Chris Hogan's Huge Performance Sunday Was a Continuation of His Regular-Season Efficiency
Every time Chris Hogan makes a big play, you can bet that his college lacrosse career will come up. Dude popped off for 9 receptions for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns Sunday in helping lead the New England Patriots to the AFC Conference Championship, so Hogan's unique route to the NFL just wouldn't go away.
That's all well and good because it's a dope story. A guy goes from playing three years of lacrosse at Penn State to being a featured asset on a Super Bowl team? Baller, yo, and it's worthy of discussion.
But what you don't hear about is just how good Hogan was during the regular season. Based on the silly advanced metrics he posted, that's the true shame here.
Let's dial things back a bit and look at what the predominant story around Hogan should be. We can get a good grasp on this with the help of numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of teams and players.
In Hogan's case, we'll be looking at Target NEP, which shows the expected points he added throughout the season on receptions while also subtracting expected points lost on incompletions and interceptions when he was targeted. One look at this should show us just how filthy Hogan was during the regular season and why we should have expected his big day on Sunday.
Among the Best of the Best
Hogan didn't get too many opportunities to flash his illitude in the regular season this year, finishing his premier voyage with the Patriots with just 58 targets and 38 receptions. He absolutely made the most of them, though.
Of the 92 wide receivers with at least 50 targets, Hogan finished fourth in Target NEP per target, which helps account for his lack of volume. This put him two spots ahead of Julio Jones and three ahead of Jordy Nelson, though obviously there's a sizable small-sample warning there. Regardless, Hogan came through when Tom Brady looked his way.
The big thing about a metric like this is it'll always be inflated when a player is attached to a quarterback as good as Brady. Because he's one of the best all time, his efficiency metrics throwing to any player are probably going to look pretty snazzy. This makes it important to look at Hogan through a different lens and compare him to his teammates, but he passes that test, as well.
The Patriots have four separate wide receivers -- Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola -- who have had at least 30 targets this year when including their two playoff games. Here's a comparison of their NEP metrics, and Hogan stands out in this group.
|Player||Targets||Target NEP||Target NEP per Target|
Edelman's role where he hovers closer to the line of scrimmage is going to suppress his metrics a bit because he doesn't have the same bomb potential as Hogan on a given play. That doesn't mean we should simply write off the nastiness Hogan has unleashed.
If we include the targets Hogan has gotten in the playoffs to inflate his Target NEP per target to 0.75, then he would have had the best mark in all of football this year. He has turned 16 postseason targets into 275 yards and 2 touchdowns, so that shouldn't be surprising, but this is supposed to be against the best competition the AFC has to offer. Hogan has just been better.
It isn't just these metrics where Hogan has shined. NFL.com started tracking yards of separation this year, and Hogan was a star in that department, as well.
Chris Hogan led the @NFL this year (among receivers with 30+ targets out wide) with 3.6 yards of separation on his targets #NextGenStats
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) January 23, 2017
That sauciness probably helped Hogan mop up in his main area of expertise, which was on deep passes. We'll limit the scope here to the time after Brady returned from his suspension in Week 5. Hogan's target gap behind Edelman shortened on throws at least 16 yards downfield, and the efficiency gap just got wider.
For extra context, we'll also toss the league average numbers out there to illustrate how sickly this performance was.
|On Throws 16+ Yards Downfield||Targets||Target NEP||Target NEP per Target||Success Rate|
Brady's Success Rate when targeting Hogan at least 16 yards down field is almost twice as high as the league average. Hogan didn't just top Edelman, but he also had more success than Rob Gronkowski before a back injury sidelined Gronk for the rest of the year. Hogan's likely not seeing the same coverage as Gronkowski, but this isn't something we should ignore.
The Patriots have turned to Hogan more often in the postseason, giving him 20.78% of the team's targets in the two games combined, and it's easier to see why once you peep his overall metrics. And if the Atlanta Falcons want to stop Brady and company in the Super Bowl, you know that will include keeping an eye on Hogan.
Hogan's biggest game of the season came at a great time as it helped the Patriots get back to yet another Super Bowl. That said, this clearly wasn't some outlier because he's been doing this on a smaller scale the whole season.
His metrics compared favorably to the entire league even before we included his postseason numbers. Once the competition stepped up, the Patriots got him more looks, and he still maintained his other-worldly efficiency at that higher volume. This is helping make up for the loss of Gronkowski and making sure defenses can't just zero in on Edelman.
It's easy to understand why many would focus on Hogan's college lacrosse career whenever he pops up on the screen. But in this year with the Patriots, Hogan has proven himself to be so much more than just a great story. He's a bona fide deep threat who serves an important role in the Patriots' offense, and he should continue to be a big part of the gameplan as New England prepares to face the Falcons.