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FO Mailbag: WR vs. RB Receiving DVOA

Christian McCaffrey
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Sonil: I love all the advanced stats, as well as how far back they go historically! I'm curious as to whether I'm understanding the stats correctly. When I see that Christian McCaffrey, for example, had a receiving DVOA of 386, can I make an apples-to-apples comparison to WRs DVOA and conclude that in addition to generating the second-most rushing value, he also generated the third most-receiving value (only Michael Thomas and Chris Godwin had more than 386 receiving DVOA)? Or is it the case that since the replacement level RB has lower receiving production than the replacement level WR, RBs' receiving DVOA is inflated compared to that of WRs so they can not be compared?

Aaron Schatz: The answer is the latter. Wide receivers are compared historically only to other wide receivers, running backs to other running backs. Also the opponent adjustments are based on what position the receiver is. So it’s not directly comparable. McCaffrey didn’t generate the third-most receiving value overall, but you can say he generated the third-most receiving value based on his position.

It’s a pretty big difference. If we change McCaffrey to code him as a wide receiver instead of a running back, he drops from 386 DYAR to 102 DYAR! He would actually have a below-average DVOA as a wide receiver. This makes sense if you compare him to teammate D.J. Moore (3.2% DVOA). Moore had 1,209 yards with 64 first downs or touchdowns on 136 targets. McCaffrey had more targets (142) but had 1,005 yards with 58 first downs or touchdowns. So if we compared them with the same baselines, it makes sense that Moore comes out a little bit higher than McCaffrey does. The expectations for wide receivers are much higher than the expectations for running backs in the passing game.


13 comments, Last at 07 Apr 2020, 10:31pm

5 DYAR is a counting stat, so…

In reply to by John Walt

DYAR is a counting stat, so I don’t think it even makes sense to talk about when CMC is running the ball like 15x-20x more often than most WRs. 

6 McCaffrey in real life: 278…

In reply to by John Walt

McCaffrey in real life:

278 rush DYAR

386 rec DYAR

664 combined DYAR


McCaffrey if we counted his as a WR:

581 rush DYAR

102 rec DYAR

683 combined DYAR


So the total doesn't change much, but the distribution changes wildly.

7 By the way, I've often…

By the way, I've often gotten a similar question about Tavon Austin -- what would happen if we counted him as a running back instead of a wide receiver?


In 2016, his worst year, Austin had -219 receiving DYAR. If we count him as a running back, that zooms all the way up to -29 -- still horrible, but bottom-10-that-year kind of horrible, not once-a-decade horrible.


That same year, he had 46 rushing DYAR on 28 runs. Count him as an RB, and the rushing DYAR drops to 19.

8 I remain mystified by how…

I remain mystified by how different net DYAR is by position.

This came up in some of the Mahomes discussions -- his DYAR seemed very high relative to that of his receivers, as compared to Brees. I'm still curious what that actually means.


9 Typically that would mean a…

Typically that would mean a QB had a lot of sacks/INTs, because sacks/INTs drop passing DYAR but have no effect on receiving DYAR. Tampa Bay's WRs had much better DYAR than Jameis Winston, for example. In this specific case, however, Brees had better sack/INT rates than Mahomes, so I'm not sure what's going on.

10 It may be drops. Michael…

It may be drops.

Michael Thomas had a higher DYAR than KC's two best receivers combined, and the rest of the depth charts were pretty comparable.

It may also be that Bridgewater is better than Moore.

13 Isn't it just that DYAR is a…

Isn't it just that DYAR is a counting stat and Mahomes had 501 pass plays (per fO's QB table) to compile it vs. 385 for Brees?  Brees had the better DVOA this year. 

As for the receivers' DYAR, Bridgewater's 208 pass plays were a bigger chunk of their opportunities than Moore's 98.  Moore and Bridgewater had essentially equal DVOA's this year.

12 Same here. I think its…

Same here. 

I think its misleading - and that we'd get more sensible numbers if we had "running dyar" and "receiving dyar" and compared the two. 

I'm not sure the positional distinction is all that useful at this point with the number of receivers running slot type routes now, and the number of running backs catching the ball (and number of hybrid players). 

Runningbacks who get a lot of catches typically get them because of scheme - they're not out there running 15 yard outs and just beating a defender - so its weird looking at the statistics and saying "this guy provides most of his value catching the ball" - if that were actually true, teams would start ditching runningbacks and putting a receiver back there. 

McCafferty's numbers 'as a receiver' make much more sense to me - he's a mediocre but prolific receiver - which is still very good for a RB. 


You know what - I almost think you'd be better off grouping this by area of the field instead of position. Throws to Julian Edelman 4 yards downfield 5 seconds after the snap have a lot more in common with throws to a RB than they do to throws to, say Julio Jones - both in play structure and purpose. 

3 I'm actually shocked that…

I'm actually shocked that his "WR DYAR" would still be 102 (better than some big-names). It goes to show, relative to RBs, how good of a receiver he is - because RB targets are pretty much garbage**. Or, I should more accurately say, targets in the backfield aren't valuable on average. BUT, even the RBs who are versatile & sometimes line up on the LOS only do so for a tiny fraction of their overall targets/routes, so I think it's fair for RBs to be represented, as a whole, by backfield targets.

**If you're comparing them to other passes. If you're treating them, strategically, as run plays (/run-replacements), then they're pretty valuable.

Of course, the real issue is the difficulty in separating when a team wanted to pass to a RB, and when they had to *settle* for it (ie: it's hard to criticize a team's game-plan, that it passed to RBs too much, without knowing if they actually wanted to....with CMC it's likely it was part of the game-plan, though).