The fade route is overrated

June 19, 2013

Big receivers tend to be ineffective around the goal line

Ian Allan uses four years of data to argue that smaller receivers tend to be more productive around the end zone than jumbo-sized, "mismatch" receivers like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson.

Bill Rehor of Culver City, Calif., raised an interesting issue yesterday. I posted a chart showing quarterback effectiveness around the goal line, and he pointed out that he was surprised Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler weren’t more effective, given that they had the luxury of big, dominating receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.

Little does Rehor know, but that’s a theme in the receiver section of this year’s magazine (which he’ll see in about two weeks). It sounds strange, but big receivers actually tend to be less productive around the goal line.

When exploring issues like this, I don’t like to look at only the most recent stats. These kind of questions are better vetted out when you expand the sample size. So in this case, I looked at the last four years. Specifically, I pulled out all players who had been the intended target on at least 10 passes when their team was inside the 5 yard line.

There are 53 such players around the league. Looking at just that group, the tight ends were more successful than the wide receivers. Tight ends caught 51 percent of the passes thrown their way (49 percent if you want to define “success” a touchdown or 2-point conversion). With wide receivers, they were down at 43 percent completions, or 41 percent if you look simply at getting it in the end zone.

But the question is, does it make sense to try to lob passes into the back corners of the end zone, hoping your tall wide receiver with a mismatch and outjump the cornerback and pull it down for a score?

Well, of the 31 wide receivers in this mini study, six were guys who are either 6-4 or 6-5 – Megatron, A.J. Green, Randy Moss, Marshall, Marques Colston and Malcom Floyd. Collectively, that group caught only 35 of 97 passes attempts. All 35 of those throws went for scores, but that’s just 36 percent.

Five guys in the group are under 6 feet tall – Danny Amendola, Greg Jennings, Santana Moss, Lance Morris and Steve Smith. Those guys caught 32 of 65 pass attempts, with 31 scores. So that’s 49 percent completions and 48 percent scores.

That’s a statistically significant difference – 48 percent blows away 36 percent.

In general, I think the idea of trying to throw fade routes to big receivers is a bad one. Better to throw more passes to tight ends and smaller receivers.

SCORING ON PASSES INSIDE 5
HeightReceiverAttEZEZ%
6.03Jordy Nelson10880.0%
5.11Greg Jennings12975.0%
6.03Andre Johnson10770.0%
6.00Roddy White241562.5%
6.02Dez Bryant11654.5%
6.02Dwayne Bowe14750.0%
6.00Nate Burleson10550.0%
6.04Marques Colston13646.2%
5.09Lance Moore13646.2%
6.04Randy Moss11545.5%
6.03Roy Williams11545.5%
6.05Calvin Johnson231043.5%
5.11Danny Amendola14642.9%
6.01Anquan Boldin12541.7%
5.10Santana Moss12541.7%
6.03Larry Fitzgerald22940.9%
6.02Mike Williams20840.0%
6.01James Jones10440.0%
6.04A.J. Green13538.5%
6.00Jason Avant13538.5%
6.05Malcom Floyd11436.4%
5.09Steve Smith14535.7%
6.02Miles Austin21733.3%
6.01Chad Ochocinco12433.3%
6.01Hakeem Nicks17529.4%
6.00Reggie Wayne24729.2%
6.03Braylon Edwards14428.6%
6.02Mike Sims-Walker12325.0%
6.02Brian Hartline14321.4%
6.04Brandon Marshall26519.2%
6.00Pierre Garcon1119.1%

--Ian Allan