Eckert’s Examinations: 2022 College TE Receiving Data

Continuing the series, I wanted to look at and provide data for the tight end position, at which the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to select Darnell Washington in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Today’s goal is to view how the players at the position fared as receivers, following up my run blocking study where Washington is projected to make the biggest impact right away. The data in this article looks at final college seasons in 2022, focusing on the players who heard their names called in the draft and one player who was excluded due to Sports Info Solutions (SIS) not tracking smaller schools. The goal is to see how Washington stacked up among his peers.

Let’s start with routes run and targets, for receivers’ quantity of opportunities:

Here we see Washington was utilized well below average in the pass game among the 14 qualifying tight ends, with 142 routes run, which was third least, and 41 targets ranking 11th. When recalling his second-most run blocking snaps, quality of play there, and the encouraging availability playing every game I highlighted last article, we get great data context of his expected NFL role and utilization, which is perfect for what Pittsburgh needs at the TE2 spot.

Let’s examine targets further, adding yardage context with average distance of target (ADoT) along with average distance of catch (ADoC):

This is a welcome part of what Washington provided as a receiver last year at Georgia, with above the mean numbers in pass distances. His 9.3 ADoT ranked fourth, and encouragingly tied for an even stronger third rank with an 8.2 ADoC with Old Dominion’s Zack Kuntz, and in comparison, had a much healthier differential that lands above the trendline. Knock on wood this translates well to Pittsburgh, a passing offense that needs, and hopefully will open things up more through the air with quarterback Kenny Pickett in his second year.

Next, here are on target catch rates (total receptions divided by the number of catchable targets) and drop percentages (drops divided by catchable targets) in 2022:

Washington lands below the mean in both data points, with a particularly low 85.7% on target catch rate that ranked 12th, and a 6.5 drop percentage (11th). He was charted for two drops in his low number of opportunities for totality context that contributed to this result, and hopefully he can clean this up in his rookie year to provide quality over quantity. This would allow Washington to maximize and complement the rest of the Steelers skill position players who will likely get the bulk of the targets.

I also wanted to look at and provide overall completion percentages, along with receiver ratings (quarterback passer rating when targeted):

These data points were another element of Washington’s final college season that was well below the average of drafted tight ends. His 61% completion rate ranked 11th, and the same rank in receiver rating (91.8), with 25 catches, 403 yards, and one touchdown in the 2022 regular season. Once again, we see a connection issue and lack of impact in these terms comparatively in the draft class. It will be interesting to see how he fares as a receiver as he begins his NFL journey.

Other important elements I wanted to look at come situationally, so here are receivers first down rates, along with broken/missed tackles per reception to see who earned/created extra yardage:

As we can see, Washington provided a substantial impact as a receiver in 2022 with the top-ranked first down rate at an impressive 80%. If this can continue in the NFL, along with new teammate and tight end Pat Freiermuth’s strengths in this area, the data suggests my hope for the position room playing a huge role in keeping the chains moving in 2023. Another strength Washington provides is breaking tackles and forcing missed ones, landing above the mean in this regard as well. While discussing these positive aspects of Washington’s game as a receiver, I would be remiss if I didn’t link Dave Bryan’s great contextualization article of his 2022 targets, where he was impressed with his yards after catch. This is obviously a very encouraging result of these skills, and his addition to Pittsburgh considering the vast struggles the Steelers offense had with YAC last year.

To close, let’s look at a more total view using points earned per route (The total of a player’s EPA responsibility on targets using the Total Points system that distributes credit among all players on the field for a given play. Totals are scaled up to map to the average points scored or allowed on a team level, with the player’s snap count determining how much to adjust. For receivers, this includes accounting for offensive line play, off-target passes, dropped passes, and broken tackles) and positive rates (the percentage of passes thrown to the player that resulted in a positive EPA (i.e. a successful play for the offense):

When on the field in passing situations for Georgia last season, Washington provided quality value for his team overall. He had a strong third rank in points earned per route and positive percentage, while also matching this rank in ADoC, and an impressive top rank in broken/missed tackles, providing nice abilities after the catch. His 6’7” stature makes him intriguing as a red zone target, one of the biggest issues of last year’s passing offense that Pittsburgh will look to remedy in 2023. He was also above average in ADoT and first down rate, which will hopefully translate to the Black and Gold as well. Washington was below average in opportunities that will likely match his NFL role (at least out of the gate), along with on target catch and completion percentages, drop rate, and receiver rating, which illustrates a lack of top end receiving numbers among the drafted tight ends this year, and some quality aspects he will be looking to clean up as his NFL journey begins. Overall, I come away feeling good about how Washington’s strengths and fit with the Steelers will translate, and I’m very excited to see how it pans out.

Throughout the rest of the offseason, I will dive deeper into the data as we continue to learn about the newest Pittsburgh Steelers. How do you think Darnell Washington will fare his rookie year? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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