All fans enjoy watching football games. Many fans follow player performances, injuries, and transitions. Then there are those of us who are obsessed with finding hidden information in the mountain of statistics produced by every team every week of the season. Here are a few thoughts about the receivers Eli Manning has worked with from 2006 through 2012.
Many things influence a receiver's performance beyond his inherent skills. First and foremost are his teammates, especially QB and offensive line, and other receivers on the field. His prior performance will influence how opposing defenses react to his presence. Then, there's the play calling.
The first graph is a look at the conventional statistics for receivers, catches and yardage. Not all Giants receivers are represented on the graph. The receivers with the best performances in a season are included as well as a several receivers with fewer receptions for comparison. The data for 2006 through 2012 came from ESPN.com.
Wide receivers have the most catches and yardage, followed by tight ends and running backs. No surprise there. What is a bit surprising is that wide receivers and tight ends accounted for twice as many first downs per reception as running backs. Running backs didn't have as many receptions or as much yardage from receptions, but of course, they contribute greatly in other ways from QB protection to rushing.
Among the wide receivers, Cruz (11-12), Smith (2009), Nicks (2011), and Burress (2007) have had the best performances under Eli Manning's tenure. The tight ends show an interesting pattern. Bennett (2012), Shockey (2006, 2007), Boss (2009), and Ballard(2011) all had about 600 yards but Ballard (2011) did it in 38 catches compared to Shockey's (2006) 66. Ballard got farther downfield than Shockey and averaged more yards after the catch. The difference may be that in 2006 and 2007, Shockey was playing with Burress and Toomer while Ballard was playing with Cruz and Nicks. Opposing teams keyed on Shockey while Ballard often got lost in the mix. Perhaps the Giant's greatest weapon at tight end is really Mike Pope.
Another way to look at receivers is where they caught the ball and what they did after the catch. On average, running backs catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage and make more yards after the catch than tight ends or wide receivers because, after all, running is what they do. Compare Jacobs 2009 to Brown 2012. Jacobs caught the ball, on average, about three yards deeper than Brown but gained seven more yards. Maybe being two inches taller and almost forty pounds heavier makes a difference when running in the open field.
Tight ends, on average, catch passes within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. Ballard 2011 averaged eleven yards while Pascoe 2011 averaged four. But, if you add the average location of their receptions with the yards gained they after the reception, Ballard 2011 tops the other tight ends with sixteen yards. Boss averaged fourteen yards. Bennett and Pascoe averaged twelve.
The graph shows some interesting statistics for the wide receivers. Smith's 2009 amassed a lot of catches and yards, but his receptions were mostly for short yardage and he didn't gain much after the catch. He was the only wide receiver on the 2009 team, though, that attracted any attention. Cruz's 2011 performance is unparalleled. His 2012 performance was pretty good too, comparable to Burress 2007, Toomer 2007, and Hixon 2008, but looks weak compared to his 2011 performance. Remember also, that Cruz was the lowest paid wide receiver on the 2011 and 2012 teams, so he did provide a lot of value. Manningham 2010, sandwiched between the decline of Smith and the emergence of Nicks, was a respectable performance for a third receiver. But compare Randle and Barden performances in 2012, not much difference though Randle is considered the Giants' receiver of the future and Barden might not make the team.
Finally, compare receivers' completion rate (receptions per times they were the target of a pass) to their yards per catch. As you might expect, running backs have the highest completion rates even if they have the lowest yards per catch. But what about Pascoe 2011? His performance is an example of a player making the most of every opportunity. Likewise with Barden 2012, a completion rate similar to Smith 2009 and the yards per reception of Nicks 2011.
From this, I think that:
- Despite what anyone says, Nicks and Cruz were still pretty good in 2012 even if it was considered a bad year for them. Cruz outperformed Burress and Toomer in their primes.
- Randle and Barden had comparable performance statistics in 2012 yet their futures with the Giants appear to be going in opposite directions. Cutting the big guy may be a mistake.
- Jernigan may have potential but he hasn't yet shown it on the field as a receiver.
- Ballard and Boss outperformed the more heralded Shockey and Bennett. Mike Pope may be the real star.
- Bradshaw and Barber were great offensive weapons. Brown, being a bigger back, has a different style but similar effectiveness. Jacobs, by comparison, was more like a tight end who made receptions behind the line of scrimmage.
All this said, the Giants will undoubtedly have their best receiving corps ever in 2013.