watkins ranked 16th among wide receivers in targets as a rookie, but hauled in a miserable 52 percent of his looks. Brown’s 57 percent expected catch rate is 14th-lowest in our sample, but he still fell short of the mark. Once quarterback is factored in, the data shows that Brown was no better or worse than pedestrian in this department last year.

Considering how efficient he’s been over the past decade, it shocked me to see Darren Sproles near the top of this list. At +8 percent, Sproles put up the 19th best mark in this category in 2013. This past season – his first in Philadelphia – Sproles caught a miserable two-thirds of his targets. That’s despite a manageable 1.0 aDOT, which was actually nearly a full yard lower than his 2013 mark. Sproles’ struggles were only slightly impacted by Philadelphia’s porous quarterback play, which suggests his age could be becoming a detriment to his game.

Location- and Quarterback-adjusted

Our next two charts will look similar to the first pair, but this time quarterback play is factored into the expected rates. We, of course, will always expect better efficiency from players catching passes from Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers than those working with Mark Sanchez and Brian Hoyer.

Our next chart shows the players who exceeded their expected catch rates by the largest margins during the 2014 season.

Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C% Diff
1 Kenny Stills 80 63 12.6 79% 63% 15%
2 Miles Austin 67 47 9.3 70% 58% 12%
3 Brandin Cooks 65 53 8.5 82% 70% 11%
4 Odell Beckham Jr. 129 91 12.3 71% 60% 11%
5 Mike Evans 116 68 15.8 59% 50% 9%
6 Niles Paul 51 39 7.8 76% 68% 8%
7 Greg Olsen 131 91 8.8 69% 62% 8%
8 Emmanuel Sanders 155 108 13.0 70% 62% 8%
9 DeAndre Hopkins 120 76 13.4 63% 56% 8%
10 Zach Ertz 86 58 10.9 67% 60% 7%
11 Larry Donnell 87 63 8.6 72% 65% 7%
12 Jerricho Cotchery 83 54 10.8 65% 58% 7%
13 Golden Tate 145 105 8.3 72% 66% 7%
14 Doug Baldwin 104 76 9.5 73% 67% 6%
15 Anquan Boldin 121 83 9.6 69% 63% 6%
16 Eric Decker 110 74 11.3 67% 61% 6%
17 Travis Kelce 80 66 6.3 83% 77% 6%
18 Eddie Royal 86 62 10.4 72% 66% 6%
19 Randall Cobb 145 106 9.3 73% 68% 5%
20 Jason Witten 101 75 9.4 74% 69% 5%

Brandin Cooks sat second on our non-passer-adjusted list earlier, but because I was intrigued to see how much Drew Brees played into that, I waited to mention him. Brees, of course, impacted Cooks’ catch rate, but not by a significant margin. Cooks’ low average depth of target allowed him plenty of high percentage targets, and he clearly took advantage. It’s unreasonable to expect Cooks to haul in over 80 percent of his targets again this year, but 100 catches over a full season is certainly manageable.

Yes, he’s on the wrong side of 30, but Miles Austin is still a good player. In 2014, his first with Cleveland, Austin sat 43rd among wide receivers in receptions prior to a season-ending kidney injury. Used primarily in the short-to-mid range, Austin’s expected catch rate sat at 64 percent. Of course, once we add in the awful quarterback play of Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, that number dips to 58 percent. Austin managed to catch 70 percent of his looks, which was exceptional considering the circumstances. Now in Philadelphia, Austin should be considered a real contender for the team’s No. 2 gig opposite Jordan Matthews.

Same as Austin, Mike Evans was not on this list before we included the impact of quarterback play. Considering he was catching passes from Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, the jump shouldn’t be a surprise. Evan’s rookie-season catch rate of 59 percent doesn’t jump off the page, but it should when you consider both the aforementioned quarterback play and his 15.8 aDOT (10th highest). Utilizing his massive 6’5” frame, Evans hauled in 11 of 24 deep balls. That 46 percent catch rate was well above both his 23 percent expected rate and the 29 percent league average.

Next, we have the players who fell short of their expected catch rates by the largest margins once quarterback play is mixed in.

Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C% Diff
131 Cecil Shorts 102 53 9.1 52% 63% -11%
130 Cordarrelle Patterson 58 33 10.2 57% 68% -11%
129 Darren Sproles 60 40 1.0 67% 77% -11%
128 Jamaal Charles 52 40 -0.7 77% 87% -10%
127 Andre Roberts 68 36 10.3 53% 63% -10%
126 Jared Cook 91 52 9.1 57% 66% -9%
125 Jason Avant 58 34 9.0 59% 67% -9%
124 Justin Hunter 66 28 16.3 42% 51% -9%
123 Matt Asiata 58 44 -0.9 76% 84% -8%
122 Reggie Wayne 115 65 10.2 57% 65% -8%
121 Sammy Watkins 124 65 13.5 52% 60% -7%
120 Arian Foster 56 38 3.1 68% 75% -7%
119 Mohamed Sanu 104 59 10.8 57% 64% -7%
118 Marcel Reece 54 37 3.2 69% 75% -7%
117 Danny Amendola 57 38 7.0 67% 73% -6%
116 Charles Johnson 55 31 15.3 56% 62% -5%
115 Jeremy Kerley 64 38 9.4 59% 65% -5%
114 Dwayne Bowe 90 60 9.2 67% 72% -5%
113 Justin Forsett 60 47 -1.2 78% 83% -5%
112 Eddie Lacy 54 43 -0.3 80% 84% -5%

Same as with Sproles earlier, I was shocked to see Jamaal Charles on a naughty list in the receiving category. Charles struggled on balls thrown near or behind the line of scrimmage, hauling in only 31 of 41 (76 percent). Considering aforementioned savvy-short-tosser Smith was throwing the passes, Charles should’ve been closer to 90 percent.

Patterson was above average as a mid-range target, but caught only 10 of 16 short throws and 1 of 10 deep balls. Teddy Bridgewater was very efficient as a rookie, which makes Patterson’s struggles look even worse, and helps explain his demotion in favor of Charles Johnson.

Considering the offensive coordinator change in Baltimore, I was intrigued to see Justin Forsett on this list. Five percentage points isn’t a massive mark, but it’s notable that Forsett came up short of his expected catch rate. OC Marc Trestman has a history of keeping his top back busy in the passing game, but any struggles from Forsett in this department figure to lead to more work for rookie Buck Allen.

Expected Catch Rates

As a final exercise, the next two charts show the highest and lowest expected catch rates in each category. For the most part, these will align with aDOT, but, as noted earlier, the horizontal location of each throw is also a factor. Note that running backs were eliminated here, as they would’ve dominated both ‘low’ categories.

Location-Adjusted

Highest Expected Catch %   Lowest Expected Catch %
Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C%   Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C%
1 Jermaine Gresham 78 62 4.5 79% 73% 1 Michael Floyd 95 48 18.7 51% 52%
2 Jarvis Landry 105 84 5.4 80% 72% 2 Martavis Bryant 57 31 18.7 54% 53%
3 Jordan Reed 65 50 4.7 77% 72% 3 Justin Hunter 66 28 16.3 42% 53%
4 Cole Beasley 59 44 6.7 75% 70% 4 Malcom Floyd 86 52 18.1 60% 53%
5 Travis Kelce 80 66 6.3 83% 70% 5 Mike Evans 116 68 15.8 59% 54%
6 Martellus Bennett 125 90 6.5 72% 70% 6 Terrance Williams 70 41 16.9 59% 55%
7 Wes Welker 66 50 6.3 76% 70% 7 Vincent Jackson 138 70 15.0 51% 55%
8 Danny Amendola 57 38 7.0 67% 69% 8 Kenny Britt 81 48 16.3 59% 56%
9 Percy Harvin 76 51 7.7 67% 69% 9 Torrey Smith 101 54 16.8 53% 56%
10 John Carlson 53 36 7.1 68% 69% 10 Andre Holmes 91 47 14.8 52% 56%

Location- and Quarterback-adjusted

Highest Expected Catch %   Lowest Expected Catch %
Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C%   Rk Player Targ  Rec aDOT  Catch%  Exp C%
1 Travis Kelce 80 66 6.3 83% 77% 1 Michael Floyd 95 48 18.7 51% 47%
2 Jarvis Landry 105 84 5.4 80% 75% 2 Mike Evans 116 68 15.8 59% 50%
3 Jermaine Gresham 78 62 4.5 79% 75% 3 Vincent Jackson 138 70 15.0 51% 51%
4 Cole Beasley 59 44 6.7 75% 74% 4 Justin Hunter 66 28 16.3 42% 51%
5 Jordan Reed 65 50 4.7 77% 73% 5 John Brown 99 52 15.2 53% 52%
6 Danny Amendola 57 38 7.0 67% 73% 6 Kelvin Benjamin 158 84 14.6 53% 53%
7 Wes Welker 66 50 6.3 76% 73% 7 Nate Washington 71 40 14.3 56% 54%
8 Martellus Bennett 125 90 6.5 72% 72% 8 Calvin Johnson 131 76 15.6 58% 54%
9 Heath Miller 98 72 7.6 73% 72% 9 Andre Holmes 91 47 14.8 52% 55%
10 Dwayne Bowe 90 60 9.2 67% 72% 10 Taylor Gabriel 71 38 14.2 54% 55%

Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL

  • Jason Williams

    wait does that mean that drew brees’ accuracy was bad? or that his receivers made up for it?

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Mike Clay

      No, Brees’ accuracy was very good. Message is that they were effective even after we remove Brees from the equation.