Colts Trying to Win with Jumbo Receivers
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|
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.
Three other teams—Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Kansas City—joined Indianapolis with offensive SWWs over 265 pounds.
|Offensive Snap-Weighted Size, 2021|
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|
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.
There's not a ton to say here, so let's just dump some data.
|Special Teams Snap-Weighted Size, 2021|
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|
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.