15 Wide Receivers Who Were Bad at Creating Yards After the Catch in 2016

Which wide receivers underachieved after the catch this past season?

When a receiver amasses yards, those totals are coming in two parts: through the air and after the catch.

But when the public looks at pass-catching data, they're not viewing things that way. They're seeing an aggregate total -- yards -- and drawing conclusions about a receiver from that.

Not all yards are created the same way, though. And that may be skewing the way we view certain wide receivers.

Measuring Yards After the Catch

If you read yesterday's analysis on players who were great at creating yards after the catch, then you can skim through a lot of this -- much of the information is the same.

If not, then let's dive in.

When looking strictly at yards after the catch (YAC) data, we don't get the whole story. For example, here are the top-10 wide receivers from 2016 in yards after the catch:

Rank Player Yards After the Catch
1 Golden Tate 635
2 Jarvis Landry 634
3 Odell Beckham Jr 518
4 Julian Edelman 505
5 Michael Thomas 474
6 Tyrell Williams 468
7 Amari Cooper 466
8 Doug Baldwin 465
9 Julio Jones 423
10 Mike Wallace 423

Does this mean that Golden Tate is the best player in football at creating yards after the catch? Maybe. But maybe not.

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
58 Cordarrelle Patterson 2.52
57 Adam Humphries 4.00
56 Tavon Austin 4.07
55 Randall Cobb 4.25
54 Golden Tate 4.86
53 Tyreek Hill 5.00
52 Jarvis Landry 5.34
51 Anquan Boldin 5.46
50 Cole Beasley 6.03
49 Julian Edelman 6.13

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, which is what I was talking through in the introduction.

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.


RankPlayerAir Yards
Per Catch
Per Catch
Exp. YAC
Per Catch
58Mike Evans12.001.764.02-2.26
57Anquan Boldin5.463.255.40-2.14
56Robert Woods9.472.554.55-2.00
55Michael Crabtree8.482.794.76-1.97
54Allen Robinson9.442.664.56-1.90
53Larry Fitzgerald6.203.365.24-1.88
52Terrelle Pryor Sr10.622.454.31-1.85
51Jeremy Kerley7.113.315.05-1.74
50DeAndre Hopkins9.053.184.64-1.46
49Jordan Matthews7.513.514.97-1.46
48Brandon Marshall10.203.154.40-1.24
47Sterling Shepard6.573.945.16-1.23
46Stefon Diggs6.873.885.10-1.22
45Emmanuel Sanders9.783.284.48-1.21
44Antonio Brown8.463.654.76-1.11

One key takeaway with this study is that more 50-plus wide receivers in 2016 (58 of them) -- remember, the "expectation" is comparing to wideouts since 2011 -- saw a negative difference in YAC expectation than a positive discrepancy. Without digging into the main reason, it's more than likely because teams are throwing the ball down the field more -- it's becoming increasingly difficult for players to create yards after the catch.

Nevertheless, comparing within the same season still gives credible results. And those results aren't favorable for Mike Evans, who, based on his air yards per catch, should've seen an average of 2.26 more yards after the catch per catch this past season.

Now, before you start screaming at your computer screen, it's important to know that these calculations aren't going to be perfect. Every offense is different, and the way certain players are used differs as well. As I wrote about earlier in the week, Evans' 2016 season was actually a lot like DeAndre Hopkins' 2015 campaign, where both players were peppered with targets down the field. When that happens, there's just less room for YAC to happen.

To be fair, Evans hasn't been great after the catch throughout his three years in the NFL. Last year, his difference in YAC to expected YAC was -0.49, and during his rookie year, that number was -1.19. Those are better marks than this past season, but they were still below expectation.

Seeing Allen Robinson on this list isn't shocking given his inefficient 2016, but one thing to note is how teammate Marqise Lee made yesterday's column as someone who overachieved in the YAC department. It just plays into Robinson's down year -- he was +0.28 in the "difference" column last season.

Lastly, there's Antonio Brown. This past season was easily his worst when it came to creating yards after the catch, as his previous five seasons saw a low "difference" of just -0.30. But Brown wasn't quite as efficient this past season as we're use to seeing him, either, as his yards per reception average dropped to just 12.1 in 2016 after being at 13.6, 13.2, and 13.5 the previous three seasons, respectively.

Perhaps it's not all that surprising that arguably the best wide receiver in football could've actually done more with his season than he did.