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Reception Perception: Success Rate vs. Coverage Scores for Sophomore WRs

Matt Harmon shares some of the Success Rate vs. Coverage scores recorded by the 2014 rookie class under the Reception Perception methodology. 

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' Success Rate Versus Coverage scores. As a refresher, or introduction for those that are new...

Success Rate vs. Coverage (SRVC) scores measures how often a receiver got open against the defenders covering him. A success is charted when a receiver "gets open" against the coverage. Creating separation, enough for the quarterback to have a reasonable target to throw to the receiver, is marked as a success. The only plays that are automatically given as success to the receiver are instances where a receiver is obviously held or interfered with (called or not). These plays make a big difference to an offense, and signify a receiver winning yards for his team by forcing the defensive back to hold him.

There are five formats for SRVC scores:

- SRVC against man

- SRVC against zone

- SRVC against press

- SRVC against double coverage

Superlatives

All Odell Beckham Jr. everything - In what should be the least surprising revelation of this entire project, the rookie out of LSU was the highest performing in SRVC. He bested his peers in beating each brand of coverage. In fact, of the near 50 NFL receivers charted this offseason, Odell Beckham Jr. had the highest SRVC against man. Antonio Brown trailed just barely trailed Beckham’s 80.1% with a 79.7% score. Odell Beckham’s SRVC scores only confirms what was all too evident watching him play; he had a first year indicative of an all-time great. After charting Beckham for Reception Perception, it’s hard to not imagine him becoming a legendary type of NFL player.

Beckham's rookie season performance stacked up with some of the best wide receivers in the NFL.

Jordan Matthews against zone and press coverage – One of the more hotly debated players of the 2014 class. Jordan Matthews’ fans will point to his workout numbers and outstanding college production to assert that he carries the profile of a future number-one, split-end receiver. The unconvinced will say those numbers do not show up on tape, and that he is simply a big slot receiver. Truth be told, Reception Perception shines light on the reality that the answer is somewhere in the middle. Matthews 77.8% SRVC against zone is quite impressive. He’s able to feel out coverage well, and is an intelligent, studious player. Matthews does his best work sifting through the traffic in the middle of the field, and that is why Chip Kelly identified the big slot receiver role as a natural one for him. On the other hand, he scored incredibly well against press coverage with an 85.7% success rate on 14 attempts. While his 59.8% SRVC against man is underwhelming, his press coverage score indicates he can likely function on the outside as well. It will bear watching just how much Kelly choose to use him there. Should he choose to leave Matthews inside that is not an insult, because as Reception Perception quantifies, he is incredibly proficient in that role.

Mike Evans against double teams – While not at the wildly impressive rate at Odell Beckham, Mike Evans was quite successful at defeating double teams. His 19 attempts against double coverage were tied for second, with Kelvin Benjamin, most among the rookies. Evans’ 57.9% SRVC in this format was above the NFL average. For context, that is close to Dez Bryant’s figure (57.1% SRVC against double/35 attempts). Some have concern with Mike Evans’ prospects in his second year, mostly due to how he will fair against better cornerbacks and with more attention being paid to him. He’ll need to be more consistent game-to-game, but his SRVC against double teams is an encouraging statistic.

The Legend of John BrownOffseason puff pieces often come with a great deal of skepticism from outside observers. With that in mind, it was a treat to see the Cardinals’ training camp darling, John Brown, make due on the hype. Outside of Odell Beckham Jr., Brown was the only other rookie to score above the NFL average SRVC in all four categories. His score against man coverage was the second best amongst charted rookies. Considering he ran mostly difficult deep routes, this is quite impressive. Brown’s proficiency against all forms of coverage illuminates just how good of a rookie season he had, with the caveat he normally drew easy matchups. However, his high marks are undeniable. Should Larry Ftizgerald fade to black, and Michael Floyd continues to disappoint, Brown’s SRVC scores give hope that he can emerge as a leader of the passing game.

Allen Robinson against man, press and zone coverage – The Jaguars rookie receiver had his inaugural campaign cut short due to injury, but Allen Robinson was having a dynamic year prior to that. His SRVC scores against both man and zone coverage come in higher than the charted NFL average. Robinson possesses the lower-body explosiveness to burst away from man coverage, and the savvy to work through zones. In charting Robinson, the theme to his game seemed to be balance and refinement. Posting strong SRVC scores against the three base brands of coverage speaks to this. Robinson is absolutely ready to be the leader of Jacksonville’s pass attack, and will statistically explode if Blake Bortles improves.

Reception Perception helps identifiy true breakout candidates over unwarranted hype-trains. 

Noteworthy

Kelvin Benjamin hovers around the average – Kelvin Benjamin took the NFL by storm, following up a strong preseason performance with good statistics and many dynamic catches. However, many harkened back to their college evaluation of him, and pointed out that he continued to display poor habits. Indeed, dropped passes and inconsistent route running did plague Benjamin as a rookie. There is a popular opinion that his impressive year-end statistics were merely a product of heavy volume. Reception Perception quantifies that there is some truth to that theory. Benjamin scored very close to the NFL average SRVC against man, zone and double coverage. What this illustrates is that Kelvin Benjamin is an inconsistent player. There are times when he beats his man with solid technique work to blend with his size advantage. On other occasions, he is wiped out, mostly with his own undoing. This leaves us with a meeting in the middle, and a player who scores right at the NFL average for SRVC. While Benjamin is a flawed player, and that depresses his scores, any thought that he is not a positive asset is proven to be foolish.

Donte Moncrief impresses against man and zone defense – While his athletic prowess was readily apparent in his college film, some of Donte Moncrief’s work at Ole Miss was painful to watch. Nevertheless, he seemed to fare well as a rookie. While the vast majority of his statistical production came in two games, Reception Perception illuminates that Moncrief was actually playing solid football for most of the season. The Colts did not ask too much of him, but he did well with what was on his plate. Moncrief’s 66.7% SRVC against man beat the NFL average, but it was his 79.3% SRVC against zone that was particularly impressive. His zone SRVC score was second best, only to Odell Beckham Jr. Moncrief’s strong showing in Reception Perception gives hope to the idea that the Colts have a future starter on their hands. His issue won’t be performance based, but finding targets in a passing attack that added Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett to an already crowded group. 

Martavis Bryant high SRVC against man and press coverage – The narrative surrounding the Steelers’ second year wideout is that he is a big play threat only, at this stage of his career. While the deep ball is the specialty of Martavis Bryant’s game, he can do more than that. Bryant’s strong 69.8% SRVC against man, and 70.6% SRVC against press, are both good scores that speak to his impressive skills. These are also foundation type marks for Bryant to build on. While he was used mostly in a splash player role as a rookie, he showed the necessary skills to create faith from his team that he can develop into a full-time starter. Given how potent the Pittsburgh offense looks to be this year, Bryant should benefit greatly from soft and single coverage. His Reception Perception illuminates that he can handle more than just what the Steelers asked him to do last season. A big year is coming. 

Needs Improvement

Sammy WatkinsWhile these poor numbers can be explained away by health, we certainly owe it to ourselves to take the time to explore the entire range of outcomes for Sammy Watkins.

The Sammy Watkins vs. Mike Evans debate looks pretty lopsided after one year.

Brandin Cooks against press coverage – Much of the hype surrounding Brandin Cooks heading into his second year has to do with the assumption he’ll become the Saints number-one receiver. If Cooks is going to soak up a larger number of targets, and make due on them, he will need to improve in physical coverage. His 49.3% SRVC against press was the worst amongst the 2014 rookie receivers. This should not be much of a surprise, given his size and inconsistent response to physical play. Cooks racked up most of his production as a gadget-type player early in the 2014 season, but began to receive targets on deeper routes as the season wore on. His injury robbed us of a chance to see him fully develop in that role. Many are banking on Cooks to ascend to the assignment of the Saints’ top passing game target this season. This means he will likely draw matchups with top cornerbacks, who are skilled in press man coverage. Reception Perception illustrates that he may struggle handling that. 

Marqise Lee’s play against man coverage – We’ve seen just how incredible Allen Robinson scored in three of the four SRVC categories. Yet, as impressive as a Robinson’s figures were, his teammate Marqise Lee’s SRVC scores were quite disappointing. Lee’s 44.1% SRVC against man was the lowest among the charted rookies. He simply did not display the discipline a young player needs to beat one-on-one coverage on anything resembling a consistent basis in 2014. While it is clear that Allen Robinson is the superior player, and always was, the Jaguars will need good play from their second wideout. Lee will get easy matchups playing across from Robinson, but must improve his play to take advantage of those. He could easily lose his spot to surprise undrafted receiver, Allen Hurns.

Davante AdamsIt was hard to mark a single category of SRVC for Davante Adams to improve in, because he graded so poorly in all of them. His score against zone was nearly five-percentage points behind the next lowest charted rookie, and neither his SRVC against man nor zone provides much optimism. Recency bias and blind assumptions seem to be the only things driving Adams’ hype train right now. Many remember the fine game he played against the Cowboys in the playoffs, but his SRVC scores show there were few other moments like that in his rookie season. Anecdotally, Adams will thrive in the Packers offense, but there really are not many targets to go around. Sure, he will see cakewalk matchups, with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb demanding attention. Yet, he failed to show he could master winning in those situations as a rookie. Of course, rookies can improve, but assuming they will do so without a convincing amount of real evidence is dangerous. Adams did not prove himself as a rookie, and his SRVC scores make that plain and simple to see.