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.
Why Not All Targets Are Caught
A 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.
|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.