Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
17 Mar 2010
by Bill Barnwell
In this final look back at our Wisdom of Crowds features from before the 2009 season, I'll be reviewing how the performance of wide receivers and tight ends matched up with what really happened this past year.
For reference, to generate the "predicted" lines for this feature, I asked my followers on Twitter to come up with the final reception, receiving yard, and receiving touchdown totals for a variety of receivers, assuming in the process that each would make it through a 16-game season. You can read the initial articles reporting the predictions here, here, here, and here.
Predicted: 70 receptions, 986 receiving yards, 8 TD
Actual: 55 receptions, 829 receiving yards, 5 TD
Whether you want to blame it on the quarterback play, the injuries up front, or T.O.'s own performance, this wasn't what the Bills paid for. I didn't think Owens would come close to the 14.1 yards per catch users predicted, seeing his issues as a vertical threat in 2008 in Dallas, but he actually hit 15 yards per reception in Buffalo. Of course, take out one 98-yard touchdown pass, and Owens falls to 13.5 yards per catch.
Predicted: 64 receptions, 922 receiving yards, 7 TD
Actual: 57 receptions, 757 receiving yards, 3 TD
The issues with Chicago's offensive line helped produce the 2009 line above, with porous pass blocking that forced Jay Cutler into scrambling or getting rid of the ball earlier than he hoped. That prevented Hester from getting downfield and took away the threat of the double move. His play clearly regressed as the season went along, which was disconcerting.
Predicted: 68 receptions, 869 receiving yards, 5 TD
Actual: 51 receptions, 722 receiving yards, 0 TD
Holt was one of the players KUBIAK stood the farthest out on heading into 2009... because, well, there was no one on the Jaguars to throw to besides him. Holt started out as the number-one receiver, but as time went along, injuries and the emergence of Mike Sims-Walker made Holt the clear number-two. The result was a disappointing season that failed to meet either KUBIAK or the crowd's expectations.
Predicted: 62 receptions, 943 receiving yards, 6 TD
Actual: 39 receptions, 600 receiving yards, 4 TD
One of the league's most erratic players on and off the field, Bryant was a total question mark heading into 2009. Using ADP, we can infer that fantasy owners saw him as equal to DeSean Jackson, Bernard Berrian, and Lee Evans. He finished last in that group, struggling with groin and knee injuries while failing to develop any sort of rapport with Josh Freeman. The yards per catch figure predicted was within .1, though, which is nice.
Predicted: 70 receptions, 1129 receiving yards, 7 TD
Actual: 79 receptions, 1248 receiving yards, 5 TD
That's just about a direct hit. Holmes technically emerged as the team's top receiver, receiving one more target than Hines Ward did. Their advanced metrics were virtually identical, finishing back-to-back in DVOA and within three spots of each other in DYAR. At this point, they really are 1 and 1A.
Predicted: 101 receptions, 1487 receiving yards, 11 TD
Actual: 101 receptions, 1569 receiving yards, 9 TD
That's good enough for government work, with the reception total spot-on and the fantasy point total within three points of the predicted figure (214 to 211). I wondered whether losing Owen Daniels affected Johnson's catch rate; it went down from 70 percent in 2007 and 68 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2009. Daniels went down in the first quarter of Week 8, so we'll split the data there. From Week 1 through Week 7, Johnson's catch rate was 54 percent; from Week 8 on, it was 62 percent. So the answer is, well, no. I suspected the predicted yards per catch total would be too high, but Johnson blew it away, thanks in part to improved play by the Texans' tackles in pass protection.
Predicted: 66 receptions, 927 receiving yards, 6 TD
Actual: 34 receptions, 480 receiving yards, 2 TD
I asked for Clayton predictions shortly after Derrick Mason had announced his retirement; shortly after the collection process was finished, Mason un-retired. So the prediction is mostly irrelevant.
Predicted: 71 receptions, 1070 receiving yards, 6 TD
Actual: 63 receptions, 1167 receiving yards, 9 TD
We'll have more on the historical strangeness of Jackson's season in FOA2010, I'm sure, but it sure seems like he caught more than 61 passes. In the end, his 2009 usage figures bear a remarkable resemblance to his 2008 campaign; the difference is that he averaged nearly four yards more per catch, and scored seven more touchdowns. Is his propensity for 50+ yard catches sustainable?
Predicted: 52 receptions, 748 receiving yards, 5 TD
Actual: 48 receptions, 625 receiving yards, 2 TD
That's actually pretty close, but remember that the crowd was asked to predict Crabtree's 16-game totals. This is what he put up in 11 games as a rookie; extrapolate that to a 16-game season, and he's at 70 catches and 900 yards. And that's with joining the team in midseason. He's going to be frighteningly good next year.
Predicted: 85 receptions, 1297 receiving yards, 15 TD
Actual: 83 receptions, 1264 receiving yards, 13 TD
Yes, off by two receptions, less than three-tenths of a yard per catch, and two touchdowns. That's...um...terrifyingly accurate. I noted that Moss should exceed that average expectation if he remained healthy; Moss separated his shoulder at some point during the season, with the Patriots keeping both the exact timing and the severity under wraps.
Predicted: 86 receptions, 1072 receiving yards, 8 TD
Actual: 79 receptions, 911 receiving yards, 3 TD
I won't regale you again with the story of how the Vikings nearly stifled Sidney Rice's career by signing Houshmandzadeh, but boy, did Housh not make the impact in Seattle he was expected to. With his vertical metrics falling off a cliff and his DVOA and DYAR in decline, all that Houshmandzadeh brought to Seattle was an ability to stay healthy and what had been an average catch rate by receiver plus-minus standards. Even his catch rate fell, with his annual raw rate of 66-68 percent hitting 59 percent during his maiden voyage in Seattle.
Predicted: 97 receptions, 1391 receiving yards, 12 TD
Actual: 97 receptions, 1092 receiving yards, 13 TD
Nailing two out of three categories is impressive, but Fitzgerald came up 27 percent short on the yardage projection. It's totally out of character with his career; his yards per catch figure had steadily risen since his rookie year, starting at 13.3 yards per catch and peaking at 14.9 in 2008. No one could have expected him to fall off to 11.3. It wasn't caused by his injury, either; even before hurting his leg against the 49ers in Week 14, Fitzgerald was only averaging 11.6 yards per catch.
Predicted: 76 receptions, 918 receiving yards, 6 TD
Actual: 57 receptions, 821 receiving yards, 3 TD
Cotchery's role was usurped by Braylon Edwards, even though Edwards' advanced metrics sucked, as typical. Yes, Edwards helps create space for Cotchery because of his deep speed and leaping ability, but Edwards has played across from plenty of receivers in his career, and none of them came close to matching Cotchery's metrics this year.
Predicted: 104 receptions, 1052 receiving yards, 8 TD
Actual: 123 receptions, 1348 receiving yards, 4 TD
Remember that Welker accrued those numbers in what amounts to 13 games against an elite slate of pass defenses. Even if you just adjust the figures to a 16-game slate, he hits 150 catches if he makes it through 16 full games. 150! He's like some relic from the Dead Ball Era that pitches 350 innings. Of course, making a prediction for his 2010 performance is going to be close to impossible.
Predicted: 37 receptions, 536 receiving yards, 3 TD
Actual: 9 receptions, 124 receiving yards, 1 TD
There's no point in blaming Heyward-Bey for where he was selected. That's not his fault. Looking back at history, there have been 35 wide receivers selected in the first round that failed to clear the 10-catch mark as a rookie. Most of them are from a different era. If we only look over the past 20 years, there have been ten other players. They're a varied mix of successes-to-be, injury cases, and failures exposed as such: Ike Hilliard, Randal Hill, Desmond Howard, Michael Jenkins, Thomas Lewis, Robert Meachem, Johnnie Morton, Santana Moss, Marcus Nash, and Rashaun Woods. Considering the abysmal development rates of Oakland's skill-position players this decade, Heyward-Bey seems primed to join the Lewis/Nash/Woods side of the equation.
Predicted: 73 receptions, 913 receiving yards, 8 TD
Actual: 79 receptions, 1157 receiving yards, 8 TD
Only 20 percent of respondents figured that Gates would go above the 1,000-yard mark, but while the target and touchdown totals were about dead-on, a healthy Gates produced his best yards per catch total as a starter, elevating him back into his rightful spot as the best receiving tight end in football.
Predicted: 54 receptions, 635 receiving yards, 5 TD
Actual: 76 receptions, 971 receiving yards, 8 TD
There have been a lot of people around FO, both on staff and amongst the commenters, who have been high on Brent Celek for a long time. I certainly thought he could produce solid numbers as a pro tight end, but as I wrote in last year's book, because of the nature of the Eagles' offense, it was going to be hard for him to get the target total that would be required for him to compile significant raw numbers. I pictured his upside as something close to Chad Lewis, but his figures are way better than Lewis's best year (69 catches for 735 yards and three scores).
Predicted: 74 receptions, 862 receiving yards, 8 TD
Actual: 83 receptions, 867 receiving yards, 6 TD
I had Gonzalez at 75-900-6, which is right in the same area code as both the predicted line and the actual figure. No one ever talks about it, but it's remarkable how healthy Gonzalez has stayed throughout his entire career; he's missed two games in 13 years. His yards per catch fell below 11 yards for the first time since 1998, and they're in a four-year decline, which isn't promising. That could be a sign of declining athletic ability or the nature of the offenses he's played in; there's really no one historical to compare Gonzalez to at this point.
Predicted: 68 receptions, 802 receiving yards, 7 TD
Actual: 60 receptions, 612 receiving yards, 8 TD
Much like Hester, Olsen wasn't able to use his speed because teams didn't concern themselves with the possibility of Cutler getting enough time to throw deep. Unlike Hester, Olsen was forced to spend a fair amount of time blocking, too. Even though he went from seven starts to 15, he only saw 28 more targets. With Mike Martz arriving, rumors of a trade have swirled; the Bears are probably better off dealing him now if Martz can't find a role for him in the offense. His value's only going to go down if he has another mediocre year.
Predicted: 59 receptions, 698 receiving yards, 6 TD
Actual: 51 receptions, 574 receiving yards, 7 TD
In the initial piece on tight ends, I noted the decline tight ends with 50+ catches as a rookie saw in their sophomore season. Of course, the sample size is six, so I don't think it's indicative of anything, but Carlson basically treaded water for a year.
44 comments, Last at 22 Mar 2010, 2:09pm by Jeff Fogle