Who has the best receiving corps and how do you rank it?

A conversation on twitter ended at 2am one night between one of our listeners Paul and Gents Dan and Dylan. Paul was outnumbered and duly conceded that the on the fly rankings that Dan and Dylan were putting out were probably correct. But Paul came back with an outstanding email delving into the ways it would be possible to figure out which set of three wide receivers and tight end were the best. We discuss this in our latest podcast but here is my in depth take on how it may be possible to do, with Paul’s help.

There are different ways we could look at this and it depends on what is considered most important in a receiving corps. Now ProFootballFocus have developed a very in depth method of grading players and these grades are considered very accurate by many in the football industry. The grades are in a way a measure of departure from the mean or considered expected performance of each player. For example, receivers would be expected to catch a ball thrown only 6 yards away. If they don’t they get marked down as below the expected performance norm or in numerical terms the average or mean.
So one method could be to look at the three leading WRs and the lead TE in each team and look at their grades then compare. This method we will come back to later.
A variation of this method is again using the average (the mean or the median, the middle number out of all the samples) and looking at the deviation from the mean (or median, important for number of first downs and touchdowns) for each player. We take a sum of deviation for each player and then compare the set across teams.

The first method I used was looking at the difference from the what I considered the league average (mean or median) for each player. I left out total yards as this is related to the number of receptions and targets and so the more receptions the more yards (that is the general trend) so would skew the scores too much. My initial consideration was of the top 160 players, figuring this would cover the top receivers of each team including tight end. I was wrong, as five teams did not have a tight end in the top 160 receiving yards for 2014 (Falcons, Texans, Lions, 49ers and Bucs). I also encountered the dilemma when the running back was one of the lead receivers. I therefore included them as they should be considered as a receiving weapon (think Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell). I totalled up all the difference scores to give an overall score. The first set of differences I totalled were:

yards per carry, total number of touchdowns, yards after carry and first downs. The second set of differences was the same just without the total number of touchdowns. Here are the results for last year team set ups:

Rank with TD w/o TD PFFScore
1 DEN DEN GB
2 PIT PIT PIT
3 GB NE DEN
4 NYG GB DAL
5 NE NYG SEA
6 CHI CHI DET
7 NO ATL CHI
8 ATL NO NE
9 PHI PHI NYG
10 IND SD STL

The big surprise (or maybe not) are the Bears but at the same time Marshall, Jeffrey and Forte are an incredible set of receivers and could be argued in spite of Cutler. The number of touchdowns changes the order somewhat with the Colts dropping out and the Chargers come in. The Patriots suffer due to the lack of touchdowns scored by the core receiving corps. The set of Packers, Giants and Patriots re-shuffle once the number of touchdowns scored is taken out, though it is pretty well the Patriots jumping above the other two. It is at this point that it needs to be highlighted that Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell have quite a big impact on the Packers and Steelers. If both Lacy and Bell are not considered then the Packers in the w/o TD table jump above the Steelers and take second spot. Yes weirdly Lacy has a negative impact according to the numbers even though he has better hands than Devonte Adams. Le’Veon Bell improves the Steelers receiving corps as last season he was the Steelers second in number of receptions and receiving yards. But only if touchdowns scored are not taken into consideration. If touchdowns are considered then actually the Steelers remain no.2 regardless if Bell is counted or not.

The Falcons apparently did not have a bad receiving corps, certainly scoring well above the average overall. The top two do not change with the Broncos and Steelers at least on one scale having the well above average receiving corps.

Onto the third column of the table, the ProFootballFocus scores. Many of the same teams make an appearance but the Seahwaks, the Rams and Dallas all make an appearance. The Steelers remain second the Packers topping the table. Now in this instance I did cherry pick a bit because the Packers score is so high because Lacy was not included. An the Steelers are so high because Bell is included. Include Lacy as one of the receivers (he did get more receptions than Adams) and the Packers drop to fifth. Remove Bell from the Steelers and they drop to fourth. The Seahawks also fall out of the top ten if Marshawn Lynch is not included.

But this was for last season, so who, based on these scores has the best receiver corps for this season? And do we just include the best possible options? One problem that arose was that a few teams just did not have enough scoring options when compared to 2014. So the scores for a few teams is based on only three players. I have also used the best scores possible though in some cases where the number of receptions was particularly low, I used the top number of receptions as the basis. Enough dallying we want to know the top ten going into 2015 based on performances from 2014.

Rank PFF with TD w/o TD
1 DEN PIT PIT
2 PIT DEN DEN
3 GB GB NE
4 DAL NYG GB
5 SEA IND NYG
6 IND NE CHI
7 KC CHI ATL
8 SD ATL DAL
9 NE DAL IND
10 NYG SD DET

Le’Veon Bell was included for the Steelers (he had the second highest number of receptions) and Eddie Lacy was excluded as his number of receptions was only 4 more than Davante Adams and as Adams is technically the 3rd WR seemed reasonable to include him (also he improves the Packers score under my scoring by 6). The Patriots receiving corps do not score enough touchdowns as otherwise they would be the third best set of receivers.

There we have it, the PFF score ranking is pretty close to my scoring when touchdowns are included. The interesting one again are the Seahawks. They remain 5th and the Colts, Chiefs and Chargers make an appearance replacing the Rams, Bears and Lions. So generally the top ranked teams from last season stay roughly the same for this year. But we will see.

In conclusion to Paul’s original proposition, the Packers have a better receiving corp than the Cowboys.

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Toodle pip!