Why Not All Targets Are Caught

In Part 2 of his series examining the reasons behind incomplete passes, Mike Clay switches his focus to wide receivers and tight ends.

| 2 years ago

Why Not All Targets Are Caught


101fitzgeraldthumbA few hours ago, I introduced the concept and value of “reason for incompletion.” You’re free to click the link to learn more about the process, but the idea is that by defining who is at fault for each incompletion (and why), we can better evaluate the effectiveness of both quarterbacks and receivers.

In that initial piece, I focused on the effectiveness of quarterbacks. In Part 2 of the series, I’ll be examining pass-catchers.

Wide receivers and tight ends who saw at least 50 targets in 2014 are included. In order to strengthen our sample size, playoff data is included.

Rk Receiver Targ On Target   Rk Receiver Targ On Target
1 Travis Kelce 80 89% 112 Vincent Jackson 138 55%
2 Jace Amaro 52 87% 111 Andre Holmes 91 57%
3 Niles Paul 51 86% 110 Michael Floyd 95 58%
4 Brandin Cooks 65 86% 109 Charles Johnson 55 58%
5 Kenny Stills 80 85% 108 John Brown 99 60%
6 Jermaine Gresham 78 83% 107 Taylor Gabriel 71 61%
7 Jarius Wright 60 83% 106 Justin Hunter 66 61%
8 Jarvis Landry 105 83% 105 Malcom Floyd 86 62%
9 Julian Edelman 160 83% 104 Cecil Shorts 102 62%
10 John Carlson 53 81% 103 Nate Washington 71 62%

It’s easier to be on target and to avoid defensive pushback on shorter throws, so it makes a lot of sense that tight ends and possession receivers rank high on this list. On the other hand, we see a handful of deep threats on the low end. I’ve done a lot with depth-adjusted completion and catch rates in the past (essentially the Alex Smith Factor) and I’ll clearly need to investigate that as part of this study down the road.

Anyway, there are two key takeaways from the left side of the chart.

The first is the top man, Travis Kelce. As super-efficient as Kelce was during his de facto rookie season, life could not have been made much easier. His 6.3 average depth of target was on the low end, leaving him to rack up 503 of his 862 receiving yards after the catch. Of course, Smith’s conservative play and short-to-mid range accuracy allowed a healthy 83 percent catch rate. Smith overthrew Kelce three times and the big tight end had only two passes knocked away by a defender. Of 71 on-target throws, Kelce caught 66. He dropped four and stopped his route on the other. Although we can’t count on Kelce continuing to dominate after the catch, it’s worth noting that Brent Celek was annually near the “RAC” leaderboard when playing under Andy Reid. Either way, Kelce will surely remain efficient as long as Smith is under center.

The other notable takeaway here is the presence of two Saints wide receivers. Each of the past two seasons, Kenny Stills ranked out as tops in the NFL in depth-adjusted catch rate. When quarterback play was factored in, Stills’ still (no pun intended) ranked in the top three. But that was before we could dig this deep. During the two-year span, 8 percent of Stills’ targets were disrupted by the defense. That’s half the league average. His on:off-target ratio is a whopping 82:9 percent, which is significantly better than the 69:14 percent NFL average. Stills’ failure rate on on-target throws is 8 percent during the span, which is better than league average, but certainly the full collection of data paints the picture that Brees is more responsible for his success than previously thought. Brandin Cooks’ rookie-season 8.5 average depth of target was much lower than Stills’ 14.3 career mark, so the former’s 86 percent on-target mark is more justifiable. Stills and Cooks are terrific players, but this is clear evidence of Brees’ massive impact on the production of his receivers. Find ways to invest in Cooks, Marques Colston, Nick Toon, and even Brandon Coleman this year.

Vincent Jackson’s 138 targets ranked ninth among wide receivers last season, but he disappointed fantasy owners with a grand total of two touchdowns. On the surface, opportunity wasn’t an issue, but that target number looks significantly less appealing when you consider that only 55 percent were on target. “Close coverage” was the culprit on seven of Jackson’s targets, and a cut-off route caused five additional incompletions. That may not seem like much, but both tied for most in the league. Jackson’s on-target rate decreased from 60 percent in 2013 to 55 percent in 2014, but he cut his receiver fail rate from 16 to 8 percent. That explains his slight improvement in the catch rate department (50 percent/51 percent). Jackson’s 2015 efficiency prospects will depend on how well Jameis Winston acclimates to the NFL.

Rk Receiver Targ Off Target   Rk Receiver Targ Off Target
1 Taylor Gabriel 71 34% 112 Jace Amaro 52 2%
2 Kendall Wright 86 27% 111 Brandin Cooks 65 5%
3 Justin Hunter 66 26% 110 Niles Paul 51 6%
4 Sammy Watkins 124 25% 109 Julius Thomas 67 6%
5 Jared Cook 91 24% 108 Travis Kelce 80 6%
6 Vincent Jackson 138 22% 107 Kenny Stills 80 6%
7 Larry Fitzgerald 107 22% 106 Scott Chandler 67 7%
8 Jeremy Maclin 140 22% 105 Jarvis Landry 105 9%
9 Markus Wheaton 87 22% 104 Miles Austin 67 9%
10 Charles Johnson 55 22% 103 Roddy White 122 9%

In Part 1 of this series, we determined that Brian Hoyer wasn’t very good last year. This latest chart shows that Taylor Gabriel was one of his victims. Gabriel was overthrown on 11 (or 15 percent) of his 71 targets. That’s nearly three times the league average. Hoyer was the quarterback on nine of those throws. A whopping 29.6 percent of passes thrown at Gabriel were inaccurate (over- or underthrown, in front of or behind), which is well above the 12.3 percent league average. Gabriel is somewhat buried in Cleveland, so there’s not a ton to get excited about, but don’t blame him for his 54 percent rookie-season catch rate.

It’s notable that both Titans starting wide receivers from 2014 sit in the top three of this list. Only three (or 3.5 percent) of Kendall Wright’s 86 targets were a product of defensive intervention, which suggests he had an opportunity to put up a strong catch rate. Instead, over one quarter of his targets were off the mark. Wright’s aDOT jumped from 7.2 in 2013 to 9.1 in 2014, which also explains a slight dip in catch rate, but he was overthrown on 14 occasions, making the deeper targets all but irrelevant. As we’ll get to later, although Justin Hunter’s role as a field stretcher makes it tough to sustain a strong catch rate, he doesn’t do himself any favors.

Rk Receiver Targ Defended   Rk Receiver Targ Defended
1 Cordarrelle Patterson 58 22% 112 Davante Adams 75 3%
2 Michael Floyd 95 21% 111 Dwayne Allen 60 3%
3 Vincent Jackson 138 21% 110 Cole Beasley 59 3%
4 John Brown 99 20% 109 Markus Wheaton 87 3%
5 Andre Holmes 91 20% 108 Kendall Wright 86 3%
6 Kelvin Benjamin 158 18% 107 Travis Kelce 80 4%
7 Charles Johnson 55 18% 106 Julian Edelman 160 4%
8 Brandon Marshall 101 18% 105 Heath Miller 98 4%
9 Martavis Bryant 57 18% 104 Taylor Gabriel 71 4%
10 Malcom Floyd 86 17% 103 Marqise Lee 61 5%

We see a lot of deep threats on the left and possession receivers to the right of our latest chart.  As noted earlier, it’s easier for defenders to make plays on deeper passes, so this isn’t too surprising.

Cordarrelle Patterson atop the list is, however, a bit of a surprise. Patterson’s 2014 aDOT of 10.2 wasn’t very high, so it’s interesting that defenses had so much success containing him. It turns out that eight (or 13.8 percent) of Patterson’s targets were recorded as a “pass defensed.” The league average is 5.6 percent. He was also overthrown on five occasions. Receiver error was reason for incompletion on 8 percent of Patterson’s on-target throws, which is actually below the 10 percent league average. Don’t give up on Patterson just yet.

“Miscommunication” between a quarterback and target is the result of only 1.7 percent of pass attempts. Davante Adams’ rate in the category was 9.3 percent as a rookie (seven total). Oddly, Jordy Nelson paced the NFL with seven miscommunication incompletions during the regular season (one of Adams’ was during the playoffs). This may seem like an Aaron Rodgers issue, but Rodgers had 24 miscommunication misses in 2014 after only six in 2013. It’s fair to expect improvement here in 2015.

Rk Receiver Targ Rec Fail   Rk Receiver Targ Rec Fail
1 Larry Fitzgerald 107 1% 112 Justin Hunter 66 30%
2 Malcom Floyd 86 2% 111 Torrey Smith 101 22%
3 Jordan Reed 65 2% 110 Mohamed Sanu 104 21%
4 Allen Robinson 76 2% 109 Louis Murphy 53 18%
5 Cole Beasley 59 2% 108 Andre Roberts 68 18%
6 Jeremy Maclin 140 2% 107 Dwayne Allen 60 17%
7 Emmanuel Sanders 155 3% 106 John Carlson 53 16%
8 Charles Johnson 55 3% 105 Jarius Wright 60 16%
9 Jarvis Landry 105 3% 104 Marqise Lee 61 16%
10 Harry Douglas 72 4% 103 Cecil Shorts 102 16%

Our final chart is an expansion of our earlier on-target list. This one shows the receivers who did the best (and worst) job converting their on-the-mark targets into catches.

No one seems to like Larry Fitzgerald these days, but his efficiency can’t be ignored. The veteran caught 98.5 percent of his on-target throws in 2014, which was only slightly better than his 97.6 mark in 2013. In possession of arguably the best hands in football, Fitzgerald has two drops on 236 targets over the past two seasons. A fine case study in the value of quarterback play, 82 percent of balls thrown by Carson Palmer to Fitzgerald last season were on target. Fitzgerald caught them all. When Palmer was out of the lineup, only 51 percent were on target. Fitzgerald caught all but one (97 percent). It’s worth noting that Palmer did overthrow Fitzgerald a lot (18 times to be exact) in 2013, but it’s clear he’s significantly better for Fitzgerald’s prospects than Ryan Lindley or Drew Stanton.

On the right side of the chart, we have several intriguing names.

Aforementioned Hunter has been around for two seasons and both haven’t gone very well. He failed to haul in 30 percent of his on-target looks last season after putting up a 22 percent mark in 2013. Both are more than double the 10 percent league rate. Hunter’s massive 17.1 aDOT and Tennessee’s poor quarterback play are factors here, but that doesn’t excuse Hunter’s ineffectiveness. He’s dropped 12 (or 11.5 percent) of his career targets and was the guilty party for a variety of reasons on five other targets (4.7 percent). Improved quarterback play from Marcus Mariota can only help Hunter’s efficiency, but his struggles have him squarely on the hot seat.

Torrey Smith was a mess last season, dropping 11 passes, falling down twice, stopping a route on a good target, etc. He’s in danger of falling way off the fantasy radar in San Francisco’s run-first, low-scoring offense. Smith’s 12 touchdowns on 54 receptions last season isn’t even in the vicinity of sustainable.

Finally, I’ve been driving the anti-Dwayne Allen bandwagon for months now, but his prospects look even worse after this exercise. Allen dropped five of his 48 on-target looks, stopped one of his routes, and was the responsible party on two other misses. Already a low-volume target and incorrectly identified by the masses as a busy target near the goal line, Allen is in for a step back this season.

Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL and get full access to data like this through the Summer of 2016 by signing up for Fantasy Gold

  • daburge07

    This data is pretty cool, does anyone know if this is something that will be available in signature stats for PFF Gold members?

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

      Thanks for the comment. No, this won’t be automated in the stats pages, but I’ll work it into our content as many ways as possible for the time being. Thanks!