Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Jun 2017

2016 YAC+

by Scott Kacsmar

In recent weeks we looked at passing plus-minus and receiving plus-minus, which estimate how many passes were completed above average, adjusted for where the pass was thrown. It is a very useful way to adjust completion rates, but we also want a way to analyze receivers after the catch with the ball in their hands. In keeping with that concept of where the pass was caught, we can also use an adjusted version of yards after the catch, known as YAC+.

Here is the description of YAC+ from the upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 (available in July), where every player with his own table will have his plus-minus and YAC+ listed for the past three seasons:

YAC+ is similar to plus-minus; it estimates how much YAC a receiver gained compared to what we would have expected from an average receiver catching passes of similar length in similar down-and-distance situations. This is imperfect -- we don't specifically mark what route a player runs, and obviously a go route will have more YAC than a comeback -- but it does a fairly good job of telling you if this receiver gets more or less YAC than other receivers with similar usage patterns.

The ability to break tackles is one way to create good YAC, but it does not always translate to YAC+ success. For instance, among the top 12 wide receivers in broken tackles for the 2015 season, only Martavis Bryant and Doug Baldwin also ranked in the top 12 in YAC+. Sometimes those broken tackle totals are padded by someone making defenders miss in the backfield before going down for an insignificant gain or even a loss. Those are plays that just delay in the inevitable, even if they can be fun to watch, though few are like Marion Barber, who once broke seven tackles to avoid a safety and gain 2 yards. Seven of the 10 completions with the most YAC in 2016 featured a broken tackle. Tackling can be a lost art at times.

To qualify for rankings in the tables below, wide receivers must have at least 50 targets, while running backs and tight ends need a minimum of 25 targets. The number of passes shown below may not match official totals due to our removal of certain incompletions, such as passes intentionally thrown away or batted down at the line. For context, the average air yards and ALEX of each player's targets are also included.

2016 Wide Receivers

A total of 88 wide receivers qualified this season, but we'll just show the top and bottom rankings to save space here.

2016 Wide Receivers: Top 20 in YAC+ 2016 Wide Receivers: Bottom 20 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+ Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+
1 Tyrell Williams SD 108 3.3 11.8 +1.7 69 A.J. Green CIN 94 2.5 12.2 -1.1
2 Adam Humphries TB 76 -3.6 6.2 +1.6 70 Donte Moncrief IND 52 2.9 10.6 -1.1
3 Chris Hogan NE 54 5.4 13.9 +1.4 71 Tyreek Hill KC 81 -0.7 8.0 -1.1
4 Mike Wallace BAL 109 3.6 12.3 +1.3 72 Allen Robinson JAC 143 5.0 13.1 -1.2
5 Jarvis Landry MIA 123 -2.6 6.6 +1.2 73 Jermaine Kearse SEA 74 2.3 11.9 -1.4
6 J.J. Nelson ARI 72 8.8 17.0 +1.2 74 Michael Crabtree OAK 139 1.9 10.6 -1.4
7 Michael Thomas NO 119 -0.4 8.1 +1.1 75 Jeremy Kerley SF 109 0.1 8.6 -1.4
8 Quincy Enunwa NYJ 100 0.7 9.3 +1.1 76 Terrelle Pryor CLE 132 5.0 14.0 -1.4
9 Allen Hurns JAC 66 2.2 10.5 +1.1 77 John Brown ARI 67 4.5 13.8 -1.5
10 Marqise Lee JAC 102 3.2 11.7 +1.0 78 Jeremy Maclin KC 72 2.2 10.9 -1.5
11 Devin Funchess CAR 55 4.7 13.5 +1.0 79 Robert Woods BUF 68 1.6 11.1 -1.6
12 Golden Tate DET 127 -1.1 7.6 +0.9 80 Ted Ginn Jr. CAR 91 3.1 13.2 -1.6
13 Jamison Crowder WAS 93 -1.4 7.9 +0.8 81 Tavon Austin LARM 100 -2.0 7.1 -1.6
14 Odell Beckham Jr. NYG 158 2.5 10.6 +0.8 82 Robby Anderson NYJ 75 8.1 17.0 -1.6
15 Willie Snead NO 100 -1.1 7.4 +0.8 83 Corey Coleman CLE 60 4.7 14.4 -1.6
16 Cole Beasley DAL 94 -2.0 6.4 +0.7 84 Nelson Agholor PHI 64 1.6 10.5 -1.6
17 Travis Benjamin SD 70 3.9 13.0 +0.6 85 Michael Floyd ARI/NE 72 6.2 15.1 -1.7
18 Brandon LaFell CIN 99 0.4 9.5 +0.6 86 Tajae Sharpe TEN 78 4.0 13.3 -1.8
19 Breshad Perriman BAL 63 4.0 14.1 +0.6 87 Jordan Matthews PHI 111 1.2 10.0 -1.8
20 Davante Adams GB 115 2.5 11.2 +0.6 88 Mike Evans TB 164 6.2 14.6 -1.9

Tyrell Williams has given us a few surprises in his brief career with the Chargers. He caught an 80-yard touchdown bomb against the vaunted "No Fly Zone" of the 2015 Broncos in Week 17, his first game with a catch. Not much was expected of him this year with the team bringing in Travis Benjamin, who also cracked the top 20 here, but Williams stepped up as the team's leading receiver after Keenan Allen went down with another serious injury in Week 1. Williams played well and led all San Diego wideouts in DYAR. The Chargers still spent a first-round pick on Mike Williams -- no really, another wide receiver named Mike Williams in the NFL -- but this offense has a good variety of receiving options if everyone can just stay healthy.

Not just Williams in San Diego, but Brandon LaFell (Bengals) and Marqise Lee (Jaguars) were in a similar range in DYAR in a surprising season all around for wideouts. Lee almost led the Jaguars in receiving in what was a poor year for the Allens, especially Allen Robinson, who finished more than 60 spots below his teammates. Of course, they all suffer from the delivery system known as Blake Bortles. LaFell fared better than A.J. Green in this metric, but Green has never been a big YAC receiver. LaFell had a 77.5-YAC+ touchdown against the Texans that was the second highest YAC+ play of 2016. The largest belonged to Mike Wallace, who had a +83.2 on his 95-yard touchdown against the Steelers. It was really the highlight of Wallace's year, which saw him rebound a little after hugely disappointing stints in Miami and Minnesota.

Odell Beckham Jr. dropped from No. 1 in YAC+ to 14th last season, but he's still one of the most exciting receivers to watch with a sense that he can turn a short catch into a long score. No one had a bigger drop from 2015 than Carolina's Ted Ginn Jr., who had a career year when Cam Newton was MVP, but he fell from sixth in YAC+ to 80th. Devin Funchess has a lot of bad numbers in his early career, which oddly isn't talked about much given his second-round pick status, but he at least finished 11th in YAC+.

Some other obscure players pressed into more prominent roles surprised in 2016. New Orleans rookie Michael Thomas fared very well in receiving plus-minus, and his YAC+ was also top seven in the league. Quincy Enunwa made some great plays for the Jets' putrid passing game, and he'll have to do a lot more now that the team has released Eric Decker after already parting with Brandon Marshall earlier this offseason. Enunwa was by far the most popular answer to my Twitter question about which offensive player could you possibly want to watch on the 2017 Jets. Teammate Robby Anderson ranked seventh from the bottom in YAC+ as the Jets tried to make him their top deep threat. Again, the opportunities will be there for these guys in 2017.

A stark difference in teammates is always interesting, though it's pretty self-explanatory in Tampa Bay with Adam Humphries (No. 2) and Mike Evans (last at No. 88). Humphries caught very short passes for the Buccaneers, but still had some success, while Evans could often be seen contorting his body to bring down wild balls from Jameis Winston. That's not very good for YAC, but they make for some incredible highlights either way. Humphries may not see many targets this year after the offense loaded up with DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard.

Finally, the inclusion of Tyreek Hill at No. 71 is noteworthy given that he's the trendy "all-purpose" player in the NFL right now. He's even more of a commodity in fantasy circles after the Chiefs surprisingly released Jeremy Maclin, who ranked 78th here, last week. Hill is certainly not a traditional wide receiver ready to fill Maclin's shoes, but he has been compared to Tavon Austin, who was 81st in YAC+. Hill was an All-Pro return specialist and had a 70-yard run, but none of his 61 receptions gained more than 49 yards. He'll continue to catch short passes from Alex Smith, but he wasn't that dazzling after the catch. His two longest YAC+ plays were +18.3 and +14.7, while everything else was +6.5 or less.

2016 Tight Ends

A total of 45 tight ends qualified for 2016, but we are listing only the top 16 (all the plus-YAC+ players) and the bottom 16 (everyone lower than -0.5).

2016 Tight Ends: Top 16 in YAC+ 2016 Tight Ends: Bottom 16 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+ Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+
1 Rob Gronkowski NE 35 6.1 14.1 +5.0 30 Jason Witten DAL 90 -2.8 6.7 -0.6
2 Vance McDonald SF 44 1.5 10.3 +4.3 31 Jermaine Gresham ARI 55 -2.5 7.7 -0.7
3 Travis Kelce KC 115 -1.4 6.8 +2.5 32 Julius Thomsa JAC 48 -0.8 7.3 -0.8
4 Martellus Bennett NE 69 -4.4 5.3 +2.3 33 Will Tye NYG 67 -3.1 5.8 -0.8
5 Hunter Henry SD 49 0.9 9.0 +2.2 34 Gary Barnidge CLE 76 -1.0 7.8 -0.9
6 Tyler Eifert CIN 38 0.4 8.4 +1.0 35 Jesse James PIT 59 -2.1 6.7 -0.9
7 Vernon Davis WAS 58 0.1 9.0 +0.7 36 Clive Walford OAK 49 -0.6 8.3 -0.9
8 Dion Sims MIA 33 -1.8 6.5 +0.6 37 Richard Rodgers GB 43 -0.7 8.7 -1.1
9 Ladarius Green PIT 32 2.8 11.7 +0.6 38 Zach Ertz PHI 98 -0.7 8.1 -1.1
10 Lance Kendricks LARM 76 -3.6 5.4 +0.5 39 Ryan Griffin HOU 70 -2.1 6.8 -1.1
11 Jimmy Graham SEA 92 -0.2 9.3 +0.3 40 Charles Clay BUF 85 -1.7 8.0 -1.2
12 Garrett Celek SF 47 0.9 9.4 +0.3 41 Trey Burton PHI 57 -0.3 7.9 -1.3
13 Eric Ebron DET 84 -1.3 7.9 +0.3 42 Cameron Brate TB 78 1.1 9.9 -1.4
14 Zach Miller CHI 62 -1.4 6.9 +0.3 43 Dennis Pitta BAL 116 -2.6 6.3 -1.4
15 Greg Olsen CAR 123 2.4 11.3 +0.2 44 Demetrius Harris KC 30 -1.5 6.6 -1.8
16 Jared Cook GB 49 1.8 10.2 +0.2 45 Tyler Higbee LARM 26 -3.1 6.7 -2.5

Simply put, Rob Gronkowski owns YAC+. This is the fourth time he has led the league in YAC+ in his seven-year career, and his +5.0 was his best mark yet. It is just so hard to bring the big guy down on first contact. Teammate Martellus Bennett did a respectable job by finishing fourth, but it's interesting that he had the lowest ALEX (-4.4) of all tight ends while Gronkowski (+6.1) had by far the highest. Dwayne Allen (-0.5 in YAC+) could try to keep that dynamic going this season when he debuts with the Patriots. Bennett left for Green Bay, which said goodbye to the barely-positive YAC+ Jared Cook, but Cook should be an upgrade in Oakland where Clive Walford did not do much to impress in his second season.

San Francisco's Vance McDonald stands out as much as anyone at No. 2, but that's largely due to plays of +55.8 and +57.6 against the Panthers and Saints. The only other tight end to have a +50.0 play in 2016 was Travis Kelce, who was +74.4 on a touchdown in the Week 16 massacre against Denver. Kelce has been one of the leaders in YAC+ for each of the last three seasons. Teammate Demetrius Harris, who is more of the blocking tight end, was next to last in 2016.

While Kelce is in that "Gronk mold," Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz does not have a great reputation of getting things done with the ball in his hands. Despite a position-best +11.4 in receiving plus-minus, Ertz was only 38th in YAC+, and this was his worst season yet after finishing at -0.5 YAC+ for each of the past three seasons. Ertz just doesn't break many tackles, and similar things can be said about teammate Trey Burton.

We mentioned O.J. Howard going to Tampa Bay was likely to push Cameron Brate down the depth chart. Brate was good last year, but making things happen after the catch isn't in his skill set. He's more of a Dennis Pitta type of tight end, and Pitta was definitely a few steps slower in his return to play last season for Baltimore. After another hip injury, Pitta's playing days are likely over for good.

Then we have the Rams again. While Lance Kendricks had poor receiving plus-minus numbers, he at least ranked 10th in YAC+. Tyler Higbee, however, may have just had the worst season by a tight end in the last decade. We don't want to put a ton of stock on 26 targets, which he may never see again in his career, but Higbee ranked dead last in DYAR, DVOA, receiving plus-minus, and YAC+ among 2016 tight ends.

The title of best tight end in Los Angeles (not that there's much competition for it) belongs to Hunter Henry now. The rookie scored eight touchdowns and finished fourth in DVOA, fifth in DYAR, 11th in receiving plus-minus, and fifth in YAC+. The succession plan to Antonio Gates is off to a great start.

2016 Running Backs

Since the running back numbers have a bit more spread to them, we listed all 50 qualified backs with at least 25 targets.

2016 Running Backs: YAC+ Rankings
Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+ Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+
1 Tevin Coleman ATL 37 -8.4 2.0 +5.3 26 Robert Turbin IND 33 -10.7 -1.1 0.5
2 Spencer Ware KC 41 -6.5 3.2 +4.7 27 LeSean McCoy BUF 55 -9.4 -0.3 0.4
3 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 38 -11.1 -0.3 +4.6 28 Terrence West BAL 41 -8.0 0.7 0.4
4 Damien Williams MIA 28 -5.2 3.4 +3.5 29 Theo Riddick DET 64 -8.7 0.4 0.3
5 Melvin Gordon SD 53 -9.0 0.4 +3.3 30 Mark Ingram NO 52 -8.4 0.6 0.2
6 Jordan Howard CHI 46 -9.1 0.9 +3.1 31 Kyle Juszczyk SF 44 -6.8 1.3 0.2
7 David Johnson ARI 109 -4.8 4.6 +2.3 32 James Starks GB 25 -10.7 -1.8 0.1
8 Fozzy Whittaker CAR 31 -9.4 0.5 +2.2 33 Charcandrick West KC 33 -8.2 1.2 0.1
9 Chris Ivory JAC 25 -9.1 0.2 +2.1 34 DeAngelo Williams PIT 27 -9.3 -0.3 0.0
10 Matt Forte NYJ 36 -9.1 -0.3 +1.9 35 Bilal Powell NYJ 70 -9.8 -0.6 0.0
11 Duke Johnson CLE 67 -7.9 1.9 +1.7 36 DeMarco Murray TEN 63 -8.7 0.7 -0.2
12 James White NE 81 -8.0 1.2 +1.7 37 Jeremy Langford CHI 25 -10.2 1.8 -0.2
13 Le'Veon Bell PIT 89 -9.7 -0.4 +1.6 38 Josh Ferguson IND 25 -10.8 -0.9 -0.4
Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+ Rk Player Team Passes ALEX Air YAC+
14 Devonta Freeman ATL 61 -8.9 1.3 +1.3 39 Chris Thompson WAS 59 -7.8 1.8 -0.5
15 Matt Asiata MIN 38 -9.2 0.2 +1.2 40 Jerick McKinnon MIN 52 -8.3 0.0 -0.6
16 Latavius Murray OAK 38 -10.5 -0.2 +1.0 41 T.J. Yeldon JAC 61 -10.3 -0.4 -0.6
17 Darren Sproles PHI 65 -9.0 0.5 +0.9 42 Lamar Miller HOU 36 -8.3 0.6 -0.6
18 Devontae Booker DEN 39 -8.7 1.6 +0.8 43 Travaris Cadet NO 50 -5.0 3.3 -0.7
19 Todd Gurley LARM 56 -8.3 1.0 +0.8 44 Rashad Jennings NYG 43 -11.1 -2.1 -0.7
20 Ty Montgomery GB 49 -7.7 0.8 +0.8 45 Carlos Hyde SF 33 -7.8 1.9 -1.2
21 Isaiah Crowell CLE 48 -10.1 -0.5 +0.8 46 Kenneth Dixon BAL 39 -10.6 -0.3 -1.4
22 Charles Sims TB 30 -7.6 2.3 +0.7 47 Jay Ajayi MIA 34 -7.7 1.4 -1.4
23 Frank Gore IND 45 -9.4 -0.3 +0.6 48 Jalen Richard OAK 37 -9.3 2.8 -2.0
24 Shaun Draughn SF 36 -6.0 4.0 +0.6 49 Christine Michael SEA/GB 26 -11.2 0.5 -2.0
25 Giovani Bernard CIN 48 -7.5 2.0 +0.5 50 Justin Forsett 3TM 25 -9.3 0.1 -2.4

As we said last year, the year-to-year correlation for YAC+ for running backs is only about 0.07 since 2006. It is closer to 0.30 for the other positions. Backs primarily catch a lot of short passes, so breaking tackles is more important here to pick up big YAC. We see the Atlanta backs and James White fared very well, which shouldn't be much of a surprise if you recall our Film Room look at the receiving backs in Super Bowl LI.

Jordan Howard dropped eight passes and had a terrible plus-minus for the Bears, but didn't do so bad once he actually had the ball in his hands. Ezekiel Elliott (+76.4) had the season's longest YAC+ play for a running back when he took a screen for an 83-yard touchdown against the Steelers.

Maybe just chalk it up to pure coincidence, but the two running backs on the table to play for multiple teams last year bring up the rear. Justin Forsett, who has been notoriously bad at YAC+, retired this offseason. Forsett was last in YAC+ in 2015 too. Christine Michael is seemingly always on the move, except when he gets in a real game and the production just doesn't materialize. He is currently on the Colts, who have three backs (Frank Gore, Josh Ferguson, and Robert Turbin) bunched together on this list.

Jay Ajayi didn't show a lot as a receiver last year, but Damien Williams picked up the slack in Miami. Williams actually ranked 54th out of 56 players in YAC+ in 2015, so his rise to fourth is the biggest jump this year.

2016 Quarterbacks

We saved the quarterbacks for last since YAC+ is more of a receiver-driven stat. In looking at the year-to-year correlations for qualified quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts, the correlation coefficient is 0.58 for plus-minus and 0.16 for YAC+. Again, YAC is far more volatile and more dependent on the receiver than the act of completing passes is, and the correlation of plus-minus being more than triple that of YAC+ should come as no surprise.

YAC+ for quarterbacks is really more of an indicator of the type of offense the quarterback runs and the talent in it rather than his individual performance level. Here are the 2016 results.

2016 Quarterbacks: YAC+ (Min. 200 Passes)
Player Team Passes +/- ALEX Avg PYD Avg YAC YAC+ Rk
Matt Ryan ATL 504 33.1 -0.5 8.8 6.1 +1.1 1
Philip Rivers SD 519 -0.4 -0.1 8.7 5.8 +1.0 2
Tom Brady NE 400 13.7 -0.7 7.9 6.0 +0.9 3
Colin Kaepernick SF 310 -16.2 -1.1 8.2 5.7 +0.5 4
Matthew Stafford DET 551 4.0 -1.3 7.4 5.8 +0.5 5
Alex Smith KC 464 0.8 -1.7 6.9 5.5 +0.3 6
Ryan Tannehill MIA 362 12.3 -0.9 8.2 5.5 +0.3 7
Dak Prescott DAL 434 15.4 -0.8 8.3 5.0 +0.3 8
Aaron Rodgers GB 565 18.5 0.1 8.7 5.1 +0.2 9
Drew Brees NO 630 36.5 -1.0 7.6 5.1 +0.2 10
Cam Newton CAR 463 -28.3 1.6 10.9 4.9 +0.2 11
Trevor Siemian DEN 430 0.4 0.2 9.1 4.9 +0.1 12
Kirk Cousins WAS 559 27.1 0.1 8.8 4.8 +0.1 13
Eli Manning NYG 569 -15.4 -0.8 7.8 5.3 +0.1 14
Andrew Luck IND 503 6.3 -0.3 8.6 4.9 0.0 15
Andy Dalton CIN 506 15.0 -1.0 7.9 5.1 0.0 16
Player Team Passes +/- ALEX Avg PYD Avg YAC YAC+ Rk
Case Keenum LARM 301 -11.6 -0.6 8.1 5.3 0.0 17
Blake Bortles JAC 581 -24.2 -0.1 8.4 5.1 -0.1 18
Marcus Mariota TEN 415 4.9 0.9 9.9 4.7 -0.1 19
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 491 -6.3 0.1 8.8 5.2 -0.1 20
Carson Palmer ARI 553 1.3 0.3 9.5 4.6 -0.1 21
Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ 373 -21.0 0.6 9.4 4.9 -0.2 22
Derek Carr OAK 529 -7.5 -1.3 7.8 5.1 -0.2 23
Sam Bradford MIN 517 28.4 -2.4 6.4 5.0 -0.3 24
Russell Wilson SEA 497 18.1 -0.8 8.6 5.0 -0.4 25
Joe Flacco BAL 621 -2.2 -1.5 7.5 4.8 -0.4 26
Matt Barkley CHI 207 -5.5 1.2 10.4 4.2 -0.5 27
Carson Wentz PHI 560 -10.0 -1.2 7.7 4.7 -0.6 28
Jameis Winston TB 528 3.2 1.1 10.4 3.9 -0.7 29
Tyrod Taylor BUF 398 2.9 0.1 9.3 4.2 -0.7 30
Brock Osweiler HOU 464 -12.5 0.2 8.8 4.0 -0.7 31

Matt Ryan's MVP season isn't a big surprise at the top given how Atlanta chewed up yards in such an efficient manner. Part of what offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did really well, before he botched the Super Bowl and left for the 49ers, was using screen passes. Atlanta's DVOA on wide receiver/tight end screens was 66.2%, the second highest in 2016 behind Dallas at 77.1%. Atlanta was also sixth in DVOA (55.6%) on running back screens. Tevin Coleman (+5.3) led all running backs in YAC+, while Taylor Gabriel (+1.9) would have led all wide receivers, but he missed the cut by one target.

The three quarterbacks at the bottom also make a lot of sense when you consider their primary receivers. Tyrod Taylor was next to last in 2015 too, his debut with Buffalo. We looked at Mike Evans earlier, but Sammy Watkins (granted, he missed half the season with injury) and DeAndre Hopkins have also been known to not generate much YAC.

Hopkins of course was stuck with Brock Osweiler, who has many issues, but accuracy is certainly competing for the top of the list. However, this really does look like more of a Bill O'Brien scheme issue, as well as some arguable shortcomings in team-building in Houston. Remember, Ryan Mallett (-1.6) had the worst YAC+ of any quarterback in a decade in 2015, and Brian Hoyer was also in the bottom four while running this offense. Now you throw in Osweiler's season, see that backup Tom Savage (-1.0) also would have brought up the rear, and it is only a wonder what type of numbers we will see from Clemson rookie Deshaun Watson in Houston. Hopkins is still the top receiver, the backs and tight ends are unremarkable, and Will Fuller is likely to get tackled after catching a deep ball, assuming he doesn't drop it first. Even Braxton Miller (-1.9) and Jaelen Strong (-2.5) had poor YAC+ numbers with Osweiler trying to throw short passes to them. There's a tired pun about Houston having a problem, but this has definitely been one for O'Brien's passing game.

For those curious about quarterbacks who did not meet the 200-pass minimum, here are a few notable names. Rookies Jared Goff (-0.4), Bryce Petty (-0.6), and Cody Kessler (-0.2) would rank below average, but Paxton Lynch (-1.3) would have been by far the worst in the league. In San Francisco, Blaine Gabbert (-0.7) was quite different from Colin Kaepernick (+0.5), even though each enjoyed one unexpected Vance McDonald jog. In Chicago, Brian Hoyer (+0.4) would have ranked sixth, while Jay Cutler (-0.4) was barely distinguishable from Matt Barkley (-0.5).

Then there was the AFC East and its two playoff teams. Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill ranked in the top eight, but their backups also fared well. Matt Moore (+2.4) had advanced stats that best Tannehill's career bests, albeit on 80 attempts, but he had a ton of YAC working in his favor. Jimmy Garoppolo (+0.2) was barely positive in his brief outing during Tom Brady's suspension, but Jacoby Brissett (+3.0) had a league-leading type of number on just 53 passes.

We'll end on Carson Wentz's rookie season, which finished fourth from the bottom despite the Eagles running that Andy Reid style of West Coast offense that had Alex Smith finish sixth in Kansas City. A lot of blame has gone to the Eagles' supporting cast, and in terms of YAC, we have seen that play out here with poor showings from the tight ends (Ertz and Burton), as well as two wide receivers in the bottom five. Nelson Agholor (-1.6) wasn't a surprise, but Jordan Matthews (-1.8) ranking next to last out of the slot sure was, especially since he was a plus-YAC+ receiver in his first two seasons. Darren Sproles (+0.9) fared better, but it's not good when your old receiving back is your best YAC receiver. Sproles had the only two YAC plays of more than 30 yards for the Eagles in 2016, and both came in that famed Pittsburgh win (Week 3) that led to a lot of premature hype over this team and its rookie quarterback. Wentz completed a rookie-record 379 passes, but only one dominant afternoon by Sproles picked up a lot of YAC for him over the 16-game season.

YAC can be a very unpredictable part of the game, but the Eagles did not exactly solve their issues by adding Alshon Jeffery (-0.7) and Torrey Smith (-1.2), two low-catch rate vertical receivers who are at their best when their quarterback gives them a chance down the field. Perhaps more big plays will be there for the Eagles in 2017, but for an offense built around YAC, those numbers for Wentz may not drastically change in Year Two.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 08 Jun 2017

13 comments, Last at 10 Jun 2017, 1:40pm by Vincent Verhei


by jtr :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 9:03am

I would be curious to see the average YAC for each catch distance that's used to normalize this. Not sure exactly what the curve would look like. My guess would be that the curve start high for the short stuff (screens and hitches), decline a little bit in slant and drive territory, bottom out at around 15 yards (where players make their breaks on comebacks, digs, and deep outs that aren't designed for YAC), then spike upward at deep ball territory where players are already behind the defense when they catch it.

by jtr :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 9:14am

Tavon Austin was the second-worst in the league at catching the ball (per +/-) and the eighth-worst in the league at actually doing anything with the ball in his hands (per YAC+). So of course the Rams fed him 100 targets last year. Can't let that kind of production go to waste.

by Vincent Verhei :: Sat, 06/10/2017 - 1:33am

Gotta justify that $7.8 million cap hit (which jumps to $15 million in 2017).

In other news, Julian Edelman just signed a new contract with a $7.4 million cap hit this year, $5.2 million next year.

Dumb teams gonna dumb. Smart teams gonna smart.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 9:28am

There seems to be a bit of missing the forest for the trees here.

YAC (and ALEX) are in significant part determined by Route. In the example of Gronkowski and Bennett, it's not surprising that they differ so greatly. Gronkowski catches a ton of balls on seam routes, where he's essentially running full speed downfield in a hole in the zone - those plays are usually going to have significant YAC. Bennett, on the other hand, was used a lot on short curls, comeback routes, etc - the sort of plays designed to get 6 yards on 3rd and 5.

It's also not surprising at all that the top 8 YAC quarterbacks all have negative ALEX.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 12:54pm

Yep, I'm imagining that routes is the explanation for what's wrong with Bill O'Brien's offense.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 2:43pm

True for the top eight this year, but then you also have guys like Carr and Bradford who were even lower in ALEX, but still near the bottom in YAC+. Generally, ALEX and YAC have correlation of -0.35, but ALEX and YAC+ is a tiny -0.08.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 12:33pm

Figured Q. Enunwa widul be top 10. Nice quality future Raider
Also makes sense Wallace and Landry top 10. Figure m
Thomas Saimts would be very high on lisut.

by ChrisS :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 3:04pm

What is the denominator in YAC+, passes which are shown or completions which I have to look up? Not sure construing means what you think it does in the sentence "Evans could often be seen construing his body to bring down wild balls from Jameis Winston."

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 06/09/2017 - 4:12pm

I would assume "construing" is an auto-correct of a mistyped "contorting"?

by Vincent Verhei :: Sat, 06/10/2017 - 1:44am

There's not a denominator in the formula. It's:

(Yards after catch) - (Expected yards after catch, based on pass distance)

Calculated for each catch one at a time, then averaged on a per-reception basis.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Sat, 06/10/2017 - 11:30am

Mike Evans at the bottom seems utterly logical considering his job is to be tall and strong and catch the ball while there are about nine defenders hanging on him, so I would have guessed near the bottom. Cameron Brate being low is more about, well, a lack of speed; the guy is smart enough to find a hole in a zone, and then that's it. He's not going anywhere. I recall a game near the end of the year where he actually went for YAC. It was shocking enough it's memorable.

by ChrisLong :: Sat, 06/10/2017 - 12:06pm

Can we get some analyses on what type of player characteristics or routes or (insert explanatory variables here) lead to more or less YAC+? These data are interesting, but the explanations for them feel rather lacking analytically. What does the charting data look like? Are routes classified? What about the accuracy of the pass? All of these would help distinguish between receivers being good at running after the catch, and receivers being set up to succeed in this area?

by Vincent Verhei :: Sat, 06/10/2017 - 1:40pm

This is the first year we have had access to route data, and we haven't had time to analyze it yet to see if there's anything useful there that pass distance data alone won't tell us. We have no info on the accuracy of the pass other than whether it was completed or not (or, if incomplete, why).