The statistics used in this column are those acquired from the Reception Perception methodology for evaluating wide receivers. To see full results of the project’s first full offseason, check out the tables at Backyard Banter. Use the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter to follow all the analysis from the series.
Much of the Reception Perception work done this offseason focused on the historic 2014 rookie wide receiver class. The table below illustrates the players from this class' contested catch conversion rate and target, catch and drop per route rate.
Please remember that Reception Perception statistics are meant to be in conjunction with each other in order to paint a full picture of a wide receiver’s game. With in mind, do regularly refer to the featured player’s Success Rate vs. Coverage scores throughout this piece to better capture their performances from 2014.
Contested Catch Conversion Rate
Mike Evans – Standing tall at 6’5 and 231 pounds, while sporting 35-1/8 inch arms, Mike Evans is a monster of a man. He carries a size advantage every time he steps on to an NFL field. With those dimensions, you expect the player to be a natural at winning contested catches. Indeed, Mike Evans combines length with strength to own those situations. The Buccaneers’ rookie posted a 77.3% conversion rate on 22 contested catch attempts in 2014. Given that his SRVC against man coverage qualified as “average”, it is vital that Evans wins contested passes. His sterling performance in this category answers those questions.
Jarvis Landry – Similar to Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry holds a near league average SRVC against man coverage. However, Landry also posted the highest contested catch conversion rate among 2014 rookies, with 88.9%. Of course, due to his role in the Miami offense as a short passing option, he does not find himself in those situations often. He only registered 9 attempts over his Reception Perception sample. Landry’s athletic limitations are well documented, and he certainly lacks for on-field speed. This makes his sterling proficiency in winning contested catches so important. While he is quite crafty for a young player and displays solid technique, Landry will always struggle more than others to beat athletic cornerbacks. His quarterback must have the confidence to throw his way, even if Landry is well covered. An 88.9% contested catch conversion rate shows that confidence will be rewarded.
Odell Beckham Jr. – As he was in SRVC, Odell Beckham was one of the top performers in contested catch conversion rate. Beckham does not carry the big frame or presence that fellow peers like Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin, but he wins contested passes with ease. Size is not everything in this department, and arm length, leaping ability, flexibility and toughness can make up for a lack of height or weight. All of which are strengths of Beckham’s. He posted an 82.6% contested catch conversion rate, which qualified for second highest among 2014 rookies. He did outpace the leader, Jarvis Landry, in attempts 23 to 9. Not only did Beckham beat coverage at a terrific rate, he hauled in catches even on the rare occasions defenders blanketed him, or when he needed to make the acrobatic play.
Kelvin Benjamin – The Panthers’ rookie receiver is well known for his drops, but Kelvin Benjamin can win the difficult passes with tremendous ease. This makes him a frustrating player, but as yet another player with SRVC scores around the league average, it is vital Benjamin makes that negligible with strong contested catch ability. He posted a 71.7% contested catch conversion rate on 21 attempts over his Reception Perception sample. When Benjamin is dialed in, he can win balls in traffic at wild angles, and that will always keep his quarterback coming back for more.
Allen Robinson – There are several pictures on the Internet displaying Allen Robinson leaping into the air to eye-popping heights. With that burned into out brains, and the knowledge of his 6’2 and 210 pound frame, the assumption would be that he would be one of the best performers in contested catch conversion rate. However, Robinson’s score fell right in line with the charted NFL average. Of course, average does not indicate poor ability in this facet of the game, but it was still a surprising score. What this really illuminates is that despite a big frame, Robinson wins with excellent separation skills, rather than play in traffic. The Jaguars soon-to-be star receiver is a classic example of a “big receiver who wins in the small game” (hat tip to Josh Norris of Rotoworld). While Robinson has the athletic traits to improve his contested catch conversion rate, he does not need dramatic improvement to become a high-end starting receiver. He already combines burst, and surprisingly strong technical work, to separate from defenders with ease.
Paul Richardson – Given he only had five contested catch attempts over his Reception Perception sample, it was hard to award Paul Richardson with a superlative. Even though his 80% conversion rate is quite impressive. As Allen Robinson is a big body that does not necessarily dominate in contested situations, Richardson is a diminutive receiver who does excel in traffic. If Richardson does return to the field with diminished speed, due to multiple torn ACLs, at least we know he can make contested catches to supplement his game.
Jordan Matthews – The Eagles second year receiver presents a difficult evaluation for many. Jordan Matthews is a big receiver, standing at 6’3 and weighing in over 210. He looks like a Brandon Marshall type of player, and clocked much better in speed measurements. However, what Matthews has always failed to demonstrate is the ability to play up to those dimensions in traffic down the field. This manifested itself in a below average 56.3% contested catch conversion rate. Matthews’ SRVC data displayed just how well he capitalizes on the opportunities he gets underneath in his designed role in the Eagles offense. And yet, his poor contested catch conversion rate, and below average SRVC score against man coverage lend credence to the idea that he cannot be a successful regular contributor outside. This does not disparage Matthews as an NFL receiver, he’s a personal favorite, but his performance on contested catches does need to improve.
Martavis Bryant – A rookie season full of dazzling plays has many observers wringing their hands in anticipation of Martavis Bryant’s encore. His SRVC score against man indicated that he could sustain his strong performance, even in an expanded role. On the other hand, his below average contested catch conversion rate of 58.3% raises some concerns. This score was rather surprising. Bryant is a big-bodied pass catcher, one whose highlight reels show many tough catches made in traffic. And yet, the misses do exist. Without diligent tape study, it is easy to miscast Martavis Bryant as a no-brainer red zone dominator, and contested catch maven. Statistically it does add up, as he was one of the most efficient receivers at collecting fantasy points per target inside the 20. However, there are real reasons that he was inactive early on in his rookie year, nor produce much at Clemson, and committing gaffes in traffic is one of them. Much of Bryant’s value will revolve around his ability to create touchdowns. If he does not correct some minor hiccups in contested situations, his already unsustainable scoring rate could come crashing down to Earth in future years. On the other hand, of those near misses, and they were very near, begin to go his way, this could be a special player. Bryant needs to show improvement, for that to occur.
Brandin Cooks – Every year, there is a smaller receiver that enters the NFL via the draft that draws a Steve Smith comparison. Every time it is given, the comparison seems more forced, and less warranted than the previous offenses. Some analyst wanted to group Brandin Cooks with Smith, but one look at his play in traffic, and you see just why he does not stack up. Cooks will go about making the dazzling catch, and that can be deceiving to observers. While capable of making contested catches, his conversion rate of 54.5% shows that he does not do so on a consistent basis. The Saints seem to expect Cooks will lead their passing game in targets this year, and so do many fantasy owners. He was largely ineffective in a Darren Sproles-type gadget role, so if he is going to shoulder the heaviest target load, it will have to be as a more traditional receiver. His below average contested catch conversion rate brings into question whether he can win in traffic frequently enough to be that type of player. Given his lack of size, and a long history of this phenomenon occurring in his play, as detailed by Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, it is hard to imagine Cooks improving in this department.
Target, Catch and Drop Rate Data
Odell Beckham Jr. – The theme continues. Odell Beckham Jr. once again towers over his competition. As soon as he began to earn serious playing time with the Giants offense, he hogged the target load. Beckham was targeted on 32.7% of the 297 routes he ran over his Reception Perception sample, by far the highest among 2014 rookies. He caught a pass on 20.5% of those routes with a target, and hauled in 62.9% of his passes. Beckham quickly ascended to a superstar’s level of involvement in his offense, and rewarded his quarterback with a fine catch rate. Nothing in Beckham’s game suggests he will be any less a target hog in 2015. Despite the (hopeful) return of Victor Cruz and assertion of Shane Vereen, there are no involvement concerns going into this season. All-world stars don’t succeed targets to these sorts of players.
Sammy Watkins drop rate – Reception Perception has continually illuminated Sammy Watkins’ issues with running pristine routes in 2014, heath based or otherwise. However, the highly touted rookie did consistently make clean catches in his inaugural campaign. His very low drop rate of 1.4% was the best among the charted rookies. Watkins is a disciplined player when the ball arrives to his spot on the field, and is not someone his quarterbacks have to worry in regards to drops. Should Watkins improve his route-running technique, and with that his SRVC scores, his reliability as a pass catcher could see his statistics greatly improve. Of course he will need a rag-tag cast of signal callers to play well above their previously shown level, although Watkins’ strong hands should give them some confidence.
Paul Richardson’s catch rate – The Seattle Seahawks have been searching for an alpha in their passing game for a long time. While Paul Richardson might not be that, especially given his injury history, he did look like a strong contributor coming into his own late last year. Although Richardson did not see a ton of passes go his way, he was extremely efficient in hauling in the targets he did receive. He caught 63.9% of the balls Russell Wilson threw to him during his Reception Perception sample. Paul Richardson made due when given chances, and showed great ability to work with Wilson on the “off script” plays the short quarterback likes so much. It is unfortunate that we may not get to see this chemistry evolve, at least for the time being.
Jarvis Landry – Other than Odell Beckham, the only other rookie to score above the NFL average in each branch of target data was his former college teammate, Jarvis Landry. When Landry was on the field, and running a pass route, the Dolphins made getting him the ball a priority. He was targeted on 28.3% of his 223 routes, and caught a pass on 20.6% of them (best in the class). Landry’s reliability was a big factor in why he got so involved early in his career, as he only dropped 3.2% of his targets while catching 73% of them. Of course, it is important to remember that Landry primarily ran short routes, making his work easier. However, his steady play in the offense was a positive force for his team and quarterback. Reception Perception shows that Jarvis Landry is locked into that role, and is not going anywhere.
John Brown – The Cardinals speedy wideout is somewhat similar to Jarvis Landry. That is certainly never something you expected to hear about John Brown. While the two are in no way comparable players, their involvement in their offense was rather similar. Brown ran 222 routes over his Reception Perception sample, and was targeted on 28.4% on those patterns. Both numbers are within a split hair of Landry’s. Of course, Brown’s catch data is less impressive, because he mostly ran plays that took him to deep depths of the field Landry was never asked to go to. Brown is like a country dog whose owners permit to run free through the fields, while Landry is the suburban pup whose electric fence collar gives him a shock should he try to run a route past the ten yard line. The Cardinals surprise rookie receiver made due on his training camp promise, and became a big part of his team’s offense. Arizona, and its long parade of quarterbacks, knew to look Brown’s way when he was on the field in passing situations. He played very well last year, but if his statistics are to improve, his catch data will need to see a spike. We’ve already seen that Brown is more than just a deep threat, so bet on that happening.
Allen Robinson’s involvement – If you take Allen Robinson’s 8.1 targets per game in the 10 contests he played in as a rookie, and extrapolated for a full season, he would have landed in the top-25 for wide receivers targets in 2014. That is strong volume for a rookie, taken in the second round, on a less than stellar passing offense. Interestingly enough, Robinson was targeted on only 25.8% of his 233 routes run over his Reception Perception sample, which is a league average rate. What this illuminates is that there is great room for improvement in Robinson’s target total. In the first two Jacksonville games, fellow rookies Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee were the starters; that did not last long. After a few weeks, Blake Bortles learned that Robinson was the far superior player and began to lean on the big target. Expect that to continue. Of course, the team added Pro Bowl tight end, Julius Thomas, and he will certainly take targets. However, the team is also losing 102 targets with the departure of Cecil Shorts, and some of those could very well funnel to Robinson. Marqise Lee, by all accounts, is already fading into the background with this team. All in all, while Robinson came in at a league average target per route rate, his superiority to the other receivers on the roster and the trust he shares with Bortles points to a big uptick in this figure. Expect Robinson to be near the top of this rate next year.
Mike Evans’ target per route rate – Despite being a breakout rookie, Mike Evans was the number-two receiver on his own team in 2014. Most observers do not expect that to last long. Common assumption holds that Evans will surpass the veteran, Vincent Jackson, as soon as this coming season. Taking that lead dog role would help boost Evans’ statics into the stratosphere. Interestingly enough, despite being a secondary wideout, Evans already was above the NFL average in targets on a per route basis.
Brandin Cooks – Brandin Cooks has good hands, when he’s not playing in traffic, and had one of the better drop rates among rookies. He also had the highest catch rate with a 73.6% figure. While those numbers are impressive, remember that the Saints were utilizing Cooks in a Darren Sproles gadget-type role early in the season. Cooks was able to collect so many catches, and post great efficiency numbers because his assignments were simple ones. With the sophomore receiver set to take over as the team’s top passing game asset, if all goes to plan, we’ll be watching closely to see if these figures fall when the team opens up his route tree.
Marqise Lee’s drop rate – When scouting the 2014 rookie wide receiver class before they entered the league, it was hard to ignore how poor Marqise Lee was as a pure catcher compared to his peers. Nothing about his technique was natural or disciplined. He would frequently mistime when to assert his hands, failed to bring them together appropriately (alligator arming) and struggled mightily in traffic. For all the talk about how an injury was what pushed his stock down as a draft prospect, good teams must have devalued him because of these issues. Even when he produced at the collegiate level, he never looked like a natural wide receiver; he was always fighting himself, in a sense. These issues carried over into his rookie season, and will likely plague him throughout is career.
Kelvin Benjamin’s drop and catch rate – The Panthers rookie was another player whose drop issues carried over in a direct fashion from his college days. We know Benjamin can make the outstanding plays, but his drop rate reminds us that horrid gaffes are still littered throughout his game. Benjamin’s reception per target rate has been a frequent piece of discussion this offseason. His 44.7% catch rate is one of the worst charted from Reception Perception’s 2014 archive. Benjamin will always be a naturally inefficient player, because of the variance he brings, but Cam Newton’s sometimes-erratic play must be considered as a factor. These two’s careers together will provide many roller coaster moments. We’ll watch in 2015 to see if any of Benjamin’s numbers begin to stabilize.
Martavis Bryant’s drop rate – The third player in this category to bring his bad drop rate figure with him to his rookie season. Martavis Bryant recorded .34 fantasy points per snap in 2014, and made countless dazzling plays. However, he still had not put it all together, as he dropped 11.4% of the passes sent his way over his Reception Perception sample. Of the three rookies with the high drop rates, Bryant’s is the least concerning. For one, he has the undeniable trump card of being able to break open a defense, even if they’ve shut him down for a large course of the game. In addition, consider that some players iron out their mistakes with more reps and the confidence that those bring. Bryant is a player who improved his play and erased mistakes as his rookie season went along. He did not stay static. We are just beginning to see what Bryant, who has been a part-time player throughout his career to this point, is capable of. Just recognize that he still has many areas to improve on.
Davante Adams’ target per route rate – So many of these rookies were a big part of their team’s plan in the passing game. Almost all of them were targeted on over 20% of the routes they ran during their Reception Perception sample. Well, all of them except Davante Adams. For the members of the football community who assert that Adams will take a massive step forward with more playing time this season, consider that he already had those chances last season. His Reception Perception sample included running the fourth most routes among 2014 rookie wide receivers, but he was only targeted on 17.6% of them (well below the NFL average). Adams was a full-time player in the Packers offense at the end of the season, when most of this sample was compiled. Aaron Rodgers just did not look his way. Adams was not playing well on a consistent down-to-down basis, nor was he completing his assignments on a route-to-route basis to merit those chances. While Adams can improve his play as a sophomore, assuming his target per route rate is going to drastically rise is big leap to make. It’s hard to imagine two Pro Bowlers, in Nelson and Cobb, succeeding targets to this objectively unproven player.