In 2020, SB Nation and Football Outsiders have partnered once again to take a deep dive into the analytics and numbers of football. This year, Bryan Knowles from FO answered a series of questions from Acme Packing Company about the Green Bay Packers with a stat-heavy focus.
Check out their work at FootballOutsiders.com, where the 2020 Football Outsiders Almanac is now available.
On Tuesday, we looked at a discussion between APC and Football Outsiders on the Green Bay Packers’ most important player, Aaron Rodgers. Today, we look at his favorite target, getting some context behind one of the more puzzling and frustrating statistical measures on the team. The player is of course Davante Adams, who ranked just 43rd out of 81 qualifying wideouts in DVOA for the 2019 season. This is a topic that has recently had some run here at APC, with Paul Noonan discussing it at length in July.
So with the opportunity to talk to one of FO’s writers — in fact, the one who wrote the chapter on the Packers for this year’s FO Almanac — we couldn’t resist looking for meaning behind Adams’ average performance in this area.
Acme Packing Company: Davante Adams’ DVOA numbers always seem to lag behind his general perception around the league. Do the Packers just feed him a lot of low-value targets on smoke screens and such, or is there something in his game that might be responsible for this?
Adams had a couple of common routes in 2019 that ended up hurting his DVOA. He had 15 wide receiver screen targets; they produced a total of -2.5% DVOA and 12 DYAR. Receiver screens are, by far, the least effective pass route in football; Adams’s DVOA was actually the best for any receiver with at least 10 wideout screen targets, but his high target rate there doesn’t help his advanced stats. He also had a -21.1% DVOA on slants, oddly enough; he was one of the league leaders in 2017 and 2018. so that’s more of a one-year blip.
The biggest problem is that Adams is expected to carry so much of the load; the Packers have not had a quality second receiver to attract the defense’s attention or give Rodgers someone else to look for when everyone’s covered. A full quarter of Rodgers’ low-chance throws — throws with an expected completion percentage under 50% — went to Adams. Adams had 24 of those difficult targets, 13th-most in the league, and the players above him include several other players on the “surprisingly low DVOA” list, such as Odell Beckham and Julio Jones. Couple that with a quarterback that has not been playing up to his legacy over the past three seasons, and you get a DVOA total lower than Adams’ true skill — Adams is one of the top five receivers in football.
Basically, Knowles confirms that Adams’ efficiency numbers are lower because of three main factors: overall workload (more targets need bigger production to maintain efficiency), lots of low-value targets on screens, and a large number of targets with low probability of success.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation in this analysis, however, is Adams’ performance on slants in 2019. As Knowles noted though, Adams’ past performance suggests that this is an aberration, and Packers fans should hope that is indeed the case.
On Tuesday, our Paul Noonan broke down FO’s broader analysis of player performance by route and although Adams’ numbers on slants did not meet the cutoff — he did not receive enough targets on slants to qualify for the leaderboard — he did show up on several other routes. Adams was among the league leaders in DVOA on out and go routes, indicative of his route running and ability to shake coverage. Hopefully his slant efficiency rebounds in 2020, which might be possible purely by virtue of better short and intermediate accuracy by his quarterback.
It is still reassuring to see that the number crunchers have an explanation for Adams’ poor overall efficiency, and when looking at the routes that are tracked and that Adams is targeted on frequently, he tends to out-perform the NFL average:
- Screens — NFL average -33.1%, Adams -2.5%
- Out — NFL average -5.1%, Adams 12.7%
- Go/Fly — NFL average +5.8%, Adams +72.1%
The big outlier is broken plays, where Adams has traditionally struggled.
Again, this further illustrates that shifting some of Adams’ targets away from low-value routes — screens in particular — would likely help boost his overall efficiency and that of the Packers’ offense in general.