15 Wide Receivers Who Were Great at Creating Yards After the Catch in 2016
Like one of my jump shots in a pickup basketball game, not all wide receivers are alike.
Hines Ward wasn't the same kind of receiver. While Henderson was catching deep balls, Ward was hitting linebackers in the mouth with his physical style of play.
Henderson gained a lot of his yards through the air before a reception was even made. Ward got them after the catch.
With football -- or any sport -- we often look at the result without analyzing the how. If Henderson and Ward each had a 1,000-yard season, we know, intuitively through watching them, that those 1,000 yards weren't accumulated the same way. But we look at them the same way, despite the fact that Ward would've more than likely smoked Henderson in the yards after the catch department.
Here's the thing, though: that doesn't mean Ward was better at making defenders miss after he caught the rock.
Because not every catch is the same.
Measuring Yards After the Catch
If we look strictly at yards after the catch (YAC) data and put no context around it, we don't really get an accurate story. We get a story, but it doesn't mean much.
For example, here are the top-10 wide receivers from 2016 in yards after the catch:
|Rank||Player||Yards After the Catch|
|3||Odell Beckham Jr||518|
Does this mean that Golden Tate is the best player in football at creating yards after the catch? Maybe. But maybe not.
Like I said, context matters. Take a look at the following list of 50-plus reception receivers from 2016, ranked by the fewest number of air yards per catch:
|Rank||Player||Air Yards Per Catch|
There's Golden Tate again. On average, a reception of his saw the ball travel just 4.86 yards through the air. That was the fifth-lowest among 50-plus catch wideouts this year.
The fact is, when a player catches the ball closer to the line of scrimmage, he has a better opportunity to gain yards after the catch. That's part -- not all -- of the reason Tate ranked first in YAC this past year.
Expected Yards After the Catch
To expand on this idea, let's take a look at the relationship between air yards per catch and yards after the catch per catch. In other words, we're analyzing what happens before and after a ball is caught by a receiver.
Because I didn't want to skew any data, the graph above shows only wide receivers who had 50 or more receptions in a season since the start of 2011 (303 instances). That may seem like an arbitrary cutoff, but there's no reason we should include player data for a guy who caught one or two passes across a season.
As you can see, there's a downward trend with the data -- the higher the air yards per catch, the lower the yards after the catch potential. This shouldn't be shocking. When you watch football, you'll notice that a deep ball that's caught is generally met with a defender tackling the wide receiver almost instantaneously. It happens all the time. Meanwhile, when a wide receiver catches a bubble screen, he's got some room to work with, creating yards after the catch.
The trendline in the graph tells us expectation. It says, "Given the number of air yards a receiver gains on a given catch, this is what we should expect him to do after the catch."
And that trendline can tell us which players this past season overachieved and underachieved in the yards after the catch department.
|13||Marvin Jones Jr||12.60||4.31||3.89||+0.42|
So it looks like Golden Tate really is a beast after the catch.
What you're looking at here is the number of air yards a receiver averaged with each catch, how many yards he saw after the catch per catch, and then given his air yards per catch, what was expected in the YAC department. The "difference" column is just the disparity between actual YAC per catch and expected YAC per catch.
What's evident is that, yes, a lot of the same guys who were shown in the original yards after the catch table show up here. But Tyrell Williams made a significant jump (he became the YAC GOAT), and Quincy Enunwa, Marqise Lee, Adam Humphries, and DeSean Jackson, among others, popped up. They were the guys who did more with the football in their hands than what was expected.
There's a reverse side to this, too. It's not all butterflies and rainbows. We'll dig into that over the next few days here on numberFire -- be on the lookout.