Every season Football Outsiders provides a breakdown of the best receivers by route type, and the most efficient route type generally. It’s one of my most anticipated data releases of the season as it can tell you a ton about the Green Bay Packers’ offense, its strengths, and where it may be lacking. This season is no exception.
The first striking thing about it is just how infrequently Packer receivers show up at all. FO only highlights individual receivers if they were targeted a minimum number of times, and there is nary a Packer to be seen on several of the most efficient route types. For the most common efficient throws, no Packers appear on the curl or slant charts due to lack of opportunities. The Dig route, which had an aggregate 15.4% DVOA for all receivers running it, also lacks any Packers, and big play, highly efficient (though less frequently used) routes like the Deep Cross also has no Packers to show for it.
So what were the Packers running all year, and how did it work? Here’s a breakdown by receiver.
Routes Tracked: Out, WR Screen, Go/Fly, Broken Play
We often write about how Davante Adams’ efficiency numbers rarely live up to his tape, here we get some insight as to why that is (Editor’s note: there will be a more detailed analysis of this coming tomorrow in part 2 of our Q&A with FO as well). Football Outsiders refers to the WR Screen (and the Fade) as their least favorite and least efficient routes, and Adams runs a ton of WR screens. He had 13 catches on 15 WR screen targets in 2019, good for a -2.5% DVOA. The route is so very inefficient by it’s nature that he is actually the 3rd most efficient receiver in the league on these routes, but even though he’s “good” at them, the volume drags down his overall numbers.
The other thing that drags down Davante a bit is his numbers on broken plays, where he consistently struggles year in and year out. Adams is at his best within the context of the play, and his improvisational skills (and rapport with Rodgers on such plays) just isn’t there. He had a 7 target, 3-catch effort in 2019, resulting in a -43.8% DVOA.
It’s not all bad news with the team’s best receiver. He was outstanding on Go/Fly routes, ranking 8th in DVOA and 3rd in DYAR, which is pretty incredible for a guy who doesn’t have great size or blazing speed. Adams was also excellent on out routes, with 16 catches for 12.7% DVOA.
We’ve also written a fair amount about how Rodgers doesn’t attack the middle of the field enough, and you can see this with Adams. They primarily use him on outside routes and around the periphery, which costs him some of the easy efficiency you get with slants, deep crossers, and other easier throws. Adams excels at what he does, but the Packers make him do it the hard way.
Running Backs in the Flat
Both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams had plenty of targets in the flat, with Jones soaking up volume while Williams was sneaky good with his efficiency, as usual. Williams gets an efficiency boost by virtue of his frequent work on third down, but he also justifies that work through continued success. In 2019, he caught all 9 of his flat targets for a 57.9% DVOA, good for third overall on the route. Jones nearly doubled Williams’ opportunities with 15 targets, but only hauled in 11, good for a 13.8% DVOA. Jones was adequate, but Williams was a fantastic safety valve who frequently turned checkdowns into first downs and excelled in pass blocking. If they move on from him to accommodate AJ Dillon, they will miss him more than is commonly understood.
Allen Lazard - the new King of the Broken Play
One of the big problems with Aaron Rodgers is that he breaks a lot of plays, and as previously discussed, Davante Adams is not a great complement in that situation. Jimmy Graham has been an adequate safety blanket on broken plays, but the big play has been absent since Jordy Nelson left the team. Lazard didn’t approach Nelson-levels of production, but he did provide a welcome big play target for Rodgers’ improvisation, catching 5 of 8 targets for an 11.1% DVOA. Given his short tenure with the team and the fact that broken plays rely on feel and chemistry more than anything else, it’s fair to expect even better numbers in 2020.
Jimmy Graham - Small Samples and Big Plays
If you’re wondering why Aaron Rodgers trusted Jimmy Graham so much, even though he’s pretty bad, look no further than his work on Broken Plays, which has been pretty good for two consecutive seasons. Graham was ranked on his broken plays and his seam routes and, because of some clutch work, actually scored well in terms of DVOA. It’s worth noting, however, that he only managed to haul in half of his broken play targets and, including a PI penalty, only two of his five seam targets. If Graham caught the ball, it usually resulted in a first down or a big play. He just didn’t catch the ball enough.
MVS - High Risk, High Reward
Marquez Valdes-Scantling was ranked for his work on the Fly/Go and Post routes. It’s not surprising to see him on big play routes, but the contrast is interesting. Of his 14 targets between the two route types, he only caught four balls. Three of those were on the post where he managed to rack up a 65.9% DVOA. When MVS hit big, he really hit big. Unfortunately for those clamoring to just send him deep, he caught only one of six targets on the Fly, resulting in a brutal -43.4% DVOA on what should be his bread and butter.
Speedsters like MVS will fluctuate wildly, and he was clearly hurt in the second half of the season, but he will need to add some consistency on the standard route tree if he’s going to contribute long term. He also needs to win a few more deep balls.
The lack of any Packer qualifying for any middle-field throw outside of the post or seam (and their relative success there even with questionable talent) is a big problem, and hopefully someone is in Matt LaFleur’s (and Aaron Rodgers’) ear about it. The biggest issue the Packers had on offense last season was inefficiency, and if they simply target more efficient routes more frequently, everyone will be better for it.