After examining Aaron Rodgers’ completion percentage over expected (CPOE) and plus/minus on Thursday, it’s time to shift the focus over to the Green Bay Packers’ receiving corps. Packers fans know the names and the general outlook for each of the players over the 2019 season, but another set of advanced stats help illustrate the differences between players last year.
Two players in particular stand out in a negative way, and it’s the two names fans probably expect. Likewise, one young player put up some very impressive numbers in somewhat limited action, helping to justify the excitement for his game heading into his second full season with the team.
Let’s take a look at how +/- fares across the Packers’ prominent receivers, with an assist from the 2020 Football Outsiders Almanac, which is available now. Remember that the +/- value is how many total receptions the receiver recorded relative to that of an average receiver on the same types of routes and distances. In some cases, we may divide that into targets to come up with a catch rare over expected, or (CROE).
Adams was a significant positive for +/- each of the past two years, adding 4.7 and 5.0 receptions above average in 2017 and 2018, respectively. That number slipped to just +0.3 in 2019, however, perhaps in part due to a slight increase in drops. His DVOA also dropped, but as FO notes in the Almanac, he was the major focal point of the passing offense and that — plus his ankle injury around midseason — is likely a significant reason for the dip.
Lazard’s performance is made all the more impressive when looking at his advanced numbers. He was a top-20 wideout in DVOA last season, and his +/- of +4.0 far and away led the team despite just 52 total targets and dropping five passes. That results in a CROE of +7.7%, a hugely positive number that put him a tier behind players like Michael Thomas, Tyler Lockett, and Chris Godwin (all above +10%), but above the next group of receivers like Keenan Allen (+5.9%), DeAndre Hopkins (+5.4%), and Tyreek Hill (5.4%)
Raise your hand if you’re surprised that Allison cost the team receptions in 2019. No? Didn’t think so.
Allison’s usage was abysmal. His average depth of target was just 7.8 yards downfield, but he caught just 62% of his targets, resulting in a +/- of -3.1. That was second-worst on the team behind the player below. Basically, the team wasted 55 targets on Allison, as they were primarily low-value targets that he caught at a below-average rate. It’s no wonder he finished second-last in the NFL in DVOA last season.
As one would expect, a 46 percent catch rate will lead to a poor +/- result for a wideout. At least MVS’ depth of target was 17.4 yards down field, more than twice Allison’s. And due to more deep shots, his expected catch rate would be lower, but he still accounted for a -3.4 reception +/- on just 51 qualifying targets, giving him a CROE of -6.67%.
Believe it or not, those numbers were an improvement from 2018, when he had a higher usage with 73 total targets vs. 56 but a worse +/- at -5.6 and a poorer CROE of -7.67%. As FO notes in this year’s Almanac, his -9.0 combined over the past two years is second-worst of any wideout with at least 100 targets over the past two years.
The Packers got a slightly positive +/- from Graham in each of his two seasons with the team, first a +0.7 in 2018 and +0.6 last fall. Graham’s target share dipped last year and his total production with it, but he was much more efficient, increasing his DVOA from -6.6% to +2.1%. Graham didn’t hurt in the +/- department, but he didn’t help much either.
Unfortunately, we can’t see too much detail for running backs’ receiving stats in the FO Almanac this year. However, from the FO receiving plus-minus article, we know that neither Aaron Jones nor Jamaal Williams finished in the top 10 or bottom 10 of total plus-minus for last season.
Based on their catch rates, however, we can assume that Williams was in the positive. First, he had a positive DVOA, and second, he had a catch rate of 87%, in line with many of the backs in the top ten of +/-. He did have 96% of his targets labeled as “short”, however, and his average depth of target was actually -0.7 yards, putting it behind the line of scrimmage.
Jones, meanwhile, caught 72 percent of his passes, but had a much different usage as a receiver. He was used on short passes just 84% of the time, with an aDOT of +0.8 yards. Thus, even if he was a bit negative in +/-, it probably was not enough to skew the overall data much.
There are two simple conclusions to make based on this data. First, Geronimo Allison and MVS were particularly bad in 2019, especially in terms of converting targets into receptions. It’s also notable that MVS was poor as a rookie as well, and despite his deep speed, he seems to struggle with contested passes and is actually not all that good at tracking the football.
Based on Allen Lazard’s numbers, it’s easy to see why the Packers’ offense clicked better with him in the lineup. His CROE even despite some drops suggests that he should indeed receive heavy playing time in 2020 and should be the leading candidate for the WR2 job to start the season.
Finally, Adams’ numbers are tough to draw conclusions from. It’s worth noting that his injury may have played a part in 2019 along with the new offensive system. Hopefully he rebounds a bit, stays healthy, and returns to the form he displayed in 2017 and 2018 to lead this receiving corps.