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By John Cooney
Yards At Reception (and other WR stats that matter)
don't get hurt running straight ahead...three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust
offense. I will pound you and pound you until you quit."
know, I still didn't know what the hell he was talking about."
- after listening to Sid Gillman describe his passing
offense for almost a whole day.
are three things that can happen when you pass, and two of them ain't
always remind me of a fellow who drowned in a river where the average
depth was only three feet."
Ohio State HC Woody Hayes spouted these verbal gems of offensive
football back in the day. Hayes felt the pass was more of a weapon
of surprise, rather than an option to be called fifty-five to sixty-five
percent of the time. My how times have changed. Fantasy football followed
a very similar line of thinking until recently. Fantasy draft plans
almost always focus on loading up on running backs early. As the game
on the field evolves, with the passing game now the centerpiece of
the majority of NFL offenses, fantasy football owners need to adapt
their draft plans, roster utilization and overall thinking.
they ain’t “pounding it out” on the ground anymore like Coach Hayes
did. Running Back By Committee is the rule now rather than the exception.
Aligning your fantasy football philosophy with Woody Hayes and refusing
to hear what Sid Gillman (a passing game innovator) was saying about
the air attack is not setting you on the path to fantasy football
titles anytime soon. Today, there are certainly more than three things
that can and do happen when the ball is in the air; completions/receptions,
big plays and touchdowns are the big positive fantasy factors. The
quarterback gets most of the attention, glowing and glaring, with
each pass play attempted. On the other side of those laser launches
and rainbow rockets are the wide receivers, benefitting from loose
rule changes, rocket-armed passers and devious offensive geniuses
mapping out various methods of aerial assault. Running backs have
always and still do get first round rock-star treatment in fantasy
drafts. The quarterbacks are still the glamour boys and naturally
grab the big points, but there is a tidal shift of importance toward
the wide receivers that can make the difference in a championship
season. Those pass catching runners of the route tree bring instant
big points to a fantasy lineup with their game-breaking, “take-it-to-the-house”
scores, microwave-fast yardage accumulation and steady point-per-reception
production. Receiver is a “committee” position that fantasy footballers
have been working with for years, especially with the introduction
of the spread offenses in the pro game. Today, on the real turf or
the virtual field of play, the wide receiver plays a bigger role in
winning fantasy football more than ever.
thing old coach Hayes stated that is very true, especially within
the numbers-driven world of fantasy sports… "Statistics always
remind me of a fellow who drowned in a river where the average depth
was only three feet." So true! So true! Fantasy football owners
have the ability to reference every conceivable statistic, result
and projection in countless performance categories. The avalanche
of information can become so cumbersome and confusing that a loss
of focus and the value of the information are lost. Gathering pertinent
info is a start, but knowing what to do with it and how to “read’
it is most important. When breaking down the wide receiver position,
the stats that are often brought into focus are receptions, receiving
yards and touchdowns. Fanballers looking to dig deeper delve into
the number of times a receiver is throw at (targets), yards after
the catch (YAC) and yards per reception average. There are even more
variables that can assist fantasy franchise owners make key decisions
on wide receivers’ values. The type of offensive system a receiver
plays in, his quarterback, the defense on a particular game, all additional
factors that go into a thorough pre-draft going over of how a wide
out might perform for a season, or even week-to-week. There are three
numerical observations that actually open the doors for decision-making
clarity; SNAPS, TARGETS, and average yards at reception (AYAR).
SNAPS indicate the number of plays a player or receiver participates in on the field, with or without the ball going in his direction.
as most know, represent how many passes are thrown in the direction
of a wide receiver, tight end or running back.
Yards AT Reception (AYAR) is the distance or depth of a receiver’s
route at the moment he catches a pass.
skill position player that has a chance to be successful needs opportunity.
Opportunity comes with being on the field first. Obviously a back,
tight end or wideout cannot help his fantasy owners if he isn’t taking
the field regularly, running routes and making himself available to
his QB and you. Taking inventory of a receiver’s SNAPS line each week
paints a picture of that pass catchers chances of seeing balls eventually
coming his way. In the 2011 season, there were five wide receivers
that topped the 1000 snaps mark, led by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson
(1066). Following the Lions Megatron was Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald
(1039), Falcon target magnet Roddy White (1039),
Jets’ top receiving playmaker Santonio Holmes (1026)
and the Patriots super slot man Wes Welker (1021).
Four of these route-runners eclipsed the 80-catch, 1000 yard marks
and all had 8 or more TDs. Holmes was the only “disappointment” of
the top five snaps leaders with just 51 catches and a little over
650 yards receiving. The Jets receiver was also the only one of the
top group to be targeted under 100 times (98). Opportunity begins
with being on the field. Snaps means your man is (or isn’t) on the
a consistent SNAPS star is a teaser stat to entice the fantasy franchise
owner to dig deeper in wide receiver breakdowns. The next level number
to pay attention to is one we are all familiar with these days; TARGETS.
You want your route runners to figure in to a team’s offensive game
plan and in the crosshairs of the quarterback. Again, being in on
a high number of snaps brings about opportunity, and opportunity often
brings results. Four of the same group of five receivers noted above
as the leaders in snaps for 2011 (Johnson, Fitzgerald, White and Welker)
also were the NFL leaders in targets. White led all receivers with
175 passes his way, Welker was 2nd at 169 while Johnson and Fitzgerald
followed up with 151 each. Extending this target list, of the 22 wide
receivers that tallied at least 900 snaps last season, all but four
were targeted by their QBs 100 times or more. Making targets a priority
study in your pre-draft plans and then into the season is vital to
fielding your best team over the course of a season, and inserting
a productive weekly lineup from the receiver position. One can micro-study
the target stat by breaking down a wideout’s use inside the 20 yard
line, or the Red Zone. This is a stat that can be useful at times,
but has gotten more attention and carried more evaluation weight than
it is worth. While it is a fact that certain receivers have become
“specialists” as red zone targets, like Plaxico Burress,
or Brandon Marshall, the stat is a bit fuzzy in accuracy
and fantasy effectiveness. Yes, a number of “big” receivers are featured
in the red zone on fades and back-shoulder darts. But many of the
smaller, shifty slot-types like Lance Moore, Wes
Welker and Pierre Garcon are targeted in the red
zone often not on scoring attempts, but to get the football closer
to pay dirt. It is still a target, and a chance to score, but red
zone targets are not always a great determining factor in receiver
evaluation. What is important is to move on and read what a receiver
does with the ball in his hands, and where he is usually being targeted.
How far downfield is a wideout going when he hauls in a passer’s offering
is quite notable.
(average yards at reception) details how a receiver is being utilized
in the route tree. Much is made of a player’s YAC (yards after catch),
and the importance of that ability. But as an indicator of big-play
ability and potential for big game fantasy points, AYAR rules over
YAC. A pass catcher with an AYAR of 4.8 points to a possession receiver
that is pegged as a safety valve, dump-off or bubble-screen type.
That 4.8 AYAR (Lions’ Nate Burleson) means your wideout
is basically running five-yard patterns and is not much of a deep
option for his team., or yours. Conversely, a wideout with a 14.8
AYAR (former SD Vincent Jackson) consistently is
getting the ball 14 yards downfield from scrimmage. Sure, a receiver’s
average yards per reception (YPR) can be boosted by his ability to
pick up yards after the catch., but the pass catcher grabbing targets
more consistently down the field (11 or more yards at the point of
reception) is much more likely to put together big yardage games,
find the end zone more frequently and produce more fantasy points
with less receptions. Minnesota’s Percy Harvin has
hauled in 60, 71 and 87 passes in his first three seasons as a pro.
Yet, with the 218 receptions Harvin has not been able to break 1000
yards receiving in a season. In 2011, Harvin’s AYAR was an abysmal
4.1; that’s 4.1 yards of route depth per catch. The league average
AYAR for wideouts is 9.1. Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson,
who was on the field for just 633 snaps (Harvin saw 621), had a 2011
AYAR of 12.3 and was able to explode for over 1200 yards and 15 scores.
Last year in San Diego, Vincent Jackson realized a 14.8 AYAR and amassed
over 1100 receiving yards and 9 TDs on a modest 60 catches. Detroit’s
Nate Burleson, a superior YAC producer compared to V-Jax, nabbed 73
Matt Stafford passes (13 more than Jackson) but was
handicapped by a 4.8 AYAR, and finished the 2011 campaign with 757
yards and just 3 TDs. Simply put, the wide receiver that is running
those short drag routes and hitches off the line has to work extremely
hard to put together eye-popping fantasy points and do it consistently.
Need more statistical evidence? Try this. Breaking down the 200 wide
receivers that caught a pass in the NFL last season, the league average
yards after catch (YAC) was 4.04 yards per catch. Those same 200 receivers
hauled in passes at 9.08 AYAR, double the yards receivers were getting
AFTER the catch. Put another way, if you are making a decision on
which receiver to draft in 2012, or later on, which receiver is best
to start, isn’t it better to start with yards already in-hand at reception
than hope for ones after the catch?
look back at the 2011 performances of wide receivers, and AYAR, revealed
some surprising and tell-tale facts and explanations. For instance,
some fleet-footed fliers with deep ball reputations closed the 2011
season with disappointing AYAR. Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace,
noted as one of the league’s top deep threats, averaged just 9.8 yards
at reception. While that is above the league average of 9.1, it is
far below WRs of similar mercurial talent like Philadelphia’s DeSean
Jackson (12.3 AYAR), Ravens’ Torrey Smith
(12.0), now Charger Robert Meachem (12.9) and Oakland’s
Denarius Moore (14.7). Jets’ playmaking wideout Santonio
Holmes fell below the league average, netting a pedestrian 8.6 AYAR.
Slot receivers are supposed to work in close, but the Rams rookie
duo of Greg Salas and Austin Pettis
couldn’t break a 6 yard average depth when they caught their passes.
Pettis ran a pathetic route tree at 5.9 AYAR while Salas seemed to
barely get off the line of scrimmage at 1.3 AYAR. Broncos’ late blooming
star Demaryius Thomas can complain about his former
QB (Tim Tebow) not getting him the ball, but when
he did make a catch from Tebow it was a healthy 13.3 yards down field
on average. San Diego’s QB Philip Rivers and coach
Norv Turner have a rep of going deep, and the AYAR of the top Charger
receivers proves it. Twin towers Malcolm Floyd and
Vincent Jackson (now in Tampa Bay) experienced AYAR of 15.6 and 14.8
respectively (OUTSTANDING!!!). 2011 rookie Charger receiver Vincent
Brown produced an impressive 12.5 AYAR. Heading into the
2012 season, best to jot down new Charger #1 pass catcher Robert Meachem,
a 12.9 AYAR himself.
for players who were on the field more than one might have thought
in 2011, check out these SNAPS totals. Bronco WR Eric Decker
had the 9th most snaps among all receivers with 988. Cleveland’s rookie
Greg Little was 10th (983), Nate Burleson 6th (997),
the Cardinals Andre Roberts 14th (964) and Bengals’
Jerome Simpson 23rd (893). As for getting the most
out of their modest opportunities, the Giants Victor Cruz
(774), Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson (633), Saints’ Marques Colston
(675) and then-Cowboy Laurent Robinson (601) were
incredibly productive with less snaps.
AYAR warriors last season (based on a minimum of 30 catches) were
led by Malcolm Floyd’s 15.6, Johnny Knox’ 15.3, Vincent
Jackson’s 14.8 and Denarius Moore’s 14.7. Miami’s Brian Hartline
surprised with a 13.0 AYAR, Calvin Johnson and Torrey Smith checked
in with 12.0’s and Cincy rookie standout AJ Green racked
up an 11.9 AYAR.
wide receivers better be making their way onto and higher on your
own draft boards for this year: Denarius Moore (Oakland), Demaryius
Thomas and Eric Decker (Denver), Robert Meachem and Vincent Brown
(San Diego), Torrey Smith (Baltimore), Brandon LaFell
(Carolina), Greg Little (Cleveland) and Antonio Brown
(Pittsburgh). They all had excellent AYAR for 2011, gained valuable
experience (solid SNAPS totals) and saw quality targets, if not quantity.
are stats, and then there are stats that really matter. Nothing is
perfect in this wild and exciting sport of fantasy football. To win
in today’s game, a fantasy coach or manager needs to be innovative
and cutting edge, boldly working through the statistical haze and
fog to get to the clarity of meaningful information. Fantasy sports
have produced countless formulas and numerical breakdowns that tell
many stories. But common sense, if believed and applied to sensible
information, will create winning plans. If a player is going to be
successful he has to be “in the game” (SNAPS), be an active part of
the game plan (TARGETS) and get the football in advantageous situations
(AYAR). SNAPS, TARGETS AND AYAR… my way of breaking down the true
fantasy values of the wide receivers in today NFL.