The Curious Case Of Green Bay's Receivers

The overarching story for the past month has been Green Bay's offensive line and the sense of panic and terror that everyone exudes whenever the discussion turns towards Aaron Rodgers' 20 sacks.  And that is certainly an important story.  A related thread from the O-line discussion is Rodgers' overall performance through 4 games and how remarkable it has been, given the mitigating circumstances.  Despite constantly running for his life, Rodgers has thrown for 1,098 yards (6th in NFL), 6 touchdowns (t-8th in NFL), 1 interception (t-3rd in NFL), 47 first downs (t-8th in NFL), and a passer rating of 101.1 (5th in NFL). 

Despite the small sample size, those are still some pretty gaudy stats.  So all the team has to do is fix the myriad issues up front to give Rodgers some breathing room, and the offensive woes will simply correct themselves.  Right? 

Not so fast.  There's still a completely unrelated problem that has sprung up from seemingly nowhere, and that problem is known as 'Braylon Edwards syndrome', or in layman's terms, drops.

For the past week or so, I've been working on a new statistical model that measures the consistency of production from an NFL wide receiver.  As I trudge my way through knee-deep pools of numbers, statistics, and projections, one of the best raw tools that I've come up with is WR completion percentage.  In a nutshell, it takes the number of times that a WR has been targeted for a pass, the number of recorded catches the WR notches, and turns it into a success percentage. 

I've only been measuring Green Bay's statistics in my research, but what I've found in 2009 has surprised me.  Allow me to share some of my findings with you.

  • Green Bay's most reliable pass-catcher: Ryan Grant.  I know your reaction must be somewhere between "Huh?" and "What?!", but it's true.  In four games, Grant has been targeted 11 times and has converted 8 of them, a success rate of 81.8%, with 0 drops.  That makes him Green Bay's only receiver that is above 80%, which is the benchmark for "elite-level" production.  For instance, the leader in the NFL in completion percentage is Pittsburgh TE Heath Miller, at 88.9%.  The top WR on the list is Miami's Davone Bess at 83.3%. 
  • Green Bay's least reliable pass catcher: DeShawn Wynn.  Wynn has played the role of 3rd down back because Ryan Grant (allegedly) isn't as good of a receiver.  But Wynn has only 2 catches on the year on 7 targets, with 2 drops.  So far, Wynn is converting less than 30% of his targets.  JaMarcus Russell thinks that's bad.  When does Brandon Jackson get back?
  • Green Bay's top receiver: Donald DriverThis is something of a surprise, considering Donald Driver was supposed to be washed up by now.  But he's the leader on the team in targets (29), and he's converted 62.1% of those targets.  The percentage isn't very good (70.0% is generally the watermark for above-average production), and Driver also has 2 drops to his name.  But his 18 catches have come at times when Rodgers has needed him most, and he's proven that he can still play at a high level.
  • Green Bay's droppiest receivers: Jordy Nelson and James JonesThe Packers' co-number three receivers have each dropped 3 passes this year, but that's where the similarity ends.  Nelson has been better in converting his targets (7 for 11, Jones is 3 for 9), but Nelson's production fluctuates nearly 25.0% from game to game.  In any case, both of these guys are severely underperforming their talent level, and I look for them to turn things around soon.
  • The difference between Green Bay's TEs: negligible.  Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley seem to be trending in opposite directions, but so far their production has been about equal.  Lee has converted 72.2% of his targets, and Finley has caught 73.3% of his.  Each has one drop to his name (most notably Lee's drop on 4th-and-goal in the third quarter against Minnesota), but both have shown a penchant for breaking big gains.  A lot of people think that Finley's big play ability should give him the edge against Lee in the battle for the starting job, but Lee really isn't that much worse than Finley.  A two tight end set is a good formation for the offense to use.
  • Green Bay's most disturbing surprise: Greg JenningsJennings is a top receiver in the league.  Why hasn't he played like it?  Jennings has been targeted 22 times this season, but has only come up with 11 catches.  A 50.0% conversion rate is awful for a number one receiver, as was the drop he had against Cincinnati and the poor route he ran against Antoine Winfield, resulting in Rodgers' lone interception.  I would like to think that the reason for Jennings' decline is the wrist injury, but no matter what the reason, it's clear that his timing with Aaron Rodgers is way off.  Let's hope the bye week clears that up.

A lot of the reason for Green Bay's 2-2 record is the offense's inability to sustain and finish drives.  Part of that is the seive-like line up front, but a big part is Green Bay's case of the dropsies.  According to STATS, a leader in measuring NFL statistics, Green Bay is third in the NFL in drops with 10.  Based on my own research, I've come to a different conclusion: as a team, Green Bay has 13 drops, which ties them for the league lead.  This is a problem that nobody saw coming, and I have no idea how a problem like this gets fixed.  More reps in practice with the jugs machine?  Special hand lotion?  Massages?  Acupuncture?  StickUm?

In any case, the team has an extra week to shake off whatever has brought this scourge to the receiving corps.  Let's hope that it's not the only scourge to be rid of during the bye.

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