Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Jul 2015

2014 Receiving Plus-Minus

by Scott Kacsmar

One of the oldest principles at Football Outsiders is that receivers should be evaluated on the passes they don't catch in addition to the ones they do. Stats like catch rate and yards after catch (YAC) are useful tools, but for comparison purposes both lack a lot of necessary context. That's why we need to do a deeper analysis that adjusts for how far the pass was thrown, where the pass was thrown relative to the first-down marker, and to which side of the field the pass was thrown. That's where the decade-old game charting project comes in handy.

We know a 5-yard gain on third-and-20 is a failed completion, but if it's a dump-off over the middle 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage, then on average it's an easy catch to make, and it's also pretty easy to gain 6 YAC when the defense has dropped back to defend the big play. Meanwhile, a 16-yard gain on third-and-20 is also a failed completion, but if the receiver catches the ball 10 yards down the right sideline and then gains 6 YAC, on average that's going to be a more impressive play on his part. Both receivers helped their catch rate and gained the same amount of YAC, but the second receiver overcame more difficult circumstances to produce his play. He did more to beat expectations.

Capturing that effort statistically for every pass is at the core of metrics like receiving plus-minus and YAC+. The plus-minus metric was featured in Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, and both stats are always included in the book each year for every receiver. We don't use this much on the site, especially during the season, because it requires all the game charting data to be complete. Hopefully that process, along with the NFL's internal data collection on air yards and YAC, will smooth itself out going forward and we can crunch these numbers more easily.

We should probably thank the 2006 Miami Dolphins for spurring our interest in understanding the importance of roles in wide receiver statistics. I reviewed the case of Chris Chambers and his incredibly poor season (a record minus-297 DYAR) for the Dolphins that year when we looked at 2014 incompletions for receivers. Of course a huge part of Chambers' poor stats and Wes Welker's superior numbers was based on the types of routes each player was running. Shorter passes are easier to complete, and the closer the player is lined up to the quarterback, the higher the average catch rate. That's why the descending order of highest catch rates goes: running backs, tight ends, slot receivers, and then outside receivers. Ever since Welker redefined the slot role in New England, we have seen teams try to find their own slot specialists, players that often ranked among the highest in catch rate and YAC.

Little did I know that former FO writer Bill Barnwell had also written about Chambers, Welker, and the 2006 Dolphins when he introduced receiving plus-minus in 2009. Here is the description of plus-minus from the upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2015:

It estimates how many passes a receiver caught compared to what an average receiver would have caught, given the location of those passes. Unlike simple catch rate, plus-minus does not consider passes listed as "Thrown Away," "Tipped at Line," or "Quarterback Hit in Motion." Player performance is compared to a historical baseline of how often a pass is caught based on the pass distance, the distance required for a first down, and whether it is on the left, middle, or right side of the field. Note that plus-minus is not scaled to a player's target total.

Let's get to some data. We'll look at plus-minus today, and then YAC+ (how much YAC a player gets compared to what's expected) sometime next week. A lot of readers are probably hearing about these stats for the first time, so just what kind of results do they produce?

Receiving Plus-Minus

First, note that the "Passes" totals for each receiver will look different from the usual totals in our data. That's because we have removed the aforementioned plays that are out of the receiver's control like passes thrown away or tipped at the line. Ideally these wouldn't count as official NFL targets, but that's another can of worms. Passes that are overthrown or underthrown are included when we figure plus-minus; the charting doesn't include any distinction between "big overthrows" that are clearly bad passes by the quarterback vs. "small overthrows" that might be a bad route or good press coverage.

Here are the leaders (regular season only) in career plus-minus since 2006. Included are the average air yards (measured as yards beyond the line of scrimmage) on their targets and average YAC gained on catches. The next-to-last column, C%+, is the player's plus-minus divided by the targets. This shows how many percentage points above average the player added to his catch rate.


Highest Receiving Plus-Minus Since 2006
Rk Player Passes Catches C% Avg. Air Avg. YAC C%+ +/-
1 Antonio Gates 826 594 71.9% 9.5 4.3 7.9% 65.7
2 Jason Witten 1030 755 73.3% 8.2 3.9 6.0% 61.4
3 Wes Welker 1147 862 75.2% 6.4 5.4 5.2% 59.6
4 Jordy Nelson 561 400 71.3% 11.7 5.0 10.4% 58.4
5 Reggie Wayne 1163 769 66.1% 11.4 3.6 4.8% 56.0
6 Andre Johnson 1202 806 67.1% 11.0 4.3 4.0% 48.5
7 Marques Colston 998 666 66.7% 10.8 4.1 4.3% 43.2
8 Tony Gonzalez 971 677 69.7% 8.6 2.9 4.4% 42.9
9 Heath Miller 660 494 74.8% 7.3 4.8 6.3% 41.5
10 Lance Moore 520 360 69.2% 10.8 3.1 6.8% 35.5
11 Malcom Floyd 464 288 62.1% 16.5 2.5 7.6% 35.5
12 Kevin Walter 460 326 70.9% 10.9 3.0 7.7% 35.4
13 Derrick Mason 612 405 66.2% 11.7 2.8 5.2% 32.0
Rk Player Passes Catches C% Avg. Air Avg. YAC C%+ +/-
14 Pierre Thomas 367 330 89.9% -0.9 9.1 8.1% 29.7
15 Antonio Brown 572 392 68.5% 10.7 5.0 5.1% 29.3
16 Randall Cobb 298 227 76.2% 8.5 6.2 9.6% 28.5
17 Anquan Boldin 1021 682 66.8% 9.9 4.7 2.7% 27.6
18 Rob Gronkowski 441 309 70.1% 9.8 5.8 5.9% 26.2
19 Greg Jennings 875 552 63.1% 12.7 5.1 3.0% 26.0
20 Steve Smith (NYG) 351 245 69.8% 11.0 2.4 6.7% 23.7
21 Robert Meachem 281 178 63.3% 17.1 3.5 8.2% 23.2
22 Hines Ward 624 431 69.1% 9.4 4.1 3.6% 22.7
23 Jason Avant 491 332 67.6% 10.5 3.2 4.5% 22.1
24 Kenny Stills 126 96 76.2% 13.7 4.1 17.4% 21.9
25 Dez Bryant 591 381 64.5% 12.0 4.9 3.6% 21.4
26 Vernon Davis 637 423 66.4% 10.5 5.0 3.2% 20.5
27 Jimmy Graham 570 386 67.7% 9.1 4.1 3.5% 20.1

Immediately what stands out is that most of these players have spent time with a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback. There is no denying the quarterback has a huge impact on receiving stats, especially ones that account for accuracy and difficulty. We noted in the passer study this year that Drew Brees had the lowest rate of bad passes, the kind of throws that he has been phenomenal at limiting for years. It's no surprise six of Brees' teammates have cracked plus-20.0. (That does not include Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd since this is based on 2006-2014, after Brees left San Diego for New Orleans.) Only one running back, screen (pass) legend Pierre Thomas, made the list. It's almost like this stat was created to showcase the brilliance of Sean Payton and Brees.

Alas, a lot of these players were not designated deep threats. Only Robert Meachem, Kenny Stills, and Malcom Floyd averaged more than 13.0 air yards per target. Stills' C%+ is incredible at 17.4 percent, meaning an average receiver would have caught 58.8 percent of Stills' targets based on where they were thrown. Stills actually caught 76.2 percent, which again is a major credit to Brees' accuracy and the design of Sean Payton's offense, which has seen similar dominance from players like Devery Henderson (plus-14.4) and Meachem. Stills is a receiver to watch in 2015 now that he is in Miami, where Ryan Tannehill is not adept at throwing the deep ball. We have already seen Mike Wallace fall from a plus-11.1 in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger to minus-1.0 in Miami with Tannehill. Studying the plus-minus trends of players that switched teams and/or quarterbacks is certainly something we can do in greater detail in the coming weeks.

Something that does really stand out in this table is the appearance of Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter in the top 12. That's definitely not a result of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback play. Hail Gary Kubiak's boot-action offense? It's easy to forget Matt Schaub was a respectable quarterback for several years, and it's not a shock to see someone as skilled as Johnson perform well -- when he cared to. But Kevin Walter? Kubiak loved running two-wide sets too, but Walter played in the slot and on the outside. He was 6-foot-3, but no one would confuse him for Marques Colston as a threatening in/out receiver. This just goes to show what some reliable hands, a good offensive scheme, and a stud No. 1 wide receiver can do for a guy. Jason Avant would agree. Walter was easily the most surprising name on the list, even topping the New York-drafted Steve Smith, who was an effective receiver for Eli Manning before injuries battered his career.

How about the worst plus-minus receivers since 2006?


Lowest Receiving Plus-Minus Since 2006
Rk Player Passes Catches C% Avg. Air Avg. YAC C%+ +/-
1 Braylon Edwards 632 327 51.7% 13.5 4.3 -6.5% -41.4
2 Chris Chambers 438 225 51.4% 12.6 2.4 -7.1% -31.3
3 Louis Murphy 315 153 48.6% 13.6 4.3 -9.6% -30.4
4 Donnie Avery 407 220 54.1% 12.6 4.3 -6.7% -27.3
5 Greg Little 301 163 54.2% 9.6 4.6 -8.7% -26.1
6 Cecil Shorts 325 176 54.2% 10.9 5.1 -8.0% -26.0
7 Joey Galloway 301 151 50.2% 14.7 4.7 -8.4% -25.3
8 Mohamed Massaquoi 250 118 47.2% 14.1 4.0 -9.9% -24.8
9 Andre Roberts 379 218 57.5% 9.9 4.2 -6.4% -24.4
10 Bryant Johnson 357 191 53.5% 12.9 3.2 -6.6% -23.7
Rk Player Passes Catches C% Avg. Air Avg. YAC C%+ +/-
11 Plaxico Burress 415 216 52.0% 13.9 3.1 -5.7% -23.6
12 Santana Moss 818 498 60.9% 10.5 4.7 -2.8% -23.3
13 Darrius Heyward-Bey 339 172 50.7% 14.4 3.4 -6.8% -23.1
14 Denarius Moore 279 142 50.9% 12.9 4.8 -8.1% -22.6
15 Brandon Jacobs 128 82 64.1% -0.1 9.5 -17.1% -21.9
16 Mike Williams (TB) 408 222 54.4% 12.2 4.3 -5.3% -21.6
17 Ashley Lelie 129 49 38.0% 17.5 1.9 -16.5% -21.3
18 Devin Aromashodu 172 78 45.3% 14.7 4.1 -12.0% -20.6
19 Marty Booker 254 135 53.1% 11.4 4.0 -8.0% -20.2
20 Terrell Owens 648 362 55.9% 13.7 4.1 -3.1% -20.2


The only thing worse than the quality of these receivers is the quality of their quarterbacks. We're seeing a lot of Oakland, Cleveland, Miami, and other Florida failures on this table. What the hell did Braylon Edwards do to deserve a career with Derek Anderson, Mark Sanchez, Charlie Frye, Trent Dilfer, Brady Quinn, Alex Smith, and Ken Dorsey? That's every quarterback who threw at least 25 passes to him. Joey Galloway, one of the few very good receivers on this list, can relate, as he probably would be headed to Canton if he ever had a quality passer to hit him down the field.

That's the other thing that's noticeable here: downfield passing. The average air target on this table is 2.0 yards deeper than the other table, and three-quarters of these receivers exceeded 12.0 air yards per target, compared to one-ninth of the highest plus-minus table. Deeper throws are hard to connect, and they're even harder when the quarterback isn't good.

Brandon Jacobs is the only running back here, which fits his reputation well. The same can be said for Greg Little and Darrius Heyward-Bey and their dropped passes. Terrell Owens is arguably the best player -- certainly best wide receiver from an all-time perspective -- on either list, but he just makes the cut here for a low plus-minus total. You have to remember that these numbers only go back to 2006, so this table misses his greatness in San Francisco and Philadelphia, but captures his old-man targets with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards, and a subpar version of Carson Palmer.

2014 Wide Receivers

Now we'll look at plus-minus data for the 2014 season. To qualify, a wide receiver must have at least 50 targets; running backs and tight ends must have at least 25 targets. We'll show the top and bottom 10 in plus-minus, but also the top and bottom 10 in C%+ just to get a feel for efficiency. The names won't change too much.


Top 10 Plus-Minus for Wide Receivers, 2014
Bottom 10 Plus-Minus for Wide Receivers, 2014
Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+ Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+
1 Antonio Brown PIT 175 73.7% 16.5 9.5% 75 Mohamed Sanu CIN 98 57.1% -6.7 -6.8%
2 Emmanuel Sanders DEN 139 72.7% 16.3 11.7% 76 Allen Hurns JAC 91 56.0% -6.8 -7.4%
3 Kenny Stills NO 79 79.7% 15.5 19.6% 77 Andre Johnson HOU 141 60.3% -6.9 -4.9%
4 T.Y. Hilton IND 120 68.3% 11.9 9.9% 78 Andre Roberts WAS 68 52.9% -7.0 -10.4%
5 Jordy Nelson GB 142 69.0% 11.6 8.2% 79 John Brown ARI 95 50.5% -7.3 -7.7%
6 Odell Beckham NYG 128 71.1% 11.1 8.7% 80 Vincent Jackson TB 135 51.9% -7.8 -5.7%
7 Brandin Cooks NO 64 82.8% 9.7 15.1% 81 Kelvin Benjamin CAR 140 52.1% -7.8 -5.6%
8 Jarvis Landry MIA 103 81.6% 8.7 8.5% 82 Sammy Watkins BUF 124 52.4% -8.5 -6.9%
9 Randall Cobb GB 125 72.8% 8.4 6.8% 83 Justin Hunter TEN 66 42.4% -8.7 -13.2%
10 Malcom Floyd SD 83 62.7% 7.2 8.7% 84 Cecil Shorts JAC 99 53.5% -13.2 -13.3%
Top 10 C%+ for Wide Receivers, 2014 Bottom 10 C%+ for Wide Receivers, 2014
Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+ Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+
1 Kenny Stills NO 79 79.7% 15.5 19.6% 75 Sammy Watkins BUF 124 52.4% -8.5 -6.9%
2 Brandin Cooks NO 64 82.8% 9.7 15.1% 76 Allen Hurns JAC 91 56.0% -6.8 -7.4%
3 Emmanuel Sanders DEN 139 72.7% 16.3 11.7% 77 Taylor Gabriel CLE 71 53.5% -5.4 -7.6%
4 T.Y. Hilton IND 120 68.3% 11.9 9.9% 78 Josh Brown ARI 95 50.5% -7.3 -7.7%
5 Antonio Brown PIT 175 73.7% 16.5 9.5% 79 Cordarrelle Patterson MIN 57 57.9% -4.8 -8.4%
6 Malcom Floyd SD 83 62.7% 7.2 8.7% 80 Jason Avant CAR/KC 58 58.6% -4.9 -8.5%
7 Odell Beckham NYG 128 71.1% 11.1 8.7% 81 Marqise Lee JAC 62 59.7% -5.7 -9.2%
8 Jarvis Landry MIA 103 81.6% 8.7 8.5% 82 Andre Roberts WAS 68 52.9% -7.0 -10.4%
9 Jordy Nelson GB 142 69.0% 11.6 8.2% 83 Justin Hunter TEN 66 42.4% -8.7 -13.2%
10 Eddie Royal SD 86 72.1% 7.0 8.1% 84 Cecil Shorts JAC 99 53.5% -13.2 -13.3%

An interesting pair of former teammates lead the plus-minus. Last year I called Emmanuel Sanders a financially burdened man's version of Antonio Brown. In Denver, Sanders looked like Brown's equal, which caught everyone by surprise. Sanders was a minus-2.0 receiver in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, who has obviously had no problem throwing to shorter receivers over his career. Sanders was excellent in 2014, and if Gary Kubiak's offense truly does open up more big plays, then he could soon be pushing Kevin Walter's range on the leaders table. Toss that into the pile of sentences I never expected to write.

Where does Brown's plus-16.5 mark rank since 2006 among wide receivers? Here's a quick look at the top wide receiver seasons in plus-minus.



Highest Wide Receiver Plus-Minus Since 2006
Rk Player Year Team Passes C% +/- Primary QB
1 Reggie Wayne 2007 IND 142 73.2% 18.2 Peyton Manning
2 Reggie Wayne 2009 IND 134 74.6% 17.1 Peyton Manning
3 Antonio Brown 2014 PIT 175 73.7% 16.5 Ben Roethlisberger
4 Marques Colston 2011 NO 105 76.2% 16.3 Drew Brees
5 Emmanuel Sanders 2014 DEN 139 72.7% 16.3 Peyton Manning
6 Kenny Stills 2014 NO 79 79.7% 15.5 Drew Brees
7 Steve Smith 2009 NYG 149 71.8% 14.5 Eli Manning
8 Jordy Nelson 2013 GB 117 72.6% 14.2 Aaron Rodgers
9 Bobby Engram 2007 SEA 124 75.8% 14.1 Matt Hasselbeck
10 Marvin Harrison 2006 IND 142 66.9% 13.8 Peyton Manning
Rk Player Year Team Passes C% +/- Primary QB
11 Andre Johnson 2008 HOU 160 71.9% 13.3 Matt Schaub
12 Wes Welker 2009 NE 152 80.9% 13.3 Tom Brady
13 Andre Johnson 2012 HOU 158 70.9% 13.2 Matt Schaub
14 Reggie Wayne 2006 IND 128 67.2% 13.0 Peyton Manning
15 Eric Decker 2012 DEN 118 72.0% 12.9 Peyton Manning
16 Sidney Rice 2009 MIN 118 70.3% 12.6 Brett Favre
17 Mike Furrey 2006 DET 131 74.8% 12.6 Jon Kitna
18 Vincent Jackson 2009 SD 106 65.1% 12.3 Philip Rivers
19 DeSean Jackson 2013 PHI 118 69.5% 12.2 Nick Foles
20 Wes Welker 2007 NE 138 81.2% 12.0 Tom Brady


Three of the top six seasons were in 2014, but this is a good moment to acknowledge how great Reggie Wayne was in his prime. You start to run out of opportunities to talk about a player once they have retired, and while Wayne is not officially gone yet, he's still seeking a job at 36. The 2007 season was Marvin Harrison's injury-plagued year, and Wayne took over as the No. 1 target in Indianapolis. Over the next four years Wayne thrived in that offense, and plus-minus does a great job of showing just how efficient he was with Peyton Manning. Sure, playing with Manning (the primary quarterback for six of the top 15 seasons, and eight of the top 26) was a huge luxury, but that's still Wayne's name in the top two spots. He earned it.

Wayne was one of the studs in the AFC South, which has quite a few duds in the passing game outside of the Colts right now. You can see the Jaguars are represented by three wide receivers in the bottom 10 in C%+ in 2014. Poor Cecil Shorts couldn't escape the division, joining the Texans this offseason. So after years with Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles, he steps right into another of the league's ugliest quarterback situations. We might have the only man who can sink below Braylon Edwards in career plus-minus.

2014 Tight Ends



Top 10 Plus-Minus for Tight Ends, 2014
Bottom 10 Plus-Minus for Tight Ends, 2014
Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+ Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+
1 Travis Kelce KC 81 82.7% 9.9 12.2% 39 Dwayne Allen IND 48 60.4% -2.7 -5.6%
2 Antonio Gates SD 93 74.2% 7.8 8.4% 40 John Carlson ARI 50 66.0% -2.8 -5.6%
3 Jason Witten DAL 88 72.7% 6.0 6.9% 41 Vernon Davis SF 48 54.2% -3.5 -7.2%
4 Heath Miller PIT 86 76.7% 5.9 6.9% 42 Coby Fleener IND 87 58.6% -3.6 -4.1%
5 Jermaine Gresham CIN 76 81.6% 5.2 6.8% 43 Jacob Tamme DEN 28 50.0% -3.9 -13.9%
6 Greg Olsen CAR 120 70.0% 5.1 4.2% 44 Eric Ebron DET 44 56.8% -4.0 -9.1%
7 Tim Wright NE 32 81.3% 4.6 14.5% 45 Jeff Cumberland NYJ 43 53.5% -4.8 -11.1%
8 Julius Thomas DEN 58 74.1% 4.3 7.4% 46 Levine Toilolo ATL 50 62.0% -4.9 -9.8%
9 Larry Donnell NYG 86 73.3% 4.2 4.9% 47 Jordan Cameron CLE 45 53.3% -5.0 -11.1%
10 Jimmy Graham NO 122 69.7% 3.7 3.0% 48 Jared Cook STL 89 58.4% -8.1 -9.1%
Top 10 C%+ for Tight Ends, 2014 Bottom 10 C%+ for Tight Ends, 2014
Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+ Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+
1 Tim Wright NE 32 81.3% 4.6 14.5% 39 Dwayne Allen IND 48 60.4% -2.7 -5.6%
2 Travis Kelce KC 81 82.7% 9.9 12.2% 40 Luke Willson SEA 38 57.9% -2.2 -5.9%
3 Antonio Gates SD 93 74.2% 7.8 8.4% 41 Vernon Davis SF 48 54.2% -3.5 -7.2%
4 Julius Thomas DEN 58 74.1% 4.3 7.4% 42 Marcedes Lewis JAC 29 62.1% -2.5 -8.7%
5 Niles Paul WAS 50 78.0% 3.5 6.9% 43 Eric Ebron DET 44 56.8% -4.0 -9.1%
6 Heath Miller PIT 86 76.7% 5.9 6.9% 44 Jared Cook STL 89 58.4% -8.1 -9.1%
7 Jason Witten DAL 88 72.7% 6.0 6.9% 45 Levine Toilolo ATL 50 62.0% -4.9 -9.8%
8 Jermaine Gresham CIN 76 81.6% 5.2 6.8% 46 Jordan Cameron CLE 45 53.3% -5.0 -11.1%
9 Dion Sims MIA 33 72.7% 2.1 6.5% 47 Jeff Cumberland NYJ 43 53.5% -4.8 -11.1%
10 Kyle Rudolph MIN 31 77.4% 1.8 5.7% 48 Jacob Tamme DEN 28 50.0% -3.9 -13.9%


Travis Kelce was great last year, but his league-leading plus-9.9 only ranks 12th among the top tight end seasons since 2006. Tim Wright had the best C%+, which I guess can happen when defenses don't even cover you so often. He's back in Tampa Bay now.

Atlanta fans, both of your 2015 tight ends (Levine Toilolo and Jacob Tamme) are in the bottom four in C%+. At least Matt Ryan has had some quality seasons without anything of value at the tight end position. Both Indianapolis tight ends rank in the bottom 10 in plus-minus, which isn't too surprising in Coby Fleener's case. He has the lowest catch rate among active tight ends (minimum 100 catches). Most of these tight ends in the bottom table ran some of the deepest routes on their targets last year. None were deeper than Vernon Davis at 12.4 air yards per target. He's looking to bounce back after a poor season. Shorter passes would be one quick-fix solution.

Dion Sims of the Dolphins was a surprising name to pop up in the top 10 C%+ table, but I guess that's the kind of results you get with a 25-target minimum. He was Charles Clay's backup, but Miami isn't promoting him after losing Clay to Buffalo. Tired of draft picks that didn't pan out, the Dolphins added Jordan Cameron, who you can find in the bottom tables. Remember, Brian Hoyer either overthrew or underthrew a league-worst 24.5 percent of his passes for the Browns in 2014. In 2013, Cameron was plus-11.6, the fifth-highest season for a tight end since 2006. He should fit in well in this offense.

2014 Running Backs

Matt Forte set a running back record with 102 catches last season. He led all running backs in one receiving metric below, but notice you won't see him in the top 10 of the other.



Top 10 Plus-Minus for Running Backs, 2014
Bottom 10 Plus-Minus for Running Backs, 2014
Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+ Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+
1 Matt Forte CHI 118 87.3% 6.2 5.2% 43 Alfred Morris WAS 26 65.4% -4.3 -16.5%
2 Roy Helu WAS 44 95.5% 6.1 13.9% 44 Ronnie Hillman DEN 32 65.6% -4.4 -13.9%
3 Benny Cunningham STL 49 91.8% 6.1 12.4% 45 Jordan Todman JAC 37 67.6% -4.5 -12.0%
4 DeMarco Murray DAL 61 93.4% 5.5 9.1% 46 Andre Williams NYG 27 66.7% -4.7 -17.5%
5 Le'Veon Bell PIT 99 83.8% 4.5 4.5% 47 Fred Jackson BUF 85 77.6% -4.8 -5.6%
6 Mark Ingram NO 31 93.5% 3.6 11.6% 48 Jerick McKinnon MIN 39 69.2% -5.0 -12.8%
7 Pierre Thomas NO 50 90.0% 3.4 6.8% 49 Joique Bell DET 48 70.8% -5.2 -10.8%
8 Travaris Cadet NO 45 84.4% 2.8 6.2% 50 Matt Asiata MIN 60 73.3% -5.4 -8.9%
9 Marshawn Lynch SEA 43 86.0% 2.4 5.6% 51 Marcel Reece OAK 54 68.5% -5.4 -9.9%
10 Devonta Freeman ATL 35 85.7% 2.3 6.5% 52 Darren Sproles PHI 59 69.5% -7.0 -11.8%
Top 10 C%+ for Running Backs, 2014 Bottom 10 C%+ for Running Backs, 2014
Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+ Rk Player Team Passes C% +/- C%+
1 Roy Helu WAS 44 95.5% 6.1 13.9% 43 Matt Asiata MIN 60 73.3% -5.4 -8.9%
2 Benny Cunningham STL 49 91.8% 6.1 12.4% 44 Marcel Reece OAK 54 68.5% -5.4 -9.9%
3 Mark Ingram NO 31 93.5% 3.6 11.6% 45 Chris Ivory NYJ 25 72.0% -2.7 -10.6%
4 DeMarco Murray DAL 61 93.4% 5.5 9.1% 46 Joique Bell DET 48 70.8% -5.2 -10.8%
5 Jonathan Stewart CAR 27 92.6% 2.0 7.4% 47 Darren Sproles PHI 59 69.5% -7.0 -11.8%
6 Pierre Thomas NO 50 90.0% 3.4 6.8% 48 Jordan Todman JAC 37 67.6% -4.5 -12.0%
7 Damien Williams MIA 25 84.0% 1.7 6.7% 49 Jerick McKinnon MIN 39 69.2% -5.0 -12.8%
8 Devonta Freeman ATL 35 85.7% 2.3 6.5% 50 Ronnie Hillman DEN 32 65.6% -4.4 -13.9%
9 Travaris Cadet NO 45 84.4% 2.8 6.2% 51 Alfred Morris WAS 26 65.4% -4.3 -16.5%
10 Marshawn Lynch SEA 43 86.0% 2.4 5.6% 52 Andre Williams NYG 27 66.7% -4.7 -17.5%


Forte had the best plus-minus at plus-6.2, but that's helped by his massive amount of volume, which is unlikely to continue now that Marc Trestman has left the Bears offense. Forte only ranked 11th in C%+, beat out by a very efficient season from Roy Helu in Washington. Helu caught 42 of his 44 catchable targets, and should be a welcome sight in Oakland for Derek Carr this year. Look for him to take snaps away from fullback Marcel Reece, who was next to last in plus-minus.

The Saints have three running backs in the top eight, but only Ingram, the least likely receiver, remains on the roster this year. Travaris Cadet could be a great fit for the departed Shane Vereen in New England, but we're not going to pretend to know how Bill Belichick will play that backfield.

Darren Sproles is a stunning name to see at the bottom in plus-minus, but he had four drops and two incomplete passes marked as miscommunication with Mark Sanchez.

Another stunning name is Miami backup Damien Williams, who I best knew this offseason as "that guy Pro-Football-Reference [used to] erroneously have starting 16 games in 2014." Again, it's small-sample stuff, but several Miami players making the top lists is a good sign for Ryan Tannehill's growth. Now if he can keep Stills on top in 2015, then he will have really arrived.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 21 Jul 2015

23 comments, Last at 26 Jul 2015, 9:50pm by theslothook

Comments

1
by theslothook :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 1:20am

When I think of elite receivers today - I first come out with Megatron and Dez Bryant and probably Aj Green, but I should be putting Antonio Brown in that list and possibly the 2nd best receiver in the game. I don't think he has the athleticism of Dez Bryant, but hes such a complete receiver that I think its a reasonable argument.

2
by jtr :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 11:33am

I think he has as much athleticism as those guys, just more in the quickness category rather than the straight-line category. AB's only weakness that I've noticed relative to Megatron and co is that he's only 5'11", so he isn't the jump-ball target of a classic "number one" WR.

6
by tuluse :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 12:01pm

Is a jump ball getting the classic number one mold? I don't recall Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Issac Bruce, or Torry Holt doing too much of that.

I do think this style of receiver is more dependent on the quality of QB than a Randy Moss or Megatron is, but as long as Big Ben stays good, I'd expect very good things from Brown.

3
by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 11:39am

Sims is surprising, but he did have a very nice season in limited action and is only entering his third year. He's developing nicely. Damien Williams, on the other hand, is a big fluke here. He only played in emergencies and garbage time and just barely hit the 25-target minimum. He'll be fighting for a roster spot this year. But yeah, overall it does speak rather well of Tannehill's development.

Interesting case with Dalton and Cam Newton. Dalton has a WR in the bottom 10 and a TE in the top 10, while Newton has two WRs in the bottom 10 and a TE and RB in the top 10.

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by jtr :: Thu, 07/23/2015 - 8:16am

With Newton, I think it's worth remembering that these numbers ARE intended to be measuring receivers more than QBs. After all, Carolina famously didn't bring back a single WR who had caught a pass, instead relying on an unreliable rookie to provide production on the outside. You didn't have to watch much Panthers football last year to see that Olsen was the best target on the field for Newton. In this case, would I certainly argue the greater production from TE than WR had a lot more to do with the difference in talent at those positions than with Cam better at throwing to the middle than the sidelines.

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by jjohnson177 :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 11:55am

I like how the impetus of this study was the 2006 Dolphins, and 2 of the WR on the "All-time lowest since 2006 list" played on the Dolphins in 2006 and 2007 (the infamous 1-15 team).

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by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 12:00pm

The Chambers fights in the comments were fun. I was on his corner back then and history proved me wrong. I wonder if there's any truth to the perception that one huge hit he received ruined him.

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by jjohnson177 :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 12:25pm

I was not in the Chambers corner. He seemed to make the difficult catch look routine and vice verse. He also looked like he played harder during the Pro Bowl than he did during regular season games for Miami. But maybe that is just my jaded view of him.

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by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 7:27pm

Ha! I don't think I've watched the Pro Bowl since I was nine, so can't argue with you there. He did receive that jarring hit, though, got knocked out for a few minutes and he seemed to be a much worse receiver after that. But maybe he wasn't ever that good...

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by theslothook :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 10:43pm

I remember the first time I watched the probowl. The concept was so exciting - the very best at their positions playing against one another. A real test to see which conference really was "better."

IS there any all star game that's actually any good? And I don't watch basketball all stars either.

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by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 07/23/2015 - 8:16pm

That brings back memories. It was exactly like that.

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by nickbradley :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 12:43pm

This is wonderful analysis, but I'd like to see some sensitivity analysis done for the quarterbacks throwing the ball. As pointed out in the article, it really does seem like this is a QB-driven stat.

It would be valuable to see how Kenny Stills compares to Brees' average C%+.

You can almost do a simple regression for QB% C%+ vs WR C%+ and look at the residuals. That would rock!

Then, if Kenny Stills remains at the top, I make him a higher fantasy pick.

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by theslothook :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 1:09pm

Except that regression is plagued by the endogeneity problem.

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by nickbradley :: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 2:42pm

Maybe not as bad as you'd expect; I'd compare all QBC%+:WRC%+ pairs and see what the league-wide relationship is.

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by Lebo :: Fri, 07/24/2015 - 11:23am

"Ever since Welker redefined the slot role in New England" - can someone explain this to me? I don't what the difference in a slot receiver's role is pre- and post-Welker.

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by tuluse :: Fri, 07/24/2015 - 11:29am

About 50 more receptions per year.

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by theslothook :: Fri, 07/24/2015 - 2:39pm

I think it really highlighted what kind of production you could get from the slot. Prior to that, the only time I can remember a really dynamic production coming from the slot was stokley, but since it was just 1 year and he didn't stay healthy for enough seasons, it was forgotten till Welker, who did it over a long sustained consistent period.

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by tuluse :: Fri, 07/24/2015 - 3:42pm

There were other guys. Bobby Engram and Troy Brown come to mind. Stokley's nickname was The Slot Machine right?

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by Lebo :: Sat, 07/25/2015 - 7:25pm

Oh, I see. Thanks for explaining.

I started following football in 2003. And when Stokley went for 1,000 yards in 2004 I didn't think much of the fact that he did that from the slot. So when Welker started dominating a few years later, I didn't realise that him playing slot was such a big deal. I just thought that everyone was surprised that a random from the Dolphins all of a sudden blew up in New England.

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by Scott Kacsmar :: Sun, 07/26/2015 - 8:03am

Beyond the volume, the Patriots showed how you could maximize a guy's skills by not asking him to do things he's not great at. If Welker was catching a pass 20 yards down the field, someone likely blew a coverage. They just asked him to dominate the underneath routes while Randy Moss was the perfect complement with his ability to threaten down the field.

According to Elias
2004 Stokley: 34 of his 68 catches (50%) were on passes thrown 11+ yards
2007 Welker: 12 of his 112 catches (10.7%) were on passes thrown 11+ yards

What further made the Patriots unique is that Welker became the No. 1 target. Most offenses wouldn't operate with a slot receiver as their main target, but they did for years and Julian Edelman has picked right up in his place.

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by theslothook :: Sun, 07/26/2015 - 2:26pm

I've always wondered - was this by design or just what Brady happened to be best at? In some sense - its smart. You avoid richard sherman and revis by throwing to the slot. You also avoid Thomas and Ed Reed.

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by tuluse :: Sun, 07/26/2015 - 7:18pm

I think it's all 3. Belichick looked at what gave defenses the most problems and designed the offense to exploit it. Brady also has amazing short accuracy, timing, anticipation and presnap reads. Finally, Welker was available for cheap and was really good at being shifty, finding holes in zones, but not so good at being fast or being able to bust double coverage.

So if you look at another situation with a really good QB, but with a different skillset, like Pittsburgh with Big Ben. I don't think he could run the Patriot's offense or go through a Welker like that. When Pittsburgh did go to a short passing game because their offensive line was so week, you see it's a lot of WR screens and smoke routes where Ben doesn't have to make great presnap reads or display the same kind of zone awareness Brady has.

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by theslothook :: Sun, 07/26/2015 - 9:50pm

That's true. Its why I've been ok if people think Brady is the Goat. I traditionally have a held it against him that hes a mediocre medium/deep thrower, but his others skills are so transcendent that it maybe doesn't matter. I know this will open a can of worms, but one thing that does give me pause is that Matt Cassel was successful in the same offense. That it implies its more qb friendly than trying to plug a backup to mimic big ben's offense. That said, I think you still need an all wordly talent like Brady to match the same efficiency of a Rodgers/Manning offense if you're going to build predominantly short.