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Geno Smith and Receiver Valuation
Photo by Greg Cooper
Photo by Greg Cooper

As offseason dynasty hot stove season heats up, I’ve been thinking about the QB position on a number of my teams. I took over a few dynasty rebuilds in the past two years, and have a fair bit of exposure to Geno Smith. So it was with great interest that I read this piece by Chase Stuart.

From Football Perspective:

For Smith, the most similar comps are a Hall of Famer [Terry Bradshaw]….The positive takeaway for Smith fans is that having a bad TD/INT ratio as a rookie is far from a death knell: Eli ManningTroy Aikman, and Bradshaw all also ranked in the bottom three of the league in that metric as rookies…. For Tampa Bay fans, the most similar quarterback to Glennon is…. Bruce Gradkowski?

As always, read the whole piece at Mr Stuart’s blog- he creates some interesting historical comparisons for 2013’s rookie QBs, using a “similarity score” approach that will resonate with RotoViz readers.

One of the points Mr Stuart made was that Geno Smith had a dearth of receiving talent relative to many other rookie QBs. Of course, Geno Smith wasn’t the only rookie QB last year – EJ Manuel started 10 games, and Mike Glennon 13. How did their surrounding casts compare? That got me thinking about a simple way to look at a QBs surrounding receiving talent. Football buffs always say that a QBs surrounding talent affects their performance, but we seldom make an attempt to measure the surrounding talent.


I started with the same Pro Football Reference screener I used when I wrote this article about Geno Smith, Browning Nagle, and Peyton Manning. I pared the list of comparable QBs to just those drafted since 2004, leaving me with a set of 25 (but not Brandon Weeden, because he was a 29-frickin-year-old rookie). Next, I identified the top 3 pass catchers (regardless of position) for each rookie QB. Then, I used PFR to calculate each receiver’s Approximate Value/Game (AV/G) prior to the QBs rookie season. I chose that metric because (a) it’s quick and easy to find and use, (b) is a “real life” measure of value, not just a fantasy football metric, and (c) should be year/era agnostic.

My goal was to get a quick idea of how “good” each rookie QBs top targets were. The method isn’t perfect- I’m only looking at the top 3 pass catchers, and not factoring in things like the age of the receivers or the QB.

In cases where one of the top 3 pass catchers was a rookie (e.g. no Approximate Value prior to the rookie QB), I counted all of their rookie AV/G, rather than dropping to the fourth-leading receiver or giving partial credit for the rookie’s AV/G. First of all, I wanted this to be a simple exercise, but also I think it’s fair to say that Dalton and Luck benefitted from having A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton to throw to. In the chart below, rookie QBs who also had a rookie as one of their top 3 pass catchers are labelled in red.


This table shows some basic performance/efficiency data for each QB’s rookie (Year N) season, and the career AV/G for their first, second, and third leading receiver, along with the average for all three, up to and including year N-1. The table is sorted by year, to put the 2013 rookies at the top, but go ahead and spend a few minutes fiddling with it. In particular, sort it by the “Receiver Average” column to rank from least to most valuable receiving corps.

Approximate Value/G for Top Three Pass Catchers

PlayerYearAgeCmp%TDIntY/AAY/AANY/A ▾Y/GRec 1Rec 2Rec 3Rec Ave
Geno Smith20132355.80%12216.95.34.17190.40.3330.2500.3180.301
Mike Glennon20132459.4%1996.36.24.98200.60.6450.3130.1270.361
E.J. Manuel20132358.8%1196.45.84.87197.20.1860.4060.5130.368
Ryan Tannehill20122458.26%12136.816.095.23205.90.3180.4790.1960.331
Robert Griffin20122265.65%2058.148.597.47213.30.3060.4140.5350.418
Andrew Luck20122354.07%23186.986.425.66273.40.7630.2310.5330.509
Andy Dalton20112458.14%20136.596.235.65212.40.6670.2670.1540.362
Christian Ponder20112354.30%13136.375.254.25168.50.6900.3590.1640.404
Cam Newton20112259.96%21177.847.176.24253.20.6440.4350.2740.451
Blaine Gabbert20112250.85%12115.364.743.68147.60.5330.8180.2950.549
Jimmy Clausen20102352.51%395.214.062.98119.80.6410.0000.2140.285
Sam Bradford20102360.00%18155.955.424.73219.50.1430.2000.6550.333
Josh Freeman20092154.48%10186.44.293.69185.50.4550.4090.2310.365
Matthew Stafford20092153.32%13206.014.323.64226.70.5160.5000.2690.428
Mark Sanchez20092353.85%12206.714.94.07162.90.4270.3750.5170.440
Matt Ryan20082361.06%16117.937.527.012150.5740.3000.3030.392
Joe Flacco20082360.05%14126.946.335.29185.70.5400.3480.3860.425
John Beck20072656.07%
Vince Young20062351.54%12136.165.194.52146.60.4370.1430.1250.235
Jason Campbell20062553.14%1066.275.935.48185.30.2810.5970.2710.383
Matt Leinart20062356.76%11126.765.915.2212.30.6250.5000.2220.449
Jay Cutler20062359.12%957.316.985.81200.20.7290.7250.3790.611
Alex Smith20052150.91%1115.32.421.1197.20.2070.0910.5170.271
Carson Palmer20042560.88%18186.715.664.96222.80.5680.2000.1880.319
Ben Roethlisberger20042266.44%17118.888.366.93187.20.5100.3440.5330.463
Nick Foles20122360.80%656.465.13242.7.523.313.652.496


According to this metric, only 3 QBs had a less valuable receiving corps than Geno Smith: Vince Young, Alex Smith, and Jimmy Clausen. On the other end of the spectrum, Gabbert, Luck, and Cutler had receiving trios that averaged better than a half point of AV per game, which is really good.

Remember, these are the receivers’ AVs before the rookie QB played, so we can’t say that the QB caused the receivers to have higher/lower value. I made a chart (it’s called RotoViz after all) to illustrate the relationships. The yellow line represents the average receiving corps’ AV/G:



Think of the QBs to the right of the yellow line as having had more to work with than those to the left of the line. I charted Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt, since that is one of the more predictive QB stats.I like to look at players with a similar ANYA (Y axis), and compare the value of their receivers. I’m not suggesting any predictive effect here- but I do think there’s value in looking at the relationships. We’re quick to form opinions about QBs- sometimes without fully assessing the context in which they played.

  • For example, Ryan and Roethlisberger had similar rookie ANYAs, but Big Ben had, ostensibly, a more valuable receiving corps to work with, so one could argue that Ryan had the better season.
  • Likewise, Luck and Dalton finished their rookie campaigns with nearly identical ANYAs, but Luck’s top 3 receivers had an AV/G nearly 30% higher than Dalton’s.
  • Dalton has the best rookie performance of any QB with a below-average receiving corps by this metric.
  • The average AV/G for a number one pass catcher is 0.486. The combined average for all three of Luck, Cutler, and Gabbert’s top pass catchers is greater than that.
  • Geno Smith managed basically the same ANYA as Mark Sanchez, but with a receiving corps whose AV/G was 32% worse.
  • Geno Smith (and many others, ugh) managed a better ANYA than Matthew Stafford, with a much worse receiving corps.
  • Manuel and Glennon come out very close on this measure. I think there’s room for some cautious optimism about their performance, but the jury is definitely still out. On the other hand, they basically had the same value receiving corps as Dalton, but didn’t perform to the same level.
  • I didn’t realize – or forgot – just how awful Tannehill’s receivers have been.
  • Poor Alex Smith. His top 3 receivers as a rookie? Brandon Lloyd, Arnaz Battle, and Kevan Barlow. I’m not suggesting he’s a great QB, but look what he started with.
  • Try sorting the table by Receiver 1. The QBs with the best option by this measure were Luck (Reggie Wayne), Cutler (Javon Walker), and Christian Ponder (Percy Harvin).
  • Those with the worst Receiver1? Sam Bradford (Danny Amendola), Manuel (Scott Chandler), and the aforementioned Alex Smith.
  • Geno’s Receiver 1 (Jeremy Kerley) ranks number 20 of 25. Mike Glennon’s (Vincent Jackson) ranked sixth. I’m not saying Geno is bound for greatness, but given what he had to work with, I think he’s worth holding on to.


Enjoy the thought exercise. The goal is to think about the quality/caliber of the receiving corps that a QB starts their career with. I also think this might be a useful concept to keep in mind whether a team’s new QB is a rookie, or a vet acquired during the offseason. Consider these teams, who could all have new starting QBs next year. At present (this will change with free agency and the draft, of course), here’s how their receiving corps’ stack up:

Team Rec 1 Rec 2 Rec 3 Ave
cle 0.567 0.091 0.216 0.291
min 0.640 0.333 0.500 0.491
jax 0.324 0.200 0.728 0.417
hou 0.734 0.313 0.122 0.389
oak 0.344 0.366 0.188 0.299

Cleveland looks awful, but that’s because Chris Ogbonnaya was the team’s third leading receiver last year. Josh Gordon is an uber stud, of course, but Jordan Cameron‘s had only one decent year so far. Jacksonville’s corps will take a hit if/when MJD leaves, making their value dependent on an incoming player or the return of Justin Blackmon. Oakland is probably as crappy as they look in this table. Might Minnesota make a decent landing spot for a new starting QB?

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