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Davante Adams – Using the College WR Stat Filter to Explore Red Zone Dominance

NCAA Football: Colorado at Fresno State

As rookie scouting season kicks into full swing for Dynasty leagues I wanted to highlight one of my favorite prospects in the 2014 class, Davante Adams.  In my last article I questioned why Adams isn’t receiving more love as an elite wide receiver, despite putting up a historically good performance in 2013.  I also explore the common Michael Crabtree comparison that’s made by the draft analyst community and explain why that might even be selling Adams a bit short.  Part of the reason the Adams/Crabtree comparison is legit for me is that they were both dominant red zone receivers, sporting strong “Eric Decker Factor” red zone TD rates of .36 and .37 respectively.

Some of you might retort that guys like Dez Bryant (.50) and Calvin Johnson (.44) are more beastly red zone guys.  That’s true from a pure TD rate perspective, but Adams and Crabtree are actually more impressive when we account for the difference in raw volume of red zone targets and TDs these guys recorded.  How do I know this?

The College WR Stats App

I’m glad you asked!  Using the freshly updated College WR Stat Filter App you can see what I’m talking about.  I love this app because it lets you really drill into specific parts of a player’s game.  The app is a collection of individual play-by-play data from CFB seasons 2005 through 2013.  With the filters on the app you can look at tons of different things.  Here’s the primer on the app.  And some quick examples off the top of my head of things the app can help you do:

  • Rank receivers on the best yards per target in 2009 (or any other year/span of years since 2005.  You can specify the minimum number of targets).

  • Find the most clutch 3rd down receivers in college football (hint: sort on Percent of Yards-to-Go)

  • Identify the best home-run hitters – guys scoring from more than 20 yards out on the field.

There are almost endless possibilities.  For my purposes, in order to see just how impressive Crabtree and Adams are in the red zone here’s how I calibrated the app:

  1. Drop the minimum targets from 45 to 5 (this will make the app work a little more gracefully when we specify red zone – i.e. nobody has ever had 45 targets in a season in that part of the field).
  2. Drop the max end of the Yards from End Zone slider from 99 down to 20 (this shows you any targets that were thrown the receiver’s way inside the opponent’s red zone).
  3. The results table is pre-sorted on Yards, but let’s click twice on the Targets column (TRG) to get it sorted descending on number of targets.

We’re now looking at a table of wide receivers from 2005 to present who’ve seen the most number of red zone targets in an individual season.  As we know, with increased usage generally comes decreased efficiency.  And that makes sense – the smaller we make the sample size, the more a very successful outcome can be due to pure randomness (if a guy has three red zone targets and two happen to be TDs, he ends up with a .67 RZTDR).  The larger we make the sample size, the less likely the result is due to randomness, AND the more likely the success rate is to fall off (if one guy is the RZ weapon for the team, the defense might do well to try to put all their effort into stopping him).

So while Calvin Johnson’s .44 is impressive, it’s really just 8 TDs on 18 targets.  And while Dez Bryant’s red zone consistency cannot be denied (north of .44 all three seasons) it came on relatively low usage:

Player Year RZ TD RZ Target RZTDR
Dez Bryant 1 4 9 0.44
Dez Bryant 2 6 12 0.50
Dez Bryant 3 2 4 0.50

Davante Adams – High Usage & Efficiency

Let’s put Davante Adams’ red zone efficiency into context using the list from the College WR Stat Filter App.  You can see from the sort we did that Adams 2013 campaign yielded the 3rd highest red zone target volume in a season since 2005.  That’s pretty telling to me in and of itself.  Sure, it’s partly because the Fresno State air attack was so prolific, but that’s also a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.  Would the FSU offense have been so prolific if it weren’t for Adams?  Plus, using the data from the app (click the “Download Data!” button) you can use Excel to calculate Adams’ market share of the FSU red zone targets.  Adams still accounted for 36% of the total red zone targets for the year – the leader over second place Isaiah Burse by a whole 15%.  He was a heavy raw- and relative-usage red zone player.

Other than Crabtree, who we know also had a historic breakout season back in 2007, no one tops Davante Adams in terms high efficiency on high usage in the red zone.  My charting skills may leave something to be desired, but here’s an attempt to depict the impressive red zone efficiency given the ridiculous red zone usage that Adams saw.  For the below bubble chart I’ve chosen to lop off any players with sub 20 red zone target seasons to make it a bit less noisy.  For the remaining players, I calculated the average red zone efficiency rate which is about 0.33.  I then calculate the player’s efficiency above or below that rate.  So Davante Adams registers a +0.03 due to his red zone TD rate of 0.36.  I then plot targets on the X axis and red zone efficiency over/under on the Y axis.  Here’s what we get:

DavanteAdamsRZTDRt

Right off the bat you can see just how much heavier Adams’ red zone usage is than most other players (how far to the right his bubble is).  You can also see just how clustered most of the rest of the sample is around that average red zone TD rate (0.0).  Putting those two together, think about how impressive it is for Adams (and Crabtree) to remain above average in red zone efficiency even with that super-heavy workload. Defenses HAD to know they were the preferred targets and yet they continued to score even with increased defensive attention. One has to think that kind of scoring skill translates to the NFL.

One counter argument to the notion that Adams is particularly dominant in the red zone might be “He faced inferior quality defenses in the Mountain West.” It’s possible. I don’t have any data to quantify how much worse (or not worse) MWC defenses were this year relative to any baseline or historical measure. But I would argue defensive quality might even matter a bit less in the red zone where the defense has a better idea what’s coming and the offense has less room to work with. It just becomes a physical battle. One that Adams seems to have an ability to win consistently.

Adams vs. 2014 Wide Receivers

Lastly, let’s use the College Career Graphs App to compare Adams’ red zone TD rate to some of the other wide receivers being ranked ahead of him in NFL and dynasty rookie mock drafts (Adams is excluded from the list to save space – remember his RZTDR is 0.36):

DavanteAdams2014Comps

There are only two guys who come close to Adams in red zone efficiency: Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans.  But again, if we look at the workload it’s really not even comparable to Adams:

Player Year RZ TD RZ Target RZTDR
Kelvin Bejamin 2 7 13 0.54
Mike Evans 2 4 11 0.36

Given what a dominant college receiver Davante Adams was, the fact that he isn’t mentioned in the same breath as a lot of the other receivers in this class is still baffling to me. Here’s hoping he continues to be overlooked in Dynasty circles!

 

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