Stat Analysis
Advanced analytics on player and team performance

2019 Receiving Plus-Minus

New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

We continue our examination of the passing game with our annual look at receiving plus-minus. Earlier this week, we showed you passing plus-minus and noted that Drew Brees dominated the decade in that stat. Given that fact, and the fact that Michael Thomas led the league in targets by a landslide, you might assume that Thomas did well in the receiving version of the stat. You'd be correct, but that would be understating it.

Receiving plus-minus is a stat we annually track to help provide context to catch rate. Given the location of a quarterback's passes, it compares a receiver's catch rate in each area to historical baselines. This stat does not consider passes listed as "Thrown Away," "Tipped at Line," "Miscommunication," or "Quarterback Hit in Motion" by Sports Info Solutions charting. The odds of a pass being completed are based on the pass distance, the distance required for a first down, and whether the ball was thrown to the left, middle, or right side of the field. This is a counting stat, so more targets are obviously a great thing for the purposes of what we're talking about here.

For example, based on our formula, the average receiver would have caught 69.3% of the 179 targets that Brees threw to Thomas in 2019. Thomas caught 83.2% of them in. That gives him a receiving plus-minus of +24.9, which breaks the single-season record of +24.2 set last year by … Michael Thomas. Before last year, no one had ever hit +20.0, and now Thomas has threatened to hit 25 twice in two seasons.

Thomas also set a record this year for biggest gap between first and second place, a full +11.3 above the rest of the league. Thomas' massive target volume is, of course, a significant boon for any counting stat, but Saints quarterbacks had a 13.9% CPOE (completion percentage over expected) when targeting Thomas; that's better than any receiver with at least 35 targets last season. @Cantguardmike, indeed.

But Thomas has only been in the league four years. Yes, he has become the second receiver since 2006 to hit at least a +10.0 plus/minus in four years, and the first to do it in four consecutive seasons, but where does that put him on the decade's leaderboards? Well, before we tackle that, we should look at the fleet of receivers trying (and failing) to catch up to him in 2019.


Wide Receivers

A total of 81 wide receivers qualified for this list, but we'll just show the top and bottom rankings to save space here. Each receiver's plus-minus can be found in Football Outsiders Almanac 2020.

Top/Bottom 15 WR by Rec +/-, 2019
Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-   Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-
Michael Thomas NO 179 83.2% +24.9 Jamison Crowder NYJ 118 66.1% -3.4
Tyler Lockett SEA 108 75.9% +13.6 Tyler Boyd CIN 139 64.7% -3.4
Chris Godwin TB 114 75.4% +11.6 Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB 51 51.0% -3.4
Stefon Diggs MIN 90 70.0% +9.0 Zach Pascal IND 69 59.4% -3.6
Keenan Allen LAC 145 71.7% +8.5 Dede Westbrook JAX 97 68.0% -4.0
Calvin Ridley ATL 89 70.8% +8.3 Chris Conley JAX 87 54.0% -4.4
Will Fuller HOU 68 72.1% +7.8 DaeSean Hamilton DEN 47 59.6% -4.6
DeAndre Hopkins HOU 147 70.7% +7.5 John Ross CIN 55 50.9% -4.6
Amari Cooper DAL 119 66.4% +6.2 Sammy Watkins KC 85 61.2% -4.8
Marvin Jones DET 90 68.9% +6.0 Golden Tate NYG 81 60.5% -5.1
Kenny Stills HOU 53 75.5% +5.4 Odell Beckham CLE 128 57.8% -5.5
Tyreek Hill KC 85 68.2% +4.6 Curtis Samuel CAR 103 52.4% -6.0
John Brown BUF 113 63.7% +4.6 Alex Erickson CIN 74 58.1% -6.9
Julio Jones ATL 152 65.1% +4.5 Auden Tate CIN 77 51.9% -8.3
Cooper Kupp LAR 127 74.0% +4.4 Jarius Wright CAR 56 50.0% -8.4

There are a lot of repeats from 2018 on this list. Thomas and Tyler Lockett again finish one-two, though Lockett couldn't quite match his hyper-efficiency of two years ago when he was +17.7 on just 65 targets. Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill, and Julio Jones also return from last season; the best of the best receivers tend to score high in this metric year after year.

Hopkins and Diggs, of course, will be changing teams in 2020, which will be very interesting to watch. They're going from Deshaun Watson and Kirk Cousins, two of the 10 most accurate passers by plus-minus, to Kyler Murray (midpack) and Josh Allen (very near the bottom), so it will be very interesting to see which can pull harder, the receiver or the quarterback. It should be noted, to be fair, that Allen did have a receiver on this list -- John Brown, the only Buffalo receiver to put up a positive plus/minus. That's interesting since Allen's overall deep passing numbers were poor.

Brown is especially notable because he was actually in the bottom 15 two years ago. His catch rate of 63.7% may have been the lowest of any of the top wideouts, but his expected catch rate was just 59.7%. Brown was the only Bills receiver with a positive plus/minus; he's almost solely responsible for Allen's numbers improving from 2018 to 2019. Add in Diggs as a second deep threat and the Bills might have something put together.

Chris Godwin is the highest-scoring newcomer on this list, basically flip-flopping plus/minus scores with Mike Evans -- they went from +1.2 and +10.3 in 2018 to +11.6 and +1.1 last season, respectively. It is rare for a double-digit plus/minus season to be a fluke. Only 40 receivers have done it since 2006, and there's really not a terrible name in the bunch. Some are future Hall of Famers while others topped out as either solid options or had their careers cut short by injuries, but there are no duds on the list; Godwin's coming-out party in 2019 was for real. If you remember correctly, Godwin also ranked fourth in YAC+, joining Cooper Kupp as the only players to hit the top 15 in both indexes -- exceptional at catching passes and exceptional with the ball in their hands. With talent like Godwin and Evans, you can see why Tom Brady was drawn to Tampa Bay.

The Texans had three receivers in the top 15, though that wasn't quite enough to knock off the Saints as the top plus-minus team among wideouts. With Hopkins leaving, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills will have a ton more on their plate and will have to keep the same level of efficiency up if the Texans offense isn't going to skip a beat. We do expect it to skip several beats, but at least they had a number of options make the list.

Generally, the bottom of the list features a lot more turnover than the top; if you can't catch, you don't get a second chance to prove you can't catch. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is 2019's exception, just squeaking past the 50-target requirement to put up his second consecutive negative-figure season. The Packers' problems went beyond just Valdes-Scantling, of course; Geronimo Allison just missed the table at -3.1 and even the usually solid Davante Adams barely ending up on the positive side of the ledger at +0.3.

The race for the bottom was a close one, with the Bengals giving their all to get someone to the basement. Four different receivers in the bottom 15 is unheard of; their combined -28.7 plus/minus is the worst we've seen since the 2016 Jets. Joe Burrow has his work cut out for him. But Auden Tate couldn't quite catch Jarius Wright to take last place, as Wright couldn't catch anything. The average receiver would have caught 65.1% of passes thrown Wright's way; that's a -15.1% CPOE. Blame some of that on Carolina's passer situation, but there's a reason Wright is unemployed as of time of writing. Dude dropped six of his 36 catchable balls; that's no bueno.

But we started this section by hinting about Thomas' place on the all-decade list, and, well...

Top/Bottom 15 WR by Rec +/-, 2010s
Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-   Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-
Michael Thomas NO 583 80.6% +75.3 Kenbrell Thompkins NE/OAK/NYJ 144 48.6% -18.9
Jordy Nelson GB/OAK 794 70.3% +67.7 Zay Jones BUF/OAK 209 52.6% -19.3
Antonio Brown PIT/NE 1235 68.3% +62.4 Chris Givens STL/BAL 219 48.9% -20.2
Julio Jones ATL 1204 66.2% +55.0 Vincent Jackson SD/TB 641 53.5% -20.3
Doug Baldwin SEA 700 71.3% +50.7 Mike Williams TB/BUF 408 54.4% -21.6
Keenan Allen SD/LAC 729 71.9% +42.4 Brandon LaFell CAR/NE/CIN/OAK 664 61.1% -22.3
Tyler Lockett SEA 374 74.3% +41.8 Quincy Enunwa NYJ 208 57.2% -22.4
Stefon Diggs MIN 500 73.0% +40.9 Denarius Moore OAK/BUF 279 50.9% -22.6
Adam Thielen MIN 446 72.4% +40.6 Torrey Smith BAL/SF/PHI/CAR 605 53.1% -22.6
Brandin Cooks NO/NE/LAR 595 67.9% +37.9 Early Doucet ARI 196 55.1% -23.0
Marques Colston NO 624 68.3% +36.2 Kelvin Benjamin CAR/BUF/KC 393 53.2% -23.3
DeSean Jackson PHI/WAS/TB 764 62.0% +32.8 Greg Little CLE/CIN 301 54.2% -26.1
Randall Cobb GB/DAL 723 72.8% +31.4 Tavon Austin STL/LAR/DAL 352 61.9% -29.2
A.J. Green CIN 966 62.3% +28.7 Andre Roberts 6TM 449 57.2% -29.7
Lance Moore NO/PIT/DET 382 68.8% +27.8 Cecil Shorts JAX/HOU/TB 421 54.4% -36.0

In just four years, Thomas has outdone the totals of any other receiver this decade, with his 2019 season enough to clinch the decade's crown. More to the point, 2019 Thomas alone would have ranked 21st on the list, with 2018 Thomas immediately behind him at 22nd. Yes, Thomas has obviously been helped by his system and having Drew Brees throwing to him; seven different Saints receivers crack the top 50 (Thomas, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem, and Willie Snead). And yes, Thomas racks up a lot of volume, allowing him to climb the leaderboards quickly. But the raw totals really speak for themselves; Brees-to-Thomas is the most guaranteed connection in the sport right now, and it's not particularly close.


Tight Ends

Qualifiers for 2019 will need just 25 targets:

Top/Bottom 10 TE by Rec +/-, 2019
Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-   Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-
Travis Kelce KC 127 76.4% +11.5 Vance McDonald PIT 54 70.4% -2.5
Darren Waller OAK 115 78.3% +9.5 Logan Thomas DET 26 61.5% -2.5
George Kittle SF 105 81.0% +9.0 Jesse James DET 25 64.0% -2.7
Austin Hooper ATL 92 81.5% +8.9 Jeremy Sprinkle WAS 40 65.0% -3.0
Kyle Rudolph MIN 45 86.7% +7.3 Demetrius Harris CLE 27 55.6% -3.9
Tyler Higbee LAR 86 80.2% +7.0 Evan Engram NYG 66 66.7% -4.0
Will Dissly SEA 26 88.5% +5.5 Jack Doyle IND 67 64.2% -4.4
Hunter Henry LAC 76 72.4% +4.9 Ian Thomas CAR 29 55.2% -4.6
Ryan Griffin NYJ 40 85.0% +4.5 Dawson Knox BUF 49 57.1% -4.9
Jason Witten DAL 82 76.8% +3.7 T.J. Hockenson DET 58 55.2% -8.7

Travis Kelce finished first in this metric as a rookie in 2014 before we were writing yearly articles. For years, his +9.9 that season was his career high, but he broke that this season on his way to leading the position once again. He's only the third tight end to finish first in this category multiple times since 2006, joining Antonio Gates and Rob Gronkowski. Not bad company to keep, there. He may have had the lowest catch rate of the top five tight ends on the table, but he's used far more as a deep threat than any of the other four, with an average depth of target of 9.1 -- George Kittle, Austin Hooper, and Kyle Rudolph are all in the 6-yard range, and Darren Waller only hit 7.4.

Kelce, Hooper, and Rudolph are the three returning figures from last year's top 10, with Hooper turning in his fourth consecutive season with a catch rate at least 9.2% above expected. He now has an 80.1% catch rate in his career, which is the most for any tight end with at least 103 qualified targets. It's incredibly annoying that that stat can't be an even 100, but the tail end of Eric Johnson's career had him with an 80.4% completion rate on 102 targets; no one else even comes close. I suppose Hooper will have to settle for being the highest-paid tight end in the league for now. Cleveland got negative plus/minus from both David Njoku and Demetrius Harris, so Baker Mayfield should benefit significantly from getting to hang with Mr. Hooper.

Technically, there is one more player on this list returning from 2018, but he's returning from the bottom of the list. Two years ago, George Kittle finished fifth-worst in plus/minus at -3.9 -- mostly based on the sheer volume of his 130 targets, but he was a little below average at actually hauling passes in. Well, he worked out those kinks last season to finish third, because why not add great hands to everything else he does. For his career, Kittle now has a +9.2 plus-minus with Jimmy Garoppolo, and a -4.3 plus-minus with everyone else, though oddly his YAC+ is lower with Garoppolo that it was with the motley crew he dealt with in his first two seasons.

The Lions ended up dead last in here by a country mile, with a combined -14.3 plus/minus finishing well, well below Washington's -8.1. T.J. Hockenson alone was worse than the entire Washington lineup combined, boldly leading the Lions to the second-worst tight end total we've recorded behind the 2006 Packers and the case of Bubba Franks forgetting how to catch. Like any Lions stat this season, however, you do have to split this into targets thrown by Matthew Stafford and those thrown by anyone else, as the quarterback's injury derailed the entire offense. Lions tight ends had a -4.0 plus/minus with Stafford and a -10.3 without him on roughly equivalent attempts. That doesn't quite give Hockenson a free pass, mind you -- he was at -3.1 with Stafford and -5.6 without him. If you just project his season-long totals with his Stafford-split catch rate, he would have finished at -4.86, just hundredths behind Dawson Knox's -4.89.

Jason Witten also makes what may well be his last appearance in the top 10 here, as even in his twilight he's still a better tight end than broadcaster. Unlike Michael Thomas, he didn't need 2019 to ensure he stayed atop the 2010s plus/minus table; he was firmly entrenched there the whole time.

Top/Bottom 10 TE by Rec +/-, 2010s
Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-   Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-
Jason Witten DAL 920 75.2% +59.1 Garrett Graham HOU 163 61.3% -11.9
Rob Gronkowski NE 761 68.6% +40.4 Jeff Cumberland NYJ 156 56.4% -12.1
Travis Kelce KC 682 74.3% +38.8 Kellen Davis CHI/SEA/DET/NYJ 90 48.9% -12.6
Zach Ertz PHI 728 72.0% +32.9 Vance McDonald SF/PIT 256 64.8% -12.7
Antonio Gates SD/LAC 677 70.3% +32.2 Evan Engram NYG 237 64.6% -12.9
Tony Gonzalez ATL 450 72.4% +29.6 Dallas Clark IND/TB/BAL 238 62.6% -13.1
Vernon Davis SF/DEN/WAS 593 67.8% +26.8 Lance Kendricks STL/LAR/GB/LAC 363 67.2% -14.5
Austin Hooper ATL 267 80.1% +25.7 Ricky Seals-Jones ARI/CLE 118 50.8% -14.9
Heath Miller PIT 472 74.2% +25.1 Demetrius Harris KC/CLE 125 55.2% -17.6
Jimmy Graham NO/SEA/GB 957 67.9% +23.7 Marcedes Lewis JAX/GB 437 61.8% -28.0

How on earth did Kellen Davis manage -12.6 on 90 targets? What in the name of Jay Cutler was happening in Chicago in the early 2010s?


2019 Running Backs

Again, qualifiers need just 25 targets.

Top/Bottom 10 RB by Rec +/-, 2019
Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-   Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-
Austin Ekeler LAC 104 88.5% +8.7 Rex Burkhead NE 38 71.1% -2.6
Devonta Freeman ATL 64 92.2% +6.9 Tarik Cohen CHI 102 77.5% -2.7
Alvin Kamara NO 92 88.0% +6.2 Nick Chubb CLE 46 78.3% -2.7
Christian McCaffrey CAR 135 85.9% +5.5 Tevin Coleman SF 29 72.4% -3.1
Le'Veon Bell NYJ 75 88.0% +4.7 Leonard Fournette JAX 96 79.2% -3.2
DeAndre Washington OAK 39 92.3% +4.2 Kenyan Drake MIA/ARI 64 78.1% -3.5
Jalen Richard OAK 41 87.8% +4.0 Phillip Lindsay DEN 46 76.1% -4.3
Mark Ingram BAL 28 92.9% +3.6 Giovanni Bernard CIN 42 71.4% -4.3
Kareem Hunt CLE 42 88.1% +3.4 Duke Johnson HOU 62 71.0% -4.5
Royce Freeman DEN 48 89.6% +3.3 Todd Gurley LAR 46 67.4% -6.5

Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey were in a league of their own on the receiving tables last year. McCaffrey ended up with the DYAR crown, but Ekeler has now taken the lead in both YAC+ and receiving plus/minus. Both will be significant assets to their new quarterbacks in 2020. The big question around Ekeler is how he'll do now that Melvin Gordon is gone. During Gordon's holdout, Ekeler lined up in the backfield more often and saw his average depth of target go down, running more running back routes than wide receiver routes. During those four weeks, 26 passes were thrown at him. One resulted in defensive pass interference. One was batted down at the line of scrimmage. He caught the other 24. We suspect that he'll do just fine being asked to come out of the backfield more often in 2020.

McCaffrey's improved rushing in 2019 did not come at the expense of his receiving skills; he joins Alvin Kamara and Jalen Richard as returnees from 2018's top tables. Richard is not someone who generally springs to mind when you list top receiving backs in the NFL, and his negative receiving DVOA backs that up. That's mostly because he doesn't do much with the ball in his hands, however; when it comes to actually catching the ball, quarterbacks have had a 4.9% CPOE when targeting him. If he doesn't end up making the Raiders' final roster, he may be of use to someone.

And speaking of people who may be of use to someone, Devonta Freeman is unsigned as of time of writing, and just lost his agent, probably due to turning down on offer from Seattle back in May. He's coming off some poor overall seasons, but he can still catch the ball; if there's room in a Shanahan-style system, he can still contribute. Signing free agents is weird in this COVID-filled world, but he's a name to watch as training camps get going. If training camps get going.

Tarik Cohen makes a move from the top table in 2018 to the bottom of the table last season. Some of this can be blamed on Cohen getting an increased number of dump-offs and emergency throws targeted behind the line of scrimmage, not all of them super accurately. Still, while you can pin a lot of the blame on a poor season from Mitchell Trubisky, sometimes you do have to catch those non-perfectly thrown balls and turn them into something … less negative, at the very least.

And then, at the very bottom, we have Todd Gurley -- along with Nick Chubb, one of two returnees in this year's bottom 10. Gurley was the only qualified running back to catch less than 70% of his targets in 2019, and it's not like he was asked to run a particularly challenging set of routes; his expected catch rate of 81.4% was 0.3% higher than the league average for running backs. With the exception of that 2017 season that earned him the $60-million extension from the Rams, Gurley has had a negative receiving plus/minus every year of his career, though 2019 saw him fall off a cliff onto several other, smaller cliffs, which he proceeded to fall off in turn. There's hope that an improved offensive line in Atlanta can see Gurley's running skills return but please, don't throw him the ball.

Atlanta has seen plenty of success throwing the ball to running backs over the past decade, which is the thin excuse we're going to use to segue into the decade-long tables.

Top/Bottom 10 RB by Rec +/-, 2010s
Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-   Player Team Targets Catch Rate +/-
Pierre Thomas NO/SF/WAS 276 90.6% +24.3 Todd Gurley STL/LAR 280 77.9% -10.4
Devonta Freeman ATL 299 86.0% +19.7 Carlos Hyde SF/CLE/JAX/HOU 176 74.4% -10.5
Danny Woodhead NYJ/NE/SD/BAL 355 82.8% +18.5 David Johnson ARI 287 72.8% -11.1
Alvin Kamara NO 283 85.9% +18.1 Fred Jackson BUF/SEA 322 77.3% -11.1
LeSean McCoy PHI/BUF/KC 547 85.6% +17.7 Jamaal Charles KC/DEN/JAX 320 76.3% -12.5
Mark Ingram NO/BAL 289 87.9% +17.4 Chris Ivory NO/NYJ/JAX/BUF 142 75.4% -12.5
Jacquizz Rodgers ATL/CHI/TB 250 86.8% +15.1 Doug Martin TB/OAK 202 73.3% -12.6
Jason Snelling ATL 147 87.8% +13.1 Jordan Howard CHI/PHI 115 71.3% -13.1
DeMarco Murray DAL/PHI/TEN 358 85.8% +12.8 Bilal Powell NYJ 283 74.9% -14.7
Le'Veon Bell PIT/NYJ 451 83.6% +11.6 Frank Gore SF/IND/MIA/BUF 326 75.2% -19.1

The NFC South knows how to use their running backs, don't they? Also, take a photograph -- there are not many statistics where you'll see a potential Hall of Fame player dead last, but there's Frank Gore. Whatever your position on his eventual Canton status is, we can safely assume it does not hinge on his ability, or lack thereof, to catch footballs.

Comments

20 comments, Last at 20 Jul 2020, 10:00pm

1 seven different Saints…

seven different Saints receivers crack the top 50 (Thomas, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem, and Willie Snead). -- NO also adds a TE and 3 RBs

How many receivers have multiple top seasons with different QBs?

5 That's going to depend what…

That's going to depend what you mean by "top seasons", but here are the 17 receivers over the past decade who have had 50+ targets and at least +5.0 plus/minus with more than one quarterback:

Michael Thomas (Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater)
Jordy Nelson (Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr)
Stefon Diggs (Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford and Case Keenum)
Adam Thielen (Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford and Case Keenum)
Brandin Cooks (Drew Brees and Jared Goff)
Tyreek Hill (Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes)
DeAndre Hopkins (Deshaun Watson and Ryan Fitzpatrick)
Greg Jennings (Aaron Rodgers and Teddy Bridgewater)
Golden Tate (Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson)
Kenny Stills (Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson)
Emmanuel Sanders (Peyton Manning and Case Keenum)
Rishard Matthews (Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill)
Jeremy Maclin (Alex Smith and Michael Vick)
Robert Woods (Kyle Orton and Tyrod Taylor)
Brandon Marshall (Jay Cutler, Chad Henne and Ryan Fitzpatrick)
Jermaine Kearse (Russell Wilson and Josh McCown)
John Brown (Carson Palmer and Josh Allen)

Tight ends would add:
Jason Witten (Tony Romo and Dak Prescott)
Travis Kelce (Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes)
Zach Ertz (Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford)
Vernon Davis (Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick)
Delanie Walker (Marcus Mariota and Ryan Fitzpatrick)
Kyle Rudolph (Kirk Cousins, Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum)

No running back has pulled off the feat with 50+ targets, because finding backs with 50 targets is rare enough, much less really good ones, much less ones that have had a chance with multiple quarterbacks.

 

9 Chicago QB's

Woods did it in Buffalo; Marshall with 2 different teams, only one of which is Chicago.

(I'm not a Bears fan, either. I just made a joke to my coworker who is a Bears' fan: he tossed something to me that 1--I didn't know he was throwing, much less to me; 2--it went about 2 feet over my head; 3--it landed 5 feet past me, even though he was about 3 feet away from me. He joked that I can't catch, and I told him he throws like a Bears' QB.)

11 No running back has pulled…

No running back has pulled off the feat with 50+ targets, because finding backs with 50 targets is rare enough, much less really good ones, much less ones that have had a chance with multiple quarterbacks.

Funny that next year alone might give us two in McCaffrey and Ekeler

2 SD/LAC This is confusing…

SD/LAC

This is confusing nomenclature in this context, as this doesn't represent a team change. Can we just call it SD (LA doesn't want them anyway), or something like CHA?

4 Volume helps, but…

Volume helps, but quarterbacks had a 6.4% CPOE throwing to Witten, and a 5.3% CPOE throwing to Gronk.

It is very, very on brand that Gronkowski caught 69% of his targets, but even at his depth, that's a lower CPOE than Witten or Kelce or Gonzalez.  Still very, very good, mind you, but not quite at the top.

7 When I first ran the numbers…

When I first ran the numbers and saw the bottom of the table, I saw that "D.Johnson" was second from the bottom, and I leapt to "oh, geez, that Houston trade was worse than I thought if David Johnson can't catch anymore!" 

Thankfully I figured out the confusion before actually writing the column; that coulda been embarrassing.

12 Mistake?

"... average receiver would have caught 69.3% of the 179 targets that Brees threw to Thomas in 2019. Thomas caught 83.2% of them in. That gives him a receiving plus-minus of +24.9,"

If that is supposed to be a simple subtraction, and there's no typo in the percentages, then his +/- should be 23.9

13 Um--yeah, your mistake

In reply to by serutan

83.2-69.3=13.9, not 23.9

However, 179 targets * 13.9%=24.88, rounding to 24.9.

Edit--the 83.2 is actually 83.24; that would make the difference 13.94%; however, since the total would be 24.95, rounding to 25.0, and they report it as 24.9, I am guessing that the 69.3 may be 69.3x (0<x<5), so that the difference is less than 13.94%, where the plus/minus still rounds down to 24.9. Or, they just are using one decimal place for the actual and expected completion percentages.

15 You're correct with both the…

You're correct with both the calculation and the decimal point jiggerypokery, Joseph.

Technically, an average receiver would have caught 69.3458497753924...% of Thomas' targets, while he in fact caught 83.240223463671...% (or 149/179ths, to be exactly exact), and the difference is 13.8943736882947...%.  Over 179 targets, that's a plus/minus of 24.8709289020476...

We keep all those decimals for precise ranking purposes, but if I tried to give Vince a table with twenty decimal points per column to post, he'd probably powerbomb me.

16 The best technical…

The best technical interpretation of the stat is really "an average receiver attempting to receive a pass thrown by an average quarterback", right?

Because 69% would be a large drop from Brees' personal mean.

18 An average receiver…

An average receiver attempting to receive a pass thrown by an average quarterback in those particular circumstances -- distance, direction, relation to the first down marker, etc.

From the earlier passing plus-minus, the average quarterback would have been expected to complete 71.3% of Brees' passes overall, so the passes to Thomas were more difficult than the average Brees pass.  That's mostly a factor of running back targets, however; the average Brees pass to a wideout would have been expected to be completed 67.8% of the time, so Brees' targets to Thomas were more likely to be completed than, say, his targets to Ted Ginn or Tre'Quan Smith.

So, yeah, having Brees boosts Michael Thomas' numbers, but having Thomas boosts Drew Brees' numbers.  Still, Brees has been putting up great numbers long before Thomas came to town, and Thomas has outdone what any previous Brees receiver has done, so it's fairly safe to say that neither looks good solely because of the other.

19 Having studied economics, I…

Having studied economics, I am left with the conclusion that we may never accurately quantify receiver qbs in isolation with any degree of sufficient precision. Not only do they benefit one another, the augment the scheme because each has particular skillset. Take Michael Thomas off the Saints and they will play differently. 

20 Your last paragraph & phrase

"So, yeah, having Brees boosts Michael Thomas' numbers, but having Thomas boosts Drew Brees' numbers. Still, Brees has been putting up great numbers long before Thomas came to town, and Thomas has outdone what any previous Brees receiver has done, so it's fairly safe to say that neither looks good solely because of the other."

This is the key in the comparisons of great QB/WR combos. It is almost never that the QB is making the WR better, nor the WR making the QB better. They both make each other greater. Obviously, sometimes we don't get to see that because two players' careers are so closely intertwined. 

14 Generalization

It is interesting how many of those on the plus side have good QB's and many on the minus side do not.