Reception Perception: The Donte Moncrief Breakout Unfolding Before Us

With Donte Moncrief standing out in fantasy leagues through two weeks, Matt Harmon uses Reception Perception to assess him.

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. Additionally, use the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter to follow all the analysis from the series. Every week at Footballguys I'll profile one receiver whose recent numbers stand out as interesting. If you have a suggestion for the column, file it on Twitter.

Week 1 can provide many misnomers. We discussed in last week’s Reception Perception column why it would be unwise to pull the plug on Allen Robison’s after a one catch 2015 debut. He followed that up with a six catch, 155 yard, two-touchdown explosion against the Dolphins on Sunday. Sometimes we have to ignore early results and stick with the process the available data demanded we take. So far, the story of the Colts wide receiver group has dictated we do just that; following 2014 Reception Perception data to a wide receiver ready for a massive season. It’s just not the one many expected 

In Part 1 of the preseason planting flags mini-series, I detailed that last year’s data pointed to Andre Johnson having a big year with the Colts. He finished with good scores with the Texans last year, and it seemed a massive quarterback upgrade to Andrew Luck was exactly what he needed. It became abundantly clear from the moment the Week 1 game tape rolled that was not the case. Sadly, one of the best receivers of this generation doesn’t look anything like himself two weeks into the 2015 campaign. Reception Perception was wrong in projecting Andre Johnson for big season. 

However, one thing the methodology was not wrong about was a positive assessment for the other big-bodied Colts receiver, Donte Moncrief. When I released the Success Rate Versus Coverage data for the sophomore wide receiver group, Moncrief was a surprise top performer. He scored the second highest in SRVC against zone and sixth best in SRVC against man among the sophomore receivers. His was a small sample size, his 78 routes were the lowest charted among the 2014 rookies, but his data demanded attention. The conclusion from that very piece was that “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.” With Johnson making little impact and Moncrief out-snapping Dorsett 107 to 31 through two weeks, it appears those obstacles are removed.

Donte Moncrief currently stands inside the top 10 fantasy receivers for 2015. But we’re interested in how he projects for the rest of the season, and beyond. Is this a fluke, or the emergence of a new reality? Scanning his Reception Perception data from the first two weeks of 2015 reveals a clear conclusion. 

Alignment Data

One of the reason’s I’ve never personally believed the Colts should be settled with T.Y. Hilton as their number-one wide receiver, as great as he is, was that he doesn’t profile or play like a traditional X-receiver. Of course, we know players don’t have to meet a size or dimensions qualification to be an X, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr Jr. are living proof. However, both of those players, in my estimation, do more in traffic, with the ball in their hands and more consistently separate from tight man coverage.

Hilton is a tremendous player, but there’s more room for growth in the Colts passing game. Donte Moncreif has the size Hilton lacks, and can add another dimension to the aerial assault.

Through the first two weeks of the season, the Colts have primarily employed Donte Moncrief as the missing X-receiver; playing on the line of scrimmage 85 percent of the time and at left wide receiver 65 percent of his snaps. T.Y. Hilton has been on and off the field, while Andre Johnson has occupied the old Reggie Wayne slot role. Moncrief seems to have inherited all the snap shares, and more, of the departed Hakeem Nicks. It’s been clear through just two weeks how much more Moncrief brings to the table. 

Target Data

 

Donte Moncrief has run 73 routes during the first two games of the season. He’s been targeted on 26 percent of them. That percentage is right in line with the league average of targets-per-route rate. He’s not as involved as a number one level receiver, but he’s getting the opportunity of a high-end number two receiver. With Moncrief taking over more of a role in the passing game, with Johnson quickly fading away, we like the trend of his share in the passing game. 

Against two very good secondaries, Moncrief caught passes on 11 percent of his routes. While that is an uninspiring rate, given the context of their offense, it makes sense considering just how pass heavy they’ve been early in the season. When Moncrief’s seen the ball go his way, he’s delivered. He’s caught just over 68 percent of his targets.

In his final season at Ole Miss, Moncrief displayed some troubles with proper catching technique. He had trouble tracking the ball into his frame, and greeting it with unified hands in an aligned fashion. However, as a pro, he’s largely corrected those issues. He’s had no charted drops through Week’s 1 and 2.

Success Rate Versus Coverage and Route Analysis

The word surrounding Donte Moncrief coming into the league was “raw”. His final college season was particularly concerning, and his tape had serious sloppy moments. Of course, he played with sub-par quarterbacking, but he never maximized his physical skillset. At the NFL level, he looked nothing like that mess of a player. His rookie year Reception Perception was overwhelmingly positive on a route-to-route basis, and in the two games the Colts fed him targets he produced massive outings. Here in 2015, he looks even better, more nuanced, refined and frightening to cover than he did last season.

 

Donte Moncrief’s route balance stands out right away. Showing he’s more than just a size/speed freak succeeding on the back of his superior gifts, Moncrief is running every route in the books. No pattern even approaches leaning to a heavy usage at the 20 percent rate, with the highest being the curl at 17.8 percent. There’s a healthy sprinkle of slants, posts and vertical routes, as you’d expect from a young athlete at the position.

However, the offense calls for Moncrief to execute more advanced routes. With 11 percent of his patterns being digs, and 13.7 percent comebacks, he’s displaying far more nuance to his game than anyone could have expected at this stage of his career. 

For those worried his early season fever will slow down due to his inexperience or any limits in his game, Reception Perception begs you reconsider. Moncrief is developing into a pristine route runner before our very eyes.

 

(SRVC denotes success rate versus coverage for each route. PTS indicates how many PPR fantasy points a receiver earned on each particular route)

This chart is incredible, so much moreso than the highest of expectations would have foretold. Let’s look deep first. It’s only two games, and he only ran them on 12.3 percent of his 73 routes, but Moncrief’s SRVC score on nine routes bested the 2014 season leader (John Brown -75 percent SRVC). We know this player can get vertical, and Andrew Luck loves to throw the deep ball. He didn’t record any PTS on that pattern, but he showed the ability to get loose from coverage on the long routes. Moncrief’s post route score was also strikingly high, adding to his ability in the downfield game.

Particularly impressive was Moncrief’s score on dig routes. As previously mentioned, the dig is one of the more difficult and less frequently run routes in the NFL. Even many veteran receivers struggle to combine all the needed skills to properly execute the dig. Moncrief’s 87.5 percent SRVC shows that he’s combining nuance with his well-known athletic gifts. In the first two weeks, you’d frequently see Moncrief sell the downfield route with his eyes, sending the cornerback too deep to recover, then displaying excellent foot frequency to shuffle inside. This creates a wide-open lane for Luck to throw to. It’s no coincidence the dig featured Moncrief’s highest PTS score.

Equally as noteworthy was Moncrief’s SRVC score on comeback routes. Just as with the dig, he uses his eyes well to sell the corner that he’s going deep, but breaks back to the ball sharply leaving the defender in the dust. There was one route where he executed this play against Darrelle Revis on Monday Night Football. Even from the TV copy, you could see it was something special. When charting these games, and observing his 90 percent SRVC on comebacks, I couldn’t help but think of Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson’s simpatico relationship on this pattern. No one perfects the back-shoulder play like the Green Bay duo. But Luck and Moncrief may challenge their title soon enough.

The one route with a less than stellar score is the slant, where a 66.7 percent SRVC falls below the league average. The timing aspect of this route, and feeling out coverage a bit better, still need some fine-tuning. However, the slant was his second most productive route, so no need to panic.

Showing such terrific route diversity and execution was a major surprise and encouraging sign from Moncrief’s Reception Perception. The player is becoming a master at getting open and running routes.

 

Red indicates the figure is below the NFL average, Green is above and Yellow is within one percentage point. 

Each brand of SRVC features a positive score posted by Donte Moncrief. His athleticism and now added refinement was too much to handle in man coverage. He’s displayed an even better release from the line of scrimmage than what he put on film last year, where he was still a top performer against press. His SRVC against zone improved dramatically, and he’s timing his breaks on routes better and finding soft spots with proficiency. Lastly, there were at least a handful of plays where the defense assigned extra attention to him. Two smart defensive minds (Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles) both elected to stick extra men to Moncrief when Hilton went down. That’s high praise for this young receiver, and he showed an ability to shake free at a 50 percent rate, above the league average. 

In space measurement and contest catch conversion rate

 

In addition to speed and sound route running, Moncrief can also make plays with the ball in his hands. He was put “in space” on 9.6 percent of his 73 routes, and made plenty of defenders miss. Breaking two or more tackles at a 14.3 percent rate is impressive, and illustrates the big play potential he possesses.

 

One area where Moncrief could improve is in the contested catch game. While sporting a big frame, there were just a few instances where he could have maximized his size better. A few corners, especially in the Bills game, got into his body too easily. One of the reasons Indianapolis signed Andre Johnson was that they wanted a big physical receiver to win in traffic for Luck. With Johnson seeming unable to make good on the investment, they’ll next look to Moncrief. If he’s going to truly take over the lead role in this passing game, as I believe he could, this is the last hurdle he’ll need to cross. 50 percent isn’t a terrible conversion rate, and he made one excellent contested catch against the Jets, but superstar level players usually use this as the final separator between them and the pack. 

Going Forward

After posting an overwhelmingly positive Reception Perception sample in the early stages of 2015, Donte Moncrief is trending way up. All the sky-high enthusiasm is given the green light; his game justifies it. While he’ll still contend with T.Y. Hilton for lead-dog level targets when the veteran is fully healthy, there’s more than enough for Moncrief to keep up something near his current pace. Andre Johnson, the tight ends and Phillip Dorsett aren’t posing threats right now. And the ghost of Reggie Wayne was a fantasy starter as the number-two target in this offense early last year before his body finally gave out. Moncrief is ready to offer so much more than that.

Aggression and optimism is advised with Donte Moncrief. He’s certainly owned in almost all leagues by now, but if he’s available, pick him up immediately. You’ve already waited too long.

If he’s no longer available for free in fantasy leagues, you should explore a trade. With the way he’s playing and the way the situation is trending, this may well be your last chance. The new Moncrief owner might be skeptical of what they have on their hands. If so, pry him away. Again, be aggressive. I wouldn’t mind a trade of Brandin Cooks straight up for Donte Moncrief right now, same with Davante Adams, easily. If you can get him for even less, now is the time to act. I would be less inclined to give up Allen Robinson or the delayed gratification of Martavis Bryant, but I might endorse parting with another favorite in John Brown for Moncrief. Either way, do what you can to make the move for him, and remember it may not take this high of a price. 

With nearly everyone else in the Colts offense getting a stock down after two weeks, only one man is rising. That player is Donte Moncrief. He’s put it all on tape, and his Reception Perception SRVC scores bear the results. This is a massively improved route runner, who absolutely won over my affections after watching his first two games of 2015. Andrew Luck is finally free of a horrid two game stretch of tough defenses, and his numbers will go up when he begins facing division oppoentns. Moncrief was already positing strong stats during the down games, the best is on its way. There’s little doubt Moncrief is a top 20 fantasy wide receiver this season the rest of the way. All the evidence is there to make that declaration.

Despite the clear talent, we overlooked him when the Colts added other options to the passing game. Now it’s time to accept the new reality, however. Donte Moncrief’s breakout is unfolding as we speak. Let’s hope you’re not just taking it in from the sidelines.


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