Mark Andrews’ exceptional ability to open up and throw controversial moves makes him an elite pass catcher, not just a great tight end. This is true despite the fact that the Ravens tight end’s ability to generate yards after a catch is just average compared to expectations.
That’s the main takeaway from Sportzshala’s new Recipient Tracking Metrics (RTM), a statistic based on NFL player tracking that we’re releasing on Wednesday. Brian Burke, Sports Data Specialist for Sportzshala, detailed the new metrics, which include Open Score, Catch Score, YAC Score, and a combination of three (common) for all pass catchers. We have numbers based on NFL Next Gen Stats tracking data for the 2017 season.
Shortened version: each metric is designed to isolate the game of the recipients as much as possible. Openness is calculated for all routes—targeted or not—taking into account the route the receiver is operating, coverage, leverage, and defender position. Catch Score and YAC Score reflect players’ ability to catch the ball and gain yards after a catch, compared to play expectations based on players’ position on the field. Quarterback skills are monitored by Catch Score and, to a lesser extent, Open Score.
All four scores are on a scale from 0 to 99, with 50 being roughly average. The overall score is based on a combination of three attribute scores, with the Open Score having more weight than the others. These metrics vary, so RTMs are calculated on a season-by-season basis (as opposed to game-by-game).
Let’s take a look at the most important takeaways from what we’ve learned from RTM. With only three weeks left until the start of the 2022 season, we will focus mainly on the results since the start of last season. Here are the top 10 receivers and tight ends from early 2021:
Andrews beat the Rams Cooper Kupp last week even though Kupp’s overall record was No. 1 for the 2021 season. However, what makes RTMs useful is the attribute breakdown, where we see that Andrews is strong in Open Score and Catch Score but has an average YAC while Kupp is strong across the board.
Let’s break down our RTMs into nine key takeaways based on numbers from 2017:
AJ Brown had the NFL’s best open record in 2021…and was traded anyway
The Eagles’ new wide receiver scored 99 points last season, which will drop slightly to 94 when the first three games of this season are included. Why did the Titans trade him again?
Here is one of my favorite examples of Brown demonstrating the ability to be more open than expected, and this example conflicts with male outreach, which matters more in our metrics. In the divisional play-off round, he faced Bengal’s Chidobe Awuzi:
AJ Brown lost to Chidoba Avuzi (22) in the divisional round against the Bengals last season. pic.twitter.com/Ge35Yy2fi9
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 27, 2022
You can see how effectively Brown made a move on Awuzi and completely lost the cornerback. The result was a 34-yard mid-air pass to Brown with a safe close, but this has yet to happen and Brown opens up for a deep tackle.
The 25-year-old Brown has been an elite in two of the three categories in his career. In addition to being one of only three players to score 99 open points in a season since 2017, he also has the second-highest YAC total in a season at 97 in 2019. Why did Brown only get 869 yards last season? ? His catch record was poor (33) while Tennessee were first team and he missed four games with injuries.
Top 10 WRs and TEs in the open standings:
(for 2021-2022, including postseason, minimum 80 targets)
1. AJ Brown: 94
2. Stephon Diggs: 92
3. Dionte Johnson: 91
4. Justin Jefferson: 89
5. Mark Andrews: 87
6. Odell Beckham Jr.: 86
7. Russell Gage: 85
8. Davante Adams: 84
9 Travis Kelsey: 81
10 Marquise Brown: 80
Should the Eagles be worried about Brown’s catch estimate? Not particularly. First, openness is the most important attribute, and also the most stable. In other words, we can be more confident in Brown’s superior opening ability than in his below-average catch compared to expectations. In addition, Brown’s points from the previous two seasons were 63 and 53, respectively.
Two other players have totaled 99 open points since 2017: Packers’ Davante Adams (2020) and, believe it or not, Patriots’ Jacobi Meyers (2020). Speaking of shockingly high numbers from Patriot wideband receivers…
Kendrick Bourne has led the NFL in catch since 2021.
Bourne technically just missed our qualifying cutoff, but his 91 totals over the last two seasons were too strong to ignore. This is surprising, not only because Bourne is not well-known, but also because it was difficult for him to enter the field for New England in 2022. In fact, if we lowered the qualifying threshold to include Bourne, he would have finished third overall. in 2021 and will be the first from early 2021 to present.
Top 10 WRs and TEs in Catch Rankings:
(for 2021-2022, including post-season, minimum 70 targets)
1. Kendrick Bourne: 91
2. Tyler Lockett: 85
3. Adam Thielen: 83
4. Amari Cooper: 81
5. Christian Kirk: 79
6. Marvin Jones Jr.: 78 years old
7. Michael Pittman Jr.: 76
8. Cooper Kupp: 75
T-9. Mark Andrews: 74
T-9. Terry McLaurin: 74
You can see some evidence of Bourne’s prowess in his scoring stats. Since the 2021 season, he has caught 79% of his goals. While his 9.2 air yards per target isn’t exceptionally deep, it’s slightly more than stars like Kupp or Keenan Allen (Chargers), and yet Bourne has a higher catch rate than both.
Bourne’s ranking does not necessarily mean that he is one of the top three players in the NFL. RTMs are descriptive, not predictive, and Open Score, its worst attribute, is far more stable than the other two categories. In addition, Catch Score and YAC Score are dependent on openness; if the receiver is not open, they will have fewer opportunities to catch the ball and receive YAC. While Bourne was extremely efficient (and underrated), he is probably not that good at predicting.
Whatever the case, Bourne, with 3.4 yards per route this season, ranks fourth among receivers and tight ends with at least 30 routes, trailing only Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins), Tyreke Hill (Dolphins) ) and AJ Brown (“The Eagles”). He only has seven shots for 115 yards, but he should probably play more for the Patriots.
Deebo Samuel’s post-catch yardage performance in 2021 nearly outperformed ours.
The 49ers receiver posted a score of 99, more than four standard deviations above the average YAC score. Aside from Brown’s 2019 campaign (97), no other player has come close since 2017; Jamarr Chase’s 2021 for the Bengals was the third highest performing YAC (84) in our dataset.
Top 10 WRs and TEs by YAC:
(for 2021-2022, including post-season, minimum 80 targets)
1. Deebo Samuel: 94
2. Ja’Marr Chase: 82
3. Dallas Goods: 69
4. DeVonta Smith: 66
5. CD Lamb: 65
6. Brandon Aiyuk: 64
T-7. Cooper flip: 62
T-7. George Kittle: 62
T-7. Chris Godwin: 62
T-7. Laviska Chenot Jr.: 62 years old
What does 99 YAC points look like? It’s hard to show it in just one performance because Samuel is so great at exceeding expectations time after time. It’s a touchdown against the Rams However, 2021 is a good example. The moment Samuel catches that fourth and sixth pass, there are three defenders around him, plus a fourth with a blocker. Samuel sticks a needle between them all to open up space and break away to score points.
DEBO. DEBO. #FTTB
— NFL (@NFL) November 16, 2021
If you add in the first three games of the season, Samuel’s YAC from the start of last season drops a few points to 94 because his YAC in three games is only 52.
Michael Thomas has the best overall performance since 2017, and far from it.
Looking at the cumulative performance list from 2017, the first thing that struck me was the stellar power, which is to be expected:
Then I focused on the bills themselves, and Thomas is tearing down the field. He is a career leader in catch rate, notable in that the catch rate (81) is adjusted for the quality and accuracy of the quarterback. This means that he takes into account that Drew Breeze gave Thomas most of those passes for the Saints.
His open record of 83 ranks third in that range, behind only Dionte Johnson (Steelers) at 91 and Justin Jefferson (Vikings) at 85. Thomas’ YAC score is just moderate.
Such a distance between the superstars on this list is a reminder of how dominant Thomas was in the early seasons of his career and perhaps what else he could become again. He played just seven games in 2020, missed all of last season and has 16 rushing for 171 yards and three goals this season.
A small surprise might be Doug Baldwin (Seahawks), whose open record (78) made him one of the best in the NFL. And if you’re wondering where Kupp ranks, it’s 16th. Although he led the league in 2021, he was just above average before then.
Why Andrews, not Travis Kelsey, has been the best tight end since 2021
Both Andrews and Kelsey (Chiefs) have done well in the opening in the last two seasons; Andrews had 87 open points and Kelsey had 81. These are the two best open totals among the tights in this span, and both are in the top 10 of any pass catcher.
The difference between their total scores – Andrews at 85, Kelsey at 70 – is their catch scores, where Andrews has 74 and Kelsey has 43.
Burke noted in his article explaining RTM that Patrick Mahomes’ two superpowers make the reading right and expand the game, which is a factor that leads to the Chiefs’ success and strong point stats from his receivers. These are also the metrics that the Catch Score is adjusted for because they are the quarterback’s skills, not the receiver’s. That partly explains what’s going on with Kelsey here: he’s a great performer and he’s a great quarterback, so he’s going to be very strong…