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Going Long: Efficiency on Deep Passes


My next few articles are going to be built around finding ways to quantify receiver roles and hopefully end up working towards a model of player types like we have for running backs. In this article, I am going to look at receiver performance on deep passes (20+ yards downfield) vs. performance on other passes. I used PFF data to basically filter out yards per target on deep targets and then find yards per target on non-deep passes.

OK, first things first, I looked at all 88 players who had at least 50 total targets last year. For the group, the average player had a yards/target of 11.1 on deep passes (the standard deviation was 4.99) and 7.3 on non-deep passes (standard deviation 1.3). This is important because a player can post a high yards/target number by running a high number of deep targets without necessarily adding value relative to his peers. Of course, then we can get into a debate on the value of being a volume player  and that probably spills over into the value of being a player who can generate a lot of deep targets, but this seems like as good a starting point as any and if nothing else gives us an indicator of how good players were with the type of targets they had.

So without further ado, I’m going to get into some of the more interesting observations (if you have a PFF membership and want me to tell you how to generate the list yourself, tweet me or ask in the comments.)

1. Eric Decker was actually the fourth most efficient player with his deep targets, averaging over 20 yards per deep target on high volume. Santonio Holmes was the most efficient player with his deep targets and Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill were both slightly above average1, so Geno Smith might be a better fit for Deckers’ skill set than anyone realizes.

2. Pierre Garcon averaged 7.8 Yards/Target on his short targets and only 6.8 Yards/Target on his long targets. The good news for Garcon owners in a post D-Jaxolyptic world is that he really didn’t run deep often last season because when he did he wasn’t very effective. There are still probably usage concerns with a new coaching regime and the addition of Andre Roberts, but Garcon and Jackson don’t really play the same position.

3. AJ Green, Vincent Jackson, and TY Hilton were all players that had previously been viewed mainly as deep threats who for various reasons ended up in higher volume situations then they had been previously. All three players maintained above average performance on deep targets but were below average on other targets. Hilton was the worst, performing over a full standard deviation below the mean on his short targets. There’s a reason we saw Hilton and Jacksons’ teams add new receivers and why Cincinati is expected to make bigger use of its new(ish) weapons Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, and Gio Bernard in the passing game this season.

These teams’ #1 receivers, while very good in their own right, were given volume to the point that they were becoming inefficient and forced into roles that did not play into their skill set. All three players will probably shed a significant amount of volume next season, though its also likely that this will come with an increase in their efficiency. As a sidenote: Andre Johnson and Antonio Brown were both able to maintain massive volume while performing above average in both areas of the passing game. This doesn’t mean both players wont regress, but with Andre Johnson being drafted after all the other high volume players mentioned in this blurb, maybe he’s an arbitrage play on those guys.

Bonus round: Mike Brown performed just over one standard deviation above the mean on short passes, Ace Sanders was a little more than one standard deviation below. Neither player will ever be fantasy relevant, but it’ll be interesting to see who makes the roster.2

  1. it’s worth noting that this does not contemplate the role that interceptions play in the equation and INTs on balls thrown to Holmes/Hill killed the Jets last year  (back)
  2. I have an incredibly low threshold for considering something interesting.  (back)

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