In order to figure out how bad WR play was in 2015, we need to look at the entirety of the offense. The data shows that QB play was better in 2015, the run game was better, the OL was the same but WR play was much worse. Can you believe that? No other component of the offense was worse in 2015 yet WR, the position that relies on the other positions was a lot worse. A big reason why but not the only reason was the absence of John Ross.
First let’s start with a statistical comparison of the QBs from 2014 and 2015:
Cyler Miles 66.6%, 17TD/4Int, 2397 yards, 7.29 yards per attempt, 142.4 passer rating, 48.4/50.0 QBR
Jake Browning 63.3%, 16TD/10Int, 2955 yards, 8.03 yards per attempt, 139.7 passer rating, 58.7/63.0 QBR
This is a prime example of why ESPN’s QBR is a better stat for evaluating QB’s then passer rating. Cyler Miles had an inflated passer rating yet an awful QBR. His passer rating was marginally better than Jake Browning’s and that was due to a lack of interceptions. However, overall QB play is more than passing. Miles had a ton of fumbles in 2014 whereas Browning only had a few (if I recall correctly). By QBR Browning was much better. In a future post we will compare Browning’s QBR to other guys when they were true freshman.
Moving onto the run game, we note that S&P+ rated UW’s run offense as #35 in 2015 and #68 in 2014. Much better run game.
Next, we take a look at the OL specific stats and UW’s rankings in 2014/2015.
Adjusted Line Yards 78/50,
Opportunity Rate 46/60,
Power Success 66/54,
Stuff Rate 77/75
Adjusted Sack Rate 71/83
Overall the OL play was likely a push from 2014 to 2015. The OL play started out worse in 2015 and likely ended the season better than at 2015’s peak.
Now let us turn to WR play. We show the catches, targets, catch rate, yards per target and net expected yards which we will explain later.
Here are the 2014 stats:
Mickens, 60 catches, 80 targets, 75%, 7.7 yards per target, NEY = -89
Perkins, 25 catches, 34 targets, 74%, 9.3 yards per target, NEY = 20
Pettis, 17 catches, 29 targets, 59%, 8.9 yards per target, NEY = 50
Daniels, 11 catches, 18 targets, 61%, 9.5 yards per target, NEY = 37
Ross, 17 catches, 30 targets, 57%, 12.4 yards per target, NEY =160
Here are the 2015 stats:
Mickens, 58 catches, 94 targets, 62%, 7.4 yards per target
Perkins, 36 catches, 61 targets, 59%, 8.8 yards per target
Pettis, 30 catches, 58 targets, 52%, 7.1 yards per target
Daniels, 19 catches, 22 targets, 86%, 11.4 yards per target
Lenius, 26 catches, 35 targets, 74%, 8.8 yards per target
Renfro, 13 catches, 17 targets, 77%, 10.5 yards per target
How much worse was the 3-headed combo of Mickens, Perkins and Pettis?
In 2014 they caught 102 out of 143 passes (71%), gained 1191 yards and 8 TD’s. Their yards per attempt was 8.3.
In 2015 they caught 124 out of 213 passes (58%) gained 1645 yards and 6 TD’s. Their yards per attempt was 7.7.
The only improvement was the trio averaged 13.3 yards per catch in 2015 to 11.7 in 2014. Yet, their TD’s were down and their yards per target was also down. Pettis was particularly worse with his yards per target dropping from 8.9 to 7.1! Darrell Daniels was the only WR/TE who had better numbers in 2015 than 2014.
It is true that John Ross only played a little more than half the 2014 season as a receiver so we can’t pin 100% of the worse play on his absence. Nevertheless, the above trio were targeted 16.5x per game on average and if the completion percentage was at 2014 levels then that equates to 2.1 more catches per game and 23 to 27 more yards per game depending on the 2014 or 2015 average. Since Ross did not play the entire season as a WR, one could re-calculate that figure to 1.3 catches per game and 16 yards per game.
A better way to look at it is figure that a healthy Ross would have got the 70 extra targets that the Pettis-Perkins-Mickens trio got in 2015. Using their average, that accounts for 540 receiving yards and 2 TD’s. If we take Ross’ 2014 figure of 12.4 yards per attempt, he would have produced an extra 330 yards. Because of the extra targets, Ross yards per target would probably be closer to 10 than 12. That equates to 160 extra yards. However, the real difference is touchdowns. Ross had 4 receiving TD’s in 2014 yet did not play much more than half the season at WR. Let’s move that to 7 TD’s for a full season. Subtract the trio’s total of 2 and Ross could have produced an additional 5 receiving TD’s. We are estimating Ross stats at 700 receiving yards and 7 TD’s.
Furthermore, let’s focus in on the NEY stat. To me it appears that yards after the catch factors into the stat greatly. Bill Connelly describes it as:
Net Expected Yards (NEY). This is something I’ve been tinkering with. It’s based around this premise: Let’s pretend for a moment that a player’s catch rate is mostly on the quarterback. The quarterback’s job is to get the ball to the player, and the player’s job is to gain yards. Simplistic? Absolutely. But we can make an estimate of a player’s likely yards per catch based on the catch rate: higher catch rate, lower yards per catch (because of easier passes). With this figure, we determine a player’s likely yards per catch, then compare it to the player’s actual rate.
Net Expected Yards = Actual Receiving Yards – (Projected Yards Per Catch * Targets)
A positive NEY means the player gained more yards than projected. (The NEY/Target number, then, looks at the rate at which a player exceeds his projections.)
The 2015 NEY stats are not available yet but we can see the 2014 numbers which show Ross way ahead of everyone else. Follow this link to see the top 100 WR’s in 2013 based on NEY. Kevin Smith was 10th in the pac-12 in that category (I counted) at 158. Ross had 160 in 2014 and only played a little more than half the season at WR. It is reasonable to assume that with a full season Ross would be in the top 5 in conference in that statistic.
So this is quite a bit of info. What are my conclusions?
It is clear why Brent Pease was fired. The receivers were much worse this past season and that was even with better QB play and a better run game. The absence of John Ross clearly hurt and potentially resulted in 5 less receiving TDs. Darrell Daniels was the only receiver/tight end with improved numbers. His catch rate and yards per target went from 61% and 9.5 to 86% and 11.4.
The return of Ross and emergence of Daniels should make a big difference here in the 2016 season. The Seahawks receiving core benefitted hugely from Tyler Lockett in 2015. Hopefully John Ross’ return will have a similar impact on this group in 2016. With Ross’ presence, Dante Pettis should be expected to benefit and be the clear third option. Meanwhile, Chico McClatcher has been talked up all spring and if that is legit than he could add a playmaker to the group. The goal for this group is for Ross and Daniels to make honorable mention all Pac-12 while guys like Pettis and Andre Bacciellia catch the ball regularly. Drops were a killer last season.