The Pittsburgh Steelers have been very active this offseason, with one of their biggest moves being a trade for Allen Robinson II from the Los Angeles Rams. Today I wanted to continue the series, looking at and providing some data context to what Robinson provided for the Rams last season, along with the most targeted 2022 Steelers wide receivers (minimum of 50) from a stats perspective. The goal is to get some recency context and see what we can glean for the upcoming season.
Let’s start with routes run and targets, for receivers’ quantity of opportunities:
Of the three players in our sights today, Diontae Johnson had the most opportunity with 608 routes run, which was the fourth most out of 85 qualifying players, along with 147 targets (seventh). We also see George Pickens was on the field quite a bit as a rookie, with 558 routes run (13th) but 85 targets, which was less than most players with that amount of opportunity (48th), though it’s reasonable to expect that to go up in year two. Robinson lands on the bottom left, with 308 routes run (75th) and 52 targets (T-79th) due to a foot injury that required surgery and cut his season short, after playing (and starting) in ten games. Very important context as we dive deeper.
Let’s examine targets further, adding yardage context with average distance of target (ADoT) along with average distance of catch (ADoC):
Pickens fared very well in this regard last year, with the go a primary route in his rookie year that had a limited route tree overall, something that will also likely expand in year two. He ranked fourth in ADoT and an even better third in ADoC in 2022, highlighting his sure hands and encouragingly landing above the trendline as well. Johnson was just above league average in ADoT (T-42nd) but below it in ADoC (T-53rd), and the only player in our sights below the trendline. Robinson was below the mean in both data points, with an ADoT that tied for 61st and his ADoC landing at 52nd, for a healthier differential than Johnson.
To add more context to this point, here are NFL receivers on target catch rates (total receptions divided by the number of catchable targets) and drop percentages (drops divided by catchable targets) in 2022:
Robinson had the best on-target catch rate of the group we’re focused on, landing above average with a 39th rank, but did have a below-average result in drop rate (T-52nd). He was charted for two drops, and likely would have had a stronger result if he played in more games, which is very encouraging. Pickens fits that point as well, faring best of the group in drop rate with a respectable 27th rank, who also had two drops but played in every game last year, a similar feat Robinson has provided over the years that I would expect to continue on hopefully more snaps with Pittsburgh in 2023. Pickens was also just shy of the mean in on-target catch percentage (T-49th), highlighting his impressive hands as a rookie once again, and hopefully, these two can provide consistency this year. Johnson definitely has room to improve from 2022, with below-average results in both. His on-target catch rate in particular, which ranked 70th along with a drop rate that tied for 52nd, charted for six drops as one of the most targeted receivers in the NFL last season, which is very important to factor in.
Next, I wanted to look at and provide overall completion percentages, along with receiver ratings (quarterback passer rating when targeted):
The best singular result came from Pickens, with a strong 12th rank in receiver rating in his 801-yard and four-touchdown campaign, but a lower overall completion percentage that ranked (57th). Obviously, quarterback play is a big factor in that result, which of course improved throughout the season as Kenny Pickett earned the starting job and grew throughout his rookie year, and it’s reasonable their connection will be stronger in 2023. This certainly needs to apply across the board, but particularly looking for an improvement between Pickett and Johnson, with the chart illustrating his poor season in these terms, with a completion percentage that tied for 69th, and an extremely low receiver rating that was second worst of the qualifying players in his 882-yard year that became famous for incredibly having no touchdowns. Ironically the worst number was Chase Claypool, who played eight games with Pittsburgh in 2022 before being traded for a second-round pick, which ultimately led to the selection of Joey Porter Jr. (wow). Robinson had a slightly above-average receiver rating that ranked 43rd and was just below the mean in completion rate (49th) in his 339-yard three touchdown year with the Rams. Here’s to hoping the completion rates improve across the board for the 2023 Steelers, with the biggest hopeful jump obviously coming from Johnson.
Other important elements I wanted to look at come situationally, so here are receiver’s first down rates, along with broken/missed tackles per reception to see who earned/created extra yardage:
Pickens was the only player above average in both, with a first down rate that impressively ranked ninth, along with a broken/missed tackle figure that was slightly above average and landed 28th. Johnson fared best among the focused players in these terms with a 24th rank, making guys miss a strong aspect of his 2022 season. His first down rate was a different story though, with a well below-average result that ranked 68th. Some of this has to do with sheer volume, along with an average ADoT, things that limited the 2022 offense and must change this year. Robinson’s first down rate is encouraging, ranking 16th in this regard, impressively on a lower ADoT than Johnson, and hopefully, he can bring that value to Pittsburgh with chain-moving plays. He was the only player through Steelers lenses that landed below the mean in broken/missed tackles per reception though, tying for 53rd.
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):
Here we see each player in our sights was below the league average in points earned, with Robinson leading the group and tied for 45th in the rankings. His positive rate is very encouraging, landing at 13th best in the NFL, with meaningful quality of play when on the field for Los Angeles last season. The 2022 Steelers land below the mean in both data points, though Pickens landed just below average in positive percentage (48th) compared to a points earned per route result that tied for 64th. Johnson was well below average in both, ranking very similar to Pickens in points earned per route (67th) and a positive percentage that landed 68th.
So, Robinson fared best in first down and positive rates with strong top 20 ranks, which he can hopefully continue in Pittsburgh. He was slightly above average in on-target catch percentage, and receiver rating, slightly below the league mean in drop percentage, completion rate, broken/missed tackles per reception, and ADoC. The latter was a decent result compared to his below-average ADoT though, and was also below the mean in points earned, but most notably in opportunity. Here’s to hoping it’s a healthy 2023 first and foremost and is able to continue or even build on last year when he was near average or better in several aspects, we looked at today. Pickens’ results were very encouraging overall, faring best in ADoT, ADoC, first down percentage, receiver rating, and routes run which all ranked in the top 15, while also above the mean in drop rate, and broken/missed tackles per reception. He was slightly below the league mean in on-target catch rate and positive percentage, and his below-average results being targets, completion percentage, and points earned per route. Johnson was in the top ten in routes run and targets in a high usage 2022 season, with only his ADoT and broken/missed tackles per reception being slightly above average, while the quality was largely below the line including ADoC, on-target catch percentage, drop rate, completion percentage, receiver rating, first down percentage, points earned per route, and positive rate. Knock on wood it can only improve from here, and hopefully, this group has a very strong 2023 for the black and gold.
What are your thoughts on the data and the 2023 outlook at the position? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.