In my last post I introduced the concept of VTP+ (“Versus Team Position Plus”), a new stat that makes quick comparisons of players on the same NFL team, within the same position group. Head over to that article for the full explanation, but the quick recap is this is a metric that doesn’t try to be anything more than a simplified look at the per-target and per-attempt efficiency numbers of players operating within the same set of circumstances (i.e. in the same offense). It’s weighted such that 100 represents the team’s mean, and every number above or below 100 represents a percentage point above or below the mean. Week 1 is in the books, but let’s take a quick look at a few specific positional groups from 2014 a little more closely, add in what we now know, and discuss any actionable results.
In 2014 only three Packers wide receivers had 20 or more targets, the first time that had happened since 2006 (with Brett Favre still the regular quarterback in Green Bay). What pops out first was Randall Cobb’s per target numbers being better than Jordy Nelson’s across the board. Impressive. Also of note, while we wouldn’t necessarily expect Davante Adams to be in the same sphere as those two, he wasn’t even in the same galaxy. Unfortunately, his week one numbers weren’t any better. It’s a positive sign that he led the Packers with eight targets1, but he only hauled in 50 percent of those catches. By comparison, Cobb caught all five of his targets, James Jones caught all four of his (plus another one in the end zone that was called back by penalty), and Richard Rodgers hauled in all three of his. In fact, Aaron Rodgers only threw one incompletion that wasn’t targeted for Adams (it went Eddie Lacy‘s way). I’m not saying it’s time to dump Adams for 50 cents on the dollar, but I’m concerned. There’s reason to believe the Packers value experience, so what James Jones did just a couple weeks after re-signing with the Packers should be a very real concern for Adams owners.
Michael Floyd and John Brown put up very similar market shares last year, but draft trends this year would have led you to believe Brown had the better season. As you can see, it was actually Floyd who was more efficient on a per-target basis in 2014. While Floyd’s been dinged up and was a question mark to even play in week one, Brown’s efficiency numbers this week left some more to be desired. He received seven targets, but only hauled in four for 46 yards. This led to a Catch Rate VTP+ of 81 and a yards-per-target VTP+ of only 70 (again, what this means is he was less efficient than the other Cardinals WRs). He did haul in the only TD for a Cardinals WR on the day, and there could be sample size noise here, but his inefficiency lines up with the 2014 numbers. Also, on a day when Floyd only received one target (a catch for 18 yards), the RB and TE groups each combined for six targets. New Orleans’ secondary isn’t very good without Keenan Lewis, and the Cardinals didn’t have the ball with a lead of more than five points until their kneel down to end the game, so I’m not sure matchup or game script can be blamed here. If you’re a Brown owner, keep an eye on his workload and efficiency as Floyd gets healthier.
The other Cardinals WR to mention is Larry Fitzgerald, who had a strong 2014 when healthy. He only scored twice, but his TD numbers have bounced around since his elite days. He scored 10 times in 2013, and some positive regression in the red zone should be in store in 2015. In week one, his Catch Rate of 75 percent was good for a VTP+ of 106, and his yards-per-target VTP+ was 116. He looked fine.
You knew Mark Ingram had a strong season in 2014, but this is another example that his numbers were workload dependent. Last month, I wrote about how his workload last season was abnormal for a Saints back under Sean Payton. It’s hard to imagine he’ll see nine targets in the passing game once C.J. Spiller is back, and the fact that he only received nine carries to Khiry Robinson‘s eight looks more in line with Payton’s typical RB usage than what we saw during Ingram’s four-game stretch of averaging 26 carries/game last season (games in which Khiry and Pierre Thomas were both injured).
Before week one, FD wrote that he doesn’t understand why people were so down on Khiry Robinson this draft season. This comparison shows that he was actually better than Ingram with his touches in 2014. I don’t think he’ll be seeing six targets per game, either, but he’s a very good arbitrage play on Ingram if he’s still unowned in your league. I also just want to throw a quick note out that Drew Brees targeted his RBs 18 times in week one. You Spiller owners should be salivating.
The Broncos had a very tough week one. C.J. Anderson apparently has a sprained toe, which can be difficult to play through, so his health certainly needs to be monitored. That said, looking back to 2014 reminds us he was much more efficient with his touches than Ronnie Hillman last season. Both received 12 carries in week one, and Hillman’s 3.4 YPC looks much better than CJA’s 2.4. But let’s be real – neither of these are acceptable numbers. I’m concerned about the Denver rushing game in general, but per Football-Outsiders Baltimore’s rush defense was fifth in the league last season in DVOA. I won’t blame you if you want to declare Peyton Manning done after that game, but I’m taking a more measured approach. It was one game.
Barring the scenario where the sky falls and the Broncos’ offense implodes, there are arguments to be made for both backs here. Anderson’s injury, plus the fact that there is a new coaching staff in Denver that presumably wouldn’t be stuck on C.J. as the starter, would seem to be reasons to believe Hillman has a chance to take this job and run with it. But I’m not ready to jump off the CJA bandwagon just yet. While he was wildly inefficient in week one, he received eight targets2 to Hillman’s zero. More importantly, the numbers in the graphic above paint a picture of CJA being the far more efficient back. He might struggle for a few weeks if the toe issue lingers, but a healthy CJA > Hillman.
I mentioned in my last article I’d look at this one, because I see a lot of similarity between the roles of Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton in 2014, and the WR2 and WR3 in this offense before them. Bryant’s YPT and touchdown percentage were both higher than average for his team’s position, while Wheaton’s catch rate was better than Bryant’s. In both 2012 and 2013, Emmanuel Sanders posted strong catch rates but a below average ReTD%VTP+ (30 and 79, respectively) for the Steelers, while Mike Wallace and then Jerricho Cotchery posted ReTD%VTP+ rates of 150 and 195 (despite averaging lower catch rates) in the now-Martavis Bryant role. Darrius Heyward-Bey admirably took on Bryant’s role on Thursday night, but I’m expecting big things from Bryant when he gets back.
As you can see, VTP+ gives us a quick and easy way to look at players contextually. There is a lot of year-to-year roster turnover in the NFL, but VTP+ could provide a simple examination of efficiency on a week-to-week basis, in-season. As the season progresses and sample sizes get a little larger, I look forward to following up with some looks at 2015’s numbers. Let me know in the comments what you think, and whether you have any suggestions for improvement.