How Will Free Agents Travis Benjamin and Marvin Jones Affect Their New QBs?

After the retirements of wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Malcom Floyd, the Lions and Chargers had holes to fill. They filled those holes with Marvin Jones and Travis Benjamin respectively. But are they up to the task? And what does it mean for the outlooks of Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers?

Can Marvin Jones Replace Calvin Johnson?

Obviously, you can’t just replace Calvin Johnson with anybody. He’s probably one of the three best WRs in history and was arguably the best WR of all time at his peak. But we can look at how he contributed to the Lions in 2015 and see if Jones can be a serviceable replacement.

Let’s turn to the AYA App. AYA stands for adjusted yards per attempt, a measure of passing efficiency that includes touchdowns and interceptions.1 The app lets you see how efficient certain QB-receiver pairs are. But one of the more underrated elements of the app is that it lets you break down those results by where on the field the passes were thrown. It may be easier to show you than to fully explain it with words:


We can see that most of Megatron’s 2015 targets came on the left side of the field. He excelled on deep targets on the left side of the field and short targets in the center of field. Let’s compare that with the career of Marvin Jones:2


Jones has been used more-or-less equally on the left and right sides of the field. But he was more effective on the left side and has actually been more effective in the short-left area than Megatron was in 2015. Jones has also fared well in the short-middle, though as not well as Johnson. Both were used fairly frequently but inefficiently in the short-right area. Overall, Jones’ historical usage and efficiency line up fairly well with Johnson’s 2015 usage, with Johnson being somewhat more efficient, as expected.

Here’s Stafford’s plot from 2015:


Relative to expectations, Stafford fared the worst in the deep-right portion of the field, which is why it appears in white rather than green on the plot. Jones’ historical efficiency doesn’t suggest he’ll help Stafford in that area going forward.

The no-brainer takeaway here is that the loss of Johnson should cause you to downgrade Stafford’s projections going forward. Jones compares favorably to Johnson in the areas where he received 129 of his 2015 targets. Coincidentally, Golden Tate had 128 targets last season. I think it’s reasonable to expect Jones to receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 to 130 targets, which would give you an expected range of PPR finishes from WR30 to WR18.

Can Travis Benjamin Replace Malcom Floyd?

This is a more interesting question. Floyd had a great career for the Chargers, averaging 17.3 yards per reception on 321 career receptions. But the truth is that he was more of a high-quality role player than a truly irreplaceable talent like Johnson. Here’s how he performed in 2015:


As you can see by all the red in the plot, Floyd was mediocre in 2015. For context, here’s Philip Rivers’ 2015 results:


While Floyd was only above average in a single area, Rivers was above average in all but one. For additional context, here’s how Floyd fared for the entirety of his career prior to 2015:


I think it’s safe to say it was time for Floyd to retire based on his poor 2015 performance. So it’s not a very high bar for Benjamin to be an improvement. Floyd lives up to his reputation as a deep threat, but does Travis Benjamin?:


Benjamin lives up to his reputation in that his best areas of the field are the deep-left and deep-center while he has been mediocre in the short areas. His negative AYA in the deep-right sticks out like a sore thumb, meaning that INTs thrown on those targets outweigh the yardage that he gained. But since Benjamin was primarily signed off of the strength of a career season with 966 yards, let’s look at his results from just last season:


The results are fairly similar, which is to be expected because Benjamin received over half of his career targets last season.

Overall, I would say that the loss of Floyd and the addition of Benjamin is a net-positive for Philip Rivers’ outlook. But to repeat or improve on his career 2015, Benjamin needs to be more than just the next Malcom Floyd, who never topped 92 targets or 856 yards in a season. These numbers don’t suggest that Benjamin is actually better than Floyd was historically, so if the discrepancy is the result of anything other than their disparity in QB play it doesn’t bode well for Benjamin.

  1. TDs are valued as 20 yards and INTs are valued as -45 yards.  (back)
  2. There is of course the matter of entanglement- that Jones’ results may say more about Andy Dalton than himself. But that’s always an issue with football analysis. From my own observation of QB-receiver pairs it doesn’t seem like that big of an issue in this kind of analysis, but I encourage you to play around with the app and come to your own conclusions.  (back)
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