2019 YAC+

Tennessee Titans WR A.J. Brown
Tennessee Titans WR A.J. Brown
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

It's July, which means it's time for our annual airing out of our statistical database, starting with our look at the passing game.  The goal of these upcoming articles is to put standard passing and receiving stats in context, adjusting them for based on context -- how likely was a given pass to be completed?  How likely was a given play to earn big yards after the catch?  And which players routinely outperformed what the averages would predict?  We're doing things a little differently this year, and starting with our look at the best receivers with the ball in their hands in our annual look at YAC+.

What is YAC+? This description is from the upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2020, where every player with his own table will have both 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 due to variations in YAC stemming from the routes the receivers run, 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.

This year's data is especially exciting, for a number of reasons. First, the three-year reign of Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay quarterbacks atop the table is over, with a brand-new offensive coordinator reviving what had looked like a moribund career and bringing it to the very top. Secondly, exciting young players abounded last season, with three rookies ending up in the top five for receivers. And thirdly, one of those rookies ended up breaking the all-time record for YAC+ -- or, at least, going back to 2006, which is how far back our database goes.

If you had had to guess which rookie receiver would have a historic YAC season in 2019, Deebo Samuel would have been a very good guess. The 49ers broke the all-time YAC+ record in 2018 at +1.8 and were the league leaders again in 2019 at +1.2. Samuel has always had great vision and speed with the ball in his hands, and putting him in the Shanahan system is almost unfair. But you would be wrong; Samuel finished second in the league with +2.4 YAC+. That would have led the league in 2018, but didn't come with spitting distance of our champion.

If you had to guess which rookie receiver would have a historic YAC season in 2019, Hunter Renfrow would not have been a very good guess. As a Day 3 pick, there was no guarantee Renfrow would even see the field very often, and his scouting report suggested that he was lacking in explosive athletic traits. Still, an opening surprisingly opened up in the Raiders' receiver corps when Antonio Brown Antonio Browned all over the place, and Renfrow took the opportunity and ran with it, much like he did with the football all season long. His +1.8 YAC+ would have led rookie receivers in most seasons and still was enough to get him into the top five in 2019. But he's not our champion either.

Instead, it's fitting that the one to bring down a titanic mark was a Titans player. 2019 was the year of A.J. Brown.

2019 Wide Receivers

A total of 81 wide receivers qualified this season, but we'll just show 20 from the top and bottom of the rankings to save space here.

2019 Wide Receivers: Top 20 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
1 A.J. Brown TEN 83 4.1 13.2 +4.4
2 Deebo Samuel SF 79 -1.8 7.5 +2.4
3 John Ross CIN 55 6.8 15.7 +2.3
4 Chris Godwin TB 114 1.0 10.5 +2.0
5 Hunter Renfrow OAK 66 -1.0 7.2 +1.8
6 Zach Pascal IND 69 2.4 11.4 +1.6
7 Randall Cobb DAL 82 1.8 9.9 +1.5
8 Chris Conley JAX 87 5.5 14.6 +1.1
9 Golden Tate NYG 81 1.0 9.8 +1.1
10 Michael Gallup DAL 108 4.3 12.9 +1.1
11 Cooper Kupp LAR 127 -1.4 7.3 +1.0
12 Sammy Watkins KC 85 0.6 9.7 +0.9
13 Cole Beasley BUF 100 -1.1 8.2 +0.8
14 Corey Davis TEN 66 3.7 12.4 +0.8
15 Robert Woods LAR 129 -0.5 8.6 +0.7
16 Alex Erickson CIN 74 -0.2 8.9 +0.7
17 Courtland Sutton DEN 112 3.0 11.8 +0.6
18 Kenny Golladay DET 111 7.1 15.5 +0.6
19 Jarvis Landry CLE 129 1.6 10.3 +0.5
20 Demaryius Thomas NYJ 56 1.6 10.2 +0.5


2019 Wide Receivers: Bottom 20 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
62 Julian Edelman NE 149 0.1 9.6 -1.1
63 Breshad Perriman TB 64 7.7 17.0 -1.1
64 Tyler Lockett SEA 108 3.1 12.7 -1.1
65 John Brown BUF 113 5.1 14.6 -1.2
66 Albert Wilson MIA 60 -3.1 5.3 -1.2
67 Sterling Shepard NYG 83 1.4 9.9 -1.2
68 Mohmaned Sanu 2TM 87 -1.3 7.7 -1.3
69 Phillip Dorsett NE 53 4.3 13.6 -1.3
70 Jarius Wright CAR 56 2.2 10.6 -1.3
71 Curtis Samuel CAR 103 6.5 14.8 -1.5
72 Alshon Jeffery PHI 71 3.2 11.3 -1.5
73 Kenny Stills HOU 53 2.1 10.4 -1.5
74 Russell Gage ATL 70 -3.3 7.1 -1.5
75 Preston Williams MIA 58 5.0 14.3 -1.8
76 Calvin Ridley ATL 89 3.9 13.5 -1.9
77 Allen Robinson CHI 151 2.7 11.2 -1.9
78 Nelson Agholor PHI 63 3.7 11.7 -2.0
79 Marvin Jones DET 90 4.6 13.2 -2.1
80 Geronimo Allison GB 53 -1.4 7.7 -2.2
81 Ted Ginn NO 55 6.9 16.2 -2.3

A +4.4 mark for A.J. Brown is incredible. The previous record belonged to Devery Henderson, who had a +4.0 in 2008. And Henderson just barely qualified for the tables that season, with just 50 receptions; small sample sizes can bring with them exceptional results. The previous record for a player with at least 75 targets belonged to Greg Jennings, who put up marks of +3.0 and +3.5 in 2006 and 2007. Those were the only two years in our database where a wide receiver had at least +3.0 YAC+ and 75 targets. These are not supposed to be obtainable numbers.

You can credit Arthur Smith's use of play-action for some of Brown's numbers, but that alone doesn't get someone to shatter a record. It also isn't a factor of switching from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill; while Tannehill was more successful overall (we'll get to him), Brown actually had a +5.0 YAC+ from Mariota, outpacing his Tannehill numbers in a smaller sample size. Brown's ability to navigate his routes towards gaps in the coverage and then use his speed and balance to burst into open space would make him a big-play threat no matter who was throwing him the ball.

It's fun to look at Brown and Samuel together, as the two rookies were such extreme outliers. They both averaged over 8.0 YAC per reception (8.9 for Brown, 8.3 for Samuel); no other wide receiver even managed to hit 7.0. They just did it in very different ways. If you look at passes 5 yards downfield or less, Samuel easily leads the league with +2.1 YAC+, compared to Brown's +1.3. Samuel's game is catching those quick passes in open space and then racing upfield; that's the point of that offense. You can see Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods joining Samuel with high YAC+ and low depth of targets, as that's what drives the Shanahan/McVay system. But Brown takes a significant lead in the 6- to 15-yard range (+5.8 to +3.5) and the 15-plus-yard range (+6.4 to +0.6). Those deepest shots are what ensure that Brown would shatter the record, but those tremendous results in the intermediate game should be what sets Titans' fans salivating; that's a higher sample size and is typically more consistent from year to year.

Intermediate passes typically have the lowest YAC; they're too long to give the receiver the space to pick their way through the front seven, but too short to go over the top of the secondary. Brown is the first wide receiver since 2014 Golden Tate to top 9.5 YAC per catch in the difficult 6- to 10-yard zone (minimum 15 targets; we're talking about small sample sizes here) … which makes Hunter Renfrow averaging 11.6 YAC on 14 targets there all the more impressive. All three rookies were tremendous at what they excelled at; the much-lauded 2020 class of wideouts have a heck of an act to follow.

There are plenty of other headlines we could have grabbed here, if it hadn't been for Brown and the rooks. Chris Godwin is the first receiver to hit +2.0 on at least 100 targets since 2014 Randall Cobb. Tom Brady must be salivating over getting to throw to Godwin rather than the three Patriots who appear in the bottom 20. The redemption of John Ross, who ranked 72nd last year, is another one; his half-season around his broken collarbone finally saw him translate some of his blazing speed into actual production. Jarvis Landry is in a similar, if less extreme boat.

Then there's the issue of year-to-year consistency, or lack of it. YAC+ always has a decent amount of variance in it; a few big plays here or there can have significant impacts on a player's final numbers. But typically, somewhere between six and 10 of each year's top 20 make return visits the following season. Not last year, though -- only Cooper Kupp, Sammy Watkins, and Kenny Golladay found their way back into the top 20. Nearly as many went from the top 20 all the way to the bottom 20 (Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley). This is most likely a combination of weird splits happening, the arrival of so many high-scoring rookies, and the unfortunate situations the top of last year's list found themselves in -- Josh Gordon suspended again, D.J. Moore losing his quarterback, Quincy Enunwa suffering a possible career-ending injury, and so on. Still, it's worth noting that the leaderboard looks a lot different than it did last year.

And then down at the very bottom, we have Ted Ginn. This isn't the first time Ginn finished dead last -- he actually was the worst receiver covered the very first time we published our YAC+ numbers, back in 2010. He has been below -1.0 in three of the last four years, and has had negative results in nine of the 13 seasons we have on record for him. And now, he gets to go to Chicago, where his quarterback … you know, hold that thought; we'll get back to that.

Ginn's trip to the NFC North will see him join the majority of the bottom of the leaderboard, as four of last five now all ply their trade in the division. Marvin Jones has never been a massive YAC threat and can blame Matthew Stafford's injury for some of his decline. Geronimo Allison is now in a battle for fourth wideout in Detroit and is unlikely to be relevant going forward. And then we have Allen Robinson, who jumps out on film as an incredibly talented receiver, but never has the stats to back that up. A ton of that can be blamed on his terrible history of quarterbacks, with his time in Chicago being highlighted by … yeah, keep that pin there next to Ted Ginn.

The bottom of the leaderboard is filled with low numbers on a team level, not just the individual level. Joining the Patriots with multiple offenders were Philadelphia, Carolina, Atlanta, and Miami. This is where it's important to stress that maximizing YAC+ is not the goal of an offense. It's a useful tool, it's beneficial to have an option or two who can pick up big numbers, and you certainly can base an offensive philosophy around it, but it's not required. The Falcons were 12th in passing DVOA, and neither the Eagles nor Patriots' passing offenses were disasters. It is, perhaps, concerning that Calvin Ridley fell from +0.7 in 2018 to -1.9 last season, but that's partially a result of the Falcons going from Steve Sarkisian to Dirk Koetter on offense. Ridley is still capable of putting up large amounts of YAC, but that's not prioritized in Koetter's system; his offenses haven't had a positive YAC+ since 2007 and he rarely even has one qualified wideout with positive value. It's a good reminder that these numbers are going to be partly scheme-dependent; different routes have different opportunities for YAC, and if a player isn't asked to run those routes, there's only so much they can do! Seeing as how Ridley's non-YAC numbers all took a massive swing upwards in Year 2, I believe the Falcons will accept the results.

This was the play with the most YAC+ for a receiver in 2019; Odell Beckham splitting a pair of Jets defenders and spinning Marcus Maye around on his way to the end zone.

2019 Tight Ends

A total of 48 tight ends qualified, but we're only listing the top and bottom 15 for space reasons.

2019 Tight Ends: Top 15 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
1 Noah Fant DEN 58 -0.7 7.9 +2.4
2 Jonnu Smith TEN 43 -4.7 5.4 +2.4
3 Jared Cook NO 62 2.4 10.7 +2.4
4 Jordan Akins HOU 53 -2.1 7.0 +1.9
5 T.J. Hockenson DET 58 -1.2 7.8 +1.8
6 George Kittle SF 105 -2.7 6.0 +1.6
7 Darren Waller OAK 115 -0.9 7.4 +1.5
8 Jimmy Graham GB 55 0.8 9.3 +1.5
9 Darren Fells HOU 46 -3.3 5.0 +1.2
10 Anthony Firkser TEN 22 0.4 9.4 +1.1
11 Josh Hill NO 32 -3.7 4.4 +1.1
12 Tyler Higbee LAR 86 -2.0 6.5 +1.1
13 Blake Jarwin DAL 41 -0.4 8.0 +1.0
14 Hayden Hurst BAL 38 -0.1 8.7 +1.0
15 Eric Ebron IND 49 1.0 9.7 +1.0


2019 Tight Ends: Bottom 15 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
34 Jacob Hollister SEA 56 -3.3 5.9 -0.5
35 O.J. Howard TB 52 1.5 10.2 -0.7
36 Vance McDonald PIT 54 -4.7 5.1 -0.8
37 Jesse James DET 25 -4.3 5.4 -0.9
38 Mike Gesicki MIA 81 1.3 10.5 -1.1
39 Zach Ertz PHI 132 0.1 8.8 -1.1
40 Hunter Henry LAC 76 1.2 10.3 -1.1
41 Jeremy Sprinkle WAS 40 -2.9 6.5 -1.1
42 Tyler Eifert CIN 62 0.6 8.4 -1.4
43 Delanie Walker TEN 30 -2.4 7.8 -1.4
44 Will Dissly SEA 26 -0.5 9.1 -1.5
45 Jason Witten DAL 82 -2.1 6.6 -1.5
46 Irv Smith MIN 45 -2.0 5.9 -1.5
47 Cameron Brate TB 53 -0.7 7.3 -1.6
48 Kaden Smith NYG 41 -3.2 5.7 -1.9

Another big season for rookies, with Noah Fant taking the top of the table and T.J. Hockenson squeaking into the top five himself. At the same time, a terrible season for rookies, with both Irv Smith and Kaden Smith finishing in the bottom three overall. For completionists, the only qualified rookie we're missing was Dawson Knox at +0.3.

The Fant versus Jonnu Smith versus Jared Cook race came down to the wire, with Fant finishing at +2.411, Smith at +2.374, and Cook at +2.372. Such a tight race means that you can find little points of contention that could have any of the three rank highest if you take one thing or another into account. Fant was the least consistent; he actually had negative YAC+ in eight of his 16 games, but mixed in big YAC days against Jacksonville, Cleveland, Houston, and Kansas City to put him over the top. Fant had negative results with Joe Flacco (-1.4) but positive numbers with both Drew Lock (+7.5) and Brandon Allen (+4.9), so perhaps Denver's quarterback change bodes particularly well going forward. The other two contenders had quarterback splits as well, of course. Cook was +3.7 with Drew Brees but just -0.7 with Teddy Bridgewater; Smith only had seven targets from Marcus Mariota, so his +8.6 YAC+ should come with several tons of grains of salt.

This is Smith's second year in a row finishing second place on the YAC+ leaderboards. His numbers aren't quite as high as they were last year, but he also saw a substantial increase in targets, which helps balance that out. This time, however, he wasn't alone. Smith was one of four Titans to finish with +1.0 YAC+ or better with at least 20 targets, alongside Brown, Derrick Henry, and Anthony Firkser. As a team, the Titans had a +1.1 YAC+, their highest on record and their first positive season since 2014. Obviously, a ton of that is the addition of A.J. Brown, but the Titans would still have been positive without him. Full credit has to Arthur Smith for scheming his players into wide-open areas, but this is a pretty solid group of offensive talent Tennessee has been able to assemble. It will be very interesting to see how much of 2019's success they can roll over into 2020.

Smith is one of three tight ends to make the top 15 list in consecutive seasons; the other two handle a significantly larger workload than he does. Both George Kittle and Tyler Higbee pop back up in the top 15, playing similar roles in the Rams' and 49ers' iterations of the same offense. Kittle didn't come close to repeating last year's +4.7 number, but he repeated as the best tight end among players with a heavy workload, just pipping Darren Waller to that line. Kittle became the first tight end to have +1.5 YAC+ or higher with more than 50 targets since Rob Gronkowski retired.

And speaking of Gronk…

Both O.J Howard (-0.7) and Cameron Brate (-1.6) finished in the bottom 15 among tight ends, so you can see why the Buccaneers would be excited at the potential Gronkowski brings to their offense. Gronkowski has the best career YAC+ of any tight end with at least 300 targets at +1.8; prime Gronk was a barely stoppable monster once he got going. It is worth noting, however, that Gronk's last season had him at -0.3, the only time in his career he put up negative YAC+. Even that Gronk was more of a threat moving with the ball than Howard or Brate was, mind you, but the hope is that with a year off to rest and recuperate, we'll get to see prime Gronkowski once again. I have my doubts, but it's easy to see what Tampa Bay is trying to do there, above and beyond just surrounding Brady with friendly faces.

Brate is a returner to the bottom 15, as are Zach Ertz and Mike Gesicki. Ertz, at least, has usually been a sure-handed possession receiver, although he's coming off of a down year overall last season; the Eagles aren't asking him to gain a ton of yards after the catch. Brate just had his contract restructured to reflect that he's not going to be a significant part of the Buccaneers' offense going forward, so he likely won't return to the bottom 15 next year. The Dolphins are still waiting for 2018 second-round pick Gesiciki to make the leap

This was the play with the most YAC+ for a tight end in 2019; Darren Waller turning a third-down screen in the shadow of his own goalposts into a 76-yard catch and run. Suffice it to say, this is not the standard result for tight end screens on third-and-9.

2019 Running Backs

There were 50 qualified running backs, but we are just going to list 20 from the top and bottom here.

2019 Running Backs: Top 20 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
1 Dalvin Cook MIN 62 -11.5 -1.5 +3.2
2 Austin Ekeler LAC 104 -8.6 1.2 +3.0
3 Ronald Jones TB 38 -9.9 0.7 +2.6
4 Kyle Juszczyk SF 23 -3.6 5.5 +2.4
5 Boston Scott PHI 26 -11.1 -1.8 +2.3
6 C.J. Ham MIN 24 -5.9 1.9 +2.2
7 Mark Ingram BAL 28 -7.4 1.5 +2.0
8 Joe Mixon CIN 42 -9.3 0.0 +1.9
9 Rex Burkhead NE 38 -6.7 3.2 +1.9
10 Tevin Coleman SF 29 -10.1 -1.1 +1.9
11 Josh Jacobs OAK 26 -10.0 -1.1 +1.8
12 Aaron Jones GB 63 -6.3 2.7 +1.8
13 Duke Johnson HOU 62 -7.5 2.6 +1.6
14 Christian McCaffrey CAR 135 -8.8 0.7 +1.3
15 Miles Sanders PHI 61 -7.4 1.7 +1.3
16 James Conner PIT 38 -9.9 -1.4 +1.3
17 Saquon Barkley NYG 67 -8.8 0.6 +1.1
18 Patrick Laird MIA 28 -7.1 1.5 +1.1
19 James White NE 91 -6.8 2.3 +1.0
20 Nick Chubb CLE 46 -11.2 -0.6 +1.0


2019 Running Backs: Bottom 20 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
31 Kenyan Drake 2TM 64 -9.7 -0.6 +0.3
32 Kareem Hunt CLE 42 -7.8 0.6 +0.1
33 Jaylen Samuels PIT 56 -9.3 -0.8 +0.1
34 Nyheim Hines IND 58 -8.2 1.3 +0.1
35 Leonard Fournette JAX 96 -10.0 0.2 -0.2
36 Giovani Bernard CIN 42 -10.2 0.1 -0.2
37 Le'Veon Bell NYJ 75 -9.1 0.6 -0.2
38 Jamaal Williams GB 45 -10.6 -0.8 -0.3
39 Alvin Kamara NO 92 -9.2 0.4 -0.3
40 Dion Lewis TEN 30 -11.3 -0.8 -0.4
41 J.D. McKissic DET 41 -9.7 0.2 -0.5
42 Todd Gurley LAR 46 -9.3 0.8 -0.6
43 Devonta Freeman ATL 64 -8.5 1.1 -0.6
44 Devin Singletary BUF 39 -8.0 1.7 -0.7
45 David Montgomery CHI 34 -7.4 2.8 -0.8
46 Royce Freeman DEN 48 -9.2 0.2 -1.0
47 LeSean McCoy KC 32 -10.8 -1.3 -1.0
48 Phillip Lindsay DEN 46 -10.7 -1.3 -1.2
49 Tarik Cohen CHI 102 -7.7 1.8 -1.6
50 Ty Johnson DET 31 -7.4 2.0 -2.8

Memo to Dalvin Cook's agents: you guys have been using advanced stats all offseason long to try to make an argument for Cook being worth one of those mondo running back extensions which never pay off. Well, here's another one for you!

Cook has now had positive YAC+ in each of his three seasons in the league, though +3.2 is a new high-water mark for him. To be a valuable running back in 2020 -- or, at least, to be a running back worth a valuable contract in 2020 -- you need to contribute in the receiving game. Cook certainly did last season; his +5.7 YAC+ on passes behind the line of scrimmage was the best number for any player at any position. Now, whether or not teams should be throwing so many passes behind the line is a different discussion altogether, but at least Cook made the most out of what was a substantial part of the Vikings' offense last season.

When it comes to running backs used more like a receiver, it's Austin Ekeler, not Christian McCaffrey, who ends up atop the YAC+ leaderboards. McCaffrey isn't a thousand miles away or anything, but Ekeler, who now is the unquestioned top running back on the Chargers' depth chart, has had a better YAC+ in each of the three seasons that both players have been in the league. 2019 was the first year Ekeler shouldered anywhere near McCaffrey's workload, as well as the first year his receiving plus-minus has been in the same ballpark, so it remains to be seen if Ekeler can keep up his high levels of YAC efficiency in years to come. There's also the slight problem with both backs adjusting to a new quarterback situation in 2020. I'd bet on Ekeler pipping McCaffrey again in 2020, but that will be a fun race to watch.

Ekeler is one of just two running backs to hit the top 10 in each of the last two seasons; the other was Tevin Coleman. Coleman, of course, went from the Falcons to the 49ers, who will be featured on Hoarders just as soon as they choose to dedicate an episode to pass-catching backs. Two-dozen running backs last season had at least 20 targets with a YAC+ of +1.0 or greater. The 49ers had three of them in Coleman (+1.9), Kyle Juszczyk (+2.4), and Raheem Mostert (+4.4; the league leader if you put the cutoff at 20 targets). The one back they had with 20 targets without a positive score was Matt Breida; they traded him away to Miami. In San Francisco, you gain yards after the catch or you go.

There were no returnees in the bottom 10. That's mostly because 2018's worst YAC+ finishers simply weren't given a chance to improve in 2019, but we will take sanity prevailing at a certain point. Kareem Hunt, who led the league in Kansas City, plummeted to 32nd -- still a positive YAC+, but way down after setting a record with +6.3 in 2018. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense was slightly more effective than Baker Mayfield and the Browns; this is the kind of award-winning analysis you've come to expect from Football Outsiders.

Ty Johnson was forced into action last season due to injuries and may not have a roster spot in 2019, so the true low mark really should go to Tarik Cohen. In fact, both Cohen and teammate David Montgomery finish near the bottom and … oh, keep that pin stuck in for one more video, OK?

This was the play with the most YAC+ for a running back in 2019; Austin Ekeler taking a screen from a wide position to the house, complete with the most underwhelming call you've ever heard for an 84-yard touchdown.

2019 Quarterbacks

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 2019 results for our 34 qualified quarterbacks.

2019 Quarterbacks: YAC+
Player Team Passes PASS +/- ALEX aDOT YAC YAC+ Rk
Ryan Tannehill TEN 269 +20.7 0.8 9.9 6.1 +1.3 1
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 454 +5.4 -2.4 6.6 6.6 +1.2 2
Derek Carr OAK 467 +28.7 -1.7 6.8 5.9 +0.8 3
Patrick Mahomes KC 445 +12.1 -0.8 8.6 6.1 +0.6 4
Jared Goff LAR 570 -1.8 -1.0 8.0 5.7 +0.6 5
Lamar Jackson BAL 374 +9.1 0.2 9.0 5.1 +0.5 6
Kirk Cousins MIN 403 +24.8 -1.1 7.9 5.8 +0.4 7
Sam Darnold NYJ 398 +2.1 0.1 8.7 5.4 +0.4 8
Baker Mayfield CLE 488 -13.7 -0.4 8.8 5.7 +0.3 9
Kyle Allen CAR 447 -4.7 -0.3 8.5 5.4 +0.3 10
Jacoby Brissett IND 403 -10.6 -1.4 7.9 5.6 +0.3 11
Drew Brees NO 352 +29.9 -2.0 6.7 5.3 +0.3 12
Matthew Stafford DET 277 +6.0 1.9 10.8 4.8 +0.2 13
Dak Prescott DAL 563 +6.9 0.6 9.4 4.8 +0.2 14
Aaron Rodgers GB 517 +0.5 0.2 8.9 5.7 +0.2 15
Philip Rivers LAC 547 +15.9 -0.4 9.0 5.5 +0.1 16
Teddy Bridgewater NO 179 +4.0 -3.4 6.2 5.6 +0.1 17
Jameis Winston TB 576 +3.8 1.5 10.7 4.9 +0.1 18
Dwayne Haskins WAS 190 -12.7 -0.8 8.7 5.2 +0.1 19
Gardner Minshew JAX 429 -17.2 -1.7 7.6 5.4 +0.0 20
Daniel Jones NYG 425 -10.4 -0.7 8.1 4.9 -0.1 21
Deshaun Watson HOU 468 +12.0 0.1 8.7 5.0 -0.1 22
Tom Brady NE 561 -21.3 -1.5 7.7 5.0 -0.1 23
Josh Allen BUF 416 -10.1 0.3 9.6 5.0 -0.1 24
Joe Flacco DEN 232 +5.4 -2.0 6.9 5.3 -0.2 25
Russell Wilson SEA 472 +23.3 0.2 9.3 5.1 -0.2 26
Case Keenum WAS 230 -3.5 -1.8 7.0 5.0 -0.2 27
Andy Dalton CIN 481 -17.7 -0.7 8.3 4.9 -0.2 28
Kyler Murray ARI 493 +2.7 -1.4 7.6 5.3 -0.3 29
Mason Rudolph PIT 256 -2.7 -1.1 8.2 5.3 -0.5 30
Carson Wentz PHI 568 -2.9 -0.3 8.3 4.7 -0.5 31
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 463 -2.7 0.2 9.2 4.0 -0.8 32
Matt Ryan ATL 563 +17.9 -1.0 8.5 4.0 -0.9 33
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 490 -18.3 -1.3 7.9 4.3 -1.3 34

We print that disclaimer every year. Some offenses are more reliant on YAC than others, so when a Kyle Allen appears ahead of a Matt Ryan, we can be clear that this is not, in fact, a statement that Allen was better than Ryan at … well, anything in particular. That being said…

There are two ways for a passing game to move the ball. You can throw the ball deep and let the ball travel through the air, or you can throw the ball short and let your receivers carry the ball forward on the ground. You expect to see somewhat of an inverse relationship between aDOT and YAC, as teams that throw deeper rely less on their YAC and vice versa. And for the most part, that's exactly what we see in the table of quarterbacks up above. And then we look all the way down to the bottom and we see Mitchell Trubisky and his -1.3 YAC+.

Trubisky had a negative YAC+ in both 2017 and 2018 as well, but those were both at -0.4 -- low, but not unfathomably so. A -1.3 is the lowest result any quarterback has had since Ryan Mallett had a -1.6 in 2015 -- and remember, Mallett wasn't the starter for Houston that season. Trubisky was the man Chicago's offense was designed around, and it just did, not, work. Again, a low YAC+ is not necessarily indicative of a bad offense, but Trubisky was near the bottom in both ALEX and aDOT; those are the sorts of passes that need to be turned upfield if they're going to result in anything positive to speak of. Trubisky was one of 13 quarterbacks with an average depth of target under 8.0 yards. Not only was he the only one to fail to hit 4.5 YAC, he was the only one to fail to hit 5.0. As a group, Chicago had the second-worst YAC+ among wide receivers (-1.5, just above Philadelphia's -1.6) and the worst among running backs by a country mile (-1.5; Denver was second with -0.8).

It defies belief to suggest that it's a matter of all of Trubisky's receivers being terrible with the ball in their hands, or an offense that doesn't care if they gain any yards after the catch. If you're going to throw the majority of your passes short, they need to be put in places where the receiver can turn upfield and do something with them. Trubisky utterly failed to do that last season. At least the Bears signed Nick Foles, who didn't have enough attempts to qualify for the main table, but was light years ahead of Trubisky's mark at, uh, -1.2 YAC+.

The Bears are never going to have a quarterback, are they?

Speaking of outliers in the other direction, hello, Ryan Tannehill! Tannehill actually has seen his YAC+ improve even before 2019; his only three positive seasons were in his last three seasons. But +1.3 is way, way outside of anything he's done before; just another of the many career highs Tannehill set last year. As we mentioned earlier, the Titans didn't quite manage to knock the 49ers off the YAC+ throne, as the Marcus Mariota weeks (+0.7) were enough of a weight to let yet another Shanahan offense take the crown. But Tannehill's numbers are, in their own way, just as crazy as Trubisky's were, only positively. The last passer to top 6.0 YAC while throwing as deep as Tannehill did last season was Michael Vick in 2010; these are hard numbers to hit. Arthur Smith's system doesn't have a long track record, as 2019 was his first year as offensive coordinator. It's unclear, then, whether or not Tannehill will be able to repeat his performance in 2020. But Tannehill's great YAC+ under Smith isn't an illusion; maybe it just took this long for a team to find a system that fits Tannehill's skillset. That's a bit of an indictment on Miami's coaching since 2012 but, I mean, if the shoe fits…

Finally, yes, this makes four years in a row that either a Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay offense has led the league in YAC+. In the past four years, there have been seven qualified quarterbacks to hit +1.0 YAC+; Shanahan is responsible for three of them (2019 Jimmy Garoppolo, 2018 Nick Mullens, and 2016 Matt Ryan). Garoppolo is, to a certain extent, a system quarterback, but it's a system that works. Unlike Arthur Smith's offense, the Shanahan system seems to be fully battle tested. Even if Deebo Samuel misses extensive time with his broken foot, rookie Brandon Aiyuk seems ready to step in and rack up massive YAC yet again. Don't bother taxing that arm, Jimmy G; the scheme will take it from there.


13 comments, Last at 09 Jul 2020, 1:53pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jul 06, 2020 - 12:48pm

John Ross quietly paired prime YAC+ with aDOT.

Points: 0

#2 by TreyKelso // Jul 07, 2020 - 7:21am

to say that all of the Bear receivers having poor YAC+ numbers is a sign of Trubisky being bad, but all of the Patriot receivers having awful numbers says nothing about Brady.

Because that was exactly what was said about an over-40 QB whose receivers all had bad YAC+ numbers.  Nothing.

Points: 0

#3 by Bryan Knowles // Jul 07, 2020 - 1:49pm

We don't generally spend a lot of column inches talking about someone who finishes 23rd out of 34 with, essentially, a league-average performance.  But, if you insist...


The YAC+ for every Patriot with 10+ targets:

Rex Burkhead: +1.9
Sony Michel: +1.6
Josh Gordon: +1.2
James White: +1.0
Ben Watson: +0.1
Brandon Bolden: -0.2
Jakobi Meyers: -0.4
Matt LaCosse: -0.6
N'Keal Harry: -0.6
Julian Edelman: -1.1
Phillip Dorsett: -1.3
Mohammed Sanu: -1.5

The YAC+ for every Bear with 10+ targets:

Ben Braunecker: +0.3
Cordarelle Patterson: +0.2
Adam Shaheen: -0.5
Jesper Horsted: -0.6
David Montgomery: -0.8
Anthony Miller: -0.9
Tarik Cohen: -1.6
Taylor Gabriel: -1.7
Allen Robinson: -1.9
Javon Wims: -2.2
Trey Burton: -2.9


The YAC+ ranking for each team in various position groups:

WR: New England 25th (-0.8), Chicago 31st (-1.5)
TE: New England 15th (+0.4), Chicago 21st (-0.2)
RB: New England 6th (+1.4), Chicago 32nd (-1.5)


So, in conclusion:
A) No, not all Brady's receivers had bad YAC+ numbers.  His wideouts did, but in general, no, his targets did not have below-average YAC.
B) There's an argument to be made that if the three top receivers on your team have negative YAC+, then that says something about the system and/or quarterback
C) Point B is at least somewhat complicated by Josh Gordon's success, which would be an indicator that it was a lack of YAC+ talent keeping the receivers down more than anything else.
D) Brady's -0.1 YAC is a slight dropoff from last year, when he was at +0.5, but he's finished within 0.1 of dead average for four of the past seven years.  He's not producing YAC at the same rate he was in 2010 or 2011, but that was an entirely different offense, and I think there's more there than just "Brady's getting old".


Points: 0

#5 by TreyKelso // Jul 08, 2020 - 6:07am

A)  Not everyone is reputedly the GOAT, whose switching of teams in the off-season is expected to elevate one to a contender status and put the other at risk of missing the playoffs, either.  (Obviously, Newton's health is the wild card here.)  We will see this year if Brady's decline is a matter of his skills, a system that people found a way to handle, or lack of receiving talent.  Was that even an inch?

B)  Josh Gordon has always been a freakish outlier, no?  And just how small was his sample size last season? 

C)  We rarely get to see a statistical analysis put to a test like this, so the chance to resolve a chicken-or-egg scenario is going to be interesting, at least.

D)  The Bears are the worst, fine.  Didn't realize that precluded discussion of other topics. 

Points: 0

#6 by Bryan Knowles // Jul 08, 2020 - 1:33pm

Don't worry; there'll be plenty of talk about Brady's 2019 season and his future in the next couple articles here -- his YAC+ is fine; it's other stats that really get into concerns going forwards.

Points: 0

#11 by TheIdealGrassLaw // Jul 08, 2020 - 7:38pm

Just from watching the games:

Every game seemed to feature at least five throws to "NFL Open" receivers that were either "over Julian Edelman's head" or "behind Mohammad Sanu and at his ankles."

The Sanu targets were the gigantic red flag for me:

A) Balls behind a receiver running a slant are always the QBs fault.  WRs are never supposed to run the route slower.

B) He changed teams and then lost 3 YPT or YPC or whatever it was.  It was jaw dropping.  (This might have been a midseason number but the point stands.)

Points: 0

#12 by Bryan Knowles // Jul 09, 2020 - 1:51pm

Our article on passing plus-minus comes out next week, and, well, we'll see how Brady ranks THERE (this is called a cheap plug, is what this is).


For Sanu in particular, because he changed teams, we can look at his YAC+ with and without Brady.


Sanu went from -1.1 YAC+ in Atlanta to -1.5 YAC+ in New England, though neither would have qualified for the main tables on their own.  There's an argument that some of the dropoff comes from being used differently (Sanu's ALEX went from -2.9 in ATL to 0.1 in NE, and his aDOT went up by nearly a yard and a half), but there are other signs, too, worth noting that we'll get to next week.

Josh Gordon, meanwhile, went from +1.2 YAC+ in New England to -2.5 YAC+ in Seattle, but that's ALL small sample size; he had eight targets as a Seahawk and I wouldn't use that as evidence for...anything.

Points: 0

#8 by BlueStarDude // Jul 08, 2020 - 4:49pm

A smidge larger than Antonio Brown’s.

Points: 0

#10 by andrew // Jul 08, 2020 - 7:38pm

Cordarelle Patterson went from the Patriots and Brady to the Bears and Trubisky.  His Brady year was with one year younger Brady at the end of his career, and the Trubes year with him one year older in his prime years (but possibly also the end of his career).

WIth that being said... and not sure if he counted as a RB or WR....  would be interested in his YAC+ last year vs this year.


Points: 0

#13 by Bryan Knowles // Jul 09, 2020 - 1:53pm

Patterson hasn't qualified for the main tables since 2016.  He did go from a +0.9 YAC+ with Brady in 2018 to a +0.2 YAC+ with Trubisky last season.

Points: 0

#4 by serutan // Jul 08, 2020 - 2:19am

"Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense was slightly more effective than Baker Mayfield and the Browns; this is the kind of award-winning analysis you've come to expect from Football Outsiders."

Self deprecating humor always warms my heart.

Points: 0

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