Colts Trying to Win with Jumbo Receivers

Indianapolis TE Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle
Indianapolis TE Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - The Indianapolis Colts had a very simple strategy for their passing game in 2021: trade for Carson Wentz and surround him with the biggest targets they could find. Unfortunately, Wentz melted down in a Week 18 loss to Jacksonville and the Colts fell out of the postseason. So they made another switch at quarterback, shipping Wentz out and bringing Matt Ryan in. They did not change their plans at receiver, however. If anything, they're getting even bigger.

It's time to look back at snap-weighted size for 2021. We introduced snap-weighted size last year, measuring each team's height, weight, and body mass index, accounting not just for which players were on the roster, but how often each of those players were actually on the field. We have found that most of the variance comes in weight, and so that's mostly what we'll be discussing today, but we have also included height and BMI in the tables if you want to see who the tallest, shortest, thickest, or skinniest teams are.

We have made a few changes to our methodology this year when running these numbers. First, when we list players by unit, we're only going to measure offensive players by offensive snaps and defenders by defensive snaps, throwing out special teams plays and cameo appearances on the other side of the ball. Second, we're no longer dumping defenders into the obsolete position groups of defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back; instead we will use the more granular and accurate categories of interior linemen, edge rusher, linebacker, safety, and corner. These changes will be especially relevant when we look at specific position groups in Part II of this analysis tomorrow. In Part I today, we are going to focus on the big picture on offense, defense, and special teams, and that means starting with the Colts.

The Monsters of Marion County

By snap-weighted weight, the Indianapolis Colts had the NFL's biggest offense in 2022 at 267.7 pounds. Given Jonathan Taylor's historically great season, you might expect that's because they had big running backs and offensive linemen, but that's not the case; they ranked in the mid-teens in both categories. And it's not because they used an inordinate amount of jumbo formations, either—Colts wideouts ranked 19th in offensive snaps played.

No, the Colts ranked first because they collected giants in the passing game. Thanks to Wentz and his 237 pounds, they ranked fourth in snap-weighted weight (SWW) among quarterbacks. And Wentz was throwing to big players too—the Colts were second in SWW at wide receiver and first at tight end.

How big? The average SWW for NFL wide receivers last year was 201.0 pounds, but in Indianapolis, six of the top seven wideouts by snaps played weighed 208 pounds or more. Top wide receiver Michael Pittman goes 223 pounds; WR2 Zach Pascal weighs in at 214. At tight end, the Colts were the only team in the league with an SWW over 260.0 pounds, and that's with 242-pound Kylen Granson getting 200-some snaps and skewing the average low. But 262-pound Jack Doyle and 267-pound Mo Alie-Cox beat up opposing defenses like a modern-day Bruiser and Crusher.

Put the two positions together and the get an SWW of 229.4 pounds for Colts wideouts and tight ends. That's most in the league and over 10 pounds bigger than the NFL average. The Titans are in second place at 225.7 pounds, but they're closer to eighth-place Miami than they are to Indianapolis.

Top 10 Offenses, WR & TE SWW, 2022
Team SWH SWW BMI W-L Pass DVOA Rk
IND 75.0 229.4 28.6 9-8 6.2% 20
TEN 74.1 225.7 28.9 12-5 6.8% 21
GB 74.9 225.2 28.2 13-4 36.4% 2
TB 74.8 224.0 28.1 13-4 43.9% 1
DEN 75.3 223.8 27.7 7-10 23.4% 11
PIT 73.7 222.8 28.8 9-7-1 -0.3% 24
LAC 75.3 222.6 27.6 9-8 33.7% 4
MIA 75.0 222.1 27.8 9-8 4.8% 23
CIN 75.0 221.8 27.7 10-7 16.5% 15
SF 73.9 221.0 28.5 10-7 32.7% 5
AVG 74.7 223.8 28.2 10.2-6.9 20.4% 12.6

The teams with the biggest receivers didn't all field great passing attacks, but some did, including four of the top five teams in pass offense DVOA. But the win-loss records here are remarkable. Nine of the top 10 teams had winning records, six made the playoffs, and four won their divisions. There may be benefits to big receivers beyond what they can do in the passing game—having all those monsters throwing blocks out wide was probably a big help to Taylor and the Colts rushing attack. This is not to say that finding plus-sized receivers and tight ends is the only path to victory. At 204.7 pounds, the Buffalo Bills had the smallest wideouts and tight ends in the NFL, and they seemed to do OK.

The Colts figure to lead this category again in 2022, because they have spent their offseason getting even more super-heavyweights. Pascal is now in Philadelphia, but his spot will be filled by second-round draftee Alec Pierce, only slightly smaller at 211 pounds. T.Y. Hilton and his 183 pounds are unsigned; his snaps will likely be taken by 208-pound Parris Campbell. Doyle retired, so the Colts drafted a pair of tight ends to fill his wide shoes: 259-pound Jelani Woods and 261-pound Andrew Ogletree. This will be offset somewhat by the change at quarterback (Ryan is about 20 pounds smaller than Wentz), but the Colts should once again have one of the league's biggest offenses in 2022.

Other Offenses

Three other teams—Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Kansas City—joined Indianapolis with offensive SWWs over 265 pounds.

Offensive Snap-Weighted Size, 2021
Team Height Weight BMI
IND 75.8 267.7 32.8
TB 75.6 266.9 32.8
CHI 74.3 266.6 34.0
KC 75.2 266.2 33.1
SEA 74.3 265.4 33.8
NE 74.5 265.1 33.5
NYG 75.4 265.0 32.8
CIN 75.4 264.8 32.7
BAL 75.1 264.2 32.9
GB 75.3 264.1 32.7
HOU 75.5 263.9 32.5
MIA 75.5 263.9 32.5
DAL 75.2 263.5 32.7
LAC 75.8 263.5 32.2
PHI 74.9 263.1 33.0
NO 75.2 263.0 32.7
TEN 75.1 262.9 32.8
DEN 75.4 262.7 32.4
DET 75.0 262.3 32.8
CAR 75.2 262.3 32.6
PIT 75.2 262.0 32.5
JAX 75.7 262.0 32.2
SF 74.9 261.6 32.8
LAR 75.3 261.0 32.4
CLE 74.7 260.4 32.8
WAS 74.8 260.4 32.7
ATL 75.0 260.1 32.5
BUF 74.9 259.9 32.6
LV 75.4 259.6 32.1
MIN 75.2 258.4 32.1
ARI 74.5 257.9 32.7
NYJ 74.7 257.4 32.4
Average 75.1 262.8 32.7

For the Bucs, it was a team effort, as they were the only team to make the top 10 in SWW at quarterback, running back (not including fullbacks), wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line. Their biggest position was wide receiver, where they ranked fifth thanks to Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, Chris Godwin, and Tyler Johnson, each of whom weighed 206 pounds or more. The Bears had some interesting splits: they had the NFL's biggest offensive line (including four starters who each weighed over 320 pounds), but its smallest wide receivers. They also ranked seventh or higher at quarterback, running back, and tight end. Kansas City's high ranking is mostly due to its offensive line, second in SWW behind Chicago. That average is boosted by 363-pound Orlando Brown Jr., but Lucas Niang and Trey Smith also topped the 320-pound threshold.

The smallest NFL offense belonged to the Jets, who were 27th in SWW at both running back and wide receiver and 25th at quarterback, and below average at offensive line as well. For the record, Garrett Wilson weighs 192 pounds, almost exactly matching the Jets' SWW at 191.7 at that position in 2021, but 220-pound Breece Hall is much bigger than the 208.0-pound average they had at running back. We should also mention Mekhi Becton. The offensive tackle missed 16 games last year with a knee injury, but he reportedly topped 400 pounds at one point. At that size, a full season of Becton instead of a typical starter might raise the Jets' SWW by 7 or 8 pounds.

The next-smallest offense was found in Arizona. With Kyler Murray, it's no surprise that they ranked 30th in SWW at quarterback, but they also ranked 30th at offensive line, where all of their starters weighed less than 320 pounds. The Vikings were next as they failed to make the top 20 in SWW at any offensive position group, ranking 28th at offensive line and dead last at quarterback. Kirk Cousins is pretty average in height, as quarterbacks go, but at 205 pounds he's the lightest full-time starter in the league.

The coefficient of correlation between offensive SWW in 2020 and 2021 was 0.36, which means big teams tend to stay big and small teams tend to stay small, but there's a fair amount of variation. The 49ers saw the most growth at 8.2 pounds; apparently they took that weight away from the Raiders, who lost 8.2 pounds, most in the NFL.

DUUU-val? More Like HUUUGE-val

You won't find the 2021 Jacksonville Jaguars at the top of a lot of tables, but here's one department where they finished in first place: at 242.8 pounds, they had the highest SWW of any defense in the league.

Defensive Snap-Weighted Size, 2021
Team Height Weight BMI
JAX 73.6 242.8 31.5
NE 73.7 242.2 31.4
SEA 72.7 241.9 32.1
CIN 73.5 241.3 31.4
TB 73.4 241.3 31.5
NYG 73.7 240.0 31.0
MIN 73.9 239.9 30.9
NYJ 73.2 239.2 31.3
ATL 73.5 239.2 31.1
GB 74.1 238.9 30.6
WAS 73.5 238.9 31.1
DET 74.0 238.8 30.7
CHI 73.6 238.7 31.0
BAL 73.6 238.1 30.9
LAC 73.8 237.8 30.7
ARI 73.5 237.5 30.9
HOU 73.2 237.0 31.1
TEN 72.8 236.7 31.4
MIA 74.4 236.5 30.1
NO 73.9 236.5 30.5
PHI 73.0 236.0 31.1
LAR 73.4 235.9 30.8
IND 73.5 234.6 30.5
CAR 73.7 234.5 30.3
PIT 73.9 234.2 30.1
DEN 73.5 234.0 30.4
CLE 74.0 233.8 30.0
DAL 74.0 233.8 30.0
LV 73.8 233.7 30.2
KC 73.1 233.1 30.7
BUF 73.4 232.0 30.3
SF 73.5 232.0 30.2
Average 73.6 237.3 30.8

The Jaguars were barely above average at corner and actually tiny at the interior defensive line, where they ranked 30th at 297 pounds. But they were fourth in SWW at edge rusher, third at linebacker, and first at safety, led by 220-pound Rayshawn Jenkins. We'll have more on Jacksonville's oversized defense, and how first overall draft pick Travon Walker fits in, when we look at positional snap-weighted size later this week.

The next-biggest defense belonged to the Patriots. That's largely due to the weight advantage they had at linebacker, which was enormous—at 256.6 pounds, they were over 14 pounds bigger than any other team. They were also in the top 10 at defensive line, edge rusher, and safety; had they been just a little bigger at cornerback, where they ranked 11th, they would have been the only defense to make the top 10 in every position group.

Seattle had the NFL's biggest defense in 2020 but fell to third place last year. They're still awfully big, mostly due to their front, where they made the top five at interior line, edge rusher, and linebacker. The days of the Legion of Boom are over—the Seahawks were 18th at safety and 27th at cornerback. We'll see how the shift to a 3-4 base affects Seattle's ranking next year, but there's no obvious pattern in the difference in size between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.

For a look at the smallest defense in the league, we stay in the NFC West and turn to Seattle's old rivals in San Francisco. The 49ers were actually big at edge rusher, finishing fifth in SWW, and in the middle of the pack at interior lineman, safety, and corner. Their linebackers, on the other hand, were tiny, 29th in SWW at 228.7 pounds. This is also scheme-based, as 49ers defensive backs saw a league-high 46.8% of the team's defensive snaps. Further, San Francisco's interior linemen saw a league-low 1,028 defensive snaps while their edge rushers saw 3,338, second only to Seattle. That's counting 290-pound Arik Armstead as an edge rusher, not an interior lineman; depending on how you look at things, he was either their biggest edge rusher or their smallest lineman, so moving him into the latter category would make San Francisco smaller at both positions. if we dump linemen and edge rushers into one bucket, San Francisco weighs in at 276.4 pounds in SWW, fourth-lowest. In short, the 49ers' linemen and linebackers were abnormally small, and often not even on the field.

Regardless, it might be more accurate to say the 49ers were tied with the Bills for the league's smallest defense. If we add a decimal point, the 49ers come in at 231.99 pounds to the Bills' 232.01; that's a difference of less than half an ounce. Unlike the 49ers, the Bills had very average size up front, ranking 14th in SWW at both interior line and edge rusher and 16th at linebacker. The Buffalo secondary, however, was microscopic—they were next to last at safety and last at cornerback at 186.6 pounds. (If you're curious, the Colts and Bills played in Week 11. Indianapolis' giant receivers could do hardly anything against Buffalo's diminutive defensive backs, finishing with only 11 total catches for 106 yards. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Jonathan Taylor ran for 185 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-15 Indianapolis win.)

The next-smallest defense after San Francisco and Buffalo was in Kansas City. The Chiefs finished in exactly 22nd place in SWW at interior line, edge rusher, and linebacker, and they were even smaller in the backfield, finishing 28th at safety and 29th at corner.

The year-to-year correlation in defensive SWW was 0.57, much higher than on offense. New England saw the most growth at 7.8 pounds, but considering all the COVID opt-outs they had in 2020, they were basically rebuilding their entire defense anyway. The Cowboys defense saw the biggest weight loss at 6.5 pounds.

Special Teams

There's not a ton to say here, so let's just dump some data.

Special Teams Snap-Weighted Size, 2021
Team Height Weight BMI
LAR 73.9 239.0 30.8
TB 73.7 238.7 30.9
NYG 74.0 238.1 30.6
GB 74.0 237.9 30.6
NE 73.7 237.6 30.7
TEN 73.3 237.6 31.1
DEN 73.9 236.9 30.5
MIA 74.3 236.5 30.1
CIN 73.5 235.9 30.7
WAS 73.9 235.1 30.3
SEA 73.1 235.1 30.9
BAL 73.7 234.9 30.4
ARI 73.5 234.3 30.5
CHI 73.5 233.8 30.4
LAC 73.6 233.7 30.3
ATL 73.4 233.6 30.5
DAL 74.6 233.3 29.5
NYJ 73.6 233.3 30.3
LV 74.1 232.6 29.8
NO 74.0 232.3 29.8
IND 73.4 232.2 30.3
MIN 73.9 232.2 29.9
JAX 73.2 231.6 30.4
BUF 73.1 230.7 30.3
PHI 73.1 230.5 30.3
DET 73.5 230.4 30.0
CAR 74.1 230.2 29.5
KC 73.8 230.1 29.7
SF 73.8 229.7 29.6
PIT 73.7 229.5 29.7
HOU 72.8 229.1 30.4
CLE 73.6 228.4 29.7
Average 73.7 233.6 30.3

The Rams, Buccaneers, and (fittingly) Giants were really big on special teams; the Browns, Texans, and Steelers were really small. Remember, this includes all players on special teams, unlike last year's data, which only included kickers, punters, and long snappers. The changes we made in how SWW is calculated make any year-to-year comparisons pointless. We'll separate them into different groups when we look at positional data later this week.

Overall Snap-Weighted Size

Apparently, if you have ever employed Tom Brady, then you like big football players. The Buccaneers and Patriots take gold and silver in 2021 SWW, with the AFC champion Bengals taking the bronze.

Overall Snap-Weighted Size, 2021
Team Height Weight BMI
TB 74.4 251.7 32.0
NE 74.0 251.1 32.2
CIN 74.3 250.0 31.8
CHI 73.9 250.0 32.2
NYG 74.5 249.9 31.7
GB 74.6 249.5 31.5
SEA 73.4 249.3 32.6
BAL 74.3 249.1 31.8
JAX 74.4 248.9 31.6
IND 74.4 248.1 31.5
LAC 74.6 248.1 31.3
TEN 73.8 248.0 32.0
MIA 74.8 248.0 31.1
WAS 74.1 247.4 31.7
DET 74.3 247.1 31.4
KC 74.1 247.1 31.6
ATL 74.1 246.6 31.6
NO 74.4 246.6 31.3
LAR 74.2 246.5 31.4
DEN 74.4 246.5 31.3
DAL 74.6 246.5 31.1
HOU 74.0 246.4 31.6
PHI 73.8 246.4 31.8
MIN 74.4 246.0 31.2
ARI 73.9 245.8 31.6
CAR 74.4 245.6 31.2
NYJ 73.9 245.4 31.6
PIT 74.4 244.9 31.1
LV 74.5 244.2 30.9
BUF 74.0 244.1 31.3
CLE 74.2 244.0 31.1
SF 74.1 243.9 31.2
Average 74.2 247.3 31.5

The Bucs were second in SWW on both offense and special teams, and fifth on defense. The Patriots finished in the top six in all three categories, the Bengals in the top nine.

The league's smallest team was the San Francisco 49ers, who were last on defense and in the bottom 10 on both offense and special teams. In addition to their defensive situation, they were also in the bottom three at both running back and tight end. They're followed by the Cleveland Browns, a team we haven't talked about a lot today. But they were the smallest team on special teams and finished in the bottom 10 at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, interior defensive line, linebacker, and cornerback. And then we have the Buffalo Bills, a team we have talked about a lot today. They were not as consistently small as the Browns, but they were in the bottom five at running back, wide receiver, safety, and cornerback.

While those six teams were small on both sides of the ball, that wasn't usually the case—the correlation of coefficient between offensive and defensive SWW was just 0.168. The Colts were 33.2 pounds bigger on offense than on defense, the greatest difference in the league; they were followed in that category by the Chiefs, Cowboys, 49ers, and Broncos. No team had a defense bigger than its offense—indeed, the smallest offense was still nearly 15 pounds bigger than the biggest defense—but the Jets came closest with a gap of 18.1 pounds. Other teams that were big on defense but small on offense include the Vikings, Jaguars, Cardinals, and Falcons.

The year-to-year correlation in overall SWW was 0.53—big teams stay big. The Patriots gained 4.0 pounds in 2021, over twice as much as any other team, while the Raiders lost a league-high 5.9 pounds.

Comments

18 comments, Last at 12 May 2022, 11:34am

1 So when do we get the data…

So when do we get the data for snap weighted acceleration? With all the sensors they are putting in pads and helmets and the data collection I'm pretty sure the data is out there to get the acceleration for every player over the first half, 1, 3, etc seconds. Sure you could get players peak speeds and such too, valuable for some positions but acceleration is valuable for ever position since I don't generally care what the top speed of my left guard is, but I do care how quickly he can get his 325 pounds up to a certain speed.

With that we can get down to snap weighted force (f=ma after all and with a constant gravity weight is all we need for mass) then really get to the heart of things since applied force has a lot to do with results on a football field.

I know that data is all proprietary, but as I've said before that is the stuff I keep wanting to be able to dig into instead of all the rough proxies we have been using for decades because it was all we had. This is still neat and insightful and it would be cool to have 10+ years of it to see if WR height/weight correlates to DVOA at all. I would be better informed about if Gutekunst clear preference for taller receivers might have at least some correlation to winning.

2 If you proxy with combine 40…

If you proxy with combine 40 times (and their splits), you end up with the observation that offense and defense balance mass and speed differently, but result in about the same momenta. Which intuitively makes sense -- collisions are essentially balanced between a position group and its mirror.

6 I wondered about this and…

I wondered about this and came to the same hypothesis that each side would be balanced but you'd likely have different accelerations and masses involved to get to the same end results.

7 Acceleration is a noisy…

Acceleration is a noisy measure. You need to tightly control what is being observed (the acceleration of what) and how you are evaluating your chosen observation. Both peak and average have their problems, they just tend to be different problems.

3 That data is proprietary…

That data is proprietary indeed. One of the first things I laughingly remarked was...can I mass dump this onto my personal drive so I can keep it?

NGS has the data, but it comes from a third party which owns the sensors. But even here, its a bit more complicated because the raw data has to be put through several transforms to get into its physical components. Even then, the raw data itself is a bit hard to wrap your mind around because its layed out in grid form, meaning, where you are moving affects the sign of the acceleration and speed.

I assume, because it costs so much money, that company isn't likely to provide any of that data for free though I wish it would.  But I will say, it was fun to play around with it. Lots of fun. 

5 Yeah I don't expect that…

Yeah I don't expect that data to be free any time soon, and having worked with different but similar data I definitely understand the complexities. But I also know that it can be worked with. That's part of the beauty of the growth of all this raw computing and the tools that allows us to bring to bear.

I mean we have the data to where we could likely figure out every play call based on how the players moved and actually figure out who messed up on a given play and why (which is stuff that some teams actually use as you can in fact overlay that info onto the video study). But the educated fan could suss a lot of that out. I'm sure the data is there now that you could even start to untangle QB and receiver performance to an extent. Not an easy thing even with all the knowledge of what the play was and what adjustments the defense forced, etc, but the data is there now that you could very likely write the code to tell automatically tell you if the receiver did his job as expected and the QB threw the ball wrong or the other way around without having to manually analyze the film against the play call like position coaches have/had to (because the team absolutely was already doing this). Now though you can just have the system spit things out and flag outliers etc.

Tons of other things you can do to of course.

 

Long personsal story that boils down to "You can find some crazy things with good data"
I mean my personal experience in my 40's of going from a 29-30 minute 5K runner (9:30ish per mile) to a 3:47 marathon runner in 12 weeks (8:43 per mile) in 12 weeks mostly just because I got a Garmin and had HR and pacing data was fun. Going dang near 1 minute per mile faster for nearly 9 times the distance in just 3 months was fun, and that basic data was a huge help in tweaking the training. The initial goal was to just finish the marathon, by week 8 of the training I was already looking at honing in on a finishing time. My 2nd marathon a year later had a lot more focused training that relied even more heavily on the basic data (and started using stride length and cadence even more) to get me even faster and my understanding of it helped prevent injury (I'm convinced that without it I would have over trained. The data also showed a slight stride imbalance which led to finding a form issue which was because of some damage from an old football injury actually, and had it not been noticed could have lead to some serious knee problems down the road. It wasn't actually an issue with the first marathon because I had been using heavier very padded, very supportive shoes. But I had switched to some lighter ones for the 2nd marathon with less support cutting the margin for error in form issues down. But it all came out when seeing that as my fatigue levels got to a certain point (as measured by HR over expected for a given pace) that my stride when pushing off with the left leg was like like a centimeter shorter than my right leg adjusting for slope (and reconfirmed with track running data). Even with how good I was getting at listening to my body and running partners observing things never would have seen it. But it led me to ask the doc to check things and we cleaned up some scar tissue and after the rehab didn't have that data anomaly anymore.

 

 

8 But it led me to ask the doc…

But it led me to ask the doc to check things and we cleaned up some scar tissue and after the rehab didn't have that data anomaly anymore.

You could have just pressed "delete" and not had to go to all the effort of running a marathon...

9 LOL oh thanks for the great…

LOL oh thanks for the great laugh! (reading into the post more, both about running a marathon and posting about it nearly a decade after the first happened)

 

I'm a bit crazy though and learned that once I figured out how to run long distances that I actually enjoyed it. Also yes the decade or so it's been since I made that transition my definition of long distance changed. 5K used to be long. Now it's got to be over 10 miles (16k) for me to consider it a long run. But yes, deleting the data would have been a less painful way to get rid of the anomaly, though it also would have been less rewarding. My oldest brother still keeps trying to get me to do a full ironman triathlon. That is effort that I still have no desire to exert. Marathons are where I cap out and a half ironman tri. Olympic and "sprint" tris are way more my thing. The half marathon is also my preferred running distance for race pace but the full is still something I enjoy. Again I'm not quite right in the head (actually literally thanks to the tumor but that came later) and I acknowledge that.

 

Anyway back to fun with football data.
 

10 I long ago decided that…

I long ago decided that distance running was intolerably boring and resolved for myself that if I haven't evaded a threat after a mile, it was time to stop and fight instead.

Which was one of the reasons I quickly abandoned soccer for football. Football had most of the running and all the shitty weather that soccer had, but interesting things happened more often and at the end of all the boring running I got to hit someone.

11 You need to combine this…

You need to combine this with the other article and do Snap Weighted Fun Factor. 

Snap Weighted cost would be another fun one. lol 

13 Cowboys Draft

Apparently Mike McCarthy was pounding the table for bigger players in the draft, because, in Jerry's words, they got "big-boyed" by the 49ers.

With the 49ers already being at the bottom of the snap weighted size scale, I don't think their draft is going to fix what it's supposed to...

15 "Three other teams—Tampa Bay…

"Three other teams—Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Kansas City—joined Indianapolis with offensive SWWs of 260 pounds or more."

Should that say "266 pounds"?