Who's Projected to Be 2019's Most Efficient Wide Receiver?
Statistics in sports have come a long way over the years.
It would've been hard to imagine something like numberFire's live updating win probability model back when you had to wait a day or two for box scores in newspapers, depending on how late games concluded.
Typically, though, stats like these are just descriptive, informing us of what has already happened in the past. Our Net Expected Points (NEP) model does well to differentiate between the value of a five-yard catch on third-and-two and a five-yard catch on third-and-nine, yet it does so after a play is completed.
Why not use that same algorithm to project 2019's best performers? I couldn't think of a reason not to do it, either, so here we are. Here is how every qualified wide receiver is projected to fare in our Reception NEP per catch and Reception NEP per target stats in 2019.
For context, the league-average Reception NEP per catch for receivers in 2018 was 1.10, meaning the average NFL catch was expected to put up 1.10 points on the scoreboard.
As for per-target efficiency, the league average Reception NEP per target for all receivers in 2018 was 0.69.
Low-Volume Efficiency Leaders
Receiving volume ties heavily to per-catch and per-target efficiency, so we'll divvy things up and first look at receivers projected for 40 to 90 targets, a sample of 53 receivers. That leaves about 50 more "high-volume" receivers at the top end.
Here are the Reception NEP per target leaders among this group.
|Ted Ginn Jr.||0.73||34||60||483||3.4|
- Our algorithm sees a return to peak DeSean Jackson this season for the Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson's best-ever season by Reception NEP per target (0.94) came in his first season in Washington. Despite a drop in per-target Reception NEP in his first year in Tampa Bay (0.62), Jackson bounced back in 2018 (0.82). His Reception Success Rate (the percentage of catches that increased expected scoring) of 95.1% ranked 77th out of more than 1,800 instances since 2000 of a receiver with at least 40 catches. He still has it.
- With the San Francisco 49ers' bolstered receiving corps, Marquise Goodwin should return to his best role this year: the deep threat. Among more than 100 receivers with at least 100 targets since 2016, Goodwin's 97.2% Reception Success Rate is easily the best mark in the sample.
- Robert Foster's 1.13 Reception NEP per target ranked him second among all wideouts with at least 40 targets last season. He caught just 59.1% of his 44 looks, but they mattered. His 1.92 Reception NEP per catch was the only mark above 180 in that sample. Out of nearly 1,700 seasons since 2000 of a receiver with at least 25 catches, Foster's 1.92 Reception NEP per catch ranked fourth best. (In case you're curious, Devery Henderson (2.21 in 2008 and 2.17 in 2006) and Malcom Floyd (1.99 in 2011) were better.)
- James Washington may seem like a peculiar bet for the top five. And he is. On 38 targets, he posted a Reception NEP per target of just 0.59 last year, but the 1.40 Reception NEP per catch is much more enticing. That's just 18 catches, but the algorithm likes him to maintain efficiency in a larger role for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Rookie wideouts rarely come through with high-level efficiency, but that's what the algorithm projects for New England Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry. Harry is pegged for 9.4 yards per target and 5.3 touchdowns on the receiving end from Tom Brady.
High-Volume Efficiency Leaders
- T.Y. Hilton (0.86) ranks fourth in Reception NEP per target among 112 wideouts with at least 100 targets since 2016. He's fifth on a per-catch basis (1.47) and sixth in Reception Success Rate (92.4%). No matter how you look at it, Hilton is one of the NFL's most efficient receiver, and numberFire's algorithm projects him to be 2019's most efficient high-volume receiver after finishing third last season among wideouts with at least 100 looks. Among 24 receivers with at least 300 targets since the start of 2016, Hilton's 1.47 Reception NEP per catch is one of two rates above 1.33 (Mike Evans is close behind at 1.45).
- Tyreek Hill should get a full season this year after avoiding suspension. His efficiency reshapes the Kansas City Chiefs' offense. Last season, Hill ranked second in Reception NEP per target (0.96) among 28 receivers with at least 100 targets, and he was also second on a per-catch basis (1.52).
- Brandin Cooks hasn't had a Reception NEP per target below 0.75 since his rookie year, and his per-catch rate has been at least 1.21 in each of the past three seasons. In that span, Cooks' Reception NEP per target of 0.81 is tied with Julio Jones' mark for fourth-best among 24 receivers with at least 300 total targets in that span.
- DeAndre Hopkins has never had a truly bad season, despite all of the teams he's played on. Since his rookie season, the Houston Texans have ranked 28, 18th, 27th, 31st, 18th, and 10th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play. Hopkins has added at least 1.12 expected points per catch and 0.60 expected points per target in each season regardless of his offense. To nobody's surprise, Nuk is set for yet another huge season in 2019, and he could post one of the most efficient high-volume seasons ever.
- Tyler Lockett's efficiency marks have been at or above average in each of his four seasons. He had a per-target Reception NEP of 1.00 as a rookie and saw it fall to 0.71 and 0.63 the two following years before his bonkers 2018 (1.30). Lockett's 1.30 Reception NEP per target was the best mark of any wideout to see at least 70 targets in a season by 0.08 points per target.