Why Rishard Matthews Could Elevate the Tennessee Titans' Offense
Small sample sizes suck, right? If you're reading a site about numbers, we can probably all agree that this is true.
But when a bunch of exciting small sample sizes all start to align, my loins get a bit tingly. That's what looks to be happening with the Tennessee Titans.
In signing Rishard Matthews, the Titans are bringing on a guy who excelled in his final season with the Miami Dolphins, resulting in a three-year contract that will only run the team $15 million. Considering some of the other deals going around, that's a nice number, and it looks even more intriguing when we dig into Matthews' 2015 results.
We'll do this using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This is the metric we use to track the efficiency of teams and players, with the team totals being adjusted based on strength of opponent.
Here's how NEP works. If a receiver hauls in a five-yard reception on 3rd-and-4, that's going to increase his team's expected point total for the drive, giving him positive NEP. If he drops it or the pass gets picked, those expected points will go down, and that will be reflected in that player's metrics.
With receivers, we can use both Reception NEP and Target NEP to quantify their value. Reception NEP looks at only the expected points added on passes caught by the player, and Target NEP includes the point fluctuations on all targets, even if that means a deduction for a target that results in an interception.
Investigating these metrics could make Matthews' contract appear pretty dope for the Titans. Let's dig in and see why.
Matthews' 2015 Metrics
Because of a rib injury, Matthews was limited to only 61 targets this year. He made the most of them, though.
Now, this wasn't exactly a dazzling season for Ryan Tannehill. That means when we look at the wide receivers' numbers, things are going to lag a bit, necessitating a look at the numbers relative to each other. This should be able to tell us which guys had the most talent on the team as they were playing with the same limitations.
The table below shows how each of the five receivers who saw at least 35 targets for the Dolphins fared this year. If it wasn't going to Matthews or DeVante Parker, it wasn't pretty.
|Receiver||Targets||Target NEP||Target NEP per Target|
Sorry if you don't deal well with gore. I should have given you a warning first. My bad, doe.
It's easy to see why people are optimistic about Parker with his collegiate production and draft slot. It just seems as if Matthews should be generating more conversation with his higher productivity over a larger sample size.
That's not to say that it's easy to draw a conclusion on a player after only 61 targets. This makes it completely reasonable that Matthews would receive a lesser contract than guys like Marvin Jones and Travis Benjamin, but it doesn't reduce his upside.
Not only is Matthews' Target NEP per target the top mark on the Dolphins, but it was one of the best in the league. There were 74 receivers who were targeted at least 60 times, and only three (Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin, and Sammy Watkins) had a better Target NEP per target than Matthews. Given Tannehill's struggles, this is hard to ignore.
It also won't shock you to learn that Matthews' metrics are better than his new teammates in Tennessee. There is at least some reason for hope, though, especially in Marcus Mariota and Dorial Green-Beckham.
Why the Titans Are Interesting
In our look at why the Titans should draft an offensive lineman first overall, we profiled Mariota's numbers when sacks were taken out of the equation. Here's the abridged version in case you missed it.
If we just narrow the scope to NEP added on passes (as opposed to our regular Passing NEP, which deducts points for sacks), Mariota ranked 11th in the league among passers who had 100 drop backs with a single team. This means that -- when he had time to throw the football -- Mariota actually had a tremendous season. It was absurd sack numbers for both Mariota and Zach Mettenberger that dragged the offense down.
Then we get to Green-Beckham, who -- like Matthews -- outperformed his teammates in 2015.
Again, here's the table from above, except with a look at the Titans' receivers who saw at least 35 targets. These include the passes thrown by Mettenberger, who had the second worst Passing NEP per drop back in the entire league, but it should still show Green-Beckham's superiority.
|Receiver||Targets||Target NEP||Target NEP per Target|
All of the same small sample size qualifications from before apply here, but things aren't as bad as you'd think for a team sitting at the top of the draft.
So, you've got a small sample of dominance from Matthews. Green-Beckham out-performed his teammates by a good margin in his rookie season. And Mariota's rookie season looks a lot sweeter when we view just his arm talent. If you toss in Delanie Walker, this team really doesn't look too shabby.
The Titans are still a flawed team, even when you include the acquisition of DeMarco Murray. However, it's hard not to get excited for what the offense could do based on the 2015 production of some of their top assets.
Matthews comes over on a reasonable deal after posting some impressive numbers in his final season in Miami. He's not a lock to be a success story, but the signing brings upside that makes him worth the gamble.
In Mariota and Green-Beckham, the Titans have two young assets who gave reason for hope last season. Matthews' addition may only make them better.
The best term to describe the feeling I would have about the Titans' offense is "cautiously optimistic." There are a whole lot of "ifs" that need to play out to bring this team from 3-13 to competency, and the offensive line is still a major sore point. But if all of these "if's" play out right, we could look back on this Matthews signing as one of the moves that keyed the team's return to relevancy.