Why Was Greg Little Released? Because He's Not Very Good at Professional Football.
I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact that it took the Browns three full Greg Little seasons to realize that he isn’t a good NFL wide receiver, or that Greg Little was just released to make room for a dude with 80-year-old hamstrings and Earl Bennett, who’s best known for rooming with Jay Cutler in college.
With the recent news surrounding a Josh Gordon suspension, the Browns offense is in need of wide receivers. They need them. The fact that Greg Little, a wide receiver, was cut during a time like this is almost all you need know about his performance on the field over the last three years.
But because we’re not simple subjective analysts like that here at numberFire, it’s important to show the ugliness of Greg Little’s career from a numbers perspective. And when I say ugly, I mean like, straight hideous.
If you’ve never visited numberFire.com before, or if you’ve never read a football article here, you may be unaware of what Net Expected Points (NEP) is. Essentially, NEP is a measure we use that gives you an idea of how many points above or below expectation a particular player is performing at. You can learn more about the metric in our glossary.
With wide receivers, there are three main ways to measure Net Expected Points. The first is by looking at the number of points a player adds on catches only. If a receiver drops a pass – if he Greg Littles it – then it won’t impact his Reception NEP score. However, we can also compute Target NEP, which shows the number of points added or lost on all targets. This factors in things like incomplete passes (sometimes drops) and interceptions, to go along with receptions.
Lastly, there’s Reception NEP per target, which is a measure of efficiency. It takes everything a player did on catches, and divides it by his volume. After all, someone can score really high in Reception NEP if he's being force fed the ball. This tells you whether or not that’s the case.
Like any wide receiver metric, quarterback play matters. If a wide receiver is playing with Geno Smith compared to Peyton Manning, of course his Target NEP will naturally be lower, as Smith is prone to throwing far more interceptions. But that still doesn’t matter because Greg Little, even when you factor in quarterback play, broke the computers.
Over his first three seasons, Little has seen 120, 92 and 99 targets with the Browns. For purposes of this study – one that’s going to show you how bad Greg Little is at wide receiver – we’ll look at receivers with similar volume: 80 to 130 targets in a season.
Since Little entered the league, there have been 115 wide receiver seasons where the wideout saw between 80 and 130 targets. This doesn’t mean 115 different receivers saw that total of targets in a single season, as some – like Torrey Smith – fell within the range multiple times over the last three years.
Among this group of 115, the average Reception NEP score was 69.86, while the normal Target NEP total in a single season for a decently targeted receiver was 25.57. This should make sense, considering Target NEP looks at all targets, while Reception NEP only looks at what happens when a pass is caught. Naturally, Reception NEP scores will be higher.
Greg Little’s best Reception NEP season came during his rookie year, where he totaled 56.71 Reception Net Expected Points. Remember though, he was targeted 120 times that year, which is on the high-end of our target range for our sample. And since Reception NEP is only looking at receptions, a higher targeted player is going to look better, unless he has an absurdly low catch rate.
So Little’s best season in terms of Reception NEP saw a below average score. I can live with that, I guess. But keep in mind, that 56.71 total ranks 84th out of the 115 players in the sample.
The computers aren’t broken yet.
That same season, Little’s Target NEP was 8.90. Again, lower than average, and we’d expect that given the quarterbacks he’s played with. However, that was his best season, and it ranked 90th within our group.
The computers are beginning to break.
I’ve been kind to Little so far. He’s been painted, in just a few paragraphs, as a pretty bad receiver, but not as putrid as the title of this article suggests. But then you look at his 2012 and 2013 seasons, and you see why he’s not very good at professional football.
Among this same group of 115 receivers, Little owns the absolute worst Target NEP season – the Browns lost 37.70 points (!!!) last year when Little was targeted. That’s 18.49 points worse than any other receiver on the list! And if you think that's only because the Browns quarterbacks were bad, think again. No other non-Little receiver in Cleveland had a Target NEP in 2013 that was worse than -4.44. Since the year 2000, Little's score was the second-worst season recorded.
To put it kindly, when the Browns threw the football Greg Little’s way, disaster occurred. Especially in 2013.
If you want an even more ridiculous view of how bad he’s been, let’s just look at every single wide receiver who’s caught a pass since the 2011 season. All 224 of them. Among this group, only Mike Thomas has totaled – when combining every target he’s seen over the three-year span – a worse Target NEP than Greg Little. Kris Durham is better than Greg Little. Legedu Naanee is better than Greg Little. Louis Murphy, Jacoby Ford, Jonathan Baldwin, Devin Aromashodu – all better than Greg Little.
I understand that he's at least seeing playing time, so comparing him to bench players or other guys who have barely seen the field really isn't fair. And if he was super efficient when he caught the ball, then maybe we’d give him a break for always being the target of an interception or incomplete pass. But guess what? He hasn't been! Among all wide receivers who have compiled at least 200 targets since 2011 – 42 of them – Greg Little’s Reception NEP per target ranks 41st, behind only ex-teammate Davone Bess.
Not only that, but Little's been bottom five in the league among higher-volume receivers over the last three seasons in Catch Rate (receptions/targets), and his Reception Success Rate (the percentage of receptions that contribute positively towards his NEP), ranks in the bottom 10.
Quite literally, Greg Little is probably the worst wide receiver that's been seeing significant playing time in the NFL. And even though the Browns are in need of wide receivers, they don't need one who's only going to be a detriment to the team.