Eckert: WR Stat Study 2.0 Using Air Yards/Yards After Catch Metrics – 2016-2020

Today I am continuing my “Wide Receiver Study Series”, here is a link to the first study that I would recommend for full context of this study:

WR Study 1.0

Today I wanted to dive a little deeper and get a broader view than a single season.  I also wanted to answer some questions: How were the Wide Receivers used on their catches?  For example, in the last 5 years, which receivers made most of their catches down the field?  Also, which receivers created the most yards after the catch?  Lastly, who had the best balance of the two for overall value?

Here are definitions for the data points used in this study:

  • Air Yards/comp = Numeric value for distance in yards perpendicular to the line of scrimmage at where the targeted receiver caught the ball.
  • YAC (Yards After Catch) = Numeric value for distance in yards perpendicular to the yard line where the receiver made the reception to where the play ended.

With that in mind, let’s see what 2016-2020 looked like:

Awesome!  Lots of fun things to learn from here.  Let’s talk about some takeaways from the graph.  I really think the mean lines are very telling (red dashed lines and black diagonal line).  Looking at the top right for starters, we only see 4 players names that were above the mean in both data points: Hill, Cooper, Hilton, and Antonio Brown.  This highlights a takeaway that Dave Bryan reached when doing his  Big Ben Deep Pass Completion Contextualization (2016-2020) : “Brown was quite an incredible wide receiver and Roethlisberger sure had some chemistry with him.”

Now let’s look at the top left in regard to Juju.  The YAC results are great, but 2020’s short passing game really brought down his Air Yards in this study.  I’m hoping the chemistry with Ben continues to grow, paired with a hopeful improved scheme with Matt Canada that could potentially bring Smith-Schuster’s Air Yards back up to 7-8 yard range (or more) as it was pre 2020.  This will provide more balance for the offense as a whole, and for Juju to hopefully provide even more value with his YAC ability.

Now, let’s look at this angle, who did the best with the most Complete Passes:

Complete Pass Rank Air Yards/comp Rank Yards After Catch Rank Study 1.0 Rank
1. M.Thomas 19 24  
2. D.Hopkins 14 29 7
3. D.Adams 20 10 2
4. J.Landry 26 9 13
5. S.Diggs 17 22 1
6. L.Fitzgerald 32 30  
7. K.Allen 18 20 22
8. M.Evans 1 35 5
9. A.Thielen 11 25 20
10. A.Cooper 15 11 11
11. R.Woods 21 7 32
12. T.Hill 7 6 3
13. A.Brown (TB) 16 13  
14. J.Jones 3 23  
15. B.Cooks 4 19 12
16. G.Tate 33 2  
17. T.Hilton 5 12 30
18. T.Lockett 10 28 6
19. C.Beasley 28 14 10
20. E.Sanders 13 32  
21. T.Boyd 23 15 29
22. S.Shepard 24 27  
23. J.Smith-Schuster 27 5 21
24. O.Beckham 8 18  
25. J.Crowder 30 4  
26. J.Edelman 22 21  
27. M.Jones 2 34 17
28. C.Kupp 31 1 16
29. A.Robinson 12 33 15
30. D.Parker 6 31 28
31. M.Sanu 29 16  
32. R.Cobb 35 3  
33. A.Humphries 34 8  
34. D.Amendola 25 26  
35. R.Anderson 9 17 24

This table really helped me visualize my earlier question: How were the Wide Receivers used on their catches?  The left column is ranked by complete passes but looking at the other columns provides more context. For example, many of the top players in catches ranked lower in other columns. Tyreek Hill is the first player that had a higher number of catches (ranked 12th) and ranked top 10 in all the other columns as well.  That is ‘hitting the jackpot” in my opinion, but unfortunately there aren’t many receivers that have provided that over this sample size.

So, what is the takeaway for the Steelers in 2021?  If they can be a more run-pass balanced offense, this should increase team value (EPA/play, Success) overall.  If this balance occurs, we could potentially see an uptick in air yards generally speaking (even if it’s slight), considering Big Ben would be throwing less, hopefully keeping his arm/body fresher through the season compared to his “feeling worn down” comment regarding the end of 2020.  For the wide receivers, improving on their individual focus goals mentioned in the first study.  But the biggest difference I hope to see in 2021 will be the route concepts and alignments.  We have the privilege of continuity and high potential at this position, can’t wait to see if my optimism is right and the coaching staff can maximize it.

Now I would like to take all the information from the table above to get a more complete ranking for this study: Complete Pass Rank (for 2016-2020 catch value), Air Yards/comp Rank (2016-2020 downfield value), Yards After Catch (2016-2020 creating yards value), and Study 1.0 Rank (2020 EPA/Success for team/recency value).

Study 2.0 Rank
1. T.Hill
2. D.Adams
3. S.Diggs
4. A.Cooper
5. M.Evans
6. B.Cooks
7. D.Hopkins
8. J.Landry
9. J.Jones
10. A.Brown (TB)
11. M.Thomas
12. T.Lockett
13. T.Hilton
14. A.Thielen
15. O.Beckham
16. K.Allen
17. G.Tate
18. R.Woods
19. C.Beasley
20. J.Smith-Schuster
21. C.Kupp
22. J.Crowder
23. M.Jones
24. R.Anderson
25. E.Sanders
26. T.Boyd
27. L.Fitzgerald
28. A.Robinson
29. J.Edelman
30. R.Cobb
31. D.Parker
32. S.Shepard
33. A.Humphries
34. M.Sanu
35. D.Amendola

For the next study, I will add playoff value similar to my other series and wrap up with more visualizations, hopefully you enjoyed! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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