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The statistics used in this column are those acquired from the Reception Perception methodology for evaluating wide receivers. To see full results of the project’s first full offseason, check out the tables at Backyard Banter. Additionally, use the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter to follow all the analysis from the series.
If you believe in something, you should not hide your feelings. Being intentional, direct and upfront with conclusions are necessary to developing successful real life interactions and situations. Likewise, if you have confidence in your professional process, there’s no need to duck from your conclusions; confidently let your findings fly for the world to see. I believe in my process for evaluating wide receivers, Reception Perception, very strongly. As such, the conclusions I draw from the work are ideas we can all learn from, even if you disagree with them. So I decided to put together a “greatest hits” style two-part compilation of the findings from this offseason, and where they’ve led me to plant my flags for the upcoming fantasy season.
I have plenty of Reception Perception takes, and you can find them in my work here at Footballguys, Backyard Banter and NFL.com. However, the ones outlined in these two “planting flags” posts are the ones I stand by with unwavering conviction. The data collected indicates something so strongly that I have no choice but to follow down the path it leads. In parts one and two, the opinions provided are of the “take it to the bank” variety. Again, you may feel free to disagree, and please let me hear it if they turn out to be misses come season’s end. I’m open to being wrong, as always, and will gladly learn from any potential mistakes made in Reception Perceptions’ first full year in existence. Nevertheless, let’s dive into part two of players I am firmly planting a flag for their 2015 outlook.
Antonio Brown is the favorite, but Dez Bryant is more likely to finish as the WR1 over Demaryius Thomas. First things first, Antonio Brown is mentioned here because he graded out as the best receiver in the NFL, among those charted for Reception Perception. His 79.7 percent Success Rate Vs. Coverage (SRVC) against man ranked second only to Odell Beckham, while his 93.6 percent SRVC against zone blew away the next highest scorer (Randall Cobb with 84.3 percent). More than likely, Brown will repeat as the WR1 in fantasy leagues. However, if there is a challenger, the methodology shows a clear separation between two popular candidates.
Reception Perception illuminated what diligent tape watchers saw with their eyes. Demaryius Thomas, for all his prolific stats, is a glorified role player. One of the NFL’s best receivers, but inherently limited in what he brings to the table.
(SRVC denotes success rate versus coverage for each route. PTS indicates how many PPR fantasy points a receiver earned on each particular route)
Thomas posted an above average SRVC score on only four routes—the screen, slant, post and nine. You’ll also notice that he accumulated almost all of his production or PTS on those same patterns. It’s striking to see one the NFL’s most prolific statistical producers grade out so limited. Even more stunning, he fell below the 50th percentile in scores against man, zone, press and double coverage. Of course, this does not mean he’s a bad or average player. Thomas thrives because he’s near elite in the few areas he’s effective. He was dropped on first contact on only 34.4 percent of his in space attempts through his Reception Perception sample, one of the best rates in the league last year. Denver has done a great job identifying what Thomas’ trump cards are, and they’ve rightfully not asked him to do much outside of that. Dez Bryant, on the other hand, is both a physical marvel and complete receiver. The Cowboys’ star scored above the NFL average for SRVC on all but one route. His 75.5 percent SRVC against man was over the 85th percentile, and one of the best scores amongst receivers listed at 6’2 or taller. Considering that both of their quarterbacks are debatably at a near equal playing field at this stage of their careers, place your chips on Bryant being the better producer this year. With the Cowboys needing to pass the ball more in the wake of DeMarco Murray’s exit via free agency, it feels like a lock.
John Brown will be the best receiver in Arizona this season. I still hold a great respect for Larry Fitzgerald’s game, and appreciate the physical talents of Michael Floyd. However, both will move aside for the legend of John Brown to rise to the top. On a per game basis, when Carson Palmer played last season, Brown was on pace for nearly identical numbers to T.Y. Hilton’s rookie season playing in Bruce Arians' offense. The young Colts receiver came out with a second season of 82 catches, 1,083 yards and five scores. John Brown could well see those numbers in Arizona this year.
Brown scored as the best deep threat receiver in the NFL, among those charted for Reception Perception, with a 75 percent SRVC on nine routes. Our own Sigmund Bloom compares Brown to a dog running under a Frisbee when tracking the deep ball. However, much like Hilton, there’s more to Brown’s game. He scored well on slants, flats, and dig and out routes. His 72.7 percent SRVC against man and 75.2 percent SRVC facing zones were both above the NFL average. Brown reportedly bulked up in the offseason in order to counter defenders who try to out-muscle him. Yet, he scored well against press with a 75 percent SRVC on 52 attempts.
Carson Palmer went out of his way to put in extra work with Brown this offseason, and always speaks in glowing fashion about the developing receiver. Don't rule out Brown finishing as the top scoring receiver in Arizona. His tape and Reception Perception numbers illuminate the massive amount of room for growth in his game. We saw this story play out just a few years ago with the Colts. Chapter two begins with John Brown rising to the top of the receiver ranks in Arizona.
Steve Johnson and Michael Crabtree revive their careers away from the shadow of the 49ers. I’ve written about both players’ Reception Perception results this offseason; Johnson here at Footballguys and Crabtree extensively, both on Backyard Banter and at The Washington Post. I was taken aback at the conclusion of both players’ charting process. Absorbed separately, perhaps you could write off their stellar numbers due to sample size or some sort of fluke otherwise. However, the painfully similar nature of both former 49ers receivers’ Reception Perception showing their positive play in the nuanced aspects of the position and the display of their excellent route technique, makes it impossible to not turn the blame back at the other common denominators between them.
Between the pair, only Johnson’s score against double coverage fell below the 60th percentile in terms of their SRVC numbers and contested catch conversion rate. These numbers demand a re-evaluation by anyone contending either player is done.
Johnson and Crabtree’s old signal caller became the definition of a “see it, throw it” quarterback over the last two seasons. There may not be a starter less comfortable throwing with anticipation than Colin Kaepernick. That is the type of passer both receivers need, as they create separation at very specific points in routes. With Kaepernick locked onto the first read, which was most often Anquan Boldin, these two went neglected or missed. Philip Rivers is the complete diversion from that brand of passer, and provides the best quarterback Johnson’s ever played with. Derek Carr is not on that level, but his desire to get the ball out quickly will jive well with Crabtree’s success in the underneath game.
Crabtree and Johnson often go under-discussed in terms of bounce back candidates or career revivals for the upcoming season. Their Reception Perception scores show that it’s more than likely going to happen for both, provided they get the requisite targets.
If Dorial Green-Beckham gets on the field for Tennessee, big things will happen. The one question regarding the Titans second-round pick’s early career outlook is opportunity, because the talent is all there. Of course, many knew that Green-Beckham has all the potential in the world, but few believed he ever brought it all the way to the field. However, the idea that he was any more raw when he last played in 2013 than your average college receiver is a fallacy. Back in February, Reception Perception cracked the myth that Dorial Green-Beckham didn’t run a variety of routes:
This was only a two game sample size; due to the lack of readily available all-22 college film, but 62 routes is enough to make a sound judgment. The draft narrative on this player was that he just ran down the field and went up for the football, with little nuance to his game. However, Green-Beckham did not have any route from this sample come in over a 20 percent frequency rate. Normally in Reception Perception, receivers with limited route skills often have their slant, nine and screen percentages go over the NFL average. Green-Beckham’s chart does not fall under that category. Again, the sample sizes are different, but the rookie’s route percentage chart is more balanced than any of Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones or Josh Gordon’s. Green-Beckham showed enough nuance in college to compliment his obvious physical skills, to make observers believe he could make a day one impact if asked.
The only question is whether Tennessee will task him with doing so. The Titans should follow the path Carolina took with Kelvin Benjamin last season; line Green-Beckham up as the X-receiver, and just load him with targets despite some variance. Through the highs and lows, Benjamin rewarded the Panthers with some outstanding, game changing plays. Reception Perception shows there is a strong chance Green-Beckham could offer the Titans the same proposition. However, the way Ken Whisenhunt runs that team, we should just expect one of Harry Douglas or Hakeem Nicks to surpass 115 targets, while they force Green-Beckham to “earn” his reps.